Hi Shirley and welcome. I am so glad you could join us here at RomanceJunkies. To start, will you please tell us a little bit about your current projects?
Right now, I’m working on two books at once: my second single title for Kensington, the sequel to THE BRIDE WORE CHOCOLATE (which comes out in September 2004) and my book in the Fairy Tale Continuity Series with Silhouette Romance, tentatively titled HER FROG PRINCE and slated for release in December 2004. I’ve got book deadlines coming at me fast and furious for the next few months so writing is about the only thing on my agenda!
When you begin a new writing project, do you name your characters right away, or do they evolve along the way?
Names and the opening “what if” situation are the two things I have to have before I start writing. For me, the name really tells me who that person is. I think names speak a lot about what a person is like so I don’t work on a manuscript until I have names for the main characters.
You have said that it took eight years and ten manuscripts to make the transition from non-fiction to fiction and to find your voice. Did it suddenly happen one day, or was it an evolving process? How did you know that you had found your voice, something that is so vital to a successful writer?
It was both a sudden and evolving process. After years of writing dramatic books, I was late one day for critique group and I banged out seven pages about a woman in a banana suit selling fruit baskets on Main Street in a small Indiana town. My critique partner loved it and raved about it and told me I should write comedy. To this day, I have no idea where that came from or where that character existed in my mind.
Still, I didn’t listen. I moved on to a heroine cop battling an inner-city high school gang. Then, for some reason, I came back to the banana suit one day and re-read it. I’d had no success with the cops and robbers stuff so I finally listened and finished the banana book and after a few rewrites (I was a slow learner, LOL), it became THE VIRGIN’S PROPOSAL, my first sale (a January 2003 release from Silhouette Romance).
When I finally started writing romantic comedy, it was like putting on the right pair of shoes not only were they priced below retail, they fit perfectly. I KNEW this was me, the me that had been lurking all these years. Each book has brought it out a little more, and I’m having a hell of a lot of fun, frankly.
If you could retrace one step on your path to becoming published in fiction, what would it be?
I think I would have studied more and applied myself harder to the fiction goal earlier. It’s hard to say if I even COULD have done that though, because I had my children then (they’re five and ten now but they were babies then) and time was always a factor.
What does your writing space look like? Can you see out a window? Is it nice and neat, or are there stacks everywhere that only you know what they contain?
I have a really big desk (there’s actually a photo of it on my website, www.shirleyjump.com, in the photos section). The windows are behind me because otherwise I’d stare out them all day. And it’s sort of neat, without too many stacks because the stacks make me stressed and imply I should do something about them, so I try to keep them to a minimum.
What was the best piece of writing advice you received? What about the one that you really wish you had just ignored?
The best piece of writing advice I ever received was something on a list said by Deb Smith. She said that the only thing you can control is the writing. Once I learned that it was a waste of my time to worry about what happened to my manuscripts once they left my office, I found I could focus more on what I could control how well I wrote the book.
I can’t think of anything I wish I had ignored. Every writing event I go to, I learn some tiny nugget that I can apply to what I’m working on today. There’s always some gem to be discovered and polished.
If you could go anywhere, without having to worry about logistics, where would you go? Where is the best place you visited?
Anywhere warmer than here! Winter is coming and I hate to be cold. My husband I talk every year about moving to Florida or California. The best place I ever visited was New York City. I completely loved my trip there.
Moving from Massachusetts to Indiana is quite a change. What do you miss the most and the least?
I miss the convenience of Massachusetts of being able to get to anything I needed (including my family) within a short drive and being able to get other things delivered (here pizza is about the only thing that comes delivery). But I REALLY don’t miss the high prices or the congestion of East Coast life!
How did you and your husband meet? Was it love at first sight?
We met at Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston. He was stationed there for a while (he was in the Navy) and I was there with a friend, just walking around. It was pretty instant for both of us and we were married 18 months later.
Which is more romantic? Sleeping in late (the kids are somewhere else, of course!), and waking up to your favorite breakfast in bed, perfectly prepared, served up by your husband. Or, sitting outside after dinner, in the dark, with a glass of wine and star-gazing?
Oh, definitely sitting outside after dinner with a glass of wine! I rarely, if ever, sleep in late. I feel like my whole day is wasted. And breakfast in bed sounds better than it really is because of the logistics of eating in a bouncy place. But I like being outside on warm summer nights and never get enough of that.
How do you describe Shirley Jump? How does Shirley Jump’s husband describe her?
Driven is how I describe myself. I’m constantly working, whether in my mind or at the desk. My husband…I asked him this the other day and he told me he thought I was perfect.
Smart husband, that man.
Name the one item in your closet that should never be seen in public but that you love dearly and wear all the time in private.
Probably my sweats. 😉 I really am a homebody and love my sweats and slippers. But when I’m out, I’m in dressy clothes.
Oh dear! A wicked storm is coming and you must escape. What item will you save first?
Besides my kids, my computer, of course! I am always rushing in here whenever the weather gets bad (and in Indiana, bad storms are pretty often) and backing things up, unplugging this and that. After losing my hard drive once, I am pretty obsessed with backing up my computer.
And lastly, no interview of a writer would be complete without this question: what is your favorite comfort food?
Macaroni and cheese. Sorry, chocolate, but mac and cheese is what I put in the oven for those cold winter days and days when I am sick. I really love the thick homemade kind at Cracker Barrel and have been working for years to perfect my own recipe. It’s research, you know, purely research. 😉
Shirley, this has been great! Thank you for taking time away from your hectic schedule to ‘chat’ with us.