Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What Do You Mean...I HAVE to Brand Myself???

Oh, I know that's what everyone says...brand, brand, brand. You write this or this or that...and you stick to it so you can build up a fan base. But what if you are an eclectic reader? And as such, you are an eclectic writer?

Yes, I've branded myself as a werewolf writer.

Truly, truly, truly, thanks to all of you!!! Thank you for loving my wolves! To make the Best Seller's List, the books have to have a ranking from 1-100. I never saw when this happened.

But, when I went to my author's page on Amazon, it shows that three titles made the Best Seller's List: Seduced by the Wolf, Wolf Fever, and Terry Spears Wolf Bundle (which includes the 1st three wolf books!!!)

So I want to say again--THANKS to all of you! Some of you review my books and help to get them out to the world. Some of you buy them and spread the word to your friends and family. And all I can say is thank you. :)

But back to the discussion of branding...


I'm working on the first book in the jaguar series next. And yes I've written two medieval historicals with the third planned and a time travel western coming out in September...wait...whoops, there went my brand.

But you see, I LOVE so many different genres, and when you LOVE reading them, and LOVE creating stories in different genres, who's to say you CAN'T do that? Your fans? Or the powers to be?

So far I've sold 600 books in the past month of a variety of different works, all at Amazon and B&N and Smashwords--

--an urban fantasy about a genie, but it also involves time travel!

--an urban fantasy about the Greek Gods and Goddesses

--a hunter/vampire romance

--uhm, yes, I'm back to branding here...I have several huntress/vampire stories I've written...

--another vampire/huntress novel...

...and another...

...but with this one, it's a vampire/demon novel. :)

...before vampires could be the good guys...

Although I do have more to come also. One is the sequel to Deadly Liaisons out with Samhain, and another is a sequel to Huntress for Hire. Killing the Bloodlust is in revisions also. :)

The Beast Within is a YA about berserkers, curses and reincarnation, contemporary setting.

--another YA, but more in the psychic/ghostly realm.

A young adult fantasy! I loved writing fantasy, so I have several that I'll be sharing in the upcoming months.

...and another fantasy novel, this one part of a trilogy!

Book 2 in the fantasy series!

--futuristic murder mystery short story...

What do they have in common? Fans are enjoying them. :) So why should I restrict myself to writing in one genre when the mood strikes me to write in several?

It's all in the voice. If you're shooting for NY publishing, stick to a genre so you can make a name for yourself--brand yourself and maybe some day if you are lucky, you can write something else.

But if you just have to write the stories of your heart and they don't all fall into the same genre, have at it. Writing should come from the heart and if the story needs to be told, tell it. I always figured by writing in different genres, I'd find my true calling.

Well, it's time to write! Create unique worlds. And share it with ours!

Are you working on a brand?

"Giving new meaning to the term alpha male."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Timing is everything

I was chatting with a co-worker today about this. Our office moved to a new location and it added to his commute. But if he leaves his house 5 minutes earlier, there's no impact at all. If he leaves at his old time, then WHAM: he's stuck.

Timing is everything, isn't it? What was a tragedy yesterday is a matter of humor today. That book you wrote yesterday that no one thought would make it is now a hot commodity because it features talking animals who take over the world (hey: who would have thought zombies and Jane Austen could mix?) Timing is everything about your pitch (at National Conference) -- did the agent/editor when s/he is tired, happy, sad, or upbeat? I can go on and on, but you know it's true: getting published is a matter of luck, perseverance, luck, talent and timing. Yes, luck twice. Because it really is like getting hit by lightning, at least the first time.

Whenever I find myself swamped (as I often am. Let's face it: I work full-time. I have 5 books releasing this year, three in May/June/July. I just sold my house. I just bought a house 300 miles away. I'm out of town 3 of the next 6 weekends. I'm editing a book to submit. I'm packing. It's garden season. I'm packing) I just figure: "how will this look a year from now?" It's like dipping into my own private time capsule. Just kick back for a second, close your eyes, and think: 'what will tihs be like a year from now.'

Then I start to laugh and pick up whatever has me annoyed and tackle it. You know why I laugh (okay. Sometimes I just smile)? Because I know I won't remember this grievance in six months, much less a year. There will be a vague cloud of "man, that was tough!" but it won't weigh me down then. So why should I let it weigh me down now?

Time to pack that next box. Enough relaxing!

Sunday, April 24, 2011


One of the problems I’ve had in learning my writing skills is the ‘talking head’ syndrome. I have a tendency to progress my story too quickly and not put in the senses that make a story great, bring the reader into what my characters are experiencing.

Last night I watched the Civil War based movie 'Beguiled' with a very young, very handsome Clint Eastwood as the northern soldier who is taken into a southern girls’ school to be nursed back to health. I remember seeing it years ago and how much I enjoyed it then.

First, I must confess I have this fetish for moss hanging on those gorgeous big trees in the south. I was lucky enough to see the trees draped in moss in person. Yes, it did give my heart a flutter. Anyway, I digress. One really great part of this movie was the way the director used the setting to bring out the mood of the story. The director skillfully added the items in the school and the garden to surround us with what it was like to be in the South during the Civil War. I know it enhanced my watching pleasure.

My time period is set during the California gold rush because we live where it happened in the Sierra Mountains of California. I love to explore the old Victorian houses when they are open to the public, but it isn’t the same as living in them during the 1800s. One thing I noticed in the movie was when the women walked through the otherwise dark house at night, holding a candlestick with one candle to light her way, it only lit up the small area where they walked. I hadn’t even thought about how dark it would remain in the rest of the room, hallway or staircase. I guess I just took it for granted the single candle would light the entire room, even though we’ve endured living by candle light during blackouts. It got me to thinking about other things that I knew, but didn’t think about when setting my scenes. I have started back into my stories and using my sensory words to enrich my plot.

What this movie brought home for me was to stretch my imagination and put myself into the setting more and pull out all the little things that can bring your story to life. I’ve always been one to notice most everything when we are traveling. Now I have to start noticing what goes on around me and try to spiff up my stories by making them more human.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Querying literary agents

In the past year I’ve blogged about character, setting, plot, how to find a critique partner and a few other subjects. Today I’d like to share my experience with another side of writing, the business side.

In 2010 I struck out after querying eleven agents. In the big picture that is a low number of queries. Writing websites and blogs state you only need one agent who loves your writing. Ah, but finding The One feels like the Crusade for The Holy Grail, a long and bloody trail of rejected e-queries littering your inbox.

This month I switched into full court press. I had completed my revised manuscript, a contemporary single title, and was rearing to go. I checked the list of RWA-approved literary agencies. There are other agencies too. In either case, I was ready to do my homework. No one else can perform the drill down research except you. I wasn’t going to appear unprofessional and do a mass email blast or submit a package to an agent who wasn’t interested in my subgenre.

I started with a lengthy agency list, a one-page query letter, brief synopsis and clean, well-edited opening pages. What to do next? This is where I scratched my head in frustration. Last year I went to each agency website and checked their submission guidelines. This time I decided to start at AgentQuery and use their website link to verify each agency in question was accepting submissions. You don’t want to get a package prepared only to discover that yesterday the agency temporarily stopped taking submissions. In my current search I found one.

I liked the clear instructions for finding agents representing my genre and steps for querying agents at http://www.agentquery.com/. Others reading this blog have their favorite websites for this task.

Some writers follow agent Twitters to learn what’s hot and what’s not for an agent. You can visit some agent’s blog sites too. I recently heard about one writer who Twittered with an agent and got a request. Now that’s using technology with great results!

Of course, I want an agent who is a member of AAR {Association of Author’s Representatives). I researched agents using QueryTracker, Preditors & Editors and AgentQuery. Preditors & Editors posts warnings in red, a nice touch.

From my earlier queries I knew one other challenging fact. Literary agents don’t want the same package. Some prefer the whole enchilada: query letter, brief synopsis and your first three chapters. Other agents accept a query letter only or a query letter and first chapter. And those are not the only variations! I spent considerable time tweaking my query letter and synopsis to fit the different packages. If someone has written a software subroutine which does this PLEASE I’d pay cash up front for the program.

Right now I subscribe to Publishers Marketplace to check the agency and agent for their recent deals. I prefer someone with a track record though new agents sometimes are a good bet. They need to build a client base and if your writing style clicks you may find a home. A few weeks ago a new agent appeared at Bookends. Word spread like wildfire among the RWA loops. The new agent already offered representation to one happy writer I know—and I’m sure more will follow.

In today’s technology-driven business world some agents still want printed queries submitted via snail mail. I have to admit reading print on a page is easier on the eyes. While I query I am finishing my next manuscript. A literary agent wants a long-term relationship, which is what I want too. I will finish book two before year end.

If an agent shows interest and requests your full manuscript the nail biting begins. Next, hopefully,comes the exciting part. You get an offer for representation from an agent. What are your questions? Personally, I like the list of questions to ask a potential agent provided by Jessica Faust at http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/. Look under Must Read Posts.

I wanted to share a few nuts and bolts of my querying system. I’d appreciate any suggestions on how to streamline the process because I’d like to spend less time online and more time writing the stories of my heart.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Your Pitch

The RWA conference will be held in June this year, earlier than usual. I am sure many writers are preparing themselves for the great event. I went to National five times so far and collected a wealth of information and folders of happy memories as I met on-line friends face to face, mingled with bestselling authors, attended the glamorous Golden Heart reception, applauded the winners and most importantly I pitched my stories to editors and agents.

If you are going to New-York in June to attend the National conference, you should be working on your pitch NOW.

How to write a pitch?

A pitch according to HQ author Linda Conrad should include the basics: "(TITLE) is a (genre) about (heroine/hero), a (backstory/identity) who, after (inner conflict) wants (goal). But when (turning point) happens, he/she has to (external goal), which seems impossible because (external conflict)."

How long should a pitch be? It depends on who—and where— do you plan to pitch your story.

Elevator pitch: a quick sentence to shoot at the editor that who meet in the elevator or the agent that happens to sit next to you at the bar. By the way, two of my friends sold their books after a bar pitch. I will use my latest release Rx IN RUSSIAN to show you blurbs that worked for me.

Example (41 words): She’s an An American Pediatrician who lost a son and her illusions about marriage and family. He’s a Russian Surgeon with four adorable sons who badly need a mother Can attraction and love overcome guilt, duty, and a clash of cultures?

See, this is quick to the point. You can say it in one breath before the elevator reaches your editor’s floor or while the agent is sipping her margarita and gazing at you with interest.

Appointment pitch: you booked a ten-minutes appointment with an editor. You have five minutes to deliver your pitch and then five more to hear her questions and discuss them. You can afford a few more details than in the previous pitch.

First example: (101 words. This pitch got me my contract with TWRP) Introduce yourself, shake hand and smile, then go straight to your lines. And MAKE SURE you stop to breathe after every period while you look at the editor/agent in the eyes.

Dr. Jillian Burton is an American divorcee, who lost her illusions about men, marriage and family, and all hope for a happy future. Feeling responsible for her son’s death, she can’t stop roaming the world to improve medical conditions. Dr. Fyodor Vassilov is a Russian widower whose heart had sealed off when his wife died, but his four adorable boys need a caring mother, a woman who loves children and big family. When Fyodor and Jillian work together in Belarus, their cultures clash and their painful memories still hurt, but their attraction defies all odds. Can love overcome duty and guilt?

In this pitch I have: Who SHE is, what she does, her background, internal conflict, and her goal. Who HE is, what he does, his background, internal conflict, and his goal. You should present their conflict and end on a question—suspense and hook.

Second example : (93 words. This pitch got me a request for partial from Mills & Boon) Fyodor, a surgeon and director of a hospital in Belarus, is a widower and devoted family man whose heart has closed down. Having a fling is okay but love? No local beauties have ever made him lose track of his duty—to find a mother for his children. Jillian, the American pediatrician, delegated to help modernize his hospital, is divorced, feels responsible for her son’s death, and has lost her illusions about men, marriage and family. Will she be tempted or offended by his advances? Can they find a second chance at love?

Query letter pitch: You can use the pitch blurb in your query letter. Or you can tweak it and not use names:

He’s a Russian widower with adorable children who need a caring mother, but his heart sealed when his wife died. She’s an American divorcee, who feels responsible for her son’s death and has lost her illusions about men, marriage and family. She won’t risk being hurt again. Their cultures clash but their attraction defies all odd.

The important thing is to state: who she is and what is her internal conflict—who he is and what is his internal conflict—what is their goals and what prevent them from reaching it. I have almost ten years of critique experience and will be happy to critique your pitch if you submit them in the comments or send them at monarisk@ monarisk.com

Rx IN RUSSIAN is now available at The Wild Rose Press and amazon.com

Here what a fan said about it on Facebook:
~Oh boy!!!! I started Rx in Russian last night around 10pm and didn’t go to bed until 4am. Woke up at 7am took my kids to school and finished the book. My theory is: if the book keeps you awake at night, there are no words to describe how good it is. Thank you Mona, the book was lovely and I enjoyed every sentence of it.~

Saturday, April 16, 2011


This month, I’m giving a ‘pep’ talk to all those procrastinators out there, and a good kick in the seat of the pants!
It’s been said many times if you want someone to be accountable for something, hit them in their pocket. People will always follow their money—especially in these bad economic times.
Close your eyes for a minute and imagine you just won $86,400.00 as the result of a contest. And each morning your bank will deposit another $86,400.00 into your private account for your use.

Obviously every prize has rules, just as any game has rules.
1. What you don't spend each day is forfeited to the bank. There's no transferring the money into some other account, and only you can spend it!
2. The bank can end the game without warning, and can tell you the game is over! As a matter of fact, it can close out that account and you won’t receive another dime.

So what would you personally do with the money knowing you had to spend it all each day?

You'd buy everything and anything you've ever wanted, right? Not just for yourself, but for everyone you love, right? You'd probably even donate it, because you couldn't possibly spend it all on yourself, right?

Okay, now consider this. If you put that $86,400 in seconds instead of money, you have your own magical bank.

Every one of us has in our possession, our own magical bank. Most of the time, we take it for granted.

So let’s apply the same rules as we did above.

Every morning, we're given those 86,400, only this time in seconds as a gift of life. Not using that time is lost forever. Sorry folks, but we don't get them back, and it's not credited to any account.

So what you didn't do today, because you procrastinated one more time, is lost forever. The good news though is tomorrow morning your seconds are again replenished, but you’ve already lost the previous days’ seconds. That’s the bank dissolving them . . . without warning.

SO, what will YOU do with your next 86,400 seconds? Will you follow your long awaited dreams by writing that story begging to be told? Will you finish that project you started ages ago promising you’d get to it, but never have? Will you take the bull by the horns and do it? Or will you allow another day to pass you by?

It’s a little different when you think of time in money vs. time, isn’t it? Gives you a clearer picture, doesn’t it?

So what will you do today?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Writing Alive!

I’m sitting on an airplane writing a blog after putting aside a novel about a writer obsessed with writing (John Irving’s LAST NIGHT IN TWISTED RIVER). Once I’ve composed this entry, I’ll return to revising my last novel. The snippets I write for Facebook, Twitter and general e-mail add up to a lot of words per month; the character and plot profile I’ve created for my newest novel is already thirteen pages long.

I look at the computers and e-readers in the hands of my seatmates and I see the truth. Writing isn't dying. It might exist in new formats, but it’s still very much alive in our work and in our hearts.

Truth be told, the unwritten protocols of social networking are boosting writing output instead of killing it. “Netiquette” cautions us to show in writing that we care about each other first..to carefully establish by-the-word relationships, before we sell our ideas and our products. We ‘approve’ our followers and control our ‘likers’ so we’re comfortable writing to an ever-growing circle of friends and acquaintances. We're a gigantic group of international Pen Pals who get to talk to each other in real time.

No, I’m not worried about the death of writing. My biggest concern with all the composing going on is whether I can beat out the crowd and create an original phrase or two. I better hurry up and write…or all the fresh wordings will be taken!

The Reluctant Extrovert

I was going to post today about how much fun I had at the RT Booklovers Convention that took place last week at the Los Angeles Bonaventure Hotel but I think I'm going to post about something else instead. Not that I didn't have a good time. Heck, I had a fabulous time as you can see in the picture here. That's me dancing with my eyes closed and a huge grin on my face, picture courtesy of Sheila English (http://readersentertainment.com/2011/elloras-cave-party-at-rt-booklovers-convention-huge-hit/).

But what I really want to talk about is something that happened after this party as I was making my way out of the ballroom. You see as part of the proceedings of the Ellora's Cave party, the authors published by the company who are attending and willing to be introduced get led across the stage and their names are announced. When it is my turn I make a point of turning to the audience and waving at everyone. This is because I want people to know I'm happy to be there and like them knowing who I am.

So on the way out of the ballroom a couple of ladies were smiling at me and one of them said "you must not have a shy bone in your body." Alas, I had to admit, I am far more shy than they might expect. If I go down to the bar and I don't see anyone I know, I will find a quiet corner rather than join a random table. When I don't have a fixed place to be at a convention I am likely to be in my room decompressing. Go in front of a big crowd and wave or curtsy to them? No problem. Talk one-on-one to someone who doesn't approach me first? Not likely.

Mind you I did go down to the bar one day during the convention when I had no one to eat lunch with only to find that everyone I knew was already eating with no empty seats at the table. So I wandered the room a little more until I made eye contact with a perfect stranger who, when I admitted I was looking for anyone to eat with, asked me to join her. Turned out she was a lovely lady, a newbie author who was somewhat overwhelmed by the convention, and she was a journalist with a small local paper up in my neck of the woods. She and I discussed the small press publishing world, and the book she was writing, which was quite interesting and if done well could be a very solid story. We had a lovely time and I might even feature in one of her articles. I ended up very glad I hadn’t opted for the crackers and canned tuna I would normally have eaten in my room that day.

So I guess here is the point of my entry this month. Most authors are by nature a solitary sort, not terribly outgoing, and with a tendency for shyness. Which only means that if you meet someone at a convention the chances are they are probably as unsure of themselves as you are. There is nothing to fear from these people. If you have to go on stage, treat it as a chance to catch people's attention and draw them to your books. If you find yourself eating crackers and canned tuna in your room because you don't have someone to eat with, go down to the bar and see who is sitting by themselves.

Chances are they'll turn out to be as happy to meet you as you are to meet them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Sunday was my anniversary. After a year of ups and downs and some major stress, this year's anniversary was especially special for me. We spent the day at my favorite place to de-stress -- the ocean. As a child I visited this beach along Maine's coast all the time. As a teenager, I continued to go there and now as an adult I find that through stressful times, this is my spot to de-stress.

The sound of the waves is therapeutic for me. Over the years I have dealt with all kinds of curve balls into my life and yet through it all, I am the calmest when I visit the ocean. So much that the Maine coast has been in every one of my books that I have written. And so much like me, it is a de-stressor for my heroines.

There is nothing like clearing your head, or finding clearer thinking, as you walk along the edge of the water, the waves gently lapping the sand at your feet or sitting on rocks listening to the waves crash over the rocks. I have found peace through tough challenges, great story lines and just a sense of well-being while at the ocean.

So as you journey through life, ups and downs, where is it that you go to de-stress? Does this place enter into your writing?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Do You Suffer From PCD?

PCD, also known as Post-Conference Drop, is that feeling you get about a week after you come home from a writing conference. It comes from missing your friends—some of whom you only see in person once, maybe twice, a year. It comes from missing all that buzzing, creative energy that swirls around these conferences. It comes from having to leave the safe-haven bubble and going back to the DDJ, the Dreaded Day Job.

Many of you are returning from the RT Booklovers Convention in Los Angeles, and many are preparing to attend RWA's National Conference in New York. I don't want to talk about the conventions/conferences today - instead, I'd like to find out what you do to "recharge" after one of those conferences.

Let's face it - conferences can be one of the biggest best experiences of your life! You realize that you're really not alone with those voices in your head - other people have them, too! You realize there are people who understand you when you say things like, "I just got to the BBM and I made MYSELF cry!" You know how to talk to an editor and/or agent, but doing so "in the flesh" still makes you shake. Maybe this time you were the one to shore up your fellow shaker before their editor/agent appointment.

But what happens afterward? There's that immediate RUSH of giddiness - you write up a storm, every word that comes out of you onto paper is BRILLIANT! You either start your next opus or you dig out that “novel of the heart” to work on. You're going to write the next bestseller, then a week goes by and what happens? You run out of steam. The juice dries up. The computer screen glows back at you mockingly.

How do you recapture that feeling of wonder, that surprise, that awesomeness of being at conference? How do you go about recharging your batteries? What do you squeeze for more creative juice?

One way is to look at all the promo or SWAG you brought home. What about it inspired you? Why did you select that particular "goodie" to put in your tote? What about that tote? Who advertised on it? Does one of those authors truly inspire you? Do you prefer to sit in solitude for a day or so after one of those conferences, just getting back into your own space or do you seek out crowds to give you that "conference" vibe again?

How do you recharge those creative batteries a few weeks after a conference?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mythbusters for Writers: Do We Really Need to Write Every Day?

“Write every day. Writing is like a muscle. If you want to maintain your writing skills, you have to exercise them every single day.”

Take any writing class, and you’re likely to hear some variation of this advice. Time and time again, our workshops stress the importance of writing every single day. Most writers believe this is the only way to improve as a writer, but is that really true?

I will be the first to agree that no writer should sit around waiting for a “muse.” Writing is a job like any other. Once a deadline or a goal is set, it’s important to do whatever it takes to meet that goal.

But write every day even when you’re not on deadline?

In every other discipline, vacation days are considered necessary to renew and reenergize. No one tells a brain surgeon, “Uh, sorry, you can’t take a day off. We don’t want you to get rusty.” No, we want our professionals well-rested, alert, and enthusiastic. Even professional athletes schedule days of rest.

Why should writing be any different? Do we really believe our writing will turn into incoherent blobs of gerunds and passive verbs if we go away for the weekend?

After years of judging contests, critiquing chapters, and generally reading everything I can find, I’ve come to the conclusion that burnout is a greater problem for writers than they like to admit. How else to explain that disastrous third book in an otherwise brilliant trilogy or the rare lackluster chapter from a genius critique partner?

Is it possible the difference between crisp and clich├ęd is simply a weekend away from the computer?

I used to feel guilty about taking time off from writing. I’ve written in hospital waiting rooms, at my kids’ soccer practices, and while waiting for my car to be repaired.

But the one place it is impossible for me to write is on family vacations. Oh, I’ve heard all the recommendations: get up an hour early, go sit in the hotel cafe, “make” your husband take the kids for an hour. With four kids in a crowded hotel suite, none of that really works. Besides, this is our vacation. I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

During a recent week-long trip to San Francisco, I did not write a single word. I did however, choose my next project, plot out an entire novel, study hundreds of characters while on a ship to Alcatraz, and come up with at least five novel-worthy story ideas, all without turning on the computer. Reinvigorated, I returned home, excited to get back to work and enthusiastic about my new manuscript.

So write every day?

Not me.

No more guilt on those days when I can’t squeeze in a thousand words between catching a shuttle and catching a plane. I’ve come to appreciate the change of pace, the pause for reflection, and the life experience that only comes from stepping away from the computer. From here on out, I’ll be scheduling regular no-writing retreats to freshen up my perspective.

There’s more to writing than simply putting words on the page.

I would love to hear your opinion on this topic. Do you write religiously every day or do you intentionally plan days when the computer’s off limits?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dave Barry and naked women

Hi Everyone,
This month, I’m sharing a hilarious Dave Barry column on . . . naked women!

“My advice to the editors of Cosmopolitan is: Stop obsessing about men. Stop trying to figure out ways to drive them wild in bed. Just drop this subject for a while. Trust me: Even without technical advice from you, your women readers will have no trouble getting men excited, as long as the men are aware (and believe me, they are) that the women, underneath their clothes, are not wearing clothes.”

Me again: LOL! Gotta love Dave Barry!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Research: Up Close And Personal

I know authors who travel to Scotland or Ireland for inspiration when writing historical novels set in those wonderful places. Others spend vacations in cities like New Orleans, New York, or San Francisco to gain insight while writing urban fantasy.

I'm not claiming you need to visit a location to write about it. There are other ways to learn the particulars of a place. Books, videos, travel guides, and internet sites contain a plethora of information.


Visit a place. See the people. Hear the sounds. Smell the scents. Taste the flavors. Touch the very fabric of the place. Close your eyes and allow the essence to seep into your bones. Your creativity will soar.

For my paranormal Sea Panther, the initial inspiration came from viewing the movie Pirates of the Caribbean and from reading the book The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodward. The plot morphed after I visited several port towns along the Atlantic coast including Annapolis and St. Mary's City, GA. Places where my hero and heroine stop as they sail south, along the coast.

Sea Panther's plot morphed again when I took a trip to the Florida everglades. Some scenes take place in a South Florida swamp. On my recent trip to Florida, I got up close and personal with some of the critters that make an appearance in my story--small deer, armadillos, snakes and...yeah...an alligator. Unfortunately, the ever-elusive Florida panther remained hidden.

The story is mostly finished now. Just a bit more polishing. I didn't get to visit Jamaica where some scenes take place, but I watched video travel guides and read about the colorful place. Maybe I'll visit while writing the sequel.

What locations have you visited and included in your stories?

Dawn Marie Hamilton

Visit me at Castles and Guns every other Tuesday starting May 10.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Contests are a way to get your writing out there for others to see, not just your friends, family, and critique partners. It's hard to get your entry back and not have a great or good score and still feel good about your writing, what's even harder to bear is to see that your score is darn near at the bottom of all the scores. It actually hurts to know that at least three people hated your writing.

I remember once, when I was in 8th grade, one of our neighbors had a baby. My mom took me and my sisters to see the little guy. I thought he was a cute little thing and told his mother that he looked like Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I'm sure the neighbor felt like I'd insulted her precious baby boy when I was actually saying he was cute.

This may be what some judges do when they give us comments we find offensive. As a judge, I can say that I try to be nice but I know that I'm a blunt person and there are times I'm not exactly the most tactful person in the room. Diplomacy is definitely not my strong suit.

I can still remember the comments from some of the first contests I entered. The ones that didn't make any sense. However, the ones that really got me going, ranting and raving and making my husband laugh, ended up being on the money once I realized that writing romance wasn't the same as writing papers for nursing school and college.

I can't remember those comments but the ones that confused me, that didn't make any sense--those idiot comments I now laugh about because I know those judges were reading something that wasn't even in my entry.

For example, I wrote that my hero worked on his ranch all day and then took care of his other business interests at night on his computer. One judge told me that no one wanted to read about the hero looking at smut on his computer. What? Huh? Where in the world did she get that? My husband laughed at this one and said she must be living with a man who only used his computer to look at porn. Think Denise Richards accusations of this about Charlie Sheen. Do you think Denise Richards read my entry?

One final judge, I can't even remember if she was an editor or agent, told me that there were only so many words in the English language. I had entered a paranormal. To this day, I have no idea what the heck she was talking about. I had used some mythological characters from the Polynesian Islands.

Now, one entry I remember judging was about wine. As a nurse I had a hard time with the entry because the heroine wanted to stash her wine and drink it when she was alone, this made her heroine sound like an alcoholic in the making. Okay, so I know many people do this but when the author wrote that there was no reason a pregnant woman couldn't drink wine--I had to take issue. Hadn't she ever heard of fetal alcohol syndrome? Hadn't she ever seen the effects? Was nine months so darn long to give your child a healthy start in life? Honestly, this entry bugged me. I didn't mark her down for this but I did point out that many readers may believe her and she was giving them advice that went against what their OB-GYN would tell them. What's even worse, some of them would believe her and not their doctor.

Why did this entry stick with me? Because she and a few other writers wrote an article for their chapter newsletter about the horrid judges they had gotten. What she wrote about one of her judges saying her heroine was an alcoholic wasn't exactly what I wrote and she totally ignored the issue about the fetal alcohol syndrome. I did ask her to please look up the signs and symptoms of an alcoholic and to do some research on fetal alcohol syndrome.

Another entry that still sticks with me was one where I had to judge the hero. So, I did. Then I read the synopsis. The hero hadn't even entered the picture by the end of the entry. Now, what the heck was I supposed to do? There was no way I could give her the highest score like I wanted because the guy who romped through those first pages with the heroine wasn't her true love. I had to go back and knock off all those darn points. I was so upset. She had a wonderful entry but due to the score sheet I couldn't give her the score she deserved.

This is why reading the score sheet before you enter a contest is of the utmost importance.

Read your judges comments with an objective eye. You're not always right and neither are your judges but complaining about the scores you receive sure isn't going to change them. However, it just may scare off some judges who do give a huge portion of their time to volunteer with very little positive feedback.

Another tip for your writing--judge. If you are entering contests, which you have to pay for, then you should be judging contests too. You pay to take classes to learn your craft, or you buy books about it, or you go to conferences. However, judging a contest is free and you will learn from it, maybe more than taking classes, reading books, or attending conferences.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Dealing with Turning the Big 5-0

I did not welcome fifty. I figured it was my official entry into wizened crone land. Most women don’t welcome it. In fact, my own eighty-year old mother still declares herself to be forty-nine and holding. As a whole, we women have an unholy fear of stringing together a five and a zero. Ironically, men do not have this fear probably because we regard a fifty-year old man as still being in his prime. Consider Denzel Washington or Pierce Brosnan, not exactly geezers.

What is the difference here? I happened to know many beautiful, personable females fifty and over, but they believe their best years are behind them. We universally accept in the United States that fifty is the mark of undesirability for women. I know this even as I fight against it. I think the cougar movement is an all out fight against being considered no longer relevant. I’m not sure I totally understand it despite my significant other being younger than me. LOL

Before I turned fifty I practiced saying I was fifty so it wouldn’t come as a shock. Secretly, I wanted someone to say to me, “Oh, no, you can’t possibly be fifty.” Then I would chuckled lightly and confirm I was. Many people did just that, especially my women friends. Thanks ladies, I will do the same for you. I joked it meant the most coming from my masseuse who sees plenty of naked women every day.

Consider when women are in their forties, there are more incidents of depression and divorce. Some of this resulting from being disappointed where they are at in their lives or how their lives turned out. There is even a higher incidence of suicide only surpassed by the teenage years. So on top of this there is a fear of fifty. What gives?

Fifty reminds you are not a young chick anymore as if the mirror didn’t. Marianne Williamson in her book, The Age of Miracles reminds us it is not about having a firm body anymore, but having a great soul. Of course, I want both. Mortality suddenly hides behind corners waiting to pounce much like death in Black Orpheus. My thirty-year high school reunion brought this lesson home to me since all my former friends were either dead or missing. Is this it? I am definitely on the last part of my life even if my relatives managed to live past eighty. If this is it, then I need to make changes.

Fifty can be the time when you suddenly quit living your life for others and start doing what you want to do. I found this out on my own. Before I turned forty-seven, I divorced, lost my job, moved to a new state and started a new job, which probably did not put me in the best mind set. According to the stress test, it was more than enough to bring on a heart attack. Instead of trying to control things out of my control, I had to let go.

Instead, I found joy in simple things such as growing my own vegetables and belly dancing. My pursuits were probably not the normal ones, but as a woman approaching fifty, I cared less what others thought. Ah-ha, the red hat lady syndrome is coming on. I will wear what I want and do what I want. I also will go where I want. When my children were young I dreamed of traveling somewhere other than Disneyworld and water parks. Now I can.

Fifty was this huge wall I thought I would hit and feel immensely older, but it didn’t happen. On my birthday, I took the day off with the plan to do exactly as I pleased. My daughter had been heavily warned against any black balloons or cakes. Instead, I enjoyed a leisurely day of poking through thrift shops and a massage. The day ended with my significant other turning up the romance meter and whisking me off to an exclusive restaurant where we had a private booth. I did not feel anything like a wizened crone instead I felt beautiful and loved not at all what I thought I would feel like on my fiftieth birthday.

Turning fifty became a release. Once I did it I had no reason to fear it. Suddenly, my life is opening up instead of closing up. I am a vital, fit woman with love in my life. The children are gone so I can go where I please and I have. Amazingly, at fifty I have more freedom and choices than ever before. Fifty really is only a number because I feel much more alive when I was twenty-seven with two children under two. Yes, it is good to be fifty.

Tell me your turning fifty story. If you don’t have one for obvious reasons to tell, explain how you feel about the prospect of turning fifty.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Writing, the lost art

The End of Cursive Writing
The death knell has been sounded: cursive writing is done. Kaput. Over.
The majority of states in the United States have made the decision to cut cursive writing from their curriculums. Who needs it? Everyone has a computer now--no one takes notes by hand or writes to each other anymore. It's a lost art/subject, like the old educational requirements that everyone take Latin, that simply don't make sense anymore.

Is this going to be a case of unintended consequences?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for computers. In fact, over the last year, I've started moving into the ranks of independent authors who published e-books, rather than going the "old fashioned" way of traditional publishing. The poster child for indie publishing has been Amanda Hocking, who made over $2 million (yes, that's 2 million) on books she independently published through Amazon.

But wait! Amanda now has signed a contract with a traditional publisher because...here's the thing. You can't just walk into a Target or Wal-Mart and buy an e-book off the shelf. But you can walk in and buy a paperback (or hardcover). So at least for the time being, traditional publishing matters.

What does this have to do with cursive writing?

Well, Amanda made the decision to do both traditional and indie publishing, because she can reach a wider audience.

This is going to be hard to believe, but there are some people who do not own computers! And even if they owned computers, they don't have and can't afford access to the Internet!

But schools are making the determination that, well, everyone has a computer with access to the Internet so there is no need to teach cursive writing because everyone communicates through the Internet! If not by computer, than by smartphone.

Is this true? Before this, the ability to write a letter to someone was one of the few unifying facts in Society. Rich and poor, over-educated or 6th grade education only, most people were literate and could write. (Obviously, there were some who had difficulties with writing, but there were more people who could write than currently have computers. And if you're illierate, I can't see how the emphasis on computer skills is going to help you.)

According to some statistics, 76% of U.S. citizens have a computer or have access to a computer. I think that latter bit is what makes this statistic a bit misleading. Have access to a computer could just mean, well, you can go to the library and use the computers there.

Fine, but that is fairly inconveniant. It means an awful lot of people out there could be squeezed out and marginalized. More than are marginalized now, at any rate.

I don't think the inability to read or write using cursive script is going to affect the underlying factors that contribute to this, but I do believe it is a symptom of our increasing focus on the computer as our major means of communications. I'm not sure that's a good thing. And don't get me wrong--I love computers. I've worked in the computer industry for over 30 years as a programmer and enterprise administrator. I adore technology.

But I also live in rural America where Internet costs are high and computer usage is low. So this shift worries me.

The one big "unintended consequence" that I see right away is: how are kids going to write a check?

Okay, so they can pay bills electronically.

Okay, how are they going to sign the back of their credit card?

Maybe signatures are obsolete?
Could be. But then, I'm working on a project at work involving certificates and identity proofing, so maybe instead of signatures, we'll all just go through an identity proofing system (e.g. obtaining a driver's license) and get a certificate or even a smartcard (e.g. driver's license with a certificate embedded) and that will be our proof of identity. No more pen-and-ink signatures.

It will certainly be a different world and it pains me to think the kids of today won't be able to read their great-grandmother's letters.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool's Day

Happy April Fool's Day From Wikipedia: April Fools' Day is celebrated in the Western world on the 1st of April of every year. Sometimes referred to as All Fools' Day, April 1 is not a legal holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated as a day which tolerates practical jokes and general foolishness. The day is marked by the commission of good humoured or funny jokes, hoaxes, and other practical jokes of varying sophistication on friends, family members, teachers, neighbors, work associates, etc. Traditionally, in some countries such as New Zealand, the UK, Australia, and South Africa, the jokes only last until noon, and someone who plays a trick after noon is called an "April Fool".[1] It is for this reason that newspapers in the U.K. that run a front page April fool only do so on the first (morning) edition.[2] Elsewhere, such as in France, Ireland, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Russia, The Netherlands, Germany, Brazil, Canada, and the U.S., the jokes last all day. The earliest recorded association between 1st April and foolishness can be found in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1392). Many writers suggest that the restoration of the 1st of January as New Year's Day in the 16th century was responsible for the creation of the holiday, but this theory does not explain earlier references. What is the best (harmless) prank you pulled on another?