Author Jill Sorenson is known for her heart-pounding romantic suspense. You can read AAR’s review of her latest book, Backwoods, here. I know Jill on Twitter and asked if she’d be interested in answering a few questions. Dabney: Hi Jill, thanks for talking with me. AAR reviewer Lynn describes your latest book, Backwoods, as “a lovely romance that takes place on The Camping Trip From Hell.” It’s a fair description. I didn’t like camping before I read it. Now I’m never going again! What inspired you to write this very scary story in this setting?
Jill: Hi Dabney! Thanks so much for having me here at AAR. I got the idea for Backwoods a few years ago while hiking with my family. We were in an unfamiliar area with overgrown brush on all sides. It was like walking through a cornfield, sort of claustrophobic. There might have been trash or gun shells on the ground. It wasn’t a nice, picturesque hiking trail and I felt uneasy. We’ve been lost in the woods before. I imagined a family of four coming across a couple of creepy hunters. The mother and daughter get kidnapped and the father and son try to save them. In my original plot there was no romance, just suspense. The blended-family dynamic came later. I needed to infuse some romance into the story and I liked the poetic justice of two betrayed exes finding love together.
Dabney: The interpersonal relationships in this book are reflective of our modern world of blended families. The primary romance is between Abby, a divorced mom, and Nathan, the father of her ex-husband’s stepson. The secondary relationship is between Abby’s daughter Brooke and Nathan’s son Leo; the two are step-siblings. Was it a challenge to write characters who had so many layers of connection?
Jill: No, I don’t think so. The characters already had established emotional connections (except for Abby and Nathan), so I had a lot to work with and pull from. I particularly enjoyed writing Nathan’s interactions with Leo.
Dabney: Nathan is a recovering alcoholic. Another of your heroes (Owen from Badlands) is an ex-skinhead. Yet another (Eric, the secondary hero from The Edge of Night) is a member of a violent gang. What appeals to you about writing heroes with serious baggage?
Jill: Good question! I guess I like redemption stories. Flawed heroes (and heroines) appeal to me. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and changed my life for the better, so I’m drawn to stories about people like me. People who struggle to get by or do the right thing. Addiction is a recurring theme in my books. So is atonement, self-awareness and personal responsibility.
Dabney: Your novel is set on the Pacific Crest Trail. Is that the West Coast version of the Appalachian Trail? Have you hiked it?
Jill: I don’t know what the Appalachian Trail is! The Pacific Crest Trail runs from Mexico to Canada, and I’ve hiked very little of it.
Dabney: Abby’s ex husband (and Brooke’s dad) is a plastic surgeon. Abby herself has breast implants and is happy with them. I can’t think of another romance I’ve read where the heroine has implants and it’s not portrayed as a bad choice. (Disclaimer: I am married to a plastic surgeon.) Why did you give Abby implants? Have readers responded to that choice?
Jill: I read a book by Karen Robards years ago in which the heroine has implants. She likes them. The hero likes them. No big deal. I can’t remember why I gave Abby implants. Maybe because she’s a perfectionist about her appearance. Her bra plays a role in the story. Perfect, perky, natural breasts also just aren’t the reality for many women. Natural beauty is held up as the gold standard, but it’s unattainable for most of us, like vaginal orgasms. Women with implants (or sexy clothes, too much makeup etc.) are often portrayed as greedy and shallow. I think that’s a harmful, inaccurate stereotype and I wanted to challenged it. I’ve seen a few positive comments about Abby’s implants. One reader told me the detail bothered her but she appreciated the fact that I raised the issue.
Dabney: I love well-done romantic suspense. It’s always a treat to read a book where the romance and the suspense are well-done. When you set out to write your books, do you plot the romance first, the suspense first, or do something else entirely?
Jill: I usually start with setting and character, which is like the flesh of the story. The suspense plot is the backbone and the romance is the blood flowing through, giving everything life. Basically it all has to work together as a whole, but I try to nail down the suspense plot early. The emotional elements are a little more flexible and organic. I make sure to leave room for the romance, with quiet moments and alone time.
Dabney: Backwoods is the fourth book in your Aftershock series. The premise of the first book-San Diego suffers a severe earthquake that kills many and destroys whole parts of the city–is utterly believable. What’s the most interesting thing you learned about earthquakes when you were researching the book?
Jill: I took an earthquake preparedness class and learned that my premise is pretty farfetched! The known fault zones in the San Diego area could not generate an 8.5 earthquake. A blind (undiscovered) fault would have to be responsible.
Dabney: You’ve set several of your books away from cities, in “wild” environments. What appeals to you about writing those settings?
Jill: I love the great outdoors and writing is like traveling for me. I get to visit awesome places in my mind. Remote areas are perfect suspense settings because there’s no help around for miles. I can’t get enough stranded-island stories, survival shows, man vs. nature, disaster movies etc.
Dabney: What’s up next? Will we see more of Leo and Brooke? Will you ever write the story of Eric and Meghan (from The Edge of Night)? And I know readers still badger you to find out whatever happened between Ian and Maria (from Caught in the Act)!
Jill: I don’t know if we’ll see more Leo and Brooke! I hope so. Eric and Meghan are my most requested couple. Maria and Ian are second. I have a short explanation here about why I put those projects on hold. Many of my secondary characters are YA age and not ready for an HEA yet, or I’m not ready to write their stories. I enjoy the freedom of leaving things open sometimes. The only promise I make is an HEA for the main couple.
I just finished Wild, book five in the Aftershock series. It’s another earthquake story, set during the same event as Aftershock, at the “San Diego Wildlife Park.” Earthquakes and wild animals! Together! It’s coming in January 2015.
I’m currently working on Riding Dirty, which is a bit of a departure for me. It’s erotic suspense with a motorcycle club/criminal informant hero and a forensic psychologist heroine. The story has some of the gritty elements readers expect from me, along with a few surprises. I don’t want anyone to get bored.
My next project after that is Ace and Janelle’s story, tentatively titled Saltlands.
Jill: Thank you for having me!
Jill has generously offered five signed copies of Backwoods. If you want to be entered in the giveaway, let us know in the comments. The contest closes on Monday, the 30th, at midnight. You are also welcome to ask questions and/or comment without entering.
All the books mentioned in the post are available through Amazon and other sellers.