Monday, May 30, 2005

The Joy of Meeting a Quota

I'm 27 pages into my new WIP after three days of writing. I met my quota for today (check here for my Excel Spreadsheet Writing Plan explanation) and I'm starting to get comfortable in the skin of the story, if that makes sense. I'm learning all sorts of interesting things about the characters, even though I had already done a lot of backstory character work before I started writing. It's not been as easy as my last manuscript, Wild Card, which flowed from my fingers like magic, but it's moving at a decent clip, and I have a fairly clear idea where I'm going for the next few chapters, at least.

I've finished chapter one--do I dare try entering it in a contest before I'm a whole lot closer to the finish line? I've been burned that way before--got a request for a full that I wasn't able to deliver for over year.

Maybe I can shoot for something with a mid-July postmark date. I'm going to try to have the first draft finished by then.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Memory Garden

For most of my life, my father kept a garden. Though we lived inside the Birmingham, Alabama, city limits, my country born and bred father found a way to set aside a little room in the back yard for his beloved vegetable garden. He'd till a little patch about twenty feet long by six feet wide, planting two or three rows of his favorite vegetables. Always tomatoes. Usually yellow crook-neck summer squash and sweet banana peppers. Sometimes he'd set up bean poles and we'd have fresh green beans. We tried zucchini for a year or two until we realized we'd never be able to eat as much zucchini as the plants produced. And there was what I call The Year of the Turnip Greens. I didn't eat turnip greens again for nearly a decade.

But the tomatoes were his true love. His favorites were the firm, sweet Atkinsons and the Better Boys, but from time to time he'd get adventurous and we'd have Romas or Tommy Toes. We ate them fresh and warm from the garden, sliced and salted between two pieces of bread smeared with mayonnaise. To this day, there's nothing that tastes better to me than a homegrown tomato sandwich.

About twelve years ago, my father had a debilitating stroke. Though he regained his speech and his ability to walk, his right hand ended up curled into a mostly-useless claw, and his balance was off. But he still managed to grow his garden every year, with my mother's help, right up until the last year of his life, when my parents moved out of the city to a suburb north of town. The new house had a huge back yard and plenty of sunshine--the ideal place for a new garden. Ironic that my father was too weak by that time to be able to take advantage of the larger space.

I moved out of my rental house, which I hated, to move in with my parents. Combining our incomes helped make the move financially viable for all of us, and I liked being with my parents as they were getting older. Sadly, a little over three months after we moved, my father had another massive stroke. A week later, he died in the hospital while my mother held his hand.

Not long after my father died, I was cleaning out the refrigerator and freezer when I came across a small box in the freezer. When I opened it, I found dozens of vegetable seeds, some store-bought and others saved from plants my father grew himself. On one small envelope, in my father's spiky scrawl, were the words: "Atkinson Tomato Seeds—guard at all costs." Tears filling my eyes, I turned to my mother and told her, "I can't throw these out." She agreed, and the box of seeds went back into the freezer.

A couple of weeks ago, I got it into my head that I wanted to start a potted garden on the back deck. The deck gets plenty of sun and we could attach long boxes to the wood rails and plant herbs in them, and put large pots along the edge of the deck for some tomato plants. Now we have a lovely herb garden and large, thriving tomatoes on our back deck. Excited about my horticultural success, I decided to start some plants from seed, which also quickly began to thrive. Heady with green-thumb power, I started thinking about what other kinds of vegetables we could grow in a potted garden.

Then this morning, as I was getting ice from the freezer, I spotted the box of seed packets. And in those packets were all sorts of vegetable seeds--summer squash, eggplant, spinach, and my father's precious Atkinson tomatoes, among others. All the seeds I need to create a special sort of memory garden in honor of my father. It was as if my father was telling me, "It's time to let these go. To use them how I would have wanted."

Will the seeds still be viable after over a decade, in some cases, in the freezer? I have no idea. But in honor of my father, this week, I'm going to find out.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

How WILD CARD Came Into the World

As promised, here's installment four of "How did Paula get her ideas?"

WILD CARD was one of those rare, amazing stories that wrote itself. Seriously. From the first germ of an idea to the working synopsis took about four days. From working synopsis to first draft took eight weeks, two of which included no writing whatsoever, thanks to the presidential election of 2004. (I'm a bit of a political junkie). And when I sat down to revise and polish for the editor who asked to see it, I discovered that there wasn't a whole lot I wanted to change about it. Bits and pieces here and there, but overall, I thought it was pretty solid. (We'll see what the editor says).

I'm a little worried that WILD CARD spoiled me. Let's just say my other three manuscripts weren't quite so easy to give birth to!

Now, for the idea behind it. I had decided around the middle of October that I wanted to write and finish a book by the end of the year because I needed to enter something new in some writing contests. All three of my other books had finaled in contests by that time, and I didn't want to keep sending the same three manuscripts out. During the time I was ruminating about what I wanted to write next, I caught a news segment about a bus crash somewhere out west, I think. The bus had rolled off the interstate and split open, injuring and killing dozens.

The news segment showed the bus; it looked like a watermelon split open, an image that apparently stuck in my head, because as I was driving to work, thinking about that wrecked bus, I thought, "I wonder what it was like to be a survivor of that crash, with bodies spilling out onto the shoulder of the highway around you?" Next I thought, if the bus crashed into a river, with bodies swept out and downstream, a person on the bus could easily fake their death. People would just assume they'd show up sooner or later downriver, and that would give a person a lot of time to get away if they wanted to.

Perfect, said my writer's brain. You could have a woman on the run from something or someone. Maybe she witnessed a crime and the F.B.I. wants her to testify, but she's afraid for her life, so she runs from both the bad guy AND the F.B.I. And she hops the bus to get out of town--a casino bus, up in Atlantic City. Being the gregarious type, she meets a nice boy from Georgia who keeps her company on their way out of New Jersey, telling her his life story. And then the bus crashes, tumbling down the side of hill and into the river below. The woman lives, but her busmate dies--but not before he gives her something to take to his estranged family in Georgia. Yeah!

Look at all the hooks! Fish out of water--a Jersey Girl in smalltown Georgia! She's a woman in jeopardy, and she's hiding her identity! And she meets a sexy Southern lawman who thinks she's hot but doesn't trust her as far as he can throw her! And there's even a ticking clock--how long can hang around the little Georgia town and the hunky southern cop before the men who are after her finally track her down?

I wrote 75 pages in the first six days, skipped a couple of weeks, and wrote 245 more pages over the next five weeks, by far my most prolific performance to date.

To paraphrase Dionne Warwick, I know I'll never write this way again. ::sigh::

RWA Rocks!

If you're a romance writer, you should be a member of RWA. There's just not a more supportive and informative professional writing organization around, IMO. The Romance Writers Report (RWR) that members receive monthly is chock full of writing goodness for aspiring authors, from innovative ways to hone your craft to how to find time and motivation to write when the world is falling down around you. You get in-depth editor and agent interviews, writer profiles, and up-to-date information about romance publishing houses and what they're seeking.

And if you're a member of RWA and there's a local chapter nearby, join it. My local chapter, Southern Magic, is amazing. We have over a dozen published authors, several PRO authors and quite a few contest divas, including brand new Warner author Kelley St. John. Today at the meeting, Kelley and her two partners in crime, American Title winner Janice Lynn and GET BUNNY LOVE author Kathleen Long, gave a wonderful workshop on using hooks in your writing. Titled "I'm a Hooker, She's a Hooker, Wouldn't You Like to be a Hooker, Too?", the workshop addresses how to find your hooks—the story elements that keep readers reading—to get an editor to read and love your work. If they offer it at a workshop in your area, go. You'll enjoy it. And three nicer women you'll never meet.

After a week of waffling over what I wanted to write next, now that all my other manuscripts are with editors, something they discussed today at the workshop sparked the perfect idea for a new manuscript. I can't wait to start!

If you live in the Alabama area--and that includes Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida, bookmark this page: Southern Magic Romance Writers. We have some programs coming up in the next few months that will be worth making a two or three hour drive to attend.

And if you're an unpublished writer with a manuscript you want to put in front of editors or agents, be sure to keep an eye out for the first annual Linda Howard Award of Excellence for Unpublished Writers, coming up at the beginning of 2006!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Blog Illiteracy

Oops, someone told me I had my comments limited to people on Blogger only. I certainly didn't intend to do that. I've changed the settings so that everyone should be able to post comments.

Don't everybody rush to comment at once! ;)


Y'all are going to have to forgive me a bit on this one. I started WHAT THE HEART SEES about ten years ago, so I'm not 100% sure what gave me the idea. I can tell you, generally, what I was thinking about as I developed the plot.

I'm the sort of person who would like to believe in the paranormal. I've just never experienced it (with one small exception, which I'll get to at the end of this post). However, I find the notion of being able to "see" things other people can't--the future, what's going on in other parts of the world, what happened in the past--fascinating and a little scary. I mean--would you really like to know when someone's going to die? Or that your husband is cheating on you? It seems like one of those "gifts" that could just as easily be a curse.

I wanted to come up with a trilogy, and I thought three sisters with special "gifts" that could also be curses would be interesting. Lily's story was the first of the three. Rose's story my screenwriting partner Jenn and I turned into a romantic suspense screenplay, but we never got completely happy with it. It's plotted out, though, which means I have the outline for book two if book one ever sells. Iris' story, however...not a clue. :)

Now, about my one paranormal experience....My widowed mother and my divorced sister and her two children live with me. Her ex-husband's 9 month old baby also stays with us sometimes because he and his current wife work early morning shifts at McDonalds, and they can't afford child care. (Yes, we're saps. Yes, it's veering into Maury Povich Show territory. But the baby needs us, and we're in a position to do this for the child, so we do).

Anyway, back to the story. One early morning, around 4:00 am, I woke up and had to go to the bathroom. As I was entering the bathroom, I heard voices in soft conversation. I didn't think much of it, since the baby sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night, which gets both my mother and my sister up. It's not unusual for them to both be up and talking softly as they deal with getting the baby back to sleep. The only thing I remember thinking was, I'm glad they're up, because my sinuses are hurting, and maybe my sister knows where there's some saline nasal spray. (I know, TMI).

So I finish my business in the bathroom and come out. The voices have stopped, so I assume my mother's gone back to bed. However, it was a matter of maybe thirty seconds since I'd last heard the voices, so I figured she'd be awake and I could ask her about the saline solution. But Mom was dead asleep. The dogs who sleep with her were both dead asleep, too. Okay, my mom can fall asleep faster than anyone I know, but thirty seconds? And the dogs asleep, too?

So now, I'm a little weirded out. I go into my sister's room to see what's going on. And my sister, her younger daughter (who still sleeps with Mommy) and the baby are all sound asleep. In fact, my sister is wearing her CPAP mask (she has apnea). Nobody in that room was doing any talking. I even check her older daughter's room to see if she has the radio on. Nope. She's asleep, no radio is on. No television is on. Nothing is making noise but me.

Now, I'm a skeptic by nature--but I've checked with everyone in the house, and nobody was awake at 4:00 am but me. Nobody had a radio or television on. I have no logical explanation for what I heard that night, and I've looked for logical explanations. The fact that my mother has had a similar experience in that house only exacerbates my sense that I experienced something that is, by definition, paranormal.

Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


Believe it or not, I got the idea to write CODE NAME: WILLOW from the Tom Clancy book EXECUTIVE ORDERS, specifically some of the "at home" scenes with Jack Ryan and his family at the White House. There was mention of a Secret Service agent assigned to one of Jack's children helping the child with homework. That sparked a thought in my mind: what if the agent was young--late twenties, maybe, and the president's fourteen year old daughter was his charge? And ten or fifteen years down the line, they met again, when the president's daughter needed help protecting another child?

From there, the book morphed quite a bit. My critique buddy, Jenn, suggested that the age difference between the characters might be offputting, and also that their friendly, almost father-child relationship in the past would make a romance in the present hard to swallow. Since these were elements that bothered me as well, I went with her suggestion that Maggie, the main character, be older when she meets Jack, and their relationship considerably more contentious.

Since these changes solved some of my problems and dovetailed perfectly with other elements of the story, I took her advice. It was a rough road, writing this book. A lot of research went into it, a lot of hair-pulling and teeth-gnashing as I sorted out the backstory to give more oomph to the present-day story. I also had to write a heroine with a troubled, scandal-prone past that was completely alien to my own very quiet, conservative, scandal-free history (unless you count the time I got in trouble for staying out til two a.m. discussing religion with a platonic male friend--and my sister. Woo, I was a baaaaad girl!)

Anyway, I hope one day you get the chance to read CODE NAME: WILLOW and see if you think I succeeded.


Form Rejection Letters Suck

Just thought it needed saying.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

What I'm Reading, Redux

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was reading WEDNESDAY'S CHILD by Gayle Wilson. It was excellent--I recommend it highly. I also just finished reading DEPTH PERCEPTION by Linda Castillo, whose writing first caught my eye when I was reading her Silhouette Intimate Moments novels. DEPTH PERCEPTION is dense (in a good way) and intense (in an even better way). When I get the chance, I'm going to pick up some of her other single titles.

Keeping in mind that my tastes run to romantic suspense, anybody else have any book (or author) recommendations?

(Working Title)

I hate titling books. Everything I come up with has either already been used, sounds stupid, or has nothing to do with what my manuscript is actually about. Each of my manuscripts has gone through at least two different titles. CODE NAME: WILLOW was originally WILLOW AND THE FALCON. WHAT THE HEART SEES was originally DOOR TO FOREVER. WILD CARD was originally OUT OF LUCK. And poor CRYBABY FALLS started out life as FATAL FLAW.

The genesis of CRYBABY FALLS as a title was kind of interesting. I was doing some just for the fun of it web browsing at Paranormal Research sites (I want to believe in ghosts, even if I don't) and kept coming across places called "Crybaby Bridge" and "Crybaby Hollow" and the like. I remember thinking that CRYBABY (SOMETHING) would be a great title for a book, especially one in the rural south. I filed the idea away until I pulled out FATAL FLAW to look at revising it as a single title. I'd never been happy with that title, so when I was considering changing the name, I thought, "How about CRYBABY FALLS?" Just one problem: there wasn't a Crybaby Falls—or any kind of falls—in the book. But the first murder victim did end up in a river, so it wasn't that hard to stick a waterfall into the mix. Then I used Crybaby Falls as a sort of metaphor for a time and place in every life where something unexpected and devastating occurs, knocking the ground out from under you and challenging you to survive against tremendous odds.

Another small factoid about CRYBABY FALLS: I got the idea for the book from the Richard Marx song, "Hazard," specifically the lines "I swear, I left her by the river...I swear, I left her safe and sound..." If some kind editor will buy my manuscript, maybe you'll get to find out why that makes sense.

Hey, maybe I've found a blog topic for the next few days—sharing what gave me the ideas for each of my four complete manuscripts! Next up: CODE NAME: WILLOW.

WILD CARD Happenings

Well, the full of WILD CARD is off to the editor at Silhouette. And finally some good news on the agent front: an agent who was at the Washington Romance Writers' retreat over the past weekend got to see the awards ceremony for the Marlenes, heard my name and recognized it from the query I sent her, and ended up sending me an e-mail on Tuesday requesting the full. I don't know if the contest win spurred her to pull my manuscript out of her slushpile or not, but whatever happened, I'm about to send WILD CARD to an agent. Whee!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Good News, Bad News

Third first place showing for WILD CARD, this time in the Marlene contest. Plus I got an editor request out of it. That's the good news.

The bad news is, I just finished reading over some recent posts on Suzanne McMinn's blog, and I'm totally depressed at my inability to blog well. I admit it--I'm a blogger wannabe. I can't seem to come up with enough interesting things to write about to sustain a blog. I post at best every week or so--forget everyday; ain't gonna happen, apparently.

Maybe I just don't have enough going on in my life to keep a blog alive. No, that can't be it--I'm busy as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.

Maybe I'm just too much of an introvert (INTJ on the Myers-Brigg test) to spill my guts to the masses (okay, masses is a gross overstatement) of readers who check out my blog periodically to see if I'm still alive.

But I really am going to try to do better. I'm going to try to be witty and interesting and lively and all the things I imagine I am when I'm alone in my car driving home, rehashing all the lively, witty and interesting things I WOULD have said that day if I'd been able to think of them in time.

Really. I am.

Friday, May 13, 2005

A Little More Book News

Crybaby Falls is now officially out the door. Yay!

I'm using this weekend to do some reading. I'm currently reading Wednesday's Child by Gayle Wilson, who's a chapter mate in Southern Magic Romance Writers, my local RWA chapter. I'm about 95 pages in, and so far, it's typical Gayle Wilson--beautiful writing, compelling suspense and great characters.

If you've never read anything by Gayle, run, don't walk, to or one of the online bookstores and order whatever you can find. I'm partial to her Harlequin Intrigues because I'm a contemporary romantic suspense kind of girl, but I also enjoy her historicals, which is saying something, since I don't usually read historicals.

After my reading weekend, it's nose to the grindstone on my new WIP. I'm giving myself until the end of May to get my characters worked out and my working synopsis done, then I'm going to try to write the first draft by July 2nd. Ambitious, I know, but I want to see if I can do it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Book and contest news

Just received word that Wild Card made it to the final round of the Rebecca contest. I'm hoping one of these finals will garner me a request for a full; I do so hate querying!

Also, I sent the requested revisions of Code Name: WILLOW to the editor yesterday, and the full of Crybaby Falls goes to another editor tomorrow. That clears all the requested material off my desk. I have minor changes to make to Wild Card before it's ready to send, mostly because I've come up with a killer idea for a sequel, featuring the heroine's sister, that requires a slight change in the heroine's backstory.

Then I get to start on the new book idea. I'm very excited about it for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it has echoes of a great Hitchcock movie I love, Notorious. And also, it's going to be the first book I've ever set outside the south. I've had two heroines who weren't southern girls (Maggie in Code Name: WILLOW and Carly in Wild Card), but this is the first time I've tried to set a whole book in Yankeeland. ;) Fortunately, my best friend Jenn lives in southern New Jersey, which is where the soon to be WIP is set, and she's promised to give me all the local flavor I can stand.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Little Manuscript That Could

Wild Card has come through again, this time with a final in the Daphne du Maurier contest. Big deal, that; it's a prestigious contest with really tough competition, in a specific subgenre of romance that happens to be where I want to park my happy butt for life--romantic suspense.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Oops, Forgot Some Contest News

Lessee...Code Name: WILLOW just placed second in the 2005 Laurie Contest. I was very pleased, as you might imagine.

Crybaby Falls finaled in the Marlenes, in the Single Title category, and Wild Card finaled in the Long Contemporary category.

As always, remember to visit my website regularly for more updates.

Query City and Some Ruminations

I've been a querying fool over the past few days, sending out agent queries for two of my books. Now comes the fun part--biting my nails (what's left of them, anyway) while waiting for those SASEs to start trickling back in.

But like they say, you can't sell anything if you never send it out.

My revisions of Crybaby Falls and Wild Card are now complete. I'm down to just the requested revisions of Code Name: WILLOW that Susan Litman offered to look at again. I've written one draft of the revisions, but now I'm going to go through the book and make sure I've maximized the emotional punch of every scene and answered all the questions and concerns Susan had about the story. Then, I'm shooting for sending it back to her by the 15th of this month at the latest.

I've learned a few things about myself during these last few busy weeks. First, I can still write. After the struggles I went through just getting Code Name: WILLOW finished last year, and the subsequent struggles to drag it kicking and screaming into shape, I'd begun to wonder if I still had the creativity and the emotional and mental stamina to write fiction anymore. There were definitely times when I wondered if I shouldn't just concentrate on my day job and quit torturing myself with my dreams of being a published writer. I have a decent job that pays a pretty good wage and my family and I are financially in pretty good shape--nothing spectacular, but we're not living hand to mouth, either.

But after a brief respite, and a few false starts at a new project, Wild Card came along. I'm a little afraid it's spoiled me; it came together in a rush, the story almost fully formed within a day or so after the initial idea for the heroine came to me. But it did prove to me that I still have good ideas, that I can still take those ideas and put them together into a story that holds together plotwise and satisfies the emotions. It gave me back my confidence, which is a good thing, because soon after that, I received editor requests for two other books that weren't ready to head out the door just then. I took some of the organizational skills I learned from writing Wild Card in "Book in a Week" style and applied them to my revisions of the two requested books. I'm proud to say that one of the books is already with the editor, and the other one should be ready to go out in a week.

Here are some random lessons I learned from my descent into writer's despair and my journey back to hope:

1) Don't enter an unfinished manuscript in a contest unless you're sure you can finish it in a timely manner. Because as sure as you do, you'll get a request for a full from an editor.

2) If you do get an editor request for an unfinished manuscript, and you know the project is going to take you a while to finish, don't hesitate to write the editor and offer her a different manuscript while you're working on final revisions of the one she requested. Be sure that the manuscript you're offering is suitable for the editor's house and line, but take advantage of the opportunity to keep her thinking about you while you're working on the unfinished project. If an editor asks to see a full from you by way of a contest, she probably thinks enough of your writing to be willing to look at another project from you.

3) When you query an editor with whom you already have a relationship on a new project, try this trick: Instead of sending an SASE, send a self-addressed, stamped postcard with the following typed on it:

Please check one of the following options:

___ Please send me the full manuscript and synopsis of (Your Book's
Name Here).

___ Please send me the first three chapters and full synopsis of
(Your Book's Name Here).

___ I am not interested in seeing (Your Book's Name Here).

I've tried this twice and both times, I've received a request for the full, and pretty quickly.

4) Keep writing. Don't stop. Don't give yourself more than a week's break. Put your butt in the chair, your hands on the keyboard (or the pen and paper) and write. It's who you are. It's what you do. It's your gift. It's your curse.

5) Learn what motivates you to write. For me, it's an Excel spreadsheet with pages per day that I have to finish to reach my goal. I check the spreadsheet every day when I'm working on a project, whether it's a first draft or a revision. It keeps me focused because the work is broken down into doable increments that add up to me meeting my self-imposed deadline. It keeps me going because I can see tangible results of my work, right there on the spreadsheet.

Your motivations may vary. Maybe you reward yourself with a piece of jewelry or a piece of chocolate or a trip to a favorite museum or park when you reach your weekly writing goal. Whatever it is, use what motivates you to keep yourself writing on a daily basis.

6) Ultimately, every writer has to decide for herself whether or not she's got what it takes to keep going. But if you have a dream, and it's within your grasp if you just work at it hard enough, then give yourself permission to go after it. I know other things have to come first--families, marriages, jobs--but there will probably be a time in your life, sooner or later, when those things don't interfere as much with your dream. Until that time, keep the dream alive. There are a lot of successful writers who didn't write their first book until they retired from a job, or their children were grown and on their own, or whatever other obstacle existed earlier in their lives disappeared. You're never too old to follow your dream if you have the talent and the will to pursue it.