Tuneful Inspiration

013015_1756_1.jpgAs a writer, I find ispiration in many places, especially in music. My debut novel “Pairing Off,” is sound-tracked by a diverse playlist that highlights the story’s humor and heart.

“The only baggage you can bring is all that you can’t leave behind…”

The haunting lyrics coming out of my car stereo one chilly October morning made me swerve across traffic and into a parking lot. Quickly, I grabbed a pen and paper to scribble down the words to a U2 song that perfectly captured the emotional struggle of my heroine, who travels with a suitcase containing reminders of a family tragedy.
“Pairing Off,” the story of a gutsy American figure skater heroine and a sexy Russian figure skater hero, has music woven into the fabric of the book.
Some songs play up the fun in a scene, such as when Carrie and Anton find common ground through a shared love for The Ramones, or jump into an ice-cold swimming pool, while Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” plays in the background. Songs also add emotional depth. When Carrie returns to the United States for a not-so-happy holiday visit, the ubiquitous Christmas music underscores her sadness.
Other songs, though never mentioned, reflect elements of the story. What soundtrack for a book set in Russia would be complete without the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.?” Death Cab for Cutie’s “You Are A Tourist,” has a great line about the many destinations we call home. U2’s “Walk On,” which I consider the book’s theme song, is about leaving behind our baggage of guilt and sadness, to find love and a place to belong, all central themes of “Pairing Off.”
As Carrie and Anton train, laugh, fight and fall in love, music—from Pachelbel’s Canon in D, to Peggy Lee’s “Fever;” Abba’s “Dancing Queen” to the Foo Fighters’ “Wheels,” – drives their story, bridges their differences, and unites their hearts.
This post was originally published at www.carinapress.com

Savoring the Moment

This morning, my publisher put my debut novel up for sale on Amazon and Barnes & Nobel.

As an author, 2014 has been full of firsts. The sale of “Pairing Off” (Red Hot Russians #1) to Carina Press in Feb. The first cover, which will be revealed soon. My first editor revision letter. I haven’t been as diligent in chronicling these moments as I’d  intended, but this is one I want to enjoy just a bit, before the reality of freelance work and Red Hot Russians books 2 and 3, still in various stages of completion, diverts my attention.
As I savor the thrill of placing the first order of my book, I can’t help but think back a few years and remember how I once gave up.
Around 2002, I realized that my first novel wasn’t going to sell and my second was hopelessly stalled. I was a busy mom and freelance writer. Becoming a published romance author had been a dream, but one that wasn’t going to materialize. It was something that happened to other people, but not me.
Twelve years later, it is me.
It took a great story idea (which wasn’t the book I sold, by the way), the encouragement of my wonderful husband, family and friends, a few answered prayers, a hard working agent and a lot of butt-in-the-chair time to make it happen, but it did and it can happen for you too.
Whether you’re slogging through your National Novel Writing Month project, diligently practicing your sport or art, or just showing up everyday and doing your best, your dream is waiting to happen.
So I’m going to put Pharrell Willliams’ “Happy” on one more time, and dance around a little more. Then I’ll log off and get back to work, and look forward to the next dream that’s yet to happen.

Pssst…Wanna Write A Novel?

By Leah Jones

By Leah Jones

Guess what? You can.
Ever read a book you loved and longed to create the same magic? Ever read a book you loathed, and knew you could write something so much better?
Of course you have. Get ready, your chance is coming up.
November is National Novel Writing Month, your opportunity to join thousands of other aspiring novelists in creating a 50,000-word first draft of the novel that’s kicking around inside you, dying to come out.
As with any project, it helps to have the right tools, and October is the perfect time to assemble your writer’s toolbox. Stuff like character ideas, plot outlines (or none), doing enough research to get you started, but not enough to bog you down.
On Wednesday, October 1, join me, Musa romantic suspense author Susan Rae, and independent mystery author Caryl Dierksen at the Crystal Lake Public Library for tips and strategies to develop your story and characters.
We start at 7 p.m., the program is free, but you must register in advance. Visit www.clpl.org and select the Calendar tab.
You’ve thought about it. Make this the year you do it. See you there!

When Characters Reveal Their Secrets

surprise-boycreativecFor readers, the big payoff moment is when a character reveals her deepest darkest secret. In a romance novel, it frequently occurs as the characters are about to become intimate for first time, whether that’s a kiss, or sex. It’s can also serve as a precursor to the pivotal plot shift when the character believes all is lost, the so-called dark moment.
Ever wondered where those secrets come from? I once thought that authors knew them going in, so that everything the character said or did right from the start, served as a lead-up to the Big Reveal.
Maybe some writers, but definitely not me.
As a beginning writer, I read books and articles in which the authors described how characters revealed things the author didn’t know. That always sounded completely bizarre. I mean, the author makes the character up, right?  How could the character reveal things to the author she didn’t already know?
Trust me, it happens. And it is very weird. And pretty cool.
In my career as an author, it’s happened twice involving a major character. Both times, it was during second draft.
My first draft is when I’m concerned with getting the story down on paper. It’s the plot draft, and the characters can sometimes feel like pieces on a chessboard, moving from one event to the next. Goals are usually clear, but motivations are sketchy.
It’s at second draft when I start to get under my characters’ skin and discover what makes them tick. It’s the time I really think about why they do the things they do to move the story forward.
Strangely, the answers are already built into the characters themselves.
Well duh, says the skeptic. You created them. Didn’t you know this stuff already? One might think so, but the truth is, I didn’t.
I often joke that the first draft of “Pairing Off” read like “Steel Magnolias Visit the USSR.” My heroine was a cute, sassy Southern belle figure skater who becomes a fish out water when she moves to Russia. It was full of broad characters, plenty of humor and heat, but no heart. A big problem was Carrie’s family. No matter what I did, I couldn’t find the right tone for these characters.
Then one night, while chopping veggies for dinner, I knew exactly what had happened to Carrie’s mother. With that knowledge, so many other plotting and character issues fell into place. Carrie’s mother’s story wasn’t cute, broad or funny. I hadn’t planned to introduce such dark elements into the book. But when I struggled to find the heart of the story, Carrie’s actions and character revealed it. Even her name took on eerie significance.
This morning, Vladimir Shustov, the hero of my work in progress, did the same thing, revealing an aspect of his character that’s been there all along, just below the surface. As with Carrie’s reveal, I’m giving Vlad’s some time to gel before I run with it, but after a day of mulling, it feels right. It’s dark and I didn’t plan for it. But Vlad told me his secret, and because he did, I feel him on a deeper level. He’s become a more intriguing character, and his love for Hannah, all that more moving.
For me, this is the magical, mystery tour of writing, when all those threads woven into the story begin to point in unexpected directions that oddly, make perfect sense. Stephen King compares the process to digging up fossils. You keep chipping away at the surface dirt as more of…something is revealed. You don’t always know what it is at first, but as you keep digging and looking at it from different angles, what’s there is amazing. And totally unexpected.

The business of writing

008Writing as a business enterprise that makes money. I never used to think of it this way, at least not my fiction. Though I’ve been a freelance writer for a long time, fiction was always separate. Something I did for love, rather than money.
But things are changing. Or they’re about to.
At this year’s RWA conference I did a number of workshops on marketing, social media, and promotion. As a writer with a recently-sold book, I need to start getting up to speed on this stuff, and though I’ve got six months to get my name and book out there, I know the time will fly past. There’s also the fact that I have to finish writing the second book, start on the third, create a fall writing workshop, write freelance articles, and still find time to be a wife, mom, daughter, friend, skater, volunteer, and whatever else comes down the pike.
I get exhausted just thinking about it.
So I’m taking baby steps, including reading a book, “Book Marketing In A Nutshell,” by Sheila Clover English and Barbara Vey. The book advises creating a business plan. I’ve tried business plans before, but never for my fiction career. This approach, created specifically for writers, is qualitative, not quantitative, as so many business plans are. This asks you to create lists, rather than spread sheets. There are no phrases like “percentage of incremental sales.” Already my stress level is dropping.
The business plan asks me to list my assets. Not just in terms of money, time and equipment, all of which are limited, but also my support network. Here, I’m blessed.
I have faith in God, and a wonderful supportive husband and sons, whom I love very much. Great parents, in-laws and extended family. Excellent friends, both long-time and newer, cheering me on. A critique group of talented fellow writers, with whom I can meet each month. An awesome agent. An editor I know I’m going to love working with. A publishing house that is committed to building its authors. New author friends who’ve walked the road I’m on and are ready with advice and encouragement.
So on those days when its hard to see beyond the side of the asset sheet that looks rather sparse, I need to look at the relationship side, which is overflowing.
As long as that side is full, I’ve got what I need to succeed.

Off To Conference, #RWA2014

RWA2014logoA month ago, I would have simply called it by it’s regular name: RWA National in San Antonio, rather than the above Twitter-friendly handle. As I’m still getting the hang of social media (which I’ve shortened to “the socials” in an odd throwback to high school) I’m not sure what those hash-tags do, but Therese, my social media guru says they’re a good thing and that works for me.
So off I go to #RWA2014.
While this is actually my fourth RWA National, this one feels a little different. This time around, I’m celebrating that I reached a goal I’ve been working toward for a very long time. And I do mean a long time.
When I attended my first National, RWA 2000 in Chicago (no hash-tags yet), I had no idea just how long. I’d just finished my first novel, pitched it to a few editors and got rejected. Within a few years, I quit writing fiction altogether, though the dream of selling a book never went away.
When I plunged in again and attended RWA 2010 in Orlando (still hash-tag free), I came away with a manuscript request from my soon-to-be-agent Louise Fury. I was convinced publication was just around the corner. When RWA 2011 in NYC (maybe there were hash-tags, I don’t know) came and went, I began to doubt, just like I did after 2000.
But this time, two things were different. Number one, I had an agent, which to me, felt like a big accomplishment in itself. Number two, I kept writing and finished another book. That book was Falling Hard, which Louise sold this spring to Carina Press.
So three finished books, four conferences and four—or maybe fourteen years later, depending on how you count, I’m off to #RWA2014 San Antonio, to celebrate my first sale. Because of a rule change, I won’t have my First Sale ribbon this time, but that’s okay. I’ll know it’s coming and that’s pretty cool.
The point of my long-winded tale? To all the writers out there pounding away, remember that every manuscript is a chance to get better. Stretch yourself as a writer. Tell a great story. Yeah, it’s hard. Yeah, it can take forever, or at least seem that way. But don’t stop. #JustKeepSwimming. #YouNeverKnow