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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

THROUGH HER EYES

My young adult novel, previously titled CLICK, now has an official new name! THROUGH HER EYES is tentatively scheduled for release in early 2011. This is Tansy's story --my ghost story--that's been in the works for quite some time. I love the new title! It's a perfect fit for the story.

I'm really excited about the ideas my publisher's art department has for the cover. As I have more news about THROUGH HER EYES, I'll post it here!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I'm Alive!

Yes, I know it's been a long time. I wish I could tell you I've been off frolicking on a white, sandy beach. Dipping my toes into turquoise waves. Sipping fruity drinks in a hammock beneath a swaying palm tree. Alas, I'd be lying. I've been hard at work! I'm happy to report that I turned in the mega-revision of my Young Adult novel CLICK (soon to have a new title). The rewrite required many hours in front of my computer and a lot of thought, but I have to admit that I really enjoyed revisting Tansy's world. Or, I should say, her worlds, as she slips frequently from the real one to...well, you'll have to read the book when it's published to find out about what goes on in Tansy's life! I'll make sure to keep you posted on the release date of the book, as well as the new title.

Meanwhile, I'm working on my idea for another Young Adult novel. Stay tuned! And I have another women's fiction novel idea niggling at my brain. So many books to write, so little time!


Fall is in the air here in Texas. My favorite season! I'm watching the leaves change color while these flowers, so lush only a a few weeks ago, shiver and fade outside my patio window.

Until next time,
Happy Reading!

Jennifer

Visit my website!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Off To the RWA Conference in D.C.

I'm leaving soon for the Romance Writers of America's national conference. It's being held in Washington D.C. this year. I'm excited about the trip for a lot of reasons.

First, I've never been to D.C. before, so I plan to squeeze in some sight-seeing. I'd love a White House tour, but I have a feeling I'm too late to set that up. Among other things, the Vietnam War Memorial is a definite don't-miss for me. I lost a cousin in that war, and I want to find his name on the wall.

Second, the last time I went to the conference was in 2006 when it was held in Atlanta. I was a Rita finalist that year so, as fun as that was, it also contributed to a lot of tension. Plus, I had appointments and I presented a workshop. This year, I'm not doing any of that. I plan to attend some really great workshops, go to the reception for published authors to meet booksellers and librarians, catch up with old friends, meet with my agent over high tea at the Mayflower Hotel, go to a couple of parties, and just have fun! I'm also taking my laptop and I'm going to get up early and write every morning. My deadline is looming, and besides that, I'm really into the rewrite. The story is evolving in a way that is better than I ever expected. I love having an editor whose suggestions challenge me to explore and delve deeper, taking the story to another level.

And finally, I'm going with my friend and fellow author Linda Castillo and we're rooming together. Linda is a lot of fun, and she just hit the New York Times bestseller list for the first time with her mainstream thriller SWORN TO SILENCE, so we're going to do a lot of celebrating. I'm so proud of her! It's always gratifying to see someone talented and hardworking and deserving reach their dreams.

I'll tell you all about it all when I return! Until then, happy reading.

Jenny

website

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Writing on the Road: Seattle


The new picture of the sailboat gracing the top of my blog was made during my trip to Seattle at the end of May. I’ve had a bad case of the travel bug all of my life. Luckily, I married a man with the same affliction! Since we’ve been together, we’ve traveled as often as work, children, and finances allowed us to. Lately though, with one of our sons out of college and the second soon to follow, we’ve been going off to explore new places and old favorites more often than ever before.

One of the great things about being a writer is that I can work from anywhere. Even so, sometimes I put the writing aside and allow myself a total vacation. Everyone needs time off to revitalize. But I’ve learned that I can’t do that every trip – especially when I have looming deadlines – or as much as I enjoy the excursion , the work will always be at the back of my mind, poking at me, reminding me it needs to be done, and I’ll get a little grumpy. I used to worry that family and friends traveling with me would think I’m strange if I shut myself away a few hours a day to scribble in my notebook or type on my laptop. But after a lot of years spent writing books, I’ve learned that most “normal” people (a.k.a. “nonwriters) think writers are a bit strange, anyway. Better to be strange and happy than strange and irritable! They undoubtedly enjoy my company more – and I know I enjoy them more, as well as the vacation – if I squeeze in some writing time before the play. If I just get up a little early while everyone else is still sleeping and spend those first hours of the morning with my characters, I’m a happy girl the rest of the day!


My oldest son moved to Seattle in January of this year, and my husband and I were thrilled about that. Seattle has been on our “want to explore” list for a very long time. We weren’t disappointed. I loved everything about Seattle! The laid-back, casual atmosphere, the water, the vibrant neighborhoods, the seafood, the houseboats.

Our friend Dane took us on our first sailing excursion on his beautiful boat.
We drove our son’s car onto a ferry and went across to Bainbridge Island then drove part-way around the Olympic Peninsula one day, went to Pikes Market the next, and a smaller fish market, two farmer’s markets and a street market in the following days.

I especially liked how Seattle is made up of different neighborhoods that are like small towns within the city itself – each neighborhood having its own vibe, as well as its own shops, restaurants, grocery stores, etc., within easy walking distance of its housing area.
I enjoy “walking cities.” I miss that in my own town. Where I live, if you see someone walking along busy streets, you figure that their car must have broken down!

I was happy to see many small, independent and specialty bookstores still in business in the neighborhoods of Seattle. In this economy, when even the giant chains are hurting, I hope that these small stores can hang in there and survive. That’s another thing I miss in my own hometown – independent and specialty bookstores. It seems that, like newspapers, they are too quickly becoming an anachronism in more and more places.


I came home from Seattle with great pictures, great memories provided by my son and his friends, and some beautiful jewelry I bought at a street market in the funky Fremont neighborhood.


My Acholi Bead bracelet and earrings were made out of recycled paper by women from the Acholi tribe of northern Uganda. After Africa’s longest running war forced them to flee their homes, these women are rebuilding their lives and taking care of their families by creating these pretty,unique, and reasonably priced pieces of jewelry. Read more about these women and Acholi Beads here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Oasis of the Panhandle


I’ve been away for a while, having some of those new experiences I promised myself I’d have way back at the beginning of the year. I’ll start by telling you about my visit to Canadian, Texas last month to research life in a small Texas Panhandle town for my Young Adult novel-in-progress. My friend, writer Linda Castillo was nice enough to make the drive with me and we spent the day exploring the town and surrounding area.

Canadian is located in the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle, slightly more than a 2 hour drive from Amarillo and only about an hour’s drive from Pampa, where I lived for 6 years, from the time I was in the 5th grade through my sophomore year of high school. During all that time, I never ventured north to the “oasis of the Panhandle,” and my recent visit took me by surprise; the town truly is an oasis in the corner of this flat, parched land I call home. Whereas the bed of the Canadian River branch that runs through my area of the Panhandle is usually cracked and dry, water flowed in abundance beneath Canadian’s “River Wagon Bridge.” And in striking contrast to the flat, treeless, almost desert-like plains surrounding Amarillo, our drive through Canadian’s countryside took us over rolling green hills and into valleys graced by swaying cottonwood trees.

Upon arriving in town, we stopped by the Visitor’s Center where two very nice ladies loaded us up with information about must-see places. Then we drove through quiet neighborhoods lined with stately historical houses, following the giant cat paws painted on the streets to the Canadian Wildcat’s football stadium. (Any book about high school students in small town Texas without football in it, is a book written by someone who doesn’t know what Texans are all about!)

Soon we ventured back to Main with its old-fashioned street lights. (Which I learned are brand new.) We parked the car then browsed the quaint shops and antique stores. The staff at the Canadian Record, the town’s award-winning newspaper, gave us a tour of their offices and were nice enough to take me in back to see the old retired printing press that the paper used decades ago.

After leaving the paper, my growling stomach led us to the City Drug Soda Fountain where we ate lunch. Entering the fully restored soda fountain with its black and white checkerboard floor, round red bar stools and cozy booths is like stepping back into an episode of Happy Days. I had a really tough time choosing between the many sandwiches, salads, soups and quiches on the menu, but in the end the quiche won out. The food was tasty -- even though the menu board is beneath an old pharmacy sign that reads LAXATIVES. (Luckily, the quiche did not have that effect.)

After the oil and gas boom ended in 1985, Canadian’s economy suffered and the town began to shrink. The Canadian River Valley’s abundant wildlife and outdoor resources saved the day. Ecotourism is now Canadian’s main business industry and has brought new jobs to town. According to an article entitled A Success Story From Canadian Texas – But It Can Happen Anywhere on the website Fermata: The Business of Nature “Canadian has a wildlife co-op that books trips for nature tourists to see prairie-chickens and to immerse themselves in a cowboy culture for a few days. The profits from the tours are split fairly among restaurants, B&Bs and ranchers. A $250,000 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant funds biologists to help ranchers make habitat improvements for Lesser Prairie-Chickens and other prairie wildlife.”

Since we didn't have time for a formal nature trip, Linda and I checked out much of the flora and fauna Canadian has to offer (as well as some very interesting graffiti on the adjacent railroad track retaining wall)from the River Wagon Bridge I mentioned above. It's located two miles north of town on highway 60. (And it’s free!) This amazing 3,255 foot steel bridge with wood plank flooring was completed in 1916 and is now a part of a trail for hikers and bikers that crosses over the Canadian River. With its impressive length and arched-back trusses, the bridge is a truly striking sight . . . and a little eerie. After walking across it, I had a feeling a fictional version of it would work its way into my story. And I was right – it already has! Eerie = good when you’re writing a ghost story.

Then it was back to the City Drug Soda Fountain, where I was forced to make the tough decision of whether I should have an old-fashioned ice cream soda, root beer float, or homemade pie. The coconut pie won and it was sinfully delicious. I figured I walked off the calories, so what the heck?

The day in Canadian was so interesting and fun, and the residents were so welcoming and friendly that I hope to make a trip back next October for their annual Fall Foliage Festival Arts & Crafts show. I’ve heard the drive is beautiful with the leaves changing color, and that the event is a lot of fun.

This research trip, along with my earlier one to Panhandle, Texas has really helped bring my novel's fictional town of Cedar Canyon to life in my mind. Cedar Canyon has become a unique mix of those two towns, with a heavy dose of my own imagination tossed in.

I've only touched on a small segment of what Canadian has to offer. For example, the old Palace Theatre on Main, like the City Drug Soda Fountain, has been restored to its glory days, and current movies are shown there. If you’d like to know more about the town check out their website

Next post--My recent trip to Seattle.

Happy Reading,

Jenny

Fiction Website

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Dream-drapery


This photo was taken in March as the plane my husband, Jeff, and I were on left Mexico. When I looked out of the window at the clouds all around us, I was taken back to my childhood...

As a kid, I indulged in quite a lot of daydreaming and make-believe. More than one teacher told me to get my "head out of the clouds." Flights of fancy are considered by most people -- especially adults -- to be a waste of time, but I don't think that's necessarily true. Sure, I should've paid attention during class instead of gazing out the window and making up stories. I should've reined-in my imagination until the last bell rang. But a lot of young daydreamers grow up and make a career out of escaping into their imaginations, and I'm one of them. I get paid for doing the very thing that used to get me into trouble. It's my job to spend hours every day with my head in the clouds! How cool is that? How lucky can a girl be? I am so grateful and amazed sometimes that I feel as if I need to pinch myself. Laboring in the land of make-believe hasn't made me rich, but there's no place I'd rather spend my days. I mean, I tried reality once and it just didn't work for me. ;-)

Think about that the next time you're tempted to pull some kid back to earth, because let me tell you -- my office is a pretty great place to work. (Note, once more, the new background photo of this blog) Pretty gorgeous color-scheme, huh? The furniture is so comfortable I feel like I'm sitting on a feather, and the curtains are soft and billowy. Oh, and did I mention that the air-conditioning always carries the scent of rain?

Clouds are a writer's "dream-drapery," the source of stories, of poetry and music and possibilities. Keep your head in the clouds and dream on, all you dreamers...

Low-Anchored Cloud
by Henry David Thoreau

Low-anchored cloud,
Newfoundland air,
Fountain-head and source of rivers,
Dew-cloth, dream-drapery,
And napkin spread by fays;
Drifting meadow of the air,
Where bloom the daisied banks and violets,
And in whose fenny labyrinth
The bittern booms and heron wades;
Spirit of lakes and seas and rivers,
Bear only perfumes and the scent
Of healing herbs to just men's fields!


Happy Reading,

Jenny

Jennifer Archer's website

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing, Baby"


Unless you were born yesterday, no doubt you've heard the lyrics to Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing, by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. (Hear it on YouTube)I agree with their message wholeheartedly. Whether it's love, butter, cheese, or Coca Cola, imitation or altered versions just don't come close to the genuine article. This is true of research, too, especially if you're writing fiction. As an author, I can read about a place or a profession in a book or on the Internet, and I can learn a lot -- enough, even, to write my story and make it believable. But actually visiting that place in person, or talking to someone that works in the profession I'm writing about, can serve to take the writing a step above, to make it come alive in a way it just can't, otherwise.

The first part of my novel THE ME I USED TO BE is set in Portland, Oregon.
I've never been to Portland, and it wasn't possible for me to fit in a visit there before my deadline. So I researched the city through the Internet and travel guides I bought at the bookstore. I think I managed to portray Portland realistically in the book -- at least, none of the letters and emails I received from readers pointed out any goofs. But because I was worried about making a mistake, I found myself holding back as I wrote those chapters. I kept my descriptions about the place as brief and basic as possible. I did just enough to get by. Had I actually had the opportunity to explore the city, I could've included more local color, the scents, the sounds, the rhythms of the place. By absorbing and experiencing all those things firsthand, I could've put the reader more "into" the story and made the book even stronger.

The book I'm writing now -- my Young Adult novel, scheduled for release in the fall of 2010 -- is set in the Texas Panhandle, where I live. However, I live in the city of Amarillo, while Cedar Canyon, the imaginary town in my story, is a little town with a population of only 2,300. So I recently made the half-hour drive from Amarillo to Panhandle, Texas, which is about the same size as my fictional town.
Cedar Canyon's high school plays a big part in my story, so I spent the day at Panhandle High. I know three teacher there, and they graciously allowed me to observe their classes. What a great experience! I came home with over 15 pages of handwritten notes about teen clothing and hair styles, teen expressions ("Groovy" is no longer in vogue! Who knew? Just kidding. I'm almost that old, but not quite), descriptions of the classrooms and hallways, sounds, scents...too many things to name here. I had forgotten the sounds one hears sprinkled into the silence while taking a test -- the rustling of paper, sighs, scratch of pencils on pads, squeak of chair legs against the floor, foot falls down the hallway, the droning voice from a film being shown on the other side of the wall in the next room. By placing myself in the middle of a setting like the one in my book and experiencing all the sensory elements, I am now able to add so much realism, so much flavor to my story as I work on the rewrite. I hope these details serve to make the reader feel as if he/she is experiencing what is happening in those scenes -- to make them feel they are actually there.

If you are a beginning writer, I highly recommend experiencing your place, person, topic, etc. firsthand, if at all possible. Yes, it takes a little more time, but it's time well spent. Fiction-writing is an art, and creativity shouldn't be rushed. As a friend of mine once told an editor -- "I'm an artist; I don't work well under pressure." She said this jokingly when a deadline was too tight, but I think there's truth in her statement!

"Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby
Ain't nothing like the real thing
Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby
Ain't nothing like the real thing

I got your picture hangin' on the wall
It can't see or come to me when I call your name
I realize it's just a picture in a frame

I read your letters when you're not near
But they don't move me
And they don't groove me like when I hear
Your sweet voice whispering in my ear

Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby
Ain't nothing like the real thing

I play the game, a fantasy
I pretend I'm not in reality
I need the shelter of your arms to comfort me

No other sound is quite the same as your name
No touch can do half as much to make me feel better
So let's stay together

I got some memories to look back on
And though they help me when you phone
I'm well aware nothing can take the place of being there

So let me get the real thing
So let me get the real thing
Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby
Ain't nothing like the real thing
Ain't nothing like the real thing, baby
Ain't nothing like the real thing"

Happy reading, writing...and researching!

Jenny

Fiction website

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mary Schramski's Sterling Pen


I've intended to post this article about my friend and business partner, the very talented,smart,funny and elegant (as you can see from her photo here) Mary Schramski. It was published in the Las Vegas Sun in February, and I just happen to be quoted!

It was a thrill to talk about Mary when the reporter called me. Mary and I met at a writing conference in Dallas in 2004 at our mutual (at the time) fiction publisher's party. I got caught up in the festive atmosphere and had one too many teeny weenie martinis. (Okay, they weren't so teeny. But we were walking, not driving, so give me a break...:-) ) Mary graciously walked me back to the hotel and ordered me a room service cheeseburger. It was just the right medicine, which leads me to think that maybe she's had a bit of experience with one too many martinis herself??? We've been emailing and talking by phone ever since. A while back, we realized that we each have creativity-related strengths that the other doesn't. Put us together and you've got yourself a creative dynamo. We thought that, together, we had the background, knowledge, and experience to help people that had something to say but didn't know how to say it, as well as to help people tap into their creativity more. So we started a business. Rather than tell you about it, I'll let you read the article, which I've posted below. Or you can read it directly from the publication here. Then you should check out the Sterling Pen website and Mary's Fiction website. (One thing in the article made me laugh. The reporter says Mary looks more like a professor than a romance writer. Mary *is* a professor! Or was. She's retired from teaching now.)Happy Friday!

Valley romance writer penning her last book
By Becky Bosshart (Las Vegas Sun)

Thu, Feb 5, 2009 (6:37 p.m.)


Nicky Fuchs / Special to the Home News


The beginning of Mary Schramski's first book was set in Las Vegas.

Now she is ending her last book here, which she's writing in her Sun City Anthem home.

It just seems like it was meant to be, said the 57-year-old writer, who has penned 13novels, most published by top romance seller Harlequin/Silhouette and its more serious literary branch, Harlequin Next.

Schramski will conclude her novel writing career with "The Unicorn Tree." This novel has taken a lot of emotional strength to write, she said. It is about an adopted woman who was abused when she was a child. She comes out to Las Vegas to search for her biological mother.

"I wanted my last book to take place in Las Vegas, because I have an affinity for the city," Schramski said.

She was raised in Las Vegas and graduated from Rancho High School in 1968.

Schramski's first mainstream novel, "What to Keep," published in 2002, starts in Las Vegas with a 21 dealer who returns to her family home in North Carolina.

Schramski, a self-described feminist who went to Union Institute and University, what she termed a "radical left" school, doesn't seem like the type who would start her literary career as a bodice-ripping romance writer. She lives in a minimally decorated home — no lacy curtains or heart-shaped throw pillows.

With her white blond hair and sensible sweater and pants ensemble, she looks more like a professor than a writer of dewy-eyed tales of love lost and won.

Schramski said she picked up a romance novel one day, read it and decided that she could do that, too. It started out as something fun. Schramski shook off her "literary elitism" after she received a letter from a fan who said one of her novels helped her get through her husband's illness.

"I don't want to denigrate romance — it's a big seller," Schramski said. "I played around with it. I sent it off to Harlequin/Silhouette and it was published. I realized through writing those books, I learned how to write a novel and how to work with an editor."

And she made money at it. Schramski said she earned about $16,000 with an advance and royalties on that first book. It's been published in about six languages. Her subsequent novels made similar amounts from the major New York City publishing house.

Harlequin is known for its passionate paperbacks often found on wire racks in grocery stores. Those steamy sex scenes are fun to create, she said.

"It's more technical. You have to have things happen at the right time and you have to be descriptive enough."

But Schramski is putting these commercial successes behind her, even in an economically difficult time (she has two more novels set to be released this year, with expected moderate profits). Schramski is instead looking to guide writers to their own successes.

Jennifer Archer, of Amarillo, Texas, is partners with Schramski in their writing business Sterling Pen.

"Mary is very approachable," Archer said. "Clients seem to enjoy working with her, because she's easy to talk to and is great at giving advice. She taught for many years, so that helps with guiding clients, whether that's helping them ghostwrite a book or overcome a creative hurdle to continue a project. She's able to take what she's learned over the years and apply that to the struggles other writers go through."

Schramski will focus on editing, ghostwriting and creative coaching.

"Creative coaching is when you help bring an artist through the creative process," she said. "My goal is to help the person become the writer they want to be."

Visit Sterling Pen online at www.sterlingpen.net.

Becky Bosshart can be reached at 990-7748 or becky.bosshart@hbcpub.com.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Book Club: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime


My book club met last week and we discussed last month's selection THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME by Mark Haddon. I admit that I was initially skeptical about liking this book. It is told from the viewpoint of an autistic 15-year-old boy, so as you might imagine, the story seemed to lack emotion when I first began reading the opening chapters. If you saw the movie Rainman, you know that most people with severe autism don't express emotion in the way that is considered "normal" by the majority of us. But, as it turns out, Mark Haddon is a gifted writer! As he told the story of this autistic boy methodically and logically trying to solve the mystery of who murdered his neighbor's dog, Haddon captured and relayed his main character's voice and personality so perfectly that before I knew it, I began to care about the kid, understand him, and realize that just because he didn't express emotion in a way I'm used to, did not mean he did not experience fear, love, anger, etc., in his own unique manner. I also learned alot about autism in general. Mark Haddon's biography states that he used to work with autistic children. His experience definitely came through in his writing. The book was funny and poignant and sad. I recommend it.

One of the women in my bookclub -- Donna -- who just so happens to be one of my best friends since junior high -- teaches special needs middle school kids, some of whom are autistic. Before we began our discussion, she gave a wonderful presentation to help us understand even better what it means to be autistic. Like the protagonist in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, many autistic people do not like to be touched; if fact, many of them find human touch painful. Donna touched each of us with a piece of sandpaper to demonstrate how physical human contact might feel to an autistic person. Also, while she spoke, she had the television on with the volume up as well as many other distractions going on in the room. It was chaotic and difficult to stay focused. Which was her point: autistic people are extra sensitive to sensory stimulation, as if it is more intense to them than most folks. This makes it hard for them to concentrate if there are too many things going on around them at once, even things the rest of us are able to easily tune out. Colors, sounds, movements -- all of these and more can cause distress in an autistic person.

The thing Donna said that made the biggest impression on me was in response to a comment I made. I said that despite the funny moments, I thought the book was so sad and felt so sorry for the boy because he isolated himself from people and his life seemed so lonely. Donna told me, "You feel that way because you want autistic people to be like us, and they aren't. The boy is happiest when he's alone." (Loose quote. Forgive me, Donna!) That statement really opened my eyes. What constitutes happiness for one person, may not for another. Maybe we should stop trying to make everyone fit into the most common mold.


Donna's statement also brought to mind another book I read a long time ago (non-fiction) called PARTY OF ONE, about extreme loners. As someone who has always cherished time alone, I learned that I don't come close to the level of introversion discussed in this book. I need fairly frequent interaction with people to balance out my alone time or I start to get weird! However, PARTY OF ONE also emphasized that it is not wrong to be a loner, simply different, and that society should stop trying to make naturally shy children conform to the "norm" of being outgoing by forcing them to join social activities they find extremely uncomfortable and unnatural. They are typically happier engaging in solitary activities -- reading, playing with dolls, painting, building things on their own, and why is that wrong? Anyway, the book was great food for thought and really interesting.

Our new book selection for this month is THE DOCTOR'S WIFE by Elizabeth Brundage. Can't wait to dive in. In the meantime, I'm reading THE SLAVE by Isaac Bashevis Singer, a gift from my oldest son who called it one of the most "incredible" books he's ever read. It won the Nobel Prize in literature years ago. So far, I'm enjoying it and learning a lot about traditional Jewish customs.


Until next time, happy reading!

Jenny

my website

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Refilling The Well



Hola! Writers live in their heads many hours of the day. I think it's important to take breaks and get out into the real world from time to time. I call it "refilling the well." (The well being my brain.) Writing drains it dry. If you don't get out and experience life, what will you have left to say?


So to refill the well, I recently spent a week in beautiful Zihuatenejo, Mexico on the Pacific coast north of Acapulco. The new photograph in the header of this blog was taken off the balcony of the condo we rented overlooking the bay. The trip was my surprise Christmas gift from my husband. Remember my personal "Do Something New Challenge?" We started a new tradition this past year, and it applies! We are alternating years planning a surprise trip for each other. Christmas of 2009 will be my turn to surprise him with my trip plans for 2010. It will be tough to outdo him! Our condo in Zihua was beautiful, the beach was gorgeous, the weather perfect, the people incredibly friendly, and the village chock full of old Mexico charm.

A little history about our destination: Zihuatanejo was a holy refuge for Aztec aristocracy many years before Columbus sailed to America. Apparently, the fairer sex dominated in Zihua as the Nahuatl word "Cihuatlán," from which the name Zihuatenejo is derived, means “place of women.” (Nahuatl is an Aztec language ) Artifacts discovered in the area indicate that weaving was the primary trade in the village.


Zihuatanejo Bay was along a Spanish trade route to the Orient. Ships passing through carried spices, coconut palms, fabrics, and silk. Legend states that one of these vessels sank near Playa La Ropa Beach where my husband and I ate breakfast at an outdoor cafĂ© every morning and took a walk in the surf before siesta time – otherwise known as margaritas by the pool. The legend says that fabrics and silks stocked on the shipwrecked boat floated to shore and washed up on the sand, giving the beach it’s name. (“La Ropa” means “the clothes”)

We were fortunate that the yearly Zihuatanejo
International Guitar Festival (www.zihuafest.info) started two days before we had to leave, so we were able to catch a few really good acts at local venues. I became a fan of one artist in particular – Eric McFadden out of San Francisco. He calls his sound “Gypsy blues.” I bought a CD and there are three songs I can't get enough of. I haven't gone to see if it's on ITunes but if it is, you should check out the song DEVIL MOON.

Oh, and another "do something new" thing I did on the trip -- I had another food adventure. I ate squid in it's own ink. Sounds icky, I know, but it was actually good! You never know until you try something, right?

I'd love to hear how some of you refill the well. And if you don't, what's stopping you? I love travel, but there are all sorts of alternative ways to energize your creativity closer to home. So if you can't travel, or don't like to, don't let that stop you.

While away, I read two books: The YA novel JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta, and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon. Both were very unusual and very interesting. I'll post my thoughts on them soon.

Happy reading,

Jenny

Jennifer Archer's website

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Barbie Bubble

Dear Barbie Bubble,


Happy 50th, my friend! You look fab. It's been a long time since I've been in touch, and I know what you're probably thinking -- that I must be jealous of all the attention that's been showered on you over the years. Think again, Barb, think again. I've known you a long time, remember? I was there before you could afford the Malibu Dream House and the fancy cars. Before you even had the camper. I was there before the facelift and the lip enhancement and the new, more natural makeup and hairstyle. When we hung out, you looked like this. But don't worry, I wouldn't show that photo to anyone, or this one, either.

I saw what you went through to make it to the top, honey, and I wouldn't wish that on myself or anyone else.


Barbie, I admit that I related more to Midge Flip than I did to you. She looked more like I imagined I might look when I grew up. Maybe because she had freckles and less fancy hair. (By the way, are you two still friends?)Still, I want to say upfront that I thought the gossip about you was out of line -- that you caused girls to have poor self-image issues with your impossibly perfect figure, your sultry eyes and luscious lips. I wish people would quit analyzing every harmless thing to death! Was Sophia Loren a bad influence on little girls? I think not. She was who she was, and you are who you are. Or were. Before society manipulated you into feeling bad about your appearance with their opinions and expectations. Honestly, women can't win, can we? We're either too thin, or too fat. Too busty or too flat. But none of those described your physical appearance. Your sin, Barbie? Too perfect. Even though there are a few fortunate women with your physique--born with it, not bought. It's true. Might I again mention Sophia Loren? And I happen to know one such woman personally who I would love to hate if I didn't love her so much. The truth is, I don't notice anymore. I just see her. Her beauty, yes, but mostly her talent, her kindness, her laugh and the fact that she's fun to be around. I guess those things are what I noticed most about you, too. (Your laugh sounded a whole lot like mine, as I recall. And sometimes you weren't so kind to Ken and Midge, but that's another story. And besides, we all have our days...)

Then came the accusations that you were a poor role model for girls--that you were shallow, caring only about fashion and hairstyles. Well, I must say, you have had some far-out 'dos. (I was a bit freaked out when you had that hole cut out of the top of your head so that you could pull your hair out to make it longer, then retract the hair back into your scalp if you wanted to wear it short. That was going a little far, Barb, even for you.) But I'll defend you as a role model for girls until the day I die. To name only a few of your achievements, you've been a friend, a fashion icon, a bride, a corporate business woman. A ballerina, a nurse, a doctor. An athlete. An astronaut. What other woman can claim so many accomplishments? And you did it all with a smile on your face every single second of the day. In my opinion, you helped girls believe we could be anything we wanted to be, and look good in the process!

And you taught us to be creative, to use our imaginations. In fact, Barbie, I give you partial credit for helping me become a writer. My friends and I plotted ways to get you in and out of trouble. We created entire romantic stories around you and Ken. (How is Ken Crewcut, by the way? Are the two of you still together? He was cute and nice, but so clean-cut and skinny and ...well, BORING, at times) Remember when I coaxed that neighborhood kid named Steve to come over and bring his G.I. Joe? Now, that livened things up. Ken was so jealous, and who could blame him? Joe was quite a man. Rough around the edges. A bit dangerous, but strong and honorable. And he had muscles. Too bad Steve tired of your love triangle in about 20 minutes and left to do more macho things, taking his hot friend Joe away with him. Sigh.


Anyway, I think about those good times we shared from time to time, and I figured you might think about them -- and about me -- as well. If you've been wondering what became of me while you were taking the world by storm, check out my website. I recently updated it with news about my upcoming book releases, and I added some "News" and some new photos, too.

Hang in there, Barbie. I've missed you! You were loads of fun. I don't remember thinking all that much about your shape and wondering if mine might be the same some day. You were more about getting together with friends, make-believe, playing the day away. Playing the day away. I miss that, too! I hope you're still around if I'm lucky enough to have a granddaughter some day. Maybe we can get together again then and play. I'll look forward to it!

Your friend,
Jenny

P.S. I'm sorry for all those times I left you lying around naked on the floor or in my closet. Those little clothes were hard to get off and on!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Six Secret Steps to Publication

You know that old commercial "When so-and-so talks, people listen?" I can now say that when I talk, people puke. Let me explain...

I spoke to a group of 4th graders last week. They are having a writing camp of sorts at their school, focusing on taking an idea and turning it into a story. And their teachers are trying to get them to accept that revision is a part of the writing process, even for multi-published authors. I had intended to borrow from a speech my friend Le gives to very young writers (with her permission, of course). In order to get their undivided attention -- especially that of the squirmy little boys -- she opens by comparing a first draft to "vomiting" words onto the page. The she compares the revision process to cleaning up that vomit. However, before I launched into that scenario, a little girl threw up on one of the computers in the library where I was giving my talk. At that point, I decided against using the vomit analogy.

I'm happy to report that things got better from that point forward. They were a great group of kids. And smart! They asked intelligent questions. One of those questions was the ever-popular "How can I get published?" I told them exactly what I tell the adult students in the writing class I teach, and now I'm going to tell you. Get out your pen and paper. Here are the...














Six Secret Steps to Publication:
1. WRITE. Write as much as you can as often as you can. The old cliche is true: Practice makes perfect. If you think you don't have time, you're only fooling yourself. Carve time from your day. Get up a half hour earlier in the morning or stay up a half hour later at night. Utilize wasted time spent in doctors' office waiting rooms, sitting in the car waiting on your kids at school, or on the bleachers at hockey practice. Give up a television program and write instead. Make a deal with yourself: promise to show up at the computer or notepad every day or every other day or once a week for a specified amount of time as long as you don't have to write well. You can clean up that vomit later.
2. READ & STUDY . Read, read, and read some more. Study the work of published writers whom you admire. Take writing classes. Join writer's organizations to hear speakers, network, and meet other writers.
3. FINISH WHAT YOU WRITE. Ignore your fear of failure and/or fear of success and just keep writing until you reach the end. Find someone -- another writer or a reader you trust to be honest but encouraging -- and let them read and critique your work. Take suggestions that work for you and throw out those that don't. Give yourself a reasonable deadline for a project. Polish it to a point where you believe it is the best you can make it without an agent or editor's help, then declare it finished. Move on.
4. SUBMIT YOUR WORK You won't ever get published if you hide your work in a drawer. Again, ignore your fear of failure or fear of success and enter your writing in reputable contests (those judged by published writers and editors and/or agents)in order to get feedback. Consider the feedback, but also keep in mind that it is just the opinion of one person. Don't let a less than glowing review crush you. Take the advice that helps you and use it. Forget the rest. Then, when you feel the story is ready, submit it to agents.
5. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF & PERSEVERE. Learn to distinguish between good and bad rejection letters. Bad ones give you no feedback you can use to make your work stronger and no encouragement. Good ones do. Celebrate and learn from the good ones. Throw darts at the bad ones. Develop a thick skin and keep plenty of chocolate on hand. A friend who will let you have an occasional cry on his/her shoulder doesn't hurt, either.
6. STAY TRUE TO YOUR VOICE, BUT BE WILLING TO REVISE. Those 4th grade teachers are correct: revising is part of every writer's process. When that day arrives that an agent or editor wants to buy your story but asks you to do some more work on it, don't balk...celebrate! That's your goal, isn't it? To make the story the best that it can possibly be.
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And on another topic...I've changed the name and look of my blog, did you notice? I think the quote about "ink in my veins" and "blood on the typewriter keys" pretty much sums me up! I'll be making more small changes in the days and weeks ahead. I hope to put up a new photograph at the top every month or so. I took the one of the bridge at a park in Nashville in November. I loved the colorful sweep of grass up to that rusty old bridge.
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What I've been reading: I just finished THE READER by Bernhard Schlink. It was my book groups February selection. It should generate lively discussion at our meeting next week. I had no sympathy at all for the female character in the story (Kate Winslet won an Oscar for Best Actress in this part last night). I already know that at least one member of my group doesn't agree with my assessment of "Hanna." A well-written book containing a lot of controversial issues. If you want action-packed reading, though, this isn't for you.


Next on my reading list: JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta. My editor sent me this YA novel (along with a few others). I've been wanting to read this story and can't wait to dive into it.

Happy Reading,

Jenny

Visit my website!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Identity


“It’s a beautiful day at XYZ Cosmetics. This is Karen. How may I help you?”
“I’d like to cancel my quarterly shipment.”
“Oh…I’m sorry to hear that. Could I ask why you don’t want to continue using the products?”
“I’m not satisfied with the results I’m seeing.”
“I’m sorry. What results were you hoping for? Maybe I can recommend some different products that will better suit your specific needs.”
“Well, the infomercial promised the cleanser and cream would diminish my fine lines, wrinkles and enlarged pores by 49% and sun spots by 60%. With those sorts of claims, I expected to look like Jennifer Aniston but instead I still look like Jennifer Archer.”
Long pause… “The advertisement said that a certain number of users have reported those results, not everyone. You might benefit from a more intense regimen. I recommend you add our weekly facial masque made from an extract of caterpillar larvae blended with blueberry and apricot acids. I can send you a trial shipment of one month’s supply, and if you like it, the shipments will continue every quarter afterward for the low price of 64.99 a—”
“Will it make me look like Jennifer Aniston?”
“Um . . .” Another long pause.
“That’s what I thought. I think I’ll pass. I can go to the drugstore every quarter and continue to look like Jennifer Archer for $6.99 instead of $64.99.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Hey, it’s not that bad.” (Said defensively.)
“I didn’t mean . . . I’m sorry.”
“So you’ve said.”
“I’ve cancelled your order, Ma’am. Have a beautiful day.”

The moral of this story? Hmmm. . . . not sure. Maybe that the world already has a Jennifer Aniston, a Halle Berry, a Brad Pitt, a you-name-it, but the world only has one you? Quit trying to be someone else and be yourself? Embrace your identity? You don’t have to spend a fortune making the most of what you’ve got? Or maybe the moral is just that we should always take the opportunity to mess with folks who work for companies that make outrageous claims for an outrageous price. It’s fun, and it probably livens up their monotonous day.
*****

Speaking of identity, I promised to blog about the young adult novel THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary E. Pearson. The story raised many questions in my mind. How far would I go to save someone I love? Before reading the book, I would have answered that question, “I would do whatever it takes.” Now the answer is no longer so clear cut for me. I hope I would consider first whether my actions were in the loved one’s best interests, or just for my own selfish reasons – because I couldn’t bear the loss. The story also raised the question of what makes up a person’s identity. A small part of the brain that contains personality? Our collected experiences? Both of those and more? THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX is a thought-provoking, well-written novel with compelling characters – a blend of science fiction, mystery, and coming of age love story all rolled into one. I enjoyed the read and I recommend it for teens and adults. I must admit to being a bit freaked out by the fact that some of the elements are eerily similar to elements in a story I’ve been working on. Just more proof to my theory that ideas float around out there in the universe and more than one writer often tap into the same one. The good news is that the same core idea in the minds of two writers usually emerges on the page in two very different ways. Though similarities may exist, we each put our own stamp of identity on the story.
* * * *
If identity is made up of collected experiences, I’ve been adding a lot of material to shape mine. An acquaintance recently gave me a wonderful compliment by claiming that I am both interested and interesting. I believe those two elements are the key to staying mentally young. Which is why I recently challenged myself to Do Something New each month. Though I haven’t blogged in a while, I haven’t slacked off on that challenge. Here’s some of what I’ve been doing:
1) I had a food adventure. Jaime, a student from the creativity class I’m teaching, invited my husband and me to his house to sample authentic Peruvian foods. Jaime grew up in Peru and his girlfriend still lives in Lima. She was in town for the month of January and helped him prepare the meal. We had thinly sliced octopus with the most delicious olive sauce, yucca, cerviche, and much more. The food was wonderful but I also enjoyed the Pisco Sours, a yummy but potent drink!
2) I have been collaborating with my oldest son on a writing project. I get two points for that, as I have never collaborated on a book with anyone before, and I have never worked professionally with my son before. I have enjoyed doing both!
3) The project my son and I are writing is a biography – the personal history of a 94 year old man who has led a remarkable life. This is my first attempt at writing a biography. Non-fiction is typically not my forte, but I am loving this!
4) I have joined Facebook and am trying to learn the ins and outs of it. So far, so good.

That’s it until next time. I would love to hear about the new things you’ve tried recently, what you’ve been reading, and your thoughts on what makes up identity. Post away!

Happy Reading,

Jenny

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

2009. . . So Far


Happy New Year everyone! This photo of my motley crew and me (minus my husband)was taken in Nashville over Thanksgiving. My youngest son attends college at MTSU and we all spent Turkey Day there.

2009 has arrived baring its teeth and snarling, "Don't mess with me!" If the months ahead are anything like this one has been so far, I have a feeling its going to be a very interesting year that will keep me on my toes. Here's what's happened in my little corner of the world to date:

1) My youngest son (and my husband and I) brought in the New Year in the ER. My son was flat on his back on a stretcher, wearing a neck brace, and with the back of his head gushing blood. He was a passenger in an auto accident. The driver rolled his SUV when he reached down (and simultaneously glanced down) to pick up a CD he'd dropped. When he looked up again, the road had curved but he had not. On instinct, he jerked the wheel. The passenger side roof of the Explorer took the initial impact of the roll and caved in, hitting the top/back of my son's head. Luckily, a woman on the same road saw the accident happen and pulled over to help. My son didn't realize he had a head wound and thought he was okay and was trying to climb out the driver's side door since his wouldn't open. The woman saw that he was bleeding and called
911. He went by ambulance to the hospital, but was able to call us first so that we were there when he arrived. We were very fortunate. Although it looked as if he'd been in a knife fight, he didn't have a laceration at all. Basically, he was scalped! He also had some minor injuries to his hands. Rather than think about what a terrible experience this was, I'm choosing to focus on the fact that he can wiggle his toes . . . and breathe. The situation could have easily ended in a tragedy. If he had been one inch taller, according to those who saw the car afterward, it WOULD have ended in a tragedy. I thank his guardian angel daily. And perhaps for the first time ever, he is really glad he's short!



2)My writer buddy Travis Erwin watched his house burn to the ground early in the morning of January 4th. You can read about the experience on Travis'blog. Again, I am telling myself that 2009 was kind because his two little boys were spending the night with their grandmother. And Travis and his wife, Jennifer, got out unharmed. Still, they lost pretty much everything other than each other. To help them rebuild their lives, a couple of Travis' blogging buddies started the Habitat For Travis Erwin blog and fund. Check it out and buy a brick if you can. It's easy to donate. Just use the Paypal button on the site.

3)Unless you're an animal love, this may sound trivial in comparison to the above, but for the rest of us, our pets are members of the family. Buddy, a shelter dog belonging to my niece and her husband, started having seizures day before yesterday and had to be rushed to an emergency vet. So far, the cause of the seizures has not been determined. As my father-in-law used to say, "Damned old dogs." It's just too easy to become attached to the mutts!

On another note, I am picking up where I left off on my Do Something New weekly challenge asap. The holidays sidetracked me! I'll report in soon. Also, I saw a few movies over the holiday. Both of my sons were here for Christmas. We celebrated early with the extended family with big meals, games, and a lot of laughs. Then, on Christmas day, we went to a movie -- just the four of us. We saw The Curious Incident of Benjamin Button and I loved it. It is a very character-driven story. Brad Pitt was fantastic, and even though the movie was long, I was memsmerized the entire time. On New Year's eve (before the accident!) my husband and I and my sis and her hubby saw Doubt. Not a feel good movie by a long stretch! Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman both did an incredible job of acting, as usual. The story isn't entertaining, but is very thought provoking. And the movie is beautifully done. Writer types will appreciate the presentation. Then, at home I watched an older Independent movie that I rented from Netflix called The King of California, starring Michael Douglas. I have a soft spot for quirky stories and I LOVED this one. He did a wonderful job with the part, as did the young actress that co-starred. (Can't recall her name.)

On the reading front, I read a few books that I will talk about in my next post. Most interesting was a Young Adult novel my new editor recommended called THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX. Stay tuned.

I hope your 2009 is starting out more peacefully than mine!

Happy Reading,

Jenny

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