"New Worlds Are Our Oyster."
A series of childhood trips to the Yucatan left Jessica Andersen with a lifelong love of Mayan myths and legends. Since leaving academic science for a career as a novelist, she has written more than twenty science-based romantic suspense novels. Now, she’s thrilled to bring her research background to bear on one of her earliest fascinations, the Mayan 2012 doomsday. Jessica is a lifelong New Englander (go, Red Sox!), and lives on a small working farm with her own personal hero, Brian. For more on Jessica, the Nightkeepers, and the Novels of the Final Prophecy, please visit www.JessicaAndersen.com
An Interview with Jessica Andersen
PNR: Welcome fellow member of Red Sox Nation, I’m excited to have the opportunity to talk with you about your new series.
Jessica A.: Thanks, Dee! I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me about Nightkeepers and the Novels of the Final Prophecy.
PNR: Can you tell us a little about how you started writing; was it something you have always wanted to do?
Jessica A.: It was more something I fell into as a stress reliever during grad school. LOL! I did my doctoral work in genetics at Tufts University, helping search for the genetic mutations responsible for certain types of glaucoma. It was very cool work, but the writing aspect of science suited me far better than the labwork. It wasn’t until the head of my thesis committee complimented my thesis by saying it “read like a mystery novel” that I admitted I was… um… writing a romantic suspense novel in my free time. Soon after, I left the lab and spent the next couple of years freelancing as a scientific editor while I worked on getting my writing career off the ground.
PNR: Are you able to write as much as you would like? Could you tell us about your writing schedule? What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
Jessica A.: I’m lucky enough to be able to write whenever and however much I want, though there’s danger in all that freedom: if I don’t put myself on a schedule, I do lots of staring out the window.
In terms of a schedule, I’m generally up around 6 a.m., surf the web for a half hour or so over my first cup of tea, and then get to work. If I’m at the beginning of a story, I’ll write on my main computer and answer email as it comes in, poke around a bit more on the web for research, etc. If I’m deeper into a story (i.e. a deadline is on the horizon), I’ll use a laptop that’s not connected to the internet, in order to avoid distraction. I eat lunch at the computer and work until I hit the ‘afternoon groggy stage’, at which point I head outside to do chores (we have a small working farm). I’ll usually be back on the computer for another couple of hours in the evening, answering fan mail, doing guest blogs, promos, etc.
That’s on a productive day. On a less productive day, I do lots of mindless stuff (mowing, weed whacking, mucking, etc.) while trying to figure out what’s not working in the story. For me, writer’s block is typically my subconscious saying ‘Warning! You’ve just gone off the rails! Back up! Don’t keep writing until you figure it out!’
PNR: Most writers are avid readers, is this true for you? What titles would we see in your TBR pile?
Jessica A.: I’m a voracious reader… but I’ve had to tame my TBR pile because if I stay up reading until the wee hours, I’m not much good for writing the next day. Also, I’m pretty careful to read outside the genre I’m writing in, to avoid being unduly influenced. These days I lean toward sci-fi, thrillers (especially involving biotechnology or archaeology), romantic comedies, contemporary romance and the occasional historical. Plus I read a ton of nonfiction about the ancient Maya- that’s as much pleasure reading as it is work for me.
My recent fun reads include High Noon by Nora Roberts (one of my favorite non-JD Robb books of hers in a long while) and Julia Quinn’s Lost Duke of Wyndham. And I’m totally jonesing for Linnea Sinclair’s new release. In the paranormal genre, I typically only read books I’ve been asked to critique (I’m J.R. Ward’s critique partner, so I’m a compendium ahead of the rest of the BDB fans <G>) or give a quote for. Among the latter, Deidre Knight’s excellent-looking take on Spartan mythology, Red Fire, is next up on the TBR stack.
PNR: What do you feel are the essential elements of a great story?
Jessica A.: For me, a great story is one with characters I’m rooting for even if they don’t always make the choices I would. It’s one that explores the setting or situation in such a way that I feel like I’ve learned something new. And it’s a story that surprises me. Seriously- shock my shorts off, and I’m happy. But it’s got to be a twist that is completely consistent with the characters, situation, and rules of the world. I love being able to look back and say, ‘Okay, I see how that works… but I sure as heck didn’t see it coming.’
PNR: Congratulations, readers are excited about the June 2008 release of NIGHTKEEPERS from Signet; this is the first book in your new Final Prophecy series. Could you tell us what inspired this dark fantasy series and a little about your vision for the project? What direction will the series be taking?
Jessica A.: How long have you got? LOL. Okay, in all seriousness, the inspiration was a mix of a childhood vacation and web surfing. One of my most vivid early memories is being on a family vacation and climbing up inside the big pyramid at Chichen Itza to see the jaguar throne. People were packed nose-to-butt, crouched down in the narrow stairway, with everyone on the right side going up and the ones on the left coming down. It was dark and cold, the stones were slippery, and I’m claustrophobic. But dude, seeing the jaguar up close and thinking about the people who’d carved and worshipped it… that’s something I’ll never forget.
Years later, I was working on a suspense proposal that involved poisonous snakes, and had a total “ooh, shiny!” moment when I pulled up a website on Mayan serpent rituals. From there, I found a reference to how the Mayan Long Count calendar is going to end on December 21, 2012, coinciding with an astrological event that scientists think could trigger sunspots and magnetic reversals, and maybe even knock the earth off its orbit. And I sat there thinking: Holy crap, this is it. This is what I have to write about. So I did J.
As for the direction the series will be taking, I’ve got the basic story arc mapped out until the end date of 12/21/2012, when the world will end… or it won’t, depending on whether the Nightkeepers succeed in their quest to avert the apocalypse. I’m planning somewhere between seven and ten books, depending on how some of the storylines play out.
PNR: The Final Prophecy series is based on the fascinating subject of Mayan end time mythology. Could you give us some insight into how you used this as a catalyst for this unique series?
Jessica A.: The ancient Mayan Long Count calendar ends on December 21, 2012. On that day, the sun, moon and earth will align at the galactic center, in a conjunction that some scientists predict could trigger cataclysmic upheavals (sun spots, magnetic reversals, etc.). Those are facts… and I used them to structure the Novels of the Final Prophecy, which tell of the ancient Mayan myths that come to life in the last four years before 12/21/2012, and their opposition by the Nightkeepers, descendants of an ancient magic-wielding race sworn to protect mankind from the apocalypse.
In the first book, Nightkeepers, the last king of the magi is forced to team up with a Miami-Dade narcotics detective in order to reunite his scattered warriors and fight the gods of the Mayan underworld. Wielding ancestral magic based on bloodletting and sex, the king will have to choose between his duty and his love for the human woman who is the gods' destined sacrifice. In this book, and subsequent stories, I use the belief system of the ancient Mayans to inform the Nightkeepers’ world, looking into different layers of the world as the stories progress. I’m having a ton of fun with it, and hope the readers are, too!
PNR: You have been complimented on your excellent world building. Tell us about the challenges you face in world building with paranormal elements in a contemporary setting and making it work with the ideas you have in mind for the progression of your characters and the series? How much research is involved?
Jessica A.: The research aspect is huge! My formal training as a scientist has definitely helped me track down the information I need when I’m writing. I keep both hard copy and spreadsheet information files, and have a bookcase stuffed full of references, all of which are cited on my website. I love the history and the science of the Nightkeepers’ world, so the research has become as much a hobby as a job. That’s the good news. The bad news is that as I write, I keep wanting to include all the cool details I’ve learned about. . . and usually wind up with a 700-plus page manuscript. Thus, as I’m cutting down the story, I keep in mind one of my mottos as a scientific editor: This is an interesting detail, but how does it specifically relate to the matter at hand? It’s all well and good to have a well-researched book, but not if the details overwhelm the characters or plot. It’s definitely a balancing act.
PNR: Do you feel your writing is character driven or plot driven? How do you balance these two elements?
Jessica A.: In my romantic suspense novels for Harlequin Intrigue, I’ve definitely been plot driven, with my characters most often working together to solve medical and scientific mysteries. However, I would say that Nightkeepers is strongly character driven, in that much of the poignancy in the story (for me, at least) comes from the characters, and how they deal with what’s happening to and between them… like how the hero, Strike, is determined not to repeat his father’s mistakes (and their terrible consequences), yet isn’t sure how to take another path without condemning the woman he loves.
PNR: You write wonderfully complex characters that readers really connect to; could you tell us about the development of the relationship between Leah and Strike? What was your inspiration for these characters? Who has been your favorite to write?
Jessica A.: I love Strike because he’s got that ‘stranger in a strange land’ thing going on- he was raised knowing he’s among the last of the Nightkeepers and it’s his job to prevent the 2012 doomsday. . . but he’s also a normal guy in many respects, because all the signs suggest that the barrier between the earth and underworld has been sealed, the apocalypse averted by the actions of the previous generation of Nightkeepers. However, when Detective Leah Daniels spins into Strike’s orbit, the apocalypse countdown reawakens, and he’s reunited with a fighting force he didn’t know existed, he has to alpha-up real quick. With a good chunk of the Nightkeepers’ magic based on sexual intimacy, and the gods demanding Leah as a human sacrifice, Strike winds up having to choose between his lover and his duty as a warrior-king. . . or seeing if he and Leah can find a way around a three-thousand-year-old prophecy.
I don’t know if I can put my finger on a particular inspiration for any of the characters. It’s more that they’re normal people like you and me, with normal human quirks and strengths/weaknesses… and then they find out that they’re more than human. They’re magic users, and it’s their job to save the world. What’s more, they’re subject to a group of ancient prophecies built on a belief system that is very different from ours- one that demands blood sacrifice and trades sex for power. How are they going to deal with that? How would you or I?
I’m not sure I have a favorite among the characters to write, as each of them is very special to me, albeit in different ways. Probably the easiest character for me to internalize is Rabbit, a teenage half-blood who hungers for a chance to prove himself to his disinterested father (and the world). He’s one of those kids who tries to do the right thing most of the time, but somehow always winds up with the worst possible outcome of his actions. It’s been fun to watch him change and grow, even over the course of the two books I’ve written so far (the second, Dawnkeepers, will be released on 1/6/09).
PNR: How would you describe the sensuality level of your books; do you find it challenging to write love/sex scenes?
Jessica A.: I’d say my books are moderately steamy- there are number of sex scenes (and a couple of love scenes, too <G>) in each, and they’re described in fairly good detail. The ancient Maya believed orgasm was one way to speak with the gods, which means sex is an inherent piece of the Nightkeepers’ belief and rituals. The scenes don’t go on for pages and pages, though- if they did, the books would be even longer than they are! In my opinion, the books are as steamy as they need to be- each scene is necessary for the plot and characters, and reflects where they are at that point in time, whether it be sex or love, or a combination of the two.
Writing-wise, I have traditionally needed to write sex/love scenes at odd hours, either late at night or very early in the morning, when my internal editor is asleep. For Nightkeepers and the sequel, Dawnkeepers, however, the love scenes have been so intrinsic to the characters, and I’m so deeply inside their heads when I’m writing, that it hasn’t been a problem.
PNR: The stories from mythology have long captured the imagination of readers. Why do you feel mythology is such a popular theme in the paranormal romance genre?
Jessica A.: Without meaning to be cute, I’d say it’s for the same reason that mythology itself has long captured the human imagination. If we look across cultures we see themes that repeat over and over again: creation, flood and rebirth, the savior who comes from a great distance… whether you subscribe to the idea of a collective unconscious, oral histories spreading along trade routes, alien visitors, or none of the above, humans are hardwired to create stories that explain the inexplicable. I think it’s only natural for that to persist even today, when there are plenty of mysteries yet to be explained.
PNR: You have written in the contemporary and paranormal genres, which has been your favorite? Is there a genre you haven’t written but would like to try?
Jessica A.: I’d say that both my romantic suspenses and my paranormals are similar in the sense of being very action-oriented stories in which the protagonists have to work together (and sometimes apart) to neutralize danger. I’m loving the paranormals because they give me the freedom to explore the conflicts that arise when prophecy and tradition says the Nightkeepers should do one thing, yet their modern sensibilities suggest something else entirely.
As for a genre I’d like to try, it’s more one that I wish I could do better at: comedy. I’m pretty good at dropping one-liners, but I’ve found it very difficult to translate that through an entire story, largely because of my natural inclination to write dark and angst-y, and blow things up. My last attempt at selling a comedy met with the following line from the rejection letter: “While the subject matter (marine biology) is engaging and the characters show promise, the heroine’s main conflict centers around the fact that her parents were eaten by sharks when she was a child… NOT FUNNY!!!!”
LOL. I guess funny is a matter of interpretation, eh?
PNR: Could you tell us about your current projects, what can readers expect to see in the coming months?
Jessica A.: Dawnkeepers will be out in January, 2009. It’s the story of two of Nightkeepers who might seem well matched on the surface because they’re both ambitious and successful, with a clear sense of purpose. . . but that’s what gets them into trouble, because they’ve got some majorly crossed purposes and bad history (some of it theirs, some of it not). When they’re sent to track down a group of lost Mayan artifacts that are key to the next stage of the end-time war, they quickly realize they’re not the only ones on the hunt. . . and they’re going to have to learn to work together (very, very closely) in order to survive.
PNR: Thank you, Jessica, for taking time out to talk to us. Where can readers find out what’s new and how can they contact you?
Jessica A.: Thank you so much for having me! For more information on Nightkeepers, along with excerpts, deleted scenes, contests and a message board, please check out www.JessicaAndersen.com (it’s graphic-intensive, but there are skips offered if you’re on dial-up). Readers can also contact me through the website, or at email@example.com. Hope to hear from you!
June 3, 2008
Final Prophecy: Book 1
A Novel of the Final Prophecy
The Mayan doomsday prophecy states that the world will end on December 21, 2012. The NOVELS OF THE FINAL PROPHECY tell of the ancient myths that come to life in the last four years before that end-date, and their opposition by the Nightkeepers, descendants of an ancient magic-wielding race sworn to protect mankind from the apocalypse.
In NIGHTKEEPERS, their last king is forced to team up with a Miami-Dade narcotics detective in order to reunite his scattered warriors and fight Zipacna, god of the Mayan underworld. Wielding ancestral magic based on bloodletting and sex, the king will have to choose between his duty and his love for the human woman who is the gods' destined sacrifice.
Paraphernalia is a feature of PNR, the official website of firstname.lastname@example.org