Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jenn McKinlay on her Identity Crisis


 RHYS BOWEN: I am often told that I am driving myself into the ground for writing two books a year. But I've come up with someone who is even crazier than I. Jenn McKinlay is my good friend and neighbor when I spend my winters in Phoenix and we've done some fun events together. But I am in awe of her writing schedule. Beside her, I'm a slacker. And she'll tell you why.  Take it away, Jenn. 
 Jenn McKinlay: Who do I want to be today?  No, really, I have a variety of names to choose from.  Some people have a tough time choosing what to wear, I have a hard time choosing who to be.  Just kidding, mostly.

     So far in my mystery writing career, I’ve written under three different names for five different series.   I am Lucy Lawrence, Josie Belle and Jenn McKinlay, the latter being my actual name.  People often ask me why I write under different names.  I tell them it’s because I don’t want to hog too much shelf space, but the truth is that I want to have multiple aliases in case I am ever in trouble with the law and have to flee the country.  Yes, that’s a lie.  Clearly, fiction writers are not to be trusted even with their own backstory. 

     The truth, so boring, is that because I kept submitting new and different ideas to my publisher, all of which were rejected, I think they finally had a meeting, which no one will confirm or deny, and decided that if they offered me a book to write, I would, please god, go away. 

     So, they asked me to be a writer for hire and pen a series about a woman who works in a paper shop and does decoupage for a hobby.  I became Lucy Lawrence and took on the job.  Knowing decoupage was about as timely as macram√©, I quickly offered up more series ideas so that I would not find myself out of work before the ink dried on book three.  I sold a series about cupcakes, thought the fad would be quickly over, and another about libraries, also thought they were going the way of the dinosaur, both under my name Jenn McKinlay. 

     Convinced I would fail with these series, yes, I was having some confidence issues, I took on another writer for hire work and wrote a bargain hunter mystery series under the name Josie Belle.  Then I got a wild hair to write a book set in London, I really needed a vacation, and sold another series set in a hat shop in Notting Hill as Jenn McKinlay.

     Now with three different author names and five distinct series, one might wonder if I suffer from multiple personality disorder, a split personality or just a general identity crisis.  I do.  Oh dear, another lie!  Seriously, I don’t.  Not really.  My author names don’t define me any more than my married name does, yes, that’s yet another name.  See? I really could flee the country if I had to -- just sayin’.   

     When I was new at this writing game, I used to roll my eyes when I’d hear writers talk about the world they had created as if it was real.  What a rude newb I was!  Now that I have had to develop some multiple book story arcs, I get it.  I have caused great pain and suffering to some of my characters, I have shattered dreams and occasionally killed off people I didn’t want to die which caused some tears of my own.  For real.

     For me, being an author is a lot like being a reader.  When I was a kid, my first out of body experiences happened while sitting under a big dogwood tree in our yard where I went sleuthing with my two besties in my blue roadster and when I fell through the back of a wardrobe during a game of hide and seek and found myself in Narnia. 

   
  Writing is a similar experience for me.  It really is like falling down a rabbit hole, observing what is happening around me and trying to put it into words so that someone else can share the adventure.  The wonderful thing about being both a writer and a reader is that I get to live all sorts of lives and have endless adventures.  I wouldn’t change my job for anything.

     How about you?  If you’re a writer, how does it work for you?  Is it like taking notes while visiting a new world?  If you’re a reader, how do you feel when you are immersed in a great story?  How far do you wander from your actual surroundings into the world the author has crafted?

     Thanks for inviting me to visit, Rhys.  It’s always a pleasure to visit the ladies at Jungle Red.

 RHYS: Thank you, Jenn. Fun post. And Jenn will be giving away a copy of her latest hat shop mystery, DEATH OF A MAD HATTER for the best comment of the day.   

    

55 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

Wow . . . five series under three different names? Lucky for us readers, that does indeed seem to be working. It's wonderful to be immersed in a great story . . . .

Hallie Ephron said...

Oh, Jenn, how I envy you. If only writing were like an out of body experience for me. (You and Rhys must be cut from the same cloth - I am in awe at your productivity.) I always compare first draft to pushing wood through a meat grinder. Slow. Arduous. It does so not flow. And it doesn't get any easier.

And I am quite sure that this is NOT true: "they finally had a meeting, which no one will confirm or deny, and decided that if they offered me a book to write, I would, please god, go away."

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Jenn! We're so happy to have you visiting today! As Hallie said, they probably didn't have that kind of meeting because they'd be busy with those meetings all the time from those of us who pounded on the publishers' doors for years:).

Tell us though what your writing schedule is like and how you keep from mixing everything up!

(And for those of you reading this who don't know Jenn, You should go to her website and sign up for her newsletter. It's funny and sweet and comes just often enough...)

http://www.jennmckinlay.com/

Jungle Red Writers said...

and ps, isn't that the prettiest cover you've ever seen? And look whose name is on the blurb!

A Cozy Girl Reads said...

I love your cupcake mysteries, they are all my favorite, please keep writing under all your identities. Great interview.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Welcome, all of you! ANd yes, I'd love to know how you keep the voices separate.

And I do agree--when it is working, it's so amazing. I'll type a sentence and think--whoa. where did THAT come from?

Deb Romano said...

Hi Jenn!

I've read 2 or 3 of your books set in a library, and enjoyed them tremendously. Books about libraries? I MUST read them!

I often get so lost in the book I'm reading that when I look up I'm surprised to discover that I'm home or in the lunch room at work. That's definitely a tribute to the author. Sometimes I even dream about the characters in a book I'm reading or have just finished reading.

Deb Romano said...

And, Jenn, I want to finish the library ones and move on to your others. I'm making a note of your other personalities, uh, pseudonyms, so I can take it to the store with me!

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Welcome, Jenn! OK, now I feel like a slacker with only one book to do per year... ; )

Barbara T. said...

Josie Belle doesn't ring any bells. I will have to look for that one. I do enjoy the books under your other names.

Cyndi Pauwels said...

Jenn most certainly makes me feel like a slacker! I have two distinct series in the works (only one set for publishing (Sept. 1!) so far, so no pressure...right?!), and I can't imagine adding another three to the mix.

So please, do share - how do you DO it?!

Libby Dodd said...

A delightful post. Many thanks

Anonymous said...

oh my!!! libraries and cupcakes? I am envious of your inner world!! now that I know of your secret identities, I will have to search out the titles and go on a binge!! I always need new titles!!!

mysandycat@aol.com

Mary Sutton said...

I write crime fiction under one name, and middle-grade fantasy under another. I am one of those people for whom the world disappears when I am writing - first draft, third draft, whatever. I'll be at work, look up, and say, "huh, where did the last two hours go?"

I often say that my fictional characters are my best friends and it's not far from the truth. I love visiting their worlds, as crazy (and deadly for the mysteries) as they are.

Amy Mackin said...

I need to start harassing publishers until they give me a job: "They finally had a meeting, which no one will confirm or deny, and decided that if they offered me a book to write, I would, please god, go away."

Seriously, I very much enjoyed this post. The goal for me is to want to become the protagonist I'm writing. This is how I feel about the novel I'm querying now. I want to "be" Audrey, and I have completely fallen in love with an important secondary character, although Audrey herself hasn't decided how she feels about him yet. For me, this is where I need to get to in order to be confident in the work. When I laugh out loud as I'm editing, or cry, or am left yearning for more, even though I already know how it ends, then I believe a reader will too.

P.S. Although I haven't had a chance to read them yet, both my daughter and my mom LOVED your Cupcake Mysteries.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading Death Of A Mad Hatter right now. I love the London setting. I also love the cupcake and library series. I need to check out Josie Belle.

I am in awe of your being able to do so many series at the same time, but selfishly, I hope you keep it up! :)

Laura (in PA)

Pamela A. Oberg said...

How lovely! Thanks for sharing. I've read and enjoyed the library series, but not the others. Now I'll enjoy reading those! Like the others, I'd love to know how you keep the voices in your head straight. It wouldn't do for a character from one series to stray into another. . .or maybe. . .great interview!

Sheila Connolly said...

I so hear you about treating our fictional characters and places as real! (I've had friends stop me to ask which was real and which wasn't.) Don't you find when you write multiple series, that you kind of have to boot one character out of your head when you start working on a different one? Like changing hats!

Jenn McKinlay said...

Thank you all for the warm welcome. How do I do it? I write ten pages a day every day. I think writing for me is like compulsively working out in the gym for other people, you know, those non-donut eating healthy sorts. Sadly, I think my butt would look better if I was in the gym.

Amy Paul said...

I've only recently discovered your books (under any name!) but I love them! Your characters and their worlds are very real to me. I can't wait to discover more of your identities . . . I feel like we're new best friends! Thank you and keep up the good work!

Leni said...

Well I am very happy you write under other names. I came to the end of the books by Jenn McKinlay and I was sad. In a desperate hope that I had missed some, or maybe one was about to be released, I searched your site and quickly discovered YOU HAD MORE BOOKS! My husband wanted to know what I was squealing about...

Alas, I am now back to waiting for books (Just got Sugar and Iced.) Any chance you have some more aliases out there?

HollyJacobs said...

Jenn,

You know I adore your books no matter what name you're using. But what I'm really waiting for is seeing you at a conference with a name tag…that uses all your names! LOL

Holly

Deborah Crombie said...

Jenn!!! I didn't know there was a new Hat Shop book!!!!!!!! Sorry, can't talk, going to order right now.

And I am thrilled to be on the cover, by the way!:-)

If you all want to know how Jenn does this, I can tell you that she has more energy than everyone else in the room put together. We're all slackers compared to Jenn. I just try to live halfway up to Rhys...

loveamystery said...

Well don't flee the country without leaving a manuscript (or two) around for future publication because you know "new country, new identity". You sound fun and not scattered but have so many thoughts in your head at once that it sometimes gets crowded in there but I can imagine the camaraderie if all your characters met. I will someday put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and write all the children's stories I dream up on the lawn mower as I'm cutting the grass, yes that's where I dream. the "puff balls" (dandelions) on the lawn and the swallows that dip and circle around me looking for insects, the butterflies that glide effortlessly in the air. Who couldn't write there. The best thing is you do write and better yet we do read! What a lovely way to escape "what's for dinner or can you do this?" Thank you Jenn et al.

Diane Vallere said...

Hi Jenn,

I'm so inspired by you! I'm juggling a few series myself right now, and am learning how important it is to become completely immersed in each book's world and shut everyone else out. Love your books.

All the best to you!

Jenn McKinlay said...

Such lovely comments - thank you, all, so very much! Writing is a very solitary occupation and given that I have a talking problem - as in I never shut up - I think writing is an outlet for me to say all the things I want to say without driving everyone around me completely crazy! Does that make sense? I always hear that writers are mostly introverts and I just don't believe it. Thoughts?

Lori Wilde said...

I love the new cover, Spike, gorgeous. Oops, did I just let another alias slip? My bad.

Cyndi Pauwels said...

Most definitely an introvert here, Jenn! Talking to people is so often torture for me - one-on-one, in front of a crowd...takes a lot for me to recover from either.

Pat D said...

I am going to have to look for your books Jenn. Do you have copious notes filed away to keep everything straight in all your series?

Pat D said...

I am going to have to look for your books Jenn. Do you have copious notes filed away to keep everything straight in all your series?

Kathy Reel said...

Five series and three names! That's impressive indeed, Jenn. And, what's equally amazing is that they all sound so fascinating. I am headed to my wish lists and TBR lists immediately following my comments. I think I would describe you as a person with pluck. Through self doubt and some resistance from publishers, you persevered with brilliant ideas and the writing to back them up. Kudos to you, Jenn!

As a reader, I definitely find myself ensconced in the world of what I'm reading, both while reading and in-between. Caring about characters, especially in a series, is part of the joy of reading series, which I do more often than not. Learning about new places while absorbing the settings is one of my favorite ways to travel.

Thanks for such an informative and interesting post today, Jenn. Of course, what I should really thank you for is the discovery of new reading.

Nancy said...

Jenn, I have been reading three of your series, loving them. They all seem like my favorites while I'm reading them. What you describe, losing yourself in the books is what I experience while I'm reading, even after I've closed the book and it lingers in my mind.

Melanie said...

As a reader I am thrilled you write so many series. That way I don't have to wait for the next one to come out!

Melanie said...

As a reader I am thrilled you write so many series. That way I don't have to wait for the next one to come out!

Jenn McKinlay said...

Pat D - I work off a 10 page outline for each book, so I usually know what HAS to happen but not HOW until my characters clue me in, usually with sarcastic dialogue or a mad scheme. Always an adventure...

Jenn McKinlay said...

Lori - LOL! You outed me as Spike. Wow! I haven't thought of that nickname in a long while and it was a fave :) Makes me think I really need to use it in a character.

Jenn McKinlay said...

Holly - I just pitched three more series. If they make me take new names my badge will hit the floor! At least you'll be there to pick me up when I trip!

Jenn McKinlay said...

Amy - I think you've got the key. I do become the protagonist. I like them so much better than myself most of the time. They're clever while I only think up zingers after the person who has irked me is long gone.

Jenn McKinlay said...

So many wonderful comments! Truly, thank you, everyone. Did I miss any questions? I'm trying to answer from my phone while helping my former colleague teach 12 wiggly adolescents how to write html code - yes, I'm volunteering at the library because I couldn't leave my old job completely. Gah! See? I do need therapy.

Kathy Reel said...

I went to Jenn's Web site to get a handle on all her books and their order, and to my delight, and yours, she offers a Chapter 1 excerpt from each book. How cool is that! For others like me, who are just discovering Jenn, the link to her Web site is http://www.jennmckinlay.com/index.htm

Sue F said...

I just visit. I don't stay permanently.

Kaye Barley said...

Jenn McKinlay - you are ADORABLE! No matter what name you're writing under, you always have that rock star husband and two of THE cutest hooligans on God's green earth watching your back. And now I have a confession. Although a big fan of all your work, I have to say (and you know this!) that I love your hat series the best. It's just this thing I have about hats. I can't explain it. I love them and a series about them just calls my name. Good to see you here!

Carolyn Greene said...

Jenn, I love hearing about your writing exploits. You're turning into the Nora Roberts of mystery!

Michelle F. said...

Ha, ha, you're funny. I do like all your series and was sorry to hear that the Lucy Lawrence Decoupage series ended after only a few books. Are you still a librarian? I'm guessing you're a full-time writer with all those current series. Speaking of cupcakes, two women here in Toledo who have a cupcake shop (I think it's called Cake in a Cup) were on Cupcake Wars on T.V. They may have won it. I've read two of the cupcake books and two of the library ones.

Jenn McKinlay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenn McKinlay said...

I see I did miss a question. Sorry! How do I keep the voices from the different series straight? I try very hard to only write one book at a time and thankfully the settings are different enough that they keep me on task. Only once in a galley did a "Mel" show up where it was supposed to be "Lindsey". I almost had a heart attack! Thanks again for letting me share.
Oh, and Kaye, the rockin' Hub and the hooligans most def keep me grounded!

Karen Alsip said...

Wow, it's like you have a roll of the dice and the winner gets 10 pages. We love your work, keep it up.

Reine said...

Jenn, Debs says that you have more enrgy than everyone else in the room, totalled. Does that mean you do all of theses things and write non-stop in between bits, not compulsively, but naturally without great self-discipline? Or do you have a rigorous schedule?

I often have trouble starting, but then I don't want to stop—writing or reading. Daily stuff gets in the way, so lately I have become organized. That helps, because now I don't struggle with my own initiative and simply blame my schedule. It's turning out to be a decent strategy.

Mark Baker said...

So it's my confession time. I have read both of the hat shop books (and as a guy I find that funny all by itself), only one of the cupcake books, and nothing else. Could you possibly slow down a tad so I can catch up? So many books so little time.

And your description of that meeting reminds me of an old Peanuts strip. Snoopy has just gotten another rejection letter. "Dear Contributor, we are returning your dumb story. Note that we have enclosed two rejection letters. One for this story and one for the next you will send us." Fortunately, that isn't what happened to you so we can enjoy your books.

Margaret Kennedy said...

Wow! How to keep it simple? I feel like I just had a conversation with my dear friend, Kathy. She speaks in such an active manner, and that is how you write/speak. It is like listening to your best friend. You are funny and energetic, and it comes across through your words. Thanks for providing that BF time when she is not available!

Eileen A-W said...

Funny thing. This afternoon I just finished reading this really great mystery by a new to me author, Josie Belle. After I finished, & before reading this interview, I started requesting all her other books from the library. Can you believe my surprise to find out that you & she are one & the same. That means more books to read by you.

I am not a writer, except maybe in my head, but I am an avid reader. Books take me to all sorts of places. I feel like I am a character in the book I'm reading. Definitely, living in a dream.

Thank you for writing such wonderful books & for this giveaway.

Linda Rima said...

With your writing so many unique series, there always seems to a new one waiting for me to buy. And the variety of the series keeps them separate in my mind so I'm not ine book with another. Always good! Good luck with the new series proposal.

stitchersflock said...

I love books set in libraries, instantly reminds me of that lovely aroma old books carry.

Jenn McKinlay said...

Delightful to visit with you all! So many great comments I think we may have to go with eenie meenie miney moe for a winner! What do you think, Rhys?

Anonymous said...

Jenn, it makes sense to write as an outlet. I think it is similar to acting a role in a play (for example, you can be a criminal in the play though not in real life).

I've heard the same thing about introverts and writing. I do not know about others. From personal experience, I recall one of my university professors was surprised at the poor quality of my papers because I was erudite in my oral discussions. For some reason, I was not able to translate that from personal conversation style to writing. I think that in writing. I felt the pressure to use a different "voice" in my writing.

As I become older, my confidence in writing grows. And yes, I am still very social. I just thought of an excellent example. My boyfriend graduated from an Ivy League university summa cum laude and he is a brilliant writer. He is also sociable like me.

Perhaps it depends on the individual.

Jenn, I have seen introductions to one of your books at the end of other mystery novels where they advertise books by other authors.

Rhys, thank you for introducing us to a new author.

The Hat Shop mystery series sound interesting. The Mad Hatter novel made me think of the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.

Look forward to reading your books.