Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Author Interview: Holly Jacobs

What kind of questions does one ask of an author who has reached the 2,000,000-books-sold mark?  That’s the task at hand this morning as today’s Avalon Author interview features veteran Avalon Books and Harlequin SuperRomance author, Holly Jacobs.

Holly, thanks for joining us this morning.  Today’s interview is in conjunction with your latest Avalon Books release, Everything but a Mother, which is the fifth book in the Everything But… series.  Can you tell us a little about that book?

~Nana Vancy accidently cursed her family to bad weddings (in the first three books, Everything But a Groom, Everything But a Bride and Everything But a Wedding).  After she breaks the curse, she’s…well, bored.  And that’s how the second trilogy of the series was born.  In Everything But a Christmas Eve, she tried her hand at matchmaking with the help of her best friends.  Chaos ensued, but the couple got their happily-ever-after.  This book opens after that first couple’s wedding.  The three older ladies are looking for new victims…er, friends to help out and play matchmaker for.  Once again, chaos ensues in Everything But a Mother!  LOL

The heroine of this book, Heather Rayson, runs a community-based daycare in Erie, PA.  We all know that every good heroine has a teeny character flaw.  What is Heather’s?

~Heather is focused on her career.  And while it’s a very worthwhile career, I think any time you focus on one area of your life to the exclusion of the rest, you miss out! 

What is it about Professor Henry Hanson that makes Heather’s heart beat a little faster?

~Annoyance.  Yep, that’s her initial reaction to Henry.  He’s very rigid in his dealings with her young daughter.  I’ve always thought that having a routine and rules played an important part when it comes to raising kids, but some of my best moments with mine weren’t things I scheduled.  They were totally unexpected, wonderful moments that I embraced and I’ve always been thankful for that. 

But eventually, Heather looks beyond Henry’s outer façade and begins to see a father who loves his daughter and is doing his best…she falls in love with that aspect of him.

I’ll confess, that trait—loving your kids beyond all measure—is one of the things I’ve always adored about my husband.  When they were young, he was still on patrol and worked swing shifts.  He also worked a lot of extra jobs.  His schedule was crazy.  That being said, he worked so hard to be at all their events, and when he was home, he was totally there for them.  He’s one of the best fathers I’ve ever seen…and our kids concur!

The book that started this series, Everything but a Groom, is included in Booklists top romances of ’08.  What was the baseball-to-the-head moment in realizing you hit this one out of the ballpark?

~Oh, man, that was a wonderful, wonderful moment!  To see my name on a list along with people like Jayne Ann Krentz, Sandra Hill and the rest… Authors I’d read and loved, well, it was definitely a pinch-me moment!

The Everything But… series is based on Hungarian matchmaking cupids Nana Vancy and her sidekicks Annabelle and Isabel.  Based on the excerpt (read it here  <<>> but I would be remiss in my blog hostess duties if I didn’t warn you…be prepared to laugh out loud!) this trio sounds like a LOT of fun.  Are they fun to write, also?  Or is it a lot of serious work involved in writing humor?

~I’ll confess, they’re a blast to write!  I love writing older, female characters.  They seem to resonate with the readers, too.  Nana Vancy, and another character, Pearly Gates, have both received their own letters from readers.  I’ve thought a lot about why they’re so much fun, and I always come back to that famous poem by Jenny Joseph, When I Am an Old Woman I Will Wear Purple.  That do-what-I-want, say-what-I-want attitude is so much fun to write!  I want to embrace that spirit as I age!

As for writing comedy in general, I had a friend who was giving a workshop and said something to the effect that comedy was hard work and she could never could tell if something was funny until she got feedback from someone else.  Me?  I laugh myself silly when I write comedy.  (She later confessed that she laughed while writing too, but thought it sounded pretentious to say so!  LOL)  I love it.  Now I’ll be honest, some people don’t get my humor.  (I know…go figure!)  My grandmother was one.  I sold my first Duet, I Waxed My Legs for This? and it opened with a leg waxing scene (hence the title LOL).  She was horrified that I would talk about—stage whisper—leg waxing in a public venue.  LOL  Seriously, she was the first but not the last who finds my humor doesn’t appeal to them.  I don’t take offense.  Humor is very subjective.  I’ve listened to some popular comedians and simply haven’t got their humor.  But personally, I have a blast with mie.  I find leg waxing, and nerdy heroes, killer bugs and crazy Hungarian grandmothers are all fantastically funny!

Based on the excerpt, I see that Nana Vancy drives an orange Pontiac Vibe…just like you do!  A coincidence?  Or do you wave a lot of yourself into your characters? 

~Oh, you caught that!!  I adore my car.  His name is Floyd.  And my family feels he’s ugly.  Friend, and fellow author, Susan Gable complains about his ugliness and put him in one of her books.  He’s getting a bit long in the tooth, and I wanted to be sure he got a fictional character who loved him as much as I do!  He was the first car I bought new and I’ve adored him.  Nana Vancy shares that love!

And yes, I guess you see a lot of me in all my characters.  My good traits, and my flaws.  (No, I won’t be pointing out specifics! LOL)  But there’s a lot of traits that I don’t share at all with my characters, and some I didn’t understand…until I starting writing about them.  I love looking at a character who doesn’t share a viewpoint with me, and understanding where they’re coming from and how they’ve gotten to where they are.  It’s an awesome exercise in empathy.  And I think that writing diverse characters has helped me be a better human.  When someone acts in a way I don’t agree with, I find myself asking why…why would they act like that?  Sometimes I can understand, sometimes I don’t, but I really work at accepting them as they are, knowing they’ve got a story, they’ve got baggage.  I don’t need to know the specifics, I just need to understand that and accept them.

The final installment to the series, Everything but a Dog, is scheduled for release this June.  But in addition of Avalon Books, you also write for Harlequin SuperRomance.  What else can we look for on the shelf this year?   

~Oh, I can’t wait for Everything But a Dog.  I’ll confess, wrapping up a series is bittersweet.  I’ve lived with Nana Vancy and the Salo family for six books…that’s a long time.  It’s hard to say goodbye.  But I think I’m leaving everyone happy, and that’s a wonderful place to shut the door.

In Everything But a Dog, Nana and her cohorts adopt two dogs.  They’re based on my dogs, though they’ve been renamed…I don’t want my dogs suing me!  I’ve put family dogs in books before.  Dudley, in Night Calls was based on our Old English Mastiff.  It’s a pretty accurate portrayal, though the editor asked that I deslime him a bit in the book. LOL  My sister-in-law’s dog was the model for the dog in Everything But a Christmas Eve, and Artie, in this month’s Everything But a Mother is based on my daughter’s dog.

Anyway, in addition to the two Avalon books, Harlequin is rereleasing some of my old Duets and a Signature Romance as eBooks!  I’m hoping readers who missed them first time round, will discover them in eFormat.  They’re releasing Confessions of a Party Crasher and The 100-Year Itch (part of Duets 100th book celebration) in February, and How to Catch a Groom and How to Hunt a Husband in March. I’m hoping readers enjoy them second time round!
Finally, right now I’m working on a new trilogy that’s set to be released by SuperRomance in May, June and July of 2013.  This one’s not set in Erie, but outside it.  It’s set in the fictional town of Valley Ridge, New York, and it centers on a wedding and the people in it.  They’re tentatively called, Something Borrowed, Something Blue and Something Perfect.  They’re definitely more serious, but there are fun moments, too. This series is set in the Lake Erie Wine Region.  I’ve had to do research.  You can read a bit about it here.  Yes, I suffer for my art!  LOL  Oh, and for all you Orange Vibe “Floyd” fans, you’ll see pics of him there!

You set a lot of your books (31 and counting) in Erie, PA, which just so happens to be where you live.  Since it is a real place where you have lived all of your life, I’m curious if any “real people” have ever accused you of basing one of your characters on them? 

~I do include my pets, my car, and even my city in my books.  But I’m very, very careful to never include people.  The honest truth is, my characters are real.  Very real.  But they’re real only in my imagination.  Hopefully, they become real to readers, too.   Even the dogs, who’ve served as models for my fictional canines, are merely starting points.  My dog does not play dead like the dog in Everything But a Dog.  And I set a whole series of books on Erie’s
Perry Square
.  It’s a real place, but in my
Perry Square
series, I added fictional businesses to it.  Blending fiction and reality is fun…with settings, cars and dogs.  I’d never try it with people.

I first got to know you when I read my first Harlequin Duets (their Romantic Comedy line back in the early 2000s) which seems to be where you planted your writing roots.  You still include a lot of humor in your romances.  In fact, your tag line for years has been “Where love is a laughing matter.”  Yet recently you added, “Except when it’s not.”  Does that indicate a shift in your writing to a more serious vein?

~I’m lucky, when Harlequin’s comedy lines closed, Avalon gave me a place for my comedic fun.  But yes, my books at Harlequin have taken a more serious turn.  Between their short-lived Everlasting Love series, and now SuperRomances, I’ve dealt with topics such as breast cancer, traumatic brain injuries, loves lost, special needs characters...  The book I’m working on now deals with Alzheimers.  That’s a lot of serious.  That being said, there’s still laughter in the books.  I have no desire to write books that are so dark that they depress you.  Every time I put a character through an emotional wringer, I try to help them end up in a better, stronger place.  I try to help them find the glee beyond the pain.  So even when love isn’t quite a laughing matter, I try to help them find laughter and I hope when readers finish the book that they’re smiling!

I talk a lot about glee on Facebook.  I love Monday mornings.  My first cup of coffee each day is always glee-worthy.  I look for things that are good.  I had someone once suggest that the fact that I look at the bright side whenever possible somehow made me…well, simple.  Personally, I think that sometimes looking at the bright side, finding laughter in the midst of tears, is a gift.  Sometimes it’s hard work.  But that ability—it’s one I treasure.

I have to say I’m impressed the way you juggle your “writing” ball with your
”wife” ball (married to a police officer), your “mother” ball (four children), your “canine caretaker” ball (two dogs which I’ll ask about in a minute), and your “basket-weaving” ball (your newest hobby which, based on pictures you’ve posted on facebook you have quite a talent for.)  So I’m hesitant to ask this next question, but it is a standard. What do you do in your “free” time?  

~Free time?  What is this free time you speak of??  LOL

No, seriously, I do find free time, but I’m not sure anything I do for fun will sound like it to your blog readers.  Mainly, I hang out with my family.  I chop wood (we heat with the fireplace) and walk the dogs for exercise.  I love to antique.  My husband and I are forever coming up with projects around the house.  Last year, we painted the diningroom and kitchen.  The year before that, we gutted and redid a bathroom.  I’m sooooo boring!  But I really love every part of my life.  I love my family.  Love writing books.  Love the dogs.  Okay, I’m even making me grimace, but that’s the truth of it…I am a very lucky woman.  And I know it and try to remember to appreciate how lucky I am. 

Oh, and thanks for the basket compliment!  I’m such a novice, but I do so love doing it!  My husband built me a great workshop, workbench, so it’s gotten easier to do at home! 

When you called it juggling, you had it exactly right.  I work to make it all work…if that makes sense.  I’ve found that the best way to prioritize my life is like this:
Family first, writing second…dust bunnies last.  Of course, I can’t stand dust bunnies, so they get taken care of, too!  But if I had to let something slip, they’d be the first to go!

The thing is, sometimes I drop a ball.  But I’ve learned that all I can do is apologize, pick it up and try again!

Now about those dogs—Ethel Merman and Ella Fitzgerald.  What’s their story?

Holly and her dogs,
Ethel and Ella

 ~Ethel Merman is a rescue (the dogs in Everything But a Dog are rescues, too…she was the inspiration for making animal adoption part of the story) and Ethel has a few uh, issues.  She’s calmed down a lot in recent years, but she still can be startled easily and has a problem with separation anxiety. Which is why we bought her a dog…a constant companion.  Ella is the most laid back, easy going dog ever.  I mean ever.  She’s not overly bright, but she’s all heart.  She’s Amish, too.  Since Amish books are hot right now, I thought you all might enjoy knowing that!  LOL  We adopted her from an Amish neighbor.  When people ask what the dogs are, I say Eth is an Irish Wolfhound, lab mix and Ella’s Amish.

Holly, you are so funny!  Thanks for your time today.  And for those of you who want to know more about Holly and her books, head on over to her website:  (and again, be prepared to laugh!)

~Thank you so much.  This was fun!!


Beate Boeker said...

... fantastic interview, Holly and Jayne! I do believe in looking at the bright side, too, Holly, and I can't wait to get my hands on one of your books!

HollyJacobs said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to check it out, Beate!


Scarlet And Company said...

Wonderful Holly! I was so blessed to meet you back in New York. Ever since then I read your books and my writing has taken off from your vibes. I can not tell you what an inspiration you have been. I can not wait to hear what you think once my books are out there! Great luck girl!
Your friend,
Flo :) aka Scarlet Cassadine

Carolyn Brown said...

Loved the interview, Holly! Great getting to know you even better!

Sheila Claydon said...

I loved learning all about you and your books Holly. I have now visited your website as well, and read an excerpt or two. I think I'll be buying a book next:-)
Thank you for such a happy interview. I'm still smiling.

HollyJacobs said...

Thanks so much, Flo! I love going to conferences...I've met more nice people there!

Hope your writing is going well!


Anonymous said...

Hi, Carolyn!! Thanks for checking out the interview!! It's always nice to see you.


HollyJacobs said...

Sheila, Thanks so much for checking out my website and the excerpts! I'm glad you found the interview happy. I figure everyone has two choices...glee and not so much. I tend to pick glee! LOL