Jennifer August’s debut novel, Her Dark Master, was released just days ago and has quickly racked up all sorts of good buzz. Whipped Cream (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up) gave it four-and-a-half cherries and said “Her Dark Master combines intrigue and suspense with pulse-pounding erotica, ensuring a reader squirms in their seats while they remain on their toes.” Night Owl Romance went with four-and-a-half out of five hearts, observing, “Intertwined within the Victoria and Lord Corwin story-line, the author has also peppered the novel with a mystery concerning blackmail and provided a glimpse of how the custom of arranged marriages, could potential leave a young woman with a very unsuitable choice in husbands.”
Obviously, I’ve ventured outside my usual genres here, but Jennifer has a great publishing story and some great insight into the various levels of the romance genre. And then there’s this: She’s a high school classmate of mine, though I must concede that I didn’t remember her when I stumbled across her profile on Facebook. That says nothing about her memorability or my advancing age and much about the size of the Richland High School Class of 1988: 620 members.
In any case, I’m glad to know her now and happy for her success. Here’s more about how she broke through:
Q: Tell us about Her Dark Master. When did you start writing? How long did it take? What was the road to publication?
My very first attempt at writing came about when I was 16 years old. I devoured series romance novels and the bigger historicals from authors like Kathleen Woodiwiss and Jennifer Wilde. One day, I decided I could do it too, which is howI think most authors start their careers. Unfortunately, I had no real clue about writing. By the sweat of my brow, I cranked out 32 handwritten notebook pages of a really dreadful romance. I still have it, just to remind me. I’ve been seriously writing since 1997. In that time I’ve finished 14 manuscripts and started countless others. Her Dark Master was the 13th book I wrote, and oddly enough, 13 has always been my lucky number.
In the romance industry, we have a national organization called Romance Writers of America and within each state, as well as online, there are local chapters. I belong to several such chapters, as well as non-romance writers’ groups. A lot of these chapters have contests where the final judges are usually acquiring editors or agents. I entered HDM into one of these contests, it finalled, then won, and the editor requested it. She bought it within a few weeks.
Red Sage bought my book in December of 2008 and it was released as an e-book on Sept. 1 of 2009. The intervening months were spent with an initial revision letter, followed by line edits, the cover and finally proofs. It alternated between passing quickly and dragging on. Especially the last two weeks of August!
Q: Break down the romance genre. Are there levels of, for lack of a better word, steaminess?
Steaminess is a great word! There are legions of levels within the romance genre. There are sweets, where the sexual tension is apparent between the hero and heroine but no actual “on-screen” lovemaking is witnessed. At the top level is the extremely erotic — which is what I’d classify my book as — where readers pose as voyeurs and get to see every single aspect of lovemaking, written in graphic terms. In between is a wide range of levels depending on lines, readers and authors. These books run the gamut from just above sweet, where we might get a little more action and glimpses into the bedroom, to full-fledged lovemaking that’s not quite as graphic as an erotic novel. There is literally a taste of romance for every reader out there. Romance novels have expanded and adapted to what the readers demand, while ensuring the core of the story always remains the relationship between the main hero and heroine, or in the case of yet another evolving genre, the hero and hero. Or the hero, hero and heroine.
Q: An indelicate question: What’s your approach to writing sex scenes? Do you plot them out, or just go with the moment?
I have to say my sole plotting of sex scenes is “Sex here. Hot, super hot or nova” on my plotting board. For me, the characters dictate the way the love scenes go. More often than not, I’m just along for the ride (so to speak!). I know who they are before I start writing and I know their temperaments and experience levels and definitely their tastes in what turns them on, but when it comes time to actually write the scene, I just let the words pour out of me. I am very visual, so I usually “see” the scene in my head and work fast to get everything down on paper. I try to get the whole thing down in one fell swoop, then go back and make sure all the body positioning and emotional reactions are fully logical and engaged. It’s actually a very delicate operation and probably one of the things I spend the most time on. Of course, they’re wickedly fun, too, so it’s not a hardship!
Q: You write with a historical bent. How much research is involved?
When it comes to accuracy, I really try to get all my facts straight. I have a ton of research books that are specific to the romance industry, as well as more obscure works that might have one or two bits of useful information I might use one day. Of particular importance is ensuring when you bend history that you don’t break it. Readers do not like that. They’ll forgive some stuff, but if I made the Prince Regent king three years before he actually ascended, I’d lose my credibility. It’s a huge trust factor with the readers, and I don’t want to risk messing that up. But research is actually fun. I can get lost in the past quite easily and for hours on end. I’ve been tossed from the library at closing time more often than I care to admit.
Q: What sort of environment do you require for writing?
I’m a creature of habit. I must be at my desk with either a sporting event or music playing, a candle of the pumpkin spice variety burning and the lights on in order to write extensively. If I need to do revisions or line edits, I work from printouts, which is archaic but I find more stuff that way. I always carry around a notebook and favorite pen just in case I get inspired and need to jot something down, but for actual book writing, it’s gotta be in one place — my glass desk.
Q: Romance fans are among the most enthusiastic readers out there. What has your interaction with readers been like?
You’ve totally hit the nail on the head! Romance readers are genuine, fun, bold and supportive. I’ve received e-mails and posts from all around the country since the release of my book. They’re all complimentary and ask about the next book (soon!) and inquisitive! They ask how I came up with a plot point or how much is real life and how much is pure fantasy. Since my book is available only online, I haven’t had the opportunity to do anything face-to-face public, but I’m working on it.
Q: What do you read for pleasure?
My ultimate pleasure read is The Belgariad by David Eddings. It’s a sword and sorcery fantasy series, and I just love it. Other than that I read romance novels, usually historicals, but I’ve been getting into a lot of contemporaries lately. I like mysteries and fantasy, but not a lot of horror. My imagination is too vivid!
Q: What lit your fuse and convinced you that you wanted to write?
When I was little, I used to make up stories all the time. As I grew older and started reading, I became fascinated by how random words could come together to create compelling stories. In high school, I was encouraged by my English teachers to try creative writing and always did well on it. I also did a lot of “changing” books in my head. If I didn’t like the way a scene played out, I totally changed it in my mind. I had a lot of support from my family, too, who pushed me to give it a whirl. In fact, my brother is the one who really got the ball rolling. He bought me a ticket to a local writers’ conference and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history. I’ve lived in my own land of make-believe for so long, that it’s nice to have it appreciated by others!
Q: What are you working on now?
Currently, I’m writing the sequel to Her Dark Master. It will be the story of Tori’s brother Ryder. After that, I’ll feature another character from the book, the mysterious Mr. Wolffe.
Jennifer August’s Web site: http://www.jenniferaugust.com/
Purchase link for Her Dark Master: www.eredsage.com