Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Writing Journey -- The Early Years

In first grade, I wrote and illustrated my first book titled Billy Goes to the Hospital. It was a gripping tale of poor little Billy who breaks his leg and ends up in the hospital. The nurses and doctors take good care of him, and soon he goes home with his mother and father. My first grade teacher helped me write out the letters for the text. Not bad for age six.

Back in my very young years, I was obsessed with all things "hospital". I wanted to be a nurse. By the time I was in the first grade, I'd had already had my one overnight stay in a hospital to have my tonsils removed -- that was all the rage back in the late fifties and early sixties -- so most of my early writing involved hospital stories. I then moved on to stories about school and camp. Having attended overnight camp at the age of eight, I was on my "summer camp" kick for a couple of years.

After all, we writers usually write what we know. :)

I was extremely lucky growing up. I had a mother and father, two older sisters, and a younger brother. I had a built in set of friends, and we all shared the thrill of creating stories in common. (see my earlier post A Family of Writers) There were many weekends that were very "Little Women" in our home. We would spend all day Saturday and Sunday writing a play, choosing the roles, memorizing the lines, figuring out the props and costumes, and then by Sunday afternoon or evening, our very supportive and patient parents would sit down and endure whatever production we presented to them.

All through junior and senior high school, I wrote short stories and poetry -- almost always keeping it private. At fourteen, I wrote a play for my ancient history class. I wasn't doing well in the class so for extra credit I decided to write a play. My teacher seemed to love it, so the next thing I knew I was in charge of producing, directing and acting in my own play. I had been taking acting lessons and had been involved in several plays (our home theater included) since I was six, so I embraced my production. After several weeks of rehearsals, and along with five of my classmates, my play was performed in front of an assembly of classes at school. Very cool. I do believe I received an A in ancient history that term. :)

My favorite writer when I was a teenager was YA author, Betty Cavanna. She wrote nearly a hundred books from the 1940's all the way into the 1990's. She was a wonderful writer of stories involving young adult women. Her stories were filled with beautiful prose capturing the emotional essence of struggling to grow up in middle-class American society. Her characters always felt like real breathing young women dealing with a myriad of problems and conflicts. Her stories reached beyond the ABC Afternoon Special pap. They were filled with vibrant emotions, endearing characters, stunning settings; heart-wrenching stories involving everything from racial tensions, sibling rivalry, school, death, divorce, and teenage romance.
Her books (many I still own and read again on occasion) also always have an emotionally optimistic ending.

I decided I wanted to write a book as memorable and poignant as Betty Cavanna!

So began my journey as a writer for young people. I became a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Something I highly recommend for anyone interested in the pursuit of writing for young people. I worked for years on short stories for children and younger teens. Now they call them tweens, I believe. I also began to write my young adult novel, Backstage Summer.

Backstage Summer is about fifteen-year-old Jamie Sims who moves to a new town in Massachusetts and becomes involved in the local summer stock theater. She develops a friendship with the theater owner's teenage son, and a desire to perform in one of the summer productions. The plot thickens with the discovery of a mysterious boy hiding out in the theater attic.

My time (when not working at my day jobs in retail or banking) was filled with learning the skills I needed to write and complete Backstage Summer. I took writing classes, joined critique groups, attended conferences and retreats, and read a variety of books on writing. For years, I wrote and revised and rewrote the first ten chapters of Backstage Summer. I worked hard toward understanding the development of characterization and the complexities of writing a longer story. Although I continued to work on the book, I had trouble bringing it to completion.

I finally realized that I either had to finish the darn book, or reevaluate the kind of writing and stories that truly inspired me.

There was a current of change blowing on the wind...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Published Friends

In the past few weeks, several members of my local RWA chapter, Tampa Area Romance Authors, have had new books published.

First I would like to say a special congratulations to Elissa Wilds on the publication of her first book Between Light and Dark. Elissa's book is a paranormal story full of magic and romance.

C.L. Wilson's third book in her Tairen Soul series, King of Sword and Sky was released at the end of October. King of Sword and Sky continues the epic journey of Rain Tairen Soul through the mystical fantasy of the Fading Lands.

Two weeks ago, Virginia Henley's newest book, The Decadent Duke was released. No one can match Virginia's blend of historical accuracy and passionate romance. Her sweeping, sensual romances are always a delight.

Check your local bookstores for Between Light and Dark, King of Sword and Sky, and The Decadent Duke!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Buy A Book Day

When the new book sales results for October were released by the top booksellers, the news was bleak. The tough economy is hitting the book business hard just like everything else. Published authors will have to work harder to keep their books on the shelves. Unpublished writers struggling to get agents and editors to take an interest in their work, will have less of a chance to become published.

There is something we can do to help. Buy a new book. Head to your local Borders or Barnes and Noble, or Wal-Mart, or Target, whatever bookseller is your preference, and buy a book.
Buy your favorite cookbook author, or romance, western, or horror. How about a children's book or perhaps young adult? There is a book out there for everyone. And with the holidays fast approaching, what better gift to give.

Buy a book and enjoy! :)

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Uh, not yet.

I can't quite fathom why people feel the need to decorate for Thanksgiving and Christmas hours after the trick or treaters have stripped off their Halloween costumes. (or so it seems)

According to my calendar, Thanksgiving isn't until November, 27th this year, and Christmas falls on well.... December 25th.

I do understand the retailers getting the holiday stock on the shelves ready to nab as many of those end-of-the-year shopping dollars as possible. (especially in this unstable economy) And I like to start my Christmas shopping early to ease the pressure on my pocketbook. :) But, decorating for Christmas nearly two months early is really too much.

When we were young, the thrill of spotting the first Christmas lights on someones tree or house was really special, and it usually happened the week leading up to Christmas.

I feel sorry for the small children and their parents who have to be assaulted with Christmas advertising, television specials, movies, parties, as well as a Santa Claus waving at us from every mall, store, and street corner. It's beyond my comprehension that any child could actually believe in the existence of "Santa Claus" in this kind of hyped up society.

I say all this because Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of year, and it's sad to see it stretched into a two month (or longer) ordeal instead of the special, magical time it could and should be.

Thanks for letting me rant. :)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Contest Season (Part 2)

For anyone seriously considering entering the Golden Heart Contest, I have a few comments on the pursuit of entering contests.

Many contests through the RWA chapters for unpublished writers offer a variety of enticements. Usually, the final judges are editors from publishing houses looking for new authors, occasionally they are agents seeking new clients. Sometimes published authors offer a full manuscript critique as a winning prize. Some contests award a small cash prize for the top winner. Some a piece of jewelry, some the entry fee for a local or national conference. All of them charge a fee for entering. This fee is to support the individual RWA chapter.

Know your contest, understand what type of contest you're entering, and what genre/category to submit your manuscript. Make certain it's the right contest for you and your work. Be careful not to randomly enter every contest you see advertised.

I enter very few contests for a variety of reasons. The first is about money. RWA chapters sponsoring contests usually charge anywhere from $10.00 to $40.00. The national Golden Heart is the most expensive I've found at $50.00. I'm also aware of the final judges lined up for a particular contest, if they are for a publishing house I know doesn't publish my category/length of work, I won't enter. I also haven't entered any contests that accept only electronic submissions -- yet.

Most contests are for a small part of your manuscript, such as the first chapter, first 25 pages, a particular scene, and some are for query letters, some for the synopsis, etc.

One of the most important elements in entering contests is that most of them offer a critique of your work even if you're not a finalist. This is the best part about entering in my opinion. :)

Again learn as much as you can about the contest and chapter sponsoring the contest. Know ahead of time whether the contest offers critiques so you won't be disappointed if you don't receive one.

The Golden Heart does not offer a manuscript critique. However, if you final you have the thrill and national esteem of being a finalist. The final editors then read the manuscripts and make their decision in choosing one winner for each category.

Of course the best part of entering a contest is the possibility of catching the eye of an interested editor and perhaps signing a contract to be published. Very cool!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Contest Season

Romance Writers of America and the multitude of RWA chapters throughout North America offer a myriad of contests all throughout the year. Any genre, style and length are available to the published and unpublished writer.

Right now the national RWA organization is accepting applications and payment for their annual RITA and GOLDEN HEART contests.

The RITA is open to any published writer who had a book copyrighted in the year 2008. For more detailed information check out the RWA website.

The GOLDEN HEART contest is open to any unpublished writer with a completed manuscript who hasn't contracted with a publisher as of the application deadline.
The cost is $50.00 and the deadline to get your application and money in to the national RWA headquarters is: November 17th, 2008! (December 1st for RITA entrants)
Time to get busy.

This is a fiction romance writing contest and the categories are as follows:

Contemporary Series Romance
Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure
Contemporary Single Title Romance
Historical Romance
Inspirational Romance
Novel with Strong Romantic Elements
Paranormal Romance
Regency Historical Romance
Romantic Suspense
Young Adult Romance

The RITA includes two additional categories:

Best First Book
Romance Novella

For details and official guidelines go to the RWA website.

There are usually over 1000 entries for each the GOLDEN HEART and RITA contests. The competition is tough, but can be rewarding if one makes it to the finalists round.
The winners are announced at an awards ceremony held during the national RWA annual conference. Next summer the conference will be held in Washington DC! Fun.

Good luck to anyone entering the GOLDEN HEART and RITA contests!