Friday, January 7, 2011

BLENDING THE REAL AND RIDICULOUS

My guest is the award winning paranormal romance author, Judi Fennell.

I enjoy reading Judi’s stories for the same reason I love screwball comedies—she makes me laugh and I feel good after I’ve read them.

I love the romantic comedy series of the ‘70s, like Bewitched and I Dream Of Jeanie and I was curious how her new Bottled Magic series differed from the TV series. One of the things I love about Judi’s writing is her ability to take bits the ridiculous and blend it in her stories and not only make them believable but crack me up.



I’ve been on a big blog tour to promote the release of the first book in my Bottle Magic series, I Dream of Genies, and one of the facts that inevitably comes out that, yes, it is based, loosely, on the television show, I Dream of Jeannie. The title is the same, the lead character in my story is named Eden (like Barbara Eden), and the hero’s name is Matt Ewing, which is a play on Larry Hagman’s (who played Major Anthony Nelson in the television show) character on Dallas, JR Ewing. But that’s it for the similarities. (Okay, maybe there are a few more nods to the show, but you’ll have to find them for yourself.)

That’s pretty much it for the similarities to the show, though. At this point, the story starts to resemble an Indiana Jones movie. As an homage, I have a wax figure of Indy in the Cave of Great Unknown, but what that’s doing there, well, you’re going to have to read it to find out. Wouldn’t want to give you the whole story… what incentive is there for you to read it? But there’s action, adventure, hurry-up-ness, weapons, fights, and danger. What better way to fall in love than with end-of-life scenarios cropping up all over the place and having to rely on each other?

One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot is how I came up with the idea for the series. I wish I knew. (Where is my own personal genie when I want one???)

Before I’d sold the Mermen to my editor, I was trying to market as many stories as I could with commercial appeal and didn’t want to pigeonhole myself to just one series. What if the Mers hadn’t sold and I kept writing them? Waste of my time. So I tried to come up with another paranormal being I’d like to write about that hadn’t been done all that much.

My mind went right to the sitcoms I’d loved as a child: Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. There are a lot of books with witches in them, be they dark or light, but there weren’t all that many genies. So that’s where I started. And that was pretty much all I had in mind, other than, for some reason, I heard the Indiana Jones theme music in my head when I’d think about it. That was my pitch to sell it: “I Dream of Jeannie meets Indiana Jones.”

Talk about the importance of an “elevator pitch.” That was mine. And that’s how I sold the series. Oh, yes, I had to do a proposal, but since I didn’t know the stories, it was more character sketches and world-building. It wasn’t until I started writing it that the story started coming together – its own kind of magic.

And then Obo showed up. I have sidekick animals in all of my stories so far. Not on purpose, but when you’re talking about otherworldly beings, why wouldn’t they be able to communicate with animals? I’ve always found it rather presumptuous, narrow-minded, and self-centered of us to think we’re the only ones on the planet who can communicate. Why wouldn’t animals be rolling their eyes at that presumptuousness?

Sia mentions my ability to make the ridiculous work in my stories; I consider it another perspective. How many of us have cats? (I’d originally written “own cats,” but as all cat lovers know, you don’t own a cat; you are grateful for the crumbs of affection they might toss you while you spend hundreds of dollars per year on keeping them healthy and fed, but that’s a whole other story.)

Anyhow, as I was saying, you know that look cats give you when you’re calling them, or trying to entice them over to you? They blink their eyes, maybe twitch their whiskers and flick their tail ever so softly… and then turn their head and tuck their paws tighter under their chest. They might not be verbal, but that says soooooooo much about what they think of us, doesn’t it?

That’s my bit of ridiculous: I get inside the cat’s head. In this story, it’s Obo. He’s on his 9th life and he has a lot of sins to atone for before he can enjoy his Afterlife. A. Lot. And he’s not happy about having to atone for them, especially when he has to keep an eye on a genie. Seriously, for Obo, there’s nothing worse than having to take direction.

So I stuck Obo, Matt, and Eden in some outlandish situations, tossed in a smidgen of reality, then made them all respond to it. Matt and Eden are attempting to avoid the evil vizier while keeping Eden free; Obo just wants to get his job over with and whatever he has to do to do that, he will. But only at the bare minimum. And with full-on disdain.

There’s a group of gargoyles playing charades and I Spy—why wouldn’t they? Think about it; they’re stuck up on the rooftops or, in this case, corbels. What else is there to do? And what happens when one falls off that corbel? Gargoyles are made of stone; hitting a marble floor is going to do some damage. To both the gargoyle and the floor. That’s the bit of reality that turns absurd in one scene.

Another one that just smacked me in the face: I try not to read anything similar to what I’m writing while I’m writing it so I don’t either use something someone else came up with or can’t use something I would have come up with because someone did. (Perfect example: I watched the movie Aquamarine just after I’d started In Over Her Head. There’s a scene where the mermaid who’d come on land picks up a seashell off the human girl’s bedroom furniture and talks to her father, the king of the sea, through it. When she “hangs up” she sees the human’s dumbstruck expression, shrugs her shoulders and says, “Shell phone.” I soooooooo would have come up with that!!! But I couldn’t use it because it wasn’t my idea. After that, I stayed away from all things Mer until I’d fleshed out the world for myself.)

Anyhow, as I was saying, I try not to take ideas from anyone, but I needed a deadly plant that people would recognize. I could have gone with hemlock or nightshade, but when I was doing research, I found out that mandragora was a real plant. Harry Potter fans will recognize it as the Mandrakes, the screaming baby-looking plants, from the first book. Obviously, I couldn’t use that plant, even though it was real.

Until I found one of the plants’ nicknames: Djinn’s eggs. Then all bets were off. JK Rowling pulled from reality; I could too. And if our reality was the same starting point, we used it differently so I wasn’t using her idea.

It’s that kind of serendipity (that the plant is known as djinn’s eggs) that sometimes smacks me in the face and I just have to use it. I probably could have made it up, but the reality of it was ridiculous enough for me. Will the reader know that while they’re reading it? Probably not. But if anyone gets interested to see why I chose the same plant as JKR checks it out, they’ll see that I actually didn’t make it up… so what else didn’t I make up in the story? It puts a whole new level to something that is meant to be read as light-hearted and breezy. That’s what I want my stories to do for people; take them on a magical journey for a few hours before coming back to face whatever reality it is they’re in.

But there’s more to the books. There’s another level. Or two. I always reference the movie Shrek when I talk about my writing. I took my kids to see it when they were little and they laughed at one level of funny while my husband and I were laughing at a whole other level. The sing-a-long at the end with Fiona impersonating Madonna? Hubs and I were roaring! That’s one example I can pull off the top of my head, but there are 2 levels of humor in that movie: one for the adults and one for the kids. As Shrek said, “Onions have layers; ogres have layers;” I’ll add in, “and my stories have layers.”

And I hope you laugh at all of them.


I DREAM GENIES:

He needs to change his luck, and fast!


Matt Ewing would gladly hunt down a fortune in lucky pennies if he thought it would help save his business.

But for all his hoping, Matt’s clueless when his long awaited lucky charm falls in his lap in the form of a beguiling genie. He just can’t believe that this beautiful woman could be the answer to his prayers…

She’s been bottled up for far too long!


Spending 2,000 years in a bottle would make any woman go a little stir crazy. So when Matt releases Eden from her luxurious captivity, she’s thrilled to repay him by giving him the magical boost he needs…

But for all her good intentions, Eden’s magical prowess is a little rusty and her magical mistakes become more than embarrassing. And though Eden knows falling in love will end her magic and immortality, she can’t help but be drawn to the one man who wants her just for herself…Excerpt    Extra gargoyle scene


Judi, you mention wanting to find a marketable niche for your stories and I’d say you’ve been highly successful with that. All three of your Mer books have won awards this past year, haven’t they? How does it make you feel?


They've all been nominated for awards: National Readers' Choice Award, Golden Leaf, Prism, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, and others. I was utterly thrilled when Wild Blue Under won the Prism for Best Light Contemporary, tying with Kerrelyn Sparks. She's one of my favorite authors so I had an absolute fangirl moment when that won. Plus, it was the first book I'd written under contract and under deadline and had had some fairly extensive revisions to do, so it was such a relief to know it all worked. Catch of a Lifetime recently won the NJ Golden Leaf for Best Paranormal, and it's great validation for the teamwork of my editor, the copy editors, the cover artist and I make. The ideas come from me, but the finished product involves a lot of other people, and everyone helps get it to that winning "shape."

Don’t you have something special happening with Borders this year with your Bottled Magic series?

I was THRILLED to be interviewed on Borders TrueRomance. There are interviews with the likes of Nora Roberts, Sherilyn Kenyon, JR Ward, Roxanne St. Claire, Gena Showalter... to see me among that crowd... I'm still pinching myself! ;)

When is your next book in the Bottled Magic going to be released?

Just as I told my editor when we were discussing the Mer series, it's a big ocean/world out there. Genies and Mers... I could come up with a bunch of ideas. Right now, I'm contracted for 3 Genie books, and readers have been asking for Marianna and Pearl's stories (the two remaining Tritone siblings from the Mer series), so once I get close to finishing Leave It To Genie, we'll take a look at which direction we should head.
 
Judi, congratulations on a fabulous year. Thank you for taking the time to answer a few extra question and visiting with us OVER COFFE!

 
 
Sia, thanks for having me again!


JUDI FENNELL




11 comments:

~Sia McKye~ said...

Welcome back to Over Coffee, Judi. It's always a pleasure to have you visit as a guest.

I LOVE the cover of this one. Wow.

Judi Fennell said...

Good morning, Sia! Thanks for having me back-you know how much I love chatting with you! :)

As for the cover... I know! Isn't it gorgeous? Anne Cain has been my cover artist for all 5 books so far. She's a goddess!

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Sia and Judi!

Wonderful interview!

Hawk

Kat Sheridan said...

Judi, you KNOW what a big fan I am of yours, and your delightful sense of humor! The puns and the laughs and the sexy romance--what a great combination! And I do love the way you use animals and other creatures in your work. Sooo much fun!

Judi Fennell said...

*waving hi to my peeps! Smooches to all of you!

~Sia McKye~ said...

We have snow blowing here and being pushed by a strong north wind. I'm glad I'm out of it but I had to come here and tell you Judi.

I'm impatiently awaiting my copy of I Dream of Genies. I got to see the roughs of the story now I want to savor the polished story. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hawk, Judi is always easy and fun to interview and she is as fun in person as she is in her books. Her mind amazes me and the execution of ideas she has amazes me even more.

Hope you're feeling much better now?

Olivia Cunning said...

The research sounds like fun, Judi! Always great to hear the inside scoop on that kind of thing. I'm looking forward to reading the entire series.

aries18 said...

I can't wait to read this one and to see that cover! Great interview of course, as always. I'm already loving that Obo and haven't met Humphrey but I'm sure to love him too. I'm a dragon girl.

Judi Fennell said...

More smooches all the way around!

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Sounds like a really fun book! I've always wanted to be able to twitch my nose and make things happen, LOL :)