Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Writing Contests: For Winners, Or a Waste of Time?

*This is a repeat of a post I've run before, which always seems to strike a chord with other writers...

As writers our main aim is to get our work accepted by a publisher, right? And it’s hard enough sending out all those query letters and neat little packages of partials and synopses, without being bothered sending stuff off to some group with an odd-sounding name who’ll take a look at your work and — gulp! — maybe tell you it’s no good. Heavens, after all, we can get letters from publishers telling us the same thing, and less publicly!

If we get a nice letter praising our work from these contest judges, or better yet, our names appear as finalists or winners, so what? I mean, it’s not like being published, is it?

And contests cost you money, too. So why bother?

Now, gather round, all you ambitious writers, and listen up.

Contests can provide you with a showcase for your work, a chance to bring your work before judges who are also editors, agents, or published writers in their other incarnations. And you don’t have to win the contests to be a winner, either. Many writers will tell about their experiences of being contacted by editors or agents who read their contest submissions and were impressed enough to ask to see the whole manuscript.

So, is it really worth going to the trouble of seeking out contests, packaging up your precious work
Naked Writing: The No Frills Way to Write Your Book
and sending it off? Many writers think so. Here are some positive viewpoints:

“I entered the Iowa Romance Novelists’ Query and Synopsis contest last year and was a finalist. It was advantageous in many aspects and I’m going to enter a few more this year as a result of my experience with the contest,” says writer Dawn Tomasko, “Contests can open doors for writers. It’s a tight, competitive market and if an editor or agent notices your work through a contest so much the better. It’s one way to get a foot in the door. I very much liked reading the different judges’ responses to my work (I had included the first 30 pages as requested) and not only was the feedback helpful to point out good and bad things in my work, but the differences in their opinions underlined the fact that fiction is SO subjective.”

Dawn is now on her third novel, and adds the contest final as a credit in her query letters alongside her publication credits. “I advocate contests wholeheartedly,” .

Author Laurie Alice Eakes is a first-rate example of how a contest can boost a writer into committing to her craft — and the successes that follow. “In 1993, I won my first writing contest,” Laurie Alice said. “After that, with the encouragement of writer friends and business associates, I got serious and finished my first true attempt at a readable novel. My first sale was actually a nonfiction book entitled Virginia Wine, A Tasteful Guide, published in 1997. In 1999, while I was in grad school at Virginia Tech, I contracted my first novel with Awe-Struck E-Books.”

That first novel, The Widow’s Secret, was nominated for best e-book of 1999 and the Frankfurt E-Book awards, and remained high on the Barnes and Noble best selling e-books list for several months. “When some unfortunate circumstances compelled me to take a leave of absence from graduate school, I began writing again. December 2001 marks the release of the paperback version of The Widow’s Secret. In February 2002, my Regency historical, Married by Mistake, will be published by Novel Books Inc., in both trade paperback and electronic format. Awe-Struck E-Books will publish my Regency suspense novel, Unmarriageable, in April 2002, and Novel Books Inc., will publish my first contemporary romance, Lessons in Love, in August 2002. “Under the Mistletoe,” my Regency Mystery short story, is still available as part of A Winter Holiday Sampler, in trade paperback and electronic formats from Regency Press.”

To emphasize the value of contests further, she adds: ” I have out three books now, two in print, which is nice. I just won a scholarship for my writing, a nicely large one. So that contest paid off, too.”

So, contests are well worth your consideration. Not only can you get valuable credits to add to your writers’ resume, but the judges often offer the sort of constructive criticism that some professionals charge a fortune for — giving you a chance to review their advice and revamp your MS, and all for the entry fee. If you’re not sure whether a certain contest fits with your career plan as a writer, ask. Ask the organizers — most have email contact addresses now. Ask other writers — often contest news is announced on Internet writers’ lists and so other list members may be able to give fast answers to your queries. And if there’s no email contact, then write for more details. After all, you are a writer, aren’t you?

Don't forget - I'm offering a free print copy of The Bride's Curse to one lucky commentator - draw closes this weekend! Leave me a comment on this blog or for a chance to win!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Monday's Inspiration: Larry the Lump Gets Rude About My Treatment Decision

"Incoming Storm"
Since my post "Good News for Me, Bad News for Larry the Lump", when I was trying to make an important decision on the treatment of my breast cancer, I have had a lot of people asking just what decision I made.

Basically, I had to decide whether to have a mastectomy now and then go on to an anti-hormone treatment to starve out any roving cells, or to take the hormone treatment first, which might shrink Larry the Rather Large Lump, and hope that he would be slim enough for a lumpectomy, thus saving my breast.

After a long weekend of agonizing I decided to go ahead and postpone surgery while I take the drug Letrozole (Femara) for the next four to six months, when we will review the situation and see whether Larry's estrogen free diet has worked. Larry is a lobular carcinoma, the kind that don't show up on mammograms, with receptors for estrogen, which he sucks out of me to form his daily diet.

So far I have met wonderful doctors, including Dr. Angel (yes, that's her real first name) and Dr. V., both of whom I have grown to trust. Dr. V. held my hands, looked into my eyes, and told me that I would be looked after and the treatment carefully monitored for the very best results. If at any time I was worried, or the side effects of the drug proved too much for me, I could call him and get the help I needed.

Can't ask for much more than that, can you? Plus, the support staff are kind, friendly, smart, and committed.

So, then I had to break the news to Larry the Lump. There's a pain therapy that advises naming your pain, getting on first name terms with it and using that connection to discover the source of the pain and what your body needs to heal. It might sound a bit weird, but I've found it very helpful.

We've had lots of chats, Larry and I - I've spent a lot of time visualizing him shrinking, and much more time explaining that we really weren't mean to be soul mates.

So I opened up another of our little chats with the phrase: "Larry, I know you are just a bunch of
confused and disaffected cells from my own breast and I do feel for you, really I do."

This gambit, as always, was met with a snort from Larry.

I went on: "While I have nothing against you personally, old buddy," (the doctors said he'd been around for five or six years, comfortably nesting in my left breast."We're down to the wire and it's really you or me. So, we're cutting off your food supply. From today onwards, no more tasty estrogen for you."

I received an angry screech of "F**k you! I want my dinner!"

So rude, Larry.Tsk, tsk.

And I swallowed the first of my Letrozole pills.

"Sionara, old buddy."

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday Snippets–Judgement By Fire

recipe blogAh, Saturday! How do you spend yours? In our house it used to be a crazy day of playing catch up with laundry, housework, and cooking and freezing meals for the following week – as well as checking in with the kids, hearing all about their schoolwork, projects, and friends.
And we had a small hobby farm, so there was always plenty to do with cleaning out pens (oh, joy!), checking livestock health, fences, and a thousand other things.
So Saturday evening was movie night. Glass of wine, pizza (delivered – I didn’t have to cook it!) and some quality time with the Better Half. 
And always, always, there were a few snatched minutes to read.
Now that I work from home and I’m my own boss, Saturdays are no longer such a mad rush. All four kids – two boys, two girls – are grown and have homes of their own. I never really experienced that Empty Nest Syndrome I’ve heard so much about. I was really proud that they’d reached a stage in life where they could fly the coup – and blissed out with the peace and quiet and so much time to read – and write. Sure I miss them sometimes, but they’re all close enough to visit and anyway, if it gets really bad, I’ll put them in a book Smile
Judgement By Fire was my very first published book, – if you don’t count a fair number of children’s school subject books – first by a publisher and later Indie published because I wanted the experience of independently publishing a book. It was written in stolen moments during those crazy years. So I thought it was only fitting that this be the first book for Saturday Snippets.
Canadian wildlife artist Lauren Stephens swore off men after her marriage collapsed and burned. Instead, she’s focussed on her increasingly successful art career and made her home in an artists’ colony based around an old mansion estate in Ontario.
When a multi-national corporation wants to buy the estate and turn it into a health spa for the very rich, turning the artists and writers out of their rented cottages, Lauren volunteers to lead the protest against the sale. The move brings her into direct conflict with Jon Rush, the powerful CEO of Rush Co. International.
An instant attraction springs up between them, although Lauren is reluctant to trust the handsome industrialist. When Lauren’s studio is trashed and her life is threatened, Jon fears she’s being targeted by the mysterious person trying to destroy his company – a villain not afraid to use violence in his determination to see Jon suffer.
But is there a darker shadow over Lauren? And can Jon save her from a Judgement By Fire?

Judgement-by-Fire-B&Ncover“I’m warning you; put her down!” Paul’s stentorian voice commanded and Lauren decided he was right. Struggling in the iron clasp of Jon’s arms, she, too, demanded to be put down.
“Right away,” he conceded, swinging open the passenger door and depositing her on gently on the leather seat in the warm cab of his Jeep.
“I’ve already alerted the police. There’s no way you can get away with this,” Paul stated, holding Jon’s eyes with his own. “Just let Lauren go and we’ll talk, maybe sort out something.”
“There’s nothing to sort. She can’t stay here.”
“She can’t go with you.”
“She’s in no condition to deal with this…”
“And she’s the cat’s mother,” Lauren interjected, knowing she probably sounded ridiculous, but tired of hearing the two men fighting about her as if she was a bone.
“Lauren, I’ve called the police. We’ll see how he can explain this to Chief Ohmer,” Paul told her, his eyes never leaving Jon’s face. At that moment, as though they had conjured him up, they heard a blast of the police siren as Ohmer himself turned into the Haverford Castle driveway.
Moments later, he’d surveyed the wreckage of Lauren’s home, checked that she herself was uninjured, called for scene-of-crime backup, and fixed a cold eye on Jon Rush.
“So, Mr. Rush, how do you explain yourself?”
“I don’t have anything to explain.” Rush’s voice was flat, authoritative.
“Then who trashed Lauren’s place?” Ohmer asked.
“Who else would want to, except some corporate scum?” Paul interjected, drawing a daggers-glance from the police chief.
“Easy now…” Ohmer warned, but Lauren interjected.
“No, Paul, finish what you were going to say. I liked the sound of it.” Lauren knew shock was making her giddy, but an attack of the giggles seemed preferable to howling at the moon and tearing her hair, which was her only other apparent option. All three men swiveled to look at her.
“Hysterical,” Paul judged.
“Overwrought,” Jon agreed.
“Getting madder by the minute,” Lauren chimed in.
“So who could hate her enough to do this?” Jon asked Paul.
“I wouldn’t think she’s got that many enemies,” Paul replied.
“No, but she does have an attitude,” Jon commented sagely.
Paul burst out laughing.
“Now, just you wait a minute. One moment you’re calling him out for ravaging my home and kidnapping me, the next you’re making jokes at my expense? What is this, the Men’s Club routine?” Lauren demanded, and both men shamefacedly lost their amusement. Chief Ohmer turned away to greet another police car with the backup personnel he’d requested.
“Lauren, I don’t know what you believe, but I certainly did not, would not, do something like this.” Jon’s eyes held hers, but Lauren looked away.
“Go and look at the painting on my easel—what there is left of it,” she told the two men.
As they left, she leaned her head forwards against the chilled glass of the windscreen, fighting back the tears that threatened to overwhelm her. It had been okay to keep up the slapstick while Jon and Paul were there, somehow it had defused the situation, and besides, she couldn’t really take seriously the concept of Jon Rush trashing her home.
But if not him, who?    

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Monday’s Inspiration – Good News For Me; Bad News for Larry the Lump

Have you ever noticed how sometimes the most important decisions you must make in life come at a time when you are least able to make them?  

Today is decision day on my breast cancer treatment. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I was pretty depressed last week after my consultation with Dr. Angel (that really is her name!). Not all the tests were in, but it wasn’t looking good.

Larry the Lump was designated a Third Stage cancer, weighing in at the very first ultrasound/physical exam at 10 cm. That’s pretty big. The second visit with the oncology surgeon she thought Larry was more like 8.5 cm, the rest was bruising from a core biopsy. Still a big boy, and a type of cancer - breast lobular carcinoma – that usually affects the other breast as well. Then it appeared a shadow on the MRI suggested that there was a small tumor in my lymph glands. Which meant that Larry was inviting friends to the party, too.

Which all added up to bad news for me. And very likely a double mastectomy.
Had much better news from my 'Angel' doc on Thursday. All the test results were in, including some new ones. No other cancers were visible, not in my other breast, in my lungs, liver, abdomen, bones – all the places were Larry’s friends were most likely to be lurking. A needle biopsy of the shadowy lymph gland came back negative. Good news for me there was no established tumor in the lymph system, those all-important little glands that form a pathway throughout the body for all kinds of vital stuff.

Even better, Larry the Lump was now weighing in at 7.8 cm – not exactly a lightweight, but significantly smaller than first thought. Was it just that all the bruising from the core biopsy had finally subsided, or had all those prayers and good thoughts that had been circling around me from so many people, family, friends, and friends I hadn’t actually met, had actually shrunk the little guy a wee bit? That’s a nice thought.

Good news for me now there is a treatment that might save my breast. The bad news for Larry is that being a bit smaller, he’s now a candidate for this treatment and his days are definitely numbered.
So to my decision. I can go ahead and have a mastectomy, followed possibly by radiation and by anti-hormone treatments. The cancer I have, like many other breast cancers, feeds on estrogen, so one tiny pill a day will starve poor Larry – and any of his pals and offspring that may be lurking around.
The alternative is to postpone the surgery and have the ant-hormonal treatment first. Between four and six months of pill popping and frequent checkups, and Larry might just be small enough for a lumpectomy, which would save my breast. Which is a very attractive prospect.

Sounds wonderful, but there are no guarantees. As the doctor said, can you patiently take pills for four to six months while knowing that cancer is still sitting on your chest? Well, can I? When first diagnosed my reaction was that I wanted surgery like, yesterday, if not sooner. Get this thing off me!
Now I have a chance to keep my breast with the hormone treatment. It doesn’t work for everyone, second it doesn’t shrink the tumor away to nothing – although Dr. Angel says she has seen some ‘miracles’ like that. If I’m lucky, though, it would reduce Larry to a much smaller version of himself and a candidate for the less drastic surgery of lumpectomy.

I feel like a pinball, flying back and forth between the two options. I have to decide by tomorrow, because I’m on a surgical list and if I decide not to go ahead with surgery, someone else can move into my spot and be prepped for surgery while I take the other option.

So by the time you are reading this it will all be done and dusted. Please keep those good thoughts and prayers coming.

PS - the photograph above is one I took a couple of years ago and titled "The Long Road Home'. Which is what I feel like I'm on right now, a long road to better health....

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Wednesday's Writing: A Weird Thing Happened When I was Painting the New House.....

Read this and comment - You could win a print copy of my latest book...

I've noticed before that Real Life happenings can seep into my writing - I'm sure other writers find the same thing. But my latest book is considered a paranormal, with a Restless Spirit as one of the main characters.

Surely that wouldn't ...would it?

Something very weird happened when I started to paint a room in our new place. Maybe it's because I have ghosts on my mind after completing The Bride's Curse - the first in a proposed trilogy - and I'm more attuned to cosmic weirdness, but - well, here's the tale:

We recently went through the House Move From Hell, but that's all behind us now as we are settled into a sweet little house with 22 acres of private paradise and the huge added bonus of wonderful neighbours!

The house is old - parts apparently around the century mark - and is in need of some gentle restoration. Did I say gentle? New kitchen, new bathrooms, suspect plumbing...yikes!

Still, I've always believed that there are few things that perk a house up like a new coat of paint, so that's been keeping me occupied for a while.One room in particular was very small, dark and dingy with a depressing atmosphere. As it is the first room visitors coming through the sun porch use to enter the house, it was my first paint project.

The first oddity was that I chose a deep bright yellow paint. I don't think I have ever in my life painted a room yellow - it's just not one of my favourite colours. Anyhow, there I was, painting away and I had to admit, the yellow was brightening the room up. Giving it a zing, as one of my neighbours said.

I came to a wall that had a lot of old stuff still piled against it, so I moved everything and gasped in surprise. There had been an old electric heater on this wall, which had been removed long before we bought the house. And in the square on the wall that heater had covered was - yellow paint.

Not just any yellow paint, but an exact match for the paint I had been slathering on the other walls.

Cue: Twilight Zone music....

Strangely, despite being anything up to fifty years old or more, that paint still looked fresh, and when I ran my paint roller up against it, you couldn't see where the new paint started and the old ended.

Further Twilight Zone, please....

Then I was at a yard sale in the nearby village. For some reason, even though this room was to be a library housing our many books, I'd decided it had to have a chest of drawers as well as bookcases.

And there at the yard sale was the perfect chest, a beautiful elderly set in cherry and oak, very graceful if a bit battered. And my eyes popped when I saw the miniscule price - well within budget.
Home it came, and it looked absolutely perfect in the spot I'd wanted it for. So perfect, in fact, it might have belonged there.

As maybe it did. According to another neighbour, the folks having the yard sale once had relatives who'd owned our new home....

Definitely Twilight Zone stuff, yes? I'm wondering if I should peek under the wallpaper of other rooms before I paint them, just to see what colours lie there. Maybe it would give me a clue to what the house - or some long ago resident - would like that room's colour to be....

Now in The Bride's Curse there is a cantankerous, mischievous restless spirit. He's a joker with issues
to settle before he can move on - including patching up an old love affair. He enlists the help of Kelly Andrews, who runs a bridal planning service and store named Wedding Bliss, to help him.

Maybe my mind was too much on the hidden world of spirits when I was painting that room.

Or maybe...just maybe...the house was telling me what colors it wanted to be clothed in.

I'm pretty sure this is going to show up in one of the Wedding Bliss trilogy stories. I'd love to hear what you readers think - does my new house have a specific taste in decorating and is it brainwashing me? Or am I just overly imaginative?

Leave me a comment for a chance to win a draw of The Bride's Curse when it comes out in print next month from Crimson Romance! In the meantime, scroll down to an earlier blog to read the book's first chapter, or visit Amazon for more details and to read the books brand new first five star review!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Monday's Inspiration: Larry the Lump Sneaked Past the Mammogram....

 Perhaps 'inspiration' is the wrong title for this blog, but I wanted to get word out about how a clear mammogram doesn't necessarily mean there is no cancer - or early 'in situ' cancer cells. That's not to frighten anyone - but sometimes, a little knowledge can be a lifesaver.

I posted a while ago about Larry the Lump, the nasty little cancer located in my left breast. I was shocked to discover that this had already progressed to Stage Three before I even knew it was there.

"How can this be?" I asked. "I have done mammograms religiously and they've all come back clear, I've done self-exams and it's only been recently that I thought there was a slight thickening. Even my doctor said that if the mammogram didn't show anything, then there was nothing there..."

There's no breast cancer in my family, either. Foolishly I thought there was little chance I would ever develop it. Another myth busted. .

I have a type of cancer called invasive lobular. Seems this is a sneaky beast, a long, thin cancer that doesn't show up on a mammogram.

I had a routine mammogram last September, complained to the tech that I had some 'crinkly' skin on my breast and shooting pains. She said that if the mammogram came back clear and I was still worried, talk to my doctor.

A few weeks later the letter came - the mammogram had shown nothing. All clear.

Gradually I became aware that the wrinkling skin was getting worse, and the pain and aching were still there. So I mentioned this to my doctor when I went for a pap smear (yep, I did all those regular exams!) and she said nothing showed on the mammogram.

Fast forward a few more weeks. The bathroom mirror announced that my nipple was inverted and the wrinkling was worse. Then I felt a slight thickening in my breast. Back this time to see the nurse practitioner, who thought she could maybe feel a slight lump 'and we should get another mammogram'.

Another mammogram, two ultrasounds and a biopsy later, a cancer diagnosis.

Larry the Lump was by this time eight centimeters long. Stage Three.

Pass lumpectomy and go straight to mastectomy.

Invasive lobular breast cancer makes up about 10-15 percent of breast cancers.

It doesn't show up on a mammogram in the earlier stages, if at all.

And it often affects both breasts.

Now, after a whole panoply of tests and biopsies, I'm meeting with the oncology surgeon this week to hear just how drastic the surgery must be.

I'm fortunate to have a lot of support from family and friends, and an oncology doctor who specializes in this kind of cancer,

Plus her first name is 'Angel'. Here's hoping she's my angel :-)

So again, I don't want to frighten anyone, but be pro-active. If you feel something is wrong, do insist on further investigation. My type of cancer needs an MRI to properly diagnose it..

And many, many thanks to all the folks out there who have contacted me with good healing thoughts, prayers for a fast recovery, and comforting and encouraging stories of others who have been through this. Please continue to keep me in your thoughts.

Will keep you posted as to when Larry the Lump is to be evicted the sooner the better!