Perth-based Juanita Kees, one of three guests at my Stories on Stage: Date Night event (April 29, 2015), describes herself as “Writer, Editor and Cleaning Fairy – A Woman on a Mission!” She escapes the real world by reading and writing romantic fiction. When she’s not writing, editing or proofreading, she’s the cleaning fairy and mother to three boys (hubby included, his toys are just a little more expensive). Her not-so-miniature Daschund, Sam keeps her company while writing. Juanita is the author of Under the Hood and Under Cover of Dark (both through Escape Publishing). She loves to hear from fans – you can contact her at her website, on Twitter or on Facebook.
Monique: First up, what do you think of when I say … vanilla?
Juanita: Safe, easy, comfort zone. To quote Greg Gildersleeve – It all boils down to this: Do you want to immerse your reader in a vanilla world, or do you want to open her palate to other flavours?
Monique: Your second romantic suspense novel, Under Cover of Dark, was released last year. Can you tell readers a bit about it?
Juanita: In Under Cover of Dark, the mission becomes personal for Detective Mark Johnson when he meets and falls in love with Lily Bennetti, the widow of the Tag Raiders gang kingpin, Gino Bennetti.
As the investigation continues and Lily’s wounds begin to heal, she finds the detective easy to trust and the friendship between them blossoms into more. But the secret Lily holds places everyone in very real danger. When it is finally revealed, Lily will lose everything: her son, the man she’s grown to love, her freedom, and her life.
Monique: What was your favourite chapter or part to write in Under Cover of Dark?
Juanita: Killing off Gino Bennetti gave me great satisfaction but my favourite chapter would be the one where Lily grows in strength from being the battered wife to loving and being loved as she deserves, where she finds her true self under all hurt she’s experienced at the hands of her emotionally abusive husband.
Monique: How does it link to the other book in the Tag Raiders series, Under the Hood?
Juanita: Under Cover of Dark follows on from book 1, Under the Hood where TJ Stevens and Scott Devin develop a rehabilitation program and refuge for drug-addicted and homeless teenagers who become immersed in the gang culture on the streets. Along with the help of Detective Mark Johnson, they’re committed to helping the kids turn their lives around and do what they can to bring dealers to justice.
Monique: What’s the feedback been like so far for your novels?
Juanita: I’m thrilled to say that Under Cover of Dark has a 4 ½ star rating on Amazon and was a 2014 finalist in the Australian Romance Readers Awards in Romantic Suspense. Under the Hood faired just as well holding steady with 3 ½ stars and a 2014 Romance Writers of Australia RUBY Award nomination. A girl’s got to be happy with that, right? I know, I am J Reviews on Goodreads and Amazon have been positive and I like to see what readers liked (or didn’t like) about the books. It’s a good exercise in polishing my craft as a writer, so I’m thankful the feedback has been mostly positive.
Monique: What’s the attraction to writing romantic suspense?
Juanita: The danger, adventure and action, knowing the bad guys get what they deserve, and the good guys do too. It’s a world where I can make a difference, where I can enforce the law and make the world a better place. That’s hard to do in the real world, but not impossible. I hope my books send the message that you can turn your life around if you want to, all you need is the love and support of people who care for you and those who are reaching for the same higher goals.
Monique: How do you mentally prepare for writing a love scene? Is wine involved?
Juanita: I’m not sure who said this, but it’s darn good advice: ‘Write drunk, edit sober.’ Or maybe it’s the other way around? I’m a panster, so I just let the characters at it whenever they feel like it, at the depth they like it (no pun intended). The only thing I’m mentally aware of at the time is, ‘Oh my God! What if my mother reads this?’
Monique: What does your husband think about the love scenes? And your mother?
Juanita: My husband likes to tell everyone he’s the model for my books, but since he hasn’t read them yet, he may be in for a shock (or a darn good lesson, maybe?) My mother, bless her, cheers me on. She keeps telling me she’s not the prude I think she is. Onya, Mum!
Monique: What makes a love scene in a book good? And what makes it bad?
Juanita: Emotion (among other things) is what make its good—lovemaking is not just about Part A plugs into Part B, its feeling that deep connection with someone, the overwhelming love in your heart for that person when you adore every inch of each other, with or without flaws. Without emotion and a deep connection, it’s having sex, scratching an itch—not that there’s anything wrong with that too! J
What makes it bad? Timing! I’m not a big fan of harsh words (like cock and clit) for body parts but if the timing in a love scene is right, they can work. If your characters are tearing off each other’s clothes and grabbing at body parts without a build-up of sexual tension (eye contact, a fleeting touch, a sexy dance) between them, they’re just having sex all the time. Sex between partners should be deep and meaningful, no matter what sub-genre of Romance you write. If the emotional connection is there, you have a winner.
Monique: Which five songs would you put on a soundtrack to complement this book?
Juanita: I will do Anything for Love – Meatloaf
True Love – Pink
Not Fair – Lily Allen
Bulletproof – La Roux
Teenage Dirtbag – Wheatus
Monique: When you read romance do you like them mild, medium, or freakin’ hot?
Juanita: All of the above!
Monique: Tell me about the dirty draft sessions. They sound intriguing.
Juanita: Well, what happens in the dungeon stays in the dungeon *wink*. The three of us (Jennie Jones, Lily Malone and me) formed a close connection on Facebook. I’d met Jennie in person a couple of times before but when Lily came to Perth for the RWA Fremantle conference, we all hit it off instantly. We made a pledge to meet up in person once or twice a year for a ‘session’.
They usually involve lots of wine, champagne and food, not to mention the odd nature walk with muddy endings. Mostly, they involve chatting (a lot!) about books we’ve read, our next ‘big thing’, and our current ‘dirty drafts’. We bounce ideas off each other, take a break from our real lives, and generally laugh a lot.
Monique: You wake in the middle of the night with a brilliant book-ish idea. What do you do?
Juanita: Get up and write it while it’s fresh in my mind!
Monique: Do you become emotionally attached to your characters? What happens when the book is finished? Do you close the door or wonder what they’re getting up to?
Juanita: Absolutely! It took me months to get over writing Under Cover of Dark. I was so deeply invested in Lily’s character, I found it hard to write the third book in the Tag Raiders series. I was emotionally and mentally drained by her story because I never expected it to be so intense.
Detective Mark is the man of my dreams (sorry, DH!). He’s tough but kind-hearted and caring too when he needs to be. (There’s that ‘timing’ thing again).
Monique: When you write, what is your biggest weakness?
Juanita: No matter how hard I try, I cannot plan or plot because my characters never do what I expect them to.
Monique: What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?
Juanita: That we earn a lot of money writing J. It’s only the blessed few who make a fortune from writing. Don’t write for money, write for love. It makes a big difference to your story.
Monique: Which sort of books do you like to read?
Juanita: Romance of course, but I do like a good mystery, action or thriller too.
Monique: Apart from writing-related projects, what else do you like doing with your time?
Gardening, going to the theatre, watching a good movie, going to concerts and eating out.
Monique: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you while writing?
Juanita: I can’t think of anything that’s happened to me while I’m writing, but here’s a little story for you. My husband’s face lights up when he recognises an author’s name in a bookstore and remembers meeting them at a conference or book signing. I make him pose with the book for a Facebook shot. The authors love it but it earns us a few funny looks from shoppers and staff. He has a great sense of humour about it.
Monique: Is vanilla a good thing?
Juanita: Yes! With a little chocolate, strawberry sauce and spice thrown into the mix J
Thanks for answering my questions, Juanita.