Thursday, August 31, 2006

Deadlines looming in the gloaming

I should be working on book 2 and finalising edits for Scandal's Daughter, but I realized I haven't posted in a while. Still, there are those deadlines, so I'll take the lazy way out and hand you over to the wordwenches. Jo Beverley and Pat Rice have some interesting things to say about deadlines and work patterns. Go and have a look, if you haven't already. Personally, I like deadlines. I've always done my best work under pressure. Famous last words? We'll see.

I recently had a funny misunderstanding with my web designer about dates. I said I was trying to get a few things nailed down before my baby arrived in October, including building a website. She thought I meant my 'book baby', when actually, I meant the real, flesh and blood-type squalling infant. So now, in certain circles, the day this child is due to enter the world is referred to as my 'release date'. I'm grateful to Paula for dropping everything to get the website done in record time, especially since she did it under the false assumption that my book was about to be released!

Oh, and check out the avon fan-lit site author/editor blog, where Anna Campbell posted about the enduring appeal of the Regency era and Sara Bennett has waved the flag for all things Victorian (an era I can't bring myself to like!). It's a light, fun site and it will be interesting to see whether Regency wins over contemporary in the fan-fic stakes.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


My website is up and running, with thanks to my web designer, Paula Roe.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Beach Days

Another weekend at our beach house. Spring was definitely in the air, even though, technically, it's still winter. Our little boy, affectionately known as 'Rat Boy' or, even more affectionately, 'The Ferret', had a wonderful time jumping in rock pools and drawing in the sand with his feet. Can't wait to take him swimming when it gets warmer.

Went to lunch with Anna Campbell, who lent me Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird', chatted about a great new plot twist in her next book. Then she generously listened to me moan about my latest work in progress.

I'm always moaning about whatever I'm writing at the moment. My writer friends are very patient with me and apart from dubbing me Eeyore (thanks, Denise!) they never tell me to just shut up and write the damn book. They must bite their tongues an awful lot, but they never say it. Honestly, there are days when writing the first draft is like wading through cement. And having read 'Bird by Bird', I realise I'm not the only writer who feels this way.

So if writing causes us so much pain, why do we do it? Someone whose name escapes me said they don't like writing but they love having written. I think that just about sums it up for me. Getting the words on the page is such a chore some days, I begin to wonder why I ever thought this writing caper would be such a lark in the first place. But then, occasionally, I re-read what I've written and there's something great there. A spark in a piece of dialogue, a compelling facet of character just crying out to be developed, or one of those strange, wonderful moments where you see a connection your subconscious has set up that solves a knotty plot problem. That's when I love to write.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

And I Quote

For writers everywhere...

'Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.' Mark Twain

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Unreliable Narrator

Agent Obscura has an interesting post today about authors creating a public persona for their blogs. At least I *think* that's what it was about! With Nadia Cornier there are so many tangents it's difficult to tell sometimes:)

I think taking on a personality that's not our own happens when we write, whether we do it consciously or not. We are all unreliable narrators of our own lives. Every story we tell is filtered through our unique viewpoint. That's why accounts of a battle or even a car accident can differ so widely among witnesses.

In modern romance, the fashion is not to have a narrator in the sense of someone telling the story in the omniscient third person. The story is told in what is known as 'deep third person point of view'. The point of view character in a particular scene filters everything that happens, it's true, but we generally get a true account of what they think and feel about what's happening. We can usually rely on their account of events in the novel. When they color them based on their own unique outlooks, we know that's what they're doing because we know we're inside their heads. The unreliable narrator is someone who seems to be telling the truth but is not. They are concealing things, embellishing, sometimes outright lying to the reader. Sometimes the reader is meant to know this. Other times, the twist at the end comes when the reader realises she has been duped.

The unreliable narrator has been used a lot in literary fiction and mysteries, but not, to my recollection, in romance. It would be interesting to see what would happen if we played with that a little more. One of my favorite movies, The Usual Suspects, uses the unreliable narrator to brilliant effect. I won't give away the twist, but it was one of those slap the forehead moments for me at the end. Why didn't I think of that? I love it when that happens. However, I think if it happened in a romance, said romance would be thrown at the nearest wall.

Conference Notes--Day 4

By the final day of the conference, everyone was starting to fray at the edges, but we still managed to pack a lot into the Sunday.

Miriam Kriss spoke about the paranormal market. As in straight fantasy, in paranormal romance, Miriam still looks for the author's ability to build a unique world, where the author neither tells too much nor too little about the unique rules of her particular universe.

Jane Porter spoke on the topic Is Chick-lit Dead? Jane was very outspoken on what a terrible, denigrating term 'chick-lit' is. That aside, she said that books written for women will always be around and I think that's true, but I felt that was side-stepping the issue a little from the writer's perspective. I have heard, from agent blogs like Kristin Nelson's and reports by authors who write chick-lit, that that particular market is very tough in the United States at the moment. There is talk that the Harlequin chick-lit imprint Red Dress Ink is slowing down and from what I've observed, Harlequin always has its finger on the pulse of what's selling. So, of course, the best-selling authors of the genre aren't going anywhere, but it's a market that's not as easy for new writers to break into as it was in the not-so-distant past. A lot of people are saying this will happen to paranormal romance too, which experienced a recent boom.

Anne Gracie's talk on The Care and Feeding of Rakes was fun and informative, as we have come to expect from Ms. Gracie. Anne made the point that romances are often the hero's story, which is something I realised a while ago in my reading of historicals. Heroes are allowed to be 'mad, bad and dangerous to know', as long as they are capable of redemption and the best loved stories seem to deal with the hero's journey.

I feel heroines have a much tougher time with readers than heroes. Laura Kinsale has commented on this. Make a heroine flawed in the smallest way and the reader is likely to throw the book at the wall. Still, Kinsale has not let that stop her from crafting wonderful, three-dimensional heroines. But it begs the question--why are we so hard on heroines? Is it because women tend to be tougher on our own sex? Or is it because we want to identify with the heroine and fall in love with the hero? We don't like to see our own flaws, but we enjoy knowing the heroine (therefore we) can tame that bad boy and bring him to his knees?

Seducing the Media with Cherie Curtis was a real eye-opener. Cherie showed us how to write a media release and spoke about ways we could use our personal experiences to generate newsworthy stories. Apparently, releasing a book is not enough. Darn it! It then becomes a question of how much of your private life you're willing to put in the public domain.

After a fun author chat with Anne Gracie in which we lost track of time, it was the end of the conference for me. We got a little lost on the way home, but luckily for Denise and me, we had the very switched-on Fiona in the back seat navigating, so we got there in the end. Exhausted and enthused!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

AAR Conference Round-up

Kate Cuthbert of All About Romance has written a report on the Romance Writers of Australia Conference. Thanks, Kate! It's very interesting to see the event from an outsider's point of view.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Conference Notes--Day 3

The first thing on Saturday morning was handing out the first sale ribbons. There were so many first sales since last conference, I lost count! I was very proud to be among them.

Debbie Macomber spoke about her journey to publication, a very emotional speech. I can understand why her books are so popular. It made me realise how lucky I've been in the support I've received from my family, especially my husband. While he would never pick up a romance novel to read, he has taken my ambition to be published in romance seriously from the start. No fuss, just steady, quiet support.

My first workshop was Lilian Darcy's Career Planning for Optimists. Lilian offered a valuable insight into the journey of a new author and pitfalls along the way. She made a very good point that the writer who has the longer journey to publication often comes out better in the long run. Once you're published, all your growth as a writer is done in public, whereas the writer who takes longer to get published has a longer period in which to experiment with style and hone her craft in private. Getting published with a book that only just makes it over the threshold might be a disadvantage in the long-run.

So if it's taking a while for you to sell, take comfort in the fact that as long as you keep writing, you're never wasting that time. I've been writing seriously for about five years, two of which were full-time. Just before I sold, that seemed like a long period. Now, I'm not so sure. I do know that writers never stop learning their craft no matter how many books they publish. Hopefully, my books will get better as I go along. I want to still be writing when I'm in the old folks' home!

I had lunch with my critique partner and expert schmoozer Denise, Kate Cuthbert from the Courier-Mail and Miriam Kriss from the Irene Goodman Agency in New York. Silently (actually, I think I might have done it out loud!) I thanked goodness I didn't have to do any pitches this conference and could talk to Miriam like an ordinary human rather than a desperate writer. I've only done one face to face pitch in my life, and that was so nerve-wracking I couldn't sleep for many nights beforehand. If you're not a natural at it, I think pitching agents is a waste of time and nervous energy. Generally, they don't remember you afterwards and you'd get the same response from sending a query letter. You also get to send sample pages most of the time when you send a query. I suppose there is the advantage to pitching that the agent has to pay attention to you right at that moment and not shuffle you down the slush pile, but that's the only positive I can think of. I'd much rather get to know an agent in a relaxed, social setting, rather than during a 3 minute pitch.

After lunch was Jane Porter's Not Just Hot Sex, which was all about increasing sensual heat without necessarily making descriptions of love scenes more graphic. I got a lot out of that session, not the least of which is Jane Porter is a very passionate speaker!

Anne Gracie spoke about emotional punch but sadly ran out of time. I'm looking forward to the reading the rest of that talk because she really did put things in a new perspective. Rather than using emotive or emotional language and describing someone's emotions, it's far more powerful to subtly show them placed in a dreadful situation. As I cried through about the last third of Anne's The Perfect Stranger I know from experience she is a master of this technique!

Oh, and Anna Campbell and I took a group for an author chat, which was great fun and a little surreal as I've been 'published' for such a very short time I felt like a bit of a fraud. Of course, our group wanted to know our respective 'call stories'. Another interesting question was whether either of us had considered e-publishing. That will be the subject of another post.

The awards dinner came that night. At the risk of leaving someone important out, I will mention a couple of the award winners. Anna Jacobs won the long Romantic Book of the Year Award (R*by). I must say, it was nice to see someone win who (apart from being a great writer) has supported the RWA and actually bothers to turn up to the awards ceremony rather than sending their publicist. The lovely Trish Morey won the short category of the R*by, which I was very chuffed about because she's such a great lady.

I won one of the unpublished contests, the Single (Title) and Loving It, but to me, the best part of the evening is always the time when the MC gets everyone who has sold a book, won a contest, submitted their work, and so on to stand up. At the end, about three-quarters of the room were standing. I think that's a ratio we should be proud of. It shows that RWAustralia members are professionals and serious about their writing.

No after parties for me, unfortunately. Once again, I took my whale-like carcass off to bed.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Conference Notes--Day 2

I listened to an inspiring workshop by Debbie Macomber, who shared some plotting techniques she uses. I meant to write after lunch but my evil friends led me astray and I ended up joining them in a glass of champagne and gossip in our hotel room upstairs. Which was very instructive, as it happened. Never underestimate the power of industry gossip! Some so-called 'rumours' have come to pass this week. Also learned some gossip about myself doing the rounds of Romance Writers of America, which was verrry interesting!

Then, on to the Harlequin Golden Years of Hollywood cocktail party where a glass of champagne and orange juice was just a little too much for this little black duck on top of the afternoon's libations. I've abstained from alcohol entirely for about seven months, so it's not surprising I was a little knocked sideways by the small amount of alcohol I consumed. Still, managed to take some great pics of the costumes. Was led away by a friend who saw I needed to leave but couldn't find the strength to do it, and then somehow I got sucked into a planning meeting for upcoming romance contests. Don't know how our Paula Roe manages to get so much done! She's a little curly haired dynamo. Stumbled off to bed after a debate over the value of query letters in contests. Still can't quite recall what I was doing in that meeting in the first place.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Conference Notes -- Day 1

Denise and I managed to get to our hotel in Broadbeach without any major detours. Actually, we fluked the correct turn-off from the motorway and were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves heading straight for our destination. Is there something about writers that means they have very little sense of direction? Anyway, we got there, and that's the main thing.

We saw Anna Campbell in the lift and met up for a cup of tea and a gossip. Then it was off to Fiona Lowe's chocolate and champagne launch party for her new medical romance, Pregnant on Arrival--out now! I refrained from champagne but couldn't resist the Lindt chocolates and strawberries. Then it was on to the e-list dinner on the Broadbeach mall with good food and great company. This is traditional for those on the romaus loop and a great ice-breaker for those who have never been to a conference before. It's always interesting to see people you've come to know cyberly in the flesh. They're rarely as I had pictured them.

Being 7 months pregnant, it takes very little to exhaust me, so I stumbled back to the hotel room and fell into bed. Big day tomorrow!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Back from Romance Writers of Australia Conference

Why is it that talking non-stop for 3 days can be so exhausting? It's not as if I did any physical activity to speak of, yet I can hardly keep my eyes open now I'm back.

Had a great conference. Caught up and celebrated with old friends and met some interesting new people. I'll post photos soon. The costumes from the Harlequin Golden Years of Hollywood cocktail party have to be seen to be believed! Even the husbands/significant others dressed up, so it was a great night. Yours truly went in mufti, however, not being able to think of any hugely pregnant women in the Golden Years, except Melanie in Gone with the Wind. Oh yes, I was going to go as Titanic but ran out of time to put a costume together.

Check in soon for a full round-up of the conference.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

In the News

I've been quoted in our local paper about the forthcoming Romance Writers of Australia conference! Check out the article here.

Oh, and I survived the snake! Well, obviously:-) Husband coaxed him into a tree next to the veranda. I don't think snakey was too happy about it. So nice and warm in the kitchen!

Snakes Alive!

I should have been packing to go to the Romance Writers of Australia conference tomorrow. Instead, I was battling a snake in my kitchen.

I came home from dropping my little boy at his gran's on the other side of town. When I walked into the kitchen, I noticed one of his baby photos had fallen from the shelves above the kitchen sink (cue spooky music). I shrugged and put it back, went and checked my email.

Heard a crash from the kitchen. This time, it was one of my husband's football trophies (which he insists on putting on display among my ornaments as a tongue-in-cheek sort of joke). Looked up to where it had been and there was the snake.

Now, I wasn't overly worried. It looked like a green tree snake to me. Not deadly or anything, though I understand they can give a nasty bite. But I didn't like the thought of letting that snake out of my sight until my husband came home to deal with it. And yes, I am a wimp, perfectly happy to file getting snakes out of the house under the heading 'man's work'. Besides, my husband grew up in semi-rural area, whereas I'm a suburban girl through and through. I called him at work, and that's when I started to worry. I said, 'It's a tree snake. It's fine.' He said, 'So you're a snake expert now? It could be anything, don't go near it.'

So now I was spooked. I couldn't take my eyes off it in case it scuttled off into some other part of the house. And besides, I needed to start getting dinner ready and I really didn't want to be chopping vegetables with a snake hanging like the Sword of Damocles over my head. Eventually, I couldn't stand it any more. I opened the window next to the snake and tried to shoo it out with a broom. I swear, the thing turned its head and stared at me with utter contempt. Half an hour and buckets of nervous tension later, it had moved a few inches to the right. Finally, I got most of it out the window and pushed up the window until it was almost shut, not wanting to crush Mr. Snakey's tale. And what did he do? Used my soft-heartedness against me and eased his way back in.

Now I was mad. Using two broom-handles, I tried to pick him up to get him out the window, but he dropped neatly into a pot plant on the kitchen bench. I picked up the planter and got it quickly outside, onto the veranda. And that's where he is now, flicking his nasty little tongue and plotting how to get back in. So if you don't hear from me for a while...

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Romance Writing Contests--One Path to Publication

Something all unpublished romance writers should be thankful for is the proliferation of contests run by chapters of the Romance Writers of America and their counterparts in other countries, including Romance Writers of Australia. The finals of these contests are judged by agents or acquiring editors and they are a great way to avoid the slush pile or slip under the 'no unagented submissions' rule many publishers have now.

The sale of my first book, SCANDAL'S DAUGHTER, to Berkley Sensation was the direct result of my entry finaling in 2 different contests. At the risk of being labeled a contest sl*t, I've listed my contest credits for SCANDAL below.

Why enter contests?

There are a few reasons put forward for entering contests. One is to gain feedback from disinterested third parties. I'm skeptical about this. I've received some great critiques, especially from published author judges, don't get me wrong, but if you want feedback you should invest time and effort into finding one or two critique partners who will read all your work, not just the synopsis and first three chapters. Look for those rare individuals who not only appreciate your writing, but are willing to be honest about your shortcomings and prepared to spend time helping you make your work better. Such writers are rare and precious. Treasure them! Don't pay your $30 entry fee plus postage for 3 anonymous opinions on your partial and synopsis. Your money is better spent in other ways.

Another reason for entering contests is to see how your work stacks up against your competitors'. This is a perfectly good reason for entering one or two contests but be careful never to treat contests as the only arbiter of good writing. Many writers sell books which have bombed repeatedly in contests. Many writers can't sell books that consistently win.

Some enter contests to build up credits for the bio sections of their query letters. I've heard a number of agents say they don't take much notice of contest credits unless it's the Golden Heart. Long lists of credits can even affect their opinions adversely. Does this writer spend more time entering contests than writing? Why have so many judging editors seen her work and passed? So when you are querying, my advice is to be selective--just mention one or two credits, preferably wins.

My experience with finaling in the Golden Heart was very revealing. It probably got me past the query stage (which I had already managed consistently without the GH final--when my website is up and running, I'll post my query letter there) but no further. Once you're past that stage it's the writing and the writing alone that counts. Miss Snark says this time and again. If you haven't read her blog, you should. It's a gold mine of inside information about how agents operate. I have a respectable list of contest finals but in my query letters I only mentioned the Golden Heart and the ones that led to full manuscript requests. I also restricted the list to credits for the manuscript I was pitching at the time.

The best reason, and for me, the only reason to enter contests is to get your first 3 chapters and synopsis in front of an acquiring editor. This is how I sold my first novel, SCANDAL'S DAUGHTER. I finaled in 3 contests that resulted in the judging editors requesting the full manuscript. One of those editors read the manuscript quickly and came back with an offer to buy it.

As so many seasoned writers advise, I didn't immediately agree to sign. I involved an agent, the fabulous Jessica Faust at BookEnds Agency (read the agency blog here) who read the full manuscript the same day and offered me representation. I liked the fact that she responded quickly, but didn't immediately jump at the chance of a sure sale. She made sure she believed in the project first. Another agent offered representation having only seen the partial, which might well have meant that she loved the writing, but I was more comfortable knowing Jessica had read and considered the full manuscript before making the offer. Jessica then approached a few other houses, and the end result was a sale, but not to the first editor who offered. Leis Pederson at Berkley, who had requested my manuscript after placing my entry first in the historical category of the Emily Award, bought the manuscript in a 2 book deal.

So, my advice is to target contests judged by editors at houses where you think your work will fit. Make sure you enter when you have completed a manuscript or at least have written the first draft. There's nothing worse than receiving a request for the full with only one chapter written!

What about targeting agents through contests? Having seen how the submission process works with agents, I'd save my money on entrance fees and submit to them directly. Agents I queried all responded within about 48 hours to my email queries, within a week or so to snail mail queries, and within a couple of months to partials. You won't speed up that process by entering a contest--they often take around 3 months for the first round to be judged and a further couple of months before finalists are announced and you receive any request for the full manuscript. And then, sadly, there's the possibility that you might not final at all.

Contest finals for SCANDAL'S DAUGHTER:
*means manuscript/partial requested

Winner, RWA Golden Heart Award*
2nd RWAus Harlequin Mills & Boon Opening Chapter*
2nd Hearts through History Romance through the Ages
1st RWAus Single Title contest
1st WHRWA Emily Award*
2nd Sharp Synopsis*
3rd Golden Oak*
3rd Fire & Ice

For more information about upcoming contests and deadlines, visit the Contest Divas site.

Hm, some of those views might be seen as a tad controversial, but they are based on my experience. What is your experience of contests? Are they worth the time and money?

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Morning After

Everyone's home from the national Romance Writers of America conference in Atlanta now and it's back to business as usual. I'm so proud of my fellow 2006 Golden Heart finalists--many of them have either sold or received requests for their manuscripts in the lead up to the awards night. A very talented bunch. We dubbed ourselves the '06 Pack, and we're hoping to keep the relationship going well beyond the contest, much like the wet noodle posse, the 2003 GH finalists who fielded 3 RITA nominees this year. What a fantastic achievement!

Had a busy but relaxing weekend at the beach house. Beautiful weather, though too cold to do anything but paddle at the moment. Can't wait for spring!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

On the Beach

We're off to the coast for the weekend. Hope to get some writing done up there. I have edits coming up for SCANDAL'S DAUGHTER and a proposal for book two to deliver sooner than I care to think about. After all the excitement of Scandal winning the Golden Heart for short historical and the sale to Berkley, I really need to refresh my mind. Maybe some long walks on the beach will do the trick.

Next week, I'm at the Romance Writers of Australia conference at the Gold Coast. Should be a blast. My friends and critique partners Anna Campbell and Denise Rossetti are newly published also, and no doubt the champagne will be flowing freely! Can't wait. But then there are those edits...

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Rubber Band Girl. Or, My Crumpets are Burning

I'm the sort of person who likes to do 3 things at once. If I'm going to the post office to mail a manuscript, I like to do my supermarket shopping and pick up my specialist (hideously expensive) dog food en route. I eat breakfast while I'm making someone else's and unpacking the dishwasher. As a mother of a 3 year old with one on the way, I've learned to be flexible. But I've discovered this week that there is a limit.

Two weeks ago, I sold my first novel in a two book deal to Berkley Sensation. On the weekend, that same novel, 'Scandal's Daughter', won the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award for best unpublished short historical. I have an agent, an editor and for reasons which are so boring I won't go into them I have 3 accountants. I keep trying to do 10 things at once and the result has been repeatedly burning my breakfast. Or letting it go cold before I can eat it.

So I have decided to focus on ONE THING AT A TIME. Rocket science, it is not. But hopefully, I'll keep my sanity for just a little longer. And I might save my crumpets in time.