Find Out What Inspired J. Bengtsson to Go From Reader To Author With Her Delicious Cake Series
After self-publishing her first novel, 'Cake,' J. Bengtsson's series has taken off and is now a fan-favorite in the romance community.By Melissa BendixenJun 8, 2018 1:39 PM
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In two years, author J. (short for Jill) Bengtsson went from being just an avid reader to being a self-published author of four books, the first of which was nominated for a 2018 Audie Award. A lot has happened, and she's quite enjoyed the ride. Narrated by Andi Arndt, Joe Arden, and Zachary Webber, the Cake series is a favorite among audiobook fans and the Audible editors alike. Audible Romance editor Melissa Bendixen and Coleen Barr, ACX rights evangelist, sat down with Jill to enthuse over her books, their narration, and the writing experience.
Note: Text has been edited and may not match audio exactly.
MB: So, Cake was your first novel. Can you tell us a little bit about how the story behind Cake came to be?
JB: Sure, actually what happened was I had been reading a romance novel and I just didn't like the way it was going. I didn't like the way it ended so, when it was finished I was just so upset, and I've never been that upset about anything about reading a book. And I just kept saying, "If they had just done this or that. It would have been so much better."
And so I actually decided I was just going to sit down and write one myself just for fun. So that morning I woke up and I started writing, and the story just flowed out and it was so fun. So about four months later, it was done and I didn't know what to do with it, because I hadn't told anybody that I had been writing it. And so what I ended up doing was just releasing it onto Amazon, totally without anyone knowing and it just took off within, probably two weeks, word of mouth. And so it kind of snowballed and then I did audio after that.
MB: That's awesome. Do you plan to continue in the world of the McAllisters or are you thinking about a new series?
JB: I definitely want to continue because just like everybody else, I would love to the stories of the siblings. And I don't know them until after I write them. So, for me, it's actually important that I finish, at least the siblings, and maybe even some of the other side characters. But, I also would like to do some new works, too. I have one standalone that I've been writing, as well.
MB: That's exciting. Fans especially love the rapport between Jake and Casey, and subsequent novels with Kyle and Kenzie, and Emma and Finn. Where do you get your inspiration for your characters, and for their witty banter, especially?
JB: You know, it's funny. When I write, I just kind of get into the characters, and I imagine what they would be saying to each other. And I love the funny, witty dialogue that goes along with romance novels. And so, for me that's my most important part when I write, is I really want to show how they connect. And I do that through their dialogue mostly.
And so, where I get the inspiration... I don't really know, it just kind of comes to me. I think it's because I'm so immersed in the characters when I write. And another thing, oftentimes because I write both the male and the female parts, I have to write all of the female first. And then I go and write the male, because I have to be in the head of the male or the female when I'm writing them.
MB: That's really interesting. So, do you ever test-run any jokes beforehand, or are you discovering it as you're writing it?
JB: It's funny because one of my sons, he is in college, so I will pay him with protein bars and stuff if he can give me really good lines, because sometimes he's gotten me some good ones. Especially in the second book. He gave me some great lines for Kyle, but most of them just come from me. I just think about them, and I will write and I will be giggling the whole time. I think it's hysterical. I crack myself up, and my kids will laugh at me. They think it's really humorous that I find myself so funny. But, yeah.
MB: When you write, in your workspace, are you around your family, or are you separate?
JB: I'm in the guest room at a tiny little table with my dog at my feet. So, it's not the best situation. I would love to get an office area, but when I wrote Cake, I actually wrote it on the side of the couch. And I tweaked my back, so I was like, "I gotta at least have a small space to write." But yeah, someday I'm going to have a really nice space, but not now.
MB: One thing I noticed was that every book cover has train tracks on it. Is there a significance to that?
JB: You know, I think more the fact that it's kind of the road untraveled. So, they are kind of all on paths going one way. And one of the things that Jake said in one of the books was that ... in the last book, was that all of his siblings were kind of traveling down the track that he created. You know, and they haven't ever been able to go on their own path because of what happened to him. And so, that's why I keep the train tracks in there, because it kind of symbolizes that.
MB: Andi Arndt has been a prominent voice for all of your audio books. What was the experience like working with her?
JB: She's great, you know. It was funny, a fan was the one that actually recommended her to me. And I had no idea who she was because I had never heard any audio books. So, I had no idea she was this popular as she was, so I just went ahead and emailed her and said, "You know, I'd love to have you do my book." And had I known, I probably would never had emailed her and asked her if she would do my book for me, but she was great. She contacted me right back, and she was interested. So, it has been a great partnership, and I love working with her, and she has done a great job with all my characters.
MB: And Zachary Webber and Joe Arden as well.
JB: Oh yeah. I love their voices both of them. They've been great to work with. One of the things with all the narratives, I think they really bring the characters to life in audio which is really cool. And, it's hard for me as the author to hear those voices when I listen to it, because those are my words. But, I'm really glad that they're the ones giving them.
MB: That was going to be one of my questions. What was your reaction to hearing your work performed aloud for the first time?
JB: Oh, it was cringeworthy. Not because they did anything wrong, it was just I actually had a reaction where I was blushing. I was very embarrassed, but I'm getting more used to it.
MB: You were blushing?
JB: Oh yeah. It's very odd, for me anyway, to hear my words that I've written.
MB: Do you feel like you've learned a lot from it since? Or have you taken from hearing your first book and writing your subsequent books?
JB: You know, when you write it comes out very differently in audio. So, when you do the "he said," and "she said," you sometimes need that for the written, but you don't really need that in the audio. So, I'm starting to think, maybe I should have two versions, but you know, you can't really do that either.
CB: Have you changed anything about the way that you write for their voices or something like that? Do you write with them?
MB: Do you think of them in your head?
JB: You know, sometimes I do a little bit, and I think, "Oh this would be funny with her saying it this way." So, I definitely love the characters, the way that they voice them. So, I would definitely be more mindful I think now, that they're in audio, than I would've before for sure.
MB: Are you an audio book listener yourself?
JB: You know, my book was the first one I've ever heard in audio. But, now I am. I've been listening to quite a few books in audio and I find them really interesting.
CB: Have you ever listened to any by Andi Arndt, or Joe Arden?
JB: Yes. I just listened to Getting Schooled... By both of my narrators [Webber and Arndt]. I think it's fun to listen to them do other works, you know. And then I can relax. I don't have to sit there and think, "Oh, I did this wrong. I did this wrong." Somebody else did it, right?
MB: So, what is your favorite part about being a writer?
JB: You know, so far I think the best part is just the reaction of the people who've been reading the book, the fans. That surprises me. It's exciting. It's a little shocking because I just still think of myself as a stay-at-home mom. And so, when people think, "Oh, it's so amazing to meet you." Or to hear when I email them back, "I can't believe you emailed me back." I'm like, "What else am I gonna do?" I don't have any other life. So, it's actually very fun. I've been having a really good time with it.
MB: Have ever got to meet any of your fans in person?
JB: I haven't. I've never done any kind of book signings, yet. And I'd love to, I just haven't gotten around to it. I've been writing so much. I released four books in two years, so it's been a lot. But, I would love to go to some of the different writer conventions, or the reader things.
MB: So, we kind of tread over one of my earlier questions, which was where do you love to create? But, maybe we could bounce off of that to where are you inspired to create?
JB: Yeah, I didn't really have a specific spot. If I go for a walk or something, I'll think about something. Last night, for example, I was lying in bed and I couldn't sleep, and I came up with something, and I had to write it in my phone really fast because otherwise I'll forget it in the morning. So, I just am inspired in different ways, with different things. I just have to give myself a little cue, so I'll remember what it was I was inspired by.
CB: Is it little snippets that you could put into a story, or is it more of a fleshed out?
JB: It can be both, but sometimes if I think of a funny thing, then I'll write that down right away, and then I'll create around that funny scene that I was thinking of.
MB: So, what piece of advice would you give to a young writer, or even young Jill?
JB: I wish I had started a little earlier, but I didn't know that I wanted to be a writer until I actually was one. I've had a lot of people come up to me and say that they have had a story. And I think that one of the main things with writing, is people are very forgiving of errors that you make or typos, but it's the story that really matters to them. And if you have a really good story, or the characters really resonate with the readers, I would definitely try it, because you never know what's gonna happen. You know, you could write a Cake.
MB: I guess knowing now what you know about your career so far, what is something apart from starting sooner that you wish that you knew, or you wish that you could've done, or that if you were mentoring someone that you'd suggest that they do right away?
JB: I've mentored a few younger writers who have contacted me. And the first thing I say is make sure you have social media, because that's one thing I didn't do. For probably six months I didn't have any way for people to connect with me. And it was a mistake, and I wish that I had changed that. So, that's really important, to be able to connect with the readers. So, now I'm doing that, and I'm really happy with that. I've had a lot of great responses from that.