Jeanne Stein’s writing epitomizes the urban fantasy genre. Her character, Anna Strong, is that iconic butt-kicking, powerful female that has come be associated with what we call urban fantasy nowadays, and now, seven books along in the series, they’re as popular as ever. She has shared anthology pages with other luminaries of genre: Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, and Kelley Armstrong. And on top of all that, she is an exceedingly gracious lady. How far will Anna Strong go? That remains to be seen, but if you corner her at a convention, she might confide that she wants to write more mysteries.
TH: What is The Story of Jeanne? A butt-kicking urban fantasy romp? A long, angst-ridden slog into professional writer-dom?
JS: Ha! A butt-kicking urban fantasy romp? That’s only in my dreams. My story is the same of just about every writer I know. Submissions, rejections, submissions, more rejections until finally, “it” happened…I got the call!
TH: What were your first serious creative impulses that led you to a creative career?
JS: I can’t say for sure. I do have a picture of me when I was about in second grade with a pencil in my hand and a serious expression on my face. Still, I think it was reading that gradually led me into a writing career. In the late 70’s I joined a mystery reading group held in a bookstore with an owner that had ridiculously wonderful connections. We had Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, James Elroy, Martha Grimes and so many other first rate mystery writers actually come to the store to talk with us. It was the first time I started wondering if maybe I could write a mystery, too. I joined Sisters in Crime and began to write in earnest.
TH: Do you have any writing stuck away somewhere that will never see the light of day, but nevertheless helped you build your skills?
JS: Doesn’t everyone? In fact, I’ve scavenged bits and pieces of those books to create new stories.
TH: Every writer has things they would like to accomplish, e.g. first sale, next sale, first novel sale, first bestseller, etc., but you already have a substantial body of work. What accomplishment are you striving for right now?
JS: I’d very much like to make the NYT list and USA list high enough to be recognized by my publisher. Penguin says you have to be above 30 to be able to claim the NYT Bestselling author title. I’ve hit 32 and 35. I’m also looking forward to taking a foray into self-publishing and maybe get one or two of those straight mysteries out there.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you? What is the most fun?
JS: Plotting and beginning a new story is the most fun for me.
TH: What is your go-to research book? If we walked into your office, what book would be at the top of the pile?
JS: A Thesaurus. A big one.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as an writer? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances where you had that realization? Do you recall how that felt? If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
JS: I think a writing career is full of moments where you feel you’re a little closer to that magic moment. Acceptance by an agent, first contract with a publisher, holding your book for the first time, seeing your book in a bookstore, finding your name on a bestsellers list. But I’m not sure what “making it” means at this point in my career. I just want to keep writing books that readers want to read.
TH: Some say that artists have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
JS: Writers who want a career have to look at the business side of things because publishers certainly do. As much as we like to think of ourselves as artists, to our editors, we’re a bottom line commodity. I try to approach writing as a professional, knowing marketing and a presence on social media may be a drain on time and finances, but it’s necessary. I treat the process of writing the same way—as a job. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had, but it’s also the best. But to be successful, I have to turn out a product and that takes discipline and work.
TH: What are the most effective ways you have found to promote yourself?
JS: I don’t know that I’ve found the most effective way yet. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, though Twitter doesn’t get much attention because I can’t think of clever or interesting things to say a dozen times a day. I attend conferences and that’s fun and work. I love meeting fans and being on panels. I take out ads in magazines that appeal to readers of my genre. I need to revamp my website, although the S. J. Harper site is really quite nice. Samantha Sommersby, my coauthor, has hired someone to take care of it for us. I love doing classes and talking to book clubs. Can I say any of these are more effective than any other? No. After ten books, I’m still experimenting.
TH: Can you recall a moment when a two or more influences or inspirations came together and smacked you with a cool idea?
JS: Maybe when I was coming up with the character of Anna Strong. I knew I wanted to write a vampire story, but not the angst-filled-I’ve-been-turned-and-I-hate-my-life kind of vampire story, but a story of a strong female who has to face a life turned upside down. Who has a human family and friends that she has to hide her new reality from while coming to terms with the vampire existence. Anna was a tough cookie before being turned and that didn’t change after. I got to take all the characteristics I admire in women and use them to forge her personality.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as a writer?
JS: There are two wonderful ones— the first was at ComicCon in San Diego when I heard a voice behind me say, “Aren’t you Jeanne Stein, the author?” I actually looked around thinking there must be another Jeanne Stein, that that person couldn’t possibly be talking to me. But she was. And that person, Kris Bochum, is a friend to this day!
The second was when a reader told me that she loved my books because they were five-hour vacations. That’s exactly what I was going for—a way to take a reader out of their regular lives and let them escape into another world for an afternoon. I look on myself as an entertainer and if I achieve that for someone, I’m a success.
TH: A few years ago, you contributed to an anthology called Many Bloody Returns with some fellow big names in Urban Fantasy (Charlaine Harris – Sookie Stackhouse series, Jim Butcher – Dresden Files, Kelley Armstrong – Bitten series). Were you invited or did you submit a story? Did you know in advance who your fellow contributors were? What was your reaction?
JS: Charlaine and I have been friends for years but it was still quite a thrill to get that invitation. Yes, I knew who the other contributors were, which was another thrill. I still get royalties from that one! I have another story in a Charlaine Harris anthology coming out first in audio book in May, then later in HB and paper. The name of that one is Dead but Not Forgotten: Stories from the world of Sookie Stackhouse. I wrote about Sookie’s Gran, Adele Stackhouse. It was harder than I thought it would be to write in someone else’s world—but fun, too!!
TH: How has being a member of various writing communities (Sisters in Crime, Horror Writers of America, RWA & RMFW) affected your writing career?
JS: I think the most important benefit of belonging to writing groups is that they provide a sense of community. Writing is a solitary endeavor. It’s nice to get together with others who share the same passion. Sisters in Crime provided my first introduction to critique. Romance Writers of America provides educational opportunities. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers does both. I’ve been in the same critique group for years. My writing is stronger because of it.
TH: If you got the opportunity to get Anna Strong up on the big screen, who should play her?
JS: Okay, you may think this weird, but I liked the model used in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which is an action-adventure video game. If you’ve seen it, you know how remarkable the animation is. Anyway, that Lara is lean, heroic, strong and realistic in her vulnerabilities. I can’t help thinking
that the performance capture technique is perfect for the Anna Strong books.
TH: In other interviews you’ve named Laurell K. Hamilton as a big influence for you. If you could do some sort of crossover novel or shared-world story, which of her characters would you love to work with most?
JS: I suppose Anita Blake. I have to admit, I am not so enamored of LKH as I was when I began. But she must be given credit for being one of the founding creators of Urban Fantasy. Her style of writing greatly influenced me when I was beginning the series.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
JS: Like every author I know, I’m looking at self-pubbing. I have three projects right now— a novella in the Fallen Siren Series Samantha and I hope to have out in April or May; a mystery novella I’m in the process of editing; and a mystery novel that’s through the first draft process. Then it’s on to writing another Anna Strong book. It’s an exciting time to be an author because there are so many opportunities out there now! And of course, the second book in the Fallen Siren series, Reckoning, is scheduled to be released in October.
TH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
JS: I suppose the only thing to add is to the newbies out there—don’t ever stop writing. Remember Robert Heinlein’s five rules:
You Must Write
Finish What You Start
You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except to Editorial Order (Debatable, this one—I know he took it literally. I take it as don’t get bogged down with chapter one, trying to make it perfect)
You Must Put Your Story on the Market
You Must Keep it on the Market until it has sold
Wash, Rinse, Repeat.