Posted in Conference, For Writers, On Writing, Writing

Murdering Darlings: Revisions

When we writers struggle with edits, inevitably someone will mention the phrase often (but questionably) attributed to William Faulkner, or Stephen King, or Colette, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, or… You get the idea.

Whether the chosen word is murder or kill, for a slow writer such as myself, this concept can bring tears, especially when entire scenes (and the precious words that change a novel to a novella) are lost.

I’m almost ready to submit a new manuscript, but only because this week, I sacrificed my darlings.

Teddy bear knife block found on pinterest
sadly not available

My first page has been a years long education. I first conceived of this work as a short story.  I was ready to contribute my 8,000 polished words to an anthology or anywhere else looking for short work. And then, at a conference, the acquiring agent revealed the most overused cliché in her rejection pile – the opening in a rainy cemetery. Guess where my story started. Oops. I set the manuscript aside.

I next picked up the manuscript with the “brilliant” idea of the heroine driving into town after a long absence, I layered in plot and new depth. The short story grew to novella proportions of 22,000 words. My beta readers loved the idea but one thought it started slow. Nevermind. I was ready to pitch until I was an a conference and an acquiring editor called the car ride open her instant “no.” Oops. I set the manuscript aside.

Still, I couldn’t let the story go. All through my broken arm induced writing hiatus, these characters sat with me. I expanded the story, adding subplots and conflict. I reached 56,000 words. A Novel! Almost. I still didn’t have a good opening.

I spent a week recrafting the opening chapter, and an entire day hand writing various opening sentences and more time tweaking and revising and finally, I had it.

“C.E disliked sticky mud, but grass alone didn’t give the grave the necessary freshness.”

Victory! You are intrigued and I get a cemetery. Win! Win! Win!  Except the first chapter was totally wrong for the book. I scrapped it. I murdered that sentence I worked so hard on. The one that absorbed days of my time, where every word had been carefully considered and my beta readers swooned – at least until they reached the end of the second paragraph and then slogged through to the 10th page where the story actually began.

This week, I murdered some words. I have no guilt. Killing them made my heart lighter and my story better. I have a new opening sentence, one that I love and will share wide and far when the time comes.

Until then, if you are wondering what is in that grave, I’ll tell you. It’s murdered darlings.

Posted in Books, Conference, First Friday Five, Lists, Writing

First Friday Five Lessons from #RWA16

Last month I attended the Romance Writers of America annual conference. Since embarking on my writing career, this is the third time I have been able to attend. The 2016 conference marked my first visit to beautiful San Diego, CA. I wish I could go more often, both to San Diego and to the conference. In the meantime, here are five lessons I learned.

  1. Romance authors are wonderful people. We are smart, funny, hard-working, determined, curious, gracious and generous.

    Fantastic keynote speaker Beverly Jenkins
    Fantastic keynote speaker Beverly Jenkins
  2. Always wear comfortable shoes, especially when volunteering as I did during the Readers for Life Literacy Signing. You never know when you will need to race through the building to lend a hand to one of those wonderful authors.

    Helping at Readers for Life: with author Camille Di Maio
    Helping at Readers for Life: with author Camille Di Maio
  3. Be ready with the one line elevator pitch ANYTIME. I am on cloud 9 that my dream publishing house requested a full manuscript based on a one minute interaction.
  4. Small mental shifts in how one approaches the business of writing can be powerful. Damon Suede and Heidi Cullinan shared ways to make promotion a more playful rather than dreaded part of of being an author. When Mary Burton quipped “It’s not concrete, folks, it’s words,” I found the idea liberating.
  5. Last, but not least, I learned I once again picked up too much amazing swag and too many books. This is small sample. RWA16swagThe books are in another room. I can’t keep it all. Over the next few months, I’ll draw names from my newsletter subscribers and send out some goodies. I even have a few things that I can ship overseas. If you aren’t subscribed, sign up here.
Posted in Books, Conference, For Writers, Guests, Talking with, Writing

Talking with Nancy Holland

Today I have my fellow Midwest Fiction Writer and contemporary romance author Nancy Holland on the blog. Rather than the usual questions, Nancy stopped by to share some of what she learned at the Romance Writers of America conference held earlier this month in beautiful San Diego. Take it away, Nancy

Three Things I Learned at RWA 2016

Thing One — Beverly Jenkins is the best!

I was able to go to two of the talks by romance legend Beverly Jenkins and both were amazing. She spoke at the Golden Network Retreat (GNR) on Wednesday about creating vibrant characters, and the first thing she said was that characters aren’t characters — they’re people. Light bulb! Then she went over a very helpful list of things that make your characters the people they are:  their inner and outer influences, their physical attributes, the things that symbolize their personalities (such as their homes or clothing), and their setting. She also had wise things to say about how plot is what lets your characters discover who they really are. Needless to say, she was also wildly inspiring in the bargain.

Beverly Jenkins also gave the keynote speech at the Thursday lunch, where she talked about the history of romance and specifically the role of African-American authors and stories in that history. Once again she was awesome and inspiring, especially for those of us who follow her on social media and know the challenges she’s faced lately. And the best part was everyone got a free book and cool Beverly Jenkins notepad!

Thing Two — Branding can be fun (no, really)

Damon Suede and Heidi Cullinan also spoke at the TGN Retreat (they did a workshop for the PAN retreat, but I had another obligation at that time). Damon and Heidi walked (well, more trotted) us through some fun exercises to help determine what our brand is and, amazingly, mine was pretty much what I already thought.  They also shared some great information about how to use your brand in promotions and marketing.  I strongly recommend checking out their website,

Courtney Milan and Alisha Rai did a workshop on how to identify the audience for your books, how to use that information in designing covers, etc., and how to connect with your audience on social media. The session was too short to cover everything they wanted to, but they gave a lot of helpful suggestions that dovetailed nicely with what Damon and Heidi had to say. Thanks to these workshops, I may just have this branding thing down. Sort of. Maybe.

Thing Three — Hanging out by the pool is totally part of the conference

Since the AC in the meeting rooms was set on “arctic,” I left one session early to sit out in the sun by the pool. On the way out the door I met an author with a charming British accent, and we fell to talking (as one does). She looked vaguely familiar, but it took a while before we exchanged names. Turns out she was Stella Cameron, one of my late mother’s favorite romantic suspense authors. We had a lovely chat about anything and everything (as one does), including her personalized recommendations of places to stay when my husband and I go to England next year.

The take-away? Always take time to make new friends at RWA — you might meet someone like Stella Cameron or, as two of my fellow Harper Impulse authors did, end up having lunch with the real-life Rita for whom the Rita Awards are named!


Found-OSBLola here, hopping in to add that Beverly Jenkins is amazing. She is a master of research and character and hope. Nancy learned some new promo tricks, but in her note above she was too humble to mention her latest book, Found: One Secret Baby which came out days before we left for the conference.

I make no guarantees regarding the cost and how long the discount will last, but I picked up my copy for the unbelievably low cost of $.49.

LA lawyer Rosalie Walker will do whatever it takes to protect her adopted son. She promised his mother before she died that she’d look after him and keep him safe from his paternal family. So when delectable Morgan Danby walks into her office in search of his nephew, she must keep the baby in her care a secret—even if one look from Morgan makes her want to share everything with him…

As a favour to his step-mother— the woman who actually raised him, unlike his real mother who abandoned him as a child—successful businessman, Morgan is searching for the son of his incarcerated step-brother. He can tell Rosalie is hiding something and the temptation to seduce her for her secret is strong, but will he be able to handle the consequences once all is revealed…?

Found: One Secret Baby is available at Amazon and Barnes&Noble 


Posted in Conference, For Writers, On Writing, Reading, South, Writing


RWA13 in Atlanta was a wonderful experience.  I find I learn so much in the company of other writers, and not just in the formal workshops.  In case you couldn’t attend, here are 13 things  I learned at RWA13.

1.  Romance readers are generous and passionate about good books.  I worked as Cashier at the Literacy Signing.  One woman drove across two states to get to the signing.  She had more books than she could hold and her husband rounded to the closest hundred to benefit literacy programs.  I don’t know her name, but she is why we write.

2.  The publishing industry is in flux.  As more authors take charge of their own career, publishing houses and agents need authors more than authors need the traditional publishing world.  It’s a scary but exciting time.  As the author you are more empowered if you take the time to figure out what you and your rights are worth.  (Discussion with Dorien Kelly and Courney Milan)

3. Independent press does not necessarily mean small press. (Indie press panel)

4. A great hook taps into the reader’s curiosity and gets at a deep emotional response (from Elizabeth Boyle)

5. Publishing a book is not a solitary activity.  It takes a team. (from Simone Elkeles)

6. Don’t be afraid to ask a question of authority. The powers that be may not want to answer the question, but you’ll never get an answer unless you try.

7. Interested in trying a stand up desk?  Before you spend $1,500 on a fancy work station, try the ironing board.  I always wondered what those things were for…..  (from Bruce Kelly, CIH,CSP)

8. A workshop on finances may not sound exciting, but Laura Alford, Diane Kelly and Donna MacMeans made taxes and record keeping a conference highlight.

9. Michael Hauge is an amazing public speaker.   The goal of any story-teller is to solicit an emotional response in the reader.

10. If there is an open chair at your lunch table, you might make a new friend.

11. The best presenters were the most prepared and organized speakers.

12. We need more euphemisms for “lady parts.”  (Stephanie Doyle, Elizabeth Hoyt and Molly O’Keefe)

13. When you get over two thousand writers in one place, the energy is amazing.  I’m fortunate to be part of this terrific writing community and I can’t wait until San Antonio #RWA14

Did you go to the conference?  What stood out for you?

Posted in Conference, Food, For Writers, South

Atlanta bound

I love Atlanta.  In a matter of days, the Romance Writers of America national conference will take over part of downtown and I’ll be there.   To celebrate here are five things I love about the town I once called home.

1. Excellent BBQ – leading to the lesson the scarier the building, the better the Q.

2. Pandas at Zoo Atlanta – cute overload.

3. The Georgia Aquarium – to see a whale shark swimming overhead is simply amazing.

4. Terrific people who keep up a smile in spite of high heat.

5. People watching in Olympic Park.

And one thing I don’t miss about Atlanta – the traffic!

I’ll be a cashier at the Readers for Life literacy signing open to the public Weds. July 17th from 5:30-7:30.  Stop by and say Hi.

Posted in Conference, heroes

March Madness Inspiration

Are you watching the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament?  I am.   I wasn’t much of a college basketball fan until meeting my husband who has been known to schedule vacation days so he can watch all the tournament action.  At first, I thought of myself as a “March Widow,” but after a year or so I decided, I’d see my husband more in March if I cracked open a beer, parked myself in front of the TV, downed some hot wings and succumb to the madness.

Besides, the vast majority of coaches wear suits and there’s something about a man in a suit.  The men on the side line fascinate me.  Some scream or are emotional and their suit coats flap in the air as they jump up and down.  Others are an oasis of calm, appearing unruffled in spite of the high stress, high risk and high reward situation.  I began to wonder about their inner lives and a story was born.

Imagine my surprise this year watching Florida Gulf Coast, a fifteen seed that only became eligible for post season play last year, do what had long been seen as impossible and inevitable.  They knocked off heavily favored Georgetown on Friday and San Diego State on Sunday to become the first fifteen seed in the Sweet Sixteen.  The players on Florida Gulf Coast slayed giants, and as FGC star Sherwood Brown’s megawatt smile showed, they had fun.  As the cameras continued to roll, showing the team celebrations, it also became clear, these guys loved their coach Andy Enfield, a young coach in a suit who projected a calm demeanor on the sidelines, but clearly inspired his team with a positive attitude, work ethic and sense of fun.

This man and this team, I thought, are the real life version of my fictional “Ravens of Corwin College” in one of my manuscripts making the rounds.  I can’t wait to share the story of Kyle, Gwen, and the Ravens with you.

In the meantime,  I’ll be cheering that my Ravens find a home and that the charmers of Florida Gulf Coast keep the madness going.

Sherwood Brown – Image appeared from CBS Sports

Who do you cheer for?

Posted in Conference, For Writers, Giveaway, Winter Fairy, Writing

What’s your Swag?

I consider myself a connoisseur of swag.  Let’s face it, who doesn’t love free? As a reader, getting a free book makes my day and I can’t remember the last time I bought a pen.

All of this has made me a bit picky.  If you offer me a cheap ball point stick pen with a cap, I won’t pick it up. If you offer me a smooth writing gel pen, I’ll look at your logo every time I need to scribble out a shopping list or sign something for my kids’ school.  At some point, I’ll pause say “this is good” and check out your website or product.  I will develop a favorable opinion of you and your brand.

As a newbie author with only Winter Fairy to my name, I cannot afford to spend a lot of money.  I’m not a New York Time’s best seller like Cathy Maxwell, who gives out the best swag.  Between kitchen utensils and a tote bag, Cathy is on my mind everyday.  That cheap stick pen from an aspiring author or  multi-published author? It’s in the trash heap.

So how do you find good swag? Here are some questions I used to evaluate potential giveaways:

1.     Is it memorable?  To me – this is the big one.

2.    It is useful?  You want your giveaway to be used, not languish in a drawer.

3.     Is the quality acceptable?  I have yet to find a seller of promotional items unwilling to send a sample item. If you don’t like the quality, don’t buy it., even if the cost is low.

4.     Does the item fit logically with my brand?  I considered Emery boards at one point, but none of my books are set in nail salons. Likewise, a jar opener in the shape of a cowboy boot would be out of place for my midwestern books, but perfect for someone who sets their books in Texas.

5.    Is the item affordable?  Remember to add artwork and shipping costs.

6.     Where will I store this item?  500 bookmarks don’t take up much space.  A box of 500 water bottles will.

7.      Where will I distribute this item?

8.     What is my branding goal?

At this point, I don’t know whether my sticky flags have led anyone to purchase my book.  I am certain they are being used by the recipients and developing my brand.  As more books come out, I’ll expand my swag options and when I reach Cathy Maxwell’s level of success, y’all will come running for what ever I’m giving for free.

So tell me, what’s the best swag you’ve received?

Posted in Conference, Uncategorized, Writing

My RWA Conference Journey

I recently attended my first Romance Writers of America conference. It will not be my last.  For three days, I attended workshops geared towards improving my craft, living the writing life and the business of writing. It could have been intimidating, sharing the space with just over two thousand other writers, many of whom, like myself, were “pre-published.” Instead, I found myself rejuvenated and ever more confident that I’m on the “write” track.

The workshops provided valuable, concrete lessons. Some of them are available for purchase through the RWA website. At the wonderfully entertaining “Understanding Men” given by Dr. Debra Holland, I learned that my husband isn’t ignoring the squabbling children when he’s reading the paper. It’s that his brain functioning makes him effectively deaf.  I learned I’m a “lean and clean” writer, which often leaves me too short for single title, but too long for a novella. Fortunately, several workshops helped me see the variety publication options and how to work within the parameters of different story lengths.  I gained a number of suggestions for ways to deepen and ground a scene, from the focus on detail to strengthening emotion.

Learning other people’s writing process fascinated me, particularly since I’m not sure what my process is yet.  I love that some authors retrieve their characters from their dreams, while others base theirs in real world observations and both ways yield amazing characters.

The biggest boon for me as a newbie writer was learning to trust my instincts. A sex scene needed be explicit if the story doesn’t call for it, in spite of the genre in general kicking up the heat. If my story only needs 50,000 words, that’s fine. It will be harder to market a story that’s neither novel nor novella, but it will, eventually, find a home in the readers’ hands.

Thinking of which, I better get cracking on my work in progress so it can find its way to your hands.