Try Everything…When Writing a Novel

Try Everything is the most accurate song about writing that I have ever heard. Especially this part of the chorus that defines revision:
I won’t give up, no I won’t give in
Until I reach the end and then I’ll start again.

And if you haven’t seen Zootopia yet, you should go do that.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Novel Soundtrack: Narrator

If you’re far enough along on my bi-weekly emails, you’ll know that I have a crap novel soundtrack for Narrator. If you’re everyone else? I have a crap novel soundtrack for Narrator. Seriously, it’s three songs from Swan Lake. Over and over and over…

Or at least, it was.

Now I’ve found actually relevant songs thanks to Bea Miller! So it’s…you know…three different songs over and over and over…

But here’s the best one. As in I think there are only two or three lines that don’t actually fit. First verse is Calder, second verse is Arianna. Listen and be amazed…at how much you trust me to tell you it’s accurate.

(For the writing group friends who were horribly spoiled on the ending, this song makes total sense, right? Right? Because it totally does.)

Update 1/28/16: If you’re interested in the other two novel soundtrack songs, listen to Perfect Picture for Arianna and Paper Doll for Calder.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

How to Break Writer’s Block

cameraOnce you admit that you listen to the voices in your head and write out what they’re saying (aka that you’re a writer), the inevitable question is: where do you get your ideas?

Most writers will facetiously-yet-sincerely reply, “Everything.”

Because getting ideas isn’t the hard part. Not the initial ones you’re thinking of, anyway. The hard part is when you’re mired in the middle of your novel, with no idea how to get your characters out of the mess you made for them. When you go to write and your mind is a complete blank.

Now, there are tons of ways to get the juices flowing again. You’ll find advice everywhere, from amateur and experienced alike. It really just comes down to the individual author. The method that usually works for me is a stream-of-consciousness brainstorm. I basically write out a conversation with my Muse, tossing ideas back and forth. Alternatively, I do the whole “do a rote activity and let your brain churn in the background.”

But sometimes, like over the last few weeks, neither of those methods work.

Now, you probably don’t remember, unless you creepily remember everything I post on social media, but several weeks ago I had a really cool Supernatural-inspired dream. And I woke up before I found out what happened next. So, being the cool person I am, I decided to find out by continuing the story. Ever since that dream, I’ve been running the story in my head, creating new monsters of the week and even establishing a season-long arc. (Over-achiever, much?)

It’s been pretty great, watching the story unfold. Even better, I found that it’s a fun way to pass the time during otherwise boring activities, like my commute or daily walk. I throw different situations at the characters and let them react however they want — and since the characters are so well defined, it’s pretty easy to set on auto-pilot. Everything just flows so seamlessly.

The other day, I realized I should try this with Narrator.

I had one troublesome scene where I only vaguely knew what I wanted to happen. I’d managed to figure out things up to a certain point, but anything past that was just wide brushstrokes. So I started at that point and encouraged Calder and the others to play it out like they were in a movie. No delving into thoughts or anything, they just needed to be actors for a while.

That immediately made the action flow better, and I just let the story unfold the same way I let my Supernatural fanfic unfold. I did have to “rewind” a couple of times to fix some logic or increase the tension, but that wasn’t too difficult.

And it worked!

I was able to see how the situation played out, in a way that made sense, and I got some great ideas. And I mean some great ideas. I wanted to take a picture of my notes in triumph, but if you managed to read my chicken scratch you’d unwittingly see spoilers. (Sucks to be you, I guess.)

Anyway, this particular writer’s block seems to have broken. The next hurdle is going to be trying to write everything down and hope the Muse doesn’t make a sharp left turn and throw all of this under the bus. *crosses fingers*

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Inspiration: Bea Miller

Not-An-Apology-250x250I have never encountered an artist where I love every single one of their songs. Usually I love a few songs, like a few others, and don’t really care about the rest.

But then Pandora introduced me to Bea Miller. After a while, I realized that I was thumbing-up every song of hers that played. Pretty unusual. (I started a Bea Miller station, hoping to find similar artists, but the songs Pandora threw at me were…well…not similar. Oh well.)

I seriously love all of her songs. I can’t even pick a favorite. When I try, the conversation ends up going like this: “I Dare You. That’s my favorite.” “Oh, but I love Enemy Fire. That’s my favorite.” “No, wait! I forgot about Fire N Gold. That. That’s my favorite!” (etc. etc. etc.)

And for the first time in forever, I bought an album. (Yes, the last one I bought was the Frozen soundtrack. How could you tell?) I didn’t just buy the album digitally either, I bought the actual CD so I can listen to it in the car. I also bought Open Your Eyes, which was on Pandora but wasn’t in the album.

I’ve been listening to Bea while I write, while I exercise…heck, I’m 99.9% sure I listened to it on the train this morning. (I wrote this post in advance, as I am wont to do.) I’m sure I’ll get sick of it sooner or later. I’m betting later.

So yeah, I invite you to take a listen. Let me know if you like her songs, too!

Update: Yes, I listened to her on the metro. And then when I got to work and switched to Pandora, she was the first one to play. ;D

Disclaimer: the links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you buy stuff, I get a few measly cents. Just so you know. 🙂

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Books I’d Like to See: Resurrectionists

395px-Resurrectionists_by_phizI’ve been trying to get more into podcasts, and have been steadily going through the archives of Stuff You Missed in History Class. Actually, it may be more accurate to say I’ve been “devouring” the archives. A few weeks ago, I was listening to the episode about Burke and Hare, serial killers who supplied fresh cadavers to medical schools.

And while that part was interesting, I was actually struck by something else. I was already familiar with the rise of grave robbing. Medical schools needed bodies to teach students anatomy, but the demand far exceeded the supply. Grave robbers could make a lot of money by providing those bodies. People grew so fearful of having their bodies stolen that they would build cages around their graves to protect them.

But the part I didn’t know was that these grave robbers were called Resurrectionists.

First of all, that’s a freaking cool name.

Second, that name got my Muse to sit up and pay attention. That name got my Muse trying to put a paranormal twist on the Resurrectionists.

It still hasn’t decided all of the details, or even thought of characters. It just tosses the idea around a bit. Like maybe the Resurrectionists were reclaiming members of their group who had died (and needed to resurrect). Or maybe they were choosing new members. And maybe they were digging up more people than they needed to in order to hide their real business.

Pretty vague, right? But that’s okay, I’m not planning to write it. I’ll leave that for someone else to do. And I hope they do. Because if someone wrote a book like this, I’d read it. (Hint hint, anyone who is also struck by this and would like to write a fantasy book about it.)

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

My Little Inspirations


A few years ago, I decided it would be a good idea to get a cover for The Narrator. It would be like visualizing the end goal — whenever I was having a tough time writing, I could look at it and feel inspired.

frameYou’ve seen this awesome cover before. One of my friends made it. Actually, he made me several, but this one was first and it’s my favorite. Unfortunately, neither of us can re-find the guy he used for Pennington. Keep an eye out, let me know if you see him anywhere!

A short time later, another friend printed out the cover and made me a lovely frame. This currently sits on my desk. (Although, I don’t use my desk. I had intended to use my desk when I placed the frame there, but…guess I should just move it down to the couch where I actually write.)

I also have something for my car. My writing group friends are a fan of that one!

notebookThose are all my Narrator-related inspirations, but I have a general writing one as well. It’s not music or a location or anything like that. It’s actually very simple: a blank notebook page. Especially a blank first notebook page.

Nothing’s better than the promise of an empty notebook! Now, excuse me while I go fill that sucker up with terrible handwriting.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

An Author who Promises…and Delivers

The_golden_lilyWhen one of my friends introduced me to Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series, I didn’t expect to fall in love with it. I thought that at best, it’d be a light-hearted read, something to amuse me on my commute to work. But I love her characters and the situations she gets them into. Even more, I love that she hints at the worst possible thing that could happen to her characters — and then makes it happen.

It’s hard to give examples without giving away major plot developments, so you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. It took me about two weeks longer than normal to read Shadow Kiss because I knew — I knew — that she was going to do a specific terrible thing to my favorite character. (Spoiler Alert: she did.)

She doesn’t hold back on putting her characters through the worst conflict imaginable. And just when you think it can’t get worse…it does. They hit rock bottom and then keep falling. Or, just when you think your favorite characters have escaped and will get a chance to live happily ever after, Richelle Mead pulls the rug out from under everyone. (That’s what happened at the end of the Bloodlines book I just finished.)

Now, think back to some other authors you’ve read recently. They always threaten to put your favorite characters through the mill — but they don’t, do they? Someone always manages to save them, or things work out anyway. After a while, you don’t take the author’s threats seriously, because you know they’ll just wave their hand and fix everyone’s problems at the end of the book.

Richelle Mead doesn’t do that. And it’s amazing.

I’m in awe of her ability. I hope I’ll be able to do the same thing in my series one day.

I can only hope you, dear reader, are as excited as I am!

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

How Not to Write an Analogy

hummingbirdI’ll try to write an official post later this week to explain what’s been going on with me lately, but I can’t do that at the last second Sunday night. (I’m the kid who always started their homework the moment it was assigned.)

So instead, I have a treat for you: 56 terrible (read: hilarious) analogies by high school students. I first encountered this list junior year of high school, so it’s been around for at least a decade. We were told that these were pulled from real student essays, but I can’t confirm any details for you.

No matter their origin, these are amazing and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

  1. Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.
  2. He was as tall as a 6’3″ tree.
  3. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
  4. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.
  5. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
  6. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
  7. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
  8. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
  9. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  10. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
  11. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.
  12. The lamp just sat there, like an inanimate object.
  13. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
  14. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
  15. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  16. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
  17. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
  18. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
  19. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
  20. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
  21. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.
  22. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.
  23. Even in his last years, Grand pappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
  24. He felt like he was being hunted down like a dog, in a place that hunts dogs, I suppose.
  25. She was as easy as the TV Guide crossword.
  26. She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.
  27. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
  28. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
  29. “Oh, Jason, take me!” she panted, her breasts heaving like a college freshman on $1-a-beer night.
  30. It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.
  31. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
  32. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.
  33. The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.
  34. Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.
  35. Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like “Second Tall Man.”
  36. The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.
  37. The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon.
  38. She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.
  39. Her pants fit her like a glove, well, maybe more like a mitten, actually.
  40. Fishing is like waiting for something that does not happen very often.
  41. They were as good friends as the people on “Friends.”
  42. Oooo, he smells bad, she thought, as bad as Calvin Klein’s Obsession would smell if it were called Enema and was made from spoiled Spamburgers instead of natural floral fragrances.
  43. The knife was as sharp as the tone used by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) in her first several points of parliamentary procedure made to Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) in the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton.
  44. He was as bald as one of the Three Stooges, either Curly or Larry, you know, the one who goes woo woo woo.
  45. The sardines were packed as tight as the coach section of a 747.
  46. Her eyes were shining like two marbles that someone dropped in mucus and then held up to catch the light.
  47. The baseball player stepped out of the box and spit like a fountain statue of a Greek god that scratches itself a lot and spits brown, rusty tobacco water and refuses to sign autographs for all the little Greek kids unless they pay him lots of drachmas.
  48. I felt a nameless dread. Well, there probably is a long German name for it, like Geschpooklichkeit or something, but I don’t speak German. Anyway, it’s a dread that nobody knows the name for, like those little square plastic gizmos that close your bread bags. I don’t know the name for those either.
  49. She was as unhappy as when someone puts your cake out in the rain, and all the sweet green icing flows down and then you lose the recipe, and on top of that you can’t sing worth a damn.
  50. Her artistic sense was exquisitely refined, like someone who can tell butter from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
  51. It came down the stairs looking very much like something no one had ever seen before.
  52. Bob was as perplexed as a hacker who means to access\aaakk/ch@ung but gets T:\flw.quidaaakk/ch@ung by mistake.
  53. You know how in “Rocky” he prepares for the fight by punching sides of raw beef? Well, yesterday it was as cold as that meat locker he was in.
  54. The dandelion swayed in the gentle breeze like an oscillating electric fan set on medium.
  55. Her lips were red and full, like tubes of blood drawn by an inattentive phlebotomist.
  56. The sunset displayed rich, spectacular hues like a .jpeg file at 10 percent cyan, 10 percent magenta, 60 percent yellow and 10 percent black.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Jenn: The First Adventure


As part of our Medieval Studies unit in fifth grade, we had a reading project where we were divided into groups to read one book each of The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce. For those unfamiliar with the series, it’s about a girl who disguises herself as a boy so that she can become a knight. My group was assigned the first book of the quartet, Alanna: The First Adventure.

I fell in love. Alanna quickly became my favorite heroine. She didn’t take crap from anyone, including boys that were bigger and stronger than her. She dreamed big, and had the willpower to go after her dreams, even with society telling her to sit down and shut up.

We had a dress up day for the Medieval Unit. The other girls went as ladies; I went as a squire.

After I finished Alanna, I devoured the rest of the books. Then I went to the library and found Tamora Pierce’s next quartet, The Immortals. Today, I own all of her books — including her short story anthology, even though I don’t generally like short stories. And almost every year, I go back and read her entire library.

What keeps me going back after all these years? The characters. The plots. The world-building. The humor. The pure inspiration.

From her books I launched into the rest of the fantasy genre, with classics like Dealing with Dragons, Ella Enchanted, and The Hobbit. I’ve never looked back.

To say Tamora Pierce has influenced my writing is a huge understatement. She’s practically driven it. I learned that young adult fiction isn’t just for teens, that all magic comes with a price, and that there are many kinds of strength.

Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.