Monday, May 3, 2010

Learning Curves

Learning curves.

We all have them.

In fact, we've spent a lot of time talking about them in the context of political races lately. But today I'd like to refocus a bit, onto learning curves in writing.

I don't know where you are in your journey to publication. Most days, I'm not sure where I am in my journey to publication. But I know I'm farther along than I was a month ago.

Its a great feeling to know that.

So, back to the point I was trying to discuss--simply writing is an opportunity to learn what does work, and what doesn't. But to be honest, I tend to learn a lot more from reading other people's work and discovering how they do things. Most of the time it's subconscious learning.

In my daily reading, I don't carefully look to see how an author accomplishes their goals. I read the memo, or the brief, or the treatise or the case and I try to digest and retain the needed information. When I read in bed for a half hour before lights out, I don't look carefully to see how the author has made their characters three dimensional, or how they've paced their story. I read to enjoy the story. To relax so I can sleep.

The beautiful thing is, I still learn from it. A week or two later, I might have an idea to try something else in my writing. Can I pinpoint where the growth comes from? Sometimes. Most times not. But regardless, I grow and learn in my writing. And getting farther along on my personal learning curve is a wonderful thing.

What about you guys?

Where do you learn about writing most from? Is it formal classes? Critiquing others? Simply reading? Or are you like me—every bit helps, but mostly you can’t pinpoint where you’ve picked up the extra knowledge—it’s just there for you to use?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lesson Four AND Five

Okay guys,

I'm a little behind here. The campaign is heating up, and early voting began yesterday. Also, I waited until pretty close to the last minute to finish judging for a writing contest I had agreed to judge for. I like to give each entry a good deal of time, and several read-throughs, so that I can give the best feedback and most help to each entrant as I can, so it took up most of the last few days of last week to do justice to each entry.

Not that I'm saying you guys aren't important. You SO are. But, let’s just say, there wasn't a fixed deadline for posting, and so it got shuffled back. Sorry. :-)

So, I've decided to skim over lesson four. After all, it's pretty self explanatory. A four year old, a three year old, and a two year old. Trying to keep that lot still, presentable, and from destroying the studio? Pretty much impossible. We spent about ten minutes trying, they got a five second shot of peaceful lull somewhere in the ten minutes, and I bundled the kids off. Everyone--the kids included, was happy to have that over and done with.

So, on to Lesson Five.

Wendy foreshadowed it a bit. Not everyone is nice, especially in small town politics. Some people are darn un-nice. (Yes, I'm pretty sure that isn't a word, but it's my blog and I like the un-word, so it stays.)

So, we started to get hate mail. But with a twist.

They sent it to all our neighbors.

Saying awful, evil, obviously untrue things about DH.

We have great neighbors. The first to bring over an envelope was our French neighbor from across the street. I was home alone, and he asked to see DH. He said he'd gotten some trash mail, and thought DH needed to see it, but it was so awful, he didn't show it to me.

Yep. It was bad enough that French neighbor wanted to protect me from it.

They kept coming. A string of neighbors, angry and disgusted for us, and that someone was sending this filth to them. An unintended effect is that as a whole, the neighbors (even the generally non-voting neighbors) have all said they're voting, and are going to tell everyone they know to vote for DH. Yep. The letters made them that mad.

We called the police.

Since DH is running for office, and on a strong law enforcement platform, they got right on it. Of course, we still have no idea who is sending the letters out. They are creative though, I'll give them that.

We haven't mentioned anything about it to anyone. I guess the lack of attention upset them, because they've gotten more creative with the letters by the day.

Then the creepy calls started this weekend.

Yep folks, we are now getting death threats. Over a local election! Seriously.

So, lesson five? If you're going to run public office, make sure you are prepared. Because not everyone is nice when politics are involved. Even local politics. Maybe especially local politics.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lesson Three in A Cautionary Tale

So ladies, (and gentlemen too if any of you out there are so inclined) a word of advice. Do not ever, ever, ever make the mistake of putting highlights in your own hair at home while your significant other is running a political campaign. Even if you think you're really good at it. Even if you've done your highlights at home before.

Trust me.

If it can go wrong, it will. And if you are anything like me, you'll end up with unnatural orange streaks in your hair.

Well, that's not so bad, right? I mean, I could wear a hat. Wait a couple weeks and see if the color tones down some?

Yeah, that's what I said.

Then I went swimming.

The color got even brighter and more unnatural. Im talking ORANGE. Yeah, that orange.

Still, there was always the hat option.

Then DH comes home Wednesday evening with some information. The guy who is helping him with his campaign has decided that he needs a TV commercial. He's set him up with a professional studio who will do it for practically nothing, because they owe the guy helping DH a favor.

I smile. "Thats a great idea honey. It sounds like a perfect way to get the word out."

I wiggle my toes, secretly thankful that with the advent of the commercial, handing out cards won't be nearly as important.

He grins. "Great! So we'll need to be at the studio Friday afternoon. Do you have any idea of what we ought to dress the kids in?"

I stare at him. "What? We? The Kids? What?"

My hands fly to my orange hair. "Friday afternoon? But, my hair!!"

He shifts his weight and looks past my head and out the window. "Yeah, might need to fix it." His gaze flies back to mine. "I mean, I like it, but it's not very conservative..."

"Uh, Yeah, I have to fix it," I wail. "But do you have any idea how long it takes to get an appointment with a decent colorist??"

He frowns. "Well, you have till Friday. That should be plenty time."

I consider strangling him at this point. Then I realize that my hands won't fit completely around his neck. And then another thought occurs. "The kids are going to be in the commercial? The four, three, and two year old kids? Our Kids?"

He shifts again. "Yeah, that's what I thought. But helper guys says its okay if they don't stay still. We can have them playing in the background as I talk."

I snort, as I envision the kids ripping hundred thousand dollar cameras off shelves and crawling up the vertical section of the green screen. My snort obviously telegraphed the entirety of my misgivings, because DH nodded.

"Yeah," he said. "But we can give it a try and see, right?"

He looks earnest, and my heart does that little fillip it does when he looks particularly adorable.

"Okay, we can give it a try. But I'm not going to be in the office tomorrow, because I HAVE to get my hair fixed."

He looks relieved. "No problem. If you need me to cover any appointment you have, just tell me."

So, the next day, I call my hair stylist.

She's wonderful. Stylish, funny, engaging and always booked for months.

I throw myself on her mercy. I tell her my sad story, and she is appropriately horrified for me. She agrees that I can't possibly go on television with orange hair, and agrees to see me after her last appointment. Even if I DID try to color my hair without her help. I was abjectly greatful.

She stayed until 9:30 pm, and made my hair beautiful. I LOVE her.

And that is why you should never color your hair yourself if your husband is running for office.

Lesson Four involves not trying to use your toddlers in a TV commercial. Especially if there are three of them, four and under. Coming soon folks, coming soon!

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Cautionary Tale: Lesson #2, and a plug for Critique This WIP

I'm back with Lesson #2 as promised.

So to bring you up to speed if any of you are joining us for the first time, Lesson #1 of the Cautionary Tale is that it's important to listen when your significant other speaks to you. Even if you're in the middle of working through a pivotal scene in your WIP. It's equally important NOT to answer any questions with mppphhh, or uh huh, or yes, unless you are aware of what has been asked of you. Trust me on this.

I didn't listen. And I did answer uh huh, mpppphhh, and yes. And a week and a half later I came home to a tower of campaign materials on my doorstep, and a hubby who is now running for town board.

So after moving the stack of materials, and after confronting hubby, who replayed the entire conversation for my edification, I shrugged, and asked myself, "Well how much work could it be?"

Okay. Second mistake.

LESSON NUMBER 2. If you ever become involved in a campaign for public office, no matter how lowly the position, it will be A LOT of work. When I say a lot, I don't mean you'll have to dress up, look pretty on DH's arm and smile adoringly as he gives his positions on the issues. I tend to be an introvert, but I could manage that, right? In the name of being a supportive spouse?

I wouldn't know. Because I haven't gotten a chance to do the above. What I have gotten to do is hand out said campaign materials. I'm not talking a couple hundred cards. Nope. He ordered 52,000 cards. And obviously he couldn't pass them all out himself, even if he was working hard on it. So, like any supportive spouse, I took a stack, put on my walking shoes and started campaigning. It was the least I could do for accidentally encouraging him to run, right? Besides, the stacks of boxes sitting in the living room made me feel guilty every time I walked by. Okay, so I'd hand out some cards.

In between handing out cards, it is also apparently important to write letters to the editor of the local paper. You see, it's an effective way to delineate the candidate's stances on the issues. Except that the candidate him/herself can't have their letters published. Candidates spouses however, can have their letters published. Oh well, I'm a writer, right? I can knock out a few letters to the editor and sound halfway intelligent. Right? Right. Ummm--it's actually harder than it sounds. The trick is to write in sound bites that can't be taken out of context and misconstrued. Ha. Ha, ha, ha, ha.

But that isn't all! As a candidate's spouse, you are subject to answering questions about DH's stance on the issues, including law enforcement. In the grocery store. At the zoo. At the children's school. Good thing I was listening when he told me what his stance was. Now, you may wonder how anyone recognized me as a candidate’s spouse.

Which brings us to LESSON 3: Do NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT, try to put highlights in your hair at home when your hubby is running for office.

Non-sequitur? Nope. Stay tuned, it'll make perfect sense.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I've Been a Bad, Bad Blogger/A Cautionary Tale

Here it is Thursday, and I haven't updated my blog for the week.
I have excuses.
But they're just that, so I'm backing away from the temptation to share said excuses.

Instead, I'll share something interesting. Hmmmn.
((taps fingers on beautiful piano desk.))

Well, let's see....Oh, I know!!

I'll share a cautionary tale, as lived out by me.

So, the pretty little town I live in is experiencing an explosion of crime.
A big explosion. There were 12 bank robberies in our county this last year, and 11 of them were in our little town. Home invasions and robberies in our town have more than doubled in the last year. I could go on, but you get the idea, right?

So, I'm at my trusty laptop, when DH says to me, "Hun, I think I should run for town board."

"Mmmmfh," I say, trying to decide whether my hero has grinned, smiled, or merely quirked the corner of his mouth.

"We really need somone with law enforcement experience on the board. Look at our policing levels, and our exploding crime rate."

"Yes," I say, having decided that less is more--the quirk is what I need.

"Well, that was easy. I thought I'd really have to sell you on the idea. I'm off to order campaign materials."

"Uh, huh," I say, trying to figure out what my fiesty heroine's reaction will be to hero's quirk of the lips. Is she amused? Annoyed? Indifferent?

Fast forward a week and a half. I pull into my driveway, and before I get the keys to off position, I see it. A tower--and I do mean tower, of white boxes, stacked so high and wide, I can't get to my front door.

"What the--" I say, (slightly cranky about the mountain of boxes I have to move before I can enter my house.)

I reach up to about the five foot level and try to pluck a box from the top of the stack. It doesn't move. I try again, with more vim. Gosh, it's heavy. What is in here?

I cut the tape with my keys and open the box. Yup. Campaign materials. Cards to be specific, urging all and sundry to vote for DH.

Errrm??? Well crap. I'd better move some of these so I can get through the door.
I corner DH when he gets home. I'm tired, sweaty, and maybe a little cranky, seeing as I'm waving a campaign card wildy as I approach him.

He listens to my questions, fired like pellets from an airgun.

He waits for me to peter out.

"We had this conversation," he says patiently. Then DH replays the conversation word for word, and even attempting to duplicate my voice.

"Ooooh," I groan. Despite the fact that my husband always makes me sound like the queen of England when he mimics me, I do vaugely remember this conversation.

"Anyway," he finishes,  "I have the cards now--I HAVE to run."

LESSON #1. Pay attention when your significant other speaks. Even if he/she speaks while you're in the middle of tweaking a pivotal scene. Trust me on this.

I berate myself silently for not paying better attention when DH speaks. Then I shrug. Oh well, he's running. How much work could that be??

Tune in next time, and I'll share LESSON #2 with you...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Critique This WIP

Hi guys!
One of my critique groups has put together a blog. It's called Critique This WIP and I just posted my maiden blog on  it!

I won't go on and on or repeat posts, but if you'd like to check it out, just click the link above.

Heather's comment from last time inspired me, so I wanted to share a few quotes on achieving your dreams. We'll get there, but it'll take work. I'm up for it. How about you?

"I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen." --Frank Lloyd Wright

"Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in my tenacity." --Louis Pasteur

"Getting ahead in a difficult profession requires avid faith in yourself. That is why some people with mediocre talent, but with great inner drive, go much further than people with vastly superior talent." --Sophia Loren

Apparently guys, persistence works regardless of your chosen profession. Let's get at it!

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Well, I got my first rejection this week.

It was kind, and personalized, and a rejection.

I'm very glad that the person who asked for the partial did so, and took the time to read my work. I'll keep tweaking, and getting better, and researching homes for the manuscript.

And just for today, I'll hug the rejection close, and revel in it. Because after finishing and polishing your manuscript, rejections are the next big step towards getting published. I just took that next step.

Onward and upward folks! Keep at it, and eventually we'll get there!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

True or False? Plus...Congratulations to all the Golden Heart and Rita Finalists!

As promised, I am revealing the very shocking Truths from my list today.
Okay, melodramatic much? Yep.

But first, congratulations to all the Golden Heart and Rita entrants who got the call today! What an amazing experience for you guys!

Secondly, I'm well aware that I tend to be longwinded. I'd like to say this post will be an exception, but it probably won't. Sorry.  Now, to business:

1.) My favorite movie of all time is Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.
 This is FALSE. While it amused me a great deal, I'd be lying to say I was laughing with the movie. Another shred of evidence that the book is usually better than the movie, right?

2.) I am a writer of FABULOUS poetry.
Ha. Ha, ha ha ha. Nope. Terrible poetry is all I've ever produced. Poetry even I had to admit was terrible. This is SO FALSE, it isn't even funny. Especially if you're forced to read said poetry.

3.) I have a tramp stamp.
(Shifty eyes.) Okay. This is embarrasing, but TRUE. But I never would have gotten a tattoo there if I'd known it would eventually be labelled a tramp stamp. But even now that it is, I still love it. Its sooooo pretty, you see. No, no visual aids there. I can't get the camera that far behind me and still take the pic. Yes, that IS the only reson you're not being subjected to the sight. :)

4.) The desk I use to write at is a converted piano.
Again, this is TRUE. And to prove it, here she is! Isn't she gorgeous?? I'm told it's an 18th century piano that was converted to a desk and that there were only 4 made. But that was by the antique dealer trying to sell me the thing, so who really knows? And who cares? Look at her!! Lovely. Even if she is a huge mess.

5.) I write absolutely all my work using Write or Die.
This is FALSE. But I do about 85% of my first drafts using write or die, so it's only a little false...

6.) In my spare time, I play the violin
Errrmmm... No. This is FALSE. I cannot play a single musical instrument, not even the recorder. I can however operate my Ipod, and that's good enough for me. I am fascinated by folks who can play musical instruments though.

7.) I do everything long before deadline because I don't like things hanging over my head waiting to be done.
This is SO FALSE. I wait until the night before, or the hour before or the 5 minutes before. I don't know why I do that to myself, but I always do.

One more pic of my lovely piano desk...
And there you have it folks! The Outrageous Truths about Merissa.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Creative Writer Award (Yes, it is the big fat liar award--but creative writer sounds so much better.)

Courtney, at Courtney Reese gave me with this lovely Creative Writer Award. Thanks to Courtney, and I apologize for taking forever to come and claim it.
What can I say? Life got busy.

So Anyway, to business! I've co-opted Courtney's rules as follows:
Here are the rules:

1. Thank the person who gave this to you.

2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.

3. Link to the person who nominated you.

4. Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth.

5. Nominate seven “Creative Writers” who might have fun coming up with outrageous lies.

6. Post links to the seven blogs you nominate.

7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know you nominated them.

Rather than go easy on you and only have 1 truth, I’ve changed the rules a bit. So, here are your 5 lies and 2 truths. Which is which? You’ll find out on my next post.

((DRUMROLL)) And here they are:

1.) My favorite movie of all time is Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

2.) I am a writer of FABULOUS poetry.

3.) I have a tramp stamp.

4.) The desk I use to write at is a converted piano.

5.) I write absolutely all my work using Write or Die.

6.) In my spare time, I play the violin

7.) I do everything long before deadline because I don't like things hanging over my head waiting to be done.

I'm passing the award on to:

1.) Wendy Marcus at Must Have Romance for being such a great commenter. Thanks Wendy--I love to read your comments.
2.)Kimberly Franklin at Kimberly Franklin--Confessions: Secret Life of a Writer because she has a great thumb photo (makes me want to be in a convertible driving along the Florida Keys every time I see it) and because her blog is ALL. ABOUT. THE. BLOG. AWARD right now.
3.)Hilary Wagner at Hilary Wagner because I love her blog. Who doesn't like a little white rat or three?
4.)Lindsey Brooks at Dangerous With a Pen because someone who give away so many wonderful prizes deserves a prize of her own.
5.)Anisa at Anisa Off the Record because anyone who makes such a rockin' Darth Vader cake has got to have some super creative lies and truths!
6.)Mia Hayson who has a wonderfully visual blog at My Literary Jam and Toast --check it out if you haven't yet.
7.)Jessilyn at Jessica's Vision. Her blog has an amazingly rich old world vampire feel. Love it! Check her out!

And there you have it Ladies and Gentlemen! The Creative Writer (aka big fat liar) awards!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Online Writing Communities--Do You Or Don't You?

As y'all have probably figured out by now, I tend to post about whatever's on my mind when I sit down to blog. I don't usually plan out a list of blog posts, although perhaps I should.
So what's on my mind today is online writing communities. Specifically, the number of communities, the varied purposes of them, and the seven million dollar question--which ones are worth belonging to?
Here's the thing. Online communities (whether they are loops or sites or blogs or facebook or twitter) take up precious time. Lots of precious time.

Everybody's life is different, but I think that we all face the same issue with regard to time. There's never enough of it.

Writing must be done. Words put on the paper, regarded, revised, regarded again and revised again.

Almost all of us have to take time to work, to put food in our bellies and clothes on our kids. What a timesuck that tends to be.

So when it comes to online writing communities, the question is, do they help your writing, or do they suck up so much time that the writing never actually gets done?

I think the answer to this varies from person to person, and from community to community. I'm a member of multiple online writing communities. Some I can talk about, some have rules that forbid it. What I can say though, is that its important to pick those communities carefully. Here are my standards for whether I'll remain a part of the community:

1. Is it positive?
Some communities out there are negative. They allow flame wars and beating up on people who disagree with the community's alpha leaders. I've been lucky enough not to experience this, but have heard some horror stories. People, life is just too short to subject yourself to this kind of negative experience. Move on. There are tons of wonderful, supportive communities out there where you'll be welcomed and respected.

2. Does it help me on my journey to publication?
This one is important. We've all heard about how it's important to have an online presence for when you "get the call." But if your online presence sucks up all your writing time, guess what? You'll never finish anything to submit, and therefore, you'll never get the call. Sad, but true. Sigh.

But wait, it's not all gloom and doom! There are communites out there that can help you do both! At once! I know--it's great.

For instance, I'm a member of a writing goals community. In this community, we set yearly, weekly and monthly goals. We post weekly about what we've accomplished writing-wise that week, and we cheer each other on. Sounds simple. But I can't tell you how powerful a tool this is. Having that weekly accountability from a loop of committed writers who cheer for your successes, and commiserate with you when you feel like you've failed is SO helpful. It keeps me on track, knowing I need to have something to report on weekly.

I'm also a member of two critique loops. The one I am allowed to talk about is Critique This, and you can see our group blog at Critique This if you're interested. Critique groups are fantastic things, if you find the right ones. Having fresh eyes look at what you've worked and reworked until it seems dull, lifeless and pretty much awful is invaluable. The trick is finding people who will tell you the truth as they see it, but kindly and respectfully. And the other trick is to remember that you are the writer, and you need to take what works and toss the rest. If you can do this, your writing will grow immensely, especially if you're a new writer. I also find that critiquing other people's work helps me see where I fall short in mine. Funny the way things work.

3. Does it help you learn the craft of writing?
This is a more specific question than number two. Here, I'm talking about craft classes. Many local RWA groups offer classes online, where for a small fee you can learn about something you're having trouble with in your writing, or just want to learn more about. Let me caution you. Not all classes are created equal. And the cost of fees don't always correspond to the utility of the class. Some of the best classes I've had were free, and some of the least helpful I paid for. What it comes down to is research. Try to find out if anyone you know has taken a class you think you may be interested in. Ask them for their honest opinion. And go into realizing that just because that style of teaching worked for one person, doesn't mean it'll work for another. Overall though, you can learn something from every class, even if it isn't what you thought you'd learn.

4.Does it help you learn about the business of publication?
Here I'm talking Twitter. Okay. So when I first tried twitter I thought it was the most useless thing ever invented.

(Sorry Twitter--I've since converted!)

I thought it was an immense timesuck, and pretty much useless, other than keeping up with my writing friends.

Then I started following agents.

Okay guys, listen up. This is important.

Agents tell you what they're thinking on twitter. What they're looking for. What they HATE and you should never, under any circumstances do. Seriously. Its better than their blogs, and far less work to keep up with. And they post competitions from their blogs on twitter. Win a synopsis crit? A query crit? Query submissionsfest? All posted on twitter. So, I'm a convert. I've learned more about agents, their preferences and what they're looking for from Twitter in a month than I did in a year of sporadic blog reading. If you have a Twitter account and don't follow agents on it, consider doing so.

Okay, I realize that every time I post, it's incredibly long winded, so I am going to stop for now. Does anyone have something to add to the list that I've missed? Any comments on what I have on the list? Agree? Disagree?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Writers Block

Anyone who has written regularly for a period of time has likely experienced it.
Writers Block.

That feeling of dread when you know you should be writing, and you are desperately looking for something else--anything else--to do instead. Laundry gets done, pots shine, and floors get mopped. Offices get organized, cars washed, vacuumed and waxed. Even toilets get cleaned, all while the manuscript you should be working on lies there, waiting unfazed. The guilt looms closer.


What causes writers block? Is it simple procrastination? Is it just a need to spend some time apart, only to come back and find writing effortless? Or is it something you can power through, if you just sit down and begin to type?

I think it depends.

On what? Well, I think it depends on why the writers block is well, blocking. I've identified a couple things that cause my writing to become blocked.

One, my story doesn't make sense, or my characters don't have motivation. This is a big one for me. If either of these things happens, everything grinds to a halt. I simply cannot power on through this type of block, until I identify the problem, and fix it. Once the story makes sense, or the characters have believable motivations, goals and conflicts, the writing comes easily again.

Two, I'm emotionally empty. I find that in order to write, I have to have at least a tiny bit of emotional energy left in me by the end of the day. Sometimes, that doesn't happen. This kind of block is short term, and is more exhaustion than block. Having a long bath and going to bed early goes very far towards making this kind of block go away. Sometimes we have to take care of ourselves. Sounds simple. But, with little kids, demanding day jobs and demanding characters, sometimes we don't take decent care of ourselves.

Those two reasons cover most writers block in my experience. Of course, there is simple procrastination. Sometimes writing is hard. Its work. Its hard work. Then, procrastination often plays a large part in my failing to sit down and write. This though, is the easy thing to deal with. It's essential then to sit down, and start typing. Power through. Commit to ten minutes. Likely, you'll look up an hour later, amazed at where you've gotten and want to continue on to.

What do you guys think? Have you ever had writer's block? Did you figure out what caused it? How do you overcome it?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Craft Classes

Today I wanted to talk about craft classes briefly.
I take at least one a month, and often more. They have really helped my writing, and have helped me make intelligent (I hope) choices in the way I approach plot, scene structure and POV choices.
Have you ever taken a craft class, either online or in person? Did it make a difference in your writing? Do you have any MUST TAKE classes that you'd recommend?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Contests Part Three--Blog Contests

Okay. I know my blog has been all contest, all the time lately. So this is the last contest blog for a little while--I promise.

But before I moved on from the topic of contests, I wanted to talk about blog contests.

We've probably all seen a few. Book giveaways. (Gotta love those.) Hat giveaways. (Again, gotta love those.)

But often you may come across giveaways that you couldn't get at the local bookstore. Things like agent query critiques. (Yes, I won one of those recently and the agent gave me some fantastic feedback.) Or things like agent synopsis critiques up for grabs. (Not to be greedy, but keeping my fingers crossed on that too.)

And if you follow agent blogs, they sometimes have query contests where they will invite people to enter for a certain time period. They read the queries and request more if they like what they see--with an added twist. The query doesn't count against you if they don't request more and you want to resubmit later. Pretty cool. I entered one of those recently (my first real query submission) and actually got a request for a partial! Exciting stuff. The reason I felt empowered to enter was that it didn't actually count against me if it bombed. Kinda took the pressure off a little, you know?

Anyway, there are tons of contests out there. And if you're lucky, you might find one that offers something priceless. A query crit without the public humiliation of submitting to the Query Shark. (Waves to Query Shark--love ya and the public humiliation, as long as it isn't me being bitten!)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Contests Part Two--Judging

I recently a  had conversation about what writing contest judges ought and ought not consider when assigning  scores. It made me curious about how other folks judge both contests, but also the books they read for fun.

I generally don't focus on grammar or punctuation when scoring, but on the story. Of course, if there are many errors, that will get in the way of the story. It now occurs to me that pehaps many people don't approach judging the same way and do score down for format, typos and chioce of font.

My thought was that if your entry is perfectly formatted and your punctuation and grammar are perfect, then your story will flow more smoothly and your scores will be higher than the imperfect entry--unless, that is, your storytelling skills are weaker. In that case, no amount of perfect punctuation is going to save you. 

What do you guys think? Have you ever judged a contest entry? How do you approach it? Do you have a personal checklist of things you look for, or do you just sink in and let the story sweep you away--if it can?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Prose and Contests

Like many of the other prepublished writers out there working to be published, I take advantage of some of the craft courses available to help improve my writing. Some are very helpful, and others are not so much. I think that what a person gets out of these classes depends in large part on where they are in their understanding of what it takes to make a good story.

My first classes helped me grasp the broader strokes, and in later classes I was able to build upon some of the lessons I'd learned previously. One class I recently signed up for really stood out for me, and so I wanted to share it with you. Its called Prose and Contests, taught by Amy Atwell.

I signed up for Prose and Contests because I plan to enter several contests this year and thought it would help me prepare for the entries and get an idea of what to expect. And because I thought the name was clever--I admit it. It gave me what I'd expected, and much more. In addition to discussing the best ways to choose, evaluate and format contest entries, Amy helped me to evaluate my own manuscript through the eyes of a judge, looking for multiple things that can weaken an entry, and on a larger scale, can ruin your manuscipt.

So, in what seems to be a pattern, I'm going back to my work in revision, to use all the fantastic things Amy taught me to make it stronger and better than it is right now. Sometimes it feels like a never ending process, but I'm glad to have new tools to make it better, even if it does mean more work.

My recommendation for the month is below. (I'm not affiliated with Amy or lowcountry RWA in any way--I just took the class and thought it was fabulous enough to warrant a reccomendation.)

March 2010 — Prose And Contests: Everything You Wanted To Know About Writing Contests But Were Afraid To Ask, Presented by Amy Atwell.  Dates: March 5-31, Deadline: March 2, Fee: $16.00
Read more about Amy at her website:

If you do sign up, I hope you get as much out of it as I have. And what about you guys? Anyone planning to enter contests this year? Anyone else taking craft classes? Anyone have a recommendation for a can't miss class? Do share--I'd love to hear from y'all.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Query Critique Contest Anyone?

Elana Johnson at is holding a query critique contest. If you enter and your name is drawn, will win a critique of your query from someone who reads multitudes of the things; someone who knows what does and doesn't work.
Yes, that's right--you could have your query critiqued by one of these top five literary agents!

1. Kate Testerman-Shafer of KT Literary (critique will be posted on her blog, Ask Daphne)

2. Michelle Andelman of Lynn C. Franklin Associates

3. Mary Kole of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

4. Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary Agency

5. Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation

If you're interested (and if you're anywhere near drafting a query you will be,) stop by her blog and sign up. I did.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Picasso Award, and Seven Random Things

The lovely Kelly at has given me my very first award--the Picasso Award. Now, as I understand it, the recipient of the award must tell seven random things about his or herself and pass the award on to seven deserving bloggers. Why seven, I wonder? But if the rules say seven, then seven is what you'll get.

So, for the Seven random facts:

1) I was born and raised in Swaziland, Africa. I was a bit of a tomboy, and spent a great deal of time climbing trees and exploring the wilds. Not swimming though--see #4.

2) My favorite pet was a vervet monkey named Joanie, who my father bought for me from some guys on the side of the road one afternoon. She was one of many unusual pets--a woodpecker, a legavan (monitor lizard?), horses (okay, not that unusual), a donkey (technically my sister's), multiple cats, dogs and (for a few hours,) a snake I caught. Apparently it was poisonous, and I had to let it go upon threat of death. Sigh.

3) I am the queen of list making. If it isn't written down, I'm not likely to remember it. I don't know why my memory is so full of holes, but it is, and so I work around it with the lists. I have a list for everything. I have a yearly list of things I want to accomplish, a monthly list, a weekly list and a daily list. I have lists for my lists. They keep me organized, they keep me productive, and there's such a sense of satisfaction in marking something off the list.

4) I can't really swim, (does doggy paddle count?) but I want to learn how. There's an explanation--the nearest body of water to swim in was also home to a very large python who used to take ducks from the surface of the water. Now, I am fond of snakes. They're beautiful, and smooth, and lovely to look at and sometimes even to hold. But I'm not ALWAYS stupid. Not enough to share space with the huge python who hunted in out lake. (Yes the one in the pic is the same type, and he's eating a duck. And yes, That is what it really looks like.) Now these suckers don't confine themselves to ducks. They eat bigger things too, like gazelle. There was no way I wanted to take a chance that it ate kid. Especially when there had been stories of pythons eating kids floating around among the Swazis for years. Besides, we had a few crocodiles in the place too. Between the python and the crocodiles, I decided that discretion really was the better part of valor. 
In the interest of full disclosure, I did once have the opportunity to swim in a real pool as a kid. I almost drowned. I mean, I (climbed on top of the person trying to save me and sunk us both) almost drowned. I never did get very far in swimming lessons after that. But this year will be the year. I just know it.

5) I'm the messiest person I know--if I'm not surrounded by stacks of paper at my desk or already worn clothes on my floor I feel like something is wrong. Luckily, my husband is as messy as I am, so it works for us. We skip spending money on cable and going out to eat and instead have someone in once a week to clean up after us. Hey--don't judge me--I know I need help. : ) I've decided to spare you the pics of the mess.

6) I work with my hubby. People always groan or seem sympathetic when I say that, but I actually love it. We have a law practice, and we get to talk about our cases, and cheer each other on, and commiserate when things don't go the way we thought they should. We get to bounce ideas off each other and have lunch together, and (shh--don't tell)sometimes we take a long lunch and go see a movie. Our movie lunch dates are about the only dates we get to have because we have a 4 year old, a 3 year old and a 1 1/2 year old. Let me tell you, no one offers to babysit that lot more than once.

7) I am a voracious reader. I read fiction mostly, and the kind of fiction depends on my mood and how desperate I am. We have four floor to ceiling bookcases in my garage, double-stacked with books I've read since we moved in a year and a half ago and may want to read again when there is nothing new to read. Some of the books are older than I am, some are new releases. If I enjoyed it, I'll stick it in the case to read it again, because I have a terrible memory and won't remember what happened the second time round anyway.

There you go! Seven random things you probably didn't really want to know about me in the first place. You're welcome!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Year In Fast Forward?

So here it it, the second week of February (already!!) and I am sitting at my desk (an old piano converted into a wonderful work space) feeling completely overwhelmed.

I'm not sure where January went, much less the first week of February. I have tons of things to do, and they seem to be stacking up faster than I can do them all.

I have six contest entries to judge.

A couple contests to enter (which includes preparing and proofing the entries.)

I have stacks of chapters to critique from my two critique groups, and chapters to edit before I can put them up for critique.

I signed up for three workshops this month, because they all three dealt with things I need to work on in my writing and couldn't choose just one. So now I have three sets of lessons to pore through twice a week, pulling the gems out and trying to commit them to memory. I have three sets of homework to do.

I also signed up for my GIAM loop's  Tour de Force, where we commit to writing 50,000 words in the month of February. I did this because my work in progress was progressing slower than a blind slug, and with about as much direction.

I have a multitude of legal work at the office that must be done, and three young kids when I get home, each trying to outdo the other at the game of Who Can Make The Biggest Mess by slinging frozen corn and dried cereal around the kitchen and living room. (No, I did not make that up. My kids played that game just yesterday, laughing like loons until they saw my face.)

As I sit here, going through these things, I see a pattern. I say to myself, "Self, you're an idiot. You do this to yourself. You signed up for all these things, and chose to do them all at once. 50,00 words in February? Really? And with everything else you've got going on? Idiot."

But here's the thing I've discovered, and it applies not just to writing but to life. If you don't strive, if you don't sign up, if you don't grab at knowledge with both hands and with no reservations, you get nowhere, you learn nothing and you achieve very little. If you wait until your schedule is clear, you'll be dead before it's done. Because life is busy. It serves to fill every waking moment you have, and if you don't chose to fill them with useful things, then life will fill them with things like watching when pets attack, or doing laundry or cleaning toilets. (All of a sudden the to do list seems far less terrible, doesn't it?)

I guess what I'm saying is that life is busy no matter what.  You may as well choose to fill it with the things you love, the things that interest you. And if you can't meet every goal, or put 100 percent effort into every thing, that's okay. You still will get a lot out of it, and with writing--well, the beautiful thing there is you get to edit until it's as close to perfect as you can make it. Unlike life itself, or my blog.

How do you guys deal with all the stuff you have to do? What do your to do lists look like? (And if any of you is a toddler whisperer, please get me your info--I have some advice I'd like to get from you.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Write or Die?

I've been a very bad writer. I haven't updated my blog in a few weeks. Bad, Bad writer. I have been committed to writing a hundred new words a day on my work in progress, but haven't done much more than the minimum one hundred. Bad, bad writer.

It often seems that my time drains away, but quietly, without the lovely (Alert! I'm draining!) gurgles my tub makes as the water pours down the pipes.

This isn't a problem personal to me alone. I hear similar refrains on the same theme all the time. So what does a busy writer do?

Enter: WRITE OR DIE!! Yes, it is as dramatic as it sounds. One of the folks on my loop mentioned it and I thought I'd check it out. Now, I'm not generally a middle of the road kind of gal. I like my baths parboil-hot, my iced coffees in icecream form. So I set the thing to Kamikaze-Evil.

Gentle readers, you may want to start out slow. Something I found out when write or die began erasing words I had already written, because it thought I was writing too slowly. When they say Evil, they don't mean the Diet Coke of Evil, let me tell you.

But the end result, is that yesterday, I shot from doing a little over a hundred words as has been my custom since the beginning of January, to 2037 words. That's yesterday. In two hours. After a full day of writing motions and orders to the court, and grinch-like nasty letters to other deserving folks.

Write or die may be evil, but I love them with all my little writer heart.
What about you guys? Have you ever tried it? What did you think? Did it work for you?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Golden Heart Judging!

Hooray--My Contest Entries Are Here!
For those who aren't aware, Romance Writers of America (RWA) puts on the biggest published (RITA) and unpublished (Golden Heart) competition in the romance writing world every year. The deadline to enter for the 2010 awards ceremony was November 16, 2009 with materials due on December 2. The finalists will be announced in March, and the winners at the RWA National Conference, which will be held in Nashville, Tennessee this year.
Members of RWA can sign up to judge the preliminary round of the competition, and for the first time ever and with some trepidation, I signed up this year to judge the Golden Heart entries.
I've been waiting anxiously for my packet to arrive. Waiting to see what category I'd been assigned to judge. (I had signed up for either paranormal or historical romance.)
And today, I got my packet! I feel like a kid opening a Christmas gift. How exciting--getting to read the work of other writers, who've submitted their very best efforts, hoping to get it in front of editors and agents, to get the wonderful publicity afforded by making the finals in the Golden Heart. Judging these entries is a large responsibility, and I feel honored to have the opportunity.
Have you ever judged a writing competition? How did you approach it? What were you looking for? How did the experience affect the way you approach your writing or the way you approach entering competitions?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Anyone up for Another BlogFest? I am!

Okay, so first there was the Kiss Blogfest. Then the No Kiss Blogfest.
I missed the first *sigh,* but made it for the second. I've gotta tell you--it was really fun! So fun, in fact, that my wonderful critique partners and me were mourning the loss of the great blogfest excitement.

When--wait for it--someone (who shall remain unnamed because I can't remember which of my amazingly insightful critique partners it was) had a wonderful thought. "What about a love at first sight blogfest?" she asked. Now, I don't like to brag (much, that is) but we know a fantastically amazing idea when we see one float scroll the screen. And so ((DRUMROLL....)) The Love At First Sight Blogfest was born.

Our Critique Group gets the credit for hosting, but Courtney has offered to to do all the actual work, (Thanks Courtney!) so if you're interested, visit her blog at and sign up to post your love at first sight scene. If you don't have a love at first sight scene, you can post the scene where your characters first realize they love each other. Ah, the love...

The blogfest will kick off on Valentine's day. Come on by and join the fun. You won't be sorry.