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!

 

Research: Would She Say That in 1877?

Yesterday morning West Houston RWA enjoyed a terrific presentation on research, given by our own Deeanne Gist.  Dee spends an impressive five months on research before she begins to write a novel, and not just for her American-set historical tales.  Even her contemporary romantic suspense novel (Beguiled, written with J. Mark Bertrand) required detailed research on its Charleston setting).

It Happened at the FairDee brought along samples of her research material for her upcoming release, It Happened at the Fair, set at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and available April 30.  For this novel Dee accumulated numerous spiral binders of newspaper clippings and first person accounts of the Fair, as well as an enormous, disintegrating “Book of the Fair” she found on EBay, full of contemporary descriptions and photographs.

One of our chapter members asked Dee how she tracked down colloquial expressions appropriate for her characters, setting, and time period, and Dee laughed and said she bought every book on slang she came across.

I know my personal library doesn’t rival Dee’s, but I’ve written historical fiction, and I have shelves of research books on a wide variety of nineteenth century Americana, including several on language and slang.  My favorites are three volumes by the late Stuart Berg Flexner, not least because they are the sort of books one can open at random and be pulled into an hour of happy browsing.

Even the titles are tempting to a word nerd like me.  I Hear America Talking, An Illustrated Treasury of American Words and Phrases, was published in 1976.  Listening To America, An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from our Lively and Splendid Past followed in 1982.  Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English from Plymouth Rock to Silicon Valley, published in 1997 and edited by Anne H. Soukhanov (Flexner died in 1990) combines material from the earlier books with updates and additions.  All three appear to be out of print, but thanks to Internet sources like Amazon and Alibris.com, this no longer means unavailable.  The books are excellent resources for writers and great fun for readers.  They cover, with colorful phrases, historical vignettes, and (important to writers) dates, topics from religion to sex, business to sports, food to technology.  With indices, illustrations, and quotations.

Opening I Hear America Talking at random, I find on page 71 that “Canoes and Cannibals were two concepts Columbus and his men brought back to Europe from the West Indies (they also brought back syphilis, but that’s another story).”  On page 208, I learn that “gravy train” dates from the 1940s but came from the earlier (1910) use of “gravy” to mean profit or illegal gain through political conniving.  And on page 377 I see that “Zombi, often spelled zombie, was also now first recorded (in 1871) . . . Zombie was both the name of a snake god and of a spell that could animate a dead body.”

See what I mean?  I’d better put them back on the shelf right now, or I’ll get nothing else done this evening.

Party Season, and, of course, Books

I’ve been to three parties in the last week or so, more than I’ve been to in months; it’s the Christmas Party season.  One of the parties was actually a surprise birthday party, but part of the reason it was a surprise is that the victim–ahem, I mean guest of honor–was born on Christmas, not a good day for birthday parties.  So that lovely gathering was sort of a not-Christmas Party.

The other two were the annual Christmas parties for my two local RWA chapters.  For years we have played the White Elephant game at these parties, the game in which players steal increasingly strange presents from one another.  Frankly, it’s not a game I enjoy, and I’ve brought home enough ugly, tacky, and/or totally useless “gifts” over the years to last me a lifetime.  So when one of our group suggested we swap books instead of elephants this year, I was delighted when both chapters voted to try the change.

The plan was simple:  bring a book you’d like to share (or possibly get rid of), a novel you love, a writing book you’ve found useful, a strange book you don’t know what else to do with, etc.  The only rule was: not a book you wrote yourself.

Between the two parties (the membership of the chapters overlaps, so several of us attended both) we saw quite a range of books.  The big hit at West Houston RWA was Fifty Shades of Chicken, a rather unusual cookbook  (you can watch the hilarious book trailer here at Amazon).  Three copies turned up (the only duplicates at the party) and they were much in demand.  If we didn’t limit steals to two per book, the game might have gone on for hours.  One copy of Fifty Shades of Grey turned up at the Houston Bay Area RWA party; it wasn’t stolen at all.  The game produced a lot of fun and laughter at both parties, and I hope it will continue.

I decided to take novels I have loved, and I bought copies at Half Price Books for the parties because I would never give away my own copies.  In fact I took two to the West Houston party: one was an old favorite, one relatively new.

The older novel, written in 1949, was George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides, a post-apocalyptic novel set after a mysterious disease has wiped out most of the human race.  Stewart was a scholar (I have two of his books on American place names and given names on my research shelf) and he wrote other novels, but Earth Abides is the one still being reprinted.  I haven’t read it in thirty years or so–finding a recent reprint only made me want to read it again.

The recent favorite was Farthing, the first in a trilogy by Jo Walton, published in 2006.  Farthing is one of those rare books that simply blew me away when I read it, and it’s always hard to explain that phenomenon.  Set in the 1940s in a Nazi-flavored Britain, it combines a house party murder mystery with solid alternate history.  The three books in the trilogy (I have also read Ha’Penny, but I’ve been saving Half A Crown until I have time to reread the first two) are tied together by the Scotland Yard inspector who solves cases while keeping a very dangerous secret of his own.

To the Houston Bay Area party, I took a copy of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, a collection of beautifully written short stories that any writer should enjoy, and a book I have always loved.

You may have noticed that I took three speculative fiction novels to share with my fellow romance writers, but then I’ve always read widely myself, and I think that’s a good plan for any writer.  Right now, though, it’s getting late, and I think I’ll go to bed with a good romance novel.

 

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