What is a question that can bring a novelist to hysterical laughter? What is sometimes a writer’s nemesis and sometimes a friend? The following interview with historical romance novelist and editor Jennifer Delamere provides the answers.
I met Jennifer at one of my Grammartopia events last fall in Durham, North Carolina, where she didn’t just compete, but her grammar prowess won the day. I admired her work before that time, of course, but getting to banter with her about the plural of mongoose and Oxford commas made me realize I’d found a kindred editorial spirit. Enjoy this interview, writers. There are a lot of great nuggets inside.
Jennifer Delamere writes tales of the past…and new beginnings. Her Victorian-set novels have won many accolades, including finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA® award, a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and the Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award for Excellence. Jennifer earned a B.A. in English from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where she became fluent in French and developed an abiding passion for winter sports. She’s been an editor of nonfiction and educational materials for over two decades. She loves reading classics and histories, which she mines for the vivid details to bring to life the people and places in her books.
Q & A with Historical Romance Author Jennifer Delamere
Kris: I love talking writing and editing with wordsmiths of all kinds, but I have to say that I love chatting with writers who also wear an editorial hat. There’s often an extra layer of depth to the conversation. So to begin, what is your favorite part of the writing process?
Jennifer: I do love the research. I love reading history books and scanning digitized newspapers from the era of my books and getting obscure research works via interlibrary loan. I can happily go down any number of rabbit holes. After that, the best part of writing the book is the editing stage. Writing the initial draft, figuring out the plot and scene breakdowns, is very hard for me. But once I have the draft written and I know I have a complete story, that’s when the fun of revising and shaping it can begin: making a word or phrase better, adding or deleting a scene to make the story stronger. It gives me great satisfaction to see the final product coming together.
Kris: Jennifer, you’re my kind of writer. The editing stage is when you have all of your clay on the table and now you get to form it into exactly the shape and style of a finished piece of art. Do you edit as you write or do you plow forward at full steam, letting words and punctuation fall where they may?
Jennifer: I tend to edit as I go. The upside is that my first draft is pretty clean. The downside is that I may spend hours or even days smoothing out a passage or scene that might get cut in the final draft, or even as I complete the first draft and discover I need to go in a different direction. That’s a problem, because time is precious—especially when one is on a deadline and has a day job, too. My goal for every book has been to keep that “inner editor” at bay and concentrate on getting the story out. One day I might actually accomplish it!
Kris: I can absolutely relate to that. Now, when writing about history, there’s a fine line between capturing a different time period and “data-dumping” fascinating but sometimes irrelevant information. How do you know what to include or when something should be cut?
Jennifer: Whatever is included should be relevant to the story goal and the scene goal. It should either set the mood, advance the plot, or illuminate the character and his or her world. If you can do all those things at once, even better. Some fabulous bit of information won’t interest the reader if it doesn’t tie in directly to what is happening or make the action more interesting. At times, I have worked to find a connection so that I could include some wonderful nugget. I hope in those cases I was successful.
Kris: I like that idea of focusing on the story goal and the scene goal. That puts a tangible measure of value in the writer’s hands. Talking about digging deep in a relevant way, how does a writer know that they are going beyond capturing the details of a room but capturing its atmosphere, adding a layer of depth to a story?
Jennifer: The “atmosphere” of a room is how it affects your viewpoint character. For example, in The Heart’s Appeal, Julia enters a home that is stuffed with fine paintings, furniture, and other objects. The owner of the home (a character whose viewpoint we are never in) is undoubtedly proud of this display of wealth and “good taste.” But for Julia, it only feels claustrophobic and overbearing. She can’t imagine any need to have so much stuff. Her reaction tells you as much about her as about the room. Also, even though the room is filled with many things, she focuses on the one item that holds personal interest for her. (I’ll let you read the book to discover what that is.) Michael, the book’s hero, secretly feels the same way as Julia does about this house—even though it belongs to his sister and brother-in-law. So the reader sees this bond between these two otherwise very different people, even if they themselves don’t know it immediately.
Kris: And only a writer who loves language can sell a book by talking about its editorial process. Bravo. But before I send my readers off to buy your books, let’s talk structure. There is a formula to writing romance, but nothing, of course, should feel formulaic. What do you strive to do with your characters and their relationships to hook your reader with emotional intensity?
Jennifer: My goals in this regard are fairly simple. First, I want to find out why these two people should be together—what makes them truly unique, both individually and as a couple. Just as no two people are alike, neither is any couple. Why should they be together, other than because I, the writer, want them to be? I often think of that corny line from the movie Jerry Maguire: “You complete me.” I must ask myself, and prove to the reader, why that is true for this particular couple. Second, with any kind of genre fiction, there are certain reader expectations that the writer must both meet and (to be very good) transcend. In romance, one element is the HEA, or “happily ever after.” The reader expects this. But in a really good story, you make the reader believe that this is the ONE time when the obstacles are so big that there is no way the hero and heroine will be able to get together! Then, overcoming those obstacles to get to the HEA makes the story so much more satisfying.
Kris: Satisfying for the reader and satisfying for the writer too, for sure. Let’s talk about the nitty-gritty: are there any words you know you overuse or other writing weaknesses of your own that you always pay special attention to in your final editing stages?
Jennifer: I have a list of such words, but I won’t share them publicly! My hope is that the reader is never pulled out of my story by stumbling across over-used words or other weaknesses in the writing. In the final stages, I comb through my manuscript carefully, on the lookout for those problems.
Kris: How do you know your editing process is finished and the story you’re working on is officially “done”?
Jennifer: [Insert hysterical laughter here.] I am never done. Which is to say, I am done when the editor pries it from my grasping hands. I once read a film director’s comment (sorry, I can’t remember who it was), that he never finished a film; he finally just had to abandon it. I understand completely what he meant. I do reach a point where I am happy with the result, but I could always go back and find something that I might have changed if it were possible to do it again. For this reason, a deadline can be both my nemesis and my friend.
But I’d also like to give a word of advice to unpublished authors out there: don’t spend forever polishing and re-polishing your work. Some beginning writers can use the long editing process as a crutch. Try to be aware if you have taken a work as far as you can. If a quiet inner voice tells you it is time to move on, be willing to listen and take heed. Be brave enough to strike out with something new. You will learn many new things, including perhaps something that will help you with your previous work. Believe that you have a wellspring of inspiration inside you. Don’t allow fear to keep you from tapping it.
And isn’t it by tapping that creative wellspring that we as writers find our happily ever after?
This editing business is hard. It takes persistence, dedication, and a thick skin. But when we endure, great things happen. Your story can shine through amidst all the rubble of early drafts. And then, your story will find its readers.
Thank you so much, Jennifer Delamere for your time, wisdom, and inspiration, and happy writing, folks!
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