Conducting interviews allows me to “meet” so many authors, and each time I research an author and craft questions, I’m blown away by their talent, drive, ambition, and generosity. But 2021 Debuts author Jennifer Bardsley stands out among the pack when it comes to that last characteristic. On Instagram, where she has 15.7k followers, she actively promotes her own work as well as that of many authors. And, she doles out what she’s learned about the publishing industry without a second thought, stepping in to answer questions about publishing and promoting from authors in several online forums. People like Jennifer deserve the best in life, so it’s great to see her debut adult novel, Sweet Bliss, doing well. Laurie Elizabeth Flynn said of the book, “Authentic, emotional, and heartwarming, Sweet Bliss is the kind of read that you’ll want to savor like dessert,” and with over five hundred reviews since it’s release in July, its on its way to being a fan favorite. Jennifer’s day-to-day life must be jammed pack with duties and obligations, so I’m thrilled and thankful she took the time to answer my questions.
Christina: Congrats on the publication of Sweet Bliss, Book 1 in the Harper Landing series and a “sweet romance” that’s out now from Montlake. What draws you to the romance genre? Does it accomplish something other genres do not?Jennifer: I love romance books because they offer a break from a stressful world. That’s not to say that romance books don’t deal with gritty issues, but at least readers know there will be a happy ending. My goal for Sweet Bliss and the Harper Landing series is for people to go on a book vacation. I want them to feel delighted, entertained, and restored by the end of my books.
Christina: You’re no stranger to writing: you pen a weekly newspaper column (I Brake for Moms), and you’re the author of multiple YA novels. How did those experiences bring you to where you are today?
Jennifer: Thanks for the I Brake for Moms shout-out! Yes, I’ve written a weekly newspaper column for nine years. I have two traditionally published novels under my own name, Jennifer Bardsley, two traditionally published books under my pen name, Louise Cypress, and a bunch of self-published Louise Cypress novels as well. I’ve walked a long and twisty road through publishing, and am grateful to my agent, Liza Fleissig, for sticking with me. At one point my self-published YA vampire series The Puritan Coven was doing so well that Liza sold the audiobook rights to Tantor Media. That’s why when Narcosis Room came out from Owl Hollow Press in 2019, we put Louise Cypress on the cover instead of Jennifer Bardsley. My pen name was kicking my real name’s butt! Some of the most successful authors I know are self-published, and I’m glad I have one foot in both worlds because it’s taught me a lot about writing, branding, and promotion.
Christina: Speaking of the newspaper column, do you have a favorite topic you like to write about? How is your writing process for the column and your writing process for novels similar? How is it different?
Jennifer: I believe children deserve privacy and it’s been a considerable challenge to be a parenting columnist while at the same time shielding my kids from public view. Whenever I do mention my children, I ask for their permission first. To me as their mom, it’s fine to make fun of me and my foibles, but I would never embarrass them in print. I usually write about whatever I’m confronting at the moment; meal planning, overextended volunteer commitments, back-to-school shopping, etc. A funny thing about being in the Sunday paper is that although the title of my column is I Brake for Moms my readership includes people without children and retirees as well. I try to build bridges between generations whenever possible.
Christina: In Sweet Bliss, the protagonist, Julia Harper, owns a frozen yogurt shop by that name. Elsewhere, you’ve said that you ate a lot of frozen yogurt, all in the name of research! What’s your favorite flavor? Do your characters have favorite flavors? Do those flavors reflect their personalities?
Jennifer: My favorite flavor of FroYo is EuroTart, which is like plain Greek yogurt with a hint of sugar. In Sweet Bliss, Julia mentions Tahitian Vanilla. As the proverbial girl next door, this is a great choice for her. Aaron, who follows a paleo diet, would probably choose a fruit sorbet.
Christina: In your bio, you state that “you believe in friendship, true love, and the power of books.” What a trifecta! Does one outrank the other? How do those beliefs come out in your writing?
Jennifer: At this point in my career, I’ve written sixteen books. Without friendship, I wouldn’t have made it nearly as far. My husband has been incredibly supportive as well. We met at a dance in front of Memorial Church at Stanford over two decades ago, and it was love at first sight. It’s hard to say if friendship or true love made the bigger difference, but they both contribute to storytelling in a major way.
Christina: You’ve been very upfront about an episode of transient global amnesia (TGA) that you experienced in early April of this year. I would imagine that a pivotal moment like that both effects who you are and your writing. What have you learned from that episode? Will those lessons or the episode itself show up in your writing?
Jennifer: I’ve had a lot of weird medical things happen to me, which is why I’m extremely lucky that my husband’s work provides good insurance. When I was younger I had two catheter ablations at Stanford Hospital for a heart condition. In my thirties, I broke my wrist, had surgery, and was then diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. This April, when I “came to” in our local ER and recognized my husband, but didn’t know what month it was, or that a Covid vaccine had been invented, it wasn’t the strangest thing that had happened to me. Since then I’ve learned that transient global amnesia has a familial connection (which I have), can be triggered by exercise (which I was doing), and can also happen as a result of stress. I think when readers watch Julia and Aaron’s relationship unfold in Sweet Bliss they’ll see the influence that my own experiences with medical scares have had on my writing. My husband jokes that hospitals have been our favorite places to hang out since the earliest days of our relationship.
Christina: You’re also no stranger to social media and literary citizenship. How important is literary citizenship to you? Do you have any tips for how others can improve in that arena?
Jennifer: My books have never been on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. When you’re with a small press you know that the only way people will discover your book is through social media, online ads, blog posts, and word of mouth recommendations. This is also where the power of friendship comes into play. To me, being a good literary citizen means using my platform to share books that readers would probably love but might not have heard about yet. My best tip is to take a popular book and put it next to an emerging title. For example, I might take a picture of Firefly Lane and Rewrite the Stars together. I’d hashtag both books: #FireflyLane, #RewriteTheStars. That way women’s fiction readers searching for Firefly Lane would also learn about Rewrite the Stars. If you ever see a picture of Sweet Bliss next to The Notebook in the future, this is what I’m doing. Now you know my trick!
Christina: What is your writing kryptonite?
Jennifer: My writing kryptonite is definitely stress, which is one of the reasons why self-publishing was so freeing. When I wrote Bite Me, book one in The Puritan Coven series, I knew from the get-go that I would self-publish it. The only person I had to answer to was me. It went on to become a #1 seller in Teen Vampires. For a while there I wrote 3,000 words a day and could finish a rough draft in a month. Sometimes I really miss that freedom, but working with a publisher like Montlake is a dream come true. Now I have people helping me every step of the way. I’m excited to see where the Harper Landing series takes me.
Thanks to Jennifer for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.