Beyond the Pitch Contest

This month, I submitted “Dragon’s Curse” to two different pitch contests: #NoQS and #PitchSlam. I didn’t make it into #NoQS, but I’m waiting to hear on #PitchSlam (which has a very cool Harry Potter theme this time around! LOVE IT!). It got me thinking Beyond the Pitch Contest – and not in a bad way.

I often see cool articles about people who have succeeded. We read interviews, see all the love between the mentors and their chosen authors, and the like. But what about the vast majority who don’t “make” it? What about them? What happens after their party’s over?

I’ll tell you: We live.

That’s right! We. Live. We continue to press on. We keep writing. We keep in touch with our awesome new writer friends (you DID reach out to other authors, right?), exchanging queries/manuscripts/first 250s/pitches/whatever to make our work shine. We continue (or start!) to query. WE LIVE, and live fully. Why? Because pitch contests aren’t the be – all, end – all of our writing experience. They’re a great enhancement to that experience, but not “IT.” Even when we get published, that’s not IT. Because we keep going. Here’s an interview I did with a non-winning pitch contest author (okay, it’s me…but still!):

Hey, Mary! How are you feeling?
M: Awesome, actually. Why wouldn’t I be?

Well…success…
Honey, success is what you make of it. I’ve met awesome people through these contests, and I’ve learned so much about my writing, the business, and more. In my book, forward movement is success.

That’s a good attitude. What are you up to now?
I’m making sure Dragon’s Curse is as good as it can be. All the advice I’ve received…all that feedback…I’m putting it to good use. I’ll be querying again soon (I stopped while I was gone on vacation). Plus, I’m still editing Cake or Death. I still have high hopes for that one. A cake decorating vampire hunter! Cracks me up. Oh…and I already have another novel outlined.

Wow! You sound busy!
That’s the best way to be. Seriously. It keeps the ugly thoughts out of your head, and keeps your eyes on the prize.

Do you have any advice for other writers out there who may be in the same position?
Well, other than what I’ve just written here on my blog…yeah. Don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t think, “I wasn’t selected, so that means everyone hates me. I suck!” You don’t suck. Refusing to better yourself? That sucks. Taking a break? Doesn’t suck. Regrouping? Doesn’t suck. Bettering yourself? TOTALLY DOES NOT SUCK! Keep at it, writerly darlings. You’ve got this!

My Disney Adventure

This past week, the family and I went on a trip to Florida. Here’s our story:

On the first leg of the trip, we went to Panama City Beach. We stayed at the Holiday Inn, right on the Gulf of Mexico. Beautiful resort. Plus, sugar-white sand and lovely, clear water. The next morning, we headed to Disney, and to our home for the week: The All Star Music Resort. There are certainly pros and cons to staying at this resort. Food was great (get the dining plan! You will have more food credits than you’ll ever know what to do with). Theming was great. Disney transportation was actually easy to manage (once we parked the car, we took the buses). My biggest complaint? My bed was like a rock, and the pillow was like a boulder. NOT comfortable at all! Even without sleep, I was ready to go the next morning.

Day 1: Epcot

Talk about nostalgia! Journey into Imagination has changed (not necessarily for the better), but the moment I saw my favorite purple dragon – Figment – I got teary eyed. And the “One Little Spark” song… ::sigh:: We also rode Mission: Space and Soarin’. Both were a great bit of fun. World Showcase was absolutely alive, as we visited during the Food and Wine Festival. I wish I could have sampled some of the fare, but we were saving our tummies for lunch at Nine Dragons in the China pavillion. Great place! The rest of the countries were great fun. I got to pick an oyster in Japan, which held a gorgeous pearl. And, we saw Smash Mouth at the “Eat to the Beat” concert. My favorite band! Live! Talk about a thrill. Speaking of thrills, onto….

Day 2: Animal Kingdom

This park didn’t exist the last time I was in Disney World (over 20 years ago!). It’s awesome. Dinosaur! threw us for a loop. Talk about a wild ride! Kali River Rapids got us wet…but not as wet as I thought we’d get! The Tree of Life, a man made centerpiece for the park, is breathtaking. Seeing all the animal carvings was great. Even better? My daughter ran into her friend from school! What a great surprise. I wasn’t brave enough to ride Expedition: Everest, but hubby did. He enjoyed it. We all enjoyed Tusker House for dinner. Goofy, Mickey, Donald, and Daisy kept us company.

Day 3: Hollywood Studio

The Muppets! Phineas and Ferb! The Great Movie Ride! Songs from musical movies! Talk about heaven. We saw the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, too, where they show how stunts and such are done. Wow. Memories. I’d forgotten that when I was an actress, I DID do all my own stunts. It’s a pretty cool park. Got to get a picture in front of Mr. Gold’s Pawnshop. Once Upon a Time fans will recognize that reference. I wore my Hook shirt for good measure. 😉 We didn’t have as much time in this park, because we attended the “Spirit of Aloha” dinner show/luau that evening over at the Polynesian resort.

Day 4: Magic Kingdom

Oh, how I ADORE this park! Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World… My nostalgia meter was off the charts! Plus, we got to see Anna and Elsa from Frozen. Laugh if you want. I love Frozen. “Let It Go” helped me transition from actress back to writer. If you ever go, make sure you have LeFou Brew at Gaston’s Tavern. The Not-So-Scary Halloween Party was INSANE! Seeing the Sanderson Sisters perform with all the other Disney villains was great. So was the Boo to You parade. Trick-or-Treating. Rides. Awesomeness! The only downside is that hubby and son missed it because my son was sick. That’s okay, because…

Day 5: Magic Kingdom, Part Two

Yep, that’s right. We decided to use our last day to revist the Magic Kingdom. I had to share the magic with my WHOLE family. At Gaston’s Tavern, on the advice of someone we met on the bus (lots of chatter while on buses and waiting in lines), we tried the cinnamon roll. It was HUGE and DELICIOUS! We also got some shopping done.

On Saturday morning, we headed to Disney Springs to grab some things we saw on our first trip Sunday evening. I can’t share what we got, because they’re gifts. 😉 After Disney Springs, we headed back up to the Holiday Inn at Panama City Beach. Swimming in the ocean! Relaxing in the hot tub! A great way to end a wild week. I was, however, happy to get home on Sunday. My pups were thrilled to get home, too. They spent the entire week at the “luxury pet resort” in our hometown.

Final observations: Amazing food, super nice people (who outnumbered the selfish jerks, thankfully), and awesome memories to last a lifetime.

Spaceship Earth at night
Spaceship Earth at night
Cinderella's Castle, pre-Spooktacular show
Cinderella’s Castle, pre-Spooktacular show
SMASH MOUTH!
SMASH MOUTH!
Pick-a-Pearl. Counting to three in Japanese: "Sun-Knee-Itchy!" (that's how she taught the crowd)
Pick-a-Pearl. Counting to three in Japanese: “Sun-Knee-Itchy!” (that’s how she taught the crowd)
Fultons Crab Shack - Disney Springs
Fultons Crab Shack – Disney Springs

Screenwriting and Story Mastery with Michael Hauge

This past weekend, a dear friend invited me to attend a screenwriting workshop at the library. I’m no stranger to screenwriting. Jericho Rising started as a script, and I helped write a few scenes here and there with Star Trek: Osiris. Everything I’d learned had been on my own or with friends, so to learn from a professional like Michael Hauge would be exciting.

We showed up Saturday morning and took our seats at a table just for us, after receiving a handout highlighting the key points of the day’s workshop. Looking around, we saw quite a few students from our local college (who later admitted that the only reason they were there was for extra credit – Michael joked about that for the rest of the day). The first thing we did before any introductions or anything was watch a couple of film clips (The King’s Speech and About a Boy, to be specific). Then, we got down to business.

For the first couple of hours, he spoke on his six-stage plot structure, easily adapted for film or prose. It was quite indepth. After a break, we learned about the hero’s outer journey. The “hero” is simply the protagonist. The “outer journey” is the visible goal the hero must achieve. After a brief break, we moved on to discuss the inner journey. The intangible stuff.

Wow. It was…wow.

There are two parts of us: Our identity (the “self” we show to the world), and our essence (our true selves, stripped of fear). The inner journey is leaving one’s identity to live fully in one’s essence. The character arc.

See? Wow.

We stuck around for the second presentation. It was a shorter version of the earlier meeting, but this time, we watched selected moments from the movie Hitch and discovered exactly when each step in the process occurs. It’s really formulatic, but works very well. All in all, it was a really good day. I highly suggest ANY writer take part in this event if they have the opportunity.

That’s my quick run-down. I didn’t want to get too involved in what we learned. Go grab one of his books/DVDs/etc! You won’t be disappointed. We did each pick up a book: Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds. The tag line: “The Guaranteed Way To Get Your Screenplay Or Novel Read.” Oooh…! I’ve yet to dig into it. Vacation prep is keeping me busy!

If you read this, thanks for the talk, Michael!

It was great meeting him!
It was great meeting him!
Michael Hauge
Michael Hauge

Pitching, Editing, & Baking…Oh, My!

I’ve been pretty quiet lately, I admit. I guess this will have to be an epic brain dump to get everyone caught up on what I’ve been doing. Things I’ve learned. Stuff like that.

At the end of August/beginning of September, I entered my YA (young adult) fantasy “Dragon’s Curse” into a contest on Twitter called #PitchWars. Pitch Wars is the brainchild of writer Brenda Drake (www.brenda-drake.com). She’s pretty much an angel in the writing community. Along with our entry, which consisted of the query letter and first chapter, authors select five potential mentors from a pretty extensive list. I chose my five, and the game was on. In the meantime, Twitter lit up with #PitchWars tweets. Questions about characters, plots, etc. popped up as part of the conversation, and so many people took part! I made a ton of new Twitter-friends. Inspiring, awesome people. Sadly, I didn’t get selected for the second phase: the mentor round. It’s okay, because I did receive lovely feedback from a couple of the potential mentors I’d chosen. I was actually kind of relieved that I wasn’t chosen, because the very next week was one of my FAVORITE times of the year.

#PitMad!

PitMad is another of Brenda’s babies (see? the woman is amazing!). Authors tweet “pitches” of their books to try to gain the interest of agents and publishers. If the pros like your pitch, they give you a star. That’s an invitation to query. Earlier in the year, I took part and had the interest of an agent. Lightning struck twice, apparently, because no sooner had I tweeted my first pitch, I got a star. Color.Me.Floored. I immediately sent off my package. I still have to resubmit to the first agent, who very graciously said that if I did a revision, I could and resub to her.

Full disclosure: I’m a chicken poop!
I’m getting better…

Onto EDITING. Wow. That’s all I seem to have been doing lately! First, Dragon’s Curse, because it had to be ready for #PitchWars and #PitMad. Now that it’s in Queryland, I’m back at working on the revamp (haha!) of Cake or Death.

Speaking of cake, I made my co-worker’s wedding cake. Wow. That was an adventure. Up until the morning of the wedding, it looked like CRAP. Inspiration struck, and I was able to save it. Kind of like editing. But editing isn’t edible.

weddingcake1
The wild wedding cake in its natural habitat

Pitch Wars – My Mentee Bio by Notorious MLG

Notorious. ::giggle::

Since I’ve finished polishing my latest manuscript, I figured I’d immediately throw it into the fire that is #PitchWars on Twitter. I’ve had the chance to read the mentor bios and choose my faves, but what do they know of me? What about my fellow contestants? Surely they’d like to meet me. Well, here you go.

First, to introduce “Dragon’s Curse.”
Elizabeth Morrow learns she’s the last in a long line of cursed dragon slayers when her Homecoming dance is crashed by Kieran, the dragon. When she learns the sorcerer who cast the curse in the first place is in town, she finds an unlikely ally in Kieran as they band together to hunt him down.

Dragon’s Curse was written umpteen years ago. I only recently dusted it off to give it another shot. This time, the shot it deserves.

EVERYTHING ME:

*I love fantasy. LOVE IT. And Disney. And anime. And Supernatural. And…I could go on. I’m not ashamed to say I’m a pop culture geek.
*I also love chocolate. And chai latte.
*I’m a former professional actress. SAG eligible and everything. Writing is my first love. I’m glad to be “home” in my head again.
*You can see me in “Star Trek: Osiris” (webseries) and “Vampirism Bites” (webseries, seasons 2-3)
*I share my home with my husband, two kids, two dogs, cat, and six chickens. Ok, the chickens don’t live in the house, but you get the idea. Yes. Chickens. They’re adorable.
*I’m a former competitive fencer. They used to call me “The Silver Queen” thanks to all the second place medals I’ve received over the years. My other nickname: Buffy the Fencer Slayer. Apparently, I looked like her. I *was* blonde.
*I’m a cake decorator with my own biz.
*I also teach jewelry making at the local craft store.

MY WRITING

*I’m a thrice small-press published author. I’m SO ready to take the next step to traditional publication. It’s been my dream since I was 10.
*Speaking of 10, that’s how old I was when I was first published. My poem “Love Is” appeared in the Detroit Children’s Museum newsletter.
*I actually love editing. Taking a sentence/paragraph/scene/whatever that isn’t working and making it something beautiful is AWESOME! Let’s blow it up and put it back together again!
*Why do I write YA? Because that’s what really got me into writing in the first place. I used to read YA “thrillers” from LJ Smith, Christopher Pike, Richie Tankersley Cusick and think, “This is the best thing ever. I want to do this!”
*Why do I write, period? I have to. It’s like breathing. And, I love inspiring other people. They see me conquer my fears, and think they can do it too. That’s pretty darned humbling, right there. I want to keep at it.

And, there you have it. Me, in a slightly long nutshell.

Twitter for Writers

It amazes me how many writers aren’t on Twitter. Whether they think it’s “noise” or “just a platform for self promotion” (is that really a bad thing?), there are so many misconceptions. Twitter can be an amazing tool – if you know how to use it.

Turning off the noise
The best way to turn off the noise is to decide from the start who you want to see on your Twitter feed. Here are some hints to keep the noise to a minimum, and get the best out of your experience:
1. Check the accounts of the people you want to follow. How often do they post? What do they post? Is it something you want to see?
2. Don’t auto-follow. Someone follows you! Great! Now go check them out. Do you like what they  have to say? If there isn’t much on their feed, go to their website. See if they’re someone you really WANT to follow.

Seriously. That’s all it takes. Follow the people you really want to follow, and don’t feel guilty if you don’t follow back. You can also make lists to keep different account types separate if you want to further reduce the noise.

Promotions
Congratulations! You’ve published your first book/article/blog! You’re excited, and ready to share it with the world. First, you need to know how and why. If you over-promote, people won’t read what you’re saying. No one wants to see constant promotion. You certainly don’t, right? (see above – re: who to follow) Pace yourself. There are different schools of thought on how often to post your promotions compared to how often you tweet about life, etc. Basically, what they all say is the same: Balance. You need it.

Networking
Ah…the lifeblood of the biz! A great way to find writers is to go where the writers go, and there are a lot of us on Twitter. Try the hashtag #amwriting. Simply type that into the search box, and marvel at the world that just opened. You can also find networking opportunities by participating in “pitch parties.” I’ll get to that in the next section. When you participate in pitch parties, you network with people in the business – and that’s a valuable tool for a writer. Comment on their tweets. Just don’t over-comment, or you might come off as a pest.

(Pitch) Party, Party!
So, you have a shiny, new (completely edited and ready-to-query) novel. Now, you need someplace to send it. But where? Have no fear…pitch parties are here! I can’t say enough about these things. They’re absolutely one of my favorite things about Twitter for writers. It’s amazing to see the talent out there. I’ve learned so much, and made such great connections. Even found critique partners to keep me on my toes!

HOW DOES IT WORK?
The different contests have different rules, but most are very similar. Once an hour, you post a pitch (a sentence to interest the reader), starting at the appointed start time, with the appropriate hashtags. Fellow authors will retweet your pitch, and you can retweet the pitches you really like. ONLY retweet. Save the stars or “favorites” for the agents or editors. Yes, agents and editors keep up with the pitch parties in order to find people to request queries from. If they like your pitch, they’ll star it. Follow their guidelines for submission, and make sure you put your Twitter handle/pitch they liked in the query. No guarantee you’ll get a book deal here. What you will get is experience in distilling your book into the shortest explanation possible, new writing friends, and…yes…attention. “They” will know you exist. That’s a good thing. A very good thing.

Some of my favorite pitch parties are: #PitMad, #AdPit (for adults), #SFFpit (scifi/fantasy)…just to name a few. There are so many more.

Other Important Stuff
My biggest advice is: Have fun. Know what you want to get out of it. Followers? Information? You decide.

A few cool accounts to follow: @LiteraryRejections (agent information, positive thoughts), @BrendaDrake (the host of #PitchWars and #PitMad), @WritersDigest (obviously), @Michelle4Laughs (another pitch party host).

If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to add them in the comments! Any information shared is good information.

Bravery

I need to get serious for a minute.

In the wake of Caitlyn Jenner’s (formerly Bruce) reveal as the woman she wanted to be, people are saying things like “she’s brave” or “she’s a hero.” Other people counter this with images of soldiers. Though I agree that yes, soldiers are heroes, so is Caitlyn. Know who else is brave? The girl who comes forward to speak against her rapist. The boy who stands up to bullying. The woman who leaves her abusive spouse. The man who travels to another country to make a better life for his family. The writer who sends out their manuscript to publishers/agents. The actor who goes to an audition. Police, firemen, soldiers. They’re brave, but we see bravery in our every day life. You’ve done brave things, too. You’ve kept going in the face of adversity. You didn’t give up when you were rejected. You’re brave.

Caitlyn is, too. Being in the public eye is hard. Everyone’s watching, and one false move can ruin your life. Even if that false move is the best move for YOU. It’s  pretty darn brave to do something so many people frown upon, don’t you think? She’s also a hero, in a way. Despite her fear, she did it. There are more trans people out there, terrified. What she did is become an example for them. She gave them hope. She opened up dialogue about the topic.  That’s pretty brave, and makes her a hero in her own way. Heroes come in all shapes, sizes, and job titles. Just like bravery.

There is no one face of bravery. It’s not an absolute word with a singular meaning (meaning, not definition). There’s no need to dismiss or diminish people. Embrace people, good people, for who they are, for being ALIVE can be a pretty darn brave thing, too.

Comments are welcome, HOWEVER, rudeness is not. Please refrain from rude language, etc. This is a place for discussion, not poop flinging. Thank you.

The Snoopy Sno Cone Machine Post

On Facebook, I invited people to come up with a topic for me to post about. One poster (hey, Bill!) suggested I write about the Snoopy Sno Cone Machine. It was first introduced to the public, and every kid I knew wanted one. I mean, come on! Snoopy! Snow cones! What could go wrong?

I wouldn’t know. We were too poor. I never got one (I did, however, get a Voltron toy, but that’s another – lengthy – blog post).

Fast forward x number of years, to my daughter seeing the classic Sno Cone Machine at the toy store. At last! I think. I can play with my daughter AND enjoy something from my youth! We bought it, and took it home. Happy daughter. Happy mother.

Wow. That was short lived.

It didn’t work! And when it did work, it didn’t work! My daughter wasn’t so broken up about it. She wasn’t six when it came out. She didn’t feel the thrill of seeing the commercials with happy kids for the first time. I was upset. Now, I realize it’s similar to a lot of crappy things in life. We get so excited, because we WANT IT. Then, we realize it’s not so great. In fact, it’s kind of a disappointment. We didn’t need it as much as we thought we did. We’re better off without the crappy stuff we thought we needed, so we can have more room for the good stuff we could actually use.

Oh. And that sno cone machine? Recalled. You can read about it here. Is there a toy from your childhood that you’ve always wanted but never got? Or you got it, and was vastly disappointed? Comment below!

As a bonus, here’s my very professional artist’s rendering. This is why I don’t draw:

Artist Representation. Not full scale.
Artist Representation. Not full scale.

Taco…Wednesday?

This week, I’m going to share a favorite family recipe with everyone. I learned it a loooong time ago, and from my dad. It’s cheap, filling, and yummy! Without further ado, I present…

Taco Salad

1 lb ground beef, browned and drained
1 packet taco seasoning
1 can dark red kidney beans
Shredded lettuce
Shredded cheddar (or taco cheese)
Tostitos

1. After you’ve browned your ground beef, prepare with taco seasoning according to directions on packet.
2. Let meat mixture cool!
3. Combine everything, crushing Tostitos.
4. Serve with Western dressing, as per the traditional (family) way to do it.

Alternately, you can warm a bowl of everything but the Tostitos. Simply spread the chips on a plate, and dump the contents onto it.

Alternately: Omit the ground beef. Add extra kidney beans.

This is a really simple recipe to double. My family insists that, when we make it, we double it.

IMG_0272

The Big Penguicon Weekend Brain Dump

Penguicon 2015 is in the books, and what an amazing, crazy weekend it was.

I arrived Friday, and had time to do normal things like registration, presenter package pick up, and dumping my stuff off in my hotel room. Last year, I had a panel to speak on almost as soon as I’d arrived, and I was a bit frazzled. Since I didn’t have any panels until the next day, I was able to explore, visit with friends, and relax a little. I didn’t get too much time to relax, as a couple of dear friends of mine arrived to the convention to get a tour and have dinner. Our friend Kevin rounded out the party. We had dinner, and stopped in Kevin’s room for a swig of locally made “Red Fish.” Swedish fish and vodka…I think. Because I forgot to inform the hotel of my desire to be away from the parties (I highly suggest that, if you attend a Con, you inform the hotel immediately), I had to deal with some loudness from the Friday parties. Hung out with a couple other friends until late that night, just to stay away from my room. Eventually, I put my earbuds in and listened to The Princess Bride soundtrack, which always relaxes me and helps me sleep.

Saturday rolled around, and I had breakfast with Sean Davis, one of my fellow authors. I don’t get to hang around authors very much, so this was a nice official start to my Penguicon “I’m An Author” weekend. We bounced ideas, discussed life, and had a good meal. He asked if I wanted to sit in on the Editing for the Uninitiated panel, since I have two novels in the editing phase right now and could offer my experiences in being edited as an author, and self editing. The panel itself went well, and Sean is a great moderator.

Traditional vs Self-Publishing came next, with Small Press (my main experience) included. I didn’t know my fellow panelists, but it was very nice to meet them and gain their insight. I learned things as well, which is awesome. I still want to traditionally publish Cake or Death (still in the “clean up” phase post-rejections), but hearing about people’s experiences in self publishing was pretty cool.

Following this discussion, I was on the Rejection: Dealing with the Dark Side of Creative Life panel.  We spoke not only on how we deal with rejection, but what NOT to do, because publishing is a small world and people talk. It was great to hear I wasn’t alone in my suffering.

The final panel of the night was You Can’t Kill the Undead. It had to be my favorite panel, simply because of who I shared that side of the table with. Who showed up in the audience made it even better. It was crazy, fun, and degenerated quickly into some of the funniest moments of the con. Since it was an “after dark” presentation, and kids may read this blog…I won’t repeat anything said there.

Saturday night found the authors in the bar (where else?), where we laughed and talked until we go the wild bug up our collective butts to hit the ConSuite for snacks and alcohol, and then off to the karaoke room party. Classics like “Sweet Transvestite” and “Carry On Wayward Son” were chosen by members of the group. We added Kevin to the group, and he provided more Red Fish – and my dance partner for “(I Had) The Time of My Life.” No, we didn’t do the lift. Somehow, even though I’d put my name in for a song, I didn’t get called…but everyone else did. We met a darling girl named Meghan who could really belt out the showtunes. If she reads this, I hope she says hi! We ended up closing out the party, and I didn’t get to sleep until 4am.

I had a 9am panel.

It was worth it.

Sunday’s 9am panel was a sometimes dry discussion of E-books: An Examination of the Current State of Digital Publishing. Though it was seemingly harmless, I need to make this remark to the mostly male audience that was in this discussion: When the lone female panel member decides to speak – LET HER. It wasn’t cool to cut her off mid-sentence. I was too tired to speak up, but our moderator did make sure I was heard after that. Thanks again, Sean!

I didn’t make it to my final panel before I left: Scriptwriting Tips. My apologies to my panel mates. There was an emergency that I had to tend to before I hit the road. I did miss seeing my friend and former Vampirism Bites director, James Fernandez, which bummed me out.

I’m now home, slightly rested, and my neck is sore (from head banging to Bohemian Rhapsody at the karaoke party), but I’m so glad I was asked to return to my home state for this great convention. The hotel staff was great again, some of them really going all out for their own “nerdy” costumes. If you’ve never been to Penguicon in Michigan, definitely go. Thanks to everyone who stopped to talk to me, and expressed an interest in my work. You all rock!