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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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Susan Squires—Harry and I go to the Oscars

March 21, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Susan Squires

It happened again. We got invited to attend the Oscar awards ceremony this year. We have friends who work for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We’d been once before in 2002, so the panic about what to wear wasn’t a problem this time. I now know that 1) no one is going to look at you with Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lopez in the room and 2) there are lots of ordinary people there who will look just like you, or even make you feel good about your wardrobe choices.

That may sound like I was bored by the whole experience. FAR from it! No matter how cynical you may be about the awards, the stars or the people watching from home, the minute you step on to that red carpet, it’s a truly special experience. As a matter of fact, it starts when you get special treatment from uniformed traffic police on the streets around the Kodak Theater just because you are displaying that magic parking emblem on your dash. We were directed onto barricaded streets lined with cheering fans peering into our car to see if we were “anybody” and waving madly. A bevy of attendants help you alight, take your car, and usher you to the head of the red carpet, where you go through a metal detector, show I.D. and open your teeny purse. No cameras or cell phones are allowed. It doesn’t feel like the airport, though. The airport doesn’t usually have ten foot flower displays.

Then it’s out onto the runway. Last time, we strolled down the red carpet with Paul McCarteny and his wife. This time it was Dolly Parton (she is so tiny! Except for… well you know.) I must say, George Clooney sure fills out a tux, as do Russell Crowe and Keanu Reeves. Jake Gyllenhall and Heath Ledger still look a little young to me. But then there are the dresses! Among my personal favorites this year were those that belonged on Sandra Bullock, Salma Hayek, Zhi Zhang, Reece Witherspoon, and Meryl Streep. Meryl gets my vote as best preserved and most graceful woman “of a certain age,” and I’m always looking for those, for obvious reasons. Sharon Stone was my pick for 2002. They give me hope. Or maybe not, since I never looked as good as they did in the first place!

We actually made it on to the ABC pre-show this year. We only realized that when we went home and watched the tape we’d made. We made a screen cap of us walking by behind an interviewer to put on our website. So, free drinks (there is a bar on every floor) and appetizers from Wolfgang while you watch the monitors for late arrivals on the red carpet, and then into a THREE hour and 30 minute production. Of course I am going to have to visit the restroom (see above—ladies of a certain age) and you can only go out during commercials. If you miss the end of the break, you have to stay out until the next one. Of course, I picked a short break. It wasn’t bad, though. I drank at the bar, and watched the monitors with several producers’ wives who were in the same boat.

The show itself is entirely professional and bigger than life. Cameras are zooming around on pulleys and booms. The stage hands (and there are about 50 of them) all wear tuxedos to change the huge set pieces, and the audience doesn’t have to watch the commercials! There is music, and lots of stars milling around talking and hugging to entertain you. I personally loved George Clooney’s acceptance speech where he talked about the fact that art shouldn’t just reflect popular opinion, but should be out in front pointing the way to tolerance and illuminating social problems. Bravo, George! You’re really the heir to Cary Grant in my mind. Harry is a big fan of Jon Stewart’s low key humor, (that and Salma Hayek’s dress) so he found the show especially satisfying.

It was a good night, no matter which movie you wanted to win. We had our own after-party at an Italian restaurant that’s a Hollywood legend and called it a (late) night. It was a celebration of the local industry which was watched by the world. Way more exciting than the insurance industry meetings I go to on occasion!

Susan Squires
THE COMPANION, May, 2005–St. Martin’s Press
THE HUNGER, October, 2005–St. Martin’s Press
THE BURNING, April, 2006–St. Martin’s Press

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March 16, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Jill Marie Landis

Writers create characters and worlds in which everyone does our bidding. Our creations speak the words we put into their mouths, think the thoughts we give them, act and react exactly the way we want them to. We control their every thought, word and deed.

So what happens when we, as creators of a written universe, face life in the real world? What happens when situations involving family or careers spiral out of control?

How can writers keep from getting the blues when the real world won’t co-operate as nicely as our plots and characters on the written page? How can we keep the dream going in the face of rejection, family crises, health challenges, or endless demands on our time?

After almost twenty novels and twenty years in the business, I’ve had plenty of experience with the mercurial ups and downs of a writer’s life. Here are some of the thoughts I fall back on to snap myself out of a funk when my world spins out of control.

1. Give up some control and delegate. Maybe your characters can do everything at once, but you physically can’t. Delegate whenever and whatever you can. Things might not get done exactly the way you want, but in the long run, who cares? Ask for help when you need it.

2. Take time for yourself. Find a quiet corner in the house, the garden, at a park–or in drastic situations—get in the car and escape. Set up a retreat area for yourself. Include a scented candle, incense, soft music, whatever you like. Take a deep breath, quiet your mind, close your eyes, and tell yourself that things never stay the same. Life is in constant flux. Whatever is overwhelming you shall pass. Let it go. Meditate or pray. Visualize the outcome you desire.

3. Exercise. Get moving. Go outside if weather permits. Fifteen minutes sitting in a puddle of sunshine in a corner of the yard or porch works wonders to lift your spirit. Take a walk. Drive to a different neighborhood if you’re bored walking around your own.

4. Know your limitations. When you are down, don’t overload yourself with more obligations, appointments, and deadlines. If a full calendar starts to make you anxious, start saying no. Know how long it will realistically take you to meet your deadlines and leave time for the unexpected things that are sure to come up.

5. Stay in touch. While you are guarding your time, don’t go overboard and isolate yourself when you need people the most. Call an old friend. Talk to those you trust about what’s bugging you. Get good advice. Help someone else. Volunteer your time in a new and different way. Go out and refill the creative well.

6. Eat right. Notice I didn’t say eat healthy, because you know what works for you. Just remember that caffeine, sugar, alcohol and chocolate might give you a quick lift, but you can bet it won’t last. You may end up feeling worse than you did before you over indulged.

7. Take action. Decide how you can help yourself and start to take action. Try writing your way out of the blues. Call a friend and talk things through. Come up with as many new ideas for all areas of your life as you can and then start working on the one you like best. Figure out what’s not working anymore and make changes.

8. Stay positive. With practice it can be done, even if that means saying “Stop it!” to yourself when a negative thought pops up. Don’t dwell upon the past. Set realistic goals. Applaud your achievements. Avoid people who are critical of you and of your goals. If they are family, limit your time with them. If they are your immediate family, speak up and tell them you need their support.

9. Count your blessings. List the people and things in your life that make it worthwhile. Make lists of what makes you happy. List all the positive things you’ve accomplished, list your favorite things, (ice cream, orchids, whatever). List your friends and family and what you love about them.

10. Act instead of reacting: See #7 above again and remember: Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. When you feel as if you’re at the end of your rope, tie another knot and hang on.

Hopefully one or more of these thoughts will help if you ever get down. Remember that life is full of endless possibilities. You truly are the master of your own universe.

Jill Marie Landis is the best selling author of twenty novels. Not only is she listed on the RWA Honor Roll, but six of her books have been Rita Finalists. She is a Golden Heart, Golden Medallion, and Rita Winner. Heartbreak Hotel, named one of the Top 5 Romances of 2005 by the Library Journal, will be released in paperback in August 2006. To keep up with her adventures in paradise, read her blog at http://www.jillmarielandis.com/

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Dana’s Reasons Why Not…

March 14, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Dana Diamond

Excuses are like…well, you know…everybody has one and they all stink. Need I say more?

I have many, in fact…excuses, that is.

I’ll list them, not to make excuses, but, rather, to show you that I have them should I choose to use them…and so you know I’m not some “princess” with a housekeeper eating bon bons, lunching with ladies who…lunch, lounging by the pool, exercising when I feel like it and writing when inspiration strikes.

In addition to my day job (that’s really a 24/7 job) and family obligations, this year, I’m taking on a lot of new challenges:

– Secretary of Orange County’s chapter of RWA
– Writing a monthly article for Orange Blossom
– Weekly blog articles (for your viewing pleasure)
– Contributor to The Writer’s Vibe

And those are just the new professional challenges. I’m also killin’ myself on the treadmill every night after a full day of work, trying to rid myself of the muffin-top I acquired this holiday season. (I’m not vain, well, okay, I’m a little vain. But it’s also for health reasons and, frankly, I like being able to buy my clothes in the kids section. It’s cheaper.)

Anyway, on top of those new challenges I’ve added another book a year to my schedule. So…every single thing I listed keeps me from my goal of writing two books this year (instead of the one I wrote last year).

Still, I write. And I’m on track to finish.

So, I challenge you to stop making excuses. I’ll even help. Here’s a list of excuses and ways to combat them. I give you Dana’s Reasons Why Not…

1. My back hurts – Take an aspirin and get a heating pad.

2. My wrists hurt – Get iVoice or Dragon Naturally Speaking

3. My eyes hurt – Get some glasses or the above mentioned voice programs

4. I have to work – Write at lunch

5. I have kids – Write during naps and/or school.

6. I have to clean my house – Boring women keep clean houses.

7. School, kids, and work – Write one page a day. (Anybody can do that!)

8. Aliens abducted me – Surely they have a recording device you can speak into!

9. Stuck in traffic – Get a digital voice recorder and transcribe your work on weekends

10. I have stomach flu – This one may fly, but I admit, I once actually considered dragging my laptop onto the bathroom floor with me so I could write in between retch sessions.

11. I have a computer job and am too tired of looking at a computer in the evenings and on weekends. – Write longhand.

12. I have ten kids and a husband who doesn’t support me. – Divorce him and put your older kids to work for you. (Okay, for the record, I’m not in that position and that does seem harsh…even to my heartless soul.)

13. I’m exhausted – Leave you’re laptop on all night and write until you fall asleep and resume when you wake up at 4 a.m. (What? You don’t do that already?)

14. I’m training for the Olympics – An hour a day, that’s all I ask.

15. But I’m Michelle Kwan – You’re going to win anyway!

Now I ask you, what are your Reasons Why Not? If you post them, I’ll help you beat them.

Warmest Regards,

Dana Diamond

PS I wrote this last night. Today, I was chatting with my mentor about when I was going to get back to my YA that she’s been reading along as I write and was left dangling for a few weeks now. (Oh, the shame.) The story’s suspenseful and I’m leaving her on cliff-hangers, so she’s, understandably, a little ticked.

So, I give you a few new excuses…and how my mentor shot them down for me. (Oh, the hypocrisy!)

Mentor – “When am I going to see that next chapter?”

Me – “I have to finish the final copy of the interview I just did, and then I need to transcribe the minutes from the board meeting this weekend, and then I have a critique project, but I’ll probably finish that by the end of this week and then I’ll—”

Mentor – “Dana, you can do one page a day.”

(Dude, I hate it when she’s right! Love you, Mentor!)

PPS I am still on track, damnit!

Dana Diamond is the OCC/RWA Secretary, contributor to the Orange Blossom Newsletter and The Writer’s Vibe Blog.

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The Seven Unhealthy Habits of Unhappy Writers

March 9, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Mary Castillo

Before you read on, please note that I am and have been guilty of these unhealthy habits. Let’s just dive in and get the pain over with:

1. Write to get published
2. Spend more time talking about writing than actually writing
3. Believe excuses as to why you never have time to write
4. Need the approval of others whether it is a contest judge, a “get-published-quick” seminar or a critique partner
5. Say “if I finish a book” instead of “when I finish the book”
6. Can’t keep your behind in the chair, or worse, play online Mah-jong for “inspiration”
7. Give up too early

Write to get published

I know what you’re thinking. But trust me, I know what I’m talking about. Early in my career I was chasing my own tail by trying to write to sell. Bad idea. I should have been writing to uncover my voice. This realization happened after I had finished a book that I intended to sell as a category romance. Did it sell? Hell no. Did I want it to? Well, not really because it just didn’t feel right. Not that there’s anything wrong with category; it just wasn’t me. That’s when I realized that writers don’t get published because they created a story that fits the new trend everyone is buying. They are chosen because of their voice, their unique way of looking at and making sense of the world.

So how do you know when you’ve uncovered your voice? Two things. First, the story is true when it is so honest that someone could get hurt, or threaten to disown you.

Second, the writing is like typing an email to a friend … but with more drama and a liberal use of SpellChecker. I know the characters are real when it feels like they’re talking through me. By the way, that doesn’t happen all the time and it often happens when I’m doing other things like showering or feeding my son. However, in revisions it is much easier to tap into what I imagine is an underground river of words. Which is why I race as quickly as possible through the first draft so I can get to the good stuff.

Spend more time talking about writing than actually writing

That’s self explanatory so let’s move on.

Believe excuses as to why you never have time to write

I don’t buy this excuse. Sorry if I offend, but I’ve had the 12-hour job and I still wrote during my lunch hour and on weekends. For the past six months, I’ve been a stay-at-home-working mom. I write two to four hours a night (depending on how close I am to my deadline) and eight hours on the weekend. Before you plan to slash my tires at the next meeting I’ll admit that there are nights when I’m incapable of spelling my name, much less writing. But I cop to it and I’m getting better at outlining as well as carry a handheld tape recorder to capture ideas on the fly.
It all boils down to commitment.

Need the approval of others whether it is a contest judge, a “get-published-quick” seminar or a critique partner

This should be called the deadliest habit and this is why I firmly believe that all new writers should not jump into critique groups. It’s a tough line to walk because you have to hone your instincts and know when your voice clicks. On the other hand, we grow from constructive criticism. Experience has taught me if someone’s bringing you down, if they make you feel like they’re shoving a sock down your throat, walk away. I was a lone ranger for many years before I found my critique group just for that reason. By the time I found my critique group, I had three books under my belt.
If I still haven’t convinced you, let me put it this way: how many best selling authors have said that there was someone who told them they’d never make it? Just about every single one of them.

Say “if I finish a book” instead of “when I finish the book”

Buddhists train for years, decades sometimes, on mastering the art of meditation, or quieting the mind. First they learn to breathe by counting each inhale and exhale. When you get that down, they learn to treat their thoughts like clouds in the sky and when they start thinking, they learn how to acknowledge the thought but pull away from it. A true master can go into a complete state of non-thinking and slow the breath down to an almost comatose state.

My point is that you take those principles and revise what you say to yourself. When you hear yourself saying, “it just isn’t good enough”, or “I can’t get it to work”, or “that agent won’t listen to me”; acknowledge that you just said that and then turn around with a positive rebuttal: “it will be good enough if I work on it”, “I will get it to work by getting to know my character better” or “she’ll listen to me if I practice.”

Can’t keep your behind in the chair, or worse, play online Mah-jong for “inspiration”

Discipline protects the talent. My very first mentor, Ben Masselink, said those words to me the last time I saw him. The book won’t get done unless you write it. There’s just no getting around it.

Give up too early

If you feel like you can’t type one more word, or that your work will never be good enough, think of what Wonder Woman would do. Do you think she’d give up while fighting for our rights in her satin tights? I was rejected 15 times before Hot Tamara sold. And guess what? I got the 16th the day after and the final 17th two weeks after the deal was reported in Publisher’s Marketplace (fools, all of them … ha ha ha!)

Oh sorry, did that come out?

If I had listened to those 15 rejections, that book would be in my closet and who knows where I’d be. (Oh that’s a scary thought, so let’s move on.)
Allow me to leave you with the Seven Healthy Habits of Happy Writers:

1. Writes to uncover voice
2. Makes time to write, rather than wait for the right time
3. Knows an excuse when she hears one
4. Listens to her instincts
5. Erases failure from her vocabulary
6. Exercises discipline to protect her talen
7. Has the courage to overcome and learn from rejection

Mary Castillo
Author of IN BETWEEN MEN, Avon Trade
and HOT TAMARA, Cosmo’s Red Hot Read April 05
Please visit http://www.marycastillo.com/
or http://www.marycastillo.blogspot.com/

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