Mark Stevens is 2016 RMFW Writer of the Year. He writes the Allison Coil Mystery Series--Antler Dust (2007), Buried by the Roan (2011), Trapline (2014) and Lake of Fire (2015). Buried by the Roan, Trapline and Lake of Fire were all finalists for the Colorado Book Award; Trapline won. Trapline also won the 2015 award in genre fiction from the Colorado Authors League. Kirkus Reviews called Lake of Fire "irresistible." More about Mark on his website.
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.
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.
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 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?”
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.
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”).
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
That’s the hurt from hearing a comment at your critique group that means there’s work to be done, that your work in progress is not quite ready for prime time.
On Oct. 7, Shawn is one of four panelists leading RMFW's free monthly workshop called Getting the Most Out of Your Critique Group.
On the podcast, Shawn passes along a few pointers and suggestions if you’re thinking of diving into the critique group scene. And Shawn would tell you it’s a good idea. As he puts it, the process “helps you ways you don’t anticipate.”
Thanks to Shawn’s own critique group, a would-be short story morphed into Shawn’s first novella, Matryoshka Blues, the first in the Average Joe Mysteries. That book is now being expanded into a full-length novel and there’s a second title in the works.
In fact, the title of that book leads to a question about whether a writer needs permission to use a song lyric as a title and stay tuned after the recording for a few thoughts on this topic from an RMFW expert.
In addition to the chat with Shawn, we’ve got a new installment of Writer’s Rehab with Natasha Watts. This time, Natasha is here with some cautionary thoughts about the temptation to summarize conversations.
Episode #100 of the Rocky Mountain Writer podcast comes down to three things: insects, noir and a preview of the upcoming workshop this weekend on bone forensics.
The guest is writer Jeff Lockwood, who earned a doctorate in entomology and who has worked for 15 years as an insect ecologist at the University of Wyoming.
But Jeff is also a writer and last year published his first crime novel Poisoned Justice featuring ex-cop turned pest exterminator C.V. Riley, who plies his trade in the very noir streets of 1970’s San Francisco.
Jeff has found a way to merge his work in science with his work in humanities. His second novel, Murder on the Fly, comes out later this year.
Jeff is one of two presenters, along with Dr. George Gill, at the upcoming workshop this weekend in Denver regarding bone forensics that is being co-sponsored by RMFW and Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. Dr. Gill has studied bones and crime scenes, both new and old, around the world for many years. More about the workshop here.
Kerry Schafer / Kerry Anne King & World Tree Girl, I Wish You Happy
We last checked in with Kerry Schafer way back in February of 2016 and she was on the phone from her home in Washington State.
This time, we’ve got her for in-person chat, recorded last week at Colorado Gold, RMFW’s big annual three-day writing conference in Denver.
We’re more than 18 months down the road since the last interview, but Kerry Schafer is as busy as she was back then, with two new titles – World Tree Girl by Kerry Schafer and I Wish You Happy by her alter-ego Kerry Anne King.
Kerry has also started working as a creativity coach and she is here to pass along a few tips, particularly around the attitude with which you approach your work.
Kerry Schafer holds a BA in English from York University and a master degree in counseling psychology from Washington State University. Kerry spends her days working as an RN in a clinic, spinning her tales early in the morning and in the evenings after work.
In addition to the chat with Kerry, we’ve got a new installment of Writer’s Rehab with Natasha Watts. This time, Natasha is here to encourage you to break out your “inner sadist” and try being a bit meaner to your main characters.
When he talks about writing, George Saunders brings it all down to earth.
He’s so straightforward, so sure, so clear about every phase of the process.
And reassuring, too.
Zip and ola.
I’ve sung his praises before and reviewed Tenth of December, a terrific collection of imaginative short stories.
I could also post link after link of thoughtful exchanges with Saunders, including from The Big Think podcast and a fabulous two-parter on Bookworm about his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.
Anyway, I really didn’t expect to see Saunders pop up on an advice podcast but there he was with Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond. Turns out Saunders was one of Strayed’s writing teachers and mentors at Syracuse University.
The topic was chasing creative dreams while managing, you know, little practical things like work and income. You can read the question and listen to the entire conversation, called 'The Price of Our Dreams' at WBUR.
Saunders argues you can do both—and that work and the workplace can provide a wealth of inspiration.
Saunders: “There's a crossroads moment where you say to yourself, ‘okay, either I'm going to do the starving artist route and make these kids suffer or I'm going to suck it up and find in myself the potential to go into a job that I wouldn't have dreamed of taking a year ago.’ And what I found was that actually that was great. To go in and say I have to give up my image of myself as this scrappy, cool young guy and put on a tie and go into this job. So maybe as a way of gaming myself I said ‘Ok, look, if you're a writer you should be able to find material even here, everywhere.’ Since these are human beings gathered together, this must be percolating into my artistic machinery, therefore it's not a waste."
And later in the same podcast, Saunders: “The path that lies between you and the book you dreamed of is actually not a different day to day life except the addition of some writing time. The magic that's going to make you published and beloved is yet to be found. When I was working a day job and writing my first book, I noticed that you can get a lot done in 15 minutes. In some ways, writing at work or writing when you're tired has a way of focusing your mind. I like to gently say to anybody who wants to be an artist, it doesn't always work. Your worth as a human being is not tied to your productivity as an artist, those are wildly divergent things. The pure artistic path is the one that's not too tied to the outcome but is tied to the transformation that happens.”
I like those last two sentences so I’ll highlight it for emphasis:
Your worth as a human being is not tied to your productivity as an artist, those are wildly divergent things. The pure artistic path is the one that's not too tied to the outcome but is tied to the transformation that happens.
The guest on the podcast this time is the only person in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers with the title of “dean.”
Peggy Waide is the dean of RMFW University, an online learning program that is offering an increasingly rich series of classes.
In fact, there’s a class coming up in mid-September with Sharon Mignery titled "The Art and Craft of Building Great Conflict."
Classes this year have already covered writing the dreaded synopsis, writing effective flashbacks, writing winning contest entries, and turning your novel into a screenplay, among others.
A long-time member of RMFW, Peggy Waide entered her first Regency romance in the Colorado Gold Contest and the judging editor offered her a contract. Peggy published four titles with Leisure Books and is today shopping an amateur sleuth mystery and she’s wrapping up a contemporary romance.
Peggy has served as Vice-President, Pal Rep, Colorado Gold Conference Chair as well as presented workshops at Colorado Gold conference and Romance Writers of America.
When she finished writing her novel “Transference,” Kate Jonuska came to a fork in a road and, as Yogi Berra once said, she took it.
The question was how to publish? Traditional? Or independent?
Kate was surprised that her views on the choice had changed and it was a choice she said was informed by her time in RMFW.
A Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers member since 2014, Kate Jonuska is a writer and author based in Boulder, Colorado.
Kate has a decade of experience writing features for top-notch regional publications, including the Denver Post, the Boulder Daily Camera, the (Colorado Springs) Gazette and Boulder Magazine. Kate's short fiction was nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize.
Transference is Kate’s first published novel. It features a professionally ruined and morally bankrupt psychiatrist named Derek Verbenk and a superpowered new patient who turns his life upside down—and his soul inside out.
Romping through Denver, breaking through barriers of privacy, social isolation and even politics, Transference, is an odd-couple quest toward redemption full of wicked humor and radical honesty.