Rocky Mountain Writer #54


WOTY PanelWriter of the Year Panel at The Tattered Cover

This episode is a live recording of the Thursday, Aug. 18 panel at the Tattered Cover featuring Writer of the Year finalists Mark Stevens, Christine Goff and Carol Berg and Independent Writer of the Year finalists Lisa Manifold and Nathan Lowell.

The third "iWOTY" finalist, Sue Duff, was unable to attend.

The panel was quizzed by 2015 Writer of the Year Susan Spann.

 

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 #53

Shannon1884-4x6-webShannon Baker & Stripped Bare

The guest this time is Shannon Baker, author of Stripped Bare, the first in the Kate Fox mystery series. Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, it’s been called "Longmire meets The Good Wife."

Shannon Baker also writes the Nora Abbott mystery series (Midnight Ink), a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder set in western landscapes.

On the podcast, Shannon talks about how being named 2014 RMFW Writer of the Year was one of the factors that gave her a real boost of confidence and helped her recommit to writing fiction. She talks about the ups and downs of the writing business, tells how she set up an intense blog tour up with fellow crime writer Jess Lourey, and what led to a key change in the surname of her new protagonist.

 
Shannon Baker

On Facebook

Tor/Forge

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 #52


Dylan YatesDylan Yates & Vocal Training for Writers

On the podcast this time is vocal coach Dylan Yates, who is giving a master class for writers at Colorado Gold in September.

Yes, writers, at some point, must also get out there and talk.

Dylan Yates is also the author of an award-winning novel, The Belief in Angels.  She has a teaching career that spans public schools, theater direction for regional and national theaters, and vocal training in corporate environments.

Her experience also includes private vocal coaching and radio commercials.
She Writes Press - Dylan Yates

 

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

Your Character’s Umvelt

Inside-of-a-Dog-coverWhat is your character’s umwelt?

Yes, umwelt.

Pronounced OOM-velt.

I came across this concept while reading Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz.

(If you have a dog, like dogs, are curious about dogs and dog behavior, it’s a fascinating book.)

Anyway, the idea of the umwelt came from an early 20th Century German biologist named Jakob von Uexküll.

To quote Horowitz: “Umwelt captures what life is like as the animal.”

As illustration, consider the lowly deer tick.

Von Uexküll tried to imagine life from the tick’s point of view.

A tick will climb to a high perch, like a tall blade of grass.

The tick is waiting for one particular smell.

Sight is no good; the tick is blind.

Sounds are irrelevant.

The tick is waiting for a whiff of butyric acid, “a fatty acid emitted by warm-blooded creatures.”

(We humans smell butyric acid as sweat.)

When the tick smells what it needs to smell, it drops from its perch.

Its hope during freefall, at that moment in time, is to land on an animal, get its teeth into some skin, and drink blood.

If all goes well, the tick will feed once, drop off, lay eggs.

And die.

That’s the tick’s self-world.

Its umvelt.

Its purpose, wants, needs, desires.

The tick, after all, much like your protagonist and your villain (both), are heroes of their own lives.

Doing a bit more research on the umvelt, I found this article from a website called The Edge and a terrific additional way of thinking about it, that the umvelt is the animal’s “entire objective reality.”

It works for people, too.

Your characters.

“Why would any of us stop to think that there is more beyond what we can sense?” the article asked. “In the movie ‘The Truman Show,’ the eponymous Truman lives in a world completely constructed around him by an intrepid television producer. At one point an interviewer asks the producer, ‘Why do you think Truman has never come close to discovering the true nature of his world?’ The producer replies, ‘We accept the reality of the world with which we're presented.’ We accept our umwelt and stop there.”

For instance, we humans accept those things we can and cannot smell with our noses. Any ordinary dog would laugh at our feeble powers with smell.

But we accept them.

What is your character’s umvelt?

What reality have they accepted? What bigger reality are they oblivious to? What senses or abilities are their strengths? Their weaknesses? How were they put together—for what purpose? What will they consider success? Or failure?

Get to know your character's umvelt might help sharpen your character in a distinctive, new way.

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ALSO: I was blown away by all the kind emails, messages, tweets, Facebook posts and texts after being named Writer of the Year.

Thank you all so much!

RMFW, quite simply, rocks.

Hope to see you all at Colorado Gold so I can thank you in person.

Rocky Mountain Writer #51


20151130_105248Wendy J. Fox & The Pull of It 

Wendy J. Fox, author of the forthcoming The Pull Of It, is the guest. The Pull Of It debuts in late September from Underground Voices.

Wendy is also the author of The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories, which won the inaugural Press 53 Award for Short Fiction.

Her fiction, essays and interviews have appeared in ZYZZYVA, the Tampa Review, The Missouri Review and The Pinch, among others.

Wendy Fox

Underground Voices

 

 

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

“Are You Taking This Seriously Enough?” Seriously?

Paul McCartneyPaul McCartney just turned 74 but he’s still not sure how to write a song.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Did you hear Macca on NPR’s All Songs Considered?

Yes, one of the best songwriters of the last six decades or so says he still isn’t sure how it all works.

If I was to sit down and write a song, now, I'd use my usual method: I'd either sit down with a guitar or at the piano and just look for melodies, chord shapes, musical phrases, some words, a thought just to get started with.

And then I just sit with it to work it out, like I'm writing an essay or doing a crossword puzzle. That's the system I've always used, that John [Lennon] and I started with. I've really never found a better system and that system is just playing the guitar and looking for something that suggests a melody and perhaps some words if you're lucky.

Then I just fiddle around with that and try and follow the trail, try and follow where it appears to be leading me … I'm of the school of the instinctive.

I once worked with Allen Ginsberg and Allen always used to say, 'First thought, best thought.' And then he would edit everything. But I think the theory is good. 'First thought, best thought.' It doesn't always work, but as a general idea I will try and do that and sometimes I come out with a puzzling set of words that I have no idea what I mean, and yet I've got to kind of make sense of it and follow the trail.

You can hear the whole interview here. (It's a cool podcast, too.)

If you listen, check out McCartney's youthful enthusiasm for the process. He’s still scratching his head about how it all works.

Do you ever noodle around?

Do you ever just not worry about the big picture, the big idea, the big concept?

And try to write a few words?

Just because?

(Words are cool. There is an endless supply and they don’t mind if you make a mess at first.)

Anyway, if you listen to the interview, check out McCartney’s enthusiasm, his eagerness. He talks about a few experimental efforts and stretching himself out. Think you know McCartney? Check out this effort with Freelance Hellraiser (Roy Kerr) on "Twin Freaks."

That’s a long way from “Eight Days A Week.”

Or “Paperback Writer.”

I was 10 years old when The Beatles blew up. My older brother and I bought every album when they came out. We listened over and over.

And over.

And now here’s Sir Paul decades later, after two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (one with The Beatles, one as a solo artist).

He’s still writing music--and enjoying it.

I do like it. I do enjoy it. I mean, when I get a day off and I've suddenly got loads of time on my hands, I might do the kind of thing where I'm at home — I live on a farm — so I might get out for a horse ride or something. But when I've done those things that I want to do and there is still a couple of hours in the afternoon, I'll often just gravitate to a piano or a guitar and I feel myself just kind of writing a song. It's like a hobby, and it's a hobby that turned into a living. But I like to think of it that way and I sometimes kind of pull myself up and say, 'Are you taking this seriously enough? Maybe you should try a little bit more.

Yeah, sure, can you imagine if this McCartney’s output if tried a little bit more?

If he took it seriously?

Listening to McCartney chat about the process makes me want to get out some words and push them around a bit, see what happens.

paperback writerIt's a thousand pages, give or take a few
I'll be writing more in a week or two
I can make it longer if you like the style
I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer...
- Lennon & McCartney

Rocky Mountain Writer #50


LaurenceLaurence MacNaughton & It Happened One Doomsday 

Laurence MacNaughton's It Happened One Doomsday debuts this month (July, 2016) and it's already off to a roaring start.

Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, RT Book Reviews and Library Journal have all weighed in with glowing comments and Barnes & Noble is getting behind the new title in a very big way.

On the podcast, Laurence MacNaughton talks about the approach to writing It Happened One Doomsday, particularly how a chance conversation with one Hugh Howey led to a shift in his thinking about how to write the story. He also gives us a quick look at his Instant Plot workshop and gives us a sneak peek at another workshop that it’s in development. Laurence MacBaughton grew up Connecticut and sold his first magazine story at age 19. Over the years, he’s been a bookseller, typesetter, printer, copywriter and a prototype vehicle test driver.

This episode includes Laurence reading a scene from It Happened One Doomsday.

Laurence MacNaughton

Pyr Books

 

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 #49

Jennifer K 3Jennifer Kincheloe & The Secret Life of Anna Blanc

Last week, Jennifer Kincheloe found out that her first mystery, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc was nominated for a Macavity award in the historical category—one of the top prizes in the mystery writing field.

Just a few years ago, that same novel was a winner in the annual Colorado Gold contest for unpublished novelists. .

This time on the podcast, Jennifer talks about her path to publication and how she goes about researching her books, set in the early 1900’s in Los Angeles and southern California. She also talks about how she developed the Anna Blanc character and her interesting approach to social media.

This podcast includes a recording of Jennifer reading a selection from The Secret Life of Anna Blanc.

Jennifer holds a Masters degree in Public Health from Loma Linda University and a PhD in Health Services from UCLA. She spent 11 years conducting research to inform health policy.

She is a member of RMFW, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and other groups.

She lives in Denver with her husband and two children.

Jennifer Kincheloe

Seventh Street Books

 

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 #48

Lisa AdamsLisa Adams - Nuts & Bolts of Tax Law (For Writers)

The guest is writer and attorney Lisa Adams, who is giving a master class at Colorado Gold conference in September called Avoiding Real Life Drama, The Nuts & Bolts of Tax Law.

Lisa Adams is an Arizona-based attorney. Her expertise is in federal tax law, federal Indian law, criminal law and procedure, and complex business transactions. She is also the author of Bound Justice.

As a writer, do you know the basics of what counts as income or how to track expenses? If you’re going the indy route, do you draw up contracts when you hire a graphic artist or an editor? Do you think you should?

Lisa’s got some great advice—and experience.
 

 

Lisa Adams
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

Backstory Feeds Frontstory

Whack me upside the head – go ahead.

I was putting together a presentation recently for a workshop about writing mysteries and I wanted to make the point that the variety of ideas for mysteries—setting, characters, plots and themes—is endless.

I thought it might be insightful and instructive (maybe even interesting) to look at recent Edgar Award Winners.

So I made up a nifty PowerPoint slide for three books and included, verbatim, the description of each story.

JuneBlog2016LouBerneyThe first was Lou Berney’s The Long and Far Away Gone, winner of the Edgar Award for best paperback original.

(What a great title.)

Summary: In the summer of 1986, two tragedies rocked Oklahoma City. Six movie-theater employees were killed in an armed robbery, while one inexplicably survived. Then, a teenage girl vanished from the annual State Fair. Neither crime was ever solved. Twenty-five years later, the reverberations of those unsolved cases quietly echo through survivors’ lives. A private investigator in Vegas, Wyatt’s latest inquiry takes him back to a past he’s tried to escape—and drags him deeper into the harrowing mystery of the movie house robbery that left six of his friends dead.

 

JuneBlog2016LoriRoyThe second was for Lori Roy’s Let Me Dies in His Footsteps, winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. (Best novel!)

Summary: On a dark Kentucky night in 1952 exactly halfway between her fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays, Annie Holleran crosses into forbidden territory. Everyone knows Hollerans don’t go near Baines, not since Joseph Carl was buried two decades before, but, armed with a silver-handled flashlight, Annie runs through her family’s lavender fields toward the well on the Baines’ place. At the stroke of midnight, she gazes into the water in search of her future. Not finding what she had hoped for, she turns from the well and when the body she sees there in the moonlight is discovered come morning, Annie will have much to explain and a past to account for.

 

JuneBlog2016LoriRaderDayThe third was Lori Rader-Day’s Little Pretty Things, winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award. (Love this title, too.)

Juliet Townsend is used to losing. Back in high school, she lost every track team race to her best friend, Madeleine Bell. Ten years later, she’s still running behind, stuck in a dead-end job cleaning rooms at the Mid-Night Inn, a one-star motel that attracts only the cheap or the desperate. But what life won’t provide, Juliet takes. Then one night, Maddy checks in. Well-dressed, flashing a huge diamond ring, and as beautiful as ever, Maddy has it all. By the next morning, though, Juliet is no longer jealous of Maddy—she’s the chief suspect in her murder. To protect herself, Juliet investigates the circumstances of her friend’s death. But what she learns about Maddy’s life might cost Juliet everything she didn’t realize she had.

I haven’t read any of these books—but I want to read them all!

Right?

In putting together the presentation, it was easy to spot the fuel for each fire.

Berney: Twenty-five years later…

Roy: Two decades before…

Rader-Day: Back in high school…

I know it’s obvious.

It’s a simple point.

But characters are nothing if not for their backstory.

Brighton - Michael HarveyCharacters don’t walk onto the page without having been bruised or beaten or worse. They have had a life.

If your character’s past is dull, gray, bland, flat, flavorless, vanilla, and drama-free, you may not have a character. Or much of a story.  Sure, it’s what happened to your character but it’s also how your character responded to those key moments. That’s where character—and your story—is forged.

Now I see backstory everywhere I look. “Happy Valley”—the best Netflix thing I’ve seen in a long, long time. The writers backed up a dump truck full of backstory and piled it on West Yorkshire sergeant Catherine Cawood. (The "happy" in Happy Valley isn't so happy.) And I just read a taut novel called Brighton, by Michael Harvey, and backstory drives “front” story like a seamless Mobius strip of tension and action.

As I said, an obvious point.

But if you’re struggling with a plot or the “now,” you might take a look at the past.