Art and Avondale

Avondale has a special little bit of my heart. It’s a small oasis of art and nostalgia and good food where Magnolia Road meets Savannah Highway. In the 1970s, if I couldn’t find my grandfather, I only had to go a few more blocks to the Krispy Kreme donut shop where he’d be gathered with friends, playing checkers and drinking coffee.

The donut shop is gone now but the Avondale area has blossomed over the years.

11037551_1457080314588792_1107795633620779091_nIt’s also the epicenter of an amazing collection of ever changing art, thanks to the ChART Initiative.

When choosing a location for Sadie, Spying on the Boss’s heroine, I chose the Avondale area. Several scenes take place in the restaurants there: Triangle Char & Bar, Mellow Mushroom, Gene’s Haufbrau.

11692742_1457080294588794_2735947071223672130_nBut the main draw for me is behind the funky shops and restaurants. You need to slip down one of the alleys to find the real gems of Avondale.

11709562_1457080481255442_1572314909547945550_nThe artists range from well known to anonymous graffiti taggers. The ChART initiative gets these budding artists involved and mentors them in developing their skills.

11666134_1457087524588071_8941300095957764352_nIf you are ever in Charleston, take a short drive west of the mighty Ashley River. Have lunch at one of the restaurants and take a walk for some amazing, free art.

 

So You Think You Can Write?

If you are a romance writer, you’ve been seeing #SYTYCW hashtag everywhere on social media.

For my non-writer readers, it is the yearly contest held by Harlequin/Mills Boon in search of new talent. Unpublished romance writers submit their work in the hopes of winning a coveted book contract with Harlequin.

I’ve entered twice. In 2012, I made the top ten, but went no further. In 2014, I entered again, made the top ten again, and did not win. But, I did catch the interest of Harlequin and was offered a book contract.

I want to urge any aspiring romance writers out there to enter this contest. I know, it’s scary. Many of us scribble away in the wee hours, just us and the dim glow of our monitors. To send your baby out into the harsh glare of the internet?

Terrifying.

But.

Once your baby is out there, something magical happens. People read your chapters. They like them. Little by little you get to know your fellow competitors.

Except.

They don’t feel like competitors. You are picking up new followers on Twitter, on Facebook. Interacting on the Wattpad site. Everyone is so…. friendly. And supportive.

And you are getting feedback. Compliments on what you did right. Suggestions for how to improve. You begin to sharpen your writing skills. You learn, yes, indeed, you can write!

Whether you win or not, whether you grab an editor’s attention or not, what you gain in friendship and knowledge is where the true prize is at. In that sense, everyone who enters wins.

I was so excited to meet with fellow SYTYCW alumni and current participants at RWA in NYC. Here’s a link with a cool video. Watch close and you may spot me wandering around.

 

On Giving Up

When do I give up? When do I become the crazy old lady making a fool of herself?”

This was the question I put to Jackie Asheden in San Antonio almost a year ago. It was my third Romance Writers of America national convention and I was very discouraged about my writing. I had been through three “revise and resubmit” rounds with various publishing houses, couldn’t get much more than a form letter rejection from agents, I had missed being nominated for a Golden Heart award (that’s the award the RWA gives out for unpublished manuscripts) by one point. One. Only two books in my category were nominated.

“Never!” is what Jackie told me. Emphatically. Without hesitation.

I also had won a charity auction for Zoe Archer to read the first three chapters of my manuscript and to have lunch with her for a critique. The talk seemed to wander away from a critique of my chapters to my frustration. Zoe encouraged me to continue. Said she loved my chapters. To have such talented writer praise my work was comforting. Maybe I wasn’t crazy after all. Maybe I could do this.

Later, I was walking from one workshop to another when Audra North grabbed me and gave me a hug. This was the first time we’d met in person. Audra had volunteered to read my entire manuscript at a point where I was struggling with a suggested revision to a plot line. She not only gave me excellent feedback and some really good ideas, she gave me a bit more hope. Another successful writer thought my writing didn’t suck.

I was starting to get my confidence back. Starting to get my energy back for this marathon we call “getting published”. Then, Sarah Lyons told me, while chatting before a workshop that I had a look about me. “The look of someone about to break through.”

I left that conference with renewed hope and determination. This is what I love about the romance community. We support each other. We are there for each other. We lift each other up. Sometimes, we haul people up and give them a quick kick in the arse and tell them to get on with it.

I know I’m leaving out a TON of people who helped me, but I wanted to publicly thank these particular people who picked me up, dusted me off and threw me back in the game.

Thank you.

 

 

A Battered Heart

Sunday, May 18, 2014 Jason and I were walking around the fence at Jackson Square in New Orleans. He was looking at art. I was tired and hot and grumpy. A little hung over from my birthday celebrations at the RT Booklover’s Convention the night before and a lot sunburned from sightseeing the day before when I saw this. And stopped. Mesmerized. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

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Immediately, a line from my novel came to mind. “…if you could get past the razor wire she had strung around her heart.”

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My poor little novel, then Man Maid, now Spying on the Boss (Harlequin Superromance, January 2016), was having a hard time that year. No one wanted it. But I loved it. I loved my heroine with all her prickly ways.

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The artist, Rick Fox, began telling me about the piece. All materials were items found after the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina. Now repurposed into a thing of beauty.

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I was falling in love with this. It was my heroine’s entire story in one work of art.

Jason encouraged me to walk away for a while. To think it through. A good idea but even as we walked away, I turned back to the artist with a wink. “I’ll be back for it,” I mouthed. He smiled and nodded.

As I walked around the French Quarter, my love only grew stronger. Sadie, my heroine, had survived the Katrina of her chaotic childhood spent in foster home after foster home.

She’d salvaged what she could and was rebuilding a family of choice but still she kept her heart locked away.

But I bought this work of art because I knew this story had the potential to touch the hearts of those who read it. I bought this because I believed in Sadie and her razor wire heart. For an entire year, I could see this art from where I wrote.

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It had seen me through hope, doubt, despair and finally the joy of acceptance. It represents so much more than Sadie to me now. It represents the strong heart it takes to keep trying. To keep reaching for your dreams.

Welcome!

Welcome to my bright and shiny new author page. Many thanks to my wonderful and talented friend, Heather Solos of Feed Blitz for her assistance (okay, she did everything. I only plugged in my credit card number when she told me to).

Since I am freshly psyched up after the amazing Romance Writers of America’s national conference in New York City, I thought I’d share some of my favorite moments with you.

First, I got to meet my amazing team at Harlequin Superromance. Everyone was so helpful, from the marketing team to the editorial staff to the talented writers. They made me feel welcome and answered all my questions, no matter how silly.

This year was a long line of firsts for me. My first time in New York City. My first conference as a contracted author. My first time getting to attend the legendary Harlequin Ball. And yes, it *IS* everything you dreamed it to be and more.

But my favorite memory has to be after the Ball, my date Amanda Cinelli (the 2014 SYTYCW winner) and I….don’t we look marvelous, darling?

11760228_1467896326840524_951381810843404734_nWe had such an amazing time. And Harlequin is so generous with the libations. I’m sure we were an amazing sight to see at 1 a.m. crossing Broadway in our ball gowns and Harlequin socks. It’s all a bit hazy, lost in laughter and chicken tenders. Our waiter and I bonded over our fur babies and we shared pictures. Amanda had her first taste of good old fashioned greasy fried chicken and “chips”.

It was the perfect ending to a perfect night and I’m so glad I got to share it with my new Irish friend.

What about you? What was your favorite RWA15 moment?