Author Archives: RMFW Guest

An Interview with Literary Associate Elizabeth Copps

Interview by Janet Fogg (We’re simul-publishing Janet’s interview with Chiseled in Rock blog)

Elizabeth CoppsToday, I have the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Copps, Literary Associate with the Maria Carvainis Agency, Inc.

Elizabeth began her publishing career in 2010 as an MCA intern after graduating from Florida State University with a BA in English Literature. She was thrilled to join the agency full-time in 2011 as the new literary assistant. Two years later, she was offered the position of literary associate and is incredibly excited to build her own list of authors.

Elizabeth considers herself an eclectic reader, but she is particularly interested in literary, multicultural and contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, young adult and young adult crossover, gritty thrillers and mysteries, memoir and romantic suspense. She appreciates rich and believable characters who immediately draw readers into their world, and she is always captivated by a startling plot twist. Her favorite authors include, John Boyne, Chris Cleave, Gillian Flynn, John Green, Joanne Harris, Jhumpa Lahiri, Dennis Lehane, Stephen King, Daphne du Maurier, David Sedaris, Jeanette Walls, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

MCA’s clients include Mary Balogh, Sandra Brown, Candace Camp, Cindy Gerard, Kristan Higgins, Will Thomas, and Laura Wright among others.

Thank you for joining us, Elizabeth!

JF: Please tell us about your typical work day (and how many manuscripts you usually have waiting in your inbox).

EC: Our solicited manuscript log is ongoing, so I have a lot to sift through every day. I usually read between 5 and 10 manuscripts a week depending on whether I am reading partial or full projects. Regarding query letters—the agency usually receives between 20 and 25 letters a day. We try our best to respond to every query within 10 business days of receipt.

JF: What gets you excited in a query letter? Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to submissions?

EC: Queries that read similarly to a blurb on the back of a book always make me sit up and take notice. I love tight, witty language. Additionally, I want to be hooked by a story’s concept from the first sentence or two of the pitch—but fascinating and unusual characters appeal to me as equally as an intriguing plot.

As far as pet peeves are concerned, I have three biggies:
1. Failing to research our agency’s submission guidelines. It’s clear to me when authors have not done their due diligence. Query letters that are not personalized, or queries with 30 other agents copied on the same email are giveaways.

2. Providing biographical information before describing the writing project. I’m very interested in hearing about a writer’s credentials or reading a short biography, but a writer’s first job is to sell me on their book.

3. Starting with an excerpt of the novel instead of a formal pitch. I appreciate receiving 10-15 sample pages in a separate attachment so I can get a sense of the writing, but it is disorienting to begin reading a sample without any context.

JF: Certain agents edit a manuscript prior to shopping it to editors. Others don’t. How would you describe your process?

EC: Providing our authors strong editorial feedback is a service we pride ourselves on at MCA. We want the best, most polished version of our client’s work to land on an editor’s desk.

JF: What do you enjoy most about representing authors to the publishing industry? Least?

EC: In publishing, I really do feel like I get to have my cake and eat it too. I have the privilege of working with highly creative minds as well as impressively business-savvy men and women. I love that I’m in a position where the two sides of the industry merge.

The most unenjoyable aspect of the business has to be sending rejection letters. It’s a necessity, but it can be really difficult. Agents receive rejection letters too, so I know that it is never a good feeling to see one pop up in your inbox.

JF: Which social media venues do you consider most important for authors: a website, a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads? Are there others you recommend?

EC: Knowing their way around all types of social media platforms can only benefit authors, especially those who are hybrid or self-published writers. I will say that I believe having a strong website is a necessary foundation for any writer. A website should contain links to an author’s Facebook, Twitter, blog etc. as well as the option to sign up for a weekly or monthly newsletter. Play to your strengths. For example, if you know you can keep up a Twitter account, do so. If you know you hate Facebook and will rarely post, you won’t do yourself or your readers any favors by starting up an account.

JF: What one piece of advice would you offer to authors who plan to pitch their novel to you at Colorado Gold?

EC: Have fun with it! Tell me why you’re passionate about the book you wrote. If I can see how enthusiastic you are about the characters and the plot, chances are I’ll be excited to read your work too.

JF: What do you do for fun when you’re not working?

EC: I’m a big foodie, and I should probably make my motto something along the lines of, “no cookie left behind.” I also have a serious travel bug. This year I am lucky enough to be doing quite a bit of domestic travel for business. Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee and of course Colorado are on the docket thus far for 2014.

JF: Now I would like to ask an off-track question. What did you dream of doing when you were twelve years old?

EC: I was convinced that I was going to be a famous painter. The best afterschool class my mom ever enrolled me in was called “Art Safari.” The classroom was in a converted warehouse, and the teacher filled it floor to ceiling with every art supply imaginable. The first day I walked in she looked at me and said, “Create!” It was pretty magical.

Thank you, Elizabeth!

You can visit http://mariacarvainisagency.com/ for submission guidelines, or meet with Elizabeth in Denver when she joins us at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Conference, September 5-7, 2014.

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Janet Fogg by Aspen copyJanet Fogg’s focus on novel-length fiction began when she was CFO and Managing Principal of OZ Architecture, one of Colorado’s largest (and coolest!) architectural firms. Fifteen writing awards later Janet resigned from OZ to follow the yellow brick road, and Soliloquy, a HOLT Medallion Award of Merit winner, was released by The Wild Rose Press in 2009. Fogg in the Cockpit, co-authored by Janet and her husband Richard, was released worldwide in 2011 by Casemate Publishing. This Military Book Club best seller received a 2013 Air Force Historical Foundation nomination for best WWII book reviewed in Air Power History. Janet served on RMFW’s 2010 Board of Directors as PAL Liaison. You can visit Janet at her website.

How Being an Aspiring Writer is Like Looking for A Media Job

by Trai Cartwright

What could being a filmmaker have in common with being a novelist? Lots! I’ve got a foot in both worlds, so I’m always seeing where they cross streams—including some great advice about how to frame your writing as a job.

With all the news about how Colorado Film is growing, it feels almost the inverse of the publishing world. Whenever I get discouraged about the State of the Novel, I jump across the medium-verse. What I learn there invariably informs how I look at working in fiction.

Take, for example, a recent event I attended from the Colorado Film Commission. The Production heads of the most successful media companies in Denver came to speak about their hiring practices.

My first thought was that the things they had to say was exactly the sort of information aspiring writers needed to hear, too.

Here’s the advice these media pros gave:

1. Everyone wants to live in Colorado. The competition for work is only getting stiffer.

Translation for writers: Doesn’t it seem like everyone you know is writing a book, or just published one? Doesn’t it sometimes feel like the competition has tripled in the past ten years? Where will we all fit? Are there enough readers? What if even 10% of those new writers are better than me? What are my chances?

Whenever I hear an agent or editor asked, “What do you look for in a property?” they all say this: “Something awesome.”

So make it your business to be awesome and you will have no competition. How to be awesome? Read on.

2. Plan on coming in as an intern and if you impress them, they will cultivate and promote.

Translation for writers: Getting one book published is just the beginning, and by no means are you on the road to riches and Amazon #1’s. Many writers never get their second book picked up, and while the reasons for that are myriad, it often comes down to not being up to the effort.

Here are some ways to impress and be cultivated:

Seek out every marketing, book touring, vlogging, residency, interview, and guest blog opportunity. The more you hustle, the more three things happen:

1. Your publishing house will appreciate you and will be all the more willing to find ways to work with you in the future. They know a pro when they see one.
2. The more your fans and soon-to-be-fans can find you, bond with you, and promote you to their friends. (Oh, and sell books!)
3. The more you will feel like a writer. Now all this becomes more than just “making copies and getting coffee” – this is your Job, and as you’ll see in #3, your job is your life.

3. If you aren’t passionate (like, 16 hours a day passionate), you are in the wrong business.

Translation for writers: If this isn’t The Dream, The Thing You Wake Up For, then are you sure this is the right road? It’s a damn hard road, and there are thousands of people for whom this is The Dream, and they are all packed on the road with you.

Every successful writer I know or have read about has the same habits:

1. They treat their writing as a top priority. Which means even those with day jobs write every day. Even on holiday. As one writer said, “If I don’t write every day, I feel like I’m stealing oxygen.”
2. They read. A lot.
3. They attend classes or teach them (both are great ways to learn more about writing).
4. They support other writers because they know that when it’s their turn, their community will support them.
5. Oh, and all that marketing stuff in #2.

4. Consider TV news and corporate videos, as that’s the big game in Denver, and it is absolutely storytelling.

Translation for writers: There’s lots and lots of ways to be a writer besides scoring the big contract with Random House. The concept of the hybrid writer has finally broken through: be every writer you want to be. Short stories, non-fiction, blogs, books in seven different genres, fan fic, poetry, all of it. Do whatever speaks to you, because it is absolutely storytelling, and you are a writer.

5. Once you get a job, don’t plan on ever leaving it cuz media work in Denver is hard to find.

Translation for writers: Hey, how much hard work have you already put in? Hasn’t this always been your dream? Then there is no Plan B. You are in this for the long haul, with all the highs and lows. Hunker down, and get back to work.

Speaking of, off I go. My 2,000 words are calling…

Trai’s teaching a FREE writing class at the Poudre River Library in Fort Collins on August 3rd. Register and come play. Click on “Straight Talk About Dialogue” and sign up.

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

When It’s Time to Part With Your Agent … by Chuck Greaves

Chuck_GreavesSigning with a literary agent is an early career milestone for many authors. Finding the right agent is, I submit, essential to an author’s long-term success and happiness. Having chosen both badly and well in my brief writing career, I thought I’d share both experiences, as a kind of authorial teaching moment.

When I finished the first draft of Hush Money – my debut legal mystery – in 2008, I proceeded to amass an impressive stack of agent rejections over the course of very few months, until finally hitting the jackpot – or so I’d thought – in the form of a request from a veteran New York agent (we’ll call her Natasha) to read the entire manuscript. My telephone rang several weeks later, and Natasha and I were in business together, our partnership memorialized in a two-page written agreement. Hush Money, she told me, while still in need of some minor fine-tuning, had tremendous market potential.

Several weeks passed while Natasha’s summer intern took a blue pencil to my magnum opus. When the line-edited manuscript was finally ready, I took a notion to fly to New York and collect it from Natasha in person, only to find that her address was a shared suite in a seedy section of Broadway that would have given Max Bialystock pause. Needing privacy, the four of us – Natasha, her husband, the intern, and I – squeezed into an office so small it required the intern to perch, knees to chin, on the radiator.

I flew home with the line-edited manuscript and a growing sense of unease. When I returned the tightened and polished manuscript to Natasha a month or so later, having reluctantly changed its ending and generally accommodated ninety percent of her editorial suggestions, she said she was pleased with the result, and promptly set out to test the fickle waters of commerce.

Greaves_Last_Heir[1]After several more months and a handful of editorial rejections, I flew to New York again, this time meeting Natasha and her husband for cocktails at the Algonquin (where I got stuck with the check.) At her insistence, I agreed to undertake another round of edits. Length (then 120,000 words) was, she said, our biggest problem, and so I tightened the manuscript even further, to a muscular 112,000 words, and sent it off for her final blessing. Meanwhile, I’d finished the first draft of Hard Twisted, my second novel, and sent her that as well.

She abhorred Hard Twisted, stating that the thirteen-year-old protagonist was “impossible to root for.” As for the new and improved Hush Money, she refused to even read it, calling it “unsaleable” unless and until I could pare it to fewer than 100,000 words. At that point I thanked Natasha for her efforts, and terminated our contract.

Newly rudderless, I submitted both manuscripts to the 2010 SouthWest Writers International Writing Contest in Albuquerque. From a field of over 680 entrants, Hush Money won Best Mystery, Hard Twisted won Best Historical Novel, and Hush Money won the grand-prize Storyteller Award, with Hard Twisted coming in second.

I soon had offers from several New York agents, and a second bite at the Big Apple. Should I again sign with a grizzled industry veteran, or should I go with the hungry young newcomer who professed undying love for both novels? I called an author-friend for counsel. He said, “Sign with whoever will still return your phone calls if the books haven’t sold in a year.” It proved to be some of the best career advice I’ve ever received.

Within a few weeks, Antonella Iannarino of the David Black Agency had sold Hush Money – still at 112,000 words, but with its original ending restored – to St. Martin’s Minotaur in a multi-book deal, after which she sold Hard Twisted to Bloomsbury. Hush Money – the novel Natasha had called “unsaleable” – would go on to receive starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal, would be a Critics’ Pick from Kirkus, and would be a finalist for several national honors including the Shamus, Rocky, Reviewer’s Choice, and Audie Awards. Hard Twisted, the book with the “impossible to root for” protagonist, would be hailed as “a taut and intriguing thriller” (London Sunday Times) and “a gritty, gripping read, and one that begs to be put on film.” (Los Angeles Times)

So what did I learn from these very different experiences?

First, that reading is a highly subjective endeavor, and one should never be discouraged by the opinions of even a few so-called experts.

Second, that you should think long and hard before committing to an agent whose commitment to your work is other than unequivocal.

Third, that while parting with your agent might seem like a giant step backward, it is sometimes the only way to move your career forward.

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Chuck Greaves has worked as a bartender, a construction worker, and a librarian. He spent 25 years as an L.A. trial lawyer before becoming a novelist (and sometimes vigneron) in southwestern Colorado, where he lives with his wife, four horses, and two German shepherds. THE LAST HEIR (Minotaur), his fourth novel, and the third installment in his award-winning Jack MacTaggart series of legal mysteries, will be in bookstores on June 24, 2014. For more information on the series, or on his literary fiction written as C. Joseph Greaves, you can visit his website, or get the latest updates here on Facebook.

BOOK GIVEAWAY NOTICE:  Readers who leave a comment on Chuck’s post before noon U.S. Mountain Time on Sunday, June 22nd, will earn an entry into a drawing for a signed copy of The Last Heir. The winner will be announced here on Sunday afternoon.

Interview with Jessica Renheim, Associate Editor of Dutton/Penguin Group

Interview originally published at Chiseled in Rock blog by Dave Jackson on June 4, 2014.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers is pleased to welcome Jessica Renheim to the Colorado Gold Conference September 5th through the 7th.

jessicarenheimJess joined Dutton in 2007 and has been there ever since. She edits both fiction and nonfiction at Dutton, including speculative and paranormal fiction, mystery/crime, thrillers, narrative nonfiction, and memoir. Among the bestselling and critically acclaimed writers she has worked with are the #1 New York Times bestselling authors Richelle Mead and Kelley Armstrong, as well as New York Times bestselling and award-winning writers Mark Adams, Dan Savage, Stephen White, Meg Gardiner, Brian D’Amato, Jennifer Lee Carrell, Raymond Khoury, and David Rich.

We are particularly pleased to interview Jessica because she apparently makes rare appearances on blogs!

CIR: How important is it for an author to be flexible with edits? By the way, I’m so flexible my leg is curled around my head as I write this.

JR: Flexibility with edits is always very welcome, but ultimately it’s the author’s book so he/she is going have the final say on most things. The editor’s primary job is to provide guidance where we think it’s needed. Is a certain character feeling too one-dimensional or predictable? Is it too easy to guess the mystery at the heart of the novel? Or is there some inconsistency between the start of the story and the climactic showdown at the end? These are the kind of editorial questions and concerns that may need to be addressed to make the book better, and I’ve been very fortunate to work with talented writers who can step back from their work and assess what’s clicking and what needs to be reconsidered.

CIR: In just the past few years the major publishing houses have become very active with electronic publishing. Can and or will this open the door for more experimental stories to be published in New York from unknown authors since costs can be saved on printing?

JR: I think so. There are quite a few digital original or digital only imprints publishing new authors across different genres these days. One recent example is Tor.com announcing the launch of a new imprint devoted to publishing original novellas, shorter novels and serializations. This seems like a natural area of growth for science fiction and fantasy, and a great way for aspiring writers to get stories published that wouldn’t have been the right fit for more traditional formats due to length or other considerations.

CIR: Have you had the chance to meet any celebrities and if so, who was the coolest?

JR: Dutton publishes the occasional celebrity book, but I have yet to work on one. There have been few brief encounters. Nick Offerman has come by our office to work with his editor. John Hodgman gathered a sizeable group of his (well-known) friend to shoot a scene for his book trailer at the office once. If you watch the trailer here http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/4cc168ca62/that-is-all it’s the scene in the conference room. I also worked on It Gets Better and American Savage with Dan Savage, who is so lovely and down to earth that I sometimes forget he’s a celebrity.

CIR: Did you always know that you wanted to be in the publishing business, an editor?

JR: I think by senior year of college I realized that I wanted to pursue a job in book publishing. I was lucky enough to attend the Columbia Publishing Course, which not only led directly to my job at Dutton, but also helped me to decide that becoming an editor would be the best fit for me. It’s incredibly fun and rewarding to work with an author through the entire process, from acquisition to well after his/her book hits stores and online retailers.

CIR: Because we strive to be unique, I must ask a bizarre question. How do you think Charles Dickens would have felt about E publishing?

JR: Well, Dickens was a prolific writer whose novels were mostly published in monthly or weekly installments, a format that allowed him to evaluate his audience’s reaction and use that feedback to shape his stories. Serializing his novels also made them cheaper and more accessible, so my guess is that Dickens would have loved the greater flexibility and access digital publishing affords to readers.

CIR: I have to ask this one because many friends and I have experienced it a couple of times. If an editor had very encouraging things to say about a manuscript, but rejected it stating that it would be better as a…we’ll say a YA, or any number of other succinct suggestions…and the author revamps it as such, do you think the writer is out of bounds to try a resubmission?

JR: It’s a good question. I think if an editor feels strongly enough about a manuscript to provide very encouraging and specific feedback before ultimately rejecting it, then it’s fair game to resubmit the manuscript if it’s been substantially reworded. There’s always an exception to the rule, of course, but in general editors are looking to fall in love with a project and champion it. As long as you’re not submitting a newly revised YA novel to Dutton—where we only do adult books—chances are the editor will take another look!

Thanks Jessica!

We look forward to seeing you at the Gold!

Interview conducted by Gusto Dave

The Top 5 Best Pieces of Writing Advice I Ever Got … by Trai Cartwright

1.   If you’re holding something back for later, drop it in now.

Last Thursday, a friend and I both had one of those explosive days you live for as a writer: the day when your story just electrifies you, delights you, reveals itself to you. She told me she had just written the scene that told her it was just another 25 pages until the supernatural elements of her book could be introduced. I’d just written a scene that was wholly unexpected: a dude who wasn’t supposed to reveal his true nature for many (many) pages to come suddenly whipped off his mask.

This reveal not only changed my whole book but radically improved it in an instant.

This trick comes from a writing teacher I reviled except for this gem. Don’t hold on to the secrets. Don’t write an entire book knowing that in the last 30 pages, all will be revealed. It drains your writing of life-giving creative energy. By “giving away the store”, I was seemingly left with nowhere to go. In fact, I was forced to imagine greater. My story expanded in the most delicious ways because I didn’t hold back.

So my advice to my friend who’s waiting 25 pages to unleash her tasty goodness: just do it now.

2.   Write something beautiful, something grotesque, and something odd on every page.

This one came from a poet who’d just published her first novel, and it’s what her editor said transfixed her. The poet had always used these tricks in her poetry, and had unconsciously carried it over to her fiction. The effect: pages and pages of surprises in the sentences, creating a unique texture that illuminated her world in unexpected ways.

3.   Don’t let the reader catch you writing.

This is from Elmore Leonard and a habit I had to break in my early years. If you’re overly-enamored with your own scintillating, bombastic, lyrical writing style, chances are your readers know it all too well. My voice often over-took my story, and instead of carrying my readers away on a fantastic journey, I was demanding they stand in awe of my cleverness. The point is this: you’re a storyteller first. The voice has to be in service to the story, not your ego.

4.   Don’t confuse, don’t bore.

This from my MFA director Tod Goldberg. Written in big letters on the board, first day of class. If your readers are busy trying to sort out why someone said such-and-such, how they got from the parking lot to Rockefeller Center, who it is they are talking to, when their mother became reanimated because you could swear she died in the first ten pages, they are being carried way on a fantastic journey. They are confused. Confusion equals disengagement as we readers try to conjure the answers that are not on the page.

And boredom, well that’s easy too. If you’re bored writing your story, your readers will have already put your book down. The fix? See #1.

5.   Stop with the semi-colon. And the em-dashes. And the parenthesis.

This is from my god-like genre teacher, Stephen Graham Jones. We all do this. We all suddenly fall in love with some punctuation device that to our minds displays brilliance, adds essential information, and in the case of parenthesis, delivers a dollop of writerly humor.

Readers get exhausted by these devices. Semi-colons create complex sentences that can feel like a challenge to some. Most of those sentences can live independently of one another, so drop in a period instead.

Em-dashes—which, to our mind, can create urgency, provide delightful intrusion, or give crucial tangential information—work maybe every five or six pages, but more than that, it’s a red flag to readers. We start tracking your over-use of the device rather than read your story. It’s like using a word like “stupendous” on every page—we will notice. And it will annoy us.

And as for parenthesis (those semi-smiles of bardic narrator grandstanding), they often break the fourth wall just so you can impart your own sense of humor rather than the character’s. Or worse, it’s a piece of exposition that the writer couldn’t figure out how to include any other way and shoe-horn it in awkwardly. The answer is simply to not employ them. We probably didn’t need that info to follow the scene anyway. And we certainly didn’t need the distraction of your joke.

So that’s it: my top 5 best pieces of writing advice.

What are yours?

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Getting in Bed with Your Co-Writer: The Art of Collaborative Writing (Part Three)

By Kym O’Connell-Todd and Mark Todd

Kym and Mark ToddThis is the third in a three-part installment on strategies we’ve found successful as collaborative writers. In the first part, we discussed things to look for in a compatible partner as well as examples of how that plays out in practice. In the second, we started to explore how plots and characters develop from a weird shared writing space. This time, we’re going to talk about how stories – and especially characters – turn into something we never expected and lead to some unexpected collaborators.

And we like it.

Characters that authors like can turn a good story into one that’s great – especially for readers. But that doesn’t mean those characters have to be nice “people.”

Grady O’Grady from our Silverville Saga series is a character we especially like. There’s a little bit of all the ranchers we’ve ever known in him. Not too surprising since we’ve both lived in rural America most of our lives (Kym in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Montana, Mark in New Mexico and Texas, and both of us for the past twenty-plus years in western Colorado). So Grady’s take on things was easy to capture. Right before the first Little Greed Men hit local bookstores, we worried about how our neighbors would react to the way we portrayed the ranching lifestyle. But our daughter laughed at us, saying something like, “If a book doesn’t have pictures, they’re not going to read it!” She was joking, of course, but we bravely laughed along with her and waited for the novel to circulate. Several of our neighbors did read the book, and whew! they liked the way we’d described Grady. Kym had a real knack for capturing his style of speech, but she’s always had a penchant for old ranchers. So Kym took the last word, literally, on what he said – and what he didn’t.

Grady also rides a horse we know very well, ‘Ole Moss. We modeled the mare after one we used to own named Belle. She was a bitch from the day she was born in our barn. At three weeks, she almost broke a neighbor’s knee with a well-aimed kick, and when we turned her over to a professional trainer at age two, she charged her new teacher with bared teeth and flattened ears. We include in the story one of Belle’s real antics when ‘Ole Moss strikes out repeatedly at a hot wire fence once it shocks her. Belle would have been the perfect fit for Grady and she made it into our cast.

In the sequel, All Plucked Up, Mark took a shine to a character named Maurice LeVieux, a by-product who emerged from Mark’s pretentious professor side, and Kym let him run with it. Maurice is the octogenarian arch nemesis of that story’s protagonist, Pleasance. He’s stuffy, pompous, and fastidious:

Maurice surveyed the row of tidily arranged ascots that filled the upper compartment of his suitcase. He selected one with just a blush of apricot to match his socks. He chuckled at his propitious talent to once again outmaneuver Pleasance. How careless of her to repeat Grady’s name over the phone that fateful day he overheard her conversation. Poor child. Had she learned nothing from his example? By the time he had arranged to travel to Silverville, he already had Mr. O’Grady’s phone number and address in his pocket.

He adjusted the ascot, tucking it neatly inside his collar and around his papery throat. He sat on the bed and reached over to snap the garters to his socks.

From the very beginning, we knew Maurice was going to be a fun character to work with. But you’ll have to read the story to find out that he’s not a typical anal-retentive guy. We hope he has quirks that catch readers off guard.

Even though characters help authors turn good stories into great ones, some characters have their own ideas about what’s going to happen next – regardless of what the authors’ story outline says.

Case in point: April Schaures, a personality in the third novel of the Silverville Saga series, The Magicke Outhouse. Created as an afterthought to complement the story’s protagonist, April pushed her way into the plot as one of the most colorful characters who’s ever visited Silverville. It was creepy, like she was waiting in the wings for a casting call. Creepy because she “possessed” us both at the same time, with surprising flair that seemed to come from nowhere. April really challenges our notion of where we thought characters originate. Even stranger, neither of us has ever known a character like April. But there she was on the page. In the passage below, she’s shining her new supervisor:

April climbed the stairs and opened the heavy door of the Silverville Public Library.

An older woman standing behind the circulation desk looked up. Had to be Miss Brumbelow, head librarian. The woman smiled and said, “Can I help you with anything?”

April marched to the desk and thrust out her hand. “I’m April.”

The smile melted into a frown. “Your internship started yesterday.”

“Didn’t you get my message?” The one I never sent.

“No, I don’t recall any messages from you.”

April forced a cough and drew a tissue from her pocket. “Really? You didn’t get my note about my recent relapse?”

Miss B appeared to wait for more of an explanation, which April was happy to provide.

“The Uruguayan Flying Worm Syndrome. It flared up again.”

“Excuse me? Uruguay? I understood you were from Placer City.”

“That’s where I grew up, after a traveling circus brought me into the United States and my parents adopted me.” April blew her nose long and hard into the tissue. “I caught the worm before that, when I was only six. Most people die from it. I was lucky.”

The librarian’s eyes narrowed. “Is it contagious?”

“Not once the worms work their way out of your system. Mine have.” April offered a long-suffering shrug. “But once you get it, it stays with you the rest of your life.”

“Is that why your pupils are so … so pink?”

April bent her head and plucked a small disk from one eye and held it up on her finger for the woman to inspect. “Colored contacts.”

While April replaced the theatrical lens, Miss B heaved a disappointed sigh and retrieved a sheet of paper from under the desk. “Here are the responsibilities I’ve typed up for you.” She handed it to her new intern and motioned her to follow.

We didn’t write April’s dialog; she did. In fact, she just sort of grabbed the reins and ran. We often find that a particular character will determine the direction of a plot. Characters tell us what they need, what they have to say, and where they will and will not go. Unlike April, most of our characters need fleshing out, but once we get to know them, we trust them to guide us to the end of the story. All three novels in the Silverville Saga have taken various twists and turns we hadn’t anticipated as the characters took on lives of their own. We almost felt like spectators rather than writers, our job merely to record what was going on in their universe.

Sometimes characters tell us what their names are. More often than not, surnames pop out about the same time a character shows up in a story. Last names occasionally stem from ones we’ve heard in our past or they’ll relate to the personality – or the just the opposite. In Little Greed Men, Howard Beacon isn’t exactly a bright light, Billy Noble is anything but, whereas money preoccupies Buford Price. Same thing in All Plucked Up: Madame Pompeii is as disastrous as her namesake, Maurice LeVieux plays an old geezer (“LeVieux” is French for that), and the “three fools” are our hat tip to Moe, Larry, and Curly. Whether or not readers catch our wordplay, the name puns are amusing to us. In The Magicke Outhouse, we named our protagonist Micah Musil because it sounds funny, its accentual syllabics imitate the corresponding anti-diuretic we’re punning, and it fits a person who encounters visceral turbulence – in a black-comedy sort of way.

In the long run we discovered that, for us, collaborative writing is about the give and take of authors in synch enough to be willing to trade off on who takes the lead. But a lot of the collaboration comes from the page itself — allowing our characters to contribute an active voice to the writing conversation. And that’s a kind of collaboration any author can have, regardless of how many actual eyes are looking at the screen.

At the beginning of this three-part series, we asserted that collaborative writing is like good sex. Do any of our projects lead to hot rendezvous in bed? Ha! We’ll never tell. Like we said before, we can’t write love scenes, which might seem a bit ironic. Let’s just say our passion is private except when it comes to crafting good tales together.

* * *

KYM
We’re still a sentence or two away from finishing this article.

They stare at the screen, rereading the last paragraph, looking for any momentum they can use.

MARK
(sighing)
Boy, I sure can’t think of anything else to say. Can you?

KYM
Nope.

FADE OUT

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

Co-authors Kym O’Connell-Todd & Mark Todd are co-authors of the Silverville Saga Series, paranormal adventure comedies that take place in an “ordinary” community sitting on intersecting ley lines – punching holes in everyday reality, causing extraordinary coincidences and the random UFO, an occasional curse, a ghost or two, and even a bit of time-travel now and then.

You can learn more about Kym and Mark and their books at the website and blog. They can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

The Nature vs. Nurture Clash (aka Plotters vs. Pantsers) … by Jim Heskett

JimHeskettAll across the internets, published and unpublished writers blog about how to write, edit, and market material. I find many commonalities and universal truths… show don’t tell, don’t be afraid to be bad in first draft, don’t join a critique group that meets on Wednesdays, etc. I might have misheard that last one, but I think you get my point.

If you spend enough time researching writing advice, one Nature vs. Nurture clash always recurs: Plotters vs. Pantsers.

The Plotters spend time before starting Chapter 1 (or the Prologue, if they’re about to sit down to a 300,000-word epic fantasy) writing about what they’re going to write. Outline, character interview, story arc, plot twists… most or all is designed before the first line of the story lands on paper (or keyboard. Or tablet. Or papyrus)

The Pansters skip all that careful planning and launch into it. They’ll have an idea, or two intersecting ideas, and then let the story create itself on the page. The author has only some, little, or no idea where it will go once she begins.

As for me, I’m both. Boom. I just blew your mind.

I plot my story. But I pants my characters. (gross). What I mean is: I sit down beforehand to decide the sequence of events in the story, which somehow involves a character seeking a goal with obstacles in the path of that goal. Then I think up one or two details about each of the characters, give them desires, and determine arcs for them. Then I lock myself in my basement with plenty of bottled water and caffeine pills and just go.

I don’t know my characters until after my first draft, or at least partway through.

My first draft goal is to get the story on the page as quickly as possible, so I can read it afterwards and see it as one whole work… find the plot holes, things that aren’t foreshadowed properly, and the common themes. What I often discover is that the characters reveal themselves to me through the story. They create themselves. I’ll find myself reading over a scene and think “oh, she wouldn’t do that,” because my original plotting conflicts with the character who grew into being during the process. So I adjust my outline.

So, you might ask, why bother plotting at all if I’m destined to make major changes to the story?

First of all, I write plot-twisty fiction. Planning where those beats are going to occur alleviates a lot of the pressure by reducing the scope of rewrites in subsequent drafts. Second, my protagonist’s arc and the events in the story are linked, so I have to think them through simultaneously.

So, I’ll know in scene #463 that male antagonist Dastardly Devin is going to try to convince female protagonist Innocent Imogen to give up the location of the launch codes. And I know whether or not Devin will succeed. But when I’m outlining, I don’t know what method he’ll use to persuade her, or how Imogen will resist or succumb. That’s the joy of Pantsing my characters… there can still be discovery and surprises for me as I go along.

Do you Pants or Plot, and how has it worked for you?

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

Jim Heskett is a writer of short and long fiction, currently slaving away at a laptop in an undisclosed location in Broomfield. His next project is a novel about a woman who hikes into Rocky Mountain National Park to spread her father’s ashes, but she discovers something inside the urn that could put her life in danger.

For more information about Jim and his writing, visit his website.  His movie and book reviews blog is hidden away here. He can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Rebecca Taylor

By Rebecca TaylorThe Exquisite and Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza

Yesterday, I uploaded my most recent book, The Exquisite and Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza, to Kindle—Yes, I self published it. And as I, only hours later took it down to make changes (I suspect it won’t be the last time) I wondered:

Why don’t more writers make the leap into self-publishing?

I thought about it all day and here’s what I came up with:

  1. In truth, self-publishing still reeks a bit of failure (if you think it has completely lost all stigma, then you’re not looking hard enough outside the self publishing community. Like it or not, self publishing is still judged pretty harshly in some circles, especially the ones surrounded by the high gates of traditional publishing. There are only two things that truly mask this odor: Winning legitimate awards and big sales.
  2. If you do it right, it’s a ton of work. It can be super easy and not at all a ton of work if you just take your first draft, upload it to Kindle, and slap one of their cover generated images in front of it. Of course, if you do it that way you should also expect to get out what you put in—which is almost nothing.
  3. And finally, and this I think is the big reason why many don’t take the plunge, you stand completely alone beside your work, taking a huge risk that, even after all your labors the only sound to reach your ears is the eerie silence of your one hand clapping (the other one is, of course, occupied holding up your book to a world that doesn’t give a shish.)

Yes, number three, lack of self-confidence, I suspect it is the real reason why many writers don’t give it a go—of course this may be simply because it was the real reason why I didn’t.

Confession: I am always a little bit in awe of someone in possession of flagrant self confidence. I watch them, without even the slightest hesitation of self doubt, they will happily spread their feathers befor2000 x 1333e you and shimmy—it has been my experience that these people are usually connected to the theatre in someway.

When that self-possessed someone happens to be a writer—well I’m flat out flabbergasted to be in the presence of such a rare bird.

In March of this year, I sat on a publishing panel answering a variety of questions from writers. Towards the end of the session, one young woman approached the microphone and asked, “What one piece of advice do you have for aspiring writers?”

Now, there are many, many good answers to this question: Write, Don’t give up, Learn the craft, etc, etc. But what popped out of my mouth was, “Toughen up.”

Yes, find those bootstraps and pull them hard because the truth of the matter is, if you are still a walking wound of self-doubt, anxiety, and crippling insecurities when your first book, traditional publisher or no, comes out—that first three star review is going to knock you to your knees. And that one star, the one with the especially snarky, and yet cleverly crafted, dissertation-length review, may likely drive you from your dreams of writing anything ever again.

I think many writers, who might otherwise be interested in the allures of self publishing, still avoid it because they believe having a publisher (regardless of the publisher’s size and actual knowledge of the publishing business) is going to fill that void, that empty gaping hole where the writer should believe in themselves, and their work. That acceptance acts like a Band-Aid of, “Look, it’s not just me…someone else likes my book too.”

And maybe that Band-Aid will be enough.

But I will tell you, if this is how you are going to prop yourself up, by leaning against the facade of traditional legitimacy, all it will take for it to all disappear is for fickle winds of favor to start blowing the other way.

And then, where does that leave you?

Ever heard the tale of the traditionally published debut author that didn’t sell enough books to earn out his meager advance? It left him with no sales, no offer for that next book, and no confidence in his ability. Even with traditional publishing, nothing is guaranteed!

Self-confidence is an absolute MUST in this business.

Be bold! Stare the very real potential of deafening silence in the face and say, “I’m not afraid of you.” Once you face that fear, whatever yours may be, it can’t hold you in paralysis any more.

When it’s ready, when you’re ready, get your work out there anyway you can. If a traditional publisher wants to stand with you—great! Just don’t fool yourself into thinking they’re going to sit up with you in the middle of the night and rock you back to sleep.

Kind of like your kids, no one will ever care about your work as much as you do. (except your mother—for both examples.)

This is just my opinion, but I happen to think you have to stand at the center of your writing career and act as the captain of your own ship—no agent or editor is going to do that for you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to talk you out of your Big Five dream—I don’t think self-publishing is for everyone. Truth be told, I actually hope it’s not the only avenue forever open to me because I’m probably the first writer in line to lick the feet of a Random Penguin should it happen to deign glance in my direction. I still want my books in Barnes and Noble just a bad as you do.

But, if it turns out that the publishing powers that be don’t want me there, I’m not afraid to stand alone, book in hand, and brace myself for silence. My biggest fear is not that I will make a fool of myself—it’s that I will stop trying.

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

Rebecca Taylor 2000X3000Rebecca Taylor is the young adult author of ASCENDANT, a recently selected finalist for the 2014 Colorado Book Award. The second book in the Ascendant series, MIDHEAVEN, will release in 2014 and her standalone novel, THE EXQUISITE AND IMMACULATE GRACE OF CARMEN ESPINOZA, is now available.

You can find more information about her work at: Web: www.rebeccataylorbooks.com, Blog: www.rebeccataylorbooks.blogspot.com,  Twitter: https://twitter.com/RebeccaTaylorED,  Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/Rebeccataylor, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaTaylorBooks, Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/RebeccaTaylorED

 

My Affair … by Author Terri Benson

Terri Benson1I’m having an affair. It’s OK, my husband knows all about it. In fact, he’s kind of been involved in all my affairs and he likes it.

Oh, all right! My affairs are in my books. My hunky love interests are my heroes and, even if they don’t vaguely resemble me, I’m the gorgeous heroine. That’s one of the reasons I absolutely love to write. I get to experience everything I ever dreamed, and I’m not going to get put in jail or divorced for it. Although, I did have a co-worker who read my book say they’d never look at me the same way again…

Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean (sorry, got carried away!) is that writing lets us be anything and anyone we want. We can create people we love to hate, or hate to love. We can change the world into any kind of place that suits our fancy (and our characters), and it can be centuries ago, or centuries in the future, or in an alternate future in an alternate universe. Whew.

Where else can you think up some diabolical way to kill someone off, and not worry that you’ll be carted off to the pokey? You don’t even have to use real methods, because writers can invent them. Need a poison or a weapon that doesn’t really exist, or a language to have a rousing argument in, or a pet that has one eye and one horn and flies and eats peo… (ooops, sorry, again) – you’re a writer, you can make one up that is believable!

You can write from the perspective of a child, or an animal, or a God (or Goddess) or an angst-ridden teen, or an omniscient person of the first order or whatever. But what we all must do is write something that’s worth reading. I believe that even if we don’t intend to publish what we write, we shouldn’t waste our words on something that doesn’t move us, or our readers. Of course, I’m talking fiction here, because it’s kind of hard to move your readers when you’re writing a technical manual on gear ratios (I’m sure someone out there will argue that point, but who’s writing this, anyway!?).

What I’m getting at is that we have the absolutely best job in the world—writing. We have no limits, no restrictions, no rules (except those darn editor-people ones). The only thing that would make it better is if we were guaranteed to get paid for each and every one of the words we put on paper, but hey, life’s a bitch, sometimes. At least we have fun not getting paid. Revel in your gift of words. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s “not a real job” because you can’t quit the other one and pursue writing full time (or if you can, God, I hate you!). Keep putting those letters and words and paragraphs on the page. We’re entertaining the world, after all.

Words! Gotta love ‘em.

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

As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel (An Unsinkable Love), award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning – in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She has been a member of RMFW for the last several years, and her employer provides the location for the Western Slope events. She is currently promoting Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelting RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogging.

Her book, An Unsinkable Love, is temporarily down as the publisher has recently been bought and her rights reverted. But never fear, she shall overcome and those of you clamoring for a copy shall be satisfied! Visit Terri at her website. She can also be found on Facebook.

Do the Dream Dance With Me

By Peg Brantley

I was asked to write a guest post for RMFW shortly after my third book became a finalist for two awards. I was stoked. The post would be due shortly after the banquet for the first award and I joked that I’d write about what it felt like to lose. I had some Susan Lucci images banging around in my head I thought would be humorous.

And then I lost. Or perhaps more accurately, my book didn’t win. Not winning didn’t surprise me. The feeling of disappointment did. Suddenly there wasn’t too much humor in living my own version of a Susan Lucci life.

And then I remembered…

Once upon a time, a fearless little girl lived in my body. Peggy Ann dreamed little girl dreams and went after them with a sureness that startles me when I think about it today. Her parents told her she could do anything she wanted to do, and she believed them.

It took me decades to realize she’d gone missing.

When I tried to figure out where I had lost that gutsy dreamer, I determined there was no defining moment, although I’m fairly certain the concept of failure was involved. As far as I could tell, successful people didn’t fail. Ever. Successful people won every award every time.

I can still hear my dad’s voice: “If you’re going to do something, do it right.” Dad encouraged my sister and I in character building almost every day of our childhoods, so when he wasn’t telling us we could be anything we wanted to be, he was telling us that a half-assed approach to things was not acceptable. At some point, I morphed “right” and “perfect” and adopted the philosophy that if I couldn’t be perfect at something, I shouldn’t do it at all. Not my dad’s fault. It just was.

It became easier to let dreams fade, even when the only way to let go was to turn by back. To walk away before I could once again be reminded I wasn’t perfect. That way, I couldn’t fail. Right? Mediocrity, a life without dreams, might be mundane but it would be a life without failure.

Then the concept we hear all the time, Nobody is Perfect, sat up serious shop in my brain. That’s when I realized when dreams are achieved, they’re achieved by imperfect people. Say what? Dreams are achieved by people who reach out of their imperfection to touch something bigger than they are. Who aren’t afraid to fail. Who consider winning as something within themselves, not outside themselves.

There’s one more award ceremony to attend. Although I might be disappointed, I will already be winning my dream.

So writers, whether you’re writing your first scene in your very first manuscript, or have an entire bookshelf that belongs to you, check your dreams. Polish ‘em up every once in awhile, and know that inside, because you’re reaching out, because you’re dreaming, you’re already a winner.

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

IMG_1166-webA Colorado native, Peg Brantley is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Colorado Authors’ League, and Sisters In Crime. She lives with her husband southeast of Denver.

Peg’s third book, The Sacrifice, is a finalist for two 2014 Colorado literary awards.

You can learn more about Peg at http://www.pegbrantley.com or meet up with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pegbrantleyauthorpage or follow her blog at http://www.suspensenovleist.blogstpot.com