"New Worlds Are Our Oyster."
No Time Like the Present
Spotlight on Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Jackie Kessler is the author of Hell's Belles, a story about a succubus who runs away from Hell, hides on Earth as an exotic dancer, and learns the hard way about true love. Sex, strippers, and demons; what’s not to like? Contrary to popular belief, Jackie did not work her way through college by stripping. She did, however, offer to buy her husband a lap dance, all in the name of research. Jackie lives in upstate New York with her husband, two sons, two cats, and 9,000 comic books.
An Interview with Jackie Kessler
PNR: Can you tell us a little about how you started writing; was it something you have always wanted to do?
Jackie K.: Actually, when I was a kid, I wanted to draw comic books. But as enjoyable as that was, I quickly learned that putting the words into the characters’ mouths was infinitely more fun. (And, cough, I wasn’t very good at drawing comic books.)
So when I went to college, I took as many creative writing workshops I could, and I started writing what I lovingly referred to as the Great American Novel. (Nope, it wasn’t Hell’s Belles. Heh. That’s another story. Literally and figuratively.)
PNR: Being a newly published author, who or what has been the biggest influence on your work? Who or what has been your biggest support?
Jackie K.: The single biggest author influence? Neil Gaiman, hands down. My biggest support? My Loving Husband. I couldn’t do this without him. (And I don’t just mean the research for the nookie scenes…)
PNR: What do you feel are the essential elements of a great story?
Jackie K.: Characters we care about and root for and cry with; a strong plot and well-timed pace that keeps us turning the pages; prose that hooks us and won’t let go.
PNR: Reviewers and readers are excited about HELL’S BELLES, your debut novel and the first title in your new paranormal series, Hell on Earth; could you tell us where the idea came from and a little about your vision for the series?
Jackie K.: I’d previously written a contemporary fantasy that wasn’t ready for prime-time (see above about the Great American Novel) and a chick-lit story that was ten years too late. In mid-2005, I read an editor interview in which the editor mentioned the term “magical chick lit.” I said to myself: I can do that! A combination of the fantasy I loved so much and the sassy, first-person voice that I enjoyed? Yeah!
The background for Hell’s Belles came from a short story I wrote for From the Asylum called “Giving the Devil His To Do’s” (published in December 2005, but written way before then), about a disgruntled demon who lamented the changes in Hell. As for Jezebel herself, she pulled an Athena: she sprang fully formed out of my head.
I’m planning on eight or nine books in the series (the “or nine” part is because the penultimate book may have too much going on in it for a single story). The main story arc is the story of Jezebel/Jesse Harris and her various relationships: with her lover Paul, with her buddy Daunuan, with her best friend Megaera, with the King of Hell…and with her own humanity and demonic tendencies. Major changes are happening in Hell, and Jesse isn’t done with the Abyss. Or, more accurately, the Abyss isn’t done with her. (Cue evil music here, bwahahaha…)
If all goes well, then Jesse will have five (or six) books in which she’s the narrator and main character, and there will be three one-shot books in which supporting characters take the lead. The first of these is Hotter Than Hell (August 2008), which is Daun’s story. ((fans self)) Gawd, I love him. That’s probably a bad thing. Because we hurt the ones we love. A lot. (Cue more evil music here.)
PNR: I was very intrigued by your unique vision of the Abyss; what are the challenges you face in world-building and making it believable for the reader? Did you research or rely solely on imagination?
Jackie K.: Thank you! I did tons of research on various mythologies of Hell in religion, legend and literature. I even drew a map (hey, it’s my fantasy background: there’s got to be a map—in case you’re wondering, Hell looks a little like Manhattan). And the pieces that worked, I took; the gaps I filled in myself. So far, no demon has called me out on making a mistake. Which is a good thing.
I think that the challenges of world building are twofold: you have to make it believable, and you have to make it consistent. You set rules when you create worlds, and that means your characters have to obey those rules (or have a damn good reason for breaking them). If you break those rules without a reason, or if your world isn’t real, then there’s the very big risk of either yanking your readers out of the story or breaking their trust. (No pressure!)
PNR: Jezebel is not the typical romance heroine yet captures the heart of the reader in spite of the fact. Could you tell us about the development of her character? What is her appeal for readers?
Jackie K.: Thanks! Jezzie is wicked, to be sure, but in many ways she’s also an innocent. And despite what she thinks, she does care about people. (A good demon? Eek.)
Also, going into it, I wanted to write about a succubus turned stripper—and that meant Jezebel would be an unrepentantly sexual creature. It wouldn’t occur to her to be embarrassed or reserved about her wants and needs. (Just the thought of me standing on a stage half-naked let alone completely naked save for a scrap of underwear is enough to make me break out in hives.)
Actually, even though she cares about others, Jezzie is pretty self-centered, especially when she first becomes human. But through the course of the story, she meets Paul, which causes all sorts of icky feelings (love) and emotions (guilt) that she never had to deal with before. She transforms from being a creature of Lust to falling in love. And that’s when the real problems begin. (Along with the whole being on the run from Hell thing.)
PNR: Jesse’s adjustment to her new skin created many humorous moments; does this approach come naturally to you? Do you enjoy using humor in your writing?
Jackie K.: I actually didn’t think I was a funny writer. My Loving Husband had been asking me to write a humorous story for years. Years. Finally, I tried my hand at a chick-lit novel just to write something different, and boom, the first-person voice just worked. It resonated with me, and I got terrific feedback on the style. But that being said, I don’t intentionally write something funny. The humor just happens.
PNR: And let’s not forget your sexy hero, Paul, his interactions with Jesse are romantic and HOT; could you tell us what inspired his character?
Jackie K.: There’s a lot of my Loving Husband in Paul. J
PNR: Do you feel your writing is character driven or plot driven? How do you balance these two elements?
Jackie K.: I think it’s both plot driven and character driven. Jezzie becomes human, and so she goes through a big transformation in how she relates to the world (not to mention when she falls in love, which she absolutely wasn’t planning on). But she’s also on the run from Hell, and there’s the underlying reason why she ran away in the first place. Character development and plot.
As for the balance, when I write, I try to think through how Jezzie acts and reacts—what she’s thinking, feeling, what she’s hoping for and afraid of. And I try to convey that in the story, whether it’s literally Jezzie telling us what she’s thinking or me showing how she’s acting/reacting.
PNR: Could you tell us a little about how you develop your characters? Who has been your favorite character to write? The most challenging?
Jackie K.: With Hell’s Belles, I didn’t plot out the story until the last quarter or so of the book – I wrote it by the seat of my pants. Everything that happened with Jezebel and Paul just…happened. (That’s helpful, isn’t it? Sheesh!) I plotted out The Road to Hell well in advance, and I think it’s a tighter story because of it.
But the book that has the most character development so far is Hotter Than Hell, which is Daun’s book. He’s my favorite—but don’t tell Jesse that. J
PNR: How would you describe the sensuality level of your books; do you find it challenging to write the love/sex scenes?
Jackie K.: Heh. It’s hot enough that I’ve told my parents they’re supposed to skip the nookie scenes. And my kids aren’t allowed to read my books. Ever. (Or date. But that’s another story.)
At first, I bit nervous about writing the passionate scenes. But then I just let myself write the story, and it flowed. Jezzie is a sexual creature, so there’s sex in Hell’s Belles. And given that she’s a succubus, it’s natural for Jezebel to think in sexual terms. (And dark terms. She’s a demon, after all.) So as long as I stay true to the story, I’m okay with whatever happens, be it hawt monkey sex or making passionate love. (Passionate monkey luv?)
PNR: Paranormal romance in a contemporary setting is experiencing an incredible surge in popularity, what do you feel accounts for the sudden interest in this sub-genre? What is it about this setting that captures your interest? What is it about the paranormal genre that captures your imagination? Is there a genre you haven’t written but would like to try?
Jackie K.: It’s not really sudden, if you look back to when Laurell K. Hamilton first published Guilty Pleasures (book 1 of the Anita Blake series) in 1993. She may not have created the subgenre of paranormal romance, but the Anita books have definitely helped pave the way. But yes, in the past five years or so, paranormal seems to be everywhere. To which I say, HUZZAH! The more, the merrier.
I’ve always believed in magic (the “Wall of fire!” kind), and let’s face it: we know there are monsters out there, making things go bump in the night. J It’s a blast writing about them.
I grew up reading Nancy Drew, so I’d love to write a good mystery (with or without monsters). Or maybe romantic suspense. I have a serial-killer idea poking around in my head that I may try out. Or I may weave it into one of the Hell books. Hmm.
PNR: Could you tell us about your current projects, what can readers expect to see in the coming months?
Jackie K.: The next books in the Hell series are The Road to Hell (November 2007) and Hotter Than Hell (August 2008), and a novella, A Hell of a Time, will be in a Kensington anthology in 2008.
I also have two projects currently on submission: a women’s fiction/contemporary proposal called Schmoozing the Almighty (Jewish paranormal: it’s time!) and a young-adult urban fantasy called The Magic Brigade. Fingers crossed!
PNR: Thank you, Jackie, for taking time out to talk to us. Where can readers find out what’s new and how can they contact you?
Jackie K.: Thank you, Dee! For more information about me and the Hell on Earth series, or if you want to send me an email message (but please, NO MORE VIAGRA ADS, I beg you!), come visit my website: http://www.jackiekessler.com
Featured in this issue:
Hell On Earth: Book 1
Hell on Earth starts here…
Jezebel’s not your average exotic dancer. For one thing, she’s a 4,000-year-old succubus. For another, she’s on the run from Hell (which isn’t easy to do in high heels). Hiding on the mortal coil as a human doesn’t protect her from muggers, lactose intolerance…or having feelings for Paul Hamilton, a man haunted by his past. Demons are closing in, which is enough to make Jezebel shiver in her G-string. But it’s her love for Paul that’s going to have deadly consequences. (Humans, she laments, really should come with instruction manuals.)
True love, freedom, money, knowledge, revenge... Dreams and desires of the ordinary woman, or man. From best friends who discover love to a bank teller who exacts revenge to a succubus who loves art more than men, this collection of nineteen stories celebrates the attainment of all one can dream or desire. Which one do you secretly yearn for?
The Road to Hell
November 1, 2007
Hell On Earth: Book 1
Earth is still in a Hellish way…
There's Nothing Worse Than A Demon With A Grudge
Jesse may no longer be a soul-stealing succubus, but she's got a Hell of a past. She'd love to come clean to her sweet, super-hot boyfriend Paul, but how exactly does a girl start that conversation? There's no name tag that reads: "I Used to Have Sex with Men before Taking Their Souls to the Lake of Fire--Ask Me How!" Just like some people are worth being monogamous for (shudder), some secrets are worth keeping. Like the fact that bad boy incubus Daunuan keeps popping up from the Underworld to put some toe-curling moves on her; that her former associates are trying to strong-arm her back into the fold; and that every supernatural entity on the planet seems to want to have a conversation with her in the bathroom. But someone in the Underworld isn't ready to play nice (go figure), and this time, the stakes are nothing less than Paul's immortal soul.
If Hell wants Jesse back so badly, they've got her. But payback's a bitch, and this bitch is about to rock Hell like a hurricane--or lose her soul trying...
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