Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mind over Matter: BICHOK

I've been battling a WIP into submission and desperately trying to beat back the demon beasts of frustration, doubt and anxiety. I've been doing all of this while my darling husband is living under my feet 24/7, driving him to Physical Therapy three times a week, hauling him to the doctor, doing all the chores he did plus my own, helping him shower and dress (that, thank God, is over), entertaining him after PT with long drives and lunches, teaching my daughter to drive, saving my darling cat Clancy's life, hosting little gatherings for DH's friends so they can see him and help me entertain him--well you get the picture.

I don't have much time to battle a WIP when I have all these other stressors in my life. Yet, I am battling it every day. Yes, I am writing every day. How? What is my process? When? Where do I find the time? In a nutshell, I just do it.

Easy? Nope.

The last time I had to battle a WIP into submission, we moved. I wrote in a box. I wrote in a car. I wrote at Starbucks. I wrote whenever I could squeeze in the time. And I finished the revision. And that little book has done well for me. So I am not letting one husband being underfoot and the chores of life being quadrupled stop me from getting the work done.

So here are my little tips for getting BICHOK even when the Butt does Not have TIME to get in the Chair.

(BICHOK: Butt in Chair, Hands on Keys)

*Exercise. I am going to the gym FIRST thing in the morning after I take my darling daughter to school even though I know I could use that time to write because my body needs to be strong in order to maintain my drive to write.
*Eat healthy foods. Yes, despite my love affair with wine, I also eat a very healthy diet making sure I get all my veggies and fruits in and trying to stay away from breads and pastas. This keeps my brain in gear.
*Set a daily goal to write. Yes, write every day. I wrote every day in February (even when my husband had surgery and was in the hospital). I am still writing every day. I did not worry about word count. I only worried about writing. One day it was a paragraph, the other a scene. Now I am up to about 1000 words a day, but I also did a LOT of cutting (30,000 words cut -- ouch).
*Be flexible about when you write. I usually write in the mornings. That is my BEST time to write. But I've got a lot on my plate and a husband who needs me. So now I write when I can. During DH's PT, I go to the library or local coffee shop and write for one hour. No fooling around. I write. When I get up in the morning before everyone else, I write till they emerge. When a slot of time opens up in the early evening, I write. Only got a half an hour? Use it to write. You'd be amazed about how much you can accomplish in a half an hour.
*Redefine the word write. Writing isn't just putting words on a piece of paper (if ONLY IT WAS). No, it's printing out scenes and reading them, looking for problems in them. It's cutting and moving pieces around or deleting them altogether. It's talking about the story problems with a CP. It's entering contests (I entered two and sent off my critique pages for the author critique workshop coming up at GRWA in March). It's fiddling with the synopsis. It's brainstorming. Any time you spend on the MS is writing. One of my CPs says if all she does is TOUCH the MS hard copy, she counts it.
*Consider it an escape from real world problems. Now when I am filling out forms for insurance claims (those of you who know me know I am allergic to filling out forms), calling doctor's offices and hospitals for explanations of this's and thats, cleaning floors or scooping out the kitty litter, I tell myself my reward for all the hard work is being able to park my butt in the chair and put my hands on the keys.

Oh, lovely. I get to write every day! Think of writing as more than a book to form and to wrestle into shape so you can sell it one day. Consider it a gift, a reward and a joy to pursue. Then you'll want to use every spare bit of time you have to write.

Go ahead. Get your BICHOK and write!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Infinity + one


Fall down seven times, stand up eight.

This is my new mantra. I saw it engraved on a bracelet in a catalog. I think anyone who is struggling with anything should get one. Especially anyone struggling with writing.

Fall seven, stand eight.

Fall seventy-five, stand seventy-six.

Keep going, no matter what.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mama's Got a Brand New Toy !!

Well sort of ! I guess my computer has always had the movie maker thingy on it. However, I never in a million years EVER thought I might like to try it. I mean, I've seen all of the book trailers out there. Some of them are AMAZING !! And then I read that the author did it herself. What?!

I consoled myself with the idea that I am the oldest aspiring romance writer in history and therefore I am not expected to know anything about making a book trailer. I assured myself that when the time came I would call on my nephew or one of my former students (I have a couple who work on the Geek Squad.)

I mean, my niece and nephews call me "computer challenged!" (They use that term because their mothers clipped them on the back of the head when they said "Aunt Pam is an idiot." You know that quick, nearly lethal slap with the hand to the back of the head that makes you bite your tongue and makes your eyes water? Hey, they deserved it! Aunt Pam is NOT stupid. She grew up when a word processor was called a pen and paper! I am a LUDDITE, not an idiot. Big difference!

Where was I? Oh yes, book trailers ! So, my CP is afraid I am losing my mind (I can't believe she still thinks I'm sane after all this time. Damn, I'm good!)so she had me plug in my headset. (Did you know with a headset you can talk to each other through IM? How cool is that! Oh, for cryin' out loud, at least ACT surprised. I was.)Then she gave me a lesson on how to make my own book trailer. No, I have no intention of showing you yet. I just had my first lesson. But this stuff is SO COOL !!

So, the question for today is, do you make your own book trailers - for practice, for fun, or to take a break from writing, or to procrastinate from writing, or just to assure your CP you haven't taken up permanent residence in the Cuckoo Hotel because your revisions are making you nuts?

Have you ever thought about making one? Have you ever thought about hiring some geeky kid to make one? (Or some hot computer nerd, hey it could happen!)

And, more important, would a book trailer make you more or less likely to buy a book? Why or why not? (No, I won't count off for poor spelling or grammar.)

I really want to know what you think. Until then, I'll be ... At the Movies !! Or more than likely working on revisions while they fit me for the little jacket that fastens in the back. Could I get a room with a view of the beach?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

NO CHANCE


Today is February 23 and NO CHANCE, the first book in my 2010 back-to-back romantic suspense trilogy, is now in stores!

Gabe Maddox, the hero, has been a secondary character in the three previous Last Chance Rescue books. The first time I met him, he intrigued me. I think he only had a couple of lines in RESCUE ME, but something about him told me I'd have to write his story some day. He makes an appearance in RETURN TO ME and in RUN TO ME, has a pretty significant role. That's one of the most enjoyable things about writing a series--giving an intriguing secondary character his or her own book. Each book in the series, except for RESCUE ME, has been a secondary character in a previous book.

NO CHANCE is a reunion romance, which is a favorite theme of mine. Thinking on it yesterday, I realized that all of the books leading up to NO CHANCE could be termed reunion romances. Wow. Looks like I have a theme theme going!

Wanted to share the news with my Southern Magic sisters and brothers. You all have supported me from the moment I walked into my first meeting. Thank you so much for all the love and kindness. Quoting the lovely and talented Kelly St. John, "Southern Magic rocks!"

Be sure to come over to my blog today at http://christyreece.com. I'm having a release party all day and giving away lots of cool prizes!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Valentine's Day (The Movie)

Today my husband and three of his friends are heading off to Double Head Resort for a day of macho camaraderie. He tried to make me think he didn't want to go--after all, it was an obligation he couldn't get out of--or so he said. He would be attending the final event of a western shooting conference. He made it sound like a shooting demonstration. He was going mainly because his friends asked, not that he was really interested.

Then, I found out the truth. The event starts with a chuck wagon competition. Participants pay a fee and they get to eat at the chuck wagon of their choice. In the meantime, judges sample the fare at each wagon and declare a winner. Then it is on to the shooting event. I envisioned somber marksmen lined up and dutifully shooting clay pigeons out of the air. No, No, my friends, this is not your stodgy shooting demonstration. Here, grown men, dressed as cowboys, and the requisite bad guys of the old West, creep around a fake western town and try to ambush each other. Come on, what man has grown out of the thrill of playing cowboys, especially with hats and boots and real guns?

Not to be outdone, I called up the wives of these very same men and invited them out to an all-girls movie event. For once we weren't taking the desires of our spouses into consideration when picking the movie. It should come at no surprise that we picked a saccharine romantic comedy made up of exceptionally attractive people, many of them shirtless males? I have rationalized it all by telling myself that I am doing research for my current work in progress. Yah, that's it, research.

We'll have to compare notes to see who had the best day. I suspect we will both downplay the fun that we had. Not only will, boys be boys, but girls will also be girls, when left to their own devices.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Be Prepare to Volunteer And Follow Through



Southern Magic still needs a PRO Liaison. Plus we'll need volunteers for special events. E.g., Romance Readers Luncheon and 2011 Romance In The Magic City Conference.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

That Which I Greatly Feared...

The Bible speaks of Job who possessed great wealth and was prosperous. Today we would say Job was “sitting on top of the world”. And yet with all his success and riches the fear of losing it all had lingered in his mind. For when he was stricken and everything taken from him, Job declared the thing he’d greatly feared had come upon him.

I can relate to Job. Last year my dream came true and I was sitting on top of the world. More like tap dancing. Having my book contracted and seeing it published was the culmination of a journey I’d been traveling for years. And yet, niggling in the back of my mind hovered that fear. Could I do it again? My first book was published but what if the editor doesn’t want to buy another one? What if I am a one-book wonder?

Now, as I prepare to submit my second book, the thing I greatly feared has come upon me.

My stomach is in knots. Doubt and insecurity has crept in. So many scenarios of rejection crowd into my mind there’s no room left for the positive images of success. My fear has paralyzed me.

Then I remember the words of another man the Bible speaks of. Right before David strode down to the battlefield to confront Goliath, he proclaimed God had delivered him from the bear and He had delivered him from the lion. Surely He would deliver him from the uncircumcised Philistine. David rehearsed his victories so when he ran down to battle he was confident in his triumph.

SoI begin to rehearse what I know.

I know that I was in the right place at the right time for certain people to come into my life and open doors that I otherwise would not have had access to. I know that in spite of the odds my manuscript was chosen for publication. I know that the dream to have people read my stories and actually like them have come to fruition. Surely, surely it can come to pass for me again.

So when fear arises—and it will because I’m humanI have evidence to look back on. The evidence of my experiences. The evidence of my victories. The evidence of my faith.

Now, as I prepare to submit my second book, I remember two things.

Job overcame because he allowed God to become bigger than his fear.

And like David, if I place my stone of faith into my slingshot of hope I too can slay my giant of fear.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Drunken Squirrel

The first draft is the easiest to write. You charge forward and for those who plot, you have a well defined path (Plotters), for those who wing it (Pantsers) you just go with the flow, knowing instinctively where to go with your story. I am neither a complete Plotter or Pantser, some call them Plotsers (a mix between the two). For me, I call what I am: The Drunken Squirrel.

What? A drunken squirrel you say? It's true, I see your smirk.

Let me explain. I start writing, I think I know where I am going and I have my synopsis. Then, for some inexplicable reason, I get side tracked. It may mean that I write an in depth dissertation on tire thread or even why Cousin Pearl got that particular tattoo and piercing at the same time.

So, I stop, redirect myself and start forward again. Ah! I have the heroine where I want her, all of a sudden she wants her nails done. Next is a comparison shopping list on what is the best type of nails to get and where. That's not going to work. So, I address the hero, oh no! Suddenly, I'm writing about why someones sister's brother, great uncle became a CIA agent. Why? Because I have an attention span of a squirrel, a drunk one, that gets confused and meanders off the path. Worse, if I see something shiny---oooh look! I've just created a really cool secondary character who dyes her hair three different colors and thinks thigh high boots are business wear.

Dang it!

What can I do?

First, I take a deep breath and push away the glass of wine...err...coffee. Then I reorient myself by asking these questions:
  1. What am I writing about?
  2. Who is talking? (and why?)
  3. What IS the purpose of this scene or chapter?
  4. Do I really need to go into all this back-story? (I ask that a lot)
  5. Where am I headed?

Asking these questions help immensely, I can usually move forward again. The number one thing about the whole first draft, in spite of my meanderings is : TO GET IT DONE. Afterwards I can go back and fix what my drunken squirrel self has done. Sometimes, in my unexpected twists and turns, I find a piece of information, description, or character that really will help me in my revision. Usually, I get to cut out a whole bunch of useless bits and pieces. You can tell that I look forward to revisions. (no)

They say the first step is recognizing the problem, then next step is to address it. I suppose I better enroll my Drunken Squirrel into a twelve step program for writers.

So, how do you approach your first draft? Do you love it? Hate it? Wander aimlessly?

**The Sugar Doll Award** (I could not upload the picture)

Just as a fun note, a fellow blogger, HAWK, gave me this ward to fill out and pass it one to others. Just write down ten things about yourself. This I think would be fun for all of us.

  1. I collect china tea cups-and use them
  2. I love the colors red, blue, and black
  3. I adore my neurotic cat (although I'll deny it)
  4. I hate camping
  5. I love to cook
  6. I love to work-out
  7. I love the early morning, but I find it hard to get up
  8. I am left handed
  9. I love the rain
  10. I am shy

I am passing this award onto: Nannette, Lynn, Paula, Jeanie, Callie, Louisa, JoAnn, Marie, Naima, Julie, Diane, Christine, Gwen, and Carla (and if I forgot anyone forgive me!)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day







Commercials for those not in the romantic mood. LOL!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Conferences Anyone?

I took the day off today in an attempt to finish a few chapters and avoid snow-traffic. It’s been a very busy year so far and conferences have weighed heavily on my mind.

I’d love love love to get to the Backspace Writers Conference in May. This is a wonderful conference for anyone looking for an agent. Colleen Lindsay at FinePrint and the people at Backspace are holding a query contest for two scholarships (each worth $750, not including travel and hotel). Excellent opportunity. Last year they had 600 entries and 4 scholarships. All four entrants who won scholarships secured agents. See details at http://theswivet.blogspot.com/.

Then in July, RWA National is coming to us this year--located in Nashville! With so many agents/editors and excellent workshops, how can anyone pass this up? Well, there’s cost. For a lot of us (me included), expenses are tight in this rough economy. I still don’t know if I can make it to this conference, although I’d love it. Time will tell. See details at http://rwanational.org/cs/conferences_and_events.

Many attend the Moonlight and Magnolias conference each year, and I’ve heard great things about it (check out their editor/agent lineup and speakers!). This conference is affordable too, compared to others, and is held in October (for those saving pennies to go). See details at http://www.georgiaromancewriters.org/mm-conference/.

Don’t you just get goose bumps looking at these exciting opportunities?

What are your conference plans for 2010?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

PLAY NICE

When I was a kid growing up in South Alabama, my mother’s middle sister and her family lived five miles away. I grew up in my aunt’s house and spent a lot of time with my first cousins. We got along like a house on fire. We had a great time playing princess and cowboys and Indians and pirates, chasing after the mosquito truck on our bikes (which explains in part, at least, my brain damage), climbing trees, rolling up and down the large dirt mound near my aunt’s house and playing King of the Mountain, and exploring ditches and culverts. The Lord protects fools and idiots, I guess, ‘cause we never got snake bit. Heck, we never even SAW a snake. I guess we scared them all off. No self-respecting reptile would come within a mile of such rowdies.

My mother’s youngest sister was married to a Baptist preacher. They lived out of state, and we saw them and their children maybe once a year. My cousin Jeannece (named after my mother, Jean. Jean’s niece, get it?) was a major pain in the butt.

I was a real tomboy, rough as a cob and very active. My hair was kept very short because my mother had exhausted her limited store of patience years earlier on my older sister’s long hair. I never wore shoes. I ran like the wind. I was always and eternally covered in dirt and cuts, scrapes and bruises.

My favorite clothes were an old shirt and a raggedy pair of cut-off jeans passed down from my older cousin, Buster. I wanted to be a boy something fierce. Boys didn’t have to wear dresses or worry about their panties showing on the monkey bars at school. Boys didn’t have to cook or do housework or take care of babies. Boys could pee standing up. They could pee in an ARC! Peeing in an arc was totally cool. I wanted to do that. Kiss your elbow, some twisted adult told me, and you’ll turn into a boy. Consequently, I spent a lot of time trying to kiss my elbow.

Jeannece, on the other hand, was slightly chubby with long, carefully curled blonde hair and girl clothes that matched. She somehow managed to stay clean; I swear, that girl repelled dirt. She did not run. She did not climb trees. Her bike was pink, with a white basket and frilly things dangling from the handle bars. She liked baby dolls and playing house. She did not want to be a boy. She was fond of announcing she was going to have six children when she grew up. Grow up? No way. Six children? Inconceivable to me. And that was before I knew where babies come from. After that, the idea was doubly gross.

My cousin Jeannece was the kind of kid that tattled on you to get you in trouble. If you hadn’t done anything that deserved a whupping, she’d make something up. Adults loved her. She was Pollyanna on the outside and The Bad Seed on the inside. I can lay more than one peach tree switching at Jeannece’s door. Needless to say, she was not my favorite cousin. I dreaded those visits.

When she came to visit, my grandmother, who adored Jeannece and considered me the devil’s spawn, would shake her house shoe at me, give me the evil eye and say, “You’d better play nice with your cousin Jeannece, or else.”

That ‘or else’ held a world of menace. I tried to play nice with Jeannece. I really did. But it was useless. We were just too different. Sooner or later, she fell down or got left behind because she couldn’t run fast. Or she became unhappy because the rest of us didn’t want to sit inside the tidy lines of the imaginary house she’d drawn in the dirt and play dolls and Mommy and Daddy. Guess who always got to be the Mommy and boss everyone else around? Yep. The tears would inevitably commence . . . and the house shoe would come off.

I grew up, of course, though I still find it hard to believe. My husband has been fighting the battle of the bulge for the last twenty years. Part of the problem, he says, is that in his mind he’s still a skinny guy who can eat whatever he wants. I have the same problem with my age. In my mind I’m still nine years old running barefoot down the street with my dog, Andy, chasing that mosquito truck.

But on the outside, at least, I’m grown up.

And that brings me to the point of these ramblings. I am co-writing a book with another author. Writing, for me, is a solo act; never tried to write with another person. I am VERY excited about the possibilities. The brainstorming has been incredible and the creative energy is amazing. I worry, however, that I might run off and leave my friend behind.

In short, I’ve got to remember to play nice.

Oh, by the way, Jeannece grew up, too, and she made a perfectly lovely adult. She’s a very gifted teacher, and she has five children.

I got over wanting to be a boy . . . although, I will admit to an occasional twinge of envy when I am waiting in line in the ladies’ room.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Secrets from the Published Author Trenches

Most of the time when I blog these days, I try gear my talk toward readers. But since so many of us reading this blog are writers, I'm going to do something a little different. I'm going to share a few little details, little secrets you may not know, about publishing from the writer's point of view.

I know there are other published authors here writing for different houses than I write for, and I encourage y'all to jump in with any details that are different where you write.

Anyway, here are a few things that surprised me when I finally got published and started writing as a published author instead of an unpublished writer:

1. If you are no good at writing synopses, don't sweat it too much.

I stink at writing synopses, to this day. I write too long, ramble too much, include too much detail and all around fail to produce the kind of perfect synopsis that all the writing books and tips tell you to produce. But my editor still buys my books. She knows synopses are not my strong suit, but she's worked with me enough to know it has no bearing on my ability to tell a story. So do your very best to get it right now, while you're trying to impress an editor with your professionalism. But don't feel as if you have no hope if you can't produce that beautiful synopsis they use in all the How To books.

2. Once you have a few books under your belt, you don't have to finish a book to sell it.

Well, you do have to finish it at some point, obviously. But you don't have to be finished with it to sell it. Editors buy on proposal, which is generally three chapters and a detailed synopsis. In multibook contracts, they'll buy on 3 chaps/synopsis for the first book and just synopsis on the subsequent books. If you're a prolific, established writer like Nora Roberts, you can probably sell by telling your editor, "I'm ready to write three more books." It varies by how established you are, your editor's opinion of how reliable you are, etc. And none of that changes the fact that you do have to produce the book or you're going to owe someone some money.

3. You have to write harder than ever once you're published.

My editors at Harlequin Intrigue would love to see me write four or more books per year. I'm trying to meet that output, even though I work a full time day job that I don't anticipate leaving anytime soon. I'm not married and I'm the head of my household, which includes my retired mother, my disabled sister and my two school-age nieces. I can't give up my day job to write. But I want to meet my editors's wishes. In some ways, I'm competing with my fellow Intrigue authors, many of whom write full time. There are only so many slots in Intrigue, and I don't want to be sidelined because I can't produce as quickly as the others.

So I have to give up things in order to find time to write. I have to write when I'm tired, when I'm cold, when I'm sick, when I'm preoccupied. I write on my lunch hour, in the evening and on weekends. If I get days off from my day job—Christmas and Thanksgiving included—I still have to write. It's a job, and I have to go to it every day in order to produce at the level I want.
Luckily, the rewards are worth it.

4. Writing category-length books is challenging.

Anyone who thinks, "Oh, anyone can write those short little books" needs to try to do it. It's hard. You have to tell a story with all the same structural elements as a bigger book. You don't get to skip steps. But you have to distill the essence of the story into a streamlined, intense core narrative using characters and subplots sparingly. In the case of my books, Intrigues, you have the added challenge of developing a complex mystery plot while also developing a compelling and believable romance, all within 60,000 words.

I went into writing category not only because I loved reading the books but because I thought it would be easier than tackling a bigger book. The only thing easier was that it was shorter and the torture didn't last as long. But it was still torture. Good torture, but torture nonetheless.

5. Writing Romance is a sisterhood (with a few brothers just to make things interesting)

Yes, there will be friction in any large group of people. Feelings will get hurt. But romance writers, on the whole, are an amazing, supportive group of people.

I mentioned earlier that I feel a sense of competition with my fellow Intrigue authors. That's true. I do. But I also know they're wonderful writers who have earned their way into their careers, and I wish every single one of them well. And I know they wish the same for me. We may be competitors, but we're also sisters (and brothers, as there are two men writing for Intrigue now). Maybe it's because we all know we got there the hard way, and that we stay there the hard way. Romance publishing is a meritocracy, on the whole.

Those are a few of the things I've learned about writing from the published side of the aisle. Now, let's open this thing up to questions. Anything you've wondered about what it's like to be published? If I know the answer, I'll be happy to tell you. And if I don't, maybe someone else will, or I can find the answer for you.

* * * * * * *

Don't forget my book Chickasaw County Captive is out in stores this week. And you can still find my January Intrigue, Case File: Canyon Creek, Wyoming online at amazon.com, borders.com, barnesandnoble.com, Books-A-Million online and eHarlequin. Visit my website at www.paulagraves.com or my blog, Spinsters and Lunatics, to keep up with my current and future projects.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Vintage Article

I'm cheating, but I've got a deadline staring me in the face and I still have no idea what's happening in this darn book. So, I give you a vintage article I wrote for the Aloha Chapter in 2005. I wasn't published yet, but I was determined to get there.

I hope you will enjoy. :) And I hope it inspires you; I've changed nothing from the original.

THE COURAGE TO WRITE
by
Lynn Raye Harris

You’re a published author and you’ve been invited to speak to a group of aspiring writers. When asked for the single most important piece of advice you could give, what do you say to that group of hopeful faces? I recently attended a book signing/talk by an author (not a romance author) and I learned a couple of things I’d like to share with you.

First, we need to thank our lucky stars that RWA not only exists, but that we also somehow found our way to its doors and that we keep paying those dues every year, no matter how much we might grumble about the price. It’s worth every penny, and here’s why: RWA provides its members with the kind of information that helps each and every one of us to appear professional and dedicated when we contact, or even meet with, editors and agents. No one who takes the time to faithfully read the RWR each month or to solicit information from the RWA website, from her chapter, or from other RWA members can ever claim not to have at least a rudimentary understanding of the publishing industry.

Do you know, for instance, that you shouldn’t print your queries on hot pink paper or tell an editor that if she wants to know how your book ends, she’ll have to ask for the complete manuscript? Thank RWA for that, because it was crystal clear to me that some of the writers at this event didn’t know these most basic elements of professionalism. In fact, one writer wondered if a dramatic gesture, such as hand-delivering one’s manuscript to the editor of one’s choice, wouldn’t serve to get a foot in the door. Are you as agog at the mere idea as I am? Can you imagine flying to New York, sashaying up to an editor’s office and knocking on her door (assuming you get that far into the magic sanctum)? Worse, can you imagine tracking down her home address and popping up on her doorstep, perfumed pink manuscript in hand? I can certainly imagine the police officers that would escort me to a nice cell afterward. My luck, they’d look nothing like those hunky officers that so frequently populate the world of romance or the cute cops who stroll up and down Waikiki.

But this person really didn’t know that was a big NO-NO and she asked the question in response to the author’s accurate statement that the publishing world is tough to break into. How do you get your manuscript read when it’s only one of many currently making the editor’s office look like a cave littered with paper stalagmites? The short answer is to write the best darned book you can and to keep writing and keep submitting. It’s a glib answer, isn’t it? But it’s the truth, so why argue with it.

And always, always be professional. No fancy stationery or perfumed paper, no box of chocolates or letter from your grandma stating how much she loved your book. Crisp, clean white paper with readable typeface and proper formatting as well as a query letter you’ve sweated over, a synopsis you bled for, and a manuscript that starts with a bang and refuses to let go—that’s what you send an editor or agent, and only after following house or agency rules on what to submit and when. But you already know these things because you got the information in the same place I did.

So what would you tell that group of aspiring writers? Let me stress that this author was entertaining and witty and she answered questions graciously for two hours. She gave us some good information, and she even had fun anecdotes about editors and agents and fellow authors. But her answer to the question disappointed me. She said, “Don’t quit your day job.”

Now it’s not like I don’t understand how tough this business is or how hard it is to keep going when the rejections come pouring in, but it’s not the answer I would have given. I’ve heard this answer many times before, and though I don’t think we as writers should blissfully sail off onto our dream clouds with the idea that everything will work out in the end, I think there’s a better, more hopeful answer. The answer I would give has never been said better than when Winston Churchill said it in 1941: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

I could have chopped off the last two sentences of that quote, but why? They do apply, with a bit of judicious re-visualizing. The force we must never yield to is the force of our own doubts or the doubts of others. Keep writing. The overwhelming might of the enemy isn’t the power of the editor or agent to refuse our work, but rather it’s the pervasive sense of gloom pressing down on us from the world when we get yet another rejection or find out that someone who’s been writing less time than we have just signed a multi-book contract. Defeat those enemies, don’t give in to doubt, and keep writing. The next book might just be THE ONE. If you give up, you’ll never know.

Who am I to tell you this? No one, except that I speak from experience. I did give up. I had some unreal expectations about publishing, and when it didn’t happen for me as fast as I thought it should, I withdrew. I finally decided it would be easier to find something else to do. How many times do you get your teeth kicked in before you stop waiting for it? It was just too hard and it hurt too much and I quit, for several years it turned out.

But I’m back now and I’m pretty opinionated about some things. I firmly believe that you have to keep writing. Maybe you shouldn’t quit your day job, unless you’re retiring or you have a significant other willing to support you while you write, but I know for sure that you shouldn’t ever quit writing. Take a break if you need to. But don’t quit. Don’t get discouraged and give in to the doubts and fears that threaten to overwhelm you. I can’t remember where I read this quote, but it’s too important not to use it: “What is the difference between a published author and an unpublished writer? The published author didn’t quit.” Write that on a sticky note and tack it to your monitor.

As we listened to the author talk, we gazed at the thousands of books surrounding us in that mega-store. Some people were depressed. How would they ever get their books published when there were already so many out there? But I felt hopeful. If there’s room for that many authors on the shelves, there’s always room for one more. How do we get there? We keep writing. We never, never, never give in. We must have the courage to write and the strength to keep going in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s that simple and that hard. Or, as Winston would say, “Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.” I think the old boy knew what he was talking about, don’t you?

Originally published March 2005
Words of Paradise, Aloha Chapter RWA newsletter

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Romance . . . and steak?


Have you made your plans to celebrate Valentine's Day yet? If you haven't, suggestions abound on the internet. Even Dave Ramsey (the money guru) got in on the act with his "Five Cheap Date Ideas for Valentine's Day". I wouldn't classify all of the ideas as terribly romantic but I wouldn't say no to a home cooked meal (if I didn't have to cook it) and a movie (if I got to choose).

The meal idea led me to another piece of trivia. Did you know "Sixty-one percent of Americans said they favored a nice meal on Valentine's Day, as opposed to flowers or even gifts." And for that meal? "Sixty-two percent of Americans profess their love for steak as their most desired Valentine's Day meal, according to a recent survey conducted by Pelegrin Gray for The Beef Cookoff Program." (1)

Now in my college statistics class we were cautioned to look at not only "what" was reported but also "who" was doing the reporting. So as you read the following statistics, keep in mind this is from a press release from The Alabama Cattlemen's Association.

  • Nothing says love like beef and back rubs: Forty-three percent of Americans said they would choose a steak meal to kick off a romantic evening of hot tub time, back rubs and champagne.
  • They call me Dr. Love: Americans associate steak as a "best match" for love (44%), romance (42%) and passion (41%) - more so than chicken, pork or fish.
  • Let's meat: Beef (36%) is more often associated with "magnetism" than fish (22%), pork (21%) or chicken (21%).
  • Atmosphere for Romance: Sixty-five percent associate a great beef meal with romantic notions including candlelight, red wine and linen tablecloths and 67 percent agree that serving steak to someone best says "I love you."

Now what does this have to do with writing you ask? Well, in my current WIP I'm at the point of the H/H going on their first date. And I'm pondering. Does the hero propose something less conventional like the hike Dave Ramsey suggests? Or should he play it safe and cook - steak of course. There are good reasons to choose either path and right now my hero is pondering right along with me.

What about you? What kind of dates do your H/H have? While you're thinking about it I'm going to see if I have any steaks in the freezer.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

What To Say When You Final

After being the contest coordinator for the Linda Howard Award of Excellence for four years out of five, I've heard all types of responses to the news of being a finalist or winner.

Some responses are frustrating. Like when I've called to tell someone they finaled and I hear "What contest did you say this was? What was the name of my entry?" Gee, that tells me they've entered and probably finaled in too many contests. I can promise you when it comes to the ones I enter, I know when they're to call, which manuscript I've sent in, and what version. Yes. I do maintain a spreadsheet. I'm a little OCD about that.

Other times you call and get their voicemail. I guess I could leave a message for them to call me back, but they would already know the reason I'm calling (if they're not like the one I mentioned above) and some probably wouldn't even return my call. So I leave a voicemail and hope they're the type to listen to it over and over again, so excited they finaled. Well anyway, that's what I did one time when I receive a voicemail like that.

Then you have the ones who have obviously finaled over and over again and they say "That's nice. Thank you," all in a calm businesslike voice. By then I imagine my hands around their neck and shaking.

On occasion I get one who's excited but says the wrong thing like "I'm shocked!" Okay. I understand this might be your first one. Or maybe you just slammed together the entry at the last minute and never expected it to final. Come on people. I'm now rechecking the score as you say for the third time, "I'm shocked!" Have I made a mistake? Did I add the scores wrong? If you're excited about finaling or winning, don't say you're shocked. Think positive and say, "That's wonderful!" Miracles do happen. Miracles are wonderful. So be sure to say so.

That leads into good things to say. The one I usually say during the rare times I get a call about finaling is "That's the best news I've heard in a long time!" And that's after I squeal. I know how hard that coordinator worked and I can tell you she gets as happy and excited as you do when you act thrilled. I know I get as giggly as the finalist. I've been told by one coordinator I'm her contest's favorite finalist because of my reaction. They feel appreciated and they'll remember you in a good way. I promise.

What type of finalist are you? Or would you be?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Oh, the villainy

It's easy to create an evil villain to foil your protagonist's plans, but with just a little extra effort, you can take your diabolical character to the next level.

Instead of a stock bad guy, infuse your antagonist with real emotion, and a few good qualities, and you've just upped the stakes. The loving father and husband who is embezzling from his company. The abused and ignored child turned gangster. The grieving mother out for revenge. The bullied teenager turned gunman.

All of these villains have motivations we can empathize with. They're not just one-dimensional psychopaths who serve our plot lines, they're human beings making bad choices. Very few people in this world are all good, or all bad.

I've been thinking about villains this week because I'm trying to fix my own. I started working through Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, and realized that my antagonist could be more compelling if he was not just a man who lusts for money because he grew up homeless. That's his motivation, but he has many facets. I just need to find them.

Fixing him will require some new scenes, and a few plot adjustments, but in the end I hope to have created a more compelling character that readers will remember long after they put down the book.

How do you create interesting villains?

Happy Groundhog Day!