Four Months Later

So, it's four months later and how are your goals coming along? I hope you have had some success with your goals. (remember we are not calling them New Year's resolutions – they are promises you made to yourself) My first goal was to attend one writer's meeting per month. So far, so good. I have not only made it to one a month, I even went twice one month. I even shared something during one of my meetings – I read a query letter I wrote. It needed work, but then I knew it would so I went with my eyes wide open and with full expectations of having to put some extra work into it.

My second goal was to submit to one contest per month. Also done. I have submitted to at least one contest per month. Most of the time, it was two contests and each contest I sent more than one novel in for judging. If you know me it's painful for me to let my babies out of my hands but I did it. To say I was nervous was putting it mildly. I was more than pleasantly surprised. Not only did I final for three of my manuscripts, but the other criticism sent my way was all wonderfully constructive. After reading what they wrote, I understood where they were coming from and was able to make changes that made my manuscripts even better. So they are off to the final judges. In the meantime, I am on track for May. I submitted to a contest for May – I sent 4 manuscripts. I figure if I send several, they have to like one of them.

Our next step is what to do next? How do we evaluate what we learned from the contests? Do we feel dejected by the comments? Do we feel buoyed by the positive reinforcements? Do we take it with a grain of salt? Do we disagree and feel they do not know what they are talking about? I look at it this way – each person who reads my manuscript is a potential reader. They may be buying my book in the future when it's on the shelf. I would rather they want to read more instead of thinking I do shoddy work. I want them hooked on that first page. At the end of the chapter, I want them dying to read more and unable to put it down. When they get to the end of my book I want them running to the bookstore or going online to buy the next book. When I read their comments, I listen. I am still true to my voice and my characters, but when it comes to mechanics and tension, I listen. When they tell me the characters need to be fleshed out more fully, I listen.

One of the things I did after reading comments was go to a site called editminion.com. One of the contest judges recommended it so I could check for passive voice. You plug in a section of your text and they will highlight different parts. For kicks I did just that. I copy and pasted a section of my text and saw the passive voice. Now that I see how many times I say "had" in my text I can become more conscious of it.

My new goal is to tighten my text. To make it more active and get rid of the passive voice wherever possible. This I can do each day when I finish writing and I edit my work.

Goals:

  1. To write or edit every day
  2. To submit to one contest per month
  3. To attend one meeting per month
  4. To get of passive voice in my manuscripts

Happy writing.

Vacation is good for the writing soul

Sometimes you just need to take a break. A mental and a physical break from the writing. That's what I thought I was going to do. I packed my Kindle and went off on vacation. I downloaded several books, prepared myself for a week's worth of endless reading and thought "I am going to give my brain a break". It was a good thought. I'm sure many of you have done the same thing. I felt a need to recharge my batteries. A need to make sure I was on the right track with my book which is almost finished. I had never written a book with a ghost and dream travel before, so I wanted to be sure I was on the right track. So, with time away, I figured my head would clear and I would get a better picture of the story. I took a notebook along just in case I got some ideas to help me out.

My notebook and not my Kindle became my best friend on this vacation. Oh, I pulled out the Kindle several times, but each time I put it back away within minutes because my characters from my current novel were speaking far too loudly and far too clearly to be ignored. There I was on the plane, ready to take off and suddenly I had the urge to continue my story. How I wished I had brought my computer along but since I did not, I had to resort to the old fashioned way of writing – a notebook and pen. Before long, I had written 14 pages worth of notes to bring back with me. But I was far from finished. The next day as I sat on deck, soaking up the sun, I was hit with even more ideas and more notes of things I wanted to tweak when I got back. So, there I was writing again. Another ten pages of notes later I decided I should probably turn over so I wouldn't burn. Too late, my back was nice and toasty.

Pull out the aloe vera and get back to work.

Every chance I got I wrote down more notes. When I wasn't dancing or snorkeling I was writing. Before I went to bed every night I would pull out my notebook and write some more. I was truly inspired. Perhaps it was the Caribbean air that made me long to write. Perhaps it was not the lack of distractions – like television, children, a telephone. Or perhaps my mind was decluttered enough that it could focus on the story. Whatever the reason I relished every minute of it and let my mind just go.

Then something extraordinary occurred. I came up with another story. At first I thought it was going to be the next story in the series but before long I had completely outlined a different story. A story with paranormal elements. Now this was an area I had never dabbled in before, and yet it continued to just sail through me as if I knew exactly how to write it. I jotted down all the notes. I spent an entire day outlining this particular story. I don't even have names yet, but I have the story outlined from beginning to end as well as the main characters' GMCs. If I have learned anything over these past years it's to never doubt myself when inspiration strikes. Remember in an earlier post I mentioned inspiration comes in many forms? Well this time it came while I was cruising along the Caribbean.

The next day another story, just as strong as the other two became perfectly clear in my head. Another book in the Order series. One I had previously begun outlining only this time every detail was there. I knew the heroine and what motivated her. I finally knew what would motivate my hero. Once again, the details fell into place and I had no choice but to write them all down. Ten pages later, I understood the sexual tension as well as what would make them change their directions. I knew the climax and I knew the character's main arc. We have to take these moments when they come because if you are like me, they do not come all the time. Also, because life has a tendency to disrupt our writing in the most inconvenient way, we have to appreciate when life decides to hand these gems to us on a silver platter. This week, while floating around emerald and aquamarine seas, life decided to give me a boost.

Who am I to question inspiration?

Now I am home and it's time to take all those notes and put them into action. With my puppies by my side, my husband content to have me in the room with him, and my laptop on my lap, I am ready to tackle what comes next. Thank goodness I have a hero of my own who understands me and loves when I am inspired. If only you could see the smile on his face right now!!!

The Perfect Query Letter


If you are like me you have pondered over the perfect query letter time and time again. Let me just start off by saying I am not an expert at query letters. If I was then I would have tons of requests. But like you, I need help. My writer's group is currently having a query night for one of our meetings. To say the least, just the thought of it made my teeth ache and my neck stiffen in horror. The dreaded query letter. Just how the heck was I going to put together a query letter that would work? Okay, maybe not necessarily work, but not suck? How is that? Perfectionist that I am when it comes to letting people read my work, I usually go over my stuff again and again until I let someone read it because I am afraid they will read it and say "What makes this chick think she can write?" I have written dozens of query letters over the years to editors and agents and sometimes I got requests and sometimes I did not. What was the magic formula? I have read may query letter books. How to Write Irresistible Query Letters by Lisa Collier Cool sits on my bookshelf, as does The Writer's Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas. I have gone over them with a fine tooth comb and analyzed my own query letters. Each time I was positive I had mastered the query letter, I wrote them and sent them off. Limited success. Okay, what was the problem? My writing? My letters? Not quite sure. Like you, I followed their guidelines but I'm still seeking publication.

Now we have the internet. There are even more resources for writing the best query letter out there. I think I may have finally struck gold with the perfect place to find information about query letters. Have you heard of The Query Shark? I recently discovered it by reading Bookends, Literary Agency's site. I have been going over the Query Shark's advice, reading each query and her advice to the authors. Wonderful advice. Some of it applies to me, other times it does not because the genre of writing is different, but the basic advice is always the same. You have to hook the agent or editor in those first few sentences. You need to use your voice and the voice of your characters to get across your novel. Writing bland, formulaic letters will not draw the attention of an agent or an editor. Just like your story must capture the attention of the reader within the first sentences, the same is true of the letter. Here's the main difference – you only have one page to get the job done in a query letter. In only 3 paragraphs you have to tell about your hero and heroine's journey, tell about the basic plot of the story and make it sound unique enough for them to be intrigued, and you must tell them about your writing experience. Easy, right? Nothing is harder for a novel writer than to condense their story into a few paragraphs.

My advice – talk to a friend. Tell someone about your book in just a few sentences and then ask them to be honest – would they pay for that book? If they pause, you're in trouble. Because if they pause, they are going to tell you yes, but they have to think about adding enthusiasm into their response. So, start with a hook – in only one sentence – tell them why your book is unique and they should read it. An example - With a warning of "will shoot on sight" which man would be foolish enough to approach her? Are you intrigued? Do you want to know what will happen? I would. So, now you have their attention, you have to keep it. Make every sentence sharp and to the point. Don't add in extra words. Cut them out. One piece of advice from the Query Shark that I loved was – once you think you have the perfect query, put it aside for one week. Pick it up and then fix it again. I love this advice because it is so true. How many times have you written something and thought it perfect? Then you reread it and went "what was I thinking?" Happens to me all the time. I always find something to fix. My next piece of advice, ask someone else to read your letter. Ask them if it's clear and understandable. Take their advice to heart. You may still want to keep most of it, but there may be some golden gems in their advice that will make perfect sense to you.

Okay, so I have given you my advice on what to do with your query letter. Now get to work on it. And check out The Query Shark. I found so much information I could use I know you will too. Most importantly, be honest with yourself. Even when you think it's perfect, there still might be something you can fix. Good luck. Tomorrow night I have to bring five copies of my query to my meeting and share with others. I'll let you know how it goes. Wish me luck.


 

Bunnies

We have bunnies! Bunnies in a burrow in my backyard. One would think that with three dogs, rabbits would stay out of my yard, and most definitely would not build their burrows there, but they have. We found them quite by accident. We did, not the dogs. Albert, my poodle is always on alert and checking every inch of my yard, which for a city yard is quite large. Victoria is too busy looking pretty and sitting on the deck checking out her kingdom to care about bunnies. But Albert is always checking the area, like a good soldier, he looks for intruders. Fox is getting old, so he doesn't check it out as often any longer. I happened to see Albert standing guard one day over a patch of earth, so I went to investigate and low and behold – several small ears were peaking through grass and fur. Upon closer inspection, I saw the bunnies. Adorable.

Albert looked to me for approval. I have to say I was impressed because the dog has been known to kill rabbits that wander in my yard. He was like a proud papa watching over his babies. He goes outside every day to check on them. Of course, to be on the safe side, I go out there with him to make sure he doesn't eat them. They are defenseless and would not stand a chance. The bunnies only need a little more time to be able to hop off. But how wonderful that we have bunnies in our yard so close to Easter. It's a gift of Spring. New life and possibilities.

Spring signifies that start of warm weather, summer coming, and going outside. Just like you, I am looking forward to Spring. After being cooped up inside for months of cold weather, Spring is our chance to free ourselves of those horrible winter blues. The bunnies bring us hope. So, as I sit here, preparing to work on Ice Moon, I feel revitalized and prepared to write for the next several hours, knowing that Spring is here and soon it will be Summer. If you live in a cold weather locale like me, this is most definitely an inspiring time of year.

High Expectations - 2

I am a finalist!  That's right.  I am a finalist in the Stroke of Midnight contest with Passionate Ink!  To say I am beside myself with joy is putting it mildly.  My husband said it is the best birthday present I could get.  I could think of one better thing, but I won't mention it here.  

Here I can see the results of high expectations.  Hard work does pay off.  In grand style if we are persistent.  Remember my promise to myself after New Years?  I wasn't going to make a resolution but a promise.  My promise was to submit to one contest a month.  I have done it.  I have been on top of my game since I made that promise to myself.  February - Stroke of Midnight; March - Touch of Magic, Duel on the Delta, the Sheila, and Romance through the Ages;  April - Fool for Love and I'm in the process of entering one more.

Those of you who are reading my blog and are following my progress, I hope you are cheering in your seats because I am jumping up and down.  I know it's merely a finalist position, but for me, this is huge!  HUGE!

High Expectations

Do you have high expectations? I do. Or at least I am always told my expectations are high. Usually too high for others to attain. I have been told more times than I can count that I cannot expect others to do what I do, or achieve what I want them to achieve because my expectations are too high. If I lower my expectations then life will surprise me instead of disappointing me. I ask this – if I have already lowered my expectations – haven't I already disappointed myself?

I love the month of April and not just because my birthday is in April. I love the way the Earth renews itself in the month of April – at least in North America. I know in different parts of the world, their Spring comes in different months. For me, April is a time to reawaken the senses. Whatever we put to sleep during the winter, whether it is our desire to exercise or our need for sunshine, suddenly when April rolls around, we are suddenly overcome with an urging to go outside. To spend time breathing in the fresh air and letting our hair down. We want to go for long walks again. We take our dogs out and watch them frolic in the new grass as it sprouts in our yards. We see the tulips and other perennials as they pop through the once cold ground. It always bring to mind Easter egg hunts with my kids, where we loaded up the backyard with eggs of purple, pink, yellow, green and blue for them to find. Many times, they were wide in the open (for the younger ones to find) and hidden beneath pots or plants for the older ones. I can hear their laughter as they run about the yard and discover their eggs, plopping them into their baskets and then running to show me their treasures.

Spring is also a time to renew my spirit. After being cooped up all winter long with my laptop sitting on my lap and a blanket wrapped around my toes, I can set up my deck furniture and take everything outside. I am inspired by the fresh air and the blue clouds. I was reading an article in the RWR about working space and how we create it. What inspires us to work better. For many of us, it depends. We need that one space to call our own. The space where once family members see us there, they know not to bother us. For others, our workspace is portable. A laptop we can take anywhere allows us the freedom to use the inspiration around us. My workspace has been portable for many years. I take my laptop to basketball practices, softball games, poolside, and even waiting in the doctor's office. Someone once commented on how I was able to shut out the rest of the world and all its interruptions and focus on what was in front of me. If you are a writer, you know exactly what I am talking about – we learn to focus. We learn to shut out the rest of the world.

Why do we do this? We have expectations. In many cases, our expectations are higher than other people's because we want to be published someday. We want to finish our stories. We don't want to wait until we get home to do this. We will do it wherever we find the time and the small space to do it. We are not good at accepting what life has given us. We want more. Yes, our expectations are higher. We will work a full day and then come home and write until our eyes are so blurry we cannot see the words on the page or until our heads are drooping at the computer. Which is why we often do have high expectations of others around us. We think – "Hey, if I can do all of this, why can't you get the dishes done for me?"

Not unreasonable expectations I think. But then, others do not think like we do. They want to come home, put their feet up and veg out in front of the tv or the video game. They do not want to think about making dinner, doing dishes, throwing in a load of wash, or taking the kids to their myriad of activities. That is our job. After all we took on the responsibility of being a mother the day we allowed a man to inseminate us, right? LOL Sorry, I had to include that, because you know that is exactly what a man is thinking.

Years ago, the reasonable expectation for a woman was to have children and raise them. To do nothing else. Then, after WWII and women joined the workforce in great numbers, the men were away fighting, they learned that women could not only work a full-time job, but raise a family at the same time. And women learned they could do more than just cook dinner for their husbands and keep a clean house. And they realized they wanted to do more. They felt empowered (high expectations). Suddenly, more women were going into the workforce and doing everything, while men were still only expected to go to work, bring home a paycheck and sit and watch tv when they came home. Now, when women start asking them to do more, they say our expectations are too high. (Not mine, mine is a liberated man who helps out. I know, I wonder where I found him as well. Sorry, I'm not sharing. Twenty five years and going strong, ladies.).

So, are my expectations too high of other people? Yes they are. Too bad. I like where I am and I like what I do and yes, I do expect others to give 100% or more because if I can do it and still get all of this done, then so can they. Too bad. I don't think we should have to apologize because others are too lazy to pull their weight in this world of ours. But, alas, I don't think others will agree with me. If my high expectations help me write one more novel or help me on my road to being published, then it is all worth it. So, what in the world does Spring have to do with high expectations? It's time to dust off those expectations, the ones that were dormant all winter long and bring them out. Time to send out the novels we worked on over the winter when we couldn't go outside. They are ready to blossom. We are ready to blossom. Most of all, we are ready to let those expectations take us right to the editor's desk and wow them with our insight and beautiful prose. We are ready to let them world know – I am a writer and I am worth reading.

Immersion

I was watching the movie "Eat, Pray, Love" and came to a particular scene that made me pause. Julia Roberts has arrived in Italy, rented a room, and is preparing to enter the city armed with a map. She is at a crossroads, not just in the city, but in her life. There she stands, the map in her hand, the wind blowing through her hair and brushing it away with her fingers. She gazes down one long street to another, the immense loneliness swallowing her up as she tries to figure out where to go next. As she enters the coffee shop to order a cappuccino, she is surrounded by dozens of customers, all shouting out their orders and she just does not know what to do. Immersion.

She needs to totally immerse herself in the culture in order to understand it fully. Not only must she travel the country to learn more about herself, but she needs to become one with the people. She cannot be who she is, because she does not fit in there. She is not Italian. She is a tourist. She looks like a tourist. She acts like a tourist. In order for the people to accept her, she must become like them. She must learn to like what they like. She must become acclimated to their culture and their way of life. As she moves on with her life, traveling to India and then to Bali, the same changes must come over her. Each time she moves on, she needs to learn about herself. At each place she still doesn't know who she is. She thinks she will find the answer in each place she goes, but the answer is not at the places she visits, but inside her. It is not until she learns to immerse herself in each culture that she can figure out what her purpose in life truly is. Her anger with others resonates when she meets the man in India. I love when the man tells her the meditation room is within her.

If she cannot master her thoughts, then she is in trouble. Wow! What an eye-opening sentence. As writers, we must learn to immerse ourselves in other people's lives. Unfortunately, we cannot do that unless we open ourselves up. We must learn about ourselves in order to go into depth with our characters. How can our characters truly become alive, if we are not alive ourselves? So, we work on our craft, because we think that is the answer, but in reality, the answer lies within us. We must be true to ourselves and the person we are, in order to make something of ourselves in publishing. The woman thinks she needs to shed all the people in her life in order to be happy – to find that inner peace. For some people, they need that solitude in order to better understand themselves. For others, they need to be surrounded by the people who truly love and understand in order to find that solitude.

Immersion. What do you need to immerse yourself in so you can find that inner peace to write and become the person you need to be? The person you are meant to be? Are you meant to be a published author? Are you meant to be a leader in your community? What is your path in life? Are you so focused on just getting by, that you forgot how to immerse yourself in that inner peace that makes those day-to-day activities meaningful? Shake them off. Shake off the responsibilities. Shake off the shackles that have been keeping you fettered to the way of life that you have forced upon yourself because you think it is what you are meant to do. Now, what do you really want?

I want to go back to Paris. Why Paris you ask? I want to return to Paris, because I found inner peace there. I have been many places in my life, but I have always yearned to see Paris. Ever since I was small, I wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and the other beauties of Paris. It was like Paris was always calling out to me. So, I finally went to Paris last year. Was it as wonderful as I imagined? It was better. Total immersion. By myself, I arrived in Paris, and scared like hell, I had to navigate the city on my own. I found my hotel, I spoke French to the people. I ordered my own dinner and went to see the Eiffel Tower. I was so totally at peace when I was there. I felt like I had gone back in time and I belonged there. I walked along the Champs-Elysees and knew this was where I was meant to be at that time in my life. I could not wait to call my husband and tell him about it. I missed him, but I was where I was supposed to be.

I have felt this way before. I felt like this in New Orleans when I visited the plantation homes. When I was in Charleston and wandered the open fields of the homes built over 200 years ago. Most of the time, I feel at peace when I write. Writing is the most peaceful place in the world for me. I feel at touch with my inner self. I know this is where I am meant to be. Writing. So, I immerse myself in writing every day. It helps center me. It brings me peace. It keeps me in touch with a part of myself that no one truly understands except other writers.

So, immerse yourself in what makes you feel at peace.