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Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Secret Past of Denise Jaden

Okay, it's really not all that secretive. But this post is about my past as a reader and a writer.

I've been working on a novel-writing workshop to teach to a class of homeschooled teens for a while now. When I first suggested the idea, back in October, I thought I had loads of time to get it ready. Funny how things NEVER actually work out that way.

So tomorrow I'll be meeting my class and teaching my first workshop. I'm very excited! And okay, a little nervous. Tomorrow will mostly be an intro day - finding out about everyone's experience, interests, favorite books and so forth. That part excites me a lot, actually.

I thought I might share some excerpts on my blog along the way, and even though there's not a lot of teaching material in this excerpt, as I was going through my notes, I realized I don't think I've ever really shared much of this on my blog.

So this is just a little bit of my background on reading and writing. It's something I'll be talking through, so I'm sure I will expand and condense as it feels right, but these are some of the notes that will catapult me...

Most writers I know have wanted to be writers since they could first hold a pencil. Many of them have spent a good portion of their lives devouring books. So if that’s you, you’re in good company. If that’s not you, you’re probably a lot like me.

I grew up as a reluctant reader and writer. Through school, I spent much of my brainpower trying to figure out how to get out of reading and writing assignments. The term “reading for fun” seemed like an oxymoron to me. It didn’t make any sense.

All that changed when a friend passed along a novel to me and made me promise I would read it. “It’s that good!” he told me. I was in my twenties at the time. My friend was right. I loved it. I couldn’t put it down. And when it was finished, I rushed out to buy the sequel.(The book was KANE AND ABEL by Jeffrey Archer).

Since you’re here to write a novel, I’m assuming most of you already love something about fiction, but I encourage you over the next few months to find out exactly what you love the most. Do you love action and adventure? Romance? Beautiful language and detailed description? And why do you love those things? It took me so long to discover that I loved reading, that it really took a ridiculous amount of time to figure out what it was I loved about it!

When I first began writing, it was actually kind of journaling. Before I even realized I wanted to be an author, I created characters to endure some of what was happening in my life. The thing that surprised me the most was when the characters took on lives of their own. Soon they were doing things I’d never thought of doing. They were coming up with their own set of problems and situations, and reacting in ways that I would never be able to bring myself to, and I was just along for the ride!

My first inclination to attempt an actual novel came when I read a book by Joel Saltzman called, If You Can Talk, You Can Write. The premise behind the book is that anyone can write a book. And many, many people start writing books. It just takes a whole lot of discipline to finish one.
That book inspired me, and I was determined to be one of those Finishers! To take my characters, put them into a real novel, and finish it.
This was about eight years ago, and it took me most of a year to finish writing the first draft of that first novel. Only after I typed “The End” did the thought of publication cross my mind.

But I wasn’t completely clueless. I knew I had no training or experience. I barely had experience as a reader, for that matter. So I started to learn. I picked up every book on the craft of writing I could get my hands on. I found many at the library, and ordered several others off of eBay. I found one thing frustrating, though. Even though the books made sense to me, I had a difficult time taking the lessons and actually applying them to my writing.

Enter Critique Circle. In 2004 I found an online group at I had floundered around by myself for long enough. The idea of this website is that you trade chapter-long critiques with others. I read several chapters posted by others, critiqued a few (even though I had no idea what I was talking about), and finally sucked in a big breath and pressed Post with my own first chapter.

The first critique I got back said a number of things, but this was the most memorable. “If I found this book at Barnes & Noble, I would put it down by the second paragraph.”

Ouch! But honestly, even though that could have been worded a little nicer, my determination did not stop me from trying. I went on to get better and more helpful critiques, to the point that eventually I felt ready to submit my work to a literary agent.

Or more like 50 of them. I sent query letters to many, many agents. And I received many, many rejections.

As I waited, sometimes many months, for rejections to pour back in, I started on a second book. After going through approximately the same process as the first novel, I began to query that one. Again, without success. It was my third novel, after lots of polishing and revision, that gave me my first offer of representation.

I signed with my agent on my third book in November, 2007. We sent my novel out to a slew of editors (17, I think?)  in January, 2008, and I had an offer on LOSING FAITH from Simon & Schuster by March, 2008.

And so was it in bookstores by April then, right?

Um, no. It hit bookstores in September of 2010, after three more sets of revisions with my Simon & Schuster editor.

The rest, as they say, is history!


  1. I just finished teaching an 8-week workshop on journalism so I completely relate to this! I'd wish you luck, but I already think you'll do great. Enjoy!

  2. awesome story. I'm fascinated by people who realized they loved writing later in life. I guess it's never too late to find your passion. I hope I find a secret passion one day. Good luck with your class. I look forward to updates about the students!

  3. Yay for Critique Circle! Yeah, the wording on crits could be nicer sometimes, but almost all the time it's something we need to hear.

    And so interesting that you started as a reluctant reader. It shows that the right book given to a child at the right time can make all the difference.

  4. I enjoyed reading this, Denise. And I can relate to some of it, for sure -- I'm a later-in-life writer, too. Good luck with the workshops. Should be a blast! :)

  5. Yay for Critique Circle! Yeah, the wording on crits could be nicer sometimes, but almost all the time it's something we need to hear.