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An Interview with J.A. Clarke

Conducted by Carrie Smoot
January 2003

J.A. Clarke’s latest book is “Moonfire,” a futuristic romance.She has also gained a following from “Summer Heat,” a funcontemporary love story. She lives in the Pacific Northwest withher husband and two sons. A world traveler, she grew up inAfrica. Books and libraries have always been her specialpassions. “I’ve always loved reading, and books…were a primaryform of entertainment, so trips to the library every week were afavorite treat,” Clarke says. She has tried to instill a love ofreading in her sons. So far, it’s working. “My sons do readevery day, my oldest because I strongly encourage it, my youngest because he truly does like to read. We’re currently readingTolkien’s ‘The Two Towers’ together. They mostly enjoy adventurestories of boys their own age getting into all kinds ofmischief,” she says. Clarke’s creativity and enthusiasm areinescapable. Let’s see what she has to share with otherwriters—and readers.

FF: You said in an AuthorsDen interview: “Let your imaginationtake flight.” How can aspiring writers free their creativitymore? What works for you?

J.A.: We all need a place to escape to from time to time. Forsome of us, it’s books and where we can go in the stories and how we can be inspired by them. To aspiring writers I would say: beopen to every new experience, learn from each one, look for newpaths to follow, don’t limit yourself to what you’ve always doneand what is familiar and comfortable. To grow, we need tostretch ourselves sometimes (often) beyond our comfort level. I’minspired by a variety of things—my family, movies I see, books Iread. I love to travel and learn about other cultures andtraditions.

FF: What was it like growing up in Africa? Where did you andyour family live? What is your favorite thing about it—yourfavorite memories?

J.A.: I grew up in a beautiful, but very poor, country insouthern Africa. Looking back, it was a wonderful childhoodexperience although, of course, at the time I didn’t haveanything else with which to compare it. I went to a girls’boarding school in a neighboring country. We didn’t have TV where I lived, so we children entertained ourselves with all kinds ofgames, many made up, and books. The political climate wasn’tcomfortable, but as a child I was shielded from much of that. Myfavorite memories are of trips to the lake, game reserves—becauseI loved to watch the animals, and surrounding countries. Nothingcompares to getting up at 5:30 in the morning to go on agame-viewing trip. I hope to take my family “home” one day.

FF: What other countries have you visited or lived in for awhile? What is special about them?

J.A.: I’ve traveled in many of the countries of southern Africa,the UK, Greece, Turkey, Fiji Islands, Mexico, and Canada. Everyplace is special and unique. I love the history (especially inGreece and Mexico), the culture, the traditions, and the scenery.

FF: Where in the Pacific Northwest do you live? What is specialabout that area of the country?

J.A.: I live in Oregon where you can visit the mountains, theocean and the High Desert in just a few short hours. There’s somuch to experience outdoors here but we joke that we need webbedfeet to do it because it rains so much!

FF: Does lots of traveling necessarily make a better writer?
Why or why not?

J.A.: Personally, my travel experiences have helped tremendouslywith my writing. You can learn so much on the Internet thesedays, but you still can’t experience the sounds and smells andmultiple other details that way, and good writers will use allthe senses in their writing. I think actually experiencing aplace helps with the details that can bring the story to life.

FF: Please name the places depicted in your current Web photos.
I particularly liked the sunsets, though they all wereinteresting.

J.A.: Most are of Lake Malawi and Kasungu Game Reserve–a large population of hippo lives in the dam although you can’t see them.

FF: You said that you had a career in banking, which led you toa lot of business writing. What kinds? Did you learn these skills on the job?

J.A.: Business writing over the years has involved a lot ofcorrespondence, proposals and training material, most of whichwas learned on the job.

FF: How did you make the leap into fiction?

J.A.: Like many writers, I have many voices in my head clamoringto be heard. At some point, they needed to be put down on paper.Actually, at the time I started my first book, it was a greatform of stress relief (and still is), just like reading.

FF: How much research do you put into your books?

J.A.: Depends on the book. I use a variety of resources,including travel, the Internet, other books. It really depends on the plot, setting and conflict. My family has spent manyvacations in the High Desert of Central Oregon so it seemednatural to set “Summer Heat” there.

FF: Why do you like romance and science fiction novels? Wheredo you get inspirations for your characters?

J.A.: It’s always fun to think about what the future will belike. I’ve always enjoyed the SF books, movies and TV series,although there never seems to be a lot of romance in them. TheSF/Fantasy cartoon shows my kids have watched have been prettywild sometimes, too. My character inspirations come fromeverywhere–bits and pieces from people I meet,behavior observations, books, movies, TV, but my own imaginationmostly.

FF: I think mixing the two genres sometimes is interesting. Howdo you know when the combination will work?

J.A.: I hope it does work. I would love to see more SF/futuristicromances. The heroes and heroines of the future have many of thesame but also very different challenges to face. The imaginationof the author (and reader) is the only limit.

FF: What makes a good romance novel? How do you make it “real”?
What do you think are the best plots?

J.A.: Great conflict, strong character development, unexpectedtwists and, of course, a happy ending. My favorite authors do all of that. There are certain romance genres I don’t read becausethey are too predictable. The best plots are fast-paced and havesomething very unique about them. It could be an old story line,but just done in a fresh and exciting way.

FF: How can you tell if you’re on the right track with yourmanuscript?

J.A.: My writing flies along, my characters are behaving (ormisbehaving), and the ideas for the next turning point in thestory are simmering.

FF: Why did you decide to use pen names?

J.A.: Mostly in an attempt to keep my two (or is it three?) lives
separate.

FF: How have professional associations helped you? What otherresources have you found helpful? How do you make associationmembership worthwhile?

J.A.: Romance Writers of America, http://www.rwanational.org,and its local chapter have been a tremendous resource. I thoughtI knew about writing when I first started. I can’t tell you howmuch I’ve learned by going to local chapter meetings andconferences—not just some of the how-tos about writing, but alsowhat I’ve learned about the business side of writing. It’s beengreat. Other writing organizations, such as EPIC, http://www.epicauthors.org, have also been a great help.

FF: What do your husband and sons think of your writing? Do youever ask their opinions? Is that wise?

J.A.: When I first started writing, I didn’t tell my husband what I was doing for three months! Then I wished I’d told him sooner.He’s been nothing but tremendously supportive to the point oftaking on grocery shopping, dinner and other chores. He’s also myWebmaster. My sons provide constant inspiration and help me dreamup names for my futuristic characters. My husband and my sonsalso run around telling people that I write books, which I’moften too shy to do myself.

FF: Do you think it’s best to work with a critique group? Howcan you make one stronger?

J.A.: I haven’t tried a critique group, but I do have a critiquepartner and several “cold” readers. Being able to bounce ideas and plotpoints off people is very helpful. For a group to be effective,I would imagine that the expectations need to be clear from thebeginning and everyone wants it to work the same way. People also need to learn how to give and take constructive criticism.

FF: Please tell me more about future projects.

J.A.: I have two books under contract with LionHearted,http://www.lionhearted.com, one a futuristic and one acontemporary set in Africa. I have a short story scheduled to bereleased by Awe-Struck, http://www.awe-struck.net, as part of an anthology in 11/03. I’m currently working on a contemporary seton the Oregon Coast about a heroine with an identity theftproblem and a hero who thinks he can fix everything. After thislast contemporary, I think I want to write another futuristic,especially since I’ve had a wonderful response to “Moonfire.”Ideas for the futuristic have been bouncing around in my head fora while. It’s time to put them down on paper.

FF: What do you like about making personal appearances, and howdo you organize them and make them successful?

J.A.: Meeting people who like to read. Preparing enough ahead oftime and having a good idea of what to expect from the event andlocation.

FF: What trends do you notice in E-book readers? Do you thinkE-books are catching on at libraries? Why or why not?

J.A.: Everything I read and hear indicates E-books are fastgrowing more popular. I have a REB1100and love it. I know of at least one local library that has anE-book reader they lend out and there must be more.

FF: Do you read a lot of E-books? What do you currently enjoyreading, and who are your favorite authors? When not writing,what do you enjoy?

J.A.: I do read a lot of E-books, especially since I got myREB1100. (It’s fun reading in bed with the lights off.) I stillread a lot of paperbacks as well. My favorite authors are JayneAnn Krentz, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Linda Howard. When notwriting, I enjoy spending time with my family doing all thosethings little boys like to do despite the weather in Oregon.

Thanks, J.A., for spending time with us, and we look forward toreading your new novels. Learn more about J.A. Clarke at herWeb site: http://jaclarke.home.attbi.com.

Copyright 2003. Carrie Smoot.

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