I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Jennifer B White, author of Otherwise and Dead Asleep as part of her Blog Tour. A review of Otherwise can be found here.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself
I was born and bred in New England. I live in Massachusetts, when I’m not in Los Angeles working on movies. As well as penning novels, I’m a tagline writer and screenwriter. I’m the mother of three boys, ages 16, 13 and 7. All of them were born in late October—the youngest on Halloween—which is somewhat fitting for a writer of supernatural novels. I hold a B.A. in communications, and a Masters degree in psychology.
Otherwise is a book about the spirit world. What inspired you to write in this genre?
Growing up in my family, there was a certain amount of supernatural phenomena that was to be expected. My father foretold his mother’s death on the day she passed away, and that night he witnessed her ghost. That somewhat sets the stage for some of the stories I write.
I’m fascinated by supernatural and paranormal experiences—thing that are outside scientific explanation. But, I’m not alone. A third of Americans say they believe in ghosts, according to a poll by the Associated Press and Ipsos. About 23 percent, also say they’ve actually seen a ghost, or believe they’ve been in [a ghost’s] presence.
What type of research did you do for Otherwise?
I do a lot of research for every novel I write. In Otherwise, there are characters that struggle with things like OCD hoarding. I have an M.Ed in psychology, so I did a lot of research to make sure that the character accurately portrayed characteristics of the disorder.
The plot took many twists and turns, so I made a timeline for every character and every event, and referred to it constantly. I also had chapter summaries with key plot points. There’s a lot more to writing fiction than simply inventing characters and intriguing situations. Research is the foundation on which you build a great story.
There were many interesting characters in the book, but in particular I thought that Delilah (obviously) stood out, as did Meema and Winnie. What was your inspiration for these very diverse personalities?
I love characters that are multidimensional and complex. I endeavor to put “humanness” in all my characters, so I’m constantly asking myself questions like, “What’s in this person’s nature? What are they capable of, what are their flaws, and what are their most redeeming values?”
Delilah is a woman who’s tried to pull herself out of bad circumstances, and attempts to achieve something better—first for herself, then for her daughter. I’m a mother, so I’m inspired by women who put their children above all else. I also like that Delilah has a hard time seeing the beauty in her. She can be irritable and angry.
Winnie has gotten to the age in life where she’s unapologetically herself. She has the wisdom of age, but she’s far from perfect, and she knows it. She also, like a lot of people in their golden years, likes things a certain way—her way. I drew inspiration for Winnie’s characters by observing the senior citizens that surround my life.
Meema is easy to write off, until you realize what struggles she’s faced in life—and as an Otherwise spirit. I think people have a tendency to make instant judgments without ever seeing something from another person’s point of view. It’s my job as a writer to introduce characters, and then force you to give them a second look. (And maybe even look inside yourself.)
I loved the concept behind Otherwise – “there is life, death and then there is Otherwise”. How much of the story reflects your personal view of what happens to the soul?
I’ve always felt that death is as personal as life. The only thing we know for sure about death is that we don’t know for sure.
My personal experience with my father’s death, and his dying, certainly influenced my writing. When his death was imminent, I got a “sign” from him, and I knew he wanted me there when he died. When he was passing away, I had the distinct impression that someone from the other side had come to get him.
Sometimes, when a person is in the “process” of dying, you can see that they’re not “dead,” but they’re not quite “alive.” They’re someplace in between. It definitely sowed the seeds for speculation. What would it be like if you died, but didn’t exactly pass away? You’re not alive, and you’re not a ghost… you’re something in between—Otherwise.
None of my books (or movie scripts) are written exactly the same way. I have no specific formula, other than doing research, writing timelines, and keeping detailed notes on everything from characters, and their specific traits, to plots and subplots. Sometimes I’ll map out a story in detail, other times it goes right to the page without much “planning.” I do spend a lot of time in the editing phase once a story is 100 percent completed.
With Otherwise, the story, especially the relationship between Delilah and Shane, rolled around in my head for many years. When I finally began writing, it happened so quickly, my fingers could barely keep up. Of course, the editing stage takes much longer, because you want to smooth out all the wrinkles.
I understand that you have released another book – Dead Asleep. Would you like to tell us a little bit about that?
In Dead Asleep, Kevin Macy wakes to discover that strangers are sharing his dreams. He soon learns that while he sleeps he must undo events from the past to prevent an impending disaster. With Claire, a narcoleptic, he takes a sleep-journey into the past and future affecting so many lives, including his own. It’s a story that rides the razor’s edge between dreaming and wakeful states, the past and the future, and the lines between life and death. Think The Time Traveler’s Wife meets Inception.
Do you write in any other genres?
I’m glad you asked! I do write in other genres. But, here’s what I like readers to know—if you like my voice, that is the unique style in which I write, you’ll probably enjoy all my books.
As a reader, I tend to stick with several authors, because I’ve fallen in love with their voice. Eventually, they depart from the usual and write in a different genre. For example, John Grisham writes legal thrillers, but then he decided to write two very different types of books—Skipping Christmas and A Painted House. I enjoyed both books.
While I write mainly supernatural suspense, I also write Young Adult/cross-over (with supernatural elements), female-centric comedies, and literary fiction. But, I don’t vary too far off the beaten path. (In other words, you’ll never see my writing a romance novel.)
What sort of books do you read, and is there a specific book that stands out in your mind as your “best ever” read?
I range from Audrey Niffenegger, Alice Sebold to Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice. As far as best ever, it’s hard to answer that! It’s the same with movies. I have a hard time pinning down my favourite one, because I like different movies for different reasons—and I watch at least one a day.
The one book that was a big influence on me as a youth, and possibly influenced my writing, was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I loved how Meg and her brother Charles are taken on an adventure through time and space to rescue her father on another planet. That the story, a science fiction young adult novel, had a female protagonist was amazing. L’Engle was a trail blazer.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
Everything. I love that I’m the one that controls the story—from small things like the mood of the day to what my characters are eating; to large things like the winding road I take to the story’s conclusion and distractions along the way.
I love the journey of discovery, not only for my readers, but for myself as well. I like learning new words, and piecing sentences together like a puzzle until it reveals the big picture of the story.
I love how sometimes it feels like I’m not the one in control at all. That the story was already out there somehow, and I was the lucky one who snatched it from the ethers.
What other authors have inspired you?
Early on, it was definitely Stephen King. He was not only a talented writer, but a brilliant story teller. He talked about the craft of writing at a time when authors really didn’t do that. (And so many seemed to be reclusive.)
Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice (1976) was genius. It was also long before we all got vampire fatigue. It was a novel that was refreshing and new, and at the time, I was eager for the next book in the series.
The launch of e-readers and the ease of publishing has resulting in a huge upsurge in the number of aspiring authors who now feel they have a chance to publish. What advice would you give them?
E books are a great opportunity for authors who haven’t had success through the traditional route to publishing. The books are instantly deliverable, and it’s nice to begin getting paid for your work.
For aspiring writers—my advice is if you decide to self-publish, and you’re new to writing, hire an editor to edit your work. The downside to self-publishing is that it can be very expensive, so you don’t want to end up with a product that’s substandard and won’t be read because it’s filled with syntax problems, etc.
Before you query agents, send out your work, or self-publish, make sure your work is good. Write every day, finish the work, then go back and edit it. Give it to friends, co-workers, and anyone you think can give you constructive feedback to make sure it’s tight. It’s hard work, but if you’re the kind of writer I am, you’ll enjoy even the challenges.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy time with my kids—it’s always a battle of wits. I love Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, but I also love Malibu, Venice and hitting the farmer’s markets in California. I love eating in great restaurants, but I love to cook, too. In New England, I enjoy the different seasons and my pond. I have a broad, eclectic interest in the arts. I like to express my creativity through cooking, sketching, gardening, playing piano, interior design, photography, and painting. I believe that a home is more than a dwelling—it’s a safe haven, a place of comfort where there’s laughter, communication and affection.
Where can readers buy your books?
Otherwise, Dead Asleep, and The Witch and the Devil’s Son (a YA book) are all available in your favorite bookstores. Online, they’re available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle, and on Barnes & Noble on the Nook.
So, whatever format you like (paper or digital), it’s ready for you to read!
Here are links on Amazon:
Dead Asleep http://goo.gl/ql2RI
The Witch and the Devil’s Son http://goo.gl/YpWBO
Barnes & Noble:
Dead Asleep http://goo.gl/95e0P
The Witch and the Devil’s Son http://goo.gl/iVrp6
What is your next project?
I’ve been very busy! I have projects that will take me well into 2013. While I’m preparing sequels to Otherwise and Dead Asleep, I’m also writing a new Young Adult/Crossover that’s the first in a trilogy and will have accompanying movie scripts. Last year, I spent six months researching information for a literary novel based on true events—I’ll be working on that this year as well.
I’m also editing my novel, Hummus for the Holidays, that was adapted for film, and is currently with the film company, Participant. (They made the movie The Help.)
I continue to write my own blog on my website: www.JenniferBWhite.com and guest blog on other book blogs as well.