Saturday, July 31, 2010

RWA Day Four

My RWA adventure ended with a bang today. I had a great pitch session with an editor, attended three more information-packed workshops, got more free books (after shipping 35 home), and attended my first ever red carpet event (not counting FROM).

I've acquired a new respect for anyone who auditions for American Idol because that's what the editor pitch sessions reminded me of. An unpretentious sign points the way to an escalator. I'm not sure what I imagined in my head, but it wasn't the cavernous exhibition hall that opened up dramatically in front of me about halfway down. The hall was full of tables spread out at regular intervals with a chair on each side. The editor or agent sat on one side, and the hot seat on the other was for the pitching author.

RWA is nothing if not efficient. They had a system in place that kept the appointments on-time and moving. Once I checked in, they herded me over to a designated holding area. Have you watched the Idol audition shows? The holding area looked just like that. Instead of nervous singers practicing or rocking back and forth, you had nervous authors practicing or rocking back and forth.

I was okay until I sat down in that holding area. I thought I had a zen attitude about the whole thing. "I've had a great conference. This will be good practice. This editor is just a person who is looking for good content."

I don't know if it was the intimidating setup, the nervous energy in the holding area, or the lady practicing her pitch in what can only be described as a sort of whispering moan, but suddenly I was scared shitless. My friend, Linda, told me to tell myself that nobody there was smarter than me and to imagine them in their underwear. Yeah, Linda...that didn't work.

Five minutes before go-time, they lined us up in alphabetical order by who we were pitching. Then a tone sounded, signaling time was up for the previous appointments, and we were led to our person. You know the really bad singer on Idol they put in front of the judges just for entertainment value? Or even worse, the good singer who forgets the lyrics? I will NEVER make fun of those people again. I marched across the hall in a panic, trying to remember what my book was about. I had spent months writing, editing, revising, polishing, querying, blurbing, and breathing that book, and for a moment I had no clue.

Then I sat down, shook the lady's hand, and started talking. I'm pretty sure I babbled at first. At least, that's how I remember it. But at a certain point, she started nodding her head, and then instead of me giving a speech, we were having a conversation. I can pinpoint the moment in the pitch where I became Kathy again. I'm glad I found myself. I'm not a fan of scared, babbling girl. The pitch ended on a very positive note, so we'll see what happens.

I rode back up the escalator in a daze. It was almost time for the first workshop I had marked, so I went in and sat down. The session was called "Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know." The presenter, whose name I did not write down, but who has a PhD in English lit, traced the characteristics of the Gothic Villain know, the bad boys to whom women are perpetually attracted. I took a bunch of notes and it was interesting, but the adrenaline was still pumping, so that session is a bit of a blur.

The part that did stick was her theory that all bad boy heroes trace their roots to Prometheus (the over-reacher who does good through rebellious acts, but is chained inside himself), Lord Byron (aristocratic, suave, moody, sexually dangerous, secret wound), or Satan (from the Romantics misreading of Paradise Lost...obsessive, brooding, egotistical, flirts with the dark side). Most romance heroes are Byronic. My Raphael is Byronic. A pop culture example of a Promethean hero would be Batman, and a Satanic hero would be Anakin Skywalker. Interesting stuff, but like I said, I spent a good bit of that workshop replaying my pitch session in my head.

I skipped the next group of sessions to ship my books. I had to lug 35 books, weighing 20 pounds, all the way from my room in the Swan to the conference shipping center in the Dolphin. Thank god for Jazzercise, or I never would have made it. As soon as I sent my package off, I got in line for the NAL/Signet book signing. Yeah, I know, I'm a lost cause. I did exercise some self-discipline and only helped myself to 8 more books, bringing my grand total to 43. I paid for 5 of them and spent $20 shipping them home, so I'm thinking I came out ahead. Factor in the autographs on over half of them, and I really did come out on top.

The coolest part of the autograph session was meeting Jessica Andersen. She writes the NightKeepers, a paranormal series about the Mayan 2012 myth. I already had the book she was giving away at home, but I took another copy because I wanted her autograph. I gushed like the fangirl I am and asked specific questions about the book. I knew Jessica was a good writer, but I didn't know she was a freakin' rock star. Seriously, she looks like Joan Jett, but prettier.

I was more impressed when I went to her workshop called "Crime Scene Imagination." Jessica has a PhD in molecular genetics. She is not only a rock star, but she can run a DNA test. The heading I wrote across the top of my notes said "Cool. As. Hell." And oh my god, she is. My Jessica story gets even better. At the Rita Awards, I discovered I was sitting next to her publicist. Jessica stopped by and we talked again.

I'm willing to put this not-so-great picture of me out here because she just rocked. I wish you could see the pants she was wearing. Cut-outs ran all the way up both legs. A molecular geneticist who writes steaming hot paranormals and dresses like a rock star...freakin' awesome!

Jessica did the crime scene workshop with her best friend's daughter who is a senior at Sam Houston State. She is a biology/criminal justice major and works on the body farm there, one of only four in the U.S. A body farm is where scientists study how the human body decomposes in a variety of situations. So we learned tons about decomp and DNA. Guess what? CSI is a pack of lies. They get almost everything wrong. On some level, I knew it wasn't realistic, but I didn't realize how wrong they got it.

My last workshop of the conference was on point of view...ten pages of notes. It's not a sexy subject, but if you screw it up, you screw the whole book up. The session made me feel good about choosing third person, limited for my book.

The Rita and Golden Heart Awards closed the conference. I knew it was a dressy event, but I didn't realize just how dressy. About half the attendees wore ball gowns. I didn't really feel out of place in my regular ole dress because that's what the other half of the attendees were wearing. I wouldn't have gone out and bought a ball gown anyway.

It was quite the fashion show. I played a game in my head where I guessed who wrote big sweeping historicals and who wrote gothic paranormals by what they were wearing. I'd like to know what my accuracy rate was.

My table was fun. I was with Jessica Andersen's publicist after all. Her name is Leann Lessard, and she's Canadian. I also had a good conversation with a writer from Chicago named Elizabeth Harmon. She is a journalist, but currently unpubbed in fiction. She had a successful pitch session as well. It was interesting to compare notes.

So that's my conference. I'll probably do a wrap-up blog in the next couple of days. There is so much I haven't said because these blogs have already been long. Tomorrow (actually later today at this point), I have to get back on a plane. I'm not fired up about that after my near-death experience on Wednesday. Say a little prayer for me, and I'll see you on the other side.

Friday, July 30, 2010

RWA Day Three

I am tired with a capital T. It's a good tired, though...a satisfied tired. I've learned tons, met new people, reconnected with some people I met yesterday, had casual conversations with best-selling authors, been wowed by Jayne Ann Krentz, and acquired enough autographed books to start my own romance library.

The workshops I've attended have been packed with valuable information. I took so many notes this morning, my hand cramped up. I'm eyeing the netbooks many of my colleagues are using. They appear to be uber-portable and easy to use. The iPad is shiny and cool, but for what I need, not practical. One writer sitting close to me in a session seemed to be struggling to type on the touch screen.

I attended three workshops before lunch. "We Don't Need no Stinkin' Muse" with Elizabeth Hoyt, "Doing it with Dialogue" with Karen Rose and "Humor, Heat, and Hooks" with Katy Madison. All three focused on craft, and all three provided a wealth of information. I leafed through my notes and counted 23 pages from those three sessions alone.

Elizabeth Hoyt's session was about developing sound writing habits that will keep you moving and finding strategies for those times you get stuck. She reminded us that the Muse is, in fact, a myth, and if you wait for her arrival, you'll never get anything written. Her strategies fell into two categories: practical stuff and woo woo (her words, not mine). The practical stuff was geared toward Pavlovian habits...a routine that informs your brain it's time to write. The woo woo involved techniques to put your brain in an active writing state during non-writing activities. Interestingly, I already do a lot of the woo woo, my daydreaming during Jazzercise being a case in point. It's the practical I need to focus on.

I have eight pages of dense notes from the dialogue session. Karen Rose is a former teacher, and it showed. She had that teacher skill set going for her as she walked us through the information. She writes romantic suspense, a sub-genre that requires intense pacing. She had great tips on using dialogue to control the pace of your story.

The most interesting thing Karen said, "The way a character sounds is more important to a reader than what he/she looks like."

Katy Madison did the "Humor, Heat, and Hooks" session. She writes under the name Karen L. King. I don't know her books, and I'm guessing they're good, but I think the woman could have a career in non-fiction if she chose. Her session focused on using humor and heat (sexual tension) to keep the reader hooked. She spent half the session on each of those elements and turned them into a science. We looked at both the physiology and psychology of humor and heat and why they keep a reader hooked. People like funny and sexy. That's no secret, but understanding the why helps a writer use them effectively in her story. Good stuff.

After three intense workshops, I was ready for lunch. I met a couple of charming Canadian ladies who write historicals, and as I was chatting with them, my friend Suzanne from dinner last night sat down. It was nice to talk to someone without starting from zero. I ran into my Australian friend, Vanessa, later that afternoon and we chatted like long, lost friends. It's always nice to see a friendly, familiar face.

Jayne Ann Krentz spoke after lunch. She writes under three different names, each in a different sub-genre. She told us about her journey and then distilled it down to the three things each writer should do.
  • Identify your core story...the timeless conflicts and themes we keep returning to and adapting.
  • Know the market. How can you fit your core story into a different landscape.
  • Understand how different fictional landscapes speak to different readers. Readers will not follow you anywhere. She learned this through bitter experience. Hence, the three pen names.

I have read numerous times that there are only twenty plots in existence. Writers just keep adapting them to make them seem fresh and new. Example: Romeo and Juliet and Titanic have the same core story. I've thought about this as a teacher and a reader, but I hadn't thought about it in terms of my writing. I love it when someone helps me think about something in a different way.

After lunch and an hour time-out in my room, I went back to the convention hall, intending to check out Linda Howard's session on the twelve steps to intimacy. Yes...a lot of sessions focus on sexual tension, but this is romance after all. I felt like I had already gotten the info in Katy Madison's session, but I was going because I'm a Linda Howard fangirl.

I never made it to that session. I was waylaid by free books. I know...I need more books to carry home like I need a hole in the head. But check this out. Throughout the conference, different publishers have signing sessions in which they bring in their authors, cases of books which the authors sign while talking to you....this is the best part...and then they GIVE them to you. When a guy in line (the first male author I've met) explained the process to me, I looked at him like Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop. I wanted to say, "Get the **** out of here!"

He was not lying. I acquired 13 more personally autographed books, including another Claudia Dain. Talking to her was just as much fun as listening to her in the workshop yesterday. I told her about immediately buying her book when the session was over, and she hugged me. I officially love her. The give-away book at the autograph session was different, so now I have two of her books. I also have brand new signed hardcovers from Kelley Armstrong and Jayne Ann Krentz, although I had the Jayne Ann book signed to someone else...Patricia, I'm looking at you!

I did finally pull myself out of there, mostly because I couldn't carry anything else, and went to my last workshop of the day. This was a session about maintaining an online presence. Jill Salvis and Teresa Medeiros were on the panel, and the session was moderated by Sarah Wendell of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog. Sarah was as funny in person as she is on her blog, and all three of the ladies had practical information. The key is to find the social media that works for you...blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. No one can do everything. If you tried, you would never get any writing done. I feel pretty good about what I'm doing here on the blog. (Although, I do need to be vigilant in getting new content up more often.) I also got another free autographed book from Teresa Medeiros for asking a question.

I ran into Roxanne St. Claire in the bathroom and had a conversation with her about her session from yesterday. She was concerned she had used too many examples. I told her I've learned the more models you use in teaching, the better. Having a NYT bestseller ask your opinion on something in the bathroom is a surreal experience.

Tomorrow morning, I pitch my book to an editor. I'm viewing it as practice because my book isn't exactly what she publishes. Word on the street is that these editors are pretty personable, so I'm hoping she will be amenable to conversation. This conference has been such an amazing learning experience, that I can't be disappointed, no matter what happens.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

RWA Day Two

There are times in life when you need to stop, take a deep breath, and appreciate that you're in a moment you need to savor. I had one of those moments walking back from dinner tonight.

The sun was starting to set, gleaming over the palm trees and across the water. The Swan and Dolphin Hotels rose majestically on both sides of the wide walkway. I was basking in the glow of an overpriced glass of Chardonnay and an excellent dinner with two fellow writers.

Life, my friends, is good.

This conference has been amazing...a revelation. Writing is a solitary pursuit. You can network with other writers on blogs and twitter and such, but when the rubber meets the road, it's just you, plugging away at the keyboard for hours at a time, filling that blank screen with words you hope someone else wants to read. Those hours alternate between adrenaline filled highs and frustrating lows, and at the end you may have to trash them all and start over.

I have spent the last 24 hours with people who understand that experience. Better yet, these are people who want to fill the blank screen with romance...happy endings...heroes and heroines who overcome all the odds and find their one true soulmate.

Life isn't just good. It's freakin' awesome. (No really, I only had one glass of chardonnay. This is Disney. It was insanely overpriced.)

I started the day in the "Goody Room." This is where authors leave free stuff, hoping to attract new readers. Some authors even leave free books. I got all kinds of cool stuff...lots of trinkets that represent an author's book in one way or another. My two favorites are little glycerin soaps in the shape of animals and the button that says "do you love Hawt Scots?" The text overlays a sculpted man clad only in a kilt.

I started a bookmark collection in the Goody Room as well. I'm only picking up the most outrageous titles or cover art. My favorite titles are Rock Hard (about a rock star of course) and Eat Prey Love, a vampire romance. Some of the titles sound innocent enough, but whoa Nelly, you should see the cover art!!

I left the Goody Room reluctantly, and got in line early for the Keynote Luncheon. I wanted to have a good seat for Nora. I met several interesting writers in the line, including a lovely lady named Grace who gave me some great information about some of the more specialized groups within the larger RWA organization.

The ballroom was enormous, but I was in the front quarter of the room. I found myself sitting between two Golden Heart finalists and across from an RWA board member. The Golden Heart is RWA's contest for non-published writers. Barbara Binns sat to my right. She finaled in the YA category and writes stories with male protagonists. We had a great conversation about the dearth of books that attract boys. She sold her book after she finaled in the contest, and her publisher is marketing it as a romance because they sell better. She thinks it's really a coming of age story. We discussed a possible visit to my classroom to talk to my students about her book and about writing in general. How awesome is that?

The other ladies at my table were also friendly. Really, everyone has been friendly. I haven't sat down anywhere without being pulled into the conversation. Without a doubt, the writer connections I'm making at this conference are the best part.

As we finished off our key lime pie, the lights went down and Nora was introduced. Oh. My. God. She was such an incredible speaker. I took two pages of notes. She talked about the writing journey and about being positive. She had us all laughing, telling the story of going to a nursing home to promote her book and having an old man tell her how disappointed he was. He thought Oral Roberts was coming to speak. She is a master of pacing because at the end, she gave me chills and then brought tears to my eyes. (I've already established on this blog that I'm a sap, so quit rolling your eyes.)

Nora acknowledged that writing a novel is hard. But hard is what makes it special. It's what makes us special. She knows something about special. She's had 165 books on the NYT best seller list since 1979. It's hard to argue with that kind of success.

I left that luncheon feeling great and thinking the day couldn't get better. Then I landed in a workshop called "Pantsers, Plotters, and Plotsers." The panel was made up of Claudia Dain, Sabrina Jeffries, and Deb Marlowe, a pantser, plotter, and plotser respectively.

For those of you who don't know those terms, a pantser is someone who writes by the seat of her pants. She forges ahead without really knowing what's going to come next. A plotter has to to have everything planned before she starts, and a plotser is somewhere in the middle of that continuum. Excellent information about the advantages and pitfalls of each and about how to make your style work for you. Claudia Dain was such a dynamic, compelling speaker that I marched across the lobby to the Barnes and Noble book fair and bought her book as soon as the session was over.

(I now have 19 books to get home somehow, and there's still two days of conference left.)

Also, at that session, I sat with two Aussies. Vanessa Kendrick is an unpubbed paranormal writer like me, and Elizabeth Rolls has a published historical called Lord Braybrook's Penniless Bride. I liked her enough that I will go looking for it, but maybe not until I get home. (19 books...on an airplane!) They were both fascinating to talk to. Elizabeth is friends with Keri Arthur who writes the Riley Jenson series set in Melbourne. I'm a Keri Arthur fangirl. Elizabeth promised to send my regards, and I'm sure Keri will be pleased. Well maybe not, but I was. Vanessa and I traded blog addresses. (Hi Vanessa!)

The next workshop I attended was called "How Do You Mend a Broken Scene" led by Roxanne St. Clair. This was the most valuable information I got all day. She went through three levels of broken scenes. She showed us first draft scenes from her books and walked us through the problems and the subsequent fixes. Really powerful stuff. She told us one of the biggest mistakes writers make is to pull back from the emotion in a scene too early, and then she showed us an example. The first draft didn't suck, even though she thought it did, but wow, the revised version was so much stronger. I want read her book Hunt her Down now. (19 books...)

My favorite thing she said, "The worst thing you can do is imply sexual tension. Don't imply it. Hit your audience over the head with it." Words to live by.

I met another interesting writer at this session. Denise Pulman lives in Atlanta via Wilmington, Ohio and writes Sci-fi romance. She was surprised that I knew where Wilmington was, and then we discovered we are both Laurell K. Hamilton fans. That was the clincher...friends for life!

My last workshop of the day was a panel of paranormal writers. It was fun to see Kelley Armstrong and Jeanine Frost on stage, but I didn't take anything away from that one that I didn't already know. The session was driven by audience questions, and the audience mostly asked questions that have answers easily found on the Internet.

I returned to my room tired, but happy, and lazed around a little bit, putting off dinner because I didn't have anyone to go with. I needn't have worried. When I finally sat down at the Cabana Bar and Grill with my new Claudia Dain book, I was immediately collected by two writers who saw me sitting alone. Suzanne Solomon writes romantic comedy and Jessica Trap has published several medieval romances. Jessica and I really hit it off. She had her teenage son with her, so we had two immediate points of connection.

More workshops tomorrow, a luncheon with Jayne Ann Krentz, and my agent another packed day. Also looming large is my editor pitch session Saturday morning. I'm not going to stress over those things. Today was a good day, and I'm going to savor it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

RWA Day One

Today has been a long, amazing day that started with my life flashing before my eyes and ended with several fangirl moments. I'll save the story of my flight down for another day and give you the short version here: Big storm, angry piece of atmosphere, plane dropped 100 feet in altitude causing even the flight attendant to gasp, I held hands with an Asian woman and nodded vigorously as she prayed (or cursed) in a language I didn't understand.

Her prayers must have worked because I am sitting in the lovely Swan Hotel in Walt Disney World listening to fireworks in the distance. I'm here for my very first RWA convention. I've only been here five hours and already I've met some of my favorite authors and made a couple of new friends.

RWA is the only place I've ever been where people introduce themselves with two names. "Hi I'm Jane Doe, but I write under the name Jezebel Desire." I kind of felt inadequate when I answered, "Nice to meet you. I'm Kathy Owens, and I write under the name Katherine Owens."

Okay, I didn't really answer that way, and not everybody had two names, but a lot of folks did. Actually, my first interaction with other convention goers occurred on the shuttle ride from the airport. I was still considering kissing the ground and maybe renting a car for the drive home on Sunday when a large, gregarious woman waiting in the shuttle line with me asked if I was going to the convention. I told her I was and that it was my first time.

When we climbed into the shuttle, and it was apparent that almost everyone was going to the convention, my new friend announces, "This is Kathy! She's a virgin!"

Everyone looked at me expectantly, or at least it seemed like they did, so I responded with the first thing that popped into my head.

"Well...I guess it depends on how you're using that word."

The one guy on the van choked, and all the women laughed uproariously. I wondered if they had been on the same flight as me and had hit the booze as soon as they landed. The atmosphere in the shuttle was giddy. One woman regaled us with her story of riding with the SWAT team as research for her new book. Someone asked what sub-genre of romance she writes. Romantic suspense? Paranormal? Contemporary? Nope...none of those. She writes erotic romance. I wonder if she told the SWAT team before she went riding with them. She was so funny, they probably wouldn't have cared. I kinda want to read that book when it's finished.

I have lots of other books to keep me busy in the meantime. When I checked in at the registration booth, I was handed a bag full of books...yes, my friends, free books, including Meg Cabot's new hardcover. The bag also contained a flash drive with all the handouts from the conference and MORE books. You could tell who the newbies were because we all had the same incredulous looks on our faces.

The first big event of the conference was the literacy signing. Over 500 authors were in a giant ballroom signing copies of their books. In this case, attendees had to pay for the books as it was a fundraiser for several organizations that promote literacy, including local groups in Orlando and Nashville where the conference was originally supposed to be.

I bought another four books. I rationalized that I could cut back somewhere else...skip a meal or something. It was for a good cause, right? Plus, I got to meet several very cool authors.

The first author I talked to was Lori Handeland. She writes a series called the Nightcreature novels. I've read several of those. What pulled me over to her table was the display of her new book called Shakespeare Undead. The cover sports Shakespeare with vampire teeth and a zombie standing over him. The back cover talks about the Dark Lady of the Sonnets and something being rotten in the state of Denmark. How could I not buy that book? Especially when I got to talk to the author, who was awesome, and have it autographed.

I thought about standing in Linda Howard's considerable line, but I already have the book she was selling, and I didn't want to buy it again. Nora's line curled all the way around the hall. She's the keynote speaker tomorrow, and rumor has it there will be free copies of her book at the luncheon.

Heather Graham's line was kinda long too, but I really like her books. I have a ton of them, but lo and behold, neither of the ones on her table. I chose the paperback over the hardcover, so I could keep shopping. It's called Ghost Shadow. She was so incredibly gracious. She asked questions about where I was from and what I wrote while she signed. We talked about her dress, and then she took a picture of me. I'm taking a lesson from her. I will now buy everything that woman writes because she took two minutes to interact with me.

My next stop was Christina Dodd's table. She was sold out of her books, but that was okay. I have Chains of Ice on my bedside table at home, and I didn't need to buy it again. She signed a page in the nifty conference planner that came in our big registration bag. I'll make a bookplate out of it or something. She also took a few minutes to talk to me. She's written an article in this month's "Romance Writer's Report," the RWA's monthly magazine. The article was about cliches and why we like them...really good stuff. She was pleased I had read it. I was pleased to talk to someone who says you should always write "balls to the wall." She also took a picture with me.

I bought a book by Shiloh Walker called The Missing. She's from the Louisville area, and I like supporting Kentucky authors. We talked about places we both knew.

My last stop was at a debut author's table. Her name is Therese Walsh. She's a finalist for a Rita in the Best First Book category. Ritas are like the Oscars for romance novels. I read a blurb in that same issue of RWR about her book and it sounded fascinating. It's called The Last Will of Moira Leahy. There's a mystery about a dead twin sister and an ancient Javanese artifact involved. She isn't very well known yet and didn't have a line at her table. If the book lives up to its billing, I'm guessing that will change. She was sweet and wrote a long note when she signed the book.

I made myself stop at four books. I was tempted to get copies of Simone Elkeles' and Kelley Armstrong's new YA's for the library at school. Autographed copies are always cool. The event was open to the public and both authors had long lines of teenage girls. The wait gave me time to decide I didn't want to spend the money. Sorry kids.

The last event of the day was orientation for first time attendees. I got lots of good information and met a couple of interesting writers. Sandy from Bismark, South Dakota writes romantic comedy, and Tracy, didn't get where she was from, writes contemporaries. Tracy and I realized we were on the same shuttle from the airport with the erotic SWAT lady.

A good first day all in all. Tomorrow, lunch with Nora Roberts and several workshops I'm excited about. Now, if the adrenaline will dissipate, I'm going to try to get some sleep.

Monday, July 26, 2010


My eldest son is an artist. Earlier today, he brought down a new piece for my inspection. He draws almost exclusively in pencil, and he was experimenting with color. He stuck his drawing under my nose, and the look on his face told me he wasn't happy. I could tell I needed to walk that tightrope between being honestly critical and bolstering his self-confidence.

I'm his mama, so I think everything he does is amazing, but it pisses him off, and rightly so, if I don't look with a critical eye and give him some honest feedback. He had created a face. I told him his use of color made it look sad. The blue made the eyes pop, and the purple shading made the cheeks seem drawn.

"Yeah, I know. I don't think I meant for it to be sad."

"It's kinda cool. You tried this new thing, and it revealed something you weren't consciously aware of in your work."

I could tell he was chewing on that when he went back to his desk. He was doing that zombie walk that indicated his body was present, but his mind was far away. The scowl he'd worn when he showed me the picture was gone. I hope I pushed back his self-doubt just a little.

Self-doubt is the enemy...a cancer to anyone who creates, and I don't know any creative person who doesn't suffer from it to some degree. When a friend hands me something he's written and immediately starts qualifying or apologizing, I give him the Diana Ross hand. Just stop. Let me read it before anyone decides it's a piece of crap. Of course, in that moment of handing over, self-doubt roars to the surface, and you simply know that whatever you've created is a total piece of crap.

I can't take the moral high ground here. I'm as guilty as anyone. When I handed my beta-reader, Amanda, my last manuscript, I handed it over with a litany of excuses.

"I know there's a sagging middle. I haven't edited yet. Blah, blah, blah..."

She gave me the Diana Ross hand.

Once she read it and gave me some feedback, I was fine. I had things to work on and think about. I could do something about my piece of crap. Amanda was honest enough to tell me where I had problems, but she didn't think it was a piece of crap. I'm still not sure. I haven't revised that particular manuscript enough to feel good about it yet.

I need someone to give me the Diana Ross hand now. I'm headed to Orlando Wednesday for the RWA convention. I will be meeting my agent in person for the first time, and I have a pitch session with an editor. I like to think of myself as a confident person, but self-doubt is lurking in the background waiting to jump on me in a moment of weakness.

To my artists, writers, singers, and myself: We can't succumb to self-doubt. There's no profit in it. If we let it, it will eat away at us until there's nothing left. Just Stop!

...and think it o-o-ver.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Waiting Room Hell

I had an epiphany this afternoon. Hell is a waiting room where you're trapped forever with a person completely oblivious to social cues. I know because I spent 42 interminable minutes there.

One obnoxious person in a waiting room isn't enough to rate as my personal hell, but when combined with a long day of professional development, followed by a sprint through Lexington rush hour traffic, and a dying iPhone battery, I found myself in a perfect storm of social perdition.

I was tired, both physically and mentally. After sitting in an all-day training session, I wasn't fired up about sitting some more in a room the size of my walk-in closet. Six chairs crammed together with a magazine rack and a couple of lamps set the mood...abandon hope all ye who enter. The "soothing" Muzak is supposed to mitigate the close quarters, but listening to an orchestral arrangement of George Michael's "Careless Whisper" is its own form of torture. Usually, my phone provides enough entertainment to distract me from the wait. Usually.

Blessedly alone when the wait began, I was trolling Facebook, trading witty comments with my friend, Susie. A woman and her son came in and sat across from me. My eyes flicked up in time to see the woman smooth her teenage son's hair down. An argument ensued.

"Don't freakin' touch my hair!"

"If you'd pick up a damn comb ever once in a while, I wouldn't have to. There's a bathroom across the hall. Go blow your nose."

As the son stood up, he slammed his chair against the wall. Then he slammed the waiting room door hard enough to rattle my chair. I glanced up at Mom. Big mistake. I immediately glanced back down at my phone, but the damage was done. She leaned over close enough that she was touching my knee.

Don't freakin' touch my knee!

I wanted to say it, but I pulled my knees in and focused on my phone.

"Is that one of them new iPhones?"

"No. I've had it a while."

Everything about my body language was screaming, "Don't talk to me." My legs were crossed. My arms were crossed over my chest, my face buried in my phone. Oblivious, she rambled about her kids running up the bill with their texting. I ignored her, hoping she would get the hint. She didn't. Finally, her son finished blowing his nose or whatever he was doing, and she refocused her attention on him. Thank you Jesus.

My battery was dwindling away, but I returned to Facebook. My science professor friend, Susie had posted a status that said, "Packing for space camp...freeze-dried ice cream, American flag, Tang..." I responded with, "They let people camp in space?" Her reply, "It's only for people who can't afford space hotels."

I busted out laughing, completely forgetting about the obnoxious woman and her son. Second big mistake. Her guffaw overwhelmed my laughter and I looked up.

"It's funny, isn't it?"

My good humor at Susie's response disappeared as I realized the woman thought I was laughing at her story. I had been aware of her talking, but I wasn't listening.

"Oh no, I was laughing at what I was reading."

"Oh, well...this is hilarious. I was telling him," she jabbed a thumb in the boy's direction, "about his sister."

My battery red-lined, and I panicked at the imminent loss of my only escape. I ignored her explanation and practically curled up in the fetal position around my phone. My non-verbal signals could not have been clearer, but she plowed right past them.

"This boy at school was buggin' my daughter, so her daddy told her she had his permission to defend herself. The next day when that boy said something, my girl picked up her math book and smashed it in his face. And can you believe it? The damn teacher sent her to in-school suspension."

I refrained from telling her I was a damn teacher, and since our classrooms are not Thunderdome, smashing someone in the face with a textbook has a consequence. My silence did not discourage her.

"Well when her grandmama found out she'd been put in ISS for two days, she went right down to that school and sat in that suspension room with her. She only lasted two hours though. They kicked her out for talking"

She was hee-hawing at this point, and I was laughing too. Mistake number three. She thought I was laughing with her.

My phone went black midway through her colonoscopy story.

I understand why trapped wolves will gnaw their paw off to escape. When my son stepped into the waiting room at the end of his appointment, I wanted to throw my arms around him in gratitude. Instead, I smiled politely and left the waiting room. When we stepped into the humid, late summer afternoon, I took a deep breath and repented my sins. I've seen hell, and I don't want to go back.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Brides and Bridesmaid Dresses

Congratulations to my colleague and friend, Amanda, who married her sweetie, Ryan, last weekend! I love weddings. They make me happy. The affirmation of love and commitment between two people embarking on their lives together always triggers my inner optimist.

The bride was beautiful. Amanda was my student 12 years ago, and now she's my colleague. There's something all circle-of-life about that. I could almost hear Elton John's voice swelling in the background. Okay, maybe not, but there is a sense of satisfaction when your former students are successful, contributing members of society.

Amanda's wedding was my second of the summer. My brother was married on May Day. You can read about that here. When you're in your twenties, you go to a lot of weddings. Somewhere along the line, you realize all your friends are married, and the weddings fall off. This summer was an anomaly. My brother met his soulmate after he'd already done some living, and my colleagues keep getting younger.

The bridesmaid stage is a period in life many young women experience. On my favorite editor blog, Moonrat has called for bridesmaid horror stories, and the entries have been great. My favorite is this story of a cursed bridesmaid dress, but this guy's tux story is pretty good too. Click through and read them all for a chuckle.

The dress stories got me thinking about bridesmaid dresses I've worn. My bridesmaiding was done in the eighties, so you know it was bad.

My first march down the aisle was for my friend, Stacey. She got married on New Year's Eve. The church was still decorated for Christmas and absolutely beautiful. The bridesmaid dresses were...less beautiful. They were velvet...yes a deep, forest green with big eighties shoulders. We were channelling Scarlett O'Hara when she tore down the curtains. Stacey's wedding also started my run of bridesmaiding for failed marriages. She's happy now, so that's some consolation. Plus, all the pictures of those green dresses are gone.

My next trip down the aisle was in a peach number for my college roommate, Shelley. I locked myself out of my car at the fitting, so my relationship with that dress started off on the wrong foot. A guy in the mall parking lot had a slim jim in his car and unlocked my door. I was so young and naive then, it didn't occur to me that most people don't keep slim jims in their glove compartments.

I wish I had a picture of that dress. I was the only bridesmaid wearing frothy peach. Each of the other three had a different pastel. We were a frothy rainbow. Before you disparage Shelley, you should know the pastel rainbow was a very eighties thing to do. I'll bet there are other women out there with rainbow bridesmaids in their wedding albums. On the upside for Shelley, that marriage didn't last. She ended up later with her college sweetheart, so she never has to look at the rainbow bridesmaids again. I would post a picture if I had one, but alas, that rainbow exists only in my memory.

I do have a picture of the oil slick bridesmaid dress. It was silver with swirls of color. The dress is set off nicely by the wreath of flowers in my hair. I'm standing next to Bruce in the pic. How about that silver tux? It was a very shiny wedding. Happily, Jenny and Steve, for whom we wore our shiny clothes, are still going strong. This in spite of the fact Steve told Jenny the dresses she picked looked like an oil slick. I thought the candlelight reflecting softly off our dresses and tuxes was a nice touch. If the lights in the church had been on, the congregation would have needed sunglasses.

The last bridesmaid dress I wore was for my cousin, Tracy. She was married exactly two weeks after me. Bruce and I came back from our honeymoon and went straight to Nashville for her wedding. Not only were our wedding dates close together, we chose bridesmaid dresses in the same color, royal blue. Hers were tea length with a sequined bodice and a little bolero jacket. Without the jacket, the sequins made us look like Tracy's back-up singers.

I've mocked the dress choices of my friends and family, so I suppose it's only fair that I own up to mine. The trend in the eighties was BIG...big hair, big belts, big sleeves. Go big or go home. I was quite enamored of the gigantic sleeves on my bridesmaids' dresses.

Note the sleeves on my wedding dress. I razzed Stacey for the exact same sleeves on the green velvet bridesmaid dress. What goes around comes around.

I wonder if twenty years from now, Amanda will laugh when she looks at her wedding pictures. Probably not. I've noticed a trend in the last few weddings I've attended. Brides have toned it down and selected elegant dresses for their friends. Of course, my friends and I all thought we were being elegant in the eighties, so who knows. And if the stories on Moonrat's blog are any indication, brides are just as crazy as they ever were.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

God Bless America

My family is home from Ocean City. We had a nice time, but I don't know if we'll choose that particular destination again. The crush of people was nuts, and my biggest complaint is there was no good place to relax and just be. Everything was geared toward doing. Of course, that suited my boys just fine. They loved the hustle and bustle of the Boardwalk.

The holiday weekend probably drew larger than average crowds, and if you could find a spot to sit, it was an excellent opportunity to people-watch. I did a lot of people-watching. The mass of people on the beach, by the pool, on the Boardwalk, at the parasailing place...everywhere we went...was incredibly diverse. I heard every imaginable variant of English being spoken (as well as several other languages), saw every shade of skin God makes, and smelled the foods of other cultures (the Asian family on the balcony next to us broke all the fire codes and cooked over an open flame).

It was chaotic, and honestly, a bit overwhelming. At the same time, I felt enriched by the experience. Bruce and I struck up a conversation with another couple at the bar of a restaurant one night while we waited for our table. They were from Washington, DC via New York. They had lived in big cities all their life. They marveled at our "southern" habit of speaking to strangers. The lady told us where she's from, people tend to mind their own business. I told her in my small town, we all mind each other's business. We talked for a long time, and by the time we were finally seated, we were great friends (helped in no small part by Bruce buying them shots of Kentucky bourbon).

Later that same night, Bruce and I sat on the beach with a million other people and watched fireworks. The mood was festive, and no one seemed to mind being packed in like sardines. A very nice lady even shared her blanket with us. The music accompanying the fireworks was patriotic, and the finale was "I'm Proud to be an American." The massive crowd on the beach started singing, and it brought tears to my eyes. In that moment, we truly were the melting pot we are supposed to be. My experience had been chaotic, overwhelming, and enriching, but I realized that this chaotic, overwhelming, enriching experience is America.

America is not a geographic location on the globe. America is an idea summed up beautifully by Emma Lazarus in "The New Colossus." You may not recognize the first stanza, but the second will be familiar.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Unless you carry 100% Native American DNA in your blood, you are the wretched refuse of some other teeming shore. Those of us whose families have been here a long time forget that sometimes. My grandmother was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, so I can claim a heritage that goes back to that very first Independence Day. But here's the beauty of America; the person who raised their right hand this past Fourth and took the Oath of Citizenship is just as much of an American as I am. (Okay, constitutionally, I can be President, and he or she can't, but otherwise, our rights are equal. Since I've never aspired to be President, we really are equal. :)

On our way home, the GPS got a wild hair and decided to take us straight through Washington, DC instead of around it. The detour was pretty cool. We drove right down Constitution Ave and saw the Capitol Building, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the White House. I was glad to see those great symbols of America, but without that melting pot on the beach singing "I'm Proud to be an American," those symbols are just brick and mortar.

God Bless America.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Northeast State of Mind

When Bruce and I decided to hit the beach this year, we wanted to try someplace new. Our family has gone to the Outer Banks, NC for years, but rentals there have skyrocketed, and they've priced us out of their market. Our first plan was to check out Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Yeah. That didn't work out. Thanks a lot BP. Waiting until the last minute to book something worked in our favor. Unlike some of our friends, we didn't have to fight with BP to get a deposit back.

So where did we end up? It had to be the Atlantic coast...again, thanks BP. We didn't want to drive all the way to Florida. North Carolina was just too expensive. We looked at several places in South Carolina and Georgia, but nothing grabbed us. Then Bruce remembered a trip he took as a boy to Ocean City, Maryland. Mapquest told us it was only an 11 hour drive, and a hotel right on the Boardwalk was having a "red, white, and blue" special. We had a winner, and I am now writing this from my hotel room in Ocean City.

Ocean City is an entirely different experience from the Outer Banks. I could point to the obvious differences like the Boardwalk, a 24/7 circus right on the beach. My boys each brought a friend, and they're all loving it. An amusement park on the pier about half a mile down the beach boasts a roller coaster, slingshot, and giant Ferris wheel. Ripley's Believe it or Not (the 15 yr olds loved the hall of mirrors, while the 18 yr olds found it lame) sits next to a shop making saltwater taffy. In fact, every touristy restaurant and retail shop you could imagine adorns the 3 mile strip. Hooters is right next to our hotel, and the boys have already logged time there.

The Outer Banks are quiet. You have to get in a car and drive to find a souvenir shop or a restaurant. It's all about the ocean there. Here, the ocean almost seems like an afterthought. Even the places I've been in Florida don't measure up to the Ocean City Boardwalk in terms of pure, in-your-face tourist traps

Those differences are significant, but we chose Ocean City intentionally because of the Boardwalk. We can cut the boys loose, and they'll never get bored, AND they don't have to get behind the wheel of a car to find something to do.

The thing that really jumps out at me here are the people. They are almost exclusively northeasterners. When you go to Florida or the Carolinas, you see some folks from the northeast, but there are just as many, if not more, mid-westerners and southerners.

You wouldn't think a different demographic would matter all that much, but wow...just wow. A northeasterners' natural state of mind is just different than that of a southerner. The pace among northeasterners is faster, even on vacation. Everybody's in a hurry. People were scurrying up and down the Boardwalk like the henna tattoo place was gonna go out of business before they got there. You're on vacation people. Where's the fire?

In a Dunkin Donuts today, I saw a man taste his frozen coffee drink and explode, "I asked for DARK roast. DARK roast."

The poor girl behind the counter was from some Eastern European country and could barely speak English, but I believe the word "asshole" is universal. When our eyes met, I rolled mine, and her half smile told me she was thinking it.

My eldest and his friend told me they felt like they were in an episode of "The Jersey Shore." It's all good, though. They think it's cool, and so do we. Bruce talks to everybody. He's always curious about people. And in truth, most of the people we've talked to in the restaurants and the hotel have been lovely...once you get past that "why are you talking to me" thing northeasterners do.

Tomorrow, I'm going to take a book out to the beach...down by the water where the boardwalk sounds are drowned out by the surf. I'm going to park myself on my towel, slather on some sunscreen and read until I feel like doing something else. "Hurry" will not be a part of my vocabulary. I'm surrounded by a northeastern state of mind, but I'm from Kentucky, and I'm on vacation.