Summer Blues

Today the sky is a brilliant blue, the sun a radiant yellow. Outside it is 82 degrees. Not much humidity. The lazy days of summer beckon. Through the open door, I smell the fragrance of late blooming flowers and freshly mowed grass. As my husband steps out onto the deck, a warm breeze caresses my skin. I ache to join him there, to bask in the glorious warmth of this last day of August.

But I’ve played too long. The book must be finished. I must return to it.

Now.

So I take a deep breath and close the door. Nudge up the air conditioner. Turn the blinds. Then I plant myself in the chair and mentally handcuff my wrists to my laptop.

I shut my eyes. Project myself back…back into a time of no computers, no electricity. Back into a 19th century Midwestern winter blizzard. The air conditioner kicks in but, in the distance, I imagine it is the howling wind. I shiver. Almost there now. I reach for my cup of coffee to warm my cold hands. Almost.

When I write my next book, I must figure out how to better coordinate the seasons.

Sunnyside

Magic dwells in Tarrytown – magic, mirth, and a smidgeon of mystery.

On the banks of the Hudson River stands a house called Sunnyside. Sunnyside is not a grand house, like neighboring Lyndhurst (see photo on right). Lyndhurst is a castle of a house, an outstanding example of American Gothic Revival architecture built by a man of substance and made grander still by those who came after.

Nor is Sunnyside a house that prompts thoughts of great wealth like Kykuit (see photo on left), the home a few miles up the road that oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller carved from a mountain top. His grandson, Nelson Rockefeller, filled the six-story mansion with modern art inside and out – Picassos and the like – before the family left the home to the National Trust.

Sunnyside is, instead, a humble, fairy tale sort of house.

In 1835, after an adventurous life in America and abroad, noted author Washington Irving bought a simple two-room Dutch cabin, built in 1656, and some acres of land surrounding it. His idea, he wrote, was to “make a little nookery somewhat in the Dutch style, quaint, but unpretending. It will be of stone.” And thus, Sunnyside was born.

Irving’s young fiancé had died of consumption and he never married. In his later years he lived at Sunnyside with his widowed brother and five nieces. He was a genial, hugely popular man who entertained renowned literary figures and United States Presidents alike within the walls of his humble cottage.

What is it that causes one house to stand apart from its neighbors?

Is it the stone, wood, and skill that creates the structure? Is it simply the setting? Or does some spiritual remnant of those who have lived within linger to bid us welcome?

Water Leak

I received an email early this morning. Although it has nothing to do with writing, I thought you might enjoy it.

“Jennifer and Jim kept getting huge water bills. No matter how they tried to conserve, the high bills continued. They knew the bills didn’t represent their actual water use so they checked the water meter, pipes (outdoor, indoor, and underground), faucets, toilets, washer, ice maker – all to no avail.

One day Jim was sick and stayed home but he kept hearing water running downstairs. He finally pulled himself from his sick bed to investigate and found the cause of the high water bills. Apparently this was happening all day long when they weren’t at home. Knowing few would believe him, he taped a segment of the “problem” for posterity.” (Click to watch.)

A good laugh is a great way to start the day! Thank you, Ro!

Building Houses

Writing a book is like building a house. Okay, so you’ve heard that one before. So have I. It’s an old analogy. But there’s a part of it that I’d never really mulled over until this morning.

Some years ago, we built a house (not the one shown, but don’t you just love this picture?). Our builder kept us on track. Foundation dug, basement poured, structure framed, roofed, windows installed, and so on. After several months, our house was finished and we moved in.

But imagine if, after the cellar was finished, I’d decided I preferred a larger house. More digging, more cement to pour. Then, after the framing, imagine that I’d wanted to change it from a two-story colonial to a one-story sprawling ranch with huge windows. And, once the walls were painted, what if I’d said I wanted more wiring? Oh, and how about another bathroom just off the garage?

Do you see where I’m going? The house would have never been finished. At least not without a murder or two somewhere along the way (either my own, or the builder’s.) Not a good way to build a house. Not a good way to write a book either.

Houses need plans, and timelines. So do books.

As aspiring authors it is quite easy to start a story then just follow our wandering muse. Oooh, instead of a cop, what if I made the hero into a rodeo star? What if I changed the setting from Wyoming to New Zealand? It’s easy to be a writing pantser, writing by the seat of our pants, traveling where the mood takes us.

But published writers, those who are most successful, don’t allow themselves to do that. Not totally. Writing novels is a business. Successful writers make a goal, and follow a timeline.

If I am going to thrive in this business of writing, I must take a lesson from my old builder (and a few other worthy souls I’ve met along the way). Keeping my goal in sight, I must follow my timeline.

That’s how houses – and books – are built.

What is your philosophy of writing? Are you a pantser, a plotter, or a planner? Do you approach your writing as an art, or as a craft?

Things I Learned in San Francisco – RWA National

As you may have guessed by previous postings, I LOVED touring San Francisco and my experience at 2008 RWA National. Here are a few things I learned while there.

  • Chinese take-out tastes a whole lot better in California than it does in Pennsylvania.
  • All major cities are NOT alike.
  • San Francisco’s culture is unique, undefinable, and exhilarating.
  • The temperature of a city does make a difference. To me, San Francisco’s is heaven on earth.
  • When going to a conference, check in early (but try to avoid those pesky power outages).
  • A hotel lobby filled with women’s voices is very loud.
  • Quiet spaces are available, even in a hotel filled with 2,000 women (and a few men) in a city the size of San Francisco.
  • Every conference has a different mood.
  • The San Francisco Marriott has the best staff I have ever encountered in a conference hotel.
  • Conference lunches may taste the same everywhere, but extraordinary service, good company, and a great speaker can make you actually enjoy the chicken dish.
  • Late night and early morning talks are the best.
  • Networking is little more than talking and listening to other professionals – a whole lot of listening.
  • An author’s name is her brand (thank you, MH!).
  • Opportunities for success don’t come around that often. When they do, be ready.
  • Holding your published book takes persistence and raw grit, but if you want it and are willing to work for it, it will happen.
  • Getting published is only the beginning.

and finally

  • While it may true that there is no place like homeI left my heart in San Francisco

What did you learn at RWA National, or at the last conference you attended?

RWA National in San Francisco – August 1 & 2

Friday and Saturday posts slipped away in a flurry of conference bustle. After the sensational awards ceremony (see August 3rd), this wrap-up summary may be anti-climatic, but I wanted to post before the memories slip away.

Both days opened with continental breakfasts outside the Yerba Buena Ballroom. Tables of pastries, juice, fruit, coffee and tea helped jump-start our day. We sat at the ballroom tables with our plates and cups, planning, chatting, or just zoning out.

At some point early on Friday, I discovered that the Marriott had a rooftop garden on the 5th floor, a haven of rest amid the bustle of the conference. Multi-published Regency Author (and fellow WisRWA member) Victoria Hinshaw wandered out there as I was contemplating the palms and the sky. We had a very nice chat. Part of the pure joy of RWA National is the unexpected conversations with other writers.

There were some incredible workshops this year, held over the three day conference. Somewhere I saw there were over 100 to choose from. Here are a few of my favorites:

Brenda Hiatt gave an update on her popular presentation called Show Me the Money, compiled from anonymous surveys, showing how much publishers really pay for romance novels. In addition to dollar amounts, she gave advice on what to do when you get the call, about rights, contract clauses and a myriad of other helpful facts. Her updated Show Me the Money survey is available on her website (click her name, above).

Integrated Marketing was a panel presentation by Saturday night’s RITA winner Madeline Hunter, marketing specialist Shannon Aviles, and media specialist Trish Claussen. They discussed the importance of using media to create an integrated marketing plan and create buzz for your name, thereby increasing your sales. Since I first heard her speak several years ago, I’ve been wowed by Ms. Hunter’s professional knowledge and business savvy. This workshop was no exception.

Stephanie Bond gave another practical, down-to-earth presentation – How to Make a Living Writing Romance. She talked about forming strategies to make a business plan and determining your writing goals. Writing five new pages a day for 350 days a year, she said, will generate 1,750 pages – the equivalent of two single titles, 3 categories, and 2 novellas. FYI – Ms. Bond has a link to her writing articles on her website.

Multi-RITA finalist Virginia Kantra gave another helpful workshop – Voice: What are they Talking About? By using examples from best-selling authors she talked about factors influencing voice and how to define and refine your own voice. Very helpful.

Most of the workshops will be available on CD at Bill Stephen’s Productions, within a few weeks. Currently only 2006 and 2007 are listed. The first ones I mentioned (Money, Marketing, and Making a Living) weren’t recorded but I urge you to seek out the speakers/topics at future conferences.

My compliments to whoever came up with the small, wire-bound RWA Conference Journal. The size and design made it an easy fit into any handbag. The front held a Schedule at a Glance, and the many lined blank pages were more than sufficient for my conference notes. Good, functional design, and well-used!

Throughout the last day, writers lined up for the free books at the publisher sponsored book signings. The Marriott established a special Shipping Center near the Golden Gate Suites to ship books home. In this age of limited allowed luggage on airlines, this shipping center made for a much appreciated convenience.

Later this week I will post about things learned at this year’s conference. Please check back!

RWA National in San Francisco – August 2 Evening

This will be a quick post. The RWA RITA & Golden Hearts Awards Ceremony on Saturday evening was sensational. (Please click the link to see the full list of winners.) Suzanne Brockman emceed and kept the ceremony moving with her witty narration and film clips showing “nerds” who were changed into movie heroes by romance novels. It all led to a special presentation. Vicki Lewis Thompson won the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. In an amusing speech she commented on the unusually high percentage of women who have won such awards have three names. (I recall Mel Gibson making a similar remark in Conspiracy Theory, referencing assassins, but we won’t go there <g>.)

Mega CONGRATULATIONS to Ms. Thompson, and to all the RITA and Golden Heart winners and finalists for your well-deserved awards!!! As a volunteer usher I felt honored to be one of those to see you first as you entered the ballroom with your gorgeous gowns, brilliant smiles, (a few) proud husbands, editors and agents.

I hope to see many of you at next year’s RWA Conference in Washington DC.

I fly home tomorrow. I hope to have a more thorough wrap-up posted soon.

Please check back later this week.