If being committed to writing is the key to getting published, it's no wonder that Jodi Thomas, bestselling author and winner of two RITA awards (the Romance Writers of America's highest award of excellence), recently completed her 20th novel.
She was recently seen in a courtroom awaiting her call to jury duty, typing away on her laptop. This diligence is what led to her quitting her job as a high school home-economics teacher after her third book. As a fifth-generation Texan and a natural-born storyteller, historical romances come easy for Thomas. Now she's added mainstream fiction to her repertoire. Her novels reflect Texas, from its rich history to the modern-day streets of Austin.
Credits: 17 historical romances, the latest a trilogy about an 1880s wife lottery that includes The Texan's Wager and A Texan's Luck. Her third mainstream novel, The Secrets of Rosa Lee, due out in August.
I started out looking for a way to put my kids through college. But as I got in deeper, writing became an addiction. I had to write.
When and where:
I write every day. In the mornings I do the business of writing, like answering correspondence and scheduling book tours. Afternoons I write. On a normal day, I turn out five pages. I do most of my original writing--the skeleton--at home, then flesh it out in my office in the library at West Texas A&M University, where I'm writer-in-residence. Unless I'm touring, I spend about eight hours a day, five days a week, in my office. There are fewer interruptions at the office than at home. In both places, I have space and a computer set aside strictly for writing--no bills to pay, no e-mail, no Internet. At the university, the door is always open to students, members of the Writers Club of West Texas and fans who come by. If I'm in the middle of something that requires continuity, I visit briefly, but don't sit down, just stand, so the visitor knows I'm not available for a long talk. Brief interruptions don't interfere with the flow of the story I'm working on. Since I've been writing at the office, I've been much more productive. I have to get organized in order to go to my office, so I get more done.
I use a story board, putting up sticky notes after I write each chapter. Under the chapter number go the names of the characters in that chapter, the plot points, the point of view, important structural information. When I start work, I read what I wrote the day before and edit it. I prefer rewriting. It's more fulfilling, more fun.
I do a lot of research. I studied the oil industry for The Widows of Wichita County. To write The Secrets of Rosa Lee, I thoroughly researched roses. I spent two weeks with homeless people in Austin to prepare for Finding Mary Blaine. About 10-15 percent of my writing time is spent on research, another 15 percent on the original writing of the story, and the other 70 percent rewriting. My research occurs almost entirely in the actual location of the story.
Never had it. Occasionally I suffer from burnout. Then I go driving along country roads. Soon the story draws me in, and I have to get back to work.
Write or sell first:
Only my first two historicals were written before I sold them. After that, I submitted proposals only. I also finished my first mainstream, The Widows of Wichita County, before I marketed it. But six publishers were interested in it, and my agent put it up for auction. I was able to meet with them all and decide which publisher would be best for that book. The other two mainstreams were sold on proposal only, to the same house as the first.
I have my screen saver set to repeat, "A writer writes." You have to step out there and put in the time. Triumph comes through perseverance.
Interview by Janda Raker of Amarillo, Texas, a published freelancer of fiction and nonfiction.
This article is from the March 2005 issue of The Writer.