Category Archives: Blog

How the Colorado Gold Contest Changed How I Feel About My Writing … by Jennifer Kincheloe

As an aspiring author, it was hard to know where I truly stood. Was my book good? Excellent? Abysmal? People seemed to like it, but honestly, I had no idea.

The RMFW Colorado Gold Contest for unpublished writers changed how I felt about my writing. The contest put twenty pages of my novel in front of industry professionals, such as literary agents and editors, who gave me frank, expert feedback.

In 2013, I won the mystery category for The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, a slightly humorous, somewhat romantic, mystery novel set among the LAPD police matrons in 1900's Los Angeles.
Winning validated me in a way that polite critique groups and loving relatives could not.

For the first time I felt like maybe I could do this. I could be a novelist.

I asked other Colorado Gold recipients whether winning the contest changed how they felt about their writing. This is what they said.

"All writers have moments when they feel, 'All my work has been for nothing; this book will never be published and doesn’t deserve to be.' Whenever a thought like that crossed my mind, I’ve looked up to my wall where the award certificate hangs in its frame. It’s as if a guardian angel were standing by my side saying, “I beg to differ."

          Charles Kowalski, author of the 2013 Action/Thriller Winner, Unbelievers

"It definitely gave me a motivation and self-esteem boost. I didn't have much confidence in my writing before, but I thought that if I could win the contest then there may be hope for me after all!"

          Jessica Naab, author of the 2013 Romance Winner, Between Skin and Soul

"Winning the Gold was huge for me. It helped validate the years of hard work I put into the book. In order to win, a novel needs to earn high praise from two amateur judges as well as one professional serving as the final judge; so winning the contest means there are at least three strangers who think your idea, your writing, and your storytelling is pretty amazing. For an aspiring writer, that's an amazing moment. I'll never forget it."

          M.H. Boroson, author of the 2012 Speculative Fiction Winner, City of Strangers, which  will be published as The Girl with the Ghost Eyes

"It’s special to have one’s work recognized by peers and friends. The recognition gave me confidence that my efforts on the right track."

          Kevin Wolf, author of the 2014 Action/Thriller Winner, The Homeplace

"It gave me the belief that maybe I was okay at this writing stuff. To not give up. It also gave me the confidence to let people know I was actually writing a novel. Up to that point, it was my secret."

           Kristin Meachem, author of the 2013 Mainstream Winner, Ten Seconds

"Winning the contest gave me some much needed validation. Writing is a solitary occupation in many ways, and it’s nice to hear someone else appreciates your work."

          Mary Birk, author of the 2014 Mystery Winner, The First Cut

"As a result of winning the contest I feel more confident in my writing. While writing still takes a lot of work, a lot of the nagging doubts about my ability to do this have subsided."

          Kara Seal, author of the 2014 Young Adult/Middle Grade Winner, The Shuvani's Spell

"Since humor is a key element in every project I pursue, if it’s not working and readers aren’t laughing, then I’m in serious trouble. There’s nothing worse than an unfunny comedy, and this concern is always on my mind when I start a new project; it’s the little voice of self-doubt whispering in your ear. The contest has helped counter that voice, and it showed me that my writing is reading the way I intended. "

          Michael Carson, author of 2104 Speculative Fiction Winner, Beauty is for Suckers

"The short answer is no... I still think on some days that I was born to string sentences together…just as I’m still certain on other days that I’m a complete failure who can’t write at all. Winning the contest didn’t change any of that. I guess I just feel lucky that I was picked, that’s all. Sometimes you get lucky, and that contest was my lucky time."

          Monica Comas 2014 Mainstream Winner, The Cookbook

Would you like frank, expert feedback on your unpublished novel? The Colorado Gold Contest closes June 1, 2015. For more information on how to enter, go to http://rmfw.org/contest/rules-and-entry-instructions/

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Jennifer KincheloeThis blog is the first of a three-part series in which previous winners share their experiences with the Colorado Gold contest.

Jennifer Kincheloe is a research scientist turned writer of historical mysteries. Her first novel, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, will be out November 3rd from Seventh Street Books. You can learn more about Jennifer and her novel at her website. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Finding Your Words Through Passion

By Liesa Malik

My_Workspace-300x2251This is so embarrassing that I hate to see the word in print--BLOCKED. I’ve been blocked. I know that professionals do not allow themselves to succumb to such a silly and amateur problem, but I’ve been stuck in the quagmire of “my writing sucks--I have no ideas--why did I ever want to be an author?” kind of whine and cheesy party for far too long. With little to no income from writing, I’ve been on the verge of giving up and going to find a day-job.

Yesterday, I even spent half the day submitting a resume on-line for a position I’m pretty sure I don’t want. And the process was excruciating. The site kept crashing 20 minutes into my application and required much more than a resume. Forget blood. I practically had to donate my total genetic map, and still find references before the process was through. Now I have to wait—don’t call them, they’ll call me. Right.

With a hopeful heart, I tell you I hit bottom when hitting that submit button.

And then it happened. I had an unexpected conversation that changed things around.

Over dinner, my good guy made a heroic attempt at talking with me beyond the usual discussion about when I was going to pick up the laundry or what’s for dinner tomorrow. I usually refer to adventures in new topics as pressure cooker conversations, because he pressures and I get hot under the collar. My friend started peppering me with “business” questions about my work. Things like:

  • If you’re not making a living with your current publisher, why don’t you find a new one? (Can you tell he’s unfamiliar with the publishing world?)
  • In most of the detective books I read, the hero has a super-power. What super power does your Daisy character have?
  • If I were to write a book, I’d like to knock off my old business partner. How do you make victims and bad guys?

BINGO! That was it. I agreed with my guy about how satisfying it is to kill off or make someone you know the villain in your book. I’ll never admit to murdering anyone I know, nor will I say that a killer in a Daisy story is really some neighbor or ex-colleague. But real people often inspire my stories. It’s those real people who generate the kind of true feelings your writing work needs.

With my latest novel, for several months I’ve been “researching” a general topic about which I know little and have no strong feelings for. Can you say “directionless?” I’ve dabbled with a few character sketches and even “tried on” some murder suspects as the one who really did it. Nothing ignited any excitement in me. There were no aha moments.

But in recalling and talking about my first two stories with my good guy, I remembered those whom I had strong feelings about being the frame on which I built other characters. Suddenly, there was a clear reason my work on book three had stalled.

Stories are about people not topics. Stories and characters can be built, but they need the skeleton of genuine people and their life stories underneath. You can change your friend’s gender, looks, occupation, and more, but to create an interesting and believable character, you need to have memories from one to five others to refer to.

After dinner, I charged up to my room and hit my ideas journal. I started writing down the names of people I feel passionately about. I grouped them in terms of “I really respect this person,” “I truly despise this person” “I think this person is funny” kind of thing. In the privacy of a personal journal, you can get away with such judgementalism. The only rule was to have passion about whatever name I put down.

Now I have something to channel my characters with. And hopefully, this small tip will help if you’re feeling stuck. Experience your passion to write passionately and avoid getting stuck. Good luck to you . . . I am off and running to play with a little murder--passionately.

The Dirty Shameful Things I Did In High School That Help My Writing Career Today

By Aaron Ritchey

So the delightful Delilah S. Dawson blogged about the perils of book promotion, how to do it wrong, and how to do it right. So really, I’m not covering any new ground, and you should probably watch the Star Wars Episode VI trailer again. Right?

Shortest. Blog post. Ever.

You can do a quick search for the Star Wars Episode VI trailer, or Ms. Dawson’s blog posts. Or, you can read about me and what happened to me when I was in high school, because in high school, I had to do some dirty, shameful things to further my writing career.

And I hated every minute of it.

What did I have to do in high school?

Let me paint a picture for you. It was in a dusty old classroom, it was about ten of us literary geeks, working on the Regis Jesuit High School literary magazine, Impressions. The magazine ran a short story contest, and we all voted on first, second, and third place. Pat Engelking always won first place. That rat bastard.

And I always submitted a story. And I always voted for my own story, and I HATED having to vote for my own story, but what were my options? Let Pat Engelking walk away with first place again? Never!

My own vote was critical. There were only ten of us. I never came in first, but I always placed.

In my fantasy, I would walk into the room, people would bow their heads, the voting would start, no one would raise their hand until my story was called, and then every single hand in the room would go up. Unanimous! I had won! I would then vote for Pat Engelking’s story, and he would win second place and all would be right in the world.

Didn’t work that way. However, I did learn that if I didn't have a story, I couldn't enter the contest. I had to write and edit to get my story ready. And once ready, I learned that I had to believe in the work. I had to vote for my own stuff.

And I still have to vote for my own stuff. Promoting my book is raising my hand and saying, “Yes, I wrote something good, that you should read, that is worthy of your time. Here are the details on how to buy it. Thank you for your support.”

Ideally, the entire marketing team at Simon and Schuster would be voting on my stuff, but they haven’t yet. Someday, though, someday. But as it stands, even if I got a big contract with a big publishing house, guess what? Most likely, I’d still have to raise my hand and vote on my own stuff. Because unless you hit it big and are chosen by whatever fickle gods look down upon us authors, the money will flow to the sales, and if you don’t have sales, you don’t get the marketing dollars, and as newbie authors, it’s up to you to get sales.

Now, there are a variety of ways to promote your books without making yourself look like an asshat. I try and use the 30/30/30 rule. On social media, I spend 30% of my time promoting my stuff, 30% promoting other people’s stuff, and 30% posting pictures of kittens, or commenting on the Star Wars Episode VI trailer, or sharing interesting links.

In the end, though, my job isn’t to sell you my book. No. My job is to listen to what you are looking for, look for a need, and, as readers, we all have needs, and then point you to a book that will fill that need. If you are looking for an adult romance, I wouldn’t offer you my book. I’d point you to RMFW’s own Andrea Stein, or Joan Johnston, or Cassie Miles (a.k.a. Kay Bergstrom).

In the end, like it or not, part of my job as an author is to vote on my own books, talk about books, offer readers information on how to buy my books.

I didn’t sign up for that, but it’s part of the deal. *sigh*. Until I become rich and famous. Which is going to happen any day now. Any day.

This is me. Raising my hand. Voting for myself.

Interview with Award Winning Author Desiree Holt

Interview by Susan Brooks originally published April 17, 2015 at Susan's blog.

Desiree Holt is a force of nature. She has written over 170 traditionally published novels since 2006, she is a tireless supporter of other writers, and is insatiably charming. I am privileged to have had opportunity to work with her on past projects, and delighted to have this opportunity to interview her today. She will be our Sunday keynote speaker at the 2015 Colorado Gold Conference.

Hi Desiree!

Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog today. I am really looking forward to Colorado GoldDesireeHolt200x263 and meeting every one attending. And honored to be a presenter.

You have done just about every job imaginable. Tell me about your decision to become a writer.

Writing was always my passion, I think because I have always been a reader and wanted to create my own stories. My friends have always told me I have an overactive imagination. (Grin!). I scribbled in notebooks for years before computers were born, but I wasn’t able to devote the time to it until I retired. Then it was kind of like my brain exploded!

You started writing in 2006. Since then you’ve traditionally published over 170 novels. That is something like seventeen novels a year. HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

I am blessed with the quirky ability to write fast. A story takes shape in my brain (which, by the way, NEVER sleeps), and I can’t seem to get the words down fast enough. I never lack for ideas. Also, I write about eight hours a day.

Tell me about your writing process. Are you a plotter or a panster?

I used to be just a pantser because my stories are character-driven. I create the characters first from ideas that have sparked in my brain. Then I play the What If game. What If my heroine did such and such and my hero popped into the picture? What if my hero did such and such and stumbled over the heroine. That kind of thing. But as my writing has progressed two things have made me alter that. First of all, I often have more than one project going at a time. Secondly, I do a lot of series and the only way I can keep things straight is to have at least a bare outline of a plot to follow. Of course, as I get into the story my characters talk to me and we often take major detours.

So you always come up with the characters first?

Characters first. People fascinate me and I always try to imagine stories for them. And as I progress through the story, they talk to me, often taking me on journeys I never expected.

How did you go about learning the craft when you first started writing?

I had no idea how little I actually knew until I joined a writers group and ultimately a critique group. At least half of them were published authors and I am ever grateful for their guidance and input. I also entered a lot of writing contests through RWA and soaked up all the feedback.

What do you feel is the most important craft element for aspiring writers to master?

Discipline and determination. If you really want to be a writer you cannot let disappointment discourage you. The second is to learn the basics of a story: goal/motivation/conflict. Stick to it until you can make it work.

How many manuscripts had you completed before you sold your first book?

I had five full length manuscripts completed before I made my first sale after 137 rejections. See what I mean about not getting discouraged?

What is the best advice you can give someone wanting to publish?

Write and keep writing, and do everything you can to learn about what makes a saleable manuscript. The market is so different today than it was when I started and with the explosion of self-pubbing there are so many choices for readers. Join writers groups. Talk to people. Learn what makes the industry tick today.

What is the easiest thing and the most difficult thing for you when it comes to writing?

The easiest is creating my characters. The hardest is writing that first chapter. It sets the tone for the story and grabs the reader so I work hard to get it just right.

What is the most surprising thing you learned about the publishing industry over the years?

Wow. Hard to say.

How much marketing do you do for your books? What kind of marketing has given you the best results?

I do a fair amount of marketing along with what my publishers do. I am very big on social media, which has produced great results for me. But of course like anything else you have to have a plan. I am lucky that I have a personal assistant who does a lot of it for me. I do some advertising, along with what my publishers do. And I take full advantage of a very enthusiastic street team.

Which book that you have written is your favorite?

Hmmm. Actually, I have three favorites that I can’t seem to choose between. All completely different. First is a novella, Once Upon a Wedding that has a great twist to it. Second is a novella called Hard Lovin’, based on a 16th century Scottish air and brought forward into modern day Texas. It is being re-released at the end of May with new material and a hot new cover. My Naked Cowboys series because it’s set in a town like the one where I live. And finally my rock star series, because it takes me back to the years I spent in the music business. But I think my new favorite will be my football series, Game On, because I am the world’s most obsessed football fan.

What do you read? Any favorite authors?

I mostly read romance, romantic suspense and thrillers. I have so many favorite authors it’s hard to choose who to name but for romance Marie Force, Carly Phillips, Robyn Carr. For romantic suspense/suspense probably Tess Gerritsen, J. D. Robb (Nora Roberts), Debra Webb. Beyond that John Lescroart, Brad Thor, John Sandford, Jeffrey Deaver, Lisa Jackson.

Desiree, thanks for your time! I know you are a busy lady!

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

Referred to by USA Today as the Nora Roberts of erotic romance, Desiree Holt is the world’s oldest living published erotic romance author with over 170 published works. A graduate of the University of Michigan with double majors in English and History, her earlier careers include agent and manager in the music industry, public television, associate vice president of university advancement, public relations, and economic development.

She is three times a finalist for an EPIC E-Book Award (and a winner in 2014), a nominee for a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, winner of the first 5 Heart Sweetheart of the Year Award at The Romance Studio as well as twice a CAPA Award winner for best BDSM book of the year, and winner of the Holt Medallion for Excellence in Romance Literature.

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

Susan BrooksSusan Brooks has been reading voraciously since she was a toddler and got her hands on a copy of Go, Dog! Go! Soon after, she won a copy of A Wrinkle in Time through her public library’s summer reading program for reading more books in one summer than all the other students combined. She was six. She decided right then that when she grew up she wanted to read books for a living. She currently is the conference chair for Colorado Gold. She holds a masters degree in publishing from George Washington University and is also a publisher of well-written fiction at Literary Wanderlust, a new print and digital traditional press located in Denver, Colorado.

Besides being ADD, Susan is a freelance editor, and edits for several small publishing houses.

She tweets once in a while and you can follow her as @oosuzieq on Twitter.

Guest Post: Maura Weiler – Your Non-Agent Might Know Best. Or Does She?

By Maura Weiler, Author of Contrition

ContritionFinalCoverWhich is worse– an impersonal rejection letter from an agent, or a personalized rejection letter with feedback that would require a massive rewrite of your book with no guarantee that the agent would revisit it? Both. Oh wait... I mean, it all depends.

I entered the submission process for my debut novel, Contrition, with this policy: If two or more agents offered the same feedback, or if one person gave feedback that resonated with me, I would listen to it. If only one person made a particular criticism I didn’t agree with, I would disregard it. My policy seemed sound until I promptly ignored my own advice.

I was very lucky to have a great return rate on my initial submissions. Two of the seven agents I contacted wanted to take Contrition on. A New York agent was ready to send it out with very few changes. A California agent hit a roadblock when the founder of the agency didn’t give her blessing. What that founder did give was two pages of notes on how to improve the story.

I was initially cranky about the rejection, until I realized what a compliment it was for an established agent to give such detailed notes on a book she didn’t want. Sobered, I stopped to appreciate that. Then I got cranky about the notes themselves.

One of her suggestions was to turn the main characters- a journalist and a cloistered nun who clash over the meaning and purpose of art- into sisters raised apart. Oh, how the delicate genius in me gnashed her teeth over that one! Twins raised apart felt like reality-show drama and would entail a major rewrite of a book that another agent was ready to send out. This fancy founder/agent clearly didn’t understand my vision.

But I still wondered if she was right. Her other notes were very insightful and she understood the market. So I told my delicate inner genius to get over herself. Then I told the New York agent I was going to spend a couple of months rewriting some elements of the book, and silly me, I believed it.

It turned out that I needed at least two months to pout and mourn the loss of my original version before I could even fathom cutting it up. I had already written numerous drafts over numerous years– did I really have to rewrite it again? Yes, I did. Because as wonderful as I felt my original version was, I would now always question whether or not it could be better.

In the end, it took me three years to rewrite the book. I made most of the suggested changes, including turning my main characters into twins raised in different homes. The twins’ separate upbringings and freshly minted sibling rivalry brings a great deal of texture and complexity to their relationship. Now readers tell me they can’t imagine the story without the characters being sisters.

By the time I finished, the interested New York agent had left her agency. My subsequent querying didn’t result in a new agent until four years later when an agent discovered Contrition in her old emails and signed me. Three years after that, she sold Contrition to Simon & Schuster’s new imprint, Infinite Words. It was all very unexpected and wonderful and I am thrilled to celebrate its publication day today.

If I had known that putting off a committed agent to do a rewrite she hadn’t asked for and I wasn’t sure I agreed with would delay the publication of Contrition by more than a decade, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I’m happy with my choice, because Contrition is a much better book as a result.

What would you do? What’s your policy on agent criticism?

Maura WeilerMaura Weiler grew up in Connecticut and earned her BA and MA in English Literature from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, respectively. She is a former columnist for The Connecticut Post and a trash artist whose work has been featured on NBC Television and in galleries and shows across the country. As Director of Development at Blue Tulip Productions, she helped develop the screenplays for such films as Speed, Twister, The Paperboy and The Minority Report. Contrition is her first novel. For more information or book club queries, visit www.mauraweiler.com.

Facebook: Maura Weiler Author

Twitter: @mauraweiler

Simon & Schuster Author Page: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Maura-Weiler/475408214

Maura is kind enough to be giving away her novel, Contrition. Just comment below and one lucky winner will be picked at random. You can comment until Friday, April 24th by midnight. Winner will be contacted by email.

The Learning Curve of a Reluctant Social Media User

By Pamela Nowak

I am past my second year of using (or, uh, having) social media and stepping back to take a look at my progress (er…learning curve).

I’ve had a website since I signed my first book contract, roughly eight years. It was updated as I added more books but I never really did much else with it. I finally took an online class on blogging and converted my website to WordPress. It took me awhile to do so but the online tips helped and I created a website I could maintain myself instead of paying someone else, one with a blog page!

The trouble was, even though I had a blog page, I wasn’t using it. I had a list of topics I developed during the online class but I wasn’t using the list. Life was busy enough! My page sat there, static.

I created a Facebook page and a Twitter account shortly thereafter. Being a private person, I didn’t post often, usually just news about my upcoming book release. I learned, from a RMFW conference workshop that year, that social media does not work well that way. No one wants a constant sales pitch. No wonder I lost a few friends. Sigh.

So I started changing what I was doing. It was slow going, at first…finding things to say that were personal but didn’t make me feel bare or ridiculous. I started with updates on my knee replacement progress and notes about my pets. It got easier.

During the past year, I’ve found that middle ground, posting occasional tidbits about myself while avoiding oversharing personal information. I share posts about things I care about or that reflect me or that I find entertaining. I now devote time each day to Facebook, choosing to do so during evening hours, after my work time. A new phone with a Facebook app allows me to do this anywhere. You can get a lot done during commercials!

Because I dislike conflict, I don’t share controversial posts and stay away from politics and religion. According to the class I took, I am supposed to let my views shine through but I choose not to set up argumentative situations because I realize I have lots of friends who don’t agree on things. I like and comment on others’ posts. And, I share good news about fellow writers. Every now and then, I share something about my books but I try to keep those posts to a minimum now.

I have reached out to establish relationships with other authors in my genre and network via Facebook. I’ve extended my network of friends. What I don’t like is dealing with “friend requests” that appear to come from someone who knows a mutual friend only to discover later that it is someone creepy (sometimes really creepy).

Recently, I discovered how to use Facebook and my blog page together to avoid that daunting “my blog is due” feeling. I post small factoids on Facebook (the only Facebook activity I do at my work desk) and then combine a week’s worth of posts on the same topic into a blog post. Easy-peasy. I still don’t have a blog following but, then, I haven’t yet started pushing my blog on group pages or following others’ blogs.

Twitter…well, that’s another story and I guess I’ll get there eventually. Maybe. The length limit on tweets makes it more superficial to me and less a priority on my time.

Do I have a long way to go before I am effectively driving any sales with my social media? Absolutely. But for now, I’m learning and I’m applying things I’ve learned. Yep, I’m making progress.

The GREAT Idea From Two Different Points of View

By Robin D. Owens

"I'm getting into the writing business," my ex said as we walked through the spring sunshine last month to the ice cream shop. What my ex knows about writing can fit on the point of a pin. "I have this GREAT idea. You can do the legwork." And now you know why he's my ex.

"No," I said.

"It will make us lots of money," he said.

I saw a penny on the sidewalk, reached down and handed it to him. "That's how much your idea is worth." (No, that didn't happen, it's just for the story). "Ideas are nothing without hard work."

He ignored me and kept enthusing about his great idea that has only been done a zillion times because, you know, he doesn't actually READ books like the one he wants me to write so he doesn't know the market. I don't think he reads fiction at all.

Nor has he done any basic research on the market, because that's the legwork I am supposed to do.

But, you know, I should be thrilled to write a coming of age story (which I loathe) about a new girl in a Catholic high school with a lot of sex. Sexy enough that both men and women will LOVE to read this book. Then I will write the screenplay and it will become a lucrative film.

I wish the above was false, but no. Thankfully he had another appointment to meet someone about another GREAT business idea SHE would implement and we only had about a half hour together, but I can tell you, I didn't enjoy my Irish Cream ice cream as much as I'd anticipated.

If you are a writer, this will happen to you. Words like the above will come to you from the least likely person in the universe. They will come from strangers after you've just met the person.
Everyone believes writing a book is easy.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, 1,000,000 words. Or 10,000 hours, and you will master the craft of writing. The same amount of work it will take to master any other profession.

And great (or not so great) ideas are a dime a dozen.

Here's another true story about another great idea from a different slant.

I had a friend in the business but a new writer say last time we met "Don't tell anyone this idea I had." She made a face because she knows that's a standard worry of amateur writers, but she meant it, too.

It was a lovely idea, and I don't know how long it would take her to write it, but I could write it faster. If I wanted it. I don't. As I've also said before, one basic idea (or pic) could be given to a roomful of writers and everyone would write a different story. The theme of this particular story that my friend has is not one that I agree with, so I won't do it. I would never use this idea of hers in a million years because I'm not interested in writing that particular plot, either. OTOH, if she gets it done, it's sufficiently interesting that I'd read it -- after she's put in all the research.

I have a lot of ideas of my own...some proposals that weren't picked up and I may never get back to or will be changed for something new. A SERIES that was dropped that I still have the outline for 3-4 books. Ideas that are my own that I can get excited about.

And, really, most story ideas have been done and we're just looking at permutations.

So, as for ideas...I've been reading a lot of different contests' entries (unpublished and published) and there are some that are interesting, but...they aren't mine, I might enjoy reading them, but never writing them.

Again, those people who think a published author (or other writer) would steal their idea mark themselves as amateurs. We have our own ideas that we love.

May you enjoy your imagination today,
Robin

Writing the Gender-Flipped Character

By Susan Spann

Good fiction requires both male and female characters, and every author needs to learn to write both types convincingly in order to put a compelling cast on the page.

Few authors have experience living as both a male and a female. Most of us are only dealt one hand of gender-cards. The trick, as an author, is learning to how to peek at what the other side is holding (pun intended). Successful authors, like successful gamblers, often cheat.

My shinobi mysteries features dual protagonists, neither of whom is female. However, I was born with "indoor plumbing" -- facts which, taken together, create a conundrum:

How can a woman write a book from a man's perspective? And, for other authors...How can a man see life through a woman’s eyes?

Pervasive gender stereotypes and snide remarks aside, it’s not only possible to write from the other gender’s perspective … authors can do it very well, with a little time and practice.

Here are some tips for writing from the “other plumbing’s POV":

1.  Character first, gender second. Trying to write “like a man" or to "sound like a woman” will get you in hot water, no matter which direction the gender flip is rolling. Instead, consider your characters as if they were real people. Learn as much about them as you can—personality, backstory (most which doesn’t make it into the novel), likes/dislikes, phobias--everything a "real" person needs to become a unique individual. The more well-rounded your characters become, the more convincing they’ll be—regardless of gender.

2. "The Ability to Speak Does Not Make You Intelligent.” (Bonus points for those who can identify the quote.) Dialogue is key to gender differentiation. Men and women speak differently. Many of those differences relate more to personality than to gender, though gender also plays a role. Men and women both speak referentially, but references differ according to gender, personality, personal preferences, and experience. An athlete doesn't sound like a stripper, and neither of them will sound like a ballet dancer, male OR female.

Statistically speaking, more men than women will recognize the quote that leads this paragraph* because the “sci-fi/gamer” contingency contains more men than women. That said, many of my female friends would know the quote immediately. That's the circle in which I run...and it points out another important facet of gender-swap in writing: don't let your preconceptions about gender control your writing. Investigate how the other half really lives. 

3. Tell Me About Your Feelings. Men and women often express emotion differently. My ninja detective, Hiro Hattori, considers his feelings only rarely, and almost never discusses them. By contrast, many of my female characters express emotion with less reserve. (Ironically, the era in which I write--medieval Japan--results in far less emotional display by both genders than you might see in a modern novel--once again, research trumps preconception.) Beware of stereotypes, and individuals do differ, but as a rule men spend less time discussing emotions, especially when talking with other men. Women (again...as a rule) relate better to emotional topics and tend to discuss them in more detail.

4. Observe. Listen. Take Notes. And Share it on Social Media. OK, maybe not the last bit, but the rest of this is important. Listen to conversations in public places. Watch how people interact. Pay special attention to the "other gender," especially when the people in question are similar to the characters you're writing. Watch the way they stand, the way they gesture, the way they move. Pay attention to word choice and rhythm when they speak. People act most naturally when they don’t think anyone is watching, so try to observe without being noticed...or arrested. Note: STALKING IS BAD, MMMKAY? Police mug shots look really bad on the inside cover of novels.

5. Cheat. Find a beta reader and a critique partner of the opposite gender. (Note: that's two different people, not just one.) The beta reader should simply read, without editing the manuscript, and tell you whether the characters of his or her gender sound like "real" people. Critique partners should read and also offer edits or suggestions. Both are important, because they will notice different things. Tell them you want to know if anything sounds wrong or out of place … and then pay attention to what they tell you.

My now-adult son acts as my alpha reader for every novel, and I also have a male critique partner. Trust me when I tell you that nothing—NOTHING—critiques your work as bluntly as a college-age male. (My critique partner is far more polite about telling me something's amiss.) However, I can rely on them both, and if Hiro or Father Mateo says or does something "wrong" I can count on one or both of them telling me: “No guy in his position would say that. EVER.”

Note taken. Revision made.

One of the most difficult parts of writing gender-flipped characters is avoiding stereotyping (it’s hard to do, even--or maybe especially--in posts like this). Knowing what men like, and how they act, helps woman write the male POV, and the opposite is true for males writing inside a female mind. (To whom I say...God help you all.)

What helps you write from the other gender's perspective?

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 a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, will release in July 2015. 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), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

The Sane Writer: Nurturing Healthy Expectations

By Kerry Schafer

What is the very first thought that rolls through your head when your eyes open in the morning? Or before they open, if you're like me and try to believe that both morning and the alarm clock will go away if you can just ignore them long enough?

For me it's very often a wordless primal drive. COFFEE. Which is fine, because coffee is a thing to look forward to. And moving into a simple pleasure first thing in the morning is a fine way to start the day. But sometimes, far too often of late, my very first thoughts involve overwhelm or regret.

I'm writing this post on a Monday, and when the alarm went off this morning the first thought that went through my brain was this:

"Where the hell did the weekend go, and how did I get so little accomplished?"

Now, I'll grant you that this first Monday morning thought was not quite so grammatical and articulate. It had more of an, "Mmph, alarm OFF, things not done, don't wanna" construction. But since I speak fluent morning I was was fortunately able to decipher my own garbled thoughts.

A few minutes later, as I plumped up my flattened brain cells with caffeine, I had another thought. And that thought attracted others until a whole flock of thoughts had gathered and arranged themselves into a sort of order. And the gist of them is this:

I don't want to wake up on Monday mornings with regret.  I want to live my life and adjust my expectations so that when the alarm goes off and my eyes open my first thought is gratitude for the weekend past and the next is happy anticipation for the week to come. When my zombie brain resurrects to the sweet tune of a perfect cup of coffee I want it to be able to savor that experience.

How do I make this happen?

Some would advise a higher level of organization. Get my ducks lined up, streamline my lists, work smarter and get more stuff done in less time. There's likely some truth to this. God knows I could use a little more organization in my world, although where I would actually come up with the time to do the organizing is a mystery.

But I suspect what really needs to happen is an adjustment of expectations.

The truth is that even though I feel like a slacker this morning because there are a number of items on the To Do list that are still To Do rather than Done, I accomplished a lot. If I was talking to a good friend I would likely look at her weekend and tell her, with total sincerity, that she is a powerhouse and should learn to relax. But my expectation for myself are pretty much unachievable.

Since I do have this license as a mental health counselor lying around collecting dust, I took a minute to ask myself a question this morning. "Self," I inquired, "What is to be done about this situation?" Since I find it much easier to dole out advice to other people, I'm just going to throw some ideas into the ring, since I'm pretty sure some of you suffer from the same problem.

1. If you're continually not accomplishing the things on your To Do List, consider paring it down. I know it sounds outrageous, but it's just possible that you're asking too much of your very busy self. Maybe there are things on The List that don't really need to be there. Take them off. Seriously. Write out the list, and then scribble out the things that don't absolutely have to be done. This works better than trying to let go of them in your head, because your brain tends to stick to things. Gray matter can be sticky stuff, like pitch or glue (except for things you want to remember - those get dropped faster than a bad date). Sometimes when you need your brain to let go of an item it helps to write it down and then take a pen and scribble it out. I think the subconscious thought process goes something like this.

Hmmm. Hand says this job is done. I trust Hand. I like Hand. Crossing item off list.

2. Consider adding new items to the List. Yes, I know I just said to take things off the list. But here's a radical idea. What if we added things to our lists that looked like this?

Read book for pleasure

Take nap

Lie in hammock in the sun

Enjoy a glass of wine with a friend

Laugh a lot

Listen to music

Look at pictures of cute cats on Facebook

And then, after we've done those things, we could cross them off The List with a vast sense of accomplishment. I don't know about you, but I need more pleasure and leisure in my life. These things are healthy, and also serve to refill the creativity well. So why is it most of us will put exercise on the to do list, but feel somehow like we have to sneak in the pleasure items?

3. Add items from other people's lists to yours. This is a tricky one. Boundaries are hugely important. It's not healthy to get so sucked into other people's lives and needs that you have no room for your own self and your own needs. On the other hand, it's immensely important (and right) to give, share, help, and generally contribute to the greater good. This serves to keep us decent human beings and prevents us from becoming insufferable, self-obsessed writing fanatics.

I confess that sometimes when a loved one has needs that interfere with my writing time, I experience a nasty little emotional cocktail of guilt and resentment because I have now failed to get things on MY List done. So what if I add those things to my List as they come up, and even prioritize them? I think we already do this when it comes to our kids and maybe our significant others, but not so much when it involves friends and other people in our world. And I'm not talking about the Big Science Project here, or the Cookies for the School Party. I mean simple things like taking time for a conversation about Life, the Universe, and Everything or lending a pair of hands to a home improvement project important to your spouse but not to you. This step would include items like "resolve point of contention with best friend - preserve friendship." I like this reframe much better than my usual take on fights, which tends to be, "well, that was a waste of time." If the disagreement works toward understanding and resolution, it is never a waste of time.

4. Remember to account for changes. Your list may seem sacred to you, but it is an organic and ever changing thing, not graven in stone by the finger of God. Stuff will come up, inevitably, that supersedes whatever you have already planned to do. This weekend, for example, I discovered that the paperback edition of my Indie book, The Nothing, was out on Amazon. This provided an important opportunity to create a little buzz on Social Media without being spammy. Also, I was excited and just wanted to let people know. So I took the time to post on Facebook and Twitter and to experiment with a new Amazon feature supporting giveaways. I think this was important and time well spent, but I did not allow for it on my list and ended up feeling guilty that other things went undone. Much as we'd all like to be Super Writer, we are human and the hours of our days are finite. I'm thinking that when unexpected things find their way onto The List it's going to be important to cross something else off, consciously and deliberately.

5. Create Another List I know, I know. List proliferation is an evil thing, but hear me out. What if we made a completely different sort of list on Sunday evening. Not things we need to do, or things we are dreading, but all of the little bright spots we think might come our way in the coming week. Then maybe - just maybe - when the alarm went off we'd be programmed to look forward with anticipation instead of backward with regret.

 

 

Guest Post: Samantha Ross – Recap of Carol Berg’s Western Slope Workshop

Are they real?

Are your characters real people? According to Carol Berg at the RMFW writers meeting on the Western Slope the answer has to be yes. Readers know it is a story, but the characters need to be alive. The goal should be that they are not characters, but people.

How do we do that?

Through Introduction:

Sum up the person through another’s POV. Start with the general overall such as gender, race, age and so on. Now move onto appearance. Keep in mind that you show rather than tell. What is the voice like, how do they carry themselves? Then attitude. Are they gruff, shy? Don’t forget to start showing gestures, patterns, and habits.

Maybe it’s a gradual introduction from the protagonist or antagonist. Or a few paragraphs. Create layers, and interactions with the setting and also with other characters.

Our people need to be complex. That means they have strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears, dreams, and goals. Successes and failures both during the story, and before it started. Like everyone, they are going to travel through a range of emotions, thoughts, wants, actions, and reactions.

That character needs to want something here and now. They are also going to have a plan for the future. It may be a glass of water right now, and to win the big race next month. Remember it is colored by the emotional “why” they want it. Those whys are going to include things from the past, present, and future.

As we write this story, we need to create challenges/conflicts that showcases all the above. This person needs to be able to problem solve, take action, have the ability to grow and change as the story progresses.

Through Narrative POV:

 Whoever is telling the story at the moment has the narrative POV. Usually this is the protagonist, the antagonist, sometimes a secondary character. It is limited by the character; meaning every thing is filtered through this character at this moment.

A child at a funeral has a very different POV, vocabulary, actions and reactions than an elderly man. Even between two elderly men there will be things to contrast and compare. They each had a life before walking into the funeral that shaped them.

We learn who he is layer by layer. As he interacts with the other characters and setting, we start to understand him. We see what type of background he comes from, what he thinks of this moment he is in. There is action and reaction. There are choices, and responses. And more choices. And more responses. Dialogue both internal and external all reveals who he is, and what he is going to do. We see the contrast and compare in the narrative POV as he shows, or does not show his opinions, thoughts, and prejudices. How he acts upon these, or does not act reveals much about him. All of this shows us who he is.

We know that we have succeeded in making our characters into people when the reader says, “I knew he would do that!” When our readers thinks about this person outside of the book eagerly awaiting the next story to come out, or to simply open the book and keep on reading. Sometimes over and over.

Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.