You win some; you lose some

Last month I participated in two challenges: one for my mind and one for my body. The mental challenge was Jersey Romance Writing Month (JeRoWriMo) where the goal is to write 30,000 words in 28 days. The physical challenge was to attend 30 Jazzercise classes in 35 days.

The winner:

I wrote 31,139 words in February! Woohoo!

Finisher Badge

But there are far more benefits to that accomplishment than just a badge to display (oh, and we get chocolate at the celebration in March).

  1.  I am almost halfway through my current work-in-progress, THE QUARTERBACK ANTES UP, the second book in my new Wager of Hearts series. (The first book, THE CEO BUYS IN releases on July 21.) That’s a nice chunk of a book to be finished with in the second month of the new year since my deadline is September 30th.
  2.  I was reminded of how much easier it is to write when you do it every day so your head is always in the story. Otherwise it takes a lot of extra time and effort to remind yourself of who your characters are and where they’re going. Daily writing means that I am ready to go the minute I sit down at the computer.
  3.  When you’re writing at high speed, you can’t second guess yourself or go back and revise, so you turn off your inner editor. (The last chapter I wrote during JeRoWriMo was 57 pages long. Who needs chapter breaks when you’re having fun?) You just let the words rip! It’s a powerful reminder of why you started writing in the first place: to take pleasure in creating because you love your characters and you want to see what happens to them.
  4.  The participants in the 30K challenge form a wonderfully supportive group with real bonds of comradeship. We cheer each other on, commiserate with each other’s woes, and get to know each other better. What a positive, inspiring experience to be in close touch with a whole group of writers, all working toward the same goal, for a whole month!

The loser:

I was going strong for the Jazzercise challenge and had attended 15 classes in 16 days, when the flu struck me down. That was the end of my chance to win the T-shirt.

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However, I still learned a very valuable lesson from the challenge (and I got the cool bracelet): It is easier to exercise six days a week than to work out four days a week. Why?

Monday through Friday and Sunday mornings, I got up, I put on my workout clothes, I fed the critters and I went to Jazzercise. There was no debate, no negotiation with myself about whether I would go Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday or whatever.

I got up; I went to Jazzercise. I didn’t schedule anything in the mornings; I went to Jazzercise. I didn’t decide I needed to sleep in one day; I went to Jazzercise. Studies show that we have a finite amount of willpower; this challenge removed the need for it because exercise became part of my daily routine, no thought required.

Not to mention the fact that I felt fantastic and energized. I could even see a difference in the way my clothes fit me. Now that I’m almost recovered from the flu, I can’t wait to get back to Jazzercise class.

So, while I didn’t get the T-shirt, I discovered something new about how to make staying healthy easier. You know what? That’s a win!

February: A challenging month

I’m not talking about the bad weather, although that has made life difficult recently. I’m talking about the two month-long challenges that I’ve signed on for, one for my brain and one for my body.

Jersey Romance Writing Month is the mental challenge. The goal is to write 30,000 words in 28 days. This pushes me beyond my usual productivity and forces me to put-butt-in-chair-and-write no matter what’s going on in my life. For four years, I’ve participated (and been Head Cheerleader) for JeRoWriMo and I look forward to it every time. Over 50 fellow NJRW members signed up to work toward the 30k goal which makes the energy on our email loop positively crackle.

30K badge jpeg

The key element to success in an intense writing challenge like this one is to turn off your inner editor. If you don’t, you’ll never hit the word count goal because you’ll be too busy second-guessing every sentence you write. It’s liberating to write without judging and often leads me in surprising directions. Even better, it reminds me that writing can be just plain fun, something I sometimes forget under the pressure of deadlines, edits, and marketing.

Coincidentally, my Jazzercise studio is running a challenge as well: attend 30 classes in 35 days and you get a tee shirt. They gave us this pretty sky-blue bracelet to remind us to go to class, but I don’t really need it because the only way to get the tee shirt is to tie on my sneakers and dance every day. The truth is: I probably won’t hit the goal. My travel schedule just won’t allow it. However, I’m going to do my darnedest and that will get me to work out more than I would have without the challenge. And that’s the whole point.

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I expect February to be a very constructive month for me. I will write more than usual and I will exercise more than usual. On March 1st, I may collapse into bed for an entire day, but if that happens, I can sleep the sleep of the righteous, knowing that I’ve added words to my manuscript and muscle tone to my body.

Even more important, I will know that I rose to the challenges!

A DOWN-HOME COUNTRY CHRISTMAS: Images and quotes

Whisper donkey

Buy A DOWN-HOME COUNTRY CHRISTMAS here: http://amzn.to/1u6b66g

Home with lighted christmas tree, presents,fireplace,stockings

 

Kiss

Old wood texture with snow christmas background

 

Christmas ornaments

 

Donkey strength

Whisper Horse novels on sale!

Great news! My Whisper Horse novels are on sale on Kindle both here and in the U.K.

Header 4 Seasons

Here in the U.S.A., you can get all three Whisper Horse novels for under $6.00 until December 14th. (That works out to $1.99 each, for those who are math-challenged like me.) That would make a great gift and it’s so easy. Just go to Amazon and click on the “Give as a gift” button.

Buy TAKE ME HOME for $1.99 .

Buy COUNTRY ROADS for $1.99.

Buy THE PLACE I BELONG for $1.99.

A DOWN-HOME COUNTRY CHRISTMAS, my Whisper Horse novella, is still at the special holiday price of $1.49. You could use it as your electronic Christmas card AND gift. Same methodology: click on “Give as a gift”. You can add a personalized message.

Buy A DOWN-HOME COUNTRY CHRISTMAS for $1.49.

In the U.K., two of my Whisper Horse novels are on sale for £1 each.

Buy TAKE ME HOME in the U.K for £1.

Buy COUNTRY ROADS in the U.K for£1 .

And my Christmas novella is only £1 .02. (I have no idea where the .o2 came from.)

Buy A DOWN-HOME COUNTRY CHRISTMAS in the U.K for £1.02.

Happy Holidays from my Whisper Horses!

 

 

 

 

“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.