Everything Books
Writing and reading and books, books, books (and anything that might relate)

September 27, 2012

The United States of Jennifer

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — jennifer @ 11:29 pm

On September 15, I handed in the manuscript for the fourth book in my Velva Jean series (Velva Jean Learns to Drive, Velva Jean Learns to Fly). On Tuesday (Sept. 25) the third book in that series was released: Becoming Clementine.

I have now crawled out from behind my desk, Gollum-like– shrunken, blinking and shuffling into the sunlight– to get ready for the publicity phase of book three. I am trading my yoga pants, yoga tank, and flip-flops for pencil skirts, red lipstick, one very Charlie’s Angels-esque black pantsuit, and suede pumps, and heading out into the world to promote Becoming Clementine. Being an author is much like being Sybil, that famous possessor of multiple personalities. At various times throughout the process of working on a book, a writer needs many different sides.

You need to have a vivid imagination, able to conjure ideas and characters often out of thin air. You need to enjoy detective work and have the patience and determination to come at your research from all angles and track down just what you’re looking for. You need to like being alone, willing and able to happily, diligently spend month after month after month hermited away by yourself as you write and edit your book. You need to have the passion and ferocity of purpose to be at your desk for all that time and see your project through, no matter what– in spite of weariness and struggle and writer’s block and life. You need to be sensitive and observant to draw real, breathing characters. You need to be a critic, able to judge what you’ve written impartially and openly. You need to be analytical and impartial so that you can ruthlessly take your words apart and put them back together again.

You need to be outgoing and at ease in the spotlight, talking to nice folks who want to ask you questions and discuss your work and host you for book events, meeting readers, signing books, doing panels and speeches and book clubs and readings. You need to be tough and resilient to read and hear what people will say about your book– this book you’ve been pouring over and bleeding into and sacrificing everything for. (As my mother says, “To be a writer, you need to have the soul of an angel and the hide of an armadillo.”) You need to have enough stamina and fortitude to come up with an idea and do it all over again.

Book four will boomerang back to me sometime in the fall with my editor’s changes/notes/edits/suggestions/cuts, but for now it’s all about Becoming Clementine. It’s that time in a book’s life when I’m making the rounds, doing interviews, gathering reviews, answering questions, going on tour, etc. I love this part of it, even though it also carries its own degree of stress: reviews, feedback, sales. But I’m planning to enjoy it. After all, soon enough it will be time to pull on the yoga pants and retreat into the cave once again.

January 17, 2012

Behind the Book — Tangents

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , — jennifer @ 7:37 pm

I have always wanted to be a private detective, ever since the days I collected Charlie’s Angels cards and pretended to be Kelly Garrett on the playground of Westview Elementary School. Once, a few years ago, I even looked into some part-time detecting work, in an attempt to realize that long-ago dream.

In my work as a writer, I do a lot of research. Actually, I get to do a lot of research. This is one of the things I most love about writing. It’s like being Kelly Garrett under cover on a case– on numerous cases– every single day. Set me down in front of the internet or in a library or archive surrounded by books and other materials, and I will lose myself for hours or, depending on the subject I’m dealing with, days.

The only problem is that I will almost always wander off on tangents. This is one of the amazing things about research. There’s so much to learn! Not just about the thing you’re specifically researching but about everything!

Today was a research day. Unlike yesterday, which was creatively frustrating, today was one of those days when I completely lost track of time and all sense of place and just disappeared into my story. For a while I stayed admirably on point and then, inevitably, I diverged. It’s much like going on a road trip and stopping at all the interesting and unexpected places along the route (which, incidentally, is the way I like to go road tripping).

The tangents always start the same way: “I’ll just check on this one thing, and then I’ll go right back to what I was doing…” And that one thing leads to another thing, which leads to another and another, until, before I know it, I’m about fifty or sixty miles (or more) off course.

Some of these tangents can lead to dead ends– they’re just ways to satisfy my curiosity on a random subject I’ve stumbled across. While others actually lead me to information I didn’t expect and didn’t know, but which I end up weaving into my books. These kinds of discoveries can influence and shape the plot and the story, but I just have to know when to get back on the road, back on track, and keep going.

Today I went on a small tangent which led to a a big discovery– an exciting plot addition! A huge plot addition! I always know when I’ve struck gold (as opposed to reaching that dead end) when I don’t want to stop reading about whatever it is or watching some sort of video footage of it or digging deeper and deeper till I uncover every last thing there is to know about it. When I’m this into an idea, it’s amazing how much I can learn about it in such a short time.

I’m dying to share my finds, but that would only spoil the story for you, so instead I’ll share a handful of great resources for the Charlie’s Angel in every writer:

National Geographic Map Machine
The Library of Congress
FBI Records
Info Please
Life Magazine
Real Military Videos
The Margaret Herrick Library
The Crime Library