Where to Begin: A Review of Sharon Mignerey’s Workshop … by Samantha Ross

The story is … off. There is something wrong with it, and you don't know exactly what it is. How do you fix it? Something went wrong somewhere. Not sure where. Or what is wrong. You’re stuck. It’s a huge tangle. How do you even start to fix it?

You start at the beginning.

Oh, wait. You tried that. That is where you’re stuck. The attempts to rewrite it, cut out parts, add parts, none of it worked. You made it leaner. Made it juicier. Tried this, tried that, and so many other things. And then you started to doubt the whole story. The whole thing is just one muddy mess.

Go back to the basics. And go to the beginning. Unmuddy the waters.

Sharon Mignerey reminded us of this at her Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers event “Sucked in from Page One - Beginnings.”

Where does your beginning begin?

You, the author have the story in your head, all jumbled in there, parts of it on paper, parts of it still floating around in the universe waiting for the ink. The backstory is done. We know her goal, motivation, conflicts, the obstacles she has to encounter and overcome, both external and deep within her. We know all these things about our story.

Here we are at Chapter One. We need to set the scene up, show the ordinary world so the reader can see the change. Start with the main character dreaming about apple pie, and the hidden meaning of home and safety? Do we add all the back story of her loving, yet somewhat dysfunctional family? It’s all going to change in a moment. Show her everyday life with all the things she has woken up to on past mornings, or all the things she wished she had woken up to, because what wakes her up today is a huge moment of change. The reader has to be aware of her stressful job, and why it is so stressful that she usually sleeps in on the weekends to recharge. That explains why being awake so early is odd today. And, of course, we want the reader to care about her. Show that she feels guilty about arguing with her best friend, how she is unsure of her relationship with her boyfriend; so when she has to team up with her coworker, it’s ok that the sparks fly.

This is where we start, right?


Jump to the problem with their day - the change. Why start there? Because that is where the trouble starts. It’s the inciting incident. That inciting incident is the moment that her life is different from what it normally is, or different from her expectations. It doesn't start with her dreaming, and then being woken up by a frog. You start with the frog dressed in a cowboy outfit sitting on her pillow aiming his shotgun at her forehead informing her in a slow drawl that she has to get up to save her coworker, George. Because if she doesn’t, George will come back as a werewolf, and eat everyone under the age of four on the next full moon.

That’s great you say, but why does the reader care about this character? Where is her character arc? The reader gets to know this character by how she reacts to the frog. Then the reader keeps caring about her as she changes due to the decisions she makes, the actions she takes, and the external and interior struggles as she strives to reach her story goal.

The beginning needs to get to the point. On the first page you need to let the reader know who is telling the story, where they are, what’s going on, and why it is important. And it should give the reader a hint at the story problem - both the external and the internal, and how that can alter the characters life. Don’t dally around with the past. Get on with it.

Begin with the frog. That is the change. The call to action. The moment the character steps onto the road that changes her life. That change gives her a goal, motivation and conflict. It clarifies your story. For the reader, and for you.

Now you are both sucked in.


Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.

Learn more about Samantha and her writing at her website/blog.

For more information about Sharon Mignerey's workshops, please visit the workshop description page on her website.

After Colorado Gold…Now What do I do?

Twenty-one years ago, I attended my first Colorado Gold conference. I recall standing in awe of the published authors (often in the corner, scared to death, thinking I didn’t belong there). I remember how Kay Bergstrom spoke to me, offering welcome and encouragement. I went to as many workshops as I could cram in, hungry for information. I took pages of notes, wanting to learn as much as possible. I came home so excited.

But I was also exhausted and scared to death.

So, this week, I’m wondering how many of this year’s new attendees are feeling that spectacular mix of eagerness and trepidation, fatigue and desire.

Most all of us leave conference with incredible energy to write but ready to crash with physical exhaustion. It’s a strange combination and it’s unexpected for first-time attendees. But it’s also absolutely normal.

The majority of writers are introverts. Some are uncomfortable in social situations and spend the conference weekend working hard to interact with others. It takes a lot of energy to do that. Even those introverts who appear to be extroverts (that would be me, having finally realized I don’t belong in the corner) find themselves zapped by the end of the several non-stop days. That’s the nature of introversion. Socializing drains our energy while those lucky extroverts increase their energy from social situations. If you’ve never attended Colorado Gold before, don’t be baffled trying to figure out why your desire to write is higher than ever but your body is sluggish. Get some extra rest.

Minds may also take a few days to catch up. We’ve just shoved an incredible amount of information into our brains and processing it may take a while. Imagine that little guy in your head trying to keep up with the filing! It’s okay if you don’t remember everything from the workshops you attended. That’s what notes and handouts are for. And CDs of workshops can also help refresh memories. There is a link on the website if you need to order one you forgot at conference.

But, many of us are also experiencing newfound enthusiasm. This is the time to capitalize on that by setting new goals and habits. After a few days to recover, start moving forward. If you have critique buddies or writing friends (including those you met at Colorado Gold), make plans together. Challenge one another to new writing goals or new support for one another. Put new advice into practice. Rather than letting the wealth of new information overwhelm you, select a couple of the techniques you learned and try them out.

This is the time to go forth, to accept challenges, to write like you’ve never written before!

Another Successful Year at Colorado Gold

What a wonderful weekend we had at the 33rd Annual Colorado Gold Conference! On behalf of our board and volunteers, we hope you learned new things to apply to your writing, found yourself encouraged and inspired to keep developing your ideas, and felt supported and connected after three days of classes, panels, critiques, workshops, speeches, and one-on-one coaching with your tribe.

Cheers to each of our presenters and panelists. The conference doesn't happen without you. Content of the workshops was great. We all learned a tremendous amount with the variety of topics and expertise of the presenters. Even Jeffery Deaver and Desiree Holt were found taking notes. Thank you for making the 2015 Colorado Gold Conference the best one yet.

A very special thanks to each of our first-time attendees. There were 123 of you, and it was fun spotting your green ribbons and seeing you with new friends, sharing stories, and becoming a part of our wonderful tribe.

Many of us appreciated the return of the hospitality suite, but don't worry, no photos. What happens in the hospitality suite, stays in the hospitality suite.

If you missed the conference or didn't want it to end, read on for a recap of all the amazing presentations, contest results and honored attendees.

Writer of the Year

On Friday night, 2015 Writer of the Year Susan Spann moved the room with an emotional and inspirational keynote address about the power of a name. Using the story of Weeble, her seahorse who defied the odds despite serious setbacks, she challenged us all. She gave us all a name: Writer. In addition, she gave us the mandate to follow our dreams.

Keynote Speakers

Saturday night, Keynote Speaker and acclaimed author Jeffery Deaver brought us back in time to meet his younger nerd self (before being a nerd was cool), striving to find his way as a professional author. Through his own experiences he shared how subjective this business is, and how important it is to never give up.

On Sunday afternoon, Desiree Holt, The Queen of Erotic Romance, closed the conference with her Keynote address where she shared through her own experience that it is truly never too late to get started or to make it in this business.

The thread that carried through each of these keynote speeches was clear: Never give up. Don't stop writing.

Honored Members

There were so many wonderful notes of love and thanks that our attendees left for our honored guiding members Carol Caverly, Kay Bergstrom and Christine Goff.

Pen Awards

Congratulations to the Pen Award recipients! The Pen Award is given to authors who have published their debut novel.

Maura Weiler • Margaret Mizushima • Rae James • Catherine Dilts
Stephen Benjamin • Emily France • Thom Nicholson
Katherine Lampe • Corinne O'Flynn • Shawn McGuire
Yvonne Montgomery • Muffie Humphry • Laura V. Keegan
P.J. Hermanson • Kendrick E. Knight • Stephen C. Merlino
D.L. Orton • Liz Roadifer • Benadette Marie • Catherine Winters
Monica Poole • LM Manifold • C.R. Lemons • Cheryl Carpinello
John Turley • Laura Reeves • Lisa Stormes Hawker • Sue Duff

2015 Colorado Gold Contest Results - CONGRATS to This Year's WINNERS!

The Colorado Gold contest has given aspiring novelists the chance to get their work in front of an acquiring agent or editor while also providing feedback and encouragement for the craft of writing. The quality of this year's finalists was so high that our judges had an extra hard time deciding on the following winners:

First Place: Michael Hope Searing Flames (Littleton, CO)
Second Place: Douglas Adcock Massacre (Breckenridge, CO)
Third Place: Bruce Leaf Fire Step (Boulder, CO)

First Place: Trish Hermanson Mrs. Robinson's Reunion (Lakewood, CO)
Second Place: Michelle Boelter After the End (Delta, CO)
Third Place: Rebecca Hopkins The Orchid Girl's Chase (Tarakan, Indonesia)

First Place: Alan Larson Hard Red Winter (Scottsdale, AZ)
Second Place: Sherry Nelson Turning Stones (Cheyenne Wells, CO)
Third Place: Michael Hope Hallelujah is Dying (Littleton, CO)

First Place: Elisabeth Burns Rinse and Repeat (Mount Olive, IL)
Second Place: Michelle Boelter Nena (Delta, CO)
Third Place: Louise Jones Memory Lane (Arvada, CO)

Speculative Fiction
First Place: Shantal LaViolette The Iron Duke: Voices at the Door (El Prado, NM)
Second Place: D.L. Orton Crossing in Time (Colorado Springs, CO)
Third Place: CJ Collins In the Ghost Prints of Dragons (Clovis, CA)

First Place: John Christenson Starball (Boulder, CO)
Second Place: Corinne O'Flynn The Ghosts of Witches Past (Parker, CO)
Third Place: Mary Johnson Awoken (Englewood, CO)

Special Thanks to Ron and Nina Else!

As always, the bookstore and signing were fabulous thanks to Bonnie Biafore and Who Else Books.

"The bookstore with Ron and Nina Else was well stocked, and I brought home an armful of new treasures at great prices."

Liesa Malik, PAL Liaison

Thank You to Our Volunteers

Jasmine Award

Wendy Howard is this year's Jasmine Award winner. She reminds everyone that volunteering with fellow writers is an important part of personal and career growth. During those times she is down and ready to quit, the rewards of volunteering with RMFW keep her focused on achieving the ultimate goal of publication. In addition, she adds that never has she volunteered with a more amazing group of people. She encourages everyone to email volunteer@rmfw.org and get involved.

Nugget Awards

Thank you to those volunteers who won Nugget Awards this year.

Mark Stevens • Vicki Rubin • Wendy Howard • Charles Senseman • Susan Smith
Angie Hodapp • Wendy Terrien • Vicki Law • Terri Benson • Linda Joffe Hull
Corinne O'Flynn • Susan Brooks • Susan Spann • Not pictured: Maura Weiler
Margaret Mizushima • Rae James • Catherine Dilts • Michael Ruchhoeft

Special Thanks to Mark Stevens! THANK YOU Mark (top left) for all your hard work capturing the heart of the conference in all the amazing photos you have taken and shared.

Simile Contest

As usual, the Simile Contest was a fun time for all and had us rolling on the floor laughing. Thanks to Peggy Waidde and Alice Kober for picking some real winners! Congrats to Chad Mathine, Matthew Porter, and Michele Winkler for making us laugh.

Take Aways from #RMFW2015 by Martha Husain: Winner of the Treasure Hunt

Martha Husain won the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize in the treasure hunt contest. Well, she was the only entry but did get ALL the answers correct. Below are the lessons Martha took away from this year's conference:

  1. Reconsider having first drafts critiqued before the whole story is completed. Reworking the same passage may be futile because you may have to ditch it when you put it all together.
  2. Meet, make friends, and keep up with your fellow authors in your genre. They are your future blurb writers when you all become published and famous.
  3. Having multiple WIP at once is a good way to deal with "getting stuck."
  4. Avoid spending a lot of time on research before editing for story. The need to research may get cut.
  5. World building should include macro, micro, backstory, and (what was the fourth thing? Something like context?)
  6. Take pictures of people you meet and post them on social media. The memories survive better with a visual record.
  7. The Corinne O'Flynn method of avoiding the awkward memory lapse on names: "Hi, I know we've been introduced about four times now, but remind me what your name is?"
  8. The "herd" is there to support you and they're rooting for you to succeed. Show them you can do it.

The Biggest Thanks to Susan Brooks, Conference Chair

Susan Brooks took on the role of conference chair four years ago and gave herself the mandate to make each year's conference better than the one before. Well, this year she's done it again. This is no small feat, as RMFW has a reputation for bringing a stellar event to the Denver area for over 30 years! In fact, she was presented with the Jasmine Award in 2014 for the level of excellence she has brought to Colorado Gold. While Susan has stepped down as conference chair, we are fortunate to have her take on the role of retreat chair. Thank you Susan for all you've done to make this year's conference the best one yet and all you will do for RMFW in the future.

Colorado Gold 2015: Another Wonderful Weekend With the Herd

Another Colorado Gold Conference (my sixth) has come and gone. No matter how I try to freeze the clock, somehow the moments pass--far faster than normal--and it seems things have no sooner started than I'm home once more and waiting for the next one.

This was an unusually wonderful Colorado Gold for me, this year, and not just because I had the honor of viewing the Friday evening banquet from the other side of the podium. (Huge thanks to everyone who voted me 2015's Writer of the Year.) In addition to teaching classes, attending workshops, and spending time with my beloved "herd" I learned a few important lessons--and received some critical reminders--that I will carry with me in the year to come:

12004745_832040746909072_5028712672877300556_nPublishing is a Business; Knowledge is Power.

From Friday morning Master's Classes to morning and afternoon workshops, conferences like Colorado Gold empower authors to take charge of every aspect of their publishing careers. No matter how much we know about the business, there's always something more to learn--and wonderful instructors like Keir Graff (pictured) and the rest of the RMFW faculty make learning FUN.

Nobody Gets "Too Big" For Kindness (aka "We're all in this together.") 12002855_832258653553948_7773124374528047647_n

Keynote speaker and guest of honor Jeffery Deaver not only attended workshops "like the rest of us" but spent many hours meeting and talking with our RMFW crew. He showed particular kindness to our three teenage attendees, encouraging them and talking with them about their works. Thank you, Mr. Deaver, for being such an inspiring speaker, gifted workshop teacher, and all-around class act.

Many hands make light (and happy) work.

10301455_832539993525814_7436406780272355661_nConference chair Susie Brooks and her team of amazing volunteers kept the conference moving without a hitch (without any visible hitches, anyway) and did it with perpetual smiles. Anyone passing the registration table at any hour--day or night--could see Susie and her team at work, hear their laughter, and receive a friendly smile. The same was true of the army of RMFW volunteers, who worked hard--but happily--to make this the best Colorado Gold Conference yet. As authors, we'd be smart to follow their example when carrying out our writing--and our day job tasks!

Though Often Loners, We Are Not Alone 

As I might have mentioned once or twice, RMFW is my tribe--my "herd"--and both the organization Attendees01-sliderand its members have had an irreplaceable impact on my life and my writing career. Much of a writer's life is spent in solitary--butt in the chair and fingers on the keys.

Conferences like Colorado Gold remind me--and should remind all of us--that there are others, brothers and sisters of the written word, who toil and worry and suffer as we do, and that we are stronger together than any of us could possibly be alone.

Everyone's Tail Gets Broken...But Time With the Herd Will Help Us Heal.

Every writer has a path to walk, and few of those paths are paved with fairy dust and unicorn kisses. Far more often, we spend our days on the bottom of our proverbial tanks, with our broken tails in the air. Colorado Gold is a vitally important safe-haven, a writers' reef, where we can come together for a few sparkling days and nights each year to recharge in the company of our "herd."


We share our stories, eat and drink (sometimes a little more than we planned), laugh and cry and "hug it out"--and leave a little happier, a little stronger, and far more inspired than we were before. Conferences heal our wounds--or, at least, help set us on the path to healing. They renew our hope. They remind us that we do this not for money, or fame, or success (or, at least, not only for those things) but because we--like all the others here--are in love with the written word.

Our stories burn within us, and we write because we owe those burning stories nothing less. 

Thank you, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Colorado Gold volunteers, fellow attendees, and members of my lovely herd, for reminding me of so many important things. I cannot wait to see you all at next year's Colorado Gold. 


Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California publishing attorney and the author of 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 in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, released on July 14, 2015. Susan is honored to be the 2015 RMFW Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she  raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Finding Your People

The Viking says I need a new travel agent. This business of flying into Spokane at 11 pm and then traveling home over dark, deserted highways filled with suicidal deer has got to change. I tell him if it is the price I must pay to engage in a conference like Colorado Gold, then I am willing, even if it does leave me shuffling around for days like a zombie with a big, red, "recharge battery NOW" sign blinking where my brain should be.

This year, as usual, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers crew put on a fabulous conference: great classes, wonderful speakers, along with opportunities to talk to industry professionals and get books signed by awesome authors.

But for me, what made the conference spectacularly awesome was hanging out with other writers. I skipped interesting and informative classes to talk to writers. I stayed up way past my bedtime and functioned on minimal sleep in order to spend time hanging out with writers. I even skipped coffee once or twice in order to talk to writers.

I'm a full on introvert, and this is not my usual modus operandi. My forays into social events tend to be infrequent and brief. Not because I'm shy, but because I usually find gatherings of people draining and exhausting. Besides, my life is bursting at the seams with writing and other things I need to get done.

I tell myself I don't have time for anybody outside of my immediate family.

This is a comforting little lie that allows me to feel like a better human.

The truth is, I don't have time to hang out with people who want to talk about shoes and clothes and kitchens and the latest reality show on TV. And I don't really care which movie star is cheating on his spouse or which singer just got pregnant. Sometimes at a party I'll catch my eyes glazing over as I realize that I'm terribly, horribly, bored.

But give me people who want to talk philosophy, writing, personality typing, how to get things done, book ideas, character development, publishing industry news - and I light up like a prairie sunrise.

Where I'm going with all of this, I guess, is that it's important to find our people. Even those of us who are hard core introverts need a tribe – or a herd, as Susan Spann so eloquently put it during her Writer of the Year speech at Colorado Gold. We need people to spark new ideas for us, to believe in us, to support us. We need people to encourage us when the publishing industry looks like a Sharknado, or when the book we're writing sucks so bad we can't bear to even look at the page.

And we need the experience of being the person who offers support and encouragement, along with the understanding that even our seemingly boring little lives can be a catalyst and inspiration to somebody else.

Fortunately, we don't have to wait for conferences to be a part of this experience. Check your social media feeds and find the writers who are interesting and supportive. Or, for that matter, non-writers with whom you share interests. And remember that you have the power to shape your own social media world – you can let in the members of your tribe and lock out the others. Life's too short to spend it either bored or alone.

Adventures in Cover Art for Traditionally, Hybrid, and Self-Published Authors by Theresa Alan

You finally finished your one-hundred-thousand word masterpiece after tireless effort, and, if your writing process is like mine, much metaphorical head bashing against your laptop. You think the hard part is done. You are wrong.

Whether you’re traditionally published, self-published, or choose a hybrid publisher (you’ll get a small or no advance, an editor, a publicist, and higher percentage of royalties than traditional offers but maybe not the reviewers and other perks), one of the first steps in marketing your book—the cover—presents myriad challenges.

One of the benefits of being traditionally published is that you’ll get help with marketing. Depending on the size of your publisher, their assistance could be significant. There is a lot to be said about having a traditional publisher’s marketing contacts and dollars go toward helping your sales, but the trade-off is that, generally, you don’t have much say in the cover, cover copy, or the title, especially at the larger publishing houses.

My first seven novels were all traditionally published. My second novel, which is about six improv comedians, was translated into, among other languages, Portuguese, and the cover featured a swarthy construction worker wearing a tool belt in front of a half-finished house. All of the comedians in my book have day jobs, however, none of their day jobs has anything to do with construction. In fact, at no point in the book is any construction work or handsome construction worker involved. Obviously whoever picked out the stock photography either didn’t get the blurb, didn’t read the blurb, or couldn’t have possibly cared less about truth in advertising.

Of course a cover is important to sales, but you want to sell a book with a cover that doesn’t mislead readers. If they are in the mood for a light read and they buy a book with a cover that looks frothy and then get a dark, moody novel, they are more likely to review your book harshly even if it’s brilliantly written. As writers and readers, those reviews can make or break sales.

The cover to my third novel, The Girls’ Global Guide to Guys, is cute and does get the tone right. The book is about two girlfriends backpacking through Europe. The cover my publisher created has a woman wearing high heels and a flouncy skirt, and she’s carrying a tote bag. Have you ever back-packed great distances or known someone who has? If so, than you know no heels were worn and no adorable tote bags were toted because it’s rugged and challenging and hence called “backpacking,” not “tote-bagging with one mint and a single change of thong.” At least readers know from the cover that Girls’ Guide will be a fun book, and it’s not a how-to guide for backpacking through Europe.

A plus-side of being self-published is that you can be sure that your cover reflects both the tone and the plot of your book. However, getting a cover as a self-published author isn’t necessarily all rainbows. Having original artwork created for you can be a big investment, or combing through stock photography can be time-consuming and frustrating. As writers, we want to spend our available hours, you know, writing, not whiling away in a Photoshop time-suck. I looked in to self-publishing, and the process made me appreciate the challenges my publisher went through to try to communicate that I write humor, although some of my books are deal with more serious issues than others. (Although there is no excuse to have a construction worker represent a book about six people trying to make it as improv comedians/actors/performers. Seriously.)

With hybrid presses, I’ve heard from author friends that it’s the luck of the draw. You have an editor and publicist who are more your teammates than your directors, so they’re often more open to input. But most indie or hybrid presses tend to have a “look” to their whole imprint, so study the covers on their website and decide if it’s a match for your work, and ask a lot of questions before signing the dotted line.

If you do find success with a traditional publishing house, kudos! Know in advance however, that, at least at the larger houses, you won’t get much say in your cover or blurb on the back and, while your publishing house might ask for input on what you might like for the title, odds are, they ultimately don’t care much what you think. There are many stories I’ve heard of authors doing well self-publishing (sometimes while also writing for traditional publishing houses) and many cover artists charge reasonable prices, so this is a definite consideration.

Whether you land a big publisher, go with an indie publisher, or do it entirely on your own terms, CONGRATS! You are doing it. Just go into this next stage of publishing and marketing knowing the right questions to ask, what to expect, and what is going to feel right for you. Of course, then, if you do get the cover of your dreams and still get negative reviews, you’ll know it’s either because that reader just didn’t connect with your writing . . . or that you suck. (Or maybe you just need to do more polishing on your work and hit some more critique groups to get feedback for how to improve.)

In any case, happy writing!


Theresa Alan became a bestselling author with her first novel, Who You Know (2003), and her novella Santa Unwrapped was in the New York Times bestseller Jingle All the Way (2004). She is the author of six additional Kensington novels, including Spur of the Moment, The Girls’ Global Guide to Guys, Girls Who Gossip, Getting Married, Spa Vacation, and The Dangers of Mistletoe. Her work has also appeared in the anthologies I Shaved My Legs for This?! and Sex and the Single Witch. Theresa was named the Colorado Romance Writer of the Year in 2004.

A graduate of the University of Iowa and the University of Colorado at Boulder, Theresa lives in Denver, Colorado.

You may connect with her on Twitter @Theresa_Author or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theresa.alan



Rocky Mountain Writer Podcast #15

Rocky Mountain Writer Podcast – Episode #15

Terri Benson: Western Slope Coordinator for RMFW

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Western Slope Coordinator Terri Benson chats about workshops and related activities around Grand Junction. She also talks about her writing career, about the advantages of getting involved in RMFW, and the thirty years of work that preceded publication of her romance novel, An Unsinkable Love.

Show Notes:

Terri Benson: terribensonwriter.com


Intro music courtesy of Moby Gratis
Outro music courtesy of 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

Are Your Characters Larger than Life?

So what exactly is a “larger than life” character? You hear that term bandied about all the time, especially as one of the attributes agents and editors are looking for in a good story.

If you were to take the term literally, you’d be wrong. It fact, larger than life is often misused and assigned to god-like characters and Rambo-esque heroes. LTL characters are less likely to be big in size and personality, or to talk big and lead with their fists instead of their hearts.

Don’t get me wrong; the Rambos and Supermen and Thors are certainly memorable and deserve to have stars by their names. They’re big enough to be household names and have the neighborhood kids dress up in costumes that look like them on Halloween. But are they truly LTL characters?

My point is an LTL goes beyond the physical. You make your characters bigger than life so they’ll be worthy of the role they’ve been given, and deserving of the boon they'll win at the end of a book. The LTL character is put in extraordinary situations and forced to make extraordinary decisions, to make sacrifices and put the needs of others above their own. There are LTL characters in real life as well as novels and movies. Lets look at some.

Mother Theresa – She’s famous for saying “A sacrifice to be real it must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves.” She was big on sacrifice, but there were three things she said you should never sacrifice: your family, your heart, your dignity. She’s memorable and heroic for what she stands for, and this makes her bigger than life.

Winston Churchill – Small in stature, yet big in wisdom and courage, Churchill was the greatest statesman of the 20th century. As a leader, he perpetually demonstrated enthusiasm, determination, and optimism and was the lion that roared when the British Empire needed him most. Unforgettable quotes from his speeches are repeated to this day.

There’s a lot we can learn from the flesh and blood LTLs to help make our fictional characters more authentic. Flaws, foibles and insecurities as well as morality, compassion, empathy and countless other characteristics shape a three dimensional human being (or non human, depending on your genre).

LTL characters are deserving of a prominent place in our stories because they’ve risen above adversity and made the hard choices that led them to victory. Strength is superficial without the weakness a character is forced to overcome in order to win.

Who are some fictional LTL characters? I’m sure there are many who star in your favorite books and that’s why those books are your favorites. I have some, too.

Katniss Everdeen – Yes, I’m a big Hunger Games fan. Katniss is made of courage and compassion, and is a great example of a LTL faced with the horrors of a cruel government run by a totalitarian dictatorship that uses children to fight its battles. These atrocities affect Katniss’ family and her own district, and against all odds, she stands up to her nemeses and refuses to back down. She deserves to win.

Vivian Daly and Molly Ayer – These two heroines get equal billing in the critically acclaimed novel, Orphan Train. The best book I’ve read in years. What makes these two ladies LTL characters? Vivian is an elderly survivor of the torture she lived through as an orphan, shipped from home to home, one hard life to the next, starting in 1929. Molly is a teenager, a foster kid, who’s had to survive similar tribulations. Molly records Vivian’s story, which allows her to understand more about herself than she ever knew just by listening to the elderly woman’s memories. A truly moving tale of determination and guts. I’ll never forget these two. They were real, and yet they were more than real. They were larger than life.

Can you share any LTL characters you’ve read in your favorite novels? What makes them larger than life?


Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 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 released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.







Are You Following the New RMFW Podcast Series Hosted by Mark Stevens?

Is there anything Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers doesn't do for its members (and all writers for that matter)? Not too much. One of the newest offerings is a series of podcasts that features a variety of professionals to entertain and enlighten all those who tune in. Hosted by Mark Stevens, the podcasts are another great way to meet RMFW members and Colorado Gold guests.

The link to the most recent podcast was posted just this week. Featuring two of the three finalists for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers of the Year, Susan Spann and Cindi Myers, the panel took place at the downtown Denver Tattered Cover in August. Tune in to hear these two authors discuss their writing lives and offer advice based on their own experiences. The third finalist, Joan Johnston, was unable to attend.

Susan Spann

The podcast posted at the end of August featured long-time RMFW member and volunteer, Mario Acevedo. His focus was on the Sept. 5 workshop held in Grand Junction: "Everything You Need to Know About the Next RMFW Anthology."

Mario, who has agreed to step in as editor for the anthology, talks about the submission schedule and selection process and reveals the selected theme. In addition, Mario talks about writing short stories and about his ongoing series featuring vampire Felix Gomez. If you think you'll want to submit a story for consideration in the anthology, you might want to check out Mario's podcast.


The previous interview was with one of the Colorado Gold keynote speakers, erotic romance writer Desiree Holt. In this podcast, Desiree chatted about her six series of books, her daily writing schedule and a preview of the three classes she will be teaching at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference this weekend.DesireeHolt200x263

The podcast before that featured Aaron Michael Ritchey, a highly productive writer and frequent workshop presenter. He'll participate in three writing workshops at Colorado Gold Conference. He talks about his daily dedication to writing and the series he's producing for WordFire Press called The Juniper Wars. As he puts it, the series is "cowgirls with machine guns on a post-apocalyptic cattle drive." Aaron is the author of three books--The Never Prayer, Long Live the Suicide King and Elizabeth's Midnight. He is also the author of numerous collaborations and short stories, including a story in the upcoming Nightmares Unhinged, an anthology from Hex Publishers.Aaron_Michael_Ritchey.jpg

For summaries of the other podcasts produced so far, and for future interviews, check out the page of links on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website.

Choosing Cons to Attend – How Do You Decide?

Dark SecretsI'm sorry to be missing seeing and meeting everyone this week at Colorado Gold!

I'd planned to come up and at least sign on Friday night and meet Emily Keyes from my agency, as I have an out-of-town guest the rest of the weekend. However, I talked with Nina of Who Else Books while we were both at Bubonicon, and she talked me out of it.

It would have been a tight turnaround and it's probably better that I'm not trying to do it.


Everything in moderation, I know, but it can be difficult to decide which conferences and conventions to attend. I go to more than most authors I know. Partly I like to travel and am comfortable doing it. Also, I have a day job which helps fund going to conferences. And I believe that they're productive venues for me to connect with readers and network with other writers and industry professionals.

Sure - a lot of people get into ROI (return on investment) and obsess over whether the resulting sales from con appearances make up for the sometimes outrageous expense of going. I don't believe in ROI for this sort of thing. I think building human relationships creates potential and opportunities that can't be quantified.

Let me give you a relevant example.

When I was a newbie writer, I attended the RT Booklovers Convention for the first time in 2009, in Orlando. It had never occurred to me to go, because I figured it for a reader convention to meet *published* writers. Then an author - Linnea Sinclair - who was a member of my online RWA group, the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal (FFP) special interest chapter posted that all us aspiring writers absolutely SHOULD go to RT, in order to network with already published authors, who could then know and help us.

Best advice ever!

At that convention, though I pitched my book to a bunch of people, I didn't sell it as a direct result. I did not sign with an agent, nor did I get a publishing deal. It goes without saying that I had no book sales to offset my expenses. But I *did* meet some amazing people. Some of whom are my friends to this day. Including the fabulous Cynthia Eden.

Cindy was already multipubbed and doing awesomely well at that point and, also a member of FFP, was really nice to me. We hung at a party and talked. She became a friend, advocate, and my go-to person for questions. Fast forward six years and, as a direct result of that friendship, which has otherwise enriched my life in so many ways, I get to be in this fantastic collection with Cindy and four other authors who are mind-blowingly good. DARK SECRETS: A PARANORMAL NOIR ANTHOLOGY comes out on September 29 and I'm effervescent with excitement. I mean, Megan Hart and Rachel Caine have written books that are in my top favorites of all time. Like, Cindy, Suzanne Johnson is a longtime friend from FFP and I've known Mina for years.

It's like my clubhouse girl-pack decided to put on a play and everyone just happens to be Judy Garland.

This is why I feel making author friends is ultimately unquantifiable. There's simple no way of knowing what will produce a return in the future - or what form it will take.

Thus, I'm sorry not to make it up to the Colorado Gold Conference. Who knows what might have resulted? But I wish all of you well. I hope you learn new things, make new friends, and return home inspired to create.

I'll be thinking of you!



Six award-winning authors bring you this spellbinding collection of stories about dark desires, mysterious worlds, and danger that lurks in the shadows of the night. Where nothing is black and white; where things might not be as they seem; where magic and mayhem rule.

We are now on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26135577-dark-secrets-a-paranormal-noir-anthology

Preorder here!

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