Sell the Premise – Foreshadowing … by Terry Odell

2016_Terry OdellJohnny Carson said, "If they buy the premise, they'll buy the bit." Without foreshadowing, you’re left with deus ex machina and readers don’t like outside forces solving plot threads, or things conveniently appearing just when they’re needed.

You have to be a bit of a magician. Think sleight-of-hand, although in this case, it's more like "sleight-of-words." No waving red flags. If readers stop to say, "Oh, that's going to be important; I'd better remember it," you've pulled them out of the story.

Some Foreshadowing Techniques:

Show the skill, clue, or event early on, in a different context. These Setup Scenes can occur throughout the book. These don’t need to be high-action scenes. In fact, foreshadowing is best done in quiet, “mundane” scenes.

In the first book of my new Triple-D Ranch romantic suspense series, In Hot Water, important clues are discovered in a series of journal entries. The reader learns immediately that Sabrina, the heroine, is meticulous about recording her days in a journal. The opening of the book:

If it weren’t for the whole funeral thing, today would have scored an eight in Sabrina Barton’s journal entry. Maybe a nine.

Thus, it seems logical for her to keep the old journals she finds in her brother’s apartment after his death. To her, they have sentimental value. When the bad guys steal the journals, she’s more upset about losing hers than his, but showing readers both sets of journals before the bad guys steals them sets the stage, while obscuring the clue that her brother’s entries are the important ones. And, even better if you hide the clue “in plain sight” so it’s even less obvious. Some examples of setting this up:

Sabrina still had her doubts. During the two days she’d been in San Francisco before John’s funeral, she’d gone through her brother’s things, keeping a photo album with family pictures of them as kids. That and his journals, something their foster parents had insisted they keep.

2016_Odell_Hot WaterAnd later …

When she’d run, she hadn’t brought a lot with her, but what she’d brought, aside from clothes, was the important—at least to her—stuff. Her journals. Years of her life. Pictures, her recipes, a few family heirlooms. Aside from her recipes, the rest was valuable for the memories they encompassed, nothing more.

Another major plot thread in the book involves a threat of bioterrorism. But rather than spring the first fatal case on the reader, it’s set up to look like a character shows up on the ranch having an allergy attack.

KJ sniffed, sneezed, then blew his nose in a red bandana. Derek noted the red-rimmed, puffy eyes. KJ shoved the bandana into his rear jeans pocket. “Damn sage is blooming like crazy. Allergies.”

Even that, however, might be waving too many red flags, so before that character shows up, I have one of my primary players complaining about his own allergies over lunch.

“Except for the sage,” Frank said. “Aggravates my allergies.” He reached into a pocket for a pill and swallowed it with a drink of lemonade.

Now, it’s just “stage business” (sage business?) and not so obvious to the reader that it’s important.

More Setup: The hero and heroine are hiding and the villains are closing in. The hero is injured. He hands the heroine his gun and asks her if she can shoot. She says, "I'm a crack shot," and proceeds to blow the villains away (or worse, has never handled a gun before, but still takes out the bad guys, never missing a shot). She’s an expert in first aid and saves the hero's life. Plus, she's an accomplished trapper and can snare whatever creatures are out there. Or, maybe she has no trouble catching fish with dental floss and a paper clip. Plus, she can create a gourmet meal out of what she catches, all without disturbing her manicure or coiffure.

Believable? Not if this is the first time you've seen these traits. But what if, earlier in the book, the heroine is dusting off her shooting trophies, thinking about how she misses those days. Or she's cleaning up after a fishing trip. Maybe she has to move her rock climbing gear out of her closet to make room for her cookbooks. You don't want to include an entire scene whose only purpose is to show a skill she'll need later. Keep it subtle, but get it in there.

When you give your character a job, or a hobby, don't forget to look at all the skills they need to do it. Know those 'sub-skills' and work them into scenes. Those basic real-life skills your characters have can be used to foreshadow the kinds of things they'll be called upon to do later in the book.

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From childhood, Terry Odell wanted to "fix" stories so the characters would behave properly. Once she began writing, she found this wasn't always possible, as evidenced when the mystery she intended to write turned into a romance, despite the fact that she'd never read one. Odell prefers to think of her books as "Mysteries With Relationships." She writes the Blackthorne, Inc. series, the Pine Hills Police series, The Triple-D Ranch series, and the Mapleton Mystery series. You can find her high (that's altitude, of course—she lives at 9100 feet!) in the Colorado Rockies—or at her website.

You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and she’d love to see you at her blog, Terry’s Place. For sneak peeks and exclusive content, sign up for her more-or-less quarterly newsletter. You can also be notified of new releases at her Amazon page.

The Lourey/Baker Double Booked Tour … by Shannon Baker and Jess Lourey

2016_Shannon BakerHi Guys! (waving from sunny Tucson)

Being here today feels so much like coming home. I’ve been a member of RMFW for over 20 years and if I’ve gained any knowledge of business and craft (and let’s hope some of it stuck) I owe it all to RMFW. So even if I’m soaking up the desert instead of the Rockies (and you don’t know how much I miss them) I always feel like RMFW is my writer home.

So imagine how excited I am to bring Jess Lourey home with me. She’s not a stranger to a lot of you. Jess is the author of the Murder by the Month series from Midnight Ink. If you haven’t read them, you must. They are a ton o’ fun. She taught at RMFW’s one-day May workshop in 2013 and if you were there, you know how lucky we were to have her. Today, she’s here to talk about her upcoming thriller, Salem’s Cipher, featuring agoraphobic cryptanalyst Salem Wiley, who finds herself both target and detective in a modern day witch hunt. This is one smart book, full of twists and turns, and such cool stuff you will hold your breath the whole time. (Not literally, ‘cause then, you know, you’d die.)

2016_Baker_Stripped BareAnd I’m here to talk about my new book, Stripped Bare. It’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife and is about a woman sheriff in the Nebraska Sandhills. Both books release on September 6 and are available for pre-order. Salem’s Cipher. Stripped Bare. This is our first stop on the month-long, pre-launch—cue angelic chorus—Lourey/Baker Double Booked Tour, and I got to pick the topic so I decided both of us will give a tip about marketing and promotion.

I don’t know about you, but for me, marketing is hard. Planning, researching, angsting, peopleing. (Writing books is hard, too, with much of the same hardness topics, but stick with us on the—angels singingLourey/Baker Double Booked Tour, and we’ll give tips and clues on dealing with much of it.) Most of us have a hard time saying, “Read my book. Read my book,” but in the sea full of books, we have to do something to alert the fishermen hungering for ours where to cast their line. Good marketing is a service to readers, really. And those who do it correctly are saints—a little more angels’ song.

Didn’t your mother ever tell you that many hands make light the work? No? Well, mine didn’t either, but she should have. And, a road trip is ever-more fun with a buddy. Jess and I discovered we both have books launching on the same day. Jess is one of my favorite people to hang out with. She always makes me laugh or think deeply about life (which makes me squirm but is good for my personal character development).

But even more important than my good time, if we want to perform the selfless service of informing people about our books, we should do it with some humor, something interesting, and add some value for readers. So, ta da, welcome to the—you knowLourey/Baker Double Booked Tour.

My marketing tip of the day is have fun, or as much as you can, because if it’s fun for you, hopefully, your efforts will be less like “Buy my book” and more like a public service announcement with some value added.

Jess, when I got my contract with Midnight Ink, you were one of the first people I contacted about how to market. You told me a lot of methods you’d tried. Now, after 13 books, can you tell us what you’ve learned? (Not everything you’ve learned obviously, because you’re really smart and know a lot.)

2016_Jess LoureyCripes, Shannon (Jess here), everything I’ve learned fits on a one-sheet handout. Seriously. Especially when it comes to marketing, where there is only one surefire method: make a sex tape. But for those of us from Minnesota (where the women are pale, the men quiet, and the sex is done rarely and in the dark), we must look to riskier routes. Obviously, you begin by writing the best book you can, and then…forget the book trailers, for sure forget the swag (postcards, bookmarks, and pens do not a book sell), and give yourself a time budget for marketing.

For example, I spend 5 hours a week on marketing in the three months leading up to a book release. That doubles to 10 hours a week the month of release. I treat marketing like a job during those allotted hours, and I do my best not to think about it outside of that time. There’s always one more thing I could do, and I refuse to make myself crazy by chasing that.

2016_Lourey_Salem'sMy favorite marketing avenues during my allotted marketing time: guest blogging (because it’s like having grandkids in that you get all the fun and don’t have to change any diapers); reaching out to reviewers to offer the NetGalley link to my latest; setting up signings at bookstores that handsell; posting to Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest following the social media rule of thirds: a third are personal posts, a third are blatant self-promotion, and a third are useful posts (writing tips, for example); and setting up writing workshops.

I choose those routes because I enjoy them (more or less), which brings us full circle to Shannon’s advice, with which I’m about to craft an open-faced advice sandwich with my advice as the single slice of bread: choose marketing efforts that sound fun to you, and put yourself on a strict time budget because if you don’t, you’ll always feel there was one more thing you could have done. Then, get back to the writing, because after all, isn’t that why we’re here?

Jess is giving away a Salem’s Cipher and I’m giving away a Stripped Bare. Tell us your marketing advice or leave a comment for a chance to win. Comment before midnight MT, Saturday, August 6th.

But wait, there’s more!

If you order Salem's Cipher before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to salemscipher@gmail.com to receive a Salem short story and to be automatically entered in a drawing to win a 50-book gift basket mailed to the winner's home!

If you order Stripped Bare before September 6, 2016, you are invited to forward your receipt to katefoxstrippedbare@gmail.com to receive a Kate Fox short story and be entered for a book gift basket mailed to your home.

Pop on over to Pat Stoltey’s Blog tomorrow as we continue the—angels singingLourey/Baker Double Booked Tour. We’re going to sit back with a glass of wine and talk about all kinds of stuff.

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Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing "a splendid mix of humor and suspense." She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft's 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. Visit Jess at http://jessicalourey.com/

Shannon Baker is the author of the Nora Abbott mystery series from Midnight Ink, a fast-paced mix of Hopi Indian mysticism, environmental issues, and murder set in western landscapes of Flagstaff, AZ, Boulder, CO, and Moab, UT. Seconds before quitting writing forever and taking up competitive drinking, Shannon was nominated for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 Writer of the Year. Buoyed with that confidence, she acquired an agent who secured a multi-book contract with Tor/Forge. The first in the Kate Fox Mystery Series, Stripped Bare is set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, it’s been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com.

Colorado Gold: It Takes a Village … by Angela La Voie

2016_Angela LaVoieEach September, hundreds of RMFW members from around Colorado, members from other states, and other fiction writers convene in metro Denver for Colorado Gold, but preparing for the event starts months earlier, and dozens of volunteers contribute to the event’s success.

Before the conference, planning tasks include: screening proposals from potential presenters; recruiting VIP agents, editors, and guest authors; coordinating donations for the swag bags, free tables, and scholarships; planning new events; ensuring the technology is in place; and assembling the brochure. At the event, volunteers: check in attendees; check in writers for appointments with pitch coaches, agents, editors, and guest authors; emcee the author readings; run the simile contest; ensure the workshops run smoothly; welcome first-time attendees; and photograph the event.

Volunteering not only helps fellow attendees. For members, it can bring a new level of engagement with the conference and with RMFW. It might even push your writing career forward.

Conference Chair Corinne O’Flynn cited Colorado Gold as a turning point in her own commitment to the organization. “I signed up to be a volunteer for RMFW the day after I got home from my first Colorado Gold conference,” she said.

“We have an exceptional community here in RMFW, and I couldn’t be more proud to be part of it. Volunteers are vital to this organization and to this conference. It takes a lot of people working together to make it all happen, so if you’re thinking about getting involved and are not sure, I invite you to jump in,” she said.

The Benefits of Volunteering

Some of the benefits include:

- Paying it forward
- Getting to know other members
- Expanding your circle of industry connections
- Growing personally

Paying It Forward

The creative work we publish reflects the many other writers who’ve influenced us—from authors we read as a child to editors who put their trust in us, to writers we’ve met with over coffee to brainstorm ideas, critique pages, or share encouragement. Volunteering at the conference gives you the opportunity to repay the kindness others have offered you. Information you may take for granted at the current stage of your career might be the very form of insight another member is seeking. If you’re new to RMFW, it’s a wonderful way to get connected. Sharing your time and talents builds community.

Getting to Know Other Members

As a member organization with a wide service area, there are always new members to meet. Opportunities tend to multiply through connection. You may find someone who shares a common interest in subject matter, genre, or craft. For example, you may run across someone who studied 19th century U.S. migration patterns for her last novel and can offer you some research sources for your current project. Or, staffing the information table, you may meet someone who shares your passion for author trivia or writing dialogue. You may invite a new acquaintance to write a guest post on your blog or be invited to participate in a future panel.

Expanding Your Circle of Industry Connections

Similarly, lending your time can help you get to know new agents or editors. You might also meet someone who can connect you with a new Web site designer, cover artist, or publicist. You might befriend an author who becomes your next agent.

Growing Personally

Are you willing to take a risk? We all know that writing involves much more than our creative output. With luck, we are also always in a cycle of evolution from novice to mentor to newcomer in another domain. If you’ve considered volunteering at RMFW or serving in a new capacity, assisting at Gold is a great way to test the waters. You may realize you’re ready to submit a workshop proposal next year, serve as a volunteer liaison, or screen proposals.

Conference Volunteer Opportunities

Colorado Gold Registration Volunteers 2015

What jobs are available? Some roles are always in need of additional volunteers because of the sheer number of helpers required. Have you considered stepping forward, but weren’t sure what’s involved? Here are some examples:

VIP Drivers – drive out-of-town special guests to and from the airport.

Bookstore and Author Signing Helpers – set up the bookstore, set up for the author signing, pack up books after the author signing, and set up for the next day’s sales.

Table Hosts – Members of PAL (Published Authors Liaison) or IPAL (Independent Published Authors Liaison) break the ice at their tables during Friday’s dinner and keep the conversation flowing.

Workshop Timekeepers – formerly known as “moderator;” ensure the microphone is working and the session is being recorded, introduce the speaker using the bio in the conference brochure, record an approximate headcount, give the presenter ten-minute and five-minute warnings, and coordinate the break for recording continuity for two-hour sessions.

These present a sampling; there are many ways to contribute. If you’d like to volunteer at this year’s conference, visit http://rmfw.org/conference/conference-volunteer-preferences/ or contact Angela La Voie at volunteer@rmfw.org.

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Angela La Voie is Volunteer Coordinator for RMFW and Volunteer Coordinator for Colorado Gold. A long-time Colorado resident, she lives outside Washington, D.C. in coastal Maryland. Although she has yet to try Smith Island Cake, a multi-tiered yellow cake with chocolate frosting that is the official state dessert, she has sampled several award-winning crab soups.

For more information about Angela and her writing, visit her website. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

NovelRama: 4 Days to 25k … by Lisa Manifold

RMFW’s Independently Published Authors Liaison (IPAL) is sponsoring an event for all RMFW members this summer designed to kick your writing into high gear. Whether you’ve been noodling an idea around in your head and haven’t done anything further, or if you’ve been finishing up a writing project for what seems like an eternity, we all have things on our writing to-do list. Things that never seem to get completed.

2016Llamav5_IPAL NovelRama
What you need is NovelRama, the four-day IPAL sponsored writing event for all Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers members. In four days, we’ll help you to bring that idea to fruition or wrap up that never-ending project. Beginning at midnight on July 29th, we’ll begin the sprint to 25,000 words.

That’s right, four days to 25k.

But wait, you say, 25k? In four days? How?

Well, we’re glad you asked! Over the course of this four day event, IPAL will host get-togethers where you can put your butt in a different chair than usual, while you bounce your ideas off of fellow authors, and spur your creativity in a fresh location surrounded by people who understand the struggle!

Sounds great, but where do I start?

First, head over to rmfw.net, our new members-only discussion forum (which you should totally go and check out anyway), and register for the forum. After a moderator approves your account, go to the NovelRama category and open the Participant Check In & Greetings board. Introduce yourself in a new post to let us know you plan to join the four days of challenging FUN!

Then, it’s time to start your planning. Even if you are the proudest of proud pantsers, write down some ideas for that new project. Read through that WIP, decide whether your thoughts on finishing it are still legit, and outline the ending. Even if you only outline in brief, grammatically incorrect sentences, make a plan of some sort.

Then what?

IPAL members will host a kick off, location to be decided, on Thursday, July 28th. We’ll have meet-ups on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, but there can be only one (daily), because we all need to keep butt-in-chair.

After that, it’s all writing, all the time. For four days, anyway. Ignore the lack of showering. Meh. You can shower on Tuesday.

What happens on Monday, August 1st? Well, at 11:59, NovelRama is done for the year. You’ll be able to look back over the past four days and see the pages of words you’ve produced. Editing, schmediting. There’s always next week! There will also be some fun badges, you know, to show off your writing chops. Later in August, IPAL will host their Summer Sale and NovelRama Celebration.

So join us! This is the perfect time to add a metric ton of wordage to whatever it is you’re working on, and NovelRama is the perfect method to get you there.

Any questions, email ipal@rmfw.org. We’re happy to help. Because when one of us succeeds, we all do.

NovelRama
4 Days To 25k.

2016Llamav5_IPAL NovelRama
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2016_Lisa ManifoldLisa Manifold is fortunate to live in the amazing state of Colorado with her husband, two kids, two dogs, and one offended cat.

She enjoys skiing and carting kids and dogs to wherever they need to go, and she adores "treasure hunting" at local thrift stores. Her other hobbies include costuming within her favorite fandoms and periods.

She is the author of the Sisters Of The Curse series, based on the Grimm Brothers fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Her new series, The Heart Of The Djinn, is a trilogy that shows what happens when a free-lancing djinn does his own thing. THREE WISHES, the first book in The Heart Of The Djinn series is out now. Book two, FORGOTTEN WISHES, will be out soon! Finally, Brennan, the Goblin King will be making his debut in the Realm trilogy in early summer.

You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and her Website.

IT’S A WRAP … by Kay Bergstrom aka Cassie Miles

Kay BergstromIt’s easy to start a book. Here’s a clue (4 little words): Once Upon A Time...

The hard part comes when you finally type (2 little words): The End.

In my fantasies, I end the book accompanied by a majestic choir rising from a cloud and singing hallelujah while critics, fraught with anticipation, rush to invent an accolade more laudatory than five stars and fans with real dollars form lines to purchase my own perky prose.

Hah!

Fantasy aside, “The End” results in three possible outcomes: it’s good, it’s not-so-good or it’s done. For example, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a good book, while Girl on the Train is not-so-much, and I read all the way to the end of Gone Girl.

Criteria for a Good Book:

There’s no shame in saying that some books are better than others. (I’ve published over 80, some fabulous and some suck.) Like a good parent, I hate to admit I have favorites and prefer one over the other. So, I’ve come up with guidelines.

How can you tell if you’ve written a good book? Reviews and second reads aren’t always helpful. If there were truly as many 5 star reviews as are given on Amazon, we would undoubtedly be living in the golden age of literature. Are we? Are we really? The following are craft-oriented ways to judge.

  1. Genre Fulfillment: Each genre, including literary, has certain reader expectations for the ending. In mystery/suspense, the villain is captured. In romance, it’s HEA (happily ever after). In science fiction, the alien scum is thwarted and good prevails. In literary, life goes on, with or without the main character; too pat an ending will ruin a literary book. The more genre-specific, the better. Example: In teen dystopia, the teen comes into his/her powers and saves the day (follows the classic Hero’s Journey plot).
  2. No Loose Ends: All those cheerful digressions that made writing the novel so much fun need to be paid off. Otherwise, the reader gets to “The End” and, instead of reveling in the joys of a book well-writ, is worrying about the dwarf mentioned in Chapter Three. Consider keeping a character list and planting a plot tree with all the twigs and branches, conflicts and motivations.
  3. Character Arc: Your main character MUST change during the course of the book. The whole point of fiction, the reason fiction is different from real life, is that the struggling protagonist ALWAYS changes. As referenced with loose ends, conflicts and motivations must be resolved. A good way to make sure you’ve done your job and changed the protagonist is to place them in the same situation in the opening and at the close. Example: My current book, Mountain Bodyguard, starts with the self-centered heroine in a dark room with no electricity and ends with the electric being purposely cut so she can escape after saving a life and catching the bad guys.

Bottom line with a good book: If well-written, the ending is incredibly satisfying.

If Not-so-Good:

2016_Bergstrom_BodyguardSuppose you get to the end and decide your novel isn’t “as good as it can be.”

Sitting on your right shoulder is the cheerful writing muse who will tell you, in dulcet tones, that this is a grand development. You can rewrite. You have a chance to go back, review the plot and characters and fix it.

On the left shoulder is The Critic, a total curmudgeon who will tell you that it’ll never be good enough. You could rewrite until doom’s day (which probably isn’t far off), and it’ll never be good enough.

The truth is somewhere in-between.

  1. You can become a constant re-writer, polishing and polishing until you’ve worn the poor book down to a nub.
  2. You can turn your back on those imperfect pages and put the book out on line. Or start shipping it to editors and agents who will surely love it because your every keystroke is sheer genius.
  3. Re-write for a set period of time, until you reach a point when you feel the book is good enough. Call it done and start marketing.
  4. Re-write until you come to the sad realization that the patient is terminal. Have a nice cremation and/or burial, say good-bye and move on to the next project.

It’s a Wrap:

I’m not talking about a poncho or shawl. Not talking about one of those truly heinous fur pieces with the fox’s head still attached. Not even talking about an infinity scarf that truly goes on for infinity.

There comes a time when the writing process is over, and the book is a wrap. Good, bad or indifferent, completion is its own reward, although a chocolate and champagne celebration is nice. Remember, when there’s an ending, another beginning is possible.

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Kay Bergstrom aka Cassie Miles has published over 80 books of romance and suspense, has also sold screenplay treatments, radio plays and articles. She’s been on the USA TODAY Best-seller List and her last book was on the PW Best-seller List. She’s been RMFW Writer of the Year twice, and served as President, Veep and Treasurer. Her current Harlequin Intrigue is Mountain Bodyguard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So infinity scientists walk into a bar.

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

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

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

In traditional publishing...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016_Scott_cover art1Disclaimer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bartender pours two beers.

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

Personally...

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

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

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

Editor—Suggest this rewrite:

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

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

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

Editor—Now we can get on with the story!

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

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

 

On Writing by Virginia Rose Richter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Judging Books By Their Covers by Joshua Viola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Available this November from Hex Publishers.

Meeting Agent Right by Linda Joffe Hull

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

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

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

Here’s what worked for me:

  1. RMFW

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

  1. Get Involved:

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

  1. Conferences:

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

  1. Enter Contests:

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

  1. Make Small talk:

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

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

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

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