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.

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!


Stopping By to Say Hello

I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting the blog this week in favor of–well, I’m not sure about that.  I wish I could say I’ve been accomplishing great things, or writing a fabulous number of pages on my work-in-progress, but my wall calendar isn’t giving me much help there.

I’ve done some writing for chapter newsletter obligations this week, and I spent one evening at a Houston Bay Area RWA meeting.  Our speaker that night was Colleen Thompson; we were her first try-out audience for a new workshop called “Adrenaline Shots for Plots.”  Excellent presentation, and you can read a nutshell version on Colleen’s blog, Boxing the Octopus.  (I came away with an early copy of Colleen’s latest book, Passion to Protect, a Harlequin Romantic Suspense available October 16.  Looking forward to that.)

I’ve judged some contest entries, always an interesting–but time consuming–endeavor.  Two of them were excellent, and I’m hoping to see them on the list of finalists in a few weeks.  I’ve also been helping out where I can with the West Houston RWA Emily contest.

I read my long-time friend Cheryl Bolen’s latest book, Marriage of Inconvenience, her first for the Harlequin Love Inspired Historical line.  I had an early copy.  It won’t be released until October 2, and I’ll tell you more about it then.  I’ve just started reading my new friend (and fellow Firebird) Susan M. Boyer’s romantic mystery Lowcountry Boil.

The funny little porcelain kitten in my last post appears to be a message box.  I ran across a few similar boxes on the Things Remembered website the other day.  I haven’t located any more information on the subject–Googling “message box” brings up pages of information on computer programs.  One of these days I’ll look further.  But the kitten box is certainly a suitable size and shape to hold a scrap of paper.  A love note?  The starting point of a story?

On a totally non-writing-related topic, the space shuttle Endeavor, the last one to be moved to its permanent location, came through Houston this week, flying into Ellington Field for the day on the back of its transport.  I didn’t see it on its way in, although I got caught in the traffic jam caused by folks headed to Ellington to see it up close.  The next morning, however, I was taking my morning walk, half a block from my house, when it made a farewell swing over the Johnson Space Center, and over my neighborhood.  I’ve lived near JSC for 36 years, but it’s still a thrill to see something like that go right overhead.

Little Bling, Big Thrill

When I got home from work this evening, I found a small box in my mailbox, from the RWA® National office.  It contained my invitation to the RITA® and Golden Heart® Finalists reception on Juy 27th, the Friday afternoon of the RWA conference, and my Golden Heart finalist pin.

The pin isn’t all that impressive as jewelry goes, just a little gold heart-shaped lapel pin suitable for wearing on a badge holder.  Pretty much like this one.  But receiving one is a Big Thrill.  And receiving a second one is, well, validating.

When my historical manuscript Paper Hearts made the Golden Heart finals last year, I was stunned.  For weeks, I went back to look at the list on the RWA site, sure that sooner or later someone would realize there’d been some gigantic mistake, and my name, title, and picture would disappear.   But I stayed on the list, went to the conference in New York City, and had a wonderful time, made just that much better by that little gold heart pin and the Golden Heart Finalist ribbon attached to my badge.

When I got The Call this year I was excited, delighted, thrilled, but not quite so stunned as last year.  First Times are hard to match in some areas of life.  This year I didn’t wake up in the morning thinking “Oh, wow, I’m a Golden Heart Finalist.”  Well, maybe once or twice.  But in another way this second time has been even better.  I’m a seasoned veteran now.  I know, mostly, what to expect.  My finalist this year, Bathtub Jinn, is a paranormal romance, and I feel more comfortable in that category.

Most of all:  Once might have been a fluke.  Twice is real.

The Golden Heart Revisited

I opened this little establishment almost a year ago, shortly after I learned that one of my manuscripts (Paper Hearts) was a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® contest.  The Golden Heart is a Big Deal in the romance world, and I was thrilled.  I went to the RWA National Conference in New York City and had a wonderful time, met lots of people, and watched a cop on horseback plant a parking ticket on a UPS truck while I ate an overstuffed reuben on the sidewalk at Junior’s.

Eventually life returned to normal, and I kept writing.  I finished (with a writing marathon Thanksgiving week) my newest manuscript, Bathtub Jinn, and then I took a break for a few weeks.  We like to call that “filling the well,” which sounds as good as any other excuse. 

On New Year’s Day, my hundred word group started a new stretch, and I began a new story.  I wrote about twenty pages before one of those little voices that live in every writer’s head stopped making up stories and told me to get back to work on Bathtub Jinn.  I’d gotten some good feedback from my critique group and contest judges, and I knew the manuscript needed cutting here and expanding there.  And who knows, the little voice said, you might get lucky again.  So I got out the green pen (red ink feels so critical) and dove back in.

Yesterday the calls went out for this year’s Golden Heart and Rita (that’s the contest for published work) nominations.  My little voice was still with me, and I told Jo Anne last week that I planned to stay home an hour or so later than usual, just in case the phone rang.  (Last year I was somewhere on the freeway, missed the call, and finally found an email in my spam folder asking for another phone number!) 

As it happened, there were two accidents and a truck fire on I45 between here and Houston yesterday morning, and I would have been at least an hour late if I had left at my normal time.  Good excuse to stay home, I told myself.  At least a thousand people who were brave enough to enter the Golden Heart would not get a call, I told myself, and there would be some excellent manuscripts among them.  I knew that was true–I’d judged some of them myself.

And at 8:30 the phone rang.  Out of Area, said the Caller ID.  I hardly ever answer Out of Area calls.  Yesterday I grabbed the phone and fumbled for the talk button.  My hand shook, and I’m sure I babbled incoherently at the lovely RWA board member who had called to tell me that Bathtub Jinn is indeed a finalist for the Golden Heart this year, in the paranormal category.

As much as I enjoyed my trip to New York last summer, I wasn’t planning to go to the RWA Conference in Anaheim this July, unless I had a really good excuse.  I can hardly think of a better one.  I’d better start making plans.

Judging a Book By Its Cover

is something we’ve all been taught not to do.  But the Houston Bay Area chapter of Romance Writers of America (my “home” chapter, the first I joined back in 1996) sponsors a contest that does just that, Judge a Book By Its Cover, or JABBIC.

When we decided a few years ago to start a contest, we figured the RWA world really didn’t need another writing contest.  But a cover competition was something new, it could be done electronically, and it could be judged by booksellers all over the English speaking world.

Since we couldn’t offer possible requests by editors and agents, the usual lure of writing contests, we decided to offer publicity instead, reserving the inside cover of the April Romance Writers Report, the journal of RWA, for an ad featuring the winning covers.  This turned out to be good publicity for both the winning authors and our chapter, and we do it every year.

The JABBIC winners and finalists this year reflect new trends in the publishing world:  two of the winners and three more finalists are self-published ebooks, proving perhaps that these days we really can’t judge a book by its cover.

This year JABBIC added two new categories, Young Adult and Inspirational, as well as a set of Readers’ Choice Awards, judged by anyone who cared to visit the web site, look through the entries, and vote.  Three of these lovely covers were also self-published.

Follow this link to see the all the JABBIC winners, runners up, and Readers’ Choice favorites.  And then consider buying and reading a few of them. Good books.  You can tell by the covers.

Meeting the deadine

for my Golden Heart® entry took a writing marathon over the Thanksgiving weekend, but I did it.  I’ve never joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but as things worked out I did write just over 20,000 words in November, more than 11,000 in the last week.  Of course I didn’t do it from scratch.  Back in August I plotted out the remainder of the book, about forty per cent, because I needed a synopsis for the Golden Pen contest.  When the unfinished manuscript made the finals of that contest, which uses the same format as the Golden Heart, I decided I’d push to finish it before the GH deadline.

Somehow the push took a while to get started.  Early in November I realized I’d have to change my ususal methods to have any chance of finishing–writing by hand in a notebook just wasn’t going to be fast enough.  So I switched to writing on the computer, and that sped up the process considerably, although it did away with my first round of edits.  I still found myself about 10,000 words short on the night before Thanksgiving.

But I still had four days almost entirely free.  Apart from Thanksgiving dinner with my neighbors and a trip to the grocery store on Saturday, I could write all weekend.  And that’s pretty much what I did.  (Well, I also played Sudoku, read other people’s blogs, snacked too much, and listened to the TV or radio in the background.)

Just short of midnight on Sunday I had a respectable complete first draft.  It needs work:  the ending is rushed, most of it hasn’t been proofread, and I’m already thinking of bits and pieces I want to add, but it satisfies the requirements for submission.  Monday evening I sat on the couch with my cat and watched TV, feeling like a kid starting Christmas vacation.  Tuesday evening I reviewed the synopsis and made a few changes–the closer I got to the end, the more the story snuck off the path, but that’s fine with me.  The last page of my outline was pretty vague. 

By this morning I had everything ready to go (for two entries).  Jo Anne had her entry ready, and our friend Lark Howard dropped hers off.  We bundled them all up and sent them to the Romance Writers of America® national office, on the other side of Houston, via the delivery service we use for business.  By this evening I had a confirmation email from the highly efficient RWA staff.  The deadline for receipt of entries is tomorrow.

I learned quite a bit in the course of meeting my self-imposed deadline.  I can write a lot faster than I thought, at least if I have a road map to follow.  I can write a lot faster on the computer than in a notebook–but at the expense, I’m sure, of a lot of small edits and typos.  This draft will probably require more rewriting than a manuscript written at a more leisurely pace, but the total span may still be shorter.  I’ve always been pretty mich a seat-of-the-pants writer, and I don’t know if I can convert to plotting from the beginning, but I may give it a try on the next project.  And I may find that I have to write at least a hundred pages before I have any idea who my characters are or what they are going to do.  We’ll see.  After the holidays.

I have no idea where this came from, but it’s one of my favorite writer quips:  Being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life.  I’m giving up homework until January.  Maybe.  Or maybe I’ll just start making notes for that rewrite, or for that next project I’m thinking about.  Being a writer means having all those stories in your head, trying to find their way onto paper, never quite letting you stop, even when you try.

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