The Big Red Chair learns that frosting should be in buckets…
I first met Jennifer Stevenson in a Bookclub online… she’s always made me smile with some of her witty comment and when I asked if she’d jump in the Red Chair for interrogation, she agreed. Her early life in swamp country in the USA brings archtypical images to mind and I needed to know more.
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born & brought up in swamp country in northern Illinois, outside of Chicago. The wetlands were my home, along with the oak savannah (as much of it as survived the logging of the early 20th Century) and a whole lot of “feral” land—land that had been logged, farmed, caught up by suburbia or the city, paved, built on, burnt down, and abandoned again. Nature takes these lands back as soon as mankind blinked. Trees breaks up the concrete, grass dissolves the asphalt, weeds and chipmunks and ants and bees take over the rest. The feral bits were closest to home, so I think I loved them best, though an ecologist would shudder at all the invasive non-native species overrunning them. My maternal grandparents were huge into ecology when nobody else was, and they taught me everything about birds, plants, trees, edible and poisonous fruits … and most of all, how to observe. Observing people was at first less rewarding than observing nature—nature made more sense—but I’ve found people rewarding eventually, too.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be a vampire or a superhero. Doesn’t every kid? At eighteen I wanted to be away from home, so I could figure out what I wanted to be without all these crazy people around. At thirty I wanted to be sure of what I wanted, or I wanted someone to tell me what they thought I wanted, just so I’d be sure … what a dummy! At fifty-six I’m sure I want to be what I am, only a whole lot more so. Because I have more fun every day.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
At eighteen I was sure I couldn’t make it as a writer, because women don’t ever get published—something my mother convinced me of. She turned out to be wrong.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
All my great influences have been books, with secondary influences from film. Sherlock Holmes was the first major literary obsession to starburst in my mind and blow me away. Then PG Wodehouse. Then Georgette Heyer. I think nothing has ever affected me quite as much as those three, although I got powerful influences from the Kipling my mother read me when I was a baby: KIM and THE JUNGLE BOOKS and JUST SO STORIES and Kipling’s other, more adult short stories. As a kid I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV until Star Trek came along, so Star Trek blew me away … then those terribly “sixties” films like Educating Rita, Modesty Blaise, Georgy Girl, In Like Flint and Our Man Flint … then I had a spate of watching horror movies til all hours with my dad: Hammer horror, cheezy Japanese monsters, great B science fiction. My brain was on fire with that stuff. Very little has burnt up my brain as much as those books and films. Terry Pratchett, Jennifer Crusie, and Carl Hiaasen are on my hardcover-buy list.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you- – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
Right now I’m working on two books, which makes me crazy to say the least. I’ve finished the first draft of It’s Raining Men, a paranormal romantic comedy about slacker sex demons, the first of a new trilogy. And I’m beating my head bloody against the ending of A Taste of You, about an angst-ridden vampire girl who gets into roller derby, which is sort-of sandwiched between books three and four of The Brass Bed series. A Taste of You will be out in late November 2011, available at Book View Café http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Jennifer-Stevenson-Bookshelf/ and Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Jennifer-Stevenson/e/B001K7UYYO/ref=sr_tc_img_2?qid=1265251436&sr=1-2-ent. Around New Year’s, It’s Raining Men will come out in the same places.
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
Make people notice trees and crows. Or is that two things?
8. Whom do you most admire and why? Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I admire most the pulp writers of the 1890s through 1940s, who wrote five or ten books a year and left a hundred books on the shelf for me to find, when I’m hungry for a single author who will give me a world to wallow in all summer. PG Wodehouse, Rex Stout, Georgette Heyer, Sax Rohmer, Margaret Allingham, Agatha Christie. I don’t necessarily still read what they wrote—though some are on my permanent re-read list—but I want to emulate their career paths.
I want the reader to pick up one of my books and love it and go back and find out that there are ninety-nine more of my books, and I want them to sigh a happy “Ahhhh!”
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write what you want. Finish the book and focus on writing another one, rinse, repeat. Never ever quit.
11.What are the last five websites you visited?
Hm, my own site http://jenniferstevenson.com, Paypal, Facebook, http://fishnetburnns.blogspot.com/2009/02/guide-to-effective-blocking.html, and www.bookviewcafe.com.
12. What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?
Frosting. I used to make it myself when my mother was taking a nap, and bring the bowl upstairs to my room, and read while I ate frosting. About halfway through the bowl I’d get tired of it. I’d stick the bowl in my dresser drawer, and forget it. A month later, I’d find the bowl in there, the frosting hard as a rock and the spoon stuck fast in it. Sneak downstairs, wash it (with a lot of soaking), rinse, repeat. I still do this, although I wash the bowl right away when I’m done.
13. If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?
Shakespeare spoke of music as a consumer speaks. I think of writing as a producer, someone who is always peeking behind the curtain and wondering how they got that thing up there. I write because I’m not a happy person unless I write.
Speaking as a consumer, when I find a writer who can make me forget to peek behind the curtain, I’m thrilled to pieces. I read because my head needs stories; I think about stories all the time, I read while I eat, I tell stories in my dreams.
A good story will shut my brain down for, oh, hours at a time. Otherwise the damned thing just runs until brown smoke comes out my ears.