Do you like to read and are you a do-it-yourself type person? If so, I’d like to introduce Jennie Bentley, the author of the DIYseries. Along with a most satisfying read, especially if you are a cozy mystery fan, she provides do-it-yourself advice that she used in the story. In Spackled and Spooked she shows how to make a peek a book shower curtain and how to turn a dresser into a bathroom vanity, among other creative suggestions.
I will be reviewing Spackled and Spooked later this week. In the meantime, here is my interview with Jennie:
Virginia – Where are you from?
Jennie –I was born in Northern Europe and came to the US in my late teens. Yes, English is a second language for me.
Virginia – How long have you been writing?
Jennie – Um… forever?
I remember writing and illustrating a little six-page volume about a black poodle named Top before I started school. In first grade, my teacher warned my parents I’d grow up to be an author. The impetus was a book—a notebook—I filled with the adventures of a small elf in green pajamas.
More recently, I started writing A Cutthroat Business—the book that started it all—in 2005. That was when I got serious about wanting to be published. A Cutthroat Business will be released next summer, but before I found a publisher for it, it crossed the desk of an editor at Berkley Prime Crime, who offered me the opportunity to write a series of Do-It-Yourself home renovation mysteries for them. The time from I started writing the book until I signed the contract for three other books took about two years.
Virginia – What do you write?
Jennie –Funny, romantic mysteries. Specifically, the Do-It-Yourself home renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime, and—starting in June 2010—the Cutthroat Business mysteries for PublishingWorks. The DIY-books are sweet and cozy; the Cutthroat Business mysteries a little less sweet and a little more sexy, but still on the traditional or cozy end of things.
Virginia- Tell us a little about your publisher and agent.
Jennie-Ihave two publishers: Berkley Prime Crime is an imprint of the Penguin Group, the second largest publisher in the world. They publish the DIY Home Renovation mysteries featuring Avery Baker and her boyfriend and business partner, handyman Derek Ellis, who renovate houses in the tiny—and fictional—town of Waterfield, on the coast of Maine. They also publish a lot of other, similar, crafty-type cozy mysteries.
PublishingWorks is a smaller, independent publisher which has only recently ventured into genre publishing from children’s books and non-fiction. They have all the departments and outlets the bigger publishers have—sales, marketing, etc.—but on a much smaller scale. The benefit is that I get more input on things like cover art and marketing, which I don’t get with the bigger publisher, where everything is more automated.
My agent is Stephany Evans, president of Fine Print Literary Management. She represents mostly women’s fiction, and is especially interested in anything health-related.
Virginia- How many books have you published so far?
Jennie-Two books published, Fatal Fixer-Upper & Spackled and Spooked, both in the DIY series. Four more are under contract. DIY#3, Plaster and Poison, will be released in March 2010, with DIY#4 and DIY#5 in the pipeline. A Cutthroat Business, first in the Cutthroat business series, is coming in June 2010. One more book in that series is written, with a third about halfway done.
Virginia- What is your writing day like?
Jennie-Assuming I don’t haveanything to do besides write—like a signing or TV interview or similar—I get up around 6 am, get the kids ready for school, take them there—or send them off with my husband—and sit down at the computer. By then it’s about 8 o’clock or so. I spend 20-30 minutes checking email, Facebook, Twitter, any blogs I’ve posted recently… what have you. Then I get down to business. I read over at least some of what I wrote the day before to get into the voice and the flow of things, and then I’m off. Usually I take a break for lunch sometime around 11 or 12, although I don’t always remember. By 2:30 I have to stop to go pick up the kids from school again. After that, it’s family time until they’re in bed around 8:30. If I’m under deadline—and I usually am—I’ll put in another hour or four at that point, depending on how close to deadline I am and how far away I am from finishing. Some days I manage 1,000 words, some days 6,000. The word count grows exponentially the closer I get to having to hand the manuscript in, I’ve noticed.
Virginia- Can you tell us how you found a publisher and/or agent?
Jennie-I found my agent through AgentQuery.com, which is a very useful website. I sent the traditional cold query: I’d never met my agent, didn’t know anyone who knew her, didn’t have an introduction—she agreed to represent me based on the query letter and manuscript I sent her. Both publishing contracts came through her efforts in sending out the manuscript to editors.
Virginia- Do you have anything that just came out?
Jennie-Spackled and Spooked, DIY#2, was released on August 4th.
Virginia- What are you working on now?
Jennie-I’m promoting Spackled and Spooked, revising Plaster and Poison, and writing DIY#4, tentatively titled Mortar and Murder. If I can finish by the end of the year, we might be able to get it out by the end of 2010! After that it’s on to DIY#5 and finishing Cutthroat #3. I’ve also got a YA mystery that I have to work on to get that ready to submit.
Virginia-Do you have some words of wisdom for us unpubs?
Jennie-Besides reading a lot and writing a lot, I have two:
1) Finish the manuscript you’re writing. The new, bright, shiny idea you just had sounds great, and would undoubtedly be great fun to write about, but if you never finish a manuscript, you’ll never get published. Later on in the process you’ll be able to sell on proposal only, but at first, having a completed manuscript is essential.
2) Learn as much about the business end of writing as possible. By which I mean the ins and outs of getting that finished manuscript from the computer to the bookstore. You don’t want to do what I did back in 2001 or so, when I got a two-page rejection letter from an editor at Harlequin, detailing everything that was wrong with the synopsis I had sent her and giving me suggestions for how I could remedy the problems. Now I know that this is code for “Fix this and send it back to me,” but then, I put the letter in a drawer and never looked at the synopsis again. Please don’t make that mistake. I’m still kicking myself. Not because I didn’t get published anyway, a few years later—once I figured out where I’d gone wrong the first time—but because it was an opportunity, and those should never be squandered.
My website is http://www.jenniebentley.com. I blogat the Good Girls Kill for Money Club every other Monday, and at the Working Stiffs the first Friday of every month.
Thanks so much for taking the time for this interview. I look forward to more adventures with Avery.
Until next time,