Shout-Outs!

1. How about that Western Slope chapter of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers? Last Saturday morning, 28 writers gathered for a three-hour workshop. They came from Grand Junction and all over, from Meeker to Montrose.

Energy, enthusiasm, eagerness? In abundance. All sorts of writers—and half were non-RMFW members. Shout out to Vicki Law for the idea of a Western Slope chapter (many years ago) and to Terri Benson for running it so well today. Terri makes it look easy and, clearly, she’s getting the word out to the community at large. Plan a trip to the Western Slope around one of these workshops? Why not?

2. How about Jeffery Deaver? If you were there for his keynote at RMFW Colorado Gold a couple years back, you remember he left a mark. Friendly? Yep. Down-to-earth? Check. One of us? Yes. Even though he’s sold 50 million books, you’d never know it. I remember spotting him in the back of a workshop during Colorado Gold, taking notes like just another student. This year and next, Jeffery has been presenting workshops around the country—for free—for chapters of Mystery Writers of America. No charge!

So, in April (Saturday, April 7), RMFW and Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America are teaming up to bring Jeffery to Denver for a four-hour workshop on writing commercial fiction. More details soon. But with no cost for the presenter, the price will be very reasonable. Save the date. This will be at The Renaissance Hotel. Shout out to Jeffery Deaver for giving back. In a very big way.

3. NaNoWriMo crazies, you may my respect! If you did it, congrats. If you tried, congrats. I have no idea how you pour out the words in such volume for a whole month. What I know is that there are 1.5 million ways to write a good story and NaNoWriMo clearly works for some. Fifty thousand words in 30 days? That’s commitment. That’s production. Hats off.

4. Where would this town be without The Tattered Cover? Last month, on “Indie’s First” day, Tattered Cover organized a whole crew of writers to serve as guest booksellers, including many RMFW members. I had a fun two-hour shift alongside Jennifer Kincheloe and I had a long chat with Cathy Langer, who is retiring after forty (count ‘em, forty) years as the lead book buyer for Tattered Cover, one of the best bookstores in the country. Happy trails, Cathy. Thanks for all you did to shape and fashion one of the truly iconic bookstores in the country, a place that welcomes all and has done so much to support the local writing community.

5. And here’s to Pat Stoltey (one of those NaNoWriMo success stories) and Kevin Wolf. Check out Pat’s insights on the latest Rocky Mountain Writer podcast. She’s 75! She’s writing up a storm! She’s got ideas galore. Her latest book, Wishing Caswell Dead, comes out this month and it’s been a story she’s been working on for years. And years. Pat has had setbacks, but she’s just kept plugging away.

Same with Kevin Wolf. Kevin had a big publisher for his first novel, but a small publisher will work just fine for his second novel, Brokeheart. Both Pat and Kevin could have soured or gotten discouraged. No way, no how. Think you might hear some whining? From them? No way. They have stories to tell. Case closed. Shout out to them both!

And finally, thanks to all the fabulous guests I’ve had the opportunity to chat with on the Rocky Mountain Writer podcast! It’s never too early to reserve your spot.

Drop me a line: podcast@rmfw.org.

Rocky Mountain Writer #108

Pat Stoltey & Wishing Caswell Dead

Pat Stoltey’s fourth novel comes out in just a few short weeks (Dec. 20) and it’s been quite a ride.

Revised and revised some more, Pat says that one point she realized she had written the life out of her characters.

So she backed up and started over again until she got it right.

Wishing Caswell Dead is set in the early 1800's in a village on the Illinois frontier. It’s a historical mystery about the evil that hides within a village, one girl who is determined to save herself and her child, and a violent murder no one wants to solve.

Pat Stoltey grew up in east central Illinois so it's not unexpected she would use that part of the country as a setting. The Village of Sangamon is not a real place, but Pat says it has become so real to her she's now writing a follow-on story using the same setting.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, a Scottish Terrier named Sassy, and a bossy brown Tabby known as Katie Cat.

Pat's website

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 #107

Kevin Wolf & Brokeheart

This time, a story of going with the flow.

After writing for more than a decade, Kevin Wolf won a major award in a writing contest and the prize included a contract with none other than St. Martin’s Press. That led to the publication, last year, of Kevin's first novel, The Homeplace. 

Last month, Kevin Wolf published his second novel, Brokeheart, and he’s with a whole new publisher.

Both books are set in Colorado and both were inspired by locations in the state that stem from Kevin’s own family history, but one story is set in the present and the new one takes us back to the late 19th century with some paranormal elements, but whether with a big house or not-so-big house Kevin is here to tell us what he’s learned along the way.

Brokeheart features frontier newspaper man Kepler arriving in the Colorado mining town in hopes of making a fresh start. As he begins to report the goings on of Brokeheart and the conditions at the mine, he attracts attention from all quarters, from the mysterious European aristocrat who hires him to oversee the construction of a hunting lodge to the unsavory foreman of the Brokeheart mine.

Kevin Wolf's website

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 #106

Saytchyn Maddux-Creech & Writing Short Stories

Are you comfortable writing short stories? Have you thought about it, but don’t know how or where to begin?

Well, Saytchyn Maddux-Creech is teaching a 15-day online class called, Write An Amazing Short Story in Two Weeks.

The course is being offered online through RMFW-U beginning Dec. 2.

On the podcast, Saytchyn gives a sneak peek at her approach to short stories—she’s published about 20—and touches on some of the key ideas she’ll cover in the course. Even if you only have a "crumb" of an idea, she says, you should try the course and give it a go.

Saytchyn Maddux-Creech survived the MFA program at Colorado State University with her love of all things creepy intact. She writes horror, fantasy, and mystery with a literary accent. Her short stories have been published in numerous literary and genre magazines under her own name and the name Sandra Maddux-Creech. You can find her most recent work in Petrichor Machine, Typehouse Literary Review, and Menacing Hedge, as well as in the award-winning RMFW anthology, Found.

Follow Saytchyn Maddux-Creech on Facebook

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 #105

Emily Littlejohn & A Season To Lie

Emily Littlejohn’s first full-length novel Inherit The Bones landed an agent and a good contract with a major publisher—in one of the fastest sales the agent had ever seen.  Was it luck?  Emily says luck may have played a small role, but so did hard work and listening to experts—being open to feedback from both the agent and her editor.

As Emily puts it, books are not written in a vacuum.

This week, A Season To Lie releases and it features the same protagonist, police detective Gemma Monroe, solving murders in the fictional Colorado mountain town of Cedar Valley.

Emily is a former librarian who has been obsessed with mystery and horror novels since she was a child.

When she’s not placing her heroine in precarious situations, Emily can be found enjoying the beautiful Colorado mountains with her husband and growing family.

A Season To Lie releases on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Emily Littlejohn's website.

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

Jack Up The Moderation

The 'Urban Noir' panel at Bouchercon 2017 last month in Toronto.

Such a calm word—moderator.

Merriam Webster: “Someone who leads a discussion in a group and tells each person when to speak: someone who moderates a meeting or discussion.”

I’ve been going to book conferences for years and for some reason this year I sat in on a few panels led by some truly awful moderators.

I’ve also seen some knock-outs.

So I’m offering the following suggestions and recommendations.

I mean, holy cow people! If you get asked to moderate a panel at Bouchercon (the annual conference for mystery writers and mystery readers) it’s very possible that several hundred people will be watching. Listening. It’s their chance to meet new writers, get to know them. As moderator, it's your job to give them a showcase moment.

ELEVEN RULES FOR BOOK CONFERENCE PANEL MODERATORS:

1. Read your panelists’ latest books. Really read them. Don’t skim. Get to know their themes and characters. Yes, this takes time. But the moderator gig is a good one—for you, too. Don’t give it short shrift.

2. Study up on your panelists’ bios. Do a bit of research and dig out a fun fact or two about their lives—it might come in handy.

3. Speaking of bios, don’t use up a quarter of the panel time reading introductions. The bios are in all the programs. A couple sentences will do. Thirty seconds! Think top line of Wikipedia. Sample: “Stephen King writes horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. His books have sold more than 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television series, and comic books. King has published 54 novels and six non-fiction books. He has written around 200 short stories. His bookshelf is crammed with major awards.”

4. Huddle with your panelists before the show. A huddle on email is fine, sure. Tell them how you’re going to run things. Send them a few sample questions to give them an idea of the issues you want to cover. Help them look good. The more they can prepare, the better their chances of leaving a good impression (and not stumbling around for an answer).

A Left Coast Crime panel (2016) moderated by William Kent Krueger (center). Also, left to right: Lou Berney, Lisa Brackmann, Chris Holm, James W. Ziskin.

5. Write meaningful questions that show a bit of insight and analysis. Look for genuine comparisons among your panelists’ works. And also how the works diverge—setting, style, narrative voice, level of morality, anything.

6. Write those questions down and then make them tight and clean. The more the questions are precisely about the writers on your panel, the better. Stock questions lead to stock answers. Stock answers are snoozeville. Develop questions designed to provoke debate or, at least, solid discussion. Do not show up and ramble your way into a question.

7. Speak up. At Bouchercon this year in Toronto, one moderator spoke as if she was in a back booth in a dark restaurant whispering like a nervous informant to the FBI. If she smiled more than the Mona Lisa, I missed it. If you’re not up for showing a bit of enthusiasm, don’t take the gig.

8. Listen to the answers! You may have a list of questions, but react to what’s being said. Engage. It’s a dialogue. You’re sparking conversation. On the other hand, cut off the spotlight hogs. (You can warn your team about your expectations on the issue of rambling on during the pre-panel huddle.) You are in charge so … take charge. And if other panelists are too brisk with their comments, probe deeper. Press for more detail.

9. Pretend it’s the only panel that matters. Your panel is NOT just another panel. This is YOUR panel. It’s the only one as far as you’re concerned. The writers you’re leading? If they are on one panel during the whole conference, then this is their moment in the spotlight—even if it’s 8 a.m. on Sunday morning. It’s your job to make that light bright, entertaining, meaningful, and fun.

10. Leave time for audience questions. If you’re running a 50-minute panel, leave at least five or ten minutes for the audience. If there are none, have a few more questions ready to go.

11. Leave yourself out of it as much as possible. That includes criticizing something that’s been said. Even if your impromptu quip is meant to be funny, it’s a really bad idea to accidentally put one of your panelists down in front of a crowd. This ain’t about you. Wait your turn to be a panelist and hope for a good moderator. A really good one. Like you.

Rocky Mountain Writer #104

Jayme H. Mansfield & Rush

Jayme H. Mansfield found fiction in her own family history.

Rush, her second novel, is based on the life of Jayme’s great-great grandmother and the details of her involvement in the Oklahoma Land Run of 1893.

Using original letters from the era and her own research in Oklahoma, Jayme found out that “tall tales” about her ancestor weren’t so tall—and would make for a good novel.

Jayme H. Mansfield is an author, artist, and educator—and feels a bit incomplete when she’s not juggling all three balls.

Her award-winning debut novel, Chasing the Butterfly, is a book club favorite and Amazon bestseller.

Jayme lives in Lakewood, Colorado, where she and her husband have survived raising three hungry, hockey-playing sons.

When Jayme isn’t writing, she teaches art to children and adults at her long-time art studio, Piggy Toes.

Rush launches Nov. 1!

Visit Jayme at www.jaymehmansfield.com

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 #103

Jennifer Kincheloe & The Woman in the Camphor Trunk

Jennifer Kincheloe is back on the podcast and she’s got a brand new historical mystery coming out in just a few short weeks.

The first book, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, was a finalist for a slew of awards and also was winner of the Mystery & Mayhem Award for Historical Mystery. Earlier, it also won the Colorado Gold contest.

So there’s lots of anticipation for book two, The Woman in the Camphor Trunk, debuting in mid-November from Seventh Street Books.

We caught up with Jennifer last week in Toronto where she was attending Bouchercon, the annual mystery conference for writers and readers.

As you will see, writing historical fiction sometimes opens your eyes to things going on in our world today.

Jennifer Kincheloe's website

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 #102

Aimie K. Runyan & Daughters of the Night Sky

After listening to this episode with historical fiction writer Aimie K. Runyan, you might want to think about keeping an idea file.

When things went flat with her first publisher, Aimie needed a Plan B and she was ready, dipping into a list of concepts she wanted to take from idea stage to full length novel.

Now, 18 months after her first novel was published, Aimie is less than three months from the launch of book number three, Daughters of the Night Sky. Her readiness, and flexibility, played a major role in keeping her writing career going.

Aimie K. Runyan writes to celebrate history’s unsung heroines.

She is the author of two previous historical novels: Promised to the Crown, and Duty to the Crown from Kensington Publishing. Her upcoming novels Daughters of the Night Sky and Girls on the Line will release from Lake Union Publishing in January and November of 2018.

Aimie is active as an educator and speaker in the writing community and beyond. She lives in Colorado with her wonderful husband and two (usually) adorable children.

Aimie's website

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

Montana: Big Book Country

Jane Smiley

Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley (A Thousand Acres) is on stage at The Union Club Bar & Grill in downtown Missoula. Earlier in the week, she turned 68. Jane Smiley has been publishing books—26 by my count—since 1980. Short stories, essays, non-fiction, young adult stories, and more. She is wearing blue jeans and a checked shirt. Unassuming? To say the least. She takes her turn at the “Pie and Whiskey” night like just another writer reading her stuff. She moves her hand around her chest and neck to emote and underscore her words.

Among others in the lineup are Bill Kittredge (born in 1932). He wrote A Hole in the Sky: A Memoir and many other books. He co-produced the movie “A River Runs Through It.” He taught creative writing, too, at the University of Montana.

The rules for the evening are that your readings have to mention pie (there is a whole table full of yummy pie slices, including Sweet Potato) or whiskey. Or both. It’s a much-anticipated event at the Montana Book Festival and the room is packed and stiflingly hot.

The MC’s are Sam Ligon and Kate Lebo. This a franchise, it turns out, and there’s a book called Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter and Booze. Ligon’s reading is hilarious, full of energy and attitude.

'The Inlanders' panel

The Montana Book Festival started a day before I arrived, on Wednesday. It ran through Sunday, Oct. 1. Panels, pitch sessions, readings, presentations, workshops, and awards. It’s a big whirling Mix Master of words and ideas. Events stretched from 9 a.m. into the evening every day through the weekend at a variety of venues in downtown Missoula—senior centers, art galleries, libraries, schools, bars, and two (count ‘em!) independent book stores mere blocks apart. It’s hard to imagine a hungrier flock of readers. The presentation space at Fact & Fiction Bookstore was small but packed for a 75-minute reading called “Bold Women and Rebels of the West” at mid-day on Friday. Packed, I tell you.

At a panel called “Inlanders: A Reading and Publishing Panel With Fugue And Willow Springs,” the aforementioned Ligon tells the assembled writers to not be discouraged even though his magazine accepts “one tenth of one percent of fiction submissions.” Ligon is the editor at Willow Springs Magazine, published within the MFA at Eastern Washington University. He’s also a novelist.

It’s “liberating,” Ligon argues, to know that there is “nothing you can do” to get published. It’s ALL subjective, he says, so just write the best piece you can. Whatever the magazine recently published, he said, is exactly what they don’t want next. And don’t submit any nature poetry. “I do not like it,” says Ligon, as proof of subjectivity itself. “I do not want the moon to be a bruise.” And don’t mention that you were nominated for a Pushcart Prize, he says. “What else did you not win?” he asks. “The National Book Award?”

Montana Noir panel

Hilarious. And true.

To understand how good you are, says one of Ligon’s fellow panelists, get a job reading submissions for a literary journal. “You will see what sucks.” One of the panelists reads a funny—very funny—poem about nipples. More specifically, hairy nipples.

At Shakespeare & Co., across the bridge over the Clark Fork River by the road heading south out of town, nine short story writers talk about their entries in Montana Noir, the latest in a series (90-plus volumes) of short story collections from Akashic Books.

The store is bright and sharp. My friend Keir Graff, who co-edited the volume with James Grady (the author of Six Days of The Condor, many novels, short stories, screenplays and journalism, too) said he and Grady tried three times to interest Akashic in the project. Their final pitch effort was “The Last Best Pitch.” It came in the form a noir short story about their plans and apparently one of the Akashic editors was a character in the story. Sold! They weren’t going to be outdone by Zagreb Noir or Brussels Noir. One of the stories in the volume is called “All The Damn Stars in the Sky,” by Yvonne Seng. (A title that begs the reader to devour it, no?) Grady’s entry, a powerful piece called “The Road You Take,” is about strippers ferried from Montana town to Montana town.

The 'Montana Noir' crew

At the Dana Gallery at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, about 30 people turn out to listen to a panel I’m on with fellow mystery writers Christine Carbo, Gwen Florio and Leslie Budewitz. Carbo has three mysteries out, a fourth on the way and a fifth in development. Florio has four mysteries out, a fifth on the way, and a stand-alone literary novel due out next summer. Writers write... Florio is one of the “Montana Noir” authors, too. Budewitz, author of two series of cozy mysteries (seven books out so far), is finishing up a darker stand-alone novel of suspense that sounds anything BUT cozy.

Leslie’s idea stemmed from an incident from her high school days. It’s been brewing all these years. On the panel, Leslie makes a great point about the need for fictional characters to change. When characters get punched, she says, they don’t bounce back up in the same shape. “They aren’t like the Pillsbury Doughboy,” she says.

At a panel on women’s fiction, all the projects sound interesting. Compelling. Again, Fact & Fiction Bookstore is packed. SRO. Jamie Harrison, whose novel The Widow Nash apparently includes lists of earthquakes and all the damage they have caused, quotes Hilary Mantel (“Every novelist is failed historian”) and Mark Twain (“Figure out your facts and then drop them like a hot potato”).

Montana mystery writers Leslie Budewitz, Gwen Florio, Christine Carbo with a writer (yours truly) from Denver. Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America panel.

Back at the Union Club Bar & Grill later that night, the Montana Noir writers read samples of their work and, yes, the bar is full again and the patrons are rapt and attentive and appreciative. A bottle of “Noir Creek” whiskey is passed among the writers. It would take you years to read all the books produced by the Montana Noir crew.

Graff opens the readings with a sample of his story, “Red Skies of Montana,” about erstwhile arsonists and a skiing development on Lolo Peak. Apparently Lolo Peak had its own forest fire this summer, one of the hottest and most fiery summers in recent memory in Montana. The real-life fire happened long after Graff conjured it in his story. Graff promises to “use his powers for good” next time around.

When Graff finishes dropping a few f-bombs from his story on stage, two young boys approach him holding out a copy of Graff’s middle-grade novel, The Matchstick Castle. They ask him to sign it. Graff writes both adult novels and middle grade novels. Yep, writers write.

Fall festivals are cool—beer, cider, pumpkins, you name it. Make mine books. The Montana version is bustling and energetic. A worthy destination and totally worth the trip. Next chance I get, I’ll be Montana bound.

++

“Many people, myself among them, feel better at the mere sight of a book.”
― Jane Smiley, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel