My Recent Travels and #ROW80

From July 12 through August 3, I was out of town 17 of 23 days. So it’s no wonder I’ve been a bit MIA on my blog. I’ve been catching up this last week, and I thought I’d catch y’all up too.

Here are my recent travels, summarized with photos:

Camp Staff Photo

Here I am in the front, on the staff of 89 adults who led church camp at a facility on the Medina River near Bandera, Texas. It was my ninth year to attend and my first year to teach story writing classes to kids ages 9 through 16.

Kids at camp

If 89 staff members sounds like a lot, it’s only because there were 360 campers.


In addition to teaching writing classes, I also got to teach the younger kids one night. I absolutely love getting to hang out with elementary-age children.

Julie at camp

It was a fabulous experience, but admittedly, I was not looking my best by the end of the week. For instance, fashion was not forefront on my mind. (If only you could see the knee socks and tennies I actually wore with this shirt and skirt combo. Hey, it was raining!)

I returned home on a Saturday evening and hit the road again on a Tuesday morning — heading to the Romance Writers of America (RWA) National Conference in San Antonio.

Diana and Me on Riverwalk

I got to hang out with the lovely Diana Beebe (fantasy author) at the Marriott on the Riverwalk. (You wouldn’t believe how long it took for us to get this fuzzy selfie of ourselves with that view.)

Steampunk party

Diana twisted my arm (not much twisting required) to attend a Steampunk-themed party one evening, hosted by the terrific Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal chapter of RWA. [Shown in photo: Callene Rapp, Tameri Etherton, Diana, and me.]

The conference was wonderful…and huge. Texas-size huge. It’s one thing to visualize being among 2,000 writers, and another thing to experience being one among so many pursuing and enjoying a writing career. I learned so much and interacted with such encouraging people. It was an unforgettable week.

RITA Awards with Friends

The week culminated in the RITA awards ceremony, a formal event during which the highest awards for published and unpublished books are given to romance authors. [Shown in photo: Same people, opposite order.]

Laura Drake and Me

One super-special treat was being there when Laura Drake was announced as the RITA winner for best debut novel, The Sweet Spot. Congratulations, Laura! Well-deserved.

Then it was home for four days and back on the road. (I’m starting to hear Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” in my head.) Because I was meeting up with family members to enjoy a weekend in Round Top — a population-91 town in Texas that has made a name for itself with great shops, fabulous food, and interesting sites.

Royers Cafe

One place where we ate delicious food was Royers Cafe, which has been featured in numerous newspapers, magazines, TV networks, and the Food Network. Yum!

Julie with Osmonds lunchbox

We checked out several antique shops, including this one where I located an Osmonds lunchbox. Having been a huge Donny Osmond fan when I was a young girl, I had to get a picture. If it hadn’t had a $49 price tag . . .

Black Cat Choir performing

In addition to wonderful shopping, the town had a court yard area outside the Stone Cellar restaurant where bands perform in the evenings. Here’s the Black Cat Choir covering 70s rock.

Finally, by August 3, I was back home and ready for some R&R. But that’s not all I’ve been doing. Indeed, with all of my traveling, I’ve skipped a couple of check-ins for A Round of Words in 80 Days.

So here’s the scoop, and how I’m doing with my writing goals.

ROW80 Update

1. Finish editing Sharing Hunter, young adult contemporary novel. Burning it up, y’all! I’m so excited. I love how it’s coming together. I whipped through maybe nine chapters this past week of rewrite, edit, polish. If only you could see my happy dance . . .

2. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I’m now aiming for September releases, but I did get some excellent feedback from fellow writers on my back cover copy. As soon as #1 above is done, I’ll be tackling this goal.

3. Read 12 books. I should have kept better track. I’ve let my Goodreads account go idle the past couple of weeks. However, I believe I’ve read the following: City of Bones (Mortal Instruments #1) by Cassandra Clare, Hallowed by Cynthia Hand, and I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter. (By the way, I met Ally Carter at RWA, and she is both a genuinely fun person to spend time with and a great author.) So that makes 3 books down, 9 to go.

4. Attend RWA Conference and Day of YA in San Antonio and follow-up as needed. Obviously, I went! Now for the follow-up. When I got home, I connected with those authors I’d met at RWA and had contact information for. Now I’m pulling together the manuscript to send it to those who made requests.

So that’s it! Now how’s your summer gone? Have you been busy, or enjoying the lazy days of summer? And if you’re doing ROW80, how are your goals coming along?

Sampling RWA Chapters

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I share something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life.

RITA awards
RITA awards presented by RWA
Pic by Barbara Samuel
via Wikimedia Commons

One of my writing goals for this Round of Words in 80 Days is to attend at least one Romance Writers of America (RWA) meeting. I have been repeatedly urged by fellow writers to check out this organization. In fact, this round I have sampled three RWAs. I want to share what each offered at the meeting I attended.

Northwest Houston RWA. I had the August 3 meeting on my calendar long before I discovered who was coming: Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. In case you don’t know, Smashwords is “the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks” and has partnerships with Apple, Barnes & Noble, KOBO, Sony, and others.

Mr. Coker presented 15 Secrets of Ebooks. The information was fabulous and not based on conjecture, but rather his experience and careful observation of statistics and trends. This Northwest Houston RWA information program made me feel like I’d hit the jackpot on my first time to a meeting.

If you want the gist of what Mr. Coker said, you can simply download his Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success. Also, if you plan to self-publish with Smashwords, be sure to download their Smashwords Style Guide. Both of these ebooks are FREE.

West Houston RWA. The August 10 meeting featured a panel of three local booksellers. Owners/representatives from Katy Budget Books, Blue Willow Bookshop, and Murder by the Book answered questions from RWA members. The topics ranged from their efforts to include local authors in their bookstores to the effects of ebook publishing on their businesses to how independent brick-and-mortar stores are faring.

The most important takeaway for me was to establish relationships with your local bookstores. Shop at the indie gems. Converse with the staff. Attend author events. Be supportive and friendly. If you’re invited to sign at the store, advertise like crazy and doing everything you can to fill the place.

In the changing atmosphere, when many booksellers have gone out of business, the independent bookstores that weathered the storm are now doing well overall. Print sales remain strong, and ebooks can be purchased through local bookstore websites. Local booksellers offer personalized service, both for the reader and for the author. Maintaining a good relationship with them could be key to getting the spark started for a word-of-mouth wildfire about your next book.

Bay Area RWA. Author Donna Grant spoke to the Bay Area RWA on August 20. Donna is the author of more than forty romance novels and novellas. She discussed her writing process, her hybrid publishing model, working with her editor, and marketing tactics. One interesting marketing approach is Donna’s Dolls, her “street team” who help promote her books in exchange for first looks and other goodies.

It’s always interesting for a prepublished author to get a glimpse into the working life of an multi-published author. Her output sounded amazing (about 20 pages a day, 5 days a week), but the key seems to be her laser-like concentration. Her routine is organized, straightforward, and focused. It was a good reminder to me to push aside distractions when writing or editing a book and prioritize tasks so that I can see the progress I desire.

Will I return to RWA? Yes. At this point, I plan to return to the Bay Area RWA. It’s geographically closest, the group is a little smaller, and I ended up chatting with several people. Really, any of the groups would be helpful to a writer.

I have also looked into SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). However, their Houston chapter is about an hour-and-a-half drive from me and meets on Tuesday evenings. I’m just not motivated enough to battle Houston rush-hour traffic for a weeknight meeting that will last less time than it took me to get there. But I may join the national organization, the chapter, and watch for weekend workshops and conferences.

ROW80 Update

1. Edit/rewrite SHARING HUNTER, a YA contemporary novel. I’ll be tackling this one soon, since the kids return to school this week.

2. Edit two short stories–one needs a final polish, the other a full edit. Already done, plus I edited a third short story that I wrote last week.

3. Read 10 fiction books. Finished. Anything else I read is icing on the cake!

White CatRed Gloveand Black Heart by Holly Black
Firelands by Piper Bayard
Almost a Scandal and A Breath of Scandal by Elizabeth Essex
Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World by Kristen Lamb
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
Red-Headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells

4. Finish craft book: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson. Done. Still typing up notes from the book, but I’ve finished reading.

5. Visit and comment on five ROW80 blog posts per week. Done.

6. Attend at least one RWA meeting. Done in spades: As discussed above, I attended the Northwest Houston, West Houston, and Bay Area RWA meetings.

Are you in a writers’ group? What have you gained from that experience? And how was your week?