September 21, 2017
It's been a shit year.
There's the global political and environmental disasters, the ratcheted hate and fear, the never-ending news cycle of pain and unrest, but it recently became personal. Two weeks ago, I severed ties with three of my closest family members. They were making choices I couldn't abide, hurting people I love, including me. Probably unsurprisingly, this has increased stress in my home, and I've frozen my husband out for the past week. For only the second time in my life, I need sleeping pills because when I lay down, my brain whizzes around my skull like a flaming monkey. My rest is uneasy, filled with nightmares.
Except last night.
Last night, I dreamed that I discovered a cabin by a river. I recognized it as my own house, except it was messy. I found my kids in the front room, sleepy but happy, and so I traveled to the basement to research why I had let the place get so dirty. Two people who shall not be named tried to keep me from reaching a room at the rear of the basement, the one with the glowing light emanating from under the door, but I mind-asked, and the door opened. An old, wise Asian man (am I embarrassed that my subconscious' reference points are pure 1980s stereotypes? you bet I am) beckoned me in. He opened his arms and he held me while I wept.
"You can ask me one question," he said.
I knew exactly what it would be: "When will things get easy again?"
He didn't skip a beat. "You didn't think they were easy before," he said.
My alarm went off exactly then, my subconscious crashing into my conscious, leaving me no choice but to agree. I've had some particularly low points, including the suicide of my first husband, but here's the deal: if you had asked me at any point in my life if I was happy/it was easy, even the high points, I would have hesitated. I've always wanted more money, less belly fat, more travel, more time to write, more more more...I've always envisioned this moment in the gauzy future where things will be easy, I will be happy, and there will be balance.
My subconscious was very clear on this point: that moment doesn't exist. Or rather, it always is, and you recognize it or you don't. I know. To even be able to entertain this perspective is a privilege. A Syrian refugee, or a parent searching for a child in the rubble of the Mexico City earthquake, someone not sure where their next meal will come from, a teen dealing with depression, and billions more would switch places with me in a blink. Still, I don't think this message was meant only for me. I can't be the one only wasting the now by pining for a when.
After the dream, I had this Note from the Universe pop up in my email:
"In case you didn't know, you couldn't tell, or you haven't heard...
If you're reading this right now on a phone or computer, Jessica, you're rich.
If you have somewhere to go today, you're connected.
And if there is anyone, anywhere, who for any reason knows where you are at this moment, you’re loved.
Dang, you just keep acing time and space.
Can't argue with that.
Live in the now. Practice gratitude, be self-aware, laugh at any opportunity, ally with those fighting the good fight, and create art. It's not easy, but it is the point. At least that's what the guy in my basement told me.
September 21, 2017
I've got some exciting--to me--news about the Murder-by-Month Mysteries! This time next year, the first ten books in the series should be reissued with new covers, extended humor, and deepened romance (=hot making out with Mira and Johnny). If you're signed up for my newsletter, you'll be informed when those start dropping. Otherwise, check back here. Also, look for Mercy's Chase, the second in the Witch Hunt series, to be released September 2017. I'm working on it now! I see a 7-book arc for this series.
Shannon Baker and I are halfway through our second Double-booked Blog tour! Existing stops below; each comment left at any one of them through October 12 gets you one chance to win a free book mailed to you.
September 2: How Long Before the Next Novel?
September 5: Choose Your Genre, Change Your World
September 7: Revolutionize Your Writing with These Four Editing Hacks
September 12: Cozies v Thrillers
September 19: Writers Talk Money
September 20: Best Writing Books
June 9, 2017
My 15th book released a few weeks ago. It's called Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction, and it walks readers through the lucrative and life-changing process of transforming life experiences into powerful fiction. I stumbled across this fact-to-fiction process by accident. The year was 2001. I had a three-year-old daughter and another on the way. I was teaching full-time and loving life.
Unexpectedly, inexplicably, I lost my husband.
I go into more detail in my TEDx Talk, but in general, here's what happened after his death: I had to write to survive. I needed to transform my fear and pain into something coherent. I wrote one book, then another. I'd written three whole novels and received 423 rejections before I landed my first agent.
Fifteen books later, I'd give up wine, bread, cheese, and my left foot before I'd quit writing.
But even after all that passion and practice, if I'm honest with myself (and you), it's not exactly ancient history that the idea of drafting a novel felt like being dropped into central Africa's Congo Basin with a compass and a paperclip.
Rolled in honey.
With everyone whom I've ever wanted to impress watching via a live feed, gathered together in a room, eating popcorn and laughing so hard that they spewed schadenfreude all over the television. In fact, after I began my first novel I spent much of my writing time feeling overwhelmed at the scope of what I'd taken on and like a ridiculous fraud for even pretending I could write a book. I grew up in rural Minnesota, for crying in the night. Not only did I not know any writers, I hardly knew anyone who liked to read.
But there was personal treasure to be mined in the writing of a novel, I sensed it even then, rubies of resilience and emeralds of hope, and so I read what I could on the art of writing, sought out mentors, and read fiction like a chef trying to puzzle out the recipe by tasting the meal. After five years of trial and error, I finally arrived at a method to reduce the time and stress of writing an experience-based novel while increasing the joy in the writing and the quality of the story. More importantly, I discovered that writing fiction allows me to process much of my personal garbage so I can live healthier and happier.
You'll find that most if not all your best novel ideas are already growing, ready to be plucked, in the compost pile of your mind. (Your compost pile is that fertile, loamy, shit-filled place where you tossed your baggage in the hopes that it would decompose on its own. It doesn't. You have to stir it up and spread it out. It's just the way it works.)
All writers end up with a unifying theme across the books that they write, and that theme is the most indigestible nugget in their mental compost pile, the personal challenge they were put on this earth to overcome. For example, I write about the poison and power of secrets. In every. Single. Book. (It took me eight novels to realize my recurring theme.)
I come by this meta theme honestly. I grew up in a house built on fear and secrets, liberally sprinkled with alcoholism, psychedelic drugs, swingers, and naked volleyball parties. I packed my first bong before I was ten and mixed a mean whiskey water by age twelve. To this day, I think my parents' worst fear was that I'd rebel and grow up to be a right-winger. (My parents would be mortified if they knew I was writing about them or my childhood. This, along with an instilled allegiance to secrets, has kept me from writing nonfiction up until this moment. How am I finally breaking free of this, you ask? The advice to write as if your parents are dead seems too harsh. I'm instead writing as if they're illiterate.)
My experience of working through and spreading my mental compost pile via novel writing is not unique. At a recent writing conference, a successful noir author confessed to me that all her books are about that pivotal, cathartic moment when a person tests his/her limits. John Irving's recurring theme seems to be younger men who are seduced or abused by older women. Parental abandonment appears in every one of Charles Dickens' books. Amy Tan tackles mother/daughter relationships in her writing.
You will find some version of your own experience-based theme in all the novels you write. Don't worry if you don't know your life theme right now; discovering it is one of the many gifts of novel writing. Just know that wherever you are at in the writing process, you are doing the right thing. The good work.
Write on, with love,