I was 8-years-old when I decided I was going to be a writer. I’d never met a writer, didn’t have a clue how to become one. It took me years to find the courage to actually admit to anyone that my dream was to write. At 30, I quit a good job and found the only writing job I could find – a reporter at the local newspaper, part-time and at minimum wage.
I learned to write fast and on deadline at the newspaper, which gave me the courage to do what I wanted from day one: write fiction. I started small, writing short stories for Woman’s World. Finally I wrote a book. After a couple of rewrites, I sold ODD MAN OUT to Harlequin Intrigue. After four books, I quit my newspaper job and began writing full time. When I started out, my only dream was that someday someone would read something I wrote. I had no idea all the wonderful adventures that would be ahead. I have since sold more than 40 short stories and over 100 books, writing for both Harlequin Intrigue and HQN. I’ve won numerous awards and my books have appeared on The New York Times and USA Today Bestseller lists.
I feel blessed every day that my dream not only came true but that it was so much more wonderful than I could have imagined. I have made such wonderful friends along the way, both readers and authors and editors. I still get a thrill when I see one of my books on the shelf and I never take any of it for granted. I still attend writing classes to improve my craft and I work even harder to write books that I hope my readers will love.
When I’m not writing, I love to quilt, snowboard, waterski, boat, play tennis and, of course, read.
A BRIEF INTERVIEW WITH B.J.
How long have you been writing?
Since I was a little kid. But I only wrote beginnings back then. (Have you noticed how much easier only beginnings of stories are?) It wasn’t until I turned thirty that I quit my day job and began writing for the local newspaper, determined to follow my dream.
How did you get started?
I wrote feature stories for the newspaper (my thought being that writing was writing) – and decided I’d start by writing short stories in my spare time. I discovered Woman’s World magazine, which publishes two short stories a month. My stories were a little too full of adventure, but I ended up selling more than 40.
What did you do before you wrote?
A little bit of everything – from being an administrative secretary to a telephone operator and a hodcarrier. But all I ever wanted to do was tell stories.
How did you approach your first book?
After writing short stories for a while, I decided I was ready to write a book. I heard about Harlequin’s Intrigue line. It sounded like something I would like: romance and mystery. I wrote a book set on Hebgen Lake where I grew up about a lost love coming home again because of a death (which of course was a murder).
How long did it take you to write it?
A year, at least. But that was just the beginning. An editor at Intrigue talked me into rewriting it. It sold! My revision letter was the length of a book and basically said: we like the pacing and the characters but if you want, you can change everything else! I rewrote, Odd Man Out, (believe me there were times I would have gladly quit) until I liked the story. It was nominated for RT BOOKclub’s Best First Book and Best Intrigue for 1995. That book was later reprinted.
What are your writing habits?
I get up every morning and write. I try to write ten pages a day, rain or shine. Sometimes life interferes with that plan. Okay, a lot of times life interferes. But I’ve found that if I get some pages done first thing in the morning, I have the rest of the day and no guilt.
How do you approach starting a new book?
With joy! I haven’t discovered the flaws in my plot yet. Seriously? I start by trying to get the sound of the book on paper. Each book has a little different sound to me depending on the characters and the plot. Once I get the sound, then I try to get what I think of as the foundation of the book down. That amounts to the first five or six chapters. If I like them, I continue. If I don’t, I go back and rewrite those first chapters until I do. To me, that foundation has to be solid or it won’t support the rest of the book.
Do you have a special plotting method?
I had never thought about what I do to come up with a plot. I usually start with an idea. For example, in my book, Hotshot P.I. that idea was sleepwalking. I’d read about people who commit murder in their sleep. From there, I went to setting. Most of my books are set in Montana where I grew up and still live. Setting is really important to me. It’s almost like a character. Then I think about my flesh and blood characters and what their story is. Usually I get a pretty good feel for them by starting writing. I like to learn about them slowly in the course of writing the book rather than try to figure them out first.
Any special tricks you use to sustain suspense?
I just try to scare myself. I like to write the book by establishing a handful of suspects who all could have been the killer/bad guy. Then I just keep writing until it becomes clear to me whodunit. I like to be surprised. Killing someone also helps if I’m stuck.
Do you outline or are you a by-the-seat-of-the-pants type?
I’m definitely the seat-of-the-pants type. But I usually have some idea where I’m headed although it is only in my head. If my characters are working, they take over the story and bail me out. I’ve found I have to live with them a while though.
Have you ever written yourself into a corner?
Are you kidding? Always. It’s one of the big drawbacks of being a seat-of-the-pants plotter/writer. The only way I have found to get out of the corner is to keep writing. Usually my characters help me out.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Write. Sit down every day and work on a story. I’ve found most aspiring writers have trouble believing in themselves, taking the time rather than finding it, figuring out what they want to write and then doing it. But if you write a little every day with a story in mind, it will grow and so will you. Secondly, read, read, read. Especially the type of book you want to write. Learn from those who have already gone through the learning process. And most importantly, if you really want to be a writer then believe in yourself and make writing a priority. Leave the dishes in the sink, the bed unmade, the grocery shopping until tomorrow. Today, you’re going to write and nothing is going to stop you! You will make the time if you want it badly enough.
Which of your books was the most challenging? Why?
Don’t let anyone kid you, they are all challenging. I’ve always heard it gets easier. Getting used to sitting down and writing without too much preamble gets easier but writing a book is hard work. It takes a tremendous amount of time and thought and energy. My most challenging right now is the one I’m working on.
Who are your favorite authors?
Hard question because I like so many. I love mysteries and thrillers and read any I can get my hands on. But I also read anything and everything including a lot of literary works. I love good writing but I also have to have a good plot. I absolutely love writers who surprise me. Being a writer, I can often see the guy pulling the strings behind the curtain. So when an author surprises me, I’m delighted and usually have to write him or her and thank them.
Any final thoughts?
I feel blessed every day that I am living my dream. I get to do what I love. Fortunately, I had no idea how hard it was to become a writer let alone to continue being one, so that didn’t hold me back. But I don’t give up easily. As a writer friend of mine once said, writing isn’t what I do, it’s who I am.