As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of California, Jeannie is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit, working mainly with children and parents. She graduated summa cum laude from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity and Specialization in Psychology and Counseling—and magna cum laude from the University of Mississippi with a double major in Psychology and Journalism.
But Jeannie also uses her skills for helping fictional characters. She has been writing ever since she received a diary for her fifth birthday. Recently, two of her “therapeutic romance” manuscripts finaled in the ACFW Genesis contest for unpublished writers. Jeannie writes a popular monthly column for Christian Fiction Online Magazine and has been featured in other e-zines, newspapers, and blogs. She recently set up shop online as a “character therapist” for hire.
Please tell us about your new website and character therapy service for writers. You use the term character couch time. What do you mean by that?
When I started doing character therapy over two years ago, I never envisioned that I’d end up having a business doing something that I find incredibly enjoying and satisfying. By giving characters “couch time,” I’m helping authors bring a measure of realism to their writing while also keeping my clinical skills sharp. Because after all, shouldn’t fictional characters mirror real life and real issues? Stands to reason they need therapy as much as the next guy.
If you had only one minute (or three sentences or less) to share your best advice for creating believable and compelling characters, what advice would you offer?
I’d advise people to really pay attention to a character’s back story. The story behind the story is almost as important as what the reader begins reading on page one. Give them a vice, a weakness, a vulnerability—and trace it back to their growing up years.
Please tell us about your column at Christian Fiction Online.
When I approached editor Bonnie Calhoun with the idea, she was all for it. In fact, she said, “When can you start?” and she meant for me to write an article for the very next month. For the last year, I’ve focused on a different fictional stereotype with the intent of helping writers overcome the clichés and dig deeper. From what Bonnie says, they have been a hit.
How does your faith play into your work?
While I don’t require writers I work with to be Christian, I don’t shy away from the fact that I am. Being a Christ-follower guides all I do, both online and in the office. Probably for that reason, I don’t get a lot of erotica or other genres that might not be glorifying to Christ. But I do get lots of characters who do plenty outside my particular moral code. These assessments aren’t more difficult to do, but somehow I feel they carry more weight, both with the author and my readers. They also seem to be the more popular assessments, garnering more comments—perhaps due to their controversial nature.
You are a two-time finalist in the ACFW Genesis contest. Please tell about your writing. What genre do you write?
I like to write contemporary romance and romantic suspense. I call my manuscripts “therapeutic romances” because there is always a mental health component, like unresolved grief, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder—you name it, it’s game.
Detours in life can be frustrating—kind of like plot twists in the stories we write—but the outcome is often even more intriguing than our original plan. Can you tell us about a recent “detour” in your life—or in one of your character’s lives—that taught you something?
Sometimes I feel awful, throwing detours in the lives of my characters, but maybe it’s my own desire to project my issues onto them, or at the very least, take out my frustration on them! The biggest detour I had recently was an attempt to move back home from California. My license did not transfer, and I couldn’t find work. It was very humbling, and my husband and I came to realize that we had moved on our own agenda. When I looked for jobs elsewhere, finally giving up my attempt at control, I found a job almost immediately…right back in the same county from which we had moved six months earlier. Taught me a huge lesson—pray before you leap.
A few fun questions…
This website features musicians as well as writers. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
I do! I have been playing the piano since 1985. I took lessons for twelve years and have been an accompanist for churches and choirs alike. I also can sing a mean alto. I love finding the harmony and hearing how it blends with the melody.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
Hmm. I suppose a lullaby. They have a calming effect on infants (and adults!) and they aren’t overly obtrusive. In fact, the whole idea behind a lullaby is to set the ambiance or a mood, to gently bring the listener into a state of relaxation and peace. I feel that I do this with my counseling and my life.
What’s the title of the last GREAT book you’ve read?
The latest novel I couldn’t put down and ended up reading it in a day was Jenny B. Jones’ Save the Date. She writes romance so well…I just held my breath the entire novel, waiting on the hero and heroine to finally get together. What a sigh of satisfaction when they do.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
Of the options given, I’d have to say the strong, female lead. I’ve known exactly what I wanted to do and went after it with fervor. I don’t back down, shy away, or cower. I problem-solve really well and have a high internal motivation to make something of myself and leave a mark.
I’m a dog lover. Please tell us about your pets, if any, or your favorite pet as a child.
We have a six-year-old cat named Cookie (although she’s most often called BooBoo). We’ve had a couple of cats that have met their unfortunate demises one way or the other, but Cookie remains constant. I think I’ve had such a love for cats because I was denied having one as a child. My family members “voted” to either have a cat or dog, and we got a dog. I’ll probably be known as a cat lady when I’m old and gray…but they make for great companions.
Thanks, Jeannie! It’s nice to have you at DivineDetour.
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For more information about Jeannie, her writing guides, and her fictional character therapy service, visit her website at http://charactertherapist.com/.