Shirley Jump: On Writing, Research, and Chocolate


I’m very pleased to welcome my good friend, New York Times/USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump, to The Graveyard Shift.  A few weeks ago, I asked Shirley if she’d mind sharing a few of her writing tips and she said yes without hesitating. In fact, she immediately put down her box of chocolates and answered my questions in a manner that was so…well, so Shirley Jumpish. You’ll see what I mean. Shirley will also be available today to answer your questions.


First, a little about Shirley Jump:

Award-winning New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shirley Jump spends her days writing romantic comedies (Doorstep Daddy, May 2009) to feed her shoe addiction and avoid cleaning the toilets. She cleverly finds writing time by feeding her kids junk food, allowing them to dress in the clothes they find on the floor and encouraging the dogs to double as vacuum cleaners. Visit her website at or read recipes and life adventures at

She also writes horror young adult under the pen name AJ Whitten with her teen daughter.


The first of these books, The Well, will be released in fall of 2009 under Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Graphia imprint. When Shirley’s daughter first read the premise for The Well, the story of a boy whose mother is trying to kill him, she asked her mother if there was anything she should know. Shirley claims it’s all fiction. Learn more about AJ Whitten at

The Interview:

Shirley, what time of day you prefer to write?

Whenever no one is going to bother me. But honestly, I have kids and just when I think I’m going to get two or three uninterrupted hours to write, someone calls home with a dire emergency, like a forgotten trombone or misplaced lunch money, and before I know it, my writing day is sucked into the ether. So I write whenever I can grab uninterrupted time 😉

Your daily word count?

Ha. Did you read the above? 😉 I don’t strive for any kind of daily word count. The pressure would mean I’d have some goal I’d have to meet, and then if I didn’t meet it, I’d feel like a failure, which would necessitate massive amounts of chocolate. Eventually, the sugar high would wear off and I’d need a nap, meaning more hours would be wasted…and I’d really be missing my goal. Back to the chocolate bowl again. It’s a vicious cycle. Better to not set a goal at all and reward myself with chocolate when I accomplish anything more than hit POWER.

Do you listen to music when you write (what kind)?

I’d love to tell you I’m so disciplined and intellectual that I throw some Bach into the CD player and hum along with a concerto, but honestly, I usually have the TV going because when you’re writing all day, you’re usually missing something good, so why not try and do both? ;-). I got used to writing with kids around, and actually missed the noise, which is why I turn on the TV-for company.

Do you conduct a lot of research before you write the first word?

I write the first three chapters before I start researching. I’d like to know what I need to know, if that makes sense, before I start digging for facts. Otherwise, I’ll spend all day reading and not a moment writing.

How long does it take you write a 100,000 word novel?

As long as they give me ;-). If I have a year to write it, it takes a year. If I have six months, it takes six months. I aim to please-and make my deadlines.

Finally, what is your favorite food and drink?

I have to pick one?

If I HAD to choose, my favorite food is macaroni and cheese (I know, but who said I had to eat healthy?) and my favorite drink is a mojito. Or a margarita. Or a martini. If it has alcohol in it, and it doesn’t taste like battery acid, it’s usually on my favorites list 😉

Shirley picks up a few forensics facts from Butler County Ohio coroner’s investigator, Andy Willis and Butler County coroner, Dr. Richard Burkhardt during the Writers Police Academy.

*Shirley’s latest book is The Well, which is scheduled for release in September 2009.

14 replies
  1. abbygaines
    abbygaines says:

    Hi Shirley
    I love the idea of writing with the TV on! Must try it…
    Congrats on your forthcoming YA novel – sounds very scary!

  2. Vecia
    Vecia says:

    The writing group sounds great. I’ll see you there! Thanks again Shirley! Happy Writing!

  3. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    For Shirley:

    Earth2Mary: thank you for the sweet words! Hope you enjoy my books! You and I are definitely two people who think alike! I have chocolate ganache cupcakes on my counter right now, LOL.

    My daughter and I rarely disagree on what to write next. On the few occasions when we have, we’ve just worked out a compromise. Usually, we’re pretty close on what we want next, and we just each make our argument and whichever one makes the most sense for the book is the one that wins 😉

    Vecia—glad to help! For planning, I really don’t have a big method there, either. I’m what’s called a pantser, meaning I write pretty much by the seat of my pants. I come up with an idea (what if a kid’s mother is trying to kill him?) then write a few chapters, see if it works, and then go back and start figuring out all the why questions from there. Admittedly, it is an INSANE method of working because I invariably get to the middle and think I’ve created a mess I can never solve. Somehow, it all works out. All the clues I need to pull the book together are in there, thank goodness ;-). As for keeping track of my ideas, I have tons and tons, and just shove them into a folder. Rarely do I look in there, because there’s always another idea that I’m just as excited about, LOL. FYI, I do have an online writing Yahoo group called Just Write It—you can get to it from the left hand side of my website ( HTH!

  4. Vecia
    Vecia says:

    Oh, it is ok NOT to Outline!?! Wow, I am so off the hook!:)
    I work so much better not planning than when I do. I guess I felt guilty for being “lazy” and not doing the work I thought I HAD to do.
    So…uhummm….how Do you plan a novel?? And keep track of all your great ideas? I just have to ask!:)Thanks again Shirley!

  5. Earth2Mary
    Earth2Mary says:

    Haha! I actually remembered my password for once, I’m so excited. This is a really good interview. Thanks to both Shirley and Lee!

    Shirley, I have to go check out your books now. My curiosity is officially piqued! And I don’t think we should ever meet—my own “rewards” are building up in the fridge, and they include Chocolate Banana Softies and Chocolate Oatmeal Treats.

    That’s so neat that you and your daughter write together! It sounds like you two have a pretty good plotting method, too. Do you ever disagree on what comes next?

  6. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    For Shirley:

    Margie! So great to see you!

    My daughter and I plot together, working out the main idea of the book first, then, as we go along, we tweak and add as we get new ideas. She’s the first, second, millionth reader, LOL, who helps “teen” it up because I am as old as dirt and don’t speak teen as well as her, so that’s her job. For THE WELL, she also wrote the parts that were in the monster’s POV. It’s a very fluid, back and forth process, with her and I working out each of the sections for “Teen-ness” and plot necessity.

    Queen, thanks for the welcome! I don’t know if I’d call it discipline so much as looming deadlines and an obsession with shoe shopping (which said deadlines help fund ;-).

    Vecia–I hope you enjoy DOORSTEP DADDY! I had a lot of fun writing a book with a baby. Almost (almost!) made me long for those days myself. As for outlining…uh, I don’t. I used to sorta kinda outline, but I am a ridiculously lazy person by nature, so anything that smacks of planning has me running for the hills. I’ve written 35+ books, though, so a lot more of the writing process happens in my head, which is probably why I don’t outline hardly at all. T

    That said, I have heard great things about both THE MARSHALL PLAN and the WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK. Both of those are supposed to be incredibly helpful in planning out a book.



  7. Vecia
    Vecia says:

    Hi Shirley, It is really great to be able to have a chance to pick your brain! I love your work, infact hubby walked in the door yesterday with your new book DoorStep Daddy as a gift for me:)!

    My Question:I was wondering if you could help me on outlining. I am working on my first book and have found a rock in my path and it is named outlining! Do you have any pointers on outlining? I would love to hear how you do this so well! Thanks again for taking the time to answer all these wonderful questions.


  8. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Hi Margie. I’m so glad you stopped by to speak to Shirley. It reminded me that I owe you some information about kinesics. It slipped my mind because we’ve been pretty busy around the old Graveyard Shift, lately. I’ll let everyone know about that soon.

    By the way, this week is filled with exciting guests, so be sure to check in each day. You’ll be glad you did.

  9. Margie Lawson
    Margie Lawson says:

    Shirley —

    Great to see you working the Graveyard Shift. 🙂

    My questions: How do you and Amanda co-author? Do you plot together? Do each of you write certain chapters? Does Amanda edit your chapters?

    I’m looking forward to seeing you when you present in Colorado in October!

    All smiles…….Margie

  10. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Shirley and WordPress are currently engaged in a deadly battle, and so far WordPress is winning. Therefore, I’m relaying Shirley’s responses. Here goes:

    Hi Lee and everyone!

    So nice to be here on The Graveyard Shift! Love this blog!

    LOL, though–if I had known Lee was going to use some of those photos, I would have Photoshopped in nicer hairstyles!

    Hi Dave—nice to see you here! The TV is usually on pretty low, more as background noise than anything else. It’s funny; I spent all that time trying to get the kids out of the house so I could have peace and quiet, only to crave noise again, LOL.

    Sarah—I’m like you—can’t carry a tune if you taped it to my hand! But I still love to sing.

    Molly! Nice to see you here!


  11. queenofmean
    queenofmean says:

    Hi, Shirley. Thanks for stopping by and agreeing to be interrogated by Lee.
    I agree with Dave. Having the TV on & trying to write is (to me) like ‘winter camping’: 2 things that just don’t belong in the same sentence.
    You sound like you have enough discipline with your kids keeping you running and you still meet deadlines. Good luck with your new book in September. That’s great that you and your daughter could work on it together.

  12. Sarah Grimm
    Sarah Grimm says:

    Shirley- after having kids I also turn on the TV for noise. I can’t stand it when it’s too quiet. I also read with the TV on which drives my husband crazy because I can still figure out ‘who done it’ before him.

    I absolutely can’t listen to music while writing, because I eventually begin singing along. (very badly)

  13. D. Swords
    D. Swords says:

    Hi Shirley.

    I would argue anyone who can write with the TV on IS very discpilined.

    One thing Lee’s author Q&A is showing us is that there are no hard and fast rules for writing.

    Thanks for posting on the Graveyard Shift.

Comments are closed.