My interview with Holly Jacobs

Oh, I love Holly Jacobs! Her books are funny, and she’s someone anyone would love to know. You can’t help but like her.

She’s also a very organized writer, one whom I’ve been lucky enough to meet at a writer’s conference on more than one occasion.

I thought her writing tales would be great fodder for an interview, so she’s my first test subj–interviewee, I mean. Ahem.

Okay, here goes. Oh, and her answers are in italic at the end for the fast facts!

TERESCIA: You write a lot of books in a series. You’ve said before that you had to start a sort of bible to keep up with everything that goes on in each book so you don’t mess anything up in the new installments. Would you tell me about it? Does it really keep you organized? I have my own series in the works and could certainly use the advice!

HOLLY: ~Oh, Terescia, my need to organize is almost an illness. My son’s favorite phrase when I try to organize his room is, “You’re psycho.” I pretty much feel it’s a good psychosis. And yes, keep a character bible really works. Basically, for each book I list the title, the line, the ISBN, release date…then I go at it. Names, description of characters, their stats (jobs, education…what ever applies), the time of year, the setting. Pretty much anything I might want to know again later. Early on, the info was very brief, but as I’ve gone on, I try to cram in as much as I can. It’s really proven invaluable with series, like the Perry Square books for Silhouette, or the WLVH books for Avalon. Even books that aren’t in a series, occasionally mention an old character. Also, as the series expands, old characters might have a baby, or what-not. I note that in the book it happens, then go back to the original book and put it there as well. My thoughts are, take the time and make the info as complete as possible…it saves time later. A lot of time.

In addition, I have a spreadsheet with all each books’ sale data. Merline Lovelace showed me hers at a conference, and I got spreadsheet envy. I know she’s taught workshops on spreadsheeting…if one comes near you, try and get there. She’s amazing (in addition to being a heck of a writer!)

TERESCIA: You’ve got kids! Lots of kids. So tell me, how to you write “around” your kids? Personally, I have yet to figure this one out and I only have half the kids you have. :-)

HOLLY: ~To be honest, I think back to when I started writing almost a decade ago and I’m not sure how I did it with all four kids at home, one a toddler. Basically, I wrote whenever I could. My priorities were/are Family, Writing, Dustbunnies. These days, only two of the four kids still live at home, and they’re in school all day, so my writing life is easier.

I’m really an ogre for a boss. I set page-minimums for each day and don’t do anything until they’re met. As far as keeping on top of those silly dustbunnies, we have weekend pick-up parties. Everyone pitches in until everything’s done. That makes cleaning throughout the week so much easier, because it’s mainly straightening.

TERESCIA: I think we’re all looking for the big secret that will miraculously improve our productivity and turn us into fabulously prolific writers (or maybe that’s just my own personal fantasy…).

HOLLY: ~LOL I don’t know if there is a secret. If I had to guess, I’d say take a huge cup of crazy, add a dollop of dreams, throw in as much stubbornness as you can spare, a peck of passion for the written word and then stir. When that’s all done, throw it in a pan and set the oven on low and let it bake. Now, some people bake for only a few manuscripts and make a sale, others take longer. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, as long as you keep working at it, you’re progressing and you are enjoying the process.

TERESCIA: Do you have any productivity boosting tips or hints that you’d share with me?

HOLLY: ~Everyone has their own needs in that respect. For me it’s a schedule. Some people find them restrictive, but I like that sort of rhythm. Knowing what to expect, and what’s expected of me.

TERESCIA: There are more types of humor than I can count on my fingers and toes, but I’ve always thought there were two types of humor writers, those who rely on character and those who rely on situation. Which group would you say you belong to? Why?

HOLLY: ~Oh, gee…I’m in the group of people who can’t manage not to write humor. Even when I’m writing a non-comedy book, one with emotion and a seriousness to it, humor comes out. Sometimes it’s situations, and sometimes it’s innate in a character. Pearly Gates, from my Silhouette Perry Square series, is a good example of a character who adds levity to any scene she’s in. As for situations…my first Duet opened with a heroine waxing her legs…and discovering it hurt too much to rip off herself, so she calls in the hero. For me, comedy happens.

TERESCIA: Do you think a writer can set out to write a funny book or does it have to come naturally? Do you have any tips to help someone turn a modestly humorous story into something that’s laugh-out-loud funny? Or do you think that’s impossible?

HOLLY: When I started traveling to speak, a lot of conferences wanted me to speak about writing comedy. To be honest, I never studied it, didn’t know why I did what I did in a story. So, I started looking at my writing, looking at comedies in the movie and television. I even bought a few books. But one of the best explanations of comedy came from an old sci fi favorite, Stranger in a Stranger Land, by Robert Heinlein. The main character, who’s been raised off world, is on earth, trying to understand what it is to be human. He’s mastered most of it, but doesn’t get humor. Finally, he’s at the zoo and watching the monkeys. The littlest one has a banana. A middle-sized one comes and takes it, then the biggest one takes it from him. The character suddenly starts laughing so hard he can’t stop. When he finally calms down he’s asked what was so funny.
“I’ve found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts so much…because it’s the only thing that’ll make it stop hurting.” ~Robert Heinlein

That’s it. Laughter and crying are just a heartbeat away from each other. It’s about basic truths. That sounds way deep for a woman who was just talking about setting up a leg waxing scene, but what makes that scene funny is you can empathize, can understand her dilemma–waxing hurts and she’s afraid to it will hurt to pull it off. That ability to have readers empathize with a situation is a comic’s touchstone. If your readers can connect, they’ll laugh. But if you go way over the top, push too far, you’ll lose them.

Fast facts:

Do you have a daily quota in page count or word count? Yep. I shoot for five at least.

Do you write every day? Yes.

Do you revise as you go or write it all down and then go back for your punishment? ;-) I revise as I go.

Do you use pictures to remind you of what your characters look like? Nope, though a lot of friends do.

Do you work more often on a computer or on paper? On the computer, though I do like paper for doodling and playing when I’m looking for a new idea.

Do you read while you write? Some authors claim they take a reading hiatus when they’re working on a book. I’m never without a book that I’m reading. I’ll confess, the hardest part of writing is that it cuts down on my reading time!

Do you start a book with nothing on your mind or with your entire book outlined in advance of the writing, or somewhere in between? I used to be a seat-of-the-pantser, but as I started selling on proposal, I’ve had to learn to write from a synopsis. I try to compromise, and though there’s an outline, I try to leave myself enough wiggle room to do some pantsing!

I hope you enjoyed reading my interview with Holly. And don’t try to tell me you can’t learn something from those answers? :-)

Holly’s newest release is Night Calls from Avalon. (Not available just yet, but bookmark this page so you don’t miss it!)

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