Jenny Urban lives not too terribly far from Las Vegas, Nevada, but not terribly close, either. An unabashed fan girl, she shares her home with two cats named after fictional wizards and a larger than life size poster of a certain television actor. No, she won’t tell you who. When she isn’t working hard at her day job, she enjoys watching said actor on his show, writing, reading, playing the piano and singing in a local community choir. She and Elizabeth Silver are constantly bouncing new story ideas off each other and plan to keep writing together for as long as they can.
This question made us both laugh a lot. No, the writing came long before the pseudonyms did. I don’t think it was a deliberate choice of partner, either, so much as an organic progression. We met through an online journal-style RPG, but it wasn’t until she invited me to join another similar game that we really clicked into a writing partnership. It was just for fun, and it was a lot of fun, and I think we made each other better writers in the process. At some point we began writing actual stories as opposed to role-play scenes, and we’ve been writing stories ever since.
2. Liz says you share a brain. Which of you is the left brain, and which is the right? Or is it divided a different way?
We don’t actually talk about right and left, it’s a lot more peaceful that way. *g* Seriously, though, it’s not a division – I think of it more along the lines of a Vulcan mindmeld. She says shared custody. I can’t even tell you how many times we’ve finished each other’s thought or said a variation of the same thing at the same time. Although there is one key difference, which may make her the left brain – she is Plot Girl.
3. How does your collaboration process work?
Well, we toss ideas back and forth a lot, and have done for years. Most of them stay just that – ideas – but a few stick enough that she develops a basic plot framework. Sometimes it’s a really bare framework, and sometimes it’s a little more fully realized before we start writing. As we talk about the idea, we sort of claim a character and point of view. Which sounds more deliberate than it ever is – we’ve talked for so long and bounced ideas for so long that a lot of things fall into place long before we make concrete plans, and sometimes before we even consciously realize it. Once we have the framework and roles settled, we open up Google Docs and start writing. Although we take turns writing the scenes, it’s never “okay, I wrote this many paragraphs, it’s your turn” and it’s rarely written solo. Since we each take on a main character, we write the bulk of any scene written in our character’s point of view, but I can’t, to use an RPG term, god-mod her character. For example, in the story we’ve been working on, the scene we’ve been writing is a sex scene in which my character shoved her character up against the wall and bit bruises all down his back. I can describe my character’s actions and feelings, but I can’t express how her character feels about being marked up and then eaten out. *g* So she has to step in with reactions or dialogue as appropriate, being sure not to slip into her own POV – it has to be all vocalized or physical reactions my character would see. And vice-versa. When we settle in together and get on a roll, it’s nothing less than magical.
4. How much writing did you do before joining Liz?
Not a whole lot, to be honest. I had always been more of a reader, and was nervous as all hell when I first started writing in that initial RPG. Looking back, it was probably the best route I could have gone, because it was no pressure and it exposed me to various writing styles without the stigma of any “right way” or “wrong way”. I was able to explore any number of different dynamics in character relationships and always had other people I was bouncing ideas off of, whether behind the scenes or on-scene. I had written a little before over the years, but never anything I was willing to show anyone. *g* Writing with that group of people is when I feel like I really started actively writing.
5. Most writers have those first books hidden away in the back of a drawer. How many do you have, and what kind of works are they? Will they ever see the light of day?
Oh, lord. There is one excessively melodramatic romance that I wrote when I was maybe twelve or thirteen. It’s the closest thing I have to a first book, and it wasn’t ever completely finished. It’s going to stay in whatever notebook it’s buried in until the end of time.
6. What was your path to publication?
Hmm. Well, Liz and I had written several stories together before I convinced her to let me send one to a friend of mine, who is actually now our editor at Loose Id. I asked Raven to read through it as a friend and she gave us some great feedback – that ms needed (and still needs) a lot of work to be ready for submission, but she told us it was definitely good enough that we should pursue writing. We took what she said and used it to make “Winner” a much stronger story from the very beginning, but it still took some time and persuasion to get Liz to agree to formally submit “Winner” to LI. I think those weeks between submitting and being accepted were the longest weeks of our lives! I’m still hoping we can fix that first ms enough to make it ready for submission, though – it holds a very special place in my heart.
I have one solo publication that had a slightly different path. Dreamspinner Press had a call for ménage a trois stories for an anthology they were publishing. I had a few very short vignettes written about the same three boys, and I did some extensive editing and worked them into one longer story, which I submitted for consideration. The editor of that anthology emailed to say that while my story didn’t quite fit what they were looking for in that particular call, it was very good and she strongly encouraged me to resubmit it as a single title. I was incredibly flattered by that, and took the opportunity to expand and further edit what I had before taking her suggestion and submitting it for consideration as a single title.
7. What kind of marketing do you do as an author?
As little as humanly possible, which is horrible and which makes Liz want to strangle me on probably a daily basis. I am pretty much incapable of selling myself in any way. Or, to be honest, interacting with people in general. One of the primary reasons I put in for a transfer to the position I have now in my day job was because it meant working in a situation where I can conceivably go a full day without actually talking to anyone. I’ve had people tell me that I do have social skills, but I don’t believe them. Small talk is my idea of hell, and I’m easily overwhelmed by large groups of people.
8. What social media do you use?
“Use” is such a subjective word…
I have a Twitter account as Jenny that I usually forget to log in to. Liz and I have a website that I think I’ve blogged on twice. Like I said – I’m pretty sure she wants to strangle me on a daily basis. Possibly hourly. I’m known as the quiet one for a reason.
I have Facebook that I rarely ever even look at and a blog under my real name that literally one person checks once in awhile. And I have another Twitter account and a LiveJournal. Those I keep separate both from my real life and from the writing side. I’m starting to sound like I have multiple personalities, aren’t I?
9. I’ve heard people mention LiveJournal.com, but I’ve never used it. Who is this site for?
It’s a blogging site, so it’s really for everyone. One thing I really really appreciate about LiveJournal as opposed to Blogspot, for example, is the ability to respond to comments. I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled across the site, but it’s where we played our RPGs, because we could create full scenes in real time by responding to each other in comment threads. You can also join various communities using your personal journal. I’ve seen communities for people with extra long hair, for example – there are posts on hair care and styling – or cooking or sewing or writing or bondage. Any topic you can think of probably has a community on LJ devoted to it in some way. LiveJournal has actually been in the news recently because it has, in recent years, become a prime tool of political protestors in Russia, and was just this last week the target of a massive, sustained DDoS attack orchestrated by opposing factions in the government.
10. What do you do that’s audio-related?
I record audiobooks from home! Liz never fails to be amused that I am the quiet half of our partnership and yet I’m the one starting to pursue a career with my voice. I have three available on Audible.com right now, and one that’s in edits, and one I’m about halfway through recording. Those I send in to the audio editors as raw files when I finish recording, but I want to learn how to do the audio mastering and tweaking myself so I can expand my options. There’s a website that connects narrators with authors who have audio rights and want to exercise them, but the narrator has to either produce retail-ready files themselves or pay editors to fix the raw files for them and I’m not currently in a position to do either.
I also record stories my friends have written that are not published. That’s how I started with audio, and those are still my favorites to do. I’ve participated in several charity fundraisers with those friends, offering to record stories for them, and have personally raised thousands of dollars for various causes in the process. I’m very proud of that.
11. How would Liz finish this sentence about you: “It’s always the quiet ones. Did you know that Jenny ____?”
… wanted me to finish this sentence?
Sorry, I couldn’t resist. *g* I asked her if it would be cheating to have her answer that, and she told me that she told you I would do that – shared brain in action.
Serious answer, she would probably say “Did you know that Jenny was a finalist in the Neil Gaiman American Gods audio contest?” I think she’s more proud of me even than I am for that. It was quite an experience.
12. What is your favorite electronic or digital writing tool?
Google Docs! I don’t have any of the toys I’d like to have. Someday I will have an iPad, I swear.
13. What is your favorite non-electronic writing tool?
I don’t know that I have one! I am a sucker for office supplies of all kinds, but I don’t actually use that many of them. I find that I write more smoothly when I’m typing – I can think more clearly and cohesively. I have also found that my hands actually cramp if I try to write long hand, even for short periods of time. But if I had to pick a favorite something, I love rollerball ink pens.
14. What is the most persistent distraction from writing?
The Internet, definitely. One downside to writing the way Liz and I do is that we have to do it online so we can do it together, so the web is always there, waiting. With cats. And porn. Not at the same site, though, or if it is I don’t want to know about it. But I could spend hours trolling through Icanhascheezburger.com and not get bored.
15. What is your ideal writing environment? Have you ever been able to create it?
I don’t know what my ideal environment would be, which would also mean that I haven’t been able to create it yet. I do know that situations others describe as their ideal would never work for me, so I suppose that’s a step in the right direction.
16. Many writers go through a stage when they hate what they’re writing. Do you ever feel this way?
Like you wouldn’t believe. Fortunately, there isn’t anything I’ve written that I still hate, but it can take months for me to be able to go back and read it and say “hey, that actually isn’t half bad.”
17. Do you have rules for how steamy you write your sex scenes?
No rules, and no holds barred. A pretty firm guideline for me as a reader or as the author is that it needs to fit the character – a sheltered virgin or confused teenager isn’t going to whip out handcuffs or a violet wand as soon as they get naked for the first time, but neither is an experienced couple making up for lost time going to fade to black at the bedroom door. As much as Liz is Plot Girl, I am Porn Girl. So if I can phrase something in a more explicit way I will – I don’t write erotic romance for nothing! At the same time, however, I tend to frown on gratuitous sex. Which might surprise the people who read “Winner” and said OMG TOO MUCH SEX! There was a hell of a lot of sex in that book, but it actually always furthered the plot and showed facets of the characters we couldn’t have seen in any other way. Sex strips us bare in unique ways – it’s such an intimate situation regardless of the circumstances.
18. How difficult was it for you to pick out some pictures for this interview?
I still haven’t, as I answer the questions! I have very few pictures of myself anywhere online, and not that many more off-line. I hate having my picture taken. Plus, I keep Jenny and my other online persona very separate from my “real” life.
19. When the day comes that you are on stage, accepting some prestigious award, who are you most likely to forget to thank?
Probably Liz, because she’d be standing right next to me. Honestly, though, I would probably be speechless!
20. Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
Han, of course! Even if I thought it was Greedo (which, no. I know better) I have at least two friends who would skin me alive for saying so *g*!
The novellas Winner Takes All and Where the Heart Is by Jenny Urban and Liz Silver are available in e-format from Loose Id.
Winner Takes All
Where the Heart Is
And Jenny’s narrated audiobooks
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