Deep Edits and Black Bean Soup

Cleveland Immersion Class, 2017

For the last several months, I’ve been looking forward to the first week in September. I hosted an immersion master class with the incomparable Margie Lawson and eight of my NEORWA friends. We followed the immersion with Margie presenting at NEORWA’s Cleveland Rocks Romance Conference. I learned how to use power words, have memorized rhetorical devices, and can deep edit like a boss.

Now that it’s over, I’m feeling energized and ready to take on the literary world by storm. Okay, maybe not–I’m still too tired and Margie would give me a frowny face for the cliche–but I certainly now have more tools to polish my manuscript.

If you’ve never done an immersion class or attended one of Margie’s workshops or online classes, I do hope you will. And in the meantime, here’s my recipe for vegan black bean soup (we ate a lot of soup), modified from Jonathan Waxman’s original meatier version (which is divine and which you can find in his book, A Great American Cook, on page 62):

Immersion Black Bean Soup
Serves about 8 hungry writers, or 10 less hungry ones

3 cups dried black beans
1 red onion, minced
cloves from 1 head garlic, chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large bay leaf
1 to 2 tablespoons canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced (remove seeds from chile if you prefer less heat)
3/4 cup fresh cilantro (including stems), chopped, reserving a couple tablespoons of the chopped leaves for garnish
8 cups vegetable broth
freshly ground pepper
Kosher salt
1-2 limes, cut into wedges
Tortilla chips
Creme fraiche or sour cream, Greek yogurt, or coconut milk yogurt

Rinse beans and soak overnight in a large pot of cold water. (You can also use the quick soak method–boil beans in a large pot of water for 1 minute, then remove from heat and let cool for an hour.) Drain.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic, and saute until onions are golden. Stir in the soaked beans, chipotle, cilantro, pepper (don’t add the salt yet!), and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours, or until beans are very tender. If soup is too thin, simmer uncovered for another 30 minutes. If soup is too thick, add more broth or water.

Discard the bay leaf and add salt to taste. Use an immersion blender to coarsely puree the soup (if you don’t have an immersion blender, you should get one, but in the meantime, you can puree the soup in small batches in a regular blender, then return to the pot). Reheat.

Top each serving with a dollop of yogurt or creme and the reserved cilantro. (Unless you’re me, and you forget the cilantro.) Serve with a lime wedge and tortilla chips.

 

 

 

 

 

Tips for Attending RWA’s National Conference

So I’m a wee bit embarrassed at how long it’s been since I posted on the blog.  I’ve been buried in a novella–you wouldn’t think a 30,000 word book would take me so long to write, but alas. I am easily distracted.

Lately, I have been distracted by anticipation. I have been getting ready for RWA’s Annual Conference in Orlando next week. Workshops have been chosen, hair done, toes polished, fancy dresses purchased, and culinary path through Epcot plotted–seriously, the food in France is to die for.

If you are a romance writer and you haven’t been to Nationals, you must try to go at some point. Although it’s absolutely exhausting for extroverts and introverts alike, the creative energy is incredible. There are workshops on just about every writing-related topic under the sun, and opportunities to meet and mingle with favorite authors. And let’s not forget the free books. There are opportunities to pitch your manuscripts to literary agents and editors from all the major romance publishers.

If you’re a first timer this year, I’d suggest you keep a few things in mind:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes. You will walk. A lot.
  2. Go to the First Timers Orientation. I didn’t, but I probably should have.
  3. Use the RWA17 App on your phone. It will make it a lot easier to figure out what you’d like to attend and where you’re supposed to be at any given time.
  4. Remember that everyone is friendly! Although I know this is hard as hell for an introvert (like me), don’t be afraid to walk up to someone whose name you recognize and say hello. My first RWA National experience was in New York two years ago. When I was checking into the hotel, I spotted historical author Mia Marlowe standing at the desk beside me. I told her I loved her books and she stopped what she was doing (to the annoyance of the clerk checking her in) to give me a huge hug.
  5. Go to the book signings offered by publishers. You can meet your favorite authors, and they will give you a signed book for free. The most popular authors will have long lines, so while you wait for those lines to die down, visit the others. You may discover a new favorite and you just might make their day.
  6. When choosing between two workshops at the same time, go to the one that’s not recorded (there are a few), or to the one with conference presenters you’d like to talk to in person. Recordings of the entire conference will be available for sale, or afterwards you can choose individual workshop recordings to purchase and download on the RWA website.
  7. Remember to take breaks. It’s so much fun, but it can be exhausting for a writer who’s used to living in her own head. If you’re overwhelmed. go hide in a corner with a book, go back to your room, take a swim. Remember that workshops are recorded, so you won’t miss anything. No one will think any less of you, because many of us will be doing the exact same thing.
  8. If you have a manuscript ready to go, pitch! It’s terrifying, but it’s good. If you didn’t sign up for a pitch session ahead of time, fear not. Slots usually open up on pitch day, and you can grab one of them.
  9. Google “RWA First Time” for more articles on what to expect.
  10. And if you see me, say hi. I would love to meet you!

Conquering Fear

Yesterday I spent the day with writer friends from the Northeast Ohio chapter of RWA, participating in a workshop presented by Bob Mayer. He spoke about many things in his six-hour talk, including turning ideas into stories, recognizing and developing conflict (my biggest problem, perhaps), outlining and plotting, characters’ needs and flaws, and story arcs. But for some reason, the part that resonated with me most was his discussion of fear.

FullSizeRender (1)Fear, Mayer said, is “a feeling of alarm or disquiet caused by the expectation of danger, pain, or the like.” It stems from uncertainty. Since life is one long uncertainty, all of us have fears. We fear failure, rejection, criticism, loss. We fear making the wrong decision, making mistakes. I can remember three times in my life when I was truly fearful: the day I graduated from college; the day I made a commitment to start my own law firm; and the day I sent off my first manuscript to an editor who’d requested it. Every one of those marked a decision to leave the safety of the known and start on an unknown path potentially fraught with peril. Graduating from college I realized it was the first time in my life I really had no clue what I was supposed to do next. The entire world was before me, and absolutely anything could happen. Starting my own law firm, I left the security of a regular paycheck in exchange for freedom–to take the work I wanted, to get away from the backstabbing bullshit of my old firm, and to spend more time with my four-year old son. And the day I sent that manuscript was the first time I faced either real acceptance or true rejection of my writing.

That editor did reject my manuscript, which stung. I am extremely fortunate in that another editor was waiting to see it too, and when she did, she bought it, and my life as a published author began. But all three of these moments in time taught me that to act in the face of fear is, while scary as hell, worth every tear shed and every night spent tossing and turning, asking yourself whether you’ve done the right thing. Mayer said yesterday, “Heroism is taking action in the face of fear.” While I certainly don’t consider myself a hero for facing my fears, perhaps all of us who take that step into the unknown do have a bit of the hero inside us. Although you’re never going to see me jumping out of an airplane. No way.

If fear is preventing you from accomplishing your dreams, take a closer look at yourself. I’ll bet there’s a hero inside of you too.

My First RWA Nationals

I’m a day late with this post because I spent the last week in New York at the RWA National Conference. My very first RWA National Conference. I have been to at least a dozen national lawyer conferences, even a national librarian conference or two, and none of them quite prepared me for RWA. Here are a few thinPCers RWA15 with AMgs I took away:

 

1. Romance writers are some of the nicest, most supportive people on the planet.

 

 

2. By the end of the week your feet will hurt no matter how comfortable your shoes are, especially if you spend your down time walking all over New York City. 016bcbfc0c5ca9db72e0dc49fc8c6595e46ebb50fe

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3. Pitching to an agent is terrifying, a bit discouraging when said agent hates the book you’re pitching, but exciting when she likes the idea of a book you haven’t written yet.

4. Publishing is a crazy business. (See #3.)

5. Free books are good. And heavy.

6. Shaking hands with (or getting hugs from) your favorite authors is amazing.

7. Having 2,000 romance writers in a single room is really loud.

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8. I never tire of hanging out with my peeps from NEORWA.

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9. There will always be writers who are more successful than you (unless you’re Nora Roberts). Suck it up and keep writing.

10. I would list more but I’m too tired.

Did you go to Nationals? What did you think?

 

Five Reasons to Go to a Writers’ Conference

I spent this weekend at my RWA chapter’s Cleveland Rocks Romance Conference, which was wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, I thought I’d share with you some reasons why, if you’re a writer, you should attend a writers’ conference too.

1. You meet other writers.

Writing is a solitary occupation. We spend a lot of time in our own heads, which is generally a wonderful place to be, but it does us all good to get out of there for a while and meet like-minded people. We can learn from each other’s experiences, kick ideas around, make new friends, and laugh a lot.

2. You learn some new things.

Conferences include workshops about various aspects of the writing business. Our conference, for example, included an editor/agent panel on what’s hot in romance and tips on writing an attention-grabbing first page, as well as workshops on Disorganized Organized Revisions by Hanna Martine, Using Social Media by Mindy McGinnis, and Romantic Suspense by Carla Neggers.

3. You get to hobnob with famous and not-yet-so-famous authors.

A not-so-famous author pic I shamelessly stole from Miranda Liasson

Conferences usually include at least one best-selling super-famous author who gives a keynote speech and/or teaches a workshop–our keynote speaker this year was Carla Neggers. You can meet them and talk to them. They will happily autograph a book for you, and have their picture taken with you. The not-yet-so-famous authors will eagerly do the same, mostly because we are so happy anyone is paying attention to us at all.

<— A not-yet-so-famous author pic I shamelessly stole from Miranda Liasson

4. You can sometimes relax and kick back with editors and agents.

Our conference includes a gathering in the hotel bar after the Friday evening panel. Editors and agents are not scary at all when they’ve had a couple of drinks. Although one does have to be careful not to drink more than they do, because that can get embarrassing. Or so I’ve heard…

5. You have an opportunity to pitch your books to those agents and editors, face to face.

Although the prospect is really quite terrifying for introverted writers (especially me, as I haven’t done it yet), people tell me it’s not so bad. The advantage is that you have an editor or agent’s rapt attention for 5-10 minutes to tell them what your book is about. They can ask questions about it and other things you’ve written, an opportunity not provided by a written query.

Bonus reason: Books!!

But peIMG_2587rhaps one of the best reasons to attend a writers’ conference is the books. Some free, some not so free, some autographed, some not. Conferences are an excellent way to remind ourselves why we got into this crazy writing business in the first place–because we love books.

This year’s haul —>

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