Check out my fabulous interview by Jess Carpenter! Click HERE to check it out!
What a difference a few months make, folks.
January 2020: Complaining about publishing frustrations and writers' block. Slogging through my busy week of scopes, deliveries, and seemingly endless patient visits in the office.
Fast forward to April 2020: I would gladly donate my left kidney to have the pleasure of dealing with the issues from January. Nowadays, most visits are virtual. The few visits in person for newborns and pregnant patients about to deliver are done in full facemarks and goggles/shields. All clothing is the same: street clothes to go to work, scrubs + white coat at work, change back into street clothes to go home, everything in the washer, and me in the shower. Literally rinse and repeat every single day of the past 6 weeks. Normal is the feel of my warm breath inside of a mask that stays on my face for 10 hours every day.
What's not normal is how my Day Job medical world collides with my Writing Job.
The parts of my Day Job I enjoyed no longer exist at this time. No gentle shake of a patient's hand, no quick procedures, visible smiles, hugs, easy laughter, asking about summer plans. Everything has that undercurrent of tension.
The words come but with difficulty. The mind will not un-clench from the constant worries of safety, infection, sickness, death, recovery, treatment. Future plans aren't for next year or even next month anymore -- at most the future means the next day, the next week. Blog posts and lighthearted social media seems inadequate to everything right now.
The parts of my Writing Job I enjoyed most cannot exist as they had been -- not right now at least: the workshops and small group discussions, the laughter with other writers, the excitement of meeting a reader who enjoys my books, the camaraderie at a crowded book signing.
It looks like the summer signings will need to be pushed back until next year. While I am waiting for official word from my healthcare organization, it looks like physicians will be asked not to travel and congregate unless it's an emergency. While I think my book signings are >FIVE ALARM< amazing, they still aren't "emergency."
Stay tuned for the latest. There are some other writerly fun things brewing! One day, we won't be 6 feet away. One day, out existence won't be Zoom meetings. One day, laughter will return. And one day, the words will flow again!
Have I mentioned for you to stay tuned? :)
I wanted to set the record straight in case there emerges an alternate spin on why I turned down an all-day speaking engagement in 2020. In the recent maelstrom of #RWAShitShow systemic racism and bias throughout RWA and some of its chapters has come to light. For a much better summary of events in RWA, please check out this link. Also, here's a fabulous timeline that continues to be updated -- it helps folks unfamiliar with the situation to really understand inciting incidents and the actions/reactions that followed.
Long story short, we can all do better. Everyone. But as a cis het white person who holds a professional job that confers some privilege of its own, I felt that I really had to do better. How? I can’t say the words any more eloquently than the statements provided by all of the AOC and some of the chapters. Examples here and here and here. There are numerous other examples that can easily be searched for and found as well.
I am but a small writer in a pool of larger, fabulous writers. The safe thing to do for my career would be keep my head down, have no opinion, make no waves, and take advantage of those golden speaking opportunities. How weak was I that I feared regarding speaking out against discrimination?? Unfortunately, that’s the reaction that happens in the real world all the time, and it’s not okay. But you know what? I had one advantage: my background and speaker skillset has allowed me to create a niche where I have been invited to give workshops at various conferences and for all-day engagements. I could leverage the demand for my services. But the exposure and the snowball effect of more speaking gigs to follow a presentation – those are also good reasons to accept these invitations. But.
That’s why I’m ashamed to say that I hesitated even for a second regarding whether or not to insist on accountability: Should I keep my head down and take the job (that I had already accepted months ago) and enjoy the extra exposure that it brings? Or should I do the right thing and use what little leverage I possess to insist on parity and support for all – and likely harm my career? And let’s throw in the last confounding element: I HATE CONFRONTATION. Hate it. Like, I’ve had to take courses about how to have very difficult conversations with disruptive or dangerous physicians that have led to their being fired. Do you even know how much I hate these meetings and had to be coached the first few times? My stomach hurts, just thinking about rocking any proverbial boat.
But at the end of the day, I am not willing to enjoy success that others cannot access due to biases regarding race or gender or disability, etc. And my success will not be predicated on the discrimination of others. So I performed due diligence and checked all of the RWA chapters where I had speaking engagements to confirm that their position on bias, racism, and discrimination was publicly and vehemently stated. Silence or posting bland items that had zero to do with the current RWA crisis = no credit. Of the upcoming conferences and workshops planned, one organization remained conspicuously silent. I searched social media for this organization’s leaders to see what they said individually. I found lots of posts about everything EXCEPT the storm breaking loose through all of RWA. I question that one can lead an RWA chapter yet remain oblivious or without opinion as to the dismantling of the organization that supports that chapter.
In the interest of transparency, I will simply list the correspondence between myself and this chapter. I have sanitized the documents so there are no identifiers. Frankly, the location isn’t the point. The fact that a chapter or its leader could remain silent in the face of blatant discrimination within the organization IS the point.
My words are not perfect and in no way encompass all that is going on in RWA, but it’s a small step that, as a speaker who is a subject matter expert, I was in a position to take. I also appreciate my good writing friends who acted as blunt, caring sounding boards as I worked through this issue and crafted the response.
(I should also mention that I waited until this chapter had its January meeting, hoping that they would discuss, vote for, and then post that strong opposition to racism, bias, and discrimination. No such thing occurred.) My initial email:
I've been organizing my projects for this year including the all-day workshop planned with your chapter. I'm working hard to make it an informative, high-quality experience for participants.
One of the commitments I've made is to ensure that my speaking engagements support groups which have taken a powerful stance against discrimination. With the recent implosion of RWA and subsequent exposure of ingrained racism within its ranks, it's clear that we all have to do better. I'm sure your chapter has been discussing these issues as well. Supporting all members and eliminating racism is challenging but crucial work.
As part of my vetting process, I am trying to get a sense of each group's position on this topic. I want to be confident that my voice is shared with groups that advocate for inclusive, safe spaces for all members and groups that advocate to actively recognize and eliminate systemic bias. Oftentimes, this position is made clear in a statement on a chapter's website or social media posts or in a letter signed by multiple chapters. Would you point me in the direction of your chapter's recent response to the RWA situation so I can complete this important step in preparing for your workshop? Or if a response is forthcoming, please let me know when it will be available to view.
If you have any questions or clarifications, please don't hesitate to ask. I look forward to meeting you all!
My name is MARY. I’m the current president and will also be hosting you in MONTH if you decide to make the trip. ANN forwarded your questions to me and I will do my best to answer your concerns.
Our chapter is AN EARLY chapter to be formed under the RWA Corporation. As a result, its members have experienced many changes over the years. Members have come and gone and the face of our chapter has changed. At the present time, we are a diverse group of writers who hail from all walks of life. The chapter welcomes anyone who wishes to write and learn, no matter their choice of romantic sub-genre or genre. So, if you are kindly asking if we are a group of pearl-clutching nice white ladies, I assure you, we are not.
We strive to make all CHAPTER functions a free and safe writing enviroment. Our members and speakers are asked to refrain from the use of political or defamatory language that prohibits inclusion and/or maybe interpreted to exhibit a bias toward a group or an individual due to race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, or religion.
I’m sorry, but you won’t find any comments about the RWA situation on our social media sites or in written letters as we strive to maintain a free and safe learning environment. It’s not that we don’t have strong opinions, we do. However, the chapter as a whole does not agree with the nasty nature of others on social media and has seen the end of writing careers take place in a few days. No one in our chapter wishes this type of treatment for anyone and we feel that type of behavior goes against everything we have strived to build as a chapter. We are here to help new and more experienced writers thrive in the publishing field, not tear them down. As a chapter, we have chosen to stand strong through the example of openness.
As for the recent events which have taken place within RWA, our membership voted to allow RWA time to make changes within the organization before our chapter needed to decide on our future. At this point, CHAPTER is financially viable and can wait up to one year before taking a stronger stance.
I’m available to respond to any other concerns on issues that may arise in the near future, as we don’t know what decision RWA will make that may affect our chapter and how our chapter may decide to move forward. If our chapter’s situation changes before you are scheduled to arrive, we will keep you informed with as much notice as possible. However, I’m confident any of our potential future plans will not take place until 2021.
I hope this response meets with your satisfaction and you will plan on keeping your scheduled date in MONTH. Feel free to contact me per phone if you wish, XXX-XXX-XXXX
Thank you for taking time to provide your thoughts. Your response is very informative.
Recent RWA events pulled the curtain back on systemic bias and revealed wholesale denial of discriminatory experiences happening to underrepresented authors. These activities have been going on far longer than this most recent event, and awaiting further investigation won't change that fact. One of the things I learned as a physician caring for patients is that when we are in positions of influence we can make a choice to use our voices to advocate for those who are not in the same position. When disparity of privilege and power exists, silence becomes a deliberate decision. In many situations including the current one with RWA, taking no position makes us complicit in downplaying the systemic issues.
Sometimes we don't even recognize our own biases -- I certainly have erred in this manner numerous times. None of us are perfect, and we all can do better. My belief is that your chapter can reach the point of sending a strong, uniform message of intolerance of bias and discrimination. But it's concerning that RWA CHAPTER has instead decided not to respond to abuse of privilege and power in recent RWA happenings. That choice sends a different kind of message.
It's important that I share my voice in ways that build up the writing community -- and everyone in it equally. At the risk of harming my own career, I will graciously decline the invitation to speak at RWA CHAPTER during MONTH. My hope is that when your chapter creates that strong message shouting out against bias and discrimination, we might revisit this speaking engagement.
If you have any questions or if I may clarify my statement, please don't hesitate to ask.
Thank you for responding and I’m sad to hear of your choice, but I will respect it and fully understand your position. Good luck.
Folks, check out this auction for a fabulous cause. You can read all about it HERE.
Basically, browse the terrific bid items and then stalk -- I mean casually monitor -- the prizes you want to win and boost those bids. It's easy! Good luck with your bids!
It’s here, folks. The post that I’ve hoped to be able to write for well over ten years. Holy moly, over ten years -- that’s a long time. Here’s the story, warts and all. It’s a long story, because, well, it took a long time. And this is my blog, so I get to write whatever dirt and secrets I want! Pull up a chair and a coffee…
In 2005 I wrote The Best Book Ever (or so I thought), spiffed it up a bunch of times and sent it out to about 30 agents over the next six years. Amazingly, “Reluctant Sanctuary,” a purple prose-filled schmaltz-fest– SHOCKER—did not get even a whisper of interest. Honest to lordie, this manuscript was bad, you have no idea. But in the revisions and rewriting during 2012-2013, I ended up using this book – and the mentoring of a very patient developmental editor, Gwen Hayes – to learn the craft of how to write a novel. I finally managed to let The Best Book Ever go from my clawed death-grip. By then, I had conceived of a novel which later became Immortal Flame, the first in my Hell to Pay series, written during one of the breaks from revising The Best Book Ever.
Then I made a really amazingly dumbsuper duper smartmove and attempted to break in with a genre book that – wait for it – doesn’t fit into any genre. (Could’ve done shifters or vampires which everyone understands, but NO. That would have made way too much sense.) I worked and worked on this novel, incorporating what I learned in workshops and feedback from contests. Gwen and some additional critique/beta readers helped with developmental work and taught me even more. In 2013 I sent out ten queries. (I know they say send five at a time, but I was antsy.) Got a full request right off the bat, and immediately thought – to the hand-rubbing glee of my hubris (darn hubris, gets me every time) – that THIS IS IT, I’m going to get an agent for this fabulous nonconforming novel. Easy peasy, right?
As it turns out, that was not an entirely accurate assessment. Not even close.
To the surprise of no one but myself at the time, this was not, in fact, IT. Not even in the same zip code as IT.
158 (yes, you read that correctly – I don’t give up ever) agent queries later with a few partials and fulls but never anything more, I had moved forward with direct press submissions. Lo and behold – interest! Heaven bless Crimson Romance, but they were like, “Modern world + indebted ancient immortals who have to kill criminals to feed Satan? Plus hot sex (not with Satan)? Sure. Let’s get this party started.” (That quote is wildly extrapolated and poorly paraphrased.) Anyway, four books later and I’dthey’d published my series!
Onto the psychic cowboys, series number two. Because what’s better than one non-genre-conforming series? It’s two series! Apparently, “paranormal western” isn’t a genre. Until now! Suffice it to say, as fun as it was to write this series and as good as I believe it was, it’s really tough to sell books in a niche that doesn’t actually exist. 35 agent queries later with – surprise – no dice, and thank goodness Crimson said, psychic cowboys and random evil forces, sure why not? (I kind of miss Crimson, TBH. Tara and Julie. They took chances on many of us and really nurtured our work.)
In the midst of the whole psychic cowboy series development and publication, I got this amazing new idea for an ambitious series and wrote Fallen Comrade. The first query for Fallen Comrade went out in May of 2016. I knew that I’d made a big jump in my writing ability from the first series. Would it be enough?
After about sixteen queries, I paused to re-tune the query and complete another set of big revisions with beta readers (including amazing Carmen P) and Gwen. Entry into Pitch Wars – twice (2016 and 2017) – was a bust. #RevPit also was a no-go. A contest entries came back, and I kept plowing feedback from these and Pitch Wars mentors into the next revision. #PitMad netted a few requests and more feedback. I kept sending out queries, getting just enough nibbles to keep going, but still no dice. But unlike the previous books, I knew deep down in my gut that this was The Series. I had finally found my stride, my voice. I believed. A few more partial and full requests started to pop up. Close. So close I could taste it. It had been over two years since I wrote the book. But I wasn’t going to give up. I enlisted the eagle eyes of editor Tera Cuskaden for the last tune-up in late 2018. The final one.
Or so I thought.
February 2019 and a reply from an agent popped up in my email. My heart sank. I had just received a couple of “not for me” emails earlier in the day. It was going to be another rejection..
Instead, it was an R&R (revise and resubmit). It wasn’t a “no,” but it wasn’t a “yes.” R&R’s are risky on the part of the agent because writers could take a detailed R&R, improve the manuscript, and then shop it elsewhere. But I knew that this agent might be newer but she had lots of prior experience in publishing and was very editorially-focused which is what I need. Also, and I liked her take on the story. And hey, she took a chance by providing feedback and seeing if I could execute the revision. Three months later with a beta read from Diane Wiggs (thank you!), and I sent the manuscript one more time into the great beyond. According to internet stalkingreputable sources, the standard turnaround time would be three months.
Three months came and went. I revised another project during this time, as much for the purpose of creating new material as creating a distraction. Three months and two weeks passed. Three months and three weeks. Not that I was counting or anything. Four months. Every time I opened my email inbox, I had a heart palpitation. Nada.
The evening before leaving for Georgia RWA’s Moonlight and Magnolias Conference (it was a great conference, you all should go!), I was at a hotel in The Big City so as to catch the crack-of-dawn flight from End of the World to Atlanta. An email popped up. I saw who it was from. I couldn’t open it. I just knew it was going to be a rejection. After that many No’s, I figured that I still hadn’t revised well enough. But if I didn’t open the email, I wouldn’t have to face the reality. So I literally did other things for about fifteen minutes before opening the email. (Crazy, right?)
It was a request to set up The Call! So here I was, alone in The Big City hotel, unable to scream (because, hotel), jump up and down (also, hotel), or call hubs (too late at night). I couldn’t post anything online because nothing was official and also be cool man be cool. So I kind of danced in place for about ten minutes like a deranged chipmunk desperate to find an acorn and did fist pumps which mostly threw out my shoulder.
It took us a week to finally connect because of conference and life, but after a terrific conversation with Jana, I reconfirmed that she was a great match for what I needed. She understood what I was trying to do in the book, saw the potential in the larger series arc, and had great insights into the manuscript. Also, she believed in my work in general. That’s huge.
After two weeks to clear obligations and complete due diligence, well, here we are. As much as it is a relief from the stress of querying for THREE YEARS (well, thirteen years total, actually) and all the work I put into this novel, I know that my job is nowhere close to done. In fact, I suspect the truly hard work is yet to come. But I’m here for it. There’s now an enthusiastic partner in the process. We shall see how the future unfolds.
My best take-home message: never ever ever give up on your writing. Ever.
By the numbers (these might be a record for persistence/bullheadedness and I’m not sure if it’s worth cheering or being embarrassed by these figures)
Book #1 (Reluctant Sanctuary >BLARF<)
Queries: approximately 30
Requests: 0 (SO surprised, really I am)
Book #2 (Immortal Flame – Book #1 of Hell To Pay)
Requests: 9 fulls
Book #3 (Legacy of Lies – Book #1 of Hell’s Valley)
Requests: 1 partial, 1 full
Book #4 (Fallen Comrade)
Requests: 3 partials, 16 fulls, 1 R&R
GRAND TOTAL QUERIES UNTIL AGENT SIGNING: 385 (Did I mention that I never give up? A good quality in a doctor and a distance runner. For a writer? It’s probably a good quality there, too. Seriously, don’t give up, ever.)
Bonus pro tip: Doing queries at home at the same time one is on call for the hospital is a bad combo. Sleep deprived doc + nursing home calls = who sent a query to the agent BUT ADDRESSED IT TO THE PATIENT. Two thumbs, right here, people. Don’t be like me. Focus.
Other tip: If you’re going to cut and paste an agent’s name into your query letter, do it in Word. Then paste the finished Word document into the email. Don’t cut and paste within the body of the email you just pasted from the last email you send. People can see it. Which I learned about 100 queries into this quest.
One more tip: Gather a tribe of folks who support you but will give tough love on your writing. This is who will make your manuscript better. Also, read craft articles and go to workshops (some online ones are not expensive at all). A few workshops I attended were nearly life-changing, the advice was so spot-on.
Final tip: Allow your first few books to be the “training wheel” books. Revise the heck out of them. Send them out for contests and feedback. Use them as your personal master class. Then be okay that they are your learning tool and they are meant to be the place where terrible mistakes happen and you can learn.
Finally, if you’re into this sort of thing, here’s the query letter:
Dear Ms. Hanson:
In reviewing your wish list of desired projects, I believe my manuscript fits with your interests. FALLEN COMRADE is an adult romantic suspense novel, complete at 90,000 words. This book is brest conceptualized as Universal Soldier meets The A-Team.
Ex-Green Beret Jake Zimmerman’s Georgia mountain seclusion is shattered when the one woman he should never have left, Kiera McNeill, shows up on his doorstep. She’s pregnant and now her life is in danger, thanks to her participation in the botched Morpheus Squad mission. If the nature of her unborn child is discovered, there are forces that will stop at nothing to capture Kiera and her baby. When Kiera uncovers the truth of Jake’s top-secret military MorpheusVirus running through his veins, she realizes that her protector may be the deadlier threat.
Kiera knows the secrets of Fallen Comrades, a billion-dollar “charity” which siphons donations and government money away from wounded veterans like her brother and into the pockets of power-hungry CFO Beau Lequire. Now her ex-boss, Lequire, is bent on revenge. Her only chance of escape from Lequire’s sadistic clutches rests in the lethal hands of the one man who rejected her years ago: Jake. All she needs to do is suppress her buried feelings for Jake long enough to destroy Fallen Comrades, stay alive, and save her baby.
I am an active RWA member and regional conference speaker. My writing credits include two paranormal romance series, HELL TO PAY and HELL’S VALLEY, published by Crimson Romance. IMMORTAL FLAME (my first book) won “Best of the Best” in the Emily Contest through West Houston RWA. And the manuscript I am submitting to you today, FALLEN COMRADE, won the Fool For Love contest through Virginia RWA, the Stiletto contest through Contemporary Romance Writers RWA chapter, and the Diamonds in the Desert contest through Desert Rose RWA.
FALLEN COMRADE would appeal to readers who enjoy the complex alpha heroes in Rebecca Zanetti’s Sin Brothers series and the high-stakes dilemmas in Rachel Grant’s Evidence series. The full manuscript is available upon request. I appreciate your consideration of Kiera and Jake’s story.
Author, daydreamer, and practitioner of trying very hard to fix whatever's wrong with folks or at least duct tape them together