Please 2017, or Hope Springs Eternal

After a year which wore out its welcome sometime in August, I’m really hoping for a better 2017.

Sure, a few great things happened in 2016 – I took two terrific vacations with the family (Jamaica and San Diego, CA), my near two-year battle with dizziness came to an end, and the Cubs won a World Series but on the whole, hope seemed hard to find.

I grieved for the loss of human beings who inspired me – David Bowie and his art of reinvention, Umberto Eco whose pinball scene in Foucault’s Pendulum is sexy perfection, and for Carrie Fisher, who lived life with such fearlessness, wit, intelligence and honesty that for this child of the 70s at least, she was a role model of both what not to do (the drugs) and how to live. When Mohammad Ali died, I grieved once more for my grandfather who died from Parkinson’s disease 35 years ago. And I grieved for my grandmother-in-law who passed away in the spring.

I grieved for the loss of civility, and for my hometown, the City of Chicago, which seems incapable of stemming the tide of violence.

In 2016, I suffered many professional shortcomings. I expected to end the year with an agent, or at least a contract. I put forth a solid effort, but simply put, I failed. It’s not a good feeling, even though I understand that larger industry consolidations make it harder for a well-reviewed mid-lister like myself to break through that magical ceiling that divides the best-sellers from the rest of us. It’s easy to get down and think about quitting, but then something magic happens.

January first, 2017 is a new day. My calendar is not entirely blank, but it may as well be a clean slate. Today, I will do some serious exfoliation and scrub off 2016. As of this writing, no-one has died in 2017, so there is no need to grieve. No-one has teased my children or been unkind to them. No-one has told me no. Look out 2017, here I come.

 

 

Five things I’m thankful for

For my first Friday Five, I’m tackling gratitude, because this month, and this week in particular, I full of thankfulness. Here goes.

  1. I’m thankful birthday season is over and I do not have to deal with party invites and RSVPs until October rolls around in 2017.
  2. I’m thankful it’s boot season.

    These are on my wishlist.

    These are on my wish list.

  3. I’m thankful for Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy and finally getting relief for the vertigo I’ve endured for the last 18 months.
  4. I’m thankful that I’ll have writing news to share in the near future. Newsletter subscribers will be the first to find out what it is.
  5. I’m thankful I got to see the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. I grew up following them and learned the mantra “Wait until next year.” Waiting through a lot of next years taught me lessons in patience and hope that apply to my writing career. I wait for the next book to take off and be the one that gets on the shelves in Target, or at least gets a high-profile review. In the meantime, I sure do appreciate all you loyal fans, er readers, who’ve stuck with me. Can I add a 6th? Because if so,
  6. I’m thankful for you.

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, http://www.your-A-game.com.

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 

 

First Friday Five: Five excuses for ignoring my blog

Somehow I managed to miss posting through most of February. Here are five excuses for neglecting my blog.

  1. “February is a short month. Too short for blogging.”
  2.  “I was too busy sorting all those clothes I promised to donate last month.” (This may be a lie.)
  3. “Making home-made ciabatta is time consuming.”
  4. “The cat ate my keyboard.”
  5. “I was in such a writing groove with my new project, that I forgot about everything else. I’m hungry and my houseplants are dead.”

What else did I miss? I might need to revisit this topic in a month or two, so if you have any suggestions, let me know.

First Friday Five – Rediscovering #Inspiration

I’m in a writing slump. I finished a couple of projects shortly before breaking my elbow in January, but new words have eluded me. Part of the blame falls to the accident and side effects of chronic pain and medication. Part of the blame falls to me and the bad habits I have developed to cope with said pain.

Today is the last day of school for my kids. I don’t usually work on new projects when they are underfoot but I do edit. This summer, however, I’m committing to rediscovering creativity. Here are five ways.

1. Coloring. My daughter’s learning about Mandalas in school. The other day she declared “Fifteen minutes of coloring a day makes you more relaxed and smarter.” I’m not sure about the science behind her statement, but here’s an article on Huffington Post  that supports coloring.

2. Attend a classical concert. I’m fortunate that my town sponsors a free concert in the park series. Even better, the world-class Minneapolis Orchestra performs one of those nights. Hearing music under the stars is magical.

3. Get moving. I borrowed my daughter’s bike a few weeks ago and took my first ride in over a decade. I didn’t forget how to ride, but I had forgotten the amazing sensory rush of the air against my skin and the way the sun warmed my t-shirt. The extra oxygen helped too.

4. Play more games, especially ones like Pictionary, Bananagrams, Moose in the House, and Charades, all of which guarantee laughter in my house. I can’t forget #hashtag games on twitter.

5. Travel somewhere new. I live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and I’ve been to maybe 20.  I find a change of scenery, no matter how small, inspires me to see the world anew.

How do you foster creativity?

First Friday Five: Writing Tween Girls

You can get Valentine’s tips anywhere, so rather than celebrating romance with my First Friday Five, I’m sharing

Five flaws an editor would point out you wrote a tween girl as they actually are.

  1. “This character is inconsistent. One minute she’s likable, the next she’s bat-shit crazy.”
  2. “Your character needs a clear goal, not the vague desire the world is against her.”
  3. “She lacks proper motivation.”
  4. “The conflict is too scatter-shot. Focus. Giving a more concrete goal and motivation will help.”
  5. “I found three variations on “eyeroll” and counted 812 incidents in the manuscript. Avoid repetition.”

Let your inner editor free in the comment section. I’d love to know what you think.

Tamara Hughes’ Writing Process.

I’m turning my blog over to Tamara Hughes today to give her a place to share her writing process.

onceuponamasqueradeTamara Hughes is the author of Once Upon a Masquerade, a Victorian murder mystery romance set in New York City. She lives in Minnesota with her two kids and hubby. When she’s not reading or writing romance, she’s watching romantic movies and TV shows, playing poker, or cooking. (Oh, and spending time with her family. Yes, that too. Ha.)  Visit Tamara at  www.tamarahughes.com

“Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Lola! I love talking about romance books and writing so this should be a lot of fun!

1)     What am I working on? – I’ve recently signed a contract with Entangled Publishing for a three book series with a pirate theme. While the first one is done, I’m working away on the second story and having a great time. Argh. Pirates be so much fun.

This story, tentatively titled Beauty’s Curse, involves a brooding pirate who plays the violin and his attempts to protect a woman who’s nice as can be but a whole lot of trouble. Bad luck seems to follow her wherever she goes.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre? I like unique settings for my historicals (this one begins on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean and ends in the Bahamas). I also loved heroines who are imperfect. Usually they’re a bit clumsy or silly, maybe gullible. I suppose I just relate better to these types of women. Overall, my stories are fast-paced adventures.

 While my paranormal romances aren’t published yet, they all have very unique paranormal people in them. I try to come up with twists on what’s out there or something altogether new.

3)     Why do I write what I do? I love exploring ideas I’m not already familiar with. Historicals have built-in elements I can play with. For any given time or place, there are different rules of etiquette, interesting clothing, and the way a man and woman interact with one another… It’s almost like a dance. I find it very interesting. Men of the past were also more protective and chivalrous, which is so romantic.

 As for my paranormals, I think my reasoning is the same. I can make up a new species of being and explore who they are and what makes them special. Do they interact with humans? And if so, how does that dynamic work? I love thinking through all of this stuff.

4)     How does your writing process work? My process seems to change with each book, but as it stands right now, I start out with a basic premise or idea. I open a new document and I play with where this story could go. When I feel like I have enough to build on, I cast my characters. Basically, I Google images and try to imagine what these people might look like. Then I create a character sketch for each main character. This is a list of questions that range from what their internal and external issues are to what they like to eat and what type of clothes they like to wear.

 From there I attempt to plot the book in an outline form, incorporating the external plot, resolving internal issues, and of course the progression of the relationship. Once this is done, I attempt to write the book. Lately, I’ve been writing a “solid” first draft, meaning not junk. I really think through the scenes as I write them and try to make the wording fairly good. I have my critique partners read the chapters as I write them to let me know if I’m going in a good direction. When the first draft is done, or mostly done, I start at the beginning and edit through. I begin with my critique partners’ suggestions and any big changes I feel are needed, and work my way into the minor things like searching for overused words or phrases. Finally, I do one big read-through before I hand the manuscript to my editor.

Thanks for stopping by!

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Once-Upon-Masquerade-Entangled-Scandalous-ebook/dp/B00HP1JZNU/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_t

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/once-upon-a-masquerade-tamara-hughes/1117987586

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/Search/Query?q=Once+Upon+a+Masquerade

iBookstore: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/once-upon-a-masquerade/id792453836?mt=11

My Writing Process.

The lovely Lynn Crandell

invited me to discuss my writing process. You can find her at http://thewritewaycafe.blogspot.com/.

1) What am I working on? I’ve been doing some rewrites on a first person New Adult before sending it to the agent who expressed an interest. No names or details yet, but I’m excited for this manuscript to emerge from its chrysalis. I’m plotting a follow-up to my forthcoming release. And Bad Traveler will be available soon from Decadent Publishing. I’ve gone through several rounds of edits, but am pleased with the final product.

Winterfairycover2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? A fellow writer once described my work as “sophisticated.” The word applies to my first release, Winter Fairy, but I also try to blend highbrow and lowbrow culture and humor. Also, I’m inclined to give at least one if not both of my main characters an unusual job or hobby. I have so much fun doing research. Did you know there are professional pet food tasters?

3. Why do I write what I write? People are fascinating, especially when they interact. When I sat down to write my first book, I knew relationships would be at the core. In my first two published works, the romantic relationship takes the lead, but I’m still experimenting with genre. I love an optimistic ending. I hope my readers do too. When life seems overwhelming (the cat’s sick, the toilet flooded and the hubs has to work late again), laughter and hope between the pages of a book can be a lifeline to sanity.

4. How does my writing process work? Slowly. My process evolves with every IMG_0477book. In my first manuscript, I struggled with character consistency. I’ve tried fill-in-the-blank sheets for characterization, but this last time I tried using a bubble-idea chart. I love the organic nature of it. I identify the GMC for major plot points before I begin writing, but I allow fluidity in how I get there. I also tend to hand write my first drafts. The motion of the pen on paper helps me focus. It probably slows me down because of the duplicate writing time, but I find I don’t obsess over the little squiggly lines on the computer screen.

Want to read the results?  Winter Fairy is available now at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes and Noble , Google Books and more.

Sign up for my newsletter or follow this blog to find out the release date for Bad Traveler.

I have tagged three wonderful writers, Jenna Jaxon, Karen Y. Bynum and Tamara Hughes to continue the fun. Since Tamara does not have a blog (yet), I’m hosting her answers next Monday. See you then!

RWA13

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?

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.