Fate's Encore - Interview with JJ Ellis
Well, it's Tell All Tuesday again, and my good writer friend JJ Ellis (and her writing partner TA) have done it again with their new release Fate’s Encore (Dec 21). But this is not your mama’s romance novel---or maybe it is….
NDG: I was super excited when I found out you were writing a baby boomer romance. Generally, you only get glimpses of relationships of older couples as secondary stories in contemporary romances about much younger couples. What motivated you write Fate's encore? I know it ties into your Harper's rock series, but did you always know that these characters, parents of the younger ones in the series, would get their own love story?
JJE: I had absolutely no idea, when I conceived the idea of the Harper’s Rock series that Jackson would even be in the book let alone a major player in his own baby boomer story. Putting him in the book was my writing partner, TA’s genius. Originally he was just going in as the best friend of the Harper boys’ uncle Ethan. A war vet who would have no problems saving the day during the suspense in one of the books. Period. End. Of. Story.
You see, Jack has a history with TA and me. He first appears in our book The Heart of Alaska as a young man going off to war and was originally supposed to die. But he turned from a minor character into a major player and I just couldn’t even function knowing he would die. So I talked a very very very reluctant TA into letting him live. And our readers loved the couple of Jack and Fran. Fast forward a year to the writing of the Harper’s Rock series and TA decided he wanted to make Jack a widower. I was devastated that he wanted to basically kill Fran off (off scene, she wasn’t in any of the HR books) but I owed him BIG for fighting him about killing Jack. Then he joked about how it would be funny if Jack and Evie got together (more physically than romantic… I think) and the idea just came out of nowhere. I remember standing next to my bed in my room when it knocked me upside the head and I couldn’t think straight for days. And that is how the idea of Jack and Evie (Fate’s Encore) was born. But I couldn’t very well tell their story without telling about their previous long-term marriages so I added those to the mix and came up with a very different style of romance – Young to Old, two people and how they love and change throughout their lives. And then end up together.
NDG: Well, this is Tell All Tuesday, and I know what most people will be curious about, but maybe are too shy to ask. It's clear in your portrayal of Jack and Evie, that people can enjoy a healthy (and hot!) sex life in their mature years, and it was a relief to see that. Was your approach to writing the love scenes any different than in your other books?
JJE: The basics of writing a love scene were the same for these older characters as it is for my younger characters. However, I did have to keep in mind that they probably wouldn’t be quite as ‘acrobatic’ as a younger couple. (Although Jack is one of those forever fit people who probably could have managed a bit of it) The few times that something comes up, you hear the characters complain that they are getting too old for that kind of stuff. For me I wanted it to be as real as possible…to be true to someone who is in decent shape and in their 60’s. Readers need to relate!
And of course I made sure to have spacing between episodes. That is one thing I was warned about – 40,50, 60 somethings aren’t going to be capable of doing it quite as often in a short period of time. Again, my goal was realism. And yes, I did much research on the subject matter and even talked to some seniors to get a proper mind set. And of course, at 45-years-old myself, I know exactly how much different (but not necessarily worse) my own sex life has become over the years which was also a big help.
NDG: When you conceived Fate's Encore, were you hoping to reach a new demographic---older women who can relate to Fran and Evie--or capture the attention of younger readers, or a little bit of both?
JJE: This is where I could get myself into a bit of trouble. The trend out there right now is for immature couples, with tons of angst, falling into unhealthy relationships that are portrayed as healthy lifetime love. (Don’t get me wrong, when I want pure fantasy I read those books and they are good!) Although many of my previous characters are young, I have never been into the trend…I tend to put more realism in my books. The longer the trend has gone on the more people have approached me about either being tired of it all or not liking it in the first place. So, although I loved writing about my younger characters and their lives, I craved something different…to write and to read. One day I read an article saying that the trend of young, angsty characters will be on the down swing over the next couple of years and readers are craving older H/h in their romances. Well, I was SO ready to jump on that, but I had no idea with what - that is, until the idea of Fate’s Encore hit me. Originally I was going to focus on characters my age (mid-forties) but I just couldn’t resist the pull of Jack and Evie and their life stories with Cole and Francesca. As for the official word on demographics, I really, really want the more mature readers who crave these types of stories to have what they’ve been asking for. However, I also would like to get some younger readers into the mix so they can realize that a good, HEALTHY love story is the same no matter what ages the characters are. Love can happen over the age of 30! And it can be passionate and amazing!
NDG: Talk to us for a moment about the ins and outs of writing a series. What is key to making a series work? Do you write so that each of the books can be read as a standalone? Did you have all of the books mapped out and know how many books would be in the series up front, or did it evolve over time?
JJE: Writing a series is a challenge for sure. Especially if each book has different main characters and the storylines interweave. Timelines have become the bane of my existence because you MUST keep them straight. I still don’t know what the key to making them work is. Maybe, for the ‘standalone’ type series I write, it is that you have to keep the interest in the main characters while introducing the other characters and creating interest in them too so people look forward to all of the books. A series must beg to have the whole thing read. If it doesn’t then you just have some individual books. A series is truly about creating a world for people to live in through many books.
With both of my ‘standalone’ series, I had the number of books and who they would involve mapped out ahead of time, although that kind of changed as we went along. My Sunset Destiny series was supposed to be one book about each of the five siblings, but then we had people asking for the parents’ love story and the prequel The Heart of Alaska was born - so now there are six books in the series. With the Harper’s Rock series there were three living brothers and each would get their own story. But then the deceased brother kept screaming at me to write his tragic story so that is what I am doing. There will be four books in the HR series but the last one is more YA and not necessarily a romance although there is romance in it. Fate’s Encore, although related to the HR novels will not be clumped in with them.
I try to write each book to stand alone so you can start or finish anywhere in the series. Most feedback has told me that we have done our job in that aspect. I did have one person complain that she didn’t like the glimpses of the other characters because she thought she was missing something. But for others that is what gets them to read the whole series so they can get to know everyone in Harper’s Rock, Wyoming. They want to live in whole new world, not just one story.
NDG: Something else I know everyone will want to know---do you have more of these baby boomer romances planned?
JJE: Absolutely yes!!! I have a baby boomer love story called Finding Forgiveness that is almost ready for editing…That will be the first in a series of three about high school friends in their fifties (young baby boomers) who all find their second loves. I also want to do some ‘mature couple’ romances. I have one in mind for one of Jack’s kids from Fate’s Encore – he is in his forties. And I am hoping that the mature couples will just continue to speak to me so I can continue to write them. I do have a few younger couple stories up my sleeve too but I think I will ride the baby boomer/mature couple wave for a while before writing them…except for one little intermission. The conclusion of the Harper’s Rock series with Ben’s story (he was sixteen when he died) has been half written (during nanowrimo) and I hope to have it out this year sometime. Would it hurt my feelings if the older couples had a few years of popularity at the rate the super young couples have? Nope, not at all. I would love to be a part of it because I know there are plenty of great authors and great stories out there.