Check It Out: Inspiring Women Writers

I don’t usually promote authors or books on my blog, but there’s a first time for everything and I want to do my part to support the writing community. Plus, these women and their work are inspiring!

First there is the newly released Daddy: Reflections Of Father-Daughter Relationships, edited by one of my favorite bloggers, author K.E. Garland. I discovered Kathy’s blog, Kwoted, when I came across her first book, The Unhappy Wife during a Google search. (I’ll leave it to your imagination why I was doing a search that led me to the title.) Unlike her first book, which tells true stories of unhappy wives written by Kathy, Daddy is written by guest authors who have had challenging relationships with their fathers and, in their own way, have come to terms with it. The stories are powerful, painful, beautiful, and heartbreaking. Kudos to Kathy for giving women a venue through which to voice their deepest truths about their father-daughter relationship.

Then there’s Joanne DeMaio, who happens to be a distant relative, my father’s first cousin’s wife. I haven’t seen her in years, and only then at the occasional wedding and funeral, but I’m excited for her success. When a publishing deal she had hoped for fell through, she decided to self-publish her first novel and it went on to become an Amazon bestseller. The best part is that her publishing success happened when she hit her 50s, so there is hope for us in middle age! She is now the author of a series of novels that tell the stories of friends who live in a small, cozy town by the sea. Fun fact: Her daughter is her marketing agent.

I hope you’ll visit both women’s websites to learn more about them and their work.

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How to Embrace Rejection and Keep Writing

Rejection is inevitable if you want to be published, so thicken your skin, baby. 

On September 14, 2017, I crossed a big-ticket item off my bucket list. Not only had I completed a 75,000 word romance novel, a bucket list feat in itself, I submitted it to Harlequin Historical Romance for consideration. Pressing the submit button gave me the most amazing sense of joy, accomplishment, and lightness. I had poured my heart and soul into that story and its characters on and off for years. Now I had let it go and the results, mercifully, were out of my hands.

Evolution of a novel
A few years ago, I sent the manuscript in novella form to Harlequin’s Undone line, an eBook division. Two years later, I received an apologetic email from an editor stating that they had shut down the line and only recently realized the email account linked to it was still active. They encouraged me to submit to another line, which meant I needed to expand my story by about 50,000 words.

Inspired that an editor had emailed me for any reason, I lengthened the manuscript and submitted it, this time to Avon Romance. They never got back to me, which serves me right for betraying Harlequin! In retrospect, my query letter and synopsis were pretty awful and I should not have sent a sex scene as the sample of the best scene in the manuscript. I still cringe (and giggle) when I imagine the horror the editor must have felt when she read that scene, if she bothered to read it at all.

Learning from those mistakes, I revised the story rather extensively, wrote a new query and synopsis, and submitted them along with the first three chapters, as requested, to Harlequin. Three months later, I received the best rejection ever, which was a rather detailed and constructive critique of my story. I was so grateful that someone had actually read what I’d written and taken the time to respond! (See rejection letter below if you want.)

Using that critique as a guide, I am back to work on a new historical romance novel. A colleague who has been published suggested that I work with the original manuscript. He read Harlequin’s critique as saying that they thought the piece had promise with some changes. I read it as I should start all over. Regardless of one’s interpretation, it feels right to start fresh with a new story line and characters.

Embracing rejection
I have learned so much from the experience and process of writing and submitting that novel and I want to share it with you.

  1. It takes an incredible amount of time, energy, and perseverance to complete a 75,000 word story. Passion alone will not see you through to the end, though it helps. Kudos to those of us who actually do it, regardless of whether the piece is published.
  2. Be willing to be vulnerable and put yourself and your story out there for the world to see. Some of the feedback will be helpful and encouraging, some will not. We have no control over that, so let it go. Develop an open mind and thick skin. The former will help you sift through the criticism and use it to grow and improve; the latter you will need to keep from wallowing in anger or self-pity and giving up.
  3. You will fail, be rejected, make mistakes, and want to give up. DON’T!  Listen to the criticism, embrace the rejections, and use them to make you a better writer!
  4. The more you write, the more you read, and the more open-minded you are to constructive feedback, the better you’ll get at  writing. Even your worst writing is not wasted! All is practice for what comes next.
  5. Try to assess your writing objectively, especially when revising, editing, and taking in feedback. Don’t become so attached to a word, phrase, scene or character that you can’t see reason. Killing your darlings is a skill set in itself. Get comfortable with it.
  6. Fear not rejection! Fear never having tried in the first place. Enjoy the writing process, look forward to submitting your work, and consider your rejection letters to be badges of honor! They mean that you have written something you care deeply about, submitted it, and taken another step toward your dream. How many people can say they’ve done that?

If you have any words of wisdom you would like share about writing and publishing, please leave them in the comments section!

For those of you interested, here is the rejection I received from Harlequin (a huge thank you to that editor!):

Dear Kim,

Thank you for submitting Sweet Irish Kisses for our consideration. The story has interesting characters and you have a lively way with words. However, regretfully it is unsuitable for publication on the Harlequin Historical list at the current time.

Here are some areas for you to think about, should you choose to submit again.

Character Motivations: 
This story has lots of very exciting, dramatic plot points that we thoroughly enjoyed. However, while they are dramatic, it’s unclear why your characters are choosing to behave in this way, on an internal, emotional level. For instance, your heroine chooses to engage with your hero very quickly, when she might, perhaps, be naturally more suspicious, and in particular the kiss does feel a bit out-of-the-blue. Equally, your hero does not seem to question this. You might like to think about layering in your characters thought processes further, so that we can see why they are acting in this way. Establishing layered, deep-seated, internal motivations for this will make your characters more believable and engaging.

The Alpha Male: 
Perhaps tying in with the above, and indeed the matter of emotional conflict, it’s crucial that a Historical hero is powerful and commanding, regardless of his economic background. While your hero is very likeable, he doesn’t quite fulfil the fantasy of the above traits. It’s important than in his interactions with every other character, he feels thoroughly in charge; it’s also important that he feels motivated by his emotional conflicts, rather than external situations. We would suggest that in future, you focus your hero on his more commanding traits, who embodies that aspirational alpha male which readers look for in the series.

Emotional conflict driving the twists and turns of the story:
The main area to work on would be the emotional conflict between your hero and heroine. With this submission, there is a lot of focus on your characters immediate, dramatic behaviour, and as mentioned above, without much motivation. This is preventing the reader getting straight to the heart and the emotional impact of their backstories and conflicts. We’re sure there is a wealth of potential emotional conflict that prevent these two from coming together, however, it is the external intrusion of external circumstances that forces the twists and turns in their relationship. Emotional conflict is vital to any romance as it is this that pushes characters through their story and provides the grounding for their emotional turning points so that they can evolve and develop as their relationship does.
Digging really deep into their past hurts and using this to creating that ‘will they, won’t they’ tension throughout the story will keep readers turning the pages. To develop this there needs to be an almost insurmountable emotional obstacle within both characters that stops them being together. It is then important for your reader to see both your hero and heroine overcome their emotional concerns through their relationship and come to a happy and emotionally satisfying resolution at the end of the story.

If you are interested in pursuing Historical as a series to write for, we would recommend exploring the series guidelines and reading as many books from the Cherish series to be able to deliver on our series promise. A few excellent recent examples are Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress by Lara Temple, A Pregnant Courtesan for the Rake by Diane Gaston, and The Wallflower’s Mistletoe Wedding by Amanda McCabe.

We are sorry to disappoint you on this occasion but hope you find this feedback helpful.
Thank you for your continuing interest in Harlequin Mills & Boon.

Yours sincerely,
Editorial.

Drowning In Extremes

I want to talk about life’s ups and downs.

About extremes and trying to find the middle ground.

A wonderful week in Florida; two magical weeks in Prague.

Then I come home.

Husband laid out, on oxycodone,

After work accident led to surgery.

A new kitchen floor installed.

Refrigerator and dining table in living room.

Washer, dryer, dishwasher in driveway.

No hot water in kitchen sink.

Piles of dishes.

Lugging hot water from downstairs bath in pitchers.

Piles of laundry.

Dragging baskets to parents’ houses.

Husband in tears from pain; his boss whines,

“I’m losing money without him. I’m so stressed I need a massage.”

Then just as things are looking up, it happens.

Mother-in-law has a heart attack.

Survives five bypasses, only to end up with blood clot and paralyzed legs.

Emergency surgery doesn’t save her.

Funeral plans. Countless phone calls to relatives.

Final viewing. Burial.

Father-in-law’s blood sugar plummets.

Picked up by the PD for erratic driving.

Rushed to hospital.

Okay for now.

Then,

Two co-workers announce they have new jobs.

Boss is leaving for China.

Work follows me on my so-called vacation.

Thanks to invention of Smartphone.

Is there enough wine in the universe to help me forget?

Will this, too, really pass?

They say when it rains, it pours.

It is pouring.

But I am alive.

I am healthy.

I am free?

Still, I wonder,

Is there always a price to pay

For joy,

For love,

For beauty,

And the desire to be free?

Risk and Vulnerability

vulnerability-quoteWhat is the riskiest thing you’ve ever done? Jump out of an airplane? Travel abroad alone? Leave a job or relationship that wasn’t working? Start a business? Pursue a dream? Something else?

For me, it was to put my uncensored writing out there for others to see – and to criticize. I thought I would be safe when I signed up for a creative nonfiction writing course, with a small group of adults who had a passion for the craft. Our instructor set clear ground rules, one of which was to critique the writing, not the writer. This rule gave me the courage to share my work without censuring myself, for the first time ever.

So imagine my shock when, during a group critique of one of my essays, a classmate said, “I can’t imagine writing that about my [insert very close relation].” A pair of middle-aged women (I was in my early 30s at the time) nodded their heads in agreement as they whispered to each other and sent me disapproving glances. I looked to my instructor to correct them, remind them of the ground rules, but she didn’t. I felt betrayed by my classmates and by her. Worse, I felt like a naughty little girl who had done something very wrong.

After that class, I went back to writing in the closet for years and stuck mostly with fiction. Fiction felt safe because the characters weren’t real people and the stories came from my imagination. For a while, I also wrote feel-good news stories for a local newspaper. Then I started blogging, where I walk a fine line between speaking my uncensored truth and carefully choosing my language so as not to offend others or incite their  wrath. All low-risk writing.

Recently, I was reminded of how vulnerable we are when we put ourselves out there in any way, whether it’s speaking our truth, sharing our art, making decisions others don’t understand or approve of, or bucking society norms and/or traditions to follow our dreams or live more authentically. We open ourselves up to all kinds of judgement and criticism from others, some constructive and well-meaning, some downright mean. Sometimes it is the silence of indifference that hurts the most.

Risk-taking requires courage in the face of fear; it also  requires the willingness to be vulnerable. There is always a chance that we might be harmed, whether emotionally, financially, physically or in some other way.  But if we want to step out of our comfort zones and grow, if we want to pursue goals and dreams, if we want success that goes beyond the ordinary kind, or if we simply want to share our art in the most authentic way possible, we must take risks. That almost always leaves us vulnerable.

Have you ever felt truly vulnerable? I went through a brief period where someone had hurt me deeply, and as a result I felt incredibly vulnerable. It was as if every armor and shield of self-protection I had ever worn was ripped away, leaving me raw and exposed. Instead of fighting the feeling, I gave into it and an odd thing happened; I started to like it.  The softness of it felt light, and it carried a beauty and authenticity I hadn’t experienced before.  I was enveloped in a sense of peace and contentedness. Then after a couple of days, the outer shell started to harden again and the feeling went away, though I never forgot it.

Next time you’re wrestling with whether or not to take a risk, I encourage you to move beyond courage and embrace vulnerability.

soft-is-strong

Help Wanted: Query Letter And Synopsis Feedback

Dear Readers,

I am bypassing a traditional post this week to ask for your assistance with helping me to fulfill a longtime dream of having my romance novel published. As some of you may know, I recently completed a historical romance novel set in 1929 Newport, Rhode Island. Sweet Irish Kisses tells the unlikely love story of a wealthy debutante and an Irish shipbuilder whose paths cross when the heroine is on the run from an arranged marriage. Writing the 75,000 word novel was easy compared to having to condense it into a 200 word synopsis for submission to Avon’s Impulse line. Then there’s the tricky matter of the 750 word Query Letter. Quite frankly, this process is torture! And it’s scary. Especially when one considers the 200 words could determine whether an agent even bothers to read the query letter and story excerpt.

If you have the time, interest and willingness, could you please take a look at my three synopses and tell me which you prefer? If you think all need work or that I should start over completely, please say so and give me some specifics. Each synopsis is a work in progress and I fully anticipate having to revise one or more. Likewise, I seek feedback on my query letter. If you are a published author or have other knowledge of the publishing industry, your professional critique is most welcome. If not, then your opinion as an every day reader is most welcome. If you have no interest or time to read either, I completely understand. Thank you in advance for your feedback. I look forward to (and in some ways dread) your comments!

michael-gorman

Michael Gorman, my husband’s great-grandfather, whose portrait hangs in our living room, and who inspired the name of my hero. Michael came to the U.S. from Ireland in the late 1800s and bought 12 acres of land, which my father-in-law now owns.

The End – A Poem (For Writers)

How it feels to type ‘The End’ –

Like drinking coffee in the garden
sleepy in the morning on a summer day,
bare feet caressing the cool, dewy grass,
on holiday, work two weeks away,
and suddenly a hummingbird appears.

Like watching your child born,
who’s lived in your heart for years,
a slippery, raw, perfect being emerging
and knowing, without a doubt,
that s/he belongs here.

Like being young and in love and surrendering
to the aliveness that’s taken over your soul,
and remembering the feeling years later,
when life has taken its toll,
as your lover holds your hand.

But mostly it’s like being a child,
who finds joy in everyday moments;
the wings of a butterfly,
the splash of a wave,
bubbles and bicycles
and the latest kid craze.

For to type ‘The End’
is one of life’s greatest joys
for one who has toiled over
word and phrases and endless pages,
through months, years, and countless fears.

It’s a gift,
a release,
a letting go.

So squeal with delight,
shout with glee,
jump up and down,
you’re finally free,
to type ‘The End’ all over again.

How does it feel to you when you type ‘The End’?

Flash Fiction Challenge – JFK asked me…

A giant THANK YOU to fellow blogger and poet AJ O’Brien of Monochrome nightmares for encouraging me to share this piece of Flash Fiction with you. AJ has given me a couple of FF prompts to play around with recently, and the one below is my latest creation. His rules were to begin the piece with the prompt he gave, write an exactly 50 word short story, and give it a title. It is so much fun to play with story like this, and I greatly appreciate AJ’s spirit of challenging and supporting me as a writer. I want to spread the love by inviting you to try your hand at Flash Fiction. Feel free to post your own story as a comment, or on your blog with a link to it in the comments, using the rules above. Begin it with the following prompt (courtesy of AJ, whose own flash fiction can be found here):

Prompt: JFK asked me…

Rewriting History
by Kim Gorman

“JFK asked me to get Marilyn to sing at his birthday gala.”

“You’ve got to be shitting me.”

“I know, it’s insane, but he’s pissed at Jackie, wants to stick it to her.”

“Now what?”

“She’s skipping the gala. Said she’d rather be riding horses than celebrating a cheating ass.”

In case you don’t know the history behind the JFK birthday gala, it’s said that when Jackie Kennedy found out that Marilyn Monroe would be singing Happy Birthday to her husband at his 45th celebration, she decided to skip it and take part in a horse show instead. Rumor had it that JFK and Marilyn were lovers, and Jackie was furious and insulted that the actress was invited to the gala.


So, are you ready to give Flash Fiction a try? What did JFK ask you?