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Posts tagged with: 2011 finalists

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Robin Perini

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Robin Perini, a double finalist in the Contemporary Series Romance – Suspense/Adventure category for IN HER SIGHTS and STOLEN LULLABY. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!

Seven Golden Hearts – Seven Lessons to Sold!

I’m so honored to have been asked to guest on the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog.  Thanks so much for having the Starcatchers (2011 Golden Heart® Finalists) visit and share their stories, advice and inspiration.  I’m following some amazing women, who will be a tough act to follow.

I thought a lot about what I could possibly say.  Not because I don’t like to talk.  My critique group and friends will tell you that for an introvert, I yammer much too much!  But, you see, during the past eighteen months all my dreams have come true.  After being a Golden Heart Finalist seven…yes—a dubious distinction if ever there was one—seven times, I’ve finally caught my falling star, and now it’s soaring.  These days, there are moments when I am speechless.

How did this happen?  How did I go from seven Golden Heart finals in three different categories to sold?  I’ve looked back and found seven lessons I’ve learned since that very first final in March of 1999 with a vampire romance when vampires were…pun intended…dead.

Lesson 1.  Study the craft…always. This may seem obvious, but life can interfere with writing and learning, as I’m sure many of you know.  Over the last decade I’ve worked full time, gone to school at night for my master’s degree, and survived a serious illness.  The most important thing I’ve done, however, is study the craft of writing and storytelling.  I’ve been lucky enough to teach an amazing online class with author Laura Baker called Discovering Story Magic.  The class required me to analyze other writers’ stories.  One of the best ways to learn is to teach.  I highly recommend developing workshops that require you to understand the craft.  It’s been a blessing to me.  This advice goes hand-in-hand with my second bit of advice.  Never stop learning and growing as a writer.

Lesson 2.  Revision is more important than writing. Somewhere along the way, I figured out that I can write.  But that didn’t get me sold.  It got me a lot of contest wins and finals.  What makes the sale?  In my case, it was revision.  And I’m not talking about change a word here or there, I’m talking about understanding what makes a dramatic story and making the tough choices.  Like cutting out that paragraph—or scene or chapter or character—you love so much, because it simply doesn’t drive the story forward.  Understand your strengths and weaknesses enough to play to your strengths and deal with your weaknesses.  If you can step far enough back from your writing to recognize how to strengthen your story, you will find the path an easier one.

Lesson 3.  You’re not alone. Writing is a solitary career, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.  Develop a support system within your family and friends.  Ask and accept support (which I’m not particularly good at, by the way).  Lastly, give to others, in whatever way you can.  Friendship and relationships are a two-way street.  Sometimes you need the help and sometimes your friends need you.  But let people in.  You’ll be glad you did.

Lesson 4.  Trust yourself. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder how I’ve fooled everyone for so long.  Don’t do it!  Trust your instincts.  Believe in yourself.  Listen to your gut.  I had to learn this lesson the hard way.  I had to really decide who I wanted to be as a writer.  I tried writing numerous books in numerous subgenres.  But I finally discovered the kind of stories I really want to tell.  I love optimistic stories of suspense.  I love heroes and heroines who grow and change and win. I love poignant love stories.  That’s what I do.  Heart-stopping suspense and heart-wrenching romance.  That’s a Robin Perini book.  Know who you are as a writer.  It will help when you doubt yourself.

Lesson 5.  Persistence. One of the reasons this year’s class chose the name Starcatchers is because of the song…”catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, never let it fade away”  Our class is full of writers who have faced the odds, and have come through trials and tribulations.  They inspire me.  They remind me that I can do this.  Our motto could be, “Never give up, never surrender.”  Our song could be Tubthumping – “I get knocked down, and I get up again.”  Don’t get me wrong, there are times I almost quit.  Once I stopped writing for several months, but then I dreamed the stories again.  And I knew.  I am a storyteller.  I am a writer.  Are you?  If you want something badly enough, don’t let the setbacks stop you.  Learn more, grow more, find your path, find yourself.  You’ll be glad you stuck with it.  I know I am.

Lesson 6.  Figure out how to make writing part of your life. One of the changes I made in the last eighteen months is to really look at my priorities. I realized I had to make more choices if I wanted to have a career as a writer.  One very difficult choice was to cut back on teaching writing classes.  I love teaching, I love sharing my passion for the craft of writing, but teaching now comes second to writing.  I also looked at life and determined when I could write so that my production was consistent and predictable.  I chose to write every day.  Weekdays, for ninety minutes before work (even if it means getting up while it’s still dark outside).  I write for at least four hours on weekend days.  This has become routine, and it works for me.  Find out how to make writing part of your life so that when you sell your book, you know that your writing career is integrated into a life where you still have time for the important people in your world.

Lesson 7.  Give it your all. My two grandmothers were huge influences on my life.  One of them told me, after reading my first book, that I had a gift.  Just so you know, this manuscript will never see the light of day, but she believed in me, and I will be forever grateful.  My other grandmother told me that if I wanted to write badly enough, all I had to do was give it all my heart and soul and strength, and I would succeed.  She was right.  Listen to her.

Some might say that being a Starcatcher has been lucky for me.  Perhaps.  To me luck happens when preparedness meets opportunity.

So, yes. I am lucky, because I had two grandmothers, and have a wonderful family and generous friends (as well as a fire-breathing unicorn or two) who taught me how to catch those stars and run with them.

Seven Golden Hearts.  Seven Lessons.  Two Sales.  And counting…

Robin Perini’s love of heart-stopping suspense and poignant romance, coupled with her adoration of high tech weaponry and covert ops, encouraged her secret inner commando to take on the challenge of writing romantic suspense novels.  Robin’s strong characters and tightly woven plots garnered her two Romance Writers of America Golden Heart® finals in 2011.  Her Golden Heart Finalist, In Her Sights, will be one of Amazon’s Montlake Romance’s launch titles on November 29, 2011.  Her Golden Heart Finalist, Stolen Lullaby, will be published by Harlequin Intrigue in May, 2012.  Robin loves to interact with readers.  You can catch her on her website and blog at http://www.robinperini.com or interacting with her via Facebook. (www.facebook.com/RobinPeriniAuthor), Goodreads or Twitter (@RobinPerini).  Her agent is Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Nan Dixon

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Nan Dixon, a finalist in the Contemporary Series Romance category for SAVANNAH SIGHS. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!

Writing and Travel

I’m a writer living in the landlocked Midwest and I had the audacity to set SAVANNAH SIGHS, my 2011 Golden Heart manuscript, in Savannah.  What the heck do I know about this southern gem of a city?

Initially, not much.  When I first drafted SAVANNAH SIGHS, I’d only visited Savannah for a long weekend.

Let me take a step back.  I have 3 sisters – we do not discuss ages – since we are – amazing as it seems – all 39.  (No, my mother did not have quadruplets.)  For the last nineteen years, we have taken a long weekend – a Stevens Women’s Weekend.  Initially with our mother, now just sisters.

One sister acts as the social director and plans the whole trip.  The social director rotates each year.  I’m next up in 2012 and have so many ideas.  What is unique about the planning is the other 3 sisters do not know where we’re going.  The social director gives out clues: temperatures, what clothes to pack, possible sight-seeing items, but never tells us the destination.  (The guessing is part of the fun.)  Even airport staff and TSA cooperate by not letting us see our boarding passes or bag tags.  We never sit in front of the correct gate in the Minneapolis airport.

My turn as Social Director rolled around and I had always wanted to see Savannah.  Then I started researching the area.  Do you know that River Street is paved with flagstones from England?  The stones were ballast on ships coming to the Colonies and then dumped at the Port of Savannah to transport cotton or tobacco back to England.  Our industrious ancestors did not waste those stones.  I used that as a clue for my sisters – “Although we will not be going to England – we will be walking on parts of England.”

We flew into Atlanta.  Driving down to Savannah I caught my first sight of cotton growing.  In Minnesota, I see corn, wheat, soybeans, and cows – not cotton.  We drove into the historic district of Savannah, drove under the live oaks covered with moss, and I fell in love.  Sure, it may take you twice as long to get somewhere in Savannah because all the squares are one way – but what an incredible detour: the flowers, the statues and the people are amazing.

As we wandered Savannah, enjoyed a ghost pub-crawl, kayaked at Tybee Island, ate, and ate, and ate, the seed of a story grew.  What if four sisters owned a B&B in Savannah?  What if the mansion ate money?  What if their mother had named all her daughters after presidents’ wives, and all the rooms in the B&B, too.  Of course, there would be a ghost and a serial-killer cat.  Cooking and baking were a natural.  How would the four sisters find true love?  What trials would they face?  What would rip them apart?  Would all four sisters really want to run a B&B – or would it be a calling for some – and a cross to bear for others?

My love affair with Savannah started with my sisters and then became a romance series.  When I dragged my husband down for more research last spring, he also fell in love.  If you get a chance, I recommend taking the fascinating Bonaventure Cemetery Tour.

What happens when you travel – even just to the mall?  Does the ambiance end up in your stories?  Do you eavesdrop on other people’s conversations?  What’s your favorite book setting and how did you come up with it?

Nan Dixon is a two-time Golden Heart finalist and proud member of the Unsinkables and Starcatchers.  A self-confessed contest junkie, in 2009 she won the Contest Diva award with 18 finals (3 manuscripts) and plans to bring the recently received tiara to nationals. You can find her at www.nandixon.com.

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Aislinn Macnamara

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Aislinn Macnamara, a finalist in the Regency category for A TALE OF TWO SISTERS. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!

TWO Confessions of a Former Fanfic Author

On my website bio, I have referred to writing as my mid-life crisis, and in a sense, it’s true. I haven’t been writing down stories since I was old enough to hold a pen in my hands. Back in high school, I used to run screaming whenever the teacher mentioned creative writing. Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but I did slink down in my seat.

I only started writing about ten years ago, and then it was fanfiction. Yes, fanfiction.

When I first joined the RWA, I kept quiet about my possibly dodgy origins. I was afraid people would look at me funny and back away slowly. Turns out I was wrong. I’m not the only author to come to writing my own characters and settings through fanfiction. In fact, I think fanfic makes for excellent practice.

Fanfiction first taught me I could write. It gave me confidence that I could post my writing in a public venue and not have everyone immediately scream at me to take it down. Not that the comments I got were purely complimentary. Some were harsh, but, like everything else writing-related, that kind of thing is subjective. What one reader hated, another loved. It was a good start to developing the thickened skin I need now to endure less-than-glowing judges’ comments and critiques. I’ll need it again once I’m published, because I know every reviewer isn’t going to love me, either.

Speaking of reviews, comments or reviews are the currency of fanfiction. Fanfic authors can’t, obviously, be paid real money for our writing, since that would infringe on all kinds of copyright laws, so our payment comes in the form of comments readers leave at the end of our chapters. It’s easy to become addicted to these comments, and I fast figured out that the best way to garner myself a few more reviews was to leave every chapter on a cliff-hanger. I didn’t know it at the time, but fanfiction taught me how to write an effective hook.

Fanfiction also showed me I could take on a novel-length project and complete it. The first story I ever set out to write came in at just over 80,000 words according to the word count on fanfiction.net (no, I’m not going to tell you my screen name—good luck finding me). Two others were even more ambitious at 144,000 words and 198,000 words respectively.

I managed to get a little epic there, but at the time, I had no clue what the typical word count of your average paperback was. It’s probably also an indication that fanfic most definitely ingrained me with some bad habits. It clearly didn’t teach me to write tight or how to avoid passive language. If there’s a reason I’m not giving you my screen name, that would be it—I look back on those early efforts and cringe a little.

We all have to start somewhere, though. My efforts just happened to be somewhat public. But on the upside, when it comes to pitching to an agent on a blog or some other public forum, the idea doesn’t intimidate me at all. It’s not that much scarier to me than updating my fic.

And if, some day, I’m well enough known that I come across some fanfic author slashing my heroes, I already know how I’ll handle it. I can hardly protest, since my own writing roots are similar. The most I can say is, “Rock on with your bad self.”

Aislinn Macnamara is a first-time Golden Heart® finalist for her Regency A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, which has recently sold to Ballantine Bantam Dell. Somehow in the course of writing, the story turned into a retelling of Sense and Sensibility, only with love scenes. She loves historical romance in all its forms, but never set out to become a Regency author. Many of her other manuscripts are set during the American Revolution, a period she loves for its adventure, inherent conflict and idealism. In her Regencies, she prefers to explore society and its foibles. After all, what do we live for but to make sport of our neighbours and laugh at them in our turn? You can find Aislinn on her website, like her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Tracy Brogan

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Tracy Brogan, a finalist in the Novel With Strong Romantic Elements category for TOTALLY DODY. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!


Lessons Learned From The Fire-breathing Unicorns

My daughter’s soccer team is called The Fire-breathing Unicorns. They chose this name to represent something strong and graceful – yet menacing – just like them.

Last fall, when the team first started playing together, they were a rag-tag collection of knobby-kneed little girls. Some had never played soccer before, and few, if any, knew the rules. But as the season progressed, they improved. And while watching them develop and grow, I learned some very valuable lessons. Lessons which apply in virtually every pursuit – especially the pursuit of publication.

So, here’s what I’ve learned from The Fire-Breathing Unicorns:

First and foremost, if you fall down, get back up. Immediately. You can’t sit around and wait to see what happens next because if you do, you miss the play. As writers, we know how rejections can knock us to the ground, at least emotionally. But for every time an agent says, “Meh, I just didn’t love it,” you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and send another query. Each time you do, you’ll be a little stronger, a little tougher, and hopefully a little wiser.

If you get hurt, you can cry, but only for a minute – then you get back in the game and everyone will cheer for you. Just like falling down, injuries are bound to happen. Maybe the East German judge said your contest entry made her wince (been there!) or the editor who requested a full manuscript passes because, “although she loves your voice and the story, you sound too much like a current client” (been there, too!) No matter what the cause, this is a tough business, and sometimes we have a good reason to cry. Go ahead. Just don’t wallow in it. Move on to the next contest, the next agent, or the next editor.

Rely on your teammates. No one makes it across the field and past the goal posts without passing to another player once in a while. Although writing is an often solitary endeavor, you need the support of friends, other writers, local writing chapters and critique partners. If you write in a vacuum, you’ll never improve. You need to put your writing out there, listen to feedback and use what’s helpful. Sometimes your team might say things you disagree with, and that’s okay. Ultimately it’s up to you to write your story the way you think it should be, but surround yourself with people who are genuinely interested in seeing you win. Then share the victory with them.

Keep chasing the ball! Don’t just kick it and stand still. Follow through and run with it all the way to the goal. In the last few years, I’ve met countless unpublished, un-agented writers who have completed multiple manuscripts. When they finish one, they immediately start writing the next, while continuing to search for an agent or editor. Some of these wonderful writers have been RWA Golden Heart® nominees more than once. They know that eventually, they are going to score. And when they do, they’ll have a body of work to offer their publisher. If you finish just one book and then wait to sell it before starting the next, you are wasting precious writing time. Always, always have a current WIP, because as long as you are working on something, you are moving forward toward your goal. And remember, persistence is the difference between published talent and unpublished talent.

Celebrate the effort, if not a victory. Last week, the Fire-breathing Unicorns faced a team of obviously Viking descent. Those girls were so burly our coach nearly asked for a drug test. And they beat my daughter’s team 5-1. But last autumn, they walloped us 9-0. It was brutal. So this time around, when our one, wily little FBU slipped through their defenses and scored a goal, the whole team felt victorious. Sometimes we have to adapt our idea of success. Rather than berating yourself for remaining unpublished, or sans an agent, or a RITA®, think of how far you’ve come. Maybe you took the leap into cyber-space and finally started your own blog. Or you finished the manuscript that’s been loitering in your brain since you graduated from college. Or perhaps you’ve started answering, “I’m a writer,” when someone asks what you do. These are tiny, personal victories and elements of success. Remember, writing is not all about winning. It’s about progress.

Be a good sport. Always congratulate the other team. Be happy when someone else succeeds. Chances are they’ve worked just as hard as you, and they would be happy for you if you won. Of course, a little professional jealously is natural. We all covet that award or that spot on the NYT Best-Seller list. But jealousy only makes US suffer. It costs us friendships, contacts, and peace of mind. Never be petty about someone else’s achievements. At the end of your life, you want to be remembered for being gracious, generous, and supportive. Right?

Always believe you can win. If you don’t, you probably won’t. Sure, there might be other writers out there with more experience, a better publicist, a niche market, but the truth is you must believe you’ve got what it takes to accomplish your goals. Because you do. Maybe your talent is raw but if you have the desire to improve your writing, then you will. And always know, deep in your heart, that you deserve to have your wildest dreams come true. Humility is a wonderful attribute, but temper it with confidence and the knowledge that the universe wants you to succeed. (Sorry, is that a little too Oprah for you?)

And finally, enjoy the snacks and have fun. The post-game treat is of paramount importance to The Fire-breathing Unicorns, as I’m sure it is with most kid’s sports teams. And so it should be for us writers! Many of us attend conferences to network, schmooze, and learn. But don’t forget to enjoy the celebration aspect, too. Have a yummy, gooey dessert with old friends. Or relax and chat in the bar with new friends. Soak up the atmosphere, surrounded by others who enjoy what you enjoy – writing. And even if you’re not at a conference, once in a while, put life’s pressures on hold for a few minutes and just BE. Be happy. Think about all you HAVE, rather than all you long for. And if you don’t want your dessert, give it to me.

Tracy Brogan is a first-time RWA Golden Heart® finalist for her novel with strong romantic elements, TOTALLY DODY – a story about two of life’s most common yet intriguing mysteries – falling in love, and crazy relatives. Tracy writes humorous, contemporary women’s fiction about ordinary people finding extraordinary love. She also writes stirring historical fiction full of political intrigue, damsels causing distress, and the occasional man in a kilt. She lives in Michigan with her supportive, if slightly bemused husband, two daughters who wish Mom would get off the computer and make them a grilled cheese sandwich, and a labradoodle who would be a really good dog if only she could understand sarcasm. Please visit her at http://tracybrogan.com/

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Valerie Bowman

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Valerie Bowman, a finalist in the Regency category for SECRETS OF A WEDDING NIGHT. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!

Are You Slacking? Do the Math

Thank you so much for having me, Rubies! I’m so excited to be here and I couldn’t be more proud and honored to be a 2011 Golden Heart® finalist! By day I am a technical writer at a software company in Jacksonville, FL, by night I write fun Regency romps, and in between I am a dog lover, cake aficionada, avid traveler and Hoarders watcher. I’m a member of The Beau Monde Regency chapter of RWA and a former Vice-President of the First Coast Romance Writers.

Now that the intro is out of the way, saddle up. It’s time for some tough love, writing peeps. We’re talking production.

I have 3 questions for you.

#3 is actually the most important, but we’ll start with the first two so you can properly answer #3.

#1. What’s your ultimate writing goal? Do you want a career as a writer? Or do you see your writing as a hobby? Writing for fun is fine, of course, but be clear with yourself on that score. If you’re a career-minded writer, proceed to #2.

#2. How many years have you been writing? Seriously writing? By serious I mean – when did you sit down, crack your knuckles, and vow, ‘I’m gonna do this thing! I’m gonna write a romance novel and pursue publication. For real!’? How many years ago was that day? Remember? Now, keep that number handy, we’re moving on.

#3. Remember, this is most important! How many manuscripts have you completed? Got that? Completed. I’m not asking how many you’ve started, thought about, plotted, entered into contests. How many have you actually finished? Written, in their entirety, from beginning to end? Go ahead, name that number and be honest. Don’t round up. This is for your own good. I promise.

Ok, are you ready? Here comes the tough love. If the number of completed manuscripts isn’t as big or bigger than the number of years you’ve been writing, you are SLACKING. There. I said it. You are slacking. I’m sorry to be the one, but someone had to tell you.

I can hear you. I know what you’re saying. “Valerie Bowman, you don’t know me! You don’t know how freakin’ busy I am. How crazy my life has been.”

“Sorry,” I reply. “No excuses.” I’m shaking my head, but looking sympathetic. Trust me.

You’re sputtering now. I know. You’re drawing up your shoulders tight. You’re looking down your nose at me (which, trust me, isn’t difficult, I’m 5’2). “Valerie Bowman, you tyrant! You’re going to feel bad when you learn I have a very demanding full-time job, two kids, and a pushy dog.”

Believe me, I know. Life is hard. Bad stuff happens. We’re busy. But none of that changes the reality. If you can’t produce one new, complete story a year as a wannabe, you need to pick up the pace. Odds are, even as a full-time writer, you’re not going to pay your mortgage with one book a year or even two. Not at first.

Your hands are on your hips now. Perhaps akimbo. “But I’m learning,” you argue. “I’ve been rewriting my original manuscript for the last three years because I’ve gotten so much feedback on it. Good feedback. My CPs love the hook. And it’s even been a finalist in contests! So there!”

I’m shrugging now. And nodding. “Good for you,” I reply. “But do yourself a favor. Put that manuscript down. Back away. Write another story.” You need to do it. And you need to do it every single year. And you need to get better and faster. Yes! At the same time.

“How do you know?” you ask. Well, I’m not an authority. I’m simply telling you how the pros do it, but here are some pebbles from my writing path.

  • The manuscript that landed me my agent was not the first one I queried her with. The first one earned me a standard form rejection letter.
  • The manuscript I love the best has never made me a finalist in any contest and my agent didn’t even submit it. I still love it the best, but it’s sitting on my hard drive.
  • I’ve entered every manuscript I’ve ever written into the Golden Heart contest. Some of them more than once. #4 finally made me a finalist.
  • June 3 (yes, I remember the day) was my four-year anniversary of seriously writing romance. I am currently writing manuscript #5.

And here are some stats from the 2011 Golden Heart® finalists:

  • Of 33 respondents, 24 of us became finalists with something other than our first manuscript.
  • Over half didn’t become finalists with our first OR second manuscript.
  • Over one-third became finalists with our 4th or higher manuscript.
  • Two became finalists with their 10th or higher manuscript.

Convinced yet that production matters?

All right. All right. You got the message and I will stop. The tough love is over and I hope I’ve given you something to think about. Hard.

Now for the good news! You can turn things around. If your numbers aren’t where they should be, write more, write faster, pay attention to your production. Make it a priority. Declare today as the first day you really started taking your output seriously. You can turn it around. Remember, writing just one page a day will result in an entire book in a year. That isn’t so difficult, is it?

Now. Go write! (Ok, maybe take that pushy dog out first really quick. Then, write!)

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Kimberly Kincaid

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Kimberly Kincaid, a finalist in the Contemporary Single Title category for THE MOMENT OF IMPOSSIBLE MOVEMENT. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!

Writing Unattended

When I was a kid, the community pool was within walking distance of our house. The only problem was, it was on the other side of a fairly busy street. You know what my mom’s solution to this little problem was?

Take your sister, she said. There’s safety in numbers.

Fast-forward seventeen years to the day I spent in a fancy bridal salon, trying on every fluffy confection imaginable while on my quest for The Dress. Did I go alone? You bet not!

I took my bridesmaids. There’s safety in numbers.

More fast-forwarding (but I won’t say how much) to the day I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a published romance author. I outlined and researched, I toiled and I typed, I labored over a manuscript the way most people labor over a set of nine-pound twins. Was I crazy enough to do this alone?

Heck, no. I have critique partners. All together now— there’s safety in numbers.

Finding the right CP (or CPs) is a bit like choosing a best friend, a drill sergeant and a psychiatrist all rolled into one. You have to mesh on a bunch of different levels in order for the relationship to work. Let’s be honest, asking another writer what she thinks of your manuscript is akin to asking your significant other if your butt looks big in those pants. You might get an answer you don’t want. The trick with a good CP is that she knows how to sing the praises of the good news *and* break the bad news to you in a way that makes you want to be a better writer (and not pick up the Ben and Jerry’s).

So how to find that special someone who will encourage you to make your rough work better (and your better work the best)? For starters, it doesn’t hurt to ask. Chat up fellow writers at local chapter meetings, or do some online searches for local chapter critique groups (many RWA local chapters have these). Remember, you don’t necessarily have to write the same sub-genre for your partnership to be successful— of the three members in my group, one of us writes historicals, another humorous women’s fiction, and then there’s me (writing single-title contemporary). The key isn’t to find someone just like you, it’s to find someone with whom you click, someone who you can share ideas with and get honest, useful feedback.

Once you find a potential candidate, how do you know things will work? Well, the short answer is that, until you try, you really don’t. Starting slow to get used to each other’s styles is usually a good idea. It’s hard to effectively critique someone’s work when you’re still getting to know her writing, and it’s equally hard to really hear someone’s advice when you’re getting used to her as a CP. Trade a chapter at a time to start, and then move into whatever works best for you. I’d like to add here that working out your basic expectations from the start is a good idea. If you’re looking for intense, in-depth critiques, then your best partner probably isn’t going to be someone whose schedule won’t allow for that. Just like any other relationship, effective communication is the key to making a good critique partnership work.

I’ll confess that I lucked into my critique group mostly by incredible fortune (for those of you who glossed over the part where I wrote about chatting people up, take note! I randomly struck up a conversation with one of my CPs last year at Nationals, and I’m not kidding when I say that now— a mere 11 months later— I could not write without her or my other CP). Writing can be an extremely isolated endeavor, and sometimes we’re so close to our work that we can’t see the forest for the trees. There have been more times than I can count where something elusive has bothered me (read: driven me utterly batty) about a manuscript, and inevitably, one or both of my CPs will be able to nail the problem instantly. They’re not just my CPs, they’re my literary sisterhood, doing everything from helping me sort out train-wreckish outlines to squealing with glee at agent offers. So here’s to you, Tracy Brogan and Alyssa Alexander! Because of you ladies, I wouldn’t even consider writing unattended.

After all, there’s safety in numbers.

What about you? Who pushes you to write? How did you find that person? How has your relationship changed over time?

*     *     *

Kimberly Kincaid wears many hats, including those of yoga instructor, rabid foodie, total book junkie and happily frazzled wife and mom of three girls. She writes single-title contemporary romance novels that split the difference between sexy and sweet. Kimberly lives in northern Virginia, where she is currently working on a multi-book series of foodie romances set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Find her on the web at www.kimberlykincaid.com, Facebook at www.facebook.com/kimberly.kincaid1 and Twitter @KimberlyKincaid

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Erin Kelly

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Erin Kelly, a finalist in the Regency category for MORE THAN A STRANGER. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!

My, oh my, how things have changed in a year.  Last January, when I finally typed “The End” on the last page of my very first manuscript, I ran around the house screaming with joy, completely uncaring of the fact that it was two o’clock in the morning. Lucky, my west coast sister was awake and, through the miracle of iChat, we laughed and screamed together like ten year old girls at a Justin Bieber concert.

I vaguely remember a cow bell being involved, though I have no idea where her husband found one.  My own husband staggered out to give me a sleepy congratulatory hug before retreating back to bed.

I could hardly believe it.  I had finished a novel! I mean, that was half my bucket list right there!  Visions of Kate Winslet perched on the front of the Titanic flitted through my mind.  I was queen of the world!  I was a rock star. No, even better—I was a writer. [Cue Rocky music]

But the celebration only lasted so long. Before I even opened my eyes the next morning, two words echoed in my mind, effectively neutralizing my giddiness of the night before.

Now what?

I mean, I knew the moment my perfect gem of a novel (I know you’re jealous that the first draft of my first story was perfection, but we can’t all be rock stars, you know) graced the desk of the editors at Avon, they would be overnighting that six figure advance, but how did I go about actually getting it in their eager hands?

I’ll pause here and let you wipe away your tears of laughter at my naivety. No, no, take your time. [whistling patiently]

Better?  Good.  So that night, I sat down at my computer and began Googling.  At some point I stumbled across an interview with Julia Quinn, my favorite author at the time.  She mentioned that she thought every new romance writer should join Romance Writers of America (RWA).  A few clicks later, and I was on the local RWA chapter’s website.  By chance their next meeting was the following day.  Through a rapid fire e-mail exchange with the president, I was soon set up to be an official visitor.

Little did I know how much that meeting would change my life.  I had no idea that on that sunny January day, I would meet the women who would soon become my closest friends, my confidents, and even my critique partners.  The network of support that I have gained since then would have been unthinkable to my former self—the solitary, clueless writer holed up in her house alone day in and day out.

I joined my current online critique group last April, where they very gently broke it to me that my manuscript was full of head-hopping, passive voice, and needless scenes.  After getting over the shock and horror of discovering that my ms maaaay not be so perfect after all, I got to work tearing it apart.  A month later, I entered in my first contest…and finaled!

Through the past year, I have endlessly revised that first draft, written a second story, received enough requests to make me leap for joy, and enough rejections to potty train a puppy with.  I’ve attended conferences, finaled in more contests, cried with frustration, and squealed with delight.  Through it all, I have been blessed to have my ever-expanding circle of writer friends around me, buoying me when I was down, celebrating with me when things were up, and whipping me into shape when I start dragging.

When I signed with the amazing Deidre Knight (The Knight Agency) in January, I felt it was as much a group success as anything.  When that call for the Golden Heart final came, I hardly knew who to tell first since so many had helped to get me there.

I’ve learned in the past sixteen months what the Rubies have known for years—leaning on and supporting our romance writing sisters is second only to . . . well, actually writing.  I’m absolutely convinced that embracing the social side of writing is the key to our success. I’m extremely thankful for finaling in the Golden Heart for many reasons, but one in particular is that it has opened up my world that much more, and I am thrilled at all the new writer friends I have found.

Thanks so much for letting me chat with you all today.  Here’s to many, many more years of shared tears, laughter, triumphs, good news, great books, and, above all, expanding the sisterhood!

Erin will be stopping by throughout the day to respond to comments – please make her feel welcome! You can also find more about her writing life at www.HaveYourCakeAndReadItToo.com.

Meet 2011 Golden Heart Finalist Babette de Jongh

Over the course of the summer, the Ruby-Slippered Sisters are giving the 2011 Golden Heart finalists an opportunity to introduce themselves and share a bit about their writing life. Today’s guest is Babette de Jongh, a finalist in the paranormal category for DREAMING OF YOU. Please join us in congratulating her and welcoming her to the blog!

I started writing about fifteen years ago, when I’d read several disappointing books in a row.  I thought to myself, “I can do better than that!”  Well, of course, I couldn’t, but I didn’t know that, so I hauled off and wrote a book.  THEN I attended my first local RWA chapter meeting.  Surrounded by the generosity and support of other writers, I learned ever-so-gently that I had a long way to go before I’d be capable of writing something anyone other than my mother would want to read.

Introducing the 2011 Golden Heart Finalists!

On March 25, sixty-five women each got the magic call — someone from RWA (whose name was often forgotten in the midst of overwhelming euphoria) rang each one up and told her that she was a Golden Heart finalist. For many, this is their first Golden Heart final; others have finaled before, including an amazing ten members of the 2009 Ruby Slippered Sisterhood!

This year’s Golden Heart finalists are now deep in the usual frenzy of submissions, agent and editor requests, revisions and rewrites. The group has already cheered each other on through agent offers, commiserated over rejections, and shared tips for finding the perfect awards ceremony dress. Now, with only two months to go before the RWA conference in New York, the Rubies want to spend a day getting to know the 2011 group. You’ll hear more from some of them as they guest blog over the next few months, but here’s an intro.

Top 5 Reasons a AYUGHF Needs a Promotion Plan

Congratulations! You’re an As Yet Unpublished Golden Heart Finalist! What are you going to do now? (Please don’t say “Go to Disney World” That was so last year!) 😀 My hope is that “Develop and Implement a Promotion Plan” is at least on your top ten list of things to do before RWA National, right up there with “Find the Perfect Dress” and “Book a Flight”.

This month, I’m going to do a three-part “Top Five” series on Promotion. Today, I’m going to give you the top five reasons you need to have a promotion plan. Mid month, I’ll talk about the Top Five things that should be in that promotion plan and how to implement it, and then late in the month we’ll talk about the Top Five things you should consider for your website.

So, without further ado, I give you the Top Five Reasons You Should Have a Promotion Plan Now.

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  • Darynda Jones: What a great interview! Thanks for taking the time, guys. This is so informative and timely. I love...
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