All Hail Conan! (And Buy The Book)

I’m here today with a handy tip for the season of the gift.

Order a copy of Conan the Grammarian, Practical Guidelines on Grammar and Craft for Fiction Writers.

A mere $10.

(Actually, $9.95.)

And then give it to a writer friend for Christmas or your holiday of choice. Birthdays would work, too.

Boom, done.

Does the mere mention of the word ‘grammar’ force you to make a face like you’re eating cold undercooked lima beans? Or pickled beets?

Think again.

This book about grammar is (dare I say it?) refreshing.

Inspiring.

And very (very) funny.

cover-conanWritten by former RMFW president Susan Mackay Smith, Conan the Grammarian is a handy, engaging book that will linger around your desk or writing nook for many years.

The book is a distillation of Conan’s columns in the monthly RMFW newsletter. But everything has been re-written and beautifully organized. And, in terms of production values, Susan Mackay Smith shows all independent publishers out there that a self-produced book can look as sharp and feel as professional as anything coming out of New York City.

Conan claims grammatical errors are “unforgiveable” and, of course, this book goes out and proves that very fact. I didn’t spot one typo. On top of all that, the interior layout makes digesting this volume a snap. (Bibliography, glossary, and index, too.)

Yes, there’s a lot here about grammar. But focus on the second half of the title – practical guidelines and grammar and craft for fiction writers. Every lesson in grammar and usage is written with an eye on the fiction writers’ needs. Smith is writing this for you, the fiction writer.

The “Pets and Peeves” section might be worth the $10 alone (especially if you are about to submit to an agent or send a manuscript to an editor).

Same with “Toward More Colorful Writing.” This section will give you a boost and also give you a few issues to ponder as you edit. It’s a snappy checklist for self-improvement. This is “Perfect Abs in Twenty Minutes A Day” and, this time, it works.

I devoured Conan the Grammarian with a smile on my face and a pen handy to ink-up the pages with underlines at key passages and stars in the margins.

Do any of these sound useful? “Narrative & Description; Showing vs. Telling.” “Voice.” “Action.” “Clichés of Characterization.” “The Hated Revision.” Twenty-seven sub-chapters in all, you can do the math. The reading is brisk and the points are efficiently made. (Having judged Colorado Gold and other writing contests for years, Susan Mackay Smith knows when the brain starts to hurt or the eyes glaze over.) When I was finished, I felt as if I had a new, higher bar to reach. I felt like a better writer.

Conan wants the ideas and the story in your head to reach the reader in clear, efficient and powerful fashion. You may think you know what you are trying to say, but is the story in your head making the journey to your reader's imagination in the most effective way possible? The most clear?

Conan may not be cuddly, but he will set you straight.

Just $10!

Actually, $9.95.

(Get two; one for you and one for a writer pal.)

Order on Amazon here.

Rocky Mountain Writer #66

owens-2Robin Owens & Ghost Maker

A chat with fantasy paranormal romance writer Robin Owens.

Robin discusses a recent column she wrote about her love of an audio books and about the two series is currently writing including her latest, Ghost Maker.

She also talks about the good old days of RMFW. Robin was one of three individuals, along with Sharon Mignery and Christine Jorgensen, who were named this year as “honored guiding members of RMFW.

Robin D. Owens has published twenty seven books, five novellas, and two short stories.

She was the recipient of the 2002 Romance Writers of America RITA® Award (like the Oscar in her field) for "Heart Mate."

Twice she has been named Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and she has also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Colorado Romance Writers.

Robin Owens

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Rocky Mountain Writer #65

rachel-delaneyRachel Craft & Wild Magic

This time on the Rocky Mountain Writer we have another writer who contributed to the RMFW short story anthology Found, published last September.

Rachel Craft, who writes as Rachel Delaney, had a story called “Every Drop of Light” included in that new anthology.

Rachel Craft is a full-time engineer and part-time writer. After deciding to pursue writing as a second career, she discovered RMFW and never looked back. Her short fiction has appeared in Cricket magazine, and her first middle grade novel, Wild Magic, was a finalist in the RMFW Colorado Gold contest.

On the podcast, Rachel talks about the distinctions between young adult and middle grade fiction and what sparked her interest in speculative fiction, beginning with a story she wrote about her fourth-grade math teacher’s evil twin brother. She also talks about how moving from state to state as a child may have helped her develop her storytelling talents.

Rachel lives in Boulder with her fiancé and Jack Russell terrier.

Found Anthology

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Rocky Mountain Writer #64


barb-2Barbara Nickless & Blood on the Tracks

In June of 2012, Barb Nickless and her family were told to evacuate their house in Waldo Canyon, northwest of Colorado Springs, because a wildfire was bearing down. Authorities told Barb to plan on being gone for a few days.

Instead, Barb’s house burned to the ground, one of hundreds of houses lost in that devastating fire.

Earlier this year, Barb published her first novel, a mystery thriller called Blood on the Tracks, and that fire played a role in how Barb approached the work of writing fiction. No details here – you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

And now Barb is dealing with another wildfire—the good kind—with the sales of her book. For a few weeks this fall, Blood on the Tracks was ranked #1 in nationwide sales, ahead of writers such as J.K. Rowling. And the reviews have poured in, too – thousands of reviews on Amazon and the novel is still carrying a nearly solid five-star rating.

On the podcast, Barb tells the story of the Waldo Canyon Fire and talks about the research that went into Blood on the Tracks, which features railroad cop and Iraq war veteran Sidney Rose Parnell and her k-9 companion Clyde. Barb talks about her immersion approach to writing and the amazing story of how she found her agent during Thriller Fest in New York City. She also recounts the decision-making process that went into going with Thomas & Mercer, the publishing house that is part of the Amazon empire.

Barbara Nickless was made in Japan, born in Guam, and traveled through numerous ports of call to land in Colorado.

When she's not writing, traveling, or wandering through libraries, she is usually in the Colorado Rockies where she loves to hike, cave, snowshoe and drink single malt Scotch—rarely, please note, at the same time.

Barbara Nickless

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Rocky Mountain Writer #63

cover-conanSusan Mackay Smith & Conan The Grammarian

On this episode, it's Conan the Grammarian, in person.

For a couple of decades now you have read Conan’s column in the monthly newsletter from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and now Conan is out with a book titled Conan the Grammarian – Practical Guidelines on Grammar and Craft for Fiction Writers.

The writer behind Conan is Susan Mackay Smith, former RMFW president. Yes, in case you did not know, Conan is a she.

On the podcast, Susan talks about the nuns and their rulers who helped her develop her interest in grammar and she talks about the importance of knowing the basics, especially when it comes time to submit writing to contests, agents and editors.

This episode also includes a brief reading from Conan the Grammarian as Susan reads the entire chapter “In Defense of Fiction.”

Susan Mackay Smith is a past president of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and a frequent judge of the Colorado Book Awards. Traditionally published in fantasy under the nom de plume, Mackay Wood, she is a second-generation Colorado native with a degree in history and (more important to her) a BHSAI (British Horse Society Associate Instructor) from the Porlock Vale Riding School in Somerset, England. She lives in Boulder with the most wonderful man in the world.

Conan The Grammarian

Mackay Wood

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

This is NOT a Twitter How-To Blog

Copied verbatim from a recent email exchange:

How did you get so many followers on Twitter?

Well, it’s not that many—not really. I mean, it’s good to have followers but I see tons and tons of writers out there on Twitter with five times, ten times more than me. Tons!

But how did you get them?

Um, they followed me and I followed them back (if they were accounts I wanted to follow that is. Not spammy-jerky-salesy folks).

But isn’t Twitter just a big mess?

Not if you use lists.

What the hell are lists?

2016-10-27-twitter-pic-listsClick under your profile pic on Twitter and you’ll see the ‘lists’ option, then click on “Create New List.”  (It’s a button on the right-hand side of the page.) As Twitter says, “A list is a curated group of Twitter users and a great way to organize your interests.” If you’re ever out there reading tweets and it looks like someone has a cool feed, you can right-click on that little wheel next to their ‘Follow’ button and you’ll see the option to add or remove from a list…

So you, say, make a list of Twitter uses who write mysteries, say?

Exactly!

Or friends?

Yes!

Or good, high-quality, reliable tweeters?

But of course.

And you can subscribe to other people’s lists, too?

I love looking for other cool lists to subscribe to. These Twitter folks have already curated the Twitterverse down to something manageable. They’ve done the work for you.

2016-10-27-twitter-pic-subscribersYou can see other people’s lists?

Easy. And you can see who is subscribing to their lists.  These are Twitter users who have taken the time to ‘subscribe’ to a good source’s list. They are usually folks who produce good Twitter content (and who might follow you back. So, well, you might want to follow them.)

But how did you get so many followers?

I follow people back. I look at their accounts and if they have a pinned tweet, I re-tweet that as a “hello.” Not always, but sometimes.  A pinned tweet is something the account holder likes to have re-tweeted. Why else would they pin it? Or I re-tweet something they recently put out there that looks relevant or interesting. Oh, and make sure you check your followers regularly. Have I mentioned that it’s a good idea to ‘follow back?’ Don’t leave the good ones hanging.

Do you sell books on Twitter?

Yes, I’m sure I do. But I really have no idea. And I don’t care—not really. I don’t go to a party looking to sell books. It might happen, but that’s not why I go to the party. The heavy self-promoters are easy to spot.

What kinds of stuff do you tweet?

Anything relevant to me, as a person. To my community. I tweet topical stuff related to some of my clients—shared bicycling, ocean health, education, and some of the topics that my mysteries are engaged with. That list includes immigration, climate change, for-profit prisons, fracking, anything to do with Glenwood Springs or the Flat Tops Wilderness, etc.  I also tweet out things I write, like book reviews. And columns. I’ll probably tweet out this column when it’s posted on the RMFW blog. I’m sure I will.

But how did you get so many followers? Twitter won’t let me follow any more people.  

Yeah, Twitter has limits. You need to unfollow people who aren’t following you back. There are services out there that will help you figure out who isn’t following you back.  I use one called Manage Flitter. There are others. Don’t worry about unfollowing people—especially accounts that don’t tweet on a regular basis. They aren’t doing you any good. Unfollow.

And then?

And then follow more people. And say “hello.”

But isn’t it work? Don’t I have to do this every day? And how much time a day do you spend on Twitter?

Have to? If you think of it that way, it’s probably not your cup of social media tea. But Twitter is a great place to pick up on the news (WOW is it fast!) and also when a good topic gets rolling around about reading or writing or book prizes or anything along those lines, jump into the conversation and see what you can contribute. I know area bookstores love it when you tweet about events coming up or while you're there. You just never know. How much time? I don’t know. Some days more than others. A half-hour total?  Maybe three or four check-ins a day? I don’t know, it’s fun. At least, I think so. The #fridayreads hashtag alone will lead you to some good folks.

Ack, hashtags. We haven't even touched on hashtags. What do you use?

Again, depends on what you're into. Here's a list to start with. #NaNoWriMo is coming right up (write up) and that will be going strong no doubt. And don't forget the ever-popular #RMFWBlog. (You could focus just on @RMFWriters (4,200+ followers) by the way, and have ample fodder for following and re-tweeting, etc. And how many Colorado writer groups are there? It's endless out there, I tell you.)

Okay, then. Can I follow you?

Sure. @writerstevens

And while you’re at it, follow my good friend The Asphalt Warrior @Asphalt_Warrior

See you in the Twittersphere.

Rocky Mountain Writer #62

found-ebook-coverFOUND: A Short-Story Sampler

And now for something completely different, audio samples from the new RMFW short story anthology Found.

There's a little something for everyone from these seven stories, all submitted to meet the anthology’s theme, "Sometimes things are better off lost. And sometimes they were never meant to disappear. Either way, when they're found, everything changes."

Readings included in this episode are from Natasha Watts, Terry Kroenung, Diana Holguin-Balogh, Claire Fishback, Ricarrdo Schiaffino, Rachel Delaney and podcast host Mark Stevens, reading a story he co-wrote with Dean Wyant.

Edited by Mario Acevedo, the FOUND anthology was published in September and is available anywhere books are sold.

Found Anthology

 

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Rocky Mountain Writer #61

jd-head-shotJ.D. Dudycha & Chasing the Dream

J.D. Dudycha is back on The Rocky Mountain Writer with his brand new baseball novel, Chasing The Dream. This one is a thriller and completes his baseball trilogy that began with Sitting Dead Red and Paint the Black.

But wait, there's more. J.D. is preparing a book of short stories and a box set for December release. He also has plans for two new series in 2017.

On the podcast, J.D. talks about a major marketing coup with the broadcaster for the Colorado Rockies, chats about his highly focused writing process and discusses the challenges of being an independent writer.

J.D. lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado with his wife, and two rambunctious children. He enjoys golf, fly fishing, and never met a mountain he didn’t want to climb, or an ocean he didn't want to explore.

Website

OnFacebook 

Twitter:@JDDudycha

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

You Are in the Right Place

(Friends - I'm taking the cheap & easy way out this month by using the blog space to publish my Writer of the Year speech / comments at Colorado Gold on Sept. 9. I included a few illustrations to break up the long text. Thank you all so much for your support. As should be obvious below, it means so much!)

Recently I was doing a bit of digging into the background of my late pal Gary Reilly.

If you don’t know the Gary Reilly story, it’s pretty simple.

When Gary died in 2011, he left behind 25 novels in a variety of genres.

These books were finished, repeatedly edited, rewritten and edited again.

Again, 25.

During his lifetime, however, Gary was only published once.

That happened in 1977 when Gary sent a short story off to The Iowa Review.

The prestigious Iowa Review. If you don’t know it, The Iowa Review has published everyone from Joyce Carol Oates to Ann Patchett to Kurt Vonnegut.

iowa-boxes-arrowsIn the issue that included Gary’s story, “The Biography Man,” Gary was alongside such greats as Ian McEwan, later the author of Atonement and many other great novels, and a writer named Ron Hansen, later the author of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

"The Biography Man,” in fact, was the lead entry in that edition of The Iowa Review.

The editor of The Iowa Review at the time was the incredible Robert Coover, who has a story in this week’s edition of The New Yorker called “Invasion of the Martians.”

The one-and-only and highly prolific T. Coraghessan Boyle was a contributing editor. I just think it’s so cool that Coover and Boyle had their hands on this story.

When I tweeted out a bunch of this information last week, by the way, T.C. Boyle replied promptly with a clarification about his role:

2016-09-01-tc-boyle

The next year, “The Biography Man” was picked up and included in the fourth volume of the Pushcart Prize Anthology. Again, he was published alongside some amazing writers—including John Updike and Jane Smiley. Thousands of stories are considered for the 60 or so that are included. (That story is now available, by the way, as an e-book here.)

pushcart-panelsWhen I tell this story to anyone who will listen, the immediate question is simple—why?

What happened?

How can you write 25 novels and not get published?

And what would keep you motivated to write 25 novels only to watch them stack up in your computer or on the shelf?

++

I met Gary in 2004. We hit it right off. And we started trading manuscripts. I had a few for him to read.

His manuscripts kept coming and coming to me—one by one. He’d never give me more than one to read.

I read—and read.

I couldn’t believe how good they were—funny, interesting, deep, scary, everything. He wrote humor, sci-fi, fantasy, noir and war-theme fiction based on his time as a military policeman in Vietnam.

Gary occasionally queried agents. I mean, occasionally. I’d have to sort of pump him up to get out there and do it. He didn’t talk about it much, but I know he had some big disappointments in his past. Some very close calls, including one offer to come write comedy in Hollywood.

It fell through.

europa-2One time—and I remember this so vividly—I brought Gary to an RMFW workshop at the Arvada library. Gary sat there but I could see how uncomfortable he was—this just wasn’t his scene, to sit in a room and listen to a workshop or interact with the presentation in any way.

I could never get Gary to come to another workshop or to come to one of these fabulous conferences. Quite simply, he wasn’t a “joiner.”

He lacked the “networking” gene, that elusive knack that some people are born with and others have to learn.

Gary liked his conversations one-on-one or small groups.

But he didn’t lack much else. He was a born storyteller. He loved movies of all types and quality.  He had an affection for weird, late-night flicks, B-grade stuff. And he prowled the paperback book shops along Broadway looking for old pulp novels or anything edgy or interesting. In fact, he loved the beat poets and beat writers.

++

Guess what? I also lacked that “networking” gene.

It’s true.

I wasn’t as reclusive as Gary in general—not at all. But when it came to writing fiction, I had a fairly abbreviated and isolated process.

I wrote my first mystery in the 1980’s. It took six years to write. I showed that book to a few friends before it went out the door and I quickly got an agent—in fact, a big-name New York agency that is still around today. I was so encouraged by this turn of events I quit a job and tended bar for a year to write another book.

Work on #2 was much quicker, but the money ran out and I went back to work as a reporter. I finished the second book in the early 1990’s and, in case it’s not obvious, nothing had happened with book #1.

I showed book #2 to a few friends, made a few changes, and went looking for an agent.

One day at work, the phone rang. It was an agent from New York, very eager to represent book #2. It turned out that the agency also represented John Grisham.

I said sign me up!

Despite the enthusiasm and despite the fact that my feet did not touch solid ground for about a week, nothing happened. Book #2 didn’t sell.

Around this time I met a real-life female hunting guide in the Flat Tops Wilderness of Western Colorado. I instantly believed I had a great character and great setting.

So I set about writing book #3, what was then going to be another stand-alone mystery. It took about three or four years to write.

I showed it a group of friends before it went out the door.

I eventually landed a good New York agency, one that is still around today. This is now the late 1990’s. After a few changes, we were on submission. No sale.

But we got enough feedback that the agent asked if I wanted to make some changes. I said sure. Nine months later, I had another draft ready and I sent it to my agent. I remember this was December because the agent said he would take it with him on Christmas vacation and we’d go out on submission again in January.

By mid-January, I’d heard nothing. By the third week, I started to call and leave messages. By the fourth week, I wrote a letter to the owner of the agency; what is going on?

In early February, I received a form letter rejection back, “I’m sorry your submission is not right for our agency at this time.”

Perhaps you’ve seen one or two of those kinds of rejections?

In the early 2000’s, I started writing another stand-alone thriller and I finished that a few years later. This time, a few agent nibbles but nothing really developed.

During all this time, I was vaguely aware of RMFW. I was vaguely aware of writing groups.

But what did I need? I had come so close. Yes, there were days and weeks and months where I thought, well, good try. You made the effort. You wrote some good stories, but that’s just the way it goes.

I had heard of writing groups but what could they show me that I didn’t already know? Many writers come close and fall short.

My relationship with RMFW was slow to develop.

I started doing the refreshments at the monthly workshops. Then I started running the monthly workshops—for years, in fact. I enjoyed the things I learned by attending all those sessions. And some of the day-long spring events were truly fuel for the fire.

I found myself making the transition from fully independent writer to someone who cared about all my cohorts were faring. I started to pick up tips and I started to look at my writing differently, with a better eye. And ear.

In 2007, a small, independent publisher outside of Boulder offered to publish Antler Dust, book number three in my four-book stack of unpublished manuscripts.

The publisher was small but he wanted to do it right—and gave me a standard contract with a very nice advance. He printed up 2,000 hardbacks, $24.95 a pop. Gulp.

After 23 years of working at the fiction thing, I got published.

And my networks grew—bookstores, libraries, conferences, all over the state. I had a blast getting out there and meeting readers.

And, guess what? My RMFW pals were extremely supportive, too—they came to readings, wrote reviews, cheered me on.

The reaction was so good to my main character Allison Coil that I decided to write a follow-up. When that was done, the first publisher had gone under but a medium-size house in Aspen gave me an advance and a contract and they got behind my second novel, Buried by the Roan. They also published a paperback version of #1.

Buried by the Roan was published about five months after my friend Gary Reilly had passed away and it’s dedicated, in fact, to him. He read many versions of that book and helped me immensely with it. Buried by the Roan was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award in 2012 and, if I’m not mistaken, I lost to the inimitable Carol Berg.

By the time the third book was ready, the Aspen publisher had gone out of business.

It was the RMFW connections, specifically former Writer of the Year Linda Hull, who helped with the introduction to Midnight Ink.

She conveniently left a copy of the third Allison Coil novel on her kitchen counter when the editor of Midnight Ink was staying at her house. What are friends for?

Trapline won the Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the fourth, Lake of Fire, also published by Midnight Ink, was a finalist for the same award this year.

To me, looking back, everything changed when I got involved in RMFW. When I started taking a regular role.

Being around others who were successful made me ask writing friends, what are you doing differently? How do you approach writing? How do you approach agents? What other conferences do you attend? And, finally, the big one.

Who do you know?

That’s a network.

People in a network are connected around a central purpose or mission or interest. In our case, we share a common, simple goal—telling stories and finding readers.

++

Which brings me back to Gary.

He was missing, I believe, this one thing. This network. This chance to interact with editors and agents and fellow writers at a conference like this one where, I believe, his books would have ultimately found a home.

And, yes, networking is something you can learn. I did. I went from my little world to a much bigger universe of friends and supporters.

Gary poured his frustrations about the publishing business into his greatest creation, Murph.

8-coversMurph is the star of 10 of his novels. Murph is Brendan Murphy, a self-effacing Denver taxi driver and unpublished novelist. Murph dreams of becoming rich and famous through writing.

Murph is also a big fan of Gilligan’s Island.

Says Murph,

The windows were rolled up and the hot sun was streaming through the windshield. It was as warm as I imagined Gilligan’s island must be. The real island, not the TV island. By “real” I mean an island in the South Pacific where a writer could lie on a hammock all day long and think about the plot of his next novel. If he was rich enough, he could hire a Mary Ann look-alike to mix rum drinks and wait on him hand-and-foot. But there wouldn’t be any hanky-panky. Nossir. He would be a man of such impeccable integrity that the mere thought of dallying with Mary Ann would grievously offend his moral sensibilities. He would be the exact opposite of me.

Other than becoming wildly rich and famous through writing books, Murph has two goals in life—one is to earn as little money as possible and the other is to never get involved in the lives of his passengers. He’s pretty good at the first goal and terrible at the second.

When it comes to writing and the publishing business, however, Murph has choice insights.

Says Murph,

A writer can become obsessed with the peripheral rituals of writing – such as sharpening pencils or visiting the Grand Canyon – when he should be focused on the most important part of writing, which is leafing through Writers Market and making lists of agents who don’t charge reading fees.

Says Murph,

A lot of artists start out as failed poets, then move on to being failed short-story writers before they finally break through to the big time and become failed novelists. If they’re like me, they branch out to become failed screenwriters. A few take the high road and become failed playwrights, but most just stick with being failed novelists because the potential to not make lots of money is greater.

Says Murph,

I was afraid that if I went ahead and wrote a Western, I would be dipping into the realm of what my creative writing teachers called “formula fiction.” I hated the idea of becoming a formula fiction writer. What if I got the formula wrong? Think of how embarrassing it would be if I tried to become a formula fiction writer and found out I didn’t have the talent to sink that low?

Says Murph,

I came up with an idea for a novel about a gang of punk Martians who come to earth in a flying saucer for no other reason than to commit mayhem. Martians usually come to earth to study the habits of mankind and report back to Mars for reasons that are never made very clear, or else they give mankind scientific devices that will turn the earth into a paradise. But I had never read a book about serial-killer aliens. It seemed like I might have found a niche market, assuming there were science fiction fans hungry for police procedurals.

++

As many of you know, my friend Mike Keefe and I have published nine of Gary’s novels since he died. The tenth comes out in October.

the-detachment-cover-and-coffeeThree of Gary’s posthumously published books have been finalists for the Colorado Book Award. National Public Radio twice has raved about Gary’s work. Booklist has praised the originality of Gary’s work. And of The Detachment, Gary’s second novel about his experiences in Vietnam, a 154,000-word masterpiece, the great Stewart O’Nan called it a classic and Ron Carlson, who teaches elite creative writing classes in California, called it Catch 23 or Catch 24.

I feel honored to be part of the process of bringing his stories to the light of day.

And part of the process of finding readers.

That’s what it’s all about—telling stories, finding readers.

But of course I wish he was here to see the reaction, read the reviews.

So what is the lesson? Well, I hope it makes you, in some way, more determined. More focused on advocating for yourself. Not giving up.

Thinking about Gary and looking back, everything changed when I got involved in RMFW. When I started taking a regular role.

Being around others who were successful made me ask writing friends: What are you doing differently? How do you approach writing? How do you approach agents? What other conferences do you attend? And, finally, the big one: Who do you know? That’s a network.

People in a network are connected around a central purpose or mission or interest. In our case, we share a common, simple goal — telling stories and finding readers.

++

Looking back on my own experiences, here’s a few things I believe:

  • I believe that by your presence here today, you are in the right place.
  • I believe the answers to all your writing and publishing needs are right in this room, right now.
  • I believe those answers are here, that is, if you know what you are looking for and know how to ask for what you need.
  • I believe that you will find ways to improve if you work at the issues, whatever they are, and write more. And write more.
  • And keep working.
  • I believe if you are already published, then you are looking for ways to get better.
  • I believe there is no shortage of learning. Who can forget the sight of Jeffery Deaver in an RMFW workshop last year, sitting in the back of the room and taking notes? Right?
  • I believe if you are interested in writing fiction, it’s something you can learn.
  • I also believe if you want to get published, that the tools today allow you to get there — and to reach readers with the same level of impact as if you were published by the big five.
  • I believe that’s up to you

I’m extremely proud of my membership in both PAL and iPAL — my first two titles would have gone out of print had I not started my own company and kept them in print.

In a way, that’s one of the neatest things about being a writer. We can be independent about much of what we do — what is more solitary than being a writer? But ultimately, we need a network, too.

The opposite of independent is dependent, right? So I suppose if Lisa Manifold is the Independent Writer of the Year, I’m the Dependent Writer of the Year.

And at some point we are dependent on editors, critiquers, publishers — and readers. No matter the size or scale of our publisher, we are all dependent on each other to tell stories and reach readers.

I’ll close with a quick quote from the philosopher Alan Watts. While definitely not known for his fiction, I think the comment applies.

Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.

This honor means so much to me because it comes from all of you.

RMFW made all the difference in my writing career. Thank you again so much.

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Rocky Mountain Writer #60

nathanlowell_400x4001-300x300Nathan Lowell - A Field Guide to Amazon

At the Colorado Gold conference last month, Nathan Lowell gave a workshop called "A Field Guide To Amazon." Not surprisingly, the room was packed. On the podcast this time, Nathan offers the highlights from that standing-room-only session. He talks about Amazon rankings, about the possible advantages of going all-Amazon, about e-book promotions, the importance of your Author Central page and the difference between your sales rank and your popularity rank—and more.

Nathan, a 2016 finalist for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Independent Writer of the Year, knows his stuff. He’s an Amazon guy, with a many published works in two major series.

One quick glance at Nathan’s Author page and you’ll quickly be aware that he has a sizable audience of enthusiastic readers.

For more about Nathan’s writing, check out Episode 27 of the Rocky Mountain Writer, recorded last January.

Nathan Lowell

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On Twitter: @nlowell

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com