Sunday, April 28, 2013

True North (aka the WRW Retreat)

Last week was our local chapter -- The Washington Romance Writers -- annual "In the Company of Writers" Retreat. For this week's blog, several of the R8 share their favorite moments from the weekend AND one lucky commenter will win a signed copy of "The Good Woman" by the fabulous Jane Porter, courtesy of Candy Lyons.

Now, without further ado, I give you The Best of the WRW Retreat:


My favorite part of Retreat is how inspired I am after I come home.  I get so many ideas from the conferences and from being in that environment.  It's nice to be around so many people who share your passion for writing and books.

---Lisa McQuay


I love going to the WRW Retreat. First of all it's close, so travel is easy. Second, it's a cozy jumble of the nicest women I know and reminds me of the sleep away camp I loved as a girl. But thirdly, I love WRW because it gives me time to reflect on where I am with my writing goals. There are no soccer games to interrupt me, no office work to do, no man unable to squat in order to look on the bottom refrigerator shelf. Just me and my own thoughts. Each session I attend, each writer I speak with, and each guest I listen to (and laugh with), helps me reset my internal compass, reestablishing the true north of my writing life. I leave the Retreat with revised goals, a renewed sense of purpose and an action plan scribbled in the margins of my workshop notes. This year, I'm writing little pep talk notes to myself in my calendar to keep the focus and purpose going all through the year.

---Shellie Williams


People say that in heading to a conference, one should have an idea of what you want to get from the experience. I usually forget to do this until after I come home. So useful! But this year my goals were to leave my social anxiety at home, do a good enough job reading for American Author that I wasn’t booed from the room, and at the last minute, I decided I’d like to come home with at least one request from an industry professional to see my current WIP. Score! Well, at least on points one and three. Point two…hmm, I didn’t hear any booing and no one came up to me after AA to tell me how I ruined their story, so I’m gonna call that a win. And for being last minute, goal number three is another big win because it’s tied into goal number one. In leaving my anxiety behind, I opened myself up to taking a risk and it paid off. How cool is that?

---Keely Thrall


My absolute favorite part of the retreat was Sunday morning. I know, counter-intuitive, right? By Sunday morning we're all exhausted. LOL. But, I loved listening to Jane Porter's Sunday morning workshop and Cathy Maxwell's motivational send-off. Jane Porter said a few things that stuck with me: 1.) Attitude is everything; it's what sets you apart from other writers and it will be what helps you succeed in life. 2.) Relax. Be like the surfer who learns to relax on their board between sets of waves. Don't sit there and rail and shake your fist saying, "The waves will never come." The waves will come. The opportunities in life always come. Relax between the sets. Be assured the opportunities for success will come and be ready, but relax. 3.) Learn to take a hit like a quarterback. Rejection and hits will come in life. We understand that on some level. But we need to prepare ourselves like football players. When a QB throws that perfect pass, he knows--more than likely--that he's going to take a hit. He prepares for it and he knows how to take it without it leaving lasting damage. As writers, we need to do the same. We know rejections and hits are going to come. So we need to mentally and physically prepare for them so they don't keep us down. Jane Porter gave me a lot to think about and I loved it! Cathy Maxwell's "Go Write!" send-off was the last hoorah that had me rarin' to go home and do what I needed to do . . . write, write, write.

---Candy Lyons


My favorite part of retreat was being with my people, drinking at the bar, talking, catching up. I loved playing Apples to Apples late at night, then talking even later into the night with my roomie, Lisa McQ. I found Pam Regis and Kathleen Seidels' talk on the barrier in a romance was completely eyeopening for me. Loved it. Am looking forward to applying it to my current WIP.

---Marjanna Bogan


For me, the retreat was different this year. I've been struggling for a while now. With Life, The Universe, and Everything. ("Everything" is a word which here means "writing.") So I was in a weird place this year. Out of touch. Disconnected from both WRW as well as from the writing, but then the wonderful Cathy Maxwell gave the closing talk at the end of the retreat and it was so inspirational that it had many of us in tears. I wish I had it on video and I could show you, because I know I can't do it justice, but the part that had me in tears was when she said that human beings are created with space left within us. That we are unfinished works and that we can either fill those spaces with broken pieces or we can fill them with things that make us better.

I'm tired of filling the space with broken pieces.

For reals.

Now, Cathy's send-off sparked many great conversations with my friends, but one friend in particular sat me down and we talked about how to stop shoving in those broken pieces. I quit writing months ago. I had some good reasons for that. In fact, I had some very good reasons. But after all this time what I couldn't figure out was this: If I want so much to write, why don't I do it?

Everybody says the same things they say when you need to start exercising. Put it on your calendar. Make an appointment with yourself that you can't miss. Yada yada blah blah blah. I would try those things for a while, but it never stuck because it always felt forced, to me. Artificial. Writing was my love. My art. I can't do it if it feels forced and artificial! But my friend said, "Don't. Don't write. Just sit down every day and write about what you love. Write about why you want to write a particular character, or a particular story line, or a particular setting. Write about why you want to write at all. And do it every day."

Don't laugh, but for the first time ever I made the connection between writing and exercising. See, I started getting on the treadmill in December for all the usual health reasons. But I started slow. Low speed, for short amounts of time. And I did it every day (which, in reality, translates to 5 or 6 days a week). Now, at the end of April, I'm on the treadmill most every morning for 55 minutes and in that time I get in 3.5 miles. I do it in intervals -- walk a lap, jog a lap, walk a lap, jog 2 laps -- until the time is up. And on the days that I don't do it, it feels weird. Almost like, I miss it! I miss seeing the numbers add up on my FitBit dashboard. I miss adding the entry on my Google calendar, with it's little yellow star. And yes, at first it felt forced and artificial. Like I was shoving exercise into my day. But not anymore!

Ding! Ding! Ding!

So, every day since the Retreat, I've been sitting down and writing about writing for 30 minutes. It still feels forced. Still feels a little artificial, because it doesn't just happen naturally in my day -- I have to think about it and plan for it, and make it happen. But man oh man does it feel good! And as I told my friend, seven days into it, I'm getting to the point where I'm tired about writing about writing and I can almost see myself actually writing. Like, drafting new words!

I haven't yet, I'm still taking it slow, but I can see it happening, and because I'm "forcing" it, it's going to happen sooner rather than later. One of my other friends is always saying, "The Universe rewards action." And she's right. Action is always the answer.

So what was my favorite thing about going to the WRW Retreat?

Getting back into my writing.


---Evie Owens

Sunday, April 21, 2013

April Blossoms . . . It's That Time Again

Cherry Blossom Festival in DC: RF123
April showers bring may flowers, Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C., and Washington Romance Writers’ In The Company of Writers Retreat. We’re all attending the retreat this weekend, so consider this our Gone Fishin’ sign this year.

Enjoy the lovely picture of the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, D.C. and we’ll be back here same time, same place next week. Enjoy the spring weather and the flowers!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

It's All in the Neck

Sometimes, when I can't get anywhere on my current manuscript, I think about the other books I want to write. Other books that are easier and more fun. Other books  that have less persnickety heroines and wittier, sexier, stronger heroes—or, better yet, none of those querulous characters. Other books that flow out of me like water over Niagara Falls. Yeah, those books. You've got some too, I bet.

On those days, you sometimes just have let the other books take over.  So here we go with one of my other books: A Southern Girl's Guide to Aging, by Sweet Tea. 

Chapter 1: It's All in the Neck

Girl, if you're a little north of fifty on the life odometer, bless your heart, and you're worried about aging, let me put your mind at ease. I have a sweet little tool box of anti-aging wrenches, hammers and screwdrivers that are as non-invasive as they are expensive. And, girl, they work, let me tell you. 

If you do nothing else about aging...if you let your arms get flabby, if you let the crows have a field day around your eyes...address this one crucial area: the NECK. Girl, a youthful appearance depends on one thing and it is not perky boobs, a wrinkle-free face, or a flat tummy. It depends on a smooth-skinned, graceful neck, free of wattles, sunspots and offending blemishes. I can show you pictures of movie stars—like Jane Fonda—who've had it all done but the neck, and let me tell you, it is NOT pretty. The skin takes on the delicate wrinkled look of an empty testicular sac, minus the hair, or for some, the voluminous ruffles and wrinkles of a Sharpei. Take your pick. Either way, I call it Scary Neck Syndrome (SNC).

So, what's a girl to do? Why, accessorize of course! I favor the chunky necklaces worn by that 70s fashion maven Wilma Flintstone. You're looking for something the size of an Easter eggs or maybe dessert plates in an array of festive colors. Unfortunately, chunky jewelry is often heavy. Do not be tempted to substitute a scarf or a clergyman's collar. It is dead giveaway and you'll look like the Mummy's Revenge. Just look at pictures of Mary Tyler Moore, bless her heart.

No, my dear, beauty and youth are not for the weak; they are for the sneaky. Here's another favorite neck camoflager: the neck rings of the Kayan Lahwi women of Africa. The metallic rings hid SNS while elongating your neck to swan-like heights. A side benefit of this accessory is the wonders it'll do for your posture.

Distraction is the screwdriver in my tool box. Send the eye elsewhere. How about Peoria! This next trick only works if you still have or recently installed a perky bustline. Try the pendant between the breast tool. Use a pendant the size and glitza-hertz of the Hope Diamond to draw attention away from SNS. If, however, you haven't elevated your bust, then don't try this one without professional help.

I suggest you have Willamette at the Dorne Corset Shop in Silver Spring repackage your buxom beauties with a lacy, steel-reinforced, aerodynamic  Büstenhalter. I kid-you-not, she can stuff some that extra stuff under your arms and Viola! a slimmer, shapelier you in moments. Of course, you can't put your arms down, but as my grandmamma always said, "Honey-chile, youth and beauty are not for sissies." You've got to be tough to appear soft, supple and young.
And, while we're on the subject of your décolleté, let's be honest... let's let it all hang out here between us girls. (Bless our hearts.) Are these now pendulous appendages the most disappointing set of Christmas toys you ever got?  I mean, they were great from 16 to 38—show a little ta-ta and the world was your oyster. But then, the earth's gravitation pull kicked in.

Now I'm a smart cookie and very strategic. I saw the writing on the wall whenever I visited my great aunts with their pillowy and voluminous softness. Early on I started doing those pec exercises for "a little extra lift" as my aerobics teacher would say. Twenty years and one million pec exercises later, I can tell you it was a waste of time. My once-enviable cleavage has sunk to an all time low and that brings me to...

Chapter 2. Have your 36 Bs become 50 longs?

Stay tuned for additional installments of A Southern Girl's Guide to Aging when I succumb to distraction and need a break...bless my heart.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bitten By The Writing Bug

This week the Rockville 8 welcomes back Michelle Monkou, one of the founding members of our critique group! We can't have her back for good, she has too many deadlines hanging over her head, but we've got her this week for a guest blog and we'll take her any way we can get her!

Look for her newest release, Carnival Temptress (The Revelers Series), on Kindle and Nook now for just 99 cents.


I recently talked to a friend who shared three things (people, ideas, concepts) that make her unconditionally happy. I gave myself the task of discovering my three things. When I came to the unconditional part, I’d back away and head for another item. Almost 24 hours later, I realized one of those things never left the picture – WRITING.

Writing is the condition that has been in my blood since early days of childhood where I started with my avid love for books. Reading stories led to writing stories. Once bitten by the bug (but, I truly believe that it’s part of my DNA), writing flowed through my entire body, energizing and adding its own nutrients.

There are occasional viral attacks, like envy, jealousy, and wrath, which threaten to destroy the writing condition. Regardless of the vices, resulting Writer’s angst can eat away at the good cells and take over with zombie-like effect. Who wants to live life as an empty shell of a writer?

Writing is expression, communication, living.

It is freedom.

There is a big difference between choosing to put aside writing and someone or something preventing or stripping away one’s ability to write. If the latter is the case, then the writer needs to fight like hell to be the sole decision maker about their calling.

Writing, for me, is a deep-seated desire.  It’s a need to write with no guarantee of the outcome. It’s an experience that heads me off to unfamiliar, uncharted waters. Although the ground under my feet may rumble and shake with uncertainty and insecurity, there is pure simple joy in writing.

What is your unconditional joy? Share your happiness with me and a lucky commenter will receive a copy of my book, Racing Hearts (Harlequin Kimani).

Michelle Monkou

Monday, April 1, 2013

Going Dark: Writing Your Villain

This week the Rockville 8 is happy to welcome D.A. Spruzen, author of the gripping suspense novels Not One of Us and Lily Takes the Field.  Today she shares her process for writing a believable bad guy — or in this case, a bad girl (and oh what a bad girl she is!). Welcome, D.A. Spruzen!

In Not One of Us a woman from a desperate background, now socially prominent and the proud owner of a fictitious pedigree, kills when threatened with exposure.  And one thing leads to another...

The hardest part about writing the book was realizing it wasn’t going to be a humorous work after all — my original intention — but rather a dark one.  That meant allowing that evolving character to take me along rocky roads, down mushy slopes, and up litter-strewn alleys. And, of course, I had to really understand my character, know what makes her tick, climb inside her head. I’m happy to report that, since I am not a serial killer, I had a lot to learn before I could do that. It was important to research mental illness to make sure she didn’t act out of character. That being said, it was also important to remember not to indulge in stereotyping.

My villainess was bound to come to a sticky end, as they say. But after a while I had to wonder if I really wanted to bump her off.  She is a pretty smart lady.  I decided on a trilogy and that meant planning ahead.

The usual question readers ask me is whether I found it difficult to identify with this woman to be able to portray her so convincingly. The answer, always good for an uneasy giggle is, “Not really.” This woman (notice I don’t mention her name, because you don’t know who she is until well into the book) is fairly easy to understand. She takes what seems to her the most logical course of action to eliminate a threat: kill it. So, I flip the switch and think like her, acting with logic and with neither empathy nor moral compass. So, no to the unasked question, this book is not autobiographical! A writer must assume a trained actor’s skills; we must climb into the persona and stay in character, no matter who has temporarily hogged the limelight. And this applies to nonfiction just as well as fiction.

I hope you enjoy Not One of Us and the sequel Lily Takes the Field, both available on Kindle and in other e-book formats as well as paperback.

D. A. Spruzen grew up near London, England, earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, and teaches writing in Northern Virginia when she’s not seeking her own muse.  In another life she was Manager of Publications for a defense contractor.  Her short stories and poems have appeared in many publications, and she is currently seeking representation for her novel, The Blitz Business, set in WWII England.  The first two novels in her Flower Ladies Trilogy, Not One of Us and Lily Takes the Field, are available on Kindle and in other e-book formats, as well in paperback.  Her first poetry chapbook, Long in the Tooth, will be published by Finishing Line Press in June 2013. Dorothy and her husband live in Northern Virginia with a Jack Russell terrier, who doesn’t know he’s old and doesn’t know he’s small. You can read more about her work at her website: