Look What You Missed….and What You Can Still Sign Up For!

If you thought you could wait until the last minute and then sign up for Trai Cartwright’s screenwriting class, too bad. That class filled up in a hurry.

There’s lots more going on with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, so peruse this list, follow the link if something looks interesting, and join others looking to learn and make contact (eye or virtual) with their fellow writers.

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First, there’s the online class that starts tomorrow. “Writing Meaningful and Memorable Sex Scenes” is presented by Katriena Knights. The two-week course starts Monday, March 3rd, and ends on Sunday, March 16th. Cost is $25 for members and $30 for non-members.

“There’s no question about it: sex sells, and the current romance market is thriving on more explicit content than ever before in the history of the genre. However, readers are discerning, and even the most daring content will fall flat if it isn’t integrated into the story on an emotional level and on a story level.”

Katriena’s class is not focused on romantic novel sex or erotica. It’s all about the right use of sex scenes in all genres. Don’t be shy. You know you want to put a sex scene in your next book. Learn how and when it’s appropriate and not gratuitous. For more information about the class, visit the RMFW website. And if you want to pass information and go straight to registration, you can do that too.

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2014 Conference Proposals Reminder: RMFW’s conference chair is accepting workshop proposals for the 2014 Colorado Gold Conference through March 31, 2014.

Go to the Conference page on the RMFW website for suggestions to help you make your workshop stand out and the link to the proposal form. If you have any questions, email Susan Brooks at conference@rmfw.org

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March Program free for members and non-members: “Think You’re Ready for the Colorado Gold [Writer's Contest]“?

Presented by Chris Devlin on Saturday, March 15, 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm at the Belmar Public Library, 555 S. Allison Parkway, Lakewood, CO 80226.

“Making the finals in RMFW’s annual Colorado Gold Writing Contest is a great way to get your work in front of agents and editors. Many past winners and finalists have gone on to have their books published. Finaling in the well-respected Colorado Gold is also a clear badge of honor to help market and promote your work. Don’t miss this opportunity to spend an afternoon with contest chair Chris Devlin. Come learn what makes a good entry great, what catches a judge’s eye, and how to avoid common mistakes.”

For more information, head on back to the RMFW website and check out this program page.

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If you live within snowshoeing distance of the Western Slope, RMFW has a program for you as well. Presented by Cindi Myers, this workshop is called “Agents: Myths vs. Reality.

This event is free for members and non-members on Saturday, March 15, 8:30 A.M. – 1:00 P.M. at the Grand Junction Business Incubator, 2591 Legacy Way, Grand Junction, Colorado. Please RSVP to Vicki Law at vruchhoeft@bresnan.net.

Expanded continental breakfast will be served at 8:30 A.M. and the workshop will begin at 9:00 A.M. and end approximately noon. From noon to 1:00 P.M. is networking, socializing and clean-up.

“Do you need an agent in order to get published? What will an agent do for you? What can’t an agent do? How do you find a good agent? Do you really need an agent in today’s publishing world? Award-winning author Cindi Myers discusses the myths and realities of dealing with agents, how to find the best agent, and how you can get published without an agent. In this frank discussion, Cindi will share her experience and that of other multi-published authors, and answer your questions about working with agents.”

For more information and directions to the event location, hop back on over to the RMFW website to that program page.

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becomeamember01If you aren’t convinced by now that you need to become a member of this fast-growing and extremely prestigious writers’ organization, which you can do by going here, then take a look at the upcoming retreat in Golden, Colorado March 16-21 (flexible day registration open until March 15th) and some of honored guests for the September 5-7 Colorado Gold Conference in Westminster, Colorado.

Members get a fantastic newsletter, opportunities to guest star on the RMFW blog, and more.

Bookends at the Broadway Book Mall

By Liesa Malik

Malik_RonandNinaElseWhat can you do when you and your spouse own more books than is possible to read in a lifetime? Open a bookstore, and end up with even more volumes, of course. For Ron and Nina Else, this is just what happened, and for the former Human Relations specialists with the government, it is a dream comes true adventure.

Ron and Nina own Who Else! Books, within the Broadway Book Mall on Broadway at Cedar. The mall houses nine vendors with a large variety of new and used titles, and a thriving community of both writers and readers to keep the place a Denver must see.

Malik_BooksonBench“We went into book selling to get rid of some of our extra books,” said Nina. She glances over at Ron and they both begin to chuckle.  The Broadway Book Mall is overfilled with books, posters, and other items on just about every surface, and tucked into every corner. Ron adds his own special perspective. “I think we’re hopeless book-aholics,” he says.

The couple, married for 28 years, has been working side-by-side since they opened a stall at the former Denver Book Mall just a few blocks north.  He is gifted in display and stocking, and she handles the bookkeeping and general operations.

As word came that the old store was closing, Ron and Nina made a play to buy it out, but the deal fell through. Undaunted, the couple took a group of nine other booksellers and re-opened at their present location. For over four years they have been a staple of the surrounding community.

“The good part of opening this mall was that we got to choose the people to bring with us,” said Nina.  “We selected them carefully, and only one person has since left—and that was for health reasons.” The criteria that the Elses used to select the vendors were:

  • The people needed to be in the new venture for the love and knowledge of books
  • They had the business skills to close out the cash register properly each evening
  • They had to be very good with people. Very.

Malik_LogoAlthough the Elses are the owners of the mall location, for all intents and purposes this is a cooperative venture with several operational decisions being made by vote.  That’s how they came up with the name.  And Ron quickly points out that the moniker is so good they could even use it if they moved to New York. Nina looks over to shake her head and smile.

Another vote determined that unfortunately, there couldn’t be a cat mascot in the store.  A few people had allergies, so that plan wouldn’t work.  Instead, the Elses put out water dishes and welcome neighborhood dogs in for a drink and a treat.  Nina prefers dogs to cats anyway, and the dogs seem to know this.

One canine friend, Carl, brings his realtor dad in frequently. But Carl is part active foxhound, and he tends to bang into corners and other things. Ron and Nina came to the rescue.  They put out plastic corner covers that they call “Carl’s Corners,” and all is well.

The Elses’ strong devotion to community and authors make them a favorite for authors in search of a good book signing venue. “From the beginning, we made a commitment to support local authors,” said Nina. As a result they tend to carry a wide variety of local authors.

“I just think local authors become such friends over the years,” said Nina. “I cherish that.”

And the Elses prove the point every day, both with their customers and their colleagues.  Laura Givens, artist and another vendor within the Broadway Book mall said, “They are definitely an old married couple, very much a pair. When Nina broke her foot Ron was as nice as butter in your mouth to her. We’re happy to be with them.”

You might even say that Ron and Nina make a perfect set of bookends for the Broadway Book Mall.

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Liesa MalikLiesa Malik is a freelance writer and marketing consultant originally from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, but currently living in Littleton, Colorado with her husband and two pets. She has always enjoyed reading mysteries, from The Happy Hollister series, through Trixie Beldon and into Reader’s Digest’s Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery and Detection. A graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in Mass Communications,

Liesa has built on her writing interest with long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of Faith on the Rocks: a Daisy Arthur Mystery. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk or at a local ballroom dance studio. For more about Liesa, please visit her website.

Keep Your Eyes Open

By Yvonne Montgomery

Yvonne MontgomeryAs I draw near the end of my current project, A Signal Shown, Book Two of the Wisdom Court series, I’ve reached one of my favorite phases of writing a novel, what I call the Gifts from the Universe stage.

All writers are scavengers, gratefully and greedily snatching what we can find to flesh out the narrative. We eavesdrop on conversations and watch interactions among strangers, squirreling away precious bits and pieces to adorn our stories. Everything is grist for the mill, and someday that episode will find its place in a story, said Louis L’Amour. The man knew writing—and writers.

What I’m talking about is a little different. When you’ve been eating and breathing your work in progress, you come to a state of hyper-awareness. Perhaps it’s an inevitable tip into creative madness, maybe just a turn of the kaleidoscope making everything you encounter take on the characteristics of your particular focus. I prefer the idea of a generous, creative force presenting me with extra elements of completion for my manuscript.

One pre-dawn morning this week I was lying in bed and I saw a small triangle of light overhead. As I watched, the light skimmed across the ceiling and disappeared. Undoubtedly it was a stray shaft of light from a car driving through the alley.

But my novel is about a haunted place where strange happenings are eroding the comfort of its residents. The light floating along the surface of the ceiling set off my imagining another room where the moving glow was a sign of an eerie presence. The scene I wrote later in the day informed the chapter I was working on, and it had a little extra chill to it because of what I’d seen and felt that morning.

As I’ve mentioned my work lately, some people have generously related shivery anecdotes of otherworldly events I’ve found both evocative and worth stealing. (Of course I always ask their permission.) I’ve stumbled across reminders of ideas I’d forgotten, resurfacing now when I need them the most. A few weeks ago my grandchildren badgered me into watching a kid-TV show with them, and an element of its story let me see how a point-of-view shift in my narrative would enrich one major character. Pure gift.

We RMFW members are well aware of the creative community resulting from interaction with fellow writers, from attending critique groups, from combining our energies in conferences and educational programs. With each novel I’ve written, be it mystery, saga, or metaphysical thriller, I’ve had the additional, lovely experience of being a part of a realm in which those inspiring energies surround me. Whether generated in my fevered mind, lobbed my way by benign writing partners in the ether, or as a result of the overwhelming desire to be done with this book, I take great pleasure in these Gifts from the Universe. Their appearance truly means I’m nearly at the end of telling myself this tale. Before long the fervor of its creation will subside and I’ll be looking for another story to write.

Keep your eyes (and ears and minds and hearts) open to the creative gifts available to us as writers. They’re all grist for the mill.

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Montgomery_Scavanger Hunt Yvonne Montgomery lives in an old three-story house in Denver’s historic Capitol Hill. Its nooks and crannies and odd noises in the middle of the night have inspired her latest works, Edge of the Shadow and A Signal Shown, Books One and Two of the Wisdom Court series, to be e-published in early 2014. Her e-books are widely available, including at Amazon, B&N Nook, iBooks, Kobo.

Yvonne is the author of two mysteries, Scavenger Hunt (aka Scavengers) and Obstacle Course, and co-author of Bridey’s Mountain, a Colorado saga awarded the Colorado Authors League Top Hand Award for Best Book Length Fiction of 1993.

For more information, please visit Yvonne’s website, Writer in the Garret. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

WORLD-BUILDING WARREN’S WAY

By Warren Hammond

Why do you read fiction?

You might say compelling characters. Or high-stakes drama. Maybe you love the plot twists you didn’t see coming.

Those are all valid responses, but when taken alone, isn’t each of them inadequate? Don’t you read fiction for all those reasons, plus probably dozens of others that I didn’t list?

So I’ll ask again, why do you read fiction? It’s a simple question that seems to defy a simple, one-sentence response. Yet, I’m about to attempt it.

You read fiction because you want to be transported to a different time, place, and emotional state.

Reading is travel.

Visit any location in the world or any point in history from the comfort of your own sofa. Pass the time on that dull bus ride exploring fantastical worlds that push the limits of imagination. Journey into the mind of a serial killer or the queen of a medieval realm. Tour all of the emotions available to us humans. Love and despair. Joy and terror. Satisfaction and guilt.

Fiction can take you anywhere you want to go. Every last remote corner of human (and non-human) experience is accessible through fiction.

That is why you read.

And why you write.

Accept that premise, and you see why world-building is a required skill if you’re going to write good stories. I don’t care what genre you write, world-building is required. You can’t transport your reader unless you have a fully realized location to take them to.

That said, the amount of world-building you do will very much depend on your genre and the kind of story you want to tell. For example, you’d expect to do lots of world-building for an epic fantasy set in an imaginary but vaguely medieval universe. None of your readers have ever lived in such a world, so you’ll have to spend a hefty percentage of your word count orienting them so they don’t feel lost. Lucky for you, in this case, many of your readers have read other books set in vaguely medieval universes, so you’ll have a broad range of well-known tropes to borrow from. But use too many of those tropes and you’ll be accused of being derivative. The trick is to find a pleasing mix of original elements and tried-and-true tropes accepted in your genre.

Write a novel with a contemporary setting, and you’ll dedicate fewer words to building your world. Your readers will already be familiar with cars and computers and cell phones. Set your novel in a city like New York and your job will be even easier since your readers will certainly be familiar with the city even if they’ve ever been there in person.

But that doesn’t mean you’ll be off the hook entirely. Say you want to write a mystery centering around the murder of a yacht racing captain. Now you’ll have a sizable job ahead of you. Most of your readers won’t be familiar with many of the nautical terms, nor will they have much of a clue of how professional yacht racing works. What are the racing rules? Where do yacht teams get their funding? What is the social structure within that world?

Okay, so now that we’ve established the fact that all stories require world-building to various degrees, I’d like to share my guidelines. Guidelines? But you wanted a step-by-step how-to manual. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. Writing is a very organic process, and also very personal. What works for one person will likely fail another. The best anybody can do is offer a framework of generalizations, and I hope you’ll take these guidelines as such.

1.       Build a fully-formed world rich with detail. Your world should include all of the following:

Culture – Traditions, clothing, food, language, architecture, manners

History – War, famine, exploration, scientific advancement

Environment – Flora, fauna, weather, geography

Economy – Trade, currency, class structure, resources

Religion – Beliefs, ethics, values, rituals

Unreal* – Futuristic or alien technology, magic, supernatural elements

Politics – Government, military, foreign relations, legal system

This first guideline even comes with a built-in pep talk. Notice the first letters of each line spell CHEER UP!

*Not all genres include elements of the unreal

2.       Use only the relevant details

Now that you’ve built a complex and compelling world, you have to seriously consider which details to include in your story. Include them all, and you’ll slow your plot to a crawl. Instead, you’ll need to choose only those details that have a significant impact on your story and its characters. Don’t bore your readers with minutia they don’t need to know.

3.       Avoid info dumps

Don’t tell us about your world. Put us in your world.

This is fiction, not an encyclopedia. When you introduce a new gadget, show a character using it, and we’ll learn soon enough what it does. When you want to dig into the nitty-gritty of a subject, let your characters discuss the subject in dialog. Or better yet, amp up the tension by turning that discussion into an argument.

Long passages of background information need not apply.

4.       Imbue your world with mood and atmosphere

Don’t forget my original premise, that readers want to be transported to a different time, location, and emotional state. How do you want your reader to feel when they’re in your world? Scared? Awed? Enchanted?

To achieve this goal, show us how your world affects your characters. If the world makes your characters feel scared, it’s likely your reader will feel scared too.

Also be smart with your word choices. Take a simple sentence like this one.

The wind rustles through the leaves.

Replace the word rustles with any of these verbs (whistles, weaves, whips, roars, whispers, barges, snakes), and I think you’ll agree that each one invokes a unique mood.

Create a proper mood, and your world will come alive!

Happy writing!

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Warren grew up in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. Upon obtaining his teaching degree from the University at Albany, he moved to Colorado, and settled in Denver where he can often be found typing away at one of the local coffee shops.

Warren is known for his gritty, futuristic KOP series. By taking the best of classic detective noir, and reinventing it on a destitute colony world, Warren has created these uniquely dark tales of murder, corruption and redemption.

Always eager to see new places, Warren has traveled extensively. Whether it’s wildlife viewing in exotic locales like Botswana and the Galapagos Islands, or trekking in the Himalayas, he’s always up for a new adventure.

Book Marketing for Dummies: How Do I Start?

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

assassins_heartOn March 1st, along with a few other awesome RMFW writers who have upcoming releases this week, I will bear a new book. Now I’m not going to push my NEW NOVEL – BEST WRITTEN ONE EVER, on you. Nope, this post is about something more. It’s about how we choose to market our work, and how we market ourselves.

Writers, by our very nature, usually hate marketing (with a few fabulous exceptions that we all love and secretly hate). We are often introverts, who spend many days killing off ex-lovers or those who we think, maybe, possibly have wronged us, in very painful ways (my personal favorite is staples, lots and lots of staples).

So what is an agoraphobic to do when faced with a new book release?

Crying comes to mind, but alas, I must wipe my tears and start the uphill battle of forcing everyone I know to read, let alone, buy a copy of my book. Did I tell you it’s a great fast-paced romance with twists and turns, plus lots of hot, monkey sex?

The question now becomes, how do I get people, strangers mostly, to shell out five bucks for a book with my name on it?

Since I write in many genres, this latest release happens to be my first romantic suspense, the various ways I promoted my fairy tale humor series aren’t going to work for this book.

So I need a new plan.

Sadly, there are no one-size-fits-all marketing plans or in many ways an ideal publishing platform. What works for me, may not work for you. Many times marketing plans are specific to genres, and audience types. For example, it makes little sense to advertise in a hard copy magazine if your book is only available in ebook format or to spend your energy trying to get booksignings if your book is not mass distributed.

However, there are a few things every writer should do when marketing:

-           Be genuine:

  • No matter what marketing platform or media you use make sure you stay true to yourself and your readers. People know when you are phoning it in. If you choose social media, then be social. Don’t spam people.

-          Make a plan:

  • Marketing is easy if you have no plan. You just throw everything you have against the wall, and hope something sticks. And then what? Let’s say something sticks, but without a plan, you have no idea what exactly that something might have been.

-          Accept the outcome:

  • Very few authors become overnight sensations. Just because you do all the ‘right’ marketing for your book, doesn’t mean it will sell. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Work on your next book. Don’t get trapped by your own marketing.

-          Enjoy the ride:

  •  You’ve worked hard on your book. You’ve worked hard marketing your book. Now is the time to appreciate your efforts. If you don’t take time to smell the rosy words, all the sales in the world won’t make you happy. Rich, sure, but satisfaction is what keeps us slopping through revision after revision, keeps us up writing late at night, and, in the end, pushes us to secede through all the rejection.

Any marketing advice you want to share? Or perhaps a book, you’d like to pimp in the comments? Give some links.

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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 recently released, The Assassin’s Heart, and the upcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.

Spicing Up Your Stories

by Katriena Knights

Sex sells. We all know this. Not everybody wants to leap off the edge right into steamy erotica or even romance, and that’s fine—it’s not for everybody. But relationships are an important part of any story, and adding a little spice to those relationships can give you another tool to expand characterization, plot, and other important elements of storytelling.

Work It, Baby…

Like any scene in your story, a sex scene—or love scene, nookie scene, or scene where all the characters are naked anyway so you might as well take advantage of it—has to pull its weight or it doesn’t belong in your final draft. No matter how explicit or non-explicit, that scene has to provide plot impetus and character development. As much as we all might be in favor of it in real life, gratuitous sex has no place in a well-written story. Instead, any intimate encounter between your characters should perform one or more of the major tasks demanded of any scene in a story. It should:

  • Introduce plot points
  • Propel the story forward
  • Contribute to character development

This might seem like a large burden to put on a scene many people would consider extraneous fluff, but it isn’t. Every scene should do at least one of these things, and preferably two or all three. Intimate scenes between characters should show us something about those characters that contributes to their story. The same can be said for a fight scene or a scene where people eat dinner. Every scene in a story has to work for its right to be in that story, so be sure you’re loading those smoochie scenes with details and story elements that keep your plot toodling along and keep your reader reading rather than skipping pages.

No Two Scenes are Alike

There’s a perception, especially among those who don’t care for explicit fiction, that all sex scenes are alike. Some people even skip them, assuming nothing important is going to happen and they can get along to the plot. Your job as a writer is to make sure this isn’t true. Every scene—no matter what happens in that scene—should be unique to the book and the characters you’re working with. No two people are going to say the same things to each other as they tip over the edge from affection to intimacy. No two couples are going to have the exact same experience, the same feelings. If you know your characters well—and you should—you’ll know what about that encounter will touch them most deeply. You’ll know which of their buttons to hit to make the scene ring with emotion rather than dry anatomical details.

Even if your encounter isn’t explicit, it’ll pack a punch if you keep these things in mind. I’ve read well-written, well-integrated scenes that were only a couple of sentences long that were more sensual, erotic, and meaningful than five or six pages of mechanical details that didn’t drag me into the scene or make me care for the characters.

Sure, you can write an entire book without sex scenes. You can also write an entire book without fight scenes or scenes where people eat dinner. This isn’t a judgment call on the types of scenes you choose to put in your story. It’s a reminder that every scene, no matter what the context, should always work its little words off to do its job. And that job is to entice, involve, and hook your reader.

I’ll be teaching an online workshop starting March 3rd that will help you add this kind of punch to any sensual, romantic, or sexually explicit scenes you might want to write. Even if you just want to add a touch of spice to a story rather than diving into the deep end of the explicitness pool, you’ll learn how to ensure those scenes drive the story and are meaningful for the reader. Join me for “Writing Meaningful and Memorable Sex Scenes” and find out ways to enrich your readers’ experience.

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Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog

When is “done” done?

By Sean Curley

One of the things writers ask me is how I know when a manuscript is done? The answer isn’t as easy as you might think. It can be incredibly difficult to just complete a novel. When you are done, however, you aren’t really done. The revision process can be long and harrowing. For me, the feedback I received from (non-friendly) reviewers of my first novel, Propositum – A Novel, prompted me to put the novel on hold for over two years while I improved my craft. Once that was complete, I re-wrote the book, not quite from scratch since I had a great plot, but close.

When that was complete, my editor and I went through a serious of reviews and edits. We started at a macro level and looked at plot and consistency. Then we looked at flow and transitions. Finally we went to paragraph structure and wording. You might think at that point that the novel is complete and ready to publish. However, each subsequent review yielded more changes that improved the book. From cleaning up the sound (try reading it aloud) to making it more concise to correcting outright errors (grammatical or semantic), every review found issues. In revising this novel my editor and I each read the book a dozen times or so. Each time it improved. By the end, after a couple of months of this, I decided I was fed up with trying to make it perfect and gave it to the publisher to generate a test copy. That would be my final review of the novel. I found that reading it in print yielded some surprising results. Issues were found that I had never seen when reading on a screen.

I suspect that we have all read books where there are many errors and been frustrated. None of us want to be the author of one of those books. On the other hand, there is a point of diminishing returns when continuing to review and edit means you are trying for a perfection that, in my opinion, isn’t necessarily worth it. Maybe if you want to publish a single “Great American Novel,” it would be worth the effort. But, in my case, I want to publish a number of novels and can’t afford to spend my life improving every single word in just one.

In general, I practice the following steps when revising a novel (don’t do this alone as your specific idiosyncrasies may cause certain errors to be difficult to discover; find someone who is willing to critique you at the right level – meaning point out real issues, but not try to rewrite the novel for you):

  • Let it sit for a while (after the draft is complete) and then read it again
  • Confirm the plot and story are complete and that the book flows and ends well
  • Review the novel for paragraph and sentence structure and for word choice
      1. Check for replication of unusual words
      2. Check for similar words too close together (within a few sentences)
      3. Check for year/location- and world-appropriateness of words
  • Tighten up the language and make sure it reads smoothly
  • Re-review the text until you are comfortable it is close (so repeat as needed)
  • Read it aloud as a final test of readability
  • Use a POD service like Lulu to print a single copy and review the hard copy
  • Call it good and be proud of it!

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Sean Curley - Author Photo

Sean Curley (1961-) was born and raised in California. His Catholic upbringing shifted to Philosophy and Computers during college. Others have referred to him as a Renaissance man because of his diverse educational background in Computer Science, Philosophy, Management, Space Studies, and Creative Writing. He is frequently found speaking on diverse topics such as Humanism, management, parenting, separation of church and state, and religious history. He has published one non-fiction book, Humanism for Parents, and one novel, Propositum – A Novel. He is currently working on two more novels. Mr. Curley lives in Colorado with his children.

Juggling Contracts, Part 2: Look for the Language!

By Susan Spann

In month’s #PubLaw post here at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, we started a conversation about juggling multiple contracts for rights to novels and other creative works. Over the next couple of months, my posts will continue that conversation, with an eye to helping authors learn to juggle rights successfully.

Step 2 in successful contract juggling is making sure each contract contains TWO vital pieces of language:

- A clear and unambiguous statement of the rights you are licensing, AND

- A clear and unambiguous statement that you have the right to (separately) license and benefit from the rights you retain.

1. A Clear Statement of the Rights You License:

As I mentioned last month, the statement of licensed rights should be clear and unambiguous. It should start off with either the statement, “Author hereby licenses, to Publisher, for [stated term - often "the length of copyright"] the following rights…” and then list the specific rights you’re licensing.

Easy, right? Not so fast.

Read the contract carefully for words like subsidiary rights, additional rights, translation rights and derivative rights – in fact, do a search for “rights” and read carefully everywhere that term appears. Make sure the publisher hasn’t tried to obtain other rights in other paragraphs. It happens, and it happens often — and, for the record, it isn’t “pulling a fast one” – that’s just the way contracts read.

Make sure any rights you don’t intend to license are stricken out of the contract.

If you don’t understand the language, or aren’t sure how to strike the rights you want to retain, make sure you have an experienced publishing lawyer (or agent) review the contract and assist you to make sure you retain the rights you need. You don’t want to find out later that you inadvertently licensed rights you intended to retain.

1. A Statement About the Rights You Retain, and Your Right to License Them Separately (and to Other Parties).

Then, make sure the contract contains this, or a similar, statement: “Author reserves all rights not expressly granted to Publisher in this Agreement, along with the sole right to license and benefit from reserved rights in any manner Author chooses, including without limitation the right to enter into contracts with third parties for licensing and exploitation of said retained rights.”

You’re looking for language that says three things:

1. Any rights not expressly granted to the publisher belong to you.

2. You have the right to license and benefit from reserved rights in any manner you choose.

3. You have the right to license those retained rights to others (“third parties,” in contract language).

In addition, you want to make sure the contract states (somewhere) that you will not owe the publisher anything (or be in breach) if you enter into licenses or contracts to exploit the rights you’ve retained. 

We’ll talk more next month about “sneaky clauses” that might cause trouble in this regard. For now, take a look at the things you need to see–and make sure you’ve got a checklist of things to look for.

And, as always, don’t hesitate to seek assistance when the contract negotiations (or language) get outside your comfort zone. Seeking help now can keep you from needing to hire a lawyer down the line–and legal problems are ALWAYS less expensive when you deal with them in advance.

Have questions or topics you’d like to see covered in future RMFW #PubLaw guest posts? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author from Sacramento, California. Her debut mystery novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, July 2013), is the first in a series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. The sequel, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, will release on July 15, 2014. Susan blogs about writing, publishing law and seahorses at http://www.SusanSpann.com. Find her on Twitter @SusanSpann or on Facebook.

Action Plans for the Scattered and Unmotivated

by Kerry Schafer

Last month I shared some of my thoughts about intentions, suggesting that it’s a good idea to have some and see where they take you. And then I tacked a little afterthought on the end, saying how next time we’d talk about Action Plans.

I still maintain that intentions are lovely and wonderful things, even though well meaning people say the road to hell is paved with them. I suspect that the road to paradise is probably paved with them too, although nobody ever seems to mention that.

Back to my point, which is that we want to give those intentions a little boost so that they are more likely to take us to the good place, and not lead us astray into darkness and possibly fire and brimstone.

Warning: If you’re looking for one of those super organized, highly structured, do-all-of-the-things-on-this-list-and-you-will-surely-conquer-the-world posts, you’re in the wrong spot. This isn’t even Action Plans 101. I’m offering up a few random ideas for those of us who organize by sticky notes on the kitchen table, or in our heads while resting our eyes on the couch.

1. Publicly announce whatever it is you said you were going to do.

Case in point – at the end of my last blog post here, I said I would write this time about action plans. If I hadn’t done this, I might easily have opted for something involving fluffy cats and maybe a random penguin or two, because I’m tired and feeling unfocused and the last thing I want to do right now is remind myself that I need a new Action Plan. But I do, and here we are. This is one of the things that makes Nanowrimo so successful, I think. After you’ve announced to everybody who knows and loves you, along with a bunch of strangers who don’t care at all and even a few people who hate you, that you’re going to do something – write a book, query an agent, self publish, whatever – there is a motivating force to keeping your word.

2. Write it on a calendar.

Don’t have a calendar? Get one. Or use the calendar on your smart phone or your computer. Get the kids to make you one. This, for the scattered and unmotivated, is one of the simplest and best motivational and organizational tools out there. Of course, simply scrawling “write a novel”  or “get published” on the first available date may not be of much use, although I think even that would be of some use. There is something about actually scheduling writing time, or query time, or a word count goal, that bumps it up the ranks of your to do list. It’s like magic. Write it down – Monday – 9 am buy groceries, 10:30 am dentist appointment, 3 pm write 1000 words – and all of a sudden your writing time jumps from something you’d like to do if you have time, to something that you plan to do.

3. Take a small step now that will commit you to further action later.

I’m talking about one of those moments where you open your mouth (or put your fingers on the keys) and commit yourself to something. Usually the commitment part only takes a few minutes, but has far reaching consequences, sort of like getting married in Vegas, only in a good way. Or that minute at a school meeting where you raise your hand and volunteer to organize the potluck. If you’re having trouble getting your butt in the chair to write words, buddy up with a friend. Agree to meet up for writing sprints, at 5 am, or 10 pm, or whatever fits in your schedule. That way, when the alarm goes off and you reach out to push snooze, you’ll be struck by the guilt of knowing that someone you care about is climbing out of a nice warm bed somewhere else so she can meet up with you. Guilt is a wonderful nap ruiner. Join a writing group that expects pages to critique. Create a contest with a friend to see who gets the most (well researched and solidly crafted) queries out into the world by a particular time frame.

As Action Plans go, this is the minimalist version. Search the net and you’ll find all sorts of involved and in depth road maps to success. These make my head hurt, and I suspect I’m not the only one. So this is the extent of my contribution to the subject. Hey, every little bit helps, right?

Now – it’s time for you to step up to the plate. What action plan step are you prepared to commit to today?

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Kerry Schafer’s first novel, Between, was published in February 2012 and the sequel, Wakeworld, is slated to hit shelves and e-readers on February 14, 2013. Kerry is both a licensed mental health counselor and an RN, and loves to incorporate psychological and medical disorders into her fantasy books. You can find out more on her website, www.kerryschafer.com, or find her on Twitter as @kerryschafer or on her Facebook page Kerry Schafer Books.

Engineering a Mystery

By Beth Groundwater

Beth GroundwaterI’ve taught a number of workshops at many different writing conference, library programs, and to writing groups, and one of my favorites is “Engineering a Mystery.” I apply my engineering background from my first career to help fledgling mystery writers build some scaffolding for their projects, or formulate recipes for their mystery novels.

The first essential ingredient in a mystery is the sleuth, who investigates the murder(s) and tries to deduce who the killer is. In my case, with two mystery series in the works, my sleuths are well-defined: whitewater river ranger and rafting guide Mandy Tanner for the RM Outdoor Adventures series or gift basket designer Claire Hanover. Both of these characters are old friends, but when I switch from one to the other, I usually need to go back and read at least the last few chapters of the last book starring that character, so I remember what emotional and physical state I left her in and move on from there.

The next essential ingredient in the recipe for a murder mystery is the victim. The dead body that falls on the floor in Act One. There may even be more than one victim to keep things interesting if the plot starts to drag in the middle. Without a victim, we wouldn’t have a mystery to solve and we could all go home! Along with defining a victim, I try to give him or her a family and/or friends who will sorely miss them, because we should never forget how truly horrible murder is.

Usually the victim is not well-liked, so there are many people who’d like to see him or her dead. And, I, like most mystery writers, try to use my creativity to find an interesting way for the victim to die—a mysterious poison, a unique weapon, something that might be construed as an accident or suicide and so on.

Groundwater_Basket of TroubleThe third essential ingredient is suspects, those people who may have killed the victim(s). There are usually between 3 and 7 suspects in a murder mystery. Detectives or amateur sleuths look for means, motive, and opportunity for suspects. All three are needed to identify the killer. Means is the ability to commit the murder, such as access to the murder weapon. Motive is the reason why the suspect wanted the victim dead. Opportunity is the potential for the suspect to be at the right place at the right time to kill the victim. And an alibi is a story for why a suspect didn’t have the opportunity. That story can be true or false.

I try to make sure that all of my suspects have at least two if not all three of means, motive, and opportunity. And bringing in suspects often drives the addition of subplots (activities the victim was engaged in that may have led to his murder) and the addition of research topics I need to study.

The fourth essential ingredient in a murder mystery is clues, pieces of evidence that help the sleuth solve the crime. A good principle that detectives use is that the killer usually leaves something at the crime scene and takes something away. What the killer leaves may be fingerprints, shoe prints, a lipstick stain on a glass, or the murder weapon, say if the knife is stuck in the body. What the killer takes away may be hairs, carpet fibers or bloodstains, money or jewelry, or a special memento of the crime. I try to sprinkle the discovery of clues throughout the manuscript, as well as conversations with the suspects, to keep the reader stimulated with more information that she or he can use to try to solve the puzzle.

The last ingredient that spices up the recipe is red herrings. These are false clues that point to the wrong suspect, such as the gun in my first mystery, A REAL BASKET CASE, that incriminated Claire’s husband. The term comes from a fish that’s been cured in brine and smoked, which turns it red and makes it very smelly. The smelly herring then is dragged across a trail to try to distract hunting dogs from their prey. A good hunting dog—or sleuth—is trained to not be distracted by the strong false scent but to stay on the trail of its prey. What makes things interesting in a murder mystery is when a piece of evidence points to more than one suspect, so it’s both a red herring for the innocent suspect and a clue for the killer.

I like to have at least half a dozen clues and red herrings, if not more. Once all the essential elements are defined, I work on putting scenes in order in an outline, figuring out what happens when and what gets discovered when. During this process, I shuffle scenes around until I come up with a flow of events that I think will most interest the reader. And, of course, there have got to be some surprises!

It’s a complex process, and one that I always find daunting in the beginning, wondering how I’ll ever come up with the final product–a scene by scene outline, a set of detailed character profiles, and thorough research notes from which I can start writing. But, I have to trust in the process and my abilities. I keep telling myself that I’ve done it many times before, so I should be able to do it again.

This post previously appeared on Inkspot, the blog for Midnight Ink authors, on February 11th, 2013.

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Bestselling mystery author Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series (A Real Basket Case, a Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, To Hell in a Handbasket, and in November, 2013, A Basket of Trouble) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner (Deadly Currents, an Amazon #3 overall bestseller, Wicked Eddies, finalist for the Rocky Award, and Fatal Descent). Beth enjoys Colorado’s many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs.

For more information about Beth and her books, please visit her at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook and Goodreads.