California Hooker Contest by Christine Locksy

Fish Hook - HookingDoes your writing have what it takes to hook the editor? The reader?

Find out when you enter the California Hooker Contest!

Hi, I’m Christine Locksy, and I’ll coordinate the contest entries again this year. The contest opens January 15, 2015, and all entries must be received by midnight (PST) on February 15, 2015.

And, it’s a cinch to enter – you electronically submit your unpublished story’s hook, up to a maximum length of 3 double-spaced pages. We had almost sixty entries in 2013, so let’s beat that number!! The entry fee is only $10 again for 2015, and multiple entries are happily accepted. Give each of your works in progress a chance to win!

Be sure to check the conference website page now for the official rules and guidelines, and mark the page to easily come back on January 15th to submit your entries.

The final round of judges will be editors attending the California Dreamin’ Conference.

We’ll announce the winners at the conference March 27-29, 2015 – you need not be present to win, but we’d love to see you there!

We’re proud of our 2013 contest winners!

10305042_1039239369435692_369798246466905826_n1st Place:  Alexis Lusonne Montgomery, Monk’s Maybe Baby

2nd Place:  Carmen Fox, Divide and Conquer

3rd Place:  Christine Leo, The Sync

Honorable Mention:  Lyn Austin, City of Rocks

California Dreamin’ Workshop Preview by Judy Duarte

SoldierOur guest blogger for this week is Judy Duarte, here to share a sneak peek at our upcoming conference’s workshop sessions. Judy’s latest book, The Soldier’s Holiday Homecoming, will be available November 1st!

The 2015 California Dreamin’ Conference Committee is determined to provide workshops that will appeal to a diverse group of attendees—from the beginning writer to the experienced. And since most authors are interested in a variety of publishing formats, we’ll have that information as well.

So far, we have scheduled 60 different workshops and panels for you to choose from. And that’s not counting the pitch practice session or the chats.

We’ll kick off the conference with the popular Book Camp that begins at noon on Friday, which you can attend even if you don’t register for the conference. This time we’ll be offering April Kihlstrom’s Book in a Week! So be sure to check it out on the website.

The conference will actually begin on Friday evening at 6 pm. If you’d like a sneak peek at what we’ll be offering, here are the tracks and just a sampling of our many workshops and panels:




  • Cop GMC – M.A. Taylor
  • SEAL Team: The Real Deal – Anne Elizabeth & Carl Swepston, Navy SEAL (Ret.)
  • Women’s Role Through the Ages – Terry Irene Blain
  • Writing Romance Novel Tie-ins to TV Series – Nancy Holder


And we’ll be offering a new track this year:


If you haven’t registered for the conference yet, don’t wait too long. We expect to sell out again this year!

JDphotos_004An avid reader who enjoys a happy ending, Judy Duarte couldn’t shake the dream of creating a book of her own. That dream became a reality in 2002, when Harlequin released her first Special Edition. Since then, more than forty of her books have hit the shelves, including two novellas and an online read.  A USA Today bestselling author and a two-time Rita® finalist, Judy has won two Maggies and a National Reader’s Choice Award for her heartwarming stories.

Writing Romantic Suspense by Anne Cleeland

Every Monday, we’ll feature a success story from our last conference, or a post by a conference speaker, editor, agent, etc. This week, we’re featuring speaker Anne Cleeland, whose latest book, Murder In Retribution, is out tomorrow!

Love in the Time of Peril: Writing the Romantic Suspense Story

Are you stuck in a sagging middle act, or struggling with an anemic word count? Despair no more; instead, pick a crisis, and try your hand at romantic suspense.

Because the romance is necessarily intertwined with a suspense plot, the story practically writes itself, and the only difficulty is in finding a pause in the action long enough for the hero and heroine to fall in love.

They say that a mystery is when the reader is trying to figure out what happened, but suspense is when the reader is trying to figure out what will happen. So for romantic suspense stories, there has to be a set-up, and the set-ups usually involve some familiar tropes:

The ticking clock: Time is short! Solve the problem, or terrible things will happen! Extra points if there is a child in peril, or if the world is about to end.

The man (or woman) on the run: Watch out! The bad guys are coming! Extra points if there’s a struggle atop a moving train, or if the chase goes cross-country.

The conspiracy thriller: Nothing is what it seems! Trust no one! Extra points if an ordinary-seeming person is actually a criminal mastermind, or if there’s a double-cross by a trusted friend.

The treasure hunt: Where is this very-important thing? We must get to it first! Extra points if the thing is ancient, with mythological powers, or if the thing must be destroyed to save the world (or both!).

The bewildering sequence of events: Otherwise known as what the heck is going on, here? This trope is my personal favorite—the ordinary heroine is swept up in extraordinary events, and the reader must find out alongside her why she’s at the center of it all. Extra points if the hero might be the enemy, or if it’s all a case of mistaken identity, and no one will believe the heroine.

Romantic suspense stories are particularly suited to writers like me, who don’t plot ahead of time—a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter only serves to inspire the next round of action. Because there are two intertwined plots, romantic suspense tends to be plot-driven as opposed to character-driven, but the best romantic suspense stories have memorable characters, too—after all, there’s only so many ex-navy seals with a drinking problem that we can handle without turning to the bottle, ourselves. So—try to put a fresh coat of paint on the plucky heroine, the mysterious/troubled hero, the staunch supporter, and the villainous villain.

Once you’ve got your trope and your characters, make sure to keep the pace moving; chapter one should open with something slightly ominous going on, and a heroine who is hoping against hope that things aren’t as ominous as they seem. We know better, of course; things are about to get even more ominous, and then outright scary, and then dire. Time to run!

author photo 1Murder In Retribution coverAnne Cleeland belongs to the OCCRWA. She is the author of an historical fiction Regency series, and a contemporary Scotland Yard series. Murder in Retribution, the second book in the mystery series, is available in bookstores and on Amazon starting July 29.

You can find Anne at her website and on twitter.

Pitch Appointments and Critique Sessions? Sign Me Up!

pitchingOne of the most important elements of any writers’ conference is the opportunity to meet and pitch to editors and agents. We are very excited about the incredible editors and agents who will be at the conference in March. You can find out more about them here.

A pitch appointment is included in the conference price for those attendees with a finished manuscript who request an appointment. If you’re new to pitching and need some incentive, check out some of the success stories in this blog like this recent story from Diane Benefiel.

For an additional $25 fee, attendees of the conference will also have the opportunity to participate in one small group critique session with an attending editor or agent. Each critique group will be made up of five writers and the editor/agent. Participants will submit the first ten pages of their manuscripts ahead of time for the agent/editor, and the pages will be provided to the other writers in the critique group for discussion and feedback.

Pitch appointments and critique session signups will be available on the website beginning August 15, 2014. Until then, you can find out more details here.


Pitching the Right Publisher by Diane Benefiel

DianeBenefielI attended my very first romance writers’ conference, the California Dreamin’ conference, in March 2013 with great anticipation. All of the sessions and extras looked like so much fun.

There was a bit of anxiety, however, about pitching my just-completed novel. I’d never pitched before but knew if I wanted to publish I had to do it.

I attended the evening session where I could practice my pitch on an experienced author and this helped a lot. The next morning I was there, bright and early, ready to meet the agent and two editors I was scheduled for. Each was a different experience, but all asked to see at least a partial.

I sent thirty pages to the editor, who sent back a very positive rejection letter. I say positive because while she didn’t want to represent me she was very encouraging and had some good suggestions.

Next, I sent my manuscript to the editor who had requested the whole thing, didn’t hear a peep for two months, sent a follow up email, waited, sent another and still nothing, a-need-to-protect-highres-nologonot even an acknowledgment of having received my submission.

I informed that editor I was going to submit elsewhere and then sent it to the second editor who represented Decadent Publishing. Within a day, I had received confirmation they had received my submission. Within a month, they asked to see the whole thing.

By October, I had gotten that wonderful email saying they loved A Need to Protect, my romantic suspense, and would like to offer me a contract. Throughout the entire process, the Decadent staff has been amazing. They respond promptly (even on weekends!), are full of helpful suggestions, and have been amazingly friendly.

A Need to Protect was released on March 14, 2014, just one short year after the conference. I can’t wait to see what the 2015 conference will bring!

Diane Benefiel


Publishing Success by Alanna Lucas

AlannaLucasauthor-picOnce-Upon-a-Montana-Christmas-cover-213x300Our registrations are rolling in and if you haven’t reserved your spot for March just yet, we’re here to tempt you with another success story from Alanna Lucas!

It was at the California Dreamin’ Conference that I learned about the ‘What’s in a Name’ contest being hosted by Boroughs Publishing Group.

After meeting Michelle Klayman, CEO of Boroughs Publishing Group, at the conference, I was inspired to enter–even though I did not have a completed (or started) novella.

Not only did I manage to finish the manuscript, I won the contest! 

And by the end of 2013… Here it is!

Boroughs Publishing Group will be with us again in 2015. Watch our blog for future posts about what the editors will be looking for in March…and don’t forget to register soon!

A Successful Pitch by Libby Waterford

March will be here before we know it, and we don’t want you to miss a thing. Our last conference sold out, so be sure and register soon!

In the meantime, on the right side of this page you can sign up for our monthly newsletter, and keep watching for blog updates. Here on the blog we’ll have success stories from attendees, interviews with agents and editors who will be attending, and even sneak peeks into some of the upcoming workshops.

To kick things off, here’s a success story from Libby Waterford who pitched for the first time during our 2013 conference…we’ll let her tell you the results!

 LIbbyWaterfordI gave my first-ever pitch at my first-ever conference, the 2013 SoCal RWA California Dreamin’ conference.

I added a last minute agent pitch right before the pitch I’d planned on and practiced for, and I’m so glad I did.

I got all my nerves out during that first (awkward) pitch, and was much more collected when I pitched to Heather Bennett from Decadent Publishing.

She requested a partial, which I submitted and ultimately sold to Decadent. My debut contemporary romantic suspense, Love Unlocked, was published last December!

Thanks for letting me share my story!