Samantha Sommersby and Jeanne Stein Interview at DragonCon 2014
Samantha and Jeanne collaborated under the pseudonym S.J. Harper when writing the Fallen Siren novels – An Urban Fantasy series following a former mythological Siren turned FBI agent who is cursed by the Gods.
JMW: Hello. This is Jean Marie Ward from DragonCon for BuzzyMag.com. With me today is Jeanne Stein, the bestselling author of the Anna Strong Vampire series and Samantha Sommersby, the critically acclaimed author of the Forbidden paranormal romance series. Ladies, I got to ask you, who is this S.J. Harper and what the heck does she have to do with you?
Samantha Sommersby: Well . . .
Jeanne Stein: S.J. Harper is our pseudonym. We are collaborating on a new series called the Fallen Siren series.
Samantha Sommersby: I am the S. in S.J. Harper.
Jeanne Stein: And I am the J. in S.J. Harper and if you’d like to know how we came up with the last name Harper, I will be happy to tell you.
JMW: Yeah, please tell us.
Jeanne Stein: I did some research and I went to the bookstore. Honest to God, this is the truth. I went to the bookstore and I looked on the urban fantasy shelf and I said, “Okay, what letters of the last names are at eye level?” And they’re the H’s.
Jeanne Stein: So we picked Harper because it’s between, I don’t know whether I should say this or not.
Samantha Sommersby: Well, you know, we looked up what the most common surnames are that begin with the letter H and the top ones are Harrison, Hamilton and Hall, those were the top three. Well Hamilton is Laurel K. Hamilton, we could not pick that and Harris is Charlene Harris.
JMW: To say nothing of Harry Harrison.
Jeanne Stein: Or Harry Harrison.
Samantha Sommersby: So we could not choose that and someone was writing independently on Amazon already as S.J. Hall and J.S. Hall.
Samantha Sommersby: So that lead us down to the fourth choice, which was Harper.
Jeanne Stein: We’re right in the middle of all these wonderful authors, so we’re hoping that if anyone is looking for a new book to read, they’ve read everything that Charlene and Laurel has read . . .
[easyazon_block add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”B00QJKJ650″ cloaking=”yes” layout=”top” localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” tag=”buzmag-20″]Samantha Sommersby: And they happen to be around our same height looking on the shelves, they’ll find us.
JMW: So could you tell our viewers a little bit about the Fallen Siren series. No spoilers, no spoilers but maybe secrets, because DragonCon is the Con of secrets.
Jeanne Stein: Very true. Go ahead.
Samantha Sommersby: Well, the book centers around, of course, a fallen siren.
JMW: How can you be a siren and fall? Aren’t you already fallen?
Samantha Sommersby: Well, in our series, in our mythology, the sirens are not only playmates of Persephone and her handmaidens, but they were her guardians and they were in charge of maintaining her safety. When Hades came and kidnapped Persephone and dragged her to the underworld, both Zeus and Demeter really blamed them for that epic failure of not keeping her safe and so, Zeus banished them from Mount Olympus and Demeter cursed them. They’ve been here for thousands of years trying to redeem themselves and the way Emma does that is by working for the FBI in the missing person’s division in San Diego, rescuing and saving other missing women.
[easyazon_block add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”0425263304″ cloaking=”yes” layout=”top” localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” tag=”buzmag-20″]JMW: So this series takes place in San Diego?
Jeanne Stein: Yes.
Samantha Sommersby: It primarily takes place in San Diego, though . . .
Jeanne Stein: We go on location.
Samantha Sommersby: We go on location sometimes.
JMW: And you have to travel and charge it off on your income tax?
Jeanne Stein: Oh, absolutely.
Samantha Sommersby: As often as possible.
Jeanne Stein: Yes.
JMW: Makes perfect sense to me.
Jeanne Stein: Yes.
JMW: How did you wind up working together? You both have such strong individual careers?
Jeanne Stein: Well, it’s funny because it’s all in timing. It was at ComicCon two years ago, three years ago . . .
Samantha Sommersby: Three years ago.
Jeanne Stein: Three years ago. I met with my editor and the Anna Strong Vampire series was wrapping up and she said, “We really want to keep working, we want to work with you some more so come up with another idea.” Which is wonderful. It’s a double edged sword when an editor says that, because it’s like, okay, quick come up with a new idea that we want to buy.
[easyazon_block add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”0425263290″ cloaking=”yes” layout=”top” localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” tag=”buzmag-20″]JMW: You just have them laying around that you could just, yeah . . .
Jeanne Stein: Exactly. Exactly, but Samantha and I have known each other for a while, and Samantha was looking to get out of the paranormal romance and more into urban fantasy. She had really thought out this idea for a book with this fallen siren, so she said, “What would you think about collaborating on a series?” The more we talked, the more it just kind of fell into place.
Samantha Sommersby: And the reason I hadn’t started working on it previously is because I knew it was going to be a big leap for me, because it was also pretty heavy police procedurals. Really based around mysteries, and although that’s something I love to read, it’s not something I’d written before and that’s in Jeanne’s wheelhouse. She loves writing mysteries, the police procedurals are things she knew a lot about and so it just seemed to be a good marriage of our skills because they also wanted romance crossover. The romance piece was something I had a lot of experience with, the mystery police procedurals was something that she was more comfortable with so, we have skills that really have seemed to complement one another.
Jeanne Stein: And our writing styles, too, are so similar. When I bring things to my critique group from our books, they can’t tell what I’ve written and what Samantha has written and so, it’s just seamless. We’ve worked, we’ve meshed very well.
JMW: That’s wonderful. When a collaboration between writers works, there’s nothing more fun, both for the writers and the readers, I think. One of the interesting, and I don’t think this is any terrible spoiler, but one of your big bads is Demeter. Why do you hate Demeter?
Jeanne Stein: Well Demeter is an in interesting character because she’s so, she has such tunnel vision. It really wasn’t the siren’s fault that they were glamoured and that’s how Hades kidnapped Persephone. Demeter only sees the fact that those three girls were not taken and her daughter was so, she has this tunnel vision thing and she’s very much against the sirens and she wants to make them suffer. She wants to make them pay so, she’s not a very likable character. She’s a very cold character and she makes our protagonist’s life miserable.
JMW: That’s the job of a good antagonist.
Jeanne Stein: Exactly.
JMW: So she’s doing her job, right. How does, you say that your style meshes seamlessly. How do the S.J. Harper books differ from your own individual series? Is it a matter of tone, is it a matter of subject matter? How do they differ?
Jeanne Stein: I think actually it’s both. I think my Anna Strong series is a little more edgy. It just has a different stone and Emma is a softer character than Anna Strong because Emma is human. For intents and purposes, Emma is human. She doesn’t have superhuman powers, she does have the power to be able to compel the truth but, in a gunfight, she’s as vulnerable as any human. Although, she’ll never die because immortality is part of her curse.
Samantha Sommersby: When she’s injured, she has to heal the old fashioned way, with pain and time.
Jeanne Stein: Exactly. Yes.
JMW: A long time sometimes, yes.
Samantha Sommersby: And for me, my Forbidden series is all written from first person male point of view. One of the big differences for me is that I’m now writing first person female point of view.
Jeanne Stein: And present.
Samantha Sommersby: Yes, and present tense.
JMW: Why present tense? That’s something I hadn’t twigged on.
Jeanne Stein: Well because I think it’s much more immediate. I mean, I love writing in present tense because I think it draws you in and you’re actually experiencing what the character is experiencing and I like that. I think it makes it much more intimate.
JMW: Cool. Well that’s great. Are you still writing individually?
Jeanne Stein: Yes.
JMW: And what can your fans look forward to in the future from each of you as well as together?
Samantha Sommersby: Go ahead.
Jeanne Stein: Well, I was just going to say I’m working on the next Anna Strong novel, which I think is going to turn out to be a novella rather than a novel because we have so many ideas that we want to . . .
Jeanne Stein: . . . we want to explore. We’re starting to work on the third Fallen Siren book because we have a plot, kind of, ready for that and then we also have, and I thought it was interesting, a panel that we just attended they were talking about, one of the writers was talking about Victorian, the Victorian era. We have an idea for a Victorian, which kind of fit right into what this other writer was talking about because we have a female protagonist, it’s going to be a strong woman character that we think is kind of going to make it, a scientist.
Jeanne Stein: In a very, in a time when science was kind of blossoming. I mean, things were really changing in Victorian England.
Samantha Sommersby: And the use of medicine was changing.
Jeanne Stein: The use of medicine, yes.
Samantha Sommersby: Chemistry was just coming into being, so it has some overtones of alchemy and the rise of chemistry and the rise of medicine . . .
JMW: A little paranormal twist in there.
Samantha Sommersby: A little paranormal twist.
Jeanne Stein: Yeah, a little paranormal twist.
Samantha Sommersby: And the role of women in society. The fact that. . . so we have lots of notes that we’ve been putting together for that. I’ve been also re-vamping some books in my back list. Contemporary suspense, that I’m hoping to have out someday. In between working on all this other stuff.
Jeanne Stein: Keeps us busy. Keeps us off the streets.
JMW: Well, yeah, you’ve got to keep yourselves off the streets. Is there anything you’d like to add? Consider this the big open question? What did you want to talk about that I didn’t ask?
Jeanne Stein: Oh my gosh.
Samantha Sommersby: Oooooh.
Jeanne Stein: Well, I . . .
Samantha Sommersby: Book two is coming out.
Jeanne Stein: Well book two is coming out. Reckoning. I have to have say, I really like Reckoning. I think Reckoning is a much stronger book than book one, and we liked book one, but Reckoning has a lot of action in it. I think readers are going to be pleased.
Samantha Sommersby: Yeah. I think one of the struggles with first book in a series is that you have to set up the world. Now the world is there so we’re delving deeper into it and deeper into character and for a writer, that’s more fun, I think.
Jeanne Stein: Yes, yes.
Samantha Sommersby: We really feel like we have this great playground, this grand sandbox that we’ve set up and we’ve really gotten to play in it more with this book. There are some surprises, and yeah, so we have the next three now plotted out. It’s a good time, we’re really looking forward to it.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.