A Slice of Orange


Emily Brightwell – Never Tell Me The Odds

May 2, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Dana Diamond

What do you expect out of a cozy mystery author? Sweet, gentle and demure?
How about warm, funny-as-hell and candid about everything from grave robbing to muses and the worst advice she’s ever received! After thirty-plus books and eighteen years in the business, cozy mystery star, Emily Brightwell, knows what it takes to make it in this business. Lucky for us, she sat down to dish with me for Orange Blossom’s The OCC Interview.

Q – Are there any words of inspiration on your computer, in your office or in your mind when you write?

A – “Never tell me the odds” and “Crap can be fixed.”

Q – Do you have any writing rituals? Schedule?

A – My Mrs. Jeffries books are always 11 chapters long and I also do the ritual cleaning of the office whenever I start a new book. Actually, it’s about the only time my office gets cleaned.

Q – What is a cozy mystery?

A – A comfortable setting, a murder that isn’t graphically described, a list of suspects and no sex – though sex can be a motive for the crime.

Q – Why do you think cozy mysteries are so hot right now?

A – Maybe we’ve all over-dosed on serial killers, CSI, and too many episodes of Law & Order. The popularity of the sub-genre waxes and wanes, sometimes it’s hot, sometimes you’re only writing for a niche audience. But I love writing them.

Q – Among other things, your Mrs. Jeffries books are known for their accurate depiction of Victorian England. What is the best or most interesting piece of information you’ve found?

A – I found that the spikes on top of iron fences surrounding Victorian graveyards were put there to cut down on grave robbing. Robbers used to steal corpses and then sell them to medical schools.

Q – What’s next for Mrs. Jeffries and the rest of the cast? Is there anything you can tell us without spoiling any surprises?

A – There is a surprise coming in the book that I’m working on right now – I just hope it doesn’t make everyone hate me.

Q – What are you dying to try next? Why?

A – Actually, I’d love to write a political thriller. I hope to do so one day.

Q – You’ve written YA’s and romance too. Which is your favorite genre to write in? Why?

A – I love all genres, but I most enjoy writing mystery and YA. Romance was actually very difficult for me.

Q – Why was romance difficult for you?

A – Because I kept killing people.

Q – Which is your favorite of your books? Why?

A – My favorite book is the very first YA I ever wrote; Remember Me became very special when a dear friend died as I was writing the manuscript. I couldn’t write the last ten pages – and I swear, this is true, I was in my office feeling sorry for myself when I suddenly heard Nancy’s voice in my head. She was a schoolteacher so her voice was very distinctive – she said, “For goodness sake, Cheryl, quit procrastinating and get those last ten pages done. I want to see how you’re going to end it.” I finished the book in less than an hour. The book was dedicated to her memory. She was a wonderful person and I still get fan mail for this book.

Q – Is there a downside to success? Or what are the challenges that face you now that you are a success?

A – There is no downside to success.

Q – How do you stay motivated? What drives you to keep writing?

A – Pure and simple, I love to tell stories. I just wish I could tell them without having to put in so much hard work.

Q – Muses or hard work?

A – Hard work – if I waited for my muse I would spend most of my time sitting on the couch watching Korean Soap operas (which, by the way, I do enjoy but only if they’re dubbed in English)

Q – What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A – I heard it in a Star Wars movie – it was Han Solo and he said, “Never tell me the odds.”

Q – Worst advice?

A – I’ve heard plenty of bad advice – but the absolute worst was to send a “thank you” note to editors who reject your work and make it clear they have no interest in seeing anything else from you. Rejection is bad enough, thanking someone for it is just one step away from out and out masochism.

Q – What is the one thing you’ve never been asked, but you wish someone would?

A – I wish someone would ask me how many words I’ve written that didn’t get published!

Dana Diamond is the OCC/RWA Secretary, a columnist for OCC’s award winning Orange Blossom Newsletter, a contributer to The Writer’s Vibe and hard at work on her book. You can visit Dana at http://www.danadiamond.blogspot.com/ or http://thewritersvibe.typepad.com/the_writers_vibe/

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Michelle Thorne: Book Groups

April 28, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Michelle Thorne

I love my book group. 10 women. Married, divorced, widowed, and single. From 70+ years old to our young one at 38. Children, no children and furry children. Work at home and outside the house. Over 350 years of reading romance and everything else. Do we all get along, mostly. Do they drive me crazy, sometimes. Do I love them, ABOULETLY!!!

We have been meeting once a month for almost 15 years. We started out with six members and we tightened and expanded as needed. When we started, we really had only two rules: No Oprah books and we didn’t want to be socially redeemed. When we started out, people were so serious about book groups. If you didn’t want to open a vein at the end of reading the book, you were doing something wrong. I couldn’t understand it. Books had always been my refuge. They’re where I went when all else failed. Books made me happy. No one in their right mind would be an independent bookseller if they didn’t love books. I hear all you out there questioning my right mind but that’s for another day. Anyway, books have always made me happy, not sad and depressed. So that was how the group started, and it is An Oprah-Free Zone.

Now you know the first rules but there were more to come. We started out with munchies during the meeting, but we meet at 6pm, so for a year or so we had potlucks. What a fine mess that turned out to be. Sometimes we had roast beef and cous cous.

Then we had theme dinners. Better, but still some odd “taste sensations”. We moved on to 1 person, one dinner a year, pizza once and we go out to really nice restaurant at Christmas time. Our latest change was last year when we instituted “you feed us…you get to pick the book” Great idea, but we are an “Oprah-Free Zone” no more. Okay, 15 years have passed, we grown, we’ve matured, but I still don’t like to be depressed when reading. So another rule change, if you want to read deeply you must let the shallow have another choice. It works, for us, in fact some of our best sessions have been when we all read a different book and then gave a short synopsis. A months worth of great reads laid out one after another.

So why an I telling you this. If you write, I assume you read and you should. READ, Read, read! In your genre, outside your genre, fiction, non-fiction…everything. If you are like most authors I know, you tend to hole up in your offices, on deadline or not, and let those little self-editors in your head make you doubt that you can ever write another coherent sentence. You read, you critique partner’s latest missive, and they read yours, but not for pleasure or knowledge. You probably sell yourself short and think “I should be writing.” But back to reading, you probably mean to read, but again you don’t give yourself permission to just read for you, and that’s why you need to join or start a reading group.

It’s really easy. You can check with your nearest bookstore and see if they have an established group already, or you can post a notice that you want to start a reading group. I suggest that you don’t announce that you are a writer, or you’ll find out more about your fellow members likes and dislikes than you wanted to know, and they will look to you for brilliant criticisms as an author, rather than just a reader. Also you’re doing this for yourself. You’re in a group that meets once a month and you HAVE to read the book. Cool! You have to read a book. It’s like a job and I know you take your work seriously. Whatever the group picks for a read, it will give you a great look at what is going on out there with other authors and how your fellow book clubbers are reacting to them. Please, Please, Please, even if you don’t join a book club, give your self a break and read. You know you want to.

More next time on how Authors can use book groups to grow their readerships and numbers.

Books are like shoes…You can never have too many.

Michelle Thorne
RWA Bookseller of the Year 1998
Bearly Used Books…123
Home of A Great Read
123 So. First Street
La Puente, CA 91744
(626) 968-3700

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Tina Ralph: In A Hunt For Red Ink

April 14, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Tina Ralph

In school, we all hated to see those bright red marks on our paper. You know the ones! Red marks that told the world we’d made a mistake. Yet now, as a writer, we search for someone to do just that. Give us feedback. Tell us what’s not working. We want the perfect critique group or partner to help us write perfect prose and point out the errors in our plots.

There are some well-known authors, who say they don’t do critiques and don’t have critique partners. To them, I say, “Oh, to have such confidence.” Most of us, however, do want constructive comments that will smooth off those rough edges before an editor finds a reason to place us in his/her rejection trap.

The hunt for red ink usually starts by asking a friend or family member. This is not a bad idea if the person is familiar with writing. If they’re not, their comments may be less than helpful. Painful remarks that kill our creative juices or overly glowing comments that are meant to keep from hurting our feelings. Either way, this isn’t helpful.

No, we’re writers. We go to the source. Notebooks in hand, we head for school. Yeah, it worked last time, didn’t it? Teachers have a ready supply of red ink. They know what they’re talking about. Smart idea, but tricky. Make sure you know what type of class you need. Not every writing classes teaches you how to write commercial fiction. A class uniquely designed for your genre can generate the right type of feedback that will satisfy the red ink addiction.

This is where joining the right type of writing organization can help you. A few months back OCC offered an online romantic paranormal class. Some participants sent a call out for others in the group who might be looking for critique partners. Beating the bushes in this way, a few lucky hunters found what they were looking for.

Now, we have ammo to help us in our hunt — find someone who writes in the same genre; join an organization where other hunters gather, speak up and hunt out that unique individual or group that can offer you the help you need.

As a member of OCC, I found my current partner when she called me on the phone. She’d found my name in the roster while looking for someone conveniently located, and called me. We live close and it has worked out beautifully for both of us.

Another suggestion is to try a one-time exchange. In this way, neither person is committed to a long-term relationship. Each of you can get an idea of the other person’s critiquing style.

If none of these options have worked for you, try putting a request out on the Morning Juice alert. In this group, there are always people looking for critique partners. Beat the bushes, know what you’re looking for, and make a lot of noise. Though sometime an allusive prey, you can track one down.

And don’t forget to sign up for OCC’s monthly free critique donated by a published author. This can give you the helpful hints you need to make your work shine.

Happy Hunting.

Tina Ralph
OCC/RWA Membership Chairperson

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Kitty Bucholtz: Super-Creative in the Land Down Under

April 7, 2006 by in category Archives

By Kitty Bucholtz

Since my husband John got a temporary job on a film in Sydney, Australia, life has been far more interesting. “Interesting” in this case means both good and hard. I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older that a hard life is not the same as a bad life, so I’m not going to classify anything here as bad. But there are hard parts.

Probably the worst is the cockroaches. Not the two or three a year you see in some apartments. I’m talking set a place ‘cause they’re coming for dinner, try to kill them while shampooing, watch every shadow for movement quantities. A good day means I don’t see any. A hard day is killing nine in the time it takes to get ready for church Sunday morning. (Swearing nine times before church isn’t conducive to a worshipful attitude, but I find myself unable to keep my mouth shut when they come rushing out at me.)

John decided from the beginning of our adventure that we wouldn’t complain about the hard parts. We’d say, “That’s okay, we live in Sydney, Australia!” We wanted an adventure and we got one. We’re both doing what we’ve dreamed of for years – he’s a computer animator on a film, I’m a full-time novelist, and we’re traveling the world. How can we complain?

And yet, there’s still the matter of those nasty roaches. So I named one of the villains in my superhero novel Cockroach. He’s small, agile, works mostly at night and has no regard for humanity. When I found a cockroach on my pillow last night, I decided my villain would leave something at his crime scenes, something foul and fear-inspiring, to let everyone know he’d been there. Perhaps one of my superheroes will lose his grip and start seeing villains in every shadow the way I sometimes see imaginary cockroaches in the shadows of our apartment. A strange and lovely transformation usually occurs about then. I get so wrapped up in incorporating new ideas into the book that I forget the cockroaches!

Of course, that part of my brain sometimes stays active during inappropriate times as well. Like when I was enjoying some personal time with my husband and my necklace kept banging him in the chin. As I moved it behind my back, it occurred to me that a homing device or other signal could be put in a superheroes necklace to let her superhero husband know if she needed reinforcements. Or a communications device could be put into both of their wedding rings. Or maybe…

About this time, I realized I wasn’t focused on the current activity. There was no way I could stop and ask for a pen and paper; I could only hope I’d remember later. But recently I got ticked off at myself because I thought of something really cool in the shower and by the time I dried off and found my notebook, the idea was gone. While I was muttering un-nice things about myself, the thought popped into my head, “That’s okay, I’m a writer.” In the space of a few heartbeats, all my frustrations and hopes and successes of the last three months coalesced into an “Aha!” moment. What do I have to complain about? I’m a writer!

The distractions are as much a part of a writer’s life as cockroaches are part of the life of a world traveler. That’s okay. I’ll figure out creative ways to deal with them. The frustration that I’m no longer employed, yet I don’t spend those extra forty hours writing, is normal. It’ll take time to build new habits to go with my new job just as it took time to learn new money and bus routes and vocabulary in a new land. The successes are too often ignored? That’s okay. Writers are like that. I’ll find fun ways to celebrate – and fun ways to remind myself to celebrate. If I’m creative enough to build a whole new superhero world out of my imagination, I’m creative enough to meet these challenges.

So after three months down under, I’m learning to be a lot more flexible and forgiving and creative as I adjust not only to a new country, but to my new life as a full-time novelist.

And that’s super-okay.

Kitty Bucholtz
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Only one cockroach was killed in the writing of this article. For more on our adventures, go to http://johninaustralia.blogspot.com.

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Sandy Chvostal: April 2006 President’s Message

March 31, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Sandy Chvostal writing as Sandra Paul

Awhile back, there was a story going around about a woman who desperately wanted to win the lottery. Every day, she’d climb to the top of a hill and pray to The Powers That Be, “Please, let me win the lottery. Just once. Please, let me win.” But day after day, lottery after lottery would go by and the poor woman would never win.

Finally the woman decided it just wasn’t fair. She marched to the top of the hill. She shook her fist at The Powers That Be and yelled, “What is wrong with you? Time after time, day after day, you never let me win the lottery. Why? Why can’t I win?”
And The Powers That Be responded, “Because you never buy a ticket!”

Buy a ticket
Our OCCBoard is an diverse group, and to an outsider, our Board meetings might appear . . . well, a bit chaotic. At the last meeting held on a stormy Sunday, everyone crammed into my small living room and (since my heater is broken) huddled in their coats and scarves around the long wooden table I’d set up.

Only an hour later than planned, Mindy opened the meeting and started in on our very long agenda. Bobbie kept disappearing into the kitchen to warm up at my stove, and Geralyn snatched a quilt off a chair to wrap up in when she arrived late. We ate piles of cinnamon rolls and potato chips. We drank a lot of coffee. We made several trips to the bathroom.

If we didn’t talk and laugh so much, these meetings might go faster. If we didn’t get diverted by subjects such as Mindy’s latest manicure, we might be more efficient. If we didn’t argue so much, we wouldn’t get all the sides of each issue. And if we all didn’t care so much–about writing, about OCC, about our members, their careers, and our careers–we wouldn’t bother being on the Board at all.

This Board doesn’t always agree, but we all agree about one thing: Our ongoing goal is to provide opportunities for our members. And we want you to take advantage of these opportunities–to “buy a ticket” so to speak, so you don’t get left out.

So how do you do that? Here are a few suggestions:

Be Ready for Success
Technology is moving faster than Superman on speed. Keeping up with promotional needs often feels overwhelming. Yet, sometimes all it takes to stay in the game–to have your picture featured in a newspaper or on the cover of a newsletter instead of someone else’s–isn’t as difficult, or as expensive, as you might think.

Check out Michele Cweirtny’s article on page , to see if your headshot is “picture perfect” for success–or not. And learn how to get high quality pictures on a low quality budget.

To blog or not to blog–is that your question?
If so, check out the article on page by Louise Ahern. Also, check out OCC’s blogs up on the website.

I especially hope you read the 25 Days of Romance Blogs put up in February. I hope even more that you wrote a story or anecdote for the project. Because this project–originally conceived to introduce our members to blogging–provided more personal and promotional benefits for the participants than we had anticipated.

The personal benefits included the opportunity to exercise craft by writing a quick, short piece under a deadline. A secondary benefit was the pleased reaction of the people mentioned in the stories (my husband included).
But it was the promotional aspects that pleased the Board. We had originally agreed to choose a winner from amongst the entries to be our first, featured podcast but we hadn’t agreed on who would judge the contest.

Then Silhouette Executive Editor Mary-Theresa Hussey came into town.

She kindly stopped by the OCC February general meeting and the volunteer/guest reception for speaker Editor Selina McLemore following. Mary-Theresa also kindly agreed to choose a blog winner and two runners up. (See who she chose in Look at Our Members.) Thus all the bloggers participating had the chance to have their piece looked at by an editor–and an Executive Editor at that! Thank you so much, Mary-Theresa!

Press Release Bonanza
But our blogging bonanza didn’t end there. Serendipity, in the guise of Podcast Producer Jina Bacaar, blessed us once more. Jina entered a press release about the blog contest and OCC podcasting to a PRWeb www.prweb.com special promotion–and won a $200 placement on the site! The result? Over 36,000 hits on the release by the end of the first day. Cost to the chapter? Nothing–except Jina’s valuable time, of course. Thank you, Jina!

So don’t miss the opportunity to feature your writing in a blog for OCC’s A Slice of Orange. You never know what might happen.

Enter Contests
Yes, having sold my first book via a contest, I’m a firm supporter in their value. And, according to Chairman Jennifer Crooks, there’s still room and time to enter OCC’s Orange Rose Contest for unpublished authors.

Now in its 23rd year, the Orange Rose is an excellent opportunity for writers who are either unpublished, or haven’t published in five years or more, to get feedback on their work. Not only will each entry will be judged by three published writers, but the top ten finalists will also be judged by editors. (Find more information on page 16, or www.occrwa.com.)

Buy Your Tickets Now!
Going to new places, meeting new people are wonderful ways to give your writing more depth. National Conference is coming up in July, and Michelle Thorne, OCC Conference Chairman, is making plans to ensure this one is the best yet for all OCC members attending. We’ve reserved a suite, are preparing invitations for our industry interviews and party, so get your plane tickets and conference reservations now.

And, of course, OCC’s Autumn Affaire is well underway. The opportunity to learn about plotting using The Hero’s Journey by Chris Vogler himself, is something no fiction writer should miss. Hurry and get your money in by the April meeting or through paypal to get the Early Bird Special rate of only $75 for OCC members.

Write. Write. Write.
That’s right–write. It always comes first–even though I’ve listed it last here. After all, it’s your vision, your dream, your book written clear to The End, that is your ultimate ticket to success.

Happy Writing!

Sandy Chvostal w/a Sandra Paul

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