: Hey Jessa, welcome to the Romance Bandits! I am thrilled to introduce you to all the BBs (Bandita Buddies) and my fellow Banditas — and keep your eyes out for Sven the masseuse — he can really ease that writer’s cramp. Oh, and one of the cabana boys will be along shortly with your drink. What would you like?
JESSA: I’m not ashamed to say I prefer girlie drinks: Sweet and frothy. (The secret of girlie drinks is, of course, most of them deliver a stiletto-heel kick that’ll leave your head buzzing, which is why men can’t drink them.) Since my story is set in the chill of Chicago in November, I’ll take a girlie coffee drink, a BFK. That’s Bailey’s, Frangelico and Kahlua. In a fine establishment like this (i.e. surrounded by romance writers and readers) I’m sure you don’t mind if I switch out the coffee for hot cocoa. And get a swirl of whipped cream on top. Plus a few chocolate sprinkles. Ah yes, now we can get started.
KIRSTEN: Lovely! I’ll have one of those myself! Cabana boy – fetch us two BFKs! Now, tell us all about your fabulous debut, Seduced by Shadows.
JESSA: SEDUCED BY SHADOWS is the first in a new urban fantasy romance series, The Marked Souls, from Signet Eclipse, out October 6 (finally!). Repentant demons, seeking to earn their redemption, possess vulnerable souls to wage an unending battle against the forces of evil in our world. These teshuva demons and their talyan men think they’ve seen everything in their immortal lives… until the first female warrior arrives.
From the back cover:
The war between good and evil has raged for millennia, but now evil is winning and the Marked Souls are caught in the middle.
After an accident left her near death, Sera Littlejohn is struggling to piece together her life. But when a violet-eyed stranger reveals a supernatural battle veiled in the shadows, Sera is tempted to the edge of madness by a dangerous desire.
Ferris Archer takes Sera under his wing now that she is talyan, possessed by a repentant demon with hellish powers. Archer and his league of warriors have long risked their demon-shattered souls to stop darker spirits from wreaking havoc, but they’ve never fought beside a female talya before — and never in all his centuries has Archer found a woman who captivates him like Sera.
With the balance shifting between good and evil, passion and possession, Sera and Archer must defy the darkness and dare to embrace a love that will mark them forever.
KIRSTEN: Wow (hushed silence). That sounds intense.
JESSA: The monsters are on the intense side, and the hero and heroine have a few shadows in their pasts, but who doesn’t have darkness, monsters, and shadows on their heels, right? And I’ve always loved that saying: Only when it’s dark do we finally see the on-rushing headlights of our doom. No, wait, that’s not the saying. The saying is: Only when it’s dark do we see the stars. We only learn our true character under pressure, which the dark side provides in spades.
KIRSTEN: You’ve built an incredibly detailed world for your books. How do you go about the writing process? What comes first — world-building, plot, or characters? Or a mix of all three? And where did you come up with all those cool words you’ve coined? Did you dream up a whole new language, like Tolkien?
JESSA: Ooh, you referenced me and Tolkien in the same paragraph! Fangirl shriek moment! I can only dream of some day writing with Tolkien’s vibrant complexity (and scoring Peter Jackson as director for the movie!) and—since I’m dreaming—Frank Herbert’s vivid depth. I re-read THE HOBBIT and DUNE regularly, and every time, I’m blown away by the worlds they’ve created and the characters that move through their stories. (Although both stories need more heroines, agreed?)
I, tragically, am a hack. I stole my words from mythologies and religions around the world. At least I’m an unbiased thief. The reason why I borrowed so widely is I’m fascinated with the way every culture attempts to explain good and evil. From the Brothers Grimm to Mao’s little book, from the earliest Babylonian creation tales to the latest Joss Whedon, we’re constantly parsing good from evil. From a scientific angle, you could say it must be hard-wired into our brain to seek to understand why bad things happen to good people and why good people do bad things. But from a more liberal arts perspective, you have to wonder WHY we need to understand. Could it be BECAUSE evil truly exists, and not in some metaphoric sense either, but in a very literal sense? But what if good and evil can’t be separated out so neatly? What if we’re all good AND evil?
From that question—If we all have a bit of evil in us, does that make us evil?—was born the Marked Souls.
KIRSTEN: Jessa, I want to read this book more with every word you speak! Now, putting aside these questions of good and evil, let’s get down to details: I know a lot of our readers love a bad-boy. Can you tell us about your hero, Archer? He’s enough to make a girl’s spine tingle…
JESSA: Oh, yes, spine. That’s what’s tingling Ferris Archer is a bad boy by necessity, not by choice. He was raised a farmer’s son, and he had a simple plan laid out for him: Sunlight, growing things, a walk down the lane with some quiet girl. But life—and death, and good and evil, and fate, and love—targeted him for something more.
Archer cultivates his bad boy qualities—the sharp edges in his personality and his blade, more than a touch of danger, not to mention the black trench coat—to hide his regret at forgetting something so dear to him as the scent of honeysuckle. Sera, the heroine, brings that back but also forces him to remember things he’d rather stayed forgotten, like, oh, his humanity. Oops.
My favorite, decidedly non-PC parts of a bad boy work well in a Marked Soul. All that arrogance and violence are harnessed for the power of good. Well, and for the heroine, of course She better be ready for the responsibility of handling his, er, weapon.
KIRSTEN: So now that we’re all panting to read this book can you tell about your path to publication? Was this the first story you’ve written?
JESSA: Oh, thanks for making me choke on my BFK! Sold my first story. Snork. Almost a hundred rejections over more than ten years on nearly a million final draft words. The math isn’t exact (Damn it, Jim, I’m a writer, not a mathematician) but if you round to the nearest heartache, that’s how long it took me to get here. Never let it be said I took the easy way to anything. At least the slow and steady pace gave me an ulcer… I mean, gave me a chance not only to learn the craft of writing but to discover more about the business and the mindset of being an author. Still, I think I’d advocate the overnight success route if you have the opportunity.
KIRSTEN: Any advice for your fellow writers, now that you’ve hit the big time?
JESSA: Well, I’m still small-time, but I think I could give you the advice that the big boys and girls would: Keep writing. With every failure and every success, keep writing. You are a writer when you are writing. Let everything else fall by the wayside when you set that blinking cursor to blank page and write.
Will it be easy? Never has been for me. But whatever. Keep writing. I consider writing a painful chore, slogging away at the keyboard, day after day. But in the striving, I do see something I guess I’d call sublime. There’s a sacred calling in the telling of story.
KIRSTEN: What beautiful words – a real inspiration. Thanks so much for being here today.
JESSA: Thank YOU for inviting me! I’ll be stopping back throughout the day, so if anybody has any questions or wants to debate fantasy casting for Bilbo Baggins in the remaking of The Hobbit, ask away!