Washington Loves Readers! Luncheon

 

Goodies from the table authors

Goodies from my table’s authors.

Spent a delightful autumn Saturday with my colleagues from Washington Romance Writers (WRW), the local affiliate chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA). WRW hosted an appreciation luncheon this weekend [October 11, 2014], with 40 authors mixing with50 bloggers and readers called Washington Loves Readers!

Authors came in from all over—Tracy Brogan from Michigan, P.A. DePaul from Pennsylvania, and so many more—to help celebrate the bloggers and readers who make their success possible. A list of all the participating authors can be found here on the event’s Facebook site.

It was a great afternoon—the food was excellent, with roast chicken, fantastic butternut squash ravioli, and grilled vegetables. Of course, dessert was chocolate cake, because who can argue with chocolate cake!? The luncheon venue was a the cozy upper floor of The Loft at 4935, a restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland, that featured a parking garage right across the street that is free on weekends.

Karna Bodman and Kim Kincaid

Karna Small Bodman explains her raffle basket (held by Kimberly Kincaid).

I attended as a reader and was seated at a table hosted by historical writers Kim Iverson Headlee, Sally MacKenzie, and Anne Barton. Also at our table were two librarians from Maryland and USAToday Happily Ever After (HEA) contributor (and published author) Kathy Altman. Not only did readers and bloggers have a chance to share a table with at least three published authors at their table, but the authors provided goodie bags for their table mates—ranging from signed books, tote bags, picnic baskets, tea cups or mugs brimming with goodies, pens, magnets, and other treats. They also provided centerpieces for the table, showing off the breadth of creativity in the group—it’s worth checking out the Websites or Facebook pages of other attendees and authors to see the array!

Swag from the Gala

Swag from the Gala!

After a cocktail hour for socializing, we settled in for our excellent lunch. Each course was accompanied by a selection of raffle baskets—something our chapter is famous for. Donated by the authors, with help from their friends or, in many cases, their publishers, these were stuffed full of additional goodies. Bottles of wine, tea pots direct from England, pashmina shawls from India, gift cards, tee shirts, and, of course, books. All of the recipients were excited to hear about the raffle selection from the donating author, who explained what was in the bag, box, or basket, as well as why they chose those items. In some cases, there were twenty signed books in the selection!

After lunch, the readers and bloggers had an opportunity to use a gorgeous purple tote bag that was a party favor courtesy of WRW to “trick or treat” at the tables and meet each author and collect a variety of author swag, like note pads, 2015 pocket calendars, calculators, scented soaps, and more. It made for a fun way to visit with authors and learn what they were working on and which books are coming out soon.

Tracy Brogan with fans

Tracy Brogan passing out treats to fans.

Everyone I spoke with said they enjoyed the event, so it’s good to know that the chapter hopes to turn it into an annual or bi-annual affair. I know I’m not the only one who will be looking for further details! Hope to see you at the next one.

Brain Freeze, So To Speak

How annoying is it to discover your own brain is undermining your plans?
Very, I will admit.walking brain
I’ve been trying to write full-time for a while. I’ve been frustrated that, despite having all day every day pretty much being open, I have been writing at night—as in ideas start stirring usually as I’m distracted making dinner for the kids, trying to catch up on events when my husband gets home, and my most productive time seems to hit between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Which doesn’t help with getting an early start the next day.
So, being a paranoid obsessive writer-type, I have been sitting around trying to figure out what’s going on: Maybe my Circadian rhythm is such I just write overnight. Maybe I’m just a night person—some people have morning energy, obviously, I just have evening energy…
Today, I dropped my daughter off at Basketball Camp at 4 p.m., did my boring grocery shopping, hopped back in the car, and headed home. At a light, I flipped on the radio and glanced at the clock. It was 4:47. And my brain said, “Oh, cool—less than fifteen minutes until we can start writing!”
You do not want to know the level of swearing that went off in the car. **ARGH** I cannot believe that, after all this time, my stupid subconscious is still stuck on “8-5 belongs to the employer—go dormant” mode!
Now…to deprogram the damn thing.
That, of course, is the hard part. I’m just sooo grateful I actually noticed what my brain was saying when it happened—this very well could have gone on even longer. But it would certainly explain the whole surfacing-during-dinner thing, and the putting the text outlay after bedtime thing into context.
Part of me is in awe…I guess my brain has been looking after me for a long, long time in terms of keeping my job safe. The other part is jumping up and down in frustration as I realized that habits can be either good or bad. And this one was good, but is now very, very bad. Well, I can’t even say bad—but now it is unnecessary and needs to stop. BIG TIME.   Unfortunately, these things don’t come with an obvious on/off switch. I think this is going to be an ongoing battle for a little while at least.
Hey, Inner Critic…Muse…Internal Editor…Part that kept me focus and employed—time for a break. I can write now—as long as I want, whenever I want, whatever I want. Time for the Writer parts to come out and play!!

 

 

3rd Place Finish in Fab5

So excited excited to announce that my mansucript TOUCH OF LIES has placed third in the recent Wisconsin Romance Writers FabFive Contest I mentioned earlier. This is in the romantic suspense category.

There’s a certificate on its way, along with comments from the final judge who is an editor at a mainstream publishing house. It will be interesting to see what he has to say about my entry.

[Well, that’s embarrassing–I messed up the title of the blog originally–that’s what I get for trying to do two things at once! Now fixed…]

Contests

fab five 2014I’m excited to announce that my manuscript Touch of Lies has finaled in the contest of the Wisconsin Romance Writers chapter of Romance Writers of America (known as WiscRWA) for unpublished romance writers. The contest is known as the FabFive (or Fab5)—and is just the first five pages of your manuscript. Which can be scary to contemplate. There’s not a lot of back up there to let the judge get context.

Writing contests are interesting critters. There are lots of them—some more prestigious than others, some more well-known than others, some more useful than others. And (the writers will get this joke) it’s all subjective.

New writers often don’t get the “it’s subjective” part. Think about it—people don’t always like the same books. People have pet peeves and topics they hate seeing touched on in their fiction. Yes, it’s all romance…but that covers a lot of ground.

Contests try to get judges who enjoy a specific genre to judge that section—usually broken down into categories like single title, romantic suspense, paranormal, historical, series, women’s fiction, and young adult. Sometimes they break out historical and Regencies into separate categories. And yeah, sometimes there are problems—if you have a paranormal romantic suspense, which category do you put it into? What if it’s also a historical?

An entry usually gets three judges—and the low score is tossed out. This gives people a fair chance of getting a decent average.

I was chatting with a newcomer to my writers group about contests, and she mentioned she had looked at some of them but hadn’t entered, “because the prizes were kind of lame.” I had to smile; I knew what she meant. Writing groups don’t tend to have a lot of money. Unlike the Amazon contest, the prize for most contests is NOT a publishing contract. It’s not a large cash prize (as in rarely over $50, if any money at all). Usually, you get a certificate if you final…and a different certificate if you win. In a number of cases, you get something like a piece of jewelry (a crystal charm, a quill/fountain pen/other charm or a pin with the contest logo), or maybe a plaque or a paperweight. Usually, though, it’s a certificate, and a mention in the national romance writers’ association magazine when the chapter runs a congratulatory ad for the winners. Bluntly, no one enters these contests for the prizes.

There are three reasons people enter contests. In reverse order, they are:

3. To give yourself a deadline. For some of the bigger contests (the Golden Heart, for instance, the National level RWA contest), you have to have the completed manuscript to submit. If you final, you have a short window to provide a revised version for the final judge. Some people are inspired by the pressure and will use these sorts of deadlines to make sure they finish their book.

2. Feedback on your submission. Judges for contests are usually other writers. Often they are published authors. Different contests have different rules/criteria, but most clearly state what their requirements are for judges. Most chapters train judges. One thing you want to look for in a contest is getting feedback from the judges. Some contests don’t provide anything—you may not even find out your final score, just a yes/no about finaling and then yes/no about winning. Those are rarely useful contests. You want one that provides a score sheet with comment, or even better, lets the judges comment in your manuscript.

This does two things—the main thing is, you get editorial feedback on your writing from people who have already made it through the publishing gauntlet. This can be soo helpful and soo inspiring. Sometimes, judges sign their judging forms. (That’s a topic for another post.) That can also be truly inspiring.

However, commenting also lets you into the mind of the judge. I had one judge who gave me lousy scores in a contest, and through her comments, I realized she didn’t like—or understand—mystery/suspense books. I had entered in the closest category to that—Single Title—which covered everything from romantic comedies to women’s fiction. This judge had scored me low for things like not wrapping up the mystery in the first 25 pages of the book, having my hero be too “unclear and mysterious” for the first 1/3 of the book, and not being able to comprehend the purpose of my red herrings. Had I wanted to turn my book into a light-hearted comedy, her comments would have been really helpful; for a romantic suspense book…not so much. BUT, if all I had to work with was the [very low] number of the score, I would have tossed in the towel and assumed I was a terrible writer.

1. It gets your manuscript under the eyes of the Final Judge. The point of contests is to final. It may not even be to win, to be honest. The thing to look for in picking contests to enter is having the FINAL JUDGE be an editor or agent that you are interested in. Note that caveat. The point is, the final judge reads all of the finaling entries. In some cases, that’s the whole book, in others, it’s the first 25 pages and the synopsis. Editors are always looking for books to buy. Editors often buy the finalists they judge. Not always, but often…or they at least request the entire book. Agents are always looking for clients…if your book catches their fancy, even if you don’t win, you may have an agent by the end of the process.

As a contest entrant, you have to think strategically. Contests cost money…anywhere from $10 to $150+ to enter. I have looked at contests, checked out the final judge in the category I’d be entering, and skipped the contest. Either it’s someone who has already declined the manuscript or someone I know is NOT interested in ‘my type’ of book. Or, whose publishing house doesn’t publish my kind of books. That said, I have also rushed an entry to get a second manuscript into a contest when an editor I have been interested in is judging a category I don’t usually enter. That harkens back to the whole deadline motivation thing.

I don’t enter a lot of contests…and I tend not to mention when I do to many people. I don’t like the pressure. I also have a unique writing style that some people love and other people hate. My contest scores tend to be all over the map. Contest scores can be on 100 point scales, 50 point scales, or 10 point scales. I often find I miss finaling by a single point or less. I get score sheets back that are 98, 97, 30. Or 50, 48.5, 31.   Or 10, 8, 4. It gets frustrating… Who do you believe? The person giving you the perfect score, or the person giving you the equivalent of a middle school F?

What I have found is the best thing to do is try not to take it too seriously. It’s just one person’s opinion…and the next person will have an entirely different one. You can cherry pick the feedback—if it feels wrong, ignore it. If you get the same info from 9 out of 10 judges, consider it…but still with a grain of salt.

Whether or not you final, whether or not you win, you can take in all the feedback and continually improve your manuscript and your writing.

All you need is the one time for the one person in the right spot to read your book and love it to make that first sale.

The Fun Parts

Sometimes, you’re forcing yourself to write. Sometimes, you’re forcing yourself to revise. Sometimes, other people are interrupting the process. But sometimes, interruptions are inspirations.

I’ve been slogging through writing for a while. A TOUGH period. Lots of words on the page, and not much else. I’ve finally sent a big chunk (okay, most of Book 1) to one of my beta readers for feedback. That means either slogging into Book 2, or taking a short break while I wait for feedback.

Waiting is Hell, btw. In case you had any doubts, I don’t think any of us do it well. And nagging is…unseemly.

Luckily for me, my critique partner has reached the point where she’s ready to send me something to review. It is sooo fun to read something new from a friend/colleague. A new story, a new genre, a new world…And I get to reassure her that it is fabulous, and help massage out some rough spots, and ask questions, and generally revel in getting to know new characters.

AND, at the same time, I’ve gotten my entries as a judge in one of my writer group chapters. More new stories by new authors looking for feedback and validation and reassurance and maybe some guidance–and hoping for luck.

I LOVE doing critiques and judging. It uses different skills, and yet helps with my own writing. As I ask “Oh, why have you waited until so late to let us know X?”, I start wondering if I should drop hints earlier in my book about a certain subplot. When I notice an area that lacks description, it helps me realize which areas I tend to skim over in my prose. When I find myself commenting, “She uses this phrase A LOT…”, it makes me accept that, yeah…that cute catch-phrase I love is probably turning up too often in my own pages, and I need to find alternatives because, yeah, the reader REALLY DOES notice.

I also like the idea of providing positive feedback. I know how hard it is to put your writing out there–especially in draft form. Being able to say, “Yes, this is good…keep going.” gives you a warm feeling. Sure, you run into the occasional contest entry that is less-than-perfect, but it’s nice to know you can help by pointing them in the right direction–whether it’s towards a writers group, an editor, or a subject matter expert.

Reading new stories that no one else has seen yet gives me a thrill. It’s fun, exciting, and revs me back up for my own writing. It’s an aspect of writing I hadn’t considered when I first started down this career path, but one I truly enjoy.

Christmas Ornaments—the Reprise

Harking back to my earlier post, luckily for the sake of the attic in the family home, about the time we had restocked the family ornament collection was right around the time my sister and I moved into our own apartments—and, even though we still went home for Christmas at first, we put up our own Christmas trees.

There’s something odd—both exciting and bittersweet—about dividing up the ornaments for fresh starts.  We had always had “our” ornaments.  Our ‘first’ ones were little brass angels with a bell and our names on them that our “new” neighbor had given me and my sister the first Christmas we moved back to the U.S. from Germany.  We developed favorites over the years—a little girl on a rocking horse, a special one from a grandparent.  We always put our special ornaments on the tree ourselves.  Now, they moved to our homes to be the first ones up on ‘our’ trees.  There were others—ones we had gotten in the recent years of restocking, earlier ones that friends had given us.  I was a bit startled when Mom gave us each some of the ones we had made as kids.  And there were a few that we wheedled out of Mom and Dad from the ‘family’ stock that had been favorites, but not many of those.

One of the cool things about striking out as a young adult was the realization that I needed a lot of ornaments to fill the tree.  And Mom and Dad didn’t have any say at all in what I did.  I found a string of glass beads that had a Victorian look.  A roll of ribbon with wired edges to weave through the branches.  A friend who knew I loved tall ships found a set of clipper ships for me one year.  I found strands of dark blue lights that gave a mysterious gleam to the tree.

And, for the first time ever, I was able to indulge some of my whimsical likes.  A friend has given me some of the light-up Star Trek and Star Wars ships that plug into the light string.  In the ’90s, suddenly one could find dragons and unicorns as ornament themes.  A business trip to Cape Cod netted me some darling mermaids and glitter covered shells that look far better than they sound.

When I got married, my husband’s childhood ornaments got added, along with new themes—we now sport a set of dwarves, Dilbert/Dogbert lights, a selection of Civil War related ornaments, and a fair bit of armor and castles.  He also brought along ornaments from a number of historical sites and houses.

When the kids were born, I found a darling set of blue and pink glass pacifiers that are darling as their “first ornaments”.  The kids are adding their own—literally, as we now have our own collection of hand-made ornaments from daycare and school.  And ones they’ve gotten as gifts from family and friends.  And their own preferred ‘themes’—Baloo from Jungle Book for my daughter, and anything Star Wars or Superhero for my son.  She does puppies, he does elephants or turtles.  They’ve each identified ‘their’ special ornaments from the family collection…

And the tradition continues.

But until they move out, we’re going to need a bigger tree.

The Christmas Pickle

Back in the States as20131218_120234 I got older, people asked, since I had grown up in Germany, did we always have a “Christmas pickle” on the Christmas tree?  I was stumped.  I had never heard of it.  Never seen one. Over time, I learned it was an old German tradition, where the family hid a pickle-shaped ornament on the tree, and the child that first spotted the pickle (green ornament in a green tree…) got an extra little present.  Thought it seemed kind of…strange and creepy—I mean, who put a realistic food ornament on their Christmas tree that wasn’t a candy cane? Okay, maybe it could be kind of cute, but I had still never heard of it.  Over time, I’ve gotten used to the story, and pretty much added “and no, we never did the Christmas pickle thing” to any story about growing up in Germany—including the previous blog post, which originally had a sentence on that.

I realized I should probably include a vignette or link about the German Pickle Ornament, and went to find some reputable site explain the historic origins.

Guess what?  It’s a MYTH.  It’s not an “ancient custom.”  It’s NOT EVEN GERMAN.  Which would go far in explaining why we never learned it there.  I checked it out online, and generally it dates to the U.S., mid-to-late 1800s.  They think it’s an American Civil War era tale or possibly just an 1890s marketing scam used to sell Americans some weird German veggie-shaped glass ornaments that had been shipped to America for the first time. They say it’s BECOME an American tradition, but was probably never European in the first place.

How odd!!