Today I’m talking with author and publisher Jenner Lichtwark. Jenner is based in Christchurch and writes under the pen-name of J. L. O’Rourke.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself:
You have two mystery series, Power Ride a murder-mystery centred around a rock band, and the Severn Series, urban fantasies following Vampires living in Christchurch. What drew you into writing Urban Fantasy after writing traditional mystery?
Murder mysteries were my obvious genre choice as that’s what I read all the time. I like the gentle simplicity of the British cosy mystery, although my own turned out a bit more hard-edged than the usual small-village style stories. I like imagining bodies in strange places and wondering why they ended up there, so I have lots of ideas for future Avi Livingstone stories. Vampires in Christchurch theatres was an extension of the many hours I have spent backstage in theatres. It just seemed logical to find vampires in the black parts of the theatre, working on the dark. Theatre crew are odd people – being vampires didn’t seem a big jump.
Have you found Readers of “regular” mystery are willing or resistant to crossover and explore the magical twist that the urban fantasy genre provides?
I have never assumed that I am writing for the same audience. The murders are adult while the vampires are YA. And I write children’s stories as well, so I tend to assume a different audience for each. Urban fantasy suits the reader who likes science fiction but prefers it set in a world they can relate to. I think the idea of there being abnormal things among the normal suits the YA imagination.
The Severn Series: Chains of Blood, and Blood in the Wings are YA fiction. When writing YA mystery what are the elements you add in or omit than compared to when writing mystery for adults?
Sex, and sub-plots. The first Severn story, Blood in the Wings, originally had a sex scene between Riley and Severn, but when I realised I wanted it to be YA, and there was going to be more than one book, I took the sex out. The romance is still there, and Riley talks about sex, but the actual act doesn’t happen. Which is one of the reasons I like writing YA – I hate writing sex scenes. And sub-plots – YA sub-plots tend to stress the growing up of the main character – in some way they all speak to the character’s emergence into adulthood.
What’s your writing style, do you plan everything first, or write and see where the story leads you?
I learned the hard way that a good idea without the work done to plot it out leads to a half-written story that gets lost in the middle. So I have an idea, let it sit in my head for months to develop from an idea into a plot, then draw up the skeleton plot to give me a framework to work to. The story might then meander away from the plot but the basic outlie keeps me on track.
I believe you interviewed some police as part of your researching. Did you tell them you were writing a murder-mystery? How did they react when you approached them?
Yes – I was up-front from the start. I needed to know how NZ police differed from the way police are shown in British books, so I made an appointment and spent a very fruitful hour or so with a top detective who answered all my odd questions. I think he was pleased I was making sure I got it right, and he was amused and helpful.
What was your favourite and least favourite part in researching for the novel?
I tend to set my books in places I know well, so the research is usually around the odd things. For instance, my current work in progress is set at Lake Waihola so I am trying to learn about black swans and their nesting habits, and wild pig hunting. Thank heavens for google!
You have a lot of personal experience in theatre, and the Severn Series is set within the theatre world. Was there an experience in your own life that inspired the idea for the first Severn story? If not, where did the idea for the story come from?
The first of Severn is set backstage in the old Theatre Royal during a run of Singin’ in the Rain, even though those two facts are never specifically noted. The story came from when my (then teenage) daughter and I were part of the crew for that show, in that theatre. The lead vampires are based on other crew members. A lot of time was spent in the alleyway, the black coats are standard garb (mine’s still hanging in my wardrobe). It just occurred to me one night that the big “rain truck” for the famous street scene would be a perfect place to find a severed head – and what if the rain came down blood coloured. And the idea grew from there. The second story came from an outdoor show where I was operating sound. Again, it was watching people wading in the lake during rehearsal breaks that sparked the idea that became Chains of Blood.
How long have you been involved with the Christchurch Writers’ Guild? And what are the advantages to belonging to such a group?
I joined the Guild a couple of years ago when I was trying out the various writing groups to find one that suited me. I used to love the Waitaki Writers in Oamaru and I had missed the camaraderie of that group. I stayed with the Guild as it is very informal while the other groups seemed to concentrate too much on having a set agenda. I get a lot of inspiration from the random conversations and mutual support. I find the informality suits my style.
You established Millwheel Press in 2012 to publish your own books. Why not just use Amazon? What have been the advantages and disadvantages of going out on your own like that?
I use Amazon but it is almost impossible to get into libraries or bookstores as an indie author. A formal publishing house name (even if it’s boutique) has more credibility in the marketplace. Plus I offer editing services to other writers, so a business name made sense.
Whereabouts are Millwheel Press books stocked? And how receptive have you found local book stores? What tips would you give authors trying to stock their books in shops?
I sell mostly through Amazon and via the Millwheel Press website, although I am working on getting out to more places. I carry a small stock of printed copies for marketing opportunities that pop up.
What has been the hardest part with promoting your work?
Marketing – I am the world’s worst sales person. Like a lot of writers, I’m actually quite shy and get very anxious confronting a book store. I can sing, act or talk in front of thousands no problem, but one-to-one marketing scares me witless. I find cold selling an absolute nightmare.
Millwheel offers editing assistance to other writers, what do you find are common problems arising from people editing their own work?
People see what they want to see, not what is there. It is too easy to miss typos because the brain reads over them. Also, if the writer is too close to their work, they won’t see where it goes astray. It’s really important to have someone who is unbiased but knows your genre check your work to make sure the characters stay in character and that there are no gaping plotholes. Also, if people are writing in a style that doesn’t work, (too much tell, not enough show or overblown descriptions) they are not going to see that themselves – it needs someone else to point that out.
Having had several years of experiencing ebooks versus physical copies, what have you found your Readers prefer? And as a publisher which format do you prefer dealing with and why?
Buyers still seem to like physical books but I, personally, prefer Ebooks. Publishing – I like the look of my printed copies on my shelf, but the cost of publishing is off-putting. I do like Createspace for print-on-demand so I am not paying for huge print runs that sit in boxes. I like the immediacy of publishing in Ebook format. Sales-wise adult novels are about equally Ebook and print, while YA and children’s are predominantly print.
If you could go back in time and give your younger self a piece of writing advice, what would you say?
Plot the whole story, not just the first half and the very end. Think how the middle is going to work before you start. Work out all the red herrings and sub-plots before you start writing – it’s much harder to fit them in later.
Thank you so much for your time today, and what’s the next project we can look forward to?
A mystery romance set at Lake Waihola with handsome Southern men, dead pigs, black swans, a fat pug and a severed arm – and a children’s book about a road cone’s earthquake adventure.
And where can Readers find you online?
Millwheel Press Website www.millwheelpress.co.nz
Or email at email@example.com