Romance on the Run: Frozen Penguin 5K Race Recap

FROZEN PENGUIN 5K — MARCH 12, 2017

Official Time: 26.28
Average Pace: 8:32/MILE

My editor is going to be so mad at me if I can’t type by the end of this.

This was the first thought that flashed through my mind as I ran out of a tunnel in Riverside Park and onto a straight, picturesque stretch of pavement along the Hudson River. I was a little over a mile into the NYC Runs’ Frozen Penguin 5K, and the race was living up to its adorable (and regrettably accurate) name.

It was just after nine a.m. on a crystal clear Sunday morning, and about 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Because I enjoy tormenting myself, I also looked up the “real feel” temperature before the race. 19 degrees.

Lovely.

While running, I like to check in with my body every once in awhile to make sure nothing’s feeling off. That’s when I realized I couldn’t feel the middle and ring fingers on my left hand. Being right handed and far from ambidextrous, that shouldn’t be too much of a concern — save the pesky frostbite risk — but given that I’m an author with a fast-approaching deadline it was cause for concern.

My editor, Marla Daniels, is incredibly supportive and understanding, however the idea of emailing her Monday morning to report that I had two non-functional digits which I rely upon to type those novels she’s contracted for me was a little unsettling.

Hi Marla,

Hope you had a great weekend! Something funny happened yesterday. Really, you’re going to laugh. Probably.

I was doing this race and my fingers froze. Like froze froze. I can’t feel a couple of them. As you can guess, that’s kind of a problem.

Soooo…I’m trying the old “hunt and peck” method of typing right now. I’ll let you know how it goes when I turn in this book in three weeks! Hopefully. Probably. Wish me luck!

Best,

Julia

PS Please send deadline pie.

Yeah, that wasn’t going to fly.

I started wiggling my fingers to get the blood circulating again, trying to remain philosophical about the whole thing. Maybe frostbite could come in handy for future book research. You’d be surprised how many real life events work their way into plots — twisted and changed enough to protect the guilty parties, of course.

As I rounded the top of the esplanade where a helpful NYC Runs volunteer bundled up as tightly as an arctic explorer waved me on, my legs started to feel…weird. It took me a moment to realize it was because I was sweating, and when that sweat hit the sub-freezing temperatures it was making my skin prick and tingle.

I was left with a choice:

A) Run slower, sweat less, and finish the race slower, thus resigning myself to more time stuck outdoors in New York-turned-Siberia.

B) Run faster, sweat more, and finish the race faster, therefore getting myself out of the cold ASAP.

I opted for the latter.

The NYC Runs course looped me around a series of paths with gentle hills, passed something called Dinosaur Playground (I was sorely disappointed not to spot any dinosaurs, but maybe I missed them while trying to remember how to breath), and down a mostly flat straight to the finish line. I crossed at a respectable 26:28 with an 8:32/mile average pace.

To be truthful, I’m a little disappointed my time wasn’t faster. Granted this was the coldest weather I’ve ever run in, so that probably effected my time, but I’ve been working on speed drills and trying to get my legs turning over faster. I suppose those things take time to sink into your muscles. I also kicked into high gear in the second mile (8:15?! I haven’t run an 8:15 mile since high school, you guys), but dropped off at the end. Guess I’m going to work on those negative splits running coaches always talk about…

Once I crossed the finish line, a kind volunteer shoved a cup of hot chocolate in my hands. Sipping what tasted like warm elixir from the gods but was probably just massive batches of Swiss Miss, I found my friend, Nicole, and together we waited for the third member of our merry band of runners to finish his first 5K. Nigel and I had been talking about new year’s resolutions a few days after the start of 2017, and he mentioned that he wanted to run a 5K. Being the helpful/pestering friend I am, I found him this one, and we signed up.

Getting to watch someone not just complete one of their resolutions but do it while smiling despite the less-than-desirable conditions was without question the best part of the race.

The shirt’s pretty great too.

Big things, little things, I believe in celebrating all achievements so, hot chocolate in hand, we trooped out of the park for brunch.

And don’t worry, Marla, my fingers came back to life about a half hour later while wrapped around a hot cup of coffee.

Post-brunch triumph.

The Weird Wonderful World of Edwardian Valentines

Happy Valentine’s Day! As many of you already know, I come across a lot of really cool, interesting things in the middle of my research. Today I thought I’d share with some sweet, odd, or just down right concerning valentines from the early twentieth century.

All of these images are courtesy of the New York Public Library

There’s nothing weird about these first two valentines. They’re going to be our baseline…

…because after this, things get weird (Okay I find the clown/jester weird but I have a thing about clowns)

Is it sweet or is it Claudius poisoning Hamlet’s father while he sleeps in the garden? You decide

because nothing says love like two cherubs playing racket sports with your heart

The disembodied head in the middle of a pansy is…disconcerting

Because nothing says ‘love’ like a frozen heart and a half naked cupid wearing a fur with the sort of flair mae west would be proud of

Pro Tip: Don’t Forget the Cat

what happens when cupid gets into mom’s makeup baG? This horrifying mess

Painting spots on dogs. As you do

May your Valentine’s Day be filled with love and your February 15th be rich with discounted chocolates!

#5forFriday

Here are five things making me happy this week:

#1 I ran my first race on Sunday! It was a nice, low key 4 miler in Central Park that my friend Jena suggested might be a good way to get into organized runs.

“I can’t feel my cheeks any longer.”

It was brutally cold that morning, and it took awhile for my legs to warm up and I was freezing before and after the race. (But not during the race. I was just really sweaty then.)

Unnecessarily intense race photo in which I promise I’m thinking, “Dear God when is this over so I can take a nap?”

No worries! I’m happy to say I beat my goal time and had a blast. The chicken and waffles at Amy Ruth’s in Harlem afterwards didn’t hurt either.

I’m already looking ahead to my next race in March and am thinking about signing up for a half marathon. (This is probably all your fault, Mary Chris.)

All bundled up at the finish.

#2 On Monday I met up with Laura von Holt and we headed over to Lady Jane’s Salon for the big eighth anniversary/Valentine’s Day reading. It was her first time being there, so naturally Laura won a stack of books in a raffle and was fed champagne and brownies.

#3 This article about black fashion designers is a must read for anyone interested in fashion history.

#4 I’ve really been struggling with the pacing of this historical I’m writing right now, but ripping the structure apart with help from Gwen Hayes Romancing the Beat on Saturday was hugely helpful. I feel like I’ve had a breakthrough on this book all thanks to her story structure.

#5 And finally, thank goodness for the Second Avenue Subway which got me to my day job in the middle of a snowstorm on Thursday without my old 3/4 mile walk to the other subway station in the neighborhood. It’s the little things.

Free Books for Historical Readers!

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I’ve got a treat for my historical readers! Fifteen historical romance authors and I are giving away copies of our books for a limited time.

Want to wander the Highlands? How about a romp in the Regency? Or maybe retreating to the American Revolution is more your style? This giveaway’s got you covered.

You can get these books for free until 2/27, but after that the deal’s gone! Click on the covers below to be taken directly to the book download link.

#5forFriday

A super quick #5forFri from me today because this is so late!

#1 I’ve had a good run of writing days all in a row, most of them hitting or exceeding my writing goals. As any writer will tell you, building up that kind of momentum is huge.

#2 My brilliant sister has gotten her book review website off the ground in a big way! She’s a speed reader, so she’s already got a bunch of review up on I Should Read That, and her Instagram game is solid. (There are plenty of cats with books pictures to enjoy.)

#3 Last weekend I indulged and bought myself a JBL Clip 2 wireless bluetooth speaker to finally replace my old speakers that died years ago. I’ve been happily listening to a lot of KUSC but also rediscovering much of the jazz I danced to when I was in college and a serious swing dancer. Sydney Bechet, Count Bassie, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Parker.

#4 I’m running my first race this weekend — a short 4 mile loop in the park.

#5 This dance to that Ed Sheeran song I can’t get out of my head. (H/T my friend Sonia)

And that’s all for me! What are your five favorite things from this week?

What I’ll Be Reading This February

Since I’ve been writing both contemporary and historical romance this winter, I’ve been doing my best to read outside of the genre for relaxation. Judging packets for the RITA Awards came out this winter which makes taking a break from romance a bit tricky but here are a few of the books I’m reading off of my TBR pile this month:

I’ll See You in Paris, by Michelle Gable

This was a gift from my friend Mary Chris Escobar as part of a secret Santa present. This women’s fiction follows a mother and daughter as they return to the mother’s long-lost home in England. As the story unfolds, you get little bits of a mystery about a third woman as well.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin

Every reader’s got catnip. Books about New York in the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s are mine. I haven’t started this book yet, but The Swans of Fifth Avenue came as a strong recommendation from a good friend who shares the same obsession as I do.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners, by Therese Oneill

This was a birthday gift from my sister and her boyfriend. I’ve read through a couple sections already, and it’s a really irreverent, fascinating look at history. Think of all the unglamorous things you don’t usually read about the Victorians: poisonous cosmetics, menstruation, weight loss and gain. I can already tell it’s going to be really helpful for research.

The Mystery of Princess Louise, by Lucinda Hawksley

This book is strictly for research, although I really enjoy Hawksley’s other books I’ve read. Princess Louise was a talented artist in her own right and served as stand-in for her mother, Queen Victoria, at many state functions while Victoria was deep in mourning.

“The Princess Louise (born Louise Caroline Alberta),also known as Marchioness of Lorne and Duchess of Argyll,” Philip de László.

She’s also the subject of one of my favorite portraits. (One day, someone please paint a portrait of me that is as complimentary as this one.)

Grit:The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth

I’m tearing through this book about the psychology behind success and determination. A friend of my recommended reading it because it looks at the common traits that successful people share: passion and determination, or as Duckworth calls it, grit. (FYI, romance authors are some really gritty ladies.) Normally I don’t think of myself as a big fan of psychology books, but I’m really enjoying this one and I also thought Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller was fascinating so I might have to revise my thoughts on the genre.

Five for Friday (With Kitties)

Last week I told you I’d be sharing this five things I’ve loved over the past seven days. Here’s this week’s edition:

1. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile you might have noticed things look a little different. I’ve rebranded to reflect my new pen name for contemporary romance: Julia Blake! I’ll still be writing historicals as Julia Kelly, but this will help make it really clear which genre you’re going to get when you pick up one of my books. (PS You can check out what’ll be coming out from Julia Blake thanks to this preorder which just dropped in price from $4.99 to $1.99!)

2. Hidden Figures. Do yourself a favor. Buy yourself a ticket and treat yourself to a really enjoyable, positive movie. It was exactly the story I needed to see with everything swirling around in the world right now.

3. This excellent post from Cara McKenna on using the 28/40 method to create dynamic heroes (and yes you can absolutely use it for heroines).

4. I’m a RITA judge so I’m working my way through a stack of six books in several different categories. I can’t actually name check the author or title, but I’m practically bursting because I read an AMAZING RITA-potential book and I can’t talk about it at all! One of these days, long after the RITAs are awarded, I’ll slip it into a recommendation list and spread the good word and no one will know. How sneaky!

5. And finally, this photo of my sister and her boyfriends’ cats looking very judgmental.

Why I Started Writing Romance

Many authors’ stories start the same way, with some variation of “I’ve been telling stories since I was a little girl.” I’m not any different, although I don’t remember telling love stories when I was a little girl. Instead, my first “book” (which was one page long) was a mystery.

Both my parents are avid readers, and my Mum has what sometimes feels like an encyclopedic knowledge of mystery and crime fiction. Between that and hearing the woman wailing as she faints during the wonderfully macabre Edward Gory’s Mystery! opening credits from my bedroom every Thursday night as a child, I was pretty much destined to start off there.

I’ve talked before about reading my first romance novel. It was a sweet, wonderfully zany Zebra Regency Romance that I took home with about a half dozen others from a deep discount book store on Lake Avenue in Pasadena. While I’d always read voraciously as a child, I truly gobbled these books up, soon moving on to more complex plots with more intense romances (ie the hero and heroine started doing more than just kissing on the last page). The only natural step after that was to write one.

I started tinkering with an idea for a book the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. My family had just gotten a new computer, so I commandeered a desk that my sister was just using to store junk and parked the huge desktop on it. Then, I got to work.

The book, which I never finished, was called Charlotte’s Choice and it was a second chance at love romance. I wrote by the seat of my pants — something I would later learn through several long, painful lessons isn’t suitable for me — and finished about 25,000 words by the end of the summer. That alone felt like an incredible achievement. I’d never written that many words before!

This is where, unfortunately, I stalled out. I worked on that book on and off for the next three years, hauling a paper manuscript around with me from home to college and back again. Then, I graduated, and my focus became grad school.

I attended Columbia’s University’s School of Journalism in the broadcast program. I mention that only to say that the program compresses what most schools take two years to teach into 10 months long. They were the hardest 10 months of my life. I had two exacting introductory reporting professors who held marathon days of class on Mondays and Tuesday. Then there were radio broadcast and editing classes, TV broadcast and editing classes, workshops, law, ethics. If I wasn’t in the classroom or desperately trying to grab some sleep after late-night editing sessions in the Avid lab, I was probably out reporting in South Brooklyn (or with friends at a bar if it was Friday or Saturday night because I was still a grad student and let’s be realistic). It was a seven-day-a-week job getting that MS.

Somewhere in the middle of that mess of a year, I was laying on my futon late-night and watching Dancing With the Stars in an desperate attempt to turn off the analytical, journalism side of my brain. That was when I realized I wasn’t enjoying my life. Everything was so focused on getting this degree, I felt completely drained. I’ve since heard Sylvia Day talk about needing to top up the well, as though creatives — or anyone really — have a finite amount of creative energy and inspiration. We keep the levels high by consuming things that stimulate us. Books, movies, media. We need a mental break from whatever it is that we’re making in order to then go and do our job in a healthy way. Even though I didn’t know to call it that, I’d drained the well as a journalist and was running on dry.

That was the night that I decided I needed to exercise my long-neglected creative side. I turned the TV off, pulled my laptop out, and started writing. It was a historical romance about a poor relation who resorts to writing and the earl courting her cousin who falls for her hard. By the end of the night, I had the first chapter of To Woo a Writer.

Writing it, however, wouldn’t be quite so easy as that first chapter. For about three years I picked up and put down the book. In the meantime, I wrote a novella and shopped it to a now-defunct Harlequin line. I still have the slip of paper my rejection was printed on. I doubled down on my efforts to finish the draft of To Woo a Writer only to be distracted by other things because writing is hard and it’s easy to set aside things that are hard and get to them later.

Finally, in 2012, I decided that it was time to — for lack of a better phrase — put up or shut up. I’d been talking about wanting to get published for a long, long time and I still didn’t have a completed, full-length novel to show for it. I made the decision to finish the book and started saying no to some social engagements that would take me away from writing and leaving others early so I could go home and write. In two months I typed The End.

The book was a mess (first drafts are always a mess), but it was done. Done! I called Mum, told her I was revising it and I’d need her to read it if she was up for it, and began hacking away at book. After a couple rounds of revisions, I pulled out my copy of Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents (bought and flagged with Post-In notes in an optimistic moment), and drew up a list of agents that accepted romance. I ranked the agencies, and began sending out queries for representation. By October, I’d signed with Emily Sylvan Kim at Prospect Agency who is still my agent.

The story of getting from representation to contract is another long one. To Woo a Writer is still bubbling away on the back burner of my hard drive. I love it, but with so much distance and growth since writing it, I can see its flaws. Before the Governess series was picked up by Pocket Books, I wrote two contemporary romances (one of which will be published this August and the other of which is so bad it will never see the light of day), and self-published two contemporary romance anthologies. Getting that first contract took a long time. Then again, so did writing that first book.

Five For Friday, Plus It’s My Birthday (and I’m Giving You Books!)

It’s my birthday! I’m actually not a huge birthday celebration person (except on all important milestone birthday), but I wanted to use today as an excuse to give something back to my readers!

But first, my darling friend Alexandra Haughton just started a new feature on her website. She’s calling it Five for Friday, and I love it as an idea to share some of the best things she’s run across during the week.

1) My best friend is getting married this fall, and so we went shopping for the bridesmaids. Her wedding is going to be a beautiful Hindu-Greek Orthodox blended ceremony, and the women will all wear saris. This was my first time trying on a sari, and I was almost overwhelmed by how many beautiful options there are (as well as how quickly the women in the shops could whip me in and out of them). We think we narrowed it down to a few great options, got some snapshots for the other ladies in the bridal party, and I just know it’s going to be a beautiful wedding to an incredible guy.

2) I made this fantastic banana bread on Monday night because I had a bunch of bananas that was rapidly getting too ripe on the counter. It came out perfect, and I’ve been eating it for breakfast all week. Sometimes it’s the simple things.

3) I’m trying out Dragon Anywhere, an iPad and iPhone app that allows you to dictate long strings of text. Since I can speak faster than I can type, my hope is that this will help me get my first drafts down a little quick after some (admittedly hilarious) days learning how to retrain my brain for dictation.

4) The Bachelor is back! I know I’m late to the party (the show premiered during the last push for me to get edits in for my upcoming contemporary sports romance), but I’m already sucked in thanks to the NYC winter sending me inside for long runs at the gym. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve never been a Bachelor watcher, but I’ve loved The Bachelorette. However I can already tell I’m going to have a hard time resisting the soapy, dramatic goodness of the highly staged reality show.

5) And finally for the birthday part. I’ve got a stack of paperbacks — some signed by their authors — to giveaway to readers in celebration of my birthday. You can check out all of the details in the Rafflecopter giveaway below, but you’ve got six chances to enter. The contest runs until midnight on January 23rd. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

How a Book Becomes a Book

On Thursday, I turned in the developmental edits for my upcoming contemporary sports romance Changing the Play which will be published under a new pen name, Julia Blake. Authors know that this is cause for celebration. Developmental edits are a big deadline, and getting them out of the way is a huge relief. But others might be wondering what that actually means.

Even though I’d published independently before signing with Pocket Books, I had to admit to being fuzzy on the whole publishing process at traditional houses. Today I’m going to try to walk you through some of the major steps that gets a book from draft to publication using my experience with the second in my Governess series, The Governess Was Wanton.

The First Draft

It seems logical that the first step in publishing a book is to actually write the book. Depending upon where you are in your career and the terms of your deal, however, there might be a whole negotiation before you ever write a word of prose. (Selling on proposal is a topic for another day.)

When my agent sold the Governess series, we had one completed book (The Governess Was Wicked) and proposals for two others (Wanton and The Governess Was Wild). Those proposals were really just two to three page synopses of what would happen in the book were I to write it.

If you have a completed novel when you strike a deal, the editor can begin working on it immediately. However, you’ve sold on proposal or there are multiple books in a deal and not all are written, this is the time when an author’s got to get to work. When my Governess deal went through, my editor was able to get cracking on The Governess Was Wicked immediately, and that meant I had to get writing Wanton STAT.

I wrote Wanton over about five weeks, revising it up until the deadline. Then, blurry eyed and tired, I turned it in to my editor. That was stage one complete.

Developmental Edits

My editor took my first draft of Wanton and read it through. Then she wrote me an edit letter which is a document with recommendations about what to change, which parts need to be strengthened, and what new directions she’d like to see the story go in. Often these are very big picture changes to a book that develop character and plot (ie developmental edits).

In the case of Wanton, the edit letter included a big ask: rewriting the ending of the book because it was too similar to the ending of Wicked, which would be published immediately before itGetting a note like that is nerve wracking because it seems like such a huge undertaking. (“I have to rewrite the whole end of a book? How do I even do that?!”) In the end, however, my editor was absolutely right, and the new ending has one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever written.

Accepted Into Production

Once you’ve handed in your dev. edits and your editor has gone through them, they might ask for another round of edits. However, if they’re happy with the changes made, your book will be accepted into production. Rejoice!

This is typically when authors get paid some part of their advance. (Advances are split up into parts. I’ve heard of a lot of different advance structures. So far I have been paid half on signing and half on acceptance of the manuscript.)

Line and Copy Edits

Next my editor did a line edit of Wanton (think a very close, line-by-line reading of the content of the text with lots of comments and markups in track changes) before she hands the book off to a copy editor. Some editors may send the line edits to their authors for approval and changes first, but the way we work I got the line edits at the same time as the copy edits.

The copy editor is looking for technical, grammatical problems with the manuscript. This is also the stage where the manuscript is checked for consistency. Copy editors have to be very detail oriented, and I’ve got a huge amount of respect for them because their job seems impossibly hard to me.

When Wanton went for copy edits, the copy editor made a list of all names, places, and dates referenced in the book. This is like a little bible that your book (and your series if you wind up writing multiple books in the same world) has to adhere to. They’re looking for consistency in names, timelines, physical descriptions. It turns out I’m not a strong timeline writer (I’m trying to get better!) so ages and dates are challenging for me. I received several notes on Wanton about whether someone was 28 or 30, what color some else’s eyes were, etc.

When I got back my line and copy edits, everything was marked up in track changes. This was my time to then accept or reject the changes in the manuscript. If I agreed with my editor and the copy editor, I would accept a change. If I didn’t, I would STET the edit in a comment, which basically meant, “I don’t agree with you, please leave the text as it was.” With historical romances you have to be particularly careful because not everyone is as familiar with conventions of the time like how siblings were addressed. (I’m the eldest of two sisters, so I would’ve most often been referred to as “Miss Kelly” and my younger sister would’ve been “Miss Justine” until either or both of us were married.)

This was also the time where I got to write my dedication and my acknowledgements pages.

Proofs

Once you send back your copy edits, it’s time for the pages to be set. This is the first time your book looks like an actual book. Since Wanton was published exclusively as an ebook, this meant that my editor sent me a PDF proof of what the book was going to look like on an eReader screen. This is particularly exciting because in my case it meant seeing the title page, pretty chapter headings, page breaks, etc.

The purpose of looking over a proof is to make sure that all of the changes from the copy edits made it in. It’s also a time to sweep for typos. Thankfully I was far from the only set of eyes on the book because at this point I’d read my own manuscript at least eight times. Try editing something you’ve written and read that many times. It’s…hard.

Proofs are the only time that I actually print out and hold my book anymore. I mark up actual pages with colorful pen (my favorite is pink which, now that I think of it, may delight or irritate my proofreader) and then send photographs of the galleys back to my editor to point out where I found typos.

Proofs are not the time for major content changes to a book. They are, essentially, a last check of the book to make sure everything looks okay.

Publication

Rejoice again! You have a book that readers can actually read!

There’s a lot more that goes into prepping a book for publication including back cover copy and marketing, but that’s a whole separate blog post for another day. In terms of the editorial process, you’re done and ready to move on to writing your next great novel because writers never stop writing.