It’s Book Rec Time!

It’s another do your own thing month here on Bad Girlz Write, and I don’t know if it’s because my brain is fried with my release of Our Love Unhinged three days ago or because I’m feeling uninspired (or perhaps both), but I sat down to write no less than five different topics and none of them wanted to come. (There’s a lesson in there for writers, but as I said, my brain is fried so we’re not going to look too closely at it.)

So what’s an author to do when she doesn’t know what to talk about? Well, she talks about books, obviously. Writers are a voracious bunch of readers, especially romance writers. And whether or not I have 652 books on my to-be read shelf, that doesn’t stop me from searching for recommendations from friends, peers, and authors whose books I love. So without further ado, I give you the recent books that’ve made me swoon:

Sustained by Emma Chase

I decided to give this baby a go, even after reading and not loving Tangled by this author. Well…I’m so glad I did. I absolutely loved this book and all the characters in it.

It’s told in first person, male POV, and I’ll be honest—a book has to really pull this off for me to be a fan. Well, this book pulled it off. I adored Jake and Chelsea and the gaggle of kids they were thrown together with.

You won’t be sorry if you check this one out.


 

Taking the Heat by Victoria Dahl

Sometime last year, I discovered Victoria Dahl and promptly devoured her backlist. Then I got distracted (as you do) and floated away. When someone on Twitter was talking about Cunnilingus Gabe, my ears perked the hell up and I snatched this baby up as quickly as my little fingers could on-click.

He’s a librarian. Who loves going down on the ladies.

I don’t think there’s anything else I need to say.


 

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett

It’s probably no secret I don’t read a lot of YA. Turns out I like my books with a heavy dose of smut. But my BFF told me I had to read this late last year, and I’ll be honest—the start of a new year is the best time for me to venture into a new category.

So at the beginning of the year, I ventured. And I fell. Seriously. I fell so freakin’ hard for this book and these characters. I haven’t swooned this hard in a very, very long time. I promise you this is worth the price tag…or a trip to the library.


 

Chasing Crazy by Kelly Siskind

2014 was my first year participating as a mentor in Pitch Wars, and I was blown away by one manuscript in particular. I likened this to Anna and the French Kiss meets Ride with Me (both excellent books, btw). It had major swoons with (*fistpump*) sex, plus laughs. That is my trifecta, folks.

My mentee published her debut novel, Chasing Crazy, in January. It’s amazing. I promise you will laugh and swoon.


Make Me by Tessa Bailey

Tessa Bailey writes two of my favorite things: dirty talkers and swoony, overprotective alpha heroes. Her Broke and Beautiful series is one of my favorites from her.

This book features a rich, virgin heroine and a working class hero. For those like me who don’t like to read about virgin heroines, don’t let that scare you away! I really loved how it was handled in here—it felt realistic and didn’t affect the heat at all. And Russell. OH, RUSSELL.


 

Hopefully there are one (or three) book recs that sound good to you to add to your never-ending TBR pile. What about you? Any books you’ve read lately that you absolutely loved?

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How To Conference

I learned so much at this year’s RWA Conference, met a ton of people, and had more fun than I can chronicle in one blog post. However, one thing stood out to me, more so than at any writer conference before: We all conference in our own unique way. (Yes, I’m using conference as a verb here. Just roll with it.)

First, a blanket statement: There is no wrong way to conference, and how you conference will change from year to year, evolving with your career and personal life. It goes without saying you need to be polite and use your manners. I’m not talking about basic human civility, I’m talking about how you participate and manage your time at a writer conference. There’s no right or wrong way, there are only different ways – and the differences are beautiful.

Bad Girlz do San Diego!

Bad Girlz do San Diego!

You have the writers who treat the conference as roughly 80% a learning event, 10% networking, and 10% social. They attend as many workshops and presentations as they can pack into their schedule. They will walk away from a conference with a notebook full of notes, a hand full of business cards, and a brain bursting with knowledge.

There are the writers who attend conference primarily for professional networking. A national conference in particular is perfect for meeting with their editor(s), agent, the online chapter they rarely see face to face, that author they’ve been meaning to connect with about collaborative promo. These writers might attend a workshop or three, but mostly they’re there for meetings and planning.

There are also the writers who go to conference to connect. By connect I mean not only the professional networking with editors, bloggers, etc., but also social connection. All year they write in their bat caves, and this is the one time of year they are in the same room with dozens of like-minded individuals. They are energized by simply being around other writers, soaking up all the creativity and romance-positivity. You can find these writers in the bar, at the coffee shop, by the pool (if it’s San Diego) talking to EVERYONE. They don’t meet a stranger, if the person has on a conference badge.

Taking a break and socializing on the veraaandaaah.

Taking a break and socializing on the veraaandaaah.

Then, there are those writers who split the difference right down the middle. That’s where I fall. I like to walk away from every conference having attended at least one workshop that teaches me something new, or gives me a fresh perspective. I’ll take it even further and say, I prefer to walk out of every workshop with at least one nugget of wisdom. This year? SUCCESS! Every workshop taught me something or reminded me of a forgotten fact. I don’t feel like I’ve conferenced right if I don’t learn a little something along the way, but that’s just me.

I also go to network. I’m that weirdo who loves to network, but only when it’s about writing. I want to meet people and put faces with names, learn who’s who, build some kind of Romancelandia yearbook in my brain, so I’m not wandering the halls, clueless about who heads up what blog and which editor took over what line. The thing that really gets me excited about a conference though? Connecting. I love to socialize with writers. I don’t even care if I’m talking. I can sit by the pool and listen to other writers discuss their pitfalls and triumphs and I’m happy. I live in a world of money and numbers. Nobody is talking about character arcs and resolution. Absolutely NO ONE discusses hero inspiration or sex scenes, and whether or not the F word is okay for steamy contemporary, but not small town. I don’t get to have these conversations with anyone else except writers! So bring on the connecting! In the bar, at the sandwich shop, in the elevator, getting lost trying to find Salty’s restaurant. Wherever. Writer talk. Gimme!

Me at the Kensington signing, dorkin' with my book covers. Shiny!

Me at the Kensington signing, dorkin’ with my book covers. Shiny!

How do you conference? How do your friends conference? By the way, none of the Bad Girlz conference the same way. We cover the spectrum, and I think it’s awesome! 😀

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In Love with Stories

One of my all-time favorite shows is Doctor Who. It’s filled with very quotable moments, but one of my favorites comes from the episode “The Big Bang.” The Doctor says, “We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one.” Some writers say they are character-focused; others say the plot comes first. I struggle with answering that question because the characters and plot seem to arrive in my head close to the same time, hand in hand. The characters aren’t the story; the plot isn’t the story. Together, they are the story.

Stories-lI’ve loved stories and the stories behind the stories for as long as I can remember. I think most people are like this. It’s why Humans of New York posts are so popular. Why posts on social media about people overcoming adversity, finding long-lost relatives, experiencing joyful reunions and other heartwarming stories get tons of likes and shares. Especially in a world that can have so much negativity and sadness, we consciously or possibly unconsciously seek out these stories that lift our spirits and renew our faith in humanity, give us hope. It’s one of the reasons I love watching the Olympics — the inspirational stories behind he athletes. Today I thought I’d share some of my favorites from this year’s Games.

Yusra Mardini — Swimming, Refugee Team — I can only imagine what Mardini has gone through to get to the Olympics. She fled Syria with her sister and had to swim 3 1/2 hours guiding a overloaded dinghy through the Aegean Sea to arrive safely on the island of Lesbos in Greece.

David Rudisha — Track & Field, Kenya — His back-to-back gold medals in the 800m are impressive, but I loved the story of how he started the Maasai Olympics, an event that allows Maasai warriors to compete against each other in athletic events as an alternative to lion hunting in an effort to protect the lion population in Kenya.

Rafaela Silva — Judo, Brazil — After growing up in Rio’s City of God favela (slum) and enduring racism following her appearance at the London Olympics, Silva captured the host country’s first gold medal.

pool-545487_1920Simone Manuel — Swimming, USA — Became the first U.S. woman to win a medal in swimming. This is particularly significant since she is African-American and our country has a shameful history of not letting African-Americans swim in public pools, seeing them as tainted if they so much as touched the water.

Zahra Nemati — Archery, Iran — Nemati was originally a taekwondo athlete, but she was hit by a car at 18 and paralyzed from the waist down. Now wheelchair-bound, she retrained in archery and is so good that she qualified for both the Paralympics and the Olympics. She was chosen as Iran’s flag-bearer in the opening ceremonies, leading out a predominantly male team.

Romance, Olympics style — I’ve heard of two marriage proposals at this year’s Olympics. One came right after Chinese diver He Zi received her silver medal in the 3m springboard competition. Her boyfriend, fellow Chinese diver Qin Kai, dropped to one knee and proposed. Aww! The first proposal of this year’s Olympics has gotten less coverage. Brazilian rugby player Isadora Cerullo was surprised by her girlfriend Marjorie Enya when she proposed at the conclusion of Brazil’s final match of the Games. More aww! Hey, I write romance, so I’m a sucker for a great proposal scene.

There are so many more inspiring stories — all of the members of the Refugee Team, Simone Biles’ hard beginning as a child of drug-addicted parents, the presence of more female athletes from countries that are known for oppressing women, Ibtihaj Muhammad — the first female athlete from the USA to wear a hijab, who went on to win a bronze medal with the U.S. women’s fencing team, and so many more.

Are you an Olympics fan? What are your favorite inspiring stories coming out of these Olympics? What are some of your favorite sources for real-life story inspiration?

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Staying Healthy: Family & Friends Edition

For the last few weeks, our focus here at the blog has been on maintaining your health (physical, mental and emotional) while writing. Expanding on that, there’s one other thing you probably want to keep healthy: your relationships.

Between deadlines and the many voices of fictional people in your head, it’s not always easy to balance the real people in your life. There’s a fine line between making your loved ones respect the sanctity of your writing time and alienating them entirely. A few years ago, I was struck by the irony of someone who writes romance novels for a living (me) telling her husband “I know it’s our anniversary, but I have to get this book turned in. Raincheck!” Yeah. Super romantic, Tanya.

In my defense, my husband frequently travels for his job. He’s spent an anniversary, a Valentine’s Day and quite a few of my birthdays in Europe. Without me. Not that I’m bitter.

The trick is to communicate these scheduling conflicts ahead of time as much as possible and make it up to each other later. Luckily, my husband is pretty supportive about my writing. (He sincerely hopes that one day, I’ll be a zillionaire best seller and he can retire to a leisurely life of golf and woodwork.) But people react to an author’s demanding schedule differently—some observers have trouble seeing it as a job, just because there are erratic hours, no commute and, occasionally, no pants. So how do you train those in your life to respect your eccentric career without making them feel neglected?

Based on daily arguments I have with my teenagers, I am not a perfect mom. But I did sell my first book two and a half weeks after my first child was born, so I’ve been juggling this family/writing thing for a while. (Shown below, me and my extended family, the epitome of happy, healthy, and harmonious.)

the fam

My thoughts on the people vs. pages balancing act:

1. Family comes first. If your spouse is going through medical procedures or a grueling time at work or you’re in the middle of a move (or have a baby who needs you), don’t expect to be able to focus on writing. Inevitable family obligations will cut into your time. If possible, schedule accordingly. But always keep a notebook or iPhone/Dictaphone nearby so that when inspiration strikes somewhere unexpected, like a pediatrician’s waiting room, you can jot it down for later.

2. Family comes first UP TO A POINT. After that, you have my permission to be heartless. If your child has chicken pox and is feverish/miserable/itchy, it’s understandable that the kid is gonna pester you. But it is not acceptable for your offspring to bug you because he/she “is bored.” Do not succumb to parental guilt for turning them away. I’ve seen this be particularly difficult for women, especially if they haven’t yet sold and aren’t making money. We beat ourselves up with thoughts like, “Why am I wasting my time on this when I should be baking brownies for junior’s soccer team?” Hold up. Dedicated pursuit of a goal is not wasting time. You are teaching your children perseverance, which is an important life skill. Meanwhile, I encourage you to rock the store-bought brownies.

3. Involve your family in celebrating goals and milestones. These can be tiny celebrations. “When Mommy finishes this chapter, we’ll go see Finding Dory.” Or play a family board game. Or go out for frozen yogurt. (For spouses and significant others, it could be a straightforward, “Let me write until 10 pm so I can get this scene down, then we’ll watch something on Netflix.” Or, you know, whatever the two of you are in the mood for.) Offering this kind of deal serves two purposes—assuring your family that spending time with them is also a priority and encouraging them to leave you the hell alone so you can actually reach your goal and get to that fun event faster. Sometimes, celebrations are more noteworthy. Once the manuscript is finished, get glammed up for a date night; you’ve earned it, and it will be a nice change from the bedraggled ponytail and yoga pants of deadline. A historical romance author bought her daughters a horse when she sold her first book; I took my family to Disney after the best royalty check of my life. But those were rare circumstances.

4. Come up with a schedule.

5. Stick to the schedule. Numbers 4 & 5 probably sound redundant, but they aren’t. You are going to encounter people who threaten your writing time—from relatives who subtly sabotage your efforts to well-meaning neighbors who want to have you over for coffee to that relentless PTA zealot who is determined to make you run the book-fair. Not only do I encourage you to tell these people no, I suggest you adopt a schedule that covers you like armor. If you write in the morning, don’t pick up the phone before noon. Turn off the ringer. Worst case scenario, you can ignore the whiny cousin who calls to complain about her life. Best case scenario, she gets the message and quits calling entirely during that time-slot.

While you don’t owe anyone explanations/defense about your time, you can soften refusals to friends and neighbors with counter offers that highlight your schedule. “As much as I would love to have coffee, I’m swamped until I finish this book at the end of August. How about September?” This sets a clear boundary (don’t bother me again until September!) but also demonstrates that your friends matter to you. (Because, once the damn book is actually turned in, you don’t want to look around and realize you’ve run off all your buddies. Although, frankly, I think there’s a reason so many of my best friends are fellow writers. They GET it.)

6. Don’t underestimate the importance of people—not just to your emotional health but to your ability to write great characters. I had a friend who doggedly invited me to social events (movies, Pampered Chef parties, book club meetings, holiday parades, wine tastings) even though I routinely turned her down. I was struggling to catch up on belated deadlines after my daughter had been sick. My friend was pretty good-natured about it, but she asked me once, “If you never get out of the house and interact with people, how can you expect to write about believable, fully developed people in your books?” I decided she was right and said, “screw it, I’m going to lunch.” After all, even on deadline, a writer’s gotta eat. And you know what? I returned to the computer refreshed and with some funny new ideas for dialogue.

7. Be careful about bitching to civilians. There’s a lot to drive us nuts about writing—low contest scores, rejections, lousy reviews. You are fully entitled to vent about these disappointments. But it’s usually best to commiserate with other authors who’ve been there and who can inspire you to keep going. If you routinely tell your mother, boyfriend, and former college roommate about how hard writing is—especially if you’re not under contract—they may suggest you quit. This can make you feel like they don’t believe in you and lead to arguments and hurt feelings. You can reduce the odds of this by having mimosas with a trusted critique partner.

In summary, writing can make us bonkers. Our loved ones can make us bonkers. But with strategy and effort, you can probably keep the bonkers manageable. While you want to make sure the people around you understand how seriously you take writing, you don’t want to drive them all away—at least, not permanently. Celebrating when you hit that first bestseller list will be a lot more fun when you’re surrounded by loved ones to cheer you on.

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Your Poster Child for How NOT to be a Healthy Writer*

Here at BadGirlzWrite we have a topic from time to time, something to get those blogger juices flowing. This cycle’s topic is strategies for maintaining your mental, physical, and emotional health.

Y’all, I’m falling apart. So maybe I should tell you what NOT to do:

  1. Don’t subsist on a steady diet of coffee all day and then wine all night. As much fun as this sounds, consider the cautionary tale of Elvis, who followed a similar lifestyle of uppers and downers. We all know how that ended. Indulging in too much caffeine and too much alcohol can exacerbate adrenal fatigue. Add in a marathon, and I have a body that aches all over and extra pounds that won’t budge.
  2. Don’t freak out about your sales numbers. I have passed that task to my husband because there’s not a thing you can do about them, and what you see on Amazon doesn’t accurately reflect what’s going on anyway. Wait for your royalty statements and worry about it then.
  3. Don’t succumb to lethargy—exercise every damn day. Coming out of summer vacation, I have made it a priority to do something each day. Sometimes it’s a 20-minute walk. Sometimes it’s not. Since I have plantar fasciitis (yes, still) I’ve added swimming and am working on adding biking to my repertoire.
  4. Don’t set unrealistic goals. If you’re like me, daily goals are nigh upon impossible because each day brings doctors’ appointments, oil that needs to be changed, sick kids, who knows? It’s a grab bag of unexpectedness! If you set a weekly goal, you can attempt to compensate for those interruptions. (BTW do not ask me how I’m doing on word counts this week and last. As always, I am a work in progress.)
  5. Don’t torture yourself by sitting in the same chair day after day if the words aren’t coming. Sometimes you need a change of scenery, especially if there’s massive construction going on behind your house. Not that I would know anything about that. (I do happen to have a new set of over the ear headphones that help greatly with blocking out the noise.)
  6. Do stock the cupboards with healthy snacks. You’re going to eat while you write, and you can’t subsist on chocolate alone. I would know because I tried.
  7. Do learn what you can do and what you can’t and try not to commit to more than that. I am still learning this one. This is totally a do as I say and not as I do situation.
  8. Don’t wallow around in your misery refusing to see a doctor. I’m going to be honest with you. Not only is honesty the best policy, but we ladies also don’t speak up enough about our health. I put on twenty pounds between January and now. I have often not felt like getting out of bed. I hide that pretty well at conference, don’t I? Sometimes I’m on social media because the only thing I feel like doing is moving my thumbs. Well, I’ve been to at least three doctor’s appointments in the past two months, and I have two more on the docket. I had a full panel from the endocrinologist, but all she could find was low Vitamin D and the fact that I’m forty-one, so she sent me to the psychiatrist. My life is too damn good to feel this damn bad, so I guess I’ll try some better living through chemistry, round two. I still say there’s something physically wrong with me, so I’ll keep going, but I have to admit my new meds *seem* to be working. I can get out of bed first thing in the morning, so that’s an improvement. As much of a pain in the ass as it is to make appointments and go to them and to keep pushing, we’ll never get well if we don’t keep showing up and advocating for ourselves. Think of it as a process similar to getting published; persistence is key. Also, you’d best be doing your regular maintenance: pap smears, mammograms, dental cleanings, etc. I’m watching you.
  9. Speaking of social media, we—and by “we” I mainly mean “me”–might need to lay off. In addition to all of the anxiety from trying to meet deadlines, we have an election year and a twenty-four hour newscycle of violence and social injustice. These things wear writers down because I swear we’re empaths—we have to be to do what we do, which is delve deep into the psyches of fictional people. I want to be informed, but there’s so much crap I can’t do anything about that I need to take a break from time to time. Also, there are some really nasty people on the Interwebs. I’m not ready to concede Twitter to the trolls, but I do think a break is in order from time to time. Then I’ll jump back into the fray and find what ways I can better fight the good fight.

So that’s my honest assessment of where I am health wise. Y’all, this is a crazy stressful job, and I keep telling myself that I don’t have a specific benchmark of success to attain. I remind myself that I’m fortunate enough to be able to write what I want to write without having to worry about the income or lack thereof. Even so, we all want to succeed. I know I do. Defining success and finding it without sacrificing our heath, is one of the greatest challenges we’re going to face.

May the odds be ever in our favor!

*For quite some time I happily blogged at Healthy Writer. I was far healthier then, let me assure you.

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A New Beginning…

This blog cycle we are supposed to be dispensing wisdom about staying physically and emotionally healthy as writers… *twiddles thumbs* <– which makes my carpal tunnel flare so I’m going to stop now.

I wrote a post awhile back on my treadmill desk which has done more than anything to get me healthier and more focused on my writing. I still read my reviews (slaps hand) and hate release days (pass the wine.) My “wisdom” is rather lacking.

Instead I’d thought I’d pull a Monty Python…a now for something completely different!!

I’m going to discuss beginnings. Like literally the beginning of your manuscript. I really don’t consider myself an expert on anything writing related. I’m always looking to learn from someone farther along on the journey. So I was surprised after my editor read my latest manuscript when she said, You should teach a class on how to write first chapters.

I scoffed and replied back that there was no method to my madness, but it got me thinking… I’ve never changed the first chapter of any of my books. From the time I drafted the first chapter through all my own edits and my editors’ developmental edits. That would be nine that have gone through professional editing, so maybe I’m doing *something* kind of right. Also, I regularly judge unpublished contests in both historical and contemporary categories which honestly helps my writing as much as the contestants. I read my own work with a more critical eye.

It’s no surprise the biggest issue with first chapters is managing backstory. Two big problems I see:

  1. The “Coming Into Town” beginning. This can be in a car or carriage and usually involves the hero or heroine ruminating on what is bringing them back to their hometown or why they’re moving into a new town. It’s usually a big fat stinky info dump. Doesn’t matter if the heroine is describing the scenery in-between introspection about her family drama or getting fired from her job. Unless something active happens, like she gets pulled over by the cops or gets beset by a highwayman or rammed in the bumper by the hero, just skip it. Sorry, but it’s boring.
  2. The “As You Know” conversation. For a new author (or even experienced one) this can be a deceptive backstory dump. I typically see this conversation taking place between a main and secondary character. For example, maybe it’s the heroine giving the lowdown to her best friend. Except, it’s really a sneaky way of imparting backstory to the reader. If you can add in the phrase “As you know” before dialogue, you have a problem.

As you know  “I had to come home because my grandmother is sick.”

“Your brother should be helping,” her best friend said.

As you know  “He is a wastrel and at the clubs until all hours, the scapegrace!”

If the two characters are close, then it’s a conversation they would have already had. Plus, it’s usually mostly telling with no showing. Better to start with the brother coming in drunk and the sister confronting him in the wee hours. That would impart the needed knowledge plus the ability to weave in a gamut of emotions from frustration to love.

The best piece of advice I read about backstory came from a Margie Lawson class (I think she got it from someone else, though). Write all the tidbits of backstory for your characters on a piece of glass. Then, shatter that glass. Pick up only the most important facts. Facts that the reader *must know.* Sliver them in throughout the first third of the book. Discard the rest.

I also want to touch on prologues. I’ll admit, I love the damn things, but the overall consensus is to avoid them. My way around this? CALL THEM CHAPTER 1! All three of my Cottonbloom books start with an incident between my hero and heroine that took place many years in the past. That scene was needed to frame their present. But, make sure it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t use a prologue as a means to impart backstory. It must reveal something vitally important about your hero or heroine or their relationship with each other (not necessarily romantic.) If you can lose the prologue and still understand the story, then…lose the prologue.

I would posit that the advice “Start your book with action!” should really be “Start your book with the inciting incident!” The inciting incident is what upsets the balance of your characters’ lives and sets the story in motion. This “incident/action” doesn’t have to be a fight or a car crash, it can be something much more subtle.

For example, the book I’m working on now is Book 4 in the Cottonbloom series (and incidentally has no prologue, because it didn’t *need* one.) In Chapter 1, the heroine wants to surprise her fiancé with work on his classic Camaro and is dropping it off at a restoration garage. Except, she finds her best friend’s panties under the seat. The hero is the mechanic witnessing this incident.

Another piece of often heard advice is that your hero and heroine should meet in Chapter 1. I do agree you should get them on the page as soon as possible, but sometimes the inciting incident only involves the hero (for example) and it snowballs to include the heroine. I have at least two books where the hero and heroine don’t meet until Chapter 2 or very late in Chapter 1. On the other hand, the hero meeting the heroine can be the inciting incident. This is often the case for a romance. For example, maybe the highwayman who stops our heroine’s carriage *is* the hero.

What about you? Agree or disagree? Do you have any advice for beginnings?

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Safe-Guarding Your Mental Health

This month, the Bad Girlz have been focusing on staying healthy in a crazy business. I’ve spoken at some length about how my pursuit of a career in writing has challenged my mental health. If you let it, this industry will drive you to the brink. While mental health is still a moving target for me a lot of the time, I’ve homed in on a few key places where I’ve been able to adjust my attitudes and behaviors that have made a real difference.

  • Know yourself before you agree to a deadline. Whether it’s a self-imposed deadline or an external one, consider it carefully before you commit. Further, if it is a publisher deadline, remember that a lot of things will happen that are beyond your control. It may take time to get a synopsis approved, or a major set of developmental edits will always show up at the worst possible time. Make sure to budget in time to deal with these unexpected developments. In the end, it’s really all about knowing yourself and your process. You know how many words a day you can comfortably write. You know how long it takes you to get a draft in presentable shape. You know how much downtime you need between projects. And perhaps most importantly, you know how you respond to deadlines – while they motivate some people to write faster, they make some anxious people like me creatively shut down. Maybe you can speed up some to meet a deadline, but don’t budget in miracles, or you’ll be paying for it in stress.
  • Take breaks. One of the beautiful things about doing what you love for a job is that you love what you do. But that doesn’t preclude you from getting burned out or just plain needing some downtime here and there. Writing is hard work. Take vacations. Schedule in regular days off. Keep yourself to a schedule, but don’t let yourself miss out on things you enjoy in life, or you’ll start to resent the thing that used to bring you joy, and that’s just not tenable for a sustainable, long-term career.
  • Have other sources of accomplishment in your life. No matter how much you enjoy writing, it is slow, often intangible work. Take pride in it. But putting all your sense of accomplishment for your day in your writing is a recipe for personal crisis. Knit something or cook or do something pretty with your bullet journal, or whatever else it is you do that makes you happy and allows you to feel like you have been productive today. It’ll make all the difference in the world – especially on those days when you decide you have to delete an entire chapter of your manuscript or end up not being able to write anything salvageable for a week.
  • Recognize what you can and cannot control. Watching your sales numbers or wrestling with your publisher about marketing or waiting to hear back about a query or even just trying to get a freaking Facebook ad approved can leave even the most mentally healthy author feeling helpless. Take a deep breath. Keep fighting. But remember that there are some things that are beyond your control, and obsessing too much about any of them means putting your happiness in the hands of someone else. At the end of the day, your attitudes and your actions are the only things you can directly affect. When the world seems like too much, and everything seems hopeless, focus on the aspects of your career that are yours to control, and the best you can, strive to find your happiness in them.

What about you? How do you hold on to your sanity in an industry that sometimes seems dedicated to stripping it away?

 

 

 

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All in the Name of Research

As a writer, I’m lucky enough to immerse myself in a world of my own making on a daily basis. Sometimes, though, I need a little bit of help to make sure I’m being accurate, truthful, or conveying an experience as clearly as I can to my reader. Research is extremely important in historical fiction, or whenever writing about cultures not one’s own, but it’s equally important in helping to get the right feel of things. So, hard as it is, I make an effort to do good research when I can.

A few of the tougher things I’ve had to do in the name of research:

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  • Spent a sunny day kayaking to scout some perfect Old Florida scenery,
  • Chartered a sailboat,
  • Had dinner with fellow Bad Girlz at a tiki restaurant that’s been in business over 50 years,
  • Sampled countless cocktail recipes to create the perfect signature drink mentioned in my manuscript,
  • Gone to the oldest-school beauty parlor I could find for a shampoo and roller set,
  • Visited Weeki Wachee Springs to see the famous mermaid show to see how it all works,

To further my research and to get the really authentic experience, I sought out The Mertailor for a tail of my own…

Which brings me to the point of this post:

Yours Truly, Swimming in a mermaid tail…. as you do! It’s a tough life, but I do it for the stories 🙂

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done in the name of research?

 

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And the Winner is…Not Me

If you’ve ever entered a writing contest, please raise your hand.

17507347 - young pretty woman hands up raised arms, screaming yelling isolated on a white background*Raises hand.

I have a secret to tell you. Well, it’s not really a secret, it’s more like advice for staying sane if you have ever entered a writing contest–Unpublished or Published.

Winning/Placing/Losing…never even coming close to any of the first two (raises both my hands like this chic in the picture) has no bearing on whether you can write well. It has no bearing on whether you will be published. It has no bearing on whether you will sell millions of copies of your books some day.

It’s a contest. Judged by humans. Humans who have their own tastes. And their own bias. It’s all subjective.

That being said, if you don’t have the absolute basic writing skills (grammar, punctuation… read this post).

IF YOU HAVE won or placed, I’m NOT taking anything away from you!! That is awesome!! You should be very proud! Because it takes a kick ass story and kick ass writing to be selected as a finalist or winner. That means multiple people thought your book rocked! And you deserve to feel proud and happy. I’ll take you out for a drink because I am happy for you.

13414384 - man holding a champion golden trophy on white background

This is for the rest of us…the ones who haven’t (ever) placed or won. (still raising my hand). I don’t want anyone to think a contest is all or nothing. If you win you are guaranteed to get picked up by an agent or editor. If you don’t even place you will never be published. Ever!

It doesn’t work that way.

Contest judging is subjective, just like what a publisher or agent likes/wants is subjective. Maybe you wrote the BEST DAMN dystopian Young Adult book that was ever written, but dystopian isn’t selling right now…so you may not get that book published right now.

Shelve it. Keep it for later. Work on something else. It’s not necessarily bad writing or bad story. It’s just not right for right now.

Maybe, like me…your books really suck monkeys in contests. I’ve never placed in a contest for unpublished authors. I never placed in a contest for published authors.

But my book sold to the second editor who requested it. And it was my dream editor. I’m not bragging. I’m just telling you to KEEP YOUR HEAD up. Work on your craft. Keep submitting!

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Be proud! A contest win or final is an awesome designation to have under your belt!! Congrats!! If you win or final, and you don’t sell right away, it’s okay.

You will get there!! Keep trying. Keep entering! Keep getting better. 🙂

Sophia Henry writes Heartfelt Flirty Fiction featuring hot, hockey-playing heroes. DELAYED PENALTY and POWER PLAY, the first two books in the Pilots Hockey series from Random House Flirt, are available now at all major e-book retailers.

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Body Well Done?!

scooter - CopyThis month we are doing our series on maintaining good health as we pursue our writing careers. When you type for a living, you find yourself sitting A LOT. When you sit a lot, it’s easy to spread A LOT. 🙂 Technology is trying to help our dilemma with things like the treadmill desk, but as for me, I do all my writing from a chair. I really don’t have room for a treadmill desk and let’s be honest, it would be one more piece of workout equipment bought at retail and sold at yard-sale.

I wish I could tell you that I was a vision of health and could provide you with helpful tips on this subject, but I’d be a hypocrite. I struggle with this daily.  However, I refuse to give up on the pursuit of getting healthy. In fact, I was recently taught a very valuable lesson concerning health. I became pretty good at complaining about my body. It’s too soft, too achy, and it doesn’t work as well as it once did.

NOT ANYMORE!

I’m not sure if you noticed, but I missed my last blog date because I took a hard tumble. I could barely move my hand much less type a post. I’d like to say that the fall was from something exciting like rock climbing, but in all honesty, it was just a clumsy misstep from one deck landing to another. While I was recovering the awesome Sally Kilpatrick filled in for me. Thanks again Sally. You rock!

Now that I’ve piqued your curiosity, I broke a crucial bone in my foot, badly sprained my wrist, and took a nice hit on what my father loved to reference throughout my youth as my hard head. 🙂 It hurt! It hurt really badly! It still hurts! That was seven long weeks ago, and I’m still dragging around on a knee scooter and according to my doctor, I have at least another three weeks to go. My family has jumped in and helped out with household responsibilities, however seven weeks later, my mental health is taking its toll. Who would have thought I’d miss loading the dishwasher or walking the dog? All I want is the use of the body I became so good at complaining about. I have a greater appreciation for simple things like getting my own water or making my word count.

Please know that I’m not telling you my story for sympathy, that’s for sure. There are so many people with bigger health issues then my broken foot. I’m telling you this because, maybe like me, your body isn’t as healthy as you’d like it to be. Perhaps you also complain about how you look or how achy you feel. I’m telling you my story in hopes that you will start to appreciate the body you have this very second. Not the one you’ll have ten to twenty pounds from now. I challenge you to be thankful for your body and your health just the way it is!

I’m not saying we should settle here. Should we strive to be healthier? Absolutely! These past few weeks have been enlightening. I want to do more for the body that has done so much for me, by making better food choices, exercising daily and clearing the mental clutter from my mind. I want to show my gratitude for a body well done!

How about you?

Remember to Dream Big!

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