Back in June I reviewed Jess Sturman’s novel, Pokerface. If you missed it, check it out here.
Sixteen year old Ruby Palmer is hot, feisty and out of control. She’s also about to walk into the most dangerous job imaginable; trainee office junior.
Her inability to type and her very bad attitude keep her moving around the firm like a hot potato and eventually she finds herself under the strict rule of Mr Alessi – senior partner and successful criminal lawyer. Ruby soon discovers that Mr Alessi isn’t quite what he seems when she accidentally meets two of his very private clients. They come in through the backdoor, out of office hours believing the building to be empty but Ruby is still there and now she’s seen too much.
All the worst kind of people think Mr Alessi just employed himself an easy target. They intend to bully Ruby into retrieving an incriminating appeal file hidden somewhere in Mr Alessi’s building. What they don’t realise is that Ruby isn’t one to bow down to intimidation or pressure.
She’s quick, she’s clever and she’s about to give them all a deadly run for their money.
Book one in the POKERFACE series…
Pokerface is a grand tale altogether, and so is Jess Sturman! I had the chance recently to ask her a few questions. As usual, her responses were delightful.
I’m 35 (going on 21) and married with two children. I live in the UK, Northamptonshire to be precise, in a region famous for making shoes! I’m not a big shoe person myself, although I do quite like flip-flops. The UK and flip-flops do not generally go together.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My first job was at the age of eleven, working on a market stall selling ladies lingerie (girdles and kinky stuff basically). I grew up with my brother and sister from the age of ten and school was completely wasted on me. Education was something that came easier as I grew older and I graduated with a LLB law degree at the age of 26. I can be a bit of a worrier and I have a slightly quirky personality. I apologise in advance!
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Worry! Ha ha! No, outside of writing it’s all mostly family related; ferrying the children, cooking, cleaning, answering impossible questions and desperately trying not to swear! It’s so hard! Outside of writing and family I like to read and I’m pretty fab at DIY too. One of my very favourite things in the world to do is to just sit and have a coffee somewhere with someone I really like. It’s the bestest!
Do you have a day job?
I want to say yes but that would be a lie! It’s not even a little bit true. I may go back to work now my youngest has started school and I kept my ‘self employed’ status over the last few years so I was able to work here and there. I recently helped co-deliver workshops on parenting, depression and self-esteem and domestic abuse, and I’d really love to work for an agent or publisher. You never know where a perfectly made cup of tea might get you!
When did you start writing, and when did you finish your first book?
It’s hard to say really. I’ve only taken myself relatively seriously ‘writing wise’ for the last few months. It took about a year to write Poker Face and it’s been out for nearly a year now. I had no idea whether it would be a success or a flop. It seems to be doing very well and so now I feel slightly more confident about labeling myself a writer/author without feeling like a complete fraud.
From where do the ideas for your stories come?
I think a lot of my stories have elements of my own experiences. I have had a very interesting and varied life and from a very young age experienced a real roller-coaster of emotions and situations. That really put me in touch with my creative side; imagination is freedom and all that. When I’m considering a new story the first thing that comes to me is the general feel rather than the plot. With Poker Face I knew I wanted to write a legal thriller and I knew I wanted it to feel dark, bleak and a bit depressing. I imagined streets, estates, law firms, alleyways, unsavory characters and then I found my little gem – Ruby Palmer. In amongst all of that imagery I wanted a young girl, vulnerable enough to love but tough enough to survive. Once I had her, the rest fell into place and then it was easy.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
No and I rarely experience talkers block either 😀 I go on and on and on and…I can’t help it! I let my mind go wherever it wants to. I explore every route my imagination takes me down and sometimes it pays off.
Do you outline or write “by the seat of your pants”?
I’m a ‘by the seat of my pants’ kind of girl in EVERYTHING I do! I don’t write in order, I write whatever comes and then if I don’t like it I delete it.
What author or book influenced you most in your writing?
I read the Twilight Saga a few years ago and I had written a couple of novels by then so I was starting to fantasise about where writing could take me, if I were good enough. I read Stephanie Meyer’s bio and found she was a mum who had literally followed a dream and then had the guts to put it out there and try and secure an agent. She succeeded BIG TIME and I found that quite inspirational.
What challenges did you face in getting your book published?
All of the usual ones (like everyone saying no) and on top of that I am my own worst enemy. I doubt myself so much and I have very little belief in my abilities so every time one of those rejections came through I took it REALLY hard! I cried a lot and I declared I was giving up many times. My insecurities are probably one of my biggest challenges in life. Gremlins are to writers what tooth decay is to dentists! Brush your gremlins twice a day!
If you had to go back and do it again, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published you’d do differently?
I honestly don’t think I would. I wanted to be traditionally published but, unfortunately, that wasn’t going to happen so I took the alternative route and self published with a local publisher. I am really glad I did. They did a fantastic job, as did the graphic designer, and I had all of the control. It was such great fun! It did mean I made some mistakes and within a couple of months I’d gone from a 1st edition to a 2nd edition but, hey ho, I can live with that and so far, thankfully, so have my readers! Relief!
How do you market your work? What works best for you?
I have found Twitter to be a fantastic place to get the word out and I have also had bookmarks designed. I’ve carried out a number of book signings where I have given out leaflets and that really helps too, especially when you get the media involved. The rest has been word of mouth and that is probably the best marketing tool you’ve got. Let’s face it if my best friend says to me “You have to read this book,” I’m probably going to. Although I would probably say “Lend it to me then!” Talking of lending, I also have copies in four local libraries and that has been very popular too. You don’t have to sell for marketing to be worthwhile. As long as whoever reads your work talks about it afterwards then you’ve achieved something valuable.
What was your favorite part of this story to write?
My fave bits in Poker Face were the argumentative scenes. Ruby is a feisty girl with a very bad attitude and it winds her strict boss up no end. I loved annoying him and having him dish out random moral punishments in return. The book has a lot of banter and in one scene Ruby gets her own back on the very cool trainee solicitor, Danny. That was very good fun!
Do your characters lead you on merry chases, creating new plots or do you have to pull it out of them?
The characters in Poker Face are so full of life and have such big personalities that it’s easy to work with them. I know exactly how each and every one would react in a situation and so all I have to do is think of as many situations as I can to put them through their paces.
What’s the most amusing thing that happened during the writing of this book?
While polishing Poker Face II I got so tired one night I tried to blow the lamp out thinking it was a candle, I went to the recycling cupboard to turn the sausages I was making for dinner and I regularly called the children by the dog’s name! There’s no hope for me!
Why this story? What was your inspiration?
I wanted an agent in New York (I won’t say who) but she was looking for a legal thriller so I decided to write one. I knew what I wanted it to feel like and then I took the advice that’s regularly banded about for new writers ‘write about what you know.’ I have worked in law firms from the age of eighteen and I left school with no qualifications and very little prospects. Basically, before I knew it, I had my young girl, going nowhere fast with a route to a very different life.
Tell us about your writing environment. Is it messy or neat? Is there a cat on the desk or a dog at your feet? Do you use pen and paper, laptop?
I write at the breakfast bar with two laptops on the go; one that allows me to write and one that doesn’t let me write but does let me get distracted by Twitter! There are cables everywhere and a constant supply of tea and chocolate biscuits. I have tried many times but I just can’t write using pen and paper, it’s too time-consuming! I would rather not write at all and wait till I had a laptop available than write reams that I can’t understand because I scrawl like a doctor! Sorry doctors…but it’s true 😀
What about your process? Do you produce consistent daily or weekly word counts or do the words rush out all at once and leave you with a dry spell?
I’m not that organised but thankfully I have each morning free to write and invariably my characters demand lots of attention through the night. When it comes to sitting down I have already played through the whole chapter in my head. All I have to do is hit the keys in the right order and drink tea.
What project are you working on now?
I am very bad at sticking to one thing. I approach DIY in the same way, ‘Oh I’m going to strip this wall, sand this skirting, tighten that screw, paper this, paint that…bored now maybe I’ll just…wash the car!’ Currently I’m editing my romance (which deals with teenage relationship abuse) and I have just written a 20,000 word costume story with a bit of a sizzly side to it. I’m also formatting Poker Face for upload to Smashwords and I’m polishing Poker Face II in time for the November release date! I really should focus more!
What was the toughest criticism you received as an author? What was the best compliment?
The toughest criticism was being told I was too nice to do scary and that I was more Enid Blyton than John Grisham. The best compliment was from a huge John Grisham fan, funnily enough!
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Do it! Do it! Do it! And KEEP DOING IT! I’m not sure what I could tell someone else. I’m not sure I’m qualified to give anything other than a sarcastic or silly response that makes people roll their eyes. However what I would remind people is that writing is a creative talent, so use those creative abilities to get you where you want to be. If the traditional route isn’t ready for you and the agents and publishers seem to have barricaded the office door…then go round the back!
Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
THANK YOU!!! I was so excited the other day when someone gave me a five-star review on Amazon and the reader asked me why hers mattered so much. I explained that every person who takes a chance on my book, parts with their money for a copy, reads it, loves it and shares that experience with me, has played a part in making me feel that bit more confident about what I do. I am grateful to every single one of them.
Also, I’d like to say thank you to people like you, Jim, who offer fellow writers the opportunity to talk about themselves and their work. I really appreciate the invitation, it means a lot, and I hope that soon you will pop over to my blog for a bit of a chit chat.
Where can we find you on the web?