Meet Our New VP of Programs, Melanie Greene!

MelGreene 2A huge congratulations and thanks to our new board! :-) Over the next few weeks, we'll be introducing each new board member. Next up, come meet our new VP of Programs, Melanie Greene.

Oh, and, guess what?

Today is her birthday!

Welcome, Melanie! And happy birthday!

Q. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. What drew you to writing?

A. Because my 5th grade teacher told me I was her only student allowed to start a sentence with ‘because,’ I decided to be a writer when I grew up.

Q. Why is contemporary romance important to you?

A. I love using the best age-old story – the journey to love – to explore the world we live in. It’s great fun to create a heightened reality that feels ready to step off the page and into our lives.

Q. How has the chapter helped you with your writing career?

A. In addition to the networking with so many talented and charming fellow novelists, I’ve benefited from many just-what-I-need-right-now CR-RWA workshops over the years.

Q. What does your position involve? What are some of your main roles?

A. As VP of Programs, I will be ensuring our members, and the wider community, are aware of the many exciting workshops we are offering in 2017. I'll facilitate workshop signups and attendance. I'll also be lining up 2018 workshops, helping to plan our National Conference event, and working with the Stiletto Committee.

Q. What are your goals for the chapter? What would you like to see happen over the next year?

A. I’m excited about the workshop presenters and their offerings for 2017, and want to see our members taking full advantage of their expertise. I’m always interested to hear what other topics our members would like to see offered, so reach out to me – mel@melaniegreene.com - with your workshop wish list!

Q. Other than the fact that you’re a writer, what else would you like us to know about you?

A. I’m a total night owl. If your in-box chimes at 2 a.m., it’s probably me. Sorry in advance! 

Thanks for all you do for the chapter, Melanie! :-) Enjoy your birthday! 

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Melanie Greene is a native Houstonian, a life-long writer, an avid reader of every kind of fiction, though mostly of romance. 

Melanie's greatest pleasure is in creating characters who feel like friends, then giving them challenges to overcome on the way to Happily Ever After. 

She shares her life with her own hometown hunk of a husband and children so amazing they defy superlatives.

Meet Our President, Casey Clipper!

caseyA huge congratulations and thanks to our new board! :-) Over the next few weeks, we'll be introducing each new board member. First up, come meet our new president, Casey Clipper. Welcome, Casey!

Q. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. What drew you to writing?

A. I can’t say for sure what drew me to writing. I’ve always been a reader. My mother helped encourage that love for reading and as a teen, even though I came from a family with 4 girls, without much money, my mom would make sure I had a book to read. I vividly remember the Sweet Valley High book series littered over my bedroom. But when I actually started writing was a few years ago, when I read a popular novel and thought that I would have written it much differently. So essentially, I wrote my version of fan fiction. Of course, that first penned manuscript is so badly written it will never see the light of day.

Q. Why is contemporary romance important to you?

A. Contemporary is what I connect with best. It’s what I read. Whether it’s suspense, erotica, or new adult, it’s the genre that I enjoy the most and I can easily get into when writing. I could never be a good researched when it comes to a genre like historical or even be that inventive when it comes to making up worlds like fantasy or paranormal. Contemporary just plain works for me.

Q. How has the chapter helped you with your writing career?

A. The Contemporary Romance Writers and the RWA in general has taught me not only about the romance genre itself and vastly improved my writing through workshops, but also about the professionalism and industry connections. I truly believe that RWA and its chapters are invaluable in that manner. I’m a self-published author and I read a lot. There is a significant difference in RWA authors/writers than non-members. You can tell from Facebook posts and from reading novels of authors who haven’t been given professional advice and training.

But more than anything, the connections I’ve made through RWA and the CRW and other chapters are invaluable. I’ve made such good writing friends, who understand this world I have created for myself. They “get” me and I get them. So many kindred spirits that I now know are out there, when previously, I thought I had been all alone.

Q. What does your position involve? What are some of your main roles?

A. Lol! I have no idea. Kidding. As president of the chapter, essentially I oversee everything. So the president has her hands dipped into all the roles, as oversight of the chapter and to make sure everything is running smoothly and as should be. She calls all board meetings and schedules the general membership meeting. The president can also hold the vote that might break a tie on the board regarding policies and procedures. The president has to make sure that any new policies and procedures voted by the national board is put into place by the chapter, documented, and voted on by chapter members. The president of a chapter also represents the chapter at nationals. There is actually a lot of little, but big things, the president is responsible for that aren’t nearly as visible as some of the other board positions when it comes to the running of a chapter.

Q. What are your goals for the chapter? What would you like to see happen over the next year?

A. One of my main goals is to open up the board meetings to all members. I’d like the board meetings to be open to all CRW members so each member can see what’s happening behind the scenes. Currently, this is not in place and I’m not a fan of that. I truly feel that this is important. That all members should be given access to what the board, that they voted in, is doing for the chapter that they have paid to be a part of. So, I’m in communications with RWA to utilize one of their meeting forums to be able to open up our board meetings for members to watch in on, since we meet online.

Another item is to bring back the Stiletto contest. Right now, I’ve been spearheading the Stiletto committee and they’ve been doing a fantastic job with suggestions and their vast knowledge of contests. The Stiletto used to be one of those contests that authors would love to win and I want to bring that back to the chapter. We’ve been discussing new categories and I think this committee will definitely bring something different and valuable to the Stiletto, once again, making the contest thrive.

Also, the party at nationals I’d like to see become the party that it was well known for in years past. So, this is one of the first items on the agenda I’ll be bringing up to the new board, since it takes months to plan.

But the main agenda I have is getting the chapter back on track where members benefit from having a Contemporary Romance Writers membership. I don’t want any member to feel that they got nothing from their membership dues. I understand that every dime in today’s world counts and there are so many chapters to choose to join. I want all members to feel that they’ve chosen correctly with joining CRW.

Q. Other than the fact that you’re a writer, what else would you like us to know about you? A. I do work full time as a secretary for an outpatient physical therapy office in Pittsburgh, PA. I changed jobs for the first time in 13 years this past May and man, did it rock my world, especially my writing. I went from a mom-and-pop business that was dying to one of the busiest corporate companies in Western PA. Talk about a shock to the system and the writing mojo. It took months to get back into the writing groove.

I’m married with two boys, one 24 and one 16, and a cat named Bob, who is the king of our castle. So, I’m surrounded by men. I am the oldest of four sisters, all crazy Irish women, who give their poor father headaches daily, still. Lol. And I have a slight obsession with penguins. Well, maybe not so slight. ;-)

Thank you, Casey, for all of your hard work and dedication to the chapter! 

Writing is Hard. Why Do We Do It?

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 inspire us with some thoughts on why we write. Which for those of you who are striving to write 50,000 words this month, may feel like an extremely timely question.  Take it away, Mary!

MaryEThompson~ By Mary E. Thompson

Eight months ago a friend of mine released her first book. Leading up to the release, she did a countdown to release day on social media, shared it with everyone she knew, and was crazy excited. Three months later, sales were dismal. Recognition wasn’t there. She was discouraged.

Another friend took on a second job because her writing income wasn’t what she hoped for.

Yet another friend waited months to hear back from a submission only to get rejected.

None are new stories. Most authors start out the same way. No one knows who you are. No one is interested in your books. You pour yourself into a book and get a horrible review that rips the book, and your heart, to shreds.

So why do we do it? Why do we keep writing, keep pushing through in a career that may never be much more than a hobby? Why don’t we walk away and do something with more stability? A higher chance of success?

I think there are two reasons we keep going. Maybe only one of them drives you. Maybe it’s both. I’m guessing it’s both.

Faith

You know, without a doubt, that you have a book inside you that is going to make it all worthwhile.

We all want that elusive mega-success that seems to come so easily to some. We all computer-pc-workplace-home-office-159760want our book to be the next breakout story. The one that has movie producers and readers knocking down our door. We want the bestseller list and the raving fans that make every book bigger than our wildest dreams.

And we’re creative people. We have some crazy dreams.

If you don’t have faith in your own storytelling abilities, you’re going to give up. You know you’re good. You keep writing and learning and writing some more. Your books get better. Writing gets easier. You gain more recognition. You know it’s all going to pay off.

You have faith.

Compelled

You truly have no choice. You’ve tried something else. Maybe you had a different career before. Or you have a second one now. Maybe writing was something you’ve always wanted to do.

No matter what, you’ve thought about walking away. Giving it all up and doing something else.

But you just can’t.

There are stories inside you. Stories that are demanding you tell them. Stories that you have to get out. It doesn’t matter if you have a million fans or one, you have to tell your stories.

How could we not do it?

Readers flock to romance. Everyone wants love. Romance novels make us believe anything can happen when love gets involved. Your best friend’s cute older brother will want you. The hot guy from your favorite coffee shop asks you out. Your sexy boss is pining for you. Anything is possible. 

Is it any wonder we simply can’t stop writing our stories? Helping people fall in love? Pushing them to their limits only to shove them a little further to help them find that one person we all want to find? We can’t stop writing any more than our fans can stop reading. And that is a beautiful love story!

Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. She’s been indie published from the beginning. Her 26th release comes out November 29. 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.

Surviving NaNoWriMo When You’re Not Writing

brendamargriet~  By Brenda Margriet

Note: On Wednesday, we posted an alternate view of National Novel Writing Month

I am currently not writing. It doesn't feel good, but I am trying not to beat myself up about it. So with NaNoWriMo going full swing and many of my online writer friends posting amazing word counts I just want to say:

Shut up already!

Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. But for those of us (and I know you're out there!) who aren't doing NaNoWriMo for whatever reason, here's some encouragement on getting through the month and beyond.

Live your life

Yes, in order to be a better writer, to finish a book, to make a sale, you have to write. But you also have to read books you love, discover new authors. You have to watch the world go by, study people in a coffee shop, spend time enjoying your surroundings.

All these things colour your words, and can often get ignored while under the pressure of hitting a deadline or daily word count. Use this down time to experience life, to store up feelings and sensations and observations so that the next time you are writing in a white heat, you have them to draw on.

Keep writing – even when you can't

I may not be working on my next romance, but I am still writing. I'm doing this blog post, as well as blogging weekly on my own site. I'm lucky enough that my day job also involves creative writing to a certain extent, so I am working there. I am networking with other writers on Facebook through Messenger, which is also writing.

It's not, you say?

Well, think of it as a writing dialogue exercise. Study the patterns of the people you are messaging with. How does what they write "sound" different than what you write? How can you use that once you are again putting words on paper?

This too shall pass

Unless you're dealing with a true crisis of faith in your writing, remind yourself of all the times this has happened before. 'Fess up – you know it has. My first book took more than ten years to finish. I certainly wasn't writing every day during that time, and yet I GOT IT DONE!

Since publishing that book in October 2012, I have completed five more manuscripts and published two (soon to be three) of them. When I consider the ten-plus years MOUNTAIN FIRE took to complete, that's a furious pace for me.

During that time, I've also taken on a fairly stressful management level day job, helped three children grow to adulthood, and been generally busy. Maybe the last few weeks has simply been my brain telling me it needs a break.

Remember who you are and where you came from

I think part of the worry and frustration for me, personally, is I feel like I am wasting precious moments of writing time. I usually work on my novels for about 1.5 hours a day, maybe slightly more on weekends. With such a limited amount of time to write, any day I don't use that time makes me feel like I am falling deeper into writing "debt."

Yet even when I am writing full steam ahead, my daily quota is only 500 words. It's a total I find reasonably easy to achieve even on a bad day, and if I don't it is also reasonably easy to catch up. Would I love to have a higher number? Sure! Would it do any good? Probably not.  I have to stop comparing myself to those writers who have published 30, 40, even 50 books since the self-publishing craze caught on. They are who they are – I am who I am. I am not a risk taker.

I need the stability of a regular paycheck. Maybe someday that will be from writing. But until it is, I need to accept my limitations and work within them.

How do you deal with not writing? Do you have a daily quota? If you do, do you find yourself wishing you could do more, no matter what it is? How are you planning to survive NaNoWriMo?

Brenda Margriet writes contemporary romances with heroes you'd meet at the grocery store. And by that she means real-life men – sexy, smart and looking for the love of their life. Her heroines are bold, savvy and determined to accept nothing less than the man they deserve.

A voracious reader since she was old enough to hold a book, Brenda's idea of the perfect holiday involves a comfortable chair near the water (ocean, lake or pool will do), a glass of wine, and a full-loaded e-reader.

She lives in Northern British Columbia with her husband (as well as various funny and furry pets) and has three adult children. Find out more about Brenda on her website www.brendamargriet.com

Why I’m a Wrimo – My Top 5 Reasons

melissa~ By Melina Kantor Note: On Friday, we'll be posting another point of view about participating in NaNoWriMo. Everyone has a different process, Only you know what works best for you.  So come back Friday, and see what you think.  Apologies to all of my Facebook friends, friends in general, and everyone who has to put up with me in November. Since 2007, National Novel Writing Month has made the entire month of November the highlight of my entire year. And I let everyone know it. My Facebook cover photo is from the NaNo site, and my profile photo is of me in my NaNo hoodie holding a NaNo mug that reads, "CAN'T TALK, NOVELING." nanocover2 I post my word count publically every night. I'm one of the Municipal Liaisons for Jerusalem, and my local wrimos hear from me A LOT. I know. It's insanely ridiculous. Why would an event in which I nearly kill myself to get 50,000 words written in thirty days make me so hyper, giddy and otherwise filled with joy? Here are my top 5 reasons for participating in NaNo:

1. Anyone Can Do It

In fact, hundreds of thousands of people do. Never written a novel? Doesn't matter. Are you a best-selling author like Sara Gruen? You can throw you hat into the ring, too! It's an event for anyone who wants to celebrate story.

2. I'm a Plotter

As somebody who leans more to the plotting side of the pantser / plotter spectrum, I should possibly run screaming from the idea of writing so freely for thirty days of "literary abandon." But here's the thing. Left to my own devices, I could spend years plotting and crafting my opening scene into a perfectly formatted, error-free, work of art. In other words, without the pressure, I'd get nowhere. I do plot my NaNo novels, and I so wish that my apartment was as crazily organized as my Scrivener documents. Because I plot, I can jump around from scene to scene. NaNo doesn't let me get stuck. NaNo forces me to move forward and not get hung up on details.

3. I Adore the Community

When I began NaNo'ing, I lived in Manhattan. I was able to surround myself with hundreds of other crazy but brave local writers. Before I moved to Jerusalem, I checked the NaNo site to make sure there was a Jerusalem region. There was! During my first November in Israel, we were dealing with rocket fire from Gaza. At the time, the NaNo community was small. But I couldn't have been more grateful. Writing, especially in the company others, was a huge distraction and comfort. Last year, our local community grew. We even wrote on a boat. Best of all, thanks to social media and podcasts, the entire world can be your community.

4. Living in the Word of Story

During NaNo, I live and breathe my story. When I'm not writing, I listen to my story playlist as often as I can, which makes it almost impossible to escape my world. My desktop is my story collage (example here). Yes, life happens in November. I teach, I take care of the dogs, etc. Though I truly wish I could, I don't write full-time. November is my chance to make my story my #1 priority.

5. The Accomplishment

I'll never forget the moment I won my first NaNoWriMo. I was sitting on my couch with my computer on my lap. When I reached 50K, I went into shock. It took effort not to cry. I'd never written fiction, and suddenly, I had my own novel, in my favorite genre. The only reason I'd participated in the first place was that one of my favorite authors, Lani Diane Rich, had podcasted about it. That year, she won too. My favorite author and I had accomplished the exact same thing at the same time. How freaking cool is that? (Read our NaNo themed interview with her here.) If you can write a novel in a month, there's very little you can't do. Try it, and I promise that you'll feel like a superhero.

A Whole Month Ahead

14908217_10208977905298378_127976547929272390_nIt's only Day 2, and I'm already tired. Luckily, we've had our first of three write - ins this week. I have no doubt that my fellow wrimos will help me stay on track. Want to learn more about NaNoWriMo? We have a whole archive and tips, tricks and resources to help you. It's not too late to dive into the maddness. The chapter is here to help and support you. Good luck, and write - on! (Add me to your NaNo buddy list!) * Are you participating in NaNo? If so, why?  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

Three Simple Tips for Winning NaNoWriMo

MaryEThompson~ By Mary E. Thompson

Writing a novel in a month can seem like a daunting task. 50,000 words? I’d like that many zeroes in my bank account just as much as I’d like them in my WIP, but sadly, both have far fewer zeroes.

Getting the zeroes in my WIP is much easier than my bank account though, and by the end of November, I’ll have my 50,000 words. I’ve never done it before, but this year, I know I’ll succeed. I can write 50,000 words in a month, I’ve done it before, and with these simple tips, you can do it too!

Make a Plan

Nope, I’m not going to try to make you pantsers out there plotters. Knowing what crw-oct-nano-pic-1-smallyou’re going to write ahead of time is a good idea, but don’t change your process when you’re trying to bump up your production.

The plan I’m talking about is figuring out how many words you need to get on a page each day. Breaking it down into smaller chunks can help. If you intend to write each of the thirty days of NaNo, you’ll need to write 1,667 words daily. If you’re like me, you won’t write all those days. There’s weekends, there’s Thanksgiving if you’re in the US, and don’t forget Black Friday and Veteran’s Day - a no school day for my kids which means a no work day for me.

When I add that all up, I’m left with 18 writing days for the month. That pushes my daily word count up to 2,778. It’s a lot, but it’s very doable for me. Especially since I know going in what I need to accomplish.

Find a Friend, or a Few

crw-oct-nano-pic-2-smallNaNo is a community. We’re all there cheering each other on. There’s no competition because you winning doesn’t mean I lose. We can all win together. Because of that, everyone is very encouraging. Add friends to your list of Writing Buddies and let out your inner cheerleader to encourage others. They’ll encourage you right back!

You can also join RWA’s Word Wars! There are a bunch of chapters participating in the challenge, some offering prizes for members with the most words written. If you like a little spark of competition, Word Wars might be just the thing you need!

To keep you going during the month, you can also go to a local Write In. Authors from your area will get together through the month and sit and write. It’s an amazing opportunity to meet others in your area and feel the connection to others who love what you love. Writing!

Enjoy the Process

crw-oct-nano-pic-3-smallWriting is a fun, exciting job. NaNoWriMo shouldn’t change that. If you don’t win NaNo, it’s not the end of the world. Things come up, and stories don’t always work out, but if you stress yourself out about the process, it’s not going to be something you’ll find enjoyable. And let’s face it, when he kisses her the first time, you should be enjoying it as much as she is!

When November 1 rolls around, be ready to go. Whether you’re old school or a rebel, you can get your 50,000 words on the page. And hey, maybe you’ll get that $50,000 one day too!

Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. She’s been indie published from the beginning and is kicking off NaNo with her 25th release on November 1. 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.

Diving Back Into My World

melinafive~ By Melina Kantor Note: This post was written in August, 2016.  Confession: A few days ago, I opened my WIP for the first time in. . . Well, I don't know how long it had been. But let's just say it had been long enough that when the document opened, I swear I heard a creak. Like all of us, I've been busy with a lot of regular life stuff (new rescue puppy, busy schedule, etc). But busy I can handle. What's hard is that I now write for my day job, and after work I just can't look at a screen, much less force my brain to produce yet more words. So what changed a few days ago? Well, I've been in research mode lately, looking for details to spice up last year's NaNoWriMo project. It doesn't hurt that I'm currently visiting my family in Crete, where the book (and the two books that come before it), take place. Having extra time to write has helped, but what's helped even more is living in the non-fictional version of the world of this trilogy. I've said it before and I'll say it again: World building is just as important in contemporary romance as it is in fantasy and science fiction. For readers, it's the little details that make the world of a book relatable and believable. For writers, those same little details of our imagined worlds can keep us connected to our stories and spark our imaginations even we're not actively writing. And yes, while the vacation photos I'm about to subject you to are from somewhere exotic, I could make the same point with photos from my own neighborhood. Here are some of the powerful little details that have helped me jump back into my world.

Food

Greece being Greece, the book naturally has a lot of scenes with food. One of my characters, after having been away from Greece for six years, returns and is served snails. In the original scene, that's it. A relative is cooking snails. But thanks to an actual experience in my cousin's kitchen, the scene now has the added flare of a snail climbing out of the pot.

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And about the snails, they were collected in the mountains after heavy rains (no, I couldn't bring myself to eat any, though I've been told that I'm missing out). I also realized that I have a scene where a character is served wine. When I was recently served wine, it occurred to me that I'd forgotten to mention the traditional copper pitcher.

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Then, to my delight, I got my hands on some family recipes, including the recipe for a cake that appears in the opening scene of the second book of the trilogy.

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Around the Village

In my fictional world, the village bakery is owned by protagonist Katerina's family.

Here's the real thing, complete with dakos.

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On a whim, I decided to tell the real-life baker that I was writing a book about a Cretan bakery and asked if I could look in the back. She gave me a quick tour, but wouldn't allow photos.

Still, I now have a better idea of what I'm writing about.

Then there's the village museum, old church and school where protagonist Evi spends time with Mathaios.

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Whenever I pass through the area, I feel like they're going to show up.

(Note the retsina bottles in the museum window. I haven't decided how to work that into the story, but the possibilities are endless.)

The Beach

Let's not forget the beach. My characters spend a lot of time there, doing yoga, drinking frappe, taking boat rides, swimming, etc.

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Enough said.

The Donkeys

All three books revolve around a fictionalized version of a donkey sanctuary that's in the mountains right above the village. While I was writing the drafts, all I had to go on was the sanctuary's Facebook page. But now I can say that I've actually been there and I've fallen in love with the donkeys and the rescue dogs. IMG_3314 IMG_3356 13166005_10207561755415516_5222794573132564215_n Because I've learned what it feels like to hug a donkey (they're so dirty and fly-covered, but it's worth it), I must, must, must rewrite a few of the scenes. I also visited the sanctuary's gift shop, which they use for fundraising. Some of my characters paint rocks and knit toy donkeys, and now my descriptions will be more authentic. IMG_3359 IMG_3360 IMG_3457 IMG_3459 As an added bonus, on the way home from the sanctuary, I got to visit a farmer who picked fruit for us and introduced us to his animals. IMG_3430 IMG_3402 IMG_3413 IMG_3417   My books are already filled with goats (and sheep, “and stuff”), but now I have this experience to draw on. I can't wait!

The Bees

The second book of the trilogy involves complicated scenes involving beekeeping. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the village beekeeper gives workshops and was thrilled to answer my many questions. 14051625_10208326681538191_7412875337126664034_n14051632_10208326667377837_8137894373846029079_n 14095799_10208326672177957_7987520462519058911_n 13907016_10208326676298060_6847223864717613641_n  13938564_10208326673257984_528589258876330168_n14045737_10208326670457914_4757292418618400564_n                 In Greek, my name means honeybee. Sorry about the silly selfie, but here I am in front of "my name."

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The beekeeper is anxiously waiting to read my books, which may have something to do with the fact that I promised to put him in the acknowledgments.

Whatever the reason, I appreciate the pressure.

The Pretty

Lastly, I'll leave you with some random but pretty village pictures that are rotating as my desktop wallpaper as inspiration. IMG_3483 IMG_3531 IMG_3478 IMG_3475 IMG_3474

Now What?

I know that most of my writing won't happen here, but I'm thankful that I've got my photos, my souvenirs, and my memories to keep me going once I leave. I've also got YouTube, so I can close my eyes and pretend I'm there. (Cretan music sounds nothing like "Zorba." It's its own genre.) There you have it! Let's give the science fiction and fantasy writers a run for their money. If you need some inspiration, take some time to build your world. Take or find photos (even make a collage), listen to music (even create a playlist), bake (smell and taste are surprisingly powerful), or do whatever it takes to dive head first into your contemporary yet fictional world.

* How do you build your world? Leave a comment and let us know! 

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  

Friday Writing Prompt – With Help from Penny and Leonard

Penny Happy Friday! To kick off the weekend, we’ve got a writing prompt. This week, your protagonist slips up and unexpectedly reveals some true feelings. Yes, it sounds like a cliche, but we dare you to put your own spin on this tried and true trope. Don’t be shy. Dive in and give this a shot. It’ll get you warmed up for a weekend of writing, and prompts are a great exercise in learning about your voice. It’s also, um, kind of stolen borrowed from this episode of The Big Bang Theory.

The Scene

Your hero does something stupid and upsets your heroine. While your heroine is ranting and hurling insults, she lets out an unexpected "I love you." He's told her he loves her, but she's never said it back. Your task: What happens next? Does the mood become awkward or romantic? Do they keep arguing or jump into each other's arms? Is your heroine embarassed? How does your hero act?  Feel free to reverse the roles of the hero and heroine. 
Leave your scene in the comments! Stuck? This should help. (Or at least keep you entertained.) If you’ve got a favorite The Big Bang Theory moment (or Friends moment, Seinfeld moment, or moment from any TV show moment you love) that would make a good writing prompt, let me know! Find more writing prompts. . . 

The First Writing Critique

Marilyn Brant--author photo~ By Marilyn Brant  Note: This post originally appeared here. In the past 13 years, ever since I started writing fiction with the intent to publish, I've had a lot of critiquing experiences. Some inspiring and encouraging, even while being instructive in regards to narrative flaws. Others intentionally cruel and providing very little of value, even in supposedly "educational" settings. It can be heartbreaking to a new writer to finally work up the courage to share a draft of a story only to have this offering met with scorn... And, yet, I don't know if there's a more effective way to learn to differentiate genuinely constructive feedback from the toxic variety until we've personally witnessed both in action. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the annual conference for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English, which I was invited to this fall because they'd selected me as their 2013 Author of the Year. It was a huge honor for me (understatement!!), and I had the opportunity to be their speaker on Friday at the Awards Luncheon in Bloomington-Normal. In preparing for my talk, I couldn't stop thinking about my first and most memorable experience with getting my writing critiqued. It was during the only undergraduate composition class I ever took, which also happened to be the first time I remember making a conscious decision about whether or not to follow my (sort of secret) writing dream.
I was 19 that year and, as a direct result of taking this particular class, I chose not to pursue writing seriously then. It wasn't, however, for the reason you might think...
As an education major, I was surprised and a little disappointed when I discovered I only had to take ONE writing course to get my degree. I'd always liked writing. I'd been on the yearbook staff in high school, and I was one of the head editors of our school newspaper. Nothing about the sound of this puny college English requirement scared me one bit. So what if I'd been warned about the teacher? Told he was a real nutcase, a tough grader and someone to avoid like a bad virus, if at all possible? But it wasn't possible. His class was the only one that fit well enough into my schedule that spring, so I took it. I didn't expect problems. Can you hear the hubris gods laughing with demonic glee?! At first acquaintance, Dr. Raymond Schoen seemed almost as terrifying in person as I'd been led to believe. He was a big, gruff, older man with a beard and a pipe, and he spent the entire first class period (75 minutes!) droning on and on about the proper use of a semicolon. Seriously. That's all he talked about for a full hour and a quarter, as if it might be the freakin' cornerstone of literacy or something. I was simultaneously mesmerized and horrified by his lecture, and I kept exchanging sideways glances with a guy friend who was in the room with me. We agreed afterward that, indeed, we should have held out for a professor who was a little more sane. Someone who might actually talk about, you know, writing in our college class. Not just one weird little punctuation mark. pexels-photo-largeBut I was in for a surprise that semester. Dr. Schoen turned out to be not nearly as crazy as I'd initially thought. In fact, he started to scare me for another reason entirely: He was really logical and not easily fooled. He wasn't a professor you could snow with half-formed, ill-considered arguments. He was genuinely reading our papers. Making careful comments. Pointing out every single fallacy in our statements and every single cliché in our descriptions. I actually got a B+ on my first assignment...and again on my second one. I couldn't even remember the last time I'd gotten a B of any kind on an English paper (sometime in junior high, maybe?), so this was not, in my opinion, an auspicious start. And I desperately wanted to hate him for this...but I couldn't. I couldn't because everything he said was right. Furthermore, one option we had as students in his class was an open invitation to go to his office to discuss our writing during a short, individual conference -- particularly if we were concerned about our grades, and I was starting to be. My curiosity was at war with my resentment over this -- I was sure it was going to be a soul-crushing experience -- but curiosity eventually won out and I made an appointment to see him. You've probably already guessed that Dr. Schoen became one of my favorite teachers ever. The man possessed an amazing gift -- both as a writer himself and as a professor. He was incredibly clear-minded, but he was also fair and kind. He knew what good writing looked like, and he knew when he wasn't seeing it. He was the first person in years to hold me accountable for what I wrote, to not let me get away with lazy thinking and to make sure I really conveyed on paper what I was trying to express. He demanded honesty and clarity. Most amazingly, he inspired in me a powerful desire to prove to him that I was not illogical, unoriginal or remotely lazy. That his faith in my ability to live up to his expectations was somehow justified.

It was so emotionally honest of him. So open. So real. And I knew that I wasn't ready to do that then -- to be that kind of writer. Certainly not at 19 or 20. Not at 25 either. Or, for that matter, at 29. But, a few years after that, when I wasready, I recognized it; I knew the qualities I needed to look for in myself. (I'd also never forgotten how to properly use a semicolon, LOL.) And when, inevitably, I encountered a critiquing situation where there was derision and a lack of constructive feedback, I had a better model to emulate. To hold out for critique partners who were closer to Dr. Schoen's style...because I knew what an exceptional writing critique should feel like. That it should inspire us to want to work harder. To revise with intent and hopefulness. To reach deeper and consider the significance of every phrase, every punctuation mark. To, above all, be more ourselves on the page, not less. Never less.

(Thanks, Dr. Schoen. RIP.) * Do you have a favorite teacher? One who inspired you and made you strive to work harder at something? I'd love to know!

Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy & mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato. 

Member Spotlight: Jen Doyle

Jen_DoyleToday we continue to get to know our chapter members. Please welcome Jen Doyle Thanks for stopping by, Jen! 

Contemporary Romance: What inspired you to start writing romance?

Jen Doyle: It actually took a long time for me to find my way to the romance genre. For most of my life, I’ve made no bones about the fact that I will only go to movies that entertain me -- basically, I want a happy ending. In terms of reading, I’d essentially only read mysteries and thrillers. It took me over half my life to realize that there was an entire genre devoted to happily-ever-afters! Once I realized I could apply my movie-watching criteria to reading, I was hooked.

When it comes to writing, I started writing fan fiction as a hobby about 15 years ago. By the time I’d gotten serious enough to think about genres, I mostly identified what I wrote as urban fiction. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction, FTW!) But I followed one particular couple across two connected epic stories that, combined, equalled about 750K words. Now that I know more about what I’m doing, I’d say the first of those stories was a romance as it was about the couple. Once it was pointed out to me that I’d written the equivalent of seven books, I started thinking seriously about pursuing writing. By that point I’d found romance and realized that even though not everything I’d written was defined as romance, what truly interested me was the core relationship. As soon as that occurred to me, I was off and running with the first draft of what became CALLING IT, my debut novel. CR: Tell us a bit about your process. Are you a pantser or a plotter? JD: A pantser, for sure. Which was fine with book 1, because I could take all the time in the world that I wanted with that. Once I was under contract and writing book 2, however, it became a bit more difficult as I had a much shorter time frame in which to write and deliver the manuscript, so I resolved to be better about plotting the next time around. I’ve just put in my proposal for book 3, and it’s the first book I’ve truly plotted out. I talked it all the way through with three different people! That was a big deal for me. :) Even as I was plotting I saw the scenes unfolding in my head, which is how I like to write--and something I was afraid of losing with the plotting part. So I’m looking forward to the next phase and seeing if my characters follow the path I’ve set out for them.

CR: How has your work as a librarian influenced your reading and writing habits?

JD: I’d say it’s less about it influencing me than about finally accepting that everything I do pretty much comes from the same place, LOL. I’ve been a huge reader since day one. As I think is pretty prevalent among us writers, I was always the kid who had a book at all times, often more than one. I loved summer vacations because I could find a place to hide somewhere and read two or three books a day. In fact, one of my earliest memories is standing in the children’s room at the Waterford Public Library and starting with the A’s and working my way through the shelves. (I don’t think I ever made it past the C’s because there were always new and awesome books coming along!)

I never considered becoming a librarian until I met my then-boyfriend’s (now husband) mother for the first time. I had absolutely no idea what to say to her, so I ended up asking her about her job. For someone who had such a love for reading and libraries, you’d think I’d have a better sense of the various types of librarians, but no. So when she described what she did as a research librarian for a management consulting firm, it was like finding nirvanah. I could get paid to find answers to questions? I could be like my favorite literary heroines, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden? Sold!

Of course, once I got to library school, it occurred to me that my first job was shelving books at that same Waterford Public Library, and one of my college jobs was working for the acquisitions librarian at my alma mater. Another major job I had was working at the switchboard/information desk of my alma mater, which was essentially doing ready reference so I’d been working my way there all along. But as it turns out, once I got out of library school I found that I didn’t love the day-to-day aspects of librarianship and ended up becoming an administrator at the grad school I had attended. So my days of being ‘a librarian’ in the traditional sense weren’t really that many.

I do find that the piece that’s stayed with me for all these years, however, is to have that question asked and then to follow the thread until the answer is discovered. Which is basically how I write. That first scene, or the first meeting between the hero and heroine, leads to one thing and then to another. Follow that thread all the way to the end, and there’s your answer: HEA.

CR: Baseball seems to be a common thread in many of your books, so I’m guessing you’re a sports fan. What role do sports play in your novels?

JD: The CALLING IT series so far consists of two books, with a third planned (and plotted!) as noted above. Sports are a major theme running through the books, but some reviewers have said that it wasn’t quite what they expected from a sports romance and I completely understand where they’re coming from. CALLING IT, book 1, is about Major League Baseball player (catcher) Nate Hawkins. He’s coming off of a six-week self-imposed exile due to what I’ve termed “NateGate” in the book. Choosing to escape the craziness in Chicago, he returns to his hometown of Inspiration, Iowa. wood-sport-football-rugby-largePart of Nate’s history, however, is that when he was in high school, he was a key member of Inspiration’s storied basketball team, which had a Hoosiers-like trajectory and became nationally known as the Iowa Dream. Four of the five members of the basketball team are still in Inspiration, and when he returns home, he finds that the ties that bound that team together still exist. And although they haven’t had much of a connection in recent years, he rebuilds those connections with his former teammates. Because most of this book takes place during the off season, there isn’t a huge amount of baseball itself, but there are some shenanigans with team management that play a fairly important role in his developing relationship with Dorie Donelli, our heroine. (Who, incidentally, is a librarian. :) )  Another huge component of the story is that there’s a clock ticking down to the moment he needs to report for “Pitchers and Catchers,” i.e., Spring Training. I do really love the way teammates’ bond is more like that of brothers, so in addition to the interaction with his high school basketball teammates, there are some current baseball teammates who play a role as well. One more component is that Dorie is the youngest of seven, the six older siblings being brothers. So her sports knowledge comes into play quite a bit, including a pivotal Trivia Night scene. The hero of Book 2, CALLED UP, has nothing to do with professional sports. But, ironically, there’s actually a little bit more direct baseball involved. (I had actual baseball consultants on this one. :) ) Max “Deke” Deacon, one of Nate’s best friends, is the coach for his nephew’s Little League team and also plays in a men’s league. Those serve as the straight-up baseball parts. The heroine, “Fitz” Hawkins, is Nate’s baby sister and also the head of the foundation that was started back in the Iowa Dream days, so there’s a tie-in there as well that gets developed even further throughout the course of the book. There’s also a visit to San Francisco for All-Star Weekend with Nate and Dorie, along with an ongoing storyline which will play a part in subsequent books in the series. CR: What are some of your favorite non-writing activities? Do you feel they make you a better writer? JD: Once upon a time I had time to watch TV, and I do actually love to cook and garden--oh, and needlepoint! I love needlepoint! But writing and all of the add-ons have taken a huge toll in that regard, LOL. I have a somewhat demanding day job and three kids, ages 6, 13, and 16. So right now, there’s not a lot of off time for activities. But I will say that all the craziness is definitely making me a better writer--I come up with most of my best lines while my 6-year-old is in the middle of a tantrum, or I’m in a marathon pick-up/drop-off routine. I’ve finally learned to have my notebook with me AT. ALL. TIMES. Even if it’s just into my son’s room when I’m putting him to bed. Because the brain seems to work best when writing-time is not on the schedule. CR: What advice do you have for writers just starting off?

JD: Don’t think, just do! There’s always a reason not to pursue this. Am I good enough? Will I get published? Do I have time? None of that matters. If there’s a story in your head, write it down. Keep at it. Don’t let all the (very, very good) reasons not to write bog you down.

I do have more practical advice, too. Entering contests was HUGE for me--I highly encourage it. The feedback from the judges is like a master class in writing. With CALLING IT, I got into a cycle of entering contests, revising those first few chapters and the synopsis accordingly, and then doing it all over again. Draft one was completed in January 2014 and I began entering contests right around then. By the time October came around and I had the chance to pitch to Sarah Younger (who I ended up signing with in November 2014), I had done enough revisions to have a fairly solid package to present. It still ended up going through some major revisions by the time publication came around, but without those contests, I don’t think I would have been ready to take advantage of that opportunity.

CR: What, in your opinion, is the appeal of contemporary romance? JD: For me, it all comes down to those happily-ever-afters. I know those exist in other subgenres as well, but I see contemporary romance all around me and I want to put that to the page. When I’m out on a walk and see a couple exchanging a glance, or when I’m at the airport and I see an embrace at the arrival or departure gate, I want to know that story. I want to write that story. With the state of the world today, I think contemporary romance allows readers to escape to a place where, even with all of that going on, happiness and true love exist--right around the corner.

I like to believe that those things do exist :) but even in the worst of times to be able to hope and dream… Contemporary romance provides that. And I hope to be helping readers find that feeling for a long time to come.

Thanks again for visiting! :-) 

If you've got more questions for Jen, leave them in the comments!

A big believer in happily ever afters, Jen Doyle decided it was high time she started creating some. Jen is a member of the Romance Writers of America, as well as a member of the New England, New Jersey Romance Writers and Music City Romance Writer chapters of RWA. She is represented by Sarah E. Younger of the Nancy Yost Literary Agency. She has an M.S. in Library and Information Science and, in addition to her work as a librarian, has worked as a conference and events planner as well as a Communications and Enrollment administrator in both preschool and higher education environments (although some might say that there is very little difference between the two; Jen has no comment regarding whether she is one of the “some”).

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