Everything I Know About Task Lists I Learned in College

Me at the Book FairAngela James, now Editorial Director at Carina Press, took this pic of me at the RT Book Fair. Love how skinny she made me look!

So, now I’m home and getting back in the groove. I spent most of yesterday on day job conference calls and with my spreadsheets – organizing the next month of my life.

That’s how it works for me, kind of in chunks of time. I keep this running To Do List in Excel, with a column for each day. So, today’s list looks like this:

To Do ListDon’t worry about not understanding my cryptic notes – it’s a mix of writing life, day job and Other. Significantly, I don’t have writing work on there because that two hours happens every day, regardless, and I have Another, FAR more complex set of spreadsheets to track what I’m doing there.

At any rate, that’s today’s column and there’s one for tomorrow and the next day, and so on, until Sunday 6/9, when it stops.

Why Sunday 6/9, you might ask? Well, this is the interesting part.

(And okay – I totally accept if you all find NONE OF THIS even remotely interesting. Feel free to move on and read something amusing like this XKCD comic.)

Still here? Go figure.

So, the reason it’s Sunday 6/9 is because that’s the day I fly home from the Lori Foster Reader/Author Get Together (RAGT). Up until yesterday, the list ended on Monday 5/13, RUBY’s release day. (Yay!) It’s also a week past getting home from the RT Convention. Do you see the pattern? It just hit me as I was doing this yesterday.

It reminds me of the habits I developed in college. I used to carry these day calendars that showed a week at a time. Don’t be alarmed, kids – this was back in the days when we didn’t HAVE handheld computer devices, also known as the 80s. I would organize my life my semester. At the beginning of each term, I wrote down all the dates of my exams, midterms and finals, along with major papers due – peppered with school holidays. Then I proceeded to work from deadline to deadline. Once a test was taken or a paper turned in, I looked to the next milestone down the road.

Which is totally what I’m doing now. Conferences, release dates and book deadlines – along with vacations – form the structure of my new life.

I’m not sure this is a good approach or not, but it’s interesting to see how I’m still working off those early habits. It might be worth examining if there’s a better way to do things.

Anyone have suggestions?

Tuesday 5/7
my blog
make mani/pedi appt
make wands – 10
send books & wand to Sullivan
send wands – Amy, Much Ado
Send WV notes
NN Report – check errors
Establish dates for GWR & NN
to QA – 5/7 CCR Protocol
write up Ph II/V history
5/8 Laura’s PA
before 5/9 call – figure 5-18 hours
WV Enforcement Policy
GWR Protocol
Laramie place to stay

Final Wrap-Up of RWA. Includes Dancing.

Hey, it’s Friday, which means it’s my last day to wrap up the final two days of the conference. Which pretty accurately captures how it all feels at that point: fast and compressed.

First thing that Friday morning, I dragged myself together in time to meet several other Carina authors (Jennifer Bray-Weber, Adrienne Giordano, Ruth Casie, Rita Henuber, Julie Rowe) and Carina freelance editor Mallory Braus for breakfast with our Brenda Novak auction winner. We had a lovely time – including mimosas! Poor Joyce had managed to sprain her ankle the day before, tripping over tape at the doors of the keynote luncheon, and was a real trooper. She asked us for the honest dirt on writing for Carina and we all raved with the lurv. So much for dirt!

I made it back over to the convention in time to catch the tail end of Marcella’s workshop on using acting techniques to add tension and emotion into your writing. She even put me on the spot to talk about Feeding the Vampire, which she’d used early on as an example of starting with action. Hey kids – I’m an example! And not a cautionary tale this time!

Robyn Carr spoke at that day’s luncheon and did a marvelous job. She gave us her personal story, which is my favorite kind of talk. It took her thirty years to make the NYT Bestseller list, so she said she wasn’t inspirational to anyone. She so was. You might have seen all the people tweeting her best line: “Success is not measured by fame or fortune or power. Success is measured in moments of satisfaction.”

After lunch, an incredibly handsome man gave me a massage. He’d been set up there all week and, by this point, had three other handsome young men working with him. Brilliant business idea. I told him a lot of heroes would be modeled on him after that. He laughed but, after he finished, he knelt down and put my shoes on, which involved tying the ribbons around my ankles. He gave me a sexy smile and said how into those shoes he could get. Several women watching said they nearly swooned on the spot.

After more workshops, that evening was the Carina Press Author Cocktail Party. Always a delight. I made two new friends there, Cathy Perkins, who I’d vaguely known from Twitter before that, but never really talked to, and Monique Domovitch, a brand new author, who is also with fabulous Editor Deb. We hit it off so well that we retired to the pool bar for a glass of wine before the Harlequin party. Alas, Monique had signed too recently to go, but we had lunch the next day, where I think we talked for two hours. My favorite part of conference: new friends!

The Harlequin party was, again, awesome. Held off site with a tight invitation list, the party showers us with treats. Wait staff were lined up at the doors with trays of a special pink Harlequin martini. I may have had three that night… Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, because I danced and danced and danced.

The lead photo up top is from that party, showing one of my local chapter mates, Robin Perini, explaining something to agent Laurie McLean. And here’s Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, a junior agent with Laurie’s agency, giving us the Vogue pose.

Here’s the ever-vivacious Victoria Dahl, being unnaturally demure.

And Carina Press Executive Editor Angela James, with photo bomb provided by the wiley Andrew Schaffer.

And Carina Press Editorial Assistant Carrie Holden holding an incredibly earnest conversation with freelance editor Rhonda Helms.

Mallory Braus, looking deceptively sweet.

And the dancing, of course.

Hope to see you all next year!

Fantasy Romance and Professional PJs

Thursday at conference ended up being Fantasy day for me. Not sure how that worked out, but there it is.

First thing in the morning, I met up with the agents for breakfast. Actually – before that I ran on the fancee treadmills at the hotel, which let me gaze out on palm trees. You know how I am about palm trees! In fact, I’m creating a blog label for palm trees. So there. I ran on the treadmill on Wednesday, too, and went to Starbucks for my skinny latte after. On Wednesday I had both the fitness center and Starbucks to myself. On Thursday? Whoa! I barely wedged myself in.

So, I already mentioned that this agent contacted me before the conference, to set up a meet to talk. The night before, a senior agent with her agency stopped by my table at the literacy signing, introduced herself, and said she’d be coming along for breakfast. It was very fun to meet up and hear what they had to say. I was joking with people that I wasn’t pitching at this conference – I was taking pitches. For all of you who have been in the trenches with me, being nervous about those pitch appointments, pinning so much hope on them, I’m sure you know how delightful this felt.

We talked about my favorite subject – me and my work – for an hour. Senior agent was great and said she’d be mentoring younger agent. And I really liked the gal who eventually said she was officially offering to represent me. She really groks what I write, which is the most important thing to me. Senior agent said she really sees Fantasy Romance as a genre on the rise and they’d like to make me the Queen of Fantasy Romance.

Hell, where’s my tiara?

Obviously this was a great way to start the day! I attended the PAN retreat and learned a lot of interesting things about the market. At the Carina Press spotlight, Angela James mentioned Rogue’s Pawn – and how Fantasy Romance is getting more attention. She, and several other people, said Rogue’s Pawn had been discussed at breakfast and there was lots of good buzz swirling about it.


That night was the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal (FFP). The hotel staff were just great helping us with this party – and seemed terribly amused by our costumes, as above. All the pics I’ve seen of that night so far are dark and blurry. Must have been all that magic in the air. We did a costume contest, the PRISM awards and had a fabulous time overall. Such a fun party, every year.

After, I switched into my pajamas for Harlequin’s PJ Party, which started at 9. I stayed to watch the Disney fireworks from our room, so I made it there a bit late. WHY I didn’t take pics, I don’t know! But everyone really wore pajamas and it was just a kick. They had candy – like M&Ms and cherry sours – and potato chips with warm blue cheese sauce to put on the side. I seriously felt like we should start making crank phone calls.

Tomorrow will be final wrap-up!

Social Media – and Knowing What *Not* to Say

Full moon in the Caribbean. Yeah – it was pretty fabulous.

So, this week I am the “voice” of Carina Press on Twitter.(@carinapress)

I know, I know – what the hell was Angela James thinking?? You just don’t put power like that into the hands of an irreverent smart-ass like me. Of course, I have managed not to discuss the plight of iguanas so far…

At any rate, she’s been trying an experiment of having different authors take over the Twitter feed for a week at a time. Apparently Sweden does this – gives the feed to a different citizen each week. It sounds like this has been going well for the Carina feed, so it will continue from here on out.

When Angela first contacted me about doing this, I was all pleased and flattered. And excited, too. After all, I love the Twitter. “Being” Carina Press for a week sounded like crazy fun. I watched the three gals who went before me and paid attention to what I thought worked and what I’d do when it was my turn. Then, yesterday, it was MY chance!

And I got all quiet.

Somehow, representing someone ELSE, someone CORPORATE, brought the responsibility slamming home. No longer could I romp carefree through Twitter – though I like to think I’m reasonably careful about what I say. At one point I meant to say something as me, and inadvertently Tweeted it as Carina. Fortunately it wasn’t bad. But I’ve seen people retract tweets before, saying they sent it from the wrong account and I’d thought, jeez, how hard is it, people? Harder than I thought, turns out! I swear I had the account tagged and then the application sent it as the other. Eep

So, at one point, I did send a much more off-color remark to author Shannon Stacey (@shannonstacey), who had the feed last week. I *very* carefully sent it as me. She replied, asking me how many times I checked which account I was sending from before I hit the button.

My answer? Seven.

I tell you what, this responsibility thing is a terrible burden!

It’s one thing to be responsible to myself and another to represent a whole group of people I respect and admire. But I also know – and have reviewed the guidelines! – that Angela wants our personalities to be part of this. To infuse the Carina feed with who we are. After all, Twitter is better suited to people, with their quirks and errors, than to carefully robotic corporate messages.

And if I say the wrong thing, or from the wrong account, eh – it’ll only be saved by the Library of Congress, in perpetuity.

No pressure.

Sunshine and Silken Sands

Okay, I’m getting my feet under me again. Thank you, everyone, for all your kindness and support.

I might even have looked at some kitten pictures yesterday. David is egging me on for a Norwegian forest cat. Wouldn’t that be fun?

So, finally, here’s my break-down of the Gulf Coast Writers Silken Sands Conference last weekend. It was a lovely conference and I’m so glad I went, even with what happened while I was gone. A small conference like this lets you have so many more opportunities to hang in a casual way with the editors and agents in attendance. That OMIGODINEEDTOPITCH OCD frenzy just never develops.

It’s actually fun.

So, when I got in, the fabulous conference organizer, Jillian Chantal, picked me up from the airport. My hotel room had a view of the beach.

AND of the pool bar. You folks know me. I just love me a pool bar.

I soaked in the view – and the moisture – then hooked up with Jillian and Angela James, executive editor of Carina Press, to head to this We Got Crabs place next door.

Very fun place. We sat outside, enjoyed the live band. AND they had $2.50 martinis.

There’s Angela, looking happily dwarfed by her martini.

I got to have fresh crab. Even though it took me a while to get the bib open.

Thank you, Angela, for the picture!

On Friday morning, I grabbed a little beach time with Carolyn Crane’s second book in her Disillusionists trilogy, Double Cross. Man, did I gobble up these books. Such a fascinating approach to the use of psychic energy. Her cast of characters is like a deeply twisted Justice League. I’m working on getting her to write more! This is one of my favorite parts of being an author – I can stalk other authors without them being so suspicious and then badger them into giving me more of what I want. Guerilla author – that’s me.

Then Angela took me and two other Carina Press authors out to lunch. Katie Reus and Wynter Daniels were delightful companions and Angela a charming and generous hostess. I got this amazing shrimp boat platter:

Afterwards, we attended Angela’s seminar on building your author brand and author websites. Very informative. And she analyzed our websites, too. She took great care to make us feel like valued members of her publishing family. It was really lovely.

That evening was the costume party – come as your favorite literary character. That’s the picture at the top. Me as Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. I carried the book with me as a clue, but nobody got it. Mainly because very few people there had read the book. Seriously people, this is such a good book! How can I make more people read it???

On Saturday morning, I got to pitch The Middle Princess to a lovely editor from St. Martins, who I’d already chatted with (small conference for the win!), so it was laid back and pleasant. It helped that we sat on the patio overlooking the beach. Okay, it was a little weird because Angela and my Ellora’s Cave editor, Grace Bradley, were also taking pitches at nearby tables. I felt like a pitch-slut. But, I also know that Middle Princess isn’t right for either of those presses and I’m writing stuff for them.

I may or may not have put in a little more beach time after that.

After that, I had lunch with Grace, which was lovely and low-key. The conference provided yummy box lunches and they made a (mostly) Vegan one for her, so we took our lunches and had a long, leisurely conversation. I attended some workshops that afternoon and spent a bit of time at the pool bar with the charming Keri Ford.

This was St. Patrick’s Day and by evening the beach was a MADHOUSE like you would not believe.

I had a lovely low-key dinner with several author friends, Katie, Wynter, Cindy Eden and new friend Manda Collins, who suggested a perfect high-concept pitch for Middle Princess.

Sunday morning – well, if you’ve been reading you know Saturday night and Sunday morning were bad for me. But I did my workshop on the Erotic Story Arc. (Thank you Keri Ford for the pic!)

Grace came to the workshop and had great input. Keri took a pic of us together, but it’s on Grace’s phone and she’s on vacation in the Caribbean, which makes me bitter on several levels. Hopefully I’ll get that eventually and post it here.

The always-generous conference organizers gave me a ride back to the airport, along with Jenny Bent. It was fun to get to talk to her and discover we have surprising things in common. What a delightful person she is.

That’s the round-up. In case you haven’t been reading carefully: try the small conferences. *Totally* worth it.

Sand, Sun and the Erotic Story Arc

I’m starting to think beach.

Not this particular beach, but the one I’ll be visiting in Pensacola, Florida for the Silken Sands Conference March 16-18. I’m so looking forward to this conference, not just for the warm and the beach, but because it’s a small conference packed with a lot of really great people. Two of my favorite editors, Angela James (Carina Press) and Grace Bradley (Ellora’s Cave) will be there, along with Holly Blanck (St. Martin’s) who I’d like to be one of my favorite editors. 😀 There will also be fabulous author friends there and I’m looking forward to hanging with them.

So, I’m working up my presentation in my head. Brewing it up so I can start making some slides. My workshop? The Erotic Story Arc: Not a Contradiction in Terms.

Yeah – you know what I mean.

A lot of people think an erotic story is simply porn and nothing more. And – hey, let’s face it – some can be. Over on Word Whores this week, we’ve been having an interesting debate on action scenes and whether we skim them as readers. The consensus has been that both action scenes and sex scenes suffer by being all stage direction without real story. So, in the erotic story, the sexual interaction takes center stage, but it still must serve to move the character from one place to another. That’s the core of a story: how the characters change.

Often the change in the characters in an erotic story is the simple coming together. They start out strangers and end up together – classic romantic story arc. There’s also the sexual journey, which usually involves some kind of self-discovery. I like the stories about breaking taboos or old beliefs, liberating the characters to embrace more of the world than they did before.

Any that I’m missing? I’m also looking for suggestions, of really well-done erotic stories that were also moving and meaningful.

And, if you want to see my workshop or just come hang at the beach with some fab writing and publishing people, you can still register!

Refining Goals and Getting Out of the Boiling Water

I had this friend a while back who was going through a difficult divorce.

Not that they aren’t all difficult.

This particular divorce, however, was complicated by massive amounts of debt, an unemployed soon-to-be-ex-husband and the necessity of taking on more debt to free herself of the situation. The upshot was, she took a second job. Because she already had a full-time, career-path day job, the second one had to be at night. So, she would work at the day job until 4, go home and sleep a few hours, go to the night job at 11, work until 7 in the morning and go to the day job.

Right: grueling schedule.

But, she only had to do it for a while. The night job at the hospital paid very well and her debt melted away. When she finally finished paying everything off, she went shopping. I know, because I went with her and she bought all new furniture. A gift to herself.

And now you can quit the second job and get some sleep again, I said.

No. She had more things she wanted the money for. She couldn’t give up the second income just yet. Just a little while longer.

After a while, she became so accustomed to this grueling schedule that she no longer notices the sleep deprivation. Right – the frog in the boiling water analogy.

To this day, she still does the night job a couple times a week

Yesterday, Angela James wrote on the Carina blog about the dangers of becoming obsessed with our jobs. She talks about overworking and taking time to relax, too.

Her post came at an interesting time for me because the other day, I mentioned to one of my CPs that I wanted to be full-time writer girl. She asked if it really would make that much difference for me, because I rarely seem to exceed about 2,500 words/day, even if I have all day to write. Glumly, I acknowledged that she was correct.

Then I realized, what it would mean is I’d no longer be working two jobs. I’ve been doing really long days for so many years now, that I’d kind of forgotten all the ways I’ve tightened my daily schedule to make this work. Even something as sleeping an hour later and going to the gym I like better but would add 1/2 hour to the time allotted for exercise would make a difference.

Several people commented on Angela’s post that her quip about having a goal of writing a book a month made them choke. It scared me, too.

It helps to adjust my goal, that I want to be a full-time writer, not necessarily to write more, though that would be nice, but to better enjoy my life.

Make it so!

The Wages of Professionalism

I wonder why I only get these eerie iridescent colors at sunrise and not at sunset? Something to do with the air being cooler? Doesn’t seem logical, but there it is.

I’m sure there’s an explanation for it and I just don’t know what it is. Some things there aren’t sound reasons for. Like a lot of publishing.

Yesterday, Angela James posted a very interesting piece to the Carina Press blog about how the acquisitions team works. And why that team rejects about 40% of what their editors recommend for acquisition. See, Carina uses freelance editors. You pitch to them, send them your work, maybe revise and resubmit. The editor can reject the stauthor history, marketability, editorial needs of book and why they did (or in some cases did not) love it. For established authors, we look up sales figures, both from Carina Press, if they’re a returning author, and via Bookscan, if they’ve published elsewhere. We discuss what we know of the author’s writing and sales history, what they’re like to work with, how popular the genre is, merits of the manuscript, how much work it will need, and how it fits into our program.ory at any point during this process, but if she decides yes, then she has to write up a report for the acquisitions team to convince them to accept the work for publication. (They also write up reports for the rejected works and Angela often tweets those reasons, which can be educational.  She recorded ones from the other day here, if you’re interested to see.)

What’s interesting about the breakdown of that 40% rejection from the acquisitions team is all the information they take into account. Among other things:

  • author history
  • marketability
  • editorial needs of book
  • sales figures, both from Carina Press, if they’re a returning author, and via Bookscan, if they’ve published elsewhere
  • author’s writing and sales history
  • what they’re like to work with
  • how popular the genre is
  • merits of the manuscript
  • how much work it will need
  • how it fits into Carina’s program

Regular readers know where I’m going with this. Yeah, it’s the piece that none of us wants to think about. We want each new story to be judged on its own merit, as its own bright and shiny individual thing. It might be, but there is a constant running through this: the author. We cannot afford to be difficult to work with.

I know, I know – you’re pointing to certain Famous Authors renowned for behaving badly. But they make TONS OF MONEY. Which excuses all most sins. Being an artist is never an excuse to be unprofessional. Not with deadlines, not with how you handle edits, not in elevator gossiping. Just never. Because we live in an age where there really *is* a permanent record. Nothing ever dies on the interwebs.

Another Carina Press editor and author, Rhonda Stapleton, posted a story on her blog the other day about how she had to reject a manuscript that she really enjoyed, because Carina is not handling that genre. She was sorry to do it – until she saw that the author in question posted snippy comments about the rejection. Which left her feeling like she’d dodged a bullet. Who wants to work with someone who’ll snark about you behind your back?

No one. And that’s who we’ll get.

Thunder Moon

I had to catch the full Thunder Moon at dawn this morning, since last night, appropriately enough, thunderclouds obscured the moonrise.

Love those thunderclouds. Rain all you like!

Yesterday, Angela James, Executive Editor of Carina Press and savvy social media maven, tweeted this:

Angela James
Me to agent: “I’m going to pass on this author. She’s had occasion to be very rude to me & others in the past.” : Be professional

This is noteworthy because we’ve all suspected it’s possible for this to happen. The publishing community is quite small, often insular, occasionally incestuous (and I mean that in the nicest possible way). Whether at conferences or online, we are in each other’s laps much of the time. There are no secrets. When questioned, Angela followed up with:

Angela James


Angela James


Angela James


Angela James

This is pretty much what I would have predicted. Angela is at the helm of a digital-first imprint of a major publisher. She knows that online interactions play a huge role in this world. The days – if they ever really existed – of a writer getting to play the diva and curse anyone who crosses them are well and truly over.

It reminds me of the small town thing.

When I moved to Wyoming for grad school, I went from living in Denver and St. Louis, to a town of 26,000 people. Functionally the population is half that if you only count the year-round population. Now, I was an *ahem* aggressive driver. Not rage-driver, but definitely big-city driver. Other cars were never about people to me – they were simply “traffic.” Nothing personal.

Imagine my surprise when people called me out for it.

“Hey, you cut me off this morning!”

“Geez, how fast were you going down Grand yesterday afternoon??”

“You tailgated me all the way to Safeway – what’s up with that?”


Once I got over the fact that these people actually looked in my car and recognized me, I discovered I was now accountable for my driving behavior in a way I’d never been before. No longer anonymous, I had become part of a small community, for better or worse. I had to change my behavior.

I suppose you could argue this impinged on my freedom to be obnoxious. Small towns can be oppressive because they do limit freedom of thought and action. The social mores can be restrictive. But, there’s always the option to leave that community. If the reasons to stay are compelling enough, you’d better learn how to get along with your neighbors.

And if you want them to hire you or elect you to city council? Find a way to be congenial.

It can’t be said often enough: watch what you say in public. Imagine that everything will be heard and remembered, and absolutely held against you in the court of public opinion. People will forgive you the odd slip, but a pattern of continued bad behavior? No no no. My writing buddies and I have the Cone of Silence. All snarkiness must occur inside the Cone.

Make sure it’s really on, too.

What was most amazing to me about yesterday’s exchange was an author replied to Angela saying:

Oh, shit, I said I was *sorry* I called you “picky.”


I’m crying now. You’re such a b*#$ch.

I didn’t include her tweet info here, because I think she’s an idiot for posting those and I’ll save her this extra bit of self-induced humiliation. The tweets are still up, though, for anyone who cares to see… and to track that her data matches up to Angela’s author-in-question.

Perhaps it all comes down to learning to take criticism. Live and learn.

When you do get called out for something, like I did? It’s an opportunity for course-correction. Apologize and fix the problem. People will forgive. They’ll eventually forget.

But not if you keep behaving badly.