Mark Stevens is the author of the Allison Coil Mystery Series--Antler Dust (2007), Buried by the Roan (2011) and Trapline (2014). Trapline won the 2015 award in genre fiction from the Colorado Authors League and the 2015 Colorado Book Award in mysteries. The fourth book in the series, Lake of Fire, was published in September, 2015. Kirkus Reviews called it "irresistible." More about Mark on his website.
Linda Joffe Hull - From The Big Bang to The Mrs. Frugalicious Mystery Series
Linda Joffe Hull is the author of two standalone novels, The Big Bang (Tyrus Books) and Frog Kisses (Literary Wanderlust). She has also written three books in the Mrs. Frugalicious Mystery series, published by Midnight Ink. That series features bargain hunter and sleuth, Maddie Michaels: Eternally 21 (2013, Midnight Ink), Black Thursday (2014, Midnight Ink), and the newly released Sweetheart Deal (2015, Midnight Ink). Linda currently serves on the national board of Mystery Writers of America. She is a longtime member and former president of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and was the 2013 RMFW Writer of the Year.
The guest on this episode of Rocky Mountain Writer Angie Hodapp, who takes us behind the scenes of Nelson Literary Agency. Angie Hodapp holds a bachelor's degree in English and secondary education and a master's in English and communication development. She is a graduate of the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver and has taught courses on the craft and business of writing at Writer’s Digest University, Lighthouse Writers Workshop and various writing conferences, including RMFW’s Colorado Gold. She has worked in publishing, in one form or another, for fifteen years. Show Notes:
The guest on this episode of Rocky Mountain Writer is author, performance artist and educator Margo Christie. Margo is on a mission to blur the lines between high- and low-brow art. Her debut novel, "THESE DAYS, A Tale of Nostalgia on a Burlesque Strip," won a second prize in Amazon's 2012 Breakthrough Novel Award and was labeled "as original as it is addictive" by Publisher's Weekly. A 16-year resident of Denver, she's now semi-retired in Tampa Florida, where she's working on a second novel, tentatively titled "Memory Motel," and a collection of travel-inspired essays.
On the podcast, Margo chats about the writing ideas and concepts behind her workshop, "Dressing Up and Baring All."
This question popped up on a discussion group recently and it’s one I’ve pondering of late.
Here was the abbreviated question, posted by Shalanna Collins:
“I'm wondering how you feel about the ‘invitation to the game’ that constitutes the mystery opening trope. What I mean is . . . when you pick up a mystery, do you expect the normal trope of (1) the sleuth's normal life, some intriguing thing happening, and then (2) the call to action signaled by her/his finding a body or witnessing a death that is suspicious? … I don't read only for the mystery plot and only for action. I've been dinged for including deeper stuff in my books. What say you?”
What I say is this:
I am starting to like books that set their own rules.
I think, within the first few pages of a novel, we can tell if the writer has one eye on a paint-by-numbers formula.
I think we’re all eager for a strong book that wrecks the formula—and has a good time doing so.
I give you William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace. There’s nothing formulaic about it. Murder mystery? Coming of age novel? Literature? Forty years after a series of powerful deaths in a small town in Minnesota, a grown man named Frank Drum remembers the series of events, all intertwined with memories of his religious father and agnostic mother. The book just flows, suspense mounts, and there’s no sign of paint or numbers.
I give you Untouchable by Scott O’Connor, published a few years ago and widely praised. I was shocked—shocked—to discover it had been reviewed as crime fiction in the New York Times. The book is about a man named David Darby who cleans up messes after, well, death takes its toll. It’s also about the man’s mute-by-choice son Whitley, who fears that he’s responsible for his mother’s death. These are two of the strongest character portraits I’ve read in a long time—even though O’Connor uses a ton of adverbs (not my favorite) and relies on the passive tense. I didn’t give a lick. I was completely sucked in by the story and a thin “plot” (and I use that term loosely). Near the end is one of the saddest chapters I’ve read in a long time and it introduces us to a new point of view on page 362.
I didn’t care.
I give you David Corbett’s Mercy of the Night, another character-centric novel that might look a bit like a crime or mystery on the surface but is one of the most deeply felt and human books you’ll ever read. (I reviewed it in depth here). There’s a prostitute, a counselor and a former litigator, Phelan Tiernay. Again, vivid and human portraits against the backdrop of crime. Formulas nowhere in sight.
So I think the recipes are a rough guide.
I think some stories need more air underneath them—more contemplation.
Not every book is skipping-stone compilation of plot points.
More and more I find myself more drawn to character studies. It’s the people I remember, not always the clue-finding and the guns-drawn face-offs.
Some weeks, you want the comfort and ease of that formula.
At other times, you find yourself more open to more variety in voice, tone, style and pace of the plot and action.
To me, the invitation to the game starts with cracking open a new book and being welcomed to a new story, a new point of view.
I want to see the plot points disappear.
I want to get to know new people so well I can imagine what they’re thinking and understand how they act.
Joshua Viola—author, artist, and video game developer—is the guest. In addition to creating a transmedia creative franchise around The Bane of Yoto, honored with more than a dozen literary awards, Josh is the author of Blackstar, a novel based on the work of Celldweller. He’s also the editor of the horror anthology, Nightmares Unhinged, and has published Bram Stoker, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning writers. He lives in Denver, Colorado where he is chief editor of Hex Publishers.
Current Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers president Pamela Nowak is the guest. Pam recently released her fourth historical romance, Escaping Yesterday. Recently, one of Pam’s titles was named as one of the best 101 romances of the past ten years by BookList. On the podcast, Pam talks about her love of research, her reaction to the BookList pick, and also chats about the rewards of getting involved in RMFW.
Longtime Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers member Chris Goff, a.k.a. Christine Goff, is the guest. Chris was there in the early days of RMFW and just published her first international thriller, Dark Waters. Chris talks about making the switch in styles and genres and reports on her trip to Ukraine for the next thriller. She talks about the power of networking, the importance of learning the craft, and the early days of RMFW.
A report from South Dakota: Cool Writers, A Controversy and a Rock Star
Deadwood, South Dakota is 385 miles north of Denver. You shoot straight through Cheyenne, parallel the eastern border of Wyoming and watch trains tugging their long snakes of coal. The road climbs east through the Black Hills. In late September, gold aspen trees dot the high country.
Deadwood is clogged with casinos. The conference hotel for the South Dakota Festival of Books is reached only by walking past the slot machines and blackjack tables and finding an elevator in the back corner. All of downtown, in fact, is loaded with hotels and gambling tables. There isn’t one grocery store in town, although there are plenty of places to eat. And drink. The entire town is listed on the National Historic Register. Other than the slots, it has an old-west vibe.
During a jam-packed weekend, however, the festival transforms the town. Some 70 writers offer presentations in such places as the town library, the elementary school gymnasium, Deadwood City Hall and upstairs in the creaky-floor grand ballroom of the Martin & Mason Hotel (built in 1893). The festival also coordinates a series of programs in nearby schools and universities, all part of a busy few days in celebration of books and writing and reading. The words “books” and “festival” belong together, don’t you think?
William Kent Krueger was the star this year (Sept. 24—27). He was the keynote for RMFW Gold in 2014 and, of course, just as affable and easy-going in Deadwood as he was when he came to Denver. His book Ordinary Grace was the pick for the “One Book South Dakota” program. Kent was everywhere and was easily spotted every morning in a hotel alcove, writing away. On Saturday night, he was interviewed in front of a huge audience by South Dakota’s own Sandra Brannan. He stayed with writing his kinds of mysteries, followed his own path, and the work paid off. Ordinary Grace blew up.
I met Harold Johnson. He’s from La Ronge, Saskatchewan. That’s 1,200 miles straight north of Denver. He traps and hunts and lives off the land. He also has a Master of Law degree from Harvard (with no high school diploma). He served in the Canadian Navy and worked in mining and logging. He gave an interesting presentation on the power of story that challenged the notion of what’s real and what’s not. Fascinating. His latest book is Corvus, which “examines the illusions of security we build through technology and presents a scathing satire of a world caught up in climate change denial and the glorification of war.” Thoughtful guy, extremely likable. He smoked a pipe. His father was Swedish. His mother was Cree.
At the book signing area, I sat next to Garth Stein. Garth wrote The Art of Racing in the Rain after watching a Mongolian documentary about dogs and reading a poem by Billy Collins, “The Revenant.” The Art of Racing in the Rain was on the New York Times best-seller list for 156 weeks. That’s about three years. He sold precisely 1.2 bajillion books. Garth said he had no problem writing the follow-up book, based on a new idea. He’s a writer. Writers write. One really kind guy. He said when he started The Art it was different, but good. He had a hunch it would do well. So did his wife.
I met Ann Weisgarber, from Sugar Land, Texas. She’s friendly, easy-going, warm. She couldn’t interest any publisher in this country to put out her first novel, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree. Then a publisher in England picked it up and she was short listed for England's 2009 Orange Prize and for the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. In the United States, she won the Stephen Turner Award for New Fiction and the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction. (Many other awards, too.) New York is now paying attention. So is Hollywood. Viola Davis optioned the book (JuVee Productions, her company). Ann Weisgarber—a picture of class. Take a minute. Go to her page. Check those wonderful reviews.
My panelmates at City Hall were Sandra Brannan (South Dakota’s own favorite crime writer) and Tom Bouman, whose Dry Bones in the Valley won the Edgar Prize for best first novel. It doesn’t get any bigger in mystery writing land for new writers. Tom read a passage he prepared—and transported us all to the early morning woods on a hunt in Pennsylvania. He concluded by pointing out there is no perfect story, no perfect book. And that’s why we love it—we get to keep writing. And trying. Kent Krueger sat in the audience for our panel and asked thoughtful questions. Ann Weisgarber, too. Sheesh.
On the first night of the festival, the organizers held a reception for authors at the nearby Opera House in Lead. (That’s “Lead” like “need” not “Lead” like the tip of your pencil). Fielding questions while sitting on stage, writers and poets talked about what inspired us to write. One long-haul truck driver (Rod Hoffer) said he wrote young adult stories for his grandkids. He said he wrote during the times when his trailer was being filled—or emptied. Writing was a passion. He smiled a lot.
Then Charles Shields pulled the pin on a stink bomb. He’s a biographer. He wrote a biography of Harper Lee some years back.
Here’s what he said—that he starts every project only after a clear evaluation of whether it will make money.
You could feel the room tense up.
William Kent Krueger rose in defense of those who write, you know, without money in mind.
Here’s the tail end of what Kent said:
“And I think that in the end it’s not going to matter whether you become rich and famous because you will have spent your life following your passion. But what I also believe is this—if you do that, eventually, you will discover the writer you were always meant to be and you will write the stories you were meant to write and the doors will open for you.”
Eloquent? Very. Listen:
Yeah, the applause was pretty strong. And music to my ears.
I’m sure Charles Shields is a nice guy too but I’ve never met a fiction writer who thought in those terms.
The minor controversy didn’t impact the terrific weekend. There were more writers to meet—Minnesota’s upbeat Faith Sullivan, Colorado’s own Pam Houston, South Dakota writing mentor Linda Hasselstrom, and California’s quite smart Ron Carlson (Five Skies, The Signal, Return to Oakpine, Ron Carlson Writes A Short Story; one of my favorite writers in the country).
And then Robert Plant showed up. I didn’t see him. He was there to see Kent Nerburn (13 books on spirituality and Native American themes). Robert Plant, yes, came to Kent’s panel.
(The Led Zeppelin cover band “In the Led” are due to play the same conference hotel on Oct. 16; wonder if Robert Plant spotted the poster in that hotel elevator! What would he think??)
I drove home not thinking about money. I drove home thinking about writers and all their many varied passions.
The South Dakota Festival of Books is one ultra-friendly conference that pulls in lots of talented writers.
Ken Kirchner, a.k.a. Kendrick E. Knight, and his approach to Indy Publishing
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' own Ken Kirchner has discovered solid success as an independent writer, publishing e-books only on Amazon. The former U.S. Air Force weapons system officer talks about the two series of books he's writing and the one stand-alone novel that has outperformed all the others. He also talks about the steps that led him to the "Indy" route and offers a few tips for those thinking about diving in. Hint: one tip is consider getting help from RMFW.
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Western Slope Coordinator Terri Benson chats about workshops and related activities around Grand Junction. She also talks about her writing career, about the advantages of getting involved in RMFW, and the thirty years of work that preceded publication of her romance novel, An Unsinkable Love.