Category Archives: writing

Inspiration and Creative Expression

People often ask me where I get my story ideas. Some assume they are ripped from the lives of my family and friends, to which I reply, “Of course!” I say this because, in some form, my experiences certainly influence my work. However, I also find inspiration in a good song lyric, a wonderful quote about love or life, interesting documentaries, and art.

This week, I had the opportunity to visit the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Wow! I am awed by the creative genius of so many people, who combine every day things (including trash) to make something that is both visually exciting and often educational.

When I sit down to write, I try to do the same thing with words. I think, however, that as powerful as words are, and as much as they can stimulate the imagination of readers in infinite ways, when words are combined with other art forms (like music or paint or video), their power multiples exponentially.

 

 

     

Perhaps one day I’ll take on the challenge of writing a screenplay so I can create something that combines words, photography, and music. The trifecta! For now, I have to settle for Pinterest boards and Spotify playlists to give my readers a multimedia experience of my stories.

If you’re interested in seeing and listening to my vision, check out my extras page!

XO-Jamie

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5 Ways to Usher in Summer Fun

WOO HOO, it’s June! Time to enjoy the good weather. Kids love summer because school is out and every day becomes a “play” day. Adults…not so much. We still have work to do, housework to deal with, and all those other responsibilities that kids don’t realize go hand-in-hand with the alleged “freedom” of being a grown-up.

But being a grown-up doesn’t mean we can’t also make the most out of the summer. We work hard, we deserve a little playtime. Here’s my shortlist of things that should be on everyone’s summer calendar:

  1. Theme Song. Yeah, this is kind of critical. Your summer theme song should be upbeat, catchy, and make you smile. This is the song you’ll crank in the car, or while at the pool or the beach. Your toes should tap of their own volition. It should make you smile. In fact, it should make you want to get up and dance. Mine? DNCE’s Cake by the Ocean. It may have come out last fall, but it is a summer song if I ever heard one.
  2. Farmer’s Market. Local grown fruits and veggies are everywhere, so it is easy to eat healthy. I love strolling through our local farmer’s market and picking out fresh tomatoes and flowers. Mine also has one group that makes the BEST pesto (which, if I pick up fresh mozzarella, basil, and Italian bread, makes one great sandwich). So look around your ‘hood and grab some stuff you can use for item #3.

  3. BBQ. Yep, time to kick off summer by inviting friends over for a casual BBQ. Few things say summer like a grill and eating al fresco. Whether that means burgers, dogs, and corn on the cob, or fancy steaks, is up to you. The key to a successful BBQ is actually the company. So ice down some beer (or white wine) and call your besties!
  4. Summer-Only Recreation. Take advantage of opportunities that can only come around at this time of year (well, at least for those of us who live in the Northeast). I’m talking about drive-in movies (yes, they still exist, although they are few and far between), outdoor summer concert series (we have great ones in Connecticut and New York), and swimming (whether you prefer a pool or a beach).

  5. Beach Books. This is the best time to pick up a few summer romances. Read those smarty-pants book club books some other time. It’s time for “summer lovin’!” Of course, I’d love for Secretly Hers to be on your summer romance reading list, but I’ll also recommend a bunch of other authors you can try:

Heartwarming: Kristan Higgins, Marina Adair, Gail Chianese, Liz Talley, Jeannie Moon, Tamra Baumann, Shelly Alexander, Miranda Liaisson *both Tamra and Jeannie are up for Booksellers Best Awards this year

Spicy: Regina Kyle, Jamie K. Schmidt, Erika Kelly, Megan Ryder *both Regina and Erika are up for Bookseller’s Best Awards this year.

Historical: Julie Anne Long, Lisa Kleypas, Elizabeth Hoyt *(I LOVED EH’s latest, Duke of Sin, and its amoral yet fascinating hero! Such fun). *Julie Anne Long is up for a RITA this year, with It Started with a Scandal…one of my all-time favorite books!

Hopefully this has given you a place to start your summer. I hope you have a great one! If you’ve got a tip or reading recommendation to share, please do!

XO-Jamie

Love, Grief, and Characters

We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in. — Ernest Hemingway

I just turned in the final Sterling Canyon book to my editor, which means it’s time to start a new series. Similar to my St. James series, this one will be a set of connected stories (tentatively, the Cabot novels) centering around three siblings in a somewhat dysfunctional yet loving family.

One theme that will be layered throughout the first book will be grief (personal and professional). I know. I’m writing romance, so why veer toward heavy sorrow? Why give both the hero and heroine a material, complex loss to overcome?

Well, because, to me, I’m writing a love story. And not all love stories should be witty, sexy romps filled with banter and white-hot attraction. In real life, some true love stories are borne from the worst circumstances, and are all the more memorable for it. Of course, whether or not I’m up to the challenge of writing that bittersweet yet compelling love story is yet to be determined. I hope so.

I also suspect there are readers mourning things in their lives–not just deaths, but other losses–who might be inspired by characters who overcome grief. In most of my stories, I aim to create realistic and familiar scenarios that readers can relate to and, even better, that challenge their perspective with regard to “the norm.” I love a good debate, after all. In my opinion, nothing teaches us more about ourselves and the world than when we are forced to consider an opposing point of view.9526624_s

Finally, how we handle grief says something about who we are. We can all agree that the basis of grief is a lost attachment. Some people choose to avoid deep attachments in order to prevent grief. Others may have had an unhealthy attachment or unresolved difference with someone from which they might forever struggle to recover. And finally, some may handle grief remarkably well because they focus on their gratitude for the attachment they had the privilege to enjoy for however long it lasted. In all these cases, you have a very different character in play, which gives me a lot of directions I can pursue in terms of character and story development.

Best of all, this kind of theme allows me to really explore the truth of Hemingway’s observation. I love that quote, not only for its simplicity, but also for its optimism. That is the goal–the endpoint–of any character arc, after all. From darkness to light. Hopefully by beginning at the lowest of lows, the high will be more satisfying.

Speaking of characters, if you’d like to help me build the foundations of new ones, share your take on grief. Have you seen someone handle it very well or very poorly? Do you have a process that speeds up your recovery time, or do you go dark and quiet for a while? Do you rely on faith or friends? Do you get angry? Let me know and you might see your note reflected in my new story next year.

xo-Jamie

 

 

The Joy of Celebrating Romance Readers

I confess, I’m in a great mood despite the fact that snow is falling outside. Yes, snow in April. Needless to say, spring weather in New England is unpredictable. But I digress. My point is that I can deal with the snow because I’m still riding the high from the weekend thanks to dozens of readers, librarians, and bloggers (*waves to Heroes and Heartbreakers*).

The Pond House

The Pond House

On Saturday, my Connecticut Romance Writers of America chapter hosted its first annual “Spring into Romance” luncheon, (which was open to librarians, book sellers, and readers) at The Pond House. When we conceived of the idea months ago, we had no idea whether or not it would work. I admit, at first I had that sick feeling you get when you start to plan a party and wonder whether anyone will show up.

 

 

My beta readers

My beta readers

Luckily, we ended up with 97 guests (including some of our chapter’s authors). Those of us on the board were pleased with that turnout considering this was our first attempt to organize such an event. Our president, Jamie Pope, offered some welcoming remarks, and Kristan Higgins gave a lovely keynote address to the crowd. Spirits were high, I tell you. Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that we loosened everyone up with a complimentary cocktail.

The Three Jamies!

The Three Jamies!

Those who came enjoyed a great meal, played a fun trivia game (although my table did not fare so well in this), and mingled with other romance novel lovers, all of whom got to take home a goody bag with free books, frames, wine glasses, and more.

 

 

But while all of that is very fine and made for a pleasant afternoon, what stuck with me was the enthusiasm of so many who were interested in meeting some of their favorite authors.

Authors Kristan Higgins, Erika Kelly and guests

Authors Kristan Higgins, Erika Kelly and guests

I really can’t describe how much having a reader tell you, “I love your books” means to me. It is what makes me sit at this desk day after day. It gets me through reading a less flattering review. It helps me quiet the self-doubt that starts screaming midway through any draft.

 

So, this post, like this past weekend, is my little love note to my readers.

Authors Sadie Hartwell, Katy Lee and guests.

Authors Sadie Hartwell, Katy Lee and guests.

I wish more of you lived in Connecticut so that you could participate in some of the activities my chapter organizes. In lieu of that, I appreciate your participation on my Facebook page, and cherish every single reader email I get (including the ones that tell me what should happen next in a series).

Author Gail Chianese and guests

Author Gail Chianese and guests

 

 

I know I speak on behalf of my chapter and all of my writing friends when I say that you, dear readers, are the reason we keep writing. Thank you for spending your time with our stories!

xo-Jamie

Awards–What Do They Mean?

Yesterday was a monumental day in the world of romance authors, for some more than others. The Romance Writers of America announced the finalists is its annual RITA (published authors) and Golden Heart (unpublished authors) contests.

Alas, my books did not make the cut. But in all honestly, I had no expectation that they would. Thousands of books are judged by an equal number of readers, and the scores are largely subjective. To final, a book must not only be of a certain quality, but must also fall into the hands of three judges who love it. Ever read a book a friend highly recommended only to think to yourself, “meh?” Yeah. That happens, as proven by the fact that some of my favorite stories and authors from last year did not make the cut.

Authors’ reactions to losing can range from anger, cynicism, and defeat, to mild disappointment and a commitment to do better next year. Apparently, this disparity in response is universal in any artistic industry in which awards are distributed (music, television, film). In fact, I’ve pulled a bunch of quotes by famous people about awards. What shocked me is to see that Tom Cruise had the most balanced opinion (or, at least, the one that most mirrors my own).

At one end of the spectrum, you have these:

Of course awards matter. Frank Ocean

It’s very validating when you are new in the industry to get awards. It boosts your self-esteem. Sheena Easton

I’ve won many awards and I want more. If you want to call it hunger then I’m hungry for awards. Shah Rukh Khan

At the other end, you hear this:

Awards are meaningless to me, and I have nothing but disdain for anyone who actively campaigns to get one. Bill Murray

Awards are so unnecessary because I think we get so much out of our work just by doing it. The work is a reward in itself. Natalie Portman

Do awards change careers? Well, I haven’t heard of many stories where that’s the case. It’s a fun excuse to meet colleagues and celebrate people who’ve done well that year in certain people’s eyes, and it’s nothing more than that. Benedict Cumberbatch

And then there is the Tom Cruise opinion, which is how I feel (except for the part about having won many, since I’ve yet to win any, LOL!)

Awards are wonderful. I’ve been nominated many times and I’ve won many awards. But my journey is not towards that. If it happens it will be a blast. If it doesn’t, it’s still been a blast. Tom Cruise

While Ms. Portman makes an excellent point, it seems a tad bit disingenuous. Yes, awards are not necessary, but they are fun. And I imagine it feels amazing to win (like Ms. Easton reports). However, I’d also guess that Mr. Cumberbatch is not wrong when he says it doesn’t necessarily change careers. For some it might, but there are certainly prior RITA winners whose names I’ve never heard before.

Basically, today I’m feeling proud of my friends who’ve been nominated and will cheer them on in July. Sure, I have a little envy for the thrill they must’ve experienced when getting the call, yet I am not depressed or jaded or bitter, because I know their accomplishments do not diminish my own.

I’ve released four books in my first fourteen months in the business. That feels amazing. I receive lovely emails from readers who’ve been touched by some of my work. Honestly, nothing could mean more than that to me. And I’m constantly making new friends in the industry, which has been such a gift for this stay-at-home mother of two.

Yes, next year I will ship off my work and cross my fingers, hoping I might get a turn in the spotlight. That nagging voice of self-doubt that says I’m an imposter might finally quiet down if I ever win a big award. But most importantly, I look forward to continuing to engage with my readers. They, after all, are the real prize to be treasured.

XO-Jamie