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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Author Interview: Jeanne Savery

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to have Jeanne Savery with us this week. Jeanne told me her motto is “have laptop; will travel” and it’s a good thing. Her husband, she shared with me, has itchy feet and because of that they’ve lived in east, west, and central United States, England, India, and Australia; where they haven’t lived they might have visited! Now, she said, “I’ve two kids, three grandsons, seven cats and a house too big to care for—but it’s lovely when company comes. Grew up a farm girl and still love open spaces—or alternatively, I want city center and lots of people—not suburbia. Never again! My hubby has retired but I haven’t. I doubt I’ll ever stop writing.”

Jeanne told me she’s been writing for a long time, but she wasn’t one of those kids who knew from kindergarten they wanted to write (her daughter, now, knew all her life she wanted to be an artist). Instead, she told me, “I was a professional student for too many years to count—until I ran into physics which put an abrupt end to that. Too many years straight on the Pill complicated things: I suffered a major vitamin deficiency that laid me flat. While getting over that I began telling myself stories in my head. As I got more energy, I wrote one down. (Believe me, it was terrible!) I joined an on-going adult education class in creative writing followed by an on-going workshop. I’ll never forget the night our professor read from my WIP, looked up, and said, ‘You were hungry when you wrote this, weren’t you?’ I must have been. It was pages in which my hero and heroine did nothing but eat...and not each other.”

Jeanne continued to write, however, and she was a volunteer editor on a ‘little’ literary magazine. “I learned a great deal about what not to do,” she said, “and made a lifelong friend from one of those who submitted.”

And she kept on writing. And started submitting and getting rejected. “Each time one of those letters came (including the occasional encouraging non-form letter),” she told me, “I swore I’d show them and wrote some more. I suppose everyone has a point where rejection finally gets to them no matter how stubborn they are. Mine finally gave and I sat down with a Georgette Heyer regency from my keeper shelf. Usually one will pull me out of the blues (you know, all that subtle humor and amazing characterizations, to say nothing of settings that are addictive...). This time it didn’t work. I read my whole shelf and wanted more. So, I sat down and wrote one.”

When her critique group read it, they told her she had been writing the wrong thing all along. Jeanne said, “They must have been right. My next attempt was a Golden Heart finalist and sold. I’ve been selling Regency romances ever since.” She added, “That’s not quite true. I tried writing something else when Zebra closed their Regency line—tried to re-invent myself—but it didn’t work. I’m back to writing what I love and selling to the Cotillion Regency line, a Cerridwen Press e-line.”

I asked Jeanne how she develops her plots and characters. “In my case, characters always come first and almost always they are involved, from that first moment, in a problem or situation or scene that brings them to life. The two things go together,” she said. “It may be one character to start with or both the hero and heroine together. For instance, the opening scene in A Lady Prospers came to me all in a flash with the characters right there, alive and already involved in their private conflicts. The lady was, in that moment, worrying about an external conflict which had resulted in the internal. The gentleman’s conflicts weren’t yet clear although I had that conversation en toto. I continued writing. His problems and the fact he could see no honorable solution clarified. Once I have internal and external conflicts, once I have that initial scene, once I know as much as I can (at that stage) about my characters, they begin keeping me awake at night. Once that happens, I know it’s time to start writing or they will give me no peace. You’ll notice I’ve said nothing about plot. I don’t plot. Once I’ve enough conflict to see a book through to the length my publisher wants, I let the characters tell their own story. If I try to plot out the story in any detail—more than knowing that my main characters will fall deeply in love and live happily ever after and maybe a very few other details—I know too much. In fact I might as well stop right there. I no longer care. If I plot, I know how they will get from the first page to the last so why bother writing it all down which is my way of discovering all that. Another way of saying it is that a book loses all spontaneity if I plot too much. It dies.”

She did make it very clear, though, that she does not believe the way she does it is the only way to do things. “Every writer has to find their own modus operandi when it comes to this,” she told me. “No one works in exactly the same way and what works for one will not necessarily work for another. I know authors who not only plot the book, but then plot the chapters, and then the scenes in the chapters and only then do they start writing. They write good books, too. I suspect authors fall everywhere along a line from my no-plot to full-plot. Every writer has to find out what works for them. And that means sitting down and writing.”

Right now, Jeanne is working on two series set in Regency England. The first two ebooks of each series can be bought from the Cotillion line at Cerridwen Press. The first series is a four-book ghost series. The ghost wrote a will which has led to problems for his heirs, and he’s sticking around to undo the damage the will has done and to see each happily married as well. The second series... I’ll let Jeanne describe it. “It’s not a mystery series. It’s not a traditional romance. It isn’t women’s fiction—blest if I know what it is, but the continuing characters are a pair of spinster sisters, beloved by all despite (or perhaps because of?) their habit of sticking their noses in wherever and whenever they can help. In the first book, Runaway Scandal, our hero (their hell-born babe of a nephew) has followed the family tradition of falling deeply in love, wedding quickly, reforming, and living happily ever after. Unfortunately, he’s wed so quickly that scandal is brewing. When the sisters, Elf and Ally, discover the name of the bride, daughter of a scandalous mother, they expect things to go completely awry. Worse yet, our young couple are undergoing a series of worsening accidents that are quickly recognized as something other than accidents.”

Counting both the Zebra prints and her first two Cotillion ebooks, Jeanne has published thirty-one full length novels and fifteen novellas. When I asked her which book she considered her favorite, she told me the number of books she’d published and continued, “That’s a big ‘family.’ So which is my favorite? You tell me how you determine which of your ‘children’ you most favor! Oh, well. I’ll admit there are some I like maybe a smidgeon better than some others. A Lady’s Deception is set in Bath. The heroine’s twin brother died in the Peninsula. She’s never been able to grieve, having promised him she’d not cry if he dies. Now it’s time to find a husband for her very lovely sister so the two, along with their blind aunt as chaperon, go to Bath. Thing is, a beautiful girl needs a man to protect her. Our heroine cuts her hair, dresses in the male clothes her brother taught her to prefer, and watches over her sister. The beautiful girls gets her true love, obviously; the aunt, surprisingly; and against all reason, our heroine as well once her true sex is discovered by her brother’s commanding officer. He is suspicious from the beginning, but every time he is certain ‘he’ is a ‘she’ he/she does something that makes the colonel think he must be wrong. Then there is A Lady’s Proposal and several of the six books in my White Tiger series, I can’t begin to stop listing titles. Of course, my latest book is always my current favorite, so that would be Runaway Scandal from Cotillion.”

When I asked Jeanne what she’d wanted to be when she grew up, instead of “writer” Jeanne told me she wanted to be the first woman on the moon. “I’ve about given up on that,” she said. “Later I grew fascinated with biology. It was the era when cell biology was exploding in all directions. Fascinating. I meant to go into research and never took a biology course I didn’t love. Chemistry was all right, but then came physics—a must for what I wanted to do—and that did me in. Still later I actually dedicated a book to Newton—without whom I’d never have become a writer. For the most part I’m glad there was a Newton, but now and then...ah well. The road not taken and all that.”

Jeanne is Scots-English and told me, “I always say it was my Scottish stubbornness plus my English pig-headedness that finally got me published—which did NOT happen overnight. Perhaps my heritage (plus six months in England just as Georgette Heyer’s work was being re-released) explains my choice of genre. I’ve had some tell me I must have lived a past-life during the Regency to make my books sound so real. I tell them that if I did, then very likely it was as a scullery maid—or at best, a lady’s maid who would have had more opportunity to observe the quirks of tonnish men and women.”

Jeanne is also a morning person. Her husband, on the other hand, is a night person. She told me that there was one time in their married life when this was an advantage. “We were both students,” she said, “he in grad school and me halfway through my senior year. Our first daughter was born in February before I graduated in June. We planned that term carefully so one of us could be home at all times. I’d take care of her evening feeding and go to bed. He’d prop her on his chest, a book on her diaper, and stay up studying until time for her night feeding. Then I’d get up for her early morning bottle. We took care of our precious child, but we sure didn’t see much of each other! The plan was both good and bad: She got one devil of a lot of cuddling, which was good—but what I know now about breast feeding and how important it is for the babe’s development, I wish I’d done things differently.”

Finally, she thinks scientists should invent a bomb that spreads peace and contentment rather than chaos and pain and, “to quote the lovely young things in Miss Congeniality, [if I could wish for anything it would be for] world peace, but since I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, then a slightly more manageable wish: that my family be happy and healthy and suffer only enough adversity to keep them on their toes and working at life rather than letting it pass them by.”

You can check out Jeanne’s work on her publisher’s page,

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