Jenny Holiday’s latest 49th Floor novel, His Heart’s Revenge, is her first m/m romance and features two hot heroes with a past. I’ve enjoyed all the 49th Floor books and thought it would be fun to ask Jenny a few questions. She was game and so….
Dabney: Why the 49th floor as opposed to the 23rd or the 86th?
Jennie: Most of the non-hotel skyscrapers in Toronto are in the range of fifty to seventy storeys. I was mindful as I was planning the first book in the series that my hero’s business wasn’t a huge, multi-national operation, and I didn’t realistically see him at the top of one of the highest buildings, so I tried to hit a sweet spot where you could have the fantasy of “wow, we’re really high up and there’s lots of money rolling around,” but it would still be realistic. I laugh now when I look back at my conscientiousness. You may also have noticed that my billionaire books do not contain actual billionaires—they’re more like multi-millionaires. It was the same impulse: there really aren’t that many single, attractive, non-geriatric billionaires in the world, and Canada isn’t a very populous country, so we don’t have tons of billionaires rattling around to begin with. It’s funny because as a reader, I love category romance and its tropes and I have no problem suspending my disbelief if a book is good, but I somehow kept reining in my CEO rich dudes.
Dabney: Your series is set in Toronto. Why Toronto? You live there, right? You grew up in Minnesota—how’d you end up in Toronto? It’s a place most Americans have never been. Tell me five cool things about Toronto.
Jennie: I lived in Toronto for nineteen years—I moved there initially for grad school—but recently moved to a smaller city in southern Ontario for family/work reasons. (And oh how I miss Toronto! There really is no better city.) As for why I set the books in Toronto, I guess the main reason was simply that I was familiar with it, so local details would come more easily. But beyond that, I figured, hey, it’s a huge city. You see lots of big-city romances set in New York and Chicago. Why not Toronto?
Let’s see, five cool things about Toronto: 1) Toronto’s official motto is “city of neighbourhoods,” and it’s really true. There are dozens of funky, vibrant neighbourhoods you could lose yourself in for hours. 2) The diversity. More than half of Toronto’s population was born outside Canada. There’s no “majority” in Toronto. And while of course we are not without our problems, the city really prides itself on and celebrates its diversity. And when the World Cup is on? The city turns into one giant joyous mass of humanity, and it’s awesome. 3) The food. See #2. Every kind of food you can imagine, and some you probably can’t, you can have. 4) The lake. Most Torontonians ignore the fact that the city is right on Lake Ontario, but I love that part. The islands (which are featured in Sleeping With Her Enemy) are magical, and I used to like nothing more than to spend a summer afternoon on the beach with my kid. 5) It’s in Canada. It’s hard to express this without sounding anti-American, which I most decidedly am not (I’m a proud dual citizen), but there’s something about Canada that appeals to me more and more as I get older. It’s hard to put into words, but it feels like a gentleness. Maybe it’s the safety (Toronto is supposedly the safest city in North America, according to the Economist). Maybe it’s the fact that Canadians are really polite and apologize all the time (the stereotype is true!). Maybe it’s the tolerance and community-mindedness, or what seems to me like a lack of American-style confrontational politics. Maybe it’s our handsome new Prime Minister. I don’t know, but there’s an ineffable “Canadianness” about life in Toronto that I value.
Dabney: You have a PhD in Urban Geography. I don’t know what that is although it sounds fascinating. What did you study and why?
Jennie: I was interested in what happened to small towns when they got subsumed by suburbanization. How did they change culturally and architecturally? Here’s a concrete example: there was this town in the American Midwest that had an aging 19th-century downtown that had mostly been decimated by the influx of Wal-Mart and other big box retailers on the outskirts of town—this is a story that replayed itself all over the place in the U.S. in the late 20th-century. Well, this town got a grant from the state to do some refurbishment. So you know what they did? They tore down their 19th-century downtown streetscape and put up fake 19th-century facades—like a Disney version of the American small town—hoping to attract tourists. Whoa! To me, there’s so much interesting going on there that tells us a lot about our changing economy and our collective values. That’s what’s cool about geography—it’s kind of a mishmash of other disciplines in the sense that it’s about how economic and social forces play out on the land and in landscapes.
Dabney: Out of your five heroes in the 49th floor series, who’d you most like to have brunch with and why?
Jennie: I’m going to say Cary from His Heart’s Revenge, if only because he’s the least uptight of all of them. (Though he does hate brunch.)
Dabney: Cary and Alex have unisex names (they could be male or female). Did you do that on purpose? Was there anything different for you as a romance writer crafting two heroes rather than a hero and a heroine?
Jennie: Totally an accident! I tend to “save” my favorite names for main characters. Sometimes I’m tempted to name a secondary character a name I really like, but then I think, nope, I might want to use that for a main character in a future book. That’s where Alex came from—it was in the “good name bank.” Here’s a secret about Cary, though. I decided to write His Heart’s Revenge and sold it to my publisher when I was almost done writing book 3 in this series, The Engagement Game. Cary is the cousin of the hero from that book—but he was originally a she, and she was named Carrie. But then the concept of doing a m/m book was floated (my publisher was looking for some m/m books for the imprint my series is published by), and the idea of an upstart CEO taking on an established titan popped immediately into my head. And I thought, hey, if I make Carrie into Cary, the story almost writes itself because I already had all this backstory in place that made Cary’s departure from his uncle’s company inevitable. It immediately felt like the perfect jumping off point for book 4.
It was different writing two heroes, for the obvious reasons, but I think the biggest challenge came from that fact that this is category romance. Because Indulgence is a category imprint, it comes with established reader expectations about the hero: he’s the wealthy, powerful apha. When you sign up to write one of these books, you’re agreeing to those parameters. So to have two of them was an interesting challenge. It definitely made the conflict easy—they both want the same thing, and each is in the other’s way. But it also made it harder to resolve because they had to climb down from their alpha high horses!
Dabney: A theme in all the 49th Floor books is control. Who has it, who needs it, who is letting it ruin his or her life. Is there a lesson here?
Jennie: When you say, “a theme in all the 49th Floor books is control,” I find myself nodding and agreeing, but to be honest, it wasn’t intentional. I think it probably comes from my take on the alpha hero. As I said above, these books are published in a category imprint, and so that means that we’re starting with a certain kind of driven, buttoned-up hero. You don’t get to be an Indulgence hero without having exercised a certain amount of control. It’s true even in the cases where the heroine is the one who needs to learn the lesson about control—like Amy in Sleeping With Her Enemy. (And I note that all my heroes and heroines are self-made, even the ones who had to break from their family and start over to get there—that is intentional. I just think it’s a lot more attractive than an heir. To me, hard work is sexy. But I digress.) My point is that the universe of these books demands a certain starting point, and I think that is where the theme of the dangers of too much control comes from, more than me deliberately trying to insert it. But, even though I didn’t do it intentionally, I think there can be a lesson there! In a way, it’s the lesson of all good romance novels. It’s not fashionable right now to create characters who save each other—the love of a good woman and all that. And I am definitely on board with the idea that characters should undergo their own journeys and be compelling on their own. But love is a jolt sometimes. It does upend things. It should make you reassess your priorities and maybe, I dunno, maybe not work so damn much!
Dabney: Your characters often have a thing about music–Cassie (from Saving the CEO) and NYSNC, Cary and Industrial Metal. What do you listen to when you write?
Jennie: I don’t listen to music when I write! The only exception is if I’m in the library, where I work a lot, and people are talking. For some reason, I can tune out pretty much any noise (ask me about how I wrote Sleeping With Her Enemy largely in front of Blue’s Clues) except a specific conversation that I can hear in an otherwise quiet environment. So if the passive aggressive stink-eye doesn’t work on library-talkers, I generally turn on M83. It’s kind of ambient but not too hippie, which is pretty much all I can stand when I’m writing. In my non-writing life, I’m a huge Beatles fan and also like a lot of contemporary pop music too (I have a book coming out next winter that is basically Taylor Swift finding her HEA). I’m recently really into this band called A Great Big World, whose music I think embodies the best qualities of (the best) romance novels—thoughtful, layered, hopeful, sometimes goofy.
Dabney: I have to ask. Do you watch Orphan Black (the show is shot in Toronto)? Is it a thing for Torontoites (what do you call people who live in your city)? And, if you do watch, who’s your favorite clone?
Jenny: I don’t. I don’t really watch TV, and not because I’m one of those “I am above TV” snobs. I actually really love TV. But until very recently I was working a full-time day job, under contract for a bunch of books, and trying to be a passable parent, so TV fell by the wayside, and I haven’t really picked it back up yet. Do you know the radio man Garrison Keillor? He’s an idol of mine, and when I was in my 20s, I read an interview with him in which a young aspiring writer who was considering quitting his job to make time to pursue his art, asked for his advice. Keillor said, “Don’t quit your job. Just stop watching TV, and you’ll get twenty percent of your life back.” That always stuck with me, and since I know how easy it is for me to fall down the TV rabbit hole, I just don’t really go there, with the notable exception of So You Think You Can Dance. (Except when I visit my parents, when I go crazy with their satellite TV. Ask me about Lifetime Christmas movie marathons with my dad.) Anyway, if I was going to watch TV, Orphan Black would be high on the list. I think it is indeed a thing among Torontonians! All the younger, cooler people at my last day job watched it! And a colleague’s friend was on it!
Dabney: What’s next for you?
Jenny: Next up is my inaugural foray into self-publishing, the learning curve on which is currently giving me hives. It’s a new adult trilogy set in the 1980s—called New Wave Newsroom. The main characters work on a college newspaper, and each book is inspired by one song from the decade. I’ll be publishing those in the fall.
Ms. Holiday is giving away an ebook set of all four books in the 49th Floor series to one lucky reader. Make a comment below to be entered.
Jenny Holiday started writing at age nine when her awesome fourth grade teacher gave her a notebook and told her to start writing some stories. That first batch featured mass murderers on the loose, alien invasions, and hauntings. (Looking back, she’s amazed no one sent her to a kid-shrink.) She’s been writing ever since. After a brief detour to get a PhD in geography, she worked as a professional writer, producing everything from speeches to magazine articles. More recently, her tastes having evolved from alien invasions to happily-ever-afters, she tried her hand at romance. A lifelong city-lover, she lives in Canada, with her family.