Born and raised in New Zealand, the mother of one daughter and a librarian and editor by profession, Jennifer began writing a few years after establishing one of her country’s only women’s bookstores in the mid-1980s. She was a literary critic and feature writer for some of New Zealand’s most prominent daily newspapers, had a stint as a political speechwriter, ran a communications consultancy business, and wrote for television and stage. Her credits include Desperately Seeking Stimulation, a sell-out show for the Melbourne (Australia) Fringe Festival and the first lesbian play in the festival’s history. She wrote and co-directed In Between the Sprockets, a film and TV news show / comedy, from an LGBT perspective – the first of its kind on Australian television.
Jennifer’s first lesbian romance, Passion Bay, was the result of a bet by friends that Jennifer was not sufficiently romantic to pen a girl-meets-girl tale. Published by Naiad Press in 1992, and set on Moon Island an imaginary tropical paradise in the South Pacific, it kicked off the first adventure/travel romance series in lesbian fiction, and the bestselling of its kind ever published in the genre. Twenty-five years later, the next Moon Island story is forthcoming and the entire series will be released in audio book, by Bold Strokes.
Soon after Jennifer began writing romance, she decided to try her hand at mystery, the genre she preferred as a reader. Instructed by her then-publisher Barbara Grier to choose a different pen name, she has published six mysteries, writing as Rose Beecham. Her character, Amanda Valentine, was the first lesbian detective in a mystery series set in New Zealand. Her second series, featuring Detective Jude Devine, switched to a U.S. Southwestern setting that fascinates the author, a resident of Colorado.
In 2006, during her years as Senior Editor at Bold Strokes Books, Jennifer began publishing what later became known as “new adult” fiction under a third pen name, Grace Lennox. As an editor, Jennifer has specialized in new author development for three decades, and has edited countless award-winning novels and mentored many of lesfic’s best-loved authors.
Now living in Santa Fe with her spouse and animal companions, Jennifer is working on several new titles forthcoming in 2018-2019.
Sharing Some Thoughts
No one gets rich from writing lesbian fiction, so our work must offer other rewards. I am motivated by a desire to reach out and make a difference to others in some small way, whether by putting a smile on a woman’s face via a couple of hours of entertainment, or by striking a chord on a deeper level. It’s always humbling to hear from a reader that one of my stories helped her through a rough patch or made her feel less alone.
I also write because my thirty-year history in the publishing industry has taught me that our visibility is fragile. Within my lifetime, it was impossible to find an affirming lesbian novel in a library. Our reality, our milestones, our loves and sorrows, were not reflected in fiction, and certainly not celebrated. A lonely, confused woman could not look to literature for hope and inspiration.
Things have changed. Since the early 1980s lesbian authors and publishing houses have cast so many rocks into the “well of loneliness” that the splashes are still resonating. These days, we’ve made so many gains that young lesbians in the West can complacently ponder why they should support lesbian literature when they have a wedding dress to save for.
Our silence–the most effective form of covert censorship–is not a gift we should bestow on those who want to erase us. That’s why our literature must survive, and another reason why I started writing again in 2016. Fortunately we live in interesting times, which means there’s a lot to write about!
My work process is a feast or a famine. When I am writing, I slog away at my manuscript for 10-12 hours each day until I reach a story milestone – usually a key turning point in the arc of my main character(s). Then I revise for a few weeks before starting the next phase of my draft. Dreams feed my process directly. Some of my stories (such as Dark Garden and The Sacred Shore) were almost entirely shaped during sleep. If I stop dreaming, I stop writing. This happens if my creativity is drained over a long period. Life happens, too. Most recently, I took a six-year sabbatical from writing after losing my mother and my mother-in-law, and both my dogs, within a 12-month period in 2010/2011. I was not ready to pick up my pen again until 2016.
It’s funny how authors pussy-foot around this question as though our stories are jealous offspring demanding we love them equally. Some of my books have a special place in my heart. Grave Silence (Rose Beecham) took me on an unexpected journey that haunts me to this day. The Sacred Shore (Book III Moon Island Series) was written as part of my passage through grief after my father died of cancer. Dark Garden is the romance I most I loved writing: I’ve always adored the tempestuous Gothic sensibility of novels like Rebecca and Wuthering Heights and wanted to explore that tone in my story. And yes, for those of you who noticed: it should have been 200 pages longer. I still hanker to write the rest of the book.
Tips don’t have universal relevance – we’re all different. But for what they’re worth, here are a few of mine:
- Don’t torture yourself while you are trying to get words on your page. Nit-picking over every sentence as you write it can sabotage your creativity and crush your voice. Let your idea take written shape before you beat yourself up. Wait until you have at least 20,000-30,000 words, or a finished first draft, then start revisions – your perspective on your story needs time to evolve.
- Learn to recognize your own voice and use it. Most authors I’ve worked with as an editor are so busy second-guessing what they think readers/editors/publishers want to see, they can lose their way. It’s hard to avoid mixed messages. On the one hand, we hear that everyone wants something ‘fresh’, yet predictable clones are constantly published. As an editor, a fresh, distinctive voice always gets my attention. It’s rare to find one and, when I do, I read the entire manuscript. Do yourself a favor and nurture yours!
- Opening paragraphs are crucial. Established authors who already have a solid readership can get away with a weak opening; their fans will indulge them. But no one cuts new authors any slack, except for their friends and family. I teach a one-day master class called “The Six Inch Sales Pitch”… because you can literally sell your book on the first few sentences. Study your opening sentences closely. Are they indispensable to context? Do they showcase your voice, style, character, setting, mood, theme? Analyze popular first novels in your genre. Apply important lessons to your manuscript.
- Premature critiquing can hijack your process. Of course, your supporters and beta readers are only trying to help, but you need to control how and when their input will serve your story best. Because writing is a lonely business and we all need some encouragement, it’s tempting to seek feedback early in a draft. But everyone has a different opinion, and trying to please a lot of people, at once, can result in confusion, a disjointed story, and inconsistent style and voice. Maybe you want to write a book via a group process. If so, divide up the real work of creating and crafting every scene between your collaborators, and share author credits and royalties with them, assuming the result is a publishable novel. Good luck with that.
- Don’t let reviews get you down. Some of my most useful input has come from interactions with readers. When a reader takes the time to communicate with you, personally, to offer constructive thoughts about a story, that’s important feedback. Likewise, if a competent substantive editor or an impartial professional book reviewer bothers to critique your work, lucky you – pay attention! As for all the other so-called “reviews” you’ll see online, don’t take the comments personally. Everyone is entitled to express their opinion and if your story didn’t grab someone, they probably won’t buy your next book. Move on. Work on discovering which kinds of readers like your work and what those readers want.