Friday, January 28, 2011

First Grave on the Right -- Darynda Jones Takes the Writing World by Storm

In 2009, Darynda Jones won the Paranormal Category for FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT in RWA's prestigious Golden Heart. Since that time, she's secured a three-book contract from St. Martin's Press, published a YA, and received accolades from numerous bestselling authors. How did she do it? By creating a protagonist who's out of this world. Five Scribe Readers, I'd like you to meet Charley Davidson, part-time private investigator and full-time Grim Reaper. J.R. Ward writes, "The best debut novel I've read in years! Hilarious and heartfelt, sexy and surprising...I'm begging for the next one!!" I can't say it better, so I won't even try. Please welcome Darynda Jones.

D.B.: Darynda! Welcome, and thanks for the Advanced Reader Copy! With the popularity of vampires, werewolves and wizards, what inspired a grim reaper as a protagonist?

D.J.: Thank you so much for having me!!! And the only thing that inspired me to write a grim reaper was desperation. As an aspiring writer trying to catch New York's eye, I wanted something different, something that would grab an agent's and editor's attention. Thankfully, Charley did just that.

D.B.: She did indeed! Speaking of Charley, she's so multi-dimensional I feel like could invite her out for margaritas. Her sarcasm drives the story, but so does her compassion, her love for family and her need for justice. She's such an amazing protagonist whose job it is to help dead people cross. And sometimes when they have unfinished business, Charley ends up solving their murders, plus that woman ends up in one scrape after another. How difficult was Charley to create? Also, in what way is she like Darynda Jones, and how is she different? (excluding of course that Charley's a grim reaper;))?

D.J.: Charley came from so many different places. From people I know to characters I've read about and seen in movies. I wanted a heroine whose flaws made her lovable, whose supposed lack of compassion made her true nature even more endearing, whose quirky habits were fun without making her TSTL. I must admit, she is very much like me in two ways: her ability to see the cup half full and her near-debilitating ADD.

D.B.: In this case, I would say ADD served both of you well. I noticed immediately your gift for characterization. For creating both the living and the dead. Love that Cookie [Charley's assistant] couldn't complete a sentence without a coffee cup in her hand; Mr. Wong, a dead guy who refuses to cross simply hovers in Charley's apartment facing the corner as though in a perpetual time out. Then there's Charley's Uncle Bob, who has this amazing solve rate in the Albuquerque Police Department, thanks to Charley's ability to commune with the dead. Do characters just come to you as you create, or do you outline character sketches? Do you consider yourself a panster or a plotter?

D.J.: While I'm a plotter through-and-through, oddly enough, I never create character sketches. So that part of my writing process, the character development part, is purely a panster trait. They just pop into my head and jump onto the page. Sometimes, I do have to hold them back or mold them into something they don't really want to be, but for the most part, what you see is what you get. I love books where I fall just as much in love with the peripheral characters as I do the main ones. That makes a fun, well-rounded book, IMHO.

D.B.: I heartily agree. You also write fantastic sexual tension and emotional sex scenes. I also have to tell you that Reyes Alexander Farrow is about the sexiest creature I've had the pleasure to read. I put him in the same category as J.D. Robb's Roarke as far as sex appeal. I loved how you showed Charley his past and how he came to align with hers. That was breathtaking writing with a very satisfying conclusion. Will you talk to us about Reyes and how you created him? And I take it he will be a big part of Charley Davidson books?

D.J.: First of all, thank you so much! Reyes will definitely play a pivotal role in Charley's life. I have to admit, I have a weakness for tortured, brooding heroes. I love them. Can't get enough of them. But they also have to have a pretty darned good reason for being that way. When Reyes formed in my mind, I envisioned a man haunted not by one past, but by two. A man driven and desperate and reckless. Charley is like air to him, like a salve to tame the wild beast. And it helps that he's super hot.

D.B.: Oh, yeah, he is. Besides sexual tension, this book exudes tremendous emotional depth, and yet it is filled with wit and humor. I found myself thinking about how difficult it must be to pull that off for 310 pages. Are you intrinsically funny/sarcastic? What happens if you don't feel particularly funny on certain days? How do you psyche yourself out to write? And now that you're facing deadlines, how is that affecting you?

D.J.: Oddly enough, while I find myself hilarious, those around me often don't. And if sarcasm were a mountain, I'd be Mt. Everest. I'm sarcastic at the most inappropriate times. A trait my family doesn't always appreciate. But life's too short to take seriously. You aren't going to win.

Still, there are days when I don't feel particularly funny. When everything I write is poop. Not a lot I can do about it but keep writing and hope tomorrow is better. I have found that the more I write, the easier the humor flows. I hardly have to think about it anymore. I just finished book three of the Charley Davidson series, and while writing is never easy, the humor was much more attainable.

And right now, the only thing deadlines do is force me to actually finish what I started in a decent amount of time. I have a process. I don't mess with it. I just go through the steps that much faster. I feel very fortunate to be able to say that, by the way.

D.B.: You wrote this story in first person. Did you experiment with third, or did first person simply lend itself to your voice? How long did it take you to write FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT? Have you written other novels? If so, what is their status?

D.J.: I felt like this story demanded I write it from Charley's POV. I wanted us to see her internal thoughts, her random musings and her constant battle with ADD that makes her quirky personality shine. I'd actually written one other manuscript in first person, a young adult called GRIMSIGHT that has also sold to St. Martin's. That one I experimented with. I wrote the entire thing in third person, realized it just didn't work, then went back, and rewrote the whole thing in first. I do not in any way, shape or form recommend doing this. Figure out what the story calls for and go from there. It was much harder than I'd anticipated.

The first manuscript I wrote took me four months. It was over 400 pages long. Yet First Grave took me almost two years. I'd started it then put it aside for over a year. Why? I'd done the unthinkable. I'd messed with my process. I'd tried to change my writerly ways. Learned a valuable lesson. When I went back to it, I basically started from scratch, did all my bizarre little outlines, then picked up where I left off. I have written five manuscripts so far. Three in the Charley Davidson series, the one YA that will be an April 2012 release, which I wrote many years ago, and my first manuscript, a historical romance that will never see the light of day.

D.B.: LOL, Love your "not recommended" quote. Hear that, Readers? Get it right the first time, and if you have a process that works, don't mess with it;) Great advice all around, Darynda, and don't be so sure about that historical romance. Now that you've developed a series, does it feel easier that you have your main characters in place? How many months will there be between books? And are you in the process of setting up book signings?

D.J.: I would love to say yes, it is easier, but it has actually proven quite a bit harder. There is a certain trick to bringing in the same characters book after book, offering pertinent details from earlier books for new readers while not boring previous readers to tears. I am still learning, and, thank god, I have an editor like Jennifer Enderlin. She is amazing. And patient. Very, very patient.

Right now, the books are being released six months apart. I'm not sure what the future will hold in that regard, however, I am setting up book signings and will not have a free Saturday for quite sometime. LOL. And actually, book signings terrify me. I've considered hiring an actor to play me, but that would probably be expensive.

Probably so, plus your fans would know and be disappointed. You place FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT in Albuquerque. Since I'm from the Land of Enchantment, it was like sitting down with an old friend. You know the court system and police procedure. What kind of background do you have, and what kind of research did you do to write this book? Are people in Albuquerque excited about the series?

D.J: I've had a terrific response from my fellow New Mexicans. I love NM with a firey passion, and the people are wonderful. Unfortunately, I don't have any cool law-enforcement accolades on my resume, unless you count that sociology class I took in college on deviant behavior. Though as a sign language interpreter, I do pick up a lot. Basically, I did tons of research and went to a couple of law-enforcement workshops. One was a chapter meeting in which the State Medical Examiner spoke. That was a real eye-opener. I learned so much and got to see a real autopsy. I've never been the same. I also read books on police procedure and private investigations as well as keep a couple of friends in law enforcement on speed dial. Oh, and I watched a few episodes of Magnum P.I. That was hard. :)

D.B.: Thanks for going the Tom-Selleck-extra mile for us ;). In FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT, you mention that Charley is "a" Grim Reaper. I'm curious if she will meet other Grim Reapers in future novels. Personally, I can't wait to see how the Big Bad plays into all this. You have set up quite a cliffhanger for book two. Without giving too much of the plot away, an obstacle stands in Charley's and Reyes' way. Further, I don't see how you can develop a happily ever after. Do you have one in mind, or is this still to be determined. What a nail biter you left for your readers!

D.J.: It's funny you should mention the grim reaper status, because my editor actually had me pick. Is Charley "a" grim reaper or "the" grim reaper? I decided to go with "the" for the moment. But who knows what lies down the road?

And happily ever after for Reyes and Charley will be a long time coming, but there are definitely happy moments, some hotter than others. Let's just say that book one barely scratches the surfaces of all the obstacles they will face. I take the torture of my characters seriously. LOL.

Sheesh, there's no way in **** I won't pick up book 2. Finally, I loved the way you came up with your title of FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT. There was such poignancy in this book, and I think readers are going to adore your storytelling (says the interviewer who had people looking over my shoulder on an airplane, because I was laughing so hard.) Speaking of Book Two, what's its name?

D.J.: I'm so glad! But I have to admit, I didn't get the title from the book. Quite the vice versa, actually. I made sure I worked the title into the book. I like doing that. Book two is called SECOND GRAVE ON THE LEFT, and three is THIRD GRAVE DEAD AHEAD.

D.B.: Your promo and marketing department sound like a savvy, 100 percent-behind-you bunch. Since Five Scribes is a blog for writers, do you have any advice you'd like to share? Any advice that has been particularly helpful to you in your writing career?

D.J.: First and foremost, believe in yourself. Then, get your butt in the chair and write. That character isn't going to torture herself.

DB: Well, there you have it! Darynda, it's been a pleasure! I'm so excited about this series debut. I know readers will be, too. Readers, Darynda Jones would like to give away a copy of FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT. All you need to do is question or comment, leaving us with your e-mail address or a way to reach you, of course. We'll draw the winner on Friday night, February 4th. To learn more about Darynda Jones, check out her website at



Rita said...

Morning Ladies. Love the interview. Have to agree this is a great book and can't wait for the next one. So happy for you.

Anita Clenney said...

Absolutely wonderful interview. I can so identify with the booksigning fears. I'm going to be signing in May for the first time and I'm very nervous. The book sounds wonderful.

Ruby Johnson said...

Wonderful interview. This book sounds as if it has the ingredients for a best seller-great character, great plot, great story.I can see how it would "take the writing world by storm".

donthangupthequill said...

Darynda, in each interview I just get more and more excited about reading this book. The story and cast of characters sound amazing.


Jean said...

Hi Darynda - Wonderful interview as Donnell can be tough! I'm glad to hear about your process. If you get a about what works best for you. I loved the "writerly" comment.
First Grave was a great read. Waiting for the second book. Wish you lots of funny bood-signing moments to use in your material.
Good luck,

Donnell said...

Wow, I just went for coffee, and here come the comments. Darynda, I think people are excited; what do you think? The more I learn about this woman, the happier I am for her tremendous success. Welcome, everyone and thanks, Darynda, for being here.

Carly Carson said...

I just want to say that Darynda's generosity is also contributing to her well-deserved fame. I first heard about her when she spoke by phone with Sharon Hamilton a while back (a person she did not know) and Sharon shared her excitement with our writing group. Your books sound wonderful!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Fabulous interview, ladies. Darynda, what a unique premise. I've heard nothing but wonderful things about your book. Can't wait to read it!

Thanks for sharing your experience and process.

Wendy S Marcus said...

Your book sounds wonderful. It seems like I've been hearing about it for months. Good luck

Diane said...

Hi, Ladies, wonderful interview to go with a wonderful, fabulous, stupendous book! (yes, I've read it, can't wait for the next one!!!) Darynda, your process sounds a lot like mine, maybe it's an ADD thing. :)

Karen said...

The buzz just keeps building. This is going to be successful beyond your expectations! Congratulations.

Gina Robinson said...

Congrats on your release, Darynda!

dmdietz said...

Thanks for a wonderful interview! I'll definitely be putting FGOTR on my to-read list. I'm a new writer who has just finished my first manuscript. I'm a little overwhelmed by all the things that come next (researching agents, synopsis, queries, etc). My question for Darynda is: what was the hardest aspect of getting published after typing "The End"? And what advice do you have for newbies like myself? In other words, what would you do differently if you knew then what you know now?

Thank you!!!

Edie Ramer said...

Great interview. First Grave sounds like the kind of book I love to read.

ArkansasCyndi said...

I SOOOO want this book. Begging here. :)

How long have you been writing?

Are you agented?

If so, do you think being agented was instrumental in getting your contract?

I saw that you won the 2009 GH. Did that contribute to success?

Nia said...

Love the interview, thanks Donnell! Darynda, thanks for sharing the tip about honoring your process, your experience with writing humor and pressing on with the writing, and the reminder to believe in ourselves. You really inspired me on a day when I was struggling with my writing. I added more words to my "Angst Log" than I did to my MS today.

Can't wait to read it!!

Oh, it was mentioned in my book group last night. The people who read it loved it.

Best of luck


Theresa said...

Another great interview, Donnell, and welcome Darynda!
I can't wait to get your book. Immediately put it on my wish list for hubby and kids, since they are always scrambling for Valentine's Day, b-day and mother's day ideas--though I hate to wait that long to read it!

And kudos to you for finding a unique fantasy character AND awesome titles!!!

Wrote a big book in 4mos??? I might have to hate you--Th-ou-gh I DO love sarcasm!

Lynne Marshall said...

Man oh man, I can feel the excitement, and that rarely comes through a written interview! You've completely hooked me on reading this book. Sounds first class all the way, and what a wonderful quirky character it sounds like you've created. That's the beauty of writing and being true to yourself. So glad you nailed it with this series. Love everything about it from the cover to the titles.
I've got a Kindle with whispernet at hand, if I don't win the book today! LOL So glad your ADD helped add up to something great! that in itself should be inspirational for many people out there.

Darlene Ryan said...

The book sounds intriguing. I'm putting it on my TBR list.

E. B. Davis said...

What an inspiration! I'm writing a paranormal romantic mystery and now am buzzed to finish my WIP. This series is one that I'll add to my "to read" list. Great interview, Donnell. Your advice hit the mark Darynda. After you've been through the rejection steamroller, your confidence can take a hit. I have to get back in the chair!

Darynda said...

I'm late!!! Wow, thank you guys for stopping by! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

kakiwarner said...

Great interview, Donnell. Your book sounds intriguing, Darynda. I'll definitely have to check it out. I love writing that has strong characters, plus a bit of humor, and it sounds as if you've managed both very well. I also love your titles. Good luck with the book signings--I envy your courage.

Cate Harris said...

Great interview, Donnell, and Darynda, your books sound amazing. Love the concept for Charley - that's a really, cool set-up. Thanks for sharing your writing process too and best wishes for great sales!

Margie Lawson said...

Yay Darynda!

I'm always thrilled to read a Margie-grad's novel. I can't wait to read FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT!

And -- it will be so fun to get to meet you in November when I present for LERA. We'll celebrate all your writing success!

Isabel said...

Congrats, Darynda! Your journey is inspiring. Looking forward to reading it soon. :)

My best to you!

Darynda said...

Okay, had a small emergency. Now on to your comments and questions!!! So very sorry for the interruption!!!

Darynda said...

@Rita, thank you so much!!! So glad you liked it.

@Anita, first thank you, and second, super congrats on the signings!!! It will be my first this weekend and I am so nervous. Be sure and let me know when yours are and I'll send some good vibes your way. :)

@Ruby, I would not mind taking the writing world by storm one little bit! LOL. Thank you so much for stopping by.

@Abigail, wow, thank you so much. I hope it lives up to all the hype, LOL.

Darynda said...

@Jean, thank you so much for coming!!! My writing process involves three distinct outlines. I know it sounds like a bit much, but they each serve a particular purpose and act as a map. Do I veer off the road? Absolutely, but without them I am utterly lost.

I have more on my "process" (more like my OCD tendencies) on my site under FAQs. But what I found out is that I simply cannot write a book straight through, thus the need for the roadmap...erm, outlines. I write all over the place, jump from beginning to end and back again. It's just the way I apparently have to do it, otherwise I just get stuck. And then I give up. Too easily, I admit, but there you have it.

Thanks for coming, you!

Darynda said...

@Donnell, if they are excited, it is because you wrote a great interview! This was so much fun! Thank you so much for having me!

@Carly, thank you so much! Sharon is a doll. I've enjoyed getting to know her. And thanks for stopping by.

@Gwen, I'm so glad you've heard good things. Much better than bad. LOL. Thank you so much!!!

@Wendy, yeah, you probably have been hearing about it for months. Sorry. Gets annoying, huh? LOL. Thanks for coming!

@Diane, yes! That must be it! It's an ADD thing! LOL. Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my ADD moments.

@Karen.......I think I love you. Thank you so much!

@Gina! Thank you so very much, beautiful lady! Can't wait for your next one!

Darynda said...

@dmdietz, congratulations!!! So excited for you!

And what a great question. What would I do differently? Okay, in my particular case, I would do nothing differently because if I had, I would not be right here with this book. In fact, it may never have been written if I'd sold my first ms.

But I understand what you're saying. First of all, I would never have put the line, "....and i just put the finishing touches on my first manuscript....." in my frickin query. Nobody needs to know it's your first manuscript. Let your work speak for itself. If it rocks, nobody will care if it's your first one. If it isn't quite where it needs to be, you will rack up a lot of rejections. Welcome to the publishing world! LOL.

For most people, rejection is part of it. Take what people tell you and learn from it. Enter contests that offer feedback (with the knowledge that you need to take those comments with a grain of salt). But learn from it.

Polish, polish, polish and then learn how to write killer query letters.

Good luck! You know, there are those rare writers (one of my Ruby Sisters in fact) who sell their first manuscript without racking up boxfuls of rejection slips. Here's to your future! Take it by the horns and run with it!

Lawson's Leap said...

Hmmm...knowing that you've taken my mom's classes- I am now going to read your book with a rainbow of highlighters in one hand and a list of RDs in the other to check over your work. *sneaky grin* Darn it - everytime I read an interview like this I want to toss my freelance editing out the window and hunkerdown for a few months and get back to my own manuscript...

So thanks for motivating me to wake up earlier and make more time for my writing!

Oh - and you can hire me to play you for your readings. I will act for books.

-----Tiffany Lawson

Darynda said...

@Edie, thank you! Hope you like it!

@Cyndi, LOL, thank you. I have been writing forever, seriously for about nine years. I got an agent after finaling in the RWA Golden Heart in 2009. She's amazing!!!! She was not only instrumental, she was....well....REALLY instrumental. Haha. She sold my book in five days with three houses offering on it, so I would give a definite yes to that. I honestly believe that, yes, the GH win did contribute to the success of First Grave. It got people's attention, turned heads, so to speak. Thanks so much, Cyndi! Hope that helps.

@Nia, I have so been there. Carry on, hon. We all have days where we're sure we're destined to be failures. That is just not so. And thanks for the comment about your book group! So very glad. Hang in there and good luck!

Darynda said...

@Theresa! You can hate me, it's okay! Hahaha. I love me some sarcasm too. Thank you so much!

@Lynne, isn't Donnell wonderful at interviews??? Her excitement just shined through and got me so excited while I was answering her very thought-provoking questions. So glad you're hooked! Good luck in the contest!

Thanks, @Darlene! Hope you likes it!

@EB Davis, if you are inspired, then I have done my job. Thank you so much! Now get your butt in that chair! Good luck with your ms!!!

@kakiwarner, thank you so much! Courageous or crazy? It's a fine line.

@Cate, thanks so much! Charley is certainly special to me. Hope you like her too. :)

@Margie! Woohoo! So good to see you here! I cannot wait to meet you in person and I've always wanted to take a workshop from you in real life. LOL. So excited!!!

@Isabel, I hope you like it! Thanks so much for stopping by!

@Tiffany, your mom rocks, but you probably already know that. :) I hope you can get back to the ms soon. So glad if I've even inspired you an ounce. That's what it's all about. And you are gorgeous and young. You are SO hired to be me at signings! LOL. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Marie Campbell said...

I so enjoyed the interview and can't wait to read the book. And here's hoping all your book signings are not only painless but wonderfully fun as well!

Darynda said...

Thank you so much, Marie!!! Good vibes welcome. :)

Suzanne Perazzini said...

I love the concept and look forward to reading this book. Great cover too. It all helps.


Vanessa Barneveld said...

Hi, Donnell and Darynda!

Darynda, I feel like I'm stalking you all over the cyber universe--sorry! I can't help it. I find you incredibly hilarious and fun to be around. :)


Donnell said...

Thanks, everyone for stopping by to support Darynda Jones on her debut week. I hope she had a blast! We'll be announcing a winner of FIRST GRAVE ON THE RIGHT this evening.

Those of you who don't win, please don't despair. We wouldn't want Charley Davidson to have to help you cross ;)

Happy Writing. ~ Donnell

Spav said...

Great interview. The more I hear about this book the more I want to read it.
I hope I'm not too late for the contest.


Darynda said...

@Suzanne, thank you so much! I think that cover will be a definite plus!

@Vanessa, you can stalk me anytime, Ruby sis!!! Hahaha. You're so cute. And you're absolutely incredible. Love you!

Hey @Spav!!! So nice to see you here! Thanks for coming by.

And thank you soooo much, Donnell, for having me! I so enjoyed this interview!

Angi Morgan said...


Hoping to meet you in person this month. I'll be visiting your Land of Enchantment...

Wonderful interview.