Category Archives: Blog

Crush the Crutches

By Mark Stevens

Do you have “crutch” words?

Words you inject into your prose without thinking?

I mean, they are such great freaking words that you when you ask a reader to plow through your latest incredible best-selling novel, she comes back and says:

“Well, not bad. But did you know you used the word ethereal 187 times?”

Or (fill in the blank for your go-to word)?

Me?

Guilty as charged. I’ve got a few. They change from one piece of writing to the next.

They are words my inner brain fell in love with, most likely, decades ago.

I pull them out of the dust-covered brain cells that are my word filing system and I drop into the prose without really thinking.

(Question: Why can’t my ability-to-edit brain see the heavy repetition of my crutch words? When I read manuscripts by other writers, their crutch words jump out at me like something from Sharknado. “Did you mean to use the color ‘salmon’ on page four and page 196?”)

Which brings me to Visual Thesaurus. (http://www.visualthesaurus.com/)

Stevens_Visual ThesaurusIf you are looking, occasionally, for that little spark to kick a sentence or a paragraph in the butt—a way to give your writing voice a little inspiration—check it out.

It’s a word lover’s daily jolt of caffeine.

First, take your crutch word and enter it in the search engine. VT will give you a visual rendering of the universe in which your word lives—all its relatives, close and distant.

If you want to tweak your favorite plum word in one direction, you click on that word within the sphere (Do mean “hot” as blistering or “hot” as spicy?) Suddenly, you are charging down another path looking for the right word.

Plus, VT has daily columns about word derivations and interesting takes on word usage. A recent column looked at “anxious” versus “eager.” Knowing the difference is the kind of distinction that might give your prose more accuracy.

If you subscribe ($25 per year), you get a daily ‘word of the day’ in your email and lots of nifty/nerdy info to go with it.

As I write this, today’s word is ‘theurgy.’ (“Magic performed with the help of one—or more.”) Recent words were cheroot, caliphate and hypernym. As Visual Thesaurus says: Dog, for example, is a hypernym for dachshund, Chihuahua, and poodle. Some folks call ‘em generic terms or superordinates.

In fact, Visual Thesaurus will help you avoid hypernyms (and your damn crutches) and be as precise and fresh as possible.

Every day.

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

Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.
Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014

The RMFW Spotlight is on Angie Hodapp, Newsletter Editor and Retreat Chair

The first Monday of the month the RMFW Blog features one of the members of the board of directors or a volunteer. This month Angie Hodapp has agreed to answer our questions. We hope this helps members and potential members get acquainted with the incredible folks who keep Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers going and growing. And just in case these spotlights inspire other members to step forward and volunteer, feel free to email Judy Matheny, Volunteer Coordinator.

Angie Hodapp1. Angie, Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I first joined RMFW’s board of directors in 2011, when I answered an ad in the newsletter requesting a volunteer to fill the hospitality chair. Not long after I took on hospitality, I was asked to switch gears and become the programs chair. So for two years, I booked speakers for RMFW’s free monthly programs, which was a total blast! Now, I serve RMFW in two capacities. I am both the retreat chair and the newsletter editor.

I’ve always been a big fan of writing retreats—of sequestering myself away in the mountains for several days, either alone or with other writers, to really focus on my work in progress. I wanted to bring the magic of the writing retreat to members of RMFW, so I put together some numbers and brought a proposal to a board meeting. Funding was approved, and the RMFW Writers Retreat was born! The first retreat took place last September, immediately following the 2013 Colorado Gold Conference. The second took place last March. Our next retreat will be March 11-15, 2015, at the YMCA in Estes Park, Colorado. I can’t wait!

As the editor of Rocky Mountain Writer, RMFW’s monthly newsletter, I get to draw upon my past experience in the magazine industry. My editor antennae are always out, feeling around for stories or regular features. Got an idea? Send it my way!

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

I’m very excited to be published in RMFW’s 2014 anthology, Crossing Colfax. My contribution, “Seven Seconds,” is a superhero story about a guy whose power is neither super nor particularly heroic. (Crossing Colfax is available now on Amazon and includes stories by fifteen RMFW members. Very cool!)

Last February, I really switched gears with my writing. I’d always written science-fiction, fantasy, and speculative YA, but I decided to try my hand at writing contemporary romance. So I did my homework. I read a bunch of bestselling romance novels, studied several how-to-write-romance books and articles, and joined Romance Writers of America. I’m looking forward to attending the RT and RWA conferences in 2015.

The result of this switch is that I’m having a ton of fun! My almost-finished WIP is the first in a trilogy about three very different sisters living in a Colorado ski town. I hope to start shopping it this fall, though I might take the indie-publishing route—I haven’t decided yet, and my plan for the trilogy fluctuates daily. But my romance nom de plume is Holly Anders, so look me up in the near future!

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?

Probably like most people reading this, I’d love to be a full-time writer, one who actually makes a decent living at the writing game. Writing aside, I hope to spend more time traveling. My husband, Warren Hammond, and I are going to spend three weeks in China later this year. I can’t tell you how excited we are! Other locales we’re looking forward to visiting in the future include Bali, Japan, and New Zealand.

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

I constantly compare myself, rather unfavorably, to my literary heroes. I read China Miéville and think, “I wish I could write like him.” I read Diane Setterfield and think, “I wish I could write like her.” I read Ian Tregillis and Laini Taylor and Connie Willis and Diana Gabaldon and Neil Gaiman and think, “I wish I could write like them.”

If you can relate, then go listen to episode 106 of the Nerdist Podcast, wherein Chris Hardwick interviews Neil Gaiman, and Neil, ever eloquently, tells aspiring writings to stop sabotaging themselves with these negative comparisons. You can’t write like other writers. Stop trying. Write your stories as only you can write them.

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

I love piecing together a story from little sources of inspiration that pop out at me during the course of everyday life. It takes some practice, learning to pay attention to those pops of inspiration, learning to recognize them as whole stories just waiting to be told, or as characters in the throes of an intriguing catastrophe, or as mortar for the bricks of a story idea that isn’t quite standing up on its own yet. Being on a constant lookout for story ideas makes writers see the world in far more vivid color.

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

Get involved with an organization like RMFW sooner rather than later! Or at least join a critique group, attend a conference, take a community-based creative-writing class, find a writing-related Meetup, or do something to get yourself out of the house and into the company of other writers. Online groups serve their purpose, but for me, regular face-to-face interaction with other writers was key to getting, and staying, motivated—not only to write regularly, but also to improve my craft.

Along with that, start showing your work to other people and asking for feedback right away. Don’t be afraid of what others might say about your writing. Give up caring what others might say if they find out you’re a weirdo who writes science-fiction or a sappy sentimentalist who writes romance. I wasted way too much time worrying about such things and pushing my writing off into the future as a “someday” thing.

Angie'sBackpack7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

I’m a backpack writer. I do most of my writing away from home, at coffee shops, libraries, restaurants, bars, or bookstores.

In my backpack, you’ll find all the essentials for hours of away-from-home writing: Kleenex, lip balm, hand lotion, dental floss, eyedrops, Advil, a comb and extra hair ties, hand sanitizer, earbuds, and gum. Depending on the season, you’ll also find sunglasses, an umbrella, a sweater, or fingerless gloves.

Oh…you want to know about the stuff I need to actually write? OK, well, when I’m working on a rough draft, my backpack contains reference books and my Alphasmart Neo. This is a word processor that neither connects to the web nor allows you to easily edit your work. (Google it. Every writer needs an Alphasmart Neo.) When I’m working on a more polished draft, you’ll find in my backpack my laptop, power cord, and stacks of critique notes from my awesome critique partners: Warren Hammond, Mario Acevedo, Jeanne C. Stein, Aaron Michael Ritchey, and Travis Heermann.

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

I just finished Necessary Evil, the final book in Ian Tregillis’s Milkweed Triptych series, which is brilliant alternate history supposing that Britain had employed warlocks during WWII and the subsequent Cold War to battle a squad of terrifying superhumans engineered by the Germans. Stunning writing, excellent storytelling.

Earlier this summer, I read (and loved!) The Hum and the Shiver and Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe. These novels suppose that the Tuatha De Danann of Gaelic mythology are alive and well in modern-day Appalachia. Very unique worldbuilding and beautifully flawed characters who will stay with you long after you finish the books.

Up next on my to-be-read list is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.

Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Angie. See you at Colorado Gold.

Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers — Part II

As promised, we’re back with more great advice for conference-goers from a few of your regular RMFW Blog contributors

Liesa Malik

1) Remember that all people at the conference are approachable, but it’s best to have a few questions to ask. Things like “what do you like best about writing?” or “where do you see your publishing career a year/five years from now?” are a start. Just be sure you’re interested in finding out the answers.

2) Go to the sessions. Yes you get a lot out of the networking, but many of the sessions are absolute gold for information and training in your writing life.

3) Buy CDs and books. The CDs are helpful reminders (and the keynotes are almost ALWAYS motivational) and the books are generally by people attending the conference. How better to support the people who are sharing their gifts with you?

Pamela Nowak

1. Workshop sessions are valuable to every attendee–we can all learn something–but select carefully. Read the descriptions and choose those aimed for your craft level and step-in-the process. If you’re a new writer, stick with the basics and concentrate on where you are in the process so you are not overwhelmed. Advanced writers should focus on advanced craft or marketing or writing life sessions to complement their social recharging.

2. Take advantage of the FULL conference experience. Boost your knowledge by attending sessions. Energize by socializing with other writers. Charge up your commitment to writing by setting new goals.

Katriena Knights

1. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing it “right.” There are many ways to take in a con experience. You can go to the same con five, six, ten years in a row and never follow the same pattern.

2. Don’t be afraid to take a break. In the past, I’ve spent so much time trying to do everything I thought was important that I wore myself down. If you end up flat on your back from exhaustion, con crud, or whatever, even what you’re able to take home from the con isn’t going to do you as much good as is could have if you listened to your brain and your body.

3. But…don’t be afraid to try anything and everything. Don’t limit yourself because you think an individual workshop might be “too hard” or “too basic,” or not in your genre or whatever. If it looks interesting, or if something’s just tweaking your brain about that event, go. There’s so much to choose from that I’ve been known to close my eyes and point at the program to decide where to go. OTOH, I’ve been to conferences where I picked through the program and created a throughline for myself, following a specific topic from presenter to presenter.

I guess my basic advice is honor yourself even if you feel like you’re wimping out, because you’re probably not, and don’t think because you didn’t do what you think you should that you didn’t get what you could have gotten out of the con. I have no idea if that makes sense, but I know I started enjoying this kind of thing a lot more when I started honoring my need to just get the hell away from everything and everybody from time to time.

Jeanne Stein

1. I think the most important piece of advice I can offer is don’t be afraid to approach an author you’ve read and liked and tell them how much you enjoy their books. That’s a great ice breaker. After an intro like that, every author I know would be more than willing to answer a few questions and perhaps share a tip or two about succeeding in this crazy business. And where to find the authors? If not on a panel, the bar is always a good place to start!!

Again, feel free to add your own conference tips in the comment section. And if you’re attending Colorado Gold for the first time, have a wonderful time.

Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers — Part I

A few of your regular RMFW Blog contributors have submitted their best advice for an enjoyable and educational conference experience. These suggestions work for any conference, of course, but will be especially meaningful for those who plan to attend the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference September 5-7 at the Westin in Westminster.

Feel free to add your own tips in the comment section.

Kerry Schafer

1. Talking to writers at a conference is easier than talking to “normal” people, because you can drop the small talk. If you don’t know what to say, just ask, “So what are you writing?” Even shy writers are generally happy to start telling you about their latest project, and this helps to break the ice.

2. Have a business card or bookmark you can pass out with your name, email address, and social media contacts. This allows people you connect with at the con to find you again later. You can get inexpensive business cards at Moo.com or Vistaprint, or even make some yourself and print them on cardstock. Definitely worth the time.

3. Agents and editors are people. They don’t like to be spammed any more than you do, but they are looking for the next wonderful book and it might just be yours. Treat them with respect and let your enthusiasm shine through.

Kevin Paul Tracy

1. Don’t necessarily attend all the same workshops/classes as all your friends. Split up, then come together later and share notes.

2. The hospitality suite is great, but explore, there are all sorts of impromptu gatherings all over the place all weekend.

3. Listen more than you speak. You’ll overhear so much more that way and learn all sorts of interesting things.

4. Don’t go to bed early – stay up past your bed time. Some of the best conversations come after 1am and everyone is well lubricated.

5. When you make a new friend, get their “deets” right away, so you can stay in touch. You will forget later.

Robin D. Owens

1. There is no “one true way” to do things. What the seminar speaker is telling you works for him/her. Take what works for YOU from the workshop and use that.

2. Sometimes you have to hear a concept several times or phrased in different ways before it sinks in and is useful for you.

3. Stop when you get overwhelmed.

Susan Spann

1. Set specific, and reachable, personal goals. When I go to a conference, I try to meet (and remember) three new people every day. I used to feel shy about approaching strangers and introducing myself, but that became much easier when I replaced “Meet lots of people” with “Meet three new authors every day of the conference.” I usually end up meeting many more, but focusing on initiating three conversations made the goal more personal and reachable.

Jeffe Kennedy

Don’t over-schedule in advance, particularly regarding panels and workshops. Leave room to talk to people and go to panels and workshops as the opportunities arise. Connecting with other people is the one part of the conference you won’t be able to replicate some other way.

Please come back on Friday for Part II of Tips for Conference Goers, Especially First Timers, featuring Liesa Malik, Pam Nowak, and Katriena Knights, and Jeanne Stein.

Hachette vs. Amazon—Do We All Lose?

By Liesa Malik

Personal Note: It has been several years (decades) since I last worked on news copy, and my journalism background is very rusty. Therefore, I have to admit to writing this with bias, and let you know that any opinions expressed here are mine as an individual and do not reflect an official stance by RMFW or its members . . .

Whether you love it or hate it, big business is here to stay, and stay involved with our lives. This is the story of two giants in the publishing industry and how we as authors might be involved.

BREAKING NEWS . . .

In May 2014, the New York Times broke a news story sure to rock the publishing industry. Hachette Book Group, fresh off an anti-trust lawsuit by the government, was the first of five major publishing houses required to re-negotiate pricing issues surrounding the ebook business. And talks weren’t going well.

On the surface, the lines of this dispute were clearly drawn and easy to form opinions over. Hachette, as the publisher, would set prices for ebooks in a similar fashion to pricing for hardcover books. Some ebooks would be offered for sale at $12.99 up to nearly $20. Most of these ebooks were authored by some of the biggest names in the industry – James Patterson, Malcom Gladwell, Stephen Colbert, Douglas Preston, and more—and demand for these books would easily cover the prices asked.

On the other hand, Amazon wanted the books priced at no more than $9.99. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon has a standing phrase, “your margin is my opportunity.” His focus is to bring the lowest price to everything Amazon distributes to the consumer. And that includes books.

Some problems here:

  1. The publishers claim the right to price their own products (often developed with hefty advances, public relations campaigns, and the costly editorial superiority of large publishing houses). If Amazon is allowed to price the books at below cost, the big houses could soon be in financial trouble.
  2. Amazon called foul over that thinking. In a printed statement the company said, “With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out-of-stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market—e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can be and should be less expensive.”
  3. The Wall Street Journal weighed in on the pricing dilemma even before this latest dispute arose. In an April 2012 article, WSJ reporters wrote “publishers feared that $9.99 would cement consumer price expectations and make it difficult to charge more (for books) in the future.” That fear drove competitors into an alliance between the five major publishers (Hachette, Harper Collins, MacMillan Publishing, Penguin Random House and Simon and Schuster) and Apple computer, in which a new sales model would allow higher pricing to exist across the board. That’s when Amazon complained and the government stepped in. The publishers and Apple ended up with millions of dollars of restitution to pay, and the demand that new negotiations take place.

THE PR WAR BEGINS

Soon after the break down this spring, Hachette and some of its authors began reporting on the semi-secret punishing tactics Amazon was using to drive down Hachette sales on Amazon. This is significant because Amazon owns 41% of all book sales and 61% of ebook sales in the U.S. The tactics being used were:

  • Slow delivery of book orders. Amazon claimed Hachette wasn’t sending books over on time, and Hachette claimed Amazon was holding them back from consumers.
  • Removal of “Buy Buttons” from some titles
  • No ability to pre-order expected releases
  • Competitive advertising on a Hachette author’s page that recommended different titles (by other publishers) at a better price.

These punitive actions were met by huge complaints in the press. Stephen Colbert even produced a questionable hand signal to the distribution giant. 

THE GLOVES COME OFF

As more and more authors found out about, and voiced concerns over, Amazon’s “bullying” tactics, Amazon tried offering to pay the authors 100% of its sales of their books while the price war continued.

“That was not a real offer,” said Douglas Preston (co-author with Lincoln Child of the Pendergrast series) “It was an attempt to divide authors from their publishers.”

Mr. Preston dove into the fray with a letter that quickly circulated among the famous and not-so-famous author community. “I wrote that letter hoping twelve brave souls would sign it. I’ve received over one thousand responses. The letter went viral,” said Mr. Preston.

On August 10th that same letter appeared as an advertisement in the NY Times and immediately faced tremendous support, and large skepticism.

Authors like Stephen King, Donna Tartt, and Philip Pullman “signed” and endorsed the letter, while Amazon called Mr. Preston “entitled” and “an opportunist.” The Amazon team was referring to the successful career Mr. Preston has built as an author, and hinted that personal greed was the reason Mr. Preston may have written his letter.

NOW IT’S OUR TURN

The above notes only nick the surface of the publishing world at work. Some other salient points to ponder include:

  • If Amazon succeeds in cowering Hachette, will it be able to use this battle to set up negotiations with the other major publishers to its advantage?
  • Are consumers right in their demands for the lowest possible price on books? Is there such a thing as a “free lunch” in publishing?
  • As authors, are we receiving a fair deal from publishers who have little to no cost in converting our paper and hard bound books to ebooks?
  • In the past, Amazon had a program called “The Gazelle Project” where small publishers were pressured out of existence with similar tactics. In a Hachette published book by Brad Stone, The Everything Store, Mr. Bezos is supposed to have set the tone by saying Amazon “should approach these small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.” Since that became public knowledge, the program name has changed to the “Small Publishers Negotiation Program.”
  • While Amazon sells 50% or more of all books sold in the United States, those sales represent only about 7% of the giant distributor’s sales. Are the big five gazelles now?

I tried to reach representatives from the biggest two players in this situation. I was essentially told “no comment,” and given links to press releases and public letters.

Next month, I will write up interview notes from Mr. Preston–one man, one voice who has shown once again that there is power in words.  The question is, will those words stand up to legitimate, albeit, hardball tactics by Amazon?

“Negotiation” Is Not a Four-Letter Word

By Susan Spann

Today we continue the pre-conference #PubLaw prep for the contract negotiation workshop at Colorado Gold (which I’m team-teaching with Midnight Ink editor Terri Bischoff) with an unusual look at publishing contracts: one that doesn’t talk about contracts at all. 

(Note: You don’t have to go to Colorado Gold to benefit from the concepts we’re discussing here – so whether or not you’re attending the conference….read on.)

Today, we’re talking about negotiation.

Many people understand only the “Zero-Sum” approach to negotiation, which essentially boils down to “one person wins, and the other person loses.” Under a Zero-Sum philosophy, every negotiation (or contract) point I “win” is one that the other side “loses.” The idea, then, is to win as many points as possible, and force the other side to accept a “losing” position in the final deal.

Unfortunately, zero-sum doesn’t work very well for publishing contracts. The reason should be obvious. The more one side takes an “author vs. publisher” or “us vs. them” position in the negotiating process, the more difficult it becomes to set those differences aside and build a  business partnership once the deal is signed.

The Mutual Benefit Strategy offers a far more effective method of negotiation for publishing contracts — and not just because it lays the groundwork for a better relationship after the signing.

“Mutual Benefit Negotiation” is a strategy which focuses on finding not only a “meet in the middle” solution to contract disagreements, but actually finding a place where both sides are better off than they were before.

Admittedly, it isn’t always possible to find a win-win solution to every problem. In some cases, only one side can have its way.

A good example is whether or not the contract includes both print and ebook rights. If the author wants to sell both, but the publisher offers ebook only–or, more commonly, the other way around–only one side can prevail and there really is no middle ground.

More commonly, however, there is a place where both sides can “win” and the contract terms can reach a mutually beneficial position.

For an example of this, let’s look at translation rights. They don’t have to be “all or nothing.” If a publisher has an in-house translator for Spanish, or French, or Italian, or regularly sells a lot of translation rights to certain countries, you may be able to negotiate to include only certain languages in your contract.

Another good example is special editions for people with disabilities. Most publishing contracts give the publisher the right to produce or license these editions (for example, Braille versions) with no royalties paid to the author. This is because, many times, the publisher “donates” the rights to these editions and/or licenses them free of charge. As an author, you shouldn’t want to deprive disabled people of the chance to experience your books. However, you don’t want to give out windfalls, either — so a compromise position is language which states the publisher can license these editions royalty-free, but that if the publisher does receive financial compensation for the license, that compensation is shared equally with the author. Win-win. The publisher keeps the right to get those editions on the market, and the author gets the right to share in any benefits that arise.

When you negotiate a publishing contract, be clever. Look at the publisher as a business-partner-to-be. That doesn’t mean you trust beyond what the publishing house deserves–or that you compromise in unreasonable ways. However, if you can offer creative solutions that leave both parties better off (or at least satisfied with the outcome) you can turn the contract negotiation from a hostile, zero-sum environment into an incubator for the (hopefully long-term) relationship to come. 

Again … this doesn’t mean roll over and show your belly. It means be smart, be creative, and be aware that sometimes the best solution to a problem is Option C – which, often, nobody thought about to begin with.

I hope to see you all at Colorado Gold!

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

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California transactional attorney whose practice focuses on publishing law and business. She also writes the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. The second Shinobi Mystery, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, releases on July 15, 2014. When not writing or practicing law, Susan raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium. You can find her online at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann).

The Sane Writer Goes To Conference

By Kerry Schafer

Most of us head off to writing conferences with enthusiasm and great expectations. We plan to learn, meet with like minded people, and get our creative batteries recharged. We expect to come home brimful of energy, all ready to conquer new and wonderful writing worlds.

But just maybe you’ve headed off to a writer’s conference in the past all full of hope and expectation, only to come home feeling like somebody sucked your soul out through your eyeholes and then used it for target practice.

If so, you’re not alone and there’s nothing wrong with you.

Writer’s conferences are big, busy, and supercharged with emotion, information, and expectation—exactly the sort of environment in which an extrovert thrives and grows. But most writers are introverts. We get recharged home alone in the quiet with a good book and maybe some good tunes on the playlist. Crowds drain and exhaust us.

So should you just keep your introverted little soul at home then, swilling coffee or booze and watching the cons all unfold through tweets and pictures and Facebook posts? Because this isn’t very good for sanity either.

Part of the problem is the fear of missing something that most of us still carry around from when we were little kids. If I take a nap right now, what am I going to miss? Maybe the ice cream man, or the Easter Bunny or a big purple dinosaur riding a tricycle down the middle of main street. And if we don’t nap then we get crabby and tired and if the dinosaur does show up we’re in the middle of an exhaustion induced tantrum at the time and miss him anyway.

Right? So I think conferences become much more manageable (and enjoyable) if we are able to give up on the idea of  experiencing everything and are able to focus in on one primary purpose.

There are a lot of possible options. Maybe you want to learn more about craft, or need to explore new strategies for marketing. Maybe you’re searching for an agent, or want to place a manuscript with an editor. Or your intention could simply be to network, have fun, or get as drunk as possible every night at the hotel bar.

Setting a primary purpose doesn’t mean you can’t involve yourself in other things. It does give you a focus, an ability to turn down the static and not be overwhelmed by trying to pay attention to All Of The Things. It means you can skip a session of classes and hang out in your room. Maybe even take a nap.

There are three steps to creating a mindful goal.

1. Define for yourself what is your primary reason for attending this conference at this time. (Hint: this may be different for every con you go to)

Ask yourself, “If I get only one thing out of this conference, I want it to be _________.”

If you’re struggling with this, stop and make a list of All The Things you want to accomplish. Tell yourself you have to give one up. What will it be? Cut that one out. Repeat, until the primary goal is left.

2. Make sure your goal is something over which you have control. Look at your statement of purpose from step one and see if this is true. For example:

“At this con I will get an agent,” is a fabulous goal, but not one over which you have control. Your agent–the one who is out there looking for you–may not even be at the conference. Or maybe you’re not quite ready to meet her yet.

Consider modifying the goal to, “At this con I will focus on connecting with agents.

3. Tailor your conference experience toward this goal. If your purpose is the example above, then sign up for pitches. Go to the classes that teach pitching, or that talk about premise and synopsis. As other writers to help you practice.

Once you’re pursued your primary goal for the day, If you have the energy and the inclination to do other things, perfect. If not, also perfect. You’ll come home feeling like you accomplished what you set out to do. Sure, you’ll still be tired and might want to avoid people for awhile, but hopefully with your self and soul still intact.

Series or Standalone or The Problems of Estimating When You Don’t Outline

By Carol Berg

Carol Berg PhotoIn my published writing career, I’ve started six projects. Three of them, I intended to be standalone novels. Only one of those three stayed that way. One project I sold as a three book series and it turned out to be four. Clearly I’m not great at estimating.

My problem is that I am an organic story developer. I hate the word pantser, because to me that implies the writer doesn’t know where he or she is going. I always know where I need to start, and I always know where I’m going. My problem is, I don’t always know how many events or scenes or words it’s going to take me to get there. Nope, I don’t outline individual books or a series as a whole. I generate events and scenes as I write, because, for me, story ideas blossom as I get to know my characters and see what kind of challenges and personal interactions will drive them toward the climactic events that I want to happen.

Berg_ThreeCoversOne example: My novel Transformation was intended and sold as a standalone. I brought it to a very satisfactory ending. A true completion of the story is very important to me. Only, just about the time I sent the book off to my editor, I realized something critical about my demonic villains. The story I had told was only a piece of a much larger story arc that dealt with the identity of those demons and how that related to the identity of my hero’s people, their religion, and their single-minded pursuit of a war that took place in the physical landscape of human souls. That realization delighted me, but it also generated two additional novels that became the Books of the Rai-kirah. The single fantasy story became epic.

Three of my five “not-standalone” projects are this same kind of series. In these three series, the individual novels are separated by as little as a single day, or as many as four years. Each volume is a complete story in itself, but also a piece of a larger, continuing (epic!) story arc involving the same core of characters. Sometimes the books will have the same point of view character (like the Rai-kirah books) sometimes different ones (like the novels of the Collegia Magica).

I envisioned my Bridge of D’Arnath series as three books – and proposed and sold them on a three-page synopsis. The story centered around a disgraced noblewoman, a sorcerer/warrior who happened to have a displaced soul in his body, and the search for a kidnapped child – a child who had been brought up to believe he was evil. The third book ended when the boy was sixteen. But once I got there, the ending wasn’t right. Having sons myself, I knew that no kid, especially one who had undergone the traumatic childhood of this one, was “finished” at age sixteen. That’s where book four came from – Daughter of Ancients (NAL/Roc 2005) my first Colorado Book Award finalist. Oops!

Another project I mis-estimated was the novel Flesh and Spirit. I sold it as a standalone. But I also sold it on the basis of a single paragraph . When I was about halfway through writing it, I realized that there was no way this story would fit inside one book. I had to go back to my publisher and say, “You know this book I’m writing? It’s really two.” That is not a happy thing to say to a publisher. Fortunately, they liked it well enough to buy the second book! This became the Lighthouse Duet, a slightly different kind of epic series because it is really one big story split into two volumes. The resolution at the end of the first volume is really more of a turning point. Hey, I’m in good company. Lord of the Rings is really one big story split into three volumes, right?

Berg_DustandLightMy new series, the Sanctuary Duet is a parallel series to the Lighthouse books. I had the idea for Dust and Light (released just this month from NAL/ROC Books!) and wrote it up. Uh-oh, a paragraph! But I also wrote the first six chapters before I sent off the proposal. And this time, I told them it was going to be two books, even though I wasn’t sure the story was big enough. . . Indeed, when I reached the resolution mark of Dust and Light, there was an overarching mystery that had not yet been solved, and so I clobbered poor Lucian de Remini on the head and sailed into Book 2, Ash and Silver (NAL/Roc, August 2015). But I haven’t finished Ash and Silver yet, and there sure are lots of threads to resolve. Stay tuned…

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Carol Berg never expected to become an award-winning author. She chose to major in math at Rice University and computer science at the University of Colorado so she wouldn’t have to write papers, and ended up in a software engineering career. Now her fourteen epic fantasy novels have won national and international awards, including multiple Colorado Book Awards and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. A starred review from Publishers Weekly uses words like captivating, impressive, and perceptive about her newest novel, Dust and Light. Learn more at http://www.carolberg.com

Ooooh, shiny! The Next Project Syndrome

By Robin D. Owens

There you are, drudging through your current project, convinced it is cat crap and an idea wiggles in. A beautiful, sparkling, WONDERFUL idea. Something so alluring, that will be so much more fun to write than the current story (especially if the current story has been bought and you’ve taken money for it and it is now late).

Oooh. Yes. There’s the hero, you get HIM. Different characteristics than the guy giving you fits right now.

There’s the hint of the plot, SO much more exciting than the murder you’ve gotten bogged down in, or the details you need to research of the cathedral you’re building, or the heroine who needs to be trained in knife fighting…

SO much easier to write on a story that shines with promise rather than dig into the guts of the work you have now, the one that was once shiny but currently is hard to write, a job, work.

Because all ideas become hard to write. Nothing stays shiny. But that initial POP of an idea, the brainstorming of some bits of the people or the plot, wow, that’s FUN.

Before I was published, I could be lured away. I must have six or seven manuscripts started that never made it more than 100 pages or so before something else caught my attention.

Now, with the selling of my stories, my work, I have to be more disciplined. Yes, the ideas come…it’s particularly bad if they come in a series I think I can sell….whispering their sweetness. But, for me, I must resist.

So this is what I do. I live only with cats which means I can wake up in the middle of the night and dictate wonderful (or stupid) ideas, so I keep my itouch handy. The voice memo button is on the toolbar so it stays available whether I was playing spider solitaire or looking at Word of the Day when I turned off my device. I can find the memo app with my thumb in the dark, if necessary. I can burble about the new and shiny idea. Then I can save it for a more appropriate time (i.e. when the present manuscript is finished).

If the story continues to hang around while I’m studying knife fighting or building a cathedral, or figuring out when my hero is going to say “I love you,” I might hit the computer and write down additional notes or prompts for it. The heroine is an adventuress. The hero is a gentle giant. He is an introvert [long notes about the story formerly here CUT].

When the previous manuscript is finished and I have a little time, I can rub my hands and delve into the New! Fun! Improved-Technique-Trust-Me-Baby! Shiny idea. And it stays fun for a while, depending on the publishing schedule, real life, and before I take the first chapter to critique group. :) Maybe even after that. Until I hit a snag, or need to deepen the character or realize that the plot does not work.

Then the mind wanders and . . . You understand? Sure, you know this cycle as well as I do.

Well, that’s what I do when the next sparkling concept hits my brain. I’m not sure what you might do, but this works for me so it might help you.

What is lovely is that it’s good to realize that you aren’t alone in this fascinating endeavor. That there are other people on this journey whose eyes WON’T glaze over when you talk to them about writing.

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Adventures in genre writing…Lesson One

By Jeanne Stein

Welcome, everyone. Let’s have some fun.

I suppose most of you looked at the topic question and shrugged. Genre is everything that’s not literary, right? It’s what Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers is all about, right?

But the subcategories of genre books have both expanded and tightened in the last few years. An example is Urban Fantasy.

Until around 2002, all paranormal works (and I’m using this term to refer to the type of book in which science or technology do not play a major role in the story) were categorized as fantasy, horror, or paranormal romance. Each was specific in its content and readers knew what to expect when they picked up a book from Carol Berg or Robin Owens (fantasy), Anne Rice or Stephen King (horror), J. D. Robb or Christine Feehan (paranormal romance.)

Paranormal romance, in particular, was (and is) a hugely successful genre. However, there are rules to be followed in any romance category. The most important is that by the end of the book (or story arc if it’s a series,) the hero and heroine MUST end up together. Happily-ever-after is not only expected, it’s demanded. The romance is the driving force of the book whether the characters are human, otherworldly, or a mixture of the two.

Into this mix came a new type of book. Edgy, contemporary, set in an urban (or suburban or rural) setting, generally written in first person with a kick-ass heroine who does not depend on a male partner for protection or to save her when the going gets tough. The biggest distinguishing factor, however, is that at the end of the book, there will most likely be NO happily-ever-after for our protagonist. She may have a lover, may even find herself in a committed relationship, But in urban fantasy, that relationship will be constantly challenged and will not define who our heroine is or how she lives her life. The romance, if it’s there at all, will play a minor role in the story.

The tag “Urban Fantasy” was coined specifically to differentiate these stories from paranormal romance. The interesting thing, however, is that readers of paranormal romance made the shift to UF in record numbers. Not in place of paranormal romance but in addition to it.

The same could be said for the mystery genre. We now have contemporary mystery (Marcus Sackey), historical mystery (Josephine Tey), suspense (Lee Child), thriller (James Patterson), crime novels (Lawrence Block), police procedural (J.A.Jance), the private eye (Robert B. Parker), cozy (Agatha Christy), legal (John Grisham)…the list goes on. Like Urban Fantasy, each has its own characteristics and a reader knows going in what to expect.

As do the agents and editors. Which is why it’s so important to properly classify your book. It’s not enough to tell an agent I’m writing a romance. You have to tell them the kind of romance you’re writing. Is it contemporary (Nora Roberts), historical (Catherine Coulter), erotica (E.L. James), category (meaning the type of lines put out by Harlequin or Silhouette—RMFW’s own Cindy Myers fit here), Regency (Elizabeth Michels), Fantasy or Paranormal (Christine Feehan), Time Travel (Diana Gabaldon), Gothic (Mary Stewart), Suspense (Jayne Ann Krentz).

So here’s your first assignment. Categorize your WIP. And if you have a well-known author whose work contains the same elements of yours, the first line of your query might be: Fans of John Grisham will love my legal thriller (BLANK). Share if you’d like.

In the introduction I mentioned a list of authors who will be adding their own particular spin on genre tags and how it affects their writing. One of the most popular is Charlaine Harris. Charlaine began writing straight mysteries—the popular Aurora Teagarden and Lily Bard (Shakespeare) series. It was Sookie Stackhouse, debuting in 2001 that made her a super-star. The popular Southern Vampire Series caught the imagination of the reading (and now television) public in a huge way. In its last season, True Blood is wrapping up. But on the horizon her cozy series, the Amanda Teagarden mysteries, has been picked up by Hallmark. Her latest work, Midnight Crossroads, is a paranormal mystery set in another fictional town, Midnight, Texas.

Here’s what she had to say:

1. You are often included in lists of Urban Fantasy Authors. How do you feel about the tag and do you like it? Why or why not?

I write Rural Fantasy, as anyone who’s read my books will appreciate. But I’m always lumped in with Urban Fantasy authors. I don’t mind. My work suits that tone, though it’s distinctly not urban. I’m not a tag lover, but at least when you say “He/she writes Urban Fantasy,” there’s a general understanding of what that comprises.

2. What makes your books fit in the UF genre?

Supernatural characters, a blend of humanity and the fantastic, and the dark workings of the magical world affecting the mundane world of regular humans.

3. Did you set out to write UF?

Ha! That term didn’t exist when I began to write the Sookie Stackhouse books. There was Laurell K. Hamilton, and there was me, at least as far as crossover writers went. Some straight science fiction writers had been writing works that would now be classified as UF, but I wasn’t familiar with them.

4. Why do you think UF is so popular with readers?

I think almost everyone would like to believe there’s more. They’d like to believe that even if you have to pay your electric bill and worry about your kid’s grades in school, there are werewolves around the corner and vampires in the bar.

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Next lesson, we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of genre writing—determining point of view, setting and world building. Think about your characters—whose story (or stories) you want to tell—and their relationship to the world.

Any questions? Put them in remarks.  Want to share your log line? Share away.  See you in September (egad!!)