Introducing the Only-Slightly-Frazzled Blog Editors, Julie and Pat

Pat: Well, Julie, here we are wrapping up two full months of the new Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog. Thanks to our techno-goddess Wendy Howard, Mark Stevens and the RMFW Board of Directors, and a great team of regular and guest bloggers, I think it went pretty well.

Julie: I’m loving the blog but really broke a sweat pulling it all together. Oh wait, you already revealed the true worker bees and brain children behind the blog’s success. Yes, they were and are amazing, as were you and your step-by-step directions on how to edit posts (The “first, turn on computer” step was so helpful!)

Stoltey_webPat: I believe in starting with the basics, but maybe that was going a little too far. Anyway, now that we have a few minutes (seconds?) to chat, I think it would be fun to kick back and get to know each other better. Full disclosure: I’ve been going to Weight Watchers since September 2010, and I’ve almost lost 30 pounds. This photo I’ve been using lately was taken at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference in 2011 when I hadn’t made much progress yet. Check out these chubby cheeks. And stay tuned for an updated photo in ten more pounds.

Julie: Wow, that’s fantastic, Pat. Well, we do have a lot in common. I signed on to SparkPeople about 6 weeks ago, and have been working on shedding some weight myself. My cheeks are still a little chubby though. I call my extra face padding my natural Botox-- puffs the wrinkles right out!

Pat high school0001Pat: Okay, I just grabbed a piece of chocolate from my secret stash, so I guess it’s time to change the subject. Not too long ago on my blog, I told my readers three things I didn’t like when I was a kid and invited them to share their own dislikes. After that post, I thought of many more…I guess I wasn’t very easy to please. My hair, for instance. I hated my hair when I was a kid because I wanted to wear it long and straight and silky--like yours in your author photo…but my hair was thick and wavy and preferred to do its own thing. As a result, some of my grade school photos look as though I’d combed my hair with an egg beater (something one of my uncles often told me). By high school, I'd figured out how to set my hair on big bristled rollers to get something remotely resembling a page boy.

Julie Lueck_high schoolJulie: Isn’t it funny how we always long for what we don’t have? I had long, straight hair and always wanted full, fluffy hair with lots of body. I could never make it do the Farrah feathers in the front without cans and cans of VO5 (that was before we knew about the whole ozone depletion thing, of course). Thank goodness the blue eyeshadow and LaDisco jeans with colored stitching help deflect some of the attention away from my flat hair. But enough about hair; surely there was more to dislike in life than that...

Pat: Oh, you want something else? No problem. I was a farm kid with lots of chores to do, and one I really disliked was gathering eggs. The hen house was inhabited by a gang of nasty-tempered hens who persisted in sitting on those eggs and pecking the backs of my hands black and blue when I reached inside the nest. What I hated even more? The huge, vicious white rooster that stood guard. Yes, he would attack. I approached that task armed with a baseball bat…or a pitchfork. I was so traumatized by that damned bird that he was still in my mind and got a whole sentence to himself when I wrote The Prairie Grass Murders.

Julie LueckJulie: Writing therapy--very effective against latent rooster resentment. My mother-in-law tells me her brothers used to chase her with the chickens after they cut off the heads. Her phobia ran so deep, to this day she won’t eat chicken.

I grew up in the suburbs; I don’t remember any animal fears (unless you count rogue squirrels). My dislikes ran more to things like gym class in school. I still shudder to think of the little one piece shorts outfits they made us all wear and the Presidential Fitness tests I could never complete. It was scarring.

Pat: Was your one-piece gym uniform a magenta color? I had to wear one of those back in my day too. For me the worst thing about gym was that test where I was supposed to shinny up a rope. Shinny was not in my vocabulary. Can’t shimmy either...but maybe we shouldn’t go there.

Instead, let’s turn this question over to our readers and the members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Come on, tell us. What did you dislike most when you were a kid? You can comment here, or find us on Facebook and tell your story there. Julie on Facebook is here, and I'm on Facebook here.

Talk to the Paw: Mud Puppy

Mud Puppy
Look, Mom! I found a puddle!

As some of you may know, I was out of town last weekend and left the furkids home while I attended the Colorado Gold Conference in Denver. We had a pet sitter stay at the house with them, hoping that's all it would take to keep them out of mischief. The cats did very well, same as they always do. They're easy to care for: Food, water, litterbox cleaning and that's about it. Catitude aside, all three of them are fairly self-sufficient.

My dog, on the other hand… Well, Kinsey is both bright and spirited. Her behavior can be unpredictable so we never know what to expect. As my husband and I packed for our Colorado trip, she knew something was up. We spied her having heart to heart conversations with our Sammy cat. And sure enough, she made sure we'd know her displeasure at being left behind.

Me: Really, Kinsey? Did you have to?

Kinsey: Holds chin up and blinks. Yes, yes I did.

Me: Shakes head. You know how I feel about tracking mud in the house.

Kinsey: So? You weren't here to see it.

Me: Obviously.

Kinsey: And the sitter wasn't always watching me very well.

Me: Don't blame it all on her.

Kinsey: What's important is that I had fun.

Me: Breathes in an exasperated breath. Now who do you think has to fill the hole you dug in the yard?

Kinsey: Dad can use the exercise.

Me: Smiles. How did you like your bath afterward?

Kinsey: Hangs head. No comment.

Me: Okay, the mud hole is one thing. The quilt on our bed is quite another.

Kinsey damage
After Kinsey gutted our quilt.

Kinsey: You know I can't resist pulling the stuffing out of things.

Me: You have toys for that.

Kinsey: Shrugs. I had to show you I didn't appreciate you leaving me.

Me: Sighs. It was only for a few days. And you weren't left alone.

Kinsey: Promise you won't leave me again.

Me: I can't promise you that. But if you keep digging holes and gutting my quilts, I promise to put you in a kennel next time.

Kinsey: Wails.

Me: Stop being such a drama queen. If you can prove to me you'll behave, we'll get you a sitter again.

Kinsey: Pants. Okay. I'll behave.

Me: Long pause. Now uncross your paws and say that.

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Karen DuvallKaren 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.

I Took Way Too Many Notes at the Colorado Gold Conference

By Patricia Stoltey

I felt obligated to stick to the same word count I suggested for the rest of our blog’s contributors and guests, but it was hard. I took so many notes, and I learned so much, that I still feel as though I fell off my diet and stuffed myself too full. Let’s see if the post will be lean enough if I give you the name of the session, the instructor’s name, and one thing I learned (all paraphrased). I’ll skip details about the guest speakers and just tell you they were all wonderful.

On Friday, I worked the registration table until 2:00 PM and then had to check into the hotel room, so I didn’t get to my first session until 3:00. That was Bill Konigsberg’s Seven Deadly Sins of Dialogue in Young-Adult Fiction.

First deadly sin: Overuse of slang

Agent Panel with Sally Harding, Natalie Lakosil, Kathleen Rushall, and Sarah Joy Freese.

One of the worst things an author can do in his query letter is not talk about his book. The format to follow is “The hook, the book, and the cook,” and all need to be brief.

In the Middle: Pluses and Minuses of Small Press Publishing, Katriena Knights

Contracts with small presses tend to be shorter in duration and often for only one format. This allows a book to have 2-3 good life cycles.

Denver Skyline from Our Conference Hotel Room Balcony
Denver Skyline from Our Conference Hotel Room Balcony

Saturday was an amazing day filled with difficult choices. Picking which workshop to attend was hard, and I often changed my mind at the last minute.

The Artist’s Way: Still Fresh, Robin Owens

When challenged to write pseudo-morning pages for ten minutes, I discovered some authors (Janet Lane, for instance) are very creative at 8:00 AM. I, however, was just grumpy and mostly scribbled on about needing another cup of coffee.

Why Would Librarians Buy Your Book—Or Not?, Mary Gilgannon and Alice Kober

The mini-synopsis (story blurb) on the back cover (and often included in book catalogues) is critical to librarian selection.

How to Art Direct Your Book’s Cover Design, Karen Duvall

The latest trend in covers is to use models in headless shots, or silhouettes, or from the back.

The Point of No Return: Crossing the Threshold from Traditionally Published to Self-Published, Jeff Shelby

The new exploding market is New Adult for young women age 18-25 with plenty of romance, sex, drama, and bad boys. Normal length: 65,000 words.

An Agent Reads the Slush Pile, Kristin Nelson and Sally Harding

Don’t do world building in a prologue. If you use a prologue, it should set up a question or establish a scene that will become important later in the story.

Who’s Your Narrator?, Ronald Malfi

Dialogue needs to reflect each character’s voice, even when the chapter or scene is not from that character’s POV.

The Hybrid Author, Karyn Marcus and Kristin Nelson

I learned all about the story of Hugh Howey who began by self-publishing and was later picked up by a major publisher for his compiled book, Wool. I’d never heard anything about this author before. The story is too long to tell here. Sorry about that.

Sunday morning I skipped the continental breakfast of fruit and pastries and joined friends in the restaurant for a real breakfast. The waitress forgot to bring my bacon. Can you believe that? Forgot to bring my bacon!

I attended the 8:00 AM session, still upset, but quickly settled in to enjoy The Road Map to a Successful E-Pub Career Shift, Cate Rowan

Cover art for e-books needs to pop when it’s displayed in thumbnail size (that’s where the online bookseller shows a line of books that were purchased at the same time as the search book).

I, You, Them: How Perspective Powers Your Story, Trai Cartwright

Holy cow! I still have new things to learn about Point of View. Do you know the difference between Third Close Dramatic and Third Close Limited? I had them confused. Sigh! I’m not going to try to explain them here. I’d probably get it wrong (even though I think I took really good notes).

And that’s my super-condensed version from twenty-seven 4 1/2” x 6 1/2” pages of notes. I could go on and on…

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPatricia Stoltey is the author of two amateur sleuth mysteries published by Five Star/Cengage in hardcover and Harlequin Worldwide mass market paperbacks. The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders are now available for Kindle and Nook. Her blog is known for featuring guest authors who write in a variety of genres.

She can be stalked on Facebook and Twitter.

Passion is Inspiration

By Nicole Disney

We've all had that moment. You're driving on the highway, in the middle of your shift at work, in the shower, and inspiration comes. The words draw each other together like reunited lovers in bursts so poetic and fleeting you must find a pen. Whether that means leaving the steering wheel of your speeding vehicle in the hands of your seven year old or turning your hair into a gum of leftover conditioner is hardly the point. The only problem is that there is an equal and opposite force out there that will leave the cursor blinking on a screen much too bright for the black room hours of paralysis have darkened.

Following another brilliant Colorado Gold Conference, I suspect most of us are still feeling buzzed on new ideas and potential agent and editor connections. Now may seem an unnecessary time to muse on inspiration. But like a New Year's Resolution, this energy of immersion can so quickly fade into the tedium of reality. How do we hold onto this magical feeling of hope and motivation?

I can easily recall an uncomfortable number of times I spent my entire day fantasizing inside my characters' minds and worlds, counting down until I could clock out from work, go home, and write. But something happened around hour nine or ten of work. Thoughts of my keyboard and favorite pens turned to thoughts of cuddling with my kittens, a movie, and bed.

Now I've learned to remind myself to compare writing not with what else I could do at home, but what I don't want to do at work. Family time, meals, and sleep was never what we writers set out to replace, that's just the way it often happens. But if we ever want to reach the coveted combination of laptops and cuddles, we have to boot the day jobs to the curb. It's not writing versus reading a good book and sipping on wine; it's writing versus waiting tables and double shifts.

That may be enough to get you to the keyboard, but what if all your brain will manifest is a vague and distant knowledge that you should probably blink more often to temper that kind of blank staring? Some will say write anyway. Force it, even if you know you're going to delete every word of that cumbersome garbage. While I do appreciate the value of getting the pen moving, I've recently discovered something much more entertaining, something more fun than sheer will power.

I sit down and make a list of questions. Not just any question will do, these must be the most thought provoking, hot button, or otherwise offensive questions you can muster. Compile every subject a socially unobtrusive person would avoid and then go there. If you can figure out what makes other people mad, then you know what makes them care. Figure out what makes you care, and you're a short step away from inspiration. A warning should be inherent in this exercise. Whether you go out and actually provoke people is completely dependent on your sense of adventure. What follows may be a disaster or great material, depending how you see the world.

Even if you only consider these issues in your mind, and even if you never actually write a story about any of them directly, these arguments with multiple valid and understandable stances are the guts of great stories and of believable characters. How they make you feel can be the oil that starts the wheels turning again. Passion is inspiration.

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Nicole Disney is the debut author of 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.

Post Conference Post

By Julie Kazimer

Well it’s done. Another fabulous Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference is the books. My head swells with information, not to mention a little too much time in the hospitality suite. I met new and old friends alike. This conference had over 100 new attendees. First timers are the lifeblood for us old hats, at least for me. I love the excitement and buzz in the air as people explore new writing and craft territory.

And let me just say, there was plenty to learn. Being a total, all knowing publishing pro, I opted for the business/career track of workshops. I was not disappointed. Okay I was, only in that, I found out I am NOT a total, all knowing publishing pro.

Bestselling author and indie pub guru, Jeff Shelby led us on a few wonderful forays into e-publishing. Carnia Press editor, Jeff Seymour (a personal hero since he saved my workshop by loaning me his laptop) taught a riveting class on how to write back cover copy for indie publishing. I took advantage of this right away, and I swear my cover copy has never sounded better.

The famous Susan Spann did her stuff by teaching us some legalness when it comes to author and publisher rights. Bree Evrin taught us social media illiterates how to hashtag like the best of them. Lynda Hilburn shared secrets on how to fix that one thing…the thing writers dare not mention…rhymes with Biters Lock. Rockstar Angie Hodapp shared her expertise on vivid description. Mario Acevedo, Warren Hammond and Betsy Dorbusch crushed it with a panel on two of my favorite things, crime and noir. The agent and editor panels were, as always, fascinating. And how could I forget Karen Lin’s Book to Script workshop. I’m ready for my close up, Mr. Deville. And all the billions in royalties once I become the darling of Hollywood. (No, I am not still drunk from my extended time in the hospitality suite). There were plenty of other amazing workshops and presentations. Forgive me if I didn’t mention yours. The editors, Pat and Julie like me to keep my posts under a million words.

What else to share? The Friday night booksigning was a blast. Nina and Ron Else from Who Else Books (The Broadway Book Mall) are two fo my favorite people to see at the conference. Not only do they sell my books, and make me look good while doing it, but they are wonderful people. As I arrived at my booksigning station this year, a small package sat in front of me. Nina had given me a tiny princess who grows 600% in water. Now I should’ve read the directions more carefully, because it did say in water, not whiskey. But I love my tiny princess at the same, and Nina for giving it to me.

That same night, Writer of the Year, Linda Hull, gave an inspiring speech about persistence, pain, and the joys to be found in both publishing and in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers organization itself. This is a woman who spent years waiting for her big break, suffering the ups and downs of the industry, and now is quickly rising to the top. I wish her and the other Writer of the Year nominees the best, as well as all those who finaled and won the Colorado Gold contest. You are great writers who are moments away from achieving your dreams.

Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers who made this conference possible, especially Vicki Law and her cohorts, who raised over $4000 for CO Flood relief. And a huge shout out to Susie Brooks, the conference chair. Great job by all.

Here’s to hoping all of you who pitched to an agent or editor fulfill your publication dreams. And thank you to all my new writerly friends and my old ones as well for a fantastic weekend. Now quit reading this (in a few more sentences) and go write!

There was so much more to share, but I’m exhausted.

What was your favorite conference moment? And does anyone know where I left my left shoe? I can’t seem to find it. I know I had it at dinner…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include The Body Dwellers, CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming romance, The Assassin’s Heart, and the upcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.

 

Mixing it Up—You’re Doing it Wrong

By Katriena Knights

My TV. We're tight, yo.
My TV. We're tight, yo.

In last month’s post, I talked about how TV shows maintain a long-term status quo, often keeping characters mostly static. This time, I’m going to talk about shows that have attempted to break this pattern, and how they did it wrong—and how a few of them have done it right. Hopefully this will give you some ideas about how to use this kind of development in your writing.

The way I see TV, three major forces determine the status quo of an individual show. These are the show’s genre, its formula, and its initial premise. For example, in Hart to Hart, the protagonists were a husband and wife team, so the status quo would demand that they remain happily married. In Remington Steele, the protagonists were constantly flirting with falling into a relationship, so to have them finally cross that line and become a couple would disturb the status quo. These were both mystery shows, so the genre demanded that there be—you guessed it—a mystery to solve, preferably a murder. The formula was also determined more or less by the genre, but the pattern for a mystery show can differ slightly from show to show as long as there’s a case introduced at the beginning and a solution provided at the end.

Doing it Wrong

As a general rule, changing up the status quo too much in a TV show is going to lose you your audience. Moonlighting tried it in the 80s and really mucked it up, to the point where loss of ratings after a couple in a show consummates their relationship became referred to as “the Moonlighting Effect.” After that disaster, most shows with a couple whose relationship relied on sexual tension didn’t dare let them get together on a permanent basis.

However, I think what drove the ratings loss in Moonlighting wasn’t the change in the relationship, per se. It was the effect it had on the show’s formula. It wasn’t about the mystery cases anymore. Suddenly it became about almost nothing but the central relationship. It had, in effect, changed genre.

Remington Steele saw a major ratings drop-off before the creators decide to let Remington and Laura consummate their relationship, to the point where the show was cancelled. Viewer protest brought it back for a fifth season, but it wasn’t the same show after that. Literally. The fifth season revolved almost entirely around the relationship rather than around individual mystery cases. But why did the fourth season see a drop-off? I watched this full series straight through recently, and the fourth season has a marked change in tone. The episodes are darker, the cases are darker, and a lot of the lighthearted banter just isn’t there anymore. This, in my mind, was a much more deadly disruption of the status quo than any change in the main characters’ relationship. I kept watching because I had all the DVDs, but I could totally see why viewers at the time might have switched channels. The creators had broken their contract by no longer meeting viewer expectations.

Doing it Right

In recent years, we’ve seen Bones and Castle, two shows very similar to Remington Steele and Moonlighting, shift the status quo with their main characters without seeing their viewers exit in droves. I believe this is because they’ve both kept the shows focused on the original premise and let the relationships play second fiddle. This is as it should be with this type of show. We have yet to see how things will play out in the upcoming season, with both shows ending on relationship-related cliffhangers, but so far they’ve provided good examples of how to shift one part of the status quo and make it work by keeping everything else intact.

In the book world, a few examples come to mind where this same kind of shift has occurred. One series where I think it wasn’t done particularly well is the Anita Blake series by Laurel K. Hamilton. The changes in Anita came at the cost of a change in the focus of the entire series. The books became much more sexually charged and much more focused on the relationships than on the mysteries and conflict that drove the first third or so of the series. It didn’t happen gradually, but instead was quite abrupt. I know this lost her a good many readers, although plenty have hung on for the ride.

By contrast, JD Robb has handled a few shifts in her …In Death series without losing the focus of the books, which is on the suspense/mystery elements. Eve’s building relationship and eventual marriage to Roarke, as well as other changes in their relationship and her character, are significant, but they never move to the forefront to take over the main story arc. In these books, we know exactly what we’re going to get when we pick one up, and we’re never disappointed.

In the end, it’s all about reader (or viewer) expectations and how well you satisfy them. You can play with the expectations so you surprise them from time to time, but never pull the rug out from under them. They may never forgive you.

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Katriena Knights spends more time watching TV than is generally recommended. She is the author of about twenty published novels, mostly paranormal romance genres. Her semi-erotic urban fantasy-ish book Necromancing Nim has just been released in paperback from Samhain Publishing. Feel free to follow her sporadically updated blog at katrienaknights.blogspot.com or her spasmodically updated Twitter at twitter.com/crazywritinfool.

Pitch Like a Pro (Part 2)

By Susan Spann

Last month, we took a look at the four vital elements of a winning "elevator pitch." This week, we’re putting the elements together - just in time for Colorado Gold!

To play along, you'll need a list with your novel’s protagonist, active antagonist, stakes, and high concept. (Remember: high concept might or might not make it into your pitch, but you need to keep it in mind throughout the process.)

It's easier to see a pitch in motion when you're actually seeing it thrown, so I’ll use my novel, Claws of the Cat, as our pitch example today. I'm using it mostly because the pitch worked as intended–it found me an agent, piqued an editor’s interest, and (in a slightly expanded form) ended up on the dust jacket of the completed novel. In other words: I know this one works, and when you need an example it's nice to have a functional one at hand.

The original pitch:

When a samurai is brutally murdered in a Kyoto teahouse, a master ninja has just three days to find the killer in order to save the life of the Jesuit priest that the ninja has pledged his own life to protect.

(Note: Yes, this is rough. I'm sharing my original pitch to show you this can be done fairly quickly and doesn't have to be absolutely perfect to do its job.)

Can you spot the four critical elements?

1. Protagonist: Here, a master ninja. Always lead with your protagonist, and use an archetype instead of the character's name. Archetypes are more descriptive and harder to forget. Also, they give information about the novel that names alone cannot convey. Would you rather hear that "Sam" has to go find "Charlotte" or that "an undead barber" must locate "the kitten he left behind"?

Good pitches put the protagonist front and center. The listener must have no doubt who your book is about.

2. (Active) Antagonist: The pitch must tell us who or what the protagonist is fighting. (And It’s OK to imply the antagonist, as long as the stakes are high enough.)

Ask yourself: what’s the easiest way to describe what my hero is fighting? That’s your active antagonist, and you have to either state it outright or strongly imply it in your pitch.

Note: The active antagonist is NOT the various bells and whistles, twists and turns, hot dogs and lack of doughnuts that plague your antagonist along the way. Those are window dressing (even if they seem important) and don't belong in the pitch. Big hero, big villain, big stakes get the job done here.

3. The Stakes: In Claws, the stakes are a ticking clock and the imminent execution of an innocent man, both of which appear in the pitch. Secondary stakes appear there too: the ninja has pledged his life to protect the priest – so if the ninja fails, he's going to share the Jesuit's fate.

Your pitch MUST explain what’s at stake in your novel. Fail at that, and the listener will not care. Stories require tension; tension requires stakes. In many ways, the stakes are the most important part of your pitch, because only the stakes make the listener need to hear the rest of the story.

4. High Concept: In my case? “Ninja detective.” However, you’ll notice my pitch never says those words. The pitch as a whole makes the concept clear.

The little details of your pitch convey high concept. “Master ninja,” and “find the killer” give a ninja detective vibe. “Kyoto teahouse” sets the novel in Japan, and suggests there’s a geisha or two in the mix.

Find the unique details in your novel. Wedge them into the spaces between your protagonist, your antagonist, and your stakes.

Every word in your pitch must add something to the whole. You don’t have room for filler words that do not “earn their keep.”

Try to use no more than one adjective per noun. Try not to use adverbs – they break the flow.

From your elements, build one sentence that describes your story in one breath's worth of words.

If you can’t say your pitch in a single breath, cut it until you can. Then–and only then–revise until that sentence rolls off your tongue as easily as your name.

Don’t over-rehearse, but make sure the pitch is smooth and easy to say, because it’s easy enough to trip over simple phrases when you’re stressed, to say nothing of overcomplicated prose.

A single sentence is easier to remember, flows off the tongue, and inspires the listener to start asking questions–exactly what a good pitch ought to do.

Pull the four elements from your work and build your pitch. Build it strong and polish it to a shine–and then get out there and pitch with confidence!

Thank you for joining me here this week - I look forward to seeing many of you at Colorado Gold!

Bio: Susan Spann is a transactional attorney and former law school professor whose practice focuses on business and publishing law. Her debut Shinobi mystery, Claws of the Cat (Minotaur Books) released on July 16, 2013. You can find Susan online at http://www.susanspann.com, or on Twitter @SusanSpann, where she created the #PubLaw hashtag to provide business and legal information for authors.

Managing Writer Stress: Body Scan for Deeper Relaxation

By Kerry Schafer

It's 5 am and I'm settling into the hour of morning writing time I've carved out of my day. In the back of my head I'm wondering where I'm going to find time for all of the other things on the list. Here's the Coles Notes version:

1. A day job that eats about 50 hours of my week.

2. A house to maintain, complete with a dog, two cats, and a couple of fish. This week, add in a Viking on home vacation.

3. My second novel, WAKEWORLD, releasing at the very end of January. I need to be scheduling blog tours and ordering new book marks. Page proofs will be showing up any day.

4. Three e-novellas in edits, with talk of getting them produced and into the wild by the end of October.

5. Preparation for the RMFW Colorado Gold conference this weekend.

I spin a lot of plates. I like it that way.

But it can get overwhelming.

In my last post I touched on some of the many moments in a writer's life that can be stress inducing, and using breathing techniques as one way to relax. As promised, today we are going to talk about taking relaxation one step further: the body scan.

Let me be clear that by body scan I do not mean that uncomfortable experience inflicted by sadistic people at the airport. Nope. This is a simple relaxation exercise that will take about fifteen minutes of your day.

I know fifteen minutes can seem like a lot when your life is crammed full of All The Things. But the truth is, when your mind is less cluttered and your anxiety level is lower, you're able to be more efficient with the time you do have.

Preparation: Find a 15 minute stretch of time in which you can at least hope not to be disturbed. I dare you to silence your phone and all other electronic devices. If it's important, they'll call back or leave a message or instant message you later. The text messages will hold.

Process: Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Either close your eyes or use a soft gaze that is not really focused on anything. And then walk yourself through the following steps.

1. Breathe. Take those three deep breaths I talked about last time, and then settle into a regular, comfortable breathing pattern.

2. While continuing to breathe, focus your attention on your head and face. You are an explorer, not a critic. At this point you are not here to make changes. Just notice what you feel. Are your muscles tight or relaxed? Is there pain or discomfort?

3. Remember to breathe, slow and steady, in and out.

4. Now shift your attention to your neck. Again, you are just here to observe, not to change anything. Keep breathing, and just let yourself be aware of what your body is doing.

5. Taking your time and remembering to breathe, move down to your shoulders. And then your arms and hands. Upper back, lower back.

6. Attend to your chest. Be aware of the rise and fall as your breath goes in and out. Notice whether you can feel your heart beating.

7. Move down to your abdomen. Remember to keep breathing, slowly in and out.

8. Continue down your body - hips, thighs, lower legs, feet.

9. Once you have scanned your whole body, go back to your breath. Pay attention to a few breaths - in and out, slow and easy - and then imagine that you can send your breath wherever you want it to go. Think about a part of your body that felt tense or uncomfortable. When you breathe in, send the warm energy of your breath to that place. When you breathe out, let your breath carry away the tension or the pain.

10. When you are done, take another deep breath, and let your eyes come open, soft and easy. Take a minute just to be quiet and at peace.

And there you have it. An easy meditation exercise that really does help to ease muscle tension and calm your mind.

Next time: The Worry List

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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, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books.

Your Sons and Daughters

By Dave Jackson

Dave JacksonWhen this odyssey of writing started in my life about 10 years ago, I wish I’d known what I’m about to share with you. Those books of yours, they’re like children. The proud parent angle has been done enough. I’m coming from a different direction…check it out.

You’ve got to be a strict and understanding parent with infinite patience.

What I most want to emphasize are the life spans, the trials, the celebrations, and just plain old growing pains of your novels. We all get caught in that trap with our kiddos, saying, “They grow up so fast!” In a way they do. But they weren’t off to college a year after entering the world. The younglings had to grow didn’t they? YOU had to grow with them. You had to share their disappointments and highs, right? A bittersweet and beautiful mist of emotions that one cannot even begin to describe.

Voila.

That’s what it feels like to watch your book mature. It will let you down a couple of times. It will amaze you. Pride will thunder in your heart and disappointment will bring tears. But you got to stand behind that little reflection of you.

Jackson_Tattoo RampageAs Tattoo Rampage hits the virtual shelves this week (hard cover available by order), I can’t help but think of my son. Besides the point that he has always been daddy’s biggest supporter, just by being a great kid, Jr. has underscored to me that for people or pursuits you love, you must be a strong influence, but willing to allow them to become their own creation and still love them anyway.

Gusto Dave

Tattoo Rampage, Dave's debut novel, is represented for film by Hotchkiss and Associates, the same agency that saw Secretariat, The Kite Runner, and recently Joe Hill's Horns from novels to movies.

Evangelina Marquez-James gets her first tattoo, a symbol of courage to carry on after her husband dies in the line of duty as a police officer. The skin art is of an elite yet obscure super heroine created by a forgotten 1940s artist.

A solar disturbance triggers a metamorphosis in her new ink, enabling Evangelina with the ability to transform into the embodiment of the character complete with powers. She sets out to wage war against the types of vermin who murdered her husband.

Acid, a sociopathic killer who can assume the form of his warlord tattoo, seeks the artist’s original sketchbook. When Evangelina comes into possession of the drawing pad, Acid not only tracks it down, but her family as well, forcing her into a standoff with his nightmarish army born of ink.

Curiosity Quills Press plans to release Tattoo Rampage September 15th of 2013.

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Not your typical author, “Gusto” Dave Jackson started writing in his constant pursuit to become a renaissance man. Then he fell in love with the art form. Comedy remains as one of his many passions. He writes and performs skits as well as stand-up. Also a songwriter and guitarist, he has composed over 300 musical titles.

On Facebook, send him a friend request or like his fan page.

And you can always just type "Gusto Dave" in the FB or Google search and pull him up.

Getting the Most Out of the RMFW Colorado Gold Conference

By Mike Befeler

Writers conferences are a blast. Having attended a number of different ones, the RMFW Colorado Gold Conference ranks up there right at the top. This will be my twelfth year, and I get something new out of each one. Here are my thoughts on getting the most out of the conference.

1. If this is your first conference, jump in and meet people. If this is your umpteenth conference, make an effort to meet the people who are here for the first time. At my first conference, I knew one other person attending. Now I have many friends I’ve made over the years.

2. Take the time to peruse the schedule and pick out a variety of sessions. For my first few years, I concentrated on craft. Then I migrated to sessions on how to pitch and sell your manuscript. Then with my first publication, I focused on how to promote your books. Now, I find myself jumping in at all levels. It’s said you need to write a million words to learn the craft of writing. I’ve written over a million words, and I’ll still learning. We all can continue to tune our craft.

3. Think about what you’re currently writing and go to sessions with the frame of mind that you’re going to learn something to improve that manuscript.

4. Volunteer. It’s a great way to meet people. I’m coordinating moderators this year and moderating. We all can contribute to making the conference a success.

5. At the meals sit with someone you don’t know. Although it’s great to catch up with old friends, meal time is a chance to also make some new friends.

6. Make an effort to pitch to agents and editors. This works much better than sending in blind query letters. I sold my first book as a result of a pitch at the 2005 RMFW Colorado Gold Conference. Just don’t follow agents or editor into the restroom to pitch to them, particularly if of the opposite sex.

7. Spend time at the book sale on Friday night. Go around and meet the published authors. If you’re a published author, stand up and greet the people coming by. For the first five people who stop by to see me at the book signing and mention they’ve read this blog, I’ll give you a free book.

8. Drop by the hospitality suite after the conference Friday and Saturday nights. This is an excellent opportunity to schmooze with editors, agents and other writers. By the way, the hospitality suite is sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Hug a mystery writer.

9. Have fun.

Mike Befeler has five published books in his Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, the most recent being Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder and Care Homes Are Murder. He also has two published paranormal mysteries, The V V Agency and The Back Wing. Mike is president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

Learn more about Mike and his books at his website and blog. He can also be found on Facebook.