Formerly a crime journalist and now a proud self-published author, K.B. Jensen talks to us about the benefits of excruciating boredom, how an online writing program she started for kids produced a prize-winning anthology, and some of the secrets to her success. Her new book, Love and Other Monsters in the Dark, which Foreword Magazine calls “a dynamic” collection of stories that “dart through memorable situations” has just been released.
Your new collection of stories is called Love and Other Monsters in the Dark. It’s unusual to find the words love and monsters in the same title. What does it say about the stories within?
It shows that love and horror can go hand in hand. I believe love is one of the most thrilling and terrifying experiences we can possibly have, because there’s always an undercurrent of loss, the possibility of loss. You’ll find monsters, both literal and figurative, throughout the collection. Sometimes love is a reprieve in the book, and sometimes it’s not.
There is an increasingly popular school of thought that firmly believes that education should be based less on science and more on imagination. The academics pushing for this shift would love your work. Please talk about your relationship with your imagination and how you get it to be so productive.
In many ways, we can dream, we can question, either as scientists or as writers, can’t we? It may be a different gift but I believe everyone has to find their own path and the language that works for them, whether it’s the language of science, writing, another art, or something else altogether. I believe science can also be imaginative in the right teacher’s hands, and science can tell a story, too. That said, I feel like reading and writing opened up the world for me as a kid and maybe we need to value what individual kids value and respond to rather than trying to fit everyone into a box. As I get older, I also value nonconformity, which can be a plus in any discipline really. So maybe the answer isn’t necessarily less science but less memorization, more critical thinking and storytelling and imagination in science.
As far as my own imagination, I feel like time is a big factor in my ability to hone in. I was blessed with a childhood full of excruciating boredom. When I was young, I couldn’t always understand the teacher because of a hearing issue and I’d invent games to amuse myself or tell myself stories if I was in time out. I’d happily read a book if I was grounded. I think a lot of people are more imaginative than they realize, but they are tuning it out these days. I can be guilty of it too. You stare at your phone instead of off into the distance daydreaming and that’s sad. An idle mind is a writer’s workshop, actually, and our minds actually need to be more idle in order to create.
You teach writing to young people and have even created a venue to showcase their work. Please talk about the benefits of this interaction.
I started an online writing camp in 2020 when most of the in-person camps were cancelled and have continued this program with several award-winning colleagues at My Word Publishing. The kids work with a pro editor and pro cover designer, which is a blast. I started it because I wanted to save my daughter’s summer at the start of the pandemic. She loves to write too, and it’s a shared interest that we continue to bond over. It’s priceless watching her and the other young writers bloom. I loved writing at her age, and I would have leapt at the chance to do a program like this. I learn a lot from the kids. For one, they are fearless and shockingly professional. They take writing extremely seriously, and their work ethic is inspiring. The first anthology we made with them won a first place award for juvenile fiction from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association. What an honor it was to stand next to some of these young authors as they got their award. I just love it. It’s very fulfilling.
Prior to writing Love and Other Monsters in the Dark, you wrote two novels. Please tell us about them.
Painting With Fire is a crime novel about love without trust, reckless justice, and murder in the Windy City. It’s based on some of my experiences as a crime reporter and the questions I never got answers to. I had to make my own.
My second novel, A Storm of Stories, is a bit experimental in that it’s full of short stories. A woman hits a hitchhiker with her car during a snowstorm, and the two end up trapped in the vehicle telling stories as a way to stay alive. We learn about the characters by the stories they tell. It’s about love, craziness, and impossibility.
Can you talk about the difference in the experience of writing short (some would even call some of your work flash) stories as opposed to the experience of writing longer pieces?
Oh, some of my stories are definitely flash and even microflash, sprinkled in with longer narratives. I think the expectations are different for flash in some ways. The reader might expect more character development and breathing room in a longer piece, but I try to get my characters across even in my shorter pieces. I debated just doing a collection of flash, rather than a collection that goes in and out of flash, but I’m a bit of an artist, and I like to tell the story and then figure out how long it needs to be. Flash is generally a thousand words and under, which is fun. But I sometimes rebel against rules. The fun challenge of writing flash, though, is every single word has to do the heavy lifting with revealing details. Longer pieces in my collection are still succinct (former journalist here after all), but there was more that needed to be explored.
Unless an author lucks out and gets picked up by one of the few remaining big publishing houses and that house is willing to throw a lot of marketing dollars behind their work, it is almost impossible for writers to get noticed. You, on the other hand, are a proud self-published author whose work sells well. Tell us the secret of how to drive traffic to one’s work, and any other self-publishing secrets you want to share.
I’ve had a lot of good luck, and ultimately, I owe a lot to my readers, especially the ones who have left reviews. In terms of my marketing efforts, I’d say getting picked up by Bookbub in featured partner deals has been my biggest tool. They have millions of subscribers in my genres and are extremely selective about the books they recommend to their email lists, rejecting most books, but they are wonderful for reaching your exact target audience. I’m the first to admit I’ve given away a lot of free ebooks, but I’ve sold a lot after the promotions are over.
If I had to give advice, I’d say don’t cut corners on production, especially editing, or marketing efforts. Be detail oriented. I used to sell lots of books at Printer’s Row Literary Fest in Chicago, and I was shocked at how many people would stop at my booth and look at the copyright page, of all things, before deciding to buy my first book. I studied Jane Friedman’s blog like crazy when I first started out and Joanna Penn’s podcast since. Say yes to readings, book clubs, and events, and trying new things. Cross pollinate with other authors and collaborate on events. Carry copies of your book at all times and enlist the help of people you know to help build excitement about your book. Oh, I could go on and on. Marketing is never-ending. I’m really grateful to my readers.
Award-winning author K.B. Jensen’s new collection of short stories, Love and Other Monsters in the Dark, will be published in July 2022. She has two novels, Painting With Fire, an artistic murder mystery, and A Storm of Stories, which veers literary and handles love, craziness, and impossibility. Painting With Fire has been downloaded over 75,000 times. K.B. lives in Littleton, CO, with her family. She teaches skiing and writes poetry. A former journalist, K.B. is a senior publishing consultant and writing camp director for My Word Publishing. Her work has appeared in Cherry Magazine, Progenitor, and other publications. Visit www.kbjensenauthor.com to find out more.