The Art of Craft

This weekend was spCherry_at_podium[1]ent at a two-day Master Class workshop featuring the amazing Cherry Adair.

My brain is now stuffed with ideas, knowledge, and tips for doing everything better. Day one was Cherry’s plotting by color workshop—a grid and a rainbow of color sticky notes for every aspect of my novel I can think of and a few I couldn’t, but she provided.

Now…keep in mind, I am not a plotter. I am a “pantser”, an “organic writer”…let’s just say a seriously non-linear thinker.

Plotting workshops make me uneasy and somewhat panicky. Cherry’s was different. She suggests quite a bit of structure, but at the same time, it is flexible. And the colors sooth the creative part of my brain.

In addition to getting so much out of the workshop, I was part of a lucky group of people who won a one-on-one plotting session—half an hour of not picking Cherry’s brain, but having her pick mine to get the bones of the plot of a new book on the page. It was a fascinating process and so different from how I usually start a new story.

It’s always fascinating to see how different people approach the same idea—and what other people’s suggestions can do to your own ideas.

Cherry is the author of 52 books, novellas, and short stories. She gives workshops like this across the country and around the world. She’s published both Traditionally and Indie. She runs a Facebook page for aspiring writers to motivate them to finish the book and take the next steps in their careers. It is mindboggling that, on top off all of that, she will take her lunch break, her dinner break, and her “free time” in the evenings and do coaching sessions with a dozen or more writers.

From 9 in the morning to 10 at night, Cherry gave of her time, knowledge, passion, and energy. And the attendees hung on every word and gesture. The coachees were gracious enough to let interested people sit in on their brainstorming sessions and gather what tips they could from simply watching the expert in action.

“I wish stupid money upon you.”

 —Cherry Blessing   20150607_111658                                                                                                                                 

Day two was a series of shorter topics—the business of writing, with tips on everything from dealing with agents and editors to taking the leap into Indie Publishing. Then we dealt with Character Development, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that she has fun and unique tips for getting to know your characters from every angle and using that inf20150608_223609ormation to produce vibrant three-dimensional characters on the page that the readers adore.

Cherry is total energy—she never stops moving—and Even when she veered off topic, the information imparted was fun and fascinating.

If you haven’t yet, you should check out the amazing and fabulous Cherry Adair. Her website ( is chockful of extras like a page about the agency from her T-Flac series, book trailers, tips for ergonomic writing, games, and her shop with her enhanced e-books and writing guides like The Writer’s Bible and soon, Plotting with Color. She’s been one of my favorite authors for a decade, and once I met her in person, one of my favorite people for years.

Now you’ll have to excuse me—I need to go play in my stack of brightly colored sticky notes.


Please be Patient During Construction

I’mtraffic-cone doing some changes and updates to the website, including adding a newsletter subscription form. Please be patient–I’ll announce officially when everything is up and running successfully.


You Know You are from D.C. If…

U.S. Capitol c. 1980

U.S. Capitol c. 1980, photo by my Dad.

I’ve been seeing various blog and Facebook posts about “You know you’re a Southerner if…” or “You know you’re from Boston if…” I decided to do one for my own “hometown”.

You know you’re from D.C. if:

  • You say you’re from D.C. even if you don’t live there and never have…but you live(d) in the immediate suburbs of Maryland or Virginia—because saying you’re from Falls Church or Chevy Chase nets you only blank looks and comments like, “But you don’t have a Southern accent.” Actually, being from Arlington once got me the aghast question, “Your father is a grave digger?” *sigh* No, there’s more Arlington County than the military cemetery, such as the Pentagon, which employs a whole lot more people. In my case, Dad was military and we had “most consecutive tours” stationed in Arlington, so considered that home.
  • Sentences like: “We need to check on an SCI for a SME seconded over to MilCom before the deliverable drops.” actually make sense without further explanation.
  • “Sorry—stupid Vice Presidential motorcade” is actually a legitimate excuse for being half an hour late for work.
  • In the same vein, you sometimes have to tell the person on the other end of the phone to hold on for a couple of minutes because the sirens from the diplomatic motorcade are drowning out the conversation and you have to wait until the whole thing goes by.
  • Phrases overheard at the grocery store include things like “Yeah, but he’s only a Congressman.”
  • You notice things like the men in dark suits loitering at the restaurant door sporting earwigs and discrete dark canvas gym bags—and know what it means—and your first thought is “Oh, crap, this is going to screw up convenient parking for blocks,” not, “Oh, cool—the First Lady is having lunch here!”
  • You think it’s a bit odd when someone doesn’t have at least a SECRET security clearance.

    Gerald Ford at the White House during a visit.

    Gerald Ford at the White House. Photo by my Dad.

  • You think it’s really odd when someone doesn’t have a passport.
  • You think it’s pretty funny that the eccentric cat lady down the street names her felines after former directors of the CIA. But your college friends think that it’s stranger that you figured that out without being told.
  • You know your obscure dead-end street in the suburbs is always going to be plowed first in a snowstorm—because an assistant postmaster general lives two doors away and is considered Essential Personnel.
  • When your college professor goes on an anti-government rant about the absurd, indecipherable “governmentalese” words and acronyms that Washington uses, and you know all of the acronyms.
  • Being a military brat isn’t all that odd in your schools, because two-thirds of the students there transferred around as much or more than you did—and a question like “What are you?” isn’t actually an insult, but invites answers like “State.” “Army.” “Embassy.” “FBI.” “DEA.” which actually mean you have at least one parent serving in that branch.
  • You realize some of the senior care facilities in the area have “facilities and personnel available” to deal with dementia patients with high-level clearances and “special skills”. Anyone ever wonder what happened if James Bond or Jason Bourne got Alzheimer’s?

Any you would add?

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…]


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.