Jae is an award-winning author of quality lesbian “slow-burn” romance novels. With sixteen novels and a healthy dose of novellas, short stories, and non-fiction currently to her name, Jae is a powerhouse in the LGBT literature community. With her unique characters and well-researched, engaging stories, it’s no wonder she has been nominated for, and won, numerous literary awards, including the GCLS Literary Award and Rainbow Awards.
In addition to writing, Jae is also the senior editor at Ylva Publishing, the sister company to German based Ylva Verlag, founded by Astrid Ohletz. Jae has had a hand in bringing much needed LGBT works to the masses over the last several years, whether it be by her own breathtaking stories or helping to build up and support other authors of the genre.
I had the pleasure of picking her brain about her success and getting to know her a bit more behind the scenes.
Before becoming a full-time writer, you worked as a psychologist. Tell me a little bit about your decision to quit your day job to be a full-time writer. What finalized that decision for you? What were your thoughts that first day being full-time?
I started writing when I was ten or eleven, and I always wanted to be a writer, but since very few writers manage to make a living from their writing, I did the sensible thing and became a psychologist instead. I wrote five novels while working as a psychologist, and with each book, I built a bigger following and my sales numbers increased. After I switched publishers and joined Ylva Publishing in 2012, sales improved even more. My life-long dream of becoming a full-time writer started to seem less and less like a pipe dream. I saved up enough money to have a financial cushion, and at the end of 2013, I finally quit my day job.
That first day, I felt like the luckiest person in the world—and I still do. Life as an author isn’t always easy. I don’t have a regular weekend or many days off, but I haven’t regretted the decision to write full-time for even a second.
You are also working as Ylva Publishing’s Senior Editor. Did you already plan to also work as an editor when you made the jump to full-time writing? How did this opportunity come about for you?
Ylva Publishing’s owner and CEO, Astrid Ohletz, was a fellow writer for whom I beta read back in 2010, and when she established her own publishing house, I was an adviser for her pretty much from the start. I liked the goals she had for her business—publishing quality lesbian fiction and celebrating diversity—so I joined Ylva in 2012 as an author and an editor. The decision to write full-time came later.
Being a full-time writer / part-time editor sounds like a lot of work with very little time to yourself. When you do have free time, what do you like to do to relax?
Very true. I don’t have a lot of free time, but if I have some time to myself, I still like to read. I’m trying to complete a Lesbian Book Bingo card myself this year, which means reading 25 books in 2018. I’m also a fan of good movies and TV shows. The last one I binge-watched was Orange Is the New Black. I also like to travel and to spend time with friends and with my nieces and my nephew.
A few of your stories have characters with somewhat nerdy tendencies like playing video games. Do you yourself have a nerdy side that extends beyond professional bookworm?
While I don’t have the time for video games, I’m a total stationery and pen addict. I geek out over fountain pens, and I probably have more notebooks than the average office supply store. That’s part of what inspired me to write Paper Love. One of the main characters, Anja, shares my love for ink and paper, while the other main character—her new boss—is more the digital type.
Your newest, yet to be released, story, Paper Love, is set in your hometown in Germany. This is a very different setting than your other books. What was the inspiration behind this big change?
I always knew I wanted to write a story set in Germany at some point, and when I came up with the idea for Paper Love, I knew this was the perfect book for it. It’s a workplace office set in a stationery store located in the Old Town of Freiburg, where I live. I had a lot of fun with this book, introducing readers to places that I love. I even climbed an observation tower despite my fear of heights to do research for Paper Love.
English is not your first language, yet you choose to write in English first. Is there a specific reason you chose to handle your writing this way?
When I first got involved in lesbian fiction, there was no community for German writers—no fellow writers to talk to, no beta readers, and no places online to discuss lesbian fiction. So I became involved with the English-speaking lesbian fiction community and tried my hand at writing in English. It was only years later that I decided to make my books available to my German-speaking readers too.
I actually handle my writing the same way professional translators do: they always translate from their second language into their native language, never the other way around.
Your books have covered a range of genres; paranormal, crime, historical fiction, etc. Are there other types of stories you are wanting to tell?
I don’t want to pigeonhole myself as a writer. All of my books have a strong romance plot, but within that genre, I like to explore different subgenres. I could definitely see myself writing science fiction or fantasy, since I devoured novels of those genres as a child and a teenager.
Many of your books are connected, whether it be by a direct sequel or to focus on side characters from a previous story. How far in advance do you plan these branching stories?
It depends. Sometimes I already know in the planning stages of a book that it will turn into a series and that one of the main characters will get her own book. That was the case with Shaken to the Core, for example. I knew from the start that Lucy Hamilton Sharpe, one of the supporting characters, will get her own novel one day.
Other times, a supporting character captures my attention during the writing process and I realize that she deserves her own book. Sasha, the bakery owner from Perfect Rhythm, will get her own novel, for example, and so will Tala, the fox shifter from True Nature.
There is an intense amount of research that precedes your writing and that is reflected in the sheer amount detail you include in each of your books. Have you ever had a story idea that you just couldn’t research well enough to continue?
No, and I don’t think it’ll ever happen. I love doing research, and I’ve learned to not be shy when approaching people for interviews. Sometimes, it might take me years to learn enough about a subject so I feel comfortable writing about it, but in the end, I always get there. Then it’s just a matter of weeding out the unimportant details and putting in just the interesting ones so the novel doesn’t start to feel like a boring history book.
Currently, you have four non-fiction books published aimed at helping others fulfill their writing dreams. What made you decide to start writing your non-fiction books?
I’ve been mentoring new writers for many years, and as a mentor and editor, I realized that most writers—especially those who are fairly new to writing or haven’t worked with a good editor or mentor before—struggle with the same problems. For example, many writers fail to grasp the concept of “show, don’t tell” and what it really means. So, I set out to write a series of books that would help fellow writers improve their writing skills.
Any plans for more non-fiction?
Actually, yes. If I find the time, I would like to write a book about how to write a romance novel as well as a book on how to create believable characters.
This year you, in collaboration with other lesbian book readers, started Lesbian Book Bingo on your blog. What was the motivation behind this reading challenge?
It was a combination of things.
First, 2017 was a really tough year for many of my readers—sometimes for personal reasons, sometimes because they struggle with the political situation. I wanted to do something to make 2018 a little better for them.
Second, I kept seeing different reading challenges online, but most of them were geared toward mainstream fiction, so I decided to put together a reading challenge for readers of lesbian fiction.
In several of your posts on Twitter and on your blog, you mention your addiction to ice cream as well as it being your choice for celebrating positive events. What is your favorite flavor? Do you have different flavors you prefer for different occasions?
I like most flavors, so it all depends on my mood. Yesterday, my friends and I went out for ice cream to celebrate that I wrapped up the first draft of my newest romance, Paper Love. I picked caramel cookies ice cream.
You’ve accomplished a great deal in the last few years. Have any of your major goals changed since then? What are the next big milestones you’re working towards?
My biggest goal is still the same: write good novels with captivating and realistic characters that my readers will enjoy. I’ve seen other writers start to struggle once they went full-time. Suddenly, all their characters started to look like weak copies of each other and the books seemed rushed, as if the writer’s heart wasn’t really in it anymore. That’s something I want to avoid.
One of the goals that I have for the next couple of years is to have all of my books available in my native language, German, too. Ylva Publishing is also starting to get into audiobooks. Three of my novels are already available as audiobooks, and I’m hoping to have another one—Just for Show—out later this year. Another goal is to revisit some of my older series that really resonated with readers and write a sequel to my Portland Police Bureau series and the shape-shifter series.
I’m sure you get this one a lot, personally, I would love to ask. What advice do you have for aspiring writers? For that matter, what advice would you give to anyone interested in pursuing their dreams in editing?
To anyone wanting to be a writer, I’d say: write. Then try to get as much feedback as you can, especially from professional editors, but also from beta readers and mentors. Read some of the recommended novels in the genre you’re writing in, but also read outside of that genre. Read books about writing and try to apply what you’re learning to your own writing.
To anyone wanting to become an editor, I’d basically say the same. Think about what kind of editor you want to become (there are different types of editing), and then read as much as you can about the writing craft and what makes stories work. Try to get a more experienced editor to mentor you.
Both writing and editing are life-long learning processes. Ideally, you learn something new almost every day, and that’s part of what I like about it.
Featured image credit: Jae