April 1, 2015! It's not a joke, I really do have Jodi Thomas visiting "Wandering and Wondering with Words"! It is an honor, one that humbles me yet fills me with pride.
Most readers will know that Jodi is a multi-published, award winning author and is a constant on the New York Times Bestseller List and at USA Today. Her latest release, ONE TRUE HEART, takes place in small and usually quiet Harmony, Texas where the inhabitants have personalities as diverse as the west Texas winds blowing over the plains and through the canyons. Millanie McAllen returns as a wounded veteran just wanting to start over and figure out what the next steps in her life will be. Drew Cunningham appears to be a nerd but he's hiding from the past. His sister, Kare, is the local fortune teller, compassion is really her stock in trade. That, and a hidden career. Beau Yates returns home for his estranged father's funeral. His music heals his heart. And, Johnny Wheeler wants nothing but to get a divorce behind him and work the family farm. Now, that's all I can say . . .
The questions I have for Jodi focus on The Writer's Academy at West Texas A and M University (WTAMU) in Canyon, Texas. It is an intense week but well worth the time, money, and fatigue. The faculty members share their knowledge without pretense. Fellow students make friends. Staying in the dorm is a perk for many of us.
Winona Cross: When the Writer's Academy at WTAMU began in the mid-90's did you imagine how successful it would become?
Jodi Thomas: When I accepted Writer in Residence at West Texas A and M University my number one goal was to help beginning writers. It took me a few years to figure out how. When Continuing Education on campus offered to help, I knew we were off to the races. I wanted to help people not only write the best books they could, but learn ways to break into publishing.
We put together a one week class that ran all day. For five days students would live the writer's life. I wanted classes, intense classes--not one hour workshops you can sleep through or skip to go shopping like people do at conventions. I wanted lectures given to the entire group that focused on exact problems and rewards in the industry.
The success was unbelievable. People looking at the Academy sometimes say it is expensive because conferences may be cheaper, but I've never heard a writer who has attended say it wasn't well worth the money.
I believe in the Academy so much I donate my time for the week and usually stay in the dorm so we can have late night critiques. We even study plot structure over popcorn and a movie one night.
WC: I attended the Academy for the first time in 2012. I was in your group and we worked on the first 30 pages of our works-in-progress. After almost three years the book I worked on is being published by The Wild Rose Press. Tell the readers, if you will, how many Academy alumni have moved forward to publication.
JT: I believe ten of my first class have sold. Some have several books out. Check the Hall of Fame page on the www.wtamu.edu/wtwa
WC: You have shared that you go to your home office to write for several hours every evening. Was developing that habit difficult? Were there hurdles you had to overcome?
JT: I think the hardest thing to do as a writer is to get your bottom in the chair and work. After 25 years and 40 books I still fight it, but I've learned a few tricks.
1. Make yourself sit down for a short time--I usually say I'm going to sit here for one hour no matter what. Three hours later, I realize I'm working overtime.
2. Start with reading what you wrote yesterday. It pulls you into the story.
3. Work on a computer that doesn't have e-mail, games, etc..
4. Set weekly, monthly goals. You may not reach them all but you'll get some.
5. When you're stuck, change your environment.
WC: You've earned many awards, including the RITA from the Romance Writers of America (RWA), will you share the feeling of being recognized for your knowledge, talent, and hard work?
JT: I won my first RITA in 1993 with my third book. It never occurred to me that I'd win. I just went to the RWA convention so I could wear the ribbon that said Finalist. The second time I was up I read the other books that were up and decided I didn't have a chance, so I didn't go--couldn't afford it anyway. Hawaii? Third time I believed I had a chance, even bought a new dress to wear. I won. Said my thank you when I turned to leave they wouldn't let me off the stage. Nora Roberts took the mic and said in front of 3,000 people, "On the rare occasion a writer wins three RITA's in the same category, she is inducted into the Hall of Fame". I couldn't believe it! That morning I'd bought 150 dollars worth of books on how to write.
Now, awards line the top shelves of my office but what matters most is the letters I get from readers.
WC: Any advice for authors who feel discouraged?
JT: When you stop growing and taking critique you're as good as you're ever going to get.
Thank you, Jodi, for visiting my blog. It does mean more than I have the words to say. I look forward to seeing you on June 8, 2015 in Canyon for my third visit to the Academy. For writers out there who have considered attending the Academy all I can say is "Just Do It". Regardless of whose class you choose to be in you will be rewarded with new knowledge and kindness.
I look forward to reading your comments. Thank you for reading.