"New Worlds Are Our Oyster."
No Time Like the Present
Spotlight on Contemporary Paranormal Romance
USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Ashley writes romances, mysteries, and mainstream historical fiction under the names Jennifer Ashley, Allyson James, and Ashley Gardner. She lives in the sunny southwest and mainly works on writing her books and drinking iced tea.
An Interview with Jennifer Ashley
PNR: Can you tell us a little about how you started writing; was it something you have always wanted to do?
Jennifer A.: Oh, yes, I always wanted to be a writer. When I was eight, it struck me that novels were nothing but make-believe written down. I had a vivid imagination, always making up stories, so I started writing them down. Not long ago, I came across a story I wrote at that time--a play, with stage directions and props and everything—and the characters actually had goals, motivation, and conflict. It had a deux ex machina ending, but hey, I was eight<g>. I always knew that when I “grew up,” I’d be a novelist. I finally started seriously working toward publication in about 1999.
PNR: You have been very successful writing historical romance for Leisure Books and contemporary romance for Love Spell. What influenced your decision to branch out into the paranormal romance genre?
Jennifer A.: I have been a fantasy/sci fi reader for decades. For years, I wouldn’t read anything else. I adored Barbara Hambly, Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Terry Pratchett, Andre Norton, and many more in the genre. I read Lord of the Rings when I was twelve, and started penning my own fantasy saga. By the time I was writing seriously, I’d grown frustrated with the genre, because it had turned from the high-fantasy adventures I loved (it’s changed back again), plus I wanted much more romance in my stories, and at the time, the genre discouraged romance (again, this has changed). I turned to writing historical romance, which is similar to fantasy in many ways (you do world-building, you write about dukes and princes and pirates and knights), and I fell in love with historical romance.
Ironically, when I first started writing romance, current wisdom was that paranormals didn’t sell. “Don’t even bother,” well-meaning people told me. “Editors won’t touch them.” So I stuck with historicals. Of course, a year or two later, Christine Feehan, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Charlaine Harris burst onto the scene, and paranormals made a comeback with a vengeance. At that time I was locked into several historical contracts (which was fine—I love historicals!), but I longed to write the fantasy stories burning in my brain.
I finally got the opportunity in two ways. First, I wanted very much to be part of the Crimson City series Love Spell was publishing, but I had so many other obligations, I couldn’t even send a proposal. I asked my editor whether Dorchester planned a continuity series after that, and if so, could I be part of it. She told me that they didn’t have a series at the time, but I was welcome to pitch one. I got excited, wrote a short proposal for Immortals (an idea I’d been kicking around for a while), and sent it to her. She and the publisher loved it, and signed me to do the books.
Another opportunity came through my Allyson James pseudonym. I took that pseudonym to write erotic romance at Ellora’s Cave (so if I was very bad at erotic romance, no one would know it was me<g>). Writing erotic romance allowed me to write another genre I always wanted to—futuristic, because the stories I had in mind (Tales of the Shareem) needed a futuristic setting. I love space opera (I’m a die-hard Firefly fan), so this has been a great joy for me. An editor at Berkley, who I’d worked with before, bought some dragon stories from me under my Allyson James pseudonym, so that opportunity to write paranormal cropped up too.
This is the long answer to why I am now writing paranormal!<g> However, I haven’t switched permanently—I am in the process of writing more historicals, and more to come. I will always write historicals. I love historical fiction in all genres.
PNR: What do you consider to be the key elements of a great story?
Jennifer A.: 1. Believability; 2. Characterization (readers should view these people as their friends); 3. Pacing; 4. Conflict that’s clear, important to the characters, and believable (not conflict for the sake of conflict, and not the author making the characters stubbornly refuse to reconcile just to reach a page count). Conflict doesn’t have to be “save-the-world”—it can as easily be a small personal decision that affects the hero’s or heroine’s entire life. 5. Clear, concise writing.
PNR: Readers are very excited about the new IMMORTALS series from Love Spell, the premise is very intriguing. The project is your brainchild; could you tell us a little about the development of the series? How did you go about getting it from concept to publication by Dorchester?
Jennifer A.: I talked a little bit above how I pitched the story via email and phone to my editor. I was surprised how quickly the publisher responded and wanted to buy it.
I had the idea of Immortal warriors existing throughout time to save people in need. I let that gestate for a while (a couple of years), but I had never had the opportunity to flesh it out. Once Dorchester expressed interest, I sat down and brainstormed like crazy to make my vision of these gorgeous Immortals work.
I came up with the world concept, the magical concept (life magic and death magic), the heroes, and the main conflict (Immortals are needed to fight an evil force that they must work together to stop, but the Immortals are lost, scattered, and no one knows how to find them). I sketched out plots for four books, but left them fairly bare-bones, so that the other authors could let their ideas flow. I had a vision, but didn’t want to restrict anyone’s creativity too much.
Robin, Joy, and I set up an email loop and brainstormed through that. Both Joy and Robin had terrific ideas to add to the overall world, and we incorporated them. It’s exciting to be with very creative people and watch things develop. So while I had the bare-bones ideas of all the books, Joy and Robin took their books and ran. What they came up with is fantastic. The series was very much a collaboration of three.
PNR: Could you tell us about THE CALLING and THE GATHERING, your contributions to the IMMORTALS series?
Jennifer A.: The Calling sets up the series. In it a witch called Amber is investigating the murder of her sister, gets attacked by the demon who killed her, and rescued by a leather-coated, blue-jeans clad warrior with a big sword. Turns out he is an Immortal called Adrian who is searching for his long-lost brother, Tain. Amber’s quest and Adrian’s coincide, and Amber gets drawn into the search for Tain and the battle against dark forces. In the end, Adrian realizes that he and his other brothers must work together, and he has Amber summon them (The Calling Spell). The demon they’ve been fighting breaks the spell, scattering the Immortals throughout the world. Now it’s up to the witches to find them.
The Gathering brings the series to a conclusion. Part of the book is what happens when a witch called Leda finds the Immortal called Hunter in the enclosure with her hurt lion. The lion seems to like Hunter, and Hunter sees no reason not to settle down here with beautiful Leda and enjoy himself. But the problems of the outside world draw them in, and they’re caught up in the final fight.
All of the Immortals: Adrian, Kalen, Darius, Hunter, and Tain come together in the last book, with some interesting twists.
A couple of people have remarked that I have everything in The Calling: vampires, werewolves, dragons, Sidhe, demons, and so forth, and that’s true. Our premise is that magic and magical creatures have always existed, so all the stories and fairy tales are true! Hence all the magical creatures we’ve ever read about really exist. Robin has a leprechaun you’ll enjoy, and Joy has added creatures from Celtic myth. We had fun with it.
PNR: How much freedom were you given in developing the series? Did you give the contributing authors an outline, names, etc. or just the concept to develop?
Jennifer A.: We were given pretty much complete freedom. The editor had suggestions, but overall, it was our baby.
I had a good idea about the overall story arc, but the individual books were left to each author. I basically said: “Here’s an Immortal, here’s a witch. Go for it.” I was as excited as anyone to see what they did, and both of them came up with terrific characters.
I learned so much as we developed these stories. I think that good writers only strengthen each other, and I in no way wanted to restrict the free-for-all creativity of the others.
PNR: What has been your experience collaborating with such talented authors?
Jennifer A.: I have heard horror stories about collaborations, so I feel very lucky that the three of us worked so well together. Joy and Robin were had terrific ideas and we didn’t let ego get in the way of assessing every idea for it’s merit, regardless of who brought it up. Not everything we came up with worked out, but we were willing to try things and discard what didn’t work without rancor. I had a wonderful time! I hope they did, too.
PNR: If you hit a writer’s block, did you brainstorm with the other of the authors?
Jennifer A.: I don’t think any of us had trouble with writer’s block. These stories pretty much flowed from all of us. But we did brainstorm quite a bit while we wrote, both to enrich the stories and make sure we stayed on track. The email loop was quite active!
PNR: What was the biggest challenge you faced working on the series? The most rewarding aspect? Would you do it again?
Jennifer A.: The biggest challenge was consistency. Books 2 and 3 and the beginning of Book 4 happen simultaneously. We had to keep track of who was where at all times. We also had to make sure that once we agreed on our world’s rules, we didn’t violate them. If the first book stated that Immortals couldn’t do a certain thing, then we had to make sure the other Immortals weren’t happily doing that thing. So keeping track of everything was a bit of a challenge.
The other challenge--for me, at least--was writing the end of Book 4 (The Gathering), in which I had to wrap up the series, plus include all the characters Joy and Robin had developed. Not only was I playing with their heroes/heroines, but some of their secondary characters as well. They read the ms. to make sure I got the voices of the characters right. The Gathering was probably one of the hardest books I’ve ever written!
The most rewarding thing was seeing a concept I’d carried in my head blossom and become reality. Robin and Joy came up with things I’d never have thought of, which developed the stories more deeply than I could have on my own. I seriously think writing teams (of the right people) can create wonderful things.
I would do it again if I could work with writers like Joy and Robin.
PNR: What advice would you give to an author looking at being part of a series like this?
Jennifer A.: Learn patience, and don’t be too controlling. Not everything is going to work out exactly the way you want. Learn to look objectively at your ideas and be willing to let weaker ideas go.
On the other hand, don’t feel restricted by the other writers and the world’s “rules.” Let your imagination go wild—these worlds aren’t “real” so you can change them as you develop them.
A successful collaborative series is a good marriage of unrestricted creativity and sensible organization. Plus—don’t let it become a battle of egos. It should be about the story first and foremost.
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?
Jennifer A.: I think paranormal is a subgenre that takes us out of our mundane reality. The world is a dark place, everyday life can be tedious—but here is a world where rules are broken and ordinary people battle extraordinary forces and win.
I also think that paranormals surged when vampires and werewolves--traditional villains--suddenly got to be the good guys. What a wonderful opportunity to explore characterization! It’s a new and interesting twist on old ideas. And the paranormal was married with elements of thrillers, mysteries, and women’s fiction to create something entirely new.
PNR: Could you tell us about your current projects, what can readers expect to see in the coming months? Do you have any additional series in the works? Single titles?
Jennifer A.: Aside from Immortals, I have several things going. My alter-ego, Allyson James, has written two paranormals: Dragon Heat (July 2007) and The Black Dragon (Nov. 2007) both out from Berkley Sensation this year.
I also wrote a historical mainstream novel about young Elizabeth I (The Queen’s Handmaiden), published by Berkley Trade and out in October as Jennifer Ashley.
I’m writing the third book in my historical/paranormal series as Jennifer Ashley (which began with Penelope and Prince Charming), plus a follow-up book in the Immortals series. After that, even more historicals and paranormals.
I’m working on a few more things for Ellora’s Cave as Allyson James, plus doing some erotic romance for Berkley for their Heat line (again as Allyson James).
Many things coming down the pipeline!
PNR: Thank you, Jennifer, for speaking with us and giving a peek at this exciting series, where can readers find out about your work?
Jennifer A.: I have several websites. My main site is www.jennifersromances.com, which lists all my books plus links to my pseudonyms (mainly www.allysonjames.com). The Immortals has it’s own site and own myspace pages— www.immortals-series.comwebsite
Featured in this issue:
May 1, 2007
The Immortals: Book 1
The Calling begins a saga of magic and adventure and sexy romance of four bad-boy Immortals warriors and the witches who must find them and persuade them to help conquer a new evil . . . an Immortal warrior gone rogue.Coming Soon
Amber Silverthorne is surprised to be saved from a demon attack by the Immortal Adrian. Death magic is taking over the human world. According to Adrian, only he and his Immortal brothers can stop it.
September 1, 2007
The Immortals: Book 4
The exciting conclusion...
Leda finds Hunter sprawled in an enclosure with her injured lion, and to her amazement, the lion seems to like him.
Hunter is ready to forget the world and his pain and lose himself on this tropical island with the beautiful Leda, but a request from an unusual person makes him realize he must return to the world to help. He takes Leda, the most powerful witch he's ever met, and the lion with him.
They find the world run amok with Death Magic, and that Tain and his demon are planning a final take-over at the full of the moon.
Hunter and Leda race to join the other Immortals, but discover that the four Immortals and their witches have gathered too late . . .
October 1, 2006
A sunbathing vamp in Vegas? Meredith Black is absolutely positive the tanned god with the gorgeous smile couldn’t have possibly made her his for eternity with just one glance. But he’ll sure have fun proving it.
Battling a demon lord is all in a day’s work for the Dark One named Sebastian. But now he must take on a horde of unhappy zombies and an obnoxious teen vampire if he wants to win the hand of the one woman who can make him whole.
Talk show host Lucy Campbell has made a career of interviewing Druid witches, trolls, and an occasional goblin. But now she wants more. Only she wasn’t expecting to get involved with a vampire detective who has a slight incubus problem.
April 1, 2006
His blue eyes beguiled. His muscular form could have satisfied any fantasy. He had a delicious foreign accent—and to top it off, he was royalty! What woman would dare refuse the most sought-after lover in Europe?
Miss Twice-a-Jilt Penelope Trask, that's who. And, unfortunately for Damien, marrying Penelope is the only way to inherit his kingdom. Good thing this enchantingly infuriating woman doesn't seem completely immune to his many charms. The passionate way she returns his kisses tells Damien he isn't the only one head over heels. But wooing is difficult amid assassination attempts, wild magic, and desire so strong it threatens to overwhelm him every time they touch. Why had no one mentioned the road to happily-ever-after could be so difficult?
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