For Your “Consideration” – Royalties in Anthology Contracts

This month's RMFW #PubLaw post continues our ongoing series on writing for anthologies. Specifically, it's time to show me the money - and look at royalties in the anthology world.

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When it Comes to Royalties, Anthologies Vary. Know the Terms Before You Commit.

Some anthologies pay contributing authors a royalty on copies sold. Some anthologies do not. Always ask--and get a clear answer--about the royalty structure before you agree to contribute your work to an anthology. Also, make certain your contract states, with clarity, how sales proceeds will be handled and whether or not you receive a royalty share. If the anthology doesn't pay royalties to authors, the contract should state who receives the money earned on anthology sales.

What Does it Mean if the Contract Says I Receive "Consideration"?

"Consideration" is the legal term for value a person receives in return for entering into a contract. By law, consideration can be money, rights, an exchange of promises, or a unicorn--essentially, any (legally permitted) object or value the person signing the contract agrees to accept. One court famously stated that "even a peppercorn will do" if that's what the signatories to the deal agree on.

In many publishing contracts, the "consideration" is money, but where the author is not receiving royalties on sales of the work, the anthology language may look something like this:

CONSIDERATION, AUTHOR COPIES. Consideration of the Work for possible publication in the Anthology and, if appropriate, inclusion of the Work in the Anthology constitutes the full and complete compensation due to Author by [Publisher], under this Agreement or otherwise. No additional compensation is due Author whether or not [Publisher] ever Publishes, distributes, markets, or sells any copies of the Anthology. If the Work appears in the Anthology, [Publisher] will also provide Author with [some real number of] complimentary copies of the first edition of the Anthology, in printed format, after publication. Author acknowledges that no royalties are due, payable, or owed to Author on sales of the Anthology, regardless of the number of copies of the Anthology produced, printed, and/or sold. All receipts, revenues and profits from the Anthology will belong to [Publisher] exclusively.

Note that the language includes the important elements mentioned above:

1. What the author receives: "inclusion in the Anthology (if appropriate) and author copies." This is the author's consideration.

2. Whether or not the author receives royalties (here, no): "no royalties are due, payable or owed to Author..."

3. Who does receive the money earned on sales of the anthology: "All receipts, revenues and profits...belong to [Publisher] exclusively."

The contract may also allow the author to purchase copies of the anthology at a reduced price, and may specify whether or not the author can re-sell those copies at a profit.

Whether or Not to Participate in Non-Royalty-Bearing Anthologies is a Business Decision for the Author Alone.

If you ask three different people whether or not you should publish your work in a non-royalty bearing anthology, you'll get at least three different answers (more, if one of them is a lawyer).

Sometimes, it makes business sense to participate in a non-royalty bearing anthology.

People do die of "exposure," but for authors seeking a jumpstart publishing credit, anthologies may offer a chance for the kind of exposure that earns revenue by another means. Publication alongside more established authors exposes the newer author to readers who may then purchase the newer author's works as well.

Sometimes, non-royalty bearing anthologies provide a financial benefit to important nonprofit organizations. Contributing to these anthologies helps authors "give back" to groups that provide education and other helpful services to the larger community--and contributing work on a non-royalty bearing basis allows the author to contribute to the nonprofit's activities.

Finally, non-royalty bearing anthologies may offer an author a chance to participate in a project with other like-minded authors in circumstances which were never designed to generate a profit. Some groups publish anthologies at cost, or free of charge, as a service to certain communities or to readers. In this case, the author knows from the start (and the contract should state) that the anthology will be sold "At cost" and that its existence is not intended to generate significant profits. (Note: even here, the contract should state what happens to any profits or proceeds the anthology does generate.)

Some authors never contribute to anything which doesn't pay royalties. Others may choose to publish in non-royalty bearing projects now and then. As long as you know up front what kind of situation you're entering into, the choice is yours--and yours alone--and you should treat it as a business decision, taking all of the relevant facts and circumstances into account.

Has your work been published in an anthology? How do you feel about royalties in anthology situations?

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Angsting Through the Walls

Under His Touch

I do it every damn time.

I keep thinking one of these days I'll learn, but I never seem to.

In every single book, I hit a point where I'm completely and utterly convinced that it's terrible. That THIS one is the book I'll have to pull the plug on and admit to failure.

It doesn't matter that pretty much every writer I've ever talked to says the same thing, I always feel alone in my despair. It also makes no difference for my brain to remind my heart that I do this on Every Single Book. With the luxury of hindsight, my published books all feel precious, wonderful and perfect. Like a woman who blanks out the pain of childbirth, I remember only the joy and wonder of the experience.

Never the angst.

I'm trying to keep this in mind right now, as UNDER HIS TOUCH, the second in my FALLING UNDER erotic romance trilogy releases next week (January 19!), even as I'm writing the third book, UNDER CONTRACT. I'm pretty sure UNDER CONTRACT is *terrible*. Each book in this trilogy has gotten darker and more emotional. I suspect readers will want to kill me with THIS one. I thought about not finishing. I really tried not to go some places in the story. None of that is working and I'm captive on this story train, hurtling to the bridge over the chasm that is surely destroyed.

Did I mention angst?

At the same time, I remember last summer, sitting on the patio and crying as I talked to one of my crit partners (CP) about writing UNDER HIS TOUCH. I was sure readers would hate me. I wanted to reel it back and didn't seem to be able to. I thought I might not be able to finish it.

Yeah, she talked me out of my tree.

I screeched up to the deadline so my CPs and editor at Carina got the draft at the same time. So the CP comments and developmental edits arrived all at once. (My editor knew I was doing this and was fine with it, btw.) You know what?

They ALL loved it.

I was flabbergasted. Every single one of them gave me the fewest revision notes I'd received thus far. Unreal.

And fabulous.

Early reviews are great, too. A balm to my angsty soul.

I'm trying to remind myself of this, as I'm writing the book that ISN'T ANYWHERE NEARLY AS GOOD AS THAT ONE. In fact, it's really quite awful. I'm doomed.

Why do we do this to ourselves???

Short Story Anthologies with Class (for my homework)

By Patricia Stoltey

crossingcolfax150I just finished reading the complete Crossing Colfax anthology from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, then headed off to Goodreads and Amazon to post my comments and rate the book a big beautiful five stars.

Writers who can produce quality stories with unique ideas, imaginative twists, and great characters, and fit all of that into 500 to 10,000 words, deserve our applause. It's hard! The story ideas that appear in Crossing Colfax are very clever. I think I've learned a few things from the fifteen authors whose works are published here. I look forward to many more anthologies from RMFW. To learn more about the individual stories, read Mark Stevens' story-by-story review from January 6th.

Tales of Firelight and Shadow coverReading in the same genre we write is part of our education process. The more we read, the more we learn about what hooks the reader and what fails. We marvel at the creativity of those who find new ways to tell an old story. That works for short story writing as well. I recently had my first traditionally published short story, "Three sisters of Ring Island" (a retold folk tale) accepted and included in Double Dragon's Tales in Firelight and Shadow. The editor of that anthology is Alexis Brooks de Vita.

The taste of publication was sweet. I want more. Reading a variety of anthologies in a variety of genres is how I'm going to study.

Dessert Sleuths Anthology-Cover-HR-200x300As I looked for the best of the best, I discovered a whole big world of writers and publications. For crime lovers, local chapters of Sisters in Crime offer collections like SoWest: Crime Time from SinC Desert Sleuths. RMFW member Shannon Baker is one of the authors you'll find in that group. You'll find many more if you search on "Sisters in Crime" at your favorite online bookseller.

Mystery Writers of America produces quality crime anthologies on a bigger scale. Manhattan Mayhem is coming in 2015. The 2014 publication was called Ice Cold: Tales of Intrigue from the Cold War.

There's a group of authors in Minnesota called the Minnesota Crime Wave that published an anthology called Fifteen Tales of Murder, Mayhem, and Malice. Colorado Gold favorite William Kent Krueger is one of the crime writers in that collection.

I have a copy of Open Doors: Fractured Fairy Tales on my coffee table as well. Katherine Valdez, a member of my critique group, wrote Little Red Riding Hood Seeks Vengeance for this book.

Pooled Ink 2014Winners and finalists for the Northern Colorado Writers fiction and non-fiction contests earn publication in the annual Pooled Ink anthology. The 2014 edition released in November. Reading Pooled Ink should help a writer learn what it takes to final in or win top prize in the NCW contests, so I plan to add the 2014 collection to my stack of homework.

If you have been published in such an anthology in any genre, please leave the anthology name and a buy link below in the comments. I need to round out the genres with a bit of romance, a little sci fi, and some great YA tales.

Luck and Timing

By Mary Gillgannon

“How lucky do you feel you are?” My first editor asked me that question as we were discussing promotion for my second book. She went on to say that for most of the successful authors she knew, luck had played an important part in their careers. Her advice was to do “as much promotion as you need to do to feel in control”. Her words were a huge relief to me, as I had little time or money to spend on promotion back then.

My sense of luck being the deciding factor has not decreased over the years. The people I know who have been most successful are talented and hard-working, yes. But no more talented than other authors who saw their careers stall and sometimes fizzle away altogether. The key has always been writing the right kind of book at the right time. In other words, luck.

Now with the changes in the publishing world, there are other “factors of chance”, as I was reminded by a recent article in The New York Times. The article discussed the impact of the Kindle Unlimited program on indie authors and profiled an author named Kathryn Le Veque. Le Veque has published 44 ebooks and until recently was selling 6,000 ebooks a month. Although the main point of the article was that with Kindle Unlimited, Le Veque has had to lower prices to maintain her income and sell more books for fewer dollars, there were other intriguing details revealed in the profile: Le Veque has been writing fiction for over 35 years and had created a huge stockpile of books. For 28 years, she submitted her books to traditional publishers and had them rejected. But then she started self-publishing and was so successful she was able to quit her day job after three months and write full-time. Despite her enormous body of work, to maintain her sales, she has to keep churning them out, and to help her, she has hired a part-time editor and two part-time assistants.

Like most success stories, this is a case of luck, or good fortune, or whatever you want to call it. This particular author’s ability to publish a large number of books at one time, and rapidly write more, is a large part of her success. But that strategy of writing one book after another failed her for 28 years. Then Amazon came along and it was a perfect storm: a market that was hungry for books and that allowed her to directly reach the sub-group of readers who read her genre, plus her huge stockpile of product and ability to keep producing it quickly.

Most of the successful indie authors I know, and a fair number of the traditionally published ones as well, have a similar strategy: write fast and write series, multiple linked books that appeal to a specific group of readers. But being able to do that is a matter of luck. Even if I quit my day job and did nothing else, I could not write six, eight, ten books a year. Ms. Le Veque says that on a good day, she writes 12,000 words. I doubt that in the last few years I’ve written that many in one week!

Another interesting thing I noted is that nowhere in the article does Le Veque mention promotion, social media or on-line presence. While she probably has her assistants do some of that now, I doubt she was able to do much in the beginning. Which confirms my suspicion that even though on-line promotion has made the difference in a lot of authors’ careers, it is not necessarily the “magic bullet”. Because what worked two years ago, or even two months ago, may not work now. Again, it’s a matter of timing, just like it always was. And timing is a matter of chance, i.e. luck.

For some people, the idea that luck is so important may be incredibly frustrating. For me, it’s a relief, just like it was years ago when my editor told me not to bother spending my advance on promotion. It gives me a way out and makes me feel less like a failure. I’m a dutiful person, who wants to do a good job and be responsible and dedicated, and that extends to my writing career. But lately I’m overwhelmed with everything I supposed to do for my career, and I’m getting pretty frustrated and unhappy. And even though it’s discouraging to know I’ll never write fast enough to flood the market and develop an audience like this writer did, it is heartening to hear the story of someone who was successful because they kept writing, rather than they made their name by promoting their work.

The Next Big Thing

We've seen all these phenomenal books take off to best seller status – The Da Vinci Code, Gone Girl, Harry Potter, Fifty Shades of Gray – and now there's mutterings within the writing community about what the next "big thing" will be. Well, those mutterings never cease, but it’s a new year and therefore new mutterings.

We know it's unwise to clone what's already selling big at the moment because we're told time and time again that manuscripts bought today won't be on the shelves for another couple of years. We shouldn't follow trends because they're fickle. Most of us write according to our passion anyway, trends be damned. But still, it's fun to speculate what the next big thing will be; what genre, what new idea will spark the reading consumer into buying more books?

Ideas come from everywhere. The next best seller is probably sitting on someone's hard drive somewhere, the queries rejected left and right, partials getting turned down as often as bed sheets in a brothel, but it's out there, waiting for its time. Could it be yours? Hmm…

It's fun to speculate what people want to read in terms of fiction. What appeals to the American reader? We could look to television for our ideas. Not the shows so much as the themes. How about all the reality shows that are taking over primetime? Some authors have taken advantage of this craze by using it in their plots. It was popular for a while, got people's attention, but never really broke out into anything newsworthy.

So if themes aren't where the next big thing will spring from, how about genre? Genre mixing is THE topic of discussion at many writers' conferences. A couple decades ago, authors tried to mix romance and suspense and mystery and horror together, and were told their manuscripts were unmarketable. That’s all changed. I think authors have a sixth sense about these things. Are publishers as tuned in as we are?

So if you were to take out your crystal ball and shine it up, what would it reveal to you about the next big thing? Could it be a style of writing, like what happened with the chicklit explosion when Bridget Jones' Diary came out? Or an Internet chat/email format like a quirky YA novel? Or how about those graphic novels and manga? I'd never in a million years have imagined comic books coming back into fashion this way.

We can't predict for certain, but it's a lot of fun to think about. High concept literary fiction has always been a big deal. Same with up-market women's fiction. Both have a wide audience, which is why it has such broad appeal. How about retro historical fiction, like high concept stories set in the fifties, sixties, seventies? Sex, drugs and rock and roll. What do you think? Care to take a stab at what will be the next big thing?

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

Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, 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. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she just released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com
https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall
http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

Adventures in Genre Writing Lesson Six: Dialogue

Dialogue – Putting Words in Your Characters’ Mouths
By Jeanne C. Stein

Last month we looked at plotting and defining our inciting incident. In this lesson we’ll touch on one of the most important building blocks in writing: Dialogue.

There are lots of authors who excel at dialogue, but none better than mystery writer, the late Robert B. Parker.

The first thing you notice when you open one of his books is the white space.

White space? What’s that?

It’s all that space on the right margin of a page when the four deadly sins of dialogue are excised. What are they?

1. Info-dumps.
2. Unnecessary attributes.
3. Unnecessary adverbs.
4. Clichés.

White space occurs when characters speak realistically.

Parker is so adept at realistic dialogue, that he practically tells his entire story in dialogue. I suggest if you aren’t familiar with Parker, you pick up one of his books and see what I mean.

If we start with the basics, dialogue is a conversation between two or more characters. It should be relevant, advance the plot and reveal something about the character speaking—his emotion or state of mind. Those things are obvious to most of us. What isn’t so obvious is how we actually translate it to the page.

Let’s look at some examples of dialogue that illustrate the four deadly sins I mentioned above.

1. Info-dumps. This is also called “As you know, Bob…” You have two characters meeting for the first time in your book. They have a history. Their meeting involves something that has already taken place, something the reader may or may not know. The conversation goes like this.

“Hello, Jack.”

“Hello, Eddy.”

“Jack, did you hear what happened to our good friend, Jim?”

“You mean the terrible attack that landed him in the hospital with two broken legs and three cracked ribs that occurred just last week when he was caught by rogue demons on his way home?”

Have you ever heard anyone talk like that? Of course not. But it’s seen a lot in unpublished manuscripts and sadly, in some books.

How do you fix it?

“Hey, Jack. Did you hear about Jim?”

“Couldn’t believe it. Cracked ribs and two broken legs. Those demons are out of control.”

2. Unnecessary attributes. May not even need to give you an example, but just in case:

“Hey, Jack,” Mary said.

“Hey, Mary,” Jack replied.

“Where are you going?” Mary inquired.

“To see Jim. As you know, he was attacked by demons last week,” Jack answered. “I’m bringing him a protection charm.”

“Can I go, too?” Mary asked.

“Sure.” Jack replied. “He’ll enjoy the company.”

If you have two characters on stage, we need only the first tags (and sometimes not even that) to follow the dialogue.

3. Unnecessary adverbs. Again, may be obvious. I’ll use the same example as above.

“Hey, Jack,” Mary chirped excitedly.

“Hey, Mary,” Jack replied happily.

“Where are you going?” Mary inquired quizzically.

“To see Jim. As you know, he was attacked by demons last week,” Jack answered soberly. “I’m bringing him a protection charm.”

“Can I go, too?” Mary asked hopefully.

“Sure,” Jack replied, nodding enthusiastically. “He’ll enjoy the company.”

Dialogue itself should reveal the character’s emotions without need of adverbial helpers. In fact, as a general rule, omit adverbs from ALL your prose. If you’re doing your job, you don’t need them.

4. Clichés

People use clichés because clichés are descriptive shortcuts, which is one way to say, they are phrases whose meanings we recognize immediately. They convey universal understanding. Not necessarily a bad thing it itself.

Every cliché was once fresh and witty. Over time, though, some have become stale and will mark you as a lazy writer, especially if overused. When you find yourself writing, quick as a bunny, try to rewrite it. Find a fresh and different way to say the same thing.

A rule of thumb for clichés is that if you think you’ve read it before, try rewriting it.

Bestselling romance author Sharon Mignerey gave us the following acronym for elements of good dialogue: SCRAPE.

Dialogue should reflect:
S - Setting and Subtext
C - Character Consistency
Dialogue should be:
R -Revealing and Relevant
A - Atmospheric and Appropriate

Well done dialogue:
P - Propels Plot
E - Evokes Emotion
-© 1999 Sharon Mignerey (used with permission)

One other aspect of dialogue that can be troublesome is conveying dialect. If you have a character with a distinct pattern of speech or an accent, it’s tricky to carry that off through an entire book. Better to give us a sample when we first meet the character, remind us of it as the story progresses, but write most passages without reverting to the dialect. A hint of the character’s Scottish brogue or Irish lilt or that he has a speech impediment is all that’s needed to remind the reader.

All this is basic, certainly. But good dialogue reflects character and moves our plot forward so much better than long passages of narration. It’s fluid. It reveals our character’s mind set and conveys emotion. It keeps the reader engaged.

Another author who has mastered story telling through dialogue is Jackie Kessler. Her protagonist is Jesse Harris, a succubus-turned-human. Here’s a brief example of dialogue from her second “Hell on Earth”  book, The Road to Hell:

“Oh,” Daun said. “Never mind. I get it.”

I turned back to face Daun, who was straddled over my hips, watching me. “Get what?”

“You’re distracted.”

“Am not.”

“No? You’re crying.”

I was? Shit. Dabbing at my leaking eyes, I said, “Sorry, I’m okay now.”

“Uh huh.”

“I am. Really. Have at it…”

Lots of white space. No unnecessary tags. Conveys emotion. Reads smoothly, especially aloud.

# # # #

So, in summary, to make dialogue sparkle:

Keep colloquialisms and slang to a minimum.

Use a natural cadence and manner.

Be fresh with your dialogue, rewrite clichés.

Read your dialogue aloud to make sure it sounds natural.

Next up: Conflict. What is it? Why is it important?

POLITICS IN FICTION

By Kevin Paul Tracy

I’ve recently been inundated with fiction manuscripts to critique that contain a fair amount of political commentary. I’m not referring to the kind of politics you find in Game of Thrones or The Wheel of Time or TV’s Defiance – those are internal, fictional intrigues that apply only to the fiction milieu in which they are portrayed (though admittedly often they are thinly-veiled allegories for real-world politics.) I’m referring to issues, social and geopolitical, that we face today, in the real world.

Pro-flagMy knee jerk reaction to too great an infusion of real-world politics into modern fiction is to recoil. It pulls me out of the story and leaves a greasy taste in my figurative intellectual mouth. Even if I agree with the assertion being made, it irritates me, much like a lecture from my epically long-winded father would. I resent the author telling me what I ought to think, or, worse yet, giving me, the reader, a rhetorical wink-wink as if there is no question but that we agree on a particular issue. I reject such assumptions and my resentment for the work I’m reading and, by extension, its author grows from that point on with every turned page.

In today’s political climate, as polarized and often toxic a political environment as I’ve ever seen before, you are rarely assured of more than 33% of the population of the US alone agreeing with you. Extend that to international sales and, quite frankly, the numbers become even less predictable. You are guaranteed to alienate at least a third of your audience by infusing too much politics into your fiction.

Con-flagGranted, there are those who deliberately buy books that oppose their points of view merely to be challenged and to see what all the fuss is about, but those folks are quite few when counted among the greater number of readers who read fiction only to be entertained and nothing more. These readers tend to read for relaxation and comfort, and are unlikely to buy more books by an author who has offended or insulted them and their beliefs.

Even political satire in fiction is a delicate thing. An author must take care to be smart and subtle and, above all, funny to diffuse any tension that might be raised by your treatment of those whose politics you oppose. Some good examples of good political satire in fiction are books like Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, Terry Pratchett’s & Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, and the eminent graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

My advice is, unless you plan to give both sides of the issue fair representation, and are confident in your skill as a writer to do so, steer clear of real-world politics in your fiction. There are social issues you need not avoid: you can feel relatively assured that giving food to a starving child is a good thing, and rescuing a dog from a kill shelter is preferable to leaving him there. On more weighty matters, such as abortion, capital punishment, and immigration reform, tread lightly. You risk alienating as much as two-thirds of your potential fan-base out there, and which of us can afford to do that?


Check out Kevin’s latest releases, the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, “Rogue Agenda,” a startling and engrossing gothic thriller “Bloodflow,” and don’t miss Bloodtrail, the upcoming sequel to Bloodflow.

Follow Kevin at:
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Crossing Colfax: A Story by Story Review

By Mark Stevens

crossingcolfaxShort-story anthologies can be tricky affairs. Collecting short stories in one volume from multiple authors can end in a patchwork mess. Not the case with Crossing Colfax, a sweeping collection of writing from the ranks of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. The only rule was that each story had to touch on Colfax Avenue—a long, heavily stop-lighted street that runs east-west across Metro Denver. Not surprisingly, most of the stories take place in the grittier sections of the city itself in the dark (and frequently paranormal) shadows. Surprising to me, these stories offer consistently high quality of prose and story-telling. There is a solid composure to the entire volume.

Herewith a brief recap and review of each story, a sort-of “consumer guide” to would-be readers. A caution that I don’t read much paranormal stuff and this collection includes a healthy sample from that genre. And one final note: kudos to the editors. In a project that involved a team of editors and coordinators, I didn’t find one typo in the 370 pages. Putting out high-quality books (dig the snazzy cover, too) through a self-publishing model is a matter of standards and commitment. Good work, Nikki Baird and the whole team.

The stories:

In Angie Hodapp’s “Seven Seconds,” auto mechanic Billy Shump possesses a common superpower. But it comes with limitations. He has the ability to turn back time. But only for, well, see the title of the story. That is, for not very long. It’s useful, but how much? Billy has his eyes on the alluring Kyra, a picture of female “poetry.” Billy gets a chance to save the day, but at what cost? Tricky bargains force Billy to a dangerous crossroads. The old cliché is “only time will tell.” Not only does time tell, it turns out, it takes care of everything. A clever idea and a well-written appetizer for this anthology.

You’ll learn a lot about farm equipment in “Hay Hook,” right down to branding irons and cattle prods. A genteel start to Margaret Mizushima’s story—a veterinarian checking a horse with digestive issues—turns Ugly with a capital “U.” Diamonds are not a horse’s best friend. I liked this story’s jolt from pastoral setting to tense crime drama.

Thea Hutcheson’s highly atmospheric “A Full Moon Over a Desperate Plain” begins with this gritty image: “The air on Colfax Avenue roils with the thick smell of sweet half-burnt gas coming off the finned behemoths rolling along this asphalt river.” Our first-person narrator Mike is a man with no dreams and the keen ability to sense the hopes and dreams in others. “No one ever notices that I’m more—or less—than they are, never know the hunger that pushes me into their company.” He is searching for connections and has an eye on Jenny, a waitress at a diner. Think nobody notices you, Mike? Maybe, maybe not. The sun just might rise one of these days.

We’re in the future in “Crossing the Uncanny Valley,” Martha Husain’s gripping sci-fi yarn that starts in a shuttle careening over western Kansas that soon crashes near Colfax Ave. in Denver. Or what’s left of Denver. But the Mile High City is now rubble. The earth is blackened. “Not a soul” alive. The band of survivors fear the “Mechs,” the artificial intelligence machines that have declared war on the human race. The shuttle crash takes one life and our narrator, Kaleb, sets out with horny Hutch and Gothic Punk Jo to find a way to get to a safe colony at Cheyenne Mountain, sixty miles away. An encounter with an in-stasis cyborg named Corinna could be the answer—or mean all kinds of danger. Corinna can answer certain human needs, but may have her own agenda. You better know the difference between your zombies and your cyborgs, that’s for sure. By the end, you’ll be eager to find out what happens on the road trip for the two who are still standing when this rollicking story ends.

Kate Lansing’s “Colfax, PI” features a Jewish vampire with a problem. His thirst for blood “makes it impossible to keep kosher.” His personal assistant, Lilah, needs help. Lilah’s sister has been murdered. It may be a case of tainted heroin and a vampire’s finely tuned sense of the way blood should taste certainly comes in handy. When push comes to shove, Colfax has the fangs to get his way. A fun twist on a familiar paranormal trope.

Zoltan James shades "The Man in the Corner" in noir. It’s got a cool, Chandleresque vibe. But a blizzard is blowing in and things are going to get even colder in the "sticky one-roomer" that is the watering hole called Dominic's. All eyes on the bartendress, Beatrix. She can "out-tough any bitch or bastard who walks through her door." Our narrator is a private eye with a patch over one eye. He's an ex-L.A. SWAT guy, too, and has a thing for "Trixie." There's an odd stranger and then a cop takes a stool. It seems Beatrix knows a thing or two about some missing money and soon the bullets fly. Blood splatters "like an abstract drip painting." Old habits do indeed die hard. Zoltan James turns up the heat even on the coldest killers.

“Blurg,” “Meh,” and “Snarf” are the first three words we hear Mable say in the ultra-brief short story “Allyah” by Rebecca Rowley. (You could read this one between sips of coffee.) Mable has just woken up from a weird dream about giving birth. She has an unusual job and the story is so brisk and efficient I don’t want to give too much away. Mable likes her clients to follow directions. She also likes specificity. Payments for her services are received via wire transfer to an account in the Cayman Islands. Well, Mable’s not her real name. Probably not a good idea in this line of work. This is a short story that asks a ton of questions and answers them in a few quick brush strokes—and detailed touches—at the end.

In “The Case of the Woman Who Sewed Her Silence,” B.K. Winstead introduces us to two Denver detectives on the hunt for a missing baby. They don’t have much to go on. A woman is found in a coin-op laundry in the processing of attempting to stitch her lips together (if you don’t believe that’s a possibility, you haven’t spent much time on Colfax Ave.) She’d previously been seen with the baby but now the baby is missing. The story weaves in some thoughtful takes on faith. You could almost envision a whole novel or a television series featuring the contrasting views of Detectives Davis and Diaz. Prayer, after all, “is not a gumball machine where every time you put in a coin, you get a prize.” There’s fine contrast and good banter between these two cops, a bit reminiscent of the nihilistic chatter in “True Detective.”

That kitschy cheesy “Mexican” restaurant Casa Bonita is the springboard of inspiration or Zach Milan’s “Stolen Legacy,” a tale of magic, missing children and professional redemption. Viktor goes from suspect to crime solver. He’s good at understanding misdirection and knows what to watch for behind the velvet curtain.

L.D. Silver’s “That’s Love, Baby” introduces us to a hooker whose life “has crumbled.” She has special healing powers and she hears a voice she’s named “Colfax.” A trap is waiting that might end her days plying her special trade or might provide a chance to escape. It might all come down to the voices inside her head. Like many good short stories, Silver leaves behind a few nifty puzzles for readers to ponder.

“Colfax Kitsune,” by Emily Singer, is a semi-steamy paranormal tale that places a Trickster from the Flipside trying to find her way through modern Denver. Yuri isn’t comfortable completing missions alone and would much prefer to have the company of Piccolo, who has ditched her, briefly, for a tramp. Yuri’s sense of smell and sound are, in a word, extraordinary. A stray miniature sphinx has slipped through a hole in the wall between Earth and the Flipside and Piccolo and Yuri must send it home “before its magic starts acting up.” Despite the terror in her veins, Yuri knows she can’t fail again. The hole is closing, the edges “curling in on itself like a burning piece of paper.” Time is running short. Over a coffee at Starbucks, it’s Yuri who will deliver one last message.

Autumn Leaves is the owner of Tea Leaves, a teahouse that sits next to a pot shop on Colfax Avenue in Laura Kjosen’s “Phantom brew.” Yes, Autumn Leaves is her legal name, as she tells the cops when they come around to investigate after the pot shop is ransacked. The story slips gently into poltergeist territory as Autumn works to conjure the ghost of Jack Kerouac with assistance from an acquaintance at a paranormal investigation society. Teapots fly and screams come in full Latin as this wild tale wraps up.

In “Take me to Your Leader, Jackie Smack,” Warren Hammond gives us a brisk and funny story featuring a pair of alley-crawling bums, Jackie and Darrell. Darrell tells Jackie that aliens come for him “every Tuesday,” an event that Jackie yearns to witness. Hearing Darrell’s stories, Jackie considers himself lucky to have found this particular alley and decides on the spot that smack and aliens go well together like “nachos and cherry Slurpees.” If given the opportunity to meet the aliens, he thinks, “he’d jump up to shake hands and say, “How’s it hangin’?” (A great line straight out of an early Seth Rogen flick.) This is sharply-told tale of delusion (and relative grandeur) with a back-to-reality twist ending.

Drugs also play a bit role in T.J. Valour’s “Ghostly Attraction, featuring Dina “who has been dealing with ghosts and their manifestations since she was five.” Dina considers herself “the most abstinent personal escort in history” though she’ll do whatever it takes to keep the customers satisfied. One customer is a full-blown sitophilic (yes, I had to consult Wikipedia). Now a ghost is trying to take over her entire being and she’s seeing utterly creepy sights, like the maggots dripping out of her cop friend’s mouth. Dina blames the hit of smack for intensifying the hallucinations. Dark shapes are following her. “They clung to the shadows of the parking lot across from the police station, absorbing the meager light radiating from the street lamps.” The story shifts points of view with a smooth, confident style in an edgy paranormal tale that deftly weaves together romance, unusual forms of lust and themes of professional and personal jealousy.

“Charlie’s Point of View,” by Linda Berry, wraps up the collection with fanciful story told from the point of view of the life-sized fiberglass and plaster sculpture that is seen to this day at the Tattered Cover bookstore on Colfax Ave. Charlie, with his highly realistic gaze focused squarely on the newspaper in his grip, observes more than you’d think. A couple of bag ladies “get into a situation” out on the street. As Charlie notes, the store isn’t on the worst stretch of Colfax, “but you still need to be alert for trouble.” Not everything—or everybody—is what it appears to be. What’s real? What’s not? Charlie knows he’s got the best seat in the house. Maybe the whole city.

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

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

Book three in the series, Trapline, was published by Midnight Ink in November 2014

Our New Year’s Resolution – Improve RMFW Membership

By Saytchyn Maddux-Creech, Wendy Howard & Corinne O'Flynn

Happy New Year! Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? Have you started achieving your writing goals? Or are you still recuperating from the holidays?

This year the RMFW Board made a New Year’s resolution to improve membership. Last month, in between eggnog, opening presents, and toasting in the new year, we all pitched in to move members into Cvent for membership management, event registration and email communications.

As you’ve probably read in recent emails, and seen on rmfw.org, you can access the new website at http://www.cvent.com/d/7rqn24/3W. We’ve also sent you instructions to log in and renew your membership when your renew date comes around. Are you still wondering how Cvent improves your online membership experience?

Upcoming events and event history are in one location: After logging in to the Cvent site you’ll land on the My Events page. Go to this page at any time and see upcoming events, events you’ve registered to attend, and a history of events you’ve attended.

Event pages provide more information: Check out the 2015 RMFW Writers Retreat on Cvent. Click on the tabs and find everything you need to know about an event: event summary, session agendas, speaker bios, maps to locations, forms to contact event leader, social links, all a click away.

Membership management is in one location: Your membership information and preferences are now in one place on the My Profile tab. Update your personal information there as well as identify your membership expiration date, renew your membership, manage your email preference, and add/remove your entry in the new members directory.

Similar home page to rmfw.org: The home page at the Cvent site is similar to the home page at rmfw.org. Go to either site for up-to-date highlights about RMFW happenings and links to additional information. Note that we are still moving into Cvent and apologize if some information is not yet available there.

NEED MORE HELP MOVING IN?

We are here to support you through the transition. Written instructions are available on the rmfw.org website and volunteers are available to help you manage your membership account:

Need log in help? Click on the Login link on rmfw.org for instructions to log in to your new account. The information on this page will also help you create your password if logging in for the first time.

Need to renew your membership? Go to the RMFW FAQs page for instructions to find your membership expiration date and pay to renew your membership.

Need membership related support? Contact Saytchyn Maddux-Creech, RMFW Membership Chair at membership@rmfw.org.

Have questions about a particular event? Go to the Contact Us tab on any event page and fill out the form to contact the event leader.

Need email support because you’re not receiving emails or need to update your subscription lists? Contact Corinne O’Flynn at communications@rmfw.org.

Need other website support? Contact Wendy Howard at website_liaison@rmfw.org.

Have a general question about the changes? Add a comment below and we'll answer it here.

Time to Update Your Bucket List for 2015

By Patricia Stoltey

I don't do resolutions anymore. Goal setting is good (see yesterday's post from Liesa Malik for more on that topic), but updating my bucket list ranks at the top of my year end ToDos.

Just because something was important enough to add to my list in the past doesn't mean it should stay there until I finally do it. I kept "A ride in a hot air balloon" on my list for about ten years, had plenty of opportunities to fulfill the wish, and chickened out every time. It's now off the list forever.

"Visit Greece" used to be on my list, but no longer. "One more trip to Paris" is on the list now, and that one can remain on the list as long as I'm alive and mobile. "Return to Norway" is a permanent entry as well. This is a photo I took about ten p.m. (early May 1998) from the window of a cabin that sits on a corner of the land my Norwegian ancestors once owned. I took that bucket list trip by myself, a true adventure for an upper-middle-aged lady who was accustomed to spending long hours at a desk.Norway_Through the Cabin Window at NightThere used to be a few other ambitious excursions on my list. Once upon a time I had a few items such as "Hike the Appalachian Trail" and "Walk the Camino de Santiago" on my list.

Stop laughing. I was serious at the time.

I have replaced those lofty dreams with "Walk every trail in and around my town" which is still a challenge in this outdoors-oriented corner of Colorado but can be accomplished (at least, it can be accomplished once I get this stupid knee fixed and buy a good, sturdy walking stick). A bucket list must be flexible and dynamic.

I put big writing-related items on my bucket list, too. "Make the New York Times Bestseller List" can stay on the list as long as I'm alive and writing. "See one of my novels made into a movie" is another favorite. I'd even like to "Win the Colorado Book Award" someday. My bucket list must include only achievable dreams, or at least dreams I've convinced myself I can achieve, even while others may call me delusional.

What about you? Do you do resolutions, goal setting, and/or a bucket list? What's at the top of your preferred list for 2015?

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog will return to its regular Monday through Friday schedule on Monday, January 5th. The regular monthly post for Kevin Paul Tracy has been moved from January 1st to January 7th. The regular monthly post for Mary Gillgannon has been moved from the 2nd to the 12th.

I wish you a wonderful new year, full of joy and great accomplishment.