Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mary's Rants - Goals and/or Communities

Before I get going, let me say one thing--I can't wait until Bob Mayer tomorrow! Woohoo. I traveled to Boise, Idaho to see him in 2009 and this year our chapter brought him in for a day workshop in June. You will learn from him.

Okay now on to my rants for the week. I honestly didn't know what I was going to post, then I reviewed this weeks topics. Kari's interview was great but didn't have an actual topic. But Liz's topic and Cassy's topic are both great, and even though at first glance they do not sound related they are.

Goals as in writing goals. Liz spoke of what their chapter does every year at the Christmas lunch (I think I'm going to suggest that to our chapter).

Community as in writing community. This can be many things, a on-line group, your local RWA chapter, a critique group, and the list goes on and on. And how many of those 'communities' set goals? Or help each of us reach goals?

I belong to the online AITC group (Ass in the chair) community and we meet every year at someone's house and we write our goals down. Then each month we have one week for AITC where we plant our bottoms in the chair and write and/or edit. The next year, the person who wins is in charge of a beautiful tapestry (This of course reminds me of Carole King--those who have no idea, ask your mother) for the next year. They can hang it in their office for inspiration, or in their living room. They are the keeper of the prize until they hand it over the next year to the new winner or keeper of the prize.

I had this beautiful tapestry the first year and since then haven't even come close to my goals. Maybe in 2011 I'll meet them again!

Every writing community I know have some form of system to set goals for their fellow writers. How many of us take this for granted? I know I do. I read Liz and Cassy's posts this week and realized how far I've come because of my communities who have encouraged me to set goals that challenge myself to a new level of writing.

If any of you new writers or even seasoned writers do not belong to a writing community of some kind who support and encourage goal setting, I highly recommend it. And remember not every group will work for you.

As with anything, your writing process, your writing communities or even the way you set your goals, it's all personal. I have critique partners, but I found a critique group did not work for me. But I still reap the same reward. I do not necessarily do NANO each year, but my AITC group does their own version. I actually do better with them. I don't do well if I have to fiddle with a web site to log my goals, etc.

So find what works for you, join, and set your goals. Or do you have one already? What do you do?

Most important--GOOD LUCK!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cassy’s Corner- Communities, What are They?

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to the concept of communities. What are they and what do they mean to us- both professionally and personally? I don’t know how many groups you belong to, but I have a long list. There is SinC, MWA, RWA (locally and nationally), KOD, gosh so many more. I have blogs tagged, follow people on Twitter, FaceBook and private logs. Then, there are the ones that are set up for individual postings, such as the one important for many of us- the Book Cents loop that our wonderful agent Christine Witthohn has organized for her clients.

Where am I going with this?

It is so easy to be consumed by the emails that flood in. I was away for a few days and literally had over 1000 emails waiting for me to hit the delete button. My husband groans. “Why would you do this to yourself?” he asks.

Why? Good question. It is certainly a management challenge. But then, how many of us write in isolation? Sure we have the kids, the laundry, the day job, the grocery shopping and for me, letting the dogs in and out about 100 times per day. But, where do we gain our support? What is our community? Who really knows what we do hour after hour?

One of the things I have found amazing about the groups in which I participate is the unconditional support. Who would think that each tiny victory would be celebrated with cyber champagne, pink and purple feather boas, and a flood of congratulations sent out in a rush of high energy? We are in some ways in competition with each other. There are only so many contracts out there for the having. Yet, all that aside, we reach out. I am in the process of helping three different writers with their works in progress. I love it. They are there for me at a moment’s notice.

Name me one high-end corporation that would reach out and help another improve on its products or its marketing strategy. Would Xerox help Hewlett and Packard? Would Johnson and Johnson help Eli Lilly? Would Walmart help Kmart? You get my point.

But, we have something different in our community. We have built it this way and we work to sustain it. What is it that makes us so different? What have we done that encourages the collaboration rather than the competition? Sure, we have lots of competitiveness. Sure, we have many who would stop at little to stay ahead. Sure, we have an environment that is tough. Though, having said that, we also have many hands reaching out. I find it amazing and reassuring. I know that if I sent out a plea for a read, for feedback or for general support, it will come flooding in.

And you, tell me. What experiences have you found with our fellow writers? Does this resonate with you? Maybe I’m living in a dream world, but I don’t think so. You are my community and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits with Kari: Featuring NYTimes & USA Today Bestselling author Caridad Pineiro

We have a special treat for you today, folks. An interview with the fabulous Caridad Pineiro. So let's give her a warm welcome and soak up all her juicy tidbits!

Kari: You're a NYTimes & USA Today Bestselling author. Can you tell us what it was like to hit those lists and what's the secret to doing so? What do you think helped you the most in getting there?

Caridad: Because of my reputation in the paranormal romance genre, I was lucky enough to be included in an anthology with some top authors. That anthology, MOON FEVER, hit both the NY Times and USA Today lists and it was really exciting to receive that call from my editor. As for help in getting there, it helped to be included with some top names, but also to have established a name for myself in the paranormal genre.

Kari: You write sexy paranormal romance. Can you tell us about your latest release in that genre? You also write killer romantic suspense. Can you tell us about your latest release in that genre as well?

Caridad: The best answer to the above is that my latest release is STRONGER THAN SIN, a paranormal romantic suspense which will be available on October 27, 2010. STRONGER is the story of an ex-football player, Jesse Bradford, who has been forced from the game he loves due to a degenerative bone disease. Jesse is so desperate to resume his career that he would try anything, even a radical gene therapy. Unfortunately, the results of the therapy and the men behind it will endanger both Jesse and his family as well as Dr. Liliana Carrera, who has been asked to treat him.

Readers loved Liliana in the first book in the series, SINS OF THE FLESH, and I think they will enjoy this action-packed story with her as the heroine. I’ve also signed on to do two more books in the series – THE LOST and THE CLAIMED – which will be out in August 2011 and the Spring of 2012. These two new books will take a decidedly dark turn as a race of energy hunters descend on the Jersey Shore in a battle for their existence.

Kari: Which genre do you prefer, or is there a genre you haven't tried yet that you might dabble in someday?

Caridad: I love both paranormals and suspense. I’ve tried my hand at women’s fiction and although I loved those stories and would like to do more, I really do love the dark side. Because of that, I think that at some point I’d like to try a paranormal young adult romance.

Kari: You are a lawyer, a huge advocate for Latino authors, a writer of a couple genres at once, you teach workshops, you speak at a ton of places.....how on earth do you juggle it all?

Caridad: You know that old adage about if you want something done give it to someone who is busy? I guess that’s me. I am involved in lots of things, all of which I love, and I try to prioritize each of those and not use my time unwisely. So, I try to write when it won’t interfere with family or my legal job and use vacation time for both family and writing-related events. I also multi-task since I’ll often be writing and watching television or a movie. Long strolls along the boardwalk are great for my health and mental well-being, but I will often be plotting something for the latest book as I stroll.

Kari: Any favorite authors or favorite series you want to pass along for us to check out?

Caridad: My absolute favorite series is the IN DEATH series by J.D. Robb. I’ve spent this summer reading what I’ve missed and re-reading the first one. Totally dynamite.

Kari: Any tips or pieces of advice you can give us that you wish someone had told you when you first started in this crazy business?

Caridad: I guess the first thing would have been for someone to tell me it was a crazy business! LOL! As a science major and then a lawyer, I’m used to a world where there is a cause for each effect. Not so true in the publishing world. There are lots of great books out there that go nowhere and sometimes you have a great result with a book, but can’t really pinpoint what caused it. That totally messes with my normally logical mind, so I’ve had to disconnect myself from having that kind of expectation.

The other thing I wished I knew was just how much work was involved after the writing of the book. Promo, revisions, etc. take up huge blocks of time. But as a final bit of advice: Don’t give up. Nothing worthwhile is every easy.

Kari: Any final things I didn't cover that you want our readers to know about?

Caridad: I want them to know how much I appreciate their support and that I love hearing from them! I’ve made so many friends in that fashion and am grateful for that. Readers can visit me at www.caridad.com, follow me @CaridadPineiro on Twitter or drop by my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Caridad.Author.

Thank you so much for being here with us today, Caridad. You've given me lots to think about!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Goals Versus Ghouls

Since we are about to enter the only month in the year set aside as the spooky one, I thought it might be fun to compare ghouls versus goals. Webster defines ghouls as legendary evil beings that rob and feed on corpses. Goals are the marks set as limits to a race.

I kinda think the two are closely related, and I’m about to tell you why.

Each year at the December meeting, my local chapter passes out sealed envelopes to every writer attending who wrote their goals for 2010 and put them in a sealed envelope at the December meeting in 2009. Until this year, I have NEVER met my goals since I aim big. This year I have finally reached one of them. I can’t wait to open my envelope at our Christmas meeting.

But you know what? I’ve decided it isn’t about meeting goals at all. It’s about doing what we love to do with the hope that one day we will hold our books in our hands. It’s about the camaraderie we get from all the writing groups we join, all the writer friends we make along the way. We don’t need the validation from someone to know we are authors, all of us.

Next year my first book comes out, and I can’t tell you how excited I am about that. But it didn’t come easy or without drama. That’s why I’m going to tell you about all the ghouls that have tried to take away my goals for so many years.

CHASING THE MARKET – Although I have never actually done that until just recently, I have to list this as the number one reason why it took so long for me to find a publisher willing to take a chance on me. I never really did go for what was selling – I usually wrote what I loved and unfortunately what NY wasn’t buying for one reason or another. In essence, I ran away from the market.

Manuscript Number One
- my Colombia book – the ghouls said no way you can have a romance in Columbia. Two heroes will never work in a romance. (My favorite book, BTW.)

Manuscript Number Two
- my YA – the evil blankity blanks said it was too gritty back when I wrote it…not gritty enough now.

Manuscript Number Three
- my first mystery about stealing sperm which I did not realize was a mystery until recently…not bad, they said, but not my breakout book.

Manuscript Number Four - my ghost story - the jury is still out on that one, although it’s because my editor loved this one that she asked if I had a cozy.

Which brings me to chasing the market. Cozies are selling right now, or at least they were. I didn’t have a cozy, but you can betcha I quickly came up with one. They say by the time you sit in on a Spotlight On at Nationals with one of the NY publisher, and they tell you what they’re looking for, it’s too late to start writing one. By the time you finish it, the market will already have been flooded. Now if you already have a manuscript that would fit their needs, good for you.


The second thing that has kept me from selling sooner is my own STINKING THINKING. It throws me into writers’ block so fast, my head spins. “I can’t finish this manuscript.” “I hate my characters.” “No one will ever want to read my stuff.”
What’s up with that?

And lastly, meet the “'YOU SUCK' GHOUL.” We’ve all danced with him once or twice or a million times before. I’ve let too many contest critiques, comments on my stories, and/or rejection comments make me doubt myself at times. I’m a good writer, dammit! So why did I let someone else convince me I might not be?

Okay, I’ve bared my soul and told you all my insecurities, Now I want to hear yours so I don’t get even more insecure. What ghouls are keeping you from achieving your goals?

Maybe if we can find a pattern, we can put our heads together and find a way to say “Bite Me” to the goal-sucking ghouls.

And just when I thought I was ready to move forward with my new story, life happened… in the form of a vacation in Phoenix with ten crazy women. The bad news is I never wrote Word One on my story. The good news is I have enough funny stuff for the next two books in my sarcastic ghost series.

And no comments about the back cleavage. It sucks getting old!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Cassy's Corner- An Interview with the Talented Mary Martinez

Good Morning everyone, as you know I've been interviewing the M&M's. I even interviewed myself on Wednesday. So today it's Mary's turn.


Cassy: Tell us about your writing, Mary? How did you get started?


Mary: You hear the story, over and over. I have wanted to write my entire life. I wrote the dumbest stories when I was a child. I grew up in the 60's and 70's (yes I'm older than dirt, but I haven't graduated to a walker yet) so I thought I could write like a beatnik--cool man. For those younguns out there, that's slang for the 70's. Then I got married to dog face (whole other story) and while the kids were young I decided to write an historical, after all my favorite author was Johanna Lindsey, I could write that. Oh so not! It was the worst 100 pages of junk you'd ever want to see. I have no idea where it ever went.

Then I remarried and we had all the kids (his 3 and my 3) to put through school. On top of that I had to travel for my job. When the kids were all grown and almost out of the house, I began to write seriously. That was in 2000. I had no clue they even had writing organizations. How was I to know there were other people like myself? RWA was the best thing that every happened to me. And that's were it pretty much all began.

Cassy: What's your favorite part of writing? I love editing as do others in this group, do you?

Mary: Editing? YUCK bite your tongue. I am a complete panster, I love to read the story as I write it, I don't know the end until I type--THE END. And then I'm ready to move on. But I know I have to edit. So I do.

Cassy: You have written a number of books, have you seen your writing change? If so, how?

Mary: LOL, have I seen a change? I used to head hop so bad, that when I read it through the first time, even I got confused who was talking. Over the years my writing has matured. My grammar has cleaned up, granted it cleans up after the first editing go over. I don't bother with anything but writing the first go around.

I've grown in emotion and layering. I have also learned how to 'show' more than 'tell'. And many of you may not agree with this, but I'm okay with a little bit of telling. And I have read many a story where that author (Bestsellers) has felt the same way. And it in no way took away from the story.

Cassy: What's the next project for you? We're waiting to find out!

Mary: I have two that are fighting to come out. But I'm not sure which is going to win. They are both women's fiction. And the main character in both is older.

Cassy:  You have started a fun and lively new blog- jump and not only tell us how to find it but also what your focus is.

Mary: I have had a blog for a few years now, but the name has changed. It has sort of evolved with me. It's called Mary's Garden. Now. Which is sort of funny since I have this black thumb and can't grow a thing. I love gardens and if a cyber garden is all I can have, then I'll take it. On my blog I do not focus on writing. Once in a while I'll post a new book or something about a conference.

Mostly it's about food, wine, travel, adventure and music. Anything that's relaxing. I like to interview. I've interviewed the culinary art director from Allrecipes.com, I've interviewed the chef and manager of The Pinnacle Restaurant at the Falkner winery. This week I've interviewed (different topic every day) The Coffee Time Romance crew. It's been fun and lively, drop by and say 'HI.' I also have a contest going on. All you have to do is post your favorite fall and/or Halloween recipe in the comment section any day from now until November 1. Then all who do, will have their name thrown in a hat. My husband will draw and the winner will receive their choice of one of my books (electronic format)

Cassy: You balance a very busy life. Care to share how you do it and stay on top of your writing?

Mary: I balance it? I'm never on top of it. I'm always behind my goals, actually I've learned to just write when life lets me. Because if I sit down and say "I'm going to write this many words every day..." Life will shoot something in my way to prevent it. It's much easier to sneak the writing in when life is looking the other way.

Cassy: I know you know a lot about wine. How did you learn? Care to share a favorite?

Mary: I drink a lot of wine. Yes, that's how I learn. I have wine tastings, I make notes of what is good and bad. Which one's have too much Tannin's. Etc. As far as a favorite, it's one I drink maybe, if I'm lucky, once a year on a VERY special occasion. It's a Cask Cabernet -- Rubicon Estate from the Napa Valley.   (It's about $80)

Cassy: Besides wine, give us a peak into the life of Mary Martinez.

Mary: I love my family. We have lots of fun. Every week usually Monday--but depends on soccer, tumbling, basketball, etc.--we have Papa and Nana night, when 7 kids, 3 dogs, a baby and their parents show up for dinner. My husband and I love to travel, and we love to have friends over.

Cassy: Lastly, for those who don't know, Mary is a "Parrot Head." Did I get right, Mary?

Mary: Yup I'm a parrot head which means, I love Jimmy Buffett. I have been to more concerts of his than I can count. Although Chris Isaak is a close second. I have a pirate parrot, drinking a margarita, tattoo on my left ankle. If you've never been to a concert, and if you do go you have to attend the pre-concert beach party, you need to go just for the experience.

Thank you Cassy, these were very fun questions!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mary's Rants - Trust

Have you ever trusted someone, I mean totally trusted them and found out that they've been lying to you over and over again? For years! This has happened to me recently. Today!

This is no one in the writing community, so stop looking around at all the other authors you think you know, who may know me...

After I got over feeling like a complete fool and idiot, I started to think. (I know this is a scary concept, me thinking.) In my writing life I'm very trusting. Oh who am I kidding, I'm very trusting period.

How many times have I sent my manuscript to someone I don't really know. And never thought a thing about it. I've heard of some big names claiming someone stole their idea, I'm pretty sure it wasn't their critique partner, etc. But I shrugged and thought to myself, I'm not big, so no one is going to want my ideas.

How do I know that? And how do I protect myself against someone dishonest. And do I really have to worry about that. Are other writers dishonest? Are there those that steel others ideas?

Until today I would have scoffed and said a loud resounding 'NO!' But unfortunately, there are people in this world who smile sweetly while they tell you a bold faced lie. Now I have to figure out how to find those people and steer clear.

From now on my trusted critique partner will be the only one to see any word I write. That is until I send it off to an agent. But then how do I know that the agent is trustworthy?

My world has been rocked and I'm not sure how to fix it. Tell me how do you know who to trust? Or do you think I'm worrying about nothing?

Have any of you ever experienced dishonestly with another writer. Whether it was as a critique partner or contest?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cassy’ Corner- About Cassy

As you know we have been spending time hoping you’d be interested in knowing more about the four of us. Liz jumped in first, then Kari, and Mary will be on Friday. I decided that today I’d interview myself using basically the same questions given to the others. The four of us share many of the same characteristics, yet have fun with our quirky differences. I hope you have been enjoying Mysteries and Margaritas.

Question: Tell us about your career path. What jobs have you had?

Cassy: Let's see. I was a nurse (well, one never stops being a nurse). That was followed by graduate school. I started a business called ElderLife that placed companions in the homes of older people to promote independence. Then I was a university professor, associate dean at the Yale School of Nursing, more graduate school, construction manager of our home renovation (that took 18 fun- errrr- months) and now am writing.

Question: What then led you to being an author?

Cassy: I have done a lot of writing. But prior to my current work, it was the kind for professional journals- Publish or Perish. I am an avid reader of the mystery, thrillers, romantic suspense genres. I decided to jump into the pond and see if I could do that too. It is SO different an approach than my former writing; there has been a steep learning curve.

Question: How did you "find" your genre?

Cassy: I’m still working on what the name of my genre is. First I thought I was writing romantic suspense, then mystery, then straight suspense. My agent and I have had many conversations about how to steer the manuscripts and where they land. Right now I’m writing suspense. Though, I’d love to take a shot at a thriller.

Question: What are the settings you use for your books?

Cassy: My first manuscripts took place in Connecticut small towns along the ocean. That was fun because that’s where I live. My last two are in Italy. I travel there a lot and have a grand time describing the locations, the food, the people and of course, the setting for murder and mayhem.

Question: Do you have a household full of kids who limit your writing time?

Cassy: LOL. My daughters are basically grown and no longer live at home. But they do call daily. You’d think that would give me gobs of time. Somehow it doesn’t work out that way. Then, there are the two Golden Retrievers who ask for more of my time than I think my kids ever did. My younger Golden is a total scamp. When she is bored she brings me all the clothes she can find in the laundry basket. I found her one day on her hind legs with her paws on my keyboard making little slapping motions. I’m nott sure if she was trying to destroy the object that keeps “mommy” away from her or if she was writing the canine version of a murder mystery.

Question: Do you have a particular writing method?

Cassy: I’m definitely a plotter. I have pads of paper filled with details, large post-it notes plastered on the walls of my office, an a notebook that lives in my purse. I don’t take it as far as someone like Elizabeth George, but I need to know where things are going to end up.

Question: Do you keep to a particular writing schedule?

Cassy: Boy, I wish I did. I’ve tried so many approaches to find what is a good match for me. I’m getting close. I’m an early riser and do my best work in the morning. If I can get 5-6 pages done, I’m pretty happy. Also it gives me a chance to try and get ahead before the plumber, or the electrician, or whoever starts calling. Yikes, I’m always amazed at how many people are “at you” in one day. So, I start early and go for as long as I can.

Question: What are your favorite hobbies and activities, outside of writing of course.

Cassy: Travel is at the top of the list. In the last few months we’ve been to Italy twice, Arizona, New York, Paris, Washington and a few other spots. Thank God for laptops. My dogs don’t quite qualify as a hobby, more like caretaking. There always reading. And, my husband and I are giant “foodies.” There is little about food that doesn’t interest us.

Question: What is your favorite "ah ha!" moment with your work?

Cassy: The first time I typed “The End.” I danced around the room. I really CAN do this.

Question: Any good stories to tell about when Christine (our agent, folks) called you and asked to represent you?

Cassy: I first met Christine in Matera, Italy at the Women’s Fiction Festival (a GREAT conference if you ever have a chance). We were having wine at a get-together cocktail party. This lovely gal with blond curly hair was next to me. “So, she says, “tell me about what you’re working on.” I rambled on. You realize I had no idea who she was. This was filling in time at an event where I knew no one. When I finished my not so coherent explanation, she asked for a full. “A full?” I squeeked. “Yes, you just pitched. I’m an agent.” I nearly died.

I told it wasn't ready. "Whenever you can. Send it." Eventually I did. She called two days later with questions. As we discussed my manuscript I realized not only had she read it completely but was already thinking through how to make it better. After quite some time on the phone, I asked her if she was just being nice to me with her comments, or were we now working together. "I'm offering you representation." I could have fallen off my chair. It was worth every penny of that ticket to Italy. And, I couldn't have a better coach, cheerleader, whip master, and super smart agent than Christine.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits with Kari: Featuring Author Ann Stephens

Gooooood morning, bloggerland! Today is Tuesday, and we have the fabulous author Ann Stephens here to share some writing tips and tell us all a little bit about her debut novel for Kensington called To Be Seduced! So give her warm welcome, and chime in on the comment section with anything that comes to mind :-) Take it away, Ann....




The Importance of Being Evil



First off, thank-you to Kari, Liz, Cassy & Mary for inviting me here today. To echo the basic introduction used at my critique group: Hello, my name is Ann and I write historical romance. If that sounds like something you’d hear at a 12-step program, well…writing is definitely an addiction. I started out making up stories after my mom tucked into bed. Eventually I started writing them down. I must have started dozens of stories while studying theater, waitressing, typesetting (on a machine that used paper tape…yeah, I’m that old!), and managing a small office. Somewhere in there, I married an incredibly patient man and raised our two diva daughters, which might explain why I never actually finished a story until my forties.



What, you may be asking, is a romance writer is doing posting at a blog entitled Mysteries and Margaritas? Especially if she writes about eras before the Margarita was invented?? (Personally, margaritas would be my anachronism of choice. Why not Pride and Prejudice and Cuervo or Sense and Sensibility and Stoly?) However, while I thoroughly enjoy writing my genre, I don’t limit my reading to romance. Mysteries have their place on my bookshelves, preferably those placed in past eras. And in my quest to keep readers wondering what happens next, I’m not above threatening my characters’ lives with the machinations of a good scoundrel!



Like many writers, part of my preparation for a new book includes character biographies. Not just physical descriptions, but birth date & place, family background, education, right down to the quirks and habits that make them tick. For me, that helps get inside the mind of a character and discover their motivation. Why does a devoted brother resort to kidnapping an heiress? Just what constitutes a rebellious act in the mind of an overprotected girl in the Victorian era? And why does the orderly hero of my work-in-progress insist on keeping a hairy, muddy mutt?



Every major character gets some kind of notes written down before I start the story, but the most detailed are for the hero, the heroine, and the villain. After all, the best heroes and heroines need a blackguard strong enough and smart enough to be a real threat. Never mind Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty -- what would Amelia Peabody and her Emerson (he is my latest literary crush, btw – what a hunk!) be without the elusive Sethos?

Years ago, a theater professor reminded his class about playing bad boys (or girls): “You have to find something you like about your character.” One dimensional antagonists are as dull as any other poorly drawn character. Of course, when writing a well-rounded villain, it’s possible to get attached to him or her.



This happened in my upcoming release, HER SCOTTISH GROOM. My villain is charming, handsome, and grew up as a poor relation. He’s intelligent enough that the hero and heroine have to join forces to defeat him. Sadly, his murderous tendencies left me no choice but to write him into a bad end. And of course, having made such an attractive antagonist, I had to be sure he wouldn’t steal the scene from my leads. Ah well…I’ve always loved reading history, which abounds with cads, reprobates and downright psychotics in every age. There’s another book to write, which means a new villain or villainess. Where was that fascinating article about Victorian baby farmers? We’ve all read books with unforgettable villians. Which ones made the biggest impressions on you?

Thank you, Ann!

Ann Stephens’ debut novel, To be Seduced, was released in February, 2010 by Kensington Publishing. Her March 2011 release is Her Scottish Groom. Ann lives with her husband of nearly 25 years and their two black belt daughters, two spoiled cats and one slightly nervous gerbil. She escapes them by writing, reading and taking ballet classes. Visit her blog at http://annstephensromance.wordpress.com/ or look for Ann Stephens’ Page on Facebook and Ann_Stephens on Twitter.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Autocorrect: Where Have You Been All My Life?



A long while back, someone sent me a link to a blog where the author was talking about AutoCorrect. At the time, I thought it was one of those things that involved macros or some other gadget on Word that only confused the heck out of me. So, I didn’t bother reading it. Fortunately, I was smart enough to put it in a file I called “Writing”. Sometimes, I'm so clever, I scare myself.

And then two weeks ago, I was cleaning out that file and decided to read what the guy had to say.

Holy cow! The man could have been talking directly to me.

Some of you may have read Cassy’s interview with me on Friday, September 10th. Those of you who haven’t, shame on you…it was good! Besides cleverness, another of my charms is modesty!!

Anyway, Cassy asked me about my outdated habit of writing long hand, and I admitted, under duress, that my typing skills were severely lacking. No, it’s worse than that. I seriously suck at it, and therein lies the reason I write long hand. I mentioned that I have to turn around and type it on the computer after each scene, since I write so fast I can’t even read my own handwriting. I went on to say, my fingers move faster than my brain, and I transpose a lot of letters in words. Grr… how irritating is that when almost every word I type needs correcting?

It might be a good time to tell you about once in my younger days when the hospitals had a freeze on nursing positions, and I went looking for a job in medical records. Did I mention I have to be looking at my fingers when I type? Anyway, I was told there was a five minute typing test, so when the lady handed me the page to type, I quickly memorized what I thought was enough for five minutes worth. Turns out the test was 20 minutes. Needless to say, I stayed unemployed.

Enter Gary Corby and his wonderful blog on AutoCorrect
http://blog.garycorby.com/2010/02/autocorrect-is-your-friend.html

It was made for me. Now every time I type form, it automatically changes it to from, freinds become friends, ot changes to to, fo –to of.

I am in typing heaven. Of course I had to go in and make frm change to form for those times when I actually wanted that stupid word.

Another trick is that my heroine’s last name is McAllister. Now all I type is Mc and Voila! McAllister is typed.

Isn’t that just about the coolest thing you’ve ever heard of? To set it up, open a Word document and go to Tools. Click on AutoCorrect Options and just type in the misspelled word under Replace and the real word under With.

It even acts like a little editor for me. I like the word really …a lot. So I have programmed it to type – No, No, Liz- when I type really. Relly changes to the real word really when I just have to use it. Don’t even get me started on just. That comes out – Take me out- when I try to get away with using it.
Does this just really knock your socks off?

Come on, tell me all about words you frequently use or misspell, or just tell me what a genius I am for discovering Gary’s little trick.

I’m in Phoenix right now with nine other women having a blast, but I have my laptop. So someone tell me why I left Texas just as a cold front came through giving us temperatures in the nineties and came to Phoenix where triple digit weather is predicted for the entire week. Kinda puts my genius status in question.

Why am I on vacation with these women, you ask? You should have read my interview!

Friday, September 17, 2010

An interview with Kari Lee Townsend

Okay, folks, so I' ve been MIA because my CP Barbie Jo Mahoney just sold a two book deal for a paranormal middle grade angel series called ANGEL ACADEMY and the first book coming out in Fall of 2011 is called HALO 101.

So we were celebrating. I just now joined the blog to chime in on any questions anyone might have on the interview I did for Cassy.....only to find it hadn't been posted yet.

Hope everything's okay, Cas, and I apolgize to everyone for being late. All that aside, read on to find out more about me. Mwahahahah!!!!

Cassy - Kari, tell us about your career path. What jobs have you had?

Kari - Well, let's see. I've been a babysitter, worked at an ice cream store, a grocery store, and been a waitress. Eventually I earned a Masters in English Education and did a ton of substitute teaching (I was even on one school's teacher volleyball team and in their school play). That same school gave me the chance to work as a full time teacher right when I had my first baby. That's when I decided to be an at-home mom and try my hand a writing instead.

Cassy - What then led you to being an author?

Kari - I had dabbled in writing on and off throughout most of my life, but it wasn't until my first child turned one that I decided to get serious. I just had no idea how much my "life" would get in the way. Soooo many demands after more and more and (yes, you guessed it) even more babies followed. Four in all, and boy oh boy oh boy...and girl...do they keep me hopping!

Cassy -How did you "find" your genre? You write in more than one, how did that happen?

Kari - I "found" my genre, on in this case genres, through an exhaustive effort. I started out writing both category and single title romantic comedy, and then classic chick lit, then mom lit, then chick lit mystery. When I realized I had missed the boat on those, I then tried young adult, paranormal YA, then tween, then finally paranormal / fantasy / sci-fi middle grade and that's where I fit. Soon after, an opportunity landed in my lap to write a mystery, so I stuck with paranormal and went for it. But no matter what I write, I still have a funny bone. As long as my books have humor in them, it's all good :-)

Cassy - You have a great sense of humor. Do you find you can easily incorporate that into your writing?

Kari - I think as long as you stick within the confines of the genre you're writing in, you can do a lot with humor. People are still people, so it's easy to give them cooky quirks and see what they can do. Humor for me is all in the way characters react to various situations. While I love funny one liners and witty comebacks, my favorite type of humor is physical. I am such a visual person that I picture literally everything! I love describing reactions on a character's face, or something physical they have to do to get themselves out of wacky situations, or the goofy things they wind up saying to "save face"...those are some of the elements you'll find in any one of my books, no matter what genre I'm writing in. And if I've done my job at all, hopefully, you'll be smiling by The End.

Cassy - What are the settings you use for your books?

Kari - I love writing about small towns. You can get such mileage out of small town quirky characters. And I often write about places I have lived such as Massachusetts and Upstate New York. I take an existing small town and then make up a fictional one, giving it the same elements so it will ring true. I simply prefer fictional towns so no one can call me out on something that's not actually there :-)

Cassy -As the mom of a full household, do you find plenty of "material" right at hand?

Kari - LOL...you have NO idea! My three sons are all close in age (12, almost 14, and 16) while my darling diva daughter is almost 8, so I really do run the full gamut. They constantly say and do things to crack me up, as well as correct me on what is "realistic" when it comes to teens and preteens. In fact, they are the ones who gave me the idea for THE SAMANTHA GRANGER EXPERIMENT. They are so obsessed with technology, I swear they can't function without it. That's what gave me the idea for Samantha Granger. Her obsession leads to a freak accident and she becomes a walking, breathing piece of technology...aka Digital Diva.

Cassy - Do you have a particular writing method?

Kari - I used to be a total panster, but that lead to a lot of rewriting. Now with both of my series involving lots of action, adventure, and mysteries to figure out....I have become a plotter. I plot as much as I can before I begin, and then I plot as I go along. In the end, it saves me a lot of time. Something I desperately lack these days.

Cassy - Do you keep to a particular writing schedule?

Kari - I shoot for 10 pages a day (unless I've let a deadline get away from me....then it's more like 20 plus pages a day, which is sooo not fun, people!) And since I have the luxury of staying home (Thank God because I really don't know how people who have other jobs find the time to write) I write and handle publicity, etc, from the time my youngest gets on the bus at 8:45 AM until the oldest gets home at 2:30 PM. with evenings and weekends off...again, unless I'm behind on a deadline. I repeat, soooo not pretty, people! Word to the wise....stay on track!

Cassy - What are your favorite hobbies and activities, outside of writing of course.

Kari - I love to take pictures...just ask anyone who's gone to a conference with me :-) I also love to travel. I've been to Hawaii three times, Alaska once, the Caribbean and various other places. I also love to do anything with action adventure involved. I've been para sailing, wind surfing, scuba diving, zip-lining, kayaking, four wheeling, snowmobiling and I'm a biker babe! You name it, I will try it. Sky diving and bungee jumping are next on my list so stay tuned.

Cassy -What is your favorite "ah ha!" moment with your work?

Kari - I had a lot of ah ha moments involving the craft aspect, but my favorite ah ha career moment was when I realized I could sell off just a partial. I could hear the angels singing that day :-) Granted, editors had read my work and knew I could finish a book, but still....that thought of locking them in before I finish a book is oh so sweet. They may regret it after they receive the finished project, but it's still sweet nonetheless.

Cassy -Any good stories to tell about when Christine (our agent, folks) called you and asked to represent you?

Kari - The better story is before she called when I pitched to her at the New Jersey Conference. We'd met online and I introduced myself there. We hit it off and said let's go somewhere and talk. So I asked....can I bring my peeps? (they were standing right there anyway) She said sure. So we sat and talked and the crowd grew and grew behind her. Then after we pitched, I got up to leave. She turned around and saw how many people were behind her and looked at me with wide shocked eyes as she asked, "Are all these people your peeps?" To which I replied, "Um, no, I've never seen them in my life." Then I waved, smiled, and said, "See ya at karaoke." The sainted woman signed me anyway, but to this day she has never let me live that down.

Cassy -You have a fantastic book deal launching any moment. That's something we all aspire to having. But, has it made a difference in your writing? Or, in your work style?

Kari - It's insane! I truly mean it when I say be careful what you wish for, folks! While I don't regret saying yes to either of my book deals, it has opened my eyes. Getting published is hard enough...staying published is much harder. You can't rely on your publisher to do all the publicity for you. And if you sit back and do nothing, then chances are your numbers are not going to be good. Learning to juggle my hours between meeting multiple deadlines and promoting my books has been the hardest transition for me.

Cassy -What thoughts have you to offer to those who are looking to first find the dream agent and then to sign on the dotted line for a sale?

Kari - Don't give up! It took me 14 years to sell, but then my agent got me two three-book deals off just proposals only 5 months apart. The only people who will not get published are those who give up. That doesn't mean you can't help the process along. Be smart about your writing. Be aware of the market and think unique. Do your homework! Good luck to you all. I just know I'll see you on the shelves someday :-)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mary's Rants - Agents

Most of the M&M's (the fabulous 4 of the Mysteries and Margaritas) are represented by Christine Witthohn of BookCents Literary. However, for those who do not have an agent, finding one is a concern.

How do you know who is right for you?

I liken searching for an agent to finding the perfect pair of shoes. Compare the list I have:
  1. I want a pair that has good quality construction. Sturdy and durable.
  2. I want a pair of shoes that are attractive and matches the majority of my outfits. 
  3. I want a pair that fits, not too tight or lose, doesn't flop when I wear them, nor do they pinch.
Now change the wording, and you'll see what I mean about the perfect agent.

  1. I want an agent of good quality one that will stay with me and be my partner through the good and bad times.
  2. I want an agent that loves the majority of everything I write
  3. I want an agent who understands my voice. Gives me constructive criticism, to bring the best out of my writing. But understands my creative process and respects it.
You may or may not see the similarities, but to me they're the same. Those of you who are searching, what are you looking for in an agent? Those of you who found your dream agent, how did you find them?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cassy's Corner- Role Models

Who do you look up too? Who do you want to emulate? If you stood up in a conference and had to give a short summary of what you have done and who you are, what would you say? Are you comfortable with that?

What would I say? Well, I'm a wife, I'm a mother of two great daughters, I've had a crazy career path (another posting on that at another time), and now I'm working as a writer. I can remember working at McDonald's before college. Selling my mother's beautiful jewelry at craft fairs when I was in my teens. Starting an elder-care business more than 20 years ago- before people thought that the elderly should be able to stay in their own homes. Trying to put together work at Yale and kids' care all at once. The list goes on. Then the graduate degrees that sound like a salad- all mixed up.

My point is, not about me. We come to writing from a variety of view points. From many backgrounds and experiences. Why are we here? Tell me about your travel. What brought you to writing? What brought you to your genre? Why do we give up our pumps and pearls (sorry Lindsay) for sweatpants and slippers to live with our computers as now our best friends?

Well, I have my answer to this, but I'd love to hear yours. My answer-- it's all about my ability to create something. I make this happen. My characters talk to me in my sleep. They are living with me. As my children left for college and life beyond, I thought my house would be empty. Hardly the case. Now I have all these people who live in Italy move in. They tell me stories, they have espresso in wonderful cafes and they get into lots of trouble. You realize these are people who are of my creation--but they won't go away.

We live in a great world of make-believe. Tell me about yours.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesdays Tidbits with Kari: Featuring author Fran Stewart

Oyyy, Kari is STILL on deadline! Seriously....be careful what you wish for, folks! However, this blog post by Fran is as fabulous as anything I could have come up with. So once again, enjoy folks!!


I’m Gonna Hafta Censor Myself

Last May I graduated, along with fourteen other people, from the Gwinnett County Citizens Police Academy. It was a very big deal, with a color guard, speeches by the Police Chief and an Assistant Chief, a certificate ceremony, and—here’s where the problem comes in—a speech from a “class representative.” Guess who’d been elected to do that role?

Halfway through the nine-week course (two nights a week from 6:00 to 9:00), we were told that we’d need to choose someone to speak for the group. I got roped into it. They figured I was a writer, so I could write a speech. And I agreed to do it. Me and my big mouth.

Each of the seventeen classes featured a particular aspect of police work. Terrorism, Vehicle Pullovers, DUI, Crash Investigation, Homicide, K9, Explosives, SWAT, Crime Scene, and so on. One evening, as we waited to get into the 911 Communications Center for a tour, we decided that the speech ought to roast each and every one of our instructors, and we started throwing out one-liners about funny things that happened in each class. I took notes, took it all home, and started inventing a framework for the speech.

The Public Information Officer who taught our third session had told us that he constantly had to vigilant to be sure that what he said or wrote couldn’t be twisted by the people he communicated with. I should have listened harder to his advice.

I gleefully pulled together a funny speech about why there were only fifteen surviving members of the class, when we had started out with “forty-seven” people. Then I proceeded to regale the crowd with tales of blackmailing the officer who did our background checks, making bombs during the explosives class, running down various class members as we practiced vehicle pullovers.

One by one, as I mentioned each class, I told how we lost one member this Tuesday, five members that Thursday, three the next week. In the class on Crime Prevention, for instance, the instructor truly did tell us that if everyone would trim their tree branches up to seven feet and their shrubbery down to three feet, it would make it much harder for a burglar to hide. So I wrote in my speech that the officer had handed out chain saws so we could practice this new skill, but it was too much for one woman, and she never returned to class. We did understand, however, that the hospital had managed to sew her arm back on without too much trouble.

When it came to describing the Firearms Class, I said that because of budget restrictions, there weren’t any paper targets, so they lined us all up instead. Luckily the corporal couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, so we were perfectly safe, but five members took off running and haven’t been heard from since. The only reason I felt I could say such drivel was that the corporal who demonstrated the firearms training was an expert marksman, a fact well-known by everyone attending the graduation.

You’d think that with such whacky examples, the reporter who covered the event would have disbelieved every statement I made. But no, he wrote—I read it in the newspaper as I ate breakfast the next morning—that the newly graduated class had started with 47 members, but only 15 graduated, clearly implying that it was a difficult course indeed. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” he said.

I’m afraid my silly exaggeration about how the Citizens Police Academy killed, maimed, or scared off thirty-two people, turned into a public disservice. The truth was, the class was a total joy. There were, naturally, some difficult topics and some gruesome videos, but those of us who went through this training now have a clear idea of what police officers contend with every single day. The instructors were all more than willing to answer every single question we had—and we asked a lot of questions. All fifteen of us who were at the first class graduated together and most of us went on to rain for the Search and Rescue Team.

If you have a chance to sign up for a Citizen Police Academy or Fire Academy, I’d urge you to do so. The information is valuable indeed. As Debra Ivey, one of the class members, said (and this part the reporter did get right) “I thought it would scare me more, that I’d be afraid to leave my house because of all the gory stuff we saw. But I feel safer because of all the things I know go on behind the scenes.”

And what on earth does this have to do with writing? Well, aside from the obvious—I write mysteries in which my main character is married to the town cop, so I did sign up for the Citizens Police Academy hoping to use some of the information in my books, and if you take a citizens training class, you also might glean some worthwhile material for your books, essays, stories, or even poems.

But I came out of the experience with so much more than I expected. I now know how to use a chain saw, how to act like a paper target, and how I need to WATCH MY WORDS when there’s a reporter around.

Fran writes her Biscuit McKee mystery series (starring Biscuit, a librarian, and Marmalade, the library cat) at her home beside a creek on the backside of Hog Mountain, Georgia. She shares that home with various rescued cats and donates a portion of all her book sales to the humane society and to libraries.

Fran was recently appointed to the position of Publications Chair for the National League of American Pen Women. Her latest book, FROM THE TIP OF MY PEN: A WORKBOOK FOR WRITERS, from which this blog entry was taken, is now available through her website http://www.franstewart.com

Monday, September 13, 2010

Grammar Divas in the House Today- Top Three Questions Asked


Today, I have a special treat in store. As most of you know from my blog after Nationals, I attended very few workshops. One of the ones I did make was given by the Grammar Divas, and I thought it was excellent. So, I asked them if they'd come and share some of their wisdom with you. They'll answer any grammar question you might have. So ask away.

Good morning, everyone. We’re the Grammar Divas! Two fiction writers with a grammar fetish.

As a former English teacher (Darlene Buchholz) and a professional copywriter (Annie Oortman), we get a lot of questions about grammar, especially issues unique to commercial fiction writing. When Liz invited us to guest blog here, we decided to share the top 3 questions most writers asked us.

#1. What’s passive voice and why is it such a commercial fiction no-no?
The voice of a verb shows the strength of the subject of the sentence. Not physical strength, perception strength. In English, we have two voices: active and passive. In active voice, the subject of the sentence takes the action of the verb, i.e., it is the actual “doer” of the action.

John threw the ball across the road. [John = subject of sentence, the “doer”; threw = verb]

In passive voice, the subject of the sentence is acted upon.

The ball was thrown by John across the road. [John = subject of sentence; was thrown = verb]

Passive voice is not any use of “to be” (in any form). (Raise your hand if you’ve had an editor, contest judge, or critique partner circle every was in your manuscript and mark it “passive.” Yeah, us, too.) For a sentence to be officially written in passive voice it:

MUST Have: A form of “to be” + a past participle. (Think a verb form ending in –ed that expresses completed action. Exceptions? Paid, thrown, bitten, and driven.)

The ball was thrown by John across the road. [was = form of “to be”; thrown = past participle]

And MUST Have: A receiver of the action that is the subject of the sentence.

The ball was thrown by John across the road. [John = receiver of the action and subject of the sentence]

And MAY Have: The doer of the action is in a prepositional phrase that begins with by or sometimes for. (Not all passive voice sentences contain by or for.)

The ball was thrown by John across the road. [by John = prepositional phrase that begins with by]

Passive voice is a no-no in commercial fiction because editors feel active voice is more direct, dynamic, and—literally and figuratively—active because attention is directed at the “doer” of the action. Editors see passive voice as passive writing bleeding onto the page. They see a writer writing in passive voice is unwilling to grab hold of his or her prose and commit to producing strong, aggressive writing.

(For more information on passive voice and sentences to practice on fixing passive voice, please visit our website at www.grammardivas.com.)


#2. It’s “which” or “that” for things and “who” for people, right?
Many writers get confused over relative pronouns, i.e., pronouns that relate one part of a sentence to another part of the same sentence. Think who, whom, which, that, whose.

Katie nodded at the barely living man that lay crumpled against the wall. [that = relative pronoun that connects specific information—lay crumpled against the wall—to the main part of the sentence—Katie nodded at the barely living man.]

Some of you are probably saying, “That is wrong. It should be who. Everybody knows who is used for people and which and that are used for things.”

Who is correct; however that is also correct. As a relative pronoun, that is defined in all modern grammar books and all dictionaries as referring to either the person or thing mentioned or understood. Modern grammarians agree it’s a matter of choice by the writer.

You may consider that used with people as informal. It may sound informal to your ear, especially if you learned it that way in school. But, you’ll find the word that in formal writing—correctly—on many an occasion, from magazine articles to lessons in textbooks to formally written speeches.

If you choose not to use that for formal expository writing, you would be reflecting your author voice. But don’t forget to allow your characters to think and speak informally in your fiction writing.


#3. When do I use a comma and when don’t I?

Here’s the quick answer: If you think a comma belongs in a sentence, but can’t justify it with a comma usage rule, leave it out.

If that didn’t thrill you, maybe this will: Of the hundreds of rules about correct comma usage, you only need to know six of them for 99% of commercial fiction writing purposes.

Rule #1: Use a comma with an introductory element, i.e., a word, phrase, or clause before the main part of the sentence. The element usually tells something about the main clause.

When the waltz was over, Ewan released his partner.

Rule #2: Use a comma to set up a strong contrast. Key words to look for include but, yet, not, or never.

Carmen, never the subtle flower, forced Lord Sagemore to her.

Rule #3: Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so) that joins two independent clauses.

Anne wants a life of freedom, but her father wants to use her as a pawn in marriage.

Rule #4: Use a comma to separate consecutive adjectives.

He was one hot, sexy man.

Rule #5: Use a comma around nonessential elements that could be removed without changing the meaning of the rest of the sentence.

Carmen, twice Argon’s age, refused a divorce.

Rule #6: Use a comma to set off dialogue tags such as “she said” or “he explained.”

“Thomas confessed to the crime,” Roman said.

Wondering about the serial comma before the word ‘and’ in a series of three? Some editors want them; others, don’t. It’s up to you. However, if not using the serial comma would create confusion, use it.

Desiring dinner on the train to London, Cecily noted all meals came with salad, soup, entrée, two vegetables, bread, ice cream and cake, and coffee. [Ice cream and cake are one dessert].

(For more information on commas and other punctuation issues, please visit our website at www.grammardivas.com.)

Do you have a question about grammar? Darlene and I would like to answer it today. We’re here to help.
Images in this post

Friday, September 10, 2010

Interview with M & M Author, Liz Lipperman


Cassy asked me to post this today, so here goes. When she asked the M & M bunch if we'd like to do this, we all agreed it was a great idea. A lot of you follow us religiously and know a little bit about our personal lives. This will just reinforce some of our habits, good and bad. Please don't blackmail us with them. Here are her questions to me:

- Liz, tell us about your career path. What jobs have you had?
First off, let me say I am excited to do this interview. Thanks, Cassy, for asking. Now on to the question. I went to nursing school right out of high school and had been a practicing RN until 2002. At that time, I retired, promising I would give my writing a fair chance. Up until then, I merely dabbled. I had what I now know is a women's fiction manuscript that I had been working on for years. So many, in fact that I had to totally research another country when the one I had been using (El Salvador) went and ended their civil war. Do you believe they could be that inconsiderate??? LOL

- What then led you to being an author?
I was just at my HS reunion last week and someone asked me the very same question. I'll tell you what I told them. As far back as HS (Hubby and I were HS sweethearts.) I knew I wrote better than I spoke. So, any time we'd fight, I'd write a letter expressing my feelings. To this day, I need oxygen when I stand in front of a group to speak. In the early 90s, I took a Creative Writing class at a college in Maine, and the professor was very complimentary of my writing. It got me thinking..what if....

-How did you "find" your genre? Do you write in more than one?
Funny you should ask. I truly thought I was a romance writer, having joined RWA as early as the 90s, then dropping out, only to rejoin in 2002. I always got dinged when I entered contests because I never followed the rules. My H/H never played nice, and my Colombia story even had two strong male POVs. About that time, I started noticing how many dead bodies began showing up in all my stories. But even after I wrote my first true mystery, or mystery with romance as I call them, I never labeled myself as a mystery author. I had a long discussion with my agent about what genre she thought I wrote, and she's the one who pointed me down mystery road.

Now to the truth... I have a completed YA, the WF, a mystery, a paranormal mystery, a proposal for a RS (100 pages plus synopsis) and a cozy series. How do you spell fickled? Coincidentally, every single one of them has at least one dead body.


- You have a great sense of humor (Folks, there are stories that might never be told). Do you find you can easily incorporate that into your writing?
When my friends read my manuscripts, they say the fun part is that it's like I was right there talking to them. I have always been able to poke fun at myself, and if I like you, at you, too. I never tease anyone I don't like. I think you have to write to your personality. I could never pull off a serious heroine because that isn't me. I love to laugh and to make you laugh. I do have to say this, though. Last month I spent a week with my three sisters in Florida. I took along my latest manuscript, DUCKS IN A ROW, and let them read it. My oldest sister, who is a voracious reader, said that halfway through the book, she forgot it was me writing and just enjoyed the great story. I loved hearing that.

- What are the settings you use for your books?
I always use small towns in Texas. Although I was born and raised in Ohio, (O H I O) I have been in Texas for thirty years. I love this place and all the diversity that goes with it. I also always use authentic names as opposed to fictitious towns. In my latest series, I use Denison, Texas, population around 24 K. When one of my beta readers thought my cops weren't using big enough guns even for a small town, I picked up the phone and spoke directly to the sheriff who was extremely helpful. I forgot to mention to him I called two of my cops Dumb and Dumber!! I hope he has a sense of humor because I fully intend to play up the small town factor with a book signing right at the mall there.

- Do you have a particular writing method? (Go ahead and fess up about being a plotter and a long hand writer!! That's special)
You've outed me! The reason I write longhand is because my typing skills suck. I only took a 6 weeks course in HS and still have to look at my fingers when I type. I'm not a pecker, but I am pathetic. Usually my brain is way faster than my fingers, so I always have transposed letters in words. Drives me crazy. I have tried writing on a computer and find myself staring at the blank page for hours - then Facebook, then more staring, then email ..you get the picture. I type after every scene, or I wouldn't be able to read my own handwriting. As for plotting, I am a die-hard plotter. It blows my mind to think of people doing it without that. Before I even put one word on the page, I pretty much know what's gonna happen and who my bad guy is. It doesn't always work out that way, in fact usually never, but at least I have a visual. Another quirk of mine is that I ALWAYS use a blue pilot point pen when I write and a notepad with the wire thing at the top. I know..sounds OCD-ish.

- Do you keep to a particular writing schedule?
Darn it, Cassie, you're playing to all my weaknesses!! I am so undisciplined, I wonder how I ever get anything done. I am on a loop with a bunch of writers who share their goals. Today I discovered a trick they've been doing for a while. They meet in a chat room and set the timer, then write, then share their accomplishments. I wrote over 1200 words this morning. My goal when I am on deadline is twenty pages a week. My agent once asked me if I could write two books a year, and I said yes. In order to do that, I have to keep that twenty-page pace. The good news is that I have a psycho internal editor who won't let me go to the next chapter until I polish the previous one. (My CPs and I line edit each other's chapters one by one, too.) By the time I finish a novel, it is pretty clean. Then I have several beta readers who do a cold read.

- What are your favorite hobbies and activities, outside of writing of course.
I love my family. I have two grown children, two wonderful in laws, two adorable grandsons, a beautiful granddaughter, and one on the way. Any time I can spend time with them, the writing goes out the window.

I also have a extraordinary set of friends I have been playing Bunko with for over 25 years. They are the funniest group of women on this planet, and they supply me with tons of funny stuff for my stories. In fact, I am getting ready to leave for a trip to Arizona in two weeks to spend a week with them. We are so funny. The house we rent has to have a play pool so we can play water volleyball. Isn't that a visual? Ten grannies in a pool, sipping margaritas and cussing like sailors!

Oh, and I am a rabid football fan, especially the NFL. I even run my own fantasy football league, overseeing mostly guys. That's another reason I have to be diligent with my twenty pages a day. The NFL 2010 season starts this Thursday. Go Cowboys!

-What is your favorite "ah ha!" moment with your work?
I think it's when I realized I was not a romance writer. I still keep my membership in RWA and my local chapter current because I have made so many incredible friends there, plus, the RWA conferences are awesome. Besides, my stories still have lots of romance in them. I am going to my first mystery conference this year - the Crime Bake. I hope to meet a lot of mystery writers and add them to my list of friends. Anybody else going?

-Any good stories to tell about when Christine (our agent) called you and asked to represent you?
She actually didn't call me. I signed with her partner (no longer there) and just slid to Christine when Kelly left the agency to spend time traveling with her Olympic hopeful skating daughter. When C called to tell me about my three book deal, she said I wasn't very excited. I think, like all writers, I had been beaten down so much, I no longer allowed myself to hope. When she called, it didn't seem real. Even now, I can't believe how lucky I was to have been in the right place at the right time with the right agent. And trust me when I say, it takes luck along with good writing. There are many great writers out there who will never be published because of this.

-You have a fantastic book deal launching any moment. That's something we all aspire to having. But, has it made a difference in your writing? Or, in your work style?
Except for the fact, I can't cuss, write hot sex, or use bad language, the mystery writing is the same. Have I mentioned I love writing villian sex? You know the rauchy kind that makes you laugh...not happening in my cozies.

-What thoughts have you to offer to those who are looking to first find the dream agent and then to sign on the dotted line for a sale?
Never-never-never quit writing. Only then can you give up your claim to being an author. In today's publishing world, we now have choices. Several good friends have recently signed with an e-publisher, and one even self-pubbed on both Smashwords and Kindle. As far as your dream agent goes, don't always listen to well-meaning friends. I remember when I was first offered representation by Book Cents Literary, a brand new agency with two agents who had never had publishing experience. I would be rich if I had a nickle for every time someone warned me to run away fast from the offer. I don't know. It just felt right. I hear authors (some experienced ones) saying their agent is their employer, and I cringe every time. Christine is my partner, totally invested in my career, Without me making money, she doesn't make any. She is also my friend, another no no to some folks, but it works for me.
My wish for anyone out there reading this is that you come away with the hope that my Cinderella story can happen to you, too. Just be patient, never give up, and above all, keep writing new stuff. Don't make the mistake some people do beating that proverbial dead horse with ninety-nine edits of the same manuscript. Put that sucker under the bed and write something new. I had four completed manuscripts when I sold. I still have four unsold completed manuscripts, having sold on three chapters and a synopsis. Someday, all of them will sell, I'm sure..just not right now.

Research the market. Find out what's out there and what NY is buying. If you're fortunate enough to get a great agent like both Casssy and I did, don't try to micromanage her. It's a trust thing or it doesn't work. And above all, get rid of any toxic writers around you. They can pull you down faster than a hungry shark. Surround yourself with positive people who can tell you the scene doesn't work without detroying your self confidence.

Thank you, Cassy, for this opportunity. Good luck to all of you. Now hit me with the questions. I'm ready.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mary's Rants - Not enough hours in the day

I'm the president of Utah RWA, we have a conference coming in October. It's going to be a great conference, if you want to check it out, go to www.utahrwa.com Anyway, I'm not the conference coordinator, but everything has to be approved by the board.

I had my day all mapped out, what I was going to edit, etc. Then I get a call about raffle prizes. And there goes an hour of back and fourth with the board, and the coordinator.

I finally start to catch up, then it's dinner. Good it's over and I'm at the computer and again I'm on the phone, now it's the budget. How much do we have in the bank. We still need, this and that and the other.

My coordinator said "You wouldn't believe how many hours I've worked on this conference and not written a word." And my answer was, "Oh, yes, I do know exactly what you're saying."

I coordinated the URWA conference in 2007 and for the year prior to the conference I did not write a word. Though I will admit it was mostly my own fault because I would delegate and if they weren't fast enough I'd do it myself. Well how long do you think it took my committee to realize if they procrastinated long enough they wouldn't have to do it at all? Anyway that's beside the point I'm trying to make.

If you're a member of RWA you understand how important it is to volunteer. And there are a lot of benefits that come with volunteering. Especially coordinating something like a conference or even being on the committee. Those are the volunteers who meet the visiting editors and agents up close and personal.

They have personal contact with them prior to the conference. Chances are they meet them at the airport and they have a captive audience in route to the venue. Then they have the conference time to chat with them, introduce them to everyone. Basically make them feel at home. Show them around town if there's time.

Great you say, where do I sign up. But did you read what I said? I did not write for a year. My coordinator this year has hardly written in months. And she's been very good at delegating. I have only myself to blame for how much I missed out on. Had I not taken over when people were slow, I still would have cut my writing time in half. That's still a lot of sacrifice to give to your chapter.

And someone needs to do it. I'm not saying not to volunteer. My point is: you have to find a balance for your volunteer time. When does the time away from writing outweigh the benefits of meeting VIP's for the conference, or networking with people you otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to do?

Only you can know what the balance is. You don't want to burn out so you never volunteer again. But you want to have opportunities, after all isn't that why you joined RWA? To network with your own kind? To find an agent and ultimately an editor?

The moral of this blog post is: Volunteer, but be wise.

What are some of the experiences you've had?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cassy's Corner- Those Who Support Us

Last night I had an unexpected party of sorts. I was to meet one of my dear friends for dinner at a local casual spot. My husband, on his way to the airport (of course), ran into another of a close friend of ours. He suggested to her that she stop by, as I was home alone. My husband didn't know that I had already made plans. So, the evening changed. I ran to the store to get something for dinner and had both women here. They knew each other only briefly, exchanging hello's at the gym. Nothing more.

After wine on the terrace looking over the lake, I became the odd man out. They bonded. My two dear friends were creating their own connections. I loved it.

The conversation took many turns. Relationships. Kids. Travel. One of these two has traveled with me many times in Italy. By the time the chicken was wrapped up in the kitchen and dessert was put on the table, they turned to me. "Tell us about your writing."

I started. Stopped. Started. "No, we really want to know. Tell us, " they said.

So, I did. I gave the elevator speech about my work in process. I gave them a brief synopsis. I told them about the challenges of carving out significant writing time with four parents in their mid-eighties, two children, much time on an airplane with multiple time zones, and so on. They listened.

Then, the magical moment was their enthusiasm. They loved my story's premise. They loved my excitement for my work. And, I think they actually meant it. Not just love for me.

After they left and I was doing the dishes, I felt a certain high (maybe it was the wine, but I don't think so). I have support. I have people who respect and admire what I do.

My family is, of course, supportive. My husband is wonderful- he loves my work. My kids are a cheering squad. But this was special. Three silly women sitting around a table talking about life, our hopes, and giving me huge verbal hugs.

I am always amazed by the encouragement we receive from those who understand how we are wired. I thank them.

Please, share. Who are those who support you, spur you on? Give you the feedback you need? Cover your ass when you need that? Provide the sense of promise?

I look forward to hearing from you.