Jolene Buchheit: Hearing Readers Laugh Is Music to her Ears

Jolene Buchheit

Jolene Buchheit (who also writes as JoJo Bartlett and JAS Bennet) works in education and maintains an active writing and publishing life as well. The combination causes many people—myself included in this very interview!—to conclude she must be an English teacher.

She isn’t, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have plenty to teach aspiring writers about being an indie author—including the value of collaboration and having a good marketing plan. Her novel for adults, Who’s on First Date?, also reveals that she is a witty writer with a knack for creating likeable characters who make plenty of humorous mistakes on their way to finding romance.

Buchheit answered questions about her work via email.

Tell me how you got started as a writer. Did you always have the bug, or was there a specific moment you remember thinking, You know, I should write a book?

I have always sought solace in books. I remember learning to read very clearly. Despite my love of books from that moment on, I never thought I could write one. It wasn’t until 2013 that I gave the idea of writing a book any thought. I had read a few self-published novels that were not nearly as entertaining or as well written as I thought I could produce. So I just sat down and did it. Admittedly, my first attempt is my least favorite story, but having written it makes me a better writer than I would have been otherwise.

Your writing follows three streams: YA, adult, and collaborative work. Tell me a little about all three aspects of your work and what you like best about each project.

In 2012, I began substitute teaching at the local high schools. Students suggested I read YA novels that were popular at the time. The more I read, the more I was disappointed that the voices of the teenagers were not authentic to what I was hearing in hallways and classrooms. I wanted to write a series that combined Greek mythology with Cedar Rapids and was told from an authentic teenager’s point of view. The Charmed Trials Trilogy (two of three books have been released) was born of that desire.

When I started attending author book-signing events, I started reading more adult titles. Again, I wanted to see how well I could write in that genre. Who’s on First Date? was one of the most enjoyable writing experiences I’ve had as a solo author. I loved being able to use adult humor and situations without censoring myself to keep it appropriate.

My favorite writing experiences have been when I cowrote books with my author friends. I have had three cowriting projects with different authors. Two of those projects (urban fantasy Blackened Magic and an unpublished contemporary romantic comedy) are alternating point of view novels, which makes each voice clearly unique. The third project (Of the Woods) is told in third person so the three authors could take turns telling the story from their character’s POV, but without having to start a new chapter each time.

One good thing about writing with coauthors is having someone who knows the story just as well as I do. . . . My favorite part about having a coauthor is being able to use their strengths to improve my weaknesses and to build up their weaknesses with my strengths. For example, I’m a fairly clean writer who can add humor to any situation, but I need help moving the story forward instead of writing a scene just to make someone laugh. So my coauthors make me a better writer and the final project is better than either of us could do on our own.

Who’s on First Date? is like a Shakespearean farce (an appropriate structure for an English teacher to pursue!) and there’s a great balance between comedy and romance. What was the inspiration for the book? How did you go about balancing the points of view, the comedic confusion, and the romance?

I work at Washington High School as an Engagement Specialist. I am not an English teacher, though I take this often repeated assumption as a huge compliment. However, I am a fan of Shakespeare in both his humor and overall storytelling wisdom. Who’s on First Date? was intended to be a comedy of errors that leads to a slow-burn romance.

My inspiration was definitely founded in my love for baseball, even though I set the story during baseball’s off-season. Another inspiration was my three beloved Maine Coon cats, whose personalities combined into Tiny from the story. I wanted to give people an inside view into why people love having cats.

When I set out to write the story, I used a “three strikes, take me out” approach. I wanted their alternating points of view to show how they both had preconceived prejudices and unproven assumptions that forced them to learn more about each other. This slow discovery process allowed the relationship to grow more naturally instead of the insta-love that is dominant in some romance novels.

As with anything I write, I want to make people laugh out loud. I love to hear stories about people reading my books and someone has to ask them what they’re reading because they keep busting out laughing. That’s when I know I’ve done well.

The book is set in the Cedar Rapids/ Iowa City area, so that’s at least a partial answer to this question: Do you think of yourself as an Iowa writer?

I am an Iowa writer. Although I have written stories that take place elsewhere, it is most comfortable to write about the places I know best. When I write about other places, even places I’ve visited, I find myself using Google Earth to make sure I’ve gotten the details correct. But Iowa is where I was born and raised, and I’m proud to educate others about how life actually is here. It’s not all about the corn.

What do you like about being an indie author, and what are the challenges?

The first book I wrote, I self-published too soon. I didn’t do enough rounds of editing, I hired someone from outside the world of publishing to do the cover, and I slapped it online without much of a marketing plan. I learned a lot from that experience.

My second book (the first of the Charmed Trials trilogy) was picked up by a small vanity press called Elephantine Publishing. They helped me do several rounds of editing and story development and put my book through the full gamut of publishing from presales, advanced reader copy (ARC) review building, shared newsletter promotions, and online targeted marketing.

After the second book in that series, Elephantine closed their doors, and I have self-published everything since following their example.

What’s your next project?

I have several projects in the works. The third Charmed Trials book is slowly getting closer to completion. . . . The second in the Love in the Off-Season interrelated series is in development. However, I think the next thing my readers will have in their hands is the cowritten contemporary romantic comedy about a girl who writes a New York Times bestselling sci-fi series under a man’s pen name. This is a really fun journey currently being considered by Carina Press, a subsidiary of Harlequin.