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Under the Mistletoe in Paperback!

I just got word last night, UNDER THE MISTLETOE, an anthology of short stories my First and Last Date story is part of, will be available in PAPERBACK on Amazon starting this weekend. The other authors are Annette Lyon, Sarah Eden, Julie Coulter Bellon, Heather B. Moore, and Cindy Roland Anderson. How lucky am I to be part of that amazing group? Seriously.

All the stories are Christmas and romance themed, as you might guess. It came out last year, but it has only been available in e-book. If you’re not an e-booker, now’s your chance. 🙂

That said, I got an early jump and have a few copies. If you’d like one (even signed, if you care about that), message me. I’ll be glad to bring or send you one. I’ll even throw in free shipping.

Happy reading!

Isn't it holiday romance fantastic?

Isn’t it holiday romance fantastic?

Branding Rant: YOU Are Your Brand

There’s been a lot of talk about “branding.” Branding. We all know that certain companies offer a certain type of product. For instance, in the fast food world we can expect one known quantity from, say, McDonald’s, which would be different from something we’d buy from Subway most of the time. Sometimes we want a Big Mac, other times a turkey sub. On occasion we’d rather have Waldorf Salad at a fancy hotel restaurant.

The same goes for us as authors. We too have a brand.

However, I fear that the takeaway message of this for a lot of us is, “Wow. My first book was a YA romance. Now that’s my brand. I can’t change it. I’m stuck writing YA romance forevermore because that’s what I am known for.”

I’d like to dispute that. Very much.

I have an close friend who is a highly successful author. NYTimes bestseller, book being made into a movie, and so forth. A lot of people would define that as an author’s success pinnacle. Well, these projects on which his greatest success rests? They came after he was told by a major publishing house that he would not be allowed, under their imprint, to write anything from the genres in which he had achieved the most success. His first genre, thrillers, was all he would be writing. Period.

This was very discouraging, as he felt he had other things he’d like to write, to say, to convey, and he didn’t want to confine himself to one genre, despite its good mid-list success for that publisher.

I am so grateful he didn’t allow himself to be pigeonholed. He instead went ahead and wrote the books that were in his heart and mind. He’s written successfully in a completely different genre, as well as non-fiction, as well as in collaboration with other authors to create some books that have touched hearts.

Was his brand his genre? No. His writing, his ideas, his style, his voice—those were his brand. Many readers who loved him as a thriller author followed him to his new books, where he picked up more fans, who followed him to the other books. He continued (and continues) to put out quality writing, and his success grows.

I would therefore submit to all of you who are seeking to create an author persona, that your genre is not your brand. Your writing is your brand. Continue to write. To improve. To sharpen your skills and your voice and your productivity. Your readers will enjoy what you write because they will connect with you. Writers show a bit of their souls (which is what makes this a very personal and scary business to be in at times), and when we do it well, it feeds the reader. Readers come to us to be fed. And when we feed well, whether it’s McDonald’s (billions and billions served), or Subway (a nourishing choice), or that fancy restaurant at the Waldorf, that, my friends, is our brand.

‘Tis the Season

After a completely wild ride in which I believe I gained what we shall call “experience” over the last nine months, I’m back in the writing mode again. It was a season for really focusing on the needs of my family–which were many and varied and…yeah, intense. But, it’s winding down, and I’m ready for a new thing. A new season.

There are seasons for things, I often find myself telling people. I used to lament, when my kids were small, that I couldn’t, well, actually go anywhere. Five kids in less than ten years’ll do that to you. Now, my youngest is about to turn nine, and things are a little less crazy. I mean, I don’t have to worry that one of them will dump out the entire maraschino cherries display at the grocery store if I take them with me. It’s great. It’s a relief. But back then was a different season, for daily story time and making crafts and teaching them to thread a needle and such. This isn’t so much that season anymore. In some ways I miss it.

Now, it feels like a season to write–while they’re at school, and to be present for them when they’re at home. It’s that season. I like it.

I’ll miss them when it’s not this season anymore. But it will be a new season with new challenges and new excitement. I think it’s hard to not long for a different season–one that has passed, and one that has yet to come. The best thing, I’d imagine, is to make the most of the season we’re in.

And so, in keeping with that, I’m going to embrace this season. I’ve written about 45,000 words since last Monday. Not all of them will stay in this book, (likely since I’m out of practice and they’re disconnected and weird), but the productivity is ramping up again, and I’m getting my muscles back in shape. Goal: 5,000 words today. And tomorrow. And to finish this novel and start another for NaNoWriMo.

My challenge to you: Find your season. Live in it. Embrace it.

Win Free Books–Just for READING

Did you see the subject line for this post? Well, if that isn’t a dream come true, I don’t know what is.

It’s the annual event of events: The Summer Reading Trek. If you are looking for the perfect excuse to spend the entire month of July reading (and maybe you don’t even need an excuse, but I do), here it is! This one’s for you!

Enjoy.

I’ll probably be posting more about this soon!

Workshop Excitement

I’m so excited about this. My friend CJ Anaya and I are heading to the hot, hot desert (okay, we already live in one, but this one is even hotter) for a workshop in Phoenix to learn from one of the greats–Dave Wolverton, the mind behind mystorydoctor.com. I’ve read his books, watched his vlogs, taken lots of his advice over the years, followed him on social media, and now I get to meet him in person and possibly even ask him some questions about my own work. How awesome is that?

A huge shout out of thanks to CJ for being willing to drop everything at the last minute to go with me. And another huge thank you to my family for being willing to say see ya later to me for a couple of days. THANK YOU! It’s great to have a family that supports my little dream of being a writer.

I’ll let you all know how it goes. And here’s hoping my writing improves VASTLY by paying close attention to the tips Mr. Wolverton teaches us. I’m always hoping and working to improve my skills, even if the result is just making that Cotton Candy for the Soul a little more flavorful.

Legally in Love Series Writing Process Revealed

I have always thought it was odd when people have asked me about my writing process. I guess in my head the answer is along the lines of, “Well, I sit down in a comfy spot with my laptop, minimize distractions, and then type whatever comes into my head, which is (I always hope) a story. Then I edit it a lot.”

That’s been the deep dark secret of my writing process for years–at least as far as I’d ever analyzed it.

But then as I started the next installment (Book 4) of the Legally in Love series, I realized I had jumped the gun and wasn’t doing something right so I couldn’t get the story to work. Yet.

This made me think, hey. There actually IS a method here–at least for this particular series.

So, here’s what I realized it is.

1) Title of the Series
Knowing the title of the series has been the anchor for all the themes of the books. Yeah, the first two are about two competing lawyers who happen to have chemistry, and the third is more about two students skirting the law for personal gain (and love!), but the LAW is the theme that ties them together. That’s in place for the fourth book, as well.

2) Title of the Book
Not everyone can start with a title. It’s not really a tried and true method. With one of my books I started with a setting (BIG IN JAPAN). With another I started with a character (A LITTLE SISTERLY ADVICE). In another book, I knew the plot because I was doing an Austen adaptation (CHOCOLATE AND CONVERSATION.) With another, I had a really cool concept (for a book I’m not ready to release yet, but someday!) But with all the books in this legal series, the titles have been the catalyst for the plot. They’re all legal phrases, and that’s the same for Book 4, 5, and 6. (And 7, if I get that far.)

3) Cover Photo
With all these books, I’ve found it impossible to even start the storytelling until I found just the right cover. I couldn’t even get names or character types until I saw the faces of the characters. This was what tripped me up with writing Book 4–I didn’t have a cover photo picked. Well, I did, but it wasn’t working. So now that I spent nearly the whole writing day on Wednesday trolling for the right cover models, I’m feeling ready to proceed! Yay!

4) Characters’ Backgrounds
Knowing who the people ARE is more important than knowing what is going to happen to them. Because it doesn’t matter what happens to them so much as exploring how they’ll react to any given circumstance. I kind of have the setup for Book 4, but until I know who the characters are, I won’t have any idea for the plot. Consider: the story of a nuclear meltdown would play out much differently for Anne of Green Gables than for Oscar the Grouch.

5) The Setting
Figuring out where the story can take place has been a huge hurdle. Once I had the cover photo in place, I could tell where the book could happen. Sometimes in a story, the setting is almost as much a character in the book as the characters themselves. The setting can shape the action greatly, including some of the conflict involved in the story. You can’t have a hurricane be one of the challenges if you set the story in Arizona. But you can have a dust storm. So…yeah. I’m excited to have my cover photo, as it gave me a sense of where my story could happen, and now I’ve nearly nailed it down and am doing research on the location so I can get all the culture and history and sense of place correct. (I *so* hope to do it justice. It’s a beautiful place!)

6) The Plot
Yes! Now that I have all the other elements in place, I can figure out what is going to happen to these people in this place when they’re placed in these circumstances. It’s much easier to imagine alllll the things that can go wrong with their love–before their ultimate happy ending. That is NOT a plot spoiler. I only write happy endings; it’s my life view that we are all going to end happily, if we just latch onto goodness and put the most important things first in our lives. And I try to have my characters do that, even if they make mistakes along the way.

7) Writing, Editing, Publishing
Yeah, that’s all a ton of work. And some of it is pretty tough! But the end product is almost always something I can feel happy about. There’s a sense of accomplishment in creating something, even if it’s just the literary equivalent of a spun sugar dessert.

So, there you have it. Secrets revealed! I hope now to be able to find time in among the crazy demands of life to get Book 4 cranked out–soon!

My (Not So) Secret Love Affair

I am in love. SO in love. Yes, with my husband (who is the very best man I could imagine and the prototype for pretty much every hero I’ve ever written into a book), but also with another. This other love is dangerous, and comforting, and helps me sleep better at night. I’m telling you, this newfound love has changed my life.

It’s my Kindle Paperwhite.

My husband surprised me for my birthday with the original Kindle a few years ago, and I liked it, mostly, other than I couldn’t read it at night without the light on, and my husband needed the light off to sleep, yada, yada– until I made the mistake of letting my kids borrow it, and they set it conveniently on the floor underneath one of the wheels of the rolling office chair. Crack. Gone.

This was sad. Very sad.

So my husband surprised me a few months later (also for my birthday) with a Nexus 7, which is a tablet made by Google, in case you don’t know. It had a Kindle app, which was all fine and good, but I’ll admit, I was a little like that “Oh, look! A squirrel!” stereotype, and every time I’d turn on my device to read a book, the Nexus would make a little bell go off to tell me something interesting was happening on Facebook or that someone had sent me an email or liked my tweet, and boom, I’d forget about the book I was reading. (No, I’m not proud of my attention span, in case you’re wondering.)

Eventually I just stopped trying to read on that thing since, frankly, it was guilt-inducing.

Around this time, I developed some insomnia. Anyone who has dealt with it knows what I mean. Let’s just say it’s not awesome to awaken in an already too-short night only to be bombarded with thoughts of worries and not be able to shut off the brain and to lie there obsessing hour after hour, night after night, until you think you might die of tired.

So my first love (Gary) birthday surprised me yet again–this time with the Kindle Paperwhite. VOILA! Suddenly, the world started to look rosy. For one thing, I could turn it onto airplane mode and never have the internet distracting me. (In fact, I’ve never used it for anything online other than synching new books I’ve added to it.) Guiltless! For another, it has an adjustable backlighting. I can read it in full daylight, and I can crank down the backlight and read it on a super-dim setting at bedtime so it doesn’t distract my One True Love from his sleep. And best of all, I can load it with THE MOST MIND-NUMBING BOOKS OF ALL TIME (in addition to some exciting books) to help me fall asleep again when that little nudge of wakefulness used to turn into full-blown anxiety for the remainder of the night. Now, thanks to the Kindle Paperwhite, all I have to do is slide my little love out from under my pillow, run my finger across the page to load Anthony Trollope’s “Golden Lion of Grandpere,” and boom! Six pages later, I’m snoozing again.

Magic! Magical magic. Magically magical magic that has turned me from a woman with dark circles under the bags under my eyes and a gaunt, scared animal look about me most of the time into a rested, refreshed mother with much more normal and pleasant interactions with my kids.

I’m telling you, I love this thing.

Now, for the danger. A Kindle Paperwhite combined with a Book Bub daily email can be a dangerous thing. Every day Book Bub tempts me with amazing, incredible deals on books they are *sure* I’ll like. (And they’re right, since I’m the one who signed up under the genres I’m most interested in.) Just 99-cents for a book about the life of Cary Grant? Yes, please. So many incredible, well-reviewed books for so little money! I’m in heaven, I tell you. (If you’re a reader who likes fluffy, happy romance such as Cotton Candy for the Soul and want to follow me on Book Bub, be my guest.) I’m loving it even more. It has deepened my love affair to a true commitment level. I’m at the point where I can barely relax at night if I can’t reach my hand underneath to the cool side of the pillow to find my insomnia cure there, waiting for me with its healing pages and adjustable font size.

Bless you, little Kindle Paperwhite. You’ve made my life so sweet.

And an even bigger dose of love to my sweet husband for surprising me with the perfect gift. So glad he doesn’t mind sharing his bed with this other love.

ASU Visit

Last week I had an amazing opportunity! An English Lit class taught at Arizona State University had read Big in Japan as part of their curriculum, and the professor, Lynette Austin, invited me to come and give a little writing workshop and talk to the students. HOW AMAZING! Honestly, as a writer of Cotton Candy for the Soul, I never imagined a chance like this on a university level.

First, I gave a workshop on using archetypes to help readers connect with characters. The students were quite adept at pointing out archetypes in great fiction and movies, and that was fun to hear how quickly they warmed to the topic. They were great.

Then, the professor had them give responses to BIG IN JAPAN, what they’d written in their papers after having read the book. Some wrote about the archetypes present in the story. Others wrote about the culture. One girl talked about Buck Cooper as “Other” — first as “exotic other,” and then as “demonic other” for his counterparts in the book. Fascinating. Frankly, it’s been a long, long time since I was doing literary analysis, so it blew my mind. I was just nodding and going, “Whoa.” Probably looked like a dork. But in another way, it was so cool! Was all that really in a book I wrote? Yes, I did write some of it in there on purpose, and it’s definitely a book I put enormous effort into, but the responses were so amazing to me.

I want to thank the students for reading BIG IN JAPAN, and I want to thank Lynette for choosing it as her curriculum and for inviting me to be part of her class. It was one of the coolest days I’ve spent as a writer.

Domo arigato! (Now you’re filling in the blanks with “Mr. Roboto.” Sorry.)

Paradise Paradigm Shift

After over a year of what I might term “relentless stress,” we took a family vacation. As a mom, I wouldn’t say I look forward to a family vacation most of the time because they usually entail doing all the stuff you have to do at home but without the conveniences of home–taking care of kids’ needs and meals and laundry and entertaining the kids, etc., but while living out of a suitcase. We haven’t really done much in the way of family vacations ever (other than visiting relatives. Does that count? Kinda not.) About seven years ago we took our kids to California, but while we were at Disneyland, some of the kids cried a little saying they wished they were at Grandma’s house with the baby kittens instead. So, yeah. Why bother with Space Mountain, right? (Even though I adore the Magic Kingdom.)

But this year our oldest graduates, and then he will leave for two years to be a missionary, and then he’ll start college, at which point the next one will leave for two years, and, so on and so forth, and some of them will (we hope!) get married, and then…well, our family dynamic and configuration might never be the same again. We needed to do something to create a family memory. We needed a vacation.

So we threw caution to the wind, figured out a frequent-flyer-miles scheme, took up a friend’s offer for a beach house, and went to Hawaii. HAWAII, people. Hawaii. I never in a million years thought we could take five children to Hawaii. But with God’s grace, we were able to make it happen: a visit to paradise on earth.

Normally, I’d be a stress case about this: what to do, where to go, when to go there, how to entertain five kids on an island…but after minimal looks at Volcanoes National Park, a general map of the area in my head, and certainly zero time to plan (due to aforementioned “relentless stress), we just got on the plane.

GLORIOUS. That’s the only word I can think of right now to describe the trip.

And for the first time in over a year, I didn’t have any stress. I just absolutely decompressed. Now that we have three teens and two tweens, no one needed much in the way of mom attention. All I did was cook meals, which is…whatever. No problem. We walked to the beach, watched the dolphins jumping in the bay, listened to the waves day and night, drove to the volcano and saw the glow of the caldera, drove up another volcano to 13,000 feet and watched the sun set through the blanket of clouds, sat on another beach, went to church, went to a historical site, ate macadamia nuts, and did nothing.

I’m telling you, it was incredible. And while I was there, I realized that a lot of the things I’d been overstressing about were, frankly, unnecessary. I had been doing everything I possibly could. For everyone. For everything. But that isn’t always the right thing. Sometimes I just need to do what’s necessary, and not everything that’s possible. Does that make sense?

Coming home, I was immediately bombarded with the usual stuff, but instead of letting it take over again, I just pulled back. I had a friend remind me that I need to evaluate “where am I irreplaceable” and then do *those* things. Not EVERYTHING. And it’s okay. Other people can take those responsibilities for now, or the duties can wait.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve done things at my house that were waiting for a long time. Filing that hadn’t been done since 2014. Mopping my floor for the first time since Christmas. Writing letters to my family members far away. Cooking normal meals for my family and standing in the kitchen to listen to my kids. Helping my husband with a major project he’s involved in where he needs my support. I even took one nap.

What I haven’t done? Write a single word in a manuscript. Promote my novels other than a tweet or two. Spend any time on social media or even answer emails (sorry, email friends!). Start up a single fundraiser for a good cause (unlike several I spearheaded earlier this year.) Stuff like that. Stuff that felt like if I didn’t do it I’d be a terrible person. Yes, I still have people to visit, friends to try to lift and support, but I’ve had to do most of that remotely instead of traveling to them for now.

A couple of months ago, my husband said the most romantic thing he’s maybe ever said to me: “Jen, your mental health is important to me.” Ha, ha, ha. But it was so touching. And true!

So, for a bit, I’m concentrating on the now, on the moment, on the family, on the sanity.

I’ll let myself go insanely obsessed over writing again, most likely. But it’s good to have seasons for things in our lives. Sometimes it takes a trip to an island to get our minds redirected to what’s really important, and I’m incredibly grateful for the blessing going on that trip gave me. I hope everyone who is as snowed under and stressed out as I am/was can find their island to get their bearings. Because all we have are moments. All we have is now. It won’t, actually, ever be the same again.

Win a #Free Signed Paperback!

I can’t get enough of these Goodreads giveaways! They are so awesome! And with the great response LEGALLY WEDDED has received, I’m just thrilled. It’s been at #2 on Amazon’s hot new releases (legal) since its release. Can you believe it? Neither can I. SOooooOOoo, anyway, it’s time to win your free copy! Sign up, share with your friends!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Legally Wedded by Jennifer Griffith

Legally Wedded

by Jennifer Griffith

Giveaway ends February 25, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway