And she sighs with relief

Done. Finished. Sent.

When I started my blog in early June I had a deadline in mind. Basically I’d given myself to the end of August to finish my book. August was significant for a few reasons but one of the uppermost was the Choc-Lit competition, Search For An Australian Star, which closes on August 31. It gave me the extra impetus I needed to stop floating and get focused.

For me it means I’m putting this book to bed, right or wrong, until I have some feedback to go on, and until I’ve given it long enough on ice to look at it with fresh eyes. Because my eyes are many things and right now, none of them are fresh!

So I’m celebrating hitting the ‘send’ button with chocolate tonight for good luck. In the meantime, I’m posting my opening scene below. If you or anyone you know entered the Choc-Lit competition, maybe you’d like to post your opening scenes too. I’d love to read some.

His Brand Of Beautiful

Chapter 1

Tate Newell tapped his thumbs against the steering wheel and watched a bunch of fat purple and gold helium balloons try to float away with a wrought-iron gate.

The gate guarded an old stone cottage that might have been pulled from the pages of Australian Country Life; all it lacked was the white picket fence and the rose rambling through it. He’d expected Christina Clay to own some kind of architectural glass and concrete milk-carton-shaped box. The type with a couple spiked agaves out front in shiny black pots. Truckloads of designer gravel.

Without the balloons, he might have thought he had the wrong house.

“Guess she wants to celebrate,” he muttered, as his breath added to the fog inside the window and rain cried down the glass and the balloons gyrated like horny teenagers at a rave.

His pocket vibrated. He didn’t need to look; Jancis had rung him the same time every day for a week. Tate pulled out his mobile and pressed accept.

“How’s the hip doing J?”

“Feels like some asshole keeps whacking it with a hammer. Goddamn thing clicks when I fart. Now tell me you’ve got good news.”

The corner of his mouth twitched. “If you mean the speech, I haven’t written it yet.”

Goddamn. I know you can work miracles Tate honey, but AMPRA starts Monday. You are my keynote speaker, remember?”

He heard cutlery scrape a plate.

“I’m trying to forget. If you were anyone else I’d tell you to stick your Conference.”

“I know Tate. I know. I’ll owe you.”

They both knew that wasn’t true. Jancis Woody had given him his first job fresh out of university and untaught him everything he’d learned in his three-year marketing degree. She was the only person on the planet who could have got him within five-hundred kilometers of the annual AMPRA talk-fest, let alone speak at the damn thing.

“Forget about it J. A trip to Sydney gets me out of the house for a few days. It can’t be any colder up there than it is here.” He slapped the gear stick; let himself dream for a moment about spending the weekend driving over red sand and rock in the Flinders, the only human for miles. He’d bet the sun was shining up there.

Jancis’s drawl brought him back. “I don’t know why you don’t sell that goddamn house. I wish to hell I’d never said buy it.”

“It’s close to the office. Easy to lock-up and leave.” And I don’t want to talk about it. A gust of wind rocked rain from a branch hanging over the Jeep like a claw. “I’ll write your words tonight. I have to go J, I’m late for a meeting.”

“On a Friday night? Who is she?”

“This one’s all business. Brand strategy for a wine firm.”

“Is that what they call it in Adelaide these days? Well just save some creative juice for your speech, you’re my vote-swinger honey and I need you to be brilliant. We can’t let Hank Leyland run the Association for another two-year term. The man has no vision. He can’t see beyond the pile of goddamn beans he’s counting.”

Jesus. Yeah, no pressure.”

“Monday then. Enjoy the flight Tate honey, Hank had a coronary when I told him we were flying you up here business-class. I swear he turned purple. And send me a headshot for the program.”


“Yeah my ass. I need that photo.”

“You’ll get it when you get my speech.”

“Don’t make me hunt through my archives—”

“Gotta go J.” He shoved the phone in his shirt pocket thinking this was why he had a PR team at Outback Brands: they loved having their photo taken. They got off on swanning around at conferences and commerce lunches and sundowners and business breakfasts and—he grimaced—networking drinks.

He peered out the window, hunting a patch of clear sky. Even the streetlights weren’t making much headway. Rain beat across the bonnet, harder now, the wind slapping it against the Jeep like bullets.

There was an umbrella in the back that had been there since Blu Jools’ Christmas karaoke party, his prize for winning best song when Lila Blu dragged him to the stage to sing Leyla. It skittered and thumped whenever he took a corner too fast; a constant reminder that not only could he not sing, he was too old for such shit.

No way would he knock on Christina Clay’s door with the umbrella he’d designed for Lila shielding his head: Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer with a gigantic ruby stud through his famous honker, antlers loaded with bling. He didn’t feel that cheery.

Thanks Ruth.

“It’s getting embarrassing Tate,” Ruth Landers had said, tapping his desk with a finger, leader of the front office mutiny. “All Christina wants is a half-hour brand consult. Last time I looked that was your area of expertise. You’ve had Lisa screen her calls for months. The next time she rings do your own dirty work. Christina’s always nice about it but Lisa can tell she’s sick of being given the run-around.”

And that settled it. Being nice to the person who answered the phone always earned his clients—even the ones he didn’t want—a big fat gold star in Ruth Landers’ book.

He tugged at his tie; Ruth’s other stipulation when he finally agreed to check his diary and schedule a time that fit. “And no jeans! At least try to look like you want her business. It’s professional courtesy Tate. Adelaide is too small to burn your bridges. The Clays have clout.”

The luminous dial of the interior clock was three minutes slower than his wrist-watch, now showing five-thirty-two.

Fuck it. 

He wrenched the keys from the ignition. Just go in. Tell her you don’t want her business. Come out. Job done.

Then he could find himself a pub with a widescreen tuned to Friday night football. Get a schooner of Pale Ale and a medium-rare steak. Think about that damn speech.

He reached for the leather briefcase on the passenger seat. Even a meeting with Christina Clay was better than spending an extra hour at his house.


Queries on the query

So I’m really close to calling my book finished and my eyes are going to fall out of my head soon if I read it again … sorry for sounding like a broken record, I’ve been singing THE END for a while now. And in between this final read (the climactic scene & last chapter to go) and completing the entry form for the Choc-Lit comp that I’ve mentioned before, and getting ready to send it to Choc-Lit; I’ve also been thinking about queries. I’m keen to get this book out there and see if I’ve actually managed to achieve anything concrete since the last time I queried it 12 months or so ago.

What exactly I mean by ‘concrete’, well I’m not so sure. The best thing of course is going to be if somebody says “we love it, we’ll publish it”… but there’s probably a whole lot of things I could take as positives that are on the way to that goal… like, oh, more than a three word rejection form letter… 🙂

I feel like I’ve come so far, and I’m trying to stay positive, but the truth may well be that I’ll find out I still have a long way to go and so I’m already steeling myself for disappointment. What a three-ring circus this business is!

My problem is, when I queried this book before, I actually received requests for partials on the basis of the query, 2 out of 3 times. So it’s tempting just to cut and paste the query as was.

The trouble is, I’m not sure about the query anymore. The book isn’t category now, it’s grown to 82,000 words and it isn’t a Harlequin Desire novel anymore (not that it was back then in reality either I guess). But the basis of the query would still be correct.

I’m not talking about the top and tail wording that goes with it, that’s not relevant anymore anyway but I’ve left it below if anyone’s interested in a query that worked back in the day.

Meanwhile, I’ll see if I can get brave and come up with a better hook.

Anyone else questioning their query out there? You have my sympathy!



I write in hopes I can tempt you to want to sit down with some chapters of my romantic novel, His Brand Of Beautiful, at approx 51,000 words, in view of seeking your representation. I have written with the Harlequin Desire series in mind.
I wish very much I had found your website months ago. Not knowing much about agents, I only found your site after submitting a query and synopsis direct to Harlequin, for my first novel Fringe Benefits. Once on that interminable roller-coaster called “waiting to hear”, I began work on a second novel, and started to research literary agents…
In July, Harlequin requested the first three chapters of Fringe Benefits… and I find myself on that waiting roller-coaster once again. However, this time I have been using my time more wisely, seeking an agent who shares my passion for my writing career!
His Brand Of Beautiful
Tate Newell tends to avoid women who collect causes like some collect shoes; they remind him too much of his dead sister, Jolie. So when Christina Clay commissions Tate to develop her new wine brand; with part proceeds to help Aboriginal Australians, Tate sees redder than the Aussie desert sands: “Aboriginals can’t be mended like a patch on a pair of jeans.” To prove his point, he takes Christina on a research project ‘tour’ of the Australian outback. But Christina has a ‘project’ of her own in mind when it comes to Tate, and her ovaries are ticking. How will Tate handle the news she is pregnant? Responsibly! But marriage is the last thing on Christina’s mind.
My most recent full-time employ was as REDACTED of REDACTED; hence the winery setting that loosely runs background in both Fringe Benefits, and His Brand Of Beautiful. I have a third WIP, as yet unnamed, also tied to that Australian wine theme.
I appreciate your time in reading this query letter, and hope I have given you incentive to see a synopsis or chapters… His Brand Of Beautiful is complete, and it would be a pleasure to supply it to you for your further consideration and feedback.

You know you’ve been on holiday when…

… You can’t remember the password to log into your blog. I’m taking it as a good sign!

I’ve come to a few decisions in the last week. First, I am going to enter the Choc-Lit Search For An Australian star competition.

I’ve been dithering on this because when I read the entry, I thought a condition of entry was that you couldn’t have your work out with any other agent or publisher. But I’ve had a few further communications with them in the interim and they’ve been very helpful about pointing out that you can put your book out to others, you just have to tell them if it gets accepted anywhere. (Note to self, read conditions more thoroughly!) The competition closes at the end of August and I should make it after this last re-read. I figure I have absolutely nothing to lose in entering.

Second, I’m going to enter RWA’s STALI later this year.

And third, I’m going to declare His Brand Of Beautiful finished (or at least finished for now), when I hit send on the email to Choc-Lit. I’ll be out of action for September as I have been seconded into doing Jury Duty… which feels like such a novel excuse for not writing much, pardon the pun, but it will give me a good block of head-space and something else to think about for a month.

I could muck about with HBOB forever at this point but I don’t think I’m achieving much. It’s time to grit my teeth, brush up on that thick skin and look for some feedback. I have read, read and re-read it so much I need to wave it goodbye. Or I need a critique partner perhaps, but I keep dithering on that too.

I have another project ready to go. The first book I wrote was called Fringe Benefits. I queried this way back in early 2011 to Harlequin Desire directly (before it crossed my mind to think about agents). They asked to see 3 chapters off the query before ultimately rejecting it (with a very nice letter that said “they found parts of it compelling” but I had too much focus on point of view of secondary characters that detracted from the main characters, and they also highlighted pacing as something I had to work on.) All of which led me to a heap of articles on line about POV, pacing and flashbacks, ie. Don’t Do Them!

Given what I’ve seen of rejection letters (mine and the others online), as far as that one went I came out of it feeling positive. Kudos to Harlequin for that.

Lately it’s Fringe Benefits that has been on my mind more and more and with what I feel I’ve learned as far as craft, especially in the last year, I’m excited about re-writes on this and where it might end up. It’s another contemporary romance loosely based in the Australian wine industry; this one a reunion romance with a broke and stubborn viticulturist heroine; a tycoon winery-owner with a meddling mother, and a jealous love interest trying to ruin our heroine’s career. I remember it as being good fun when I started it. I know without looking that it needs a heap of work.

After-holiday glow

Well we’re back home after two weeks in the beautiful sun at Noosa.

Almost 5000km we’ve clocked up with two kids under 5, and not a DVD on the player for the entire trip. Honestly those kids were brilliant company to travel with, and to think we’d been worried about it and everyone we told about the trip gave us that sympathetic look the second we said we were driving… seriously, driving?

Our eldest son took it on himself to be our sign reader, explaining every sign along the way and there were some beauties. For example: slippery, skiddy road. (This is the one with the car and the squiggly lines for wet/icy roads). “This way, This way” for any directional arrow he saw and “don’t play on the roads” for any picture of a mum holding a child’s hand. There was also “fully steep hill” for the sign telling trucks to slow down on descents.

He’d sound beautiful on a GPS… we should patent him.

The youngest son is in a ‘poo’ phase whereby he’ll shout something out followed by the word poo. The most common was: Jibber Jabber POO. And Yo Gabba Gabba POO!!!!

All the way north the weather felt warmer until by Tamworth we were pulling off jackets and I ditched my gloves and beanie (tho it was darn cold overnight). And Noosa was about 23-24 all the time we were there. Ferry trips; beach visits; a trip to Australia Zoo.

No rain the entire time until yesterday around about Tailem Bend on the last 100km leg. Twelve degrees at home; cloudy today and they must have had frosts here because heaps of my plants are burnt.

For the first time in about 18 months I managed to put all things books and writing in the background (pretty much) and it was only yesterday that it started poking around my head again, which is good. I had a couple of small but good ideas on the drive and I’ll go add them in while they’re fresh. Then no more procrastination, if I’m serious about ever getting published I’m in my ‘window of opportunity’ at the moment and so the back half of August will be back on the query train.