Friday, October 15, 2010

The Ghosts of Contests Past

 Romance is not
Click on the picture above to go to Mills & Boon

My guest is romance writer Jill Lynn Anderson. Jill and I originally met through a contest and have remained friends and are both of us are part of a large and very close writing group, The Writing Wombats.

 When Jill mentioned she had not only entered Mills and Boon New Voices Contest (she never said a word about entering) with her novel, WINDSONG, but was in the top ten finalists, I was over the moon! Why? Not only because she was a friend with great storytelling ability, but because she had at one time considered giving up writing.

I’ll let Jill tell you about that.

Thank you so much for inviting me to talk about being one of ten finalists in Mills & Boon New Voices contest, Sia.

I am one of the least competitive people you'll ever find, yet I've lost count of the number of writing contests I've entered over the years. My first "win" came from a silly entry into a contest an America Online writing group held for Mike Tyson recipes---this was soon after Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield's ear in their infamous match. As some of your blog followers are probably too young to even know about this, that gives an indication of how long ago this was. (Also shows my age LOL) My prize was a cookbook. A used one. Yet I was thrilled to win.

Once my writing took a more serious turn, I had two finished novels under my belt when I entered the first novel-writing contest at Gather. I was certain I would win. My novel is brilliant! Readers will recognize it as the masterpiece it is! Imagine my surprise when I was out on the first round.

I then entered my other novel into Gather's next novel contest--this one for romances--thinking I "might" win. Again, out on the first round.

Then came the first Amazon Break-Through Novel Award. I submitted the same novel I'd entered in the first Gather contest. Ah ha! I thought. New audience. They'll see this novel's brilliance! Entered. Out.

Second Amazon Break-Through Novel Award. I'd written another novel at this point, and worked hard to fine-tune my pitch, asked for feedback from all the Writing Wombats--whom I was fortunate to find during all those Gather writing contest--and polished, polished, polished. I just KNEW this was it. Entered. Out.

Although you'd think I'd be used to being out on the first round, I was devastated this time. To the point that I'd decided to give up. Not just give up on contests, but on writing completely. I'm not an, ‘I have to write' type writer anyway, and decided there were other, less time-consuming outlets for my creativity. For me, the satisfaction I get out of writing isn't complete without also having readers at the other end. Between the rejections I was receiving from literary agents and the contest losses, my disillusionment was complete. Four novels no one was ever going to read were enough.

But then...

I took two stories I'd written for the fun contests we Writing Wombats have a couple times of year and submitted them to publishers. One was a dark humor piece I'd written for our Phantasmorgia contest at Halloween time (mind you, I didn't win our contest), and it became my first publishing credit when it was published in an anthology "Night Bird Singing in the Dead of Night." My second publishing credit came when I submitted what I'd written for our Valentine's Day contest to Woman's World magazine. Peach- Flavored Kisses was published in their final issue of 2009.

So, I figured though I wasn't winning contests, good did come out of them. Still, when someone mentioned the New Voices contest, I was reluctant to enter. I'd just started writing again after the five-month hiatus that followed my devastation from the Amazon contest. Did I really want to put myself there again? Besides, my category romance was in first person, which Mills & Boon rarely publishes, AND I don't introduce my hero until chapter two. I'd already broken two romance book "rules", but entered a couple days before deadline with a what-the-heck attitude. I KNEW I'd never get past the first round.

Imagine my surprise...

  • I'm not surprised, it's a good story, Jill. How do we go about casting a vote for you? Will I have to do anything special to gain access to your first two chapters? Can I comment on the story if I want to?  
Thanks for asking, Sia. Voting is a bit tricky. Readers clicked one to five roses to rate our first chapters, and they still show up on our pages, but aren't clickable in this round of the competition.

To vote in this second-chapter round, readers register at, and receive an e-mail with a link to click (to verify they're not robots LOL). Once logged in, a "Cast your Vote" button is on the left side of the site's main page. Clicking on that brings up the top ten. Once there, readers can read first chapters, second chapters, leave comments, and vote.

In this round of the competition, the four entries with the highest scores go onto the final round and will post a pivotal scene for readers to judge. The grand-prize winner is announced on November 1st.

Oh, mine is WINDSONG! See? I told you I'm not very good at the competing part.

  • Jill, I'm wishing you the best on this contest. Anything you'd like to add or ask readers?

Thank you, again, Sia. Instead of ending with a question, I'll just ask that everyone instead wish YOU a happy birthday. You, birthday girl, are a winner in all of our books!

Aww, Jill. Thank you sweetie.

Here's Windsong's Summary:

Journalist Lexie Gray enters the Witness Security Program and plans to write a tell-all about the secretive program. But, when she falls in love with the U.S. Marshal protecting her, her hard-hitting exposé softens into a romantic memoir. Chapter One Excerpt
~ * ~ * ~

Jill Lynn Anderson has published several short stories. Jill writes mainstream and romance fiction in a little office in her petite home located in an itsy-bitsy Pennsylvania town. To compensate for all the smallness, she thinks and dreams BIG.

Go Jill Go!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Balancing The Unknown With The Familiar

It’s my pleasure to have Sci-Fi adventure debut author, Alex J. Cavanaugh, as my guest.

My first contact with Alex was seeing this really cool trailer of his book a blogger friend had on her blog (Helen Ginger, Straight From Hel). I asked her to pass on my compliments to Alex. I *met* Alex a bit later, read his blog when I had the chance and then read the preview of his book and being a Sci-Fi fan, I knew I wanted him to be a guest on Over Coffee. I was curious, you see, how he handled promoting a debut book and juggled life. Especially so when I found out that before he had a book out he had no internet presence. I don’t hear that very often. So Alex agreed to visit and tell us how all of this came about.   

Sia, thanks again for allowing me to visit and amuse your readers. I have to confess, I don’t drink coffee, but a Dr. Pepper would be great! Now, where to begin…

I’m the type of person who enjoys normalcy and a daily routine, but writing forced me out of my comfort zone and into a new world of blogging, promoting, and other opportunities. Forcing those two worlds to co-exist is like blending oil and vinegar. Not impossible (keep shaking) but it’s a big challenge for me.

Most people know I’m a private person who relishes stability. I don’t like disruptions in my world. My wife moves a piece of furniture and I’m instantly annoyed. I had to accept changes would occur, though. Life as I knew it would be turned upside down.

I never intended for writing to replace my day job. I certainly never anticipated a sequel! (I’m working on one right now, but progress is slow. Maybe after CassaStar’s release I’ll have time to complete it.) I just decided to tackle a story I’d begun as a teen and see what happened. Little did I know that I would be on this author path, doing my best to promote my book.

Unlike most writers, I had no web presence until after signing the contract for my book. Again, I just never expected it to happen! I envy writers who already blog and socialize. I had to hit the ground running hard.

I started blogging first, and it was such a new experience. I had no idea what I was doing and floundered through the first few months. By some miracle, I started to pick up followers, and through the course of a few challenges and blogfests, I gained a lot of followers. My time online went from fifteen minutes to two-three hours a day. I’m fortunate that I can blog from work, (multiple computers on my desk are a blessing), but it still takes time – time from my family and my writing.

Of course, it’s had incredible benefits. I used to think it was silly – how could I be friends with someone I’ve never met? But, I’ve made some really great friends online. Bloggers are so supportive of each other – it’s just amazing. They keep me going, especially on days when I’m dragging.

Yeah, I won’t lie to anyone. Promoting a book is time-consuming and stressful. There are days when I think back to my life before all this and wonder… what the heck was I thinking?

It all comes back to balancing those two worlds.

Free moments are rare now. There’s always some detail or promotional item that requires my attention. However, I’ve learned when to just shut it down and take some time for me.

Sometimes I’ll chill with a movie or TV show. Those who follow my blog know I’m a NetFlix and Hulu junkie. It’s my chance to escape. I often listen to music, too. And play music! I own three guitars and practice every single night. Nothing relaxes me more than thirty minutes strumming some tunes. (Well. almost nothing!)

And that reminds me of the one person I didn’t want my author status to affect – my wife. Some days it really sucks, too. I know she’s sacrificed so much. With little or no complaint, I might add. Makes me feel like a schmuck. But if it weren’t for her encouragement, I wouldn’t be on this path. I wouldn’t have written this story or pursued it past my own satisfaction.

Balancing the unknown with the familiar? It’s tough some days. But, I think if writers keep it in perspective and understand that things will be out of balance for a while, it’ll be all right.

After all, we didn’t get into this to drive ourselves insane, did we?

We started writing because we had a story to tell!

CassStar Blurb:
To pilot the fleet’s finest ship…

Few options remain for Byron. A talented but stubborn young man with a troubled past and rebellious attitude, his cockpit skills are his only hope. Slated to train as a Cosbolt fighter pilot, Byron is determined to prove his worth and begin a new life as he sets off for the moon base of Guaard.

Much to Byron’s chagrin, the toughest instructor in the fleet takes notice of the young pilot. Haunted by a past tragedy, Bassa eventually sees through Byron's tough exterior and insolence. When a secret talent is revealed during training, Bassa feels compelled to help Byron achieve his full potential.

As war brews on the edge of space, time is running short. Byron requires a navigator of exceptional quality to survive, and Bassa must make a decision that could well decide the fate of both men. Will their skills be enough as they embark on a mission that may stretch their abilities to the limit? Trailer Excerpt

“…calls to mind the youthful focus of Robert Heinlein’s early military sf, as well as the excitement of space opera epitomized by the many Star Wars novels. Fast-paced military action and a youthful protagonist make this a good choice for both young adult and adult fans of space wars.” - Library Journal

Buy: AmazonBARNES & NOBLE,  Books A Million.  Also available in eBook format for iPad, Nook, and others

~ * ~ * ~

Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design and graphics. He’s experienced in technical editing and worked with an adult literacy program for several years. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Currently he lives in the Carolinas with his wife.

Monday, October 11, 2010

REVIEWS—New Holiday Story Releases

I recently read two Advance Reader Copies of two quintessential holiday reads. I hadn't read either author prior to this but these won't be the last books from these authors I'll read.

I thought I'd share them with you here. I also ask you to bear with me for invoking Christmas in mid-October. Me and the stores, huh? Can't escape it, can you?

The first story is written by Sheila Roberts and she will be my guest on October 29th. 

The Snow Globe

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Format: Hardcover, 176 pages
On Sale: October 26, 2010
Price: $10. 80
Rating: 4 stars

Back Cover Blurb:

On a blustery afternoon, Kiley Gray wanders into an antique shop and buys a beautiful snow globe.

“There’s a story behind that snow globe,” the antique dealer tells her, and explains that the original owner lost his wife and son right before Christmas. When he received the handcrafted snow globe as a Christmas present, the grieving widower saw the image of a beautiful woman beneath the glass—a woman who would eventually come into his life, mend his broken heart and bring him back to the world of the living. For years, the snow globe has passed from generation to generation, somehow always landing in the hands of a person in special need of a Christmas miracle.

When Kiley shares the story with her best friends—two women with troubles of their own—they don’t believe it. But they’re about to discover that at Christmastime, sometimes the impossible becomes possible and miracles really do come true.

My thoughts:

The whole season of Christmas is based on miracles but in our day and age, few believe in the phenomenon.

Ms. Roberts tells a lighthearted and fun tale of three women who, despite diverging lifestyles, have remained friends through thick and thin, good times and bad. Each is facing a crisis in their personal lives. All three are dreading Christmas for differing reasons. They don’t know it, but each is in need of a bit of Christmas magic.

Kiley has lost a job and a fiancé—to her sister no less. Heart sore and depressed she allows her two best friends to take her for a weekend get away. While window shopping Kiley feels drawn to antique store and goes in and sees an old-fashioned snow globe, which she buys. When she relays the story the shopkeeper told her to her friends they don’t believe it. But Kiley believes.

"Actually, Kiley was a big believer, period. She’d been sure Santa was real until she was ten and even after waking up on Christmas Eve to discover her father hanging her filled stocking on the mantel, she kept pretending for another two years. She’d believed in Prince Charming and Mr. Right clear through college. She’d even believed in happy endings until just this past October when her boyfriend, Jeremy Horne, dumped her at her own Halloween party (how was that for tacky?) announcing that he couldn’t fight his attraction for her sister any longer."

When Kiley’s vision comes true she decides to pass the snow globe and it’s magical gift to each of her best friends. What ensues is a heartwarming, fun story about the power of miracles.

I love stories that combine the magic of Christmas and a touch of the supernatural. This one is a real winner and a perfect read for the holidays!

 Book Two:

An Amish Christmas
Author: Cynthia Keller
Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
On Sale: October 26, 2010
Price: $16.00
Rating:  4 stars

Back Cover Blurb:

Meg Hobart has everything: a happy marriage to a handsome, successful husband, a beautiful home in Charlotte, North Carolina, and three wonderful children. But it all comes crashing down around her the day she learns that her husband, James, has been living a lie—and has brought the family to financial ruin. Penniless and homeless, the Hobarts pack up what little they still possess and leave behind their golden life for good. But it’s not the material things Meg finds herself mourning. Instead, she misses the certainty that she should remain married to James, who has betrayed her trust so thoughtlessly. Worse, she is suddenly very aware of just how spoiled her children have become. Meg wonders what her family has really sacrificed in their pursuit of the American dream.

A frightening twist of fate forces the Hobarts to take refuge with a kind Amish family in Pennsylvania, where they find themselves in a home with no computers, no cell phones, nothing the children consider fashionable or fun. Her uncooperative brood confined to the Amish world of hard work and tradition, their futures entirely uncertain, Meg fears she can never make her family whole again.

Celebrating life’s simplest but most essential values, packed with laughter and tears, this is a story of forgiveness and the power of love. You will never forget the special moment in time that is An Amish Christmas.

My thoughts:

A family is supposed to be one of our greatest joys and the bedrock of our society. The sad fact is, for the most part, we’ve lost the concept of working together as a unit for the benefit of the family. In today’s world there are so many conflicts, financial problems, and so many gadgets to distract us from what a family is all about. A person’s worth is defined by their financial standing which seems to give the whole family, and children especially, a false sense of entitlement. It also creates spoiled, disrespectful children who have, along with the parents, lost sight of the qualities of love, mutual respect, the value of spending time as a family. These are some to the common issues Cynthia Keller deals with in An Amish Christmas.

It truly is a heartwarming story of a family reconnecting and learning what truly is important is each other and not what they have or don’t have. Important lessons of forgiveness and love and there is a scene in the book that really brings that message home to the Hobarts.

Just before Christmas, the Hobart and Lutz teens are trusted to take homemade goods to a town store where they are sold. The buggy belongs Jonathan, one of the oldest Lutz siblings, and is special but he trusts his brother to drive it into town. Young Will Hobart tries driving the buggy—he’s not supposed to, and an accident occurs. Amanda Lutz is injured when the buggy overturns, the buggy and baked goods are destroyed, and a trip to the hospital is necessary. This is a scenario that could cause all sorts of blame, anger, and division. Meg and James Hobart are absolutely appalled by their son’s carelessness in the face of such open generosity of the Lutz family. The Amish family assigns no blame and totally refrains from putting the Hobart teens in a defensive stance. The next morning, James and Meg are sick at heart and have no idea what to expect; Lizzie and Will were “pale and practically shaking with guilt.” Both families step up to replace the destroyed goods to meet their obligation to the store. The huge Lutz family warmly welcomes the Hobart women into the kitchen to help. The men welcome James and Will to repair the buggy. What’s done is done and forgiveness extended, but now there are things that must be fixed.

The stalwart sense of values the Amish family has touches the whole Hobart clan and gives them a better set of lenses to look at both the world around them and themselves.

An Amish Christmas is well paced, has strong, well-defined characters and emotional impact. It was a story I truly enjoyed reading.