I love it when I run across a great book that I can wholeheartedly recommend without reservation. So many books have engrossing plotlines, but may contain objectionable material or adult themes. Others are squeaky clean, but don't capture the reader's attention. One of my favorite recent reads is Dear Jane Letters by first time author Amanda Hamm (Lulu.com, July 2007, paperback, 220 pages).
Dear Jane Letters tells the story of Raina Lane, a twenty-something who seems to be surrounded by loved ones wanting to give her directives on how to fix her non-existent love life. Raina seems content to enjoy her burgeoning career as an advice columnist, but her family and soon-to-be wed best friend appear determined to find the perfect match for her. Raina survives a blind date debacle, a hilarious "speed dating" misadventure, and a re-kindled relationship from her past on the road to true love. Dear Jane Letters is not overtly Catholic, but author Amanda Hamm's faith upbringing clearly colors the way she writes Raina's story. This is a book you can share with your daughter, your mom, or even your husband (if he's a fan of chick lit) without hesitation.
I had an opportunity to chat with author Amanda Hamm and am pleased to share her thoughts on Dear Jane Letters.
Q: Please briefly introduce yourself and your family.
I have been married to a very supportive husband for eight years. We have two small children who are, of course, beautiful. We have lived in North Carolina since we married, but Ohio will always be "home" to me as I grew up there and still have a large extended family in that area.
Q: For readers who have not yet read Dear Jane Letters, would you please provide a brief overview of the book?
Dear Jane Letters is a love story, but it is not a mushy love story. The heroine is a young woman named Raina Lane. Raina writes an advice column for the local paper and letters to her column appear scattered throughout the book. The story and the advice letters are very light and humorous. Her column is called Dear Jane, which explains the book's title.
Q: Congratulations on the publication of your first book! What was the inspiration behind this story and what went into writing and publishing the book?
I tried to write a book for years before I started this one. I kept writing myself into a corner or just getting bored with whatever was going on in the story. At some point, I figured out that I was trying to write for other people… that I was trying to guess what someone might like to read. I wrote Dear Jane Letters for myself. I wrote what I wanted to read and just hoped there would be enough people like me to enjoy it as well.
I'll share what was, for me, probably the most difficult part of the writing… naming the characters. I'm afraid I take it way too seriously, almost like naming my children. This is why most of the minor characters do not have last names. It is also why Raina is teased about her name sounding a bit like a phone ringing. I thought if I made fun of my own names, I could relax a bit. I'm not sure it worked. The heroine of my second book is named Hazel Brown and I'm still not relaxed.
Q: Your main character, Raina, is a Catholic young lady. While your discussion of Catholicism in the book is minimal, how did your faith background influence your writing of this book?
I was raised Catholic, with the morals that go with that. I wanted to make sure my characters did not compromise any of those morals. But I also wanted to avoid any preaching. My goal was to show characters who live by certain principles without explicitly listing those principles or acting as though that's the only way to live.
Q: Your book has been described as "clean chick lit" by some reviewers. Was your decision to keep the book free of racy descriptions that are prevalent in some of this genre intentional?
Definitely. Again, staying true to my Catholic faith was important. But if I'm being completely honest, my primary motivation was simply to write something I would not be embarrassed to have my parents read. And perhaps one day, my children.
Q: Which character in the book do you most resemble and why?
Most of the characters in the book have traits attributable to people I know. In fact, some of them even quote people in my life. My family members are fairly amused by the similarities. But no one character represents a real life person. I was probably thinking of myself most when I wrote Raina's older sister, Cathlina. She is a minor character though so don't get too excited about seeing me in the book. I know you were excited.
Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from their experience of reading this book?
Raina has strong relationships with her family members. I believe these connections are very important to all of us so one hope for the book is that mothers and daughters might read it together. At the start of the book, Raina is fresh out of college. I chose this age because I wanted Raina to be an adult, but young enough that teenagers might still identify with her. I believe she is a positive role model mostly by example, not lecture. And the advice letters, while frequently about trivial matters, could be interesting discussion points. Do you agree with Raina's answers? What would you say to those seeking her guidance?
Q: I've read that you are working on a second book. Can you give us a sneak peak?
My second book, called Zero Station: A Science Fiction Novella, is a bit of a departure for me. (If I can be allowed to have a departure after only one book.) Obviously, this one is sci-fi. It depicts a first contact situation set in the extreme cold of Antarctica. I wanted to try something different and wrote it in two parts, telling the same story from two opposing viewpoints.
I have also recently begun work on a third book, which will be more in the style of Dear Jane Letters. This is my first public mention of book number three, but I'm afraid I still have to be secretive about the plot as there are a few points I haven't quite decided on myself. I hope it will be a fun love story though. That's really my favorite type of book to read, and therefore, to write.
Q: How can readers learn more about you and your writing?
I mentioned that my husband is very supportive, right? For my birthday last month, he set up a site at www.amandahammbooks.com. This is probably the best place to look for information. It is a simple blog site right now, but I hope it will expand some in the future as I have more written works available. And in the meantime, anything newsworthy will be posted there.
Q: Are there any additional thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?
There is always a risk when you read anything by an unknown author, even an interview, that you will find at the end that you have wasted your time. I sincerely hope that is not the case here. Thank you to anyone who has read this far. And thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about Dear Jane Letters.
For more information on Dear Jane Letters click here.