Robin: Today I am interviewing author Kelly Jensen. Welcome, Kelly. It’s nice to have you.
Kelly: Thank you for having me!
Robin: When I write, I use my own name for sweet to sensual romance and the pen name Celia Ashley for the spicier variety. Do you use a pen name?
Kelly: Not at the moment. I write under my own name. When my co-writer (Jenn Burke) and I submitted CHAOS STATION, the first male/male manuscript for both of us, I considered using a pen name simply to separate the book from what I already had published. I’d heard so much about author branding, I thought I should use one name for male/female romance and one for m/m. But I loved CHAOS STATION so much, I wanted my name on the cover. Same went for my co-writer. Also, I only had one previously published title, so it wasn’t as if I already had a brand. 😀
Now that I have four m/m titles listed under my name (with two more to come in June!), I may rethink the pen name if I ever get around to publishing more m/f. It won’t be anything wild, though, and I’d like to have a clear connection to both names, with works by both represented on the one site.
Robin: That makes sense. I know a lot of authors have their pen names as separate tabs on their website menu and gain crossover readership that way. Now, your career writing romance began relatively recently, but you have spent more than a decade reviewing video games. Your first romance, LESS THAN PERFECT, is set in a post-apocalyptic America. Can we assume the setting was influenced by your gaming experience, or is this backdrop something that has always inspired you in your writing, separate and apart from the worlds of video games?
Kelly: I always dreamed of writing science fiction. I read a lot of it, and I love the idea of imagining our future. Tuck a love story in there somewhere and I’m a very happy reader. So when it came to writing my own stories, there is always an element of romance. But science fiction, particularly post-apocalyptic settings, is my first love.
I get some of it from gaming—the Fallout series is one of my favourites, and don’t get me started on the subject of Mass Effect (which is more impending apocalypse, on an inter-galactic scale) or we’ll be here forever. My obsession with post-apocalyptic environments originally stems from fiction, though. As a teenager I devoured books like Earth Abides, Day of the Triffids and Footfall. I could list a hundred books and tell you how each one influenced me, but it’s really a theme in general: new beginnings. To me, that’s what science fiction is all about, whether it’s post-apocalyptic, dystopian or optimistic. It’s us doing something new.
Robin: What made you switch from male-female to male-male romance? Was it based on the story you needed to tell, or…?
Kelly: I have other male/female WIPs and I intend to write more of it—with romance as the focus and with romance as an element. Jenn and I have written a fantasy novel together that has a male/female romance tucked into a tale of swords and sorcery. But when considering this project, we really wanted to write two men because there aren’t a lot of stories out there combining science fiction and male/male romance. Essentially, we wrote something we’d like to read. The setting lent itself beautifully to being able to explore a same sex romance without having to consider the constraints of a contemporary romance as well. There is very little prejudice in our world (which is set two hundred years in the future), and being who you are is more important than who you sleep with.
Robin: Do you think you will always write science fiction, or would you consider a different sub-genre?
Kelly: I read really widely, so I’d like to write widely too. I’ve written science fiction, fantasy, and contemporary at this point. I’d also like to try something historical—even though I’m sure the research would kill me—and perhaps even a mystery or suspense. Jenn and I are also fleshing out a light paranormal world.
Robin: On your website, I saw that you and your co-writer for CHAOS STATION, Jenn Burke, are best friends, but does that make the process of writing easier or more difficult? Would you tell me a bit about how your method of co-writing works?
Kelly: I think it makes it both easier and more difficult!
The first thing that applies to co-writing of any sort is you have to check your ego at the door. You’re not going to love every word your co-writer puts down and she’s not going to love every single one of yours. It’s definitely good if you like most of them, though. 😉 Thing is, it’s not a solo project, so you have to learn to compromise, and not to get your knickers in a knot while doing so. Sometimes that’s hard. None of us likes to hear criticism. Thankfully, Jenn and I have the sort of relationship where, for the most part, we can say: “This scene isn’t working for me and here’s why.” Sometimes we’re not that tactful. But we both love these characters and this world. We wrote the story arc together, we built the world together. We’re equally invested in making the series work. So we’re invested in making it work together.
Our method is fairly simple. Both of us write from the point of view of a single character—one of the two “heroes” or “main characters”. We share a third point of view character, taking on writing his scenes when we have a feel for what needs to be accomplished in that scene. When we wrote our first novel together—the fantasy one—we spent a lot of time sending the file back and forth with questions like: “What would your character do here?” A few chapters in, we gained enough confidence writing one another’s characters that we were able to complete an entire scene or chapter without asking for specific direction. Of course, if she has one of my guys making a gesture I don’t think fits, I can change it, and vice versa. Sometimes it’s a word choice. Usually simple things. We’ve been writing together for so long, though, that we know the personality and quirks of every character.
Nuts and bolts—we use One Drive. Sometimes we’ll work in a file together, at the same time. More usually, one of us will write a scene/chapter, then sit back and wait for the other person to write the next scene/chapter. We’ll alternate like that until the book is done. Then we edit the entire book together, leaving one another comments and suggestions.
Robin: Do you have other books planned together? Do you have other books planned on your own?
Kelly: We have so many books planned together. Honestly, we’re going to have to live to be 150 to write them all. We really enjoy world building and writing together, though, and our voices and style are very complimentary.
I also have a number of solo projects that I plan to fit in between the series I’m writing with Jenn. They range from short stories, which I love to write, to complete novels across a few different sub-genres.
Robin: The publishing world has changed so much since my first release (too many years ago to mention, lol). There are so many opportunities for writers now, though conversely, more struggles, too. It’s often difficult to know which path to choose. Are you published via small pub, self-pub, NY pub, or a combination thereof?
Kelly: Small pub. I have titles with Entangled Publishing, Carina Press and Dreamspinner Press. I’ve enjoyed working with all three, and feel small press is a great fit for me. There is more individual attention, and you have the opportunity to really connect with your editor. Small presses also have a strong cadre of loyal fans who eagerly await each new release, which helps with promotion.
Robin: Great to hear! CHAOS STATION was, I believe, released by Carina Press in March of this year. Is there a particular reason you write for each of the three houses? Was it a matter of what the editors at each were looking for at the time you were seeking publication, or something else?
Kelly: We specifically chose Carina Press for the Chaos Station series and were delighted when they opted to contract all five books. We chose them based on their catalog of offerings, which included a good number of both male/male romance and science fiction romance titles.
My submission to Entangled was in response to a call for geeky girl stories. Same with Dreamspinner—my story there was for an anthology call. I would consider both publishers again if I write more short fiction.
Robin: Do you have an upcoming release?
Kelly: I have several!
5/25/15 – LONELY SHORE (Chaos Station, #2) – co-written with Jenn Burke (M/M SFR) 6/1/15 – NEVER TOO LATE (A Daily Dose Anthology) (M/M Contemporary Romance) 6/1/15 – OUT IN THE BLUE (A Never Too Late Story) – My contribution to the anthology also releases individually on the same day June-July – WRONG DIRECTION – I don’t have a firm date for the release of this novella. (M/M NA Contemporary Romance) 10/5/15 – SKIP TRACE (Chaos Station, #3) – co-written with Jenn Burke (M/M SFR)
Robin: That’s an impressive amount of work! Thank you, Kelly for taking the time out from your writing to speak with me. I wish you all the best!
Kelly: Thank you for taking the time to chat. Writers love to talk about their work (as you may know). I hope we have the opportunity to talk again—about your work!
Robin: Thanks, Kelly. I’m sure we will be talking again!