What Questions to Ask in the First Draft of a Novel

I love the first draft. It’s a world of discovery. Who are these people? What are their strengths, weaknesses, fears? What things should they face that will help them become who they were always meant to be, inside and out? What kind of a world should they encounter? What internal and external forces should be working against them? What other characters should they meet that will bring out the best and worst in them and force them to change? How will the characters conquer their demons at the end, or how will they get their just desserts?

And for me, there’s always this question? Will he kiss her when he gets the girl? To which the answer is always going to be yes. (Spoiler alert.) But the question of which girl will he get–the right one or the wrong one–remains up in the air.

Because someone said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Terry Pratchett, I think. Terry Pratchett would know. He’s told a lot of stories.

Today I’m working on a first draft. The last few books I’ve written, the first draft has come flying off my fingers, and I’ve cranked out the story in very little time. But this one? It’s tougher. These characters are a little more complex. They have more foibles, and the world they’re entering is going to be more foreign to them. It’s along the lines of BIG IN JAPAN. Except no sumo wrestlers, and not in Japan. But that would be fun. Someone just emailed me and asked me to do a sequel, had a bunch of ideas for plots. I wonder…

Meanwhile, this book is happening. Slowly. But the slowness is killing me. It feels like I can’t wait the six weeks this draft is going to take. I’m dying to see how it turns out.

Preorder and #GIVEAWAY Time!

Okay, reading friends. Good times! Here’s a contest in connection with the STRANGE AND LOVELY: PARANORMAL TALES OF THRILLS AND ROMANCE for you!

First, here’s the GIVEAWAY! There are a TON of books being given by the TEN authors involved. Freeeeeeebieeeeeees! Who doesn’t love that?

Here’s the link (since I STINK at embedding code. Just click it. Sorry.)

Now, if you’re going to be a reader of this anthology (and I think you should!) Here’s a place to pre-order!

The book comes out October 4th, but all early orders have a SPECIAL PRICE! So just do it.

Strange and Lovely Cover

 

Meanwhile, I’ll be posting teasers from the stories. I’ll start with the teaser from CJ Anaya, my good friend! Her story is about a girl who meets an elvish guy. A very attractive one. But he’s going to kill her. So…enjoy “My Fair Assassin.”

Having someone tell you they’ve come to end your pathetic existence is probably an uncommon occurrence. I can’t imagine that anyone intent on murder would have the decency to pause long enough to look their victim in the eye, state their mission and purpose, and with very little feeling, explain that the end result of their victim’s death will benefit an entire race.

Then again, what do I know?

There’s always the slim chance that plenty of killers are far more civil seconds before committing such a depraved act, but how would any of us ever be privy to those morbid details when the victims never live to share said details?

I knew I’d never live long enough to share mine.

The well-muscled warrior standing several feet in front of me had made that abundantly clear. I studied him intently, deciding it would be best to memorize every inch of him in case I managed to escape and succeeded in describing my would-be assassin to the local authorities.

Right! My need to drink in his image had absolutely nothing to do with his six-foot frame, broad shoulders, sharp, chiseled features, and flawless, crystal-blue orbs framed by a sturdy brow.

Weren’t murderers supposed to be ugly, unkempt psychos? This guy was a carbon copy of most of the Abercrombie models I lived to drool over. He had an otherworldly look and feel to him, and his clothing appeared to be made out of some kind of forest-green leather. His hands were gloved up to his knuckles, and his skin let off a golden, florescent glow.

I might have attributed his all-too-perfect tan to the San Diego weather, but I doubted other men in the vicinity were capable of making their skin glitter slightly whenever the sun’s rays kissed them. I didn’t think someone as imposing as this guy would have spent time throwing gold body glitter all over himself, but I couldn’t figure out what else he’d done to get his skin to shimmer like that. He looked like a warm summer evening, and smelled like the earth after a spring rain.

His hair was shoulder-length, shiny, and lightning white. Not the kind of graying white you might find on your local senior citizen, but the kind that looks like heaven.

His movements as he studied me and my dingy apartment were stiff and watchful. His expression was that of guarded curiosity, and when my cat, Nala, made a small whining noise from my bedroom down the hall, his stance came to attention and his arm muscles went taut as he withdrew a small dagger from a sheath at his waist.

Honestly, where had this guy come from, and why weren’t we dating?

Oh, yeah. He was here to kill me.

Double the Fun~ TWO Cover Reveals!

How does it happen that I have two covers to reveal at the same time? I DON’T KNOW — other than someone else designed these honeys. They are beautiful! I am so impressed. The first is for a triple novel boxed set that THE LOST ART will be included in this fall. It’s called CRAZY SWEET, and it’s part of the Triple Treat Romances boxed set series. I’m so excited to be included in it. Yay. And now… Voila! (Click on the title link for more info.)

TTT Crazy Sweet 3-D cover

The second one is for STRANGE AND LOVELY, an anthology of (clean) YA paranormal romance short stories. I have seen some of them and they are good fun! Mine is about a cheerleader and a ghost, of course. Because, why not? It’s coming out in October, and you’ll be hearing more–soon! Meanwhile, you can “like” the Facebook page for updates. So. What do you think of this COVER? Awesomeness?

Strange and Lovely Cover

 

 

Research and the Modern Writer

This has got to be the best time in the history of the world to be a writer. Not only are there a thousand different outlets for sharing the written word, it’s also the most information-rich generation of all time.

Duh. Everyone knows this.

But it makes writing so much more fun! I can, on a wild tear, decide that I want my character to say this:

“Hunting for azurite this weekend. I like it because it’s a compound carbonate hydroxide of copper. Did you know it has a specific gravity of 3.77 to 3.89?*

Riiight. Did I have to travel to the local university and thumb through a reference manual to come up with this ridiculous line one character is using to bore another character? Nope. With a few taps of my fingers, I had this info, plus the information that the heroine’s parents:

recently delved into how much they liked azurite because it embodied the Blue Ray of energy that resonated to the dark blue energy perfectly of the Third-Eye Chakra.*

No trip to my local New Age Vortex required.

Thank you very much, Internets. You make writing even MORE fun.

Happy writing, all!

 

*Actual lines from my WIP, a romantic comedy–obviously.

Ridiculously Addicted to this Show

I recently got sucked into a Netflix obsession. Admit it–you’ve either done it or been tempted. Streaming TV is my nemesis, and my great love.

It’s been probably seven or eight years since I’d seen it, but I started watching old seasons of What Not to Wear. You know, the makeover show on the TLC channel where two “fashion experts,” at the behest of the victim’s family and friends, stage a fashion intervention on an unsuspecting woman with low self esteem. It’s brutal. But sometimes it’s beautiful, the way the women react and then claim that this new style that’s been foisted on them has made them suddenly start respecting themselves. The women they attack often wear revealing clothing, and I love seeing how the new fashion rules they’re taught say that the woman should cover up to be attractive, not reveal too much. That part is refreshing.

The show is like crack. Ugh. I make myself ride the exercycle while I watch–that’s my punishment.

Someone else might not find it addictive, or even mildly entertaining. However, maybe because I love stories with really strong character arcs I’m just drawn to this bloodfest. Seeing people go from frump to fantastic in 42 minutes is just powerful stuff. The hosts are magically able, in almost every episode, to get to the bottom of the woman’s self-doubt and to her greatest fear. They pounce on it, repeat it over and over again, and then they insist that all her issues can be solved with the right pantsuit and a nice purse.

We know that’s false information. However, there’s something so tantalizing about that concept–that there’s a solution to what hurts so much inside us, and that it can be solved.

As an author, it’s a great chance to invent (or discover) fictional characters and either decide or find out what makes them tick. We dig deep into their psyches and discover that deepest fear. Then we POUNCE on it, gouge at it, make the characters just cry. Then we put them in situations where they meet the right foes or friends and where can solve their problem and discover their inner strength and become who they were always meant to be.

It’s tempting to think that all of life’s problems can be solved with fashion. They can’t. Sure, it’s good to take care of ourselves. To treat ourselves with respect and gentleness. And that can be the start of a beautiful friendship–kindness to ourselves. However, even beautiful, well-dressed people have struggles. Even wealthy, famous people have a “human experience.” No one can escape it. (Maybe that’s why it’s fun to read novels about beautiful, wealthy people who also struggle, even like the rest of us frumpy, financially-struggling folks. We relate.)

I still like writing about makeovers. And I’ll probably ride 42 minutes daily on that exercycle to get to watch that danged show. However, the most important makeovers we can undergo are the ones where we change our hearts, our minds, our attitudes. Where we surrender ourselves to truth and to divinity and become inside who we are meant to be.

I think that was the point of THE LOST ART, my most recent book. (I never discover the theme of the book myself until long after I’ve written it. Sometimes not until someone else points it out to me.)

The Woes of a Published Writer

It’s been a week slammed with conversations that all had the same theme: traditionally published writers feeling disenchanted with the marketing efforts of their publishers.

I’m sure this is an age-old complaint. “My book isn’t selling. The publisher won’t promote it.” Meanwhile, the publisher is probably thinking, “This book isn’t selling well. The author didn’t have the platform we expected. Let’s move on to the next project. It will sell better, and maybe pay our salaries.”

It’s a vicious cycle of blame. But where does the blame really lie?

Probably with the system. Bookstores with limited shelf space. Too many titles competing for a piece of an ever-shrinking pie of hardcover book attention. Too much competition from e-books that have almost no overhead invested in their production cost. Too few large publishers, too many very small publishers, too many authors, too few readers of “my brand of fiction.” It’s a blame game.

As far as I’m concerned, in my writing there’s only one method as a solution to this cycle: 1) Write what I love to write. 2) Publish it if I can — either traditionally or by self-publishing. 3) Let some people know I wrote it, people I think will enjoy it. 4) Hope it catches on, but learn more about how to get it to catch on and do those things. 5) Mostly ignore the reviews (unless I have to look through some for a blurb for a back cover for the paperback I’m producing.) 6) Meanwhile, enjoy thinking up another book. Get busy writing for the joy of it. Sales will follow. Or not. Don’t get too caught up in it.

Like I told one writer friend today: Most of the promotion efforts an author makes are like spitting in the wind. The best you can do is to promote it in all the ways you want to, so it doesn’t overtax either you or your family; don’t put too much unnecessary pressure on yourself. If it stops being fun, it’s a sign you should do something else for a bit — like write the next book.

My guess (although not my personal experience yet) is that creating a body of nice stories that people want to read is the best way to make my writing hobby a “success” — success being defined in different ways. It can’t all be about money, because I personally wouldn’t term the person who wrote Fifty Shades a success. It has to be about creating something that makes a reader feel something. Maybe that feeling is relief. Maybe it’s escape. Maybe it’s joy or simply an uplift. Keep going. Enjoy it. Learn new stuff about improving skills. Try new ways to promote. Keep discovering fun plots, fun ways to promote the book, fun people with bright ideas and personalities. The writing community is vibrant and creative. Get excited about the hobby. Sell some books. But don’t overthink it. Just get going on the next project, and thank the fabulous readers of the stories I create! They’re the best.

Yours might differ, but that’s my plan. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

True Love in the Modern Age

I write romance. Um, romantic comedy. Whatever. But with that, I really should know what romance is, right?

Well, today while I was out on a mini-date with my husband I experienced it–real romance. First there was take-out pizza with lots of melty cheese. Then, at the Redbox while I was running the touch screen to rent the movie, my husband held up the sun screen for me.

Ah, yes. That, my dear friends, is true love in the modern age.

I wish you all love.

The Tornado of Craziness Soon Will End. Alas.

This last month has been a total whirlwind of crazy tornado-ness. More than anything, it’s been sucked up by driving (I’m not kidding) 4,000+ miles in the car. Yes, the thought of even driving to WalMart at this point sort of makes my knees shake. But besides the car mania, here’s what I’ve been plowing through:

 

*three manuscripts edited for friends

*a radio appearance

*a book-signing

*two multi-day family reunions

*a video interview for a web magazine

*a speaking engagement in California (part of the big driving fun)

*two Hobby Lobby runs (long drives, sadly! but so fun! I love that store) with my girls

*a book release — The Lost Art (which went to the top 100 on Kindle in three categories. Thank you so much, reading friends!)

*a talk in church

*three car repairs

*a camp-out and fishing trip on the mountain while the AC was on the fritz at our house in the desert

 

Plus some other stuff that’s probably less interesting. (Not that any of this is interesting, likely.) The other things were all the fun mom stuff, like time at the pool and cleaning out kids’ dresser drawers and teaching the 9 year-old to make a cake. Stuff like that. Yeah, I didn’t get much personal writing done, other than preparing the presentations and the talk.

I have to say, it’s been quite the busy month!

Unfortunately, there’s only a bit of summer left to spend with my kids. I wish I could stretch it another few weeks before school starts up. Alas, school registration looms next week, and we still haven’t had our fun “Phineas and Ferb Week,” so I am pretty booked for the next few days doing stuff like “Backyard Beach Day” where we build sandcastles and go to the aquatic park, and “Agent P Day” where we do spy stuff. It’s going to take all my self-discipline to make myself go shop for notebooks and pens.

This is going to be my first year in almost 17 with no kids at home during the day. Youngest darling starts first grade. (She had half-day Kindergarten.) Life will change. I’ll probably try to do a lot of writing. And some genealogy. (That’s my other great love.) I hope I get to do more church service. And plant some flowers in my front yard. And I might finish the job of painting my house that I started two years ago. Yeah, by now it probably all needs another coat of paint. Some aspects of the alone-time I relish; others, not so much.

Meanwhile, though, I have ten days left of this tornado of craziness. I’m going to jam it full of mom fun and laundry.

Until then, beware. We might be watching you as agents of Agent P.

Shouldn’t This Get Easier By Now?

I’m excited! I have a book signing today! And it’s in my hometown, at the Preston Citizen from noon to two. Or three. Depending.

But to be honest, I’m also pretty nervous.

Shouldn’t this get easier by now? It’s been 10 years (well, nine years and eleven months) since I first ever did a book signing. This is my seventh book. Well, I’ll be signing my sixth book Immersed, but since it came out in May, I’ve added another (The Lost Art, which, incidentally hit THREE top 100 categories on Kindle this week. OH, my HECK. Thank you, gentle readers of Kindle books. If I could give you all a big thank you hug, I would. Seriously.) I should possibly think this is standard, right?

Wrong.

Maybe it’s the ongoing anxiety in me, or maybe it’s the fact that I watched Cipher in the Snow (that Church movie about the little boy who gets bullied and ignored at school, then dies at the bus stop, lying in the snow, and no one notices, YIKES!) one too many times and have a wild imagination of that being how the book signing will feel. Probably the former. Anxiety stinks.

Today has the added nervousness of a radio interview this morning on KACH at 9:00. Well, 9:04, after the news. What if I say what’s on my mind? I honestly think I have no filter. If I think it, it’s out there for all to hear, instantly. Oh, dear. I might end up mentioning … oh, geez. I’d better not even type it.

Deep breaths.

Bear with me while I psych myself up for this-thing-that-I-did-t0-myself.

One, the ladies who work at The Preston Citizen are very nice. I get to talk to them. They’re lovely. That will be great.

Two, it’s a bookstore. If worse comes to worst, there are always nice books to pick up and browse. I might find something to buy. (Okay, who am I kidding? I can’t enter a bookstore without buying something.)

Three, my friend Donna K. Weaver will be there signing with me. She wrote Second Chances 101, another book in the Ripple Effect Romance series, and we have only met once in person, so we can have a great time visiting about writing and books and our family members living in China and stuff.

second chances 101

All good things! Anxiety not necessary. At all. Seriously. Right?

It’s going to be fine. Deep breaths.

Shouldn’t this get easier by now?

 

PS – If you’re in the area and stop by to say hi, that’d be great. No pressure to buy a book! Just visit with me?

Why I Write About Makeovers

Hi. My name is Jennifer and I’m a lazy personal groomer.

Sometimes I think I need a support group because I absolutely hate doing my hair and makeup. Yeah, I make the effort every day–sometimes not until 3 in the afternoon–but it’s not something I look forward to or enjoy.

I find myself feeling a little like Mr. Incredible after he saves the world, “How come the world can just stay saved?” Because how come my hair and makeup can’t just stay done?

This is probably why I write about makeovers. My last two books, oddly, have that theme. Granted, Immersed was about a girl who had to do a make-under so she could keep lecherous clients away. But that’s a change of appearance. And then there’s The Lost Art, where Ava is prompted by super duper meanness of her coworkers to change not only her looks but her demeanor. But there’s a bottle of peroxide involved.

Grudgingly I admit to having bought a bottle of Sun-In to spritz on my hair while writing this book this spring. Yeah, it was probably a rookie error because there’s more orange than gold highlights involved. Sigh.

But I think this all may stem back to my dislike of hairstyling and makeup application. Maybe if I write about my characters doing it in positive ways and with good effect, I can see their good example and say, “If my fake people from my head can do it, so can I.”

Broken logic. Just like the broken ends of my hair from too much time under the blowdryer and the super hot curling iron required to put even the slightest wave in my impossibly straight hair and the shellac-like hairspray I have to invest in to keep that minimal curl in it.

Sigh. I can’t wait until I’m an old lady and can go in once a week and have them comb my blue hair and have it stay that way for a week. That’ll probably be the one physical perk to old age.