Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do You Slump When You Work, or Proper Posture at Your Computer

Do you spend hours every day sitting down at the screen typing away?  Ask yourself these questions to see if you're stressing your body by not doing it properly!

  • Do your ears line up with your shoulders and hips (like they should if you are sitting up straight)?
  • Is the top of your screen at forehead level?  (hard to do if you're on a laptop!)
  • Are your mouse and keyboard directly in front of you at elbow height?  (The answer is 'no' if you're sitting at a desk or table with your laptop.)  (Your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees.) 
  • Is your upper arm hanging straight down?
  • Is your lower back supported by the backrest of your chair? 
  • Feet flat on floor, thighs parallel to floor?
  • Don''t forget to walk around and "circulate" regularly, as well as get regular exercise.

And here's a picture of proper hand posture:


My office has a semi-ergonomic setup, and I'm working on making it better.  I just bought a large monitor that I can connect up to my laptop that is at eye level.  Trouble is, I often get sick of working there and tend to take my laptop to work in a sunny room, especially when the weather is nice.  So I often catch myself slumped over my laptop, squinting at the screen.

Here's to proper posture to increase our endurance while we work!  Now, if someone could only come up with a few more hours in each day...


PT handout:  A Self-Guided Ergonomic Assessment for the Seated Compouter Operator E.K. Benner,, M.A., P.T., O.C.S.



Friday, March 25, 2011

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates...

"...you never know what you're gonna get."  Forrest Gump was right.  And it looks like this year, I didn't get a Golden Heart final, nor did some of my very talented friends. 

But for those who did, Congratulations!   You were recognized for your talent and determination, and you earned it!

The GH lists are not quite complete, but I did recognize many of the names on the list.  Which makes me excited, because we are part of a community.  And seeing others succeed who have worked so hard is proof that hard work does bring results.

So today, since I just dipped into my emergency hidden stash of Ghirardelli Luxe Milk Almond Squares, I thought I'd post some facts about chocolate to put all of us non-winners into a better mood.

Chocolate is a natural antidepressant because it produces serotonin in your body.  And a natural aphrodisiac because of the procuction of phenylethylamine, the chemical we produce when we're in love.

So next time you're writing that love scene, break out the chocolate!

Scientifically speaking, chocolate is NOT addictive (but not to my body).

1.4 ounces of dark chocolate  lowers cortisol and catecholamines, reducing anxiety, thus helping you get that job done and deal with stresses, like not winning the GH.

Dark chocolate has more antioxidants than light, but 71% of Americans prefer light.

The ancient Aztecs drank it, as did the folks in Regency England, often in coffee houses, the precursors to our Starbucks.  It was served in tall cups with milk added.

Cocoa powder was produced in the 18th century, and made by a machine for the first time in 1828.  At home, people carefully cooked chocolate or cocoa wtih milk and flavorings in a chocolate pot (that resembled a samovar with legs).  In the coffee house, it would be whipped to a froth (just like a Starbucks cappuchino, coming right up!)

So, Gals, drink it or eat it, but then we're going to do our BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) and write those stories.

Because we're writers, and GH or not, that's what we do.   


20-20 Site 

The Jane Austen Centre Magazine 

Monday, March 21, 2011

It's Golden Heart Week

It's the week we've all been waiting for!  Doesn't last November, when we cautiously and optimistically FedEx'd our bulging packages full of manuscript copies and binder clips goodbye on the crisp autumn breeze, seem SO long ago?

On Friday, the calls go out from RWA to the winners of the Golden Heart Contest for unpublished writers.  I'm very excited because this year, I know so many more people who are "going for the gold" thanks to Cyndi D'Alba setting up a loop for a bunch of us who entered.  Plus, I have friends who are anxiously (or not so anxiously) holding their breath.

I'll be following the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood all week.  They are posting GH-related topics all week.  Today's was "T-minus Four and Counting to Golden Heart Day." 

It was a great hoot to follow their blog last year where they celebrated with everyone's announcements as they happened, and the winners often stopped in to say hi and give their reactions.

To the friends I know who entered, GOOD LUCK!!!   

See you all on Friday--I am going to stock up on my secret chocolate stash for fortitude!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Brain Fatigue and Maturing Your Manuscript

I really hate brain fatigue.  The kind that prevents you from seeing mistakes.  When you work on a manuscript day in and day out, you are bound to get it.  Here are the top three annoying mistakes I often make and then catch only after I've had a rest from a manuscript:

--I use the same words, especially verbs and adjectives, over and over, within a short space of one another.   Don't know why, just happens.  Seems like it happens more with the more unusual words--like my brain thinks they are clever and wants to keep using them.

--I lose my ear for good dialogue.  Even if I think it's good at the time, it doesn't sound so good later.

--I sacrifice emotional depth to plot.  I think it's all I can do to get the plot down the first couple of go-rounds.   Have to really think and make connections and layer in emotional conflict as time goes on.

These are all reasons why writing is not a solitary profession after all.  I used to think it was.  But connections are made and ideas are grown when work is shared...not to mention, mistakes are fixed!

I entered my newest manuscript into the Golden Heart last fall, but it has "ripened" and changed a lot since then.  Seems like my writing needs this time to be re-thought out and given depth through draft after draft.

I wonder, with experience, do you make less of these errors?  Do you "get it" quicker?

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Ethics of Coordinating a Contest

A little while ago I did a post on the difficulties of judging the GH.  Today I have some comments on being a category coordinator for my local RWA chapter contest.  Judging the GH was a piece of cake compared to this job!

I have a new appreciation for the ethical dilemmas of contest coordinators.  For new judges--making sure they are mentored in their judging, and don't submit scores that are too low or too high.  That is a very gray area.  If a person has never judged before, and gives an entrant a very low score, say a 30, would you bring it to their attention?  Okay, I hear all the "yeses" out there.  But what if they give someone a 50?  Some judges, such as myself, believe that a score of 50 should be reserved for entrants whose entries aren't submitted in English.  But others feel that a "50" is a justifiable score.  So do you call the judge out on that or not?

If an entrant "deserves" a 50,  I still would not give them a 50.  Why?  Because I believe a 50 is a crushing score.  A brand new writer, maybe entering a contest for the first time, may not know the basics of a romance entry in a contest.  They may not understand about internal conflict and external conflict.  Their plot may be weak or nonexistent.    Their dialogue may be stilted and their writing may be full of cliches.  Their characters may behave erratically and you may despise their hero or heroine.  This person is never going to win the contest, so why crush them?  In my opinion, giving them a score in the 60s or 70s serves the same point--it tells them their writing needs more work, but in a far less vicious way.

People enter contests for one reason--for feedback.  And our job when we volunteer to judge is to deliver that feedback in the most mentoring way possible.

I just cannot understand the mentality of judges who may deliver spot-on criticism but dish it out in the cruelest way possible.  Statements like I hate your  hero, your heroine is too stupid to live, your characters are not interesting, you don't have a plot, etc. are tactless and hurtful.  The tone and the delivery of such comments demonstrates a lack of skill set on the part of the judge.

If judges would imagine they are sitting across from someone telling them these comments, would they phrase them in quite the same way?
When you are up close and personal with someone who looks vulnerable, the answer is NO.
So why be that way on paper?

Do judges like this assume the worst about people--that they are lazy and didn't do their homework and so deserve to be treated as harshly as possible?  Sort of a "tough love" philosophy?  I imagine in my mind that these are the same people who would say that anyone living in poverty should just stop whining and get a job.  Maybe they feel publishing is a difficult business and people may as well hear how badly they suck right up front?

Can we not assume that contest entrants are simply at different skill levels, with different access to knowledge and mentoring?  They are looking for feedback, are likely not confident about their writing, just looking for some help.  Why crush someone's dream?

When I did peer tutoring at the university writing center in grad school, we were taught to always point out what the student did well first.  Play to their strengths, and then they are more willing and able to accept their weaknesses.   (My experience is that this works with kids, too.)  Statements like, "portions of _____(your plot, your dialogue, the actions of your hero, whatever) confused me because..." or "I really think you could amp up the conflict by..." or I think your ____ is good, but I would make the following suggestion..."  are so much more tactful and kind.  They still get the message across, too.  And the person doesn't go home crying!

Judges volunteer their time and spend a lot of time on their entries.  And a contest coordinator has a responsiblitiy to be fair to the entrants while not manipulating anyone into changing their scores.  But if a judge tends to be very direct and critical, I would at least like to see a general statement about the entry given up front that mentions its strengths before the judge plunges into a page of criticism.

Because there is always something good to be said.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What Leslie Dow Learned from Lori Wilde--a post from Savvy Authors

Aspiring autrhor Leslie Dow did a post on Savvy Authors today about being savvy in the business of writing called "What I Learned from Lori Wilde." Lori offers a write-a-novel-in-six-months class through Savvy U.that Leslie took and enjoyed a lot.

You can read Leslie's full post at Savvy Authors here.

Pearls from this post follow.  Lori says, "Your writing is neither as bad as you fear nor as good as you hope."  The truth is likely somewhere in between and can be controlled by hard work and perserverance in honing your craft.  Writing is a businesss in which an author produces a product for the marketplace.  You can produce the finest writing in the world, but if there's no market, you have no sale.   Study and apply techniques from authors who are at the top of their genre.  And network, even if you are the world's greatest introvert.  It takes people besides ourselves sitting day in and out at your keyboard to succeed in this business!

Great tips to remind us that we can't write in a vaccuum.

Friday, March 4, 2011

SEP's Character Description--Why I Think It Works

The reason I think this description (see post from earlier today) is so fantastic is that SEP describes our hero not by looks alone but by his looks as they relate to his personality.
--The heroine assumes there is something about him that proclaims he was not born into blue blood--but had a rough past.
--His hair color is the color of brown between a glass of Bud and a leather portfolio--he's surrounded by leather in his office, the glass of Bud she can picture him enjoying
--The other comments pertain to the obvious level of success he's attained, the hard work he does and his passion for it.

A description like this would never be possible on a first draft (at least for me).  You really have to know your character spot on to do such a concise description like this!

How to Describe Your Hero (the Susan Elizabeth Phillips Way)

I've been doing a lot of judging lately--for the GH, for my local chapter contest.  And a lot of editing on my own manuscript. 

Here's what I'm noticing:  a lot of writers, myself included, prefer dark haired heros with dark eyes.

After a while, how sick can you get of describing ebony, black as night, jet black, dark, brown, mysterious, black as midnight, exotic--you know what I mean.   Seems like you just drain yourself (and thesaurus.com) of words to describe your hero's dazzling, ever-changing hair and eyes as you're writing him through the 300+ pages of your manuscript.  

But then I read this.  This passage is taken from page 7 of Match Me If You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  What follows is the very first description of the hero, Heath Champion, also known as The Python, through the eyes of the heroine Annabelle Granger, who is just taking over her grandmother's matchmaking business.  He does sports PR at the highest level--the same job as Jerry MacGuire.  She first sees him sitting behind the desk in his very high-end office:

(I had to take a deep breath and stop reading after this paragraph.  It just bowled me over!)

"He was square-jawed and tough, everything about him proclaiming a brash, self-made man--a roughneck who'd flunked charm school the first couple of times around but had finally gotten it right on the third pass.  His hair was thick and crisp, its rich color a cross between a leather portfolio and a bottle of Bud.  He had a straight, confident nose and bold dark eyebrows, one of which was bisected near the end with a thin pale scar.  The firm set of his well-molded mouth proclaimed the low tolerance for fools, a passion for hard work that bordered on obsession, and possibly--although this might be her imagination--a determination to own a small chalet near St. Tropex before he was fifty.  If it weren't for a vague irregularity to his features, he would have been unbearably gorgeous.  Instead, he was merely drop-dead good-looking.  What did a man like this need with a matchmaker?"

Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Match Me If You Can

Writing like this is why SEP is a goddess!

What makes this different--what makes it stand-out writing?
(I'm going to come back later and tell you why I love this so much.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Top Ten Stories Announced in Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest

The top ten stories selected by popular vote in the Jane Austen Made Me Do It Short Story Contest have just been posted by editor Laurel Ann Nattress--AND MINE IS ONE OF THEM!!!


CONGRATULATIONS, Everyone!!!  Be sure to go to pemberley.com to read these stories--one will be selected for the Jane Austen anthology coming out this fall by Ballantine books!  And don't forget the other 78  unique and creative stories still posted as well.  All so well done!

The Top Ten stories listed alphabetically by author are:
54 - Sophy and the Armada, by K. Ann Adams
56 - The Love Letter, by Brenna Aubrey
25 - The Marrying of Margaret, by Tracie Banister
78 - Assuming: A Tale of Persuasion, by Hannah Cowan
23 - Carpe Diem, by Jane Greensmith
85 - Mary Bennett Falls Head Over Heels, by Jenni James
70 - The Lost Portrait of Jane Austen, by Miranda Liasson (THAT'S ME!!!)
31 - Attempting Elizabeth, by Jessica Melendez
04 - Spinning White Hair Gold, by Megan Snider
16 - Mr. Collins Last Supper, by Shannon Winslow

Release Day for Tamara Hogan's Taste Me

A hero who experiences the world through TASTE?  Who is also an incubus.  And a heroine named Scarlett in a rock band called Scarlett's Web who is a siren, able to amplify emotional energy with her voice.


Put these two together in a dangerous underworld and you've got 2009 GH Finalist Tamara Hogan's sizzling new debut novel, TASTE ME, a sexy, fast paced urban fantasy out from Sourcebooks TODAY.


I'm especially excited for Tammy because I've been following her progess over the past year and a half or so on the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog--from GH winner to publishing contract to revisions to--waalah--gorgeous novel! 

Read an interview with Tamara on the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog here and visit her website here.  And then run out and (or click to) buy her book!  I can't wait to read it!

Congratulations, Tammy!!!