Interview With J.L. Merrow

Today my interview is with J.L.(Jamie) Merrow who has written countless books in the short time she has been published. Among other things, I wanted to find out how she was able to accomplish this feat, since I can barely write a blog post in a week.

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Hi Jamie. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. You have been very busy lately but before I talk about your books perhaps you could give us the short version of Jamie the person and Jamie the writer, the similarities and the differences.

*stares at self in mirror* Hmm. Jamie the writer is a lot better looking, clearly! And taller. Definitely taller.

We do have a few things in common, though: we share a tendency towards laziness, and an inability to take things too seriously. 🙂

Many of your contemporary characters are based in the US. How much work is it to get the accents and characters right?

All I can do is write the guys how I hear them in my head—and then get them checked over by a native speaker in case my reception was faulty!

One of your first books that I read was Pricks and Pragmatism and what struck me about it was how funny it was. I love humour in romances and this book delivered. Was there someone in RL who reminded you of either Luke or Russell? They were so real I thought that you couldn’t have dreamed them up entirely. 😀

Most of my characters tend to be composites of people I’ve seen or met, people I’ve known well, and other fictional characters, plus one or two attributes that seem to come out of nowhere! This is what I love so much about creating my own characters—I can chop off all the bits I don’t like and replace them (this tends not to work so well with real people, as they’re often strangely reluctant to stand still for axe-wielding maniacs) 🙂

Luke isn’t anyone I’ve known—but *whispers* Russell is partly based on a real person. But shh! I haven’t told him yet! 🙂

When you’re writing a story, do several new characters live in your head and demand to be let out? How do you decide whose story to write first?

The short answer is, I don’t decide—I usually have more than one story on the go at any one time. But eventually I’ll get immersed in one story to the extent that the others have to take a back seat.

You write a lot of books with the “opposites attract” theme. Muscling Through and Pricks and Pragmatism are excellent examples. This seems to be typical in a lot of M/M relationships which tends to give them a “sameness” regardless who is the author and the plot. Are you going to continue with this trope?

I think all authors have particular themes they like to return to—this happens to be one of mine, so I’m afraid you’ll be seeing some more of it! I guess I just like looking at the ways people are different from one another, and the ways they can nevertheless find common ground.

Personally, I don’t like reading stories where the protagonists are too alike. This may be the laziness creeping in—it annoys me when I have to keep checking back whose POV we’re in. But also, if you’ve got two guys who are obviously made for each other—where’s the conflict in that?

Many of your stories are funny, which I love, because recently a lot of M/M books are doom and gloom and very angsty. How do you avoid some of these familiar tropes and give readers a bit of romantic comedy even when the book is on a serious topic or somewhat angsty?

I don’t usually like to read unremitting darkness, so I’m not going to make a habit of writing it! It’s not what comes naturally to me, in any case. I think one of the darkest things I’ve written is A Ghoul Like You, and even with that, reviewers have highlighted the humour.

Of course, it may just be that I was exposed to the works of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett at a formative age, and have never quite got over it!

I usually ask the fans to come up with questions for their favourite authors and here are a few of them for you.

Rdafan7 has an observation and a few questions:
I’ve read and enjoyed so many of JL Merrow’s stories, most recently Muscling Through. The character of Al was great. I was also a fan of Luke & Russell from Pricks & Pragmatism. Is it possible we may see more of these characters in the future?

Rdafan7, I was delighted to see this question, because as it happens I’m right in the middle of writing a scene with Luke and Russell in! They’re making an appearance in a novel set in Totton, near Southampton—keen readers may remember Luke’s remark about there being a mountain bike shop there. The hero of this one is Tim, a fish-out-of-water type drafted in to run the shop for his injured brother. I’m only around a third of the way in so far, but I can tell you the book involves porn mags, a hard tail, and bonking! 😉

Also enjoyed Camwolf, her stories are so varied, where does her inspiration come from?

Everywhere. People I see on the street; films and tv; books; pictures; names on a list; music; places I go to. Conversations with my betas, or chance remarks online. Everywhere.

Specific examples: Crack in Camwolf is a dead ringer for a lad I glimpsed from the window of the Isle of Wight ferry. He had emo hair and the skinniest black jeans ever altered on Mum’s sewing machine, and I just had to use him somewhere! Marcus in Wight Mischief has albinism because I was so annoyed at the way a (non m/m) author had portrayed an albino character. He owes his character, however, to a name that captivated me on a list of village football players—unfortunately I then had to change his name, of course!

What are her hobbies and how does she relax in between writing?

*stares at question* Nope, sorry, don’t understand the terms here…

Suzi obviously loves Muscling Through. Here’s her question:

All I wanna know is how soon do we get the sequel to Muscling Through? I loved that book! Definitely one of my keepers.

I’m delighted you enjoyed Muscling Through! It was an absolute joy to write—I adored being in Al’s POV. However…. *squirms uncomfortably* I’m afraid I’ve no current plans for a sequel. I’d be more likely to bring the guys back for a cameo role in someone else’s story, as I’m doing with Luke and Russell.

Sammy has an observation and a question:

Just finished Muscling Through and have noticed a thread also seen in Pricks and Pragmatism. She seems to gravitate towards elevating characters who normally might be dismissed out of hand by others in our most image conscience world. Why–and does she receive much criticism for doing so? I would think that particularly the coupling of Al and Larry would draw major disbelief from most critics. Please don’t get me wrong–I LOVED Muscling Through and really enjoy her writing–I just wondered if she had received any feedback on her characterization choice.

I think this is an incredibly perceptive question—the more so as Wight Mischief, one of the more obvious examples of this, hasn’t been published yet! 🙂 I guess what it comes down to is the basic Cinderella story of the down-trodden, disregarded character suddenly outshining all his or her detractors. I’m in good company here—think of Harry Potter, or Jane Austen’s Fanny Price.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m British—we’re famous for loving the underdog—or if I just identify with these guys more. Funnily enough, I haven’t received a lot of flack from critics for Al and Larry’s pairing—possibly because I tried to make it plain that Larry is by no means perfect.

The most negative reaction I got to Al’s character actually came from one of my betas, who very early on asked to be excused from helping me with the story! Her concern was over the portrayal of a character who is uneducated and lower class as, well, not very bright—and in fact the character of Giles in Good Breeding (Tea & Crumpet anthology) is something of an apology to her, being an upper-class character with a good education who is also not the sharpest tool in the shed!
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You created a strong female character in your first novel Camwolf, (Tiffany), and part of the story is told from her POV. However, since this is an M/M book why did you think this would fly, since most M/M readers are really not interested in the perspective of female characters in this sub genre except in a minor role? Most of us read M/M to get away from het and we prefer the stories to be told from the male POV to see how the MCs interact with each other, whether or not one of them is as damaged as Julian.

I’ve never read het romance, so I think I’m coming at this from a different place to a lot of readers. My view is that just because I don’t want to write about women getting together with men, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to write female characters. And in het romantic comedy films I’ve seen, it seems to be almost obligatory for the female lead to have a Gay Best Friend—so why not have a gay romantic lead with a female BFF? 🙂

Personally, I tend to prefer reading stories with a single, strong narrative voice, rather than alternating POV. I realised early on that wasn’t going to work for Camwolf, so I needed another POV—but I was determined not to make it Julian’s, because I wanted the reader to be able to identify with Nick and Tiff as they struggled to make sense of Julian’s motivations.

Having said that—Camwolf had quite a long lead time before publication, and was actually one of the first pieces of original fiction I ever started to write. I’m not sure that, were I writing it now, I’d structure it exactly the same.

According to the number of covers on your website you have written 45 stories, more or less. That’s a huge accomplishment considering that you didn’t get published until 2009 although you came up through fan fiction. I know that many of your books are short stories either in anthologies or standalones, but it’s still huge to have written that many stories in such a short time. To what do you attribute your ability to survive in this competitive sub genre?

*blinks* Has it really been that many?
Honestly? If I knew what the formula was I’d bottle it and sell it. I guess I’ve just been lucky! But yes, a lot of my output has been short stories. It’s taken a long time (and a lot of hair-tearing) to work up to proper novels. 🙂

What do you have planned over the next 3 – 6 months? Can you tell us a little bit about Wight Mischief which is being released by Samhain in November?

Wight Mischief is set on the Isle of Wight, which is where I grew up, so a great many of the scenes take place in locations which are very dear to me (although some of them are in disguise!) Unusually for me, it’s told in alternating POV between the two heroes—I’d struggle to explain why first person seems essential for one story, and third for another, but my gut instincts are always very firm about which one to go for.

Wight Mischief is about how people’s motives are often not what they seem—and how too much trust can be just as bad as not enough. It’s about breaking free of self-imposed constraints and the chains of your past. It’s also about two hot guys, one of whom (Will) is an outdoorsy-type physical trainer (and former swimming champ) and the other of whom (Marcus) is a writer who happens to have albinism.

There’s skinny-dipping—and more—on the beach; a couple of third parties who, for very different reasons, don’t have our boys’ best interests at heart; more than a dash of mortal peril; and a secret tunnel.

What has most surprised you about this writing gig now that you have been published for just over 2 years?

Ha! Me, published? Whose crazy idea was that?

I’ve been amazed by how the m/m genre has taken off even in the short time I’ve been writing. Back when I started, back in the far-off days of 2008, it felt like there were barely more than a handful of us writing—but now, I’m seeing new names every day. And yes, a part of me misses the days when it felt possible to know everyone—but on the other hand, one of the best parts of being on the UK Meet anthologies’ acquisitions and editing team (responsible for British Flash and Tea & Crumpet) was getting to see the new talent coming through, and help a few of them on their way.

What do you consider your most significant achievement to date as a writer?

That’s a hard question to answer. For a start, the Brit in me is insisting anyone who’s had the bad form to actually achieve anything should certainly have the decency not to mention it! But I’ve been very proud of the reception Pricks and Pragmatism and Muscling Through have had, and their performance in the Amazon.com bestseller charts.

Despite your busy schedule I’m sure you have fun. What do you do for fun?

Terry Pratchett has said he thinks writing is the most fun you can have by yourself, and I’d have to agree with that. The most fun you can have with other people, I’d say (apart from the obvious!) is hanging around with other writers. I’m fortunate to be a member of a great local Writers’ Circle which meets up every week to tear each others’ work to shreds… I mean offer constructive criticism.

I’m also a big fan of BBC’s Sherlock, Doctor Who and Torchwood, and have recently discovered the delights of Dexter on DVD.

Thank you Jamie.

And thank you, Wave, for giving me this opportunity! 😀

 

J.L. Merrow’s contact Information

email: jl.merrow@gmail.com
website: http://www.jlmerrow.com/

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

27 comments

  • Great interview!

    I’ve enjoyed reading your stories for a long time, Jamie, and I’m looking forward to reading Wight Mischief when it’s released. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you! I’m sure I’ve told you this before, but if it hadn’t been for the encouragement of people like you in the (very!) early days, I’d never have got this far – so thank you again. 😀

      Reply

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