Author Jennifer Echols talks romance, music, and her writerly aspirations in today’s guest post!
I envy novelists with previous professions they can mine for great plots. Doctor. Lawyer. Police officer. I can’t picture five-foot-two me walking a beat and taking down perps, but I know a romance author shorter than me who’s done it (the lovely Lynda Sandoval). Experience as a cop sure would help me out now that I’m writing about one.
Unfortunately, if I based my novels on my past jobs, I’d be writing about typing, or teaching the argumentative essay to college freshmen, or copyediting medical journal articles about nasal polyps. There are no National Book Awards here. I might as well write a whole series about watching paint dry.
In stores now: Jennifer Echols’s latest mind-blowing romance, Glidden Ruby Red in High Gloss (Watching Paint Dry #1). And don’t miss the sexy sequel next month, Benjamin Moore Sunshine Yellow in Semi-Gloss (Watching Paint Dry #2)!
Instead, I tend to write novels on subjects I know just enough about to make me dangerous. For instance, my YA romance Such a Rush is about a poor teen girl determined to become a pilot. I’ve never been a pilot, but I’ve spent lots of time with folks who wanted to fly more than anything in the world—and that’s what I find so fascinating. I was going to write one of those people.
When I was five, my dad achieved his dream of earning his private pilot’s license. I spent great swaths of my childhood riding shotgun in his tiny airplane and throwing up in a Ziploc bag. Almost four decades later, when I decided this would make a great backdrop for a novel (minus the nausea), I downed a Dramamine and went up with him again. I grilled him on everything he was doing and thinking as he flew, and why. To write the climax of the book, I waited until my private pilot brother came for a visit. I started an argument between him and my dad about the best way to crash an antique biplane. Then I just sat back and took notes.
I know a lot more about the career I nearly had, music. When Auburn University held Engineering Day for ninth graders (a career I never wanted, but hey, we got out of school for this), I snuck over to the college bookstore and bought a textbook by the band director on how to arrange music for marching band. I’d always been a band geek, but holding this book in my greedy hands took my geek status to the next level. The first song I arranged for flute (2 parts), clarinet (2 parts), alto sax, tenor sax, trumpet (3 parts), French horn, baritone, trombone (2 parts), tuba, and 20 kinds of drums was the BEST SONG EVER, Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” (Forgive me; it was the 80s.) Next on the list was the theme song from the TV show Simon and Simon. No cheeseball ditty was safe from the pencil and staff paper of this 14-year-old girl. And of course, I proudly showed these masterpieces to my high school band director. I assumed our 175-member marching band would be playing my arrangements before a crowd of 5000 at the next football game.
He told me no.
I never got to hear what I’d worked so hard on.
I had more luck with the assistant band director. He let our jazz band play one of my original compositions at the spring concert. He also pushed through a simple riff I’d jotted down from memory after I heard a college band play it. That became one of our marching band’s new fight songs. But the band director’s cavalier attitude toward a student who was desperate to learn and create—that continued. And rather than discouraging me, it made me want to be a high school band director myself. I could write music. I could force my students to play it. I could treat them better than I had been treated, encouraging them rather than brushing them off as a bother during my busy day.
That’s why, when I first went to college, I was a double major in music education and music composition. This stage didn’t last long. I quickly learned that music majors…well, they’re good, not just interested. I switched into English, something at which I was actually proficient (I almost wrote “something I was actually proficient at,” but my high school English teacher grandmother would roll over in her grave). I changed my life’s goal from one job nearly impossible to attain, composer, to another: novelist.
My books have drawn from music more than any of my other experiences. My debut novel, Major Crush, is a YA romantic comedy about the first female drum major (student director, that is) of a high school marching band. My most recent publication, Playing Dirty, is an adult romantic comedy about a public relations expert struggling to tame a raucous country band. Biggest Flirts starts my new Superlatives series of YA romantic comedies on May 20. It’s about drummers competing for the top spot in marching band. And then there’s Dirty Little Secret, about a teen country band struggling for Nashville fame. You’d better believe I used my college cello lessons and music theory classes to write a fiddle prodigy and songstress who can’t catch a break while her younger sister signs a record deal.
But in the end, my books aren’t really about music, anymore than Such a Rush is about aviation, or Benjamin Moore Sunshine Yellow in Semi-Gloss is about watching paint dry. All my books are about discovering a new interest and showing your talent to someone you look up to, only to have him diss you. They’re about being a big fish in a little pond, moving to the big pond, and realizing you’re not as smart or talented as you thought. Symbolically, they’re about working as a typist and a teacher and a copyeditor for fifteen years and finally, finally, selling a fancy New York publisher one of your manuscripts—your tenth. They’re about wanting something so badly you can taste it, only to have the person you love the most in the world stand in your way. They’re about learning to compromise to get what you want without giving up your sense of self. That’s what romance novels, when done properly, teach us, and those are lessons we spend our whole lives trying to learn.
I still wish I’d been a cop, though, because the book I’m writing now is killing me. I’m having to watch a lot of YouTube videos on how to use a Taser.