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!