Tag Archives | Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior

Corralling Your Writing Ideas

writing organization, corral ideas, novel writing, mapping the novel, productivity

writing organization, corral ideas, novel writing, mapping the novel, productivity

If you’re anything like me, the beginning of writing a book is a messy affair.  You’ve taken notes like crazy, and they might be anywhere and everywhere. You’ve got nuggets about character buried deep inside a Moleskine, and the best ideas ever for a plot–if only you could find them. I’m all for this chaos at the start, but there comes a time when one must get organized or risk not going any farther.  You need a way to corral all your supporting information.

So how do you corral your notes into a usable outline, or list, or something you can follow while writing a book?  Amazingly enough, I have ideas for you. But first,  let me be clear here, I am not a paragon of organization, far from it. I’ve just learned the hard way I need to get my notes together one way or another, or I’ll never write the novel.  (Also, there’s that productivity thing I wrote about a couple posts back–a person who feels in control is much more motivated to accomplish things.)

Before I share some of the methods for organizing I’ve discovered, first, a note–it does help if you take all your notes in one place.  (No, duh.) I’ve got a giant legal pad I’ve been scribbling ideas in and I number the pages and sometimes often remember to annotate on the margins to make it easier to go back and find things.  You might choose a Moleskine, or a humble spiral. I’ve used them all, depending on my mood.  Okay, ways to organize thyself:

  1. Mini binders. I love these little guys. Okay, I’ve gone off the deep end for them. I use them  for corralling everything from novel notes to ideas for workshops to my day to day life.  Often an index card seems too small, or a regular binder, too big–too much information on one page, ack! But as Goldilocks said, the mini binder size is just right. Also, I can make sections–sections, people!–for plot, setting, character, brilliant ideas, etc.
  2. Index cards. You, however, might like something smaller, and in that case you might want to try index cards, which do come in two sizes. Beloved of screenwriters, these babies make it easy to put one scene per cards, or one character trait per card, or whatever  you would like. There are tons of nifty little containers to put them in, and you can take them out and play with them. You can move scenes around, pin them up in different configurations, whatever  your little heart desires.
  3. Scrivener. I am not a Scrivener zealot devotee, though I respect those of you who are. I do, however, love the idea that you can use index cards on the computer through this program. And there’s lots of other cool stuff as well. I just don’t have the patience to learn it.
  4. Powerpoint.  If you like the idea of corralling ideas on index card, but insist on doing everything on the computer and don’t want to learn Scrivener, try Powerpoint.   You most likely have it on your computer, and it is easy to work with and very visual seeing as how it is a program to create presentations.  Each slide equals a card and there’s enough flexibility to create sets of cards for plot and character or whatever you need. I’ve only just begun to explore the possibilities here.
  5. Regular binder. You know, the 8.5 by 11 standard size we used as school children. I do love me a good binder, which always feels so rich with possibility, but as stated above, the pages get a bit overwhelming for me. They do have the advantage of holding lots of info.
  6. Word document.  Nothing fancy, nothing special, just the file most of us use every day for our writing. No reason you can’t put all your supporting info for your story in a Word doc. That’s what I did for Emma Jean.
  7. OneNote or EverNote.  Choose your poison from these online organizing tools. Both have advantages like accessibility across a broad number of platforms. I prefer OneNote for its simplicity but many writers love EverNote. It’s up to you.

So those are my recommendations. What do you use?  Please do share.

Oh and by the way, I’ll be talking about stuff like this at my three-day Mapping the Novel workshop, to be held in June on the glorious Oregon coast.  Check it out here.

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Where Writers Get Ideas

Letters-blue-isolated-109051-lOn Wednesday, I gave a presentation at a local retirement center.  I talked about how and where writers get ideas, and interspersed readings from Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  Afterwards, I got to sell books. It was a lot of fun!  Anne, the organizer (an amazing dynamo of a woman) told me that the room could take up to 50 people, and every chair was full, with more folks in the back, so it was a crowded house. You guys, they were the warmest, most welcoming group ever.  I met wonderful people like Carolyn, who researched me and started writing in her journal after reading my blog (Hi, Carolyn!) and shocked me when she revealed her age.  I adored her, and honestly, I loved them all. Absolutely wonderful! Plus, I got paid.  (Thank you, Watermark Retirement Communities for being willing to support local writers.)  

And, I thought the talk came out pretty well.  So I decided to reproduce it here in slightly edited form (minus the interspersed readings, for one thing).  I based my talk on the questions I get asked most often as a writer.

The Two Most Common Questions

When people find out I'm a writer, they generally ask one of two things, (besides "Have I heard of you?"):

1. Where do you get your ideas?

2. How much of your novel is true/based on your own life?

And the answers to both, are:

Everywhere and all of it.

But neither of these answers tells the whole story.

So let me explain.

Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, features a 48-year-old bestselling novelist, happily married and proudly childless, who goes to L.A. on a book tour, has a mad, passionate affair with a younger man, gets pregnant and watches her entire world fall apart.  

Now, I don't hate babies, I adore them and have two grandbabies of my own.  I never got pregnant at age 48, though I do have two children (I bore them in my 20s).   I've never had a passionate affair with a younger man, never been on a book tour, and despite my best efforts, I don't happen to be a bestselling author—yet.  But still, Emma Jean could not exist without my life experiences and proclivities.   Emma Jean and I are not exactly alike, but we share a lot of similarities. 

So I think its fair to say that ideas are a combination of the writer's life experience and, most important, her imagination.  But for me, and I think this is true of many others, my imagination is sparked by something that happens to me in my life and from there I form a story.

Ideas Are Everywhere.

Ideas are everywhere, all around us all the time, and if you ask most writers where they get ideas they will say just that—"everywhere."  Which is true, though isn't really a very helpful explanation.  So I sat down and pondered and came up with a list of 7 different ways that I get ideas.

1.  People

For me, all stories start with characters, and I get ideas for my characters from real life people.  Emma Jean, for instance, is loosely based on one of my professors in graduate school.  This woman is quite a well-known writer and so I dare not reveal her name—but she shares Emma Jean's brash, self-centered ways, and also her love of wine.  Oh, does she share her love of wine.

But it's not as if I lifted this real-life person's personality wholesale and assigned it to Emma Jean.  No, I took bits and pieces of it, her essence, if you will.

And I often think that Emma Jean is me on steroids. Emma Jean says the things I think, but she is always more clever than I am by far, and also, alas, quite snarky.  So, as I mentioned, though we share many traits, Emma Jean is not me.  I'm far nicer than she is, for one thing.  Or at least I hope so!

2.  Setting

The next area I get inspiration from is place.  I am greatly influenced and inspired by places around the world.  Emma Jean takes place in Portland, L.A., and Sun Valley, Idaho.  I live in and love Portland, so that's obvious.  And I visit L.A. a lot as I have friends there.  I have a love-hate relationship with the place, as does Emma Jean in the book.  And, at the time I wrote the novel, my daughter was living in Sun Valley, Idaho, working at an art gallery-which also found its way into the story.

It's funny, though, a place has to grab me in some way in order to make it into a book.  I've been to lots of cities across the country, for instance, and none of them have made it to my stories.  And I've tried a million different times to set a story in Ashland, Oregon, a town I love, but I can't ever make it work.  I'm not sure why that is.  One of those weird writer's quirks.

3. Travel

Which brings us to….travel.   Seeing new places and new cultures has a huge impact on my ideas.  The novel I'm currently working on is set in a Portland macaron bakery.  (Yes, macaron—the French cookies, not the sickly sweet American macaroon made with coconut.)  The inspiration for it came two summers ago, when I was in France.  My biz partner, Debbie and I, teach writing workshops in France every summer and it was during one of these that a student introduced me to the macaron.  Later that week, I visited a famous macaron bakery in Paris.

Now, I didn't look at the macarons and automatically think, I should write a novel about them, but about a month later I was at home in the shower when the idea for the novel hit me.  (And I hasten to add that I'm not writing about macarons so much as a character who bakes them.)  So travel has a big impact on my writing and stories.

4.  Dreams

This doesn't happen often, but once in awhile I have such a vivid dream that it turns into a story.  One of the first short stories I ever wrote happened this way.  We were at the beach on a family vacation and I dreamed of a long-ago boyfriend who had been a bit of a roustabout and a cad.  I woke up and wrote a story about a woman who'd had a similar boyfriend and then run into him years later and how different he was from who she thought he would become.  

But I think most often dreams influence my stories through imagery and vague ideas that are stored in my subconscious, things I'm not fully aware of that surprise me when I write.  More on this in a bit.

5.  Work details

The first writing class I ever took was from a writer named Craig Lesley, who I think is one of the best Northwest authors and sadly underrated and not known nationally.  Craig started out his classes by having students write a story based on work details, his contention being that many of us have had jobs about which we know a ton—but others know very little.  I wrote a story about two people working in a printing plant because when I was younger my Dad owned one and I basically grew up in it.

You might also remember the novels of Arthur Hailey, who wrote books like Hotel and Airport—all of which were based on our fascination with the work details of other people's lives.

6.  Hobbies/passions

I am a woman of great passions, some of them passing, but many of them show up in my fiction.  In Emma Jean, for instance, her husband is a winemaker, and I am a great lover of wine.  I'm writing a mystery series set in a yarn shop—because I'm an avid knitter.  The occasional Pug shows up in my work as well, because they are my favorite pet.  And it helps to know something about what you write starting out.

 7.  Out of the ether/subconscious

 This is the most mysterious thing that happens: sometimes things just show up in your writing and you have no idea where they came from.  An example of this is the character Ava in my novel.   She just walked on one day and made herself known.  A similar thing happened with the novel I'm currently working on—a character named Daisie, also a young girl, appeared, sitting in the back room of the bakery, being wordly wise far beyond her years.  She's my favorite character in the new novel, as was Ava in the old one.

8.  Technique for Producing and Idea

Finally, I want to share with you a sure-fire system for getting ideas that I learned many years ago.  It came from a little book called Technique for Producing Ideas that was written by a Madison Avenue Adman.  (News flash: the book was written by James Webb Young and it is still available.) He needed to produce a lot of creative ideas on demand as an adman, and came up with this system, which I've used in a variety of ways.  Basically, its this:

 –You think and take notes and write about the problem/thing you need an idea for.

–You research every aspect of it.

–Do both of the above until your brain is so full up of information you think it might burst.

–And then walk away.  He recommended to go golfing.  I say go for a walk, or do some dishes, or cook, or knit.  Or something.

–When you least expect it, an idea will pop up!  Why? Because you've given your subconscious plenty of material and then let it do its thing, which is to compost and digest said material into a new form.

 And let me just give you an example of this.  I've been thinking about this talk for quite awhile.  I came up with the idea to talk to you about ideas about a month ago, but for a long time, the shape of the talk didn't come to me.  So I looked through notes I'd used for other classes and talks, and I did some research on the internet about what other writers said.  And then, sure enough, Sunday morning I was in the shower when the entire outline for this talk downloaded itself to my brain.  So utilizing the subconscious really does work.

 A couple of suggestions for working with ideas, whether you want to write or need them for other areas of your life:

 1.  Write them down!  Always!  You think you will remember them but you likely won't.

 2.  If you get stuck, get up.  Time and time again I've hit a roadblock and decided to get up for food or drink—only to have an idea two steps away from the computer that sends me running back to my desk.

 3.  Showering, walking, and repetitive motion activities like knitting, weeding, and vacuuming are great for producing ideas.  They let your mind roam free.

 4.  Fill the well.  Read a lot, listen to music, go on a field trip, get outside.  Do things that will fill your brain with images and ideas.

5.  Keep an idea book.

6.  Stay open.  The idea that looks craziest may just be the one that ends up working.

Okay, so that's it.  If you live in Portland, especially east Portland, check out the reading series at Watermark.  It is open to the public, though space is limited so you need to get on Anne's mailing list. Email me and I'll hook you up.

And, do tell–where and how do you get ideas? 

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Winners of Christmas 2013 Giveaway Announced!

Hi.

Hope you had a great Christmas–I did.  

Okay, so we've got that done with, let's get to it:  announcing the winners of the Christmas 2013 giveaway.  Here we go:

Dani wins the 25 page critique.

Leigh wins the Moleskine journal.

Mary wins a copy of my novel.

Okay, but that's not all.  I've decided to give away 2 bonus presents.  Let's call them New Year's gifts.  Why? Because both of the recipients mentioned that they wanted it in the comments.  And both of them are loyal, long-time readers who I love and adore.  So here goes:

Zan Marie wins a critique of 25 pages.

And so does Don.

I can't wait to read your work and/or send you your gift.

If you are a winner, please contact me with Christmas 2013 Winner in the subject line and I'll make arrangements with you.  If you won either the novel or the journal (Mary and Leigh, here's looking at you), I'll need your physical address.  

(By the way, I used this site to pick the names.)

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Why Connection is Important to Writers and Others

Hand_hands_shake_238808_lSo it turns out that connection is way more crazy important than we might have thought.

This probably doesn't come as a huge surprise to writers.  After all, communication is inherent in connection, and we're all about communication.

It's why we blog.

It's why we write novels.

It's why we read the writing of others.

Connection turns out to be a powerful theme in my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, and it is also the topic of a guest post that I have over at Pomogolightly, Beverly Army Williams' blog today.    Hop on over there and give it a read!

Photo by pixelstar.

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Interview About Emma Jean

Curves_yellow_reflection_2929_hGood Morning.

How does that cup of coffee you've got clutched in your hand taste?  Wouldn't it be even zestier if you had some scintillating reading material to accompany it?

Yes?

I have just the thing for you.

I've got an interview up today over at Jessica Nottingham's blog, Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile, in which I invent a movie tagline for Emma Jean, talk about my favorite part of being an author, name the one book I always reread, and more!

Check it out here, and be sure to say hi in the comments while you are there.  Then stick around to read more of Jessica's posts, she's got all kinds of good stuff on books and authors.

Photo by Adrian Sampson.

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Trust the Reader

I was on the phone with one of my writing coaching clients (who just so happens to be a kick-ass SciFi adventure writer).

"I'm enjoying your book," he said.

I thanked him.

"I think my wife is enjoying it even more.  She keeps stealing it from me."

I allowed as how this didn't surprise me, seeing as how the novel is most definitely women's fiction and my client's book is more of a rough-and-tumble type romp.

"She told me last night that she thinks she's just gotten to a place in the book where she is less irritated with Emma Jean and is beginning to see her change."

I loved hearing this, because it means that my client's wife got Emma Jean.  Yes, Emma Jean is self-absorbed to the point of cluelessness at the start (I believe one reviewer said she "wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her") but there's also a deep woundedness inside her that makes her act this way.

I've always trusted my readers to get that. To get irritated with her, and want to shake some sense into her but still be willing to go on her journey with her–because they understand that she will transform at the end.

I'm not going to give away the ending by saying how she transforms, but suffice it to say she does transform.  That's what I love about women's fiction–its characters go on journeys of transformation.

The funny thing is, I had numerous agents tell me that Emma Jean was too "unrelatable."  And yet, over and over again, I get comments from people who tell me how much they love her, how they empathize with her, how they know someone just like her.

I'm glad I trusted the reader.

In what ways have you learned to trust the reader?

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Making the Magic Happen: Committing to a Writing Schedule

Writing is magic.
Objects-stars-feathers-40007-l

We think up an idea, and put it on the page.  Whole worlds spring to life beneath our fingers.  And all we need to do this, at base, is a pen and paper.  Oh, sure, a typewriter or computer helps, but if worse came to worse you could do without one and still write.

What you do have to come up with is time to make the magic happen.  You have to sit at your desk, or your arm chair, or in the coffee shop, and put words on the page.  And that takes time.

And that is where many of us falter.  Me, too.  I struggle with finding time just like everyone else.  But lately I've realized that all my important non-writing activities stretch to fill the time I allot them.  So, if I give myself all day to read three manuscripts, that's how long it will probably take me.  And if I give myself all day to read said manuscripts, I won't get any writing done.

And therein lies the problem.

With the necessity of doing marketing around my book release, many days this winter I became a writer who didn't write.  Well, there were blog posts.  And there were guest posts and interviews and ariticles, all of which I love.

But in my heart of hearts, its not the same as working on fiction.  And if a fiction writer is how I identify myself, if that is what I truly want to be, then I need to find time to work on it consistently.

I used to get up and work on it first thing in the morning.  But that schedule no longer works for me–I simply have too many emails and other internet chores pulling on me to allow me to focus.  I'd sort of pretend I was writing and actually get about 20 minutes in.  Not conducive to making progress on a WIP.  I was working on it, but in fits and starts–a stolen moment here, a bit of time there.

Last week, in my travels around the web, I read an interview with an author said that she wrote every morning from 9 to noon.  (I wish I knew who this was or where I read it, but I can't remember.)  This struck me like a thunderbolt.  Bad cliche, sorry, but it did.  I realized that if I put myself on a schedule like that, I'd actually get my writing done. 

And so I did.  I'm now writing from 9 to noon every day.  I'm showered and at my desk by 9 AM.  No more stretching internet time until 8 AM, then working on the crossword puzzle for awhile and getting in the shower when I felt like it.  (Hey, its the benefit of working at home.)  Nope, I'm ready to write at 9 AM sharp.  And I'm getting a ton done.

What I wasn't so sure about was getting everything else done, but so far that hasn't been a problem at all.  I've always harped on said that when you make your passion your priority, everything else magically falls into place.  And it is true.  I'm simply much more focused.  Plus, the high that comes from fiction writing follows me all day, allowing me to power through dumb chores and errands with joy. 

I really can't describe how profound this change feels. 

I've got an exciting new ghostwriting job coming up, and a couple other things in the works, so we'll see how I stick to the schedule when those come in.  But in the meantime, don't call me in the morning, because I'll be writing.

Do you schedule writing time?  Are you able to stick to it?  What works for you?

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10 Ways To Return to Writing Regularly

Note_creative_author_260972_lTrue confession: I haven't been writing.

Okay, that's not exactly true.  I've been writing blog posts, guest posts, interviews and comments on my client's work.  I've been writing in my journal every morning.  But I haven't been writing writing.  I haven't been working on my WIP.

Until this week.

In my case, I had a wonderful reason not to be writing: my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, was recently released and I got caught up in the hoopla surrounding that.  But in the past, I've gotten distracted for the most mundane of reasons: all the events of day-to-day life.  There's just no two ways about it, it's easy to get distracted from your writing. 

But this week, as I said, I've started back into working on my WIP.  It took me awhile, but I'm back.  Watch out world!  It didn't happen all at once, however.  I don't think it ever does.  Getting back to writing regularly is  a process.   I found ways to ease myself back into it, which I share with you here:

1. Download Scrivener.  This writing software for writers is intuitive and helpful–who knew such a thing was possible? I'm still playing around with it, going through the tutorial, but I think it's going to be wonderful.  And I feel like I just got a new toy at Christmas, which alone is worth it because it makes me want to go play with it.  You can get a free 30-day trial here.

2. Direct your thoughts.  Consciously tell yourself to think about your novel, as in when you are driving, when you are vacuuming, when you are walking the dog.  It's also especially good to do this when you're thinking negative thoughts about how you're not writing.  Direct those thoughts to pondering character or plot instead.

3.  Take notes.  I'm a huge fan of jotting things down, because it leads to more jotting and before you know it you're in the middle of writing a scene.  Put all the ideas you get from #3 onto paper.  The other thing that happens is that ideas breed with each other, like rabbits.   Soon you'll have so many of them you'll be at the page writing.

4.  Familiarize yourself.  On the most basic level, this is about getting accustomed to working on the novel again.  Remember where the files are stored on your computer, stare at your vision board, recall where you were in the manuscript when last you wrote.

5.  Take micro action.  Now that you've gotten oriented again, set yourself a very small task.  Like, opening one file.  I'm not kidding.  Set yourself up for one tiny action and call it good.  This is a way of tricking yourself back into interacting with the work regularly.

6. Research.  Reconnecting with the ideas and topics of your novel can get you excited about it again.  Make a Pinterest board for actresses who might play your character or locations in your novel. Do a Google search for that obscure subject that fascinated when you began. Look for images of your settings.

7.  Use bursts.  Feeling ready to write?  Okay!  Set a timer for 30 minutes and do nothing else but write until the buzzer goes off.  This means no surfing the internet, no looking at email, no chatting on the phone, no getting up to get more coffee.  At the end of 30 minutes, you get to take a break.  Then start the process over again.

8.  Read!  Nothing makes me want to write more than reading.  I just got a Kindle (last person on the planet to do so, I know) and I'm amazed at how it enables me to devour books.  Which, in turn, makes me want to cover pages with words.  Most of us come to writing because we love reading so much, so use that impulse to propel your work.

9.  Reread.  While you're in a reading mode, go reread your WIP.  From the beginning.  Immerse yourself fully in the world you've created so that you can go forth and make it come even more alive.

10.  Create a vessel. Commit to a schedule of some sort.  Now, I am the first one to struggle with this–I end up rebelling against myself.  But when I wrote Emma Jean, I rose every day at 5 to work on it before the day began.  When I wrote my previous (unpublished) novel, I was earning my MFA and I had deadlines for 35-50 pages every week.  Each of these examples enabled me to complete a novel.

So there you have it–my rundown of how to get back to writing regularly.  Have you tried any of these, or something else?  What works best for you?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

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As The Hoopla Winds Down

I owe you guys a blog post.

I've been guest posting and interviewing all around the internet (thank you, everyone) and, indeed, I have one more interview coming up on Tuesday, one I'm very excited about.  But in the hoopla around my book release I've not spent a lot of time, here, at home base, except for brief posts directing you to other blogs.

I tell myself that a guest post or interview is still me on the page, it's just at another venue.

But still, it feels odd not to be spending as much time here.

And so on this Saturday morning, I will write a bit about where things stand.

My local book release party was Thursday night, the bookend to the virtual release party I hosted a week ago.  We held it on the second floor of one of my favorite local brewpubs and I had a blast.  I think at least 60 people came.  I sold out of all the books I had on hand, and took orders for more. I spilled wine all over everything at the book signing table, including three just-signed books, and several people in attendance got very, very drunk. 

And most of all, I felt like an author.  It's hard not to when you're sitting behind a table signing books.  I think this is a thing that I will grow into more, because I realize  even as I type this that I still have a bit of anxiety around the whole thing.  Stepping out with my novel feels very different than the other writing and writing-related work that I do.  It feels like I'm putting more of me, myself and I out there–which is kinda funny because I strive to do that all the time on this blog.

So maybe it's a matter of getting accustomed to different writing venues.  When I first started writing this blog, come to think of it, I was very shy about sharing it.  I remember telling my family that I'd started a blog and then saying, "But don't go read it yet."  Which is probably hard for you who have read me here regularly to believe.  And I remember even farther back to when I first started getting articles published in magazines how I'd never actually look at them in print.

All of which is odd for a writer, but I don't think I'm the only one who deals with this.   We writers spend so much time alone crafting words that it's a bit of a shock when we realize that others are actually reading them.  But then, that's the point of what we do.  It's just that it sometimes take so long to get our words out there that we get used to nobody reading them.

And getting used to readers reading my novel is a wonderful problem to have.  As far as I can tell by obsessively checking my Amazon sales rank, the novel is doing okay.  Lots of you have said you've purchased it–thank you so much–and as I said, I sold a lot in person.  So I'm happy.

I'm also ready to get back to my so-called normal life, like writing regular blog posts and being on time with critiques and responses to people.  Don't get me wrong, I'm loving everything that has happened, and I'll be talking about my novel in a variety of venues for the forseeable future.  But perhaps we can turn out attention to other things as well. I promise to be here more regularly.

Have you experienced anxiety when getting your words out to the public?  Does it vary with different genres?  I'd love to hear your response.  (And by the way, if you've commented recently and it didn't show up, I'm aware of the problem now, and I think I know how to deal with it, so comment away!)

(You can buy Emma Jean at all the usual outlets, by the way, and I'll be eternally grateful if you do.)

4

Another Wonderful Interview About Emma Jean

As you may have noticed lately, I've been fortunate to have a variety of guest posts and interviews having to do with the release of my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  And today is no different.  Today I am featured over at Zan Marie's blog, In the Shade of the Cherry Tree.

Zan Marie and I met a couple years ago now as the result of a blog hop or a blog carnival or a blog fiesta–the exact event eludes me, but no matter, as we've been fast blogging buddies ever since.  I always love stopping in on her blog and reading about her ongoing writing process and I so appreciate her interview with me, which I very much enjoyed, and I encourage you to head on over there and read it.  I talked quite a bit about the submission process and what it takes to get a novel published.

Thank you, Zan Marie!

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