I am pleased to welcome author Regina Jennings to Modern Jo March. The winner of the National Reader’s Choice Award, a two-time Golden Quill finalist and a finalist for the Oklahoma Book of the Year Award, Regina has seven novels and three novellas to her name. She recently released her novella, Bound and Determined, which is the second book in her wonderful Fort Reno series. I am so grateful that Regina took time out of her very busy schedule to talk with MJM about Bound and Determined, camels, her writing process, and more. So without further ado, let’s get to it! ;)
MJM: Hi Regina! I’m so glad you had time to chat with me. To get things started, will you tell us where you were raised and where you live now?
Regina: Certainly! I was born in Joplin, Missouri, and moved to Oklahoma when I was two years old. I’ve lived in the same community west of Oklahoma City ever since.
MJM: That’s cool! I can relate to that as I was born and raised, and still reside in the same part of NY. I grew up in the foothills of the Adirondacks and absolutely adore the mountains. Do you have a favorite/spot feature in Oklahoma?
Regina: My favorite feature is the people. People in Oklahoma are so friendly and helpful. As far as the location, my part of Oklahoma is distinguished by rolling plains. You can see forever. Visiting places with dense forests makes me feel a bit claustrophobic at times. Someone could be nearby, and you’d never see them. That’s a bit freaky. And where’s the sky?
MJM: Haha It’s funny, I’m actually claustrophobic but feel totally at home in the woods/forest.
As a writer myself, I’m always interested in how other writers came to be in the profession. Have you always loved to write or did the passion develop over time?
Regina: Some authors say that they are compelled to write. They couldn’t stop writing, even if they wanted to. While I love to read, writing is a chore for me. It’s hard work. I’ll always love telling stories and being creative, but putting words on paper is tedious. Writing is work for me. I keep doing it because it’s profitable and because there’s a lot of satisfaction with finishing a book, but for me there are more exciting things to do than sitting in front of a computer.
MJM: That’s so interesting! You’re the second author in a row that has said that writing isn’t necessarily a burning passion for them. I admit that I love to and find it easy to come up with stories, but find it a bit of a drag to sit down in front of a screen to type it all up. Haha. So how did you get started as an author?
Regina: I wrote things for my church when they requested them – newsletters, missionary profiles, skits, etc. I’d always wondered if I could write a full-length book, but didn’t have the nerve to start. In 2009, I wrote a Christmas play for our church and the response was very positive. Suddenly, I couldn’t hide my dream any longer. I was tired of making excuses for not trying to write a novel, so that became my New Year’s Resolution. Seven months later I took that manuscript to my first writer’s conference and that was the start of my career.
MJM: Lucky for me and my fellow readers! ;) I’ve had quite a few authors tell me that attending writer’s conferences is the best way to get started and to get a publishing deal. Did it happen quickly for you or did you have to plug away at it for a while?
Regina: I’m embarrassed at how quickly it happened. I took that first manuscript to conference and sat down for a pitch session with my dream publisher. Within a few months I had a contract. The only way to explain it is God’s timing.
MJM: Wow! That’s wonderful! God knows what we need and when we’re ready for it. :)
Having a passion for writing, I’m always curious about how authors go about writing. Could you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you outline your stories or do you just start writing? Do you model your characters after real-life people (either in your own life or maybe an actor?) Do you listen to certain music? Do you write at a certain time (like mornings or nights)?
Regina: Because I’m under contract, I start each story by submitting a synopsis to my editor. That gives me an outline to work from. Then I write a thousand words a day until I’m finished with the first draft. I set it aside for a few weeks, then start rewrites, which are usually intense. My writing time is squeezed in between homeschooling and managing a busy household, but the earlier in the day I can finish, the less stressed I feel.
All of my characters have flaws and quirks, so of course they couldn’t be based on my flawless family and friends.
MJM: My goodness that must take some juggling, discipline, and good scheduling!
Have you always loved reading or did you learn to love it over time?
Regina: I have always loved reading. My idea of a fun summer was going to my grandma’s and browsing through her books. I think I’ve read every Reader’s Digest Condensed collection published between 1975 and 1985.
MJM: Ah a fellow book nerd. ;) As writers, we tend to have one or a few authors in our early years that inspired and shaped our own style and preferences. What author has had the most influence/impact on you as a writer?
Regina: Laura Ingalls Wilder. My great grandparents were Laura and Almanzo’s neighbors in Mansfield, Missouri. I learned to love history through her stories, and to love sassy heroines.
MJM: Oh my goodness! Laura Ingalls Wilder is probably one of my top two greatest influences as well. That is so neat that your grandparents were their neighbors! My goodness would I love to be a little fly on their wall. ;) I also learned to love history and particularly pioneer/western stories through her books.
While we’re on the topic of influencers, what is one book that has had the greatest influence on you?
Regina: Although I haven’t read it in years, I’d have to say Gone with the Wind. Epic historical romance at its finest. As much as I’d love to rival them, I don’t know if there’ll ever be a couple as memorable as Scarlett and Rhett.
MJM: What was the inspiration behind your Fort Reno series? How did it come about?
Regina: My editor and I were brainstorming a new series. He asked if I was interested in writing about my home state. The reason I had never pursued it is that I write humorous romance in the late 1800s. Indian Territory wasn’t exactly hilarious at that time, but at his encouragement, I dug a little deeper to find some good story material. Luckily, Fort Reno isn’t far from my home and is full of colorful history. The biggest hurdle to setting romances at a fort in isolated Indian Territory is getting single women there. Solving that problem has led to several fun, original story premises.
MJM: Ah, I can see now how that would be a bit challenging, haha. I’m so glad you solved that problem because I LOVE cavalry stories! I think Holding the Fort is my new favorite book from your catalogue. I truly enjoyed Louisa Bell and Major Daniel Adams’ story. I also found Bradley and Ambers’ story just as entertaining and rather intriguing due to three unusual characters. ;)
Regina: Thank you!
MJM: Let’s talk about Bound and Determined. It is the second installment in your Fort Reno series, and follows Private Bradley Willis. First off, did you know right from the beginning that the second installment would feature Bradley?
Regina: Not initially. When writing Holding the Fort, I planned for three books with the heroes being Major Adams, Lieutenant Hennessey, and Frisco Smith. I’d hoped that someday I could revisit Bradley and give him a story when he was older and more established, but the novella opportunity came along early. The timing of the story changed the plot a bit, but it ended up working perfectly.
MJM: Well I’m so glad Bradley got his story! It was wonderful. As I said before, this story features 3 characters that you don’t usually find in the Historical genre. How did the camels come to be in the story? I loved them and the fact that they had their own personalities. They were such a fascinating twist!
Regina: Ahhh…the camels. As a writer, you’re probably familiar with those little tidbits you find while researching, that take a life of their own. I’d bought a book on the pony express at a library sale and in it was a tiny line about the U.S. Cavalry experimenting with camels. I tracked down the footnotes and soon had a book called, The Last Camel Charge by Forrest Bryant Johnson. I fell in love with the hilarious, but true, improbability of having camels in the cavalry and knew I had to get them in Indian Territory somehow. It’s been one of my favorite research projects so far. Someday, I might just have to get a camel. (I take that back. In an earlier interview, I said I’d always wanted to learn to play banjo and guess what my husband surprised me with for Christmas? I do NOT want camels, dear.)
MJM: Ah yes. I think researching is the best part of writing. That’s amazing how it all started with a book at a sale and a footnote. I love when things fall into place like that! You go down a rabbit hole only to come out with an awesome, unique story. I find myself down one of those holes currently regarding the Battle of the Alamo….. Not sure what I’m going to do with it though, hehe! Oh my goodness! Well he definitely gets points for being thoughtful and creative! Haha, oh but think about the party conversations you could have! ;)
MJM: I am currently working on my first novel and hoping to publish this year, so whenever I get to sit down and chat with an author, I always like to pick their brain for advice. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Regina: Being a published author doesn’t change the important things about you or your life. For years I dreamed of being an author and it was so exciting when it happened, but I’m glad I didn’t put my other dreams on hold waiting for it. Live your life, take care of your family, and serve where God has placed you. It’s by doing those things that we have the experiences to write about. And if God never opens the doors for you, then you will have no regrets over wasted time.
MJM: That is very sound advice. I think too often we can place too much importance on one dream or our career, that’s when we tend to run amuck. And on that note, I shall let you go, it has been wonderful to be able to chat with you. I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your day to do this. I truly appreciate it!
Regina: Thank you for having me, Liz. I’ve enjoyed our visit!
Liz Austin. Bibliophile. Writer. Book hoarder. I would rather be reading....