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Friday Favorites 6/15

Sorry for the lack of a good title for today’s post. My brain just isn’t into titles right now. Here are your links for great reading this week:

Book stuff:

Over at The Naked Hero, Amy Andrews touches on a hot button issue. Is it ever okay for a hero to cheat? Is it a redeemable action? For a long time, I would’ve said no, it’s completely unacceptable. And really for a romance hero, I think it should be unacceptable. BUT… this is something that happens in real life and real life couples sometimes do get past it. That makes me think that depending on the circumstances and how it’s handled in the book, it might be possible. My gut still says, though, that books are escapism and I don’t want too much reality there.

Dana Kaye, publicist, has a great flow chart of how a book is born. You can probably spent 10 minutes just following different paths. 🙂

Kat Latham posted a test to see how fast you read. I came in at 376 words a minute, which means I could read War and Peace in about 26 hours (not that I’d want to). I’m faster than 50% of people. I guess being an English major finally paid off.

Although not directly related to books, since I write romance and think about relationships for my characters, I’m adding a post by Emma Burcart here. Emma talks about choosing safe guys. You know the ones — you know exactly what to expect from them. They exist for a good time, no commitment, no permanence. Emma writes from her own experience in relationships, but for me, this is great fodder for character development. In fact, in the book I’m revising right now, the heroine always chooses guys who aren’t serious because serious scares her.

Fun Stuff:

Myndi Shafer has a fabulous list of things she is pretty sure she knows. I personally love #4. It’s a common belief in my house.

(4)  If momma ain’t happy, ain’t no-one happy.

One thing that I’m pretty sure I know is that a good book can often erase a bad day.

Over on Pink Chocolate Break this week, we have some quotes about love.

And finally, Tiffany White has a post about great summer TV. She manages to cover more shows than I did in my post because she talks about shows I haven’t watched.

What is one thing that you’re pretty sure you know?

Friday Favorites – Slacker Edition

As the title suggests, I’m still slacking. I think it’s going to take me awhile to get used to the whole summer schedule. In the past, all I had to squeeze in around my kids was my work-from-home day job and my writing. Now, I’m teaching part-time and trying (and not necessarily succeeding) my hand at social networking. I do have some great posts, just not as many as I usually do:

First up, two great posts on Pinterest. I’ve joined Pinterest, but I’m still learning the ropes. You can find me here: http://pinterest.com/seschroeder/

Amy Clark from Momadvice has a post on being a Pinterest superstar. Then August McLaughlin offers 5 steps to making Pinterest-friendly blog posts. I know I’m nowhere near there yet (no great pictures to pin from here), but I hope to utilize that information soon.

Lani Diane Rich has an excellent post on how you need to fail in order to succeed. I think most people would agree with this, at least in theory. It’s something that I’ve tried to drill into my kids’ heads. But the thing is, I’m one of those people who have avoided doing anything unless I was pretty darn sure I’d be good enough at it to succeed. Writing for publication is the only risk I’ve ever really taken. I’ve always been a writer, and I knew I had skills, but writing for publication is more than being a good writer. You have to be a storyteller. That’s the part I’ve been so unsure of. How could I not be? After writing and getting rejections, you start to wonder. But when you look at some of those rejections, they can give you hope. I’m not one of those writers who has saved every rejection to either show to other new writers or to burn in a big pile when I think I’ve made it. I’ve only saved the ones that gave me hope. A little hope is all you need.

Finally, Trish Loye Elliot has a great post on advice to writers from the masters.

What was the best advice you’ve ever received?

Friday Favorites – Hello and Goodbye

I’m running late with today’s post because my modem decided to go crazy yesterday. Just stopped working (while I was in the middle of finalizing lesson plans for last night). Then it started working again hours later. Needless to say, a new modem is in my very near future.

So many good things to read this week!

First up, TV–

I talked yesterday about how excited I am that there’s less than a month until the return of True Blood. Chelsea Mueller over on Heroes and Heartbreakers has a post about one way in which the show improves on the books. I agree that having the story told from multiple points of view is great. I think the show gives us a better feel for all of the characters and their separate plots.

Over on Popwatch Denise Warner does a side-by-side comparison of the love stories of two of my favorite shows: Bones and Castle. The comparison only looks at the first 4 seasons, so it leaves out Booth and Bones getting busy, but for those of you who watched the Castle season finale know that Kate and Castle finally got together too.

Tiffany White has a post about the new shows that will be premiering this summer. I’m sure I’ll be checking some of them out.

Love and writing–

Since I write contemporary romance, I spend a lot of time thinking about couples and falling in love. Because of that, I thought it was silly to separate these categories.

Ingrid Schaffenburg writes about finding true love and how your soulmate will find you no matter what. I don’t know that I believe in the idea of a soulmate, mostly because that means that there’s really only supposed to be ONE person for us out there. I like the concept, and it certainly serves me as a writer, but I don’t know that I totally buy into it.

Emma Burcart had an enlightened moment when she discovered that personality really is more important than looks. She questions if you can be attracted to a guy who’s a jerk and I can absolutely claim that it’s a very real possibility. I’ve done it — lots 🙂

Over on the Lady Scribes blog, Andris Bear describes the meaning of different kinds of kisses. I think this is fascinating and something I will definitely incorporate into my writing.

Alisa Kwitney has a post about the flawed hero in contemporary romance. I found this really interesting because it touches on a couple of things I’ve talked about in recent weeks. While at the RT convention, Susan Elizabeth Phillips talked about the old school romances and why they were so popular — because the little secretary was able to conquer the shipping magnate. This post goes along with that idea and how heroes are presented today. Alisa also mentions a m/m book written by Damon Suede, who is the author that coined the term “come hands” that I mentioned in my post from RT about writing sex scenes.

Fun–

For any mom who has ever had her own words thrown back at her, I give you Erin Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms. We’ve all been there 🙂

I found this post from Pink Chocolate Break especially timely because I’m working on creating a workshop for writers. A friend of mine commented on my ability to remain calm during my journey to publication and she suggested I create a workshop on Zen in Publishing. It’s only in its infancy (like I have notes scribbled down haphazardly) but this post might give me more ideas. Zen tips to live by.

And finally, I couldn’t finish this week without mentioning the loss of Maurice Sendak. I didn’t know his books as a child. I didn’t grow up in a house of readers and we had few books. But my children know his books and we’ve shared a lot of great times reading about the wild things.

What is your favorite children’s book?

Chicago Spring Fling 2012

As I mentioned last week, my RWA chapter, Chicago-North hosted its bi-annual conference this past weekend. Chicago Spring Fling 2012 was a huge success. The conference ran from Friday through Saturday night. I didn’t attend any workshops early on Friday because I was on transportation duty and had to pick up an editor from the airport, but from what I heard people started early and the information was great.

Our headliners were Simone Elkeles, Susan Elizabeth Phillips (both C-N members), and Dianna Love. These three women are funny and entertaining and offered great advice.

We had an agent panel and an editor panel and I think one of the most surprising things I heard from both panels is that the vast majority of requests they make at a conference never get sent. Something like only 30% of the people they request pages from send in the pages. Personally, I don’t get that. The book is supposed to be done before you pitch, but I suppose there are people who pitch without a completed manuscript, so that would account for some. But really? Why wouldn’t you send? If they asked, they are obviously interested.

image courtesy of zimbio.com

Friday night I moderated Hot Night, which is something we do at a chapter meeting at least once a year. We are a critique chapter and at every meeting, we are critiquing someone’s manuscript, usually the first 20 or so pages. Hot Night is different in that anyone who wants to read brings a love scene (sweet, sensual, or spicy) of about 5 pages to share. Then we offer critique. A chaptermate, Melonie Johnson, and I moderated the sensual Hot Night group and it was a ton of fun. The session was supposed to last an hour and we went for more than an hour and a half. We had a great time and quite a few people came up to us afterwards or even on Saturday to talk about how much they got out of the session even if they hadn’t read.

Simone Elkeles did a great workshop where she shared all kinds of personal information. She laid it all out there: the advances she got for her books, the promotion efforts she tried that worked and those that didn’t, print runs, you name it. She said that it pissed her off when she was a newbie and wanted information and no one would give specifics, so she decided she would.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips did a workshop on using character to drive plot and I’m so glad I attended. The more I hear her speak, the better I feel about my own process. Our writing styles and methods are similar and although I do try other things, it always comes back to be being a pantser and writing until I figure out my characters. Some of the exercises she had us do got me thinking about my WIP (on which I’ve been a little stalled) and I now have new ideas about how to fix it.

Blythe Gifford offered a workshop on how to write it without being there. Blythe writes historical romance, which is not my genre. I’ve never been a fan of historicals, but I’ve always said that there are a few people who can lure me in with their beautiful words and stories. Blythe is one of those people. In addition to sharing how she does her research for her books so that they can be as historically accurate as possible, she talked about the role of setting, which isn’t something I’ve given a whole lot of thought to. My books are set in Chicago and especially for the first one, Chicago plays a role. I couldn’t turn it into a small town romance because it wouldn’t suit the story or the characters, but I never thought about how the setting influences my characters and shapes who they are.

I also attended Kensington’s spotlight, and although my editor wasn’t there, I met with another editor, Martin Biro. After the spotlight I had a bunch of people stop me to talk about my experiences with Kensington. People were very interested in the new digital first division that will be launching soon.

There were so many more workshops and panels I went to, I can’t even wrap my head around it now and it’s been a couple of days. The one thing I’ve learned to love about conferences, besides meeting people I only know online, is the energy and buzz you get from being around people who understand.

As writers we spend a bunch of time by ourselves listening to voices in our heads. Our friends and families for the most part, don’t get it. They see all the hard work for little or no pay and question why we do it. At a conference, everyone gets it. They understand why and they understand the struggles and they can commiserate. And you come away from it dying to get back into your own writing.

I would highly recommend finding a conference that is affordable for you and go. I had a migraine for 2 days before the conference and then I was away from my kids for 2 days. By Sunday, I was woefully behind in everything in my life, but the time I spent with other writers was well worth it.

Friday Favorites – the Quick Edition

I’m writing this Thursday night with a bit of a migraine hangover (at least I hope it’s totally gone) because I’m going to be busy all day tomorrow at my chapter’s conference Chicago Spring Fling. It’s going to be amazing, assuming I can keep the migraine at bay.

Speaking of migraines, Marianne Hansen has a post about migraines and superstitions. I totally get what she’s saying and I think most migraine sufferers do the same. If we think a migraine is coming, we try to do whatever we can that might stop it. Unfortunately, I’ve found that most of it doesn’t work.

Emma Burcart has a great post about trying things even if you’re not good at them. I have a particular fondness for this post because she talks about singing karaoke even if she’s not a great singer. I like this because although I would never sing in front of an audience (I use my singing to torment my kids), I do make the heroine of my novel sing karaoke as one of her summer adventures.

Marcy Kennedy writes about the fear we all have as writers – What if we don’t succeed? I think for all of us, regardless of where we are on the path to publishing, we have this worry. The what ifs can kill all motivation, so I do my best to ignore them all.

Kat Latham offers suggestions for culling repetitious words from your writing. I like Wordle. It’s fun, but I’ve never used it for my books. I think I’ll give it a shot and see what happens.

Elena Aitken offers her insight into what she’s learned about indie publishing. Although I have an agent and publisher now, I have to admit that self-publishing crossed my mind. For me, it was a matter of not wanting to be in control of everything (weird for someone who’s usually a control freak).

Jennifer Jensen shares her story about landing an agent in an unusual way. The agent contacted her because of her blog. Congrats Jen!

Jillian Dodd offers up eye candy every Monday with her Man Day posts. Right now she has a challenge going with author CJ West. If he can get 5,000 comments on his blog, he’ll pose for Jillian’s Man Day post. Read Jillian’s challenge and then hop over to CJ’s blog to leave a message.

Finally, for anyone still looking for some inspiration… Pink Chocolate Break has a list of 10 self-improvement quotes and a selection of quotes on creativity.

Have a great weekend and I hope to bring more information to you from our conference.

RT Convention

image courtesy of RT convention web site

This week is the RT Booklover’s Convention. For those of you who are unaware, it’s a huge conference and convention geared toward bringing readers and authors together. I’ve never gone before, but since it’s practically in my backyard this year, I thought I should go. The convention itself runs nearly the whole week, straight into the weekend. There are themed parties every night and from what I understand, much craziness.

This is what makes conferences hard for me.

I am a true introvert. This doesn’t just mean that I tend to be shy or quiet, although that is often true. It means that I need space and alone time to recharge. Surrounding myself with hundreds of people, even though I’m having a great time, takes its toll on me.

I attended Wednesday, the first official day of the convention. I waited until a little after noon to arrive because I didn’t plan on participating in the welcome parties. I managed to attend 2-1/2 sessions and by the time they were done, I felt a headache coming on. This is the kind of atmosphere where my husband, the ultimate extrovert, shines. He feeds off the energy and busy-ness of having other people around. (Like I said before – total opposites)

There is a lot of energy and an overload of information during the convention. The workshops I attended on Wednesday were mostly on promotion and marketing. I hope to get some craft/writing workshops in when I go back on Friday.

I find for me, that this is kind of an awkward convention. I wanted to go to check it out, but it’s awkward because I’m kind of stuck in limbo in my publishing career. The aspiring authors are crammed into a lot of the craft workshops and they want to grab the eye of editors and agents.

The published authors are all over. They interact with readers and play games and have parties and still (amazingly) attend and give some workshops.

I’m in limbo because I do have an agent and editor, but I don’t have a book. Right now, I don’t even have an official title or release date, so while I can tell people about my book, I can’t give them a card with the title or tell them when it will be available. For someone like me, who has a hard time networking to begin with, it’s doubly difficult.

Putting that aside, I did manage to talk to a few people that I’ve only known online and it’s always nice to have a real face to put with a screen name. Like I said, I focused on a few workshops on promotion and marketing because I know I need to start thinking about that. My book will be out before the end of the year, which feels like a long way off, but I know I’ll blink and it’ll be here.

I was hit with so much information, it’s a little overwhelming. One presenter didn’t offer much useful advice. It felt like she was trying to sell us on using her PR services.

Another presenter, however, was fabulous. Dana Kaye, of Kaye Publicity, is obviously also PR person, but she tailored her workshop to help authors do things themselves. That alone would make me want to hire her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t take on e-book authors. (And I don’t know if I could afford to hire her anyway.) But she left such a great impression that I would definitely tell others about her. She got me thinking about things I can do to reach out in unusual ways to promote my book. She also blogs on her web site and offers advice to writers. Yesterday’s post is about what to wear at conferences.

The last panel I attended was a panel of book reviewers. I went because I wanted to hear how they decide what to review and their process for everything. I think that as an author who’s going to rely on them, I should understand how they work. In truth, I really wanted to hear Smart Bitch Sarah talk. She’s hilarious and it’s fun just to listen because she’s passionate about romance.

How do you feel about conferences and conventions? Do you go to any as a reader or writer?

Emotion and Conflict – What’s Enough?

The idea for this post has been percolating in my brain for a while and I recently read a blog post by author Janice Hardy which sparked me to want to write it now. Her post is about stakes for the characters in a novel. I’m a little torn about what she says. I agree that you have to make readers care about your characters. You have to have something at stake. The hero and heroine have to have something personal at risk.

For me, this is where it gets sticky. I agree that characters have to have something personal at stake. In many books I’ve read lately, that personal stake is letting go of the past and the personal baggage that is mucking up life. Ms. Hardy says, “Stakes make the reader care, and stakes are about personal loss…If you feel it, then the characters will feel it. If the characters feel it, the reader will feel it.”

I agree with all of this and I’ve read a ton of books that drew me in emotionally as a reader because this is done well. My question then goes to conflict. Many writers will argue that you can’t have good conflict without an antagonist, a bad guy. The antagonist doesn’t have to be a serial killer or terrorist; it just needs to be someone that stops the protagonist (hero) from getting what he wants.

Kristen Lamb wrote about it here. I agree with what she says, especially when she says that the antagonist is the hardest concept to understand. Bob Mayer writes about it here. I’m sure if I spent some more time searching, I’d have a million more examples.

While I agree with the concept, I’ve begun to wonder if it matters to readers, specifically readers of contemporary romance. Of course, this interests me because this is the genre I write, but it’s also the genre I read. I’ve read quite a few books over the last year that have been light on the antagonist.

And I didn’t care.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed me talking about Ruthie Knox’s book, Ride With Me. This is a great read. It’s about two people riding their bikes across America and they fall in love. I suppose at a stretch, you could call the hero’s sister an antagonist because she pushes him from his comfort zone and makes him interact with people. She’s the one who tricks him into having a riding partner. Ruthie does such a good job of making me care about the characters, that it didn’t matter to me that there was no antagonist. The conflict revolved around each if them getting over their own issues.

A few months ago, I wrote about one of my favorite books from last year, Inez Kelley’s Sweet as Sin. I adore this book. It’s dark and emotional and totally sucked me in. Now, it’s been a long time since I read it, but I can’t remember any antagonist. If there was one, it was unimportant to me.

Shannon Stacey has a trilogy that I read last year about the Kowalski family. The first and last book of the trilogy do have antagonists, but they read like antagonist-lite. In the first book, the antagonist would be the heroine’s boss, who is forcing her to get an interview with a famous writer, the heroine’s ex-boyfriend. In the last book, the heroine’s grandmother would be the antagonist because she wants her granddaughter to be married so she’s not alone. In the second book, there was no external antagonist that I can recall.

All of these books were published by the digital division of big publishers. Ride With Me is a Loveswept book (Random House), Sweet as Sin and the Yours trilogy are both from Carina Press (Harlequin). These books have found an audience.

It bears repeating. These books found an audience even without strong antagonists. Shannon Stacey hit best seller lists with her books and Harlequin decided to publish print editions.

In addition to these authors, many self-published authors are also finding success. Both Marie Force and Bella Andre have published with New York houses and are currently self-publishing their books. While I haven’t read everything they’ve put out, I have read at least a couple of books from each their contemporary romance series. The stories have been enjoyable, but from a craft standpoint, light on the conflict because of a lack of antagonist. I say this not as a criticism, but as an observation.

These authors are enjoying great success. Readers are gobbling up their books. If they don’t have strong external conflict and no antagonist, shouldn’t their stories be lacking? Experts might say yes, but I don’t think the readers agree. The emotional pull of the characters keeps us glued to the page.

As a reader, do you notice if the book has an antagonist? Is the emotional journey of the characters enough to sustain the novel for you?