I’m Better Than You

So in this writing game, part of the currency authors are paid in is status. Money might come, but even more important than fabulous cash prizes, in some circles, is status.

And how do you get status? Oh, the status game has many markers.  Who is your agent? Oh, that’s your agent? Wow. You get a hundred status points.

What is the name of your publisher? Oh, you signed a book deal and got a huge advance? You get two hundred status points. And since you earned out, you get bonus status points!

Friends on Facebook? One status point for every friend. Each like above one hundred likes gives you a status point. Traffic to your blog? You have to get at least five hundred hits a day to start accruing status points.

Twitter, Instagram, Wattpad, all work similarly. Email me privately and I’ll let you in on how status points work on those platforms.

A good review in the Publisher’s Weekly? That’s fifty status points, and if they like it, more bonus points. A starred review gives you the gold star bonus. I’ve heard you get special powers if you get the gold star bonus.

A good Kirkus Review? Well, that depends. The Indie Kirkus review only gives you twelve bonus points, but if you get a “real” Kirkus Review, well, that’s forty-nine points.

Are you an Amazon bestseller? Well, in what subcategory? You see, if your book is in the top 100 across all of Amazon, that is a thousand status points. If you are a bestseller in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Children's eBooks > Science Fiction, Fantasy & Scary Stories > Fantasy & Magic > Coming of Age>Judaism>Horror>Golems, well, you get an honorary five status points, but not much else.

Are you a U.S.A Today bestseller? Impressive. I’ll give you forty-eight status points.

Are you in the “real” game? Are you a New York Times Bestselling author? For realz? If you are, I bet you don’t use the word “realz”.

For every spot on the list, you get exponentially more status points. If you’re like fiftieth, you get X amount of status points. If you are #1? You get X to the fiftieth power. You can use your status points to buy the following: purse dogs, private jets, a date with Kanye West (to convince him to read novels), and a spot on Oprah, which I know is so over, but we have a time machine for you.

If you are #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list for weeks in a row, your bonus points quadruple, and you transcend status points. Now, you can count your status in chits.

One trillion status points equals one chit. And one trillion chits equals a Schrute buck. Google Schrute bucks. I love The Office.

I know what you’re thinking. That Aaron Michael Ritchey (three names gives me one status point automatically) is stomping around in his own sour grapes. You are totally right. I get jealous. I have a few status points, sure I do, but not as many as I want.

In the end, I had to really think on this issue. Is status my end goal? Is that why I’m in the game?

To be honest, at first, yeah, that’s what I wanted. I wanted the golden ticket. I wanted to be intrinsically better than you. I wanted you to bow down before my genius and kiss my ring.

And then, the status didn’t come like I wanted, and you know, it might not come.

Which makes me wonder why I’m writing?

I have my answer. I want to write books. I want to write a lot of books. I want to write books with people, and I want to write books alone. And since I already wrote for twenty years without publishing my work, I want to spend the next twenty years publishing what I write because for me, if I don’t get my work out in the world, it loses its meaning. For me, writing must be a selfless act, and for it to be selfless, I must let go of my fear and publish books, by any means necessary.

The status may or may not come.

But the books? The time I spend writing?

It becomes something you can’t buy with status points, chits, or Schrute bucks.

The time I spend crafting novels becomes priceless. And when I’m holding my books in my hand, I’m holding the minutes of my life. After all, I only have a few precious minutes alive on this planet, and I want to use those minutes to write.

However, for every comment on this blog post, I get one status point. Hurray! And for the record, I don't think I'm better than you.

It’s Perfect. Almost.

I sent 25 pages of my just-finished manuscript to a contest last week, but not before I’d gone over it carefully. My critique group had reviewed it. My beta reader had gone through it. I went over it a couple more times before I sent it - damn, it looked good. Yeah!

Then it was time to get the first 10 pages of the same manuscript ready for the critique roundtable I’d signed up for at Gold. Another several rounds of edits. A few punctuation changes. Better, more descriptive words here and there. I liked it! So it got packaged up and shipped off to the coordinator.

Then, because I’m on a roll, I decided to enter another contest. It’s 25 pages again, so there were more edits to the extra 15 pages. Then another hard re-read of the whole thing. Suddenly, out of the blue, I realized that pages 2 and 3 were important, but not important enough to be there. Arrgghhhh! I cut those pages out, and put them at the end with my story notes so I can go back and work those pieces of information back in where they REALLY needed to be. Then I read the story again without the pages and, yep, it’s better.

perfectionSo where am I going with this blog? I thought the submission was ready. Then I really thought it was ready. Now I really hope it was ready because I couldn’t see anything else that bothered me. But perfect? No. I don’t think such a thing exists, in books or elsewhere. Even if the mechanics are perfect with no typos or grammatical errors, I'd be willing to bet there was more than one word or scene choice the author wishes had been different before it went to print. Something. You can bet I’ll be going through the entire manuscript several more times, as well as having beta/critique reads, before I make the mistake of submitting the whole thing to an agent or editor.

No story should be submitted until the writer feels it is as close to perfect as it possibly can be. That means critique groups, beta readers, contests, workshops, conferences, and edits, edits, and more edits. When all those others seem to agree with you that it’s a great story and no one, including you, has any idea on how it can be improved (as in, not just rearranged to death), then you need to find the right person or place to send it to. Because it’s easy to get into a rut by convincing yourself that it needs more—more or different words, more time, more pages, more something that you’re sure you’ll know what it is tomorrow. And so that book, which could be the next best seller, never sees the light of day.

So polish the heck out of it, make sure others who know what they’re looking at—and for—think it’s ready, then submit the sucker. And….Write On!

Three Rules for Writing a Novel by Leod Fitz

According to W. Somerset Maugham, “There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

I have no idea who W. Somerset Maugham is, or what he wrote, but clearly he was a man of intellect and discernment.Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 6.24.46 AM

No, I know what you’re thinking:  You’re thinking, “Leod, you’re a visionary genius, surely you’ve sorted out what one of these rules is?”

Yes.  Yes I have.  But I’m not going to tell you, and it isn’t because I don’t know, it’s because of… other reasons.  Totally legitimate reasons.

But I’m getting off topic.  What I wanted to discuss today are the three rules of promotion.  Unlike the rules of writing, the three rules of promotion were figured out years and years ago, presumably by the guy who invented the toga and then convinced the entire Roman world that not only was wearing a sheet a perfectly legitimate ‘style,’ but that they should pay him for his specially made sheets.

Or her specially made sheets.  I don’t actually know who it was selling the sheets.

This sacred knowledge has been handed down, generation after generation, century after century, hidden, lost, found again, then lost again, and finally found again.  Now, after years of secrecy, I have discovered it and am prepared to share it with the world.

Of course, those of you who’ve taken the time to look me up on google are probably asking yourself, ‘hey, if this Leod guy has figured out the secrets to marketing, why is it that the internet has never heard of him?’

Well, maybe the internet is just stupid.  Huh?  Did you consider that, smart guy?

Anyway, where was I?  Okay, the secrets of marketing and promotion.

I should explain: years ago I embarked on a sacred quest.  I scoured the earth interviewing hundreds of people, spending a small fortune searching for the hidden truths that would guide us all into a bright new world, a world where great works wouldn’t lie unread, because nobody wanted to read a book with that few reviews, and there was no way to get it enough reviews until people started to read it.  A world where a bad book cover wouldn’t spell the end for a brilliant new novel.  A world where you didn’t need to tell people the cool twist at the end of your story just to get them to start reading it.

It took years, but I found the ancient secrets in a small bodega in a middle-eastern country, owned by an ancient woman with skin so wrinkled I thought she was a bag that somebody had deflated.

I took the parchment she gave me back to home and had it translated, and here they are.  The three sacred rules for marketing.

  1. Focus your attention on the people who end up buying your product.  You’ll find that your other efforts are largely wasted.
  2. Try to make advertisements that people will notice.  The best way to do this is to avoid making advertisements that people don’t notice.
  3. While some might argue that all publicity is good, in most cases you will find that good publicity is better.

I have since learned that the woman in the bodega makes most of her money selling scraps of parchment to treasure hunters.  I wonder if I can convince her include one of my promotional bookmarks in each sale?

 

Alpha group 2Leod D. Fitzless has been a writer for nearly as long has he has been a reader.  Absurdly fascinated by the power of the written word, he realized at a young age that the only career which held any interest for him was that of an author.  When he isn’t pouring his blood, sweat, and tears onto the page, he’s selling his blood to plasma clinics, his sweat to a variety of employers, and his tears to pretty much anyone who'll buy them.  He’s worked as an animal caretaker, a shelf stocker, a farmhand and warehouse employee, but he’s always been a writer at heart.

The Happiness Advantage – Don’t set a goal without it!

Last month we explored the topic of happiness, and how we can regain the joy of writing we felt when we first started writing. We can boost happiness by establishing a few simple daily habits--very important, because we can think best when we’re happy. Because we naturally store negative events in a deeper, more permanent way than positive experiences, there is a dismaying propensity to embed the negative ones. We can overcome that by investing extra effort to focus on our good experiences.

Are you happy? How do you feel right now? Anxious, worried, with the ol’ inner voice whining and complaining?

Shawn Achor, head of Goodthink and author of The Happiness Advantage, talks about how we have been fed the life formula of “Success First, Happiness Second.” If we can just get published, we’ll be happy. If we can just get a higher advance we’ll be happy. If we can just win the Golden Heart or the (fill in the blank Award), we’ll be happy. If we can just lose twenty pounds, we’ll be happy.

It’s a formula that doesn’t work, because as we achieve one thing, we set the bar higher and keep chasing that next goal. The formula keeps repeating in our heads, eroding that delicate happiness state for which we worked so hard.

Achor says we’ve got it all backwards. We should not be gaining success to be happy; we should find happiness, which will help us to succeed. Happiness and optimism, she says, is what fuels the success! Positive brains are more motivated, efficient, and creative. Achor quotes John Milton from Paradise Lost: “The Mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Think of that. Your mind is beautiful. Powerful. Are we focusing on the joy and rewards of writing, or are we hung up on the difficulties, the competition, the stress, or lack of appropriate rewards?

* * * * * * *
“The Mind is its own place,
and in itself can make a heaven of hell,
a hell of heaven.”

* * * * * * *

Don’t worry, be happy. And how do we get there? And stay there? We needn’t become non-stop zombie smile fanatics, but think of the boost we get from talking to an optimistic, happy person. Like some giant, woot-woot magnet, that type of person attracts people, and their happiness is contagious. Short of hiring a talented clown as a full-time body guard, though, how do we “get” and “stay” happy?

In a Denver Post interview with Achor, he gives some suggestions. If you’ve read something similar before and forgotten it after you walked away from the magazine or newspaper, don’t walk away now. Read these tips. Re-read them, and think about how you can integrate some of these behaviors and methods, so you can be happy, and then be successful.

Three Acts of Gratitude. Just two minutes a day, write down three new things for which you’re grateful. Do it for 21 days. The frequency and repetition are powerful because you’re training your brain and, in doing so, will begin to see the world with fresh, happiness-inspiring eyes. Achor warns about generalities, because they don’t work. Rather than “My health,” my kids, my home,” etc., be specific: “I’m grateful for my daughter because she called to ask my opinion. What I think matters to her.” Or, “I’m grateful because I was alert and caught the fine print in that contract, before I signed it.”

The Doubler. Again, for two minutes a day, think of one positive experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours. You’re a writer, so I know you can provide details about it. This can double the most meaningful experience in your brain. Doing it for 21 days will help your brain connect the dots, and you will begin to see and feel the meaning that runs through your life.

The Fun Fifteen. 15 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day is, Achor says, the equivalent of taking an anti-depressant. With successful completion of just 15 minutes, your brain records a victory, which carries over into your next activity.

Breathe. For two minutes become conscious of your breath going in and out. Fill your lungs, be aware. This has been proven to raise accuracy rates and increase levels of happiness. And drops stress levels.

Happiness, Achor says, is a huge advantage in our lives. When the human brain is positive our intelligence rises. We stop diverting resources to think about anxiety.

Our creativity triples.

More next month. I’ll be asking you if you tried the Three Acts of Gratitude, the Fun Fifteen, and the Breathing. Give it a try, and let’s meet again next month and compare notes.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Non-Human Characters

Birds and beasts, werewolves and vampires, fairies and trolls, rakshasas and dragons and inari okami (and did you think of a western European dragon or a Chinese dragon)? Aliens. Some or all of these can populate your work . . . for good or ill.

Liesa Malik and I will be talking about writing non-human characters at the Colorado Gold Conference, so this post is short because it's a teaser to come to that workshop and I want to invite you to come and talk to us about YOUR non-human characters and brainstorm with us.

I have spent my career writing non-human characters – everything from a mole (yes, a mole, the earth-digging-nearly-blind animal) to a planet (actually two planets, one of them Earth). My Heart series – futuristic/fantasy set in a Celtic pagan culture – features telepathic animal companions and has since the first book. In fact, I think the cat character in that book, Zanth, sold HeartMate.

Since then, I've written a slew of animal companions including (of course) a puppy and dogs, cats of various colors and attitudes, and have branched out to foxes, raccoons and most recently birds, a hawk and a raven.

I do my homework on the animals, how they live, their social structures, what they eat, how they might think. I want my readers to believe these animals are not just humans in disguise. And Liesa and I will talk about how to do that research, hands-on and otherwise.

Unlike many people writing urban fantasy and/or paranormal romance, I've only written one shapeshifter hero – a jaguar-man – and absolutely no vampires. Though since I write in those genres I've read a lot of books on both. I know what I, personally, like in a vampire and werewolf, and how the myths have been explored by various authors.

So, we'll add in shapeshifters and vampires as common characters – both as good guys and as monsters that can highlight your very human characters.

And Liesa, especially, has studied the market for writing animals, and the fantasy genre is full of variety, and in science fiction humans continue to interact with alien races.

Yes, we do have peeves about how animals and monsters are portrayed, don't you? Come share those with us.

And, yes, I also write ghosts, mostly of people of the Old West, but I consider those humans . . . except the evil one . . . oh, and the Labrador spirit guide. No, neither of those are human . . . .

So drop by and talk with us about your non-human characters and why you love them. And what makes them different. Or how you want to delve into a different psyche.

See you at the Colorado Gold!

Do YOU Know How to Find Your Agent Match?

Finding an agent isn't just about finding "someone" to represent your work. The author-agent relationship works best when author and his or her agent match well on a personal and professional level. 

Some people prefer to work via email; others like to talk by phone. Some authors want to know about every submission and every editor's comments, while others would rather hear only positive news. 

Although, to a certain extent, authors must "wait" for an agent to offer representation, we can increase the odds of getting that offer by making smart--and informed decisions--about which agents to query in the first place.  

Agents often advise authors to "do your homework before you query" but many authors struggle with understanding that assignment. 

Three weeks from now, at Colorado Gold, I'll be presenting a joint workshop with my fantastic agent, Sandra Bond, on exactly what it means to "do your homework" and how to pick--and work with--the agent that's right for you.

In the meantime (or for those who might not make the conference) here are some tips to start you in the right direction.

 

1. Query only agents who represent works in the genre where your manuscript belongs--and your subsection (if any) within that genre. 

Note: this requires knowing what genre you're writing. 

Every book needs to be shelved (or "shelve-able") in a bookstore. Figure out where your book would be shelved BEFORE you query. Even if you're writing a speculative-historical-mystery-YA/MG-romance...one (2 at most) of those are primary. Know your genre.

Narrow your query list from "all agents in the known universe" to "agents who want to represent MY genre." No matter how well you write, you won't convert a romance specialist into a mystery lover--or vice versa. Do not try. The easiest way to rejection is querying agents who don't represent the type of book you're offering.

2. Check the agent's bio, website, or wish list (if any), and see whether the agent likes the type of book you've written. 

Finding the right agent requires more than just a genre match. Huge diversity exists within genres. You need to find an agent who likes the type of book you've written (e.g., cozy mystery) rather than something on the other end of the genre spectrum. 

Many agents also use the "Manuscript Wish List" (#MSWL) hashtag on Twitter to let people know what they're looking for. Check this too. 

3. If you can't tell what the agent is actively looking for at the moment, look at the his or her client list and see if your work fits into the "group." 

An agent whose client list consists primarily of cozy mysteries and middle grade novels might not be the best candidate for your gritty, erotic police procedural. It's tempting to just send queries out to every agent in your genre, but don't. It wastes a lot of time and effort on both sides.

Determining whether your work fits into an agent's client or wish list requires honest self-reflection about yourself & your work. The question is not "do I want Agent A to love me?" but "do I genuinely believe Agent A will love this book I wrote?" These are not the same thing.

4. Google the agents you want to query; read their articles and interviews.

Before I pitched Sandra, I read an interview in which she mentioned liking character-driven mystery. That's what I write, so the interview helped me decide to pitch her (at the 2012 Colorado Gold Conference).

Researching agents individually does take more time than simply carpet bombing the Writers' Digest listings, but it also gives great insight into whether an agent would be a good fit for you as well as your work. The query process isn't just about sending a thousand missiles into the night and hoping one of them hits a target. "Aim" comes before "fire" (or "send") in queries as well as warfare. 

Want to know more? I hope you'll join Sandra and me for the "Finding the Perfect Agent" workshop at Colorado Gold!

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California publishing attorney and the author of 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, released on July 14, 2015. Susan is honored to be the 2015 RMFW Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she  raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

Creating Dynamic Characters

Well-developed characters make for great reading, but also for fun writing. It's such an amazing feeling when a character wakes up and starts doing stuff without a lot of direction from me.

As you've probably noticed, there are a thousand-and-one approaches to character development. A lot of writers use work sheets that ask for details ranging from eye color and shoe size to favorite song and which high school the character graduated from. I think these sheets are awesome, but since I am not  detail oriented and get easily distracted, I have yet to complete one. Inevitably I get bored and wander off to write something more exciting.

I honestly don't have a conscious process for creating my characters. Usually, when I sit down and start writing they kindly show up and start talking. I don't consciously sit down and plot out what kind of character they are going to be.

But, I have a background in mental health and I suspect my subconscious is in on the game and kindly supplying me with information. When I stop to think about it and try to analyze my process, I realize that I am relying on a few basic principles.

  1. I make sure the character has a cohesive personality. Are they an introvert or an extrovert? Somebody who is intuitive and flexible, or somebody who likes rules and structure and routines? Do they talk a lot, or prefer to keep things to themselves? Then I make sure that they stick to this, unless there's a damn good reason for them to break away from their usual behavior.
  2. What is the character's defining life event? Here I am talking about those experiences we go through that change us forever. Most of us have a number of these, but there is often one particular occurrence that changes everything. Pay attention to your friends and family, really listen, and you'll often hear it. Look for the "before" and "after" type words for your clues: Before the divorce … After the accident… Ever since I was diagnosed with… People tend to mark everything in their lives by this one defining event.
  3. I also pay attention to core values. What is most important to your character. Family? Independence? Success? Belonging? Individuality? Once you know what these are, you can really up the stakes in your plot by throwing your character into a situation where there most deeply chereished values are threatened and tested.

For example, in my paranormal mystery, Dead Before Dying, (releasing Feb. 9 from Diversion Books) Paranormal Investigator Maureen Keslyn's top value is independence, followed closely by a love of personal challenge, and pursuing justice. In this story she's about to turn sixty, has recently been injured on the job, and is physically vulnerable for the first time in her life. She's also facing a situation where someone or something is killing off elderly people in a nursing home. This set up makes it easy to set up suspense and emotional tension and keep it going throughout the book.

I'll be talking more about character development at the workshop I'll be co-presenting with the Heather Webb at the Colorado Gold Conference. Hope to see you there!

 

WRITING THEMES: Do we choose them? Or do they choose us? by Joan Johnston

Book ShamelessWhy do all my books have “abandoned or neglected children” as an underlying theme?  Until about book 25 (I’m writing book 57 now), when another writer pointed it out to me, I had no idea that this issue resonated throughout my writing.  I’d grown up in a family of seven children and my parents had remained married until my father died late in life.  So why was I writing about abandoned children?

When I asked my mother why I might have focused on this subject, she replied, “When you were four years old, your father (who was in the Air Force at the time) left to go to the Philippines and we stayed behind in Little Rock.  You took a photo of him to bed with you for a month, until it was in tatters, and cried yourself to sleep.”

Aha!  All questions answered.  I was “abandoned” when I was four years old and, according to my mother, didn’t see my father again for an entire year.  No wonder the topic of abandonment—and subsequent healing through love—pervades my books.

But as in my novels, mothers don’t always tell the truth.  Or at least, not the whole truth.

Recently, my sister Jeanne, who was one year older than I, died of complications from diabetes.  My cousin Ron wrote that he had “a nice story about Jeanne” to share with us.

Here’s what he said:  “I remember when your father was stationed at Langley, Virginia, my mother got the wild idea that she had to visit her baby brother [who was my father].  I know there were presents, so it was probably around Christmas.  We got in the car [in Baltimore] and drove down to your parents’ house.”

At the time Ronnie wrote about, my mother had a brand new baby (my sister, Jackie, born October 22), a three-year-old (me), a four-year-old (my sister Jeanne) and a five-year-old (my sister Joyce).  From Ron’s story it appears that she wasn’t getting much help from my father, and there wasn’t enough money to buy a refrigerator or pay for heat.

“When we left,” Ron finished, “we took Jeanne with us.  I don’t remember if she stayed a few weeks or a few months.”

Cousin Ron’s story provided answers to questions that had remained unanswered all my life, but which had appeared in my writing all along.  Apparently, in an effort to help out my overwhelmed mother, Jeanne was taken to live with my aunt’s family.

My sister Joyce and I have always been best friends, even though she’s daughter #1 and I’m daughter #3.  We shut Jeanne, daughter #2, completely out.  I’ve always wondered why.  Now I know.  Jeanne left.  She went away for three weeks—or three months.  But during that period, Joyce and I bonded. My mother never acknowledged having sent Jeanne away, so we were unaware of what had happened when we were children.

When Jeanne returned, my family immediately left Virginia and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where we stayed while my father moved to his new station in the Philippines.

Within the period of a year, I had lost my sister, who “disappeared” and then “reappeared,” then moved from one home to another, and then lost my father, who “disappeared” and didn’t “reappear” for an entire year, at which point we moved to the Philippines to join him.

This is a fascinating story all by itself.  I can see how I might have ended up writing about abandoned and neglected children.  But there’s more.

In December 2013, Harlequin reissued a book I wrote in 2002 called Sisters Found.  Interesting title.  I’d previously written a book called The Substitute Groom in which the two heroines, twin girls, were named Hope and Faith. I was at a dinner meeting when a Harlequin sales rep asked, “So where’s Charity?”

I sat there stunned.  And realized suddenly, “There’s a Charity!”

It doesn’t take much psychology to figure out that I wrote The Substitute Groom about myself and Joyce, completely excluding Jeanne, even though the names I chose suggested there was a third child.

What I wrote in Sisters Found, eleven years before I learned the story of what happened to my sister Jeanne, is little short of astonishing.

In Sisters Found I wrote that Faith and Hope weren’t twins, they were two of a set of triplets.  Charity was given away when she was two years old because her parents couldn’t afford to care for three children.

Charity confronts her parents about why she was given away in this wrenching scene from Sisters Found.

         “Why me?” she demanded.  “How did you choose? I want to know.”

          Her mother and father exchanged a glance before her Book Sisters Foundfather turned to her and said, “Of course we kept Faith,    because we would always love her as she is [with a missing hand], when others might not. Hope was the troublemaker,   the one who howled with colic. You were the most beautiful      of our three lovely daughters.”

          “We’re triplets,” Charity countered. “We look exactly alike.”

          “You were the prettiest, with deep brown eyes that saw so much,” he continued.  “Such a perfect baby, always   laughing, always smiling.”

          “Newborns don’t laugh or smile.”

          Her parents exchanged a troubled glance, and she remembered what her father had told her.  She’d been two years old when they’d given her away.  Had spent two years being loved by them, held by them, a part of them.

          “We tried so hard to keep all three of you,” her father said.  “But it wasn’t possible.  We knew that whoever became your parents would have to love you, because you were such a good child, such a happy baby.  We gave up our most precious child.  The one most certain to be loved by strangers.”

I don’t know if I actually heard a conversation such as that as a three-year-old, but I will always wonder how much truth there is in it.

Most authors I know write some consistent theme.  Mary Balogh’s books feature terrible family rifts that are mended through loving the right man.  Susan Mallery also writes about relationships that mend families.  Sandra Brown’s characters all have conflicts with authority.  Debbie Macomber’s books focus on family and faith.

I didn’t consciously choose to write about abandoned children, but the subject has found its way into every book I’ve written.  If you haven’t already done it, you might want to take a closer look at your own novels and see what you find.

I’m working now on a new series of Bitter Creek novels, Sinful, Shameless, and Surrender, which just happen to feature women who’ve been physically abandoned by their mother and emotionally abandoned by their father.  Imagine that.

I don’t think I can consciously change what I write.  Nor do I want to.  The powerful emotions that end up on the pages of my books come from the wounded child inside.  My sister’s death, as sad as it is, has brought me solace and understanding.  I can’t wait to see what wonderful stories of healing and love find their way onto the pages of my books from now on.

Joan Johnston

Joan Johnston is the top ten New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of 56 novels and novellas with more than 15 million copies of her books in print.  Watch for the reprint of Outlaw’s Bride in mid-October and the second book in her King’s Brat series, Shameless, in stores December 29.  You can reach Joan through her website, www.joanjohnston.com or Facebook at www.facebook.com/joanjohnstonauthor.

The RMFW Spotlight is on Pamela Nowak, President

Now that we have so many new members of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Board of Directors, we'll once again be featuring the RMFW Spotlight on the blog. Our goal is to introduce our board members to all our readers and encourage other RMFW members to offer their time and energy to this energetic and growing community of writers.

This month we've put the spotlight on President Pamela Nowak. Read on and see if you learn anything about Pam you didn't already know.

PamNowak1. Pam, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I currently serve as President. My official role is to conduct board meetings, manage RMFW business as it comes up between meetings and sign any legal documents. What that actually means is I also serve on a variety of sub-committees including conference, contest and most special committees, I monitor all on-line discussion of the board and manage as needed, I answer questions regarding official policies and procedures, and I look out for the good of the entire organization and its members. When voting or directing action, I must look beyond my personal reaction and see the potential impact on all of RMFW. I am a negotiator, a manager, and a behind the scenes busy-body.

As to why I’m involved…pure and simple, because I believe in and owe so much to RMFW. RMFW supported me in my craft development and nurtured me when I needed it. After years of attending critique group and conference, I moved to Denver and someone (Scott Brendel) asked me to take on an active volunteer role. Of course, one thing led to another.

But being involved has enriched me tremendously on so many levels. It has allowed me to put my non-writing skills (thus keeping them active) to use and to give back to RMFW in a very rewarding way. What makes doing this with RMFW uniquely special, is all the other dedicated and talented writers and volunteers. Everyone gets to contribute, no one takes on the load alone, and everyone recognizes what others do. Few organizations have this quality and thus, I can’t see myself not being involved with RMFW.

2015_Nowak_cover2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

My fourth book, Escaping Yesterday, will be released in September. The book is set in 1905 Elitch Gardens and has deeply conflicted characters with a bit of humor, romance, and a great setting tossed in to lighten their journeys as they cope with trust, incest survival, and PTSD. Thus far, I’ve received three major reviews and they are all positive. I hope to have the book in time for conference but also have several signings set for October including an October 9 launch at Tattered Cover Colfax and an October 24 party at BookBar to raise funds for the historic Elitch Theatre. The book will be available at all Tattered Cover locations, Boulder Books, Who Else Books, BookBar, and several smaller stores as well as via Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

My 2013 release, Changes, was a Colorado Book Award recipient and is available at Who Else Books, Tattered Cover, or Barnes and Noble or can be ordered via Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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?

Becoming a NYTimes best-seller, of course! More easily reachable items are continued travel and finding joy within each and every day.

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

Allowing myself to take on too many volunteer roles (RMFW and others) and devoting my time to them and not to writing. In other words, NOT writing every day.

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

Getting feedback from readers. I love hearing that my stories made someone cry or kept them up until 3:00 a.m. or made them late for work.

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

Don’t resist growth. Learn from critique group, even when it’s painful. Stay on task. Practice, practice, practice.

2015_Nowak_office2015_Nowak_workspace 27. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

My desk is an organized mess. I have stacks of things I am working on (on my desk and on the floor) and reference books on the bookshelves. The stacks look like piles of mish-mash but I can tell you what is in each and every one of them and how far down each item is located. I also have a TO DO list and inspiring quotes. Above my desk, a few items to warm me, such as cards and gifts; nearby, where I can see them—my awards. Two special items are my Angel of Knowledge who holds a book with “writings” and “special words” on its pages and my Angel of Change releasing happiness from her hands. And lots of clutter.

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

I am currently reading The Bootlegger’s Daughter by Lauri Robinson and finished Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee a couple days ago. Since I read two to three books a week, I’ll be on to something else soon!

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

2015_Nowak_candidPamela Nowak writes award-winning historical romance. She has a B.A. in history and, prior to becoming a full-time author, she taught history to prison inmates, served as project manager for the Fort Yuma National Historic Site and ran a homeless shelter. Her novel, Changes, received the 2014 Colorado Book Award for genre fiction and a HOLT Medallion Finalist Award. Previous honors include the HOLT Medallion and HOLT Medallion Finalist Award, a WILLA Finalist Award, a listing among the "Top Ten Romance Novels of 2008" by Booklist, and being named the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2010 Writer of the Year. Please visit her at her website, friend her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter (@ReadPamelaNowak).

Look What’s Coming from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers!

rmfw-logo"Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and educating writers seeking publication in commercial fiction. To that end, the organization strives to:

  • Provide an environment of support and encouragement among members
  • Stimulate interest in and appreciation for the art of writing
  • Act as a dissemination point for information concerning commercial fiction writing
  • Bring together authors, editors, agents, and other related professionals for the mutual benefit of all"

Free programs, a fall conference, and a spring retreat!  Who could ask for anything more?

Western Slope: Montrose Free Program

Great Beginnings presented by Sharon Mignerey

Saturday, August 15, 9:00 AM to Noon
Hampton Inn Montrose
1980 North Townsend
Montrose, CO

Participants at “Great Beginnings” are encouraged to bring the first chapter of a work in progress, as this hands-on class is designed to help writers–new or old hands–sort through conflicting advice about first chapters, and create compelling opening chapters that draw readers into the story.

Writers hear all kinds of conflicting advice such as: you MUST introduce a compelling character in an inciting incident, but someone else says you MUST show that compelling character in his/her ordinary world; the reader MUST care about the character’s previous life but then again, you MUST avoid backstory; world building that anchors characters and reader is vital but, no, you MUST NOT do anything that stops the forward momentum of the story….it’s enough to make a writer’s head explode when all the writer wants to do is tell the story.

This workshop will help writers do that – tell a story – while also identifying the elements needed for their specific story to keep the reader turning the pages. This is a free workshop presented by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Writer of the Year Panel

Tuesday, August 25, 7:00 PM
Tattered Cover Colfax
2526 East Colfax Avenue
Denver, CO 80206

Western Slope: Grand Junction Free Program

Everything You Need to Know About the Next RMFW Anthology presented by Mario Acevedo

Saturday, September 5, 9:00 AM to 12:30ish (Light breakfast at 9:00 AM.)
Grand Junction Business Incubator Center
2591 Legacy Way
Grand Junction, CO

Mario Acevedo, the new Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer anthology editor will present a talk about the anthology, its history, this year’s theme, and why contributing to the anthology will add to an author’s experience as a writer. Mario will discuss the submission and selection process, and the literary expectations of short fiction versus novel-length fiction.

2015 Colorado Gold Conference

Friday, September 11 - Sunday, September 13
The Westin
Westminster, Colorado

2016 RMFW Writers Retreat

March 10-13, 2016
Franciscan Retreat Center
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Registration Opens October 1, 2015

Join RMFW at the official website "Become a Member" page.