Friday, June 3, 2016

Behind the Pages #26: Julianna Keyes on 'Undecided', and what makes a story more interesting

Julianna Keyes
Fresh off the release of her first New Adult romance novel and sixth overall, Julianna Keyes has taken some time to do an interview for IFB. Check out her answers below, and be sure to enter the international giveaway for the chance to win a copy of Undecided.

Where you from and what/who inspired you to become a writer?

I’m Canadian. My dad was in the military so we moved around the country quite a bit, eventually landing in Nova Scotia. (I went to the same high school as Sidney Crosbie, which is the only thing I know about hockey. And no, the name is not a coincidence!)

I’ve always loved writing, and a knack for spelling and grammar is truly my only natural ability. Still, I never thought I could actually be a writer (and to be fair, I have a full-time non-writing job that pays the bills) until it came time to decide what to do about college. I used one of those computer programs that narrows down your interests and suggests a few areas of study, then I wisely selected film, a guaranteed successful career path! So I was inspired to starting thinking about writing seriously while in college, but the love of language—all aspects of it—has always been there.

Tell us about your latest release, Undecided. How does this book differ from your previous books?

Undecided is my first New Adult romance, so these characters are younger, whereas the rest of my stories feature characters that are closer to (or older than) 30. I’ve shied away from New Adult because the handful I tried reading didn’t really work for me, and when the idea for this story came I knew it was NA so I shelved it. But the ideas kept coming and I kept jotting them down, and pretty soon I had a story I was really excited to write. The other major difference here is tone. Undecided is lighter and funnier than my other books, and while the characters are still interesting and complex, I would say they’re a bit easier and more accessible. They mess up, but they’re not offensive. Some of my other characters offend. (Cackles.)

It’s been interesting to see the reader response to this book and my other titles. People just discovering my writing with Undecided who then try my other books have had mixed reactions. There are people who find the other characters too difficult, and some who like those more challenging aspects. I like having the opportunity to write what I want and what I believe in, and I hope the foundation of the books—solid writing, interesting characters, believable dialogue, original plots—continues to help me find readers looking for good stories.

What do you like most about Nora and Crosbie? What are you hoping readers will take from these characters?

I like that both Nora and Crosbie feel like they play a supporting role in their own lives, and this is their chance to finally be the star. I like that this is happening in the first book in the series, not the second, because it underscores this message. One reason I struggle to relate to so many New Adult titles is because the characters have such traumatic back stories at such young ages—I know they’re popular, but it’s just not something I want to read about. When I considered the genre and what I wanted this book to say, I really wanted it to show what I thought New Adult meant: a transitional time, fumbling through maturity, making bad decisions, making good decisions, learning from them and moving on. As much as I consider it lighter than my other books, there’s still some weight to it, and a lesson that hopefully doesn’t feel like a morality tale.

What do I hope people take away from these characters? That it’s important to play the starring role in your own life. That it’s important to forgive yourself for your mistakes, and to forgive other people, too. (Well, sometimes. If they deserve it.) That it’s important to speak up and take chances and be brave and not be afraid of failing. 

Will there be a follow-up book with any of the other characters? Kellan or Marcela perhaps?

When I wrote Undecided, I wasn’t sure if there would be another book or not. It’s my first time self-publishing and I felt like Kellan had potential for a story of his own, but figured I would only write it if the interest was there. Fortunately, reader response has been so much more than I could have hoped, and it’s incredibly motivating. I’ve got a lot of the plot details in my head, now it’s a matter of organizing them. I have to finish a totally unrelated project, then I’ll start Kellan’s book. I’m hoping to have it ready by Christmas.

As for Nate and Marcela… I don’t know. I feel like their story kind of already happened, even if it was off-page. We’ll see.

When not writing, what else do you enjoy doing?

I read a lot. I always have something on the go. I’m also a big baseball fan. I watch a lot of Blue Jays games (it helps pass the time on the treadmill) and I’ve played softball for years. I like to bake (then bring it to work to share so I don’t gorge myself) and I run several times a week to make up for it.

You've said that readers won't find insta-love, melodrama or secret babies in your stories. Why do you stay away from all that, and what are some of the things that make a story more interesting to you?

I stay away from insta-love, melodrama and secret babies because they don’t interest me as a reader, and they don’t interest me as a writer. When I read a story where the characters lock eyes and know they’ve found their soulmate, I feel cheated. I want to see them fall for each other. I want to see the ups and downs and insecurities of that process. It takes Nora and Crosbie half the book to kiss. Nora doesn’t even realize she might want to kiss him for the first quarter, and developing that build up was so much fun. Anticipation is a big part of the reading experience, and I think insta-love detracts from that. 

Melodrama just doesn’t work for me. I don’t watch soap operas or any shows with really extreme plotlines. I know some people find it fun, but I don’t connect, so when people say they like my stories because they feel real, that’s a big compliment. They’re supposed to feel real and I’m happy they do. As for the secret baby trope—it just irritates me! I never really got into the whole MC trend and I’m not on board with the stepbrother love stories, either. It’s just personal taste. I know they’re all very successful—it’s good to have options.

What interests me? Genuine conflict. Two of my favourite tropes are enemies to lovers and opposites attract. I like a terrible fight scene. I like a gruelling break up and the making up after. I like people resisting each other but reluctantly giving into their attraction. I just like difficult people, I guess. J


From your debut until now, how have you evolved as an author?

I think there’s a point when you have to decide if you’re going to write for yourself or if you’re going to write for an audience. I don’t know how to write what’s popular. It makes good business sense to write a BDSM stepbrother time travelling billionaire romance, but I don’t have it in me. I’m aware of what’s popular, what’s trending, what’s being criticized, etcetera, but I try to ignore it and trust my own judgment. I write books I’d like to read.

I hadn’t read much romance when I started writing it, so I wasn’t thinking about anything other than “Do I like this?” I wrote Time Served rather blindly, I just thought it was a great story. Then the first reviews came out and they were one and two stars and I was completely unprepared. People hated the heroine. They thought the hero was a brute. I thought they were interesting and complicated and original. I thought their journey was difficult but worth it. So that was an eye opener. But I never thought I should write something easier, even though I still sometimes hear those voices in my head. Is she too harsh? Am I shaming somebody? 

I want to write honestly, and hopefully find readers looking for that type of story. I don’t care if people are perfect, I care if they’re complex and believable. I care if they’re trying. I can separate a character from an author and if a character does something I dislike, it doesn’t mean the author’s totally on board with the behavior, it’s part of the book. That said, I’m very aware that Undecided is my most successful book to date, and it has the most likable characters. I can draw the parallels.

What can fans of your Time Served series expect from book three, The Good Fight?

Fans of the Time Served world can expect to see a lot more of Camden. The first two books in the series feature lawyers at the Chicago law firm that had business in Camden; this story is told from the hero’s POV, and he was born and raised on the wrong side of the tracks. He’s this big fighter who’s looking for a challenge, and he almost gets more than he can handle when he meets the heroine, a socially-challenged superstar neurosurgeon. 

They both have small parts in the earlier books—the heroine is Caitlin’s sister in In Her Defense—and though I’d never contemplated giving either one their own story, when this idea hit, it stuck. This is a guy who knows how to care about things but not how to go about implementing his ideas, and the heroine is woman who knows how to take care of business, but not how to show she cares. They both give as good as they get and earn everything they receive in the end. The title is very apt. Oh, and there’s also a lot more sex, if that floats your boat. J

Any plans for a fourth book? What's next for you?

I don’t know if there’ll be a fourth book in the Time Served series. There’s certainly potential and I still love that world, but it depends on whether or not I think there’s an audience for it. I’m not a particularly fast writer and I write longer books, so I want to spend my time on stories that will find readers. But never say never. Sometimes an idea sneaks up and won’t let go. 

The next book I hope to release is Kellan’s story, which should be out in late 2016. I’m very excited about it.

Thank you for taking the time. Please leave any tips you may have for aspiring writers.

I have a section on my website called “On Writing” and the number one tip there is “think about it.” You can learn so much just by thinking about it. When you’re reading a book and you like something, think about why. If a story bores you, ask why. If it angers you, ask why. Think about it when you’re writing. Why are you making this choice? Because it’s easy? Because it’s popular? Because you saw it somewhere else? Because it puts your characters in an impossible situation and they have no choice but to adapt and adjust and overcome? 

Write, of course. And edit. And submit. Prepare for rejection, then try again. When I first started submitting (and being rejected by the boatload), I told myself no one was going to break into my apartment, steal my laptop, read my story, see its potential, submit it to an agent, get a deal, and give me all the credit. I had to do that by myself. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Even with a day job. J

More About the Author
Julianna Keyes is a Canadian writer who has lived on both coasts and several places in between. She's been skydiving, bungee jumping and white water rafting, but nothing thrills - or terrifies - her as much as the blank page. She loves Chinese food, foreign languages, baseball and television, not necessarily in that order, and will go to her grave swearing that 'ain't' is not a word. She has volunteered in Zambia, taught English in China, and dreams of seeing pink dolphins in the Amazon. It'll happen.


Synopsis via Goodreads:
Nora Kincaid has one goal for her second year of college: be invisible. Last year’s all-party-no-study strategy resulted in three failed classes and two criminal charges, and if she messes up again she’ll lose her scholarship. But there’s one problem with her plan for invisibility, and his name is Crosbie Lucas: infamous party king, general hellraiser…and her new roommate’s best friend.

Crosbie’s reckless reputation and well-known sexcapades aren’t part of Nora’s studious new strategy, but as she’s quickly learning, her new plan is also really boring. When Crosbie’s unexpected gestures of friendship pull her head out of her books long enough to see past his cocky veneer, she’s surprised to find a flawed and funny guy beneath it all. The muscles don’t hurt, either.

But as Nora starts to fall for Crosbie, the weight of one of last year’s bad decisions grows even heavier. Because three failing grades and two misdemeanors are nothing compared to the one big secret she’s hiding…

Publisher's note: This is not a sweet romance. There is plenty of sex and swearing. Enjoy!


  1. No melodrama, secret babies, or insta-love?! Sign me up. I hate it when a book has those things. Especially insta-love. I'm not going to lie though, a BDSM stepbrother time travelling billionaire romance does sound interesting. Not sure if that's a good or bad interesting... but definitely interesting. LoL
    Great interview. Have a wonderful weekend, ladies!

    1. Lol you're funny, Kristin. Thanks for stopping by. Hope you find a BDSM stepbrother time travelling billionaire romance to read over the weekend :)

  2. Enjoyed the interview. Sounds like an interesting read.
    Carol Smith

  3. Oh I LOVED Undecided so this was so fun to read! Thank you so much Shane, it is so cool to hear all the background and I can't wait to read Julianna's other releases!!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I'm starting it this weekend :)
      Thanks for stopping by, Eva!

  4. Loved the interview. Sounds like a great book

  5. Loved this book!!! It was such a great read!

  6. I love the sound of this book, and you know I enjoy NA! I prefer enemies to lovers and opposites too... all the other hogwash is beginning to annoy me!

  7. Since reading Undecided, Julianna Keyes has become one of my favorite writers. I love her advice for writers, how she illustrates the "show not tell" concept, and I also agree with her philosophy of writing real, complicated characters. I can't stand insta-love, melodrama, and I am so tired of the millionaire who somehow doesn't have to work trope. And Crosbie is welcome to be my book boyfriend any day.


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