By Whitney Smyth
Author Jessica Andersen started professionally writing romance novels in 2001, and hasn’t looked back. After recently finishing up her darkly themed Mayan apocalypse series, Final Prophecy, she donned a new penname and has begun a new series of lighter Western romances as Jesse Hayworth. I was able to snag a few minutes of Jessica’s time and asked her some questions about her writing, which she answered with her characteristic humor.
WS: Describe in five words your writing.
JA: If I could describe it in five words, I wouldn’t write hundred-thousand-word books about it! (Snicker.) Okay, to give a legit answer, for the Jessica Andersen pen name, it would be adventure romance for sci-myth nerds and for the Jesse Hayworth pen name, it would be heartwarming modern day Western romance.
WS: What got you interested in writing?
JA: I started writing my first romance novel as a feel-good antidote to my PhD thesis in Genetics. When the time came to get a postdoc, I started freelancing as a scientific editor instead, as it gave me time to work on my novels rather than grant applications. I also trained horses and gave riding lessons to pay the bills.
WS: When did you first, without hesitation, call yourself a writer?
JA: I call myself a Romance Novelist (with capital letters and everything) because I’m proud to be a highly educated woman who loves to write (and read!) about people finding their happily-ever-afters. As for when I started self-identifying that wayI honestly don’t remember. Since 2001, I’ve written more than forty books for five different publishers, with nearly two million books sold to date. So somewhere in there.
WS: Authors have many varying means and methods for getting themselves in the mood to write. What is yours?
JA: Most of the time, I’m not in the mood to write unless there’s some reason I can’t—a doctor’s appointment, a cat up a tree, being in the middle of a bikini wax—whereupon I’m dying to write. When writing time comes and I’ve got nothing to say, though, I still sit my butt down, put my fingers on the keyboard, and force myself to get words on the page. Sometimes they’re brilliant-ish, more often they’re flatter than week-old roadkill, but by the end of the day I’ve got a few thousand more words than I started with. And even the roadkill is valuable—I tend to write a whole lot of words that wind up in the digital trash bin, but every one of them helps me figure out what doesn’t work for the characters, until eventually I see what does work. And then it gets fun!
WS: Approximately how long does it take you to finish the first draft of a manuscript?
JA: Six months, give or take. For a while, I was writing four to six full-length novels per year—but that was back when my life wasn’t making me very happy, and I would far rather be lost in a story. I’m in a much better life-place now, and my writing reflects it in fewer publications and the new Jesse Hayworth pen name, where I write lighter, funnier stories that come from my happier self.
WS: What was it about paranormal romance that attracted you to that genre?
JA: I grew up reading science fiction/fantasy—Azimov, Heinlein, McCaffrey, Anthony, etc. But I also love knowing that no matter what I put my characters through, they’re guaranteed to get their HEA (happily ever after). Paranormal romance has been a great way for me to play with fantasy while getting my happily-evers.
WS: One piece of advice commonly given to authors starting out is “write what you know.” In paranormal romance, this clearly isn’t the case. How do you get into the head of a paranormal character?
JA: I usually write about everyday people who discover that they have extraordinary powers—so I imagine myself in their heads as they make the discovery, and picture what would happen next. So fun!
WS: Your Final Prophecy series focuses on the Mayan doomsday calendar. What turned you on to this particular idea?
JA: I was doing the Google-fu thing one day, working on a story idea about a snake cult, when one interesting tidbit led to another, and I found myself reading about the Mayan calendar. I had traveled the Yucatan a bunch as a kid, back before the ruins were highly restored or regulated, and remember climbing up inside them, and looking down into the sacred well…and I thought, “I totally have to write a paranormal romance series about the magic-users who are going to save us from this!”
WS: You’ve written other books in the romantic suspense genre as well. Did you notice any changes in your writing methods between the different genres?
JA: Jessica Andersen’s paranormal and suspense voices are very similar—there’s running, screaming, sexytimes, more running, more sexytimes…you get the picture! Jesse Hayworth’s contemporary romance voice, on the other hand, is much lighter, funnier and sweeter. A trick for keeping them straight? I use different fonts for each genre: Courier for suspense, Times New Roman for paranormal, and Cambria for contemporary romance.
WS: Which of your books (or a particular scene in a book) was the hardest to write?
JA: In the Final Prophecy series, Blood Spells was a real challenge for me. It focuses on a married couple who have drifted apart and broken some of the trust between them and need to find the way back to each other (whilst running, screaming, fighting demons, etc.). I wrote it during the implosion of a long-term relationship. Which in hindsight was a good thing, but at the time was a whole lot of “not fun.” I think my experiences made Blood Spells a better book, but it wasn’t easy to write by a long shot.
WS: Authors tend to grow pretty attached to their characters after spending so much time with them. Do you have a favorite character among the ones you’ve created?
JA: I try to find something to love about each of my characters when I’m writing them. As for a real stand-out, Lucius Hunt (Demonkeepers) is a favorite of mine. He’s the nerd that roared—a geeky outsider who finds his inner superhero and saves the day, only to realize that his one-and-only, Jade, has loved him all along.
WS: What do you think about the publishing industry today?
JA: I think we’re in a scary-exciting-intimidating-invigorating time, when authors can take more control of their careers than ever before, but need to work harder and harder to find their readers.
WS: Where do you hope your writing will take you in the future?
JA: I like where I am right now. I’ll be grateful if I can keep on this path—or some version of it—for a long time to come.