Motivation

Motivation.

You hear it all the time. Your characters need to be motivated to pick up that sword and slay the dragon, venture to a distant galaxy, or figure out why there’s a dead body at the bottom of the well.

What motivates your character to do what they need to do in your story?

But, wait.

Strip away the story for a second. Let’s get back to your character before your story starts.

Long before...

Before she needed to grasp the sword, before he climbed into the rocket, before she lowered herself in the well to study the corpse.

Who is this person—at the core? How motivated was he or she--in general? As a person?

Was she ambitious to begin with? Or filled with ennui? Where did she draw motivation to, say, go to college or get a job? No, really, what drives her to get out of bed in the morning and go pursue her dream? Any dream?

And is it her own dream? Or a course charted by a parental unit? Family pressure? Family influence?

I’m thinking about all of this because I recently met a guy who was successful and highly visible for a long period of time.

And then, wham.

I mean, he got creamed. He was below down and he was below out. He had made some mistakes. He over-extended himself. He went completely belly up. He owed millions of dollars. It was a bleak scene. It took several years, but he’s picked himself back up. And now he's making another run at big-time business success.

He can trace his character and grit back to his parents and how he was raised. It’s such a key part of his life, how he absorbed what they taught him about how to approach that big wide world.

Why does anybody want to do anything?

That’s a common refrain of Brendan Murphy, a.k.a. “Murph,” the Asphalt Warrior (star of eight novels to date). Murph, the creation of the late Gary Reilly, lives a very alternative lifestyle. He questions capitalism, even the need for much of an income. How many people do you know who share that worldview?

With his idiosyncratic ways, Murph reminds me of Ivan Goncharov’s Oblomov, one of the most memorable novels I read in college, and Herman Melville’s Bartleby The Scrivener. Oblomov is incapable of doing anything significant. In the first 50 pages, he only moves from his bed to his chair. Told you. Great story.

And Bartleby declines most of the work assignments he’s given, even when the consequences mount.

Murph, Oblomov and Bartleby have their reasons. They are three-dimensional human beings.

Their lives are fascinating on their own because their sheer essence cuts against the grain of what’s acceptable.

Ignatius Reilly, also, the central character in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.

Ignatius Reilly: “I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.” Yes, to varying degrees, these four are anti-social.

The vast majority of fictional characters are not.

Your dragon-slayer.

Your astronaut.

Your detective.

Before the inciting incident that interrupts your character's routine life, who was this person? What got them up in the morning?

I don’t think it hurts, at a very fundamental level, to understand the answer to that question.

So your character stands out from the crowd.

Final thought from George Carlin: “Actually, if you ask me, this country could do with a little less motivation. The people who are causing all the trouble seem highly motivated to me. Serial killers, stock swindlers, drug dealers, Christian Republicans. I’m not sure motivation is always a good thing. You show me a lazy prick who’s lying in bed all day, watching TV … and I’ll show you a guy who’s not causing any trouble.”

Women In Horror Month Getting To Know You: Meet The Sweet Ladies With Terrifying Minds

February is Women in Horror Month. In fact, this is the 8th year the event has been recognizing women in the horror genre. So we thought this is the perfect opportunity for the Getting to Know You Project to introduce some of the ladies of RMFW who write horror. We also have one gentleman sharing how he was influenced by a woman horror writer. We hope you will take the time to follow links to their websites, social sites, and author pages to get to know them better. Also check out a few of the authors' drawings and giveaways.

Audrey Brice (Stephanie Reisner)

Audrey Brice writes paranormal thrillers, mysteries, and horror stories where spirits, demons, and occult practitioners are both heroes and villains. She lives along the front range of the Rocky Mountains with her husband and three spoiled rescue cats. She has recently contributed short horror fiction in the anthologies Man Behind the Mask, Crossroads in the Dark, and Into the Abyss.

What influenced you to write horror? The supernatural, and why it terrifies people, has always been a fascination of mine. Add to that my own supernatural experiences and that became the reason I fell in love with horror as a genre. My own supernatural experiences led to me exploring the occult as a young pre-teen, and that turned into a lifelong obsession of mine. So there were many contributing factors, but having experienced ghostly phenomena first hand was probably one of the strongest influences.

When you tell people you write horror, how do they react? They’re usually not surprised. Apparently I look as though I might write horror. Or they know enough about my non-horror novels and non-fiction books that they expected as much. I get more surprise and dismay when I tell people I listen to opera than I do when I tell them I write horror.

What written works have greatly influence your own writing? Anything by Dana Reed. She was the first occult horror author I ever read (back in the 80’s) and I’ve always loved her work. Her novels are some of the few I’ll re-read over and over again. I had the benefit of meeting her back in 2004 and she helped to launch my first professional sale (not horror). But she was very supportive. I’ve found the horror writer community to be supportive overall, regardless of gender.

DRAWING: Subscribe to my Audrey Brice newsletter at http://www.sjreisner.com/newsletter in the next two weeks, and be entered in a drawing to win a free ebook (your choice from my OTS or Thirteen Covens series’).

Horror Subgenre(s): Occult/Paranormal
Website: http://www.sjreisner.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/audreybricewriter
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheLovelyCrab
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Audrey-Brice/e/B003ZFW3DE


Betsy Dornbusch

Betsy Dornbusch is the author of over a dozen short stories, three novellas, and four novels. She lives in Colorado with her family. Enemy, the third of the Books of the Seven Eyes Trilogy, release February 21. She is also working on the standalone post-apocalyptic thriller, The Silver Scar, that will release next year.

Were there any gender obstacles you had to overcome after releasing your first novel? I tend to write pretty violent fiction, and I think because I have this cutesy, girly name, readers don't assume that--despite the rather large, intimidating, angry looking man on my covers. I feel I'm constantly having to prove myself to readers that I write violence and dark themes, and that I pride myself on doing it as well as any writer. I do have male editors, which helps my confidence.

Other than that, really, marketing our writing is hard for everyone. I'm fortunate to have a wonderful publishing company behind me who puts a lot of time and effort into marketing my work. That is worth more than anything I could tweet or my own website.

What advice would you give to aspiring women horror writers? I think women writers have choices to make: if they want to change de-gender their penname, how outspoken they want to be publicly, what themes feel right for their fiction and careers. Of course every writer has these decisions to make, but for women these decisions, and being in the public eye, can hold different consequences than they do for men.

Keeping yourself safe to create and live is not "selling out." Whether that's maintaining silence on certain issues or in certain forums, or just withdrawing from the public eye to give yourself headspace to create, it's okay and often necessary. I say this as an outspoken, passionate commentator on feminism and inclusivity. You have the opportunity to speak to issues through your creative work and platform, but not the obligation.

So the best advice I can give any woman writer is to be true to herself and her own stories, and to trust her instincts.

Horror Subgenre(s): Dark Epic Fantasy, Vampires
Website: http://betsydornbusch.com
Facebook: http://facebook.com/betsydornbusch
Twitter: http://twitter.com/betsydornbusch
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Betsy-Dornbusch/e/B0071AJE0E


W. J. Howard

W. J. Howard writes dark stories mixed with comedy for all ages. Her main focus is creating fast-paced, action-packed stories that read like video games. Wendy appreciates unconventional methods of publishing and released an entire novel by tweeting it on Twitter. Warrant for Damnation, the second in The Courier series, is currently releasing weekly on Wattpad. She's also releasing a short prequel to the series on Valentine's Day.

What influenced you to write horror? I was introduced to horror at the age of four, when I watched the movie, The Crawling Hand. I've been addicted to the genre ever since. While I like being scared, I also get a kick out of scaring people. As a child, I was a bully and once landed a large rock on a neighbor boy's head just for the fun of it. As bad as it sounds, I find other people's pain funny. Then again, the endless number of YouTube accident videos wouldn't be so popular if I were alone. Anyway, my love of slapstick and sick sense of humor have led me to primarily write a mix of horror and comedy. It was that or risk ending up in jail. The thing is we all have it in us or the Stanford Prison Experiment wouldn't have turned out so disturbing.

How have male horror writers encouraged you in your career? I have a great love for my many male horror writer friends. They have been nothing but encouraging. After all, a good horror story is a good horror story, and gender has nothing to do with it. According to the documentary Why Horror?, 60% of horror fans are now women. Men need the ladys' input in this changing horror demographic.

What written works have greatly influence your own writing? Not so much fiction, surprisingly. I'm mostly influenced by world religions and philosophy, although I'm not a fan of organized religion. I'm fascinated by good vs evil and man's inhumanity to man. Other influences include Dante's Inferno and Camus' The Plague. As of late, I'm obsessed with Hannah Arendt who wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem and am feeling very influenced by history repeating itself.

DRAWING: I have a number of events for Valentine's Day and WiHM, and have set up a few drawings. Drop by my Facebook page and Like it to enter to win a $10 Amazon gift card. You can also drop by my website and comment on any of my blog posts during the month of February to enter to win.

Horror Subgenre(s): Paranormal, Good vs. Evil, Comedy
Website: http://wjhoward.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/storiesbywjhoward
Twitter: http://twitter.com/by_wjhoward
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/W.-J.-Howard/e/B008UZMZ50


Claire L. Fishback

Claire L. Fishback lives in Morrison, Colorado with her loving husband, Tim, and their pit bull mix, Belle. Writing has been her passion since age six. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys mountain biking, hiking, running, baking, and adding to her bone collection, though she would rather be stretched out on the couch with a good book (or poking dead things with sticks). Claire's short story, Remembra, is in the RMFW 2016 anthology, Found. The Blood of Seven is currently out with a few agents and a small press for consideration. She's also working on a story about a photographer who is afraid of the dark and discovers she can manipulate the shadows.

Why do you write horror? When I was six or so, I started writing stories about animals, my pets, fun little things like that. Then I discovered Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, compiled and retold by Alvin Schwarts. Those are the scary story books in which the illustrations are actually scarier than the stories. I devoured the stories in that book, and the three that followed. In the sixth grade, I didn’t like my teacher very much, so in my “reflections” notebook I started writing scary stories to scare her. Unfortunately, she thought they were great.

I write horror because I love to be scared. There’s something about that adrenaline rush, that prickly electric chill that shoots through your body when you get a startle, or when that shadow over there in the corner of the living room doesn’t look like it usually does… and then it moves.

When you tell people you write horror, how do they react? When I tell people I write horror, they usually respond with some form of, “You? You sweet cute little thing with the innocent smile?” Little do they know how dark and twisty I am on the inside.

How have male horror writers encouraged you in your career? I love Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. When I was a pre-teen I read probably all of R.L. Stein’s and Christopher Pike’s novels. Sometimes, as a kid, while reading Stein and Pike, I would nod and say to myself, I could write something like this. And in my high-and-mightier times, I would tell myself I could write something even better. I think they inspired me to try to write something better, or at least on par with their works.

Horror Subgenre(s): Supernatural suspense, horror mystery
Website: http://www.clairelfishback.weebly.com
Facebook: http://facebook.com/clairelfishback
Twitter: http://twitter.com/clairelfishback


C.R. Richards

A huge lover of horror and dark fantasy stories, C. R. Richards enjoys telling tales of intrigue and adventure. The youngest of five army brats, Richards was born on a military base in Utah. She spent much of her childhood in the back of her family’s sky blue station wagon on trips to see her grandmother, who would show her how to spot faeries in the backyard. Having begun writing as a part-time columnist for a small entertainment newspaper, Richards has worn several hats: food critic, entertainment reviewer and cranky editor. Her latest release is a dark epic fantasy entitled, The Lords of Valdeon. She's currently working on Book Two of the series, due for release in the Summer of 2017.

When you tell people you write horror, how do they react? I always get the “But you look like such a nice lady! When you said you were a writer, I thought you meant children’s books.” It cracks me up every time.

How have male horror writers encouraged you in your career? I’m a member of HWA. This group is extremely generous with their support (male and female alike). Two male horror writers stand out – William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run) and Jack Ketchum (The Woman). Each of them have taken the time to answer newbie questions, chat with conference attendees and share their stories of coming up in the Horror ranks.

Horror Subgenre(s): Dark Fantasy
Website: http://crrichards.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorcrrichards
Twitter: http://twitter.com/CR_Richards
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/C.R.-Richards/e/B00BA159W2


Yvonne Montgomery

Yvonne Montgomery grew up in Boulder, Colorado, in the shadows cast by the Rocky Mountains. She now lives in Denver's Capitol Hill in an old house filled with family, dogs, cats, and shadows. Yvonne found her voice writing two amateur detective novels in the eighties, and began to drift to the darker side as more ghostly elements came into her life. The result was the Wisdom Court trilogy (and maybe more): Edge of the Shadow, A Signal Shown, and All in Bad Time.

Why do you write horror? I'm obsessed with hauntings. As we age, so many memories become ghosts of our pasts. They become more real than the things that actually happened.

What influenced you to write horror? A morbid world view and the desire to untangle stories forming the past. Oh, yeah, and Stephen King.

In a male dominated genre, do you feel it’s difficult to market and sell your work? The one true thing I've learned in my writing career is that, no matter what you write and market and sell, it will always be difficult.

What written works have greatly influence your own writing? Barbara Michaels books, such as Ammie, Come Home and The Crying Child. It and The Stand, by Stephen King.

Horror Subgenre(s): Hauntings
Website: http://yvonnemontgomery.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ayvonnemontgomery
Twitter: https://twitter.com/authorYvonneM
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B001KIXKIU


Travis Heermann

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, Rogues of the Black Fury, and co-author of Death Wind, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Apex Magazine, Alembical, the Fiction River anthology series, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. He enjoys cycling, martial arts, torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas, and zombies. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT best-seller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.

We Dwell in the Gothic Castle – The Brilliance of Shirley Jackson

I was attending an author event at the Tattered Cover bookstore a couple of months ago. Not even really browsing, I had in hand the book I had come for, but nevertheless my gaze wandered across one of the bookseller recommendation shelves. For no discernible reason, one cover caught my eye. It was a pen and ink drawing of an elder sister embracing the younger, and the book was We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

I had not read Shirley Jackson since encountering her story "The Lottery" many years ago in high school English class. This much anthologized story is probably the work through which most people encounter her. And of course The Haunting of Hill House is an icon of the genre. But I had never heard of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, her last work, published three years before her death.

I took it home and devoured this short, not-so-sweet, miraculous wonder of a novel. It is the story of two disturbed, house-bound sisters, their strange relationship, the gothic mansion in which they live, and terrible family secrets. This book is, without question, a masterpiece of voice, mood, characterization, and a kind of simmering slow boil. It's one I'm still thinking about as a perfect example of craft. Told in first person from the perspective of the younger sister, her magical thinking brings it to the verge of, but not crossing into, a supernatural story. The monsters in his book, as in "The Lottery," are all human. In a genre filled with buckets of gore and lurid plots, this understated little book will get under your skin like spilled viscera will not.

If you're a horror writer, study Shirley Jackson. After reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle, I'll be thinking "how did she do that?" and trying to deconstruct it for a long time. There's a reason one of horror's highest awards has her name on it.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Death Wind by Travis Heermann

Death Wind

by Travis Heermann

Giveaway ends February 28, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Horror Subgenre(s): Horror western, ghost stories, erotic horror
Website: http://www.travisheermann.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/travis.heermann
Twitter: https://twitter.com/TravisHeermann
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Travis-Heermann/e/B002E453X4


If you are an RMFW member and horror writer, contact Wendy at whoward65@outlook.com to learn more about our group blog posts, board in the members only rmfw.net forum, and other events.

If you would like to participate in this project for future months, please email blog@rmfw.org.

The 2017 I-WOTY & WOTY Nominations! … by Lisa Manifold and L.S. Hawker

Hello Members! Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers has opened up their selection committees for the Writers of the Year nominations. The WOTY will be open to those traditionally published, and the I-WOTY will be for those independently published.

If you are a member of PAL or IPAL, and you published in 2016, please check out the website HERE and look for the guidelines and entry forms. If you know an RMFW member who would be great for this, but not enter themselves, you are welcome to enter them for consideration.

We will be accepting entries from February 3 through March 11 at 12:00 am

How the work is judged:
Each work is reviewed a couple of times before three finalists for each recognition are selected. After you have submitted your work, a quick review is made to be sure you’ve entered for the appropriate Selection Committee. As all basics have been checked, your application will be forwarded to a panel of judges. Each judge on the panel is responsible for reviewing your application and reading a couple of sample chapters from the work you submit. Every entry will receive approximately one hour of evaluation by each judge (for a minimum of five hours of review on your work). The judges will score all of the works and candidates to determine who they think represent the best in RMFW writing.

In March, the Selection Committees will meet and determine the three finalists for each award. These judges have several years’ experience writing and working with RMFW writers, and are well-qualified volunteers who want the best for not only RMFW as a whole, but all of the individual members. Still, only three finalists are allowed for each recognition, so please remember that whether or not your name is selected this is not a reflection on you or your talent as much as it is an effort to find an author to best represent the writing values of our organization. It’s a challenge to narrow down the finalists to only three with the quality of writers found in our organization.

Starting soon after April 30th open voting begins among the finalists. This is your opportunity as a member to voice your opinions on who our WOTY and I-WOTY should be. We try to give everyone plenty of time (and reminders) to select the two writers they think should be recognized as RMFW’s Writer and Independent Writer of the Year. Voting lasts until late April.

The Summer Party
Each summer RMFW gets together for our summer party, and part of that celebration includes the announcement of recognition for our Writers of the Year. There will be announcements for this event in our news emails, on our blog, and on the Yahoo groups set up for RMFW members. Keep an eye out and be sure to join us.

WOTY & I-WOTY Panel
One of the highlights of the WOTY & I-WOTY selections is the chance to visit with all of our finalists at the Tattered Cover bookstore. This annual event also marks the start of the Colorado Gold celebrations and is a fun evening of interviews, prizes, and a chance to socialize with your writing tribe.

If you’re thinking of entering your work for consideration, that’s a sign. You should! We are looking forward to seeing your applications!

To find out more about the elibility requirements, please visit the website for more information.

Lisa Manifold
LS Hawker
IPAL & PAL Chairs

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

Lisa Manifold is a fantasy and romance writer living in Colorado. She wrangles kids and dogs when not glued into her office chair. The author of the Sisters of the Curse series, the Heart of the Djinn series, the Realm series, and the new Aumahnee series launched in 2017, Lisa is the RMFW IPAL Chair. She was also extraordinarily humbled to be selected as the 2016 Indie Writer of the Year.

LS Hawker is the author of the thrillers THE DROWNING GAME, BODY AND BONE, and END OF THE ROAD, published by HarperCollins Witness Impulse. THE DROWNING GAME is a USA Today bestseller and finalist in the ITW Thriller Awards in the Best First Novel category.

Visit LSHawker.com to view her book trailers, listen to her podcast with daughter Chloe, The Lively Grind Cafe, and read about her adventures as a cocktail waitress, traveling Kmart portrait photographer, and witness to basement exorcisms.

“Cataloging” Your Book

It’s been over twenty years since I started ordering fiction for the public library where I work. We divide adult fiction into four basic collections: mystery, western, sci-fi/fantasy and fiction (which encompasses everything that doesn’t fit into the first three). In the past, cataloging, or deciding where to shelve a book, was pretty simple. Occasionally there were questions about whether a book was suspense, which we shelve in fiction, or a mystery. Traditionally a mystery is a book that features a private detective or amateur sleuth, or a police procedural, but gradually we started adding crime fiction to the mystery section. Then the thriller category exploded, and some of our patrons thought John Grisham and James Patterson books should be mysteries. (We resisted and kept them in Fiction.)

But that was only the beginning. Charlene Harrison started the True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse series, and we cataloged the books as mystery because that’s the genre she’d been writing in previously. But they weren’t mysteries, really. They had vampires in them. And where do you catalog vampire books? Anne Rice’s vampire books were in fiction. But other authors, like Laurell Hamilton, wrote vampire books that had a lot of supernatural elements and those books seemed to fit better in sci-fi/fantasy. And then Jim Butcher started a fantasy series featuring a detective, and where do you put those?

Dystopian fiction has traditionally been cataloged as fiction, probably because classic dystopian novels like 1984 and The Handmaiden’s Tale are considered literature, which meant they’re shelved in fiction. But if a dystopian novel has zombies, does it really belong in fiction? Wouldn’t it check out better in sci fi/fantasy?

In the end, that’s what usually drives my decision: Where will the book check out best? Where will the readers searching for that kind of book most likely look for it? That’s why the question of what genre your book fits into is so important to you as a writer. Readers have to find your book. If the people who would love your story don’t find it in the area of the library—or more importantly, the section of the bookstore, digital or otherwise—they usually browse in, they’re never going to discover your book.

You can’t control where your book is shelved in libraries or bookstores, but you do have some control over how it is marketed. And that process starts even before you the sell the book to a publisher. It may even affect how you write the book, as in which genre rules you decide to follow or which ones you decide to break. When you make a pitch to an editor or agent, you should be telling them things about your book that help them categorize it so they can see how it fits into their company’s marketing plan.

If you’re indie-publishing your book, you have total control over the cover, the blurb and the category/genre it’s listed in. Which means you really can fine-tune where it’s going to be “shelved”, in either a digital bookstore or physical building. So think a lot about where your book fits in the market. What are some popular books that are like yours? What categories are they listed in on-line? What do their covers look like? How are they described, both in blurbs and by readers?

It can be overwhelming, but ultimately this is your baby. You want to make sure your book ends up in the right place so people can find it and fall in love.

Advertise or Die

I recently had a brief email exchange with Janet Lane on a blog entry she was writing on the topic of book marketing, a topic that I hate. On later reflection I decided to add my own thoughts to hers, which you've no doubt read, precisely because I hate the topic so much.

(Janet: Forgive me if I step on your topic here, I walk only in your shadow.)

Much has been written about how writers are introverts and not easily given to socializing, networking, and schmoozing, all of it true. Marketing is my least favorite part of writing, and I strongly suspect I'm not alone. Marketing is hard for me, and while it comes easily to some, there are even those out there who claim they enjoy it but who are, empirically by observation, not very good at it. Marketing is an art, a skill, one not easily acquired and impossible to fake your way through.

First, when you advertise, remember that you are not marketing this one book. You are not even marketing your entire collection of publications. You are marketing yourself. You want to build an audience not just for your most recent release, but for future releases as well. Marketing yourself is entirely different than trying to sell a product. You have to give others a reason to read what you write, make them intrigued enough to do so, which means bragging on yourself. And yet, to stay likable, you can't come off as bragging about yourself. Doing something while not seeming to do it at all is like trying to pick up a pencil without actually picking it up.

We also live in a climate of very savvy consumers these days - people are very acutely aware of when you are trying to sell them something. Everyone has had the experience of being set upon by a salesman the moment we enter a store or used car lot - we cringe and recoil and are uncomfortable, even resentful, of this kind of hard-sell tactic. It leaves a bad taste in our mouth, and these days we are more likely to walk away having bought nothing than giving in to the pressure.

The term channel-hopping refers to the act of changing the channel on a television every time a commercial comes on. On-demand television must disable the fast-forward feature of their programs because they know, if given the freedom, viewers would much rather skip a commercial than watch it. Commercial-free streaming services have become ever more popular. Web browser ad-blockers sell quite well. I myself am a charter member of the national do-not-call list, and I faithfully report every unsolicited sales call I get. Hell, I never even answer the door unless I'm expecting someone. In short, consumers want to buy, but by and large hate to be sold something.

So now we have to market ourselves while NOT bragging on ourselves, and sell books without seeming to sell books. A more impossible task was never set before mankind.

What's left to us? Mostly indirect sales techniques. In personal appearances you'll notice people will avoid your table. I like to engage them on something entirely unrelated to the books so obviously stacked around me. I comment on the weather, or something they are wearing, or on anything else. I do not address the books I am selling until they ask. I answer their questions succinctly, never going on-and-on or offering any information they did not ask about. And the minute they pick up a book and start to leaf through it I shut up and walk away. From that point on they will buy or not, you have no further control over it.

If you don't keep a blog, start one. But don't write about your books and how good they are and how everyone should buy one. Instead, interview other writers or industry professionals, or write about topics peripherally related to the themes covered in your books. If your books are mysteries, write about other unsolved crimes in current media. If you write romances, then blog about prominent figures who have recently gotten married or divorced. You get the idea.

Keep your books, with buy links, prominently visible on your blog pages, just don't try to sell them directly. The hope is that people who happen upon your blog and like what you have to say on other topics will be spurred enough to check out your books and maybe - hopefully - buy them.

(NOTE: For god's sake, don't get political in your blog. In our current hotly charged, cavernously divided political climate it takes very little to alienate half of your consumer base with an off-hand reference to topics about which very few agree. Steer clear.)

Participate in events, such as book fairs, book giveaways, library drives, etc. Volunteer for things such as public speaking engagements, guest blogs, organizations that dovetail with the topics you write about. Send letters to editors, comment on others' blogs, leave thoughtful reviews for books by other writers on places like Amazon and GoodReads.

The point is, marketing is never going to be easy, and it gets harder as our industry changes. Your best bet at selling more books is to keep your name as prominent and visible as possible while never hard-selling your books or alienating possible buyers. Finding that marketing sweet-spot is as elusive as that cat hair tickling your nose that you can't quite seem to find. And frankly just as annoying. But keep at it - you're only certain to fail at the things you don't try.

Not Yet … by Rebecca Hopkins

Her head covering was purple and she’s from an ancient Indonesian Muslim ethnic group. My pants were stained with ink marks and I’m American, now living in Indonesia. She’s pursuing journalism. Fiction writing for me.

We were two writers sitting next to each other in the airport as we both waited for our connections to different Borneo towns. We’d just been to the same Asia-wide writer’s conference in Bali. We both clutched books we’d bought from real-live published authors, both holding onto writing dreams. We mirrored that familiar mixture of desperation, inspiration and hope on both of our faces as we chatted.

“Where do you work?” I asked. “A newspaper? Magazine?”

“Not yet.”

I nodded. I’ve heard this answer hundreds of times since moving to Indonesia 11 years ago. Married? “Not yet.” Have kids? “Not yet.”

It’s the only right answer to these very specific culturally appropriate small-talk questions. Marriage and family are so important in this traditional culture that no one I’ve ever met here chooses a hard, definite “no.” In other words, “not yet” is an entirely acceptable place to be when life isn’t (yet) as they hope it to be.

We understand this as writers. None of us are choosing that hard “no.” We aren’t choosing to never write again (though I’ve pondered it a time or two when in the query trenches). We don’t choose not to get published (though the odds , at times, seem slim). We don’t want to write only for ourselves, (preferring instead to keep the hope alive for the special connection with a reader will someday happen).

photo credit: Wirasathya Darmaja from Ubud Fiction Writers Readers Festival

Our dream usually lies—very acceptably —in that “not yet.” As in, not yet settled on the right idea, but still exploring and researching for just the perfect gems that will bring the idea to life. Not yet done with the plot line or the character arc but hitting the computer keys at 5 a.m. every day to watch/force/hope for it to unfold. Not yet done rewriting, but still plodding along, shining those drab first-draft words into magical prose. Not yet got this whole writer’s life figured out, but still tweaking schedules, reading books, reaching out to others who are a little further down the writer’s track than us, balancing other important aspects of life like family and work.

And maybe…not yet published, but determined to keep querying, keep writing, keep learning, keep trying.

We write and live and connect and survive and struggle and rant and fight and create and delight and delete entire chapters and sometimes get our hearts broken and then open our documents the next day to begin to heal again. All in the “not yet.”

My flight was called, and the “not yet” journalist and I exchanged contact information, determined to keep in touch to cheer each other on toward our “not yet” but now a little more revived writing goals. Join us?

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Rebecca Hopkins writes novels about a world of ancient jungle tribes, sea-dwelling gypsies and isolated Balinese hand signing villages. It’s a world she’s trying to make her own—Indonesia. She’s lived in Indonesia with her relief pilot husband and three kids for eleven years.

Read more about her writing and life in Indonesia at www.rebeccahopkins.org. Rebecca can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

What “Starts with Action” Really Means

Writers are often advised to start their stories in medias res, or in the middle of action. This is pretty good advice—if you know what it means and how to make it work in your story!

First, though, let’s look at what it doesn’t mean. Some writers hear this advice and take action to mean an action scene. They might start chapter one with something like this:

Bullets zinged through the air. Bob dove behind a rusty old car parked outside the bank and jammed a new clip into his 9mm. “Run!” he yelled at Sam. “I’ll cover you!”

The problem with starting your story in the middle of an action scene is that you risk disorienting your reader—and readers, generally speaking, don’t like to be disoriented. Right off the bat, this opening introduces a lot of questions. Who’s shooting at Bob and why? How many shooters are there? A bank is mentioned, so is this shootout related to a robbery? And if so, are Bob and Sam the robbers or are they the cops? Who am I supposed to care about in this scene and why?

Other writers discard this advice altogether because their stories aren’t action stories—no shootouts, no high-speed car chases, no sprinting heroes, standoffs, shiny guns, or ticking bombs. They can’t possibly be expected to start with action if they’re not telling an action story, right?

The truth is, starting with action is something every writer can do, no matter what kind of story they’re writing. The trick is to understand that “start with action” really means “start in scene.”

Starting in scene means that from the very first word of your manuscript, you’re introducing us to a character in a setting and something is happening that hints at tension or conflict. Think of your novel as a play. When the curtain goes up, what do you want your reader see? A setting. A character or two. Movement of some kind that signals that something is happening.

When I’m reading sample pages, I often come across first lines that hold zero-tension and that project nothing but flickering white light on my mental movie screen. The author has not started in scene. Instead, they’ve started with narrative, exposition, or backstory:

When I was a child…

It all started when…

It is often said that…

Long before my troubles began…

My grandmother once told me…

If only I knew then what I know now…

Summertime always made Jane sad…

Some of these narrative intros go on for a few sentences before the author actually gets to his or her opening scene. Others go on for a few paragraphs or even pages. Still others become those dreaded prologues that many agents and editors—and readers!—simply skip because they want the curtain to go up. They want the story to start!

Look at your first line. Do you open in scene, with someone somewhere doing something? Or do you open with narrative, and then transition into scene later? If you opened with narrative, why? How long does it go on, and how does it serve your story or improve a reader’s experience of it? Put your finger on the line of text where your first scene actually starts. Can you chop everything that comes before that? If not, can you weave it in later, after you’ve established your opening scene?

Starting with action means that your opening scene should be external, something visible to your readers. To that end, remember that doing something does not mean your character is sitting alone and thinking. No cheating! If you’re opening with a character’s internalizations (thoughts, memories, ruminations), you’re really opening with disguised exposition or backstory.

Evaluate your opening scene and remember: A strong opening, written in scene, is one of the best ways to keep an agent turning the pages of your manuscript.

*Originally published in Nelson Literary Agency’s monthly newsletter

GET READY – GET SET – GET GOING! … by Margaret Mizushima

Colorado Gold Conference is scheduled for September 8-10 this year, and that might seem like a long time away. But it’s not.

Many members of RMFW met our agents and editors at Colorado Gold. And now is the perfect time to focus your writerly energy and creativity on your work-in-progress, set goals, and determine your targets for that irresistible pitch that you’re going to develop. This is the absolute best time to start.

Get ready.

Finish your work-in-progress as soon as you can by setting weekly writing goals. If you write 5,000 words/week, you can finish a 90,000 word first draft in roughly four-and-a-half months. At 3000 words/week, you can finish in seven-and-a-half. This will give you time to let it sit for a week or so and than revise. But however you do it—writing at a scheduled pace or binge writing—get that manuscript done!

Get set.

Once the conference program is posted and registration opens up, take a look at the guest agent and editor bios. Decide which guests might be the most interested in your genre, register for the conference early, and request a pitch appointment with your top three choices. As the conference approaches, write a short synopsis (1-5 pages), develop a pitch of around twenty-five words that you can use in elevators or during table conversation, and run them both by a few of your writer friends or critique group. Practice the pitch on anyone you can. Maybe even a stranger or two!

I met my future acquiring editor by pitching to him at the Friday evening dinner in 2014. I pitched to all three of my targets that year: one in my pitch appointment, one in the hallway, and one at the dinner table. Colorado Gold provides you with the best venue for meeting a number of industry professionals in one weekend. Take advantage of it.

Get going!

The agents and editors that come to Colorado Gold want to meet you. They want to talk to writers and hear what they have to offer. That’s why they’ve come to Denver, despite having to brave that pesky altitude sickness. Unless your research fails you (and sometimes that can happen), most guests will either request that you send a partial (first 10-50 pages and a synopsis) or the whole manuscript.

Now here’s the key: Send it! Send it right away. Don’t wait. This is why you started early. This is why you completed everything in advance and were ready by conference time. The industry is fickle, and just because your target might be interested in your genre now, doesn’t mean he/she will be still interested six months or a year from now. If you’ve learned something at conference that you feel you absolutely must incorporate into your manuscript, by all means revise; but do it quickly. Take no more than three to six weeks.

Sometimes we do everything we can to get things right, and things just don’t work out. I had pitched four different manuscripts over the years and finally gained an agent, an interested editor, and a publishing contract on the fifth one. I’ve heard a few people tell overnight success stories in our industry, but most people tell stories of long-term persistence, preparation, and practice. And sometimes they mention they also benefited from a little bit of luck.

Don’t give up, and give yourself the very best possible opportunity. Your fellow Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers are rooting for you!

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Margaret Mizushima is the author of the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series, which includes Killing Trail (Crooked Lane Books, 2015) and Stalking Ground (Crooked Lane Books, 2016). She has a background in speech pathology and practiced in an acute care hospital before establishing her own rehabilitation agency. Currently, she balances writing with assisting her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. She enjoys reading and hiking, and she lives on a small ranch in Colorado where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/Author Margaret Mizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.

Rocky Mountain Writer #71

David S. Atkinson & Apocalypse All The Time

One reviewer said David Atkinson’s novel Apocalypse All The Time combines absurdism, science fiction and sly commentary in a story reminiscent of Orwell, Kafka and Swift.

This time on the podcast, David Atkinson discusses his latest work and talks about his writing process, including his eclectic approach to reading – some 200 to 300 books a year.

He also talks about how he blends work as a patent attorney with his writing life.

In addition to Apocalypse All The Time, David Atkinson is also the author of Not Quite so Stories, The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes, and Bones Buried in the Dirt.

He is a Staff Reader for Digging Through The Fat and his writing appears in "Bartleby Snopes," "Literary Orphans," "Atticus Review," and others.

David Atkinson's website.

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

Intro music by Moby Gratis
Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

5 Important Things To Know About Self-Publishing–Part 1 … by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

Self-publishing (or indie publishing) is a big deal this days, as more and more authors use it exclusively or to supplement their traditional publishing catalog. But while self-publishing can be surprisingly fast and easy – one could take a Word document to retail ebook in about three minutes, if pressed – it’s definitely not a fast and easy path, and there’s lot of effort and knowledge required to be successful. Here’s what you need to know before you get started.

Self-Publishing Is An Industry.

There’s a thing about this industry that many authors fail to realize – it’s an industry. That means work. You can’t just vomit some words on paper, check that your mom likes them (“Lovely, dear, I’ll magnet them to the refrigerator”) and expect them to be profitable. That’s not how any industry anywhere works, and not here, either.

Authors write. That’s what they do.

Publishers publish. That means they are responsible for (including contracting for) cover design, distribution, marketing, ISBNs, layout, ebook conversion, audiobook production, front matter, back matter, ARCs, reviews, tracking sales, tracking expenses versus income to ensure profit, tracking and reporting sales tax, etc. (Oh, yeah, sales tax. You are doing that, aren’t you?)

“But I heard you can self-publish without an ISBN!” Maybe, yes, depending on your goals – but you’re missing the point. There’s a lot to do to publish a book, and more to do to publish a book successfully.

I keep hearing from self-publishing authors who are unhappy with their sales but are either unskilled at the above tasks or just plain don’t like them. You know what? That’s fine. If you don’t want to take on all the responsibilities of being a publisher, then don’t be a publisher. That’s what traditional publishing does. That’s why they get a larger percentage of profits, because they’re doing all that work you aren’t. And that is fine. If you want to be a writer and not a publisher, be a writer! Self-publishing is not the best choice for everyone, and there’s absolutely no shame in choosing a traditional path.

But if you choose to be a publisher, and then you do only a few of the publishing tasks or you do them halfway, then there’s no complaining at low profits. There’s no profit without work, because this is an industry.

Self-Publishing Costs Money.

Like other business ventures, capital is required.

Even after POD has eliminated the enormous upfront cost of printing, self-publishing has real expenses. An author-publisher may need to pay for editing, cover art, cover design, layout, ebook conversion, and probably also ISBN and copyright registration. You’ll also want a decent website and probably some business cards or promotional bookmarks, perhaps a banner for fairs. A versatilely-skilled author-publisher can do many of those tasks on her own (I actually like doing print layout and ebook conversions, though apparently I’m in the minority, and I have a lot of website background) but will still need to pay for tools, such as layout or graphics software, graphics resources and typefaces, web hosting, etc.

Most of us do not have a professional background in graphic design, so we’re better off hiring covers. A $10 cover is likely to yield a $10 sales quarter; save up and buy something professional. If you can’t afford a great cover to start, go ahead and work on the cheap, but then put your royalties right back into your writing career, making your next cover better (or going back and adding a new cover to an existing work).

A cheap cover or a bad website will hurt your sales; paying a little more for professional work will yield disproportionately greater sales (if your book quality supports it). You won’t save money by going cheap or doing yourself a job in which you aren’t trained. Learn the skills (there’s more to cover design than Photoshop!) or hire someone who has.

Vanity publishing still exists – and it’s dangerous.

The terms “author-publishing,” “self-publishing,” “indie-publishing,” and “vanity publishing” are often used interchangeably – the last usually with a distinct tone of disapproval and condescension. These are not all synonymous, but there can be considerable overlap in their Venn diagram, and it’s important to know the difference for your own protection.

“Author-publishing” and “self-publishing” are largely identical – it describes the author as the publisher of the work. The key here is that the author is responsible for publication and all its many tasks, from cover design to copyright registration to distribution arrangements (more on that later).

“Indie publishing” can be used to mean author/self-publishing, or it can refer to a small (“independent”) press, perhaps putting out ten titles a year from various contracted authors. This can occasionally be confusing – “What do you mean, you aren’t happy with your pricing? I thought you were indie?” – so ask if necessary.

“Vanity publishing” was once an author paying a printer to publish a work, and because it was not traditionally purchased work, it was often (not always) viewed as a lower tier of literary quality. Traditionally this author was recognizable by the full print run of boxed books in his basement or car trunk, but POD (printing on demand) has relieved that burden. While a number of classically famous authors have utilized vanity publishing (Edgar Allan Poe for one), it was usually because they couldn’t sell the book traditionally and it often didn’t fare well (Poe put out Tamerlane and Other Poems and moved 50 copies).

Today, vanity publishing has rebranded itself as “self-publishing” but with more predatory tactics: an author pays a company to produce his or her book, and the company makes money not from retailing the book but from the author. These books are often poorly produced, receive little to no distribution or marketing despite promises, and cost up to hundreds of times what self-publishing may have cost. While there are legitimate self-publishing services, be very cautious of all-in-one packages – and particularly of those with inflated price tags. Considering that the vast majority of self-published authors make less than $1000 in a year, how likely are you to make back that $4,000 publishing package cost? $8,000? $12,000? I know a couple who nearly lost their house via a vanity press con (“we just need a little more this month, and we’re projecting big sales of $100,000 in half a year”).

An author, receiving not the round of expected congratulations but a collective gasp of dismay when she announced she’d signed with a big name predatory vanity press, protested, “But how was I supposed to know they were bad?” I hit Google and found that while the first search result was their own website, the next five were pending lawsuits against the company. Do your research with any company you sign!

Part 2 of Laura's post is scheduled for Friday, February 24th.

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Laura VanArendonk Baugh writes fantasy (epic, urban, and historical), mystery, and non-fiction. She enjoys helping other authors and will be teaching on writing craft and self-publishing with Ireland Writer Tours in August 2017. Find her at her website, on Facebook, and Twitter.