Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Conversation with Author J. Molly Brown


Today, I'm having a chat with J. Molly Brown. Her first novel is in the early stages with a publisher, which is a very exciting time for any writer. J. Molly is not only a wonderful friend, she's a mentor and my new pre-reader!

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Lissa: What’s the best thing being a writer has given you? 

J. Molly: My sense of humour begs me to say ‘free therapy’, but that’s not really it. I daresay the very best thing I gain from writing is an outlet for my curiosity. My tastes are eclectic. I love people, animals, travel, the arts, history and reading. I know a lot of trivia, although I have a terrible time memorizing dates. If something interests me, I can indulge myself by writing about it. What could be better? Oh, getting paid for it! It’s a dream job.

Lissa: It is, isn’t it? It’s a job I’d be doing whether or not I was paid. When I was writing FF, the kind words of my reviewers made me feel rich, indeed.

J. Molly: I agree. I’ll be writing my Twilight fanfic for years to come. Reviewers spoil me (in a nice way).

Lissa: Which develops first for you: plot or characters?


J. Molly: J.K. Rowling once said that Harry Potter walked into her head fully formed. I can relate to that. Often it’s the male lead that I ‘meet’ first. Then, it’s just like walking into a casual but quiet gathering of friends (inside my crowded skull): a bunch of characters quietly greet me and tell me what drives them. Very soon, I know how their story begins. I always know how it ends before I even make notes. Sometimes, the middle of the story is very sketchy when I start writing. The characters tend to tell me how they want it written. It’s usually a surprise to me.

Lissa: I’ve only had a couple of characters who appeared, fully formed. For me, it’s usually the story that appears first, and then the person who needs to tell it. They develop from there.

J. Molly: That’s really cool! I have to be patient with my characters. They want to know me well before they reveal their conflicts.

Lissa: When I was a kid, they used to have this bargain bin at the grocery store where a quarter would buy a can of food that had lost its label. My mom and I used to have so much fun with that. She would have me pick a can and we’d have it with dinner that night, no matter what it turned out to contain.

Writing a story is sort of similar. You think you know what you’re getting into, but the contents might turn out to be something you weren’t expecting.

J. Molly: You’ve hit the head on the nail. The great thing is, the contents are normally something better than what you expected. Although, I really hope your dinner never turned out to be dog food! LOL

Right now, a character from a science fiction/fantasy story that I’ve been working on is tapping me on the shoulder. My Jay may be as demanding as your Justin.

Is it creepy that I talk about them like they’re real?

Lissa: No. Because they are real. Even if they only live in your head, that doesn’t make them any less real. They have to be real, or they won’t be interesting to read about.

J. Molly: There! I can tell my kids I’m not nuts, because you said so!

Lissa: How did you come to be writing fanfiction?

J. Molly: Not a simple thing to answer! For as long as I can remember, I’ve made up stories about my favourite characters from books, movies and TV. When I was a kid, I made up stories about celebrities, too. Sometimes I wrote the fanfics down, but mostly I just daydreamed. However, at this point in my life I would never write fanfiction about real people. Celebrities have enough people speculating about them. I can’t read fan stories about celebrities; they make me very uncomfortable.

Lissa: I’m the same. I could never get into RPF. In my latest novel, I’m using some real historical figures as characters. (Maybe that’s one of the reasons why it’s been such a challenge: they aren’t really mine.) I feel a sort of obligation to the real people they once were to try to make it as accurate possible, to try to make their personalities match action in the historical record. There’s a little bit of hesitation there I wouldn’t have with a character I’d completely invented. 

J. Molly: I can thoroughly relate to that. You must have to do a ton of research to make the records match. On the upside, your historical figures have passed on and aren’t around to hear what people say about them. Nor would they likely care what this ‘heathen generation’ has to say. But I’m glad you feel a responsibility toward them. It’s only fair.

I wonder what Abe Lincoln would say about being a vampire hunter.

Hey! You could write a short story about teleporting Elizabeth and Mary into present day! That would be hilarious. Zzzzap! “Off with her head!”

I think the celebrity circus is sad. I dislike gossip and I steer clear of judging people. Maybe that’s because I spent a day with the Potter cast (Dan Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Bonnie Wright, Tom Felton, Jessie Cave, Oliver Phelps and David Spade). We met them on my son’s Make-a-Wish.

The actors were simply ‘people’, like anyone. I imagine they find the pappz very wearing.

Oh, my son is doing well. He isn’t Terminal: his heart condition is now stable although it’s technically life-threatening. No more surgery is required at this time. We’re hoping he doesn’t need a valve replacement until he’s fifty!

Lissa: What made you choose Twilight as your fanfiction theme?

J. Molly: On many occasions, friends told me I ought to be reading Twilight. I put it off as a ‘kids’ novel’. Then my 10 year old daughter wanted to read it and I decided that I had better be a good mom and read it first. It would probably surprise you to know it didn’t grip me. However, I agreed to take my daughters to the midnight release show for the Twilight DVD. The minute Rob (as Edward) walked into the cafeteria and delivered that self-effacing, sweet smile, I was a goner.

I reread Twilight and read the other books. You’ve told me that you had no inkling there was a place for people like us to share fan stories. I didn’t either. In the 1980s, a lot of derivative fiction was published, but I had no idea that within a mere handful of years, the Internet began to facilitate whole communities for fans.

I stumbled over a small fan website. There might have been 200 fanfiction stories on it, and I read all of them although I never reviewed anything. One of the writers who posted there was Eowyn77 and on her Profile, she mentioned ffnet. I clicked on it sometime around February of 2009. “Bella Swan, Kidnapper” was my introduction to the ffnet community and after that I read everything I could click on. I started reviewing, but I didn’t join ffnet until August.

Meanwhile, my daughters became big Twihards and started fawning all over Jacob. I became concerned about some of the traits they admired in him: dared I put my writing to instructional use? Snort. Naturally, but not by being preachy; first, I engineered some consequences for various characters’ bad behavior. Then I started gleefully discombobulating Edward. I just love knocking him off his propriety-loving pins. I have a very quirky sense of humour. I see humour in almost everything.

Lissa: Do you feel writing fanfiction taught you any valuable writing lessons?

J. Molly: Oh, yes! I came to this community not just to share stories and enjoy the work of other writers, but with a hunger for knowledge and a desire to hone skills. The best thing a writer can do is step out of his or her comfort zone and ask for input. The flipside is you have to be open to making use of that input. For example, if someone spends four hours editing your 7000 word chapter (not unusual with Newbies), and you refuse to correct your grammar, your editor is not going to be interested in helping you again. If your editor tells you that you won’t be published because your story has too many points of similarity with someone else’s story, and you refuse to make changes, (s)he is not likely to remain invested in your work.

Lissa: I was a lot more scared of the beta/editing process than I needed to be. It turned out to be very constructive and I walked away from it feeling like my story would be even better when I’d made the changes they suggested.

J. Molly: I didn’t have a Beta (fanfic editor) for the first four months. I was very impatient to post and I didn’t want to wait for feedback. I started using Betas in January of 2010, when my stories became longer and more complicated. But I’m going to tease you anyway, and say ‘I told you so!’

Lissa: I don’t know what I was expecting… I guess that criticism would hurt my feelings or something. But I felt empowered by it, not wounded. But I suppose that has a lot to do with the people you choose and how they communicate the issues with you.

J. Molly: Most of the people who provide beta services are very kind and supportive, but it’s important to find a good personality match. A good way to find a Beta is to approach someone who has given you feedback that pleases you, or someone whose writing you admire. It’s important to choose a Beta whose skills are more developed than your own.

My present best friend and Beta was actually one of the first two people to review me. She runs a Drama Department and her grasp of the English language is immaculate. I think she knows my Edward better than I do. My other main Beta was a dedicated reader. Her grammar skills rock and she has an almost spooky ability to find facts for me that I’ve misplaced. I can say to her, “I can’t find the year that Edward stayed in Maine with his friend, Jem,” and she will have the answer in no time. When I have more than 1.5 million words posted on ffnet, inside 27 stories, that’s no mean feat. My Betas’ skills are amazing and they know how to make me work. They also aren’t afraid to challenge me.

Some readers leave reviews or send private messages that are incredibly insightful, opening my eyes to new ideas. Readers are experts in fields where I have no knowledge, and occasionally serve as advisors. For example, one of my Twiguys is retired military and he helps me with battle scenes. Another Twiguy knows a lot about aircraft and weaponry. I have learned so much from everyone.

Writing fanfiction has also taught me discipline. Readers would like regular updates(!!!) and organizers of charity compilations require deadlines. I learned to write every day because of it. Readers also enjoy offering their opinions, which are not always pretty. That taught me to handle critique.

Lissa: In my time in the FF world, I’ve only gotten a small handful of comments which were meant to wound. The rest of them were kind: gentle criticisms/suggestions, but intended to be helpful, not hurtful. Going around to other story sites on the internet has really opened my eyes to how supportive and kind the TwiFFverse is.

J. Molly: It really is! I don’t know of another community like it. Sometimes, the praise of a reader can just make your day and keep you going for weeks. And I can count the number of mean reviews I’ve received on one hand. It does well to remember, too, that readers aren’t necessarily good at expressing themselves. A comment which intended no harm sometimes comes across as critical. It’s always best to give the benefit of the doubt.

Lissa: It’s also made me realize how important reviews are for a writer. As I said in my chat with Denise, the saying that a writer only starts a story came to life when I joined the FF realm, and thinking of my readers instead of just the story helped me to make it better.

J. Molly: I really don’t think that readers understand how much we need and appreciate them. I’m very grateful to them for choosing my stories out of that huge pool of things to read. I’m interested in their lives. I’ve made friends all over the world that started out as my readers. I’ve met two of them and I have other friends I hope to meet someday.

One of the most important lessons I learned here was to interact with other writers. It’s not a good thing to be solitary and it’s all too easy to do. Nobody’s better at supporting a writer than another writer. We get each other through bad days, celebrate successes, set challenges, discuss our interests, share tips, mentor beginners and just keep each other company. Some people write with me daily. I can’t imagine life without my ‘girls’.

Lissa: It always makes me think of Isaac Newton’s immortal words, “I stand on the shoulders of giants.” (Well, when he said it, he was being mean, and I mean it in a complimentary fashion.) Without other writers, I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s my hope that I can encourage and support other writers and help “pay it forward.”

J. Molly: Yes, that’s my hope, too.

Lissa: What was the biggest challenge moving from fanfiction to original fiction?

J. Molly: I was first published in an education-oriented story compilation at the age of five, and later, in a poetry anthology at the age of sixteen, so the question might better be, ‘what was the biggest challenge moving from original fiction to fanfiction’? Yeah, don’t ask about the poetry, I’m very thankful that it’s out of print!

Lissa: Um…

*clears throat*

There might just be an anthology or two out there which has some very maudlin and pedestrian poetry written by my younger self.

In one respect, I’m glad I wrote poetry because it helped to teach me about word choice and the rhythm of a sentence, but I hope it never sees the light of day.


J. Molly:  hah! Kindred spirits, bb.

With OF, you have to create the entire world. With FF, you’re handed a structure and characters that you can mold to your will. Fanfiction is much easier to write. Now, I’m moving ‘back’ to OF.

Lissa: That’s both a benefit and a burden in FF. The reader approaches with relationships already formed with the characters. In 90% of stories, you already know who the villains and heroes will be. That’s why I always liked to mix it up a little, giving the characters new roles. I found it very interesting during Written in the Stars to see how many readers were afraid to trust Tanya as Bella’s bodyguard. They’re used to her being a bad guy, a purely FF characterization because she was little more than a girl who had once flirted with Edward in the books. When it appeared Bella’s ship had crashed in my story, there were many people who said, “I knew it!”

J. Molly: That’s wild. I liked your Tanya. In my Unforeseen Events Series, Aro and Marcus are allies, while Caius is a foe. It never made sense to me that Aro could maintain power if he were as debauched as canon implied. That’s not to say that I don’t love Michael Sheen as Aro, he’s wonderful. However, I wanted somebody sane in charge of the vampire world. All kinds of readers are waiting for my Aro to show his ‘true colours’. And… he has.

I digress. The biggest challenge in moving back to OF is probably enduring the prejudice leveled at fanfiction writers. Some critics believe we’re incapable of coming up with decent stories of our own.

Lissa: That’s one of the reasons why I’ve been very open about my FF roots. I’m hoping perhaps it might change people’s minds about the genre, and maybe bring some new writers into the fold.

J. Molly: I hope so! I know, that had there been an ffnet when I was a teenager, I’d have been writing it. My daughter writes “Vampire Diaries”FF.

Shakespeare wrote fanfiction, you know?

Lissa: Among many others.

J. Molly: That’s for sure. Shaw, Tennyson, Joyce, Virgil, LeGuin, Sartre, Milton…the list is endless. Let’s not even get into what Hollywood has done with our beloved stories.

Lissa: So, why write fanfiction at all?

J. Molly: Initially and presently, for the love of a story, a character, a world that someone else created. Added to that, affection for my readers.

Yes, I have eight original stories in various stages of development on my computer, some of which are more than five years old. In 2009, I didn’t feel confident enough to share them with the world. I didn’t have my style ironed out.

Fanfiction is a welcoming venue. It’s also a marvelous place to train as a writer. There are all kinds of talented people in the fandom who are willing to give you free feedback (and editing) so you can grow. There are also amazing artists who will give you gifts like banners, blinkies and tribute poems. Not only that, you meet like-minded friends here.

I owe a huge amount to this community. For that reason, I have been an active Beta since 2010. For about the past year, I’ve been pre-reading and editing for published authors and hopefuls, too. I haven’t stopped working with experienced and ‘Newbie’ hobby writers because that Beta-Alpha (writer) relationship is the life blood of the fanfiction community.

I also feel it’s very important to thank reviewers, so I always write back. I love to meet my audience, so I ask readers to visit me on Facebook and Twitter. Hopefully, I’ll soon have my blog up and running. It will likely be called, “J Molly Brown, Author”.

Lissa: Tell me about your original fiction, “Moms On Missions”.

J. Molly: A year ago, I was approached by a publisher. I submitted my manuscript in July and they asked for some changes, which I completed before Christmas. My manuscript is now in the hands of a few trusted pre-readers. I’m hoping to send the new draft to the publisher by the end of January. I’m very excited about it. Hopefully, I’ll be signed on this draft.

The Moms On Missions (a.k.a. “M.O.M.”) are a handful of Italian-Canadian mothers who band together to marry off their kids. Most of the kids are resistant to that idea, and 27 year old Vince Russo is no exception. M.O.M. manages to find him a ‘suitable’ girl, but the young people refuse to get together on sheer principle. They decide, however, that it would be smart to foil M.O.M. by becoming a fake couple. Will they fall together on their own?

Lissa: What was it about this particular story (M.O.M.s) that made you decide you wanted to write it as your first novel?

J. Molly: Ideas for “M.O.M.s” have been collecting in a file on my desktop for five years -long before I got involved with fanfiction. I set the story aside for a while as I wasn’t happy with it. I was in love with the character of Vince, but the story wouldn’t gel. The plot became clear to me about a year ago when Mary Danielle finally spoke up and told me her name wasn’t Tara.

Why this story and not one of the others? The characters wouldn’t stop bugging me. They won’t leave me alone. And now their friends won’t leave me alone, so instead of a novel, it will be a series.

As for fanfiction, I decided before I posted my first story that I would only post Alternate Universe (a.k.a. Vampfiction). I always intended to publish original fiction, so I promised myself to save those ‘human’ stories for my own canon. The one exception is “Cats and Dogs”, an episodic All-Human FF that I write for charity.

I’m very proud to be part of this community: our fanfiction authors raise a great deal of money for worthy causes. I’m not sure it’s even possible to track the amount of money we raise because the fandom is just so big and has such a long reach. It’s certainly in excess of $50,000US per year.

Lissa: You chose an unusual narrative method for “M.O.Ms”. What led you to that decision?

J. Molly: This story has gone through a lot of incarnations. The first five chapters were originally written in Third Person Past, Omniscient, and there were six Points of View. It didn’t work, obviously. You can get away with a lot of things in fanfiction that you can’t do in an OF.

I wanted the ‘feel’ to be more immediate so I changed the voice to First Person Present. I liked that better and wrote half the manuscript in that voice, but it wasn’t cohesive. A skilled editor read my first five chapters and suggested that I try Third Person Present, Limited. I tried the switch and it was so organic; exactly the voice I’d been seeking. The story is now told from three Points of View: Vince’s, Mary Danielle’s, and that of Vince’s mother.

When we watch a movie, the voice is Third Person Present. It’s the normal voice for writing screenplays and scripts. However, it’s becoming fashionable for novels and novellas, perhaps because we’re so much more visually-oriented than we were a hundred years ago. I’m a very visually-stimulated person, and I always ‘see’ my stories onscreen, with soundtracks. Often, I create playlists that I listen to while writing.

Third Person Present is a tricky voice to write, but it’s nothing new. Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte and William Faulkner all used it. John Updike’s celebrated novel, “Rabbit, Run” is written in this voice, although I didn’t discover that book until well after I began using it myself. I adore his style.

Just when I thought it was an unusual voice for Contemporary Romance, I picked up the novel “Color of Loneliness” by Madeleine Beckett (a fellow Twilight fanfiction writer) and was excited to discover that she’d used it, too.

Nobody should pick a voice for their book based on either convention or the wish to defy convention. Most of my writing is in First Person Past, Limited. Some of it (as S. Meyer’s ‘Edward’ is a mind-reader) is First Person Past, Omniscient. I’ve also used First Person Present, Limited; Third Person Past, Omniscient; and Third Person Past, Limited.

The voice of the piece must fit the story. Third Person Present, Limited creates a sense of immediacy and forward motion that suits the pacing of my comedy romance.

Lissa: What would you like your readers to take away from your novel after they’ve turned the last page?

J. Molly: First, I hope it makes their day a little bit brighter.

Second, that parents need to respect their kids by letting them become ‘their own people’. Parental expectations can be one of the most destructive forces in a person’s life. There are two things parents can do to really make their kids secure and prepare them for success. One thing is to listen, and teach them to express thoughts and opinions from the time they’re small. Another component of that is to explain decisions, rather than to blow the kid off with a ‘because I said so’. The other thing parents need to do is respect their offspring’s adult autonomy. You might not like your child’s choices, but you have to let him make them.

Third, not to pigeonhole people with disabilities. One of my characters has a physical impairment and excels at a profession that you’d never expect. I know amazing people who defy assumption. This is a highly personal issue for me. All four of my kids have health conditions and some people say incredibly cruel and ignorant things. I have heard all of the following:

“Your son J. can’t play at our house because he can’t see.”

“M. can’t come to my child’s birthday party because she’s diabetic.”

“K. can’t be on my Olympic trainee team because she has asthma.”

“What do you mean, D. wants a job? He’s blind!”

“You can’t play soccer with us because you can’t see the ball.”

“He can’t go to university because his working memory is impaired.”

“What CAN you do?”

Such comments cause a lot of grief, and the worst thing is, not one of them is true or fair.

I know a blind woman who holds her Doctorate and is Head of Social Work at her place of employment. She and her blind ex raised two sighted children. I know a Deaf lady who dances ballet. I know someone with Down’s Syndrome who graduated university. I know professional hockey players who are diabetic.

The vast majority of so-called disabled people are able!

Lissa: If you could have one wish as a writer, what would that be? 

J. Molly: That’s a really hard question. It’s more of a prayer, actually. I think… I would have a very difficult time if I got dementia or had a condition that limited my ability to think or communicate. I pray I never have to go through that. I watched my Grammie fade from a sharp-witted, fun Englishwoman into someone who didn’t remember me and couldn’t speak due to Parkinson’s and several strokes. Then, my father-in-law battled overwhelming health problems until he was bedridden and mentally confused. He also had Parkinson’s. It’s a slow decline and they got so upset when they couldn’t make sense of things. It’s a terrible disease. Any condition that made me “not me”, or any condition that trapped me inside an unresponsive body, that would be hell.

Lissa: 100 years in the future, someone is writing a biography of you. What’s one line you’d hope was included?

J. Molly: Um…I really hope I can live up to this. LOL. “She used love as a verb; she was kind and she taught kindness to her children.” Nothing else matters. Not wealth, celebrity, talent, beauty, power, intelligence, wit or righteousness. Kindness is my unit of measure.

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Thank you, J. Molly!

J. Molly Brown's first novel is in the early stages with a publisher. In the meantime, you can read her stories here.
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15 comments:

  1. Congratulations on this fantastic interview!!!

    - Raum

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    1. Thank you! Jess is a fun interview subject.

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    2. *blushes* It was fun chatting with you. Lissa asks great questions; the kind of questions that a writer enjoys answering.

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  2. This was amazing, Jess and Lissa! I feel like I got to know both of you better and, though I didn't think it possible, adore you more.

    Can't wait to see MOM in print!! Moo :-)

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    1. Thanks, Denise. And MOO!

      *snickers* People are going to be very curious about our mooing, aren't they? LOl

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    2. Ooh! Let's pretend it's like a secret handshake for some mysterious and slightly sinister writer's society.

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    3. I like it! All those intent upon world domination? Please moo.

      If my girls and I ever get together for coffee, the world is in trouble. Mwah hah hah hah hah.

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    4. Hey, that screen CAPTCHA was kinda creepy: "tyingupSon". Does somebody sit there inventing them, or is it a bot, sneakily waiting for humanity to pull itself into the abyss?

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  3. Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by, Melissa. Glad you enjoyed it :)

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  4. Congrat, not always the interviewer can draw the best from the interviewed ... so many are so lame - and professional journalists are often the worst
    Camilla

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    1. The credit belongs to Jess. She's very easy to talk to.

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    2. Aw, I dunno, Lissa. Maybe you're the next Barbara Walters.

      Laura, the best journalists are the ones who do their research on the person being interviewed, and don't just ask stock questions :)

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