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Sunday, March 22, 2009
SPOTLIGHTING: DEBUT AUTHOR, Judi Fennell.
Before I start the interview, I’d like to tell you all a little about Judi. This very talented writer has been writing for as long as she can remember, literally, Judi won her first writing award in the second grade in the Caldecott Medal Contest. From those early days she soared in developing her unique voice and writing style. By 1994 her talents were validated again when Reader’s Digest gave Judi her first publishing credit as a writer. She was also a finalist, with her tongue in cheek style of writing in the Third American Title Contest by Romantic Times Magazine and Dorchester Publishing. As well, she’s a two time finalist in the Simon & Schuster and Pocket Books First Chapter contest. Her debut Novel “In Over Her Head” is coming out June 1st and that is what we are here to discuss today.
Thanks for having me!
Question: After reading Star Crossed Romance, Lynda K. Scott’s remarks about your book being a “Delightful, quirky blend of humor, adventure and passion…a fast and fun read…” I have to admit, I can’t wait for June to get here so I can read for myself how you managed to mix humor with the paranormal. This is a strange combination. One usually doesn’t think of those two things together. So, what inspired you to blend humor with the paranormal?
Answer: I grew up watching Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. Loved those shows and always wanted to be a character in them. Then there was the fact that my imaginary friend was Casper the Friendly Ghost – to the point of setting a place for him at the table, so I guess it’s not that far of a stretch.
Honestly, though, I never made a conscious decision to blend the two. I think like what you see on the pages, for the most part. I’m just glad others get—and like—my screwy sense of humor.
Question: Alright, here’s a far stretch, but we’re writers so we’re allowed to fantasize. As it stands, as of yet, no one today has declared seeing mermaids or sexy merman’s in our seas, but there was a time in our history when explorers and pirates widely claimed of seeing them. Many today, who have lived in Miami or traveled by boat to the Bahamas’ or Bermuda will tell tales of seeing mysterious light beneath the sea…Do you believe Merman’s (Possibly from lost Atlantis) could have once truly lived or still live beneath the sea?
Answer: I’d like to think it’s possible. Wouldn’t it be cool if they did/do? Especially if it was like my vision of Atlantis… I took a lot of myths, spent hours on Google Earth and dive sites, watched documentaries, etc. to create my vision. I like to use existing items, so the Bimini Road is mentioned, as is the Bermuda Triangle, some Norse mythology, Greek, pop culture, etc. I like bringing different elements into my world and having it be cohesive. One of the best feelings when I’m writing is thinking, “Hmm, I need XYZ to be here,” and coming to find out that I’d already included it fifty pages back but didn’t know why. Building their world was a lot of fun! I wouldn’t mind visiting it for real!
Question: What sparked the seed for “In Over Her Head”?
Answer: I write “fairy tales with a twist,” which is the tagline on my website. Other stories I’ve written are: CindaBella, Beauty and The Best, Fairest of Them All. I wanted to do a twist on The Little Mermaid, and the best way to do that was make him the Mer.
Question: Dawn M. Ekinia from Armchair Interviews said “In Over Her Head” was a “Heartwarming, action packed story and an Immensely enjoyable story”. Can you tell us about your heroine Erica Peck and her hero, Reel?
Answer: Erica is terrified of the ocean. A childhood incident has instilled an irrational fear—and she knows it’s irrational (and, yes, this is autobiographical although my childhood incident was seeing the movie JAWS). So when an ex-boyfriend forces her into the ocean to recover his lost diamonds she accidentally threw overboard, and she accidentally has a date with a bullet, only to wake up under the sea, she thinks she’s died and gone to her own personal version of Hell.
Reel is the devil-may-care second son of the Mer ruler, and has no hope of ever inheriting the throne because his older-by-four-minutes twin, Rod, will gain Immortality when he inherits the throne. So what does he have to lose? Especially since he can do nothing right in his father’s eyes…ever since an oh-so-significant incident with a female Human years ago.
So, what happens when the Oceanic Council demands Erica and Reel find the diamonds on pain of death? Erica finds out she’s really In Over Her Head.
Question: Did you have any AH HA moments while writing their story?
Answer: Oh yes! Definitely an Ah Ha! moment. I was writing the scene on the deserted island (Reel and Erica are on the island, sadly, not me). All of a sudden, Reel said something that just made me sit back and stare at the screen. So that’s why he was the way he was. Definitely a moment.
His pain broke my heart right then.
Question: Some author’s say their character talk to them as they write. Did Reel do any talking that we should know about?
Answer: Ha. Reel and his buddy (a suckerless remora—due to an unfortunate boat propeller incident) wouldn’t shut up. They both had a lot to say and very strong convictions. I had the wrangle the two of them to keep it down to a dull roar. At times I couldn’t type fast enough and ended up writing every other word. Good thing Erica is strong enough to hold her own.
Question: Jill Barnett, who we all know is a New York Times Best Selling Author, said “In Over Her Head” was a “Delightful…most innovative charming romance to come out this year…unforgettable!” As a debut author, who has accomplished so much at the beginning of your career, what would you advise up and coming writers to strive for in getting their careers started?
Answer: Divorce yourself from your story once it’s on paper. Seriously. You have to be willing to put it out there and take the criticism. SEEK the criticism because that’s the only way it’s going to get better. We all get so enmeshed in the story that a lot of times we can’t see the trees for the forest. Other people can see those trees. You want them to see the trees before editors or agents do because you pretty much only get one shot with them. And, really, contest feedback that says, “This is great” won’t improve your story. Yes, sometimes the criticism hurts, and sometimes the critiquer doesn’t know what they’re talking about, but it’s always good to get another perspective on it, if only to strengthen the reason you did with the story what you did.
Question: You’ve won several major contests. Do you feel contests are important to a writer’s career?
Answer: Contests were a means to an end for me. And were what worked for me. They’re not for everyone, just as every genre isn’t for everyone. I used them at first to learn craft and strengthen my stories. Then I used them to build a resume and hopefully get requests. Once that started happening, I used contests to reach editors and/or agents I couldn’t get to another way. The three online contests I did were for name recognition and hopefully a win for a contract. It didn’t quite work out that way, but overall, contests were instrumental in getting me to where I am today.
Question: I see you have a wonderful blog. Right now you’re offering a special promotional Gift Voucher to a B&B between now and May 10th. Judi Fennell How important is something like this for a new unpublished writer to do?
Answer: Especially with the economy like it is at the moment, there aren’t a lot of promo dollars to spend on a debut author, typically. So you need to do something that makes you stand out. Something to get people to see your name. I’ve heard that people have to see a brand/name/product at least 25 times before it sticks with them, so anything you can do to get your name out is good.
I have to give full kudos to Kelley St. John for giving me the idea of the B&B getaways, and for so generously and graciously allowing me to pick her brain on the ins and outs of this. Then to have found such wonderful properties and owners to work with on this cross-promotion…well, let’s just say I’m thrilled and I can’t wait to see who the winners are. The special $150 off promo is something that I can give back to those people who have supported me through the contests, talking up my book, moral support, friendship, etc. I hope many people get to take advantage of the offer.
Question: What does an aspiring writer gain by doing a blog?
Answer: Name recognition. Practice. Familiarization with the technology and building a network. Just like physical networking where you go to conferences/workshops, etc., cyber-networking is important as well.
Question: How vital is starting a blog to her/his career and why?
Answer: It’s one more tool in your arsenal. Again, it’s not for everyone and you do have to be careful how much time you spend on blogging (because we all know how distracting the internet can be) so that it doesn’t detract from your writing time. After all, you want to get your name out there, but you need a good product to keep people coming back to buy your books, so writing the best story you can is your first priority.
Question: I know Sourcebooks is following “In Over Her Head” with another one of your books titled “Wild Blue Under” release date is for November of 2009. Interesting enough your Hero’s name is ROD TRITONE who goes after VALERIE DUMERE – Love the name BTW, and I see the third book to follow “Wild Blue Under” is “Catch Of A Lifetime” with a hero named LOGAN HARDINGTON and a heroine called ANGEL TRITONE…obviously she has to be the daughter of Rod and Valerie…so, are the three books a family saga?
Answer: Actually, Angel is Rod and Reel’s (yes, you are supposed to laugh at their names) sister. There are two other sisters who I hope will get their own stories some day. The books are stand-alone and can be read in any order, but you will find out how In Over Her Head ends if you read Wild Blue Under first and the same with WBU and Catch of a Lifetime.
Question: What secrets can you tell us about the up and coming books that know one knows yet? Come on, give us a hook…we’ll bite!
Answer: Secrets? You want secrets? Well, let’s see… Okay, what may or may not be evident in my stories is that names are very important to me. I attribute this to the fact that my first name doesn’t have a common spelling and I find that my name defines me. So, too, should it define the character. There are always reasons for main characters’ names and usually secondary ones, whether it’s the significance of the name, its meaning, it is a play on words/situation, a characteristic, etc. And I don’t always explain it, but it’s there. Sometimes, though, as in the case of Reel’s fish friend Chum, I went for the laugh. (But it really does fit him and the play on chum/friend, and chum/chopped up fish was too delicious to pass up.)
Thank you Judi for coming by today. This has been a real pleasure and I’m so looking forward to buying “In Over Her Head” and the books that follow.
Thanks so much for having me! It was a lot of fun to relive the “birth” of this book. Even though I’ve read it dozens of times (as you do with copy edits and revisions and galleys, etc.), I still love it and love visiting with the characters. I can’t wait to get reader feedback on my “little talking fish” story as it was known at one point early on with my critique group.
Readers, Judi has graciously agreed to answer questions - on writing, the business or about her and her books – so ask away! Just leave your question in the comment section of this blog and Judi will respond!
I leave you with several things to think about, Caridad Pineiro, a New York Times and USA Today Bestseller “South Beach Chicas Catch Their Men”, said “Fennell’s under the sea suspense will enchant you with its wit, humor and sexiness.”
Come back in a few weeks and I will have a contest to win a signed copy from Judi of “In Over Her Head”.
Here’s a special excerpt from the book:
Reel crossed his arms and studied her. “You’re taking this a lot better than I thought you would. I didn’t know Humans had such open minds.” “Apparently we have lots of neat tricks, us humans. Like breathing water, for instance.” Erica sucked in a few pints just for kicks and giggles. She hoped she remembered this hallucination when her body recovered from the bends. “Actually, you can’t breathe water.” “But I am, ergo, I can.” She demonstrated again. “Well, that’s only because I did that to you. To save your life.” “Oh. Right.” She choked on that last pint. “Um, to save my life? Well, that’s a relief. I had thought that I might be um, well, dead, but then, this certainly isn’t my idea of Heaven. So, I’m alive but unconscious? I just have the bends, right? I mean, yes, I’m seeing you as a naked, water-breathing stud-muffin, but you’re really just an illusion, aren’t you? Maybe a doctor at the hospital some passing boater took me to?” Reel didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. The tittering of the little fish scattered among the whelk art answered for him. “Um, Reel…?” “Erica, I think you better rest on the bottom.” “Why?” She did as he suggested, but put her hands up as he floated toward her. He had to be a figment of her imagination. He had to. “Sweetheart, you’ve been out for a few days and you’re not in a hospital. You can’t have the bends because you never went up to the surface. Chum reminded me about them, actually. So I did the only thing I could.” His face was grave, which, considering the situation, might not be an appropriate analogy, but then, what was appropriate when facing the impossible? “What. Did. You. Do?” “I turned you.” “Turned me?” Somehow, that phrase did not offer comfort. “Yes. Into a water-breather.” He crossed his arms, which flared some really nice pecs that tapered down to slim hips and-- Wait a minute-- “A fish? You turned me into a fish?” Forget the pecs. And other parts. “Not a fish. Do you see any fins? Gills? You’re not even a Mer. I just gave you the ability to breathe underwater. Otherwise, you would’ve drowned. And Vincent would’ve had the right to, well, eat you. I couldn’t let that happen.” “Of course you couldn’t.” Well, see? That made sense. “And Vincent was the, um, shark?” “That’s right.” The faintest glimmer of pearly whites showed between his lips. “And he wanted me for dinner.” “Yes.” A bigger smile. “So you somehow managed to re-route my entire oxygenation system and voila! Here I am at the bottom of the sea.” “That’s it.” Full-out grin going. “I’m going to be sick.” She turned her face to the side and felt her insides heave. But then the floor blinked at her. “What the hell was that?” she screamed, crab-walking backward. “Flounder. They like to hang out in here since no predators are allowed.” She put a hand on her chest, her heart beating three times as fast as normal. Or was that now normal with her newly-acquired aqua lungs? “Well there’s a relief. So I won’t have to worry about my body being torn apart by Vincent or others like him? Good to know. Now if I could only guarantee my mind won’t fall apart, I’ll be just fine.”
I hope you enjoyed the interview and remember, you can ask questions of Judi!
Back in September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a social studies school teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock, did something not to be forgotten.
On the first day of school, with the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks out of her classroom. When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks.
Ms. Cothren, where're our desks?'
She replied, 'You can't have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.'
They thought, 'Well, maybe it's our grades.'
'No,' she said.
'Maybe it's our behavior.'
She told them, 'No, it's not even your behavior.'
And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period. Still no desks in the classroom.
By early afternoon television news crews had started gathering in Ms. Cothren's classroom to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room. The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the deskless classroom.
Martha Cothren said, 'Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he or she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to show you.'
At this point, Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it. Twenty-seven U.S. Veterans, all in uniforms, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand alongside the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place those kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.
Martha said, 'You didn't earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. Now, it's up to you to sit in them. It is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don't ever forget it.'
By the way, this is a true story. And this teacher was awarded Teacher of the Year for the state of Arkansas in 2006.
Please consider telling others about this message...tell them to come here to read and ponder then pass along, so none of us will ever forget that the freedoms we have in this great country were earned by U. S. Veterans.
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