Stories


Yeah, I’m saying there has to be something higher than Cloud Nine, and I’m on it. I am a 2011 Golden Heart finalist. I’ve been fielding congratulatory calls, tweets and e-mails all day — and I’m glad to get them.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought to myself “OMG, OMG, OMG” today. Good thing they just added that phrase to the dictionary, eh?

The GH final wasn’t the only piece of good news I received today. I also found out that “Beauty and the Ballplayer” won the Beacon contest, too. And the final judge/agent requested a full MS. I’ll be getting right on that, contacting her Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See? I’m not imagining all this good fortune. It’s really happening!

I’ve been writing off and on since I finished my first draft of my first MS back in 1995 or 96, but I’ve gotten serious about it in the past two years. I entered the GH for the first time in 2010; my entry earned solidly mediocre scores. This year I entered two (in series contemporary and single title contemporary) and finaled once.

You can find a full list of Golden Heart® and RITA® finalists here. (I’m excited to have found the ® symbol I’ve been instructed to use in reference to the GH and RWA.) It was nice to see so many familiar Ruby sisters (from my adopted GH class of 2009) on the lists.

There’s so much to think about, though. The Boyfriend said, “What’s next?” Well, the most immediate concern is getting a flattering headshot by April 8. I also need to find a way to pay the conference registration fee/airfare/hotel, and think about business cards. And I need to update my website … and take a “crafting the perfect pitch” workshop so I’m ready to meet with agents/editors at Nationals.

Simply put, I need to ramp up my writing efforts while remaining grounded enough to hold onto the day job … and start a new diet to lose weight before July.

None of these things are impossible tasks. I’m just thankful to be faced with such dilemmas.

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My phone woke me up — and this time, it was THE call … well, the call that I’m a Golden Heart finalist, at least.

“Beauty and the Ballplayer” finaled in the contemporary series category.

More later, since I’m sure this is the beginning of a long, wild ride!

My immediate dilemma: How can I get a flattering headshot for the Jumbotron? Well, I do work with a bunch of photographers. Maybe one of them will be up to the task.

If your mother was anything like mine, she dispensed tons of advice: Sit up straight … Don’t go outside with a wet head or you’ll catch a cold … and NEVER stop at a rest area after dark.

Well, I slouch all the time, frequently go out with wet hair and recently stopped at Sunset Point at midnight (under the Boyfriend’s watchful eye) — and the world didn’t stop spinning. My posture may suffer, but I didn’t catch my death of cold or get myself murdered.

So Mom doesn’t always know best.

She was right about one thing, though: You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

As a reporter, my best interviews happen when I approach them like I’m sitting down to chat with a friend. Interview subjects share more — and give better quotes — if you set a friendly tone and bond over something you have in common.

Interviewing characters is similar. I like to sit down with my laptop, usually in a coffee shop, and make myself comfortable. Then we chat.

Of course, your characters are in your head, so you control the response. However, if your characters are anything like mine, they’re mouthy at best, uncooperative at worst.

To get the conversational ball rolling, I lob them a few softball questions first, questions like How’d you get your nickname? Where do you live? Any roommates?

With the niceties out of the way (and the creative juices flowing), you can get serious. If you’re lucky, your characters’ responses tell you something you didn’t know or didn’t consider important … something you can use to enrich your story.

For example, when I sat down with the hero in a half-finished, still-untitled WIP, I discovered he’s a bit of a stuffed shirt who likes to please everyone but himself.

So, Drew, tell me about your childhood.

(shrugs) There’s not much to tell. I grew up in a stable home with a mother and father who both loved me to distraction. I’m the middle child, with an older sister and younger brother.

I understand they’re both screw-ups.

Denise is a successful attorney. I’d hardly call that a screw-up. Of course, Mom isn’t happy that she’s decided to get herself artificially inseminated.

How do you feel about that decision?

It’s not my decision to make. She is 32 years old and still without a husband or any prospect of one. I say if she thinks the sperm bank is the best way to achieve her goal of having a family, she should go for it. (Hmm … I sense a story there! 😉 ) Just don’t tell my Mom I said so.

Why not?

I like being “the good child.” If Mom heard me siding with Denise, I might lose my standing.

What about your brother?

Dan? He’s no threat. He can’t hold a job for more than a few months at a time. He just lost another one, for boinking some girl in the copier room.

Let’s explore your need to be “the good child.”

Now you sound like my shrink.

You have a shrink?

No, but if I did, he’d surely want to “explore my need to be ‘the good child.’”

Well?

Pass. Ask me another question.

No, I think we’re onto something here. We’re going to continue exploring this topic, if you don’t mind.

(scowls) I like making people happy. Is that a crime?

Not at all — unless, of course, by making someone else happy you’re not pleasing yourself, too.

You can’t please someone else and yourself at the same time, genius.

Of course you can, if you both have similar goals, needs and desires.

And how many truly compatible people do you find in this world? I’m willing to bet the answer is “not too damn many.”

It only takes one, Drew.

Now you’re talking romance, huh?

You got it, genius.

So grab a cup of coffee, make yourself comfortable and have a heart-to-heart with your hero/heroine. What you find out just might surprise you — and it’ll probably improve your WIP.

Today just might go down as the highlight of my writing career to-date. It could be the start of something big.

Today, I was one of the lucky 125 entrants selected to submit to the Knight Agency’s Author Speed Date contest. You should have heard the excited whoop I let out when I saw my name on that list. (Everyone in the newsroom sure did. A few people even came over to my desk to see if I was OK.)

Panic quickly supplanted the initial excitement: Which of my novels do I send them? (I have so darn many to pick from — six completed MSs in all.) After some thought, I chose the one with the proven track record, my Beacon finalist, “Beauty and the Ballplayer.”

When I received word a few hours later that “Beauty and the Ballplayer” did not final in the Write Stuff contest, I second-guessed my decision. Big time. Lucky for me, I hadn’t had a chance to ship off my entry yet.)

The score sheets sat in my Gmail inbox, waiting for me to decide: Do I read them now, before I send my entry to the Knight Agency, so I can try to “fix” it?

A coworker convinced me to go ahead and look. “If they make any suggestions for the first three pages, use them if you think they have merit.”

So I took a peek. I couldn’t believe my eyes: Two perfect scores! The last judge gave me a 66 of 100, though. (Hope I didn’t get that judge for the Golden Heart. 😉  ) None of them wanted to make substantial alterations to pages 1-3.

I literally just shipped off my entry (the first three pages). Now, I wait … just like I’m waiting for the Golden Heart calls. The Speed Date results will come back faster, though. I’ll know by Thursday if I advance to the next round. (Just 25 of 125 will be so lucky.)

My writing output seems to drop in direct correlation to any increase in blog reading. That’s a problem, I know — but if I don’t take the time to read a few blogs, how can I expect anyone to read mine?

Besides, if I stopped reading, I’d miss out on gems like this one from Janice Hardy’s blog, The Other Side of the Story. She writes:

Choices that don’t cause trouble are wasted opportunity. The whole point of a book is to show someone overcoming adversity to win. If there’s nothing to overcome, there’s no point in the winning.”

What a way to put it!

It’s no secret that I struggle with conflict. (I blame it on being a Libra. Libras strive for fairness and avoid conflict.) Judges’ comments I got on my first completed MS — even after several new drafts — consistently said “not enough conflict to sustain the story.”

What? You mean a girl falling for one guy when she’s trying to “snag” another one altogether isn’t conflict?

Not according to Hardy. She writes, “A choice between two good things with no consequences for making that choice is probably not going to hold your reader’s interest.”

Well, I already knew Brad and Erin’s story needed help. I tried to remedy it in subsequent drafts by casting suspicion on him … I even hacked out their original “black moment” (such as it was. The “Battle of the Birth Control” was pretty silly when I look back at it with a more experienced eye.)

The key for me is to remember that my hero and heroine have to make choices. And those choices have to mean something. The potential for disaster should loom around every corner.

I think that is the case in my more recent stories. Bethany’s decision to talk Cody into applying for the TV show lands them in a heap of trouble. When Kenny asks Kristi to pretend to be his fiancee, things get out of hand quickly.

Hmm. All my blog reading must be teaching me something about the craft.

The hero in my WIP, Cody, has a tendency to use big words and shrink-speak when he’s upset, angry or flustered. (There’s a reason he has a T-shirt that says “I’m fluent in psychobabble.”)

It turns out Cody and I have that in common. Now that I’m writing fiction fairly regularly, I notice myself trying to flaunt my vocabulary in the articles I write for the newspaper, too.

When I was in journalism school (way back in the dark ages … the early 1990s), we learned the average reading level of the newspaper audience was eighth grade. (I think I’ve heard it’s since dropped to sixth grade, but I might be mistaken there.)

I analyzed my writing style with a computer program once (way back in those same dark ages) and it told me I wrote at a 10th-grade level. That has more than likely changed the farther I’ve gotten from college (where everyone used big words in an attempt to show off what they thought they knew) and the more deeply entrenched I’ve become in journalistic style.

We journalists are trained to use simpler words. A school bus is just plain “yellow,” not “canary” or even “that shade of mustard peculiar to school buses.” Don’t use “growled” or “yelled” when a simple “said” gets the point across without embellishment.

Sometimes I wonder if that training has affected my fiction writing. In first drafts, I often go with the most expedient word. Then I scramble to change it later on.

But now that I’m shifting my focus to making a good impression on agents and editors, I find myself choosing words with a little more razzmatazz … well, like razzmatazz. 😉

That’s not a bad thing at all — unless I’m writing a story for the newspaper. When I’m in journalist mode, I have to catch myself before I use words like “eschew.”

At least I haven’t tried to throw “bifurcated” into a sentence. I stumbled across that one while editing someone else’s story one night and spent much time complaining to whoever would listen that “bifurcated” was unnecessary when “forked” meant the same darn thing — and didn’t send readers scrambling for the nearest dictionary.

How about you? Ever catch yourself using words that make you feel like a big fish in a small pond?

We had a write-in/brainstorming session at Starbucks this afternoon before work, and I lamented the fact that I’ve only written about 600 words since the end of NaNoWriMo.

I’ve had days when I want to write, but the simple fact is this: I’m stuck.

The (finished) NaNo novel has been shelved, and I’m attempting to work on Bethany and Cody’s story, “Trouble in Paradise?” The key word there is “attempting.”

Beth and Cody are on the island, completing the network’s tests as they film their “Temptation Island”-like show … but nothing really awful has happened yet. They’re bumping along as happily as they have been. Nothing’s really settled, but nothing’s bothering them too much. Neither one has strayed — nor will they, even if Cody does develop some serious doubts about Beth’s faithfulness.

It may be time to up the ante here. (At least that’s what my romantic-suspense writing friend suggested. She said there’s a saying among suspense writers that when you’re stuck it’s time to boost the body count.)

I don’t have anyone to kill off … but I guess I could boot one of the couples off the island. (Any couple who fails three tests gets sent home.) I’d prefer it to be the contestants no one likes very much, but I suppose it would make for a better read if it’s someone I like. Bumping off the creep is too easy, right?

Alas, I think that means Jack and Jill must exit. They’re young and enthusiastic  — friendly, likable characters who want to win the prize money so they can pay for their own wedding, thus putting a stop to parental interference. Cody has recruited Jack as a running partner.

I just hate to see Jack and Jill go down in flames — but better them than Beth and Cody. 😉

Besides, their exit might make both Beth and Cody wonder : If Jack and Jill, young and seemingly madly in love, can’t avoid succumbing to temptation, perhaps no one can.

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