Romance author finds ideas through daily living

Jodi Thomas says she has been telling stories ever since she was a young girl.

South Plains College is hosting the New York Times and USA TODAY best-selling author at the Library on the Levelland Campus on Nov. 12 to speak and sign her new book, “Mistletoe Miracles.”

Thomas’s childhood was very creative.

“My mother would sit down as soon as I got home and ask me what I saw on my way home,” recalls the Amarillo author. “I would tell her all these things, and she would ask, ‘Reality or story?’ She was teaching me to see the difference between reality and fiction. But she never said, ‘You’re lying.”

Thomas, who had two younger sisters and a brother, says her job at night was to tell them stories. She says that she has always wanted to tell stories, but “I didn’t think I’d be able to write, because English was my weakest subject in school. I am not good with commas and grammar.”

Thomas attended Texas Tech University, where she earned a degree in Family Studies. She was honored by the University, along with her brother, as Distinguished Alumni in 2002.

“People say you don’t use your degree much after you graduate,” Thomas said, “but you use your degree every day. Home economics taught me things that I put in books.”

She also said that family studies helped her understand the complex structure of family life and situations.

Thomas got married during her senior year at Texas Tech and became a teacher. She later had children, which is why she started writing, because she wanted to help save for her children’s college education. However, being a full-time teacher and a mother of two boys, she wondered what was going to be her drive to make her write books. She said her goal was to write one book to pay for one year’s worth of college.

She had attended every conference she could find, to learn about writing. At one of those, she bought a t-shirt that said, “New York Times best seller in training,” which she wore often when she would write.

Thomas entered a local contest, with participants expected to write the first chapter of a book from one of eight categories, such as mystery, children, and love. She wrote a chapter for every category and didn’t win in any of them.

Discouraged that she could not win even a local contest after years of conferences, she was ready to quit. She went out walking and came across a quote that read, “Triumph comes through perseverance.”  That encouraged her to push on. One of the chapters would later be included in a book that received a national award.

“From the time I have the first idea (for a story), it’s usually two years until I see the book come out,” Thomas said.

  However, she says she also works on other books at the same time.

Thomas likes to write in different places, one place being a bunk house in Ransom Canyon.

“I move around for books,” explained Thomas. “I might stay some place for a week and then go on to another.”

She gets her inspiration from daily life.

  “It’s different every time,” she said. “It could be from the way a person walks, or the accent someone speaks with.”

  She has also gotten an idea for a story from a name on a grave tombstone. Most of the names of her characters come from tombstones in the state or town that the book takes place in, so that her characters’ names sound more from the town or state the book is set in.

“A lot of times, especially with historical romances, I would drive through the cemetery and pick last names and first names and combine them,” Thomas said.

Thomas has written 50 books and is working on number 51. Of those, 22 are historical romances. The first historical romance she wrote was while she was in grad school studying to be a counselor. In the middle of a class, she got an idea and started writing it down.

“I’m a quilter of words,” Thomas said. “I take things from many places and put them together, and then I have a book.”

She continued, “The easiest way to learn how to write is to read good books.”

She said her husband used to be in the Army. Because he was gone for months at a time, she kept herself busy with teaching and reading two to three books a day.

  “Writing a book has a beat, it has music,” Thomas explained. “The best thing to do is to read. And then write down an idea. The more creative you are, the more creative you become.”

  She changed to contemporary romances after 15 years of writing historical romances. She said one of the reasons was so she could reach a bigger audience.

“I began it because I wanted to write a story of a small town,” she said. “I wanted to show how everyone in small towns influence each other’s life, either in small ways or big ways.”

She has won the Writers of America (RITA) Award and the National Readers’ Choice Award Winner. She also is in the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. Her books have been translated into at least six different languages.

Thomas explained why she thinks Old West stories still appeal to people today, saying, “I think, especially in this part of the country, we still have the same values. Sometimes I’ll use a term and people will ask if people still use that. And I’ll say; yes.”

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