JANE: Today, I’m talking with Darynda Jones, author of the phenomenally popular, award-winning Charley Davidson Series. (If you haven’t read these, they’re darkly humorous, rather as if Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum learned she had been born with a really dangerous supernatural destiny.) Darynda is also the author of the YA Darklight Trilogy.
I Love the Red Cover Particularly
I first met Darynda at Bubonicon, New Mexico’s SF convention. As I recall, we were both at the opening ceremonies and Craig Chrissinger, one of the con chairs, introduced us, telling me that Darynda was a new writer, with her first novel either coming out soon or just out. I don’t remember which, and since First Grave on the Right was a February release, I can’t say for sure.
Any chance you do, Darynda?
DARYNDA: HA! I can barely remember my children’s names, a fact they find annoying. While I definitely remember meeting you that first time (as I was beyond honored), I do not remember where I was at career-wise. Those early days are kind of a blur, and I’ve only been published four years.
JANE: Just four years and all those books? Astonishing!
All right, then. I always start these interviews with the same question, so here goes:
In my experience, writers fall into two general categories: those who have been writing stories since before they could actually write and those who came to writing somewhat later.
Which sort are you?
DARYNDA: I am of the former sort. I started writing before I could actually write and would even pick up sticks and any random piece of paper floating by and pretend to write my masterpieces. Oddly enough, I started writing plays first and would then put on very elaborate productions, but since I couldn’t actually write and my actors had no written lines to memorize (nor could they read), the plays quickly deteriorated into chaos. Good times, baby.
JANE: You have mentioned several times that the late Jack Williamson – author of such phenomenal classic SF novels as Darker Than You Think and The Humaniods – was one of your teachers. Can you talk a little about that?
DARYNDA: Yes! I had the enormous honor of taking a class with him before he passed away, God rest his soul. It was like sitting in the presence of greatness. We would start out the class with Dr. Patrice Caldwell, who is a force of nature and probably missed her true calling: standup comedy. Then the graduates would go to Dr. Williamson’s house, sit around his dining room table, and talk writing. It was surreal to say the least. I couldn’t get enough, and for the first time in my life, I was disappointed when the semester ended.
JANE: That really must have been wonderful. I met Jack several times and chatted with him a little, but I never had the chance for that sort of roundtable. I did get to contribute a story to The Williamson Effect, the collection in Jack’s honor, though. That was great…
Back when we did that book signing together, when both of us had new YA releases (I think mine was Fire Season), you mentioned that Charley Davidson and Lorelei, the protagonist of the Dark Light Trilogy, have a rather incestuous relationship, that Lorelei is, in a sense Charley’s older sister, even though she’s younger and lives in a different universe.
Could you share the story?
DARYNDA: Haha! Yes, Lorelei came before Charley by a couple of years. I wrote the first in that YA series then started on the Charley series and, believing the Darklight Trilogy would never sell, I cannibalized my own work by stealing many of the plot points and character traits from the YA. Huge ones. I even fashioned parts of Charley after Lorelei.
I paid for that. While Charley sold first, the YA trilogy sold about a year later, so I had to rethink my entire foundation and figure out how to set Lorelei apart. Thankfully, by then Charley had evolved into a much sassier, sarcastic version of Lorelei, so it wasn’t too difficult, but trying to reimagine the entire foundation of the YA trilogy for the next two books in the series was way harder than I thought it would be. Lesson learned.
JANE: I had a similar experience on a smaller scale. I didn’t think The Buried Pyramid would ever sell, so I borrowed traits from one of the secondary characters for Derian, in the Firekeeper books. Then my agent (who loved The Buried Pyramid) managed to sell it and I had to scramble to re-write.
One of the things that keeps me reading the Charley Davidson books is the odd balance of humor and really serious issues – including that Charley doesn’t always solve her case, or at least not to her satisfaction.
This is not something that one encounters often in this sort of book. What drew you in that direction?
DARYNDA: I wanted the series to be ongoing (thankfully, my editor did too), so I wanted to tie up most ends while leaving others unraveled until the next book, or even six books later. I wanted fresh questions to arise while old ones were being answered.
And, while fiction is not meant to be a mirror image of reality, sometimes the outcomes are just not what we want and I feel that fiction needs a little of that disappointment so we can be grateful for what does go our protagonist’s way. I think disappointment can be used to drive our characters. To force them to do better next time. To set goals. To learn from their mistakes.
Charley does a lot for the departed, and that right there is a conundrum. There’s really not a lot she can do for that character. He or she is already dead. But she can help the character find peace and give them the ability and the desire to move on.
JANE: That’s a really great insight as to why your characters have so much dimension. I appreciate it.
I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times, so I’ll make it a million and one. Where did you get the idea of using quotations from tee-shirts, bumper stickers, and suchlike as chapter headings? Have you gotten to the point where you need to make them up or do you keep piles of catalogs? And has anyone ever offered to print up some of your quotes on shirts?
DARYNDA: You may not believe this but I have NEVER been asked that! Not once! I actually came up with the idea because I wanted to start off each chapter with a bang, and I was writing a scene in the first book where Charley was wearing a T-shirt to her college graduation that had ‘jenius’ written on it. It cracked me up, especially considering the circumstance, and the idea to start every chapter with a T-shirt or bumper sticker quote hit me. I did a lot of research to make sure I could even put them in my books. I used to make up a couple per book, but I haven’t done that in a while.
I do keep a list of quotes I can use. I’d been saving them even before the idea hit me. Now I get a lot from readers. They are always sending me some great one- or two-liners. My assistants have created a Zazzle store called Grim Girl Apparel that has many of the quotes up for sale on various items, and what miniscule amount of money we make off them goes toward giveaways for the Grimlets, my street team.
JANE: That’s really cool… And I am jazzed to have been the first to ask! Maybe there will be a spike in sales at Grim Girl Apparel.
One of my favorite more recent characters is Quentin, the Deaf boy who shares some of Charley’s sensitivity to the supernatural world. What gave you the impulse to create him?
DARYNDA: I do love me some Quentin, mostly because he is based on my oldest son, Jerrdan, and named after my little brother. I also have a degree in sign language interpreting, am a certified interpreter, and have taught ASL and interpreting as well. I guess because of all this, I really wanted a Deaf character in the books.
I love showing people tidbits about Deaf culture and what it’s like to be Deaf in a hearing world. They face 10 challenges for every one of ours, and my son amazes me every day. He is independent and strong and gorgeous. Both my sons are! And some of the stories I write about Quentin have really happened. (Not the seeing-dead-people thing, thank goodness.) But he is a joy to write about.
JANE: I won’t provide spoilers, but I’ve loved Amber’s attempts to communicate in sign language – especially the mistakes.
I’m not exactly a prude (my novel Smoke and Mirrors featured a prostitute as the main character), but sometimes the degree of violence in the sex scenes in the Charley books leaves me wondering why you took that direction. I noticed that this had backed off some in the most recent book, Seventh Grave and No Body. Any reason?
DARYNDA: I decided when I first began this series to go big or go home. I love action and I love writing it. The sex scenes are the hardest part of the whole story for me to write, and I am no prude either. I quite enjoy the act, but if I haven’t written a sex scene that makes your toes curl, I have not done my job.
Still, everyone is different. Some hate them. Most of my readers love them. Either way, I have to write both the action and the sex sequences according to my target audience, those who love paranormal/urban fantasy and romance. I read both. I know what my audience expects. And I love to keep my readers hovering on the edges of their seats, wondering what Charley will do next. It’s all about those surprise twists your readers never see coming. Keeping it fresh is what will bring your readers back again and again, and my readers are amazing. I’m horridly grateful for each and every one.
JANE: Practical… And you’ve certainly made my toes curl, so you’re doing your job.
For those readers of this interview who haven’t yet tried Darynda’s books, I’d like to stress that there’s a lot more to them than hot sex and warped humor (although there’s both of those). The last couple of books in particular have started revealing what looks to be a complex supernatural conspiracy that has me completely hooked.
But, speaking of “doing your job,” I should let you go and do that. Thanks ever so much for your time!
DARYNDA: THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME!!!