Interview with Jennifer Blake

Isolde: Can you tell us something about yourself? Who you are, what you like and what you dislike, where you come from etc...

Jennifer Blake: I was born and reared in Louisiana, in the southern United States. My heritage is English, Irish, Welsh, Scots-German, French and American Indian---a background so mixed that I'm a good representative of the United States as a "melting pot" of cultures.  My ancestors arrived in Louisiana before 1819, so my people have been American for seven or eight generations. I live in the country, about 40 miles from a town of any size---I'm not really fond of cities except as places to visit.  My house, built in the West Indies style, is on a lake where I can look out the French doors of my office at a wide expanse of water and trees, and watch wild ducks and geese and big white and blue cranes.  I love being on the water, love the peace and quiet. I am, generally speaking, your average introverted writer who avoids crowds and noise as much as possible.

I married young, and my husband and I will soon celebrate more than 40 years together.  We have four children and several grandchildren.  One of my favorite things is family gatherings, where we cook huge pots of food such as Cajun gumbo, beef roasts and home grown vegetables, or fried fish, then sit around and talk.

Gardening is a favorite hobby of mine.  I grow "antique" roses for their old-fashioned perfume and vigorous growth habit, as well as many other shrubs and perennials-because Louisiana's climate is semi-tropical, I have a wide selection of plants from which to choose.  My husband and I have a small vegetable garden where we like to grow things organically, since I'm allergic to many chemicals.  I also enjoy needlework of all kinds; current passions are quilting and machine embroidery.  Other hobbies include watercolor painting, collecting antiques, and traveling.  My husband and I have a second home in the mountains of Colorado where we escape to when the weather gets too hot.  We particularly like exploring the western U.S. since it's so different from the swamplands of Louisiana.  I've visited Europe several times, including Germany.  The mountains, the small villages with their onion-domed churches, and the incredibly neat and colorful front gardens of the houses are lovely, and I was impressed by the sense of order everywhere. Whenever I return to the States, everything Seems sprawling and under-utilized after seeing the precise and careful use of resources in your country.

Isolde: Why and how did you start your career as an author? Do you had problems in the beginning? Does it have any influence on your private life?

I loved to read as a child and teenager, often reading 7-8 books per week,  but I never dreamed of writing.  Writers were people who lived in glamorous and faraway places; to do what they did seemed impossible.  Then when I was about 19 years old, I had a dream in an historical setting.  It was so unusual that I sat down and wrote a description.  That process was so fascinating that I continued writing small things, especially poetry.  Over the next several years, I taught myself how to write by reading every book I could find on the subject and by practicing.  I also took a 6-week correspondence course on writing.  I treated the endeavor as a hobby,  something to do to pass the time, but eventually sold poems, articles and short stories.  I wrote one book, then put it back on my closet shelf because it had so much wrong with it-most writers have a "closet" book like this.

Then I wrote a mystery suspense novel similar to those written by Victoria Holt, Daphne Du Maurier and Mary Stewart.  I made a list of publishers and sent my novel to the first name on the list.  The manuscript box came back unopened because I had not sent a query letter in advance.  Since I didn't know exactly how to write a query letter, I sent the box to the next publisher on my list, Fawcett Gold Medal Books.  After about 6 weeks, I  received a letter from the editor saying that they liked the book, but that it was too short for their publishing list.  If I would add 30 pages, they would take it.  So the first editor to actually read my first "real" book bought it.

One of the greatest problems in my career came when the mystery suspense type of novel went out of favor in the mid-1970s.  I wrote three or four books that were not accepted because the market had suddenly changed.  However, I was soon asked to write a proposal for an historical romance novel. That proposal was accepted, and the book, "Love's Wild Desire" became a New York Times best seller.  I was off and running with my career again.

My life has changed immeasurably since I became a best selling author. Before, I was a wife and mother with a certain amount of leisure time to read, garden, and so on.  Suddenly I was expected to write a constant stream  of best selling novels, and also to travel around the country making television and radio appearances, to attend booksignings at bookstores and in shopping malls, and generally to become much more of a business person and public personality.  It was hard to do these things at first, though I came to accept and even to enjoy them after a while.  But I still have times when I'd just as soon write my stories of life and love and let someone else
promote them!

Isolde: Garden of Scandal" was just published in Germany and a lot of reader found it was a great book. You have many fans here in Germany. Why do you think romance novels are loved around the world?

Jennifer Blake: The need for love and expectation of finding a lover who is a soul mate are universal, I think.  Over and above this, romance novels are the only fiction that is written specifically for women.  They have a female protagonist involved in concerns that are of paramount importance to women, and are written by females who know and understand the special sensual awareness of women.  By that I mean specialized female reaction to colors and scents and tactile sensations, as well as to emotional clues and intensities.  Romances are novels of emotion, rather than of pure intellectual acuity as in literary novels or of action and intrigue as shown in male-oriented adventure books. They deal with matters of the heart, rather than mind or muscle, so they touch us in ways that easily transcend boundaries and cultures.

Isolde: What do you like more: writing contemporaries or historical romance novels?

Jennifer Blake: It sometimes seems that the kind of novel I best like to write is the kind that I'm NOT writing at the moment.  I'm joking, of course, but there's a grain of truth there as well.  Actually, I enjoy both, and would be happiest writing them in alternating sequence.  The publishing business doesn't work that way, however; publishers and readers like to know what to expect from you, and aren't happy if you continually change focus.

Isolde: Do you have a favourite heroine/hero from your books?

Jennifer Blake: I love my heroine from LOUISIANA DAWN, who sets out to lose her virginity because it's become an inconvenience.  She's strong and intelligent, and saves the hero's life at the beginning of the book merely because she wants the silver lace from his coat, which still strikes me as funny.  Another one with that brand of daring is Anya from  PRISONER OF DESIRE who kidnaps the hero and chains him to a wall to prevent him from killing her sister's fiancé in a duel.  I like my heroine from ARROW TO THE HEART because she has a brand of wisdom that the hero can appreciate.  In my contemporary stories, I'm especially fond of the heroines from TIGRESS and SHAMELESS because they stand on their own two feet and fight back.  And I identify closely with the heroine from LUKE, a contemporary not yet published in Germany, because she's a romance author and shares many of my ideas and reactions to the profession.

For heroes, I absolutely adore my prince from ROYAL SEDUCTION, and also my guy from SILVER-TONGUED DEVIL---I do admire a man who likes words and actually knows how to use them. I have a great affection for my poor tortured heroes in SHAMELESS and GARDEN OF SCANDAL as well; they wear their hearts on their sleeves with grace and are not afraid of the grand gesture.  I'll also admit to affection for my sexy Latin Lover in TIGRESS.  Okay, I'll admit that I really love all my heroes. . . .

Isolde: How do you do make your researches for your books and how does your typical working day look like?

Jennifer Blake: I research most of my books using my own library that includes large sections on history, costumes, foreign locations, etc.  The staff at the library in the town near where I live is also extremely good about finding books for me, and will order anything I need from any library in the state.  For more modern research, I use the Internet.  For instance, I'm currently working on a book with a character who needs a kidney transplant, and I've found quite a bit of information on the subject via computer.

My working day is a lot like that of any person who works in an office.  I start around 9:00 a.m., stop for a light lunch, then continue until about 3:00 in the afternoon.  When actively writing a book, I try to do 10 pages per day, and will sometimes get up around 3:00 a.m. to work if I wake with a good story idea at that time.  Between books, I research and write the proposal for the next book and deal with contract negotiations for it.  I also read and correct copy-edits and page proofs for the book in the publishing process, and plan promotion for the forthcoming project.  During late afternoon, I relax by working in the garden or in my sewing room. Evenings are spent reading, or doing hand embroidery or quilting while watching television with my husband.

Isolde: How do you stay in contact with your fans? Are they important to you? Do you often get fanpost from other countries?

Jennifer Blake: For some time, I've sent out a regular newsletter for readers.  This is a free service to let them know when I have a new book coming out, what I'm writing next, and so on.  I also have a web site that is updated regularly at:  Beyond these things, I do my best to answer all letters and emails from fans.  I've always felt that any reader who cares enough about what I've written to want to contact me deserves an answer.

Also, I well remember that Dorothy Dunnett, author of THE GAME OF KINGS, book #1 of the Lymond chronicle, very graciously answered my fan letter back in the 1960s, the only one I've ever written.  Since that letter from Dunnett meant so much at the time, I like to think that fans may have the same reaction to hearing from me.

I often get fan mail from other parts of the world, from England, Spain, Brazil, Guam, Finland, The Netherlands, Australia, and so on.  It's always a great pleasure since I'm well aware of the extra time and trouble it takes to contact someone in another country, perhaps even in a language other than their own.  The internet has been a great benefit since it makes contact of this kind so much faster and easier.

Isolde: How do you handle bad reviews? Did you ever get some? Is it hard for you or do you try to improve your work?

Jennifer Blake: I'd had my share of bad reviews, though thankfully I've had good ones to balance them-often for the same book.  Any writer who says they are not affected by the comments of reviewers is telling an untruth.  A good review is something to cherish.  A bad review is a little like having someone tell you to your face that you have an ugly baby; it always hurts no matter how you rationalize it.  I handle them by doing my best to not to let the praise go to my head and to shrug off the more hurtful comments as being the opinion of only one person.  When the criticism is well thought out and obviously aimed at improvement, however, I'll take them under consideration for the next book.  As an example, I once had a reviewer say that my heroine was "too passive."  After that, I gave my heroines a more active role.

Isolde: Do authors have close friendships with other authors or do they see them as competitors?

Jennifer Blake: Romance authors are actually more helpful to new writers than in any other writing genre.  It's long been a practice of Romance Writers of America to present workshops on writing technique and to provide an opportunity for the unpublished to meet agents and editors.  I have many friendships with authors that I've met at various booksignings and conferences over the years. Because I was published before the modern romance genre became entrenched, and was a best selling author well before some of the current best sellers such as Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, and Judith McNaught, I've never felt any urge to compete.  However, as in any group of people, there are always a few romance authors who feel threatened or who have a need to perceive themselves as superior in some way.

Isolde: What have you done when your first book was published? Did you celebrate?

Jennifer Blake: I was stunned, and spent a long time just staring at the check.  Then I went out and bought something that I'd wanted for a long time, a greenhouse.

Isolde: What are your favourite authors/books?

Jennifer Blake: I have so many favorite authors that it's hard to know where to begin. The authors that I've collected over the years include Dorothy Dunnett, mentioned above, as well as Agatha Christe, Dorothy Sayers, Dick Francis, Alexander Dumas, Zane Gray, Mary Renault, Georgette Heyer, M. M. Kaye, Robert Ludlum, Joseph Heller---and the list goes on.

Isolde: How do you handle your family and writing? Is it sometimes difficult for you?

Jennifer Blake: Writing is difficult during times of family crisis, such as over the course of a terminal illness or death.  It takes concentration to write at all, and this is seriously fragmented by concern for family members. During ordinary times, family is seldom a problem since my children and my husband have always come first.  Thankfully, they are exceptionally considerate about allowing me the time and quiet that I need in which to work.

Isolde: What does your family say about the success of your books? I bet that they must be very proud.

Jennifer Blake: Since I began writing when my children were very young, it's always been in the background of their lives.  However, I planned my writing schedule around theirs when they were in school so they seldom saw me actually in the process of writing-by the time they came home, I was ready to stop.  It was some time, then, before they realized there was anything unusual about my occupation.  They're proud of me of course, but I'm just their mom, and it still strikes them as amazing when they see my name on a shelf of books.  My oldest grandson thinks it's " way cool," however, since he always has someone to come to his school and speak to his classmates about writing as a career.

Isolde: What are your future plans? Where do you see yourself in some years?

Jennifer Blake: At present, I have a three-book contract with MIRA Books that will be completed in 2001.  After that, I 'm thinking of doing an historical series covering at least six books.  Then there is the contemporary mainstream story set in New Orleans that has been in the back of my mind for some time. In short, there's no end to the stories revolving in my brain and, hopefully, no end in sight to the book I'll yet publish.

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Dieses Interview entstand im Februar 2000 zwischen Isolde W. und Jennifer Blake für:

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