Talk to the Paw: The Great Chase

by Karen Duvall

It's been very busy in our household lately and our pets sense a change is coming. My husband and I will be leaving for our much-anticipated trip to Colorado next week and of course our fur babies don't want us to go. To top it off, my husband just had minor hernia surgery so he hasn't been as active with Kinsey as he usually is. She's jonesing for more ball playing time.

Sammy         Kinsey

Sammy: Would you please sit still?

Kinsey: Panting and twitching. I am still. I'm sitting down. Maybe I should stand. No, sitting is better. On second thought, if I stand next to the couch where Dad is sleeping he might throw the ball for me.

Sammy: Cool your jets, Kins. Dad's not up for playing ball right now. Even walking is a challenge.

Kinsey: Sits down again. Oh, yeah. Right. Then I'll go drop my ball on Mom's keyboard.

Sammy: I wouldn't do that if I were you.

Kinsey: Why not?

Sammy: She's kind of stressed.

Kinsey: So? What else is new.

Sammy: She's been taking care of Dad and she has lots to do before they leave on their trip.

Kinsey: Moans. Don't remind me.

Sammy: Have some catnip. That'll fix you right up.

Kinsey: Grabs the ball in her mouth and drops it in front of Sammy. Here. Push the ball with your nose. Just a little. Make it roll and I'll fetch it.

Sammy: Eewww, no way! It's got drool all over it.

Kinsey: Starts twitching again. If I don't get my ball time I'll go crazy.

Sammy: Ask Teddy. He could use the exercise.

Kinsey: He'll just sit on it and I may never see it again.

Sammy: Yawns. Not my problem.

Kinsey: Stares at Sammy.

Sammy: What are you looking at?

Kinsey: Cocks her head to one side. You're not exactly round, but you'll do in a pinch.

Sammy: Stands and backs up a few steps. What do mean?

Kinsey: The only time I ever chased a cat was when the neighbor's cats got in our yard. It was kinda fun.

Sammy: Narrows her eyes. You're not chasing me.

Kinsey: Aw, come on. Be a sport.

Sammy: Backs up some more. No.

Kinsey: I promise not to slobber on you. Not much anyway.

Sammy: Turns around and launches herself down the hall until she's only a black blur.

Kinsey: Runs after her. Hey, no fair! I wasn't ready!


KarenKaren 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.

Getting Physical: Ways to Make Your Characters Come Alive

By Lori DeBoer

Whether you write genre or literary fiction, you must be able to bring your characters to life. When characters are first conceived, they invariably seem a little wooden, too recognizable as constructs of the author’s imagination. The people that populate your stories need room to grow; they do so by going out into the material world and inhabiting it.

Here’s some strategies:

Ditch the Headtrip
Interiority—revealing the inner life and thoughts of a character—is what sets novels apart from screenplays, but don’t overdo it. If you spend too many pages inside a character’s head, you’ll give your writing a case of claustrophobia. You want your readers to fall into the dream of your story, not want to claw their way out of it. Do so by giving readers recognizable physical anchors: bake some literary brownies and readers will buy into the fictional house.

Buddy Up
Scenes that feature a character going it alone—driving, drinking, lounging, brooding—quickly go flat. Introduce another character into the mix. Having two actors on a story’s stage provides a physical and emotional interplay that increases drama, conflict and unpredictability.

Do or Die
The most memorable scenes occur when the task at hand is active and unusual; even better if it’s uncomfortable for at least one of the story’s players. In the short story “Emergency” by Denis Johnson, the action opens with one of the characters mopping up blood in a hospital operating room, while the point-of-view character rifles through his pockets for drugs. In the short story “The Faery Handbag” by Kelly Link, the main character peruses thrift stories, hoping to find her grandmother’s (metaphorical?) magical purse and, in it, her missing friend.

Make Meaningful Gestures
Are your characters all talk and no action? Break up blocks of dialogue with expressive body language and movement. Since 80 percent of communication is nonverbal, every shrug, twitch, nod, wave, grimace and clenched fist adds depth. Summer Knight by Jim Butcher opens with the wizard Harry investigating a rain of toads. While he is collecting specimens, he is confronted by a friend for isolating himself after his girlfriend was harmed. Though his words are terse, Harry reveals his grief: “I closed my eyes and tried to remember not to crush the toad in my hand to death. ‘Drop the subject.’“

Set the Stage
One of the first things theater directors learn is stage blocking—the choreography of the character. This applies to fiction as well. Where do your characters enter and exit your scenes? How close are they are to each other at any given time? Determine how large a space your scene occupies and write accordingly. If you have one character rapidly approaching another, but you draw this action over several paragraphs, that person better not be crossing a tiny room. Author Elizabeth Strout moves characters deftly, as you can see from this excerpt from The Burgess Boys. “Turning his head, Bob saw through the grated windows his brother walking up the sidewalk, and a small rush of anxiety came to him at the sight of this: his older brother’s quick gait, his long coat, the thick leather briefcase. There was the sound of the key in the door.”

Use Your Props
Author Anton Chekhov famously wrote: “If a gun is on the mantle in the first act, it must fire in the last.” Actually, there are various versions of this quotation floating around, but they all advise writers to use their props. Let’s extend this to mean that fictional characters have a relationship with the physical objects around them. If you have a prop in your scene, how do your characters respond to it? In Flannery O’ Connor’s story “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” guns are central to the tale of family with children that encounters criminals. All three men have guns, which the young boy notices and asks about. A few paragraphs later, one of the criminals “drew a little circle in the ground with the butt of his gun.” Spoiler: O’ Connor follows Chekhov’s advice.

Simulate the Senses
If you want to ground your characters in the scene, have them respond viscerally, emotionally and intellectually to the sensory information around them. In “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather, the main character wants to avoid facing his father one night: “Meanwhile, he was wet and cold. He went around to the back of the house and tried one of the basement windows, found it open, raised it cautiously, and scrambled down the cellar wall to the floor. There he stood, holding his breath, terrified by the noise he had made, but the floor above him was silent, and there was no creak on the stairs. He found a soapbox, and carried it over to the soft ring of light that streamed from the furnace door, and sat down. He was horribly afraid of rats, so he did not try to sleep, but sat looking distrustfully at the dark, still terrified lest he might have awakened his father.”

I'd love to hear more ideas on how to get physical with your characters.


Lori DeBoerLori 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.

Interview with Agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg

By Jeffe Kennedy

Since the Colorado Gold Conference is coming up, pitching and querying seem to be on people's minds. So I thought I'd interview my agent, Pam van Hylckama Vlieg.

You’ve been an agent now for about two years, right? First with Larsen-Pomada and now with the new agency you helped form, Foreword Lit.

I was at Larsen Pomada for a year when Laurie McLean and I left with Elizabeth and Michael's blessing to for Foreword Literary. We wanted to dig into the tech and new fields of publishing and forge some industry standards for agents while still maintaining ethics. We're super excited to have gotten Gordon Warnock on board early on and are very excited about the new agency.

In a relatively short amount of time, you’ve sold a lot of books. Would you share your stats – how many books have you sold, to which publishers, in which genres? And how many clients do you have now?

Some of the sales are secret ;). But I've sold 38 books (soon to be 40 probably by the time this interview posts) to Penguin, Simon and Schuster, Entangled, and other large and small publishers. Most of my sales are romance or adult, with YA and MG following closely behind. I have twenty-two amazing clients!

Who is your favorite client?

Jeffe, of course. Don't tell Vivi.

What made you decide to become a literary agent?

I was offered an internship a few years ago at Kimberly Cameron as a reader. I fell in love with the entire process of making a book and when Laurie offered for me to be her assistant agent I took it! After I learned from her and sold a book on my own she let me go and I've been running forward every since.

Do you like it?

It is literally the best job ever. To know that you are in some small way influencing what people read and making author dreams come true is a heady experience. It makes all the bad stuff (rejections, clients who didn't work out) tolerable.

What did you do before you became an agent?

I left college to manage boy bands from Scandinavia. Then I met Marco and worked at Yahoo for a while before deciding to stay at home with my young son who I later sent to daycare because he is of Satan. Ok, maybe not Satan but he because a toddler.

While I was home with him I created a book blog that did pretty well on the interwebz. Bookalicious is still going strong with tons of reviewers and good books being recommended.

One of the things that I think gives you a different – and useful – perspective of the world of books is the time you spent being a book blogger. How do you think that informs your career as an agent?

I think book bloggers are some of the most publishing informed people in the world. We know the market, we know what's coming out and what has already came out, and we know the publishing staff (if the blog is big enough to have worked with publishing staff). Transitioning for me may have been easier than it is for some new agents. I didn't have to introduce myself, I only had to introduce my authors.

In which genres are you most actively acquiring right now?

Middle Grade, contemporary romance, and genre fiction (except mystery and thriller and horror).

What’s your philosophy about digital-first publishing vs. “traditional” publishing vs. self-publishing?

I love them all for different reasons and different books. I think digital/digital-first is a great way to prove your work has merit and to finagle into a print deal if that is what the author wants to do. Traditional publishing is still going strong no matter what naysayers say and has the distribution and marketing that authors desperately need in this ever-shifting marketplace. Self-publishing has brought on a new reading level (NA) and made erotic romance a household item. These ladies are making tons of money and getting big traditional deals. They have the best of both worlds.

What’s the most common misstep writers make when querying you?

Not following my very easy submissions guidelines.

What do you think is the worst advice out there for writers querying agents?

There's this new thing where authors query in their character's voice. That is so weird. SO WEIRD. I'm going to work with the author not the character.

What about the best advice?

Keep it short and simple!

Any final words?

Thank you for having me.

Pam's bio:

Pam van Hylckama Vlieg started her literary career as assistant to Laurie McLean in early 2012. By April Pam was promoted to Associate Agent at Larsen Pomada. In January of 2013 after selling twenty-one books in her first year of agenting Pam was promoted to agent. When Laurie McLean mentioned creating Foreword, Pam jumped at the chance to follow her mentor and create a new agency together.

Pam blogs at,, and Brazen Reads. She partners her blogs with her local bookseller Hicklebee’s where magic happens daily.

Pam grew up on a sleepy little Podunk town in Virginia. She’s lived in the UK, several US states, and now resides in the Bay Area of California. She has two kids, two dogs, two guinea pigs, but only one husband. You can find her mostly on Twitter where she wastes copious amounts of time.

To query please send a query, 1-2 page synopsis, and the first chapter of your manuscript (no attachments) to

Pam is interested in the following genres:

High concept young adult in any genre. Some of Pam’s favorite recent YA books are: The Masque of the Red Death, Cinder, Shadow and Bone, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Small Damages, and Insignia.

Middle grade in these genres: fantasy. Pam’s recent favorite MG books are: The Peculiar, The Emerald Atlas, Storybound, The Prince Who Fell from the Sky, and Icefall.

Romance in these categories: historical, fantasy, contemporary, and erotica. Pam’s favorite romance titles released recently are: Loving Lady Marcia, Be My Prince, Rogue’s Pawn, and The Siren.

New Adult in all categories will be considered. Pam has enjoyed Suddenly Royal, and Leopard Moon in this genre.

Speculative fiction in these genres: urban fantasy, paranormal, and epic/high fantasy.



Author Head ShotJeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her fantasy BDSM romance, Petals and Thorns, originally published under the pen name Jennifer Paris, has won several reader awards. Sapphire, the first book in Facets of Passion has placed first in multiple romance contests and the follow-up, Platinum, is climbing the charts. Her most recent works include three fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns, the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and the post-apocalyptic vampire erotica of the Blood Currency.

Jeffe lives in Santa Fe, with two Maine coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Jeffe can be found online at her website: or every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog.

She is represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary.

Conference Gold: Dos and Don’ts for the Upcoming RMFW Conference

By Julie Kazimer

It’s my favorite time of the year. As the leaves start to fall, hundreds of fellow writers descend on the Colorado Gold Conference. In case you’re not signed up, you still have time. The conference starts on September 20 – 22nd. Learn more and register at

If you’re already registered, I look forward to seeing you there. I attended my first conference in 2007. I can’t believe how naïve I was about writing and publishing at the time. I honestly believed I’d be a bestselling author by Christmas that year. Yeah, I was a wee bit deluded.

The delusion continued, and now I find myself about to attend my 7th Colorado Gold Conference. I still get that swell of excitement and anticipation as the conference draws near. Thankfully I’ve learned a lot since my first conference. Now I will pass my vast (yeah, right) amount of conference knowledge on to you.


1) Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Friday is usually more casual. Saturday night there’s a banquet in which some dress to kill while others wear jeans. Make sure to say hi to Marc Graham, he’s the guy in a kilt.

2) Network like mad. Too often writer make the mistake of thinking their pitch or talking to an agent or editor about their book is the most important aspect of conference going. It isn’t. The odds of getting an agent or selling your book during a pitch are low, very low. On the other hand, the odds of meeting someone at the conference, whether an agent, an editor, or a fellow writer on the same journey, who will eventually affect your writing career is all but assured.

3) Pitch a finished manuscript. And only a finished manuscript. If you don’t have the book done, then wait, and query the agent and/or editor when it is finished.

4) Meet Patricia Stoltey one of the RMWF Blog Editors. She is an amazing woman.

5) Have a 30 word or less elevator pitch ready and memorized to spout at will to anyone who asks. And they will ask.

6) Attend workshops. It’s amazing what you can learn from your fellow writers.

7) Ask Writer of the Year, Linda Joffe Hull, about her journey to publication. It’s a good one.

8) Take a risk. Do something out of your comfort zone. I’m not suggesting you dance on the bar, but why not head up to the hospitality suite for a before bed nightcap. Or take a workshop outside your genre. Join a group of writers bashing the latest bestseller even if you haven’t read the book. Hang out. Soak it in.

9) Join RMFW if you aren’t already a member. It’s worth every penny.

10) Say hi! I can’t wait to meet you.

11) Have FUN! The Gold Conference is unlike any other. Enjoy it.


1) Look up Marc’s kilt.

2) Be shy. Here’s an icebreaker for the shy writer. Walk up to anyone and say: “What do you write?” This is an instant conversation starter and even better, helps you to focus on your own 30 words or less description of your book.

3) Throw up on the agent/editor you are pitching. As hard as this is to believe, pitches are not the end all be all. So don’t be nervous. Your entire career isn’t on the line…

4) Hide in your hotel room. Oh, I know you…well, I know me. My name is Julie, and I’m an introvert. It’s not a sin. I just need more time by myself to recharge, especially when faced with hundreds of fellow writers. It’s tempting for introverts to stay tucked away in our hotel rooms, but don’t do it. You’ll be amazed by how much you can learn and grow in 48 hours. Be present.

5) Eat alone. If you’re planning to eat lunch at the hotel restaurant, when you’re standing in line, look for others who appear alone or in a small group and join them for lunch. You’ll be amazed by who you can meet.

6) Put too much pressure on yourself. This weekend is about learning your craft, enjoying fellow writers, and gathering energy to keep on writing.

7) One more thing, try not to laugh at Mario Acevedo’s Hawaiian shirt.

Anyone have other advice for conference season? Is there anything you are looking forward to doing or workshop you plan on attending?

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include 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 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.

Talk to the Paw: Fighting Tooth and Claw

By Karen Duvall

Kinsey was very sad when I told her we didn't have a guest for her this week. She's super friendly and loves meeting other dogs even though she likes people better. I told her she might have someone new to talk to next week. If there are any writer's pets out there who'd like to be interviewed for Talk to the Paw, please contact me.

There are always accusations flying between my pets. In my home, the blame game is a regular sport. There are no winners, and everyone calls each other a loser. Things were no different this week. I've been busier than usual getting ready for the Colorado Gold Conference, and the animals are nervous about my husband and me leaving them behind. They'll have a sitter here at the house while we're gone, but like all children, they'd rather have Mom and Dad. Point is, they're a bit on edge. More hissing and barking than normal, and usually at each other.








Kinsey: Admit it. I know it was you.

Sammy: Narrows her eyes. Was not.

Kinsey: Was too.

Sammy: Was not.

Kinsey: Was too.

Sammy: How do you know it wasn't Cody? Or Teddy?

Kinsey: Because you puke more than they do.

Sammy: It wasn't my puke.

Kinsey: I heard you make that sound you do when you throw up. Like a drowning vacuum cleaner with hiccups.

Sammy: Was there a hairball in it?

Kinsey: Pauses to think. Yes! There was a hairball! And it was black, just like your fur.

Sammy: Bristles. Liar! I've never thrown up a hairball. Neither has Cody or Teddy. It was YOU that threw up on the carpet!

Kinsey: Looks around and clears her throat. It was YOU that killed the cute little bird in the back yard the other day.

Sammy: Me? Puh-leese. I'm not allowed outside.

Kinsey: But you got out. I watched you. Dad put you in your cat walker in the yard and you pawed the latch until it sprung. I saw you!

Sammy: Shrugs. So I got out. So what. That doesn't mean I killed the bird.

Kinsey: You were the only one loose.

Sammy: YOU were loose, too, you know.

Kinsey: Why would I kill a bird? That's what cats do, not dogs.

Sammy: I've seen you nearly trample the birds around the feeder when you're chasing your ball.

Kinsey: But I'm not trying to kill them, and I never do. That's the difference. You want to kill birds.

Sammy: In my defense, it's my natural instinct to go after birds. I get excited when they move fast like that.

Kinsey: Points an accusatory paw. So it WAS you!

Sammy: Looks around before starting to groom herself. Maybe. I plead the fifth.

Kinsey: The fifth what?

Sammy: I don't know. It's what the humans say on those TV shows Mom always watches.

Kinsey: Blows a raspberry. Bird killer.

Sammy: Carpet puker.

Long pause

Kinsey: I guess Teddy could have killed that bird. He's allowed to go out in the yard alone now that he's too fat to jump the fence.

Sammy: Well, I guess Cody could have puked on the carpet. The puke was yellow. That's his color.


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.

Are You Serious?

By Trai Cartwright
Part Two of a Six-Part Monthly Series

Am I misguided or perhaps a tad, a bit, a dollop delusional, or are the forces behind the world of storytelling building like a Gangnam-style viral video? Have you felt it too?

I’m convinced this groundswell of creativity has been coming on for the last year or so: more and more folks, both in film and in fiction, have been taken over by the urge not just to write, but to be amazing at it, and to be serious about it. And, as if vindicating these impulses, more and more avenues to publishing and to audiences are arriving by the digibyte-load.

Why do you suppose that is? I know when I worked in Hollywood (pre- and post-Internet/cell phones/Blackberries/Smart phones, etc. etc. etc.), business stopped in August. Had to take our month-long vaca’s from living in paradise, don’tcha know. And from mid-December to mid-March everyone was at or thinking about the Holidays, the Sundance Film Festival, the Oscars, Cannes, so no go then either.

These were the times writers wrote in earnest, knowing that the minute the executives and the producers came back, they’d look around and say, “Whoops! Guess I haven’t developed any material for a while, and without material, there’s no product to sell, and without product selling, I don’t get to travel the world on Disney’s dime anymore.”

And the floodgates for submissions would open wide.

Oh, how I loved September and April.

In the publishing world, August suffers from the same absenteeism because, really, have you tried to live in NYC during that month? Even the AC has AC. And that love of month-long vacations infected a whole nation of agents and editors. (I'm not as familiar with this world -- is there another time to avoid trying to pitch because everyone's on vacation?)

So while our erstwhile moneymen and gatekeepers and greenlighters are fanning themselves in spectacular locales (at least, that’s what I wish for them), writers of every ilk are hunkering down.

This is especially seen in the fiction world right now, right this minute. Fall is the time of year we give ourselves a stringent self-evaluation:

How much have we accomplished this past year?
Did it meet our standards and goals?
Do we have anything close to being ready to sell?
What’s it going to take to get it there?
Just how seriously we’re going to take ourselves for the next twelve months?

Why this brutal going-over now, when everyone else is watching their tans fade and their kids head off to school?

It’s Writers Conference season!

This magical time happens twice a year, Fall and Spring, and it’s serious stuff. Who among us can’t wait to spend our hard-earned money to take classes, network with writers and agents, be inspired by the new author panels and key notes, pitch the future editor or agent of our books? Or are we going to wait for Spring?

The power of a good writer’s conference can’t be disputed. There are endless stories of writers who were blocked going home charged up to write, writers who did indeed find agents (I’m one of them!) that lead to book sales, writers who learned just the right skill when they needed it, and the business acumen to act on it, writers who remembered who they were, just by being immersed in the stew of their people.

We are your tribe. No one else quite understands you the way we do. And we love you.

Needless to say, I love writers and I love conferences. I teach at several a year, and am always thrilled by the success stories I hear, the vibrant life of the classroom, the prosciutto-stuffed chicken breasts. I love seeing old friends, both presenters and attendees, making new ones, and sitting in on classes so I can keep that learning-part of my writer brain alive.

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Conference is one of my all-time favorites. Most of you already know it’s coming right up, and I’ll be there once again to present. My master class on Friday morning is for the particularly brave and sadistic: "The Only Character Class You’ll Every Need." (I’m a big believer in hyperbole and then trying to deliver on my outrageous declarations.)

And on Sunday, I’ll be teaching a high-level perspective class called “I. You. Them.” This is not just a rehash of your high school English lessons—this is a potent discussion about how story is shaped by POV, and vice versa.

If you haven’t been to a conference, maybe it’s time to go. If you’re going again, I look forward to seeing you there. Regardless, ‘tis the season to ask yourself: how serious am I? How serious am I gonna be?


Trai Cartwright HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

A Different Kind of Literary Journal

By Jim Heskett

Way back in 2011, while hiking the Royal Arch trail in Boulder and cursing the Egg McMuffin I’d had for breakfast, an idea for a novel popped into my brain. The general premise came from a simple idea: what if we thought the world was going to end, but then it didn’t.

The story would focus on a small group of friends who behave badly, thinking there are no consequences to their actions, but then have to face the truth when the world doesn’t end.

The tale grew in my head. I then decided I would write instead about a group of opportunistic politicians who fake a doomsday scenario as a way to cause chaos and stage a worldwide coup to “reboot” society.

But with so many dystopian novels floating around out there in book-world, I would have to set it apart somehow. I didn’t want this tale to be fantasy or sci-fi; it had to be hyper-realistic.

Would have to be a big novel. 180,000 words, at least. Or maybe a trilogy. There’s just too much story here; it clearly needs to be a sprawling, seven-book epic. At least seven.

As the mythology ballooned in my head, I was adding characters and locations and plot elements, and I started to feel as if the scope were beyond me. The book(s) would delve deeply into specifics of military action and politics, two things I know little about.

How could I devote so much time to something so unwieldy? How could I possibly keep track of so many threads and details? The logistics of the venture seemed daunting.

I decided to shelve it and work on other projects, but my uncooperative mind kept on inventing and pondering new details. The story insisted that it needed to be told.

So earlier this year, I reached a hard-fought compromise with my brain. Inspired by the cultural movements of Kickstarter and open-sourcing, I realized that there was another way: crowd-sourcing. I could tell my epic, quasi-dystopian tale by getting other people to do it for me. I’m either lazy, or a master at delegating. History will decide.

I created a website, wrote a brief and purposefully-vague history of the world I envisioned, and then set it free. I opened up the literary journal to short fiction submissions, in what (I believe) is the world’s first non-fantasy, non-sci-fi shared world literary journal experiment.

As long as submissions are loosely related to the established world and do not contradict anything already submitted, we will consider publishing it and therefore adding it to the overall tale.

Wherever the world goes next, and whatever backstory fills in the details, is up to those who submit fiction to us. If we publish you in our journal, you become a part-owner of the story. Eventually we’d like to have a forum where all past contributors can critique and vote on prospective submissions, in the spirit of keeping the journal “open-sourced” and community-based. So far we’re small and online-only, but we hope to expand into the print world. You can help us do that by submitting awesome short fiction.

The Five Suns Literary Journal is an epic tale that we all own together, and will go wherever we choose.


Jim HeskettJim Heskett, originally from Oklahoma, has called Colorado his home for the past ten years, except for a brief stint living overseas. He writes short and long fiction, blogs often, and creates music, all of which you can sample on his website. Finally, he is the founder and editor of the Five Suns Literary Journal.

His current work in progress is a novel titled AIRBAG SCARS, about a lapsed poet who longs to return to writing verse, but first will have to put aside the drink and repair his broken past.

Writing and Reading and Podcasts. Oh my!

By Mark Stevens

If you’re addicted to reading and writing—like me—I’m here with a few tips so you can pack more into your day.

First, an important fact:

I only write—pen on paper—for about 45 minutes a day. Sometimes, it’s an hour. But most days, 45 minutes.

However, I’m thinking about those 45 minutes frequently throughout the rest of the day. I’m thinking about that precise moment in my current story—the attitude of my characters, what’s happening, what’s next, what they are thinking, what they will think next, what they will do next, what memory haunts them. Etcetera. You get the picture.

So when my 45-minute window rolls around, I’m writing (not thinking).

But what about the other 23 hours and 15 minutes?

Well, there’s work. And eating. And sleeping.

But my tip for being able to think about writing (and reading) more is to start listening to three dynamite podcasts—ideal for the car and for walks (mine happen to be with a dog).

  • The Bookworm. Just listening to Michael Silverblatt chat with an author is incredibly inspiring, at least to me. This is ‘serious fiction,’ whatever that is, but I find his questions are thoughtful and the authors are a talented bunch from the literary side of the tracks.
  • Scriptnotes. Yes, a podcast for ‘screenwriters,’ but it’s also about story structure and plot and characters. The three-page challenge is the most useful stuff—it’s where John August and Craig Mazin dissect the opening three pages of a screenplay for what works and what doesn’t. Many of the problems they find apply to writing fiction—and they post the challenges on their web site, too. Is there a similar podcast about ‘regular’ fiction writing? Want to start one? Let me know. In the meantime, check this out:
  •  Authors on Tour. Do you see the events at The Tattered Cover and wish you could go? I do. Many of the presentations are recorded here. A great way to “meet” new authors or listen to famous ones—and find out how they approach their book tour presentations, how they answer questions. Inspiring—through and through. I’ve found several terrific authors this way. Just can’t your book signed.

I also like the Slate Audio Book Club, The Reading and Writing Podcast with Jeff Rutherford, The New Yorker Fiction Podcast (one short story per month, read by another famous writer, and includes a thoughtful discussion of the work). All of these are available on I-Tunes. All free. All will help you get more reading (and writing) into your day.

By the way, I’m serious about the podcast proposal. I’m thinking it would be very cool to have a podcast with an established agent, a publisher and an author discussing the business as well as the art.

Do you have a favorite podcast? Let me know. I’d love to check it out.


Profile_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.

The Art of Balancing Writing and a Full Time Job

By Mike Befeler

When I started writing in 2001, I made a decision that fiction writing was something I wanted to retire into. I began writing and training myself so I could eventually retire from the computer industry where I had worked for years. I had learned that you can take any course for free at the University of Colorado with the instructor’s permission if you’re fifty-five or older. Coming to writing later in life and living in Boulder, I availed myself of this opportunity. We wrote short stories in the courses and critiqued each other, my first exposure to critique groups. Then I decided to try my hand at novel length material. At this time I was still working full time so I devised a way to write on a regular basis while paying the bills through my day job.

I had read the book, The Artist Way, by Julia Cameron. I highly recommend it since it provides excellent exercises to improve creativity. One of her techniques is called Morning Pages. Every morning first thing, sit down and write three handwritten pages. They can be anything—your journal or whatever pops into your head. It’s a means of getting the creative juices flowing for the day.

Since I didn’t have a lot of time to spend beyond my job and family responsibilities, I decided to adapt the Morning Pages concept for my own use. Here’s the approach I took: First thing every morning, I’d review where I left of in my novel manuscript the day before. Then I’d write three handwritten pages to continue the story before heading off to my job. After work, I’d enter those three pages into the computer, doing an editing pass along the way. This typically produced two typed pages.

If you do the math, in a hundred fifty days, I had the rough draft for a three hundred page novel. I wrote the initial draft of my first three published novel (Retirement Homes Are Murder, Living with Your Kids Is Murder and Senior Moments Are Murder) using this approach.

In August, 2007, I was able to retire from the computer industry into my full time writing career. Since I now don’t have to dash out of the house in the mornings (unless I’m giving a breakfast presentation), I write directly on the computer. But for those years of balancing writing and a full time job, my adapted Morning Pages technique served me well.


mike_befelerMike 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.

Talk to the Paw – Cat-astrophes Waiting to Happen

We're happy to welcome a new guest today on Talk to the Paw. Thea Hutcheson has graciously allowed Tom the Office Cat to Skype with my cat, Sammy the Troublemaker. Our two kitties share a fondness for keyboards, chatting at the top of their lungs, and absconding with valuable office supplies.

Tom the Office Cat
Tom the Office Cat
Sammy the Troublemaker

Both these kitties were rescued as kittens. Thea tells me her Tom, only four weeks old at the time, showed up three years ago in the cat condo she has on her outdoor deck. When my Sammy was six or seven weeks old, she was found crying while wandering through a shopping center parking lot late at night when my husband was working in a store there. Now our furbabies are all grown up and making valuable contributions to our writing lives. 

Sammy: Pats computer monitor. Hey! Tom, is that you in there? How do I get you out?

Tom: Pats his monitor so their paws touch. I thought you were the one in there.

Sammy: Nope. I'm in my house.

Tom: I'm inside my house, too.

Silence as they both disappear behind their computer monitors and then come back out.

Sammy: That's really weird. I can hear you and see you, but I can't touch you.

Tom: Bummer.

Sammy: Anyway, I heard you like office supplies. So do I!

Tom: Turns in a fast circle. They're the best! Especially tape. Give me lots and lots of sticky tape. Yumyumyumyum.

Sammy: Ugh! Are you kidding me? I hate getting that sticky stuff on my paws. I have to run all over the house to get it off.

Tom: Then you're not doing it right.

Sammy: How about rubberbands? Man, those things are awesome. Very chewy.

Tom: I haven't tried those yet.

Sammy: You should. You'll love 'em. You can fling them and chase them and then eat them.

Tom: What do they taste like?

Sammy: Rubber. Giggles. The best part is when my mom finds them after I've pooped them out. I'm pretty sure they're still useable, too.

Tom: Makes a disgusted face. Pens and highlighters are my favorites. I like to carry them around and drop them in the hallway for my mom to pick up.

Sammy: Yeah? I should try that. I have fun knocking pens and stuff off the desk though. I like to watch them bounce on the floor before Kinsey eats them.

Tom: Who's Kinsey?

Sammy: Our dog. Do you have a dog?

Tom: No.

Sammy: Want one?

Tom: No.


Sammy: I also heard you manage your mom's printer.

Tom: Nods. Yep. I'm in charge. I inspect every piece of paper that goes in and every one that comes out, and I make sure it doesn't get jammed.

Sammy: Wow, that's an important job. I get excited by the sound the printer makes. I've tried to grab the paper when it comes out, but mom gets mad at me because it does something she calls "misfeed." It looks perfectly fed to me, but it spits out everything it eats. That's just wrong.

Tom: Do you like boxes? They make great beds for napping. You have to chew all the edges though so everyone knows it's yours.

Sammy: I have two boxes on the kitchen counter that mom calls my "Petting Boxes." I'm not allowed on the counter unless I use a Petting Box to sit in. I love getting petted. It makes me purr.

Tom: I love it too. I demand lots of petting while my mom is working.

Sammy: Do you help your mom write?

Tom: Absolutely! She'd never type a coherent word if not for me. I tap the keyboard or walk over it. I'm the best editor she's ever had.

Sammy: Holds paw up to the monitor. High five!

Tom: Places his paw on his monitor to match hers.

Sammy: Oh! I think I hear that whirring noise of a printer running.

Tom: Yeah, I gotta go. It's my job to make sure it prints properly. Disappears from view.

Sammy: Looks sad while staring at the empty screen. Was nice meeting you! Don't forget to try the rubberbands!


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.