To Pitch or Not To Pitch – Lessons from the Slush   Leave a comment

Rissa - from cover art I’ve had a busy few months between edits of the novel I wrote last year, pitch contests and, oh yeah, my regular job. I don’t usually blog about the writing process, but I have some thoughts on the subject of writing and pitch contests for completed novels that I’d like to share.

This story begins last September, when I finished my novel, SONGS OF CHANGE. I thought it was good and showed it to a few people. The response was not quite what I hoped – good, not great. Certainly not as compelling as it should be.

Like any sensible person I began editing. I’d updated the novel twice when PitchWars, an online pitch contest for completed novels managed through Twitter, began in late November. For this contest, participants submitted a query letter and the first few pages of their novel. Mentors went through the submissions and choose a mentee and two alternates. They worked with their mentees for a month, helping them make their manuscripts shine. Agentslooked at the revised pitches and pages and made offers if they liked what they saw. Entering seemed like a good idea. I thought my novel was ready and was looking for validation. Again, I learned a hard lesson. I still wasn’t ready. Fortunately for me, a couple of the mentors to whom I submitted my pitch generously gave critiques to all their submitters, not just their mentees.

Don’t get me wrong, it was depressing. But I learned from it. I discovered I needed to understand more about writing queries. Even more important, I learned that I needed critique partners (CPs). I found some through PitchWars. They helped me tighten up some parts of my novel and expand others. They also helped me learn how to write pitches. My CPs entered some contests in January and February but I passed. I knew I wasn’t ready.

In March, I decided to enter PitchMadness. This contest required submission of a 35-word pitch and the first 250 words of the novel. Writing a pitch in 35 words or less is hard. I didn’t realize how hard until then. It’s especially difficult when you have a sweeping fantasy novel with various twists, turns, and sub-plots. Still, I tried. I didn’t make the cut but one of my CPs did. Instead of submitting my own novel, as I’d hoped, I helped her. That was fine. She deserved the nod. But I didn’t come away with nothing. I asked a few reviewers for comments on my pitch and listened to the feedback. The biggest problem was that my stated category/genre (Adult fantasy) no longer matched the start of my novel, which looked more like YA. I finally got it. I realized the pitch needed to be tightened. But more than that, the novel was starting at the wrong place with the wrong character. There were two very significant characters in the story, a mother and daughter, and I had simply started with the wrong one.

I pulled back again, this time more briefly. Most of the novel was still appropriate. But I needed a new chapter for the beginning. Oddly enough, about half of the new chapter was already written. I’d deleted it from later in the book because it was slowing the story. In the end, the problem was less the material and more the positioning.

Those issues fixed, I entered one more contest in early April. NestPitch was another 35-word plus first page effort. I was ecstatic with delight when I was selected by Jeffe Kennedy for her blog page in the agent round. I was over the moon when I received an agent request: a query + a one page synposis + the first twenty-five pages. I sprang into action. My synopsis was too long given the requested format so I tightened it. I worked with one of my CPs to get my query in shape. I was finally ready to send the requested material.

That was yesterday. I double and triple checked it but my mail program still put some weird formatting text into the submission. Fortunately it was between sections so it shouldn’t interfere with readability. I have to hope Camilla will understand. Now I have to wait. That’s the hardest part of all. I hope she loves it as much as I do. If not, I hope to at least gain more insight into any issues with the novel and into the process of submission and selection.

While I wait, I’m working on a new novel I started for CampNaNoWriMo this month. It’s a New Adult thriller that I’m very excited about. I’m on track to meet my goal of 40,000 words this month but that will be at most half of it. I’ve also submitted SONGS OF CHANGE to one last pitch contest (for now), PitchSlam. Win or lose on that one, after it I’ll set that novel aside for a little while to let it gel. Unless, of course, I gain an agent. If that happens, all current plans will be readjusted.

My purpose in writing this blog wasn’t just to catalog my adventures with pitches There’s a lesson here as well. Actually, several lessons.

  1. If you enter a pitch contest and don’t make the agent round, don’t stress over it too much. Follow the twitter feeds, paying special attention to the comments made about flaws in pitches and learn from it. Make your next entry better.
  2. You’ll find a lot of great people on the pitch twitter feeds. Engage them. Learn from the ones that know things you don’t. Try to help the ones that know less than you. Ask the evaluators for comments on your pitch if you don’t get in. Lots of them are willing to give them after the selections are finished.
  3. If you get a request for pages from a contest and the end result is a rejection, as it was recently for a friend of mine, don’t let it destroy your confidence. Sometimes “It’s just not for me” means exactly that. It wasn’t what that particular agent was looking for at the time you submitted. It may be exactly what some other agent seeks.
  4. Most importantly, don’t give up on yourself. Just keep working to get better.

Posted April 22, 2014 by Leoma Retan in Writing

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Remembering St. Patrick   Leave a comment

Happy St Patricks - 15Mar14

St. Patrick’s day is coming. For many Americans that means parades, parties, and green beer. Maybe corned beef and cabbage. But what about St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland and namesake of this day? He’s often lost amid the revelry.

The historical St. Patrick was born in Britain in the fifth century. Kidnapped and taken to Ireland when he was about sixteen, he didn’t hate those who enslaved him. Instead, he escaped after six years and became a priest. He returned to Ireland to bring the word of Christ to those who had once harmed him.

Some say he chased the snakes out of Ireland. That seems unlikely. According to Nigel Monaghan, keeper of natural history at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, there is no evidence among the vast collections of Irish fossils that snakes ever existed there. The land link between Britain and Ireland was broken two millennia before the retreating cold of the Ice Age allowed the return of snakes to northern Europe. Ireland’s isolation protected it, not the esteemed saint.

What is true is that by the seventh century he was revered as the “Apostle of Ireland.” He is generally credited as being the first bishop of Armagh.

Since the early seventeenth century, 17 March, the date of his death, has been celebrated as the feast day of St. Patrick, or St. Patrick’s Day. It is celebrated as a Christian feast day by Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, and perhaps others of whom I’m unaware. Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day. It is also a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Newfoundland, and Montserrat and is celebrated around the world.

Celebrations often involve public parades and festivals, parties, and the wearing of green clothing. My husband, who grew up in Ireland, remembers the religious aspects of the celebrations and was stunned at the lack of this when he came to the United States. Sadly, I only remember parties, green beer, and random people wearing green clothing for the day. Poor St. Patrick was forgotten in most of my memories.

This St. Patrick’s day, while you celebrate with your friends and drink you green beer, please remember to give a toast to the one who started it all: St. Patrick, Bishop of Armagh and Apostle of Ireland. He left us with a prayer whose power may be felt even by those who don’t believe.

St Patricks Breastplate excerpt-15Mar14

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I rise today
in the power’s strength, invoking the Trinity
believing in threeness,
confessing the oneness,
of creation’s Creator.

I rise today
in the power of Christ’s birth and baptism,
in the power of his crucifixion and burial,
in the power of his rising and ascending,
in the power of his descending and judging.

I rise today
in the power of the love of cherubim,
in the obedience of angels
and service of archangels,
in hope of rising to receive the reward,
in the prayers of patriarchs,
in the predictions of the prophets,
in the preaching of apostles,
in the faith of confessors,
in the innocence of holy virgins,
in the deeds of the righteous.

I rise today
in heaven’s might,
in sun’s brightness,
in moon’s radiance,
in fire’s glory,
in lightning’s quickness,
in wind’s swiftness,
in sea’s depth,
in earth’s stability,
in rock’s fixity.

I rise today
with the power of God to pilot me,
God’s strength to sustain me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look ahead for me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to protect me,
God’s way before me,
God’s shield to defend me,
God’s host to deliver me,
from snares of devils,
from evil temptations,
from nature’s failings,
from all who wish to harm me,
far or near,
alone and in a crowd.

Around me I gather today all these powers
against every cruel and merciless force
to attack my body and soul,
against the charms of false prophets,
the black laws of paganism,
the false laws of heretics,
the deceptions of idolatry,
against spells cast by women, smiths, and druids,
and all unlawful knowledge that harms the body and soul.

May Christ protect me today
against poison and burning,
against drowning and wounding,
so that I may have abundant reward;
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me;
Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me;
Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me;
Christ in my lying, Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising;
Christ in the heart of all who think of me,
Christ on the tongue of all who speak to me,
Christ in the eye of all who see me,
Christ in the ear of all who hear me.

I rise today
in power’s strength, invoking the Trinity,
believing in threeness,
confessing the oneness,
of creation’s Creator.

For to the Lord belongs
and to the Lord belongs salvation
and to Christ belongs salvation.
May your salvation, Lord, be with us always.

Not all disabilities are visible   1 comment

Yesterday at the market my husband made a remark about the handicapped spots in the parking lot that got me thinking.

Many people resent those legally mandated handicapped parking spots as “political correctness” or “pandering to people who should just let others take care of them”.  I am not one of those people and become annoyed when I hear those comments.

I used to have a good friend (used to because he died 8 years ago) who suffered from a severe form of schleroderma (  In Michael’s case it caused scarring of his internal organs, leaving him with only 18% of his lung capacity.  On his good days it didn’t look like anything was wrong with him.  People would glare at him for using the handicapped spots, probably assuming he was using someone else’s placard.  He wasn’t.  On his bad days he could only walk very slowly, with extreme pain.  He would be exhausted just by walking from the bedroom to the door.  He never knew when a “good” day would change to a “bad” one.

The point is, not all disabilities involve wheelchairs or crutches or guide dogs.  Besides diseases that affect the organs, as in Michael’s case, various stress disorders, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be far more debilitating than many people realize.  These are people who need your support, not your scorn.

Bottom line – Next time you see someone using a handicapped parking spot, don’t assume they are “sponging off the system”; don’t assume they are using someone else’s placard.  Instead, be happy that you are healthy enough not to need a placard and give them a smile instead of a glower.  Not all disabilities are visible from the outside.

Posted December 15, 2013 by Leoma Retan in Uncategorized

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The 10 Days of PitchWars   2 comments

The following should be sung to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas”.  This is offered with a special thanks to Brenda Drake and to all the mentors who are working so hard evaluating queries.


On the first day of PitchWars the mentors gave to me,
and the chance to become a mentee.

On the second day of PitchWars the mentors gave to me,
two big bags of stress,
and the chance to become a mentee.

On the third day of PitchWars the mentors gave to me,
three g-mail fails, two big bags of stress,
and the chance to become a mentee.

On the fourth day of PitchWars the mentors gave to me,
four cryptic tweets, three g-mail fails, two big bags of stress,
and the chance to become a mentee.

On the fifth day of PitchWars the mentors gave to me,
five helpful thoughts,
four cryptic tweets, three g-mail fails, two big bags of stress,
and the chance to become a mentee.

On the sixth day of PitchWars the mentors gave to me,
six twitter replies,
five helpful thoughts,
four cryptic tweets, three g-mail fails, two big bags of stress,
and the chance to become a mentee.

On the seventh day of PitchWars the mentors gave to me,
seven massive migraines, six twitter replies,
five helpful thoughts,
four cryptic tweets, three g-mail fails, two big bags of stress,
and the chance to become a mentee.

On the eighth day of PitchWars the mentors gave to me,
eight notes on requests, seven massive migraines, six twitter replies,
five helpful thoughts,
four cryptic tweets, three g-mail fails, two big bags of stress,
and the chance to become a mentee.

On the ninth day of PitchWars the mentors gave to me,
nine hints of choices, eight notes on requests, seven massive migraines, six twitter replies,
five helpful thoughts,
four cryptic tweets, three g-mail fails, two big bags of stress,
and the chance to become a mentee.

On the tenth day of PitchWars the mentors gave to me,
bad indigestion, no hints of choices, no page requests, the last massive migraine, six twitter replies,
five helpful thoughts,
no more cryptic tweets, no g-mail fails, no more bags of stress,

Posted December 5, 2013 by Leoma Retan in Writing

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10 Reasons You Should Pick Me as a Mentee   3 comments

This is another blog about Pitch Wars.  Apologies to anyone reading this who is not involved in it.  I promise I will post something different by the end of next weekend.

PitchWars: Why Mentors Should Pick Me as a Mentee

Leoma Retan picture - 512x512 - 15 Sep 13_001          This is my avatar, not my picture but it is designed to resemble me.

1.  I’ve done Firewalk.  That pretty much means I can handle anything

bonfire - 22Nov13- sized and processed

2. The world described in SONGS OF CHANGE exists in the virtual space of inWorldz – and I can modify it if I want because it’s mine.

3. I love all animals – cats, dogs, horses, chinchillas – bring ’em on.

The boys in winter - IMGP1380

4. I’m capable of subsisting on coffee for long periods of time – in fact, I’ve been known to use it in place of blood.

5. I will send you bribes as needed.

6.  I don’t sleep much so I’ll have lots of time to respond to your criticisms and requests for change.

7. You can find my vision of my world of Fyrnlosing by looking at my website:  Here are some of my concepts of the people in it:

Rissa - from cover art     Cait at the Library    Erissa and Crusty    Erissa and Dark Dancing

                                 Erissa and Dark closeup    Cait by the lake

8.  I have a thick skin for criticism.  In fact, my favorite way to hold a design discussion is to create a “straw man” solution, send it to everyone involved, and let them take pot shots at it.  The technique generally results in good solutions.  I suspect the same will apply to editing my manuscript.

9. I chose you as a mentor because your list of interests had a large overlap with the elements in my book  and because I think, based on your interests, that we can work well together.  I will work as hard as I need to to make SONGS OF CHANGE a success.

10. THE REAL REASON YOU SHOULD CHOOSE ME: You like the subject of my novel and believe we can be successful together.

I am a writer of fantasy and science fiction. Check out my website at and my other blogs at: and


Posted December 2, 2013 by Leoma Retan in Writing

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Pitch Wars   Leave a comment

I haven’t posted a blog this week because I’ve been busy preparing an entry for #PitchWars.

If you’re not familiar with Pitch Wars ( , it’s a competition run by Brenda Drake which allows writers to submit a query letter and the first five pages of a completed, unpublished manuscript to mentors.  If you attract a mentor, they will work closely with you for five weeks to polish your manuscript for submission to agents.

This year there were 46 fabulous mentors but you could only submit pitches to 4 of them unless you were lucky enough, as I was, to win the right to a 5th mentor submission.  Since only 5 people were selected for the 5th mentor, I was definitely doing a happy dance when I found I was one of them.

The trick is to find the mentors most likely to be interested in your particular book.  Each of them provided a list of what they are looking for and, equally important, what they do not want to see.  Some are doing only young adult, some only new adult, adult, or middle grade.  Some signed up for multiple categories.

Now, after days of polishing my query letter plus five pages, perusing the mentor list, and tweeting with my fellow writers for assistance and support, my 5 pitches are sent.  The only thing I can do now is wait.  This is the hardest part for me since I’ve never been a patient person.

The submission window ends tonight at midnight.  The mentors won’t see any of the queries until then.  If I succeed in interesting one of them, I will probably need to send more material.  If I have done as I hope and written a query and start to my book sufficiently compelling to win the support of one of the mentors (keeping my fingers and toes tightly crossed), I will be spending a lot of time polishing my book through December and January so I won’t have time for much blogging.

In any case, the mentors will not finish their selections until 11 December (still hating the wait, like everyone else).  The successful writers will have their polished work reviewed by 17 agents (awesome ones by all reports).  In the past, contracts have often resulted from this contest, so wish me luck.  If I don’t win a mentor this time, I will still keep working on my manuscript and submitting it to agents – just not at such a furious pace.


I am a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. If you are interested in learning more about me or my work, check out my website at

Posted December 2, 2013 by Leoma Retan in Uncategorized

I nearly ran over the Thanksgiving turkey   2 comments

Wild turkey

Last Wednesday I was driving to work on a quiet road when I saw a turkey starting to cross.  I know this sounds like the start of a “why did the turkey cross the road” joke but, trust me, it isn’t.  I slowed down, even though I assumed that the turkey would notice my car and do something sensible like stop or slow down.  But this was a turkey – a bird not known for its high intelligence.  It did notice my car.  I know because it immediately sped up, bringing it in front of my car more quickly.    I braked immediately and avoided hitting the foolish fowl, but it was a near thing.  Turkeys are large birds so I suspect a collision would have done some real damage to my car, in addition to making a mess.

Turkeys on the road are not unusual in New England, where I live.  This one was different mainly because it was alone.  They usually move around in gangs (my term, based on their behavior).  I have seen a group of turkeys stop traffic on the local roads for several minutes as they trotted back and forth, deciding which side of the street they preferred to explore.  They are more common in the spring and summer but, as this incident shows, they are still around and must be avoided.

Apparently there are now approximately 7 million turkeys in the United States now and they are becoming a problem in many areas, congregating on people’s lawns and sometimes causing traffic accidents, either causing the driver to collide with them or to be hit from behind when other drivers fail to stop.  Attempts by officials in some areas where they reside to round them up and kill them to reduce the problem have resulted in outcries from those who like and support them.  Personally, seeing them always makes me smile.

The bottom line is: turkeys are likely to remain a periodic road hazard so you need to watch for them when you drive anywhere they live.  With that in mind, drive safely and let your only “close encounter” with a turkey be with the one on your Thanksgiving table.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving.



I am a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. If you are interested in learning more about me or my work, check out my website at

Posted November 22, 2013 by Leoma Retan in Uncategorized

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Words have power   2 comments

Saigonsays recently posted a blog about the use of jargon in our speech ( – at least he started that topic before digressing into the issue of what sustainable development is / should be (an interesting but entirely different topic).  I’d like to add to that beginning and talk about both jargon and the power of words.  Using the right words – or the wrong ones – doesn’t only matter for professional writers.  Anyone who communicates verbally or in writing needs to be aware and use them carefully.  Words can illuminate or confuse. The right words at the right time can heal, the wrong ones can hurt, even when no hurt was intended.

Words matter

Acronyms and jargon can join us or separate us.  If you understand a term without asking, you are part of the “club”; if you don’t, you are marked as an outsider.

This gets more difficult when an acronym is used to mean different things.  For instance – RAM means “random access memory” to people familiar with computers; but it can also mean “Rolling Airframe Missile”, “Reliability, Availability, and Maintainability”, or “Rad Academica de Mexico” in different contexts.  In fact, a quick google search resulted in 126 potential meanings for that acronym.

Jargon can be even trickier. As an example, at one time I was in a position requiring evaluation of computer systems that could provide displays in response to controls in an automobile simulator.  This display was to provide the equivalent of the scenery outside the car window.  The system needed to provide the capability is generally described as a real time simulation – the core component of any effort to create virtual reality.  When I met with prospective vendors, the first thing I would ask them was: “What is your definition of real time?”  If they couldn’t give me an answer or if they described it as “providing a response quickly enough that a human user wouldn’t notice”, I strongly suspected they could not provide an acceptable solution.  “Quick enough for the human not to notice” is fine if you are creating a computer application for text, or even graphics, entry by a person.  It is not sufficient for virtual reality systems, which need to provide a seamless, high resolution display all of the time.  The definition I needed from them, my “real time”, was that all operations would complete within a specific, fixed period of time.  Anything less tends to create distracting “glitches” in the video.

You might notice that, even though I tried, I was not able to completely eliminate jargon from my previous paragraph.  I attempted to compensate by explaining terms but I suspect I was not entirely successful.  Terminology like “glitch” is too deeply embedded in my brain – it has become natural for me to use – causing me to struggle to find better alternatives.

The problem with acronyms is easy to resolve in writing – just define your use of the acronym the first time you use it.  In the case of jargon, my only advice is to know your audience.  If the terminology will be clear to most of them, go ahead and use it.  If you have a general audience, such as a popular magazine, you must spend time explaining your terms.

You might wonder why I included the other phrases in my graphic: “I love you”, “I hate you,” “what are you doing?”  Aren’t they simply phrases to use or avoid?  I don’t believe so.  Those phrases are among the most highly charged words I can think of.

“I love you.”  Say it to someone who returns your love and you will make them happy.  Say it to someone who only likes you and you may make them uncomfortable.  Say it (as an adult) to a child you are not related to and you may hear from the police.

“I hate you.”  How many times have you said this to someone you love when you were angry?  You don’t mean you hate the person in the greater scheme of things, just that you hate what they are doing right now.  Still, it can hurt the other person.  At the very least, you will owe them an apology later.

“What are you doing?” If your friend says this, it is probably a matter of genuine interest.  If your boss says it, he may be asking if you have time for a new project or accusing you of doing something wrong. The problem is, whether verbally or in writing, the phrase itself can set a reaction.  If that reaction is strongly negative, viewing the question as an accusation, the remainder of the context may be lost entirely because the recipient has simply stopped listening (or reading).

My message here is simple – Be careful about the words you use.  Words have far more power than you may realize.  Using the right words can make someone’s world feel better, bring them back from a dark place.  The wrong words, even if not intended to hurt, can cut like a knife.  If they bring back past memories, even the most innocent seeming words can have disproportionate effects.

By the way, to me the acronyms I used in the graphic are: NGO (non-governmental organization), ROI (return on investment), SAR (search and rescue), and TLA (three-letter acronym).


I am a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. If you are interested in learning more about me or my work, check out my website at

Posted September 14, 2013 by Leoma Retan in Writing

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Where were you when. . .   Leave a comment


Do you remember where you were?  I had just reached my office and was checking the news.  The first thing I saw was the video of the towers.  At first I thought it was a movie trailer or a hoax.  Then I discovered it was all too real. . .

Take a moment today to remember the people who died just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, the people who died trying to help them, the people who lost friends or loved ones – remember everyone who was changed forever in that few minutes of time.

I am a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. If you are interested in learning more about me or my work, check out my website at

Posted September 11, 2013 by Leoma Retan in Poetry

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Sorry I’ve been AWOL   Leave a comment

Apologies for my absence the past week but I have a good excuse – I have been working hard to finish my book.  I completed the last chapter on Labor Day and “The Broken Land” (working title) is now in the hands of several trusted readers for review.

It is a science fantasy novel occurring in a place called the “Isles of Fyrnlosing”, which is part of an earth-like world.  Most civilization in Fyrnlosing is at a middle ages level of technology, but there is a component of higher technology resulting from a more developed society that nearly destroyed the world a thousand years in the past.  Magic and technology exist at a roughly equal level here and all is peaceful until the appearance of a man who shouldn’t be there – a man who seems to have been nearly killed in a major battle that did not occur in Fyrnlosing.  The future of the world may hinge on the activities of two curious teenagers and the ability of the disparate human and non-human groups to work together.

Here is the current cover art:


I am a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and poetry. If you are interested in learning more about me or my work, check out my website at

Posted September 7, 2013 by Leoma Retan in Writing

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