Jenn Lyons lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, three cats and a nearly infinite number of opinions on anything from feminism to the correct way to make a martini. She writes science-fiction, fantasy and urban fantasy. Her debut novel is Blood Chimera, and she is writing the follow-up, Blood Sin.
Meet Jenn! She is this week’s profiled author, and, in case you haven’t heard, Jenn just signed a deal with World Weaver Press, which you can read about here. That’s pretty stinkin’ awesome!
Luckily, I got Jenn to answer a few questions before she gets all famous and busy.
How did you get your start in writing?
Jenn: I tried to write my first novel when I was twelve. My neighbor had given me an Apple IIc and I was very impressed that it could hold an entire book in memory. An ENTIRE book! Just think of the possibilities!
I didn’t do a very good job of writing the book, but again: I was twelve.
I had no clue what an Apple IIc was, so I Googled. Here it is:
Say whaaa?!? Is that a laptop? I had no clue.
How long have you been writing?
Jenn: Since the dinosaurs roamed the earth. No, seriously, I started writing with the intention to actually see the work published when I was 27 years old, which you’ll note, is not a direct answer. This was back in the old days when you wrote a book, sent off a big ream of typed paper to publishing houses and literary agents, crossed your fingers and lit candles in front of an altar, preferably while sacrificing a chicken. Odds were good you would never heard back from them too, not even a rejection letter. One agent did write me back, and I later learned that she was a con artist who made her business selling editing services rather than manuscripts. Fortunately I was too poor to be able to afford editing services, legitimate or otherwise, so that manuscript and several others were shelved. The whole experience was deeply traumatic and it was well over a decade before I seriously considered trying again.
What was your inspiration for “Blood Chimera?”
Jenn: I’ve always loved vampire stories. I knew I wanted to write one, but I wasn’t quite sure what sort of vampire I wanted. While I was doing my research, I realized just how modern our current idea of a vampire is. A vampire isn’t old-fashioned at all. The word itself only goes back about a thousand years in any documentable form and the earliest version of the word also meant witch or werewolf. The word meant ‘monster’ basically. It was a vague term. So I started thinking: okay, so what if these definitions aren’t mutually exclusive? What circumstances might make someone think a werewolf is a vampire is a witch? I think that was the core idea that sparked everything else.
What has the road to publication been like for you? Could you maybe highlight the highs and lows for me?
Jenn: Thank goodness for the modern age. I finished Blood Chimera this summer and I have a publishing contract sitting in my email inbox. That kind of quick movement would have been unfathomable even ten years ago. Now we have Twitter and Facebook and email — when I submit a query to an agent or editor, I hear back from them, even if what I hear is a rejection. A slow response is a month — not so long ago, a slow response was two years. That’s extraordinary. That’s very, very positive and powerful.
Oddly, I’ve had a harder time finding an agent than a publisher. I think that a lot of publishers, particularly the small indie presses, are willing to take a little more risk when it comes to putting a new author out there. I don’t have any numbers to back this up, but I suspect agents have become very discriminating as a survival trait — their careers seem to be shifting to curation, and more and more I’m seeing agents demand only what they personally think is superlative, because their reputation is their career. That’s not a bad thing, but it does mean finding that perfect agent is akin to porcupines mating…blindfolded…on the edge of a volcano. It’s slow, careful, tricky business.
*Cough* That was some image, Jenn. Thanks for that.
I had a random question for Jenn. I noticed via my stalking that she already had a cover for “Blood Chimera” and she (at the time) was pursuing traditionally publishing. I thought it would be interesting for readers to know if it’s helpful to have a cover in this digital, visual age while querying books to agents or publishers.
You can see her cover here. I totally dig it.
Jenn: Thank you! I love the cover too. I really do. But…that cover was no help at all, in terms of selling my manuscript. None. And I would not recommend any writer try to submit art with their manuscript. No, definitely don’t do that. Neither publisher saw that art before making their offers, and I know for a fact that the cover will not be used when Blood Chimera is published, which makes my proof copy of the book a rare collectible. That said, it was so very helpful for me to create the cover as a learning experience. For one thing, I have a much greater appreciation for how insanely difficult it is to create a nice book cover. For another, I saw just how many authors take shortcuts with their book cover, which is effectively self-sabotage. If I had self-published the book? It would have been indispensable for marketing.
It won’t surprise me at all if we see more and more attention being paid to covers, both in traditional and self-published routes, as publishers and individuals strive to prove their work is more professional and polished than the other guy’s. The book industry is saturated, so it only makes sense to make sure your first marketing opportunity — the cover — is fantastic.
Who is your support system?
Jenn: My husband Michael. I couldn’t do this without him. He’s also a writer, so he understands my needs, but he also edits for me, gives me feedback, and he’s my sanity check. I can always count on him to tell me if there are seriously logic or plot problems. Nothing’s worse than writing most of a book before you realize the hero could have undone all the villain’s plans with a phone call in chapter 2.
I see you have a full-time job (boo! me too) along with your writing. How do you balance everything? This is something I personally always struggle with.
Jenn: You’re not going to like this, but as far as I’ve been able to tell, you don’t balance it. Who can? Nobody balances all the things they want to do with the time they have to do it in, and that’s doubly true for those of us with full time jobs. I can’t even imagine how hard it is for writers with full time jobs and children. The mind boggles.
Let me put this in context. I spent a decade noodling around with writing on the side, when I was inspired, when I ‘felt’ like it, when the muse came to call and when I had enough time in between all the other things I was trying to cram into my life. I didn’t finish anything. I was that person perpetually ‘writing a novel.’ We all know that person, right? They’re going to finish that book someday. I had three books I was going to finish someday. I suppose I was waiting for the stars to be in alignment, or for the winning lottery ticket so I could settle on my own island. I had a hundred excuses. They were all really good excuses, and they all meant I never finished what I started.
This year I realized the secret to writing is…writing. I know that sounds trite, but it’s like this: if you want to be a writer, putting words down on the page has to be the default, not the exception. Writers write. If playing the latest video game or finishing that knitting project is more important than writing, nothing will miraculously appear on that blank page while you were gone.
So I changed my priorities.
When I did that, I finished two novels within months, not years. It was magic. I’m on track to have a third novel’s first draft finished by Thanksgiving.
Is there one moment of support/kindness shared to you by another author that will forever stand out to you in your career?
Jenn: First I’ll give shout outs to Michael Shean and Jennifer Povey, two writers who have just been incredibly supportive and there for me through the entire process. Mad props to both of them being endless wells of awesome.
But more than that, I’m going to go waaaay back to a Comic Con convention I attended years back, where I approached Elizabeth Bear. I started to ask her all kinds of questions about finding a publisher and what I could do and she interrupted me, because I’d mentioned I hadn’t actually finished the book.
“Finish the book. Do that first. Nothing else matters.”
I recall I was irritated with her. Easy for her to say that! Of course, she was right: finishing that book was everything. Her advice may not have been easy for me to hear, but it was spot on.
What words of advice would you tell another aspiring writer who is struggling with their work?
Jenn: I think Herbert said it best: Fear is the mind killer. There’s so many things about this craft that are terrifying. If you finish the work, you’ll have to show it to someone, and if you show it to someone, they might not like it, and if they don’t like it, they might say terrible things about you. People might be cruel, saying you never should have bothered and are wasting everyone’s time. Writing is at its heart risky, scary business. We put our souls on display and hope nobody goes for the easy shot, and of course, someone always does. It’s so easy to sabotage our achievements as a way of shielding ourselves from the risk.
So that’s my advice: be fearless. Keep writing. Write as much as you can, as often as you can. Write to defy the little goblin in your own head that wants to tear you down. Write in spite of everyone out there that wants to silence your voice, or worse, doesn’t seem to think you even deserve to have a voice. Write for yourself, fearlessly. Write with the knowledge it doesn’t need to be perfect: it just has to get on the page.
And then, you know, editing. Lots and lots of editing.
Oh, and get yourself on Twitter, because it’s seriously crazy how supportive and wonderful the Twitter community is for writers. Every publisher who has said yes to me was a publisher I found via Twitter. Pure gold.
That is absolutely wonderful advice, I believe. I hope you all reading this post take Jenn’s message to heart. Be fearless.
Because all those who say you can’t or you shouldn’t, well, they can suck it.