Monday, May 29, 2006

Writing Contests - Some Cautions

A member of my critique group - unpublished so far, but destined to be published if she keeps it up, she's a great writer - mentioned she was going to begin entering contests to get feedback on her writing.

I'm not a big fan of writing contests. I've entered a few, won some, finaled in some, but I've never felt the comments and feedback accompanying my scoresheets were particularly helpful to me. It's difficult for a judge to truly assess a book in any meaningful way on the basis of ten, twenty or thirty opening pages, and I found that many of the comments made by judges didn't really apply.

I once had a judge knock off some points and tell me to get rid of a certain character that appeared in the first couple of pages. The problem was, the character she wanted me to get rid of was the villain. Without him, there was no story. In another contest, I had a judge make a complex suggestion that would have sent my story off in a completely different direction. Not helpful.

I passed on the following cautions to my critique partner:

Keep in mind that a winning contest entry may not be publishable. As written, I mean. What contest judges look for in a contest entry may not necessarily be what an editor will find suitable or appealing. Writers with lots of experience entering contests usually write their entry specifically to appeal to contest judges. It's a knack.

Only enter contests where the final judge is an editor. Now, having said the above, if you do final, an editor will often ask to see a proposal, so it gives you a leg up, so to speak. You may have to further revise your proposal before you submit it, though.

Take the feedback with a grain of salt. Don't think that every comment a judge makes is written in stone. Often, the feedback will not apply at all. Use your own judgement. Take and keep what you can use, discard the rest. It's YOUR story.

Don't become addicted to contests. Don't focus your efforts solely on entering contests. I know of someone who won just about every contest she entered, but never sold a book. In fact, she never even submitted a proposal because she never wrote anything more than a contest entry.

Don't sacrifice writing time preparing contest entries. If you have a choice of entering a contest or moving forward on your novel, skip the contest.

If you win or final - BRAG! Go ahead. Tell everyone!

Good luck, Lena.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Writers Conferences - Some Favorites

There's been some discussion on the Five Star Authors email loop about writers conferences. Some authors enjoy them, others don't.

I happen to like writers conferences. But my reasons for going and what I take away from them has changed over the years. Early on, when I first began thinking about writing a book, I attended conferences for the classes. I went to every session I could, took copious notes, horded the handouts, bought tapes of the classes I didn't attend, and spent my evenings thinking about and applying what I'd learned that day. No parties or socializing for me! I was there to learn. With a vengeance!

Later, I scheduled one-on-one appointments with editors and agents. I used my eight or ten minutes to ask them what they were acquiring, if there was anything in particular they were looking for, and I pitched my story ideas. For me, conferences are extremely valuable. It keeps me up to date on the market, and I'm able to hear it directly from the editors. I met my agent at a conference. I pitched her, she liked what she heard, and she signed me.

But all conferences aren't the same. Some are huge affairs with thousands of people attending, others are deliberately small and intimate. Here are some of my favorites:

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers - This is held in Denver. It's a big conference with writers and presenters from all genres. They feature a lot of sessions about law enforcement and criminology. Very helpful for those writing crime, suspense or thrillers. You'll hear some famous name authors there, too.

San Diego State University Conference - This takes place in January, a time of year you'd rather be in San Diego than almost anywhere else. This, too, is a big conference, and similar to RMFW.

Desert Rose RWA Conference - This one is held every other year in Phoenix. It's a smaller conference, about 250 people. The focus is on romance writing and a lot of big time editors and agents attend. Registration fills up quickly as people come from all over the country and Canada.

Trois Riviere Fiction Writers Conference - This is a very small, boutique type conference, limited to about thirty attendees, and the slots fill up fast. Because it's so small, the editors and agents are very accessible and approachable. That's kind of the point of this conference. At the last one held in April, someone organized an impromptu reading in the hotel lobby that was attended by writers and editors. Some of the editors were writers, too, and read from their own work. A chance to get to know them in an informal setting. It's held in Farmington, New Mexico every other year.

I'd be interested in hearing about some of your favorite writers conferences, and why you like them.

Next blog I'll update you on my list of "100 Things To Do Before I Die." I may be able to check off one of the items. Nothing definite yet. I'll let you know. Send me your suggestions for exciting or interesting things to add.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Between Books

Since I'm between books, I'm taking the opportunity to get my office back in order. While I'm writing, especially as I near the end of a book, I don't take the time to file and sort the papers that seem to appear out of nowhere. During this down time I reorganize, clean my desk and bookshelves, and churn book ideas in my head. I'll mention later what story question I'm turning over now.

What collects in my office over the months a book is being developed? Mostly things I've printed from email or off the Internet. Information I thought was important at the time got printed out and put in a "to be filed" stack. Things like conferences I thought I might attend (but never did), contests I might want to enter (but never did), editorial guidelines from publishers I thought would be interested in something I was working on, emails about things I needed or wanted to see or do. Personal letters to answer, phone calls to return, personal business that needs follow up.

Interesting observation about all that- sometimes if I wait long enough the urgency goes away. I tossed a lot of paper.

But I accomplish two very important things while I'm putting my environment in order. First of all, the clutter is gone which is very important to my sense of well being. It clears my mind, allows me to sort of expand into my surroundings and take deeper breaths. Second, it gives me a chance to churn story ideas.

The story question I'm pondering today is - who would murder five nuns living in a secluded Order on a remote mountain top in the heart of the Arizona desert?

Friday, May 19, 2006

How I Got Started

I'm asked a lot how I got started writing books. Despite the fact that I think I was born to write, it actually took me quite a while to get started.

When I was very young, a beginning reader, my mother took me by the hand and walked me down the block to the local library. I remember the first book I checked out. It was about a dog named Val, and when I finished reading it, I thought to myself, "I can do that."

But it was a long time before I actually did.

Over the years I wrote for newspapers and magazines, and my work has appeared in many regional and national publications. I wrote some short stories, and even wrote for confession magazines (remember those?) I wrote for Vocational Biographies, a publisher of career reference materials, and was even fortunate enough to have corporate writing jobs (imagine! doing what I loved and getting a regular paycheck for it!)

But I always wanted to write novels. And I had no end of ideas to write about, it was the how that stumped me.

I thought there was only ONE WAY to do it, and my search began for THE way. That's what took me so long, and what a waste of time that was. Because there is no ONE way to write a novel. There are as many ways to write a novel as there are novelists. I just had to find the way that was right for me. Once I realized that, the story ideas began lining up in queue.

So the right way for me is to formulate most of the story in my head, and then write an outline. I always know the beginning and the end quite clearly. The middle of the story is not always fully formed in my mind, but I do make a list of things I want to happen. The items on the list are not carved in stone, I do wander off in the writing process, but I'm always amazed when I'm finished how many of those events on my list made it into the book.

I've received some interesting suggestions for my list of "100 Things To Do Before I Die." One is studying Yoga at an ashram in India, and though that is something I'd definitely love to do, I'm afraid I have to limit my list to things I'll actually do. Otherwise, my list would be endless.

And thanks, Bulldoglvr, but I don't think I'll be learning to fly, either, for the reason you mention. (See comments attached to my first blog called, "Welcome.")

More later.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Today I finished my current work in progress. What a great feeling to have completed it! It's a romantic suspense called WITHOUT PERMISSION about a child advocate who runs off with an eight-year-old boy to keep him safe. She flees to the only man she can trust, a nature photographer/wildlife biologist living in Durango, Colorado. Problem is, she dumped him flat years before. And, oh, yes, he's damaged from it. Now she can only hope he'll take her in. It turned out to be a bigger story than I'd planned and I had a lot of plot points to tie up before I got to the last page, so I was anxious to be done.

That got me thinking about finishes. Some things we like to see finished, others we wish would go on and on.

Here are some things I am glad to have finished: A book that I'm writing, a drive over Wolf Creek Pass, a colonoscopy, a crying baby, a blizzard, a summer in Arizona.

Here are some things I don't like to see end: A good book that I'm reading, a B-tribe CD, a beautiful sunset, a massage, sitting on the beach in Santa Monica, the last run in Aspen.

Now that I'm finished with this book, I can take a break and catch up on my reading. I usually read two or three books at the same time, switch off from one to the other. Right now I'm reading books written by friends of mine.

WHISPERS by Erin Grady is a real page turner, and jaded reader that I've become, it takes a LOT to keep me turning pages!

I'm also reading THE GARRISON: LOCKDOWN by Vijaya Schartz. It's not the kind of book I usually read, a futuristic, action-packed romance, but wow! I'm only a few pages into it and I am literally holding my breath to see what happens next.

I'm getting lots of private emails in response to my blog, people asking questions about writing and about my process. In the next few days I'll begin posting some answers.

Be well.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Strong Women

I admire strong women, don't you? I'm not only talking about famous women who have made important life changing contributions to science, literature, medicine, or other areas of our culture. I'm talking about the sharp, smart, focused young women of today who have learned to set goals, plan their lives, and make intelligent decisions for themselves. Women like my VISTA mates Amanda, Tricia and Melissa.

Women like Amanda Bell, the heroine of my book THE CHARMSTONE.

Amanda Bell was a misfit socialite who never quite fit in, never felt she measured up to other people's expectations. She made a courageous decision for herself when she was called upon to travel to a place she'd never been and where she knew no one in order to fulfill her deceased father's last wish. When she arrived on the Navajo Indian Reservation, a place as foreign to her as if it were in another country, she again felt uncertain and out of place. But she persevered, made mistakes that she learned from, overcame doubts and fears, and despite sometimes insurmountable obstacles, never gave up. And in the process experienced incredible growth.

I like Amanda Bell a lot. I hope you do, too. You'll meet her next spring when my book is released. I plan to give all my heroines guts and spirit.

And speaking of strong women - check out my friend Donna MacQuigg's book THE PRICE OF PRIDE. Her heroine, Sarah Brighton, is truly a free spirit with attitude!

Don't forget to post your suggestions for my "100 Things To Do Before I Die" list. I'll post the best ones, and mention your name, and maybe add them to my list.

Let me know your thoughts about strong women.

Be well.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Thanks for visiting my blog! I'm honored to be in the company of these impressive Five Star authors.

The title of my book is "The Charmstone" and it's a story of mystery, history and romance set in the Four Corners area of the Southwest. Specifically, the story takes place in beautiful Monument Valley, the most far-flung and remote part of the Navajo Reservation. I lived on the Reservation for a time as a VISTA volunteer and this book is inspired by my experiences there and the lovely people I met. "The Charmstone" comes out next spring, so please watch for it! My agent called to tell me she's already had a request to see it for film rights, so I'm very excited about that.

Living on the Navajo Reservation was only one of the things on my list of "100 Things To Do Before I Die." It's a list I began compiling a while ago, and I add things to it as they come to me. Other items on that list are seeing the Grand Canyon (I've just moved to Arizona, so haven't been there yet), going on a walking tour in Tibet , going deep sea fishing, working on an archeological dig (which I've done), going whale watching (which I've done), learning to line dance, and being an extra in a Cirque du Soleil performance.

But my list is far from complete, so if anyone has a suggestion, I'd like to hear it. Please tell me if you think of something interesting or exciting to do, and if it appeals to me, I'll add it to my list.

Please visit me often. The welcome mat is always out at my blog.