Monday, May 30, 2011

Staying in the Saddle

The final Monday of every month, the Rockville 8 cuts loose and kicks back with a guest blogger, and this Memorial Day Monday is no exception. With June and the Romance Writers of America National Conference right around the corner, the Eight chats with 2011 RWA Service Award winner and debut author, Amy Atwell.

Amy worked in professional theater for 15 years before turning from the stage to the page to write fiction. She now gives her imagination free rein in both contemporary and historical stories that combine adventure and romance. Her debut romantic suspense, Lying Eyes, is available from Carina Press, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, while her historical Ambersley is slated for a mid-June release. Visit her online at her website, Facebook, Twitter and/or GoodReads.

And now, a few words from Amy Atwell...

Thanks to Nichole and the Rockville 8 for inviting me today. I love groups of women, writers, laughter and, yes, even Mondays. Especially holiday Mondays.

My path to publication has been a long one. I started writing with an eye toward publication in 2000. Back then, the vision I had was clear: I would write engaging, popular, well-crafted stories and attract an agent. The agent would sell me to a big NY publisher who would acknowledge my talent by printing me hard cover and then paperback. I would earn a substantial advance and create a string of sales that would earn me a comfortable living.

That dream sustained me. It kept me “in the saddle” as a writer, despite a lot of hard knocks and spills. I “fell off” the writing horse a few times due to stresses—job changes, cross country moves, the deaths of both my parents. There were also times I “unsaddled” my writing horse because of rejections or negative contest feedback. These were balanced by successes that encouraged me to hold fast to that original dream. I resaddled that NY-published writing horse in 2008 following a string of contest wins, being named a Golden Heart® finalist and signing with an agent.

But after two agented submissions failed to sell to New York, I took a hard look at my dream. My NY-published writing horse was still sleek and beautiful, but it hadn’t earned me more than a few dollars in ten years. Like a real pleasure horse, my writing dream had become an expensive hobby. I didn’t want to quit riding (or writing!), so I considered other options for selling my manuscripts.

Fortunately, publishing has been rapidly evolving as digital technology has offered a new way for readers to buy, store and read books. My agent submitted a manuscript to Carina Press, and that became my debut release. My decision to sell to a digital first publisher was not because I’d abandoned the notion of ever selling to New York. It was a career choice to add a second horse (publishing platform) to my stable. I’m even adding a self-publishing horse to my stable next month when I release my historical, Ambersley.

With three publishing platforms in my writing stable, I have more choices to further my career and create the income stream I envisioned so long ago. I can target a manuscript to New York or digital or self-publishing with the same ease as saddling a horse. And if it’s the wrong fit, I can try that same saddle on a different horse. I’m not convinced that any one platform is better than the others. I think each offers benefits and potential drawbacks, but I’m continuing to pursue all three.

The key is to keep writing, keep improving your craft and keep exploring your options for publishing. And when those hard knocks force you to the ground, dust yourself off and get back in the saddle.

Thanks, Amy! Okay, readers, it's your turn to take the floor. The Rockville 8 and Amy Atwell want to know: How many horses and saddles are in your writing stable? What keeps you in the saddle when the trail gets tough? Is there anything that would make you hang up your spurs?

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Kitchen Floor and Other Sticky Situations

Writing, when you think about it, can be rather like cleaning the house. That’s to say if you’re a writer, you have to write. And if you live in any accommodation short of a coal bin, you have to clean.

The problem with cleaning your house is that it gets dirty again. Consider my kitchen floor. It’s a glorious, golden maple marked by eighty years of family life. Recently, my own family announced plans to visit so I swept it, mopped it, and waxed it. Boy, did it shine.

Then, a rogue brussels sprout skidded across the floor, leaving a trail of butter sauce. The scent of broiling lamb chops drew my drooling dog to the kitchen. After the meal, I spilled a hot cup of coffee—complete with cream and sugar. I wiped up these messes, but the damage was done. Now, my kitchen floor isn’t just dirty. It’s downright sticky!

Writing is the exact same way. You may think you’re done with that draft, but are you? Time and your trusted critique group can help you decide. In my case, the opening scene, which seemed so spic and span, is really a sticky situation. It snags readers on too many points instead of sending them on into the rest of the story. My manuscript doesn’t touch their hearts because too many questions are sticking in their heads.

How does a writer fix this kind of sticky situation? I’m treating my opening scene like my kitchen floor. Instead of a quick swipe, I’m going back to the beginning and cleaning it up.

In my current revision, I’m asking myself what does the reader need to know right now?

Next, I make a list of those things, and I keep the list short.

I work hard to reveal each listed point in description, dialogue, and action.

I cut anything that doesn’t fall under the heading of Needs to Know Right Now, but I save these bits. After all, the reader will need to know those details as my story progresses. If she doesn’t need to know them now, they don’t belong in this scene. If she doesn’t need to know them ever, they don’t belong in the manuscript.

Just like cleaning the floor, cleaning up this opening scene is proving to be hard work. I’ll get it done, though. Once I’m finished with it, hopefully, it’ll shine.

Now, the Rockville 8 wants to know what part of your manuscript is the sticky part? How do you plan to fix it? Which household chore do you hate the most? If I promise you tea and cake afterward, will you come over and mop my kitchen floor?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Protecting The Dream

Somewhere between the age of ten and thirty we forget how to dream. Who really knows what the magical age is that all our hopes and aspirations, those limitless possibilities, vanish in the face of the harsh realities of life? One day you turn around and poof. They’re gone. But I believe it’s more important than ever for writers--and women, especially--to keep the dream alive. We have so many demands on our lives and responsibilities that can weigh us down and pull us in a hundred different directions that we often overlook or push aside those secret dreams and goals we’ve nurtured deep inside. Instead, we choose to sacrifice what’s good for us for that which seems best for our families and loved ones. However, I’d argue, it’s when you’re pursuing your goals, when you’re tasting the fruit of your dreams, that you become a stronger person and have more to offer those who depend on you. What are your dreams? And what are you willing to do to achieve them?

Here are five key things I’ve discovered are important to breathing life into your hopes and dreams, no matter what your age.

Believe in Yourself - If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. Start there. Recognize your talent. Work hard to be the best writer you can be. Acknowledge you can achieve anything you set your mind to and then do it. Realize that no one else really cares if you finish that novel and they’ll all do everything in their power to make sure you don’t. It’s all up to you. You must believe in yourself and your writing.

Know What You Want - If you don’t set goals, you’ll never achieve them or know that you’ve achieved them. Are you afraid of success? Start little. Baby steps will get you moving in the direction you want to go as long as you know the destination. If you never have a destination, you’ll float through life. That’s okay if you’re a balloon. Not if you want to be a published author.

Keep Your Focus - When the rest of the world is frittering away time on x, y, and z, keep your focus. Write. Write. Write. Those pages add up. If you want to be a published author you need to write like a published author. No excuses. What are you willing to do without to complete your manuscript?

Take Risks - Don’t let your fear cripple you. Take appropriate risks to further your publishing career. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Push yourself outside your comfort level. Yes, it’s scary. But you’ll grow exponentially. Pitch to your dream editor. Corner that rockin’ hot agent at the bar. Take a class that will push your writing to the next level. Present a workshop. Courage and confidence will take you far.

Surround Yourself With Cheerleaders - The writing life is hard. It’s a lonely, solitary life. Find a group of writers who will help you grow and cheer you on when the process becomes overwhelmingly hard. We can’t do this alone. We need to know that even though writing is a solitary journey that there are others like us walking a similar path.

So, what are you prepared to do to make your dream a reality?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Opinions Are Just That

One day, my child came home from school upset that another child had called her a name. After she told me what happened, I told her that just because another person said something doesn’t make it so.

“But she said it.”

“What if I said elephants can fly,” I answered. “Does that make it true?”

Recently, I entered a Romance Writer’s of America (RWA) chapter contest. I won’t say which one but it’s not one I belong to. Of the four critiques, three of them were encouraging and contained constructive criticisms—helpful and professional. One was not. This critique was insulting, demeaning and, in some places, contradictory and rambling. After I read it, I moped about a bit, emailed the Rockville 8, told my husband, and then moped a little more.

Then our family went to the Bahamas. Amidst the beautiful surroundings, the steel drums and the Kahlua coladas, I gained some perspective. I remembered that just because someone said it doesn’t make it true.

Ahhhh...don’t you love when your own advice comes back to you?

In other aspects of my life, I usually see that cruelty can stem from insecurity or having a bad day. But, because writing is so personal, so much a part of you, it’s harder to brush it off.

Three people encouraged me and liked the story. One did not. The one that was insulting was where I focused all of my energy. I realized that this one person’s opinion doesn’t define me. I define myself.

I’ve re-read each judge’s critique, even the unprofessional one. I’ve taken the good points from the nasty critique and ignored the catty and insulting remarks.

I decide which comments I should use and which ones aren’t valid. I decide what I want to do and how I want to do it.

I decide if I’m a writer.

What things inspire you? What have you learned from a harsh review? Do you think it’s healthier to ignore it?