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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

RWA-PRO: A Step Closer to Publication

As I near the end of my third manuscript, I can’t help but recall how I felt completing my first novel. I was elated. I think I did a victory lap inside my house. I’m certain there were some celebratory dance moves and a lot of cheering, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” It was almost as exciting as finally giving birth after months of anticipation. And as my dad always says, “My crows are the blackest,” meaning my first story was near perfection. (Snort!)

Once I finished my masterpiece, I was ready for the next step, so I did an internet search to find out exactly what was the next step. I had visions of sending my work to some mysterious editor who dresses in all black and wears a beret. He or she, either gender can pull off a beret, would love my characters as much as I do, do a happy dance and call me immediately to gush over my brilliance. Oops. Minor set back. First, I probably needed to find an agent. Um. All right. I could do that. But before finding an agent, I needed to find a critique group. Oh, dear. How did one go about finding a critique group?

Lucky me, I stumbled upon this great historical romance critique group. I say lucky me, because did I ever need help. My group was incredibly kind and made comments like, “It’s interesting you chose to start your story here,” which now I know is code for “This stinks.” I also learned I still needed 20,000 words. What? Talk about bursting my bubble. I couldn’t believe it. I wandered around in a fog for days. Twenty thousand more words? What more could I possibly add? I finally came around and got to work on adding more scenes.

Later, I had questions such as, “What is a query?”, “How do I write a synopsis?”, “How do I know what agents to query?”, “What constitutes a hook?” and “What is branding?” Everyone was so generous with her advice, but our own Lydia Dare especially took pity upon me and stepped into the role of mentor – some say supportive nagger. I say, why split hairs?

One thing she highly encouraged me to do was to apply for PRO Membership through Romance Writers of America. If you are unfamiliar with RWA-PRO, it focuses on the business aspects of writing. To qualify for PRO designation, you must be a member of RWA (no brainer there) and have completed at least one manuscript of 40,000 words or more and still be waiting for “the call” from a publisher.

I put off joining RWA-PRO for a while, thinking it would be more difficult than it actually was. All I had to do was mail my application form, a copy of the completed manuscript on CD and a printed version of a rejection letter from an agent. Anyone have one of those lying around? (Check the RWA website for more details and options.) I was only out the cost of mailing and before I knew it, I had my PRO designation.

Why is PRO membership important? For one thing, you get the nifty letters on your badge at conferences that announce to everyone that you’ve completed a manuscript. PROfessional finish line crosser! Secondly, the designation moves you up on the totem pole, just under current and recent RITA and Golden Heart finalists, when signing up for editor and agent appointments at the National Conference. Lastly, the annual PRO Retreat held at the RWA National Convention has great information. I can’t wait to attend again this year.

There are other benefits as well, so I encourage you to check it out on the RWA website under Member Resources. If you’ve completed a manuscript and aren’t in RWA-PRO now is the time to join. Don’t wait another day, especially if you are attending this year’s National Convention in Nashville. You should have enough time to still get your designation and improve your chances of getting an appointment with your dream editor and/or agent.

Now that I have my RWA-PRO designation, I can focus on celebrating when I complete my third manuscript. But not for long, because I've already started number four.

If you’ve complete a manuscript, what was it like for you to cross the finish line? Do you do anything special when you finish a story?

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

If you’re a writer, then you know about waiting. We wait for inspiration, for story ideas, for the perfect word, and the next big opportunity. Published authors quiver over release dates and upcoming reviews while unpubbeds wait for The Call.

Most writers have a plan for waiting. Send it and Forget it is my motto for submissions. Rejections sting less when you are submerged in your next project. The correct response to a rejection is mailing another round of query letters (to different agents, of course!) Keeping busy is the easiest way to avoid the yo-yo emotions that plague most writers.

But every once in a while, an opportunity comes by that’s so big it defeats even your best waiting strategies. Last week was one of those times. On Tuesday, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards (ABNA) announced quarterfinalists. Thursday, RWA announced the Golden Heart finalists. Since I strongly believe in taking advantage of every opportunity, I had horses in both those races.

Both days, I started with a survival plan:

  1. Log in editing hours for Nanoedmo.
  2. Catch up with my critique partners’ work.
  3. Clean my much-neglected house
  4. Run all those frequently-postponed errands.
  5. Bike the river.

Any one of those things would have occupied the greater part of the day. But it was one of those miserable weeks where wind, snow, and rain intermingle, to make you dread stepping outside for even one minute. Stuck in the house, I couldn’t seem to focus on anything for more than ten minutes.

My waiting strategy failed. Miserably.

By 10 AM, I was glued to my computer, unable to concentrate on anything other than hitting the refresh bar and emailing my fellow contestants for updates. In the end, I wasted two days waiting for results that would have come anyway. I could have written ten pages. I could have edited another chapter.

Tomorrow, the Sourcebooks Teen Fire contest will announce its finalists. I am determined not to waste another day hitting the refresh button. And yet I know I will be tempted to spend the entire day staring at one web page.

Please help me out by sharing your best waiting strategies in the comments section. How did you wait out the big ABNA and Golden Heart announcements? Is anyone besides me waiting on the Teen Fire results?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Your WIP as a Musical?

Besides writing, when I am not working, I am often at one of our community theaters. I haven’t been on stage since I was in high school but the more time I am at the theater the more I am thinking about auditioning. Chances are I will never develop the nerve to do so because I am more comfortable backstage.

I will warn you now, musicals, and sometimes plays, do tend to creep into my blog posts because theater is just as much a part of me as writing. Last month my blog asked if Jo March (from Little Women) was right about travel. I used to costume (though I can’t sew) and have given it up. The last show I costumed was Man of La Mancha. Come on, how hard is it to costume a bunch of actors in rags? It isn’t like they have to be a tailor fit, which is good. Did I mention, I can’t sew.

Well, it turned out harder than I anticipated because I couldn’t get them dirty enough. Oh, the things we do for our characters. If I am not callusing my fingertips at the keyboard, I am in a garden plot after a fresh rain with costumes, or ash from the fireplace, or potting soil. It took me four separate dirtying rounds to get them dirty enough for the stage. Kind of like editing chapters, though some have taken me far more than four drafts to get it where I want it. Okay, let’s be honest. It took all of them a lot more than four drafts.

Most of my time at the theater is spent in makeup and hair. And, lately the majority of the shows I’ve worked on are period pieces. What I love about this is while researching the hair styles and makeup I also file the information away for future use in a novel. Though I pretty much stick with Georgian or Regency, I just may write a historical that takes place during WWII. Which brings me to the original point of this post.

In September I did makeup for South Pacific. This is a 1949 musical (music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan). The story is taken from James A. Michener’s 1948 novel, Tales of the South Pacific. Do you think Michener was envisioning a musical when he wrote this Pulitzer Prize novel?

I’ve read blogs and articles where authors discuss possible movie rights for their novels, but I don’t think I’ve read where they have considered the story being adapted for a musical. So, thinking big, I tried to envision my characters breaking into song. Try as I might, it wasn’t working. There is potential for some of my heroines, but for my heroes – it is never happening. So, I guess my novels won’t make it to Broadway. I suppose if I want to see my show in lights I need to develop characters that have a song in their heart.

What about you? Have you ever envisioned your novel on the silver screen, as a stage play or entertaining musical? Try to picture your current novel or WIP as a musical. What is your first reaction?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lie Down on My Couch

As writers, we tend to invest a lot of time in our characters and their emotional paths.

We sift through the hero's past, looking for those events that shaped him into who he is at the outset of the story. We create situations that will force the villain to make a decision and initiate change. We watch the heroine grow and become more than she was when we first met her, and we rejoice in her progress.
The changes we see in our characters are our lifeblood. With no emotional growth, there is no hero's journey. Essentially, if our characters don't change or grow in some way, we don't have much of a story. It is stagnant.

But here's something all writers should think about: When is the last time you put that much effort into your own mental and emotional well-being? Have you become stagnant in your own growth, your journey through life?

It is much easier to take our characters to task for their emotional issues than it is to do the same for ourselves, so often, our mental health is overlooked. That's not just true for writers--it happens in every area. In fact, I have heard on more than one occasion that counselors and psychologists are more screwed up than anyone.
Why would that be? They supposedly have the tools to get their lives in order. The plain truth is that it is often easier to help someone else than it is to help yourself.

I don't know about you, but I'm not one to shy away from a challenge. If someone tells me that taking care of my emotional and mental well-being will be hard work, I say when can we get started? That's something we should all do.

So, the question remains: How
can you take care of yourself on an emotional level?

  • Accept yourself, just as you are. We all make mistakes, but it is unproductive to wallow in them. Learn from your mistakes and move on. What you did may have been bad, but that does not make you bad.
  • Create time each day for relaxation. Whether you choose meditation, prayer, yoga, reading a good book, deep breathing, or any other relaxation technique is unimportant. What is important is that you spend time every day focusing on something other than your stressors.
  • Discover your strengths and weaknesses. Recognize that no one is good at everything. Capitalize on your strengths and use them to build confidence. (It's okay to be proud of yourself and your abilities!) At the same time, try to build on your weaknesses without berating yourself.
  • Identify and process your emotions. It is okay to feel anger. Everyone does. What is not okay is to allow your anger to fester. One important thing to remember is that anger only truly hurts one person--the person who is angry. There are many ways to process emotions. Some people journal. Others go to a trusted friend to talk through their emotions. Still others may need professional assistance. The method isn't what is important. The result is. Find what works for you and use it.
  • Create your reality. If you want something, pursue it. Don't be passive and allow things to happen to you. Make them happen.
  • Volunteer. Giving your time and energy to help someone else will help you to feel better about yourself. It can give you a sense of purpose that you will not find in other areas.
  • Spend time with the important people in your life. Writing is a solitary pursuit. Life is not meant to be.
  • Maintain a positive outlook. If you assume the worst will happen, it likely will. If you expect good results, you will likely achieve them. Others may have the power to affect your life, but only you have the power to control how you react to those things.
  • If you recognize that you need assistance but cannot afford it, look into what options are available in your area. Many universities offer free or low-cost counseling from their counseling students. There are public mental health organizations available that will help, with charges varying depending on your financial circumstances. Check to see if your employer offers an employee assistance program. Also, there are a number of non-profit organizations throughout the country that offer life-enrichment seminars and other services for a much more affordable rate than traditional counseling. Do a little research. You'll likely find a number of options.
  • Perhaps most importantly, learn to love and respect yourself. Start by accepting compliments. Then, try to believe those compliments as truth. Place positive "I am" statements in prominent locations where you will see them every day. "I am worthy." "I am a great writer." "I am organized and focused." These statements should be what you need to believe about yourself. Put them on the bathroom mirror. Have them scroll across your screen saver. Hang them above the stove. Place them on the sun visor in your car. Put them where you will see them every day. Read them every time you see them. Eventually, you will believe them and they will become who you are.
These are just a few things you can do to be sure you're in the best emotional health possible. What are some things you've done? How do you maintain your sanity, even as you put your characters through the wringer in your writing?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Guest Interview: RWA Librarian of the Year, Deborah Schneider

Our Guest today is Deborah Schneider, 2009 Librarian of the Year for Romance Writers of America. RWA Librarian of the Year is awarded to a librarian who demonstrates outstanding support of romance authors and the romance genre. Deborah is also the author of two historical romances, Promise Me and Beneath a Silver Moon.
Hello, Deborah! Thank you so much for allowing us to interview you today. When I told the Lady Scribes you were stopping by, I was immediately inundated with questions from authors who would love to see their books promoted in libraries.

Can you tell us about the author-librarian connection? What can a librarian do for an author, and what is the best way for an author to approach librarians?

First of all, always remember that Librarians and library staff members (not everyone is a librarian) LOVE books. They read a lot, because that’s what they do for fun, and they LOVE authors. So, get over the “I’m just a little ole romance writer thing” – and remember you are a talented author!

A library event, which is what I’m most familiar with and so can speak about best, can provide a lot of exposure. Most libraries have a webpage that leads to their on-line catalog. They promote their events on that page and it’s a great place for readers to discover you. They also create flyers, have Email lists and some even have Facebook pages and use Twitter to promote library events. So – the best thing a library can do for an author is provide free promotion. They can also put your books on the shelves. That introduces you to new readers and might lead to more books sold when your next book is released.

Getting your books on the shelves depends upon the library or library system. We have a department called; “Collection Management Services” and the Selectors are the people who order the books. They place these orders based on several factors including popularity of author if they’ve previously published books and reviews. It’s important to get reviews from sources a library might be familiar with, and I think “Romantic Times Book Reviews” is one of the best. Publisher’s Weekly is great, but they review very few romances each week and it’s difficult to get a review unless you are a well-known author. We like to purchase books from local authors, and if I want to hold an event with an author, I can usually convince our Selectors to order some of the books for our libraries.

Does this advice also work for international authors who would like to see their books in U.S. libraries? Would you recommend mass mailings to someone who can’t go to the library in person?

We don’t purchase many books from overseas, so the important thing for our library system would be to have the book available in the US, and we prefer to use Ingrams or Baker&Taylor for orders, (they are distributors). Get into their catalogs, that’s very important! If you do a mailing, try to keep it simple. A letter telling a bit about the book and a short bio, all the ordering information, ISBN number, Edition, copyright, publisher – all of these are important. Include copies of your reviews. A bookmark is a nice touch, but for Selectors – you don’t need a Media Kit. For a program, you do need one. And if you don’t know what a Media Kit is, there’s an example on my webpage, www.debschneider.com

What suggestions do you have for authors who set up readings or discussions with their local libraries? Are there things an author should or shouldn't do at such an event? Other than a reading or discussion group, what are some ways authors have connected with their readers through her library?

I don’t like to do “readings” – they sound boring and they don’t attract much of an audience. I prefer to offer author events, panel discussions, and writing workshops. We have a series of writing workshops with author Bob Mayer going on right now, and we have nearly 100 people every Tuesday night. He knows how to structure a great workshop and people are interested in what he has to say. And he sells books at every workshop! Be creative, research what your library has done in the past and discover what other authors are doing that’s successful. Recently I’ve been combining book events with music programs, and that’s been very popular. I have a mystery writer coming to a library next week and she sets her books in Paris. I’ve arranged for a French cabaret music group to perform for 45 minutes before she speaks, and the Friends of the Library are providing refreshments. This makes the event an evening out – and it’s been very successful.

How do you see the future role of libraries now that e-books are growing in popularity?

We purchase licenses so our patrons can download e-books and e-audio books. They’re growing in popularity. We’re now talking about purchasing e-book devices to loan out to patrons, and we think this could be especially applicable to our outreach to older patrons, who will be able to enlarge the type face. This would allow us to make more books available to the visually-impaired. Libraries are very viable in the 21st Century. We have programs for people who need help finding a job, free access for those new to the US and low-income families, we offer cultural programs for all ages. All across the country, library use has increased in the past year. People are still reading, but they are accessing the materials they want to read in different ways. The book isn’t going away, but stories will be available in different formats.

Your latest novel, Promise Me, has received stellar reviews. Can you tell us a little bit about it and what you’re working on now?
Promise Me” is the story of a young widow, Amanda Wainwright, who suffered through a loveless marriage with an older man that was arranged by her father. She made a deathbed promise to her husband to go to Willow Creek and help the miners. He was searching for repentance, but Amanda is searching for meaning for her life. She meets Sam, who is a handsome, charming and glib businessman. What she doesn’t know is that Sam is actually a Secret Service agent, in town to investigate a conspiracy of mine owners to control the price of silver and possibly change the US monetary system. The story is about how they meet, have an affair and fall in love set against the backdrop of a wild mining town. It’s a story about second chances and never giving up, things I believe deeply in.

I’m finishing a Steampunk romance, because I love that sub-genre and it combines my favorite time period, (Victorian) with magic and strange technology. It’s been a lot of fun to write.

Thank you so much for answering all our questions, 2009 RWA Librarian of the Year, Deborah Schneider. For more information, please visit her website at http://www.debschneider.com/ . Be sure to check out the historic trailer for Promise Me.
We'd love to hear your experiences promoting through libraries. Please post them in the comments sections.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Beware the Ides of March

All right, so we’re a little past the Ides of March, but I couldn’t resist. Besides, Beware the End of March didn’t have the same ring. And, also, I do SO love to quote Shakespeare. Even better, I love to use Shakespeare when writing my books. To me, it adds a touch of refinement, fits perfectly with my Regency settings and my characters’ education level, and it can add a bit of foreshadowing or irony to my story.

There’s usually at least one Shakespearian reference in each of my books, though some are more blatant than others. For example, in my upcoming Tall, Dark, & Wolfish, my hero travels north to Scotland in search of a mystical witch. The poor fellow has images of Macbeth’s hooked-nosed, toil-and-trouble, havoc-causing witches so set in his mind the whole journey, he doesn’t have a prayer of recognizing the real witch he seeks, even when she’s looking him straight in the eye.

I also love to use Shakespeare to emphasize an ironic twist. Two gentlemen sit together in the theatre, watching a performance of Julius Caesar, and all the while, the reader knows that one of the two is about to betray the other. Or the na├»ve nephew who spends a night enjoying Richard III and is completely unaware that in real life, he needs to be wary of his power-hungry uncle. For me there is an underlying message when I write scenes like this. That whole know-your-history-and-learn-from-it-or-you’re-doomed-to-repeat-it thing we’ve always heard about.

For me it’s also fun using Shakespeare to help capture a specific feeling for either the book as a whole or for a certain character in particular. I once cast a hero’s actress/ex-mistress in the role of Lady Macbeth, which allowed the heroine to equate her perceived rival with that of the notoriously vicious Scottish noblewoman. And another time, I used Much Ado About Nothing as the performance a bickering couple, who shared one or two similarities with Beatrice and Benedick, had to sit through. Of course, their companions found the evening much more amusing than did the pair I was picking on.

William Shakespeare had such amazing range with his comedies, tragedies, and histories. I honestly believe there is a play out there to match anyone’s personality. For me, knowing which of his plays most suits a particular character can give me a more in depth look into the psyche of the person I’m creating. Do they prefer the whimsical comedies that leave one happy and light-hearted? Or the more serious histories that delve into larger-than-life historical figures? Or his heart-breaking tragedies which all seem to teach one life lesson or another?

So, now, I'm going to play Barbara Walters. Tell me… If you were a Shakespearian play, which play would you be? And can you guess which one fits me?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rejected Today Sold Tomorrow-Part Two

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” Walter Wellesley Smith

Like many of you, I sit at my computer every day and open up my heart, my soul, my vein and I write. I write because I love it. I write because I have a million stories in my head driving me crazy. I write because it is like breathing, talking, or walking. A writer is who I am and it is what I love. It took me thirty-eight years, three college degrees and one stint in law school to figure out all I wanted to be when I grew up was writer.

When you put everything you are into something and then send it out to a contest, agent or editor in the hope that they will love your manuscript, it is very hard to wait. I’m the worst at the waiting game. At the end of today the wait will be over for everyone who entered the Golden Heart. When you rest your head on your pillow tonight, you’ll either be a finalist or not. If you’re a finalist then we will all celebrate your success with you because each and everyone one of us writers knows how hard you have worked.

If you’re not a finalist, this is not the end. Do not make the mistake of thinking just because you didn’t final you’re writing is awful and you should throw away your computer. Drown in self pity tonight, but tomorrow get out of bed, go to your computer and keep writing. Send out your non-finaling manuscript to more agents, editors and contest, and then you need to write new pages on new stories.

"Victory is the sweetest when you've known defeat." Malcolm Forbes

Get back in the arena! Remember just because you didn’t final in the Golden Heart does not mean your road is at an end. Here are a few reasons to keep traveling down that dusty road.

The story of their successes:

Jennifer McAndrews w/a Gwen Roman

“Prior to this year, I had only entered Golden Heart once. During that preceding summer, I was deep into the drama of "should I quit writing?". To force myself to finish the novel I was working on, I entered the GH. I hate to waste money! so I knew I'd have to finish that book. Finished it, polished it, and was really quite proud of it... but it didn't final. I got some pretty decent scores, but not good enough. At the time I thought, well, it kept me writing and that was the important thing. Fast foward to...oh, maybe two weeks ago? That very same manuscript that failed to final in the GH is now under contract with Wild Rose Press. My non-finalist has become my foot in the door. And I can honestly say, if it wasn't for entering the Golden Heart, I never would have the opportunity I have now.”

Erica Ridley

“My March 2010 release, Too Wicked To Kiss, did not get The Call in the GH, but a few months after the National conference, I did get a call that my agent had sold it in a 2-book contract to Kensington. Although it didn't make the cut insofar as a contest nod, it is a book club pick for B&N this month, as well as a book club book on the Eloisa James / Julia Quinn boards this year, so I can't complain!”

Vicky Dreiling
HOW TO MARRY A DUKE, Coming from Grand Central January 2011!

“Years ago, my first manuscript finaled in the GH. I was so excited - it truly is a wonderful honor & certainly helped me get requests. But not only did I not win, my full manuscript got tons of rejections. I wrote a great three chapters. The rest was a convoluted stew. I ended up doing a massive rewrite for an editor w/out promise of contract. I was too new and didn't have a firm grasp of craft. Needless to say, the editor rejected the book. Fast forward a few years. My second manuscript did well in some regional contests (but not all by any means). I entered the GH twice and never finaled. But I sold that book. HOW TO MARRY A DUKE is slated for publication in January 2011. The GH is a great honor and a great opportunity. But if you don't final, just remember my story. May the magic romance fairies be with all of you.”

Anne Marsh
THE HUNT, Dorchester Love Spell, Available now!
BOND WITH ME, Dorchester Leisure, September 2010

"I entered the GH contest two years ago and scored in the bottom 25% with my baby. No cigar. Not even close. Fortunately, I was sitting on a beach in Moorea (wifi in the beach bar!) when I realized that I hadn't got the call-- so I had a Maitai to go with my tears. Six months later, I had an agent and an offer on another book. That first book, though, my poor GH reject... that book will be released in September 2010 from Dorchester as BOND WITH ME."

All day today, as I see finalist names appear, I will update it on this blog. Below, you will find a list of the GH categories. I’d love to hear from finalist and those who don’t final. We are all in this crazy writing journey together, so let’s enjoy the ride.

Have a wonderful day,
Julie Johnstone, the Marchioness of Mayhem

Golden Heart Finalist by Category

Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure
Kimberly Ann Howe, BREATHLESS
Tina Joyce, WANTED: DEAD
Angela Platt, SEE JANE RUN
Contemporary Single Title
Elizabeth Bermis, FOR LOVE OR MONEY
Laura Graham Booth, SHARING SPACES
Lizbeth Selvig, SONGBIRD
Carolyn Ann Whitecarver, SEATTLE'S BEST
Historical Romance
Gail Zerrade, OVERLANDER ***Woo hoo! One of our Lady Scribes!!!! We are all thrilled.
Jessica Ann Darago, THE SERPENT'S TOOTH
Linda Bailey, WILD FLOWER
Alison Atwater, GOOD TIMIN' MAN
Elizabeth Burke, THE HEALER
Inspirational Romance
Cynthis J. Eermisse Chase, UNFORGIVEN
Novel with Strong Romantic Elements
Gabrielle Luthy, THE LAKE EFFECT
Lisa Connelly, THE SINNER
Christine Kenniston, WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS
Patricia O'Dea Rosen, A PLACE AT THE TABLE
Barbara Binns, DAMAGED GOODS
Paranormal Romance
Morgan Karpiel, THE DIVINE GATE
J. Keely Thrall, HONOR BOUND
Sharon Lynn Fisher, SHADOWED
Regency Historical Romance
Michelle Snow, SWEET ENEMY
Elizabeth Stock, MY DEAREST ROGUE
Romantic Suspense
Donnell Ann Bell, DEADLY CALM
G. Jillian Stone, THE YARD MAN
Young Adult Romance
**Jennifer McAndrews, SPELLING AND GLAMOUR** Jennifer was on of my GH stories, but today she got the call on another manuscript!
Vanessa Barnveld, GHOST RIDDEN
Kimberly Eve MacCarron, SQUEEZE THREE TIMES
Shea Berkley, SHATTERED
Shelley Correll, BLOOM
Erica Daniel O'Rourke, UNCHOSEN
Contemporary Series Romance
Laurie Kellog,HONEY I'M HOME
Paula Stelluto, THE MAGIC MAN
Joleen Kiesner James, HOMETOWN STAR

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rejected Today Sold Tomorrow

"In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer."  Albert Camus

"From your wintery failures, seek out your summer of successes."  Julie Johnstone

And now we begin…

The internet is buzzing with talk of the Golden Heart. This contest is the Oscars of the romance industry. Finaling in the GH is an honor within itself and can bring a hopeful writer recognition, which may help to get them published. Tomorrow, romance writers who took the plunge this year and entered their manuscript in the contest will try to go about their day and not think about when and if their phone is going to ring. Let’s face it, we all know the volume on the phones will be turned to high, and by mid to late afternoon, some may wonder if their phone is working properly, check their ringers, their voice mails or their missed calls.

     There will be two groups of people by the end of tomorrow. Those who got the call telling them they finaled and those who didn’t. One elated bunch will probably celebrate with chocolate, wine or maybe champagne, while the other deflated bunch will most likely wallow in their misery with chocolate, wine or a good strong mixed drink.

I’ve read countless e-mails all relating to helping those who final celebrate their good news. There are blog parties, squeal parties, local critique group parties, and too many other parties to list here. These wonderful writers deserve this honor, and let me tell you, if I finaled in the Golden Heart I would be celebrating in full party mode along with the best of them. You should have seen the way I ran around my house when I got sold my first short. You would have thought by my jumps and squeals I had signed a multimillion-dollar movie contract for one of my novels.

With all this said, as I read my e-mails I couldn’t help wondering about those wonderful writers who don’t get the call tomorrow. I simply could not believe those writers had no future, no hope, no contract or happy ending, so yesterday I sent out an e-mail asking writers to contact me if they had ever submitted a story to the Golden Heart which did not final but later went on to sale. I received a flood of e-mails and spent hours reading the success stories of all those writers who never got that call but sold their baby anyway. What an inspiration!

Today I want to give all of you struggling writers a gift, especially those of you who may not get the call tomorrow naming you as a finalist in the GH. I want to share some of these incredible stories with you. You may not be a finalist tomorrow, but in two weeks, you may just get that same story contracted for publication. Remember this as you read these stores:


The story of their successes:

Evangeline Collins
Seven Nights to Forever - Berkley Sensation/Nov 2010
Lush. Elegant. Sensual Historical Romance
M/M Erotic Romance...in the Regency era

“Back in late 2007, I entered the Golden Heart. The book was an unconventional Regency, and since I didn't have a clue how the entry would be received, I told myself I wouldn't wait for that phone call on the day finalists were going to be announced. Of course, I did end up waiting for the phone call that never came. Who doesn't wait? I was bummed the book didn't final...okay, really bummed. But two months later the book was contracted by Berkley, and I was proof that just because you don't final doesn't mean you won't sell. The book I entered and later sold was HER LADYSHIP'S COMPANION. It released in May 2009 from Berkley Sensation.”

Vanessa Kelly
Regency Romance That Sizzles

“My debut book, Mastering The Marquess, landed like a dull thud in the GH rankings. As I recall, I barely made it into the upper 50% percentile! I'm happy to say that I sold the manuscript two months later to John Scognamiglio at Kensington Zebra. My next book, Sex And The Single Earl will be released in May, and I signed another two-book contract last fall with Kensington. I'm also going to be in a novella with Jo Beverley and Sally Mackenzie in 2011, and I was asked to contribute a short story to The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance, coming out this summer.  So, don't be discouraged if you don't final in the GH, because things can turn around with one phone call!”

Lori Brighton

“I entered a couple different manuscripts and didn't come close to finaling. I entered my debut book, Wild Heart, and it didn't do well. So I entered it in some other contests and it actually finaled in 3 other contests. It ended up coming in first place in the Golden Acorn contest, was requested by Hilary Sares (who use to work at Kensington). She ended up buying the book and it was released November 2009.  I had sent Wild Heart to just about every agent I could with no interest. Had even sent it to some editors. So entering it in the Golden Acorn contest was my last resort. Fortunately it worked out.”

Tomorrow, I’ll share more success stories which were generously shared with me and post the GH finalist here as I read their squeals of happiness on the internet.

I’ll leave you with this quote: 

"Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
Thomas Edison

Keep the faith,

Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Calke Abbey - The Hidden House

One of the most interesting English great houses I've stumbled upon doing research for my writing is Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and it's high on my list of places to see when I head to the UK next year.

Calke Abbey, built in a hollow, is hidden from view until the last moment. Set in extensive parklands landscaped to reflect the grandeur of the property, the 18th century mansion lay mostly undisturbed before England's National Trust began taking steps to conserve the house as it was at the time they took over management in 1981. Surprisingly, they are not attempting to restore the whole house and contents, but conserve in the state it was found.

While the present building is named Calke Abbey, it never actually was one. An Augustine priory (inferior to an Abbey) operated on the site up from the 12th Century until its dissolution by Henry VIII. The current house was built by the fourth baronet, Sir John Harpur, between 1701 and 1704 and was named Calke Abbey in 1808.

The house belonged to the Harper-Crewe family for over 400 years and the family were great collectors, but they lived very quietly, removed from the world at large. As each successive later generation took control of the family seat it appears they simply closed doors and shutters and moved to another part of the house.

The past few generations appear not to throw anything out from perhaps the middle of the 19th Century. From that time, the normal process of removal and renewal of possessions seemed to stop. At the time the National Trust took over the property, the mansion contained deliberately kept treasures (stuffed birds, minerals, pottery), and items retained by years of careless housekeeping: old letters and documents, abandoned childhood toys, whole rooms of personal possession.

Calke Abbey is an historians dream.

The house – architecture

Calke Abbey consists of three stories, first (lowest) a high basement, then two main floors: the first floor the library, saloon, drawing room and dining room; the top floor contained the principal bedrooms. Since the roof is flat, there are no attics and the servant quarters lie behind the state rooms on the first floor.

The top floor corner pavilions (see picture above) were designed to contain an apartment (bedroom, private closet or study and a room for a personal servant). There might also be a withdrawing room or sitting room, depending upon the occupant.

The grounds – Calke Park

At its height, the Harpur estate (including Calke Abbey) totalled 33,000 acres spread across Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. The grounds immediately surrounding the mansion were extensively landscaped by successive generations. The drive from Ticknall Lodge (the first of three lodges) to the Abbey, through planted limes, is nearly two miles long. Existing ponds were expanded to form a chain of lakes and walled gardens protected plants from two herds of deer. Constructed features include a church (redesigned in the first half of the 19th Century), conservatory, two grotto's, ice-house (picture above), boat-house, stables and a riding school.

Calke today is a treasury of Victorian Life and taste with a base of Georgian furnishings. A social exhibit where we can see with our own eyes the aristocratic world we lost. I've always wished I could go back in time and a visit to Calke Abbey might just be the closest I'll ever come to time travel.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Day in the Life...

I was recently skimming through a great site that outlines a day in the life of a Regency Lady and thought, wow! Two hundred years certainly changes things! Let's take a look at how a Regency Lady's day would differ from mine in the 21st Century...

Regency Lady:
"After breakfast with the children, the first job of the lady of the house would be to talk to the housekeeper."

After she changes her daughter's diaper, heats up the formula, feeds and plays with the baby and puts her back down for her nap, she gets to eat her breakfast then embark on the household chores of laundry, dishes, etc...

Regency Lady:
"They would also discuss the evening meal. If visitors were expected, the lady would choose meals that were lavish and unusual."

Might throw some cans of Campbell's soup and raw chicken into the crock pot for it to be ready by dinner time.

Regency Lady:
"When the early morning activities were finished, the social whirl would begin!"

After the next feeding for the baby, would place baby in swing for opportunity to brush teeth and (heaven forbid) maybe take a shower before heading off to a group playdate (to which they would undoubtedly be a half hour late.)

Regency Lady:
"High society ladies would either receive calls or visit others. Tea would be drunk and snacks eaten."

Would receive harried moms in sweat suits or visit said moms in sweats of her own. Water would be drunk and snacks avoided because everyone still has 15lbs of baby weight to lose.

Regency Lady:
"Very agreeable pastime for a young Regency lady (especially a Brunswick town resident) was to show off their latest fans and fashions along the sea front. To stroll along the promenade at Brighton was a popular way to spend a few hours."

Would show off her sweats at Starbucks where she would quickly run in and out for an iced coffee or iced green tea (depending on how exhausted she was at this point), all the while maneuvering the stroller one-handed through tight spaces. Then she would feed the baby again and, hoping she had sufficiently tired out the baby, would put baby down for a nap and try to eek out a bit of writing time...unless of course the baby refused to sleep...then they would just watch Dr. Oz and Oprah together during tummy time.

So, as you can see, things have changed quite a bit in the last 200 years! Granted, I wasn't born to aristocracy, so perhaps my comparison is a little off. But I do have some wealthy friends and while they may have help, they still have crazy, harried days. But I don't think this is a bad thing. I believe our desire to play a part in our children's lives - to feed them, play with them, cart them from one activity to the other - may be the reason we're a bit on the busier side nowadays. Even if we have a nanny, we don't want the kids to be raised by the nanny - we want them to remember that we were there when they hit their first home run or to help them with their math homework. According to this account of a Regency Lady's day, it seemed the mother had breakfast with the children and then didn't see them the rest of the day. I'm glad we're not like that anymore. Being with my daughter is one of life's greatest joys!

-Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hope, Dreams and Success

Lately it seems there are many blogs or comments on blogs about how difficult it is for almost everyone to get their books published in these hard economic times. The tone of these messages can leave me feeling as if I shouldn’t even bother trying. I assume the authors of these blogs mean to be encouraging, but sometimes I feel even worse after reading what some people have to say, especially when they quote percentages. At those times, I have to draw upon my inner resources rather than give in to despair.

There is a story by Neil Gaiman, author of “The Sandman” comic book series, that has come to my mind over the years when things look bleak. The main character, Dream, is debating the strength of humans, if my memory serves. While his opponent tosses out scenarios that prove humans are weak, Dream counters, proving a worth foe. However, his opponent finally presents a situation where it appears he has won the verbal battle. There is no physical possibility of a human escaping the situation, and his opponent is already celebrating victory when Dream responds with one word that defeats anything and everything imaginable: Hope

No matter the circumstances, humans possess the unique ability to hope. It is a gift, along with the freedom to choose. But can hope become a roadblock to us continuing on the path to publication? Possibly. Sometimes our idea of hope is all or nothing. Hope represents getting the call and becoming a NY Times Best Seller. There is nothing wrong with clinging to this dream, but if this is the only outcome we picture for ourselves this year, how do we keep our spirits up when we don’t realize that dream this year or the next?

Sometimes adjusting our expectations and accepting not everything happens on our prefered time table can help us prepare for the longer journeys some of us face. Honestly, I would love to find an agent this year. Who wouldn’t, right? Unfortunately, it is out of my control to some degree, but I can control a few things and this will be my focus. I can polish my manuscript to the point of perfection. I can write the very best query possible. I can research agents to make certain I am querying ones that represent my genre. I can keep sending queries to different agents. And I can keep writing so I have a variety of stories that maybe will be that one which receives the response, “This one is for me!”

I can also choose how I measure my success. If I don't find an agent this year, will I consider myself a failure? I suppose I could, or I could celebrate the smaller successes, such a receiving more requests for my manuscript, that move me closer to realizing my dream. The only way to reach my destination is one step at a time.

What keeps you going when facing hard times, and what are some of your successes so far this year?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Member News: Lydia Dare book release

The Lady Scribes blog is buzzing this month because our very own Lydia Dare has her first book, A Certain Wolfish Charm, due for release from Sourcebooks.

The rules of Regency Society can be beastly—especially when you're a werewolf. Simon Westfield, the Duke of Blackmoor has spent his entire life creating scandal and mayhem. It doesn't help his wolfish temper that since he's rich, powerful, and sinfully handsome, the town is willing to overlook his outrageous behavior. Lily Rutledge has a wild streak of her own. When she turns to Simon for help, he falls for her immediately. For Simon is drawn to the fearless Lily more powerfully than the moon...

Ladies, thanks for joining me. It’s a poorly kept secret that there are two wonderful writers behind Lydia Dare. Could you each describe the other?

Lydia/Jodie: I used to think that I was shy. Then I met Tammy. She’s the sort who quietly sits in the back of the room and observes EVERYTHING. Her mind is always spinning and she’s very clever.

Lydia/Tammy: Jodie’s bubbly and friendly and social and... well... all the things I’m not. She has a quick wit and is easy to laugh. And she tells me off on a regular basis, which wins her tons of respect from me.

What inspired you to combine paranormal and regency romance?

Lydia/Jodie: Well, I was writing Regency era romance and had hit a brick wall with my then current work in process. And Tammy had run into a similar issue with her then Paranormal romance. Anyway, we were at an all day workshop offered by our local chapter and Tammy tossed out the idea of merging our genres and writing something together. Two months later A Certain Wolfish Charm was complete.

Lydia/Tammy: Regencies are my favourite genre to read, and I’d always wanted to try my hand at writing one, but had a hard time wrapping my mind around the history of the period. So, I started quizzing Jodie at a workshop about whether or not an idea would work and she told me all the reasons it wouldn’t, not in that era. It made sense to combine her Regency and my Paranormal worlds and see if they could merge. They obviously did!

Lydia, can you tell us more about the paranormal regency world you created?

Lydia/Jodie: Well, our world is a lot like many authors’ Regency worlds – elegance and refinement. Carriages and servants. Pretty gowns and handsome rakes. But we’ve added a darker element on the fringe of that world. Things that are talked about only in whispers. Werewolves. Witches. Vampires.

A Certain Wolfish Charm is the first of a growing series. What’s scheduled for release next?

Lydia/Jodie: The Westfield Wolves series are back-to-back-to-back. A Certain Wolfish Charm hits shelves April 6th. Tall, Dark, and Wolfish comes out May 4th. And The Wolf Next Door will be available June 1st. Then we have The Taming of the Wolf, which is scheduled for November 2nd. And next spring we have another trilogy contracted that we are currently working on.

I know you’re incredibly busy right now, new writing, editing, promotional gigs – tell me, what do you both do to unwind?

Lydia/Jodie: What does unwind mean? In all seriousness, I don’t have much time for that. In addition to my writing career, I also have a day job; I’m recently divorced and a single mother; I’ve re-entered the world of dating; I judge several contests; and I’m the President of my local RWA Chapter. But when I get a little time to myself – I love old movies, especially the Screwball Comedies of the 30’s and 40’s. I’m an author, but also a reader – and for me there is nothing like escaping into the world of Regency Era romance. Oh yeah, and a nice Sangria or Pomegranate Martini.

Lydia/Tammy: I am the quintessential sports mom. There’s nothing more satisfying than sitting on the bleachers and watching a kid knock one over the fence or even get their butt whooped on a wrestling mat. I love it all. It’s my all-time favorite thing to do. Aside from that, I probably read more than anything in the little bit of spare time I may have.

To be in the draw [U.S & Canadian residents only due to the cost of postage] for a copy of A Certain Wolfish Charm simply leave a comment describing the most devious steps you've taken to grab some personal time for yourself and include your email address. The winner's name will be posted to the blog tomorrow (Sunday). Best of luck!

**Lydia Dare is the author of A Certain Wolfish Charm, releasing from Sourcebooks Casablanca on April 6, 2010. You can find her at http://www.lydiadare.com/, follow on twitter and become a fan on her facebook page.

You can get other copies signed at the Spring Fling Conference April 23-24, 2010 and the RT Convention April 28 – May 2, 2010.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Welcome to Crit Friday

Dear Readers,

We hope you enjoy the snippets of stories submitted this month. We know we did.

Part of the joy of writing is receiving a response from others on what you've written. Please feel free to comment on the stories. The only thing we ask is that you keep your comments constructive and supportive. In the tough world of publishing, there are enough setbacks and lumps we have to take. We are about creating a supportive environment where we celebrate authors' strengths.

Thank you for visiting our site. We are overwhelmed with the positive reception we have received.

Lady Scribes

Crit Friday - First Sighting #1 "Sera's Passage"

Sera was holding on as tightly as she could but the harness swayed in rhythm to the canyon walls shaking with the quake. Using every muscle, and some she’d forgotten, Sera pulled one hand away. Straining, she reached up to catch the leather strap that snaked down to whip around the length of her precariously dangling body . . . only to feel her hand captured by a very large, very warm, very unexpected grasp.

Looking up, Sera registered only green eyes and a flash of white teeth before he straightened suddenly, effortlessly. Her slender form catapulted up and over to sprawl on the dusty shelf of rock next to a man. And, oh what a man . . . acres of sculpted muscle wrapped around the largest specimen of the human male that she’d ever seen. Forgetting that the ground trembled beneath her, she scrabbled to her knees and Sera’s eyes stroked up his leather-clad legs and naked chest to catalogue this particular specimen - tall, dark, and handsome, the classic romantic lead – probably a soccer player with those thighs. Her eyes widened and her breath caught her heart’s rhythm when the beautiful planes of his chiseled features lost primacy to the force of his gaze. His eyes . . . green, green, eyes, her mind repeated stupidly . . . took possession of her own.

“Who? . . You . . .” Sera whispered, entirely dispensing with the concept of a sentence or civilized greeting.

“Who am I?” he offered helpfully, lazy amusement in his low, rough voice. Even with the ebony hair whipping around his face, the predator’s grin and arched dark brow signaled clear intent and Sera’s pulse thrummed its own primitive response. He leaned forward.

The rasping of something alive, possibly threatening, but definitely unknown pulled Sera from her dream. Holding very still, she surveyed her surroundings. Sera lay prone on a stone floor of some type. A cavern? Walls glimpsed through shuttered lashes appeared coarse and uneven as though naturally carved. Not wanting to communicate consciousness to whatever animal pulled its claws along the stone; Sera scanned what she could of the room. No one there . . . crap, it’s behind me . . . She hated not knowing what was at her back. Ugh, I have the mother of all headaches. A slow, deep breath offered the only hint of her wakened state and intentions; Sera tensed to her feet in one graceful motion and reached behind her for . . . "My knife? Crimeny damn, hell! . . ."

She spun to see a dainty figure seemingly relaxed in a graceful recline on a stone bench. The woman drew long nails across the roughened surface of the backing to the bench, while contemplating Sera with a thoughtful, warm smile. Not feeling quite so friendly, Sera snarled, “who are you and where am I?” Not pausing for a response, she snapped, “where is Nina?”

GAIL: Thank you for letting us critique this excerpt. I admit I was a little confused the first time I read this. I wasn't sure whether she was really dreaming or not. But I blame that on the fact that this is an excerpt. If I read this in context, it would probably make perfect sense.

Even in this little snippet, I can see that you have lots of action, a spunky heroine, a challenging setting, and an interesting secondary character. You do a fine job with the hero's description and her reaction to him. You do have a tendency to overuse the ellipsis. The paragraphing was off in the copy I got, which is probably a problem of transmission. You'll want to make sure that your paragraphs are not overly long on the original.

All in all, a nice effort. Good luck on the road to publication and I hope you will post here again.

HEATHER: An interesting beginning. You paint a great picture of Sera's precarious situation, but I found myself a little lost at the point she's pulled up. Does she land belly-up or belly-down? Consider revising your description of how she lands for clarity. Best of luck.

JERRICA: I really loved this excerpt. Your prose is great! I especially loved "her breath caught her heart’s rhythm" - what a beautiful description. I'm not going to judge on content - it's always confusing to jump into something in the middle - but I would say to go back through for grammatical issues. Your first semi-colon should actually just be a comma. And there were missing commas throughout. But those are minor issues and don't at all affect my enjoyment of your voice, which is the most important thing. Well done and thanks for submitting!

AMY: At first I thought this was a historical western, not sure why. Once I read soccer I knew we were in the present - lol. Great description of the hero and her reaction. I thought it odd that they were able to do the things they did during an earthquake. Would the hero be able to pull her to safety without losing his footing with all the shaking going on? Also, she is on her knees and then she lay prone on the ground. I wondered when did she lie down and then she heard the sound behind her and I think she was back to sitting again. Of course, these questions may be easily answered if I had the entire chapter or story. I enjoyed this and your voice. Good luck and I hope to see more submissions.

CATHERINE: You've got me hooked with the action and danger you present here. However, as mentioned by both Gail and Jerrica, there are punctuation problems throughout, primarily with commas, semi-colons, and overuse (and improper use) of the ellipsis. Those things can be easily fixed, though. I was confused as to why the man who pulled her up to safety would be a predator. Everything before the phrase "predator's grin" pointed to him being anything but a predator. Other than those minor things, I really enjoyed this passage.

SAMANTHA: I too was a little confused when she was suddenly lying on her back in the cavern, but it seems like she had a vision of the hero. Is this a fantasy novel? I love your way of wording things, such as "Sera's pulse thrummed its own primitive response." And I'm intrigued. I want to know who this woman is and why she has nails that sound like claws. Nice work. Thank you for sharing it with us.

JULIE: You have some very nice descriptions here. I really like her initial of the man and how you descrivbe him. The action is great and the danger is obvious and keeps an adrenaline junkie like me definitley wanting to read more. I was confused when she ended up on her back in a caveren. I think you need some sort of transtion sentence here to put the reader in context.

Crit Friday - First Sighting #3

“So I gather his expertise is white collar crime,” the blonde said.

“Uh-huh.” A raven-haired woman pulled back her lips to examine her gums and teeth, ruffly sleeve falling away from her arm.

“Did you know our legal expert made ‘Chicago’ magazine’s ‘Hottest Under 40?’ And honey, he can eat crackers in my bed anytime.”

“Hansel and Gretel would choke on the crackers he leaves behind.” The blonde fanned out her hand to inspect her nails.

“Hear about the fountain thing?”


“Well, he was photographed with some actress in front of Buckingham Fountain.”


“She was nude.”

Let’s hope the tour bus full of seniors wasn’t there, Lesli Jensen thought, concluding the only man they could be talking about was none other than Mr. Bling, a.k.a. Xavier Calder, her new supervisor.

“That’s why he couldn’t be on the show last time,” the blonde said. “One client threatened to go to another law firm after a tabloid ran the photo. In fact, our bad boy shouldn’t be here today, because he’s supposed to keep a lower profile. But I begged him to help us out.”

“I bet you begged,” the brunette teased.

Lesli cleared her throat, tapping the door. The two women gave her a critical once-over. Great. Her hair was probably frizzing from the humidity. Lesli straightened, tucked the coin into a side pocket. Accustomed to mom-wear of elastic waistbands and cotton tees, she felt alien in her fitted cranberry suit and three inch heels. Since the separation, she’d lost ten pounds. This morning, in front of her bathroom mirror, she almost didn’t recognize herself. “I’m, I’m a little early,” Lesli explained. “Someone said I could find Mr. Calder here.”

The blonde smiled. “Yoo-hoo! MIS-ter Calder!”

A dark, striking man emerged from the adjoining kitchen, tugging on white tissue wedged in the white collar of his dress shirt. Judging by his muscular build and military officer’s posture, he was in his late twenties or early thirties. At the opposite end of the long table was a ringing cell phone. Grabbing it, he flipped it open. ”Lindsey? All right. Les-lee.” His eyes scanned the room, landing on her.

Lesli felt like she was caught between crosshairs. He ripped off the thin white paper around his collar, impatient when the tissue stuck to his ring finger, flinging it at the wastepaper basket like a spitball. “How do women wear this gunk?” He had a husky, broadcasting-quality voice, the kind of voice that could talk the pastor’s daughter into going under the bleachers.

“We barely put any on.” The black-haired woman protested, following him to a large bathroom where he switched on the light. Lesli had a better view of the bathroom and could see it was a penthouse quality, with a sleek light fixture and two sinks sunk into granite. Still holding the cell, he plucked a wet wipe from a marble dispenser with his free hand, and removed the make-up.

In the cabinet mirror, she could see he was not peering at himself but at her, his eyes sizing her up, moving from her heels and crossed legs, over her body and lingering on her face. She wasn’t sure if it was mild sexual interest or whether he was assessing her like an opposing counsel.

JERRICA: Very nice excerpt. I have no idea what's going on, but I'm definitely intrigued. LOL!

Just a couple things: "flinging it at the wastepaper basket" - grammatically this needs to be "and flung." "Judging by his muscular build and military officer’s posture, he was in his late twenties or early thirties." I'm not sure that build and posture can give away a persons age. It's typically facial features that help us judge that. You may consider revising slightly to indicate he has that build and posture, but that something else makes her think he's in his 20s/30s. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this! Great job!

HEATHER: Thanks for submitting to Lady Scribes. I know this is only a sample of a much longer story, but the reference to the coin really threw me at the beginning. And since it isn't mentioned again I'm curious whether she tapped on the door with it.

The second question I had related to Leslie's crossed legs. I had thought she was standing. Was her ankles crossed or had she sat down? Overall, an interesting exerpt and I hope to read more of this story in the future.

AMY: I agree with Jerrica that build doesn't really give a person's age but facial features are a better indicator. I thought she was standing until the end when she crossed her legs. When the blonde called for Mr. Calder I was under the impression she was calling across the room or something and he heard her and came out of the kitchen, yet he picked a cell phone and said her name and saw she was in the same room. This kind of confused me. Overall, I thought this was good and it intrigued me.

CATHERINE: I'm with both Jerrica and Amy about the build. To me, that doesn't seem like a very good indicator of age. Also, I got a little lost during the opening dialogue sequence as to which anonymous character was saying what. Adding just a couple of dialogue tags interspersed through that section will help the reader follow the exchange a little better. At times, I felt that there was great Deep POV and characterization for Lesli's character ("Great. Her hair was probably frizzing from the humidity.") But at other times, you could improve this by removing little things like "she thought," etc. Overall, I'm curious to read more after reading this snippet. I don't entirely understand what is going on, but there is enough here to sustain my interest.

LYDIA: Coming into the middle of a scene is always so hard for me. So, it was probably really clear that she was eavesdropping on the conversation in the pages previous to what was posted, but that threw me. It could also be that I'm doped up on cold medicine right now, so take anaything I say with a grain of salt and feel free to laugh at my expense if I sound loopy. I liked the interaction between the two women and you did a great job in describing Xavier sizing Lesli up. Like the others, the sitting down/crossed legs threw me. I'd envisioned her standing, but again had we seen the previous pages, I'm sure that would have been clear. Good luck!

JULIE: Thanks for submitting your a sample of your story to us. I love the line about Hansel and Gretel. I like the dialogue between the two women. It seemed very natural and real. I did have a bit of a hard time following rhe exchange because of only seeing the women through their hair color, but I'm not sure how you could fix it other than a little more description of each woman. Overall, I enjoyed the excerpt and would defininitely be interested in reading more.