Identity Crisis: Changing Pen Names

©Igor Borodin, via Bigstock

©Igor Borodin, via Bigstock

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while know that I’ve recently changed my pen name despite the fact that I’ve spent the last few years trying to make Jenna Blue mine… Crazy, right?

Oh, it is, though I didn’t take the decision lightly. First, beyond the practicalities of switching everything over, and the extra effort to re-build a brand, if you will, I chose Jenna Blue for a good reason. It had meaning to me. Unfortunately, it meant something entirely different to most everyone else hearing it for the first time. I can’t tell you how many people respond “that sounds like a porn star name.” Uh, really? Why? Crystal or Amber, it is not. I brushed off that same reaction over and over, thinking hey, all stage names and pseudonyms sound weird, until suddenly they don’t. If you manage to become successful enough, the name loses any other connotation but yours, right? Still, concern took root. My stories aren’t exactly sweet, but if readers are expecting erotica, they will be disappointed.

In the meanwhile, I’ve become friends with a fantastic suspense author named AJ Scudiere (ReadAJS.com) who, after an accidental experiment, discovered that a less feminine-sounding name got a far better response from agents representing her genre. No kidding—in this day and age. Lesson learned, however: perceptions do matter in this business. We talk and talk about branding, right? From book covers to your online platform, you need a consistent message. Readers want to know what to expect…and you guessed it, the first clue you give them is your name.

Currently, I write romantic suspense (RS), although my stories don’t fit into the tidy corners of that genre’s usual box. Also, my writing has been repeatedly called out as gritty. That word isn’t, perhaps, quite right, but there is a weight or a heft—maybe a gash torn from that expected cube—that speaks to both my voice and my subject matter. I am, I feel, writing RS with some women’s fiction in the mix. But even my contemporary romances—when I get to them—will still have my voice. Hmmnn. Jenna Blue was feeling more and more wrong.

Two other practical problems presented themselves in the meanwhile. First, another author has come onto the scene in other romance: Jenna Black. Yep, dang my slow start, her name is a little too similar for comfort—both for her sake and mine. Even more important, however, is my day job. I design as Julie Schroeder. But I’m not on social media that way—only Linked In, which I prefer to reserve solely for graphic design work. Nearly everything else was under Jenna Blue. Pleased authors who wanted to say thanks had to tweet with my Jenna Blue handle…uh, oh. How to grow a business when you aren’t easily findable, when you’ve made your multiple identities rather too separate? Yet, doubling my social media obligations simply wasn’t an option either.

I considered just using my real name for everything, as I’m sure anybody who really wants to find you, can, but while I was debating, someone close to me plastered a picture of me—one I hate, and not remotely recent (yes, I’d rather look current than young)—on facebook. And I realized by my swift, horrified, and somewhat unreasonable reaction, that retaining control of my online author persona, was important. I needed, for myself and my family, a level of separation, no matter how sheer. And yet, my names needed to be close enough, to allow both halves of my life to work together.

After much thought, I settled on JB Schroeder. Beyond the sense that it has a more appropriate feel for what I write (yes, audience?), I also thought I just might be able to answer to it. I still don’t even blink when someone says Jenna. There are a few people who do occasionally call me JB (my initials once upon a time), so it’s not like it doesn’t have meaning and history for me.

Still—submissions pending, contests entered—I had to wait. What if I wiped out Jenna Blue and one of those editors or judges decided to check out my presence online? Finally, when I made a decision to switch tracks on my writing career, the time was right to bring JB Schroeder to life. My apologies for the confusion in the meanwhile. And if you’ve got a pseudonym story of your own, we Femmes would love to hear it.

JB Schroeder
JulieSchroederDesigns.com

Starting the Next Book

How do you start your next story? I don’t mean where, exactly. We all know the first chapter should begin with a life changing event. Ideally with a smidge of the everyday world shown, enough meat to show the character’s character, her (or his) dilemma without backstory slowing us down though.

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[Gpointstudio/Young Thoughtful Woman/Photos.com]

Sigh. If it were only that easy. For me STARTING the next book, period, is the hard part. I’ve attempted freeform scribbling of story ideas—you should see the disjointed pages of “maybe’s” I’ve got. Maybe he should do x, maybe this happened to her in the past, maybe that. If there’s a gem in that mess it’s hiding pretty well.

I’ve tried starting with only the most basic premise, using bold, black marker to set out the major plot points on index cards. This tactic is supposed to be so great. The cards can be rearranged so easily, you can take them everywhere! To begin, you only need a few big scenes! This major thing happened, they have to end here, something crushing has to happen about there, etc. Then you play a game of connect the dots—more index cards forming a dotted path from A to B to C. Except wait—you have to actually write something on them. And therein lies the trouble. Anyone else find all those blank rectangles laid out in row intimidating? Stilting? Truth be told, I did start my last book this way… sort of. But it didn’t get me very far. This time, index cards seem to be getting me nowhere.

Some people research heavily, all the gems of information igniting story ideas and plot twists galore. Ummmmn. If I don’t know what I’m writing, how do I know what to research?

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Femme Stalking: Lena Diaz

Femme Stalking {noun} The act of stalking favorite authors until they agree to stop by the blog and let us go all fan girl on them.FemmeStalkingLOGO_Trim_Final

Imagine my excitement when I read He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not by Lena Diaz right after we cooked up the idea of Femme Stalking. Not only is this book fantastic romantic suspense, but also, Lena’s Nursery Rhyme series is published by Avon Impulse—a digital-first imprint that unpublished-me really has her eye on! Good news for our readers, too: Lena is offering a giveaway—a digital copy for Nook or Kindle of both He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not and Undercover Twin. Simply leave a comment, and you are entered!

Jenna Blue: Welcome, Lena, and thanks for visiting! Let’s cut straight to that fan girl thing. He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not, is followed by Simon Says Die, and Ashes, Ashes, They All Fall Dead, creating a series. The nursery rhyme angle coupled with serial killer villains is brilliantly high-concept, not to mention creepy! How did you come up with it? Did the unique angle help you sell the series?

Lena Diaz: Jenna, thanks so much for having me on today and for your kind words about He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not. Fingers crossed for your Avon Impulse dreams. It’s an awesome line and HarperCollins is fabulous to its authors. As for your question, I wish I could say I’d come up with this as a series concept from the beginning, but I didn’t. When I wrote the first book, I sold it as stand-alone and didn’t envision a series. Then reader mail and reviews clamored for Pierce and Madison’s story (minor characters from the first book), so I pitched a second book titled The Widow’s Husband. Avon liked the story, but not the title. So I came up with Simon Says Die to make it similar to the first title. They loved it! The light bulb went on while writing SSD. I realized I might have the makings of a series. So I created the Buchanan family, with lots of hot, alpha brothers who could potentially each have their own book someday. The creepy “Nursery Rhyme Series” was born. I stumbled and bumbled my way into this series and am so glad I did. I’m having the best time writing these books and am totally in love with the Buchanan men HeKillsMeHeKillsMeNot High Res Cover

JB: Often I feel romance heroines are too perfect, strong, and resilient, so I loved that Amanda Stockton, the heroine in He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not, is still really struggling a few years after surviving a traumatic abduction. She felt incredibly real to me. Did you receive any pushback from your editor or early readers on this?
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Say It Again, Sam: A Theatre Gal’s Approach to Dialogue

Photo credit: Rennett Stowe / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: Rennett Stowe / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

BOO, and Happy Halloween!  Does writing dialogue scare you enough to make your hair stand on end like this guy on Halloween? Fear not!

At nearly every stage of my writing journey from fledgling to now, I’ve been paid compliments on my dialogue.  Dialogue is one of my favorite aspects of writing, especially during that darn first draft.  If I could, I’d write the whole thing in dialogue.  I think this stems from my music and theatre background because I tend to hear a story first through dialogue. I like to get up out of my writing chair and act out scenes, practicing inflections.  Fun times for sure when my hubs or my little walks in while I’m in the throes of drama.  Honestly, I’ve done some of my best work in my office.  My acting coaches would be so proud!

There are the obvious dos and don’ts to writing dialogue that we as writers are taught.  I promise I’ll get to a few of my fan favorites – there’s too many for me to cover them all.  First I want to share some things I learned in my theatre background that I believe carried over into my work as it relates to dialogue.

What is said ABOUT a character is more revealing than what a character says

I remember this ah-ha moment in Scene Study Class back at my Alma Mater, Ithaca College.  I’d been having a hard time fully developing a character because I had very little in the way of dialogue in the scene.  Once I opened my ears to what other characters had to say about mine, the scene and character came alive.  As a writer, a little insight from a secondary character about the Hero or Heroine through dialogue can carry a lot of weight with the reader, especially if that secondary character has been presented as knowledgeable or trustworthy.
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Writers’ Police Academy: A Romantic Suspense Writer’s Dream Come True

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Bomb Squad and K-9 Demonstration

At the Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, NC, WPA 2013 boasted a DNA expert and forensic anthropologist, a psychologist and scientist, a medical examiner and a nurse, a prosecutor and a judge. The Bomb Squad was there, along with EMS, an ATF agent, a federal agent, undercover detectives, chiefs, sheriffs, captains, officers—I’ve only scratched the surface, the list goes on and on. Suffice it to say, crime scene to fire investigation, emergency room to underwater recovery, felony stops to dangerous microorganisms, they have every topic covered either in class or hands-on.

A.J. Scudiere and I tried handcuffing techniques (no bedposts, people, keep it clean!), and I learned self-defense techniques, then whaled on a dummy. P.A. DePaul got to suit up in protective bomb gear, and other attendees investigated an entire criminal case and then presented it to a judge. Carey Baldwin and some other lucky writers got to “ride-a-long” on real calls with local police.

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Pre-pub Journey: Feeling like the Who’s in Who-ville

Always when I am at the beach, I’m reminded how big the world really is. Hearing the vast ocean crash and watching the horizon that stretches farther than my screen-weary eyes can see makes me feel tiny, like a speck. Inevitably I marvel at the scope of the universe, the secrets of space, the wonder of the sea, the size of the earth and it’s many continents—and more practically, the billions of people that exist. I am only the teeniest fraction of all that. This summer especially, I’m feeling inconsequential and left behind. This year has been huge for the Femmes. Many of these amazing writers have been offered contracts and are soon to be officially published. Yay, Ladies! So incredibly proud of you! So honored to work with you, and call you my friends! And yet, of course, I’d have to call myself a robot if I didn’t feel the inevitable tug of worry and doubt: what about me? When will it be my turn? It’s so easy to beat myself up: I don’t write fast enough, I’m missing a fab hook, I targeted the wrong places, I didn’t write to the market, I broke too many rules…

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Photo courtesy of Jenna Blue, 2013

Of course, I’m making writing analogies as I sit in my beach chair, feeling smaller than ever. I am a speck, a grain of sand, one author among zillions, fighting against the tide. And any mention of a speck, brings me directly to the Who’s in Who-ville.

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Keeping the Pages Turning in Romantic Suspense (Lessons I’ve Learned the Hard Way)

Revisions on my current manuscript have been torturous. Murky, slow and agonizing. Why? I blissfully (stupidly) ignored the tenets of what makes a romantic suspense a real page-turner. To the point where my agent, after having read the first 55K words, essentially said, “Well it all hangs together, but it reads like a contemporary romance.” Ouch. That’s not to say that contemporary romances are dull—in fact, they are some of my favorites to read. However, if you grab a romantic suspense, you expect to be biting your nails. NailBiterGal_124527807Or, according to Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia’s definition: Suspense is a feeling of pleasurable fascination and excitement mixed with apprehension, tension, and anxiety developed from an unpredictable, mysterious, and rousing source of entertainment. There’s more, but you get the idea.

Below, I’ve shared the 11 best methods I’ve found to enhance suspense. No need to use all of them at once, nor are they listed in order of importance. Simply pick a few, make them integral to your story, and viola, readers will burn dinner because they snuck a few pages while standing over the range. The extra bonus? The same elements, ahem, make the story far easier to write.

1. A Solid Conflict. Opposing forces. Absolute must do’s. No other options. Any story in any genre will fall flat without well-constructed conflict. The simplest formula I’ve seen is Madeline Hunter’s: She MUST DO SOMETHING, and He MUST STOP HER from doing it.
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You Get Out What You Put In

Last year, when I was in the thickest part of the work for the NJRW conference materials, juggling work, kids, writing, life, and volunteering, one person close to me kept asking, but why? Why do you agree to do that? Why do you give that writer’s group so much time? For lots of reasons, of course, however today I want to focus on that age old tenet: You get out what you put in.

Often, it’s the intangible stuff that’s so great, like that feeling of being included, getting the inside jokes, sharing history, forging friendships, the pleasure of common interests. Maybe you feel valued, because your time is appreciated or your contribution helpful. Or, perhaps there’s simply a sense of satisfaction.

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February Romantic Moments

In commenting on Maria’s February post, I used up my ace in the hole from Love, Actually (the scene where Colin Firth tracks down his love, crowd on his heels, and asks in her language (which he’s still learning) her to marry him. Sigh. In trying to come up with another favorite, I’ve realized something. Like Joanna, I’m not that big a fan of the grand, sweeping gesture or extravagant action. No lighting up the Empire State Building, please. Case in point, remember the scene in the movie Say Anything where John Cusack the underachiever, with his weird long coat, holds up the boom box, blasting Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes to the valedictorian girl he’s crazy about, played by Ione Skye? I’ve seen women moan and reference this as one of the most wildly romantic moments ever. I’ve always thought it felt more stalker-skeevy or at least go-away-you’re-incredibly-annoying-ish.

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Snippet #5: The Runaway

Hello! I’m Jenna Blue, the newest member of the Violet Femmes. Although we’ve been all twined up this past year (forming fast friendships, critiquing like mad, and just generally enjoying the camaraderie of pals who ‘get’ this writing journey), I have finally taken the plunge and accepted their invitation to blog regularly. Thank you, Femmes! I’m touched and honored, and will strive to do you proud!

As most of you know, it’s Snippet Month! Before you sink into reading for pleasure, however, please take a moment to enter our contest by following the link below. We can’t wait to award one of you a brand new NOOK SIMPLE TOUCH!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/d514c70/

Today’s snippet from The Runaway, is not one that highlights the heat between my sexy heroine and hot alpha hero, or even one that foreshadows the danger that crackles in a romantic suspense… Instead, in honor of my fellow Femmes, I’ve chosen a scene that speaks to FRIENDSHIP. Because no matter the form, the start, or the length—to celebrate joyous times and bolster you in the bad—there’s nothing like good friends.

Although they both search for Mitch’s runaway sister, Charlie has stonewalled the sexy detective who arrived asking questions, believing she knows nothing that could help—and fearing her own secrets will come to light. After he leaves, Henrietta, who has witnessed the heated altercation in the middle of the busy San Francisco soup kitchen, gives Charlie a piece of her mind—as good friends are wont to do.

 Charlie glared daggers at the man’s back as he stormed out of Glide. When he stepped over the threshold, she pivoted and marched back to the kitchen without a glance to the left or right.

Henrietta held open the swinging door for her by casually leaning against it, while she fanned herself with a plate. “Quite a show,” she murmured.

“I suppose you had a front row seat,” Charlie muttered as she slid past. She didn’t want to talk about it, so she attempted to adjust her tone to sweet, “Another hot flash, Henry?”

“Woo yes. Brought on by all the excitement.” She ambled in, the swoosh of the door just missing her as it returned.

Charlie headed for the far counter and slammed empty tins into the industrial-sized washbasin. She yanked down the oven door, and reached in—

“Ow!” She jumped back and lunged for the sink, pulled the cold faucet handle, and shoved her hand under the rush of water.

Henrietta grabbed two mitts and slid out the tray of chicken. “A little rattled, are ya?” she needled.

“Just not paying enough attention, that’s all,” Charlie grumbled.

The older woman set the food under the warming lights without looking at Charlie. “My mind’s lingering on that hunk of a man, too.”

“Henrietta!”

“Well, he is a looker.” She returned to the oven for some warm dumplings. Charlie rolled her eyes and caught Henrietta’s smirk.

“What’d he say to make you so angry?”

“Nothing really,” Charlie eyeballed the pad of her index finger, found it slightly red, and stuck it back under the stream of cold water. “He just rubbed me the wrong way.”

“What’s he want?”

Charlie huffed out a breath, turned off the faucet, and grabbed a towel. “He’s a cop. He’s looking for his sister.” She faced Henrietta. “Tiffany Scott.”

Henrietta stared. “Then what was all the yelling about?”

“I wasn’t willing to give him any information without a warrant.”

Henrietta put her hands on her hips. “Why ever not, child?”

“Because how do I know she wants to be found? That he’s who he says he is? That he’s not the cause of her trouble, or that he’s doing what’s right for her?”

Henrietta cocked her head. “Isn’t this the very girl you been worrying over?”

Charlie nodded, sheepish.

Henrietta shook her head. “You are somethin’ else, if you withheld information that could help that girl. From an officer of the law, no less!”

“A job or a title doesn’t make a person automatically trustworthy, Henry.” Appearances could be deceiving—a truth she’d do well to remember. “Besides, if I knew where she was, I would have helped her myself.”

“Mmm-hmmn. Just by looking at that fine man, I can tell he’s on the up and up, and I bet you know it, too.”

Charlie frowned. Maybe, except if he was Tiffany’s brother, then he was also from Pennsylvania. Add that to the fact that he’s in law enforcement, and the chances of him recognizing her skyrocketed.

She threw the drying towel on the metal counter. “What I know,” she said, “is that the good-looking ones can be the worst kind.”

Henrietta clucked her tongue. “What I know is that a good man could be just what you need to force you out of that box you live in.”

“You rent me that box!” Charlie stomped her foot, then immediately regretted the petulant action. A landlady who acted more like a mother naturally brought out her inner child.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” Henrietta raised her chin in challenge.

Charlie blew out another breath hard—this one forceful enough to make her short bangs move. “Stop pushing. I have everything I need.”

“You most certainly do not! You serve at this mission and you waitress at night. Otherwise, you hide out in your apartment. No friends to speak of—”

Charlie began, “I have you and Cleo—”

“No friends your own age—real girlfriends! Never a date, no hobbies, and not a lick of fun as far as I can tell.” Henrietta had started fanning herself again in the middle of this tirade with a work-worn hand.

“You should talk,” Charlie said.

“I’m old! I’ve lived life, child!” She flapped both hands in exasperation and her generous bosom heaved. “You deserve more.”

Charlie shook her head. “Please, Henry. This is the only way for me.” Tears threatened, so she clenched her jaw. “I promise you, I’m content. It might not seem like much from the outside looking in, but this life is a blessing.”

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