By Karen Harper
I caught up with MJ Rose (which is a challenge since MJ is one of the busiest Thriller Writers around!) for an interview to give us a quick peek into her next book, SEDUCTION. MJ writes amazing novels which are difficult to link to any one genre, and she’s one of the savviest promoters on the planet. Look for her at ThrillerFest in NYC in July.
What is your book about?
In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, still grieving, Hugo initiated hundreds of séances from his home on the Isle of Jersey in order to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published.
Or so it has been believed…
Recovering from a great loss, mythologist Jac L’Etoile thinks that throwing herself into work will distract her from her grief. In the hopes of uncovering a secret about the island’s mysterious Celtic roots, she arrives on the Isle of Jersey and is greeted by ghostly Neolithic monuments, medieval castles, and hidden caves.
What she doesn’t anticipate is that the mystery surrounding Victor Hugo will threaten her sanity and put her very life at stake.
SEDUCTION has a ghost story at its heart, and a mystery that spans centuries.
You mention on your excellent website that publishers found your first work difficult to fit into a genre slot. That seems to be one of the great strengths of your novels today. Historical fiction? Paranormal? Thriller–all of the above? Does blending these elements come naturally to you, or is it a challenge to imagine and then create your stories?
It’s what comes naturally… what I want to read… what I want to write. And it’s still a problem. It’s hard to know what category to put me in and what shelf to put me on. I’ve been told over and over I’d sell better if I just picked one genre and stuck to it. I tried a few times but honestly, got bored. And as much as I want to entertain my readers, if I’m not entertained while I’m writing the book, no one will be happy.
How did you discover the Victor Hugo story for SEDUCTION–or did it find you?
It found me. A trip to Paris and Victor Hugo’s home in the Marais inspired me to read LES MISERABLES. I became obsessed with Fantine. I kept wondering if someone had inspired Hugo to create her? I started reading more and more about him. I read his poetry. Sought out his watercolors and drawings… But it was coming across a description of his belief in reincarnation and his experimenting with séances that made me decide to write about him… and the woman who might have inspired him to create Fantine.
Your past career path includes advertising, and one of your titles was “Creative Director.” Isn’t that title also appropriate for organizing your thoughts and research into novel structure? Do you let the book flow its own way, or do you work to control content to fit a structure you have in mind?
I spend several months reading, doing research, taking notes, collecting ephemera, talismans, everything I can to help me create the world of the book. When I’m done I’ve filled a whole journal. But at that point I’m also lost in the story. To work it out I make a 20 point outline of the most important points in the book. I usually make about 100 of these lists till I get it right. So it’s a very sketchy outline – but if I figured out too much, I’d be bored writing it.
Of all the various, hard-working Thriller authors I’ve interviewed, I see you as the most savvy and dynamic in the area of author promotion. Obviously, the extensive AuthorBuzz programs are the most obvious sign of this. How do you balance your time with the demands of research, writing and promoting?
Even when I tried to write fiction full time, I found that I could only work on a novel for 3-4 hours a day. So that leaves a lot of time. I get up really early and write in the morning starting at about 6:30 and finish about 9:30. Then there a few hours to walk, do errands, phone calls etc. I work on AuthorBuzz in the afternoon.
It’s every author’s dream to have a TV show or movie inspired by one’s writing. Can you share a bit about how the TV series PAST LIFE evolved from your work?
They say that selling your book to Hollywood is like sending your child to a nursery school run by Jeffery Dahmer.
I wish I could say that it wasn’t like that for me. But as it turned out… it was.
My experience started out like a dream. The head of Warner Bros development found my book on a table in Bares & Noble and emailed me to see if was available… a year later the show was picked up with a 12 episode order.
And from then on, it was all downhill. The show that was aired had nothing in common with my book except that one character’s first name and that it had something to do with reincarnation.
You are one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers. Obviously, that project is an amazing success. How did you get in on the ground floor of building this vibrant and ever-growing organization?
At Bouchercon in 2004 Katherine Neville invited me to a meeting a group of writers who didn’t quite fit into the “mystery” genre but were more in the “thriller” genre. It was great – a group of writers who didn’t want to be in a group.
Gayle Lynds, David Morrell, Lee Child and about thirty other writers were present. During the Q&A part, I asked if the organization might actively pursue marketing the genre – something that writers orgs don’t generally do.
Afterwards Gayle, David and Lee asked if I’d come on the board and help spearhead the marketing aspects of ITW and I accepted.
M.J. Rose is the international best selling author of thirteen novels and three non-fiction books on marketing. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including OPRAH MAGAZINE. She has been featured in THE NEW YORK TIMES, NEWSWEEK, TIME, USA TODAY and on the TODAY SHOW, and NPR RADIO.
The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose’s novels in the Reincarnationist series.
Rose is the founder of the first marketing company for authors – Authorbuzz.com and she is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers.
To learn more about M.J., please visit her website.