My guest today is Jaden Terrell. Jaden is the author of the Jared McKean mystery series and a contributor to Now Write! Mysteries, a collection of crime fiction writing exercises published by Tarcher/Penguin. Jaden is the executive director of the Killer Nashville conference and a recipient of the Magnolia Award for service to the Southeastern Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Learn more at her website: http://www.jadenterrell.com.
Anne - Welcome, Jaden. Let's talk writing! What activity (cause, charity, organization) consumes your time when you’re away from the keyboard?
Jaden - I’m the executive director of the Killer Nashville Thriller, Mystery, and Crime Literature Conference. The founder, bestselling author and independent filmmaker Clay Stafford, is the driving force behind the conference, but he lets me help organize it. It’s a lot of work, but it’s rewarding. We’ve been able to help a number of aspiring authors find agents and/or publication, and we do what we can to help promote the authors who have attended KN in the past. I’m also president of our local Sisters in Crime chapter and a board member of the Southeastern Chapter of Mystery Writers of America (SEMWA), so I stay pretty busy. Oh yes, and I have a day job in educational assessment.
Anne – Wow! You are busy! Tell us about your most recent release. (Title and story blurb.)
Jaden - Racing the Devil is the first novel in the Jared McKean mystery series. Jared is a Nashville-based private detective who, at 36, finds himself divorced from a woman he still loves and unjustly fired from the
police force, where he worked as a homicide investigator. On the anniversary of his ex-wife’s marriage to another man, as Jared is drowning his sorrows at a local watering hole, he meets a battered woman who begs him for protection. Instead, she seduces him and frames him for murder. Nashville
Anne – Would you share an excerpt of Racing the Devil with us?
Jaden – Certainly!
Even in the dim light of the bar, I could see the bruises.
Beginning just below one eye, they spread down the side of her face and neck, tinged the blue rose tattoo above the swell of her left breast, and seeped beneath the plunging neckline of her scarlet halter.
She paused inside the door, hugging herself. Her gaze swept the room, lit brieﬂy on one face, then another. Looking for something, or someone. Or maybe for someone’s absence.
I looked away before she could catch me staring, and when I glanced up again, she had squeezed onto a slick red stool between two beefy bikers whose low-slung jeans revealed the top third of their buttocks. One of the bikers tilted his head toward her. Murmured something I couldn’t hear.
She ﬂinched away from him and drew in a ragged breath. Said something that made him scowl and turn back to his drink. Then Dani, the bartender, brought her an amber liquid over ice, and she hunched over the laminated bar, stirring her drink with one ﬁnger. The ﬁngertips of her other hand rubbed gingerly at her cheek. She ﬂicked her tongue across a split in her lower lip and blinked hard.
Not my problem, I told myself, even as my hand tightened around my glass. There were a thousand reasons why a woman might come to a bar with bruises on her cheeks and tears in her eyes. Not all of them involved some jerk with a sour temper and heavy ﬁsts.
I tore my gaze away and told myself again: Not my problem.
Anne - How long did your journey from wannabe writer to published author take?
Jaden - Here’s the short answer: From the time I decided to focus on becoming a professional writer to the day I signed a contract with The Permanent Press, it was 15 years. Then two more for the book to actually come out. The longer answer is, all my life. I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl, but I always thought I could write and teach at the same time (my degree is in special education).
Much as I loved my students, I gave up teaching in 1995 and started focusing seriously on becoming a professional writer. I’d poured almost everything into my class, so now I had to put in a lot of hours of writing practice and educate myself about both the craft and the business of writing. It took a long time to get to a point where I thought I was good enough to submit. I got an agent very quickly, but he died before he was able to submit the manuscript. I signed with another right away. We started getting rejections of the “we love this, but no thank you” type. The first time you get one of those, you think maybe it’s just that agent’s personal preference, but after a few more, I knew there was something wrong with the book. I just wasn’t sure what it was. A friend published that first book for me through iUniverse. If you count that date, it took less than 15 years, but I don’t, because the book wasn’t ready. I had reservations, but I didn’t have the perspective or experience to see how to fix it. What I did do was keep learning. More classes, more workshops. I rewrote the book, and it was picked up by a very small print-on-demand press. Shortly after that, I signed with my current agent, did yet another edit, and signed with a larger publisher, The Permanent Press. It’s been quite a journey.
Anne - If you could just snap your fingers and go, where would you visit, return to, or move? Why?
Jaden - My mother’s front steps, early April of my freshman year in college. That weekend my father came by and wanted to spend the day with me, and I didn’t have time. He died less than two weeks later. Suicide, we were told, but as we learned more, it began to seem more likely that the woman he had just married in February had killed him. If I could snap my fingers and go anywhere, I would go back to that weekend and spend every second with him. I would try to convince him he was in danger, and even if he didn’t listen, I would know he died knowing I loved him with all my heart.
Anne – Oh, Jaden. I am so sorry. My heart goes out to you and your family, but I am certain your father understood with every fiber of his being how much you loved and cared for him.
Of all the characters you’ve created, does one hold a special place in your heart? Why?
Jaden - I’m reading this question as meaning in addition to Jared, the hero of my books, and even then, I have to pick two. The first is Jared’s son, Paul, an 8-year-old boy with Down syndrome. Paul is a composite of his own person and several students I had when I was teaching. He’s a funny, charming kid, so full of wonder and unconditional love. The other is Jay, Jared’s housemate, landlord, and longtime friend. Jay is a gay man battling AIDS and is loosely based on someone who was a close friend of mine from fourth grade until he died far too young. Jared is a good man, but in many ways, Jay is the conscience of the books. It’s Jay who slows Jared down when he’s about to go off half-cocked and reminds him to be wise.
Anne - Are you a glass half-empty or half-full kind of person?
Jaden - Both. It’s half full if it’s cod liver oil, because you wish there were less of it, and half empty if it’s a chocolate malt, because you wish there were more.
Anne - What makes you cry? Laugh? Lose your temper?
Jaden - I cry every time I hear the Special Olympics motto (“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt”) and at those telephone commercials where the son calls his mom just to say he loves her. My dogs make me laugh. So do movies like Galaxy Quest and Men in Black, and I just discovered the comedy Big Bang Theory, which may be one of the funniest TV shows I’ve ever seen. Probably because I’ve been a geek since birth.
As for what makes me lose my temper, I have a very long fuse, so it’s harder to come up with one of those. I asked my husband, and even he said he couldn’t think of anything. Wait. I have one. Meanness in general makes me angry. When people go out of their way to hurt others, physically or emotionally. A “friend” of my mom’s recently betrayed her. Intentionally, knowing how much this particular issue meant to my mother. I’ve known this woman for years, but as far as I’m concerned, she no longer exists. I didn’t lose my temper, if by that you mean shouting and getting confrontational. I just mentally wrote her out of my story.
Anne – We’re very similar, Jaden. Like you, I have a slow fuse, but once it’s triggered there is NO going back! Do you have any words of advice for struggling, unpublished writers?
Jaden - Keep learning—from books on craft, from books you love, from workshops, from critique groups, from other writers. Learn everything you can about the craft, and then learn everything you can about the business so that when you’re ready to submit, you can create opportunities or take advantage of those that come your way. Always be professional and kind. And write, write, write. Life will get in the way of writing, but you can’t let it. It’s the only way to get better. I just got the best advice in the world from a good friend of mine, a brilliant writer named Philip Cioffari (he wrote Catholic School Boys and Jesusville). He said, “Be ruthless with your writing time. Protect it with your life.” I printed that out six times and posted it everywhere I work.
Anne – You are offering a print copy of Racing the Devil or (if the person has already read that) an ARC of A Cup Full of Midnight. What question would you like readers to address to enter the draw?
Jaden - What series characters do you love and come back to again and again, and why?
Anne – Great question, Jaden. Okay, readers. Leave a comment to win. The winner of Racing the Devil (or A Cup Full of Midnight) will be announced HERE April 15. Best of luck!
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