Picture, Picture on the Wall

If you check on my "About" page, you'll see that I have a new picture (called a "head shot"). The old one was take by my daughter the year I finaled in the Golden Heart®, but this was was professionally done.

The new one came about because I need a picture for my day job and thought I might as well have a variety taken for different purposes, since I was already paying (a lot!) for the photographer. I ended up with picture options that roughly conform to the different areas of my life -- and are just as different from each other.

First there are the day job pictures, complete with blue blouse and suit jacket, some in color and some in black and white for posters (just in case. . .). Then some for social media with a black blouse on a black background (see my Twitter account, @nancyholland5). Then some with a brown top with books in the background that I thought I'd use as author pictures, but the books didn't go with any of the themes on my various social media, but might work other places. We tried the brown top with a mirror and candle, which will be great if I ever sell my fantasy novel. Finally, we tried the blue top with the metallic background I'm using here.

Rather than being darker than I think of myself, like the brown ones, or more professional, like the ones with the suit jacket, this one is a bit brighter and, dare I say, perkier than I think of myself. Which makes sense, in a way. None of them are exactly me because I'm all of them combined, just more one now, more another at other times.

Probably way too much of a stretch to explain why sorting this all out took me several weeks. An interesting process, in any case, and a necessary one for authors these days.

RWA® 2012

After skipping the annual meeting of RWA® in New York last year, I decided to go this year for two main reasons. First, I'd never talked to my agent, Scott Eagan, in person and this seemed the perfect opportunity to get to know him face to face. Second, the meeting this year was in Anaheim, California.

As my bio says, I'm still a California girl at heart and the opportunity to go home and bask in the California sun was just too good to pass up. Plus I got to go to Disneyland!

This was my first trip to Disneyland without either my parents or my children and I had a truly great time. I spent most of the morning on my own, revisiting all the places that had been part of my family's annual visits to the Magic Kingdom. After lunch, I met up with some other 2010 Golden Heart® finalists and we had lots of fun going on the rides, culminating in King Arthur's Carousel, my all-time favorite ride. But maybe the best part of the day was sharing a wonderful dinner and lots of writer talker with mystery writer Jennifer McAndrews.

The next two days were a mishmash of talk, some great workshops, laughing with friends, and lolling out by the hotel pool. Friday I meet with Scott, and things couldn't have gone better.

Saturday, of course, was the big Rita/Golden Heart® Award Ceremony, which is always a thrill, even though I didn't have any close friends in eiher competition this year. Then, boom!, it was Sunday and time to go home, exhaused and exhilarated at the same time, and start on working on all the new ideas Scott and I came up with. Truly a week to remember.

Representation

I have an agent! Thanks to that Twitter account I mentioned earlier, I noticed when Scott Eagan was open again for queries, after being closed for several months. As a result, I'm now represented by the Grayhaus Literary Agency.

I say "represented" because, while the word "agent" means someone who acts in your place, a literary agent does much more. Scott has already determined the fate of a query that apparently went missing, and ascertained that a full manuscript under consideration at my dream publisher is. . .still under consideration. Publishing protocol prohibited me from doing more than making quarterly inquiries about the fate of both query and manuscript, so I'm already far ahead of the game.

More importantly, Scott is enthusiastic about my writing. He's convinced enough my stories can sell that he's putting his time and effort into a project that will pay off only if they do finally sell. Like being a finalist for the Golden Heart®, this is a kind of validation that keeps me writing, despite all the obstacles and the many challenges that pop up along the way.

I've known for a while now that I wanted an agent but, as always, there are unintended consequences. A big one is that I'm off the contest roller coaster, at least for now. This has taken some getting used to. I miss the ups, but definitely not the downs. Now there's just one big up (a sale!), but any downs will be easier because I have someone in my corner to help me get back on track.

So, a new chapter in my career. We'll see what happens next.

Christmas Again Already?

Unless you teach in the lower grades (or live south of the Equator), school calendars make it hard to get into the Christmas spirit. Students are stressed; papers start coming in late; grading becomes urgent; and exams need to be written, proctored, and graded, all on a very short timeline. My last exam is scheduled for December 19 and I'll have only a week to get grades in, since I leave December 27 for a work-related conference in D.C. So where does Christmas (or any of the other December holidays) fit into that schedule?

Short answer -- it doesn't. With my children grown, I do less and less each year. This year there will be only three of us for Christmas dinner, although my daughter will be home for a vist at New Year's. My extended family is strewn all across the country, and I do write lengthy Christmas cards to them and to my dearest friends -- but I write them while proctoring exams, which means this year they probably won't arrive until after the holidays are over. With luck the presents for my brother's family may arrive in time to be opened on Christmas. Or maybe not.

But, as we all know, the winter holidays aren't really about gifts or cards or fancy meals. They're about family, hope, and love. Which means there's room for them in even the busiest life, if we just take time to pause now and then to remember that simple fact.

My First Tweet

Recently I saw a message on one of the loops I follow that an editor was looking for completed. polished manuscripts to fill a hole in the production schedule. Her description (more detailed than that, of course) fit Games Without Rules, my GH story, to a "T".

The problem? The editor's message came via Twitter and the person who passed it along didn't know any other way to get in contact with her except by tweeting. Why a problem? Not only did I know nothing about Twitter, but I was on my way out the door to what I knew would be a very full day at work.

What to do? Well, initially, nothing. I went through my work day, picked up a few commiserations on the loop, and resigned myself to letting the opportunity pass me by. When I got home several hours later, however, one person on the loop, bless her, delivered a little much-needed "tough love," as she called it.

She told me how easy Twitter was and how it didn't make sense to give up this chance simply because I was too lazy or too afraid to tackle a new technology. (In fact, it was both). She told me exactly how to sign up for Twitter and even told me what to tweet back to the editor. So I did.

This is where everyone expects me to say, "And the editor tweeted me back to ask for the full manuscript of my book." No such luck. Not a peep, much less a tweet, from the editor. But I mastered (more or less) a technology that could be a useful promotion tool someday. And I now have a Twitter account -- @NancyHolland5. If you don't tweet yet, sign up. It's so easy, even I could do it.

Riding the Roller Coaster

I had an interesting week last week, one that really brought home the roller coaster nature of a writer's career. It started with good news on Saturday. I got a "revise and resubmit" letter for the full manuscript an editor had requested last fall. Not a sale, but the next best things. That first big rise on the roller coaster.

Sunday I learned I hadn't won a contest after spending much of the day putting a final polish on two entries in another contest and sending them off. Plus I emailed both the agents who have full manuscripts of mine to let them know about the "R&R" letter. Call that a small down, a flat spot, and a small rise.

Monday was a snow day. Nothing happening in my town; nothing happening in my writing world. But an unexpected day off work to tackle those revisions. Call that another slight rise.

Tuesday I got an email from one of the agents saying "Didn't I ever get back to you?" I emailed her back: "Nope." Then I emailed my writing friends for some cyber hand-holding. Two hours later, the agent said she'd pass on the story she had and wasn't interested in seeing the one I was revising, either. I thanked her for her time. Call that a moderately big drop.

Over the four days, however, it added up to a pretty good-sized rise on the roller coaster. An editor is seriously interested in my work. I have contest entries out there again. And I learned one agent wasn't going to work out for me. So, I'm revising and keeping my fingers crossed as my writing careens around the next corner, heading for the next big up or the next big down. Maybe the excitement of not knowing which is part of why I keep writing.

Dipping My Toes in the Blogging Pool

I've been part of a group blog at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood website twice recently, once as a 2010 Golden Heart® Finalist and once as part of the more select group of five 2010 finalists who are member of Midwest Fiction Writers. Although our Ruby Slippered Sisters actually wrote the blog, based on questions they asked us, we were asked to visit the website frequently during the day to respond to comments and questions. The result is that I'm even more reluctant to become a regular blogger than I was before.

Why is that? Isn't writing these updates for this website a lot like blogging? Well, yes and no. The big difference between the two that my very limited blogging experience brought home to me is a matter of time lag. When I write for the website, I can think, edit, and even delete and repost if I decide I don't like how what I write looks once it's posted. With blogging, it's all right now and all forever, with no do-overs.

Of course, having something published also doesn't allow for do-overs, but the time lag is completely different then. When my non-fiction writing is published, I get several chances to edit and correct it before it goes to press and, once it comes out months later, I'm far enough away from it that, if I have to say, "Oops, could have done that better", I don't feel like a total fool. And I assume the same will be true when my novels reach the publication stage.

Not on a blog. Feeling like a fool seems to be an intrinsic part of the experience, at least for me. There it is, whatever I wrote, in its almost unedited glory while I'm still attached to it, still engaged in the conversation it arose out of. And I do not like that, I've learned.

Another difference between blogs and published works is that neither my fiction nor my non-fiction writing is about me -- it's about my heroine and her hero, or about whatever non-fiction topic I chose to write about. Blogging is all about the blogger. When it falls flat, I fall flat. What it is misunderstood, I am misunderstood. And I don't like that, either. So, for the near future at least, I'll limit myself to occasional updates here and leave the blogging to those more able to deal with writing something that is all right now and all forever.

Always Trust in Love

Part of being a Golden Heart® finalist is being invited to join various groups of other finalists from the same year and other years. These email groups exchange information, applaud the success of their members as they move toward publication and beyond, and provide opportunities to network and volunteer at the annual RWA® meeting. Most of all they provide a supportive "siblinghood" (one of the finalists this year is a guy) of others who have either gone through it all before, or are going through it now with you.

These groups also push you to do things you might otherwise want to avoid (like setting up a website!). One of the things they've been encouraging newbies like me to do recently is to order business cards to have available to hand out to agents, editors, and other people we meet at RWA® national next month. The busines cards weren't the problem, however. I had no trouble finding a lovely design at a reasonable price.

No, my problem was what to put on the card, beside my name and web address. I needed what they call an "author brand." (Since my current story is about a cattle ranch, the idea of "author branding" has uncomfortable connotations for me right now, but that's what it's called). I actually had a "brand" once that I was pretty fond of, but it was long (two phrases, not one) and didn't fit the theme of this website or my business cards. So I needed to find a new one.

Easier said than done. To complicate matters, although I'm currently writing mostly short contemporary romances, I also write paranormal romance and longer fantasy romances, so I had to find a brand that fit all three genres. I turned, as I often do, to my critique partners for help and brainstormed with them. Finally, with their help, I came up with a theme that runs through all of my stories, of whatever kind -- trust. My stories take two people who have every reason not to trust each other and show how important trust is to their growing love and their "happily ever after."

Hence "Always trust in love." Good advice, and a pretty good brand, I've decided. What do you think?