That Time of Year

This year, I’m resolved to take more photos.

All of my pictures from last year are from other people’s cameras. (And no, we have no idea what Jeri Smith-Ready is doing in this picture. My theory is vampire dog, but you never know….) But then I was crazy busy/stressed last year. Hopefully this year will involve less of me running around like a manic person.

Tonight, the lovely and serene Cynthia Eden will host a pajama party, I believe. That ought to make for good photo opportunities.

Stay tuned – I’m off to Orlando. Save me now…

Go-to-Meetin’ Clothes

Isabel is ready to go to the RWA conference!

Now if only I was…

Actually, it’s not that bad. My plane doesn’t leave until about 12:30 tomorrow, so I don’t have to leave the house until 10 am. I’m mostly packed – including feline companion – and everything else is stacked up. We got back from Denver early enough yesterday for me to finish all the laundry and get organized on FFP’s big party at the convention – something that actually took hours and hours of work. And I finished my costume. I don’t like to do these things too far ahead of time…

People keep asking me if I’m excited to go. I should just lie and say “yes!” like they want me to. Truth is, I kind of dread going. Once I get there, I’m fine. I’ll see lots of friends and it will be a non-stop whirl of fun. I’ll have a great time; I know that. There’s just a big part of me who’d like to curl up in the suitcase, too, and stay in the den.

It’s funny having just come from my high school reunion. The turn-out was quite small and many people I would have liked to see didn’t show. But it was funny to hear some of the stories and have people ask me didn’t I remember that party? No, because I was almost never at the parties. I always thought it was because I wasn’t invited, but I think now it was more that I was usually so happy to have “my nose in a book,” as my mother would say, that I rarely got up the gumption to go socialize. When I did, I had fun.

Just like convention.

Odd, at this stage in life, to recognize this pattern in myself. It helped, oddly enough, to take the Meyers-Briggs personality test and discover that I test as an introvert. I’ve always thought of myself as a basically social person and I’m socially confident in general. But my little introvert heart is happier tucked in where it’s quiet and people don’t ask me questions.

(No, I won’t start mumbling to Precious. Much.)

Fortunately, fence-sitter me, I just barely score into the introvert category, so I can dig up some extrovertedness if necessary. The thought just sounds draining at the moment. Once I get there, the excitement will pump me up.

So – am I excited? No. But I will be.

Fragments of Something

I’m calling it “Fragments.”

Yes, I finally did something with the pot Alex shattered. I planted some little heat-tolerant plants around it, too – they’re just difficult to see in the photograph. All in all, I think it looks pretty decent. And I planted the roses, too.

I thought about calling it “Fragments of a Dream,” but that seemed, well, spectacularly melodramatic, especially since there aren’t any shattered dreams around here. So I decided to leave the title of my found art as just “Fragments” – that way the viewer can fill in his or her own thing that’s disassembled.

I went through The Body Gift, too, and made everything match up (I think, I hope, I pray). Sent it to three of my Critique Partners and one, who hasn’t seen any of it, has declared herself in love already. Big sigh of relief there. The agent I’d love to sign with said to send it so she could read it before the National convention, so I’m going to have to trust in the story and send her off soon.

Yeah, okay, I’m nervous.

And depleted.

My well is bone dry. I think I’ll even take this week off from writing and not even look at any wordcounts. Plus, this will be a busy time. David’s birthday is Wednesday. We go up to Denver for my high school reunion on Friday. Then next Tuesday, I head to the RWA National Convention.

Somehow my Julys always seem to end up really busy. Here’s hoping for a lazy August!

Sunsets and Priorities

A sunset photo seems appropriate to end our week. The end, at least, for those of us still working the day jobs.

I feel like the day job ate my brain this week. I’m happy to have this project to work on, and it’s interesting, but it’s taken a lot of thought and decision-making.

There’s that saying “No one pays you to think.” Except they actually do. Not always an easy thing to deliver.

So my wordcounts have gone down as the week progressed:

Monday 1808
Tuesday 1647
Wednesday 1503
Thursday 526

Yeah – worked late Wednesday getting something done before a Thursday morning meeting. It shows.

And yes, I hear you all out there telling me to ease back the pressure on myself. I’ve passed 91K now. My original goal was 90K, but the story has become longer than I thought. It will probably take another 10K or so to finish the story and I’m trying not to rush it.

Actually – it occurs to me writing this that I’m worried the end isn’t moving fast enough when the worst thing for me as a reader is a rushed ending. That may be key.

At any rate, I’ll work on it this weekend, I think. I had planned to go to the LERA meeting tomorrow and go shopping for clothes for the National convention after, but I’ve decided to stay home. It’s easy to put focus on things like outfits for pitch sessions and costumes for the Steampunk Ball, but the most important thing is this novel I’d like to sell.

Meanwhile my childhood home is officially on the market. If you click on the panoramic link, you can see the tour. (Hey – it’s a Friday. What else are you going to do?) My mom and her David have done an amazing job of getting the house ready. It’s a lovely house, too, if you know anyone looking in Denver. I walked to elementary school out those back doors and through the park.

The worst thing that ever happened to me was when Chris Rieber stole my tap shoe and dropped it through the ice in the creek.

May the next people to live in that house love it as much as we have all these years.


It’s a Major Award.

Today is an exciting day in the romancey community. RWA is a well-oiled machine, as you have to be for a major advocacy group with over 10,000 members. Today is the day RWA announces the finalists for the Golden Heart Awards for unpublished writers and the Rita Awards for published writers.

There are multiple categories such as single-title contemporary (that would be your standard Nora Roberts/Linda Howard novel), or series (such as Harlequin), or paranormal, or romantic suspense and so forth.

Everyone submitted their books or manuscripts back in December and now all the judging is in (from fellow RWA members). Finalists are notified today and the winners will be announced at the big awards ceremony at the RWA National Convention in July.

That’s when you get to see Nora in her Ferragamos accepting her trophies.

All across the internet, there are blog parties today. People chime in when they’ve heard that they finalled and others comment to congratulate. The people you don’t hear from are the ones still clutching their cell phones, waiting for it to ring.

A lot of hope out there today, swirling through the interwebs.

Which means there will also be disappointment. A lot of phones won’t ring.

Golden Heart, particularly, can be held up by the unpubbed writers as the pinnacle of success. It’s a particularly nice deal in that, if you are a finalist, you get first pick of the agent and editor pitch appointments at the convention. Theoretically they’ll take you more seriously, having been vetted by your colleagues.

But that only points up that the Golden Heart is only an intermediate step to the REAL prize: publication. Which is the whole point, after all. At least for the upubs. Clearly all those Rita finalists are hoping for another level of validation, likely just as crucial to them. Maybe more so.

I’ve seen several “studies” – bloggers doing informal surveys of Golden Heart winners – to see if there was a correlation between winning or finalling and publication. The answer, as always, is yes and no. It looks to me like it helps, but it’s far from a sinecure.

Like all contests, it can be wonderful validation from your peers, but it really doesn’t put your book before readers’ eyes. Readers who will pay you to eat so you can keep giving them stories, much less readers who will give you enough money to buy Ferragamos.

I don’t know if I’ll check into the blog parties or not. I’m keeping my phone off until my writing is done. That part must remain sacred, as it’s the core of it all.

It’s hard to wait. Hard to rest your hopes on whether someone gave you a score of 7 or 9, or even an 8.8. You take a little piece of your heart and lay it on the marble slab under the judges critical eye.

But, in the end, an award is only what it means to you. Even a Major Award.

Even if it’s Italian.

Forever Stuck on the Road Less Traveled

I may have made a mistake.

I know, I know — we can crack all the jokes we like about writing it on the calendar, etc. But I’m begining to think I really miscalculated, becoming involved in this whole genre thing.

When I first began writing, and I really trace this back to grad school, since I don’t believe childhood stories and adolescent angsty poetry really count, my work came out as essays. To get some relief from what had become the crushing pressure of my PhD in Neurophysiology program, I began taking classes with the visiting writers program.

And, oh, the excitement of those days.

I loved meeting the visiting writers, and the other students. I loved the workshops, the stimulation of it all. And they supported me in very useful ways. I learned to explore my new art. An artist’s retreat accepted me to stay for two weeks, I received fellowships and other awards.

And I was rewarded early on with publishing success.

I wouldn’t say the magazines fell over themselves to publish me, but it was fairly steady, from Redbook to Literary Mags, I published in several a year until, eight years after my first class, I held my essay collection, published by a university press, in my hands.

Then I stalled.

There were a lot of reasons. Mainly I couldn’t quite get the two nonfiction projects I was working on to gel. So I wrote a novel, Obsidian, about sex and magic. I thought, oh, I’ll sell this and the genre work will bring in the money so I can focus on the nonfiction projects.

Yeah, it didn’t work out that way. Even though one of the editors at a sci fi magazine I’d published with said that an agent would snap up a writer like me, no one has. One agent early on wrote me a letter saying how disappointed he was, because he’d loved my idea but then I’d gone and written it like some kind of literary book.

A few months later, I went to the RWA National conference, where my name tag identified me as unpublished. Because Romance Writers of America considers you published only if it’s in the genre. A month before, I’d been a featured writer on a panel at a book festival. At one lunch, I sat next to a woman I didn’t know. In fact, I did at every meal since I knew no one. I don’t remember her name — she was another unpubbed wannabe like me. At the end of the meal, she said she looked forward to reading my book. Foolishly, I pulled my essay collection out of my bag, saying I had some with me. She looked at me like I’d offered her dog shit and said, no, she meant my romance novel, whenever I got it published.

I sent my first query on Obsidian 12/20/07. Just over two years ago, for those keeping score at home. Admittedly, it wasn’t really ready for prime time then. Hindsight is 20/20. Meanwhile, a gal I know wrote a book while snowed in during December 2008, that she just sold in a three-book deal.

Jayne Ann Krentz wrote an interesting post on the FFP blog recently. She speaks frankly about writing as a business, which she’s clearly better at than I am. She says this:

DON’T GET TOO FAR AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Trust me on this. I’ve been there and done that and it rarely goes well. Back at the beginning of my career I tried to do a futuristic/paranormal. That very first manuscript had all of the elements that I now work with freely: romance, suspense and a psychic twist. I can’t tell you how many rejection slips the manuscript garnered. They all had the same theme: “Really enjoyed the writing but unfortunately there’s no market for this kind of romance.”

She could be talking about me. For some reason, no matter what I’m doing, I never quite fit neatly into what everyone else is doing. I didn’t in high school, I didn’t in my PhD program. I don’t now.

I really don’t think I’m doing it on purpose.

At any rate, I’m back where I was three years ago when I started writing Obsidian. Unable to sell my current project, I think I’m going back to nonfiction. I actually know where to take one of the two I was working on then.

I have learned one thing, that querying and selling have to be background activities. You can make yourself crazy if they’re your main focus.

It might be precious to say, but it forever and always must be mainly about the writing.

No, but What Do YOU Think?

This morning in the Water Cooler, we had an interesting conversation about contests and a pitfall I’d never considered.

The Water Cooler is a chat room on the website of our Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Chapter. One of our board members is an amazing web designer and she created these various chat rooms for us. The Water Cooler is for hanging out while you write. Sometimes we do timed sessions and then report back word counts or pages edited. Sometimes we throw out problems we’re struggling with, for feedback.

Sometimes we just yak.

This morning, one gal mentioned that she wasn’t working on her WIP — lingo for Work in Progress — but instead doing penance and judging a contest entry. Penance because she’d failed to notice that one of the entries given her to judge was the exact same entry she’d judged for another contest the week before. These are for our chapter On the Far Side contest and everyone is supposed to be done judging by tomorrow.

She turned the entry back in and took another because she “would have had to write all the exact same comments.”

So, it’s an interesting thing. So many RWA chapters sponsor contests that the market is arguably flooded. And yet, these are opportunities unmatched in the business, that you can get your work in front of agents and editors who serve as final judges, but who won’t accept unsolicited submissions. Some people get caught up in collecting contest finals and wins (one group keeps count and actually gives the person with the most finals in a year an actual TIARA — yes, these are all women). But really, the point is that this is a chance to get your manuscript that much closer to publication.

The real prize.

The editors and agents serve as final judges, meaning that they judge the finalists. As determined by the chapter members who volunteer to judge. And sometimes people from outside the chapter, if the chapter in question can’t get enough volunteers.

Now, many people in RWA belong to several chapters — maybe a local one or two and a couple online groups. So there are two or three contests you’ll be hit up to judge right there. More if you’re feeling generous and volunteer to help another group. The pool of people submitting to the contests is largely this same group and they usually hit as many contests as they can, to maximize their chances.

There’s a word for this syndrome.

MFA programs have been accused of producing literary clones. (I tried Googling “MFA Syndrome” to give you a good link to an article, because I know I’ve read a couple, but all the hits were in other blog posts. Hmmm….) The academic/MFA environment produces literary writers who get university posts to teach MFA programs.

Right! Incest.

And we all know what the product of incest is. Lethal mutation at worst; reduced heterogeneity at best. Reduced heterogeneity in biology leads to weaker individuals, for those not up on their genetics and evolutionary biology.

There have been complaints that the contests are past their prime. That the agents and editors don’t request full manuscripts as much. That they aren’t making as much money for the chapters.

Maybe we should think about doing something different.

Full Moon on the Rise

I’m taking a plotting class.

For the second time now. Not as in, I flunked the first time so I have to take it again to get a passing grade for my major. That was Immunology. Why Immunology among all those hard-core pre-med courses I took? I have no idea. No one knows which heel is the one that didn’t get sufficiently dipped, I suppose.

No, this is a different online plotting class that I’m trying because I keep feeling like I should learn how to plot better.

And no, this has never been feedback on my book, that the plot has to be stronger. I think I have this idea that if I learn to plot, everything will be much easier. See, the RWA folks are all about plotting vs. pantsing. In fact, they ask you that after they ask your name and where you’re from at receptions. The first time someone asked me, I couldn’t even figure out what word they were saying. “Pantser” is a person who writes by the seat of her pants, rather than plotting out the story ahead of time.

I’m not fond of the term, frankly.

I dropped out of the first plotting class because I hated it so much. They had us start with loglines, which is basically your pitch line. “A beautiful young girl, abused by her family, sneaks into a dance where she captures the heart of the local charming ruler. Afraid that he’ll spurn her once he discovers her base origins, she flees, forcing him to search for her so they might live happily ever after.”

That kind of thing.

And my deal is, I don’t know how you can know what the story is about until I write it. Writing for me is a process of discovery. I write essays the same way. And these blog posts. You can probably tell that half the time I don’t know what my point is. I start with an image or an idea and talk about it for a while. Sometimes I make it to a point, sometimes I don’t.

When I *do* find a point, it’s a wonderful moment. My friend, Craig Arnold, now a dead poet, which he might actually find kind of amusing, taught me a way to think of it. I think it was the Chinese, he said, who talk about the moment the poem “opens its eyes.”

I live for that moment. Which I suppose makes me a crazy writer, even if not a cinematically worthy one.

Starting with the logline is, to me, like starting with the moment the story opens its eyes. Which feels fundamentally wrong and backwards, like I’m jumping to the end without having earned it.

Like all ventures that can end in a thrilling reward, there’s also doubt and fear. Which is probably why I keep thinking I should learn to plot. Just in case. So I started a second class. And we’re starting with loglines. I’ll give it a few more days.

Prophylactic heel-dipping, as it were.

Mind the Step!

I am reminded, yet again, of my bad blogging habits. I can’t tell you who by, because my mother made me promise not to say in my blog again that she was nagging me.

Yes, I am a terrible, horrible, irresponsible, bad and wrong blogger.

I think that, sometimes, there’s an inverse relationship to input and output for me. The more input I have, the less I write. Once the input is over, I can process, assimilate and write. Kind of like a plant: I’m all about dark photosynthesis. But take heart. During the bright daylight, I’m storing up all kinds of brilliant bits, ready to convert them into radiant blogs.

Just you wait.

So, I have to tell you my trials of leaving RWA. Which, by the way, was covered on NPR. Listen here if you’re interested. (HOW could you not be?)

There I was having lunch/drinks with Keena Kincaid, author of Anam Cara, who I met for the first time at real life and feel like I’ve known forever. We ended up skipping vital convention stuff, just to yak. Doesn’t get better than that.

So, I’m late leaving for the airport, but not terribly.

I walk back to the Omni, the overflow hotel that was FAB, retrieve my suitcase from the luggage room and head to the Metro. The bell captain asks if I want a cab and I say, no, I’ll take the Metro back. I then pause, ask how much a cab is and he says $17. Cheap! So, I hesitate, but he says, ah, the Metro is easy. And I agree. It’s $2. The station is right there and it’s green. I do try.

I drag my stuff to the metro: my laptop bag, my suitcase, my purse on one shoulder. A passing smart ass notes I need only one more item to have a full suite. But it’s okay. I take the hugely long escalator down to the platforms. You’ve seen them: the escalators to the DC Metro are stories tall and super steep. But I have this technique. I spin my wheelie laptop bag around, push it onto one step, I step onto the next and pull my suitcase onto the level behind me. Standing considerately to the right, I am a streamlined linear travel group.

I ride down. I see the signs that say “major delays.” I see the teeming, hot crowds for the trains that aren’t coming.

I decide to take a cab.

So, I go back up the hugely steep escalators, using my streamlined technique. I’m nearly to the top when I turn slightly, brushing my suitcase behind me… and it falls.

I’m not kidding.

It was like a bobsled. The curved, glossy hard surface turned it into a sled worthy of a luge competition. It rocketed down the escalator at lightning speed. All it lacked was purple midget riders.

I confess, I’m punchy enough that I doubled over laughing at the sight.

Fortunately no one was on it behind me, because no trains were arriving, were they?

This lovely woman at the bottom, who fortunately arrived late enough not to be flattened, picked it up and brought it up with her. God bless friendly strangers.

Oh, and we got three offers on our house yesterday, so now you can ask how the house sale is going!

Heading home and loving it.

Bouncey bouncey, fun, fun, fun, fun

Okay, I confess I’m starting to lose track.

It’s 11:18 pm here in D.C.. Which is 9:18 pm in Laramie and 5:18 pm in Waikiki. And no, I have no idea which time zone my body is on, much less my brain.

I mentioned this before, the new research on jet lag. See, the way sleep works is, a person spends the first part of the night in Slow Wave Sleep (SWS), which is the deep, healing sleep. Dreaming or Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep occurs only in brief periods between the sometimes two-hours-long stretches of SWS. As the night progresses, the proportions shift, with more time spent in REM sleep and less in SWS. This is why you usually wake from a dream in the mornings, and you dream more if you sleep in. It’s also why the afternoon nap can feel so deadly — that deep sleep can be hard to shake off.

So, for those who don’t care to link to the article, the upshot is, even though you may adjust to a new time zone and sleep during the ambient night, the parts of the brain that regulate the sleep cycle may be continuing on their regular schedule. So when I flew to Hawaii, that meant my usual dreaming time of, say, 2am to 6am, was shifted to 10pm to 2 am, skipping SWS altogether if I didn’t go to sleep before 10. Which, erm, I didn’t. Now, if I adjusted to Hawaii time, which, after nine days, I likely did, now my dream time is occurring from 8am to noon.

The interesting thing is, the studies showed that if you don’t get enough REM sleep for a while, you start to get REM intrusion — which means your brain clicks into REM state even when you’re awake.


You know that surreal, dreamlike feeling? There you are.

So it’s hard to say which state I’m in. We’ll choose “deprived” as an umbrella term. Soon I’ll be overstimulated. Which is worse?

You be the judge.