Highlights of a Life
Jenny Crusie was born Jennifer Smith in 1949, to Jack and JoAnn Smith in Wapakoneta, Ohio, She grew up there, on the banks of the Auglaize River, graduated from Wapakoneta High School, and studied Art Education at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. She married in 1971, and completed her bachelor’s degree two years later. For a time she lived with her husband in Wichita Falls, Texas, until his job with the Air Force transferred the couple to Dayton, Ohio.
In Dayton Jenny taught pre-school until her daughter, Mollie, was born. When she returned to work, it was as an elementary and junior high school art teacher in the Beavercreek, Ohio public school system. She taught for ten years while working on her master’s degree from Wright State University in Professional Writing and Women’s Literature. Her master’s thesis was titled “A Spirit More Capable of Looking Up To Him: Women’s Roles in Mystery Fiction 1841-1920.”
In 1986, Jenny took a leave of absence from Beavercreek to complete Ph.D. coursework in feminist criticism and nineteenth century British and American literature at The Ohio State University. She returned to Beavercreek to teach high school English courses in American and British literature, mythology, the Bible in literature, and composition for another five years. During this time she also directed theater tech crews, creating sets and costumes for the Beavercreek Drama Department.
In the summer of 1991, Jenny began researching her dissertation on gender’s impact on narrative strategies, looking for the differences in the ways men and women tell stories. Her plan for part of the research was to read 100 romance novels and 100 men’s adventure novels, to look for differences. On her website (https://www.sff.net/people/JenniferCrusie/), Jenny says she began reading the romance novels, “in the middle of a very deep depression. After I’d read almost 100 of them, I felt wonderful about being a woman and very positive about the future. So I thought, ‘If romance fiction makes me feel this good when I read it, what will it do to write it?’ I tried and got hooked.” Jenny never got to the men’s adventure fiction. She decided to try writing fiction instead, quitting her job the following spring to devote herself full time to writing and to finishing the Ph.D. This move proved to be risky, since she didn’t sell her first book until August of 1992.
The sale was to Silhouette, a novella entitled Sizzle, which Jenny now refers to as “really lousy.” But Silhouette delayed the book’s publication, so it became her second book published. When Silhouette rejected Jenny’s next novel, Harlequin accepted it and published it in 1993 as Manhunting in their Temptation line. Harlequin requires its authors to use pseudonyms, so Jenny chose Crusie, her maternal grandmother’s maiden name. The name stuck, and as Jenny says, “many of my friends and editors have pointed out that my real name is not the kind of name that makes an impression. Since most of my readers knew me by my pseudonym, it was just smart to keep writing as Jennifer Crusie after I left Harlequin. And now I am Jennifer Crusie; I’ve been using it for so long and so many people know me only by that name that it’s become my real name.”
Five more Harlequins followed, including Getting Rid of Bradley, which won the RWA Rita Award for Best Short Contemporary, Strange Bedpersons, What the Lady Wants, Charlie All Night, and Anyone But You. She also wrote two category novels for Bantam’s Loveswept line, The Cinderella Deal and Trust Me On This. During this time she put the PhD on hold to earn an MFA in fiction from OSU; her thesis was titled “Just Wanted You To Know” and consisted of several short stories and the proposal for a mainstream novel titled Crazy For You. Jenny says she had positive experiences with the Creative Writing teachers at Ohio State: “Lee K. Abbott was a huge help in my MFA program. Probably 75% of what I know about writing fiction, I learned from him; he’s a great, great teacher.” During this time she also wrote a book of literary criticism on Anne Rice for Greenwood Press, published under the name Jennifer Smith.
In the fall of 1995, Jenny began to write single title novels for St. Martin’s Press, where she remains to this day. Her SMP novels include Tell Me Lies, Crazy for You, Welcome to Temptation, Fast Women, Faking It, and Bet Me. Critics have described her writing style and stories as “sexy, humorous, and contemporary.” Reviewing her first hardcover for St. Martin’s Press, Tell Me Lies, Library Journal contributor Sheila M. Riley called the story “an exciting, sensual romp.” A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote “for lovers of chocolate brownies, fairly explicit sex, and heroines who let it all hang out, an entertaining hardcover debut.”
Reviews for the novel Crazy for You, based on the stories Crusie generated for her M.F.A. thesis, were mixed. Library Journal reviewer Margaret Ann Hanes wrote, “the story comes together with just the right touches of humor, suspense, and some pretty darn sexy dialog.” A Publishers Weekly contributor said about Crazy for You, “Crusie explores the underlying core that keeps couples together, detailing her characters without stereotypes.” On the other hand, Elinor Lipman of the New York Times Book Review wrote “Quinn and company stomp, glare, dump, and rebound, scratching minor itches and redressing major wrongs in ways that at times seem childish, at others overly high-minded… Run-on sentences abound, as do disconcerting switches in the narrative point of view… I wanted to mine and report on its jewels, but Crazy for You never lives up to the wit and intelligence of its opening pages.”
Jenny has just finished collaborating on a novel with Robert Mayer called Don’t Look Down, putting into practice the things she studied about the different ways men and women write fiction in that long ago PhD dissertation. She is once again living on the banks of an Ohio river.