NJRW Chapter Meeting & Why I Belong

The New Jersey Romance Writers met Saturday, March 19, at the Hilton Woodbridge in Iselin, NJ. At the General Meeting, President Shirley Hailstock and NJRW’s Board updated members on the group’s finances, the new website, upcoming events including April’s Special Event, planning for October’s Put Your Heart in a Book conference, and the status of NJRW’s writing contests.  Hospitality Chair Val Luna handed out Hershey’s Kisses for those who submitted manuscripts since last month, Hershey’s Hugs for rejections, and a sprig of flowers for recipients of good news.  The Heartline Herald editor, Joan Raleigh, asked for member volunteers to write articles for the newsletter.  Volunteers are always needed and it is a great way to network.

Author Terri Brisbin

Member Kathye Thornton shared information about CTRWA’s upcoming Connecticut Fiction Fest 2011 on May 14 in North Haven, CT.  Keynote Speaker is Eloisa James.  Those attending will have the opportunity to pitch their books to acquiring editors and agents.  Noted authors will present workshops on a variety of topics.  All for only $99. Side note: I’ve learned Kathye has two how-to e-books (pdf) of interest – MS Word 2007 for Writers and also a guide for earlier Word versions.  Useful!

Member Terri Brisbin provided an update on NJRW’s exhibit at the NAIBA tradeshow to be held September 21-22 in Atlantic City.  NJRW will invite our published authors to man booths to sign their current releases and network independent booksellers.  The goal of our involvement is to promote the romance genre and provide information about local authors to the booksellers.

After the General Meeting and a short break, this months’ three featured authors presented their latest books then held a short book signing.  Included were Authors Terri Brisbin –  HIS ENEMY’S DAUGHTER, Shirley HailstockSOME LIKE THEM RICH, and Renee RyanDANGEROUS ALLIES.

Guest Speaker Renee Ryan

The monthly program featured author Renee Ryan who spoke on The Art of Layering: From First Draft to Final Manuscript. She began by stating that she received 187 rejection letters before selling her first book.  She kept them all.  She entered multiple contests and studied the craft of writing. After her first sale it would be nearly seven years before her next.  During that time she went back to studying craft and discovered the art of layering.  She said if we take away only one thing from her talk, we should remember “the one thing you control is your craft.”

Ms. Ryan discussed her eight-step process in layering.  Step One is to write a first draft.  After that, using examples from her work, she showed how to layer each scene with movement, senses, dialogue, emotion, and so on.  Layering makes the scene come alive.  It allows an author to show, not tell.  It allows for deep point of view letting the reader feel she is deep in the mind of the character.

NJRW President Shirley Hailstock

She also provided helpful tips, answering questions such as “What do I do if a scene isn’t working?” (Use highlighters to color code dialogue, emotion, etc.) and “How can I write what a tornado feels like if I’ve never been in one?”  (Watch You Tube!).

Sensational workshop, dynamic speaker!

News Flash…Renee Ryan chaired the RWA Workshop committee for RWA National in NYC this year.  Click here for the amazing line-up of workshops to be presented.

Following a pleasant lunch with our fellow writers down in the hotel’s restaurant, we went back upstairs where we broke into two groups. NJRW’s published authors met for a monthly Published Authors session.  President Shirley Hailstock led a useful Hands-On session for those not yet published.  Writers brought the first 250 words of their manuscripts for a fascinating and very helpful discussion about opening lines.

Simply one meeting, free and available monthly to members of NJRW.  One hand reaching forward, one hand reaching back – writers helping writers. It’s what RWA is all about.

Business Cards

Early in my writing life, when I first joined NJRW, a writer spoke on the business part of writing.  You’ll need business cards, she said.  Keep them simple.  Show only essential information – name and contact details.  With a card you can begin networking.  You can keep in touch with other writers you meet at a conference.  You can enclose it in a thank-you note to a contest judge.  And, while an editor you meet may not ask for your card, you’re ready in case she does.

Despite early advice about keeping the cost down, I had my first card printed on high quality linen stock.  avery-business-cards1It was clean, classy, and included my personal home address – a no-no, I soon learned.  My email address was outdated a year so later when we changed internet providers.  Yeah, what was I thinking?  I ordered 500.   There are still about 459 aging nicely in my desk drawer.

I learned that it’s cheaper to buy paper and print the cards myself.  Avery has clean-edge business cards available online, or in office supply stores.   Using a template you can print your own card then break them up, 10 per sheet.  The clean edge looks much better than the mini-perforated edge cards, also available.  By printing your own cards before a conference, you can print only as many as you think you’ll hand out.  You can also personalize them for each use.

Keep in mind that your name is your brand.   That is what you want to be prominent on your card, whether you pay to have it printed or if you print it yourself.  Make sure the font is readable, and the card is not crowded.  Keep it orderly, professional.

I am still aspiring but I’ve written enough debs-card1novels to know the direction I’m taking.  A bit over a year ago, I contracted for a website design.  The design, by Stonecreek Media, Inc., captured my writing voice.  When I started Stringing Beads last June, I wanted to bring my website into it.   I customized this WordPress blog template with my copyrighted image from the top of my website.

A few months ago, I began thinking about upcoming conferences, especially WisRWA’s Write Touch (featuring Sherrilyn Kenyon) in June and RWA National in Washington, DC in July.  I wanted to bring my site image onto my business card as well.  Enter VistaPrint.  Going online, I designed a card using the image header Stonecreek had designed for me.  It didn’t take long, and the cost was low.  There are thousands of pre-designed template images also available.  This method worked for me.

If you are attending a conference or workshop this year, remember to make up some business cards to tuck in your bag.   Whether you use VistaPrint, PsPrint, NextDayFlyers.com, your local printer, or if you do it yourself on an Avery template, you’ll be glad you did.

→ As a fiction writer, do you have a business card?  What information do you put on the front?   Do you give out many cards when you go to conferences or workshops?   Has there ever been an occasion when you wished you had a card?  Please comment.

Tech Trek

When I was in high school,type-writer-girl-rv not quite so far back as when this photo was taken, I signed up for a typing course.  Not because I wanted to go into business but because, even then, I aspired to become a writer.  Naive though I was, I knew writers had progressed beyond the quills of Jane Austen’s time.  If I wanted to write, I knew I must learn to type.  My typing teacher, Mr. P., taught me the needed skills to produce neat term papers, skills that would later help pay my bills.

In my first office job, we typed on IBM Selectrics, a typewriter with correctable film ribbons, and ball elements for changeable fonts.

When our first son was born, ibm_selectric_ii_correcting_tape4I quit work to become a stay-at-home mom.  Over time, I typed family letters, essays, op-eds, and cookbooks at one end of our dining table on an IBM Wheelwriter.  Meanwhile, in the den, our growing sons played games on their Commodore 64, a cherished Christmas gift from Grandpa.

A few years later, we bought a CompuAdd 386.   With college tuition on the horizon, I soon returned to office work.  By then, I’d studied and was proficient in WordPerfect.   It was the last decade of the 20th century.  We were ready for a fast technological ride from mechanical hardware to mind boggling software.

Do you recall when you first heard the word Internet?   In scarcely an eye’s blink, this invisible web expanded hp-laptop2well beyond a science-fiction writer’s imaginings.   In less than a generation, we traveled from dial-up modems to WiFi.  Now, in seconds, we fling our thoughts around the world.

When I ponder how the Internet has influenced my writing life, I’m awed.   I email peers in Hawaii, Wisconsin, and New Jersey.  With a few clicks, we meet, critique, and hold online workshops.  We make travel arrangements then follow friends’ flights on flight tracking sites.   We email warm cyber hugs for a rejection, and cyber bubbly to celebrate a first sale.  On Yahoo Groups, we reach out for help to find the perfect word, to find a reputable book mark printer, or for the best way to kill off the bad guy.  And they answer!  Always, day or night, someone is there.

I am not a techie.  twitterEnglish and history were always my passion.   In Algebra, I wrote pages of poetry (still amazed I passed).  Yet, somehow, I’ve set up and maintain three blogs.  I buy and sell on e-Bay, am Linked-In, and visit YouTube.  I have friends who use FaceBook and MySpace, and others who Twitter (though not me…not yet…tweet).

Are we better writers than before this techno madness?  Who knows?  Future generations will decide the quality of our writing.  They will choose which books will endure.  I do believe that we are better connected than ever.  If that helps some struggling romance writer alone in Montana’s mountains to achieve more than she would have before the Internet, isn’t that a good thing?

→ How has technology and the Internet influenced your writing?  What do you most enjoy?  What do you find most frustrating?

Preparing for Christmas

We bought our Christmas wreath today. We’ve had an artificial tree for nearly two decades, but each year Christmas Wreathwe drive up to a tree farm at the base of the Pocono Mountains to buy a real wreath. Oh, I love the piney smell that oozes from a real tree indoors. A wreath hanging outside in the cold doesn’t give off such a scent. But that’s how things have developed in our home. We trim a fake tree hauled up from the basement, and hang a real wreath hauled down from the Poconos. It’s now a tradition.

This year’s wreath is smaller than last year’s. Most everything about this year’s Christmas will likely be smaller. No matter what a person’s income, it has become impossible for anyone to ignore the country’s current economic condition. And who knows what 2009 might bring?

Across America, banks are foreclosing on houses. Factories and plants are closing their doors. Those still employed wonder – am I next? Layaway plans are making a comeback and frugal living blogs abound. Rampant worry over the publishing industry has published authors encouraging others to buy a book to give this Christmas. Hey, a book is a great gift anytime!

Our giving this year leans heavily toward the practical, and the personal. Our sons are now on their own. They’ll find useful gifts under the tree. For geographically scattered siblings, I’ve created a newsletter blog. For others, I’ll give gifts from my kitchen.

But how does this influence our writing? The industry has realized that we’re in a recession. Publishers are laying off employees and downsizing books. For aspiring authors, is it practical to maintain professional memberships? What about next year’s conferences? Can we hope to sell? But in the grand scheme, does it matter? Life, after all, is a cycle. Shouldn’t we simply keep writing?

And shouldn’t we rejoice in the spirit of the Christmas holiday? This year can again be a time of profound beauty, if we prepare.

Will the current state of the economy influence how you celebrate this year and, if so, how?

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?