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Interview with Jennifer Chastain

Jennifer, I’m so excited to be conducting your author interview this week! First, tell the readers a bit about you.
Ever since I was a little girl, living in a small town in New York State, I’ve been a voracious reader and have dreamed of epic adventures. A northern transplant, I’ve grown to love the grace and charm of the South. In fact, I even married a native Charlottean. During the day, I work for a research center on the campus of the University of North Carolina Charlotte and at nights and on weekends, I’m a writing ninja, cramming in as many words as possible.

On your website, you mention that you’ve switched writing genres, but romance is a thread you spin in your books regardless of genre. Can you tell us a bit about the different genres you’ve written? How does the writing process differ for each of them?

I’ve written contemporary romance and romantic suspense, and my writing process is basically the same for both when it comes to my characters. Here’s what I do for my characters:
• conduct an in-depth character study,
• take the 5 Love Languages quiz for my hero and heroine,
• fill out the Story Equation from Novel Academy,
• dig into what lie each main character believes,
• identify their dark moment story from the past, what they want, their greatest fear, etc.,
• fill out the Lindy Hop (also from Novel Academy),
• establish what the character is doing at that moment in their normal life.

And this is where the fun begins for romantic suspense! What kind of obstacles will our hero/heroine face? Situations must become progressively worse, the danger element must intensify until there is nowhere to turn or they find the killer. I let my imagination run wild! With romantic suspense, there is a ton more research, because I look at police procedures, how they collect evidence, the lab reports, police interviews, interpretation of the evidence, follow-up interviews, and ballistics, etc.

But even though the genres are different, there are still principles that apply to both genres. There must be a resolution. There must be a moment when it looks like the villain will triumph. The same goes for romance. There must be a point where it looks like the hero will not win the heroine’s heart or vice versa. That he has totally ruined his chance at finding love with the woman of his dreams. But for both genres, I always write a satisfying resolution at the end of the story.

That’s what we’re looking for when we read a romance, after all! So, tell us a little about your path to publication. How did you and your publisher find each other? How did you know it was the right fit for you?
I pitched a three-book contemporary romance series at a couple of different conferences. Agents and editors were interested, but as I reflect on my writing, I wasn’t ready to publish. My writing has evolved, I guess you could say, for lack of a better term. I find that my writing voice has improved as well.

In July 2019, I learned about TwitterPitch through other authors and so I decided to give it a try. I pitched my contemporary romance on Twitter in 140 characters. No takers. But when I submitted my Christmas novella idea, I had several folks who were interested. I worked up a book proposal and submitted it to Anaiah Press, a small publishing house I wasn’t familiar with. But they took a chance on me and my contemporary marriage of convenience story. With them I learned a lot about publishing, editing, and growing your audience. I believe my writing style improved during that time as well.

Last year, Love Inspired Suspense rejected the romantic suspense story I pitched. My writing or story wasn’t the problem. They had another romantic suspense story releasing this year or early next year with a similar storyline. Go figure. That’s the nature of the business, isn’t it?

Letting that rejection roll off me, I submitted my manuscript for Lethal Intentions to Anaiah. They loved it. The editor even told me that she believed romantic suspense was my genre. I was floored. I had my heart set on writing contemporary romance, but obviously the Lord had other plans. The publisher asked if I thought about making this into a series. Wow! I’d had some ideas rolling around in the back of my head, but now I had to put those stories on paper and figure out how the other two stories, though separate, could fit with the original.

The second book was no problem. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to write the hero’s friend, Hawk’s story. The third book? The characters weren’t talking to me! I started praying about book three and it was as if one of the characters in book one raised his hand and said, “Me. What about me? I have a great story to tell.”

And that’s where I am now. Edits for book two are starting soon. And I’m working on a category romantic suspense for Love Inspired Suspense. I have another romantic suspense four-book series idea I’m working on too. I’m hoping to pitch this to an agent soon.

It sounds like God truly has led you to your niche! Based on your biographical information, you’re not an undercover spy or espionage agent. But, Lethal Intentions dives into the world of undercover agents and battlefield medics. Where do your story and character ideas come from? What does “research” look like for you?
My ATF agent is loosely based on a real-life agent who lost his life in the line of duty. I wanted to give him the happily-ever-after that he never experienced. That was my springboard for the story.

I then had to think about his injury, how would he escape to safety, etc. Who better to tend his wound than a retired Army medic? Medics saw a lot of battlefield wounds during tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also wanted to honor those who have served our country since I have a lot of relatives who have served in the military over the years.

Some of my ideas for story ideas come from movies or TV series. Many times, I’ll hear a country song on the radio and just one phrase will start the creativity flowing. Country music has some great storytelling in it! Or an idea might come from a news story, or a true crime show. I like to watch Dateline and 48 Hours. All the twists and turns are almost too crazy to be true.

I also have to do medical research on wounds and weapons. I asked an online writing forum about weapons and what type of weapon a federal agent would carry. I had to look at Army medics, the weight of their packs, police procedures, trauma, etc.

I normally have an idea in my head of what my main characters look like, so I find pictures and post them in my Scrivener file. It’s a lot of work, but once that is completed, then I can pretty much just sit down and write the story.

What message do you hope readers take away from Lethal Intentions?
In Lethal Intentions, an undercover agent has lost his way spiritually and emotionally. But God has always been there protecting him, even in his darkest moments. The heroine deals with bouts of fear, but God is always there.

That’s the message. He’s always there for us, beside us, guiding us, protecting us, even when we can’t see His loving hand.

Why was it important for you to include a faith aspect in a suspense novel?
Without a faith element, these characters would be empty shells. They’ve faced trials and tests and been battered by the storms of life. Faith is an integral part of my life as well. I couldn’t not write about my character’s faith journeys. People need to see that God is real and that He cares for us, and not just in our moments of crisis.

What do you consider the greatest moment of your writing/publishing career?
Wow. Good question. When someone comes up and says they enjoyed my book, that the characters were real and the spiritual thread I wove in the book was well done. What more can I ask for? It makes my writer heart happy when people enjoy a story that God has placed on my heart to write.

As a fellow cat lover, I salute your commitment to being a “cat mom.” What’s the most unusual, memorable, or crazy cat you’ve ever allowed to run your home (because all cat people know we don’t “own” cats… they simply allow us to wait on their every need!)
Over the years, we’ve had three cats, two were rescues and one was adopted when my brother-in-law’s cats had two large litters.

I think our most memorable cat would be Captain Jack or CJ for short, who we found in the parking lot of a Captain D’s restaurant. He was the best kitty. When I had to start working from home during Covid, he became my writing buddy and encourager, sitting on my desk and meowing if I didn’t sit down to write by 7:45 each evening. He passed away in December 2021 at almost 14 years old, and I really do miss head boops and face rubs.

Tell us what you love the most about living in the beautiful state of North Carolina.
I love living in the South, except for all the neon green spring pollen! Seriously though, even though we’re in the South, we still have all four seasons. Our winters are extremely short, which suits me just fine. And this is where I met my husband.

Finish this statement: If I were not an author, I would be a librarian.
Because, you know, all the books!
A life-long reader, LeighAnne Clifton decided to take the plunge into the writing world after more than 30 years as an engineer. Now, she writes Christian romance, upcycles junk, and teaches 3rd grade Sunday school. LeighAnne and her husband live in South Carolina with their spoiled cats (are there any other kind?). You can read her Christian living blog and find out more about her book series on her blog at

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