Sticking to My Story

Recently when the editor of the West Houston RWA newsletter asked me if I had an article to contribute to the January newsletter, I found this piece on my computer.  The file date told me that I wrote it in June 2012, but I couldn’t remember why I’d written it.  It wasn’t anywhere here on the blog, it hadn’t been printed in either of my chapter newsletters, and it wasn’t on the Firebirds blog.  Took me about a week to remember that it was written for the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood (the 2009 Golden Heart finalists) when I was a guest on their blog.  Reading it over I see that nothing much has changed, so I’m sharing it again here.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

When Bathtub Jinn, my 2012 Golden Heart finalist, got hosed in yet another chapter contest, I found myself whining about it.  “This manuscript has missed the finals in so many contests,” I said, “that if it weren’t for the Golden Pen and the Golden Heart I might have kicked it under the bed.”

I didn’t say, “I might have quit writing.”  I know that more than a few writers have closed their laptops after too many punishing contests or nasty reviews, but not me.  I always come back.  Glutton for punishment?  Adrenalin junkie?   No.  Well, maybe yes, but that’s not the reason.  I just can’t stop writing, not for long.  It’s what I do.

I wasn’t really born with a book in my hand.  My mother would have mentioned that, although it probably wouldn’t have surprised her.  I’m sure she spent her pregnancy with a book in hers.  She swore that I taught myself to read as a very small child, and complained loudly if she changed a word when she read aloud to me.

I switched from directing my playmates in acting out stories at recess to writing the stories down when I was ten or eleven.  There I was, writing fan fiction for long-forgotten TV shows, decades before the Internet turned that into a sort of massive multi-player online game.  Reading everything I could get my hands on and carrying a book with me everywhere (these days I carry a Kindle in my purse).  Taking high school courses in creative writing—but having much more fun writing satire for (decidedly unofficial) school publications.

That may be where I went astray, venturing into humor.  It wasn’t easy to inject a bit of laughter into years of high school, college, and grad school research papers, but I did my best.  Over years of writing Environmental Impact Statements (the historical and archeological backgrounds, not the bugs and bunnies stuff) I even made a few people in the Corps of Engineers laugh.  Well, crack a smile, anyway.  And wow, did those chuckles make me happy!

So when I went back to writing fiction, longer ago than I care to contemplate, it was only natural that my characters refused to wallow in angst.  Bad things happen, but my people react with snappy retorts, humor and occasional sarcasm.  My characters get trapped in their own costumes, find baby alligators in their kitchens, or make momentous discoveries when they’re too drunk to remember them.  Over and over again they demonstrate that love is perhaps the funniest of human predicaments.

How did I wander from contest angst to humor?  Well, we all know how subjective humor is.  All too often my contest scores tell me that one judge loved my snarky voice and another either hated it or completely misunderstood it.  Publishing pros tell me that they love my work, but humor isn’t selling.

I started writing this with two adages in mind.  The first, classic advice from the jaded professional to the wide-eyed newbie, says this is a tough, tough business.  If you can stop writing, you should.  Take up some other pursuit, something safer, like sky diving, or rabble rousing.  Scratch that advice, doesn’t work for me.

The other famous line is “Write what you know.”  What fun is that?  I’d rather time travel to the nineteenth century, or cross into the dimension of the jinn, or visit an alternate time line.  But I think what that hoary bit of advice really means is “Write what you are.”  Write what you feel, what you care about, what matters to you.  Write what comes bubbling up inside you, no matter what others say.

Love is funny.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

And Happy New Year

Well, I’ve eaten my New Year’s Eve herring (a family tradition–I don’t think I’ve missed a year since I was a little girl) and I’ve watched the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Day concert (that was a tradition with Jack, and I’ve kept it up).  I’ve started new notebooks and hung new calendars.  I don’t really make resolutions, and I try to keep the goal setting to things I can actually control, but I do find myself thinking over what I’ve accomplished in the last year.

Writing:  In 2013 I’m afraid I did more editing than new writing.  Jinn & Tonic finalled in the Golden Heart contest and I spent some considerable time editing that.  The Golden Heart is quite a rollercoaster ride, but I’m hooked, so in the fall I pulled out Tempting Fate, a story I’ve always loved, rewrote much of the beginning, moved some scene and chapter breaks, and sent that off to the 2014 Golden Heart.  Now I’m finally back on my current project, currently 62 pages long.  I know where my characters are going, but I’m having a little trouble getting them there.

Meanwhile I went to a wonderful regional writers’ conference in Shreveport, put on by the NOLA STARS, the North Louisiana chapter of RWA.  And I flew to Atlanta in July for the RWA National conference, with my friends Cheryl Bolen and Colleen Thompson, and had a great time meeting up with old and new friends.  I also finished my two years as president of the West Houston RWA chapter.  I’m pulling the plug on volunteering, at least for a while.  I need to get back to writing.

Reading:  I continue to buy books faster than I can read them (a life-long habit).  In 2013 I managed to read 38 of them, mostly novels, mostly romances and mysteries.  Between my local writer friends and my Golden Heart sisters, my bookshelves and my Kindle are well stocked.

Work:  In October Jo Anne and I cut our work week back to three days, and we love it.  More time for writing, reading, and sleeping.

Around the house:  Two big projects got done this year.  I had the large dead pine tree in the front yard removed before it could fall on a passing car, along with a couple of smaller ones, and the rest of the trees trimmed.  And I had the swimming pool I’d been ignoring for five years demolished.  Now I’m slowly working on the rest of the yard.  Maybe this year I’ll attack the big indoor projects (the bathrooms need remodeling, and the floors need work), but for the time being I’m picking away at smaller clean-and-toss jobs.  Apparently I am incapable of throwing out pens, address labels, or memo pads, all of which keep turning up in the mail.    I started with my writing nook, but there are plenty of other excavations to look forward to.

Life in general:  I’m catching up on my sleep.  I’ve put on another five pounds or so, a trend I definitely need to reverse.  I admire my friends who go to the gym or their fitness class every morning, but I think I’ll stick with walks around the neighborhood.

Thanks for stopping by now and then.  I hope you enjoy reading these little essays as much as I enjoy writing them.  And I wish you all a wonderful, rewarding, and Happy New Year!

Happy New Year 2014

And More Books

When I cut my work schedule back to three days a week a couple of months ago, I was hoping to catch up on reading.  Well, not catch up, really, since I continue to buy books faster than I read them, but at least read more.  It’s been slow.  But I’ve kicked a few other projects off the virtual sticky notes on my computer screen.  I resurrected, edited, and submitted a favorite manuscript to the 2014 Golden Heart contest.  I’ve gotten back to my work-in-progress.  And I’ve just about finished up my term as president of West Houston RWA.  It’s been too cold to do yard work, but my Christmas cards are ready to mail.

The last book I finished reading was Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria, another Tara Holloway novel by Diane Kelly.  Tara Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangriais a gun-toting IRS Special Agent with relationship problems.  She spends much of this book tracking down fraudulent tax preparers and money transfer businesses, trying to break up with her boy friend so she can date the fellow agent she’s been crushing on (since she rescued him from exile in Mexico), and drinking peach Sangria.  Only Tara would declare her intentions to that fellow agent in the middle of a shoot out with a taxidermist/part-time tax preparer.  Diane Kelly writes very funny books, and I highly recommend them.

Now I’m reading the latest adventure of bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich.  Stephanie and her sidekick Lula are hunting for a gangster, but they catch more glimpses of a giraffe running loose in Trenton, New Jersey, than they do of Uncle Sunny.  Stephanie also has two men in her life, Joe Morelli and the mysterious Ranger, constant car trouble, and a loony grandma.  I love the series for the characters, whether they solve a mystery or not.

I’ve been fairly restrained about buying books lately, at least partly because we had no West Houston RWA meeting (with accompanying book signing/sale) to tempt me.  I did go over to Barnes & Noble a couple of weeks ago for the latest Tara Holloway novel, Death, Taxes, and Green Tea Ice Cream, and The Vanishing Thief, first in a new series of Victorian Bookshop Mysteries by my fellow Golden Heart finalist Kate Parker.  (The women I have met through the Golden Heart are keeping my bookshelves and Kindle full!)

Recent downloads to my Kindle include Tales from the SFR Brigade, a free collection of eight stories.  If you’d like to sample some science fiction romance, this is a good place to start.  Thrown is a new contemporary romance with anThrown equestrian background from Colette Auclair, also a Golden Heart finalist.  And I downloaded Orange Is the New Black, by Piper Kerman.  I haven’t seen the Netflix series based on the book, but I heard an interview with the author on NPR the other day, and it sounded too interesting to pass up.  Who knows, it might even inspire me to subscribe to Netflix.  Just what I need, more TV.

Speaking of Golden Heart finalists, the Firebirds (class of 2012) have restarted our blog.  Today’s post is a very funny interview with Colette Auclair about Thrown.  I’ve promised to post on January 13, so I guess I’d better think of something to say.  Hmmm, maybe I’ll write about . . . books.  And now I think I’ll go read one.

 

Changing Habits

Today is the first day of the rest  of my life.  All of us can (and probably should) say that every day, but this week marks real change for me.  Some months ago, Jo Anne and I started planning for change at the Scorekeeper.  In May Jo Anne gave notice to our largest client that we would be parting ways at the end of September, the close of their fiscal year.  Jo Anne and I both want more time for writing, reading, and sleeping.  The third Scorekeeper, David, has passed all four parts of the CPA exam (on the first try!) and needs to work for a year for a CPA or the IRS in order to be certified himself.  So it was time for change.

This week we spent wrapping up reports for the big client, packing up boxes of their records and a computer that belongs to them, and today is the first day on our new schedule of three 7-hour days (usually Tuesday through Thursday) a week.  Two less days I have to make the 60-mile round trip commute into Houston.  And, since we’ve decided to open at 10 AM instead of 9, no more days of getting up at 6:15 to fight the 8 AM traffic.

Flowers 100313Jo Anne has been referring to this as “semi-retirement,” but I’d rather think of it as a new phase, with more time for all the things that have been hard to pack into weekends.  I have my usual to-do lists on virtual post-it notes on my computer screen, things to do now that I’ll have a couple of weekdays free:  a couple of doctor check ups for me, the vet for Nutmeg, get the roof inspected.  The Houston area is expecting its first noticeable cold front this weekend, just in time to push Tropical Storm Karen away from us (sorry, Gulf Coast neighbors to the east), and we’ve had some decent rain lately (if the rain gauge didn’t show it, I could tell by the toad stools popping up in my lawn), so maybe I can get back to that extensive clean-up-the-overgrown-back-yard project.  The front yard needs mowing, if I’m careful to avoid the hurricane lilies.

I have plenty of writing projects:  this weekend I want to polish the first chapter of my work-in-progress to send to the West Houston RWA Emily contest.  I have an edited manuscript waiting in Scrivener to be compiled into a Word file and sent to an agent.  My critique group is back on track, with a new member.  I have Ideas waiting in line.

As for reading, the supply is endless.  I have a list here on my desk of new books I want to pick up, several by my Golden Heart friends, and Diane Kelly’s latest Tara Holloway mystery.  Not to mention the book shelves in my bedroom and all those blogs and articles waiting in my email box.

Last night when I went to bed at my usual midnight I turned off my alarm clock.  This morning I slept until almost 8 AM (no thanks to Nutmeg, who climbed on and off my chest, purring and washing my face and generally suggesting it might be time to get up).  I’ve already received five work-related emails this morning, but I’m thirty miles from the Scorekeeper and my work computer; the work will keep until Tuesday.

I haven’t decided yet what to do with this first day.  Go shopping, maybe with that book list, and have lunch out?  Work in the yard, starting with collecting all those mushrooms?  Read a book?  Catch up with a couple of TV shows I missed last week?  Two extra days a week, and the possibilities seem endless.

More Book Shopping

Yesterday I didn’t go to the bookstore, because the bookstore, Katy Budget Books, came to me, or rather to the West Houston RWA chapter meeting, as they do most months.  So I came away from the meeting with four more books to read.

ScorchedOur guest speaker was Mari Mancusi, who gave an excellent presentation on World Building.  She describes her newly released book, Scorched, as “Terminator with Dragons,” in which two time-traveling boys come from the future to prevent a dragon apocalypse.  Now I do like a good dragon apocalypse story (just read Lorenda Christenson’s Never Deal With Dragons), but what really tempted me was the image of the last dragon egg in the world turning up in a run-down West Texas roadside attraction.

West Houston member Shana Galen’s new release, True Spies, also came home with me.  True SpiesShana mixes lots of action and a good dollop of humor into her historical romances, great fun to read.  This one is a follow up to Lord and Lady Spy; both are set in the Regency Era against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars.

The latest installment in West Houston member Kerrelyn Sparks’ wildly popular Love at Stake series is The Vampire with the Dragon Tattoo (goodness, dragons seem to be trending here tonight), and I bought that, too, although I have to confess (Kerry knows this) that I’m way behind on this series.  Some of my friends write faster than I can read.  Kerry started this series with a handsome vampire who broke a fang one night and had to kidnap a lady dentist from an all-night dental clinic to get it fixed before sunrise (How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire, published in 2005), and the current one is number fourteen.

Kerrelyn Sparks

Kerry also has a new historical novel out, Less Than a Gentleman, a belated sequel to The Forbidden Lady (which was originally published as For Love or Country in 2002).  These books are set in Revolutionary period America, an uncommon setting in the current market but one which I enjoy.

Now my only problem is to pick what to read next–after I judge some more contest entries, drag a completed manuscript out of Scrivener (I’ll let you know how that goes), and get back to work on my current manuscript.

 

At RWA 2013 – Saturday

RWA 2013 wrapped up on Saturday, July 20, with attendees looking increasingly bleary-eyed as we stumbled from workshop to workshop.  In the morning I had a chance to visit with a number of friends, and even met someone from New Zealand who had read my Golden Heart entry–that was a thrill!

I went to a workshop on Key Writing Skills, giving by agent Jill Marsal and Starcatcher (and now multi-published author) Robin Perini.  This was an excellent hour; I have a whole page of notes.  Four main areas: Develop Great Characters (characterization means observable traits, while character is true nature revealed under pressure; goal and motivation always important); Create a Compelling Story (braiding plot and character, internal versus external conflicts); Focus on Story and Pacing (show character changes in every scene, while turning points change the story’s direction); and Revise and Polish (watch out for backstory, telling rather than showing, overwriting, etc.).

The rehearsal for the awards ceremony, a precaution against someone falling off the stage, accompanied by a plea not to drink beforehand, only took about half an hour.  Then I caught a sandwich with fellow Firebird and Lucky 13 Oberon Wonch and her roomie.

I went to two more workshops on Saturday afternoon, “Visceral Rules: Beyond Hammering Hearts,” by Margie Lawson (I’ve been to Margie’s workshops in the past, but she’s always interesting), and a really terrific presentation of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! methodology by Jessica Brody.  I’m reading Snyder’s book now, and I’m going to see if that helps me plot the new novel I haven’t been making much progress on.

The last event of the conference, on Saturday evening, was the Awards ceremony for the Golden Heart and RITA winners.  Cheryl Bolen, my long-time friend and conference roomie, and I went downstairs about 7 PM and had a glass of champagne (in spite of that warning) while we waited for the VIP door to open.  We made out way to our table near the front and found it full of West Houston RWA folks:  Lark Howard and I as Golden Heart finalists (both in the paranormal category), Sophie Jordan as a RITA finalist (novella), and Sarah Andre standing in for a finalist friend, Krista Hall (romantic suspense) who was unable to attend the conference.  Cheryl, Susan Breeden, Tera Childs, and Sophie’s husband were our guests.  As it happened, the only one of us to accept an award was Sarah, reading a thank you from the absent Krista.  Rounding out the West Houston participation were Colleen Thompson presenting a RITA and Christie Craig, the evening’s emcee (entertaining the audience with her usual humor and standing on a box to reach the microphone).  Winners, finalists and audience all had a wonderful time.

Kay and Cheryl at the Awards Ceremony

Kay and Cheryl at the Awards Ceremony

Sunday, and time to go home, came all too soon.  Somehow I managed to stuff all the free books I’d picked up (yeah, I need more books.  But, she added virtuously, some were for my neighbor who looks after Nutmeg when I’m away) into my suitcase.  Cheryl, Colleen Thompson, and I caught the shuttle to the airport, where a Skycap who had clearly been dealing with ladies from RWA all morning, cheerfully told Colleen that if she could pull “one hardback and one paperback” out of her suitcase, it would slip through under the fifty-pound weight limit.  He was right.

Even with a stop at the grocery store, I was home in time for dinner.  Nutmeg the cat was glad to see me (and the roast chicken I’d picked up on the way home) and I was glad to sleep in my own bed.  But I’m still processing all I learned at the conference, getting in touch with new friends, and catching up in general.

And definitely looking forward to RWA 2014 next summer in San Antonio!

 

 

Another Ride on the Golden Roller Coaster

Last fall as the deadline for the 2013 Golden Heart® contest drew near, I found myself wanting to throw my manuscript into the ring again.  I had been successfully resisting RWA chapter contests for the better part of a year, but I really wanted to enter the Golden Heart.  I had become a GH junkie.

But I didn’t have a new manuscript to enter.  I had a couple of old ones, good books, I believe, but probably needing some work, and I hadn’t looked at them in years.  I didn’t see anything to gain in entering either of my previous finalists, although that is permitted and some writers do it.  The book I had started was far too short to finish by the deadline (it still is).

That left Jinn & Tonic, a book I love, which had done well, but not quite well enough to make the final round, in (mumble mumble) previous Golden Heart contests.  Maybe, I thought, those first chapters could use a tweak here and there.  Well, of course they could.  I’m a writer.  And a rewriter.  I read these blog posts now and then and often find something to tweak.  Legend has it that Ernest Hemmingway used to track down his own published books in other people’s libraries and make corrections in the margins.

Giving Jinn & Tonic one more shot at the Golden Heart would also give me an excuse to bring it into sync with some of the world building I had done for Bathtub Jinn.  When I wrote Jinn & Tonic, I didn’t realize I might be starting a series, but the world of the jinn and their relatives expanded in the second book.

As I was considering my Golden Heart options (option, really), I was also dipping into Scrivener.  Why not jump in all the way, and use Jinn & Tonic as a practice piece, to see if the new software might make revising and editing easier?  So I imported the manuscript into Scrivener, set about tweaking, and in due time sent Jinn & Tonic off for one more shot at the Golden Heart.

Then I did my best to pretend it didn’t matter, even as I continued to polish the manuscript.  Why be greedy?  Why expect a manuscript that had not made the final round in (mumble mumble) attempts to grab the gold ring this time?  Who needed all that fuss, anyway?  I had a lot of work at the Scorekeeper, and for West Houston RWA.  I had manuscripts to judge for the Golden Heart in a category I don’t write.  I signed up for a Scrivener class with Gwen Hernandez.

And when announcement day came, last Tuesday, I stayed late at home, at my computer, just in case the phone rang.  I began to see emails announcing newly-notified finalists.  Early announcements.  Sisters from the Starcatchers and the Firebirds were finalists, and a friend, Lark Howard, from West Houston RWA.  By 8:30 I was thinking I should probably get out the door and off to work.

At 8:33 the phone rang.  As I picked it up I recognized the name of an RWA board member on the Caller ID.  I knew what it was, I had waited for the call, and I was just as thrilled as I was in 2011 and 2012.  Just as happy, just as dazed.  But this time, the third time, I was pretty sure it wasn’t a mistake.  After I saw the list on line, anyway.  (And HERE it is.)  A few minutes after the phone call, a friend on the RWA board sent me a one-line email: “So, how’s your day going?”

A week before the announcements I had dinner with friends before the monthly Houston Bay Area RWA meeting.  Cheryl Bolen said, perhaps a bit rashly, “If you get a call next Tuesday, I’ll go to Atlanta with you.”  Turns out she was serious.  Now we’re both registered for the RWA National Conference in Atlanta in July, and we have a hotel room reserved.  I’ve had a new picture taken.  I’m finishing my edits so I can pull Jinn & Tonic out of Scrivener (and yes, it is easier to edit with Scrivener than Word, but compiling the manuscript may be an adventure).

I have forty new sisters, my fellow 2013 Golden Heart finalists.

RWA 2013, here we come!

 

Previous Older Entries