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Music of our Lives

True story: there’s something weird about the way I write. Many of you know, I’m kind of a freak about music. See, I make my own soundtracks and listen to them (like crazy) while I’m writing. This isn’t normal. It’s not advised in most circles.

Making a soundtrack for inspiration is nothing new, even Stephanie Meyers did it while writing the Twilight series. Most of my author friends do it too. But they listen to them while they’re plotting or relaxing.

I listen while I’m writing. There are certain songs for certain scenes and they get played over and over and over again. I listen to my manuscript soundtrack the entire time I plot, write, and the whole time I’m not writing. I make CD’s and play them on my drive to work (which is an hour each way) the entire duration for my work on a certain manuscript. It’s kind of nuts.

All this to say, I’ve decided to share my playlists on this website! My taste in music is all over the place. I hope you enjoy!

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Yeah…I’m discerning in my listening tastes….sometimes.

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Fun Announcement

Know what? I think I forgot to tell you about something exciting.

I shared about my cover for Home for Good and in celebrating, I forgot to let you know that one of my stories was published in October! It’s a short story that can be found in an anthology published by Oaktara.

The book? It’s called My Love to You Always. The great thing is that these are true love stories (not fiction!). So the story that is published is actually a true snippit of my husband and my romance.

Know what makes this all even cooler? My story was picked to be the first in the anthology, so I was given the honor of opening the book! I didn’t know until I had it in my hands.

 Here’s the back cover copy:

Forever Love… When did you fall in love? And when did you know that love would  be a lasting one-celebrating life’s joyous moments and walking together, hand-in-hand, through challenging times? Or are you still longing for that person to come into your life, as a side-by-side companion? Experience “my love to you always” kind of love through 42 of the sweetest, real-life love stories collected from across the globe. They’re guaranteed to make you misty eyed and renew your faith in the power of enduring love.

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When it all becomes real

Last spring, I signed my first novel-length contract with Love Inspired. Soon after that, I had to dive into edits for them which was followed by more edits and reviews and more edits and reviews.

After that, there were months of waiting. Did they like it? Was this for real?

Then today an email fluttered into my inbox that stopped me dead in my tracks: My cover art!

That’s when it all became real. Soon, very soon, there will be a book in my hands with my name on it. Not a book I share with anyone else like I have in my prior publications–this one is all mine.

Many authors talk about either loving or hating their cover art. See, as an author you don’t get much say as to what will be on your cover. I have author friends who have covers with characters on them that have the wrong hair and eye color. Wrong age. Or a scene that never occurs in the book.

So my hand hovered over the mouse. Should I look at my cover? Um, yes, absolutely!

And……I’m in love. It’s beautiful. The art department at Love Inspired hit this design out of the ball park! The house is exactly as I imagined down to the steps going up to the porch and the wide porch with chairs on the deck. Uncut grass in the fields and horses (the right color horses mind you!) in the pasture. The Bitterroot Mountians rising in the background are stunning and hopeful. And the colors take my breath away. I want to move there…today. That, and I want to know how those artists got into my head?!

So here it is friends. The cover we’ve been dreaming about since last April.

What do you think???

Here’s the awesome backcover copy that the team at Love Inspired wrote:

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“I made a promise to protect you.”

But pregnant Ali Silver’s husband broke his vow and walked away from her. After being injured in combat, Jericho has finally come home to Bitterroot Valley to make peace with his father and regain Ali’s trust. But the single mom’s keeping secrets of her own. And someone’s killing off Ali’s cattle and sabotaging her horse therapy business. Jericho will do whatever it takes to protect his wife and be a real father to his son. Because when it comes to love and second chances, he’s one determined cowboy.

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If that wasn’t enough, I have even more exciting news. Home for Good is now up on Amazon.com for preorder! You can go to Amazon and type in Jessica Keller and it’s the first option that pops up. That or you can click here and you’ll go right to it!

Thank you everyone for celebrating with me! This is truly an amazing day.

The Perfect Way to Kill a Character – why authors do it

Warning: This post includes spoilers for Harry Potter, Divergent, Twilight, and Hunger Games. Read at your own story-spoiling risks.

You’re reading a book. It’s three in the morning, you should be sleeping, but you just can’t stop turning the page. The characters have come to live for you. You’re invested in your story.

Then it happens…

That horrible author kills one of your favorite characters. Oh the humanity of it! You want to toss the book across the room. In fact, if the author was right there, you’d give them a piece of your mine. Tell them what that should have written. Ask them why.

Well, because we’re mean, heartless people who like to torture our readers.

Um, that’s absolutely a lie.

Authors kill characters because they have to. Believe me; it pains us more than it pains you. We created that character. We know them in a way that’s never shown on the page. But sometimes a death has to occur. There comes a point when a stubborn main character needs to lose someone important to them in order to cause change, or we the readers need to grasp how dangerous the world the main character exists in truly is.

J.K. Rowling is masterful at this. Many of the most beloved side characters in the Harry Potter trilogy perish. Why? Because we needed proof that Voldemort really was dangerous. We (the readers) had to believe that if the Death Eaters won, that the world would be left in a terrible situation and there would be a lot of suffering. Characters we loved had to die so we could see that the danger was very real and know the stakes that Harry and the D.A. were up against. Fred Weasley, Cedric Diggory, Dumbeldore, Lupin, Snape, Hedwig, Dobby, Mad-Eye, and Tonks had to die. More than that, Rowling handled all their deaths with respect. We felt each one and mourned them. In the end, we understood.

Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series, also handles killing her characters well. At the end of Divergent Tris loses both her parents and has to kill her friend, Will. This had to happen for us to believe that Tris was in grave danger carrying out her mission. Even more, these deaths had to happen to prepare her to be willing to sacrifice herself to save Four. We wouldn’t have believed the power of the mind control if all these deaths hadn’t happened.

Twilight is an excellent example of a story that failed because it needed death. Meyer’s did her story a disservice when she decided she was too attached to her characters to put them in any real danger. The fourth book of the Twilight series is nothing short of jumping the shark for this very reason. The Vulturi become a laughable group of enemies. Sure they kill humans, but…um…isn’t that pretty normal for a vampire? I mean, that doesn’t make them scary. You can repeat one hundred and five times in a story how powerful an enemy is, but when the enemy appears and they can’t do anything to hurt the good guys, well, you’ve just lost the story. Not to mention wasted 400 pages worth of my time. The only way the story could have been redeemed at that point would have been for a Cullen to die. But Meyer’s couldn’t do it. She loved her characters more than her story, and it showed.

On the other hand, sometimes authors can overdo their point when it comes to using death to show how dangerous the story world is. The Hunger Games trilogy is a good example of this. Sure, in book one, Rue had to die. There was no other way. We mourned her. It caused a change for the reader and for Katniss. But by the time we get to book three, Collins’s use of death was gratuitous at best. Kill Finnick? Why? We already knew the terror of The Capitol. It served no point to kill him and it wasn’t done in a manner that respected the impact of that character. Collins allowed her theme to railroad her characters, which is unforgiveable. My friend Amanda Stevens had an awesome post about The Hunger Games that I highly recommend.

Sidenote…yes…I cried when Dobby died.

A Moment in Nerdvana

“I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different.”   -Four, from Divergent

Yesterday I got to meet Veronica Roth at a book signing. She’s the New York Times bestselling author of the Divergent series. Like me, Veronica grew up in the Chicago suburbs and still lives in the area. I follow her blog like it’s my job.

                     okay, so the photo is bad, but Veronica is the one on the far right.

Have I mentioned that she’s only twenty-four?

Veronica stayed and answered questions in front of a crowd of hundreds. Allowing everyone time to visit with her as she personalized all our books and gave us each a copy of an alternative beginning to Insurgent (the Divergent series).

Even crazier than how cool Veronica is, was listening in on the conversation of teens in the audience. There were teenage readers crying when they met Veronica. One teen behind me in line kept telling her friend how the Divergent series has changed her life. And I just kept thinking THIS is why I want to write YA. Not to try to become a NY Times bestseller, but to touch lives like that.

Books — words — have power.

More than just the authors out there need to take heed. The words we speak. The conversations we engage in. Those grumbling statuses on Facebook. All have power, one way or the other.

Many who shook their heads at Twilight and Hunger Games will probably lump Divergent with them. I mean, let’s face it, the books have kids killing kids. Adults being mean. War. Suicide.

But know what? The teen in line behind me was right. These books do have the power to change lives for the good. I’m going to share some quotes from Divergent here as examples of the amazing truth tucked in the pages of ficiton:

  •  “We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”
  •  “A brave man acknowledges the strength of others.”
  • “There is power in self-sacrifice.”
  • “Human beings as a whole cannot be good for long before the bad creeps back in and poisons us again.”
  • “Human reason can excuse any evil; that is why it’s so important that we don’t rely on it.”
  • “It isn’t right to wish pain on other people just because they hurt me first.”
  • “I never thought I would need bravery in the small moments of my life. I do.”
  • “It’s not about being fearless, it’s about acting in spite of fear”

Does one of these quotes really strike you? Have you ever read a fiction book that challenged your way of thinking or helped form your beliefs? Can you share a quote that as stuck with you? Why do you think a made-up story can effect us this way?

Girl Talk with JoAnn Durgin

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JoAnn Durgin is one of those people who just make you smile. Her website is full of peeking armadillos, fun facts, and encouragement. I had the joy of interviewing JoAnn, and we bonded over our mutual love of Donny Osmond (can someone play the song Puppy Love?).  JoAnn is going to GIVE A BOOK AWAY to one lucky person who leaves a comment on this post today before midnight!! So think of some more questions to ask her, and help me make her feel welcome! And don’t miss her drool-worthy recipe at the bottom.

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JoAnn, thank you so much for appearing on the blog today. I know you want to share a recipe with us so I’ll keep the questions short!

Jess: I enjoy the fun facts about you on your website so much. Can you share another unique thing about JoAnn Durgin that maybe even your die-hard fans won’t even know?

First of all, thank you for saying die-hard fans. As a new author, not much more is thrilling than holding your book in your hands for the first time and then receiving “fan” mail. I cherish hearing from my readers. Okay, here’s a few more “unique” things: I sleep with a bed rest behind me and five pillows. Now that you understand I’m a weird, eccentric writer type, I also go to the movie theatre sometimes for the sole purpose of buying a big old tub of popcorn—with layered butter. Don’t worry, my heart is just fine! I’ve always been rather starstruck. Showing my age here, but I can say I saw Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton together on the Broadway stage—close enough to be spit on by Richard! I’ve been almost pickpocketed in London, went on an honest-to-goodness date with a handsome Italian while in Rome, been invited to Easter lunch with Conway Twitty, and it goes on and on. I’ve been so blessed—I’ve seen a lot, met some fabulous people, experienced life to the fullest with my wonderful husband, Jim, and our three kids, and oh, I have all kinds of fun things to know and tell. Stay tuned.

Jess: Your debut novel Awakening tells the story of Sam and Lexa as they rebuild homes together in Texas. Can you tell us a little more about their journey and why it’s so dear to your heart?

I love to point out that it’s Sam Lewis and Lexa Clarke; it’s a contemporary romantic adventure, after all. Awakening is truly the book of my heart, especially because it’s loosely-based on my love story with Jim. It’s more the characters are based on our personalities. When Lexa talks with such love about her Nana, that is my grandmother. Lexa’s father is somewhat based on my dad, too; while he could be gruff and unemotional, I knew he loved me, and he was fiercely protective. Sam and Lexa come from different family backgrounds and perspectives in faith. She wants to add meaning to her life, and Sam is a summer director for TeamWork Missions, a Christian organization. My tagline for the book says it all: A God-fearing man, a God-seeking woman. For Sam Lewis and Lexa Clarke, it’s a combustible combination. These two share a strong, fiery chemistry. One of my favorite things is to write witty, back-and-forth banter similar to the classic Hepburn and Tracy movies, and I know the humor is a big reason readers are responding to my books in such a positive way.

Jess: On your website in the summary of your second book, Second Time Around, you say that the characters learn that surrendering all at the throne of grace doesn’t mean failure. What a powerful statement. Can you explain what you mean by that?

My hero, Marc Thompson’s greatest fear is failure. The son of an NBA legend, he’s a self-made, powerful man, but felt like he never measured up in the eyes of his father. Marc is passionate in his quest to recapture his wife’s memories and love after a terrible fall. They’ve only been married two months and to complicate matters, Natalie is pregnant. Failure isn’t an option for Marc. His efforts seem to be working until a big monkey wrench is thrown into the equation, rocking Natalie’s trust. Nothing seems to work, and it seems he’s pushing her further away. That’s where Sam and Lexa step in to help them, along with the TeamWork crew. Then, when it seems all might be lost, Marc has an epiphany—in order to keep Natalie, he has to be willing to give up the reins. He can’t do it on his own, and he needs to surrender all to the Lord. It’s not failure, it’s faith, and is the only way to regain everything he’s lost. It’s a powerful lesson, and a beautiful turning point in their story. This book has so many poignant, emotional, humorous and romantic moments.

Jess: You work as a full-time paralegal, part-time at a local arts theater, and have a family. And you write! Basically you’re kind of like superwoman, how do you do it all?

Something finally had to give when I became a published author, so I gave up the job at the theater. I stay in touch with my wonderful volunteer staff, some of whom are my biggest cheerleaders! I’ve always had a lot of energy, and I’m a night owl, which helps. I’m at my most creative at the wee hours of the morning. It also helps that I write very quickly; I wrote the original version of Awakening in less than two weeks, and Second Time Around in little more than a month. The entire series is written, just waiting to be edited…with another series right behind it, and a few stand-alone books. These stories just flow out of me, and I can honestly say they’re God-given and I’ve never suffered from writer’s block.

Jess: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned on your writing journey? Any advice you might offer to those unpublished writers out there trying to break into the business?

Two things made the difference for me: (1) write the point-of-view from the perspective of the character who has the most to lose—makes the writing much more compelling; and (2) join a writer’s organization, whether national, local or both. I learned so much, so fast by joining the American Christian Fiction Writers. I’m also the girl who didn’t take no for an answer. Pray, write the book of your heart, pray, spend quality time polishing it, pray, do your part to get it in front of agents or publishers, pray, and then see how the Lord can work!

Jess: Okay, girltalk. I saw you used to have a crush on Donny Osmond. I fell hard after seeing him in Joseph and the Amazing Dream Coat, what did it for you?

I’m the same age as Donny, and I appreciate how he’s had a fully-rounded career yet stayed true to his values and family. Okay, don’t laugh, but one of the best dreams of my life starred yours truly and Donny. I met him at summer camp, and we shared a tender little kiss under a tree. I think I was 13 at the time. Obviously, it was vivid for me to still remember it. I had his albums (both solo and with The Osmond Brothers). I actually did meet his younger brother, Jimmy, and their mother, Olive, in an ice cream parlor in Louisville once when I was their waitress. I worked there all of a week (that’s another thing–I am a horrible waitress!), and yet I waited on them. Go figure. I saw them in concert several times (in their white satin jumpsuit era). I loved it when Donny won Dancing with the Stars! Want to know something funny? I still have some of my old Fave and Tiger Beat magazines with Donny plastered on the covers. Those articles are hysterical!

Jess: You said that peaches have a tie-in to your book Awakening. Can you share a favorite recipe with us?

 Sam Lewis loves peaches. It’s mentioned in Awakening, but becomes much more apparent as the series progresses. If you read the section on my website, And the Man Said Peaches, you will see how the Lord used that specific word (peaches) in my life, and how significant it was on my journey to publication. Amazing.

Here’s a real favorite recipe in my family, and I’m sure Sam Lewis would absolutely love it: Peaches and Cream Pie

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 (3 ounce) package non-instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 (29 ounce) can sliced peaches, drained and syrup reserved
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease sides and bottom of a 10 inch deep-dish pie pan.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, mix together flour, salt, baking powder and pudding mix. Mix in butter, egg and milk. Beat for 2 minutes. Pour mixture into pie pan. Arrange the peach slices on top of the pudding mixture.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add 1/2 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons reserved peach syrup. Beat for 2 minutes. Spoon mixture over peaches to within 1 inch of pan edge. Mix together 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and sprinkle over top.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown. Chill before serving.

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JoAnn Durgin is the author of the popular contemporary romantic adventures, Awakening, and its follow-up, Second Time Around, published by Torn Veil Books. Her third book in the series, Twin Hearts, releases in March 2012. JoAnn, her husband, Jim, and their three children live in her native southern Indiana after living in TX, CA, PA and MA. She likes to say she’s “been around in the nicest sense of the word.” She’s a full-time wealth administration paralegal in a Louisville, Kentucky, law firm, and is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. Her books are available at every major online book retailer such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, both in paperback and electronic versions. Please visit her at http://www.joanndurgin.com/ or on Facebook.

Nano Wrimo

For the month of November, be warned. You might see us taking over the libraries, elbowing our way in historical societies, and hogging the big table at the coffee shop. Bear through it because it’ll only be for one month. After that we’ll slip back into the cracks and become the silent many again.

What on earth am I talking about?

Nano Wrimo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month and occurs every November. Writers from across the globe pledge to write every day and we report our word count by midnight. Our goal is to write no-less-than 50,000 words during the month of devotion.

This will be my first year participating, and while I’m excited, I’m also afraid that I may become a hermit. So if you don’t see or hear from me this month, rest assured, I’ll come back in full force in December.

And hopefully I’ll have a rough draft manuscript to show for it.