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I write novels for teens and adults. Visit me here & on my website http://www.jenniferarcher.net

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ch-ch-ch-Changes!


Change is in the air -- the nip of Autumn, a new president-elect, and a new publishing home for me in a whole new genre! I can finally announce my news! I just sold my Young Adult novel CLICK in a 2-book deal to HarperCollins, and I couldn't be more thrilled! (As evidenced by the many exclamation points on this page!) Today I spoke on the telephone for the very first time with my new editor, Sarah Sevier, a woman with great taste in books. :-) She is also as nice as can be. I'll keep you posted with news about the book as time goes by, but this is my ghost story that I have posted about here in the past.

I ADORE this story, and I LOVE the characters. If this photo of the old house looks familiar, it's because I've posted it here on my blog before. It's the picture I looked at while I wrote the book--because it reminded me of the image in my mind of the "haunted" house in my story. I also listened to some mood music while I wrote--a soundtrack of my book, you might say. I chose the soundtracks to the movies IDENTITY, THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, and GIRL INTERRUPTED. To the writers reading this--making a soundtrack that fits the tone of your story and listening to it as you write really helps to put you into the scene. And it's fun to do. I use ITunes and buy the songs I want then make a playlist under the heading of my book's title. Give it a try!

I suppose this sale in a different writing genre (and with two different publishers offering on it!)will have to count for my "do something new" challenge for the past couple of weeks since I've been too keyed up to accomplish much lately!

Change is good!

Happy days,

Jenny

www.jenniferarcher.net
www.sterlingpen.net

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Happy Late Halloween!


Happy Halloween one day late! Halloween ties with Thanksgiving as my pick for the best holiday. Here are some funnies in celebration of the season!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

Two brooms were hanging in the closet and after a while they got to know each other so well, they decided to get married.

One broom was, of course, the bride broom, the other the groom broom.

The bride broom looked very beautiful in her white dress. The groom broom was handsome and suave in his tuxedo. The wedding was lovely.

After the wedding, at the wedding dinner, the bride-broom leaned over and said to the groom-broom, "I think I am going to have a little whisk broom!"

"IMPOSSIBLE !" said the groom broom.

Are you ready for this?
Brace yourself; this is going to hurt! !! !! !

"WE HAVEN'T EVEN SWEPT TOGETHER!"

............ ............ ..............
Oh for goodness sake... Laugh, or at least groan. Life's too short not to enjoy... Even these silly ..little cute............. And clean jokes!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And another funny...Click here:

On another note...visit this new, young rock band's myspace page The Billdozers Band. My son is the drummer. It's still under construction but you can listen to some of their songs. My faves are: "Bottle of Whiskey, Camel Lights" and the weird and disturbing "Ron." :-)

I'm a bit off on my Do Something New Weekly Challenge. I've had a lot of exciting things going on in my writing life that have thrown me off course. (All good!) I'll get back on track and report in. And I will tell you my news when everything is confirmed. (Don't want to jinx it!)

Boo!

Jenny

Fiction website

Sterling Pen
Freelance Writing, Ghostwriting,
Editing, Copywriting, Creative
Coaching and Workshops

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lookin' Back Texas by Leanna Ellis


Hey everybody,

I recently visited with author Leanna Ellis about her latest release LOOKIN' BACK, TEXAS and I'm posting our discussion here! A few years back, I spent a weekend at Leanna's house with some other writer friends. Leanna is a wonderful hostess. We ate great food and brainstormed ideas. That was my first glimpse into her idea for LOOKIN' BACK, TEXAS. I loved it from the start, and I'm so thrilled to see in in book form and on the shelves for readers to buy. I want everyone to meet her quirky, heartwarming characters. You can link to the book trailer for this novel here. In the meantime, sit back and say hello to Leanna.

Jennifer: Hi Leanna. Thanks for allowing me to pick your brain on my blog! Here we go...People who don’t write fiction are always asking me where I get my ideas. I’m sure readers would like to know the origin of the idea for your latest novel LOOKIN’ BACK, TEXAS. Can you tell us?

Leanna: Hi,Jennifer! It’s great to be here. Well, I will admit that Lookin’ Back, Texas is a pretty crazy idea. Who would ever tell their whole town their husband died when he didn’t? But that’s how the idea came to me. And I started imagining why this woman would do that and what kind of a mother she’d be … and how my heroine would have to deal with her mother and fight the tendency to be like her mother. A lot of my ideas start with a question. Ruby’s Slippers, my book that comes out in April 2009, started when I was watching The Wizard of Oz with my children a couple of years ago. I thought, “What would happen if Dorothy lost her somewhere over the rainbow?”

Jennifer: I love all the characters in the book, but Suzanne’s mom Betty Lynn had me laughing out loud numerous times. Is she based on someone you know, even a little bit? Or simply a product of your imagination? Or are you pleading the 5th on this question!?

Leanna: LOL! I should definitely plead the 5th! Thanks for the out! Mostly Betty Lynn (whom I adored because I never knew what she would do – what a surprise to me when she started rearranging flowers at the florist!) is a figment of my imagination. Let me just say, she in no way reflects my own mother. Honestly, there’s probably a little bit of Betty Lynn inside me. Yep! You heard that right. And I’m embarrassed to admit it. But I think many women can relate to Betty Lynn in some ways because so many of us struggle with perfectionism.

Jennifer: You come up with the greatest titles! I love the pop culture connections—LOOKIN’ BACK, TEXAS and the country song LUCKENBACH, TEXAS. And then there’s ELVIS TAKES A BACKSEAT and your upcoming RUBY’s SLIPPERS with the WIZARD OF OZ connection. Do you typically come up with the story idea first, then the title? Or vice versa?

Leanna: For all of those you mentioned, the story came first. The story for Elvis came long before Elvis ever entered the story. Then my critique group hounded me to put Elvis in the title. It took a while but finally I landed on a title that truly fit the book. With Lookin’ Back, Texas, it was originally titled Fault Lines which actually fits pretty well too because of the fault line in the book and the cracks in so many relationships. But one of my critique partners suggested I move the setting of the book to Luckenbach. And when I started researching I discovered it really did fit well. Lookin’ Back, Texas was a nice play on words which reflects my heroine looking back on her own mistakes. My editor really liked it when I suggested the change. Thankfully, Ruby’s Slippers came as I was figuring out the idea of the book. I had another original title which I can’t remember, but one day Ruby’s Slippers just came to me and then it was after that in researching the book that I learned a pair of ruby slippers had actually been stolen from the Judy Garland Museum that the story started to take shape. I try to be flexible with my titles but also I really need a title that is catchy but also really reflects the theme of the book, so sometimes that can take a while.

Jennifer: The metaphors in your novels are so on target—for instance in this book, the unstable foundation of Suzanne’s marriage and the drought-ravaged, earthquake riddled Texas landscape really stand out. Yet you don’t beat the reader over the head with the comparisons, but present them subtly. As a writer, do you strive to send your readers a “message” or simply to entertain? Or both?

Leanna: My first job is to entertain. In inspirational fiction, there isn’t necessarily a message but a spiritual issue. Some authors tend to preach. I think of the spiritual issue more as theme and the character arc of the story. I try really hard not to be preachy. That is not my goal. I’ve learned a lot about motifs and metaphors and symbolism in writing bigger books and really think it makes a stronger, more powerful book when those are utilized.

Jennifer: Suzanne returns home and is forced to confront her past mistakes before she can move forward happily into her future. Do you feel this is a situation most people confront at some point in their lives?

Leanna: Good question. You know, I think we all have things in our past. Some deal with their mistakes head on. Suzanne didn’t. She tried to cover hers up, much as her mother does, but in a subtler way. Betty Lynn is really a reflection of her daughter. She appears to be more flamboyant in her decisions, but Suzanne’s own cover up has the potential to be much more devastating. So for Suzanne, in trying to block out the past or deny it happened, she did need a moment in her life where she confronted it rather than letting it haunt her. Some of us can accept forgiveness easier than others, and that was the character change Suzanne needed to secure a happy ever after. Even though, there will be consequences in her future.

Jennifer: A real strength in your writing is the way in which you so effectively combine humor with serious issues. Does this come easily to you, or is it a difficult balancing act?

Leanna: It is the hardest thing I do. Wish I could just be serious or just funny. Because I think it takes me much longer to write because of the combination. It’s very tough to find the balance. And some situations are so serious and difficult to face that it takes me a while to find humor. But I’ve learned in my writing and reading experiences that I need a breather from the heavy issues which I love. I need to laugh. So I guess I’m stuck trying to do this.

Jennifer: You have created such a quirky, flawed, yet lovable community of characters in this novel. Was it difficult to tell them goodbye when you finally wrote “The End?”

Leanna: In some ways I did hate to say goodbye, but also by the time I finished Lookin’ Back, Texas I was chomping at the bit to start Ruby’s Slippers. Usually after rewriting so many times and revising so much, I’m ready to move onto something else.

Jennifer: So what’s ahead for your readers? Give us a hint about what to expect in RUBY’S SLIPPERS!

Leanna: Oh, I love Ruby’s Slippers! I can’t wait for it to come out! It was probably the hardest book I’ve ever written. But I am very happy with how it turned out. Basically, Dottie loses her ‘somewhere over the rainbow,’ her dream which was her parents’ farm. And in losing that, she realizes she’s been walking in her mother’s footsteps. She has to find her own path, her own yellow brick road, so to speak. The cover is gorgeous! And the trailer my publishing house did is fabulous! The book is a bit more romantic than my other women fiction titles, so that was fun too! But there are plenty of quirky characters.

Jennifer: Any other news you’d like to share?

Leanna: I’m finishing the rough draft of a book set near Marfa, Texas. Have you heard of the Marfa lights? Right now, the working title is Man in the Moon, but I’m thinking of changing the title to Once in a Blue Moon. See! Working with titles is hard for me.

Jennifer: Thanks for the great interview, Le!

Leanna: Thanks so much, Jenny, for the great questions. And thanks for having me on your blog!

Everybody, I highly recommend Leanna's books. Lookin' Back, Texas is available in bookstores now. Buy yourself a copy!

Happy Reading,

Jenny

Sterling Pen
Freelance Writing, Editing,
Ghostwriting, Copywriting,
Workshops & Creative Coaching

jenniferarcher.net

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Tough Times For Teetotalers


Not so long ago, I often enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine with dinner. I’m not sure what happened, but suddenly if I down more than one I’m likely to wake up at three or four a.m. and never go back to sleep. Bummer. Every time I have a physical complaint of any kind lately, the “experts,” -- i.e. doctor, dentist, ophthalmologist, hairdresser, palm reader, you-name-it -- smile,nod and utter an age-related comment that makes me want to spew my Geritol up their nostrils. (I hate to admit it, but I have a nagging suspicion the wine situation might have something to do with that “issue,” too.)

This couldn’t have happened at a worse moment. With the stock market below 9000, now is not a good time to be a teetotaler. I think the only way to get through this crisis is to drink heavily...stay bombed out of our minds...get so smashed that we find it freaking hilarious that our hard-earned retirement money and our kids’ college fund just paid for a bunch of crooked AIG big-wigs to get hot-stone massages at a fancy, over-priced hotel spa. I’ve decided it’s a waste of time to worry about my financial future. Past experience tells me that no matter how wisely and responsibly I save, in the long run it’s out of my hands. Instead I’m going to worry about finding a non-insomnia-inducing alcoholic beverage. Send me your suggestions. I’m looking forward to trying them all out, and I’m not quitting until I either find one, or my liver gives out. 

I’m late posting about last week’s “Do Something New” challenge. Last week, I taught a creative writing class for the first time. (If any of my students are reading this, don’t despair. I’ve taught plenty of creative writing workshops, just never an actual ongoing course in a college setting.) I’ve already posted about the first class metting. I really enjoyed the night and look forward to the rest of the course. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher. It’s interesting that I’m still drawn to the profession. Teaching others makes me think critically about the way I create -- what works for me and what doesn’t. And through interacting with students or workshop participants, I always learn something new, too.

This week, instead of meeting for class, we went to hear Pultizer Prize winning journalist Rick Bragg speak. I thought he was fantastic. He had a question/answer session after his “speech.” A guy in the audience asked a really great question--if Mr. Bragg thought creativity is somehow linked to poverty and/or very difficult or trying times, especially in childhood. Mr. Bragg said he thought there is a definite connection. I believe there might be something to that, too. (Not that I think a person MUST have suffered either of these afflictions in order to be creative, but I tend to believe that more creative types have than haven't.) Rick Bragg said that as a child, creativity helped him to temporarily escape poverty through his imagination. He also talked about the lie of the muse. That it doesn't come and go, sprinkling fairy dust on you at sporadic times so that you can finally write. The muse is always with you, he said. If you want to write, then write. Don’t use the muse as an excuse to be lazy, an explanation for not doing the work.
He also stressed that reading books will make you a better writer. I know this to be true. Sorry to those of you who missed his presentation. Rick Bragg is an extremely down-to-earth, funny, talented, southern guy.

In a couple of days, I’m going to interview my friend and talented writer Leanna Ellis about her new book LOOKIN’ BACK TEXAS. (Available in bookstores now!) It's a great read. Stay tuned!

Have a wonderful rest of the week!

Jennifer

www.jenniferarcher.net (My Fiction Website)

www.sterlingpen.net
Sterling Pen
Ghostwriting, Editing,
Copywriting, Creativity Counseling
& Workshops

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Creative Kickstarts: Water, Walking & Words


Last night was the first class meeting of the creative writing course I'm teaching at Amarillo College. We had a nice turn-out--23 students! The ice-breaker exercise didn't go as smoothly as I'd planned but we winged it and everyone ended up getting to know one another a bit and had fun with it, anyway -- at least I did!

In class, we talked a little about the need to determine your best writing environment; whether you prefer background noise, quiet, solitude, other warm bodies in the room, etc. I mentioned that your preference can alter from book to book, week to week, and year to year, depending on changes in your life situation. For instance, when I had small children at home, I needed peace and quiet in order to write. I wrote early in the mornings before my family woke up, closed away either in my home office or propped up on pillows and under the covers in bed in my spare bedroom. And I would revise what I'd written during breaks at my part-time law-office job. Now that the kids have grown and moved out of the house, I feel stifled sometimes by the confines and solitude of my home office. I often write at coffee shops now, where there's noise, but not noise that's directed at me--as was the case when I was raising children! But one thing I failed to mention in class is that I also write outside sometimes when weather permits. Long ago, I noticed that ideas and words seem to flow more freely from my mind down into my fingertips and onto the page when water is nearby. Since I live in the landlocked great plains and don't have an ocean, river or stream within easy driving distance, my husband and I have turned our backyard into our very own tropical paradise, complete with palm trees, lush foilage and flowers, and even a waterfall. (That's it in the photo above!) Watching the water trickle over the rocks, listening to the soothing, musical sound of it, somehow frees up my imagination. To read a good discussion on the topic of water and creativity, click here.

Another "tool" I use for coming up with ideas, dislodging writer's block, or solving a plot problem is to take a walk. Get moving outside. Let the fresh air clear your head and let your mind wander. I don't know why walking works, but it does. And you're likely to burn off a few pounds and tone up in the bargain!


Reporting in on my "Do Something New" weekly challenge: Last week I actually managed to do TWO things I've never done before. (1) I trained to become a Volunteer Deputy Registrar--which is a fancy way of saying that I can now register people to vote if they live in my county. Then, on Thursday, I worked the voter registration drive at my alma mater West Texas A&M University. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I was assigned to an outside table on the new campus mall right next to the impressive new buffalo sculpture and down from the new clock tower. I hadn't been on campus in a while and I was amazed at the transformation. What a gorgeous campus it has become! Flowers everywhere and walking areas instead of ugly parking spaces between buildings. Wow.
We had great success in signing up lots of new, young voters, too. (2)The second new thing I did: On Saturday morning I participated in the Walk For The Cure, supporting breast cancer research. One of my sisters, my parents and I walked approximately 3 miles through downtown Amarillo with hundreds of other folks, young and old. It was great seeing all the ladies in their pink t-shirts--the survivors of that terrible disease, my lovely mom being one of them.

What I'm reading and watching: In anticipation of Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist Rick Bragg's talk next Tuesday night at the Amarillo Globe News Center, I'm continuing to re-read his memoir ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN'. It's even better and more impressive the second time around! My Netflix envelope arrived in the mail with the movie ATONEMENT. Haven't sat down to watch it yet. As for television, I'm glued to politics -- the campaign and the on-going financial mess. Why watch anything else? It has everything: drama, comedy, farce, horror, intrigue, bad acting!

Happy reading and writing,

Jenny

www.jenniferarcher.net

Sterling Pen
Freelance Writing, Editing,
Copywriting & Author Services

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Tattoo? Or Tatnot?


Imagine this scene...You walk into your favorite coffee shop, walk up to the counter to order your skinny latte or black C.O.D. The barrista turns around. You gasp. It's Johnny Depp -- perhaps he's dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow; this is your fantasy, too, make him look however you want. There's only a few rules to this scenario: For one, his tattoos are visible. You know, the ones on his right arm. And what the heck, let's give him a earring or two. Good morning!" he says and smiles, flashing his white teeth. "How can I be of service." You bite your lip to keep from saying something inappropriate. The muscles beneath his tawney biceps flex as he places his hands on the counter. The overhead light makes his dark hair gleam. Getting a grip on yourself, you place your order, tell him how much you love his work. He thanks you and says he's had enough of the big screen. He's a full-time employee at this coffee shop now. Your cup is filled in record time. You sample a sip and note it might be the best coffee you've ever tasted. Johnny thanks you for your business and bids you farewell as you head for the door. "Come back again," he says. "

My question: will you? Will you return? Think long and hard before you answer...be honest. Because chances are good that if you live where I do and you're a middle aged person, man or woman, you won't. Well, okay, if the barrista was Johnny Depp, you probably would, but if the barrista was Joe Blow and had those tattoos and earrings, you would not. That's what I learned at my "Do Something New" challenge this week. Read on.

On Thursday night, I participated in a focus group for a marketing firm that had been hired by a coffee shop. They needed people between the ages of 35 and 55 to answer questions, and I fit into that age range so I didn't hesitate to say "yes" when I was asked. I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. I write AT LEAST two mornings a week in one, and I often stop in at another after exercising with my mom at Curves a couple of times a week. Sometimes I even eat lunch at one particular coffee shop in town called Roosters. They serve homemade food after noon and I just love their quiche, not to mention their pie. Yum. Besides all that, I just thought it might be fun to participate, and interesting. I was right. And I met some really nice people. But I came away from the evening with something I did not expect -- something confirmed that I'd always suspected. In a lot of respects, I see the world differently than most folks--at least most folks around this part of the country. The other twelve or so people were all in agreement that they don't like their coffee served by someone with tattoos or piercings.
I said it didn't matter to me, as long as the person was clean, friendly, and did a good job. And this was weird--I have a completely different idea of what a "cafe" is than they did. When I think of a cafe, I picture one of two places: either a small bistro-like place, intimate, that typically specializes in one type of food--say Italian, for instance, and very personal service--such as the owner or manager walking around the tables, asking how everything is. Or the small-town Texas/Southern sort of cafe I grew up with. The kind with vinyl booths alongside the windows, and a counter across the aisle that overlooks the grill. Patrons at the counter sit on swiveling round stools and eye the pies in the glass-topped case at the far end. My fellow focus group members' idea of what constitutes a cafe was more like what I call a deli. Order at the front. No wait staff. Sandwiches and burgers.

Anyhoo...that was the "new" thing I did last week. I'd love to participate in more focus groups. For anyone, and a writer especially, it's a great way to get a glimpse into peoples' minds.

Speaking of tattoos, someone had a blog post a while back (can't recall the writer) about what writers are willing to do in the name of book research. It called to mind my strangest research experience. I was writing MY PERFECTLY IMPERFECT LIFE, and one of the characters is a drag queen. Whenever I was writing scenes that took place in the drag bar, I'd get stuck because I had never been to such a place. I knew my niece (in her mid-twenties)had a close male friend who is gay, so I asked Nicole if she'd find out if such a place existed in our small city. Turns out we have more than one. And Nicole had been with her friend before, so she offered to take me. My sister (her mom) went along. We arrived just before the floor show. It was "Trailer Park Beauty Pageant Night." I'll sum the night up like this: Fun, hilarious, bizarre, surreal. I learned several things: (1) Drag queens are friendly to others who stick out like 3 white crayon in a box filled with chartreuse ones. (Yes, my sister, my neice and I were the oddballs that night in our boring jeans and tucked-in t-shirts.) (2)Girls really do just wanna have fun, even when they aren't really girls. (3)Some men look drop-dead gorgeous in spiked heels, short tight skirts, and low-cut skin-hugging tops. (4) Some men don't. (5)If you're going to wear a bustier, you should wax your chest hair. (6) If you plan to wear silk stockings, shave your legs first. Please.


WHAT I'M READING: I'm about to re-read ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN' by Rick Bragg, the Pulitzer Prize-Winning journalist. Amarillo College is bringing him into Amarillo to speak at the Globe News Center the evening of October 7. It's free to the public. If you live around these parts, you should go! It's a fantastic book and I've heard Mr. Bragg is a fantastic speaker.

Happy Reading,

Jenny

www.sterlingpen.net
Sterling Pen
Freelance Writing, Editing
& Author Services

www.jenniferarcher.net

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Redneck Weekend (a.k.a. Don't Mess With Me MoFo!)


That's me meeting the challenge I made to myself to do something new each week. On Saturday I shot a pistol for the very first time. A Colt 45 that belonged to my grandfather-in-law way back during WW1. Don’t I look like a natural born bad-ass? Just look at that Bond-girl stance. The deadly calm focus. The steely set of my jaw. (Trust me, it's steely.)

I chose to learn to shoot for several reasons: (1) As a born Texan who has lived in the Lone Star State most of my life (I took a few detours along the way), seems to me that this is a part of my heritage I’ve ignored.
Mind you, I’ve never been crazy about guns. I’m not for banning them, but I am for gun control – for strict screening of anyone wanting to buy one. Will that keep criminals from getting their grimy little hands on them? Probably not, but it sure won’t make it any easier for them, either. And I’m all for making life tougher for criminals. Also, I think even most law abiding citizens don't have a need for certain kinds of weapons. I tend to agree with what Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention... "The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Seco
nd Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals."

That brings me to my second reason for learning to shoot: (2) Who knows? I may decide I want to try to be chosen as a candidate for Vice President of the U.S. in 2012, and I’ve recently learned that knowing the ins and outs of hunting and shooting and such is one qualification for the job. I don’t reckon I’ll ever kill or gut a varmint – that is, unless the political race gets tight and I need another point in my favor, something to reassure the common folk I’m just a good ol’ gal, too. I already have PTA mom and hockey mom on my resume, and I think it's a mistake not to finish my training. So now I have pistol-packin' mama on there, too. Let me tell you, now that I know how to organize a school spaghetti supper, understand the meaning of ‘hat trick,’ AND know how to shoot, I’m feeling a lot more confident that I have what it takes to run the country!


And finally, my last reason for learning to shoot: (3) I spent the weekend in the mountains with two men—my husband and our friend Joe. Joe’s wife Jayme couldn’t go, and so it was just the guys and yours truly. I knew it was going to be a real redneck weekend when Joe asked what he could bring and my husband replied quite seriously, “Your fishing pole, a chain saw, your gun and beer.” (Actually, he said “Scotch” not “beer.” But Joe brought beer, anyway, along with the Scotch. And ‘Scotch’ sounds a little too high-brow for a redneck, so it’s easier for me to make fun of them if I just mention the beer.) I figured, if Jayme's not here for girl-talk and wildflower gathering I might as well join Billy Joe and Bobby Jeff. But I’m picky, so I chose imbibing and target shooting over fishing or sawing down dead trees. (Don’t worry—we shot first and imbibed later.)

The verdict on my new endeavor? FUN! I LIKE firing off a few rounds into a dead tree stump. Who would’ve thunk it? All the way home, I tried to analyze the reasons for
that. Maybe it’s the challenge of hitting that tiny little knothole. Or maybe it’s feeling all that power in your hands. Or maybe it’s the tension release factor; bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! Take that editor X! That’s the last time you’ll reject one of MY manuscripts.

In other news, I just finished reading HOLES by Louis Sachar. I watched the movie long ago, but had never read the book. Loved, loved, loved it! What fun, quirky characters and what an unusual puzzle of a story. I enjoyed watching the author make all the pieces fall gradually into place.

Finally, I’ve become addicted to ONE WORD, ONE RUNG, ONE DAY AT A TIME, my friend and fellow fiction-writer Travis Erwin’s blog. His way with words and his perspective on life never fail to make me smile—and often have me laughing out loud. Check it out! You’ll feel better. Happy reading,

Jenny

Jennifer Archer

Sterling Pen
Ghostwriting, Editing &
Copywriting Services.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Secret of Staying Young

"The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age." -Lucille Ball

Who is this man?


A) The German Ambassador to the United States ?
B) A Spokane, Washington serial killer?
C) The guy who opened the Republican National Convention?
D) The CEO of Haliburton?

NONE OF THE ABOVE

He is...


If you're too young to know who the Monkeys are, I don't want to hear about it. Wow, I would not have guessed that was M.N. in a million years. People change in a lot of ways as they age--and not just our appearance. Some of the changes are for the good, some aren't, and some depend on your point of view. A woman I know just slightly older than I am recently said to me: "What happened to my generation? When I was in college we were all about revolution! About equality and peace and celebrating difference and making the world a better place for everyone. Shame on us for going along with the status quo as we got older! Too many of my generation now supports the issues we used to despise. We've become the old people we couldn't stand!"

When I look at myself and the people with whom I grew up, I see a mix of changes. Here are only a few: wisdom, maturity, growth, laziness, disillusionment, loss of energy, a new outlook, a refusal to move on, staleness, freshness, stubbornness, a more open mind, the courage to speak up, the insight of when to shut up, the lack of insight about when to shut up, self-righteousness, cynicism, a greater capacity to accept differences in others, the stubborn refusal to do so. I see all these traits in myself at different times--even the ones that conflict.

Over the past couple of weeks, a few of the more negative ones have sprouted inside me--traits I used to bitch about seeing in the older generation. I'm not going to stand for that! I'm going to work harder on developing the trait of wisdom and remind myself to live and let live. If people don't see things as clearly as I do, that's their problem. :-) I've finally figured out that, unless you're an optometrist or an opthamologist, people don't appreciate it if you tell them all the reasons you think they need glasses. I don't blame them, I guess. I've never admired self-righteousness in others, and I admire it even less in myself.

I love Lucy's secrets for staying young, but I think there's at least one more she didn't mention--trying and/or learning new things. When I was young, I was always up for a new experience. I pushed myself--usually in a good way. I was more spontaneous. I think most people were, and I think those of us who lose that trait over time, get mentally and emotionally older faster. So I'm issuing a challenge to myself today and to any of you that would like to join me: Each week I'll either do something I've never done before or learn something new. Sometimes they'll be big things, sometimes small. I'll try to post what I did every Monday.

Now, I admit that some of the "new experiences" I tried when I was young were idiotic and could've landed me in jail--or worse! Luckily that never happened, though sometimes I paid the consequences in other ways. I'll try my best to avoid those types of new experiences this time around! (I hope I can count on a few friends to bail me out, though, if in trying to recapture some of my youthful exuberance, I recapture some of the youthful stupidity, too ...he-he-he.)

Happy Monday!

Jenny

www.jenniferarcher.net

www.sterlingpen.net
Freelance Writing, Editing & Author Services

Monday, August 25, 2008

Brave New Voices


This photo was taken at a booksigning more than a year ago. Seated at the table is Ronda Thompson, myself in the middle, and Linda Castillo on the far right. The girl in back, third from the left (just look for the young one in the group!), is Christen Reighter. Last month, this smart, talented, kind and lovely young friend of mine competed at the 11th annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival held in Washington DC. Christen graduated from high school in May, and she is a member of my local writing organization Panhandle Professional Writers. This was the 11th anniversary for the seven-day poetry slam festival which is held in a different city each year and presented by Youth Speaks, the nation’s "leading spoken word performance, education and youth development organization." Christen was one of 450 teenage poets and spoken word artists from diverse backgrounds chosen to perform in the event. These talented young adults hailed from "cities, rural, and suburban areas, the Deep South, Native American reservations, Alaska, college towns – even from parts of Europe and Africa" and their performances were seen and heard by more than 10,000 people during the festival. As noted on the Youth Speaks website: "BNV (Brave New Voices) directly addresses the youth perspective on local and national issues, using spoken word as a tool for civic engagement, arts education, and literacy development – and reflecting the changing demographics of the United States. ...These young writers are a diverse, creative, intelligent group of trendsetters and community leaders (65% of whom qualify for the free lunch program at their home schools). They come to BNV each year to attend world-class workshops and performances by renowned poets, writers and musicians, and to participate in the Olympic-style Youth Poetry Slam, building a national community of young, intelligent, and courageous artists."

I could not be more proud of Christen! I have watched her grow from a curious, motivated and talented girl into an amazing young woman passionate about her art and the causes she believes in. I can't wait to see where she goes from here. All I can say is WATCH OUT WORLD, HERE SHE COMES! Her performance (seen here on YouTube) blew me away. Christen, you go girl!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jumpstart Your Creativity

The weather is trying to confuse us here in the Texas Panhandle. We've had so much rain in the past week that I feel as if I live in Oregon or Washington State instead of the Great Plains. I'm not complaining--I love this sort of moody weather. And my backyard looks like the Garden of Eden! All the flowers and bushes are gorgeous and lush.

I want to tell you about a class I'll be teaching next month at Amarillo College. We'll meet every tuesday night from September 30 through November 18. If you live in Amarillo or the surrounding area and you think you might benefit from what I'll be offering, I hope you will join me. Go to the Amarillo College website under 'Continuing Education' to register. The course is called JUMPSTARTING YOUR CREATIVITY, under 'Writing' in the class schedule, course code CWP-1010-1001 (74499).
Tell any of your friends or family that might be interested, too. The tone of the class will be very relaxed and fun, aimed at folks that have always wanted to write stories but aren't sure how to start. (People who already write but are either stuck or would like to delve deeper will benefit, too.) The course is designed to stimulate creativity and inspire imagination through a series of writing exercises and class interaction. We'll focus on finding your writing “voice,” opening your mind to ideas, and using those elements to build a story. And I'm leaving plenty of time open for students to read work aloud and receive feedback.

Here's a little of what we'll be covering, class-by-class:

Class #1 Getting Started
a. Discuss class content and format
b. Getting Started – what students need in order to begin to make writing a part of their lives. (Pen and paper, a place to write, privacy, desire, determination, patience, etc.)

Class #2 Where Do You Get Your Ideas? (The question published writers are asked the most)
a. Finding ideas in your own life experiences. How to tap into personal memories, fears, joys, etc., to generate ideas. Discussion and in-class writing exercises.
b. Finding ideas in lives and experiences outside of your own. How to recognize hidden ideas in magazine and newspaper articles, overheard conversations, etc. Discussion and in-class writing exercises.

Class # 3 Ideas, Part 2
a. Starting with a character: How to spark ideas through people-watching—training your mind to ask questions about the people you see everyday. Discussion and in-class writing exercises.
b. Starting with an event or situation: How to spark ideas by training your mind to ask questions about a place, scene, situation or event. Discussion and in-class writing exercises.

Class # 4 Ideas, Part 3
a. Sensory details: Sparking ideas through use of the five senses. Discussion and in-class writing exercises.
b. Student readings from all prior class exercises.

Class #5 Story Building
a. Using “brainstorming” to develop an idea into a storyline.
b. Discussion and exercises. Student reading as time allows.

Class #6 Story Building, Part 2
a. Using “freewriting” to develop an idea into a storyline
b. Discussion and exercises. Student readings as time allows.

Class #7 Writer “Voice”
a. What is it? Discussion.
b. How to find and develop it. Discussion and exercises.
c. Student readings as time allows.

Class # 8 Putting It To Use
a. Discussion about the importance of finding the methods that best suit the individual writer, making writing a habit, and how to use the information learned in the class to move to the next step—i.e., writing a short story, memoir, novel, etc.

Hope you can join us. I'm really looking forward to the sessions and meeting a lot of new writers. Should be fun!

Happy reading and writing,

Jenny

www.jenniferarcher.net
www.sterlingpen.net

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Cons of Making Writing A Profession


Last time I talked about all the great things that go along with making writing your profession. Today let's discuss the cons. Or maybe I should call them 'discomforts' since the word 'con' means against, and I would never try to turn anyone that wants to write for a living away from doing so.

As you might have gathered from my last post, when you make writing your profession, many unforgettable moments are likely to follow. I'll never forget the first time I received a letter from a reader after my debut novel BODY AND SOUL appeared on bookstore shelves. My husband and I were out running errands and we stopped by the post office. He went in while I sat in the car. Minutes later, Jeff came out waving an envelope, a huge smile on his face. "I think you might've just received some fan mail," he said. (He assumed this because the letter was addressed to "Jennifer" Archer, and I'm known as "Jenny" in my non-writing life.) The letter came all the way from Hawaii, and here's what it said: Dear Ms. Archer, I just finished reading BODY AND SOUL, and I wanted to tell you that it was just about...the stupidest book I've ever read. But maybe I just thought so because, before I started it, I read a wonderful book by Danielle Steele. OUCH!

Yes, my dear fellow writers and readers, writing professionally comes with a downside, too. A few jabs now and then. Some real ego busters. Anti-fan letters qualify, don't you agree? For some reason, the letter struck me as humorous, and I had a good laugh over it. I even sent the anti-fan a cover flat of my upcoming release, asked that she give it a chance to see if she liked it better than BODY AND SOUL. And I told her that since she took the time to tell me how much she hated my book, I hoped she had also taken the time to let Ms. Steele know how much she loved hers. Here are a few other discomforts that go along with "author-hood":

1. Deadlines that creep up on you when you aren't looking, and you find yourself in front of the computer for ten hour days only to discover when you write "The End" that your ankles are swollen from all the sitting. Oh, and there's the neck ache and the numb butt, too. Did I mention that?
2. You spend two or three hours at your booksigning with a smile plastered on your face, and when someone finally stops by your table, they only want to ask where the bathroom is located.
3. Loneliness. Being home alone all day, every day, with no outside stimulation or fellow workers to chat with on a break can make a person weird. After my first two months of staying home to write full time, I knew I was crossing over into looney territory when I left the house one early evening to go to dinner with my husband and friends and the world beyond my four walls seemed a little too loud and bright and unfamiliar. Yikes. After that, I made it a point to schedule frequent lunch dates with friends, and to write at the library or in coffee shops from time to time.

But I've found that the toughest thing of all about writing to sell is this...
4. Whether you pursue writing full time or part time, if you want to compose a wonderful story, you have to be willing to expose yourself, warts and all. To lay everything out on the page uncensored. Let me explain... My mom tells a story about when I was a little girl and she was getting dressed in her bedroom one morning. I was sitting on the bed talking to her at the time, and she was wearing only her underwear. I don't know if I noticed a frown on her face or if I heard her mutter something, but I must have sensed that she wasn't happy with what she saw in the mirror because I said to her sweetly, "Don't worry, Mom, you don't look fat when your clothes are on." (Please note that my mother had and still has a lovely figure!) That incident is, to me, a perfect analogy for the most difficult thing we have to face as writers -- we have to be willing to expose ourselves, to walk around with our clothes off in front of the world. We must pull off our girdles and let all the fat explode onto the page. Ugly thoughts, weaknesses, fears, feelings, emotions. Writers-- you must set aside your worries about what people might think of you after they read your words. Will they wonder if you share your characters' nasty habits? Their unorthodox beliefs? Maybe. Probably. I've struggled with this in the past, but no more. Today, my motto: What other people think about me is none of my business.

How about you writers out there--what issues do you struggle with because of your writing? And readers--do you wonder how much of the writer exists in the character? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Happy Reading!

Jenny

www.jenniferarcher.net
www.sterlingpen.net

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Pros Of Making Fiction-Writing A Profession


Ditching the "real" job to write full-time is the dream for most writers, yes? It was my dream and it finally came true more than four years ago. Following are what I've found to be a few of the high-points of that decision--the "pros" as opposed to the "cons."

1. I can work in my pj's, or my underwear, or even stark naked if I'm so inclined, though I've never tried that since I'm cold-natured.
2. I make my own hours. I don't have to get up with the sun. I can work 14 hours on Monday and 2 hours on Tuesday. No time clock to punch or boss looking over my shoulder.
3. I get to make up stories and get paid for it (well...most of the time). What could be more awesome than that? I get to lie for a living, look out the window and dream while sitting at my desk, talk to myself, as well as to imaginary people. (All these things would get me into trouble in most any other profession. And might even get me a trip to a room with no windows while wearing a straight jacket).
4. I get to meet a lot of interesting characters. Some of them are real, some of 'em aren't.
5. Sometimes I'm fortunate to receive a glowing review of my work, or readers say flattering things about my writing. Once a woman at my booksigning told me she had stayed up until 3 in the morning reading my novel ONCE UPON A DREAM, and she said it made her laugh. She said, "what a wonderful talent you possess." Talk about an ego rush. Another woman at a different signing told me my novel THE ME I USED TO BE touched her emotionally, and that she was so overcome with emotion at the ending that she had to explain to the girl doing her pedicure why she was crying.
6. I've met many, many other writers and a few of them have become my best friends.
7. I don't have to drive during rush hour...on icy roads...wear real makeup or "dress up" clothes.

8. Booksignings in exotic locations. There's a picture of one of mine in Toronto to the right--I'm the one with my head down, and yes, when you live in Texas, Canada is considered to be an exotic location. Here's another photo of one of my signings in Hawaii (below).

9. Flowers from my publisher. (And once...Champagne!)

Stay tuned for the flip-side of this coin--The Cons Of Making Fiction-Writing A Profession...coming soon to this blog.

Happy Reading,

Jenny

www.jenniferarcher.net
www.sterlingpen.net

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

So Sweet!


I'm probably behind the rest of the world and you've all already seen this video. But I just had to post it for those of you that might've missed it. It is the sweetest thing! Who needs more proof than this that animals feel love and bond deeply with their keepers? (And vice versa!) See mine -- Marge and Harry -- in these photos.

Now, after watching the video and drying your tears (you cried, admit it!) take a look at my new venture with my business partner Mary Schramski! The business is called Sterling Pen and we offer freelance writing and editing services, workshops and creative coaching. Please pass the word and the link to anyone you know that might benefit from our services!

Happy day and happy reading!


Jenny

www.jenniferarcher.net

Monday, July 21, 2008

Old Friends, New Friends and Golf Balls


I was honored to speak to the NTRWA folks on Saturday morning about writing women's fiction. My sister Angie lives in the area and she hauled me around the Dallas area and even sat in on the workshop so that she could "see what I do." (Scary, since I'm not even sure what I do half the time!) What a great group NTRWA is! I had a chance to catch up with my old friend Leanna Ellis (old as in "longtime" not "age!") and see the gorgeous covers for her upcoming books LOOKIN' BACK TEXAS and RUBY SLIPPERS. Check out Le's fun website and read about her wonderful books. I met so many fun and talented people -- Gina, Jen, Angi and too many others to name. One very interesting young woman was visiting NTRWA for the first time. She had moved to the area recently after "retiring" from her career as a police detective in another state, and she plans to draw on her experiences to start a new career writing suspense novels.

Spending time with writers--especially new writers that are so filled with energy and ideas--always revives my enthusiasm for my own writing. I came home more eager than ever to dive back into my Dust Bowl story.

One thing I absolutely loved about the NTRWA group was their ritual of announcing member successes and rejections. Every success was cheered and applauded and every rejection received a unanimous sympathetic, dismayed groan. When you get knocked down, isn't it nice when people that care rally around you, offering hugs and understanding? That's what those groans felt like. And no matter how dejected you might feel, it's difficult not to smile when an entire room of people groan in unison!

I ended my presentation with a story someone sent me that made me think about the importance of keeping my priorities in perspective. I've noticed that sometimes writers have a tough time doing this. Remember -- while writing may be one of your passions--a golf ball -- getting published and/or continuing to publish is only a pebble--or should be. Read on and I hope this will make sense!

The Mayonnaise Jar and 2 Beers

When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 Beers .

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He th en asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous 'yes.'

The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

'Now,' said the professor as the laughter subsided, 'I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things---your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions---and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.

The sand is everything else---the small stuff. 'If you put the sand into the jar first,' he continued, 'there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.

'Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first---the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.'

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the Beer represented. The professor smiled and said, 'I'm glad you asked. The Beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of Beers with a friend.'


Happy Reading,

Jenny

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What I've Been Reading



My book club chose two books for us to read for the past month: THE ALCHEMIST by Paul Cohelo and KEEPING FAITH by Jodi Picoult. Two very different books.

THE ALCHEMIST: You've probably heard of THE SECRET and the law of attraction that is all the rage today. This fable basically teaches that theory through fiction. If you're interested in learning about the law of attraction, reading this book is an enjoyable way to do so. Plus, it's short and a quick easy read. Here's what Publisher's Weekly had to say about it--"This inspirational fable by Brazilian author and translator Coelho has been a runaway bestseller throughout Latin America and seems poised to achieve the same prominence here. The charming tale of Santiago, a shepherd boy, who dreams of seeing the world, is compelling in its own right, but gains resonance through the many lessons Santiago learns during his adventures. He journeys from Spain to Morocco in search of worldly success, and eventually to Egypt, where a fateful encounter with an alchemist brings him at last to self-understanding and spiritual enlightenment. The story has the comic charm, dramatic tension and psychological intensity of a fairy tale, but it's full of specific wisdom as well, about becoming self-empowered, overcoming depression, and believing in dreams. The cumulative effect is like hearing a wonderful bedtime story from an inspirational psychiatrist. Comparisons to The Little Prince are appropriate; this is a sweetly exotic tale for young and old alike."
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

KEEPING FAITH: To be honest, though Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite authors, I had serious doubts about liking this book after reading the premise. The protagonist's young daughter manifests stigmata. One chapter in, I couldn't put the book down and read into the wee hours of the morning to finish it. Great characters, intriguing storyline, fantastic writing. Read this! Here's what Publisher's Weekly had to say-- "Fans of Picoult's fluent and absorbing storytelling will welcome her new novel, which, like Harvesting the Heart, explores family dynamics and the intricacies of motherhood, and concludes, as did The Pact, with tense courtroom drama. In the small town of New Canaan, N.H., 33-year-old Mariah discovers that her husband, Colin, is having an affair. Years ago, his cheating drove Mariah to attempt suicide and Colin had her briefly committed to an institution. Now Mariah's facing divorce and again fighting depression, when her eight-year-old daughter, Faith, suddenly acquires an imaginary friend. Soon this friend is telling the girl how to bring her grandmother back from the dead and how to cure a baby dying of AIDS. As Faith manifests stigmata, doctors are astounded, and religious controversy ensues, in part because Faith insists that God is a woman. An alarmed Colin sues for custody of Faith, and the fear of losing her daughter dramatically changes meek, diffident Mariah into a strong, protective and brave womanAone who fights for her daughter, holds her own against doctors and lawyers and finds the confidence to pursue a surprising new romance with TV atheist Ian Fletcher, cynical "Spokesman of the Millennium Generation." Though the novel feels a bit long, Picoult's pacing stabilizes the increasingly complicated plot, and the final chapters, in which Mariah fights for Faith's custody in court, are riveting. The mother-daughter relationship is all the more powerful for being buffeted by the exploitative and ethically questionable domains of medicine, media, law and religion; these characters' many triumphant transformations are Picoult's triumphs as well."Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Drain Sludge


I wrote the following article for a writing club newsletter over a decade ago, before I sold a book. I found it in my file cabinet recently and it sent me back in time to all those emotions that go along with the struggle to publish. I hope it helps some of you who are currently experiencing that struggle. While you're reading, glance now and then at the cover of my book BODY AND SOUL, which I've posted here. The first book I wrote, that I speak about in this article, never sold, but the second one did -- and this is it! Happy Reading~ Jenny


DRAIN SLUDGE by Jennifer Archer

Since receiving another rejection on my novel, I've been thinking about drain sludge. You know -- that disgusting conglomeration of hair, soap scum, and who-know-what-else that clogs up plumbing. I once heard drain sludge compared to a writer's early work. "You have to get it out of your system so the good stuff can flow."

Can I deal with the fact that my first novel might be slime? That my long-toiled-over manuscript may never reside between the cover of a book? I never presumed I'd written The Great American Novel. I didn't expect a Pulitzer Prize. But...drain sludge? After much thought and a little sulking, I've reached a conclusion: If need be, I'll lay my manuscript to rest without weeping. Negative thinking? I choose to call it realism, because as I scan my quickly-dwindling market list of prospective publishers, I must be realistic.

Daphne Clair de Jong, author for Harlequin Mills & Boon and Silhouette wrote: "...there are many, many more people out there who want to write romances than there are spaces for on the bookstore racks. And the cold hard truth is that lots -- lots -- of them are never going to be published." Initially Ms. de Jong's comments depressed me. But then I read this in Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: "Almost every single thing you hope publication will do for you is a fantasy, a hologram -- it's the eagle on your credit card that only seems to soar. What's real is that if you do your scales every day, if you slowly try harder and harder pieces, if you listen to great musicians play music you love, you'll get better....And so if one of your heart's deepest longings is to write, there are ways to get your work done, and a number of reasons why it is important to do so."

A number of reasons to write other than publication? I thought publication was THE goal?

Maybe I've been looking at this all wrong. Maybe my focus should be on becoming the best writer I can be, rather than becoming a published writer. Afterall, the words I put on paper are all I control. I can't control an editor's opinion or the buying public's taste.

Not long ago, my son asked, "What if your book never gets published? Think how much time you wasted." When I consider the hours I worked on my novel and the possibility it might never sell, I don't regret one minute spent. By struggling through those pages, I learned about the craft of writing and about myself. I gained priceless insight into plotting, characterization and more -- insight I couldn't derive from a textbook. By attempting the process rather than simply reading about it, I experienced the difficulties, confronted them, worked my way around them. Perhaps not always skillfully, but I did it, nonetheless. Completing and submitting the book to publishers taught me I could finish a project and that, through a well-written query letter, I could entice editors to request my manuscript. Most important, I learned that while rejection is unpleasant, it isn't fatal. And if I'm lucky enough to receive an editor's feedback, I can often use it to make my story even stronger.

And what did I learn about myself? I've been right about one thing all my life -- a writer is what I want to be when I grow up. Also, I'm tougher than I thought, and more persistent. I can read my work aloud to a group without suffering a nervous breakdown. I can accept constructive criticism graciously, even be thankful for it. Best of all, I learned I can write simply for the love of it and experience satisfaction. I won't lie -- it stings to admit my early work might be drain sludge. Because, good or bad, I'm fond of my first novel, as you should be of your first attempts at writing. And though we may have needed to "get it out of our system so the good stuff can flow," I believe our early work and drain sludge have nothing else in common. Sludge has no redeeming qualities. Writing a first novel, short story or article, on the other hand, is an unforgettable experience. Like kissing, falling in love, sex, swimming in the ocean or flying in an airplane, there's no other time quite like the first one.

Enough brooding. Time to go back to work on Book #2. The plumber is leaving and, with any luck, it might finally be safe for me to turn on the faucet.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jenny Does Dallas


I'm looking forward to speaking to the North Texas Romance Writers http://www.ntrwa.com/ in a few weeks. (July 19th.) This cowboy is featured on their website. (Hmmm. I wonder if he's a member of the group? If so, I sure hope he comes to the meeting...) I'll be talking about Writing Mainstream Women's Fiction That Sells--which might be a bit of a misleading title, now that I think about it. I wish I could say that I have the secret that will guarantee a sale to every person in attendance, but I've come to the conclusion that even the best, most well-executed story is bought only if the planets align perfectly on the day the editor reads it, and the fairies decide to sprinkle gold dust. Still, over the course of writing 6 mainstream women's fiction novels in addition to the romance novels and novellas I've penned, I've managed to learn a few things that just might help those planets to align and encourage the fairies to start sprinkling! I have a fun couple of hours planned during which I'll share what I've learned with my North Texas friends. What I love most about talking to other writers is that I always come away learning something new, too --information or questions I can use to improve my own writing and also make the next presentation I give more complete and informative.

So...my question to you: If you were going to attend this presentation, what would you hope would be covered? What are your questions about writing mainstream women's fiction or about women's fiction in general? I appreciate any feedback, and I promise I'll address whatever you mention in a future blog.

If you live in the Dallas area and can make the meeting, I'd love to see/meet you! Check out the North Texas Romance Writers website for the time and location.

Happy reading and writing!

Jenny

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Imagine...And The Two Davids


Okay, I admit it -- I'm an American Idol fan. (Why do people, including myself I gather, always feel as if we need to apologize for possessing an affinity for pure entertainment? When did simple "fun" become a four letter word if television is involved?)While I'm confessing, I might as well tell you that I'm also an avid watcher of Survivor and that on occasion, I tune-in to Dancing With The Stars. (Okay...before you get up on your high horse to look down your nose at me, you should know that my only other routine show is CNN--got to have that daily, messy dose of political adrenaline, ya know.)Anyway, back to IDOL. In case you've been living in a cave and don't know it (or perhaps you're one of those people up on your high horse) David Archuleta went up against David Cook last night. They are two very different types of performers, both extremely talented. Because I have a soft spot for rockers, (the kind that strut and wail, not the kind you sit on--although I like those, too), I had my fingers crossed for David Cook. Then David A. sang John Lennon's "Imagine" and almost brought tears to my eyes. Wow, that seventeen year old kid can sing! His voice is beautiful. I don't care which David wins. I can't imagine that they won't both go on to have successful careers in the music industry.

Another thing I can't imagine: Bookstores without books. Recently I read a post on a loop in which an author predicted that in the not-so-distant future bookstores would contain catalogues rather than books. In these store, patrons will go in and, instead of browsing shelves of books, choosing selections, then buying them and taking them home, we will go in, browse titles and read "blurbs" outlining the plot, make our selections, and then a clerk will go to the back and print, bind, etc. the book and bring it out to us. In minutes.

Maybe I can imagine this, but I don't want to. For me, the joy of going to a bookstore is browsing the shelves. Randomly pulling out titles, holding them in my hands, looking at the cover art, flipping through the pages and reading random paragraphs, imagining the people that live within the covers, deciding if I might want to spend time with them, get to know them, share their adventure. And then there's the smell. Yes, books have a distinctive scent. If you are a book lover, I'm sure you don't need me to tell you this. The scent of a brand new book is different than the scent of an old one -- say, at the library. I love them both. A world without bookstores filled with books will be a sadder world, a poorer world, a drab world.

How would you feel about the bookstore of the future I've described above? Would you like it? Hate it? Do you think it's a possibility?

Happy Reading,

Jenny

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Friday's Book Recommendation--One Day Late


Better late than never, I hope! I want to tell you about a very odd and intriguing novel that was the selection for my book club this month. It is THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX BY Maggie O'Farrell. I actually chose this book for my group after reading that Amazon named it one of the best 100 books of 2007 and Barnesandnoble.com recommended it as a book club read. I've always been drawn to moody, haunting stories with a dark, gothic feel, and if a hefty dose of psychological suspense is sprinkled in, so much the better. Is there anything any more delicious than watching a Hitchcock movie late at night...alone...while it's raining outside? Or curling up under the covers on a winter night to read an eerie tale like Daphne Du Maurier's REBECCA? This is that sort of story--only stranger. I couldn't put it down. The author's method of unfolding the plot is very unique, and the women's issues of the past that are brought to light are both interesting and disturbing.

I had one complaint involving a situation in the setup of the plot that needs to be addressed in order for the story to be completely believable, in my opinion. I don't want to reveal too much and spoil the story for any of you that haven't yet read it, so I'll be vague, but it involves the funding of Esme's care. Did I miss something? If you've read the and can answer that question, let me know! Following is Barnes and Noble's synopsis of THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX:


"In the middle of tending to the everyday business at her vintage clothing shop and sidestepping her married boyfriend's attempts at commitment, Iris Lockhart receives a stunning phone call: Her great-aunt Esme, whom she never knew existed, is being released from Cauldstone Hospital—where she has been locked away for over sixty years. Iris’s grandmother Kitty always claimed to be an only child. But Esme’s papers prove she is Kitty’s sister, and Iris can see the shadow of her dead father in Esme’s face. Esme has been labeled harmless—sane enough to coexist with the rest of the world. But Esme’s still basically a stranger, a family member never mentioned by the family, and one who is sure to bring life-altering secrets with her when she leaves the ward. If Iris takes her in, what dangerous truths might she inherit?

Maggie O’Farrell’s intricate tale of family secrets, lost lives, and the freedom brought by truth will haunt readers long past its final page
."

Happy Reading,

Jenny

www.jenniferarcher.net

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

"The Dirty Thirties"


Here's something to look back on and think about as we watch the cost of gas, food, and just about everything else skyrocket to unbelievable amounts, and as Americans face layoffs and a dismal job market....

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to visit with a delightful 94-year-old gentleman about his experience of living in the heart of the Dust Bowl as a young man. His memories of "that ol' blue/black dust" and the "half-dugout" his family called home, put a real face on a time in history I had only read about prior to our conversation. I came away with some wonderful research material for my book, a different perspective of the High Plains where I've lived most of my life, and an awed respect for the people who struggled to make a life here during one of the worst disasters of the last century.

But "Mr. J" also sent me off with another story I had not sought or expected. At the age of 20, he said, "I'd been on my own for three years...but I didn't have a home...I didn't have nothin." He struck out for California, hoping to find work. "I rode the freight trains a couple of years...I was bumming. I'd ride a freight, walk, or ride my finger." But even in California, Mr. J discovered that "there just wasn't hardly any jobs to speak of." And the competition for the few that cropped up was tough. The state--the entire country--was full of men just like Mr. J. who were looking for work without success. After some time, he finally did find temporary work on a ranch. The offer came when he was headed off to get some sleep. "I guess I got the only job in the whole country! Now that happened to me at night...in a town just out of L.A. The old boy stopped me as I was going on the other side of town to find a soft spot under one of those trees or something like that, and find a piece of cardboard -- one of those great big ol' boxes we used to fold up and crawl down in so you could have a little something over you and under you. That's about all."

Wow. I wonder if those of my generation and my childrens' generation could be as tough and resourceful as Mr. J and the other men and women of his time. And I hope we never have to find out!

My friend and critique partner Anita sent me the incredible photo above!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Bronze Horseman--Friday Book Recommendation


I'm posting my Friday book recommendation a day early since I'll be away from my computer tomorrow. And please hop on over to author Candace Havens' blog to check out her book recommendation, as well. It is DARKEST NIGHT, in Gena Showalter's new Lords of the Underworld series, and it sounds like a fantastic read!

Now for my pick: I can't tell you how much I loved, Loved, LOVED THE BRONZE HORSEMAN by Paulina Simons, published originally in 2001. This epic World War 2 love story is told from the point of view of Tatiana, a young Russian girl in love with a Russian (American born) soldier. Author Paulina Simons dedicated the novel to her Russian grandparents, and I can't help but think at least some of the story is based on their own. Much of the book is heartwrenching, as Russia in WWII was not a cheerful place, and the characters' very true-to-history, difficult experiences are not sugarcoated in the story, but it is a compelling read. This is a big, fat book and, still, I was sorry when it ended. I found the follow-up, TATIANA & ALEXANDER, and enjoyed every minute of it, too.

Here is some of what Amazon has to say about THE BRONZE HORSEMAN: "...an epic tale of passion, betrayal, and survival in World War II Russia. Leningrad, 1941...two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanov, live in a cramped apartment, sharing one room with their brother and parents. Such are the harsh realities of Stalin's Russia, but when Hitler invades the country, the siege of its cities makes the previous severe conditions seem luxurious. Against this backdrop of danger and uncertainty, Tatiana meets Alexander, an officer in the Red Army whose self-confidence sets him apart from most Russian men and helps to conceal a mysterious and troubled past.... With bombs falling and food becoming scarce, Tatiana and Alexander are drawn to each other in an impossible love that threatens to tear her family apart and reveal his dangerous secret -- a secret as destructive as the war itself. Caught between two deadly forces, the lovers find themselves swept up in a tide of history at a turning point in the century that made the modern world.

Mesmerizing from the very first page to the final, breathtaking end, The Bronze Horseman brings alive the story of two indomitable, heroic spirits and their great love that triumphs over the devastation of a country at war."


Happy Reading,

Jenny

Jennifer Archer

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Memory Lane Monday--My First Publication



This pot of flowers sat at the entrance to our hotel on a recent trip to Santa Fe. I just like it and thought I'd share.

Monday. The beginning of a new work week. A good time to take stock of the past before looking ahead to the future. Drumroll please....ta da! Here is my first published piece of writing. The article appeared in the May 6, 1988 issue of The Ranger, Amarillo Community College's newspaper. (I sincerely hope my writing skills have improved since then!)Some of you who know me might be surprised to know that the woman profiled in this story is my mom, and that I am the "one-year-old little girl."

Which leads to my question of the day: Is there some element of your past (or your present) that doesn't often come up that might surprise your friends and/or acquaintances?


RAILROAD LIVING ON THE RIGHT TRACK

“One day as I stood in the check-out line at a grocery store in Cleburne, Texas, a woman whose husband was in a railroad track gang was also in line. She was telling someone where she lived – a small boxcar standing on some nearby railroad tracks. She had small children with her. I remember feeling sorry for her.”

So said Joan, Amarillo homemaker. But that was Joan before her life changed almost 30years ago. Observing her today, at ease and relaxing in her ordinary, middle-class suburban home, it is not easy to imagine that she also once lived that very different railroad lifestyle.

In February of 1958, Joan, a stenographer, and her husband Charles, a machinist in the Santa Fe Railway Shops, were a typical young married couple. They and their two small daughters had just bought and moved into a brand new 1,600 square foot brick home in Cleburne. Their six-year-old daughter attended first grade at the school nearby while Joan’s mother stayed with their one-year-old little girl. Six months later things changed. In September of 1958, Charles was laid off from his job. Unable to find work in the area, he began to consider a job offer with a new Santa Fe welding plant.

Because of the expense, time and facilities that would be needed to ship the rail to its destination, the Santa Fe Railway made the new plant a “mobile” facility. Set up inside train cars, the facility could be relocated at different times to the different areas that needed the rail. Of course, this meant that the employees and their families also would have to be moved. Living quarters would be provided, along with free rent and utilities for employed men and their families.

The Santa Fe redesigned old passenger cars for living quarters for the employees, converting them into homes comparable to trailer houses. The “coaches,” as they were called, sat directly on the railroad tracks. Families learned they were to move two to four times yearly, usually to small towns. Explaining the need for the mobile housing, Santa Fe officials said it would be difficult and expensive for the families to find housing after each move. “The coaches seemed to be the best alternative,” Joan recalls. When a move was to take place, the families would secure their furniture inside the coach, then an engine would hook onto the train of coach cars and pull them to their new location.

After a lot of discussion, the couple decided that Charles should take the job and move by himself to San Bernadino, CA. where the facility was located at the time. He would live and work there for a while before they would decide whether they should sell their home in Cleburne and move the entire family.

Three months later, Joan made a trip to see the living arrangements for herself and to meet some of the families who had already made the move. She remembers seeing her future “home” for the first time.

“It was 81 feet long by 9 feet wide and included a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms and a bath. The walls were unfinished steel and were mustard yellow throughout. There was no carpet or curtains, only brown linoleum and brown window shades.”

Then she met a couple who had lived in a coach for three months. The two couples had a lot in common and got along well from the start. “I saw their coach and I realized that it might not be so bad,” she recalls. “Our main concern was how moving around so much would affect our kids in school and in other ways,” she says. She was also concerned about leaving her lifelong hometown, her new house and her job to enter into a situation with so many uncertainties. “We just weren’t too sure about how it would affect the family,” she remembers.

Nevertheless, her husband had not been able to find a good job elsewhere and there seemed to be hope for advancement if he stayed with the new job. “It seemed to be a way for him to better himself down the line,” she says. There was also rumor that the facility would settle permanently somewhere soon.

With a lot of anxieties and hopes, Joan and Charles decided to make the move and live with the hope they would be able to have a permanent home soon. Unfortunately, permanence did not happen as quickly as they had thought. Joan and her family lived in the coaches for 10 years and moved 22 times in that time span. During those years, they rearranged walls in their home, put up sheetrock and paneling, painted, installed a regular ceiling with storage, put down carpeting and put up drapes and curtains. The couple also added two more daughters to their family. Of course, two more little people created a space problem in the already cramped quarters, so Charles built doublewide bunk beds in the children’s bedroom to help solve the space problem.

“Approximately 15 other families lived and worked under similar circumstances,” Joan recalls. “When you’ve got a number of people in the same boat as you’re in, you always feel you can make it.” She said there was a lot of closeness between the families who lived in the coaches. While at times that closeness presented inevitable problems and there were arguments and differences of opinion, she misses it and the helpfulness of the families. “We had a lot of fun together,” she remembers. “We took care of each other.”

Joan recalls both good and difficult times with smiles and laughter. She recounts one difficult incident when a problem occurred with one of the two diesel-oil heaters used to heat their home. “I remember one year in LaJunta, Colorado when the temperature dropped to 25 degrees below 0. The oil going into one of our heaters froze. Charles was up half the night thawing out the heater and keeping us warm. Ice and frost formed on the walls,” she remembers. Explaining that their third child was only a toddler at the time, she smiles and remembers, “The baby would crawl out of bed over to a wall and scrape the frost off of it.” Joan said her husband used a blowtorch to thaw out the oil lines outside intermittently throughout the night for two nights. “During the day it only got up to 0, but the sun was out and it felt warm,” she laughs, shivering at the memory.

In discussing how the unusual living situation affected her children in school, she states, “The older two made very good grades. Better than the younger children who started school after we returned to Texas to live permanently.”

Their nomadic lifestyle offered some benefits. “The entire family enjoyed traveling and seeing places we might otherwise never have seen.” They also learned some valuable lessons, she said. “Living like that made me realize that you can’t judge people by where they live.”

Does she miss the traveling life? “No, but miss it or not, I found you can make a home anywhere.”


Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Book Recommendations


My friend and fellow writer Travis Erwin tagged me to recommend a book in an effort to entice me to blog more. (Thanks for the nudge, Travis!) His friend Patti tagged him -- the Friday book recs are her idea. I hope to make this a regular Friday feature on my blog. To explain how it works, here is Patti in her own words:

"This is the first of what I optimistically hope will become Friday recommendations of books we love but might have forgotten over the years. I have asked several people to help me by also remembering a favorite book. Their blog sites are listed below. I also asked each of them to tag someone to recommend a book for next Friday. I'm worried great books of the recent past are sliding out of print and out of our consciousness. Not the first-tier classics we all can name, but the books that come next."

Okay, Travis and Patti and anyone else out there reading this, I am tagging my friend Candace Havens a fantastic writer herself, to recommend a book on her site. As for me, my recommendation for today is TENDING ROSES by Lisa Wingate. I read this book about six years ago and I've never forgotten it. I had never met or even heard of author Lisa Wingate at the time. I found the book while browsing the fiction aisles at Barnes and Noble. I loved the title, the beautiful cover and the back blurb sounded interesting. I have never contacted an author I've never met after reading a novel, but TENDING ROSES touched a chord in me, and I looked up Lisa Wingate's website, and through it, sent her a note telling her how much the story had meant to me. Ironically, a couple of years later, I was at a writing conference having lunch with a group of ladies--some I knew and others I had not met before. Lisa Wingate sat across from me at the table. She is as lovely as her first mainstream novel.

Here's what Amazon.com had to say about TENDING ROSES:
"First-time author Lisa Wingate drew upon her relationship with her grandmother for inspiration in writing Tending Roses. Her sensitive and able crafting of language, character, and situation pierces through the turmoil and stress of everyday life, illuminating its message with almost painful intensity: "Maybe you should start wanting less." Wingate's words resonate as readers are introduced to Kate Bowman, her architect husband Ben, and their infant son. Kate, on maternity leave from her high-profile Chicago job, has been given the unenviable task of convincing her increasingly frail and forgetful grandmother that she can no longer live alone on the Missouri farm that has been her home for almost half a century. Kate and Ben are struggling to deal with mounting debts and medical bills as they strive to build a lifestyle, rather than a life. Frustrated by dealing with her stubborn, if well-meaning, grandmother, Kate finds solace and clarity in Grandma Rose's handwritten journal. The simple stories of earlier, less complicated times renew Kate's understanding of the truly important things in life. Through the journal, Kate discovers the essence of the remarkable Grandma Rose and is forced to reevaluate her priorities and those of her family. Simply put, Wingate's aim is to exhort readers to "stop and smell the roses." The daily race to achieve and have more, more, more is clearly and all-too-accurately portrayed in these pages. I guarantee readers will stop to think of their own lives and where they are spending their energies. Let's hope Lisa Wingate has other relatives as inspiring as Grandma Rose for future novels." --Alison Trinkle

Hope you'll give it a read!

Jenny

Jennifer Archer