About Me

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A writer by predilection, an aunt by blessing and a friend by choice, Shelley has spent many years journaling before sitting down to draft her first novel. She has a B.A. in English discourse and is currently working on her third romantic-suspense, the title of which will be announced soon pending publication. Shelley is a member of the Romance Writers of America as well as her RWA state chapter of the Maryland Romance Writers.
"I love story-telling. It's a way to live an experience through the eyes of a character." - Shelley N. Greene

Monday, July 25, 2011

Square Pegs and Round Holes - Where does my manuscript fit in?

Happy Sunday to all and welcome back! 

            It’s been a month since the RWA conference and all the knowledge I picked up in New York has stuck with me so far.  Looking back, the workshops were incredible as were the spotlight series. 

The spotlights were hour long question and answer session with the publishing houses which acted as a meet-and-greet with the different publishers.  I really got to check out the ones I was interested in and the sessions also opened my eyes to a really important issue for a first-time author: sub-genre.

“Romance” is my genre—the all-encompassing, main category of the fiction I write, and so the lucky reader who will one day pluck my book of its shelf knows that they will be reading a love story, but what kind of love story?  Good question, right?

Similar to any organizational classification system from plant species to grocery aisles, the subject category of your book is essential.  Just as a consumer wants to know what aisle they can find canned soups, your future reader will be shopping the different categories of fiction to find a good read with a theme that they like.  It may banal as hell to say but it’s still true, you can’t judge a book by its cover (or its synopsis), and the worst thing you ever want to do is trick a reader into paying for a story that doesn't live up to their expectations.  That’s bad business and most people can admittedly say that they’ve had that happen to them.  Think back to a time that’s happened to you at the bookstore or library. 

"Clean up on aisle Single Title Contemporary..."

 You have a good dose of empathy going?  Good.  Keep that with you.

Publishers know this—they’re out to sell books not tick people off. And in the vein of keeping their customers happy, they have all created product lines (designations that indicate the subject matter of a book) to help guide readers in selecting a story.

And this is important because you want the reader to pick your story.  In a nutshell, your book needs a place to "live" and while determining your story’s sub-genre may seem easy, it’s really not.

In today’s marketplace there’s a myriad of sub-categories to any fiction genre and in romance that list is growing every day. There are stories set in medieval times, in the Victorian era, out in the frontier wild west.  There are modern stories, mythical stories and stories with sleuth-like action added to them.  Up until just a few years ago there was no description for love stories that involved humans and non-human creatures, and to remedy that problem the category of Paranormal Romance was created.  And like Paranormal Romance, there are new themes emerging all the time, which means that categories will be forever growing and changing in order to accommodate it all.

And so I wanted to take a minute to talk about this and what it means for your manuscript.

            Like every other step in the publishing process, you want to do your research beforehand.  Appropriate categorization of your book will ensure proper exposure and will result in better sales, which is what you want. 

            While every publisher has their own scale of sub-categories, I suggest analyzing theses lists while your story is still a manuscript.  At this step your work is ready to be presented however it's not decided yet which publishing house will have the honor of publishing you. You want to be sure that you find a good category match before you sign anything that commits your manuscript in a contract. 

            The process reminds me of  a memory I have from my childhood. When I was little, my family and I resided in Japan for several years.  We returned to the states with many cool souvenirs from our stay including a flat, pinball-looking appliance called a Pachinko machine.  In Japan the machine was a game comparable to a slot machine that would dispense a cash reward to the player with the highest score.

It was challenging game because the balls used were small and heavy, made of lead.  The goal was to launch them as hard as you could by slamming the lever on the right-hand side with force until the little ball would ping and bounce off pegs stationed throughout the flat plane of the machine.  I remember watching my sister play, she was good at it, as she managed to get the ball to ricochet off several of the pegged markers, the machine’s bells ringing as she racked up the points and in the end the tiny ball would have to land in the slot at the bottom of the machine.

            Thinking back, it made a good analogy for this blog.  Finding your book’s category is not a throw-it-at-the-wall- and-see-if-it-sticks kind of process.  To wit: don’t mail your manuscript to every editor at a publishing house with the expectation that they select your category for you. 

            As a writer you want to present yourself and your work in a professional manner and be considerate of what could be your future editor's time and energy.  So if you’re interested in a particular publisher, go to their website and look up their submission guidelines for their different categories. Make sure that your manuscript is meeting the word count and the description of that sub-category’s requirements and become familiar with the "flavor" of that line.

            Take the time to see if your work fits what the publisher is looking for, and if doesn’t, don’t let that detour you from writing your story.  If what you’re writing seems pretty traditional, chances are that you’ll have a place for it with the book lines of more than one publisher.  You'll simply need to pull up each of their websites and check them out.

            If you’re working on something really different and never been seen before in the current writers market, don’t despair.  You may very well be the next trailblazing author of a new sub-genre, but with that crown comes a bit more legwork.  You may need to look even more closely at the guidelines offered, and if then your manuscript still feels homeless, you may need to send out a few e-mails to get clarification.  Also ask your agent (if you have one) where they think your story would fit best.

To help with this journey, I’ve typed up the following list of the current sub-categories (plus many that I heard listed at the conference).  Now, even with this I still say, “Do your homework!” and that will be the fail-proof way that you get your manuscript to the right place.

Here are a few of the sub-genres:

          Title - Description                                                                                                                     

           Regency Historical Romance - Romance set in the early 19th century

           Historical Romance - Romance set before the early 19th century (i.e. Viking, Medieval, Tudor,  
           Elizabethan and Georgian)

           Inspirational Romance - Romance with spiritual or religious influence (Exp: Christian beliefs)

           Young Adult Romance - Written for, published for, or marketed to young adults (roughly ages 14 to 21)

           Contemporary Romance -  Set in modern day (or after World War II)

           Romantic Suspense - Romance involving an intrigue or mystery for the protagonists to solve.  Note: There are more distinctions to this category (many classify it as the following):

            50% Love Story/50% Suspense = Intrigue

            75% Love Story/25% Suspense = Romantic Suspense

            Novel With Strong Romantic Elements - A work of fiction in which a romance plays a significant part in the story, but other themes or elements take the plot beyond the traditional romance boundaries.

            Romance Novella - A short-story romance

            Erotic Romance - Romance with intense intimate scenes. (Rated R or NC-17)

          Generation Romance - Written/published for or marketed to young adult's in their 20's

            Sci-Fi Romance - Futuristic romance

           Erotic Horror - Spooky, dual theme romance/horror.

            Fetish Romance - Romance written, published for or marketed to readers that are  fetish-based

            So you can see that there is a lot of selection out there and ways to be sure you find that you right “home” for your work.  Because like the Pachinko machine you want position your manuscript to hit the right pegs.  That way your book will win and win big.  ;0)

-          -  SNG

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sarah's Poor Foot...

This is just a short story I wanted to share from the conference...

It’s been a month since the RWA conference and Sarah and I are still reveling in all the information we picked up from our time in New York.  Every moment was informative and entertaining, and one of Sarah’s blog posts about the trip sparked a memory for me (if I may throw out this quick story).  Before flying out to meet me in Maryland, Sarah had unexpectedly injured her pinky toe and suspected that it was broken. (It was black and blue and swollen - we have pictures.)  And while she iced it down every night, she never once complained.  Aside from modest mentions that she may need to “sit a minute," she was a trooper. 

            And while the hotel had approximately 18 elevators, there was a typically long wait, especially  during the high volume times (the end of workshops and at meal times).  Our room was on the 10th floor, and  while many of the events were held on the 6th, we could only sneak up to the 9th floor using the escalators. For everything else we had to wait our turn because of that pesky deferential of one floor. It was a challenge to find the stairs because the hotel really didn't want you using them unless in the event of an emergency.  But when you get a group of determined women together, nothing can stop you.  ;0)

 The night of the RITA awards dinner we were waiting patiently with four other authors for the elevator, all of us looking very nice in our heels and evening dresses.  We got to be fast friends with the other ladies, and as it took way too long for the elevator, we conspiratorially opted to hit the stairs.

            Sarah, go-hard in her heels with a sprained baby toe, bravely hoofed it down the narrow concrete steps without protest, and the six of us talked as we trekked.  One of the authors said, “This would be a great plot for a book.”  Another cohort then chimed in, “Seven courageous women lifted their skirts and trudged down the stairwell, all dressed for a party…”

             Sarah laughed. “It can be a round-robin story—we’ll each take a chapter.”

            “I’d read that,” I said. “One of the courageous women walking on a broken toe,” I quipped.

            “You’re tromping downstairs with a broken toe?” another lady asked concernedly and Sarah nodded.

            “That sucks," she responded. "Cute shoes though…” she added.

Lol.  It was a wild time.  


Monday, July 18, 2011

The Second Shift

When I was young I had heard the term used, and I never really knew what it meant even though I’d seen the work in action.  After an 8-hour workday, my mother would come home to a list of chores including cooking to get dinner on the table, laundry and all the other tasks required while she was running an active household.  It was called, “The Second Shift,” and it exists for writers, big time.

The term kind of goes along with the old adage, “don’t quit your day job."

Writing is an art and like any artist out there we all strive to leave the “starving” adverb out of the title as much as possible, and publishing success typically doesn’t happen overnight.  The realistic expectation of a fledgling author is that you will not be making a steady paycheck until well after your third published book. So many writers work to supplement their income with a 9-to-5 job until their star slowly rises, making the second shift a mandatory part of the daily routine, just in a different context than what mom used to do.

The second shift is there, waiting for you when you get home, tacked on to the bottom of your list of everyday responsibilities.  At least that's the perspective of a single writer; if you’re a parent the second shift inevitably gets bumped into a third position on the responsibility tree, which is even more challenging.

  And while the laundry starts to pile up and the water boils over on to the stove, the priorities are shuffled into a new order.  No matter how tired you may be, how hungry, you still need to make the time to get your writing in.  It’s the second job and the work is made all the more tricky by the fact that you designate your work hours.

As rule #3 of “The Only 12 Writing Rules You’ll Ever Need” (framed over my desk) reminds me every day, you need to “Get a writing routine and stick with it.”  If you write every day, at the same time of day; your body, brain and emotions will start following the rhythm.  As with exercise, your internal systems will become expectant and patterned - ready to write - with the set schedule and over time you won’t feel as worn-out.

Working a day job and writing primarily at night, I like to mentally compare nocturnal superheroes to writers.  Similar to the split-personalities of Zorro or Batman, the analogy fits because there is a distinct feeling of separation between the day-self and the night-entity of a writer.

Personally, I can’t really gush about my writing at my day job.  For practical reasons, that’s simply not wise.  Strong exterior hobbies may give your employer the impression that you are only there for the interim, and that they can't rely on you to stick around for the long-term, which may or may not be true.  I can say that I’m skilled at what I do for a living, but the writing is what I’m passionate about.  Unfortunately, it's difficult to determine whether or not writing is destined to become a career. And while it's flattering to think that I have the potential to become an international, best-selling author overnight, I’m not eager to let anyone else believe that until it happens. 

So it really does really split you in two.

Banker by day, novelist by night. 
*Cape billows out behind my statuesque, armor-clad body*

(For real, I’d love to own a pair of knee-high, crime-kicking boots.)

 And I feel like the latent talents of a writer truly do emerge at night, in all their badass glory.  Night-writing is empowering (or any writing that gets the job done).  It feels good to develop your stories, even when you have to keep them a secret.

When I feel like a current story is really coming along, I go to work with a satisfied little grin on my face.  I imagine it must be how Bruce Wayne must feel after a night of saving the city as Batman.  Smug in an accomplished kind of way like, "Yeah, you wanna know what I did last night?"

When you’re really making progress, the elation that comes from hitting plot points with finesse or navigating pitfalls (i.e. editing your ass off) leaves you sitting on top the world.  Your world.

It makes you want to prop your super boots up onto the desk with pride.

Until the next morning. 

(You notice how superheroes never seem to suffer from sleep-deprivation?)

At this point I’m going to interject with a short, true story:  

The operations at my day job are pretty efficient; lunches are scheduled, making it where if one person leaves later than scheduled it affects the person going to lunch after them, understandably.  This utilitarian system is respectable, straight-forward and usually followed to the letter.  What the system does not leave a lot of leeway for is the accommodation of  “rough mornings.”  Those times when some external ailment or personal ineptitude knocks you off par, creating a window of time where you're just not very civil.  Note: A situation where a little human empathy is always much appreciated. 

And, of course, I experienced the rare occurrence of one of those mornings yesterday when, because of the short work day, lunch breaks began at 9am.  A long night of writing had resulted in a rushed morning routine of getting dressed - make-up haphazardly applied in the car - which left me far from primed for work.  Add in the hurdle that I'd missed my morning cup of coffee in the mad dash getting out the door, the morning was quickly classified as bad.
Bad mornings – evidently humans have them while superheroes do not.  And Bruce Wayne is independently wealthy as well as the CEO of his own company.  He could probably just call in late, dead—whatever.  Lucky bastard. 

So after valiantly getting my mortal bahookie in to work on time, I was still very groggy and irritable, so I did my best to get my head in the game.  Checking the time I was assigned to take lunch, I saw that it was assigned as12:30pm.

The 3-hour gap then standing between me and the opportunity to go get Starbucks felt like a decade, so I approached the co-worker who’d been given the 9:30am break-time, looking to strike a deal.  Gladly willing to switch because she wanted to eat lunch at lunchtime, fairness and equality was soon restored as we were granted approval to trade and everyone was happy.  

All was well and good in the ‘hood. 

The ugly came about 30 minutes later when a transaction took an unexpectedly long time, pushing into my time to leave.  At 9:35am I hustled to lock up my station and leave only to be stopped at the door.  Because I was late for lunch I was denied.  The co-worker originally scheduled for the early break was begrudgingly told to go and I was made to wait.

Over 5 measly minutes.    

Yeah, I know that it’s nobody’s fault.  There are rules for a reason, we adhere to them to ensure that things run smoothly for everyone…blah-blah-blah.   I repeated this mantra to my caffeine-starved, homicidal id-voice for 3-hours straight.  And id rarely makes an appearance with me, truly.  On the outside I probably appeared no more threatening than a kitten, all while my internal sense of justice was cursing like a sailor and out for blood.

Keeping my composure, I grumpily thought of Zorro’s alter ego, Don Diego del la Vega.  He wouldn’t saunter into the pueblo on a Saturday morning and take someone’s head off because they didn’t give him his coffee…uh, spiced cider—er, sarsaparilla(?).  Whatever.  He's a caballero, he would mosey in looking all debonair and damned perky in the morning.  Then again he probably has it as good as Bruce and actually has time to dress accordingly.  Darn him.

                                  Courtesy Walt Disney ©

And isn't that the big discrepancy between fiction and real life?  Heroes aren’t seen sitting down or  recouping.  You don’t see them flinch the next day after being punched in the stomach the night before.  While humans—and human writers—need a more flexible routine.
Yeah, you won't catch Superman doing this...

Admittedly keeping it together takes will power, but it also requires compassionate self-discipline.  (And infinite patience for other people when you’re having a not-so-great morning…)  The best way to handle it all is to create a good schedule and stick to it.  Give yourself enough time to really warm-up and really get in the zone with your writing, and if you have a session that’s really grooving, don’t stop.   Just know that you will have to make up that time in other places.  Recognize that your late night will result in a rough morning and prepare for it.  Trouble-shoot the changes in schedule as they come and compensate by pairing your high-volume work times with self-pampering activities.

Basically, treat yourself like a person with two jobs.

Or as my mom says, “Be kind to yourself.”  

The amount of down time and sleep you get is important.  Even more so when you’re pulling the writer's second shift every day.  So, the other part of the scheduling see-saw is making sure that you take breaks as they’re needed.  

This is where you give yourself official permission to take the night off to go see that new movie everyone’s been talking about.  The only stipulation that you get back to the writing schedule the following night.  Allow yourself breaks, just don’t wonder too far from your set writing time, it needs to remain your “habit.”

This morning I slept in, washed a few loads of laundry and then took a walk.  After that I finished reading a great book and then I sat down to draft this blog.  I’m going to be dragging tush tomorrow, the alarm clock is already set for early, so I will need to get up and get caffeinated before starting my day.

It’s not easy.  I wish a pair of red, patent-leather boots would make it so but unfortunately, they don’t.  Care of your daytime alter ego is the only way to make certain that your internal, night-writing superhero is raring to go and vice versa.  

That and tucking a thermos of coffee into your utility belt.  That saves lives.  ;0)

-   SNG

Thursday, July 7, 2011

New Desk, Good Chi

The surface is smooth like satin; I admittedly spent the first 20 minutes staring fixedly at its flowing lines and a solid half hour after that petting it.  For my own sake I have not called it “my precious” yet, but give me time.  

 Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I formally announce that I have a new desk! Woot!  

And this newest addition to my writing area has a story even though it was just delivered last week.  Plus my new arrival brings up to an important journal subject: a writer’s workspace. 

 Of course, the writer's desk is easily the most essential piece of furniture.  While the computer can be viewed as the CEO equipment-wise, the desk and chair are its bodyguards and the most critical furniture.  And when I first started writing, I hadn’t really thought much about what it meant to have a good desk but now I have a much greater appreciation.

 To tell the story of my new desk’s journey into being, I have to first give you a brief history—the ghosts of desks past, as it were.  Before I’d really researched anything carefully my work furniture was a sad hodge-podge mix of pieces that my family members didn’t want and that I’d accepted out of necessity.

The first desk was small with wide drawers on either side of a cramped leg nook.  While it was sturdy, the thing was most likely a kid’s desk. The drawer storage was convenient, but my lack of leg room paid the price for it, and I didn’t have a whole lot of surface area outside what little space was taken up by my compact laptop.  While it was solid wood, it was obvious that it'd been painted over several times and oddly, a few splintered blocks would periodically fall down from somewhere inside the drawers, making a sudden thump of a sound that would startle me because I never knew when my desk was going to “drop its wood.”  I paired the old monster with a leather-covered, hardback chair that I’d purchased on sale at Macy’s.  

Looking back now, I’m amazed that I wrote my first novel-length as well as several short stories on the thing, and while I can’t remember the feel of sitting at it, I can still clearly recall the resulting back pain.  

 Halfway through my second story, I (well, my knees and lower back) decided that I needed something better, so I gave the kiddie desk back (because it was presumably a family heirloom) and I shelled out a little bit of money for a prefabricated computer desk that had shelves built into it.  And while I was at the office supply store I picked out another chair (also on sale), hauled it all home and went back to work.  While the computer desk was functional, the particle board smell lingered for weeks after I'd brought it home and it would wobble when I'd lean too heavily on it.  I mentally chided myself for having such high expectation of a desk that was bolted together using an L-wrench smaller than a mini pen.  Compared to its stocky predecessor, the compressed desk seemed cheap but I'd been determined to get my money’s worth out of it.  

 Months later, after I completed my second story, the replacement brown chair began to sag, regardless of how many lumbar pillows I arranged on it, and the rickety particleboard desk was really starting to bother me.  The once practical shelves seemed to loom over my head while I worked and gave little storage as I couldn't place anything heavy on them.  When I would write on the desktop the keyboard tray would coast forward with gravity, pushing itself at me as if saying, write, Shelley, write now!  After a while I stupidly began to feel pressured to write by my own desk, as if the damn thing was chastising me for not producing enough.  And the chair wasn’t behaving any better; it was brown vinyl and the padding started to wear out where I began to slip out of the seat unless I would prop my legs up with yet another pillow.  Anytime I would get up the swivel of the thing would pivot of its own violation, dragging an armrest across one side of the keyboard causing a yelp of pained, jumbled computer type to run across the screen. 

 While paying my bills one day, I actually had the thought that my cursive handwriting on the check was filling out was too forceful with the way the desk was shaking—it was then that I realized that my workspace wasn’t working.  And I decided that if I were going to go through the trouble of replacing everything again that I was going to do it right.

Making a mental list of everything I wanted from the space I came up with the following words: sturdy, firm, solid, supportive, spacious and quality.

I started reading several of the writing guides published by famous authors, just to see if there were guidelines to what I was looking for, and interestingly, every single one of them described their workspace and the descriptions were almost identical.  Their offices had (paraphrasing) “a lot of light, a good desk and a supportive chair.” 

 No one really even dropped computer brand names or took a side with the MAC versus PC debate; they all had simply focused on the layout of the room, the windows, the type of light and the furniture.   I figured if those were the important items endorsed by a popular consensus of great writers, then that was what I needed to look for too.

 Taking this advice, my brain lolled over the elements of it.  Over the years I’d seen offices that were ornately furnished, but for all the elegant splendor they somehow never felt like an environment I’d ever be comfortable in.  And while an office doesn’t have to be a stark cubicle with an industrial computer and a tank-like printer in order to be productive, it does need to have level of practicality that goes beyond velvet throw pillows and fancy window dressings.

Exploring the internet for more information on this topic I discovered that a couple authors have even gone as far as to show you their workspace.  Out of a slew of author’s websites Sue Grafton’s has always stood out in my mind for some reason.  Under her photos link she shows her office, displaying the lovely and efficient layout; a gorgeous tree framed by the bay window of her writing area.  A long counter making up her desk and bookshelves leading up to her awards and a sitting couch, it was such a nice set-up and it had obviously served her well throughout her writing career.

 Considering the photos I asked myself, What makes a workspace comfortable and still conducive to work? Why do some places feel so intrinsically warm and welcoming while others feel so stiff and unpleasant?

 Incorporating my casual review of New Age subjects into my understanding, especially the study of Feng Shui, I started my expedition to find the perfect desk.

 According to the placement art of Feng Shui, the atmosphere of any living space is defined by one word: Chi.  Chi is said to be the energy of living things that moves around objects.  When you swat at the air, the force of your movement (and life force) makes a little wave that rolls invisibly around until it hits something inanimate and “bounces” in different directions. 

 Some objects can strengthen Chi and keep the positive energy rolling while some impacts bounce Chi in a not-so-good way. For example, sharp corners puncture the chi and reflect the energy into volatile patterns.  The refraction is not positive and is called “Shar Chi” or as it’s more commonly called, “Poison Arrows.”  The “poking” of Chi causes the energy to ricochet back and scatter, negatively affecting anything that is in the path of this runaway energy.

(Illustrations courtesy of the book MOVE YOUR STUFF, CHANGE YOUR LIFE by Karen Rauch Carter)

  Reading more about the types of Chi, the concepts made sense.  Used furniture is said to hold the energy of its previous owners, so if you want to be a successful writer you might not want to use a second-hand desk (not unless you bought it from Stephen King or J.K. Rowling). 

   And doors and windows are channels of Chi, kind of like energy rivers, so if you have a bed or desk in the path of either one, you feel like you’re in the middle of the stream of force.  Similar to Shar Chi, you’re getting pummeled with energy and eventually it will affect you.  If you’ve ever worked at a desk with your back to the door, you may sense that there was something hitting you; those are the positions you want to avoid when setting up your work area.

(Illustrations courtesy of the book MOVE YOUR STUFF, CHANGE YOUR LIFE by Karen Rauch Carter)

So you want to position your desk in a way that ensures that you feel safe and at ease.  The Feng Shui principle for desk positioning is that there are preferable positions for your desk to face.  Ideally you want to be able to see the main door of your office when seated at your desk.  This is called the “power position.”  It basically means that no one can sneak up on you or startle you (which induces bad Chi).  

(Desk position illustration courtesy of www.KenLauher.com)

If a front-facing desk position is not an option (and as I noticed while desk shopping, a lot of newer desks don’t even have a front – it’s like particle board planking that’s designed to be pushed up against a wall), it’s suggested that you “cover your back” by putting a mirror on the wall in front of you that reflects the door. (Note: Same rule applies to beds in bedrooms as shown in the graph.) That way, again, no one can drop in unexpectedly, disrupting the calm of your space. 

(Illustrations courtesy of the book MOVE YOUR STUFF, CHANGE YOUR LIFE by Karen Rauch Carter)

 And so, empowered with loads of information, I began my desk quest.  While numerous Feng Shui books refer to the office as a separate room, I had the added obstacle of my living space being a studio layout.  With my bedroom and my “office” being one in the same, the size of my desk became an important selling point.  Most desks are a standard width of 60” (5 feet) which was much bigger than what I needed.

 But, not letting that detour me, I began with the quality word from my list, and I checked out all the solid wood furniture companies.  I wanted real wood, no more particle board or thin planks glued together with toxic resin. I was out for something sturdy—another one of my words.

 Early in my search I was sad to discover that a lot of the bigger names, like Thomasville furniture, had succumbed to the troubled economy and gone out of business.  Another reputable name included Broyhill; however it seemed that they too have been challenged by budgets and had to limit their inventory to mostly large, estate-like desks and modular pieces for children. 

 This left one of my more favored options; a company that I was familiar with because my family had owned a gorgeous bedroom set made by them in the 1970’s.  The furniture set we’d purchased for my sister was all solid wood, made to order and had proven its worth after withstanding our adolescent years.  I remember that is was a lovely, light yellow color and that the finish was so resilient.  It took a lot to scratch it, it was always level and the wood never warped or faded color.

 So with the measurements I wanted for my new desk firmly in mind, I pulled up the website for Ethan Allen.  

 Researching the company, Ethan Allen had also suffered the effects of the recession, having closed several of their production plants in the last few years, including one original facility in Vermont.  Keeping this in mind, I really asked a lot of questions and looked into what I was buying.  The aura of this piece of furniture was important to me, so I did have the high expectation that it to be made in this country.  If I were going to pay a fair amount for a nice desk, I wanted that money to go to creating jobs.

 Considering all my options, I did conclude that Ethan Allen was the best place to go.  They held a good reputation, including my own experience with their furniture, and I was later informed by my EA representative that all the parts of my desk were cut and assembled in Beecher Falls, Vermont. To which I responded, “Cool beans.” J

 It took about 10 weeks to produce but it was worth the wait (and I'd visit with the floor model at my local design center quite a bit).  My desk wasn’t crafted until I ordered it, so while it was an investment of money and time, in the end I can honestly say that it was custom made for me. It’s solid, the perfect height and has fantastic rounded corners (no Shar Chi!).  The finish is a gorgeous shade of warm brown and the inside of the drawer smells of real wood.  One Feng Shui rule that sprang to my mind when I'd rolled my chair up to my new desk was that you always want to have enough space to “have room to grow.” My legs stretched, but not so much that I felt small compared to my desk.  A 5-foot desk would have been too much. 

Kind of like Goldilocks, what I got was “just right.”

A sign of quality, the front of my desk is finished, the front as polished as the sitting area, where I can place it in a power position if I choose to, but for now I have to back against a wall with a mirror that reflects anyone entering the room.  It’s is rock solid (I write checks without a second thought now) and when I place a level on its desktop, the bubble stays perfectly centered, so I'm very happy.

 And with that I feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do—I found my match. My soul mate of desks. And as I type these words I’m playfully kicking out my legs and meeting with no interference.  My keyboard rests on top my desk now, waiting for my command, not the other way around.  Now it’s says, Do you feel like writing, Shelley? I’m ready when you are.

 Oh, and I did spring for an ergonomic chair.  Admittedly it was pricier than the old vinyl one, but I got 5 levers on this baby.  If I want to go up, down, backwards or forwards; I tell it when and how and how much. I even have a lower back adjustment feature which is great for maintaining a good posture and I got a seat tilt which modestly keeps my derriere in the chair, where it’s supposed to be.  ;0)

 Now when I get up the chair still twirls, but the armrest merely taps one of the brass pulls of the desk’s drawer, as if giving my desk a knuckle-tap of camaraderie before it slowly rotates back into ready-to-write position.

 I come full circle, and I look forward to this desk remaining with me far into the future.  To my left I have a window view of grass, trees and a lot of natural light.  And while it all cost a bit financially, I strongly advise that you acquire good writing equipment.  A writer sits for hours at a stretch and that requires good body support, so the expenditure is supporting yourself and your craft.  Just do it.  The return is worth the investment.

 And as I run my palm across the smooth finish one more time, I finally have that homey feeling, like I found what I was looking for, at last.  I’m eager to see what kind of incredible stories I’ll write with this desk.  I feel the good energy flowing through it already.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I’d like to thank the Academy…

 In theme with this entry, I’d like to first thank my critique partner, Sarah Allan, for stressing the importance of blogging and doing it regularly.  And for lovingly giving me a nudge to talk to people.  I need it.   

 And now to get the show started.  This last week I had the privilege of attending The Romance Writers of America’s 31st Annual conference.  To define for those who aren’t familiar, it’s an event where 2000 plus romance authors from all over the US meet up in one location to network with editors and agents while they attend workshops on writing.  It’s not just a thrilling time, but an excellent opportunity to get your name out there, meet other accomplished writers, fan girl squee at all your favorite published authors as well as learn more about the overall structure of the industry. 

 This year’s conference was held in New York City, which is a really big deal because a majority of all the major publishing houses have headquarters there and representatives from each were in attendance. The air practically crackled with authority and excitement.

 Basically, all the people that have the power to get type off the computer screen and into the hands of romance readers around the world where under one roof.  Presumably on one floor at some point.  Talk about opportunity knocks.   Opportunity could knock you out with that much publishing clout.  o_O

And while this could feel like a lot of pressure, there is rarely any intimidation with the RWA.  The goal of the organization is to support and guide aspiring romance writers.  And as with any prominent organized group, the RWA holds an annual awards ceremony for books and manuscripts that are deemed the year’s best work.  Kind of like the Academy Awards of literary amour. 

And the prize?  The Oscar for fabulous romantic fiction?

(Drumroll please…*fingers thumping*) This lady right here—the RITA©.

  The final evening of the conference is dedicated to the celebration of Golden Heart© (best manuscript) and RITA© (best book in print) recipients.  And besides giving us all a reason to relive prom night (and my dress was phenomenal by the way), the ceremony is primarily a forum for moving speeches.

 And while I listened, the words spoken as each award was accepted settled in my mind.  The winners thanked their husbands for being the inspiration behind their heroes, showed heartfelt appreciation to their critique partners and the members of their family.  Many had survived really horrible experiences in the last year including deaths, legal fears and other challenging obstacles that would of—could of—stopped them from standing on that stage, but didn’t.

 Images of all the people who’ve been pivotal in enabling me to write flashed in my head as I watched:  My mother, my sister, Sarah, the administrators at the website I started with….  I realized that those faces were the reason I was there. They are the people, that with their support, put me in that chair.  I'm a member of a prestigious writing community because of them and their generosity.

 This got me thinking about gratitude.

 There’s a principle in creative visualization that states that’s thankfulness is at the heart of all success.  It says that if you dream of something, you must put out a mental “purchase order” for it and then the universe will then take the steps to bring the dream to you, but you must be positive and grateful for the gift. 

 You also have to believe that you deserve to have what you want.  Fear and control put static in the communication of purchase orders and the attainment of dreams.

 For example, let’s say that you’re single and you want to meet the perfect man for you.  In your mind you must pretend like he’s already there.  Imagine how he makes you feel and all the things that he does to make you feel special (I’m talking about the PDA nuances here, people—save the bedroom scenes for the page unless that’s really important to you. Lol).  By imaging that it's already yours, you’ve created the purchase order in your mind.  Once that’s done, you can then let go of the thought and be thankful that you’re going to be given what you want.

I’ve practiced this concept before (with little things) and I've found that it does work. Sometimes it takes a little time to fill your order but when the universe delivers, the gift is exactly what you needed without you having to control the outcome.  The hardest part is not clouding the request with doubt or with a lot of details.  Just ask for what is best and be grateful when it arrives.

And so I watched the RITA award winners make their speeches from my seat at the back of the ballroom, feeling beautiful in my dress and happy for everyone who’d won. 

What a moment in time.  What a feeling of accomplishment.

I know it takes way more than wishful thinking to get there. I mean, I would never expect to hold a RITA with one simple mental command.   It takes time, blood, frustration, elation and a slew of other responses that comes only when you have crafted a novel.  A book.  A piece of your soul projected onto paper…or Nook, or Kindle.  Um, yeah, you know what I mean.  It takes work.  Those ladies worked hard to hold that statue in their hands. It makes everyone cry just witnessing it because the award is the boon of finishing the job.

And to hold a golden lady with your name on it is the dream. 

And so, with an air of silliness and some sincerity, the other night I grabbed a 32 oz. glass water bottle and stood in front of the wall mirror in my bedroom.  Feeling like a teenager imitating Katharine Hepburn, I recited the names of all the people and opportunities I was grateful for, just so I could really get the feel of it.  And when it was all over I was tearing up. 

Why?  Because man, I’m lucky.  Damned lucky.  Saying the names and referencing the all the times I was given a chance was a poignant reminder that no matter how long the day at work, no matter how crappy the stress is sometimes, I have the most wonderful and supportive people standing behind me.

I have a place to live, a computer to write on… I have all the resources I need to reach this goal.

I had to grab a tissue to clean up a little.  Damn mascara. *sniffle*

After a minute I looked down at my hand and had the fleeting thought, I wonder how much heavier a RITA is compared with a 32 oz. bottle of water?  

And all of a sudden I imagined staring through a ray of spotlight out at ballroom full of authors, editors and peers, all waiting for me to make an acceptance speech.

Returning to the present, I threw a glance up at the bedroom wall that holds pictures of all the people I would be thanking if that moment were ever to happen.  Then I put the bottle down, said a silent prayer of thanks and walked over to my desk.

Dreams need help to come true, so I’d better get to it.

-       -   SNG

Monday, July 4, 2011

My So-Called Digital Life

Welcome back and happy 4th of July to all!  I appreciate everyone checking in. :0)

Since launching my website last month, my education about the world of digital presence has been a whirlwind experience.  (Although a tornado would be a better analogy….)

 As a writer it’s important to maintain your attendance in the electronic universe, even when that inevitably means permanent residence in the online worlds of Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon,*suck in breath*Barnes and Noble (to check book sales/reviews) and Blogger.  Summed up, the consistency of updates to your social media is vital. It’s required to keep the world in touch with you and vice versa.

  In writing and scheduling terms, all that upkeep can become overwhelming very quickly. An awesome author and fellow Maryland Romance Writer, Eliza Knight, gave a workshop on this topic recently which included the best advice.  Eliza suggests scheduling the draft of one blog weekly into your slotted writing time, that way your blog is ready to post on the same day and time consecutively.  This makes the writing for your blog separate from the time spent writing for publication, but it's all still you.  She also advises that you allot a set amount of time, usually 30 minutes, to make the posts, check out current events and have the wherewithal to kick yourself back to what’s most important – the writing.  The sad but true fact is that no one can read your published works if they never come to be because you blew all of your drafting time on Facebook. 

  And as Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely once said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” 


 Or in more modern speak we can say, “Wherever your friend just checked in and whatever your friend just ‘liked’ are small things compared to what you’re supposed to be working on, right now.”

 I’ve heard this verified by many authors, that procrastination lead by distraction is the biggest pitfall for a writer.  The greatest quote I’ve read that reinforces this notion is under my critique partner, Sarah Allan's info tab on her Facebook page: 
“Being a good writer is 3% talent and 97% not being distracted by the internet.” ~Anonymous

Everyone knows how it is.  You log on and the next time you glance at the clock it’s 3 hours later.  Not good.

It’s too unnervingly easy to start checking all of your social network news only to let valuable time get sucked away by activities that serve you but aren’t the activity that makes you.

So, wow, I need to go out and buy an egg timer that won’t ever be used for baking.  One with a really obnoxious tone.

 The concept reminds me a lot of the nights studying when I was in college.  It’s proven that humans tend to remember what they memorized first and last when reading, so breaking your study times into 20-minute intervals helps you retain information better. 

For me, I was pretty punch-drunk from working full-time where I really needed a carrot-dangling-from-a-stick incentive, and so I’d give myself 15 minute breaks periodically to keep motivated.  I remember that I could do whatever I wanted during the 15 minutes: read a magazine, watch TV or eat junk food.  I just had to be sure that I got back to work when the ding of the time-clock indicated that my period of rest was over.

And it's good to keep in mind that while all the social sites are promotion for you, they are still “fun places.”  Sorry voice of justification in my head, Facebook is not work.  Writing is the work.

And Facebook withdrawal is like trying to give up chocolate, smoking and quitting caffeine all at once.  It kind of hurts worse when you’ve indulged in large quantities of it previously.  I may have to wean off slowly to avoid irritability and erratic behavior.  There is probably a market for t-shirts that read, “I’m quitting *fill in social network here*, please keep a safe distance.”

But I will do what I must to make my manuscript and my stories the priority.

And following Eliza’s system, I have a scheduled time each week to write a new blog as well as 30 minutes each day to swim a few laps in my social networks (and not die from internet isolation).

And so with this, my beloved little corner of cyber-space, I have stated my intentions.  I’ve established Facebook SNG and Twitter SNG.   Now I have the great pleasure of being Blogger SNG.

The goal is to update every Sunday afternoon and everyone is welcome to check out the weekly reflections of my life as an aspiring writer.

It’s going to be tough but I promise to do my best.  That is, if I can stay off Facebook of course.  :0P

-         SNG