Wednesday, July 30, 2008
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!
Monday, July 21, 2008
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.'
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
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
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.