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.”

“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.

****

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. http://www.choc-lit.co.uk/html/search_for_an_australian_star.html

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.

Search for an Australian star

A few months ago RWA’s blog carried news of a UK competition called Search for an Australian star. http://www.choc-lit.co.uk/html/search_for_an_australian_star.html

At the time I thought it sounded like a good opportunity for me and the competition deadlines also suited the goals I’d set myself for finishing His Brand Of Beautiful (end of August).

I needed to review my synopsis anyway but this was the main reason I’ve been trying to get that sorted out too, as in order to submit to the UK competition, you had to first send a synopsis.

Well, yesterday I heard back from the publisher (I thought it was commendable to hear back from anyone in the UK this week before the Olympics) and they said they were interested in reading more about my story and invited me to subscript the full manuscript with a form (which by the way included a question for me to describe my hero in terms of chocolate!!) Ye Gods. Sounds like another post.

However, at the very least, I think this must mean my synopsis is a reasonable summation of the story and characters. So I’m taking that as good news.

What I’m now not sure of is just what happens with entering the competition. Winners are announced in December (or winner singular most probably). But to enter the competition you cannot have your book with an agent and I’m keen to query it as I’ve said in recent posts. In the gamut of emotion between staying positive and not getting your hopes up, it’s hard to know whether the best thing for me and the book is to get locked in to a competition whereby you may lose opportunity to query the book with either other publishers, or other agents.

I’ll have to think about it. I can’t seem to find much information that tells me any terms and conditions they have, should you actually be lucky enough to win their competition. What happens next?