Jodi Thomas Tells Us Her Secret


This week my 34th book, JUST DOWN THE ROAD, will be coming out and as always people ask me about how I create a world.  Right now I have two series going:  One, Whispering Mountain Series set in Texas in the 1800’s and the other, Harmony Series set in a small town today’s world.  JUST DOWN THE ROAD is the 4th of what will be at least seven books in the Harmony Series and WILD TEXAS ROSE coming out in August 2012, will be the 6th book in my historical series.

So, how do I create a world for readers to step into?

First, the setting is the dressing around the story.  We may all love it, think it’s beautiful or exciting, or exotic but don’t mistake it for the story.  The setting may hold the story together and offer interesting twists and challenges, but it is not the heartbeat of the story.  If it were, travel books would fill the top 10 of the New York Times list.

The story, the core, is the people.  I don’t even like to think of them as characters.  They are my people, who live and breathe in the world I create.  They drive the story.  They’re what keep you up reading at night.  For example,  when you read a story about a tornado, it’s not the path or the tornado or the size or the wind speed that keeps you on the edge of your seat; it’s the lives that will be affected by the storm.

One thing I remember about writing about the West is people lived by seasons and not by the calendar.

That said, the writer must look at the setting to find and understand the people.  Characters, like real people, are molded by their surroundings.  The way they think is influenced by their past, not just yesterday or their childhood, but the lives of their ancestors.  Since I live in the Panhandle of Texas I chose to set my imaginary town, Harmony, in Texas.  Like people everywhere, we think a little different.

Example:  Last week I walked out of the library and ran into a friend.  We stood by our cars and talked for a while enjoying the sunny day.  When I got in my car I heard on the radio that the wind was blowing 30 mph.  Neither of us had noticed “the breeze.”

When I was in England speaking to the Romance Writers a few years ago, I thought them hard to get to know, hard to just start talking to.  After my talk, I pulled out a stack of my business cards and said, “Where I’m from people say y’all come.  If you make it to Texas, come see me, I’ll put you up and cook you a meal.”

Suddenly, the world shifted.  Everyone was talking to me and giving me their address; for, you see, in England, if someone invites you the only polite thing to do is to invite them back.  I had a great time visiting and having tea with the writers and readers “across the pond.”

Knowing the people, studying how they lived and what they thought makes characters come alive.  It makes them breathe.  It doesn’t matter if they lived a hundred years ago or today.

I’ve been very blessed that people step into the worlds I create and go with me on the adventures with my characters.  They live for me and I hope they will for all of you.

Click HERE to watch a video about the writing of JUST DOWN THE ROAD.

I’d love to hear things you’ve noticed that are different about the people where you live.  A different way of thinking or acting that makes them your hometown people.  From your comments, I’ll pick a winner to receive one of the first copies of JUST DOWN THE ROAD.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Jodi Thomas

Jodi Thomas is the NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of 34 novels and 11 short story collections. In June 2011, WELCOME TO HARMONY won a RITA, the highest award for women’s fiction. Jodi currently serves as the Writer in Residence at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas.

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24 thoughts on “Jodi Thomas Tells Us Her Secret”

  1. I love your books, Jodi.

    One thing that my relatives from a large city in a different state always make fun of way that people greet each other here in NE Nebraska. Driving down the road everone waves at everyone else. Sometimes just the lift of a finger from the steering wheel or a nod of the head but we always greet others around us.

  2. Great post Jodi! I was raise in a small community and everyone new everyone else, it was like we were all family. You didn’t even have to lock your doors at night, and like in Texas we said Ya’ll come and I cook you a meal and put you up for the night even if its on a palet on the floor. Now I live in a small town in the same state but I don’t think the people are as frindly. I guess maybe its a different world now then what is was years ago.

  3. I work as a cashier in Florida. During season we get people from all over the country and outside the country too. In general if you smile, treat them kindly with respect, people will respond in kind. We do get the occasional grouch but most people are nice!

    My hometown is a bit closer knit. There are not a lot of outsiders. It takes some time for people to open up to you. Buy them a drink at the bar and immediately people are friendlier.

  4. Jodi, it’s always a pleasure to have you come. You’re like an old friend, bringing us lots of happiness.

    I’m almost finished with Just Down the Road and I think this story is your best yet. It has made me laugh and cry and root for Tinch and Addison and that sweet little boy. This book fits the bill on all kinds of levels.

    Wishing you much success!

  5. I do agree that people are the core of the story. They are how I connect to a story and care about. Though, the right setting can make the most of the characters. What I enjoy about small town stories is how much the town comes to life and enables me to see the distinct members of its community. I like seeing how everyone differs and are alike, and their role in a story. You are a new author for me and I definitely want to change that. Jodi, I am going to keep your Harmony novels on my reading mind. They sound so heartwarming.

    Where I am from the people are really pro-active about maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It helps that there is mountain trails and parks all around so people can simply walk or jog among a picturesque backdrop. The community also likes to come together to support worthy causes especially those related to health. There is often a food drive, penny drive or fund-raiser of sort that brings awareness and encourage people to get together and give if they can.

    Have a nice day 🙂

  6. I am always amazed by the kindness, consideration and genuine down to earth qualities of people where I live compared to a large metropolis. It makes me feel good.

  7. Things have changed but not always for the worse. Whenever I become disgruntled about someone and their behavior, I encounter something positive. Many in our area are warm and willing to reach out when things are tough. They do not shy away from being able to assist yet do not intrude either.

  8. I’m living in a small town and everyone knows everyone. So, if someone need help there are always people willing to do it. It’s a give and take but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
    Thank you for the giveaway!

  9. I live in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and it really is known as the friendly city. We’re a real melting pot. We also have certain words that are known just to our area such as gum bands, chipped ham, yins (although I don’t use that one because my dad was raised in Mississippi and I do y’all lol.

  10. Your book sounds really good.
    I live in a large city where people don’t know each other. I have been lucky since i have had the same neighbors next to me for along time. Lots of changes in this town what with the Arizona-Mexico border so close.

  11. I was raised in a small town in the Northeast. Not small enough to know everything about everyone else’s business, but close. It was a friendly place to be, even though we moved there when I was in 7th grade. Friends were made and you became part of the community.

    We live in the South now and it is quite different. Yes, they are friendly and Southern hospitality is true, but it is different. If you and your family aren’t from around here, you will never really belong. We have been here 20 years and made every effort to belong to the community. So far, save for one neighbor, the only ones to reciprocate invitations, or just stop by to visit have been other transplants. We were in the military for 24 years and moved to many new communities. It has never been this hard to fit in or be accepted.
    I was told of a family in the town where I worked. The man had married a woman from Indiana and they settled here in TN. Their children, now in their 20’s and 30’s, were born and raised here but are referred to as those folks from Indiana, even though the only home they have ever know is NE TN.
    Don’t get me wrong. The people and the area are nice, but it seems there will always be a line drawn between “us” and “them” which is a shame. We are all missing out on getting to know and learn about one another. I think they would be surprised to see that we aren’t that different after all.

  12. A comment on your statement that the setting is “the dressing around the story.” True, but it does have a lot of influence on how the characters will act, react, and who they are. It will also influence what their options are. In a way, it forms the structure of what is possible for the characters. I do agree the characters are the heart of the story. No matter how great the setting, if there are duds (not dudes) populating the area, nothing much will happen that anyone would care about. One thing for certain in all of your stories that I have read, your characters are very much alive and individuals that we are glad we got to know.

    Looking to my earlier post, the area I grew up in was settled by french, irish scots, english, indians , It is on the Canadian border and most families overlap into both countries. It is open and people travel freely. Where we live now was settled primarily by the english and scots with the native population. The population remained pretty static and few “outsiders” came through. Like many parts of the south, the Civil War is still much on the mind. It is a bit like a shield that has gone up to protect a past that is in many ways more fiction than fact. One TN historian commented that the rebel flag that is so often flown didn’t represent what many feel it did. Contrary to locals insistence, this area was a Union stronghold. The KKK was not a wonderful family oriented organization that organized picnics and did nothing wrong. In any war and its aftermath, there is much that could have been done differently and things that shouldn’t have happened. The best way to go into the future is to recognize what they really were, good and bad, and move on with life.
    The above is a good example of what you said “Characters, like real people, are molded by their surroundings. The way they think is influenced by their past, not just yesterday or their childhood, but the lives of their ancestors. ”

    Sorry I was so long winded. It is a wet dreary day which seems to encourage running on.
    I hope JUST DOWN THE ROAD does well. I look forward to reading it.

  13. I have always lived in small towns. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

    I love the Harmony series.

  14. Jodi,
    It was good to find you on here as I so enjoy your books. I live in the country and absolutely love it. People don’t always agree on things but around here they always seem to come together in the end. I had to laugh the other day about how “close” we are. A neighbor from down the road stopped by to tell us to be on alert as there was a vehicle out of place down the road. When she stopped to see what was up, it took off, instead of staying to chat like the neighbors would. With it having an out of county license plate, she wanted to make sure we knew to be on guard. When we lived in a large town (25,000) we didn’t even really know the people on our block, let alone know if someone was “out of place”. I am anxiously awaiting JUST DOWN THE ROAD.

  15. Hi Jodi really like all your books, particularly your westerns, but as you write so well and do people so well I really have enjoyed your harmony series (you are on my automatic buy list before I even know the book plot or setting, i even preorder from the book depository UK as your books have not been readily available in Australia)
    cheers thank again for the great stories Rosheen

  16. Accents are what I notice most – I can’t replicate them, so no poor jokes in an Irish or Scottish accents. But it does mark people out as strangers even today – and maybe much more so in the past?

  17. Hi Jodi!

    Thanks for the great post on creating a world. I’m so glad you said about your people. That’s how I feel about the people I write about, they’re not characters they’re a part of me.

    I love the worlds you’ve created and the people in them.

    After living the first 30 years of my life in Wyoming and Montana, and the last few in the DC area I don’t think I’d ever truly fit here. One main difference is everything is an emergency out here. From a skiff of snow to a thunderstorm to having a meeting in the afternoon. I guess back home we just roll with the punches and do what needs done without the big panic.

  18. I never realised it, until a friend from Italy pointed out, how often Melbournians (from Melbourne, Australia) look up at the sky to gauge the weather. (It’s said about Melbourne, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes”. We’re also known for sometimes having “4 seasons in one day”.)

    Thank you for your books, I always look forward to getting my hands on a new one. I’m really enjoying this series and can’t wait to read “Just Down The Road”.

  19. Good morning, Jodi. Thanks for “popping” back for another day–and sorry about the site troubles over the weekend, everyone.

    The best part of traveling, for me, is getting to see how other folks live, work, socialize. I enjoy observing human nature.

  20. I have read all your books and love them. I am waiting for tomorrow for Just Down the Road to be out. I am also waiting for Wild Texas Rose. I love that series also.

  21. Miss Jodi is out on the road for a mini-book tour promoting Just Down the Road. Hopefully when she gets checked into her hotel this afternoon she’ll have time to answer some comments. She does appreciate all her readers and fans who faithfully follow her in this writing journey.

    Yes, Goldie, Wild Texas Rose will be out in August. Like you, I can’t wait. This story will be about Rose McMurray, Teagen’s adopted daughter.

  22. I really love hearing from you and reading your wonderful comments. I am on the road again touring for JUST DOWN THE ROAD. Today is the official release day, and I can’t wait for you new readers to get hooked into Harmony. And for those of you waiting for JUST DOWN THE ROAD, I think this is my best Harmony yet! Then in August, WILD TEXAS ROSE my sixth book in the Whispering Mountain series, will be released. You will just love its cover!

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