Posted in Interviews

Meet Jen Benjamin, Author

It’s my pleasure to welcome Jen Benjamin to my blog.

jen-benjamin

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hello and thanks for having me! I’m Jen Benjamin and I write romantic comedy/chick lit. It’s basically light reading that’s fun to write and (I hope!) fun to read.

How long have you been writing for?

Writing has been one of my favorite pastimes since I was pretty young. When I was really little, like ages 6 through 10, I used to write stories and try to get my friends to act them out. The pre-teen and early teen years were mostly spent writing lame poetry. (Poetry itself isn’t lame, but mine was!) I returned to stories in seventh or eighth grade and have been writing stories ever since.

What is your writing process like?

I don’t outline or anything like that. Basically, I make myself sit down. Sometimes I have to bribe myself. You think I’m kidding, don’t you? Well, I’m not. If I can just talk myself into turning on the computer or opening the notebook, I can get going. But it seems very daunting until I start. When I do start, I just go where the story takes me.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, what’s a typical day like for you?

I don’t really have a routine. I usually write at night when everyone else is sleeping and I almost always have a sitcom playing in the background. And I usually write from beginning to end but every once in a while, I’ll have a scene that I have to get down while it’s still fresh in my mind. That’s rare and is the only time I write out of sequence.

What motivates you to write?

That is the hardest part of writing! Just getting motivated to DO IT. It feels impossible sometimes. There are times when I have to just force myself to start and I know that once I do, the words will flow. But sometimes I’ll have a story bouncing around in my head until it starts to drive me crazy and I simply MUST get it out of my head by putting it down on paper or screen.

What was the first thing you did when you found out your book was being published?

You know, I honestly don’t remember but, knowing myself as I do, I’ll bet I read through the whole manuscript again to try to catch anything that might be outrageously stupid.

Are you currently working on anything new?

I have another book coming out in April. It’s about Annie Gallagher, a small-town museum curator who believes that if she’s patient, Fate will bring love to her doorstep.

I do have some other stories and fragments bouncing around but I’m not sure which of those will come to fruition first.

If you weren’t a writer, what would your career be?

Oh, I have no idea. I used to want to be a history teacher. But I ended up making a career as a newspaper journalist before I decided to stay home with my kids.

What is the easiest part of writing for you? What is the hardest part?

I think, for me, the easiest part is getting the story out. The hardest part, aside from, you know, actually turning on the computer, is tying the end up so that readers will be happy. I’m a person who is content with ambiguous endings when I’m reading, but I know that most readers want closure. I try to be true to the story and give the readers what they need. For me, it’s a fine line.

What’s one thing you learned through writing that you wish you knew before you started?

An author will never make everyone happy. I cannot write a book that will appeal to everyone and trying to do that is a waste of time.

What is your favorite book or genre? Is there a special book that made you realize you wanted to write?

I really read just about everything. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a long, wordy classic. Sometimes in the mood for something that requires zero thought. I can’t think of any one book that made me want to write. I have my head in the clouds a lot and sometimes those daydreams turn into a good plot and I want to write it down.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I have no clever advice. Just write. Just do it. You can’t just wait around for someday. But when you do have to wait, read, read, read!

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I’d just like to tell you how grateful I am for this interview and how grateful I am to anyone who gives my stories a chance! I hope they make you smile. That’s really all I’m after.

About Jen

Jen Benjamin is a newspaper writer who enjoys fiction when she gets time away from writing facts. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband, daughter and various furry creatures. When she isn’t writing, Jen enjoys photography, reading, catching re-runs of Frasier and playing the violin. She used to play the violin for church and various other events, but now just plays for herself (and still has nightmares about her one gig as a strolling violinist!).

You can email Jen at authorjenbenjamin@gmail.com, or find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/authorjenbenjamin or on Twitter, @jenbenjam.

Jen’s Books

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Buy Links

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Posted in Short Story Sunday, Writing

Short Story Sunday 152: Game Night

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            Maya plugged in her video game console to the 60-inch flat screen TV in her basement. She had a game room across from her bedroom, but she was having friends over to play and there wasn’t enough room in her game room to fit everyone. So, she had to move everything to the basement.

She had only hooked up one console and brought down five different games for her friends to choose from. She didn’t think they would be switching consoles at all since her friends weren’t big gamers to begin with.

Stephanie, Maya’s younger sister, came down into the basement with a big plates of cheese, crackers, and grapes.

“Being sophisticated, are we?” Maya asked smirking.

Stephanie shrugged her shoulders. “Well, we’re ordering pizza for dinner because neither one of us can cook. I thought I might attempt to put out some appetizers. I even made dessert!”

“You made dessert? When?”

“I made it while you were working last night. The cat and dog followed me around hoping I would drop some of the batter.” Stephanie said. She looked down at the ground at their gray tabby cat rubbing his body up against her legs.

“You actually baked something as opposed to just making Oreo balls or something?” Maya nodded her head impressed.

“Well, you know how the Oreo balls came out last time… I couldn’t get the melted chocolate to stick and it looked weird.”

“But they tasted delicious!”

Stephanie smiled and licked her lips. “True. They’re so good!”

“Anyway,” Maya continued, “what did you make?”

“I baked a cake.” Stephanie covered her mouth trying to hide her laughter.

“Why is that funny?” Maya asked skeptically raising an eyebrow.

“I’m not a good decorator. Just like the Oreo balls.” Stephanie said. She turned around and walked out of the room waving her hand for her sister to follow her. They went into the laundry room where there was an extra refrigerator.

Stephanie opened the door and pointed inside the cold box. “Don’t laugh.”

Maya walked around the open door and peered inside the refrigerator. She immediately started laughing. “It’s cute!”

“Oh, sure,” Stephanie shook her head though she was smiling as well.

“Is that supposed to be a Pokeball?” Maya asked.

“Yes,”

“Why is it pink?”

“Well, I tried to make red frosting by putting red food coloring in white vanilla frosting. I put a ton of the red coloring in, but no it just came out pink. I didn’t want to use the entire bottle so I settled with the pink.” Stephanie explained. She folded her arms across her chest and stared at her cake.

“Well, I think it looks cute. But why did you add brown icing for the middle instead of black?” Maya cocked her head to the side noticing that small detail.

“The store was out of black icing… Of course,” Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Seriously, you should have seen me searching for everything at the store. I got so crazy that I began talking to myself and people were giving me strange looks.”

“I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for that one!” Maya laughed.

Stephanie started closing the fridge door, but Maya held out her hand and kept it open.

“Wait a minute,” she said, “how come you didn’t frost around the edges of the cake?”

Stephanie snorted. “I ran out of frosting. And I wasn’t about to go back to the store to buy another container of it only to dye a little bit of it in hopes it would match the pink part.”

Maya nodded trying not to laugh.

“I’m sure it’ll taste good though. It just doesn’t look pretty.” Stephanie said. She closed the fridge door and walked out of the laundry room.

Maya followed her chuckling. “This is why we never entertain. We’re not good at this stuff.”

“It will be fun, though.” Stephanie said.

“Yes, it will. But you and I go above and beyond when we entertain as though these people have never been over the house before.”

“Oh, well.”

“You do realize that none of our friends know anything about Pokemon, right? The pokeball cake might mean absolutely nothing to them.” Maya started to laugh again.

Stephanie stopped walking up the stairs and turned around to her sister. “You know, I didn’t even think about that. But I don’t care. Because it’ll taste delicious and it was easy to make… Well, easy enough, I guess.”

Maya nodded her head and then looked at her cell phone for the time. “You know, they’re not coming over for another 45 minutes.”

“Seriously?” Stephanie deadpanned.

Maya nodded.

“So we rushed to clean the bathrooms and living room and basement and kitchen and everything for nothing?” Stephanie counted everything they did earlier that day after they got home from work. Not to mention, baking the cake and setting up the games and such.

“I didn’t think we were going to have enough time.” Maya shrugged her shoulders.

Stephanie continued to walk up the stairs and Maya followed her into the living room. Maya sat down on the couch and Stephanie sat on top of the window still watching the street.

“So… Now what?” Maya asked.

“I don’t know.”

Maya leaned back on the couch crossing her arms and legs. Stephanie continued to look outside the window watching cars drive by, people jogging or walking their dogs, and squirrels dash across the busy street.

“Are we seriously just going to sit here and keep an eye out for them for the next 40 minutes?” Maya asked.

Stephanie turned away from the window and shrugged at her sister. “What else is there to do?”

Maya shrugged again in return.

“Um… So, how was your day?” Stephanie asked.

“Fine. You?”

“Fine,”

Silent.

“My, we’re exciting.” Maya snorted.

“I don’t want people to come over. I just want to get into my pajamas and watch Netflix.” Stephanie sighed.

“Yeah, whose idea was it to socialize?”

“It was theirs….”

Maya and Stephanie sighed in unison. Both of their phones dinged as they each got a text message.

“They’re going to be a half hour late.” Stephanie said after reading the text.

Maya put her phone down next to her side. “Now what?”

“Netflix?” Stephanie asked.

“Netflix!” Maya jumped up from her seat and the two of them ran upstairs.

Words: 1,059

I hope you enjoyed this story! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Posted in Book Reviews, reading

Follow Me Home by Jen Benjamin

follow-me-home

Title: Follow Me Home
Author: Jen Benjamin
Published: 
March 2015 by Wallace Publishing
Genre: Fiction – Chick lit
How I got the book: I received a free digital copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Summary:

When writer Katie Kendall moves to LA to turn her best-selling novel into a film, she is pretty sure it should be the happiest time of her life. But with an unsupportive husband who suddenly files for divorce, the paparazzi assuming she’s having a fling with the leading actor, and her friends left miles away in her old hometown, she begins to think she’s made a big mistake.

Can her new crowd of friends help her through these times? And could those paparazzi snappers have a point about that leading actor…?

My Review:

rp-first-thoughts

I love a good chick-lit once in a while, despite not being a “romance” reader. However, it’s refreshing to read one once in a while so I couldn’t say no to this opportunity.

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Katie has moved herself and her husband to LA as her popular book turns into a movie. She doesn’t have many friends and her husband is anything but supportive of her decisions and her success. When she comes home to find that her husband has uprooted himself and left her, she finds comfort in her newest best friend, the movie’s director, Julie, and the guy playing the male lead in her movie, a famous child-singer now all grown up, Jesse.

It’s definitely an interesting premise. Katie moves on after some shock of the divorce, as she didn’t exactly have the best relationship with her husband. She falls for Jesse wanting to stop herself due to the age difference since she’s much older than him.

There’s a love-triangle, the whole “I-want-you-back” from her ex-husband, and an overall sappy love story mixed in with paparazzi.

I think overall the plot was pretty well done, even with the few cliches thrown into the mix.

rp-characters

Katie was a wonderful protagonist to follow around. Normally her kind of character would bother me, but she was so much like me that I couldn’t help but relate and enjoy her thoughts. She was kind, focused on what she needed to do, and over-thought everything while was funny as we were able to peek into her thoughts now and then.

Jesse was an interesting male lead and I think he was the right choice for a love interest for Katie. The age difference didn’t really bother him, he just interacted with Katie as though they were equals and that was that. They had a good dynamic with one another.

rp-writing-style

The author had a great style that made the story a breeze to read. The pace was consistent as was the POV as we got to peek inside Katie’s mind and hear her thoughts overthinking everything and making snide remarks.

At the beginning of each chapter, there was a brief journal entry from Katie. Sometimes it was a paragraph, sometimes it was just one sentence. But it summarized the events quickly and effectively and captured Katie’s personality pretty well.

rp-overall

This book was a fun read and a great romance story. It was a short and quick. My only issue with it were the cliches. They were well done, but I felt it was too much for one story.

Still, I would read from this author again and would recommend this book to anyone.

Follow Me Home by Jen Benjamin gets…
4 out of 5 stars

Favorite Quote:

“I step back, trying to blend into a tree, which is stupid because I’m wearing a white shirt.” -Jen Benjamin, Follow Me Home

Buy the book:

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Posted in Outlining, Writing

Should You Outline Before, During, Or After Writing?

We talked about researching for your novel at any time of the writing process. Research when you feel it’s right. But when should you outline for your novel?

You may be thinking, “Before you write the story… duh.”

And that would be the logical time, especially if you’re a planner. But what if you’re not a planner? Or what if you are, but your mind just works differently?

when-should-you-outline

I outline before I write and during the writing process. This is mainly because I want to remember every detail and make sure I’m making sense along the way. Plus, it helps with the editing process later on.

Outlining before writing

I’ve talked about 4 outlining methods and then 3 more methods afterward. Most of them are typically used before you write, but you can use those methods whenever you want.

I don’t think I need to tell you that outlining before you write probably makes the most sense and it’s most likely what most people do. The point of outlining is that you have a good idea of what your novel is about and where you want it to go so you don’t get stuck on the side of the writing road.

If that’s how you feel, then outlining before you begin writing the main story is a good idea.

Outlining during writing

I find it helpful to get some outlining done during the writing process. I keep a list of scenes and what happens in each one as I write them. This helps me remember what exactly happens when I edit.

I do this mainly because outlines are like guidelines and the story can stray pretty far from the outline once you begin writing.

So, outlining during the writing process can break you out of the story a bit, but it’s also a pretty good idea to keep track of the changes from your original outline. Or, keep track of what happens especially if you don’t have an outline or any notes.

Outlining after writing

I’ll admit that I don’t think I’ve ever outlined after the writing process was complete. If I did, I don’t remember it.

But I do think outlining after writing the main story can be beneficial. Just like keeping track of what happens as you write, you can easily recap everything that happened once you’ve finished.

Once you start editing, summarize each chapter as you read through them. This will help zero-in on what you’ve written. It’ll help you remember what happens from chapter to chapter and be easier to catch plot holes and the like.

In Conclusion…

Can you outline at any of those times for one novel? Yes. Outline, write, outline, edit, outline. Why not? It sounds like a lot of work, but I’m sure it would be worth it in the end. It’ll save a lot of headache later.

Personally, I outline before and during for each novel. I find it helpful and it works for me. If you’re a planner, switch up when you outline. You might get something new out of it.

When do you outline for your novel? Let me know in the comments below!

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Posted in Outlining, Writing

When Should You Conduct Research For Your Novel?

People always say to write what you know. And that’s great, but then your novel would be pretty limited, wouldn’t it?

I find writing to be a great opportunity to write about something you don’t know. Find something that interests you that you never pursued and look into it more.

For example, when I was younger, before I decided to be a teacher and realized I wanted to write, I dreamed of being a spy or a detective. I had those play spy kits with notepads and pretend handcuffs and glasses that you would see behind you–the whole nine yards.

And look at me now: I write mystery novels. I’ve studied the police exam to get a feel of what it’s like. I solve puzzles and riddles in mystery video games (one where I’m a defense lawyer). I have books where I study what it’s like to be a police officer or detective, looked up various ways to die and the consequences of murder, and much more.

Let me tell you, it’s not very glamorous.

But when do you conduct that research? Do you cram the information into your mind before you begin? Maybe you research a bit here and there in the moment as you write? Or maybe you just free write, bold scenes you’re unsure of and do the research part after you finish writing?

when-should-you-research

Here’s your answer: You can research anytime.

That’s it. The end. See you tomorrow.

Well, I did decide to start a post about this, so I guess I’ll elaborate…

Research before writing

There are two reasons you should research before you start writing your novel:

1. You’re a planner.
2. You have a decent list of topics you need to look into or else the first draft of your novel will make absolutely no sense.

When I first started my mystery novel way back when I decided to do the research after. I knew I had a lot to look into and instead of spending a few months trying to learn it all, I figured I would just have the research component be part of the editing process. Or, look small things up along the way.

I love to outline, so I made a list of things I didn’t know, things I would probably need to know or the sake of my novel. I listed them but didn’t bother to look into them right away. Needless the say, the first draft of my novel wasn’t very good, to say the least.

I’ve done research before writing a novel and let me tell you, it’s a lot of notes to dig through as you write. And it slows the actual writing part down a bit.

Research during writing

I’ll admit, I find this one to be the most effective. If you need to know certain tidbits here and there, a quick Google search in the middle of your writing isn’t so bad. If you have something large to expand on, then it may be easier to make a note of it and just go back to it in the editing process.

The perks of researching as you write are as follows:

1. It saves you a bit of time when editing.
2. It gives you a small break in the middle of writing.

While it saves you time with editing, I know you’re thinking that it doesn’t save you time writing at all. But, it gives you a break with the writing.

If you’re on a roll, bold what you don’t know, and move on. Keep writing if your imagination allows it. However, if you notice that your flow has slowed down and you keep thinking back to that one spot you’re unsure of, stop.

Researching in the middle of your writing will give your brain a quick break. It’ll help you figure out where to go next, based on your research, and you may even come up with new ideas.

Research after writing

So you’ve finished a novel and it doesn’t make any sense. You have a list of topics to research, big and small.

Well, go ahead and get started.

Doing your research when you finish the novel helps your editing process get underway as you expand on certain scenes and realize others may not work out as well now.

Then again, you may end you being in for some serious rewriting. Editing is always a long process and adding the research part will make it seem longer. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You should take your time with it after all.

In Conclusion…

Is researching part of the outlining process or the editing process? Who really knows?

In the end, it’s up to you, up to the novel, and is an in-the-moment kind of thing.

I personally research at any stage of the novel, but I’ll admit I mostly research during and at the end of writing the novel. When you research before you may not know all the information you actually need.

Plus, I’ve always enjoyed researching as long as it wasn’t for a paper for school.

When do you typically research for your novels? How do you go about it? Let me know in the comments below!

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Posted in Guest Posts, Writing

Literacy’s Role in African American Education

Guests appear on my blog three times a month. If you would like to know more about this, please visit my Guest Bloggers Wanted page.

Today’s post is brought to you by Yecheilyah. Thanks, Yecheilyah!

I’ve always enjoyed reading. If I could, I can spend an entire day reading, 24 hours easy. In school, I’ve also been far better at English and Literature than I was at math or science. In fact, the better I did in Literature, it seemed the worse I was in math. It got so bad that when I was in High School and my teacher assigned a poetry project, I wrote a poem about how much I hated math. I still hate math.

I am not the only one. Many African American young adults struggled through math and science while excelling in English. Why is that? I thought to explore the answer to this question.

It could have a lot to do with our roots, having arrived at the America’s in ships, sold as male and female slaves, and then sown in the south, slaves were not allowed to read and to write. Adamantly opposed to the education of their slaves, southern slaveholders feared uprisings. Of all the evil they’ve no doubt done to the enslaved, the southern slave-master’s greatest fear was what the enslaved would do to them. For this reason, the law prohibited the reading and writing of slaves with consequences for breaking these laws. One such law, passed in North Carolina in 1830, stated that “any free person, who shall hereafter teach, or attempt to teach, any slave within this State to read or write, the use of figures excepted or shall give or sell to such slave or slaves any books or pamphlets, shall be liable to indictment in any court of record in this State.”

As you can see, not only was it punishment for the enslaved, but also to the person who taught him. This fear of literacy was brought on not only due to fear of uprisings but also of the enslaved recognizing his slave status and thus rebelling against the concept of being someone’s property. Like anyone denied human rights, the enslaved learned to read and write in secret, many times with the help of other slaves who were literate as well as whites who taught them privately. Using the bible as a textbook, blacks learned letters and sounds, carving them into the dirt and spelling out names.

Upon freedom, Blacks continued their fight for literacy and reading was highly promoted in the African American community, especially in the south. Segregation prohibited blacks from attending the same schools as whites so that the instruction many blacks received was limited. It was limited because the teachers, only having gone so far themselves, were limited. Many former slaves still had to pick cotton, sharecropping on the same plantations that held them as slaves. This meant that children could only attend school half the time as many were called back to help their parents in the fields. Many young people were then forced to drop out of school. In short, the teachers of the southern black schools could only go so far and many of them were knowledgeable more so in English and reading than they were in any other subject. Since many were not allowed to read during chattel slavery, I suppose it made reading itself more sought after and more cherished.

Since Blacks were limited in the schools they could attend, there were a greater appreciation and passion for learning than it is today. Blacks were integral in establishing their own schools in their own communities and for pushing the importance of education. The position of Teacher was of great importance and treated as such. In “Self-Taught: African American Education in Slavery and Freedom”, Heather Andrea Williams discovered that “freedpeople identified teaching as a critical job for building self-sufficient communities and called both men and women into service.” Young men and women were encouraged to become teachers in hopes that their students would go on, not only to become teachers themselves, but to also go home and to teach their families –their mother’s, father’s, and grandparents—who were denied the privilege as slaves.

Black youth were encouraged to read in their spare time (benefits of a pre-TV and video game era). They repaired books using cardboard, cloth, and cooked glue (cooked flour and water) and were wealthy in the knowledge of Black Literature, not just the books but the artists. According to Williams, placing Black teachers and administrators in Black schools was part of the freed slaves’ larger campaign for self-determination.

According to a video interview by Maya Angelou, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, like Howard, Fisk, Tuskegee, Morgan State and Spelman, were “heavenly abodes.” In her words, “I kind of thought that if a child was good and died the child would go to heaven and become an angel. And if the angel was a good angel and died he would probably go to Howard.” She laughed after this statement and my fingers smile as I write this but the idea, for her I am sure, was to illustrate the importance of education in the minds of blacks at that time, particularly literacy.

I cannot say for certain why many blacks struggle with math and science as opposed to Literature. I do know that our foundation in the importance of reading is a strong one that I am sure won’t be going away anytime soon. The importance of literacy in the black community and the unquenching thirst for education is something history won’t let us forget.

About Yecheilyah

Yecheilyah Ysrayl is the Young Adult, Historical Fiction author of Black American Literature and Poetry. Author of eight books (most notably, The Stella Trilogy), Yecheilyah is currently working on her next book series “The Nora White Story”. Book One is due for release July 15-16, 2017 at The Tampa Indie Author Book Convention in Tampa Florida. Yecheilyah is also a Blogger, and Book Reviewer. Originally from Chicago, IL, she now resides in Shreveport, LA with her husband where she writes full time.

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