Tuesday, February 28, 2006

We interrupt...

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog to announce that the Playground Monitor sold a special feature article to True Confessions magazine today. She reluctantly admits that she was doing a quasi-samba around her office to the carnival rhythms of Bootylicious when the call came in and it was only when the song was over and she heard a voice on her answering maching that she realized what was happening. "This will be perfect for our Mother's Day edition," the editor told her. Stay tuned for further developments.
We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Winners Are...

Time to announce the winners of the Writing Playground's First Contest!

The Grand Prize goes to (drumroll please)...

Marcy Arbitman of Evanston, IL!!

The trial bag of Diana Drummond products goes to...

Teenamarie Schorr of Lovelock, NV!

And the winner of the autographed hardback copy of Good Girls Don't is...

Camille Netherton of Surrey, British Columbia!

Congrats to all of our winners, and a big thank you to everyone that entered.

It's been a lot of fun being your contest coordinator, but I hand off the job to the Playground Monitor with a smile...

Don't forget--the next contest starts tomorrow. Be sure to enter, and maybe you'll be the next big winner!

Random Tuesday thoughts…

I seem to be running wide-open these days, out of the frying pan and into the spilt milk, from pillar to post with barely a chance to catch my breath. But that’s becoming almost the normal state of affairs, and my list-making obsession is coming in very handy. As is my calendar. And my PDA. And the strings tied around my fingers. This juggling act is affecting my brain function this week, so coherence is not on the agenda for today’s blog.

Random thought 1:
Congrats to Karen who posted why she wrote on Saturday’s blog and wins a copy of The Art of Romance Writing by Valerie Parv. It's an oldie but a goodie, and I happened to find a copy on-line (I hate it when good books go out of print). Some of the info on publishers is out of date, but her chapters on Characterization and Plot/Conflict are great. Congrats Karen! We understand completely about the voices in our heads…

But Jennifer, who claims to only be a reader, isn’t out of the game. She wrote:
“Maybe one day I'll get the courage to write them down. Right now, I think it is
the fear that it won't make sense to anyone but me and the fear of failure that
keep me from trying. Plus I wouldn't even know where to start.”

Oh, honey, those are dangerous words here on the Playground. Watch every Playfriend jump to attention at the thought fear is holding someone back from writing. Because we know where you’re coming from. So, in the hopes of encouraging you to break through that fear, I’m sending you a copy of No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, the founder of National Novel Writing Month. Maybe it will help you get started.

Random thought 2:
I’ll be back later today to announce the winners of the Writing Playground’s First Contest. Thanks to everyone who entered. We appreciate your support more than you know. If you haven’t entered, you have until noon central time to get your entry in. Amazing Child will be pulling the winners' names out of the cute yellow bucket after her nap.

Random thought 3:
It’s time for the Problem Child to put up or shut up. I talk a good game about making time for your writing and treating it with the importance it deserves, but I’ve been letting mine slide recently. My to do lists keep growing, and I keep letting “write” slide to the bottom. Time to walk the walk. I’m signing up for the page a day challenge. Come hell or high water (or the multitude of other things on my list), I’m getting this book finished. Even though I signed up for another project today, I’m going to start giving my writing the attention it deserves and getting that page a day done. Instigator, get your whip. PM, get your whistle. SP and Angel, get your nagging shoes on. Two weeks—fourteen pages. Who's with me?

I can do this.

Just watch me.

Problem Child

PS—A big congrats to my cousin Amanda on her engagement and upcoming wedding. I love you!

Monday, February 27, 2006

A Day Off: To Be Or Not To Be

Many times I feel like I must be using every spare minute I have free to write. After all, I don't have a huge amount of free time. I am the mother of two small children, run a resume writing business, am pursuing publication, and am a wife, daughter, sister, friend, critique partner.... The list of duties is never ending. For every task checked off of my To Do list, at least two more are added.

I take my writing seriously. My biggest dream at the moment is to publish a book. That means using whatever stolen moments when my brain is functioning to write, edit, or plot.

But yesterday, I took a day off. As in my husband's favorite line from the movie Office Space: "I did nothing and it was everything I thought it would be."

While the children played and my husband watched television, I read. The kids and I played outside and we had Make Your Own Pizza Night for dinner, but after the kids were in bed I watched a movie and read some more. All day I felt relaxed and drowsy, even indulging in an afternoon nap. It was everything I thought it would be.

But I should have known I wouldn't get off scot-free. The first thought that raced through my mind this morning was "Do you know how much time you wasted yesterday? Can you imagine the things you could have accomplished with all that wasted time?"

What is it that forces us to feel like we must make every moment productive? Yes, I could have gotten chapters critiqued, written several pages, prepared for some upcoming family events or, heaven forbid, cleaned house. But I didn't. And I refuse to feel guilty for that. The main reason I rarely indulge in a day off is the guilt. For every "free" day I spend 3 or 4 more beating myself up for wasting time.

To paraphrase Maven Linda Howard, life is the fodder for our books. If we spend every spare moment writing, we aren't living. We can't feed our imagination or create well-rounded characters (okay, I could easily create a workaholic or a control freak), if we don't even have a few spare minutes to let our creativity take flight. So why do I feel guilty? I probably need someone to give me permission to relax. Sad, but true.

What is it that you do to relax? Do you continually put it off so you can check things off of your To Do list? Do you read, scrapbook, sing, garden, watch movies, listen to music? You officially have my permission (such as it is) to indulge yourself this week. Let me know how it works out for you.

And if you have any suggestions on alleviating the guilt, I'm all ears! :)


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ask Counselor Shelley

Dear Counselor Shelley,
What is the difference between a sociopath and psychopath?

Counselor Shelley's Response:
There really is no difference . The terms psychopath, sociopath and antisocial are all bascially one in the same. The diagnostic term listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM IV)* is Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). The DSM IV describes this type of person as displaying "a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others." Additionally, to be diagnoised as having ASPD a person must consistently demonstrate three or more of the following characteristics:
1) Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior.
2) Deceitfulness
3) Impulsiveness
4) Irritability and/or aggressiveness
5) Reckless disregard for the safety of self and/or others.
6) Consistent irresponsibility
7) Lack of remorse
Many serial killers such as Ted Bundy and Charles Manson meet the diagnostic criteria for ASPD. However, someone does not have to be a murderer to be a psychopath. If you would like to see a typical sociopath in action, watch an episode of South Park and pay close attention to Eric Cartman.

Thanks & keep the interesting questions comming!

* See my February Clinic article for more information on the DSM IV.

Your turn to be in charge...

All the Playfriends are occupied elsewhere all day Saturday. PM is headed off to see #2 son, and the rest of the Children are headed to a meeting. (Ha! All the hubbies are on child care duty all day. We're off on an adventure that will involve several Bellini's before it's over. We could probably embarrass that poor bookstore clerk again--if they don't bar the door when they see us coming!)

So, faithful friends, I leave the blog in your hands today.

Recently, one of the loops I'm on did an interesting experiement. Each person was asked to answer the question "Why do you write?" in one or two sentences. I'm interested to hear your responses.

So click on the comments link and let us know "Why do you write?" I can't wait to come home and see your answers.

I'll even coordinate with the Playfriends in our Bellini-induced giddiness to pick our favorite reason, and I'll send a suprise to the winner.

Don't let me down!


**The good-looking guy has nothing to do with this post (other than make it visually interesting). Ya'll seem to respond well to certain kinds of stimuli. :-)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Daily Forecast

As I write this, I’m in my office, picking at my lunch. Being a planner, yes, I write my blog the day before in case I get an attack of the “what the heck am I going to write about?” blues. At work, I’m squirreled away in a restricted area so there are no windows or signs of life other than engineers traipsing in and out of my bay. People keep coming in and saying what a beautiful day it is outside. I have no clue. I’m sheltered from everything in here, just off in my own world. Being in Alabama, half the time I walk outside at the end of the day completely shocked that it is torrentially raining. True to my absent-minded professor nature, I, of course, have no umbrella or coat, plus I’m parked in the back forty. My Smarty Pants are often rain soaked by the time I get to my car.

Having been a solitary writer for several years, I liken this to me joining RWA. I’ve piddled at my computer writing this or that for a while. I stumbled my way onto the eHarlequin boards when I was seeking out information on submission guidelines. I started posting on a few boards and the more active I became, the more prepared I felt. More like a real member of the writing community. I finally decided that I’d cough up the bucks to join RWA, then my local RWA chapter.

Then my whole world changed! I walked outside and realized it was raining. Not in a bad sense, but in the sense that I was finally aware of what was going on. All the time I was just doing my own thing, I was completely unaware of everything that was happening in the writing community. Joining the organization gave me not only companionship and support, but I was finally in the “KNOW.”

I know what’s going on in terms of guidelines, line changes and cancellations, who’s acquiring and who isn’t, contests, editor and agent names…stuff that I just wouldn’t know otherwise. I could still be sitting at my desk pecking away at my doomed Flipside manuscript if I hadn’t walked outside to check the weather. Instead, I knew the line was discontinued and decided to focus on my paranormal, which is very hot right now.

I’m not trying to endorse any specific organization (unless they’re cutting a check) but really the concept and benefits of the organization itself. Mystery writers have a similar group, I’m told, as do other genres. In my day job, I’m a member of a HR society that holds conferences and training as well.

In a profession that can be isolating if you want it to be, I think this is a great support system on so many different fronts. So, if you are a member of a professional organization – what is the best thing you get out of it? If you’re not a member – what keeps you from joining and where do you get your info?


Thursday, February 23, 2006


Thanks everyone for participating and going on a scavenger hunt for yummy guys on the writing playground!

I have two winners tonight :-)

Cassie England wins the 3 Blaze books and
JenniferYates wins the temptation.
Congratulations you guys!

And don't forget that you still have a couple days to enter the Playground's first contest! There's an excellent prize package up for grabs so visit us at www.writingplayground.com to enter.


Random Acts of Kindness

I'm going to apologize in advance to PM for bumping her blog a bit early tonight. Both Sweet Pea and Baby Girl are fighting something that's keeping them awake at night. They're asleep and I'm exhausted so I'm going to get while the gettings good :-)

I couldn't help but notice that PM's fireman post over the weekend garnered much interest :-) And as a red-blooded female I can't say as I blame anyone. I really wanted to post a hot man on my own blog - because do we really need an excuse to look at a hot man? So keep reading to find out how I'm going to tie this all in :-)

I have to say that aside from lingering illness at my house I'm pretty excited these days. My sister is moving home this weekend. She and I were very close growing up. We are thirteen months apart and shared the same friends, drove the same car, participated in the same activities in school growing up. About the only thing we didn't do was go away to college together. She left home and I stayed behind. I can't say as I regret my decision, I met my husband, fell in love, got married and had my girls. I wouldn't change my path for anything. But I am absolutely thrilled that after ten years away she's moving home and bringing my brother-in-law, nephew and another little one on the way with her. Things are going to be crazy for a few months while they settle in but I hope it will be worth it for her and her family. I know I'm looking forward to having her home.

Considering that, I'm in a giving, sharing mood :-) I have some books I've been saving for a special occasion and I think this is an excellent excuse to make someone else's day as happy as mine. I've got 3 Blazes and 1 Temptation (excellent reads by Rhonda Nelson, Cindi Myers, and Debbi Rawlins) that I'm going to give away. Tell me which playfriend's locker this yummy guy resides in and I'll put your name in the hat for the drawing. email instigator@writingplayground.com with your answer by 10 PM Central time today (Thursday). I'll draw the winner shortly thereafter. Good Luck! And enjoy the eyecandy :-)


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

All That Glitters

Every two years I find myself glued to the television as the Olympic games play out across the screen. From the pomp of the opening ceremonies til the flag is lowered and the flame is extinguished, there are stories of the dream, the struggle and the victory. Sadly, there are also stories of the dream, the struggle and the defeat.

In 1996, I was privileged to be able to attend one morning session of the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia and that fulfilled a lifelong dream for me. As I walked into the stadium, saw the flame burning brightly and heard the Olympic theme play over the loudspeaker, I burst into tears. They were happy tears, mind you, but I just couldn't stop them. Ever since I'd watched Wilma Rudolph run to victory in the 1960 Rome games, I'd wanted to be there in person and feel the Olympic spirit.

There are records of Olympic games dating back to 776 B.C., where foot races were the only sport. Gradually, more competitions were added and in 1894 the Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the modern Olympic Games. The games were primarily summer events until 1924 when the International Winter Sports Week was held in Chamonix, France. Two years later, these games were retroactively declared to be the first Winter Olympic Games. Beginning in the early 90's, the scheduling of the games was changed so that the summer and winter games are held two years apart, rather than in the same year, a move made necessary by the expense of hosting the games.

And that brings us to the 20th Winter Olympic games currently being held in Torino, Italy. The Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius -- Swifter, Higher, Stronger -- has never been more apparent as we've watched records fall and outstanding performances take place before our eyes.

The Winter Olympics have been filled with great moments and athletes.
  • The gold-medal ice dancing performance of Torvill and Dean at the 1984 Sarajevo games. The thrumming beat of Ravel's Bolero still stirs me into a frenzy.
  • The surprise gold of US skater Sarah Hughes in the 2002 ladies' figure skating event in Salt Lake City.
  • Do you believe in miracles? Yes! I watched as Al Michaels uttered those famous words when the 1980 US men's hockey team won a gold medal over the favored Soviet team.
  • Who can forget Dan Janssen's two falls in Calgary in 1988 as the gold medal eluded him? But stronger and more determined than ever, he returned to the rink in Lillehammer in 1994 and won not only a gold medal, but the hearts of the world.
  • Pixie-like Dorothy Hammill was the media darling of the 1976 games in Innsbruck where she won an unlikely gold medal in figure skating. Just as famous as her skating was her haircut.
  • In 1968 a brash French skier names Jean Claud Killy sped down the mountain like an avalanche to win gold medals in all three Alpine events. In a sport normally dominated by the Austrians and Italians, his victory was all the more sweet.
  • In the 1994 games, US speed skater Bonnie Blair sealed her place in US Olympic history by wining her sixth medal and becoming the most decorated US Winter Olympian.
  • And in the current games, Anne Abernathy - AKA Grandma Luge - who competes under the flag of the US Virgin Islands, became the oldest woman to compete in the winter games. At age 52, she's in her 6th Olympic games. Sadly, she crashed on a training run and broke her right wrist, making her unable to take part in the competition. However, she successfully petitioned the IOC to allow her name to be listed on the official results with the DNS notation (Did Not Start).

The games have also had their share of controversy. Does the name Tonya Harding ring a bell? What about the scoring scandal in the pairs skating in Salt Lake City? The 2006 Torino games have not escaped controversy either.

Just what makes a great Olympian? First let's start with a hefty dose of talent, add in a heap of blood, sweat, tears and pain, sprinkle in a lot of drive and determination and top it with belief and desire. I spoke with a sports psychologist once who told me that at the top levels of Olympic competition, all the athletes are pretty equal in terms of ability. What separates the gold, silver and bronze medals is often their level of belief. Many times it's not how much an athlete wants to win, but how badly he or she doesn't want to lose that makes the difference.

Sometimes the road to Olympic gold takes a major detour. Take the case of Alabamian Vonetta Flowers. She was recruited as a nine-year-old to run track, and after a promising high school career, she attended the University of Alabama where she won 35 conference titles. However, she was plagued by injuries and after a disappointing show at the 2000 Olympic trials, she retired from track competition. Two days after those trials, her husband spotted a flyer urging runners to try out for bobsledding. She wasn't interested but accompanied her husband and encouraged him. A pulled hamstring ended his dream, but on a whim, Vonetta tried out and was selected.

She rose quickly in the ranks and in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics, she and her partner won a gold medal in the two-person bobsled. This made Vonetta Flowers the first Alabamian to win a medal in the Winter Olympics and the first black athlete, male or female from any country, to win Winter Olympic gold. She is back in Torino attempting to repeat her golden performance from four years ago.

Of course, someone always has to finish last. Remember Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, the hapless ski jumper from Great Britain? Or how about the famous Jamaican bobsled team? They finished last but they still had drive and determination and a willingness to spit in the eye of convention that said "Bobsledders don't come from Jamaica" or "A ski jumper from Great Britain?"

And just what does this have to do with writing?

It has everything to do with it. You must have a dream, a goal, a desire and determination. You must learn and practice. You'll laugh and cry and suffer rejection and defeat. You will plan and keep believing and maybe even take a detour or two until one day it all comes together and you get "The Call," which will be your equivalent of an Olympic gold medal.

I believe that everyone has an "Olympic" moment in their lives, be it winning a grade school race, graduating from college, marrying the person of your dreams, giving birth to your first child, winning that first writing contest or selling the first book. It may not be accompanied by a medal hung around your neck while the national anthem plays in the background, but it is special nonetheless.

What has been your "Olympic" moment?

P.S. I'm a shameless namedropper and I shall take this opportunity to share a special moment in my life. Meet Jean Claud. :-)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Respect the Squeee

Squeee--/noun/ A sound of delight and glee. Usually accompanied by little girl claps (hands held vertically right below the chin; claps are small, rapid, and quiet). Most commonly seen in Playground blog posts and private emails between the Playfriends. Level of delight and glee can be measured by the number of “e’s” on the word, and excessive use of exclamation points is allowed. Can also be used as an intransitive regular verb, to squeee.

Do not mock the squeee. It’s a silly sound, yes, but there is no higher praise on the Playground than to have your news greeted by a round of “squeeee!!!” by the Playfriends. The squeee is reserved for writing-related good news. If you get a new car or your cat wins the beauty show, that will probably warrant you a “yee ha,” or “way to go.” Mention the word editor or agent, and you might get a squeee.

Finalling in or winning a contest will get you a “wooohooo” and a “yippee.” Mention the handwritten comment from the judging editor or the request to see more, and now we’re talking squeee-worthy.

I live for the squeee. I yearn for the squeee. Not only for my own news, but also for the news of the other Playfriends. Nothing gets our blood pumping like a good squeee. Squeees give us energy and momentum in our quest. Squeees are like drugs—you get one, and you want more.

Laugh at the squeee at your own peril. We do not take kindly to those who mock the squeee or take it lightly. So apologies to the hubbies and cats who are frightened or annoyed by the sound of a squeee, but a squeee is music to my ears.

Here on the Playground, we’re always looking for a reason to squeee. Be sure to share your squeee-worthy news with us so we can celebrate with you.

Just warn everyone else to cover their ears…


**Last minute addition. I finalled in the Great Expectations contest. As stated above, this would normally only warrant a "woohoo," but this is my first contest final EVER. I'm taking the squeee, darn it.


Monday, February 20, 2006

Can I Have a Drumroll Please?

There's a winner in the "Fire Drill" contest.

The names of all entrants who correctly answered the contest question were put into a basket and since I have no small children to draw names and my cats won't cooperate, I drew the name myself while I was blindfolded and had one hand tied behind my back.

Please join me in congratulating Rose Germano, who correctly
identified Kimberly Lang (AKA Problem Child) as the Playfriend who also teaches

100th post

We just realized that my post for today is our 100th post here at the Playground Blog! Amazing! I can still remember my first post and how nervous I was. Yet now we're passing into triple digits.

We want to say a big thank you to everyone who has come by to check us out and stayed around to play. We appreciate your support and input, and we hope we have entertained you just a little. Or at least made you think. :)

To another hundred, then a hundred more...


Promotional Blogging

Not long ago, Playground Monitor came across an interesting post on author Brenda Coulter's blog about a promotional blogging opportunity. After looking at the information, I agreed to try it, because it involved reading an inspirational romance. Though I don't write them, I've had experience reading them, and looked forward to reading something new from that genre.

I was also intrigued by the idea of promoting books through blogs. A lot of authors have blogs and know fellow authors who have them as well. I'm all about giving authors another opportunity to get the word out about their books. And I'm storing away ideas for that day when I have books of my own to promote.

Here's the idea, paraphrased from Ms. Coulter's explanation:

Ms. Coulter is priviledged to be a part of an author blogging tour at the beginning of March. During this time, other inspirational authors will post author photographs, books covers, interviews, and reviews, along with an Amazon link. Each of those authors would receive a free copy of her book to review.

Why do this? To increase the chosen book's rating with Technorati.com (a search site like Google that just searches blogs) which features a Popular Books page. The more times the book is mentioned, the higher it ranks on the Popular Books list. Also, the books purchased through the Amazon links would boost the book's ratings there also. More than anything, it would increase the author's profile within the blogging world and possibly reach an audience that hadn't had previous knowledge of this particular author. Ms. Coulter explained that she was aiming for "increased awareness."

In preparation for her blogging tour, Ms. Coulter decided it would be an interesting experiment to offer the same opportunity through her personal blog to fellow bloggers (both authors and readers) not on the tour. Each blogger who wanted to participate would receive a free copy of her new book in exchange for a promise to blog about it. Blog content was left to the recipient; it could be an interview, review, or something totally different. And bloggers were assured they didn't have to gush over the book if we didn't like it.

Other stipulations included the insistence that the post appear on a weekday during the chosen month of February and must include the following information and links (which she supplied already written for ease of use, though you could post it however creatively you wanted to):

A Family Forever by Brenda Coulter
From Steeple Hill Love Inspired
Look for it in stores after February 28
or order it now from Amazon.com
Read most of the first chapter at BrendaCoulter.com
Visit Brenda's blog, No rules. Just write.

In return Ms. Coulter would publicly thank the blogger and give them a shout-out on her own blog. Thus giving the blogger something in return besides a free book.

Having been back to Ms. Coulter's site to view the mention of other bloggers, I'd like to say that she did a great job. She didn't just list the names and sites, but also mentioned little descriptions to entice her readers to go for a visit.

As for the book, I enjoyed reading it. It approaches the traditional storyline of the forced marriage with a pregnant heroine from an understanding Christian perspective. The heroine has faced several major tragedies in her life, leading to a crisis of faith. Though I haven't experienced the same things, I have dealt with repeated losses that led to some of the same questions addressed in this book. "Why is God allowing this to happen to me?" "Does God love me at all?" "Why can't I feel His love?" and the soul-shattering "What have I done wrong to deserve this?" Each of these is considered with gentle scripture reminders and honest feelings. For me, A Family Forever was a truly touching read.

For more information on Ms. Coulter's experiment, check out her blog at the above link. The original posts are archived under January 2006.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

New stuff on the Playground

In case you haven't been over to the Playground recently, Smarty Pants did an update on the 15th. The second part of the Maven interviews are up, and Shelley has a new article in the Clinic. There's also a new book recommendation in the library.

Don't forget, we update the site on the 1st and the 15th of each month. Sign up for The Playground News, our email newsletter, and you'll be the first to know what's coming to the Playground each month.


A Cast of (not quite) Thousands...

Every good book needs secondary characters to round out the plot. After all, no one goes through their daily lives totally alone. That would be far too easy. Instead, you need significant others, children, bosses, friends, and enemies to make life more complicated and more interesting.

The same goes on this blog.

We tell you about what's happening, and we try to keep it focused on writing, but our lives get in the way. Recently, it came to our attention that our blog visitors aren't as up-to-date on the supporting cast that make our lives so much more interesting.

For those of you who would like a program, here you go.

Playground Monitor: PM is married to Grandpa (for, like, Forever). They have #1 son and #2 son. #1 Son recently brought the Daughter in law (DIL) into the family, and they will welcome Baby2Be in June.

Instigator is married to Darling Husband and mom to Sweet Pea and Baby Girl.

Angel is married to Dear Husband and mom to Drama Queen and Little Man.

Smarty Pants has the Darling Boyfriend at home.

As for me, the Problem Child is married to the Darling Geek, and we have Amazing Child.

Of course, you all know about the Mavens. And, we all have Moms that simply go by the name "Mom."

We'll try to keep the abbrievations to a minimum (this since we had Smarty Pants think a Sweet Pea comment applied to her because of the abbrievation SP)--at least until we know you know who we're talking about.

Until then, feel free to clip this and keep it for future reference. :-)


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Fire Drill!

How would you like to win him? Well not him in the flesh, but him on the calendar along with eleven other hunky firefighters.

Email the Playground Monitor with the answer to the following question. PM will draw from all the correct entries received Saturday and Sunday (February 18 and 19) and pick a winner on Monday the 20th.

Which one of the Playfriends is a ballet teacher in addition to being a writer?

The answer is on the Writing Playground website. Happy hunting!

Friday, February 17, 2006

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Ok, so I had today's post written yesterday by 1PM. All good, just gotta post it later that evening. Then I get home.

"Honey, you got a Victoria's Secret catalog in the mail."

Cool. Then I pick up the catalog. Underneath it is a package from a very important publishing house. Uh oh.

"Honey, couldn't you have mentioned the package from those REALLY important people I sent my partial to?"

"Oh yeah, you also got something from that publisher."

"Great, thanks Honey." Deep breath. Time for the rejection letter. It's too bad, I was really hoping this MS might work out.

My eyes scan the text for the word "unfortunately." There, found it. Foiled again. But wait...what's all this other stuff? Detailed notes, changes...is this an R or the other "R" - the much anticipated revision letter?

After reading it 72 times and pacing around my kitchen like a caged animal, I'm still not sure. They definitely don't want it as is, but incorporate the changes we suggested and we'll take another look at it. Is that good? Is it bad? Should I be happy? Sad? Excited?

I frantically phone a playfriend. Problem Child doesn't answer. Next number...I catch Instigator at home. She tells me I can get excited, it's a good letter. We squeal together. Problem Child calls me back. We squeal together some more. (This compounded, of course, by the fact that I very rarely squeal or get excited about anything. It's pretty darn funny. PC is amused.)

So here I am, nauseus, my body shaking with nerves. Good nerves, bad nerves, I don't know. There's lots of changes to be made. Big changes. Cutting out whole chapters, characters, clarifying plot points, adding magic and mystery...I have a lot of work to do. And this was just on the partial! The laundry list is bound to grow when and if they ever see the rest of the book. I will, however, do whatever she tells me to do as she is the goddess of my publishing world.

I pulled out my last R from the same publisher and look at the differences between the two. The first was your standard, "Thanks, but it doesn't suit our line. Please try again." This one had substance, feedback...slightly painful, but productive feedback! That's priceless these days.

Ok. I'm trying not to rant here, but I'm still freaking out. SP does not freak out, but I'm here, freaking out. If you read this blog to experience the ups and downs on the writing world with us...here you go. Live ups and downs all in one.


Now I've given myself hiccups.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Day Late and a Dollar Short

Once again I'm behind the curve. I missed sharing my survivor moment (I don't know y'all, I might do a lot for a million dollars. Plenty of writing time if I don't have to work and Dear Husband can watch the kids for me cause he isn't working. Might even be worth choking down a spider or two. I draw the line at raw fish though.) Just when I think I've gotten my life back on track something else pops up to offer another distraction.

Although, I'm very proud of myself. I appear to be over the nasty hump in my book that was killing me. Even with all the 'periferal' stuff I managed to write about 6 pages last night. Which up until a couple months ago was my normal writing day. It feels so good to finally be back on track. And to end the night with the feeling that I know what I'm going to be picking up with tomorrow. In fact, I've started carrying my Alphie with me everywhere I go so that I can pound out a page or two here and there. I'd stopped doing that because all I was getting were slightly bigger muscles from lugging it and baby gear around.

It feels so good to finally be into this story again. It's almost as amazing as the first brainstorming session, the phone call from an editor (not THE call but...), and the contest placements. That stuff is secondary to a story that's flowing well, characters who are behaving, and the feeling that it's finally all falling into place cause without the story none of the rest of it matters. But I've got it now. And am so excited about this story again. It's going to be great!

What's your best writing moment?


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

And the winner is...

Thanks to everyone who participated in our "Refer A Friend" promotion for our First Contest.

After looking at the referrals, it would seem our Playground Monitor would technically be the winner, followed closely by some blood relatives of the Playfriends. However, none of these people are eligible, because we expect nothing less than full-out pimping from Marilyn and our kinfolk!

But we had lots of friends refer one of thier own friends our way, and we appreciate it. We've certianly enjoyed meeting them. I ended up taking the names of all who sent a friend and dropping them into a cute Valentine's Day bucket given to me by the Playground Monitor.

The lucky name drawn by Amazing Child is....

Susan Shay of Cleveland!

Susan found our Playground courtesy of our good friend Kelley St. John, and she referred her friend Margaret to the site. (She also said some very nice things about my one of my grammar articles, but that had nothing to do with her winning since Amazing Child is less-than-impressed with my comma knowledge. It just made me very happy.)

Congrats Susan, and thanks for hanging out on our Playground! Your Amazon gift certificate will be coming your way soon.

Thanks to all who played along. Good luck in the drawing for the grand prize on February 28th.

Problem Child

The Tribe Has Spoken

I admit it.

I'm a Survivor junkie. I've watched every season from Africa to the present and love trying to guess who's going to get voted off and who's going to outwit, outplay and outlast the others. While I think it's lots of fun to watch, I don't think I'm cut out for participation. No toilet paper, no sunscreen, no soft bed, no potable drinking water, bugs for dinner, working day and night to eke out existance, competing in all those challenges... well you get the picture. But it's a heck of a lot of fun to watch!

The current season takes place on an island off the coast of Panama, and in a new twist, each week one person must go to a separate island, called Exile Island, and spend the night alone. Of course, there's an immunity idol hidden there and the lucky duck who finds that will have a definite ace in the hole.

This season's game started with 4 teams divided by age and gender. After one week they merged and now there are two teams, which were selected in a schoolyard pick. The contestants include a firewalker, a lumberjill, a singer, a fighter pilot, a nurse and a retired astronaut. They have one goal in common -- be the sole survivor and receive a check for one million dollars.

To do so, they must compete in various reward and immunity challenges, develop a strategy, form alliances and work hard.

You know, it's really not a lot different than writing.

Each of us has a strategy for how we write each story or book, how we plan our time and what we want from our careers. Just last weekend, the Playfriends sat down together and planned out some promotion for the website. We are constantly looking for ways to put our name in front of people. Hmmm... maybe we should design a Writing Playground buff.

Some of us have entered writing contests. It's not a matter of winning immunity, but for some authors, it has meant getting a contract and receiving "the call."

The Writing Playground is a team. And unlike the older women's tribe that voted off their strongest member (they're too stupid to live in my opinion), the Playground team works to their strengths, supports each other and shares in the rewards.

We have our challenges and fortunately none of them have yet required us to eat bugs or rotten fish. Well... there was the meth lab. *g* We even have our own version of Exile Island. It's called "the deadline cave."

The big difference, however, between writing and Survivor is that writing is not a zero sum game where there can only be one winner. With writing, you can win in many ways. Some writers are published by big New York houses and some by smaller presses. Some are published in novel-length fiction and others in short fiction or non-fiction. Some are never published, but write every day for the sheer joy of putting words on paper.

What's important is that you outwit the critics, outplay the naysayers and outlast the self-doubt to achieve whatever goals you've set for yourself.

What's been your biggest "Survivor" moment?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Lesson

For all who teach...

Then Jesus took his disciples up the mountain and gathering them around
him, he taught them saying:

Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are they that mourn.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are they who thirst for justice.
Blessed are you when persecuted.
Blessed are you when you suffer.
Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in heaven...

Then Simon Peter said, "Do we have to write this down?"
Andrew said, "Are we supposed to know this?"
James said, "Will we have a test on it?"
Phillip said, "What if we don't know it?"
Bartholomew said, "Do we have to turn this in?"
John said, "The other disciples didn't have to learn this," and Matthew said, "What does this have to do with real life?"

Then one of the Pharisees present asked to see Jesus's lesson plans and inquired of Jesus his terminal objective in cognitive domain.

And Jesus wept...

I thought it was funny. I've had a bit of this the last few days.

Cooking the Books

Scenario 1: It’s a little after 5 pm. Where has the day gone? Amazing Child insists she’s moments away from falling away to a shadow from hunger, and a phone call from Darling Geek shows him to be grumpy and hungry too. I check the cupboards and realize I was supposed to go to the grocery store today. Ooops. I’d call for pizza, but in the 45 minutes it takes for delivery, Amazing Child will have wasted away to nothing. Anyway, calling for pizza means that, once again, I’ve been bested by something that billions of women world-wide manage each day without a problem: Dinner.

Time for MacGyver cooking. What, you’ve never heard of MacGyver cooking? You have 3 cans of beans, 1 old lemon, 1 chicken breast, 2 hot dog buns, capers (how did those get in the cupboard?), 4 frostbitten fish sticks, and a banana. You have 27 minutes. GO! Make dinner! *

Scenario 2: I’m making one of Mom’s recipes. Her recipe calls for a 13- ounce can. I look at my can—it’s 12 ounces. I call Mom. She says “Oh, don’t worry, they changed the amount in the cans 15 years ago. Just dump it in.”

“But, But, But,” I sputter, “I’m an ounce short. Won’t that screw it up?”

“Nah,” Mom says, “just add a little extra water to make up the difference if you’re worried.”

“A little? Define ‘a little.’”

“Oh, I don’t know. Add some until it looks right.”

HUH? What does “right” look like? Can I just hold the phone over the pot and let her tell me when it looks “right?” Sadly, I don’t have a video phone, so Mom is zero help there. If I knew what “right” looked like, I wouldn’t have made the phone call in the first place.

Cooking is always an adventure in my house. One of my favorite recipes is for “Surprise Gravy.” It’s always a surprise if it turns out to be edible or not.

Seems as though I write a lot like I cook. There’s MacGyver writing, where I have a couple of interesting characters, a couple of ideas for cute scenes I’d like them to be in, and maybe a great piece of dialogue I want to stick in somewhere. I have 275 pages to fill: GO! Write a book.

Or I’ll have a scene. It’s not working, but I don’t know why. I send it out for comments and get remarks like, “Well there’s something missing ...”

“Okay, so what does it need?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe alpha up your hero. Or make the heroine react a different way. Or…”

Argh! Can you vague that up for me a bit more?

So, my writing is a lot like my cooking. I’m a pantser (but I seem to be in some good company). And though MacGyver always makes his thingamajig work perfectly the first time and saves the day while my book often needs some rewriting, I still get it done in the end. And sometimes, I’m left playing with a scene trying to make it “look right” with no clue as to how. But once it looks right, I know it.

However you write it, be proud of yourself for getting it written. Then make your Darling take you out for dinner.

Problem Child.

*If anyone actually said to themselves, “Oh, I can make a yummy dinner out of that,” don’t tell me. I’m shamed enough as it is. (And just a little grossed out.)

Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Random Acts of Kindness

This is Random Acts of Kindness week (really).

Normally I object to approaching things randomly. Get a plan, a schedule, an agenda--at the very least, get a To-Do list. Heck, I'll help you make it. But I can't object to something that requires someone to do something nice for someone else. Even if it is random.

Be kind to each other. Maybe enough random acts will rub off and we'll all be kinder to each other consistently.

Just a (random) thought.

Problem Child

Who needs Dear Abby?

Did Dear Abby have a license to be distributing that advice? No? Shelley does...

As you see below, Counselor Shelley is here to help solve your problems. Send your questions to shelley@writingplayground.com . She'll answer as many as she can on the blog.


Ask Counselor Shelley

Dear Counselor Shelley,
I'm in a critique group with several writers I respect. I think I'm just as good a writer as they are, but they're getting contest wins, contest finals, and requests from editors --- and I'm not. I want to be happy for them but it's hard. I don't want to be jealous, but I am. How can I get over this?
"The Green Eyed Monster"

Dear "Green Eyed Monster,"
First of all, quit thinking of yourself as a "monster." Experencing feelings of jealousy or envy is normal and inevitable. You can't stop yourself from feeling jealous, but you can decide how you are going to behave and for how long you are going to remain jealous. Here are a few tips to help get you on the right path.
Take some time to process your feelings. Allow yourself to experience your emotions instead of immediately trying to stuff them. Secondly, practice talking to your friends about their successes. As we all know, when we are emotional we often say the wrong things. This is why rehearsing is important. Lastly, don't awfulize. Think about all of your accomplishments and successes. Remind yourself that there will be many opportunities for your own successes in the future.
Experiencing jealousy is common and dealing with this feeling is often a difficult and complex undertaking. For this reason, my March article will focus on this topic. I hope this gets you started on the righ track. Don't forget to come back in March for more. Thanks for the great question.
Good Luck & Best Wishes,
Counselor Shelley

Everything Is Gonna Be Okay

Before I get to my post, I have a little administration information: For our regular visitors, don't panic! Problem Child has moved to Tuesdays. Yes, she was nice enough to swap days with me because I had a scheduling conflict. So tune in tomorrow to see what new trouble she's stirring up. Until then, you're stuck with me. Hahahahaha! :)

Saturday, the snow held off long enough to allow The Children to attend our monthly brainstorming group and RWA meeting. I spent some time talking with other authors about my current concerns with the line I'm targeting and whether I should shift my focus elsewhere. This problem has nagged me since my rejection and is beginning to take over my brain more than I'd like it to.

I received some wonderful advice, most of it revolving around listening to my heart and doing what I feel is right for my writing. Kind of like the intuition you must develop during the critique process. Sometimes the constructive criticism offered doesn't strike a cord within you, but sometimes the words resonate deep in your psyche. You just know they are something you should take to heart, whether or not making the changes would be easy.

I pondered everything that had been discussed on my solitary, hour-long drive home. As I again tried to come to a decision, five words came to mind, repeating themselves over and over until I couldn't fail to get the message. They are words made famous by some author or another, and have become the refrain of our Maven Linda Winstead Jones. Even though the words are her version of a kick in the backside, we love her for it.

Just Write the D*mn Book!

Do I know if the new direction of my chosen line is right for me? No. Do I have more research to do? Yes. Do I know where I'll submit when the revisions are made? Not yet. But I will eventually.

Until then, I've got to write the d*mn book. I can't submit something that isn't written. And I can't write if I continue to obsess over this quandry. I'll just have to fly by the seat of my pants until I come to a decision that resonates within my heart. (I know the Playfriends are gasping in shock at the moment. As you can guess by my personality, I'm the plotter in this group. Obsessive doesn't begin to cover it.)

I think this is what writing the book of my heart means. I may make some changes if an editor requests them, but the core of the book has to be me. My voice. My ideas. My style combined with reader expectation. That I can live with. Which means I don't have to know where the book is going right this minute.

And that's okay.


Friday, February 10, 2006

The Four Meme

Meme: an idea, project, statement or even a question that is posted by one blog and responded to by other blogs. Although the term encompasses much of the natural flow of communication in the Blogosphere, there are active bloggers and blog sites that are dedicated to the creation of memes on a regular basis.

Four jobs you have had in your life:
1. Waitress at Shoney's
2. Tupperware dealer
3. Inventory person at International Harvester (was a temp job and my partner was a Moonie)
4. Customer service on a NASA Space Shuttle support contract

Four movies you would watch over and over again:
1. Romancing the Stone
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
3. Phantom of the Opera
4. Shall We Dance

Four places you have lived:
1. Cullowhee, North Carolina
2. Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
3. Frankfurt, Germany
4. Huntsville, Alabama

Four T.V. shows you love to watch:
1. Survivor
2. CSI (the original)
3. The Andy Griffith Show
4. I Love Lucy
EDIT: Apparently I was in a state of mental confusion when I wrote this because how could I forget Desperate Housewives and my favorite obsessive/compulsive detective, Adrian Monk?

Four places you have been on vacation:
1. Paris
2. London
3. Rome
4. Cairo

Four web-sites I visit daily:
1. The Writing Playground
2. eHarlequin
3. Lois and Clark Message Board
4. Writing Playground Blog

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Sweet potatoes
2. Peach cobbler
3. Tiramisu
4. Salmon

Four places I'd rather be right now:
1. Somewhere warm
2. Somewhere warm
3. Somewhere warm
4. Somewhere warm
EDIT: Yeah, Turin wouldn't be too bad now. I've been to a summer Olympics but would love to visit a winter one too.

Four victims for this meme:
1. Problem Child
2. Angel
3. Instigator
4. Smarty Pants

SpellCheck says there's no "I" in "team"

I am proud to share that the Playfriends were recently interviewed (aren’t we fabulous – someone interviewed us!) about the Playground and its inception for a workshop on promotion. We gave our answers, Angel compiled them into a coherent dialogue, then we returned them to the lady conducting the interview.

To my surprise, she was really excited about our answers. She reacted as though we were a model case for her to use with her students in upcoming seminars she teaches. Wow, who’da thunk it? How’d we manage that? I really have NO clue on how to do self-promotion and yet I find myself the successful subject of a workshop!

I think it is just another reason why our group collaboration is such a great idea. Grant it, I’ve never been a fan of teamwork. I was once given a t-shirt from a supervisor that read “Does not play well with others.” I think, though, that in the past, every group collaboration I’d been forced into involved me doing all the work and a bunch of other people sharing the credit. The Playfriends are different. This isn’t a school assignment, so everyone wants to help and they can be depended on. Everyone has something to contribute, making the whole much greater than our individual parts.

As I mentioned, I know nothing of PR and have never taken any official promotional courses. Angel has, so she’s the PR diva and unofficial secretary. Instigator is the goddess of Vista Print and keeper of the motivational whip. Problem Child does our newsletter, coordinates with our professional counselor and her Darling Geek is working wonders with our graphics. The Playground Monitor is the Blog Master, keeping us current and getting the word out (dare I say "pimping") about us out to her vast network of writing community contacts. Then there’s me, webmistress and all-around geek. We all write articles, run contests and blog. We all have areas of expertise and we all have a dozen different ways we can contribute to our overall success.

On our own, I don’t think that any of us would be as successful as we are as a group. Individually, I’m just me. Last year in Reno, that’s all I was. HOD member, first timer at Nationals, paranormal writer. I sorta knew some cool people. This year, going into Atlanta, I am one of The Children, founding member of the Writing Playground, Smarty Pants, and even Alexandra Frost, a name indicative of a life so much more fabulous than my reality.

I feel like we can walk around the Marriott with our heads held high, Playground t-shirts worn with pride, and people will notice us for good reasons. We may or may not have any book contracts under our collective belt, but we’re closer than we've ever been and our group collaboration is part of the reason. I think that together, we’re going to conquer the romance industry.

:: cue superhero theme music here ::

SP, in a brief shining moment of positivity

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Work, Work, Work

I've been struggling this week. Oh who am I kidding? I've been struggling for weeks. With a full-time job, 2 sick children, a husband who is job hunting and worrying about possibly losing his current job, I've had quite a bit of stress lately.

In the midst of all the chaos my WIP has hit a bump in the road. A point where my writing process has become work. And I gotta say I've got enough stuff in my life that I have to force myself to do these days I really didn't need this right now. But despite that I keep chugging along. Why? Because it's worth it to me. No one said that achieving my dream would be easy. And in fact, I don't think I want it to be. When that fist sale call comes in, and it will one day, I don't think I'd appreciate it nearly as much without all the blood, sweat and tears that lead up to the moment. You can't truly appreciate the enormity of a situation if it's handed to you on a silver platter. Are there days I'd prefer the platter? You betcha!!

But, thanks to wonderful friends (Kimberly who helped me plot last weekend and the rest of the playfriends who were quick to offer help as well!) I think I'm back on track. I won't say it's been smooth sailing this week (see above mention of 2 sick children and stressed out husband) but I'm getting there.

After three years of writing I'm still tweaking my process (although I'm not sure I fully understand the concept of process but Kimberly is going to be doing and excellent workshop in Sept to explain it all to us) and just this week decided I needed a visual map of my story so that I could track character arcs, plot lines, and scene holes. I know some of you are gasping in shock. No, I have not given up my panster ways. The dang chart isn't even half full (or is that half empty?) but it will be. And as I figure out more and more pieces to this puzzle I'm building I'll get a better, more complete picture (which will hopefully help me in the editing process). I'm trying to think of it as one giant sudoku puzzle - only with words instead of numbers.

So like my crazy life, my process is constantly evolving.
Are you a panster or plotter? Have you found a great pre-writing tool that's really helped keep your book on track? Or a fantastic way to coral all those stray subplots, character arcs and scenes? Let me know!! I"m always looking for something new to try to make my writing life easier.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Shall We Dance?

Left, side, together. Right, side, together. Repeat. 1,2,3. 1,2,3. Forward, pause, back, pause, left, pause, right, pause. Remember to tilt the head. Pivot to promenade position, step out on left foot and pivot to closed dance position. Watch for partner to raise arm, then do six-count under arm turn. Oops, forgot to do the fancy hand movement. Back to closed position. Remember to keep the left elbow up, fingers closed and on his shoulder. Okay... here come the twinkles. Left foot back, right foot crosses behind, left foot crosses behind. Back to the closed position. Song's over. Whew!

Uh... is that a tango? Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. Slow, slow, quick, quick, tango close. Snap quickly to the promenade posision, slow, slow, pivot back to closed facing position. Darn! He forgot to take his car keys out of his right pocket and they're digging in my left hip. Eek! He dropped his hand. What does that mean? Oh yeah. Slow, slow, tango rock. Slow, slow, tango rock. Why do I feel like I need a rose between my teeth?

Excuse me while I practice my waltz and tango. And boy could I use this guy for a partner!

After years of talking about it, the DH and I decided to actually do it. Take ballroom dancing classes, that is. Ballroom is experiencing a surge in popularity, partially because of the weekly television show "Dancing with the Stars" and partially because of some recent studies indicating that people who participate in ballroom dancing are healthier and have a 40% lesser chance of developing Alzheimer's Disease.

Ballroom is fun, but it certainly isn't as easy as those stars make it look. I have to remember patterns of steps, recognize the tempo of the music and keep in sync with it, learn different rhythms, and get in character with each dance. Yes, dances have character. The waltz is very graceful and elegant while the tango is snappy and sharp and tempestuous. Okay... so I haven't got the tempestuous part down yet, but I'm working on it.

Dancing is good for you. If done properly, ballroom dancing is a great aerobic workout, uses different muscle groups (especially for women who get to spend a lot of time dancing backwards in heels), and keeps the brain engaged by memorizing all the patterns of steps.

And how does this relate to writing?

Writing keeps your brain engaged too. It forces you to think through problems and situations, increases your vocabulary (can you use the word 'behemoth' in a sentence?) and can be a terrific way to vent your frustrations. Just like ballroom dancing, writing has patterns, tempos, rhythms and characters. Each must be learned to make your writing sound right. Certain combinations of these are what create your specific voice.

"But I don't want to write the great American novel," you argue.

Don't. There are other kinds of writing that will give you the same benefits.

Try keeping a journal or writing your memoirs. This can help increase your sense of self while leaving a record of your life. Writing can help you work through difficult times. And a researcher at North Carolina State University found that writing frees up working memory, especially when writing about important life matters. This helps to prevent dementia.

People who journal about personal details are often healthier too. Putting your ideas and thoughts on paper helps you deal with a bad situation and get over it. You'll have less stress and many times that leads to less illness.

Many people don't write for fear of being judged. We in the Playground talk about contest entries and feedback. But the everyday person can keep a journal, get into the flow of writing and chronicle life without fear of being judged. You don't have to share your writing if you don't want to.

Oh... I hear La Cumparsita on the CD player. Dance class is tomorrow and I need to practice the tango.

What do you do to exercise your body and your brain?

P.S. Antonio's next movie, due out later this year, is called "Take the Lead" and is a true story about a professional ballroom instructor who taught dance in an inner city school. Antonio can teach me to tango any day. *g*

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Developing Mental Toughness

I'm perusing a book at the moment called Cure Your Cravings by Yefim Shubentsov with Barbara Gordon. He discusses the idea of developing mental toughness as part of the journey to end compulsive behaviors like smoking or overeating.

What does this "mental toughness" entail? Shubentsov explains that it revolves around the phrase "What you're thinking, this is what your life will be." He says our thinking can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, the more you think "I can't resist the temptation of donuts (my personal weakness!)" the less control you have when donuts come within 100 yards of you. I have to admit that seeing the "HOT NOW" sign at Krispy Kreme has me salivating like Pavlov's dogs.

The author goes on to say that mental toughness is built through examining our thought processes and counteracting them with the truth when necessary. Essentially by learning to think for ourselves rather than just accepting whatever random thoughts pass through our minds, including negativisms, public opinion, and easy excuses.

Though he's talking about this in the area of curing addictions, I found it fascinating because it correlated with a phenomenon I've noticed within myself as a writer. When I first trembled with the thought of writing a book for publication, I took any knowledge given to me at face value. I actively sought any advice I could get my hands on in books, magazines, online, and through other writers. It was only through maturity and trial and error that I learned to weed out the chaff from the wheat.

With maturity comes a certain degree of discernment. Not that I'm claiming to be a master at this writing thing, but I began to see where some advice or critiques came with questionable motivations, squashed my budding creativity or enthusiasm, or just plain didn't apply to the story I was writing. I learned to trust that small part of me that either completely rejected or relaxed upon receiving suggestions. That small loosening sensation usually meant this gem applied to me or my story in some way, even if it wasn't obvious how quite yet.

Though I know I've got a long way to go, I think my growing mental toughness is a good thing. As someone once told me, I'll never be able to make everyone love my stories. There are people out there who won't like my work for whatever reason-be it personal preference, dislike of my voice or subject matter, or just plain grumpiness. I can't change that, so I better get used to it. And let's face it, author's get rejected in a hundred ways by editors, agents, readers, other writers. If I've heard it once, I've heard it one thousand times: If you can't handle the criticism, this is not the business for you.

Developing mental toughness can help authors take to heart what they need to and leave the rest. Mental toughness (along with some really good friends) can keep you sane in the face of rejection after rejection. Or keep you humble when the praise keeps pouring in.

Now if I could just apply this lesson to my obsession with donuts. Bet I'd lose 20 pounds by Nationals. :)


Monday, February 06, 2006

PC's new icon

Check out my new icon. I know, it's way different from eveyone else's but, like me, my icon has been problematic from the beginning.

This one rocks! Thanks DG!

God give me patience...right now.

I am not a patient person. I suck at waiting for anything. I am the original ADHD, instant gratification, I-want-it-now girl. Needless to say, I’m in the wrong business, since it seems like the getting-published side of writing is all about waiting. Ninety days is a lifetime to people like me. And when that 90 days stretches into five or six months, I become a walking basket case.

(That Tom Petty—he knows me. He speaks to me. When he wails, for twenty-nine nasally beats, “THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART,” it’s like he’s singing what’s hidden in my soul.)

I know part of this comes from my control-freak nature. Control freaks hate to wait—not because we are impatient, even though we can be—but because waiting for someone else to do something means that something is out of our control. My manuscript is out there in the cold, hard world and I’ve lost control over it. God only knows where it is or how long it will be until someone actually picks it up to read it. Control freaks can’t handle not being in charge.

I know; I need some serious therapy. Counselor Shelley is working with me on this, but I’m not making much progress. See, I want to be cured of my impatient, control freak problems NOW, not tomorrow. Not after six sessions. NOW. NOW. NOW.

Sheesh. And I wonder where Amazing Child gets it from…

So, I’m sitting here, waiting, slowing losing my mind while I drive the Playfriends, Shelley, and my CP insane with my incessant complaints of “Why is this taking so freaking long?!?”

Then I take a deep breath and remind myself that no news is good news. Each day I wait without hearing anything is one more day I haven’t been rejected. One more day where I can pretend the editor with my manuscript is dancing up and down the hallways with joy over what’s she’s just discovered. One more day I can dream that THIS manuscript is the one.

So that’s a good thing. Sorta. But it doesn’t make the waiting any easier. I blog, I write another email to Shelley, and I whine at DG for a while. Then I break out the Tom Petty CD and wail along at the top of my lungs…THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART.

How do you handle the waiting?


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Where'd it go?

Am I the only person who saw my Saturday post? I could've sworn I saw it on the blog, but now it seems Blogger ate it.

Hmmm. Where'd it go? This is really, really, creepy.

So, I'll repost the link. I suggested that everyone read Slushkiller for its insights into rejection.

I also shamelessly promoted the first contest again.

So either Blogger took offense or else the Playground Monitor objected to me posting out of turn...

I hate it when stuff like this happens. It creeps me out.

Problem Child

Friday, February 03, 2006

Swami Says...

So...I'm digging my new logo. I still love my bespeckled alter ego, but this icon does have a sophistication to it I enjoy. I can't wait to get it on a t-shirt!

Normally, I start planning my blog early, but the avalanche of work at my day job cut into my planning time. The nerve. So, here I am, at my computer and at a loss of what to write about.

Ok - here we go, I'll broach a subject that may be considered a little controversial or touchy for some people - horoscopes. What did you think I was going to say? Well, I admit that I am one of those people that seek out the "Taurus" heading in any newspaper or magazine I read.

What do you mean you should have known? Yeah, so I'm a textbook Taurus. Stubborn, moody, territorial. Moving on.

I have a couple that I read online pretty regularly. Would I stay inside all day if my horoscope told me I would be struck by lighting if I went out? No. Do I plan my life around the words I read? No, I don't do that either. I do it for fun, to see what it has to say and chuckle at the parallels it might actually have to my life. It's like a fortune cookie without the calories.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, I read a site that posts monthly horoscopes and I popped in today to see what February has in store for me. I have high hopes for February (with no real reason to) but the words on that page reaffirmed my hopes for this being a good month for me. I couldn't have asked for a better horoscope and believe me, I've had some bad and good ones. It said that this month would be great for my career - that the roadblocks that had been holding me back were lifting and I could charge ahead. Boy, that's something I really want to hear.

Does it mean that my career will take off? Not necessarily. Its pretty hard to believe that EVERY Taurus on the planet is going to have a major career boon in February, but it's the hope that urges me on.

Daily, I come across a dozen things that could make a person turn from their dream. As we've discussed, life and work sometimes get in the way. Writing is not an easy road and there's plenty to distract you. You get rejected. You get bad reviews. You get a spouse that doesn't understand or support your dream. Any of these things can make a person put the writing dream back in a drawer and leave it there for good.

Angel commented recently that she was so glad the Playfriends were there to support her when she got her recent R. On her own, she might have given up. Instead, our gentle nudging and words of encouragement got her back on the writing track.

Some people don't have a playground to turn to when their dream seems out of reach. Before I found the playground, it was simple things, like a great horoscope, that gave me the glimmer of hope to keep at it. Whether or not it means anything, a few positive words about the future can get you headed in the right direction - a self fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

So, I'll stick this month's horoscope in my back pocket as a positive affirmation for this month. I'll take the positivity where I can get it since I'm such a negative ninny.

Where do you go to find the positive little boost to keep you going?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Regularly Scheduled Program

Well I survived the wedding last weekend and have sufficiently recovered. The ceremony was beautiful, my brother and sister-in-law looked amazing and my children behaved themselves (if you don't count SP laying on the floor in front of the altar during the ceremony). I've spent the last several days catching up on the sleep I lost, slogging through the work that piled up on my desk and furiously crossing things off my to do list (see PC I can make lists I just don't usually follow them).

But the faster I work through things the longer my list seems to grow. I just got off the phone with Angel and during our conversation she mentioned the same sentiment - will there ever be a day when the to do list seems done enough that I can take the time I need for myself? For my writing?

The answer is nope. That'll never happen. Cause I don't know about the rest of you but the minute I mark something off three things jump on the line to take its place. As an example, no sooner had I finished my month end reports at work today and was about to start on an article I agreed to write for the playground when the phone rang, BG woke up from her nap and my contracting officer called with a question that prompted me to pull out files and a little bit of my hair. As I was slogging through about a ream of paper trying to find a math error in a haystack I mentally juggled my list and schedule. I can pick up SP from school, run to wal-mart to pick up the supplies I'm short on at work and some stuff we need at home (and I'll score brownie points with my girls for taking them shopping). I'll work on the article when I get home if my Darling is home from work- and ignore the guilt that this was supposed to be my short day, the day I spend extra time with my girls.

Juggling is a fact of life for everyone, whether you have small kids, work or are trying to become a published author. What's important is to prioritize. No one will make the time for you to write. You have to do that for yourself. My husband is super supportive of me and my dreams and he handles more of the household day-to-day stuff than most husbands. I'm very lucky. But I'd keel over if he ever came home and asked me if I needed time to write. It isn't that he doesn't care - he does. It's more that he doesn't think about it. Becoming a published writer isn't his dream. It's mine. It's my responsibility to make the time for myself. I'm worth it and worthy of that understanding from the people around me.

Don't get me wrong. It's easier said than done. And God knows I deal with my own brand of guilt about what I'm sacrificing in order to pursue my dream. We all struggle. We all find a way to work through the challenges in our life the best way we can. No one's perfect - least of all me. I've been letting life take my focus away for months. I've pushed through on several occasions and had been doing really well in the last month or so. And then the wedding came :0) and my hard won writing schedule went down the drain.

But tonight it's back to the grindstone. No excuses. No delays. No ifs, ands or buts about it. I'm taking a page from SPs book and committing myself to at least 1 page a night every night this month. I'm hoping to achieve more than that. But that's the minimum I'll accept from myself.

Anyone else want to post a monthly goal? I promise not to bring out my whip *evil grin* unless of course you want me to.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Shameless Promotion

Just a reminder to our blog readers that the First Contest is still going on over on the Playground. We've also sweetened the pot...send your friends over to the Playground and have them enter the contest. Be sure they list YOUR name in the entry email as referring them, and we'll give you an additional entry into the contest. On Feb 14th, the person who has sent us the most new friends will win a $10 Amazon gift certificate.

You have 12 days left...

P.S. Kelley St. John gave us a signed copy of Good Girls Don't in hardback to give away. Now we'll have three lucky winners!!

Happy February!

It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.

This schmaltzy bit of “literature,” familiar to any die-hard Peanuts fan, came from the typewriter of that lovable beagle, Snoopy. In fact, Snoopy, in his eternal quest to write the great American novel, was inspired by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a 19th century British author who also wrote exceptionally bad prose. His famous – or perhaps infamous – crime novel Paul Clifford begins in very much the same way.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents -- except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Since 1982 the English department at San Jose State University has held an annual contest and challenged writers to create something equally bad. An entry can be only one sentence, but can contain as many words as the writer dares. Dan McKay of Fargo, North Dakota won the 2005 contest with this entry.

As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.

I find it exceedingly ironic that the man who is satirized yearly and plagiarized by a beagle is the same man who wrote the words “the pen is mightier than the sword.”

As writers, we have the opportunity to touch people with our words. We can evoke a plethora of emotions, incite laughter or reduce a reader to tears. Words alone are merely patterns of letters. But paired with a good plot, a great hero and heroine and a picturesque setting, these patterns of letters take on new meaning and deliver a message that is the writer’s own. They become powerful. And it is important to use that power wisely.

I read a blog entry recently that contained 287 words. 27 of those – nearly 10% -- were that word that rhymes with witch (or some variation thereof). I’ve been known to use that word on occasion but it’s not a regular part of my vocabulary. I certainly don’t use it 10% of the time. Call me old-fashioned, call me a prude, but that 287-word missive held no value whatsoever. In my opinion, it was a waste of words. A waste of that writer's power.

Here’s my challenge to you: how much power can you create with words in the next 24 hours? It can be as simple as a note that reads “I love you!” tucked into a child’s school lunch or as compelling as a long-overdue apology. Look up an old classmate and renew the friendship. Send a thank-you note to someone who has done something special for you. Write a note to a shut-in. Use your imagination. You'll think of something.

I heard a romance author talk about receiving a fan letter that said “Your book got me through chemotherapy today.” Now THAT’S the power of words.