Trondheim Cathedral
Vikings Rule the World – Or They Should, Anyway

As y’all know, I really do think Vikings should have ruled the world.

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Since I don’t have history on my side, I was thrilled to get word from Lorena Streeter from the Central Florida Romance Writers that Odin’s End has finaled in the 2010 Touch of Magic contest.
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I actually served as one of the judges (not my own category, before you ask) and lemme tell ya, competition is stiff. I also forgot that I entered the contest… another story altogether!
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So this list of finalists is from the Central Florida RWA site. Many thanks to the folks of the Dallas Area Romance Authors (unfailing cheerleaders, all), Diana Cosby for her unswerving devotion and chocolate torte, and the wonderful folks of the Norsefolk_2 Yahoo! group who keep Viking traditions alive.
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Thanks, everybody – and I look forward to seeing all of us fine finalists in print!
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TOM 2010 Finalists

Central Florida Romance Writers is pleased to announce the finalists in the
2010 Touch of Magic contest. Thanks to all the entrants, and to all the
judges whose hard work make this contest a success every year. The list is
in alpha order-we’ll announce placements in June after the final round of
judging.

Congratulations to:

Historical finalists

  • Jennifer Beane: Promises
  • Sue Webb: Scenting Scandal
  • Kayla Westra: Lady Knight

Novel with Strong Romantic Elements finalists

  • Dawna Rand: Odin’s End
  • Bobbye Terry: Coming to Climax
  • Sandra Tilley: Call Me Cinderella

Paranormal finalists

  • Tamara Hughes: Bewitching the Beast
  • Christal Murphy: Awaken the Dragon
  • Dawn Wolzein, w/a Dawn Marie Hamilton: Sea Panther

Romantic Suspense finalists

  • Jan Jackson: Runaway
  • Jean Mason: Buried in Plain Sight
  • Anna Sugden: Past, Imperfect

Short Contemporary finalists

  • Dani Collins: His Majesty’s Inappropriate Mistress
  • Brenda Hammond: Owe My Love
  • Cindy Taylor: A Family of Her Own

Single Title finalists

  • Stephanie Faris: The Get Him System
  • Dale Mayer: Hide-n-Go Seek
  • Robin Weaver: Book Learning

Young Adult finalists

  • Peter Andrews: Dream Crafters
  • Tracy St. Hilaire: Fifteen Forever
  • Bec Sampson: Alli’s Playground

Viking Ship at Hogmanay

 

Well, just got word that Odin’s End – my little tale of the last throes of the Vikings – has finaled in the Mainstream with Strong Romantic Elements category of the Central Florida Romance Writers Touch of Magic Contest.

Barbarian hotness does it again!

Final placement is still TBD.

The irony? I was a judge in that contest for another category. LOL!!!

More on that as it becomes available. But until then, I’ll be presenting my first workshop for the Dallas Area Romance Authors called The Art of Extroversion: Get Seen, Get Noticed, Get Results.

Nobody ever believes me when I tell them – but I’m horribly shy. So I’m hoping a few people show up, and that I won’t be talking to an empty room. I’m already bribing my friends to try and get them to put in an appearance.

I can guarantee that there will be prizes, raffles, chocolate and other assorted goodies. Remember, DARA meets at the Holiday Inn Express in Richardson, Texas, at 9.30 a.m. on the fourth saturday of the month.

See you there!

Criticism… or PRAISE??

As y’all may know, Odin’s End has enjoyed reasonable success in its contests. And I’m inordinately, pathetically grateful to the many folks who have taken the time to act as contest judges. Now that I’ve judged a contest myself, I know how time-consuming a quality judging effort can be.

But I think few people (entrants or judges) talk about the mind-blowing contradictions contest results can contain. I subscribe to David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants  (which, if you don’t subscribe, click the link and get on this bandwagon). David has recently written a series on criticism – specifically, how to evaluate it and maximize its utility.
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The bottom line? Whether criticism or praise, use it as best you can to improve your story.
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So – here are some of the comments from judges of Odin’s End. Note the contradictory nature… and be afraid. Or not.
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Here goes:
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One judge: “First person POV is extremely difficult to sell in the romance category, so I would seriously reconsider this. The plot felt fairly contrived to me and I had a hard time getting into the world of the time period.” (Dawna’s note: Interestingly, Odin’s End was entered in the mainstream – not romance – category of this particular contest.)
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Another judge: “I must confess, I don’t read historical novels. What impressed me the most was how skillfully you used words from that era in such a way that I understood what the heck was going on.”
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Yet another: “It grabbed my interest and never let go. Your characters are multifaceted and sympathetic, and your pacing is on target.”
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But another? “The pacing was extremely slow. Readers want to see action in the story, not just hear about it.”
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The bottom line? As author, I’ve got some decisions to make. Which critiques do I accept? Which do I dismiss? Questions I ask myself daily as I complete Odin’s End and begin work on its revisions.
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And is the criticism harder to take? Or the praise? Often it seems like it’s neither one – but the contradiction between the two – that’s the greatest challenge of all.
Patricia Kay
Patricia Kay

As you know, I drove down to Houston for the West Houston RWA’s 2010 Emily Awards . I was told that the West Houston ladies would “take good care of us” during the special Emily presentation, and they were right.
 

One of the speakers was USA Today best-selling author Patricia Kay, author of more than 48 novels of romance and women’s fiction. 4 million copies of her novels have been published in 18 countries.
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Patricia was speaking on “The Emotional Connection”. While I won’t get into the details of her presentation (take one of her great writing classes for those), she mentioned a few jaw-dropping points that made me sit up and take notice. And they’re ones that too many authors forget.
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This genius is all hers (and none of mine). Anyway, here goes:
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  • It’s not about what happens on the page – it’s about what happens in the reader’s heart and mind. Think about movies or TV – men watch sports to experience jubilation, excitement, etc. And as for reality TV like American Idol? It’s about people’s hopes and dreams.
  • People read fiction in order to feel– to experience emotions in the context of safety. To cry their eyes out, yet know they are safe. To experience fear, without experiencing actual harm.
  • If you leave the reader without emotional impact, you will leave the reader unsatisfied. There must be an emotional payoff – and in order for a payoff to occur, there must be an emotional investment to begin with.
  • If a reader is involved in a book, they forget about whether or not the author is a good craftsman. (About POV errors, about adverbs, etc.) This is what you must strive to do – make your readers care, make them emotionally invested.

Hmm. Something to think about, no?

Exquisite St. Julian's Cathedral - Le Mans

Writers – are you prepared to meet fabulous people?  And no, I don’t mean meeting Oprah (although that would be cool, too!)

 What I mean is, you meet people every day who are truly awesome. But do you know just how great they really are?

Y’all know that I hoofed it to France and Norway at Christmas to research Odin’s End.  My visit included a trip to Le Mans, France (yes, home of the auto race) and after a jaw-dropping visit to the Plantagenet City and  St. Julian’s Cathedral, I was ready for lunch.

That’s when I wandered into the Tourist Office. I was hunting for info on a good place to eat. I got the information (and the pizza and crepes were divine) when I noticed that the office happened to be running an exhibit on the city’s Viking invasions (now tell me – how opportune was that??). But more importantly, I met Pierre Poirrier, this incredibly nice guy who works at the tourist office.

I gave Pierre my business card, and I told him about Odin’s End. And I gushed over Le Mans, the Plantagenet City, St. Julian’s and the exhibit. Because I had to. They were fabulous.

But Pierre has been beyond fabulous. I got an email from him a couple of weeks ago. “Hey, we have some new documents in English and we thought you might like them!” So Pierre sends them my way, and included in the envelope were these incredible postcards of St. Julian’s Cathedral. When I say “incredible”, this means “frameworthy.” And they meant the world because they were images of the “Angels and Demons” light show at the cathedral. I had desperately tried to capture these pictures, but my camera just couldn’t deliver.

I am so grateful to Pierre and the other folks in Le Mans. They remembered me, and they remembered Odin’s End. Pierre, you’re the best! When I sell that story, we’ll schedule a booksigning in the Plantagenet City.

So I have some wonderful new pics – and new memories – of Le Mans.

But go there for yourself. The city – and its people – are worth the trip.

Click here to see the postcards Pierre sent me.

More pictures of Le Mans are listed on the left, including St. Julian’s,  L’Epau Abbey, and the Viking invasion.

The Lights of St. Julian's

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Viking attack

The NEW Viking Invasion!

OK, peeps – just back from Houston, where the extremely wonderful folks from the West Houston RWA hosted the awards for their 2010 Emily Contest.

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Odin’s End took 4th place in the Contemporary Single Title category. And I also got a request for a full synopsis from Frances Jalet-Miller of Grand Central Publishing.
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Now, some of you may say, “Fourth place? Fourth place? Dawna, that reeks.” Au contraire, naysayers…
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First, Odin’s End is not romance – and because it wasn’t a historical romance, I put it in the Contemporary Single Title category.
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Second, as y’all know, Odin’s End isn’t contemporary – it’s historical fiction! And still I put it in the Contemporary Single Title category.
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So our little tale of the heretic’s daughter captured by Vikings ended up placing in a category where it really didn’t belong. SWEET! I am so grateful to Jo Anne, one of the judges of Odin’s End, who approached me just to say how much she loved reading it and that I needed to let her know when it was published. That just sent delicious writing chills down my spine! Thanks for the LUV, Jo Anne!
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And, because of our little tale of barbarian hotness, the folks at the West Houston RWA have decided to create a separate category in next year’s contest which would accommodate women’s fiction! Pat O’Dea Rosen – one of the coordinators for my category – delivered this awesome news!
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Many thanks to the wonderful members of West Houston RWA. Special love to Pat, Diane Holmes, Lara Chapman, “Montana Lani”, the judges, and everybody else who worked so hard to give us a wonderful contest and award experience. Truly, if you’re looking for a GREAT contest, go for the Emily!
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A special congrats to my pal, Keli Gwyn, for her 1st place win in the Historical category for Violets and Violins. Go, girl!
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And over the next days, I’ll post some of my notes from our two presenters, Sam Havens and Patricia Kay, who autographed her book for me!
Contest Judging

What Kind of Judge Will I Be?

So after a few experiences as a contestant, I’ll be a judge in my next writing contest!

Scary, huh?
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The irony is that this contest – which I’ll refer to as the Desperate for Feedback 2010 contest – was one that I almost entered myself. I’ll even be judging the category that I would have entered!
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OK – maybe me being a judge isn’t so odd. After all, I taught high school English for years. And it’s no wonder that so many teachers buy in bulk from the liquor store.
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And I’ve also been a contestant. I’ve gotten flaming criticisms and thoughtful suggestions.
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I’ve also seen the best – and worst – of critique groups. I’ve gotten tips for how to speed up action scenes, and the odd comment of  “Maybe you’re not ready to take your writing to the next level.”
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So with these experiences, what kind of judge will I be?
 
The same kind of teacher I tried to be to my students:
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  • Thoughtful – Real people bundled off their dreams – their manuscripts – packaged in hope. And I’m the recipient. The least I can do is reward their serious effort with a thoughtful read and considerate commentary.
  • Kind – Too often, people flaunt their rudeness and try to package it as “my opinion” as in “Well, I’m entitled to my opinion” or “This writer needs to hear an honest opinion.” Guess what? You can have an honest opinion without being an absolute ass. Try it sometime.
  • Encouraging - I taught students whose stoned parents didn’t care if they came home. Yet they would turn in painfully rendered sentences on crumpled paper, and they would smile because they were turning in their best effort. No, their arcane spelling and questionable grammar didn’t earn an “A”. But I could always find something they honestly did well. And I tried to build on this.
  • Fair – As a teacher, I couldn’t let my personal tastes, my tongue-lashing I took from some kid’s parent, or the fact that I hated 7am classes affect my grading. And I don’t buy the argument that a judge’s bad day or bad attitude should impact their scoring. Because when you review somebody’s work, you owe the writer your unbiased effort.  Period.

I’ve got a total of 80 pages to read, and when I was a teacher, I used to do this in a day. But I’ll take all the time I need for this contest, even if it takes until the March deadline.

Because I’ve still got some contests to enter myself.

And I know what kind of judge I want.

Christmas on the Champs Elysees

First, I’ve uploaded even more pics from the research trip (taking me a while, I know, but y’all – I had 900 pictures!!!!) So have at – remember that any page on the left that says “NEW” has the uploaded pics. Luv y’all!! So I flew from Oslo to Paris at 6:00 a.m., which was horrible in so many ways. First, because I was leaving Norway; second, because it was so early; and third, because it was so early, I didn’t get to give my keys back to the Avis Car Hunk at the rental desk.

Truly, it sucks.

So the new batch of pics is from Oslo and Paris (See? The Champs Elysees at Christmas is one of them) so go check them out!

OK – down to business. Maybe it’s just me, but have you ever ordered or picked out a book, riveted by what sounds to be  a gripping tale. And you sit down to read – having carved out valuable time so you can make it through the whole book – and guess what?

Yup – you guessed it. The story fails in every way imaginable. And you sit there thinking “If only…” with a list for the author of what he or she could have done that would have made the story deliver on its promise to the reader.

And that’s what it’s all about, right? As a writer, you must deliver on your promise to the reader.

So what book was it? I won’t tell! But let’s just say that as someone who writes about Vikings, I picked up this book and nearly went into cardiac arrest. Wow! This person’s Viking tale sounded so definitive, so overwhelmingly gripping, would there be any room for mine?

The bottom line was what I got of reading the book, and what it meant for Odin’s End:

  1. Your protagonist must be sympathetic. This is basic knowledge for all writers, that to some degree, the protagonist must be someone we can sympathize with. Yet the heroine in the book I was reading seemed so inept, snotty, and 1-dimensional that I couldn’t find any reason that she shouldn’t die at the hands of the Vikings. In fact, I hoped for it. So there. And I have to remember to keep Adele sympathetic throughout Odin’s End. I have her making a few extremely bold choices. Will my readers sympathize with her – and accept them?
  2. Description should never outstrip dialogue or action. This one’s another basic writing tenet. What the characters are saying and doing should never get lost in the author’s description of a forest or field or whatever. Yet I found myself skipping several pages at a time in this recent read, because the author went on about the forest, or the bridge, or the trees. Now, I also have a world to build in Odin’s End – most modern readers have no concept of what happened in the Middle Ages in Norway. So I still have to build my world. But I can’t spend pages and pages on meaningless description. My characters have to live the happenings, and talk about them.
  3. Subplots should add to the story, and the story’s resolution. Now this is one that I think most beginning writers (like me!) have trouble with. But my disappointment flowed when I realized this well-established author had trouble with it, too. There were several subplots introduced. So how were they resolved? Well, the heroine just left everything behind and moved somewhere else. Well, shit. I wish I could do that – just move away and have all the messy crap in life disappear. So the subplots (which, by the way, I didn’t think added to the story all that much to begin with) just vanished with the heroine’s departure. As a reader, I didn’t buy it. And as a writer? For Odin’s End, I have to make sure I circle back and tie up the loose ends. Now, I’ll be leaving some loose ends deliberately, and I think that’s OK. But I think I need to resolve most subplots to the reader’s satisfaction by the end of the book.

So – for my writing friends – it’s nice that you take writing classes.

But I challenge you – pick up a book. One you love – or one you hate. What makes the story one that you love? What particularly works? And then look at the book you hate. What parts do you skip over? Why? Do you throw your hands up in the air at characters you’re supposed to sympathize with?

And then look at your own work… and take it from there.

Le Mans - The Viking Invasion Continues

OK – so I’m finally getting back into the groove of things. Which means I’ve finally loaded a chunk of the photos from my research trip to Flickr.

For the globally impaired, just a reminder that I visited Fontevraud Abbey, Saumur, LeMans and its Plantagenet City to research Adele’s world, which is France of the 1180s.

I also visited Trondheim, Norway to learn about medieval Nidaros (Trondheim’s name, back in the day) and the Viking age.

Wanna see the pics? Look to the page index on the left. Look for the pages that say “NEW!” All of those have pics loaded. Just click to the page – it tells a little about the trip and contains relevant links to museums and websites…and the Flickr page containing that day’s pics! YAY!

Feel free to use any of the pictures – just please mention that they were taken by Dawna Rand as research for Odin’s End. Preesh!

St. Julian's Cathedral - Le Mans

Trondheim Norway

Beautiful Trondheim

Whoops, I think I forgot to mention it, but I had entered Odin’s End in the West Houston RWA’s 2010 Emily Contest – and it finaled! Barbarian Hotness does it again.

Final placement will be announced in February. Anyhoos, the finalists:

2010 Emily Finalists

Single Title Finalists

  • UNOPENED DREAMS by Jan Aldridge
  • GETTING LUCKY by Katie Graykowski
  • DEAR PRUDENCE by Ann James
  • MURDER, CURLERS, AND CANES by Arlene McFarlane
  • CLAIMING ANNIE’S HEART by Judythe Morgan**
  • ODIN’S END by Dawna Rand

Paranormal Finalists

  • DARKNESS DAWNS by Leslie D. Duvall
  • TIGER PRINCESS by Amber Finitzer
  • WARRIOR by Allison Leake
  • INNER EYE by Michelle Miller
  • BLOOD BORN by Kylie Short

Historical Finalists

  • THE DEVIL MY CARE – RACHEL by Elisa Beatty
  • VIOLETS AND VIOLINS – ELENORA by Keli Gwyn
  • GUARDIAN – GARETH by Patricia Patton
  • SECRET – NICK by Patricia Patton
  • THE LAST WOMAN by Karen Stuyck

Contemporary Series Finalists

  • REDEMPTION by Nancy Evertz
  • HIS DARK PAST by Rebecca Sampson
  • GRAVE SECRETS by Linda Trout

Anyhoos – I’m so excited! As always, thanks to my readers – Pat and Aelle – and cheerleaders – Diana Cosby and Pam and all of the Dallas Area Romance Authors. Long may Barbarian Hotness reign!

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