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Waiting for a different call

Golden Heart (R) finalists in Romantic Suspense in NYC

With some of my Kiss & Thrill sisters: Golden Heart finalists in Romantic Suspense in NYC.

Every year around this time, thousands of romance writers are sitting by their phones waiting for “the call.” Not the one from an editor or agent, but from one of the members of the board of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) telling them their manuscript or book finaled in either the Golden Heart® (unpublished) or the RITA® (published) Awards.

These prestigious contests are sort of like the Oscars of romance, complete with a ceremony emceed by an author-celebrity, lots of fancy gowns, and a golden statue for the RITA winners. The only thing missing is the E! reporter.

I can tell you from experience that there is no day so nervewracking as finalist announcement day. (Okay, except the actual awards ceremony.) I’ve been through it twice (2010 and 2011) so far. You think you will distract yourself with writing, but find that you’re constantly checking the RWA web page, Facebook, and Twitter to see if your category is done. And every time the phone rings your heart skips a beat.

Rachel Grant and me on awards night in NYC.

Rachel Grant and me on awards night in NYC.

In 2011, I was a Golden Heart finalist. I got the call in the middle of a doctor’s appointment with my son and couldn’t answer! I finally listened to my voicemail when the doctor stepped out, but it was vague. Still, I was pretty sure RWA wouldn’t call me on announcement day for any other reason.

That was the longest doctor’s appointment ever.

I got out to my car, returned the call, got my good news, screamed my head off like an idiot, and took my son out to lunch to celebrate. Hey, school could wait, he had to eat, and his mom was a finalist.

Getting that confirmation that my writing had improved was fabulous, but the best part of being a finalist was the new friends, many of whom now hang out with me over at the Kiss and Thrill site. The second best part was being treated like royalty at that year’s conference. 😉

For unpublished authors, a Golden Heart contest final opens doors with editors and agents too. I got some amazing feedback and a couple of revise-and-resubmit requests that year. Those—and some wins in other contests—eventually gave me the confidence to hire an editor and self-publish my GH-finaling entry, BLIND FURY.

Next year, I’ll be back to biting my nails at the end of March hoping for a RITA call, wondering why we do this to ourselves.
So, I’m raising a virtual glass to all of my friends who are waiting for their call today. I’ll be there to smile or console, and to cheer on the finalists in San Antonio this July. Good luck!

Georgia on my mind (RWA13)

Out for a run with Laura Griffin in Anaheim.

Out for a run with Laura Griffin in Anaheim.

Next week is the Romance Writers of America National Conference in Atlanta. I have so much to do!

I think my wardrobe shopping is done. I just need to determine each day’s outfit, try it on, and take a picture for Evernote so I won’t forget what I planned to wear. (Yes, I’m THAT type. You’re surprised?) This is how I stay organized and limit what I take to one carry on suitcase and a tote bag. That’s right, I get two cocktail dresses, heels, five days of professional wear, evening outfits, workout clothes, toiletries, and all my shoes into one bag.

Rolling the clothes is key. As is limiting shoes. Luckily, I’m not a shoe hound. 😉

Newbie me with AJ Brower in Orlando.

Newbie me with AJ Brower in Orlando.

Despite all the prep, planning, and expense, I love conference. I learn new things about writing and the publishing industry, make new friends, and catch up with old friends. I come away energized (after about a week of recovery sleep), motivated, and inspired.

This will be my fourth year attending Nationals, and every one has been worth it. Each year has had different personal theme associated with it, and this time is no different. The 2010 conference in Orlando was the first year I’d attended a writing conference of any kind. I hardly knew anyone outside my local writing chapter in the beginning, but by the end I'd made several friends that I still keep up with.

Romantic Suspense Golden Heart® finalists in NYC

Romantic Suspense Golden Heart® finalists in NYC.

The second year in New York, I was a Golden Heart® finalist. The whole week was an absolute whirlwind, but a lot of fun. I  had made a  bunch of online friends in the intervening year, and it was neat to meet many of them in NYC.

My first year as a published author!

My first year as a published author!

Last year in Anaheim was a biggie. It was my first year attending as a published author (though not in romance), and the number of people I knew from previous meetings, my online classes, or online writing groups was staggering.

This year will be my first time presenting at the national conference. I’m giving a workshop on Saturday morning called “E-books Made Easy with Scrivener”. I expect I’ll see many familiar faces and learn lots of new ones. I’m excited!

If you’re going to Atlanta, I hope to see you there. 🙂

Workshop takeaways from the 2012 RWA conference

Laura Griffin and me out for a run in Anaheim


My annual trek to the RWA National Conference is about more than reconnecting with friends–like my running buddy Laura Griffin–networking with other authors, and a chance to dress up. It's also about learning.

Sometimes one sentence can cause a major shift in your understanding of a topic. Which is why I try to attend as many of the RWA National Conference workshops as possible. Even if I feel pretty well versed in a topic, I usually learn something new, forge a deeper understanding of the subject, or have an epiphany about my story while listening to the speaker.

This year I attended a fair number of workshops and speeches, all of them excellent. With my trusty new iPad and Evernote, I took a lot of notes. Below are some of my favorite takeaways.

Keynote at the Kiss of Death annual general meeting (Brenda Novak)

  • Innovation requires no special thought process. Creative people simply put their mind to the task of being creative.
  • Our creativity suffers when we worry too much about what others will think.

Conflict (Debra Dixon)

  • Push your characters to the breaking point, farther than they're willing to go. They must act against their best interests to achieve the goal. Leave them no other choice but to do the one thing they don't want to do.
  • Every scene needs three reasons to be there or it's not working hard enough. One of those reasons should be to establish the character’s goal, motivation, or conflict.

Emotion: the Heart of the Novel (Brenda Novak)

  • Active writing invokes emotion. To keep the reader in the action, start in the present and move forward in real time, using specific details and “showing” language.
  • Types of writing ranked from least to most active: internal thought, then dialogue, then deep POV, subtext, action, metaphor.
  • The reader needs conflict to really enjoy the happy ending, just like a close game in sports is more exciting than one team trouncing the other, even if the outcome is the same.
  • The conflict has to grow and change if it’s not strong enough to carry the whole book.

How to Put the Thrill in Your Thrillers (James Rollins)

  • High concept: the fewer words needed to describe book, the better (e.g. Jurassic Shark)
  • The character’s goal should be something he has a personal stake in, even if it's a world threat.
  • The hero has to take active steps toward that goal, not just avoiding the villain. Making choices, etc.
  • Incorporate research so it doesn't feel like info dump. For example, have people argue about it, which feeds info and creates conflict.

Make 'em Cry, Make 'em Scream, Make 'em Laugh (Charlotte Carter, Debra Mullins, & Lori Wilde)

  • For greater impact, put the character in a place where the emotion is unexpected (e.g. crying at an office party instead of a funeral).

Plotting via Motivation (Laurie Schnebly Campbell)

  • A goal is term limited and concrete, tangible.
  • Motivation is not term limited; it's a way of being. Motivation doesn't go away even when the goal is achieved.

Treasures, Artifacts, and Curses: Archaeology 101 for Writers (Rachel Grant and Mary Sullivan)

  • Indiana Jones was not an archeologist; he was a looter. 😉
  • 90% of archeologists work in the private sector (as opposed to academia).

Photo Credit: Copyright Laura Griffin. Used with permission.

LAPD field trip, part I

When I was a kid I loved field trips. That hasn’t changed, which is why I arrived at the RWA conference a couple of days early for the Kiss of Death chapter’s annual tour.

Every year we see something different. In 2010 it was parachute riggers and NOAA storm chasers at MacDill AFB. Last year we visited the Coast Guard in New Jersey. This year we got a glimpse into the workings of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

It was sort of a mini Citizens Police Academy like the one I attended here in my county, but squeezed into one fun-filled day with 50 other writers of romantic mystery and suspense.

We started our day at the Elysian Park facility, which is no longer used to train cadets, but is used for inservice training. Several units set up stations around a running track, happy to talk about their jobs and answer questions. My first visit was the mounted unit. That’s right, the LAPD has horses! Part of the Metropolitan Division, the mounted officers provide crowd control for protests and large events, crime suppression, enforcement at public parks and beaches, and search and rescue support in the mountainous areas of L.A. The big wooden sword the officer in the photo is holding helps him keep people away from the horse (and himself) without causing unnecessary injury.

Sage was a friendly bloodhound

My next stop was the K9 Platoon. Patrol dogs specialize in criminal apprehension. These are your German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. They are let off the lead to pursue a criminal in a controlled area, and are trained to bite and hold the suspect. They don’t look for a particular person, but rather for any human in the area, though we were told that they’ve learned to go for the one who smells like fear.

So, if you failed to hear the police when they broke down your front door, and you’re sitting in your back yard smoking crack with headphones on when your buddy runs outside to hide behind the shed, the dog will likely skip right by you and go for your partner in crime.

The UDU has to tag and photograph evidence just like CSIs on dry land.

The LAPD uses bloodhounds for tracking and trailing. Tracking refers to following the path of the person, but not necessarily using their scent. Trailing is the process of following the specific scent of one person based on tissue and skin cells given off by that person, whether on the ground or in the air.

Once given an uncontaminated scent-item belonging to the missing person—such as a piece of dirty laundry worn by them—the dog follows that trail to the exclusion of all other smells, tracking only when needed to pick up the scent again. Bloodhounds are kept on a lead, and their handler must have experience to know when the dog has lost the scent or found a weaker trail of it.

According to the officer who spoke to us, it’s actually easier to follow a trail that has settled for about two hours than a fresh trail. That’s because the settled scent is stronger and less dispersed.

The oasis behind the LAPRAAC

Next up for me was the Underwater Dive Unit (UDU). Never having given any thought to such a team, I was fascinated by the concept of police divers and their mission. Working on call, much like SWAT, the divers are responsible for performing random underwater patrols of Los Angeles’ busy harbors, looking for smuggled items and people hidden on the hull of a ship—sometimes in welded-on boxes or in the air-tight well behind the propeller—in addition to explosive devices on ships or out on other structures in the harbor, such as pipelines.

The UDU also performs underwater crime scene investigation, and evidence and body recovery. In addition to the ocean, they work in L.A.’s many lakes and reservoirs. Some of the waterways are contaminated, requiring divers to use a hazmat dry suit and mask instead of standard SCUBA gear.

Mural representing the history of the LAPD

After the UDU, I got a glimpse of LAPD’s first and only female SWAT member and the big armored truck before rejoining the group for a quick history lecture and tour of the grounds behind the dining hall, which is part of the Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club (LAPRAAC).

The outdoor area was designed by the same person who created the Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise, and is a beautiful oasis where weddings are apparently common.

We followed that with a detour through the gym to see a mural representing the history of the LAPD, before eating lunch and hitting the gift shop for reminders of a great day. On Thursday I’ll tell you about our afternoon at the Davis Facility in San Fernando Valley.

Quick highlights from the RWA conference

I'm still getting caught up on email, and prepping for Thursday's Scrivener webinar with Lynne Klippel. Plus, company's coming!

But I thought you might enjoy a few pictures from last week's Romance Writers of America National Conference in Anaheim. I had an amazing time as always. Here's a sneak peek. And don't worry, I'll have more to share over the next few weeks.

2000 friends

Many of the Golden Heart finalists at The Golden Network retreat (yes, that's me down in front)

It’s heady stuff being surrounded by 2000+ people who get you. That’s why I will save up my money each year to attend the RWA National Conference. Not only is everyone in attendance a writer, editor, or agent, but they are largely romance writers, and mostly women.

Nationals is the place where I can be exactly what I am—a romance writer—and feel totally loved, accepted, and encouraged for it. I can turn in any direction and grab a random woman-with-a-badge, and she’ll be able to commiserate with me about the genre’s detractors, the pain of rejection, the agony of revisions, and the heartbreak when the muse has left the building.

And more than that, she’ll likely share any tips she has for how to overcome whatever my issue of the moment is. If I’m nervous about my editor appointment, she’ll probably offer to listen to my pitch or tell me her experience—whether first- or secondhand—with the person I’m meeting.

If I’m feeling insecure about all the rejections, she’ll likely remind me how long today’s bestselling authors chugged away at it before finding an agent or publisher who believed in them.

Hundreds of writers at the annual PRO retreat, 3 hours of information and encouragement.

The sense of community that RWA offers online and at chapter meetings is amplified exponentially at Conference. It's a little slice of time out of “the normal” that's almost unreal.

I come home shell-shocked and frazzled and exhausted, and ready to dig back into my writing, energized by the support, wisdom, and perseverance of my peers. I come home with new friends and improved relationships. I come home having met online friends in person, finally solidifying that spark of common ground that we found on Twitter, an email loop, or on a blog.

Writing—in any genre—is not for the faint of heart. It’s a solitary, lonely business fraught with rejection and hard work. Nationals is where I renew my writerly soul with knowledge, friendship, and motivation.

I realize not everyone can attend. Money, family, and work can get in the way. But romance writer or not, you don’t have to go it alone. Find a local or online group, follow #writing or #amwriting on Twitter. Hang out with me and my friends on this blog. 😉

Everybody needs support. There are no gold stars or A’s for effort, but writing friends will always be happy to talk you up, or down, as needed.

Just try us.

New York state of mind


I'm in the Big Apple this week getting my writing batteries recharged at the annual Romance Writers of America conference. (Sans wifi, so this is my first-ever blog post via iPhone.)

I'll be sure to check in next week with all my tales of fun with the Coast Guard and other adventures.

Until then, have a great week and a fabulous 4th of July!