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Writers@Work: Interview with Debut Novelist J. Mercer

June 20, 2017


Note From Rochelle


Dear Readers,

It’s almost time! The Write-A-Thon Critique and Coaching Group starts Wednesday, June 28. If you need accountability, feedback on your writing, and tools to overcome writer’s block, sign up today at the Group Coaching page.

Today I’m delighted to welcome debut novelist J. Mercer, who shares her secrets to finding time to write and gives you her top recommendations for summer reads. If you’d like to win a copy of her brand new novel, Dark and Stormy–trust me, it’s a fun read!—enter to win below.



The Write Now! Coach



An Interview with Debut Novelist

J. Mercer

By Rochelle Melander


How did you get started writing novels?

I wrote in middle school/junior high. I remember bringing notebooks with me babysitting and writing after the kids went to bed. Then I grew up, went to college for accounting and psychology, graduated, and opened a dog daycare with my husband. When we had kids, I was home in the early years with my girls, and my brain started thinking in stories again. I sat down with my youngest on my lap to take it back up, and it came pouring out of me, like it had been pent up all those years waiting, and I haven’t stopped since.


Tell us a little about your new novel, Dark and Stormy.

Dark & Stormy is romantic suspense. On the first page, you find out Faryn eventually dies, and on the second, we go back in time to when she leaves her entire life and moves to a small town to start over. She meets many interesting people and a romance ensues. Lots of secrets, baggage, and volatile people, all of them trying to get what they want, which is a recipe for disaster.




One of the characters has a go-to drink of a Dark and Stormy. Is that your favorite drink?

Actually, the story had been brewing in my head when I first heard about the drink. It sounded like such a great title for what I was thinking that I wrote it in. My favorite cocktail is a Moscow Mule though, which is similar—ginger beer and lime, but vodka instead of rum. And no, I don’t drink much, even though I like to throw around the quote ‘Write drunk, edit sober.’ The sentiment is good, but it’s more like ‘Write with coffee, edit with more coffee.’


What books inspired you before and during the writing process?

I was reading a lot of Patricia Cornwell, Tess Gerritsen, and Carl Hiassen at the time, and watching a lot of CSI and Without a Trace. Dark & Stormy isn’t quite what any of those are, but it was my version of that—haunting personal struggles and relationships. I love writing about relationships, and about characters who are all things. Not just good. Not just bad. Not just anything. I love digging into psyches that cause people to do questionable things, but try to pull the reader into it with them until they almost agree. So even if you want to smack them, you can’t help but see their side of it, too.


What are your favorite and least favorite parts about writing?

My favorite parts are the ideas at the start, and then seeing it all come together at the end. My least favorite part is waiting. It seems there’s always the waiting—wait to draft until there’s enough in your head, wait to edit until you’ve had some space from it, wait to revise until the critiques sink in and make sense, wait on agents when you query, wait between every step so you have the freshest eyes. Wait for the copy editor and the cover artist, etc, etc. Waiting stinks, but it’s so necessary.


How do you juggle family, work and writing? What are some of your secrets for staying productive with all of that going on? 

Not always well, to be honest. Sometimes a story idea crowds out the life I should be focused on, and sometimes life crowds out a story idea I’m trying to nail down. Ultimately, my secret to staying productive is my husband, who helped me feel like it was okay and legitimate to set my mornings aside for writing. It’s when I work best, and I’m usually up before everyone else anyway. Regular, scheduled writing hours, wherever you can find them—commitment, honestly—really makes a huge difference when it comes to productivity. I’m lucky enough to work my day job part time and from home, so I can be flexible like that, but even if it’s how you spend your lunch break, it’s the commitment that counts.


What are you working on next?

Next I’m doing some revisions on a women’s fiction novel, After They Go, which is a large family saga set in a small tourist town that was inspired by the sibling rivalry in my girls when they were really young. Completely natural, but I’m an only child so it fascinated me how ingrained it was. Thankfully, my girls have a great relationship now, and aren’t so divided as the sisters in After They Go.


What books are you reading or recommending to others right now?

I’m trying to find unique fantasy novels that grip me like Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series (which I recommend to everyone everwhere), but so far my immediate to-be-read pile consists of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, some comp titles for a YA contemporary novel I have on a back burner, and Wonder by RJ Palacio. The last because the movie is coming out, so that’s always a tell it’s about time to read something, and my daughter highly recommends it. I also have all my favorites on my website if anyone is looking for a pile of great summer reading.


Do you have a final writing tip to leave with our readers?

Commit to yourself! Whatever it is, whatever you can eke out for writing, be regular in it. Carving the time is precious, so if it’s important to you, believe in yourself enough to say no to other, extraneous things. I know it sometimes feels impossible, but the older I get, the more I realize how much prioritizing and paring back to the basics – thank you Faryn, for teaching me that – really helps with life satisfaction. You can’t do everything, but you can usually figure out a way to balance the stuff that’s most important to you. Maybe not day to day, but overall.



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About the author: J Mercer grew up in Wisconsin where she walked home from school with her head in a book, filled notebooks with stories in junior high, then went to UW Madison for accounting and psychology only to open a dog daycare. She wishes she were an expert linguist, is pretty much a professional with regards to competitive dance hair (bunhawk, anyone?), and enjoys exploring with her husband—though as much as she loves to travel, she’s also an accomplished hermit. Perfect days include cancelled plans, rain, and endless hours to do with what she pleases.



7 Responses

  1. Amber Bourland

    I haven’t written in such a long time, I feel like a hypocrite for saying this, but one of my favorite writing prompts when I was facing ‘writer’s block’ was always the radio. I’d turn it on, listen closely to the first full song that came on, and I’d use the title or a line in that song as a prompt.

  2. Holly Wright

    I am looking for a new read for the Summer. My youngest daughter just went off to college an I can read again yay!

  3. My reading tips for kids (I have three): I sign them up for every single reading program I can from B&N to county and town libraries. My kids LOVE to read; so do I 🙂 they much get it from me 😉 They love the accomplishment of reading and working towards goals. For me? I make sure I keep a solid book in my truck because I never know where I may end up waiting around especially with my kids’ after school activities.

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