Jennifer Dahl, gothic romance author

Jennifer Dahl, gothic romance author

1–Tell us about your latest book.

First, you have to think about what answer you would give to this question:  How far would you go if ‘too far’ wasn’t far enough to get what you want?

Before I Forget September answers that question for one family. It is a gothic romance/family saga in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier. It’s dark. And it’s more than a tad untraditional. Some of the characters are exactly what they seem to be… some aren’t. Some make wise choices… some don’t. The reader won’t know exactly who’s who until the last chapter. It’s full of passion, guilt, regret, love, redemption, sadness, happiness… kind of like life itself.

2–Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

I’m currently working on another historical romance – at least that’s how it’s started. At this point, I’m toying with turning it into a serial… but I’ll have to see how the characters feel about having a limited platform. The working title is ‘Fort Ruby’ and it’s set in Ruby Valley, Nevada, in a little town outside the military fort that protected the Pony Express and the overland stage coach routes from 1862 to 1869. The fort itself was located at the east entrance to the Overland Pass and was heavily involved in the attempt to control the Goshute and Paiute Indian attacks on the Express riders and stage coaches before the Central Pacific Railroad was completed. It’s a rich mine full of tales just waiting for me to dig.

3–When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

No question about it: the characters. If I do my job right, I won’t have to work as hard. I become a conduit through which they can tell their stories. If I ignore them, I’m the one who suffers. The first time I was ever confronted by a character – in Evil’s Own Trinity – I had my antagonist do something that simply wasn’t in her nature… and she told me about it all night long in no uncertain terms. The story didn’t work out until I changed what I’d forced her to do. There was a second instance in This Lesser Earth where I tried to ignore the characters. I had apparently forgotten the lesson I’d learned in Trinity and I was struggling with a major plot element. I needed someone dead and if it went my way, there were going to be unacceptable consequences. It wasn’t until I listened to my characters that I found the answer to the dilemma and it all worked out in the end.

I feel very fortunate when my characters develop to the point where they take over; and if they haven’t taken over yet in whatever I’m working on, I know it’s time to do some homework.

4–How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing since I was in the 5th grade. I started out with a character named ‘Pam Palmer’, very much a Mary Sue by today’s definition. She had her own space ship and traveled around the galaxy having adventures. She landed on some unknown planet on the other side of the Sargasso Sea of Space and met a king by the name of Awatatawshi… and that’s all I can remember. I’m really sorry my mom didn’t hang on to those first scribblings. They’d be a hoot to read now.

5–Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

My friend Beth Thompson. Beth desperately wanted me to get published and hounded me until I actually submitted my early work to both publishers and agents. Unfortunately, Beth died of lung cancer before I could put a book in her hands.

6–Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?

Edgar Allen Poe. Mark Twain. Daphne du Maurier. Susan Howatch. Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt.

I identified strongly with Poe’s poem ‘Alone’. As a child, I spent a lot of time ‘alone’. My sister and brothers were all very much older than I was and my parents were old enough to be my grandparents, so I didn’t have any cousins or siblings to play with at home. And I was a pudgy little girl with freckles who didn’t make friends easily at school… but I loved reading. Once I discovered the library, I spent most of my time with my nose in a book. It wasn’t long before I wanted to be able to do what Poe and Twain did: I wanted to move people to terror and tears and everything in between.

7–If you could talk for thirty minutes with any author (or person), living or dead, who would it be?

That’s a tough one! There are so, so many I’d love to chat with… but in the end, it’s a tossup between Poe and Twain. I believe I’d have to choose Twain, though. His writing was all over the spectrum of subject matter and his heart was in every word. Besides… who wouldn’t want to talk to Twain? Even if you never broached the subject of writing, his life was full of things that would keep the conversation going for hours!

8–What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process?

Plotting. No doubt about it. I have never had a complete plot set in my head for any of the books or stories I’ve written. The only one I ever attempted to even outline was Before I Forget September because the timeline had to fit… and the outline was fast and loose with respect to the story itself. As long as ‘this’ happened before ‘that’ and within the timeframe I had established, I let Julianna, Thomas, Carolyn, and Colin tell me what to type as we went down the road together. Evil’s Own Trinity was already laid out for me as far as plot since it dealt with Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, so all I had to worry about was fitting my witch in where she was needed to reveal what really happened in Tudor England. And I was as surprised as anyone when This Lesser Earth was done.

9–What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?

I believe it’s good advice… as long as you don’t let it keep you from writing what you want to write. There’s no limit to what you can ‘know’, if you get out there and do your research. Especially now, when anything you need to know is (providing you perform your due diligence to verify its accuracy!).

10–Any teachers who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged?

I give all credit for my penchant for historical fiction to my history professor in college. Even though I was working on a degree in Psychology, I ended up with a double major because of him… took every single class he had. He taught me that there’s another side to the story – the one not written by the winner. He showed me that the loser isn’t always the bad guy; and he introduced me to thinking independently. Because of him I realized that, if humans are involved, the whole story is never simply black and white. The good guys might not have the best intentions and the bad guys might actually have justification for what they do. Dr. John Osburn gets the lion’s share of the credit for that; but I have to give a nod of thanks to Mr. Mace in the 6th grade, as well. He thought Pam Palmer was really cool and pushed me to branch out, write something besides sci-fi, and keep going.

11–Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

I got an e-reader for Christmas last year. I held out forever, foolishly thinking I needed a real, solid, tangible book in my hands to enjoy the experience.

Silly me.

I love my e-reader now. It’s got almost 400 books and papers on it. I can carry a HUGE library with me everywhere I go! Entertainment or knowledge right in the side pocket of my purse… lightweight, easy to use… I can read in bed without blinding my husband or giving myself a broken nose if I fall asleep and it hits me in the face.

And it came loaded with the New Oxford Dictionary of English! What writer wouldn’t love that?

But electronic publishing is still very young and its capital is located right smack dab in the middle of the Wild West. I’ll be the first to admit there’s a lot of dreck out there – some of it might even have my name on it – but there was dreck before the self and indie publishers were given access to the stage. I have editors and beta readers (sometimes all the way to omega readers) and critique partners to help me make sure I offer the best product I can, and I always encourage those who come to me for advice to do the same.

Electronic publishing is with us, like it or not. I happen to love it. It has given writers and readers access to works they might never have seen if electronic publishing had never been. And for those of us who are comfortable handling the details, it has opened doors that have been nailed shut to most of us for too long.

12–Are you in a critique or writing group? If so, how does it work and specifically how do the members help your writing?

I’m not in either currently; but I was in a local writers group for a while and found it not to my liking. I’ve been a member at Absolute Write ( since 2005 or so, however. They’ve got a fantastic, nurturing environment for writers. No matter your level of experience, your genre, or whether you’re going for professional or hobby writing, the site has something for everyone… including a place to hang out with the other members and discuss any- and everything from current events and politics to the silliest of subjects. The ‘Share Your Work’ sections, divided according to genre, give you a safe place to post work in progress and get honest, constructive feedback. There’s even a place to get feedback on query letters. Filled with professionals (including agents and publishers), published writers, editors, and people in every step of the process, it’s my go-to place for help and support. The members are there at all times of the day and night no matter where you live, ready to give you a pat on the back, a shoulder to cry on, or a kick in the pants if that’s what you need to get you going, keep you going, or get you back on track.

If you visit and decide to sign up, tell ’em ‘Ol’ Fashioned Girl’ sent you.

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