“The End” ain’t what it used to be…

I just finished the first draft of The CEO Antes Up. It’s the first book in my new Wager of Hearts series, and it’s due at my publisher on November 14th. In the old days, I would type “THE END” in all caps with a great flourish and go out for a celebratory drink with my husband. But those good old days are over.

Why?

Because I know that typing those two words is really only the beginning. I just printed out the entire 5,000-word-too-long manuscript (and feel guilty about all the dead trees that required).

Manuscript pile

Now I’ll pick up my red pen and read through it, evaluating emotion, dialogue, stage directions, conflict, character development and plot arc, to name just a few elements. I’ll mark the problems and scribble possible fixes in the margins.

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“Don’t look back until you’ve written an entire draft; just begin each day from the last sentence you wrote the preceding day. This prevents those cringing feelings, and means that you have a substantial body of work before you get down to the real work which is all in the edit.”

— Will Self

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I’ll also incorporate the suggestions my critique partners have made about all the same things in the chapters they have read.  All too few chapters, alas, because the deadlines just keep rolling in.

Next I’ll sit at my computer and comb through 40 pages a day, working in all the fixes, as well as correcting typos, misspellings, awkward sentence structures, repetitive word use, and bad punctuation. I know 40 pages doesn’t sound like a lot, but believe me, it’s an all-day affair and my brain will be fried by the time I go to bed each night.

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“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

—William Faulkner

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Then, probably at about 11:55 p.m. on November 14th, I will write an email to my editor with the revised manuscript attached and reluctantly hit “send”.

“But you should be thrilled to hit ‘send’,” you say.

Never! Because I know the book could be better if I just had a few more days—or weeks—to work on it. The only reason I can bring myself to let go of it is the knowledge that I still have the cycle of developmental edits, copyedits, and proofreading to allow me to keep on polishing and improving my work.

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“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

— Colette

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I owe my readers the best book I can write. Finishing that first draft is only the foundation of a great read. I still have to add the gleaming woodwork, the arched windows, the crystal chandeliers, and the comfortable, inviting furniture. That’s when a reader will want to live in my book.

Now I’m off to get my red pen. It’s time to start the real work.

Christmas comes early to Sanctuary! My Whisper Horse novella is only $1.49!

My Christmas Whisper Horse novella, A Down-Home Country Christmas, is now available on Kindle and Nook at a special promotional price of $1.49. Do you love glittering holiday lights, Christmas cookies, and fluffy snowflakes? You’ll love Holly and Robbie’s story:Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00034]

After escaping an abusive marriage, Holly builds a haven of security for herself and her two young daughters.  She’s helped along by police captain Robbie McGraw, who stood by her through the worst. Now he shows a different kind of interest, one that thrills Holly, even as she questions the wisdom of trusting another man so soon.

But Robbie is on the brink of fulfilling a dream—one that will send him out of the mountain town of Sanctuary, West Virginia, and away from the allure of Holly’s warm spirit and tempting lips.

A wily little Christmas donkey and the magic of the holidays prove to Holly and Robbie that the courage to love can make dreams come true.

A Down-Home Country Christmas is the fourth book in my Whisper Horse series but you don’t have to read the others to enjoy this one. It’s a complete story in itself. However, you will get to see characters from the other Whisper Horse novels in this story, which makes it all the more fun

Buy it on Kindle or Nook.

Happy Holidays…a little early!

When RITA calls…

On Wednesday morning, March 26th, I received a voice mail from Claudia Dain, asking me to call her back. I know who Claudia Dain is—a fabulous writer of historical romance—but I’ve never met her in person and she certainly wouldn’t call me out of the blue.

Then I remembered that it was the day the RITA™ finalists were notified. You may not have heard of the RITA awards, but to a romance writer, they are the equivalent of the Oscars. There’s a huge ceremony at the national Romance Writers of America™ conference in July, attended by over a thousand people.  The nominees get dressed up in long elegant evening gowns and are treated like visiting royalty.  Your editor sits at the table with you while your head shot and book cover are flashed up on giant screens as they read the nominations.  If you win, you make an acceptance speech and receive a gleaming golden statuette.

Claudia’s message lit a little flicker of excitement in my chest, although I told myself her call had to be about something else.  I had just signed up for a new marketing program sponsored by RWA™.  Perhaps they wanted to discuss some aspect of that.

However, I ran downstairs and told my husband about the message.  It was a delaying tactic because I was afraid to call Claudia back, afraid it would douse that tiny flame of thrilling anticipation.  Of course, my husband told me to call her back immediately!

I did and that tiny flame of hope turned into a raging bonfire of stunned joy as Claudia, in her role as an RWA board member, told me that my second Whisper Horse novel, Country Roads, had been nominated for a RITA award in contemporary romance. She patiently listened to me hyperventilate in her ear before she congratulated me and told me I’d be getting more details soon.

As soon as I hung up, I raced back downstairs to my waiting husband where I shrieked, kissed him, and began dancing around the room like a lunatic.

I’ve been dancing off and on ever since.

As soon as the list of RITA finalists was made public, a flood of congratulations poured into my email inbox, onto my Facebook page, and into my voice mail.  My publisher sent me a beautiful bouquet of red roses. In fact, I was stunned by how much attention and good wishes came my way. It warmed the cockles of my heart.

RITA roses from Montlake

Next was a mad scramble to secure hotel and airplane reservations to San Antonio, Texas, for the conference and ceremony.  My proud husband decided I should travel like a movie star, so he used all our frequent flier miles to upgrade me to first class.

Then there was the shopping. Being Queen for a Day means you have to attempt to look like one.  My daughter and I set off on a tour of all the bridal salons in the area—and this is northern New Jersey, so there are a lot of them—and found the perfect evening dress, one that makes me feel like a star of the silver screen. We added sparkly shoes and glittering rhinestone jewels to make the ensemble even more glamorous.  (I considered a tiara but decided that was a little too over-the-top.) Nothing is more fun than shopping for a fancy outfit with your daughter!

A few weeks before the conference, the mailman delivered a little white box from RWA.  I opened it to find my RITA finalist pin, a small silver replica of the figurine the winner receives, as well as the official invitation to the RITA reception.  The dancing commenced again, because this was the first physical manifestation of my nomination.

RITA pin and invite

Of course, winning an award is not what drives me to write.  I do it for the joy of putting my stories into words and sharing them with readers. I find happiness sitting in my attic room in front of the word processor, conjuring up vibrant characters, taut dialogue, and gut-wrenching conflicts. Nothing gives me more pleasure than hearing from a reader that my books have touched her heart in some way.  But it’s fun to have an unexpected reason to put on a pretty dress and high heels.

The RWA conference was a blast. So many people wished me luck with the RITA nomination.  There was a special champagne reception for RITA nominees where we got fancy certificates.

Me with fellow Montlake author Toni Anderson who writes incredible romance suspense.

Me with fellow Montlake author Toni Anderson who writes incredible romantic suspense.

 

And then, finally, it was RITA night!

My RITA "date" Sally MacKenzie and me. Sally writes fabulous Regency romances and was nominated for a RITA last year, so she showed me the ropes.

My RITA “date” Sally MacKenzie and me. Sally writes fabulous Regency romances and was nominated for a RITA last year, so she showed me the ropes.

 

Me with two fabulous Montlake editors JoVon Sotak (my editor) and Hai-Yen Mura.

Me with two fabulous Montlake editors JoVon Sotak (my editor) and Hai-Yen Mura.

The Jersey girls. Me, my wonderful roommate Beth Ciotta, a fellow RITA nominee, and Marnee Bailey, who was nominated for a Golden Heart award.

The Jersey girls! NJ Romance Writers me, my wonderful roommate Beth Ciotta, a fellow RITA nominee, and Marnee Bailey, who was nominated for a Golden Heart award.

Country Roads and me up on one of the giant screens as the nominees were read.

Country Roads and me up on one of the giant screens as the nominees were read.

I did not win the RITA, but–honestly and truly!–I’m totally fine with that. Just being nominated was such an amazing honor and validation.  It means my peers consider Country Roads among the absolute best of the best when it comes to a romance novel. Knowing this is more than enough to send me twirling into a pirouette whenever I think about it.

We interrupt this blog for a…SALE!

Today only! All 3 books in my award-winning Whisper Horse series are $1.99 each on Kindle. Just think of that: the whole series for under $6.00! You can’t beat that for a deal! Yee-haw!

Click here to buy ‘em now! The prices go back up tonight at midnight!

Book 1:

 

TMH_FrontCover hi res

 

Book 2:

Final front cover CR

 

Book 3:

Book 3 in the Whisper Horse series

Book 3 in the Whisper Horse series

Retreating to write

I was bogged down. I could force myself to sit in the chair in front of the word processor and get words on the page, but I wasn’t inspired and I certainly wasn’t enjoying it. Not only that: I wasn’t getting enough words on the page, so I was falling behind on the word count necessary to meet my November deadline.

Not good.

That’s when my brilliant husband suggested I go on a one-woman writing retreat: rent a room somewhere for a few days and do nothing but write. (Did I mention I love my husband?) I’ve never tried this before and I was a little dubious but I needed something to kick start my writing again. So I cleared five days on my calendar and went looking for an inspiring place to stay.

I found it at the Inn at Glencairn near Princeton, NJ. I write contemporary novels, but I adore the history of colonial America. The oldest part of the Inn at Glencairn was built in the mid-1700s, while the “newer” part (where my room was) was built later in the 18th century. The British confiscated and occupied the house during the Revolutionary War. I decided my Muse would really like this place.

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And my Muse did.

Innkeepers Patty and Mason Tarr very kindly moved an antique table into the Hunt Room to serve as my desk. I set up my laptop and attached my favorite ergonomic keyboard. And I was off and typing.

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My goal was to write 10,000 words (about 40 manuscript pages) in my five-day stay. I’m not a speedy writer so that’s a lot for me.

So here’s how I set up my days. The Tarrs provided a fabulous gourmet breakfast every morning at 8:30 when I got to chat with fellow guests. I met some delightful folks over scrumptious banana-walnut pancakes.

After eating way too much, I went upstairs to my room, did a minimum amount of social media and answering emails (so my friends and colleagues wouldn’t think I’d fallen off the face of the earth), and then started in on the book. I didn’t stop until I had written at least 1,000 words.

Then I took my “lunch” break. I use the term lunch loosely because it was usually about 3:00 by then. I’d jump in my car and drive to Princeton or Lawrenceville to grab some food, and then I’d find a place to walk around for about an hour. My brain works better when I get kind of exercise every day. I roamed the Princeton University campus, strolled past mansions in the town, and hiked the tow path of the Delaware and Raritan Canal.

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Then it was back to the keyboard until I’d hit 2,000 words for the day. When I got stuck, I’d wander downstairs to have one of Patty’s sinfully delicious homemade cookies with a cup of tea. Or take a complimentary glass of Pinot Grigio out onto the stone patio behind the house and contemplate the beauties of Mother Nature for a half an hour. If I was lucky, I’d run into Patty or Mason and have a nice chat. Writing is very solitary so I enjoyed a little human contact in the evening.

But mostly it was nose to the keyboard.

And I did it: I wrote 10,000 words. I even think they’re pretty good words. In addition, I learned some valuable lessons about my writing process that I hope to incorporate into my daily working routine.

1)      Forcing myself to keep my head in the story for a lot of hours every day got my creative juices flowing in a way they hadn’t been before. I came to know my characters much better which brought forth all kinds of new ideas for scenes and conflicts.

Lesson: Try to work in two writing sessions a day instead of just one, so my mind is on the story more hours a day.

2)      Taking a break between writing sessions freed my brain to play with ways to strengthen the scene I was working on. Then I was excited to get back to the story to incorporate the new material I’d thought up.

Lesson: Take regular breaks but keep thinking about the book while I’m walking…or drinking wine.

3)      Limiting my time on social media and email made me a lot more productive, not just because of gaining use of the time itself, but because I didn’t keep getting pulled out of the story. (Yes, I knew this already, but sometimes I need a strong reminder.)

Lesson: Use that Anti-Social software I downloaded that locks me out of Facebook for X number of minutes.

4)      A change of scene kicked me out of my rut and made the writing seem fresher.

Lesson: Try working in a different room in the house or even outdoors for a little while, just to shake my brain up.

Now I’m back on track to meet my deadline. Phew! I hope to do another one-woman retreat next year because it’s a wonderful way to really immerse myself in my work-in-progress.

I’m thinking maybe in Provence…

 

The Joy of Skype

The Jersey Girls Read and Eat Book Group had a problem: they wanted to talk with me about my Whisper Horse novels which they had read, but they are located three hours away.  I don’t drive over bridges (phobic), and there are several large ones between here and there, so I couldn’t come to them.

Their brilliant technological solution: Skype!

I’d never tried this before so I wasn’t sure how it would work but the Jersey Girls turned out to be tech wizards.  They set up the Skype session so I was on the big screen for everyone to see AND on the small screen they could pass around so I could see the person asking me questions. Cool beans!

Back of group and Nancy

Here’s Michelle asking me a question via the iPad:

Michelle asks about Tim

Here I am on the big screen considering my answer (can you smell wood burning?):

Nancy thinks about her answer

Here’s the group listening to my brilliant response (LOL!):

The group listens to answers

The questions were absolutely fantastic; they made me think about several aspects of my work in new ways (which is why I had to ponder so hard in the second photo).

I had a blast and I understand the Jersey Girls did too, which made me feel great. I’m hoping to do more Skype book group sessions, so if you have a group, let me know! You can email me at nancy@nancyerkness.com.

 

 

Blairsden: Grandeur and melancholy side-by-side

My friend Betsy and I decided it was time for another adventure so we trekked off to Peapack-Gladstone, NJ, to see the Mansion in May, a charity designer show house at a grand old mansion called Blairsden.

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Built at the turn of the century, Blairsden was the magnificent country home (62,000 square feet!) of C. Ledyard Blair, a New York financier (whose grandfather really made all the family money).  It was set on 500 acres of gorgeously landscaped grounds with stables, a riding oval, a lake, a 300-foot-long reflecting pool lined by the busts of the first twelve Caesars and various other mind-boggling perks of immense wealth.  Oh yes, guests came by private railroad.

What’s sad is that no one can afford to keep up this kind of privileged existence anymore (except maybe the Sultan of Brunei), so the house and grounds have fallen into disrepair.

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This is a view of the back of the house with bricked-in windows, plywood patches and sagging gutters.  The gardens are even sadder: none of the fountains work, the cement balustrades and paths are crumbling, and the 500 acres have been eaten away by smaller houses and lots.

However, for the month of May, Blairsden recovers much of its former glory as high-end designers decorate the rooms for the charitable Women’s Association of Morristown Medical Center.

Evidently, this is the first time in decades that the mansion has been open to the public.

Here’s the grand tour, starting with the entrance hall.

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Just one of the many stunning bathrooms;  I love the floor SO much.  (The indoor plumbing does not work, but they had the most elegant port-a-potties I’ve ever seen in a trailer outside.)

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How about this embossed leather wallcovering (actually original to the house) in the billiards room?  Now that’s rich!

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The mantelpiece in this room is also original but all the other flourishes are from the decorator.  I think I could live here.

 

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Loved the whimsical faux painting over the door!

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Of course, I was drawn to the horse!

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And this is where I want to settle down with a good book.  How gorgeous is that coral accent color?!

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Stunning window treatments!

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Oh, do let us have some tea, dahling!

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The window on the grand staircase.

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A nursery fit for a princess! IMG_20140502_122553219

 

Even the dog has a designer bedroom.  Can you see my Rocky sleeping there?

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I want to upholster my couch is the gorgeously textured fabric.

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There was elegance outdoors too.  The loggia.

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A room with a view!

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Betsy, who’s a horticultural expert, says this is called a carpet garden.  I call it “very pretty”.

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The panorama.

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We heard that Blairsden has a new owner who is already beginning restoration work on the mansion.  What wonderful news!  It would be a terrible shame to see this magnificent building languish into ruin.

The Mansion in May is open for the rest of this month.  If you have a chance and are within traveling distance, it’s well worth a visit.