The following are guest posts I've written for blogs.
I hope you enjoy them!
You Are Now Entering the
Federal Witness Protection Program...
Psst. Can you keep a secret? Your life might depend on it.
Your testimony just took down the largest art forgery ring in history tied to organized crime and arms trafficking. You’re a hero! However, rather than celebrating with family and friends, you have an hour to say your goodbyes before a U.S. Marshal whisks you away to your new life in the Federal Witness Protection Program. You can’t tell anyone where you are going or your new identity. Your life is about to change forever.
The following are the steps you’ll need to take to enter the program. First off, you should know the program is actually called the Federal Witness Security Program. Over the years, authors and movie producers have taken a certain amount of creative liberties when writing about the program, such as changing its name.
You’ll also need to change your name. This is your chance to take on an exotic sounding name like Sophie Fontaine. However, it’s recommended that you keep your first name and initials, so if you’re about to start writing or saying your real name you can catch yourself. And you don’t want your family members hollering your new name down the street or your neighbors will start to wonder. The good news is you can keep your monogrammed towels, since you’ll likely be able to take some personal belongings.
You may be allowed to take furniture and clothes, but you’ll need to destroy your birth certificate, social security card, credit cards, and all personal documents. A few family photos are okay, if they don’t provide clues to your past. No wedding photos of you standing in front of a church with the Seattle Space Needle in the background.
This is your chance to relocate from the harsh Midwest winters to sunny San Diego. Or if you’re tired of the scorching Phoenix summers, head for the Colorado Rockies. However, if you’ve always wanted to live in San Diego or Denver, then everyone probably knows this. You’ll be asked to write down the top ten or twenty places you’d like to live, and then you’ll be relocated to the last spot on your list. So if you really want to live in San Diego, list it last. However, if you want to stay alive, then be honest.
Say goodbye to Facebook, Twitter, and all social media. Not only do you need to cancel your current pages, but don’t be tempted to create accounts under your new identity. One night, you might feel lonely and reach out to loved ones in cyberspace. Now, it’s out of your control if the bad guy posts your picture on Facebook, claiming you’re a long lost love he wishes to reunite with and suddenly your pic goes viral and people recognize you. So if you’ve ever wanted to be a blonde or Botox away those wrinkles, this would be the time to do it. However, WITSEC won’t pay for your new look.
If you’ve secretly wanted to try parachuting or bungee jumping, go for it. Not that you’re suicidal, but you can’t continue hobbies that could lead the bad guys to you. If you’re an avid Chagall collector, you could be easily tracked down if you’re bidding on Chagalls at auction. Art is a small world, especially with everything being computerized. If you’re a triathlon runner and subscribe to a triathlon magazine, a bit of a niche, someone could cross-check the magazine’s mailing list against public records and determine your name is absent from most records. The bad guys are sneaky, so you need to be even sneakier.
Tear up your resume you’ve worked years to perfect. You need to start from scratch, especially if you are in a career that would be easy to trace, such as a doctor or a lawyer. The program will help with job placement and career training.
So the technicalities are done. You are prepared to enter the Federal Witness Security Program. But emotionally, will you ever be ready to give up your family, friends, and current life, and never look back?
Dear Newbie Author Me
Dear Newbie Author Me:
Congratulations! You just finished polishing your first book. Celebrate! Drink a glass of wine and call everyone you know to share the news. After all, this was the hard part on your road to publication, right? Wrong. Reality check. Writing the book is the easy part, well not easy, but easier than finding an agent or editor who thinks it’s as good as you and your mom do. So, here are a few words of advice that might just help you get published sooner.
Don’t take no for an answer. Don’t stop querying agents after only 20 rejections. This is a drop in the agent bucket. There are hundreds of agents out there. One of these 20 agents will request your full manuscript, which is a HUGE deal, even though she ultimately rejects it. Don’t let this dishearten you and make you think your first book isn’t ready for submission, it is. Don’t give up on a book until you have queried a minimum of a hundred agents and editors. Seriously. If I told you how many agents and editors you’ll have to query before you sell, you might freak out and quit right now. So that’ll be my little secret.
Get feedback on your book. Yeah, you travel a lot for your job, so it’s hard to meet with a critique group on a weekly basis. You’ll make a lot of writer friends through online groups and at conferences. See if one of them is interested in being an online critique partner. A lot of contest judges will click with your book. Ask them if they’re interested in reading it and giving you feedback. You have nothing to lose. (FYI, you’ll be a two-time Golden Heart finalist, which will be really cool.) If you can’t find a critique partner, ask a local book club or a library’s advisory board if they’ll read it. A library’s teen ad board will prove very helpful with one of your young adult books. However you do it, get feedback.
Make sure your book has a strong hook. Write the query letter before you write the book so you know you can pitch it to an agent or editor. With all the thousands of books out there, having a strong hook is critical so that your book stands out. Believe me, it’ll be much easier to have a hook on the front end than to try to add one once the book is done. Been there, done that.
Learn to be patient and consider taking up yoga or meditation. I know you can’t ride an escalator without walking up or down it, but you’ll learn to. Be patient. This applies to numerous areas of your writing. Don’t submit a book until it’s ready. Let the book sit for 1-2 months and start a new project. Then go back to it and read it with fresh eyes. I know I told you to query a minimum of 100 agents, but don’t query them all at once. Query 10-20 agents and get feedback before querying more. Yes, you might be waiting at least three months to hear back from agents, but again, be patient. This industry is a waiting game.
Good news is you’re going to be a published author! Yay! Even though it might take a while, you won’t give up because you have perseverance. Luck and timing, not so much. But as with so many things in life, your perseverance will get you there. If you take my words of wisdom, I’m confident your road to publication won’t be as long, and you won’t need to take a few years off along the way to feed your disheartened muse.
So hang in there future published author and don’t ever give up!
9-1-1—Help, Someone Killed My Muse!
When I first noticed my muse had gone missing, I figured she’d been working hard, she needed a vacation, give her a break. When she hadn’t returned a week later, I wondered if she was delayed somewhere due to bad weather or a flight cancellation, which often happens to me. Two weeks later, I sat in front of my computer staring at a blank page, in total panic mode. I needed to start a new book. Where was she? Granted, she’d been complaining about needing a better work environment—more vacation days, weekends off, shorter writing days, etc., but she’d have given me a chance to provide her with some benefits before quitting. She wouldn’t desert me after 10 years and 11 books. No way.
So what had happened to her? Had she been abducted? Who would have done such a thing? A writer friend playing a sick joke? My cats, because I’d been working too hard and ignoring them? Frantic, I did everything I could to find her. I started reading like a maniac. Reading inspires me to write and helps fill my well. But no matter how much I read, no muse. So, I conducted research for a new book idea I was throwing around. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t Google out. Except my muse.
Unable to start a new book without her, I rewrote books, I entered contests, I queried agents, and I found a teen group to critique my young adult book. Yet, I still wasn’t motivated to start writing a new book. I finally had to face the fact that someone may have killed my muse. She might never return. Disheartened, I needed a diversion from my writing, so I started tracing my Irish ancestry.
Two years went by, then one day my muse returned, speaking Irish slang, bubbling with enthusiasm over a new idea for a women’s fiction book set in Ireland. She’d been off in Ireland visiting her rellies and friends. Her ideas were flowing faster than Guinness in an Irish pub. I filled an entire journal with ideas and wrote the first three chapters of a new book. I was still upset she’d ditched me without a word, yet I couldn’t blame her entirely, and I was so happy she was back, I never mentioned it again.
Moral of the story: you can’t force your muse. She’s a very fragile and moody thing. I had written 11 books in 10 years and I was burnt-out. I promise to take better care of her and myself. Now that we’ve sold, she promises to stick around and not leave me high and dry again.
Unexpected Turning Points in Life
In a recent interview, I was asked if I could have dinner with any three authors, who would I choose and why. Initially, Lawrence Sanders was my third choice. Yet, days later I found myself still pondering the question and I moved Lawrence Sanders to the number one spot. I wanted to treat him to dinner (even though he died in 1998) so I could thank him for helping me rediscover my love of reading, which ultimately led me to becoming a writer.
Prior to college, I read one to two books a week. I studied so hard in college I probably read two books for pleasure in four years. A year after graduating, I mentioned this to my now husband and told him how much I missed reading, yet I couldn’t seem to get back into it. He recommended I read the McNally series by Lawrence Sanders. He said it was a fun and quick read. I laughed through the entire first book and I quickly devoured every book in the series. I reread the McNally series then read Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. To this day, these are my two favorite series. I was back to reading two books a week, mainly mysteries and romances.
When my sister was a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Contest, I attended the conference in Chicago to cheer her on. It was exciting to meet many of the authors whose books I’d read. I’ve always worked in the travel industry and when I was recounting some of my zany travel stories to several writers, they suggested I write a romantic comedy. Me, write a book? No way. Could I? I’d never considered writing a book, but I knew from the McNally series that humor was what I would want to write. So, I went home and started writing my first book.
I didn’t realize when I first read the McNally series, what a major turning point this would be in my life. It wasn’t like getting married or having a child, when you know at that very moment your life is going off in a new, and hopefully exciting, direction. I honestly didn’t even realize this was a turning point until I recently answered the question in that interview. Talk about an epiphany.
Getting Published--The Luck of the Irish?
I celebrated my Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day by eating shepherd’s pie, doing a pub crawl, and wearing green along with my pin that reads, The Luck of the Irish. I’ve heard that saying my entire life. Curious where it originated, I did a wee bit of research. Some believe the phrase was coined during the gold rush years in the U.S. when some of the most successful miners were Irish or Irish American and discovered their “pots of gold” out west. At the time, rich Irish immigrants were as rare as leprechauns, so they were thought to be quite lucky. Or, it may have come from the legend that catching a leprechaun, who would hand over gold in return for his release, was a lucky event that only took place in Ireland. Others believe the Irish are lucky because they’ve been able to persevere despite famines, wars, oppression, mass immigration, and other hardships. So in that sense, maybe I do have the luck of the Irish.
Not that I’ve had it nearly as rough as my Irish ancestors, but despite hundreds of rejections, I was able to keep bouncing back and persevere, becoming a published author. Believe me, there were many days I wanted to quit. Although I was disheartened at times, and feared my bad luck and timing would never change, I never gave up on myself or a book. Several of my books have gone through major evolutions. Identity Crisis was originally a 400-page women’s fiction book. In the end, I felt something was missing. A hero. My protagonist Olivia needed someone to protect her and support her when her father is murdered and she discovers she was placed in the Federal Witness Security Program when she was five years old. She needed someone by her side who would give her the strength and courage to seek out the family she never knew existed. So I cut 300 pages, added a hero, and rewrote the book. I truly believed in the book and never gave up on it.
My perseverance has been stronger at times than others. I wrote a blog a few months back titled “911—Help Someone Killed My Muse.” I told the story about how my muse went missing for over two years, during which time I didn’t write a new book. However, I entered contests, rewrote existing books, and queried agents and editors. Needing a diversion, I started researching my Irish ancestry. Then one day my muse reappeared, psyched about a new idea for a women’s fiction book set in Ireland. I’m lucky that my Irish heritage inspired my muse and gave her the kick in the butt she needed.
It appears I’m very lucky that I was born with perseverance. I have several perseverance quotes on my desk. My favorite is one by Thomas Edison. “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” I guess I shouldn’t complain about my number of rejections.