Sunday, April 29, 2007

Can You Sell Yourself?

Yesterday at the meeting, something a chapter member said really hit home with me. We were talking about pitching to agents and editors. (For the sake of shortening this blog, I’ll mention only editors, but this holds true for agents too.). Some of the authors were saying they were too nervous to be coherent and others said they needed their notes to do the pitch right. A chapter member said that she could write about her story and really have an editor be interested in it, but to sell herself, she was horrible at it.

Now don’t get me wrong, the chapter member isn't that type of lady. But when you meet an editor face-to-face, you’re not only trying to sell a story, but sell them on what type of person you’ll be to work with.

I work in sales and meet customers face-to-face often, though most of my work is over the phone and internet. The types of customers I deal with are gruff men of all ages that work with other men that handle heavy equipment and dig in dirt and grime all day. In fact, my job is usually done by men too. So you can imagine I have to prove to them that I can be trusted in giving them good and accurate information and make sure the products are where they should be and at the time they need it. If I don’t, it can cost them (and my company) thousands of dollars. Most of my jobs cost anywhere between $20,000 to $60,000 each, but several are in the millions. My recent one is 13.8M.

Now I told you all that to make you understand why (along with my personality) I rarely become nervous in front of editors. So while I was waiting for my appointment at our recent conference, it was the same chapter member that gave me some pointers on an editor as she had just met with her. (Thanks!)

Well, as you can imagine, I "aced" the interview. In fact, the editor said I did a great job on my pitch (Thanks, Kelley St. John!). But I know even without the chapter member’s advice or Kelley’s training, I would have done okay for I’d realized a few things about editors in particular. They like a smiling face, enthusiasm for your own story, and short fact-filled pitches.

Not only because of my job and my own personality (extrovert) can I "ace" an appointment, but I find meeting any new person interesting. If I’m not careful, I’ll catch myself focusing on their expressions and their clothes to the point I forget to listen. I enjoy meeting new people. I may feel uncomfortable with the way they handle themselves or talk or dress or whatever, but I still like to know more about them. And why I do that? Just like you, some small quirk or something will help me flesh out a character in a book. I think all authors find people-watching fun.

Now if only I can improve on my writing so those editors will be just as enthused by my work as they are with my pitches.

Do you have a hard time selling yourself and why? And where do you like to people-watch?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Vive la difference

I just started reading Jennifer Crusie's Tell Me Lies, and I'm struck by how different it is from her other novels. But I suppose I get this feeling every time I pick up one of her books: Bet Me is completely different from Crazy for You is completely different from Welcome to Temptation is completely different from What the Lady Wants and Strange Bedpersons. Each of these books is a romantic comedy. You can always see Crusie working in there somewhere, with her looooooong sentences and lovably off characters. But the structure and focus and force of the books are different every time.'s a bit early to tell, but I think I'm going to like Tell Me Lies best.

I think/hope I write this way too, but it's not something I've tried to do. It's come very naturally. Someone reading both Major Crush and The Boys Next Door might see some similarities, but you could probably make a convincing argument that a different author had written each book (if you hid the cover). The settings, plots, heroines, and story goals are completely different. But the bottom line is that I wrote them almost two years apart. Different things had filtered into my brain in those two years, so my mindset automatically created a second book that wasn't a copy of the first.

Do you get the feeling you're repeating yourself from book 1 to book 2, or is every manuscript a completely new adventure?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


****permission granted to forward*****

------ONE DAY LEFT-------------------

Southern Magic has received permission from the talented New York Times best-selling author, Sherrilyn Kenyon, to auction ONE opportunity to have a ***character with your name*** in her long awaited "Ash" Book. This book is due out 2008 and will be part of a box set.

The name will be used by the best friend of Acheron's heroine. Half of the proceeds will go to Southern Magic and the other half to Sherri's favorite charity, Cure Autism Now. Per Sherri, "April is the national Autism month and many people don't realize just how widespread and debilitating this illness is. My son is one of millions who suffer with it everyday."

Bidding will end the late afternoon of April 26, 2007.

Bid at:

Thank you.
Carla Swafford
President, Southern Magic
Birmingham, AL

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sayonara, Sanjaya!

Sayonara, Sanjaya!

Well, last week AMERICAN IDOL said goodbye to Sanjaya. Not to have been that great, he certainly got talked about a lot. But is that good? Does he have a career ahead of him? No one knows. William Hung had something of a career and he never made it past the first audition. I checked Amazon and there's no cds for him past 2004/2005. He did a few tv shows and a commercial with Ryan Seacrest. But where is he now?

Authors come and go, too. Most writers look at THE CALL as the pinnacle, but even after that, you face rejection and even not being able to sell a book.

I wish I possessed the eternal optimism of my cats. Miss Kitty and Little Kitty can go on the porch and see and feel the rain or freezing cold. Yet, in ten minutes, they'll go back to the door, ready to go out again. As if they hold the optimism that the weather has changed for the better.

Well, maybe I should be more optimistic. Last May, yes 2006, I sent my resume to the Chamber of Commerce. Today I receive a call and have an appointment tomorrow.

So, are you optimistic about your writing?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

It's Fine If You Don't Like My Stuff, But Please Tell Me Why

I just received the comments on a manuscript that I entered in an RWA chapter contest. It didn't final, and I was hoping I would get the comments before I entered another contest, so I was excited to see the envelope in the mail. I glanced at the first score sheet -- pretty high, but not perfect. The judge gave me some great feedback about what was weak and/or confusing. Very helpful.

The second score was lower, but still, the judges comments were about things I knew needed some work, and her constructive criticism helped me clarify it. Again, very helpful.

The third score was in the toilet. If the scoresheet were a geography test, I would have flunked with colors a' flying. There was no explanation given on the score sheet. Even though I was disappointed, I pulled on my portable thick skin and flipped to the manuscript to read her comments. Every single comment was positive, with several "good jobs!" and smiley faces thrown in for emphasis. I looked at the score sheet again. Had I misunderstood how to read the darn thing? Had she misunderstood? How do I reconcile the comment "Love this heroine!!" with a failing grade on "Is heroine sympathetic?"?

I'm just glad our own Southern Magic Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest strongly encourages judges to make comments and constructive criticism, especially if the scores are low. I know most writers enter these contests to get their names out there and their manuscripts in front of editors or agents. But some of us want to become better writers in the process.

So I'm begging you judges out there: Please give constructive criticism to the entrants. It doesn't take long to scribble something in the margin, and those scribblings just might help someone like me crawl out of the toilet with her dignity intact.

Care to share your experiences with judges' comments?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Coming Out of the Fog to Blog

I feel as though I've been in a cave. The last few weeks, I've done little except edit a manuscript. Other than ordinary life stuff, I've thought of nothing but these characters and this story...and it's enough already. I'm ready to get back into the flow of life and actually have one.

I am a little concerned though, because I'm feeling a little lost, somewhat disoriented . I've written several manuscripts, but I've never so wholly concentrated my efforts and my time as I have with this one. I'm getting ready to send it off to an agent and I'm thinking, okay, now what? It's like I don't know what to think about anymore other than these characters and this story. I need to go on to something else. But what?

Should I start something new...I already know the answer to that, but since my next story is the second in my new series, I'm a little concerned my old characters will try to take over and push my new story out. Should I start a round of queries with this one? Should I catch up on the reading I've missed? Should I go back and revise another manuscript I was working on before I started editing this one? Should I read for pleasure?

What about you? What do you do to regroup and refocus after spending hours and hours concentrating on one particular story? Do you have a problem moving on?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sherrilyn Kenyon and her Dark Hunters!

(oops, I forgot to post on 4/17 - but I do have something important to announce! See below)

****permission granted to forward*****

Southern Magic has received permission from the talented New York Times best-selling author, Sherrilyn Kenyon, to auction ONE opportunity to have a ***character with your name*** in her long awaited "ASH" Book. This book is due out 2008 and will be part of a box set.

Bidding will end April 26, 2007.

Check it out at:

Thank you.
Carla Swafford
President, Southern Magic
Birmingham, AL

Sunday, April 15, 2007

When reality sets in

Browsing Jennifer Crusie’s site to figure out which of her novels to read next, I came across her recommendation of Ralph Keyes’ THE COURAGE TO WRITE, “required reading for any writer on mental health grounds.” I thought I’d better give this a read since I am always walking a fine line in mental health myself.

Usually I love self-help writing books and recommend them to everyone. After this one I would advise you to run. Away. Screaming! For starters, the book is divided into two parts: Part I, “The Elements of Courage,” or all the reasons why you ought to be damn scared to have anyone read your work; and Part II, “Coming to Terms with Fear,” or why it might not be quite so bad. If you can get to Part II, maybe you’ll find some morsels of practical help there. But first you have to get through Part I, full of horror stories about Pat Conroy’s family turning their backs on him and Robert Frost setting things on fire.

Maybe I had this reaction because I feel my experience is different from that of the authors discussed in the books. According to Keyes, these authors run into problems because they put very personal information in their books. They reveal family secrets, and their families are understandably upset. They write caricatures of their friends, and their friends get angry. If I wrote books this way, I’d be scared to have them published too!

But I don’t write books this way, and I never have. Once I read a dedication (I wish I could remember who this smart author was) that said, “This book is for all the people who think they’re in it. You’re not.” That’s exactly the way I feel about my writing. My books are set in a town much like Alexander City on Lake Martin, where I grew up--but it’s NOT Alexander City. If it were, I’d have to make sure I got every detail correct. I haven’t done that, because that’s not the point of the book.

Likewise, a lot of my teenage feelings for my brother show up in my book coming out in June, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR: growing up in his shadow, thinking everything he did was so cool, wishing I could be in his Boy Scout troop with all his hilarious friends. But the brother in the book isn’t my brother, because I would have had to change the story to fit him. The story is more important than portraying my brother accurately.

Non-writers don’t seem to understand this. After he read MAJOR CRUSH, my dad asked me, “Now, Virginia is you, right? And Alison is Belinda? And who is Drew?” Nothing could be farther from the truth. I can see the character Drew in my mind as clearly as if he were real, but I’ve never met him. If my characters were real people, my books would be my life. Nobody wants to read about my life. Books about my life would involve copyediting medical journal articles, playing ball with my son, and going to Publix.

Where are you on this continuum? Do you write directly from real life, or does real life simply pop in once in a while?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

He may be the 8th, but he's #1 in my book!

If you have Showtime and love history, I'm sure you're watching The Tudors. So much eye candy in that show. If you don't have Showtime, wait. I bet there will be DVDs out soon. You can go to the website and check out all the pictures, but here's a couple.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

First Time Pitcher

Hey everyone!

I had a great time at the conference, learned quite a bit and my head was spinning by the end of the day. I pitched my story to two people - Tracy for HQN and Leslie for Silhouette. Both asked for a sym. and the first 3 chapters. WOOO-HOOOO!! It's a start. I was sooo nervous walking into that room. I almost forgot what my story was about!!

Now, almost 2 weeks later, I haven't done a thing. What's wrong with me?? I should be typing my fingers to the bone, trying to get my chapters just right. I mainly blamed it on my laptop. I have a 8 year old laptop (Betsy) that only has WORD, EXCEL and card games - yes, I know Free Cell very well - but she caught a virus a couple of weeks ago and hasn't been running since. When I'm in my writing zone, I like to work on Betsy while I'm on the couch with my feet up on the coffee table. whine, whine...I can't do that right now...sniff, sniff... I do have a great desk top which I use on a daily basis but for some reason, words don't flow from my brain, through my fingers and down to the keyboard as well. Ugh...

I know we have discussed writer's block and how to overcome it but what does one do when you have something important that should go out within a reasonable time frame? What do you do for blockage when you are on a deadline?


Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Write Space

A few days ago, as I wandered through my house--so recently vacated by my two daughters--it hit me: I am an empty nester. Well, maybe not a full-fledged EN because one of my little chickadees is still in college, but an EN in practice anyway. And as I straightened the un-slept-in beds and peered in the trash cans that held no trash, I was tempted to be melancholy.

But a brilliant idea flashed into my sad brain: One of those empty bedrooms would make the perfect office for me! Because that’s what’s been holding me back, isn’t it? No place to write!

I immediately launched a plan of attack: Move this bed here, take out that chair, bring in a desk; monitor goes there, files beside it. And once I’m settled in, I’ll be writing 24/7 and turning out manuscripts faster than Nora Roberts.

Nice thought, eh?

I wrote more when I hauled my daughter to dance class and performances than I have at home. When she wanted to go to the local pub to hang out and dance with her friends, I went along and wrote. I’ve written in my car, in Starbucks, in Panera Bread, and Barnes and Noble. Will I be able to write in my own office?

What is the perfect writing space? Where do you write?

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I Want to be a Veg-o-matic Writer

My name is Christy and I'm a First Draft Addict.

Sadly, there is no support group for this time of addiction, so I'll just have to use today's blog to unload. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit my sickness...I may be the only one out there. If that's the case, my dream of having a meeting where we can all get together and share our woes will probably never happen.

It seems every article I read about editing, revising and rewriting a first draft always mentions that this is where the true talent and skill of writing takes place. The shaping and molding of the story and characters and everyone and their writerly brother seems to love it. Well, that's all fine and dandy, but I don't. There. I said it. In fact, I hate it.

I love the rush I get from a first draft. It's like the anticipated season ending of your favorite television show. I want to grab a soda and popcorn, sit back and let the joy begin. The frenetic, zany and wild ride takes off and I sit at my computer, hands on keyboard, fingers clicking happily away and I'm amazed at what shows up on the screen. Meeting characters I never knew existed, situations and events that explode in my mind and jump out onto the screen. It's a roller coaster ride and though it usually takes me weeks to finish, each day, I relish the high.

But then, I type 'The End' and I return to earth. I allow the suggested month or two to let the story sit, but the entire time I'm away from it, I want to go back and see if it's as good as I think it is. Then, the time comes and I unwrap my little treasure and I'm in heaven. It's good! I love it! I'm a freaking literary genius!

Then what happens? Well, I have to fix things. A word here, a paragraph there, a motivation isn't strong enough, my hero's being meaner than he should be, my heroine does something stupid, etc. That's where the veg-o-matic writer in me needs to emerge. The ruthless slicer and dicer of my beautiful, well thought out prose. But slicing and dicing my words is like peeling skin away from my bones with a dull fork. It's painful, it's bloody and I curse...a lot.

The manuscript I'm supposed to be slicing and dicing is beginning to look like a schizoid salad. It's got way too many tomatoes, not near enough lettuce and some sort of odd vegetable I don't even recognize.

So what about you? Are you one of the millions who love the careful crafting performed in revisions or will you join me over on my lonely island of shame and admit that you love pouring out those first draft words and hate the thought of cutting even one tiny sentence?

If you're a born veg-o-matic writer, please be kind enough not to brag. Us FDA's (that's First Draft Addicts) are quite sensitive.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Here, Rover, Rover!

I love dogs and the occasional cat. While growing up, I always had a pet. Memories of Snowball (white fluffy mix), Man of War (Boxer), Bernie (half St. Bernard), Rebel (Great Dane), Samson (St. Bernard), Jennie (Retriever), Bingo (Beagle) and the various kittens my girls insisted on bringing home.

But when it comes to my books, I’ve never placed a pet in them. I don’t know why. Just haven’t. About a year ago, I saw several books in which a pet played a major part in the plot or had something to do with the hero and heroine getting together. Then poof! they were gone.

Now when I was younger, I enjoyed any books with horses on the covers. Maybe that’s the reason I almost always pick up the ones with cowboys. You know, remembering my youth. Yeah, right. LOL!

Do you like reading books that animals play a large part? Do you have animals in your books? What part do they play?

Monday, April 02, 2007

2007 Linda Howard Award of Excellence

Congratulations to the winners of the 2007 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest. The winners were announce at the Romance in the Magic City conference March 31, 2007.

Series Short/Long Contemporary
Final Judge: Susan Litman, Editor, Silhouette

First - Candis Lynn Terry - YOUR PLACE OR MINE? *full requested*
Second - Annie Oortman - DIE AGAIN *full requested*
Third - Amy Davidson - HARD AND FAST *full requested*
Fourth - Cat Schield - THE CHRISTMAS BARGAIN
Fifth - Donna Caubarreaux - ALMOST A VIRGIN

Single Title
Final Judge: Abby Zidle, Executive Editor, Pocket Books
First - Marian Stevens - SINGLE IN THE CITY
Second - Elizabeth R Graham - BABY MAKES TWO
Third - Carrie A Bolin - BLUE HAWAII
Fourth - Jacqueline Floyd - SHE DRIVES ME CRAZY
Fifth - Paul La Ferriere - CROSSING PATHS

Romantic Suspense
Final Judge: Devi Pillai, Associate Editor, Warner (Hachette) Books
First - Karen Beeching - FRIENDLY FIRE
Second - Anna Perrin - DEADLY INTENT
Third - Kimberly Howe - RED DIAMOND
Fourth - Bev Pettersen - WALK, TROT, SHOOT
Fifth - Billie Jean Te - BACKTRACK

Final Judge: Alicia Condon, VP, Editorial Director, Dorchester

First - Elaine Levine - SAGER'S PASSION *full requested*
Second - Alison Hackley - THE ENGLISH BOY *full requested*
Third - Jennifer Haymore - REVENGE *full requested*
Fourth - Clare E Wood - WARRIOR'S REVENGE
Fifth - Melinda Porter - SCANDAL'S DESIRE

Unique Genre
Final Judge: Selena James, Executive Editor, Kensington
First - Gail E Foreman - HER MAN IN THE MOON
Second - Anitra Lynn McLeod - OVERLORD
Third - Ann Hinnenkamp - DYAD QUEST
Fourth - Stephanie M Jacobson - THE DEVIL'S PLAYGROUND
Fifth - Christina Sinisi - BACKWOODS INVADER

Carla Swafford
President and Contest Coordinator

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence Winners!

Announcing the winners of the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence:

Susan Crandall - ON BLUE FALLS POND


Tamera Alexander - REKINDLED
Denise Hunter - FINDING FAITH

Linda Warren - THE BAD SON

Lucinda Betts - THE BET in PURE SEX


Barbara White Daille - COURT ME, COWBOY


Brenda Novak - DEAD SILENCE

Rachel Hawthorne - THRILL RIDE

Congratulations to the winners!
Jennifer Echols
Contest Coordinator
Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence
Southern Magic