Sarah Younger and Jeffe Kennedy at RWA 2016

At Last: My Big News!

Sarah Younger and Jeffe Kennedy at RWA 2016So, I’ve been making vague remarks about big changes in my writing career life. More than I thought, because a number of people have asked me about it! But there were Reasons I couldn’t say until today.


I’m moving to a new agent and agency!

As of today I’ll be represented by Sarah Younger of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency. I’m super excited about this move. Sarah just celebrated her 80th deal (which just happened to be a fabulous one for my wonderful friend, Grace Draven). She’s also just a lovely person all around – and not just because she loves my books! Here’s us at the Harlequin Ball in San Diego last summer (2016), at the RWA annual conference, long before either of us had an inkling we might work together. 

What’s funny is – and you longtime readers will particularly appreciate this – Sarah read and loved PETALS & THORNS way back when I published it under my Jennifer Paris pseudonym. Let me tell you, finding an agent who’s read your books for pleasure is a fantastic feeling. She really groks what I write and I think we’re going to make an amazing team.

So, as of today I’m bidding a fond farewell to Fuse Literary. I notified them and my previous agent, Connor Goldsmith, back at the end of February that I’d be making this change. My agency agreement with Fuse (like many), required a 30-day notice to wind up business with them. I will always appreciate what Fuse and Connor have done for me. Agency partner Laurie McLean really worked hard to find a place for me in the agency after my first agent (Pam Howell) left. (For those who don’t know, an author signs with a literary agency, not an individual agent, so if an agent leaves the agency, the author has the option of following them to the new agency or staying put and working with a new agent.) In the end, I approached Sarah about moving my work in a new direction. I liked what she had to say and was hugely gratified that she offered to represent me when I asked. 

Big changes like this never seem to be easy, even for the person who initiates them. The last month of conversations and logistics have been surprisingly emotional for me. It’s kind of like filing for divorce and planning a wedding to someone new, all in the space of 30 days. 

Plus there was that whole RITA finalist thing in the middle. 

All good things, but – WOW! – I’ll be happy to settle into a steady, quiet routine again. ~fans self with hankie~

So, stay tuned for news. Exciting days ahead!

What Does “Writer’s Life” Really Mean?

Dealing with blog post tags is an ongoing part of my life.

I know, I know – it doesn’t count as an actual problem. Still, the labels I choose to index the various things I’m writing and talking about, provide a certain insight into how I see things at different points in my life.

See, the thing about blog post tags is that I don’t have a good system for assigning them. I’ve tried a few things, but it’s still a semi-random and more-than-a-little subjective. WordPress will suggest labels from my existing ones as I type them into a box, but it’s kind of like looking a word up in the dictionary – you have to have kind of an idea of how to start it before you can get close. It becomes a problem for me, because I sometimes want to look up an old blog post – something I know I wrote about before – and I have to play this guessing game with myself to figure out how I might have tagged it at the time. I’m right less than half the time.

So when I label current posts, I try to strategize what my future self will think of to look it up under. This means I’m playing this eternal guessing game with my past and future selves, which probably does not speak well for my long-term sanity.

I have this fantasy, you see, that I would be incredibly organized and *always* tag the same concept with the same tags. This would make the scientist in me happy.

However, I’ve recently realized part of the problem: concepts for me drift over time. They don’t get the same tags because I don’t think of them in the same way.

I noticed this on Tuesday, when I tagged my post on How Having Your Book Rejected Makes You a Better Person with the label “Writer’s Life.” Because that is absolutely a topic that is core to living the life of a writer to me. I talked about how my friend is dealing with disappointment in her writing career and compared it to recovering from heartbreak and becoming a stronger person because of it. Yes, “Writer’s Life” is the perfect tag for that.

It struck me then that this not how I used to think of “Writer’s Life.” I started writing in a more academic and literary environment and discussions about “writer’s life” were much more about art and philosophy and mindfulness. A lot of it can be encapsulated by the critical praise for Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life.” (Yes, I have that book on my shelf.)

A kind of spiritual Strunk & White, a small and brilliant guidebook to the landscape of a writer’s task.

…a glimpse into the trials and satisfactions of a life spent with words.

Gracefully and simply told, these little stories illuminate the writing life…

Anyone hoping to see inside the process of literary artistry is unlikely to find a more lucid, sensitive or poetic view.

…as slim and potent as the Tao Te Ching, that ancient Chinese manual on the art of living…

And so on.

This is how I used to view this concept – probably heavily informed by this book. I look back to when I began my blogging life over at, where I used the “Writers Life” tag 102 times in the two-year, eight-month life of that blog, making it my most frequently used tag. I look back at those early posts and see I did a lot of angsting over things like selling out and balancing writing projects and order vs. chaos (I linked to it because that one is kind of amusing).

At any rate – I can see how I’ve changed in my understanding of the Writer’s Life. I moved from thinking about my writing process to recognizing how my day job had made me a better writer and what the corporate environment had taught me about dealing with personnel issues.

I think this is a natural progression: as we become professional writers, our lives become less about the philosophy and more about the reality.

And that’s a good thing.

Now to select some tags for this besides “Writers Life.”

Low-Hanging Fruit

We went apple-picking in Tesuque yesterday.

Some friends live on a fairly large property in Tesuque canyon, filled with apple trees. They invited a bunch of us to bring containers and fill them with apples. We shared a potluck dinner. Lovely activity for a golden fall afternoon.

Except apple-picking is hard work.

Lots of bending over to pick up windfall apples, ones shaken from the trees and ones cut off by the pickers. Lots of stretching up to reach the low-hanging fruit – a phrase that has entirely new meaning for me now – and getting tangled in the snarly branches. We only picked for a couple of hours, but it left me a bit tired and sore.

If anyone had asked me how I liked apple-picking, I was ready to say, “this is why my farming grandparents were so hot for all of us to get good educations.”

You guys do this, too, right? Prepare the witty remark, just in case someone asks. The only is, people rarely give you the correct set-up line and instead ask you something else completely unexpected that leaves you floundering for a response.

At any rate, I was thinking of my ancestors and how they spent their days. How apple-picking was probably a cake job for them. It kind of throws the whole writing and publishing business into a different light. There the labor is mostly mental and emotional. And yet, still strenuous for all that.

Last Friday I was chatting with Laura Bickle, whose really excellent book Sparks recently appeared here. We were talking about marketing books and publicity, what’s the most effective approach to spreading the word about your book, and whether the traditional publishers are falling behind. I told Laura about this, that I’d been meaning to post here, apparently since last January:

Tim O’Reilly, the founder and C.E.O. of O’Reilly Media, which publishes about two hundred e-books per year, thinks that the old publishers’ model is fundamentally flawed. “They think their customer is the bookstore,” he says. “Publishers never built the infrastructure to respond to customers.” Without bookstores, it would take years for publishers to learn how to sell books directly to consumers. They do no market research, have little data on their customers, and have no experience in direct retailing. With the possible exception of Harlequin Romance and Penguin paperbacks, readers have no particular association with any given publisher; in books, the author is the brand name. To attract consumers, publishers would have to build a single, collaborative Web site to sell e-books, an idea that Jason Epstein, the former editorial director of Random House, pushed for years without success.

It’s from this New Yorker article, if you care to read the whole thing. The article is on the long side (did I mention it was in the New Yorker?), but very interesting. What grabbed my attention in this bit is the idea that the traditional publishers think their customers are bookstores. I can see how that’s the case. Bookstores, and to a lesser extent, libraries, ordered the books and made all of the purchasing and return decisions. It was up to the bookstores to connect with the actual readers.

Now, however, I can vouch that I now buy almost all of my books electronically, from Amazon or directly from the epublisher or the author. As much as I love bookstores, I rarely go into one anymore. When I do, I usually don’t see what I’m looking for. I follow the recommendations of friends, book bloggers and other authors. Laura mentioned that Wal-Mart no longer will shelve books in the urban fantasy genre, which is what she writes. The big chain bookstores are failing as we see in the news.

It’s a new era. Which is not a bad thing.

Things change. I imagine a lot of us come from farming backgrounds, yet very few of us spend the day laboring to pull our food from the earth. We don’t need to. Why am I not going into bookstores anymore? I don’t need to.

In reality, the customers for books have always been the readers. Bookstores are the middle-man, taking a piece of the profit for the service they provide. As that service declined – you know what I mean, when you could walk into a bookstore and say “I don’t remember the author or the title, but it’s about an autistic kid who thinks he witnesses a murder…” and the lovely bookseller could hand you exactly the thing and recommend six others – we have less need for that middle-man.

The one thing I really miss is the fun of it. I loved spending an hour or two browsing the shelves. The smell of leather armchairs and fresh print. That’s the point of apple-picking, too, to spend an hour or two in the sunshine pulling fruit from the tree.

But the fastest, cheapest way for me to get an apple? Buy one from the store.


This reminds me of hot summer afternoons, lying on suburban lawns and watching the clouds drift by. These are from sunrise this morning, though, thus the pink, and I was never up that early in my teenage summers.

Things change.

Irene Goodman, described as a “leading literary agent in New York who has has many New York Times bestsellers,” which means she’s one of the hottest agents out there, authored an article for the September Romance Writers Report. (RWA’s industry magazine.) She titled it “Common Mistakes by New Authors” and lists five mistakes. Of those, three are related to genre:

1. They don’t pick a genre and stick to it.
2. They choose uncommercial subjects.
3. They choose genres that are out of style.

(The other two are about plot and conflict/tension.)

This article immediately annoyed me. I can see her points, sure, but I think the article could be better titled “How to approach your writing like a product.” To me, this is something for the agents to think about, not the writers.

I could be wrong, but hear me out.

Genre is a marketing thing. It’s a false line drawn to give bookstores and libraries a way to shelve books. It’s intended to give readers a way to find the kind of book they love best. Music and movies are divided up the same way. And we have all had that experience, as readers or listeners, of vainly searching the shelves for a particular author or movie, only to resort to the teenage cashier with a slow computer.

“I think this movie is drama, but clearly you guys don’t.”

“Oh! That’s in comedy, actually.”

I have had this conversation any number of times. I’m sure you have, too. And who knows? Maybe the writer and director absolutely believed they’d made a comedy and I’m the odd one focusing on the drama. Or, maybe they made a drama and the marketers said, look! right there, someone laughed! and stamped the nicely selling “Comedy” label on it.

I’m seeing a lot of this from agents lately, that we as authors should know what genre our book is. They consider it fundamental. Irene says that we should pick a nice, fashionable and commercial genre and write exactly that book. This completely ignores the fact that most writers aren’t writing genres, we’re writing stories. Once we’re done, and we’re writing up our queries, we tilt our heads at it and say, “well, it’s got an urban fantasy premise in a non-urban landscape with high fantasy elements and also contemporary romance… I’ll call it dark fantasy.”

Yeah -all you agents out there (I fantasize that you read my blog – I have a rich imagination) are clutching your heads in despair. We’re sorry. We really are. But you knew we were doing this, right?

Fact is, I have two writer friends with books coming out soon, who were coached to revise their books towards one genre or another, after they had the publishing contract. I suspect this happens a lot. And really, both were fine with it. Shape it in this direction? I can do that. Plan it that way to begin with? That means you’re planning a product, not spinning a story. To me, as a writer, the two come from very different places in myself.

I’ve been president of the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of RWA for almost two years now and a frequent topic of debate is which genre to sandwich a story into. We’re obviously a polyglot of a chapter, with writers of Science Fiction Romance, shape-shifters, time-travel, vampires, swords & sorcery, ghosts, everyday magic. Really, if someone writes anything kind of weird, they end up with us.

I absolutely understand that this is something that publishers, editors and agents have to think about. That’s their business. I suspect it’s an interesting aspect of the business for them. I would think they’d have to get really good at it, to succeed.

However, I think it’s a mistake to exhort writers to get on board that wagon.

And let me say, right here and now, that I do believe the agent/author relationship is a partnership. You have to work together for mutual success. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s very difficult for me to look at my story, which is this great swirling mass in my head of faces and feelings and conflicts and desires, and slap a label on it. If someone else looks at it and says, well, with a few tweaks, it would fit nicely here, I would be grateful.

To me, that’s part of what an agent brings to the relationship. You wrote it, now I’ll help you sell it.

Finally, the other day I watched Oprah’s interview of JK Rowling on You Tube. (It’s well worth watching and broken out into segments so you don’t have to commit to the whole thing at once.) At one point, Rowling talks about signing the publishing contract for the first Harry Potter and how her agent said, congratulations, but you’ll never make any money writing children’s books.

Of course, Rowling is now the only billionaire writer in the world.

I totally don’t hold this against her agent. Harry Potter could be slotted as a children’s book and they didn’t make money at that time. They were uncommercial and unfashionable. But if you walk into a store today, to buy a Harry Potter book – do you head for the children’s section?

Yes, I know Harry Potter was an unpredictable phenomenon. Like Twilight, like a bunch of others we could name. They broke new ground, because they were new stories. Genres lines are bent to accommodate them.

Things change.

I wonder, if those new writers had followed Ms. Goodman’s advice, would they have written those books? Of course, 99% of us will never become phenomena like them, so maybe it’s good advice for the working writer. And yet, I think most of us write, not to churn out a product, but because we become obsessed with a story.

Of course, we’d love to sell it, too. Have patience with us. Help us out here.

Maybe it’s really a High Paranormal Fantasy?

Second Wind

On these windy days, Isabel sits on the lee side of that big yucca and tries to tough it out.

Sometimes she lasts through most of the morning or even a lot of the day, prowling around under the bird feeder. Other times it’s only for a few minutes. Still it’s nothing like our old Wyoming wind. The high desert winds of Spring here gust in tumultuous waves, but they lack the icy knife’s edge of the Wyoming winds.

We were warned that Spring here would be windy and so it is. I think of it like lake turnover – all of those layer of air warming up, rising and sinking. It’s worth a little tumult to get the warmth.

I suppose that’s the way of things – you can’t get change without stirring things up.

Please don’t nod and add “you can’t get an omelet without breaking some eggs.” I always thought that analogy was stupid. Who cares if the eggs get broken? You’re eating an omelet! No, the analogy cries out for enduring something really unpleasant to get what you want.

(Incidentally, Blogger told me I spelled “omelet” wrong. I spelled it “omelette” – apparently I’m feeling very French this morning – but it doesn’t offer correct spellings. So I typed it into Sterling as the beginning of the next chapter so Word would tell me. Now Chapter 12 starts with “Rowan made an omelet.” This amuses me no end. I’d love to find a way to keep it. And you wonder where writers get their ideas…)

Sometimes the unpleasant things we endure aren’t dramatic or glamorous. In fact, more often it’s the humdrum, the grind that has to be overcome. David has less than three weeks left of school in this semester and he’s grumbling about not wanting to go to class. I’m about 25% of the way into Sterling, nearing the Act I climax, which is a nice goal to be reaching, but there’s a lot of novel left to write.

(Especially if my heroine is going to spend a chunk of the next chapter preparing breakfast. I really think she has more important things to deal with…)

Ah, now Isabel has had enough. She leaps up onto the table outside my window and meows as if the hounds of hell are chasing her. I let her in, for a bite of breakfast, maybe a little nap. After a break she’ll try it again.

Just like the rest of us.

A River of Garbage

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I recall this one particularly annoyed one of my classmates, long ago back in AP English at Overland High, lo these many years ago.

I wanted to ask him how many wedding ceremonies he hadn’t sat through, not to hear this kind of claptrap before. Leave the parents and cleave unto each other. Like the joint candle and blow out your own. I’ve always imagined Wallace Stevens sticking his tongue in his cheek for this one. If a man and a woman can be one, no reason you can’t throw a blackbird into the mix as well. Not unlike Steve Martin’s classic scene in The Jerk, leaving and taking the only thing he needs, gradually adding more and more useless items. After the initial assumption, it doesn’t really matter what else you add in.

Don’t change what all you’re piling on top; change the initial assumption.

There’s an idea out there that things don’t and can’t change. When people talk about efforts to address environmental issues and global climate change, there’s a thread running through the arguments that this is how things have always been. That change is impossible. What we don’t always have a good perspective on is how much things have already changed.

David sent me the letters below. The Game & Fish crew found these letters from 1932 when they cleaned out some old files. Hopefully you can read them — I made them as big as I could. You might have to use your screen zoom.

It’s shocking, isn’t it, that they’re arguing about dumping garbage in the Columbia? After all, they’re very careful to dump it from the bridge in the best spot, with the swiftest current. You laugh to read it.

And that’s a mark of change.

It’s something to think about, amidst the shouting, wailing and gnashing of teeth that things can’t change. Someday, someone like yourself might look back on the debates of today and be amused that there was ever a question.