Cassandra’s words version 1.0

cassandra-oleary-aboutMy name is Cassandra O’Leary. Charmed, I’m sure. I am a writer, reader, Melbourne girl, professional communications specialist and a postmodern mummy. If that makes me sound busy, it’s because I am. Got to keep all those balls in the air… If 2013 has been an amazing and challenging year, then I expect 2014 to be more so. More everything.

In 2013 I met a long term challenge to myself to write a novel. Not only did I achieve that goal, but I rediscovered a love of words and writing fiction for the love of it. I entered the global So You Think You Can Write competition run by Harlequin Books. Although my romance novel wasn’t selected as a finalist, I had so much fun with it that I plugged on and actually was selected for an online pitch to an editor in New York. Not bad for a first attempt I reckon! In fact, I am about halfway through writing my second novel.

Will Cassandra’s words ever be published? I would have to possess the foresight of the Cassandra of myth to know the answer. But one thing I can tell you, just quietly, it’s going to be an adventure. I’m going to keep up the challenges to spur myself on. So I guess the ending to this beginning is just a request to read and enjoy my words in this space for mind dumps and random ramblings.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 encourages readers and reviewers to discover more books by Australian women. I have decided to take-up the challenge and focus on reading a range of romance and contemporary fiction by Australian women.

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Australian Women Writers 2014

Although in 2013 I was not officially signed-up for the challenge, I discovered a group of wonderful writers (new to me) including Rachel Johns, Amy Andrews, Helene Young, Kylie Ladd and Ally Blake. In 2014, I will aim to read and review at least ten books as part of the challenge. #aww2014

Romance reading binge: it’s not fattening

I can feel myself falling into the abyss again. No, no need for alarm, it’s not an emergency (although I do have a penchant for emergency services type uniforms on tall, dark and handsome young men). I have just fallen into a romance reading binge once again. As per the title, it’s not fattening, so why not?

I started the year by reading Easy by Tammara Webber. This was a touching, young adult read about a college student and the dating scene that can sometimes be fraught with danger. The college student world that the author depicted was quite realistic, down to the detail of kegger parties and consuming copious amounts of coffee to stay awake for early lectures. But without revealing a spoiler, the heroine learns a few tough lessons about trusting so-called friends and falling into relationships based on what is easy, rather than right. Highly recommended reading.

I’ve also been reading a couple of Australian women authors, in preparation for the 2014 Australian Women Writers challenge. I’ll work on writing a couple of reviews in the next few weeks.

Then on a visit to Big W today I decided to buy myself a little present. The romance shelf was calling me with her siren song…buy me, buy me. I can’t wait to get started soon. Harlequin Mills & Boon, what fun. Ally Blake is a great Aussie author too.

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Yes, I’m Tempted to Write

Today is deadline day. For the last two weeks I’ve been writing like some sort of romance-ninja hepped up on caffeine as part of the #TemptedToWrite short story competition run by Mills & Boon (Harlequin Books). This competition presented a challenge and I’d already decided to try to challenge myself with my writing this year. So I jumped in and got started. 10 questions, 10 days, 10,000 words. The competition ran from January to early February, in the lead up to Valentine’s Day. I could do that, sure I could. Hmmm.

 

It had been many years since I’d written a short story and once I got started, of course I found the experience quite different than writing my two unpublished novels. I’m very much a novice at the plotting and scheming side of fiction writing. I’ve discovered that I’m a ‘pantser’ i.e. I like to write by the seat of my pants. Usually, a bright and shiny new idea will come to me while I’m doing something mundane like brushing my teeth and then I try to work out if the story has legs.

 

Anyway, I soon discovered that the short story form presents some challenges, especially in the romance genre. Could my two characters really fall in love in only 10,000 words? I hoped I could convey some meaningful interaction between them and of course some heat (otherwise known as sexy times) in the course of a short story. I hope I’ve succeeded. In any case, it was a really great exercise for me as a writer, to answer so many questions about the characters, their motivations and what they would do in various situations, before I actually started to write the first scene. I don’t know that I will ever be a hardcore ‘plotter’ but this competition has helped me to find a happy medium and to think about key scenes and story length.

 

I also loved the social media aspect of this competition, forming an online community of like-minded (aspiring) romance authors. Much of the competition was run via Facebook and Twitter.

 

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The #TemptedToWrite competition run by Mills & Boon.

It’s been a real pleasure to virtually chat to the other participants, have a laugh and share each other’s pain in editing. I hope everyone else in the competition enjoyed it as much as I did.

I’m thinking of posting a snippet of my story on this blog soon. In the meantime though, I just wanted to rant a little and also say thanks to Mills & Boon for running such a great competition for aspiring authors. Bravo!

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10 ways e-books have changed my relationship with reading, for better or worse

This topic has been on my mind lately, as I have read lots of articles and blogs about e-books and changes in traditional publishing. Some of these writers have been all doom and gloom, predicting the end of authors’ livelihoods, printed books and possibly the world as we know it.

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In my own very unscientific study of one person (me) I’ve noticed my reading habits changing. I was given an Android tablet as a birthday present two years ago by my spunky husband. As an avid reader, he thought I’d enjoy being able to download and read books on the device.

It actually took me a while to get going. Although I know a few bits and bobs about websites and had also been a fan of online shopping for a few years, I found I had a bit to learn. Where to buy e-books, how to download them, what viewers or software I needed and how to view them best using my tablet. But since then, I’ve become something of an e-book addict.

It might be fitting to describe my relationship or love affair with e-books in terms of a marriage contract. Stick with me, this is going somewhere (I promise).

So, without further ado, here’s my list of the ten ways e-books have changed my relationship with reading:

1. Love. I love reading and read more books than ever before.

I’ve always loved books and reading. This hasn’t changed. Instead of buying a new paperback novel roughly once a week, I now buy several e-books a week. I don’t always have time to read all the books I’d like to, but that’s another story. So I’d estimate the total number of books I read has doubled, from approximately 50 to 100 in a year.

2. Honour. I now interact with authors who I admire and browse more books.

In this brave new world of social media and interactive forums, I’ve made contact with many authors. I love to honour the work and imagination of authors who I admire and let them know how much I enjoy their work.

Being a mother of young children and also working, I have limited time to wander through physical bookshops. Instead, I’ve discovered the pleasure to be had wandering through virtual bookstores, reading reviews and creating an online to be read (TBR) list. I often find the books I’ve enjoyed reading and then look-up an author’s complete backlist. This is much easier to do online than in a traditional bookshop. Also, I can browse anytime of the day or night.

3. Obey. Rather, I will NOT obey old-fashioned book reviewers.

I regularly read online reviews and recommendations, often by fellow readers. But I will not blindly obey whatever a professional book reviewer recommends I read. Book reviews in the past were always a bit hit and miss for me. I always found reviewers in the big newspapers could be relied on to elicit a groan. Did every book I read really need to be viewed as a potential literary classic or change my life? Could I not just read something light-hearted and entertaining? I noticed that a lot of the books I enjoyed most would not even rate a lot of reviews. Romance, science fiction, comedy, apparently these were not worthy of reviewers’ time.

The rise of independent book bloggers and humble readers like myself, willing to express their own opinions via the internet has changed all that. Not everyone likes this, but I do. I think there is room for many different voices in book reviewing and different ways to appreciate books. Fan-girling included.

4. To have and to hold. Do I need a physical book to hold?

I love books. I mean, as objects. I have two large bookshelves full of them and would probably buy more if I could physically store them. I love looking at book covers and flipping through the pages. But especially for new books or authors, I find e-books a great way to read. They are also fantastic for holidays or commuting. I can load up five e-books on my tablet without adding extra weight to my handbag or suitcase. Books I love and want to keep forever? Sure, I’ll buy a hardcopy too.

5. For richer or poorer. What price e-book happiness?

I now sample more books from new authors or those I’ve never read. This is partly a price consideration. I was always reluctant to spend $20 to $30 on a new hardcover or paperback book from an author who I’d never read, let alone buy a series. But when the price is lower, say between 99 cents and $8, I’m much more willing to give something new a try.

6. In sickness. Even if I’m feeling too busy or exhausted to read a book, I’ll pick up an e-book.

I’m not sure why this is true. Maybe when I’m tired I feel too daunted to pick-up a ‘fat’ book and start reading. An e-book seems more accessible sometimes. Also, I now read shorter, more contained books or books in series. Sometimes I do feel a bit of eye strain from too much screen-time, so shorter e-books are becoming my preference.

7. In health. Is it a good book? Did it make me smile or cry?

A healthy book to me, is one that leaves me feeling. All the feels. Smiles, laughter, tears or just phew, that was smokin’ hot! I post reviews and ratings of the books I’ve read and enjoyed or simply share the links on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t want to be indifferent to a book.

8. As long as we both shall live? Maybe until we separate.

These days, I am less likely to keep reading a book that hasn’t grabbed me from the beginning, or with characters I dislike.

I also make quicker decisions about books I might buy, maybe based on online recommendations. Then I often click-through to an e-book store to check the full details. There is an immediacy about e-book buying that makes it a bit of a spur of the moment decision.

9. I now pronounce you e-book and reader. Maybe a reader with multiple paramours.

I usually have a selection of e-books ready to go, then pick and choose which one to dive in to, depending on my mood. It may be a committed, long-term relationship, a brief affair, or I have been known to share the love around by dipping in and out of several e-books at a time.

10. You may now kiss your e-book. Or not.

I don’t get up close and personal with my books or read e-books in the bath! This probably applies to romance books more than others, but I’m not going there.

As I said, this is all very unscientific, top of mind stuff. Call me a rebel, but that’s just the way I roll. But I’d love to hear what other readers and writers think. Have e-books changed the way you read and was it for better or worse?

If you feel inspired, please leave a comment or feel free to pick up the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

Finalist in First Kiss writing contest

I had some exciting news on Easter Sunday night. I received a phone call from a contest organiser from the Romance Writers of Australia association, letting me know that I am a top 6 finalist in the First Kiss writing competition. Hooray! I was so excited I was fit to burst (I still am actually).

What is this contest, I hear you ask?

Well, it is an opportunity for unpublished writers like me, writing novels in the romance genre (or writing romantic elements stories) to submit a 1500 word scene for review by a panel of expert judges, including bestselling authors. The scene needed to include the first kiss between the main characters.

What is this novel of which I speak? Glad you asked that too.

Some of you might remember my earlier babbling here and on social media about the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) competition. I started writing a novel in November 2013 and although I didn’t finish it, I managed to write 35,000 in a month. I was off to a good start. I wrote a little more over the next couple of months, but the manuscript is still incomplete.

It’s a chick-lit or romantic comedy style novel, set in Melbourne with a bunch of wacky characters and possibly some superheroes. I can’t tell you too much…you’ll just have to read it someday if it’s ever published.

I decided to edit and polish my 1500 word scene for the contest and submit, just for the opportunity for the judges’ feedback and score sheets. I never expected to be listed as a finalist, but I did it! I was so very excited to see my name on ‘up in lights’ on the finalist list.

The final round will be judged over the next 4-6 weeks by a literary agent in New York. Wish me luck!

Writing like a nutcase (again)

…or So You Think You Can Write madness

So, I think I can write better than last year. Why yes, I do think so. Let me tell you why. I’ve been badly neglecting this blog lately, in favour of more writerly writing pursuits. I’ve set myself some serious goals this year, to pursue creative writing like someone has lit a rocket under me, and managed to take-off rather than just burn my butt.

Over the past nine months or so, I’ve been writing a romance novel manuscript in between attending writing workshops, the Romance Writers of Australia conference (which was an amazing experience), reading all the romance novels I can and basically learning how to write romance or popular fiction. Of course I’m also juggling my day job as a corporate communications advisor and my family life as a mother of two small ninjas…um, boys. And I’m loving every minute of it.

Just over a year has passed since I first seriously attempted to write a romance novel. At that stage, it had been a long time since I’d written fiction (not counting some media releases concocted during my PR days). As I tend to do, I decided to learn by doing and jumped in with both feet, entering the global So You Think You Can Write contest run by Harlequin/Mills & Boon.

Long story short, I didn’t progress to the finals of the contest, but I did complete a full manuscript, learned how to write a pitch and synopsis, read lots of entries by other romance writers…and I was hooked. I booked myself into some workshops to learn more about plot and structure, point of view (POV) and dialogue, joined my local writing organisations and found some online writing friends.

Then, I wrote, and wrote. In just over a year, I’ve completed two manuscripts and I have another partial sitting there, waiting for some love and attention. I entered some more contests, and guess what? I think I’ve learned some things. The feedback I have received has been getting better  each time and I even made the finals of the First Kiss contest in April 2014.

Recently, I submitted manuscripts to a couple of publishers and agents *bites nails* and I just need to wait and see how that pans out.

What goes around, comes around

Now, it’s So You Think You Can Write time again. I decided to enter after seriously weighing up the pros and cons:

Pros

  • So You Think You Can Write is an awesomely fun contest
  • The first place prize is the opportunity to be published by Harlequin, the biggest publisher of women’s fiction in the world – what writer wouldn’t squee at that?
  • 50 editors are looking at writers’ submissions
  • There’s the opportunity for feedback from fellow writers.

Cons

  • Your first chapter is published on the internet for anyone to read – this can be scary as an unpublished writer
  • Um, there really weren’t any other cons.

Whether or not I progress to the finals of this contest, it’s given me the impetus to put myself ‘out there’ again. Once again, I’ve enjoyed the social aspect of the contest on social media. I think I may be addicted. Did someone say Twitter? Tweet, tweet!

I’ve also loved seeing the online friends I’ve made over the past year improve their writing, set their own goals and push themselves to make things happen. A big wave to the Flash Mob on the Harlequin Community forums – you guys rock.

The first chapter of my manuscript is now live on the So You Think You Can Write website:

Up In The Air Over You – Chapter One

I’d appreciate it if you take the time to read it. Your comments are welcome too.

Down the genre rabbit hole: how to write out of a block

My poor, neglected blog. Hello, my old friend. It’s a relief to have something to blog about. For the past few months, I have been writing. In between other commitments. Writing a few words, here or there, on a few different projects. But I haven’t been feeling it. I haven’t been in the zone. I started to hate everything I was working on. What to do? Like Alice in Wonderland, one day I fell down a rabbit hole and haven’t looked back.

I did something different. Really different. I didn’t try to write contemporary romance or romantic comedy, or even women’s fiction. I had a mad idea for a story that was in a totally different, slightly oddball genre. And I wrote it. I mean, I sat down to write the opening scene and it kind of flowed out of me like the story was on tap. 12,000 words in just a couple of weeks.

I laughed while I was writing. It was ridiculous. How was it coming so easily, when everything I was trying to write was so difficult? I dreamed about the crazy, out there characters. It was weird, something completely different.

Apparently, it was exactly what I needed. I’d become bogged down in a genre-specific rut, reading and writing romance for months on end, and I couldn’t see what was in front of me. I certainly couldn’t tell whether I was writing anything interesting, sexy or funny anymore.

But this new story, it was kind of good. More importantly, it was there. Words on a page. Like I’d been thinking about it and simply willed it to appear.

So what did I do next? Something even madder. I invented a totally separate persona and self-published the story on Amazon. Just for fun. To see what happened. Do you know what? It became a bestseller in that new, slightly oddball genre. Only for a few days, but still, it happened.

Oh, and if you think I’m going to tell you my secret cross-genre identity, then I think you’ve lost your mind.

The best thing about this whole, mad experiment was that it freed my words. Now I’m writing something new, in a genre I love, and the words are flowing again. I somehow, incredibly, wrote my way out of my contemporary romance rut by falling down another genre rabbit-hole. And I’m going to do it again. Soon.

Banging out the words and writing like a pro

So it’s been a while since my last post. Because reasons. Life. Kids. Work. Winter. I mean, blergh, I’ve succumbed to quite a few germs lately. But in between all of that, I’ve been working on a couple of projects that I’m quietly excited about. Yay! Maybe not so quiet.

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Romance books – love writing them like a crazy person

First, I’ve written a short story of about 9000 words that should be published in a couple of months’ time in an anthology. More news on this development very soon. And a cover reveal coming. Squee!

The other project is a full-length novel that I’ve almost completed drafting. It’s a contemporary romance with humour. I recently entered the first three chapters of this manuscript in the Valerie Parv Award, a well regarded contest for unpublished writers of romance fiction run by Romance Writers of Australia. The competition was fierce, but I was thrilled to receive not one, but two perfect scores from the judges and another score in the 90 per cents… Not bad, and eighth place was better than a kick in the pants.

I’ve been busily writing away, adding words, completing scenes, bringing the plot together in some sane order (I hope) and it’s been such fun. I’m enjoying this project so much. Hopefully, I might find a publisher who enjoys it too.

More news coming very soon. I promise. Really.

Sweet and Spicy and all things nicey…

Cover reveal

I’m very excited to be able to share a cover design! This is the gorgeous cover for the upcoming Sweet and Spicy anthology being published by the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild to celebrate its 25th anniversary. And my short story, Chocolate Truffle Kiss, will be included. Yay!

Without further ado, here’s the cover:

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Sweet and Spicy romance anthology cover design. To be released by the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild in November 2015

To read more about this anthology, go to the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild blog. More details will be coming soon.