Monday, August 30, 2010

Never Never Never Give Up by Diane Gaston

The Washington Romance Writers would be poorer for not knowing Diane Gaston's warmth and commitment to our community. I would be poorer for not knowing her. As an instructor, a mentor and a friend, she plies encouragement, confidence and the occasional kick in the pants like a rock-star bartender at happy hour. Her latest book, Chivalrous Captain, Rebel Mistress, Book Two in her Three Soldiers Series, will be released September 1st.

Please join the Rockville8 in welcoming Golden Heart and RITA-award-winning author, Diane Gaston, to our blog.

I started writing in 1995, discovering relatively late in life what I wanted to be when I grew up. Of course, at the time I was already entrenched in my career as a mental health social worker, but that’s a whole other story. From the beginning of my writing, I knew this was what I loved most to do. I always thought I would be published. I just didn’t know it would take me nine years!

Writing remained exciting and fun for me for a long time. It was a new adventure. I was learning new things, the craft and the business of writing romance. This enthusiasm sustained me through three completed manuscripts, each of which I was certain would sell. They didn’t.

But I didn’t give up. I took a deliberate turn from targeting category romance to writing regency historical. I thought I was on my way when that first historical manuscript became a 2001 Golden Heart finalist. My confidence only started to waver after that manuscript received rejection after rejection. It worsened when my next historical manuscript received rejection after rejection.

Then a wonderful thing happened. My friend Mary Blayney (Courtesan’s Kiss, 2010) gave me a small needlepoint pillow that said: Never Never Never Give Up.

That quotation from Winston Churchill made a deep impression on me. I started changing my mindset. I began to perceive myself on a journey to publication. Everything that happened—the good, the bad, the contest wins, the rejections—all brought me one step closer to publication. I was convinced of it! During this time period people used to say to me, “I thought you were published;” that’s how well my mind-set worked.

I’d passed up entering the 2002 Golden Hearts, because, after all the rejections, I was sure my making the finals in 2001 had just been a fluke. By the time the 2003 entries were due, though, my thinking had changed. I figured, “Why not enter?” I entered both my second historical and the first, the one that had been a 2001 finalist.

That first historical manuscript became a finalist again.
I received a phone call from Mills & Boon; they’d judged it in the Golden Heart and wanted to buy it!
It became my first book, The Mysterious Miss M.
(And it won the 2003 Golden Heart)

Now, eight books, two novellas, one short-story, and one RITA later, my latest book for Harlequin Mills & Boon, is due out Sept 1, 2010, from Harlequin Historical. Chivalrous Captain, Rebel Mistress is just my latest example of what happens if you Never Never Never Give Up!

How do you keep yourself feeling positive and motivated in pursuing your dream?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Swimming the Riptide: How to Write Through Crisis

Whether we’ve ever experienced a riptide current or not, we all understand how to recognize the deadly undertow and, in theory, how to get ourselves out of it. Don’t panic. Keep your eye on shore and swim parallel to the beach. If you can do this, you’ll end up slightly off course, tired, shaken, but safe.

Life is messy. Crises will hit throughout your writing career. Knowing how to swim the riptide of crisis is crucial to your survival as a writer. Here are a few tips I’ve learned about swimming the riptide.

1.) Learn to identify when you’re in crisis. A strong undertow can be deadly, pulling you off course and out to sea. Know the signs. Be able to recognize when you’re in trouble. Self-awareness is half the battle. If you’re aware of your circumstances and your surroundings and your responses, you can face anything. It doesn’t matter what form your crisis takes--health issues, death in the family, divorce, unemployment, parenting problems--you’ll find yourself pulled off course. You’ll question what really matters and why it’s important to continue to write. Only you can answer these questions. But, if you understand how you react to crisis--whether you get depressed, angry, anxious, or deny it exists--then you can head yourself off at the pass and be intentional about getting out of the riptide.

2.) Have a plan. Even if your plan has never been tested, have one. We all have a riptide contingency plan. Most of us have never felt the scary tug of the undertow, and yet we all know how to get free if necessary. Once you’ve identified you’re in crisis, come up with a plan to move through it. Your plan doesn’t need to be elaborate. Keep your eye on your goal--the shore. But be prepared to move parallel to that goal for a while. You’re not really losing ground. You’re saving your life. One day at a time. One stroke at a time. One word at a time. You can do this.

3.) Relax. Don’t panic. The worst thing you can do when caught in a riptide is to panic. Don’t do it. You’ll tire yourself out and end up going under. Don’t expend excess energy or resources before it’s required. Preserve your strength. Stay afloat. Take care of you. A riptide plays itself out. What feels strong enough to sweep you out to sea today, will dissipate over a matter of minutes, days, weeks, or what may seem like years. Figure out what you need to stay afloat and make it happen. Read a good book. Take a day to totally immerse yourself in your characters’ problems instead of your own. Go to a movie with friends. Laugh. Light a scented candle. Play your favorite jazz collection. Remember what brings you joy. Breathe.

4.) Swim or float with purpose. Unfortunately, treading water isn’t an option when you’re in a riptide. You need to move forward to survive. You can’t roll over in the dead man's float and pretend your crisis doesn’t exist. If you do, you’ll lose everything important to you. You have to do the hard work of swimming or floating with purpose. Even if you’re on your back floating because you don’t have the energy to swim, you still need to kick, to keep your eye on shore, and to move in the right direction.

5.) Take the lifeline if it’s offered. If you have friends or teachers along the way who swim out to help you while you’re caught in the riptide, take the help they offer. Their burst of energy might help you kick free. The lifeline they offer might tug you out of the middle of the strong current. And while your friends may not be able to pull you out of the riptide entirely, they can lend you support, coach you, help you see your way clear. They’re an invaluable resource.

Swimming the riptide can make you stronger. Once you break free, you’ll come ashore feeling exhausted, beaten up, scared, and shaken. However, you’ll feel strangely stronger, too, because you know you’re a fighter and a survivor. You came out on the otherside of your crisis. It didn’t sweep you out to sea. It didn’t overwhelm you and take you under. And everything you learned in that journey, in that struggle with the riptide, you’ll now pour into your writing. You’re better for it. Your writing is better for it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Grandmother Spider

My friend--and author extraordinaire--Eileen Charbonneau does these great readings using stones and crystals. Some of the stones are marked with glyphs, and she interprets them depending on where they fall on the table. Eileen has done several readings for me over the years, but I learned right away to look for the Grandmother Spider stone, because it represents the storyteller.

I've been writing for years and years. First short stories, then books. But I have yet to publish. So every time Eileen does a reading for me, and that Grandmother Spider stone shows up in an auspicious spot, it feels like validation. See? I am a storyteller.

Hey! The road to publication is long and the rejections and setbacks are many. I need all the validation I can get!

Since my last blog for the R8, there have been two big changes in my life. And when I say big, I mean ENORMAL.

1) In June I signed with an agent. She loves my work--talk about validation--but more on that later.

And 2) on Aug 4th I became a grandmother.  I am, right now, even as I type, happily ensconced in Oregon, visiting my new grandbaby.

It's been a long time since the days when my babies were small. I'm amazed by how much I forgot. For instance, I remember quite clearly how precious new babies are, how time consuming, and how fiercely protective they make you feel. No wonder so many people refer to the books they write as their "babies."

But I completely forgot how easy it is to lose yourself in them. The whole world right now revolves around this baby girl. Feeding, bathing, changing, cuddling, worrying. It's all about her. And it's so easy. In fact, it's impossible to think about anything but her.

That's where the similarity between babies and books usually ends. People often refer to the books they write as their babies, but they very rarely treat them that way.

So yeah. Back to that agent. Did I mention I got an agent? I did! So now I have two people devoted to selling my work. And one of them actually knows what she's doing.

The only thing I know how to do is write my books. And that's what I was doing--until this amazing grandbaby arrived. But I head back to Maryland on Thursday, and when I do, I'm going to treat my work in progress like a new baby. I'm going to lose myself in it. Let the whole world revolve around it. Feed it and cuddle it and worry about it and if I'm very lucky, it'll become impossible to think about anything else.

Like whether or not the editor at Penguin has read my book yet.  Or the editor at Balzer & Bray.

Or how much I miss this baby . . .

Photo: Personal photo, taken by the blogger

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Another Perpective of RWA Conference

Let me start with full disclosure. I am the president of Romance Writers of America (RWA). Two weeks ago, RWA's 30th anniversary culminated with its Annual Conference and celebration in Orlando, Florida. Since then, many blogs have reflected the attendees' experiences --writers, bloggers, librarians, editors with networking, attending workshops, reunitng with friends, going to agent/editor appointments.

I will share the unique conference perspective as president of this great group of romance writers.

Friday, July 23
Arrived at World Dolphin Resort with my son. The sales rep literally whisks us away. I felt as if I was a celebrity making a mad dash from the paparazzi - only there weren't any. We head up to the 20th floor and straight to the presidential suite. The suite is huge - two floors - 3 bedrooms. But I had family and non-RWA friends coming in so it wasn't empty. I deliberately filled the space with family and friends to give me that oasis from the hustle and bustle of the conference. Then the luggage arrived, along with the rest of my suite mates. Before long the suite was buzzing with the activity of three adults and three teens.
Met with the executive director. Got a quick report on conference, along with any updates.
Saturday, July 24
I've unpacked the suitcases so I can feel relaxed, as if I was at home. Luckily my brother had a car so I went offsite to eat and also to buy food items for the suite. I have to go clothes shopping. I spent my last few days at home before heading to conference shopping for my daughter who was going on a three-week camp in NYC. Since I knew Orlando had a couple big malls and tons of outlet stores, I wasn't worried about finding clothes. Chico's and Macy's came to the rescue. But I didn't have anything for the awards ceremony and I was exhausted, especially after the ton of makeup I bought from the MAC store.

Sunday and Monday, July 25 and 26
Board meeting from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. And we used almost every minute of that time each day.

Tuesday, July 27

My birthday. But I have to go shopping for that Saturday outfit and wine for a couple receptions that I'm hosting.

Wednesday, July 28
Working on intro for Nora Roberts. Want to make it special and personal, rather than reading off all her accomplishments. By 1 p.m., people are already lining up for the literacy signing with over 500 authors for an event that won't start until 5:30 p.m. Later that evening, a few of my buddies are coming over so I had to head out once again to pick up my food orders. By the time I return, the signing is underway. I head out to the first timers orientation. Pleasantly surprised by the amount of first timers in the room. Standing room only. I welcome them and then head back to my suite to greet my guests.

Thursday, July 29
Headed to a breakfast meeting with publishers and an RWA grant recipient who is working on a romance-related documentary. I have to cut them short and head to the Annual General Meeting. After the AGM, I head to my suite. Now the nerves which have been increasing at each official activity are now in full blown flutter mode. After all, it was time to make the introduction of the keynote speaker -- Nora Roberts. Nora didn't make me nervous. It was the 2,100 lunch attendees, the bright lights on stage, and the oversized screens that had me feeling nauseous.

Headed to the suite to slap on the MAC make-up. I keep an eye on the time, knowing that I had no desire to eat before the introduction. About 10-15 mins before I would have to go onstage, I head down to the lunch from my suite. And then it was time to get on the stage. I prayed with every step that I would stay upright on my new wedge heels. I prayed that my feet would not trip on the steps onto the stage. I look out to the crowd and can see nothing. That doesn't relax me because I was calling out names for people to stand and be recognized. But in the darkness, I couldn't tell if they were standing or what side of the room they were on.

Finally I read my intro for Nora. All is going well. A friend who kept me company while I wrote the introduction joked about me ending the intro with "my friend Nora." Although I'm not a stranger to Nora, I'm certainly not a bud. I'm more like the farthest outer ring of Saturn. Tongue in cheek, I went with the dare and said my BFF Nora Roberts. Lightening didn't zap my arse. Nora was still smiling. All was well.

Hosted two receptions. By the end of the night, exhausted, but pleased with the outcome of the receptions.

Friday, July 30
Have administrative duties to complete. Then, working on introduction for Jayne Anne Krentz. Unlike Nora where there has been interaction, I don't know Jayne Anne. However, I still want her introduction to be special. I concentrated on what she means to the genre and industry, with the result being that she is an icon.

By now, I'm beginning to breathe normally. I've been checking off all my presidential duties. Unfortunately I'm not making it to any workshops because my nerves are too shaky for me to sit through a workshop. I'm sure that I wouldn't hear anything the person said or be able to concentrate on the subject matter.
I attend the Golden Heart/RITA finalists reception. This is a fun event to celebrate with all the finalists before the ceremony. This year is especially fun because I personally knew three of the finalists: Lena Diaz - Secretary of First Coast Romance Writers (my home away from home chapter), Jane Sevier - we go way back - I can picture sitting with her at a workshop at one of Washington Romance Writers retreat many moons ago, and Keely Thrall - President of WRW, critique mate, and bud.

Later, I head to the suite and welcome the reprieve from the conference bustle to hang out with family and friends.
This night is also my trek to the Harlequin party. This event turned into a great stress reliever as I danced to 70s, 80s, 90s, and current hits. The DJ is on his third year with Harlequin's party and he's a hit!

Saturday, July 31
This is a busy day, especially since I slept in because my body was trying to recover after the Harlequin party. I had the Publishers Summit to host in the suite. This event went well and immediately after I had to head to the awards rehearsal. Another moment for me to project what I would look like on stage and if I could read the teleprompter correctly.
The time came for the awards dinner. Again, I chose to skip the meal. Eating before a nerve-wracking task is not wise. Finally I come down from the suite and took my place. Because time doesn't stand still, eventually it was my turn to take the stage. At the end, when I joined emcee Sabrina Jeffries and Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement winner Debbie Macomber on stage to close the awards and mention NY's conference next year, I was a happy camper.

Although I didn't have the normal attendee experience, I still had my share of enjoyment from the enthusiasm of the members.
I look forward to next year when I will be simply a general member attending the NY conference.

Photos: personal photos, belonging to the blogger