Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gems from the Great Magazine Purge

I've taken a break from reading and have dived into my stacks of magazines. Since some of them have Halloween covers, I figure its about time to go through them. Can't justify buying this year's when I still have last years.

Anyway, I have a variety. Real Simple is a big one. I don't have a subscription but I'm going to have to correct that situation. Martha Stewart's "Everyday Food" and "Living" are well-represented and there's a few of Rachel Ray's magazine (I like her magazine, don't like the recipes). I also get one called Family Fun that I get from Disney. Not sure why. My kids had a couple of subcriptions to their online games and I've been on the list ever since. It has some great stuff.

But today's gem comes from the Romance Writer's Report (RWR), the magazine of the RWA. In the July issue Virgina Kantra has an excellent article on developing the romance in your novel. She talks about physical awareness and how people are hardwired for physical attraction. Even if your characters aren't breathtakingly gorgeous, their needs to be physical triggers which hook the reader into seeing why the characters are attracted to one another. The emotional conflict needs to make the romance seem impossible or at least a very bad idea. Gender typing is not a bad thing in romance. The hero should be able to take care of the heroine, whether it be with a gun or a check book. For the heroine, she needs to show her ability to nurture. No matter how tough she is, we need to see her give a damn about something. Gender typing is a universal concept that will resonate with readers and trigger their own responses. The writer also needs to show why the hero/heroine are attracted to and falling in love with each other. She goes on to talk about showing the couple in society and how that can build the relationship and that the end needs to be satisfying. Readers long to experience the moments of surrender with the characters. And more, the reader needs to believe that these two characters are going to make it.

Anyway, if you RWA members still have this issue, I'd read that article. Kantra also has several other interesting articles on her website. I just remembered I took a class from her online. She's a sharp cookie.

Speakings of sweet things, I just ran into an awesome set of recipes. I'll share those tomorrow.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I Hate Backstory

I hate reading it, I hate writing it even more. When an author does an info dump, I'm pretty quick to put the book down. However, backstory is a necessary evil.

When I was a kid I'd try to hide my green beans and peas in the mashed potatoes so when I had to eat them, the taste would be hidden. I try to do the samething with my writing.

My usual method is dialogue. I break the information down and spread it out. Kind of like one of those innumerable glasses of water Weight Watchers says I must drink everyday. If I drink two glasses of water, I can have a Diet Coke. Or if I fold a load of laundry, I get to play a video game. Such is my motivation for getting those pieces of backstory in.

But I'm at a point in my story where most of those tricks aren't going to work. I need get the info out in a hurry or the story isn't going to move along. Ughh.... However, I'm a writer and therefore think I have some developed imagination. It's my world, as long as I keep within confines of that world, I can do whatever I want. And since I write a fantasy type setting, the rules are pretty broad.

I came up with something clever and turned my info dump into an action scene. I do have to do some quick research on 1920's kitchens, but hey, better than long tracts of narration.

What do you think about backstory? Does it bother you? How do you fit it into your writing?

Monday, August 18, 2008


My writing, which was going like a gangbusters has dropped off sharply. The words have slowed to a trickle, each sentence more torturous than the last to write. I'm in the last third of the novel, past that ponderous middle so I should be on easy street with regards to writing. I know my characters, my plot and my ending, its really a matter of connecting the dots. But I am really struggling.

One problem I have when I write is I let the world around me fall into chaos. Oh, I get dinner on the table, but it is last minute and hardly worthy of my kitchen. The bed is made and you won't trip on anything walking through the house. I operate on minimum effort. I know it isn't unusual for writers to let things go to hell in a handbasket when they are enmeshed in a book, but I can't survive in a chaotic environment. I suffer from mild depression and I find one of the triggers for an episode is disorder.

I'm naturally disorganized (except for my dishwasher)and it is very easy for me to let it all go. However, I don't like living like that hence it is a constant battle. So since I've been working on this WIP, I've let my natural tendencies free rein. Until Friday....

I have a cleaning lady who comes every other Friday. It is one of my big indulgences. She only does my bathrooms and kitchen but as I have four bathrooms, its an all day thing. The point in having her come in is to free me to get other chores done. My housekeeper arrived the other morning and I decided to make the best of the time and went upstairs to my kids' room. They have a dress up drawer so I decided we needed to go through it and toss the things that had outlived their usefulness. After we finished I realized we might as well clean up their room. After that, I walked into their toy room.

Oh. My. It was out of control and I knew I had to address it. I have to admit, I wanted to drop to the floor in a swoon, it seemed insurmountable. But I divided it into areas and went in for the attack. My one daughter helped (her sister is more trouble than she's worth when it comes to something serious). We started with the closet, tossing out things they have no use for, setting aside toys for charity and reorganizing the shelves to make it easier for them to get and replace things. It was amazing how much room we had. Next we tackled the bookshelves. Ughh....It was time to get rid of the Little Golden Books. Most of ours were Muppet related so I didn't feel too bad putting them in the charity box. Same goes for board books and those annoying books that are huge and have the push buttons on the side. We'd pick them up at Costco for $10 and they'd entertain the kids while we shopped. The Barney Christmas one was particualrly annoying. I was amazed at how may really cool books they have. The variety of children's books is so much greater than when I was a kid.

On Saturday we tackled the Barbies and the Polly Pockets. It took almost all day. They have some very cool Polly Pocket stuff. I wish they had those when I was a kid. On Sunday I made two loaves of bread and chicken souvlaki. And by today, I felt refreshed and able to write.

I guess my point is that when you have writer's block or no movtivation to write, it might be time to take stock of your situation. I know I've talked about this before but I think it bears repeating. At least I need the reminder. And maybe it isn't disorder. Maybe you haven't gone to the gym lately. Or maybe its time to take an afternoon or evening and go out with a friend for a meal and window shoppping. It could be a hobby is sitting there neglected and needing help. Bake some cookies or try a new recipe. We need to be reminded we are more than just writers. What makes us writers is everything else we are.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Three Weeks.....

Summer is winding down in one sense. School begins in three weeks and I couldn't be more excited.

I feel bad, the summer didn't quite go as planned. My children have the misfortune of having a writer for a mother who gets focused on her WIP and can't switch gears too easily. On the other hand, I have three children who find entertaining themselves nigh on impossible.

One thing I really despise is the images of motherhood on television and in magazines. They make me feel bad. I watch and read about moms who devote their days to their spawn, coming up with cute and clever craft projects for them to do. Or creative parties for the neighborhood kids. These moms turn every day into an adventure. Yuck.

I start out with the best of intentions every summer. I come up with some ideas, make plans, but they fall apart almost immediately. I live in southern California, its not like there nothing to do. There are plenty of project kits for the kids to do. I haven't been inclined to involve myself too much. Because as much as I'm not like the moms on tv and magazines, my kids aren't like those children either.

I think like all moms I feel underappreciated. I don't ask much. I want their rooms to be somewhat clean. I want them to pick up the toys they've left downstairs. I want them to stay out of the pantry. But most of all I want them to stop fighting.

Oh my goodness. I'm an only child, so there was no one to fight with. My kids seem to be elevating it to an artform. Its never physical but some of the vileness they come up with floors me. They insult each other for no apparent reason. I just want to smack them. I don't feel too inclined to do anything nice for them when they act like this.

Also, they don't want to go anywhere. When we told my son we'd take him to San Francisco with us, he didn't want to go. When I've broached the subject of going to a museum, they shrug, not really interested. Last year we bought passes to a water park and I couldn't get them interested in going. GRRRRR! And when we do go somewhere, it is a fiasco. Going to the grocery store becomes a major trauma.

Anyway, this is my summer ending vent. By June of next year I will be making plans again for the summer, conveniently blanking out this summer.

Am I alone in this? Do you find summer frusterating with your kids?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Workshop- Creating Web Presence

This is the last workshop I'm going to talk about. There were others but this one made a big impression on me. It was presented by Emma Clair and Michelle McGinnis who were very thorough and and spoke in a language most people could understand. They also had the best handouts. Very organized.

I have to admit the workshop also scared the crud out of me. When I went into labor with my son, my husband ran through the checklist the Lamaze instructor gave us. I remember sitting there watching as he went through page after page. Finally, he looks up and he's on the next to the last page and says "we should have been at the hospital a long time ago."

I kind of felt that same level of panic. Obviously not quite as extreme. But you get the analogy. I'm reading through their handout and seeing where I am at in my writing career and where I should be in cyberspace. ACKKKK!!!

I don't have much of a web presence. I have this blog and I horse around on Myspace and Facebook, but that's about it. I couldn't think of anything I would actually put on a web site. I'm not published. I have an agent, so I'm not really trying to impress them. I'm not sure how much editors actually look at sites unless they've already signed the author.

However, I do need to give it more thought, hence my interest in the class. Michelle and Emma stressed the need to register a domain name. I did that. I went with renemiller.net. I'd have preferred a .com name but the variations on my name were too clunky. The ladies recommended getting a Wordpress site since they are free. Yeah, they're nice but I'm not sure that's the rout I want to go. I have to give it some thought. I really don't want to give up this blog. I've had it so long. But I think my focus for a site would be different than my focus for here. Since I'm coming to the end of my latest opus and expect it will be in my agent's hands before the end of September, I would like to get my cyber presence a bit more developed.

Something else I thought was interesting that Emma and Michelle pointed out was cleaning up after yourself. They pointed out that those bad reviews on Amazon could come back to haunt you. Or that flame war over on another blog from years ago might resurface. These are things to be aware of. Somethings can be deleted, others can't and sometimes it is better to keep your mouth shut or just walk away.

They also talked about "egosurfing." Yeah, we've all googled ourselves at least once. It can be taken a step further by signing up for "google alerts." I can't really explain how it works but it "tracks" you in cyberspace.

Emma's website has more stuff on it about web presence so check it out.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Query Contest

My Chapter (East Valley Authors) is having our 2nd query contest, so if you've got an extra $5 and a polished query letter, give it a shot.

2nd Annual EVA Query Contest
Romance Writers of America - East Valley Authors
Official Rules

1. Contest is limited to the first 100 entries.

2. Contest deadline is September 1, 2008.

3. Entry fees ($5) and submissions received with postal datestamp after September 1, 2008 will not be accepted. Fees ($5) will be accepted at the EVA website through PayPal or send check, entry form and submission to:

East Valley Authors
P.O.Box 84
West Covina, CA 91793-9000

4. Contest is open to any writer.

5. All genres of fiction are welcome.

6. Entries shall consist of:

A one to two-page query letter.
Standard business letter format -- see below
Addressed to:

Kevan Anne Lyon and Jill Marsal
Sandra Dijkstra Agency

7. If submitting as a hard copy:
THREE copies of your query letter
A standard self-addressed stamped envelope with sufficient postage for return of submissions and scores

8. If submitting an electronic copy:
Please provide a valid email address
Send entry as an attachment

Email entry to: Contest Coordinator

9. Entries must be formatted as follows:
MINIMUM 1-inch margins, readable font of 12 pt, Time New Roman, Courier, or Arial preferred.
Justiy left but do NOT justify right margins
It is a business letter to be addressed to the above agency with the salutation to the agents even though the query letters will be pre-read by EVA, the final judges will be the agents.

10. Multiple entries will be considered but a separate entry fee must be paid for each.

11. Each separate entry must be accompanied by an official entry form, a signed release, and an entry fee.

12. Preliminary judging will be done on a point basis, with all manuscripts judged by two trained judges, highest score will be used. In the case where a submission receives larger than a 10=point spread, a third judge will be used and that final score taken.

13. Finalists are chosen by their overall score and must be among the top five.

14. Finalists will be judged by Kevan Anne Lyon and Jill Marsal of the Sandra Dijkstra Agency.

15. Finalist will be announced at the October 2008 EVA monthly meeting. Winner announcements will be made to the RWA. All finalists and the winner will be notified by phone or email.

16. The winner will receive a gift certificate worth $50.00.

17. Failure to comply with any of the above rules will result in disqualificaiton. The EVA Board of Directors will resolve any disputes that may arise. Their decision will be final.

18. The contest cannot be held liable for any failure of the delivery of entries due to the USPS, or your chosen method of delivery.

19. Contact Contest Coordinator with any questions.

DISCLAIMER: Winning the contest does not guarantee a request for your manuscript from the Sandra Dijkstra Agency.

Click Score Sheet to see our scoring.

Click Online Form for contest.

FEE per entry: $5

Friday, August 08, 2008

Workshops-Sex and the Single Title

As I said, the best part of conference was the enthusiasm I felt for writing. So I came home and plunged back into my WIP. I've cranked out a few thousand words and now I'm to a scene where I have to make a choice: does she or doesn't she. I'm talking about a love scene of course. Is this the right time for the hero and the heroine to engage in an intimate act? Fortunately, I attended a workshop about that topic and it has proved a real help at this point.

The workshop was presented by authors Roxanne St. Claire, CJ Lyons, Toni McGee Causey and St. Martin's Press editor Matthew Shear. The biggest point I got from this workshop was the point of the love scene. It should make things worse. Now, I have three kids so I can attest to the fact sex can make everything worse, but I don't think that's what they meant *snort*. Sex should complicate a conflict and make it worse. I never thought of it that way. Too often I think of sex as a way of easing a conflict. Kind of dull, really. The love scenes should change the characters, make them react differently to the situations they find themselves in.

Love scenes are also a great way of showing vulnerability in your characters. Lyons suggested looking at the vulnerable spots of the human body for added texture to a love scene. Again, something I hadn't thought of. But as a paranormal author and reader where vulnerability is so key, I can't believe I hadn't scene it before. The throat, the soft part of the belly, etc. are very vulnerable to attack. Is there anything more intimate than baring that part of the body to a lover trusting they won't hurt you? Very primal.

As far as sex goes, the panel did say mainstream romance could get pretty explicit. The rise of erotic has spilled into the mainstream and hot scenes are, well, hot. However the panel did stress that intimacy is just as important. Without intimacy, the scenes are just sex scenes. The panel did say there is a lot more sex in their novels now than a few years ago. But CJ Lyons made the point is that while her books are sexy, there is actually very little sex. The sexual tension is far more important in her stories.

Anyway, it was an excellent workshop and definitely one you might want to think of purchasing.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Workshops- Dialogue

My main interest in conference this year was the workshops. For as much as I was spending, I wanted to go to as many as I could. It also means you have to make some choices because of course there are always two workshops going on you want to go to. Fortunately, you can buy the cd's with the workshops taped. In fact, I believe they will be selling the individual workshops on a download basis.

As I said earlier, I did go to the dialogue workshop with Elizabeth Hoyt. I like the cadence of her dialogue in her writing and I had a copy of her handout before the conference so I thought it would be interesting. And it was. But please, when the presenter says there are no stupid questions, don't believe her. THERE ARE!

I'm probably not being fair since I'm sure many of the participants were new to writing, BUT (and I know Olivia backs me on this one) a question can be beat to death as can a topic. And I felt that was what happened in that particular workshop. Still, I did get some tips I hadn't thought about and learned about beats and tags. Tags are "she said's" after a piece of dialogue. A beat is when the character does something in the midst of the dialogue as in
"I'm going to choke that person if they ask anymore questions." Rene beat her head with her binder, "I could really use a drink right now."

Ms. Hoyt explained that beats and tags shouldn't be combined. I'm guilty of that one so now I'm more aware of it. The other really good point she made was that men don't speak as much as women. When we are trying to portray men in our books, remember that simple fact when writing dialogue. Keep their dialogue short. Also (and this I knew) don't avoid contractions in your dialogue. People have always spoken in contractions. Historical writers are quite often guilty of making their characters speak in formal language. But most contractions in the English language have been around for a very long time. She was a good presenter, very funny and eager to share her knowledge.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Best Thing About Conference

So I've had a couple of days to reflect about conference.

First, it is exhausting, emotionally, mentally and physically. There is certainly a lot of excitement at conference. For me, it was tough because I'm not particularly outgoing. Oddly enough, you could put me on a dais and I could speak without a problem. But plunk me in the middle of 2000 strangers and ask me to network and I freeze up. I was better in the smaller areas where there were small seating areas. It was far easier to sit down and chat with someone than mingle. For the most part, people are friendly but it is cliquey. I wish I had had more of a network before I went. I didn't know a whole lot of people going in. But I did meet a few. Most of the published authors I met were very friendly and supportive. I didn't approach any agents although I did get into an odd conversation about chocolate with Mary Sue Seymour. My pinnacle of bravery was introducing myself to an editor and having a brief conversation with him. He was quite nice but I was so panicked I don't remember much. Those of you who pitched to editors and agents have my eternal admiration. I don't think I could do it.

I was trying to get the most out of the workshops so I focused pretty hard. Mentally draining, I tell you. And by the end of the day, I was wiped out. I don't think I made it to a session after 4:30. Physically, it was tough trying to get where I was going and figuring out where it was. I hate elevators so I was going up and down stairs a lot. Wish I'd worn better shoes.

But conference is exhilirating. Even though I was overwhelmed, I felt the enthusiasm of the writers. Although the goal in our careers is to get published, that isn't actually the vibe I got at conference. It was more a celebration of our love of writing. So many of us will not get our books in print and when we are at home behind our keyboards, those dark thoughts have a chance to hold and thrive in our minds. We tend to care for them like tender flowers, nurturing them with our own pessimism and self-doubt. But conference clears so much of that away because writing is what it is. As writers, we love words and it is easy to forget that. Sometimes we don't see the forest for the trees. Words are the trees, individual and strong, gathered together to create a magical place.

For me conference was a way of getting back in touch with the reason I write. Yeah, yeah, I want to get published. But if I don't love to write, it ain't going to happen. Readers can feel the love you pour into a book and without the love, it will never get published.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Home Sweet Home

We made the long drive home today from San Francisco. It was a long day, about a 7 hour drive. But at least I got to come home and make dinner.

I went to a couple of spotlights and went to Susan Mallery's workshop about doing a triology. Unfortunately, it was held a too-small room and I could feel claustraphobia kicking in. So I headed down to the Avon spotlight. I'll get into more depth on these later. I did make it to a workshop with Heather Graham and Alexandra Sokoloff about vampires, ghosts and other paranormal stuff. It was pretty interesting.

Okay, here's my complaint. There were only two paranormal type workshops. Two and a half if you count the genre bending workshop (I went to the Kensington spotlight instead). Considering how hot that particular market is, it wasn't well represented in the workshops. And the one I went to was full.

By the last workshop I was exhausted. Since there was nothing I was dying to go to, I headed back to my hotel. My hubby, son and I took part of the 49 mile drive. It's a beautiful drive and was about all I saw of the city my whole trip. I didn't go to the award ceremony. I hate dressing up and in my non-writing life, I get stuck doing it more than I like.

Tomorrow I'll start getting into more details tomorrow about conference. But I'm tired and dinner's on the stove.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Who Is Barbara Cartland?

Yesterday's luncheon was great. Connie Brockway spoke and she was funny and inspiring. However, when she mentioned Barbara Cartland, several people at my table didn't know who she was. Wow. I felt very old. But maybe that would be a good workshop, the history of the genre. I couldn't blame them for not knowing about Dame Barbara, but I think it is important that we learn the roots of the genre.

Anyway, yesterday was very full with workshops and spotlights. I went to several workshops and a couple of publisher spotlights. When I get home, I'll go into more detail about them. My head's a little dizzy with all the info. I went to another workshop this morning and another spotlight. Right now I'm taking a break. They don't provide lunch today so we're on our own. That's okay, I could go without a few meals right now. I found a Ben & Jerry's on the bottom floor of Macy's. Very bad for me. Plus, since we've been walking to dinner, the wine consumption has been high. I'm going to live at the gym next week.

I did run into Kelly a couple of times. It's fun to put a face to the blog. I've met a bunch of great new people, that's been a lot of fun. Glad I brought business cards. The only complaint I have is that twice I've gone to a workshop and there hasn't been any room. In that case I've found other workshops or its late enough I've gone back to my hotel room. There is a bunch of stuff going on this afternoon. I won't be attending the evening festivities, I'm not into the dress up thing. I'm leaving first thing in the morning tomorrow and to be frank, I'll be glad to go home. I actually miss my girls.