Jennifer Echols is an award-winning author of teen, adult romance, and new adult novels–a fan favorite across multiple genres. To help celebrate the publication of her latest teen novel, DIRTY LITTLE SECRET (on sale July 16th–preorder now!) as well as the red hot ebook sale that’s running until July 7th, Jennifer let us pick her brain for a music-themed Q&A. 

JenniferEcholsStanding-1-200x300XOXO: Where did you get the idea for Dirty Little Secret?

Jennifer: I took a course in college called “Sociology of the Family,” and what I learned there has been so helpful over the years in setting up believable heroines and heroes. But somewhere along the way, the professor mentioned that he was about to publish a study finding that listening to a lot of country music increases the rate of suicide. Of all the brilliant things he said in his lectures, that has really stuck with me. That and his explanation of what mountain oysters are. (He was from Oklahoma.)

I think as a whole, country music has gotten a lot more upbeat since then. But it does have its share of sad messages. In addition, most country music is different from most rock music in that rock music lyrics may create a mood—“It’s time to party, yay!” or “I don’t want to get out of bed!” or “You are so sexy!”—but country music is more likely to spin a yarn from beginning to end. One of my favorite examples of this is “Remember When” by Alan Jackson. He starts with a couple losing their virginity together as teenagers, then takes them through marrying, nearly divorcing, losing their parents, having kids, and growing old together, all in the space of about four minutes—and in a believable way, one that makes you feel those lives and that love. What incredible writing.

Now, when my dad was in college, he played guitar and sang in a folk band that recorded some radio commercials here in Birmingham. By the time I was born, he’d taught himself to play banjo. He was always playing banjo when he was home. He worked as an ob-gyn, and we have a photo of him playing banjo for a patient in labor. I’m sure this made her feel better. Then, when he retired and was able to play banjo 24/7, he told me he wished he’d pursued a career in music instead of going to medical school. His love of bluegrass permeates this book, and the novel is dedicated to him.

But the romance of Dirty Little Secret centers around the stories told by country music. Songs on the radio are the background noise for most Americans’ teenage years. Are they taking the stories they’re hearing to heart? My hero, Sam, is convinced that romance is tragic because that’s the story country music often tells. My heroine, Bailey, is a songwriter, and she’s determined to pen her own ending.

XOXO: “Never write about musicians” is a tip that sometimes circulates in romance writing communities. Thoughts?

Jennifer: Uh-oh.

JUST KIDDING! Yes, I’ve heard this tip. I think what writers are being warned against is getting too deep into a description of the music itself, when what romance readers want is a description of the characters’ interplay. I’m careful not to fall into that trap—I hope! Country music is the backdrop of Dirty Little Secret, but it isn’t the focus. Bailey and Sam are the focus. In the same way, I tried to make Love Story not too horsey and Such a Rush not too airplaney.

This isn’t my first musical novel. My debut book, Major Crush, was a YA romantic comedy about drum majors (the conductors who stand up front) in a high school marching band. My next YA romantic comedy, Biggest Flirts, will be out in May 2014, and it’s about two drummers in a marching band trying very hard not to compete with each other for the top spot of drum captain. Both of those are published over on the other end of Simon & Schuster at Simon Pulse. And—oooh, you’ll like this one!—on October 29, my next romantic comedy for adults will be published right here at Pocket Books. It’s called Playing Dirty, and it’s about a public relations crisis manager sent to corral a wild and sexy country music star.

See, I was the drum major for my high school marching band. In college I pursued a double-major in music education and music composition before I switched into English and got serious about writing novels. I love music and know a lot about it, so I naturally come up with stories starring musicians. I think everyone should resign themselves to the fact that I’m probably going to write more novels on this topic. Another subject I know a lot about is copyediting medical journals, in which physicians report their research findings. That was my job before I was able to make a living as a novelist full-time. I don’t think anybody wants to read a romance about a chick who can spell fluorescein isothiocyanate without looking it up. Did I mention that I used to copyedit endless articles about nasal polyps? The music-themed novels are sounding better now, right?

 XOXO: What do you say to people who hate country music?

Jennifer: Well, what do you say to people who hate romance novels? You condescendingly pat them on the head, you tell them they obviously have not been reading the right romance novels, and you hand them a copy of Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie. I want to stress again that you don’t have to be a country music fan to read or enjoy Dirty Little Secret. But I’ll bet I could convert you. Give my playlist a listen. These are great songs that I mentioned in the book, or that I listened to while writing it ( I maintain there is no more poignant song in all of popular music than “When I Call Your Name” by Vince Gill, with Patty Loveless on the gorgeous, soaring backup vocals. After listening to that song alone, you’ll be such a country convert that you’ll have a hankering for mountain oysters.