Author on the Couch: Babette de Jongh
Today I’m conducting a session with… Babette de Jongh
Babette is giving away an autographed copy of ANGEL FALLS and a coffee mug with the slogan, “Don’t make me kill you off in my next book, because I will.”Enter to #win an e-copy of Angel Falls by @Babette_deJongh and a super cool coffee mug! #giveaway Click To Tweet
Congratulations to Babette!
She’s a Finalist in the Aspen Gold Reader’s Choice Contest!
Me: Tell me about an experience that had a profound impact on your life.
Babette: In my freshman year of high school, I auditioned and was invited to attend The Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham as a dance major for my sophomore year. The big-city boarding school environment was a seismic shift for a country girl who’d never been out from under her mama’s coat-tails.
Back then, ASFA rented its classrooms and dorm space from Birmingham Southern College. We ASFArts (as the college students almost-affectionately called us) assimilated into the college crowd, ate in their cafeteria, hung out where they hung out, and enjoyed almost as much freedom. Though our dorm had curfews, we felt free to ignore them. Many of us ran wild most of the time, but as dedicated creatives, we did show up for class. Also, the dance department’s director, Dame Sonia Arova, was downright scary. It was widely known that if you skipped class, she’d come to your dorm room to make sure you were actually sick.
We were allowed to take a class in one of the other disciplines, so I took an art class. I noticed then that the art majors had a lot more fun than the dancers. While the dancers rehearsed late into the evenings, the art majors painted murals on the classroom walls. While the dancers sweated and taped-up their bleeding toes, the art majors lounged around with their sketchbooks, accompanied by the music majors’ impromptu jam sessions. By now, I was more committed to having fun than to becoming a ballerina, so I submitted my art portfolio and auditioned, and was allowed to change my junior-year major to art.
Of course, we also had to take academic classes, many of them college-level because of the incredible teaching staff. My brilliant English Lit teacher also happened to be an actor. He didn’t just read the Canterbury Tales, he performed them, belting out the Old English lines in a way that made the bawdy bits hilariously clear. And, his creative writing assignments unlocked a new avenue of creativity for me.
He might have succeeded in his efforts to seduce me over to the creative writing department for my senior year. I loved art, but I was tempted because I loved writing, too. Before I had to make that decision, my parents finally realized how much fun I was having, and yanked me out of ASFA. I let them drag me home, but I wasn’t planning to stay. I was too used to freedom to crawl back under the thumb of parental supervision. So I obtained early-admission to college, where I refocused my energies on art and dance.
The creative writing seed had been planted, but because I missed out on a senior year at ASFA, it didn’t get watered for a long, long time. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was in my 40’s, but I might not have written at all if I hadn’t gone to ASFA.The creative writing seed had been planted, but it didn’t get watered for a long, long time. Click To Tweet
Me: What personality trait of yours helps you most as an author?
Babette: My mind is heavily right-brain oriented. I’m a creative thinker with a huge imagination and a passionate enthusiasm for new projects. I’m always wondering, what if? The first book I wrote was born from the question, What if the good-looking rich guy (Richard Gere) in the movie Pretty Woman turned out to be a psychopath? That book will be the third book in the Angel Falls series.
Me: What personality trait of yours hinders you most as an author?
Babette: Do I have to pick just one? 😉 I’m too much of a perfectionist. I’ll tweak something until it’s black and blue. I’ll write almost to the end of a manuscript, then decide I hate it, gut the whole thing, and start over. Or, it’ll languish while I hop over to a different project. That’s where book two of the Angel Falls series is right now. Book three is done, book four is nearly done, and book two lies eviscerated while I’m completing the final edits on Hear Them Speak, my non-fiction manuscript about telepathic animal communication.
The fact that I have several projects to choose from stems from the flip side of my extreme creativity. I have trouble focusing on only one thing because every idea I have seems like a great one. And those ideas won’t let me go until I at least make a start on them. I never seem to suffer from writer’s block because if one story stalls, there’s always another to work on. It’s both a blessing and a curse.
Me: What was your high point as a writer—a time when you were happiest, on cloud nine, flying high? What happened?
Babette: I’ve had a few high points as a writer, moments when I thought “This is it, the magic bullet that’s going to get me there!” (Wherever there really is. I’ve realized that there keeps moving out ahead of you, no matter what milestones you achieve.)
I hit cloud nine when I was a Golden Heart finalist in 2011. I was flying high when a senior editor at Harlequin called me at home to chat about one of my books and ask for revisions. I was over the moon happy when Angel Falls got its first 5-star review. And again when Angel Falls won the New England Readers’ Choice Award.
Me: What was your low point as a writer—a time when you questioned your path, a time when you felt really crappy about your writing? What happened? How did you get over it?
Babette: I’ve never questioned my path as a writer, mostly because I’m incredibly stubborn. I got a late start, but I’ve put a lot of time and effort into it by now, and I’m not going to allow that time and effort to be wasted. I haven’t set the world on fire (yet), but I’ve made a good solid start. Angel Falls has been well-received, and it was a huge relief to know that my critique partner wasn’t lying to me when she said it was good-to-go.
Angel Falls did get a bad review on Goodreads recently, which brought my rating down to 3.something, and that was definitely a low point. I wouldn’t have even known about it if I hadn’t popped over to my author dashboard to link it up with my blog (which I really do intend to contribute to one day soon). I read the whole (extremely long-winded) review, let myself have hurt feelings for a day or two, and reminded myself that art is subjective. Some people just aren’t going to love your work. And a few will go out of their way to be hateful.
I figured I couldn’t do anything about that negative review beyond understanding that it would eventually get buried under better ones. But then the thought of burying bad reviews gave me the perfect recipe for revenge. I went on Goodreads and Amazon and wrote great reviews for some favorite books I had read but not yet reviewed. Because even though I couldn’t bury the ugly review someone gave me, I could help other authors to overcome any mean-spirited reviews they may have received. Responding to darkness with light is really the only thing that works.
Plus! While answering this question, I realized writing about it helps, too. And, when I went on Goodreads to remember exactly what number followed the 3 after the bad review, I found my numbers had crept back up to 5-star again. So that helped.
And wine. Wine also helps.
Me: Which of your characters are you most like? Why?
Babette: There’s a bit of me in every character I create, even the bad ones. There is always an element of “What would I do if I was…” built into each character’s actions and reactions. I was surprised how much I enjoyed getting into a truly evil character’s head and justifying his actions. Because to a psychopath, everything he does is completely normal and understandable.
But the character who is most like me is Casey Alexander, the ballet teacher heroine in Angel Falls, the first book in the series. When I first started writing Casey’s story, I was following the axiom of “write what you know.” I had left my home town to study ballet. So I wrote about a heroine who left her home town to become a ballerina.
I came back to my hometown after graduating from college, and took over a small ballet studio, by invitation of the current teacher who was ready to move on. That’s exactly what Casey did. So Casey’s story was another What if?
Casey left behind a sweetheart she’d never stopped loving. I didn’t, but I could imagine it, right? What if I’d been held back emotionally by an unfinished relationship, moved back home and been granted another chance with my first sweetheart, only to fall in love with a gorgeous, sexy Scot with commitment issues?
And the biggest what if of all was the premise I wanted to explore, because I hadn’t encountered it in any of the romance novels I’d read: What if the heroine had to choose between two equally compelling heroes? Both were good guys. Neither was an asshole or a serial killer. One was a dream of the past, the other a promise for the future. Neither was perfect. Neither was a sure bet. Just like real life. You can’t reach out for one without letting go of the other. I wanted to present the reader with an impossible choice.
Me: Name a writing pet peeve of yours. Something that hits you like fingernails-on-a-chalkboard every time you see it. Why does it bug you?
Babette: My pet peeve (and please, for the love of God, if you’re reading this, don’t ever do it) is when writers use the antiquated and clichéd phrase: She waited with baited breath…. Because first of all, the whole sentence is so stale, any thinking reader would gag before swallowing it. But second, and even more important, the word the writer is seeking is BATED, from the word ABATE, meaning to reduce. The word BAITED refers to the act of putting a slimy worm or other bit of stinking offal onto a hook and tossing it into the water to lure a fish to its death.My current motto is F#@% it. I find it incredibly liberating. @Babette_deJongh #AuthorontheCouch… Click To Tweet
Me: What’s your life motto? Why does that motto speak to you?
Babette: My current motto is F#@% it. I find it incredibly liberating. I published Angel Falls with the mindset that it would be a grand experiment. I was tired of waiting for traditional publishers to see the story as I saw it. I was ready to leap off the cliff into the unknown, just to have it over with. Maybe it would fail. Maybe it wouldn’t. But whatever happened, I would learn from the experience, and the next book would benefit from my education.
The motto F#@% it speaks to me because many of the things I try to control are beyond my control, and always have been. I can’t control my kids. I can’t control my husband. I can’t control my dogs or my cats or the weeds that seem determined to take over the yard. I even have a hard time controlling what I decide to consume in terms of food, or alcohol, or political news shows. But I can control what time I decide to get up each morning and sit down at the computer. I can control what I write, what I delete, and when a manuscript I’ve slaved over is ready to send out onto the stage.
Me: Tell me a bit about your Southern Contemporary Romance ANGEL FALLS
Welcome to Angel Falls, a deep-south small town in the heart of L.A. (That’s Lower Alabama, y’all.)
Injury shatters Casey Alexander’s dream of becoming a prima ballerina, so she opens a dance studio in her home town of Angel Falls. Among her students are the daughters of her high-school sweetheart Ben and his wife Melody, Casey’s ex-best friend.
Witnessing Ben and Melody’s happy-ever-after on a weekly basis fuels her determination to find someone of her own to love. But eligible men are scarce as hen’s teeth in the quaint little town on the backside of nowhere. Until a sexy Scottish editor, Ian Buchanan, buys the town’s failing newspaper.
Ian is hot and hunky, intelligent and interesting, easy to fall for. And Casey does fall, hard. Then fate returns Ben to Casey. Torn between the might’ve beens of the past and a new dream of the future, Casey must choose between one man she never stopped loving, and another who holds the power to heal her wounded heart.
Me: Share with us a favorite paragraph or two from ANGEL FALLS.
Set-up: She’s standing at the kitchen sink with her back to him, and he has just told her that she has a sexy backside:
Ian reached around me from behind. His arms bracketed me for a moment then curved to hold me close. With my sexy backside cradled by his sexy front side, I was surrounded by his warmth, his spicy scent, and some mysterious, magical pheromone. I let my head drop back onto his shoulder. He kissed my neck, then turned me around. He lifted me up until I half-sat on the edge of the kitchen counter. I wrapped my legs around his waist, hooked my ankles together, and rested my thighs on his hard, muscular forearms. My you-know-what was right up against his, and the iron-hard blast-furnace of his erection just about melted my panties.
What I like most about this passage is the fun I got to have with words. It starts with the imagery of the paragraph—can’t we all remember a time when we were embraced from behind, prolonging the anticipation of what would happen once we turned around? Then there’s the parallelism of with my sexy backside cradled by his sexy front side. The use of multiple senses; his scent and heat and muscularity. The coy term you-know-what followed by the more explicit iron-hard blast-furnace. And the fun imagery of melted panties.
You can find Babette here:
Abbie Roads writes dark emotional novels featuring damaged characters, but always gives her hero and heroine a happy ending… after torturing them for three hundred pages. RACE THE DARKNESS and HUNT THE DAWN are available now! SAVING MERCY Book 1 in the Fatal Truth Series is available now.