Over the past several months, I’ve had the honor of working with Jen Lassalle on her debut paranormal romance novel Dark Rooms, both as an editor and beta reader. Each time I’ve read this book, I have been completely captivated, so it was only natural for me to want to help promote it as much as possible.
Last week, Jen Lassalle was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions about her book and writing process. Take a look at my interview with this talented author below, then head on over to Amazon to pre-order Dark Rooms!
When did you first begin creative writing?
I was about ten when I wrote my first story (if I’m being honest, when I started it – I still haven’t finished that one). I had this fun idea about a dog who could talk and the woman who saved him from an animal shelter. It opened with her describing him as if he was the love of her life “from the moment our eyes met, I knew he was the one” etc. Even then, I loved to flip scripts and let a reader think they were headed down one road, then take a sharp turn and travel somewhere else. I’ve always wanted to tell stories and be a writer, even though I waited a long time to say it publicly.
Tell us a little bit about Dark Rooms! What about this novel makes you excited?
I’m so proud of the way Dark Rooms evolved! Dark Rooms started with one scene, a scene I can’t totally talk about for spoiler reasons, with Eve on a cliff. Even now, it’s one of my favorite parts of the book – where Eve sits on the cusp of a major decision, and weighs the odds of staying still vs. moving on. It’s such a real moment that we’ve all experienced, and it felt so relatable. But I flipped the script again in that scene and played with family roles.
Here’s a quick summary of Dark Rooms:
Dark Rooms tells the story of Eve and Nate, who meet years after a mysterious tragedy, and discover they have more in common than just physical attraction. When we meet Eve, she has placed a wall around her life and the magical abilities that couldn’t protect her family.
But her daughter Lina’s intense friendship with Parker, a boy with abilities of his own, brings his brooding father Nate into Eve’s world. Nate has scars too, and their connection fizzles the careful barriers Eve created. As their relationship deepens, a dark presence returns who wants more than just their lives. He wants her power. To defeat him, Eve must set aside her guilt, accept who she is, and trust her new family, while Nate struggles to embrace his new role in her life. Together they either face their past or risk losing all they hold dear in the present… including each other.
Dark Rooms uses magic and chaos to weave the complicated relationships of a found family around the difficulties of starting over in life. It embraces our struggles to identify ourselves in the now, rather than living with our past choices, and finding the people who will face those battles with you.
Dark Rooms is your debut paranormal romance novel. What inspired you to write this story?
Eve has been on my mind for a long time. The idea of a woman with healing powers intrigued me and I kept asking myself what I would do if I had such an ability. I knew I couldn’t be a doctor (I hate blood and have a terrible memory), but I’d want to come into contact with as many people as possible. I loved toying with the idea of whether I’d be able to stop myself from helping others, what price I’d be willing to pay, and how others would respond. Would people want to steal it from me, would it have any limits, etc. It’s such a fun concept. I also loved the idea of writing a main character who is mysterious and guarded, and unraveling her character either because of external circumstances or her own choices, until you think as much about her as you do the plot.
Eve is motivated by her love for her daughter. How did your experiences as a mother influence writing this character?
Lina reflects my daughter in a myriad of ways, but most importantly in how Eve evolves. As a mother, I’m constantly surprised by how much my daughter saves me and teaches me. You find reserves of strength you don’t expect, and adding that level of vulnerability and courage to Eve made her even more powerful.
One of the prominent themes in your book is new beginnings and the relationships that often accompany starting over. Your Twitter bio states that you’re a big fan of major life transitions. When did you discover such a wondrous zest for life?
I was born with it! My father was in the Air Force, so growing up we moved a lot. I was constantly making major life changes – new houses, new towns, new schools, new friends. I’m naturally outgoing and curious, so when I was younger those moves had a positive impact on me. I thought big transitions were fun adventures! Ironically, I struggle more with stability now that I’m an “adult.” Thank goodness I have stories to escape into or I would wind up a nomad with only a backpack full of belongings. Or massive debt as I obtained a new degree every time I wanted to switch careers.
Dark Rooms is set in New Orleans, and according to Twitter, that’s where you live. How did living in the setting for your story play a role in its world development?
Placing the story in New Orleans became an afterthought for me, when I realized that early drafts needed more richness to them. As I was giving the scenes more life, I started detailing surroundings from my own world. The blue house on Oak Street in the prologue is my best friend’s home. Nate’s house looks a lot like my in-laws’ (with some Sims-like design adjustments for story progression). From there I took some of the rich history from the French Quarter and surrounding areas, and sprinkled in some of the beautiful culture of my favorite city. In the end, I can’t imagine the book existing in any other city; New Orleans did what it does best – became a character itself. The bakery is completely my creation, but if I owned a bakery that is how it would look, feel and operate. I just have to finish writing and get through baking school….
When writing this book, what would you say was the most challenging aspect of plot/character development?
I grew up reading very traditional romances, but Nate and Eve’s story is anything but. It was challenging for me, in the best way possible, to create relationships that are not often found in cut-and-dry kissing books. Weaving my way through Eve and Sarah’s friendship, without casting Sarah as a typical ex-wife or Eve as a “homewrecker” was a lot of fun, but required a sensitive touch. I had to give my main character imperfections I hadn’t thought about when I first met her.
I also struggled to find the right balance with Parker, Nate and Sarah’s son, who has special needs. I wanted him to be a seamless part of the story, and for him to be surrounded by family and friends who accepted him outright, without blatantly calling attention to his condition.
If you don’t mind sharing, what brought you to the decision to self-publish?
I went back and forth over this decision for a long time, and ultimately a few factors tipped the scales toward self-publishing. The first is that my story is technically a “short novel” at 55,000 words, and I knew I would have trouble finding representation at that length. When I researched both options, I was shocked at how easy it is to self-publish, and I liked the idea of controlling my work, how and when it’s published, and maximizing my profit. Finally, I took a long look at what my goals were as a writer, i.e., what I wanted my career to look like, and I realized that self-publishing matched better to my vision of my own future as an author. I want to publish a book a year, then forget about it and move on. That’s a lot harder to do with a publishing house.
Do you have any advice for fellow self-publish authors as they move from the editing stage to the publishing stage?
Do your homework. Take time to understand every step of the process before you pull the ripcord. There are some things that have more of a price tag because they are worth it (like finding the right editor – hey, Liv – and book covers). Develop a plan that matches to your vision as a writer, and make sure you understand how to maximize your return. Set realistic goals, and let those goals guide every publishing and marketing decision you make. Finally, find a tribe of fellow writers, beta readers, editors and friends who will support your endeavors.
Who is your favorite author if you have one? Favorite book?
My favorite book ever is In the Beauty of the Lillies by John Updike. It’s so lyrical and cool to read. I love the way he takes one small incident that happens within the first few pages, then grows an entire world based on it. It’s such a simple idea – that our actions have repercussions that affect future generations. How he weaves that into our history and culture is fascinating.
My favorite author varies based on genre! I adore Nora Roberts – her Circle and Key trilogies inspired me to write fantastical romance. He’s controversial but I’m also a big fan of Bret Easton Ellis because he was the first author to truly “shock” me. I deeply admire David Sedaris and his ability to make me laugh and cry in a single scene – sometimes in one sentence! Finally, my friend Sandy Williams writes some truly awesome and inventive books that I love reading. I just love a great book, and a really great story I can get lost in.
Dark Rooms by Jen Lassalle is currently available for pre-order on Amazon with a release date of April 9, 2020. Check it out here on Amazon.
Follow Jen on Twitter at @JenLassalle.