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Interview with Jeri Smith-Ready

A couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough to snag an ARC of Jeri Smith-Ready’s WICKED GAME (May 13, 2008, from Pocket Books), and absolutely loved it, so I was thrilled for the opportunity to interview her for FFF. Keep reading to find out which scenes from the book are her favorite (and mine) and how she came by such in depth knowledge of rock history and the radio industry!

RACHEL: Jeri, the biggest surprise for me when I read Wicked Game was that it’s told in present tense. Because of that, I honestly wasn’t sure how much I’d like it. But I loved it! What made you decide to write this particular novel in present tense? Were there any particular challenges associated with that choice? Will future Ciara Griffin novels also be written in present tense?

JERI: It was a decision based on the character and the story.  Ciara, the first-person narrator, is a former(-ish) con artist.  Lying is second nature to her (or possibly first nature).  If she tells the story in past tense, a reader might not trust her account of events—she might be coloring things to put herself in a better light.  But if readers experience the events with her, they can trust her more.  So basically, I used present tense to get around the problem of the unreliable narrator.  I’ll continue to do so, unless Ciara suddenly becomes a saint.

I read a lot of mainstream and chick lit and young adult fiction, three genres where present tense is not as uncommon as it is in science fiction/fantasy/romance.  So to me it’s not such a big deal as a reader.  And so far I’ve only seen one reviewer mention it at all, so I think most people don’t even notice, or maybe they only notice for the first couple of pages.

As a writer, it presents (ha!—get it?) extra challenges.  It's a little restrictive, for example,  when I'm trying to show time passing.  So I use diary-type entries during the two "montage" sequences, because I couldn't write "later that night" or “the next day” without breaking the present tense.  They’re not actual diary entries, but more like a caption at the beginning of a scene in a movie or TV show.  (You know, where they make those little typewriter sound effects as the place and time scrolls across the bottom of the screen.)

RACHEL: Wicked Game displays an impressively in-depth but easy-to-follow knowledge of music, and of the radio industry. Did you already have all that knowledge, or did you have to research is all for this novel. And if the latter, how did you go about that research?

JERI: I’ve always loved music, but wasn’t knowledgeable to the extent I needed to be to write this book.  The research came by osmosis over the course of months and years.  I’d think of a band and then run to Allmusic.com (and more recently Pandora.com) to learn all about them.  Then I’d surf the links to understand the connections among that band and its forerunners and followers. 

And of course I read books.  One of my favorites was THE ROCK SNOB’S DICTIONARY by David Kamp and Steven Daly.  Hilarious and informative.

To learn about radio stations, I interviewed DJs and had them ‘vet’ the manuscript when it was in near-final form, to eliminate major gaffes.  A highlight of my life was getting a cover quote from Weasel, who used to DJ at the legendary Washington, DC, alternative station WHFS.  He said that, disturbingly, he could relate very well to my characters. 

RACHEL: I have a favorite scene from your book. You know which one I mean. The one involving the spice cabinet. Do you have a favorite? Can you mention it without spoiling anything?

JERI: The spice cabinet scene is definitely a favorite—I think it was one of the few sections that still made me laugh on the fifteenth read-through.  The SORRY cake was another fun moment. 

On the other end of the humor/horror spectrum, I enjoyed depicting what happens to a staked vampire.  A bit messier than the standard POOF! into dust. 

RACHEL: If you could go back in time and meet the pre-published "you" what words of advice would you give yourself?

JERI: I would tell myself to treat my writing with more professionalism.  Meaning, make it a priority.  Set long-term goals.  Above all: stop genre-hopping!  *raps knuckles of past self*

RACHEL: Tell us something secret about your book or about Ciara.

JERI: WICKED GAME was originally written as a paranormal romance.  Pocket made an offer with the request that I would retool it as an urban fantasy.  I think my editor’s words were, “more world-building, less dating.”  Ironically, the book ended up being more romantic in its final form, because I took out the love triangle subplot—partly for length and partly because it’s become too common in the urban fantasy genre for my own comfort.

RACHEL: What kind of reading experience are you hoping to create for your readers?  What do you want them to come away from your books saying, thinking and feeling?

JERI: I want reading WICKED GAME to be, above all, fun.  I want readers to feel energized and come away humming their favorite songs.  If it also makes them think about what it means to be human, or worried about the tragedy of creeping media consolidation, that’s a bonus.  But I’m an entertainer first, a philosopher second.

RACHEL: It takes a lot of mental and emotional fortitude to write. What are the tough spots for you, and what do you do to get through them?

JERI: I HATE first drafts.  To me it’s like sculpting air.  Once I have a first draft down, no matter how crap-alicious, I can shape it into something decent and eventually good (and maybe, eventually, great).  As for what I do to get through it, I just try to write that first draft as quickly as possible, not fretting too much over the rough spots.  Later, when I’ve gained distance, I’m amazed how easily I can solve previously intractable problems.  I get those, “Oh, duh!” forehead-smacking moments that are so satisfying.

RACHEL: How do you structure your writing time? Do you often work on more than one book at once, in various stages, or are you a one-thing-at-a-time kind of writer?

JERI: I prefer to work on one book at a time, because it takes awhile to transition from one “brainspace” to another, but because I have two series for two publishers, deadlines often interfere.  I might have to put one book down in the middle of a first draft to work on line edits for the other.

As for structure, I just use a calendar and set goals, then try not to feel too horribly guilty when I have to push them back.  I always underestimate how long it’ll take me to do anything.

RACHEL: If you could be one of the characters in your book for one day, who would it be? Why that particular character?

JERI: Ciara, definitely.  I want to know what it’s like to lie without nausea.  And of course, I want to sleep with Shane.

RACHEL: What future project are you working on–what do readers have to look forward to? And most importantly, when does the next Ciara book come out?

JERI: I’m in the middle of the second draft (yay!) of WICKED GAME’s sequel, BAD TO THE BONE (to appear May 1, 2009).  I’m also putting the final touches on THE REAWAKENED, the third book in the Aspect of Crow trilogy.  That will be released this November. 

Once those two projects are turned in, I’ll finish a proposal for a young adult urban fantasy trilogy I’ve been writing off and on since 2003.  Oh, and a proposal for more vampire books!


Thanks, Jeri!


Jeri’s next release,THE REAWAKENED, will be out in November 2008, from Luna Books

When and where you can meet Jeri in person: (for a complete list, vist her website, http://www.jerismithready.com/)

--May 17, 3-5PM, Borders, Winchester, VA

--May 23-25, Balticon 42, Baltimore, MD

--May 31, 12-2 PM, Barnes & Noble Concord Mall, Wilmington, DE

--July 25-27, Conestoga, Tulsa, OK


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
May. 16th, 2008 02:45 am (UTC)
jeris books are great and love her wit
May. 15th, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
Oooh, I like first person present tense. Will have to definitely read it. I wrote one paranormal YA in first present tense and it's that same one I still get letters on three years later. No one ever mentions that. It's also first person present tense from TWO different POVs. That was fun and of course the protagonists' sections were divided by chapter so you can tell whose POV it is starting from. The POV voices are so distinct that even without the chapter separation one coule tell.

My CP also writes all her YA in first present. They are sooo good.

I'll have to check yours out.
May. 15th, 2008 03:51 pm (UTC)
Reading WICKED GAME made me want to try writing something in present, so I actually picked Jeri's brain with many more questions than went into the interview.

It was a great book!

May. 15th, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
Great interview! I think it takes a lot of talent to write first person present tense well.
May. 15th, 2008 05:38 pm (UTC)
I agree, and Jeri is sooooo talented!
May. 15th, 2008 11:59 pm (UTC)
It's very different. You don't describe things in the same way because you're in the moment and you don't sit and describe what's around you, it's a part of what you're experiencing in the moment and how. I think you use more sensory, or it's that you use it in a different way.It's hard for me to explain, but if you try it as an exercise you might find it interesting. I think it can help as an exercise for present tense.
May. 16th, 2008 03:06 am (UTC)
Great interview Jeri and Rachel!

I feel a bit odd posting along side of so many great authors who are all on my bookshelves.

Just wanted to say I loved the interview.

May. 16th, 2008 03:15 am (UTC)
I'm so glad book 3 is coming out for the Aspect of The Crow. I have enjoyed that series. :)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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