Introducing Jen DeLuca
Jen DeLuca was born and raised near Richmond, Virginia, but now lives in Central Florida with her husband and a houseful of rescue pets. She loves latte-flavored lattes, Hokies football, and the Oxford comma. Well Met is her first novel, inspired by her time volunteering as a pub wench with her local Renaissance faire.
Hi, Jen! Thank you so much for joining us on All The Kissing. We are so excited to have you! Congratulations on your debut, Well Met. Can you tell our readers what it is about?
Well Met is about a young woman named Emily who comes to a small town to help out her sister, who’s been in a car accident. Emily is at a crossroads in her life, and it’s easier to focus on her sister and her niece than on her own issues. She finds herself roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance faire, and in so doing finds a sense of community and home that she’s been looking for. The only dull spot is Simon, the organizer of the Faire, who is a buttoned-up, closed-off taskmaster. They butt heads at every turn until the first day of Faire. Suddenly Emma the Tavern Wench meets Simon’s persona Captain Blackthorne, a dashing, flirty pirate in leather pants. A banter-y, flirty summer ensues, and Emily has to figure out how much of this is for show. Are there real feelings beneath the pirate’s innuendo? And which one of these guys is the real Simon?
Don’t even get me started, I’m still swooning over Captain Blackthorne’s leather pants. But that’s a discussion for another time. So. Has being a debut author lived up to all of your expectations? Did anything take you by surprise?
It’s been an incredible experience. I went in with basically zero expectations, so everything was exciting. I was extremely lucky to land at Berkley. Everyone there has been so helpful and welcoming. I don’t know if I can say that anything took me by surprise, because I didn’t have any clue as to what to expect. But the response to the book, especially on Instagram, was something I didn’t expect at all and it’s been such a delightful surprise.
Oh yes, the bookstagram community is amazing! Such gorgeous, lush photography. Speaking of lush… Your Renaissance Faire setting is so lushly written, I felt like I was there (I’m still craving a turkey leg, thanks a lot 😉 ). A lot of times, world-building is something that gets relegated to fantasy authors. Can you talk about the importance of world-building in contemporary romances?
It’s funny, because one of the reasons I say that I write contemporary instead of fantasy is because I’m too lazy to world-build! And I do think there’s an advantage as a contemporary author, in that you’re working with a basic setting that the reader already knows, as opposed to building it from scratch. But as a whole, world-building is about making the setting feel like a real place. One that the reader feels like they can step into and hang out with the characters. I tried to make Willow Creek, the fictional small town in Well Met, feel like a lived-in place, with a bookstore, a local dive-bar hangout, and of course a Renaissance faire tucked away in the woods.
We have writers at all stages in the All The Kissing community. Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication? What words of wisdom do you have for us?
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Early works were about little girls who had dogs and took naps, because hey, write what you know. I ventured into fanfiction for a few years, which I think is a great way to learn how to plot, since the characters/settings are already there. Then I got into Pitch Wars in 2016 with a romance novel I’d been working on, and working with Brighton Walsh helped me sign with my agent, Taylor Haggerty, in late 2016. My Pitch Wars book didn’t sell, but the next book I wrote did.
Words of wisdom … persevere. Keep striving to improve. Take classes, attend workshops. Be open to critique, but also know when a suggestion isn’t going to work for you. The book is yours, and only you know what will serve the story the best. The mental switch that helped me the most, when someone didn’t “get” something I wrote, was to stop thinking “well they obviously didn’t read it right” and start thinking “how can I clarify what I want to say?”.
That’s wonderful advice, thank you! What has been the most surprising part of this debut process for you?
That it’s still a load of stress and emotion! I think I thought that once I signed that book deal I’d feel more confident and it would all be smooth sailing. NOPE. There’s still lots of waiting, lots of nervous crying and rending of garments, especially in the last couple weeks before release when your emotions are all over the map! That said, the highs, like seeing your cover for the first time or getting your ARC in the mail, are SO high that it’s worth it.
It’s no secret your male lead, Simon, is my boyfriend. You did a fantastic job fleshing out rich, deeply developed characters—not just Emily and Simon, but the supporting cast as well (*waves to April, Caitlin, Stacey, Chris, and especially Mitch*). Is there anything in particular you did to produce such realistic and relatable characters?
This may sound dorky, but for the most part I try and give the characters a little bit of myself. With Simon I worked out a little of the lingering grief around the loss of my mother, and he and Emily both took on my unashamed book nerdiness. Emily and April have my sarcasm, while April also has my severe introversion.
I also try to flip tropes a little so people aren’t cardboard cutouts. My concept for April has always been “an introverted Lorelai Gilmore who hates living in Stars Hollow.” My original concept of Mitch was the high school jock bully who never changed, but he wouldn’t cooperate, and it turned out to be much more fun to write him as an impossibly hot guy who’s a genuinely good person who loves his friends and wants the best for them.
Ohhh Mitch, darling Mitch. His refusal to be what you originally set out to make him brings up another question—are you a plotter or pantser? What is your process?
Probably a plantser—that combination of plotting and pantsing. But I really need an outline. The first thing I do is develop a bullet-point outline of the beats of the story, so I have a kind of roadmap of what’s going to happen. Each plot point is a landmark on that roadmap. I have to hit Point A, Point B, Point C, etc., but as the great poet Steven Tyler said: “Life’s a journey, not a destination.” This is where the pantsing comes in. I learn about the characters as I go, and sometimes we hit Point L before Point H, but that’s the fun part. As long as I know the ending that I’m shooting for, I don’t mind taking the weird back roads to get there.
I don’t edit as I go. If I do that I’ll never finish! I push through until I finish a first draft, and then go back and edit. If I realize something should have happened in Chapter 2, I make a note back there, then act like I already wrote it and keep going.
A lot of times, books can come from personal experiences. Is that the case with Well Met? What inspired you to write this book?
I volunteered to be a tavern wench with the Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Faire in Tavares, Florida for two seasons, after attending as a patron for many years. I was struck with how I felt like a completely different person in the costume, and how the corset made me move, walk, sit, even breathe differently. Not to mention I was doing a day-long improv, interacting with whoever I came across. I wasn’t just acting like a different person—I was a different person. So that made me think about an enemies-to-lovers story where two people don’t get along, but in costume suddenly there’s an attraction to one another’s personas.
This month at All The Kissing, we are discussing craft for new writers. What has been the best writing advice that you were given as a new author?
I think the advice I’ve taken most to heart is that there is no one “right” way to do things. Some people are in the “write every day” camp, while others can’t conceive of doing it that way. Some people outline, some people pants their stories. Some people write in order, some people jump around. Don’t let anyone tell you that your process is wrong. If it works for you, it’s right.
Okay, you know I’m nosy and am dying to ask, what can readers expect to see from you next?
I am working on a second Ren Faire novel, currently titled Well Played, that is about Stacey, the other tavern wench and Emily’s BFF from Well Met. It’s been so much fun to get into her head. She’s much different than Emily!
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Jen. It was a pleasure having you here. Best of luck working on Well Played! If anyone needs me, I’ll just be over here writing Simon/Lindsay fanfic ‘til book 2 releases. <3
Featured image from jendeluca.com