Prepare for take-off graphic

Blog tour excitement as Girl on a Plane takes flight

A blog tour…what is that, you may ask? Well, it’s like a whistle-stop tour of other people’s blogs, popping in to say ‘hi’ and telling them about yourself and your book. I’ve already been doing a bit of blog-hopping and you can find some of my recent guest posts on my links page.

Blog tour graphic August 2016

Blog tour August 2016

Now I’m super excited to share the news that my fabulous publisher, Avon Maze/HarperCollins UK had organised a blog tour for my debut novel, Girl on a Plane.

Some high-profile UK book bloggers are having me as a guest on their sites this week, chatting about writing, creativity, story setting, the inspiration behind my book and more.

The tour schedule so far is:

Excerpt – New day, new blog tour! Today I have the pleasure to kick off Cassandra O’Leary’s blog tour for her debut, GIRL ON A PLANE. It was published last month and is described as a sassy and sexy read perfect for fans of rom com. Of course, this includes me and I will be reviewing it soon, so stay tuned for that. In the mean time, I’d like to welcome lovely Cassandra to This Chick Reads and thank her for the amazing blog post…

Excerpt – Interview with Cassandra O’Leary, author of Girl on a PlaneSo, what have you written?
So far, I’ve written two complete novels and several partials (in the ‘ideas file’) and a few short stories…

Excerpt – What it’s like to be an author. I know a lot of you who read my blog love books as much as I do and one of the things I love to read is the sort of ‘behind the scences’ of some of my favourite books…

Excerpt – Hi guys, and happy Saturday! And welcome to the “short and sweet” blog tour for Cassandra O’Leary’s new novel – is it a bird? Is it a plane? – it’s “Girl on a Plane”! Just sit back and join me on board… and check all the other plane… I mean, blog tour, stops!

More news

I also hope to pop-in to see a couple more bloggers later in August…details to be confirmed.

You can also follow me on Twitter and on my Facebook author page to keep up to date with my latest news and guest posts or just say hello and I’m sure to have a chat. I really enjoy procrastinating…I mean, socialising on social media.

And don’t forget to join my newsletter mailing list to keep up to date with my writing and other happenings. Just fill-in the sign-up form on this website!

Hint: I’m planning a special giveaway coming up soon, so don’t forget to subscribe.

More news soon!

Woman freelancer on beach photo

6 reasons I quit my job to write

A few weeks ago, I made a big decision. Huge. It had been bubbling and brewing for quite some time in the back of my mind. I quit my day job to focus on writing. Gasp!

This is not to imply that I am in any way rich, or swanning about in a gold-plated bikini on a yacht, eating oysters and guzzling champagne. Nope. The husband and I have been working our behinds off for years to pay off our mortgage (done!) and we have enough money set aside to not freak out about minor set-backs such as kids needing dental work. We do, however, now need to rely on one main income and probably don’t have the cash to splash around on big holidays and stuff. And things.

I’ve been working for the same organisation for 10 years, and it struck me as a bit of a milestone. In much the same way that the big number 4-0 loomed at me a couple of years ago. That’s when I decided to get serious about fiction writing. For the 10 year work-a-versary, I thought, seriously, about how long I really wanted to stay and do the same thing.

I’ve had a long-winded career as a communications specialist and sometime marketing communications consultant. I know stuff about things, related to content writing, editing, PR, website structure, direct mail and print publications. Stuff. And things.

I know a lot about some of those things. Probably too much. It was time for a change, a fresh challenge and something to sink my teeth into. If I wasn’t going to do it in my forties, when would I?

So without further faffing about, here is my list of 6 reasons I quit my day job to focus on writing.

  1. Writing is fun. This might sound unimportant, but really it’s a BIG THING. I can’t tell you how many times someone at work had said, “that’s a big sigh”. I didn’t even realise all the air gushing was happening. Not a good sign.
  2. Money isn’t everything. Sure, it’s a big thing. But if I really wanted a six-figure salary and a team of people reporting to me, I could have had that a few years ago. I turned it down then, with good reason. I needed more time for my family, and that reason is as true now as it was then. We’ve been managing fine with an average income, not a super-stellar income.
  3. Work-work was killing my writing-work. This will be familiar to people with ‘brain jobs’. It would be easier to do something completely unrelated to writing at my day job, than to try to switch from dull corporate-speak writing to creative, descriptive writing. Pared-down technical or explanatory content and light and funny romance novels don’t really mix.
  4. I want to give writing a proper crack. By this I mean, I want to focus on it, complete a couple of manuscripts that have been hanging around for a year or so, and see what I can achieve. My debut novel, Girl on a Plane, is coming out in July, but I want to complete some other stories too!
  5. I love learning new things. Seriously, who learns all about writing a novel, social media and the ins and outs of the publishing industry in two years? I do! I love the challenge, and after working in one place and one industry for a long time, this part of my mind was crying out for something new.
  6. Commuting sucks! This is another reason that may sound silly, but each workday I was spending three hours in commuting time on overcrowded trains and dropping off kids at two different childcare locations. Over the course of a year, this was time-suckage on a major scale. I couldn’t get much writing done, because of the driving and then train-surfing (standing up, squished against other commuter-plebs). Now my kid drop-offs are much quicker and I’m straight back home to a quiet house to write.

So, long story short, I quit. Now I’m at home, trying to find a new routine defined by my own goals and timelines around my family life.

Was it a good decision, you may ask? So far, yes. It’s only been a couple of weeks, but I’ve written close to 11,000 words and my stress levels are much lower. The lack of money thing hasn’t reared it’s ugly head yet though…ask me in a few months.

By the way, if anyone wants to give me a gold-plated bikini or a yacht, I’ll be happy to acknowledge you in my next book. You can even be an international playboy or undercover princess/spy if you like.

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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!

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.

Image of heart shaped bookcase

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.

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.

LS Sealwhite(1) finalist (1)

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.

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