Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Jess Faraday – Jess Faraday is an award-winning writer and editor of mystery and suspense. Her first novel, The Affair of the Porcelain Dog, was shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award, and her third, Fool’s Gold, won the Rainbow Award for Best Gay Historical and was a runner up for Best Gay Novel overall.
Thanks so much, Jess, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Jess Faraday: Oh, I absolutely read them. I think most authors do. But I don’t respond to them, good or bad. That’s the road to drama, and I’m allergic to drama.
Bad reviews hurt, of course, and a good one can make my day. But at the end of the day, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and not every book will please every reader. There are plenty of books that I’ve DNF-ed that other people have raved about, and I’m sure plenty of folks have DNF-ed mine. I don’t take it personally. One thing I won’t do, however, is leave a bad review for another writer. There’s enough negativity in the world as it is. I have been known to write gushy fan letters, though, when I finish a book that I love.
JSC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
JF: That depends. I’m slow and meticulous and tend to fall into research-holes. One time I spent an hour researching the landscaping of Hyde Park in the late 19th century in order to find the perfect tree under which my protagonist and his guy could share a kiss. It paid off when the editor questioned the presence of that tree in that time and place, and I could send him the link.
I also have a family, pets, hobbies, and a day job. Some writers can pop off a book a month, and hats off to them. If I wrote a book in a month, it would be terrible. I try to aim for one a year, but I’ve had some projects that have taken much longer.
My first novel, The Affair of the Porcelain Dog took three years to write, although that was because I was raising two children under the age of two. Another author, Helen Angove, and I used to swap weekly babysitting so we both could write.
Fool’s Gold and Shadow of Justice each took a bit over two years. Fool’s Gold turned out to be more story than I’d bargained for. As for Shadow of Justice, I was experimenting with a new form, getting to know new characters, moving halfway around the world, and dealing with a serious illness in the family, so I was…distracted.
My other books each took about a year.
JSC: Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
JF: I’m a full-time writer. I support myself writing and editing web content. I spend an equal amount of time writing my own fiction and editing anthologies for Elm Books.
Little known fact and food for thought: goofy viral articles like “Sad Shelter Dog Finds a Home!!!!!!” Pay literally five times more per word — sometimes more — than award-winning handcrafted fiction. One of my best paid pieces of writing ever was an article called “2018’s Most Boopable Noses.” It was filled with pictures of cute dog noses and funny captions.
It’s a weird world.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
JF: I’d call myself a hybrid.
My publishers like to see an outline before they give the green light. And I like to think that I enter a project with a plan. But plans change, ideas evolve, and outlines metamorphosize during the course of writing a book.
Harlan Coben once described his writing process as being like driving across the United States in the middle of the night. You know where you’re starting, you know where you’re going to end up, but inbetween there’s a lot of darkness and just your headlights to guide you.
That’s pretty apt in my experience.
JSC: How did you deal with rejection letters?
JF: Rejection sucks, and the first few hurt. But you either develop a rhino hide or you stop submitting. Sometimes an editor offers advice or observations in their rejection, and I always tried to learn from those. Most of the time they simply say “no thanks.”
As an editor, I’ve sent out plenty of rejections, and none of them have been personal. So when I receive them myself, I shrug and move on.
JSC: Name the book you like most among all you’ve written, and tell us why.
JF: Jimmy Page once said that his favorite of all of the Led Zeppelin albums was Presence, which was a critical flop. The reason he liked it so much was because during its production, many of the band members were going through some serious, life-changing awfulness, and the album was finished against all odds.
I feel the same way about Shadow of Justice and Death in the Age of Steam, which I edited for Elm Books. Both of these books took ever so much longer than they should have, due to a lot of personal turmoil and upheaval. Some of it was good upheaval — my family’s move to Scotland was the best thing I, and we, have ever done. Some of it was not good at all.
But the books are finished, now, and out, and truly some of my best work. I’m proud of them.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for this book?
JF: Shadow of Justice started out when Nicole Kimberling of Blind Eye Books asked me if I wanted to write a freebie story to accompany the re-release of the Blades of Justice anthology in which I have a novella. She suggested taking the character of Simon Pearce and running with him. Somehow we spun this out into eight novelettes!
JSC: What character gave you fits and fought against you? Did that character cause trouble because you weren’t listening and missed something important about them?
JF: Simon Pearce was a tough nut to crack.
Unlike Ira Adler, who has a hard time keeping his mouth shut, Pearce, at first, didn’t want to tell me anything beyond the facts of his cases. Deeply closeted and a prickly character to boot, he wasn’t about to tell me anything.
So I gave him a bottle of whisky and a license to vent, and eight stories tumbled out.
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about him or her.
JF: One of the characters from Shadow of Justice, the librarian Theo Penrose, needs to have a happy ending. He had an undeservedly hard time in SOJ, and I still feel bad about that. I’m currently writing that story.
I have a fantasy about another anthology in which some of the other side characters from SOJ get to tell their stories, but that project will have to get in line.
JSC: What’s your drink of choice?
JF: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, wine in the evening, and water during exercise.
And now for Jess’s new book: Shadow Justice:
Constable Simon Pearce doesn’t believe in love. It’s a dangerous proposition for many people in 19th century London, but for an ambitious copper climbing Scotland Yard’s greasy career ladder, it’s out of the question.
He doesn’t believe in monsters, either, though there seem to be a lot of them about. Whether it’s a ghost haunting a London churchyard where men seek men’s companionship, a phantom hound in Edinburgh that’s hell-bent on revenge, or a murdered businessman on a cross-country train who just won’t stay dead — the mysterious has a way of finding Pearce, whether he wants it to or not.
But are these happenings truly supernatural? Or is something worse — something thoroughly human — to blame?
Pearce has his theories — about crime, about monsters, and about love. But life has a way of testing even the most carefully considered ideas. And as he chases mysteries from one end of Britain to the other, he may just have to reconsider his ideas about all three.
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The clerk was a tall, slender man in late middle age. Deep lines around his eyes and mouth betrayed that age, though his skin was smooth and seemed to glow. He wore his thick, silver hair in a youthful and slightly rakish cut. His clothing, all black, was exquisitely cut and fashioned from fine wool and silk, and his silver-rimmed round spectacles struck me as a prop.
As I approached, his pale eyes raked over me unabashedly, like a lion trying to decide if a visitor is company or lunch.
“Good evening,” he said, holding my gaze for longer than most men might, probing, evaluating. A cautious hunger flickered behind those grey eyes, and to my surprise I didn’t find it at all unwelcome.
“Good evening,” I said, shaking my head clear. “What a pleasant surprise to find your shop open. I worried you’d be closed.”
“How fortunate that we only open after dark.”
“That’s a unique business strategy,” I said.
“We’re a unique business.”
“Is that so?”
He gestured to the shelves that lined the walls, his long, shiny, carefully-maintained fingernails catching the gaslight. “Vincent Peters, at your service. We have the most complete collection of esoteric literature in all of London. Possibly in Europe. Please, have a look around.”
Tall shelves held an enticing array of books — different sizes, thicknesses, and languages shelved together in a manner that appeared haphazard, but more likely followed some system known only to the proprietor. A gas sconce on each wall cast the shop in dim light that invited closer examination. A locked glass-fronted cabinet took up most of the wall behind the counter. No doubt the true treasures were there — in plain view, but accessible only to those whom the proprietor deemed worthy. I narrowed my eyes, scanning the shelves for Semen Sanguis.
“Actually,” I said, “I’m interested in one book in particular. Only it’s quite rare. There are only thirteen copies in existence.”
Something in his expression sharpened. I felt a probing sensation. Ridiculous, I know, but it almost seemed as if someone were lifting the cover of my mind and having a peek inside. When Peters spoke again, he did so carefully. “We do specialize in the rare and antiquarian. If we don’t have it, it’s possible that it’s passed through here at some point. I can certainly check our records. Do you have a title?”
“Semen Sanguis. It’s—”
“I know the book,” he interrupted, the warmth leaving his voice. “Or, I should say, I know of it. And from what I know of it, you’d have better luck raiding the pornographers’ shops on Holywell Street. Constable. We don’t peddle obscenity here.”
He delivered the words like a slap. More of a slap, though, was the idea that he’d divined my occupation just by looking at me. Or had he actually read my thoughts somehow?
“You misunderstand, Mr. Peters. I’m not looking for obscenity.”
His left eyebrow slowly, sardonically rose, and I had the unsettling feeling that he knew that I had, in fact, been prowling St. Sebastian’s churchyard looking for obscenity not twenty-four hours before.
Jess Faraday is an award-winning writer and editor of mystery and suspense. Her first novel, The Affair of the Porcelain Dog, was shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Award, and her third, Fool’s Gold, won the Rainbow Award for Best Gay Historical and was a runner up for Best Gay Novel overall. Her novella, The Strange Case of the Big Sur Benefactor, was both a GCLS finalist and a Rainbow Award Winner for Lesbian Historical. When not writing, she moonlights as the mystery editor for Elm Books, chases cryptids, and runs the hills and trails of the Scottish countryside.