I’d like to introduce you to the ninety-third interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. She is Jennifer Fulford.
Hi Jennifer! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer?
Sure. Would love to. And thanks for asking and making a space for writers to tell their stories. I fell in love with words by writing letters. My first memories of writing were to my grandmother, Mimi, who lived in Lebanon, Missouri. We exchanged hand-written letters. Same with my cousin in Pleasant Hill, Mo. (By the way, I kept Rebecca’s letters. Don’t tell her.) I still experience the same thrill if I receive a handwritten letter in the mail today. Both of my parents are natives of Missouri, as am I. I went to school in Clinton and enjoyed my high school English classes and teachers, although I wasn’t a big reader. I wish I had been. I feel like I’m catching up. During high school, I worked on the air at the local radio station, KDKD, and had a blast. So, I decided to study communications in college and ended up in journalism. I found I had an affinity for writing and crafting good news stories. I didn’t consider myself a fiction writer until I was well into motherhood. By then, I’d worked as a journalist for several newspapers, The Associated Press and as a producer at a public radio station, KUAF. But my imagination kicked in around 2009 and I ran with it.
Your first novel, Blood, Love and Steel: A Musketeer’s Tale, was published June 30, 2014, by Thames River Press. Can you tell us about the book?
It is my love letter to the world about the power of hope. This world is filled with too many downers. I’m attracted to the dark side of people, and when I first became familiar with the character Athos in the original Three Musketeers novel, I wanted to know more about him. He was hurting because of love. He didn’t want love. I kept asking myself: Why? I was intrigued by his character and actor Oliver Reed’s portrayal of Athos in a late ’70s film of the book. I decided to answer my own question. My book delves into the backstory of Athos and gives him the chance to heal. Isn’t that what we all want? It’s a redemptive love story plus an adventure.
You are working on two more books in the Musketeer’s Tale series. Can you tell us about them? Do you have their release schedule yet?
My next book is the story of how Athos meets his nemesis and first serious lover, Milady. Alexandre Dumas, who wrote The Three Musketeers, dropped a big unresolved bombshell in the book: Athos and Milady had been married once. She was the source of Athos’s refusal to love another. My second book is about how they meet, fall in love, and fall apart. It’s very sexy (as you can image the heat between your one great love and your Achilles heel might be). And, it’s also pretty sad. He’s shattered in the end, decides to leave his life as a young sovereign, and become a Musketeer. It fills in all the blanks Dumas left behind about how Athos became the person he is in The Three Musketeers. The title is “Athos and Milady: In the Beginning” and I weave a theme of Genesis and Adam and Eve into the story. I finished the draft last December and am just now beginning serious revisions before sending it to the publisher. If all goes well, it will be out next summer.
The last book in the trilogy is only a twinkle in my eye. But my mind is rolling over my plot everyday. It will focus more on a character that grows out of “Blood, Love and Steel” and how he becomes the last Musketeer to join King Louis XIII’s guard. But, he must face his teacher and mentor in a swordfight to secure the deal. Guess who that is? Athos, of course. It will probably take me a year to write. So my draft might be finished in 2016? God, I’m being ambitious.
How many books do you have planned for your series? Are you working on, or have plans for, another series?
After I finish The Last Musketeer, I’m setting aside the theme for the time being. I’ve started two other projects that are literary fiction, and I’m excited about one of them in particular. It will be a novella about a young woman, a edgy hipster, who is trying to write a novel through an online course, and she falls in love with her teacher, whom she never actually meets. Woven into the story is the course assignment, her novel, which is about a little girl who lives with her reclusive parents on a farmhouse in Muncie, Ind. Far afield of Musketeers. If I’m happy with how the book turns out, it may be a two-book series. Sometimes, ideas strike in the middle of drafting, and you have to go with them.
How much involvement did you have in the creation of your book’s cover?
I got lucky. Time was running out to get my book out by the end of June, and the last puzzle piece was the cover. In “Blood, Love and Steel,” I wrote a scene in which the two main characters meet each other behind a large painting at a party. The painting, Allegory of Victory, happens to be in the public domain. I convinced the publisher (in a seven-point email) to use the painting on the cover, although it wasn’t their first pick. But it’s a gorgeous, provocative image of a beautiful, nude woman. It conveys the feeling I tried to create in the book.
You are an American author, but your publisher is a London-based publishing house. Do you have a literary agent, or did you contact them directly?
I queried agents for two years, and my search was beginning to generate some positive rejections. That sounds ironic, but it’s actually a good sign. However, I became fatigued by the NOs, and I began looking at small publishers. I found a romance writer’s blog with a list of potential publishers and just started going down the list. When I clicked on the Thames River Press website, I thought, fleetingly, we might be a good match. Their acquisitions editor responded quickly to my query (within two days, I think), and about two months after I’d sent the full manuscript, Thames River said, “Yes.” The Brits and Europeans love the Musketeer story. It made perfect sense. That was a joyous afternoon. (I wrote about it on my blog http://www.livingonink.com/2013/11/the-call-arrives-as-email.html)
I received a total of about 80 rejections prior to the yes (most in the form of no response whatsoever, typical). Industry-wise, my results were good. Many writers receive hundreds of rejections. I feel blessed. But that isn’t a guarantee that my next project will find a traditional outlet. A few of my friends suggested I seek an agent as soon as the publisher bit, but now I’d have to be convinced by an agent. Every writer finds his/her own way. I’d consider self-publishing; it’s not a diminished route to publication.
Did you have to do a great deal of research for your novels? If so, what is your favorite part of research?
Over the course of writing the book, I did a fair amount of research, but I was always cognizant of looking for specific answers to my questions rather than gobbling any and all facts. It’s easy for historical writers to become caught up in research and spend too much time on it. Another tendency is to shove every cool fact they’ve learned into the manuscript. I really resisted both. I may have a few factual errors (please forgive me, oh history buffs), but I didn’t go down the rabbit hole in my research. I did feel compelled to write Historical Notes at the end of my book, which turned out to be a fun exercise.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
I do, but it might require cussing. Write like a mother … you get the drift. Credit Portland writer Cheryl Strayed (“Wild” and “tiny beautiful things”) for that little quip. Find your tribe. You’ll need support. Good, long-standing support from people who are going through the same ups and downs that you are. And believe me, the ups and downs are extreme. If you really love to write, you must love it beyond measure. It can take you to some pretty fabulous places, but there’s a price. Don’t let it define your happiness, though I rarely take my own advice.
What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing?
I love being in the “zone.” When the words are flowing, there’s no better high. Recently, I’ve experienced a significant loss in my life, and I haven’t been writing. Loss = No zone. A double whammy. So my least favorite part is not feeling the urge. Many writers who write successfully sit down at regular times on a schedule and write whether they feel like it or not. Sometimes, that’s an elusive goal. Life is junked-up. But a schedule works for many, many people. I’m still chasing mine.
Do you have a writing routine?
See above answer. When I’m into a project, I write about every three days for 4-6-8 hours each day, then take a day to think. Writing requires thinking. I flesh out plot and problems and dialogue in my head. Then I go back, do some (hopefully) quick revisions of my previous three-days’ work, then start new chapters. Having a critique group helps my productivity because it institutes accountability for my output. I write fiction between freelancing jobs and raising two exceptionally wonderful daughters.
What books or authors have most influenced you in your own writing?
Hands-down, Alexandre Dumas has influenced me the most, but his influence has been his characters, not necessarily his writing technique. I recommend reading his books for entertainment but not for technique. It’s antiquated. I love literary fiction, and if a reader were to say my work sounds literary, it would shoot me to the moon. I do enjoy genre fiction (romance, erotica), but genre fiction is not my go-to source for inspiration. One of my favorite novelists is Nicholson Baker, who has written several novels (and a non-fiction book or two) and lives in Maine. I am very fond of his novel “The Anthologist,” about a frustrated poet who is trying to write an introduction to an anthology of rhymed verse. The writing is impeccable. I was lucky enough to have met him last year at a book conference in Portland, Ore., my previous home. He was so kind and encouraging. I’ve also learned a lot by reading Anais Nin, who earned notoriety by writing literary erotica. She was way ahead of her time.
Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your books. Thanks!
I’m all over the web and encourage anyone interested to reach me for idle chit-chat about writing and life.
My blog is “Living on Ink” at http://www.LivingOnInk.com.
My book website is http://www.TheMusketeerSeries.com.
I tweet as @jmfwriter.
I’m on Google Plus,
Or, my freelancing profile,
The book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Love-Steel-Musketeers-Tale/dp/178308202X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407759965&sr=8-1&keywords=jennifer+fulford
Thanks, Susan. You do every writer a favor with
each interview. My gratitude, jf