Author Archives: RMFW Guest

Guest Post: Maura Weiler – Your Non-Agent Might Know Best. Or Does She?

By Maura Weiler, Author of Contrition

ContritionFinalCoverWhich is worse– an impersonal rejection letter from an agent, or a personalized rejection letter with feedback that would require a massive rewrite of your book with no guarantee that the agent would revisit it? Both. Oh wait... I mean, it all depends.

I entered the submission process for my debut novel, Contrition, with this policy: If two or more agents offered the same feedback, or if one person gave feedback that resonated with me, I would listen to it. If only one person made a particular criticism I didn’t agree with, I would disregard it. My policy seemed sound until I promptly ignored my own advice.

I was very lucky to have a great return rate on my initial submissions. Two of the seven agents I contacted wanted to take Contrition on. A New York agent was ready to send it out with very few changes. A California agent hit a roadblock when the founder of the agency didn’t give her blessing. What that founder did give was two pages of notes on how to improve the story.

I was initially cranky about the rejection, until I realized what a compliment it was for an established agent to give such detailed notes on a book she didn’t want. Sobered, I stopped to appreciate that. Then I got cranky about the notes themselves.

One of her suggestions was to turn the main characters- a journalist and a cloistered nun who clash over the meaning and purpose of art- into sisters raised apart. Oh, how the delicate genius in me gnashed her teeth over that one! Twins raised apart felt like reality-show drama and would entail a major rewrite of a book that another agent was ready to send out. This fancy founder/agent clearly didn’t understand my vision.

But I still wondered if she was right. Her other notes were very insightful and she understood the market. So I told my delicate inner genius to get over herself. Then I told the New York agent I was going to spend a couple of months rewriting some elements of the book, and silly me, I believed it.

It turned out that I needed at least two months to pout and mourn the loss of my original version before I could even fathom cutting it up. I had already written numerous drafts over numerous years– did I really have to rewrite it again? Yes, I did. Because as wonderful as I felt my original version was, I would now always question whether or not it could be better.

In the end, it took me three years to rewrite the book. I made most of the suggested changes, including turning my main characters into twins raised in different homes. The twins’ separate upbringings and freshly minted sibling rivalry brings a great deal of texture and complexity to their relationship. Now readers tell me they can’t imagine the story without the characters being sisters.

By the time I finished, the interested New York agent had left her agency. My subsequent querying didn’t result in a new agent until four years later when an agent discovered Contrition in her old emails and signed me. Three years after that, she sold Contrition to Simon & Schuster’s new imprint, Infinite Words. It was all very unexpected and wonderful and I am thrilled to celebrate its publication day today.

If I had known that putting off a committed agent to do a rewrite she hadn’t asked for and I wasn’t sure I agreed with would delay the publication of Contrition by more than a decade, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I’m happy with my choice, because Contrition is a much better book as a result.

What would you do? What’s your policy on agent criticism?

Maura WeilerMaura Weiler grew up in Connecticut and earned her BA and MA in English Literature from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, respectively. She is a former columnist for The Connecticut Post and a trash artist whose work has been featured on NBC Television and in galleries and shows across the country. As Director of Development at Blue Tulip Productions, she helped develop the screenplays for such films as Speed, Twister, The Paperboy and The Minority Report. Contrition is her first novel. For more information or book club queries, visit www.mauraweiler.com.

Facebook: Maura Weiler Author

Twitter: @mauraweiler

Simon & Schuster Author Page: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Maura-Weiler/475408214

Maura is kind enough to be giving away her novel, Contrition. Just comment below and one lucky winner will be picked at random. You can comment until Friday, April 24th by midnight. Winner will be contacted by email.

Guest Post: Samantha Ross – Recap of Carol Berg’s Western Slope Workshop

Are they real?

Are your characters real people? According to Carol Berg at the RMFW writers meeting on the Western Slope the answer has to be yes. Readers know it is a story, but the characters need to be alive. The goal should be that they are not characters, but people.

How do we do that?

Through Introduction:

Sum up the person through another’s POV. Start with the general overall such as gender, race, age and so on. Now move onto appearance. Keep in mind that you show rather than tell. What is the voice like, how do they carry themselves? Then attitude. Are they gruff, shy? Don’t forget to start showing gestures, patterns, and habits.

Maybe it’s a gradual introduction from the protagonist or antagonist. Or a few paragraphs. Create layers, and interactions with the setting and also with other characters.

Our people need to be complex. That means they have strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears, dreams, and goals. Successes and failures both during the story, and before it started. Like everyone, they are going to travel through a range of emotions, thoughts, wants, actions, and reactions.

That character needs to want something here and now. They are also going to have a plan for the future. It may be a glass of water right now, and to win the big race next month. Remember it is colored by the emotional “why” they want it. Those whys are going to include things from the past, present, and future.

As we write this story, we need to create challenges/conflicts that showcases all the above. This person needs to be able to problem solve, take action, have the ability to grow and change as the story progresses.

Through Narrative POV:

 Whoever is telling the story at the moment has the narrative POV. Usually this is the protagonist, the antagonist, sometimes a secondary character. It is limited by the character; meaning every thing is filtered through this character at this moment.

A child at a funeral has a very different POV, vocabulary, actions and reactions than an elderly man. Even between two elderly men there will be things to contrast and compare. They each had a life before walking into the funeral that shaped them.

We learn who he is layer by layer. As he interacts with the other characters and setting, we start to understand him. We see what type of background he comes from, what he thinks of this moment he is in. There is action and reaction. There are choices, and responses. And more choices. And more responses. Dialogue both internal and external all reveals who he is, and what he is going to do. We see the contrast and compare in the narrative POV as he shows, or does not show his opinions, thoughts, and prejudices. How he acts upon these, or does not act reveals much about him. All of this shows us who he is.

We know that we have succeeded in making our characters into people when the reader says, “I knew he would do that!” When our readers thinks about this person outside of the book eagerly awaiting the next story to come out, or to simply open the book and keep on reading. Sometimes over and over.

Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.

 

Guest Post: Stephen A. Benjamin – Ideas: Where Do They Come From?

By Stephen A. Benjamin

How many times have writers been asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” If we all had the proverbial nickel for each . . . Every time I give some nebulous and unsatisfying answer to the cocktail party query, I wonder if I should have something more cogent in my reply, and when I think about it, I do know where my ideas come from.

Agents, publishers, readers all look for originality when selecting novels to sell or read. As authors, we hope that we have come up with something new. But what does that really mean? When I think about the truly original concepts and stories I have read over the years, surprisingly they are not as many as I anticipated.

In the science fiction and fantasy genres, names like Heinlein, Asimov, Blish, Zelazny, and Niven come to mind. They were greats in their field, not only because of their superb writing skills, but because of their fertile imaginations and originality.

I realize that my own ideas are very much based in the works of the writers who came before me, and I cannot easily separate my imagination from what I have read and experienced. As a colleague said, “We are the sum of our experience.” I will use my science fiction novel, The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service, as an example. The main character, Dr. Cy Berger, was “born” in my mind over forty years ago when I reread Rostand’s classic, Cyrano de Bergerac. The idea of rewriting Cyrano set in the future intrigued me. Before you cry, “But Cyrano has been done umpteen times in literature and film,” hear me out. That idea in itself was not enough. Cyrano had some wonderful traits that I could use, but I needed more. My character became an empath—someone who could read emotions—but that ability made him ill. Empathy is not original in itself (recall Deanna Troi of Star Trek), but with Cyrano’s characteristics and Cy’s negative reaction to empathic perception, a more intriguing protagonist grew. Now Cy needed a calling. Enter George R. R. Martin with his Tuf Voyaging, a novel featuring a space eco-ark captained by Haviland Tuf who saved species and worlds from ecological disaster as he traversed the stars.

My background as a veterinarian made it natural for my character to follow in those footsteps, offering medical services to alien races across the galaxy (the old “write what you know” maxim). James Herriott’s memoirs, All Things Great and Small, of his veterinary practice in Great Britain, including the unique behaviors of animals and the idiosyncrasies of animal owners, was a source of inspiration, as well. Now I had my basic character with some traits very old, some quite new, and what he would do, but still not enough.

Then I read Michael Chabon’s wonderful The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. With my Jewish heritage, I saw how to set my story on a Jewish home world, one subjected to a fundamentalist Judaic tyranny to add some depth. Now my protagonist had antagonists. Though I had my star-hopping veterinarian fighting to free his home world from oppression, what happened while he hopped? He met and offered critical medical services to a variety of alien life-forms, and made allies of them to help him in his battle. Alien life-forms are always a good place for originality in science fiction, and I had some in the story, like a sentient jungle with its nine-mouthed, ambulatory plant predator, the hydra. But I also used dragons and werewolves.

Hold it! Aren’t those fantasy, not science fiction, and overdone in book and film? They are science fiction when you have a science-based genetic explanation for them in your universe. They are unique when you have a veterinarian who must treat epidemics of gout in dragons and mange in werewolves. When you dissect it, there are many aspects of my novel that are not totally new. Even the medicine Berger practices is extrapolation based on what we know about biomedical science today—no short cuts like the hand-held electronic cure-all of Star Trek. Some of the influences for the novel were overt, as I mentioned, but how many more ideas in my writing were subconsciously derived from others? I couldn’t tell you.

My ideas grew from seeds planted in my mind by previous writers, yet when they reached full growth, the resulting garden had bushes and trees unlike any other. I don’t think admitting to being influenced by others’ ideas diminish a writer’s work; I think they enhance it. I think of it as honoring great writers of the past. Now, when asked “the question” again, the inquirer had better grab a drink and a chair. They may get a longer answer than they anticipated.

 

Steve Snapshot Close (1)Stephen A. Benjamin is a veterinarian and Professor Emeritus in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. In publishing numerous scientific research papers over his career, he longed to allow his scientific speculations freer rein by carrying them into the science fiction realm. His novel, The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service, was a Colorado Gold speculative fiction finalist, and was published in November 2014 by TWB Press, Lakewood, CO. A member of RMFW, he lives in Fort Collins, CO. Links Facebook: Stephen Benjamin Website: www.stephenabenjamin.com

The One True Constant in Publishing … by Kristi Helvig

Kristi Helvig It’s a busy time for me as I gear up for the release of my sequel STRANGE SKIES at the end of April. I’m writing a slew of guest posts and doing interviews for my blog tour, planning the launch at my favorite local indie bookstore, Tattered Cover, and trying to manage the various giveaways going on right now for both my books. All of these things are similar to what I did one year ago for the release of my debut BURN OUT.

The biggest difference this time around? No, it’s not that I’m so much wiser and more time efficient (I wish). It’s that right after my book was sent for the hardcover printing, my editor at Egmont USA found out that my publishing house—not a tiny publisher either— was closing down. As in, less than a week after we spoke on the phone and celebrated finishing all the final edits, my editor said she wouldn’t have a job after the end of the week. Many authors found out that their books were cancelled.

I got lucky in that they decided to bump up my release date several months so that my book would still be published. I felt this weird mix of sadness for the awesome people of Egmont and my fellow Egmont authors, along with happiness that my book would still make it out into the world.

book-burnoutPeople asked me if I was okay, and what was I going to do after this book. My honest answer was that I was fine and that I trusted the right thing would happen for all my future books. I’d already had my first editor move publishing houses while BURN OUT was still in copyedits, and then my agent moved agencies within the same few weeks—though she took me with her, it meant that these two books had to stay with my original agency. After we got the news about Egmont closing, I spoke with my agent and we talked about my self-publishing the third book in the trilogy, which was a prospect that really excited me. And then, two weeks later, something else happened, seemingly out of the blue.

Lerner Publishing had acquired Egmont’s Spring 2015 list and just like that, I have a new publisher. I’ve already had a marketing call with them and am really impressed so far.

Helvig_strange skiesSo, what’s the lesson here? That the biggest constant in publishing is change. If you follow the publishing industry news, you’ll see a plethora of articles on publishers merging, publishers closing, editors moving to different houses, etc. The great thing is that the majority of the people who work in publishing are awesome and are in the industry because they love books.

What’s a writer to do? Keep writing, keep improving, keep seeking any and all means of publication and continue to support your fellow writers however you can. I believe it’s a great time to be an author—we have more choices than ever and if we focus on what is within our control, we’re going to be just fine.

GIVEAWAY: Enter the Goodreads giveaway through April 3rd for a chance to win one of 10 Advanced Copies of STRANGE SKIES!

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Kristi Helvig is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist turned sci-fi/fantasy author. Her first novel, BURN OUT (Egmont USA), which Kirkus Reviews called “a scorching series opener not to be missed,” follows 17-year-old Tora Reynolds, one of Earth’s last survivors, when our sun burns out early.

In the sequel, STRANGE SKIES, coming 4/28/2015, Tora makes it to a new planet only to discover a whole new host of problems—and the same people who still want her dead.

Order Kristi’s books through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite local retailer. Kristi muses about Star Trek, space monkeys, and other assorted topics on her blog at www.kristihelvig.com and Twitter (@KristiHelvig). You can also find her on Facebook. Kristi resides in sunny Colorado with her hubby, two kiddos, and behaviorally-challenged dogs.

Writing Undercover … by Tina Ann Forkner

Recently I was cleaning out some electronic files and noticed an old draft of a novel I’d abandoned in favor of another manuscript. My hand hovered over the delete key. I was about to send it to the trash bin when I decided to give it a quick read. I’m glad I did. The draft was pretty long and was I surprised to find myself newly intrigued with the story. It was a good idea! I decided not to delete the draft, but instead to resurrect the story and work on it on the side.

Do you have a story idea, or a secret manuscript that you go to when you are stuck on your current Work in Progress? If not, then you might consider creating a file that you can go to when nothing else is working. Let it be a story that would surprise the socks off your friends. Let it be so “you” that at first, you would never dream of showing it to anyone. Let it be a place for your writing soul to escape.

In the past I had a private manuscript that nobody else knew about. It was just for fun and I wrote on it when I had so-called writer’s block or when I was bored with my current project. Even when I was writing under contract, I worked on that story. In most ways, the manuscript I escaped to was a lot different than what I was writing under contract for Random House. It had a completely different setting, a bigger cast of characters, and the best part was that I didn’t feel a need to censor myself in any way. Nobody was ever going to see it, right? In the end, I wrote a novel called Waking Up Joy that ultimately put me back in the driver’s seat of my writing career, but more importantly than that, writing it undercover gave me my mojo back.

Sometimes, when we are going through the publishing phase, or when we are busily writing and pitching proposals at writing conferences hoping to get published, we unwittingly start cheating ourselves by letting the business of writing pull us away from the writing zone. You know what I mean by ‘the writing zone’, right? It’s what happens when the world around you falls away and the writing flow pulls you down the river of inspiration. It’s hard to find the writing zone when you are trying to plan your story around current publishing trends or with the expectations of editors and agents judging it. So, my advice? Write something that nobody can touch. Write undercover. You might be surprised at how doing so frees the storyteller locked within.

The beauty of writing Waking Up Joy undercover was that 1) I remembered how to be true to myself no matter what I write, and 2) I gained the confidence to take greater chances in my manuscripts.

Additionally, the idea that I wasn’t going to pitch the novel to anyone, but was writing it for myself, allowed me to find the writing zone. At first I fully expected that I would never pitch the novel, and in all honesty that would have been okay. The whole point of writing undercover was to explore the craft and see what else I was capable of writing, but when I realized that my practice manuscript was a story I wanted to bring to my readers, I started showing the first fifty pages to agents and editors.

Now, even though I’m writing under contract for my new publisher, I know it’s time to go undercover again. I don’ t know if this secret manuscript will turn out to be something worth shopping, or if it will only be a manuscript that teaches me more about myself and writing, but I again feel a longing to go back to that secret place in my soul where I don’t write for anyone except Tina Ann Forkner.

If you find that like me, you sometimes freeze at the idea of writing something to show an editor or agent, let alone the world, start a secret manuscript and write something you’ve never written before. Write a story that flows out of your soul without the intention of ever showing it to anyone else, write a memoir, or write a story that might seem out of character to your friends, but that you know is all you. Whatever you do, start with the intention of writing it undercover.

It might end up that your secret manuscript is something you want to share, but don’t write it for that reason. Most likely your manuscript will be a learning tool that will give you a release from your regular writing projects, like going to the playground when you should be at work. Perhaps in the process you will reconnect with your muse and in the end become a better writer. This what I’m hoping will happen to me again as I dig back into that lost manuscript I unearthed when I was cleaning out my files. I’m going undercover. Ready?
Let’s go…

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Tina Ann ForknerTina Ann Forkner writes Women’s Fiction and is the author of Waking Up Joy, Rose House, and Ruby Among Us. A southern girl at heart, she writes in Cheyenne, Wyoming where she lives with her husband and their three teens.

Learn more at www.tinaannforkner.com

Finding My Heroic Fantasy Chops Only to Descend into the Horror Pit Of Marketing … by M. K. Theodoratus

Kay TheodoratusStory telling has been part of my life since I went on “adventures” with an ‘imaginary” friend. Over the years, I’ve written lots of fiction in many genres, but I usually gave up on most writing projects about a third through.

Writing was like an unscratched itch for me, so, I decided to study the “gurus” who could teach me to be a successful writer. Result? I decided to try short stories. All I had to do was write, and I would get better. After all, “you get better by writing”. Sounded to me like a dog chasing its tail, but I thought the practice wouldn’t hurt.

I set out to find my fiction genre while I wrote short, self-help articles in the pre-internet days. I read mostly mysteries of one sort or another. So for a while I wrote mysteries, and discovered I can’t plot a who-dun-it worth a bucket of warm spit. My attempts at writing romances failed worse because they kept turning into worse mysteries. As for fantasy, my ideas were original enough. Besides, the genres kept tangling in my head…for years, in spite of my best efforts. So, I gave up on writing fiction.

Funny thing. I wasn’t on the wrong track. Publishers started publishing cross-genre works. Only I wasn’t writing fiction any more, just reading it. I was too busy writing non-fiction.

Then, I retired, after some major surgery, and soon got bored. Sitting and reading wasn’t my thing. Too passive.Then, one day I was dozing in the chair, and this woman with long red hair blowing in a retreating gale popped into my head. She stood on the edge of seaside cliff in despair. Worse, she wouldn’t go away.

Theodoratus_The_Ghostcrow_newSo, I started writing heroic fantasy about the Far Isles Half-Elven with no intention of doing anything with it. Just keep writing about the problems the leaders of hybrid elf-human population faced. I wrote and wrote for a couple years, creating 400,000 words as I explored how genetic drift influenced the social structure in my world of the Far Isles Half-Elven.

Then, the itch took hold, and I began writing fiction in earnest until I had the equivalent of several novels set in different worlds sitting in my computer.

So, I studied the “gurus” again on how to market fiction. Ended up isolating a novelette featuring Mariah, my red-haired woman, Taking Vengeance. I sold it so long ago that the rights have reverted back to me. I ended up self-publishing it again because I had put up a couple Far Isles Half-Elven stories to form my “writer’s platform”.

Then, a short story about gargoyles defending a city from invading demons sold to a British speculative fiction magazine. My gargoyles intrigued me more than my “half elves” and became a novel There Be Demons, which an indie publisher contracted. I was back to building a writer’s platform for my world of Andor where demons preyed upon humans.

I self-published a few of the revised short stories before the publishers toes curled to help build my platform to help them. The stories got some good reviews, and figured I was a dark fantasy writer as well as a heroic fantasy one—until my reviewers kept saying they liked my innovative horror stories.

But my stories aren’t the horror I was facing. I now had to market my stories on my own. No one else is going to do it for me. So, I find I’m not only writing horror but also living it. Dread crowds into my brain every time I hear the words promotion or marketing. On the other hand, I’ve been writing too long to give up.

Maybe, some day, I may convince myself that marketing isn’t a horror pit. But it won’t be soon. I just self-published The Ghostcrow, a dark fantasy about a teen who sees ghosts and attracts the attention of a demon looking for a host.

If I had my way, I’d return to the days of yesteryear, when I first started writing fiction, and publishing houses did things like bailing their writers out of jail.

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Theodoratus_cv gargoylecover04 (121x175)Hooked by comic books at an early age, M. K. Theodoratus’ fascination with fantasy solidified when she discovered the Oz books by L. Frank Baum with his strong female characters. She has traveled through many fantasy worlds since then. When she's not reading about other writers' worlds, she's creating her own.

Most of her stories are set in the Far Isles where she explores the political effects of genetic drift on a mixed elf-human population. Lately, Theodoratus has been setting her stories in an alternate world of Andor where demons stalk humankind.

You can learn more about Kay and her stories at her website and her excellent blog. She can also be found on almost all of the places writers and readers hang out, including Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and You Tube. When you go to her Amazon Author Page, you can see all her available stories and the beautiful cover art lined up next to a full bio. She also has a presence on Smashwords.

From a Dinosaur Publishing in a Digital World … by Chris Goff

Photo by Mark Stevens

Photo by Mark Stevens

Okay, I admit it, I got into this game long enough ago that my first words were scribbled on white tablets, with mistakes scratched out and arrows drawn to indicate where whole passages needed to be moved. Later, I typed stories on a manual typewriter, keeping copious amounts of Wite-Out on hand. Later, because an IBM Selectric typewriter was too expensive, I bought a Brother’s typewriter that could actually “delete” up to 300 characters using Wite-Out tape. Then, in 1987, when my mother died, I inherited her IBM PC. One of the first, it had 256K of RAM and a 1.2 MGB floppy disk drive.

Jump forward 30 years and I’m typing this at 33K feet in the air on a Surface Pro 2, on a Southwest flight to Seattle, while hooked up to the internet. I could be watching a movie, but instead I’m blogging—and extolling and lamenting the direction publishing has taken with the advancement of technology.

Don’t get me wrong. I love technology.

Now I can correct my mistakes, move passages around in my documents, delete unwanted text OR accidently save the new paragraph of my latest novel over the master file of the book due next week, with no backup and only the hope of piecing the book together from the pages I’ve sent the critique group over the past year or year and a half.

I can also research anything. With a few keystrokes, I can pull up the weather in Kazakhstan, a picture of Kiev in March OR I can get lost surfing the information highway and lose entire days to finding a plant that grows in the Amazon and smells like a zombie to make stinky car “air-fresheners” for my much younger brothers who love The Walking Dead.

But, while the benefits of technological advances are obvious, they come at a cost. Digital publishing has changed the face of the industry.

Goff_Dark WatersWhen I locked down my first publishing contract, a writer’s only options were through a traditional publishing house or a vanity press (the dinosaurs’ equivalent of self-publishing on the internet). And, just like today, there were some self-published who made it big. The difference—back then, if you didn’t hit, you ended up with a basement full of boxed books you couldn’t sell instead of being 2,996,254 out of three million on the Amazon list.

Today, the list of large traditional publishers has decreased to five. And while the number of small publishers has increased somewhat, the number of people digitally self-publishing has skyrocketed. The tendency of many of these authors is to put their books for sale online for $.99. No doubt many of these are quality books—well written, well edited, and well received. However, a large number of these books are not worth the pennies paid.

For that, the industry has suffered. Advances from traditional and small publishers have not increased. In fact, advances have for the most part have decreased, along with the value placed on writers.

Why? In my estimation, it’s due in large part to the sheer volume of material for sale out there; due in large part to the sheer number of “writers” whose primary interest is not to make a living writing, but simply a desire to see their work “published.”

Additionally, the digital world has become one in which a writer must not only find a venue for their work and have a dynamic website, but also requires a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Goodreads. It’s not enough just to write a good book, a writer must now master the art of social networking.

Does this sound the diatribe of a “dinosaur?” No doubt. But it’s the reality of the world anyone who still dreams of making a living writing is faced with.

So, what’s a dinosaur—er writer—to do?

1. Suck it up! This is the reality and it’s not going to go away. We must learn to master technology, learn to utilize the web, learn to social network. For my part, I asked my kids to help me. Who better to show me the ins and outs of Tweeting and Tumbling?

2. Write a great book! and don’t trust Wikipedia. Put your new found technological skills to work, and fact check. We may be fiction writers, but a truth runs through it.

3. Publish well! Not your choice if you go with a traditional publisher, but there are things a self-published writer can do. Invest in an editor. (Note to dinosaur: this is not the time to turn to your kids. Hire a professional.) Design a great cover. Solicit some great cover quotes. Value your work. Price it like it’s worth something. Sure, take advantage of the discounted promotions, but for the most part, don’t undercut the market. In the long run, that only drives down the value of the product.

4. Enjoy it! There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing your book in print and having someone who's not related to you read your book and love it. Bask in the moment. Share the excitement! (Note: we’re back to social networking here).

5. Start the next book!

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Chris Goff is the award-winning author of five environmental novels and a new international thriller series. The bestselling Birdwatcher's Mystery series was nominated for two WILLA Literary Awards, a Colorado Author's League Award, and published in the UK and Japan. The backlist of the Birdwatcher's Mystery series was re-released by Astor+Blue Editions in November 2014 and a sixth book in the series A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS is scheduled for October 2015. DARK WATERS, her first international thriller, will be published by Crooked Lane Books on September 15, 2015. For more information, please visit Chris’s website.

You can follow Chris on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The Curse of the First Pancake … by Shannon Baker

Shannon Baker 2015There’s a piece of writing wisdom that says to hone your craft, you must first write one million words. Back in my early years, I’d read somewhere that it takes, on average, twelve years from beginning writer to published author. If you’re writing every day, those might amount to roughly the same. If that’s the case, I’m a below average writer. I don’t remember when I became serious about writing but I started slowly, articles, essays, short stories, before I launched into novels.

I took a few years off here and there for life crises, and eventually published my first novel in 2010. Although I loved that book—as it lives in my head—I’m afraid it’s a First Pancake affair.

You know about the first pancake. For some reason, it never turns out right. Parts of it burn and others are doughy. That’s the one the dog gets. But after that, they rise up to a golden brown, all fluffy and perfect. I’ve learned not to get impatient and gobble that first one. I’m better off to save belly space for the really good pancakes that follow.

I didn’t apply the same wisdom to my First Pancake book. I worked on that poor story for far too long. I knew the characters from their DNA out, why they acted as they did, nearly every day of their childhood. I understood the issues at stake, the technology, the history. I researched and read, dreamed and created. Tore down, rewrote, revised, regurgitated.

My critique groups saw so many versions they grew to hate it. Oh, they never said so, but I knew their inner groaning when I’d cheerfully announce, “I fixed it!” and handed out pages. I queried agents in the hundreds. And in between rejections, I’d rewrite according to the last skill I learned or the latest critique.

Baker_Tattered Legacy (1)I buried myself in that book, refusing to give it up. By the time I finally got a nano-press to accept it, I couldn’t tell you what I’d translated onto the page and what only survived in my head. It was a goulash of partially rewritten scenes, action changed to meet so many others’ ideas, styles and timelines. When I started writing the book, data was stored on CDs and used in desktop computers. When I published it, thumb drives and cell phones were common.

I probably shouldn’t have turned it out for public consumption but publishing seemed the only way for me to let it go and move on.

I can’t say the next book was perfect, but it did rise and cook evenly all the way through. And to follow this analogy to the ridiculous, every book since then has been full of better quality ingredients that just weren’t available for that first pancake. And now I’m thinking of clever ways to incorporate butter and syrup metaphors, layering pancake on pancake to create a towering stack of literature, but I’ll go ahead and give you all a break.

I’ve got my rights back to that book. And I still believe in the story, even after the disaster execution. Every now and then, I get the notion I should pull it out and with my new skills, rework it. Again. The premise is great. The concept is still valid.

So far, my wiser side has prevailed. (That and my friends and family get a rabid gleam in their eyes when I mention it.) I’ll let the dog enjoy that First Pancake book and happily introduce the third book in the stack called the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, Tattered Legacy.

It’s set in the iconic red rocks of Moab, UT. Working to solve the murder of her best friend, Nora uncovers an unlikely intersection of ancient Hopi legends, a secret polygamist sect and one of the world’s richest men. Will Nora put all the pieces together in time to prevent disaster?

I have a friend who declares his oldest step-child is a Pancake Child. What is a Pancake in your life?

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

Shannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott mystery series from Midnight Ink. A fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder. Shannon is an itinerant writer, which is a nice way of saying she’s confused. She never knows what time zone she’s in, Timbuck-Three, Nebraska, or Denver, or Tucson. Nora Abbott has picked up that location schizophrenia and travels from Flagstaff in Tainted Mountain, to Boulder in Broken Trust and then to Moab in Tattered Legacy. Shannon is proud to have been chosen Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2014 Writer of the Year. Visit Shannon at her website.

While Tattered Legacy is available from your favorite online or bookstore, if you’d like to support indie bookstores, you’re welcome to contact Who Else Books at Broadway Book Mall.  Ron and Nina are the best! And they might have a signed copy to send.

Guest Post – David Boop: The Snowflake Theory of Characters

By David Boop

Over the lifespan of your writing career, you’ll hear lots of catchy sayings about the craft.

Write what you know.

End chapters on a cliffhanger.

Never fight a land war with Russia in the winter.

The last one may only pertain to alternate history writers, but I’m sure you’ve heard a bunch. One of my favorites goes;

Your character has to be the right person, the only person, who can do X (with X being the anointed task.)

That’s a heavy burden on an unsuspecting office worker, pining for the secretary he’ll never be cool enough to ask out, or the poor milkmaid who dreams of joining her brothers in battle, but is just a girl. Characters are indeed swept up by the story to become the only people who can do this all important thing at the appointed time. Which brings us this little gem…

Characters should be like snowflakes, no two alike.

Yeah, that saying kinda sucks and I don’t blame you for wanting to burn this article. Too bad it’s on a blog and tablets are expensive to replace.  Trust me, I’m not giving you the uniqueness spiel as a writing tip. MY snowflake analogy goes deeper.

Snowflakes are not just one thing.

They’re cold. They’re wet. They can be beautiful, and wished for around Christmas time. They can clump into large groups that force me to sweep off my patio when I’d rather be inside editing. Snowflakes have the ability to be many things, some at the same time.

One of the greatest sins in writing, in my opinion, is the character who is only one thing and incredibly good at it.

Let’s make a character. Let’s call her Kendra the paralegal. One day, Kendra stumbles across a murder and uses her powers of paralegalness to solve a crime in a book we’ll call “Illegal Eagles.” (Cute, eh?) We’re to understand Kendra because she’s us. She’s plucky, good at her job, and just waiting for people to notice her. As she solves the crime, there is no doubt in her mind that this is what she is supposed to do. In each successive book, Kendra finds other backstabbing lawyers or philandering judges to expose, growing more confident that this is her lot in life: crime-solving paralegal.

Where’s the fun in that? How’s that like me?

I’m plagued by doubts. Thoughts run from “I got lucky” to “the publisher owed me a favor” to “that was probably the last sale” even after doing this for over ten years straight. Conversely, when I finish a piece, I’m cocky. “This is the best story I’ve ever written, guaranteed to win me accolades and fame.”

I try to write characters that are not just one thing. They have as much potential to fail as succeed. And they should fail in their tasks occasionally. If they don’t, then we’ll never believe them. Adversity will come, it’s unavoidable. It’s how we handle it that makes us human and, in some cases, heroes.

Ask yourself, why is “The Empire Strikes Back” heralded as brilliant while “Return of the Jedi” maligned? (The answer has nothing to do with ewoks.) It’s because ESB is one screw-up after another orchestrated by overconfident heroes, who barely escape their own embarrassing deaths caused by sheer stupidity. No one expected that after “Star Wars,” and the plot actually mirrors many of my Mondays. RotJ, conversely, is a series of successes. Even when it appears the heroes have screwed up, it only leads to a bigger victory. The outcome is never in doubt as reflected in the character’s attitudes and abilities.

If you want to make your characters more believable, they should have more than one aspect to their personality. Blowhards are usually covering for insecurities. Mousy people in real life are often vicious trolls online. If your characters don’t have different sides of their personality, then your readers will quickly grow tired of them. A snowflake that doesn’t melt becomes boring real quick. (I grew up in Wisconsin, I know this is true.)

Deepen your characters like the many-faceted crystals of a snowflake and your readers will stick out their tongues for more.

 

David Boop is a bestselling Denver-based speculative fiction author. In addition to his novels, short stories and children’s books, he’s also an award-winning essayist and screenwriter. His novel, the sci-fi/noir She Murdered Me with Science, will return to print in 2015. David has had over forty short stories published and two short films produced. He specializes in weird westerns, but has been published across several genres including media tie-ins for titles like The Green Hornet and Veronica Mars. 2013 saw the digital release of his first Steampunk children’s book,The Three Inventors Sneebury, with a print release due in 2016. David tours the country speaking on writing and publishing at schools, libraries and conventions.

He’s a single dad, Summa Cum Laude graduate, part-time temp worker and believer. He’s a member of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writer, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Horror Writers of America and the Western Writers of America. His hobbies include film noir, anime, the Blues and Mayan History. You can find out more on his fanpage, www.facebook.com/dboop.updates or Twitter @david_boop.

Guest Post: Bonnie Biafore – Enough Already

Hi, I’m Bonnie. I’m a recovering workaholic.

The pace I kept was starting to affect my health and the quality of my writing. The friskiness and humor that are the hallmarks of my writing were disappearing faster than unguarded burgers when my dogs are around.

So…..I’m going to play devil’s advocate to some of the writing advice out there.

  1. Don’t write every day.

Writing isn’t like eating or breathing to me. Writing is my job and I’m trying hard to treat it as such. When I worked for a company, I had weekends and holidays off, and took vacations to recharge my batteries, sharpen the saw, fill in analogy here.

Working for myself was a different story. From 1999 to 2012, I worked close to 7 by 24. I’ve had relapses since then.

Now, I take time off from writing. Time off can be writing related: people-watching to get ideas for characters or traveling to get ideas for settings or storylines. Some time off, though, should be dedicated to total recharge.

  1. Don’t set a rigid writing schedule.

I do set a schedule. It just isn’t rigid. When I’m updating a book, I know I have to revise 15 pages a day, 5 days a week for 2 months. Which hours of the day or which days of the week aren’t as important to me. (OK, this is my full-time job so I get to set my work hours and days. Those of you with other jobs might not have this luxury.) There have been times—many times, when I sat down to write, and spun my wheels for 2 hours before I realized what was happening. If those 2 hours were my writing time, I’d have a word count of, say, 20 words for the day.

Now, I watch for spinning wheels. When I notice them, I stop and do something else. Sometimes, I simply switch to writing something easier. (With my non-fiction writing, some stuff is easier to write.) Or I might do something else that needs to get done.

A favorite trick of mine is to knock out a short to-do so I can scratch it off my list. The energy boost I get from completing a minor task is often enough for me to tackle something more difficult. Sometimes, a change of scenery helps. Write in a spiral-bound notebook instead of at the computer, or use a laptop computer to sit on the sofa, at a coffee shop, or in a train station.

  1. Walk away.

Many times, the spinning wheels come from a writing problem: opening sentences, chapter cliffhangers, or a sentence that just doesn’t sound right. I’ve learned to take a break, usually to walk the dogs. Invariably, I end up recording the sentences I need on my cell phone as I walk in the woods.

  1. Don’t follow other people’s advice!

Everyone is different, so what works for me might be disastrous for you. I know what time of day I’m most productive, the best time for creative work or drudgery. I’ve learned that when I wake up at 1am thinking about work, I need to turn on the light, work for an hour or so, and then go back to sleep. I know that when I get on a roll, I need to cancel other plans so I can make the most of that opportunity. I know when something I’ve written is right, even if others tell me to change it. I’m learning to recognize the days when my brain and body are crying “Uncle!” and then take the day off mostly without feeling guilty about it.

Go ahead. Listen to what others have to say. Then, figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.

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End of rant here:

Writers are great. They work in a competitive, stressful industry, yet they share their knowledge and support each other’s endeavors. They work hard. They’re fun to be around.

Thanks for letting me be part of the group.