Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Part 8 is Great

Okay, holiday madness is over, so now I can continue with my epic tale. When we last left our heroine, I was discussing how I found out I was a finalist in the paranormal category of the 2008 Chicago North RWA's Fire & Ice contest. I'd already signed up to attend their Spring Fling conference that April, my very first writers' conference. (Shiny!) (I'm also attending the upcoming one in 2010 too.)

When I gave my name to sign in for the conference, I had my first of many "Oh, you're a finalist!" moment of the weekend. Joelle, one of the conference organizers, walked up to the table as I was getting my package of stuff and heard my name, and she smiled at me and said, "Oh, I know that name, you're one of our finalists." My internal monologue was all Dude, i r teh famous!, but I just blushed like an idiot and said thank you. When I looked through the bag o' goodies they gave me, I discovered my name was in the program. After I squeed like a fangirl, I whipped out my cell phone and took pictures of my name in the program and sent it to my mom and my BFF (me = giant dork). But the best part was that my name tag came complete with a lovely blue pastel ribbon with the word FINALIST stamped across it in big gold lettering. There were other ribbons for various things (red for speakers, yellow for volunteers, etc.). Having this ribbon on my tag was kinda like having a target affixed to my cleavage. People would stare at my chest to see what it said--in case it was something important, like it'd reveal that I was actually a fiction editor or a best-selling novelist--and then they'd be all "Oh, you're a finalist! Congratulations! What category?" And I'd be all blushy and have to explain that yes, I am a weirdo in all black, wearing a pentacle, who writes paranormal. (I'll save the paranormal vs. urban fantasy discussion for another post, it's one of those complicated, slightly nerdy discussions like "who would win in a fight, the Enterprise or the Death Star?")

It was an interesting experience. I only knew one other person there, one of my local chapter members, and that was helpful because I had someone to sit with at the meals and we could be overwhelmed together. ;) Mingling with the conference crowd was much like me trying to mingle at my local chapter--I love them dearly, but most of them are moms. A lot of the RWA membership seems to be made up of mothers over the age of 35. Me, I have an apartment, a Polish husband, and a cat, so I don't have any cute "My kid did this" stories yet (though of course I can chime in for "My husband is stupid and did this" stories). Don't get me wrong, I'd love to sign up for the mom gig, but it's just not in the cards at the moment.

Anyway, in addition to the contest, I'd signed up to pitch to an agent. I tried out my spiel on the hippy a few times, and he gave me useful advice like "don't swear" and "stop fidgeting." Like any unpubbed author, I was terrified of pitching, even though I knew she was a perfectly nice person. I paced. My heart was racing. And that was before I actually got into the room for the appointment. When I went in and sat down, I introduced myself and went through my spiel, reading off my notecards like a total nervous, stuttering n00b. Ugh. But then she said she wanted to see the first 50 pages of the story, and asked if I had any questions. If I'd been in my right mind, yes, I would have, but instead I only managed to chat with her a bit. And then I fled like a scared little bunny. (We'll discuss the outcome of the submission in Chapter 9: In Which I am Rejected!)

At the end of the conference was the big shiny gala dinner, which the hippy got to attend with me. By this point I'd convinced myself that there was no way I'd won the contest (like an Academy Award nominee, I kept silently repeating "It's an honor just to be nominated"), so I picked a seat that was literally in the corner of the ballroom. I realized that they weren't announcing the contest winners until after dinner, after the thank you speech, and after the speech by the charity the auction was benefitting. So I suffer through dinner, unable to eat because for the love of all that is holy, I just want to know what the contest results are! DAMMIT! And then a speaker. And another speaker. Then finally, the moment of truth! Dun dun dun! They start reading off the winners by category, and then by place they finished in (which surprised me, I was expecting just the winner). Joelle starts reading the paranormal category... third place ... is not me! Second place ... is also not me! At which point I did the gay inhale (fans of Kathy Griffin are familiar with this), combined with the shocked Home Alone face, realized that OMGWTF I just won first place! And because I'd picked a chair in the corner of the room, I had to walk all the way to the front of the room. In a daze. Shocked. Hands shaking. Grinning like an idiot. Because I WON!

It was rather awesome.

Next post I discuss how all that awesome got sucked out of me by my first rejection letter...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lucky #7: In Which I am a Winnah!

I won my first writing contest when I was a sophomore in high school. I started writing my first novel in eighth grade--I still have a copy of it. (It's not bad for someone that age, and I occasionally break out the manuscript and wince at it. It's a good measure of how far I've come in my writing.) I finally finished it when I became a sophomore, and I showed it to my English teacher, Mrs. Ambrosia. She was a brave woman, because she read the whole thing and gave me feedback on it. (I should send her a thank-you email too. Okay, seriously making a list now of people I need to thank.) She encouraged me to submit the first scene it in to the school's literary magazine, which I did, and it made it in. My very first published story. ;) And then one day after class my teacher mentioned that she'd entered that same bit in a writing contest. I was surprised, but forgot about it, until a month or two later I arrived at class and she handed me a plaque and told me I'd won. I still have it, I was extremely proud of it. My parents and my little brother are jocks, and they have a ton of trophies from various sports. I, as you might have guessed, am a book nerd. No sports for me, so this was the closest I'd ever gotten to having my very own trophy.

Fast forward to 2007, after I joined RWA. For those of you who aren't RWA members, you may not know that the various chapters of RWA love to hold writing contests. Like crazy. Tons of them. I get a few emails a week advertising different ones. Generally, you submit the first chapter or 25 pages of your novel, maybe a synopsis, and if you're a finalist your work will be judged by an industry professional of some sort like an agent or editor. It's a good way to get feedback from people who don't know you and won't censor themselves to not hurt your feelings, heh. Or at least it is hypothetically--there's really no guarantee that you'll get any commentary other than the score sheet. And for contests like the Golden Heart you get zero feedback, but that's generally known.

There are a lot of contests, and I was a little intimidated by this, but in early 2008 I finally decided to enter two of them. One I did well at, but I had points marked off for not following "standard publishing" formatting. This still irks me, because it wasn't mentioned in their submission rules and I followed their rules to the letter. It was just assumed I'd know that the chapter title should be dropped down to a certain line on the first page. In my day job, we're lucky if we get manuscripts that are legible and in the right order, much less following rules for formatting. But, lesson learned.

The other contest I entered was Chicago North RWA's Fire & Ice contest. I'd already registered to attend their Spring Fling conference, so I figured hey, why not? And then I found out that I was a finalist in my category, and much happy dancing occurred. This was awesome because the winners were going to be announced at the big dinner at the end of the conference, and I was hella excited about that.

Next time, I discuss my very first conference, and related awesomeness of it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Intarweb Tuesday: The Muppets <3 Holidays

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Episode 6: Attack of the Writing Workshops

Hi, my name is Robyn, and I am addicted to Yahoo! groups.

It started with author newsletters, and then after I joined RWA I found myself subscribing to more groups. One for the chapter, one for chapter websites, and then I discovered the world of online workshops. Many RWA chapters offer online workshops, usually taught by one of their members or a guest lecturer. It's a way to raise funds for the chapter and to help RWA members across the country learn how to improve their craft. They're generally inexpensive, about $20 a class, and run anywhere from a few days to a whole month. Usually you're signed up to a Yahoo! group (though occasionally I've seen some run over a chapter's forums), and lectures and assignments are given via the group.

My first class--and still one of my favorites--was about how to write paranormal romances by Angela Knight. I'd already owned and read her book Passionate Ink, so I knew it would be a good experience. AK's a great teacher, and I've taken four of her workshops. (Recently she blogged about writing fight scenes on the FF&P blog, if you'd like an example.) (I should probably send her a thank you email too.) In fact, I've taken a lot of workshops. Classes on writing query letters, synopses, pitches, plotting with Tarot cards, creating psychic investigators--anything that catches my interest. I'm a big believer in the idea that writers should always be working on improving their craft. Because I'm an editor as my day job, and I know that ain't nobody's work is too good to be edited.

Now, that said, not all online workshops are created equal. Some are better than others, and I've taken a few that were disappointments. But I'm still a workshop addict, even though I've learned to be pickier about the ones I sign up for.

Next time, I talk about contests and conferences.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Section Five: Joining RWA

After I got my shiny day job, I joined the Romance Writers of American (RWA) and got a subscription to Romantic Times magazine. I'd heard of RWA earlier (again, from Katie Mac, seriously need to send her a thank you email), but the hippy asked me to wait until I got my first paycheck to sign up. Because as you may know, it ain't cheap. In fact, if it weren't for my local chapter, I probably wouldn't have stuck with my national RWA membership. Like any organization, you get what you put into it. If you put effort into taking workshops and going to conferences and joining area or special interest chapters, you get all kinds of benes. If you don't, all you get is a very expensive monthly magazine.

I was nervous about attending my first chapter meeting. I'd taken a few narrative writing classes in college so I was familiar with the idea of group critiquing, but I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd stumbled across their website, but it hadn't been updated in a while and I wasn't sure if they were still active (I later learned they'd lost their web mistress and no one was comfortable with managing the site). I emailed the contact on their site and started corresponding with HiDee, who is one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. When I went to the first meeting I knew right away that I had no reason to be nervous, because they're a great group. I love my chapter. :) They're all very talented, amazing women. I ended up in charge of their website, because I had previous experience running the EotP site for so long. And now I'm also the vice president/secretary.

The moral of the story here is writing is solitary, but it doesn't have to be. It's a great thing to have support, to have people who share and understand your passion. If you have the chance to join a writers' group, take it.

Next episode, I talk writing workshops.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Intarweb Tuesday: For Great Justice!

I bring you, SB Sarah's Pride Prejudice and Pedantry. Please to enjoy.

Funny story about "Bitten" by Kelley Armstrong, which is on Sarah's list of awesome books: I have a few tattoos. On my back I have a very large tattoo, and I sat for 6 hours while the artist worked on it. The whole time he inked it, I read "Bitten." No complaints, no crying, no breaks aside from lunch. I just sat and read. And boy did that impress the hell out of the guys in the shop. ;) It's that enthralling (and my pain tolerance ain't half bad).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chapter 4: The Most Important Lesson Ever

I've learned many things along the way from first spark of inspiration to "w00t! being published!" This is the most important lesson I've learned. Seriously important. All caps IMPORTANT:

For the love of all that is holy, never, ever send your mother your manuscript. Ever. Don't do it. Especially if it's a first draft. Even if she cries, begs, lays on the guilt, just say no. Tell her you'll give her an advanced reader copy after you have a book deal.

Here's why: Because, being your mother, she's going to be mom proud of whatever you do. Which, while nice, can result in her telling everyone she knows about how you're working on a novel. And if you sent her the electronic file, she's going to forward it to everyone in her email address book.

I'm still running into distant relations and family friends at holidays who tell me that they read my story. (insert banging of my head on my desk here)

Next time, we talk about the Romance Writers of America.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Part Three: In Which I Get a Job. In Publishing!

So there I was, newly married, working on my novel, looking for a day job, and bam! Fortune smiled upon me, and I ended up with a job. A job that's actually in publishing, in which I get to use leet English major skillz. But that's not the fun, actually related to writing and my path to publishing part. Oh, I could tell plenty of stories about the books I've worked on and the authors I've worked with. But I'm not gonna.

Instead, I will discuss meeting my BFF Diana. Diana is awesome in many ways. In addition to being my BFF, we work together, so I see her almost as much as I see my husband. In fact, I would totally marry her, if I weren't already married to the hippy. ;)

We share a passion for reading, and have introduced each other to new authors and new series. Thanks to Diana I became a fan of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. And thanks to the Smart Bitches, I've learned a ton about the publishing industry. I highly recommend their book.

Anyway, a few months after I started the new job Diana invited me into her critique group, and I'm eternally grateful for that. Aside from meeting cool people and getting to talk writing shop, it made my novel much stronger. It wasn't always easy, but definitely a worthwhile experience.

And, well, she's just awesome. Diana has read my novel almost as many times as I have, and puts up with me bouncing plot ideas off of her. Constantly. All the time. But she does the same to me, so that's only fair. We even worked on a joint story for NaNo 2008 (one day we'll finish it, it's rather brilliant, there are elves and llamas).

Next time I'll talk about joining the RWA and meeting the fabulous ladies of my local chapter, and the most important lesson I've learned as writer.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Episode II: In Which I Drive my Mother Crazy

There I was, November 2006, deciding to write a novel the month before my wedding. The NaNo Handbook is titled "No Plot? No Problem!" and boy was that the truth. I really had no idea what I was going to write, but I was damn determined to do it. Which drove my mother nutty bonkers, because before the wedding I was still living at home, and had Very Important Things to Do. Like packing my earthly possessions (namely my massive book collection) to be moved to the apartment. Putting together wedding favors. And the wedding programs. Dress fittings. You know, stuff like that. I can sum up the month like this:

Mom: "Robyn, you need to work on (important wedding thing)."
Me: "Just 300 more words."

Mom: "Robyn, did you pick the readings for the ceremony yet?"
Me: "No, I'm writing a fight scene. They're fighting vampires."

Mom: "Robyn!"
Me: "Can't talk now, must hit my word count."

Yeah. On one hand, writing is so much more fun than wrapping 200 silver snowflake wine stoppers in sparkly netting and tying them with red and green ribbons. On the other, my mother could've snapped and smothered me in my sleep. But she didn't, yay! And thusly on November 28, 2006, I submitted my final wordcount of 50,052 words and won NaNo. And then got married four days later.

End of story, right? Nope. There's more...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Intarweb Tuesday

I must admit. I have killed many murlocs. Hundreds. Maybe thousands.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Begin at the beginning

Recently I signed a contract for my first book to be published. It's something I've been dreaming about... forever, probably. It's awesome and scary, and it's made me reflect on where I started with this book. So here in my new blog (relatively new, I signed up for it in 2007 but never broke my livejournal addiction enough to use it), I'll be talking about the book, the publishing process, and other fun related things.

On November 1, 2006 I learned about National Novel Writing Month from author Katie MacAlister's livejournal. And thus the madness began.

I'd graduated from U of I the year before, where I'd taken a few narrative writing classes, but I hadn't put any real effort into writing a novel since high school. (Yes, I finished my first novel in high school, what's really scary is that I started it in 8th grade.) I'd start a project but after a few chapters I'd get distracted and write something else. I'd written fan fic for the various mmorpgs that I'd played and posted it on the server forums, to good response. I even had a small following for my Dark Age of Camelot stories. I wanted to finish something, and I wanted to be published. But I couldn't possibly do NaNo that month, because I was getting married on December 2.

I started it anyway, and Blood, Smoke and Mirrors, then Smoke and Mirrors, was born.