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?

Hallways

Strange things happen in hallways. Beautiful things. Painful things.

This morning when I arrived at my office building, I saw a student crying into her cell phone in the hallway.  Another student, whom I knew, was comforting her. Since I knew the crying woman was in good hands, I passed by without saying a word, nodded to the woman I knew, and climbed another flight of stairs. When I reached the third floor, I saw a colleague hovering in the hallway. He’s not someone I know well, him being a VIP and me being a lowly in the trenches gal. But he seemed to be waiting for me. He knew I saw her, too.

“There’s a girl crying downstairs.”

I nodded. “I know the student she’s with. She’s in good hands.”

“She’ll be okay?”

“Yes.”

We went our separate ways. Later that day, in the hallway on the second floor, I saw a man who looked to be in his late sixties. He was dressed in a suit, wandering around,  lost. I wanted to ignore him, but I couldn’t.

“Can I help you find something?”

“Yes,” he said. “I need to speak to an advisor. My daughter was admitted here, but she couldn’t make the Open House. I’m on my way to visit her at prep school. I thought I’d stop by and talk to someone about your Learning Communities.”

The only prep school I knew of in the area was about an hour away, exclusive, expensive. He looked quite old to have a daughter who was a high school senior. We made small talk while I walked him to the appropriate office.  When we arrived, he shook my hand, thanked me for my help. We went our separate ways.

As I was preparing to leave work that same day, I left my office suite to get a glass of water from the fountain. A young man was seated at a table in the hallway, looking at his laptop and wiping his eyes with a paper towel. It took me a moment to realize that he was crying. It’s so seldom one sees men cry. I hesitated, but in the end I knew I couldn’t just walk by and ignore him.

“Are you okay? Can I help?”

“My friend just died.”

He went on to explain that it was a girl he’d grown up with.  He showed me her photo on Facebook. She was smiling, and so young. Her beautiful soul radiated out of the computer screen. She wore a silky scarf over her head.

“She had cancer?” I asked.

He nodded.

I placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m so sorry. Do you want to talk? My office is right over there.”

He shook his head. “No, thank you. She’d be mad if she saw me crying.”

We spoke for another minute, then I left him alone with his grief.

What is a hallway but a passage from one place to the next?

Husbands and wives, mothers and sons, fathers and daughters pass each other in hallways without saying a word.

When I was a child, after my parents divorced and I had teenaged babysitters all the time, the neighborhood kids used to come over and play hide and seek in my house at night. With all the lights out, no one ever found me when I climbed up the hallway walls, one foot and one hand on each wall, until I was near the ceiling. In that same house, I used to have dreams that I was flying down the hallway, about a foot off the ground, and I could see everything that was happening, and that had ever happened, in that house.

The next time you’re in a hallway, stop, look around, and feel.

Blog Break And Rumi

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Sunflower fields, Sweet Berry Farm, Middletown, RI

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
~Rumi

Dear Readers,
I am taking a two-week break from blogging in order to focus on completing a project with a pending deadline. This includes not reading your lovely posts, which I always enjoy, but which can sometimes take my attention away (happily, mind you) from other things for hours. It will be hard to resist not taking a peek, but I am going to force myself to refrain. Please have a lovely couple of weeks and I’ll catch up with you soon.

Love and Peace,
Kim

The Quest For A Good Night’s Sleep

snoreMy husband snores. Badly. Eruptive, thundering refrains that torment me throughout the night. Worse are the periods of silence, during which he stops breathing, followed by violent, gasping-for-air inhalations that startle me awake – if I’m able to fall asleep in the first place – and have me fearing for his life.

Then there’s the matter of our mattress. It’s the absolute pits, as in it belongs in a pit. We’ve never had good luck with mattresses. Once we slept on the most comfortable mattress for two nights at an inn, bought the exact model, and that’s the one we currently own. We went so far as to have a mattress custom made once, and even that turned out awful.

Between these two things, I’m in the midst of a sleep crisis. Constant exhaustion. Eyes with perpetual dark circles under them. I’d go so far as to say that I feel like a zombie, but I’m pretty sure zombies don’t feel things, like aching shoulders, sore backs, and stiff necks.

This is no way to live. I love my husband, but enough is enough. And that mattress has to go. At my age, I need beauty sleep more than ever.

My husband’s sleep apnea was diagnosed when he spent the night at a sleep clinic. They recommended a CPAP, but he tore it off, claimed it made him feel like he was suffocating. He left the clinic and never looked back, and so his snoring continues. It is ruining our health, our quality of life, and our sofa. Most nights, he starts off in our bed, but after being elbowed several times by moi, listening to my grumbles of, “Will you shut the hell up?” and outright, “Please go sleep on the sofa”, he usually heads downstairs.

Part of me feels sorry for this, but mostly I’m too relieved he’s gone to care.

Then there’s the mattress. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I had it to myself and still woke up tired and sore. We have attempted some mattress shopping recently, but with so many choices, how does one decide? Yesterday, it seemed we’d found the perfect solution; two extra-long twin gel foam mattresses (pushed together to look like a king-sized bed) with separate adjustable frames that can be fitted to our individual bodies. The salesman suggested that being able to raise his upper body might help my husband snore less.

The mattress felt comfy and I almost fell asleep right there in the store while testing it out. Not wanting to rush into a purchase, however, we thanked the brilliant salesman and went home to do our research. The mattress reviews were mostly positive, but the adjustable bed frame reviews were bad.

Other models with rave reviews cost up to three times more. While a good night’s sleep is priceless, and I’d be glad to invest in a high quality adjustable bed frame if it means a great night’s sleep, past experience has taught me there are no guarantees – in life, in mattresses, or in my husband not snoring if we purchase a new bed.

So what to do?

I’m considering separate bedrooms (gasp!). Most articles say it can be good for a marriage because both spouses are sleeping well and have their own space. Even sex can be better because you have more energy and it’s kind of fun going off into one bedroom or the other. More couples want to do it, but are worried about the stigma. One lone article said that sleeping separately is awful for a marriage and a sign of poor communication. Does the author not realize that when you’re chronically exhausted, communication is whittled down to grunts?

Something’s got to give. We both need sleep. I’m thinking of taking a chance and getting the twin mattresses and adjustable frames, despite the reviews. Maybe we can also do separate bedrooms on weeknights, when having to function at work the next day is critical, and sleep together on weekends. Kind of like a slumber party, only better.

But I worry, will we be setting a poor example for our children? Will they think we don’t love each other anymore? Will we grow apart? Do I even care about all this as long as I’m getting a good night’s sleep?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on snoring, mattresses, and spouses sleeping apart!