Gwynne Jackson writes across multiple genres. A 2018 Golden Heart® finalist in contemporary romance, her books explore the nature of love, human interactions, and found family (often featuring ghosts). She loves writing complex, unapologetic characters in complex, unapologetic settings where the stakes are high, and the payoff proves to be worth all the angst.
She’s the one who created #FridayKiss and the Kiss Pitch mentoring program. Besides writing, she spends her time on arts and crafts, cleaning up after the cats, and helping other writers make their work shine. She lives on an island in Puget Sound with her family, pets, and a band of local otters whose hijinks are endlessly amusing. Like all good Northwesterners, she knows too many ways to describe the rain.
Suzy: What are you working on at the moment?
Gwynne: While my women’s fiction/genre-straddler novel is on submission, I’ve been working in a completely new (to me) genre: adventure sci-fi. Think Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide) or Hank Green (An Absolutely Remarkable Thing), only with tons of… uh… adult content. I’ve completed two books in the series and will be wrapping it up with a third this year. It was fun to pick a pen name for this series, and even more fun to fall back in love with what I was writing.
Suzy: What parts of your stories are your favourite to write?
Gwynne: Okay, confession time. I really do love the finesse part of editing and rewriting, but for me the thrill of creating a work of fiction is that first draft. I know a lot of writers do not enjoy drafting, but I love, love, love it. I’m a dedicated pantser, so I’m very happy to let the story dictate its path, rather than the other way around. Of course, I have written from outlines in the past, but with the adventure sci-fi series I’m going for a feel rather than writing to a beat structure. Oh, and by the way, the “feel” I’m going for is “twisty fast roller coaster ride.”
Suzy: How do you get into your characters’ heads?
Gwynne: This is a great question. Usually, I have to sit with characters for a while – and by a while I mean anywhere from a few days to a few months. As a pantser, I like to let them divulge bits and pieces of their personalities along the way. A lot of times I’ll write a character loosely based on another character, and that makes it a little bit easier. But I never want to write a direct copy, so that’s only a starting point. I’ve been known to chat with my characters when I’m alone in the car and driving, or sometimes I dream about them at night. Sometimes I’ll try to write their biographies, but usually I just let them start talking and see what happens. Forcing my preconceived notions of who they are and how they ought to react usually ends up with poorly crafted stories, so I’ll sit back and close my eyes and let my fingers play on the keyboard. (Yes, I do write with my eyes closed quite often!)
Suzy: Do you participate in any writing challenges on social media? Do you recommend any?
Gwynne: Back in the days when Twitter wasn’t as much of a hot mess, there were so many great writing challenges! I still run the Friday Kiss weekly writing prompt, although I’ve moved from Twitter to Instagram & Mastodon with that one. I found Pitch Wars through social media, and while that’s no longer a going concern, there are other mentorship programs and opportunities out there. My caveat for these, however, is that I am not a competitive person (except with myself), so while I’ve done SM-based writing challenges, I tend to shy away from the ones that are too competitive in nature. My philosophy is that there is a reader for every story, and a story for every reader. So my favourite social media challenges are the ones that help readers and writers connect in positive ways.
Suzy: What is the most difficult aspect of your craft (process or career)?
Gwynne: As a writer and author, I’m still dumbfounded by the entire Successful Author™ career arc. In any other career there are measurable steps you can take, as well as measurable knowledge you can gain, that lead up the ladder to success. But in writing, it’s a crapshoot at every level. Can you finish a manuscript? Can you get an agent? Can you get a publishing deal? How many books can you sell? How many lists are you on? There are very few metrics in traditional publishing that are within my control as the creator of the content. This is one reason I’m opting to self-publish, and giving up the dream of having my books traditionally published is still something to grapple with (I’m still on submission and haven’t given up yet, but I’m also pursuing alternate paths).
Suzy: What are some common traps emerging writers fall into?
Gwynne: Measuring oneself against other writers, either in quantity of output, perceived successes, and so-called status. Look, jealousy is as common as apple pie (probably moreso), and it’s natural to be envious of other people. But writing a book is not a race. It’s not a contest. It’s an individual, creative pursuit. I see a lot of people who say they must have this or that kind of a presence on social media, but if they don’t have the books to back it up, then that’s a lot of energy wasted.
Another thing I see with emerging writers is trying to follow trends rather than writing from their hearts. As a reader, I can always tell if a book comes from the author’s heart. Those books are a joy to read. The ones that are written because someone feels obligated in some way to write them are always tougher, clunkier, and less genuine for me as a reader.
Suzy: What are your top 3 tips for emerging writers?
First, write what you love and read what you love.
Second, don’t measure your success as a writer in terms of whatever anyone else has accomplished.
Third, find a community of fellow writers and be active in it – sprint with other writers, read their stories, give feedback, ask for feedback. We spend enough time alone, and having the validation of a trusted group of writing buddies is priceless.
Suzy: Where can people connect with you and your work?
Gwynne: For my upcoming series, you can find me at ophelialeigh.com – I try to limit myself on social media because if I don’t, I have no time to write and that’s a shame. I’m on Instagram as @uhoh.ophelia (for adventure scifi) and as @gj.writes (for FridayKiss and more serious writing and for occasional pretty photos of life around the Pacific Northwest). I run a Facebook group for romance & women’s fiction writers at all stages of their careers called FridayKiss (https://www.facebook.com/groups/fridaykiss). I’m on Mastodon (barely) as @email@example.com and Twitter as @gwynnejackson (although I’m no longer active there).
You can also reach me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A final thought: write, write, write. And keep on writing – the world needs your stories!
Suzy Darlington writes science fiction fantasy stories and consumes more of the same than is probably healthy. In another life she wrote copy for game streaming academy, GGWP, and reported on the Capcom Pro Tour for Canadian news outlet, Dailyesports.gg. When she’s not having unexpected (but totally welcome) dreams about being Timothée Chalamet’s best friend, she’s searching for high-angst, LGBTQ+ romantic tension in fiction.