Meet the Writer: Jenny Holiday

Meet the Writer is a feature for which I interview authors who identify as women. We talk less about a single book or work and more about where they’ve been and how their lives affect their writing. Today, please welcome Jenny Holiday. She is the author of numerous romance novels, including the Matchmaker Bay series books, Mermaid Inn and Paradise Cove. Do those titles sound familiar? They should! A group of us got the quarantine blues back in 2020 and decided to read the Matchmaker Bay books. Today, the third installment, Sandcastle Beach, was released. Congrats, Jenny Holiday! You can find more about this author at her website, and be sure to follow her on Twitter and Instagram, the two sites where she is most active.

Grab the Lapels: What was the first piece of writing you did that you remember being happy with?

Jenny Holiday: I don’t know that I have one distinct memory of such a thing. I can remember being happy with a lot of things, even as a kid: angsty teen poetry I used to write in a notebook and then decorate with nail polish to look like blood. Later, as an adult, my first attempt at novel, or the first time I had a story published in a literary magazine. With some distance, I can look back and say that all those things were, objectively, not very good. But I seem not to suffer from the imposter syndrome that afflicts a lot of my friends. I feel like I have to operate under the delusion that what I’m writing is or has the potential to be the greatest thing ever, which of course is seldom actually the case!

GTL: What did you want to be when you grew up, and does this choice influence your writing today?

JH: I wanted to be a writer, though I thought I would go into journalism because it was more “practical.” I changed my mind in college, because I realized that I didn’t actually like asking people questions they didn’t want to answer. I changed course and went down a social science path. I was studying urban studies and, later, geography, but the writing piece never let go of me, as I made a living in grad school tutoring writing and writing for a newspaper.

Then instead of staying on in academia as had been Plan B, I jumped ship for a career as, wait for it: a writer. (This was corporate writing, though; it was a while before I took up fiction writing.) I guess it was always going to happen one way or another. I think having writing in mind as a young age and then doing it for my job has influenced me in a practical way. I’m pretty good at sitting my butt in my chair and writing. I don’t really get writer’s block (or I don’t let myself get it). I think that’s because I spent so long employed as a writer in various scenarios. You don’t get to tell your boss at your salaried job as a writer that you have writer’s block.

GTL: Are there aspects of your writing that readers might find challenging to them?

JH: I suppose there may be scenarios in specific books that readers might find challenging. For example, I seem to be dealing in death a lot lately (lol), and depending on where you’re coming from, that could be a lot. But in a way, I consider how a reader reacts to my books not my business. I don’t meant that I don’t care. I obviously care a lot, and I want my books to resonate with people, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing them. It’s more that once a book is done, it’s done, and I can’t control how people react to it. (I don’t read reviews, other than big editorial ones that get called to my attention, for this reason).

But as to my writing in general, I think a lot of the literary establishment — and the general (mostly male) public — finds the entire genre of romance “challenging,” if by “challenging” you mean trashy and silly. I have lost count of the crappy things people have said about my books in writing, or said to me about my career in person. I’ve had everything from wink-wink questions at parties about how I do my “research” to people telling me romance is their guilty pleasure (I always tell these people, who are usually well-intentioned, to drop the guilt part!). Interestingly, the people who are challenged by romance in this way have almost never actually read a modern-day romance. I think there’s a huge amount of misogyny and slut shaming that underlies the mainstream conversation about romance as a genre. In romance novels, women find love and friendship and happiness and in some of them, they have a lot of good sex. This seems to be something a lot of people dislike.

GTL: What is your writing process like? Which do you favor, starting or revising?

JH: Revising all the way. I really feel the old Dorothy Parker quote, “I enjoy having written.” Plowing through a first draft is usually a drag for me. But in terms of process, I just do it. I usually take the highly scientific process of figuring out roughly how long I can or want to spend writing a book and then divide the number of words the book is likely to end up being by the number of days I am going to spend writing it. That yields my minimum daily word count, and off I go. I usually do not exceed my minimum and have even been known to stop in the middle of a sentence when I hit it.

Revising, though, both on my own and based on feedback from trusted readers, I love. I love even more the first round of edits from an editor, especially if it’s an editor I click with, who gets me and understands what I’m trying to do. Revising and editing is like solving a problem, or a series of problems, that a draft has presented me with. (And part of what a good editor does, to my mind, is help identify what these problems are, as well as how to solve them). There’s something really satisfying about that for me, and I definitely can’t get there on my own.

GTL: How has your writing process evolved?

JH: I don’t think the actual process has changed that much on a macro level except it goes faster now than it did in the early days, partly because I’m usually writing under a deadline and partly just because I have learned how to make stories more compelling. In terms of the nitty gritty, sentence-level stuff, I think I am a better writer. I have identified and shed a lot of tics over the years. But on the whole, I don’t think the process has changed that much. It remains very much a butt-in-chair exercise for me until I get to the fun, problem-solving part.

GTL: What would you like readers to know about your new novel (published today!), Sandcastle Beach?

JH: This is the third and final book in a series of romantic comedies set in a beach town on Lake Huron in Ontario, so I like to joke that I’m a pioneer in the extremely small category of Canadian beach town romance. The main characters are business owners competing for an economic development grant. She’s the owner and director of the town theatre, and he owns the bar next door. They’ve spent years fighting over parking and just generally getting on each other’s nerves (and if you’ve read the first two books in the series, which you don’t have to do to read this one, you’ll have seen some of that unfolding in the background). She casts a washed-up ex boy-band member in a production of Much Ado About Nothing, which you may know as a play in which two characters who purport to hate each are aggressively matchmade by their friends. Life starts to imitate art!

23 comments

  1. These novels look really great. A well-done romance novel is a very pleasurable thing and I challenge people who say they’re not good or criticise me for reading them. This trilogy looks excellent and I will keep my eye out for them in future.

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    • I’m waiting to get my hands on Sandcastle Beach, but out of Mermaid Inn and Paradise Cove, I liked the second better. There were a lot of serious topics in there, such as death of a child and the importance of vaccines.

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  2. Don’t look at me Liz, I just blew off a whole evening reading Georgette Heyer (The Toll Gate). I read Romance over guy fiction because I prefer people to Action.
    Melanie, another enjoyable interview. A friend of mine did government work for a decade or so before writing a book, and she too said that that experience of having to express herself in writing all the time was invaluable.
    I hope I run into Ms Holiday in the endless stream of audiobooks I listen to while driving.

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    • I’m not sure if her work is published in Australia or on audio, but I hope you run into her work, too.

      You wrote that you spent the whole evening reading; are you in isolation again?

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      • Yesterday was my 14th day, so this morning (Friday) I am free!
        My daughter doesn’t like the expression Chick Lit, and I have discussed before (often!) that C19th women’s writing in Australia was dismissed as romances for women and so of no value for men. I read and enjoy escapist ‘chick lit.’ which expression I won’t use if the people who write it don’t like it; but I think the real problem is women writers having their work pigeon holed instead of it being considered as Literature.

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        • Yeah, the real stinger is when a book about domestic goings on is called “chick lit,” but then a book about a professor seducing his student is “literary” — that sort of thing. I swear sometimes books by men that feel icky are somehow considered “brave,” but a woman taking control of her own sexual life is “trashy.”

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  3. I appreciate the way she points out the inherent misogyny that is often underlying criticism of romance books. They’re about women finding happiness and enjoying themselves and that makes some people so angry! Great interview!

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    • When I attended the Zoom reading with Terry McMillan, she was pretty angry that people call her novels “chick-lit.” If it applies to women, it must be low value, right? I have to say, I also noticed that her McMillan’s work is always shelved under “urban fiction” sometimes, despite her books being set in cities like Pasadena and San Francisco and star women in professional roles. Though the definitions vary, “urban fiction” is often called “street lit” and focuses on African Americans in a city setting that’s pretty dark (sex, violence, drugs, graphic language, etc.).

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      • Chick-lit is just a pretty derogatory term. I don’t think I’ve ever seen “urban fiction” used in real life (like in the library or a bookstore) but that sounds pretty racist too. And who defines what urban means? That’s something that can change a lot over time. I think I’m of the opinion that we should just have Fiction and organize it by author and forget about all these genres and sub-genres but what’s your opinion based on your library experience?

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        • Urban fiction in a library usually has a pretty limited meaning: “street lit” populated by black characters. However, I’ve read the argument that The Hate U Give is basically street lit, too. However, to my knowledge, street lit often has a lot of sex, drug use, and profanity, which I didn’t see in The Hate U Give. Typically, libraries have “break-out collections” based on their patrons. That’s why you sometimes see fantasy shelved with all the other books and sometimes it’s in its own section. If you have people who are really into fantasy, it’s good for your library to do a break-out collection so they can navigate right to the books that would interest them and browse. Browsing is so important, and if you have a genre within the general fiction collection, you can’t discover new books that fit your reading preference. Urban fiction is the only one that makes me hesitant. My library has break-out collections for western, romance, fantasy, science fiction, and urban fiction. I wish we had another for Amish fiction; people eat those books up.

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          • That makes a lot of sense – thanks for your perspective! Breakout sections based on what your clientele is searching for makes good sense. I was forgetting about sci-fi/fantasy, I think! In my bookstore experience, I’ve worked places with sci-fi and fantasy sections as well as westerns and romance. The only other section I can recall being asked for more often is historical fiction but I’ve never seen that as its own section. I did not know that Amish fiction was really a thing! Is it mostly romance?

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            • Amish fiction is a trip. From what I’ve seen, based on people telling me about the Amish fiction they’ve read, is there is a whole lot of good clean romance, but also distressing situations like giving a baby up for adoption after having an erotic encounter. There’s also feeling very sensual about a man — they’re called “bonnet rippers” for a reason. And yet there’s not typically any sex on the page?? It seems like there’s loads of problems that get solved within the Amish community and following their traditions, and you typically get a happily ever after. To my knowledge, Amish people don’t write these books.

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              • That reminds me of a series of Christian romance books that used to be popular. They had a historical setting and I think a lot of the appeal was based around the perceived safety and comfort of traditional communities and lifestyles. Also, clean romance!

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  4. Wow, that line about women in romance novels finding happiness, great sex etc. and that being something people dislike is really powerful. I’ve definitely encountered the ‘romance is trashy and silly’ perspective but hadn’t truly thought about it from the misogynistic pov of men (and women who’ve had patriarchal objectives deeply ingrained in their lives) feeling threatened by and thus disliking women having good things and being supported and enjoying themselves. That does seem to ring true, sadly.
    But also, I lol’d at stopping in the middle of a sentence when a minimum daily word count is reached- it seems so many writers prefer the drafting stage for the freedom and creativity involved; to each her own of course, but skipping out mid-sentence is a habit I honestly hadn’t seen before!

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    • I actually laughed at the same part, Emily. Personally, I’ve always hated writing new and loved revising. It’s like someone else’s story, like being a book blogger and being able to change what I’ve read.

      I get bristly when people say romance or chick lit is trashy because I have read probably half a dozen novels assigned to me about some old white dude who has a sexual affair with his student that is then labeled “literary.”

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      • That’s interesting! Somehow I’ve always thought that people who like revising so much more than drafting would end up doing something more editing related rather than bother with drafting at all, but apparently that’s not the case. I just personally can’t imagine sticking with hundreds of pages of writing if I didn’t enjoy that part of the journey! I think my enthusiasm for drafting and revising is pretty equal, so I love seeing others’ strong opinions, haha.

        I definitely take issue with the treatment of chick lit, even just that such a term exists, which I’m sure I’ve talked about with you before. There’s certainly been a double standard of books that are of interest to men being labeled as prestigious while books of interest to women are overlooked or belittled. I think society’s slowly moving away from that but there’s surely still a long way to go.

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          • Ah, that’s neat, that you really are so interested in editing! Perhaps my theory holds… 🧐 But yeah, I once thought about editing as a potential fallback (I always wanted to be a writer) but learned when I got to college that it didn’t really make sense to approach it that way bc it looked equally hard to get into and thus would have taken energy away from what I actually wanted to work at, and it looked like one of those jobs where you really have to have a connection to get into it at all, which really wouldn’t have worked for me. While I would have probably liked it tho it wouldn’t have been my passion as a career; I am sorry to hear that it didn’t work out for you if it might have been yours!

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  5. I like that question about the first piece of writing you remember being happy with. When I was a child a couple of my poems were published and my mum still has copies of the anthologies, and reading them now makes me absolutely cringe – but I was so happy with them both at the time! So often people who write for a living talk about imposter syndrome, so it’s nice to hear from someone who is generally pretty happy with what she writes.

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    • True! I still have copies of old stories I wrote on my mom’s electric typewriter. I had an English class in 7th grade in which we wrote our own picture books. I do recall mine was a haunted attic story starring a Dorito as the main character!

      Can’t wait to see you next Sunday, Lou 🙂

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  6. OMG yes, small town Ontario, I love to see it. Also, I really like Holiday’s mindset of making a word count each day, and as someone who writes for her job a lot too (although its reports and grant applications), I can appreciate her comment that ‘you can’t tell your boss you have writer’s block’. I fight through that a lot, but I have no choice! hahah

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    • Honestly, I think you’d really enjoy Paradise Cove. It’s a fast read (I think I finished this mass-market paperback in two days) because it’s so enjoyable and compulsive. You’d probably “recognize” the landscape, you Canadian.

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