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Upcoming Books, News, and Pizza

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Small-Town Girl

A little over a week ago I was given the final cover art for my next Love InspirSmall-Town Girl Fronted release! Isn’t is gorgeous? I love that Lake Michigan got a place of honor on the cover. Small-Town Girl releases in August (although Amazon says it’ll send it your way in by mid-July!).

Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

Goose Harbor, Michigan, is the perfect place for Kendall Mayes to start over and open her date-planning business. When she encounters handsome loner Brice Daniels, who is struggling to keep the shipping business he runs going, she sees an opportunity. A weekly sunset cruise catering to couples and tourists will keep their dealings strictly business. Kendall has had enough of failed romances, and Brice is too burned by love to give it another chance. But despite their reservations, they soon let down their walls. Yet when Kendall’s silent business partner is revealed to be Brice’s longtime enemy, staying together might be next to impossible.

The Ranger’s Texas Proposal

Last year I got a call from my editor asking if I had any interest in writing a book in a series of six books with five other authors. I said yes immediately before I realized that five of the six authors writing for this series all had “best-seller” attached to their name. Guess who was the odd man out? Yup. Talk about intimidating! But the other authors were a dream to work with and I learned so much from them.

These books will release in back-to-back months for six months and mine is the second book (coming out in November). The difference in writing The Ranger’s Texas Proposal (as opposed to my Goose Harbor books) is that my publishing house came up with the general plot and character sketches and then I wrote and fleshed it out. I *loved* the process and I adore the story that came out of all of this. Texas Ranger Heath Grayson really worked his way into my heart and his struggles hit me hard (not ashamed to admit there was a lot of at-my-desk-crying happening while writing this one). I’ve been told by my publishing house that the story got three editors crying at their desks over the book/characters – so that’s fun! I’ve never done that before.

I don’t have a cover yet, but I will share it the second I do. However, the preorder is up on Amazon and here’s the blurb:

When Texas Ranger Heath Grayson agrees to investigate thefts at the boys ranch, he’s also hoping to solve a decades-old murder case: his father’s. Getting involved with pretty, pregnant widow and boys ranch volunteer Josie Markham is not on Heath’s agenda. But the more time he spends with Josie, the harder it is to ignore their growing attraction. The somber ranger is convinced a wife and child are not in his future. But with a little help from the boys at the ranch, he may just realize a family is what he needs most of all.

More Goose Harbor

The fifth book in the Goose Harbor series has a name and release date: Apple Orchard Bride is Jenna and Toby’s story (we’ve meet Jenna in many of the other books) and it’ll hit stores January 2017.

I’m currently writing the sixth book in the series RIGHT NOW! And there are solid plans for more Goose Harbor books after that.

More News

I’ve been getting a lot of emails and PMs asking when to expect the final TimeShifters book. I’m always so appreciative when people reach out to me – especially about Gabby and Michael. Those two and the TimeShifters series are all very close to my heart and I think about them often. I would love to continue their story, but at present I’m contracted to write several other books for my publisher and can’t devote enough time to my independent projects. Book three (Reaching Tomorrow) is completely plotted – I just need to find a gap of time to write it in. Like my Amazon Author Page or follow this blog or subscribe to my newsletter for updates on when Reaching Tomorrow will become available.

Last but not least I’m sitting on some very exciting news about a few projects that I’m working on with a team of other authors that amounts to at least two more releases before the end of 2016. I can’t share the details yet … but stay tuned!

I’m sorry there was no pizza in this post. I just felt like the title needed a little something else and pizza did it.

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So, You Want to be a Writer?

I get a lot of emails and messages asking the same sort of questions:
How do I write a book?
I’ve written a book…what do I do next?
How do I get published?
Can you help me get published?


Before I chime in, let’s ask the experts:

There are TONS of blogs and help online-you just have to be willing to dig and search for them.


 UntitledMy Advice (for what it’s worth)
The best way to become a better writer is to writer more. I know that sounds too simplistic, but writing isn’t magical. It’s like anything else worth achieving. If you want to be published it’s going to take dedication of time/energy, sacrifice, and a lot of hard work. Many people believe writing novels is an easy task (just sit down and dream at the keyboard, right?) but even during the best times, its draining and lonely and takes countless hours at a computer.

10 Things I would say to anyone dreaming of publishing a book

  1. Read. A lot. Both fiction and non-fiction. And read as many books on the craft of writing as you can.
  2. Find people who will give you honest feedback, emphasis on honest. You’re not looking for people who will tell you everything you write is amazing because that won’t help you improve. Find people who A) are well-read in the genre you’re writing in and/or, B) are writers who are a step or two ahead of you on the publishing journey who can give you feedback. Join critique groups (that are easily found online on sites like meetup.com or through writer’s organizations).
  3. Join a professional writer’s organization and attend classes or conferences if you can. Nothing compares to being completely surrounded by other writers and brainstorming together. Google writer’s organizations and find one that fits the type of author you want to be (I’d list links, but there are so many. Google what you’re interested in: Christian fiction writers, Science Fiction authors, groups for indie writers, ext.).
  4. If you start submitting to Publishing Houses or Literary Agents, check them first through a site like Preditors & Editors. Signing a contract with the wrong place/person can be a million times more heartbreaking than never being published at all.
  5. Be professional. I can’t stress that enough. If you want to be a published author then your social interactions are now part of your career resume. So don’t rant or pick on people. Don’t post photos or links that might give someone a bad impression of you. And don’t use your social media statuses to go on-and-on about your political opinions or anything that might make future readers/publishers/agents cringe. You are now always on a job interview. Always. Remember that. Also, when drafting correspondence to editors, published authors, and agents write as a professional. Don’t shoot off an email like you’re sending it to your BFF. Study how each type of letter should be worded, for example, here’s how a proper query letter should read.
  6. Be brave. Enter writing contests. Send your shorter works to magazines or local newspapers. Volunteer for your school newspaper or offer to write articles for your church newsletter. Use every chance to build your writing resume. I had 100+ magazine and newspaper articles and contest wins under my belt before I ever pitched a manuscript to an editor. When I did, they took me seriously because I had already done the hard work of establishing myself as a trusted freelance writer.
  7. Cultivate creativity. What inspires you? If it’s nature, then carve out time every week to spend walking local nature trails so you can pour that into your writing. Watch movies that make you think. Listen to different types of music. Make time for creative play to spark your imagination. Creativity is your most important muscle from here on out. Don’t neglect it.
  8. Don’t rush things. It’s far better to take a few more months polishing your first manuscript and getting feedback on it before putting your baby into the hands of publishers/agents/readers for consideration, then handing it over before it’s ready. You often have only one shot – make it your best.
  9. Rejection hurts. But if this is the industry you want to be a part of, then it’s something you must learn to be comfortable with. Even after the book is published you’ll still face rejection (from critics, that one star review on Amazon, or that reader who keeps sending you hate-tweets). In the beginning, allow yourself to go through all of the emotions and eat ice-cream for a day – but only a day. The next day brush yourself off and move on. Rejection can be something that ruins you or challenges you to do better. If you always choose the second then you’ll do well in the publishing industry.
  10. Get a comfortable chair (or invest in a treadmill desk). Seriously. Your butt needs to spend A LOT of time there. Many say the hardest thing you’ll encounter as a writer is your chair and they’re right. It takes a lot of dedication to put in the hours and often means missing out on time with family and friends or other favorite activities.
  11. Yes. I cheated and added one more (I never claimed to be good at math), but this is the most important part of the equation: Dream Big. Seriously. You can do this.
TWEETABLES

The Makings of a Villain

A couple weekends ago Handsome and I went on a date to see Skyfall, the newest James Bond movie. What struck me—besides how gorgeous Daniel Craig is, how amazing the movie was, or mesmerized by the gun fights I became—was how brilliantly well-done the bad guy, Silva, was.

Which got me to thinking, when writing…what makes a really great villain? You know me well enough by now to guess…I went and made a list 😉

1)       Do not make them cartoonish.

Twisting their mustache and cackling whenever things go according to plan is not allowed. Evil for the sake of evil is incredibly difficult to write without the character becoming a cardboard cutout. It’s far more chilling to make an evil character that has actions and behaves in a way that a typical person would react given the right set of circumstances and a hard enough push. Think about it, what’s more scary: some pure evil abstract character who is trying his hand at world domination, or the Jeffrey Dohlmer-type who just walked past you in the grocery store?

2)      Play on real/current fears.

Why did the Joker in The Dark Knight chill us to the bone? Because even though Gotham is fake, it felt like we we’re watching a post-9/11 world much like our own.

3)      Make your villain intelligent and challenging.

I’m sorry, but a stupid and easily overcome villain just means that your hero was equally stupid (as if he couldn’t handle anything harder). Craft a character that makes the reader think there is no hope for the hero. When a hero is forced to go above and beyond to overcome a villain it makes your hero more credible in the end and his journey worthwhile. Along the same lines, give your villain interesting and meaningful things to say. Make them both compelling and convincing.

4)      Give them qualities that are sympathetic.

The best villains are the ones we as readers, despite everything, feel a connection with. Remember, no person is all good or all evil. Just as much as your hero should have flaws, your villain should have some admirable qualities. Does your villain, like President Snow from the Hunger Games, enjoy cultivating roses? Or does he provide care for his sickly sister? Rescues abandoned pug puppies? Possibly he’s like Darth Vader and the love of his children holds him back in the end. Give the villain some secret like this that the hero can discover—then you can explore if your hero is the type of person to use the villain’s vulnerability as leverage or is he too honorable for that.

5)      The villain should have sufficient motivation.

The villain wants something, or needs something to occur, and they have a belief that what they are doing is necessary in order to accomplish their goal. I once heard the saying, “Everyone is a hero of their own story” and that thought has stuck with me. See, no one views themselves as the villain.

Not even your bad guy, no, your villain thinks he’s the good guy!

Remember that as you write. In his head he has formed justification for why he does what he does. And these motivations must come across on the pages. As a reader I must be able to process that maybe I would have chosen a different path, but I understand why the villain  is the way he is and feels the need to take the actions he does.

If you master these five, then you’ll have one excellent and compelling villain. After that, you can play around adding deeper layers. Think Darth Vader (in the original trilogy) his character arc serves as a lesson for what will happen to Luke if he doesn’t get his act together. Or, the musical and book Wicked serves as an excellent example of seeing your villain in a different light. Ask yourself while writing, if given different circumstances to view them through, would my villain still be a villain?

Who is your favorite (or the best) villain in a movie or a book? What makes them stick with you? Did I miss an ingredient to a good villain? What would you add to the list?

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.

Where have all the writers gone?

Do you have a writer in your life? Have they suddenly gone missing? Not answering calls?

Don’t worry. They’ll resurface in December.

Every November, writers across the nation join together for Nano Wrimo: National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write an entire manuscript in just the month of November…an almost impossible task, and yet people do it every year. AND go on to get these manuscripts published!

So if you see a ground of people sitting at a table together at the library or at your local coffee shop, all typing furiously away on their laptops, it’s a good guess that they are writers at a Nano Wrimo write-in event. The organization, My Book Therapy, hosts their own Nano Wrimo complete with awards.

Should you have a writer in your life there are a couple ways to help them this month:

  1. Let them go into their writing caves without guilt. It’s one month. So if the dishes don’t get done that day so that the writer in your life can get out 7,000 words that day, so be it.
  2. Encourage them! Let them know you support their writing and that you’re willing to help them brainstorm or listen to them hatch out their plots.
  3. Send them something to fortify them. Many writers end up skipping meals and sleep during Nano Wrimo, so dropping off some chocolate or pushing a sandwich our way is much appreciated.

And, no, I’m not formally participating in Nano Wrimo this year. I don’t do well when I have to race others to get to a certain word count. It’s just not how my mind works. One of the rules with Nano Wrimo is to turn off your “inner-editor,” and that’s just not possible for how I write. Not editing as I go actually slows me down big time.

I’m not participating, but I’m still going to be keeping my nose to the grind. I have a manuscript to rewrite and a whole new manuscript to start.

Pressing on! And accepting chocolate…

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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.

Five Keys to an Effective Critique Group

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Finding a good critique group can be as difficult as finding that elusive pair of perfect-fitting jeans. Don’t commit to a group too soon. Make certain to find a good fit. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1)      Find People Whose Writing You Enjoy

Make certain that you enjoy the writing style of the people you are committing to critique. I’ve been in groups before where I wasn’t excited about a particular writer’s voice (meaning the sound of their writing) or the content of their manuscript.  Know what happened every week? I’d wait until an hour before group and force myself to go through their submissions. Ouch. Not so great of me. They deserved more attention, and they deserved someone who was thrilled with what they were working on.  Critiquing shouldn’t be a chore. You should look forward to your group members’ next installments.

The group I’m in now is a perfect for me. When I see a new email from another member I skip every other message waiting for me and open up their note because I’m so excited to get their next submission. I LOVE reading through their pieces and rejoice at the opportunity to help them make said pieces stronger.

You don’t have to find people who write the same as you. Within my critique group we have a suspense writer, a spec writer, a YA writer, and a romance writer. Some of us write historicals, some write contemporaries, and some write in the future.  It works because we all respect each other’s writing.

2)      Find People Who Like Your Writing Voice

Each one of us writes in a way that is unlike anyone else. This is your writing voice. We’re not meant to sound like another author, in fact, that’s boring and probably won’t sell. The problem is many novice writers kill each other’s voices. They innocently believe they are helping that author by cutting out all the things that make that author unique. They tell them to stick to rules, or point out when a writer is doing something “not right.”

Find people who enjoy your writing style and who are going to make your voice stronger. Don’t stick with critique partners who strip your piece of its voice. If after their changes, your piece reads like just about anyone walking down Main Street could have written it, then dump that critique partner quick! Your uniqueness and voice is what draws a readership. That’s the thing that’ll catch an agent or an editor’s eye. Find people who can critique YOUR voice.

3)      Find People Who Know What They Are Talking About

But wait, Jessica – I’m an unpublished author and I only know other unpublished authors. Do you mean I have to befriend J.K. Rowling and see if she’ll critique my stuff? No, absolutely not. Although, sending her homemade cookies couldn’t hurt. In all seriousness, you don’t need to find accomplished writers to find effective critique partners. But you do need people who are knowledgable.

Case in point, I use to belong to a group of wonderful writers. Within the group I was the only fiction writer and they all wrote non-fiction. We all had encouraging things to say about each other’s writing, but we couldn’t truly critique.

Find people who are actively learning about the publishing industry and niche that you are writing within/for. Someone who wants to write for the ABA market will have different things to say than someone who wants to write CBA. A writer’s conference is an excellent place to meet critique group members (that’s where I found mine!).  The other members should be just as motivated as you are to keep up on industry standards and trends. They need to be people whose opinions and advice you’ll trust and respect.

4)      Choose A Manageable Number

Focus on your work load when making a choice of what type of group to join. A group with ten people might sound tempting (I mean, nine people giving feedback!), but remember that means nine people’s stuff you have to critique constantly. Do you have that sort of time? I don’t. My group has four people (including me). We each get one week a month to submit 5000 words, the other three members critique before Saturday each week. When there are other circumstances (looming deadlines and whatnot) we send a call-out for help and one or more other members will step up and help critique full manuscripts  or larger portions as needed. This model works well for us. We can all focus on our own writing, knowing that each week our responsibility is manageable (20 pages a week).

5)      Find People Who Have Different Strengths/Weaknesses Than You

Before you commit to a critique group, sit down and be honest with yourself. What are your writing strengths? What are your weaknesses?  Discuss these things with potential critique partners. Find people who have strengths that will improve your writing and weaknesses that you can help them with.

Know what? I’m terrible at grammar and the mechanics of writing. Embarrassingly so. But I can craft a plot that’ll keep readers guessing and can make-up characters that leap right off the page. I’m also strong at sensory details and describing things in unique ways. If I found critique partners who needed grammar help, what good would I be to them? It would be a waste of time.

When all is said and done, a critique group can be a huge encouragement, or just a lot of extra work. It all depends on who is in your group and what your goals are.

Write on -Jess