Jean Oram is here today to give us some great insight into her writing career. Big thanks to Jean for taking the time to provide all of these great answers. I hope you all enjoy!
1. What kind of books do you read? Are they similar to what you write?
I will read anything! But I’m a complete sucker for a good romance, some lighthearted chick lit, or really, anything that can make me laugh and cry in the same chapter. With my own books I try to inject humour and love together and give the reader that same ride I so dearly love myself. My motto for my stories has become: Read, Dream, Laugh, and Love. All the things I love in a good book!
2. Where does the inspiration for a story come from?
Usually it starts with my inner three-year-old coming out to play. She asks ‘what if’ and ‘why’ a lot. That gets me started. Usually, it’s just an idea. Small something and then everything builds around it. For example, my upcoming release, Rum and Raindrops (the 3rd book in the Blueberry Springs series–coming Saturday, February 22nd) is about Jen, a nature guide who maybe kind of accidentally burns down the forest she depends upon for her livelihood. My inner three-year-old, always wanting to make things harder for the heroine, asked: what if Jen fell in love with the man who came to investigate her? And thus, Rum and Raindrops was born! Well, the idea. I had to spend a lot of time in front of my computer to get the whole story out!
3. How do you develop a series? Do you know how many books will be in their series when you start writing it?
For my Blueberry Springs series, I didn’t know it was going to be a series. I actually took some old (and new) story ideas and rewrote and transformed them into a Blueberry Springs story. Those stories are small town romances that are stand alone novels, so that made it easier to sort of slide different story ideas into one series.
For my upcoming Summer Sister beach reads series (coming summer of 2014), I knew it was going to be a four book series before I started. I also knew it would be similar to Kathleen’s Bluegrass series where there was one big story that would carry through the series, and that each novel would be a piece of it. This series has taken a lot more planning since it’s kind of like one big story carved into four chunks. (But each novel will still be it’s own story where each sister has to overcome her own obstacles and find a way to pursue her own dreams in order to find love.)
4. When writing a series, do you write all the books at once and then tweak each book’s storyline before it’s published or do you write them individually? Do you use a story board to keep it straight?
I wrote the Blueberry Springs series separately as they are all stand alone novels. (They do spoil each other’s endings though.) I did do some storyboarding to keep myself straight as I wrote. I do tend to wander off on tangents if I’m not strict with myself!
The Summer Sisters series is requiring a different approach though as the books follow the four sisters through one summer and there is a ‘big’ thing they all have to deal with together. In this series’s case, I need to know where I’m going so all the stories tie together in the end. So, for this series, I’ve spent about two to three days simply figuring out each of the four sisters’s story for each of the four novels and then the overarching story that spreads across all four books. So really, it’s one big story with four individual stories (as the sister’s fall in love and add their piece to the big story). The plan for this series is to write all four books before I publish any of them. Totally different than with the Blueberry Springs series which I’ve been publishing as I finish them. Blueberry Springs has three books and the fourth book will be published in 2015!
5. Do you know who the bad guy is when you begin a story, or does the story write itself?
I usually have a sense of who the bad guy is ahead of time, but I don’t see them as clearly as the heroine. For me, the bad guy is usually a ‘somebody’ who is standing in the heroine’s way when I start writing the story.
Although, Mandy kind of snuck in there to be Beth’s bad guy in Champagne and Lemon Drops. The fun part of having Mandy be a ‘bad’ guy was that she got to be the heroine in Whiskey and Gumdrops and readers really enjoyed seeing the other side to her. (She’s just another gal trying to find love and her place in this world.) So, in her case she also got to be the good guy.
6. What inspired you to start writing? Did you ever take writing classes?
I’ve always enjoyed writing in a diary or journal, but I didn’t decide to write an actual novel (or fiction for that matter) until I became a stay-at-home mom with my daughter a few years ago. I had been working as a high school librarian and had always loved books. (It was COMPLETELY different trying to write one though!)
I have taken a few online classes and read a few books on writing. That has helped tremendously, but even more so has been my critique group (other writers) as they are willing to tell me what’s working and what isn’t within my stories. I love those ladies! They are awesome and they aren’t afraid to tell me the hard stuff which, in turn, makes my stories stronger.
7. At what point in your life did you start writing?
That would be about seven years ago. It was summer and I sat down at my computer and laughing like a crazy woman declared, “I’m going to write a novel!” The only problem–I had NO idea how long a novel was supposed to be. I thought it was about 20,000 words. They are more like 60,000 – 80,000 words (for romance)! So you can imagine how that story turned out when I reached 20,000 words and was like, I’ve only just started!! It was a ton of fun and the writing bug had definitely bit me. That’s when I realized I needed to read up on what I was trying to do.
8. What special treat did you give yourself when your first book was published?
I, um, didn’t. I am HORRIBLE at treating myself. I told myself when I got a literary agent I would buy myself a typewriter key bracelet. Well, I got a literary agent back in 2010. I didn’t buy the bracelet. I decided it would feel ‘real’ when he sold the book and then I could treat myself. He retired on April Fool’s Day and the book hadn’t sold…so I ended up asking my hubby to get me the bracelet for Christmas after I published my first book, Champagne and Lemon Drops (independently). I do think I should treat myself though, don’t you? It’s such a fabulous idea.
9. When reading others’ books, are you able to sit back and enjoy them or do you re-write characters, plot, and the ending in your mind as you read?
I am usually able to sit back and enjoy, although there are certain things that will cause me to put a book down. For me, it is usually when the author ‘tells’ the reader too much and doesn’t allow the reader to jump in and feel the book. That’s always been a bug of mine though. I don’t usually ‘solve’ the problems of the book unless I am trying to help another author. (I’m more likely to put it down or skim.)
10. Do you ever need a vacation away from the stress or do your stories just flow easily?
The stories usually flow easily. For me, the editing is the tricky part as sometimes figuring out what is not working as well as it could wraps my brain in tangles. That’s when I procrastinate like crazy!
A vacation can be good, though, as I rarely think about writing at all. However, if I go on vacation in the middle of a project that can make me feel as though I should be writing and I get kind of wiggy!
11. Do new ideas come to you when you do take a break from writing?
Usually when I take time off, I turn my writing brain off and get absorbed in whatever else I am doing. But if I am home, I can get sucked back into writing. I find I get a lot of ideas when I am driving somewhere alone.
12. Have you been to all the places you write about?
Blueberry Springs and the nearby towns are fictional. That said, in some ways, I have been there because I grew up in a small town and some of the characters and behaviours are based on the people and small town experiences I am familiar with. Just like with Kathleen’s characters in Keeneston, gossips are the same everywhere!
That said, I have been to France (Beth goes there in Champagne and Lemon Drops). And for my upcoming beach reads series, which will follow four sisters (Summer Sisters series), it will be set in Muskoka, Canada–a place I spent a lot of summers as a kid in my grandmother’s 114-year-old cottage. (Muskoka is Canada’s cottage country north of the great lakes and has been a popular place to cottage since the 1800s. (Goldie Hawn and Kurt Douglas have a cottage in this area.) It’s a fun place with rugged beauty. Oh, and hot rich men! Boats. Cottages. And, of course, a big bad conglomerate for sisters to fight!)
13. How much research time goes into a book?
That depends on the book. Sometimes it takes less than an hour, sometimes it takes days. For the Summer Sisters series, I’ve spent a day or two doing research even though I know the area! I’ve had to do some research into paparazzi, endangered species, tax laws, watershed issues, and other strange things! My Blueberry Springs series, however, required less research as it was very much about the people (characters).
Thank you for having me on your blog, Kathleen!
Readers can stay in touch with me, Jean Oram, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jeanoramauthor) as well as find out more about me and my books on my website (www.jeanoram.com). And, of course, on major online booksellers as well. (And pssst! Champagne and Lemon Drops is a free ebook if you want to get a taste of my small town romances set in Blueberry Springs!)