Friday, December 26, 2008

Alphabet Soup

The end is nearly here. For 2008, that is. And the Chicago area just went through an ice age from beginning to end. Last week, we received a foot of snow and had air temperatures of -4, and two days after Christmas, the thermometer shot up to 55 degrees, three inches of rain fell, and all that lovely snow melted. Poof! Gone. With the contrasting air and ground temps, the fog rolled in thick and eerie. Quite the weather for December.

Brody, my 8 month old puppy (boxer/husky mix) was a little confused about the absence of snow Saturday morning. He loved romping around in it. The frigid temps didn't bother him at all. Lucky bugger. Here he is at 3 mths. Doesn't he look sweet? He's not. I don't call him "monster" for nothing.

What am I up to these days?
  • Finished editing my full manuscript (Dangerous Expectations) - now submitting
  • Finished one short story (His For A Night) - now submitting
  • I have about 1,000 more words to go on another short story before I begin editing (Turn Back Time)
  • Began research on my first series. I'm really excited about the premise for these books. Quite out of the norm.

I hope you had a great December. I did. I'm looking forward to starting a new project (series) and finding a home for Dangerous Expectations in 2009.

Have a wonderful (safe) New Year!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Regency Companion

It's been forever since I posted, and I'm right sorry about that. My every spare minute's been devoted to editing Dangerous Expectations, writing and editing my short story, His For A Night, and critiquing chapters for a few writer friends. But I certainly never expected to be away from blogging this long.

On to the reason for my post...For some time, I've been searching for an out of print book titled, The Regency Companion. There are a half dozen or so floating around the web for sale, but they are enormously expensive.

Anyhoo, I found a copy of this book at my local library (the cover is actually black with gold lettering). Yeah! I can't wait to delve into this book. One day, I hope some lucky publisher begins printing it again. Not sure how that process works, but given the huge demand for information on all-things-Regency, I think the publisher would make a mint.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Partial Requests and Coke Floats

Since I'm flying high about a recent partial request I received, I thought it a perfect topic for a post. So what does it mean when an editor or agent says, "We'd like to see the first 30 pages or so of Dangerous Expectations." What does this have to do with Coke floats? You'll have to read on to discover the answer.

Well, first of all, you must pick yourself up off the floor. Because that's where you'll find yourself after reading that wonderful, hard-to-obtain email. Why is it hard to obtain? The partial is generally the second step in the process, not the first. Numero uno is writing a brilliant query letter that will make your story stand out above a bizillion other queries. I'm not kidding. Agents/editors receive literally thousands of query letters (email and/or snail mail) from aspiring authors each year.

What's a query letter? I'm glad you asked. It's that lovely one page fact sheet that sums up your 400 page baby and talks a little bit about you, too. How do you sum up an entire book in one page? It's called the blurb. An extremely technical term for the back cover copy of a book. Next time you're in a bookstore (and I hope that's soon), read the back cover. What will you find? For romance, you'll probably read 2-3 paragraphs detailing a bit about the hero's and heroine's character and the conflict that will keep them apart--at least until the last chapter. It IS a romance, after all.

Sound simple enough?

Well, partner, you're in for a rude awakening if you think so. As the author, you carry all the little details in your mind that brought your story from page 1 to 400, and you ache to share every morsel with the reader. How can you not? How can the reader possibly understand why the heroine did this or that if you don't spell it out?

We authors can be obtuse sometimes. Do we, as readers, need the entire book spelled out for us. Nope. We rely on that brilliantly worded blurb to help us decide whether or not to purchase the book. Okay, it's not just the back cover copy. The author's name, the front cover, and the first paragraph help us, too, but we're not talking about those items.

Repeat after me...The blurb is your friend. Again...The blurb is your friend.

Now, that I've convinced you of how important the first step is, let's move on to the second step--the partial. When an agent/editor asks you for a partial, you'll typically send him/her the first 3 chapters and a synopsis. I say "typically" because it varies greatly from publishing professional to publishing professional. Some want 3 chapters, some want 30 pages, and others may want 5 pages. The key is to read the instructions that come along with the request VERY carefully.

Once you send off your partial, you wait. And fret. And hope.

Your next email from the agent/editor may be a request for a full or it could be a rejection. When the agent/editor wants a full, s/he is asking you to submit the entire 400 page manuscript. This is a good thing, but don't consider it an offer yet. A rejection is still a possibility. But so is an offer.

Either way, you should be extraordinarily proud of yourself, because only a lucky (and talented) few get to this stage in the process. So celebrate. Celebrate every step of the way. When I received my partial request, I shooed my husband off to Oberweis Ice Cream to buy me a Coke float. It was yummy, and I hope to be able to order another one very soon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I'm not referring to one of those gas-guzzling, muscle-man, can't see around SUVs tooteling down the highway (can you tell I drive a standard transmission car?). Nope, I'm talking about Goal, Motivation and Conflict aka the backbone of an awesome story.

My local RWA chapter has a wonderful reference library that I recently tapped into. The book I selected? Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation and Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction. Now, I admit not being very far along, but what I've read so far has really resonated with me.

Here's just a few notes I've written down.
  • Conflict creates worry (Simple statement but to the point and meaningful)
  • A writer should aim to take the reader on a journey of uncertainty (Ooo, I like that)
  • Your story must answer 4 questions: Who (character), what (goal), why (motivation), and why not (conflict)

It seems to me that the last bullet can be used to build a high concept or short query paragraph about your story. I have to read on to be sure, but it looks good right now.

Sorry for the short post. I'll talk a little more about this once I've finished the book.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Great Advice

What does a writer do when she's finished writing a nearly 400 page story? My multi-published friends unanimously agree that I should take a break from the manuscript before jumping into the editing process. A two week hiatus will give your brain time to rejuvenate, time to look at the story with new eyes, they said.

Of course, being the skeptic I am, I did not immediately buy into this theory when I heard it for the first time last year. However, having read the blasted manuscript more times than I can count, I was in desperate need for a mini vacation from the thing.

So I took a break, but continued to write. I'd established a routine, you see, and my internal clock kept screaming at me "It's time to write!" Since I'm highly motivated by guilt, even self-imposed, I wrote and completed a short story in two weeks.

I submitted the story to The Wild Rose Press soon after and held His Secret Desire in my hands three months later. As near as I can tell, I experienced every step of the publishing process that an author would with a full book--editor's letter, revisions, galleys, cover, marketing, and a finished e-book to admire. The editor I worked with was wonderful and she snuffed out all my unfounded fears, which I will be forever grateful.

I plan on writing another short story while I wait for the details of my newly completed manuscript to fade and I can look at it with fresh, excited eyes again.

The moral of this post? Listen to your published friends. They are wise as well as wonderful.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The End

Those two little words can bring so much joy and so much angst to a writer. Why, you ask?

Joy comes from finishing a manuscript that has taken months to write. And then comes angst. It builds within minutes of writing "The End," because the writer knows she must now begin the editing process. And then comes the dreaded submission process. This is the time you must send your little baby out to the publishing world and wait for them to decide if you have a priceless gem or a worthless rock. Okay, maybe that was a bit harsh, but you get my meaning.

For me, editing my story causes more stress than sending out queries. Editing is what makes a good book great. It's kindling for a building fire. I love it and I hate it. What can I say--I'm a contrary person.

Last night, I wrote those two little words at the end of my manuscript. And tonight, I start back at page one and begin turning a pumpkin into a gilded carriage. I am ever optimistic.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Soggy Chicagoland

For two and a half miserable days, Chicago's been under siege by Mother Nature's dripping hands. Although I have been spared a floating basement, others have not. As I type, the remnants of Hurricane Ike have settled over the area. No hurricane force winds here, though. No, Ike has gentled to a mere trickle while visiting Illinois, but he's no less destructive--cresting rivers, closed expressways, flooded homes, power outages, and more.

However, in my neighborhood, I hear only the gentle patter of rain outside my office window. A soothing melody perfect for writing. Between an unusual weather pattern and Ike, I've had 2.5 days to catch up on email, update my website and blog, and finish my current manuscript. Oh, and play with my puppy and cuddle up with my husband before a flickering fire.

So, where some have found utter devastation, one writer was fortunate enough to enjoy a pleasant and peaceful writing weekend. My heart goes out to all those who are fighting to save their homes or have lost their homes to Mother Nature's fury.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fabulous Workshop

Tonight, I attended my local RWA chapter meeting. As ususal, I had a wonderful time chatting with writer friends, cheering their good news, listening to what's going on within the chapter, etc. But Wednesday's meeting held a new twist, a special surprise. Chapter-mate Jennifer Greene drove all the way to the Chicago suburbs to present a fabulous workshop on Voice and Style.

Sound boring? It wasn't. In fact, she was able to clarify these two elusive concepts for me. Jennifer defined style as the "flavor of the story" and voice as the "food itself" and the "nutrition you take away." Another chapter-mate worded it a different way. She redefined style as the "head" and voice as the "heart." Both great metaphors.

To further explain style, Jennifer said it's a writer's technique, it's craft. You're not born with it. It's something you can learn. And it's the only thing you have complete control over.

Voice, on the other hand, is a gift unique to each author. It can't be learned. It's a writer's truth. Writer's use voice to reveal how they see the world to the reader. Jennifer encouraged new writers to stop fretting about whether they have a voice or not. You do. Every writer does. Now stop fretting about it.

So there you have it - voice and style. Any more questions? Not I.

Jennifer's a warm, easy to talk to, Midwestern gal. She won the prestigious Rita Award for Best Romance Novella in 2008, which she brought with her, allowed a score of drooling authors to rub her golden head, and looked on in amusement as I had my picture taken with the little beauty.

My thanks to Jennifer for her generous support and for traveling hundreds of miles to visit us. And I hope to chat with her more in the very near future.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Let's Try It Again

Well, I didn't last long at the blog thing, did I? Early this year, I found I had my hands in too many pots and had to practice a bit of time management. So, bye-bye blog. I suppose now I'm feeling cocky, thinking I can keep up with a weekly blog, because I'm a hairsbreath away from finishing Dangerous Expectations. It's a good feeling. And also scary.

Ending a book has proven to be the most difficult part of the writing process for me. Not for any psychological reason like I'm afraid to part with my beloved characters. No, I'm simply a chicken. Did I tie up all the loose ends? Will I bring the story to an end in a satisfying way that the reader won't hunt me down and do nasty things to my mangled body? Nope. For me, good 'ole self-doubt creeps in. Several years ago, I let this awful, not-so-little part of my personality take over and convince me that I couldn't do whatever it was I was working on.

Not anymore, buck-o. One of the benefits of growing older, I suppose. Now, self-doubt ticks me off. I'd be lying if I said I've completely conquered the worthless emotion. By the time I realize it's slithered in to my subconscious, it's slowed down my writing process.

That's when I know it's time to put on the battle gear and kick it's ever-loving a-- Well, you get the picture. In reality, I force myself to sit in front of the computer screen, heart pounding, nerves jangling, and I write. Then write some more. And before I know it, I've leapt across the deep crevasse of self-doubt.

Don't let such a puny emotion get the better of you. It's an energy drainer and it has the ability to destroy two of the world's greatest pleasures. Writing, and therefore, reading. But only if we let it.