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.

AWW 2014 badge

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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Confessions of a writing contest junkie

This blog post was originally published on the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild site on 14th February 2016. However it has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day. Did I plan that badly? Sigh…

I’ve been entering writing contests for just over two years. I did the maths in my head and realised in that time, I’ve entered about 15 contests. I know I may have a minor writing contest addiction problem.

What’s a writing contest?

This is what my family and friends asked me when I first entered one in mid-2013. I hardly knew the answer at the time, having just decided to get serious about creative writing for the first time in (mumble, mumble) years.

For the uninitiated, writing contests are run by publishers and writing organisations such as Romance Writers of Australia and offer the opportunity to:

  • win a prize, sometimes cash, often a publishing contract
  • gain feedback from fellow writers or editors
  • develop your writing, working to specific guidelines
  • finish something, in time for a contest deadline
  • grow your network of writer contacts
  • avoid the ‘slush pile’ of unsolicited manuscripts
  • get your work ‘out there’ in front of key editors, agents and publishers.

Romance novel contest leads to madness…

My little problem started in 2013 when I joined Twitter and started following authors I admired, then a few publishers. I stumbled across a little thing called So You Think You Can Write or #sytycw in Twitter hashtag speak. This is a global writing contest run by Harlequin, one of the biggest romance publishers in the world. A publishing contract was on offer for the winner, but not only that, a squad of fifty editors were on hand to provide tips and feedback.

I asked myself, “Could I write a romance novel?” and despite never having tried before, I answered, “Why the hell not?” I started to write, and I loved it. Was it mad to try to write my first novel in three months? Of course it was, but I’m so glad I did it.

This contest taught me so much about writing, it’s not even funny. I participated in online ‘boot camp’ activities such as writing a 100 word pitch and a synopsis, having work critiqued by other aspiring writers. I was also selected for a first page critique by an editor, which was so valuable it should have been sprinkled with gold dust.

I also had barrels of fun interacting with the other entrants on Twitter and Facebook, and made heaps of writer friends. Some of them formed the core of an international online writing group I still hang out with.

Twitter pitch opportunities

Twitter pitch contests such as PitMad (Pitch Madness) or #pitmad hosted by author Brenda Drake, offer writers the chance to pitch their book in 140 characters or less. Try it! It’s really hard and will make you crazy! Editors/publishers and agents watch the tweets over the course of a day and favourite the ones they’re interested in. Then writers can send it manuscripts or queries in the requested format. Warning: this contest can be really fun and addictive!

Also, look out for regular Manuscript Wishlist or #mswl tweets and other specific calls for manuscripts.

Publisher ‘open call’ contests

Publisher contests offer the chance to post a pitch or blurb relevant to a particular call for submissions. Some examples are the Entangled Publishing blog wishlists or the recent Tule Publishing ‘Pillow Talk’ contest for the new Eros imprint.

The Harlequin Community runs regular writing challenges and series contests e.g. the recent ‘Blaze Blitz’. I know several writers who have fast-tracked their way into book contracts through these types of smaller, more specific contests.

So, follow publishers on Facebook and Twitter, subscribe to their blog pages and keep an eye out for those opportunities. Get to it!

Romance Writers of Australia contests

I was recently chatting to some other emerging authors and realised that the Romance Writers of Australia contests are probably the most helpful thing I’ve done to improve my writing. I started with the First Kiss contest (and was a finalist!) then entered the Valerie Parv Award twice, not making the finals but doing pretty well, also the Emerald Award and Ripping Start were good learning experiences.

I haven’t entered any of the published author contests…yet. I can’t wait until I can.

International romance writing contests

Last year I entered (and came third!) in the Lone Star contest, run by Northwest Houston Romance Writers of America.

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My Lone Star contest 2015 finalist badge – any excuse to re-blog about this!

Most of the US state-based chapters of RWA run contests, many open internationally. The Golden Heart is the big contest for unpublished authors with a full manuscript ready to go.

In return for a small entry fee, you gain feedback from authors more familiar with the US market, your specific sub-genre or simply offer a different perspective. You might not always agree with the feedback but it can be an eye-opener. For example, if that anonymous US judge is reading this, I still don’t agree that ‘British’ English is wrong or distracting…

See the Romance Writers of America website for details or check websites such as Stephie Smith’s writing contest list for contests coming up across multiple genres.

What I’ve learned as a contest junkie

  • They’re fun! The online contests especially have a sense of community and excitement.
  • They offer great insights into your work. You might have to sit back and mull over some of the feedback for a while, or even rant a little if it’s negative, but it’s all a learning experience.
  • They don’t hurt. I was slightly terrified of entering a US contest. I thought, small fish, big pond, they’re going to hate me and I’ll do terribly badly. I was wrong.
  • They give you something to shoot for. A deadline, a goal, a reason to think of a new idea, all of these reasons are gold.
  • They could raise your profile. If you’re working away in your writing cave, getting ready to submit a manuscript, a writing contest credit on your website or in your query letter may help you get noticed (I’m hoping).

As I wait patiently (crazily) to announce something related to another international writing contest, I’m toying with entering (you guessed it!) another writing contest.

It’s the circle of life for a writing contest junkie.

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10 real answers to the question: How is the writing going?

One of the most common things people ask if you’ve ‘come out’ as an aspiring writer, is “How is the writing going?” They are generally trying to be friendly or chatty, I understand. Really, I do.

So why is it that sometimes it feels like that question is prying, trying to access the murky depths of wobbly writerly weirdness that is the mind? Or my mind, at least. I only ask because I’ve been asked the question about eleventy billion times.

The polite and reasonable answer is, “Good!”–even if it’s not entirely true. Even the most polite questioners usually have no idea of receiving an honest answer. But I’m going to attempt it now. Are you ready? Good.

Here’s my list of ten possible real answers to the question about how my writing is going.

10 real answers to the pesky writing question (instead of “Good!”)

  1. I’m writing like an absolute machine. Seriously, it reads like a robot has written it.
  2. I’m up to draft number seven and I’m not sure of the main character’s name yet. She won’t ‘speak’ to me. I think she hates me.
  3. There’s some sort of theme underlying all the references to cupcakes and coffee in my manuscript, but I can’t work it out. I’ll just go for a coffee break…and maybe buy a cupcake.
  4. My kids are demanding things like food and clean clothes and that I actually respond to them when they speak. How is a writer supposed to concentrate in such circumstances, let alone write a sexy scene? (Secret tip: ABC for Kids is awesome)
  5. Well, let’s see. I have a half written scene open on my laptop, which I stare at and then read some Facebook posts. Then I look up exotic locations on Google Maps and imagine my characters there. Then I close the laptop.
  6. It’s all flowing at the moment, it’s like magic. Don’t talk about it or you might jinx it.
  7. There’s this half-written manuscript on my laptop that’s annoying me, because I just realised where the bad guy’s drugs are hidden. I haven’t been working on the story for over a year, and I have another manuscript to finish right now. Weird.
  8. I wrote for two hours and I think I have one good sentence. That’s okay, I’m counting that as winning.
  9. Coffee. I need coffee. Someone bring me coffee.
  10. I think this is alright. I just read over the earlier chapters and they are even interesting. Kind of. A bit of editing and it should polish up nicely.

AAAARRRRGGGH! Editing! Don’t even talk about it.

Oh, and one more bonus answer before I go.

11) I’m scared to open my manuscript right now. I wrote a blog post instead.

Image courtesy of tigger11th at FreeDigitalPhotos.net