Let's start with getting personal. What makes up Jessica Bird, the woman, the wife, and the author?
I'm not all that exciting- I leave the flashy moves to my characters! I keep to myself a lot of the time and I like to work. I'm high strung so I prefer to be busy and in control. I love to exercise. As for the wife bit, I really like being married and I think my husband is one of the greatest gifts in my life.
Talking business now. When did you decide to write a book? What influenced you, who inspired you and how has it changed your life?
I've always written. Diaries, stories, vignettes, sketches. I wrote my first book the summer before I went to college (a romance, naturally). The story just came out on the pages. And so have the others, published and unpublished. I never really thought about making a career out of writing, but then my husband suggested I try to get an agent. I never expected to get one. Never expected to get published. The whole thing was a surprise, but as I look back, I realize I've put a lot of time into writing. Years and years of doing it for myself. Years of getting up early and writing before work. Writing through holidays, and being sick, and being on vacation. It's about love and discipline and the fact that if I don't write, I feel off-centered. It's like exercise. I need it. And I'm terrified one day I will wake up and it won't be there.
How much of yourself, your friends and family is there to be found in your books?
I don't mind putting some of myself in my characters. In fact, a lot of my family and friends laugh when they read my books. They say they can hear my voice in their head, especially when they get to the mouthy parts. But I don't put anything into the books that pertains to my family or my friends. I don't want my loved ones to feel that I'm using them or that I would reveal something private in a book. It's about setting boundaries and paying respect to the people in my life.
What did it take to get published? Who did you get support and encouragement from? Did you sell your first book with the help of an agent?
It took time and an agent for me to get published. I didn't have a publisher in mind; I let my agent at the time decide whom my material should go to and what the pitch should be. My family was tremendously supportive of me. I was working as a lawyer and I liked what I was doing, but my heart was in the writing and they recognized I might be able to get published before I did. I feel really, really lucky to have had the opportunities I've been blessed with. And everyday, I'm thankful when I sit down at the computer.
Are you a member of RWA? How has it helped you in `your writing career?
Yes, I am a member. And RWA has been very helpful. Being an author is a solitary endeavor and having the support of people who understand your challenges is really critical. Additionally, the opportunity to learn craft and get business advice at RWA conferences has helped me refine my work and define my career.
How do you manage the business and the creative parts of your writing life?
I put on my lawyer's hat when I need to. My background in the law helps me with contracts and I have enough of the anal retentive stuff still in me so I work hard to make my deadlines and to be a professional. As for the creative side, I protect it fiercely. Fiercely. I give it space, and time, and let it do what it wants to.
On to your stories. Your first published book was Leaping Hearts. Tell us a little about how you chose the setting and the characters. And did you expect it to be the first one to get you published?
I had horses and competed as a jumper when I was younger. I thought that the setting offered some great romantic opportunities and I wanted to revisit that world of competitive eventing. I actually got my agent on another book but I wanted her to go out with Leaping Hearts, which I had just finished. I thought it was the strongest manuscript I had written and felt like it had the best prospect of being bought.
When you set out to write Leaping Hearts had you already planned on it being connected to the ones that followed? And will you continue to feature characters from previous stories?
I seem to have to tie all my characters together. The stories just come out that way. It's like meeting friends through other friends. I'll be thinking about the back-story of a character's life and these people start popping up and I get curious about them. I want to find out what makes them tick and how they view the world. And I also think I'm an incurable matchmaker. I want everybody to be happy and have a partner.
Your heroes and heroines are from contrasting backgrounds and their professions couldn't be more varied. How do you select them?
I'm curious by nature and I like to explore different disciplines. As for the contrasting backgrounds, good conflict is essential to a compelling romance. And when two people come at the world from completely different experiences, that disparity provides a good field of issues to be resolved.
The different settings for each of your books and good research must be of utmost importance. How do you go about it?
First, I start by reading and doing internet searches. As I refine the direction I'm headed in, I reach out to friends and family and see whom they might know who could teach me more. Talking with people who are actually in the different professions is critical. First hand accounts of what their days are like or how they ended up where they are is an important amplification of what you find in research books.
Your heroes are very alpha. What is it that fascinates you about them? And how difficult is it to place such domineering men in a contemporary setting?
I LOVE alpha males. The tougher, the cockier, the more arrogant, the better. The reason why I'm drawn to them is that I respect strength and intelligence and I have to spend a lot of time with my characters between starting a book and finishing it. And frankly, the more hardheaded the man, the smarter and more resilient the woman has to be to tame him.
I don't find it hard to put my heroes in a contemporary setting. The world is filled with hard, sexy, aggressive men. They're successful in business and law and sports, they're everywhere. Yum!
I loved Jackson Walker in An Irresistible Bachelor. How risky was it to start out the story with him being engaged to the wrong woman?
I was worried about that. But I really wanted to portray a man who was in the wrong relationship and who realized the mistake he's made and has to own up to it. The key to making Jack attractive and sympathetic was the way he treated his fiancée. He always treated her with respect. And of course, I've already planned a book where his fiancée gets the man of her dreams. So I'm going to take care of Blair!
Please describe the perfect heroine. The one that you and your readers should want to identify with.
I like my heroines to be very smart. They may have different personalities and come from different backgrounds, but they have to be intelligent and know what they want. I also value resiliency. They have to be strong enough to triumph over the obstacles that are placed before them. And they must be warm. Because my heroes usually need a good thawing out before they can fall for the woman they are supposed to be with.
And how important is it to you for your readers to identify with your hero and heroine? How real are they?
Critical. The reader has to identify with the main characters, with every character as a matter of fact. Otherwise, they won't be able to get into the book, no matter how good the line-by-line writing might be. And I try to make the characters as real as possible, to show their strengths and weaknesses, to add dimension.
What do you look for when picking a book to read? Who are your favorites and what recent discoveries would you like to share?
I really like books that feature alpha males in stories with a lot of edge to them. I love Suz Brockman. Gaelen Foley. Sherrilyn Kenyon is a recent discovery. Every book I read seems to teach me something about craft. If I laugh, or I cry, or I get scared, I know there's a lesson for me. If you're going to be a writer, you need to read a lot. Both so you understand the market and what editors are looking for, but also so you can refine your own skills by learning from others how they do it. Every author is different. Their style. The way they approach their plotting. Their strengths and weaknesses. I particularly like reading my friends' books because I can ask them how they approached a scene or why they did what they did. Learning, refining craft, improving what I do- it's all very important to me.
You have published four books and the reviews are glowing. What more can your readers expect from you? And when?
If all goes well, I'll have at least two, maybe three books out in 2005. I've developed a band of brother's continuum and the first of that series should be coming out next year. These books are darker, sexier than my contemporaries have been. Talks about your alpha males, those boys are straight up tough guys and the woman they love are more than equal matches for them. But I've also gotten into category and will be coming out with my first Silhouette Special Edition next year. In the SSEs, I'm preserving the tone and the pace of my first four books. It's a nice balance, between the raw and the refined.
Thanks for the opportunity for this interview!
Contributed by Kris Alice, August 2004