My First Writer Retreat Was a Blast! And Marlene Winners Were Revealed…

In my last post I mentioned that I was off to the unknown adventure that was the Washington Romance Writers retreat. I had no idea what to expect, got a ride and shared a room with someone I met that day and just generally hoped for the best.

All I can say is that the retreat far exceeded my expectations!

The Atmosphere Was Intimate and Collegial

What I loved most about it was that it was intimate. Only about 120 people were there including authors who had published dozens of books and others who were hoping to one day get published like me. The group was diverse in every sense of the word—from genre (ranging from paranormal romance to women’s fiction) to location to race to age. And it wasn’t just writers in attendance—top agents and editors were there, including one from St. Martin’s Press.

In addition to the small number, the atmosphere was collegial because there was no distinction in terms of activities, seating arrangements, etc.—all of our meals were together (remember- no room service!),  so you could sit at the same table as these accomplished authors, editors and agents. (I ended up having a really informative conversation with an agent I wanted to pitch to, but couldn’t get on her schedule and definitely plan on sending her a query letter!!) The same was true with the night activities—the people on the panels during the day were the same ones singing karaoke that night. There were also a ton of useful panels and workshops.

The experience was both inspiring and fulfilling.  When I got there I knew no one, when I left I felt really connected to a lot of people who could share this experience of sitting down and writing a novel.

Marlene Contest and Pitch Sessions

I did not win the Marlene contest, but I did not expect that I would! Several of the other finalists had already been published for goodness sakes! I was one of the few Marlene finalists in attendance, however, so that was cool.

I also did four pitch sessions—three editors and one agent. I was so nervous, but the more I saw them all drinking and hanging out, the less worried I got. When I finally did meet with them, they were all open to my idea, and asked that I send them chapters or pages—but only when I’m done (which I’m not)! No rush they said!

Note that this alone would have made the trip worthwhile. Half the battle in this game (I’ve heard), is just getting the agent to respond and ask for pages. It turns out in these pitch sessions, many of the agents/editors will just ask for pages if the concept falls within what they represent because, unsurprisingly, authors are notoriously horrible at pitching their books in this fashion lol. Also—you can’t really make a decision on a novel when you haven’t read a single page.

And The Speakers Were Awesome

Other highlights included the speakers—Liliana Hart, Robin Perini and Cathy Maxwell. Liliana had these sky-high heels and talked about how we all understood each other simply because we were writers (and overall gave a hilarious speech). Robin Perini had some incredibly helpful tips on organizing your novel and developing strong characters and Cathy Maxwell, who gave the final speech, was so, so, so inspiring. One of the best author-speakers I’ve seen—she talked about continuing to find inspiration and passion when writing because more like work—a lesson applicable to newbies and accomplished writers alike.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Best part is the retreat is a gift that keeps on giving. I learned that Washington Romance Writers is actually a great organization to be part of. Membership is only about $30, and with that you have access to free workshops in the DMV area that I believe are monthly. Numerous people told me that the workshops are incredibly impressive and definitely worth the small membership fee.

Ultimately, I left inspired, eager to work, and having made many new friends and contacts. I really felt like I was part of the community, and I highly recommend the retreat to others in the future!!


Off to My First Writing Retreat…

Hi friends!

I’m currently packing to head to the Washington Romance Writers retreat in Westminster, Maryland.  Where?  A place where apparently no public transit is available.  For native New Yorkers like myself who are afraid to drive alone, this means hitching a ride with my ROOMMATE.  Yup, I have a roommate.  We will meet for the first time when she picks me up.  Thankfully, I’ve volunteered for the Obama campaign before, so this is actually not the first time I’ve been in this exact situation (thanks stranger for that ride to Philly back in ’08!)

Anyway, I checked the hotel amenities–no fitness center, no room service, no spa. McDonalds is listed under the Dining page.   You know what this means though?  That I will actually make progress on my novel this weekend!  Forced to do my least favorite thing-editing!! The final stretch!!

Also, (and this is the exciting part) I will be meeting with two editors at publishing houses (including one at the BIG SIX) and one agent!  Ten minutes each.  And of course Marlene contest winners will be announced. :D I expect this to be an interesting writing adventure.  Can’t wait!! (For real though, I think this will be fun…)



Can I Write A Novel About Minorities Without Using the Word “Milk-Chocolate”?

I’m writing a novel that includes many minorities, and I feel like I should give the reader characters who have more than just “cocoa,” “milk-chocolate,” “caramel” or “coffee”-colored skin.  I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with these descriptions,* but I can’t help but think that there has got to be another way to indicate to the world that a character is not white.  Frankly, I’m just over all of these terms.  I’ve heard them so many times!

One goal I had for my novel was not to use any of the above quoted words to describe characters.

Aaand, so far I’ve failed.  So the answer to the question in the headline is apparently no.

I just scanned through my manuscript and it looks like in moments of weakness I’ve used one or two of these terms, including milk chocolate. Womp.  But I was so proud of myself for using metaphors like “chestnuts,” “wheat” and “peanut butter that has been mixed with remnants of jelly after careless double dipping of a knife” (hey- the last one was a comparison made by a child’s mind- it makes sense!) I guess I was so caught up in those victories, I completely forgot about all the other non-interesting words I used to describe a person’s skin tone.  Thankfully, I’m still at the editing stage!

But seriously, there’s gotta be more options out there right?  And maybe a metaphor/simile that doesn’t include food?

The last time I had this discussion with someone, they suggested I use the word dirt.

Ok, I get it.  It’s brown.  But it’s not just about the color, you know?  It’s about the image the metaphor brings to your mind.  That’s why “mahagony wood” is awesome.  You don’t just imagine a brownish color, but also a smooth, glowing texture.  Something beautiful.  If I say “his skin was like dirt” you’d think of something that was brown, but also dry and full of pot marks.  Wait a minute—maybe I can use dirt. Note to self.

Or maybe I should try to think of more creative foods.  J.K. Rowling described someone’s skin as being the color of “corned beef” in the Cuckoo’s Calling.  She writes,

Detective Inspector Roy Carver’s temper was mounting.  A paunchy man with a face the color of corned beef, whose shirts were usually ringed with sweat around the armpits…

I’m staring at the google image right now trying to figure out if that’s really the image she was trying convey.

Corned beef

Photo by Larry Hoffman

Actually, as I look at it, the Detective might in fact be a white guy who is perpetually red-faced.  This whole time I thought for sure he was black (or otherwise a minority).  I thought with “corned beef” she was just trying to say his skin was brownish-red.  Maybe she was.

(Note: This is a really embarrassing display of my lack of knowledge of corned beef.  Would the picture above be different if it was, like, cooked more?)

Here’s another image I found:

corned beef2Photo by TheCulinaryGeek (Creative Commons)

I think that’s more what I was thinking.  But is that what she meant? I’m so confused.

Either way,  regardless of the race of the person JK was describing, corned beef is still an indisputably creative way to describe a person.  And I’m not saying it’s only hard to find creative ways to describe minorities–it’s hard to creatively describe anyone or anything; however, I do feel like 90% of descriptions of black people in fiction use one of the words I quoted above (and below).

In the spirit of the other blog I write for,  The Write Practice, here is a writing prompt for you:  describe a non-white character without using the words “cocoa,” “chocolate,” “caramel,” “coffee,” or “mahogony.”  Feel free to share in the comments!

*Actually there is something inherently wrong with using the word “coffee”.  I may imagine black coffee, you may imagine coffee with lots of milk.  Another person may imagine it with a little bit of milk.  Too many interpretations.