An Interview with the Horrifically Wonderful Jette Harris

I’ve said it before but it deserves to be said again, I never thought I would be thankful for Twitter and being part of the Twitterverse, and yet I am. I’ve met some really wonderful people through Twitter…and my TBR list has never been longer. One of the best parts about Twitter is getting a chance to connect with authors as they get published and continue on their own writing journey. As long as people are willing to put in the time and effort to connect instead of sell, it’s a wonderful thing.

I’ve now been on Twitter for over a year (I can still hardly believe it), and I’ve met a variety of interesting people, many of which are fellow authors. I’ve had the pleasure of reading some, talking with many and even interviewing a few. I’ve chatted with and interviewed traditionally published Susan Crawford, as well as Jewel Leonard about her self-publishing experience.

Today, I’d like to introduce another wonderful Twitter-found author friend and share an interview I did with her about her own unique publishing journey. Without further ado, Jette Harris! (Please keep in mind that since we are discussing her books, some of the content discussed may be triggering to some people; her books come with a trigger warning)

Jette Harris.jpg

DM: So, your first book was Colossus, right?

JH: Well, my first published novel is Colossus. I wrote one other novel which was, I mean… I thought it was good, and then I thought it was bad, and now I’m realizing it’s unrevised. So, it could be good, I just haven’t touched it since 2006…so that’s sitting in a drawer….

DM: Is that kind of in the same genre or in a completely different genre?

JH: They’re…kind of the same genre…it involves a serial killer, but it’s more like a romance thriller

DM: Your idea for Colossus, what’s the first thing you remember getting for an idea, or where the idea came from?

JH: So what happened was…and this is kind of embarrassing in hindsight, but, I was watching HBO’s Rome, and the guy that plays Mark Anthony is James Purefoy. He seemed unremarkable beyond his character up to the point where, (if you’re not familiar with Rome it shows the rise Julius Caesar and Augustus)…so, up to the point where Julius Caesar dies at the end of the first season, I didn’t really think anything special about him. And then, when you see him discover that Julius Caesar has been assassinated, he gets this facial expression, which I thought was absolutely remarkable for an actor; it showed a real depth of talent, and I was just like, you know what, I’m going to take him, and I’m going to write a character for him.

I also had this really crazy dream where I was listening to Kesha sing “I Only Want to Dance With You” while a man, who is not Avery Rhodes, or James Purefoy or anything like that, was raping a teenage boy…

DM:…that…is definitely an interesting dream….

JH: Yeah….so, I combined all of those concepts and came up with a…at the time I wanted to work on short stories, I didn’t want to write a novel. I was going to write a series of short stories of a girl, Heather Stokes, fleeing this man who, at first he was just cold and calculating, unfeeling…he was just flat, a very flat character. As I wrote the story, or as I was writing the first few stories, I realized I needed to write an inciting incident, and so I started writing the inciting incident and it just kind of grew out of control.

DM: Gotcha. Bit of a snowball effect there.

JH: Yes. And so it turned from a series of about seven short stories, to a series of about seven novels. And then I also gave Avery Rhodes his own set of novellas of growing up and how he became the…I don’t want to say “monster” because he’s very much a human, but the serial killer you meet in Colossus.

DM: And that’s the Phoenix Rising and….

JH: Yes. There are two of those out right, and I have two more of those in revisions.

DM: Are you planning to put those out by next year or by later this year?

JH: I don’t know what I’m planning on doing. I’m just kind of at that point where I’m debating whether I want to keep tackling the Colossus novels and the Phoenix Rising novellas, or whether I want to set those on a back burner and come back to them at some future date.

DM: How long do you think it took you to write Colossus?

JH: So to write it…I would say it took a year and then a month to write and then revise Colossus… it was about late September-mid October that I came up with the idea for it, and then about April or May I thought I was completely done and I sent it to an editor. He had a lot of awesome suggestions and so I revised it, but at the same time I was writing material for Two Guns, which is the second book. I was also writing material for the Phoenix Rising novellas; I was also writing material for the other books that would follow Colossus and Two Guns, to get that series finished up. So I was working on a lot at the same time. So now I have chunks of several different novels in the same universe and all of these novellas. So it took a little over a year of inconsistent writing and revising.

DM: When you went to publish it, what route did you take originally for that? I know recently I saw that you had pulled it from where you had it but I wasn’t quite sure…..

JH: Yes, and, I haven’t really pulled it, which is a technicality….so, what happened was, in the summer of last year, I started talking to @EllaThomas22, which is a Twitter character account for Ella, who is a Stephen Moran character. Stephen had formed his own publishing company in order to publish his own novel, and he was also hoping to get other authors.

Ella is about a female serial character, it’s very savage. It’s a bit more…I don’t want to say gangster, but it’s a bit more money oriented than I like my thrillers to be, but the characters meshed very well. So, he asked me if I would make Colossus his first non-self-published book, and I thought that was pretty cool. He mentored me through the process, so basically what happened was that when I published it, I published it with his name on it, but at the same time it was self-published. So, publishing it under him was a technicality, but he’s also on my ISBN. When I decided that I wanted to shop Colossus for traditional publication for a wider release, because his company is very small, he has very small reach right now, and I wanted…more, so when I decided I wanted more, I pulled his name off of everything, but his name is still on my ISBN. So, I haven’t gotten myself a new ISBN yet, so I just kind of half-assed pulled it from them.

DM: So, you said you were going to try for traditional publishing for Colossus?

JH: Yes. I’ve been querying and I haven’t gotten any replies back, and for some of those it’s to the point they’re just not going to reply because they’re not interested….querying is hard hard pout face.gif

DM: Yes, yes it is, oh my gosh….

JH: Yeah, so if you’ve read Colossus and are familiar with it, it’s not surprising that most people I pass it to will pass on it…

DM: Yeah, it’s for a selective audience.

So, I think we kind of touched this, how many books have you written and published?

JH: I’ve written three. I wrote Perfect Words in college, and it’s about 53K. Then I wrote Colossus and that got published. Now, I’m actually very worried that I published it prematurely before getting more critical reviews on it, but….I had a lot of beta readers….all of the critical feedback I got I acknowledged, I adjusted most of it.

Now, I got a one star review and a two star review on Goodreads and, it just kind of knocked me backwards. It was stuff that my beta readers didn’t really mention, or didn’t have a problem with so, I’m kind of concerned now that I published Colossus too soon and didn’t let it sit long enough…but oh well..

And then I wrote Two Guns which is the follow up to Colossus, it’s the second book in the series. Two Guns is done, but it just doesn’t feel…right, and this was before I read the reviews, so that’s not what’s holding me back. It just feels like right now there’s too much going on and it’s too disconnected and so I’m thinking about just rewriting that. I’m going to keep most of the material in it and I’m just going to rewrite it in a uniform fashion so it’s smoother. But that’s going to be really time consuming.

Then earlier, for Camp NaNo I wrote a romance. It was a historical romance. It was based in 1800’s South Carolina and, I almost got to the very end, and then that last scene, I just couldn’t get it out. And I just let it peter it, so I have this almost finished romance novel that I’m going to revise. That one I might shop around because it’s more marketable.

DM: So, what do you have to say about your publishing experience so far?

JH: ……uh….fuck…..

DM:  Can I quote you on that?

JH: …I think I was impatient and I may have killed my opportunity to get Colossus traditionally published by publishing with Moran (which would have happened completely self-publishing as well). Then also, publishing with Moran prevented me from entering in any of the contests and competitions for self-published authors. So…I just think I was impatient, and if I had to do it all over again, I would probably shop a lot more agents and publishers before going and self-publishing.

DM: Would you say that the genre of Colossus is your favorite genre to write in?

JH: Yes. Yes, I would say….there’s debate among my readers and internally, in myself, whether or not to consider this a psychological thriller or a horror; because horror, and I read a really awesome article about this, about how horror is more about a monster or a horrifying being, and that’s very much true, but you also have the thriller aspect of everyone’s psychological descent as it were, not just the victims, but also the antagonist. I really do love being thrilled. I love reading something that gives me palpitations. Even though I’m not always happy about it, I always love that sensation.

DM: Is that your favorite reading genre as well, then?

JH:….so I have a confession, that I’m trying to break myself of, that I don’t read all that much…

DM: Really?

JH: Because, I devoted most of time to writing, and so I was writing mostly and I was just like “I don’t have time to read because I want to do nothing but write.” I was using writing to manage anxiety and so I’m not as anxious now as I usually am, so I’ve been slowly getting myself back into reading. I have a…. small…. TBR pile and it’s almost exclusively Joe Lansdale novels because they’re very easy to read and they’re hilarious, and they’re thrilling. They give me that fast heart-beat feeling, and so that’s kind of my stepping-stone back into learning how to carve out time for reading.

DM: Do you have a favorite writing spot?

JH: My desk at work. I actually wrote a blog entry, back when I first started writing Colossus, over two years ago, and I was talking about how, for the previous three or four years I had been wanting and trying to write and I just couldn’t sink my teeth into it. And it wasn’t until I got to the point where I was sitting in the same spot every single day for an extended amount of time, because I got a desk job that I finally got to the point where I could just sit down and write. I’m a customer service analyst for a software company that creates reading assessments, and so our customer basis consists of teachers and principals, and support staff, things like that, so we’re busy when they’re busy; we’re not busy when they’re not testing so, I have several hours of downtime a day at times, and I try to fill that with writing. So it took me a long time to get to where I could not just sit and write, but also to take writing anywhere else. Now, it’s a lot easier, especially if I’m in the middle of a story, I can take it anywhere, and I can write anywhere. But, if I were to start a story, or if I don’t really feel like starting or working on a story, even if I know I should, it’s a chore, but it’s easier now than it was previously.

DM: Are you working on anything in particular right now?

JH: Right now, I want to say no…but really, I should be. So, I also offer editing services, and I’m working on a medical thriller and a romance, or adult contemporary, for two different customers right now (people we know and love). When I’m done with that, if I have time between when I finish those and November, I’m going to pick a few more revisions for Two Guns, and then in November I’m going to write the third book in the Heather Stokes series.  Should be very emotionally taxing.

DM: Load up the funny movies, you know, have the Christmas fudge waiting…

JH: Yeah! The Hallmark channel will be doing their Christmas movies! Could totally do that!

DM: Can you tell me a bit more about the Colossus series?

JH: Two Guns was really fun to write. Two Guns is really funny. Basically it’s Rhodes meddling in the investigation. Colossus all occurs inside the house, it’s all very isolated, you have no idea, unless Rhodes implies something, what’s going on outside the house. In Two Guns, you don’t go inside the house. It’s concurrent, and it’s entirely outside of the house. It’s what’s going on with the families, and police, FBI, and Rhodes is having a field day among them and just kind of….fucking shit up.

The third book is the few weeks that follow Colossus and Two Guns, they basically end in the same place. The third book is called Ruin, which is kind of like a play off the archaic sense of a woman being ruined.

DM: Do you have any writing helpers/minions/or other furry distractions?

JH: Furry distractions. I have a cat and a dog and my dog is probably very upset he’s not in here under the covers right now. I used to have four snakes because they were all wild caught and we’re about to move out of state and it would be very, very illegal to take them out of state, especially seeing as one of them was venomous.

My dog is very distracting. He’ll sit at my feet and he’ll whine and whine and whine until I pick him up or have him sit in my lap. It’s annoying as hell. He’s a Velcro dog, he’s not comfortable being away from me.

DM: D’aww, poor puppy face.

pet

JH: He’s a spoiled little poopersnoot.

*temporary break and gushing about furry related cuteness*

DM: So, do you happen to have a favorite book?

JH: I have two. They’re very different, and for very different reasons. Richard Adams’s Watership Down, it’s just…I don’t even know how to describe it. I was young when I first read it, fourth or fifth grade, and so I didn’t really get the depth, but I did get the adventure and the character variety, it was amazing. I love them all, and my favorite will always be Dandelion because he was the story teller. I just, I used to read it every year, I haven’t done it a lot recently. I’ve read it maybe twice in the last six years, but every time I read it feels new and different and, I just love it very much.

My other one is Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic which I read for the first time in the eighth grade. It’s the reason I go by Jette; one of the aunts, her name is Bridget and she went by Jet, and my name is Bridgette. So between eighth and ninth grade I decided I would go by Jette, because I was sick of everyone calling me Bridge, I hated it. It was just so strange to read something where you combine this suburban house-wife kind of thing, kind of very normal family, and then there’s magic. You don’t really know if it’s really magic, but you get a sense that there’s something behind the shadows, and things happen and they can’t possibly be coincidence. It was so amazing to read that, and that was my introducing to, I think it’s called magical realism. It was just amazing how she describes things. Her descriptions are amazing. Her use of hyperbole and her description of things that, you know, otherwise would be normal is just phenomenal. Like, a guy who’s I love is leaning on a counter top, and he’s so in love, he’s so heated and hot for this person that linoleum begins to bubble…it’s just…ridiculous, and I love it.

DM: I can definitely get behind you with that….So, do you have a favorite book that you’ve written?

JH: ….that I’ve written or that I’ve published?

DM…either? Both? Since apparently they’re different?

JH: I think….my favorite thing is going to be the next Phoenix Rising novella. And if I had to choose one that I’ve already written and published…oh god…between the three that I’ve published….I…that’s a real challenge….I think it would have to be…it’s between the Phoenix Rising novellas. I don’t know if I like Salvage more or if I like Flint Ranch more….

DM: It’s okay, I won’t make you choose, haha.

JH: Okay, so, the Phoenix Rising novellas. I think the next one is going to be my absolute favorite because…I just love Thatch’s dad, Wren. He’s so cool, and he’s like so clueless. He has no idea how to raise a kid, but he’s a good man. And so, there was hope there for Thatch being a good man…and then there’s not, and that’s where I will leave that…

DM: How would you say that your writing community has affected you?

JH: I’ve finished a book. I’ve published a book. I’ve finished novellas, I’ve published novellas. I’ve almost finished Sweet Nothings, which is the romance, and they just keep me going, they keep me propped up. They taught me the importance of revisions and the importance of an editor. I would not have finished a book at all if it weren’t for Twitter, which seems like a ridiculous thing to say to somebody who isn’t familiar with the community. They just…that’s where I found my editor, that’s where I found my publisher, it’s where I found almost all of my beta readers.

DM: I was definitely surprised at the community I found on Twitter. I never wanted to be on it, ever.

So, for writing tools, do you have a preference for Word, Scrivener, old fashioned hand writing?

JH: Old-fashioned hand writing. If I had to choose one to live with for the rest of my life, it would be old-fashioned hand writing, as much as my hand hates it. I tried Scrivener for a couple of days and I liked the tools but I felt like…you have to use it for a while to get the most out of it and I wasn’t willing to take the time, to invest my time in it.

So what I do is I write out a scene for as long as I can write, or as long as I have an idea bubbling, and I’ll write it out in pen and paper. Then I will transcribe it either right after I’m done writing it or when I’m typing everything up into Word. I’ve recently become very familiar with Word. I learned how to track changes and make notes and that’s awesome. And that’s really helping my editing as well.

That’s basically what I do, write with pen and paper and then I transcribe. As I transcribe I’m revising and editing. I’ll make little changes, catch where something sounds unnatural. Because writing, typing, and speaking, they all use different pathways in the brain, so even if you’re conveying the same idea, it would come out different depending on what tool you’re using; it’s good to use as many different pathways as you can.

DM: Which author drink stereotype is your biggest vice: coffee, tea, or alcohol?

JH: …um….I hate coffee but I drink it…uh….so, coffee and alcohol, even though I’m not the write drunk, edit sober kind of person, I like to have a cider with my evening writing….I’m very much a soda person actually, I prefer Pepsi or Mountain Dew.

DM: What’s the, or one of the most difficult parts of novel writing for you?

JH: There are two. One is getting started with revisions. After you know what you want to revise and what needs to be done, then it’s really meditative almost, like you’re whittling a statue into shape, or smoothing stone or something like that. But getting to the place where you know what needs to be done is so difficult. That’s where I am with Two Guns, where I’ve revised and I’ve revised it. I’ve cut stuff out and added stuff to it, and it still feels…wrong. And I have people telling me it’s perfect and it’s exactly where it needs to be, but I’m just like no, it just feels wrong. So I’m just going to rewrite it and not worry about that.

The second part is knowing when you’re done. With Colossus, I revised it and I added to it, and I revised those, and then I was chipping away. And my then publisher thought it was ready, it was in publishable condition now, and I agree, I thought it was too, and I think it is, it’s just, there are still flaws in it that I didn’t smooth out.

 

It was a pleasure to interview Jette Harris, she’s a wonderful person and always willing to be there with a kind word. If you’re interested in finding out more about Jette’s works, visit her website here, or  take a look at one of her books!

colossus

salvage.jpg  flint ranch.jpg

 

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