The Drive-in Movies

There I was at Sam’s Club on 52nd near Wadsworth yesterday and that’s when the memory surfaced. This is where the drive-in used to be. (One of those places where families, friends and dating couples went to watch movies on a humongous screen while sitting in their car, one speaker hanging on a window.)

Ahhhh…

After our parents found the best in-the-middle-of-the-dirt-lot-parking-place, where we experienced the first surround sound system ever, (one speaker per car x 100+/- cars), us kids trotted to the playground in front of the gigantic screen. We played as far into the darkness as possible, until horns beeped, demanding children return to their respective car.
After the first seconds into the cartoon just about every mom, trailed by kids, walked for what seemed like miles to potty. Often the trip was on false pretenses because some kids just wanted to see the vast variety of available treats.

A friend of mine and her four sisters seemed to always walk in front of our car on their way to the restroom/refreshment bar and disrupted my concentration of Woody Woodpecker—until that night. They never showed.

Worried until I saw my friend at school the next day, she explained her mom was never taking anybody to the bathroom again, at least at the drive-in. If anyone in their family had to go, the only container available was an empty coffee can (in or behind the car) or the dirt parking lot because her mom was tired of missing over half of most movies.
Oh, the horror!

At age 16, the same friend and I enjoyed our first trip alone to the drive-in movie theatre. However, we missed the movie because of the romantic antics of the couple in the car in front of us.
The next thing I recalled was my friends and me were short of money for the drive-in, so we pooled our finances. Still short on funds, I volunteered to hide in the trunk of the car just until the driver found a place to park. That lasted about thirty seconds. I pounded and kicked and yelled to be let out. The attendant who took our money, (sort of like a person at a toll road booth), ran to the car and demanded the trunk be open. We were kicked out and told never to return.

However, at the prime age of almost 18, a (new) friend and I arrived at the same drive-in, in style—I drove a 1968 GTO with Hurst automatic racing gears. Oh yeah. We pulled next to the speaker pole—but too far from in front, and then I reversed—too far back. That’s when my car died. Not to worry, remember every car had a speaker. Besides, the show was Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie. You remember the one. Only the mime spoke.

To quote Skipper, the head penguin from the Madagascar gang, “Kowalski, analysis?”

You gotta love irony.

The Critical Importance of Look Alike Words

A word from Conan the Grammarian:

Concerning the Critical Importance of look-alike words, or similar or commonly mistaken words. Learn the diffs! As Conan has often admonished writers, this is not advanced rocketry or even higher mathematics.

In no particular order, these words often appeared incorrectly in this year’s contest manuscripts.

Stanch & staunch

The first means to stop up or prevent from bleeding; the second means stout-hearted, loyal.

Of course a character would never stand stanch at the hero’s side, so please don’t go staunching any wounds!

Discreet & discrete

The first means circumspect or tactful; the second means separate, distinct: individual.

Conan finds that scientists and engineers often write about characters who act discrete, because apparently they don’t know there is another word (the same way lawyers often have characters waive instead of wave).

Rack & wrack

The first means to torture (as in the eponymous medieval device); the second is debris from a storm.

Characters who wrack their brains not only commit cliché, but they perform a very odd non-action, too. On the other hand, characters may go to wrack and ruin, but never to rack and ruin (though that’s a cliché, too).

Lead & led

The first is a soft, toxic metal or the present tense of the verb to lead; the second is the past tense of that verb. Memorize this!

Pour & pore

The first is a verb meaning to decant liquids (or rain); the second is a noun meaning a teeny tiny hole or a verb meaning to scrutinize.

One ought never pour over a document, unless one spills something by accident.

Grill & grille

The first is a type of cooking device or the act of cooking on that device; the second is a grating or lattice.

One could, Conan supposes, grill burgers on a makeshift grille, but Joe’s Bar and Grille is trying to be fancy and ends up looking ignorant and pretentious.

Rain & reign & rein

Rain falls from the sky; emperors, queens, and terrors reign; riding horses and some metaphors require reins.

It rained for ten days after King Mutt’s reign ended, causing his people to rein in the celebrations.

Council & counsel

The first is a noun meaning committee or board; the second is verb meaning to give advice. A counselor is a lawyer or other professional advice-giver.

May & might

For the verb indicating possibility, may is present tense; might is past tense – past tense as in the tense most storytellers use most of the time.

Alright & all right.

The first is not a word (yet) in accepted English; the second is how it should be spelled.

Conan admits that languages change over time, but alright remains nonstandard, and Conan will fight it to the death. All right has nothing to do with already, so the attempt to “normalize” one into t’other is as foolish as the egregiously erroneous rules that one must never split infinitives or end sentences with prepositions.

FREEZE! SMOKE POLICE!

I’m sure most of you have heard of Writers’ Police Academy, the four day conference offering an exciting and heart-pounding interactive and educational hands-on experience designed to enhance a writers understanding of all aspects of law enforcement, firefighting, EMS, and forensics. If you’re writing anything with a cop in it, I highly recommend the experience.

Day One

The first session is all about Drones! The expert had six or seven drones, 3D glasses so you could see from the perspective of the drone, and in-depth information on types, uses and hands-on demonstration! Registration fee justified!

At the opening ceremony, the Oneida Tribal Police blessed the WPA – the campus and conference hotel are located on tribal lands. There are dancers, and then I’m one of 10 people chosen to wear a gun belt. It comes complete with an orange gun (a solid plastic training gun) and blue taser (again, solid plastic). My assignment—wear it ALL day Friday. Things I learned:

  • The belt is heavy. It adds about 20 pounds around your waist. Add the Kevlar vest (which they want their officers to wear 24/7) and I was lugging around an extra 35 pounds. It makes it hard to run!
  • You’re told to take it the gun belt off when you go to the bathroom, but there’s a problem. Where do you put it? Place it on the floor? Yuck. On the back of the public toilet. Yuckier. If you hang it on the back of the door, it’s apt to get stolen. It’s happened. Tami Hoag solved the problem by pulling it up over her boobs. Brilliant! Maybe that’s why she’s a NYT bestselling author.
  • It’s hard to draw the gun and/or taser. But then, just wearing it was enough to scare some people. Take the stoner smoking within 5 feet of the hotel door. He saw the belt and his demeanor changed. He stepped away trying to gauge 25 feet. He glanced warily over his shoulder at me a number of times, and then seemed truly scared with my “police” dog (a 13-year old, 14 pound, black, miniature poodle) trailed out the door behind me. Freeze! Smoke police!

Day Two

This is a full day of classes. Six sessions a day, with some special assignments. These were hands-on trainings where you shoot real guns, drive real cars, search real buildings, and blow off real doors. I was assigned to “Handgun Live Fire” and I want to go back to try “Building Search/Room Clearing,” “Pursuit Immobilization Technique (PIT),” “Wait Explosive Entry.” “Defense and Arrest Tactics.” FYI, this is where you learn to handcuff people, but I’ve already done that. At a Rocky Mountain Chapter or Mystery Writers of America workshop I handcuffed RMFW’s own Jedeane Macdonald. Only one problem, the handcuff keys were missing. No problem! We just took a field trip to the closest Fire Station and had them cut off.

Regular sessions included things like “Incognito, Exploring the Undercover Experience” (with a real undercover cop who busted drug dealers in New York City), “Blood Spatter” (with a real dummy that spatters blood when he’s struck in the head), “Arson Investigation” (where they actually teach you how to start a fire with three different accelerants), “Federal Law Enforcement,” “Prison Gangs,” “Dogs, Dogs, Dogs,” and the list goes on. Too much to do in one year. Too much to do in two years.

Day Three

I was assigned to “Shoot, Don’t Shoot.” This was a special setting with a simulator that presented various scenarios the cops might encounter. I went first, with a partner, and we were called to a building with an intruder. We had no idea what we’d encounter, then a guy came out of the front door shooting. I fired three shots. My partner emptied his gun. Neither of us got shot. 15 rounds were fired, and only one shot connected, bringing the bad guy down—mine!

Other scenarios included a domestic dispute, an attack on an electrical transfer station, a attempted mugging in Central Park, an encounter when off-duty… Here’s what I learned:

  •  Shoot until the danger is neutralized.
  •  Shoot if there is eminent danger to you or others.
  • If you empty your gun when it’s not necessary, you may find you’re out of ammo and still facing danger.
  • I want one of these simulators!!

Banquet

Tami Hoag ran the live auction, and there was one item of note. Dr. Katherine Ramsland, an expert on serial killers and author of CONFESSION OF A SERIAL KILLER: THE UNTOLD STORY OF DENNIS RADER, offered a “personalized (to the winner) drawing, done by and signed by Rader, of one of his crime scenes.” Most people know this man as the BTK killer, an acronym he gave himself which stands for “Bind, Torture, and Kill.” No doubt the sketch will be a collector’s item. And, he fancies himself a poet, so it might even come with prose. Yet… It drew a final bid of over $800. Writers are a strange lot! Now, I’m fascinated by serial killers, and I’ve studied a lot of them, but I can’t imagine having something with such negative energy in my home. I actually went out to see if I could find an example on line and couldn’t actually bring myself to cut and paste one here. They’re just too creepy. Interested, here’s a link.

Day Four

I was ready to come home, and yet I attended the debriefing. Lee Lofland, the writer and ex-cop who put WPA together, led a rousing Q&A session with all of the guest presenters that had attendees rolling in the aisle.

WPA Cost: $395 registration; $20 t-shirt; $55 banquet; $500 (approximate) hotel bill; $30 in extra meals; $600 travel (approximate)

Value: Priceless

The Trap of the Magical Negro and why it needs to be Avoided

The Magical Negro is a trope as old as American literature. Originally, the Magical Negro was there to show white readers that African-Americans could be wise, intelligent, and loyal, just like all Americans. It served its purpose for many years and now it needs to be retired. In this article, I will try to explain why.

You’re writing a YA story about a teenaged pregnancy scare. Your protagonist is the white, male star of the football team. We’ll call the probable father Kevin. The fictional school is in a suburban, moderately affluent neighborhood. As a writer, you know diversity is a buzz word and having diverse characters might help you sell your book, so you want Kevin’s best friend to be black. His friend’s name is Richard.

So far, so good.

Richard has been the moral voice for Kevin throughout your book. He reminds Kevin that the female protagonist, we’ll call her Vivian, is having a harder time of this than he is; that Kevin had sex with the girl and he should be a stand-up guy, support her, emotionally, while protecting her from all of the vicious rumors. At a pivotal moment of the story, Kevin finally does the right thing by Vivian and supports her through the potential pregnancy and whatever final decision she decides to make. Kevin even thanks Richard profusely for his help in making him see the light.

You finish the book, go through edits, and come out the other side proud of your YA story. You are particularly proud of the Richard character. He was a moral young man who pushed Kevin into doing the right thing. His race was inconsequential to you. You feel proud.

You’ve also stepped into the trap of the “Magical Negro.”

Were there any other black characters in the story?

Have you thought out your black character's backstory?

If your protagonist is white, why is your black character so loyal? What do they get out of this?

Does your black character end up teaching your white protagonist a moral/virtuous lesson?

Does your black character act selflessly to help your white protagonist? Does he/she die?

These are the tropes of the magical Negro.

TVtropes.com defines the magical Negro;

In order to show the world that minority characters are not bad people, one will step forward to help a "normal" person, with their pure heart and folksy wisdom. They are usually black and/or poor but may come from another oppressed minority. They step (often clad in a clean, white suit) into the life of the much more privileged (and, in particular, almost always white) central character and, in some way, enrich that central character's life.

With such deep spiritual wisdom (and sometimes — though not always — actual supernatural powers), you might wonder why the Magical Negro doesn't step up and save the day himself. This will never happen. So enlightened and selfless is he that he has no desire to gain glory for himself; he only wants to help those who need guidance... which just happens to mean those who are traditionally viewed by Hollywood as better suited for protagonist roles, not, say, his own oppressed people. In fact, the Magical Negro really seems to have no goal in life other than helping white people achieve their fullest potential; he may even be ditched or killed outright once he's served that purpose. If he does express any selfish desires, it will only be in the context of helping the white protagonists realize their own racism and thereby become better people.

The magical negro trope is as old as American literature and cinema. While the trope usually comes up in American cinema, I bring it up here so you can avoid it when you write the next great American novel. Here are some examples:

Oda Mae Brown, (Whoopi Goldberg,) in the movie Ghost.

Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Mother Abagail in Stephen King’s 1978 novel, The Stand.

John Coffey in the 1984 novel, The Green Mile and the 1999 film.

The superhero Falcon, from the Marvel comic book Captain America, throughout the 1970s.

This trope can also exist for Asian characters, Native American, and Queer character too.

All of these characters fit the trope because they do not have agency. Their own motivation is never brought up. Their reasons for being loyal are never examined, and they are usually super skilled or have access to some sort of abilities our white protagonist doesn’t have. In many cases, they literally have magical powers!

OK, you’re probably asking the question, why is this bad?  

First of all, the character is shallow. What are his motivations? What does he want? Where did he come from?

Second, the character isn’t authentic to the African-American experience. While some black readers may love Richard, most won’t because he has no (say it with me . . . ) agency.  Do you know anybody who would give you moral lessons on multiple occasions? Neither do I.

Jason, I am NOT a RACIST. I made this character because I wanted to show the diversity in my story’s world. I wanted to have my main character grow and learn by listening and trusting a person of color!

I understand all of that. For the record, you had the best of intentions and NOBODY is saying you are a racist. But can we examine this a little closer? Let’s go back to Richard.

In the example I gave above, Richard plays football with Kevin and is his moral voice. That’s good. But, here are some questions, like . . .

  • Why does Richard care, so much?

Do Richard and Kevin have a rich backstory together going back to grade school?

Does Richard have a relative who’s a single mother, so he knows how hard it’s going to be for Vivian?

  • Why is Richard the moral voice?

Is he the son of a minister, rabbi or Imam?

Are there no other boys in the high school who think Kevin is a jerk? Why aren’t they talking?

High school boys are notoriously self-centered, so what does Richard get out of this?

  • Does Richard have a life of his own?

Doesn’t Richard have class or something, too?

If these guys are such good friends, do they do anything other than preach to each other?

What about Richard’s love life? Has he experimented with sex, too?

  • Where are the other black people?

Is Richard the only black student in the school? If he is, why? THAT would be an interesting story!

  • Do we get to see any other black characters?

The way you avoid this trope is to give your black characters agency. That means your black characters must have their own motivations and their own character arc. They have to grow alongside your protagonist. When you do this, you create tension and conflict in your story.

Let’s revisit Richard, again.

Richard and Kevin have known each other since Peewee football. They have been best friends for years. Richard’s father and mother lived together until they got a divorce. Richard’s dad left to take a job out of state. While Richard still sees his father, it’s only in the summer or at Christmas. As Richard has grown older, he wants his father’s presences more and more.

Richard has two younger sisters, 10 and 11. He has such a strong moral center because he’s the man of the house and has to take care of them. This includes dropping his sisters off at school and picking them up, after football practice.

Other than football, Richard has time to study and take care of his sisters.

See, Richard wasn’t a racist character; he was a shallow one. A little bit of character building and he’s much more believable.

Now, I want to give you an example of a character who is not a magical negro.  Michonne, from the Walking Dead Comic Book.

Michonne appears in the year 2005 of the comic book, The Walking Dead. The first time we see her she has two zombies chained to her. They are missing their jaws and their arms. She uses them as camouflage.

We also learn she is a bad-ass with a Katana, lopping off zombie heads left and right. She earns her place in Rick Grimes group of survivors and becomes a trusted advisor to Rick.

So far, so good, right?

  1. Rick’s group makes it to a walled town called Alexandria, Virginia. They try to integrate but are too violent for the survivors there, who have hidden there since the outbreak. Rick is particularly crazy about trying to get the other residents to know how bad it truly is.

Michonne constantly reminds Rick that they are guests. That it’s not their place to “Toughen” the other residents up. They have arguments over this stuff. Eventually, in a fit of rage, Rick screams in the street waving a gun at everyone. Michonne knocks him out and ties Rick – our white protagonist – up until he calms down and agrees to let it go.

We have tension, story conflict, and a moment of growth in both character arcs because the African-American side kick steps up and tells the protagonist he’s full of it. Great Story telling.

You’re Exercise

Flesh out your African-American by giving them a back story. Who were their parents? Are they college educated? Does this person have a family of their own?

What is the dynamic between your protagonist and your black character? Why are they friends? What brings them together? Is there a history between the two? Does one owe the other a favor?

Tension and conflict are central to all stories. What tension or conflict drives your white protagonist and your black supporting character apart?

Are they romantic rivals? Professional rivals? Is there respect, but no affection? Or affection, but little respect?

Write your black characters back story.

 

Follow me on Twitter @evans_writer

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Read more about me and my journey at www.jasonhenryevans.com

12 Elements of Crime Fiction

Fresh, unique ideas sell books, right?

Not necessarily.

Even the freshest idea must follow specific ‘rules’ or elements of the genre.

Don’t believe me? Then why in almost every romance novel the main character has one or more dead parents and the poor orphan was often raised by a kindly/odd/distant aunt or uncle? Or better yet, why is it that in an urban fantasy, the female lead is always haunted by something, whether it’s a real ghost or the ghost of boyfriend past, or in some cases herself?

Crime fiction is perhaps the worst offender.

And that’s why I love it.

These elements and rules give crime fiction its grit and style.

Mind you, not every one of the elements I list below will be in every book. But I bet that if you pull a copy of any crime novel off your bookshelf, you’ll find at least one and likely many more inside.

  1. The hooker/thug with the heart of gold
  2. Substance use/abuse
  3. A dirty cop
  4. A bottle of booze hidden in a desk/cabinet/toilet tank
  5. A femme fatale
  6. The term “Doll face” or “Baby doll”, really just some reference to a doll
  7. A description of a woman’s legs, in vivid detail
  8. A lounge/bar/nightclub/strip club
  9. A guy named “Fast” something, usually Eddie
  10. A dead partner/lover and/or betrayal by a former partner/lover
  11. Pipe/cigarette smoking hero and/or villain
  12. A dead body in the first 10 pages

Got any more? What about the genre which you write, what are the 'rules' in it?

 

 

What to Expect at 2017 Colorado Gold

The fun never ends at Conference HQ!

Colorado Gold is only a month away! We're at the Denver Renaissance Hotel in Stapleton again this year, which will be familiar to some attendees and new to many.

We have over 150 first-timers attending this year, and there are always little changes taking place, so I've put together this day-by-day run-through of what to expect at Colorado Gold this year.

Registration is SOLD OUT. Please make sure you register for the waiting list if you would like to attend. We do typically have last-minute cancellations and we will use the waiting list to bring new attendees on board.

Even though we are sold out, there are still a few sessions that existing attendees can ADD to their registration.

Sessions you can still add (if you're already registered):

  • Master Classes
  • Hypnosis Sessions (group or one-on-one available)
  • Audit Critique Round Table (select sessions only)

If you wish to add a session to your existing registration, the steps to do so are simple:

  1. Click on the SOLD OUT graphic from http://RMFW.org/conference
  2. When you get to the wait list page, click "already registered" and follow the prompts
  3. Click "OK"
  4. When you're at the summary page, click the MODIFY button on the upper row of buttons.
  5. Add your sessions.
  6. Click through to the end.
  7. Process your payment.

Don't Forget! Bring a Blank Journal to Conference!
RMFW Special Guest, Stuart Horwitz, is delighted to share: Book Architecture has partnered with Cocoon Journal, a non-profit organization that puts blank books in the hands of high school writers. The idea is that by writing, they can clear their head (and maybe generate the first draft of a future project). Do you have some blank journals lying around that you aren't using? Now, the solution: BRING THEM TO CONFERENCE! Cocoon Journal will be collecting unused, blank journals during Colorado Gold this September. You can also ship blank journals to: Cocoon Journal P.O. Box 740340, Arvada, CO 80006.

The At-A-Glance Schedule and Brochure

First, I wanted to point out that the At-A-Glance (AAG) schedule is organized by floor.

The left-most classrooms are located on the ballroom floor, which is the lower level of the hotel. These include the Ballrooms, Big Thompson, Platte River, and Boulder Creek.

The middle classrooms are located on the atrium level, these are Winter Park, Breckenridge, Snowmass, Telluride, Durango, Steamboat, and Aspen.

The right-most rooms, called the "Peak Rooms" on the schedule are located on the third floor. They aren't listed on the schedule individually because they are not part of the workshop space. This is where the one-on-ones, the critique groups, and other appointment-only sessions happen. These rooms include Blanca Peak, Longs Peak, Capital Peak, Gray's Peak, Bennett Peak, Maroon Peak, and Pike's Peak.

There is a floor plan printed on the back page of the conference brochure, which is available online right now. You will also receive a printed version of this brochure when you check in at conference.

Registration

Registration is located on the ballroom level, at the bottom of the escalators. Someone will be at the registration table for the duration of conference, and available to answer questions or help you with whatever you need. Registration opens Friday at 7:00 AM for the morning sessions and 10:30 AM for the regular conference attendees.

About Appointments and One-on-Ones

If you signed up for an appointment, it is likely that you will have to leave a workshop in session in order to attend. If you need to leave a workshop in-session, this is perfectly fine and happens throughout conference. Simply gather your things and quietly depart. Once your appointment is over, feel free to return to any workshop in-session.

Handouts

Handouts are available online. Check the HANDOUTS page often as we get closer to conference and more are added by our presenters. Please download handouts to your device or print them at home. You *can* download them at the hotel using the public wifi in the common areas of the hotel, but you will have to leave the classrooms to do so. While there is Wi-Fi in the hotel, there is NO Wi-Fi in the classrooms. 

WiFi

Since this comes up quite often, it get's its own section! There is no WiFi in the classrooms for the presenters or for the attendees. WiFi is available in the common areas of the hotel.

Bookstore

The bookstore is located in Clear Creek on the ballroom level for the duration of conference.

Conference Recordings

CES recordings of all the workshops will be available for purchase near the registration table on the ballroom level. Place your order before the end of the day on Saturday for pickup on Sunday. Orders placed on Sunday will be shipped to you after conference.

And now... here's a day-by-day walk through of our wonderful conferece!


Friday, September 8

On Friday Morning, we have appointment-only sessions from 8am to 12pm.

  • Master Classes (still open for add-on registration)
  • Agent & Editor Critique Round Tables

Check-in for the Friday morning sessions is at the registration table starting at 7:00 AM. Master Classes and Agent and Editor Critique Round Tables begin at 8 AM. Once you collect your registration materials, you will proceed to your assigned room. Check-in for the rest of the conference attendees will open at 10:30 AM.

Master Classes: The Master Classes are located on the ballroom level and atrium level. Check the schedule for your specific room and plan to arrive a few minutes early. Registration is available for these sessions if you're registered and wish to add it

Agent & Editor Critique Round Tables: If you signed up for a Round Table, these sessions are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Please arrive a few minutes early, and note that there will be signs on the doors so that you know you are in the right place.

Conference Officially Begins On Friday Afternoon:

  • 12pm:  New Attendee (or it's-been-awhile-attendee) Orientation Meeting (bring lunch or plan to eat before)
  • 1245pm: 15-minute Standing Yoga to get your day started out right! *stretch*
  • Regular Workshops
  • Mentor Room Appointments
  • 2pm: Hypnosis Group Session (still open for add-on registration)
  • One-on-One Pitch Coaching Appointments
  • Afternoon Agent & Editor Critique Round Tables
  • Plated Banquet Dinner
  • Author Signing and Book Sale (free and open to the public)

Check-in for the conference attendees will open at 10:30 AM.  Workshops and appointments begin at 1 PM.

Standing Yoga: Come as you are and enjoy a 15-minute yoga session to get your body ready for the afternoon sessions. Hosted by Bonnie Ramthun.

Mentor Room: The Mentor room is located in Boulder Creek, on the ballroom level. If you have an appointment for the Mentor room, your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. Check in at the main registration table 10 minutes before your appointment.

Hypnosis Group Session: This session will be held in Kingston Peak from 2-4pm. Registration is required. Join this session to unlock your potential and increase productivity, overcome writer’s block, and open up your imagination and creativity.

One-on-One Pitch Coaching appointments: If you signed up for Pitch Coaching, these sessions are located on the atrium level in Winter Park, Breckenridge, Snowmass rooms. Your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table outside the rooms. Please arrive 10 minutes before your appointment to check in.

Agent & Editor Critique Round Tables: If you signed up for a Round Table, these sessions are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Please arrive a few minutes early, and note that there will be signs on the doors so that you know you are in the right place.

Friday Dinner: Plated Banquet Dinner on Friday is located in Ballrooms C/D at 6 PM. Join us as we welcome you, honor our volunteers and hear from Diana Gabaldon, our Kickoff Keynote Speaker. There will be a cash bar in the hall outside the ballrooms prior to dinner and a cash bar inside during the meal.

Author Signing and Book Sale: Join us in Ballrooms A/B for an author signing extravaganza! Meet dozens of RMFW authors, our keynote speakers, presenters, and special guests. Buy books and have them signed. The cash bar will be open during this time. This is open to the public, so spread the word!


Saturday, September 9

On Saturday morning, we have:

  • 6am: 1-hour traditional Yoga Class in Ballroom A. Bring a towel or your own mat. (free and open to drop-in)
  • Hypnosis one-on-one sessions (still open for add-on registration)
  • Continental breakfast
  • Mentor Room Appointments
  • NLA Story Clinic Master Class
  • Agent & Editor Pitch Appointments
  • Buffet Lunch (new!)

Morning Yoga: 1-hour traditional yoga class. Bring a towel or your yoga mat from home and enjoy a 1-hour yoga session to get your body ready for the long day of conference. Hosted by Bonnie Ramthun.

Continental breakfast: This is optional and available starting at 7 AM in the hall outside the ballrooms.

Hypnosis One-on-One Session: These are available by appointment only. Experience an immersive one-on-one session to unlock your potential and increase productivity, overcome writer’s block, and open up your imagination and creativity.

Mentor Room: The Mentor room is located in Boulder Creek, on the ballroom level. If you have an appointment for the Mentor room, your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. Check in at the main registration table 10 minutes before your appointment.

NLA Story Clinic Special Intensive Master Class:  The NLA Story Clinic on Saturday morning is located in the Durango room on the atrium level.

Agent & Editor Pitch Appointments: Pitch Appointments are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table for the pitch appointments located on the third floor. Please make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment. If you have any questions or conflicts regarding your pitch appointment, you will need to speak to the volunteers at the third-floor check-in table. Additional pitch appointments are available on a first-come, first-served basis while space allows. Any questions about booking additional free pitches should be handled at the check-in table for the pitches with our Pitch Master, Mike Ruchhoeft, and his team of volunteers.

On Saturday afternoon, we have:

  • Buffet Lunch (new!)
  • 1:15pm: 15-minute Standing Yoga to get your afternoon started out right! *stretch*
  • 1:30pm: Regular Workshops Begin
  • Hypnosis one-on-one sessions (still open for add-on registration)
  • Mentor Room
  • Agent & Editor Pitch Appointments
  • One-on-One Critique/Blue Pencil Appointments
  • Awards Banquet Dinner
  • Author Readings

Lunch Saturday is provided. Buffet Lunch on Saturday is located in Ballrooms C/D at 12 PM. Join us as we honor our 2017 PEN Award recipients, and our 2017 Writers of the Year, Shannon Baker and Wendy Terrien.

Standing Yoga: Come as you are and enjoy a 15-minute yoga session to get your body ready for the afternoon sessions. Hosted by Bonnie Ramthun.

Hypnosis One-on-One Session: These are available by appointment only. Experience an immersive one-on-one session to unlock your potential and increase productivity, overcome writer’s block, and open up your imagination and creativity.

Mentor Room: The Mentor room is located in Boulder Creek, on the ballroom level. If you have an appointment for the Mentor room, your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. Check in at the main registration table 10 minutes before your appointment.

Agent & Editor Pitch Appointments: Pitch Appointments are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table for the pitch appointments located on the third floor. Please make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment. If you have any questions or conflicts regarding your pitch appointment, you will need to speak to the volunteers at the third-floor check-in table.

One-on-One Critique/Blue Pencil Appointments: One-on-One Critiques and Blue Pencil Cafe appointments are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table for these appointments located on the third floor. Please make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment.

Awards Banquet Dinner: Plated Banquet Dinner is located in Ballrooms C/D at 6:30pm. Please join us for an evening of fun and celebration as we present awards to our Colorado Gold Writing Contest Finalists and Winners, the Jasmine Award, and hear an inspiring speech from our keynote speaker, Sherry Thomas. There will be a cash bar.

Author Readings in Ballroom A: After dinner, please join us and listen to RMFW authors read their work live. If you signed up to read your work, you will have received your appointment details from our author reading coordinator. Please make sure you arrive before your scheduled reading time.

Cash Bar in "Hospitality Hall": Hang out in the hall outside the ballrooms after dinner and mingle. There will be a cash bar.


Sunday, September 10

On Sunday morning, we have:

  • Continental Breakfast
  • Regular Workshops
  • Hypnosis one-on-one sessions (still open for add-on registration)
  • Agent & Editor Pitch appointments
  • One-on-One Critique appointments
  • Farewell Luncheon with giveaways!

Continental breakfast: This is optional and available starting at 7 AM in the hall outside the ballrooms.

Agent & Editor Pitch Appointments: Pitch Appointments are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table for the pitch appointments located on the third floor. Please make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment. If you have any questions or conflicts regarding your pitch appointment, you will need to speak to the volunteers at the third-floor check-in table.

One-on-One Critique Appointments: One-on-One Critiques and Blue Pencil Cafe Appointments are located on the third floor in the "Peak Rooms". Your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table for these appointments located on the third floor. Please make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment.

Hypnosis One-on-One Session: These are available by appointment only. Experience an immersive one-on-one session to unlock your potential and increase productivity, overcome writer’s block, and open up your imagination and creativity.

Farewell Luncheon: The farewell buffet luncheon will be located in Ballrooms C/D. Please join us as our keynote, Lori Rader-Day closes our conference with an inspirational speech and we draw winners for various giveaway prizes.


I hope this information is useful as you prepare for conference.

See you in September!

The Dreaded Blurb

My publisher has a policy where they won’t start the editing process until you’ve finished the art memo and a promotional worksheet for your book. The worksheet includes writing a blurb.

In the old days (sigh) my editor or someone in the marketing department wrote my blurbs. I still had to come up with the tagline, but that’s much shorter than a blurb and easier to manage. The blurb, which becomes the back cover copy for print versions and the description on ebook sites, is supposed to tell the reader the basic plot of your book and at the same time, entice them into wanting to read it.

I know authors who like to write blurbs. They consider it challenging and fun. For me, the process elicits a deep groan. My first problem is that I tend to write long. Most of my books are over 100,000 words. My second problem is that having finished this book only a few months ago. I’m still too close to it to have a good perspective. My third problem is that I’m not good at knowing what readers look for in a book. I read book reviews almost every day in my job at the library. But book reviews critically evaluate a book and summarize the plot in a cold, logical way. Not a good model for a blurb, which is sort of a love letter to your book.

So, I asked my author friends for help. I came up with several blurb versions and we went out for tea and started reworking them. They took lines here and there they liked and rearranged and combined them. They also scratched out a lot, pointing out I was giving away too much of the story. “Take that out,” they’d say. “Readers don’t need to know that.”

During the process, I realized my instinct with a blurb is to outline the plot. But that’s not the idea. The blurb is supposed to tantalize and intrigue. Raise questions and then not give the answers. That’s a basic principle of fiction. You keep reading to find out what’s going to happen.

All at once, I understood I’d been doing blurbs all wrong for years. (Fortunately, I’m much better at taglines, which are so short you can’t give much away.) It's probably obvious to most authors that the blurb is supposed to keep the reader guessing. But my background in journalism pushed me to “tell my story”.

Eventually, my friends came up with a blurb they agreed on. To me, it feels vague and almost unfinished. But that’s probably a good thing.

In this business, you’re always learning. Sometimes the most obvious things have to be pointed out to you. Without the help of my friends, I’d make even more mistakes than I already have. Maybe that’s the most important lesson of all.

How about you? Do you like to write blurbs? Hate it? Do you have any special techniques or advice for the process that might help other authors?

Comedy In Fiction

LaughterOne of my favorite movies of all time, Front Page, features one of the first cinematic examples of what has come to be known as "snappy dialog": a rapid-fire exchange of witty banter and rejoinders. When a stand-up comedian drops a clunker (delivers a joke that earns little to no laughter) he can sometimes be heard to say, "On the way home tonight you're going to get that and laugh your head off!" With snappy dialog, the one-liners dropped in that machine-gun barrage can often go by so quickly you find yourself laughing at it minutes after the scene has already passed.

Examples, you ask? Well, I was recently watching a sci-fi/fantasy show set in the midst of WWII in which, as a byproduct of a sci-fi event, a group of unknowing people are healed by very thorough nano-robots of an alien virus. A woman then walks up to her physician to report, "My leg's back! I had only one leg, and now the other's grown back!" To which he replies, "Well there's a war on. Is it possible you miscounted?" This line is delivered so flatly, almost as an aside before the scene goes back to the main plot, I found myself laughing still minutes after the show had ended.

LaughterIn another example, the captain of a ship on which a bomb is about to explode is on the intercom demanding his crew find a way to jettison the explosive.

Captain: "How about we stuff it in an escape capsule?"
Crewman: "There are no escape capsules."
Captain: "Are you sure?"
Crewman: "Yes, Captain."
Captain: "Have you looked everywhere? Under the sink?"
Crewman: "Yes, Captain."

I enjoy comedic dialog, if done well, and strive to include it as much as possible in at least one of my ongoing series of suspense adventures. In an unpublished manuscript of mine there is a scene in which one character comments on a bullet wound that only creased the main character's scalp:

"What happened there?"
"Freak knitting accident."

And the dialog goes on, taking no notice of the joke. The funniest dialog is when it isn't acknowledged by the characters in the scene. In an interview, Mel Brooks once said of an actress, "She didn't do comedy. When she delivered a line, she couldn't stop herself from broadcasting it, all but winking at the camera and saying, 'Here comes the joke, folks!'" The very nature of comedy is the surprise. The funniest dialog is delivered non-sequitur, and it's even funnier when others in the scene act as if it's a perfectly normal thing to say.

LaughterDouglas Adams, celebrated British comedic sci-fi writer wrote this bit of a giggle:

"I have detected disturbances. Eddies in the space-time continuum."
"Ah...is he. Is he."
"What?"
"Er, who is Eddy, then, exactly?”

Here, an anomaly of the English language leads to a misunderstanding, giving rise to comedy.

I've heard other comedic people, writers and comedians, say comedy either comes naturally to a person or it doesn't. It cannot be taught. What's your opinion?

I often think I'm quite hilarious. Some don't agree. Which leads to another point: some comedy is subjective. I, for example, don't find bathroom humor funny, as a rule. The recent cinematic trend in gross-out humor leaves me cold. Other's nearly pass out with laughter. On the other hand, many hold that puns are the lowest form of humor. For me, contrariwise, a well-placed pun or double-meaning will send me into gales. Triple-, quadruple-meanings...the more facets an entendre has, the funnier it is.

Physical comedy is very hard to do in fiction. Don't believe me? Try describing your favorite comic strip to a reader. The challenge comes in explaining an action without dragging the joke on so long that by the time you get to the punch line the reader has already outthunk you and moved on. You need to develop a talent for pithy narrative. Good comedy writing is some of the tightest, most backloaded writing I've ever read. Even if you don't write comedy, it's good practice for any kind of writing.

An example of bad physical comedy in fiction?

"Lucy holds the football upright by the tip, an evil gleam in her eye. Charlie Brown, tongue planted firmly in the corner of his mouth, narrows his eyes and takes aim. He charges, planting his feet to pour on maximum speed. Just as he swings his foot at the ball, Lucy pulls it away. Charlie can't stop, and his momentum carries him off is feet, to where he it seems to him he is actually suspended for several seconds, time enough to scream, 'Aaaaaaargh!' When he falls he slides on the grass for a yard or so before coming to rest, staring at the sky. 'You blockhead!' he hears in the distance as Lucy struts away, not laughing, just disgusted."

This scene comes off as rather sad when written out this way. (BTW: It's my opinion Lucy secretly likes Charlie Brown. Every time she pulls the ball away she's testing him to see if he has yet become the man(boy) she needs him to be to justify her crush. But the subtext of cartoons is a whole other blog topic. One for true fiction-nerds.)

Now consider this physical scene:

"Turning the knob, she tried to open the door quietly, but it creaked as it opened. She tried to step through gaps in the crime scene tape, but it stuck to her pant leg, then her sleeve, and before she knew it she was stumbling through the door, a-tangle in the sticky stuff, hopping on one leg and trying to pull it free of her clothes."

Here the writer could have gone on to describe the scene in greater detail, and if this were any other kind of scene you might encourage them to do so. But in a comedic scene, it's only the action that convey's the humor, not the color of the door or the texture of the clothing that made the tape stick so well, etc.

One more point: strive to make your comedy as inclusive as possible. When you make others laugh at the expense of another, it's fun for your audience, but not so much for its victim. Puns aside, this is, in my opinion, the true lowest form of humor.

What's your favorite comedic moment in television, film or literature? Leave comments below.

Pack Up Your Media Kit and Smile!

As I sit down to write, I’m remembering that game we used to play as kids—the one where someone starts by saying, “I’m going on a trip and in my bag I packed…” You sit in a circle, and the starter names one item with each player listing previous items in turn and then adding another until you can’t remember the sequence anymore. I’m hoping to start a list that others will want to add to in the comments section at the end, because an author’s media kit may contain any number of items and no two media kits are alike.

You worked hard to publish your book. But now the promotional push has begun, and it will continue until you retire. A well-stocked media kit will save you oodles of time as your book list grows and you venture forth into various promotional arenas. Here are some ideas for what yours might include:

  • Your Photo. If you’re lucky you can sign up at the Colorado Gold Conference and have author and super-photographer Mark Stevens shoot you. J But if the timing doesn’t work, invest in a headshot done by one of your local professional studios. You’ll want the high-resolution digital version, and be sure to obtain a written release of the photographer’s rights transferred to you.
  • Your Book Cover. Again, you’ll want a high-resolution cover shot.
  • Your Business Card. You can have one professionally designed or do it yourself at a company like FedEx Office. I’ve done it both ways. Since I like to add a new book onto my card each year, I’ve saved some money by learning to design my cards myself.
  • Author Bios. You’ll need at least two: a short bio of less than one hundred words and an official bio that can be longer.
  • Book Endorsement List. Create one document to copy all of the industry review pull-quotes and author blurbs that you accrue as you publish your books. Whenever you need a media quote for a given book, one will be right at your fingertips.
  • List of Links to Online Articles, Interviews, and Guest Blogs. Again, build one document by pasting in each link. It saves so much time to have that information in one place, and the guest appearances add up over the years. If you have audio files from radio interviews, you can add those here too.
  • List of Cover Flap Blurbs and Short Book Descriptions. I like to have all of my book descriptions in one place, the longer ones from the cover flap or back of the book as well as the short one-to-two liners. When you need a book description for an announcement, you won’t have to search to find it or take the time to re-create one.
  • The type of promotional items to give out at events is a personal decision and varies from business cards only to elaborate gifts—and everything in between. My first year I used business cards, the second I added bookmarks, and this year I’m adding pens as well as bookmarks, for no reason other than I simply enjoy receiving these two items from other authors when I attend their events. I’ve read that swag should reflect your book content if possible, which seems like a good idea, so I sometimes give out doggie milk bones in party favor bags at my signings. And though not related to the content in my murder mysteries, but a gesture that reflects my gratitude, I love to give out kisses and hugs to readers…the chocolate kind.

Okay, here we go now. Smile and enjoy the journey! This is a good list for starters—but what else should we pack in our media kit?

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

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series, which includes Killing Trail (2015), an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award nominee; Stalking Ground (2016), a Colorado Book Award and International Book Award finalist; and Hunting Hour (2017), an RT Book Reviews Top Pick. She lives in Colorado where she assists her husband with their veterinary practice and Angus cattle herd. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.

Curing White Room Syndrome: How to Ground Your Reader

This is my second year serving as a judge for the Colorado Gold contest (which I highly recommend, for a number of reasons—but that’s a story for another blog post). After judging a dozen or so entries, I noticed I was making the same comment on almost every single manuscript: I didn't feel grounded enough.

Lack of grounding is sometimes referred to as "white room syndrome," because without sufficient setting details, a scene can feel like it’s taking place in an empty, white-walled room. But the lack of grounding isn't just a setting issue. Readers need sufficient information on other elements, such as character, conflict, and genre, to be fully immersed in the scene. At best, lack of grounding causes readers to feel like they're watching a scene from a distance rather than living it along with the characters. At worst, it causes readers to be too confused to turn the page.

So how do you achieve that elusive sense of grounding? Start by asking yourself the five W questions about your scene:

Where is it set? This applies to the macro and micro level. Is it set on Earth? In America, or Antarctica? In a big city or small town? Inside a building, on a train, in a cornfield, in an underground tunnel?

When is it? This also has macro and micro elements. Is it present-day? WWII era? Prehistoric? Is it the middle of the night? Sunrise? Dinnertime?

Who is in the scene? This doesn’t just mean describing the main character; you must also provide a sense of anyone else present. Is Mr. Protagonist sitting on the couch by himself, or is his wife sitting beside him? Are they alone, or is there a cocktail party full of people going on around them?

What are they doing, and why? If your character is digging a hole, he might be planting a rose bush or burying a body. If she’s racing to the hospital, she could be a surgeon who’s late for an operation, or she could be pregnant and going into labor.

Remember to look at these questions from the perspective of a reader. You, the writer, know the answers to all of these and more—but from the first page, or even the first paragraph, does the reader know?

Of course, grounding is no excuse for info dumping or over-choreography. The reader doesn’t need to know that the main character is 42 years old, 5’9” tall, 160 lbs, with shoulder-length chestnut hair, gray-green eyes, a square chin, and long fingernails. The reader doesn’t need to know she’s sitting behind a desk in room 212 on the second floor of Corporation, Inc. in Blahville, USA on March 22nd, 2016. The reader just needs a few key details to get a flavor of these things. For instance, you can show the character is middle-aged by showing a picture of her 12-year-old son. You can hint that she lives in the present day by mentioning her computer or smartphone.

Then, you can make the scene come alive by adding concrete, memorable details. Instead of “She had long fingernails,” try “Her glittery glue-ons clicked with every letter she typed.” Instead of “She worked in an office,” try “Her windowless cube farm felt live a cave.” Find details of character and setting that are dynamic, rather than static—things that can be incorporated into action, things that can be described with active verbs rather than the life-sucking “was.” Instead of “Her skirt was black,” try “Her black skirt clung to her as if it had been painted on.” When your descriptors pack more punch, they’ll stick better in your reader’s memory.

I’ve seen many writers get halfway there: they do a good job grounding the reader, but too late. Imagine you’re reading along, envisioning a fair-haired boy walking through a forest—only to discover 10 pages later that the character is actually a bald 50-year-old walking around a cruise ship. It’s jarring, and it pulls you out of the story. When we read something that isn't fully grounded, our brain automatically fills in some of the gaps. It's jarring when we realize we've filled them in wrong, and we have to tear down and rebuild the entire scene in our mind.

This applies to genre as well. When readers encounter white room syndrome, they’ll usually fill in the gaps with a contemporary setting by default. Imagine their shock when, pages later, they realize the story is set in a space-bubble orbiting Saturn, or the human female they were envisioning turns out to be a centaur-cyborg hybrid. Not only do they have to rebuild the setting in their mind, they also have to grapple with an entirely different genre. Readers want a sense, from the first page, of what kind of story they’re diving into—and if you don’t provide that, they’ll be ungrounded.

As writers, we have a painfully short window of opportunity to hook readers before they put our books down forever. The good news is, if you work hard on grounding, you can immerse readers on page 1 and never let them go.