Jeaniene Frost Interview by Grover Gardner
Grover Gardner: Welcome to Downpour.com’s interview series. I’m Grover Gardner, and today my guest is New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jeaniene Frost. Blackstone is honored to have published nine of Jeaniene’s titles. And her latest, One Grave at a Time, book six in the Night Huntress series, will be released simultaneously on audiobook and in print on August 30th. On your website, you talk about how as a child you always wanted to be a writer and then as time went on, marriage, work, other things got in the way. And then finally there came a moment when you decided bang—I’m going to do this now. I’m curious. Could you be a little more specific? What was that moment? What tipped the apple cart towards launching your career as a writer?
Jeaniene Frost: I remember it pretty vividly. I was sitting at my computer, and I had been really, really blown away by the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. And I was looking up the actors in it and stumbled across Viggo Mortensen’s profile, and it showed that he was an actor, a poet, a sculptor, a publisher…good God, probably about five other things, and I had a kind of moment of clarity of “you are wasting your life” as far as the dream I had had of writing. (laughs). And, so, I made up my mind then that I was going to stop, probably because my thirtieth birthday was looming at the time, that kind of gave me another little jump start of “look, the clock is ticking, and it’s not slowing down.” Shortly thereafter I had the dream about the half-vampire and the vampire. And, it really lined up to where I knew I was going to start this book—and more importantly, I was going to finish it.
GG: As you started the book, was the story kind of fully formed in your mind? Or did you have to search around—I noticed on your website there are a lot of deleted sections and false starts—was the whole thing kind of there?
JF: Well, it’s interesting because the original idea that I had for the story actually ended up taking place in the second book, which was the original snapshot of the dream with me seeing a half-vampire woman and a full-vampire man arguing, and they were arguing because he was furious that she’d left him. And turning around in my head what had brought those people to that point—’cause I knew she hadn’t wanted to leave him, and loved him, and that he was not going to be shoved aside—is actually what became the first book in the series. And I was probably about seventy thousand words into that book when I realized there is no way I’m going to fit all of their story into one novel. And so immediately upon finishing the first book I started the second one. And it wasn’t until then that I even came to the point that was the original idea. There were a lot of deleted scenes and so on and so forth. It was the first novel that I finished. I had not yet mastered the art of sticking to the main plot, shall we say?
JF: (laughs) Yeah, that resulted in probably more revisions than I can even recall between the original first draft of Halfway to the Grave and what is on the shelves today. But writing is a process. The more you do it, hopefully the better you get at it. But no one rips out a perfect first draft on their first try. I’ve just kind of learned that “the end” actually means “take one.”
GG: (laughs) When you started out, did you think it was just going to be one or two books, or did you know that there was a, sort of a whole epic there, coming out?
JF: When I started, my first goal was to just actually finish a novel. I’d never done that before, and I’d wanted to, because I’m a procrastinator, and my attention span is not as focused as it should be. So I’ll get an idea, and then I’ll get another idea. And it takes a lot of determination to stick with something. Fortunately, the idea for Cat and Bones really was vivid in my head, so that made it a lot easier to stick to them and not get distracted by any other ideas. So, like I said, I realized later that it was more than one book, and then when I was about halfway through writing the second book I realized I still had all these adventures in my head for them, so I knew I would write a third book. And I had started my fourth book when my husband finally said “Honey, I don’t know a lot about publishing, but maybe you should try and see if the first one sells before you keep writing and writing and writing in the same series,” so…
JF: … That’s how that came about. I kind of started querying it just to shut him up.
GG: (laughs) You had several books, I guess, in the can as we say in the recording business, before you started peddling the first one, is that…?
JF: Yes, that is true. I had completed three, and was on the fourth, but the third book turned out to be hidden in an old file on my hard drive and will never see the light of day. It didn’t work. So, not only are there deleted scenes that are cut, in that case I cut an entire novel. So, what was the fourth book that I was starting when I began querying Halfway to the Grave, turned out to be the third book that is on the shelves.
GG: This could be immensely valuable. The lost novel.
JF: (laughs) No, it really is not fit for consumption. I think it was Stephen King that said, “Kill your darling,” referring to getting rid of things that don’t work. Well, that whole book was a darling that needed to die. So … may it rest in peace (laughs).
GG: Well, this could be like the Aspern Papers of Henry James, where years from now some guy is poking into your desk or your computer trying to find that lost book.
JF: Oh, well…
GG: You better hide it. Hide it well.
JF: (laughs) Yeah. Mercy on their souls if anyone does.
GG: So you had the dream, and you saw the characters. Are those the people who actually made it into the book? Or did you revise your picture of—
JF: No. It was pretty clear. I knew certain things that never changed. I knew Cat, my heroine, was a half-vampire. I knew Bones was a powerful full-vampire. And I knew that she obviously was very stubborn and impulsive to have ditched him for years, even though she thought it was for his own good. And I also knew that he was an expert at finding people and was not the type to take that sort of brush-off lying down. So, those were just the basics of their characters, but it stayed throughout the course of the series. So, certain things about them were crystal clear, and yet certain things I did not find out until writing. And I’m more of an organic writer, so I might have a good idea, or what I think is a good idea for the characters at the time, but as far as the rest of the plot, most of that comes to me as I write. So I get surprised along with readers with some of the twists and turns.
GG: Neat. How many times did you have to send this first one out, then, before…?
JF: Oh wow. I think when I had kept a log of rejections, I had gotten over fifty, for Halfway to the Grave. So it was more than a few … It was funny, just the other day I had pulled open a cookbook, which ought to tell you how long it had been since I’d touched that cookbook, and found a rejection letter dated from 2004—I must have been so frustrated by getting it I shoved it in the one place I knew I’d never touch it for years, which was a cookbook (laughs). So I might have gotten more than that, and have just deleted them from my mind. But it was at least fifty—from the ones I did keep a log of.
JF: I had queried agents and some publishers directly, some smaller presses. You know, there were one or two of the larger ones that accepted unagented submissions.
GG: So you did not have an agent, you were sending this out yourself?
JF: Well, I was sending it out to get an agent.
GG: To get an agent.
JF: Because I had read a Writer’s Market, which is a very, very helpful tool for aspiring authors. And it said that you didn’t need an agent, but an agent could prove very valuable. So I felt pretty sure that I wanted one. But just in case, I also sent to a few publishers. And it was an agent that ended up repping Halfway to the Grave and sold it to HarperCollins.
GG: So the book comes out, the first one, and bang! It’s a big hit. What did you think about that?
JF: I was really stunned. They tell you, and rightly so, that you have to have very reasonable expectations with a debut novel. You hope for the best, and yet you prepare for the most likely, which is that it’ll hopefully find a few readers that enjoy it and as your series continues you’ll hopefully build a following, and then maybe one day if you’re really, really, really lucky you’ll have a book that will hit the bestseller list, and Halfway to the Grave did that right out of the gate. So no one was more surprised than me. Aside from possibly my editor (laughs). She had loved the book, it’s just we weren’t expecting that. So that was really, really neat. I don’t think I could ever begin to describe what I felt when she gave me that phone call and said it was on the New York Times and USA Today [bestseller lists]. I didn’t believe her. I made her send me the list.
GG: The publisher must have been thrilled that you already had three or four more ready to go.
JF: Well, yes, but they were diamonds in the rough, to put it nicely. My second book didn’t require as many revisions as my first one, but a good thirty percent of it got cut out and changed, and it still took a good amount of work. Possibly as much as it would of taken if I had to write it from scratch. And by the time I had done revisions on the second book, and I saw everything that was wrong with it, is when I knew that my original third book just had to go. And I had started the fourth book and so I built from there and that became the published third book. So it is still a learning process, and I’ve gotten to the point now where my revisions aren’t as big—and I say that while knocking wood—because that’ll guarantee that my next book is just going to need a total rewrite. But you hope to get better the more you do it, and the more you learn. That’s the goal, anyway.
GG: Did you like working with an editor? I mean, that must have been a change in your own process. Was that something you found helpful, annoying…? (laughs)
JF: (laughs). Well here’s the thing. I love working. I love working with an editor and I love my editor. There were a few growing pains. All of my own doing. In the beginning where I think “Well, but she wants me to change this and yet this is absolutely necessary,” and blah blah blah blah blah. And you realize later that’s just your immaturity talking. And when you get over your own love of your words and your original idea and get on the ball with what is going to make this story better, is when I quit crying and cursing on my editorial letters. And now I just look forward to her feedback because I know it’s going to make the book better. So it’s great having someone who gets your idea, and yet doesn’t look at it like I’m going to impose my own will upon the book, but I’m going to help make this book the best that can be.
GG: Yeah. It’s a tough job. And people who do it well are quite extraordinary—that editing process.
JF: Oh, I don’t envy my editor at all. She does have a tough job. (laughs)
GG: How many more books?
JF: Cat and Bones will have a total of nine books in their series. Their sixth book comes out August30th, and it’s called One Grave at a Time. And, then immediately thereafter, they have a novella in a Christmas anthology called The Bite before Christmas, but it’s almost the size of half a book. It’s not like a normal novella. There’s only me and author Lynsay Sands in it. So basically, each of us wrote a half a book for this novella. And a lot of really interesting information about Bones’ past and some secrets are going to come up in that. So, I’m looking forward to readers getting hold of it. As far as the spin-off books, I already started writing books where it’s the same world, but highlighting side characters and giving them their own chance in the spotlight. I did two of them in 2010, with Mencheres and Spade and their respective heroines, and the book I’m writing now is Vlad’s first novel. It’ll be the first in a new series. And he and his heroine, Leila, have a ton of mayhem in front of them.
JF: And that’s tentatively scheduled to come out in spring 2013—or, I’m sorry—spring 2012. Or summer 2013, depending on how fast I can finish the book, and what condition it’s in when it’s turned in.
GG: Wow. Now you were fortunate enough to start writing during the age of audiobooks, and so I assume it pretty much came up quickly that there were audio rights, and your agent or publisher wanted to get this out. How aware were you of audiobooks? Did this play at all into your scheme?
JF: Well of course I knew about audiobooks, but I hadn’t really thought of them too much in connection with my book when I first published, mainly because everything was so new. I still couldn’t really refer to myself as an author ’cause I thought someone would say “no you’re not” and I’d be like “you’re right, you’re right, it’s made up.”
JF: It was my agent who said at the time your publisher has your audio rights, but they haven’t moved on them, and according to your contract we can get them back and try and see if another independent audio publisher would be interested in them. Do you want to do that? And I said yes because I had been getting a lot of e-mails from readers saying, “Why don’t you have an audiobook?” And, of course, I want my book in whatever format the readers want them in. And, it’s also really neat because it’s a different interpretation of my stories. It’s my words, but it’s someone else’s portrayal. And so it’s kind of neat for me to have a different vehicle for my books. And the audiobooks, they are the books, but with the dramatic emphasis added on them they’re kind of different, too.
GG: Jeaniene, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a delightful talk with you, and we really appreciate it. And we’re looking forward to more and more and more and more, as I know your fans are too, so…
JF: Well, thank you. It’s been great talking to you, and I’m going to try and keep writing for as long as readers let me.
GG: Please do, please do. We love it. Thank you so much.
JF: All right. Well, thank you. It was great talking with you.
GG: Thank you for joining us for this exclusive interview. You can find all of Blackstone Audio’s titles and more at Downpour.com.
This interview was recorded in June 2011.
Disclaimer: This audio and transcript have been edited slightly from the original recording for quality and readability.
One Grave at a Time
The grave is one wrong step away.
Having narrowly averted an (under) world war, Cat Crawfield wants nothing more than a little downtime with her vampire husband, Bones. Unfortunately, her gift from New Orleans’ voodoo queen just keeps on giving—leading to a personal favor that sends them into battle once again, this time against a villainous spirit.
Centuries ago, Heinrich Kramer was a witch hunter. Now, every All Hallows Eve, he takes physical form to torture innocent women before burning them alive. This year, however, a determined Cat and Bones must risk all to send him back to the other side of eternity—forever. But how do you kill a killer who’s already long dead?