Monday, July 30, 2007

On the Fly: The Veggie Snitch

Although I grew up in farm country, I've never had a knack for growing vegetables. Perhaps I should say... the desire. Although I have fond memories of the huge garden my grandpa had and then later my mom. Fresh corn, green beans, snap peas, onions, radishes... tomatoes. Yum. I remember sitting in the backyard shucking corn and snapping peas with my grandma. She was a talker and she was fun. But I digress...

My boss at the library also happens to be my neighbor. She has an amazing garden. This year she gifted Steve and I with tomatoe plants. We planted them in the backyard where we usually plant flowers. Boy, did they grow! I got so excited when I saw actual tomatoes hanging off the stems! There's a mix of little tomatoes (cherry?) and big tomatoes. (By the way, this picture isn't of our plant, but it looks close.)

The big tomatoes are still very green, but some of the smaller ones turned red a few days ago. I was so thrilled. I picked them and brought them inside. I put them in a container and set them on a table in the sun. I remember my mom doing that so that they would ripen just a tad more. My mouth watered just thinking about how our first garden tomatoes were going to taste.

The next morning I found the container knocked over. At first I blamed Sadie (our cat). She's very playful and I could imgaine her batting over the little container. I imagined tomatoes hitting the floor and rolling under the table. I looked and... no tomatoes. Gone without a trace. I knew Sadie wouldn't eat them. I knew Chyenne, our younger dog wasn't tall enough to get them off the table nor would she eat them. She doesn't like veggies. But Billie ...
Billie will eat anything you drop on the floor... raw broccoli, onions, mushrooms... Or anything you leave on the counter... bagels, bread, bbq sauce.... We have learned to be cautious. Except I forgot the day I set the tomatoes on the table. I don't know when she got them, but I know it was her and she ate every last one! I know for a fact because when I cleaned up her doo-doo in the backyard there was evidence! Guilty as charged!
Sigh. So Billie got the first and only taste of our first homegrown tomatoes. Steve and I are still waiting for more to ripen. Hopefully, she won't beat us to it and eat them right off the vine.
What's the strangest thing your pet ever ate?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

On the Fly: What's Your Love Stage?

Yes, I'm busy writing, but I just happened to run across an interesting article. Interesting for the heck of it. Especially interesting if you write about love.

Here's an excerpt....

"The Free Agent"

LoveStage: Single and not looking
Your top priority: Are you busy starting a business? Raising a kid? Writing a best seller? Whatever your focus, the majority of you said "obtaining knowledge," not finding Mr. Right, is your goal right now.

Your bottom line: Financially, you think long-term. Fiscally ambitious, you're also the thriftiest of the LoveStages in the here and now. In fact, you're decidedly anti-impulse buy, spending 30 percent less than any other group on clothing, shoes, or La Perla.

Fun fact: Hot wheels, not hot dates? Free Agents are more likely to invest in a new car in the next 12 months than any other LoveStage.

Celeb poster child: George Clooney


The first of several stages. Check it out and tell me... what stage are you in?

P.S. YES! That's a photo from the steamy Beckham 'W' photo shoot. *yowza* And I guess they fall into the "Nouveau Wife" stage.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

On the Fly: Scattered

On Tuesday, I locked my husband and dogs out of the house.

Great set up line for a dramatic story about how they made me screaming mad and I booted them out. But the truth of it is, I'm just an absent-minded spaz.

I'd come home for lunch. They were in the backyard watering the rose bushes and tomato plants. When it was time for me to go back to work, I stepped outside to tell them goodbye. Came back in, went out the front, and drove to work.

About fifteen minutes later, I got a phone call. Steve. "You locked the dogs and I out of the house." He didn't sound amused. Apparently when I'd renentered from the back yard, I locked the sliding glass door. One of those auto-pilot, out-of-habit things. I always lock the door--though not when somebody is still outside. Oops. So the back door and the front door were locked, and Steve and the dogs were stuck in the hot sun with no keys or phone.

Then he remembered he'd hidden away a house key. Thank goodness!

Yesterday, I had a hair appointment. Finally. Goodbye grey. I was the last appointment of the day, so my hair stylist left with me. While we chatted, I searched my purse for my car keys. Had a bit of a panic atack. "Where are my keys??" She pointed and asked, "What are those in your hand?"

*Thunk to the forehead.*

Then remember the Monday I went into work but it wasn't my Monday? I'm really beginning to scare myself. Then I remind myself that I have a billion things going on in my life, in my mind. I just turned in one book and now I'm bearing down on another deadline book plus a proposal. Someone wants to interview me for a readers website and I just got emails from two bookstore asking for promotional material that I've yet to order. I need to prepare for two upcoming workshops and I've yet to book my flight to an upcoming conference. All of this in addition to the day job.

I'm a bit scattered. Time to make one of my famous 'To Do' lists. Attack. Cross off.

On a good note, yesterday Steve surprised me and bought a new sofa that I'd been wanting. And Cheyenne and Billie have been on me like glue, a couple of Velcro-Dogs. Guess they've all forgiven me for locking them out of the house.

What about you? Any recent absent-minded moments?

Monday, July 23, 2007

On Writing: THUNK!

That is the sound of my forehead hitting my desk. Revisions on EVERYBODY LOVES EVIE completed and turned in. My eternal thanks to awesome writer and critique partner, Cyndi, for hanging in with me even while she was on vacation! Talk about a giving friend. I'm very pleased with how the story turned out. Thank you, Keyren (my HQN editor), for your amazing guidance and support.

I've been writing and working non-stop for several weeks. I am just a wee bit fried. This morning after turning in the manuscript, I zipped off to work. I'd been at the library for 45-minutes when I glanced at the schedule and realized I wasn't supposed to be there! I work every other Monday. Today was not one of them. Jeez. So I drove home and fired up the computer. I'm trying to catch up on emails and writing business. Still not done, but making progess.

At some point today, I hope to update my website. Medallion Press created a super cool movie banner for ROMANCING THE WEST. It's on their website and they're allowing me to use it. I (read: my husband) just need to figure out how to upload. I'll let you know when it's up. So cute! Meanwhile you can check it out at the Medallion website. It's at the top of their main page the third banner in the rotation.

Speaking of MP and westerns, tomorrow I dive back in to to where I left off on THE FALL OF ROME, the third western in the series. May have to watch MAVERICK tonight or TOMBSTONE, something to get my head back in the wild west. Any other western movie suggestions?

Meanwhile, back to to business end of things....

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On Writing: The Cave

Sorry for my absence, gang. I am in the cave. The Hermit Cave. The place I go when I'm on severe deadline. Barely time to sleep, let alone blog. I just peeked out to let you know I'm alive. Sort of. I'll return to my normal blogging self on Monday, July 23.

In other news:
While trying to eat a bowl of soup at my desk, I splashed HOT soup on my wrist and now have a red, swollen welt that hurts.
Summer allergies are killing me. Weeks and weeks of itchy, swollen eyes. Yes, I'm taking medication. How well it works changes day to day. Winter is beginning to sound good.

Between my busy scedule and my hairdresser's jammed schedule, I have been unable to get an appointment for color. Thus I have silver hair in my roots... and it will only get worse. I've almost convinced myself that they are lovely highlights.
In other, other news: When I let my two crazy dogs (Billie and Cheyenne) outside, I have to stay with them and watch to make sure they don't eat things that they shouldn't. Like poop and dirt.

Ah. The glamorous life.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

On Reading: The Emotional Bang

Tuesday evening I drove a couple of hours north to attend the monthly meeting of the New Brunswick Border's Readers Group. A special shout out to Elsie, Laurie, Noreen, Diane, Fran, Liz... and the rest of the fabulous gang! I was the featured author and the ladies made me feel like a 'star'. We had a blast discussing my two latest releases, ALL ABOUT EVIE and ROMANCING THE WEST as well as 'reading' in general.

Also attending was a very nice university student who's gathering research for a thesis on romantic fiction. At one point she asked us why we read romantic fiction specifically? Our answers were similar, but I really enjoyed hearing everyone's individual take.

Today I'm asking you. What genre or sub-genre do you read and why? What are you looking for when you dig into page one? How do you feel or how do you want to feel when you close in on the end? What's the desired emotional bang?

Monday, July 9, 2007

On Writing: Speaking of Conferences...

This week multitudes of romantic fiction writers will be flying into Dallas, TX for the Romance Writers of America'a National Conference.

I'm not one of them.

I will be here, at home, feverishly working on two, yup, two, deadline books.

However, I'm thrilled to announce I'll be attending the Writers for New Orleans weekend workshop August 31-September 2. Sponsored by NYT Bestselling author (and one of my favorite people in the world), Heather Graham, this weekend is packed with workshops and parties, and plenty of networking opportunites. Plus it's in New Orleans!

Heather founded this mini-conference last year, hoping to encourage tourists to return to this beautiful city, a city that, along with residents, suffered mightly because of Hurricane Katrina. I'm very much looking forward to the trip.

Aside from celebrating the wonder that is New Orleans, I'll be speaking on a workshop panel with friend and multi-published author, Mary Stella. Mary and I will also be performing once again with Heather's famed theatrical troupe: The Slush Pile Players.

Others attending... authors F. Paul Wilson, Kathy Love, and Erin McCarthy. Author/editor/publisher, Helen Rosburg of Medallion Press. Kensington editor, Kate Duffy and Harlequin editor, Leslie Wainger. And that's just to mention a few!

There's still time to register. Click here for more details. Maybe I'll see you there!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

On Writing: Networking in Your Comfort Zone

For those of you just joining me this week, I’ve been writing a series of posts about Networking. The term sends shivers down many people, especially shy people’s, spines. I think this stems from a misconception of what networking truly is. You don’t have to aggressively pitch yourself and your work to network effectively. Networking is about creating a ‘net’ of business contacts and acquaintances. Offering help as well as receiving help. Mutual give and take.

I believe I network well because I network in my comfort zone. I know, from years of experience and many attended conferences, that I am not going to easily walk up to an editor or agent or favorite author at a welcome reception or any other social situation, introduce myself, and engage them in any sort of conversation that will serve them or me well. I’m too shy.

But I do know if I volunteer to work as a time keeper for the editor/agent appointments, I’ll feel quite comfortable conversing with editors and agents. I have a reason to be there and interact with them other than to pitch my own work. I have no problem introducing myself and sometimes, sometimes that prompts a question about me. A connection has been made. By making sure they have everything they need and moving the pitching writers along in a timely and kind manner, I’m making a good impression. Maybe the writer will remember that I smiled and tried to put them at ease. Maybe the editor or agent will remember my name and that I was friendly should I ever send a query letter.

I’ve met many favorite authors, authors I would have been too nervous to approach out of the blue, by volunteering to moderate their workshop.

I’ve made incredibly valuable industry contacts by utilizing my entertainment background. Over the years I have volunteered to help with a multitude of special events for the Romantic Times Convention. I’ve worked as a script writer, stage director, technical director, singer, actress, model, and emcee.

The trick is to pinpoint your special skills and talents. Your comfort zone.

Networking in the Comfort Zone:

* Volunteer
Are you organized? Politically minded? Good with numbers? Serve on your local chapter or national board. Serve on a special committee. Conferences, local and national.

Are you motivated, have nerves of steel and the patience of a saint? Be the conference chair. Are you friendly? Work conference registration. Not afraid of driving in traffic? Transport an editor, agent or speaker from the airport to convention hotel. Good at calming people down? Work the editor/agent appointments. Whether you’re outgoing or shy, there’s a responsibility big or small that’s perfect for you.

* Internet Loops/Forums
An excellent way to meet other writers and to get your name out there is by participating on writers and readers loops and forums. Just remember to always reread what you wrote before you hit send. Once your words (and opinion on a subject) is on the Net, it’s there forever. Consider what kind of lasting impression you want to make.

* Blog
Whether you’re published or unpublished, this is a excellent way to network via the internet. Again, seriously consider what kind of impression you want to make.

* Write Articles
Write and submit to industry magazines, newsletters, and reader/writer websites

* Conduct Workshops

Everyone has special skills and abilities that can be useful to others. Utilize your talents and abilities and let those be your gift to your network. Are you a grammar goddess? Are you a wiz at designing websites? Are you an accountant with tips on tax cuts? Do you collect medieval weaponry or period costuming? Do you have specialized knowledge in law enforcement? Do you excel in people skills? Do you take ballroom dancing? Yoga?

If you are creative and open-minded… if you can push past the fear of rejection and put yourself out there… you will be amazed at how you can use your natural skills and talents to enhance your network.

Thank you for allowing me to share my views on a topic near and dear to my heart. To those attending RWA National next week… listen, learn, contribute when you can, and have fun! And remember, networking isn’t just something you do while at conferences, it’s something you do throughout your career.

Quote for the Day:

“If you want to be prosperous for a year, grow grain.
If you want to be prosperous for ten years, grow trees.
If you want to be prosperous for a lifetime, grow people.”
-- Proverb

Saturday, July 7, 2007

On Writing: Networking In Action

Day Four of my series of posts on Networking. I hope some of you’re finding some of these tips useful. For more extensive views on the subject, I highly recommend “Power Networking – 55 Secrets for Personal & Professional Success”, by Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas.

Today I’ll highlight a few active networking tips. I’ll use Fisher and Vilas’s bullet points and elaborate from my own perspective.

Networking in Action:

* Dress to Impress
I attended my first Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in 1994. I attended alone and I didn’t know a soul. I knew that the convention was for booklovers, therefore a lot of readers would be there and probably dressed more casually. But I was there for the writing workshops. My goal: to someday be published. I was there for business so I dressed accordingly.

The very first night, at the welcome reception, a published author and her husband came over to me (I was drinking a soda and doing an incredible impression of a wallflower) and engaged me in conversation. I was thrilled! At one point, the husband glanced at my nametag and saw that I was an ‘aspiring writer’. He said, “Oh. We came over to speak to you because you looked like somebody.” Meaning somebody they should get to know… like an editor or an agent. Not something I would have said, folks, however they were very nice and instead of dwelling on that odd comment, I reflected on the fact that they’d cited my attire. I looked like an industry professional.

Lesson learned? If you want to be perceived as a professional, be sure to portray professionalism through your clothes, speech, and mannerisms.

Please note that this doesn’t mean I wear conventional suits. I’m not a conventional kind of gal. I wear funky suits and dresses with stylish but comfortable shoes. Professional yet fitting my personal style. Whether you're conventional or quirky, just strive to make a statement that shouts, "I'm somebody you want to know!"

* Make a Strong First Impression

Introduce yourself in a concise way. Who you are. What you do. A strong handshake shows confidence.

Long ago my husband taught me the importance of a firm handshake. Just because you’re a woman that doesn’t mean you should shake like a lightweight. He calls it the limp-fish handshake.

In my previous life, I was a longtime professional performer. One day, following an audition at an unnamed casino, my agent introduced me to the VP of Marketing. A young woman. I expected a firm handshake. A VP for gosh sake. I got the limp-fish. My first thought was that she lacked confidence. She was also uncomfortable making eye contact. Neither of these things made for a strong first impression.

* Memorize Names and Faces
Listen when they say their name, glance at their nametag, use their name in conversation. People are flattered if you remember them the next time you see them. In turn, if it seems someone does not recognize you, spare them any awkwardness by reintroducing yourself.

I confess this is a huge problem for me. I have a horrible memory. It can be mortifying. Especially if I’ve had a conversation with this person at a previous conference. I should know their name. I should remember specifically what we spoke of. But often it’s a blur. Not because they’re not memorable, but because something doesn’t fire right with my memory skills. It’s forever something I’m trying to improve upon.

* Be Gracious and Courteous
Hold a door or an elevator for someone. Ask how you can assist the host/hostess. RSVP promptly to invitations. Send a thank you note after you attend a meeting or special event. In other words, be considerate.

* Give out Business Cards Appropriately
Passing out your business cards randomly is not an effective use of your cards. An exchange of cards should happen following a discussion or to provide an individual with requested contact info. Later you can also jot notes on the back of the card to reminding you who this person is or what he said. Especially helpful for someone like me, someone with a faulty memory.

* Acknowledge Contacts – Follow Up
If someone provides you with their contact information, try to follow up with a card or email. This helps to establish a relationship. If someone judges your work in a contest, follow up with a note. If an agent or editor rejects your work, follow up with a thank you note. Even if they do not acknowledge your ‘thank you’ you just put your name in their mind again and in a positive way.

Tommorrow: Networking in Your Comfort Zone

Quote for the Day:

“The power of networking comes from people and the development of strong solid relationships.” -- Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas, authors of Power Networking

Friday, July 6, 2007

On Writing: Positive Networking

This week I'm sharing networking tips from a fabulous book that I tripped upon a few years ago: “Power Networking – 55 Secrets for Personal & Professional Success”, by Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas. I highly recomend this book to anyone looking to move ahead in their career. The advice within applies to many professions, but I'm going to add my spin for the writers out there.

Yesterday I touched on negative networking. Today let's explore positive networking. The kind of networking that really works. According to Fisher and Vilas:

Networking is:
* The process of gathering, collecting, and distributing information for the mutual benefit of you and the people in your network

Beth says: Your network being the people that you interact with on both a regular and limited basis. Most of you do this without even thinking about it.

* The genuine expression of interest in others and the willingness to contribute and support them when possible

Beth says: In other words… It’s not just about you and your career. What can you do to make a difference in someone else’s life? While attending a conference there are multitudes of opportunities for positive networking. Helping someone who had their hands full . . . chatting with the people around you in line. Inviting someone to sit at your table when they arrived looking a little lost and alone.

* Giving as well as getting information

Beth says: Share your personal expertise with your critique partners. Share industry news on your email loops, research a subject and write an article or present a workshop. No contribution is too small. Listen and learn, but also reach out and give back.

Tomorrow: Networking in action.

Quote for the day:

“Effective networking is little more than basic friendliness to strangers – and then maybe going a little further for their sake. When we put others at ease, we also put ourselves at ease and that opens up the door to connect. We meet a lot of people every day, but how many do we take the time to get to know even a little bit? Yet, it’s the ones we know that we remember.” – Mary Stella, published author, media relations/public relations specialist

Thursday, July 5, 2007

On Writing: Negative Networking

This week I’m sharing guidelines on positive Networking. Years ago I discovered a fantastic book “Power Networking – 55 Secrets for Personal & Professional Success”, by Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas. At times I’ll reference and embellish on some of their tips. See the previous post—Networking 101—for the introduction to this series of posts.

Networking is the most cost-effective marketing tool around when it is used wisely and professionally. It’s a valuable tool for the pre-published writer as well as the published writer. It’s never too early to start. Networking is a universal concept that can be applied to any career. Where everyone in your ‘net’ benefits.

That last line is a key motivator for me. Where everyone in your net benefits. In other words it’s not just about what someone can do for me. It’s what I can do to help someone else. At its best, networking is a mutual give and take.

To better understand what positive network is, let’s look at negative networking. According to “Power Networking – 55 Secrets for Personal & Professional Success”…

Networking is not:
* Selling
* Using people strictly for your gain
* Coercing or manipulating someone to do what you want
* Putting friends or associates on the spot
* Badgering people about your business

Fisher and Vilas refer to people who use these tactics as “Networking Mongrels”. I think of them as sharks. I’m not talking about naturally outgoing people who can strike up genuine conversations with anyone they encounter. Those people are blessed! I’m talking about people who use and abuse networking situations. You may know a couple of sharks or perhaps you’ve heard stories. The following examples were offered by Fisher and Vilas. I’ve added observations of my own per random writing conferences. These are people who:

* Collect stacks of business cards without ever connecting with people
* Try to make a ‘sale’ on first encounter. During a cocktail party, or in the elevator, or during a luncheon speaker’s address. (I’m sorry, but people who insist on chattering while an invited speaker is on deck are just rude. If it’s that important, take the conversation outside) Where was I? Ah, yes… pitching your work at inappropriate times. Extremes include following an editor into a bathroom and sliding a manuscript under the stall, or tipping the maid to slip the manuscript into an editor or agent’s suitcase.
* Talk and focus on their agenda rather than listening with interest to gather information (In other words, don’t go on and on about you and your work, hogging the entire conversation. Ask the other person—or people—about their interests.
* Intrude inappropriately and have short, superficial interactions (Sure, you’re dying to meet that editor. But are they in an intense conversation with someone else? Think before you barge in.)
* Get caught up in quantity rather than quality

In short, acting in an obnoxious manner turns people off and ruins any positive effect you might have gained.

If you’ve done any of these things in the past, don’t feel bad, just be aware that rather than drawing positive attention to yourself, you’re probably turning people off. Which brings me to a simple thought: Think before you speak. I’ve been stunned by some things that have flown out of some people’s mouths whether they be directed at me or someone else.

Tomorrow, a look at positive networking.

Each day I’ll leave you with a quote on networking. The first one is by yours truly.

“Be gracious, genuine, courteous, and above all, generous. Expect nothing in return and you’ll be rewarded tenfold.” – Beth Ciotta, published author

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

On Writing: Networking 101

Awhile back I mentioned I would blog about ‘networking’ the week prior to the National RWA Conference. Today, Jude reminded me that RWA is next week. I’m not attending this year due to work and deadline related conflicts so I didn’t have it marked on my calendar. I can’t believe it’s next week!

For those who are unfamiliar, RWA stands for Romance Writers of America. It’s a national organization, supporting writers of romantic fiction, 9,500 members strong, according to the website.

I’m one of the 9,500.

The conference is huge and fabulous, overwhelming and for many, intimidating. Difficult to sum up a whirlwind week of non-stop, brain-busting, adrenaline-charged, career-slanted activity, so I borrowed this snippet from the RWA website.

Enhance your writing and knowledge of the ins and outs of publishing at more than 100 workshops; get the inside track and let your voice be heard at panels and round-tables featuring publishing professionals; schedule a one-on-one pitch meeting with an acquiring editor or literary agent; attend parties and network with the stars of romance fiction; and be a part of RWA's massive, 450-author strong "Readers for Life" charity book signing. And let's not forget the 2007 RITA and Golden Heart Awards.

Although I am unable to make this year’s conference, I’ve attended many times in the past. Speaking from experience, it’s a fabulous way to learn more about the craft of writing and the business of publishing. It’s also an opportunity to make new friends and contacts and to reinforce existing relationships. That specific social-business aspect is called networking. There was a time when that word sent shivers down my spine. I equated it with aggressively pitching myself and my work to people who could, possibly, have a positive effect on my career.

#1) I can be terribly shy around people I don’t know.
#2) Tooting my own horn? That ain’t me.

I’ve been attending publishing related conference since 1994 and I for the longest time, I thought I stunk at networking. Then I happened across this book: “Power Networking – 55 Secrets for Personal & Professional Success”, by Donna Fisher and Sandy Vilas, and realized, I’m pretty darn good at networking.

This book targets cooperate professionals, but it very much applies to writers. It applies to anyone who’s trying move ahead in their career. Don’t have it? Buy it. It’s gold. Note: there's an updated version. 59 secrets.

As it happens, I could go on and on about networking, but I’ll hone it down with the RWA Conference in mind. Look for daily posts over the next few days. The dos and don’t’s of effective networking. Yes, there is a negative and positive approach.

For now, tell me… What does networking mean to you?

Monday, July 2, 2007

On Reading: 4 1/2 stars?!

Due to my chaotic schedule, a few things have fallen through the cracks... like renewing my subscription to Romantic Times BOOKreview. So I had no idea that Romancing the West was reviewed in the latest issue until someone congratulated me on the Medallion Press author loop. That same person (thank you Dolores) emailed me the review so I wouldn't be in crazy-in-suspense. To say that I was over the moon with the 4 1/2 star review is an understatement. This book gave me fits in the beginning (usually that doesn't happen until mid-way through), but in the end my heart said that it was one of my strongest tales to date. I adore this story. I adore this review. I hope readers will feel the same.

"Ciotta weaves a web of deceit and love in her western novel. First-time readers will applaud her descriptions, intricate plot and the love that develops between Emily and Seth. Even cynical readers will be enthralled with his most delightful tale of love." -- 4 1/2 stars! Romantic Times BOOKreviews (Faith V. Smith)