Rocky Mountain Writer Podcast – Episode #5

Rocky Mountain Writer Podcast – Episode #5

Heather Webb - Finding Your Voice

Historical Novelist Heather Webb talks about Becoming Josephine, Rodin's Lover and the master class she will be giving as part of the Colorado Gold Conference in Denver. Her workshop is called, "I Hear Voices - The Art and Craft of the Distinctive Voice." She also chats about her work in progress and an anthology she developed that will be out next year (2016) from Harper Collins.

More about Heather Webb: http://www.heatherwebbauthor.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

How to Get Away with Murder (Non-TV Show Edition)

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

From the title you’d guess that I was about to tell you how to murder someone. But I’m not. At least not really. This post is about reality in fiction.

No, really dear NSA (who can still read my meta data, or is that my mind thanks to the Patriot Act renewal). I’m not plotting to kill anyone.

I promise *wink, wink*

Anyway…. I recently asked my facebook writer friends, which I truly hope you are one of (if not, why not? I don’t smell that bad and I can be fun. No really. Ask anyone. If you’d like to become one, please do so at www.facebook.com/JulieAKazimer), about using a fictional fact in a story.

More to the point, I wanted to lie about something. Something insignificant but what appeared factual in this story. Basically, I planned on saying Washington DC had the third most surveillance cameras in the world. This is a lie. They’re not even close. In fact, the third most cameras belongs to…drum roll…Chicago. Not surprising with the amount of Bears there. Number two is London, and number one is Beijing in case you ever need to know, which goes back to the title. Damn, I guess I was offering advice on how to avoid a murder charge.

I was surprised by the response of my fellow writers. Many said, hey, it’s fiction so do what you want. This was my thinking at the time. But a far greater number of writers responded with, “WHAT?! ARE YOU CRAZY?” To which I said, “Maybe, but what’s your point?”

And boy did they have a point.

As a reader, I sometimes believe and then tell others ‘facts’ I read in a novel. Now I’m not talking about story ‘facts’ but little bits of research-y (yes, I just made up my own word. It’s my blog post, so there) ones like how everybody on a white, sandy beach gets their own cabaña boy.

Oh, how I long for a cabana boy.

But that’s another post for another day.

So what’s your opinion? Can I lie about the amount of cameras? Or would I be leading my flock (that’s what I’d love for all of you to start calling yourself. No. Really. That would make my year) astray? Where’s the line between fiction and reality in fiction? Or the reverse, how much fiction can you put in non-fiction or memoir?

Oh, and if you murder anyone in Chicago because of my advice, let’s just call that ‘our’ little secret.

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming book, The Assassin’s Heart. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator. For more about Julie, visit her website.

What’s In Your Bucket? … by Kay Bergstrom

Kay BergstromMany writers have Bucket Lists of the good stuff they hope to accomplish before they kick the aforementioned bucket. It usually starts with “write a book” and ends with “#1 NYT Best-Seller Five Years in a Row.” Take that, Harry Potter.

“Write a book” is an appropriate listing because it’s within your power to do it. Being a best-seller does NOT fit the Bucket List because it depends on somebody else. Example: Writing a book and entering a contest are Bucket List-worthy. But you have no control over whether or not your masterpiece wins the prize.

For years, I’ve had a series of inappropriate Bucket List wishes. Example: Get Five Star Review. Get Four Star Review. Two Stars? Ignore All Reviews. Kill Reviewer. Kill All Reviewers.

Clearly, I need to re-think my Bucket List...which is not to be confused with my goals and planning. As a chronic procrastinator, I’m familiar with the concept of goal-setting. Practical goals, such as writing a certain number of words per day or hours per week, are important. As are promotional goals, such as chatting on Facebook, updating the website, tweeting, etc. Goals are part of the job. They’re the tools used in the craft of writing.

A Bucket List is different.

A combination of plans and dreams, a Bucket List is both reflective and aspirational. When you look back at where you’ve been in your career, you can see how your bucket list has changed and become more realistic. Once upon a time, I envisioned being carried through the halls of publishing on the shoulders of my editors while the peasants chanted: Genius! Genius! Now, I’m thrilled with a happy face on the copy edit pages. After you look back and reflect, you’ve got a better idea where you want to go.

My Bucket List

Number One: What got me started writing? That would be reading. Over the years, I’ve gotten lazy with my book diet, going back to the same authors over and over or the same type of book. Bucket List says: Branch out. Maybe read all the books that won Pulitzers or the Top 100 Novels of all Time. Instead, I decided to: Read one book per month from the NYT Top Ten Best-Sellers. This book can’t be by an author I already know and love. So sorry, Lee Child.

Number Two: When writing toward a deadline or a goal, I am Grumpy Cat. Really? I mean, why write if it isn’t fun? Enjoy the process. Every day, I’ll try to write one sentence that makes me laugh or one scene that scares me more than zombies. This shouldn’t be hard because I really like my romantic suspense genre. My books are short, punchy and have happy endings...kind of like me.

Number Three: It’s entirely possible that I’m not going to win any big awards or land a multi-million dollar contract. At one time or another, those things have been on my Bucket List. Not anymore. The best prizes are the ones I give myself. Celebrate Moi. When I finish a project, I will throw myself a party or give myself a shiny gift.

Number Four: My dad used to love poetry. When he’d call me and read his fave new poem over the phone, it made the world “puddle-wonderful” and the “goat-footed balloon man whistled far and wee.” Try Writing Something Different. A new manila folder is on my desk, and it’s for poetry (gasp!), which I will print in hard copy because my dad didn’t love computers.

Number Five: Supporting and sharing with other writers is fun (always a motivating factor), interesting and a great way for me to continue learning. I’ve been plowing this field for a long time with my first Harlequin published in 1984 and a total of 79 books sold so far. Writing has given so much to me, it’s time to give back. Become a mentor. I can’t wait to get started on this Bucket List item. Over the years, I’ve stumbled into jobs with copy editing, developmental editing, ghost writing and pre-plotting.

If I were thoroughly altruistic, I’d dress in flowing mentor robes and give away free advice. But that’s not going to happen. Development and editing will be a business.

Enough about moi... What’s on your Bucket List? Remember: it has to be something you can do for yourself. Endless possibilities: Start a blog. Write in a different genre. Publish an e-book. Find a critique partner. Brain-storm. Get fifty thousand followers.

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Kay Bergstrom (aka Cassie Miles) has sold 79 novels of romance and suspense, 4 super-short e-books, 2 audio plays and 2 screenplays that went straight to video. Her teaching experience ranges from college level to fifth graders. She’s been on the USA Today Best-Seller List (extended) and been RMFW’s WOTY twice. You can find her books listed on Goodreads.

An Afternoon With A Master

By Mary Gillgannon

A few weeks ago, Nora Robert’s book Liar hit the top of the Publisher’s Weekly bestseller list. I was delighted by this news. Since I also write romance, it’s cool to see a romance writer make it to number one. The genre is often disparaged and sneered at, but there can be no doubt romance is hugely popular, accounting for almost 40% of ebooks sold and over 20% of print.

The other reason I felt a kind of personal thrill over Nora’s success is because I once had the opportunity to spend several hours with her and discuss writing. It was at a conference nearly twenty years ago. We were sitting in the lobby with my editor at the time. Nora, who was the keynote speaker, walked by, and my editor asked her to join us. A short while later, my editor left, but Nora stayed and chatted with me and three other “newbie authors” for a couple of hours.

At first the conversation was very general, but it gradually turned to writing. Nora was so gracious and relaxed, my friends and I took the opportunity to glean what knowledge we could from this amazing professional. We asked, of course, how she managed to be so prolific, managing to write six or more books a year, under two names. (And unlike bestseller James Patterson, she writes every word herself.) She talked about her work ethic and “Catholic guilt” and said she writes for several hours almost every day, even when traveling.

Next, we asked about her writing process. You might imagine that someone so prolific would have to plot and outline ahead of time. But Nora’s process is fairly loose. She comes up with an idea and/or characters and starts writing, developing the plot and doing research as she goes along. I asked if she ever got stuck and she said, “All the time.” But then she explained her magic solution: “When you write yourself into a corner, you just have to write yourself out again.” A simple enough sounding technique, but it embodies some very important philosophies: Never giving up and having faith in your story and in your own abilities.

With every book, I write myself into a corner, not once but several times. Early in my career, I would panic when this happened. My confidence in myself and my writing would start to waver. I would worry the book totally sucked and maybe I should abandon it and write something else. (Some books I did abandon, at least temporarily.) But now I know writing is more about persistence than skill or creative brilliance. I also know that if I hit a bump or a rough spot, I have to keep going. If I keep putting words on the paper, the answer to the question—what happens next—will eventually come to me. And I’ll be out of the corner and back on the smooth writing road again. I figure if this technique worked for the 200-plus books that Nora has written, it ought to work for me.

TURNING OUR NOSE UP AT THE INDULGENT

By Kevin Paul Tracy

The other day I stumbled across, of all random things things, the old Punk Rock hit, "Turning Japanese." ("I think I'm turning Japanese. I think I'm turning Japanese. I really think so!") Before I knew it I was laughing and doing a silly dance there at my desk. It had been ages since I'd heard the thoroughly ridiculous, utterly indulgent song, and I'd forgotten what a catchy beat, toe-tickling melody, and nonsense lyrics it brought to the ear. I found myself completely delighted, my spirits lifted for no other reason than this empty-headed little song. And, as most things do, it got me thinking.

There is a certain snobbery in certain industries, most notably the arts, that summarily dismisses and in almost all cases delights in tearing down and lambasting the simple, the silly, the indulgent. "Turning Japanese" was roundly dismissed as inconsequential and in some cases even detrimental to the library of American music, and yet someone listened to it, enough people to make it, if not a number one hit, then at least a top 40 gem. There was something about it, silly and inconsequential as it might be, that pleased people. They enjoyed listening to it.

I stopped watching the HBO TV series "Game of Thrones" after the so-called "Red Wedding" episode, but only partially because I was disappointed as a viewer. While doing research online I came across several credible quotes by the author of the show who freely admitted he killed off his heroes in ignoble ways to shock and alarm readers/viewers. He didn't want them to rely on the heroes to save the day, didn't want fans to relax in the idea that the hero would eventually prevail, that good would eventually defeat evil. Perhaps that is fine for him and for the thousands who still read his books and watch his television program. But it seems to me a cynical focal point around which to pivot a plot. I write because I have a story to tell. I write the story that wants telling. I don't indulge some disgruntled agenda to manipulate an audience or to make a rhetorical point.

There is an on-gong debate I've been following online in British literary circles where the underlying operating assumption is that any book with a happy ending is immediately dismissed as unimportant, puerile, indulgent and of no consequence. Never mind the quality writing that may fill the pages leading up to it, if it ends with the good guys winning then it is summarily dismissed. Forgive me, but such a sweeping displacement strikes me as every bit as shallow as the books themselves supposedly are. Am I wrong? To me, I love reading well written prose. How the story ends is almost immaterial to me, if the intervening story and the skill with which it was written was a joy to experience. Almost, because an arbitrary or manipulative ending can spoil a good tale.

We are all entitled to write what we wish, and if you find an audience, well good God of course more power to you. But I think it wrong to try to shame others for indulging in certain literary palate cleansers such as Louie L'Amour's westerns, Ian Fleming's James Bond series, or even Charles Dickens entirely operatic but delightful fiction. There is a reason television shows like Little House on The Prairie, The Gilmore Girls, and today's Castle run for so many years. No one mistakes them for real life. But there is something simple, silly and pleasing about them to a great many audiences.

While I, myself, prefer a happy ending, I don't dismiss a book that doesn't have one. In point of fact I think Stephen King is an American treasure, probably one of the best writers I've ever read, and I don't recall a single one of his books that ended on a totally positive note. So while I prefer one, I can appreciate all. I would never dismiss the hard work of any writer on so slight and arbitrary a criteria as that. I take in the entire work as a whole and take it as it is offered by the storyteller, and judge it on that basis alone.

Something many of you have heard me say many times, and I think it is entirely true: Whether your story has a happy ending or not depends entirely upon where you choose to end your story.


Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the bestselling sequel to Bloodflow; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

Follow Kevin at:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog

Three Traits of Truly Fascinating Villains … by Bonnie Ramthun

Bonnie Ramthun1When RMFW blog editor Pat Stoltey asked if I'd like to write a post I jumped at the chance. I enjoy these postings and learn a lot from them. Then the panic set in. What do I have to contribute? I looked at my current writing research and found an answer. I've recently been working on making my villains more villainous. I know that the hero of a story is only as brave and strong as the opponent he must vanquish, but I have a tendency to spend more time on my hero development than my anti-hero. Imagine, though, if Ian Fleming's James Bond did nothing but carry secret documents around from place to place with no one trying to stop him. How incredibly boring! Instead, Bond faces criminals like Blofeld, Goldfinger, and Oddjob, powerful and unforgettable enemies who threaten the world. The villain of my novel must be formidable and interesting so that my hero is greater for overcoming him.

As the writer of thrillers and mysteries for adults and middle-graders, I've been researching anti-heroes in this quest and I've discovered that there are some common traits that define an antagonist worthy of a hero's battle. In fact, a truly great evil character can almost steal the show from the hero. So let's look at three traits of exceptional villains and examine them in the context of some of the most complex and fascinating characters in three recent American television series.

1.) They are physically benign.

This is odd, isn't it? But it's true. The most enthralling villains are not towering mountains of muscle. They are instead unassuming, sometimes beautiful of feature, and never outwardly dominating. Operatic opponents like Darth Vader or Goldfinger are caricatures of evil. They certainly have their place in literature and film, but the most complex and horrifying villains are usually ones that aren't imposing in their physical form.

2.) Their goals are important to them.

The great villains of stories are never the bad guys to themselves. They are trying to achieve a goal or goals and this is deeply significant to them. If your antagonist doesn't have a clearly defined goal, they won't have the weight of their own desires to contrast with the hero. Your villain must care passionately about his goal and he will do anything to achieve it.

3.) They have a heartbreaking back story.

Fascinating bad characters always have heartbreak in their background. Some are abandoned as a child, others tormented by malevolent parents or stepparents. Some experience a trauma that forever changes them. A villain who just wakes up one day and becomes evil for the sake of doing evil isn't particularly captivating, is she? A heartbreaking backstory can bring the reader to feel sympathy for this character. The betrayal of this sympathy with evil acts makes the villain even more despicable and the protagonist is more heroic for overcoming her.

Now let's look at some villains in recent American television series. The episodic content of current television is terrific for revealing complex backgrounds of characters, good and bad. Each of these three characters show the common traits of truly fascinating villains.

Regina Mills, Once Upon A Time

Regina is both the iron-fisted mayor of Storybook and the mass murdering Evil Queen of the Enchanted Forest in the television series Once Upon a Time. She's also lovely and very small. (Trait 1.) As played by Lana Parilla, she's a 5'5" package of pure evil who transported the entire population of the Enchanted Forest into Maine so she could torment her nemesis, Snow White. This Evil Queen is not tall and skeletal and aging. Instead, she's vibrant and young and yet she commits horrifying acts. Her goal is revenge towards Snow White, who is responsible for the death of her lover, and anyone who cares for Snow White -- her husband, Prince Charming, her daughter, Emma, and anyone who befriends them, from Hook to Ariel the mermaid. (Trait 2.) Her backstory is tragic and heartbreaking, her mother a humiliated miller's daughter who crafts her child into a Queen. Regina is forced into marriage to an old King. (Trait 3.) She's a tragic figure but so sympathetic that by the fourth year of the series this mass-murdering evil Queen is turning into a hero. That's quite the journey.

Gaius Baltar, Battlestar Galactica

Dr. Baltar is a famed scientist, a kind of science rock star, in the acclaimed Battlestar Galactica series. He's so famous that a fleet officer gives up his seat to him on the last escape ship during a genocidal attack on the planet of Caprica. He's also a weak, narcissistic, self-serving coward. Slight of stature and with fine, almost delicate features, James Callis as Gaius Baltar doesn't appear to be capable of being a villain. (Trait 1.) Yet his manipulations and cowardice lead to the near destruction of the human race. His overriding goal is to save his own cowardly skin and he goes to great lengths to stay alive at all costs. (Trait 2.) Finally, his background is revealed as a Caprica pretender, a common street boy with smarts who clawed his way to the top echelons of power. He started out with nothing but his intellect and his ambition and his survival against all odds is admirable. (Trait 3.) Well, if you don't count his participation in the near destruction of the human race, that is.

Gustavo Fring, Breaking Bad

One of the most memorable villains of Breaking Bad -- and if you've seen the series, that's saying something -- is Giancarlo Esposito's portrayal of Gustavo Fring. Gus is owner of the restaurant chain Los Pollos Hermanos and also a major drug kingpin. He's a ruthless, vicious killer. But he doesn't dress in black robes and stride around with a booming voice. He's slight of stature, unassuming, bespectacled. He doesn't look like he could cut a man's throat with the speed of a striking snake, but he can. And he does. (Trait 1.) Gus has a passionate goal to destroy every member of the Salamanca family drug cartel, a carefully plotted plan that has taken twenty years to achieve. (Trait 2.) His backstory is heartbreaking. He was in a committed relationship with his partner, Max, and created a restaurant with him called Los Pollos Hermanos. An attempt to get funding from the Salamanca family went terribly wrong and Max was murdered in front of Gus. (Trait 3.) He is alone, lonely, dedicated, and quiet. He's also one of the most chilling villains to stride across the screen.

Billowing robes, giant stature, big voices and operatic evil have their place. But the fascinating villain I'm attempting to create in my latest novel will be quiet, unassuming, complex, and deadly. I hope this examination of villains helps you in your craft. Happy writing!

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Bonnie Ramthun is a Colorado mom, wife, and mystery author. Her Eileen Reed mystery novels include GROUND ZERO, EARTHQUAKE GAMES and THE THIRTEENTH SKULL. Her middle grade novel, THE WHITE GATES, was a Junior Library Guild premiere selection and a finalist for the Missouri Truman award. The sequel, ROSCOE, is available now. She’s a former chapter president of Mystery Writers of America and served as the published author liaison for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter where her motto is: Every day is a gift.

“Murph” On Writing

By Mark Stevens

I’m turning this month’s blog over to Murph, The Asphalt Warrior.

Denver cab-driver and wanna-be-a-famous-writer Brendan Murphy, a.k.a. "Murph," has collected some of his favorite commentary on being an unpublished novelist. (What is below is just the tip of the iceberg of insights.)

I thought you could—relate. And maybe grab a laugh.

These quotes are from the first six novels by the late Gary Reilly that have been published to date – The Asphalt Warrior, Ticket to Hollywood, The Heart of Darkness Club, Home for the Holidays, Doctor Lovebeads and Dark Night of the Soul.

Pick Up at Union Station - Final JPGMurph #7, Pick Up At Union Station, launches Friday, June 19 at The Tattered Cover (2526 E. Colfax Ave.) at 7 PM.

(You are all invited.)

--

“I’m an unpublished novelist, but it’s been a long time since I haven’t published anything. I keep promising myself that I’ll sit down and start another unpublished novel one of these days, but if you know anything about unpublished writers then you probably know that the worst thing that can happen to one is to run headlong into a wall of free time. That’s when his bluff is called. That’s when he knows he has to get creative—and he does. You’ve never seen a writer get more creative than when he starts thinking up alibis for not writing. I’m as prolific as James Michener when it comes to excuses.”

“My brain is like the print-spooler on my word processor, which holds a failed novel long enough to print it out before it is deleted from the RAM and replaced by a rejection slip.”

"A writer can become obsessed with the peripheral rituals of writing—such as sharpening pencils or visiting the Grand Canyon—when he should be focused on the most important part of writing, which is leafing through Writers Market and making lists of agents who don’t charge reading fees.”

“I started thinking about writing a book called Face the Music, Chump. It would be a gut-wrenching tale of rejection slips. I wondered if there was a place where a guy like me could get rid of the craving to scribble. Some kind of Writers Anonymous, although most writers are anonymous. A place where human wreckage with Smith-Coronas could gather to cure themselves of hanging around office supply stores while their kids starved. I needed a 12-step program and I needed it bad. Step #1: admit you have a plotting problem.”

With a novel, you have to do an outline first and then write the book, but with a screenplay you just knock out the outline and sell it. I don’t know why the publishers in New York don’t take a tip from Hollywood and just publish the outlines of novels rather than the completed books. Let the audience use their imaginations, as my Maw always says about radio. I would much prefer to read an outline of War and Peace than slog through eight hundred thousand words. Why do I need Tolstoy to describe snow? I can imagine snow, whether Russian snow or just regular snow. But book publishers seem to think that the authors should do all the work, and the readers should be waited on hand-and-foot like a buncha goddamn prima donnas.”

“I have some bookshelves in my apartment that are built out of old novel manuscripts. The rest are brick and plank, the way hippies and broke people do it. I’ve written a lot of novels since I was in college, but I use only manuscripts that have absolutely no hope of ever being published to build the bookshelves. I use them in place of the bricks. Admittedly bookshelves made out of paper are not the most structurally sound things on earth, but neither are my novels.”

“The desire to write is one of the few desires I possess that doesn’t overwhelm me in the way that the desire to drink beer or smoke cigars does. Or watch TV. Or date. Or sleep till noon. I’m not that good at resisting desires, but for some reason I’m able to fend off my desire to write. Sounds inconsistent if not completely illogical I know, but there you have it.”

“A lot of artists start out as failed poets, then move on to being failed short-story writers before they finally break through to the big time and become failed novelists. If they’re like me, they branch out to become failed screenwriters. A few take the high road and become failed playwrights, but most just stick with being failed novelists because the potential to not make lots of money is greater.”

“I was afraid that if I went ahead and wrote a Western, I would be dipping into the realm of what my creative writing teachers called ‘formula fiction.’ I hated the idea of becoming a formula fiction writer. What if I got the formula wrong? Think of how embarrassing it would be if I tried to become a formula fiction writer and found out I didn’t have the talent to sink that low?”

More: www.theasphaltwarrior.com

All Six Covers NPR Huge Fun

P’s in Publishing … by Margaret Mizushima

Margaret MizushimaWhenever there is a first time published author panel at conferences, I’m often in the audience. I never tire of listening to the different ways authors connect with their publishers. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers played an important role in my story, and while this blog might be aimed more toward those seeking publication, other members could still be interested. I’ll tell you how the P’s in publishing worked for me.

Persistence. Don’t give up. Like many of my writing friends, I’ve been at this for a long time. I’ve attended writing conferences including those presented by RMFW, bought a bookshelf full of how-to books, attended creative writing classes and writing institutes, and studied my favorite authors to see how they crafted their novels. I’ve written several novels that are buried in my storage cabinet and will never again see the light of day. I’ve wanted to give up, but I didn’t; and persistence finally paid off, resulting in a publishing contract. Continue to pitch your work to agents and editors if you want to go the traditional route. Take classes in indie publishing if you’re interested in going that direction.

Positioning. I found both my agent and my publisher at writing conferences. Position yourself so that you can meet yours. Pitch your work at conference pitch sessions, sit at a meal table with the person you want to meet, introduce yourself in hallways and elevators. Be polite; ask permission to pitch outside of scheduled pitch sessions. I met Matt Martz of Crooked Lane Books at the RMFW Conference 2014, sat at his table on Friday night, and asked if I could pitch to him after dinner. He agreed and told me to send it, which I did as soon as I could. I know how scary it feels when you sit at the computer with your finger hovering over that send button. Be brave. When you get the nod, be sure to follow through.

Mizushima_Killing TrailBe Pliable. Matt Martz passed my manuscript to Nike Power, editorial and publishing assistant at CLB. She loved the characters, setting, and writing, but not the plot. She asked if I was willing to talk about it, and of course I said yes. We began an exchange of emails leading to suggested revisions that would require a large amount of time. My novel fit between genres, and she thought it would find readers more easily if I made it a solid mystery. I hesitated. There were no guarantees, and approximately two months of work lay ahead. Besides, I liked my story. But…although the work had generated some interest, I had not yet received an offer. I decided I had nothing to lose except time, and maybe I’d end up with something I liked even better.

Be prompt. If I wanted to make their 2016 publication schedule, I needed to meet the deadline that Nike suggested for me. This is important at this stage for other reasons, too. Editors want to make sure you can get your work back to them when they need it. They may offer some flexibility, but it’s still an opportunity for them to see if you can be on time, even before you’re offered the contract. In my case, the resubmission worked. Nike told me she liked the new version, and she would talk to my agent. I’m delighted to say that she remains my editor, and we’ll be working together on two books, the first two in The Timber Creek K-9 series.

Promote. Promotion starts before you publish. In reality, it should start when you set a goal to write a book. Marketing should include taking a look at what readers want. I don’t mean try to follow a trend, things move too slowly in this industry for that. Write the story you want, but keep your readers in mind. Research by reading popular books, study how bestselling authors develop their characters and structure their stories, and strengthen your writing skills through education and critique. Network at conferences, listen to authors who already know the ropes and are willing to offer guidance, set up those social media sites and accounts. Attend workshops at conferences to learn about the different ways you can promote, both online and off.

And that brings me back to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This organization can help you achieve your writing goals. At RMFW 2014, conference chair Susan Brooks stated that this is our tribe. Be a part of it, and benefit from all of the many opportunities RMFW has to offer. I’m very grateful for everything it has given me.

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Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books, available now for preorder on Amazon. Her fiction has won contest awards, and her short story “Hayhook” was selected for the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She likes reading, hiking, and yoga, and she lives in Colorado with her husband and a multitude of animals.

Learn more about Margaret at her website. She can also be found on Facebook at Margaret Mizushima Author and on Twitter @margmizu.

A Report on Explorati Teen Writers Boot Camp from teen writer Luke Tasker

The Explorati Teen Writers Boot Camp is not a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers sponsored program, but its leader is Trai Cartwright, an RMFW member and well known instructor of classes and workshops on writing, especially screenwriting. Today she has turned her scheduled guest spot over to one of her teen writers

By Luke Tasker

Last year's Explorati Teen Writers Boot Camp was the highlight of my summer. We had an amazing group of people who worked brilliantly together, covered a lot of new material, and went into greater depth on what (we thought) we already knew.

First and foremost was, naturally, our critique process. Usually it's a bit awkward, even with writers you know. This year, however, it was as far from uncomfortable as possible. It's always been a streamlined process, but we went mind-bogglingly quickly this year. Despite not everyone knowing each other very well, we quickly started tearing each other's work apart--in the most positive manner possible. We covered ground in a few hours that would have taken me weeks with my normal critique group.

Another important element that we covered that I quickly learned to love was blocking. I'd never really given it a huge amount of thought before, and simply assumed that my characters would just do whatever came naturally. That is a lot of it, but the significance of small actions, and the build-up to a series of actions, is incredibly important--which I had always left out of my writing completely. It helps to have an incredibly experienced screenwriter as your teacher.

I also discovered a couple of ways to turn my love of (and hopefully talent for) short stories into something of a reasonable length, albeit inadvertently. A couple of the exercises that we did--such as listing off a few random objects and then writing a scene with them under a time constraint, or different scenarios involving people who are seemingly unrelated but actually have a very strong connection--simply came together in the right way, and I realized that a project I'd been subconsciously working on for some time was a sort of anthology of inter-related short stories with a common plot--and common protagonist/antihero.

We did a lot of crazy, silly, wonderful things in only a few days. I made some new friends and caught up with old ones. I realized (rather late) how much I enjoy acting, even under duress. We analyzed short films and ran away screaming from high school anime, and ate a lot of unhealthy food--there was plenty of salad, too, I promise! In short, though Explorati was technically a "class", it was one of the best parts of my summer.

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Positions still available:

Middle School Fiction
June 22 – 25, 9AM – 3PM

Middle School writers are introduced to serious craft study even while they are having serious fun! Highly social, super-interactive, and designed just for the way they learn. This is the only camp that lets its attendees work on their OWN work!

Screenwriting (ages 13 –18)
July 6-9, 9AM – 3PM

The ONLY Screenwriting camp in Denver! Taught by a 20-year Hollywood pro who's been working with teens for ten years. If your writers love film, this is an amazing opportunity to learn this exciting medium!

High School Fiction
June 29 – July 2, 9AM – 3PM

Our High School is unlike any other--we work directly with the writer's OWN work, showing them what's strong and what needs work. We take them seriously and give them the good stuff!

Tuition: $275 (meals included)

For more information, you can visit the Explorati Teen Writers Boot Camp website.

How To Handle a Bad Critique – Aaron Michael Ritchey Style

BY Aaron Michael Ritchey

So I’ve been in critique groups for nine years now. That’s a whole lot of words being read by other people. You want the math? Oh yes, I know you do.

So ten pages a week, times fifty-two ‘cause there are fifty-two weeks in a year, so that’s 520 pages a year for nine years. For a grand total of 4680 pages. If a book is around three hundred pages, that’s 15.6 books. Roughly. Break that into words, about three thousand words every week, times fifty-two, times nine, and that’s 1,404,000 words critiqued.

I won’t do hours.

So yeah. I’ve been around the block and back. Most of the time the critiques are good, sometimes they are fun, and sometimes, sometimes, the critiques have claws that rip my poor wittle heart to shreds.

A bad critique attacks the very heart of my writing, and I’m not sure how productive that is. But it happens. It’s part of the deal. A good critique seeks to improve or offers a different perspective. A bad critique is destructive. And to make myself perfectly clear, sometimes the bad critique comes from someone who innocently is just offering their opinion. A bad critique can fall out of the sky like hail. Hail doesn’t hate you. It just falls. Sabes?

How do I handle things when good critiques go bad?

I hate.

I don’t sleep. I don’t eat. I sharpen knives and listen to Cannibal Corpse. I plot murder, rebellion, revolution, anarchy in the U.K. I draft long emails defending my work, defending the vicious act of writing words and its difficulty, defending the very purpose of my soul on earth. I print out the emails and eat them, tearing one page off at a time and swallowing them down with cold, cold black coffee from last Thursday.

Or I write letters (not emails) with blood-filled pens on sheets of paper made from human skin. I attack the critique, wanting them to know just how much I DON’T CARE ABOUT THEIR USELESS, STUPID, PEDANTIC OPINIONS. Who are they to question me and my work? What do they know? If they’re so smart how come they’re not New York Times bestsellers? I eat those letters as well, but I use gutter water to wash them down.

I rant. I shake my fists at heaven (literally). I weep.

Alone. So alone.

So that’s what I do. I don’t recommend it, but you can do all those things, just don’t carry out your wicked plans of murder, rebellion, revolution, and the U.K. doesn’t need your anarchy, thank you very much.

So I do that for awhile. I used to do it for weeks on end. Or months. Okay, 2009 was really bad. But I learn. It’s a slow process, me learning, but I learn.

Last time I got a bad critique I spent a bad night not sleeping and doing all the things I said. The next day, I journaled about the experience and got a good understanding of my part.

Because yes, when I’m upset, when my heart is shredded, I have a part. The experienced triggered something in me, and it might have much to do with what actually happened. If I didn’t care about the bad critique, I wouldn’t care. Why do I care? That’s what I have to find out.

Through the inventory process, I find out where I was selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid. Generally it’s all four. And yeah, when I’m hurt, it’s all about me and my ego.

After getting a good understanding of why I’m weeping, I then find people to talk to about the experience. Sometimes it’s just one person, but if it’s bad, I find two: one normal person and a writer (who is not normal).

We talk it through because you know what? Humans heal through their mouths. We talk to each other and magic happens.

So I figure out why the bad critique hurt me, I share the secret, and I get free.

And I keep writing, I keep submitting, and I keep editing. Because bad critiques, bad reviews, bad deals, are part of the writing experience. You want the whole buffet, yeah?

Well, there’s always gonna be crap sandwiches in the buffet, but don’t load up your plate with ‘em. Because like I said at the start, most of the time the critique experience makes me excited to revise! That’s what you want. That’s the idea.

And if your critique group is mostly serving you crap sandwiches, week after week, it’s time to find another critique group.