Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Shake It Off And Step Up.

Handling rejection

Several years back, I was having some problems at work. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, my efforts weren’t deemed good enough. Needing someone to talk to, I confided in my friend, Liz. Being from The South, she didn’t just offer a sympathetic ear. Her heritage compelled her to give homespun advice.

“Shake it off and step up,” she told me.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, completely confused.

With a sigh that bespoke long-suffering patience for us ignorant Left-Coasters, she told me the following story:

One day a mule fell in a dry well. He brayed and brayed for help, until finally, his owner, the farmer, came along. The mule could see him far above, scratching his head.

After looking down at the mule for a moment, the farmer disappeared. He returned a while later and threw a shovelful of dirt down onto the mule.

As the clods rained down upon him, the mule hung his head in despair. The farmer must have thought the situation was hopeless, for he was just going to bury him alive. After a few more piles of dirt hit him on the back, the mule lifted his face up to the farmer and brayed pitifully.

“Shake it off and step up,” the farmer called down to him.

The mule looked askance at his owner, but something told him to trust the farmer. So every time the dirt landed on him, he gave a brisk shake, then lifted each hoof until he had stepped up onto the growing pile of dirt. It wasn’t long before the mule noticed he wasn’t as deep as he’d been before. Eventually, with a lot of shaking off and stepping up, the mule was able to get out of that well all by himself.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Over the years I’ve remembered that story and as a writer, remains one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever been given.

Most of us tend to take the rejection of our work by agents and editors very personally. We even go so far as to refer to our books as “our babies”. We forget that the one rejecting our work is doing just that rejecting our work—not us personally.

Now, as rejections go, I’ve truly been blessed. I’ve never received a form rejection. That’s about as rare as being able to say “I’ve never had a speeding ticket”. The agent or editor has always written to me personally. Several times, they’ve even taken the time to write detailed letters explaining exactly what worked for them, what didn’t and why. But it’s still a rejection, and there’s still that moment of hurt when I read or hear the bad news. Then I remember my friend, Liz, telling me that story about the mule, so I shake it off and step up. I keep on writing and before I know it, I’m stepping up out of that well all by myself.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Winner of Stephanie Bond's 4 Bodies and a Funeral Giveaway!

Barbara P/Needsleep259 is our winner for Stephanie's latest in the Body Movers Series.

Barbara, please send your snail mail address to dlkaufman@bellsouth.net

Thanks to Stephanie for the fantastic post and giveaway! And, thanks to all who participated.

Petit Fours and Hot Tamales Welcomes the Superwoman of Writing, the Incredible Stephanie Bond!!!

It's always a pleasure to welcome a fellow Georgia Romance Writers' member to the blog. Stephanie is a long-time contributing member extraordinaire. If you've never had the pleasure of sitting in on one of her workshops, you've really missed out! To keep up Stephanie and her wonderful books, check out her website. Now for a little background on our guest.

Stephanie Bond was seven years deep into a systems engineering career and pursuing an MBA at night when an instructor remarked that she had a flair for writing and suggested that she submit to academic journals. But Stephanie, a voracious reader, was only interested in writing fiction. Upon completing her master's degree and with no formal training in writing, she started writing a romance novel in her spare time. Two years later in 1995 she sold her first manuscript, a romantic comedy, to Harlequin Books. In 1997, with ten sales under her belt to two publishers, Stephanie left her corporate job to write women's romantic fiction full-time. With over 40 novels to her name, Stephanie now writes a sexy mystery series for Mira Books and romantic comedies for Harlequin Books.

Stephanie, you do strike me as Superwoman, simply because your publishing schedule this year is just amazing. Having sat in on a couple of your workshops, I know that what created that back-to-back appearance of so many works to be released this year was really experience, planning, and fervent diligence - not super powers. But, if you could have a super power, what would it be and why? And, what is your personal kryptonite?

Stephanie: LOL, I think the Superwomen out there are the ones who write with kids at home! If I do have a super power, I guess it would be multi-tasking. (Which most women excel at, out of necessity!) I’m a big believer in the “chipper” philosophy, that is, chipping away at all the things that need to be done little by little until they’re finished. Being a full-time writer is like running your own business. You’re the Director of the Production Department, which is responsible for writing and post-writing activities, such as reviewing line- and copy-edits and page proofs. You’re also the Director of Marketing & Publicity, which is increasingly time-consuming as new social media platforms emerge. And don’t forget about being Director of Research & Development, which is responsible for coming up with fresh, new product lines! To run your business, you have to devote a certain amount of time to each area. I don’t work in every department every day, but over a seven-day stretch, I try to visit every department at least once. So as the weeks go by, every aspect of my business gets a little bit of my time—which is better than manically jumping from one to another as crises emerge.

My own personal kryptonite? The phone! There aren’t words to describe how much I hate to hear the phone ring. When I hear that awful trilling noise, it’s like a drill into my brain, disrupting my thoughts, screaming, “Pick me up! Pick me UP! PICK ME UP!” It just feels like such an intrusion to me. Maybe some of the reason I hate the telephone is because my home phone number is similar to a local credit union, so I get about 2 dozen wrong numbers in an average day. And my business phone number is one digit off a local CVS Pharmacy, which is good for another half-dozen wrong numbers a day. I’d change the numbers, but in Atlanta, chances are good my number will be close to SOMETHING that’s just as busy. Some days I just turn off the ringer. I own a cell phone only because it’s practical…but the phone number is written on a piece of tape on the back because I use it so infrequently. The phone will consume your time if you aren’t careful—your day will simply evaporate. When I was a teenager, I thought my grandfather was crazy for not having a phone. Now I think he might have been the wisest man who ever lived!

Can you tell us about your releases this year? I, for one, am anxiously awaiting your next three Body Movers books, back-to-back in April, May, and June. But I see you also have 2 Blaze novels, stories in three anthologies, and an e-novella coming up!

Stephanie: Bear with me—last year was a crazy-hard writing year, but that means I put a lot of books in the pipeline for 2009:

Books 4, 5, and 6 in my Body Movers humorous mystery series, 4 Bodies and a Funeral, 5 Bodies to Die For, and 6 Killer Bodies, will be released from Mira Books back to back in April, May, and June. The in-series trilogy will feature a serial killer called The Charmed Killer for his signature of placing a charm in the mouth of each of his victims. (I love the charm bracelet covers for these books!)

April will also see the release of More Than Words, Vol 5., which is a special collection from Harlequin featuring 5 novellas inspired by the works of 5 wonderful charities. My novella, “It’s Not About the Dress,” features a bride who goes undercover as a volunteer at a clothing bank to try to recover her perfect wedding gown that was inadvertently given away, and learns something about herself in the process. All proceeds from the book will go back into the More Than Words program, which provides grants to worthwhile charities. This gift-size G-rated hardcover is perfect for Mother’s Day!

I contributed to 2 anthologies that will be released in July: In Sand, Sun…Seduction!, a woman’s attempt to meet her boyfriend on a remote desert island where he’s supposed to propose is thwarted at every turn by a sexy guide who seems to have his own agenda in the novella “Enticed.” (Harlequin) And in the mystery and suspense hardcover from Harper, Two of Deadliest, I join 25 other authors in a collection edited by the wonderful Elizabeth George. In my short story “Bump in the Night,” a woman is suspected of murdering her ex-boyfriend when he’s found dead on her couch!

Rounding out the year, I’ll have three connected projects in October, November, and December: In the October Blaze, Seduction by the Book, a group of women form an erotic book club, then use the lessons in the pages to seduce the man of their dreams! The organizer of the book club has her own story in the e-novella “Too Hot to Print” in November, and the one remaining (and most reluctant) member of the group visits Christmas past, present, and future in A Long Winter’s Night, a December Blaze. (I really love doing connected projects!)

You know that I’m obligated to ask you about Body Movers Carlotta and her love life. All of our readers would spam me if I didn’t. So, three hot men in her life with no clear frontrunner. Are we going to see her make a choice in one of your upcoming releases? Oh, and if you want to tell us who, we promise just to keep it here among ourselves…

Stephanie: Poor Carlotta…three gorgeous men at her beck and call…if only we were all so lucky! I hope that readers will be patient with Carlotta as she “tries on” the men in her life. She missed out on so much in her twenties while she raised her younger brother, she just doesn’t know how to handle all the sudden attention from Jack, the sexy cop, Coop, the hunky body mover, and Peter, her first love. Each guy offers something different—she just doesn’t know what she wants. Plus, after all she’s been through, she deserves to have a little fun and be the center of attention! As far as which guy she’s ultimately going to pick, Carlotta hasn’t told me yet!

With the kind of adventures that Carlotta usually experiences, like that last hanging off the Fox Theatre balcony at an Elton John concert, what can she possibly get into that will top that?

Stephanie: I can let you know that in one book she has her cake and eats it, too (literally)…and there’s a mysterious stray cat who wreaks havoc with her life…and in one book Carlotta gets a little over zealous with a stun baton! Wesley, too, will have his share of ups and downs in the spring trilogy.

Are we going to get any more Body Movers after 6 Killer Bodies in June? It strikes me, mathematically speaking of course, that there are a lot more numbers out there available for those of us who love to read this series.

Stephanie: That remains to be seen—I’m hoping that there will be at least 2 more books in the series, but ultimately, that’s up to readers! If they keep buying, I’ll keep writing!

Stephanie, what sparked the idea for your Body Movers series and what did your editor/agent say about it at first?
Stephanie: I’d had the idea of a body-moving duo for a while—years, in fact. I could picture the woman being very girly because I liked the juxtaposition, but I couldn’t come up with good motivation for a girly-girl to do something so…icky. There are easier ways to make money, after all. And I didn’t like the idea of her moving bodies to help out a boyfriend—there should be limits to what a woman will do for love! Then I wrote a book called Party Crashers for Avon, and I created a secondary character named Carlotta Wren who worked at Neiman Marcus. When it was revealed in that story that she had actually raised her younger brother and that he was in trouble with loan sharks, a light bulb went on in my head: A woman would do almost anything for a beloved brother, especially if she thought it would help him get on a straight and narrow path. I had my Body Movers! I pitched the series idea to my editor at Avon, but she wanted me to keep writing humorous romantic suspense novels with a resolved romance in each book, versus having the romance arc over several books. So I arranged a meeting with the senior editor of Mira and pitched her the idea over coffee at a conference. She liked it, and later said she bought it because of the sister-brother relationship.

Several of my blog sisters, and others I’m sure, would like to know how to convince others that writing is actually work. They say it is especially hard when they are unpublished and without an income to show for their efforts. How did/do you handle that subject?

Stephanie: First, know that others will take their cues from you. You have to protect your work-time and treat writing as a business. Do you have a place set aside just for your writing? A computer that you share with no one? Do you make time to attend writers meetings with no apologies to your family? Are you keeping good financial records and working with an accountant to write off expenses even before you begin earning money? And think about the way you communicate with others. Instead of saying, “I’ll be working at home today,” you might say, “I’ll be in my home office today.” Change your voice message to say that you’ll return calls after office hours. If your kids and spouse constantly interrupt you, post “quiet” hours on your office door and keep it closed. You can try to train your friends and family not to intrude on your work time, but the truth is your writing isn’t as important to them as it is to you—they’d rather you be doing things for them! So it’s up to you to learn to say, “Go play quietly by yourself for one hour.” or “Hon, can you pick up dinner on the way home?” or “No, I can’t volunteer this time.” It’s up to you to make sure other people don’t spend your time.

Looking back, are there any things you would have done differently at the beginning of your career if you’d had the benefit of hindsight?

Stephanie: Hm…I don’t think so. I believe that every step leads you to where you are, and any missteps I’ve made have been great learning experiences. All we can do is make the best decisions we can with the best information we have at that time and place. And learn how to rebound, reinvent, and regroup. Remember—people who seem to move through life with confidence aren’t confident about the outcome of a decision; they’re confident that they can deal with the outcome, good or bad.

By the time this interview comes out, you will have run a half-marathon. Tell us about your running. And how have you found the time to train while writing?

Stephanie: This will be the third year that I’ve run the ING half-marathon in Atlanta. First, let me say I’m not a natural athlete or a great runner. I’m short and I’m slow. But I’d always wanted to do something to challenge myself physically, and frankly—there’s no skill to running. It’s all about endurance, just putting one foot in front of the other. I can do that. And my readers are great to pledge $13.10 ($1 for every mile I’ll run) to First Book. In return I send them a “Bond Girl” T-shirt or an autographed book. So I raise a little money in the process, and having their names on my jersey gives me extra incentive to finish. The first year, I was running on a sore calf muscle that I’d pulled 2 weeks prior. About 2 miles in, I pulled it again…but I looked over and saw a woman running on a prosthetic leg and I thought, if she can do it, so can I! It was a slow, painful run, but I finished. Last year, I was in much better shape and had trained well, so it was a faster, healthy run. This year….well, I haven’t trained as much as I should have, so I don’t expect to make good time, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is finishing and keeping THIS body moving for a good cause. Writing is so sedentary and so stressful, I’ve found it’s really important to incorporate exercise into my life as often as I can. To that end, I intend to run the ING every year!

Thanks so much for having me at Petit Fours and Hot Tamales!

Thank you Stephanie! Readers, if you have questions for Stephanie or comments, she will be checking in throughout the day to respond to you.

And now for the bonus: Stephanie is giving away one copy of her newest release, 4 Bodies and a Funeral to one lucky reader who leaves her a comment or a question. So get busy, people! If you have any problems logging in to Blogger, please click on the Anonymous option and leave your name inside the comment. Comments will be taken until midnight EST. Check back with us Saturday morning for our winner's name.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Writing Challenge - Mission #2: Writing the Dreaded Synopsis

Soldier Pictures, Images and Photos

Mission #2: Writing your synopsis

During week one, we started out by getting to know our characters. If you took this challenge serious, you should have at least two new friends (maybe more depending upon your story).

With week two, we are going to attack that dreaded synopsis. Because this is my writing nemesis, I’m adding a few links that I’ve found useful (see links at end of post). Just because the synopsis is listed as week two, doesn’t mean that everyone agrees with writing a synopsis before writing the book. If you are one of those people, feel free to re-arrange the schedule to fit your writing style. For me, I’ve found that if I don’t create some type of outline, I end up going in far too many different directions. I use my synopsis as a rough outline and then find myself tweaking the synopsis when I’m finished.

Of course, a synopsis is one of the requirements for GRW’s Maggies, so for this Mission we will get that nasty little deed out of the way right from the start.

Check out the links, put on your thinking caps and get started. Time is ticking away and we have a mission to complete.












Don’t forget to post a comment to let us know how your first Mission went. Did you get those Character Profiles finished? Or are you madly playing catch-up?

Saturday, March 28, 2009


My friendly randomizer website got a workout this morning! That's randomizer.org if you ever need him. This is what Mr. Randomizer tells me this morning:

Tamara is our winner of the Prey Trilogy!!!

Vicky B. is our winner of the No Evil Trilogy!!!

Mary Barfield is our winner of the Prison Break Trilogy!!!

Caroline Ziebarth is our winner for the first book in the new FBI Trilogy, Sudden Death!!!

Ladies, send your snail mail addresses to me @ dlkaufman@bellsouth.net

Please put blog winner in the title.

Thanks to everyone who participated. And a special thank you to Allison Brennan for her not only her generous giveaway, but her informative post and replies to our comments. It's really special that Allison joined us at all after we've read all about what her schedule is like!

What, didn't win??? Check back on Monday for the latest Stephanie Bond book in a giveaway, 4 Bodies and a Funeral.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Allison Brennan, the Queen of Thriller Trilogies, is in the House!!!

Allison obtained her first library card at the age of four when she could print her full name, and thus began her love affair with books. It’s no surprise that her first job was as a clerk in a bookstore in her hometown of San Carlos.

In March of 2002, near the end of her thirteen year career in the California State Legislature, Allison seriously started writing—after hundreds of beginnings and no endings. She wrote five manuscripts before she found an agent who sold her book to Ballantine. Her debut novel, THE PREY, sneaked onto the New York Times extended list at #33. As nothing worth having is easily achieved, Allison worked all day, mothered five children, and wrote every night after they went to bed. Ironically, though she no longer works outside the home, Allison finds herself still writing into the wee hours of the night.

Allison belongs to several professional writers organizations . . . all the usual suspects. Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America and Novelists, Inc. She also is a regular contributor at Murder She Writes, Murderati,and Romancing the Blog.

For fun, Allison enjoys wine tasting, traveling to writer’s conferences, playing video games with the kids (and by herself!), reading (of course!), watching old movies (and new), and catching up on her favorite television shows through her AppleTV. She cheers on her kids at a variety of sporting events from soccer to basketball to volleyball, and finds herself driving almost as much as sleeping.

With ten New York Times bestselling romantic thrillers and a handful of short stories, Allison is taking a temporary detour into the realm of the supernatural with her Seven Deadly Sins series which launches in Spring 2010. But there are more romantic thrillers in the works: after the Sacramento FBI trilogy in 2009, look for the Rogan-Caruso series in late 2010/2011. Visit her at www.allisonbrennan.com

Readers, be sure to read to the end for Allison's extremely generous giveaway!

Allison, first tell us about your new release, SUDDEN DEATH, that hit shelves on Tuesday. I understand that it is the first of a new trilogy.

Yes, SUDDEN DEATH is the first book of my new Sacramento-set FBI trilogy. I really love this book—it’s one of my favorites. My one-liner is: “Burn-the-book mercenary Jack Kincaid is forced to team with by-the-book FBI Agent Megan Elliott to stop a homicidal duo who are torturing soldiers with ties to Jack’s mysterious past.”

The trilogy itself is not connected except that they all connect to Sacramento, California—where I live. I really loved writing about my area in PLAYING DEAD, so when I needed a connecting theme for the FBI Trilogy, I thought, why not Sacramento? It might also have something to do with the fact that when I wrote the proposal, I was in the FBI Citizens Academy here, and I really think the world of those men and women. Also, there’s so much here—rivers, mountains, farmland, business—and I love intimately knowing my setting.

The other two books, while they have some recurring secondary characters, are distinctly different in story.

Your first trilogy came out in 2006 and you’ve had one every year since. Tell us why you’ve chosen the pattern of trilogies and how you keep a writing schedule that allows you to do this.

It wasn’t really my idea. When my publisher bought THE PREY, they thought it would work well as the first of a trilogy so I came up with the connecting theme of three women with violent pasts who become friends at the FBI Academy at Quantico. I’ve always loved loosely connected books—Nora Roberts, Jayne Ann Krentz, Kay Hooper, Mariah Stewart and many others—often brought back secondary characters into leading roles. It felt natural to do this. Now, I find it hard to conceive of a stand-alone book. I always want to bring in a minor character who grabbed me, and give him or her a story.

As far as my writing schedule, the most important thing is that I keep my writing time sacred. This is not always easy with five kids! But I write while they’re in school. I tackle emails and the internet in the morning after I drop them off, spending about 90 minutes on answering fan mail, blogging, going to loops, chatting. By 10:30 in the morning I need to go off-line in order to get my work done. Because I am a huge procrastinator, when I’m on deadline I’ve found the best way to do this is take my laptop and go to Starbucks or outside the house so I’m not tempting to jump online. I pick the kids up between 3:30 and 5 (depending on sports practices) and we do kid stuff, homework, dinner, etc., and most nights I’m back at the computer by 9 p.m. I find that I’m most productive in 4-5 hour chunks of time, twice a day.

Sometimes, I just have to kick myself in the butt to focus. That’s usually at the beginning of a book. Once I hit about pave 150, I’m usually eager and excited about the story. The first act is the hardest for me.

Allison, your books have recurring characters that may play minor roles in your stories and then take center stage in their own story. With the complexity of the stories and the cast of characters, how do you manage the information necessary to keep them all straight?

Good question. When I can’t remember, I skim my books. Like I couldn’t remember if I mentioned anything about Nick Thomas’s parents in THE HUNT when I was writing his book (SPEAK NO EVIL.) I had to skim every scene that he was in.

It wasn’t hard when I only had three or six books out, but I did have some problems writing the Prison Break Trilogy. I hired an indexer who has indexed all my books. It’s been a huge relief for me.

Any advice for writers who want to tackle trilogies for the first time?

Actually, not really! I think everyone should write what they are most comfortable writing and what is natural for their voice. If you’re not published, I always suggest that your first book is pitched as a stand alone with the possibility of becoming a trilogy. Publishers like choices :))

There are so many different ways to write a trilogy. Brenda Novak has her Last Stand series which centers around a victims rights group. Roxanne St. Claire has her fabulous Bulletcatcher series. Karen Rose’s last trilogy had a connecting theme through the villain(s). (And all of us are up against each other for Best Romantic Suspense in the RITAs!)

Even my trilogies have different connections:

The Predator Trilogy (2006): The heroines of all three books were roommates at Quantico and remained friends; each had violence in their past.

The No Evil Trilogy (2007): The Kincaid Family played a major role in each book, and each story related in some way to the Internet.

The Prison Break Trilogy (2008): Each book stands alone, but revolve around an earthquake under San Quentin that frees several death row inmates, and there is one connecting mystery regarding one inmate who claims he’s innocent.

The FBI Trilogy (2009): Each book stands alone, but take place in or around Sacramento, CA and at least one of the main characters is a Sacramento FBI agent.

One thing I’ve done (not really consciously!) is to bring in a major secondary character into the next trilogy. For example, in SPEAK NO EVIL, Sheriff Nick Thomas from the first trilogy is the hero; in KILLING FEAR, Detective Will Hooper from the second trilogy is the hero; in SUDDEN DEATH, Jack Kincaid from the second trilogy is the hero. It brings continuity through all my books, though readers should be able to pick up any book and not feel lost or that they missed something.

Oh, there is one thing I’ve noticed that can be a huge stumbling block for readers. When creating a trilogy or series, I’ve always believed that a reader should be able to pick up any book and not get lost. It’s sometimes difficult to balance what the reader needs to know to enjoy THAT story and not bore current readers with too many details from past books. I, personally, like books within trilogies that stand alone, but are loosely connected to others, which is why I write what I do!

When you talk about your writing, you mention a 20 year period in which you started many, many stories, but didn’t finish. What finally made the difference for you?

I realized that if I wanted to be published, I needed to finish a book. I know it sounds dumb, but I was dense  . . . also, I had it in my head that I needed to work, get married, raise a family, and it wasn’t until I turned thirty that I reflected that I wasn’t completely happy. I missed writing—it had become something I fiddled with, something that I’d do “later.” Once I acknowledged that writing was important to me, and that no one was going to just give me my dream, I was determined to prove that I could do it.

There were some external things going on—I couldn’t afford to quit my job, which I no longer liked; my babysitter was accused of child abuse (and she pled no contest) and I couldn’t afford to take time off to be with my baby (Brennan #3 was 8 months old at the time); and I turned thirty and hadn’t done half the things I’d wanted to do by the time I turned thirty. But ultimately, it was an internal switch, and I can’t honestly say what did it. Only, after I mentally committed to finish a book, and write another, and another until I sold, I was able to do it.

Once you shifted gears and began to get serious, what was your road to publication like?

I’ve been told my path was smooth. Maybe it was, but the writing itself is hard word. I also still had a day job and five kids by the time I sold.

Essentially, in March of 2002 I made the personal commitment. I wrote five books in two years, found an agent in February of 2004, and she sold my book in March of 2004, five days after it went wide. The trilogy didn’t hit the shelves until January, February and March of 2006, but that gave me the time to write books two and three while still working. I quit my day job shortly before the first book debuted, which enabled me to write three books for 2007.

Can you give us an idea of what your average writing day looks like and how you manage your busy family life?

Controlled chaos.

Basically, I wake up between 6 and 7 in the morning. I get the kids to school—often late (and I have to meet with the vice principal about this, so I feel like a total failure as a mom.) I swing by Starbucks for my coffee (I used to write at Starbucks every day), go back home to my office, check email, answer fan mail, blog, whatever, and start writing by 10:30. There are times, when I’m on deadline, that I take my laptop with me and just stay at Starbucks—I write faster when I have nothing to distract me.

I pick the kids up between 3-5, depending on various schedules. When I’m REALLY close to deadline, my mom pitches in and gets the kids for me. Often there are doctors appointments, ortho appointments, grocery store runs, etc. Homework, school projects, baths, dinner (and no, I don’t cook extravagant meals—everything is very, very simple!) games, and reading. When the little kids go to bed, between 8-9, I’m back at my computer. I try not to write on Sundays so we can do family excursions. But often, when my oldest, who is an athlete, is at a sporting event I’ll have my laptop with me.

Do you have any writing rituals such as music, candles, certain foods, etc.?

Coffee in the morning, coffee in the afternoon, margaritas at night ;)

And loud rock music on my iPod.

What’s on your “to be read” list right now?

CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith
HUNT HER DOWN by Roxanne St. Claire (an arc!)
WHEN A MAN LOVES A WEAPON by Toni McGee Causey (an arc!)
THE BRASS VERDICT by Michael Connelly
HOLD TIGHT by Harlan Coben
DOGS AND GODDESSES by Jennifer Crusi, etc.
DEVIL MAY RIDE by Wendy Roberts

. . . and that’s just at the top! I also have a dozen galleys for quotes to read, and I’m trying to get to most of them, but time is crunched.

What can readers expect from you next?

http://www.allisonbrennan.com/images/covers/playingdead100.jpgAfter the FBI Trilogy, I launch my Seven Deadly Sins supernatural thriller series, the first two books coming out in 2010. I’m also currently negotiating my next romantic thriller series—this one four books centered around Rogan-Caruso Protective Services, also based in Sacramento, that was introduced in PLAYING DEAD. The hero of book three of the FBI Trilogy is Duke Rogan, one of the principles, so it was a natural to write stories related to their work.

Allison, thank you so much for being our guest today. We really appreciate the fact you took the time from that obviously busy schedule you described to share with us today.

Okay, Okay, now you guys have learned all about Allison and her writing, you want to know about the contest, right? I've got to tell you the prizes are great today. Allison is giving away all three of her trilogies, one trilogy to each of three winners. That's the Predator Trilogy, the No Evil Trilogy, and the Prison Break Trilogy. AND, if that isn't enough for you, she is also giving away a copy of her newest release, SUDDEN DEATH! WOO HOO! So we will have four lucky winners today.

So, here's the deal: Leave a comment or question for Allison and you're entered. Easy, right? Here's more: Get a friend to leave a comment, with your name as a referral in their comment and we'll enter you again and your friend once. Hey, if your friend wins, you can always borrow :))

Look for winners to be posted Saturday morning. Enter until midnight tonight. Good Luck.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tamara and the Three Critique Partners

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there lived a woman named Tamara. Though she had a huge assortment of shoes, ate double stuffed Oreos by the pound and had plenty of free time to write romances, something was amiss. Her stories were falling flat. Her worlds were boring, her prose choppy and her grammar atrocious.

So she squeezed into her favorite platform Mary-Jane's and pocketed a zip-lock full of black and white cookies and a thermos of milk. She then hoisted her laptop into her arms and made the decision to leave the safety and comfort of her thatch roof cottage in the middle of the woods.

Braving the wide open landscape was a frightening prospect. Could knowledge and inspiration come from such a daunting place? And what if she encountered Big Bad Doubt on her journey? Or worse, what if she ran into the Wicked Pessimist of the West? How could she defeat these villains? How would she survive their influence all alone? Fear nearly forced her to turn back, but taking a deep breath and placing one stiletto in front of the other she continued on despite her insecurities.

Her first encounter with civilization was a small, shining kingdom called Borders. Its bright castle was a treasure trove of the written word, but best of all, there was a tavern inside. Tamara's pulse raced. Had she finally reached Camelot? With a cautious smile, she asked, "Grande decaf, mocha latte, extra whip, please?"
When the friendly barkeep winked and answered, "Coming right up," she felt sure she had found the promise land.

There was so much to see, so many villagers mingling in the bustling tavern. But finding a quiet corner table, settling in a comfy chair and opening her laptop, Tamara decided to get to work. She had come here with a purpose and refused to be distracted from her goal.

For some reason, the kingdom of Borders helped her concentrate. Maybe it was the enticing scent of fresh pastry wafting from the microwave. Or possibly the new release CD playing in the background. Whatever it was, the tavern encouraged her muse. Tamara banged away at the computer keys, prose flowing like rich espresso, heart thundering in joyous time with the nearby coffee grinder. This is Camelot, she thought as she bit into a warm cinnamon scone.

Three witches took seats directly behind her. The ghoulish trio wore flowing rags that billowed on the chilly central air currents. Their cackling voices pierced her concentration. Their obnoxious laughter frightened Tamara's muse into the darkest corners of her mind. Once or twice she turned to give them a scathing glance. But her menacing expression had no affect on the demonic beings.
"Shut up! Stop yapping! Can't you see I'm in the process of writing a romantic best seller you bunch of yammering @#*%@&@'s?"
Tamara wanted to yell these words out loud, but she refrained. After all, she had been raised by fairies and shouting expletives wasn't exactly fairy-like behavior.
Instead she sat there, trying desperately to block out their noise.

She actually started listening to what the hags were saying. How could she not? They were louder than a pack of drunken Hyenas for goodness sake!

In between bursts of macabre laughter, Tamara was able to pick up a word or two. "Character. Hero. Heroine. Love," the witches had said.

Is this possible? Are they talking about...romance writing?

Tamara leaned back in her chair, cocking her head to hear better. She had to be sure. Were there others like her? Unpublished authors battling doubt and pessimism in an attempt to see their work in print?

Her curiosity piqued, Tamara took a deep cleansing breath, wiped the whip cream mustache off her face, clicked her Mary-Jane's together three times for luck and then did the unthinkable. She spun around in her chair and faced the witches head on.

Only they weren't witches at all.

They were women. And they smiled with sincere warmth and introduced themselves. Connie, Pam and Mary.

Their voices had changed from the bleating of crones to the delicate tinkle of bells. "We're writers," they sang as one. "Romance writers and we meet here every Thursday to critique each others work."

Could it be? Is that sunlight breaking through the clouds? Are those happy woodland creatures congregating at my feet?

"I'm a writer too," Tamara said, her scowl dissolving into a giddy smile.

"How wonderful," Connie commented. "That's great," Pam chimed in. "What a coincidence, Kido," Mary intoned.

Tamara bombarded them with questions and to her delight they informed her of a magical world called RWA.

Romance writers of America? Is it for real? Are there really thousands of unpubs, grouping together in support of one another? Are there really published authors willing to take time out of their busy schedules to help...me? Can I truly meet a real life editor and agent?

And were these three women, no... Literary Knights, actually inviting Tamara to be a member of their round writing table?

Damn skippy.

Three strangers took in a novice and shared a fabulous new world, full of knowledge, wisdom and most importantly, determination.

With their help Tamara realized that what her stories needed were seasoned combatants with a common goal, publication.

Pamela, Warrior of World Building helped her to construct amazing scenes utilizing all of the senses.

Constance, Warrior of Prose guided her novel's rhythm, tightening sentences and dialogue.

And Mary, Warrior of Grammar did the job of making her actually appear literate.

Tamara in turn added something to their novels as well. (Or so she hoped)

Together they have become Novel Knights capable of taming the written word as a team. The foursome roam the imagination, battling insecurity, jousting fear and slaying self-doubt. And with each passing week, as they learn and grow under RWA's wise tutelage the critique group, otherwise known as the Fantastic Fiction Femmes, move closer to pulling the sword from the stone.

The published sword that is, torn from the stone of perseverance.

As Tamara looks back on that fateful day five years ago, she doesn't remember a noisy tavern, a trio of witches, or their unending chatter. What she does recall are three irreplaceable women, Novel Knights, The Triple F's, who smiled warmly, welcomed her into their midst and taught her to believe in her talent.
They still meet each Thursday in the Kingdom of Borders, swilling mochachinos and sweet tea and re-arranging chairs to suit their needs, much to the dismay of management. So if you happen to be there, quietly reading the latest issue of InStyle or immersed in your favorite romance, but are interrupted by a foursome of cackling crones, don't fret. Smile and be thankful, because you might just be sitting next to the best critique group ever.

The End
This fairy tale is dedicated to Connie, Mary and Pam, my dearest friends, my inspirations, my sister Knights. I love you guys.
Happy writing to all.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Handling “Constructive” Criticism…or what to do with those less than raving contest critiques…

You rip open the envelope and pull out your baby, hoping against hope that the critique author reviewing your submission is madly in love with your voice, has offered to shop your book to her editor and agent, and she wants you to be her next best friend. Instead, you get a nice handwritten note (or not) and manuscript pages that look as if they’ve been attacked by her four-year-old monster child wielding a “name your color” pen that’s leaking from both ends.

But wait! Perhaps all that scribble-scratch is her waxing poetic in sheer amazement at your wonderful talent, your ability to make your characters nearly jump off the page, descriptive prose that brought her to tears, and such snappy repartee that she hasn’t been able to get “your hero’s name” off her mind so she can move on to her own writing.

Quickly scanning the pages, your hopes are dashed when you pick up bits and pieces of “isn’t this too early in the story?” and “this disrupts the flow” and, the worst of all suggestions, “Chapter 1 is all backstory—I’d get rid of it and revise Chapter 2 to start with the hero’s POV.”

Waaahhhh! What do you do now? You might be tempted to write a scathing blog about your experience (after all, it is “villains” month, right?) Flushing it down the toilet isn’t an option, because you don’t have the funds to pay a plumber for the toiletectomy (you heard it here first.) And you’re too concerned about greenhouse gases to start a bonfire.

What you do not want to do is rush to your computer and begin mowing through the manuscript, slashing out chapters and dumping the secondary plot line in hopes of making your story the brilliant masterpiece it is meant to be.

Why not, you ask? Because you aren’t going to be able to look past the boulders of "criticism" to see the nuggets of truth imbedded in her critique, that’s why. And some of her suggestions may not work for the book in its entirety. Typically, she’ll have read twenty-five or so pages and that, my dear, does not make a book. The bottom line is she’s just another reader, albeit a published one, with one opinion on how to make your story saleable.

My suggestion? Shove it somewhere out of sight, pour yourself a glass of merlot (it’s good for your heart) and plop into your favorite sofa in front of the flat-screen to watch your favorite chick-flick. Maybe go for that run you've been putting off for the past week. Or pour bath crystals into your tub and soak your worries away.

Take a couple of days to get over the disappointment, then give yourself credit for having the guts to put your story in the hands of yet one more person. Pull the manuscript from wherever you've stashed it and reread the submission through the lens of her comments and suggestions. Make your own notes of ideas that come to mind from reading hers. If the comments she made are similar to other critiques, determine a way to fix what's wrong. Then get back to your computer and polish your words until they shine--it's Maggie time!

One more suggestion--write your thank you note. Because not all authors are eager to share their expertise or run the risk of alienating potential readers. They know what worked for them, and that's what they have to offer. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Point of View is Child’s Play

By Sandra Elzie

I thought I’d write today about a recent experience I had in sharing about writing,

My friend, Charlotte Tyson, is a 3rd grade teacher at Stockbridge Elementary School and since they have been studying creative writing, she asked if I would be willing to come talk to her class. I’m always willing to try new things and anyone will attest to the fact that I love to talk with people (even miniature ones) about writing, so I agreed.

I started out with a plan…a list of things I wanted to cover that I e-mailed to Charlotte ahead of time to get her input. When she told me that they had already been studying all these things and my talk would be a good refresher, I was impressed. No one ever taught me at ten years old about Point of View, tone and these types of writing elements. I seem to recall learning about using the five senses, but that’s about it.

What a fun experience! I sat in a chair with 19 youngsters sitting around me on the floor, eager to hear what a real, live published author had to say.

They were polite and attentive, raising their hands to ask questions and waiting their turn. When I asked for a volunteer to be a worm and one to be a bird, about 17 hands shot up…even to be a worm! I used an illustration of a worm coming out of his hole in the ground and turning his face to the warm sun, but when he opens his eyes, he sees the bird above him on the tree branch looking down at him. Then I explained that the bird had just landed on the limb and was very hungry. The question for each child…sorry, I mean, for the worm and the bird, was, “As a worm, what are you thinking when you see the bird?” What was the worm’s answer? “Frightened and I want to go back in my hole.” And what did the bird think when she saw the worm? “Breakfast!” was the bird’s answer. There you have Point of View as explained by 3rd graders.

So what does this discussion have to do with us as readers and writers? I think maybe we spend so much time working and talking with our fellow writers and dealing in the adult world that we sometimes forget that there are a lot of young people out there who are the up and coming generations of readers and writers. We need to encourage them to read more and to be creative in their thinking and in their writing. I think we also need to encourage them to think big.

I took a printed manuscript of almost 60,000 words (recycled from last year’s Finish The Book Contest) and watched their eyes widen in surprise. Wouldn’t it be exciting to share your love of writing with a child and someday have that child tell you that their quest to write and be published began the day they met you? Wow!

So, if you’ve had opportunities to share your love of reading or writing with young people, tell us about it. And for those who write, how old were you when the writing bug bit you?

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Letter To My Children

by Nicki Salcedo

If you had to write a letter to your children what would you say? What if you had to write a letter to your parents? Or someone who wronged you? Writing a letter is a great way to practice first person point-of-view, delve deep into a character's psyche, or express emotions with immediacy. Who would you write to?

A letter to my children on the occasion of my daughter's 5th birthday

I don’t trust memoir. It always rings false. The idea that my life might hold someone’s interest is unlikely, but there might be snippets, short eras that can entrance like fiction. Ironically, I always wished my mother had chronicled her life. I always thought my father’s mother might have been healed by telling her secrets. Or his. Those before me were not raised to glorify their tragedies or jinx their hopes and dreams. If their curse was to be silenced, then our curse is to expose too much. My words, pictures, moving images will also be lost, but not for lack of being told. My stories will be lost because they are being told in a forest dense and electronic. A silence made of white noise.

I am writing to you, my children, so you can know a little about me.

Where I'm From

I was born on an island called Jamaica. For the first two years of my life, I…I don’t know what. I don’t remember. If this were memoir, I would say something about the scent of hibiscus or the quiet heat of the night and the opposing coolness rising from the tiled floor. I would tell you that when I heard a helicopter or airplane, I would run to my Vava, my grandfather, and it was the only time I would let him hold me. But those are not my memories. Those are someone else’s.

What I knew of Jamaica I learned in America. Jamaica was food. Jamaica was accents my friends could detect, but I could not. To my friends, my parents’ voices were spicy, rapid, and strange. To me, my parents sounded like air. If their voices had a flavor it would have been water.

If Jamaicans were in the news or in sports, my family paid attention. We were proud of gold medals. We noted news stories of Jamaicans rising to positions of prominence in America and in the world. Even a singsong commercial from the tourism board would cause my family to pause. We would watch an idealized version of a land that was no longer ours.

(the view of the sea from the mountains in Jamaica)
I often wondered why my parents left an island where they had maids, servants, and a nice house overlooking the capital city. They were not wealthy, but they were comfortable. I wondered what I would have been like if I sounded like my parents. If I could remember. If I had grown up on that island. Why they left is not my story to tell, but I know that they left with a sense that by leaving they could give their children, my sisters and I, different and possibly better opportunities.

As a young child in America, I had many friends who were born in places like Korea, Cuba, and India. We all felt the same. Wholly American and yet different enough to not quite belong. I have recognized my own limbo and yearning to belong in the words of authors like Maxine Hong Kingston and Sandra Cisneros. It did not matter to me if they were Jamaican, just that we, inwardly, were the same.

Who I am

Americans are dreamers.
It is for this reason that I write my letter to you today. Dreaming is who we are, but I was never one of those girls who dreamed of being married or imagined having babies. When I was growing up, I did all of my dreaming for fictional characters. Characters I read in books, and eventually characters I created.

I love happily ever after. I love romance. I love that dreaming is ingrained into the culture of this country. For me dreaming is imagining new stories.

But now I have to dream a little dream for you.

I dream that you will understand that you are not the center of the universe, but on a small blue planet in the corner and the rest are burning bright red to white-hot. I dream that you will one day be able to take care of yourself, your family, and your world. I dream that you won’t look to anyone else to take care of you. As your mother, that is my job. If I have done it well, no one else need take care of you save your father. His wisdom is different, maybe even greater, but he leaves the writing to me.

This is what you need to know about me. I believe that laughter and desolation are roommates. I smile at strangers. I get mad at those I love best. I am wrong sometimes. I still don’t think of myself as a mother. I like laughing. I accept anger. I like being around people who are different from me. I like science fiction and the Bible. I like football and poetry.

I have fallen in love and gotten married. I have had the happiest of days. I given birth to three babies, and miscarried another. I have had the most desolate of days curled up in bed, the room pungent with the smell of blood and also the sweet scent of amniotic fluid.
I’ll never be done. I’m learning every day like you are learning.

Are the things I’m telling you really me? I don’t know. I worry that you may never really know me because I will filter all that I am into fiction. I write because it makes me happy. Even when I write about sad things it improves my spirit. Ask me. Talk to me. I will try to tell what you want to know when you need to know it.

My wish for you

I wish my grandmother could have told me her story. My flippant American girl ways irritated her. When I asked her about her life, she would cry. I don’t know my grandmother’s story, but I imagine she was filled with shame for events sixty years forgotten, but not forgotten by her.

I still want my mother to write me a letter. I want to hear her happy stories and stories about her dreams, even if they were deferred.

I wish you many things: struggle and heartache and happiness. They are unavoidable.

I would tell you that I love you, but you know this. I wash behind your ears. I clip your toenails. I wish I cleaned better or cooked better, but I don’t. I only know how to share books with you. Sometimes we look at a bunny looking at the moon and back, and you get the idea. There is no end to this, and that is something to rejoice in. Your stories and mine together make a new story. And so it will be with your children.

I am so thankful that my parents took a risk and changed their world for me. Enjoy what has been given to you. Everyday the world is changing just a little for you.

With love from your mother,
Nicki Salcedo

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Writing Challenge

In honor of National Goof-off Day, I am issuing all of you in blogosphere a challenge. As of today, we have 9 weeks (actually 10, but we want to leave time for mailing) before the unpublished GRW Maggie Deadline. That leaves us with just enough time to get your submissions ready. Interested??? Leave a comment and let us know if you think you might like to participate with some of the PFandHT authors as we work toward out goal.

Operation: Maggie Readiness
Mission #1: Character Profile
Mission #2: Synopsis
Mission #3 – 8: Write 5 pages each week
Mission #9: Deep Editing
Mission #10: Mail in your submission


Mission 1 - -Week 1:

Going on the assumption that we are starting from scratch, let’s begin with a character sketch or character profile. Now I don’t mean one of those wimpy green eyes, blond hair and I’m done outlines. Nope. We are digging way down deep into the minds of our characters. I use a form I received at one of Haywood Smith’s workshops and LOVE it (even if it is 12 pages long).

You want to know - -

Major illnesses or surgeries
Regular medication med, food and other allergies
Health insurance, deductible and cost
Hair color and if it dyed, what age did they start coloring it
Dress size – favorite color clothing – bra size – shoe size –weight history
Family – siblings (name, sex, age differential, job (on good terms and if not, why)
Family background (income, divorce, alcoholism, deaths, serious illnesses of any family members)
Where have they lived (number of years, location, to present)
Parents (age at marriage and death, occupation, basic personalities, descriptions – are they on good terms)
Ethnic background
Favorite Relative and why
Marriage – when, to whom, how and where met, his education, job history, weaknesses, most annoying habit

Are you getting the picture??? Lots and lots of information (and I didn’t even get to the - what kind of mattress and bed do they sleep on question). Another good one to use is by YA author, Rick Riordan. Spend some time with you character(s). Get to know them. Don’t just do your main character. Discover your character’s best friend, the hero, a love interest? A villain (or a villain who becomes a love interest (grin))? Dig deep.

What you have to do to participate in this challenge (besides write)? Because I’m crazy busy with work and school, I’m going to make it easy on all of us. Just post a comment under the Sunday Operation: Maggie Readiness post letting us know you want to play along. Then each week, give us a short update on how you are doing. I’ll post your weekly mission/homework each Sunday, you use the week to work on it, then check back the following Sunday and gloat or rant about your progress. Easy peasy and just for fun. Of course, I will be keeping track of names and at the end of the challenge, each comment will enter your name into a drawing for a fun prize.

We’d love for you to join us.

What do you say?

Book review from a WINNER!!!

We received this wonderful review from Marin Thomas. She won the book, Lucky Chica, right here at Petit Fours and Hot Tamales back when Berta Platas guest blogged for us. Marin was gracious enough to share her thoughts on the book. Definitely check back here in April when Marin is featured as one of our Guest Chefs.

Thanks a ton, Marin, for sharing this with us!!!


Lucky Chica

A while back I was the Lucky Chica here at Petit Fours and Hot Tamales and won a copy of Berta Platas’ recent release, Lucky Chica. (St. Martin's Griffin)

Hat’s off to Berta for writing a fast-paced, funny and heartwarming story all rolled into one.

What would you do if you won the lottery? Rosie Caballero is suddenly thrown into Life Styles of the Rich and Famous and she drags her cousin Cheeto and their grandmother Abuela along for the ride. Sit back and prepare to laugh, groan and cheer as Rosie learns the good, the bad and the ugly that goes hand-in-hand with becoming wealthy and famous. In truth, Abuela and Cheeto have a far easier time adjusting to their new lot in life than the main character Rosie.

Of course nothing good lasts forever but in the end Rosie gets what money can’t buy—true love.

If you’re looking for a feel-good read, then this is your book. I highly recommend Lucky Chica!

Marin Thomas
Harlequin American Romance Author

Saturday, March 21, 2009


It's hard to top the fabulous post by Tanya Michna/Michaels, but I'm pretty sure this is the icing on the cake for two of you!

Motherhood Without Parole goes to Donnell.

Mistletoe Baby goes to talia pente.

Ladies, please contact me at dlkaufman@bellsouth.net so I can get your books on the way!


Friday, March 20, 2009

Petit Fours and Hot Tamales Welcomes the Insightful Author, Tanya Michaels

Please welcome our guest today, Tanya Michaels who also writes as Tanya Michna.

At age 9, Tanya Michna--who writes for Harlequin as Tanya Michaels--began surreptitiously "borrowing" her mother's Harlequins. By high school, Tanya was openly reading three romance novels a week and knew exactly what she wanted to do "when she grew up." A three-time RITA finalist,Tanya has now been published in a bunch of languages, been lucky enough to win a bunch of awards, and has sold more than forty books, short stories and essays under both her real name and pseudonym. Her spring 2009 releases include Mother To Be (Harlequin Superromance, Mar 09) and the romantic comedy Mistletoe Cinderella (Harlequin American Romance, Apr 09); as Tanya Michna, she also has the NAL Accent women's fiction novel Baggage Claim coming out this May.
Some debate continues on whether Tanya ever actually grew up. Visit her blog and decide for yourself...

The Biggest of Baddies

Since villains are the March topic, here’s what I personally think is the Big Bad: Insecurity. It’s rampant in the writing community; heck, it runs rampant in me. You know how we hear that over half the human body is water? That’s clearly not true in my case, because I’m made up of at least 20% doubt and 60% neurosis. In fact, I didn’t realize how bad it was until I did a mental inventory of my spring books.

In my Harlequin Super Romance Mother To Be (currently in stores), forty-three year old Delia Carlisle has a bold, speaks-her-mind personality but such a damaged relationship with her mother that she’s vastly insecure about her own maternal skills (problematic, since she discovers on page one that she’s pregnant.) In April, I have a romantic comedy from Harlequin American (Mistletoe Cinderella—which earned my first ever Top Pick from RT!) The heroine was very ill as a child and has never fully outgrown her early social awkwardness. Her insecurity with men is at the heart of the mistaken identity plot and eventual character growth. My May women’s fiction novel (Baggage Claim, NAL Accent) is about two women: one second-guessing her marriage, the other plagued with professional anxiety.

I suppose if I’m going to be an insecure mess, it’s better that I found a way to make it work for my career! Because I’ve seen too many people let insecurity stall or sabotage them. In my opinion, writers’ insecurity manifests itself in two main ways, different but equally detrimental.

The first is self-doubt. Why did I think I could do this. I’m a fraud. I’m going to chuck this manuscript and get a job as a Wal-Mart greeter (they get better benefits anyway). Any of that sound familiar? I have good news and bad news: it never goes away.

I still have this inner dialogue with every single manuscript. Maybe while I struggle with the opening. Or perhaps the beginning flowed as smoothly as really good wine yet, despite the synopsis that should have spared me any roadblocks, I’ve ground to a halt on page 186 and realize I can’t do this. Or maybe I write a book I actually like but the instant I hit “send” to the editor who (God bless her) accepts emailed manuscripts, I second-guess myself. Or, perhaps, I make it through all that but hold my breath when reviews come out, lest the reviewer proclaim TANYA CANNOT WRITE. But here’s the thing: I’ve sold more than forty writing projects (mostly books, but also short stories and nonfiction assignments). Even after my very worst review, neither editor called to tell me I was a no-talent hack and she was washing her hands of me. In fact, the vast majority of my reviews and reader mail are positive. My inner saboteur is wrong.

So is yours.

Do we have areas where we need improvement? Of course! But improvement comes with practice, not quitting. If you’re lucky, you get emotional support at home, but seek it out other places, too. Go to meetings and participate in writing blogs/forums and find good critique partners who can assure you that they’ve been there (I’ve been rejected many times at many points in my career. I’m just too stubborn to take the hint.) Also, be responsible for your own validation. Put together a scrapbook or even just a computer file of positivity. Did a critique partner email that she was envious of how well you incorporate the five senses? Cut and paste that! Did a contest judge say you cracked her up? Keep that score sheet! Make yourself something, no matter how small, so that when your doubt demons whisper, “You suck,” you have something physical and tangible to ward them off. Think of it as your writers’ Holy water.

I am a pack rat by nature so I save stuff—my RWA membership card, which proves that I was serious about pursuing this professionally, the contest ranking sheet where I came in second to last (but, hey, wasn’t dead last!), the form letter rejection that got my name wrong and was printed crooked (which proves that I actually finished a manuscript AND HAD THE GUTS TO SUBMIT. I may be neurotic, but I’m not a coward). Later that year, I upgraded to a personalized rejection. Next came one that said even though they couldn’t buy the enclosed manuscript, they’d love to see something else. Progress! Savor every tiny victory and learn to let the negative go (avoid groups or forums that dwell on the negative). Hoard your triumphs for rainy days when your self-esteem desperately needs to bask in the sun.

The other way insecurity rears its head is professional jealousy (an oxymoron, because it’s completely unprofessional.) And here’s my advice: cut that shit out.

Have you ever lashed out at or badmouthed someone more successful than you? Even if you think you were in the right, there may have been more underlying resentment than you realize. It’s completely natural, the day Golden Heart and RITA calls go out, to feel a twinge of disappointment when your phone rings—but it’s not Your Call, it’s an acquaintance celebrating her call. Smile anyway and wish her sincere congrats (and if you’re a truly lovely person, drop her a card or bring her some chocolates) because, trust me, you’re going to want the same friendly cheering when your call does come. In the smallest, pettiest corner of our minds, we start to worry that if someone else sells, that’s one slot we can’t have (never mind that we’re writing paranormal YAs, not inspirational suspenses). We start to fume that someone hit the Times list and her books aren’t that good. That’s poison. It generates negativity (and negativity often results in, if you’ll excuse the term, creative constipation). And then there’s the whole karma issue. Or, if you don’t believe in something as abstract as karma, let me make it more concrete—if you get in an elevator after the RWA booksigning, fuming about so-and-so’s undeserved success, how many people (editors or potential colleagues) in that elevator do you think will want to work with you later? Try to give your fellow writers the benefit of the doubt instead of instantly assuming evil intentions, and try to remember that we all have different reading tastes—just because you personally didn’t like someone’s last book doesn’t mean eight million other people are wrong.

Some food for thought: 1) Maybe you didn’t win THIS contest, but aren’t there like four thousand others you can enter? Contest wins aren’t even your End Goal. I sold my first book by getting second place (and an editor request) through a relatively small chapter contest. 2) It doesn’t matter that you may never write as well as Susan Elizabeth Phillips (and I so won’t) because we already have a SEP! I love dozens of authors, but I’m greedy—always on the lookout for MORE. Whether she/he writes hot paranormals or thoughtful women’s fiction or funny contemporaries, or… I just want someone with good stories and a strong individual voice. So stop obsessing over others and cultivate the best YOU possible. 3) You haven’t walked in her pumps. Someone sold her first book on her first try? Dandy. By the way, her husband is threatened by her success, her agent is embezzling, and her copy editor from hell is doing psychological damage. Writing success doesn’t mean a perfect life; people have medical problems, marital problems, health problems, career problems that you don’t have the first clue about. Don’t waste your energy coveting a surface image. Pour your energy into writing!

Remember, it’s normal to have dark emotions—doubt, jealousy, depression, anger. But channel them productively! Make them the basis for a deliciously tortured hero. Or warp them into motive for (fictional!) murder in a soon-to-be bestselling homicide series. And then you, too, will have copies of your own books to hold in your hands when doubt strikes, grinning sheepishly while you’re forced to admit, What do you know? I can do it!

Attn: Readers
Tanya is giving away two of her fabulous books to two lucky commenters who leave their thoughts before midnight tonight. The first winner receives a copy of Motherhood Without Parole and the second,a copy of Mistletoe Baby. Winners to be announced Saturday.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Waiting For the Pot to Boil

by Marilyn Baron

Waiting to be published is like waiting for a watched pot to boil. Waiting for that call from a prospective agent or editor about a manuscript you’ve submitted requires tremendous patience. It all boils down to one word—hope. How many rejection letters do you need to receive before losing it (all hope, that is)? Just when it seems like all hope is gone, you get a letter saying, “We enjoyed reading the first three chapters of your book and are interested in seeing the full manuscript.” And then, put on another pot, the waiting begins all over again.

Hopes can be dashed one minute and raised the next. Hope springs eternal. Writers are resilient. Like bruised and bloodied boxers, we’re driven to survive on sheer will. And like those weary and battered prizefighters, we get back up and send out one more round of query letters and partials and hope for the best.

A fellow RWA member who waited nine years before she was published encouraged me to “stay positive.” Another RWA acquaintance, a Golden Heart finalist, advised, “write the next one and don’t let the self-doubts get in the way of writing a good story.”

I met one of my favorite writers, Janet Evanovich, at a book signing event for her novel, Lean Mean Thirteen, who had similar advice for aspiring authors: “Never give up,” and “move on to the next book.”

Best-selling author Steve Berry told me he had five manuscripts rejected a total of 85 times over 12 years before he published his first novel, The Amber Room. A lawyer who lives in Georgia, Berry is glad he never gave up trying to become a writer.

According to Berry, the number one thing aspiring writers need to do is learn their craft. He advises them join a writer’s group with others studying the craft so they can teach each other.

“Don’t ever give up,” says Berry, who considers himself the “poster child” for that philosophy. “It’s cliché, but true. Somebody’s name is going to be on the cover of a book. It might as well be ours.”

Although Berry believes “there’s no such thing as handling rejection,” he acknowledges, “you can learn from it. Just stay with it. Just keep going forward. Keep writing. There’s only one way to learn how to write and that’s to write.”

Berry also advises aspiring writers to “have a finished manuscript that’s as perfect as you can make it before trying to find an agent,” and to “follow submission instructions exactly.

“A lot of it is luck,” admits Berry, who sent out 300 letters, and received 10 positive responses before his agent took him on.

“That was a miracle and it was a miracle she stayed with me. I’m not a liability anymore.”

I also had the opportunity to meet another of my favorite writers, bestselling novelist Daniel Silva, at a book signing. He offered the following advice to aspiring authors.

“Write something and finish what you write,” Silva emphasizes. “Everyone who has ever handled me has said how important that is.”

Silva, whose first full manuscript made its way out of the slush pile, believes that writers will be successful if they’ve got a full book and it’s good enough.

“Don’t just submit the first three chapters or the first 50 pages,” he recommends. “Send the full manuscript.”

“Just write the book,” Silva advises. “Any book can be fixed.”

There are plenty of people to support us along the way—critique group partners and published GRW members, who encourage us and tell us we will make it if we just keep writing, work hard to perfect our craft, and hang in there. They are so sure it will happen for us and so generous with their time and talent, and they’re willing to do whatever they can to help us make it happen.

And I have another incentive to get published. Every time I ask my husband to read one of my manuscripts, he responds, “I’ll read it when it gets published.”

Bottom line—your dream is worth working for and waiting for. So don’t give up (hope). Yours may be the next success story.

I’d better run. I think my water is beginning to boil.

Do you have any stories you’d like to share about waiting to be published?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Interviews with Villains - Their Side of the Story

by Tammy Schubert

Witches, step-relatives, in-laws, friends, medical professionals, corporate executives and people you would never suspect to do wrong. My curiosity got the better of me this month, and I just had to find out more. Is it that we as readers and writers have a skewed idea of the difference between right and wrong? Do authors write in a holier than thou mode or do we simply tell the truth as we see it? I was on a quest to find out. So I started at the beginning with my beloved fairy tales.

The evil Queen from Snow White and Cinderella’s stepmother (see above picture), to name a few, lined up outside my house, rallied together and cried out, “We are people, too.” They banged on my door. “We want to be heard. What about our side of the story?”

Their side? Hmmm… Well, how could that be? According to what I read, they were evil incarnate. Or was I wrong in my thinking?

“Our intentions were good.”

Really? I pondered the implications of those words. If it were true, authors have done grave injustices to citizens of the fictional world.

“We’ve been given a raw deal. History has not been kind to us,” they shouted. “Who are you to judge us?”

That’s just it. Who are we to judge them? Many of them believe they are doing something good for the hero, heroine or world in general. We all have the desire to do good; yet, there are people who think we have overstepped our bounds. Is that really wrong?

My interviews progressed quite nicely. All of the villains I talked to agreed over a cup of tea that most of the fiction out there is recorded by goodie-goodies of the world. The same people who would never admit to having a dark side of the soul. (Their words not mine.)

“What about us? Why does history portray us in such a bad light? We are just different in that we don’t hide our true feelings.” Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s stepmother, slanted her head and fluttered her eyelids. “We do want the best for everyone, dear.”

Amazon.com explored the issue but stopped short in their investigation. They leave us with disturbing questions. What was Lady Tremaine really about? Maybe our impression of Cinderella has been skewed by the writer.

Consider this side of the story:

“The rumor that Cinderella's stepfamily tore her lovely dress to shreds so she couldn't go to the ball? According to her stepmother, they were only trying to save Cinderella a lifetime of embarrassment at her fashion faux pas and gently suggesting that she stay at home. (Lady Tremaine says the gown actually looked like it had been sewn together by rodents!)” – Amazon.com in their advertisement for the book Disney Princess: My Side of the Story - Cinderella/Lady Tremaine - Book #1

My goodness, what if that were true? Was Cinderella really a fashion nightmare? Did she not know a ball required something more than a dress from a twenty-fifth hand thrift store? (Could rodents really sew? Well, that is a question for another day.) Hmmmm… Did she have a penchant for wearing Prada shoes with similar dresses? If so, didn't Lady Tremaine do her a great service?

Then there’s Snow White:

“And that business about the 'evil' Queen giving Snow White a poisoned apple? Well, per the Queen herself, she was actually a health nut who was only concerned that her stepdaughter wasn't getting the proper nutrition!” --Amazon.com in their advertisement for the book Disney Princess: My Side of the Story #2: Snow White/The Queen

Maybe Snow White only ate junk food. Maybe the Queen was on the path to health and only wanted to share her good fortune? People generally want to share the good things that have worked for them. Why should the Queen be any different? Snow White may have just had an allergic reaction, or maybe there was some mix up and the Queen got blamed.

Consider Auriel’s story in The Little Mermaid:

“The rumor that mean, nasty Ursula turned Ariel into a human just so the sea witch could take over the seven seas? To hear Ursula tell it, she was only trying to help Ariel find her true love (and wanted to impress that hunky King Triton in the process!).” –Amazon.com in their advertisement for the book Disney Princess: My Side of the Story #3: The Little Mermaid/Ursula.

Ariel did find her true love. Didn't she? So was it so wrong of Ursula to help her along?

Unfortunately, I ran out of time and didn’t get to interview some modern fictional villains. Maybe you can help. What’s a modern day villain’s story? What’s their take on life? Were you compelled to be more sympathetic towards them once you knew their story?