An Interview with Jodi Thomas

Jodi Thomas: Just Down the RoadAt Romantic Times, I sat next to Jodi Thomas on the contemporary romance panel I wrote about earlier, and because I'm horrible, I got all up in her business about her position as Writer in Residence at West Texas A&M University.

A romance author as a writer in residence? That's awesome! Thomas is only the second writer to fill the post. Prior to Thomas, the writer in residence was Loula Grace Erdman, who wrote novels about the settlement of the Texas Panhandle.

I thought the idea of a romance author serving as writer in residence was very cool, so I asked Ms. Thomas if she'd put up with all sorts of nosy questions. Fortunately for me, she agreed, and I think this is a wonderfully inspiring interview. 

Let's start with basic questions: How long have you been the writer in residence? 

10 years

What responsibilities does that involve? 

I work a 9 month contract and I get to pick the three months each year that I take off, but I love my job so I usually work most of the year.  All that is asked of me is that I keep four and one half hours a week of office hours so students can come by. 

I usually work four days a week, sometimes five, from about 9-4.  I give about 100 talks a year to professional organizations, schools, colleges, writing groups, libraries, red hat groups, book clubs, and all kinds of clubs. I also take on one intern a semester.  He or she gets graduate credit and works about 5 hrs a week in office learning the business of writing and doing research, keeping lists, hauling books, etc.  Then the intern and I spend 2-3 hours a week working on his work.  During the semester he or she will usually finish a novel. I also teach a one week class at the West Texas A&M Writing Academy in June.  I move in the dorm and take a dozen people through a course in advance writing in one week.  We go from breakfast until a movie at night where we define plot structure.
 
Once the president of the university did an evaluation and said:  Jodi Thomas defined her job as Writer in Residence and does it quite well. 
 
I love it the way I love writing and it’s not a job, it’s who I am.

 

Have your students or fellow professors made mention of your being a romance author – good or not so good?

I was teaching on the high school level when I first sold.  Several of the teachers made fun of the little home economics teacher who sold a book.  But one, Mr. Biggers, stood in line to be first and my first signing.  I think he knew what it took to be a writer and he admired that drive.  I have no idea if he ever read the book but it meant a great deal to me that he didn’t make fun of me.
 
The first time I spoke to a college class the professor asked me to come on a day he couldn’t be there.  When I started I noticed no one was paying any attention.  After a few minutes I begin pulling out books.  Hardbacks, paperbacks, foreign novels of mine.  One girl asked, “Did you write those?”  When I said yes, everyone started paying attention.  The professor had told the class that someone was speaking who thought she was a writer, but she wrote romance.  A year later the same professor asked me to come to a critique group.  I went to be polite and was excited to finally be accepted.  Like most WIR I felt like I stood outside of the circle of faculty on campus.   After I read, he said he thought he could help me, after all, he’d been publishing articles in the paper for years.  I told him thank you and left.  At that time I was already a national bestseller of 16 books and that week had hit the NYT at number 16.  He hadn’t bothered to ask.
 
I learned after that that I was the lucky one to walk away that day.  None of the group as ever published for money.  As for me, the man who delivers supplies reads all my books, the president and his wife never miss one, all over campus people tell me how much they love my books.  I’m writing to entertain, to take the person on a journey they’ll enjoy after they’ve had a long day in the real world.  I’m not writing for the English department.  I don’t even care if my interns are majoring in English.  I’m waiting for that young Stephen King to walk in my office with his first manuscript and tell me he wants to sell and all I’ll say is, “Lets go to work.”
 
What unique perspective do you think you bring to the students as a romance author?
 
I know people.  I don’t call the people in my books characters.  I call the people because, for me, they are. 
 
One of my interns dropped by my office the other day and said, “I still hear you when I’m writing—yelling at me to write deeper.  Dig deeper into the character.”

People are not cardboard characters to be stood up and described down to their nose hair.  They need to breathe, and feel, and hurt, and care.  I promise you even the best looking guy will ugly up if he’s brain dead.
 
The stories that we’ve loved to read were the ones where we traveled with characters who breathed.  We went along through any journey, through any time, because we cared.


I just loved the answers Jodi Thomas gave to these questions. I can imagine the students at West Texas A&M are lucky to have her as an instructor. Who encouraged you when you were in school? What professor or teacher had the most positive effect on you?

I wonder if there are other romance author writers-in-residence out there. Do you know of any?

 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    I’ve spoken to Jodi Thomas twice now at conferences, and she is the most gracious, welcoming person. Just from those very brief encounters she distracted me down from my conference jitters and made me feel valued. She’s like Yoda, but much prettier. :) Her students are so lucky to have her as a mentor.

  2. 2
    PamK says:

    Thanks for the fascinating interview!  I, for one, am glad that you’re a nosy parker because it leads to the rest of us getting to know interesting people like Ms. Thomas.

  3. 3
    Mary says:

    I think Jodi Thomas is one of the best romance authors out there. I love her books – and the people inside :)  She’s a wonderful storyteller and is one of my auto-buy authors.

  4. 4
    Girlygirlhoosier52 says:

    Another fan girl here!!  Love Jodi’s work and always buy the latest!

  5. 5

    Really interesting. And by the way, the cover of that book is lovely. I’m completely intrigued now.

  6. 6
    Ruthie Knox says:

    I’m not precisely sure why, but this made me cry. Twice. Thanks for posting it.

  7. 7
    Winona Cross says:

    I first read a work of Jodi’s in “Give Me a Texas Ranger.” I was hooked. I’ve not met Jodi but in June I’ll get to know her because I’ll be in Canyon for the Writers Academy. My husband gave me the tuition money for Christmas. I may have been the first student to register for the 2012 class. I am so excited! Not just about meeting Jodi but to learn to turn my “characters into people” and “dig deeper.” I want to be published and am willing to work for it. Lovely interview.

  8. 8

    Great interview!  I was sitting in the audience at that panel, and I was pretty impressed at the Writer in Residence job too.  I’m glad to hear more about it.

    I have an English degree.  I wrote a Master’s thesis on Virginia Woolf.  And to this day, there are professors of mine who are sorry for me that I didn’t make something more of myself.  OTOH, when I emailed my favorite English professor ever and told her that I’d sold a book to Harlequin, she was truly excited. This was the same professor, btw, who turned an argumentative writing course into fun because she let us write fiction, just so long as the story was persuasive. 

    I learned a lot from her about editing too.  Like taking any piece of writing I’ve done and cutting 10%.  It can always be done, even when you think it can’t.  And what you end up with is tighter and better.  (Not that I’m applying that technique here, so forgive the length of the answer.) :)

    I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t read Jodi Thomas yet.  But she’s definitely on my list now.  What a fabulous lady!

  9. 9
    Gabi Stevens says:

    Jodi Thomas gives more of herself to other writers and deserves every accolade out there. This woman took me under her wing when I was brand new and has supported me since. I dedicated one of my books to her. I cannot say enough about Jodi. Every word she says about writing is gold and I’m thrilled to have her as a friend.

  10. 10
    KBR says:

    Jodi doesn’t know this, but I had her autograph a book at RWA Nationals to give to my German niece (then age 17) to help her with her English. Well, Jodi knew that part, even if she doesn’t remember. Anyway, Marita’s mother (my sister-in-law) and Marita’s much loved uncle (my husband), died two months later, brother and sister, within eleven days of each other (we did NOT see this coming). Over the next painful months, Marita read and reread Jodi’s book. One day she said to me,  “I think Jodi must be kinda of like my Mom, a really nice person, huh?” Who knew at the time of the book signing that Jodi would become a mother figure to someone she never met. thank you, Jodi.

  11. 11
    Kim in Hawaii says:

    Aloha, Sarah!  I was taking pictures when you asked Jodi to be a guest on your blog.  The interview is fantastic!

  12. 12
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    What a fabulous interview. It’s lovely to hear about authors encouraging aspiring writers, especially in the academic setting. That’s not really offered at my institution; instead, the published faculty tend to spend their time telling students how difficult it is to be published, without ever offering practical advice. I have a feeling that if students showed up and said they wanted to write romance (or any genre fiction, for that matter), the faculty and the local writers groups would shun them.0

    I wish we had a resource like Jodi! Do you think she would consider moving to Oregon? We have a good two weeks of nice weather every summer…

  13. 13

    Lovely interview, and good for the university for recognizing quality writing is quality writing, no matter the genre.

  14. 14
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    @Darlene Marshall, this is completely OT, but I just read the description of your upcoming release, and I’m so excited that I actually bounced in my chair. I cannot wait to read it! [/squee]

  15. 15

    *blush* Thanks for the kind words. I’m looking forward to seeing Castaway Dreams out and about myself.[g]

  16. 16
    Tam says:

    I remember talking about my romance addiction at a gathering of English lit students at Oxford, and most of them were either disbelieving or actually scoffing at my appalling literary tastes.  Then our (very respected) advisor jumped in to say cheerily that she’d been a friend of one of the authors I’d been talking about (Eloisa James/Mary Bly) at university, and had once tried to write a romance novel herself.  After that, the discussion took a decidedly more ‘So how hard IS it to write romance?’ turn for the better.

    Wasn’t Jennifer Crusie a Writer in Residence up in Ohio somewhere?  I remember being impressed by that in a bio of hers somewhere.

  17. 17
    js264 says:

    Thank you, Sarah, for a wonderful interview! I hope Jodi is reading all the comments. She sounds like an amazing mentor and teacher. I know of no other writer in residence who has been that generous.

    Bravo, Jodi! I hope you’re feeling proud, warm, and loved. You matter. Here’s hoping that you have a long and wonderful writing and teaching career.

  18. 18
    Kathleen O'Reilly says:

    Gig ‘em, Ags!!!

    Kathleen O’Reilly, proud Aggie, class of ‘85.

  19. 19
    Susan F. says:

    I met Jodi at a career day.  I’m from the Texas Panhandle and it was held for some area high schools.  I was very excited to meet her as I had been reading her books since I actually met her brother when he gave a talk at a 4-H entrepreneur camp.  He was very complimentary to his sister and talked a lot about how proud of her he was.  After reading her books, I quite agreed with is assessment.  :)  Love her Texas historicals!

  20. 20
    Adalia says:

    Very interesting interview! It has definitively made me want to read something by Jodi Thomas! Does anyone have any tips on what would be a good book to start with?

  21. 21
    Jennifer D. says:

    Ms. Thomas was my home economics teacher when she was writing her first book.  I love that she has become very successful at it.  She is truly a wonderful teacher as well as writer

  22. 22
    Ann Stephens says:

    Clearly Ms. Thomas is a far, far, far better woman than I am, because I would have mentioned every last national ranking and the current NYT position to that obnoxious professor.

    How marvelous that she is bringing her knowledge of storytelling and writing-as-business to college students.

  23. 23
    JennyME says:

    Fantastic interview—I wish I’d had someone like Jodi at my college. I will definitely check out her books.

  24. 24
    LibrarianJessi says:

    I was a student at WTAMU from 2003-2007. I worked with Jodi Thomas through my English honor society and she was always so wonderful to work with. I did have a college professor, Dr. Dudt, who was my Shakespeare instructor and who also always encouraged me to delve further into my education that I would have. I credit her for my current profession which is truly the work that I was meant to do (I’m a librarian) and also for honing my persistent drive and inability to take no as an answer.

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