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December 12, 2013

A book by its cover

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , — jennifer @ 9:53 am

One of the most nerve-inducing moments of the writing life is when your editor tells you the book cover for the book you’ve been utterly consumed by for months, if not years, has been created, and not only that, the folks at the publishing house are all, each and every one of them, very, very, very excited about it and they hope you will be too.  (Translation:  We really hope you’re not going to cause a fuss and ask us to alter the design in any way.)


My latest novel, American Blonde, is due out July 29, 2014.  It’s the fourth volume of the Velva Jean series, but can also stand on its own.  This week, the book cover was released, and everyone at Penguin/Plume is very excited about it and they love it and hope I will too.

And I do.  Oh, how I do!  This is my seventh book cover, and it may well be my favorite.

A little description of the story:

A fearless and spirited pilot conquers Hollywood. Now can she survive movie stardom?

In 1945, Velva Jean Hart is a bona fide war heroine. After a newsreel films her triumphant return to America, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer promises to make her a star. As the renamed “Kit Rogers,” she navigates the movie sets, recording sessions, parties, staged romances, and occasional backstabbing that accompany her newfound fame. But when one of her best friends dies mysteriously and the most powerful studio in the world launches a cover-up, Velva Jean goes in search of the truth— risking her own life, as well as her heart, in the process.

Set during Hollywood’s Golden Age and peopled with a cast of unforgettable characters, American Blonde will mesmerize readers of The Chaperone as well as fans of the Velva Jean series.

(Pre-order your copy now!)

April 20, 2013

Things I couldn’t write without

As many of you know, I’m currently doing a very fast, very intense, very daunting, and very complete rewrite of the fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde (due out next year).

In this last stretch of the Book from Hell, as I’ve taken to calling it– otherwise known as That Damn Book– I’m making a list of the things that are helping me get to the end of the Worst Deadline I’ve Ever Known.

(Not including my computer and my imagination, of course. And my loved ones, who, I hope, will still love me once the book is completed.)

Thank you to:

  • My readers, who write me the most wonderful notes and emails, reminding me why I’m doing this in the first place
  • Robeks, which gives my weary brain sustenance
  • Scrivener, the greatest software for writers ever
  • My early morning walk/workout/girltime in the park with my friend Lisa Brucker (please watch her show, Ex-Wives of Rock!)
  • John Green, Melvin Burgess, and Raymond Chandler
  • Google
  • My fab intern, Laura Burdine, who, at lightning speed, can research everything from wire tapping in the 1940s to the Los Angeles streetcar system circa 1946 to the U.S. postal system in postwar America (not to mention her ability to help one brainstorm love triangles and ways in which to solve a murder)
  • The CW, Switched at Birth, and Adam-12, for good, fluffy fun
  • Newspaperarchive.com
  • My literary cats (a special shout out to Miss Lulu for being at my side throughout each long work day)
  • My copy of MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot, which I’ve practically worn to dust
  • My team of experts– private investigator, medical examiner, and toxicologist– who are patiently answering my endless questions
  • Daryl Dixon, the most inspiring badass I know (or wish I knew), and my hero (as well as pretend boyfriend)
  • Lululemon, maker of the most comfortable writing clothes on the planet
  • Briana Harley, who not only helps me with Velva Jean’s music, but is the very best resource for Velva Jean idea bouncing–  after all, she knows Velva Jean almost as well as I do
  • My bosu ball and elliptical machine, which are productive places to have a good book think
  • Netflix, which, without complaining, delivers 1940s-era movies to my door or directly to my TV
  • The Los Angeles Public Library
  • And Ryan Bingham, who is Butch Dawkins

I couldn’t do it without them.

Speaking of Ryan Bingham, here’s a video that I use for inspiration. It really could be Velva Jean’s friend Butch sitting on her granddaddy’s porch.

April 2, 2012

Let the writing begin…

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , — jennifer @ 9:30 am

I haven’t blogged for a week because, unfortunately, when something’s gotta give in my schedule, the blog is the first to go. I figure when it comes down to writing for my website or writing for Penguin, I will always choose the latter.

Last week was a mad scramble to get through some important research (not by any means the last of it, however) and do some last bit of outlining before I start writing book number seven. (I wish book number seven had a title so that I didn’t have to keep calling it book number seven, but until it does I’ll just refer to it as Velva Jean in Hollywood.) This weekend I took that outline– composed and arranged in a stack of virtual index cards through the writing program Scrivener— and presented it to my boyfriend. We sat on the sofa in our living room, surrounded by cats, and I told him the story from start to finish.

We did the same thing last year around this time when I was writing Becoming Clementine. I’m finding that nothing is more helpful, when you’re getting ready to write, than to tell someone you trust every single scene of the story. Some things don’t sound as strong or compelling or make as much sense when said aloud to an audience, and some sound even better so that you know you’re on the right track. He has questions or ideas, which lead to other ideas of your own, and before you know it you are reorganizing the puzzle pieces a bit until– oh yes– they seem to fit more naturally. You discard this and add that, and by the end of it you realize you’ve done a lot more good, solid work than you knew. As Louis said afterward, “You really know your story!”

Of course, it is fiction, which means things will change along the way. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “It’s like making a movie: All sorts of accidental things will happen after you’ve set up the cameras. So you get lucky. Something will happen at the edge of the set and perhaps you start to go with that; you get some footage of that. You come into it accidentally. You set the story in motion, and as you’re watching this thing begin, all these opportunities will show up.”

The important thing is to have a good, detailed idea of the first couple of chapters and know all the most crucial beats that follow. Inevitably the characters and story will veer from the path now and then, taking you places you don’t anticipate. But it’s good and necessary to have a road map.

So my road map is in place, even though the research will continue and the route will alter before I get to my destination. But now there are no excuses, no reasons to delay. The book is due in September and it’s time to draw the blinds and lock the doors and turn off the phone and start writing.

March 22, 2012

Becoming Clementine — the book trailer

One of the latest phenomenons in the writing world is the book trailer. These trailers are meant to do what movie previews do– alert an audience to an upcoming project and inspire them to see (or, in this case, read) it.

Five books into my career, I’d never had a trailer for any of my books. But for book number six, my publisher suggested that it would be a good thing to have. Which translates to: Jennifer becomes a filmmaker over night. (Although publishers love to promote them, the book trailer is almost always the author’s responsibility.)

Now, I do have an MFA from the American Film Institute, but even so, to produce any sort of mini movie in a week (my deadline) is a daunting task, especially when you are still continuing to work fulltime. For that week, I was producer, writer, director, prop master, continuity person, P.A., stylist, set designer, editor, researcher, rights coordinator, and actress. And my wonderful boyfriend– who taught himself Final Cut Pro as we went– was co-producer, co-director, co-editor, as well as cameraman, sound technician, sound mixer, and special effects man.

When we were finished making the trailer, I truly felt as if we deserved an Oscar simply because of the amount of time and effort that went into it. And so I give you my (abbreviated) Academy Awards acceptance speech: “I couldn’t have done it without my boyfriend. Period. But I also want to thank composer Michael Hoppé for his beautiful song ‘Tapestry,’ which was not only the soundtrack for the trailer, but the soundtrack for the actual writing of the book (the song I listened to again and again when I wanted to write the more poignant, heartfelt scenes). And I want to thank musician, friend, and Velva Jean fan Briana Harley for her oh-so haunting rendition of ‘Oh My Darling Clementine.’ She nailed it. There are others– my beloved and brilliant mother, my cats (thank you, Lulu, for allowing us to lock you away while we were filming so that you didn’t end up in every single scene), my stepmom for her savvy feedback, and all my friends and loved ones, who may not have held a boom or donned a blonde wig for this, but who helped out just the same…”

I could go on, but then my speech would be longer than the trailer itself.

Last week, our little movie debuted at Penguin’s Annual Sales Conference, and now, for the first time, we’re releasing it here.

Enjoy! And please comment! (And don’t forget to pre-order the book, which will be out September 25!)

March 6, 2012

The Reading Chair

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — jennifer @ 11:34 am

This week I’m working on the loose galleys of Becoming Clementine, which means reading the entire book at least once with a colored pencil by my side (I typically choose some shade of purple, but for this one I’ve decided to use green).

Even though this stage isn’t as grueling or intense as the editing/copy editing phase of book writing, it still means long hours pouring over the manuscript, trying to make sure every last word is in place.

In an earlier post, I talked about trying to find just the right reading chair for my office– something cushy and comfortable that would be a great place to sit for hours at a time.

After scouring the internet and visiting furniture store after furniture store, my boyfriend and I paid a visit to H.D. Buttercup, which is the largest furniture retailer in Los Angeles– 150,000 square feet. Its located inside the historic Helms Bakery Building, built in 1931 (ancient by L.A. standards), which once housed the famous family-owned and operated Helms Bakery. Back in the days when the bakery was still a bakery, the air of Culver City– including nearby star factory MGM– was filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread.

My father loved shopping, but I do not. I made it through that store in record time, flinging myself into every chair until I found The One. I’m almost always one to impulse buy, as my mother calls it (she’s sometimes like me in this way), but my boyfriend believes in comparison shopping, so even after I saw the chair and fell in love, we continued testing others.

Of course I bought it in the end, now knowing more than ever that I’d gotten the very best one, and it currently sits in my office covered in cats. Every single time I get up to refill my water or check email, another cat seems to appear and my place is once again taken.

But when I can get in it, the new reading chair is the perfect place to read galleys, especially now that I’m learning to juggle at least one lap kitty with the book pages, my green pencil, my eraser, and my pencil sharpener.

The galleys will Fedex their way back to Penguin on Friday, and then I will turn back to Velva Jean’s Hollywood adventure. At that point I’ll be back at my desk, which means the cats will almost certainly become bored by the chair and find other places to nap.

February 16, 2012

Becoming Clementine — the cover revealed!

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , — jennifer @ 2:11 pm

One of the most terrifying moments in a writer’s life is the moment her editor says, “We have a mock-up of the cover for your new book, which we’ll be sending you soon.”

The reason this is so terrifying is that you never know what they’re going to send you. It could be magnificent. Or it could be decidedly unmagnificent. In my thirteen years as an author and in my six books, I’ve been very lucky to work with publishing houses that have allowed me input into my covers. I try not to abuse that much-appreciated power, but I never hesitate in speaking up if I don’t like something or if I feel it’s not reflective of my story.

In the case of Becoming Clementine, I sent my editor, at her request, images I liked for the cover as well as pictures of other covers that I felt were similar in mood and tone to what I was imagining. These were forwarded to the art department, I returned to my work and, a few weeks later, my editor emailed to let me know she had overnighted the cover to me. Usually I receive the mock-up by email, so immediately something seemed Bigger and More Important about this one. Which meant I barely slept for the twenty-four-hour period before it arrived.

My heart literally started beating like the proverbial drum as I opened the package. Would I love it? Would I hate it? Would I be somewhere in between?

I reached my hand into the envelope and pulled out the mock-up (the same size as the actual book) and there it was– bolder and moodier than the other Velva Jean covers. More serious. More glamorous. And perfectly capturing the essence of the book. For Learns to Drive and Learns to Fly, I was adamant that we not show the readers Velva Jean’s face. I wanted them to be able to envision her for themselves without imposing an image on their imaginations. Here, as you’ll see, her face is front and center. But she’s perfect.

I love it, and I hope you will too.

So, without further ado, you can see the cover here and visit the brand new Becoming Clementine page here.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

January 12, 2012

Behind the Book — The Seven Things I Need When Writing

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , — jennifer @ 7:14 pm

As I’m writing this next book (and any book), there are several things essential to my creative welfare. In no particular order, they are:

1) Daily exercise. If possible I exercise as many days as I write, which, right now, is five, sometimes six. I do it in the morning after breakfast, before I begin my work, so that my head is clear and energized. If I miss a day for any reason (and sometimes the day becomes so busy that you just can’t break away), I feel mentally as well as physically sluggish, and my work can suffer.

2) A good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, this can be challenging because we have three cats, two of whom insist on sleeping with us every night, and one of whom insists on tapping me awake each morning (the time varies– sometimes I get to sleep till 7:00 am, sometimes she wants me up at 2:00, 3:00, 4:00…). Still, I do my best.

3) A healthy diet. As much as—- God knows—- I appreciate junk food (and I do) (oh, I do), it doesn’t fuel the brain like healthier food. Which doesn’t mean, of course, that I turn my nose up at the occasional cookie or pizza or, my favorite of all, movie popcorn. At times, you find yourself craving these (particularly, it seems, when you are writing about people on Arctic expeditions who are eating nothing but seal blubber), and I think you need to indulge yourself now and then.

4) Loved ones. With less time each day to socialize, I somehow become closer to my closest and most beloved family and friends (this includes kitties, of course) during a hectic schedule. I reach out to them more and on a deeper level because it is so necessary to feel connected to people in that way when you are going through such a strenuous period (such as researching and brainstorming and outlining one book while editing and paying all sorts of attention to another that’s getting ready for production). They help bolster you, and they make you laugh, and they give you nice breaks on the phone or on walks or on Creative Days when you need them.

5) Boundaries. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do, and don’t let anyone guilt you into making plans if it’s not good for you. When you know you must get up and exercise every day, followed by seven or eight or ten or twelve hours of intense researching/plotting/outlining/writing, the last thing you might want to do is feel obligated somewhere else. Case in point, I once signed up for a flamenco class when I was working on my second book, Ada Blackjack, and at first I loved it. But as I got deeper into my book, I began to resent that one morning a week when I knew I had to show up for class. Even though I enjoyed myself when I got there, I would begin on Thursday to dread that Saturday class because I knew I was Obligated to Go There.

6) The ability to ignore emails. Feel free to let them sit in your inbox or answer them with one sentence. Emails are one of the most dangerous things for a writer because 1, you are there at your desk all day where they are readily accessible, and 2, if you answer them, you must write, which means you use up some of your precious, invaluable writing energy that could and should be going toward your project. As Washington Irving once said, “I sometimes think one of the great blessings we shall enjoy in heaven, will be to receive letters by every post and never be obliged to reply to them.” (Which doesn’t mean that I don’t love reading emails or wish I could answer them more thoughtfully.) (In other words, please do not stop writing to me, even if I am one of the world’s worst correspondents!)

7) Guilty pleasures. If you don’t have any, for God’s sake get yourself some. And if you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, stay tuned here for a future installment. Guilty pleasures—- or needful distractions—- are so vitally important to any writer that they deserve an entire post to themselves.