Inteviewed by Joyce Greenfield for Reader To Reader
Like many successful authors, Darynda Jones can’t remember a time when she wasn’t putting stories down on paper, whether it was creating plots for her Barbie and Ken dolls, or daydreaming at her school desk. After marriage, two children and a major relocation, Darynda completed her college education at the University of New Mexico, graduating Summa cum Laude with a degree in Sign Language Interpretation. Persistence with her writing paid off, and after completing three manuscripts, Darynda was signed to a three book contract with St. Martin’s Press. First Grave on the Right introduced readers to Charley Davidson in February, 2011, and was followed by Second Grave on the Left in August of the same year. Readers have been eagerly anticipating the February release of Third Grave Dead Ahead!
We are pleased to have Darynda Jones here with us at Reader to Reader to answer a few questions about her writing and what lies ahead.
First Grave on the Right, your first published novel, won the 2009 Golden Heart award for Best Paranormal. Did winning this award so early in your publishing career make you feel pressured, or was it a motivator to continue in the direction you had taken?
First, thank you so much for having me! Winning the Golden Heart was a huge motivator. Actually, the final alone lit a fire in me, encouraged me to get that manuscript polished and sent out. But I believe the win sped up the publishing process, and at that point, I had already signed with my fabulous agent, Alexandra Machinist. She submitted the manuscript soon after the win which let to the three-book offer from St. Martin’s Press. I have the extreme good fortune of having Jennifer Enderlin as my editor, and my agent and my editor have assuaged any pressure I have felt. They are both so brilliant at what they do; they have been marvelous to guide me through the last two years.
You’ve stated that you are a "plotter" and outline extensively. How often, if at all, do you toss an outline aside and begin again?
I admit to attempting to toss an outline aside altogether and write by the seat of my pants once, maybe twice. That absolutely did not work. I had to scrap those attempts and begin again with a well-plotted outline. It is my method, and I find that I must stick to it. I developed a system and apparently can’t veer from it. It works for me, and I stick to it. But I have had to go through several outlines before as well before finding the right mix of story and character motivation.
The “Grave” theme obviously works well for this series of novels. Did you come up with the title(s) before writing the stories, or after? One might suspect you have an affinity for exploring old graveyards – or is there no correlation whatsoever?
I came up with the title for First Grave on the Right before it was submitted to an agent or publisher, but I had almost finished the manuscript before the title came to me. I felt the title suited the storyline and my grim reaper character and tied into her calling in life as a grim reaper and a private investigator. Additionally, the title is used as a line in the book. I actually wanted something that let readers know which story they were reading in the series, so in my mind, it was always an ongoing story.
I do admit to having an affinity for graveyards. In my small hometown our cemetery is lined with trees and makes for a nice walking path. For years, I have gone there to walk for exercise and meditation because it’s one of the few places of its kind where I’m from. Most of the local landscape is flat desert plains. Trees are nice. I like trees. But I also lived in Albuquerque for several years with my boys, and for a while we lived near a very large older cemetery. I passed by it daily on my way to school. It was a constant, visual stimulator to my active imagination; so, I guess it was natural for me to use graveyards in a story somewhere. I always found them to be very mysterious and compelling. Plus, some of my favorite people are in cemeteries.
You utilize a lot of details from your own life, from local cafes and institutions to naming characters after various people in your personal life. Has this gotten you “in trouble” with anyone?
So far, so good. Believe it or not, I've yet to hear any complaints. I’m kind of surprised myself; however, most of the details that have come from my personal life are not bad details. I tend to use the good details, names for the good characters and places that I like. But it’s actually hard NOT to name a character or two after someone you know. There are lots of Michaels out there. And on very rare occasions, some events in the stories are based on actual events, but I usually disguise them well. I’ve actually had only one incident where the subject, in this case my sister, recognized a scene from her childhood. She called me in tears from laughter and demanding royalties. LOL. But anything that I use is worked into the humorous content and not the more troubling or difficult content. The big, bad stuff is made up. For the most part.
Why “Danger” and “Will Robinson” other than the obvious “Lost in Space” reference?
It sounded funny. It was funnier sounding than Daphne and Hilda, or Chica Chica Boom Boom.
What’s one thing you think readers would find fascinating about you?
My secret life as an undercover operative. Just kidding. I could never keep any thing like that secret; so, it’s a good thing I didn’t pursue a career in espionage. Hmmm. In high school, my best friend and I created our own language. It had something to do with seeing the film, Heavy Metal, and reading how twins often created and used their own language to communicate to one another. We considered ourselves “twins”, since our birthdays are the exact same day. In fact, we were born almost exactly twelve hours apart. Seeing that our belief to be twins was so strong even though we look nothing alike, we decided we needed our own language. It was short-lived.
The “Grave” series would be wonderful on the big screen! Any news you can share with our readers about that possibility?
The rights to First Grave were bought by CBS, with the idea of turning it into a series for the CW. That is all the information I have at this point. It’s quite likely nothing will ever come of it, but I would love for Charley to be made into a series. I think it has such great potential. It’s just a wait-and-see kind of thing.
What’s next? Tell us about your new YA series! Will we be seeing more of Charley Davidson?
I have a Young Adult series that will be published through SMP; the first in series, Death and the Girl Next Door is to be released in the fall. It involves three high school friends whose lives and world is irrevocably changed when the Angel of Death starts high school in their small town. Additionally, they discover a member of the Nephilim, a race of angels, in their midst. A battle ensues between the forces of good and evil, with these individuals stuck in the middle, and they are literally fighting to close the gate that allows evil to escape onto our plane. This series is very different than the Charley Davidson series, though both might be similar in tone.
As far as Charley is concerned, St. Martin’s Press recently bought 4 and 5, so I have at least two more books to write. But right now it is still very open-ended. I love writing the Charley Davidson stories. She’s a great character, and I believe she should be able to have a very long life. Thankfully, my editor agrees!