Jodi Perkins is a middle school teacher moonlighting as a writer of contemporary fantasy, mythology, and dystopian fiction. She lives with her hubby and two kids in a foggy little mountain town that could be the setting for a horror flick. In addition to roughing out stories, Jodi loves painting and drawing, feeding the squirrels, shooting her compound bow (usually not at the squirrels), camping, sunbathing, growing things, reading, and staying up way too late. Her dream is to write full-time someday.
She also gets a little freaked out referring to herself in the third person.
Chasing Echoes is her first series. Also, Chasing Echoes has been published in Greek by Celene Publishing. Visit jodiperkins.com to learn more.
Jodi, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. Would you like us to start by telling us about yourself?
No problem Christine, thanks for inviting me to be interviewed!
So, when did you realize you wanted to become an author and how you stayed motivated to achieve this?
I wish I could say a bright light bulb went off the day I realized I wanted to be an author, but it was never anything that obvious. Writing is simply something I’ve been passionate about since I was a kid. As a teen I always kept a journal, and by the end of high school I ended up with thirteen of them.
In 2007, I read a short personal narrative aloud to my students, and they loved it so much that they convinced me to submit it to True Story magazine (remember that magazine? Our grandmothers used to read it).
The magazine purchased the story for $100 and published it in their May 2008 edition. That’s definitely not enough money to write home about, but I was pumped! It was the first time I was ever paid to write, and it fueled me to start drafting my first book. It took me three years to write my first manuscript, but luckily I had my family, friends, and students to push me to the finish line.
(Laughing) I do remember it! That’s great, Jodi! Those were the first money you made as a writer. I hope you gave a good grade to your students after that. :p What were the things you found difficult while writing your first book and how did you get over them?
Life got in the way a lot. A new teaching job, young kids, etc. I also chose a tricky story line that I would never recommend for first-time authors. Because my book involves a time loop, the story doesn’t progress linearly from beginning to end like a normal book. Not only did this require me to keep track of important details/landmarks in each timeline, but I had to make sure the reader would get a unique experience every time the characters cycled to prevent the narrative from sounding repetitive.
But I’d say the most difficult thing about writing a first book is– you don’t know how to write a book until you’ve written a book. You have to go through the entire experience from the first page until the last, then rewrite the whole dang thing once you’ve finally figured out what you’re doing. Sometimes your own self-doubt can be crippling. I got over these challenges by leaning on other writers for support. I joined writing groups and read lots of articles/blogs from writers like me who’d gone through similar experiences. Knowing that the things I was experiencing were normal helped a lot.
I had to rewrite my first book three times. The second time the only thing that remained the same was the characters and their abilities, so I feel you sister! In your opinion, what are the qualities that make a good story?
Whatever keeps those pages turning! Likable and/or relatable characters are a must. When I’m reading a book, my love (and fear) for the characters will keep me reading until the wee hours of the morning. But equally important is a strongly-defined conflict. What is the protagonist’s main goal? What’s preventing him/her from reaching it? Then you simply raise the stakes as the novel progresses. In Chasing Echoes, Stryder and Taz could have easily been trapped in a twenty-day time loop that never changed (like Groundhog Day), and it would have still been an interesting story.
But I knew if I wanted the book to be ‘unputdownable’, I needed to throw more obstacles in their path. Give them more opportunities to fail, you know? So, I started dropping days from their loops to give the characters a deadline–a race to the finish. We see a similar method employed in Back to the Future. It was already challenging enough when Marty’s body starts to fade as he comes closer to erasing his own existence, but on top of that, he must harness one perfectly-timed strike of lightning to reach his happily ever after. In my experience, giving a time limit to resolving the conflict raises the stakes and keeps those pages turning.
You certainly had me reading your books for hours non-stop! Do you think that reading books helps writers and aspiring authors become better?
Yes, but only if you’re reading mine. 😉 – (Laughing)
Okay, but seriously, reading books can definitely help writers refine their craft. Great books teach writers what works; mediocre or poorly-written books allow writers to see what cliches and pitfalls to avoid. It’s just important to avoid the comparison game. You’re your own writer. Your voice and style will be different than others, and that’s a good thing.
Another cautionary tale: Most authors are booklovers but reading books can be the best stalling tactic in the world to not write your own. Writers will lose days, weeks, months, etc., avoiding their own manuscripts due to being in the throes of a fantasy world…so watch out for that.
I have never thought about it (I’m having a revelation moment right now…) Okay it is over… I think? What is a typical writing day for you?
I have a ‘she shed’ (“Springfluff Manor”) that I escape to when I’m wanting to get some serious writing done. I walk in, get my music playing, and away I go! My average writing sprint is probably about 3-5 hours. I try not to go longer than that because my eyeballs start feeling like they might fall out, plus weekends are family time. I don’t usually write during the week because…day job.
And still you managed to pull off successfully such a difficult and amazing book series! Do you have any particular writing “quirks”?
I drink wine while writing (though in desperate times I’ll sub the wine for whiskey). It loosens me up just enough, so I don’t second guess everything I’m putting down on paper. Like Ernest Hemingway said: “Write drunk, edit sober.”
I also keep emergency chocolate on hand because munching on chocolate helps me conquer tricky scenes. (That’s totally a lie but I love chocolate and am really trying to justify it).
Amen to that! Is there any particular time of the day you feel more inspired to write?
Early afternoon, between lunchtime and dinnertime. That way when I start writing, I’m not distracted by a growling belly (or drinking wine on an empty stomach), plus if I’m in the throes of a particularly long writing binge, dinner gets to be the light at the end of the tunnel. I get a lot of ideas late at night though, so I do a lot of note taking and outlining at night.
I always wonder, what is it about night and inspiration? Not to mention the times I refused to get out of bed to write the ideas, and the next day I had forgotten them… How do you get the inspiration for the titles of your books and the names of your characters?
For characters, the first name that pops up in my head ends up being the character’s ‘placeholder’ name. I’ll start writing the novel using the placeholder name with the intention of changing it to a more thoughtful choice later. The problem is by the time I get 20% into the manuscript, the placeholder-name has stuck. It’s like trying to change your child’s name once they’re already two years old. It’s kind of a thorn in my side, actually, as I have some characters whose names I don’t care for (believe it or not, Taz is one of them).
The titles of my books come from something within the book. My titles don’t have to capture the theme of the whole book, they just need to be visual. The title Chasing Echoes is referring to a line near the end of the novel, when Taz thinks “…we were chasing our own echoes, left wading in their uncertain wake.” The title Black Lilies has two important references in the novel. One is when Kade’s shadow is cast across the lilies at the memorial, steeping them in black. The other is when Krystal discovers the snapdragons and lilies in Pendulum Square have started dying after her sisters have gone missing.
Do you plan your story excessively or do you start writing and figure things out in the process?
I don’t start writing a story until I know what the inciting event is (i.e. what triggers the conflict?), and how the story will end (how does the conflict get resolved?). If I don’t know these things in advance, I just know I’ll get 30K words in and realize I have no idea where the story is going or find that I’ve written myself into a corner. I also like to know at least one or two obstacles that will stand between the protagonist and his/her goal. Once I know these things, that’s enough for me to start the novel. I don’t outline each chapter in advance, but I do outline the ‘next’ chapter once I’m finished with the current one.
That was really helpful! What do you think are the things aspiring authors should watch out for when dealing with plot and character development?
Readers get bored with one-dimensional characters, so if you’re an aspiring author, be sure to give your characters layers. In real life people aren’t simply all good or all bad–humans are complex, and your characters (especially your protagonist) should reflect that.
For plot, watch out for clichés and overused tropes. If you love the story Cinderella and want to write your own rags-to-riches story–go for it! The trick is to put your own original twist on it. One way to do this is come up with a hybrid story. I.e. What would it look like if Cinderella’s story were mashed with “The Princess and the Frog”? Boom, you’ve got yourself a fun, new plot. Another great way to liven up a tired trope is by asking ‘what if’ questions.
Marissa Meyer illustrates this perfectly with her novel Cinder, in which she explores the question “What if Cinderella was a cyborg living in a dystopian future?” Anita Valle also does this well in her novella, Sinful Cinderella, which explores the question “What if Cinderella was actually the bad guy all along?” By asking yourself these questions, you open up the door to exciting, new story concepts and avoid falling into the Tired Trope Trap.
Seriously, have you ever thought of teaching creative writing (winks)? Do you think a book should be judged by its cover?
Sometimes. There’s no way the entire world within a novel can possibly be captured by one cover, but if a book cover looks cheap and/or unprofessional, that can be a red flag that the author or publisher probably didn’t bother with professional editing either, which can affect the quality of the reading experience. So while I think readers should be open-minded to a wide variety of covers, I think it’s also okay to be a little discriminate in avoiding books whose covers are a hot mess. That being said, I’ve read some amazing books that had mediocre covers, and in those cases I’m glad I took that leap of faith.
Did you ever have writer’s block and if so, how did you get past it?
Any writer who says they’ve never had writer’s block is lying. 😉 Yes, I’ve definitely had writer’s block. I get past it with wine. A change of environment helps a lot too, something as simple as writing outside on the patio instead of indoors.
Indeed, I think a writer’s block is a must or something when writing. What are the scenes you find most difficult to write and which are the easiest ones?
Fight scenes are the hardest for me to write. Recently I wrote a scene in which seven people were all trying to get a pistol away from a bad guy, and they end up in a dogpile in front of a clocktower. During the scene I struggled with body mechanics and the positions of everyone’s limbs…who should be elbowing who, that kind of thing. The easiest scenes for me to write are ones that involve humor. I love it when things are getting kind of heavy in my manuscript and I now have an opportunity to add in some quick comic relief to ease the tension.
Could you describe your reaction and feelings when you saw your first book published?
It was exciting, but also scary and overwhelming. Overwhelming because a lot of work goes into the release of a book. Keeping up with social media alone that first week is a part-time job (especially when you’re working a full-time job). Scary, because I was nervous about other people reading my book. Publishing a book for the first time is a very vulnerable thing. Like that expression says, “Don’t mind me, I’m just a writer, bleeding my soul over these pages and hoping you’ll like it.” (Okay, that is so not how the expression goes but I can’t remember the real one).
It can be a bit daunting at first, but you succeeded beautifully the truth is. Could you describe the personality traits of your perfect hero and heroine?
I don’t think there’s a specific list that makes a great hero/heroine, but I will say that a good protagonist is the opposite of a one-dimensional Mary Sue. S/he must be relatable, layered, and flawed. Disney’s Cinderella (1950) would never make the cut. 😉 If you start off with a perfect protagonist, you leave no room for character growth. The same is true for your villains. You want your villains to be formidable forces for your protagonists to overcome, but you also want them to have strong and understandable motives for their actions. A character who’s evil just for the sake of being evil is boring.
As an indie author, in your opinion, what are the opportunities and drawbacks of independent publishing that aspiring authors should watch out and/or plan better for?
Indie publishing offers more freedom to authors. You get to choose your own book covers, the direction for your sequels, deadlines, etc. You also get to keep a larger percent of your royalties. The biggest drawback is independent publishing doesn’t have the amazing reach that characterizes traditional publishing (especially the big five). Your book will not magically be ‘found’ on Amazon–you have to do your own marketing, and with millions of books out there, it takes a lot of work to get your novel noticed.
In your experience, what are the faults of traditional publishing that have pushed authors to take matters into their own hands and as a result, what are the changes that should be made in traditional publishing?
Traditional publishers keep a much higher percent of your royalties and own all rights to your book. You may have written that beautiful novel, but it’s no longer yours, and you have no say in any decisions made. But that fault is easily overcome by the fact that traditional publishers have an amazing reach that you simply don’t see in indie publishing, including the ability to get your book into the brick and mortar bookstores. So I’d say the biggest flaw of traditional publishing is how competitive it is to get your manuscript read. Aspiring authors can spend years (if not decades) sending out query letters and praying that someone important will pull their manuscript out of a slush pile. A lot of these writers never get to see their dream of holding their own book realized. Still, despite the fact that the road to traditional publishing might be riddled with hope and heartbreak, you might strike gold if you make it! There are tons of articles discussing the pros and cons of independent and traditional publishing, so aspiring authors should be sure to do their research before deciding which route to take.
Wow, you have amazing and with to the point insights. Aside from writing, what are your hobbies and passions?
I live in a woodsy mountain, and I love being outside so much that I probably have 28 places to sit in my yard. But aside from just sitting around (haha), I’ve discovered a love for gardening. Damn I sound like an old lady. But gardening is amazing! My husband put together an awesome little greenhouse so I can grow flowers and veggies without worrying about the local critters gobbling up everything.
I also enjoy painting and drawing here and there, archery, camping, vacationing with my extended family, sunbathing with my twin sis and mama, wine tastings at the local vineyard, and reading. I’m a big sucker for animals, too. Our home is basically a nuthouse since we feed peanuts to the fat, gray, neighborhood squirrels all day.
Squirrels must be a lot of fun! What is your advice to someone who wants to become an author?
In the words of Nike, just do it.
Would you like to tell us more about your books?
Chasing Echoes examines the question, “What if you were forced to repeat the same twenty days of your life over and over with someone you hate?” The book can be read as a stand alone, but it is part of a trilogy in case readers want to continue a journey of magic and self-discovery with the Aevos sisters. The second book, Black Lilies, is out now, and book 3 is expected to be released summer 2021. To learn more about my books, feel free to visit: jodiperkins.com.
Thanks once again, Jodi, for agreeing to this interview!