Liz Jasper’s first novel, Underdead, won the 2008 EPPIE Award for Best Mystery. The sequel, Underdead In Denial, was published the following year to critical acclaim. Since then she has written a YA novel and is currently back to work on her next Underdead book.
Liz lives in California near hiking trails and good public libraries, in a house where chocolate is welcome and the resident cat gets fatter and lazier every year. Why does Liz enjoy writing paranormals? With a career path that has gone from teaching middle school science to economics and finance, writing about blood-sucking demons was only natural.
What prompted you to write that first book? Did you always want to be an
I’ve been writing since I was a kid, though back then it was mostly because I liked folding the papers and stapling them in a center like a real book. I moved on to writing terribly earnest poetry in college. In grad school I was a bit swamped for time so I stuck to dirty limericks. A friend and I used to pass them back and forth in statistics class and once we got the giggles so bad we had to leave. I want to apologize to that teacher. Ahem. Again. When I was working as an analyst, I was doing numbers all day and I missed creativity and I missed teaching. So I started my first book. That one is in a drawer now. Since then I’ve taken a boatload of classes (Writer’s U is excellent and cheap) and read a lot of books. (I’ve got recommendations for classes and books on my website: lizjasper.com). I’ve worked hard–and still work hard–to learn my craft. As much as I wish I could parlay my high school English Department award into instant ability to write a book, it doesn’t work that way. On the plus side, by working at writing you get to meet a lot of writers and writers are a hoot!
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest release?
Actually I’ve got the first two books in my lighthearted paranormal mystery series out in time for Halloween and as a Back To School Special (because I think the sting of going back to school lasts until about February). They are both available in eBook and in trade paperback. The first book in the series, EPIC award winning UNDERDEAD, is about newbie science teacher Jo Gartner who is bitten by a vampire–only he doesn’t quite do the job, leaving her almost undead or “underdead”. Murder follows and suddenly she’s dealing with cops, vampires, a love triangle, and a growing pile of lies to her mother. In the sequel, UNDERDEAD IN DENIAL, the story deepens and the consequences get bigger. I like the sort of book that you can curl up with on the couch after a rotten day and flip pages and giggle and that’s the sort of books I write. And in a nod to Halloween and the fact that school is in session, I’ve got the ebook of UNDERDEAD now on special for $.99.
Underdead isn’t you’re typical vampire story. Can you tell us how you came up with such a unique twist?
You know how you get a song stuck in your head? For some reason, I had a comedian’s punch line stuck in my head and it wouldn’t leave. I have no idea why a punch line from a comedy special I saw years ago suddenly resurfaced. I don’t even remember her name or I’d have sent her a nasty email for tormenting me like that. But for a long while I had an endless, virtually meaningless loop of “it was underdone-done-done” in my head, when suddenly it switched to underdead-dead-dead. And then I imagined a character saying, “You’re telling me vampires actually exist and the one who bit me didn’t quite manage to turn me Undead? So I’m merely…what? Underdead?” For some reason, the humor and pathos of it stuck with me.
Do you plot your stories out or do you just start writing?
I plot. I don’t know how anyone can write a mystery without plotting out a lot of stuff, though I know some do, and do it very well. But I can’t write without knowing where I’m going. I’ve learned that if I’m having one of those days where I’m dithering over a word in a scene, it’s because I haven’t nailed down the scene goal. That’s when I step away and make I know where my character’s head’s at. Having said all this, I have a fantasy that after I write enough books the plotting part will be so second nature that I’ll be able to sit down and just write.
What was the funniest thing you learned about your hero/heroine from writing
I love that in UNDERDEAD IN DENIAL we learn that the vampire, Will, listens to NPR. For some reason that’s just so darned NOT scary-vampire-y or hot-mysterious-man that it cracks me up.
Which of your characters is most like you and which is least like you?
Hmmm. That’s a toughie. They’re all like me in some regards. They all have some facets of my character and some bits and pieces from other people. You can’t write if your characters are too much like you. Characters, like plots, are not real life or they’d be boring. Jo is probably the most like me. And her mother is the least, because she is the sort that dresses up to go to the grocery store and I’m very much not. But I admire that put-together-ness.
Can you describe your office or where you normally write?
I have a superbly messy desk. Every so often I organize my papers and clean every inch of my desk and it slowly turns back into a trash heap.
Which came first the plot or the characters?
Actually, the title, UNDERDEAD, came first. And the plot and characters quickly followed.
Have you ever gotten stuck while writing a scene or chapter? How did you
I get stuck all the time. I’ve learned that it’s because I don’t have something in the plot nailed down or that I’m in a direction I don’t want to go. I have a writing buddy that I Skype with when I’m stuck.
What is the wackiest thing that’s ever happened to you since you started
It’s not the wackiest, but one of the most hilarious experiences I’ve had as a writer was at the RWA San Jose, CA chapter’s pitch conference a few years back. Catherine Coulter was running a workshop on how to write a sex scene. My books are very much PG (there’s romance but no gory details) so I wasn’t writing sex scenes, but I went anyways. The workshop was hilarious and for about an hour I was laughing so hard I cried. The how NOT to write a sex scene was the best part. I’m giggling just thinking of some of her examples. Seriously, if you ever get a chance to do a workshop with her, do it. She’s awesome.
Did you do any research for you book and, if so, did you find any
interesting information that you had to include in the story?
I research as I go. When I get stuck on a plot point and can’t write any further, that’s when I know it’s time to step away from the manuscript and nail down, say, a police procedure. Otherwise I will waste days dithering over whether my detective would really ask that question then to that person. I have lots of reference books and the internet is a great source of info, but sometimes you need to talk to an expert. I found this amazing when I first called my local police station, but they are set up to handle odd questions from people like me. The switch board put me right through to an officer who cheerfully answered all my questions. When I need forensic help I read D.P. Lyle’s books or ask him for help.
Where can readers find out more about you?
My website: lizjasper.com
I’m bumping up against the Facebook friend ceiling so I’ve started a page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Liz-Jasper/114356318669137
Thanks for having me Linda. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you!
Thanks for being here, Liz. It’s been a blast. Now, someone comment for a chance to win a free ebook of Underdead! 🙂
Liz, sounds like really cute books, and I agree with you that the sting of going back to school lasts until February. One reason I chose to homeschool my six. 🙂 Good luck!
Diana, I read “homeschool my six” and said, “Oh my God.” In horror. But I figure you’ve got it sorted out by now. You don’t even need the teacher’s glare. You’ve got Mom-Authority. : )
Your personality shines through in this interview, which makes your books sound like a lot of fun to read.
Thanks ccjamess! It’s a delight to meet you here.
Great post. Linda, you are an awesome interviewer. Liz, the book sounds fantastic!
I agree with CC, your personality really shines through and Im betting it’s the same in your books too. What a FUN idea for a vampire story! I dont doubt your sales will be great!
hugs, Kari Thomas, http://www.authorkari.com
Thanks Kari, and hugs back! “Fun” and “vampire” don’t normally mix but that’s why I like writing these so much. : )
Thanks Bella. Linda is an awesome interviewer. 🙂
Awesome interview, Liz. Your personality leaps off the page which I know translates to your books.
Thanks Ginger! If only what’s in my head leapt into my books to the point where I wouldn’t have to actually do the work of writing. Wouldn’t that be great? : ) See? THIS is why we need paranormal in real life!
Yikes! I took a day off from my computer and missed this lovely blog! Thanks for sharing, Liz! Sorry I’m late to the party. 🙂
Hi Regina, thanks for stopping by! You are allowed–no, encouraged–to take a Saturday away from the computer to have fun. In fact, forget the encouragement. I insist upon it. Mostly because I’m having a The Shining flashback (“All work and no play…”) and that movie gives me the creeps. : 0
I love the source of your name for the Underdead series.