Listen to Your Heart

By Mark Stevens

According to one website, the first draft of Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire was 1,400 pages long.

400,000 words.

He has since whacked it down by one-third, but the projected 900-page novel drew a $2 million advance.

The deal was announced a few weeks ago.

First novel.

Hallberg had previously published one novella, A Field Guide to the North American Family, way back in 2007.

It was 144 pages long and, apparently, out of the ordinary in its own way.

Check this description from an online review: “...a compendium of brief one-page thoughts titled alphabetically and matched with a photograph that illuminates the words written. And as if this weren't clever enough, the entire book is a marvel of design, taking the form of a notebook one would take on a journey, a collection of musings, paraphernalia, variations in paper types and typefaces, and printed in such a way that the reader feels almost guilty about opening the cover of someone's private diary, so intimate is the structure and the content. This is an art book—but it is so very much more.”


Sounds great, doesn’t it? I just ordered a copy.

I guess we will all have to wait on City on Fire, see what we think of the 900 pages. (No publication date is set.) The advance buzz is, of course, quite buzzy. As with all hype, it’s over-the-top. Hype: short for hyperbole.

But can you imagine querying an agent today? “Dear Literary Agent of My Dreams: I have recently completed my first novel, a 300,000-word novel about...”

I sit here and think, yeah, Hallberg lives in Brooklyn—right there in New York City. He can move in those circles. He can flash snippets of his prose here and there, pique the interests of the Publishing Powers That Be. And it’s a novel about, get this, New York in the 1970’s. New Yorkers love New York. New York publishers love books about New York. (Okay, who doesn’t?)

Turns out I’m way off.

Hallberg isn’t saying much about the sale or the novel, but he’s been quoted as saying he doesn’t write for people in the publishing biz.

“They’re all very bright and good-looking and well intentioned — but they’re not the ideal audience to have in mind when writing, I don’t think,” he said.

Good looking, really? Maybe flattery got him what he was after.

In the two-day bidding war for City on Fire, 10 publishers offered over $1 million. (I didn’t know there were 10 publishers left that could offer those sums; I thought we were down to “The Big Five.”)

Anyway, somebody knows how to stage a frenzy.

So, great for Hallberg. (Film rights have already been sold, too.)

That whopper of an advance is great news: reading is not dead. Twitter hasn’t turned us to monsters who require ideas fed to us in rapid-fire fashion one minuscule morsel at a time.

Publishing lives.

I hope Alfred A. Knopf makes a bundle from their $2 million investment and turns the dough right back around to support 100 other up-and-comers, too.

I love Hallberg’s audacity—circulating a 900-page doorstopper. I love that the agents and publishers are going to make it happen—and the fact that they believe there are enough readers out there (book buyers!) to make this happen.

And I already like Hallberg—taking six years to execute the story he imagined.

He listened to himself, followed his own instincts, set his own course.
He wrote the story he wanted to write. How many times have we heard THAT advice?

Bottom line? You gotta listen to your heart.

It’s art.

There are no rules.


Mark StevensMark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

RMFW Spotlight on Shannon Baker, Treasurer

The RMFW Spotlight feature will introduce a few of our RMFW officers and volunteers. We started out with the board of directors, sat them in the hot seat, shined the bright light on them, and channeling our best inner Oprah, plugged them with a few questions. This week, we've interrogated our Treasurer, Shannon Baker. I must say, Shannon didn't squirm one bit. She sets a powerful example for volunteerism within our organization from a distance and while on the move.

Shannon Baker scuba1. Shannon, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

Back before the dawn of time I lived in western Nebraska and I had thoughts of publishing novels. I certainly read plenty of them so writing one couldn’t be too difficult. And it wasn’t. I wrote two and thought the second was pretty darned good. I looked for the closest conference around so I could present it to an agent who would gratefully take it to New York. (Quit laughing.) It didn’t work out that way.

I discovered how little I knew about writing but thankfully, found a home with RMFW. The support and knowledge and camaraderie drew me. I hadn’t found anything like it in Nebraska. I was hooked. I volunteered to coordinate agent/editor appointments for conference and did that for nine years. Then I worked as registrar for three years. Finally, by that time I was living in Colorado, I joined the board and serve as treasurer.

In October, we moved to Nebraska. (again). It’s not that far to commute to Denver to participate in RMFW events and I intend to stay as involved as possible. I’m stone cold sober when I say this (I really haven’t been drinking or I’d be a lot more sentimental), I really love these guys and want to hang out with them as much as possible.

Baker_TaintedMountain2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

The first book in the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, Tainted Mountain, was released by Midnight Ink in March 2013. The second, Broken Trust, which is set in Boulder, is slated for a March 2014 release and I just sent Book 3 to my editor. It should be out in 2015.

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?

I just got back from a sailing adventure in the British Virgin Islands, which crosses that off my list. But I’d dearly love to go on a live-aboard diving trip someplace sunny and warm with incredible reefs. I’m thinking next year. Other than that, my wish is to not have to move again for a year or so and pound out a couple of books.

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

I am just not smart or clever enough. It takes me way too long to work out plot twists and come up with new and exciting scenes. I read amazing books that are surprising and perfect and I wish I didn’t struggle so much with plot. I could probably use some of those brain cells that evaporated in happy hour fumes.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

I love writers. There have been times in my life when I would have given up writing. You know, when real life gets pretty rocky and you need to concentrate on trimming the sails and setting the tack. It would have been easy to let the writing go, because, you know, writing is hard work. But if I quit, I’d lose touch with the writers I love and I wouldn’t meet new writers. The people have tethered me to this crazy business.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

First and above all else, write. Every day if you can, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. Everyone says it and it’s true. So I’m going to give you another piece: trust the process. In every book, with every writer (I’m sure there is an exception but they are so rare it is okay to generalize) there comes a point when it seems hopeless. The book is a mess, you can’t possibly salvage it, you might as well give up writing and take salsa lessons. Even the best, most successful writers experience this. So expect it, accept it, and keep writing. It will all work out.

Baker_office7. 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 haven’t had a desk for years. We keep moving (I’ve said this, haven’t I?) and we end up in tiny houses. I write on a laptop and it gets hefted from here to there. I write on the couch, the kitchen table, the bed, outside, if the weather is nice.

I plot on an Excel spreadsheet and print it out, cut it into strips and pin it to a cork board and that’s usually stashed behind the couch and pulled out when I need it.

I rigged up a standing desk by plopping a boot box on a pub table and stand there a lot. I don’t have any special items. I usually just write hell-bent on accumulating my word count quota so I can quit for the day.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

I’m reading the Longmire series and loving it. I’m also reading a bunch of new adult novels to get a feel for the genre. I’m itching to read fellow RMFW writer, Susan Spann’s new release Claws of the Cat, but I need to unpack a few more boxes before I indulge.


Thank you so much for answering our questions. Shannon. I hope we didn't keep you from your writing (and moving and unpacking) too long.

To learn more about Shannon and her novels, visit her website. She can also be found on Facebook.

Talk to the Paw: Weapons of Destruction

by Karen Duvall

Having pets has its advantages and disadvantages. Young pets are like babies. They explore, get into mischief, teethe... Yeah. Well, sometimes they don't grow out of their childhood habits.

I have a full grown cat and a full grown dog who still act like a kitten and a puppy respectively. Days go by without a mishap, and then BOOM, it's massive destruction. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, erupting volcanoes... okay, so I'm exaggerating. I'm a writer and I can't help it. But these two are like furry natural disasters waiting to happen.

The Criminal
The Weapon
The Victim

Sammy (my cat): You are in soooo much trouble.

Kinsey (my dog): Hangs head in shame

Sammy: I can't believe how mad Dad got. He was speechless. That's never happened before.

Kinsey: I wagged my tail to show him I was sorry.

Sammy: You and your stupid ball. You just had to knock over one of Dad's most beloved cactuses, didn't you? You know how much he treasures those plants.

Kinsey: I didn't mean it. It was an accident.

Sammy: Shakes head and looks disappointed.

Kinsey: Hey, don't act all innocent. You've knocked over your fair share of plants yourself.

Sammy: But I'm much, much, much smaller than you. I don't do half the damage.

Kinsey: Oh yeah? Not only do you constantly knock plants over, I've seen you use the pots as a litterbox.

Sammy: Looks left and right. Shhh. No one was supposed to see that.

Kinsey: Well, I saw. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Sammy: Lifts her nose in the air. Not my fault. It was instinct.

Kinsey: Mom is still trying to vaccum all the dirt out of the carpet.

Sammy: I didn't mean to cause trouble. You know I hate sharing a litterbox with my brothers. I simply won't do it.

Kinsey: Yet you have the nerve to shame me for making a mistake?

Sammy: Mutters. Sorry.

Kinsey: What was that? I couldn't hear you. I think I have dirt in my ear.

Sammy: Hisses. I said I'm sorry!

Kinsey: Whips ears back and forth. Okay, okay. I believe you.

Awkward silence.

Kinsey: Well, I'm sorry too.

Sammy: What can we do to make it up to Mom and Dad?

Kinsey: Looks thoughtful. Look cute?

Sammy: Nods. Works for me.


Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her K

night’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

Do You Know Your (Publishing) Rights?

By Susan Spann

The grant of rights to the publisher is among the most important (and trickiest) terms in a publishing contract. Although the paragraph itself is seldom long, it's often connected to several others, not all of which are obvious during an initial read.

Regardless of the length or complexity of the terms, it's critical for authors to understand the rights the contract grants to the publishing house.

The most expansive (and most commonly requested) rights provision grants the publisher "exclusive, worldwide rights to publication and distribution in all languages and in forms and formats now known and hereafter developed."

Although short, the quote above contains the four primary factors authors need to consider in any grant of rights:

1. Exclusivity. Rights granted "exclusively" to the publisher cannot be granted to or utilized by anyone else (including the author) for the duration of the contract (which normally lasts for the term of copyright in the work, unless termination language in the agreement gives other options). It's normal (and not abusive) for publishers to want exclusivity. The publisher is investing time and money in your work, and deserves to profit from that effort (as do you!). Just make sure the publisher has the resources to exploit the rights granted in the contract. A small, U.S. only publisher may not need exclusive worldwide rights. Exclusive North American (or U.S.) rights may suffice. Then again, it's difficult to publish ebooks effectively without the right to sell them on the Internet, and Internet sales often cross borders.

2. Geographical Reach. Since the publisher will normally want exclusivity within its territory, pay attention to the manner in which that territory is described. Options include "worldwide" (formerly "throughout the universe") or any lesser territorial boundaries the parties agree upon. U.S. rights are different than North American rights - so pay attention and be sure to ask if you have any question about the geographic and territorial descriptions in the contract.

3. Languages. The contract should specify what languages the publisher's rights include. Contracts which merely state "exclusive, worldwide rights" are generally deemed to include all languages. If you intend to grant only English-language rights, the contract must say so. If the publisher wants a more extensive grant of language rights, be sure the publisher has the capacity to translate accurately and distribute in those markets. A poor translation is sometimes worse than no translation at all. On the other hand, you shouldn't refuse foreign language rights to a publisher with a proven track record and the capacity to translate and market your work abroad.

4. Forms and Formats. Most publishers will request "all forms and formats"  - author, BEWARE. Does this include film, TV, and gaming too? It shouldn't. Those rights aren't tied to a publisher's right to publish the book in print and ebook formats. Make sure your publisher has the capacity to act on all of the formats you grant, and that you don't give away formats the publisher doesn't need or deserve. It makes little sense to grant print rights to an e-only publisher - and is equally nonsensical to refuse e-book rights to a major brick and mortar house. Be aware that "all forms and formats" now includes mobile devices and potentially also app, gaming, TV, film, merchandising, and many more. A specific carveout is required if you want to retain those rights.

There are other factors that merit additional consideration, too, and which may appear less commonly in publishing deals. These can include film and TV rights, editing, the use of outside "co-authors" and/or editors, and several other issues. These often take a back seat to the "big four" we discussed today, but they remain important, and we'll take a look at a few of them next week.

The "right" clause depends on many factors - there is no "one size fits all" - so be vigilant and pay attention, and make the right business decision for you and your book.

Today's big take-away lesson is this: pay attention to the grant of rights, and know what rights you're agreeing to give your publisher. A proper grant of rights lays the foundation for a positive, long-term business relationship between the author and the publisher - and that, of course, is good for everyone.


 Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author from Sacramento, California. Her debut mystery novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, July 2013), is the first in a series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. The sequel, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, will release on July 15, 2014. Susan blogs about writing, publishing law and seahorses at Find her on Twitter @SusanSpann or on Facebook.

Me? A Procrastinator?


By Kerry Schafer


A fascinating topic -- one I can spend hours discussing, analyzing, and lamenting as a lovely (and valid) evasion from whatever task I’m procrastinating from.

Now, I know procrastination has a bad rap, and a lot of people think its roots lie in sheer laziness. This is a myth that must be dispelled forthwith. Proper procrastination is a skill, indeed an art, which generally requires much more energy and creativity than would have ever been expended on the original project.

Sometimes procrastination makes perfect sense. If the task to be avoided involves removing green food from the fridge (and by this I mean foods that were never intended by nature to be green), or if the bathroom needs cleaning, or a teenager’s room needs to be mucked out with a shovel and a rake - then procrastination makes perfect sense.

But we also procrastinate when the project on the agenda is something that we love. Take writing for example. Most of us who write are passionate about the process. We talk about how we love writing, how we couldn’t live without it.

I asked my writer friends on Facebook a simple question: Why do you write? Here are some of the answers:

“I write because I have stories in my head that need to get out.” ~ B.e. Sanderson

“I’m not right if I don't write...there's some piece of happiness in the process for me. If there's no work in progress, momma ain't happy and if momma ain't happy ain't nobody gonna be happy ~Linda Robertson

“1) I love telling stories and weaving tales. 2) I'll read a book or watch a show and think, 'Not bad, but it could have been better if they'd done this.' 3) There is a story in my head and it will drive me nuts if I don't get it out of me.” ~ Todd Leatherman

“The voices! The voices in my head!!!” ~Trudy Morgan Cole

“It’s what I was put on this earth to do.” ~Aurelia Blue

“I love to paint with words.” ~Judy Phillips

“Because there are still books I want to read that only I can write.” ~James Ray Tuck Jr

You’d think with this level of drive and enthusiasm (and possibly mental instability, given the number of people who mentioned the need to silence voices) we’d all be typing away at every possible moment, getting those stories down on the page with vim and vigor and great enthusiasm.

Alas, this is not so. Writer procrastination would be a national sport if writers were a nation. Come on, admit it. As much as you’re driven to write your story, to get the voices out of your head or the words down on the page, how often do you find yourself doing something - anything - else?

Honest answers now:

Which is your preference :

a) Facebook b) Twitter c) Pinterest d) Other

Which is your default procrastination game: 

A) Spider Solitaire  B) Farmville  C) Candy Crush  D) Other  E) I don’t waste my time on stupid games, I get real with WOW and the equivalent

True or False: I’ve been known to do housework to avoid writing, possibly even cleaning green things out of the fridge.

Bonus Questions: sneaky procrastination activities that look a lot like writing, but aren’t.

Do You:

  1. Engage in IM chats that are supposedly about writing but delve deeply into other inanity?
  2. Engage in plotting that goes on and on and prevents you from writing?
  3. Engage in writing preparation activities like making coffee or other beverages/snacks to consume while writing, setting up music playlists, cleaning off your desk, until your writing time is over?

If you are not a procrastinator, go away. We don't need your overcharged, driven, annoying type here. If you are a procrastinator and you actually took the quiz: good for you! You have earned a cookie.

There are a lot of reasons we might procrastinate on writing, but I think the biggest bugaboo is perfectionism. We care deeply about the story, about the words. We feel a responsibility to the characters we create and want to portray them accurately. We also want readers to love or hate them as much as we do. We want readers to love our work. The whole project sometimes looks too big, too scary, too much. If only a novel could spring fully formed from head to page, as beautiful and complete as we envision it, then all would be well.

But the words come out rough and bumpy, characters fall flat, plots lack in pacing and suspense. It’s damn hard work to fix and polish and bring the story anywhere near the shining thing we want it to be.

And so we delay. After all, if the story is still perfect and lovely in our heads, then we haven’t yet failed to bring it into being.

What is a procrastinating writer to do?

Well, you can suck it up and power through. Install internet blocking software on your computer and lock yourself in a barren room without distractions. Chain yourself to a chair. But where’s the fun in that?

Ann Lamott pretty much nailed it with her book Bird by Bird. If you’re a writer and haven’t read this book yet, click the link, buy the book. Read. Read again. Do it NOW. Yes, I know you plan to do it later. I also know how that will likely turn out.

Some of the best resources for overcoming procrastination and perfectionism come from SARK. She has written a couple of wonderful books for creative people: Make your Creative Dreams Real: A Plan for Procrastinators, Perfectionists, Busy People, and People Who Would Really Rather Sleep All Day; and Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper.

If you’re anything like me you probably don’t have time to read a book to help you with procrastination right now. You’re busy. (Checking your Twitter feed, cleaning the fridge, etc. These things take time.) So here is a link to what I’ve come to believe is the best cure ever for most varieties of procrastination: SARK's Micro Movements.

The basic idea is akin to Lamott’s advice to take things “bird by bird.” You set yourself a micro task that will require no longer than five minutes of your time. For example, open a new document and give it a title. Write one paragraph. Or even one sentence. That's it. You're done. You can carry on if you feel like it, but you don't have to. You get to feel the satisfaction of crossing something off your list, rather than looking way down the road to a long year of thankless writing…... ahem. Sorry about that. But you do see my point - it's easy to get so mired in the epic scope of what you've undertaken that you can't ever get anything done.

I used to do hour long writing sprints to get my word count in. This was highly productive IF I managed to make myself sit down and do it. Not so long ago my critique partner got me started on 15 minute sprints. You know, I can concentrate for that span of time even on a bad day. And if I do about four 15 minute sprints, it often works out to about a thousand words. 

Here’s an opportunity for you to try micro movements on your own. Come on, give it a shot. All you have to do is click this link to have a look at SARK’s micro movements. Who knows - maybe you'll be inspired to give the method a try.


Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2013 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on January 28, 2014. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. She is a bit of a hypocrite who does not always practice the relaxation she preaches. You can find out more on her website,, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books

Love Thy Genres

By Nicole Disney

When I was in high school, I was struggling with the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction. Today, I know it is a distinction even the pros can sometimes find difficult to define. A teacher of mine told me that genre fiction is intended to entertainment, while literary fiction should challenge your views and perceptions of the world. And your vocabulary. And let's face it, your attention span. The same teacher told me that the classics are literary fiction, that Pulitzer Prize winners are literary fiction, that anything you might ever be proud to proclaim you've read, is literary fiction.

Taking myself a little too seriously, I knew that was what I wanted to write. My goal has always been to write something that readers will someday say changed their lives. I wanted to tell truths never told and sculpt sentences so beautiful and full of meaning students would dissect them long after I'm gone. That those words would be so pure they would immortalize me. Ego, anyone?

It didn't take long for me to discover the fantasy genre and fall in love with it. There were no limits, no rules, no reasons things couldn't function the way they should, no reasons heroes would fail or love would fade. I had the power to make a world that rewarded bravery, loyalty, and sacrifice. Once my first novel was complete, I allowed my best friend to read it. I was proud and confident that she would agree it was a masterpiece. I had all but forgotten my teacher's warning that it was, in fact, literary fiction that was intellectually valuable. My friend was quick to laugh at my dreams of Pulitzers and Nobel Prizes. But she didn't cite the many faults of my manuscript as the reason it was impossible, only the genre.

I later moved into literary fiction. I admit I did feel I was creating something deeper, something more valuable. The setting was urban, the voice was gritty, the conflict dark, the ending tragic, and somehow that made it more respectable to my peers. I finally felt like the writer who was going to become famous after I die. The peaks of my mountainous writer's self esteem were restored.

I recently began a new manuscript. It's literary and even more depressing than my last story. It's been causing me to crave a bit of carefree writing. I've found myself saying things like, “I just want to write something mindless and fun." At last it dawned on me that this kind of thinking is simply unfair and disrespectful to genre writing. As a lover of fantasy, myself, how could I be so cruel to my own writing? Did my fantasy stories not handle conflict? Did my characters not face choices, fear, loss, love, even death? Did they not have something to say? Something of value to share?

Just as every person has something to offer, every story has something to give. Stories are teachers by their very nature. As long as we give them everything we have, nurture them like children, and love them from our souls, they will give us back truth and beauty.


Nicole DisneyNicole Disney is the debut author of the contemporary lesbian fiction novel, Dissonance in A Minor. She lives in Denver, Colorado where she continues to write dark, edgy novels. She is also a martial arts instructor and teaches Krav Maga, Muay Thai, and Karate. For more about Nicole, please visit her website. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

RMFW Spotlight: Bree Ervin

The RMFW Spotlight feature will introduce a few of our RMFW officers and volunteers. We started out with the board of directors, sat them in the hot seat, shined the bright light on them, and channeling our best inner Oprah, plugged them with a few questions. Here’s what we learned from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Membership Chair, Bree Ervin.

Bree Ervin1. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I’m the Membership Chair for RMFW. Mostly it means I help people login to the website and renew/join (Sorry – it’ll get better, I swear!). I’m hoping that as we get the website working better – yes, really, I’ll be able to spend more time reaching out to members new and old and talking about what you all want from a modern RMFW.

I got involved because I have had so many great experiences with RMFW and I am a big fat geek who LOVES to share the things I love. The best way for me to do that was to become membership chair so that I could reach out to others and share the awesome organization that is RMFW.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

I have a couple of works in progress. I tend to bounce around a lot. My kids have told me it’s time to start shopping my picture books again and I have a YA that is in its last round of revisions before I start shopping it. I’m also working on a middle grade fantasy and some non-fiction.

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?

The most immediate item on the list is a trip to Paris with my girlgoyels. I’ve promised them a trip and now I have to make good on it.

I also want to sail around the world, but I have to wait until my husband dies because he freaks out when he can’t see land. The upside of that is I’ll probably get to claim the record for the oldest person to sail around the world. So good things come to those who wait, I guess.

Writer at Work4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

Revising. I actually love revising. I’m an editor in my day job, so that kind of work excites me. BUT… I have a hard time motivating to revise my own work. There’s a huge part of me that’s like, “Okay, I finished that story, I know how it ends, moving on…” I have to really struggle to get my butt back in the chair to make it better and make it publishable once the joy of discovery is gone. I need to find a way to flip the switch on that and convince myself that there is still more to discover in the story and in the characters. (And it’s true, every revision reveals a new layer, a missed detail, another key that goes deeper into the heart of the story.)

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

I’ve always been a story teller. My first sentence was a carefully crafted “lie.” I love creating new people, new worlds and new spaces in this world. I love connecting the dots and showing people new ways of seeing old things.

One of my college professors said (speaking about scientists), “The task is not so much to see what no one has seen, but to think what no one has thought about that which everybody sees.” I think that holds doubly true for writers, and artists in general – and that is the real pleasure of writing for me, taking what everyone sees and knows to be true, and then showing the other side. (For the record, I have had that quote taped above my desk as a reminder ever since.)

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Take yourself seriously. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you that you’re a writer, or give you permission to call yourself a writer – that doesn’t come from anyone else, that’s inside you. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you how to be a writer – their process is theirs. Trust your own way. And always, always, always, write your heart.

Cat on desk7. 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 a bit of a wanderer. My desk is a hot mess, so if the weather is nice I take my laptop out to my tipi. If it’s cold, I’ll work at the breakfast bar – close to the tea kettle! Really, where ever my laptop is, that’s my desk. Except when I write on my phone. Or in a notebook. Hmm… Can I take a picture of my brain – that’s where the stories live, that’s where the work gets done.

It helps when the kitten sits on my lap because she won’t let me get up, even to pee, until I get at least 1,000 words down. It’s like she has a magic way of keeping track of my word count. 1,000 and it’s time to stretch. Then the big cat takes a turn. She’s pretty demanding too.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

For pleasure I’m reading Asphalt Warrior by Gary Reilly (published posthumously with help from RMFW president Mark Stevens.) It’s a fabulous, humorous, spot on commentary on humanity from the point of view of a Denver cab driver.

For research I’m reading Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape Ed. by Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti which is an amazing collection of essays, articles and calls to action. I fall asleep so empowered after reading it. (But hard to read in public, lots of alternating between crying and jumping up shouting “YES!” at inappropriate times.)

My kids and I are reading Double Vision: Code Name 711 by F.T. Bradley, which is a really fun middle grade spy novel, sort of Da Vinci Code for kids. The first book in the series was set in Paris, this one is set in DC. We just started it, but we love this author.

Here’s a picture of my “read next” shelves. Top shelf is research, bottom shelf is pleasure. (There are two more large shelves of unread books off screen, but these are the priority cases!)

To Be Read


Cat on high
This is Bree's tipi and a cat on a hot tipi roof. Or something like that.

Thanks for sharing with us, Bree. I'm happy to hear I'm not the only one whose writing life is scheduled by her cat.

You can cyber-stalk Bree on Twitter and Facebook. Anyone who wants to get ranty with her is invited to stop by her blog Think Banned Thoughts. And, Bree adds, if you're having trouble logging in to the website, drop her a note at

Talk to the Paw: Toys!

By Karen Duvall

If you walked into my house today you'd think I had kids still living at home. There are toys everywhere. Stuffed toys, plastic toys, balls... and lots of indescribable detritus that I wouldn't label as toys but my pets would. On second thought I guess I do have kids, they're just covered in fur and run around on four legs.

Like children, my furkids play with each others' toys and don't always play nice. One in particular can be rather... destructive.

Kinsey   Sammy

Sammy (my cat): I can't believe you ate my spider.

Kinsey (my dog): How do you know it was me?

Sammy: Gives her a baleful look. There were still pieces of it left and you're the only one with teeth that big. I found its legs under the couch.

Kinsey: Not my fault. You shouldn't leave your toys laying around.

Sammy: Whines. I loved that spider! It glowed in the dark and everything.

Kinsey: Well, if it makes you feel any better, the plastic tasted awful.

Sammy: Good. Serves you right.

Kinsey: And like I said. Don't leave your toys laying around and I won't eat them.

Sammy: How can I play with them if they're not laying around? Besides, my spider was inside my petting box on the kitchen counter.

Kinsey: Then it must have been Cody who knocked it onto the floor.

Sammy: Probably. He does that to anything on the counter. He scoots it off with his paw.

Kinsey: You do that, too.

Sammy: It's fun to watch it fall. Especially if it's something that goes splat.

Kinsey: Especially if it's something I can eat.

Sammy: Hisses. You're worse than a goat. You eat everything.

Kinsey: Not everything. And I always leave leftovers.

Sammy: It's not cool what you did to Cody's weasel and his skunk toy.

Kinsey: I can't resist the squeakers. They need to come out.

Sammy: Cody still plays with his weasel and the skunk, though. And only when he thinks no one is watching.

Kinsey: I've seen him carry one in his mouth around the house while he yowls.

Sammy: So have I. It's kind of creepy. Why do you think he does that?

Kinsey: No idea.

Sammy: Searches the floor.

Kinsey: What are you looking for?

Sammy: One of your toys.

Kinsey: Why? You're too little to eat my toys.

Sammy: But I'm not too little to hide them.


Karen Duvall

Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.


Pushing Through The Middle: Tips for the NaNoWriMo Crowd and Other First Drafters

by Lori DeBoer

DeBoerIf you are hitting your daily word count (about 1,666) for National Novel Writing Month, by the time this post is published you’ll be nearly about halfway through your 50,000-word goal and sailing into the middle stretch of your novel.

This is where the story gets complicated. The middle passage is the longest section of your novel. The plot should thicken, the stakes should increase and your protagonist(s) should be thwarted at every turn.  Your narrative arc should be more mountainous than curvy, and climbing steeply.

This is also the point where your story is most likely to stall. If you’ve been "pansting,” the honeymoon with your big idea and great beginning may be over.  Even plotters can lose their confidence and momentum in the middle passages.

If you find yourself bogged down or stalled altogether, here’s a few tricks to get you going:

Look How Far You’ve Come
Instead of contemplating how far you have to go, look at how much you’ve already written. Print out your manuscript to give it some heft.

Don’t Start Revising
There’s nothing more tempting than revising when the path ahead is murky.  After all, rewriting is an important part of writing, right?  Yes, but not when you are drafting.  You’ll have plenty of time to revisit those first few chapters after you plot a course through your first draft.

Create Some Go-Getters
One of the biggest story stalls is characters who are merely responding to events in the story.  If your characters don’t have desires, they don’t have goals and a plan of action is out of the question. The easiest way to figure out what happens next is by giving your character some volition. The hero’s journey only begins by answering the call to action, not by hitting the snooze button.

Raise the Stakes
Now that your characters have a plan, ask yourself what happens if they fail.  If there are no stakes—personal and public—then there’s no reason for your character to keep going.  Until your characters have a real reason to pursue their goals, your writing is going to feel like rolling a boulder up a mountain.

Set Incremental Goals
The end game may be clear to you, but how is your character going to get there? Consider the smaller steps that need to be taken before the story’s climax can occur.  Frodo and Sam don’t just go waltzing to Mount Doom with the Ring; first they need to escape from Orcs, traitors, spiders and other dark creatures and trek through some terrible terrain with a sketchy guide.

Arm the Opposition
If your characters are not thwarted at every turn, if their incremental goals are attained without much effort and everybody in your story world is getting along swimmingly, then you don’t have a novel, you have a really long, typed daydream.  Examine your scenes to see if they are conflict-free or conflict-riddled.  Is your main character only fighting internal demons, or is there some external opposition, a worthwhile antagonist?  Once your characters have someone messing with them, the story will pick up steam. In the Sookie Stackhouse world created by Charlaine Harris, even lovers aren’t a girl’s best friend and bosom buddies can be out for blood.

Get Your Characters Out of the House
If your character is the literary equivalent of a shut-in, get him or her out and about in the world. Or, bring the world busting into the house.  The Harry Potter series would have fell flat had our young wizard sequestered himself in his closet under the stairs.

Give Your Characters a Project
If your conflict is all about the internal world, give your characters a project to externalize the problem. If you are writing in certain genres, you might call this project a quest. Either way, giving your characters something larger to do, something to obsess over, makes the writing less episodic. In The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Pankhurst, the main character is a linguist who spends the book trying to teach his dog--the only witness to his wife’s death--to talk.

Stop While You Still Have Steam
Your writing sessions should end while you still have some steam, not when you are stalled out. That way, getting back to work will seem like less of a chore. As Ernest Hemingway said:  “I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

What other strategies do those seasoned authors among use to push through the middle passages of their novel?


Lori DeBoer is an author, freelance journalist and writing coach whose work has appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, The New York Times and Arizona Highways. She has contributed essays on writing to Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts, Keep It Real: Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Research and Writing Creative Nonfiction and A Million Little Choices: The ABCs of CNF. She founded the Boulder Writers’ Workshop and is a homeschooling mom. She and her husband Michael and son Max live in Boulder.

For more about Lori, please visit her website and blog.