Thursday, September 29, 2011

Interview with
Jennifer Rainey, author of
These Hellish Happenings

My guest on this week's author blog is Jennifer Rainey, author of These Hellish Happenings. I could tell you how hilarious this book is, but the primary commandment for writers is Show, Don't Tell (which bears no relationship to the recently-repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell). The author's blurb shows what you can expect in her novel.

In 1707, hapless vampire Jack Bentley made a pact with the Devil in order to escape a vampire hunt. Dealing with Satan seemed better than your standard angry mob at the time. But three centuries later, Satan is ready to collect His dues, whether the vampire likes it or not. He's taking Jack down to Hell, and He's even got a job picked out for him down below: an eternal position at the Registration Office of the Damned. Jack attempts to adjust to life on the Administrative Level of Hell where fire and brimstone have been replaced by board meetings and the occasional broken copier. But the whiny complaints of the recently-deceased and the legions of suited, cookie-cutter demons are the least of his problems. Try adding to the equation a dead ex-lover, a dangerous attraction to his high-ranking demon companion, Alexander Ridner, and the sticky and distorted anti-vampire politics of a Hell that is surprisingly like our own world.

CB: Jennifer, I have a feeling that whatever genre you chose, you would approach it satirically. Why were you attracted to the paranormal genre and specifically to the subject of vampires and demons?

JR: I do love my satire, and I’ve always liked paranormal stuff. I was always the kid reading “real” ghost stories and wandering through cemeteries and all that splendid nonsense. For as long as I can remember, my writing has had a least a little bit of a paranormal slant to it. The vampires and demons came in specifically because of my mother, who is absolutely in love with the darlings of the night and has been my entire life. I was sort of destined to write about them, I suppose, ever since I was that seven-year-old kid drawing pictures of The Vampire Lestat for my Mom as a Mother’s Day gift, haha!

CB: I think in our "modern" age, anything having to do with death is either ignored or feared, but you were there tripping happily among the gravestones. It doesn't surprise me that this child ended up writing a satire about hell, Satan, and a demonic horde of bureaucrats.

I'd love to know more about your creative process. How did the characters and structure of These Hellish Happenings evolve?

JR: The very first element of the book to come to me was Jack, the protagonist. He showed up in my brain, and I knew he was a vampire who worked in Hell, and that was it. So, I built the story, the setting, the other characters around him. The story itself was very different when I first started; the political subplot wasn’t there at all. It was just going to be this love triangle-based romantic comedy about Jack, the demon he falls in love with in the book, and his ex-lover who reenters his life with a dash of satire thrown in for fun.

But I thought it really, really needed something else. It needed some cajones, for lack of a better word. And one day in 2008, I was trying to brainstorm what I could add to it, and I hopped on Facebook and saw a campaign ad for Obama. Ta da! The political subplot was born and gave the work some much needed substance.

CB: That reminds me so much of how my first work began, with a depressed dragon living in a swamp and ending with attempts to overthrow a government.

You thoroughly made the most out of that subplot. The aspect of discrimination against vampires particularly caught my attention. It was so beautifully satirical.

Was your intention from the beginning of the writing to go independent? If so, do you feel that gave you more freedom to develop a fairly unconventional subject?

JR: When I decided to publish, I wasn’t one hundred percent sold on either independent or traditional publishing. I was both looking for an agent and researching self-publishing at the same time. But in the end, the reason I think I did go with the independent route was just that; I knew I wasn’t going to have to change anything to get the book published if I went with self-publishing. It was all in my hands, and that freedom is a very good thing. And now when I’m ready to publish the sequel, I can skip all that agent nonsense, haha!

CB: I'm very excited to hear about the sequel. At what point did you realize that you weren't ready to say good-bye to the characters in These Hellish Happenings? Were you still writing the first novel when ideas for the second developed? Have you found writing the second novel easier than writing the first?

JR: I recently finished the first draft of the sequel, and I’m still not sure if I’m ready to say good-bye to these characters, haha! I love all of them, and I’ve gotten to know them so well. It was while I was editing the first book that I realized I still had more to say about the characters and Hell itself. I kept getting all these new ideas, new scenarios while I was editing and before I knew it, I had an entire new story for the characters! And yes, it was so much easier to write the second one; these days, I can slip into Jack Bentley’s character at the drop of a hat.

CB: I don't want to ask you who your favorite authors are, because that question always paralyzes me. There are too many to name. Instead, could you name authors who have especially inspired you as you developed your own unique method of creative expression?

JR: Definitely Aldous Huxley, Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore. They all mix elements in their works that people might not mix traditionally, and that’s something that has definitely inspired me in my writing.

CB: In conclusion, please say anything you'd like to tell readers about These Hellish Happenings and its sequel or about yourself as a writer. If you'd like to, include also an excerpt from your favorite review of your novel.

JR: If you’re looking for something different, something smart, something with a good sense of humor or all of the above, pick up These Hellish Happenings. It’s been so much fun to write, and like I said, I can’t see myself leaving these characters any time soon. I’ll leave you with this excerpt from a five star review of the book on Quirky Gurl Media:

Before I even read this book I knew I was going to like it., and I was right. The cover is engaging and suits the tone of the novel perfectly, and the synopsis was tight and piqued my intrest right away. The novel was all I’d expected and then some. Concise, evocative writing made this novel read like a movie- I could picture it in my mind, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t made into a movie at some point. These Hellish Happenings is a mostly one of Dark Humor, mixed with a little light paranormal, a smidgen of suspense with a dash of romance– and all of these are perfectly balanced into a stellar first novel.

Jennifer's biography: Jennifer Rainey was raised by wolves who later sold her to gypsies. She then joined the circus at the age of ten. There, she was the flower girl in the famed Bearded Bride of Beverly Hills show until the act was discontinued (it was discovered that the bearded lady was actually a man). From there, she wandered around the country selling novelty trucker hats with vaguely amusing sayings printed on front. Somehow, she made enough money to go to The Ohio State University for a major in English.

Get to know Jennifer better.
Buy her book at Amazon. (This is the Kindle link. It's also available in paperback.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Interview with Cheryl Shireman

Cheryl is a prolific best-selling writer who has harnessed her creativity to produce compelling fiction and nonfiction. But that's enough of telling. In her interview, she vividly describes her methods for keeping creative energy flowing.

Since my blog is about creativity, I'm especially interested in your creative process as a writer and also how you came to develop and believe in your creativity.

Would you describe yourself as a creative child? Did you make up stories or express creativity in other ways?

I was an only child and if an only child wants to play, they very often have to be creative. I spent a lot of time outside exploring our yard. It was only two acres, but the back of the property used to be a peach orchard, so there were old peach trees to climb and lots of room to roam. Inside the house, I used to play "farm animals" a lot. Farm animals were cheap little plastic animals that you could buy in a bag at any grocery store. I set up fences for them and created worlds where a family took care of their horse ranch during the day and also had time to visit the dinosaur farm and zoo right down the road.

What inspired you to write your first book, Life is But a Dream?

One day I started thinking about how our lives are often defined by our circumstances and we can make informed and empowered decisions, or we can merely float along. I wondered what would happen to a woman who suddenly lost everything that defined her life. I imagined a woman who has given her life to others. She is a devoted wife and mother, but when her husband files for divorce and her daughter leaves for college, she realizes her own life no longer has meaning. Just to make it even more interesting, I wanted the main character to be in unfamiliar surroundings so I placed her, Grace Adams, in a secluded lake cabin. Then I started writing, watching as Grace's life unfolded before me. It was a lot of fun to write and I came to really love Grace.

Your own main character is highly creative when it comes to dreaming up things to fear. What interested you about developing that character?

I think we all have fears; Grace just has a tendency to allow those fears to take form in her mind, creating problems that may never arise. She can also be quite funny in her musings. I love being able to get into such a character's mind. I have received many emails from readers telling me they love Grace and can relate to her. I just received one the other day from a reader who told me that she lost sleep over her book because she stayed up until three in the morning to finish it! That is the ultimate compliment for a writer.

What methods do you use to enhance your creativity (i.e., certain music, total solitude, etc.)?

I like to write the first thing in the morning, when I am as close to the sleep state as possible. I pull on the most comfortable clothes I can find (usually one of my husband's sweatshirts, a baggy pair of yoga pants, and an old pair of hiking socks), wad my hair up in a ponytail, and start writing. For years I wrote in longhand, but now I do all of my writing on my laptop. I have a desk, but I like to write on a couch with my feet up on an ottoman. Comfort is important. I also like solitude and silence. If I have any music on, it is usually soft classical music like Vivaldi. I can't listen to any music with words when I write. It is distracting. As the writing gets intense, I may even turn that off. I also love to write for long periods of time whenever possible. When I am writing, I very often work ten or twelve hours a day. These are my ideal writing conditions now, but as a mother of three, I seldom had those. I once wrote in a Chucky Cheese while my kids played nearby with probably fifty other kids. Now, that’s concentration!

How do you get yourself back in motion when you get stuck?

I don't get stuck. I don't believe in writer's block. Even when the words don't want to come, I write something. It might be notes, or brainstorming, or words that I will end up deleting, but I keep writing because you never know when a gem might be discovered. But I also believe in the value of long hot baths when the writing seems to be a mere trickle instead of a constant flow.

Do you feel that being an indie writer gives you greater scope for your creativity and literary imagination?

I love being an indie writer! I have total freedom to write the books that I want to write. I am now working with a professional editor and really feel this is the very best situation for me. I have just rereleased the professionally edited version of my first novel (now titled Life Is But a Dream: On the Lake) and am about to release the edited version of my second novel, Broken Resolutions. I hope to release the second of the Grace Adams Series this fall. And then I will start a new novel after the first of the year that I am already very excited about. The ability to publish independently has opened a whole new world for me. I am living my dreams.

What advice would you give someone who is hesitant to express his/her creative urges?
Nike said it better than I can - Just do it. I believe everyone is born with a purpose. There is a reason you are on this earth. If you have creative urges, they are there for a reason. Don't ignore them. Nurture them and bring them to fruition. It won't be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Your talent, your creativity, is unique to only you. If you don't express it, it will never be expressed, and the world will be a poorer place. Just do it.

Amazon Links

Life is But a Dream: On the Lake

Broken Resolutions

You Don't Need a Prince: A Letter to My Daughter

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Still Recovering but Up and Running

Shortly after my optimistic recovery message another hurricane provided deluges and power outages. On the plus side, I have had to clear out a lot of wet things. Throwing stuff away is always a good idea, whether it's useless physical items or waterlogged beliefs.

Since rainbows often follow rain, I'm posting this link for your enjoyment. Regular postings are due to resume soon.


Friday, September 2, 2011

After the Storm

Sometimes I think the most creative people alive are weather forecasters. Unfortunately, they usually inspire fear. If you look at the August 16 post, entitled "What Keeps Us From Being Creative?", you'll notice that this is the subject of that blog entry.

In summary: A single-celled organism can move towards a situation, which is growth, or away from it, which is self-preservation. It can't, however, do both at the same time. When we're afraid, our self-preservative instincts come to the fore. Only if we understand this mechanism and are capable of understanding and neutralizing the triggers from the subconscious mind that say, "Run! Hide! Be fearful!," can we turn a frightening situation into an opportunity for growth.

If I were to grade myself on my response to what in my area was called a tropical storm, on a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give myself somewhere between a 5 and a 6. When I caught myself sinking into abject terror, I would meditate, call on angels, and circle the house (and the many, many trees surrounding it) in white light.

I also did many practical things to make the overall conditions safer. These, too, reassured me.

I told myself that I would do my best to be an observer, reminding myself that this might someday be valuable data for a scene in a book.

I also reminded myself that waiting for it to happen was much worse than the event would probably be.

That's why I said I did fairly well. While the winds whipped the trees and pounding rain lashed the windows, I read on my Kindle (which I'd remembered to charge ahead of time). I'd also remembered to download a number of books, just in case I needed distraction for coming days of no electricity.

I was very fortunate. No trees on my property came down. I was only without electrical power for 12 hours, and Internet service returned the following morning. I am very grateful. I've had a creative and productive week.

Next time I will do even better.