Winner of the 2009 Golden Heart® for Best Paranormal Romance for her manuscript First Grave on the Right, Darynda Jones landed a three-book deal in a pre-empt from St. Martin’s Press. Her debut novel is scheduled for release in 2011.
Darynda lives in the Land of Enchantment, also known as New Mexico, with her husband of more than 25 years, who has a slight car fetish but is trying a new medication, and her two beautiful sons, aka the Mighty, Mighty Jones Boys.
Darynda’s oldest son was born Deaf. When he was five, she packed up her boys and moved to Albuquerque to put him in a Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing program. Her husband stayed behind with the business, and they took turns going back and forth on the weekends to see each other for seven long years.
While in Albuquerque, Darynda attended the University of New Mexico. She graduated summa cum laude in 2001 with a degree in sign language interpreting and interprets full-time in an educational setting. None of it would have been possible without an incredibly supportive family and an amazing husband who still takes her breath away.
Like many novelists, Darynda loves reading, some of her favorite authors being JR Ward, Kresley Cole, Julia Quinn, and Jayne Anne Krentz, just to name an extreme few. Darynda also enjoys movies and television, and she studies the character arcs and plot twists that make them work. And she’s in the middle of a torrid love affair with her iMac.
Join me as we learn more about Darynda and her journey to publication.
Darynda’s Journey Begins
•Are you a born writer, or did you answer the call to write later in life?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t putting pen to paper. I’ve literally been writing since before I could write. When I was five, I would pick up a pencil and notepad, scribble an illegible story on the page, and ask my mom to read it. Thankfully, Mom would play along.
Later, I wrote plays for the neighborhood kids to act out. My plays were similar enough to Cinderella to invite a lawsuit and I’m thankful Disney never caught wind of my productions. For the most part, nobody caught wind of them. I rarely had an audience.
I wrote my first manuscript in high school, though I never quite finished it. Then, like so many others, I lost the dream for a few years. It still burned inside me, but the daily grind got in the way and I decided to give it up and get on with my life.
But, as everyone knows, quitting something so visceral simply isn’t that easy. I started writing seriously again in 2002. I finished my first manuscript, a historical romance, the following year and wrote two more, one a YA and then First Grave.
•Wow! Your stories represent a wide range of sub-genres. What is it you like about each of them? Has one become your favorite?
My first love is and will always be historical romance and I would kill to be published in that genre someday. And I adore YA. Some of my favorite books are YA. Yes, I am an avid Twilight fan. (No stones, please.) Anyone who can get thousands upon thousands of teen girls to read deserves a Nobel prize, IMHO. I started writing YA in junior high school and have never really stopped. Still, I am in love with paranormal. There are simply no limits. But just like my reading tastes, I have to say that I do not have a favorite.
I love writing. Period. If somebody told me I could only write spy stories for the rest of my life about a one-eyed man with a donkey as a best friend, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Think of the challenge!
•Your debut novel won’t be your first published work. What was, and why did you drift in such different direction?
I’ve had a couple of poems published, but I mainly read poetry as a way to study the flexibility and fluidity of language. While I do not consider myself a poet at all, I love the tightness of it, the figurative language and the breathtaking scope of what can be accomplished in a few lines.
•Not only have you written in three diverse sub-genres, but your stories have taken first in each of them in different contests. Which contests were they, and what did each of the wins mean to you?
I’ve finaled in several contests. Here are the only wins:
2006-1st place-The Rebecca (LERA) –A Thief and a Liar (historical romance)
2007-1st place- PASIC Book of your Heart – Riley’s Switch (now titled Grimsight) (YA)
2009-1st place- GOTCHA! – First Grave on the Right (suspense)
The wins were kind of like a validation that I could actually write and tell a decent story. I was so thrilled with each win and am so grateful for all the feedback these contests offer. Each one helped me grow as a writer by leaps and bounds.
•Those wins were overshadowed by another contest notification. You received a call informing you that First Grave on the Right had finaled in the Golden Heart. How did you react when you received the news?
I have to admit, I’ve been entering the Golden Heart for several years, and while I’ve received some pretty good scores (and some not-so-good ones), every year I really thought I had a chance to final. Until 2009. I signed up to enter First Grave on the Right because I wanted to force myself to finish it. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt it would not final. No way. No how. And then I was mad that I’d wasted the entry fee. That money could have been used for something worthwhile, like a workshop!
When it came time to send it in, I almost didn’t even do it, it being such a waste of my time and effort. But then I was worried I would get in trouble with RWA for entering and not sending my manuscript in, so I grudgingly spent the money to ship it (another workshop down the drain) and forgot about it completely. No, really. I dismissed it from my mind entirely.
So March 25th rolls around and while I was at work my husband texted me. There was a message on the machine saying I’d finaled in a contest. I texted him back, “What? I haven’t entered any contests.” “IDK, something about a golden something or other.” I froze. Actually, I had to freeze. I was in the middle of state testing with a client and I couldn’t make a peep, not a sound, nothing that would distract the student from the test. So, I texted, “Did it say the Golden Heart?” “Yes.” I freaked out. On the inside. And texted OMG to my husband over and over. Fortunately, my client was just finishing up the test. She closed the test booklet and I jumped up and hugged her with tears in my eyes. It was ridiculous. She got upset that I was crying.
•You finaled in the GH, queried, and right away had several agents vying for you. How many offers of representation did you receive, and what led you to narrow your choice to Alexandra Machinist of the Linda Chester Literary Agency?
The manuscript needed tons of work, so after I got the call, I polished it for about two months before querying. Then I spent about a week doing research and writing my query. When I was satisfied, I queried about twenty agents over a three-day period. Within a week I had an offer of representation. I wrote the agents who’d asked for either a partial or a full, told them about the offer and gave them a few days to get back to me. Before the week was out, I had eight offers of representation from some of the most amazing agents in the business.
I know that sounds wonderful, but it was actually one of the most stressful weeks of my life. I never expected that kind of response and was very torn. I spoke to each of them, some more than once. I emailed them, asked questions, researched some more. Alexandra was the last one to offer me representation and I have to say, we just really hit it off. I liked her plan and her energy. She already knew exactly which houses she wanted to target, which editors she thought would like it most, and she had some killer sales without having a super full client list. I have to say that she is amazing and I am so thrilled to be working with her. And I got to meet her at National!
You had the thrill of attending Nationals in Washington D.C. as one of the 2009 GH finalists (aka the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood) and heard your name called as the category winner after all the paranormal GH finalists were announced. What thoughts went through your mind as you walked to the stage to receive your new bit of bling? And what did I hear about you ditching your Ruby Slippers?
Okay, I have to admit once again that I honestly, in my heart of hearts, felt I had zero chance whatsoever of winning. And my feet hurt. So when I sat down with my friend, I took off my shoes. It wasn’t like I was going anywhere anyway.
When they read the card, all I heard was First. Everything else fell away into surreal land and I stared wide-eyed at my friend for like a really long time. She had to hit me to get me moving. She does that.
When I walked onto the stage, I proceeded to announce the fact that I’d forgotten my shoes to the entire audience. I’d just felt the need to apologize. It was quite the swank affair and there I stood barefoot. Not one of my better moments.
•You shared your story of The Call in detail at the Romance Bandit’s blog shortly after receiving it, but would you give us the abbreviated version of how your First Sale came about?
Alexandra had planned on waiting until September to start shopping First Grave, but the GH win garnered a lot of interest, so she went ahead and sent it out in August. About a week later, I was in the middle of district meetings and noticed Alexandra had called. We played phone tag for a bit, and when we finally connected, she asked if I was sitting down. Jennifer Enderlin from St. Martin’s Press had made an offer for a three-book deal. It was so much more than either of us had expected the waterworks started all over again.
We had a couple more offers over the next 24 hours and then right before Alexandra sent it to the floor for auction, Jennifer swept in with a pre-empt we simply couldn’t refuse. A pre-empt is a preemptive offer before an auction or an expected auction can take place. It is basically a means to keep other publishers from acquiring the property. And they’re really nice.
•That Call Story is incredible, Darynda. When things happened for you, they really took off. What a way to launch your career as a published author. Will you be hosting a lavish launch party when your book hits the shelves?
I have been planning my launch party since the day I got the call! I have no idea what I’m supposed to do at launch party, but I’ve decided to interview people who have actually been to one so I’ll be prepared. I do know I want champagne!
•With a deal as impressive as the one you received, it’s not surprising that you’ve received some amazing endorsements. Although I understand you’re not at liberty to share the names yet, you must be quite excited.
We’re in the process of getting blurbs and so far the reaction from several bestselling authors has been amazing. They are so very positive and supportive. The response has been unreal.
Darynda’s Writing Process
•How do you go about writing your award-winning stories? As a recently converted pantser embracing plotting, I’d love to hear about your devotion to plotting, if you’d be so kind as to share some of your secrets.
Oh, I’m such a plotter. I feel like I’m walking a tightrope with nothing to hang onto if I don’t have an outline guiding my every step. Some people find this creatively restricting. I find it to be the exact opposite. I write all over the place, and since I know exactly what’s going to happen, I can write a scene from chapter two one day and a scene from chapter twenty the next. Whenever the mood strikes, I can jump to that part in the manuscript and write it. I love the freedom.
I actually paste my outline right into my manuscript. It tells me where I am, what time of day it is, what needs to happen, what twists need to arise, what part of the plot needs to be revealed, etc., then I just delete the outline as I go. But I do throw in lots of little extras and surprises along the journey. It is a creative process and things always hit me last minute. I still have to rein in that muse. Mostly ‘cause she’s nuts.
Partners on Darynda’s Journey
•Who are some of the members of the Darynda Jones fan club, and what roles have they played in your fast track to stardom?
My family is amazingly supportive. My husband swears he never sees me, but he’s been known to fib. My kids are in it for the money. My brothers and sister brag about me every chance they get. My best friend Danielle is my number one cheerleader. And my in-laws are some of my biggest fans. I just could not be more blessed.
But wait! There’s more! I belong to the NM chapter of RWA, aka LERA, and you talk about some amazing women. They are goddesses, one and all. And my critique goddess Tammy takes the top spot. She’s odd, so we clicked right away.
And the 2009 Golden Heart finalists, aka The Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood, are just an awesome group of women. They are cheerleaders, shoulders, coaches and teachers. Not to mention some of the most talented writers I’ve ever met.
And then, of course, there is my agent and my editor. Let me just say I won the lottery when it comes to these two women. They are tops in their fields and work harder than any women I’ve ever known. They believe so much in this project and in me. It’s quite humbling, to be totally honest. I’m not sure what I did to deserve them.
Darynda’s Debut Novel
•Please tell us about First Grave on the Right.
First Grave on the Right will be an early 2011 release from St. Martin’s Press.
Private investigator Charlotte Davidson was born with the rather odd job title of grim reaper. Since the age of five, she has been helping the departed solve the mysteries of their deaths so they can cross. Thus, when three lawyers from the same law firm are murdered, they come to her to find their killer. In the meantime, she’s dealing with a being more powerful, and definitely sexier, than any specter she’s ever come across. With the help of a skeptical skip tracer, a dead teen named Angel, and a lifetime supply of sarcasm, Charley sets out to solve the highest profile case of the year and discovers that dodging bullets isn’t nearly as dangerous as falling in love.
Darynda’s Journey Continues
•What are you working on at this time?
Right now, I’m working on the next book in the series which is titled (for now) Second Grave on the Left.
Five Items Darynda Has at Her Fingertips When She’s Writing
~ A cup of coffee
~ A lie/lay/lain cheat sheet (I will never get that down.)
~ A phone book and baby names book for naming characters
~ Two phrase books: The Romance Writers’ Phrase Book by Jean Kent and Candace Shelton and The Millennium Phrase Book for Romance Writers by Rebecca Andrews
Five Fun Facts About Darynda, the Person
~ She is a licensed sign language interpreter.
~ She just started drinking coffee a couple years ago and is now a hopeless addict.
~ She falls in love with a new celebrity every month, though she would never leave her husband for any of them. (She is currently in love with Jensen Ackles.)
~ She is absolutely and unequivocally in love with her son’s dog Dooley and is planning to fight for custody when her son is old enough to move out.
~ Her first romance novel, the one that started it all, was A Rose in Winter by the legend Kathleen E. Woodiwiss.
Darynda’s Question for You
•Who are your favorite characters in romance and why? What set them apart? (Okay, that’s a little self-serving, but I’m a writer!)
Learn More About Darynda
Visit her website ~ www.daryndajones.com
Visit her personal blog ~ Darynda Jones
Visit her group blog ~ The Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood
Friend Her on Facebook ~ Darynda Jones
Follow her on Twitter ~ Darynda