Jennie Lucas had a tragic beginning for any would-be writer: a very happy childhood. Her parents owned a bookstore, and she grew up surrounded by books, dreaming about faraway lands. Her mother read aloud to her in French when she was little; when she was ten, her father secretly paid her a dollar for every classic novel (Jane Eyre, War and Peace) that she read. As a chubby teenager, Jennie covered her bedroom with travel posters and always had her nose in a book.
At fifteen, she went to a Connecticut boarding school on scholarship. She took her first solo trip to Europe at sixteen, then put off college and traveled around the U.S., supporting herself with jobs as diverse as gas station cashier and newspaper advertising assistant.
At 22, she met the man who would be her husband. For the first time in her life, she wanted to stay in one place, as long as she could be with him. After their marriage, she graduated from Kent State University with a degree in English, and started writing books a year later.
Jennie was a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart contest in 2003 and won the award in 2005. A fellow 2003 finalist, Australian author Trish Morey, read Jennie’s writing and told her that she should write for Harlequin Presents. It seemed like too big a dream, but Jennie took a deep breath and went for it. A year later, after seven years of writing and eight finished manuscripts, Jennie got the magical call from London that turned her into a published author.
Since then, life has been hectic, juggling a writing career, a sexy husband and two young children, but Jennie loves her crazy, chaotic life. Who needs a clean house? Every day, Jennie gets swept into drama, glamour and passion. Now if she can only figure out how to pack up her family and live in all the places she’s writing about!
Romance Bandits interviews Jennie. See the interview to
find out more about the exotic world of Jennie Lucas. (posted April
Why do you write romance?
I’m kind of scratching my head over this question, because I can’t imagine writing anything else! Ever since I discovered my mother’s old copy of The
Flame and the Flower, I’ve been hooked on the mystery, thrill and wonder of love.
I’ll admit I’m a book snob. I was an English major in college, where I learned to detest “literary” fiction, those depressing stories where everyone is miserable and things only change from bad to worse. Yuck. I’d rather go to the dentist than read books like that, thanks!
Besides, the most popular classic works, from Shakespeare to Dickens, were not originally written to instruct the snooty, sanctimonious “literary” crowd—they were created to entertain the masses. Masses like me. I want adventure. I want passion. Most of all, I want hope—to believe we can all learn from our mistakes, to fight for what is right, to live happily ever after.
I have an idea – do you want to turn it into a book and we’ll split the profits?
Ooh, this famous question!
Believe it or not, ideas are the easy part. I get more ideas than I even have time to use. It’s threading those ideas into a cohesive plot structure, and writing the darn thing, that’s time-consuming. And it’s your voice that makes the story truly yours. So though I respectfully decline your offer, I encourage you to turn your own idea into a story. It could be the next bestseller. Who knows, maybe in a few years I’ll be buying your book along with everyone else, and kicking myself that I didn’t think of it first!
You write about such super high society. Are you super rich yourself?
Yes. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this on a diamond computer. From my chauffeured helicopter that is also made of diamonds.
Sorry… just couldn’t resist. I’m definitely not rich, but I’ve been around wealth. I attended a ritzy boarding school as a teenager (on a scholarship). And in spite of wealth and beauty and privilege, some of those kids were seriously screwed up. So money definitely isn’t everything.
But money can definitely be fun. Who wouldn’t want to fantasize about a love affair in a Roman villa, surrounded by Bulgari diamonds, red Ferraris and Chanel handbags? But wealth and glamour are just the sparkly, pretty wrapping paper around the truth of the love story. So although I’ve never actually owned a Ferrari (although I have posed with one), I’ve experienced the amazing things that love can do, and I bet you have too.
Jennie, you’re not a model, just a regular-looking mom of two. What’s up with all the high-fashion glossy photos?
Okay, I’ll admit that no one asked me this. I made it up. But I wanted to explain anyway.
I wanted my website to have a different look than anyone else’s. Doing a picture-intensive site did that. I was hoping to create a sophisticated—but very personal—look that would welcome readers to the richly romantic world of my stories.
And all right, I’ll admit it…hiring a photographer who has also done portraits of Angelina Jolie and Sir Anthony Hopkins was just wild. (You can see the whole story of my modeling day at the Pink Heart Society blog.)
I don’t usually look like these photos. As a busy mom, my appearance is my last priority. With two young children, half the time I don’t have a spare minute to properly comb my hair, much less put on lipstick. Wearing jeans is practically formalwear—a vast inprovement from my usual sloppy lounge pants and t-shirts.
But the day I was photographed, I felt like a princess. I felt like a star. It made facing the next day of laundry piles, of dirty dishes in the sink, etc., that much more endurable. For one day, I felt gorgeous, like I’d wandered into the glamorous world of one of my heroines, and it felt great! And I hope that reading my books, you get that same feeling for a gorgeous afternoon: intense, glamorous, romantic pleasure.
How do I sell a book?
I can only tell you how I did it.
I’ve wanted to write for Harlequin Mills & Boon for a long, looooong time. Right out of college, feeling confident and cocky about this whole writing thing, I wrote a short romance and submitted it. Harlequin rejected it.
(You gotta be kidding me! But I got an A in my fiction class! How could it be rejected?!)
Undaunted, I dug in and wrote a truly awful 500-page Tudor historical. I can’t say I even finished it, because it just kept getting longer and more bloated, so finally, in despair, I stuffed it under my bed and left gasping for air.
Next, I tried my hand at a Regency romance. I entered it in a few contests, and received very mediocre scores. (But how can my book be at the bottom of the second quadrant? Half are better and half are worse? What the heck is that supposed to tell me?)
Then I wrote a 400-page Medieval romance that finally had some success—it was a Golden Heart finalist! Harlequin Historicals, after requesting revisions on the full, ultimately declined.
Trying to increase my productivity on my fifth book, I quickly produced a new medieval romance that was just as swiftly rejected—via FORM LETTER! Ack!!
On my sixth book, weary of “the tight historical market” (read: tired of writing 400-page tomes that weren’t selling, and tired of researching stuff like horseshoes and fifteenth-century eating utensils) I wrote a 200-page sweet romance targeting Silhouette Romance. Silhouette requested revisions on the full manuscript!
Then, alas, rejected it.
But I still had hope. My seventh book, a sweet short contemporary that had just won the 2005 Golden Heart, had also been requested!
Two weeks after my sixth book was rejected, that book was rejected, too. After this last rejection, the Silhouette Romance line announced it was going to close up shop.
So did I.
It was easy to give up writing for awhile. I’d just had my first baby, so with what spare time I had, I read novels written by friends in Romance Writers of America. Then I read a book I adored by my Wet Noodle Posse pal Trish Morey: The Italian Boss’s Secret Child.
As soon as I finished the book, I ordered more of Trish’s books. Then other books in the Presents line. Jane Porter. Sandra Marton. Sarah Morgan. And more. I devoured them all. These books! They had all the immediacy and modern freshness of a contemporary—but with the passion, melodrama and (most importantly) the fierce alpha hero I loved.
Me, very quietly: I want to write a book like this.
Common sense: You’d be wasting your time. Harlequin Presents do not buy American authors.
Me (timidly): What about Jane Porter and Lucy Monroe?
Common sense: Those two have filled the American quota for the next twenty years. Don’t be stupid enough to even try. You’ll never sell. Never.
Me (almost a whisper—but defiantly): I’m not selling anyway, so I might as well have some fun!
It took me about nine months to write The Greek Billionaire’s Baby Revenge, and my common sense was kicking and yelling all the way. Halfway through, I decided to give up. Then Trish Morey (who’d read my first chapter) told me I couldn’t quit. She told me I had a Presents voice. So I finished the book.
At the RWA National conference in 2006, I pitched it to my dream agent, not expecting much of anything.
Then everything happened bewilderingly fast. Within a month, the agent had signed me. A month after that, I had a 2-book contract with Harlequin Presents.
After so many years of working with absolutely no payoff, I still can’t believe something so wonderful could happen!
So here’s my advice in a nutshell:
1. Write your heart out. As soon as you finish a book, start another one. Expect not to sell for five or seven or ten years. Maybe you’ll never sell at all—there are no guarantees. So make sure you enjoy writing so much you’d do it for free. Otherwise, you might as well go to med school and become a doctor—at least then it’s a sure thing to end up with glory and fortune!
2. Join RWA. Join your local chapter and go to meetings. Find the right critique partner. (Sometimes that can take awhile!) Enter contests. Enter the Golden Heart every year, with every finished book you’ve got. I know it’s expensive, but it’s the best investment I ever made. If I hadn’t won the Golden Heart, I might never have gotten the chance at an appointment with my agent.
3. Attend conferences and scope out potential agents and editors to figure out the one who would be the best fit for you and your goals. Do not grab the first one you see. Be patient. Take your time. Be picky about choosing an agent—after all, you wouldn’t randomly marry the first guy who agreed to take you out on a date, would you?
4. Don’t cold-send your precious full manuscripts blindly through the mail. Always pitch your book in person first, so the editors will have a reason to want to like it. After all the time you’ve spent writing your book, you want it to be read, and your best chance of that is to try to make a personal connection with the editor. (And remember, a pitch session is about being friendly, not about ramming every little plot detail down their throats!)
5. Finally, when you meet industry professionals, talk to them like they’re people. Chat. Hang out at the bar. Listen more than you talk.
And on that note, I’m done.
Jennie, how did you lose all the weight?
In high school, my idea of a hot Saturday night was a romance novel and three king-sized Snickers bars. I was a chubby teenager. Carbs have always been my middle name (Jennie “Carbs” Lucas), plus I’m an emotional eater. When I was 21, I ditched the whole crash diet/ binge routine, and instead just tried to eat only when I was hungry. I became less chubby, turning into a vaguely-normally-sized woman.
But when I first got pregnant a few years ago, all bets were off. Suddenly, refusing a second helping of Chunky Monkey ice cream seemed like an insult to my unborn child. For nine months straight, I went on a round-the-clock frenzy of blueberry pie, chicken-fried steak and chicken tikka masala. I tried to have some self-control, but…um….that didn’t work out.
Unsurprisingly, I gained 60 pounds with each of my two kids. But I lost the weight both times, and now weigh 10 pounds less than my pre-pregnancy weight! Here’s how I did it: the simple diet tricks that helped me drop seventy pounds in 2007.
Respect and like yourself now, thin or not. Remember you deserve love and respect and care from everyone, including yourself. Get your head in the game. When you start treating yourself with the same tender care you give your family, it’s easier to switch to healthier habits.
Get some sleep. Have you heard that sleep is the new sex? I used to think that was silly till I had kids. Now I get it! Sleeping for 12 hours straight might be a fantasy for most of us, but try to get at least 7. Otherwise, you’ll be eating Hostess cupcakes all day just to try to stumble through. Or maybe that’s just me.
Be a bad cook. Experts have found that the more variety is offered at a meal, the more calories people will consume. So serve the same boring meals over and over. It works. Sure, your family might complain, but they probably could stand to lose a few pounds, too!
Be lazy. Brush your teeth early—then you’ll skip that midnight snack, because who wants to go to all the trouble of brushing again? You could have that piece of chocolate cake—but ugh, who wants to drive all the way to the bakery? Make laziness your friend.
Have a drink, chérie. If you’re craving ice cream, you’re probably thirsty! Drink more water. Also enjoy sophisticated (and low-calorie) drinks like Perrier with lemon, exquisite Brazilian coffee or imported Earl Grey tea. My husband laughs at me because sometimes I’ll sit down with two or three drinks at once, like a little buffet. But guess what, my buffet only has 25 calories! BWAHAhahah.
Exercise for your real life. I lift 25 lb. weights constantly. I also sometimes take them on strolls to the park or push them in a swing. You don’t have to go to the gym—just add little tweaks to what you’re already doing! Take the stairs instead of the escalator. Park at the far end of the grocery store lot. Vacuum occasionally. Trust me, all the extra steps will add up.
Be hungry for breakfast. Eating breakfast is linked to a trimmer waistline, probably because if you’re hungry in the morning it means you didn’t pig out the night before! I try to eat lightish at night, and nothing after 9 p.m. Not because I have willpower, but because I greedily prefer to wake up hungry. Why? Breakfast tastes better that way.
Call in the cavalry. Diets don’t work long-term for me, but they can be a nice jump start. I went on Weight Watchers for two months last July to make sure I’d fit into my dress as a RITA presenter. (Nothing like knowing you’ll be on stage in front of 2,000 people!) Keeping track in the WW food journal helped me realize how much I was actually eating, which helped me improve my habits, even after I went off the diet. For instance, did you know that switching to skim milk and eating toast without butter can give you the approximate equivalent of an extra Snickers each day? YUM!!
Get on the scale every day before breakfast. Don’t take any particular number too seriously as weight can fluctuate, but always stay aware of the trend.
Never, ever clean your plate. Don’t eat anything unless you’re truly hungry, and I don’t mean in the “sure, I could eat” sense. Wait for real, stomach-growling hunger. Then eat exactly what you want—just in smaller portions!
Don’t like it? Don’t eat it. It’s one of the perks of being an adult—no one can force you to eat spinach or liver, or whatever! So forget the nasty cabbage soup. Bid adios to diet bread that tastes like cardboard. Because “healthy” or not, they’re still calories. And life’s too short to eat stuff you don’t love.
Single-sized servings. If you know you can’t control yourself around a certain food, then either don’t have it around, or get it in single servings. Buy a single donut instead of 12. Instead of making a full platter of brownies (“for the family,” yeah, right), I like to mix up a single-serve, microwavable brownie mix like Betty Crocker Warm Delights.
Bored, tired or mad isn’t the same as being hungry. Don’t eat a whole box of Krispy Kreme because you got in a fight with your boss. Because after you’re done, you’ll still be mad—only now you’ll also feel like a stuffed butterball turkey.
Spice (and sour) it up. Add low-fat flavor to your meals, like salsa hot sauce, balsamic vinegar. Remember that scene in Madame Bovary where she drinks vinegar to lose weight? It doesn’t work unfortunately (I tested that out in high school), but using vinegar on your salad instead of full-fat dressing will save hundreds of calories. A big dill pickle is only 10 calories and it’s lots of crunchy fun.
Swap out the calories you won’t miss. I used to think that I disliked the sugar-free Starbucks vanilla latte, until I was on WW and realized the calories I was wasting on sugary syrup. Within a week of trying the sugar-free version, I actually preferred the taste! So give the healthier version a chance. You might not even notice the difference…until you get on the scale.
Read a good book. Watch a movie. Scrapbook your photos. Seduce your man. Clean your house. Play with your kids. Spend extra hours to get that promotion. Work or play so hard that you forget to eat. Whatever you’re passionate about, it means you’re not thinking about food!
Be picky. Don’t waste your appetite on your toddler’s chicken nuggets when you really want a Greek pita with feta cheese and kalamata olives. Be specific. Hold out for your gyro. Like a really great kiss, the longer you wait for it, the better it will be!
That’s basically how I lost the weight. The next test will be how well I keep it off. But since using this plan I can be lazy, a bad cook, and etc., I’m hoping I’ll be able to do it for the rest of my life.
In November 2006, at my RWA chapter party celebrating my first sale.
In November 2007
Where would you like to go next?
from one of Jennie's most recent books.
See what's coming soon.