April PANorama — Writing a Series

Dear Readers, It’s the last Sunday of the month, which means that it’s time for one of our chapter PAN members (PAN stands for Published Authors Network, a professional designation within RWA open to members who reach a certain level of sales) to visit the blog to share some of their wisdom and expertise. This month, Mary E. Thompson is here to give us her advice on writing a series.  Take it away, Mary!

Writing a Series

Mary E. Thompson~ By Mary E. Thompson

Series has been a buzz word in romance for years. So much so that now, it’s just how things are done. Writing a book? Turn it into a series. Have an idea? Make sure you can expand it. It’s standard operating procedure.

But why? Why do we write series?

The better question is why do readers love them?

How many TV shows do you watch? My DVR has twenty-one shows we record. It’s a lot, I know, but that’s not the point. Why do we record shows? Or watch them online? Or on Netflix? Is it because the shows are unique and different and interesting? Or is it because you enjoyed it when it started and got invested? You liked something about it at the beginning. But every episode follows a formula. You knew Lorelai and Rory would both learn something at the end of Gilmore Girls. You knew the bad guy was going to get caught on Hawaii 5-0. You knew someone would get eliminated at the end of The Voice.

So why do you keep watching?

We always want the bad guy to lose and the good guy to get the girl. We want characters to grow and change. We want to believe the same is possible for us. The overweight woman can end up with the SEAL. The dorky guy can get the model. The invisible girl can catch the attention of the jock.

Gilmore HouseIt’s not the main story that captures our attention. I loved Gilmore Girls. I loved it so much I have the DVD’s of every episode so I can watch them whenever I want. With each episode, we knew that Lorelai was going to do something crazy. Emily and Lorelai would argue. Rory would try to keep the peace. And Richard would barely pay attention.

But that wasn’t what kept me returning week after week to watch what was going to happen. It wasn’t what made almost 6 million people tune in the weekend Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life premiered.

https://youtu.be/Hjqrr7nss3s

I wanted to know what crazy thing Lorelai would do, yes. But I also wanted to see Rory go to Harvard and then Yale. I wanted to know if Lorelai would marry Max. Or Christopher. Or Luke. If Rory would end up with Dean. Or Jess. Or Logan. If she’d go back to school. If Rory and Lorelai would make up. If Rory and Paris would ever truly be friends. If Lane and Zach would get together. If Richard and Emily would ever take it easy on Lorelai.

The individual episodes didn’t keep me going back. The characters did.

That’s what readers want from us. They want that familiarity. That sense of knowing what to expect. They want to see their favorite characters again and again. They want to know the one character they relate to the best is going to end up with her happily ever after.

That’s why a series works. Grab their attention at the beginning and they’ll be begging you for more. A reader knows what the series stands for. What each book will be like based on the ones before. All their favorite characters are there. They know the backstory. They know who’s going to have a snarky remark and who’s going to keep the peace. They know who the introvert is and who’s going to bring the party. It’s like sitting down for a few hours with their best friends, if we’re lucky.

Because hearing a story from your best friend is the best kind of story.

Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. Her series, Big & Beautiful, is eleven stories long… and counting, because her readers asked for more. When Mary isn’t writing, she cheers on her daughter at gymnastics and her son at every other sport. Mary is lucky to have her own romance novel worthy husband to tag-team if things get too crazy. Visit her website at http://MaryEThompson.com to learn more.

BICHOK, But Then What?

~ By Tanya Agler

Note: Tanya's companion post, Writing During a Family Crisis, can be found here

Okay, we’ve all been there. We’re about to start writing and bam! The robocall of congratulations comes as you’ve won a free cruise to Nebraska if you turn over our checking account number now. A knock on the office door precedes your youngest running in with blood gashing out of his forehead and an ER trip is in your immediate future. A pop-up notification alerts you a prince in Nigeria wants to give you a million dollars because you’re a wonderful person. Okay, I’m exaggerating on purpose, but think about it. When you sit down to write, how often do you check your e-mail or your Facebook feed for just a second or tell yourself it will be one game of Solitaire? Even right now, thank you for reading this blog, but were you about to open your manuscript? If so, this might be the article you’ve been waiting for. If, on the other hand, you are rewarding yourself by reading one of your favorite website blogs after a productive day of writing, please come write with me and let your discipline rub off on me!

To Do Lists. Why are they the rage this year? Because they work. One caveat. Make a to-do list on a sheet of paper or in a day planner or in a notebook. Crossing items off with a pen or pencil often helps you feel like you’ve accomplished something. How specific your to-do list is up to you. (My wonderful husband has fun whenever he finds my to-do list. He often writes in watch Doc Martin with WH). If you like crossing off lots of activities, go ahead and include items like brushing your teeth and getting dressed. Often crossing off the little things gives a sense of accomplishment. If, however, you only want to itemize your writing goals to stay on task, do that. These are only suggestions on maximizing your writing productivity. Find what works best for you. When you see positive results, stick with that method.

Priorities. Say you’ve used a to-do list for a week and have discovered you can only get two out of three writing activities done each day. Now you know what you are capable of, and you have the power to decide whether to classify those activities in terms of importance or work a little at a time on all three. One caveat. First and foremost, when you are prioritizing your writing tasks, make sure that number one is writing or editing your work in progress. 

Turn off notifications. When you are actually in the chair with your hands on the keyboard, eliminate as many distractions as possible. If you can turn off notifications, do that. You don’t even need an app. Just click on system preferences, click on turn off notifications when you start writing and turn them on again when you’re done for the day. Caveat. I have kids in school, and the nurse calls when there’s a head injury. So I can’t turn off my phone when they’re in school. Do what you can to minimize distractions while taking your personal circumstances into account.

Timers or Sprints. I love my timers. I write for twenty or twenty-five minutes, then I read a book about writing for ten or get up and walk around. If I’m really into a scene, I’ll keep going when the timer goes off, but I’ve discovered I can write for longer periods as a result. Some writers swear by word sprints. If those help you, find friends on FB or go to Twitter and look for a group of writers who will sprint with you.

Spreadsheets. Okay, some of you are now running for the hills. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be a notebook where you write the date and your word count. I use an Excel spreadsheet. Why? So I can see at a glance the numbers adding up and know I’m writing daily.

Rewards. Yes, I know some of you read the word bribes. I prefer to call them a reward. There are scenes that will be harder to write than others. On these days, I load a little bag with M&Ms or Hershey Kisses. Every five hundred words or so, I reward myself with a Hershey Kiss. I try not to make this an everyday occurrence but, in a pinch, the small treat helps me keep going.

So those are some tips that might make your BICHOK time more productive.

*If you have any tips you want to share, please leave a comment.

This write-at-home mom lives in Georgia with her husband, four kids, one Basset Hound (Vera) and one rabbit (Gandalf). She writes a mixture of inspirational category and sweet contemporary Southern front porch romances. In 2016, she placed first in the Great Expectations Contest (Contemporary Category) and the Catherine Contest (Contemporary Short) as well as finaled in the Maggies and TARA Contests.

When she’s not writing, chauffeuring her children or folding laundry, Tanya loves classic movies (preferably black and white or anything with Cary Grant) or enjoying a cup of tea alongside a good book.

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Irish Alpha Heroes and St. Patricks Day

Casey ClipperHappy St. Patrick's Day! 

Our chapter president Casey Clipper has agreed to tell us a bit about writing Irish Alpha Heroes. 

How's that for good luck? 

So it back and enjoy. 

If you also create heroes based on aspects of your own cultural background, please share in the comments. 

Contemporary Romance: What was it about growing up in an Irish family that you wanted to translate into fiction?

Casey Clipper: It wasn’t necessarily the growing up in an Irish family but more watching the men, like my father and grandfather and uncle (I have a few, but the one who reminds me of my dad the most), that made me fashion the heroes in my stories after them, in a sense.

Watching the way the men in the family treated their wives, gave me first-hand knowledge of the whole alpha personality, who loves and adores the woman in his life. They treated their wives in an extremely respectful manner, acknowledging their wives ran the household and being perfectly fine with that, with zero macho ego thing, holding them in such high regard in their lives.

Yet, they were also the “men of the house”, taking care of their families and spouses. From the outside and looking back on the interaction and daily routines, it’s quite fascinating. (I unfortunately have to speak in past tense because my grandparents and my mother are no longer with us.) 

CR: Do you have any favorite family stories or anecdotes?

CC: Well, my grandmother was probably the most superstitious woman I’ve ever known and managed to pass that down? I don’t spill salt, walk under a ladder, and definitely change directions if a black cat crosses my path. And do not bring an outside broom inside. That was a heated battle in my house a couple years ago between myself and my husband.

four leaf cloverThere is also the memory of Sundays at my grandparents’ home. After church, the entire family—aunts, uncles, grandchildren—would go to my grandparents for dinner and then after the three oldest granddaughters (yes, I’m in the top 3) did the dishes, the aunts and uncles and my grandfather played cards with nickels, dimes, and quarters.

CR: Are your heroes based on actual people from your life? 

CC: Not one of my heroes are based off anyone in my life. They’re really based off an ideal man (though with his own issues) in my mind at the time of writing a novel.

Of course, they’re all alphas and all love their women and are all supportive of their heroine and naturally have to go through their arcs, but I can honestly say that not one character is written with someone specific in mind.

CR: Do you have a process for researching Irish culture?

CC: Names. I research names and their meanings. Even last names. For instance, Murphy (which is used in The Love Series) in 2014 was the most number one surname in Ireland. O’s in front of a name mean “grandson of” or “decedent of” while Mac’s in front of names mean “son of”. Ryan (used in Unexpected Love) means little king. Neil, which I use for a last name in my The Men of Law series, means passionate. 

CR: Are there any stereotypes / myths about Irish culture that bother you?

CC: That the Irish are drinkers. Yes, you’ll always have those in any culture that are stereotypical, but for the most part, we aren’t going to the pub every night and downing Guinness or whiskey and getting into brawls.

CR: Why do you think St. Patrick’s Day has become so universal?

CC: I think because it’s a time where you can go to the pub or to a neighbor's (which is where I’ll be), decked out in your green, listen to Irish music, maybe have some Jamison or Baileys or a Guinness, eat some corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes and relax in the company of friends and family.

In an atmosphere that is just plain fun. I think the American version of St. Patrick’s Day has become more about celebrating good times with everyone, even strangers at the pub. And I think we all need that in our lives right now more than ever. Right?

CR: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

CC: Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! We’re all Irish today!

* Thank you so much, Casey! *

Learn more about Casey at http://caseyclipper.com

Bringing Back The Stiletto Contest

Dear Chapter Members,

One of the major items that had been discussed last year, when the board was getting ready to transition into the 2017 year, was bringing back the Stiletto Contest. A contest that had been well known among RWA members as one of the best among RWA chapters to enter. But how did we, as a new board, bring back a contest that had essentially been abandoned and make it great and a sought after

A contest that had been well known among RWA members as one of the best among RWA chapters to enter. But how did we, as a new board, bring back a contest that had essentially been abandoned and make it great and a sought after contest, again?  It begins with a list of to-do items.

1. Pulling together a great committee.

It’s not easy for chapters to get volunteers, especially online chapters like the Contemporary Romance Writers. But we put the call out and sure enough, we got a great group of members who not only gave great input but have stepped up to contribute to make this contest great again.

2. Improving the judge’s score sheet.

Luckily, writers and authors save everything. And I mean everything, right? We tend to not delete anything on our laptops. One of the committee members had saved the Stiletto Contest score sheet from the last year it had been held and the committee agreed that it needed an overhaul. Entrants enter contests for reasons. Maybe it’s to nab an award-winning author tag or to get their manuscript in front of a specific judge or to get feedback from judges on their manuscripts. Whatever the case, a good score sheet is vital and the Stiletto’s now has more in-depth questions to help writers get better feedback for their entries.

3. Final Round Judges.

This could have been a daunting task. Finding final round judges for the unpublished division was something that we wanted to be sure we got right. Thankfully, even though the Stiletto hadn’t been around in a few years, editors and agents jumped at the opportunity to judge the unpublished final round. Yay, CRW! We still got it! ;-)

4. Categories.

Another discussion in the committee was categories. Naturally, we chose only contemporary romance, because, well, we’re a contemporary romance chapter. Leaving paranormal, fantasy, historical, etc to the chapters that focus on those genres was a bit of a no-brainer for us. But, choosing the subgenres within contemporary romance was a further discussion. There were reasons for the categories chosen and reasons for categories not picked, but mainly it came down to max number of categories and leaving some to chapters that focus specifically on those subgenres, like YA and erotic.

We also wanted to include published authors as a new part of the Stiletto. Many of our members are published and self-published authors and we wanted to give them the opportunity to enter the contest. So we unanimously decided on two divisions−published and unpublished−to give every CRW member, and author and writer outside of CRW, an opportunity to enter a contest.

We are also one of the few chapters that has given published authors an entry choice of either ebooks or paperbacks. Many traditionally published authors don’t have access to their ebooks or maybe an author isn’t comfortable handing off their ebook. The committee came together and agreed that having both options available would be best. We’re truly happy with this decision that includes every author’s publishing route.

5. Category Coordinators.

Recruiting category leaders was not an easy task by any means. No one wants to volunteer time that they don’t have. But once again, the women who have agreed to be categories coordinators have been fantastic. And I can’t thank them enough for stepping up for the chapter.

6. Last but not least - Entrants!

We need your entries! The Stiletto Contest cannot run without entries. So if you’ve been on the fence, enter your novel or manuscript. If you’re a member, a published ebook entry or an unpublished manuscript is only $15! That is the lowest price of any chapter contest. How could you possibly beat that for the possibility of becoming an award-winning author or getting your manuscript in front of some of the best editors and agents in the industry?

I’ve severely paraphrased the process of bringing back the Stiletto Contest. It has been a great undertaking by all involved, from the committee to the category coordinators to the board. Every member who has played a part has been significant in bringing this contest back. And for that, the Contemporary Romance Writers board cannot thank you enough. We’re thrilled to have the contest back and better than ever!

Now, get those entries in before the submission date ends on Friday, April 7th.

Casey Clipper

President

Contemporary Romance Writers

Why We Should Enter Writing Contests

~ By Liza Keogh

So, you're thinking about entering a contest sponsored by RWA, or one of RWA's local or online chapters?

Good! I have some thoughts to nudge you along.

Some of us are plotters, some are pantsers, and some of us have created a hybrid of the two that works. Some of us are traditionally published, some of us are self-published, and some of us are hybrid.

What's important is we all started somewhere, and if we're even contemplating entering a writing contest, it means we also finished something we started. Woot!

When you're new to writing, a contest provides a concrete deadline. Some of us need a little pressure to get to the finishing line.

A contest can also provide you with feedback, from a bare-bones numbering system, to a few sentences, to a healthy chunk of pages that have been marked up by thoughtful, attentive judges.

A contest can also help you find other writers within the vast community that is the RWA. It can be daunting to wade in to a thriving organization and find your place. Entering a contest is one way to get to know the waters. Volunteering to judge the preliminary round is another. 

But, if you're curious, then just do it. Pressing send might feel a bit like jumping into your favorite swimming hole a few weeks too early, but the plunge is worth it.

Before you press that send button, let's review:

  • Do you have a completed manuscript?
  • Have you polished that manuscript so it's nice and shiny?
  • Run it through spell check and grammar check one more time. Just in case.

Awesome!

Go back to the contest rules page and read through carefully. Then, look at your manuscript.

  • Does it fit into one of the contest's categories?
  • Have you formatted it correctly? 
  • Have you removed all traces of identification from the file(s) you are sending?

Go back, again, and triple check those pesky formatting rules. They're important. You're submitting a piece of writing you believe in. It hurts to be disqualified because you forgot to remove your name from the file's properties, or you've formatted your pages into .docx, not .doc.

Good luck!

Liza is a pantser who craves organization and deadlines. She has a modest amount of experience with entering writing contests and knows what it's like to press send on a polished project, and what it's like to press send on something half-baked. Believe her, it feels much better to send in a piece of writing that is ready!

Most days, she can be found in her writing cabin, working towards her next Life Goal: becoming a published author. You can find her blogging at https://lizakeoghblog.wordpress.com, and on twitter @lazy_liza_k.

Writing During a Family Crisis

~ By Tanya Agler

Overall, writing is a rather solitary endeavor. Many people, who’ve never finished a book, believe it’s the easiest thing in the world to let the words flow onto the computer screen or onto a sheet of paper. In reality, many writers have day jobs, families, and responsibilities.

Many wake up early to write or stay up late. Some use their lunch breaks or the time after their children go to bed. Day by day, they see their word count add up until lo and behold, they have a first draft and finally a revised and edited book.

But sometimes real life intervenes in a way none of us can prepare for.

Sometimes a loved one gets sick. Worst of all, sometimes our loved ones pass away.

When those crises hit home, how do writers sit down and write when it seems as though everything they knew is falling apart around them?

Believe me, it’s better to think about how you’d keep writing in a crisis when trouble isn’t swirling around you. In the four years since I’ve been seriously pursuing writing as a career, my father has died and my teenage daughter has been diagnosed with a rare disease, VHL, which has required numerous scans, tests, eye laser procedures and outpatient surgeries.

Life happens as you’re trying your best to capture emotion on the page and write a story someone will want to read. So, here’s my advice on what to consider before the crisis hits and you wonder how on earth you are ever going to find time to write or even find that inner writing spark again.

Know why you write. This seems like a basic question. Why do you want to write? Why are you the best person to write the story burning in your head? It’s important to ask yourself why you write because when life hits the fan, you need to know why, out of everything you could be doing with your time, writing means so much to you.

Know your writing style. I’m not talking about your writing voice, although it is important to know that. I’m talking about whether you’re the type of “have laptop, will travel” writer or “a dedicated time and space” writer. Depending on how you work best, you know then how to adjust in those times of crisis. I’ve written in hospital rooms, doctor waiting rooms, and school parking lots, but I also know people who have to write at home and would have awakened two hours early to write at their desks. When you know how you write, you can adjust your schedule to accommodate your writing, if it’s a short term adjustment.

Know your writing priorities. Preplanning, writing or editing (and more revision) all are integral parts of writing. A long time ago, they might have been the only job a writer had. Today, not so much. A writer wears different hats. A writer may have a critique partner or beta readers, should have a website, is usually active on social media or found on a blog hop, and even more. Some writers assign priorities to all the different parts of their writing responsibilities. On days when I’m on the go, I might not have time to write the black moment, but I might have time to set up tweets (one caveat-if you write social media posts ahead of time and bad news breaks, pull the tweets or FB posts) or critique a couple of pages or beta read a chapter. The great thing is when I do get a bigger chunk of time, I can write.

Know when to take a break. All of this sounds great until you’re in the ICU with a family member or best friend or when you get the call from the doctor that you have to start chemo. Sometimes you have to give yourself the freedom to call your agent or postpone your indie release because the crisis is too big. It’s okay to say I can’t write because I have to figure out how my family gets through a car wreck, or I have to undergo cancer treatment, or I have to say goodbye. But when you know why you write, you’ll know when it’s time to open that laptop screen again or sit down at your desk, and the story will pour out of you.

So that’s my advice. Sit down and figure this out when life is good. Then, when life happens, you’ll know why you write and you’ll know when it’s time to get all the emotion you went through into a story that readers will love.

This write-at-home mom lives in Georgia with her husband, four kids, one Basset Hound (Vera) and one rabbit (Gandalf). She writes a mixture of inspirational category and sweet contemporary Southern front porch romances. In 2016, she placed first in the Great Expectations Contest (Contemporary Category) and the Catherine Contest (Contemporary Short) as well as finalled in the Maggies and TARA Contests.

When she’s not writing, chauffeuring her children or folding laundry, Tanya loves classic movies (preferably black and white or anything with Cary Grant) or enjoying a cup of tea alongside a good book.

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Attn: All the Single Ladies — You Are Astonishing!

~ Melina Kantor Hello, All the Single Ladies, My last post in our honor was about HEA’s and why we are more than capable of writing them. I’m back! I wasn’t planning on writing another post about “single ladies,” but there’s something I feel the need to discuss. Actually, there's a part of that something I’d rather not discuss in public, but I’ll take one for the team and admit that two weeks ago, I went to a singles event at my synagogue. (Yeah, I know. Gasp. Ick. What was I thinking? In all fairness, it was one of the nicest I've been to and with the exception of the problem I'm about to talk about, I actually enjoyed it.) I live in Jerusalem, where being single, especially at my age, is not the norm and something a lot of people want to help me “fix.” There are even matchmakers floating around. No kidding. They’re all very nice, but yeah, things can get a little “Fiddler on the Roof.” So there I was at Shabbat dinner, seated at a table with a randomly selected batch of single men, thinking, as I often do, about how I could work this particular situation into a novel. And then came the speaker. A married male. He had some questions and suggestions: “Think about why you’re not married.” Easy peasy. Because I haven’t met the right guy. Actually, I'd bet that most of the people in this room are single because they haven't found matches who meet their standards.  Plus, I'm busy living my own life.  Do you take the time to talk to yourself and get to know yourself, who you are, and what you want in a relationship?” Oh, honey. I’m single. I spend a lot of time with myself. I think I’ve got the “knowing myself” part covered. As for the what I want? Bless your heart. I actually have figured it out, and I shared it with the world. Thanks for asking, though.” “Confidence will help attract the right person. What do you need to do to develop the confidence you need to attract the right guy?” Look, I may be five feet tall and I have a voice not so dissimilar to Bernadette’s from The Big Bang Theory. I can be shy and introverted at times. I'll never be willing to bungee jump off a tall building.  But if you think I lack confidence, think again.  I sat there annoyed and edgy.  Honestly, I was insulted. Enough with the assumptions. Confidence manifests itself in many forms, some of which may not be so obvious. My single friends don't sit at home in sweatpants, eating Ben & Jerry's and feeling sorry for themselves because they aren't married. They're too busy buying their own homes, writing novels, producing podcasts, moving up in their careers, and, in the case of one friend, running marathons. She's trained for and run seven. Even my single friends with multiple cats do not, in any way, fit the description of a "crazy old cat lady." As for me, I've been busy building a life and a business in a new country. By myself (sadly, my two dogs haven't been pulling their weight). This got me thinking about romance novel heroines, and I had a sudden realization.  Guess what! HEA’s come at the end of a romance novel. Which means that in every romance novel ever written, the protagonist is a fellow single lady throughout the majority of the story. And that means that we’d better portray them as the strong, independent, and confident women they are. So, how do we do that? What are the characteristics of a truly confident protagonist? Let's discuss. Thunderdome style. Ready?

Who's more confident?

Buffy Summers vs Rachel Greene

Rachel Green

Okay, I'll explain. Combat boots, trucks, and power tools don’t equal confidence. Your protagonist may appear to be tough as nails. You can dress her in leather jackets. You can put her on a motorcycle. But all that is for show. When it comes to confidence, you might want to dig deeper. Let’s take a look at Buffy. She’s pretty tough, right? I mean, the woman had to figure out the plural of apocalypse once saving the world became something she did on a regular basis. Now, it feels like sacrilege to say anything critical of Buffy or The Honorable Joss Whedon, and I hate being mad at my beloved Xander. But when it comes to Riley, I can’t help it. Riley made Buffy visibly shrink. Instead of admiring her for her mental, emotional and physical strength, he was jealous. Ew. Jealousy is more than "not good." It's downright dangerous. And Buffy saw the jealousy and tried to make herself less than to boost his ego. Clearly, the woman needed to blast Ace of Base and "see the sign." When (spoiler alert), Riley was on his way out of the picture and I was waiting to cheer, Xander gave Buffy the most insulting lecture ever, which Buffy not only endured but seemed to take to heart, and then she got all weepy that Riley the Manipulative Wimp was leaving. Seriously? She never should have put up with him for so long. She needed the confidence to know that she deserved better. She needed to make this her anthem: Note: I’ve taken self-defense and am hoping to take more classes. Yeah, it feels good to know that I have the ability to break a brick with my bare hand (pictured here wrapped in ribbon), but what matters to me more than that is the mental strength the class gave me. I have confidence in my ability to protect myself. All of the protagonists in the trilogy I’m working on take self-defense. They wear shirts that say “Fight Like a Girl,” but they never have to lift a finger to anyone. The point is, they could But again, it's the mental strength that matters more. The ability to be alone, make one’s own decisions and take care of oneself does equal confidence. You know who has that ability? Rachel Green. And yes, I do mean the one with the haircut. She left her loser fiance and moved to the city, where she cut up her father’s credit cards and got a job to support herself. Waitress at a coffee house may not be the first job that comes to mind when thinking about success, but for Rachel, even though she wasn’t great at her job, it helped her grow up and develop a whole boatload of skills. She knew what she liked and she knew she wanted to end up in fashion. And that was before Ross. Then, when Ross came into the picture, she had enough confidence to know what she didn’t deserve: She didn’t even fall for this romantic gesture. Don’t you love how she handled this? Look how successful Rachel was by the end of the show’s run. Yes, she ended up with Ross. But that wasn’t because she had to fix anything about herself in order to be in a relationship with him. Ross had to grow and change to get himself up to her standards.

Who's more confident?

Elena Alvarez vs Rory Gilmore

Elena Alvarez

Okay, I'll explain. Brains and success don’t equal confidence. You know those books Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches refers to as “competence porn?” It’s always fun to read about a woman to is great at her job and can take care of herself. You could argue that the brilliant Rory Gilmore is the poster girl for competence porn. You would think that with her high grades, acceptance to three ivy-league schools, and the adoration of her entire town, she’d have just a little more faith in herself. Alas, no. She ended up with Jess even after he spoke to her like this: Um. . . I don't think so. And not long after that, she slept with her married ex-boyfriend. That's right. Attractive, intelligent Rory who could pretty much take her pick of guys lacked the confidence to do just that. So she went running back to Dean. Not to mention that after she got some harsh criticism about her performance as an intern, she stole a yacht and dropped out of Yale. OMGTWFBBQ. Are you kidding me? If she'd had confidence, after that one foreboding night alone cleaning her keyboard, she would have washed that man right out of her hair:  I guarantee that the quality of her life would have shot up, and the Gilmore Girls reboot would have been less depressing. Living “one day at a time” and leaning on female family and friends does equal confidence. Elena Alvarez, the fifteen-year-old daughter of a self-proclaimed "badass" single female veteran and granddaughter of an immigrant from Cuba certainly has role models when it comes to confidence and independence. Her best friend, Carmen, is also pretty incredible. Elena refuses to wear make-up and is never afraid to stand up for what she believes in: For the sake of those of you who haven’t seen the Netflix reboot of “One Day at a Time,” I won’t spoil the show even more. But I will warn you that the father - daughter dance scene of the season finale will rip your heart out and then totally make your year. (Not to mention that the whole storyline with Elena's outfit had me all choked up.) Just trust me on this. Watch the show (it gets better towards the end of the season) and pay attention to the behavior of the women - especially Elena. And check out Rita Moreno opening those curtains at the 0:35 mark: Every woman, single or married, should have that kind of confidence.

Who's more confident?

Amy Farrah Fowler vs Maria

Amy Farrah Fowler

Okay, I'll explain. Knowing what you like, not conforming, and asking for what you want does equal confidence.  I don't even know how to start talking about Amy Farrah Fowler. She slices brains with the utmost precision. She dresses the way she feels most comfortable and doesn't adjust her style to fit in with the more classicly trendy Penny and Bernadette. She enjoys playing the harp and isn't shy about singing: And she takes zero s*&% from Sheldon: Best of all, when it comes to sex. . . well, this says it all: In fact, Amy and Sheldon's relationship has sparked a whole new conversation about consent. Feeling pretty does not equal confidence. Is there a more romantic movie than West Side Story? Wow. Isn’t it beautiful? I could listen to the songs, which I used to sing when I studied voice, on a continuous loop. Isn’t Maria confident? She stands up to her family and recognizes how gorgeous she is: If only she didn’t feel pretty just because she was “loved by a pretty wonderful boy.” There’s just one other tiny, itty bitty little thing. . .  Uh, Maria? A boy like that? Really? Because you know, he um. . . would and did kill your brother. Well, that, and you’ve known him twenty-four hours. She was an ingenue. Clearly, she didn't realize what that leads to. Yes, conflict fuels our stories. But in my opinion, there is such a thing as too much conflict. How about this version of the story: Maria sends Tony’s ass to jail, helps her family’s business thrive while she figures out what she wants to do in life, and marries a guy who is actually deserving of her (and isn’t, you know, a murderer). So. . .  As you can see from these examples, plenty of women who are in relationships a) don’t know what they want and b) lack confidence. You know what else? If the argument that men are attracted to confidence was 100% true, Julia Roberts would have gotten herself off the streets and into more “decent” clothes before Richard Gere was attracted to her. (And by extension, Eliza Doolittle would have lost her accent on her own before Henry Higgins gave her a second glance.) We wouldn’t all have that at least one friend who settled for “low hanging fruit” (those are the words of a dating coach from that afore mentioned singles event) because he showed interest in her and she couldn’t handle being single for two minutes. Being saved by a man who boosts your ego does not equal confidence. If your protagonist’s journey involves gaining confidence, please oh please let the source be just about anything that’s not a man. We, as romance writers, are trained to think about conflict and character arcs. But you know what? In the end, a “happily ever after” has more to do with chance, chemistry and sexual tension than anything else. All of that self-discovery and contrived confidence building matters a lot less (if at all). Getting married is NOT an accomplishment. Yes, relationships take work. But. Natalie Brooke says is best:
“You don’t have to have a brain, drive or special skill set to get married. You just have to have a willing partner.”
She also points out that:
“It is 2016 and being popped the question is still more celebrated than academic and professional pursuits of women. Yes, college graduations and landing a great career and receiving wonderful promotions are all received with happiness from friends and family, but not even close to the same level of elation received when you announce that you are getting hitched. This is my experience, at least.”
So, Single Ladies. You haven’t found your match. That's very much okay. Don't ever let anybody tell you that being single is a) a problem and / or b) something for which you should be blamed.  Don't ever settle:  
"Playing with matches
A girl can get burned
So,
Bring me no ring
Groom me no groom
Find me no find
Catch me no catch
Unless he's a matchless match."
Most importantly, never forget that you, like the protagonists you write, are astonishing:
“There's a life That I am meant to lead A life like nothing I have known I can feel it And it's far from here I've got to find it on my own Even now I feel it's heat upon my skin. A life of passion that pulls me from within, A life that I am making to begin. There must be somewhere I can be Astonishing Astonishing I'll find my way I'll find it far away I'll find it in unexpected and unknown I'll find my life in my own way Today"
Hopefully, the same is true for your protagonists. Oh, and hey. Don’t worry. Just like last time, I’ll leave you with some Beyonce (By coincidence, I found this video thanks to a Facebook post from the organization that offers my self-defense classes):
“They love the way I walk 'Cause I walk with a vengeance And they listen to me when I talk 'Cause I ain't pretendin' It took a while, now I understand Just where I'm going I know the world and I know who I am It's 'bout time I show it (ahh)”

* What traits do you like to see in a confident protagonist? Feel free to give examples! 

Melina writes contemporary romance with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. She loves to travel, especially to her family’s village in Crete, and turn her adventures into research for her novels. In July of 2012, she moved to Jerusalem with her adorable but sneaky cocker spaniel. Her family now includes an incredibly sweet yet troubled rescue puppy. You can visit her at http://melinakantor.com

Blog for Us!

Interested in contributing a guest post for the Contemporary Romance Writer’s Blog? We’d love to have you! All chapter members, published and not yet published, are welcome to contribute.

Guidelines
Word Count: Posts should be between 500 -750 words, but exceptions can be made. Author Bio: Please include a headshot and bio of 50 -100 words. You may include a link to your website homepage or blog and mention books you’ve published. Any links to Amazon or other places to buy your books will be removed. We are unable to post book covers. (Please note: Our most successful posts, meaning the posts that bring the most traffic to an author's website, are ones that are focused on teaching our readers and include little or no marketing.) Submission Procedure: Please send blog post, bio and headshot to melissadespina AT gmail DOT com one week prior to the scheduled post date.
Suggested Topics Need help coming up with a topic? Here are some examples to inspire you. 1. Craft: see example 2. Industry: see example 3. Inspiration / Life as a Writer: see example 4. Marketing / Promotion / Social Media: see example 5. Member Spotlight: see example
Below is a list of suggested topics by month, but if you’ve got your own idea, that’s great too. PANorama posts will appear on the last Sunday of each month, and are a chance for our chapter PAN members (PAN stands for Published Authors Network, a professional designation within RWA open to members who reach a certain level of sales) to visit the blog to share some of their wisdom and expertise. If you’re a PAN Member, please consider volunteering. If you have any questions, please be in touch! Please put CRWA Blog 2016 in the subject line of your email. Thanks! Melissa (aka Melina) melissadespina @ gmail.com January 
  • Goal Setting for the new year
  • Self-Editing Tips/Techniques/Methods That Work
  • PANorama – Goal and Motivation
February 
  • Important Characteristics of Your Heroine
  • Valentine’s Day & The Importance of Love
  • PANorama – Voice
March 
  • Writing a Hero Who is Worthy of Your Heroine's Love
  • Giving and Receiving Critiques
  • PANorama — Strong Secondary Characters Who Don’t Steal Your Story
April 
  • Building Strong Internal and External Conflict in Contemporary Romance
  • Character Arc – How to Make Your Characters Grow
  • PANorama — Writing a Series
May 
  • Villains We Love / Despicable Characters
  • Common Contemporary Vocations (Writing the doctor/nurse, military, business mogul / secretary, cowboy, etc.)
  • PANorama – Comedy and Humor
June 
  • Building Strong Internal and External Conflict in Contemporary Romance
  • Types of Conflict in Contemporary Romance Today
  • PANorama – Character Flaws
July 
  • 4th of July – The American Heroes – Writing Military / Rescue Heroes and Heroines
  • Conference Tips
  • PANorama – Relationships with Editors and Publishers
August 
  • Research, History, Fact-Finding Missions
  • Including Travel in your Writing
  • PANorama – Story Structure
September 
  • Balancing Your Writing Life / Day Job Life / Family Life
  • Writing Process – Are You a Plotter or Pantser?
  • PANorama – Antogonists. . . Why we need them
October 
  • Preparing for & Surviving NaNoWriMo
  • Halloween – Incorporating Paranormal Elements in Contemporary Romance
  • PANorama – Writing Your Protagonist’s Best Friend
November 
  • Share Your Successful Query Letters
  • Surviving NaNoWriMo / “Don’t Look Down” Drafts
  • PANorama – Writing is Hard. Why Do We Do It?
December 
  • Writing for the Holidays
  • Looking Back at Your Year of Writing

Strong Writing Regimen. Strong Body.

~ By Liza Keogh

My writing regimen is getting stronger. Fifteen months ago, I formally ended one career and began to write fiction. I had a yearlong arc of transition ahead of me, and the planets seemed well-aligned to support a multitude of big changes in my life.

My body is suffering. My hip joints are achy, the herniated disc in my lower back is very testy, and my core strength is a thing of the past. Photographs attesting to what once was survive, otherwise, I might have a hard time proving how strong and limber I used to be.

Any of that sound familiar? I knew, going in, that many daily hours in the seated position was deleterious to one's health. Heck, I'd been working with people for over ten years to improve their posture and muscle tone, even to set up at-home yoga and meditation practices to keep them tuned up between classes or private sessions.

And here I was, ignoring my own advice. Perhaps I was thinking I would be immune to the effects of having my butt in a chair for up to eight hours a day. Perhaps I thought the sugary treats my brain was suddenly craving were part and parcel of 'becoming a writer'.

Now what?

Here's what I know: We humans are meant to move (not just be moved). We benefit even more from moving our bodies in different directions. Getting out into Nature regularly is good for our brains, our bodies, and likely our well of inspiration. Adequate water intake is essential, as are good eating habits.

If writing is our thing, and we have word counts and deadlines to meet, along with every other obligation in our lives, how do we keep the vehicle transporting us through this lifetime in good working condition?

Start somewhere. Now. Today, I put on exercise clothes as soon as I woke up, tied on my sneakers, and made myself a cup of rooibos chai tea with hazelnut milk. I am going to walk on my treadmill for 30 minutes before I start writing, and I am recommitting to an anti-inflammatory eating plan. That plan seems to work well for me: it helps ease the aches in my joints, melts off excess pounds, and sharpens my brain. To experience those benefits, however, I have to be rigorous and patient and remember that day three will be horrible.

Vary your vectors. That's a phrase that reminds us to vary our exercise routine. Our fascial system runs throughout our body on up and down, side to side, diagonal, spiral and intersecting pathways. It needs water to stay healthy, 'juicy', and it needs movements to keep from getting sticky. Before I walk on my treadmill I'll do a 10-15 minute functional movement warm-up (see below for a link to my favorite). I've tried running, even once hired a coach to teach me the mechanics of running, and I failed miserably. So, I stick with what I know instead of setting unattainable goals.

Make a plan. After I write, and before I get on my exercise mat later in the day, I'll record a fifteen- to twenty-minute Pilates routine. I have notes and pencil figure drawings from a series of private sessions I signed up for last summer. That was months ago, I know, but I had this idea for a story and... you know how it goes.

Little ideas:

  • Used exercise equipment is out there. My well-loved treadmill cost $100.
  • Get thee to a class. Go with a friend. Pay attention to the instructor, and pay attention to what your body is telling you as you move, and afterward. Get to know your body as well as you know your favorite characters.
  • Get thee to an on-line class. Youtube is a great, free resource. Start with Ed Paget's F.A.S.T. class, and explore the rest of the offerings at Intrinsi, Osteopathic Clinic and Natural Movement Center (Please note: I have no connection with them whatsoever, other than admiring their approach to human movement, and the clarity of instruction. I did a lot of research over the years for clients, and the Intrinsi site is consistently good. Check out the videos on the pelvic floor, too.)
  • Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, become more aware of your posture.

I'd love to know how others keep themselves healthy, or what got them back into caring for their health.

Liza Keogh has extensive experience leading yoga retreats, often in conjunction with writing coaches and therapists. She founded and ran a successful yoga center in Massachusetts and for over ten years brought yoga to venues that included public parks, corporations and low-income health centres.

Most days, she can be found in her writing cabin, working towards her next Life Goal: becoming a published author. You can find her blogging at https://lizakeoghblog.wordpress.com, and on twitter @lazy_liza_k.

Valentine’s Day and the Importance of Love

~ By Mary E. Thompson

I really like four letter words. Some of my favorite words are four letter words.

I’ll spare you the ones that I save for the person who cuts me off in traffic (when my kids aren’t with me) or my books, but my favorite four letter word is Love.

What does love mean?

According to dictionary.com, love means…

A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person

Or

A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend

Or

Sexual passion or desire

We have a lot of ways to use the word love. I love the Buffalo Bills, even though they have the longest playoff drought in NFL history. I love pizza, even though my waistline doesn’t. I love my kids. Period. No conditions on that one. I love my parents and my family and my friends.

And I love my husband.

I’m very lucky to have a husband who is always there for me. He’s my best friend and the love of my life. He stood by me when I lost my job. When I had no idea what to do with myself. When I decided to pick up a career without any idea what I was doing. When we had kids. When I was scared, countless times. When I faced, and beat, stage four cancer.

Today is the day to celebrate that kind of love. It’s Valentine’s Day. Everyone around the world is getting flowers or candy or cards or some other token of affection from their loved ones. My kids brought Valentine’s cards in for their classmates and teachers. The grocery stores have been filled with flowers and everything you can imagine in a heart shape. Pink and red have exploded everywhere.

Don’t even think about ignoring the day, because you can’t.

Why is a holiday with very little ties to any one culture or religion such a big deal?

St. Valentine was a martyr of the Catholic church and is reported to have been put to death on February 14, 269. He was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples and converting people to Christianity. While he was imprisoned, I’ve heard he wrote letters to people, love letters in a way, encouraging them toward love. In the third century, love was still a foreign concept as arranged marriages and betrothals claimed most people.

These love letters inspired Valentine’s of today. It’s a holiday that has become far less religious, even removed from the Roman Catholic calendar in 1969, and much more secular. You will find people of every faith and background celebrating.

But again, why?

Because love knows no boundaries. Love doesn’t care if you’re from different backgrounds, different races, different countries, or the same. Love doesn’t care if you knew each other growing up or just met yesterday. Love is love. And when you love someone, nothing else truly matters.

What would you do for love?

Would you sacrifice a friendship?

Would you give up your favorite food?

Would you skip your favorite tv show?

Would you give up your life?

They may not all be easy answers, but I’m willing to bet you would say yes. Love is so powerful that you would do anything for it. Not just to hold on to it, but to spare the person you love from suffering. To see them smile. To hear I love you.

Every single person wants to be loved. We all want to find that person we can laugh and cry and yell and fight with. The one you can say anything to and be your true self and know they’re going to love you no matter what. We all want to find that one person who makes us feel like we can do anything. Because when love is in our lives, we can.

We are surrounded by love every day. It’s on the radio, on tv, and in the books we write and read. Love adds an element of humanity to the most vicious of people. It makes things okay that wouldn’t be if not for the love driving them.

Love takes the darkness of life away. It makes you smile. It makes you healthier. It makes you get up every morning.

Just try to say I love you without feeling good. Without feeling that love seep into you, making your heart race just a little faster. Making your lips turn up in a grin. Making you reach out for the person you’re saying it to.

Love is the one thing in the world that can never be taken away. And that is why today is such a wonderful day. Because it’s a chance to celebrate how much we love each other. As friends, as family, as lovers.

Say I love you to someone today. You won’t regret it.

Then do it again tomorrow, and every other day. Because love should be celebrated… always.

Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. As a lover of love, her stories center around love in many forms from family to friends to, of course, romantic love. Her 30th release comes out March 7. She spends her days hoping she’s raising her daughter and son to be good people and her nights snuggling with her own romance novel worthy husband. Visit her website at http://MaryEThompson.com to learn more.