Would you look at this? I still have a blog. It’s about time I update, especially since I have a new book coming out next week. Today the wonderful Barbara Vey featured my writing group on her blog. We are the Lalalas and we are strong.
Here is a conversation I had with one of our other members, Abigail Sharpe about how we all came to be friends.
Ash: On March 26, 2010 I did something that all of us do every day, something so mundane we hardly think about it, let alone mention it or write an article about it. But this instance was one of those small things that changed my life, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
What did I do? I answered an email.
For those readers who aren’t members of the Romance Writers of America®, let me explain the significance of the date. Every year, the RWA® holds a contest for the best unpublished manuscripts (in parallel with the Rita Awards® for the best books in any given year), and they announce the finalists around March 25. Valerie Bowman didn’t receive the phone call the previous day telling her she was among the 60 or so Golden Heart® finalists, and she wasn’t going to take that situation lying down.
Step one in her plan was to gather other non-finalists into a group of writers determined to improve their craft so that next year, they could enter and final. She sent out an email on one of the RWA loops asking who was with her.
I replied to that email, and it changed the direction of my writing career.
Abby: My entrance to the Lalalas took a much longer turn. I was already part of a small group with Valerie and other writers, but it was an offshoot of our RWA chapter. I wasn’t going to enter the Golden Heart that year because I thought there was no way my story would make the cut. But everyone else was doing it, so I did it, too.
Yes, I succumbed to peer pressure.
But that’s why on March 26, 2010, I was still reeling from the email telling me I was a Golden Heart finalist. The Lalalas was designed to help those who hadn’t finaled, so I wished Valerie well and was excited to see what came out of it.
Ash: At this point, I feel obliged to insert a disclaimer: I didn’t final in the 2010 Golden Heart, because I hadn’t entered the contest. For me, that was a moot point. I had already planned to enter in 2011. I was polishing a manuscript, and I was looking for writers who might help me take that next step in my career.
This is how the group known as the Lalalas first came together. Those first days on the loop, we exchanged loads of emails, getting to know each other, what we wrote, how many contests we’d entered, how many times we’d finaled. And so we buckled down, we set goals for ourselves, we exchanged critiques.
Abby: Yeah, I missed all this. Some of the other writers in my smaller group had joined the Lalalas. The ones that were part of both had to send email to two places when they wanted to share news with everyone.
That got tiresome really fast, so after a few months the other writers and I joined The Lalalas.
Ash: That first year, most of us entered the Golden Heart. Two of us finaled—our founder Valerie Bowman and myself.
Abby: That was a really fun day on the loop.
Ash: Not only that, Valerie and I were up against each other in the Regency category, although neither of us won. It didn’t matter. We both sold our manuscripts.
In the intervening years, we’ve had members come and go, but out numbers usually hover around fifty members. We’ve had other finalists. Many more of us have gone on to publish. In fact, we asked the question at the recent RWA national convention in San Antonio. Less than half of those Lalalas attending have been Golden Heart finalists, but the majority of us have gone on to publish, whether traditionally, through smaller e-presses or indie. I can freely admit I wouldn’t be published today if it hadn’t been for this group.
Abby: Same here. And the fact that we’re spread out all over the USA AND with Ash in Canada gives us different perspectives and different experiences. My first story took place on a ranch in Wyoming. I was born in Boston and lived in Florida cities. Lalalas who had lived in Wyoming or worked with horses helped me smooth out missing information or verify what I had found on the Internet.
Ash: We also have a member in Hungary!
Abby: That’s right, we do! Don’t tell Kathleen I forgot where she lived.
Ash: In the summer of 2010, I hit a snag. The manuscript I’d intended to enter in the Golden Heart that fall had received a detailed rejection letter from an editor. At the same time, I received a detailed critique on a new manuscript from a published author. Both the rejection notes and the critique pointed to similar issues, which in turn led me to believe I wasn’t ready. I sent an email to the loop, telling everyone I was happy to cheer from the sidelines, but I wouldn’t be entering that year. More than one member wouldn’t hear of it, but one of our biggest cheerleaders is Carla Kempert, and she gave me… in the interest of keeping things PG, let’s call it a butt-kicking to end all butt-kickings. And so I sucked it up and entered—with the second manuscript that wasn’t even finished yet. Without that boot up my rear, I might still be in the pits struggling, not knowing I was closer to being ready than I thought.
Abby: That butt-kicking email shows up every so often when someone needs a swift … uh… reminder that everything we do works towards our ultimate goal of publishing great romance novels.
Ash: This is what the Lalalas are about. Writers helping writers. Bucking each other up when we meet with rejection. Critiquing each other’s pages. Posting our query letters to the loop for everyone to chime in. Celebrating each other’s successes. Holding hands through the rougher parts of our private lives. Setting our goals at the beginning of the year and encouraging each other to meet them. We’re no longer just professional writers together helping each other navigate the twists and turns of the publishing industry. We’re friends, as well.
Abby: We even have a chat room where anyone can show up for writing sprints. Some of us write in the morning, some at night. It’s a great way to hold yourself accountable for your work.
Ash: For me, the Lalalas show what can happen when women come together to help each other out. We approach this often crazy industry from a position of strength because we have a solid support network. We can rely on each other. Our founder, Valerie, has said she’s a great believer in women standing together, and she’s proven this through the Lalalas. I will be forever grateful for them.
Abby: When you look at all we’ve accomplished in four short years, the numbers are staggering. It’s not just sales or contest finals or signing with agents, but learning and growing and helping in a way that no one else fulfills. I know if I ever need anything, there will be a Lalala to help me accomplish it.