Writer FAQs

Where do you come up with the ideas for your stories?
They come out of the nowhere into the here. The Girls in the Basement send them up. I just listen and type.
Do you write with an audience in mind?
Well, me. I have to like it first. Then I think “smart, open-minded human beings.” Or “people in bookstores with money.”
Do you write in chronological order?
No, I tend to think in patterns, so I need to write different pieces of the book and see what happens when I put them together. That helps me build up the character arcs, although it can make plotting really difficult.
Do you work on one story line at a time or are there multiple ideas going at once?
There are always multiple ideas, but I really like to concentrate on one book at a time because I have to go into that world completely. Sometimes I can’t do that, I have to work on more than one book at once, and then my head explodes and I get cranky.
Do you spend eight hours a day/ 40 hours a week writing or is it less structured?
Honey, I don’t do anything for forty hours a week. It’s “less structured.” I like that. “Less structured.” Instead of “completely random and chaotic.”
How long does it take you to write a book?
By myself, eighteen months, give or take a year. The collaborations took nine months, but I only had to write half or a third of them.
Do you have to do a lot of research for your books?
I do a lot, but it’s always stuff I want to learn anyway.
Is writing something that came naturally or something you had to work at?
I work at it. I have scars. Hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Where did you come up with your pseudonym and why are you using one?
Jennifer is my real name. Crusie is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. My real last name is Smith, and at the time I started writing, “Jennifer Smith” was the most common name for a female in the US.  So I went with Crusie because it sounded lighter, not realizing that people would be misspelling it for the rest of my life. I used one because I was teaching high school when I sold to Harlequin, and I didn’t want teenage boys reading my sex scenes out loud from the back of the classroom, plus Harlequin required that you use a pseudonym. It was good for me at the time, so we’re not blaming Harlequin at all.
Do creative writing classes and seminars help writers at all?
Depends on the teachers. Lee K. Abbott was a huge help in my MFA program. Probably 75% of what I know about writing fiction, I learned from him; he’s a great, great teacher. Ron Carlson was a terrific teacher. Deb Dixon is a terrific teacher. Michael Hague taught me a lot in his screenwriting seminars. But there are a lot of controlling, elitist nutcases teaching, too. Be careful out there.
What are the best books to read to learn how to become a writer?
Linda Seger’s Making A Good Script Great is a terrific introduction to basic story structure. Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction is a classic for good reason. Ralph Keyes The Courage to Write is required reading for any writer on mental health grounds. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is also excellent. Robert McKee’s Story has a lot of great information in it. Bob Mayer’s The Writer’s Toolkit is a great introduction. And there are more being published every day.
How can I get an editor to look at my work?
Write a great, great book, research to find out what editors publish the kinds of books you like, learn to query them, and then learn to take rejection. It never stops.
Do new writers need an agent to get published?
New writers need a great book to get published. They need a good agent to keep from getting taken to the cleaners when they sign the contracts. But a GOOD agent, not any agent. They’re harder to find than good editors, so take your time.
Do you give critiques to aspiring writers?
No. If I did, that’s all I’d get done. I’m a slow writer, remember?
Will you give my book/manuscript a quote?
No. I only quote for books I’ve read in full and really, really liked. And right now I have fourteen manuscripts stacked in my living room, waiting to be read, and some of them are six months old. Which means they probably don’t need a quote any more. For more on this, see my “Confessions of a Reformed Quote Whore” blog post.
Can you judge a contest that my organization is holding?
No. People like to sue, and if I write a book that has a plot element in it that’s in a manuscript I’ve judged for a contest, I’d have hell on my hands. So I just don’t do it.
I’ve had a fascinating life, and it would make a great book. How about I tell it to you, you write it, and we split the money?