Dreams and Sacrifices

I just returned from the RWA national conference in San Antonio. As a Golden Heart finalist and signer of my very first publishing contract, I felt like Cinderella at the ball.

Literally like Cinderella! Check out the pumpkin carriage I rode home in from my very first publisher author dinner!

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RWA 2014 will always have a special place in my heart because I will never, ever, be in this sweet spot again. I have just signed with an agent and completed my first book deal, so I didn’t do any pitching. The  thing that stresses most PRO attendees during the conference. And because it’s going to be a while before my book comes out, I didn’t have to do any outright promotion. The thing that occupies many PAN attendees’ time at the event.

I spent my time enjoying the many amazing workshops, mingling with my favorite authors at the special reception for the Golden Heart and RITA finalists, and meeting my editor for the first time. Oh, and I may have spent some time meeting old friends and making new friends in the bar and at the many evening parties that happen during RWA.

Now, I’m back home and real life is making its usual demands of laundry, cooking, and cleaning. The day job wants me to come back to earth and actually be productive. These are all familiar elements, but now humdrum reality is slightly altered.

I’ve achieved my dream, but this dream comes with demands and sacrifices. In other words, I have serious deadlines.

The only way I can live the dream without screwing up is by sticking to a rigorous writing schedule. The only way I can meet that schedule is by saying no to friends and family. Most of them take this well. They know how much being a published writer means to me. They know how hard I’ve worked to get here.

Some of them want to be supportive, but feel rejected when I say I can’t participate in an event or spend time with them. I understand.

All writers understand rejection. It sucks.

We blogged on that theme all last month and every post included how much rejection hurts and how much it sucks. We also discussed how much it’s part of being a writer. I understand being rejected.

I definitely didn’t understand how stressful it is to be considered a rejector.

There’s been some harsh words. There’s been some crying. Hopefully I, and my family and friends, will figure out a way to navigate this new adventure in my writing career.

Until then, I take comfort in my favorite list 25 Badass Ways to Say No by Justine Musk and her excellent TED Talk on The Art of the Deep Yes.

How do you deal with sacrificing for your dream?

Middle Age Snuck Up on Me!

hands

Middle age snuck up on me. Surprise! It was like one day I was youthful, and the next I realized my boobs were supposed to sit two inches higher.

I wasn’t disappointed, just surprised.

I suppose, eventually, old age will spring upon my consciousness in much the same way.  Though the other day, in a calm state of semi- meditation, I flashed upon a mental image of myself as an elderly woman.  This is not something new.  Coming out of meditation, I’ve glimpsed my future self before.

This time I was much older.  I wasn’t alarmed though. My green eyes still sparked with curiousity. A touch of athleticism graced my frail arms and legs, like a faded memo of strength.  And my hair was long and tangly.  This bothered me. So many years gone by and I am still not at peace with my hair?

But my hands were still my hands.  I’m not sure they’ve ever felt youthful.  As a child growing up on the Canadian prairies, the winters were particularly brutal.  I had eczema so bad I’d soak in a doctor-prescribed tar solution daily.  At night I lathered my hands in Vaseline and wore thick cotton gloves to bed.  Still, my knuckles cracked and bled constantly. The shame and embarrassment of being the girl with the bloody hands was a lonely existence, broken only by spring (as in JULY because snow in June wasn’t unheard of), and finally, a move to a warmer climate.

My hands went through hell all those years, and ever since their weathered texture has been a badge of survival.  As I sit here writing this I realize I truly love my hands.

 

I would walk 500 miles; Lenora flew 7,000 miles for the Golden Heart

The RWA Golden Heart contest is the award that all new authors covet and daydream about winning when they should actually be writing. Some of us might have even bought a dress that they would wear for the day they win the award (It’s a gold floor length gown and it will go fabulous with my Golden Heart). Our own Mary Oldham was nominated in 2012 and Asa Maria Bradley was a finalist this year for her novel, Valhalla’s King. But my friend, Lenora Bell, traveled all the way from Bolivia to accept her 2014 Golden Heart award. To join in her celebration, let me share her story.

Lenora Bell writes fun, sensual Regency-set romance novels that feature strong, sexy heroes who can only be reformed by the most extraordinary heroines.LenoraBellAuthorPhoto Past careers include sultry lounge singer, vintage store owner, and, far less romantically, salmon cannery grunt. Lenora has lived and worked on five continents and currently shares a home in Bolivia with her carpenter husband, cranky twenty-one-year-old cat, and precarious piles of books.

What story did you submit to the Golden Heart?

My Regency-set historical romance manuscript CHARLENE AND THE DUCHESS FACTORY. It’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Bachelor. It’s part of a three book series and the next two books are inspired by Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.

When did you complete this story and has it been submitted/won any other contests?

I thought of the title for CHARLENE AND THE DUCHESS FACTORY before I started writing. It just popped into my head one day in a used bookstore that had no romance section (I know, WTF!). I was thumbing through Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I thought, hmm…this is kind of like a romance novel plot–a rich, successful, powerful guy who needs an heir to his empire.

I started the book then set it aside to write a different project. I came back to it a few months before the Golden Heart entries were due, polished the first fifty pages, and whipped the rest into a semblance of order. I’ve never entered it in any other contests, and this was the first time I entered the Golden Heart.

What were you doing when you found out that you were a finalist?

I don’t think anyone ever forgets exactly what they were doing when they received the Golden Heart call. I live overseas in Bolivia, so I knew the stateside phone number I submitted wouldn’t work. I kept obsessively refreshing my email to see if there was anything from RWA. I was also lurking on the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood site because they were blogging about the Golden Heart finalists all day. I heart the Rubies!

When I received the email from RWA asking for an alternate phone number because they couldn’t get in touch with me, my pulse started racing. I’m pretty sure at some point my boss asked me to track down a document and all I did was grunt. Nothing, and no one, was going to separate me from my landline phone. Because it was going to ring. Any moment.

It rang. The RWA angels sang. And life hasn’t been the same since.

How far did you travel from to attend the ceremony? Why was it important to you to attend in person?

I actually traveled all the way from Bolivia to attend the RWA Conference. But I was lucky because one of my best friends planned her wedding in Alaska the week before the conference. So I could justify the writing conference because of the wedding. Romance all around!

I really wanted to be there in person because I had a Golden Heart nominated manuscript to pitch, and I wanted to catch up with all of my amazing writer friends. I met Tessa Dare and Courtney Milan back in 2006 during the Avon Fan Lit contest, and we became friends and critique partners. They are my inspiration!

How are the Golden Heart finalists treated at the RWA Conference?

Being a Golden Heart finalist has lots of perks, including a pretty golden heart pin and silk ribbon to place on your conference badge, the chance to attend The Golden Network’s retreat the day before the conference starts (totally worth it!), and VIP seating for the awards ceremony. You also have the exciting opportunity to mingle with all the fantastic RITA finalists. There’s one more huge perk and that’s the built in community you find with the other finalists. This year’s group, The Dream Weavers, is full of such talent and passion.

Tell us about the Awards Ceremony?

Lenora with Tessa Dare and Courtney Milan at the 2014 Golden Heart Awards

Lenora with Tessa Dare and Courtney Milan at the 2014 Golden Heart Awards

The Awards Ceremony is very glamorous. I really felt like I should have found a dress with more sequins because everyone was so sparkly. YA author Simone Elkeles was the emcee and she did a fabulous job making us all laugh, cry, and sing along to Journey.

They announce the winners of the Golden Heart first, and then the RITAs. When my photo showed up on screen, I sat there, stunned, for fully five seconds. I never lost that dazed, is-this-really-happening-to-me expression the entire night. I just couldn’t believe it.

In my acceptance speech I gave Eloisa James a shout-out for being my gateway drug into mainstream romance. After my speech, she came up and had her photo taken with me and said it was a thrill for her. For her? Oh my sweet lord. That entire evening was the craziest, most exciting joy ride of my life.

What is it about the Golden Heart that is so special?

RWA’s Golden Heart contest is an unparalleled opportunity for unpublished romance writers. There are no guarantees of success in this business, but having that Golden Heart final at the beginning of your pitch ensures that your submission will at least float to the top of the slush heap. And winning the contest is a big part of the reason I found my amazing agent, Alexandra Machinist with ICM Partners.

Wait, what? I have an agent? I still can’t believe that this is my life right now. Thank you, RWA!

What are your plans for the future?

Finish revisions on CHARLENE AND THE DUCHESS FACTORY, send to my agent, and cross my fingers, eyes, toes that an editor falls in love with Liam and Charlene’s story!

 

 

Thank you for allowing me to share Lenora’s story with you. Do you feel like you know her well enough to play Two truths and a lie? Take a guess and the answer will be revealed tomorrow.

  1. Lenora got married in Bangkok.
  2. Lenora has never read Fifty Shades of Gray.
  3. Ethan Hawke came backstage to say hi to Lenora after she was the lead in her high school musical.

 

 

The RWA Conference Hangover, Version 2014

After attending this event in San Francisco, Washington DC, Orlando, New York, Anaheim and Atlanta, you’d think I’d know how to pack, how not to stress and how to enjoy my seventh conference in San Antonio.  Yeah, no.

Each year, I go with a goal in mind.  This year it was all about meeting editors and agents, and socializing with friends.  Due to a couple of events beyond my control, I ended up with no agent and editor appointments, which caused me a great deal of stress.  It was the first year I’d attended conference without a couple of important meetings lined up.  I tried not to stress it.  I decided that the people I needed to see, I would and how that happened would be about luck and karma.

The week leading up to the conference was a mess.  A difficult, semi-abusive client in my day job who had been dormant for seven months suddenly appeared and demanded a very complicated digital behavioral campaign for California.  I had to clean out my desk because my office was moving to a new location while I was at conference.  Plus, my assistant was scheduled to be out for the same week, so my manager would be filling in on my sales territory.

I was so crunched for time that I didn’t fill out my traditional Excel spreadsheet of events, which had a column for the outfit and accessories I planned to wear.

I packed on the fly almost forgetting a pair of strappy sandals I’d purchased for the trip.  The night before I flew to San Antonio, I slipped and fell out of the bathtub at the airport hotel where I was staying, bruising six of my vertebrae. I almost missed my connection in Phoenix, and when I got to my hotel, they told me the room wasn’t ready.  A $20 bribe at the front desk, an ice bag for the back, and two margaritas later, it was on!

Like a wharf hooker during fleet week, I owned it!  Out of my comfort zone, I approached industry professionals; I was fourth in line at the agent/editor appointment event, snaring two appointments.  Three editor and two agent requests later, I had the best conference I’ve had in years.

I reconnected with old friends, spoke to at least thirty different people each day, battled the Texas heat, and never made it to bed before midnight, and never slept past six-thirty in the morning.

And now, it is time to go back to the reality of my real world…

The new office at the day job where I have a virtual desk…

The nasty, completely abusive client who only has become more difficult in the last week…

The general malaise that I won’t see my friends in person for another year…

The genuine hopes and dreams that come with the requested submissions I’ve placed in email inboxes…

The detritus that litters my bedroom floor…autographed books, Alamo magnets, scantily clad men on bookmarks…

The laundry that must be sorted into dry cleaning piles…

The need to sleep or curl up with a good book from the conference…

The knowledge that I really hurt my back and now that I’m no longer distracted, it would like to let me know just how much…

Ahhh….conference!

Free For All August by Gina Fluharty

It’s August. It’s hot, the sun is shining and my garden has more tomatoes and cucumbers than I know what to do with. My third book is finished and marinating in a dark corner and I am determined not to think about it. What better way to accomplish this feat than to reminisce about my time in New Orleans at RT back in May?

Let me first say: I had a blast. Not only personally but professionally, as well. I’d never been to NOLA before and like every new place I travel to, I went with only the expectation of having a great time. NOLA—the citizens, the city, the food, the weather, absolutely everything—did not disappoint. First off, let me tell you that every person I met outside of the conference was an absolute treat. I have never met a nicer bunch of strangers in my entire life. Didn’t matter where I met them—street corner, bar, trolley stop, CVS liquor aisle, sidewalk, dark alley—everyone was NICE and super helpful. It was as if a smile and the statement, “I’m not from here, could you tell me ___,” was a gateway for them to make my experience in their city as exciting and worthwhile as it could be. I live in a pretty welcoming city but even we aren’t this nice. Way to go citizens of New Orleans! You’re now my benchmark for what makes a city a great place to visit.

As for the conference—whoa. I found out that the editor I love and really want to work with wants to work with me just as much. I just have to get my storytelling skillset up to the level that an editor wants to take it on. I also pitched to an agent (something I haven’t done before and wanted to try). I pitched her my paranormal and this is how our conversation progressed.

Agent: “You don’t need me to sell that. What else have you got?”
Me: “I do have another project in mind. It’s a dystopian fantasy that’s basically a mix of the Bene Gesserit from Dune meets Gladiator. I’m calling it ‘The Breeding Games.’” (I fleshed it out for her but I won’t share what those details here.)
Agent: “Do you have anything written?”
Me: “No. I need to finish my paranormal trilogy before I wrap myself up in this. I haven’t even started the research for it yet.”
Agent: “Not even thirty pages? I’d really like to read this.”
At this point I just stared at her. My mind was in total vapor lock. What do I say? What do I do? Do I lie to her and tell her I’ll get right on it? Do I actually drop the WIP I’m working on for the editor of my dreams? ARGH!
Agent: “You know what? Doesn’t matter. When you get thirty pages written, or even the finished book, send it to me. I really want to read this.” (Turns outs silence is fricking golden.)
She slid me her card, I shook her hand, thanked her for her time and left.

I swear I floated out of that room.

I learned a lot at this RT. While I didn’t attend all of the events like I did at my last RT (Kansas City), I toured the hell out of the streets of NOLA on foot. I ate at several delicious places, never eating at the same place twice. I bought some great art. I fell in love with a city that sparkles even after enduring horrific tragedy. I learned I can do a successful pitch with ZERO preparation. I talked and caroused with some lovely people I don’t get to spend enough time with—you know who you are. I got to hug and reacquaint myself with people I met last year at RT and those that I discovered on Twitter. Let me tell you, meeting the people you interact with on social media is AWESOME—you all know who YOU are! I discovered an author on a panel and fell in love with not only everything he had to say but how he interacted with his fans. I bought his first four books at the book fair and binge-read the first three. I only stopped reading him because he writes in first person and I write in third and I have to finish my damn book!

In a nutshell, I came back exhausted and exhilarated, my mind whirling with delicious possibilities.

So tell me: What experience have you had this year that affected you so?

I Love Music by C. Morgan Kennedy

Remember mix tapes?

Remember mix tapes?

For the month of August, the topics of our posts are completely open and ‘up-for-grabs’ (no perverse undertones intended, but encouraged – LOL)!

Check out our posts all month to see what’s been swirling around our maniacally creative minds.

I Love Music by C. Morgan Kennedy

Yup – I was that music geek who used to sit around with her friends and dissect hip-hop and pop music to identify all the samples mixed into the song. I’d listen for hours with songs on repeat mode totally stuck in the rhythm section of baseline of my song du jour.

I’ve always had an ear for music. Unfortunately, instruments never came easy to me. I played the flute from second to eleventh grade. I was even in my high school marching band long enough to letter. As for singing, I was forced into being a member of my elementary school choir. To this day I can carry a decent tune, if you give me two buckets and a shovel. Ha!

There is something about a great song that can transport you to a different place or time. Music was my escape from the world….music and books. :D

Because of my love of music, my personal blog (Morgan’s Mix Tape) is comprised of my thoughts and experiences combined with a theme song and / or music video link for each post. As you can tell by the link, I am not legalistic when it comes to consistently scheduled blog posts. I treat it like an online journal, so I add a new post only when I feel inspired. And, guess what….it is usually a song that provides the inspiration.

For now, my following is small but global. I’ve managed to connect with music lovers all over the world. Of course, I will be posting about my books when they are published. Who knows…some of my music fans may also become my readers.

In honor of today’s post, here’s a link to a Soul Train Dance Line for one of my favorite songs:       I Love Music by Cleveland’s own O’Jays! Enjoy! (Can you find Jody Wately among the dancers? Oh – and if you try some of these moves at home, be sure to keep your cellphone handy in the event of an emergency – ha!)

Let the music be your guide!

My 5 Stages of Rejection: Or Why the hell did I think I could ever write? by Nikka Michaels

Dearest and Most Constant Readers– Please welcome July’s guest, NIKKA MICHAELS!!! *Muppet flail*

1) Denial:

How can they not love The Book I slaved over for years, lovingly crafting,
revising, and editing? It’s my book baby. How could anyone not like it?

2) Anger Management:

This is total bs. I’ve read worse piles of donkey dung masquerading as books that hit the bestseller list.

3) Bargaining:

“If I’d just edited one more time the agent would have loved my book.”
“If I’d gone to one more conference, passed out one more business cards, entered more contests….”
“If I had a magical pet unicorn who blessed my MS I’d give up chocolate.”
Okay, that last one not so much.

4) Depression:

I’m putting on my eating pants and eating a giant jar of Nutella. You can pry this spoon out of my cold dead hand.
Rejections sucks. I want to cry and wear my snuggie of shame forever.
I’m a failure. Look, I can’t even write this blog post. I flounce myself.
::sighs and tosses MS into a proverbial drawer to be ignored for a week::

5) Acceptance:

Okay. They didn’t like my book.

The important thing to take from rejections? It’s not personal. Just because it wasn’t a fit for this particular publisher or anthology call or agent, doesn’t mean it won’t be accepted anywhere else. After the Nutella and self-loathing haze wear off I know I need to get busy.

After putting my MS aside for a week or so, I pull it out of a drawer and re-read. With time comes distance and objectivity. Every single time I find things I could have done better the first time. Then I take the feedback I was given and use it to nip and tuck my MS and query. I work on it until it shines, and write faster, tighter, harder…um. Yeah. Sorry, you can take the girl out of erotica.

I rewrite, edit, revise.

Then I hit submit then begin working on another project.

I’m a writer. I write.

It sucks to be rejected, but at the end of the day you write. You write and hope you find a good home for your project. Just keep writing.

Rejection rocks!

I love rejection! Nothing motivates me to suck it up and try harder like a vigorous NO.

I am sooooo lying right now. Really, I loathe rejection. The mildest expression of negativity sends me into a dark-chocolate funk. What can I say, I’m delicate. When I saw “rejection rocks”, it rocks like a sharp chunk of concrete upside the head :(

But as much as I hate rejection, most of my rejections were richly deserved. I still have my very first rejection. Or, I should say, my first rejection that was more than echoing silence. It was a rejection on my very first manuscript from a top-tier agent. (Name redacted to protect the innocent.) It was written on the back of my SASE. For you younguns who don’t remember the United States Postal Service, SASE means “self addressed stamped envelope” which was how most rejections were served back to you — cold, late, and with a side of sticky horse hoof.

Here it is in all its creased and scotch-taped glory:

rejection

If you can’t quite decipher the handwriting, it does NOT say: OMG We LUUUURVE your work! Send us your grocery list too!

But I’m lucky the agent didn’t simply laugh herself to death. That first manuscript was 120k (and it was a romance, not epic fantasy) written across three different time period (and it was not a time travel) in everybody’s point of view, including the dormouse (and I am not Lewis Carroll). That manuscript hasn’t seen the light of day since then. Nor should it. Despite my stomping and cursing when that rejection arrived in my mailbox, today I’m relieved that story isn’t out there with my name on it. In this case, the gatekeeper was absolutely right to throw up a “You Shall Not Pass” warning.

It didn’t feel good, but that rejection and the hundred-plus since forced me to reconsider, refine, revise, and renew my resolve repeatedly.

Turns out, that was good practice for the rest of my writing. I’m a better writer and a stronger person because of those rejections. Even this flimsy one-liner on the back of an envelope.

But I still console myself with chocolate ;)

Do you have a preferred rejection consolation? Besides chocolate? I think it’s always good to have options, especially in the face of rejection.

 

Controlling the Knee-Jerk Response

Some years ago, my Curmudgeonly Husband got hit up by a very earnest telemarketer. Now, in my opinion, CH has a skewed reaction to telemarketers. While my inclination is to say “Please take me off your call list” and hang up, CH is just as likely to engage them in some kind of bizarre role-playing conversation. In this instance, however, the caller was representing a construction supply company that carried products CH was actually interested in.

CH asked the caller about a specific product he’d been unable to locate. The telemarketer, obviously new to his job, had to struggle to find out if he had the right thing in the catalog. The product he found didn’t fit CH’s needs, so CH said, “No. I’m sorry, that’s not going to work.”

The telemarketer’s response? “Yeah? Well f**k you!”

(Clearly this guy needed a few hints about how to handle rejection, a little remedial customer service training, and perhaps some serious anger management therapy.)

It’s very difficult to separate your work – whether it’s promoting a creative product like a book or selling a line of construction supplies – from yourself. When someone doesn’t like your book, they’re not saying they don’t like you, despite how connected you might feel to what you’ve written. If everyone liked the same kind of book or movie or TV show, we’d only have one kind of book and movie and TV show. (Well, some critics, bemoaning the lack of originality in movies, may say that we do, but that’s another argument.)

no_broccoliFor instance, once I became a voracious reader of romance, I became addicted to the hero’s point-of-view. Consequently, I no longer read books in first person POV. Not because those books are bad, or because thousands of other people don’t like them, but because my reading time is limited, and I prefer to read those stories that have the qualities that I prefer. Likewise, I find present tense extremely off-putting, so I won’t read books written in present tense. (Yeah, that makes me one of the only people in the world who hasn’t read The Hunger Games, but I just can’t get past the first page.)

We need to face the fact that tastes differ. Not everyone likes broccoli. Not everyone likes Tom Cruise movies (um…that would be me). Not everyone will like what you write.

You can’t control what other people think of your work because people’s opinions are subjective – that’s why they’re called opinions and not facts. But you can control your own work. Hone your craft. Write the best book you can.

Some people may not like it, and that’s okay — even expected — so try not to take it personally.

And whatever you do, no matter how you might be tempted, restrain yourself from saying “F**k you.”

The Fray vs. The Fringe

Every summer my favorite weekend activity is sale-ing. As in yard sale-ing, garage sale-ing, rummage sale-ing. I love the thrill of the hunt, the promise of treasure, and the who-knows-what-I’ll-find-next excitement. Sometimes it’s not even about the shopping, but more importantly, just being part of the fun.

But the thing is, as much I like love a neighborhood garage sale, with hundreds of shoppers packed into a blocks-long parade of bargains, I rarely enter the fray. Instead, I stick to the fringe. I’m talking out-of-the-way cul-de-sacs, hidden driveways, and non-pedestrian-friendly terrain.

Seriously. This is how I’ve discovered some of my best scores. You’d be blown away by some of the stuff people grow tired of and sell at their sales. But I’ve also struck out with my “fringe” strategy and I’ve sometimes gone home empty handed.

What does this have to do with publishing? Everything.

One year ago, I was thrilled to be part of independent publishing. THE FRAY. The whole we’re-all-in-this-together vibe felt right. Yet twelve months later, I’m reconsidering my position… from the outer edge. THE FRINGE.

And here’s what I’ve discovered about myself: I still love writing, but I’m so out of love with publishing.

Some of this burnout has to do with time and money. Now that I’m working I have more money that I could spend on promotion. If I had the time. Which I don’t. Because I’d rather spend that time writing.

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo

I’m intentionally not hustling books in the fray. I’m on the fringe, where it’s damn near impossible to get “discovered” by readers, let alone sell any books. Yet it’s something I’ve had to come to terms with. Because telling stories makes me happy.

Which begs the question, am I still an indie author if I exist on the fringe?

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