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Thursday, December 30, 2010

The High Point of 2010: Great People!

Are you a great person? In my book, yes!

My year has been enriched by family and friends, but you, my cyber pals and writing buddies, are special to me. You share my passion for writing and "get" me in a way others can't.


As I reflect on the year that is fast drawing to a close, I'm reminded of wonderful times shared with wonderful people.
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RWA® Nationals in Orlando ~ July
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Me with my longtime critique partner and dear friend Anne Barton. I hadn't seen her since we met in person the first time in San Francisco two years before. I about bowled her over when she entered the hotel lobby in Orlando.
. I met many wonderful writers I've gotten to know online, including several of my Seeker friends. Pictured from left to right are Sandra Leesmith, Myra Johnson, Janet Dean, Me, Ruth Logan Herne, and Missy Tippens.


ACFW Conference in Indianapolis ~ September
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Here I am with my new critique partner and special friend Jody Hedlund. What a thrill it's been getting to know her better and to share in her journey as her debut novel, The Preacher's Bride, was released.
. Rachelle Gardner is my agent extraordinaire. Meeting her for the first time was a thrill. She's even more beautiful in person than she is in pictures. And she's lots of fun, too.
. I got to hang out with some great gals during the conference, both blogging buddies and newfound friends. Being in the company of these wonderful women was a delight. Pictured from left to right are Wendy Payne Miller, Heather Sunseri, Catherine West, Anne Lang Bundy, Katie Ganshert, Sarah Forgrave, Jeannie Mood Campbell, Cindy R. Wilson, and Me.
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• • • • •

As I look forward to 2011, I anticipate sharing in many celebrations. I know many talented people and expect to hear plenty of good news, so I keep my happy dancing shoes handy.
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Happy New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Our college daughter is on her way home for Christmas, and I'm sooo eager to see her.

Gwynly and I remarked yesterday how it hasn't really felt like Christmas to us yet. Even though our tree was cut, up, and decorated the day after Thanksgiving with the the wrapped presents beneath it just the way The Fashion Queen likes, without her here, things didn't feel complete.


But they will when she arrives.


Tonight, we'll attend our Christmas Eve candlelight service and reflect on the real meaning of Christmas. We'll open our stockings when we get home from church. Tomorrow, we'll watch the others' reactions to our carefully selected gifts. And we'll enjoy being together.


I wish you and your family a blessed celebration of Christmas.

• • • • •

I've seen several great Christmas videos this season. Since Gwynly and I have been Mac people for two decades, this one of the North Point Community Church iBand's rendition of three Christmas songs was among my favorites.
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Happy Anniversary x 2

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A Wedding Anniversary


My hubby and I got married December 19, 1987. We're celebrating 23 years of marriage.

I was a Christmas bride, complete with attendants in red velvet and poinsettias as our flowers. Gwynly's special request for the ceremony was to have me stand on a footstool for the kiss, his way of having a little fun since I'm a foot shorter than he is.
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I've been asked why we chose to marry at Christmas. The answer is impatience. :-)

Gwynly is a teacher. He proposed in the middle of the summer. Since I was already 28 and he has nearly ten years on me, I didn't want to wait until the following summer to get married, so we settled on the next possible date: the first Saturday of his Christmas break.

I'm also asked if I liked being married in December. Yes! We like that our marriage began at the same time our Savior's birth is celebrated.
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A Writing Journey Anniversary

Last year, Gwynly took me out to dinner to celebrate our anniversary. When we arrived home, I checked my email. I saw the name Rachelle Gardener in my in-box, and my heart rate went from impulse to warp speed in a nanosecond.

The day before, I'd sent Rachelle the full manuscript she'd requested after judging my entry in the Launching a Star contest. Part of me wanted to believe the email was good news. The other part of me thought it might be nothing more than a message letting me know she'd received my submission.

With trembling fingers, I opened the email. Eight memorable words, "I'd like to discuss the possibility of representation . . ." were all I read before I leaped from my chair screaming "Oh, my Gosh!" at the top of my lungs. Our two skitty kitties ran for cover while my hubby and daughter dashed into my office to find out what was wrong. I just pointed at the computer screen and continued my wild shrieking while I literally bounced off the walls and clung to doorjambs and pieces of furniture to keep from collapsing.

Talk about euphoria. That evening exactly a year ago I experienced it full force.

Four days later, on the eve of Christmas Eve, Rachelle called and made the official offer of representation, which, having done my homework, I was eager to accept. Talk about an incredible Christmas present!
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Rachelle Gardner and me at the 2010 ACFW Conference
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A year has come and gone. I spent months rewriting my story. Rachelle sent it out on submission on October 17 at 7:23 a.m. (Yes, that was a Sunday, and yes, that was before she'd had breakfast. She's beyond amazing!)

The publishing world has pretty much shut down for the rest of the year, so I'm waiting to see what the new year has in store. One thing I know is that I'll be starting a new story, and that's always fun.

• • • • •
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I wanna know . . .
What is one of the most memorable Christmas gifts you've ever received?
Are you, like me, waiting for news from publishing professionals?
What will you be working on when 2011 begins?

I wish you a very merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Waiting Game

22 shopping days until Christmas!

A store in town posts the news on their sign each day so no one can miss it.

My daughter knows exactly how many days remain. She's been counting them down since October 1st.

The Fashion Queen is Miss Christmas. She's so enamored with the season that Thanksgiving, in her book, is known as The Day Before We Get The Tree. It's also the Day After All The Christmas Shopping is Done. She's not a happy camper unless the presents are wrapped and ready to put under the tree once it's up and decorated.

The tree's up. The gifts are in place. She's smiling. Now comes the wait.

• • • • •
Writers know all about waiting. After all, we're all aware that things in the publishing world move with the speed of a sleepy snail, right?

We wait for:
  • Inspiration to strike
  • The day we type The End
  • Feedback from critique partners
  • Contest results to be announced
And then there are the BIGGIES:
  • An agent to offer representation
  • A publishing house to offer a contract
And the waiting doesn't stop there. Newly contracted writers wait for:
  • The title to be firmed up
  • The cover to be designed
  • The book to be released
The waiting continues as an author awaits:
  • The first reviews
  • The edits on book two to be approved
  • The ideas on book three to come together
• • • • •
So, what do we do while we wait?
  • Do a number on our nails as we nibble them
  • Test our spouses' patience as we bemoan the state of things
  • Inundate our writing buddies with emails ranting about what isn't happening
Nope. There's a better way. We act like the professionals we are and take action. While we might feel like there's little we can do to move our careers along, there are a number of steps we can take.

Concentrate on our writing
  • Read books on craft
  • Focus on writing the best story possible
  • Rewrite, revise, and polish that story before submitting it
Build an online presence
  • Set up a website
  • Start/improve our blogs
  • Get Facebook and Twitter accounts
Educate ourselves about the publishing world
  • Visit agent and editor blogs
  • Visit publishing house websites
  • Learn how to write a great query letter

• • • • •

Waiting isn't easy. But if we use our waiting time well, we'll be better prepared for the day when our Dream Agent offers representation or an editor reads our story and says, "I want to contract this."


• • • • •

I wanna know . . .

What are you waiting for right now?

How do you handle the waiting time?
What lessons have you learned while waiting?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Happy Dancing for My Critique Partner

I've been blessed with two critique partners who are wonderful writers as well as treasured friends. I love reading their work, and I love when good things happen to them.

One of my critique partners is Jody Hedlund, whose debut novel, The Preacher's Bride, is due to be released by Bethany House on October 1st. Since Jody and I became CPs this year, I haven't read TPB yet, although I've had my preview copy on order from Amazon for months.

One of the big events a debut romance novelist awaits is her first review from RT Book Reviews. I've been eagerly awaiting Jody's. Since I subscribe to the magazine (and highly recommend that every romance writer do the same), I'm able to view the reviews online weeks before they appear in print.

This morning, I visited the RT website and squealed. Not only was the review up, but Jody's book, The Preacher's Bride, received the highest RT Book Reviews rating: 4-1/2 stars!!! I'm beyond thrilled for Jody. What a way to launch her career as a published novelist.

I contacted RT Book Reviews to request permission to share Jody's excellent review, and editor Carol Stacy generously granted it.

So, here it is:
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THE PREACHER’S BRIDE
by Jody Hedlund

Genre: Historical Romance, Inspirational

RT Rating

In this remarkable debut based on the life of Pilgrim’s Progress author John Bunyan, Hedlund shows a great talent for immediately transporting readers into her story. The pages turn faster with each chapter and the characters seem like old friends from the beginning.

When his wife perishes after the birth of their son, John is too busy grieving to want another woman to care for his home and children. However, Elizabeth has other plans after being asked to keep house for the preacher and falling in love with the newborn baby and his siblings. John has made some powerful enemies as his brave sermons upset Royalists in 1650 England, and Elizabeth is soon dragged into peril. Now that she has grown to love John, she may be the only one who can save him. (BETHANY HOUSE, Oct., 384 pp., $14.99)

Reviewed By: Terri Dukes

Publisher: BETHANY HOUSE

Published: October 2010

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Currently, only subscribers can see the review online. As of October 1st, anyone will be able to view Jody's review at: http://www.rtbookreviews.com/book-review/preacher%E2%80%99s-bride

The October issue of RT Book Reviews is on newsstands and in the mail to subscribers, so you can view the print version of the review there as soon as you get a copy.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

RWA® Nationals 2010

Nationals has come and gone, but I'm still savoring the memories and will do so for months to come. I had a blast!

I applaud the Romance Writers of America® staff and board for the incredible job they did. When the devastating flooding in Nashville this past winter forced a change of venue, RWA found a new location in just three days. The Dolphin and Swan Hotels in Orlando made us feel welcome, and I'm grateful to their staff as well.

When I attended Nationals for the first time in 2008, I was overwhelmed. This was my second RWA conference, and I knew what to expect. I arrived ready to embrace the experience, and I did.

My biggest thrill was spending time with my awesome critique partner and treasured friend, Anne Barton. I hadn't seen her in person since the conference in San Francisco, so when she entered the hotel she got a huge hug.
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Here I am with Anne on my right.
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I'll be blogging about some of my other conference highlights, but today I want to focus on my Golden Heart experience. I was a finalist in the inspirational category. Since I'd been a finalist in 2008 as well, I knew RWA treats the finalists like royalty. This year was no exception.

One of my goals for the conference was to locate Terri Reed, the board member who called me on March 25th in both 2008 and this year. I checked into my room and hurried back down to get the lay of the land. I began reading name tags right away. One of the first I saw was Terri's! I squealed. Thankfully, since she makes GH phone calls, she's used to that. I delivered the hug I'd earmarked just for her.

The Awards Ceremony takes place at the close of the conference. Since this was RWA's 30th anniversary, we were served dinner. The huge room held 2,000+ conferees and their guests. Anne was mine. We had great seats in the VIP section at the second row with an excellent view of the podium. We were so close we could see without having to watch one of four jumbotron screens.

Our table was next to the one reserved for Nora Roberts and her guests. Yup! Anne and I were four people away from the most recognized name in romance. Nope! I didn't shove a camera in her face, so I don't have a picture to share.

Once dinner was over, we had a few minutes to mingle. And then, promptly at eight, the ceremony began. RWA does a superb job. The evening feels like the Oscars. When a winner's name is called, a spotlight follows her to the stage.

I had fun listening to the acceptance speeches. Some made me laugh. Others made me cry. All of them moved me just as the win moved the novelist who earned the award. Husbands, critique partners, agents, and editors were thanked. One winner thanked Diet Coke!

The inspirational winner is CJ Eernisse Chase. She was stunned to hear her name called, but I wasn't. She's a talented novelist who has finaled in the Golden Heart six times. I believe it was her turn, and I'm thrilled for her. I hope her win leads to representation and a sale.

One of the best parts about the Awards Ceremony is that we get to dress up. What fun it is to feel like a princess for the evening. My daughter, The Fashion Queen, found me a "little black dress." She's got great taste. The dress fit like it was made for me and traveled well, making it from California to Florida without a single wrinkle.
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I'll close by sharing some more pictures with you.
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.Here is Anne looking, oh, so elegant in her Awards Ceremony finery.
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Here I am in my new dress.
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Here we are posing for pictures before the ceremony began. I'm with two classy ladies: Anne and my fellow 2010 finalist Lisa Connelly, who is Anne's cousin.
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Here I am with my inspirational category mates: CJ Eernisse Chase and Kristin Wallace.
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Here's CJ wearing her new bit of bling, her Golden Heart necklace. I'm sooo happy for her.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Critique Partners

You wrote a book. Now what?

If you’re like me, you wrote another and another and...

I wrote five books in two years, all without the aid of writing buddies or critique partners. I read some books on craft and received helpful feedback from contest judges, but my writing pretty much stayed at the same level until March 2008.

That month I found out I’d finaled in the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® contest, and a whole new world opened up to me. I got to know my fellow finalists as well as other talented writers and authors.

I've met many awesome writers, two of whom are now my critique partners.

I’ve asked some of my guests on my other blog, Romance Writers on the Journey, what advice they would give new writers. One answer that comes up regularly is to get into a critique group. I’ve seen agents and editors give the same advice on their sites. When my agent, Rachelle Gardner, and I first talked, she asked if I had critique partners.

Contest judges have really helped me. I thank each of the generous writers who’ve given of their time and experience, sharing their suggestions and steering me to resources. But I needed more.

Enter my CPs.

Benefits of Having a Critique Partner

•Two-way communication

Contest feedback can be helpful, but if I don’t understand something a judge says, I have no way of finding out what was meant. Being able to ask my CPs for clarification is great.

•In-depth feedback

Having served as a contest judge numerous times, I learned we’re supposed to keep our feedback encouraging, our primary goal being to support and gently educate the entrants. In a CP relationship, however, we build trust and learn to share at a deeper level than a contest judge can. Plus, we can ask our CPs for help in specific areas.

•Unlimited feedback

Contest judges focus on major areas and choose which need the most attention. We can’t address everything we see. However, my CPs and I don’t have such limitations. Thus, I get much more feedback from a CP’s edit than I can expect from a contest judge.

•Learning from your critique partners’ strengths

I’m blessed with two amazing CPs. Each has a unique voice and different areas of expertise. Together they make an awesome team.

Anne Barton writes witty, entertaining Regency historicals with endearing characters. She serves as my micro reader, although I value her comments on big picture issues as well. We've been working together two years, and she's taught me a great deal. She provides my line and copy edits. And, wow, is she ever good at helping me strengthen my transitions and scene endings. Plus, she’s a math-teacher and has a great way of quantifying contest feedback, which I find very helpful.


Jody Hedlund is one of my agency mates who is also represented by Rachelle. Jody writes inspirational historicals set in the United States, as do I. Her stories are filled with action, emotion, and strong characterization. She serves as my macro reader. Because we write for the same market, she can assess my work in terms of the parameters of our genre. Whereas my strengths as an editor are of the line/copy edit variety, Jody is more of a big picture person.

I not only learn from my critique partners' feedback; I learn from reading their awesome works. (And I have fun, too.)

•Discovering your strengths

As I work with my CPs, I learn how my stories can be improved, but I also learn what I do well. I'm a detail-oriented reader and have been told by others that my technical skills are strong. I have a degree in Mass Communication with a print journalism focus, and I worked as an assistant editor for a small textbook publishing company at one point. I’m able to serve as an unofficial copy editor for my CPs.

I seem to have a knack for descriptions. I’m able to point out places my CPs have done a great job setting the scene as well as places they may want to add a bit more detail.

Finding out what you do well builds confidence. It also enables you to let potential CPs know in which areas you’ll be best able to help them.

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Next week, I will take an in-depth look at critique partnerships on my other blog, Romance Writers on the Journey, as a way to celebrate its first two years. During Critique Week, which will run June 20-26, I'll have daily posts that touch on different aspects of the critique partner relationship such as where to find critique partners, ways to provide feedback, and how to create a personal style sheet to use as an aid in critiquing.

And because this is the blog's birthday celebration, I'll be offering at least two different drawing prizes every day. I invite you to drop by and share in the fun.

• • • • •

I wanna know . . .

Do you have critique partners?

What are your strengths as a critique partner?

What aspects of critique partnerships do you find most helpful?

What aspects of critique partnerships do you find most challenging?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Setting the Scene

I'm a time traveler.

No. Not my characters. Me.

Are you having a hard time buying my story? I assure you, it's true.

I spent the morning in 1870 smack dab in the middle of July with the temperature hovering around the century mark and my hair sticking to my damp forehead.

How did I get there?

I used three devices to transport me to another time and place:
music, sensory stimuli, and images.

Music

I have a folder on iTunes that houses a number of classical pieces played by my characters, both of whom are musicians. I've listed to the selections several hundred times while working on my story, so hearing the compositions of yesteryear helps me shift gears. Since I'm a historical writer, I put it in reverse and go back in time.

Contemporary writers can use music to get them in the mood too. If your story is set at Christmas time, blast some carols. Do you have a scene taking place at the beach? Download some Beach Boys tunes.


Sensory Stimuli

I woke this morning to find puffy white cotton ball clouds scudding by and the thermometer outside registering 62º. The one inside was a whopping two degrees higher. This presented a challenge, since my characters were in the midst of a heat wave. I don't know about you,but when I'm chilly, I have a hard time remembering what it's like to be overheated.

What did I do?

I donned my bulkiest sweater, closed the door to my office, and cranked the space heater. I don't know how hot I got it, but I was, um, glowing. (Victorian women in the 1870s were far too proper to sweat. They left that to the horses.) The elevated temperature and my physical reaction made it far easier to feel what my characters were feeling.

Other senses can be used to set the scene. Are your characters at the circus? Pop open a jar of peanuts, and you have an instant scent-sation that can make you feel like you're there. Is your heroine in the middle of an earthquake or experiencing turbulence at 30,000 feet? Write while trying to balance on one of those jumbo exercise balls.


Images

One of the fastest ways for me to jump into a scene is to see it. To do this, I gather photographs that depict the people and places in my story and keep them nearby when I'm writing.

Since I write historicals, I went to a local antique store with a huge wicker basket chock-full of cartes de visite, those wallet-sized images of non-smiling people, which are mounted on cardboard. I set my stories in real towns in California's Mother Lode, so I purchased reference books about the tows, which are filled with photographs from by-gone days.

Whether you write historical or contemporary stories, it's easy to find images on the Internet that depict your setting--or one like it if yours is fictional--as well as pictures of people that look like your characters. You can print these out and keep them close at hand. Some of my writer friends mount their photos on poster board as collages.


Real life beckoned, and my trip back to 1870 came to an end. I closed iTunes, opened the door to my office to let out the heat, and blew a kiss to my characters, assuring them I'd see them again soon. When I do, I'll set the scene. I left my hero and heroine in a rose garden, so I'll pop outside, snip some of those on our bushes, and set them on my writing desk. I can smell them already.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I wanna know . . .

How do you set your scenes?

Do you listen to music when you write?

Do you strive to emulate the sounds and scents?

Do you select pictures of your main characters and locations?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Falling in Love With My Characters . . . Again

Falling in love is exciting.

Falling in love again is a different experience altogether, one that in my case came about after my husband and I joined together to face a tough situation thrust upon us by the actions of another. Working with Gwynly for two years as we dealt with considerable challenges in order to bring the stressful situation to a close showed me a depth of character I hadn't seen before, and my appreciation and respect for him deepened.

At the end of that l ordeal, I wanted to show Gwynly how much my love for him had grown. Inspired by Nicholas Sparks' book The Wedding, I planned a surprise vow renewal. Six months went into the planning, and the outcome was a memorable ceremony, one that showed Gwynly I would marry him all over again.
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Character Concerns

Earlier this year, I received Revision Notes from my agent, Rachelle Gardner. A few of her comments revolved around my two main characters.

My heroine began as a capable and determined woman, but as the story progressed she lost some of her spunk, so much so that at times she came off as wimpy and–I hate to admit this–even whiny. Not good!

My hero was a friendly man with an engaging manner that endeared him to everyone. He treated people well. Very well, in fact. All right, since I'm confessing, I'll tell you the truth. He was too nice. The man had a serious problem in that he had no problems–or at least not enough of them to count.
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Character Conversions

In the early stages of the rewrite, I redefined my main characters. Before I did that, however, I had to grieve the loss of the characters as I'd first created them. These two characters had lived in my fertile imagination for over three years, and, as you can imagine, I'd become quite attached to them. Bidding their former incarnations farewell took time.

Once I was ready to move on, these are seven steps I took as I reshaped my hero and heroine:
  1. I revised their back stories and gave them more clearly defined issues.
  2. I intensified their desire for what was most important to them.
  3. I gave them stronger motivations for their choices and actions.
  4. I determined how to strengthen my heroine.
  5. I made my heroine's behavior more consistent.
  6. I decided which weaknesses my hero would have.
  7. I gave them both more emotional depth.
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Character Chemistry

Once I had a handle on my main characters' new personae and my new plot, I began writing. Because I'd gone though the process of letting go of the earlier manifestations of my characters and had taken time to get to know the present ones, the story began to flow. As I spent time with my new and improved hero and heroine, I experienced a thrill similar to the one I felt when I witnessed a whole new aspect to my husband's personality emerge during the trial we faced. My hero and heroine are more likable, more realistic, and more fun. I've fallen in love with them all over again.

While making radical changes to characters who'd been so dear to me wasn't easy, I know it was the right thing to do if I want to have a marketable story. I loved the characters as I'd originally written them, but I'm even happier with them now.
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I Wanna Know . . .

Have you ever had to let go of a character you created? How did it feel?

Have you ever made significant changes to a character? What steps did you take?

Have you read a book and come across a character you felt wasn't as strong as she needed to be or one who had no real flaws? How did that make you feel?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Guest Blogging Today

I'm a guest blogger at The Rockville 8 today where I'm sharing my thoughts on "The Realities of Revisions." Keely Thrall, a 2010 Golden Heart® finalist and one of the Rockville 8, honored me with the invitation. Since I've been busy with my revisions and not posting much here, I thought I'd share the link with you in case you're interested.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Power of No-ing

No!

Little word. Lotta impact.

However, it can be a tough word to say.

This week, I drove an hour and a half each way to a planning meeting. Our goal was to set up a writers group. I wanted to be there. I believe the group would add value to my life. But I ended up saying no to this opportunity.

Was it easy to email the leader and decline? Yes and no. I'm sad I won't be able to participate, but I'm relieved not to have another commitment.

How about you? Are there times you've taken on a role, joined another group, or volunteered for another task and ended up wishing you could back out?

Yup. I'd venture to say we all have.

So, how can we guard against taking on too much?
  1. Realize that we have limitations ~ Many of you write, but you also work outside the home, have children still living with you, are caring for a parent . . . The list goes on. We can't do it all. There are only so many hours in the day. That's reality.
  2. Realize the need to focus on our top priorities ~ As writers, creating our stories has to be a priority. However, if we overcommit, we can end up neglecting our writing as we attempt to get everything else done.
  3. Realize there will always be opportunities to serve ~ On my loops, there are seemingly endless pleas for people willing to serve as contest judges, influencers, committee members, etc. But we don't have to respond. If we don't, often others will.
  4. Realize we might not be the best person for the job ~ Even though we want to help, we may not be the one best suited to the task at that time. If we've got a full plate, adding another item could result in poor performance, ultimately letting others down. By stepping aside, we free up the position for someone who has the time to do a better job than we would.
I went through the items on this list as I drove home from the planning meeting, acknowledged the reality that I'm not the person to help establish this new group, and felt a sense of peace . . . until I thought about the need to send the email to the leader informing her of my decision.

What enabled me to combat the guilt and sense of obligation, type the message, and zap it to the leader?

I gave myself permission to Just Say No.

And it worked. I hit send. Not long after I received the nicest reply in which the leader said she understood my decision. No guilt. I shared an alternative to holding face-to-face meetings. She thanked me for it and is considering it.

Saying no worked.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I wanna know ~

Do you find it difficult to turn down requests?

Are there things on your plate you'd like to unload?

Have you said no and been surprised at the positive results?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Writer's Life: A Juggling Act?

Time.

Do we ever have enough?

In the days before I embarked on my writing journey, I was doing well. Our one and only was in high school, and my days as an active parent volunteer had drawn to a close. I actually had time on my hands. My house was clean. The laundry was caught up. I had a weekly menu plan. And I was bored.

With the help of a life coach, I dug deep and rediscovered my dream: to be a writer.

The next two years rushed by as five stories flew from my fingertips. Talk about fun. I'd rarely had so much.

But writing in isolation grew old, and I became lonely.

And then I discovered cyberspace, the blogosphere, and a world peopled with other writers. I learned about heaps about craft, promotion, platforms, and more. I made friends. I was having fun again.

Trying to fit in all my new activities, however, became a challenge. In addition to writing, I'd added a host of other activities, including:
  • writing blog posts
  • interviewing blog guests
  • reading others' blogs
  • keeping up with email
  • reading and reviewing others' books
  • keeping up with my Yahoo! groups
  • maintaining my website
  • editing critique partners' work
I wish I could say I've become adept at juggling everything, but there are times I feel overwhelmed. I admire those who have children at home, write, and make it look easy. I wonder what their secrets are. I'm sure we could learn a great deal from them.

I wanna know ~

Do you struggle to juggle all your activities?

Do you have a set schedule for your writing time?

Do you have a system that helps you keep things running smoothly? If so, do share.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Blessings and Blooms

Writers are wonderful people. I've been blessed by my writer friends on many occasions, and I'm beyond grateful. This past week, the blessings flowing my way left me feeling overwhelmed.

Thank you for your generosity, support, and encouragement. Thanks for lifting me up when I'm down and rejoicing with me when I receive good news.

Today I was blessed in a special way. A loud rap sounded on the front door. We weren't expecting anyone, so I wondered who it might be. I beat my husband to the door, opened it, and stared in disbelief. A florist stood there bearing a beautiful heart-shaped wicker basket filled with brightly colored violets.

I mumbled something resembling "thank you" to the florist. Puzzled, I turned to Gwynly, and asked if the flowers were from him. He often brings me flowers, but I couldn't imagine my frugal fellow having them delivered. However, he's been known to surprise me, even after twenty-two years of marriage. He shook his head.

Since the title of my current story is Violets & Violins, I suspected a writer friend. I opened the card and smiled. The unexpected gift was from my kind, caring, thoughtful critique partner
, Anne Barton.

Thanks, Anne. You made my day!


I wanna know ~

How have you been blessed by fellow writers on your writing journey?


When's the last time someone surprised you with a gift? How did you react?


What is one gift you've received that was so perfect it left you marveling at the giver's thoughtfulness?

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Rigors of Revisions

Where have I been the past month?

I've been hibernating in a place I call Revision Land. A sometimes scary, frequently frustrating place that saps my time, energy, and confidence, leaving me too drained to write witty blog posts. Much as I wish I were as consistent a blogger as my agency-mate Jody Hedlund with her insightful, instructional posts or as entertaining a storyteller as agency-mate Billy Coffey with his moving tales, lately my creativity has been drained by day's end, leaving me ready for my nightly date with Calgon, a few chapters of a romance novel, and little else.

Although I've not posted my progress in a month, I've moved ahead with my revisions. I've plotted the entire story, the first half in painstaking detail. (I'm a detail person, so it's really not painful at all. *grin*) I've got the second half figured out and will plot it scene by scene soon.

The first quarter of the story was 2,000 words too long, so I had to chop them. That was painful. By moving one scene later in the story, I cut 650 words, but I had well over one thousand to go. I didn't know what I could possibly remove, but I forced myself to scrutinize every word. Somehow, I made my goal and ended up with a leaner, cleaner beginning. What a lesson. I admire those who write tight. I'm not one of them, but I watched the first nine chapters improve as a result of my pruning.

I've moved on to writing the second quarter of the story. My agent, Rachelle Gardner, had pointed out how I'd reduced the tension. Well, I've ramped it up. There are some serious sparks now as my strong, determined, somewhat stubborn hero and heroine interact, and I'm having a ball adding them.

Because our college daughter has been home for spring break, I've taken this week off. We've shopped 'til we dropped, eaten out, and had a great time. I've also tackled a few items on my To-do List, one being giving my blog a more professional look, which was one of Jody's excellent suggestions. Now instead of flowers, my latest tweet appears. Kinda cool, don'tcha think?

Come Monday, I'll return to my story refreshed and ready to write. I'm missing my characters, and, from the amount of chatter in my head, I know they're eager for me to give them my attention.

I wanna know ~

Do you enjoy revisions, or do they put fear in your heart?

Do you write tight or tend to be a bit Dickensian like me?

Do you take vacations from writing to spend time with family?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Inspiration Infusion

It's well after midnight as I write this. I should be tired. Instead, I'm wired.

Why?

Because I was blessed to attend a concert tonight and savor the sweet sounds one of the world's greatest violinists, Joshua Bell.

I'm hard pressed to choose adjectives that adequately describe the performance, but I'll do my best. Marvelous, magnificent, masterful. Superb, sensational, sublime.

And inspiring!

Several months ago, when I learned that Mr. Bell would be in concert at my daughter's university, I was elated. I hopped online to order my ticket. Thankfully, there were still a few available. I got a seat in the nosebleed section. Row G ~ for Grateful. Only one row was farther from the stage. Row H ~ for Higher Yet.

I arrived at the Performing Arts Center, sank into my plush seat, and prepared to enjoy myself. And I did!

Mr. Bell's talent is exemplary. He produced some of the sweetest sounds I've ever heard from his famous Stradivarius violin. He and pianist Jeremy Denk performed four sonatas from different composers: Bach, Saint-Saëns, Schumann, and Ravel. The variety of the pieces showcased Mr. Bell's skill beautifully.

The encore performance brought tears to my eyes. Mr. Bell chose a piece I've heard many times. I have three of his DVDs, and when I heard the first strains, I was transported to another time and place. My story world.

The reason I found the concert so inspiring is that I fell in love with the rich, warm sound of the violin three years ago when I wrote one of my historical inspirational romances, which is currently known as Violets & Violins. My two main characters are violinists, and I listen to violin pieces as I write. While looking for works I wanted to use in my story, I discovered Joshua Bell, and he quickly became my favorite violinist.

Because I was so far from the stage tonight, I was unable to watch Mr. Bell's fingerings. Instead I got the big picture. He feels the music and flows with it in graceful, swaying moves, which are a joy to behold.

Mr. Bell's passion for and love of his music remind me of the connection we writers feel to our stories and the joy creating them brings us. I'm inspired to take Violets & Violins to a new level and infuse it with more emotion and heart so it moves readers as Mr. Bell's music moved me
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Mr. Bell generously offered to autograph programs and recordings after the performance and let his fans get a picture with him. He was caught offguard by the woman who volunteered to snap this shot for me, but I was able to capture his warm smile in the picture at the top of the post.

• • • • •

What inspires you as you craft your stories or pursue other creative endeavors?

Do you listen to music while writing? What kind?

Have you been blessed to meet a celebrity who's served as one of your sources of inspiration?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Revision: Jettison the Junk

Many historical accounts of wagon trains trekking across the U.S. include heart-wrenching tales of weary travelers tossing their treasures in order to lighten the load. They were forced to focus on the essentials, so pianos, trunks, and other heavy items littered the trail.

The first phase of my revision process has been deleting the dross. Scene by scene, I've scrutinized my story, determining which of them stay and which must be cut.
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The Downside

I'm not going to gloss over things and tell you the elimination of a major portion of my story has been easy, because it hasn't. Being a sentimental person easily moved to tears, I've shed a few as I realized how much material I must remove in order for the story to take off in a new direction.

Yesterday I identified eight chapters in a row that have to go. That's 24 scenes, 86 pages, 735 paragraphs, or 19,469 words that are on their way out.

I shudder to think how many hours of my life were invested in writing those doomed chapters. In addition to creating my first draft, I spent time planning, researching, revising, and editing.

Others invested their time in my story as well. My hubby helped me plot, and he and our daughter listened to me talk about my story as I worked to get it right. Gwynly, my critique partner, and my agent took time to read all 111,000 words and give feedback.

Months of my life and weeks of the lives of people dear to me were, to look at things from a glass-half-empty perspective, wasted.

And I've only assessed the first half of the story. There's another 20-40K words destined to hit the chopping block as I cut even more scenes from the remainder of the story.

My emotions ran the gamut from miserable to excited the past week as I grasped the enormity of the task ahead of me.

Excited?

Yes. And here's why . . .

The Upside

After having taken time to grieve the loss of the story I'd written, I began to envision the one ready to emerge and grew excited.

Rather than viewing my story as a glass half empty, I realized it's really a glass half full. I have a beginning that has proven itself on the contest circuit. The first quarter of the book is in such great shape it needs only minor tweaking and tightening. And at least a quarter of the rest will work with a few modifications.

So, I'm halfway there!

In addition to seeing the status of the project in a more positive light, I've also realized the half that has to go does not represent a waste of my time. I learned a great deal and honed my skills while writing those chapters.

Although a large portion of the content no longer works because of the major plot change I'm making at the one quarter mark, what I'm deleting is not junk, dross, or rubbish. Those scenes are as well written as the ones I'm keeping. Thanks to my OC tendencies, perfectionism, and past experience as an assistant editor, I produce work so clean from a technical standpoint it practically squeaks. (Amazing what eighteen editing passes will do. *grin*) There are lines of dialogue, interesting incidents, and some clever turns of phrase I can save and use in other places. The scenes I'm deleting aren't bad, just no longer needed.


The Other Side

I'm sure the early settlers of California were excited when they stood atop the mighty Sierras and saw the breathtaking beauty before them. Rather than bemoaning the arduous journey and sacrifices they'd made to get there, they set their eyes on the prize and forged ahead with renewed energy and excitement.

I crested a hill today. Standing at the top, I shifted my gaze and looked back at how far I've come. Yes, I have a considerable amount of work yet to do, but when I look ahead now, I see a gentle slope leading to a not-so-distant destination.

I have the first half of my story outlined on my plotting boards. Gwynly--my ever-supportive husband and plotting partner--and I have brainstormed the second half. I've run the whole thing past my critique partner, incorporated her excellent feedback, and will plot the final 18 chapters over the next few days.

Since I've taken time to plan each scene before beginning the rewrite, the actual writing will flow. I'll have fun, and, because of my preparation, I won't have to make much use of the delete key. After having cut 140K of this story during two revisions, knowing I'm on the right track this time is very important to me.

• • • • •

If you're a writer, have you ever faced deleting a major portion of your story?

How did you go about deciding what went and what stayed?

What did you learn through the process?


Writers and non-writers alike, are you a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full person?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Revision: Plotting Along

"Where do I begin?"

That thought ran through my head a number of times since I received the revision notes from my agent, Rachelle Gardner. The first week, I had no idea how to answer the question. I needed time to absorb the feedback and allow myself to come to grips with the huge task ahead of me.

Another week has passed, and I'm eager to dig into my story. Before I begin, though, I have to rip my story apart chapter by chapter, scene by scene, remove what doesn't work, add new material, and put everything back together again. Here are the steps I'm taking.

Step 1: Jettison the Junk

One fourth of my story works--and works well. The opening has received more recognition than I could ever have imagined.

However, the story fell apart at the first major turning point. Without realizing it, I sabotaged my great beginning by moving things along too quickly and turning down the tension. Not good!

Some of the scenes in the final three-quarters of the book are great and may work with minor tweaking, but many of them have to go.

In order to discover how many chapters and scenes can stay and which will go by the wayside, I literally took my story apart. I cut my hard copy into scenes and slapped stickies on them. A check mark on a scene means it stays, an X means it's history, and a question mark means I'm not sure yet.

Step 2: Assess the Mess

Once I determine how much of the story I can use, I expect to end up with about half of it needing to be written anew. Since I love the characters, enjoy writing a rough draft, and am eager to take the rest of my story from ho-hum to happening, I'm excited.

My task now is to figure out where the holes are. To do that, I took the advice my awesome critique partner, Anne Barton, has given me on several occasions and made a set of plotting boards. Because I'm a visual person, having the story laid out before me will show me many things, including where I need to add chapters and scenes to fill in the gaps.

Step 3: Plot the Lot

When I wrote my first stories, I did very little plotting. I had an idea where my story was going, but I didn't take time to draft an overall plan. Since I tend to be OC, this surprises me. In retrospect, I think writing the stories from my heart served a purpose. I learned to go with the flow, which, for a perfectionist like me, was a valuable lesson.

Now, however, I see the value in having a plan. In fact, I won't write another story without one. Frankly, it's too much work. This is my third revision of Violets & Violins, and it's going to be more challenging in many ways than the other two. I'm up for it, but in the future I intend to spare myself the trouble.

To make my plotting boards, I bought 22 x 28 inch white poster board with a faint grid pattern. I got packages of three sheets at Office Max. Using a yardstick and a fine point black Sharpie, I broke the board into 5-1/2 x 8 inch boxes with one-inch headers. (Vertical lines at 5-1/2, 11, and 16-1/2 inches. Horizontal lines at 1, 9, 10, 18, and 19 inches.) Because I like things even, I cut off the bottom inch so the boxes would be the same size.

I then added a header for each box. The first row begins with "Chapter 1 ~ Scene 1" and ends with "Chapter 1 ~ Scene 4." It's rare that I have more than four scenes per chapter, so this format should work well for me. I created 13 plotting boards, which will cover up to 39 chapters, the maximum number I've had.

Step 4: Glean the Scenes

Each scene of my book will fill one box on the plotting board. In the picture above, you'll see the first three chapters of my book laid out in mock-up form. Chapter one has three scenes, the others just two.

Next, I have fun with sticky notes. I use a couple of two-inch squares and one four-inch lined square per scene. Stickies work well because I can move them around easily as I shift scenes within the story.

The small sticky on the left is where I list the characters. The color identifies the POV character. Since I write romances, there are usually just two: the hero and heroine. A blue sticky is for the hero, and pink identifies scenes where the POV is the heroine's. If I have other POV characters, each would receive a different color. On the POV character's sticky I list other characters who appear in the scene.

The small sticky on the right tells me when and where the scene takes place.

The large sticky is for the what, why, and how of the scene. I use two colors. In my example, orange indicates scenes where I am pulling the hero and heroine apart. Purple is when I give the characters and the reader a respite--and some hope that things are going to work out. If I see too much purple, I know I need to ramp up the tension and increase the conflict.

What is happening? I give a brief overview of what takes place in the scene.

Why is this scene included? I list the reasons why this scene is important to the story. This step helps me justify every scene. I like to have at least two reasons for each scene.

What devices are used? I list the techniques I use in a scene, e.g. dialogue, internal monologue, action, narration.

Here's the first scene from my story as an example.


I'm busy filling my plotting boards at this point, using information from existing scenes as well as new ones Gwynly, my hubby and plotting partner extraordinaire, and I have brainstormed.

As I move through the plotting process, I'll be sharing what I'm learning.

• • • • •

If you're a writer, do you tend to be a pantser or a plotter?

What steps do you take before you begin writing a story?

Do you think a plotting board would help you?

If you're not a writer, how do you go about preparing for a major project?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Revision Notes

Many an author has blogged or tweeted about receiving Revision Notes. Often the initial reaction ranges from shock to mild surprise. Some even admit to discouragement or dismay.

I've often wondered what was included in Revision Notes that would bring about such a strong reaction. Sure, I had an idea, having read blog posts for over two years, but those accounts didn't satisfy my curiosity.

In recent weeks, I've been able to view two sets of Notes, one belonging to a brave novelist friend who shared hers with me, and the other the Notes my agent, Rachelle Gardner, sent me a week ago. Because some of you may be as curious as I was, I'm going to give you a glimpse of mine.

Before I share what was in my Notes, I want to make it clear that Rachelle called and spent an hour going over everything that was in them before I ever saw them in print. Had she not done so, I might have been devastated to read her comments and suggestions. However, Rachelle isn't known as one of the best agents out there for nothing. Her fellow agent Chip MacGregor says she's "nice," and she is. She took the time to share her thoughts with a wonderful balance of compassion and directness. I had to hear truth if my story is to improve, but she delivered it in a way that honored me and my story, and I'm extremely grateful for that.

And now, for the promised peek at my Revision Notes . . .

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Format


My Editorial Memo, which is what Rachelle called my Revision Notes, consists of four single-spaced pages. Rachelle worked for many years as an editor and edited for some big name authors such as Brandilyn Collins, Mary DeMuth, and Lisa Samson. The Memo I received is much like that my friend received from an editor at a major publishing house, both in appearance and content.

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Content


Rachelle broke the content into the following sections:
  • Opening - Rachelle began with almost a full page of compliments. She listed what she liked about the story, what she sees as its strengths, and what areas of craft she thinks I handled well. (To be honest, this was my favorite part of the Memo. *grin*)
  • Transition - After having noted the strengths in my story and my writing, Rachelle took two paragraphs to explain the motivation behind her upcoming suggestions. She also reassured me that she knows this is my story and has no intention of meddling with my Voice, honors me as a writer, and is open to discussing my concerns or areas in which I may disagree with her.
  • Concerns - Rachelle has two, each of which filled an entire page. While that may sound overwhelming, her explanation enabled me to understand what she meant and why the two weaknesses she spotted are concerns. She clearly stated each, gave sound reasons for them, and made suggestions as to how I can address them. (For the record, I agree with her and am in the process of plotting my fix.)
  • Characters - My two main characters, which I like to call the hero and heroine, each received two paragraphs of comments. Rachelle shared what she liked about them and enlightened me as to what she sees as shortcomings.
  • Pacing - Rachelle suggested I reread my story and note areas of repetition. She pointed out several chapters where the pacing is slow.
  • Length - I submitted a 111K story, so I wasn't surprised to hear it has to be tightened and cut to 100K.
  • Conclusion - Rachelle offered to assist me through the process.
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Intangibles

  • Expertise - It was easy to see that Rachelle knows her stuff. Her experience and grasp of the editing process are evident. Although it wasn't easy to hear that my story has some major weaknesses, I realize she's right and am grateful to her for pointing them out.
  • Personality - Rachelle's clients speak very highly of her. I see why. Receiving one's first Editorial Memo can be overwhelming. She herself used the term "shell-shocked" to describe the reaction many experience. My experience was far more positive than I had expected. Rachelle treats her clients, even newbie writers like me whose story isn't yet all I believed it to be, with respect and consideration. Not that she sugarcoats things. (For example, my letter includes such phrases as "The problem is that it's totally unbelievable . . ." and "None of this rings true." Taken out of context, those statements may sound harsh. I don't feel that way. She says what needs to be said, but she couches it very well.
  • Support - Throughout the letter, I picked up on the fact that Rachelle believes in my story, despite it's rather glaring weaknesses. (That description is mine, not hers, btw.) She assured me it can be fixed and gave me great suggestions on how to go about it. I also feel that she believes in my ability as a writer, which she conveyed in many ways throughout the Memo.
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I'll be exploring the various aspects of the letter in more depth as I go through the revision process and will share my thoughts in future blog posts.

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Questions for you

If you're a writer and have received Revision Notes or an Editorial Memo, what was your initial reaction? Did you agree of disagree with the agent or editor's suggestions?

If you're a writer who has yet to receive Notes or a Memo, were you surprised by what was in mine?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My First Interview

My awesome critique partner, Anne Barton, asked to interview lil ol’ me. After all Anne’s done for me, I couldn’t turn her down. :)

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Anne is talented, creative, and clever. She came up with an interview format I’ve never seen before, one that was tonz of fun. If you drop by her blog, Anne Barton’s Writing Journal, you can see why I’m so impressed–and learn more about me and my writing journey.

If you leave a comment, you’ll have a shot at winning the Starbucks card she’s giving away.