Monday, January 25, 2010

Author Jane Toombs

Today, I’m very pleased to welcome the amazingly talented author, Jane Toombs. Jane is the author of over eighty published books, both in paper and electronic. These include the various romance genres--gothic, suspense, contemporary, historical, Regency and paranormal--as well as other genres such as mystery, fantasy and horror. Jane has used the pseudonyms--Ellen Jamison, Diana Stuart, and Olivia Sumner--but is now writing under her own name except for her Zebra/Pinnacle romances for which she uses Jane Anderson. Several of her books are EPPIE Finalists.

Wow! Congratulations on your success, Jane.  Please have a seat and help yourself to a brownie.  *Anne pours Jane a cup of coffee*  When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

My father was a non-fiction writer and by the time I was five I knew he wrote his articles and books on his big old L.C. Smith typewriter that I was not allowed to touch. He knew I wanted to use it, so he told me when I’d learned how to spell enough words, he’d teach me how. He warned me that not only did I have to know how to spell a lot of words, but I also must have a reason to put them together so they told a story. So by the time I was seven I was two finger typing very carefully on his typewriter about my cat or what happened at school that day. He read them all, smiled and said, “Good.”

By the time I was a teenager I was writing plotted stories, which my father then did critique, first by telling me what was good about them before pointing out the weaknesses. He was my first reader and editor in one. I’m not exactly sure when I knew I wanted to be a writer--sometime in between seven and my teenage years.

Share with us a little about your publication journey.

In high school and college I wrote all the time I wasn’t studying or dating. Like many young writers--a lot of it was poetry. But at seventeen and a half, the earliest I could do so, I joined the Cadet Nurse Corp. WWII was an intensely patriotic time and , like most young people, I wanted to do my part. I didn’t particularly want to be a nurse, but I wasn’t old enough to get into anything else. So writing went on hold for some time. Then I became an R.N. and wound up doing the cliché thing--I married a doctor. And proceeded to have five children. During this period I sometimes shut myself in the bathroom and let the voices in my head talk to each other out loud. With the kids all in school I was free to write. I have no notion of how many short stories I did in this period, finally sending one of them away to a writing contest for nurses--which I won--a trip to a Writers Conference in Breadloaf, VT. There the published writer assigned to me read a story I hadn’t yet finished and asked me what I was doing there. I cringed, until it turned out he meant I was good enough to be writing on my own and not wasting time at conferences. Also he encouraged me to think of novel length. Back home I started my first novel, with a nurse heroine and a doctor hero, a gothic romance. Trouble began. My husband called what I wrote trash and finally got to the point of telling me it was either him or writing. The divorce was not easy. I had to work and still had four kids at home with the oldest boy in med school. I took an evening writing class at an off-campus University Of California. The instructor was an old guy (hey, I’m his age now!) published as a mystery writer. He told the class he wanted only writers interested in publication in his class because he felt writing and never sending it out was like masturbation. Half the class left, but the rest of us really profited because he critiqued our work, showing us by example what we were doing right and what wrong. He told me if I revised according to his critiques and finished my ms. He’d send it to his agent. I did, he did and the agent sold Tule Witch, my first gothic, to Avon in 1973. Grateful as I was, I had no idea this was an extremely unusual, plus lucky way, to get published. As Fate would have it, I met a man in this class who told me if I could sell a gothic, he could--and proceeded to. But not until after we were married and I acquired two step kids in addition to my own, as he was a widower.

You’ve been published by major publishing houses such as Dell, Berkley and Ballantine. How much different are they from smaller publishing companies you’ve been with?

A lot. You have communication only with your editor. And if he or she leaves the company and your new editor doesn’t happen to like your work, hey, you’re rooky-doed. You’ll get that book published, but the chances of selling them another is dim, because your new editor is the one who’ll get it. Harlequin/Silhouette isn’t much different. And, of course, you need an agent in the first place, to have your mss. or your partials even looked at. Kensington is a smaller house and I didn’t find it so isolated from the publisher as the bigger houses, though I still needed an agent. I truly love the ease of submitting to epubs, and doing everything electronically. Though I still have my agent, she doesn’t handle electronic sales for me.

Do you prefer print publication over ebook?

No. I had one of the very early Franklin ereaders and loved it. Now I use an eBookwise. All I really want to do on an ereader is to read. I have a desktop and laptop computer for writing books and work much better in an office-like atmosphere. Of course, I also read print books. As for how my books are published, yes, I did care at first since I had been writing for New York publishers which, of course, were only in print. But when I saw the first ad an ebook publisher--New Concepts Publishing--put in the Romance Writers of America magazine, I emailed them to ask about electronic books. Once I realized the ease of submission and editing I was hooked.

How many books on average do you write a year, and how do you manage to come up with fresh ideas for your stories?

As many writers do, I have more ideas for stories than I do years to live. I truly enjoy Stephen King’s answer when he was asked where he got his ideas. “From Utica, NY,” he said. “Postpaid.” The ideas that seem the best to me, I jot down. The rest circling in my head fade away in time. Of those I jot down, about half develop into a synopsis. But only about half of the synopses graduate into a story I’m actually going to write. All writers I’ve talked to have these snips of ideas in their minds, not all of which make it into stories. How many books a year I write varies with each year, depending on what else is happening that year. Generally two or three, though. And often more novella-length ones.

You write a variety of genres. Do you have a favorite?

My favorite, hands down, is paranormal, with suspense and fantasy close seconds. But I almost always mix romance in with all my stories because I like happy endings.

Tell us about you most recent release.

Since I have two books coming out in January, I’ll give you a bit about each one. Nightingale Man from Champagne Books is a WWI spy thriller with a touch of romance. “Lucky” Luke Ray from Denver signs up to fly against the Boche with the French Air force, but is almost immediately co-opted by the British spy-master known as C, for a mission to go into German-occupied Belgium to rescue Nurse Edith Cavell from the prison where the Huns have her incarcerated until they hang her as a spy. Kezia, the nurse Luke is attracted to is part of his group because of her knowledge of Belgium. One double-cross after another convinces Luke some one of them is a traitor. How can his mission ever succeed?

Null and Void, the first book in the Shadowed Hearts Gothic Series from Red Rose Publishing involves the aftermath of two ten-year-olds’ disappearance from the grounds of Null House twenty years before the story begins. The survivor is so traumatized she has no memory of what happened or even who she is. A barrette in her hair with a name on it identifies her as Ari. Her uncle and aunt take her away. Twenty year later, she’s invited back to Null House. She’s afraid to go, but the little girl’s voice in her head that whispers to her at night, a voice she’s never told anyone about, tells her she must because “It’s time…”

Where did you come up with the idea for them?

Nightingale Man was a book my second husband, also an author, and I were writing together when he died suddenly. We had it plotted out and some written--plus a ton of research. I didn’t do anything with it for years, but finally did finish it. Null and Void came from an old deserted house, crumbling to ruins I used to go by as a teen-ager and make up ghost stories about. It’s gone now, but after I came back to this cold country to live, I remembered it. Recent child abductions in other places connected in my mind to that old house. I’ve always liked gothics, so voila!

Are there any works in progress we should keep our eye out for?

Red Rose Publishing has accepted the first two books in my eight book Dangerous Deception Series, Shadow on the Floor and Watcher at the Door. Presumably they’ll be edited soon and at least the first one will be out in 2010. These are paranormal suspense romances. And Champagne Books has accepted Lady Luck, the first book of their In the Cards Tarot Series. I expect that to be out sometime in 2010 as well. These are stories where a tarot card turns up mysteriously in someone’s life and changes it according to the card. Suspense romances. Also I have a story “The Nonesuch Curse” in the Jewels of the Quill Tales from The Treasure Trove VII Anthology.

Other than in editor processing or coming out soon, I have a bunch more series I’m trying to finish the first story in. Series: Y Draig--three books; Dangerous Metals--six books: Dagon House--three; Power Of Darkness--three. Then I have this new series I call Null and Prime about a shape shifting family I’m interested in starting.

What do you know now that you wished you’d known when you first starting writing?

All I can really think of is I wish I’d known that I really was a plotter, not a pantzer before I wrote and sold two books off the top of my head. The third one didn’t sell. And never would have if my agent hadn’t called to tell me he needed an author to write a Sagittarius gothic for a Zodiac series. All I needed to send him was a synopsis and three chapter partial. I give him credit that he didn’t gasp when I asked, “What’s a synopsis?” He simply told me. So I did what he said and he sold that book on a partial. The synopsis made it so easy to write the rest of it that I was astounded. So I went back and wrote a synopsis for that third book that didn’t sell, then revised it according to the synopsis and he sold it. I need that guideline so I don’t wander too far away from the plot, even though I often do deviate from it.

Is there a special memory as a published author you’d like to share with us that made your day?

One from a book-signing at an RWA Conference where I was autographing Baby of Mine, one of my Special Editions. In this book both the hero and heroine have been married before and lost both their spouse and an infant to death. She comes to terms with her baby’s death when, as the sun rises, he shows her where his son is buried and says something to the effect that the sunrise symbolizes how life goes on and gives everyone a second chance. A woman came by, looked at the book cover, then smiled at me. “I read this book during the time I had to spend four months in bed to try to carry my baby to term. I’d been so frightened, but after I read what had happened to the hero and heroine it made me stop being afraid. If the worst happened, I could go on, like the sunrise. But I didn’t lose my baby. He’s now three months old and perfectly healthy. I always wondered if maybe relaxing and accepting what might happen made the difference. So thank you for writing it.” That made tears come to my eyes.

Mine too, just now. That is so awesome! Do you have an agent now or have you ever had one? How important do you think they are to an author nowadays?

I’ve had an agent since I sold my first book. He died, and I now have a female agent. But, as I said, unless you’re trying to sell to New York, an agent is not important in selling to epubs.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors out there?

I wrote Becoming Your Own Critique Partner with Janet Lane Walters, because we both felt not all writers have a chance to connect with a good critique group--and a good one is a definite help for beginning writers. So if you’re an aspiring author and you can’t find a supportive critique group, there’s always our book, which is on Amazon, among other places, including a link from my web site. My other advice to those who are not yet published is, yes, talent is important, but an ounce of talent and a ton of persistence can help you reach your publishing goal.

Where is your favorite place to write?

For many years I’ve been lucky enough to have a writing room where I can be as messy as I want, with stuff spread out all around, even on the floor. This is where I write best, because it’s my work place. I don’t come here to read or goof off. If I’m not writing on a new project, I’m doing promo for what I already have out there. That’s work, too, but necessary. I do a lot of CDs with excerpts of all my books on them for promo. If any of you reading this would like one, just email me at jtoombs (with no spaces) and I’ll send you one.

How many hours a day do you devote to writing?

That’s flexible, depending on what else I have to do, but I do try to write some every day.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what are some of your favorite bands/artists?

Remember I’m an old bat, so my favorites tend to be the old swing bands like Glen Miller and Tommy Dorsey. Because my kids played music of their eras, I also like the Beatles and Elvis. And some of the early rock bands. But many times I don’t play any music. It depends on how I feel. Music tends to cheer me up.

When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

Reading, taking walks in good weather, doing crosswords. I used to knit, but arthritis makes it difficult now. In bad weather I use the exercise machine. And sometimes I play games with the cat, such as Gotcha, where we chase each other. She started that as a kitten and ten years later, still loves it.

What are two things that people might be surprised to know about you?

That I’m shy, which sometimes is mistaken for stand-offishness, which is not one of my faults. I like people. Also I learned as child not to go around blowing my own horn, which makes promo quite difficult for me.

You’re at the checkout counter in your favorite department store and you’re purchasing something from the book, music & movie sections. What are you buying?

Nothing. I shop for all three of those online, and rarely buy any movies.

Do you have a favorite TV show? What’s your favorite movie?

House is my favorite TV show and the Viking and I rarely miss an episode. The actors in that series are fantastic. My favorite movie is a toss-up between the original British “The Wicker Man” and “South Pacific”

Where do we purchase your books, and do you have a website?

I buy books online. My website is where my webmaster tries to have buy buttons on all my books. Otherwise, though they are on Amazon and Fictionwise, I usually send buyers to the publisher of whatever book since this helps both the publisher and me. They are also available at which is a group of twelve authors who promote each other’s books as well as writing anthologies together. There, I’m Dame Turquoise.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Other than thanking you for providing this interview opportunity, no. In person I may be shy, but I can go on in writing forever.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us today, Jane. It’s been a joy getting to know you and hearing about your books.


Linda Kage said...

Thank you so much for sharing your writing journey. That was quite a read. It was nice to meet you. Thanks again.

Cassie Simmons said...

What a fascinating interview. Congratulations, Jane, on your success! It’s interesting that you write in so many genres and that you prefer the small pubs compared to larger ones. Thank you for sharing your experiences. It sure gives an aspiring author a lot to think about.

Alicia Jennings said...

Not too long ago I read an interview from an author who had been told to avoid eBook publication like the plague because it would destroy their career. Well you have certainly proven the falsehood of that comment, Jane. Thank you for sharing your journey and experiences.

Anne, thank you for another great interview.

Blessings to you both!

Dana said...

Excellent interview, Jane & Anne! I love your work, Jane. I especially loved Night of the Owl:-)

Miss Mae said...

Wow, I simply can't imagine 80 books! How do you do it???

Much be lots of chocolate. :)

Really great interview. Loved learning about you, Jane. :)

Suzy Kirkpatrick said...

Great interview, Ladies. A couple of my favs are ones you wrote for Silhouette. Detective Daddy and… I’m afraid I can’t remember the other one I read. You’re an awesome writer, Jane!

Danielle Thorne said...

That was an incredible interview. Congrats to you both. I really appreciated all of the advice and sharing your writing journey, Jane. I've read and heard a lot about you and now I'm anxious to check out some of your books. Thanks!

Anne Patrick said...

Thank you everyone for dropping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. Jane is an amazing writer. Wouldn't we all love to claim 80plus books under our belts?

Jane, thanks again for taking part in the interview.