Name: Jana DeLeon
Author Website: http://janadeleon.com
Based In: Louisiana
Education: B.S. in Accounting
Briefly: Author of:
Miss Fortune Series
Nine books for Harlequin Intrigue
New York Times and USA Today bestseller
Two RT Reviewers Choice Awards
Favorite Read: Everything by Agatha Christie
Pet Peeves: People who can’t drive, Bad service
If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…a Formula One driver
Author Crush: Gillian Flynn. She’s brilliant.
Fiction or General Publishing How-To Book You’d Recommend: The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing
Up Next: Missing in Mudbug releases December 2013.
When you think of books, and when you think of your childhood, what comes to mind?
Sitting in the hammock on the pier over the bayou, spending the entire day reading.
You were raised in southwest Louisiana. Had you been raised elsewhere, do you think your fascination with bayou settings would still hold?
No. In order to truly understand and accurately portray the bayous of Louisiana, I believe you need to have spent a considerable amount of time there.
Fortune Redding, the heroine of your Fortune mysteries series…was she inspired by someone in particular?
No. Just who I might be if I had taken a different career route—and bothered to exercise. [Laughter]
What’s your advice to writers on how they can craft a character like Ms. Redding…the sort of character who can carry an entire series?
The character has to be three-dimensional. My books are heavily action based and full of humor, but Fortune works because she has backstory and issues. She’s instantly sympathetic because she’s a fish out of water. Donald Maas’s book Writing the Breakout Novel has great coverage on creating memorable characters. I highly recommend it to writers.
What’s your writing process like for these books?
Oh Lord, writers everywhere are about to cringe. I am a total pantster. I don’t plot. Ever. I start with an inciting incident, like “what if a CIA assassin had to hide in a small bayou town?” Then I start writing and as I write, the characters develop and the plot comes. Sometimes I write scenes completely out of order and have to bridge them to each other. Sometimes I have no idea who committed the crime or change my mind over halfway through the book. I often go back and thread clues and layers because I come up with much better plot twists as I’m writing. For me, writing a book is a leap of faith that the plot, character development and humor will simply be there when I sit down to work.
Do you have any tips on how authors enhance their mystery novel writing?
I never studied writing mysteries in particular. I have researched DNA, forensics, police procedure, etc. as needed. But I honestly think the best people to write mysteries are the ones that are naturally suspicious and that is me to a T. I always notice when things are off or simply don’t fit. I like to watch people and it’s often easy to gauge their behavior. I think this natural ability and curiosity are what make mysteries a good fit for me.
You created an entire set of romance-mysteries for Harlequin Intrigue…the Mystere Parish intrigue series. Having had created two different series…what lessons have you learned about author branding from these series?
My books for Harlequin and my humor books are clearly two totally different styles. The Harlequin books are what I would describe as gothic-lite, a completely different feel than my humorous works. But they are all set in small bayou towns and have characters and mysteries that readers are drawn to. The bayou setting is my brand and it worked well across two different styles. Readership for my humorous books increased by 40 percent when my first Harlequin released, so the crossover audience was there.
Have you ever had plotting issues when writing your mysteries?
Oh, all the time. Because I’m a pantster anything goes while I’m writing, and I change my mind quite often. Sometimes I get completely stuck. I simply can’t figure out who did it and/or why and the things that would have led up to such actions.
How do you resolve them?
When I’m truly stuck, I stop writing and start doing physical things—organizing closets, woodworking—anything but sitting at the computer and staring at the screen. I find that physical activity makes my creative mind unlock. It may take days or even weeks, but eventually it all works it way out and then I’m back to the computer.
What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
Self-publishing has allowed me to live my dream of writing full-time. But it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. I had several books published by traditional houses and already had established readership before I self-published. I also started with five backlist books, which made it much easier to get things rolling quickly. For me, it’s the best thing that could have ever happened, but for someone who does not yet know technique and has no desire to work long hours on both writing and running the business, they may be disappointed with their earnings.
What are some of the things you wished you had known before you got into publishing?
My writing career has been really good, but I was fortunate to find mentors early on who guided me through things. The biggest mistake I made was in not building my newsletter subscriptions earlier than I did. This year, I did a lot of traveling, and for me, I have found that book signings are not the best use of my time. Also, I have asthma and tend to get sick every time I travel, which decreases productivity. So next year, I’m cutting WAY back. But other authors may find book signings an excellent use of their time. The great thing about indie publishing is there is no one right way to do anything.