Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why You Should Never Plan a Home Improvement Project before Christmas

Yes, I've been very quiet the past few weeks. I had a release yesterday (Unwrap My Heart came out at Cobblestone Press as the last 12 Days of Christmas release), but I didn't have time to celebrate or promote because since Saturday, we have been doing THIS:

That's right, for some reason, Mr. Barbosa and I had this fabulous plan to replace all our old, disgusting carpet with hardwood floors the weekend before Christmas. We THOUGHT that pulling out the old carpet and entry tile and painting would be the most time-consuming part of the task. That took two weekends plus a couple of evenings. We thought installing the new floor would be, at most, a weekend and perhaps another half a day.

Oh my, how wrong we were! It MIGHT have been that fast IF we had had an electric or pneumatic floor nailer and if we were experienced at this and if we didn't have an entry and a closet and a stairwell to deal with. But we rented a hand nailer, my friends. Add to that all the precision cutting (just look at the inside of the closet!) and it took us all of Saturday, most of Sunday, all of Monday, and most of yesterday just to get HALF the room done. We decided yesterday to stop where we were because to continue, we'd have to disconnect the TV completely for the duration of the Christmas holiday (and that is simply a non-starter when there are DVDs under the tree).

I will say, what's done looks positively gorgeous. I couldn't be more thrilled. But I also couldn't be more exhausted and we still have half a room to do. At least in theory, this is the easy half, and the total distance from one side of the room to the other is less. And I must also say that I had no idea my living room was so freaking huge!

In any event, with weekends and evenings dedicated to this project, no Christmas shopping was done as of last night. I went out after dinner and tackled some of it, then polished off the remainder this morning. Sometime between now and tomorrow, I have to mop my kitchen floor (it's disgusting) and clean the guest bathroom (also disgusting). And finish wrapping the presents.

Oh, and did I mention we don't have a Christmas tree yet? Yes, there is much to do.

So, the moral of the story is, don't tackle major home improvement projects before Christmas. Even if you think they're minor. Just don't. Trust me, you'll be glad you didn't.

Oh, and just for fun, here's a couple of pictures of the Barbosa kids with a couple of the Barbosa cats...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Unwrap My Heart

I have one more novella coming from Cobblestone Press this year. Unwrap My Heart, a contemporary Christmas-themed story about a woman who gets a chance to experience the life she passed up, will be released on December 23.

Because I really enjoy doing them, I created a book video for the story. Check it out:

You can also read an excerpt here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


When It's Not Working...

I've been working on my proposal for my Kensington option book for the past couple of weeks. I'd hoped to have it turned in to my agent before Thanksgiving, but a nasty head cold set me back a bit, so I modified my estimate to the middle of this week, thinking by then I'd surely have it finished.

How wrong I was!

I'd written the synopsis, and the partial was coming along swimmingly well until I hit the 8,000 word mark. All of a sudden, I found I couldn't write the next (and last) scene for the partial. I knew where it was to take place and what needed to happen. But for the life of me, I couldn't write it. Oh, I tried. A few hundred words here, a few hundred there. But they were boring, going nowhere words. I'd write something and scrap it. Write something else and scrap that. It was getting more than a little discouraging.

It took me three long days of spinning my wheels to realize what I should have known as soon as I hit the scene I couldn't write--I'd already taken a wrong turn in the story. I just didn't realize it because the scene in which I took the wrong turn occurred very early in the book (scene 2, in fact) and I loved what I wrote like a Hummer owner loves $1.75 a gallon gas. I couldn't see it as a wrong turn because the scene itself was solid and...well, it was one of my darlings. But it took the plot in a direction that just did not work. And so, it...and much of what follows, has to go.

I spent yesterday afternoon blubbering to my CP Emma Petersen's about how the story sucked like a hopped-up Hoover and I was doomed to failure. And then, after I got through the second stages of grief and accepted that the story as constructed was dead, I asked, "How can I fix it?"

We then had a FABULOUS brainstorming session and, within fifteen minutes, I had come up with a (I like to think) brilliant way to retool the storyline. Yes, it meant killing my darling second scene and significant portions of the manuscript thereafter. It means reworking the hero's internal conflict significantly. It means reworking the heroine's conflict somewhat as well. It means all but maybe 1.5k of what I've already written is toast. (There's one 2k scene that will probably stay, but it may not make it into the 10k partial, depending on how many words I expend on the new scenes.)

But, it's a story I now feel excited to write. One I really believe in.

So, is there a moral to this story? For me, it's that writer's block is a symptom of having taken a wrong turn BEFORE the writer's block hits. When I'm in the throes of it, I have a tendency to think it means something wrong with the scene I'm trying to write. The reality, however, is usually that the block is a symptom of a larger problem that occurred earlier in the book. When it happens, instead of wasting time trying to make this new scene work, I need to re-examine everything I've written thus far and figure out where I went wrong. Even if it means killing my darlings. Even if it means trashing thousands of words. Even if it means rethinking the story essentially from scratch. Because once you've gone off the rails, all you end up with if you keep driving is a train wreck!

P.S. Rumor has it a color copy of the cover for Behind the Red Door will be arriving in my inbox soon. I promise to post as soon as I have it!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another Teaser

And thanks to my dear friend Tessa Dare (whose fabulous debut novel, Goddess of the Hunt, will be released by Ballantine in July of 2009), I am pleased to announce that Behind the Red Door is now available for preorder at Amazon.


Friday, November 21, 2008

A Teaser

My bud Amie Stuart dug this up for me this morning:

I know, it's pixellated and black and white, but OMG,'s GORGEOUS. Can't WAIT to see the "real" thing!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A New Release, A New Newsletter, A Freebie, and Time Is Running Out!

It really is true that there's no rest for the wicked! Every time I feel I'm getting caught up, something like this happens:

That's right, Comrades in Arms was released yesterday by Cobblestone Press to much fanfare, tooting of horns, and throwing of confetti. (Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little. I didn't actually see any confetti being thrown.)

I have to admit, this was an extra exciting release day for me because I shared it with none other than the legendary Piers Anthony! Let's face it, that is pretty darned cool. For the whole story of how Anthony came to contract his own Wicked with Cobblestone Press, check out his post on the Cobblestone Authors blog. It's very interesting reading.

Okay, so that's the new release news. Since I last posted writing news, I've also signed the contracts for my Cobblestone 12 Days of Christmas novella, Unwrap My Heart. No cover art yet, but I promise to be prompt in doing so when I receive it.

I like to think of the plot of Unwrap My Heart as It's a Wonderful Life in reverse: instead of finding out awful life would have been if she'd never been born, my heroine finds out how wonderful her life could be had she made some different choices. Here's the blurb:

Holly Ackerman has scratched and clawed her way into the position as an anchorwoman at a local TV station, but along the way, she's passed up marriage and family. Now, on Christmas Eve, which is also her forty second birthday, she can feel all she's worked so hard to achieve slipping away. When an unbelievable encounter with a very real Santa Claus gives her a second chance at love, she must decide whether to give up her hard-won past for a storybook future.
I really enjoyed writing this story, which pestered me for months before I finally had the time to put it on the page, and I hope you'll like it, too. I don't have a precise release date, yet, but I know it will be sometime between December 12 and December 23.

With everything that's going on these days, I've decided it's finally time to break down and do a quarterly newsletter. I haven't exactly been resisting it, but I'll admit that the logistics had me a bit bamboozled. But having chatted with some other writers who do regular newsletters, I think I've got the basics down.

As an incentive to sign up for the newsletter, I'll be entering all the names I get before the end of the month into a drawing to receive a free copy of either Comrades in Arms or Unwrap My Heart (winner's choice).

In addition, everyone who signs up before Christmas will receive, free of charge, the Twelve Days of Christmas Anthology collected and edited by my dear friend Leanne Karella (who doubles as Anna Leigh Keaton). The anthology features twelve short, romantic stories by a wonderful slate of authors:

Oh, and of course, yours truly.

So, use that button over there on the right hand side of the page to hurry and sign up. Remember, if you join by the end of November, you'll be entered in a drawing to receive your choice of Comrades in Arms or Unwrap My Heart, and everyone who enters before Christmas will receive the free anthology.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to mention that Wickedly Ever After will go off sale at the end of next week (or a few days thereafter). The novella will be the first in my Kensington anthology, along with two new novellas titled Scandalously Ever After and Sinfully Ever After. So, if you don't buy it from Cobblestone Press before the end of the week, you won't have a chance to see it again until June of 2009! Hurry, hurry, hurry!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I usually shy away from posting political commentary on my blog, but in the wake of Tuesday's historic election, I can't keep my thoughts to myself.

First, I am beyond thrilled by Barack Obama's victory. As a lifelong Democrat who doesn't think "liberal" is a dirty word, I'm pretty much always delighted when the Democratic candidate wins, and there certainly hasn't been a lot to celebrate on that front for the past eight years. And of course, there's no denying the cultural and moral significance of Americans' willingness to elect a black man as President of the United States.

But to me, Barack Obama is symbolic of something much more important and fundamental than either the return of common-sense progressive politics or the possibility of a truly post-racial America. No, the real breakthrough here is that Americans elected a person of relatively humble origins who truly earned every single one of his achievements through the application of intelligence, determination, and personal charisma.

I suppose it could be argued that Bill Clinton was cut from similar cloth with regard to personal biography, but he is a white man. The fact that Obama was able to win the presidency based on his merits despite his ethnic heritage (and notably, one of his parents was not an American citizen, which I think is unprecedented) says something profound about the possibility of our country becoming a true meritocracy.

And all I can say to that is halleluia! When voting, may we now truly measure the content of our politicians' character rather than the color of their skin or their gender or the depths of their daddies' pocketbooks or the number of American war heroes they can claim in their ancestry. Because in the end, I don't care who your parents are or what they did; I want to know who you are and what you will do.

Giddy as I am about the results of the presidential election, however, I am monumentally saddened by my fellow Californians' vote to overturn the right of same-sex couples to marry. The irony could not be deeper. On the day we broke a hole in the Berlin wall of racial division, we put up another one, affirming our right to discriminate against people who are different from us by a different measure of difference.

In my never to be humble opinion, the campaign against Proposition 8 was shameless in its fear-mongering. Over and over, they warned us that children would be taught about gay marriage against their parents' religious or moral objections (with the unspoken but obvious implication that our kids are in danger of being recruited to the "dark side" if they find out that same-sex marriage is legal). They told us churches would lose their tax-exempt status or be barred from operating publicly funded charities if they failed to perform same-sex weddings. Most vile though less obviously fear-mongering, they claimed that gay couples have all the rights of marriage because California has a domestic partnership law. Anyone recall Brown v. Board of Education? Separate can never be equal.

And yet, I retain a certain measure of hope and faith. Why? Because, in the deepest irony of all, our children are already comfortable with same-sex marriage. Now, no one polled the <18 crowd (sadly--the measure might have been defeated if they had; ), but people under 30 apparently voted strongly against the ban. (I haven't been able to find any statistics from exit polls, but if I do, I'll let you know.) So clearly, our kids have been hearing the message for some time now that homosexuality is not a characteristic on which it's okay to discriminate, any more than race or gender or eye color or shoe size.

It's no surprise, either. In my parents' generation, people rarely revealed their sexuality, and often entered heterosexual marriages solely to foster the impression that they were straight, leading to many an unhappy marriage and more than a few divorces--those are so good for kids. NOT. In my generation (I was born at the tag end of the baby boon), people really started coming out of the closet and tolerance has risen accordingly, although it's certainly by no means universal.

But in the generations after mine, openly gay people are a fact of life. My kids' generation has never known a time when homosexuality wasn't just...there, a natural part of the tapestry of their world. My son and his friends, who are between 11 and 12, were universally unperturbed by the notion of same-sex marriage and also said it wouldn't affect their choice about whether to marry a man or a woman when they grew up--duh! Would that their parents and parents' parents were so sensible.

In another thirty years or so, the majority of voters in California and the country as a whole will come from the post-sexual generation (for lack of a better term). Which pretty much guarantees that the march to equality hasn't been stopped, only delayed. I and many others would have liked to see it come sooner, but justice deferred is, I suppose, better than no justice at all.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pot Pourri

Yes, I've been very quiet lately. There just hasn't been much to talk about. Which is kind of a relief! However, with November fast approaching, I do have a few fun things to share.

First up, I've decided to sign up to do Nanowrimo this year. I have my doubts that I can actually be a winner (which requires writing 50k in a month--my current maximum production in a month is about 35k), but it's great motivation and I've got projects I really want to complete. If you're doing Nano, please buddy me...I'm there under the user name Jackie_Barbosa.

I'm also (partially simultaneously) doing Seventy Days of Sweat. The seventy days starts November 10 and ends January 26 (they built in an extra week for the holidays--wasn't that sweet of them?). The goal is a minimum of 60k, which should be a lot more doable than 50k in one month.

Between Sven and Nano, I'm hoping to get a great jump start on my single title historical, as well as perhaps polish off a couple of smaller projects on the side. (Yes, I'm promiscuous when it comes to WIPs!)

Finally, I have a new release coming out with Cobblestone Press on Friday, November 14. Comrades in Arms is an erotic short story set at the end of the Peninsular Wars. Here's the blurb:

Amid the horrors of war, Lieutenant Heath Wetherill has found comfort in the arms of his commanding officer, Lord Charles Langdon. But now, the war has ended, and the two men must return to their civilian lives as upstanding members of the British nobility. There’s no room for their torrid, illicit affair in stodgy old Mother England, especially not with Charles’s wife waiting for him.

But Lady Isabella isn’t a conventional ton wife, and theirs isn’t a conventional ton marriage. Maybe there’s hope for a happy ending, after all.

And here is the beautiful cover, done by the lovely and talented Bree Bridges:

I love the intensity of the expression of the man on the left. He's Charles to a T. And the guy on the right--a very yummy version of Heath.

And the blonde in the middle? She's one damn lucky lady, that's all I have to say! Who wouldn't want to be caught between these two hotties?

But, of course, I couldn't be satisfied with mere cover art when I could have a book video. I have to say, the whole process of creating them can really be quite addictive.

Of course, you can spend (i.e., waste) oodles and oodles of time looking for images that fit your story and even more trying to find just the right music. And when you do, you squeal like a three-year-old girl who's just received her first Barbie.

So, after a few days of procrastination, a few dollars on images, and an hour at, I bring you:

Monday, October 6, 2008

Quick Check-In

Yes, I know I've been remarkably remiss in posting of late. If you've cruised by the Mavens blog recently, then you'll know I managed to complete Behind the Red Door and submit it to my editor on October 1st. This afternoon, I received confirmation that the book has been accepted, without revisions (though there will be copy edits and galleys, of course), and is scheduled to be released in June, 2009.


Now, it's onward and upward. I'm writing a couple of shorts and then I'll be getting started on the proposal for my option book, which I can submit in 30 days from today. Since I have to write three chapters and a synopsis, I may not be ready to send anything until the middle of November, but it's nice to have a target date in mind.

For the next couple of days, I'll be off to San Antonio for the day job. The last time I was there was nearly twenty years ago, when I went to an SCCA conference there with my father (who passed away in 1998). I have very fond memories of that trip and am looking forward to a stroll down memory lane at the River Walk on Wednesday afternoon/evening.

YOUR TURN: Whatcha doing this week? Any fun plans?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Random Post

I'm 1,200 words (give or take a few hundred) from the end of the third Red Door novella. It's due tomorrow. And yes, I'm going to make it!

That said, I had to share this from the Online Etymology Dictionary.

1806, from Gen. Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842), who invented a type of exploding, fragmenting shell when he was a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery during the Peninsular War. The invention consisted of a hollow cannon ball, filled with shot, which burst in mid-air; his name for it was spherical case ammunition. Sense of "shell fragments" is first recorded 1940. The surname is attested from 13c., and is believed to be a metathesized form of Charbonnel, a dim. form of O.Fr. charbon "charcoal," in ref. to complexion, hair color, or some other quality.

Who knew?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Upping the Ante

Well, the work-in-progress is currently sitting at a little over 12,000 words. The minimum word count for it is 25,000. Which means 1,000 words per day just isn't going to cut it.

So, as of today, the daily word count goal is doubled to 2,000 words per day.

Eep! Better get crackin'!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Playing Catch-Up

I fell way short of my goal the past couple of days due to a raging head cold complicated by allergies. It's hard to write anything lucid, much less sexy, when you've got some fiend poking you in the temple with a sharp stick and you're either sneezing or blowing your nose constantly.

I've got my work cut out for me, but there is no try, only do!

YOUR TURN: How's it going? Cheer me up with all your wonderful stories of progress and success!

Monday, September 15, 2008

30k in 30 Days Challenge--Update

Cross-posted from the Mavens' blog.

I planned to check in a little more often than this, but actually doing the writing seemed to eat up most of my time. (Wonder how that could have happened?) I have been managing to update my daily word count over there on the right, but that's about it for updates so far.

So, yesterday marked Day 15 of the challenge. I'm a little shy of 15k at this point, but that's primarily because yesterday was Sunday, and Sundays are always iffy for writing (this funny little thing called "family time" seems to get in the way, lol).

The good news, however, is that this method seems to be working. Making sure I sit down and write every single day with a specific goal in mind has made a huge difference in my productivity. When I do get a good, solid block of time, I am writing faster and more efficiently, and finding it not that hard to meet or even exceed the 1,000 word goal.

Which is a good thing, because I've now completed two of the three novellas that are due on October 1, and it's going to take me more than 1,000 words per day to finish the one I'm writing now. My math tells me I now have to average 1,400 words to write THE END on that one by September 29, the last day of the challenge, giving me a whopping ONE DAY to polish it up before sending it in. Am I worried? Nah! I'm freaking terrified. LOL.

YOUR TURN: Update us on your writing progress for the last fifteen days. If you're in on the challenge, how's it going? If you're not, what are your current goals and how are things coming along? Remember, we love to hear from you, even if we are pretty quiet ourselves!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The 30K in 30 Days Challenge

X-posted from the Mavens blog.

Since I last posted right before leaving for the RWA National Convention, I've been swamped by the day job. My company holds a conference for its clients every year in late August or early September (depending on when we can get the hotel), and I'm a major contributor to the effort. This year, I gave four presentations, none of which were remotely close to being developed at the beginning of this month. I had four weeks to get my act together, and believe me, I needed every one of those weeks.

So NOW, I have another deadline looming over me. I've promised all three of the Red Door novellas by October 1st. The first novella is (thankfully) already complete, but the second and third are sitting at 5,000 words (of a projected 25K) and roughly 20.5K (or a projected 30K). Soooo, to finish and ship the printed manuscript off to New York in time, I've got to write an average of 1,000 words per day for the next thirty days.

That's more than doable, of course. But since I've been "out of the saddle" for a full month now, it seems more than a bit daunting. And so, in an effort to motivate myself, I'm setting down the 30K in 30 Days Challenge. My friend and critique partner, Emma Petersen, even created this graphic you can post on your blog or website if you decide to jump on the bandwagon:

The challenge officially begins today, Sunday, August 31 and ends Monday, September 29, but you can jump in any time with your own start and end dates. If you'd like to engage in periodic check-ins, support, encouragement, commiseration, advice, and the occasional ass-whuppin' when you need it, simply leave a comment on this post. I'll be posting again next week to let you know where things stand, and you can let me know how you're doing, too. In addition, I'll be keeping a calendar on my personal blog to show my progress. There's nothing like a little shame and humiliation to keep me on track!

YOUR TURN: Want to join the fun? Leave a comment and I'll blogroll you!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

First Sale News!

I'm tickled pink to be able to announce that my friend, Courtney Milan, has not only expanded her family (by one puppy), but has made her first sale! Because I couldn't say it better than the Publisher's Marketplace announcement of the deal, here it is:

Golden Heart Nominee for Breath of Honor Courtney Milan's PROOF BY SEDUCTION, about a rigidly logical marquis who uses the scientific method to save his heir from the clutches of a fraudulent fortune teller, only to fall for her and discover that the one hypothesis not susceptible to proof is love, to Ann Leslie Tuttle at HQN, in a good deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency (World).
Huge, huge congratulations to Courtney and kudos to her agent, who sure knows how to pick 'em!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Cell Phone Industrial Complex

Okay, so this rant is unrelated in any way to writing, save for the fact that the incident that provoked it occurred at the RWA National Conference.1

I must preface this story by explaining that as a member of the Baby Boom generation (albeit the very tag end of it), I am of the general opinion that a cell phone is PRIMARILY a phone and that its purpose in life is to provide a convenient way of contacting other people (and them contacting you) when you are not at home.

This means I have no particular interest in the myriad additional functions that cell phone manufacturers have seen fit to add to phones in the past several years. I do not need a music player on my phone (I have an iPod) nor a camera (I have one) nor access to the Internet (it might be handy, but my eyes are old and the screens are all pretty small!). I will confess that as much as I despise texting, I am finding that a somewhat useful subfunction of the cell phone, simply because it allows me to keep in touch with my IM friends. Even so, texting isn't something I do a lot, nor do I want to do it more, so having a phone that would make it easier isn't high on my list of desires.

All of which means I have a very simple, unassuming cell phone that I bought a little over a year ago. It's got a camera in it, but I never use it, but that's the only "fancy" extra function it has. Before I left for San Francisco, I put a full charge on the phone from the charger in my car, because I lost the wall charger somewhere between Memphis and San Diego earlier this year. A full charge usually lasts me four days, and I was set to be gone only three, so I figured I'd be fine.

I figured wrong. By Friday evening, the phone was running low on charge. In retrospect, that was perfectly predictable, since I was using it a lot more than I usually do. I turned it off that night when I went to bed to preserve what little charge was left, and hoped for the best.

On Saturday afternoon, I ate lunch at a little streetside cafe on Market Street, just around the corner from the hotel. I was on the phone with Beverley Kendall, regaling her with stories of my conference experience thus far, when the charge gave out. Well, damn. That left me with no way to get in touch with anyone for the rest of the conference, not to mention no way for my family to call me in the event of an emergency.

Then, I looked across the street and saw--like a vision--a Verizon store. ROCK ON! After I finished eating (Kofta with hummus and rice, yum!), I walked across the street and into the store. To my amazement, there was no line (I've never been in a Verizon store where I didn't wait for half an hour, minimum). Surely my stars were in perfect alignment!

I bopped up to one of the available reps and pulled out my phone. "I want to buy a charger for this phone, please."

The guy gave me this pitying look and said, "We don't sell a charger for that phone. It's too old."

WTF? I bought this phone a YEAR AGO! Okay, maybe fifteen months ago. The point stands. It's not like I got it at the blinkin' turn of the century.

But I am a polite sort of person who prefers not to make a scene, so I asked in my most pleasant tone of voice, "Well, can you tell me where I might be able to buy one?"

The dude made another face--this one patronizing--and said, "Oh no, no one sells a charger for that phone any more."

Long story short, I left without a charger but in possession of a big chip on my shoulder. Because what this guy was REALLY telling me is that the only solution to my problem is to buy a new phone. And I don't WANT a new phone. This one works perfectly and does exactly what I need/want. Verizon's (and, if his assertion is to be believed, other retailers') failure to carry a replacement charger for this phone
is nothing but a ploy to force people to buy a new phone (and, of course, take on a new contract) to resolve the problem. And IMO, that just stinks.

Look, we are a nation of consumers, and we treat pretty much all goods as disposable. I know that. But people, we have to stop. The planet can't take much more of this. (Hmmm, I feel I am channeling Scotty here: "She can't take much more of this, Cap'n.") This persistent attitude in our culture that the solution to any problem with a product is to simply throw it away and replace WILL NOT DO.

There is an irony here, though. Verizon is, first and foremost, in business to make money, and that means it is in its interest to sell stuff. What I wanted was a charger. NOT a new phone. And I am not going to buy a new phone simply because they don't sell what I wanted. Because I do have a charger in my car and it works perfectly well. No, I can't use it when I'm away from my car, but if my phone runs out of charge, it's an inconvenience, not the end of the world. I can LIVE without it (as I did most of my life before the durn things were invented). I didn't ENJOY it and it was a pain in the ass, but I survived.

So, in reality, the retailer's refusal to carry the charger for a year old phone COST them a sale. Is it a sale that would have made them as much money as selling me a new phone? No. But they're not going to get THAT sale anyway, at least not for quite some time.

Retailers need to catch the clue. There is money to be made in supporting their customers' desire to keep and extend the life of the product they already have. And it's good for the planet. Win/win.

Too bad the Cell Phone Industrial Complex will never buy it!
1Had a rocking great time! I met everyone on my "must see" list and a good many others who weren't. Darcy posted a few choice pics over on the Manuscript Mavens blog if you'd like a peek. I have quite a few insights and thoughts to share post-conference, but I'll do that over the next month or so rather than dumping it all on you at once.

Friday, August 1, 2008

My Heart (and More's) in San Francisco

X-posted from the Manuscript Mavens blog.

By the time this post appears (thank you, Draft Blogger, for the ability to manipulate time and space!), I'll be in San Francisco at this year's RWA National Conference. Based on my experience at last year's Dallas event, I'm sure I'm already exhausted, overwhelmed, and giddy with pleasure.

Last year, I have to admit that I spent most of my time a) hanging out friends, b) hovering around the pitch room, and c) in the booksigning area snapping up free, signed books. What I didn't do was attend a whole lot of workshops, perhaps in part because I couldn't decide which would be useful to me and which wouldn't. A few that I went to were very worthwhile, but many wound up not addressing my needs in one way or another and I ducked out before they were over.

This year, I'm still expecting to spend a lot of time on a) and c), though not quite as much on b), since I don't need to pitch either agents or editors (and believe me, I'm as shocked as anyone by that). I would like to chat with some editors informally about some of my other projects to see if anyone seems really interested in seeing any of them when I'm ready to submit. Hence, I volunteered to help in the pitch room on Friday afternoon.

I'm also hoping to meet my Kensington editor, John Scognamiglio, since I hear he'll be in attendance, and I know I'll be having dinner on Saturday night with my wonderful agent, Kevan Lyon, and some of her other clients (can you say networking, baby?). Since I'm bunking at a family friend's house, I've set aside one evening to get away from it all and have a quiet dinner with her.

Beyond that, though, I haven't made up my mind what to do with myself. I've marked a few workshops/sessions that sound interesting/useful to try to attend. I will probably check out the PAN retreat on Thursday afternoon.

I have to be honest, though, and say that if I had my druthers, I'd find a quiet corner somewhere in the hotel to hole up and write. Because three whole days away from the demands of husband, kids, house, and the day job is just too seductive an opportunity to ignore. Especially with a deadline hanging over my head.

YOUR TURN: What would YOU do it you were me? Suck up as many conference goodies and workshops as possible, or find that quiet corner?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Getting Excited

I leave on Thursday morning for the RWA National Convention in San Francisco, and I am looking forward to the whole experience so much more than I expected.

You see, originally, I didn't plan to go this year. I attended my first national conference last year in Dallas, and while I reveled in every minute of it, I didn't feel I could justify the expenditure or time away from my family again this year. Realistically, I thought my next conference would not be until 2012, when it's being held in my hometown (San Diego).

But then, life happened (as it is wont to do). First, my dear friends Darcy Burke and Courtney Milan both finaled in the Golden Heart. I thought, "Well, maybe I can make it for the award ceremony. San Francisco's not that far from here. I could get up and back in one day."

A few weeks later, I sold BEHIND THE RED DOOR to Kensington, and suddenly, I wasn't thinking about just attending the GH/RITA ceremony. Because, darn it, last year I saw and envied all those folks with their "First Sale" ribbons and, and I knew this would be the only year I'd be eligible to wear one of those myself. So, I bit the financial bullet (though I decided to stay with a friend of the family rather than at the hotel to ease the monetary burden) and signed up.

That all seems like a very long time ago now, and now the conference has snuck right up on me. And as much as I'm looking forward to wearing that "First Sale" ribbon and attending workshops, I'm even more excited about getting together with my friends in the writing community. Some of them I met in person for the first time last year, and some I'll be meeting for the first time this year, including:

So, hey, if your name's not on that list and you're going to be at the conference, give me a holla and we'll figure out how to make connections. The absolute BEST part of National is the people, and that means you!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Writer's Log Jam

X-posted from the Manuscript Mavens blog.

Like Darcy, I was going to blog about my pre-conference preparations, jitters, and excitements this week, but another topic has been pushed to the forefront of my mind by recent events. You see, I'm in the throes of writing my two contracted but as yet unfinished novellas, and I'm realizing that I have a problem. It's kind of like writer's block, but not exactly. It's more like writer's log jam.

You see, I'm not suffering from a paucity of ideas. Quite the reverse. I have too many!

The novella I'm currently writing (the third chronologically in the anthology, but the second I "conceived") is giving me fits because I'm afraid it won't fit within its 25K-35K boundaries. I have at least a dozen more scenes rattling around in my head that could and/or should go into this story, but I'm already pushing 20K and I'm still miles from the Black Moment. The result is that I'm finding it difficult to decide which scenes I should write and which I shouldn't. Worse, I'm an incredibly linear writer, so I can't just write the scenes out of order and put them together later. I have to know for certain what happened before the scene I'm currently writing, or I can't write it.

To make matters worse, other stories are plaguing me. Driving through the Black Hills on our way back from our vacation in Minnesota the week before last got me itching to write a Western historical (which I never thought I'd do, but the place is just do darned evocative!). Add that idea to all the others taking up space in my brain (there must be at least a dozen, if not more, begging to be written), and I'm finding it quite difficult to concentrate on the projects I'm actually obligated to complete! The words for the stories I must write are getting jumbled up with the words for the stories I want to write.

So, is there a solution to this dilemma? Short of just plugging away and doing what I have to do, I doubt it. But somehow, putting my finger on the root of the problem has me feeling a bit less anxious if nothing else. "Writer's block"--the possibility that my ideas will dry up and I won't be able to write anything at all--terrifies me. Being caught in an idea traffic jam doesn't make me nearly as nervous!

YOUR TURN: Do you suffer from writer's log jam? How do you overcome your selfish desire to set aside the project you're currently working on to start a new one? Or do you just give into temptation?

P.S. I'm also blogging today at the Aphrodisia Authors blog and guest-blogging with my critique partner, Emma Petersen, over at Shiloh Walker's blog. Drop by and see me if you get a chance!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Checking In

I've been AWOL for so long, I almost forgot I HAD a blog. That's what a two-week cross-country vacation will do to you, I guess!

Now that I'm back, I'm putting my nose to the grindstone to finish up the last two novellas in my Kensington anthology. My plan is to write THE END on the one I'm further along in before I get to RWA National in San Francisco on July 31 (even if I have to write the last few lines on the plane), then finish the other in three weeks after I get back. It's doable, although a bit of a press.

YOUR TURN: What have you been doing with your summer? Work, play, or a good mix of both? Going to San Francisco? Let me know so we can look each other up!

Friday, June 27, 2008

It's an Epidemic!

X-posted from the Manuscript Mavens blog

A few months ago, my local paper ran an article about a group of writers in my area who get together to support one another and commiserate over their rejections. (It wasn't the local RWA chapter, to which I belong.) Several people quoted in the story lamented over how impossible it is for a debut author to get published in New York these days. Agents and editors won't even consider an unpublished writer's work, let alone offer a contract for publication!

But is that really true? That the unpubbed, to quote Rodney Dangerfield, don't get no respect?

I used to think so. I was pretty sure that getting an offer of agent representation or of publication were longshots akin to winning the lottery. Unlike the lottery, that didn't stop me from trying, but I knew the odds were poor.

Yesterday, however, I realized that in the past year, I've seen a lot of my unpublished friends become either agented or sold or both. I mean, a significantly higher percentage than anyone would expect based upon the statistics we all hear all the time (agents reject 99% or more of all submissions that come to them, only one-tenth of one percent of books that come before a NY editor are published, etc.). In fact, these events have been occurring so often lately, it seems like a virtual epidemic.

I still think it's DAMN difficult to get published. I know quite a few authors whose work I think is more than worthy of a six-figure contract who have been rejected repeatedly by agents and editors alike. And doesn't seem to be to be quite the crapshoot it once did. Authors with lots of skill and talent and more than a little bit of good luck and timing can and do get published. Even if they haven't got a previous publishing credit to their name.

Agents are still looking for new authors whose work they love to represent. Publishers are looking for new blood, new voices. And with diligence and perseverance, new authors do get published.

So, yay for the aspiring and unpubbed. Go forth and submit. And never abandon hope!

YOUR TURN: Do you feel encouraged when an unpublished author sells? Or do you think, "There goes another slot for a debut author; now I'll never get published!"

P.S. A hearty congratulations to Avon FanLit winner and all-around sweetheart, Sara Lindsey, whose three-book deal with NAL/Signet was announced this week, thereby inspiring this post.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Just When I Was Ready to Ask for My Money-Back Guarantee

Today has been one of those days. You know...the kind where everything that can go wrong (or at least unexpectedly haywire) does.

My 16yo niece spent the night and babysat this morning while I went to the office to teach, but that wasn't where things got whacked. It was when I took her home after I got back. You see, her mom and stepdad just bought a place out in the boonies--I mean, I live in East County, San Diego, and I swear it's halfway to Yuma!--and it's the first time I've been there, so the round-trip took much longer than I anticipated.

Then, the plan was to go to the bowling alley for some afternoon entertainment for the kids. I was going to write while they bowled. But when we got there, there was a private party taking up the WHOLE alley. WTF?

So, we came back home, exhausted and defeated (though we did console ourselves with milkshakes/smoothies, lol), and decided to go for a swim because, well, that's what we do in the summer when there's nothing else TO do.

Needless to say, the writing accomplished in this madness was practically nil, and I was thinking once again that having kids is an AWFUL lot more trouble than it's worth, my daughter (who will be 9 next month) yelled to one of the boys who was tormenting her in the pool, "Let me go, you miscreant!"

I ask you, is this the child of a historical romance writer or what?

And absolutely worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Out and About

I've been quiet here this week, but I'm noisy elsewhere on the Internet. Come visit me at any of the following places:

Hope to see all of you somewhere out there!

Friday, June 6, 2008

It's Cobblestone's Birthday...and It's My Birthday, Too

In celebration, I've giving away three books (your choice of any of my three Cobblestone releases) over on the Cobblestone Mainstreet Forum. Go on over and check it out! (Lots of other Cobblestone authors are giving stuff away, too!)

It's All About the Passion

X-posted from the Manuscript Mavens

There hasn't been a whole lot of writing in my life this week. Instead, my days have been heavily dominated by the day job, and particularly by a conference I attended Monday through Wednesday.

I have to be honest and say that when I was reminded that I had this conference to attend, I was far from thrilled. I have a lot on my plate at the moment, and taking three days out to go to workshops that probably wouldn't teach me anything I didn't already know (yeah, call me arrogant, lol) was hardly appealing. But, my company paid good money for me to attend, and so, attend I did. (Fortunately, it was held locally, so there was no major travel involved. Just the 20 minute drive to and from downtown San Diego on $4.20 a gallon gasoline. But I digress.)

Truth be told, there weren't a lot of workshops geared toward the things that I would have really liked to learn. Or at least, they weren't marketed in such a way that I thought they were. In all likelihood, I missed a bunch of sessions that were just not accurately described in the conference materials.

I did, however attend one really FABULOUS workshop on Wednesday afternoon. It was my last of the conference, and honestly, it made the whole experience worthwhile. Not so much because of the subject matter, for though I did learn some new things of value, there was nothing really earthshattering in the material he presented.

No, it was because the speaker was flat-out fantastic. Dynamic, funny, and absolutely PASSIONATE about the subject. And it occurred to me that this guy could have been reading the phone book aloud, but if he did it with the same charisma and passion, I'd have been hanging on his every word.

Of course, when I teach workshops of my own (as I had to do today), I try to bring excitement and energy to my performance. It's one of the reasons teaching is so exhausting! (And why, when I got home this afternoon, I pretty much collapsed in a watery heap and didn't do anything useful for the rest of the day.)

But sitting there listening to this guy talk about something that was arguably incredibly boring (performance support) and eating up every second of it, it occurred to me that a big part of what keeps me hooked in a book is that the author demonstrates the same kind of passion for his or her story in writing. And I got to wondering HOW the author is getting that emotional connection to the story across to the reader. Clearly, it's not with body language, tone of voice, or ad-libbing responses to the audience on the fly, all of which the speaker used in spades.

Obviously, whatever an author is doing to communicate that sense of urgency to the reader is both deeper and more subtle than anything a presenter can do with a live audience. I like to think I can TELL that the author *loves* the story he/she is writing, loves the characters, and is aching to share that love with me, the reader. But I'm not sure I can put my finger on what is telling me that. I know when I'm WRITING something I feel passionately about, the writing itself seems to come more easily and I'm almost racing myself to get to the end because I want to experience the story MYSELF. But I'm not sure if that really comes across to the reader.

My contemporary novella, The Gospel of Love: According to Luke, comes out from Cobblestone Press next Friday. (Yes, Friday the 13th. I promise, however, no one named Jason and no hockey masks appear in the story.) And I really felt a passion for that little book while I was writing it. It fell out of my head in a little over two weeks. Every day during that two weeks, I couldn't WAIT to get time to sit down at the computer and write more.

I hope readers of the story will feel that passion in the words I committed to paper (or screen, as the case may be). And I believe fervently, with every fiber of my being, the loving the story you're writing is the first and most essential ingredient to producing a marketable manuscript. After all, if you don't love what you write, why should anyone else?

YOUR TURN: Do you think you can tell when a writer is passionate about his/her story? And conversely, do you think readers can tell when YOU aren't? How?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Month of Living Breathlessly

June is supposed to be the month when things slow down, isn't it? I mean, it's the beginning of summer, school gets out, people go on vacation...

Apparently, not for me. June promises to be hectic. It started yesterday with a work-related conference I'm attending (that I'd COMPLETELY forgotten about until one of the exhibitors called and reminded me), got nuttier this morning because I had to teach an online class I simply couldn't reschedule, and continues right through the end of the month with classes and presentations I have to give, my fifth grader's graduation, a new book to promote (The Gospel of Love: According to Luke comes out a week from Friday), a wedding to attend, and two novellas to keep on writing, right up until we leave for a two-week vacation at the end of the month.

Are you tired yet? I am!

Anyway, if you're expecting anything from me (like a query critique), please be patient. I promise I'll get to it. As soon as my head stop spinning.

How about you? Please tell me SOMEONE is sipping iced tea on the veranda and having some of those lazy, dazy days of summer...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Query Critique and Brenda Novak Book Winners

I know I said I'd do this post yesterday, but I completely forgot this Monday was a holiday when I said that. Even so, I probably would have done it if it hadn't been for the fact that we went camping on Friday and Saturday night, and between the cold weather (down into the 30s at night) and my mattress losing air both nights, I was just too tired to think straight!

So, without further ado (although a drumroll would be nice), the winners are:

Query Critique

  • Lara Lee
  • B.E. Sanderson

Brenda Novak's Dead Giveaway

  • Jane

The winners can contact me by emailing jackie at jackie barbosa dot com.

And now...back to bed!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Release Day!

Cross-posted from the Manuscript Mavens blog

That's right! Wickedly Ever After hits the shelves (figuratively, at least) at Cobblestone Press today.

If you click on over and it's not there yet, try again later. The new releases usually get posted before noon Eastern on Fridays, but sometimes, it take a little longer! For an excerpt, hop on over to the Cobblestone Author's blog.

And if you're a gambling man or woman, I will be giving away one copy of the book to one lucky person who posts a comment either here or over at the Mavens. I'm also giving away two query critiques and a signed copy of Brenda Novak's Dead Giveaway in the post below.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Have Query, Will Travel

My novella, Wickedly Ever After, will be released this Friday by Cobblestone Press and be available for purchase from them for the next six months. (Hurry and buy, lol!) After that, the rights will revert to me, and then I'll turn them over to Kensington Books, which will publish this novella and two others in a single author anthology to be released in early summer 2009.

I've told my "call" story already, but one thing I didn't talk much about is the query process. I've queried other projects in the past and never got past the polite, "Thanks but no thanks" form rejection. I know this is a huge frustration for a lot of writers. You have a book that you just know is worthy of publication, but you can't get agents or editors to give you the time of day because your query is falling flat.

So, how do you get the people at the other end of your query letter to sit up and pay attention? Again, this is something a lot of agents and editors blog about (Kristen Nelson did just an extensive workshop series on her blog, in fact), so it's hard for me to claim I have "the answer," but I will share with you the three things that I think made my query for Wickedly successful where my past queries failed.

  1. The opening paragraph provided the agent/editor with the story's genre (historical), heat level (erotic) and word count, and explained why I thought it would appeal to that agent/editor.
  2. My query blurb clearly identified the story's plot catalyst (see Kristen's blog for more on that), described the conflict between the characters (what's going to keep them apart), and left the reader with a hook (something to hint at how the conflict will escalate).
  3. I sent my query to the right people and got lucky. You can control the first part of this one to some extent (make sure you're not sending a genre romance to someone who only represents mysteries and thrillers, etc.), but the second half of it is just plain hitting the right person on the right day at the right time with a letter that has elements 1 and 2.

Okay, so what did my query letter actually look like? Well, I'll show you the letter I sent to John Scognamiglio at Kensington Books. This query resulted in a request for the full within a few hours of sending it.

I am seeking publication for my erotic historical 27,500 word novella, WICKEDLY EVER AFTER, which I believe would be a perfect fit for Kensington's Aphrodisia line. Set in the late Regency era, WICKEDLY EVER AFTER is the first in a planned three novella series tied together by characters who appear in this story and by an exclusive London bordello.

Eleanor Palmer is relieved when her fiancé cries off to marry another woman, but horrified when he suggests the dissolute Marquess of Grenville as his replacement. Eleanor may claim descent from the lusty King Charles II, but this proper English lady has no interest in pleasures of the flesh--she'd rather read the Classics.

Nathaniel St. Claire is infamous for his wicked ways--drinking, gambling, and fornicating-but he's willing to give up all but one of his vices to initiate the lovely Miss Palmer into the joys of lust. Maybe a little dirty Latin poetry will aid his cause...

I am a member of RWA and my erotic short story, CARNALLY EVER AFTER, was released by Cobblestone Press in August of 2007 under the pseudonym Jackie Barbosa. In addition, several of my manuscripts have finaled in or won RWA Chapter contests.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

In my experience, the hardest thing about getting the query letter right is the blurb. Especially if you're writing your blurb after you've finished writing the whole book, it can be tough to distill all the plot elements into 250 words or less that all connect to each other. I've read (and written!) a lot of blurbs that were a series of disjointed sentences hitting on multiple plot points but that failed to make it clear how those points related to each other, and worse, didn't explain how those points would cause conflict between the hero and heroine.

One trick I've started to employ is to write my query blurb before I actually write the whole book. Sometimes, I don't write it before I write ANYTHING of the book, but I rarely get as far as the first 50 pages before I write the blurb. And that works in part because the hook (as opposed to the synopsis) usually doesn't need to reveal any plot elements or conflict that occurs in the story past about the first hundred pages. What you want to do is hook the reader of your query to want to find out the answer to the question, "What happens next." And if you reveal too much of the story in your blurb, you reduce the reader's interest in getting the answer to that question.

In honor of my successful query and release this week, I'm giving away query critiques to two lucky blog commenters. I'll draw the winners at random from all interested commenters next Monday. And as a bonus, I'm throwing in a free, signed copy of Brenda Novak's Dead Giveaway to one random commenter who posts but doesn't want a critique.

Hop on board!

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Road Not Taken

x-posted from the Manuscript Mavens blog

Earlier this week, I got a call that gave me a moment's pause, wondering if I'd made a poor career decision last summer. You see, it was an editor calling to offer me a contract for Carnally Ever After, which I'd long-since contracted to Cobblestone Press. I submitted the story to said publisher back in April of 2006, and when I didn't hear one way or the other for a few months, I got antsy and submitted it to Cobblestone, never dreaming I'd get a contract offer from them within hours of submission. I figured I had plenty of time to wait for BOTH publishers to get back to me. When I hadn't heard anything from the other publisher after a full six months had elapsed, I figured the rejection dropped into my Spam folder and I'd failed to rescue it.

Anyway, my initial response to this call was to want to kick myself in the head. The publisher in question is a "big name" publisher, and there's no doubt I could have earned more money on the story if I'd contracted with them. Why, oh why, didn't I wait longer? Have more patience?

And then I kicked myself again because, duh, if I hadn't contracted that story with Cobblestone, I'd never have bothered to write the sequel. I'd never have met Deanna Lee and Emma Petersen and Amie Stuart, all of whom were instrumental in my decision to submit that sequel to Kensington Books.

So, as it turns out, what was objectively a "wrong" decision (to go with a lesser-known, smaller publisher without waiting to hear from the larger one) was actually the right one. I couldn't have known any of this back in June, though, and none of these possibilities factored into my decision. I simply decided that I'd found a reputable publisher who loved my story, and I was willing to forego the chance of hooking the "bigger fish" when I already had a solid bite on my line.

Wow, am I glad I did! If I had waited, there's no telling what would have happened, of course. It's possible I'd have written something instead of Wickedly Ever After that would have hooked an agent or editor. Or not. It's impossible to know.

As writers, I think we angst a lot over our decisions. Do I write this story or that one? Should I submit to this agent or that one? Should I sign with this agent or not? And so on.

But I think maybe we worry too much. Even if you make the "wrong" decision, chances are good it'll be a learning experience. It will probably lead you places you'd never have tried to go otherwise. And that, in the long run, it will contribute to your success in ways you can't even dream of when you make your choice.

YOUR TURN: What was the hardest career decision you ever had to make? Did you make the "right" one or the "wrong" one? Or are you still trying to figure that out?

Friday, May 9, 2008

To Contest or Not to Contest

x-posted from the Manuscript Mavens blog

Beverley Kendall, MaveFave and Avon FanLitter, contacted me via IM a couple of weeks ago with the exciting news that she'd finaled in her first RWA chapter contest for unpublished writers. I congratulated her and said I bet it was the beginning of a trend. Well, color me clairvoyant, but within a week or so, she had finaled in two more, and one of those was a double-final. She missed finaling in a third contest by ONE position.

As we were squealing with delight over this surfeit of good news for news, we started talking a little bit about the overall value of such contests and when/if writers should enter them. One of the things we've both noticed is that the same authors and works tend to reach the final round over and over again. It seems that once a writer reaches a certain level of skill and polish, she (or he) can pretty much count on reaching the finals in many (though by no means all) of the contests she enters. (All bets are off, of course, for those who write stories that are outside the box. Contest judges tend to be traditional/conservative, so the odds of running into one or more judges who just don't get your story are pretty high.)

As a consequence of this observation, we started wondering what motivated authors to continue entering the same manuscript in contests over and over again, especially when the pool of editors and agents reading in the final round is relatively small. Once a manuscript has reached the finals a certain number of times, the odds diminish that it will reach an editor or agent who hasn't already seen it before. And if the final round judge is one who's seen the manuscript before, but hasn't requested it, the chances the entrant will get a request this time can't be great.

Now, I can't claim any particular restraint when it comes to entering contests. I don't have an accurate count handy, but it's certainly in the neighborhood of a dozen over an 18-month period, and more than half of those were with the same manuscript. That said, I was pretty particular in that I didn't enter contests with the same final round judge more than once, and each time I entered the same manuscript, it was after I'd made some pretty significant changes that I wanted to "test-run."

Still, at this point, I didn't think there was anything that could induce me to enter another contest, at least not one for an unpublished manuscript. I just figured since I now have an agent, it's my job to write the books and hers to get them in front of the right people.

But as luck would have it, I met with my agent this week, and we discussed a story that's been taking up large amounts of real estate in my brain lately. The idea behind it is just far out enough that, even though everyone I've shared it with thinks it's fantastically creative and cool, there is some question of marketability. Kevan shared that concern and suggested writing it to the proposal stage, at which point, we'd float it out to a few editors to see what feedback we got and decide where to go from there.

That seemed like a great idea, but then it occurred to me that maybe I could get some of that feedback we were hoping for from the first round of editors by entering the manuscript in a contest. If the manuscript didn't make it to the final round, we'd have some feedback that might help us determine where to tweak to its marketability, and if I did make it to the finals with an editor we'd have targeted otherwise, we could get that editor's feedback without "blowing our wad," so to speak.

As luck would have it, I found a contest I'm eligible to enter with a due date next week with a final round editor we'd love to get the manuscript in front of. So, it looks like I will be going back on the contest circuit again, much to my chagrin.

All of this made me think harder than ever about what *I* think are valid versus invalid reasons for entering contests for unpublished manuscripts. Accordingly, here is my list of three bad reasons and three good ones (I was going to do five, but this post was getting WAY too long!):

Bad Reasons

  1. To get published

    Yes, it happens. People do occasionally get requests from editors/agents for manuscripts they entered in contests and even more rarely, they get offers for publication. But as a primary strategy for getting published, entering contests is significantly more expensive than the alternative (sending out queries, partials, and fulls) and fickle (because whether or not you get to the final round is so dependent on the subjective opinions of people who are, in many cases, just unpublished authors like you!).

    I think authors get seduced by the logic that say a contest final is better than a manuscript in the slush pile because the agent/editor has to read it. (Guilty as charged!) But honestly, that agent or editor will make up her mind about your manuscript in the same number of pages whether it's a contest entry or something that came to her via the query route.
  2. To gain "credits" for the author bio portion of your query letter

    Contrary to what we'd all like to believe, the only unpublished contest finals that really "matter" to agents/editors are the big ones. That is to say, the Golden Heart and a possibly a few other premiere contests like the Maggie. And having a lot of contest finals can actually be a negative. It raises the question, "If this author is so great, why hasn't she gotten an agent/sold yet?"
  3. Purely for the thrill of finaling

    Getting that phone call or email telling you you've made it to the final round in a contest is pretty exciting. But if that's the only reason you're in it, you could probably get that excitement cheaper at an amusement park.
Good Reasons
  1. To get feedback on a manuscript

    If this is your reason for entering, then you can't summarily dismiss the criticisms you receive as authors are sometimes wont to do. They may not all be valid, but if you really want feedback, you have to be willing to listen to what you hear. That's not always easy, especially if some of the things you hear aren't the things you want to hear.
  2. For a chance to get the manuscript in front of an agent/editor you couldn't otherwise query

    Most of the time, the agents and editors who judge the final round on unpublished contests are people you can query privately as well. But every once in a while, an editor or agent who isn't "open" for submissions judges a final round. It can definitely be worth entering a contest to get a shot at that person, especially if he is your dream editor/agent.
  3. To support your chapter

    If your chapter is running a contest, then entering your manuscript(s) is a way to add money to their coffers and get something in return. Of course, you should also judge said contest (but not in the category(ies) you entered, lol).

Of course, none of these rules apply to the Golden Heart. That contest is one you enter purely for the glory of finaling. Nothing else matters.

YOUR TURN: Can you think of other good reasons for entering contests? Bad ones? Have a contest experience you'd like to share? Come on down!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Woohoo! Cover Art!

My first contemporary erotic romance, The Gospel of Love: According to Luke, is scheduled to be released by Cobblestone Press on June 13th, and boy, was I getting antsy for cover art. Yesterday, I'm happy to say, it appeared in my inbox. Done by the amazing Frauke of Croco Designs, I think it's hawt. Totally different feel from my historical covers, but then, the story has a completely different feel, too (heck, it's first person narration, from the guy's perspective!).

I particularly love the skyline on the lake. Since the story's set primarily in Chicago, it feels so right. That hot man chest isn't bad, either, though!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Plans and Some Pimpage

No Wednesday Word today, as I'm stumped for a word I want to talk about this week. Probably because I've been feeling a bit at a loss for words in general.

Yesterday, I met my agent, Kevan Lyon of the Dijkstra Agency, face-to-face for the first time. She's every bit as lovely and smart in person as on the phone and in email, and I really enjoyed getting to know her a little better. Of course, it's pretty hard to dislike anyone who loves your work!

Last week, I sent her blurbs and the first 4,000 words of the sci-fi/futuristic series that's been rattling loudly in my brain. I was pretty worried about her reaction to it, because while I think the idea is fresh, unique, and interesting, it's also a little far out. She agreed it was all those things, and admitted it might be hard to find the right market for, but she still encouraged me to continue it at least to the proposal stage, at which point, she'd try to shop it and see what we got.

I obviously shouldn't be doing anything until I finish the two unwritten novellas for my Kensington anthology, but not being sure what I'd be working on next was taking up a lot of space in my brain. Kevan didn't really make any suggestions for a plan of attack, but after we'd discussed everything, I found I was able to come up with a prioritization schedule that looks something like this:

  1. Finish anthology by mid-August.
  2. Take a two-week break.
  3. During September, get my single-title historical ready to send to Kensington to fulfill my option clause. I can submit thirty days after acceptance of the anthology.
  4. In October, get the sci-fi/futuristic to the proposal stage.
After we get the sci-futuristic out on proposal, I'll decide what to write next based on what happens with the option book. If Kensington contracts it (or it sells elsewhere), then I'll write that. If not, I'll complete my first person single-title contemporary instead.

And now, on to the pimpage! My friend and writing challenge buddy, Amie Stuart, has an erotic short story coming out with Cobblestone Press this Friday. This is the launch title in Cobblestone's new Wicked line, and there's a cool contest associated with it that you can enter here.

I've read Ropers Rule and let me say, it rocks. Amie's a master (mistress?) of packing a lot of story into a small space. She has a spare but eloquent style, and I admire her writing immensely. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that the sex scenes are inferno hot! And then there's the gorgeous cover:

Seriously, what's not to love?

For a chance to win a free copy of Ropers Rule or any of the other new releases this week, hop on over to the chat room on Friday starting at 8pm Eastern time. It's always a blast and, who knows, you just might meet some new authors whose work you'll adore!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Performance Anxiety

x-posted from the Manuscript Mavens blog

In the world of romance, heroes rarely suffer from this malady. Not only are they supremely confident gentlemen of the world, they are also so wildly attracted to their heroines that any possibility of failure to rise to the occasion is unthinkable.

Would that the writers who invent these rarefied creatures shared their immunity! Alas, I'm afraid it's not, because I seem to have developed a pretty bad case.

You would think that the validation inherent in receiving a contract for publication would be sufficient to convince any author that her work has merit and she should simply forge ahead. But I'm not any author. I am Jackie and I am neurotic. Which means that instead of rejoicing that my editor loves my work and wants to publish it, I'm worrying about living up to his expectations. About not screwing it up.

Now, of course, I know the best way to screw it up is not to get it written. So obviously, I need to conquer my fear. I've still got plenty of time, but every day I fritter away angsting and biting my nails is one less day I have to meet my deadline.

So, my question for you, MaveFaves, do you conquer self-doubt when it's preventing you from writing? I'm already trying the Angie Fox "it's only half and hour" method with some success, but I think I need more techniques in my box of tricks.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday Word: Ass

It's been quite a while since I found the time to post a Wednesday Word, but I'm struggling with the words I'm supposed to be writing today and this particular post has been rolling around in my head for sometime. So, I thought, what the heck? Maybe writing a blog post will shake loose other writing.

A while back, I read a Regency-set erotic romance. While the story had its strong points, it nearly became a wallbanger for me when I read the first love scene. Why? Because the author used the word "ass" to mean "buttocks." And that, my friends, pulled me right out of the historical, English setting. It also made me giggle and squick out at the same time, because I wondered when and how the donkey had gotten into the bedroom.

In a British historical, the proper word for this context is always "arse." From one of my favorite references, the Online Etymology Dictionary:

ass (2)
slang for "backside," first attested 1860 in nautical slang, in popular use from 1930; chiefly U.S.; from dial. variant pronunciation of arse (q.v.). The loss of -r- before -s- attested in several other words (e.g. burst/bust, curse/cuss, horse/hoss, barse/bass). Indirect evidence of the change from arse to ass can be traced to 1785 (in euphemistic avoidance of ass "donkey" by polite speakers) and perhaps to Shakespeare, if Nick Bottom transformed into a donkey in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1594) is the word-play some think it is. Meaning "woman regarded as a sexual object" is from 1942. Asshole first attested 1935.
Now, I'll admit, the above suggests that the spoken word had begun to lose the -r- sound well before 1860, but even so, I still cringe if I see it spelled that way in a historical novel, especially one set in Britain. It's just the wrong word.

Even today, I believe British English speakers use "arse" more often than "ass" as the dirty term for the human backside, although I'm more than happy to be corrected if that's not the case. (My favorite modern slang use of the word is as a verb meaning "take the trouble," as in, "I can't be arsed to post to the blog more than once a week." Those Brits do have a way with the English language!)

YOUR TURN: Are there any words you find used in historical novels that can have the effect of pulling you out of the setting? What are they? Why do they bother you?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Opinions Are Like...

x-posted from the Manuscript Mavens blog

Gotcha, didn't I?

I'm not going to complete that thought quite the way you probably expected. You see, I've been following the kerfuffles in the blogosphere over some authors' bad behavior vis-a-vis negative Amazon reviews. While I have no intention of bringing the heated debate here, it's made me realize one of the most important mantras an author can learn after being published is:

Opinions are like backsides: it's best to keep yours to yourself.
Now, I don't mean published authors are enjoined never to express opinions about anything. I think, for example, it's perfectly okay to state their opinions about thong underwear (I hate them), brussel sprouts (am slowly coming around to them, and sushi (yum!).

But when it comes to other people's opinions about your work (aka reviews, particularly the negative ones), it is never a good idea to argue, explain, or otherwise defend yourself, even when the reviewer is clearly wrong. Because just like it's the kid who throws the retaliatory punch on the playground that gets sent the principal's office, when an author responds to a negative review, it never ends well for the author.

Before my first story was published, I worried a lot about how I'd feel about negative reviews. I'm an inveterate fixer, and if someone doesn't like something I've written, my natural impulse is to want to make it better. But a work of fiction, once finished and published, isn't fixable. It is what it is. And I didn't know quite how I'd handle that impotence.

As it turned out, I've only seen one review of the story that could be considered negative. And I'll admit, reading it didn't make me feel great. But it was also a very honest and well-reasoned opinion, and I appreciated that the writer took the time to think about my story and express her feelings about it so clearly. At the same time, however, my impulse was to explain away her criticisms, but I managed to refrain. It wasn't easy, but in the end, the story has to speak for itself, and it didn't speak to her. And that's okay.

To further illustrate my point, I entered Wickedly Ever After in a contest for unpubbeds a while back. It didn't final, and when the scoresheets/comments came back in the mail, I deliberately didn't open them because I didn't want to be discouraged from completing the story by what I found there. Good thing I didn't. I finally got around to opening them yesterday, and the scores and comments were not encouraging. Oh, they weren't horrible, but I'd certainly never have had the audacity to submit the story to Kensington if I'd read that feedback first.

Which just goes to prove--one reader's "meh" is another reader's "fabulous." And you just never know.

It's certainly difficult to separate our personal feelings from our work. We pour so much of ourselves into every page, it's hard not to want everyone to love our every word. Realistically, though, that's not going to happen. Not even the world's greatest writers are universally loved, after all. There is, as they say, no accounting for taste!

YOUR TURN: How do you handle "constructive criticism?" Do you think an author can ever respond to a negative review without coming off badly?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Time Flies...

...when you're panicking.

There is, of course, no objective reason for me to panic. By anyone's estimates, I can complete the two novellas I have to deliver by September 1 with time to spare. Moreover, it is a well-known fact that I am a procrast--er, percolator of the first order. I'm not known for completing stuff much ahead of time because I like to roll everything around in my head for a long time before committing it to paper/screen. For me, work always expands to meet the time available.

None of this stops me from worrying about my percalotory tendencies, however. Every time it happens, I wonder if this is the one where I blow it. Where I fail to deliver the goods when I should.

It doesn't help that a story idea I had a good 10-15 years ago chose this moment to pop into my head and demand to be written. I am referring to this as the SuperSecret Sci-Fi/Futuristic (SSFF) book because I actually think I have a concept here that's original enough, I need to keep it under wraps until it's done.

In the interest of shaming myself into production, I'm adding word meters back to the side bar. Let's hope I can keep them all moving in the right direction!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Odds and Ends and Thank You's

I'm off to Memphis tomorrow morning on a short business trip, so I'm frantically preparing for that (I need a haircut, the laundry's not done, etc., etc.) while trying to get all the details of my contracts (agency and publisher) squared away. My agent sent me the Deal Memo last night (which outlines the basic elements of the contract without the legalese), and it looks fine. My delivery date for the three novellas is September 1st of this year, which is definitely doable. According to the memo, anticipated publication date is June, 2009, though that isn't set in stone.

Kevan (my agent) is hoping to get the deal announcement written up today, which means it'll be appearing in Publisher's Lunch and/or Publisher's Marketplace soon. How's that for unreal? I think we're going to give the anthology a different title--my current suggestion is Beyond the Red Door, but we'll see if that's what we go with or not.

In honor of my sale, I registered for the RWA National Conference over the weekend (good thing, too--looks like there were only a few hundred slots left at most) and bought plane tickets. I'm still working on lodging. Being terminally cheap, I'm hoping to stay with a family friend who lives in the city and am still waiting to hear on that.

I also finally sent in the paperwork to join my local RWA chapter. I didn't join in the past primarily because their meetings are held on Saturdays, and it's hard for me to get away on Saturdays. On top of that, the meeting location is very inconvenient--something like an hour from home. Buuuuut, they're holding a mini-conference for their May meeting at which Kevan will be a featured speaker, AND I really would like to have that community of local writers to rely on, so I decided to go for it.

Completely appropos of nothing else in this post, I saw the GREATEST vanity license plate this weekend: TO BLAVE. I can't tell you how tempted I was to chase that green SUV down and pull them over, just so we could trade lines from The Princess Bride!

Last, but not least, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who commented here, on the Mavens, or sent me private email congratulating me on my sale. It means so much to me!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Publishing Moves At Geological Speeds...

...except when it doesn't!

(Cross-posted from the Manuscript Mavens blog)

This past week has been quite the whirlwind for me as my writing career has taken a giant leap forward in the span, literally, of days. I'm still pinching myself, not quite able to believe I didn't accidentally wake up in someone else's life.

So, to tell the story from "the beginning" (and no, I don't mean the "I was born in a small town..." sort of beginning), in early February, I sent queries to a couple of agents and John Scognamiglio, Editor-in-Chief at Kensington Books, pitching Wickedly Ever After. Within hours, I had a response back from one agent requesting a partial and one from John, requesting that I send the full.

I printed the manuscript and gave it to my husband to mail out from his office the very next day. I figured it would be easier for him to use his company's meter to figure and print the postage than for me to go to the post office. I later discovered that, though he did eventually send it out, he let it sit on his desk for at least ten days before he actually bothered to post it. Remarkably, he is still alive :).

At the end of February, I received an email from John, asking whether the two related novellas I mentioned in my query letter were completed or, if not, available in outline form. I shot back with outlines the following Monday afternoon and posted a rather excited comment on my blog that I might have some big news soon.

And then I waited. And waited. And waited. THIRTY WHOLE DAYS!

Yeah, I know you're laughing. But seriously, that first nibble of interest, which came so quickly--and seemed even quicker once I knew that rather than having had the manuscript for a couple of weeks, John had had it only a few days--had me hoping I'd hear something, one way or the other, within a very short period of time. And it was short, as it turned out. It just didn't seem that way at the time! (Does it ever?)

"The call" came last Wednesday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. Now, for those who don't know, I live on the left coast, which means the last call I was expecting to get at that time was one from an editor in New York City. My son answered the phone and hollered for me, and I made my way down to take it (in my bathrobe) expecting it was someone from my office or a client. When the person at the other end announced, "This is John Scognamiglio at Kensington Books," well, I think you can pretty well imagine my reaction. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest because I knew, even before he said another word, that I was about to get an offer of publication.

John rattled off the details of the offer, but I have to admit that I barely heard them. All I could think of was that I had an offer from a major New York publisher for a single author anthology. That my dreams were coming true. Words really cannot adequately describe how amazing and surreal that moment was.

When John finished telling me the details of the offer, I was still coherent enough to explain that I was searching for an agent and that I'd be in touch with him once I'd selected someone to represent me. I had the manuscript with one agent already, and I let her know I had an offer right away. She said she'd read it over the weekend. In the meanwhile, I contacted four other agents who were on my A-list and received four additional requests for the manuscript.

And then things REALLY got interesting. By Friday afternoon, I had two offers of representation. By Monday evening, I had five. I was floored. And it was a tremendously difficult decision, because I felt a real rapport with every one of them. At no time did I feel that any of them was in it "just for this deal." All of them seemed genuinely interested in helping me build my career and representing me for the long haul. Their faith and belief in me and my work blew me away.

In the end, I chose Kevan Lyon at the Dijkstra Agency (they don't have a website, so I can't link you up, but I'm told they're working on getting one) as my agent. She's been a literary agent for a relatively short period of time, but has been in the publishing industry in one way or another for something like twenty years. And the agency itself has an amazing reputation, with a client list that includes Amy Tan, Lisa See, and Chalmers Johnson, to name a few. I know I'm in good hands.

Even though I'm incredibly pleased with my choice, it was tough to write those rejection letters to the other agents. I honestly don't believe I could have gone wrong, whoever I chose. (And I tip my cap to all those agents and editors who have to write rejection letters on a daily basis. It is no easy task, and I look at my rejection letters with a whole new eye now that I've written a few myself!)

This post has already gone on quite long enough, so I'll close by saying how much I appreciate the friendship, support, and encouragement of all the friends I've made in these past few years of writing, but most especially Maven Lacey. We've told the story of how the Mavens got together, but Lacey was the first person who really worked with me and convinced me I could do this writing thing. Without her, I'd never have kept going, never have met the other Mavens, never have stepped fully onto the path that led me here. There have been lots of other people along the way who've made a difference, and I plan to publicly thank each and every one of them over the course of the next few weeks.

But in the meantime, Lacey, this one's for you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You'll always be a rockstar in my world.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Had to post to let you know that two of my dearest friends have finaled in the Golden Heart!

First shout-out to Maven Darcy Burke, who finaled in the Regency Historical Romance category with her wonderful manuscript, Glorious. I am proud to say I knew Glorious when it was just a twinkle in Darcy's eye, and that I always knew it was...well, glorious.

The second shout-out is to someone who hasn't announced her finalist status yet Courtney Milan, but she whose Breath of Honor made the cut in the Historical Romance. If she swings by and outs herself, I'll update this post, but until then, congratulations! You know who you are! Many felicitations and congratulations!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Falling In Love

I got one of those rejections today that makes you want to scream. Oh, not because it was mean or got my name wrong or was a form letter. No, it made me want to scream because it was nice and complimentary, but ultimately amounted to an "I liked it, but I didn't love it" with no real explanation of why.

But that's just the thing, isn't it? Love is irrational and, when you get right down to it, impossible to truly justify. Oh, you can always cite reasons. But in the end, it comes down to chemistry, to that indefinable quality that one person (or book or movie or work of art) has and another doesn't.

Read the rest of my words of wisdom at the Manuscript Mavens blog.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday's Word: Arms

After a two-week hiatus, the Wednesday Word is back! (Waits for applause to subside. Hey, allow my delusions of grandeur without laughing quite so loudly, please.)

I do have to warn you that today's entry isn't related to romance (or even fiction) writing at all. No, today's blog is overtly, shamelessly political. Not in the sense that I'm taking sides, though. In the sense that I get annoyed when I see language so blatantly misused by everyone, up to and including justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yes, today, I am talking about the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution. The Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a case stemming from a Washington DC ban on individual licensing of handguns.

Naturally, the debate falls along the usual lines: those who want to interpret the 2nd Amendment as granting a broad, individual right to gun ownership and those who want to interpret it in light of the preceding clause, which mentions the necessity of a "well-regulated militia to a free state."

But see, I don't take sides in that battle. Because as far as I'm concerned, the 2nd Amendment doesn't say anything about guns at all. It says "...the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Guns are arms, to be sure. But so are rocket-propelled grenade launchers, tanks, fighter jets, Scud missiles, and ICBMs. As are swords, knives, spears, and bows and arrows.

Now, call me a semantic hair-splitter, but I have yet to understand how this particular clause in the Bill of Rights is always, always read to grant individuals the right to own guns, but not (say) nuclear bombs. It says arms, and that the right to keep and bear them shall not be abridged. Just because the framers weren't capable of foreseeing nuclear fission (any more than they were capable of foreseeing Uzis, given that in their time, the only guns available were of the single-shot variety) doesn't mean they didn't intend to give individuals the right to own A-bombs, does it?

And really, if the purpose of this clause was (as many "strict" constructivists believe) to give people the ability to resist the tyranny of a government run amok, then you know, guns alone are probably not gonna cut the mustard. Just sayin'...

You might think from the above rant that I oppose gun ownership. Far from it. (Although we don't own guns ourselves for a number of practical reasons, my son has been target and skeet shooting many times, and I fully approve.) But I do think it's rather silly that so many people stridently hold to the position that the 2nd Amendment gives people the right to own just about any type of gun known to the hand of man, but not the right to own other types of weaponry that would be, frankly, a heckuva lot more effective in the event of a breakdown of our system of government.

Funny, ain't it?

YOUR TURN: Are there any words you see persistently misused or misinterpreted in political (or other forms of) speech? I'd love to hear your thoughts.