Author Archives: RMFW Guest

Guest Post by Chris Pitchford: Dream jobs. Sometimes it’s not enough to have just one

By Chris Pitchford

Benny had two of my all-time favorite jobs. He was a writer and he commanded a space station. Actually, he was a character played by Avery Brooks in one of my favorite television shows. In one memorable episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Benny’s original writing was attacked by hostile indifference. The publisher pulped an entire run, destroying the magazine’s complete monthly edition, rather than let a story featuring a prominent person of color see the light of day. Benny’s remaining options were few. When it was suggested that he publish his story himself, he said, “More people would read it if I wrote it in chalk on the sidewalk!”

That idea has stayed with me ever since, and I’ve misquoted it regularly. So why am I self-publishing my new novel, The Agility of Clouds? (“The what of what?” my mother might have said—our memories will surely differ on this account. “Clouds can’t be agile…” She is one of my toughest critics. Naturally, I dedicated the work to her. I suspect this pleases her yet simultaneously drives her nuts). The Agility of Clouds is part Jane Austen, part James Bond; but more than that, it is a story of a woman who questions what it means to be a woman and what it means to be flawed but moral. As I am none of those things, I had plenty of questions to work with.

But when it comes to the question regarding whether to self-publish, the answer is much different today than it was in the nineties when DS9 originally aired. And that decade had more in common with the Golden Age of Science Fiction when the story was set than today. (As a self-published author, I can truthfully attest that more people have read my novel, Sonata: A Fantasy in One Movement, than read what my kids and I wrote on my sidewalk). While the market for short genre fiction is still strong, it’s not nearly the same today as it was seventy years ago. Being published in periodicals was how some of my favorite authors of the last century, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury among others, cut their teeth as professional writers. Unfortunately, being a novelist means that my work isn’t well suited to periodicals. I love reading Analog, Locus, Strange Horizons and others. But the self-contained book is the definitive text for me, so what could I do?

Traditional publishing then and now is going strong. According to John DeNardo (SF Signal) http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/author/john/, over 300 titles are scheduled to be published on genre-related topics in the month of August alone. It is apparently a very crowded field. So crowded, tossing one’s novel over a virtual transom in hopes of it landing upon a suitable editor’s desk is surely the height of fantasy. Also, successfully pitching one’s work to hungry but savvy agents is also a dream come true for only a few. Did I mention how crowded the field is? And the demands of publishing all those titles mean that control passes largely from the creator to the producer. Like Benny, an author can do all that a creative type can but the final say is ultimately in someone else’s hands.

The alternative, being self-published, is almost a misnomer, as many, many people can still be very much involved. Getting early feedback from readers was critical—but also inspiring—for the work on The Agility of Clouds. Littleton Writers and RMFW were almost as tough and as supportive as ‘me own mudder.’ Once the novel was written, getting a real, honest-to-goodness, hard-as-tacks editor was next on the list. And Karen Conlin of grammargeddon.com was just the independent wordsmith with a background in fantasy (having worked at TSR, once the home of Dungeons and Dragons) that this project needed. Also, a brilliant illustrator was one of the early readers who inspired me, and so my main character, Seramis Helleborine, took visual form under the pen of Marjorie Schott, http://www.facebook.com/WaterstriderDesign.

I’m not getting any younger (thankfully, as I never want to see the inside of a Junior High classroom as a detainee ever again), so it turns out to be a good thing that self-publishing is much quicker than traditional publishing. But a publisher can’t rush some things. And a publisher also has to make decisions using vastly different criteria. As a writer, I wanted to see the cover of the book sport a fully realized airship, an eighteenth-century caravel soaring through the skies. But as a publisher, I looked at what covers of books that sold looked like and saw that main characters were featured more often than the gee-whiz cool things. Gone are the days of the DAW edition of The Gods of Mars by ERB featuring two almost indistinct warriors battling upon a flying ship on the cover. Fortunately, working with an illustrator and a cover artist meant that I could do both. The cover presentation would be designed to sell books (and somehow be legible at postage-stamp sizes on Amazon), and the content would cater to the dreams and hopes I’ve had since I was a child for action/fantasy with a strong female lead character.

Speaking of Amazon (and selling books in the same sentence—coincidence? I think not), their options for self-publishing allow for a great deal of freedom and control. From CreateSpace to Kindle Direct Publishing, the publishing options start at free so the price is right for someone just starting out. Benny would have rather enjoyed the empowerment, I think. Of course, while it remains doubtful that I will have the opportunity to share with Benny the two dream jobs of writer and space station commander, at least one of those jobs is possible with the addition of adding one more to my curriculum vitae: that of self-publisher.

http://chrispitchford.com

How to Grow a Novel

By Barbara Graham

Graham_MurderBySunlightProbably because I’m in the midst of trying to get my garden to produce something other than really healthy weeds, and my next book is in the formative stage, the comparison between gardening and writing a novel seemed ideal.

After all, they both start with high hopes and big plans. Each beginning I think—this will be the garden/book that won’t have “issues” like weeds, blight or repetitive phrases. The characters will be fascinating and the tomatoes won’t have blossom end rot.

Before beginning such a fabulous project, there is some studying involved. I peruse the seed catalogs and gather ideas for the best vegetables for the sunny end of the garden. Can they grow in our short season? For the book, what will the story line be and because I write mysteries, who should I kill this time? The first book in my mystery series, Murder by Serpents: The Mystery Quilt was inspired by a headline in the newspaper. It simply read, “man found dead in car.” No snakes, no other tie to the storyline. I began playing with the scenario. Why would a man be dead in his car? Any number reasons. You pick one of your own and write that book.

So, we plant a seed and soon there is a sprout. The seedlings go into the garden on the recommended date but I like to cover the tender sprouts. I often use plastic milk bottles without lids and the bottoms cut out. They form individual greenhouses. Also too tender for early exposure, ideas and characters being developed now should avoid the early critique situations. Let them get some roots and a good strong stem before hearing from the critics. Something fabulous could wither and die from early exposure to the world.

Pull the weeds and throw on some fertilizer. Add more words, maybe create a world with murderous garden gnomes. This is the waiting game. Slog through the pages adding on. Fix the dialogue. Protect it from outside intruders like deer stomping the tender leaves with their sharp hooves, making a mess, it is your world to save.

The garden is planted, out of human control, except for watering and constant weeding. Heavens, some weeds are taller than the desired plants. Every first draft of the next book, I find myself wondering “who wrote this mess?” Is that a weed or something worth keeping? Sometimes in the early stages, they look the same. There is much work to be done. Peering at the vegetation, you see emerging baby carrot tops. They look like fine parsley but sharing the same spot is some nasty broadleaf weed. The weed must be carefully extricated without killing the carrot. It is the garden equivalent of excising the wrong word in a sentence, a writers’ weed destroying the intended meaning.

Is anything worth keeping? Yes. Throw some more fertilizer in there, use better words. Plants and story are both improving at last. The plot has only a couple of small holes now, easily mended, and your hero is worthy of the name. There are small, dark green tomatoes on a plant. Green peppers on another. The potatoes plants are tall and covered with small purple flowers. There are jewels in the dirt.

One more rewrite. A walk through the garden again. The ripening tomatoes are even more gorgeous than expected. Maybe you should enter them in the county fair. Let the judges see what a real tomato smells like. As for the novel, a few more rewrites, queries and maybe a contract, all yours for the picking.

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Barbara Graham began making up stories in the third grade instead of learning to multiply and divide. A native Texan, she later lived in Denver, New Orleans and East Tennessee. Inspiration for Silersville (home of her imaginary friends) comes from her Tennessee period. An unrepentant quilting addict, she lives in Wyoming with her long suffering husband and the spoiled dog. Her motto is “Every book needs a dead body and every bed needs a quilt.”

Her most recent book, Murder by Sunlight: The Charity Quilt is book five in her Quilted Mystery series featuring Tennessee Sheriff Tony Abernathy and his quiltmaker wife, Theo. Visit Barbara at her website.

Barbara is giving away one copy of Murder by Sunlight: The Charity Quilt to a lucky U.S. or Canada reader who leaves a comment on this post by midnight Mountain Time Friday, September 12. The winner will be selected using random.org and the name posted here on Saturday.

Guest Post by Rebecca Taylor: “Am I Good Enough?”

By Rebecca Taylor

I think there may be a singular question that, at some time or another, burns in the soul of every writer.

“Am I good enough?”

As we barrel towards the 2014 RMFW conference this weekend, I know it’s a question that many writers are hoping to have answered for them. Whether they are waiting to hear about the contest results, hoping to stun an agent during a critique workshop, or praying for a partial request after a pitch appointment— the central premise for many aspiring writers is the same.

Am I a good enough writer to make it? Will I receive some evidence, a contest win, a request for more pages, a good critique, that will provide me with a fricking floatation device that would suggest I continue to dog paddle out here, alone, in the middle of this dark and stormy writer’s life instead of jumping aboard the next Disney Cruise ship filled with normal, happy, smiling people that get enough sleep?

And if I’m not good enough, will you just say so? Out loud and clear as a bell so that my head and heart can stop bleeding from wanting this thing that I don’t have a chance in hell of ever achieving?

Over the years, I’ve come to believe that this question doesn’t actually get answered to the satisfaction of many writers. Furthermore, it’s not even the correct question.

When we want someone to tell us, just tell us the truth, regarding our writing ability, we are only really looking at one piece of the “making it” puzzle—the talent piece. We want to know if people, the experts, think we have any talent for writing.

Talent is important, but it’s only going to get you in the door, and sometimes, if you don’t have these other two pieces, you’re not even getting that far.

What you need to find out is if you have three things:

  1. Talent—specifically, a great narrative voice
  2. A great Concept
  3. The skill to Structure a novel

In my opinion, number two and three are totally learnable skills (if you’re willing to actively seek out and study ways to get better.) Admittedly, number one is more difficult. I happen to think that anyone can improve his or her narrative voice, but that we tend to have a range of innate ability, or talent, to work with.

This is just my opinion.

Having said that, I know and you know that there have been PLENTY of books published by traditional houses that excel in concept and structure, but fall pretty flat in the narrative voice, or innate writing talent, department. So really, if we have nailed a great concept and we’ve become a Jedi Master of novel structure, there’s still hope for those of us with only a mediocre amount of talent—right?

So what’s my point? My point is, while you may be hoping for an agent or editor to fall all over themselves as soon as they hear about your fantastic book (or your concept) just remember it’s almost never as simple as, “Am I good enough?” (or am I talented?) The real question is more like, “Do I have a sufficient amount of writing talent that I have applied to a great concept in my skillfully structured novel?”

I mean, don’t ACTUALLY ask an agent this because they will definitely lean waaaay back, give you the “you’re a crazy writer” look, and then signal to the moderators to escort you as far away from them as humanly possible …just realize that these are the things that agents are looking for after they smile and say, “Send me the first thirty pages.”

Rebecca Taylor 2000X3000Rebecca Taylor is the young adult author of ASCENDANT, winner of 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 www.rebeccataylorbooks.com.

 

 

 

 

Series or Standalone or The Problems of Estimating When You Don’t Outline

By Carol Berg

Carol Berg PhotoIn my published writing career, I’ve started six projects. Three of them, I intended to be standalone novels. Only one of those three stayed that way. One project I sold as a three book series and it turned out to be four. Clearly I’m not great at estimating.

My problem is that I am an organic story developer. I hate the word pantser, because to me that implies the writer doesn’t know where he or she is going. I always know where I need to start, and I always know where I’m going. My problem is, I don’t always know how many events or scenes or words it’s going to take me to get there. Nope, I don’t outline individual books or a series as a whole. I generate events and scenes as I write, because, for me, story ideas blossom as I get to know my characters and see what kind of challenges and personal interactions will drive them toward the climactic events that I want to happen.

Berg_ThreeCoversOne example: My novel Transformation was intended and sold as a standalone. I brought it to a very satisfactory ending. A true completion of the story is very important to me. Only, just about the time I sent the book off to my editor, I realized something critical about my demonic villains. The story I had told was only a piece of a much larger story arc that dealt with the identity of those demons and how that related to the identity of my hero’s people, their religion, and their single-minded pursuit of a war that took place in the physical landscape of human souls. That realization delighted me, but it also generated two additional novels that became the Books of the Rai-kirah. The single fantasy story became epic.

Three of my five “not-standalone” projects are this same kind of series. In these three series, the individual novels are separated by as little as a single day, or as many as four years. Each volume is a complete story in itself, but also a piece of a larger, continuing (epic!) story arc involving the same core of characters. Sometimes the books will have the same point of view character (like the Rai-kirah books) sometimes different ones (like the novels of the Collegia Magica).

I envisioned my Bridge of D’Arnath series as three books – and proposed and sold them on a three-page synopsis. The story centered around a disgraced noblewoman, a sorcerer/warrior who happened to have a displaced soul in his body, and the search for a kidnapped child – a child who had been brought up to believe he was evil. The third book ended when the boy was sixteen. But once I got there, the ending wasn’t right. Having sons myself, I knew that no kid, especially one who had undergone the traumatic childhood of this one, was “finished” at age sixteen. That’s where book four came from – Daughter of Ancients (NAL/Roc 2005) my first Colorado Book Award finalist. Oops!

Another project I mis-estimated was the novel Flesh and Spirit. I sold it as a standalone. But I also sold it on the basis of a single paragraph . When I was about halfway through writing it, I realized that there was no way this story would fit inside one book. I had to go back to my publisher and say, “You know this book I’m writing? It’s really two.” That is not a happy thing to say to a publisher. Fortunately, they liked it well enough to buy the second book! This became the Lighthouse Duet, a slightly different kind of epic series because it is really one big story split into two volumes. The resolution at the end of the first volume is really more of a turning point. Hey, I’m in good company. Lord of the Rings is really one big story split into three volumes, right?

Berg_DustandLightMy new series, the Sanctuary Duet is a parallel series to the Lighthouse books. I had the idea for Dust and Light (released just this month from NAL/ROC Books!) and wrote it up. Uh-oh, a paragraph! But I also wrote the first six chapters before I sent off the proposal. And this time, I told them it was going to be two books, even though I wasn’t sure the story was big enough. . . Indeed, when I reached the resolution mark of Dust and Light, there was an overarching mystery that had not yet been solved, and so I clobbered poor Lucian de Remini on the head and sailed into Book 2, Ash and Silver (NAL/Roc, August 2015). But I haven’t finished Ash and Silver yet, and there sure are lots of threads to resolve. Stay tuned…

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Carol Berg never expected to become an award-winning author. She chose to major in math at Rice University and computer science at the University of Colorado so she wouldn’t have to write papers, and ended up in a software engineering career. Now her fourteen epic fantasy novels have won national and international awards, including multiple Colorado Book Awards and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. A starred review from Publishers Weekly uses words like captivating, impressive, and perceptive about her newest novel, Dust and Light. Learn more at http://www.carolberg.com

How Exhaustion Helps Writing

By Trai Cartwright

How does exhaustion help writing?

It doesn’t. Of course it doesn’t.

Writing through mental and physical exhaustion has always been a struggle of mine, and it seems in the past year or two, I’ve heard much the same from many of my writer friends. Whether it’s acute over-programming or serious health ailments, managing their lives drains away their precious creative time and energy.

It’s gotten to the degree that they don’t get any writing done.

Does being a writer attract a heightened level of affliction? Is that how we know we’re writers—not because we’re sicker than everyone else but because we feel the terrible intensity of our failings all the more for their negative impact on our art?

Are we as a tribe, too tired to do our jobs? Did the writers who came before us suffer these same maladies to the same extent, and if so, how did they manage to get their work done?

How do we, as an afflicted body of scribes, manage to get it done regardless? Or do we?

I read “Z” not too long ago, a book from Zelda Fitzgerald’s point of view (genius, by the way), and not only was her own mental health eroding, but she had to rely on a husband who’s proximity to drink determined his own daily output.

Scott wrote dozens of short stories because it was all he could manage around his alcoholism.

Stephen King, on the other hand, used his prolific drug habit as a production tool for his writing. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can tell when King’s addiction began impacting his writing negatively—there are a couple dozen books that, well, suck. But his habit never impeded his output.

The tales of mental illness among writers and artists in general is prodigious. Their careers seem to go in two directions: one, they waited for bouts of sanity to work; or two, their affliction seemed to drive them to produce.

Myself, I was a chronic insomniac. The longer a person goes without the required sleep (seven hours uninterrupted), the worse their brain, organ, and nervous system function. A fugue state takes over and soon cognizant thinking becomes impossible, much less creative thinking. There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is a torture technique.

We all have our afflictions, don’t we?

But does the human condition make writing impossible? And what a terrible joke that would be, with so many of us with something to say.

And now that our lives are so overly complex with 24/7 jobs, family schedules that require herculean efforts to maintain, and increasing health issues across all ages, is there any way our artistic pursuits won’t suffer?

How do we compensate?

Or do we give in?

A friend of mine, Amy Kathleen Ryan, had triplets a few years ago. She still wrote two books around their tyrannical infant demands. You might have read them.

Another friend of mine has been diagnosed with MS, making it impossible to type some days. Many days. He still finished his most recent mystery novel.

Another woman I know has worked full time, pursued two advanced degrees, and raised her kid for the past five years, and is inches from finishing an epic fantasy we all know will publish the second she finishes.

Another has taken over the care of both her invalid parents while raising her own family. She’s learned to write in doctor’s offices.

A man who attends most of my library creative writing classes tells me he’s on the road three out of four weeks a month, but he’s taught himself to write on airplanes and in hotels.

A woman in my MFA program walks with two canes and is in constant, chronic pain from a back injury. She still got her degree and recently published her first short story.

There are lots of examples of life becoming what really ought to be written off as unmanageable, crushing our creative selves, making writing laughably impossible. But even these people find ways to write.

They all tell me the same thing: writing is their life’s blood. They’ve learned to stop making attachments to the outcomes and just be glad for the days they get some words on the page.

Is that enough?

As more and more novels are written under the pressures of our modern, debilitating lives, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

Exhaustion may not help our writing, but it doesn’t have to stop it entirely.

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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.

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Library by Guest Author Travis Heermann

Research and Cultural Connections in Fictional Worlds

by Travis Heermann

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation about surgical masks. A member of my family recently was forced to wear a surgical mask for a time to reduce risk of infection due to a compromised immune system. When I was living in Japan a few years ago, I often saw people wearing such masks in public, and during this conversation someone assumed the motivation behind masks in public was fear of infection.

“That’s not why they wear the masks,” I said. “They wear the masks because they’re sick themselves and don’t want to infect other people. They’re protecting the community.” This cultural practice was explained to me while I lived there, probably because I once made a similar assumption.

This is a striking example of behaviors that are similar on the surface, but for which the underlying values are drastically different. In the West, and in the U.S. in particular, the Individual has been elevated to greatest importance, with Community relegated to secondary status to a degree that puzzles natives of the Far East. In the Far East, that dynamic is profoundly reversed, such that Family and Community come first to a degree that mystifies Westerners.

When writing fiction not set in one’s own neighborhood, writers need to realize that we swim through our native culture like fish through water, largely unaware of its effects on our values, on our underlying assumptions about life, on our daily behaviors, on our perceptions of Others, the Outsiders who are intrinsically Scary and Not To Be Trusted. An individual from another culture, whether from a tribe in New Guinea or from Planet 10 Across the Eighth Dimension, may exhibit similar behaviors to someone from middle-class America, but the underlying value system and cultural reasons for those behaviors may be poles apart.

So for writers, the key to getting it right is research. The key to good research is to access the most direct sources you can. By direct sources, I mean museum exhibits of real medieval weapons, letters and documents from the time period, scholarly work, textbooks, etc. I do recommend you don’t use derivative works; for instance, using medieval fantasy novels, or even historical fiction, to learn about medieval culture is a bad idea.

If you find a good resource, search out the research sources that author used. Better still—and I realize this is not always feasible—travel to the locale yourself. If you’re wearing your Writer Eyes and Ears as you should be, you will pick up untold little details in the area, its people, its customs. In a country as big as the U.S., with so many different ethnic groups, even an area across the state—or across town!—can exhibit striking differences culture, dialect and attitudes. Barring the possibility of travel, Google Earth can be an astonishing resource for getting a look at the area, in conjunction with a library card and the will to use it.

The good thing about research it can be recycled over and over. If you’re writing science fiction, paranormal, urban fantasy, anything that requires creation of a non-mundane world, all kinds of research, academic and experiential, is melted into the bottomless, cast-iron cauldron of your subconscious and can be used to season alien worlds with enough verisimilitude that your readers will devour it with relish.

One of the cool things about being a writer is that we have a wide range of disparate knowledge, some of it as thorough and detailed as any academic’s. Fun on the page, fun at parties.

 

Author Bio: Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of the Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Shivers VII.

http://travisheermann.com/

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Raising the Bar

By Shannon Baker
Photos by Mark Stevens

I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be named Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 Writer of the Year. See how many times Writer is used in that title? That means it’s an award for a writer voted on by writers. And for this one moment in time—well a whole freaking year!—I get to be The Writer of the Year. That probably sounds self-promoting and egotistical, but I’m throwing manners out the window and, in fact, might actually shout it out that same window. I get to be the Writer of the Year!

Shannon Baker WOTY2It was such a thrill to be nominated with Christine Jorgenson and Terry Wright. Christine has penned two series and this year was nominated for the Colorado Book Awards. She also received the Writer of the Year honor in 1995. She’s not only an accomplished writer but is the nicest woman on the planet. Terry has his own publishing company and is a legend creating book trailers. Even his name is all about writing.

We writers can be a funny lot, or as the man I live with says, crazy. At least, I can. Among other issues, I have what I call Raising the Bar Syndrome. It goes something like this: I get a glimpse of something I want to achieve, I set a goal. I work really hard toward that goal. If I finally get there, I spend about 1.5 seconds of happiness and then see that I’m nowhere near successful because if I were a real writer, I’d be (points finger into the distance) there.

I came to my first Colorado Gold conference somewhere around 1994, toting my second completed manuscript, sure it was brilliant. It wasn’t. A very New York editor pointed out to me just how far from brilliant it was. I was smart enough to believe him. I needed to learn a ton just to know the basics of why it failed, let alone how to go about fixing it. At that conference, I sat at the banquet and watched as the contest winners were announced. Wow, I thought. If I could only win the contest, I’d know I was a real writer.

I set about the painful task of learning to write. I hate to say that for me, as it is for many, it’s a slow process and one that will never end. I can improve, and improve, and still, there is room for improvement. But after a couple of years, I did win the contest. Twice. That’s a thrill and a milestone and should be celebrated. It means a writer has reached a certain level and should be congratulated.

But self-congrats were soon replaced with a new goal. Look at those writers getting their Pen Awards, RMFW’s acknowledgement of a first sale. If I got one of those I’d be a real writer. I kept at my craft. I worked hard. I sent out hundreds of query letters. I tweaked and revised and rewrote. After a very long time, I finally joined the ranks of the traditionally published and took home my Pen Award.

But that contract wasn’t all I’d hoped and I wasn’t satisfied. I told my husband, “If I can get a contract for three books with a decent press, I’ll be happy. I can say I’m a real writer and will never have to write another book.” And guess what? After a few more years, that’s exactly what happened. Two books of that contract are on the shelves with the third due next spring.

But I’m a nobody in the grand scheme of publishing. I know some big deals in that world and I can tell you, I’m small potatoes. I’ve just finished the first book in a new series and maybe if I sell it and it takes off I’ll really be a writer. Raising the Bar Syndrome is in full flower.

Shannon Baker WOTY1But here’s a twist. This summer, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers honored me with Writer of the Year. That’s as high as the bar goes. For twenty years I’ve seen that title awarded to the creamiest crème de la crème. This is a rare time in my writerly journey when I will pause and let myself revel. For once I’ll make no excuses or justifications or downplay it. I’m going to be a big, fat, obnoxious self-centered peacock. Further, I’ll frame the certificate and display it proudly and go to it whenever I feel like a failure or a poseur. It is my proof that I AM a writer. My writer tribe told me so.

Thank you, RMFW. Thank you very much.

Please join 2013 Writer of the Year Linda Joffe Hull and this year’s nominees, Christine Jorgenson, Terry Wright, and me at the Tattered Cover on Colfax August 14th at 7:00 PM as we rev up for the Colorado Gold Conference. One free conference will be given away, as well as lunch with lunch with J. Ellen Smith, publisher of Champagne Book Group, lunch with Raelene Gorlinsky, publisher at Elora’s Cave and lunch with NYT Bestselling author William Kent Krueger.

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Shannon Baker writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Tainted Mountain, the first in the series is set in Flagstaff, AZ and is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist. Broken Trust, book two of the series, takes place in Boulder, CO and was released in March. She serves on the board of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is nominated for 2104 Writer of the Year. She is a member of SinC and MWA. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com.

Writer’s Block? Surely you jest!

By Terri Benson

Terri Benson1Who’s Shirley? But seriously, folks (OK, not really seriously, but kinda), have you ever suffered from Writer’s Block? I hear about it all the time, but I think I’m immune. Even if I wrote 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, I don’t think I could empty out the ideas and words writhing around in my head. And on top of that, every day I add more ideas and words. One of these days my head might explode (I can see it now – Exploding Head at Library: Story at eleven!).

If you find yourself stuck, and I think this applies to just about every fiction genre, go to the mall. Listen to the kids talk to each other—you’ll get YA ideas, sci-fi (you can’t get more alien than teenagers!), dialect, swear words, current clothing, technology, and lots more. Or how about wandering down Main Street and observing the architecture – don’t you wonder what went/goes on behind those covered windows on the upper floors over the stores? Who might be looking out at you right now, and why?

Unless, or even if, it creeps you out, wander through the cemetery – you’ll find tons of names to file away, see interesting art, and read some great epitaphs. Like that Masonic symbol over there. Was he one of the secret society who held the key to great riches or knowledge, or did his poor wife have to take the only headstone she could afford, one that had been “returned” by another wife who decided instead of a formal burial, she’d just flush her old hubby and call it good?

Once in a while the newspaper will run an article about some obscure crime, location, or person that you can use as inspiration in your story. The Nobel Laureate who recently died could be your character’s college roommate who invented time travel in the alternate universe your story is set in, or the little old lady found dead after begging on the streets for years who was worth millions – maybe she was a famous cat burglar, or the character’s long lost mother, sister, or even your character in later years.

Benson_monkey flowerTake a hike – literally. Check out the flora (that’s flowers and green stuff to most of us) – look close – you can see creepy faces in those things sometimes. I saw a story today on a vegetarian spider (REALLY!). I don’t think I could convince anyone spiders come with stripes of red, blue, yellow and checkerboard – unless they saw a photo of that spider. In an alternate world the spider could be the good guy for a change, up against human-eating, fluffy, sweet looking, killer gerbils.

Benson_spiderPay attention to the temperature and how it makes you feel. Remember the feeling of sweat rolling down your back and wetting your waistband – it could be blood. Goo squishing up between your toes on the riverbank? Maybe not mud.

TV, bane of our existence, can offer up a host of inspirations as well. With the History, Science, Discovery, Military and other specialty channels, you can get all kinds of ideas to research – just don’t let the research suck you down the Rabbit Hole (hey, I resemble that blog!).

Even the stupid shows might help. How about Bar Rescue? You see weird people screaming, crying, and insulting each other. Let’s see: a story about the owner of a bar being renovated who kills the reality host and tries to pin it on the sex offender posted on the city website that lives in the scary old mansion-turned-flophouse down the road, who is actually the father of the highest ranking senator in the state, and the murder weapon was a 3D printed candy cane sharpened to a point with an electric pencil sharpener located in the office of the local Clerk & Recorder under investigation for fraud and involved in an affair with the bar owner’s wife (and If I see this in print, I’d better be in the credits. Seriously. No, really!)

Writer’s Block? Not me, and not you, if you just get out there and let yourself be inspired.

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Benson_Unsinkable finalA life-long writer, Terri Benson is published in historic romance, has written award winning short stories and over a hundred newspaper, magazine and e-zine articles – many award winning.

She has been a member of RWA for decades, and RMFW for the last several years. She promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

An Unsinkable Love (with a gorgeous new cover), is available from Amazon.

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.