Things…and a Sneak Preview.

Well. What has happened in the near-month since I updated? I went to the Golden Crown Literary Conference, and annual writers/readers/publishers four day get-together/energy booster/meet up with friends old and new.  This year the Con was held in Minneapolis, MN. Well, Bloomfield, actually, just near the Mall of America.

What a con it was! My debut novel, Open Water (2011, Bella Books), though nominated in three categories was only shortlisted for one, “Debut Author.”  And…I won! I was one of three winners in that category and, luckily enough, the first award announced that night. Whew! Talk about getting it over with!

Posing with the wonderfully generous Karin Kallmaker. If you squint, you can see my award tucked between us.

The Con overall was great fun and a wonderful chance to reconnect with friends and to meet face-to-face with those I only know through online discussions.

I was so lucky this year to get to go.  Finances are exceptionally tight, but my stepdad gave me his mileage for my flight, and I offset the cost of registration by doing the program for the event.  My biggest cost was the hotel. Well, and the Lego Store at Mall of America. :::sigh:::

Another pic from this event was all of the Bella Authors dressed up for the awards. I love this photo!

We are, from left to right: Erica Abbott, Nat Burns, Jordan Redhawk, KG MacGregor, Dillon Watson, Karin Kallmaker, Mary Griggs, Pol Robinson, Rachel Gold, and Kenna White. Missing: Tracey Richardson, who had to head back to Canada.

When I returned, it was straight back into work on The Project (and I will update that soon).

It’s coming along quite nicely, and should soon be ready for its maiden voyage. Hopefully.

Now, with the success of one book under my belt (using the term “success” loosely here), it’s more than past time to focus on my sophomore effort. I was working on a new Olympic novel, Thin Ice, but have struggled because the story is far weightier than the first book.  For several reasons, chief among them being I want to get the Olympics books back onto the actual Olympics cycle, I have shelved it.

I have two others in the works, and last night finally got the “zing” to work on Celtic Tide, a contemporary romance sent in Ireland, featuring an American musician who, for her own reasons, settles in the town of An Daingean (Dingle, to the non-Gaelic speakers), in County Kerry.

Here is an excerpt:

Grace watched, mesmerized, as Anne’s hand flew along the neck of the fiddle, moving in counterpoint to the bow sizzling across the strings. Quick and bright, and too fast to distinguish one note from another, Anne’s fiddle filled the room with music, accompanied by Sean and Jamie. Eyes closed and foot tapping, Anne didn’t hesitate as Sean finished leading the first round of the tune, allowing Anne to pick up the melody. The music pulled an old man and woman to their feet to dance along. Tourists, American by the look of them, began to clap and laugh as the old gentleman spun his wife in a happy jig.

Tim looked up from the pint he was building and called out to the dancers, “Oh, it’s the O’Shea, is it? Well, boyo, go on then!”

The man smiled back at Tim and gave his wife another spin, pulling her arms down and across in front of her to lead the two of them through the bar, side by side, hands linked together at the waist, feet flying in tandem. Grace watched as the couple kept their eyes on each other and matched their steps together. They’ve done this for years. She laughed with the crowd as the woman gave her husband a saucy wink, ducked under his arm and began a faster step in time with Anne’s speeding fiddle.

The clapping grew louder as Jamie shouted encouragement, giving a yip as he changed key. Anne’s eyes opened and she grinned at him, raising an eyebrow in challenge. The old woman, feet flying and eyes alight, caught the exchange and shouted, “Go on with you, girl!”Anne grinned back and stepped up the tempo as she matched Jamie’s key and his change in tempo. Grace heard the transition from the fast slip jig to an even faster reel and laughed out loud as, impossibly, the two dancers moved to match the musician’s increased speed. Her fingers twitched as Anne’s bow danced across the bridge of the fiddle and Jamie bent low over his guitar, his fingers a blur on the strings.

The dancing couple once again joined together to match steps, waving two others to join them. As had the first two, the new couple easily swung into step, the four of them performing a complicated set.  Feet flashed, skirts whirled, and the music danced with them around the room.  The noise in the pub grew as the music did, ending with a crescendo of music, rousing cheers and laughter of both participants and spectators.

Suffused with the rush and joy she always felt when there was music, good music, around her, Grace happily looked around the room. This was why she’d come here, to Ireland. This…the pub, the people, and most importantly, the music. She had read and studied all of her life, but she had always known she’d have to come here, to live here, to fully grasp what she’d read. It wasn’t just the music, it was the way it was a part of their lives. Grace watched as the four dancers made their breathless way back to their tables, as Tim began building pints again, laughing and joking with customers, most of whom he’d probably known his entire life. All the studying in the world couldn’t teach her as much as one night in a place like this. The music flowing from the instruments was born in the music of the community. To begin to understand it she had to surround herself with it.

And maybe in the surrounding, she could learn to live again.—

Today: Home Depot in Canoga park for three last things. Tonight: Writing.

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Reviews: To Read or Not to Read, that is the Question

(With apologies to THE Bard).

To read, or not to read–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of overwhelming flattery
Or to take arms against a sea of critics
And by opposing, end them […] aye, there’s the rub.

I opened my email this morning to a note from a friend that was along the lines of, “It’s okay, don’t jump off the bridge.”  Now, a message like that is tantamount to picking up the phone and having the person on the other end say, “Before you say anything, let me begin by saying…everyone’s okay.”  This friend then continued the positive message by encouraging me and building me up, then at the end included a link and said, “I assume you have seen this review.”

I had not.

Oh, the dilemma: To click or not to click on that review.

I tend to lean toward the Georgia Beers school of book reviews in that I don’t like to read them.  I am, despite my stocky build and “I can take anything” look, surprisingly sensitive.  It’s a running joke in our house that of all of us, I am the one most likely to love flowery “gramma” fabrics, cry at Hallmark commercials, and generally react passionately to all things. (I am also, to most people’s surprise, a SERIOUS introvert, but that’s for another blog). So, knowing how emotionally impacted I can be by such things, I hesitated.  Especially as this review apparently was strong enough to bring my friend to drop me a note; this is not someone who just casually emails me on a daily basis.

After a few minutes of waffling I decided, “What the hell, I’ll click and read the review.”  The review, after all, was offered by Lambda Literary, an agency that carries a great deal of respect in our community.

I clicked.

I saw.

I read.

In all honesty, the reviewer did not say anything that I have not said to myself either during the process of writing or after the book’s publication. I know my strengths, I know my weaknesses, and the reviewer pretty much nailed them as well.

The review was similar to a design I once submitted to an art director once.  After meeting with the client, the art director, the client, the other designers, the client, more meetings with more people and yes, another meeting with the client, I came up with a design.  A solid, workable design that incorporated notes from all of the above and my own input.  The art director tipped his head this way and that, resembling a curious terrier, then paused.  He rested his chin on his hand and said, “Well…it doesn’t suck.”

The entire meeting cracked up.  I blew out a sigh of relief.

“It doesn’t suck” was pretty high praise from an art director in that shop (a multi-million dollar shop founded on an animated rodent).

My book got the equivalent of an “It doesn’t suck” from an agency who regularly reviews gay and lesbian writing.  That means that it fell onto their radar, always a good thing.  It was my first book—the first of many, I hope. Could it have “not sucked” less (i.e. been called “spectacular”)? Yes, indeed.  On the other hand, it could have been called a “spectacular disaster,” so all-in-all, I’m good with what I got.

So, to Lamda Literary, I say thank you.

Even had you gone with option B above and said “spectacular disaster” instead, I would still have said thank you and meant it. 

Can a review hurt? Yes.

Should it? No.

Reviews are not meant to be a feel-good “atta girl,”nor are they meant to shatter an artist’s dream or creativity, especially if the reviewer does not also create in that medium.  They exist to give a reader a sense of the book.  To tell us if we want to part with our hard-earned dollars to support an author and gain a few hours of mental freedom.

A good review is like a good report to a parent on student work, a “dirt sandwich,” if you will.  Begin with the good, put the dirt in the middle, end with more good.  You can always find good to say and there is always something good that can be said.  A little good goes a long way.  A savvy reader can pull what they need from a good review, especially one structured in that good/bad/good format.

That’s not to say that I am unaffected by what I read and/or hear about my work.  If you stab me, do I not bleed? Which brings us back to the original question (and subsequent mauling of Will’s fine words).

One last thing.  Even at the lowest points in my self-doubt, and like any creative person I am plagued with self-doubt, I go back to my manuscript.  The one that was hand-marked by my editor, the redoubtable Katherine V. Forrest.  In there are comments and pointers and, every so often, this little gem, “fine writing.”

And once in a while, this: “very find writing.”

That’s good enough for me.


GCLS, A Celebration

Home from GCLS for this year. GCLS is the Golden Crown Literary Society, a nonprofit that celebrates and promotes lesbian literature (fiction and non) and poetry. It is also an annual gathering of friends old and new and an opportunity to network and renew acquaintances. It is through my association with GCLS that the wonderful Bella Books will be publishing my novel next spring and the organization has had a tremendously positive impact on my life.

Some of the highlights of the weekend below…enjoy.

This was at the bottom of the blog but I wanted to be sure it got seen by you folks. This is a little compilation from the karaoke fun we had on Friday night. Honestly, this was a complete blast.

Flying into storm.

Lightning about 1/2 mile off of our wing as we landed. They closed the airport for 45 minutes after we got in and wouldn’t even let the baggage handlers go out.

Mercedes realizing that Karin has named a character for her.

Our group for the Thursday afternoon reading.

Coffee chat with Karin, Dillon, and Georgia. Note that Dillon had to sit *right* in the middle!

Post dinner, enroute back for the awards dinner. Those nutballs!

Sheryl, Ellen Hart, me. Love Ellen's scarf! Ellen, it turns out, is Sheryl's long lost "hobby twin." The two love all the same things!

A very dapper MJ and me.

It's a photo frenzy! Ellen and Karin taking pictures of each other and...well, you get it.

Sheryl teaching Ellen to pose like Lady Gaga

Our table. Me, Sheryl, Line, Becky, and Beth.

KG MacGregor and Becky. Great picture of them both.

Dillon Watson's TWO Goldies...best Debut Author and Best Contemporary Romance. Rock it!!! Buy Keile's Chance at Bella Books today!

Us. Fun.


Well Crud…Another Nine Days Passed…

I really am trying to write this blog more freqently, but…alas…I’m not. Another nine days have passed since I last posted. It has been an eventful nine days, that’s for sure. I’ll start with the Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS). I have been a member of the GCLS since its inception. What is it, you ask?

Well…straight from the website:

The Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS) is a literary and educational organization for the enjoyment, discussion, and enhancement of lesbian literature. Our goals are to support and strengthen quality lesbian literature by providing places for readers and writers to interact, to encourage and assist new writers and established authors, and to recognize and promote lesbian work.

Every year GCLS holds a conference, a fantastic gathering of writers, publishers, readers, fans, spouses/partners, and booksellers. It’s always a good time. The first one was held in New Orleans just six weeks before hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit, devastating the levees and so much of that beautiful city. I am eternally grateful that I attended that first event and took the time to tour the city.

Since the second conference I have limited myself to going every other year if at all possible; scheduling and finances being the primary reasons behind my decision. I also decided a while back that I would wait to go again until I had a book to hawk. Two years ago GCLS opened up a new and terrific opportunity: Pitch sessions. Publishing houses held individual, one-on-one meetings (by appointment) and we were able to get in, sit down, and pitch our stories to folks whom we might not have a chance to have view our work.

My roommate for that year, Dillon Watson, and I sat up most of the night before in the bar polishing our pitches and snagging any author we could to read our proposals. Apparently word of our activity got to the publishers because when I sat down with one the next day, that was the first thing the owner of the company said. That she’d heard of our sessions and enjoyed knowing the work we put into our pitches. What a night. From that night came two things: First, Dillon’s proposal and book (Keile’s Chance, Bella Books, 2009)were pretty much accepted by Bella Books on the spot; and second, after pitching to four publishers, three expressed clear interest and one, Bella Books (owner Linda Hill) made my year by looking at me and saying, “Girl, you can write!”

What a thing to hear.

Life intervened almost immediately after and I waited two years before finally submitting my full manuscript to Bella, which, as the five regular readers of this blog know, was accepted. Open Water, the first in the Olympians series, is due out next spring.

So…to wrap up the GCLS side of things for this blog. I was not going to attend this year, finances being what they are. However, one cannot turn down frequent-flyer airfare miles that comp’d one ticket, or a last-minute offer of a free half of a condo. Really. The fates conspired and I will be spending five days in Orlando in early July. Awesome.

Other things this week. I finished teaching my Spring class and actually had a student complain that I didn’t give a final. Seriously? Get over it. It wouldn’t have helped your grade, honestly.

I am still polishing the manuscript to get it ready to hand off while in Orlando, so that’s occupying my time. Add to that designing the logo for the GCLS conference and designing and laying out the 36-page conference program.

And lastly, I have two more melanoma sites that are coming off on Thursday. :::sigh:::

Oh, and super lastly, I am the proud mommy of a baby iPad. Yay!

Tonight: recovering from cleaning the garage (really!) and a to-the-pain Scrabble game. Tomorrow, kayaking in Channel Islands Harbor with S and some friends.


Living in a Kleptocracy…the Erudite Travelers of Southwest Airlines

Bob the book-reading Dragonfly
Bob the book-reading Dragonfly.

Back from our honeymoon, which was combined with the GCLS (Golden Crown Literary Society) annual convention in – God help me – Phoenix, Arizona. The coolest we found the temperature was 91-degrees (F) at 4:30 in the morning. Why were we up at that time while on a honeymoon? More on that later.

The convention was great, as usual, and you can find photos of the venue, seminars, other things and the awards dinner here: (http://photobucket.com/polrobin).

We had to take a short hop during our vacation up to Salt Lake City for Kit’s doctoral graduation. On the flight up we encountered (overheard his booming voice behind us) waxing philosphic on everything from the expanding universe to global warming. In his words, “global warming is crap…the Earth will heal itself. It can shake us off like a dog shakes off a flea.” I leaned over to Kit and said, “Don’t we have to flea-dip our beastie to get rid of fleas?”

He went on. And on. And on. However, he couldn’t hold a candle to the guy we had on the flight back from Phoenix to Burbank last night. HE was a prize-winner. After spending 30 minutes of the trip on the back restroom, he came out and loudly began his dissertation on life. From memory: “Paper money isn’t worth crap, it’s part of a government conspiracy. Silver is the only way to go.” That took up about 20 minutes. Then came the discourse on General Patton and his career as a sharpshooter. Apparently Patton “NEVER” missed. Not once. The came the detailing of the amount of “ass” he got while stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War. This was followed up (in increasing volume) by his opinion on the Iraq War. When he began to go into killing women and children I began to gear myself up to address him. He was loud, crass, offensive and very, very drunk. Fortunately the lovely woman squeezed in next to him caught my eye and managed in her very gentle and genuine way, to deflect him.

She was an angel. And after we landed and she and I chatted, she said she “had my angels around me” to help her deal with him. She must have, I tell you.

Then he went on about the “Kleptocracy” of America. As he was going on about that, he insisted, “if you go to Wikipedia, you’ll see…it’s right there.” At that point Kit, me and about six others just lost it, laughing. During his Patton tribute, an older gentleman who probably was around when Patton was on the Olympic team, just shook his head, laughing silently. It’s amazing how much nonverbal communication can be shared amongst strangers while one man is loudly holding court to a captive audience.

Writing this, I decided to look up his word. What do you know? (And yes, this is from Wiki)…

A kleptocracy (sometimes cleptocracy, occasionally kleptarchy) (root: klepto+kratein = rule by thieves) is a term applied to a government that extends the personal wealth and political power of government officials and the ruling class (collectively, kleptocrats) at the expense of the population. A kleptocratic government often goes beyond mere cronyism and nepotism, or awarding the prime contracts and civil service posts to relatives or personal friends rather than the most competent applicants. They also create projects and programs at a policy level which serve the primary purpose of funneling money out of the treasury and into the pockets of the executive with little if any regard for the logic, viability or necessity of those projects.

What do you know?