Q&A with Jayne Ann Krentz & Nancy Pearl

Novelists and librarians Jayne Ann Krentz and Nancy Pearl discuss love, and librarianship, and the power of fiction
New York Times best-selling author Jayne Ann Krentz (JAK) and LJ's 2011 Librarian of the Year Nancy Pearl (NP) share two hats: author and librarian. Each shares a deep love of libraries, and their books have been influenced by their years as voracious readers. In Krentz's latest romantic thriller, Promise Not To Tell (Berkley, Jan.; starred review LJ 12/17), she explores a romantic relationship as it is beginning, while Pearl's debut novel, George & Lizzie (Touchstone; LJ 7/17), explores what happens when an unlikely couple find themselves at a crossroad in their marriage. We asked the two women to discuss their experiences as librarians, why romantic relationships are endlessly fascinating subjects, and how their backgrounds as librarians informed their careers as authors.
            How has your background as a librarian informed your career as an author? NP: Even more important to my writing than being a librarian has been my life as a reader. My life, both professionally and personally, has been informed by being a reader: I could have written the four Book Lust books without a degree in library science but not without my life in books. However, being a librarian showed me how much and how many people find pleasure in the books they read and value the discovery process in finding new books. For me, the best part of being a librarian has always been doing readers' advisory: helping people find their next good book. Working with readers in a library I learned that everyone reads a different version of a book; in a very real way, everyone creates the book they’re reading, bringing to it all of their life’s experiences, as well as the mood they’re in when they open a book to the first page. And each reader likes or dislikes a book based on [their] particular reasons. That’s what makes recommending books to other people such a difficult challenge. JAK: What Nancy said! I’ve always been a reader, and whatever storytelling skills I have I probably picked up while reading. However, my career as a librarian has served me well in my life as an author. I learned how to chase down information and, more important, how to evaluate the source of that information. But the best part is that I always get the coolest plot points while doing the research for a new story. They just fall into my lap while I’m looking up other stuff. What was the process like, moving from librarian to novelist? JAK: I fell in love with romantic suspense at an early age, for which I blame Nancy Drew. I still love that genre. But somewhere along the line there came a time when I wanted to tell my story my way. Desire became a compulsion. I decided that I would quit my day job and write full time when I started making as much money as a writer as I did as a librarian. Given what we all know about librarians’ salaries, you can probably guess that didn’t take too long. For the most part I transported my library career work habits into my writing life, except that I don’t get to quit and go home at five o’clock. When I am working on a book I write every day and start early in the morning. The book is always in my head. I think the hardest part about moving from librarian to author was coming to the conclusion that, yes, I really do have a new career. I really am a writer. But I also suspect that there are no ex-librarians. Sort of like being a marine, I guess. Once a librarian.... NP: In many ways, writing George & Lizzie, my first novel, came as a total shock. Writing a novel wasn’t anything I’d planned to do, but about five or six years ago these two characters, George and Lizzie, came into my head one night as I was trying to fall asleep, and they never left. I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I told myself stories about them, their families, and their friends every night, but I didn’t start writing anything down for several years, and by the time I did, the story of George and Lizzie’s relationship was almost fully formed in my head. In many ways the process of getting the words down on paper (in a manner of speaking—I actually write on a computer) was more like taking dictation than creating the novel. Incidentally, I totally agree with Jayne here: even though I’m no longer working in a library, I never call myself an ex-librarian. Nancy, what was it like to write about a marriage and two people working to stay in love? NP: George and Lizzie look at the world, and exist in the world, in very, very different ways. Their fundamental ways of being—George hopeful, happy, and optimistic and Lizzie prickly, self-hating, and pessimistic—are due in large part to the way they were raised. Although the events of the novel aren’t at all autobiographical, I’ve been married to a man for more than 50 years who moves through the world very differently than I do, and I was interested in exploring how we managed to stay married and whether Lizzie and George would choose or even be able to stay together. I also wanted to explore the whole idea of forgiveness, of yourself or others, and how that might contribute to the success or failure of a marriage. Jayne, your novels always show the beginning of a relationship. What do you think is special about that time period? JAK: The reason I find the start of a romantic relationship such a compelling story is because it is really about the foundation of a family and, by extension, a building block of the community. The decision to start a family is the most profound decision that most people will ever make, and it is never made without a lot of messy context. That provides me with endless storytelling possibilities. Nancy, the marriage between your protagonists reveals the normality of everyday life. What made you interested in writing about a marriage so intimately? NP: The kinds of novels I most enjoy are character-driven, where the point of the novel is not so much what happens but rather getting to know the characters and coming to understand why they behave the way they do, so it made sense to me to present George and Lizzie in many different situations. Jayne, what do you think is fascinating about exploring a developing relationship between two people when they are under duress, or outside forces are working against them? JAK: I write romantic suspense precisely because the element of danger puts so much pressure on a relationship. Questions of trust, honor, and commitment come up right away and must be resolved in a red-hot cauldron because if they aren’t, someone will die. What can romantic relationships in a novel reveal about our shared humanity as readers? JAK: The romantic relationship has an almost universal appeal because it has the power to produce an emotionally transcendent experience that can be either wonderfully positive or astonishingly destructive. Power in any form is always interesting. NP: Jayne’s right, although personally I don’t want to read stories about destructive relationships. At this point in my life and where we are as a society, I want a happy ending. Why do you believe fiction is important? JAK: I think that fiction serves a variety of purposes, but, above all, it has two equally important tasks and those tasks are currently divided between literary fiction and popular fiction. Literary fiction takes on the job of illuminating various aspects of the human condition, but it does not usually try to resolve the problems that it describes. Popular fiction, on the other hand, gives us characters who must draw on the ancient heroic virtues to overcome their very human flaws and weaknesses long enough to do the right thing. Concepts like honor matter in popular fiction. Courage matters. Determination matters. Compassion matters. Character matters. A belief in the healing power of love matters. These are not archaic notions in popular fiction. They live and breathe on every page. They are part of our culture’s bedrock values, and we return to popular fiction again and again to reaffirm those values. NP: I asked a group of readers who get together every Tuesday afternoon at a Seattle café to talk about books why they think that fiction is important—here’s what they came up with: fiction is important because it offers readers the opportunity to understand themselves and their place in the world; it vastly expands the scope of ideas and experiences that are available to us as humans; it exercises our human sympathy and develops empathy; it allows readers to go anywhere, be anyone, and do anything; it allows our imaginations to evolve; fiction tells us who we are and what we’re capable of; fiction is a window into the world through other people’s eyes; and, lastly, fiction doesn’t have to be anything in particular, it can just be fun to read. Do you have a favorite story you can share from your time as a working librarian? JAK: Well, there was my (brief) stint as an elementary school librarian. It was a life-changing experience. I emerged with a profound respect for children’s librarians and teachers. I also discovered that I had to find another path as a librarian. NP: My very first job as a librarian was working on the bookmobile for the Detroit Public Library. At the first stop on the first day (with my supervisor standing behind me, listening to every word I said), a little boy came in and asked me for a book called Mush, the Male Mute. This was well before the days of computerized catalogs (or computerized anything, for that matter), and I was quite nervous, so it took me several minutes to figure out that the boy was asking for Mush, the Malamute. As it turns out, we didn’t have a copy on hand, but luckily I was able to find one of my favorite dog books, Bonny’s Boy by F.E. Rechnitzer, to give him instead. I’ve never seen a copy of Mush, the Malamute and don’t even know if it actually exists. Both of you dedicated your recent novels to your husbands. What inspired the dedications? JAK: Love and mutual respect. NP: Yes, yes, yes, yes, what Jayne said, plus a shared sense of the ridiculous. JAK: Yes! Brilliant observation, Nancy! You are so right about the value of a “shared sense of the ridiculous.”

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