Interview with Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen...
On May 2nd, the fifth and final installment of the Chaos Station series, released. (You can find my A+ rated review of it HERE.) The final book in this amazing science fiction, male/male romance, action-adventure series was titled Phase Shift. Hands down, this series has been one of my all-time favorite series that I’ve EVER read. Every single book has been incredible.
The books feature Zed, a career soldier, and Flick, a ship’s engineer and general Fixer. The one-time lovers find their way back to one another only to be met with one obstacle after another as they travel through space on board their ship, the Chaos along with the quirky crew of Elias, Nessa, and Qek.
Jenn, you live in Canada, and Kelly, you live in Pennsylvania. How hard is that when you’re writing a joint series? How often, if ever, do you get to write together?
Jenn: I love the internet. Kelly and I talk every day—all day sometimes—through Google chat. We write exclusively on shared files in OneDrive. Although we try to get together at least once a year, more if we can swing it, those times are saved for socializing. And plotting. We can’t help plotting stuff in person, even if we’re not actually planning on doing any writing work.
Kelly: Even if we lived closer together we wouldn’t get any writing done while in the same room. I’m too talkative. If someone is near me…I will talk to them. All the time. As Jenn mentioned, we do a lot of plotting when we get together. We plotted Inversion Point and Phase Shift while out driving the families to sightsee something or other. Also, some of our best ideas have come from autocorrects. They wouldn’t happen if we were in the same room.
How long does it take the two of you to put together the first draft of a book?
Jenn: It depends on the book. We wrote the first draft of Chaos Station in about a month. The subsequent books took more time, because we learned a lot in the editing process and tried to apply those lessons. The first book we ever wrote together, a m/f fantasy with romantic elements, took over a year to write—and it’s still not ready.
Kelly: Our drafting method is constantly evolving as we try out new ideas with each book.
This series is huge in scope (five books and several novellas), did you ever have a big disagreement about which way a certain book should go story wise?
Kelly: When we were planning the series arc—the story that would take us through all five books—I wanted to give the Guardians a more concrete agenda. Suggest they were molding the citizens of the galaxy into a more cohesive unit in order to face a bigger threat, perhaps an enemy of the Guardians themselves.
Jenn vetoed the idea for a couple of reasons. She didn’t want to write war. Secondly, my idea would have extended the series well beyond five books, especially if we wanted to do justice to the ultimate conflict. So we scaled back and decided to simply tell the story of Project Dreamweaver. There was no arguing involved. Jenn’s objections were totally valid and I’m thrilled with the way the series turned out. It’s tight. Also, with the way we’ve told the story so far, there are a lot of avenues left to explore if we should ever decide to go back.
If we do go back, it will be with different main characters, though. Felix and Zed worked hard for their Happy Ever After. I’m not going to mess with that.
Jenn: You know, it’s been so long since we planned out the series, I’d almost forgotten about the change with the Guardians! I’m glad we took that route, though. We had enough going on to have an overall sci-fi arc to the series without overpowering the main story of Zed and Felix’s reunion, which is what I thought an on-page war might do.
Also, five books was plenty. I loved that we got the chance to write out those five books and tell Zed and Felix’s story completely, but a five-book series with the same characters is hard work!
Same intro as the last question...how much of the story line of the five main books was plotted out before you started really digging into the writing? Were the books all written before Carina contracted the series? (I know one of you said recently that the covers were all designed together at the beginning and planning that far ahead boggles my mind.)
Jenn: We had a basic idea of the overall arc for the series before we starting writing Chaos Station, but we put together a more solid series outline when we submitted to Carina Press. And I have to say, I’m pretty impressed that we stuck really close to our plans throughout the writing of all the books! Some things changed, but not the big things. Each book stayed true to the concept we had when starting out.
When we submitted to Carina Press, we had finished Chaos Station and Lonely Shore was almost completely drafted. We sold the series based on the first book and the series/world outline.
The story of the covers is pretty neat. We sold the series to Carina Press in July 2014 and started work on edits on the first book in the fall. By December, we still hadn’t seen any possible covers and we were starting to get a little antsy, because the first book was launching in March 2015. That’s when we heard from Carina Press that they really wanted to give a cohesive look to the series, and could we please fill out cover art forms for every book based on the series outline we provided. That was a little daunting! But the end result was absolutely amazing. The series covers look fantastic next to each other.
And here’s a bit of trivia: we made sure to include the signal towers in Phase Shift after seeing the cover.
Kelly: Yeah, we didn’t set out to tell the continuing adventures of Felix and Zed. We had a definite arc and an overall plot that included goings on in the galaxy while centering the story of Project Dreamweaver and the second chance romance between our guys. Originally we thought it might take us six books to tell that story. After plotting it out, we realized we’d only need five.
As Jenn said, I’m amazed at how well we stuck to our series outline as sold to Carina. The plot of Skip Trace changed the most in the writing. When we got to that book, Felix was so broken that we had to change a few things to take care of him. I’m really glad we did, because by the time we got to Inversion Point, he and Zed were so solid and every scene was such a joy to write.
One of the amazing things about writing a science fiction based series is that your own creativity is the limit. And I will say, your worlds are incredibly creative. Do you ever delve into the science that we actually have now to develop ideas (I’m thinking right now about Fix’s robotic hand that later becomes an arm) or do you just go with your creative genius?
Jenn: Kelly is the QUEEN of research. All the planetary atmosphere info in Phase Shift is there because of her research. She really kills it when it comes to basing sci-fi elements in actual science. Basically, she’s awesome.
One of the best things about writing space opera and not hard sci-fi is that we can be scientific…but also waggle our fingers a little and say “it works because we say it does”. However, it is neat when you see stuff in science news that reflects stuff we have in our book—like computers made of flexible plastic.
Kelly: I do enjoy research. Jenn and I spend a fair amount of time world building before we start writing every book, even in an established series. Our world building docs are lengthy and most of the information set down is just so we know it, meaning it never makes it into the books. No one wants to listen to a lecture on planetary atmospheres, but we did need to know how they worked in order to make the storms and interference over Paradise (in Phase Shift) plausible.
Because Felix is a tinkerer, the glove he used before Inversion Point was as much a product of his imagination as mine. He basically told me what he needed the glove to do in order to do his job effectively and I wrote that into the description. His replacement arm is pure fantasy! I did research prosthetics for the catalog entries in Inversion Point, especially feedback technology.
I’ve written a series that ended and sobbed all the way through writing the final book. (I’ll admit, I’m a sap because I had that same issue reading Phase Shift and knowing it was the last book.) Did either of you have problems writing it because of that?
Jenn: I got a bit choked up when I typed “The End” after the last scene of Phase Shift. I wasn’t really expecting to, for a couple of reasons: we’d told the story we wanted to tell and we’d given the guys a happily-ever-after. But…man, typing out that last line and then adding “The End”…that was rough.
Kelly: Writing Felix's last scene was a bittersweet experience, definitely. Writing his little speech to Zed (close to the end of Phase Shift), made me a little misty-eyed. I was more emotional writing Skip Trace and Inversion Point, though. Skip Trace, because of Felix was so lost, and Inversion Point because he’d found himself again. Yep, I’m one of those people who cries just as much over happy endings!
I’ve chatted with both of you on Twitter and GR and know that you’re both big readers. When you have time to indulge and just sit back and read something for fun, who are your favorite authors to pick up?
Jenn: I am addicted to law enforcement m/m romance. I will read almost anything that has that trope, regardless of author. But my go-to comfort read is anything by Mary Calmes. Her books are like soft fuzzy blankets.
Kelly: I will pretty much read anything. I skip from history to mystery to romance to science fiction and back again by way of fantasy and comic books. I don’t really have a go-to comfort read or an author who does it for me every time. I tend to choose my next book based on what I’m in the mood for. A sampling of my current favourite authors would be: R.A. Salvatore, Lois McMaster Bujold, Josh Lanyon, Jack Mc Devitt, Alexis Hall and Shannon Stacey.
What comes next for the two of you? First, writing as a duo? And then, tell us about your upcoming individual projects?
Jenn: We've got a couple of new series we're working on as joint projects. One is a light paranormal m/m which is a really refreshing departure from the Chaos Station series. The other one we’re working on is a loosely connected series of traditionally romantic books, also m/m—think emotional, romantic, low-angst contemporaries. We’re having a lot of fun with it.
Solo projects wise, I have TOO MANY ideas. My main work in progress is a new adult m/m paranormal set in a small Ontario town. I love to set stories in areas I know really well, so this one in particular is a lot of fun.
Kelly: I'm really excited about our loosely connected contemporaries! I tend to write what I’d like to read and the premise we have for each entry in this series is a book I’d snap up the day it was published.
(Also, I wouldn’t call this series low-angst. We’ll be tackling big emotions, but leaving off the killing and/or maiming this time ‘round!)
Solo projects: I have two more novellas releasing with Dreamspinner Press this summer. Counting Fence Posts is the story of two men trapped in a car during a blizzard. Best in Show is about a mystery writer who adopts a cursed housecat shifter from the local animal shelter.
Writing-wise, I’m currently revising a follow up to Counting Fence Posts—the second date goes as “well” as the first—and a full length contemporary romance in which I pair a victim of sustained bullying with a guy who served time for assault. The book isn’t as angsty as it sounds! The story focuses on these guys figuring out what they want out of life, and going after it—hopefully together. :D
1. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Jenn: Star Wars
Kelly: Star Trek
2. Salty or Sweet?
Kelly: Salty (you really don’t want to know where my mind went here…)
3. Mountains or Beach?
4. Xbox or PlayStation?
Kelly: Depends on the game I want to play (I own both)
5. Reading: print or ebook?
Kelly: So long as it’s got words, I don’t care
6. Coffee or Tea?
7. Pizza or Chocolate?
8. Mac or PC?
9. Wine or Beer?
10. Devour a series all at once or read each book as it’s released?
Jenn: All at once (ask Kelly about the time I disappeared offline after discovering the Black Dagger Brotherhood books…)
Kelly: (Ten days! She was missing for TEN DAYS!) I actually have no preference. If the next book is available and I’m in the mood for it, I’ll pick it up.
Thank you so much, girls, for taking the time to answer some questions for us today. And THANK YOU from the bottom of my fangirl reader’s heart for gifting us with Zed and Flick. I love them both so much. They are incredible characters and I’ve enjoyed every moment I’ve gotten to spend with them (yes, even the moments when I was sobbing my eyes out and there were more than a few of those over the course of the series.)
My world would be complete if Carina would just release them in print. (Come on, Carina Press...I NEED this series on my keeper shelf to reread over and over and over again!)
Kelly: Thanks so much for the opportunity, Christi! So glad you love our guys as much as we do. J
Jenn: One of the side benefits of this series has been connecting with people who love the books! So thank YOU, Christi, for all your cheerleading. It’s so very appreciated.
Book five of Chaos Station
Zander and Felix’s relationship has always pushed boundaries—personal and professional alike—but their love and commitment is stronger than ever. So strong that Zander’s ready to ask commitment-shy Felix the question of a lifetime when he’s interrupted. The Chaos is being hacked, and crucial, top secret information about the project that created Zander—and his fellow super soldiers—has been leaked.
Neither man could have expected the enormity of what’s discovered at the end of the data trail: an entire colony of super soldiers run by the very doctor who changed Zander’s life forever. And now she needs them both—Zander to train her new crop of soldiers, and Felix’s new crystalline arm to stabilize their body chemistry.
With help from the unlikeliest of allies, Zander, Felix and the Chaos crew must destroy the project and all its ill-gotten information. But when the team is split up and Felix is MIA after a dangerous run, galactic disaster is a very real possibility…and Zander may have missed his chance to ask for forever.
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Jenn and Kelly met in 2009 through a mutual infatuation with a man who wasn’t real. After all but crashing the video game’s forums with daily dissection of their obsession, they started writing together, discovered they really liked writing together and began plotting stories in worlds of their own creation.
The CHAOS STATION series aren’t the first books they’ve written together, and they’re pretty sure they won’t be the last. As long as their so-called smartphones keep making autocorrects that trigger brainstorming sessions, they’ll have enough character ideas and plots to keep them writing for years to come.
Prize: The first four books in the Chaos Station series—Chaos Station, Lonely Shore, Skip Trace and InversionPoint—and a $25 gift card to the online bookseller of your choice.
Signing up for our newsletter gives access to our free Chaos Station story, “Graduation”.
Terms: Rafflecopter runs from 12:01 AM EST 5/2/2016 to 11:59 PM EST 5/8/2016. Giveaway is open internationally. Gift card value is US dollars. Winner will be contacted via email.
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