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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Having Fun on Facebook

Facebook. The word meant nothing to me just a few months ago. And now? Well, I'm hooked.

When I finaled in the Golden Heart® and crept out of the cave in which I'd been cloistered the previous two years, I discovered a whole new world. Cyberspace.

Oh, I'd used the internet to do research for my historical inspirational romances, but I had no idea how to use the web to connect with other writers.

I was invited to join a Yahoo® loop whose members are the 2008 GH finalists. One day a member shared that she was on Facebook and invited us to "friend" her. Having learned that these savvy women were a wealth of information, I decided to see what she was talking about.

In no time I located Facebook, set up an account and learned how to befriend someone. For the first few weeks I had about ten friends--nine fellow finalists and my daughter. I enjoyed playing a couple of games with DD and exchanging a occasional message with a GH pal.

And then I began to receive friend requests from others, people I didn't even know. At first I was hesitant to accept their offers, but then I realized Facebook involves so much more than exchanging messages with people I already know. As a social network, it offers the opportunity to connect with people from across the country and around the world.

As of this point, I have over 160 new friends, many of them writers and authors. As their friend, I can view their profiles, learn more about them and receive periodic updates. I'm in touch with some of the very women who write the books I love to read. Cool!

A side benefit is that I've also connected with relatives and friends with whom I want to keep in contact. Now I can click on their photos in my friends list and drop them a quick message. Plus I get to see photos, including some of my first grandniece, who's a real cutie, btw.

Checking my Facebook page has become a much-anticipated part of my day. If you have an account, I invite you to friend me. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back from Conference

Personal Weather Report - Calm after being somewhat unsettled the past week.

Writing Activity - None at present.

After four months of waiting, the Romance Writers of America® national conference finally arrived. I spent five days from July 29 - August 2 in the San Francisco Marriott surrounded by 2,000 romance writers. That's a lot of estrogen and emotion in one place.

I admire the men who braved the conference. There were a few male editors and agents as well as a smattering of deep-voiced, masculine-variety romance writers. Perhaps one of these guys is going to give Nicholas Sparks some competition.

I spent the first two years of my writing career in isolation. When I got the call from RWA® in March informing me that I was a double finalist in their prestigious Golden Heart® contest for unpublished romance writers, I entered a new chapter in my life. All of a sudden I was thrust into the limelight.

Minor celebrity status is conferred upon the GH finalists. I'd placed in four RWA chapter level contests, but this one is national. International, really. We had finalists from Canada, England and Australia. Over 1,000 entries were received in ten categories, resulting in a total of seventy finalists this year.

I entered four manuscripts in the inspirational category, two of them finaling. The manuscript I entered in the GH the year before didn't fare well, so I never expected to final this year. And I certainly didn't expect to double final. I was stunned. I had the honor of sporting two lavender ribbons on my name badge.

During the four months following the call from RWA, I ventured into Cyberspace, setting up a website and two blogs. I joined a number of Yahoo loops where I chat with other writers and with published authors. I made friends with the other GH finalists, a group of talented, generous, fun women. I couldn't wait to meet them.

I arrived in San Francisco determined not to give way to my normal reserve. Instead, I put my newly acquired Toastmaster skills to use and initiated conversations. In spite of the fact that Toastmasters is about speaking, I did my best to get the other person talking. And, oh, what wonderful things I learned from those with whom I had the opportunity to spend time. Like California soil after a hot dry summer, I soaked up the liberal doses of wisdom being showered upon me.

Until the past few months, the word "networking" had a negative connotation in my book. I didn't understand what it was all about and saw networking as self-serving, or even selfish.

A new understanding dawned as I interacted with others who share my passion for writing. We have much in common. Like me, these women deal with hearing voices in their heads and waking up in the night with a scene begging to be recorded. Now I see networking as mutually beneficial. I learn from others and share freely the wealth of information I've been given. The sense of community among the writers, especially my fellow GH finalists, warms my heart.

And speaking of hearts. No. I didn't come home with the Golden Heart, which is a heart-shaped golden necklace, but that's fine with me. I never expected to win. I couldn't be happier for the woman who graced the stage representing the inspirational category with style. Her time has come, and I fully expect her to have her first sale soon.

RWA and our fellow writers treated us Golden Heart finalists like royalty. We all feel like we're winners just for having been nominated. When the one winner for each category was called to the stage, the rest of us whooped and hollered and applauded with such vigor that our hands were sore afterward.

My girlfriend, Kathryn, joined me for the gala event. She's been a staunch supporter since I wrote that first horrid chapter of my first manuscript, the one where the dialog wasn't even in quotation marks. LOL. Sharing the event with her made the conference finale even more special. She got this flattering shot of me. Just wish my head hadn't been so far in the clouds that I forgot to get one with her.

So ends an incredible chapter in my life, one that will stand out in my memory for years to come. Conference may be over, but the friendships formed during my reign as a GH finalist stand as a testimony to what really matters most: people, not a prize.

And what's next? Well, I'm at a crossroads. When I got that call from RWA in March, I was taken by surprise. I'm honored beyond belief that ten of my peers liked my stories enough to give them scores that placed them as finalists. I knew, though, that the final judges, who are editors, use a different measuring stick: the market.

I headed to conference knowing I'd written five manuscripts that weren't "the one," that being the riveting story that will launch my career as a published author of inspirational romance. As I sat in my first ever agent and editor appointments pitching one of my sweet, traditional historical stories, my intuition proved accurate. The publishing professionals were kind enough to tell me what they are looking for, though, and I was quite attentive.

So, now I'm taking a hiatus. At first the idea of doing so scared me, but the initial emotion has given way to reason. I've come up with a plan. I'm going to devour the stacks of wonderful romances I've been collecting. Market research it's called in the publishing world. (Hanging out with great authors leads to discovering how many wonderful books are yet to be read. Those in the photo are the few I purchased at the literacy benefit at conference.) After I read the romance novels, I'm going to study the many books on the craft of writing I've been collecting. I'm going to give my creative mind a rest and wait.

Wait? Keli? The woman who likes to plan every step with excruciating detail? Yes. I feel a need to relax and reflect. The past two and a half years have been incredible. Now it's time to absorb what I've learned, increase my knowledge base and plan for an exciting future. I've heard published authors say that when they wrote "the one," they just knew it. Everything came together, and the book resonated at a deep level. I firmly believe I'm on the verge of such an experience, but I'm going to rein in my tendency to control my world and let God do the leading. Sound plan, that. And exciting.