Smart, urbanite, foodie, funny, cook, passionate, opinionated, sometimes political, irreverent, writer, photographer, busy, mom, wife, shoe fiend, fashionista, frequent hostess, teacher, displaced Californian... Formerly managing editor for several firearm magazines, then for local newspapers (a story and a half that one!) now happily writing from home.

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Last year right about this time, I had just put the finishing touches on a romantic thriller. It’s a dark and intense story and I love it. I decided to be brave and entered into Pitch Wars, a Twitter event geared to connect writers to mentors, and eventually put a more polished piece in front of agents (OK, that’s an extremely condensed version of the cool thing that is Pitch Wars, but you get the idea.)

While I did not get selected as a mentee, I did have an absolute blast participating in the submission rounds. I also connected with quite a few other writers and got some amazing critique along the way. A couple of the mentors were kind enough to offer some critique, even though I wasn’t selected. Many, many, many thanks for that!

I tweaked the story and decided to do a limited round of queries. I got a little interest – a few requests for partials or fulls, but mostly a lot of silence.

I debated going the small, indie press route, or self publishing, but I’ve been down those roads. While I won’t say “never again”, that’s not my goal.

Nope… my goal is an agent, followed by a traditional publishing house.

The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.

Clearly, I needed to change something. But I wasn’t sure what. I tabled the project for a bit, but the story wouldn’t let me go. I came back and tackled some of the uglies that I found… Then I got smart and asked for help.

I was lucky enough to find two amazing women who agreed to be critique partners. Both offered me some useful insight into the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The manuscript went from just over 80,000 words to 84,000 words, then to nearly 89,000 with the revisions and additions. Then more revisions and subtractions brought it back to around 84,000 words.

I can honestly say it’s better now than it was last year… Is it perfect? Nope. In fact, I’m going to be spending the remaining time leading up to this year’s Pitch Wars going through the entire thing to refine and polish, proofread and tweak.

While I hope to be selected as a mentee this year, I know that I will gain valuable insight, make amazing friends, and great connections no matter what. I know it will be fun, challenging, and enlightening; that I will grow as a writer. And I know that when it’s all over, I will sigh and miss the flurry of activity and the camaraderie… and I will be looking forward to next year’s Pitch Wars.

 

It’s that time of year again… Pitch Wars!  (certified GIF-free post – but I do have a slideshow!)

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I participated last year with a manuscript that I thought was ready to go… yeah, I was mistaken. I shelved that story for a bit and worked on some other projects, but the story kept nagging me. So, I hauled out that story and dusted it off (digital cobwebs are the worst!) It’s gone through some minor tweaks and one major overhaul (massive thank you shouts to the two ladies who kindly served at crit partners and beta readers, and gave me some amazing tips!)

So… let’s see… a bit about me…

What am I pitching?

Adult / Thriller

The Lies We Tell – I’m still straddling the fence on whether to call this a thriller, or a romantic thriller, or a romantic suspense. Either way, it’s a bit on the dark side. And a bit on the twisted side. And it’s got some sexy goin’ on.

A former police officer with some serious commitment issues finds evidence pointing to a serial rapist on the loose, but her digging means she may be next on the victim list.

When she meets a noted forensic psychiatrist, she’s got more on her mind than the case at hand, but he’s not interested in her no-emotions approach to relationships.

Who the heck am I?

Despite my love of too many ellipses, overuse of dashes, and tendency to start sentences with conjunctions, I spent most of my career as a magazine or newspaper editor. These days, I’m a freelance writer whose work covers everything from home decor to adult sexuality, politics, women’s issues, and just about everything in between.

Outside of work, I love to cook and frequently entertain. I also make wickedly good, and wickedly sneaky cocktails. I’ve recently started working on getting back into shape, so the family diet has changed significantly as I try to craft healthier dishes that are still delicious.

I’m mom to two kids and two step kids – two in college, one in the military, and one still deciding what he’s doing with his life. I’m wife to an awesome hubby who supports me in my crazy pursuit of fiction writing and puts up with my cooking experiments with remarkable patience.

What else? Coffee addict, lover of good chocolate, owner of a more than occasionally foul mouth, city dweller, and oh so much more.

What do I like to read?

A little bit of everything. Trite, but true. I’m a sucker for a good, classic horror story and I blame Stephen King for my deciding to pursue writing fiction (I still love reading his older stuff). I grew up reading James Herriot, but I never wanted to be a veterinarian (perhaps because I grew up on a farm). I loved Harry Potter, but have little interest in most middle grade or young adult books. I recently went through a kick of reading a bunch of romantic suspense, now I’m leaning toward things heavier on the crime and thriller end (bonus points if it’s also sexy).

Is there more?

Sure, there’s always more… I’m a prime example of how you should never judge a book by its cover. I’m easy to get to know… find me on Twitter (@Rochelle_Karina), or on Facebook if you’d like to know more. I love connecting with new people and making new friends from all walks of life!

One last thing… good luck to all my fellow mentee hopefuls! Just participating in the selection process last year was fun, challenging, and incredibly helpful! I’m already Twitter stalking the mentor list, and can’t wait to see how things go this year.

And don’t forget to add your bio!

Or you can use this handy little thingy….

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

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Baltimore doesn’t get tons of snow very often. In fact, this year, we had a very mild winter. That is, until this past weekend, when winter decided to arrive and make up for lost time by dumping 29 inches of powdery white stuff all over us.

Still… it wasn’t that bad. We had a kitchen full of groceries, and no obligations. We even managed some fun.

Someone even organized a neighborhood snowball fight. Check out the video.

 

What is a “crit partner”?

Google the term, or the unabbreviated “critique partner” and you’ll see a confusing list of definitions, and places to find fellow writers eager to pair up with a crit partner.

In my eyes, and those of the folks I most frequently work with, a crit partner is usually a two-way relationship that involves mutual sharing between fellow writers. Beta readers are a totally different lot, and they deserve all the praise and thanks in the world, but a good crit partner is a match made in heaven. A bad one… well… you can imagine the opposite.

Just like any relationship, the terms of what makes for a good crit partnership are not set in stone. Each writer has their own needs and preferred ways of working.

Things to know before you seek out a crit partner

  • Are you ready for critique?
    If you think your manuscript is well polished and shiny and ready to go, and your crit partner disagrees, how are you going to handle their opinion?
    If you know you’re in the rough stages, and your crit partner suggests something isn’t working, can you step back and view your baby through their eyes?
  • What do you want from a crit partner?
    Are you looking for developmental edit work? Finding and fixing plot holes? Do you want a line-by-line critique, or just a general idea of how things flow and feel? Want input on what works and what doesn’t?

Things to know about a potential crit partner

  • Are they familiar with your genre, and do they like it?
    It’s not going to help quite as much to have a crit partner who loves cozy mysteries reading your erotic thriller. Think about that for a minute.
  • Do you respect their opinion and/or work?
    If you think their work is not for you, you’re not likely to value their opinion. Make sure you look for crit partners whose thoughts you actually care to hear.
  • What do you each want from the partnership?
    If your partner thinks this is a mutual exchange and you go in thinking it’s a one-way street, you’re going to clash pretty quickly. Talk before you trade and make sure you’re both on the same page about what you do and don’t want from your crit partner.
  • What level of honesty do you want, and can you offer?
    Some folks need their critique coated in sugar, and that’s fine. Others take it straight up, thank you very much.
  • How do they want their notes? How do you want your notes?
    Not everyone uses the same software, and not everyone is familiar with “track changes” features, or comfortable following comments. Which method works for you, and is your crit partner willing to give notes that way? And vice versa.

Things to know when you get a critique, or when giving one

  • Critiques are opinions.
    Sure, sometimes it’s on a factual matter, but really, this is one person’s opinion. You don’t have to agree on everything, but be respectful about it. The same is true whether you are getting or giving a critique. This is an opinion.
  • Be nice.
    Whether you’re giving critique, or receiving one, be nice. Even if your crit partner isn’t. Why? Just because it’s the nice thing to do.

When things aren’t going well

Sometimes it happens. You find a crit partner, and only after getting started realize this isn’t a good partnership. Or maybe you’ve changed genre or writing style. Or they’ve changed. Or… whatever. Life happens.

Reasons don’t really matter when it comes to a break up. Be respectful, be courteous, be kind and above all, be brief.

If there are problems that you believe are fixable, talk to your crit partner about them. It may be a simple misunderstanding of expectations. If you don’t believe they’re fixable, then it’s time to move on, nicely.

A simple, “I don’t feel our crit partnership is working out” or “I’m going to have to back out of our crit partnership” is all it takes.

I’m a child of the ’80s – I had this on a button.

Here’s a huge shocker, my book contains some sex scenes.

I know, big surprise, right?

And I’m currently editing another book that contains (gasp!) sex scenes.

No, these aren’t erotic fiction, though I’ve been known on occasion to write erotica (and have even gotten paid to do it). These are standard fiction stories. Not even in the romance genre.

So I was more than a little interested when a fellow writer posted a link to this article on Facebook – Do condoms kill the mood of a book?

It was an interesting read, and the answers weren’t simple.

Neither of my stories include condom usage. However…

In Fallen, the characters do have “the talk” about STIs and sexual partners and make an informed decision about condom usage (or the lack thereof). In the current work, there is general talk of sexual safety awareness and routine testing, one character is mentioned as always using protection, but there is no specific discussion between the two characters who have sex. There’s no “should we or shouldn’t we” discussion, no “on page” disclosure of sexual history, etc.

I don’t really think about it as me choosing to not include condoms in these stories so much as me choosing to write the story without thinking about sending a message about safer sex. These are novels, not how-to manuals. I’m not writing thinly-veiled “edutainment” for the condom industry. I’m trying to write an engaging story, and sometimes those stories include sex. If condom usage were important to the storyline, I’d include it.

It’s an interesting thought process. If a novel includes a sex scene, should it also automatically include safer sex practices, or explain the lack of them? Does the genre of the novel make a difference? Say, one answer for erotica, another for historic romance, still another for contemporary romance, and a whole different set of requirements for young adult.

Does the level of explicitness make a difference? If we’re talking blow-by-blow description (pun so very much intended), should safer sex be there, but it’s okay to skip it if the story starts getting sexy, we know what’s gonna happen, then the next thing we see is the morning after?

These are the thoughts that occupy my brain when I really should be working on editing my book.

Our apartment is fairly large… OK, it’s freakin’ big. Except for one room… the kitchen. The space itself is small, made to feel even smaller by a really bad layout. Had the rest of the place not been so ab-so-lute-ly perfect, the kitchen would have been a serious sticking point.

The sink and dishwasher are located so that realistically, if one person is doing dishes (or putting them away), it pretty much eliminates the possibility of anyone else doing anything in the room – including helping with the dishes.

kitchen

I chalk it up to the joy of urban living in a really, really old building. But despite the shortcomings, we manage to entertain large groups. Organization, carefully curated kitchen equipment and lots of experience make it work.

So, why am I writing this? It’s not to brag about my incredible kitchen management skills. Nope. It’s because I’ve actually run across photos that made me feel my itty bitty kitchen might not be quite so itty bitty.

Looking around for ideas for a piece on home decor, I came across a kitchen that was positively Lilliputian. And pink.

Petite in pink – from Apartment Therapy

Curious, I did an image search for tiny kitchen. Most of what I found were smallish kitchens that still looked pretty big when compared to mine.

A few though, had me promising to never complain about my space… ever… again. Don’t get me wrong, I expect that in a studio apartment but not all of these were in efficiency units. And some of them had me wondering how anyone could do anything in the space.

Yikes – from the NY Times
Retro and tiny – from Curbly
Itty bitty space – from the Arugula Files

But I think the winner for the itty-bittiest kitchen is NY Times writer Jill Santopietro – seriously, check out her video outlining the must have items for a small kitchen. It’s 11.5 square feet, and no, I didn’t put the decimal in the wrong place.

Obviously, she’s gotten creative and used space outside the kitchen for storage of certain items. Heck, we do the same. A convenient closet in the hall just outside the kitchen was transformed into a sort of pantry to hold table linens and all of those odd appliances we don’t use on a day-to-day basis. And we added metal shelves and a rolling cart to provide additional storage.

We’ve also gone the route of investing in restaurant-ware for dishes – they stack more neatly and easily, look less cluttered in the cabinet and make serving uber-simple.

And we’ve eliminated most uni-taskers and seldom-used tools. Sure, I have a rice cooker, but you won’t find any omelet pans in my kitchen. Generally, I frown on one-trick ponies. I also know what’s important to me… I can make coffee via at least four different methods (five if I want to put more effort into it), but do not own a microwave because I can’t justify the loss of counter space.

Proof positive that bigger is not always better… and I’m officially going to stop complaining about my lack of space.

christmas 2007
christmas (Photo credit: paparutzi)

On November 2, I walked into my local grocery store to pick up a few things and stopped dead in my tracks. There I stood surrounded by half-off Halloween candy, looking at gigantic cans of pumpkin pie filling (who uses that stuff?) and I was hearing…

Christmas music!

Gah! It’s too early for this! And it wasn’t just one song. The holiday tunes went on and on. At the checkout, I asked the young lady what was up? And how many complaints had she gotten about this stuff? Her response was an exhausted eye roll and a quietly muttered “oh, you have no idea! Everyone hates this.”

It sounds trivial, but I couldn’t shake the sense that there was something dreadfully wrong with this. I’ve worked in industries where you start thinking Christmas right around July. But that doesn’t mean the consumer has to hear it that early. It seems to me that in the effort to be the first, the best, the biggest, the baddest, publishers, retail stores, everyone, is starting Christmas stuff earlier and earlier every year.

Stop it! If we keep going down this path we won’t have any recognizable holidays left. Thanks to the simultaneous onslaught of ghosts, goblins, gobblers and jolly old fat men in red suits, I’ve dubbed the last three months of the year Halanksmas (Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas). Go ahead and figure out how to roll Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in there as well. What the heck, we’re all inclusive around here.

On those lines, here is my prediction for the future of holidays.

New Val Pat’s Day – starting around the middle of December and running through mid-March is this epic celebration of new beginnings, love and the luck of the Irish. It’s a great excuse for drinking, indulging in too much chocolate, kissing, pinching those not wearing green and oh yes, more drinking.

EasMaFa – close on the heels of New Val Pat’s Day is this springtime holiday that celebrates birth and parenting. It stretches from mid-March through to mid-June and children are particularly fond of the early parts of the celebration that include visits from a secretive, anthropomorphic rabbit who hides eggs and chocolate for them to find. Moms tend to enjoy the hand-made gifts their children give them and of course, a (burnt) breakfast in bed followed by dinner out. Dads can look forward to more bad ties.

Patriotic Season – stretching from the old Memorial Day through Labor Day, the summer months are filled with flag celebrations, parades, fireworks and picnics. Red, white and blue will be everywhere and will be amply punctuated with luau and other beach themes. This also coincides with summer vacation. Toward the end of the season, expect to see promotions for the following season…

Fall Season – starting in the still-sweltering days of August, you will start to see sweaters and fall accessories filling shelves, along with lots of plaid. The season starts with Back-to-School days and continues through the early parts of Halanksmas.

Sports Seasons – these are peppered throughout the year and overlap other holidays and seasons. In America, baseball and football are the primary sports, starting with baseball’s Spring Training and running all the way through the Super Bowl. Non-sports fans may get a short reprieve during the time between Super Bowl and the start of Spring Training.

High Sales Days – throughout the year, there are things like Columbus Day, President’s Day and other “days” that at one point meant something, but that have become nothing more than an excuse for yet another sale promotion. Oh, and for the Federal Government to shut down, and for no mail delivery.

 

Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store.
Stephen King at the Harvard Book Store. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

42…

I just had to get that one out of the way. And now, on we go.

I looked at the writing challenge for this week and after a few moments of furious debate with myself decided to give it a giant pass.

Well, sort of a giant pass. It got me thinking, really. I started thinking about when I decided I wanted to write. And how that came about. And who influenced me. And…

And then I realized that even though I have won awards, been published and paid for my writing many, many times, and that for the past many years, I’ve made my living primarily because of my ability to write, and write well, I only recently started considering myself a “writer.”

That in itself is a long story, full of political incorrectness and stuff. And the editor in me says it doesn’t belong in this post.

Suffice to say, I finally realized if you express yourself in written words, you are a writer. Whether good or bad is open for debate. Every now and then, I even think of myself as a pretty good writer.

When I was young, I was a voracious reader. I devoured everything I could get my hands on. When in 9th grade, I refused to read Lord of the Flies a second time (I’d read it in 8th grade). My wise English teacher offered me A Separate Peace instead. While the rest of the class plodded through their book, I went through that, and Catcher in the Rye plus one other totally forgettable novel.

Somewhere along the line I discovered Poe and Lovecraft and then Stephen King, and a lifelong love of horror was born.

It’s King I turned to for this piece. Not to imitate, no… because that would turn a short blog post into a gigantic tome. But his personal, real man tone is what made his stories so catchy, and so frightening.

What I always loved about King’s writing, and what I’ve worked to achieve in my own, is the tone of reality. No matter how fantastical the set up, no matter how far fetched the plot, King could reel you in with sheer humanity.

Over the years, I’ve had to write in a variety of styles not my own, and I’ve turned to various writers to get “in the mood.”

Judith Martin is my favorite for crafting pieces that require acerbic wit combined with impeccable manners and well-thought-out phrases. If I need inspiration for marketing I turn to Dr. Seuss (yes, you read that right!). I have a variety of authors to whom I turn for inspiration of various sorts.

But in the dark of night, when it’s just me and the glowing screen, I don’t want polite. I don’t want funny. I want raw. I want real. I want King.

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