Are You Making a Conference Checklist?

Women Raising A ToastGood because neither am I. The truth is, I don’t make one list; I make at least three before going out my front door. Along with many, I’m attending a special conference in a few weeks in one of my favorite parts of the country. You can bet I’m making all kinds of preparations, the first of which is reminding myself what the conference experience usually involves.

A few truths about conferences:

  • You will love some things, feel meh about other things, but the group organizing always puts on a fabulous event. Pick what you want to do and enjoy it. The best part is that you have an opportunity to step away from the computer and interact with people who share your love for the romance genre.
  • Try to check shyness at the door. But if you can’t, lurking can be a nice precursor to boldness (as in approaching an editor). Gathering information in workshops, spotlights, and parties is highly beneficial.
  • If you’re pitching, you might get nervous. Think of the pitch as a conversation and not a pitch. Over-preparation can really help. When I know my material cold, I am far less nervous. Pitching isn’t as bad as you think, and if it’s worse, then you pitched to the wrong person. A part of my job as an editor/pitch listener is to create an environment where you feel comfortable enough to pitch.
  • This is for both writers/editors: Just when you think you can’t take anymore, you can. At my first RWA, where I didn’t pace myself, I got to Friday night and thought I might fall over. Thanks to the fun chatter of an author sitting next to me, I found my second wind and charged on. You can fall over when you get home.
  • Chug water and avoid sugar and carbs. I break these rules every single time, indulging in all the caffeine and dessert bars. Try to find me during the final ceremony. I’m the wired one with the glazed eyes (wishing for another piece of cake).
  • You may or may not have a career-changing moment. The conference is more fun when you’re not so attached to the outcome.
  • The things I hear most from writers post-conference is how inspired they are afterwards. I feel the same way. This, at the very least, makes the conference experience worthwhile in addition to the dessert bars.

What to pack:

  • A little extroversion
  • Business cards
  • Schedule of events
  • Everyone’s cell phone number
  • Knitting, 4 magazines (for the plane)
  • 6 changes of clothes and maybe 1 more just because
  • gym clothes–who are we kidding
  • 1 manuscript to edit
  • Charger!

Looking for Topics

I’m toying with the idea of a live chat of some sort–with video!–either having to do with Romance Is My Day Job and/or romance writing in general. I’d love for any suggestions for topics, especially for those wanting to write romance novels or those who love reading them. Maybe if this goes well, I might do more than one.

Thanks in advance for any feedback.

Romance’s First Book Club

Bible Group Reading TogetherThis past week, I attended my first book club for Romance Is My Day Job–and in Manhattan, where so much of the story takes place. If my computer hadn’t crashed the day after, I would have posted the details sooner.  And if I hadn’t been worried about my soon-to-crash computer, I would have thought to take pictures.

You might remember that last Tuesday in NYC, it was painfully humid. I wheezed and sweat buckets all the way to my destination. I met seven intelligent, vibrant women, and we chatted about the book, partook in refreshments, and laughed a lot. After this two-hour book/me/Sam/romance-fest, I knew I wanted to do many more of these. What a total blast!

These readers really discuss their books (for fifteen years now), and with me, didn’t hesitate to ask hard questions about:

1. My family dynamic now

2. Are Sam and I still happy? The realities of happily ever after

3. Why did I write in the present tense? Wouldn’t past tense be more natural?

4. Why did I put that awful event toward the end and not sooner?

5. How did I feel exposing so much about my life?

6. What’s next?

7. The reality of meeting someone in person after “meeting” over a computer

8. What is my responsibility in the string of failed relationships?

9. How Sam feels about The Book (we have a song: thebookthebookthebook…thebookthebookthebook, repeat)

10. As an editor, did I have a hard time being edited? (no, it was awesome!)

11. What is the bigger message?

In addition to the experience of meeting these women, I loved the surprise on their faces when they saw that I’d brought Sam–the hero of my book–along. Having him there allowed them to hear another side of the story. It was such an enjoyable night. Discussing books–all books–is an addiction for me. I love to know what people are reading and make lists upon lists so that I can add to my own ridiculous To Be Read pile.

Thanks, First Book Club (Jackie and friends!).  Now I will back up my computer. Again and again.

Happy Birthday Week to My One!

sp 5The hero of Romance Is My Day Job would hate for me to divulge his exact birthday and he’s not an attention hog but I would like to pay a short tribute to him and his special day. Heck, let’s make it the entire week. Here are just a few traits that make him special (barf bags available upon request):

  • Sure he’s handsome, smart and sensitive. I’ll just say that ahead of time. It’s kind of boring.
  • He’s the last person to leave a party because he often gets caught up in conversation and loses track of time. Plus, free snacks and drinks are a bonus!
  • I’ve never met anyone more in touch with his relatives without actually living with them. He adores his family.
  • He has high reading standards. Just the news, Classics, and the occasional witty memoir (like Gary Shteyngart–though pretty much every guy loves him).
  • Even if you’re a shmuck, he never gives up on you. He is a friend for life.
  • Pranks and hijinks are high on his list. If there’s a microphone, he may try to commandeer it. You gotta love the spirit behind his mischief; it can be Andy Kaufman-esque.
  • He walks with his chest out and basically moves like a GI Joe doll. I’ve asked him if he’s ever taken ballet but he says no.
  • The way he falls asleep reading his iPad should be a sitcom. The eyelids grow heavy, the iPad slowly falls over, then the snoring. It always makes me laugh.
  • He can handle running around the city all day long whereas I love staring at the walls from my couch. If it weren’t for him, I’d be even more of a leather pillow watching women squabble on TV.
  • The only time he’s a real jerk is when he’s sick, which happens once a year, usually in the summer. Even this is kind of cute. I just hand him some Mucinex and juice and shut the door.
  • He knows the right thing to do. If you need a conscience, he can help you.
  • He has a loveable way of taking over your possessions. My yoga mat is now his. If I get a yogurt for myself, he will eat it before I can find a spoon. My makeup tray is filled with his razors and contact lenses.
  • When I’m sick or in a bad mood, he’ll go out and get me what I want, as long as it’s not soda or cake. And even these are okay in an emergency.
  • He loves to eat. Watching him eat makes me want to eat, a feat since I’m not a foodie. Also, he doesn’t eat garbage the way I do. His influence has helped me curb my bad habits (mostly).
  • Like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally… he has this little wrinkle between his brows when he’s pissed or confused.
  • After hunting down ingredients, he will make lamb stew, lasagna, Pad Thai, or chili, with loads to spare. The hours he spends cooking are his therapy.
  • He is protective of loved ones, as in, he will save bad news until after my birthday and work behind the scenes to make everything work out.
  • He should teach a course in fearlessness. He doesn’t care who you are and would have no problem calling you. He will jump out of a plane and eat bugs (especially if a nice Bernaise is involved).
  • Popular since birth, he shies away from the spotlight, but somehow winds up in it.
  • He shows up at friends’ parents’ funerals.
  • Even if he’s smarter than you are, he doesn’t make you feel stupid (except when you watch The Bachelor or The Real Housewives of anything).
  • And lastly, he always lets me have the window seat on the plane, not complaining that he’s squashed between two people.

I started making this list during an especially difficult time this past week, when I realized, once again, what a great guy I married. He’s not a big fan of his birthday, but I’m a big fan of his. Happy Birthday, Sam!

Going Back to High School

Two weekends ago, Sam and I went to our high school for his 30th reunion. There was no pressure for me because I’m still in the bloom of youth (by two years). But to be honest, I always get jitters when I go back–or when I step out of the apartment. Also, as it is for many, my high school years were mixed–yet ones I remember vividly as happy, with great friends, teachers, and a feeling of home (dorms are cool). The campus is still gorgeous with its hills, fields, beaucoup de brick buildings, and what seems to be a thriving community. The teachers don’t seem to age either. Seriously, my math teachers look the same. How is this? I’ll assert that they all drink (or inhale?) a serum that keeps them young. Even the headmaster, who was a teacher in my teens, seems boyishly energetic. It kind pisses me off now that I think about it.

But I digrphoto (4)photo (10)ess (antphoto (7)i-aging makes me do that). Sam pretended that he wasn’t excited to go. Popular people do that, downplay how awesome it is to make a grand entrance, especially when you were/are so cool. Sam was very excited as evidenced by his racing down the highway many hours before we had to be there. At his last reunion, Sam put cucumbers on his eyelids. I wondered what kind of crazy hijinks he’d pull off this time. He and his squeaky clean BFF joked about doing something impish, but I knew very little would happen aside from closing down the hotel bar, maybe with some giggling over throwing a bucket of ice on a sleeping Sam in olden times. Middle age tempers those pranks. Sam did wind up tormenting the alumnae from Westover, who were staying at our hotel. He told the Westover ladies to “Get over it.” Get it? He also tried to keep up with the hotel shuttle to the class dinner, doing some entertaining zig-zags for those on the shuttle (while I turned green).

During the day we strolled around the school. After the parade of classes, we ate a buffet lunch in the revamped cafeteria where Sam and I first danced. As the reminiscing continued, I inhaled a few lemon bars, thinking how nice Sam’s class is. And just as I got lost in more sugar and caffeine, I turned to find two Tafties from Ohio, introducing themselves and telling me that they were reading Romance Is My Day Job for their book club. What a thrill! These two ladies made my weekend extra-special.

I floated thereafter, both on the compliments and instant gaining of body mass, and did as Dr. Oz would do, walk it off and explore (my own rare prescription). The main building entrance looked exactly the same: same tile, walls, offices, which was comforting. I rejoined Sam outside, and he reminded me to wear my sunblock. At one point, Sam’s other BFF lay down on the grass. Sam did the same. They held hands. Students strolled by, probably wondering who were these crazy old guys? Hijink accomplished.

Along with others from Sam’s class, I stood in line at the school store, eager to buy a Taft tote bag (because I don’t have enough of them from romance writers conferences). In front of me were much younger alumni, saying “oh my god, I need like need this coffee mug. Don’t you need a coffee mug? I need a coffee mug…” over and over. Even with this, I stuck it out in line for a good twenty minutes. Others bailed. I got my tote bag.

We went to a memorial service for Sam’s classmates who left us way too soon. My own class has lost too many and thinking about them made me grateful to have known them, and to have the life I have right now.

I took lots of pictures–of where Sam and I first danced, my dorm, the basement where one could easily sneak away from a dance, the Latin classrooms, and of course, my favorite couple.

photo (2)

 

More Coverage for Romance Is My Day Job

photo (3)In the last week, my book showed up in two places:

Novelicious posted the lessons I learned from reading romance novels–and not just that Alpha heroes can whisk you off to a Greek island at a moment’s notice.

And one of my favorite celebrity and style websites Pop Sugar listed my book with a tote & book giveaway.

More to come soon.

In the meantime, I am working on some super-secret projects and navigating Summer Sam. Husband is done teaching, ergo a child at play, spreading sunshine and frolicking joyfully for the next three months. The most difficult part is curbing my resentment since summer is usually my busiest time. Grrrr.

My Foolish, Yet Fool-Proof Tips for Writing a Synopsis!

Griddle cakesThere should be a “swear jar” for every time a writer says to me, “My proposal is good, but don’t judge it based on the synopsis because I don’t know how to write one.” I could buy a house in the south of France! When I hear this, I don’t feel sympathy. Writing a synopsis is not string theory. I do understand that compared to the ecstasy of writing romance, writing a synopsis is tedious. They aren’t so interesting for editors to read either. But the synopsis is important if you want to submit your work anywhere. Here’s why:

In an industry where a lot of skimming is done, a synopsis is essential. And because many of us have to give a summary to higher ups for approval, we need that synopsis. We don’t pore over them, salivating over each luscious description. We just want the most crucial points given in a matter-of-fact way. But fear not. Just because you hate writing a synopsis–I hate it, too–I’ve developed an almost foolproof way to get it done. For this mission, you will need: 5+ episodes of your favorite show ready to be called up on your watching device, a timer, a bag of Peanut M&Ms (optional) and the will to work in short bursts. Though some editors like longer or shorter synopses, a basic rule is to write five double-spaced pages.

Step One:

Write a sentence saying what your story is about, like a logline: In a daze, after a two-seater plane crash, Mary traveled across the desert to find a rare cactus and discovered true love on the way, but not before single-handedly fighting off desert monsters. My imagination isn’t on fire this morning, but you get the idea. If you can summarize your story in a sentence, you have a good handle on your work. You will use this logline in your query and when you’re in the elevator with an editor.

Make sure your document is 12pt and double spaced. You are ready to go. But first, writing a logline takes a lot of work, so you can reward yourself with a break.

Step Two:

Watch an episode of Game of Thrones or Sherlock or whatever show you’ve chosen. On a day I had to write a synopsis, I watched Season 6 of Mad Men (Poor Peggy).

Step Three:

Set your timer for fifteen minutes and write the first page of your synopsis. You’re introducing the story, the characters, and how you open your book. Sprinkle in a little backstory, if needed. Just write as if you were telling this story to a friend. Push yourself to spill over into the second page. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare (in fact, it shouldn’t be). Then, stop when the timer goes off.

Step Four:

Watch the next episode of your favorite show. Maybe dust a little around the house. Iron some clothes. (aside: My mother irons washcloths. I seem to have caught that gene)

Step Five:

Set the timer for fifteen minutes and blast through the second page of the synopsis, focusing on pivotal details after the opening of the story. Mary’s plane crashed and she’s in the desert. How is she surviving? And how does she meet her prince while searching for the rare cactus? Again, remember that you’re telling this story to your friend, though omit phrases such as, “And then he was, like, no way are you, like, out here without sunblock.” You want to keep your storytelling as factual and spare as possible. No need for flourish, colloquialisms, gimmicks, or every single detail.

Step Six:

Repeat Step Two.

Step Seven:

Timer is set. You’re ready for page three. Delve into the story’s main problem. What struggles does Mary have? Is she dehydrated? Does she feel badly that her pilot died? Does she want Ralph Fiennes to appear out of nowhere to carry her across the desert? What about the desert monsters, much like in The Mummy, who appear out of the sand and come roaring after her. Maybe it’s her imagination. Emphasize here also the protagonist’s ultimate goal. Boy, you’ve accomplished a lot on this page. It’s time to relax.

Step Eight:

Repeat Steps Two, Four, Six. Balance your checkbook. Try knitting socks. If you master this, let me know how you did it because I still have trouble.

Step Nine:

Timer set. On page four, you’ll want to start tying up the loose ends of the story. What is the final conflict, that dark moment where all seems lost? How is your protagonist tested and how does she transform? How does Mary find the cactus and, ultimately, is she able to signal to the plane flying overhead? You’re almost done with your synopsis.  Think about getting yourself something at the bakery. I like Welsh cookies minus the raisins.

Step Ten:

Repeat Step Eight.

Step Eleven:

You’re almost done! Don’t even bother setting a timer because finishing up this synopsis is so easy, you can already see The End. Here, you reveal the very last details of the story. Mary is in the plane with her cactus, and her new husband (she gets married on the plane). They fly to Hawaii for a divine honeymoon and Anderson Cooper interviews her on 360.

You wrote a synopsis and it wasn’t that painful, right? Surely, you can carve out 5 hours out of your day (most of it watching TV). I can’t emphasize enough that the synopsis is an essential component of your proposal. Now that you’ve finished, you can take another break before going back and proofreading, which I recommend doing at least 5 times and then aloud.

I hope this helps those who are synopsis-phobic. It is definitely how I tackle this very painful task.