Rocky Mountain Writer #67

Josh Viola & Cyber World

The Rocky Mountain Writer debuts a brand new feature – Writer’s Rehab with Natasha Watts.

In this occasional segment about the craft of writing fiction, Natasha offers brief tips and strategies for braking bad habits. First up are some ideas for writers who aren’t hitting the necessary word counts on their first drafts.

Following Natasha, an interview with Josh Viola, the force behind Hex Publishers.

Last month, Hex Publishers debuted its latest short story anthology, Cyber World.

Josh talks about the overall Hex Publishers approach to books—both the care and editing that goes into putting the stories together but also the planning and detail that goes into the artwork, packaging and extensive marketing campaigns.

He also reveals what’s ahead on the Hex calendar for 2017 and beyond, including some stand-alone novels, a comic book, another short story compilation and a new line of books for children.

Hex Publishers

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs


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

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

Host Mark Stevens:

Living The Dream

Beach DreamingThis month I want to talk a bit about living the dream. As a full time science fiction author, I’m in the sometimes unenviable position of working for myself. Like most things indie, it comes with good points and not so good points. It means the boss always knows when I’m goofing off and my employee is a bit lazy. It means I need to take responsibility for deadlines—or not. It means I need to decide—well—everything, really.

But here’s the thing.

My job as a writer isn’t really different from someone pursuing a traditional path. I have a little more flexibility in what I write. I don’t need to write a specific kind of story because of contract, or the kind of story my agent needs in order to interest an acquisitions editor. I can write the stories I want to read but can’t find, secure in the knowledge that my publisher—me—will accept it.

The flip-side is that I never know if the book is any good.

Of course, that’s the same problem Orbit has. Tor and Baen and the rest, too. Nobody knows whether the next book will sink or sail. Every publisher tries to publish the best books possible, but no publisher can predict—successfully—which book will be a hit.

As a publisher, I need to have a few different skills from other writers. I need to know how to put a book together, how to get my books into distribution channels, and how to get readers to find—and buy—them. I need to have a little more knowledge about the various markets, how they work, and what changes I should expect. I need to accept that not everything will work and to trust that enough things will. Generally, my publishing process is the same as any other press.

None of the skills are difficult to acquire when compared to the craft of writing. None of the knowledge is more complex than what I need to master in order to tell a story that people might want to read. None of the work is more complicated than tracking submissions, rejections, synopses, agents, publishers, and sales over the months and years that writers on the traditional path have to do.

As an indie, I control the vertical. I control the horizontal but still don’t know if we’re going to the Twilight Zone or the poor house. I have to trust that we’ll wind up someplace interesting with a landing I can walk away from, because I’m living the dream.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Promotion Options—Thunderclap and Head Talker

Elegant anique fountaine-pen on an old paper
Yes, this is what I write with. I am OLD SKOOL.

During my Kindle Scout campaign, I decided to try some new promotional options that I’ve seen some other folks use with some success. One of these was Thunderclap. In the process, I discovered Head Talker, a similar promotional outlet. This month, I’m going to talk about these promotional outlets and the impressions I got from trying to generate sales this way.

What is Thunderclap?

Thunderclap is a way to leverage social media to get the word out about a new book, a special giveaway, a website, or something similar. You set up your campaign and then recruit people to participate. The campaign itself consists of a graphic, a link, and a short blurb appropriate to social media (generally under 140 characters, with hashtags, to accommodate Twitter). You choose a deadline for your campaign, which is the day the message will be broadcast. The goal is to get 100 people signed on to your campaign. Each person who signs up agrees to post your message to one or more of their social media accounts on the day and time you’ve chosen. If you gather enough participants, the message will go out from all these accounts at the same time, creating a “thunderclap” of promotion. At a minimum, you’ll get 100 repetitions of your message on 100 different social media accounts. If one or more of your participants agrees to have the message go out on multiple accounts (such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), you’ll have even more exposure on their social networks.

The advantages to this approach are several.

  1. It’s free.
  2. You can leverage other people’s social media accounts rather than blasting your own followers repeatedly.
  3. Theoretically, you’ll get your message in front of a variety of people who wouldn’t have seen it otherwise.

However, the disadvantages are also several.

  1. It’s time-consuming—you have to find people willing to repost your message.
  2. You can end up blasting your own lists trying to get enough participants to trigger the campaign (with Thunderclap, you need to have 100 people or the campaign won’t go live).
  3. You can end up in an echo chamber. You can sign on to lists where people support your Thunderclap in exchange for you supporting theirs, and you can build your numbers this way, but then you’re basically advertising on all the same channels as everyone else.
  4. Even if your campaign doesn’t go live, you’ll still end up sending messages for everyone who participated in your campaign who DID go live. So if you have 100 people on your campaign, this could be 100 social media messages blasting out at various times on your social media channels. Which isn’t necessarily a problem, with a few caveats, which I’ll discuss below.

How is Head Talker Different?

Head Talker works the same way, except you can have a campaign go live with as few as 25 participants, rather than the 100 minimum demanded of Thunderclap. Head Talker gives you the option of 25, 50, or 100 participants to activate your campaign. Again, it’s free, and it works almost exactly the same way as Thunderclap, right down to the signup pages being very similar.

Conclusions and What I Would Do Differently Next Time

My personal experience with Thunderclap wasn’t the greatest. I didn’t get the results I wanted because I wasn’t able to make it to the 100-person minimum to activate my campaign. I had hoped that just signing up and getting eyes on my campaign might generate some page views at Kindle Scout, but the way Thunderclap is set up made that difficult. This has to do with the lack of a live link on the Thunderclap campaign page as well as the “echo chamber” effect of my recruitment efforts. So as far as I could tell, there was no real payoff for me of having a campaign that didn’t actually go live.

The other thing I didn’t care for was that, since I managed to get 75 people on my campaign, I then ended up with 75 (or so—I didn’t keep track) Twitter posts hitting my feed, sometimes to the tune of several per day. This cluttered up my Twitter feed. Worse, some of the posts were worded in such a way that it sounded like I was promoting my own work, which I was uncomfortable with.

What would I do differently? Lots of things.

  1. I would probably try Head Talker with a 25-person minimum instead of shooting for 100 people for a Thunderclap.
  2. I would check each campaign I agreed to support to see how the post was worded so that it would be clear what was being advertised when it hit my Twitter feed (you have the option of rewriting the message when you sign up to support someone else’s campaign)
  3. I’d be sure my campaign was worded in such a way as to not cause this problem with any of my supporters
  4. I would give myself more time to seed my campaign. I only gave myself two weeks, which was because I only had a month to gather page views for Kindle Scout. I knew this would be a liability, but I didn’t have much choice for this particular campaign. Next time I’d like to have a month lead time.
  5. With more lead time, I could hopefully find supporters in places other than the Thunderclap-specific Facebook groups I used for this campaign. Theoretically, that would get me out of that echo chamber.

Will I try this again? Probably, but with the changes I mentioned above. I’m still not sure it’s the most efficient form of promotion, but it’s free, and if you parse out your time efficiently, it’s not too much of a time-suck.

Has anyone else used Thunderclap or Head Talker? If you have experiences to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.


Romance Sub-genres – Part 1

Before we go deeper into the elements of a great romance novel, let’s take a side trip and talk about the sub-genres of Romance.

Maybe you’ve heard the term “Category” or “Series” romance.  These terms don’t really reflect a subgenre so much as a publishing concept.  Harlequin and Silhouette are the big names here.  Each month H/S release several books in each of their lines (sub-genres) which are on the shelf for one month.  Now, with ebooks being such a large part of the market, these books are available after their month is up.  I’ll cover more on Category romance in another post.

engagement-1718244_640Romantic Comedy:  Think “How to Lose a Guy in 10 days.”  These are light-hearted romances that pretty much keep you smiling - sometimes laughing all the way through.  Sometimes these are categorized as “Chick Lit” - though not so much any more - and something they’re shelved with “contemporary.”  Some of the bigger names in this genre are Jennifer Cruisie and Sophie Kinsella.

As long as we mentioned Chick-Lit, I’ll go over it briefly.  These romances are often set in the big city and is a sort or slice of life of a young professional woman - her friends, her job, her trials with men.  The Chick-lit craze seems to have faded away with these stories being shelved now in the Romantic Comedy section.

Contemporary:  This sub-genre simply means that the love story takes place in present times.  There are sub-genres of Contemporary as well, such as the military romances and cowboy romances I write.  Some of the paranormal romances, like the vampire, ghost and time-travel stories are shoved into this sub-genre even though they have their own.

Romantic Suspense:  usually a sub-genre of contemporary.  However these could be historical or even futuristic  These are higher-stakes romances with life and death situations.  There are elements of thrillers, mysteries and suspense novels but the romance takes center stage.  A quick look at the top authors in Goodreads gives us Sandra Brown, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Nora Roberts (who can fit in any sub-genre), and Julie James to name a few.

Paranormal:  These can be any time setting.  As I mentioned above, they deal with ghosts, reincarnation, vampires, fairies, and the like.  Some of the top names in this sub-genre are Staphanie Meyer (of course) and Cassandra Clare.

Historical:  Pretty self-explanatory.   Jane Austin is on the top of this list, with Diana Gabaldon (who vehemently denies that she writes romance.)

Inspirational:  These romances would fall anywhere from brief mentions of church and God, to more in-depth Christian romance.  Some of the most popular  inspirational romance authors are Francine Rivers, Karen Kingsbury, and Debbie Macomber.

couple-731890_640-croppedOn the other end of the spectrum from Inspirational is Erotica.  You may have heard the term Romantica(TM) - this term was coined and trademarked by Ellora’s Cave, one of the early publishers of this sub-genre.  Their definition:  “any work of literature that is both romantic and sexually explicit in nature. Within this genre, a man and a woman develop "in love" feelings for one another that culminate in a monogamous relationship."  Technically, to be considered Erotica, the sex is front and center of the plot.  There is emotion and love in these stories and, to be considered a romance novel, there is a committed relationship at the end of the book.

Obviously, there is a very wide spectrum of sex in all of these sub-genres.  And, for the record, there is no rating system in place for romance books.  Sometimes you can evaluate the “heat” level of the book by its description. Words like “hot”, “steamy”, “lusty” - well, you’d know what you’re getting here.  The Inspirationals would not have sex in them.  And books described as “heartwarming” would likely not either, but also would not have the inspirational elements.

Next month, we’ll look at a few more sub-genres.  Until then - Merry Christmas - and BICHOK (Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard).


All Hail Conan! (And Buy The Book)

I’m here today with a handy tip for the season of the gift.

Order a copy of Conan the Grammarian, Practical Guidelines on Grammar and Craft for Fiction Writers.

A mere $10.

(Actually, $9.95.)

And then give it to a writer friend for Christmas or your holiday of choice. Birthdays would work, too.

Boom, done.

Does the mere mention of the word ‘grammar’ force you to make a face like you’re eating cold undercooked lima beans? Or pickled beets?

Think again.

This book about grammar is (dare I say it?) refreshing.


And very (very) funny.

cover-conanWritten by former RMFW president Susan Mackay Smith, Conan the Grammarian is a handy, engaging book that will linger around your desk or writing nook for many years.

The book is a distillation of Conan’s columns in the monthly RMFW newsletter. But everything has been re-written and beautifully organized. And, in terms of production values, Susan Mackay Smith shows all independent publishers out there that a self-produced book can look as sharp and feel as professional as anything coming out of New York City.

Conan claims grammatical errors are “unforgiveable” and, of course, this book goes out and proves that very fact. I didn’t spot one typo. On top of all that, the interior layout makes digesting this volume a snap. (Bibliography, glossary, and index, too.)

Yes, there’s a lot here about grammar. But focus on the second half of the title – practical guidelines and grammar and craft for fiction writers. Every lesson in grammar and usage is written with an eye on the fiction writers’ needs. Smith is writing this for you, the fiction writer.

The “Pets and Peeves” section might be worth the $10 alone (especially if you are about to submit to an agent or send a manuscript to an editor).

Same with “Toward More Colorful Writing.” This section will give you a boost and also give you a few issues to ponder as you edit. It’s a snappy checklist for self-improvement. This is “Perfect Abs in Twenty Minutes A Day” and, this time, it works.

I devoured Conan the Grammarian with a smile on my face and a pen handy to ink-up the pages with underlines at key passages and stars in the margins.

Do any of these sound useful? “Narrative & Description; Showing vs. Telling.” “Voice.” “Action.” “Clichés of Characterization.” “The Hated Revision.” Twenty-seven sub-chapters in all, you can do the math. The reading is brisk and the points are efficiently made. (Having judged Colorado Gold and other writing contests for years, Susan Mackay Smith knows when the brain starts to hurt or the eyes glaze over.) When I was finished, I felt as if I had a new, higher bar to reach. I felt like a better writer.

Conan wants the ideas and the story in your head to reach the reader in clear, efficient and powerful fashion. You may think you know what you are trying to say, but is the story in your head making the journey to your reader's imagination in the most effective way possible? The most clear?

Conan may not be cuddly, but he will set you straight.

Just $10!

Actually, $9.95.

(Get two; one for you and one for a writer pal.)

Order on Amazon here.

The RMFW Spotlight is on Mari Christie

Our monthly feature, The RMFW Spotlight, is intended to provide members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers with more information about our board members as well as featured volunteers. This month we're pleased to present Mari Christie.

2015_Mariana Gabrielle1. Mari, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I’ve just started as PR Chair, which means I get the word out about RMFW news and events. (Currently looking for social media volunteers…)

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

Right now, my books on sale are historical romance, The Sailing Home Series and a standalone, La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess. I’m also co-writing a serialized Victorian romance posted weekly on Wattpad, Never Kiss a Toad. I am, however, presently moving into mainstream historical, currently working on a Civil War story, Blind Tribute, to come out next year.

3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

I don’t believe in bucket lists. I try to live in such a way as to avoid regrets at the end of my life. That said, if fantasies count, I would not mind at all if Anson Mount played the lead role in the Paramount Pictures version of Blind Tribute.

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

Setting and description. That is always second draft work. Pacing is a hard slog, too, but better than it used to be.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

The writing.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Start sooner. Don’t be afraid of failing.

7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

My desk is a serious mess. The only things that must be on it are my cats, India and Burton (they told me to write that, but it isn’t really true), and my computer. One thing I’ve had at eye level for years is a brass ingot of a meditating lion.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

I’m currently reading A Bohemian Brigade: The Civil War Correspondents.

Thank you, Mari. We wish you well in your new position with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Rocky Mountain Writer #66

owens-2Robin Owens & Ghost Maker

A chat with fantasy paranormal romance writer Robin Owens.

Robin discusses a recent column she wrote about her love of an audio books and about the two series is currently writing including her latest, Ghost Maker.

She also talks about the good old days of RMFW. Robin was one of three individuals, along with Sharon Mignery and Christine Jorgensen, who were named this year as “honored guiding members of RMFW.

Robin D. Owens has published twenty seven books, five novellas, and two short stories.

She was the recipient of the 2002 Romance Writers of America RITA® Award (like the Oscar in her field) for "Heart Mate."

Twice she has been named Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and she has also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Colorado Romance Writers.

Robin Owens

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

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

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

Host Mark Stevens:

Reading On the Screen

On my last trip, I did something unthinkable. I didn’t take any books. Print books, that is. I did have a number of ebooks on my tablet, including two that I acquired especially to read on this trip. One I borrowed from the library’s ebook catalog; the other I purchased.

My conversion to ebooks has been gradual. Except in cases when it’s the only way I can obtain a book I’m interested in, I seldom read ebooks except when traveling. Then the convenience is hard to beat. A slim, lightweight tablet versus pounds of books. The ability to enlarge the print when the lighting is poor, and to read without using those horrible glaring lights they have on airplanes. By syncing my tablet with my phone, I can continue to read on it during the twenty minutes of takeoff and immediately after when laptops and tablets must be stowed away.

Another advantage to ebooks is obvious. It cost me $13.99 to buy an ebook copy of the literary bestseller I took on the trip. If I’d sprung for print it would have cost me seven dollars more. And unless I wanted to take a chance that I could find a copy in an airport bookstore, I would have had order the book a few days ahead of my trip so it could be shipped to me.

On the downside, you are dependent on electricity to charge your device, while print is always there. Which why it’s good to have a back-up print book for emergencies, like when you leave your charging cord in the hotel and don’t have time to shop for a new one right away.

And there are other disadvantages. Reading an ebook is more tiring, since even though the print on the screen appears crisp and sharp, in fact your brain is smoothing out the uneven edges of the pixelated letters to make them appear that way. Also, for reading at night, the bright light of the device decreases the production of melatonin in the brain, so reading an ebook before bed is more likely to cause insomnia.

And even though the device shows you on every page what percentage of the book you’ve already read, going back to re-read a few pages in an ebook is much more cumbersome and tedious than flipping through the pages in a print book. If you’re reading a complex story with lots of characters, that can be frustrating. It’s like everything you’ve already read falls off into a void and disappears, and the only part of the book that is real is the page in front of you.

As a writer, I find this aspect of ebooks troubling. Many of my books are no longer available in print, unless you can find a yellowed copy in a used bookstore. Which means from now on, almost everyone who reads my books will be doing so in the digital format. It makes my stories that I spent hours and hours of my life creating seem like any other consumer product—a bag of potato chips or a cup of coffee—to be consumed and then forgotten. My story, my words, are just ephemera.

Although from another perspective, exactly the opposite is true. My print books will eventually crumble to dust, while my ebooks could potentially live on and on forever in the digital realm.

But this potential advantage is canceled out by another aspect of ebooks. According to studies, they don’t have quite the same impact and influence that print books do. This is because print is tactile, which helps our brains create a stronger memory of what we’ve read. The physical act of turning pages, the sensation of the number of pages held in your left hand versus those in your right, the location of the words on the page—all those things help your brain store the information you’ve read more effectively. My digital stories will last longer, but they have less meaning to the people who read them.

And finally, the ease of producing ebooks means that my stories are no longer competing for readers’ attention with thousands of other books, but with literally millions. My story and vision is drowned in an endless sea of ebooks.

Ebooks are like so many things in this rapidly-changing, breathlessly expanding technological world. All these innovations have made the exchange of information easier and faster, but now the sheer volume of what we’re exposed to threatens to render the actual content meaningless.

I leave you with a quote from Jim Morrison’s Lords and New Creatures: “We have metamorphosed from a mad body dancing on the hillside to a pair of eyes staring in the dark.” He was referring to people living through TV and film instead of experiencing life. Now we live through the reality of our handheld devices.

“The Silver Moment”

It's a term I made up to describe a twist in fiction that can make the "black moment" more shocking to a reader. The black moment is a part of the basic structure of fiction that has been knocking around for centuries.

  • The inciting incident.
  • The mounting tension.
  • Complications.
  • Climax.
  • The black moment.
  • Denouement.

There are as many variations on this structure as there are writers who write about writing, but roughly this is the basic formula for your plot in fiction. Everything else is a refinement on this.

The black moment is the part of the story just before everything is resolved when things seem to be as bad as they can get for our protagonist, when all seems lost and the antagonist is about to win.

The silver moment, as I call it, is infrequent in fiction but you should recognize it when you see it. It comes just before the black moment. It is the part of our story when, in contrast to the black moment, everything seems to have worked out for our protagonist, when all seems to have been resolved as it should have been and the good guys have won. The silver lining of the cloud that has been hanging over our protagonist throughout the book has, in effect, been found.

In this case, the black moment comes when the antagonist, thought defeated, reappears out of the blue with one last card to play, one last-ditch effort at accomplishing his goal, or at the very least, at destroying those who prevented him from achieving those goals in the silver moment.

Rogue Agenda by Kevin Paul TracyFor example, in Rogue Agenda the terrorists have all been rounded up by the Feds, the Al-Serhemni family have successfully escaped to Canada, and while Lainie still has an arson/manslaughter rap hanging over her head the reader knows she is innocent and, if there is justice, will be exonerated. But wait...what about the hit man who started this whole mess by trying to kill the CIA agent and has been stalking Lainie ever since? For god's sake, check the closet before you go to sleep!

Presence of Malice by Kevin Paul TracyIn th conclusion of my book Presence of Malice the villain, Dr. Gerald Gannery, is wanted by several Federal agencies and our heroes - Jet, Gregory, Patricia, and Paul - are enjoying their victory and have let their guards down. Unaware - but about to find out - that Gannery has found the brownstone where Jet has hidden his paraplegic brother and is aware of the money that his henchman tried to bribe the fixer with...and is now driven by a murderous thirst for vengeance.

The silver moment can definitely be overused. If the reader comes to expect it, it loses its impact to make the black moment come as a greater surprise and seem even blacker. But if used judiciously, it can be an effective tool in bringing a shocking and satisfying story to your readers.


red-skyI knew the second revision letter on RED SKY would arrive at some point, but I didn’t expect it the day before Thanksgiving with a December 5th deadline for turning it around.

I’m thankful I have a contract.

I read the email, but I haven’t opened the document yet. This weekend was earmarked for family and friends. It will end short—tomorrow.

I’m thankful for the three day holiday and for turkey.

One of the most difficult things for me is finding a way to balance the writing time with personal time with the business of writing time.

In the past three weeks, I’ve had three events—a presentation at Chautauqua, the Boulder Audubon Holiday Sale and a signing at the Covered Treasures Bookstore in Monument this afternoon—and there are still more to come: RMFW’s Holiday Party, Colorado Authors’ League Holiday Party; a bookclub event in Pueblo; and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America’s “Mystery and Mistletoe” Holiday Celebration at the Denver Press Club on December 8th. Twelve of us will be reading. Margaret Coel will be honored. Francine Mathews is emceeing. The Broadway Book Mall will handle book sales. It’s from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. You should come. Tickets are $10 at the RMMWA website.

I’ve also written two blogs, updated my Facebook and Twitter pages, and read a number of books for a competition I’m judging.

The business of writing.

lightsWith the holidays, we have family in town, dinners to cook, presents to buy, a Christmas letter to write. This year we’re in a new house, and I’m excited to decorate and make it feel more like home. Downsizing has been a hard transition for me and I need to take time to put up and decorate the tree, hang the lights and fill the house with the smell of cookies.

Personal time.

But what happens when the RED SKY revision is done? The publisher is already asking what’s coming. I have an idea. I’ve done a little research, done a little plotting. I need to open a new WORD document, type Chapter 1 and put down the next 99,998 words.

Writing time.

I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given, excited for the coming opportunities and busy making New Year's resolutions.

1. Work on creating better balance in my life in 2017. Or as Jedeane Macdonald would tell me — learn to say NO.

Here's wishing all of you a very happy holiday season. See you in the New Year!!