Chapters Full of Conflict

August 29, 2012

After weeks away from writing, I’m back at it. Well, I’m preparing to get back to it. Preparation started with reading six chapters for my CP, providing her with feedback, and then reading seven chapters of revised work from my most recently rejected manuscript. For the most part, I was pleasantly surprised by my work. But when I got to chapter six, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing…something that needed to happen wasn’t happening.

Where was the conflict?

As I revise this manuscript based in part on editorial feedback, I’m trying something new to me—I’m making a conscious effort to have something big happen in every chapter. Conflict. You may wonder why I wasn’t doing that before. I thought I was, and I was shocked when an editor in so many words pointed out that I wasn’t in her rejection. I thought that answering the question, “What’s the most important part of this chapter?” would keep the story moving along.

I was wrong.

The problem with that question is that even a boring, lousy chapter will have a most important part. That doesn’t mean it’s important to the whole story. My answers were often things like, “There’s foreshadowing there. A smart reader will remember back to this chapter once they read ahead to chapter ten.” Gah. That sounds like too much work for a reader who simply wants to be entertained. And believe me, I’m not writing puzzlers. There’s no mystery or suspense. I write to entertain and elicit feeling. Foreshadowing alone doesn’t make a compelling chapter.

Another answer I liked to use: “The most important part of this chapter is the interaction between H and H, because the reader gets to see how they could be good for each other.” And that’s a good thing, but it gets boring if that’s all that happens in a chapter, let alone in multiple chapters in a row.

So today, I’m going to figure out what’s supposed to happen in Chapter 6, so that I can strengthen that chapter and move on the rest. How about you? Are you tackling any problems in your manuscript today?

Elley

Before You Hit Send

August 27, 2012

Last year, Angela James, Executive Editor at Carina Press, spoke at an OCC RWA meeting. She was dynamic, informative and very approachable. When she mentioned that she taught an online self-editing class, I knew I wanted to take it. I was hoping to learn to tighten up my manuscript and make it my best work, but this class went beyond my expectations.

The class is titled “Before You Hit Send.” It’s three weeks of intensive editing training at an unbelievable price.  (For a class description click here.)

But let me tell you what I learned.

First, I learned how to use my Word program more efficiently. (If you use Mac, don’t worry. She’s got you covered). That software does things I had no idea it could do. I might have been able to find the information online, but honestly, I wouldn’t have known to look. I am finally glad that my computer crashed last December and that I had to get a new version of Word. (I actually believe it was my Word 97 that crashed the computer.)

I learned the truth about colons and semi-colons…and let me tell you it made me very happy. I will no longer go crazy over these little points of punctuation.

As many of you know, one of my main obsessions has been POV and head hopping. I learned which point of view changes were head hopping, and that some of my point of view changes that had been critiqued as head hopping—but that I still loved—might not actually be head hopping, and I may want to keep them. Yay! Yay! Yay! I will no longer waste time obsessing over this issue.

I learned that there is a time to quit editing. I’m not sure that I’ll know when that is, but I have deadlines to get this work out, so at that point I’ll have to quit editing.

If you write, if you edit, this class is for you. It could be a semester long class at a college, and you could pay several hundred dollars for this class. Angela is sharing all of her expertise in a mini- course that is unbelievable. Her next session of “Before You Hit Send” is scheduled for October.

I will be taking it again. I haven’t decided whether I’ll be taking the October session or waiting until February to take it again. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Have you taken any fabulous writing or editing classes that really bumped your writing to the next level? I’d love to know. Please share…

Tari

Hunky Hubby arrived in a suit and tie and shiny black dress shoes to pick me up. I can’t tell you how handsome he looked. He did have to have Middle Son help him with tying the tie…which I find mildly amusing, but I won’t say that to my Hunky Hubby…well, unless he happens to read it here of course. It was the final night of the 2012 RWA Conference here in Anaheim, and my own prince charming had arrived to take me to the ball…well, to the RITA Awards Ceremony, anyway. I was wearing his favorite shoes, well, my favorite too, but the least comfortable pair of shoes that I own. A pair of three-inch high stiletto (Can they be stilettos at three inches high?) Coach shoes that Hunky Hubby bought for me for Christmas last year…I might have even begged for them.

I rarely wear heels since the “train” accident that resulted in a third-degree sprain to my right ankle many years ago. (Okay, it had something to do with a toy Thomas the Tank Engine Train that was left in my hallway…but doesn’t it sound better if I just say “train” accident?) I still buy them, but I rarely wear them, so Hunky Hubby is always thrilled when I slip on a sexy pair of heels…and strut (read hobble) out with him. It didn’t matter if the shoes killed my feet, we were mostly sitting anyway.

I felt like we were live at the Academy Awards. The RITA production…and it truly was a production…was amazing. When the lights dimmed and scenes from some of the most romantic movies of all time flashed across the screen over the stage, it was magical.

And it all started with shoes. The glass slipper from the movie Ever After, Jennifer Lopez rescued by Matthew McConaughy when her heel gets caught in a street grate in The Wedding Planner, and there were more, but I didn’t write them down! The point is…shoes were very much the theme.

Shoes, and of course, happily ever after. After all, it was the Romance Writers of America conference.

Two writers from our local Orange County Chapter of RWA were nominated for awards. Kara Lennox was a double nominee in the category Contemporary Series Romance; Suspense/Adventure, and Tess Dare was nominated and won the Rita in the category, Regency Historical Romance. I can’t tell you how excited I was for both of these very talented ladies.

So is there a connection between shoes and romance? I can’t prove it, but I believe there is. The right shoe for writing romance, the right shoe for attending writing workshops, the right shoe for pitching romance…and of course…the right shoe for making romance, and making that happily ever after.

So, what do you think? How important are shoes to a writer? How many pairs will you be taking to the conference next year? What will you be wearing to the RITA Awards? You are going aren’t you?

Tari

Peas Suck, But You Don’t

August 17, 2012

I don’t like peas. Yeah, I said it. I don’t like peas. In fact, I hate them. I think they’re disgusting and I refuse to buy them for the pea-eaters in my house.

Are you offended? I’m going to go out on a limb and say no.

Now, what if I said I hate your favorite book? What if I said I didn’t like your book?

New ball game.

I realize peas and something you’ve produced (probably the work of years) are vastly different, but something I am slowly coming to terms with, slowly accepting as truth is that not liking something does not equal a value judgment. Peas are not for me, and because I don’t want to smell them, I don’t buy them, but are you a bad person if you like peas? I don’t think so. (Though you might get a dirty look if you bring them into my home).

There are some genres I don’t read because I don’t care for them, but I feel like I can’t say I don’t like them because we associate not liking something with it being bad. I can not like a book and still think it, and the author, have merit. I love Nora Roberts books, but I can’t get into J.D Robb. It’s my own personal preference.

Now, sure, there are people who make value judgments in terms of what they don’t like, who say, “Oh, I don’t read that.” And what they mean is, that is trash or bad. I think these are the same people who lack critical thinking skills, who lack the ability to participate in rational discourse.

We can and should not like something without turning our noses up at it.

As aspiring and published writers, it is even more imperative to believe and accept that not liking something is not the same as something being worthless. When we receive rejections, it is not simply because something is bad. Sometimes your manuscript is not good enough, sometimes it is fine but not fine enough for editor or agent to want to read multiple times, sometimes they simply don’t like it.

We hear this from editors and agents, but we don’t believe it. We assume don’t like is craptastic. We assume the editor or agent is just being nice. We assume. We read into things. We make up elaborate scenarios about how the manuscript isn’t just bad, we’re bad (hopefully that’s not just me). We internalize and feel as though we’re being personally rejected.

It’s hard to dissassociate ourselves from our work enough to see things impartially. To view rejection as something outside of us, as something less of a value judgment and more of a business decision. It’s hard, but it’s necessary.

If I was offended every time someone didn’t like something I did, I would spend all of my time being offended.

Both of my contracted novels were rejected a handful of times before they were accepted. Writing for publication is a business, no matter how personal it feels. Don’t let rejection offend you or determine your self worth.

Nicole

Too Much of a Good Thing

August 15, 2012

I’m taking a break from writing and reading while I enjoy my family at the lake. That wasn’t the original plan. I planned to write every day, and when I wasn’t writing, I planned to read the long list of newly downloaded books on my Kindle. What happened? Life. But life in a good way.

When I’m reading and writing, it’s a form of escapism. I miss my husband. The house is a mess of renovations. There’s drama here, misery there. I write and forget the woes. I read and drown the worry. But I’m also missing parts of life I’d rather not miss, parts that I rush so I can read another page in this book or write another page in this manuscript.

A few days ago, with my eyes closed and the sun beating down on my body while my children laughed and splashed in the pool, I realized I had real life far too good to be rushing any of it. I have to work harder on being present in my life. Concentrate more on the sounds around me than the sounds in my head. In the long run, that attention to detail will make me a better person, wife, mother and writer.

I’m all of those things. One is not more important than the others. 🙂

Elley

 

So we’ve established that the average number of shoes an attendee took to the Romance Writers of America 2012 Conference in Anaheim (I told you I wasn’t done talking about it) was five pairs. Five pairs… I took five pairs, but I’m starting to suspect that number is a little conservative. Several of the women who told me they took five pairs said things like, “I took five pairs, plus a couple pairs of flip flops,” or “I took five pairs of shoes…and my tennis shoes.” These statements sound to me suspiciously like undercounting. Undercounting is not fair. Some of us take these things seriously, and what I want to know is how many pairs of shoes you ACTUALLY took.

This is important, because shoes seemed to be the theme of the conference. The most consistent advice that I received before the conference was, “Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be running from one event to the next all day long, every day,” and this was proven to be true.

So, Friday was my big “pitch” day. I was lucky enough to schedule two pitches with editors, and two with agents. Three of those were Friday. I left my comfortable shoes in my hotel room and put on my favorite business shoes. They are generally comfortable for several hours, but I know they aren’t all day shoes.

I wore them all day.

Although a continental breakfast of fresh fruit, yogurt, boiled eggs, and muffins was provided in the lobby, right outside of the ballroom where pitches were to be held, I didn’t eat. I was afraid to….the thought of sitting across a table from an editor or agent with egg breath, a blueberry in my teeth, and yogurt on my blouse made me lose my appetite, so I skipped the continental breakfast and started my morning by arriving well before my appointment time in the grand ballroom where the pitches were to be conducted.

I have to say that RWA was incredible. They know what they are doing. Not just in the pitch room, where aspiring authors nervously connect with agents or editors that they might never get a chance to meet under other circumstances, but the entire conference ran smoothly and professionally, making the experience just amazing.

The pitch session was orchestrated to a fine symphony, each section following direction from beginning to end. We entered the ballroom, gave our name, and were seated to wait for our appointment. Pitches were 10 minutes long. You were to arrive twenty to thirty minutes before your appointment…I showed up an hour ahead for the first. They called each group of writers for their pitch time and lined us up in alphabetical order by the first name of the agent or editor we were pitching to, then took us to the other side of the ballroom, which had been discretely divided for privacy. Small cocktail tables were set up with agents and editors organized alphabetically, of course, in rows on one side of the table, a chair for writers on the other. You were taken to the row where your editor or agent was seated just before the appointment, then precisely at the appointed time…sent to the tables.

My first pitch was a nightmare. I did everything I was taught to do. I had put together a lovely little three line pitch. I memorized it, along with other important details…and when I opened my mouth I froze. Luckily I had my notes in front of me, but the story didn’t flow out of me, it kind of stumbled out in little chunks. IT WAS BAD. Luckily, the editor I spoke with was incredibly patient and kind, listened, and seemed to get the story. She kindly told me, “Don’t worry. Some people can’t pitch at all, but they are amazing writers, and others can give great pitches, but they can’t write a word.” Hmmm… but she did ask to see my full manuscript. I think this may have been a pity request, but I’ll be sending it to her anyway. I kind of wish I’d used a pen name instead of my real name, but alas, I did not.

My second pitch immediately followed. This time I was talking to an agent. I threw out all of the advice I’d been given…shredded my notes, and sat down and talked to her. I felt an instant connection and was so thrilled to know I wasn’t totally inept. She asked me questions related to my story, and when she asked to see three chapters and a synopsis, I didn’t feel like it was out of pity, I felt like she actually wanted to read my story.

I had one more pitch late that afternoon. Another agent. The one I’d really pinned my hopes on when I did my research. My toes were now pinched in my pointy business shoes, and my feet were starting to ache. Still I left my business shoes on my feet. The pitch went well, and she asked for my full manuscript, but now I wasn’t sure which agent I really wanted. Well, I can only hope that one of them really wants me!

That evening I heard that a couple of agents were taking pitches in the lobby. I decided I was there, they were there, and I wasn’t missing any opportunities. I wore my now quite uncomfortable shoes to the lobby and became part of a mob waiting to see these agents. (I still don’t even know what they looked like!) A young woman walked up to me and started talking. She asked if I was a writer, told me SHE was an agent, and asked if I wanted to pitch my story to her. I did of course, and I’m happy to say she asked to see the manuscript.

My final pitch was Saturday morning. I wore my ugly but oh so comfortable shoes and decided that hopefully the editor I was meeting with wouldn’t even notice them under the table…and if she saw them, maybe she’d just think “smart girl.” I had worn my favorite business blouse the day before because most of my appointments were Friday, so between the shoes and my less than perfect blouse, oh and the fact I gave up on my hot rollers, I was not feeling as professional as I’d have liked.

When the RWA coordinators took my group of writers to the other side of the ballroom, I looked at the back of the heads of a sea of editors and agents. I spotted the one perfect head. Her hair was beautifully colored, cut and styled. She wore a stylish business suit and perfect shoes. Somehow they looked both professional and comfortable.  She looked very “New York.” I was very intimidated.

Please don’t let it be her. Please don’t let it be her. Please don’t let it be her. I whispered to myself.

It was her.

But, she was approachable, easy to talk to, and when I left there…with another request for my manuscript…I felt really good about the pitch. I should be so lucky as to work with this editor.

So now that I’ve gone on and on about the pitches. You can see that I need to get back to work on my story.

If you have any “pitch” stories to share, we’d love to hear them. If you have any questions about pitching, please feel free to ask. I am not an expert, but I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned.

Of course, we won’t know what worked until I get a contract!

By the way, I am already on a quest for comfortable business shoes for the next conference!

Oh, and if you didn’t make it to the conference, many of the workshops were recorded and can be ordered at http://www.rwa.org/cs/conference_recordings.

Tari

Singular Ferocity

August 10, 2012

My son is two and a half and obsessed with two things: all things Thomas the Tank engine and cars (he can identify cars on the road by sight; it’s eerie). Occasionally I can distract him with dogs or a book about letters, but mainly this kid would spend the entire day in a Thomas or car obsessed fog.

You know what? Good for him. We’re told we need to be well-rounded, especially if we’re women. I went to a liberal arts college that prided itself on making you take classes so you were proficient in everything (or, if not proficient, ruin your GPA with a D in Trigonometry, ahem). And I understand that idea if you don’t know where you want to go or what you want to do, but what about those of us with a singular ferocity toward one subject? One obsessive goal?

Everyone I know that is happily successful is such because they turned their love (obsession) into their job. My grandpa’s obsession is airplanes. He didn’t just become a pilot, he built his own airport and association celebrating antique aviation. The other day, my Mom referred to that business he built as his fourth child because it is that important to him. He put that much blood, sweat and tears to growing and cultivating it.

I have wanted to be a published author for as long as I can remember, but for a lot of years I focused on trying to be something else. Something with a salary and benefits and respectability. But I never really found that job that fit, that consumed me, that I was comfortable in.

When I finally decided to pursue this writing thing, it took me over. Because this is my obsession. I love to write. When I finish one book, my very next thought is diving into the next. There are hard days, yes, but I know with a singular ferocity this is where I fit.

You don’t need that singular focus to write or be successful, but I don’t think it’s wrong to be that singularly absorbed as many people tell us it is.

Follow your (healthy) obsessions. Do what you love.

Nicole

We’ve been keeping this blog for over a year, and occasionally I’ll look through blog statistics to get an idea of who’s stopping by and what they’re stopping by for. Looking through the last year’s search terms (words and phrases that when plugged into a search engine bring people to the blog), I had a good laugh, so I thought I’d pass some of my favorites along.

Tari Sexy

Yep, like the title of this post says, someone searched for that. Maybe it was her “hunky hubby,” but from what I know about him, he’s a pretty involved guy, and I bet he knows the url for this blog without needing to Google it…like that. So THAT leads me to believe Tari has a secret admirer, or stalker…or sex tape. Of course, there could be another sexy Tari roaming the planet, but I highly doubt that. 😉

How to remove voices in your head

I shouldn’t be making fun of this one. Mental disorders are a scary thing. But the idea of visiting a writer’s blog in search of ways to remove the voices in one’s head is, well, scary too. We like our voices. We do whatever it takes to keep them talking. We’re not crazy. We’re creative.

Message to searcher: If the voices in your head belong to a strong hero and a feisty heroine destined to fall in love, then by all means, stick around the blog, where you will learn to pull those voices from your head and put them on paper. BUT, if the voices in your head belong to negative characters who drag you down and push you into things you wouldn’t normally do—harmful things—then get off Google and contact a licensed mental health professional.

Broken Microwave Dream

Multiple people searched for this. Really? Is this a new phenomenon, dreaming of broken microwaves, dreaming of breaking your microwave? Is it a psychedelic fantasy? A new Katy Perry song? I’m at a loss over this one.

Sentences for 1st Impressions on Ladies

Like for dating? How about this? “Hi, my name’s ____. What’s yours?” Keep it simple. Anything calculative will have her running in the other direction.

All the charectrers in the book the year of the boar and Jackie robinson

Nice spelling, huh? I assume this is a student trying to shortcut some English/Literature homework. By the spelling, I’m thinking the kid has shortcut many things about his/her education.

Message to searcher: Read the book, buddy! This is a blog about writing and reading—with one blogger a former English teacher. You will find not support or shortcuts here.

Sexhot+rap

Obviously this person was looking for Nicole, the aforementioned former English teacher who lives in the Midwest and writes about wide open spaces and how the love of a good woman can make a good man. *giggles* Yep, hot sex PLUS rap, totally equals Nicole…definitely not me, the blogger with the complete collection of Eminem on her phone. *shakes head* Not me at all.

Lemon bar rejection

Who the hell rejects a lemon bar? Nuff said.

My ankle

Message to searcher: Dude, if you’re looking for your ankle online. You’re looking in the wrong place. Try your leg—all the way to the bottom by your foot. If it’s not there and that surprises you, then you need to get off the computer and go to the ER.

And there you have it. Hope you got a laugh or two.

Elley

What makes a good romance? As a reader, what are you looking for?

Obviously, we need a happily ever after. A hero and heroine we don’t hate, but beyond that, what are your “This Makes a Book Awesome” keys?

For me, I need the following things:

*A hero that does not patronize the heroine. I like heroes in all shapes and sizes, but if they start thinking the heroine can’t walk down the street without help or what she wants isn’t REALLY what she wants because HE knows best, BLECH.

*A heroine with a backbone. Whether it’s developing through the story or she’s always had one, I need a heroine who’s going to stand up to the hero and not say swoon or faint if he looks at her wrong.

*Sizzling sexual tension. I don’t care if there’s a fully described sex scene or not, I want to feel the attraction between hero and heroine crackle.

*A believable conflict. This is why I have a hard time getting into secret baby or amnesia or contractually obligated marriage stories. I want to believe the story is possible. (Please note that POSSIBLE and PROBABLE are different. It needs to be possible, not probable).

Now, I want to know what YOU think? What are your must haves in a good romance? What makes you fling a romance across the room (or mark it DNF on your ereader)?

Nicole

My daughter wants to quit dance. (Was that random? Typing it felt very random.) Quitting dance isn’t an easy decision. She’s 10, and she’s been enrolled in dance training for seven years. It’s a big part of who she is, and apparently, she thinks that part has become too big, too cumbersome, too unyielding when she wants to do other things. I get that. I do. But still, I hate to see her quit.

Last night as I cuddled her on the couch, I tried to give words of wisdom, stories from my life and her father’s life, her brothers’ lives too, that would help her see that sometimes we give up on something because the work gets hard or the fear of failing grows, and those are not valid reasons to quit. Her response: But I just don’t have fun anymore.

Ah, fun. That three-letter word gets people into a lot of trouble. The pursuit of… The sustaining of… The end of… We make a lot of decisions based on what is and isn’t fun, especially when we’re young. Don’t get me wrong. I want her to have fun. But I also want her to be balanced enough to know that sometimes you have to work hard, face fears and yes, even be miserable in order to really appreciate the next round of fun.

The more we talked, the more I realized this wasn’t about quitting dance so much as it was about her wanting to break free of the schedule, the physical strain, the pressure to perform. (Heck, that’s a lot for a 10-year-old!) It wasn’t about the dance at all. It was the bull sh*t. The hour on the barre each Thursday. The two hours in studio Friday nights when her other friends were having sleepovers. The struggle to achieve equal flexibility between right and left legs. The fines for forgetting hair ties to fasten her hair into a bun. None of it’s terroristic. 🙂 None of it’s shocking. (Like I said, we’ve been at it for a while now.) But year after year of it begins to drag a person down, especially a 10-year-old person.

Now, what the heck does this have to do with writing? A lot actually. At least for me. And lately. For some time now, writing hasn’t been…fun. I’m struggling with my direction, my commitment, my motivation, my confidence. After much procrastination, I ran out of excuses and finally wrote 1200+ words yesterday. And you know what? During that time of actual writing, nothing else mattered. Not once did I stop and think: Why are you doing this? No little voice nagged: You’re wasting your time. While writing, all was right with my world.

So what’s the problem? Like I told my daughter: It’s the bull sh*t. (No, I did not use those exact words.) As she struggles with all the things that go along with dancing as a skill, I struggle with all the things that go along with writing for publication. When we focus on the extras, we lose the love—and fun—of the main event. The action. The dancing. The writing. The thing that makes us whole.

Last night, before bed, I told my daughter that I think she needs to take a few months off from “training”—not from dancing. She needs a break from the voices telling her how to move, how to bend. She needs the freedom to choreograph her own motion, to hear the music that plays in her heart.

Wide, fearful eyes met my gaze. “But what if I forget what I learned?” she asked.

“Then you’ll learn new things, even better things. Just remember, you know everything you need to know to dance right here in this room.”

They are words that haunt me…along with “practice what you preach.”

I know everything I need to know to write—right here in this room. The rest will come. As long as I don’t quit.

Keep dancing.

Keep writing.

Ignore the bull sh*t.

Elley