Monday, January 31, 2011

Neeeext!

I have lots to keep me busy this month, so today I start tackling number one on the list: revising my novella, Off the Clock, for my Samhain editor. She made a really great point about the heroine's backstory that I'm incorporating, and then asked about adding a few extra scenes. First time around I was limited to a 20k word count. This time I have room to explore a few things. I still think it'll come in around 25-30k, but that's okay. I completely agree with her on what needs changing. So that's happening this week.

Since my husband's tax forms will be coming at the end of the month, getting my things ready for the accountant is on the list too. I'll be able to do that in a day, but oh what a day it will be. LOL. And then there's the new proposal for my Harlequin editor and each day a little bit more of the story/concept comes to me so I'm looking forward to that. And speaker forms are due to RWA by the 15th. Plus I am going to be in Toronto next week (tres cool!), and beginning on the 28th I'm giving a workshop called To Agent or Not To Agent at the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal RWA Chapter.

And of course there's always the chance that revisions for Clay and Meg will show up in my inbox. :-) Oh and I can't forget the 2 week school break coming up...

But it is good to have the work because it means good things, and I'm really excited about starting on my next Romance too.

The one thing I am going to have to be aware of - and I made sure I did this in January during deadline hell - is making time for me. I guard that time as closely as my work time, actually. I know my best ways of unwinding. Reading, watching a tv program, knitting, walking the dog, a jacuzzi bath. I really need ways to quiet my mind and just BE and gain energy for the next day.

Anyway off to revision land! It's quite nice working on a story about spring when it's bitterly cold and white outside!

Friday, January 28, 2011

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#Fridayreads - death of the hardback?

Rather than reviewing this week, I'm going to chat quickly about a recent experience and ask what you think. I'm still reading sooper seekrit RITA books, you see, but I was at the bookstore the other night and wanted to share.

I was really there to pick up gift cards for a few birthday parties going on this weekend. Well, I can't go into a bookstore and not browse A LITTLE. I was in between sports runs so didn't have a lot of time. Picked up a few cute bookmarks. Browsed the romance section. But I have a ginormous tbr. So I went to the YA section instead. Grabbed a book for my eldest. Went to the 9-12 section and found a book for my youngest that looked like something she'd LOVE - and hadn't read yet. Beautiful Joe.

I had a little sticker shock at the cash register but did some quick addition and figured it was a little high but I wasn't going to hold up the line. It all became clear when I got home. The paperback-sized hardback was $25.

I was aghast. It was a hardback but it wasn't huge, like, say, Shadowfever with all its beautiful packaging, you know? It was the size of a Nancy Drew book. $25. If I'd seen the price, I wouldn't have bought it. You know what I would have done? I would have come home and looked for it at amazon in paperback.

Are hardbacks on the way out? It looks that way. Reports yesterday say that kindle is outselling hardbacks on amazon 2:1. I can understand why. If you don't want to wait for the paperback, which would you rather pay? $10-15 for the kindle and have it RIGHT NOW or $20+ for the hardback?

There's been lots of discussion about how the industry is changing and price points and whatever. I can see things from both sides - as a writer making a living and as a reader who buys A LOT of books. And all I can say is, for me personally, I have to really really WANT something in hardback before I'll shell out that much money.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Good News

Because I have had a fantastic, most awesome cover artist at Samhain for my last two books, I entered the cover of Sold To The Highest Bidder in the Dunes and Dreams Perfect Cover contest. I found out yesterday that it's a finalist in the Contemporary category. Good news for me but the credit really goes to the artist, Kanaxa, who did such a great job capturing the feel of the book.

And I heard Tuesday night that one of the proposals I was involved in for RWA Nationals in New York has been chosen. Three of us - Fiona Harper, Joanne Grant (Romance line Senior Editor) and I are giving a workshop on How To Write Sizzle without Sex and Emotion without Tragedy. I was already super excited about the conference; this is the icing on the cake.

Now, back to editing...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

#WW Only at the end, can we see the beginning

Doesn't that sound zen of me? But it's really just the same old cliche - hindsight is 20/20.

Whenever a new writer asks me if they should submit after writing the first three chapters, I usually answer no. There are several reasons, including 1)you should go through the exercise of finishing a book, and know you can, 2) if you get a request, the last thing you want to be doing is rushing to write the last 3/4 of the book and send in something substandard, 3) your partial will be stronger if you have finished the book and revised/polished it accordingly.

It's the third one I'm going to talk about today because it's just your luck that I'm in the revision stage of my current manuscript. I finished the first draft last Friday, I hope to send it to my editor at the end of this week, Monday at the latest. I used to hate revising, just ask my critique partner. I never made many changes to books after I'd written them - it was very much refining and fine tuning. But as I go on I am more ruthless.

Of course bear in mind this is my process only, but I think one thing can be said for the majority of books. After you get to the end, you know EVERYTHING. Maybe you always knew how it would end but you didn't realize that a certain symbol would have meaning, or things that your character said that took you by surprise. When you get to the end and go back and read your first chapter, it reads differently. You can see where things are missing. Where motivations that made sense in the beginning need a shift to really lead into the rest of the story. Because you KNOW. You simply know things that you didn't know before, and it doesn't matter if you're a planner or a plotter. Until the words are written, you just don't know.

With Clay and Meg, the focus needs a slight shift because I was heavy on some part of the conflict and too light on others. In some places I focused on one thing but forgot to layer in other bits that keep threads woven through (broken threads are not good. Things unravel.).

Sometimes - not in this story thus far - I have to lose a scene altogether. Or set it somewhere else. Or in the case of another story I'm revising beginning next week, I need to add a scene. Or two. Maybe I've gone too fast, or maybe I'm just filling time (filler is not good). Sometimes I have to switch point of view. A scene that is flat from my heroine's point of view is suddenly filled with tension and conflict from the hero's. Those are the things that need to be done NOW, and it's my job to figure it out and DO IT and not be lazy about it.

Thankfully, my first draft isn't REALLY a first draft. I mean, I write it, and then I read it over and adjust a bit, and then I sent it to my CP, and then she sends it back and I adjust it, and so on with the next chapter. And even after all that, I STILL end up revising. And guess what. After my editor has had a look at it, I revise some more. On a good day, I get a few pages of tweaks. On a bad day, I get revisions that are rewrites. Only once have I had a book that needed to be rewritten from scratch. All fifty-thousand words.  In fact, I had to rewrite the first half of this one because my editor saw what I couldn't - that the characters are wonderful but the way I'd chosen to write it wasn't working. I did not like having to start over. But once I got a few chapters in I realized how this way is MUCH better.

The point is, do not be afraid. If a scene feels off, ask yourself why, and take the time to adjust it rather than saying it's good enough. Trust your instincts. And write the end of the damn book so you can make your submission the strongest possible. A lot of work now, but worth it. SOOOOO worth it.

Happy writing! Next week we're going to talk about taking an idea from concept to proposal.

AND, because I haven't forgotten, happy birthday to my Fabulous Critique Partner Michelle Styles!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wine, Cheese and Romance

Press Release: On Thursday, February 10, Bconnected and the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada will come together for a night of “Nova Scotia Networking: A Romantic Affair.” Can Nova Scotia networking really be romantic? In February, indeed it can…or at least that is what event sponsors claim.


Lynn MacMichael, president of Bconnected and co-sponsor of the event, is excited for the pre-Valentine’s celebration, which will bring together the Halifax networking elite and local romance writers for wine and cheese, great works of art, and the art of the written word.

Event publications ensure the community that “kissing is not required, but if you’d like to grab your date for a smooch while no one is looking, Cupid will no doubt be pleased.”

The Nova Scotia networking event, which will take place at the Argyle Fine Art Gallery, will provide an opportunity for the Halifax business community to mingle with some of Halifax’s finest local authors. Halifax has a number of published authors who are known world-wide, and the goal of this event is to bring the two communities together.

Businesspeople and writers are encouraged to attend along with a date if they so choose, for a night of networking, mingling and fun. “Celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving yourself the gift of a night out to get to know more members of our fabulous Halifax community.”

The event will take place on Thursday, February 10 at the Argyle Fine Art Gallery (1559 Barrington Street, Suite 102) from 6:00-9:00 PM. It is free to attend, and there will be a cash bar.

To find out more about Nova Scotia Networking with Bconnected and the RWAC visit http://www.lynnmacmichael.com/  or http://www.romancewritersac.com/.

 

Monday, January 24, 2011

A word about dentists

I wasn't going to post again today but I am because I love my dentist and his staff. You see I did not have positive dental experiences growing up. No one seemed to understand that it took a lot of freezing and so visits to the dentist were particularly painful and quite often I was made to feel like I was making a Big Deal over Nothing. I have super sensitive roots, y'all. And so I made the problem worse by avoiding the dentist and going when I had a fit of conscience.

Some of you blog old-timers will remember nearly 3 years ago when I had The Issue. Cue much fearmongering on the part of my Calgary dentist. At one point I was sure I was going to lose several teeth and would have to endure painful, long procedures and shell out a lot of dough for implants. Thankfully we were also involved in moving at the time and because I knew The Issue must be dealt with I called a friend here who recommended her dentist and I made an appointment for when we would be in the area.

"Oh," he said upon examining my teeth. "That tooth isn't going anywhere and you're a grinder, so let's help this issue by getting an impression for a bite plate."

When I explained that I was very sensitive and that my last cleaning had resulted in me clenching the arms of the chair and crying, he asked why they'd never frozen me to clean.

My face went blank and I said, "YOU DO THAT?????"

Yes, he does. More than that, he listened and made sure I was put at ease. I tease him now and call him a sadist because I think he rather enjoys freezing half my mouth at a time for cleaning, because he smiles and then I am numb to my eyeball. The hygienists are all lovely but I confess to having a favourite because we laugh constantly even as I'm holding the suction.  It does not cost me an arm and a leg. I book faithfully for follow up appointments, and I do not dread going. AT ALL. No nerves, no sick stomach, no hyperventilating. Even better is that my kids do not dread the dentist like I did. They look forward to their visits.

Unfortunately my years of sporadic treatment left their mark and I do have a few problem areas and my dentist wants me to see a specialist. And I am nervous all over again. She is not Dr. Greg. I trust Dr. Greg. And that's because he listened and didn't make me feel like I was a big baby for saying IT HURTS.

I know I should do this now as it is "minor" treatment and can save me more involved treatment down the road, so I told him to go ahead and send the referral. We'll see how that goes.

But as I told my hygienist this morning, having The Issue three years ago was the best thing that could have happened to me. It scared me into being proactive with my teeth, and it took me to Dr. Greg.

Movie Watching Redux

I watched three movies over the weekend, so here's the skinny:

First up: Letters To Juliet. The girls and I watched this Friday night. Really cute, great characters, gorgeous setting. Tissues in a few places, too. My only disappointment was that from a writer's POV I would have liked to have seen Charlie post a letter to Juliet in Verona - a bring-it-back-around sort of symmetry to the story idea. But in all other ways, we really liked it. There is a reason why Redgrave was acting royalty, I think. She was lovely.

Next: Shrek Forever After. OMG, I laughed a LOT. This might be my favourite Shrek movie, although I have to say that I really liked 1 and 2 as well (3 was my least fave). We watched this as a family and had a great time.

Last, and my least favourite: The Back Up Plan with Jennifer Lopez and Alex O'Loughlin. Alex O'Loughlin. Alex O'Loughlin. I say it many times because he was the best part of this movie. Truly. If it hadn't been for Alex O'Loughlin I would have turned it off.  But Alex is hot. Scrummy hot. So thank you casting director, your choice saved the movie IMO.

My other watching on the weekend included finishing Season 2 of MI5 (Spooks). I had to watch epi 1 of season 3 because OMG. Have I mentioned I love Netflix?

Last night I made headway on RITA reading.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Changing Headspace

Since finishing Clay and Meg's story - at least this draft - it's like I've given my head permission to think about other things. I have a duet concept to come up with and I've had NOTHING really as I've focused on Clay and Meg and haven't had room for anything else.

But this weekend, my brain went on holiday. To a new town, a new idea, and a new hero and heroine. It's coming together in bits and pieces, but I think I have something I can work with. My hero's name is Ray Diamond.  My heroine is Angela Beck. And they are going to butt heads. A lot.

Anyway it's been good. I've relaxed this weekend, done a tiny bit of admin, watched a few movies (which I'm actually going to blog about tomorrow). Tomorrow, I'm launching straight into revising this manuscript, because my editor is waiting for it. If I am lucky, I will deliver it Friday - a few days early. There is something satisfying about a clean desk on a Friday night. :-)

Friday, January 21, 2011

And they all lived happily ever after...

I have written The End. And sent the last two chapters to my critique partner. It's a few k short, but on Monday I'll have to look at her comments and I know I'll layer in a few k, and then when I revise from the beginning the total will go up even more. This means...my word count when I hand it in should be right on target.

Most of all it feels really great to have a complete manuscript to work with.

For now I'm off - to tidy up the takeout mess and then hopefully watch a movie with the kids. The weather is nasty and it's the perfect sort of night for snuggling in.

#Fridayreads - It's RITA time, and Bree Tanner

I had a breakthrough last night as I push to finish the book, and today is my day to blog with the Harlequin Romance authors at eharlequin, so you can read all about what opened it all up for me HERE.

The next few weeks are going to be difficult to post for #Fridayreads because it's officially RITA time. That is, the super seekrit package of books have arrived for judging and so they automatically go to the top of the reading list.

I'll be honest. In years past I've read some fabulous books and got turned on to new authors, and I've also read some that I thought were pretty bad, and then others that were just okay. When I saw my list of books this year I got very excited. For one, I got 6 books instead of the 8 I got last year. And every single one of them looks good. Four of them are from my first choice of category. Lovely!

But of course I can't tell you what they are or who they are by so...

So what ELSE am I reading?

I'm finishing up The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer and re-reading the first Harry Potter book. I started Bree Tanner before my RITA books arrived and we started re-reading HP (out loud) after Christmas when I expressed a hankering to read the series again before the last movie comes out.

I talked to my daughter about Bree Tanner as she read it before me and we agreed that the lack of chapters is disconcerting. I know it is a "novella" but it IS 170 pages and so no chapter breaks feels kind of odd. Especially for me because I am so a "just let me finish this chapter" before putting it down person. I'm used to chapter breaks. Ending hooks. One thing being resolved only to create another problem.

And there aren't really SCENE breaks either, so I don't even have the empty line to say "This is a good place to stop". It seems like a small thing but it actually threw me off a lot.

And I don't like it as well as I liked the books. That being said, it's not a difficult read, and it's not that it's not enjoyable. It's just not, well, spectacular. This is an "add-on" book and it kind of feels like it, honestly.

Now, whatever am I going to talk about next Friday?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Deadline Stress-O-Meter

I realized that as deadlines approach there's a stress component that takes over. I thought it might be easy to explain the Deadline Stress-O-Meter and then show you where I am on it (right now deadline is 12 days away).  And then by the other explanations you can figure out by my behaviour where I am at any given time and what your appropriate reaction should be. Sound like fun? I thought so! (only because of where I am on the Stress-O-Meter, which I'll demonstrate shortly).

One Month Before Deadline (Code Green) This book is going swimmingly, I'm writing the last third, and by George, I might even hand it in early!

One Month Before Deadline (Code Yellow) OK, I've had to start over, but it's okay. If I plan to write x number of words a day, I can do this. It just takes proper planning. All is well, but focused. Let's go play some Rock Band.

Three Weeks before Deadline (Code Yellow). This is good. We're still at yellow. No time to slack off, and time management is key, but it's still doable, and we're still smiling.

Two Weeks Before Deadline (Code Orange) OK, walls are closing in, and how come time speeds up the closer you get to deadlines? So not fair. But I'm keeping up. I can still do this. My family is still fed and the laundry is caught up. Feeling the pressure, but chipper. (THIS IS WHERE I AM NOW)

Two Weeks/One Week Before Deadline (Code Red) I have HOW many words left to write? And omg, the editing. What do you mean you're out of jeans? If there are dishes lining the counters, put them in the dishwasher! Oh, you expected something other than Kraft Dinner for supper? Feel free to cook. Better yet, order in. Keep a wide berth and breathe again when I send the damn thing in.

So as you can gather, Code Red is no fun. For me or the family. I'm hoping to avoid it this month, so far I've been head down and working at a very steady pace AND staying on top of things. I'll admit that the last day or so the house is looking *slightly* frayed around the edges, but I'm 12 days away from deadline and no one has had their head ripped off. This is a very good sign!

Unfortunately I think people HAVE had their heads ripped off in the past and so now they are naturally wary any time the magic date draws near. The one thing I'm really doing though is taking time to relax. An hour or two in the evening to just VEG makes all the difference in the world. And I'm sleeping well, and that helps a lot.

Anyway it was fun talking about the escalating level of crazy in this house and before you know it it'll be back down to Green again.

Oh, and happy birthday to my sis! Next year's a magic number, hahahaha! (sadly, we're a decade apart so next year's also a magic number for me).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#WW - What's it really about, anyway?

#WRITERWEDNESDAY

Today we're going to talk about a really common problem - skimming the surface. We're all guilty of it and anyone who claims they aren't is a damn liar, in my opinion. :-) Doesn't mean we don't fix it, of course, either now or after the first, second, or...gasp...third draft. Or maybe an editor will point it out. But for those of you familiar with the terms "emotional punch" or nebulous reactions like "there was just something missing" or "it just didn't stand out enough for me"...this might be contributing to the problem. Of course several things might be the culprit, but I'm in the throes of a full-on deadline push and this is the topic that jumped out at me.

You have to get beneath the surface. It is what takes a perfectly good-sounding conflict and makes it beautifully complex and complicated. You've heard me quote two people lots of times before - Kate Walker says "keep it simple, go deep". Michelle Styles says it's not about adding more conflict, but complicating the conflict you have. Same principle. Take your core conflict and really, really dig deep.

As I write my current WIP, I am constantly aware that there is more going on than it appears. It's why my first go at this book flopped and I had to start over. You see there's an "issue" in this book and I had mistakenly made it the conflict as well. But it's more than that. I won't go so far as to say I could take this "issue" out because it is meshed in with WHY the characters feel the way they do. But I can't just say "this is her issue and he's afraid of it" as a conflict. It is so much more than that.

What's Clay REALLY afraid of? It's more than Meg's past. It's so much deeper than that, and I keep forgetting it as I rush to put down the words. It's what her past MEANS that creates his biggest problem. What does Meg want? She wants a lot of things and she doesn't quite realize that the person standing in the way the most is herself. She thinks she is not afraid but she is. She's terrified. And so she pushes people away. She's been pushing them away for MONTHS. The closest she's come to letting anyone in is Clay - and now she's pretty sure that it was a mistake.

And have I succeeded in putting that on the page? Sometimes. Definitely not enough. Thankfully I'm finishing up the first draft and will spend some time going through and layering. Even then it might not be enough - we'll have to wait to see what my editor says.

Julie Cohen did a post a while back on solving plot problems, and Susan Meier did the same thing during NaNo when she was mentoring the loop at eharlequin. You make a list of solutions. The first items are the obvious. But then you start going deeper. Sounding crazier. Really, really grasping at straws. And then finally, when you think this is a really, really dumb exercise, you hit on the right answer and things fall into place.

Thank God, sometimes it doesn't take a very long list. But it's training your mind to look for the unexpected and it doesn't just work with plot - it works with character motivations and conflict too. Don't take the easy way out. Don't just skim the surface. Look beneath it. Sure, the water might be murky and things might seem a little contorted. That's brilliant! Because people aren't easy, they're not simple. They're murky and contorted and complicated and so are their emotions.

I have a great CP who points out where I'm missing bits and asks questions. Like - yes, he's afraid, but what is he REALLY afraid of? What do they really want? And the answers can be complicated. Meg wants Clay. She's always wanted him. And now she's afraid to take him, even when he's sooooo close. She is one mixed up chick.

To demonstrate, here's a little bit from my WIP with a comment from Michelle in italics:

“This…” she swept her hand down at her dress. “This is not the real me, Clay. It was a mistake for me to pretend. You asked me to go and I had some silly idea to go all out. But the makeup and dress and high heels…it’s an act. If you’d left me at the door I’d be in flannel sleep pants and a t-shirt by now.”



“And that’d be sexy as hell,” he answered. “Good God, Meg, give me some credit. I’ve known you for years. I know this isn’t normal for you. Maybe that’s why it hit me so hard.” He smiled, a sexy little up-turn of his lips. “Discovering you’re a girl was more than I bargained for.”


“I don’t want…”


The smile faded. “Don’t want me? You did a damn good job making it seem like you did.”


Frustration began to bubble. “Stop finishing my sentences. You’ve got it all wrong, don’t you see? It’s not just the dress that’s not me, it’s…it’s…”


Her lip wobbled. She would not cry, dammit. Not in front of Clay, not over this. Why is it worse for her, knowing/thinking it is the pretend woman? And not her as a personality? That he didn’t think about her as a woman until today? You can go deeper with the emotions. Why does she think he is so shallow? Why does pushing him away like this make sense? It is the motivation here and you can layer.


She swallowed, blinked, breathed. “The Meg who went away…not all of her came back, Clay. There are parts of me that’ll never come back. Some more obvious than others.”


At first glance the paragraphs don't look so bad, right? Here's the altered version:

Frustration began to bubble. “Stop finishing my sentences. You’ve got it all wrong, don’t you see? It’s not just the dress that’s not me, it’s…it’s…”



Her lip wobbled. She would not cry, dammit. Not in front of Clay, not over this. He truly hadn’t seen her as a woman until today. And it had taken her pretending to be someone else to make it happen. She felt old dreams shatter, the pieces dropping around her feet. Clay would never love her, and she had to stop this insanity now. If she couldn’t have all of him, she at least wanted to keep his friendship.


She swallowed, blinked, breathed. “The Meg who went away…not all of her came back, Clay. There are parts of me that’ll never come back. Some more obvious than others.”

Maybe those few lines don't seem to change much, but cumulatively it's helped build a thread that it's more important - for both of them - to preserve their friendship even if they really do not understand each other right now. She is sure that Clay will never love her (she's wrong).  She is positive the only reason he kissed her was because he'd been attracted to someone other than the "real" her (she's wrong again). All of it works to foreshadow what is coming ahead and reinforces what's come before. And the trouble lies in knowing these things in your head, but not getting them on the page for the reader. By the way - the questions that weren't answered in that paragraph? They're answered further on. It's sometimes about finding just the right spot for the reaction.
 
And from Clay's POV:
 
When she’d rested her head on his shoulder as they’d danced she’d started something that he’d finished on her porch step. He was attracted to Megan Briggs. It was the damnedest thing. What shook him right to the bottom of his shoes was that it felt so right. But what else? He nearly destroyed a friendship? With Meg, getting involved means a load of things change. It is easier for him to take a step back. Go deeper. What is at stake here for him? Why does he feel relief and it is about more than her physical appearance? Why might he feel hurt that she thinks he could  be that shallow?
And the expanded version:
When she’d rested her head on his shoulder as they’d danced she’d started something that he’d finished on her porch step. He was attracted to Megan Briggs. It was the damnedest thing. What shook him right to the bottom of his shoes was that it felt so right.


It had felt like everything was clicking into place until the moment she’d frozen in his arms. In a way he was glad she’d put on the brakes. Sex would ruin their friendship, and that was the last thing Clay wanted. As he looked at her now, he knew it was more. Meg was scared. For all her protests to the contrary, Meg was still scared to death and pushing her into something based on hormones and attraction would only hurt them both.

How does this change things? Well, it sets things up so that the reader understands when Clay sacrifices a bit of himself. He puts on the brakes to protect her. And he lets her think less of him - at least for the time being - for the sake of keeping their friendship. And it also gives a little bit of insight into Meg through another character's eyes. Same deal too - the other questions Michelle asked are filtered in through the whole scene.
 
Anyway, have a look at your current WIP or think about it as you're writing today. And ask yourself - not just about the big story questions but the little reactions - what this really about for him/her?
 
The answers might just surprise you. And delight your readers.
 
See you next Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Getting my butt in gear

Michelle Styles (who as most of you know is my critique partner) did a post today on Shredding - aka losing weight and doing a Jillian Michaels workout. As she points out there is such a thing as writer's bum because the very nature of writing means sitting in a chair and putting your hands on the keyboard. This leads to a host of issues - weight gain, RSI, posture. I have wrist rests to keep the RSI at bay. And for the posture thing, I've started having a therapeutic massage every few months especially as I carry a lot of tightness and tension in my upper back and neck. For the weight gain, I've been stuck.

Until December. I'd been chatting to Michelle and I'd stepped on the scale. Last winter I dropped 14 lbs, but over the course of the summer and fall I'd put 7 of it back on. We were going to a wedding and I could get my dress ON but it needed some smoothing out. And I was sick and tired of it. So we restarted our workout program (which as you know helps with a lot more than calorie burn) and I made some dietary changes. The dress did fit better after the 3 weeks. I was actually amazed at how fast I dropped some of the weight.

A year and a half ago I chatted with my doctor's nurse about weight and we analyzed my diet. Apparently there was not much wrong with it. We do not eat a lot of junk food - it is definitely the occasional treat. We don't keep pop or chips in the house. My one concession to sweets is generally buying dark chocolate in the groceries, and then sharing it with my husband. We eat a lot of veggies. Lean meats. So what had to go?

Starch.

Bread, rice, pasta, potatoes.

Now, I don't subscribe to the school of cutting something out completely. There are important nutrients in those things, especially as we're a whole grain kind of family. But I cut back A LOT.  Instead of egg beaters and toast in the morning, it is egg beaters and a piece of fruit. Sometimes I do go for grains and have oatmeal with protein powder and a bit of cinnamon mixed in (yummy!) Instead of a sandwich or wrap at lunch, it's salad with chicken. Snacks are fruit or yogurt, or a smoothie made with almond breeze.

In the evening, our "big" meal, I eat starch and watch the portion. Last night it was pork loin chops, salad, and 1/2 cup of rice. Tonight it is baked penne and salad. I might have a small baked potato as my starchy choice. And a piece of toast with butter and raspberry jam? That's a treat. I went out for lunch on Saturday. That was a treat. I like treats. They help me feel normal.

Our exercise plan? Tony Horton's Power 90. Once we finish, I might see about P90x, but when we bought Power 90 I didn't think we were ready for P90x yet. Last night was cardio - which is 38 min and then about 6 min of abs. Tonight is sculpt, which is only 30 min, but I wish I'd bought an extra set of handles for our bands because I could stand to move up a resistance level and we have the band for it but all the handles are in use. I might do some ordering. And I start the day with the dog walk.

On the nights I don't want to work out (and yes, we have skipped nights) a lot of the time I tell myself I'll be glad I've done it and I always am. And last week when I wasn't feeling so great, I went on the treadmill instead.

Anyway with RWA Nationals coming up in New York, I'm hoping to be in some different clothes than I am now! :-)

The point is, the key to making it work is finding what works FOR YOU. I really enjoy this workout and the dietary adjustment is making a HUGE difference. And seeing results is motivating. :-)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Downton Abbey

This weekend was a productive one. Besides two ginormous headaches (literally), the house got cleaned, meals got made, some laundry was done, I ironed, read, finished my current chapter,  had a meeting AND watched ALL of Downton Abbey. SEVEN HOURS WORTH.  Granted, we spread it out over three days, but the girls and I watched it all.

Downton is...well, I can't think of any miniseries I've seen that compares. And it's showing right now on Masterpiece Theatre so I will not spoil anything for those currently watching. I thought about watching it this way but I had heard too many good things about it and Michelle Styles insisted it was wonderful and I trust her judgment.  I ordered it in November from PBS and it was delivered this past week. It is wonderful and I'm so glad I was not forced to wait a week between episodes. Sweeping and grand, and yet also warm and intimate. I don't think anyone can resist Bates - Brendan Coyle is not your typical hot hero but I swear that man can do things with his eyes. It is no wonder Anna has a soft spot.  We just rewatched Sense and Sensibility recently so the girls were thrilled to see Dan Stevens (even as a blond). Elizabeth McGovern - they loved the Scarlet Pimpernel so were very excited. And of course Maggie Smith. She is a brilliant dowager duchess. Personally I think besides Bates, my favorite character is Sybill.

I was worried about Hugh Bonneville, though. The two roles I remember him playing most are not flattering - the bumbling Bernie in Notting Hill and as the horrid Mr. Grandcourt in Daniel Deronda. After you have seen an actor as a villian it is hard to trust him again (as I experienced after Alan Rickman in Robin Hood. It took me a very long time to warm up to Colonel Brandon). And Grandcourt was a first class bastard. So I wasn't sure if I would like Bonneville in the lead role.

BUT he is brilliant and lovable and funny and humble. Any man who sees himself as curator of an estate and title and not an owner... clearly he loves his wife and his girls and his mother. It is a credit to him as an actor, I think. He just became Lord Crawley and that was it.

There are funny bits and gasp - scandals - and secrets galore. And now that we've seen the ending, I am so relieved to know there is another series coming next year.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Friday, January 14, 2011

RWAustralia Queensland Flooded Communities Book Appeal

We've all seen the devastation the recent Queensland floods have wrought and have wondered how we can help. We know that for many affected families, books will not be high on their priorities list for some time to come.


But...

We also know how valuable books can be in providing time out when reality gets tough.

So…

With the aid of some wonderful volunteers, we've put together a Romance Writers of Australia Flooded Communities Book Appeal.

What we need?

FICTION BOOKS! Romance books, children's books, young adult books, genre books, whatever – either new or in sparkling condition.

Please send them to:

RWA Flooded Communities Book Appeal
PO Box 1717
Noosaville Post Office
Noosaville BC
Queensland 4566

When to send them?

Now! And any time over the next few months. The books will be boxed and delivered to the appropriate libraries/schools/neighbourhood centres/community centres in batches as soon as the communities are ready to receive them. We’ll be liaising with councils, libraries and schools to ensure this is done appropriately. Feel free to pop a note inside, or if you're an author, sign it.

All languages welcome - please repost.

#Fridayreads - Burning the TBR at Both Ends

Ok so I'm not ACTUALLY burning my TBR, or even burning through it, but I'm working on it which is fab.

I have this "organization" thing which makes me very linear. I like lists. I like crossing things off lists. I especially like crossing things off in SEQUENCE. BUT my tbr doesn't always work that way. I have books I want to read or need to read or whatever that are at any random spot in the tbr list (yes, you knew I had to have one, right?).

This year my aim is to read the next book on my list sequentially at the rate of one a month. After that book is done, I can read the next on the list or any book at all that I want. But systematically I'll be working through my TBR from the beginning, therefore reading those books that have been on my tbr for ages.

Some of them have languished because they are so LONG. For example, I have The Writer's Journey on my TBR. And Wives and Daughters which is ginormous. But you know, starting at number 13 I have a whole lot of category romances. It's January and I already have read the first three on my list (I read the first 2 in December). So that's good.

But my methodical plan is already under attack as my RITA books are scheduled to arrive any day now and I've seen the list of what's coming my way. OMG y'all, it's a fab list. I think I'm going to be in reader HEAVEN.

But I'll deal with that later. For now here's the lowdown (sort of) on my first three reads of the year....

CALLING THE SHOTS: Ellen Hartman. Sorry guys, you'll have to wait for the review for this one, as it's the Pink Heart Picks Book Club pick for January, and the review will be up on the PHS blog the last Thursday of this month (where I'll also announce the next pick).

BREAKING THE GOVERNESS'S RULES: Michelle Styles. Michelle's my CP and we always send each other hardcover copies of our books. This book changed a lot from the version I critiqued - and yet it remained the same story. The emotional stakes were upped and Lou is a spunky, independent heroine who does like to have her own way - and Jonathon is used to having HIS own way....yeah. :-) She's also brave, and a scene near the end was my particular favourite. Michelle is probably tired of hearing me say this but I do want Nella to have her own story. I said it in COMPROMISING MISS MILTON and I repeated it after reading this one. Nella has always reminded me a lot of Margaret Dashwood, particularly the Margaret from Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility, and wouldn't you all love to know what happened to Margaret when she grew up????? (I would!)

THE LEOPARD PRINCE: Elizabeth Hoyt  My first by this author and highly, highly enjoyable. Great characters, great plot, great conflict! The only thing that twigged was word choice in the "sexy bits" and that is a simple taste issue. The biggest disappointment in this book? The secondaries were so intriguing that I wanted to read ALL their stories - the three brothers, Violet, and especially Bennet. But I went to Hoyt's site and it doesn't appear that she's written those stories. I haz a sad over that. I could have easily seen this as a six book series marrying them all off. And a novella about Will when he grew up. And I would have bought every single one.

So what am I reading now? Well, until my RITA books arrive, I'm reading The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy. I am not at all sure about a book from an elephant's POV or the fact that there is a family tree followed by a five page glossary on the inside. But who knows. I may love it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thursday Fly-By

I realized last night - and confirmed this morning - that my current scene is in the wrong POV. Which means...well, it means I need to fix it AND finish the chapter AND critique a chapter AND hopefully start chapter 8 today...

Which means I'm just about ready to go offline for a bit. Thankfully school was NOT cancelled as the house is blessedly quiet. But oh my, are things white when I look out the window. And the roads in our subdivision are horrible. My husband says once you get to the main road it is much better....

Anyway, ahem...before I disappear I thought I'd let you know that I'm over at Tote Bags 'n' Blogs today.

Carry on.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

#WW - Rejection doesn't Discriminate

#WRITERWEDNESDAY

It might seem a little strange to begin a new year and a column on writing with the topic of rejection - after all acceptance or rejection is what happens at the end of all the hard work, right? But if you're here, and you're reading this, I'm guessing that for the majority of you, you've already finished at least one manuscript. If you're just beginning your writing journey, well, read on, because what I'm about to say may come in handy at a later date.

Most of you have probably written a story; you've probably written a synopsis and a query letter and you have also probably sent it off into the world for an editor or agent to read. The ultimate goal - the scene you dream about just before you fall asleep at night is of getting The Call. Or perhaps even a request for a full manuscript, or the chance to do revisions which is the next best thing to The Call and brings for the following words time and time again - "You're Close."

And so, many of you have already had that nasty slip of paper or e-mail saying thanks but no thanks.

Rejection sucks. It just DOES. There's no way around it but through it. And rejection can make or break a writer. Here's a newsflash, too. It doesn't stop after you're published. You just never know when you send in a book, no matter how much you love it (Been there, bought the T-shirt and survived). And personally, in some ways rejection is harder now than it was before the call. I always used to work on something new and exciting while waiting on a submission, so when I got the inevitable rejection, I took a day or so to pout and then I got excited about sending out the NEW submission, which I was sure was brighter and shinier and simply better than the last. Most of the time I was right.

Being rejected after publication isn't easy. There are practicalities to consider: if this book is rejected, all my contracted deadlines suddenly go out the window. I am now a full book behind schedule. Not really my fault, after all I've probably delivered what I said I would. But for some reason or another, the book doesn't suit and so now the walls of time feel like they are closing in around me and I feel more pressure to deliver. If this is my livelihood, it also means a bigger gap between releases - and a bigger gap before being paid again. A bigger gap before putting a book in readers' hands - and maybe, but hopefully not - a chance that they'll forget to look for my newest release. You kind of have to let this all go. What's done is done, and what you really need to do is get on with the next book, because that's the only way to move forward. You have to write the next one.

But the true cost of rejection is what it can do to a writer's confidence, and this doesn't discriminate between the published and unpublished. Raise your hand if you've ever thought, "I really don't know what I'm doing." I have those thoughts a lot. Added with that particular piece of self-doubt is "I did know what I was doing, but now I'm not so sure. Have I lost it?" This is a terrifying thought. And here's the thing about the crows of self-doubt. They beget other crows. So then you start thinking..."maybe the goalposts have been moved. Maybe I don't understand what my editor wants anymore. Maybe my writing has changed and no longer fits their requirements. Maybe I really don't know what I'm doing." Oh wait - that's where we started, right? And all those thoughts cause havoc in the whole "getting on with things" thing.

Get out your broom and kick those crows to the curb.

Here's the important thing. My critique partner, Michelle Styles, always tells writers at eharlequin subcare that it's what you do AFTER the rejection that counts. And ultimately in the end, the only way to succeed is to move on.

If you get the Big R and are convinced the editor was wrong, if you look at the feedback and dispute it, in other words if you are closed to the idea that your book is flawed, you will probably stay exactly where you are. That's not to say you can't have moments of righteous outrage; in fact, sometimes that indignation is simply part of the process of dealing with the rejection. But this is a short term thing. It isn't a long-term strategy, my friends. And a rejection can be a blessing. Many times it signals that your work is just not ready for publication, and it's worth it to keep trying. You will get better if you keep writing. And when you sell, you'll be prepared for what lies ahead for you.

And here's the other thing - the only sure way to fail is to stop trying. If you get angry, mourn, eat chocolate, drink too much gin...again SHORT TERM strategy people!...that's okay. As long as in the end your butt is in the chair and you're working on the next great idea. As long as you move on.

Because one rejection is not the end. It is not even close. It's just the beginning. And some day down the road you might know exactly what that story needs to take it from good to Holy Crap Fantastic. Don't let rejection get you down. Don't let it play games with your head. Don't let it have too much power. File it away and move on.

Wow them with something else. Because you can. The key words aren't "I didn't." They are "I can." If you didn't make it with the last one, nothing will change it now. But just like a brand new year, the possibilities are endless. Opportunities are waiting. This year, we're going to work on seizing them.

Welcome to 2011. Let's write.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tuesday Question

Next month is the North American release of Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle. This was the first book I sold after a slew of rejections and my editor really got behind it. It was Book of the Month when it released in the UK (Mills and Boon Cherish) and in anticipation if it hitting NA shelves, it is excerpted in the back of Harlequin Series books.

I also had the fab opportunity of writing an online read to go with it, which will be on http://www.eharlequin.com/ beginning on Valentine's Day and I'm really excited that I'm going to be in Toronto at the Harlequin offices on the official release day (that reward for handing in my current WIP, which is why I'll be disappearing in a moment or two).

But my question(s) to you today is about excerpts. Do you read them? Has reading an excerpt prompted you to go buy that book? Has it made you more curious about the author? Has it perhaps prompted you to pick up a book by them when you see it on the shelf (even if it's not the book that was excerpted?)?

Curious minds want to know.

I'm reading a book now and there are such wonderful secondaries that I went to the back to read the excerpt from the next book in the series. I'm kind of disappointed that it seems to feature people I don't know, but I'm going to look at that author's site and see if these characters actually DO get their own stories.

So what do you think about back excerpts?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday Randomness

It's Monday. My world is a lot more white than it was on Friday thanks to yesterday's storm, my house is relatively clean, and I'm just about to take a break for lunch.

What's on the go today? I just finished up tweaking chapter five - it was missing something and I now think it works a lot better - which meant cutting in a few places and adding in a layer in others. Now it's on to chapter six. I had some admin to take care of this morning and so that's done....

You can find me in a few other places on the web too. I'm at The Pink Heart Society for Male on Monday and also my monthly post at Petticoats and Pistols is up.

And in one last bit of randomness, I discovered a tasty variation to my "Banana Nog Shake" that I was talking about on twitter last week (The banana nog shake thing is yummy: 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond breeze, 1 ripe banana, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, dash of vanilla dash of nutmeg).  Anyway today I left out the vanilla and nutmeg and because I was feeling the need for an extra shot of protein I added 1 tbsp of light peanut butter. OMG y'all. SO good.

So here ends what my eldest would call "Donna's Random Time". Be back tomorrow hopefully with something far more interesting.

Friday, January 07, 2011

#Fridayreads

Ah yes - my second of the hashtag days. On Fridays I'll be doing things like #Fridayreads, #amreading, #amreadingromance... Because this year I plan to kick the crap out of my TBR. I have had some books on the stack for YEARS. I mean it, people. YEARS. In fact, I am not buying much in the way of books. New books will still find me. There will be RITA books for judging and presents (because I love those and have lovely friends who keep me well in supply!). Then there's the YA stuff that my kids are reading and that I'm dying to get into. I have tons of stuff to read. And never fear - I'm keeping the book trade afloat because I'm giving a lot of books this year.

Once eharlequin has their 2011 challenge up and running, I'll be back to tell you about the first reads of my year - Michelle Styles's BREAKING THE GOVERNESS'S RULES, Ellen Hartman's CALLING THE SHOTS, and Elizabeth Hoyt's THE LEOPARD PRINCE. After that - who knows? I'm feeling the urge for a YA binge!

What's your Friday read?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Ugly Ducklings

I love Ugly Duckling stories, Cinderella stories - any kind of story where a plain Jane heroine spends a lot of time as a caterpillar and for one shining moment gets to be a butterfly.  People hide behind all sorts of things, and some people spend a lot of time trying to NOT stand out for various reasons. Such is the case for my heroine, who is smart, brave, independent, and really capable. But she's not very girly. And these days she's kind of afraid to be feminine. In short - she really does not feel very feminine and pretty.

I'm having fun, along with her 2 best friends, at playing fairy godmother.  I enjoyed doing the research for it - like looking for the perfect dress and shoes (incidentally, Louboutin makes the most beautiful slingbacks on the face of the earth). Meg has some specific wardrobe challenges, and it takes Lily's deft sewing skills to create the perfect dress. Most of all I am enjoying the end result - the look on Clay Gregory's face when he sees Meg across the vestibule of the church. Something clicks for him and he's not at all happy about it. The Meg he's used to wears jeans and old cowboy boots and barn jackets.

Because I started on the wrong tack with this story, times's a little tight getting it in on deadline, but that's okay. I'm enjoying writing it and I have a wonderful reward planned for after it's handed in! And no, it's not Louboutin shoes...

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

#WW - Start the Year off "Write"

WINNER! Jill Kemerer - please e-mail me your deets so I can put your book in the mail!

#WritersWednesday

Here it is - the inaugural #WW post on the blog. Next week I'm going to discuss a particular aspect in detail, but I wanted to kick off the new year with something a little special. Something that will keep you going when you are excited about the beginning of your novel, slogging through the middle, rushing towards the end, and chewing your nails waiting for a response on your submission. It's something that's kept me going time and again and so when new romance writers ask me what my favourite book on writing is, this is usually my top answer.

It's Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance.

The 12 Point Guide is in its third printing and the publishers have graciously provided me with a copy to give away today. Each edition is updated to keep up with marketing trends and there is advice from not only Kate but other romance authors. Each section focuses on a different aspect of the story: Emotion, Conflict, Focus, Dialogue, Characterisation, Plotting, etc. and each section ends with 12 Questions and also writing exercises! It's really an invaluable resource. I'm a pantser, but I always do character work to begin my story and Kate's Characterisation Worksheet is still what I use to give me a rounded picture of my character. Maybe their favourite food doesn't seem relevant, but if you can tie WHY they like that food it is amazing what a small detail can reveal about character! That worksheet sparks ideas like nobody's business.  And that's just 2 pages...the book is chock-a-block full of good stuff. Just thumbing through it today had me wanting to re-read my copy!

The #WW column is meant to help you on your writing journey this year. I wish I could give you all copies but I only have 1 to give away. Getting a hold of a copy of the 12 Point Guide isn't a bad way to kick off your year, whether you're starting a new story, in the throes of the middle or even finished the first draft and in the editing phase.

I'll pick from the comments today and announce the winner tomorrow. Good luck!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

And we're off...

The latest chapter is off to my CP, I'm over 1k into the next and my massive mailout at the post office has been done as well as 2 important e-mails sent (that had to be held off until the Christmas break was over).

Not a bad start. I've adjusted the word count meter and title and I'm off to work out and cook dinner, then read.

I commented on eharlequin that I didn't really set resolutions this year. Mostly I just want to tackle everything one day at a time, and do the best I can each day. Tomorrow will look after itself tomorrow, and if I can stay on top of what needs to be looked after, I should have a very productive and happy year - because part of that "each day" thing is down time with the fam.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Happy Birthday to my Mommy!

My mum is celebrating a birthday today. I sent her pressie with her Christmas stuff so the big event today on my part was a phone call this morning. I suspect a dinner out is on the schedule for tonight. My step-dad does tend to spoil her, though she deserves every bit.

I'm finishing up the last of my admin for the month so tomorrow I can really hit the WRITING with a vengeance. In my travels I discovered that One Dance With The Cowboy is out in Portugal this month. 

Meanwhile I'm off to finish these few tasks - I have split pea and ham soup simmering, and I expect some reading is on the docket for later today!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Honeymoon With The Rancher

My Escape Around The World book is due out in May, but hits shelves in the UK in March (Feb 18, according to amazon.co.uk, actually). The cover has finally shown up - it's paired up with a Superromance by Michelle Celmer. The nice thing is that you can browse the first pages too.

My first newsletter of 2011 has been sent. If you don't belong yet and want to, there's a signup box on the sidebar.

Otherwise I'm off to update my web site! I'm hoping to get my January admin done before everyone goes back to school/work so I can totally focus on writing when I have peace and quiet!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

2011

Well, that's another year done and dusted. I love Jan 1; a whole year of possibilities lay ahead. I have a lot of things to accomplish this year: the better part of 4 books for Harlequin Romance as well as a few other projects I'd like to see come to fruition.

For the past few years I've held a Perfect Pitch Contest, and each year it has been more and more popular. Which is great, except - well, it's a lot of work on my part. And the problem with this year is that I also have a deadline of January 31. I confess I simply don't have the time this year to read so many great pitches and first chapters and try to decide on one winner.

So I've come up with something new instead. On twitter, there are hashtags for #WW and #Fridayreads and so each Wednesday and Friday I'll be doing a WriterWednesday post and a Fridayreads post. Rather than mentor one person, Wednesday's the day I'll blog on something writerly and also answer any questions you might have - much the same as I would if I were mentoring. My first post is coming up this Wednesday. On Fridays I'll be posting about what I'm reading. Reading is pretty important to a writer!

Everyone is back to school here on the 4th - that's the magic day that the house and day will be my own and I'm really going to have to dig in and focus. 2011 is, hopefully, going to be full of great things, not just for me but for you as well. I'm looking forward to sharing a lot of it with you!