Compliments of Emerald City Writers' Conference 2011. This bag is filled with books from a variety of publishers and sub-genres, chocolate, writing pens, bookmarks, and other assorted knick-knacks. But the bag was only the beginning of a weekend packed with great workshops, inspiring key-note speakers, delicious food, and tons of fabulous raffle basket give-aways (sadly, I didn't win any, but there's always next year!).
Results for the finalists of the 2011 Get Your Stiletto in the Door Writing Contest are in! Final results will be available in December. (Finalists are in alphabetical order by last name. This order does not reflect scoring.) Single Title
(Judged by editor Esi Sogah of Avon, agent Paige Wheeler of Folio Literary Management and E-Publisher Amanda Bergeron of Avon Impulse)
A LIFE OF PRIVILEGE by Kristy Harvey DANCING NAKED IN DIXIE by Laura Reese THE EX-LOTTERY by Kimberly Sanders
(Judged by editor Junessa Viloria of Ballantine, agent Victoria Sanders of Victoria Sanders & Associates and E-Publisher Rhonda Stapleton of Carina Press)
TRUST ME by Kimberly Swaak
LIVING ON AIR by Lucy Taylor
CLASS REUNION by Sandra Tilley
(Judged by editor Toni Plummer of St. Martin’s, agent Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency and E-Publisher Kelli Collins of Ellora’s Cave)
SMALL TOWN STORM by Elise K. Ackers
SHADES OF GRAY by Kimberly Sanders
HIGH TIMES AND LOW TIPS by Terri Snethen
(Judged by editor Leis Pederson of Berkley, agent Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Agency and E-Publisher Jennifer Miller of Samhain)
HEXED: DEAD VAMPIRES DON’T DATE by Meredith Allen Conner
HARBINGER by Peta Crake
CHERUP’S PLAY by Steven Moores
(Judged by editor Leah Hultenschmidt of Sourcebooks, agent Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency, and E-Publisher Heather Howland of Entangled Publishing)
THE PICTURE OF DULCE GARCIA by Alana Albertson BOIS CAN’T HAVE BABIES by M-E Girard MY FAIR ZOMBIE by Amy Jones
Louboutin Stiletto Award(Judged by agent Lois Winston of Ashley Grayson Literary Agency)
Still recovering from jet lag after returning from Ireland and Northern Ireland last week. It had been a few years since I'd traveled overseas and I remembered how invigorating being in a different country is, as well as how tiring air travel is! Overall, it was a great trip and I managed to squeeze in plenty of sight-seeing that included a visit to the beautiful Trinity College Library in Dublin that I was hoping to post a photo of, but alas, they don't allow photography; as well as a walk through Merrion Square Park to see the famous statue of Oscar Wilde! Yes, that's a Starbucks cup in my hand. No matter where you go in the world, it's impossible to get away from Seattle's great(est?) contribution to popular culture!
Cleaning out my files earlier this week, I came across a folder of my poems dating back to 1995 when I was studying English literature and creative writing at the University of West Florida. On one of them, my poetry mentor, former Poet Laureate of Northwest Florida Laurie O'Brien had written "Please send this one somewhere!" And I did. To a glossy stylish magazine that promptly rejected it. Afterwards, I filed it away and forgot about it, although I have continued to write poetry, largely because of Laurie's lasting influence. In the classroom, she didn't suffer fools gladly, but she created a supportive environment for fostering creativity and introduced me to my poet self, for which I will always be grateful. Her own poetry is elegant and honest with the kind of attention to detail that transforms a poem into a tiny word painting, which is how I remember her describing what poetry should be. Sadly, Laurie passed away in 2004, but her work lives on, both through her poems and through the many lives she touched.
In “The Brightest Star in the Sky” Marian Keyes demonstrates once again her mastery as one of Ireland’s great contemporary story-tellers and her willingness to push past literary genre boundaries. In her latest book, she assembles an eclectic and colorful cast of characters who inhabit the same building on 66 Star Street in Dublin. Told from the point-of-view of a spirit that is visiting the address for a very special mission, we piece together the mysteries that surround each of the building’s residents. . .(continue reading)
This past Monday night I sacrificed watching the ever-scintillating "Bachelorette" to rush up to Barnes and Noble and hear Meg Cabot speak. What a good choice! She was absolutely hilarious. Even the man next to me (my husband, incidentally, whom I dragged along to take my photo with Meg) was laughing his head off! I think we might have been the only two adults in the room who were unaccompanied by children, which was rather odd given that Meg was in town promoting her adult paranormal, OVERBITE, but perhaps that is what children are reading these days on the heels of that other popular series that features vampires and such. Of course, who can forget her delightful teen book THE PRINCESS DIARIES and I saw many copies of that beloved volume in hand to be signed. I even picked up a copy myself and then agonized over which of my seven (yes, seven!) nieces to have it personalized for, finally settling on the one who fancies herself a "princess"! Thoughtful Auntie got OVERBITE, which I have added to my growing stack of Books To Read.
A few choice tidbits for writers from Meg's talk that stayed with me:
Regarding revisions, she said that from an author's point of view no book is ever really finished and that she never reads her own books once they're published. She also said that most writers are excited about their manuscript until about page 100 and are ready to move on to the next project by page 200. (Am I the only one who finds that really encouraging?!)
Regarding rejection in the publishing world, she said that after her father died when she was a young person that she no longer feared rejection. The worst thing that could happen to you, she said, was losing someone you love, not being rejected by a publisher. She added that her father's death made her realize how important it was to follow your dreams.
This year's Stiletto Contest, sponsored by the Chick Lit Writers of the World RWA online chapter, is now open for entries. Categories include:
Entry fees are low ($15-25), each entry will receive FOUR written critiques, and the impressive line-up of final judges includes an agent, editor, and e-publisher for each category. Stiletto finalists have a great track record of being asked for full manuscripts and offered representation! More details at http://chicklitwriters.com/stilettocontest/.
So, the bad news is that I found out this past week that my entry did not final in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association's annual contest. The good news is that I received two fabulous critiques from the judges! Am I grasping at straws here, trying to find something good out of this rejection? I don't think so. I put off reading the critiques for almost 24 hours, worried that they would futher damage my already wounded ego, but when I finally read them I was really surprised at the quality of the feedback and the overall positive and encouraging tone of each. True, one said that she/he absolutely despised one of my primary characters, but then went on to give detailed feedback regarding the characters and plot and ended with the phrase a writer never tires of hearing: "You are a very good writer."
The main criticism from both was that my story was not a romance. My heroine does not end up with a man in the end. Instead she ends up accepting her dream job. Isn't that romantic?! I thought so. Apparently, this plot line is not considered a romance by some PNWA judges. Oh well. I see that the Golden Rose Contest recently opened. I'll make some revisions based on the feedback I received (still keeping my ending though!) and send it there.
Early bird registration for the 2011 Emerald City Writers' Conference opened on June 1. The conference will be held at the Bellevue Westin October 28-30, 2011 and has an exciting line-up of keynote speakers and agents and editors attending. See the conference site for more details.
I can't say enough good things about this conference. It attracts a huge turn-out of writers representing all genres, every registrant is guaranteed at least two small group pitches with an agent or editor, the atmosphere is enthusiastic and supportive, there are tons of workshops to choose from, even the food is great!
One of my favorite Seattle events, The Seattle International Film Festival, opened last night. As always, they are showing an amazing and eclectic group of films shot and produced all around the world. So many films, so little time! The Love Me, Do! category of films about love and romance looks like a good place to start.
Poppy Browne is a quirky, independent 15 year old who finds herself in a private Christian high school in Texas after her mother takes a teaching position that relocates the two from Colorado and Poppy's public high school. Before Poppy has a chance to adjust to her new shiny, happy surroundings, she's befriended by two of the most dazzling and popular girls in school and plunges headfirst into their convoluted world where nothing is as innocent as it seems. As Poppy begins to spin out of control, she finds comfort from an unlikely source, a preacher's son, but can't figure out if he's a black hat or white hat kind of guy.
"Lifted" is a well-written and emotionally satisfying read that made me simultaneously nostalgic for high school and relieved to be well on the on the other side! Toliver deftly captures the turmoil of high school life, touching upon deeper issues that influence teen behavior such as parental alcoholism, infidelity, and teen sexuality without being heavy-handed or preachy. Poppy is an engaging and authentic narrator whose voice rings true. The characters are fully dimensional and defy stereotypes, creating a plot that keeps the reader guessing up to the end. Themes of betrayal, forgiveness, acceptance, friendship, and love will resonate with readers of all ages.
Romantic suspense author Brenda Novak's annual auction to benefit diabetes research began May 1 and goes through May 31. This year's auction features hundreds of fabulous items and opportunities, including lunches with authors, agent and editor evaluations, handmade jewelry, vacations, and books. Check out the full list of goodies here.
The Emerald City Opener Contest is open for submissions until May 31, 2011. The entry is the first seven pages of your manuscript in one of the following categories:
Judges are PRO members or published authors and finalists will be judged by editors and agents. Finalists will receive a private appointment with an editor or agent at the Emerald City Writer's Conference, October 28-30, 2011 at the Bellevue Westin.
Thanks to a particularly nasty upper respiratory virus that's been making the rounds, I spent the last few days lying partially comatose on the couch trying to practice mindfulness to cope with the horrible sensations that I'd swallowed razor blades and that my head and ears were full of rocks. When that didn't work as well as I'd hoped, I turned my bleary gaze to the TV for a full day of "The Waltons," a childhood favorite of mine that showed from 6 a.m. to midnight on the Hallmark Channel this past Saturday, and a whole stack of library DVDs, including "Crazy Heart," "I've Loved You So Long," "Hurt Locker," and "Margot at the Wedding." I enjoyed them all, but I think "Hurt Locker" was my (surprising) favorite because it was so different than what I had expected. I found it especially interesting how jarring it was to see the main character in a civilian setting at the end of the film. I also enjoyed "I've Loved You So Long," although I had some trouble with the main premise that the family wasn't aware of the circumstances of Juliette's son. That just doesn't make sense to me. Maybe I missed something in all those French subtitles and my weakened state. I was very impressed that Kristin Scott Thomas speaks French fluently. I had no idea. "Margot at the Wedding" was very, very funny and well worth viewing.
While visiting one of my favorite bookstores last week, Vashon Book Shop, I picked up Bonni Goldberg's book "Beyond the Words: The Three Untapped Sources of Creative Fulfillment for Writers." The book is divided into three sections: Percolation, Revision, and Going Public. She writes, "Revision is. . .an act of caring for your writing. When you complete a first draft, you've created a base form, the clay. Rewriting is working the clay to make it useful" (p. 82).
I appreciate thinking of revision as an "act of caring" and a continuation of the creative process rather than a chore!
In honor of the upcoming tax deadline (which, by the way, is April 18 this year instead of the usual April 15), I thought I'd dedicate a post to saving money (a topic most writers find relevant!) and share a few of my favorite strategies for managing money. Over the years, I've developed a bit of a reputation among my friends and family for my ability to create a savings strategy for even the tightest of budgets. Finding money where there appears to be none has always been fun for me. Here's how I do it:
1. Track all input and output.
I use a simple monthly budget using an Excel spreadsheet. Every bit of money coming in and going out goes into the spreadsheet. I review it at least twice a month so that I can adjust spending if needed.
2. Make necessary changes.
If the output is consistently greater than the input, I take a hard look at where this is coming from and make needed changes. It's especially tempting to overlook "small" expenses, but they can be the biggest culprits. $2 for a cup of coffee (or a chocolate croissant!) from the corner cafe doesn't seem like a lot compared with other expenses, but multiplied by two times a day, five days a week it turns into $80 per month. Reducing this expense by half results in a savings of $480 a year.
3. Ask for better rates.
Every couple of years I do a thorough check of all the services I use (cell phone plan, cable, auto insurance, etc.) to ensure that I am getting the best possible rate. I just completed this process last month and managed to save an average of $20 a month ($240 a year) on every account I checked. For example, when I called my telephone company to review my account, they offered me free unlimited nationwide minutes and a faster internet speed for $10 less than what I'd been paying. A quick call to my credit card company resulted in an immediate savings of 2% in my interest rate.
4. Automate debt payment and savings building.
I find that money automatically deducted for debt payment and savings building is much easier to let go of than trying to decide how much I can afford to pay into each of these important categories every month. Setting up an automatic transfer to each results in the delightful discovery at the year's end that debt has been paid and savings have "miraculously" appeared!
5. Use cash for expenses.
Although I like to automate most of my fixed expenses, I find that using a predetermined amount of cash for weekly expenses is easier for me to manage than putting purchases on my bank card. When I see the money dwindling in my wallet, I am more mindful about how I spend it. This also results in fewer surprises at the end of the month!
6. Have fun!
This is my most important secret strategy for managing money. Everyone in the household has to be on board and the most effective way to do this is to make it fun for everyone, especially yourself! There are lots of different ways to do this, but one of my favorite ways is to make saving money a game with rewards. For example, if everyone in the family competes to see who can help save the most money that week (by finding the least expensive items for the grocery list, using the car less, etc.), the winner gets to decide how to use the saved money to celebrate. Buster's favorite way to celebrate is a trip to the doggy bakery for a special treat! :)
This month's GSRWA chapter meeting featured paranormal investigator Neil McNeill. Unsurprisingly, given the high number of paranormal authors in this area, this meeting was one of the most well-attended I've been to. I will admit I was unsure about whether or not I should attend. I don't write paranormal and envisioned the lecture being focused on haunted houses like some of the programs I've seen on television. Instead, we received a mini-course on the history and meaning of "paranormal studies." Neil explained that many of the phenomena we commonly associate with paranormal studies have their own discrete field of study, such as mythology or ufology. He defined paranormal studies as referring specifically to psi, which is, according to the Parapsychological Association, the study of psychic experiences including "telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, psychic healing, and precognition." He had some excellent tips for "responsible writing" about the paranormal: doing historical research in libraries and museums; learning about other related fields, such as mythology; and learning about paraormal studies in general. Great tips for writing about any subject, actually. The lecture was so fascinating, I'm considering registering for one of Neil's classes in paranormal investigation! I also left with some ideas for a new book with slight paranormal elements. . .
The fabulous Cara Black was in Seattle yesterday promoting her newest book, "Murder in Passy," which I can't wait to read! I met Cara at one of my favorite bookstores anywhere, Seattle Mystery Bookshop.
This bookshop will make a mystery lover out of anyone! I could spend hours there looking through all their fascinating titles that run the gamut from cozy mystery to political thriller.
Growing up, I was a huge Nancy Drew fan, but as I got older I moved away from the mystery genre, assuming adult mysteries were all the same: John Grisham-like novels, which, although I have enjoyed reading on occasion, aren't my favorite. (Too legal-focused, too bloody, too much plot over character--just my opinion!)
Then I discovered Cara Black's Aimee Leduc Investigation series. These books are set in Paris (where Cara spends months every year conducting research--what a hardship!), which is beautifully described; have a very cool protagonist; and weave well-researched, fascinating history into the contemporary plots that leave me feeling like I've learned something new every time I finish one of these books. Who can ask for more than that?!
Yesterday I woke to sun streaming through my window blinds and birds singing. Is it spring already?! This year's vernal equinox, marking the first day of spring, occurs on Sunday, March 20. A full day of bright sun and clear skies reminded me that I don't need to move to California for sunshine. It's easy to forget, after months of gray skies, that Seattle ever sees the sun. Then today, more gray skies.
Oh well. I've often said that it's much easier to write when it's gray and rainy than when the sun is out! But that little glimpse of sunshine this week has me dreaming of summer in Seattle. There is nothing like it. The normally reserved (some might say "uptight," but that's a topic for another day!) Seattle residents walk around with goofy smiles on our faces saying things like "Isn't this weather wonderful?" and "This is why we live here!" to total strangers. Everyone is in a good mood. At least until the temperatures creep up past 75 degrees for those two or three days in August. Then you'd think we were experiencing the worst heat wave of all time.
But summer is still three months away, so I'll try to slow down and enjoy the rainy/sunny/singing bird/blooming flowers season that is spring in Seattle. The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, a gorgeous celebration of spring's most beautiful blooms, begins in just two weeks on April 1.
Still reeling from the shock of Friday's 8.9 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The images on the news are heartbreaking and terrifying. I spent most of the weekend trying to imagine what it would be like here in Seattle if we experienced a similar catastrophe as so many have predicted over the years. Apart from having some supplies in your home, assuming you'd either be in your home or be able to reach your home, I don't see how you can really prepare for this kind of thing. After coming to this conclusion, I decided to move to Nebraska as soon as possible! That resolution lasted for as long as it took me to realize that despite its inherent dangers, I love the coast and wouldn't want to live away from it. So, I've decided to move to a coastal area in California instead! My main reason for not moving there earlier was fear of earthquakes; however, this latest disaster leaves me thinking that since it is practically impossible to predict where and when disaster might strike, isn't it best to be where you will flourish and be happy? Maybe it's because it has been such a rainy month and I am missing the sunshine, but I think I hear California calling. To be continued. . .
This past week I finally finished a book I started reading almost two years ago, "Notting Hell" by Rachel Johnson (2006). I picked it up at a B&N book sale because I was intrigued by the description of the novel as a "comedy of manners" set in London's Notting Hill. After finishing it in a few days of uninterrupted reading (while resting my twisted back!) I realized that I hadn't finished it earlier because it's not the sort of book that's easily read in short spurts. I've noticed this with other British novels that have much lengthier descriptive sections throughout the narrative than their American counterparts, which tend to be heavier on snappy dialogue and action. I think that's why I enjoy British women's fiction so much. I feel like I've had a satisfying meal after finishing a book by Judy Astley or Marian Keyes because the settings are so well-described. They also require a bit more of a reading commitment than snatching a few pages while on the bus, which gives one a good excuse to sit on the couch with a blanket and just read for a couple of hours.
There were a couple of elements of this book that detracted from my overall reading experience. One was the very specific cultural references laced throughout the book that I didn't fully understand, even with the very helpful "Notting Hill for Beginners" guide in the appendix. This was a good reminder for me to think carefully about the cultural references I put in my own work. The other major difficulty I had while reading was being able to distinguish between the two narrators, Clare and Mimi, particularly in the first half of the book. I normally enjoy books with multiple narrators (Keyes' "Brightest Star in the Sky" and "This Charming Man," for example), but found myself checking back to the start of each chapter to remember which one was talking. As I was reading, I felt like the author was more comfortable with Mimi and knew her better. As a result, I felt like I knew Mimi better than the other characters. Then I read in an interview with Rachel Johnson that she related most to Mimi! Overall, "Notting Hell" was a fun, gossipy look inside the lives of a group of obscenely wealthy neighbors in one of London's most prestigious addresses. It also made me thankful that I don't live there! In 2008, she published a sequel, "Shire Hell" (for the U.S. market: "In a Good Place," 2009) that catches up with Mimi and her family after they've left Notting Hill for the bucolic countryside. Will have to pick it up from Kenny's Bookshop. . .
I had high hopes for a productive week of writing but was sidetracked first by my little dog having to be hospitalized unexpectedly for dehydration (very frightening, but he is fine now) and then somehow twisting my back and finding myself unable to move without excruciating pain. Fortunately, I know a good chiropractor who is within hobbling distance and after a couple of quick spinal manipulations and a lot of ice, I am now back on my feet and pain-free. What a relief!
What a busy week! I submitted my entry to the PNWA literary contest. Condensing my synopsis to one page was especially challenging but I think I managed to pack everything important into that one page (double spaced even!).