The Birth of a Book (Or, I Write Books With a Little Help From My Friends)

February 24, 2009 | Karin's Blog | 28 comments


Heeeeeeeeerrrrrzzzzzz, Jami!



One question authors are asked over and over again is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

My answer? “Hell if I know.” 

When Karin very kindly invited me to blog, I was of course excited and accepted immediately. “What do you want me to talk about?” I asked.

“Whatever you want,” she said, “just give away some books.” (Which I will – 2 posters will receive autographed copies of CAUGHT, the first book in the Gemini Men Series)  (who hoo!  And I, Karin, am giving away a signed copy of the infamous ITALIAN STALLIONS!)

That’s when the panic set in. I was right back to junior high and the first time we were told to write a 3 paragraph essay on the topic of our choice.

Really? No direction from the teacher? Not even a suggestion to nudge us in the right direction? Nope. Come up with a topic on your own. 

Hearing this story, it might surprise you that I became a novelist. Now, when I start a project, I have to come up with an idea that will carry me a lot farther than 3 paragraphs!

But with every book I face that same panic, no matter how many times I’ve done it. So I thought today I’d talk about how I move from that panicked place to an idea to a plot that will carry me through 100,000 words or so. 

Here’s a secret: even though I write romantic suspense, I rarely have any idea what the suspense plot is going to be when I start thinking about the book.  I am a totally character driven writer.  What comes naturally to me are the characters – the hero and heroine, what they’re like, and how they will bounce off each other and create heat and sparks.

And then I have to come up with what I like to call “The Evil.” As in, okay, we’ve got these characters, now who wants to kill them and why, and how do we get them to a point where the hero has to risk his life to save her in some amazingly heroic fashion?  This is always a process, aided by my writer friends, who help me come up with a core idea, and then help me build a story around it. 

My story for KEPT is a perfect example of this process. From the very beginning, I knew the exact dynamic I wanted to portray between my hero and heroine. Derek would be cool, controlled, nearly unemotional, and very, very serious. Alyssa, on the other hand, is perceived to be a wild and crazy party girl with all the depth of a rain puddle. But she would throw him for a complete loop, and she’d drag him kicking and screaming out of his emotional shell, while he discovered there was a lot more to her than appeared on the surface.

Okay, so that’s fine, but, umm… this is suspense. So someone needs to want my heroine dead.  So why? While I was stuck on this, I went out to lunch with my friend and fellow author Veronica Wolff. I explained my dilemma and she said two words:  “Blood diamonds.”  I thought about it, chewed on it, shied away from it. Then at another lunch, with several other authors, I brought it up again (giving V full credit, of course!). Eyes lit up. Ideas started flying. And by the end of that lunch, I knew the direction my book was taking. 

So I guess my point to all of this is that ideas don’t come from any one place, and they don’t even come from any one person :).  If you’re stuck on a project, be it a book, an essay, a blog, even a difficult piece of correspondence, talk it over with someone. Even if you’re not chock full of fabulous ideas, chances are your friends are.


Thanks, Jami, and ladies and gents, feel free to ask Jami whatever you want!  Hah!  She’s an open book!   J  Just kidding.  But ask anyway.







  1. Pearl

    Hi Jami,

    Well despite the fact that you didn’t know what to write about your blogpost definitely entertained me. And you’re totally right! I sometimes have trouble getting started with the reviews of some books and I start talking to my friends about the book and voilá…while talking the review comes together in my head.

    I’ve got CAUGHT on my TBR-mountain (can’t seriously call it a pile anymore with my buying habits ghe ghe) but with what you’ve told about KEPT…I’m getting very anxious to read CAUGHT immediately so I can dive into KEPT as soon as it arrives here, which won’t be a while since I live in Europe (Netherlands) and can’t go into stores to get it and have to rely on international online bookstores.

  2. Margaret

    Damn, I so understand. Give me an idea where to start, then I’m good to go, but NOTHIN’? Yeah, just went through this when trying to come up with an idea for a midde-grade story.
    I liken it to having a recipe before you start cooking. Once you have the idea (recipe), THEN you can take it apart and rework it.

  3. Brandy W

    That panic sounds a lot like what my daughter goes through when she has to write a paragraph with her spelling words. This is a weekly occurrence so it should be a surprise but it always is.

  4. Munk

    I totally understand where you are coming from Jami. While writing reviews I am often stuck in silence.
    Great blog. I cant wait to read your work!

  5. HollyD

    Welcome. I’m looking forward to reading your new book. Congrats.

  6. Edie

    I’m character driven too, and usually at some point I need plotting help from my CPs and writer friends. And with the market as tight as it is, you want something in your book that makes eyes light up. I’ll be looking for KEPT when it’s on the bookshelves. 🙂

  7. Jami Alden

    Hi everyone! thanks for coming by. I’ll be popping in and out dealing with the kids today, so if I don’t show up for a couple hours, it’s not because I don’t love you!

    It’s funny how the pressure and panic can apply to any thing you have to write! Pearl, thank god for the internet so you can still get the books!
    Margaret – the cooking analogy is perfect. So much easier to add your own personal touch if you have a foundation.
    Brandy – how funny about your daughter.
    Munk – hope you enjoy the books!
    Hi Holly – hope you enjoy Kept – I had fun with those two.
    Edie – I couldn’t plot a book without my CPs!

  8. Laurie

    Great post, Jami – so glad you’re here! I’ve read several of your books, but have to say that Vince and Theresa are two of my all-time favorite characters! I’ve read and reread Ital. Stallions countless times.

    I’m looking forward to your new series – thought I read that someone had picked up a copy of Kept last week so I sent my daughter in search of Caught and Kept over the weekend, only to be disappointed that the bookstore had neither 🙁 – I’ll try again this weekend.

    Thanks, Karin and Jami! I hope everyone has a great day!

  9. J. Carson Black

    I know what you mean, Jami. One morning a friend of mine called and said she dreamed about my WIP. It was a really strange dream and had nothing to do with the storyline—it was more like a mass murder in a house—and what my friend remembered above all else were these words: “They’re all dead! They’re all dead!”

    a couple of weeks later it came to me that there was indeed room for that mass murder in my novel. It took the book in a new direction and turned out to be organic to the story. Surprised the hell out of me!

  10. Amanda Murphy

    I love brainstorming with CP’s and getting so many new ideas until one is the ‘aha’ moment that takes your story in a great new direction.

  11. Jami Alden

    Laurie -so glad you enjoyed Vince and Theresa! and I have to admit, it was really fun to write a book where no one was trying to kill anyone.
    J. Carson – how cool that the dream led you in that direction. it’s so funny how things work their way into your stories
    Amanda – I know, there’s nothing better than the moment something clicks.

  12. Colleen MacLeod

    Thanks for the post. I don’t feel so dumb now because my in my current WIP I’m having the same issue trying to come up with a plot that doesn’t flop like a dying swan. It’s soothing to hear that some of you pros struggle with the same issues us newbies beat ourselves up with. I need a good CP!

  13. Allison

    Hi Jami, hi Karin! Jami, your Gemini Men books have such gorgeous covers, congrats! And I particularly enjoyed your single author anthology A Taste of Honey – will you also be writing more novellas in the near future? Thanks!

  14. Jane

    Happy Release Day, Jami. I’m looking forward to reading the Gemini Men series. How often do you meet up with your author friends to brainstorm?

  15. Jami Alden

    Colleen – it never ends, no matter how many books I write. It’s always a struggle to figure out what the book will be about!

  16. Jami Alden

    Colleen – it never ends, no matter how many books I write. It’s always a struggle to figure out what the book will be about!

    Allison – I love the covers too! thank you kensington art department! And I’m so glad you enjoyed a Taste of Honey. Right now I don’t have any novellas scheduled but I hope to in the future.

    Hi Jane – I talk to my CP’s just about every day on the phone, and we meet in person about once a month or so. but most of our brainstorming/critiquing is done over the phone or email.

  17. Cheryl McInnis

    Hi Jami!( And Karin!)
    I was lucky enough to get to review KEPT for Romance Junkies-I’ll be sending you a link soon Jami ;- )- and I loved it!
    It was the first one of your books I’ve read but I’ll definitely be picking up more. I really loved how you made the heroine in Kept a not-so-perfect person with real problems and issues, and how those issues, like the drug addiction, played a large part in the story. It made the book feel very realistic to me. I’m hoping Danny’s story is coming soon, any news on that?

  18. Jami Alden

    Hi Cheryl – so glad you enjoyed KEPT, especially the more difficult aspects of Alyssa’s character. as for Danny’s story – UNLEASHED will be out in October 🙂

  19. Laurie K

    Hi Jami and Karin
    I don’t believe I’ve read any of your work, but this sounds intriguing!
    Writing on demand is never easy, but it was a great post!! Looking forward to checking out your stuff 🙂

  20. kathi h

    Hi Jami!
    I wondered if you could describe what your first pitch to an editor was like!

    kathi h

  21. Amy S.

    Hi Jami! Love your books! Kept sounds really good.

  22. Jami Alden

    Laurie, I feel like this past year I’ve been writing with a gun to my head! amazing how pressure can force an idea.

    Kathi, the first pitch I ever gave was AWFUL!! I had a 5 minute pitch meeting, which sounds so short. But I got my pitch out in about 30 seconds. The editor just stared at me, deadpan, and I squirmed and babbled for the next 4 minutes and 30 seconds. However, the first time I pitched to the editor who acquired me (the wonderful fabulous Hilary Sares) it was fantastic. No emotionless, deadpan looks, no raised eyebrow as though to say, “yeah, then what?” as I desperately tried to make my book sound interesting. Just a nice smile and a “so, tell me what you write.” We’ve been buds ever since.

    Hi Amy – glad you’ve enjoyed the books, and I really hope you like Kept.

  23. Karin

    sigh. i miss hil…

  24. Karin

    Jami pick three winners. two for caught and one for the big salami!

  25. Karin Tabke

    FYI, Jami will pop in later today to pick the winners!!!

  26. Jami Alden

    The winners of Caught are:
    Laurie K
    please email me at with your snailmail addies!

    the winner of Italian Stallions is:
    email with your mailing addy!

  27. Amanda Murphy

    Cool, congratulations winners.

  28. Allison

    Wow, thanks so much Jami and Karin. Congrats! winners.

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