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

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,



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!



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,