RWA Freaking Rocked – Part 1

I have been on a blogging hiatus for the past week (I’m sorry!), but it’s because I traveled to Orlando, Fla., to speak at the 30th annual Romance Writers of America conference at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort.

I took 22 pages of typed notes (yes, I am a freak), so I will definitely be posting lots of installments of “Pointers from the Pros” (like, probably for the next six years!)—and I still have a few from the SWA conference to roll out as well!

It was an amazing five days, though.  Here is a rundown:

WEDNESDAY

  • I missed the “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing (where about 3,600 attendees bought books and got them signed by 500 (yes, you read that right) authors—RWA raised $55,000 for ProLiteracy Worldwide, Orlando’s Adult Literacy League, and the Nashville Adult Literacy Council—all in two hours!) because I had made my travel plans too late in the day (a.k.a. *before* I knew MEG CABOT was going to be there!!!).
  • Thank God for Twitsoms (Twitter soulmates!!!), because mine (Cambria Dillon) not only bought Runaway for me, but she also waited in line and had Ms. Cabot herself sign it—and all before we’d even met IRL (in real life, for all your leet-speak impaired).

Here is my Twitsom (left) getting my book signed by Meg freaking Cabot (right). How lucky am I??

  • Okay, so after I threw my stuff into my room, I hightailed it to meet Cambria in person—pretty much immediately.  We went to dinner with three other super-cool chicas: paranormal romance writer Kaylee Ruddle, debut YA novelist Gwen Hayes (please check out her Web site—it’s beautiful!!), and the newly-agented and fully awesome Leia Rice.
  • Cambria and I classed it up with some Sam Adams, while everyone else drank pink champagne and other equally dainty drinks.  The five of us had a faboo dinner, complete with a free tiramisu and lemon shallot (<—is that that it was, ladies?  I’d never had it before), since there was “a problem” with my order (I believe the problem was that one of our THREE servers forgot to put it in . . . )
  • Then, we went off to karaoke, where I chickened out, like I knew I would.  Still a karaoke virgin.  But at least I got to meet YA author Wendy Toliver (with whom I’ve been exchanging e-mails for the past two years)!  She was awesome, and we all took some pics to commemorate the night.

Wendy & me!

From L-R: Kaylee Ruddle, Leia Rice, Cambria Dillon, me. This was before Kaylee & Leia's *awesome* rendition of "Don't Stop Believin'."

THURSDAY

  • We had a lovely lunch, where, gee—who was it again?  Oh, that’s right—NORA ROBERTS gave the keynote address!  One of the highlights of her speech?  When she said, “You know, people always like to tell me that I had it easier than they do today, because it’s so much harder to get published now.  You know what I say to them?  ‘Bullshit.'”
  • Ms. Roberts’s speech was quite quote-worthy that way, and had I not been scarfing down delicious key lime pie, I might have taken copious amounts of notes.  Alas, I opted for fat.  But I got chills several times, as she talked about her great love for all things RWA and how she met some of her very best, life-long writer friends there.  It made me get the warm fuzzies for my new BFFs, Cambria and Kaylee. 😀

Aw, TWITSOMS!

  • I went to the RWA PRO Retreat pretty much all afternoon, where there was not only an editor panel, an agent panel, and a talk by novelist Stephanie Feagan, but agent and author extraordinaire Donald Maass (or, as I like to call him: The Donald) spoke!  (More to come on all that in “Pointers from the Pros.”)
  • Between the afternoon workshops and dinner, I kind of freaked out for two reasons: 1) MEG CABOT was there—and I saw her in the lobby!!  And I was so afraid I wasn’t going to get to meet her, it was like torture!  2) As you can see, there were people like MEG CABOT and NORA ROBERTS and THE DONALD speaking at this conference . . . and then . . . ME!  So, the weight of just how awesome it was that somehow *I* was going to be speaking on Friday morning started inching up my esophagus, and I felt crazytown with excitement (and, also, nerves).
  • We (and by “we,” I mean Cambria, Kaylee, and I) kept it low key for dinner and ate with some other cool chickadees, including December Gephart and Bria Quinlan—where Bria, Kaylee, and I discussed everything from Buffy to Firefly.  True soul sisters!  Then, we met Romance Diva M.G. Braden for drinks before turning in pretty early.

I ❤ you guys!!!

More to come in Part 2!

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SWA Presenter Spotlight: David L. Robbins

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing* at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference next month.

To gear up for that, I am featuring interviews and spotlights with this year’s presenters.**

Next up is historical fiction author David L. Robbins.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

This born-and-raised Virginian is another lawyer-turned-author success story—although, unlike John Grisham or Steve Berry, Robbins only practiced law for one year.  Actually, even less than that.

Robbins. (Photo by Adam Ewing)

According to his Web site, the College of William and Mary alum quit practicing law two weeks before his one-year anniversary of becoming a lawyer.  His father had stipulated that Robbins would have to pay him back for law school if he quit before one year; however, in a final act of negotiation, Robbins got his father to allow for the equivalent of a two-week vacation.  Well done!

Currently, his fast-paced novels include: Souls to Keep (HarperCollins) as well as War of the Rats, The End of the War, Scorched Earth, Last Citadel, Liberation Road, The Betrayal Game, The Assassins Gallery, and Broken Jewel (all Bantam).  His current work-in-progress is called The Devil’s Waters.

In addition to being an accomplished novelist and Latin classical guitar enthusiast, Robbins is the founder of James River Writers, a writing organization based in Richmond, Va.  He also teaches creative writing at the College of William and Mary—his alma mater—and will be this year’s Advanced Fiction instructor at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference.

THE INTERVIEW

Although Robbins and I were unable to coordinate our schedules for an interview, here is an excerpt from an interview he did for James River Writers, which may offer a bit of insight in terms of what Robbins will be highlighting in Advanced Fiction at SWA in June.

JRW:You mentioned at your book release event that although you are adamant about not using back story, you did this anyway. When is it necessary for an established writer to break the rules and what caused you to do it here?


DLR: I’m adamant about pacing. Back story, dream sequences, narration, flashbacks, all of these and more are devices which exist on a plane not concomitant with the story itself. While the reader is ensconced in them, nothing happens to the characters in real time. No jeopardy, no progress, no action. No pace. So I recoil—usually. In Broken Jewel, I used a lengthy recollection—and I believe it is some of the most beautiful prose in the novel, to be honest—to express a father’s checkered history with his son. The entire passage is a bad idea that worked. This demonstrates that there are no rules in art, only default settings. It is necessary simply for a writer to have a working knowledge of the “rules,” so when they are broken, this is done with control and intent. I did it on purpose. That’s my only explanation.

JRW: When writing historical fiction, how do you keep history from controlling the plot so that the protagonist can do his or her job which is to instigate the action rather than react to events?

DLR: Design active protagonists instead of victims. Immature writers often rely on plots where their characters are buffeted by events, villains, heartless nature, or bad mojo. The key is to write a tale from the perspective of main characters who drive the action, not merely survive it. Do this, and you’ll never have the problem of a character being overwhelmed by history. In fact, if you’re clever, you can even invent characters who actually explain some bits of heretofore veiled history. So that’s how it happened! See?

For more information about Robbins, please visit his Web site.

THE PLUG

Join us at the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June in beautiful St. Simons Island, Ga.  For the 4-1-1, please see their registration page as well as my post.  Reserve your spot today!

*To learn about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

**For more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Author & Lit Agent Katharine Sands

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing* at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring interviews and spotlights with this year’s presenters.**

Next up is author and literary agent Katharine Sands.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Each year, the Southeastern Writers Association conference hosts one agent in residence; this year, Katharine Sands of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency will hold that spot.

Sands

As an agent, Sands represents authors in a variety of areas, including: literary and commercial fiction as well as nonfiction projects dealing with food/lifestyle, self-help, cooking, travel, spirituality, pop culture, film/entertainment, humor and home/design.

In addition to taking on and working with clients, Sands wrote Making the Perfect Pitch: Advice from 45 Top Book Agents (Kalmbach), which compiles pitching advice from several of the industry’s top agents.

At the conference in June, Sands will be teaching a class called “Pitchcraft . . . and Querial Killers: How Not to Get an Agent, Even If You Are a Talented Writer.” As well, she will hear pitches in one-on-one sessions and work with writers in group critique classes during the latter half of the program.

THE INTERVIEW

One of last year’s SWA presenters, editor Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Books, posted a great interview with Sands on his Guide to Literary Agents blog.

Here is an excerpt:

GLA: Speaking of meeting writers at conferences, what do you think is the most common mistake writers make when they give a short in-person pitch to an agent?

KS: One of the things I believe people do wrong is to speak to agents as they would a tax professional or lawyer – somebody for hire who is there to listen to their process and backstory and get involved with their case in that way. Agents are listening in for a reason to be interested, first and foremost, and they’re not going to be interested in the writer’s (process), the word count, what is impeding, or why the writer doesn’t want to do extra work.

See the full interview here.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—you only have until April 1 to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

*To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

**For more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Conference Corner: Southeastern Writers Association

Interested in writing?  Want to come see me?  I’ve got just to conference for you: the Southeastern Writers Association conference.

THE 4-1-1

The 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference will be held June 20-24 in scenic St. Simons Island, Ga.

The full conference fee is $395, and it includes:

  • Up to three manuscript evaluations
  • One-on-one critiques with instructors
  • Entry into up to 15 contests (in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, inspiration, humor, romance, juvenile writing—children’s through young adult—science fiction and fantasy)—cash prizes for winners!
  • Access to all workshops, evening speeches, and open mic night
  • A one-year membership to SWA

WHY YOU NEED TO REGISTER NOW

While registration is open until the conference takes place, you’ve got just one more week to take advantage of the manuscript evaluations and contest entries—the deadline is April 1.

WHY SWA?

Held at the beautiful Epworth by the Sea in St. Simons Island, Ga., SWA’s annual conference is the perfect place to soak up some rays along with some writing knowledge from seasoned professionals.

As well, at $395 for a four-day conference, SWA is a steal.  Check around; most other conferences and writers’ retreats charge extra for manuscript critiques and contests.

ADDED BONUS

Did I mention I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing?  Come heckle me!**  To learn more about my workshop, click here.

Go easy on me!

I LIKE YOU AND EVERYTHING, BUT WHO ELSE WILL BE THERE?

This year’s presenters include:

To learn more about these presenters, click here or click on the presenters’ names above to see my interview series featuring several of them.

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.

Again, you must be registered by April 1 in order to gain full access to all this conference has to offer, so reserve your spot today!

**Actually, while I would love to see you, I’d rather you didn’t heckle me!

SWA Presenter Spotlight: Berta Platas

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is romance author Berta Platas.

ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Havana-born Berta Platas writes what she refers to as “fun, sexy romance.”

The martini-loving mother of four is the author of several chica-lit novels, including To Catch a Dream, All of Me, Miami Heat, Livewire, Cinderella Lopez and her latest, Lucky Chica.  She has also co-authored a few titles, including Names I Call My Sister, Friday Night Chicas: Sexy Stories from La Noche and Blessings of Mossy Creek as well as published essays in Everything I Needed to Know about Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume and Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray and Drunken Uncles.

Every month on her blog, Straight Up and a Little Dirty, Platas hosts a contest, where she awards a $10 Amazon gift certificate.  Please visit her Web site for more details on how to win.

THE INTERVIEW

RS:  How did you get into writing?

BP: I think I decided to write a book in the same way many authors do.  I read a book which had an unsatisfactory ending, and kept thinking of different and better ways it could have been concluded.  Finally, one of the options spawned an idea for an entirely different book. I pitched the idea to my husband, who was also a writer, and he encouraged me to write it myself.

RS: What keeps you writing?

BP: Right now, nothing motivates me more than a contract and a deadline. I’m the world’s worst procrastinator; however, if I didn’t have a contract, I think I would still write, just much more slowly. Writing is like a chronic condition, and one for which I seek no cure.

RS: What do you do when you’re not writing?

BP: I love to spend time with my family, help my husband build an HO-scale railroad empire in the basement and watch television. I try to stay away from the TV because it’s so darned addictive, and it really bites into my writing time.

I also enjoy building period costumes, with a particular love for the late eighteenth century and mid-to-late- nineteenth century, and love to make miniature room boxes—little stage sets in one inch scale.

I used to plunge into these hobbies after finishing a book, but now I have back to back commitments and don’t have the time.

Perhaps these 19th century shoes would fit Platas's fancy.

RS: What draws you to the romance category?

BP: I love happy endings. And it helps that the romance market is enormous, even in these tough economic times.

RS: What are you currently working on?

BP: I’ve got a young adult manuscript due on March 1, which is finished, but I’m cleaning it up.

After that, I have three more projects to finish and get to their various destinations. One is women’s fiction, another is a young adult novel and one is a paranormal, a genre I love to read but had never attempted.

RS: Speaking of dabbling in new writing genres, what’s another type of writing you’d like to attempt but haven’t yet?

BP: I adore murder mysteries, but I don’t think I’ll ever write one.  I’ve got enough to do right now, and it’s nice to have a genre that I can read without dissecting the plot. I love following the clues and being surprised at the end.

RS: What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

BP: That’s sort of a trick question, since I have 250 books on my nightstand, all on my Sony eReader!

I also have a few good old-fashioned paper tomes: James Howard Kunstler’s World Made by Hand, Patricia Brigg’s The Hob’s Bargain, Edith Wharton’s The Bunner Sisters, and Nora Roberts’s Bed of Roses, Linda Fairstein’s Lethal Legacy.

The eReader holds mostly my favorite authors, which include many classics, including Dickens and Twain, as well as modern authors such as Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, Nora Roberts, James Patterson and Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Platas embraces e-books, the future of publishing, with her Sony e-Reader.

RS: Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

BP: Wow. There are too many to name them all.

As a child, I read a lot of Vonnegut, Asimov and Poul Anderson. Science fiction and fantasy were my favorites.

Then I spent a rainy week at the beach reading a long shelf of Barbara Cartland’s Regency romances. It was like too much candy, but I’d never read romance novels before and enjoyed the light-hearted tone.

Soon after, I read every Agatha Christie book I could get my hands on and got hooked on murder.

So there are a lot of influences, but all have one thing in common: a good story.

RS: Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

BP: I’ll teach novel-writing at Southeastern Writers Association, with classes devoted to creating memorable characters, determining point of view, plotting a story, different ways to plot (including planning a trilogy or series), worldbuilding and tools for organizing a book.

I’ll have handouts that give an overview of each class, as well as a short one on formatting a novel and writing a query letter, in case anyone needs it. I hope I can fit all of that in!

My goal is for each student to have an understanding of what their strengths are, and I’ll try to tailor the class for the type of book the students are writing or want to write.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!

To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.

SWA Presenter Spotlight: J.M. Lacey

As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference in June 2010.

To gear up for that, I am featuring some interviews and spotlights with this year’s presentersFor more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.

Next up is professional freelancer J.M. Lacey.


ABOUT THE PRESENTER

Professional freelancer and former news reporter J.M. Lacey has over 14 years of experience working for both corporate and non-profit organizations, which includes serving as past Marketing and Public Relations Director for the Bangor Symphony for over four years.

The classically-trained (in music and dance) former actress writes literary and women’s fiction, poetry and articles focusing on education and music, women’s issues, business, human interest, social development, the arts, health, fashion and Victorian homes and lifestyle.

For more about Lacey, please visit her Web site.

THE INTERVIEW

RS:  How did you get into writing?

JML: I can’t say for sure if I discovered writing or if writing discovered me. I started writing at age six and haven’t stopped since.

After several poems, short stories and a few novels over the years, I’m still writing. I expanded into the commercial writing field a year-and-a-half ago, which commands talent for superb writing and creativity. I’ve been very successful at this latest endeavor.

RS: What keeps you writing?

JML: Hunger. But not for food, even though I love food. I can’t stop writing.

As every writer understands, writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I cannot live. I’ve had gaps in my life where I wasn’t writing so much, and I felt like I was always gasping for air.

Once I realized this, I had no choice. I have so many ideas, characters and plots that burn through my brain that I have to get them out in the open on paper so my head doesn’t explode.

I know that probably sounds funny, but I’m inspired daily. There is so much inspiration in people—who they are, what they do, what they talk about—and so much inspiration in things I see in the world around me, that it practically begs to be written in some form. I can quickly and easily form someone’s entire life story as I see it simply by the way he smiled.

A couple of other things [that keep me writing] are encouragement and disappointment.

I am encouraged when I’ve written something that others see in print and they give me a thumbs up. But I’m also encouraged by disappointment. Yes, I might argue with a rejection letter or an e-mail from someone who clearly doesn’t see a great writer when she’s in front of him!

No, in all seriousness, rejection and disappointment pushes me to be better than I am. I am always exerting myself to be the best I can be and, then, to exceed that.

I’m not perfect, but I strive for it and learn from my mistakes along the way. I’ve become a better writer for it.

RS: What do you do when you’re not writing?

JML: Feed the cat. Laundry. Feed the cat again. Think. Study people for ideas. Think some more. And then I go out with my girlfriends and go shopping, eat food, catch up on all the latest newsy stuff. I like old movies and might watch one or two on a rainy Saturday afternoon. And naturally, I read a lot.

I attend the symphony frequently and take two of my nephews (ages 10 and 11) with me, since they still like the symphony. I play the piano and sing a bit of Italian opera. I have another nephew that’s too young for the symphony, but he’s intrigued by the piano, so we’re working on teaching him that for now.

J.M. Lacey

RS: What draws you to literary fiction?

JML: Just about everything I read as a teenager was among the great classics in literature. Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Henry James, Louisa May Alcott and Thomas Hardy, to name a few. Then there’s the poetry of Emily Dickenson, Shakespeare and my favorite, Tennyson.

This is what I absorbed in my brain growing up.  Sure, I read some teen stuff like Nancy Drew, but it was the classics that stuck with me. I have always been drawn to in-depth thinking.

I enjoy the drama of the lives in literary novels. The stories are pure and told well. I’ve always felt that a good story should involve the reader, not move so fast and give away so much that the reader feels he went on an overpriced ride at the fair only to throw up at the end.

The reader needs time to absorb the story, fall in love with (or distrust) the characters and go on this mindful journey with the characters. Literary fiction allows for deeper thought, like meditation. And when one turns the last page in such fiction and reads the last few words, it should make you sad to leave that world behind, and yet it will remain with you.

Love the story or hate it, great literary fiction stays with you.

RS: What are you currently working on?

JML: I’m working on the revisions for my current novel that I will seek representation for within the next few months, pending any dangling modifiers and misplaced commas. All I’ll say about the story: A LOT of music adorns the pages.

I have also recently completed some short stories and entered contests, but I plan to pitch other stories to literary magazines for publication. Some nonfiction articles have been published in a local magazine, and I’m pitching national magazines with other ideas as well.

RS: What’s one genre or type of writing in which you’d like to dabble but haven’t yet—and why?

JML: Science fiction. Mostly because such a genre would shock everyone that knows my writing.

But seriously, I am, I admit, a Star Trek and Star Wars fan, and I also love The Twilight Zone. I know nothing about writing science fiction, but I’m not afraid of risks, so it might be a risk I decide to take some day. Stay tuned!

RS: What book(s) currently adorn your nightstand?

JML: What book doesn’t? I read so much now I can’t keep up. I just finished Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell, and that was a very interesting fictional take on Mozart’s life just before he married. It really read like an opera to me.

Right now I’m reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I’m impressed with his knowledge of the Chinese and Japanese cultures, and his background has a lot to do with this. I enjoy how the main character looks back to his childhood while he searches for what he lost and revisits his moral dilemmas he faced at that time. This is a book that draws me in to the story and the characters. I’ve felt anger, laughed and sighed as I continue to read through this. I have a feeling that when I get to the end, the story will stay with me.

RS: Name an author that helped shape who you are as a writer and how he or she had that effect on you.

JML: L.M. Montgomery. She wrote all of the Anne of Green Gables books and Emily series, among others. My favorite book of hers is The Blue Castle. I was so enraptured by her books that I visited Prince Edward Island several times (the setting for most of her books). I have also read Montgomery’s published journals.

I am drawn to her struggles and determination. She wrote like she breathed. Her difficult life was artfully expressed in her novels. And she was very passionate. Not just as a novelist, but as a woman. She made a lot of sacrifices in her life and that shaped her writing.

Her first novel, the first Anne book, was published in 1908, when Montgomery was 34 (I’m a year behind her, which inspires me to push for my deadline). When I think about her struggles, her passion, her determination—in a lot of ways, I feel I’m very much like her. She lived by her motto: “never give up,” and she was a successful author. I’m determined to not give up either, and, eventually, that will pay off for me.

No wonder Montgomery set most of her novels here!

RS:  Can you give us a quick teaser about the course you’ll be teaching at Southeastern Writers Association?

JML: I’m teaching one class called: “Writing for Businesses.”

Want to get paid a lot for a small amount of your time? Sounds like one of those “sounds too good to be true” ads, doesn’t it? But it isn’t.

Commercial writing is very lucrative and a great avenue to venture into, especially for someone who really loves to write and wants to get paid a lot of money. You learn a lot working for different companies with a variety of needs, so your knowledge expands.

Commercial writing is different from, say, magazine writing, because the wait isn’t as long, the competition is not as tight and the pay is much higher. You can negotiate with the corporate world, unlike the magazine world. You can establish longer-term relationships with businesses, too, assuring frequent paychecks.

In this course, we’ll touch on the basics—how to get started, how to market yourself, what to write and for whom, what to charge and ethics. If we have time, I’ll talk about the business of business writing, such as negotiations, contracts and copyright.

This course is designed for ones who are currently writing for businesses or have played with the idea, but haven’t yet taken the leap. The course is also for ones who want to keep an open mind about other writing possibilities. Even if it’s not THE path a writer wishes to take, at least he/she will walk away with some new ideas.

THE PLUG

For more information about the Southeastern Writers Association conference in June, please see their registration page as well as my recent post.  Don’t wait to sign up—and you must be registered by April 1 in order to participate in contests and manuscript evaluations, so reserve your spot today!


To learn more about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.