Category Archives: General Interest

What’s Going On At Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers?

The Colorado Gold Conference

JefferyDeaver200x230Have you signed up yet? With keynote speakers like Jeffery Deaver and Desiree Holt, how can you go wrong? Add in agents and editors--Danielle Burby, Trish Daly, Denise Dietz, Tiffany Schofield, Chelsey Emmelhainz, Sarah Joy Freese, Erin George, Carrie Howland, Emily S. Keyes, Melissa Jeglinkski, Ben LeRoy, and Latoya C. Smith--and you know Westminster, Colorado is the right place to be September 11-13, 2015.

If you haven't registered yet, you better do it now. Last year the conference registration was filled in record time. You don't want to miss out. For all the information on master classes, conference sessions, meals, hotel, and how to register, click here to go to the website's conference pages.

The Podcasts

Mark Stevens is currently hosting a series of interviews and programs with the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Podcasts. Podcast #5 featured Heather Webb with "Finding Your Voice." #4 -- Holt Finalist Tina Ann Forkner Talks Romance & James Norris Previews RMFW Workshop on Boosting Character Conflict.

The complete list of podcasts and links are available in the website Podcast section right here.

The Blog

Are you following the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog Monday through Friday? With a team of regular contributors and several guest bloggers each month, all from the RMFW membership list, the blog is a great way to meet other members and enjoy the information they're willing to share with the tribe and all aspiring writers interested in what we do here at RMFW.

Did you follow Jeanne C. Stein's lessons in genre writing? Get a chuckle (or a groan) from reading the humor of Julie Kazimer or Aaron Ritchey? Explore ways to get reviews with Janet Lane? All these and more are available on the blog pages of the RMFW website.

By the way, you can sign up to receive email notices of each new blog post so you don't miss anything. Just scroll down the blog page until you find the Email Address (in red) box in the right sidebar.

The Social Media Connection

Go to the Home Page or the Blog Page and you'll find the little Social Media icons in the right sidebar with links to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and more.

Are you a member?

If you visit the website, listen to the Podcasts, attend the conference, enjoy our monthly free classes, or read the blog, but haven't become a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers yet, why not today?  Here's the link for membership information.

A Writer is One Who Writes … by Linda Berry

Linda Berry 11-06When asked when I knew I wanted to be a writer, I usually say it was about fourth grade. That's when, as a big fan of the feature called “Life in These United States” in The Reader's Digest, I realized it made a big difference how a story was told. I began to appreciate humor, brevity, and careful word choice. Looking back, I realize that long before I had professional ambitions, I would often volunteer to take the notes of the meeting or write the blurb for the newsletter. In sixth grade I won $25 in a national contest for saying (in 25 words or less) why I liked a certain toothpaste. It was fiction. I had to borrow the required box top from a neighbor, since we didn't use that brand.

Years later, I have some solid publication credits that range from poetry and plays to a newspaper activity column and six cozy mystery novels. Of course (of course!) my career as a writer has not been one huge success after another. In the olden days, when manuscript submissions still involved postage, SASEs, and, all too often, paper rejection slips, I sometimes gifted special writer friends with wastepaper baskets covered with decoupaged rejection slips.

My dedication to the job--as well as the rewards--still waxes and wanes. Good times, bad times, blah times, discouraging times, productive times--they're all in there, so I've developed several writing-related activities designed to keep me moving and productive, and remind myself that I am a writer. The very best of motivators would be a contract and/or a deadline. I'm talking about those other times. If you've ever suffered from the blahs, maybe one of these ideas will help you.

WRITE SOMETHING
Draft a query letter describing your idea to an editor or publisher. Draft an application for a writing job, even an imaginary one. Write a thank you note or a letter to your mother. Write a letter to the editor. Almost certainly, you'll find yourself editing and improving what you've written, as well as clarifying your thoughts. Flannery O'Connor said, “I write to discover what I know.” How can that be a waste of time?

POSITIVE THINKING
Find some motivational slogans to post near your work station. “The only unforgivable sin is giving up.” “Even Babe Ruth struck out most of the time.” A little of this goes a long way with me, but it's far better than thoughts like “What made you think you could do it?” and “Who cares, anyway?”

RESEARCH
Find out about markets, contests, conferences, organizations, classes and workshops for writers. Check on details for a story.

NETWORK
Put that research to use. Enter a contest (which might come with a deadline, a focus, and feedback). Get into an existing critique group, or form one. Join a group (like RMFW) of people who face the same challenges and have the same goals. These people are the ones who can help you over the bad spots and re-direct you when you go astray. Sometimes they'll have useful marketing information.

FANTASIZE
Why not? Sometimes I fantasized about what I would wear at my first book signing. Write jacket copy or a review for that as yet unpublished, or unwritten novel. (This might help you find your focus. What IS that book about?)

TEACH
Teaching is a great way to sharpen your own skills and understanding. Lately, I've been tutoring a Korean woman who wants to improve her writing in English, and I recently presented something I called “Working With Words” for a high school career day. I tried to give these hopeful high schoolers an honest assessment of their chances of making a living as writers. At the end, I gave each one a certificate (which I had downloaded and customized) that read: “A writer is one who writes. Abigail Authoress (not her real name) is a writer.”

TAKE A CLASS
Attend a conference like RMFW's Colorado Gold, where you can learn craft and marketing and meet people at all stages in their careers. I'll be there, presenting a session called “Show AND Tell,” discussing how to apply the advice, “show, don't tell,” and another session addressing ways to expand or compress your manuscript to make it the length you need. I'll also be facilitating a discussion called “Birds of a Feather,” for writers of mysteries. If you come, say hello. And if you need one of those certificates I mentioned, either download and customize it yourself, or let me know and I'll have one ready for you. A writer IS one who writes.

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

Linda Berry's mystery novels are set in the small Georgia town where she was born. For more information about Linda and her books, please visit her website.

What Makes a Keeper Book?

By Pamela Nowak

There’s a big difference between an enjoyable read and a keeper book. For me, the keepers are those books that take me beyond light entertainment and involve me emotionally in the story. They are the books that make me feel as if I am in the story and make me gasp or worry or cry. They are the ones I remember long after reading them.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that for me, the books that do this have a few key elements in common: a firm grasp of scene structure, a plotline driven by GMC, conflicted/complicated characters, and tight POV.

Hah! So what do I mean by that?

Scene structure is critical. Early on in my writing, I heard Jack Bickham at a Colorado Gold Conference and immediately bought his book: Scene & Structure. His process made sense and (as a plotter) I immediately grasped the way it paired character and plot. It gave purpose to each and every scene and allowed me to keep from straying off on tangents when writing. As a reader, I find that structured scenes keep me more involved in the story, without feeling like the character is simply wandering through time with things happening to him/her.

Bickham’s basic tenet is that each scene should have a goal, conflict, and a disaster. The POV character has an immediate short-term goal. Early in the book, that goal is based on his/her long-term goal or the story question. With each disaster, a new short-term goal is formed which influences the character’s next actions. These goals are important because they allow the character to guide the plot rather than having things just “happen” to the character. This makes the character more sympathetic and guides the plot. Conflict is the result of something or someone that disrupts the goal and isn’t just made up (such as an argument for the sake of argument) and therefore will have a consequence for the character that will lead him/her to react, feel, and form a new goal which in turn moves the story forward. In short, scenes constructed in this way provide continuity and allow the characters to drive the story rather than the author.

Disasters can come in many forms from a blocked goal to partially met goal to a “yes, but…” goal (met but doesn’t turn out as anticipated). After each disaster, the character reacts, either on or off stage in what Bickham calls a sequel. He/she has an emotional reaction, processes/thinks about what happened, makes a decision, and forms a new goal. Of course, like scenes, there are variations in sequel format. The “scene and sequel” construction keeps the story always moving forward and character-driven.

GMC is closely related. Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict emphasizes plot construction that relies on a character with a goal who is motivated by something and runs into conflict (something that blocks them from meeting the goal). The key difference here is the motivation element. A character has a back story that has shaped him or her into who they are. Goals are (or should be) related to their backstories—which really is part of character development. If you’ve ever read a book and said, “now why did she do that?” you’ve encountered a story that lacked motivation elements. As I writer, understanding motivation allowed me to more fully define my characters—villains and heroes alike.

And that leads me to complex characters.

My favorite books are those that have heroes or heroines and villains and even secondary characters with pasts that have shaped them into who they are when the book begins. Their backstories have created both inner and outer goals. I think of it this way: the outer goal is what the character wants but the inner goal is what he/she truly needs. The outer goal is usually related to the story question and launches the story. The inner goal is related to the deep part of a character and his/her arc; it’s tied to his/her flaws and often, the character doesn’t even realize it motivates his/her actions. Give me a complicated character in need of growth and you’ve got me hooked.

Pair up that character development with a tight POV and the result is an emotional link that keeps the reader constantly involved in the story; the reader feels like he IS the character. A tight POV means that descriptions are relayed in a way uniquely that of the POV character. An artist would experience the world in a broad palette of color and technique; a musician would interpret life via music. A man who has been in prison would temper things through a different lens than a free-spirit who spent time in a commune. A writer who uses words and phrases and metaphors that relate the world to the character employs tight POV and lets the reader feel what the character feels. This goes a step further when actions and movements and internal thoughts and reactions are all related in the same way.

It’s rare to find books that employ all of these elements but when I do, I read them again and again. They go on my keeper shelf and I buy such authors without regard to the exact plot simply because I know their books will be good.

If I have one goal as an author, it is to employ all of these elements and to have readers say they were so involved with the characters that the book became alive. In short,... to be put on the keeper shelf.

Descriptive Power on Page One

By Karen Duvall

Description often gets overlooked for the power it can have in a story. Some dismiss it as no big deal, just use the five senses and you're good to go. Some avoid using it altogether because they think readers skip that part to get to the action. Some worry over excessive exposition that could be perceived as an info dump. And some apply it strictly as a means for building their story world, period.

The above assumptions are mostly false.

Effective description is one of the most powerful tools in a writer's toolbox. There's a skill to making it work in an active way that enhances both plot and character, and can make the difference between an okay story and a compelling one.

I could spend an entire day teaching a workshop on description, but I'll condense the basics for the purpose of this blog. In fact, I'm going to start at the beginning. Of a book. Like, page 1.

An overall issue I see with a lot of first books is an eagerness to reveal the setting in a cinematic way. A literary camera pans across a vista in the land where the story takes place. Or the camera slowly zooms in on some metaphorical image that sets the tone of the story about to unfold. Or perhaps the lens is pointed out the window as thick clouds of fog roll across the screen to create atmosphere.

The above might work great for a movie, with a voice over done by the main character. And though screenplays share a number of similarities with the novel form, they are different medias. Film engages the viewer visually and captures attention that way. Books use words, and call upon a reader's imagination to conjure the image that's intended to be seen. This takes time, and readers are less likely to have the patience to translate all those words into something visually engaging enough to compel them to turn the page. A writer needs to hook them before they decide to go watch a movie instead.

But you want to set the tone, the atmosphere, and visually engage your readers, so how else can you do this? If you want to use description to open your book, your job is to create context. Associate the description with the action and the characters. Don't separate the two. Engage your reading audience by creating a balance that ties all these elements together.

Let's use the vista as an example. As your words paint a panoramic view of the story world, they need to include an active element in the story. You'll be in a character's point of view as you do this (please avoid omniscient if possible) so his emotions are attached to this unfolding landscape. Maybe it's morning and the character is tense because of something about to happen. What he sees and feels relate to this scenery in some way. Maybe his job is to slaughter a farm animal to feed his family and he's loath to take a life. Or he has to check the zombie traps that were set the night before and he's scared of what he'll find. Consider having some conflict at play here because readers will be most engaged by tension rather than entering the land of the happy people. Even if your characters are happy, there needs to be a hint of unpleasantness just around the corner. Tension on every page.

Just remember that context is key, especially for genre fiction. And even though you think you're showing rather than telling, a description that lacks engagement with the plot and characters is like a barren island floating in a sea of nothing. Dry. Boring. Stagnant. It doesn't take the reader where he or she needs to go.

Does the first page of your manuscript open with description or action?

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com/
http://www.karenduvall.blogspot.com
https://twitter.com/KarenDuvall
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/405199.Karen_Duvall
http://www.facebook.com/Karen.Duvall.Author

 

Lesson Eleven –The Market –Big Press, Small Press, Self-pub

By Jeanne C. Stein

We’ve reached the last lesson. I hope I’ve given you one or two nuggets to strengthen your writing. This lesson will increase your understanding of the business. The two go hand in hand. If you are truly serious about a writing career, it isn’t enough to immerse yourself in the creative process. You must also be aware of how publishing works. Publishing, for good or evil, is a business and as such, profitability is of utmost importance. The authors that sell are the authors who will continue to be published.

Last time, we talked about agents. This time we will look at the different publishing venues. I must add here that I’m not going to be talking in depth about e-pubbing. There are lots of venues you can check if that’s what you’re interested in. Just google JA Konrath and you can get a wealth of information. I’m going to talk about the mainline route—Big houses, small presses and self-publishing.

We’ll start with the traditional publishing houses. The big boys with the familiar names: Penguin/Random House, Harper Collins, Kensington, and on… What are the advantages of going with a big house? Are there any disadvantages?

To start, lets look at the process. For those of you already published, this will be a review. For those of you YET to be published, this will be a brief overview of what to expect. Some people are surprised.

We’ll talk about money first. If your manuscript is accepted at a big house or small, whether through an agent or plucked from the slush pile, you’ll be offered a contract. The contract will stipulate the amount of your advance (upfront money paid against future sales) and how the balance will be paid out. For instance, you’ve been offered a $5,000 (which seems to be the norm now) advance for your first book. Your first check will be 50% or $2500. If you have an agent, he will get 15% of that (that’s the usual fee.) The remaining $2500 will be divided into two payments—$1250 upon delivery and acceptance of the manuscript and $1250 upon publication of the book. Again, the agent gets 15%.

So far so good—what about royalties? Let’s say your book is published in trade paper back—the larger paper back size. Retail price is $15.00. Your cut is most likely 8% of $15.00 or $1.20. To make back the $5,000 advance, you have to sell roughly 4100 books. That means, 4100 books sold before you see a royalty check. Okay, you’ve sold 4100 books according to the latest statement. But where’s the check for your full royalty? All you’ve gotten is maybe $300? Why? Because publishers hold money back against returns. In other words, publishers want to hedge their bets. They want to make sure if Barnes & Noble returns 400 of your books, they haven’t paid you for them. They can hold that money for as long as your contract stipulates.

That’s the way the money works. What advantages are there to going with a big house? First off, you’re probably going to get a larger advance. The big houses have thousands of authors generating millions of dollars. Those big names who get the seven figure contracts really pay the way for the mid list writers. The Stephen Kings and Nora Roberts of the publishing world bring in vast amounts of revenue.

Secondly, large houses have marketing and publicity departments. They send out bound review copies ahead of publication to generate interest in an author. They have art departments to design original covers. They have contacts with the media. They have a sales force to make sure your book gets to the stores.

What don’t they do? Generally they don’t pay for a first-time author to go on tour. They expect you to arrange your own book signings although they will make sure a supply of your books gets to wherever you intend to be. They won’t pay for advertising in magazines but they will design the art if you want to pay for the space. In other words, they rely on you to do most of your own promotion.

What about a smaller publishing house? I’m speaking here of independents. The little guys who put out 12-20 books a year. Most likely, you will get little or no advance--$100 - $1000 is the average. They may not have the distribution channels available to make sure your book is available to the B & N’s and Border’s or the contacts to get your books reviewed. Cover art may be less professional, i.e., generic or stock. You may get less editorial support. Small presses operate on a shoestring and sometimes, they go under, taking your book with them. It is so important if you go with a small house and you are unagented to have an entertainment lawyer check out the contract. Things to check are ebook and media (TV/Movie) rights. You don’t want to sign these away. It will cost you down the road. There should be a clause stipulating when you get the rights to your books back—especially if something happens and the house either goes under or doesn’t publish your book. This sometimes happens with a small house.

On the other hand, you may get much more personal attention with an editor who has ten rather than thirty authors to work with. Your book may be released months rather than years after purchase. You may have more input into cover art and cover copy.

Pros and cons. Look at each. I’ve been published by both a big and a small house. In my case, bigger was definitely better. More exposure, more reviews, more professionalism by far. But if you think you’d like to start small, by all means do it. Your comfort level is what’s important. How do you find the small imprints? Join writers’ organizations—Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers of America—most have local chapters in big cities. Investigate local groups. Find them through libraries and community colleges. Then attend the meetings. Often the speakers are editors of small houses (and agents looking for new stuff) who will listen to your pitch and ask you to submit. Just like polishing your query letter, practice a one or two line pitch.

What about self-publishing? We’ve all heard about the Christmas Box. Richard Paul Evans wrote the book, self-published it and sold it out of the trunk of his car. Now it’s a mega-best seller picked up by Simon & Schuster and sold around the world.

Lightning does strike.

But the truth is, self-publishing a book is fraught with problems. Most bookstores will not carry a book unavailable through one of the major distribution channels. Neither will they invite you to sign. Self-publishing is expensive and time consuming. You must design your own cover and format. Register your own copyright. Reviewers are seldom interested in a self-published book, no matter how well written. You are the sole marketing agent, warehouser and distribution agent for the book.

So why do people do it?

Frustration with normal publishing channels is the most common reason people choose to self-pub. They have a story to tell and want to find an audience. They are too impatient to wait the one-two years necessary for a book to go from acceptance by a publisher to print. They want to keep all the money for themselves, not understanding that often to make back the cost, they have to charge an exorbitant amount for each book.

But again, like choosing a big house or a small house, self-publishing is an option. Just do your homework before you decide. And remember, there are literally millions of books out there. The trick to successful self-publishing is to have three or four books ready to go before you publish your first. Then release a second book four to six weeks after the first, the third, four to six weeks after that, etc. Build a readership. Make them eager for your next release. In the meantime, be writing books five, six, seven and eight.

Rinse. Repeat.

We’ve reached the end. Writing is a solitary endeavor and it’s important to find support and encouragement. Here are a few of the national writing organizations I mentioned before you might want to check out:

Sisters in Crime http://www.sistersincrime.org/

Mystery Writers of America http://www.mysterywriters.org/

Romance Writers of America http://www.rwanational.org/

Horror Writers Organization http://www.horror.org/

There are many others and most have local chapters, too.

I hope this class has provided you insight into what genre writing encompasses. Many of you are well on your way to writing your own. You have the tools to write a well-crafted book, the knowledge to avoid pitfalls and mistakes, an awareness of what publishing venues are available to you.

I want to thank all of you for participating. I’m always available at Jeanne@jeannestein.com and will answer every email.

Below is a list of a few of my favorite writing books in no particular order:

Jack Bickham SCENE AND STRUCTURE

James Frey HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL

Dwight Swain TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER

Lawrence Block WRITNG THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT

Carolyn Wheat HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION

Patricia Highsmith PLOTTING AND WRITING SUSPENSE FICTION

Happy Writing!

How to Get Away with Murder (Non-TV Show Edition)

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

From the title you’d guess that I was about to tell you how to murder someone. But I’m not. At least not really. This post is about reality in fiction.

No, really dear NSA (who can still read my meta data, or is that my mind thanks to the Patriot Act renewal). I’m not plotting to kill anyone.

I promise *wink, wink*

Anyway…. I recently asked my facebook writer friends, which I truly hope you are one of (if not, why not? I don’t smell that bad and I can be fun. No really. Ask anyone. If you’d like to become one, please do so at www.facebook.com/JulieAKazimer), about using a fictional fact in a story.

More to the point, I wanted to lie about something. Something insignificant but what appeared factual in this story. Basically, I planned on saying Washington DC had the third most surveillance cameras in the world. This is a lie. They’re not even close. In fact, the third most cameras belongs to…drum roll…Chicago. Not surprising with the amount of Bears there. Number two is London, and number one is Beijing in case you ever need to know, which goes back to the title. Damn, I guess I was offering advice on how to avoid a murder charge.

I was surprised by the response of my fellow writers. Many said, hey, it’s fiction so do what you want. This was my thinking at the time. But a far greater number of writers responded with, “WHAT?! ARE YOU CRAZY?” To which I said, “Maybe, but what’s your point?”

And boy did they have a point.

As a reader, I sometimes believe and then tell others ‘facts’ I read in a novel. Now I’m not talking about story ‘facts’ but little bits of research-y (yes, I just made up my own word. It’s my blog post, so there) ones like how everybody on a white, sandy beach gets their own cabaña boy.

Oh, how I long for a cabana boy.

But that’s another post for another day.

So what’s your opinion? Can I lie about the amount of cameras? Or would I be leading my flock (that’s what I’d love for all of you to start calling yourself. No. Really. That would make my year) astray? Where’s the line between fiction and reality in fiction? Or the reverse, how much fiction can you put in non-fiction or memoir?

Oh, and if you murder anyone in Chicago because of my advice, let’s just call that ‘our’ little secret.

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story and FROGGY STYLE as well as the forthcoming book, The Assassin’s Heart. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator. For more about Julie, visit her website.

What’s In Your Bucket? … by Kay Bergstrom

Kay BergstromMany writers have Bucket Lists of the good stuff they hope to accomplish before they kick the aforementioned bucket. It usually starts with “write a book” and ends with “#1 NYT Best-Seller Five Years in a Row.” Take that, Harry Potter.

“Write a book” is an appropriate listing because it’s within your power to do it. Being a best-seller does NOT fit the Bucket List because it depends on somebody else. Example: Writing a book and entering a contest are Bucket List-worthy. But you have no control over whether or not your masterpiece wins the prize.

For years, I’ve had a series of inappropriate Bucket List wishes. Example: Get Five Star Review. Get Four Star Review. Two Stars? Ignore All Reviews. Kill Reviewer. Kill All Reviewers.

Clearly, I need to re-think my Bucket List...which is not to be confused with my goals and planning. As a chronic procrastinator, I’m familiar with the concept of goal-setting. Practical goals, such as writing a certain number of words per day or hours per week, are important. As are promotional goals, such as chatting on Facebook, updating the website, tweeting, etc. Goals are part of the job. They’re the tools used in the craft of writing.

A Bucket List is different.

A combination of plans and dreams, a Bucket List is both reflective and aspirational. When you look back at where you’ve been in your career, you can see how your bucket list has changed and become more realistic. Once upon a time, I envisioned being carried through the halls of publishing on the shoulders of my editors while the peasants chanted: Genius! Genius! Now, I’m thrilled with a happy face on the copy edit pages. After you look back and reflect, you’ve got a better idea where you want to go.

My Bucket List

Number One: What got me started writing? That would be reading. Over the years, I’ve gotten lazy with my book diet, going back to the same authors over and over or the same type of book. Bucket List says: Branch out. Maybe read all the books that won Pulitzers or the Top 100 Novels of all Time. Instead, I decided to: Read one book per month from the NYT Top Ten Best-Sellers. This book can’t be by an author I already know and love. So sorry, Lee Child.

Number Two: When writing toward a deadline or a goal, I am Grumpy Cat. Really? I mean, why write if it isn’t fun? Enjoy the process. Every day, I’ll try to write one sentence that makes me laugh or one scene that scares me more than zombies. This shouldn’t be hard because I really like my romantic suspense genre. My books are short, punchy and have happy endings...kind of like me.

Number Three: It’s entirely possible that I’m not going to win any big awards or land a multi-million dollar contract. At one time or another, those things have been on my Bucket List. Not anymore. The best prizes are the ones I give myself. Celebrate Moi. When I finish a project, I will throw myself a party or give myself a shiny gift.

Number Four: My dad used to love poetry. When he’d call me and read his fave new poem over the phone, it made the world “puddle-wonderful” and the “goat-footed balloon man whistled far and wee.” Try Writing Something Different. A new manila folder is on my desk, and it’s for poetry (gasp!), which I will print in hard copy because my dad didn’t love computers.

Number Five: Supporting and sharing with other writers is fun (always a motivating factor), interesting and a great way for me to continue learning. I’ve been plowing this field for a long time with my first Harlequin published in 1984 and a total of 79 books sold so far. Writing has given so much to me, it’s time to give back. Become a mentor. I can’t wait to get started on this Bucket List item. Over the years, I’ve stumbled into jobs with copy editing, developmental editing, ghost writing and pre-plotting.

If I were thoroughly altruistic, I’d dress in flowing mentor robes and give away free advice. But that’s not going to happen. Development and editing will be a business.

Enough about moi... What’s on your Bucket List? Remember: it has to be something you can do for yourself. Endless possibilities: Start a blog. Write in a different genre. Publish an e-book. Find a critique partner. Brain-storm. Get fifty thousand followers.

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

Kay Bergstrom (aka Cassie Miles) has sold 79 novels of romance and suspense, 4 super-short e-books, 2 audio plays and 2 screenplays that went straight to video. Her teaching experience ranges from college level to fifth graders. She’s been on the USA Today Best-Seller List (extended) and been RMFW’s WOTY twice. You can find her books listed on Goodreads.

An Afternoon With A Master

By Mary Gillgannon

A few weeks ago, Nora Robert’s book Liar hit the top of the Publisher’s Weekly bestseller list. I was delighted by this news. Since I also write romance, it’s cool to see a romance writer make it to number one. The genre is often disparaged and sneered at, but there can be no doubt romance is hugely popular, accounting for almost 40% of ebooks sold and over 20% of print.

The other reason I felt a kind of personal thrill over Nora’s success is because I once had the opportunity to spend several hours with her and discuss writing. It was at a conference nearly twenty years ago. We were sitting in the lobby with my editor at the time. Nora, who was the keynote speaker, walked by, and my editor asked her to join us. A short while later, my editor left, but Nora stayed and chatted with me and three other “newbie authors” for a couple of hours.

At first the conversation was very general, but it gradually turned to writing. Nora was so gracious and relaxed, my friends and I took the opportunity to glean what knowledge we could from this amazing professional. We asked, of course, how she managed to be so prolific, managing to write six or more books a year, under two names. (And unlike bestseller James Patterson, she writes every word herself.) She talked about her work ethic and “Catholic guilt” and said she writes for several hours almost every day, even when traveling.

Next, we asked about her writing process. You might imagine that someone so prolific would have to plot and outline ahead of time. But Nora’s process is fairly loose. She comes up with an idea and/or characters and starts writing, developing the plot and doing research as she goes along. I asked if she ever got stuck and she said, “All the time.” But then she explained her magic solution: “When you write yourself into a corner, you just have to write yourself out again.” A simple enough sounding technique, but it embodies some very important philosophies: Never giving up and having faith in your story and in your own abilities.

With every book, I write myself into a corner, not once but several times. Early in my career, I would panic when this happened. My confidence in myself and my writing would start to waver. I would worry the book totally sucked and maybe I should abandon it and write something else. (Some books I did abandon, at least temporarily.) But now I know writing is more about persistence than skill or creative brilliance. I also know that if I hit a bump or a rough spot, I have to keep going. If I keep putting words on the paper, the answer to the question—what happens next—will eventually come to me. And I’ll be out of the corner and back on the smooth writing road again. I figure if this technique worked for the 200-plus books that Nora has written, it ought to work for me.

TURNING OUR NOSE UP AT THE INDULGENT

By Kevin Paul Tracy

The other day I stumbled across, of all random things things, the old Punk Rock hit, "Turning Japanese." ("I think I'm turning Japanese. I think I'm turning Japanese. I really think so!") Before I knew it I was laughing and doing a silly dance there at my desk. It had been ages since I'd heard the thoroughly ridiculous, utterly indulgent song, and I'd forgotten what a catchy beat, toe-tickling melody, and nonsense lyrics it brought to the ear. I found myself completely delighted, my spirits lifted for no other reason than this empty-headed little song. And, as most things do, it got me thinking.

There is a certain snobbery in certain industries, most notably the arts, that summarily dismisses and in almost all cases delights in tearing down and lambasting the simple, the silly, the indulgent. "Turning Japanese" was roundly dismissed as inconsequential and in some cases even detrimental to the library of American music, and yet someone listened to it, enough people to make it, if not a number one hit, then at least a top 40 gem. There was something about it, silly and inconsequential as it might be, that pleased people. They enjoyed listening to it.

I stopped watching the HBO TV series "Game of Thrones" after the so-called "Red Wedding" episode, but only partially because I was disappointed as a viewer. While doing research online I came across several credible quotes by the author of the show who freely admitted he killed off his heroes in ignoble ways to shock and alarm readers/viewers. He didn't want them to rely on the heroes to save the day, didn't want fans to relax in the idea that the hero would eventually prevail, that good would eventually defeat evil. Perhaps that is fine for him and for the thousands who still read his books and watch his television program. But it seems to me a cynical focal point around which to pivot a plot. I write because I have a story to tell. I write the story that wants telling. I don't indulge some disgruntled agenda to manipulate an audience or to make a rhetorical point.

There is an on-gong debate I've been following online in British literary circles where the underlying operating assumption is that any book with a happy ending is immediately dismissed as unimportant, puerile, indulgent and of no consequence. Never mind the quality writing that may fill the pages leading up to it, if it ends with the good guys winning then it is summarily dismissed. Forgive me, but such a sweeping displacement strikes me as every bit as shallow as the books themselves supposedly are. Am I wrong? To me, I love reading well written prose. How the story ends is almost immaterial to me, if the intervening story and the skill with which it was written was a joy to experience. Almost, because an arbitrary or manipulative ending can spoil a good tale.

We are all entitled to write what we wish, and if you find an audience, well good God of course more power to you. But I think it wrong to try to shame others for indulging in certain literary palate cleansers such as Louie L'Amour's westerns, Ian Fleming's James Bond series, or even Charles Dickens entirely operatic but delightful fiction. There is a reason television shows like Little House on The Prairie, The Gilmore Girls, and today's Castle run for so many years. No one mistakes them for real life. But there is something simple, silly and pleasing about them to a great many audiences.

While I, myself, prefer a happy ending, I don't dismiss a book that doesn't have one. In point of fact I think Stephen King is an American treasure, probably one of the best writers I've ever read, and I don't recall a single one of his books that ended on a totally positive note. So while I prefer one, I can appreciate all. I would never dismiss the hard work of any writer on so slight and arbitrary a criteria as that. I take in the entire work as a whole and take it as it is offered by the storyteller, and judge it on that basis alone.

Something many of you have heard me say many times, and I think it is entirely true: Whether your story has a happy ending or not depends entirely upon where you choose to end your story.


Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the bestselling sequel to Bloodflow; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

Follow Kevin at:
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Three Traits of Truly Fascinating Villains … by Bonnie Ramthun

Bonnie Ramthun1When RMFW blog editor Pat Stoltey asked if I'd like to write a post I jumped at the chance. I enjoy these postings and learn a lot from them. Then the panic set in. What do I have to contribute? I looked at my current writing research and found an answer. I've recently been working on making my villains more villainous. I know that the hero of a story is only as brave and strong as the opponent he must vanquish, but I have a tendency to spend more time on my hero development than my anti-hero. Imagine, though, if Ian Fleming's James Bond did nothing but carry secret documents around from place to place with no one trying to stop him. How incredibly boring! Instead, Bond faces criminals like Blofeld, Goldfinger, and Oddjob, powerful and unforgettable enemies who threaten the world. The villain of my novel must be formidable and interesting so that my hero is greater for overcoming him.

As the writer of thrillers and mysteries for adults and middle-graders, I've been researching anti-heroes in this quest and I've discovered that there are some common traits that define an antagonist worthy of a hero's battle. In fact, a truly great evil character can almost steal the show from the hero. So let's look at three traits of exceptional villains and examine them in the context of some of the most complex and fascinating characters in three recent American television series.

1.) They are physically benign.

This is odd, isn't it? But it's true. The most enthralling villains are not towering mountains of muscle. They are instead unassuming, sometimes beautiful of feature, and never outwardly dominating. Operatic opponents like Darth Vader or Goldfinger are caricatures of evil. They certainly have their place in literature and film, but the most complex and horrifying villains are usually ones that aren't imposing in their physical form.

2.) Their goals are important to them.

The great villains of stories are never the bad guys to themselves. They are trying to achieve a goal or goals and this is deeply significant to them. If your antagonist doesn't have a clearly defined goal, they won't have the weight of their own desires to contrast with the hero. Your villain must care passionately about his goal and he will do anything to achieve it.

3.) They have a heartbreaking back story.

Fascinating bad characters always have heartbreak in their background. Some are abandoned as a child, others tormented by malevolent parents or stepparents. Some experience a trauma that forever changes them. A villain who just wakes up one day and becomes evil for the sake of doing evil isn't particularly captivating, is she? A heartbreaking backstory can bring the reader to feel sympathy for this character. The betrayal of this sympathy with evil acts makes the villain even more despicable and the protagonist is more heroic for overcoming her.

Now let's look at some villains in recent American television series. The episodic content of current television is terrific for revealing complex backgrounds of characters, good and bad. Each of these three characters show the common traits of truly fascinating villains.

Regina Mills, Once Upon A Time

Regina is both the iron-fisted mayor of Storybook and the mass murdering Evil Queen of the Enchanted Forest in the television series Once Upon a Time. She's also lovely and very small. (Trait 1.) As played by Lana Parilla, she's a 5'5" package of pure evil who transported the entire population of the Enchanted Forest into Maine so she could torment her nemesis, Snow White. This Evil Queen is not tall and skeletal and aging. Instead, she's vibrant and young and yet she commits horrifying acts. Her goal is revenge towards Snow White, who is responsible for the death of her lover, and anyone who cares for Snow White -- her husband, Prince Charming, her daughter, Emma, and anyone who befriends them, from Hook to Ariel the mermaid. (Trait 2.) Her backstory is tragic and heartbreaking, her mother a humiliated miller's daughter who crafts her child into a Queen. Regina is forced into marriage to an old King. (Trait 3.) She's a tragic figure but so sympathetic that by the fourth year of the series this mass-murdering evil Queen is turning into a hero. That's quite the journey.

Gaius Baltar, Battlestar Galactica

Dr. Baltar is a famed scientist, a kind of science rock star, in the acclaimed Battlestar Galactica series. He's so famous that a fleet officer gives up his seat to him on the last escape ship during a genocidal attack on the planet of Caprica. He's also a weak, narcissistic, self-serving coward. Slight of stature and with fine, almost delicate features, James Callis as Gaius Baltar doesn't appear to be capable of being a villain. (Trait 1.) Yet his manipulations and cowardice lead to the near destruction of the human race. His overriding goal is to save his own cowardly skin and he goes to great lengths to stay alive at all costs. (Trait 2.) Finally, his background is revealed as a Caprica pretender, a common street boy with smarts who clawed his way to the top echelons of power. He started out with nothing but his intellect and his ambition and his survival against all odds is admirable. (Trait 3.) Well, if you don't count his participation in the near destruction of the human race, that is.

Gustavo Fring, Breaking Bad

One of the most memorable villains of Breaking Bad -- and if you've seen the series, that's saying something -- is Giancarlo Esposito's portrayal of Gustavo Fring. Gus is owner of the restaurant chain Los Pollos Hermanos and also a major drug kingpin. He's a ruthless, vicious killer. But he doesn't dress in black robes and stride around with a booming voice. He's slight of stature, unassuming, bespectacled. He doesn't look like he could cut a man's throat with the speed of a striking snake, but he can. And he does. (Trait 1.) Gus has a passionate goal to destroy every member of the Salamanca family drug cartel, a carefully plotted plan that has taken twenty years to achieve. (Trait 2.) His backstory is heartbreaking. He was in a committed relationship with his partner, Max, and created a restaurant with him called Los Pollos Hermanos. An attempt to get funding from the Salamanca family went terribly wrong and Max was murdered in front of Gus. (Trait 3.) He is alone, lonely, dedicated, and quiet. He's also one of the most chilling villains to stride across the screen.

Billowing robes, giant stature, big voices and operatic evil have their place. But the fascinating villain I'm attempting to create in my latest novel will be quiet, unassuming, complex, and deadly. I hope this examination of villains helps you in your craft. Happy writing!

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Bonnie Ramthun is a Colorado mom, wife, and mystery author. Her Eileen Reed mystery novels include GROUND ZERO, EARTHQUAKE GAMES and THE THIRTEENTH SKULL. Her middle grade novel, THE WHITE GATES, was a Junior Library Guild premiere selection and a finalist for the Missouri Truman award. The sequel, ROSCOE, is available now. She’s a former chapter president of Mystery Writers of America and served as the published author liaison for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter where her motto is: Every day is a gift.