Friday, August 12, 2016

A birthday blog!

I'm not the only writer who was born today. 
Mary Roberts Rinehart 1914

Mary Roberts Rinehart was born on August 12, 1876. She studied nursing and married a doctor. After the stock market crash of 1903, she turned to writing as a way to make money. And she did! 

She wrote dozens of books and plays, and hundreds of short stories and articles. She was a war correspondent at the Belgian front during WWI. She had breast cancer, like me, and was one of the first to share that experience in an article in The Ladies Home Journal.

Many of her books were mysteries; she was often called the American Agatha Christie. She’s credited with the phrase: “The butler did it!” because he had, in her novel The Door.

In another book, she created a criminal who always wore a bat costume. This character inspired Bob Kane’s “Batman.”

Would she be surprised to find out that those two memes live on one hundred years later? 

Happy birthday, Mary! I'm proud to share your day. I wonder what aspect of my life I will look back on and think, as so many of her characters did in her mysteries, Had I But Known…..

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Mother-Daughter Book Club

Confession: I WISH I had done this with my daughter and our friends. (I always had to sneak a look at what the girls were reading.) So I was really happy when Nina invited me to join the first meeting of their Mother-Daughter Book Club. They live in North Carolina so I spoke with them via Skype. No double stuffed Oreos for me! But I did get to see their smiles. They were so inspirational, I invited them to talk about their club on my blog.  

The girls are holding objects from the novel, including Double-stuffed Oreos and a bear!
Nina had particular reasons for starting the club. As she wrote in the invitation, "The tweener time can be challenging as girls face a lot of pressure from the outside world about how to look and how to 'be.'" To counteract that, she wanted to bring together "a group of peers and their moms to talk about characters that show inner strength in interesting ways." 

Nina had read Shireen Dodson’s book:  The Mother-Daughter Book Club: How Ten Busy Mothers and Daughters Came Together to Talk, Laugh, and Learn Through Their Love of Reading.  (More info here. ) She particularly wanted female authors writing about female characters because that encourages the girls to say "yes I have a mind and it's worth exploring my thoughts."

Here are some answers to questions I had for the moms and the girls. (My apologies for shortening their answers. They all had so many great thoughts!)

What inspired you to be part of the club?

"I tried to start a group with my friends before, and so I was eager to be part of this one. I really liked the discussion part, where we all asked questions. The double-stuff oreos were important. I recommend cookies if some one wants to do this."

"It was a great way to provide community and encouragement for the girls, and an opportunity for moms to be with their daughters in a unique way.  Daughters get to see their moms as peers discussing books and having fun, not as organizers or 'doers', etc....  or 'the person in charge'."   

"One-on-one time with my children has become so precious. My daughter absolutely adores reading, so this was a perfect avenue for us to bond. I try to push her to think outside the box with my questions. The material opens up conversation about friends, tween years, growing up, relationship changes, body image, etc."

Did you learn anything surprising about each other from your discussion about the book?  

"That the moms are all emotional weirdos because they cried at the end of the book. We couldn't relate to why they cried. We thought it was a pretty funny book."

The moms tried to explain their tears. 

"It was empathizing with Megan's mom and what she must have been going through."
"Megan had 'evolved' so much and that she chose to call her mom (to do the right thing/as opposed to calling her friend)."  
"Because of the forgiveness factor there at the end--between Lucy and Megan. Because she knew how hard it was to say sorry."
"I felt the exact same way Megan did--as an adult--when she went in to talk to Alison the
first time after she had found out she was sick. I did not know what to say, etc...  I could totally relate to what she was feeling."

What kinds of books are good for a group like this?

"Well our theme is kind of feminine heroes--and that seems to work really well, because I think we can relate better to girls rather than guy heroes.  Not heroes--like with super powers--I mean girls as main characters."

"So there you have it--a powerful book all around!  One that brought both laughter and tears to our eyes and hearts."  

Thank you, Nina, Mia, and all the book group members for sharing your thoughts with us. I'm so honored that you chose my book. I hope you keep the group going after the summer. Reading books is a great way to explore new ideas together. 

While I was Skyping with the club, Blackberry had to get in the act. 
One final thought--  

Nina was happy to read the passage when a monarch butterfly is inspirational to my character Megan.  A few years ago, after Nina had learned about the monarch population crash, she started a Monarch Rescue Organization. Her group partners with other organizations to restore the monarchs' habitats. It's so sad to me that when I wrote Nature Girl eight years ago, I had no idea that this was an area of concern. Please help however you can! 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How to Pick Your Next Project

Get ready. You're about to fall in love all over again. You're sailing into uncharted seas. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll change your life forever.

If only you could decide what to write about next.

Choice is exciting! Choice is overwhelming! I want this next book to be my best one yet. (No pressure, no pressure.) So how will I ever decide?

Sometimes a voice enters your head. (Presto! There's your next character!)

But usually it doesn't.

I sat at my desk and stared at the blank page. (Hello, Muse? Are you there? It's me, Jane.)

While I waited, I came up with these guidelines.

  • Choose/create a complex, rare, rich world. 
  • Pick a time of transition and crisis.
  • Surround your character with relationships. Subplots make all the difference.
  • Include your passion.
  • Trust your talent.
  • Try to imitate what's selling.
  • Write only what you know and stay in your comfort zone.
  • Be cruel.
  • Take short cuts. It's a long process. Enjoy the journey.
  • Give up.

That last bit of advice is the most important of all. 

I kept thinking. And rethinking. And when I finally did get my next great idea, I tested it against my metric. 

So far so good. 

Happy writing!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Eco Worrier ---- or Eco Warrior?

Happy Earth Day!

Forty-six years ago, my high school biology teacher Mr. Randall gave an impassioned speech about the need to save our planet. I remember being shocked that he departed from the lesson plans. Way back then, we were concerned about DDT and oil spills. But I don't remember feeling like I should do anything; I was just a teenager. In those days, we weren't even being asked to recycle.

Now we are all aware that the climate is changing. Temperatures are increasing. There are deep droughts in many parts of the world and floods in others. There is more wind––and I don't just mean people's speeches! I feel it, when I fly in a jet, when I sit in my living room, and especially when I stand on the beach.

Today 175 leaders from countries all around the world are signing the Paris Agreement on climate change. That is an amazing and necessary step. The problems are so complex that we need everyone to work toward implementing solutions. We need to think globally and act locally.

But what does that mean in real terms? We need to be aware that we share this planet. What happens in Las Vegas doesn't stay in Las Vegas. What happens in any corner of the world will effect us all––eventually. That last word is really the problem. We don't know exactly when or how. We can only imagine.

I'm pretty good at imagining. For the past decade, I've been an Eco-worrier. I didn't think that people were doing enough. Then I realized that I was worrying because I knew I wasn't doing enough. Yes, I was following the three R's -- reduce, re-use, recycle. But I could do more. I want to do more. And so today I begin.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Optimist Club

Last week I had the honor of speaking to the local chapter of the Optimist Club.

I admit that, when I first received the invitation, I was a little dubious. Who was this group? What would I say? This political season had brought out my cynicism. Could I be positive about anything--especially since they held their meetings at 7:30 in the morning, when I'm at my grumpiest. (Sometimes I joke that I became I writer so that I wouldn't have to talk to anyone early in the day.) But this year my resolution is to say yes, and so I agreed.

It was a cold and rainy morning. Winter has been hanging on here. Believing that spring will come shouldn't require optimism. And yet it did. I was feeling woefully unprepared. The meeting was in progress when I entered and sat down at a table.

"Is that little Janey Kelley?" I was greeted by a lovely woman who used to be my neighbor many decades ago in a magical place called Fairy Chasm.

Kay Freyer and I at the meeting.

I certainly am the girl who loved being in the woods because they inspired so many stories. But that girl hadn't believe that those dreams could become reality.

I spoke to the group about my writing and my latest book about Mary Jemison, who overcame so many adversities. Then someone asked  what I hoped readers would glean from my books. I told them that I wanted readers to believe in the importance of nature and the power of persistence. 

At the end of the meeting, I was given this wonderful plaque. I hope you can read what it says. In particular, the last sentence really struck a chord with me. 

"To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble."

I would be happy to take this pledge every week. The Optimist Club is part of an international group who do good work in many important areas. They sponsor sports teams, promote all kinds of health and safety, and provide scholarships. This link has more information about them.

Their motto is Bringing Out the Best in Kids. I'd like to think that's what I do too.

If only they didn't meet at 7:30 in the morning!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Interview with Author Jane Kelley by Annabelle and Eva

Today I'm thrilled to be a guest on my own blog!

Annabelle and Eva interviewed me after I had the pleasure of speaking to over 250 third, fourth, and fifth graders at Golda Meir School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their questions were very challenging.

In late October, Eva and I went to meet author Jane Kelley when she came to our school for a book talk. We asked her a few questions about herself. Here is what she said.

Q:  What do you do when your books get rejected?
A:  I'm very upset at the results. Then, I take the thing they said about my book and use the comments to make the book better. I did that many times when one of my books got rejected 10 times!

Q:  Why do you like being an author?
A:  I like doing fun research, imagining things to put in my books. For example, African gray parrots that go around and talk.

Q:  How do you think writing affects others?
A:  I think it is a way to communicate with the reader through words. It especially communicates with my daughter who inspires my stories.

Q:  What is your least favorite part of writing a story?
A:  I don't like the middle section because you always get stuck thinking of new ideas. It is unlike the beginning and the end because you always know what's going to happen.

Interviewing Jane Kelley was a great experience. We hope you consider reading her magnificent books which are filled with amazing ideas and adventures.

Thank you, Annabelle and Eva!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the thirteenth

I am superstitious. I live with a black cat.

Before Blackberry -- b.B.b. -- I had written many novels. None were published.

B.B.b. -- I had also written half of a memoir about my experience with breast cancer. I didn't finish it. I really didn't want to spend another year of my life describing that year of chemotherapy and radiation.

B.B.b. -- My husband and I were trying to write a musical together. We fought more about characters than we ever did about our finances or taking out the trash.

B.B.b. -- Our daughter was smart and talented, but a little more socially awkward than most.

So, b.B.b., life wasn't always so good.

In 2004, we adopted a little black kitten. Our daughter named her Blackberry.

A.B.b. -- My husband and I stopped writing that musical.

A.B.b. -- Our daughter found an amazing group of friends at her new middle school. She kept those friends, and every year has added more.

A.B.b. -- I have continued to be cancer free.

A.B.b. -- In the summer of 2005, I started writing a humorous adventure story called Nature Girl. It wasn't published until 2010, but I knew I had found what I was meant to do.

My husband jokes that Blackberry changed our luck. I'm pretty rational about correlations and coincidences, but I have to wonder if he's right.

And so in this Thanksgiving month, I want to acknowledge how grateful I am for all the good things in my life. I know that I am lucky to have opportunities to share my stories, the blessings of friends, and especially our good health.

It's nice to know our black cat has our backs.