Teatime Ten: Jennifer Becton

Jennifer Becton (aka JW Becton) has made quite a splash recently in the independent publishing world.  Her newest thriller, Absolute Liability, the first in the Southern Fraud series, is holding steady in the top 100 at Amazon.com!  
 
While at the same time, Jennifer is treating the Austenesque world to the continuances of the lives of Jane Austen's characters from Pride and Prejudice: with Charlotte Collins, and the forthcoming Caroline Bingley (as well as a short story about Maria Lucas!).  Jennifer is also the owner and founder of Whiteley Press, an an avid supporter of independent publishing (you can check out her many guest blogs from here).

Fortunately, Jennifer is a generous woman, and took some time to sit down with us for the Teatime Ten.
Hello and welcome to the Teatime Ten!  And congratulations taking the leap into being a full-time author - and your success in doing so!  Tell us a little bit about what brought you to this exciting (and nail-biting) decision?  How are things going so far?

Thank you for inviting me to the Teatime Ten! This is fun! And so are the changes taking place in my life right now. For more than thirteen years, I’ve worked as a freelance editor, and I’ve had one long-term contract, along with numerous other short-term projects. I’ve always loved my job, but I just don’t have time to edit and also write books at the pace I’d like.

Right now, I’m still transitioning from my former role, so nothing much has changed, but I’m looking forward to finding a bit more balance in my life.

You first burst on the scene with your Austenesque retellings Charlotte Collins, “Maria Lucas” (yay!) and the forthcoming Caroline Bingley.  What draws you to these women?  What theme carries them together?

Jane Austen’s minor characters are fantastic. There’s just no other way to put it. I was drawn to Charlotte and Caroline because they are examples of women who succumbed to unpleasant Regency social norms in ways that Elizabeth Bennet refused to do. Elizabeth certainly understood the pressures to marry, and she neither wanted to become a burden on her family, as Charlotte feared, or to hide her family’s low connections by social climbing, as Caroline Bingley sought to do. Charlotte married Mr. Collins because she felt she had no other option for a secure future, and Caroline aspired to Mr. Darcy because, though she was wealthy, she was also the product of trade and was desperate to shed herself of its association. I wanted to give both Charlotte and Caroline the chance to make a different decision.

3) It's no secret that although you've written continuations of Pride and Prejudice, the Austen novel you love best is Persuasion!  If you were to begin a Persuasion-based novel tomorrow, what do you think it might revolve around?

To be honest, I don’t think I would write Persuasion-based novel. The minor characters in Pride and Prejudice came alive for me, and I wondered what might happen next, as if their stories weren’t quite complete yet. Persuasion seems to me to be a more finished novel. After all, the plot brought finality to Anne and Frederick’s love story, so it was almost as if Persuasion was the sequel to a novel that Austen never wrote. (Although, I'd argue, there's a novel in there - a prequel perhaps?  Any takers? - ed.)

When writing continuations of Austen's work, what mannerisms of hers do you strive to retain?  What -isms of your own do you find creep through?

I really don’t try to replicate Austen—it’s impossible—so there’s a lot of me in my continuations. I do not retain her spelling, punctuation, or capitalization preferences; I write in modern English according to modern style guides. In fact, I rarely ever quote Austen in my sequels. I do, however, try to provide a Jane Austen experience by doing my best to be true to her ironic, witty tone and her humor and to focus on the themes she found important: money, marriage, and friendship. I also try to respect the characters she created while also allowing them to grow as a result of the action in Pride and Prejudice.
 
You recently launched a new, original mystery series, Absolute Liability which has taken off like gangbusters!  (Insert virtual parade here.)  Tell us a little bit about the inspiration for the novel and what we can expect to see in the remainder of the series.

I am thrilled and thankful that readers seem to enjoy Absolute Liability. I’ve always wanted to write a murder mystery (and a spy novel, but that’s another story), but I wanted to feature a different type of law enforcement officer as a main character. (As you know, I like to go about things a bit sideways.) And I wanted to write it in a way that mimicked episodic TV series, which originally fostered my love of mysteries and thrillers. So, I chose to focus on Julia Jackson, an insurance fraud investigator for the state of Georgia, and to give her a long-term personal mystery to solve. Each novel will feature at least one strange case of insurance fraud that Julia and her partner Mark Vincent must investigate—and insurance fraud cases are some of the wackiest out there—and will also bring her one step closer to bringing her sister’s rapist to justice.

It can be quite a leap from writing the straight-forward plots of historical romances to the convolutions, concealments and reveals of a mystery.  Where did you find the two genres overlapped thematically or structurally?  What challenges did each genre present in the writing process?  What challenges and rewards did genre-hopping present your approach to marketing (e.g., your well-named pseudo-pseudonym!).

As my friend and writing mentor lately told me, all good books have elements of many genres in them. My Austen-inspired historical romances have a bit of mystery, and my thriller series has a bit of romance. The only difference is the concentration. And the setting.

When I first began my mystery, I believed it was about tricking the audience, and I worked myself into a frenzy trying to be clever. But then I realized that’s not true. Yes, misdirection exists, but my primary goal in writing a mystery is not trickery, but allowing the audience to watch as my character solves the crime in a logical fashion. Everyone should reach the same solution at the same time; otherwise, I haven’t been fair to my readers.

For my thrillers, I chose to use a pseudo-pseudonym (J. W. Becton) because they are so vastly different from my historical fiction. I did not want my readers to buy a thriller expecting a ton of romance, and conversely, I didn’t want anyone to buy an Austen sequel and expect gunplay. But I also did not want to hide my identity or lose the audience I had built as Jennifer Becton, Austen sequeler. A search of either name should yield a list of both genres of books.

I view genre hopping as a benefit to a writer. People don’t read in just one genre, so it makes sense that writers can also write in more than one. As far as marketing, the theory is that you can build two separate audiences, but also invite them to cross over to your other books. I hope some will find me as J. W. Becton and then try an Austen sequel, and maybe some Austen fans will give my thriller a try.

I have to confess that a few years ago, I was among those who didn't take e-publishing seriously.  Yet, recently there's been a seismic shift from looking at indie published books with a skeptical eye to a greater sense of entrepreneurial and pioneer spirit.  What do you think are the driving forces behind this brave new book world?  What hurdles still need to be overcome?  What would you say to those who are still doubtful?

A few years ago, I didn’t take self-publishing seriously either! Until recently, there just wasn’t a viable way to distribute effectively, but the ebook revolution has made it possible. And I am loving it! I see one main hurdle, which is the root of the doubt that still exists about this shift in the industry, and that is recognizing that self-publishing is actually a writer’s decision to take on all the tasks a publisher would normally perform: editing, proofing, interior design, cover design, and marketing. These tasks should be undertaken with the same care and professionalism of the largest publisher out there. It’s not just about self-uploading; it’s self-publishing. Putting out professional products will go a long way to assuaging the skeptics.
 
Among your many hats, you also run the publishing company, Whiteley Press.  What is the history behind Whiteley Press?  What do you have planned for it in the next few years?  And how do you juggle being both writer, editor, publisher and promoter?

I created Whiteley Press to show my potential readers that they should expect my books to be professionally done. I wanted to send the clear message that I view publishing as a business—my primary business—and not a hobby or side venture. Whiteley Press books are edited to the same standards and using the same process as most traditionally published works.

At the moment, Whiteley Press has published only my books, and I am planning on expanding slowly. My first expansion project is a nonfiction book about overcoming horseback riding fear that I had the honor of cowriting with Laura Daley, an expert horse and people trainer. After that, I’ve thought about anthologies, but I am considering various other avenues as they appear in this new book world.

Many of our readers are up-and-coming authors.  If you could give them six tips to publishing and promoting, what would they be?

1. Never give up. Work until you get lucky.
2. Write what you love. I’ve always taken the advice to write what you know too literally, so I say write what you love and learn what you don’t know. If I wrote literally only what I knew, I’d be limited, and having never killed anyone, I certainly wouldn’t be writing murder mysteries. Thrillers and mysteries are really about the conflict between good and evil, and I know about that. We all do.
3. Hire a proofreader. There’s little you can control about how a book will be received. You can’t make people like it, but you can make sure it is as free of grammar errors as possible.
4. Hire a cover artist. People judge books by their covers. Just sayin’.
5. Make friends on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Don’t look at social media outlets as places to sell, sell, sell. People don’t ever want to get the hard sell from an author, but they do want to know you are a real person and not some kind of literary cyborg.
6. Be professional. In all your interactions and choices, remember that you are in the public eye. What you do and say, even on the internet, will either help or hurt you. So act like the professional that you are.

Finally, what's next for Jennifer Becton?

Caroline Bingley will be out in the coming days, and the first chapter is already available on my website. Death Benefits (Southern Fraud 2) will be released in January 2012.

Thanks so much!

Thank you for inviting me, and I look forward to reading your Col. Fitzwilliam novel soon!


Jennifer Becton is a prolific author, and owner of the publishing house, Whiteley Press.  She hails from the Charlotte, North Carolina area.  You can learn more about Jennifer at her official site or JWBecton.com.


You can follow Jennifer on Facebook, and Twitter.

You can also buy her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashswords.

Comments

  1. Excellent interview, ladies. Emily, I'm really enjoying your Teatime Ten series--this is a great way to find out just a little bit more about some of these people I'm getting to know.

    Jennifer, I can honestly say I'm one of the readers you crossed over. I don't read much in the way of mysteries any more (largely because none of them were intelligent enough to keep my interest). I picked up Absolute Liability only because you wrote it. Now I'm anxiously waiting for the rest of the series, and hoping you can direct me toward other authors with a similar style and voice.

    And as for Wentworth, Emily... He's on my list, and it's definitely a prequel. The Missing Years of Captain Wentworth.

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  2. Thanks for the opportunity to share here on your blog, Emily! I really enjoyed your questions.

    Nancy, I appreciate your willingness to try one of my thrillers. I also had largely given up reading in the genre because I couldn't find books that I liked. For example, I do like a light tone, but that doesn't mean I want my heroine to be an idiot or the plot to be totally wacky. I didn't understand why there was such a gap between idiot female detectives and hardboiled ones. I wanted to write in-between.

    PS. Looking forward to your Wentworth novel!

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  3. I enjoyed Absolute Liability. I really liked Mark Vincent. I'm tired of the standard issue hero that gets tiresome by Chapter 3. You are letting us get to know him slowly. Another great element of mystery.

    Anyway, I definitely disagree about Anne and Frederick. I'm still scratching around in that patch and probably will, in some form or fashion, for a long time.

    I like Jennifer's style in writing and publishing, and Emily, the interviews are great.

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  4. I'm glad so many seem to disagree about Anne and Frederick, and I hope to see lots of sequels and prequels out there to prove me wrong.

    Perhaps I should have said that I'm personally not interested in writing a Persuasion sequel, but someone else could do a great job with it. :)

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  5. PS. Susan, thank you for reading Absolute Liability. I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

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  6. Great interview! Thanks for sharing! I was just talking with someone yesterday about not having to write what you know/have personal experience with. There are fairies in my book for goodness sake ;)

    Cannot wait for the next Southern Fraud book. . . and for Caroline Bingley! So excited!

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  7. The Super Secret Sale of Caroline Bingley and other fun stuff is Friday! The official launch is Saturday! Yay!

    Wait, I thought fairies WERE real.

    :)

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  8. I love people taking on the challenge of Wentworth! Fitzwilliams have duelled; can the Wentworths fire cannons, ladies? (My own humble offering is in "Letters of Love & Deception.)

    And Jessica, personally...I DO BELIEVE IN FAIRIES! I DO! I DO! (You're welcome, Tink. ;)

    Jennifer - and ALL who've participated so far in the Teatime Ten - thank *you.* It's a pleasure to be allowed to pick your brains. (And I haven't yet read the Southern Fraud series, for much the same reasons as Nancy, but from what Susan wrote, I suspect that will soon change!)

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  9. Thanks for the invitation, Emily. It was fun! And now I'm all excited to see what everyone does with Anne and Frederick, and I must check out your Letters.

    So much fun reading, so little time!

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  10. Love this interview! Emily, you did such a great job with the questions, and Jennifer, your answers were great! I truly felt like we were sitting at a table talking! You ladies are awesome!,

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  11. Thanks, Jakki! Emily was an excellent interviewer with really good questions.

    Oh, and did I mention that my Super Secret Sale is this Friday? :)

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