MJN: Congratulations on making Amazon #1 bestseller! You must've done something right. I see you published your book independently. Do you think that the editorial decisions you made contributed to your success? I am sure any publisher would scoop you up in a second. Do you believe you can achieve better sales by doing it on your own?
SJ: The paperback version was originally published via a small press but I had the e-book and audiobooks rights and published the e-book and audio versions independently. At this time and with this current market, I prefer working on my own. I am very much an entrepreneur and I like having control of everything from the cover design, to the editing, to the pricing. I do believe that over the long term, I can achieve better sales on my own. I've built up a huge social networking following, on Twitter in particular, and I have databases full of blogger and reviewer contacts. I have a strong network of authors that I do joint promotions with from time-to-time. I believe that series authors have the most to gain from the indie publishing market, so I am going in that direction with my new Storybook Valley series. Developing that series will be one of my priorities this year, and hopefully sales of those books will continue to get my name out there and drive sales to my backlist. I think it's a combination of editorial decisions and marketing decisions that contribute to an indie author's success.
MJN: You seem to have found the sweet spot, that delicate balance between lightness and depth. Through the picaresque veneer I can detect elements of social satire. Your story is like a candy in a bright pastel wrapper with a bitter filling. What is your secret for finding that balance?
SJ: I love that comparison! I was just talking about that balance with an editing client the other day. I want to write books that first and foremost entertain readers and take them away from the stress of their daily lives. Sink or Swim is a cozy mystery novel with a touch of romance and the reality TV show element adds a fun element to it. However, I think the reality TV craze is a bit much and while some shows are great (I love Dancing With the Stars!), some reality shows are just absurd and obviously staged. I explored that theme in Sink or Swim, about how being on a reality show and becoming a celebrity affected my character Cassidy, and how fame isn't what she expected. My secret for all my books is 1. telling an entertaining story, either suspenseful for my mysteries or light and sparkly for my Storybook Valley series; and 2. using my Characters at a Crossroads theme, which is explained on my web site, but in a nutshell it's that my protagonists are at a turning point or crossroads in their lives where they can either continue down the same familiar but unrewarding path, or take a risk and venture down a new path.
MJN: The story begins with the main character Cassidy Novak going on a reality show with a symbolic name Sink or Swim. Which elements of modern culture make you cringe?
SJ: I am a former newspaper reporter and I hate how the media plays up bad news so much. I was a feature writer, and I was getting assigned fewer and fewer features, so I left newspapers. I don't even watch the news at night, and just fast forward to the weather. Another sore spot with me is children using social media. I think it's okay if parents monitor their children's private accounts and the kids are only networking with close friends, however the reality is that many kids are pouring out their personal lives to hundreds or thousands of strangers, and they think these people are their friends. It's no wonder there is so much cyberbullying.
MJN: I know it's not something that many women open up about, but having a stalker is not something out of the ordinary. In the day of social media, there is more than one way to be stalked. It doesn't have to be a creepy person in your driveway. I also heard a secret confession that having a stalker is both disturbing and flattering. Some women actually enjoy it. Would you agree?
SJ: I can't imagine the average woman being flattered to have an actual stalker, but I'll bet they would feel flattered to be the subject of a harmless crush. If a woman gets asked out or gets whistled at when walking down the street, I think there could be an element of flattery even if she is not interested. But with a stalker, I think a more common reaction would be why me, and leave me alone! I'm referring to the average woman, though. There are celebrities who thrive on being the center of attention and if they are wealthy enough to have bodyguards who make them feel secure, I could see them thinking obsessed fans are a positive thing.
MJN: I know you have a line for young adults. As a writer, I've always struggled to understand the limitations and rules of the genre. Can you shed some more light on it? What constitutes a young adult nowadays? It seems like many people are stuck in that phase well into their 30s. It also seems to me that modern teens are plagued by different problems and concerns than their peers 20-some years ago.
SJ: I write my young adult novels for ages 12 to 17, though my hockey novel Face-Off has been read by kids as young as nine. My paranormal teen thriller Dark Before Dawn is written in the style of Lois Duncan, a bestselling author from when I was growing up. But you're right, the young adult genre as a whole is very different than it was in the past. Look at the Twilight and Hunger Games series and how many adults love those books. There is also a New Adult category, with protagonists in the 18-25 age bracket. New Adult fiction tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality, and negotiating education and career choice, and it's considered to be a cross-over category of young-adult titles that appeal to both the YA market and to an adult audience. However, some of those novels are very sexually explicit and I wouldn't want a 13 year old reading a graphic New Adult novel. I think in some ways, young adult themes from generation-to-generation are similar, like fitting in and accepting yourself regardless of what others think. Those themes are the backbone of Dark Before Dawn. But authors nowadays have to demonstrate these themes in a way that is believable to today's kids. Teens today are Internet savvy, scoff at land-line phones, text all the time, and are active on social media.