22 September 2010

Three Brave New Writers

In this Writer Wednesday Interview, three writers share their recent successes and insights on the path toward their first publications. All have have recently begun the road to publication with either recent contracts for their novels or contributions to publications with multiple authors.

Cassandra Carr:  Cassandra Carr is the pen name for an author who writes erotic romance. She has a thing for hockey-player heroes and has finished one erotic romance titled Talk to Me, which is currently making the rounds in the query stage, and is writing her second book, while also producing some short stories to get characters out of her crowded brain.  Her WIP is an erotic romantic suspense set in a burlesque club. The hero is a DEA agent and the heroine is the club owner and once-a-week dancer.

JM Kelly: J.M. Kelley, After a lengthy break that included adventures in accounting and coffee distribution, she returned to her passion for writing and began to piece together a story about life in small-town Pennsylvania. The result of this epiphany is Drew in Blue, a contemporary love story set in the fictional Appalachian town of River’s View.  JM is a member of the Romance Writers of America, The International Women's Writing Guild, Pennwriters, and the South Carolina Writers Workshop. She'd be happy if you'd join her at www.jmkelleywrites.com.

Liz Borino:  Liz Borino is the debut author of Expectations. Up until now she’s kept her stories to herself, but this only child is all grown up and wants to share them with the world. She began her quest for publication and after some heart breaks she signed with Lazy Day Publishing and couldn’t be happier.

PPM: JM, is the pen really mightier than the sword?

JM:  Yes. I'm a weakling. I could gouge out an eyeball with my awesome purple gel pen long before I could wrestle a sword up into the air.

PPM: A lot of people are taking their writing more seriously due to underemployment and the recession... is that a common motivation?

Liz: I decided to take my writing seriously when I realized that this story and others I would write could inspire people to take their dreams seriously. Maybe something that I write will give someone hope or courage. 

JM: I'd started working on my novel before I lost my job, but I think the sudden excess of free time was a real motivator to get cracking and finally write down the nuggets that had been floating around in my head for so long.  I've always dabbled in writing, but I guess I never really thought of taking it anywhere when I was younger - that whole self-esteem thing rearing its ugly head.

Liz:  The excess of free time is actually a hindrance for me and my writing. I find I take it more seriously when I have to schedule around other commitments.

CC: I had a baby in Dec 2008, but I decided to write in late 2007.  Since then I've done other contract work and kept up with the writing but there have been times when I'm too busy to write much.  So, I joined a writers' group (my local RWA chapter) and set goals.  

JM:  Emotionally, being unemployed takes a toll, but being able to pour out the uncertainty and fear in your own writing is cathartic. I do feel fortunate to have been given a window to really focus on something I've always wanted to do, and more importantly, see it through to the end.

PPM: Liz, do you think it’s a good idea to date a writer?

Liz: Hmm, I guess its a good idea to date a writer if you like talking about things that really haven't happened…

PPM:  When you finished your manuscripts, how did you know they were ready to query?

CC: I queried too soon on my first MS and got nothing but rejections from agents.  Since then I’ve started a second, revised my first manuscript and query letter, and some editors have expressed interest.

JM:  My first round of queries was a disaster of epic proportions. Drew was NOT ready to query. I shudder to think about it now. I hope they at least got a good laugh before they deleted the horror.

Liz: Ha, well, if I'm honest, I had the writer’s narcissism at first. I convinced myself it didn't matter that I had a lubriciously high word count, every publishing house would want it....no, not true. 

JM:  Luckily, I went to the Pennwriters conference, learned some important points, figured out what a query should really look like, and took an intense second look my manuscript.  Of course, after that I still managed to blow a few queries.  Once, I forgot to attach my manuscript and emailed NOTHING.

Liz:  It only took three agent form rejection letters before I reevaluated and did some intense editing. When I found out most publishing houses were looking for under 90,000 words, I seriously considered giving up because I that meant I'd have to cut out 40,000 words.  I would say the entire process took about 9 months after the MS was finished.

CC:  Mine took me nearly three years to complete and it only got finished because at one point I said "It's just got to be done. I have to move on." 

PPM: How has connecting with other writers helped you?

Liz:  Connecting with other writers online has been nothing short of incredible. They cheer you on when you have successes and console you when you get a rejection. I feel so lucky to be working in a time when I have the gift of the internet to connect with these amazing people.

CC:  I've found other writers, whether in person or online, to be an INCREDIBLY supportive group. Sure, you're a little jealous when you hear that one of your friends has signed a book deal, but you also feel like you're almost a part of their success. You nurtured them through tough times, you supported them in their dream - you may have even critiqued their book! Even small things like the #amwriting hashtag on Twitter is a source of inspiration to those of us who are sitting there at your computer, all alone, feeling like you're on an island.

Liz: I've never felt as though I were competing with any of them. I truly believe, and I think most would agree, there's an abundance of success in this world, even when it doesn't feel like it.

PPM:  Tell us a little about your books?

JM:  Not even two weeks ago, I was still querying agents and publishers, trying to entice them to look at my first novel.  Now, I’ve inked a contract with Lazy Day publishing and Drew in Blue will be available as an ebook on December 1, 2010.

Liz: My novel is called Expectations and it's story that started with a simple question:

What happens when what we want for ourselves and what our families expect are at odds? It was truly inspired after reading the Secret and deciding to construct my life exactly as I wanted it and try to block out outside influences.  It’s also being published by Lazy Day Publishing. I got the email two days ago and everything has just been falling into place since then.

PPM:  Cassandra, you’re currently contributing to a writing manual for the writer-secret-society.  What can you tell us about that?

I believe my section will be about how to get thrown out of the group. I imagine it will cover topics such as plagiarizing other members' work, stealing peoples' thunder, or generally being a non-supportive meanie.
PPM: Have you disguised any real people in your writing?

CC: In one there are personality aspects of many different actual hockey players, but you wouldn't be able to read the book and say "That's so-and-so" because I took one trait from one guy and another from another guy etc to make my character.

JM: I think a lot of my friends would say that I infuse a lot of me into my main characters. Which, considering those characters' self-esteem issues…

PPM: What has been the highlight of your writing careers so far?

Liz:  My biggest success thus far has been receiving an offer from Lazy Day Publishing on September 17. Just knowing that my novel will be coming out on December 1 is an incredible feeling. And truthfully, Lazy Day has been my first choice publisher.

CC:  I think I've had two best moments. The first was when I got the letter from the Chicken Soup people telling me they wanted to use my personal essay in their book. It wasn't a lot of money, but as of that moment, I was a published author. I didn't celebrate, per se, just told my friends and family. When the books came-you get ten copies as part of your payment-I held one in my hands and then flipped to my story and read it on the page. Then I went to the back of the book and read my bio and thought "Wow, I look like a real writer!"

Liz:  The first thing I did was call my best friend and then my aunt, who was the first to read the book, in its original unedited form. I did celebrate that night with citrus chicken and a sangria.

CC:  The other best moment was at a conference this year. I had three agent/editor appointments. At this time I was pitching my contemporary romance. At my first appointment, which was with an agent, we got along great - we clicked. She was so nice!

My next appointment was with an editor. She was also very nice and asked for a partial. Then there was my third appointment. This was also with an editor who was with a publishing house, which had published a line similar to my premise and had success with it.  As soon as I sat down I said, "Hi, you guys published [name of novel]." She said, "Yes, we did." I said, "I have something similar." She was hooked and impressed that I knew her house had published that novel-obviously I hadn’t had time to do research on her since I was at a conference. she asked for a full immediately and whether or not I had an agent.

Two of these editors still have the MS. The one I clicked with ultimately rejected it but gave me specific reasons why. Since then I've made changes based on her suggestions and plan to contact her to see if she'll read it again. Doesn't hurt to try! I also plan to query her with other projects. I say if they like you keep sending them stuff!

PPM: What resources or advice can you recommend to new writers?

JM:  I've always been an avid reader, as well. That probably helped me learn how to construct a novel. 

CC: Meghan Records on Twitter - She is an editor at Kensington who does #askeditor chats on Twitter and I've learned SO MUCH from participating in her chats.

JM:  Janet Reid is a must-read. Anyone who is nearing the query process must visit the Query Shark and read EVERY entry. What you take away is invaluable. http://queryshark.blogspot.com/

CC: Yes, if you want to get your query letter torn to shreds (but in a good way, as long as your ego can take it), you can post it here and get feedback. It made mine way better.  And QueryTracker - There's no way I would be able to keep all my querying straight without this tool - and it's free!

For the mechanics I took a lot of English courses in high school and college. When I decided to do this as a career I actually took an online community education course in romance writing. I figured it would be taught by some local person but the instructor was Lori Wilde, who has published forty romances. After that I took a community education course on getting published and one geared toward fiction writing in general.  I thought the community education courses were great - they were cheap and the information was really spot-on.

JM:  Agent Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary Agency has a very informative blog I'd recommend as well. http://scotteagan.blogspot.com/

Liz: Oh God, I still don't feel prepared to write a novel. No, seriously, there's no magic piece of advice or any kind of education or preparation that can train you to write a novel. For me at least, the process of writing articles and short stories is so much different than that of writing a novel. I think it's one of those things you just have to jump in with both feet.

JM:  I don't know that I've ever learned to write either! But I've always had an overactive imagination. Seriously, when I was a kid, I didn't pretend I had the flu to miss a day of school. I faked heart attacks. I'm a natural-born drama queen who managed to channel it into writing.

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the CraftBut there is one book I'd recommend: Stephen King's On Writing.

Liz: That book really taught me a lot, too.

JM:  That old boy knows how to tell it like it is. The line: “Do not come lightly to the blank page” is the most powerful piece of advice offered. If you don't have passion and dedication, you don't have much of a story.  And get a book like Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss and brush up on the basics.

CC:  Also, Karen Fox's List of Publishers, Nathan Branford’s Blog, Carina Press Blog, Cyndi Myer’s Market News Blog…do you see a pattern here?

JM:  When I really want to stalk authors, I go to Murderati it features a group of very interactive, very smart, and incredibly lovely authors who allow us to have a glimpse of their own writing lives.

CC: And Dear Author is a good website in general, but their first page critiques are fabulous, especially for new writers.


  1. A great post with great writing references. Thanks so much!

  2. I know, I checked out a few of the references I didn't know today and was impressed :).

  3. This looks great, I'm so glad I could collaborate involved with Cassandra and Liz on this. Thanks for having us!

  4. @JM You're more than welcome. It was really a blast putting the interview together and great to see the beginning of a career from three different perspectives and experiences.

  5. I enjoyed JM's comment about being able to write about the uncertainty of unemployment. I've been there so I understand those emotions that are flooding your mind. Rather than stuff them deep down inside, she's found a way to release those thoughts - and for that, we are grateful.

  6. Awesome interview! Very entertaining group of ladies with some wonderful tips and helpful hints that I'll be sure to make use of. Thank you all so much!