Writing retreat…then and now…

Me & CP, Emily McKay

Me & CP, Emily McKay

Sometime in 1998 I formed a critique relationship with another unpublished romance writer. She wrote short category romance, something I’d not read up until we started working together, and I wrote historicals. We didn’t know each other well initially, but slowly we forged a bond and together found magic. In the beginning neither one of us knew much about what we were doing, so we learned how to write, we studied craft, we found our writing styles and our strengths and weaknesses.

the beach house we used to visit - lost in Hurricane Ike

the beach house we used to visit – lost in Hurricane Ike

In those early years we would go, with two other writer buddies that we worked with, to one said writer buddy’s beach house. We’d go for a long weekend and we’d work and plot and laugh and have more fun than you can imagine while also accomplishing a ton of work. The first night there we’d set our goals for the trip and the rest of the time it was work, work, work, with the occasional nice walk on the beach.

Flash forward to now – 4 kids later (2 for each of us) and we’re back at the beach together, just the 6 of us and we’ll see how much work we can actually get done with a 3, 4, 5 and 8 year old with us. We haven’t set goals, though we’re both on deadline. Instead we plan to spend time together – which is more difficult now with our families – let our kids play together and hope to get work done in the down time.

100_1892I bring all this up not so much to brag on my amazing relationship with my critique partner, though really y’all should be jealous because we work so well together (and she just won a RITA, Go Emily!) but instead to discuss the merits of writing retreats. They’re quite popular these days. I know RWA chapters plan them and host them periodically and lots of critique groups get together for writing retreats.

There’s something quite magical about getting together and spending time focusing on your writing with other writers. Especially when you can do it with a lovely bit of nature near by – the beach, mountains, a lake or forrest. And you know it’s good for our kids to see their moms working and having co-workers, even if our jobs are more unconventional than some of the other parents.

So how about you? Ever been on a writing retreat? What are yours like or what would make the perfect one for you?


Spend a Restful Summer in Victorian Times:

I take the topic “Summer Reads” to mean that I get to recommend a book—and my mind promptly boggles over how to pick one book from the many I love. But for a number of reasons I’m going to offer you Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog.
I generally describe Connie Willis as the Jane Austen of science fiction. Her stories all have some SF element, but they’re realistic stories about real people leading real lives—and as far as I’m concerned, she’s one of the funniest authors ever. (Note: some of her books are tragedies, where she’s still funny, but notorious for killing lots and lots of important characters.) But her comedies are pure delight, and To Say Nothing of the Dog is my favorite.
In Willis’ time-travel system the space-time continuum protects itself from paradox (people changing history, etc.) by having her time travel mechanism simply refuse to work if someone tries to go back and do something that will have any historical impact. You can’t go back to pivotal events, you can’t take anything back that doesn’t belong in that period—and you can’t bring treasures forward to make yourself a fortune, either. This means that time travel has stopped being of interest to everyone except historians, who have a safe and sensible system for using it to study the past without disrupting anything.
Until a crazy billionaire, Lady Shrapnel, offers Oxford a whole bunch of money to help her build an replica of Coventry Cathedral, exactly as it was before it was bombed in WWII. The universities of the future are no more immune to big donations than the universities of today, and she’s turned the whole historical department on its head doing her research.
Historian Ned Henry has been sent back to discover what happened to a supremely ugly piece of Victorian iron-mongery, the bishop’s birdstump, that may or may not have been in the cathedral during the raid. But Ned’s been sent back so often that he’s suffering from a horrible case of time-lag. The symptoms of time lag are: maudlin sentimentality, difficulty in distinguishing sounds, fatigue, a tendency to be distracted by irrelevancies, slowness in answering…well you get it. The only cure is rest, and no time travel.
But before he can find a place to hide from Lady Shrapnel Ned gets called to the boss’s office, where he overhears parts of a conversation that indicates that some historian has brought something from the past into to the future—and due to difficulty in distinguishing sounds (a rat, a fan, a cab) Ned doesn’t even know what this thing is. But whatever it is, it being brought forward could endanger the whole space time continuum, and the boss tells Ned he has to go back in time to return it. The Victorian era is supposed to be restful—just what he needs. Ned’s being costumed, briefed on his mission, and prepped on the Victorian era through an earbug, all at the same time. And these are the instructions he hears, for his mission to save the space time continuum:

“There’s nobody else to send,” Mr. Dunworthy said. “Ned, listen carefully. Here’s what I want you to do. You’ll come through on June 7th, 1888, at 10 A.M. The river is to the left of the dessert fork, which is used for gateaux and puddings. For such desserts as Munching’s End, the dessert knife is used with the…”
Knife. Nice. Naiads. That was what they were called. Hylas and the Naiads. He went to fill his water jug, and they pulled him into the water with them, down and down, their hair and their wet sleeves twining about him.
“As soon as it’s returned, you can do whatever you like. The rest of the two weeks is yours. You can spend it boating on the river or to the right of the dessert plate, with the blade pointing inward.” He clapped me on the shoulder. “Have you got that?”
“What?” I said, but Mr. Dunworthy wasn’t listening…

If you like gloriously funny, intelligent, comedy-adventure-romance, I’d highly recommend that you spend part of your summer in the Victorian era saving the space time continuum.

Hilari Bell writes SF and fantasy for kids and teens—and the best of her books for summer are the Knight & Rogue series.


Once upon a summer day…

In a perfect world I would be able to spend a few weeks this summer doing nothing but lounging around reading. But I have books to write and two small children and a husband who teaches summer school so I won’t have that luxury. That being said I will take the time to indulge in some books. Here are the top 5 titles currently sitting on my Kindle waiting to be devoured…

12929918Somebody to Love by Kristan Higgins. I really can’t wait to dive into this one if for no other reason than it takes place in the same town as Catch of the Day and rumor has it Maggie and Malone make an appearance. I’d read just about anything to spend a bit more time with Malone, that being said I’m a big fan of Kristan’s so I know I’ll love this one.

Instant Mom by Nia Vardales. This is actually a non-fiction all about her experience with foster-adoption. This is the same way my husband and I became parents and I love that she’s getting the word out about this invaluable way to build your family.

Something in Death by JD Robb. Okay so that’s not really the title, but I’m somewhere in the middle of the series and can’t really remember which book is next. This is a go-to series for me though because I know that all it takes is one page and I’m immersed in Eve Dallas’s world and ready to catch the bad guys.

GraveDanceSomething by Suzanne Enoch. Another go-to author for me. And again, no specific title, but only because I have a handful of hers that I haven’t yet read and so I’m not sure which one will come next. I love her heroes, they are always to-die-for and she writes great heroines with wonderful humor.

Grave Dance by Kalayna Price. I read the first in this urban fantasy series, Grave Witch a while back and I so loved it. I loved the world and especially the protoagonist’s voice. It was refreshing and irreverant and just plain fun.

Since I have a book out right now I’ve got to pimp it out a little in case y’all are looking for some summer reading suggestions.

releases June 18th

releases June 18th

A lone witness finds her protector… 

Since losing her sight in a childhood accident, Mia Danvers has resided in a small cottage on the vast Carrington estate. Thought to be dead, Mia lives a life of virtual seclusion—until one night, while walking home, she happens upon a horrendous crime.

Alex Foster, Eighth Duke of Carrington, lives according to society’s expectations for him. He’s never met the woman who lives in the cottage at the edge of his property. But when she arrives at his door in the pouring rain terrified and claiming she has witnessed a murder, she seizes his attention.

Mia is determined to help the authorities track down the culprit, even though the only person willing to accept her aid is the handsome, arrogant duke. Working closely together proves difficult as Mia’s beauty and independence tempts Alex to ignore convention and follow his desire. But what neither of them know is that this murderer has struck before in Whitechapel, taunting the British press only to vanish—a ruthless killer who knows that Mia is the only living witness to his crime…

Through the looking glass

signing my first contract

signing my first contract

We’ve already reflected on many of transitions you can go through in life. I thought I might blog about the big transition I made a couple of years ago when I became a mother overnight. But I’ve blogged on that at great length at one of my other blogs – Peanut Butter on the Keyboard. So instead I decided to tackle the transition from aspiring author to published author.

It’s been a while since I was unpublished, I sold my first book in June 2004. To that point I had worked for seven years writing pretty seriously, in pursuit of publication and the book I sold was my 5th manuscript. Wow has the industry changed – there are so many options for authors these days, transitional big NYC publishers, smaller boutique publishers, digital only books and self-publishing is now seen as a viable option and not looked down upon as it once was.

When I sold, I expected that once published everything would be different. That somehow with that contract would magically come success and a deeper knowledge and respect and a slew of other things. And some of that certainly happened, but I wasn’t any smarter the day after I accepted that deal than I was the day before.

releases June 18th

releases June 18th

There was a transition to become a published author, but it was not so much what I expected. Instead of making things easier, taking away all the angst that came with rejection, it came with new challenges, bigger and scarier ones that frankly don’t seem to ever go away. It’s much more difficult to write a book now than it was when I wrote those first books as a fledgling writer.

All that said, it was a good transition and I’m glad I made it. There are plenty of writers out there who have chosen different paths and while mine has been fairly rocky, I’m thankful for all of my transitions because they’ve strengthened me as a person and a writer.

So how about you? Have you ever faced a transition that turned out to be not what you expected?

The numbers game

Once upon a time I was a fledgling young writer with dreams of multi-book contracts and booksignings in my future. I worked very hard to hone my craft (still do) and become the best writer I could. And still the rejections came. I know I’ve blogged here before on the magic combination of getting published, but it’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax to STAY publish.

In order to sell that first book my writing had to be in tip-top shape and I naively believed that that is what would keep me selling. It’s not that writing skill and talent don’t have anything to do with longevity in this career, but in addition to those elements is one that perhaps you might not be expecting. I know I wasn’t. Perhaps that was foolish of me, but when I realized that publishing is more a game of numbers than it is of words, it was a shocker.

I’d done my job as far as pleasing readers – I had fan mail to prove it. And I’d done my job with my editor because they loved my work. Yet, I had first one and then another contract not get renewed. And I was left wondering what the hell was I doing so wrong? I still take responsibility for part of my slow-growing career, but the truth is much of it is out of my hands and always will be. I can’t make readers buy my books with the kind of velocity that most publishers deem as successful. I can’t make readers love my books and want to share them with all of their friends – though I certainly hope that happens, it’s never a guarantee.

There are numbers everywhere in this business – print runs, advances, royalty rates, sell-throughs, bestseller lists…its enough to make you send hate mail to your high school algebra teacher. Even Amazon uses some kind of magic algorithm to figure their bestseller lists and which books get shown where. Feeling dizzy and a bit depressed yet?

Okay so now that I’ve depressed everyone, let’s talk about how to keep working in the face of all this gloominess. The first thing you have to do is figure out what success means to you – it will be a different answer to each of us. The next thing you have to realize is there’s really only so much you can do. Promo efforts are a crap shoot, some things work beautifully for some authors while they fail miserably for others. Decide what you are and aren’t willing to do to reach that level of success and be willing to work your butt off. And then do your level best to ignore everything else. Stressing about reviews, stop looking at them. Comparing yourself to another writer, stop it. Fretting about your sales rank on Amazon, walk away from the browser. Every writer out there wishes they were doing a little better. #2 wants to be #1 and #1 wants to do it again with the next book and the next…. So yes, the numbers are depressing, but try, try, try to stop worrying about it all so much. And if my words aren’t enough to encourage you, I’ll leave it to Bob Newhart.

At the end of the day this whole writing gig needs to be a labor of love. Be prepared to be more frustrated and defeated than you ever have been in your life (unless you’re a mom, then you’re already golden cause that gig is WAY harder). So how do you keep sane in the midst of the numbers game?

Of misery and springtime

A-Little-Bit-Sinful-800-166x250It’s spring. For some of you that might mean that you’ve still got snow, but here in Central Texas everything is blooming. The world is green and it’s beautiful and I’m miserable. Spring means allergies, at least for me. I’m itchy and sneezy and wheezy and drippy – really the worst of the Seven Dwarfs. But y’all probably don’t want to hear me describe my allergy woes, so instead I’ll talk of new beginnings because that’s what spring is, right?  (this is my new book so I have to stick it in here so you’ll get my subliminal message & go buy it – go ahead…I’ll wait…)

Well, for writers we get new beginnings all the time. They come in the form of new books, new story ideas, first chapters and the like. Like spring, the beginnings of books kinda make me miserable. I know lots of writers who love beginnings. They love them so much they have 40 manuscripts started and they never finish any of them because they get a rush out of that first blush of a story. For me, the beginning is like wading through molasses, I know I’m going somewhere, but it’s murky and slow and sticky and really uncomfortable. But I keep going because just around the corner is my favorite part….ready for it?

The middle! Okay I know some of you writers out there are scratching your heads thinking I’m totally nuts. You’re probably right (on so many levels) but hear me out. The middle is where the characters start falling into place, the plot starts moving and all the exciting (and sexy) stuff happens. If there’s a villain then he (or she) is causing all kinds of trouble and the hero and heroine and stuck together trying to solve a problem, find a treasure, catch a killer or just trying not to kill each other. It’s all the good stuff. We read the beginnings of books to get to know the characters so we can get to the middle cause that’s where the story is at. (how’s that for great grammar?!)

So how about you? Are you a fan of Spring or are you suffering with allergies like me? And if you’re a writer, what’s your favorite part of the book?

January’s Scene 13 Releases

This month our group has three releases. Kelly Hashway has two lovely new books out in the world and Michelle McLean is releasing her first historical romance. Here’s the deets!

Already Out:
Touch of deathTouch of Death by Kelly Hashway- Releases January 15, 2013 (Spencer Hill Press)
Jodi Marshall isn’t sure how she went from normal teenager to walking disaster. One minute she’s in her junior year of high school, spending time with her amazing boyfriend and her best friend. The next she’s being stalked by some guy no one seems to know.

After the stranger, Alex, reveals himself, Jodi learns he’s not a normal teenager and neither is she. With a kiss that kills and a touch that brings the dead back to life, Jodi discovers she’s part of a branch of necromancers born under the 13th sign of the zodiac, Ophiuchus. A branch of necromancers that are descendants of Medusa. A branch of necromancers with poisoned blood writhing in their veins.

Jodi’s deadly to the living and even more deadly to the deceased. She has to leave her old, normal life behind before she hurts the people she loves. As if that isn’t difficult enough, Jodi discovers she’s the chosen one who has to save the rest of her kind from perishing at the hands of Hades. If she can’t figure out how to control her power, history will repeat itself, and her race will become extinct.

Coming Next Week:

ToTrustAThief_cover7To Trust a Thief by Michelle McLean- Releases Jan 21, 2013 (Entangled Scandalous)
Minuette Sinclair thought her biggest problem was getting out of her aunt’s finishing school a proper Victorian lady. But her parents are in trouble and her fake fiancé is too. A legendary lost necklace might be their salvation, and Min is determined to find it and use it to buy her family and fiancé out of their misfortunes.

Unexpected competition in the form of master thief Bryant Westley has Min tripping over her own feet to get to the treasure first. Desperate, she can’t refuse Bryant’s offer to partner up in the search – even though she knows she can’t trust him. Things become more complicated when Min realizes that her convenient engagement means more to her fake fiancé than her. Worse, she’s in love with Bryant, a distraction she can’t afford. Besides, if she can’t trust him with the treasure, how can she trust him with her heart?

CoverFinalLG-LoveAll (2)Love All by Kelly Hashway- Releases January 22, 2013 (Swoon Romance)
Seventeen-year-old Meg Flannigan isn’t very self-confident, but what girl would be after her sophomore-year boyfriend dumped her by making out with another girl in front of her locker? Now a senior, Meg catches the eye of not one but two guys at school. They show up at her tennis matches, vie over her attention, and both are gorgeous. Sounds good, right? Not if one of the guys is her boyfriend and the other one wants to be.

Meg doesn’t want to lose Ash. They’ve been together for almost five months, and she’s falling in love with him. But Noah. Ah, Noah. He’s so irresistible, and Meg isn’t ready to send him away either. But if she strings both along, she might be the one left in the cold. This love triangle is sure to end in a broken heart. But will it be Meg’s?

Visit the authors’ pages for buy links!