RMFW is pleased to announce Robert J. Sawyer is the Saturday evening keynote speaker at the 2016 Colorado Gold Conference.
Robert J. Sawyer—called “just about the best science-fiction writer out there” by the Rocky Mountain News—is known for exploring deep philosophical and moral questions in his work. He is one of only eight people ever to have won all three of the science-fiction field’s top awards for best novel of the year: the Hugo (which he won for Hominids), the Nebula (which he won for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which he won for Mindscan). He’s also won an Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, and the top science-fiction awards in Canada (thirteen times), Japan (three times), Spain (three times), China, and France. According to the Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards, he has won more awards for his novels than anyone else in the history of the science-fiction and fantasy fields. The 2009-2010 ABC television series FlashForward was based on his novel of the same name. Quill & Quire, the Canadian publishing trade journal, calls him “one of the thirty most influential, innovative, and just plain powerful people in Canadian publishing.”
With such compelling and provocative works as Red Planet Blues, FlashForward, and the novels of the WWW trilogy, Robert J. Sawyer has proven himself to be “a writer of boundless confidence and bold scientific extrapolation.” * Now, the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author explores the thin line between good and evil that every human being is capable of crossing... His twenty-third novel, Quantum Night, is a March 2016 title from Penguin.
Experimental psychologist Jim Marchuk has developed a flawless technique for identifying the previously undetected psychopaths lurking everywhere in society. But while being cross-examined about his breakthrough in court, Jim is shocked to discover that he has lost his memories of six months of his life from twenty years previously—a dark time during which he himself committed heinous acts.
Jim is reunited with Kayla Huron, his forgotten girlfriend from his lost period and now a quantum physicist who has made a stunning discovery about the nature of human consciousness. As a rising tide of violence and hate sweeps across the globe, the psychologist and the physicist combine forces in a race against time to see if they can do the impossible—change human nature—before the entire world descends into darkness.
“Sawyer’s work is scientifically plausible, fictionally intriguing and ethically important.”—New Scientist
Longtime Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers member Chris Goff, a.k.a. Christine Goff, is the guest. Chris was there in the early days of RMFW and just published her first international thriller, Dark Waters. Chris talks about making the switch in styles and genres and reports on her trip to Ukraine for the next thriller. She talks about the power of networking, the importance of learning the craft, and the early days of RMFW.
“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you learn to do it well.” ~Zig Zigler
It’s been weeks since the Colorado Gold Conference. You know how it is immediately after conference … you’re enthused, recharged, ready to move on with The Plan and move toward success (or possibly, continued success). Or … you’re comparing yourself to John or Jane Writer, who has achieved the latest accolades, who writes the most compelling characters and the best plot twists ever, who has a starred review in PW, not to mention a six-figure contract. Ahhh. To be the current darling of publishing and the Awards circuits. Wouldn’t that be something?
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has felt this way a month or so after conference. When the job that pays bills sucks up all my time and energy, my motivation begins to slip. That vow to write six pages a day slips to six pages a week … or a month. Those solutions that were so clear for how to solve a plot or character problem when I was with my writer friends (translation – MY herd of other little sea horses [thank you, Susan Spann!]) begins to fade. Instead of remembering that an editor asked to see a full manuscript, I’m focused on the nit-picky and negative things that other person in my reading workshop said about my work … and I’m tempted by chocolate instead of writing. What is a writer to do?
The short answer is this: build a system of accountability and tribe building that works for you. In short, find your herd of sea horses and the part of the reef that best suits your particular style of writing.
Get together with a small group of writers on some regular schedule. Thanks to the internet, you can have contact even if it’s not a face-to-face critique group. You can use plain old email, not to mention Skype or Face Time. Granted, it may not be quite the same as being in the same room, but it’s close … and you can do it in PJs! In short, you don’t have to be in Denver to find your herd of like-minded writers.
If critique works for you, find critique partners. If your need is to set aside a certain time every day or week and write with others, then find partners who are willing to do that with you. If being accountable to someone that you’ve met your writing goals this week, find partners for that.
If an editor or agent has asked to see your work, send it! An editor once told me that fewer than 20% of the writers she asked material from sent it. Can you imagine that? Are you one of the 20% or the 80%? To my way of thinking, the odds of the editor liking my project just went up.
If work needs to be done on the project before you can send it, set a date for when you’re doing to send it, then parse the tasks between now and that date into manageable pieces, and get to work. I think setting a date is similar to giving a sick sea horse a name—there’s power in the commitment represented. The date … and the name … make things real. If you’re married, you made the commitment, set a date, and went to work to make it happen. The same thing applies here.
I grew up with the mantra instilled in me that “anything work doing is worth doing well.” What is easy to forget is this: before doing something well, I’m probably going to do it badly. This is where having a support system for my writer’s life becomes even more important—my herd of other writers who hang around in the part of the reef that I call home. Who are there to applaud my successes (growth in skills, finaling in contests, making a sale), chase away the predators (worry and rejection), and help me see where the best food can be found (story craft and submission markets).
RMFW has a wonderful discussion group (if you don’t belong, send a request (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask to join), where you can put out the call to find others of like mind … or respond to others who have put out a call that appeals to you. I promise, a big reef though RMFW may be, your part of the reef is also home to a group of writers who want to be part of your herd.
Happy writing, everyone!
… Sharon Mignerey
p.s. If you’re wondering about the references to sea horses, order the CD for Susan Spann’s wonderful Writer-of-the-Year talk by calling Joyco Multimedia at 720-541-7905.
Sharon Mignerey has been a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers since 1984 and says her successes would not have come without the support of her friends and fellow writers in the group. She’s the author of eleven books, and she’s currently polishing two submissions that have been requested by editors she met at the most recent Colorado Gold Conference.
When it comes to writing, there’s always more to learn, either through instruction or experience. I think most writers love to learn, or simply to refresh what we think we already know.
You may have heard of the famous University of Iowa Writers Workshop that’s held every summer. I know of a few writer friends who have had the privilege of attending. I haven’t had the pleasure myself and really hope I can someday (when I’m able to afford both the time and the expense), but the good news is there’s an annual free online writing workshop sponsored by the University of Iowa that’s open to anyone interested in expanding his or her writing education. It’s called “How Writers Write Fiction” and this year’s course is currently in session (not endorsed by RMFW).
I attended last year and got so much out of it that I knew I wanted to take it again. This year they have both a beginning writer’s track and one for experienced writers, though students are free to participate in both. We’ve just finished the Welcome Wagon, a week-long introduction that includes getting to know our classmates, the instructors, the teacher’s aids and the moderators. The host is NovoEd, which has an interface similar to Facebook in the way it’s organized (but without all the annoying ads). Lots of great conversations are going on and this year we are encouraged to form our own discussion groups based on location, interests, writing levels and/or genre. It’s only been a week and I’ve already met some great people with similar interests.
Every day there’s a short video made by one of the workshop instructors. The first week’s daily videos focused on best practices, and every day there’s a link to a different writing article, usually essays by renowned fiction writers. All of them are excellent. Then a discussion thread is started for us to talk about what we saw and what we read. For example, today’s short video covered nine basic writing tips.
So far, we’ve had a series of writing practice assignments to prepare us for the actual lessons that begin right after Welcome Week is over. It’s getting us ready for Class Session 1 called “Starting With Character.” This was so helpful to me last year, and there’s even more focus on character this year, which is extremely important to me. Each week there will be a new class video, required reading assignment, discussion topics on best writing practices, writing assignments and peer feedback. Each week will also have a different fiction fundamentals video followed by a discussion and a quiz.
Everything on the course site is incredibly well organized. The course itself is set up like its own website with links to different areas that we can access throughout the course. It’s an 8-week course, entirely self-paced, and I could spend an entire day, every day, exploring the site and participating in all the different discussions going on. Hard to believe it’s all free, but I can attest to its value since I took it last year as well, however this year’s course is more extensive.
Each week will focus on a different area of fiction writing, as it applies to both long form and short form. Here’s this year’s course schedule after Welcome Week:
Class Session 1: Starting with Character
Class Session 2: Expanding on Character: Cast and Dialogue
Class Session 3: Working with Plot
Class Session 4: Using Character to Produce Frame and Arc
Class Session 5: Voice and Setting
Class Session 6: Immersion and Setting: Description and World-Building
Class Session 7: Embracing Revision
Farewell Class: Onward! The Writing Life
I’ve just started writing a new novel that I’m approaching from a new angle. This story is not genre specific for a change, so the course comes at a great time for me. I’m learning something new and I'm eager to dig in.
It’s not too late for new students to enroll this year, but as stated earlier, this course is not endorsed by RMFW. Since we’re only a week in, you can still sign up. If you'd rather wait until next year, you can get on the mailing list to receive advance notice. The Iowa Writing University has something going on all year long and there are lots of great articles on the blog. Check it out here http://www.writinguniversity.org/blog.
Here we are the second week of October and already, I’m thinking Halloween.
I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween.
Oh, when I was a kid, we did the costumes and trick or treat thing. And in high school there were the parties. In college, I was much too “serious” a student to join a sorority. I was engaged to a military man so campus life for me consisted of attending classes and the occasional civil rights demonstration (this was the sixties, after all).
Then it was onto life on various military posts. Again, there were parties, but I can’t ever remember wearing a costume to one. When I had my daughter, we did fun things with her. But in the way of the world, she grew up and wanted to do her own Halloween things with her own friends.
So it was back to ignoring the holiday.
Then I started writing vampire stories. In formulating one story line, I discovered that Halloween had an interesting history rich in plot possibilities. What was that history?
1. Present day Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic Day of the Dead.
2. Wearing costumes and giving out food were protection from, and an offering to, the souls of the dead, believed to be out and about on that day. Dressing like fairies, witches and demons and performing antics in exchange for food is the genesis of trick or treating.
3. The customs of bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins go back even further to the holiday of Samhain (pronounced sah-ween), a celebration of the harvest.
4. Samhain was the biggest and most important holiday of the Celtic year. It was the day the souls of those who had died during the year traveled into the otherworld. People sacrificed animals, fruits and vegetables and lit bonfires to aid the dead on their journey and keep them away from the living.
5. Christian missionaries were responsible for changing the practices of the Celtic people. In 601 AD, they assigned November 1st as All Saints Day, a substitute for Samhain, to replace the Celtic’s own holiday. But Samhain never died out completely. The evening before was (and is) still celebrated as the day of the traveling dead.
Of course, I’ve simplified and abbreviated the history. There’s a wealth of information on line if you want to learn more. The point is on October 31st, the dead are thought to be able to walk the earth. I used it as the chance for a witch to call up a demon. There are countless other possibilities.
Halloween takes on a much more exotic and dangerous element if you look at it as an ancient people once did. Maybe that’s why I’ve never liked the holiday. The little kiddies in the cute witch or devil costumes look harmless. But what about the adult in that Jason mask? Or that spooky figure dressed up like a demon? This is the one night of the year that you can’t always trust your eyes.
So, how about you? Do you love Halloween? Do you dress up and set those inhibitions free? What costume have you worn that was (or is) your absolute favorite? Or are you like me, sulking in the dark on Halloween, lights out, waiting for the night to be over?
Or maybe plotting how to use this night of the walking dead in your next book?
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month: a frenzy of writing with the goal of producing a 50,000-word novel in the thirty days of November.
NaNo is a fantastic opportunity to push yourself as a writer. It’s all about quantity of words, not quality. It’s vomit writing, spilling your guts, taking an idea and running with it, sans editing, revision, and second-guessing. It goes to the core of the creative process of writing: putting words on the page.
The official NaNoWriMo was created by author Chris Baty in 1999 and is now run by the nonprofit National Novel Writing Month. Hundreds of thousands of writers have participated over the past sixteen years, writing billions of words.
Roughly 14% of those who sign up actually complete NaNo successfully.
That amounts to thousands of writers who wrote novels in just thirty days. So it can be done. But why would you want to?
The NaNo organizers say the aim of NaNoWriMo is to get people to start writing using the deadline as incentive. I say there’s even more to be gained. NaNo forces you to focus, put writing higher on your priority list, and say “no” to distractions – habits you may carry over into life-after-NaNo. It helps you build other good habits, like writing every single day and shutting up the “inner critic” so your story can flow out uncensored and uninhibited. It’s also a great way to try on a new idea without investing months or years to see if it will hold water. Overall it’s a short-term investment with a BIG payoff: one month of crazy-busy writing that results in a 50,000 word novel and the knowledge that you can do it.
Of course another reason to do NaNo is that you might be one of the lucky few whose NaNo book gets published. Some of the more recognizable titles to come out of NaNo are Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, both of which spent time on the New York Times bestseller list. This is a rarity, so it shouldn’t be your primary reason for trying NaNo. But heck, if you’re crazy enough to do NaNo, might as well reach for the stars.
The official NaNoWriMo is free! So if you’re inclined to sign up for NaNo’s 17th year or just want more info, visit www.nanowrimo.org.
If you decide to participate in NaNoWriMo 2015, there are things you can—and I argue should—do to prepare. I call this “NaNoPlanno.”
Schedule. Take a critical look at your schedule for November and move or eliminate everything possible. Re-schedule doctor appointments, put off coffee with friends, cancel your weekend ski-getaway. If your day-job allows, take some vacation or personal time, compress your schedule, or reduce your hours. Find writing time wherever you can. Be creative. Can you move your Thanksgiving celebration to December 1st? Or at least move it to your sister-in-law’s house? Can you forgo Black Friday shopping just this once? Can you limit yourself to watching only the last quarter of the football game? Once you’ve eliminated all non-essentials, take that nearly-empty calendar and block out time to write every single day. Only you know how many hours it will take you to write 50,000 words, and your output can vary from day to day. When in doubt, budget for more writing time than you think you’ll need.
To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you must write an average of 1,667 words per day (or about 2,000 words per day if you take one day off each week).
Support. Let the people in your life know about the monumental task you have planned, and enlist their support. There’s a lot of time—and peace of mind—to be gained when your loved ones buy in to your crazy November endeavor. Maybe it’s as simple as them agreeing not to tempt you with fun outings or ask for favors. Or maybe they’ll take on some of your non-writing duties so you have more time to write. Why not trade cooking with your roommate or spouse? They cook in November, and you cook all December. Or December and January. Don’t be above bribery. Offer your kids a big reward in December if they agree not to interrupt your writing time in November. And don’t overlook hiring help—someone else can walk the dogs, do carpool duty, grocery shop, etc. You may think you can do it all yourself, but in my experience, your odds of finishing NaNo are a whole lot better when you have help and support.
Space. Where will you write? If you don’t have a private writing space, now’s the time to get one. It doesn’t have to be big—a friend turned a closet into desk space when she didn’t have any other option. So find, make, or clear out a space. Do it now! Next, create a sign to let others know you’re busy writing. It can be anything from a literal “do not disturb” sign to a hat you wear. Just make sure it’s a clear signal that you’re not to be interrupted unless something is on fire. If you can’t write at home or prefer not to, scout alternate spaces. Libraries and coffee shops are great, but what about house-sitting or using the conference room at your day-job after hours? Figure out your physical writing space now so you don’t spend precious November moments looking for it. Likewise clear up your virtual space: make a plan for turning off your phone and email, and even hiding your Internet browser from yourself during writing time. The official NaNo site has lots of resources to help you, but these, too, can be a hindrance, so use with caution.
When your writing space is littered with opportunities to “connect,” you can lose a lot of productive writing time to interruptions, distractions, and temptations.
Story. The official NaNoWriMo rules say that you can’t “count” any writing you do prior to November 1. But prep is okay. So prep away! Create characters with vast backstory, clear goals, and driving motivation. Plan out a difficult journey for your protagonist, complete with insurmountable obstacles, impossible conflicts, and terror-inducing villains. Build your world, do research, think about theme and character arc and all that good stuff. There’s no limit to what you can plan during this time, so take advantage of it. Even if you don’t normally “plot out” your story, spend time daydreaming about your characters. If nothing else, give your story a destination: where is it going? If you don’t know the end yet, that’s okay. Simply pick a spot between here and there. A midpoint, a hurdle, a victory. This will give you something to write toward. Once you reach that destination, chances are you’ll know where to head next.
As for me, I’m already NaNoPlanning for another November as a “NaNo Pirate:” writing like mad but not exactly following the official NaNo rules. In the past I’ve used November—with all the great support and benefits that the official program provides—to revise a novel. This year I’ll be attempting to add 50,000 words to my work-in-progress. I’m such a rule breaker.
Whether you join the official NaNoWriMo or engage in NaNo piracy, I encourage you to take November to push yourself as a writer. Do your own NaNo, whatever that may be. There’s a lot to be gained for a small investment of your time.
If you’ve tried NaNo, please share what you’ve gained in the comments. If you’re considering doing NaNo for the first time, post your questions and concerns so NaNo veterans can guide and support you. Then get to NaNoPlanning! November is coming up fast.
A report from South Dakota: Cool Writers, A Controversy and a Rock Star
Deadwood, South Dakota is 385 miles north of Denver. You shoot straight through Cheyenne, parallel the eastern border of Wyoming and watch trains tugging their long snakes of coal. The road climbs east through the Black Hills. In late September, gold aspen trees dot the high country.
Deadwood is clogged with casinos. The conference hotel for the South Dakota Festival of Books is reached only by walking past the slot machines and blackjack tables and finding an elevator in the back corner. All of downtown, in fact, is loaded with hotels and gambling tables. There isn’t one grocery store in town, although there are plenty of places to eat. And drink. The entire town is listed on the National Historic Register. Other than the slots, it has an old-west vibe.
During a jam-packed weekend, however, the festival transforms the town. Some 70 writers offer presentations in such places as the town library, the elementary school gymnasium, Deadwood City Hall and upstairs in the creaky-floor grand ballroom of the Martin & Mason Hotel (built in 1893). The festival also coordinates a series of programs in nearby schools and universities, all part of a busy few days in celebration of books and writing and reading. The words “books” and “festival” belong together, don’t you think?
William Kent Krueger was the star this year (Sept. 24—27). He was the keynote for RMFW Gold in 2014 and, of course, just as affable and easy-going in Deadwood as he was when he came to Denver. His book Ordinary Grace was the pick for the “One Book South Dakota” program. Kent was everywhere and was easily spotted every morning in a hotel alcove, writing away. On Saturday night, he was interviewed in front of a huge audience by South Dakota’s own Sandra Brannan. He stayed with writing his kinds of mysteries, followed his own path, and the work paid off. Ordinary Grace blew up.
I met Harold Johnson. He’s from La Ronge, Saskatchewan. That’s 1,200 miles straight north of Denver. He traps and hunts and lives off the land. He also has a Master of Law degree from Harvard (with no high school diploma). He served in the Canadian Navy and worked in mining and logging. He gave an interesting presentation on the power of story that challenged the notion of what’s real and what’s not. Fascinating. His latest book is Corvus, which “examines the illusions of security we build through technology and presents a scathing satire of a world caught up in climate change denial and the glorification of war.” Thoughtful guy, extremely likable. He smoked a pipe. His father was Swedish. His mother was Cree.
At the book signing area, I sat next to Garth Stein. Garth wrote The Art of Racing in the Rain after watching a Mongolian documentary about dogs and reading a poem by Billy Collins, “The Revenant.” The Art of Racing in the Rain was on the New York Times best-seller list for 156 weeks. That’s about three years. He sold precisely 1.2 bajillion books. Garth said he had no problem writing the follow-up book, based on a new idea. He’s a writer. Writers write. One really kind guy. He said when he started The Art it was different, but good. He had a hunch it would do well. So did his wife.
I met Ann Weisgarber, from Sugar Land, Texas. She’s friendly, easy-going, warm. She couldn’t interest any publisher in this country to put out her first novel, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree. Then a publisher in England picked it up and she was short listed for England's 2009 Orange Prize and for the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. In the United States, she won the Stephen Turner Award for New Fiction and the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction. (Many other awards, too.) New York is now paying attention. So is Hollywood. Viola Davis optioned the book (JuVee Productions, her company). Ann Weisgarber—a picture of class. Take a minute. Go to her page. Check those wonderful reviews.
My panelmates at City Hall were Sandra Brannan (South Dakota’s own favorite crime writer) and Tom Bouman, whose Dry Bones in the Valley won the Edgar Prize for best first novel. It doesn’t get any bigger in mystery writing land for new writers. Tom read a passage he prepared—and transported us all to the early morning woods on a hunt in Pennsylvania. He concluded by pointing out there is no perfect story, no perfect book. And that’s why we love it—we get to keep writing. And trying. Kent Krueger sat in the audience for our panel and asked thoughtful questions. Ann Weisgarber, too. Sheesh.
On the first night of the festival, the organizers held a reception for authors at the nearby Opera House in Lead. (That’s “Lead” like “need” not “Lead” like the tip of your pencil). Fielding questions while sitting on stage, writers and poets talked about what inspired us to write. One long-haul truck driver (Rod Hoffer) said he wrote young adult stories for his grandkids. He said he wrote during the times when his trailer was being filled—or emptied. Writing was a passion. He smiled a lot.
Then Charles Shields pulled the pin on a stink bomb. He’s a biographer. He wrote a biography of Harper Lee some years back.
Here’s what he said—that he starts every project only after a clear evaluation of whether it will make money.
You could feel the room tense up.
William Kent Krueger rose in defense of those who write, you know, without money in mind.
Here’s the tail end of what Kent said:
“And I think that in the end it’s not going to matter whether you become rich and famous because you will have spent your life following your passion. But what I also believe is this—if you do that, eventually, you will discover the writer you were always meant to be and you will write the stories you were meant to write and the doors will open for you.”
Eloquent? Very. Listen:
Yeah, the applause was pretty strong. And music to my ears.
I’m sure Charles Shields is a nice guy too but I’ve never met a fiction writer who thought in those terms.
The minor controversy didn’t impact the terrific weekend. There were more writers to meet—Minnesota’s upbeat Faith Sullivan, Colorado’s own Pam Houston, South Dakota writing mentor Linda Hasselstrom, and California’s quite smart Ron Carlson (Five Skies, The Signal, Return to Oakpine, Ron Carlson Writes A Short Story; one of my favorite writers in the country).
And then Robert Plant showed up. I didn’t see him. He was there to see Kent Nerburn (13 books on spirituality and Native American themes). Robert Plant, yes, came to Kent’s panel.
(The Led Zeppelin cover band “In the Led” are due to play the same conference hotel on Oct. 16; wonder if Robert Plant spotted the poster in that hotel elevator! What would he think??)
I drove home not thinking about money. I drove home thinking about writers and all their many varied passions.
The South Dakota Festival of Books is one ultra-friendly conference that pulls in lots of talented writers.
1. Welcome, Liesa! Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.
I love being involved with RMFW! In 2003, I never imagined being so engaged, but each time I volunteer for something, new rewards come right along with the responsibilities. Currently, I am critique group moderator for the Littleton Writers critique group that meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays in Aspen Groves’ Tattered Cover. Actually, Mike Hope does a great job taking care of Tuesdays, so I’m more often at the Thursday meetings. I also write a monthly post for the RMFW blog, and am the PAL chair, which means I welcome new traditionally published authors into the group, help with the Writer of the Year, and have the pleasure of moderating the First Sale Panel at Colorado Gold.
2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?
Thanks so much for asking! My second book, Sliced Vegetarian, was recently released through Five Star Publishing. You can purchase the book through the major venues of B&N.com and Amazon.com, but if you’re in Littleton, please check out the Barnes and Noble at Chanson Crossing (Wadsworth & Bowles) or Natural Surroundings gift shop in old town Littleton. Ron and Nina Else of the Broadway Book Mall also carry my books. And if you haven’t read my work and aren’t sure you’re ready to invest in this new author, please ask for either Faith on the Rocks or Sliced Vegetarian at your local library. Both are cozy mysteries set in Littleton, CO with a widow and retired special education teacher as the protagonist. Next up? I’m working on a story called Pot Shots—heh, heh, heh.
3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?
To make a living writing. Seriously, I’m about as old as the Rockies and have learned that enjoying today is the real goal in life. I enjoy writing, of course, ballroom dance, sketching and watercolor painting, and my family. What else could I ask for but to win the lottery, run for president of the United States, or help make Denver the literary capital of the West?
4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?
In a word, Pat? Productivity. It is amazing to me how long it takes to get an idea into a readable format--all part of the downside of a plotter personality. Until I know where I’m going with a work, writing doesn’t really happen.
5. What do you love most about the writing life?
Spiral notebooks, index cards, introducing myself to potential interview subjects by saying I’m a novelist, flowing pen strokes and clacking keyboards. It’s all great, and I love every bit of it—even revisions and edits!
6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?
Stop playing solitaire and use your time better. Learn to read, and read voraciously. Even if you’re never published, your mind will grow and you’ll have a better chance of developing your creativity. Reading can take all sorts of forms these days, and to understand that you don’t have to read from page one to “the end” to consider yourself as having read a work is important. Learn to skim, to search for facts in the written word, to keep a quotation log, to enjoy words everywhere and in all sorts of combinations. Then go for what you want in writing. Develop that vision and make it so.
7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?
I’m somewhat spoiled here, Pat. I have a desk with my computer and a couple of monitors on it. Very cool. But sometimes that computer can run my life more than the other way around, so I also have a table that’s clear except for my spiral notebook. That’s where I brainstorm a lot.
As for the little things on my desktop, I have a timer that motivates and helps me structure any project I’m working on. I also have a slinky because I need to be moving a lot, and my husband isn’t too fond of my bad habit of gum chewing while thinking.
8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?
Yea! Books! This summer I had the chance to read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco by Laura DiSilvario. I also got to read some pre-published samples for the CO Gold writing contest. THANKS to everyone who entered, I had some super reading there. Lastly, I’m reading a couple of non-fiction books: Create Your Writer Platform by Chuck Sambuchino and The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson. And yes, I keep those great writer safety nets—The Chicago Manual of Style and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style close at hand always. Sorry, Goodreads, I’m really far behind on updating you.
Liesa Malik is a freelance writer and marketing consultant originally from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, but currently living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband and two pets. She has always enjoyed reading mysteries, from The Happy Hollister series, through Trixie Belden and into Reader’s Digest’s Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery and Detection.
A graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in Mass Communications, Liesa has built on her writing interest with long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk, at a local ballroom dance studio, or on the web. Visit her website or blog. Liesa’s most recent book release is Sliced Vegetarian, a Daisy Arthur mystery.
Ken Kirchner, a.k.a. Kendrick E. Knight, and his approach to Indy Publishing
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' own Ken Kirchner has discovered solid success as an independent writer, publishing e-books only on Amazon. The former U.S. Air Force weapons system officer talks about the two series of books he's writing and the one stand-alone novel that has outperformed all the others. He also talks about the steps that led him to the "Indy" route and offers a few tips for those thinking about diving in. Hint: one tip is consider getting help from RMFW.
I’ve been writing fiction for almost 25 years. You would think in all that time it would get easier and the writing would go faster. But this is how it really is:
I begin my book. Three lines in, I start to agonize. Am I starting in the right place? Is this a dramatic enough opening? No, that sounds too passive. I need action verbs.
Eventually I move on. But, is there too much backstory? Is this description immediate enough? Am I using all five senses?
A few paragraphs more. Am I showing rather than telling? Oh, there’s an extra that. And you’ve already used really. Sheesh. Caught in your usual bad habits. But moving on, is there too much backstory here? It feels like an info-dump. Maybe you need to tell the character’s story through flashback. But that could interrupt the flow of the narrative.
I struggle through a few more pages. But are my characters likeable? Are they going to be able to change and grow enough to satisfy readers? And what’s the motivation in this scene? Their goal?
I finally reach the end of the first chapter. Am I in the right viewpoint? Can the reader really envision this scene? Is it dramatic enough? I can’t end the chapter here. I need a hook to keep them reading.
It goes on. I tell myself I can fix everything in the revision stage. But more and more I find myself going backwards, rewriting the previous scene and trying make it at least tolerable. Then I start worrying, are you trying too hard? Maybe you’re turd polishing, trying to shine up what is actually unredeemable crap.
I grit my teeth and move on. Just get the story down. Let it flow organically. Remember how you used to do it when you didn’t know all that stuff?
Admittedly, it was a lot more fun in those days. My first book I wrote without a critique group or any self-censoring/editing. I felt like if I could just capture what came to me, get down on paper what my characters were feeling and doing as I watched their phantom selves act out the story on my internal screen, it would be magical. I know now that it’s a lot harder than it sounds. The magic is in my head. Getting it on paper requires hard, grinding work.
And every year I learn more, and it slows me down. At exactly the time when I need to be more productive. Because to be a successful writer these days, (everyone says) you need to publish a lot of books, as quickly as possible. And here I am, writing slower than ever.
But the other thing that’s happened in the last 25 years is I have a different perspective. Some of the people dearest to me are no longer in this life. Their absence is a reminder that simply being alive is something to celebrate. And if you get too focused and obsessive, you might miss out on some of the joy.
So back to the story. Which seems to get a bit better all the time. I’m starting to like my hero. And my heroine’s not too bad either. And about all those passive verbs, don’t worry so much. You can fix them later.