JILL ELAINE HUGHES is a professional playwright, novelist, journalist and freelance writer with more than 15 years' experience in publishing and professional writing/editing. She has contributed to many newspapers and national magazines, including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, Yahoo! Shine, the Chicago Reader, the New Art Examiner, Cat Fancy magazine, and many others. Her plays have received productions nationwide and internationally, are widely published, and have been anthologized alongside Pulitzer and Tony winners. She is also a published novelist under the pen names "Jamaica Layne" and "Jay Hughes", and recently began self-publishing New Adult fiction under her own name.
Do you plan everything or just let the story flow?
I do a little of both. I generally start writing with a general concept in mind, and I sometimes work from a very basic outline. But I still mostly write organically. I also spent many years in the theater, both as a director/producer and a playwright, and I integrate a lot of storytelling elements from drama into my fiction, like action-focused scenes, sharp dialog, and dramatic tension. I always think in terms of "what will keep readers turning the page?" whenever I write scenes. My readers often tell me that my books keep them on the edge of their seats, and I really think my time spent on the stage helps with that.
Do your characters ever want to take over the story?
Oh, all the time! In my most recent book, DOMINO, which is a New Adult erotic thriller, I grew very personally attached to the main characters, Nancy and Peter. Nancy is a very young woman just starting to make her way in the adult world, and her first romantic experience thrusts her into circumstances she couldn't possibly have imagined for herself. On the one hand she wants to be a hotshot newspaper reporter, but on the other she breaks ethics rules and becomes too personally involved with her interview subject, Peter.
And Peter has a dark, secret past that he wants to conceal, yet his feelings for Nancy force him to slowly reveal who and what he truly is. They both grow and change tremendously as characters, and I want them both to be happy together---but the dramatic events they're both caught up in keep getting in the way of their romance. It's both exhilarating and painful to spin their tale, because I keep wanting to bypass the story and just let them get together already! My readers thus far have been begging me for Books Two and Three in the series, because they want to find out what happens to Nancy and Peter as much as I do! But these things take time to write!
What is your favourite food?
I have several, but my top two favorites are sashimi and Muttar Paneer (an Indian dish made with curried peas and cheese).
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Definitely a morning person. I used to be a night owl, but now that I have kids I've gotten used to rising before they do so I can write!
Where do you dream of travelling to and why?
I've already traveled extensively, but I have yet to visit India, South America, or Africa. I'm fascinated with Indian culture (I love Indian food, I practice yoga, and I'm also a Buddhist). I would love to see Machu Picchu in South America, and I also would love to visit the wilds of Patagonia there. I also want to take an African safari someday.
Do distant places feature in your books?
My current release DOMINO, which is Book One in international erotic thriller series, takes the heroine to Sevastopol, Ukraine and other exotic locales in Central Asia. Books Two and Three will have events taking place in Russia, Switzerland, China, Thailand and several other countries. International organized-crime syndicates play a big part in the story, hence the globe-hopping.
Do you listen to music while writing?
No! I really require complete silence or I can't concentrate. Sometimes I listen to music beforehand to get into the right writing mood, or afterwards to relax, especially after a tough writing day.
Could you tell us a bit about your latest release?
I actually have three current New Adult fiction releases. There's DOMINO, which I've discussed a bit alreadythis is Book One of a planned erotic thriller series. I describe it as "Fifty Shades Meets John Le Carre", or perhaps a sexier version of Steig Larssen's Millennium trilogy. I'm a big fan of Scandinavian thriller writers like Larssen and Jo Nesbo, and they definitely influenced DOMINO, especially setting the heroine's hometown in Cleveland, Ohio---a cold, dark, snowy place!
My other two current New Adult releases are TEMPLAND and ZOMBIE, INCORPORATED. I actually wrote TEMPLAND about ten years ago, and it was the first novel I finished and also the book that landed me my first literary agent. My agent shopped that book all over the New York publishing houses, and a lot of editors liked it, but they said it didn't fit neatly into any shelf category, so they rejected it. (It's actually New Adult, which just recently emerged as a separate genre). It follows a young woman struggling to support herself doing temp work who also happens to get caught up in a murder mystery. It's very comic and lighthearted, yet with some sharp social satire and commentary. Now that New Adult books finally seem to be finding their reader niche via self-publishing, I decided to rescue it from my hard drive and send it out into the world---and it's been well received thus far!
The third current release is ZOMBIE, INCORPORATED and it is also the first book in a planned New Adult trilogy. I wanted to kind of turn the zombie/dystopian format on his head by using an 18-year-old heroine and making it a dark comedy. There's plenty of laughs, but this book still packs some serious weight and drama. Plus the heroine will become romantically involved with a zombie, who fights his attraction to her because he doesn't want to infect her with the zombie Contagion. I guess you could best describe is as "Twilight, but with zombies. Plus it's funny."
What have you learned about writing and publishing since you first started?
I actually have worked professionally in writing and publishing throught my day-job career. I've been a copyeditor, a desktop publisher and a journalist. But my creative writing has always been very different from my professional writing. Professional writing is about making deadlines, satisfying editors/clients, and getting paid. Creative writing is about making art, satisfying readers, and MAYBE getting paid. But I've definitely learned to apply the journalism/deadline format to my creative writing. It makes me more disciplined in terms of generating wordcount within a set period of time and always having a workable "hook" for every piece of prose I create. My past work as an editor also helps me self-edit my work very well.
Is there anything you would do differently?
I have made some bad business decisions in terms of hiring literary agents and signing with publishers that didn't always have my best interests in mind. Most writers make these mistakes from time to time. But I'm glad I made them, because they gave me the opportunity to learn from my mistakes so I don't repeat them.
Who, or what, if anything has influenced your writing?
I think the fact that I've always been an avid reader has definitely influenced me. I grew up devouring newspapers and I'm still a news junkie, which is really essential if you want to be a journalist. I taught myself to read when I was 3 and I've always been a book addict! I read many different types of books and just love reading good prose, which influences my own work.
Anything you would say to those just starting out in the craft?
Write every day, read even more, and never give up!
What are three words that describe you?
Disciplined. Focused. Driven.
What's your favourite book or who is your favourite writer?
My favorite writer is Jane Austen and my favorite book of hers is EMMA.
List of previous books if any
I also have written several books under the pen names "Jamaica Layne" and "Jay E. Hughes"
Any websites/places readers can find you on the web.