Sunday, February 8, 2009

Interview with Jenna Peteresen

I am pleased to showcase fellow Greater Detroit RWA chapter member Cheryl Smith and her interview with Jenna Petersen in the Heart of Detroit newsletter. Jenna will be coming to speak at the Greater Detroit RWA Chapter on Tuesday, February 17th. Jenna is a historical romance author for Avon Books and also writes erotic romance for Red Sage as Jess Michaels.


Chick Chat with Cheryl Smith… Jenna Petersen

Jenna Petersen is a multi-published Avon historical romance author and also writes erotic romance for Avon Red and for Red Sage as Jess Michaels. She also speaks to chapters and will be discussing “The Anatomy of a Love Scene" at our February meeting. I'd like to thank her for her time and look forward to her workshop!

We as authors usually have an author or book, something, that started our love of the romance genre and inspired us to try to pen our own first novel. What made you decide to become a writer?
Well, back in first grade I actually won a Young Authors contest for my school. I always wanted to write. However, I came to romance pretty late in life. I didn’t really start reading them until after I started writing them. I really fell in love with Julia Quinn and that set me off to romance. Many authors have a first novel they’d rather not have the world see but took satisfaction in getting to “The End” anyway, just to prove they could actually complete a book. Do you have a manuscript tucked away you hope never sees the light of day?
I have about twelve manuscripts like that. I think you learn a lot about writing from writing and I definitely did that! If one of your books was made into a movie, which hero would you like to see portrayed on the big screen and what actor would you love to see play him, and why? I think Justin from LESSONS FROM A COURTESAN (July 2008) would be a beautiful thing to see on screen. I always picture him as Julian McMahon. Actually, the cover of LESSONS was inspired by an h-o-t photo of JM. As you can attest, Avon is a premier publisher of historical romance. Can you tell us how you felt when you got “the call” and how long you’ve been with Avon?
Actually, my first sale story is good. My husband had been on a very dangerous whitewater rafting trip and had gone a little… missing. I spent Monday, September 20th calling everyone in the universe trying to find him and picturing all the horrible things that could have happened to him (bad imagination… BAD!!). So he called me finally at 6pm. There had been an accident, the guide had been pretty badly hurt, but was ultimately okay. There was no signal, so he couldn’t call while they waited for evict to take the injured guy out. So I cried and he headed home (long drive). He pulled in the driveway at about 6am on September 21 and I hugged him and said, “I think that’s enough excitement for the rest of my life.”

Flash forward about five hours and the phone rang. It was my fabulous agent, Miriam Kriss, telling me I’d had an offer for two books from Avon. That was September 21, 2004 and my first book, SCANDALOUS, came out in October 2005. Since you write as both Jenna Petersen and Jess Michaels, you must be very organized to keep it all straight, and very busy. Do you ever hit a wall where you’d like to burn your computer and how to you get past writer’s block?
I don’t really believe in writer’s block. If I’m blocked I either just need to write through until I hit a “good” spot, or I’ve messed something up along the way, so I need to backtrack a little and figure that out.
The awesome part about writing under the two names is that it almost gives me a break of sorts. Generally, I write a Jenna and then move to a Jess. It gives my brain a little shift, which helps keep me fresh.
I also find that taking a break when I can between books (usually a couple of weeks before I get really antsy) or traveling with my husband and completely unplugging… that keeps the love for writing really visceral and fresh.It seems like every author has experienced a crazy fan, or dealt with someone who has made a snarky comment about their books or the romance genre in general. Have you ever had anything strange happen to you directly relating to your publishing career? Oh gosh, definitely. Amazon removed a review for my first book that basically said that I shouldn’t be allowed to live for writing such a crappy book. I didn’t feel like it was a threat, but apparently Amazon did (I didn’t report it, I figure people are allowed to have their opinion). That’s probably my best story, but there are definitely more. I’ve tried to develop a thick skin about it; sometimes it’s harder than others. But it’s one of those things you just… do. For self-preservation. Do you have an agent, and if so, do you feel having one is beneficial to keeping up the business aspect of your career while giving you more freedom to focus on the creative end? Do you think an agent is helpful when targeting a big publisher like Avon? I do and the woman is a saint. Seriously… the things she puts up with. Really, though, I think especially with the big houses like Avon or the other NYC houses, you have to have an agent. You can make a deal yourself, of course, but there is so much else an agent does. From dealing with contracts to being a buffer between you and your editor when problems arise, to helping you plan a career to moving you from one house to another… there are a million reasons to have a publishing professional on your side. Finding the right one is really the key.

There are many myth’s that go around about publishers, like if you misuse a comma your manuscript will be instantly rejected or that editors use manuscripts to prop up the uneven corners of their desks and don’t read them at all. What is the biggest myth you’ve discovered wasn’t true about editors since you became published? Before I published I was so, so scared of editors and agents. Seriously, I never pitched, I felt so uncomfortable around them. And… they are just people. Really nice people generally. Now I have nice, normal conversations about things outside of writing… and I think I would have been a happier unpub if I’d been able to do that before hand. When you aren’t working, what do you like to do for fun? Not… working? What is this not working you speak of?
No, seriously, we’ve been traveling a lot. Last year we went to China, which was amazing. We also went to Seattle, Hawaii and a bunch of other places. This year we’ll be spending some extra time together in DC after the conference. So traveling and spending time with my husband is really important to me. If you could go back to any time in history for a month, when would it be? What modern convenience would you miss most? I’d probably go back to the Regency, since that’s the period I write in. It would be cool to experience it… but only for a while. I would miss toothpaste. Shampoo. And INTERNET!! Could you imagine wearing corsets and hoops for a week much less your entire adult life? Well, luckily there wasn’t much of that in the Regency. They were much more comfortable undergarment-wise. But seriously, all the clothing stuff would be tough. I am such a jeans and socks girl.What books do you have coming up?
2009 is CRAZY for me. In January, the anthology A RED HOT VALENTINE’S DAY was released. It features a novella under my Jess Michaels name, “By Valentine’s Day”. Then on March 31, my next historical, HER NOTORIOUS VISCOUNT is out. April 21, TABOO (Jess Michaels) hits shelves. And to end the year, in November 2009 I begin a series called The Billingham Bastards with the book WHAT THE DUKE DESIRES.
So busy, busy, busy. And I’m so excited that going to Detroit is going to be part of my busy year!

Cheryl Smith is published in short romance fiction, a multiple contest finalist, and member of The Greater Detroit RWA. You can find her short stories at