Which is Stranger—Truth or Fiction? … by Margaret Mizushima

“Humankind cannot take too much reality.” ~T.S. Elliott

Margaret MizushimaI love it when a grizzled detective on Dateline or 48 Hours shakes his head in amazement and says to the interviewer, “This crime is so twisted. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.” As a mystery writer, I can’t help but think, Oh, but we do.

Crime fiction writers spend countless hours researching their novels—the law, law enforcement, crime scene investigation and technology, the elements of their crime, you name it—but we still rely on our imaginations to utilize the information and create scenes from what we’ve learned. And you know what happens when a writer’s imagination kicks into gear? Mighty chaos can break loose. We try to “stick to the facts, ma’am,” but it doesn’t always work out that way. The truth might get tweaked or facts might be dramatized for fictional purposes.

Still, facts and fiction intermingle. I’d like to give you a few examples from my debut, Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery. Prior to writing the book, I was fortunate to shadow two skilled police dog trainers and watch them work with dogs and handlers. These professionals told me stories about the amazing things their dogs accomplished on the job. The crime fighting duo in my Timber Creek mystery series are Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo, a dog cross-trained in narcotics detection and patrol. So when I sat down to write, what does Robo do? He finds the body of teenage girl!

This discouraged me, because patrol dogs are typically trained in cadaver work or narcotics detection but not both. A phone call to one of my consultants solved my dilemma. “The trainer could have tested the dog for cadaver work when he was young but ultimately decided to go with narcotics detection training,” she said. “Some of these dogs remember everything.” Ah…okay then. Keep writing.

Mizushima_Killing TrailHere’s another example: My husband is a veterinarian and he helps me plot my stories. Before I wrote Killing Trail we brainstormed elements of the crime and came up with the idea that drug traffickers would use large dogs as mules by force-feeding them balloons filled with cocaine. Several months later, I was walking the treadmill while watching television and saw a news clip on drug traffickers in Columbia who used greyhounds as mules by surgically implanting bags of heroin under their skin. This example of how reality followed fiction told me a couple things—one, our idea wasn’t too far-fetched, and two, these crooks can be more cruel and inhumane than my husband and I can imagine.

And one more: In my series, ranchers and merchants of Timber Creek are concerned about drug traffic through their community, so they donate money for the sheriff’s department to buy a narcotics detection dog. After the book was written, a friend of mine sent an article from a small town newspaper about townspeople organizing a committee to raise money for a narcotics detection dog for their police department. The town council nixed the concept. Some speculated it was turned down because several council members were participants in the local drug traffic problem. Hmm…fact or fiction?

Don’t you think T.S. Elliott would be shocked by the reality television shows we have in our world today? I know I am at times, and I agree that it’s debatable whether or not some of these shows are scripted. But I’ve come to believe that both fiction and reality can startle, shock, and sometimes be downright unbelievable. And as to which one is stranger—I think it’s a toss up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Margaret Mizushima has a background in speech pathology and practiced in an acute care hospital before establishing her own rehabilitation agency. Currently, she balances writing with assisting her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Her fiction has won contest awards, and her short story “Hay Hook” was published in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 anthology, Crossing Colfax. She enjoys reading and hiking, and she lives with her husband on a small ranch in Colorado where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/Author Margaret Mizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website.

This post was previously published in December 2015 at Patricia Stoltey's blog.

Editorial love and the question of who hires whom … by Laura Lis Scott

So infinity scientists walk into a bar.

Editor—This is very unbelievable. Infinity isn't a real number. Nobody will believe this. And what does the bar look like? What kind of bar? Irish bar? Modern slick bar? Dive bar? Give us some details!

Version 2Are you traditionally published? Are you indie? In many ways, it doesn't matter, does it? A book is a book, isn't it? The process is essentially the same, isn't it? Well, except for the marketing budget.

I submit that there also is a difference when it comes to the editing phase. Let me explain.

In traditional publishing...

...the author-editor relationship is defined by the editor's (presumed) interest in the author's manuscript. Why else would they be working together? The relationship begins when the editor likes the author's submitted manuscript enough to deem it good enough (or salvageable enough) to potentially appeal to readers.

Under this dynamic, where the editor initiates the relationship, the author can proceed under the following assumptions:

  1. The editor is interested in her work.
  2. The notes the author gets from the editor can be read with the belief that the editor likes her work.
  3. The editor holds the keys to publication. In the case of differences of opinion, the weight of the author's opinion (right or wrong) depends on the editor's judgment, ethics, mores, and clout within the publishing organization — not to mention any policies the publisher itself may have in place (e.g., no characters who own ferrets, no portrayals of cigarette smoking).

The first scientist says, "I'll have a beer."

The second scientist says, "I'll have half a beer."

Editor—Is it possible to order half a beer? I've never heard of this. What if the second scientist orders a small beer?

In independent publishing (or self-publishing)...

...the author has the initiative. The (smart) author seeks out and selects an editor. She may or may not know the editor's work very well, aside from what it might say on the editor's website. The editor's decision to work on the book might be driven in part by schedule and financial imperatives. After all, who wants to turn away paying work? In this case, the author must operate under different assumptions:

  1. There is no reason to assume that the editor even likes the manuscript. The editor may actually hate the manuscript. Or the author's style. Or where the story goes.
  2. The notes the author gets from the editor must be read with that caveat.
  3. For better or worse, the author holds the keys, and makes the ultimate decision as to what ends up in the final published book.

A third scientist says, "I'll have a quarter beer."

A fourth scientist says, "I'll have an eighth of a beer."

Editor—Nobody is going to believe this. What is the point of this scene? Things are happening very easily? Where is the obstacle? Squeeze some juice out of this scenario. Are we going to see ANY of these scientists later in the story? What do they look like? Are they male? Female? What ethnicity? Are they old? Young?

2016_Scott_cover art1Disclaimer

I expect many will object to this assessment. Generalizations are not generals. Any traditionally published author can end up with an editor who doesn't like her book. And any indie author can randomly end up with an editor who loves her book. My hope is that every author can and does find the ideal editor for her book.

But consider that in traditional publishing the vast majority of books are rejected many many times by many many editors before they finally find a home. Most editors are not likely to like any given book. That's only natural. Think about it. If you were handed a published book chosen randomly from a bookstore, how likely are you to like it?

A fifth scientist steps up, but the bartender raises his hand and says, "I understand."

Editor—This is wonderful. It builds anticipation. I am wondering what he understands!

2016_Scott-cover artWhat is an indie author to do?

First, understand that good editors are professionals. On one level, any good professional editor is going to help you by catching plot holes, grammatical errors, continuity errors, consistency problems, etc. And if she knows your genre, she will also be able to catch issues that might trip up your genre's readers.

But let's face it, readers read books for love and enjoyment. On some level, the ideal situation is to have an editor who loves your book like you do, like a reader would — not so that the editor will kiss your butt but so that she'll be able to bring an emotional dimension to her helping you, the author, achieve what you're trying to achieve.

If you're an indie writer who has hired an editor, your challenge then is to parse out the valid critiques of your own writing from the notes that might, just might, reflect only the editor's dislike of your voice, or ignorance of your story's milieu, or inability to grok your sense of humor.

The bartender pours two beers.

Editor—I don't understand this. Why is the bartender pouring two beers? Who ordered two beers?

Personally...

...I think this is a difference in the relationship, but it doesn't have to lead to a disadvantage (either way) in the outcome. It's just something to keep in mind.

As a writer, as it turns out, I'm blessed to be working with a wonderful editor who is a huge believer in my work.

As an editor, this paradigm is humbling. I feel fortunate to have edited mostly stories and novels I've chosen. My days going through the "slush pile" were only as a reader. My respect for freelance editors braving this world rises every day.

Editor—Suggest this rewrite:

Two scientists walk into a shadowy Irish pub with sawdust on the floor and dart boards across the back wall. The two well-groomed women, who wear lab coats over business suits, approach bar. The taller woman says, "I would like to have beer!"

Her friend says, "I'll have the same."

With a friendly grin, the bartender pours two tall, frothy dark ales.

Editor—Now we can get on with the story!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Laura Lis Scott is author of the feminist political satires A Spy in Stilettos and The Colonel's Secret Service. She is editor, designer, and co-founder of Toot Sweet Ink, a new indie publisher of science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, magical realism, and contemporary fiction. Lis Scott has waited tables, delivered campus mail, driven a truck (more like a van), wordprocessed business and legal documents, written and produced videos, produced B-movie trailers, directed television, designed and developed websites, edited magazine articles, blogged professionally (and amateurishly), served on non-profit boards, co-founded a web development company, raced cars (on actual racetracks — street racing is dumb), and written a handful of stories. She has lived in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles; now she lives in Colorado, where the sun always shines, even on the cloudy days. Laura has BA from The University of Chicago and an MFA from Columbia University of New York. She can be found on Twitter @lauras. Her website is lauralisscott.com.

 

On Writing by Virginia Rose Richter

The most important book on writing that I have ever read is by Stephen King, aptly entitled, On Writing. At times hilariously funny, King describes years spent typing, while bundled up, in his unheated freezing attic in Maine. Large nails were driven into the bare walls and onto these nails were pierced an untold number of rejection letters from publishers and agents stating their disinterest in his work. Then one frigid night he and his wife returned home with their two small children who were feverish with colds and found in the mail among the pile of unpaid bills a letter from his agent stating that his manuscript had been sold. The title of the manuscript: CARRIE. Thrilling!

After raising my family and having a career as an audiologist, I had a chance to explore two life-long goals. One, learn to play the piano. Two, write a mystery. With a degree in Music under my belt, I couldn’t bear to leave the campus of Metropolitan State College of Denver. In the English Department, I signed on for a beginning class in creative writing.

In a genuine stroke of luck, I discovered that the person teaching the class was Larry Bograd. Larry was a published writer of both plays and fiction. With a dry self-deprecating wit, Larry kept us laughing. But, about writing, he was very serious. His opening salvo was: “I’ve had hundreds of people go through this class. Only two of them were ‘natural writers’. Before you start writing, you have to learn the craft.” Rules? This was beginning to look like work.

And so it began. Action moves the plot. Don’t be obscure when you can be clear. Reveal descriptions through dialogue. Avoid back-stories, information dumps, coincidences and duplicate words in the same paragraph.  BEGIN with a question that needs to be answered. The MIDDLE shows a complication. The END is a result of what happened in the Middle. Strong plots result from a character’s flaws (jealousy, temper etc.)In life-psychology defines actions. In writing-actions define psychology. And of course, POV, POV, POV! Best of all: “If there’s a shotgun over the fireplace in the opening, it better have been fired by the end of the scene.” (Larry was a playwright at heart.)

In Larry’s next class, ‘Writing for Children’, I found my niche. Our assignment was to read currently popular Middle Grade works. I could not believe the intense sibling rivalry and even hatred portrayed in these books. I wrote a scathing critique of one and, with a sly smile, Larry read it to the class. I was basically set-upon by my classmates, many of whom were elementary school teachers. “Why, Virginia,” they chorused, “children love these books.”

That did it. I decided to write in this genre and create a mystery within a less dysfunctional family where my central character might not need a live-in psychiatrist by the time she was fifteen years old. Thus began ‘The Willow Lane Mysteries’ series.

I didn’t have nails on my walls but I did have a large accordion file to hold the rejection slips. By the time I’d completed the second book, I decided I would never be published so my writing changed. Now I included events that I hadn’t considered before. My main character began piano lessons with all classical pieces, which I named. She fell for a new neighbor, a handsome boy who was an accomplished violinist and wasn’t embarrassed to show it.

Then, in an experiment, I had the first book set up as an eBook with an attractive cover. I compiled a list of relevant agents and publishers and my clever daughter sent out a release, via ICONTACT, of the cover with excerpts from the book. Several fellow writers let me know that this was not the way to go. I should keep sending standard submission letters, they cautioned.

Two publishers contacted me, one traditional, representing print works and one larger and strictly an eBook publisher. EBooks were suddenly everywhere. I signed on with the eBook publisher and this wonderful team gently eased me through the intricacies of publishing. Thanks to OverDrive, my ebooks are in libraries all over the world. Last year the publisher expanded to print. Now the series of four books (going on five) is available in that format. It isn’t Stephen King or Carrie. But it’s pretty thrilling all the same.

 

ginnyVirginia Rose Richter grew up in Central Nebraska. Inspired by rippling wheat fields, golden wildflowers and endless bright blue skies, Ms. Richter has written the Willow Lane Mysteries for middle grade and early-teen readers of suspense. Ms. Richter attended the University of Colorado and received a MA degree from the University of Denver and a BA degree in music from Metropolitan State College of Denver. Presently, she resides in Loveland, Colorado

 

 

Judging Books By Their Covers by Joshua Viola

2016_Joshua ViolaThey say you should never judge a book by its cover. But we all do. And you should -- especially when you're in the business of selling fiction.

All marketing techniques begin with the visual presentation. The most aggressive campaign will fail if the product lacks the right aesthetic. In fact, beautiful covers can give otherwise inferior books a marketing edge over better-written novels with mediocre exteriors.

A good cover should hint at the story within. That doesn't necessarily mean lots of details. Sometimes the simplest design is the most effective. A professional cover artist should be able to capture the book’s mood in a single frame while employing intriguing design elements.

The Internet makes the task of locating an artist easy. You can find websites with affordable options like Fiverr and those with a huge list of portfolios, such as DeviantArt. They’re both great places to start, but you’ll likely find more amateurs than top-level professionals.

If you don't want to sort through digital portfolio after digital portfolio, consider attending an art convention. Denver hosts a number of them -- many of which are comic book-related. We have the Denver Comic Con, D!NK, and Comic Fest. Comic book artists have a great sense of visual storytelling and presentation. If you do go with a comic book artist, make sure they have the ability to jump between art styles. You don’t want your new literary novel to look like the latest issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.

If conventions aren't for you, visit an art gallery or attend the First Friday Art Walk.

When you do find an artist you’re interested in working with, research their portfolio and résumé to determine their level of expertise. It’s easy to fall in love with a single piece, but it’s important that the rest of their work also hits the mark. If it doesn’t, keep looking.

Once you’ve found a prospective artist, send them samples of other book covers you like and decide whether or not they can provide something comparable to the look, feel and genre you’re going for. Then have the artist provide some basic mockups (this may not be an option until a contract is signed).

Before you sign a contract, find out what rights you'll be purchasing. Much like writers, artists are hesitant to give up the rights to their creations. Oftentimes they’ll license the work for use as your cover, but keep the rights.

Given the subjective nature of art, the artist determines the work’s value. There is no set rate. Typically, quality covers will cost between $300 and $1,000.

If you don't have the money for original art, you might find something worthwhile in the public domain. For those unfamiliar, public domain refers to content that is not subject to copyright and is legally accessible to everyone. Art typically falls into this category 120 years from the date of creation, but you’ll need to do your homework before slapping something on your book.

Public domain artwork is becoming a popular trend in publishing. For example, Tracy Chevalier's book, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, uses Johannes Vermeer’s famous painting of the same name for its cover. It’s standard practice nowadays and costs the author absolutely nothing. The New York Public Library recently added 180,000 images into the mix. If you have financial constraints, give this option some real consideration.

Remember, never underestimate the importance of a compelling presentation. It's your first and (oftentimes) last chance to reel an audience in. A professional cover will make the difference when you’re trying to convince those who don't know who you are to give your work a shot.

Now cross your fingers and hope they like your writing as much as they do your cover.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joshua Viola is an author, artist, and former video game developer (Pirates of the Caribbean, Smurfs, TARGET: Terror). In addition to creating a transmedia franchise around The Bane of Yoto, honored with more than a dozen awards, he is the author of Blackstar, a tie-in novel based on the discography of Celldweller. Viola is the editor of the Denver Post number one bestselling horror anthology, Nightmares Unhinged, and has published Bram Stoker, Hugo and Nebula Award-winning writers. His next anthology, Cyber World, co-edited by Jason Heller, will be available this November. Blood Business, co-edited by Mario Acevedo, will be available in 2017. He lives in Denver, Colorado where he is chief editor of Hex Publishers and vice president of Frontiere Natural Meats. He can be found on the web at www.joshuaviola.com

Cybernetics. Neuroscience. Nanotechnology. Genetic engineering. Hacktivism. Transhumanism. The world of tomorrow is already here, and the technological changes we all face have inspired a new wave of stories to address our fears, hopes, dreams, and desires as Homo sapiens evolve—or not—into their next incarnation. Cyber World presents twenty diverse tales of humanity’s tomorrow, as told by some of today’s most gripping science fiction visionaries.

“Cyber World gives the cyberpunk genre a much-needed reboot.”
—Chuck Wendig, New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Aftermath and Zer0es
Featuring stories by Mario Acevedo, Paolo Bacigalupi, Warren Hammond, Angie Hodapp, Stephen Graham Jones, Cat Rambo, Alyssa Wong, E. Lily Yu, and many others.

Edited by Hugo Award winner Jason Heller and Joshua Viola. Foreword by Richard Kadrey.

Soundtrack of Humanity's Tomorrow featuring Celldweller, Circle of Dust, Mega Drive and Scandroid.

Available this November from Hex Publishers.

Meeting Agent Right by Linda Joffe Hull

Over the years, I, like most authors, have collected enough rejections to wallpaper my office (and the adjoining hallway). However, as I continued to hone my craft, sent out more queries, and tried not to go completely insane, I began to wonder if there was more that I could be doing to get published.

As the rejections continued to filter in, it occurred to me that if I could meet every agent I queried, I’d realize that we (and thus my writing) weren’t a match, saving me some of the ego beat down of all that rejection. After all, like an online dating profile that states, I’m looking for a short, perky, blond, 40-50, I may fit the qualifications and still not be Ms. Right. And we all know Agent Right could look nothing like his photo. Similarly, an agent can say he is looking for exactly what you’ve written, read it and tell you it isn’t at all what he was looking for.

Seeing as I was unlikely to meet any agents at my home office to determine such things, I decided to do what I could to make my luck.

Here’s what worked for me:

  1. RMFW

Go to the various events. Not only will it improve your writing, you’ll meet and connect with other writers. I’ll never forget the first time an author offered me the contact info for her agent after a friendly conversation.

  1. Get Involved:

I offered to write a monthly agent spotlight in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s monthly newsletter. As a result, I was able to contact agents and interview them about what they were really looking to acquire. Not only did the membership benefit, so did I. In fact, I landed my first agent as a result.

  1. Conferences:

Attend, but also volunteer. At Colorado Gold, we have a kick-off party specifically for volunteers and guests of honor. What better way to have casual, VIP access to the attending agents and editors before they are inundated by the masses? I started out by volunteering to coordinate the agent/editor critique groups. Not only did I get dibs on getting my WIP in front of an agent, I also had a job that led to contact with all of our guest agents and editors.

  1. Enter Contests:

Enter as many writing contests as you can. Finalists are typically judged by agents and editors. Many first deals have come as a result.

  1. Make Small talk:

After being inundated with pitches, that editor at the end of the conference bar might enjoy talking about almost anything but what you’re working on. Many of them write as well. A conversation where you don’t mention your book might even result in a connection that leaves him or her interested in who you are and, thus, what you write. I met my agent at a conference. My debut novel, THE BIG BANG, was published as the result of a conference lounge discussion with my now editor about his favorite writers. The Mrs. Frugalicious mystery series came about when another editor, whom I’d met over an RMFW conference weekend, suggested I try my hand at mystery. Even my first novel was recently published by Susan Brooks, a small press publisher and member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Five published books later, I can honestly say, putting myself out there and getting involved in my local writing world was not only the key to getting published, but a whole lot more valuable than an entire inbox full of rejections.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

cropped-linda-hullLinda Joffe Hull is the author of two standalone novels, The Big Bang (Tyrus Books) and Frog Kisses (Literary Wanderlust). She has also written three books in the Mrs. Frugalicious Mystery series featuring bargain hunter and sleuth, Maddie Michaels: Eternally 21 (2013, Midnight Ink), Black Thursday (2014, Midnight Ink), and Sweetheart Deal (2015, Midnight Ink). A long time member and former president of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Linda was named the 2013 RMFW Writer of the Year.  She currently serves on the national board of Mystery Writers of America.

Are we having fun yet? … by Chris Goff

Chris-GoffI have always considered myself a "glass half-full"-kind of gal. You know, the one who always looks on the bright side, who sees the funny in things, and enjoys her work. But lately, I'm finding it harder and harder to write.

Take RED SKY, my book-in-progress. I should be thrilled. I have a contract, an agent who loves me and an editor who loves my writing. I love the thriller genre. What could possibly be better?

Except, I have a deadline that's killing me! I've already been granted two extensions and I'm late again. I have a plot that seems to be getting larger and larger, that I can't seem to wrangle, and self-doubt is mumbling in my ear. It's becoming harder and harder to write.

Take DARK WATERS, my first book in the new thriller series. It's on some kind of roll. We sold the audio rights, international rights and book club rights. It's a Finalist for both a Colorado Authors' League Award and a Colorado Book Award. It garnered some great blurbs, some great press and it's got 43 Amazon reviews. All good, right?

Except, I can't seem to shake-off the notion that if I could just hit 50 reviews (hint) Amazon's next algorithm will trip launching me into the stratosphere (am I overreaching?) OR that the last review posted (while not bad and which I should never have read) dissed a premise in my book that carries over to the next book (FYI, a premise that I adore) and now I'm finding it harder and harder to write.

2016_Goff_Owls CoverTake A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS. It was March of 2007 when my last Birdwatcher's Mystery was published. Nine years ago! Now I've found a home for my backlist and Book #6 is scheduled for release in May. The launch is scheduled for May 25th at the Tattered Cover Book Store at 7 p.m. (hint), and I should be doing the "happy dance," right?

Except every signing conjures memories of the launch of DEATH OF A SONGBIRD, Book #2, at my hometown book store, where only two people came—two!—the head boy from my high school graduating class and my aunt. I was devastated, not to mention embarrassed (the book store owner had ordered in 100 copies of my book). Fortunately, the next week, friends returning from their summer vacations descended on the book store and saved my bacon. Yet, 15 years later, I still angst about every book signing—making it harder and harder to write.

Need I go on? There are the writer gigs. Sooo much fun! And I've been fortunate to have been asked to do quite a few in the next several months. But, while I love sharing with other writers and with readers, preparation takes time. Plus it's only fair to the event planners, my publisher, and me to spend time on Social Media and promotion.

And then there's my personal life....

Okay, you see the theme (and, if you're like me, you've got the tune to the Maroon 5 song "Harder to Breathe" stuck in your head) and you're probably thinking: "What the heck is she whining about ?" because your professional and personal life is no doubt way more busy and congested than mine.

So, my question for you is: Are we having fun? If it's always fun, I want to know your secret. Please post!

But for those of you who can feel my pain, I've come up a simple strategy for putting the FUN back in writing.

1. Free up some time. I used to write every chance I could—in the evening after the kids were in bed or in the morning after everyone went out the door. I craved time to write, and every minute I carved out was a gift. My vow: to once more cherish my writing time.

2. Unfetter the muse. When I first started writing, I never worried about deadlines or page counts or plot lines or genre constraints. I used to follow the tangents to see where they'd lead, never worried about the pages I might have to throw away. It was a joy to see where my writing took me. My vow: to write with abandon again.

3. Nurture yourself. Everybody needs time to breathe. There are only so many hours in a day, and there are so many things to get done and so many things that need doing. I used to be much better at compartmentalizing my time. My vow: to find a better balance.

So, to answer my own question, of course we're having fun! Or we will be. Right now I have to get back to my writing. You see, I have this deadline that's killing me!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chris Goff is the award-winning author of six environmental novels and a new international thriller series. Her sixth book in the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series, A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS, comes out in May. Previous titles were nominated for two WILLA Literary Awards, a Colorado Author's League Award, and published in Japan. DARK WATERS, her first international thriller, was published September 2015 by Crooked Lane Books. Manhattan Book Review calls it “Absolutely masterful...” and it’s a Finalist for both the 2016 Colorado Authors’ League Award-Genre and the 2016 Colorado Book Award-Thriller, and a Nominee for a 2016 Anthony Award for Best Crime Fiction Audiobook. For more information, visit her on the web www.christinegoff.com; on facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/authorchristinegoff; or twitter https://twitter.com/christinegoff.

The Truest Voice of All … by William Kent Krueger

2016_William Kent Krueger (2)Isn’t it amazing how everyone seems to know, even better than we do ourselves, what’s best for us as writers? We get advice from everybody on how we ought to be using our time and energy. From our agent (if we have one). From our publisher. From our readers. From other writers. From the pundits in the publishing world. Write what’s hot, they say. Leap on that passing bandwagon. Create the next Gone Girl. Emulate Stephen King. Put vampires in your work. It’s hard not to listen, especially if you’re still struggling to figure out who you are as a writer.

My own belief is that there’s only one voice you should be listening to: the one that speaks to you from your heart. And here’s why I believe this.

For most of my career, I’ve been known as the author of the Cork O’Connor mystery series. My books have been on a number of bestseller lists, including The New York Times. Several years ago, I sat down with my editor and was told essentially that my publisher was only interested in seeing Cork O’Connor novels from me. This was because the book I’d just published, my first stand-alone thriller, had sold poorly. Not because it wasn’t a good book—it got great reviews—but Cork O’Connor wasn’t in it, and readers were incredibly reluctant to follow me to a place that didn’t include Cork.

A few years later, a very different kind of story idea came to me. I knew it wasn’t a good vehicle for Cork O’Connor, and because of that, spending the time and energy writing it would be a risky proposition. Clearly my publisher wasn’t interested, and I had no idea if anyone else would be. But it was a story that spoke to me so deeply and in such a compelling way that I knew I had to write it. I cleared the decks, and over the course of the next three years, I composed the manuscript for a novel called Ordinary Grace, the story of a Methodist minister’s family in a small town in southern Minnesota in the summer of 1961.

2016_Krueger_ordinary graceI had a new editor at that point, and although I knew that Ordinary Grace wasn’t at all what my publisher wanted from me, I went ahead and sent the manuscript anyway. My editor fell in love with it. Against all the prevalent thinking in the publishing industry about what was hot, she chose to accept it and threw herself behind the championing of it one hundred percent.

Ordinary Grace went on to sweep the major awards in the mystery field. It took the Edgar, the Anthony, the Barry, the Macavity, the Silver Falchion. It found a place on many Best Books of the Year lists. It continues to sell incredibly well, and daily I receive notes from readers who tell how much the story has meant to them.

The writing of that novel remains one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I absolutely loved every moment I bent to the work. Because I had no expectation of success and because the story spoke so deeply to me personally, it didn’t matter to me whether anyone, in the end, wanted to read it. One of the things I’ve come to believe about writing, after all these years, is that it’s a little bit like sex: If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re probably not doing it right. With Ordinary Grace, I had the time of my life.

For those of us who are writers, there will always be the loud clamor of others who believe they know what’s best for us and our careers. They’re not always easy to ignore, especially when we’re doubting ourselves. My advice, based on my own experience, is to do your best to shut out all that noise so that you can hear your heart speaking to you. It’s the truest voice of all.

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William Kent Krueger is the author of the New York Times bestselling Cork O’Connor mystery series, set in the great Northwoods of Minnesota. His work has received a number of awards, including the Edgar. He lives in St. Paul, a city he dearly loves. He does all his creative writing in local, funky coffee shops, and attributes his success as a writer to all those wonderful stories he read as a child.

You can learn more about Kent and his books at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Goodreads.

 

Stifling Self-Doubt by Aimie Runyan

Self-doubt is the hallmark of most writers, unless maybe you’re Stephen King. I have always thought it a good thing in measured doses. False confidence leads to bad books, and so long as I can quiet the nagging voice of in my ear, I welcome Doubt as the frumpy, sarcastic cousin of the more charming Muse. But sometimes Muse is fickle and Doubt gets far too much time at the mic. The picture below encapsulates a poignant moment of self-doubt I had a few years back:

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This picture was taken about 6 weeks after I started seriously working on my first novel. My two-year-old son is perched on my printed chapters and notebook, absorbed in Monsters, Inc. I snapped the photo on my phone because, in my very biased opinion, he’s adorable. And miraculously, he was actually sitting still. But when I sat next to him on the couch and posted the photo on Facebook, Doubt took her long, clammy fingers and gripped around my neck. What if my book is better off as a booster seat?

The thought was cruel, and while it’s amusing to personify Doubt, it was of my own creation. I reasoned with myself that even if the novel was crap, I would have the satisfaction of knowing I finished what I started, and would only be out about 130 naptimes for my trouble. I pushed on and got my 2,000 naptime words that afternoon. And every naptime for the next six months until I had a draft that I could shape into a readable novel.

But what if I had given in to Doubt and set aside my book? We all leave behind unfinished work, but how would I have felt leaving behind a half-written story that I longed so much to tell? Book contract or no, I have to believe I’d have felt disappointed for the rest of my days for not having told this tale.

Last month, on March 28, the picture of my son “hatching” my book came up in my timeline through the “See Your Memories” feature on Facebook. I instantly remembered that icy feeling in the pit of my stomach I felt that day, and was filled with relief that I pushed Doubt aside and kept on. Wondering what else happened on that day in my seven years on Facebook, I opened up the app and scrolled through my posts. The picture of my sweet boy was posted in 2013. Then I noticed the post from 2014:

“EEEEEEEPPPPP. That is all.”

For those of you not in my inner circles, that’s how I announced both my pregnancies… and news of almost-equal magnitude. Exactly one year after that donkey-kick to the gut from my old friend Doubt, I had gotten The Email from an agent that led to The Call three days later. That following Monday, I signed with Melissa Jeglinski of The Knight Agency. With her expert guidance, six months later I had a book I was proud of and a contract with a fantastic publisher. So on March 28 of this year, less than a month before that book was to see the light of day, I started off my morning knowing unequivocally I’d made the right decision to tell Doubt to hit the bricks. Sometimes reminders of things you know to be true come in odd places. Thanks for the memories, Facebook.

Doubt has its place. It has it’s uses… but never, ever let it talk you out of pursuing a story that needs to be told.

aimieAimie K. Runyan is an author of Historical fiction whose purpose is to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. Her debut novel, PROMISED TO THE CROWN, the story of three women sent by Louis XIV to help colonize his Quebec colony, releases in April, 2016 from Kensington Books. She has also published a short work of science fiction in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS anthology (all proceeds go to the Women in Engineering Scholarship Fund). She lives outside Denver with her loving husband, adorable children, and cowardly sheepdog.

Do I have to be sad? … by Nicole Disney

2016_Nicole Disney_Author PhotoI used to think that the best writing sprouted from suffering. Whether being depressed makes you a good writer or being a writer eventually makes you depressed, I did not know, but I knew there seemed to be a link. We've all been told that if we don't have to be writers, don't, right?

The words I heard alongside “writer” were words like struggling, complicated, haunted, damaged, and poor. I didn't think that was all bad, necessarily. I thought it suggested a more authentic connection to life, required more soul searching, and that it yielded deeper truths, friendships, and experiences.

For a long time, my writing seemed to be proving this idea true. All my best work was the stuff of heartache. It was stronger, more vivid, insightful, and emotional, while the things I wrote during smoother parts of life felt flat and routine. Creating stories that shared pain, betrayal, and rage with the reader felt more intimate. Everyone is willing to share a happy moment with the world. It's much more meaningful to share the failures.

I thought I had it all figured out. The theory was put to the test when my life started to change. I came out, rather uneventfully, as a lesbian to my family. I married the love of my life. I got a job that paid more than enough. The only thing that wasn't going right was that I was having a hard time producing writing I liked. Again, I thought the theory of the tortured writer was proving true. I was too happy, surely that was it! I simply didn't have so much to say anymore. When I tried, it sounded watered down.

I attempted to pull myself out of it. I tried to read all the great authors, journaled, outlined, started new stories, abandoned them, read my older work, listened to music, discussed religion and philosophy, roamed the streets of downtown, anything and everything I thought might inspire me. It still felt flat. But surely you don't have to be the alcoholic writer stereotype to have something meaningful to say, right?

I tried to pinpoint a time that I was both happy and writing well. It brought me instantly to falling in love. Sure, during that time I mostly produced mushy poems, lyrics, and love letters, not novels, but they did have that quality I felt I had lost. They had strength.

Misery and falling in love. What about the two put me in a better state to produce quality writing? They do have something in common. They are consuming. When you feel them, you feel them with everything. The sensations are so powerful that the details are etched into our bones and a writer need only whisper of them to share the experience.

Maybe good writing has nothing to do with being happy or sad, but is more about being fully engaged in the moment, being engulfed by the beauty of whatever is happening now. It's about noticing the things that slip by when we forget the value of every second. It's about the intensity life can hold when the mind isn't shuffling through the past or organizing the future.

Often when I am reading and have to pause to admire the craftsmanship of a particularly beautiful passage, it is about something ordinary or even mundane. Many times it is that fact alone that stops me. I find it magical when a writer captures something so perfectly that he or she reveals to me something about it I would never have thought to note, but instantly recognize.

This is what happens when a writer is present. Engaged. Mindful. It is more than considering each of the five senses and jotting something down just because that is a habit we've developed. It's about breaking the illusion that anything is routine, normal, or dull. It is about not going into autopilot. Everything about experience, positive or negative, is a wonder.

Sometimes struggle and depression keep you in the moment. Sometimes love and joy do. But so can everything in between with a little, or maybe a lot of effort. A writer's life doesn't have to be great or terrible, it just has to be lived.

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Nicole Disney is a literary and contemporary fiction writer with a love for exploring the dark and controversial corners of life. Her debut novel, Dissonance in A Minor, was published in 2013. Nicole lives in Denver, Colorado and is also a 911 call taker and police dispatcher, a career which provides her with many quirky characters and situations.

The Craft Corner with Guest Jason Evans

If you’re reading this, congratulations. You’ve overcome that raspy, small voice in your head telling you not to write your story. Telling you that your dream of writing and publishing is a fool’s quest. You have also overcome those well-meaning people who tried to talk you out of it.

You: “I’m going to write a book!”

Friend with blank stare on their face: “um . . . Really?”

You: “Yup! I’ve had this idea in my head for a long time and I am going to turn it into a book!”

Friend rolls eyes: “Oh please. Do you know what the statistical chances of actually making money are?”

That person may be sincere in their desire to save you from pain and suffering. Or, they could be a jerk. Either way, you’ve ignored them and decided to press on. Good for you!

But writing a book is hard work. You have all these scene’s floating in your head. You’ve got side characters to flesh out and fight scenes or love scenes to describe. It’s an exciting time!

I want to encourage you. Keep writing your story. But right now you need to stop and listen to me.

Your memorable characters, the unique plot twist, the heart pounding car chase through the Vatican. None of it matters if your prose get in the way.

I am talking about simple sentence construction. Subject, verb & prepositional phrase.

Look, if you go to your favorite search engine and ask “How many words are in the English language?” You will find a website called languagemonitor.com, which states there are 1,025,109 words in English.

Holy crap. That is a lot of words!

A large part of your writer’s journey will be figuring out what words to use and what order to put them in. That is sentence craft.

Here’s some basic tips I have learned as I have improved as a writer.

1.) Less is more.

When writing, be as impactful as you can with the least amount of words. An example:

John was running through the field, trying to avoid the police who were running after him.

Now compare that sentence to this:

John ran through the field with the police close behind.

I don’t know about you, but the 2nd sentence is clearer, more concise. It conveys the same information as the first one, but is easier to read.

2.) Avoid conjunctions when you can.

I grew up believing conjunctions were awesome. Big, cumbersome compound sentences sounded awesome to my teen-aged mind. Now they sound convoluted. Take a gander at this.

Mary got back into her car and drove to work at the job she hated and dealt with her cranky boss who would be angry with her because she was late.

I know it’s a run-on. But look at this this one.

Mary got back into her car. She drove to the job she hated knowing her cranky boss would be angry with her. She was late.

Three perfectly good sentences out of that compound sentence mess.

3.) Avoid the word was whenever possible.

Now I’m not saying was should be banned from the language. There are times when it is appropriate to use. However, it can be a crutch.

She was going to go out with Robert, but she cancelled due to illness.

This isn’t a bad sentence, but I think the next sentence is better.

She wanted to go out with Robert, but she cancelled due to illness.

By changing the tense and replacing was with wanted, I gave you a little clue into the woman’s thinking. She did want to go! Before, you had no idea on her thoughts about Robert. However, in the second sentence, you at least get a little clue.

4.) Make your special words special . . . by not using them.

When I was an undergraduate, I used however, in all of my English and History essays. After about four or five papers, Dr. Mueller sat me down and told me to stop. It was getting annoying. I took a perfectly good word and over used it. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. The word however, was now my crutch. For the rest of that year I allowed myself only one use of however per paper.

You should do the same with your favorite words, too.

I love the word verdant. While working on my manuscript, which is set in Tudor Ireland, I only used the word verdant twice. This was hard because if verdant ever fit a place, it was Ireland. But limiting myself to two uses did two things. Chiefly, it forced me to use other words to describe Ireland’s green hills and valleys. More importantly, when I did use verdant it had the emotional impact that I wanted.

Sentence craft is important to fiction. It can take an interesting story and elevate it to something memorable. I encourage you to find out as much as you can about writing better sentences every day. Start out by buying a little book on grammar. If you have the time, take a class at your local community college on writing. Whatever you do, don’t give up.

Remember, writing is a craft. You can and will get better at it.

 

Jason Evans PhotoJason Henry Evans

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