Photo © 2006 Szemere Photography
Jeri Smith-Ready (website) has been making up stories in her head since she was five, but waited another two decades to start writing them down. Growing up outside Philadelphia, she created an array of imaginary friends with complex relationships and storylines. This project ended when real kids moved into the neighborhood.
Her first print novel, EYES OF CROW (November 2006, Luna Books), was nominated for two Ritas and won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award for Best Fantasy.
Jeri holds a master’s degree in environmental policy and lives in Maryland with her husband, cat, and the world’s goofiest greyhound. She fosters shelter dogs with Tails of Hope Sanctuary (website). As of this writing, she has hosted fifteen dogs at her home (not at the same time!), all of whom have found loving adopters.
A Conversation with Jeri
Fill in the blank: "Reading WICKED GAME will _____."
"...make you laugh, shiver, and stay up late (I recommend calling in sick to work the next day). It will also leave you humming all your favorite songs. "
What was the spark to which your novel WICKED GAME began to take shape?
I was driving to work, flipping the dial and came to a classic rock station playing “Bad Company” by the band of the same name. I thought, Hmm, “Bad Company” would be a perfect title for a paranormal book with a shady main character.
By the time I got to work, I had a fully formed idea for the vampire DJs stuck in time and a heroine with a criminal past. If I hadn’t been listening to that station at that moment, the series would have never been born.
The punch line is that even though it all began with “Bad Company,” the publisher ultimately asked me to change the title.
When did you know that writing was something you truly wanted to do?
The night I started writing my first novel, which was, not coincidentally, the night I had my first double espresso. That novel wasn’t publishable, but I’d already caught “the bug”—I was hooked on creating stories and living inside another person’s mind. I need a certain amount of drama in my life, and books are a great outlet, so that I don’t wreak havoc among my family and friends.
What's your favorite thing about WICKED GAME?
The interplay among the characters. Not just the hero and heroine (though that’s my favorite), but all the disc jockeys and the humans around them. It’s like a TV show where the audience sees the cast as one big family (a family they actually *want* to visit again and again).
I like to think the secondary characters (like Jim the hippie DJ or Franklin the “split-personality” sales manager) are people that readers would love to hang out with and learn more about.
(On second thought, Jim might be dangerous to hang out with. That flower-child act? He just does it to get chicks. )
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Talk to us about the writing process of WICKED GAME. How long did it take you to write from idea to completed manuscript? Once the novel was completed, how long did it take you to receive a deal?
When the idea smacked me between the eyes, I was in the middle of writing EYES OF CROW, which was under contract, so all I could do was jot down a few pages of notes. In between revisions and edits to that novel and its sequel, I finished WICKED GAME, reaching a final draft over a year after I had the original idea. From then it took a few months to receive a deal. And then another eighteen months for the publication. So it’s been almost three years to the day in the making, and I’m incredibly excited.
What are three adjectives that best describe WICKED GAME?
Fun, sexy, dark.
What are three adjectives that best describe YOU?
Friendly, sardonic, independent.
Music plays a big role in your novel; how important is music to your life?
I’m not a musician (other than three years of flute in middle school), but I’ve always been a fan. I used to grab a hairbrush and sing along with Pat Benatar to an invisible audience in my living room. Later I portrayed a rock star (Crow in Sam Shepard’s play Tooth of Crime), and I thought that would be the pinnacle of my connection to music. Little did I know I would one day write books about vampire DJs.
Music is essential to my writing process--it builds and inspires the world and the characters. I love listening to soundtracks and film scores while I write because they have a built-in storytelling flow. My favorites are usually the soundtracks to movies I haven’t seen because then I’m not distracted by memories of that story.
Jeri Smith-Ready: The Soundtrack. What three tracks would make it onto a soundtrack of your life?
“Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel.
“Breed” by Nirvana.
“Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows.
Hmm, that’s kind of odd. The first two are (to me) about doing your own thing regardless of others’ expectations, but the last one is about seeking love and approval on a mass scale.
Do you have a standard process to your writing? Are you an outliner or a jump-right-in writer?
Funny you should ask. It feels like with each book, I have to learn how to write novels all over again. The same process that works brilliantly for one might be a disaster for the next. For instance, sometimes I write scenes out of order, and other novels I write straight through from beginning to end. Sometimes I write a first draft without editing; other times I realize I’ve made such a huge mistake in plot or character that I need to go back and rewrite what I have before I can move on.
I like to work with at least a loose outline to keep me on track, but it usually changes drastically as I go along. As I get to know the characters better, they often tell me that my plans for them are completely cracked.
Word Association. What comes to mind when you see the following words:
WICKED GAME: Fun!
MUSIC: Essential to life.
CIARA GRIFFIN: Gutsy.
WRITING: Faith over fear.
JERI SMITH-READY: Brainy airhead.
What advice would you offer aspiring-to-be-published authors?
Get plenty of sleep. Seriously. It’s not just a health concern (I support lots of unhealthy activities). It’s about the writing. I read a study that said the part of our brains that governs creativity is the first part to deteriorate under sleep deprivation. Also, I find that when I’m tired, I lose all ability to evaluate my own work. It all turns into a load of crap. Which makes for tough edits.
What is the biggest thing you've learned about the industry since having your first book published?
Be a professional. The world—even the publishing world—does not revolve around any one author. We need to work with our publishers as a team to make our books the best they can be. No one is entitled to success.
Luckily, I didn’t have to learn this lesson the hard way; I was fortunate to personally know many published authors who provided great role models.
Dream-on: WICKED GAME: THE MOVIE. Who would play Ciara Griffin?
Scarlett Johansson has a look that perfectly captures Ciara’s sensuality and craftiness.
Natalie Portman could also do it, if she’d go blonde. But I wouldn’t recommend that look for her.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m finishing the second vampire book (tentatively titled BAD TO THE BONE), which will be published in Spring 2009. To tide readers over until then, I’m writing a series of tie-in short stories, to appear on my website every other month beginning in June, that depict the “turning” of each of the vampire DJs. These are very secret stories they only share with people they trust with their lives.
But don’t tell the vamps I’m posting their stories on my website. They’d drain me for sure! ;-)
I’m also putting the final touches on THE REAWAKENED, the third book in my Aspect of Crow romantic fantasy trilogy. That will appear in November 2008. I’m sad to see it end, but I felt really strongly about keeping it to three books as originally promised.