12 Elements of Crime Fiction

Fresh, unique ideas sell books, right?

Not necessarily.

Even the freshest idea must follow specific ‘rules’ or elements of the genre.

Don’t believe me? Then why in almost every romance novel the main character has one or more dead parents and the poor orphan was often raised by a kindly/odd/distant aunt or uncle? Or better yet, why is it that in an urban fantasy, the female lead is always haunted by something, whether it’s a real ghost or the ghost of boyfriend past, or in some cases herself?

Crime fiction is perhaps the worst offender.

And that’s why I love it.

These elements and rules give crime fiction its grit and style.

Mind you, not every one of the elements I list below will be in every book. But I bet that if you pull a copy of any crime novel off your bookshelf, you’ll find at least one and likely many more inside.

  1. The hooker/thug with the heart of gold
  2. Substance use/abuse
  3. A dirty cop
  4. A bottle of booze hidden in a desk/cabinet/toilet tank
  5. A femme fatale
  6. The term “Doll face” or “Baby doll”, really just some reference to a doll
  7. A description of a woman’s legs, in vivid detail
  8. A lounge/bar/nightclub/strip club
  9. A guy named “Fast” something, usually Eddie
  10. A dead partner/lover and/or betrayal by a former partner/lover
  11. Pipe/cigarette smoking hero and/or villain
  12. A dead body in the first 10 pages

Got any more? What about the genre which you write, what are the 'rules' in it?

 

 

What to Expect at 2017 Colorado Gold

The fun never ends at Conference HQ!

Colorado Gold is only a month away! We're at the Denver Renaissance Hotel in Stapleton again this year, which will be familiar to some attendees and new to many.

We have over 150 first-timers attending this year, and there are always little changes taking place, so I've put together this day-by-day run-through of what to expect at Colorado Gold this year.

Registration is SOLD OUT. Please make sure you register for the waiting list if you would like to attend. We do typically have last-minute cancellations and we will use the waiting list to bring new attendees on board.

Even though we are sold out, there are still a few sessions that existing attendees can ADD to their registration.

Sessions you can still add (if you're already registered):

  • Master Classes
  • Hypnosis Sessions (group or one-on-one available)
  • Audit Critique Round Table (select sessions only)

If you wish to add a session to your existing registration, the steps to do so are simple:

  1. Click on the SOLD OUT graphic from http://RMFW.org/conference
  2. When you get to the wait list page, click "already registered" and follow the prompts
  3. Click "OK"
  4. When you're at the summary page, click the MODIFY button on the upper row of buttons.
  5. Add your sessions.
  6. Click through to the end.
  7. Process your payment.

Don't Forget! Bring a Blank Journal to Conference!
RMFW Special Guest, Stuart Horwitz, is delighted to share: Book Architecture has partnered with Cocoon Journal, a non-profit organization that puts blank books in the hands of high school writers. The idea is that by writing, they can clear their head (and maybe generate the first draft of a future project). Do you have some blank journals lying around that you aren't using? Now, the solution: BRING THEM TO CONFERENCE! Cocoon Journal will be collecting unused, blank journals during Colorado Gold this September. You can also ship blank journals to: Cocoon Journal P.O. Box 740340, Arvada, CO 80006.

The At-A-Glance Schedule and Brochure

First, I wanted to point out that the At-A-Glance (AAG) schedule is organized by floor.

The left-most classrooms are located on the ballroom floor, which is the lower level of the hotel. These include the Ballrooms, Big Thompson, Platte River, and Boulder Creek.

The middle classrooms are located on the atrium level, these are Winter Park, Breckenridge, Snowmass, Telluride, Durango, Steamboat, and Aspen.

The right-most rooms, called the "Peak Rooms" on the schedule are located on the third floor. They aren't listed on the schedule individually because they are not part of the workshop space. This is where the one-on-ones, the critique groups, and other appointment-only sessions happen. These rooms include Blanca Peak, Longs Peak, Capital Peak, Gray's Peak, Bennett Peak, Maroon Peak, and Pike's Peak.

There is a floor plan printed on the back page of the conference brochure, which is available online right now. You will also receive a printed version of this brochure when you check in at conference.

Registration

Registration is located on the ballroom level, at the bottom of the escalators. Someone will be at the registration table for the duration of conference, and available to answer questions or help you with whatever you need. Registration opens Friday at 7:00 AM for the morning sessions and 10:30 AM for the regular conference attendees.

About Appointments and One-on-Ones

If you signed up for an appointment, it is likely that you will have to leave a workshop in session in order to attend. If you need to leave a workshop in-session, this is perfectly fine and happens throughout conference. Simply gather your things and quietly depart. Once your appointment is over, feel free to return to any workshop in-session.

Handouts

Handouts are available online. Check the HANDOUTS page often as we get closer to conference and more are added by our presenters. Please download handouts to your device or print them at home. You *can* download them at the hotel using the public wifi in the common areas of the hotel, but you will have to leave the classrooms to do so. While there is Wi-Fi in the hotel, there is NO Wi-Fi in the classrooms. 

WiFi

Since this comes up quite often, it get's its own section! There is no WiFi in the classrooms for the presenters or for the attendees. WiFi is available in the common areas of the hotel.

Bookstore

The bookstore is located in Clear Creek on the ballroom level for the duration of conference.

Conference Recordings

CES recordings of all the workshops will be available for purchase near the registration table on the ballroom level. Place your order before the end of the day on Saturday for pickup on Sunday. Orders placed on Sunday will be shipped to you after conference.

And now... here's a day-by-day walk through of our wonderful conferece!


Friday, September 8

On Friday Morning, we have appointment-only sessions from 8am to 12pm.

  • Master Classes (still open for add-on registration)
  • Agent & Editor Critique Round Tables

Check-in for the Friday morning sessions is at the registration table starting at 7:00 AM. Master Classes and Agent and Editor Critique Round Tables begin at 8 AM. Once you collect your registration materials, you will proceed to your assigned room. Check-in for the rest of the conference attendees will open at 10:30 AM.

Master Classes: The Master Classes are located on the ballroom level and atrium level. Check the schedule for your specific room and plan to arrive a few minutes early. Registration is available for these sessions if you're registered and wish to add it

Agent & Editor Critique Round Tables: If you signed up for a Round Table, these sessions are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Please arrive a few minutes early, and note that there will be signs on the doors so that you know you are in the right place.

Conference Officially Begins On Friday Afternoon:

  • 12pm:  New Attendee (or it's-been-awhile-attendee) Orientation Meeting (bring lunch or plan to eat before)
  • 1245pm: 15-minute Standing Yoga to get your day started out right! *stretch*
  • Regular Workshops
  • Mentor Room Appointments
  • 2pm: Hypnosis Group Session (still open for add-on registration)
  • One-on-One Pitch Coaching Appointments
  • Afternoon Agent & Editor Critique Round Tables
  • Plated Banquet Dinner
  • Author Signing and Book Sale (free and open to the public)

Check-in for the conference attendees will open at 10:30 AM.  Workshops and appointments begin at 1 PM.

Standing Yoga: Come as you are and enjoy a 15-minute yoga session to get your body ready for the afternoon sessions. Hosted by Bonnie Ramthun.

Mentor Room: The Mentor room is located in Boulder Creek, on the ballroom level. If you have an appointment for the Mentor room, your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. Check in at the main registration table 10 minutes before your appointment.

Hypnosis Group Session: This session will be held in Kingston Peak from 2-4pm. Registration is required. Join this session to unlock your potential and increase productivity, overcome writer’s block, and open up your imagination and creativity.

One-on-One Pitch Coaching appointments: If you signed up for Pitch Coaching, these sessions are located on the atrium level in Winter Park, Breckenridge, Snowmass rooms. Your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table outside the rooms. Please arrive 10 minutes before your appointment to check in.

Agent & Editor Critique Round Tables: If you signed up for a Round Table, these sessions are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Please arrive a few minutes early, and note that there will be signs on the doors so that you know you are in the right place.

Friday Dinner: Plated Banquet Dinner on Friday is located in Ballrooms C/D at 6 PM. Join us as we welcome you, honor our volunteers and hear from Diana Gabaldon, our Kickoff Keynote Speaker. There will be a cash bar in the hall outside the ballrooms prior to dinner and a cash bar inside during the meal.

Author Signing and Book Sale: Join us in Ballrooms A/B for an author signing extravaganza! Meet dozens of RMFW authors, our keynote speakers, presenters, and special guests. Buy books and have them signed. The cash bar will be open during this time. This is open to the public, so spread the word!


Saturday, September 9

On Saturday morning, we have:

  • 6am: 1-hour traditional Yoga Class in Ballroom A. Bring a towel or your own mat. (free and open to drop-in)
  • Hypnosis one-on-one sessions (still open for add-on registration)
  • Continental breakfast
  • Mentor Room Appointments
  • NLA Story Clinic Master Class
  • Agent & Editor Pitch Appointments
  • Buffet Lunch (new!)

Morning Yoga: 1-hour traditional yoga class. Bring a towel or your yoga mat from home and enjoy a 1-hour yoga session to get your body ready for the long day of conference. Hosted by Bonnie Ramthun.

Continental breakfast: This is optional and available starting at 7 AM in the hall outside the ballrooms.

Hypnosis One-on-One Session: These are available by appointment only. Experience an immersive one-on-one session to unlock your potential and increase productivity, overcome writer’s block, and open up your imagination and creativity.

Mentor Room: The Mentor room is located in Boulder Creek, on the ballroom level. If you have an appointment for the Mentor room, your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. Check in at the main registration table 10 minutes before your appointment.

NLA Story Clinic Special Intensive Master Class:  The NLA Story Clinic on Saturday morning is located in the Durango room on the atrium level.

Agent & Editor Pitch Appointments: Pitch Appointments are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table for the pitch appointments located on the third floor. Please make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment. If you have any questions or conflicts regarding your pitch appointment, you will need to speak to the volunteers at the third-floor check-in table. Additional pitch appointments are available on a first-come, first-served basis while space allows. Any questions about booking additional free pitches should be handled at the check-in table for the pitches with our Pitch Master, Mike Ruchhoeft, and his team of volunteers.

On Saturday afternoon, we have:

  • Buffet Lunch (new!)
  • 1:15pm: 15-minute Standing Yoga to get your afternoon started out right! *stretch*
  • 1:30pm: Regular Workshops Begin
  • Hypnosis one-on-one sessions (still open for add-on registration)
  • Mentor Room
  • Agent & Editor Pitch Appointments
  • One-on-One Critique/Blue Pencil Appointments
  • Awards Banquet Dinner
  • Author Readings

Lunch Saturday is provided. Buffet Lunch on Saturday is located in Ballrooms C/D at 12 PM. Join us as we honor our 2017 PEN Award recipients, and our 2017 Writers of the Year, Shannon Baker and Wendy Terrien.

Standing Yoga: Come as you are and enjoy a 15-minute yoga session to get your body ready for the afternoon sessions. Hosted by Bonnie Ramthun.

Hypnosis One-on-One Session: These are available by appointment only. Experience an immersive one-on-one session to unlock your potential and increase productivity, overcome writer’s block, and open up your imagination and creativity.

Mentor Room: The Mentor room is located in Boulder Creek, on the ballroom level. If you have an appointment for the Mentor room, your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. Check in at the main registration table 10 minutes before your appointment.

Agent & Editor Pitch Appointments: Pitch Appointments are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table for the pitch appointments located on the third floor. Please make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment. If you have any questions or conflicts regarding your pitch appointment, you will need to speak to the volunteers at the third-floor check-in table.

One-on-One Critique/Blue Pencil Appointments: One-on-One Critiques and Blue Pencil Cafe appointments are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table for these appointments located on the third floor. Please make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment.

Awards Banquet Dinner: Plated Banquet Dinner is located in Ballrooms C/D at 6:30pm. Please join us for an evening of fun and celebration as we present awards to our Colorado Gold Writing Contest Finalists and Winners, the Jasmine Award, and hear an inspiring speech from our keynote speaker, Sherry Thomas. There will be a cash bar.

Author Readings in Ballroom A: After dinner, please join us and listen to RMFW authors read their work live. If you signed up to read your work, you will have received your appointment details from our author reading coordinator. Please make sure you arrive before your scheduled reading time.

Cash Bar in "Hospitality Hall": Hang out in the hall outside the ballrooms after dinner and mingle. There will be a cash bar.


Sunday, September 10

On Sunday morning, we have:

  • Continental Breakfast
  • Regular Workshops
  • Hypnosis one-on-one sessions (still open for add-on registration)
  • Agent & Editor Pitch appointments
  • One-on-One Critique appointments
  • Farewell Luncheon with giveaways!

Continental breakfast: This is optional and available starting at 7 AM in the hall outside the ballrooms.

Agent & Editor Pitch Appointments: Pitch Appointments are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table for the pitch appointments located on the third floor. Please make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment. If you have any questions or conflicts regarding your pitch appointment, you will need to speak to the volunteers at the third-floor check-in table.

One-on-One Critique Appointments: One-on-One Critiques and Blue Pencil Cafe Appointments are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table for these appointments located on the third floor. Please make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment.

Hypnosis One-on-One Session: These are available by appointment only. Experience an immersive one-on-one session to unlock your potential and increase productivity, overcome writer’s block, and open up your imagination and creativity.

Farewell Luncheon: The farewell buffet luncheon will be located in Ballrooms C/D. Please join us as our keynote, Lori Rader-Day closes our conference with an inspirational speech and we draw winners for various giveaway prizes.


I hope this information is useful as you prepare for conference.

See you in September!

Rocky Mountain Writer #93

Fleur Bradley & The Double Vision Trilogy

This interview with Fleur Bradley, a.k.a. F.T. Bradley, was recorded one day before the news circulated that all spots at RMFW's Colorado Gold Conference in September are now taken.

If you’re going to the conference, this chat with Fleur will give you a taste of the three workshops she is presenting—one each day at the three day conference. One about marketing your works, one that will provide an overview of the children’s fiction market, and one about the advantages of using plot points as you write.

Fleur also chats about her Double Vision trilogy, a middle-grade spy adventure that Library Journal calls “"a must-read for mystery fans, including reluctant readers.”

Fleur Bradley is the author of numerous short crime stories, and she manages a freelance writing career along with various other writing projects in the works.

She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and two daughters, and entirely too many cats.

Fleur Bradley's website

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

The Dreaded Blurb

My publisher has a policy where they won’t start the editing process until you’ve finished the art memo and a promotional worksheet for your book. The worksheet includes writing a blurb.

In the old days (sigh) my editor or someone in the marketing department wrote my blurbs. I still had to come up with the tagline, but that’s much shorter than a blurb and easier to manage. The blurb, which becomes the back cover copy for print versions and the description on ebook sites, is supposed to tell the reader the basic plot of your book and at the same time, entice them into wanting to read it.

I know authors who like to write blurbs. They consider it challenging and fun. For me, the process elicits a deep groan. My first problem is that I tend to write long. Most of my books are over 100,000 words. My second problem is that having finished this book only a few months ago. I’m still too close to it to have a good perspective. My third problem is that I’m not good at knowing what readers look for in a book. I read book reviews almost every day in my job at the library. But book reviews critically evaluate a book and summarize the plot in a cold, logical way. Not a good model for a blurb, which is sort of a love letter to your book.

So, I asked my author friends for help. I came up with several blurb versions and we went out for tea and started reworking them. They took lines here and there they liked and rearranged and combined them. They also scratched out a lot, pointing out I was giving away too much of the story. “Take that out,” they’d say. “Readers don’t need to know that.”

During the process, I realized my instinct with a blurb is to outline the plot. But that’s not the idea. The blurb is supposed to tantalize and intrigue. Raise questions and then not give the answers. That’s a basic principle of fiction. You keep reading to find out what’s going to happen.

All at once, I understood I’d been doing blurbs all wrong for years. (Fortunately, I’m much better at taglines, which are so short you can’t give much away.) It's probably obvious to most authors that the blurb is supposed to keep the reader guessing. But my background in journalism pushed me to “tell my story”.

Eventually, my friends came up with a blurb they agreed on. To me, it feels vague and almost unfinished. But that’s probably a good thing.

In this business, you’re always learning. Sometimes the most obvious things have to be pointed out to you. Without the help of my friends, I’d make even more mistakes than I already have. Maybe that’s the most important lesson of all.

How about you? Do you like to write blurbs? Hate it? Do you have any special techniques or advice for the process that might help other authors?

Comedy In Fiction

LaughterOne of my favorite movies of all time, Front Page, features one of the first cinematic examples of what has come to be known as "snappy dialog": a rapid-fire exchange of witty banter and rejoinders. When a stand-up comedian drops a clunker (delivers a joke that earns little to no laughter) he can sometimes be heard to say, "On the way home tonight you're going to get that and laugh your head off!" With snappy dialog, the one-liners dropped in that machine-gun barrage can often go by so quickly you find yourself laughing at it minutes after the scene has already passed.

Examples, you ask? Well, I was recently watching a sci-fi/fantasy show set in the midst of WWII in which, as a byproduct of a sci-fi event, a group of unknowing people are healed by very thorough nano-robots of an alien virus. A woman then walks up to her physician to report, "My leg's back! I had only one leg, and now the other's grown back!" To which he replies, "Well there's a war on. Is it possible you miscounted?" This line is delivered so flatly, almost as an aside before the scene goes back to the main plot, I found myself laughing still minutes after the show had ended.

LaughterIn another example, the captain of a ship on which a bomb is about to explode is on the intercom demanding his crew find a way to jettison the explosive.

Captain: "How about we stuff it in an escape capsule?"
Crewman: "There are no escape capsules."
Captain: "Are you sure?"
Crewman: "Yes, Captain."
Captain: "Have you looked everywhere? Under the sink?"
Crewman: "Yes, Captain."

I enjoy comedic dialog, if done well, and strive to include it as much as possible in at least one of my ongoing series of suspense adventures. In an unpublished manuscript of mine there is a scene in which one character comments on a bullet wound that only creased the main character's scalp:

"What happened there?"
"Freak knitting accident."

And the dialog goes on, taking no notice of the joke. The funniest dialog is when it isn't acknowledged by the characters in the scene. In an interview, Mel Brooks once said of an actress, "She didn't do comedy. When she delivered a line, she couldn't stop herself from broadcasting it, all but winking at the camera and saying, 'Here comes the joke, folks!'" The very nature of comedy is the surprise. The funniest dialog is delivered non-sequitur, and it's even funnier when others in the scene act as if it's a perfectly normal thing to say.

LaughterDouglas Adams, celebrated British comedic sci-fi writer wrote this bit of a giggle:

"I have detected disturbances. Eddies in the space-time continuum."
"Ah...is he. Is he."
"What?"
"Er, who is Eddy, then, exactly?”

Here, an anomaly of the English language leads to a misunderstanding, giving rise to comedy.

I've heard other comedic people, writers and comedians, say comedy either comes naturally to a person or it doesn't. It cannot be taught. What's your opinion?

I often think I'm quite hilarious. Some don't agree. Which leads to another point: some comedy is subjective. I, for example, don't find bathroom humor funny, as a rule. The recent cinematic trend in gross-out humor leaves me cold. Other's nearly pass out with laughter. On the other hand, many hold that puns are the lowest form of humor. For me, contrariwise, a well-placed pun or double-meaning will send me into gales. Triple-, quadruple-meanings...the more facets an entendre has, the funnier it is.

Physical comedy is very hard to do in fiction. Don't believe me? Try describing your favorite comic strip to a reader. The challenge comes in explaining an action without dragging the joke on so long that by the time you get to the punch line the reader has already outthunk you and moved on. You need to develop a talent for pithy narrative. Good comedy writing is some of the tightest, most backloaded writing I've ever read. Even if you don't write comedy, it's good practice for any kind of writing.

An example of bad physical comedy in fiction?

"Lucy holds the football upright by the tip, an evil gleam in her eye. Charlie Brown, tongue planted firmly in the corner of his mouth, narrows his eyes and takes aim. He charges, planting his feet to pour on maximum speed. Just as he swings his foot at the ball, Lucy pulls it away. Charlie can't stop, and his momentum carries him off is feet, to where he it seems to him he is actually suspended for several seconds, time enough to scream, 'Aaaaaaargh!' When he falls he slides on the grass for a yard or so before coming to rest, staring at the sky. 'You blockhead!' he hears in the distance as Lucy struts away, not laughing, just disgusted."

This scene comes off as rather sad when written out this way. (BTW: It's my opinion Lucy secretly likes Charlie Brown. Every time she pulls the ball away she's testing him to see if he has yet become the man(boy) she needs him to be to justify her crush. But the subtext of cartoons is a whole other blog topic. One for true fiction-nerds.)

Now consider this physical scene:

"Turning the knob, she tried to open the door quietly, but it creaked as it opened. She tried to step through gaps in the crime scene tape, but it stuck to her pant leg, then her sleeve, and before she knew it she was stumbling through the door, a-tangle in the sticky stuff, hopping on one leg and trying to pull it free of her clothes."

Here the writer could have gone on to describe the scene in greater detail, and if this were any other kind of scene you might encourage them to do so. But in a comedic scene, it's only the action that convey's the humor, not the color of the door or the texture of the clothing that made the tape stick so well, etc.

One more point: strive to make your comedy as inclusive as possible. When you make others laugh at the expense of another, it's fun for your audience, but not so much for its victim. Puns aside, this is, in my opinion, the true lowest form of humor.

What's your favorite comedic moment in television, film or literature? Leave comments below.

Pack Up Your Media Kit and Smile!

As I sit down to write, I’m remembering that game we used to play as kids—the one where someone starts by saying, “I’m going on a trip and in my bag I packed…” You sit in a circle, and the starter names one item with each player listing previous items in turn and then adding another until you can’t remember the sequence anymore. I’m hoping to start a list that others will want to add to in the comments section at the end, because an author’s media kit may contain any number of items and no two media kits are alike.

You worked hard to publish your book. But now the promotional push has begun, and it will continue until you retire. A well-stocked media kit will save you oodles of time as your book list grows and you venture forth into various promotional arenas. Here are some ideas for what yours might include:

  • Your Photo. If you’re lucky you can sign up at the Colorado Gold Conference and have author and super-photographer Mark Stevens shoot you. J But if the timing doesn’t work, invest in a headshot done by one of your local professional studios. You’ll want the high-resolution digital version, and be sure to obtain a written release of the photographer’s rights transferred to you.
  • Your Book Cover. Again, you’ll want a high-resolution cover shot.
  • Your Business Card. You can have one professionally designed or do it yourself at a company like FedEx Office. I’ve done it both ways. Since I like to add a new book onto my card each year, I’ve saved some money by learning to design my cards myself.
  • Author Bios. You’ll need at least two: a short bio of less than one hundred words and an official bio that can be longer.
  • Book Endorsement List. Create one document to copy all of the industry review pull-quotes and author blurbs that you accrue as you publish your books. Whenever you need a media quote for a given book, one will be right at your fingertips.
  • List of Links to Online Articles, Interviews, and Guest Blogs. Again, build one document by pasting in each link. It saves so much time to have that information in one place, and the guest appearances add up over the years. If you have audio files from radio interviews, you can add those here too.
  • List of Cover Flap Blurbs and Short Book Descriptions. I like to have all of my book descriptions in one place, the longer ones from the cover flap or back of the book as well as the short one-to-two liners. When you need a book description for an announcement, you won’t have to search to find it or take the time to re-create one.
  • The type of promotional items to give out at events is a personal decision and varies from business cards only to elaborate gifts—and everything in between. My first year I used business cards, the second I added bookmarks, and this year I’m adding pens as well as bookmarks, for no reason other than I simply enjoy receiving these two items from other authors when I attend their events. I’ve read that swag should reflect your book content if possible, which seems like a good idea, so I sometimes give out doggie milk bones in party favor bags at my signings. And though not related to the content in my murder mysteries, but a gesture that reflects my gratitude, I love to give out kisses and hugs to readers…the chocolate kind.

Okay, here we go now. Smile and enjoy the journey! This is a good list for starters—but what else should we pack in our media kit?

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

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series, which includes Killing Trail (2015), an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award nominee; Stalking Ground (2016), a Colorado Book Award and International Book Award finalist; and Hunting Hour (2017), an RT Book Reviews Top Pick. She lives in Colorado where she assists her husband with their veterinary practice and Angus cattle herd. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.

Ocean Liner or Toy Boat?

Your book launch is like a ship christening, right?

Pomp, circumstance. The whole bit.

You invite as many people as you know, including every stranger you encounter in the weeks leading up.

You bash yourself a little bit for not doing a better job of keeping your email lists tightly organized over the years.

And, of course, you buy a jeroboam of Veuve Clicquot Brut and a long rope and you make a big deal out of the moment.

Well, I’m here to echo what Nathan Lowell wrote on the blog last month.

Yes, a good launch is swell. It feels good. But it’s not a bad idea to think about the long-term, too.

Pace yourself.

Book clubs, bookstore visits, blog interviews, radio interviews, literary conferences, genre conferences, library talks, on and on. Can you find one feature event or two every month for the next couple of years? (Investing in a publicist can help you generate ideas and leads.)

You never know.

Sure, it's not all wonderful. I’ve been there in empty and nearly-empty library conference rooms—even after weeks of promotion and large posters hanging by the library doors for weeks leading up. I’ve been to bookstore talks with a couple of readers. I once drove 400 miles to a book signing and the ONLY person who came to the store on purpose was a student who needed to interview somebody for a college class. (Though I did sign bunch of stock for the store and had another, more successful event on the same trip.) My good friend Linda Hull and I decided to do a joint library talk in Aurora about a year ago and our only attendee was our mutual pal (and writer; and book fanatic) Dean Wyant.

But if you believe in your book, it’s more than the launch. Its sheer existence represents an opportunity to get out and go find readers.

A couple months ago, out of the freaking blue, I got an email asking if Greenwood Village and Arapahoe Libraries could feature Lake of Fire for their first-ever “Village Read.”

Soon, the creative folks at Arapahoe Libraries had eight (count ‘em, eight!) events lined up and a fair amount of incredible publicity buzzing around a book that came out … two years ago. I am giving a few talks and the organizers are putting together some community events related to themes from my story—a forager, experts in fighting forest fires, a real-life female huntress. There’s an opening event. There's a closing event featuring a bluegrass band a tequila tasting (because tequila is the preferred beverage of my main character, Allison Coil). They also organized an a-m-a-z-i-n-g art show at Greenwood Village City Hall that will hang for about eight weeks--and all the art (photographs, painting, and mixed media too) are pieces inspired by Lake of Fire. 

Holy smokes!

Why? Why me? How did I get chosen for this incredible opportunity? I had to ask.

And the word came back—because I had done some talks in the Arapahoe Library district and, well, the reviews were good.

I guess the lesson is that your launch is the day of the release—you are sending your baby out into the world. At that point, you likely feel like you’ve put as much work into the story as if you built an ocean liner yourself with a hammer and a wrench.

So, why not smash a bottle of champagne?

But also think of your book as a little toy sailboat. You stretch out on your stomach at the end of the dock and lower the boat into the water with two hands.

You give it a little nudge.

Then, you watch it bob in the ripples and catch a little breeze.

++

Complete list of "Village Read" events are here:

Curing White Room Syndrome: How to Ground Your Reader

This is my second year serving as a judge for the Colorado Gold contest (which I highly recommend, for a number of reasons—but that’s a story for another blog post). After judging a dozen or so entries, I noticed I was making the same comment on almost every single manuscript: I didn't feel grounded enough.

Lack of grounding is sometimes referred to as "white room syndrome," because without sufficient setting details, a scene can feel like it’s taking place in an empty, white-walled room. But the lack of grounding isn't just a setting issue. Readers need sufficient information on other elements, such as character, conflict, and genre, to be fully immersed in the scene. At best, lack of grounding causes readers to feel like they're watching a scene from a distance rather than living it along with the characters. At worst, it causes readers to be too confused to turn the page.

So how do you achieve that elusive sense of grounding? Start by asking yourself the five W questions about your scene:

Where is it set? This applies to the macro and micro level. Is it set on Earth? In America, or Antarctica? In a big city or small town? Inside a building, on a train, in a cornfield, in an underground tunnel?

When is it? This also has macro and micro elements. Is it present-day? WWII era? Prehistoric? Is it the middle of the night? Sunrise? Dinnertime?

Who is in the scene? This doesn’t just mean describing the main character; you must also provide a sense of anyone else present. Is Mr. Protagonist sitting on the couch by himself, or is his wife sitting beside him? Are they alone, or is there a cocktail party full of people going on around them?

What are they doing, and why? If your character is digging a hole, he might be planting a rose bush or burying a body. If she’s racing to the hospital, she could be a surgeon who’s late for an operation, or she could be pregnant and going into labor.

Remember to look at these questions from the perspective of a reader. You, the writer, know the answers to all of these and more—but from the first page, or even the first paragraph, does the reader know?

Of course, grounding is no excuse for info dumping or over-choreography. The reader doesn’t need to know that the main character is 42 years old, 5’9” tall, 160 lbs, with shoulder-length chestnut hair, gray-green eyes, a square chin, and long fingernails. The reader doesn’t need to know she’s sitting behind a desk in room 212 on the second floor of Corporation, Inc. in Blahville, USA on March 22nd, 2016. The reader just needs a few key details to get a flavor of these things. For instance, you can show the character is middle-aged by showing a picture of her 12-year-old son. You can hint that she lives in the present day by mentioning her computer or smartphone.

Then, you can make the scene come alive by adding concrete, memorable details. Instead of “She had long fingernails,” try “Her glittery glue-ons clicked with every letter she typed.” Instead of “She worked in an office,” try “Her windowless cube farm felt live a cave.” Find details of character and setting that are dynamic, rather than static—things that can be incorporated into action, things that can be described with active verbs rather than the life-sucking “was.” Instead of “Her skirt was black,” try “Her black skirt clung to her as if it had been painted on.” When your descriptors pack more punch, they’ll stick better in your reader’s memory.

I’ve seen many writers get halfway there: they do a good job grounding the reader, but too late. Imagine you’re reading along, envisioning a fair-haired boy walking through a forest—only to discover 10 pages later that the character is actually a bald 50-year-old walking around a cruise ship. It’s jarring, and it pulls you out of the story. When we read something that isn't fully grounded, our brain automatically fills in some of the gaps. It's jarring when we realize we've filled them in wrong, and we have to tear down and rebuild the entire scene in our mind.

This applies to genre as well. When readers encounter white room syndrome, they’ll usually fill in the gaps with a contemporary setting by default. Imagine their shock when, pages later, they realize the story is set in a space-bubble orbiting Saturn, or the human female they were envisioning turns out to be a centaur-cyborg hybrid. Not only do they have to rebuild the setting in their mind, they also have to grapple with an entirely different genre. Readers want a sense, from the first page, of what kind of story they’re diving into—and if you don’t provide that, they’ll be ungrounded.

As writers, we have a painfully short window of opportunity to hook readers before they put our books down forever. The good news is, if you work hard on grounding, you can immerse readers on page 1 and never let them go.

I Won!

I did it! I’m the best.

Problem is, I won the Writing Procrastination Award, hands down. I’ve managed to find about four hundred different reasons not to write – at least not what I was supposed to.

Some of my excuses are good ones – I submitted to the RMFW Anthology, I submitted to Gold, and I judged Gold. However, this is over about a three month period, and I can guarantee all three of those added together did not come close to that much time.

My other excuses included:

  • Obsessively watching every Harry Potter movie that I found on cable, some more than once
  • Rereading books I love, but…REreading
  • Having a yard sale (OK, so that took, like, DAYS to get ready for)
  • Ironing (yes, I still do that – but only when I’m avoiding writing)
  • Looking at recipes on the Internet, and in my cook books, and anywhere else I could find them (and not making them)
  • Reorganizing my cupboards in the kitchen (bonus – I found all the years-long expired ingredients that might have been fatal if used)
  • Buying, but not planting, a bunch of flowers and vegetables (Why not planted? Because I forgot I need to fix my irrigation system set up before they all died)

So now you have an idea about how scattered I’ve been this summer. It’s mid-July, and I promised myself I would have my WIP submitted to agents by end of August. I think I’m going to need to come up with some kind of horrible penalty if I don’t, like having my husband tear out the bathtub and replace it with a shower if I don’t (that would be a fate nearly worse than death to me!). Or I should get back in a critique group so I HAVE to get something written (cheaper, and probably more productive).

Are any of you having trouble focusing on writing this summer? What are your solutions?

I hope to see you all at Gold, if not sooner, and I won’t hold it against you if you ask me if I got my manuscript submitted. In the meantime, I solemnly swear to Write On!

Writers: Learn to Love Revision

When you look at some of the writing advice out here in the great etheric wonder that is the internet, what you'll see is a lot of the same information repeated over and over. This is because writing isn't a science, it's a very subjective process which looks similar to lots of different people, but with a few common factors which tend to influence the craft in immensely different ways. One of the big ones I always see is READ. And yes, it is a big one. Huge, even. Top two or three. Because...writers tend to also read. But for my dollar, there's one that takes the number one spot just above reading (number 2), and actually doing the writing itself (number 3). Yes, even above the writing. Why? Because the best way to learn to write is to read. That's all well and good, I assume you say, but what's number one? Well that leads us here, to the element of writing residing at the number one spot is:

Revision...Learn to Love it:

I know, I know, right? Kinda gave that one away. But the importance of this can't be overstated. Other writers will disagree with this in slight terms of importance. Learning to love and appreciate revision and editing is where the REAL writing happens. Writing, especially longer works, is not a one and done type of thing. Unless you are a one in a billion (with a 'B'), chances are you don't write something down and it comes out as if uttered from the lips of God. You make mistakes. There are typos. Information and back story is missing. Your characters aren't developed. Your bad guys are flat. And most of all, your writing probably sucks.

Don't take that last part personally. My first drafts suck big hairy, dangling, goat...appendages. I'm editing one right now, and it's the kind steeped for days in a mixture of vinegar made from raw sewage and second-hand baby diapers. So there.

So why learn to love it?

Because, as said above, it's where the real writing happens. Writing is called a craft for a reason. It's likely that your words will need to be crafted and shaped into something better than when they originally dribble out of your mind and through your fingers to make sloppy, magical brain juice on paper you may or may not have found in the vicinity of a toilet. In fact, most first drafts can hardly be considered magical, just about any author will tell you that. But the shaping, from barely formed clay into a gracefully sculpted, uh...sculpture, of finely hewn words, metaphors, and analogies, doesn't happen in one go. Heck, it only happens over time and experience with your story, and understanding the important things it has to offer.

So when you think about your writing and all these brilliant pearls of narrative glory that spring into that creative muscle precariously perched atop your neck, remember that they probably aren't great yet. But they will be soon, once you take the time to cut, shape, polish, and perfect your way into a true writer's work.