This is the speech given by Mindy Neff and Sue Phillips in recognition of Chelly Kitzmiller at the October 2005 meeting of the Orange County Chapter of RWA.
I know there are a lot of people in this room who donâ€™t know Chelley–mainly because she moved off to the Tehachapi mountains! But I think itâ€™s so important for our members to understand our chapterâ€™s history, and for all of our past presidents and board sisters to be recognized and remembered.
Today, weâ€™d especially like to recognize and honor Chelley Kitzmiller, the very first president of our chapter, and Iâ€™d like to take a few minutes to tell you about this remarkable woman.
Way back in the day when authors had little or no access to other writers or writing workshops, Chelley was an avid romance reader with a burning desire to write. So, when she saw an announcement that Rita Clay Estrada was coming to California to establish a Romance Writers of America chapter, Chelley not only attended, she raised her hand and volunteered to lead our new chapter, organizing and putting in place many of the programs and services we still have and use today.
The first OCC meeting was held in Chelleyâ€™s house with only a handful of members. Later, the meetings moved to a restaurant and included lunch and a general meeting. It was Chelleyâ€™s idea to give out flowers for sales like we still do every month. She gave out daffodils, and somewhere along the way weâ€™ve merged into roses. She also set up the raffle–like weâ€™ll be doing this afternoon–and along with another member, began the OCC Unpublished contest and the mentor program. Although we no longer have the mentor program, it was very successful for many years and together with the contest, both programs have been highly instrumental in growing our chapterâ€™s membership.
Because I wanted you all to know more of the personal side of Chelley, I asked Sue Phillips and Jill Marie Landis for some highlights. Iâ€™ve already stolen Sueâ€™s thunder by mentioning some of her memories, so Iâ€™ll let her tell you what Jill Marie Landis had to say.
Jill says: â€œAnyone who really knows Chelley will tell you that the phrase, “That’s impossible” rarely enters her conversation. She’s tireless, loyal, enthusiastic and generous. Her close friends know to run for cover when she says, “Hey, I have an idea…” because she always has an idea.
â€œChelley is always on the move. Her enthusiasm and creativity know no bounds. Since her move to the mountains of Tehachapi, she’s started two successful bookstores and a Radio Shack, and organized a Tehachapi street fair–and thatâ€™s only a few of the things she’s done. Early in her career as a writer, she also worked as a publicist for other authors. She has a gift of pushing people to do better, or to at least see the other side.
“Chelley’s husband, Ted, is a self-proclaimed “Acorn Shaman.” He reads the acorns in the fall to predict the weather in Tehachapi. It started out as a joke to everyone but Ted, but now folks stop by the Radio Shack (which the Kitzmillers own in conjunction with their daughter’s bookstore, Books and Crannies) and ask for weather predictions before planning their vacations.
Her great love is animals. All kinds of animals. She is forever taking in abandoned dogs, Chihuahuas in particular. At any given time they have from six to eight of them around. (Jill calls them the piranha pack.) Chelley has two burros, an assortment of fowl, a cockatiel, cats, and an occasional goat. When she lived in Orange County, she owned a monkey.
Recently Chelley has taken up photography and is taking weekend workshops and classes so that she can submit and sell photographs along with her free lance writing for magazines. She also sells a line of her own photo cards. In addition to doing her own writing, she has ghost edited for a major New York Times author. Currently she has a novel being submitted to publishers, she’s working on a new book, and is under contract with Time West Magazine for a major travel article on the El Camino Real and California Missions.
I have to say, Chelley, that you are one amazing woman, and weâ€™re very lucky that you were here 24 years ago, willing to give your time and energy and talents to take a handful of romance authors and hopefuls under your wing, setting in motion the fabulous Orange County chapter that we are today.
Would everyone please join me in a toast to Chelley Kitzmiller, who raised her hand 24 years ago and became the first president of our Orange County chapter. Thank you, Chelley!
In appreciation for all youâ€™ve done for our chapter, weâ€™d like to give you this plaque in honor of your leadership and service as our first OCC President.
October is OCC’s birthday month. This year we are having actress and author, Harley Jane Kozak, as our speaker. In keeping with OCC’s tradition, we are hoping that as many as possible of our past presidents will be joining us. It will be a fun day as we celebrate 24 years of OCC!
OCC’s birthday got me thinking. I joined OCC right after I got an offer from a “publisher” that would be thrilled to publish my manuscript for $6,000.00 dollars. As in I pay THEM money. I knew that I needed an education and quick.
I joined RWA and OCC. That was one of the best career decisions I ever made. By the time I was offered a contract where the publisher paid ME for my book, I was in a position to say, “Thank you very much. I’m delighted that you are interested in my book and will call you back as soon as I’ve had a chance to think about it.” Those are the most important two sentences I ever learned as an unpublished writer.
When I did call back, I had a list of questions and possible contract changes. From those, I believe I got two thirds of my requested changes to the contract offer. I managed to negotiate two contracts for four books and did a fair job before getting an agent. I owe a huge thank you to OCC and all the experienced authors who shared their insights with us.
All of us at OCC have been educated enough to know that finishing a manuscript is a huge achievement. Howeverâ€¦it’s only the start.
Getting published? Well it’s another step, but just a step in a very long and sometimes rocky path. But OCC lights the way with as much knowledge and support possible. In the last year, I hit a couple rough spots and found information and support at OCC. Things turned around for me and I made the two book sale. Those sales don’t happen without serious hard work and determination by the author, I don’t want to minimize that. But, and this is so important, there are times when we need friends and colleagues to light the path. OCC members did that for me, keeping me laughing and my priorities in order along the way. Thank you OCC!
And last, volunteering. It’s the members, each and every one of us, who make up the beating heart and creative soul of OCC. I am a fairly shy person (I hear the OCC Board of Directors laughingâ€”stop that!), all right, I USED to be a fairly shy person. When I first joined OCC, I stayed in the background and tried not make a fool of myself. But when my kids got older, I stopped make excuses and volunteered. I got so busy and had so much fun, that I no longer felt self conscious or out of place. I have grown and gained confidence, enough confidence to let Marianne Donley trick me into becoming the Co-President (don’t think I’ve forgotten that, Marianne!). These days, even making stupid blunders no long makes me sick and mortified. Now I just laugh and move on. OCC values each of us for our unique gifts and abilities. Become a part of OCC’s heart and soul by volunteering.
Come out in October to celebrate OCC’s Birthday. Listen to our fabulous speaker, Harley Jane Kozak, buy raffle tickets for the now-famous microwave that was signed by many, many authors in Reno, try your luck at the other big ticket items or the baskets, reconnect with OCC’s Past Presidents, laugh with your friends, brainstorm with your colleagues, and have cake (don’t even get me started on carrot cake. Carrots are a vegetable, not cake. Proper cake should be chocolate!)
Let’s all lift a glass of cider and wish OCC a Happy Birthday.
I entered my first contest in 1999 and finaled, ultimately placing last in my category. Even though I didn’t enter again for a few years, I was hooked. In the past three years I’ve entered more contests than I’d like to count, finaled in enough to be proud of, received editor requests, made friends with other contest divas, and had my hopes crushed many times.
Contests are a fun ride, they’re nerve wracking, and aggravating–sometimes all together. Are they worth the time, trouble, and expense?
Absolutely. You get used to sending your work out. You develop tougher skin by learning how to take criticism–even when it’s wrong. And sometimes you get comments that are tremendously helpful.
If you final, it’s an opportunity to get your work in front of an editor. Not all contests provide editorial feedback, but at the very least, by their placement, you see how the editor responds to your work. Editors do request partial and full manuscripts off contests. And, sometimes they buy them.
Okay, now that you’re interested, let’s talk strategy. Not all contests are created equal. Some are just for the first few pages, some are for fifty-five pages (including synopsis), and some are just for queries or a first kiss. You have to decide where your work fits best, and what you want to get out of it.
Targeting the final judge is often a good idea. Are you aiming for a particular judge from Harlequin or Pocket or Avon? Some contests only use published authors for their preliminary judges, like the Orange Rose and the Maggie.
Should your manuscript be complete before entering a contest? Heavens no! Of course, if you win and get a request, you might wish it was, but if you are entering for feedback it’s best not to have completed the manuscript first.
Do all contests cost money? Actually, no. There are writing contests run on websites, and there are writing contests run by publishers, like the Delacorte YA Contest and Harlequin for their new Epic line.
More strategy: some contest websites have the score sheet you can download. If it has high points for the h/h meeting in the first chapter and yours don’t, that’s probably not the right contest for that particular story.
There are so many contests to choose from! These days almost every RWA chapter has one. Many of them are listed in the RWR. There are also two contest loops you can join. My favorite is Donna Caubarreaux’s Contest Alert and it’s accompanying website Diva’s with Tiaras. Every year Donna keeps track of contest finals and wins and three top achievers get a tiara! (Bring your own boa). To sign up for her contest loop send a blank email to ContestAlertemail@example.com. RWA also has a contest loop. To join send a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org (you have to be a member of RWAalert to join).
I picked this topic because on October 8, OCC will be celebrating its 24th Annual Birthday Bash. The Orange Rose winners (both pubbed and unpubbed) will be announced. Along with nine talented writers (three of whom are my OCC sisters), I’m a finalist in the unpubbed contest. Wish us all the best! We’re really all winners, because we’re writing and getting our work out there. Bottom line, that’s what this is all about.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the advice “give yourself permission to write crap.” I always thought it was good advice until tonight when I really thought about it. I realized I don’t want to write crap. Ever. So, why should I need permission to write it? How easy for that permission become a self-fulfilling prophecy, eh?
So, how ’bout I never do that because I want to write brilliant stories that edify the human condition and make people laugh and cry. What if I gave myself permission to write those instead? Would I be more likely to live up to that?
I bet I would. For one thing, there’s power in positive thinking. For another, it becomes an affirmation. Who would want an affirmation about writing crap? Exactly!
I know the advice-givers don’t really think they’re being negative, they think their advice is freeing. That after the crap comes out, the good stuff will follow. And perhaps that’s true. But why is it that we feel freed up by the negative? Why can’t we sit down at our keyboards and plan on writing something so excellent our computer breaks out in a smile? Is it somehow easier to write crap?
I think not.
It is, however, easier to see our writing as not measuring up than to see it as fabulous. Writers–especially new ones–often compare their work to that of other writers, even trying to emulate them on occasion. That will never do. Just as we have our own fingerprints and underwear, we have our very own voices. It’s finding that voice by writing and writing and writing some more that our prose becomes brilliant, and it becomes brilliant because it is ours, with our very own vision, issues, and spin on things.
So I challenge you…next time you sit down at the computer to write…oh you’re there now?…in that case, close your browser, boot up your writing program and decide you’re going to write some of the best stuff you’ve ever written. And then do it.