Category Archives: General Interest

Guest Post – Terri Benson: What’s a Writer to Do?

By Terri Benson

Today’s writers have so many things to think about besides the act of writing. Oh, for the days when you typed up or printed out your book manuscript, boxed it up, sent it to your publisher, then started your next book, certain that the publisher had enough invested in you that they would do their best to get lots of copies sold. I’m pretty sure those days existed at one point – they’re in the movies, anyway, so it must have happened.

These days, the majority of first time writers who traditionally or Indie publish will get a small advance or none at all, and go first to e-book. If you sell enough, they might go ahead with paperback. Publishers have very little invested in new authors. There’s the art for your book cover, but we all know there are thousands of graphic designers out there who can do a nice cover for not a huge amount of money. The quality of printed books isn’t the same as it used to be, especially in paperback. They cram more words on the page to reduce the cost of printing, and you get books that you can’t open the spine far enough to read without breaking the book’s back. And you know there isn’t nearly as much copy editing as there used to be. I rarely find a book—even by the big names—that doesn’t have blatant typos.

Writers are also pretty much required to have a platform with Facebook, Twitter, a good website, maybe a blog, and lots of followers – and they need constant attention to keep them fresh and interesting. We need to attend conferences and workshops to improve our craft and keep up with the ever-changing technology, and network like crazy.

So if you’re doing all that, how are you supposed to find time to write, edit, go to critique meetings, and read? Because you all know good writers read a lot.

If you thought that by the time you got to this point in my blog, I would have answered this question for you, you’re wrong. I don’t think anyone has all, or even a lot of, the answers for this. The state of publishing is evolving on almost a daily basis. There are more and more options for self-publishing, with the result of more books being published. But we all know many of those books shouldn’t have been published, at least not in the condition they appear. But there they are, and our books are mixed in with them, buried within thousands of other books in our genre.

I’d love to hear from those of you who think you might have some answers to the question: What’s a writer to do? For me, I’ll just keep plugging away, putting words on paper, sending queries, self-publishing when I think I’m ready, but still hoping for a call from a traditional publisher (for the simple egotistical reason that I want to say I was traditionally published, even though many writers make more with self-publishing). I’ll work tirelessly to improve my craft, dissect my book covers to see what could make them stand out in the crowd, and keep my on-line persona as visible as I have the time to, and feel comfortable with. And Write On!

 

Terri Benson 2015As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel, award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning - in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She is a multi-year member of RMFW and Western Slope events are hosted by her employer, she also belongs to RWA. Benson currently promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

Her historical romance, An Unsinkable Love, a truly Titanic love story with plenty of suspense, is available from Amazon in both e-book and paperback.

It Ought to be Easier!

By Pamela Nowak

It’s been a frustrating few weeks, starting just after the wonderful high that came when my ARCs arrived. Over the course of these weeks, I’ve discovered a number of databases and lists that need to be created to ease the life of authors. Yet…they haven’t. Or at least I haven’t discovered them.

Mutter, mutter, mutter, sigh.

With my new book being set in Colorado, I knew I wanted to pump up pre-publication marketing. I’d already made my list of things to do. When the ARCs arrived, I hit the internet to find the lists I needed to get them done. And found them woefully inadequate.

First, I needed to get those ARCs sent out to book editors at Colorado newspapers. I thought that would be an easy task. I already knew there was a list of book review editors and contact info for the largest papers in the U.S., but I wanted to target Colorado papers since my publisher was taking care of the national audience. I figured the list I’d located (but hadn’t yet studied in depth) for Colorado newspapers would be the same. Clicking on the link, I opened the list. There are a lot of newspapers in Colorado—154 to be exact.

I skimmed the list. It was a just a list. In order to locate addresses and contacts, I had to click a link for each one of them (or I could purchase a download of all addresses). I got ready to buy the list just as it occurred to me that I didn’t know which of them had book sections. I’d have to click every link on the page, visit individual paper websites, locate the A&E section (if there was one), determine if there were book reviews, and look up the appropriate staff person.

Of course, I made it harder than it had to be. I realize that. I could have narrowed the search to papers in the larger cities. But I figured I might as well be thorough since I would need to target papers for press releases later. I don’t normally do press releases, except in Denver, but my gut says the effort might pay off for this book. So, I went through the entire list, skipping only the business and farm/ranch publications. The process took a huge amount of time and it occurred to me that it ought to be easier.

I’m now looking at my googled list of libraries. It’s pages long—I haven’t counted them but it’s longer than the newspaper list. Since my book is targeted to libraries, an announcement letter advising of the Colorado setting and local author status needs to go out. Again, it’s a list with links for more info (and again, I can purchase a download of them) but it contains few email addresses. I can save time, buy the download, and use snail mail, of course, but that’s an expense I had hoped to avoid by using email. Librarians I know have told me email is considered a desirable way to receive new-release communication. Guess what? The only ways to find that info are to 1) click on every website and look it up or 2) call the central number for each library and ask for it. It ought to be easier.

And, then...Colorado bookstores. I haven't googled for that list yet but none existed two years ago. That would be another worthwhile database.

RMFW is full of authors who use information like this, right? Maybe it’s time to find a volunteer to collect info like this from those who have already done the legwork and set up a resource file that could be accessed by authors. Author Resources, we could call it. Hmmm….

In any case, as I continue working my way through my marketing plan, I anticipate a few more glitches cropping up, a few more cases of muttering, and more time spent than intended on tasks.

It just ought to be easier!

Beta Readers

By Robin D. Owens

Beta Readers are those people who will read your manuscript after you're done, but before you submit it to your publisher.

I have a mentor (Kay Bergstrom) who always reads my work, and I have Beta Readers. Though I try and keep track of people who have read my manuscripts and help me, I tend to cycle through readers (fans) on my blog and facebook, looking for good beta readers.

But I have one guy named Joe (no, that's not his real name, but equally common). Joe started with my futuristic/fantasy romance series and has followed me through my fantasy and my paranormal romance. Joe is good. Since he's been reading my manuscripts, he's gotten better. I don't know whether that's because we've worked together or not. But I can trust Joe.

This morning, before I sent my two month and one week late book due (that's already scheduled for November and being pre-ordered), I wrote a new opening that Kay advised. I worked about three hours on this opening scene so it had enough set up but not too much info dump. Who did I send it to that I knew would get back to me quickly with an honest read? Joe.

Much as I love compliments – and we all need compliments – what we need most is an honest read if we want our manuscripts to be the best. We can get this from critique buddies, we will definitely get it from professional editors (whether we pay them or the publisher pays them), and we should try to find beta readers who do this.

During my recent quest for beta readers, I sent out five rough draft manuscripts to people I thought might be able to help me. Some were familiar with the series, some stated editorial or literary background. All of them said they read fast (because I tend to need a fast turn-around).

One of those never got back to me. This always happens. Often some get back to me too late.

I always ask for OVERALL comments on the story, places of confusion, slow pace, characters not acting reasonably or being stupid or jerks, plot holes, other problems.

I don't care about grammar and punctuation. My publisher's copy editor will take care of that, and I have a good friend I pay to copy edit, too. At this particular point, the rough draft, I need input on the story.

This time I got: Wonderful book, rest assured your fans will love it. Great, that felt great, but was of little help with the story.

I got punctuation, grammar and typo stuff. This also always happens.

Mostly I got continuity errors, which are important and I fix before I turn it in, but I didn't get any comments on characters or plot except from Kay and Joe. So this round wasn't as helpful as I'd hoped.

Especially since I lay in bed last night knowing something was definitely wrong with my secondary black moment, when the relationship breaks. Joe hadn't said anything about it, so it didn't bother him as a reader (like the lack of stated motivation for the villain had). Kay had a problem with it, and I cut pursuant to her suggestions, but it didn't still didn't work. So I had to go back and forth and around and around (like my ceiling fan), until I came up with the solution. I pretty much returned to the basics of character, craft, and the romance genre rules and figured it out. When I did, I knew it was right.

So, some points of this blog.
1) Beta readers can be extremely helpful.
2) You will have to look to find good ones, if you do, keep them. Be gracious to those who give you what you don't need.
3) The bottom line is that you must also trust yourself.

Adventures in Genre Writing: Lesson 10 – Common Mistakes

By Jeanne C. Stein

We’ve now covered the nuts and bolts of writing genre fiction. In the last two lessons, we’ll move on to the world of publishing. The first lesson is on ways a writer can sabotage her own career. We’ll divide this into three categories:

Common Mistakes in Writing

Common Mistakes in Submitting to an Editor or Agent

Common Mistakes in Dealing with an Editor or Agent

Mistakes in Writing—some we’ve already discussed:

1. Starting projects and not finishing them. Especially bad if you find yourself hop scotching from one project to another. Remember Heinlen’s rules…you MUST finish what you start.

2. Using passive instead of active verbs.

3. Relying on narration instead of exposition—show don’t tell.

4. Using five words (or sentences or paragraphs) when one will do. Write tight.

5. Losing viewpoint or forgetting the goal of your scene.

6. Interrupting the action with backstory.

7. Ending a chapter on a low note instead of with a hook.

Mistakes in Submitting to an Editor or Agent

1. Not sending out projects when you’ve completed them. Not querying agents and/or editors the minute your story is ready.

2. Not going on to the next project the minute the first is finished. When you make a sale, the first thing the editor or agent is going to want to know is what else you have completed or near completion.

3. Not knowing the market you’re aiming to enter. Read your competition.

4. Not following submission guidelines—seems so obvious, doesn’t it? You’d be surprised how many editors and agents talk about the manuscripts they’ve received on pink or purple paper in an archaic font because the writer thought it would “stand out.” It does, but not in the way intended. It screams amateur. All publishers have websites in which they set out submission guidelines in careful detail. Follow them.

5. Not being professional—see above. Also refers to dog-eared manuscripts that have obviously been seen by more than one editor. ALWAYS send a fresh copy, though in this time of e-submissions, this is no longer always a consideration. Some editors still like the old ways, though, so again, follow submission guidelines. Also, make sure the submission contains NO typos or grammatical errors. If you’re not sure, hire a professional copy editor to go over it with a fine-tooth comb.

Mistakes in Dealing with an Editor or Agent

1. Missing a deadline. Better have a damned good reason. Publication schedules are set up a year or more in advance. If you know you’re not going to make a deadline, let the agent and editor know as soon as possible. If it’s going to be a LONG delay, you may lose your place in the queue which will push back your publication date. Something not to be taken lightly.

2. Calling your editor or agent too often. If it’s your agent, the time he’s wasting talking to you he could be using to talk to an editor about you. Which would you prefer? If it’s your editor, you are not her only writer. You do not want to aggravate her. She’s your champion in the publishing house. If you have a legitimate reason to call, by all means do it. If it’s to see “how things are going”, call your mother instead.

3. Accepting the worse case scenario. One of the hardest things—if your agent calls and says he’s sent your stuff to five or six or ten houses and no one is buying, accept it. Don’t burn your bridges by screaming he didn’t do his job and everyone in the publishing business is an idiot. You can think it. Just don’t say it. Besides, you have that next project waiting, right? Pitch that.

4. Changing agents. Tricky. In fact, I’m going to go into finding an agent later and what the relationship should be.

5. Getting stuck on one idea. Submitting the same basic story four or five different ways. If it hasn’t sold, don’t waste your agent’s time. Move on.

Okay—we’ve got our manuscript completed. We’ve checked it and it’s a perfectly formatted, pristine copy. Now what?

There are two ways to go—agented or unagented. It you choose to submit your book on your own, deciding on a publishing venue will be discussed next chapter. For the rest of this lesson, we’ll look at agents—finding the right fit.

One of the most important questions to ask yourself is what kind of relationship you want to have with your agent. I know plenty of writers who’ve developed a close friendship with their agents. They call to chat. They discuss every bit of business, however minute, with them. They use the agent as a critique partner, letting them read the manuscript before it’s submitted to the editor and rewriting according to the suggestions offered.

The second is strictly a business relationship. Contact is limited to projects to be pitched and deals to be made. If the writer asks for an opinion on a manuscript, the agent will respond. But the agent’s role is to build the writer’s career via contract negotiations.

How can you tell which type of agent you’re querying? Get their client list and ask.

How do you find an agent with a client list? Part of the reward of doing your homework and reading your genre is that at the beginning and end of almost every book, there will be an acknowledgment page. More often than not, a writer’s agent is recognized there. If you read a book that you found similar to yours in tone and content, querying that agent would be a good place to start. Google the agent’s name. With the Internet, you can quickly find out what company he’s with. Checking out the company will provide you with names, addresses, submission guidelines. It will also tell you whether or not an agent is accepting new clients. Sometimes they aren’t. Don’t waste your time querying that agent. Move on to the next.

There is a website: www.agentquery.com that lists acquiring agents and spells out what genres they’re interested in representing. This is a good tool. Use it.

You have your “A” list of agents. You’re ready to start querying. What about the query letter? It should be short, no more than one page, arranged as follows:

First paragraph—introduce your book, the genre, a one or two line “TV Guide” description.

Second paragraph--go into a little more detail about the book. The protagonist, the story question, what makes it unique.

Third paragraph—introduce yourself, list writing credits, any background that makes you marketable. Offer to send a synopsis and the first three chapters at the agent’s request.

Thank the agent for his/her time. Sign off.

Do not send the full manuscript unless the agent asks for it. If you’re sending a snail-mail letter, always include a self-addressed, stamped return envelope. Many agents are accepting email queries now. Cuts response time immensely.

But remember—at this point, patience is called for. You may have to wait two weeks to get a reply from an email query, six or eight from a snail-mail query. That’s why it’s to your advantage to send out a half dozen at once. If you get a response requesting an “exclusive” read of your material, you can stop sending out queries. But even then, you should ask for a reasonable response time—say six weeks. After that, if you haven’t heard, start the process again.

If you hire an agent, you may or may not be required to sign a contract. The going commission rate for an agent is 15%. NEVER sign on with an agent if he requests a “reading” fee. On top of commission, however, he may charge you for manuscript copying, postage fees, long distance phone bills etc. It depends on the company and is something you should inquire about before signing.

As your career progresses, other considerations arise. You may at some point want to change agents. This can be traumatic. If you have a valid reason for doing so, by all means make the move. The agent, after all, works for you. But ask yourself first if the problems you’re having are your agent’s doing or your own. Are you producing new material? Are you following his or advice? Are you demanding too much? Are you doing everything you can to further your own career?

It is YOUR career.

I’ve thrown a lot at you in this lesson. If you’ve decided to go it alone, our last lesson will be choosing a publisher…big press, small press, self-pub. I’ll explain the good, the bad and the ugly of each.

Extra Reading:

From a Blog by Chuck Sambuchino reprinted on Writer’s Digest on Agent Pet Peeves

Example of a successful query by agent Jenny Bent

This is just one in a series of successful queries by top notch agents. Here is the complete line-up:

Pamela Vaughan’s:

The Ultimate Online Editing and Proofreading Checklist

Many of you may already be familiar with Writer’s Digest, the book club and website. If you haven’t signed up for their free newsletter, you should. Here is a sample article you can peruse. Some are free, some are by subscription, but all are well done.

How to Write Effective Supporting Characters

Once, Twice, Three Times a Manuscript….(Anyone Under 40 Won’t Have a Clue What Song The Title References But I’m Using it Anyway Because it’s My Title and I Can…Sing it!)

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

The weekend before last I was lucky enough to hang out at the Pikes Peak Writer Conference. I also did some teaching but it was more about seeing old friends and making plenty of new fabulous ones. Besides having a great time abusing whiskey, wine and food I spent some time talking with other writers about their process.

It was at this point I had an epiphany.

Or maybe you could refer to it as a drunken revelation.

Either way, this is my point-- tables have dancing naked weight limits.

No, scratch that. I had two epiphanies and a bruise on my coccus the size and shape of Texas.

Anyway....we all have such different methods and madness for our works. And each, while valid, might not be the best choice for us, like dancing on a table when you're old enough to know far better.

Here's what I mean. I'm a pantster. A REALLY BIG ONE. I sit down to write and start at page one, word one. But I can learn to be better at plotting and that could make for more words, and more books. I can learn how to be a better marketer. I can learn to write deeper characters and better description. An old dog can be taught new tricks, as long as the teacher talks real slow and plenty of cookies are involved.

Maybe I can learn these things from a class or a workshop taught from one of the amazing instructors already selected for the RMFW Conference in September. Or I can learn from the fantastic community we are a part of.

One of the interesting things I learned a few weekends ago was from a longtime RMFW member -- Mike Befeler. Mike never knows who is murderer is going to be. Right up until the end. It's a good lesson if you've ever read his work, it feels organic for the protagonist when he figures out who done it. Now I am not saying I could pull it off, but it does give me insight into his process.

I'm interested in your own process. How many revisions does it take for the finished (or as close as you can get) product? Do you know what is going to happen when you start? Do you have any advice that has helped you greatly along your path? Let's open up and share all we can together.

Or else I will get on that table!

 

The Fairyland Murders_ebook (1)J.A. (Julie) Kazimer writes books. So many books that she now has to use her toes to count them. Learn more at jakazimer.com or friend her on facebook because she's pretty lonely. You can also tweet her at @jakazimer and she'll share some gruesome stories about decaying bodies or puppies. Tweeters choice.

Also, her latest book, THE FAIRYLAND MURDERS is on sale for the low, low, how the heck am I going to afford my Rolex now, price of $1.99. I don't know how long it will be on sale as my publisher never tells me anything....So pick up a copy today. Or don't. I'm not going to beg...Okay, I will beg. Please, please--

Pearls of Wisdom … by Guest Rhonda Blackhurst

Rhonda_Genrefest 2015Last month I attended Genre Fest 2015, an event organized by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and The Colorado Authors’ League. The speaker for the morning was David Morrell, creator of Rambo–-as well as numerous novels (both fiction and nonfiction) and short fiction-–and to say I was impressed is a serious understatement. While I expected great pearls of wisdom coming from such a successful author–-and he certainly delivered--what I didn’t expect was his level of humility. What an incredible man. Would I go see him again if he’s in the area? In a heartbeat! I realize I just used the dreaded exclamation point, but that’s how strongly I feel about it. I would recommend anyone who has the opportunity to grab that sucker. You won’t be disappointed.

While I couldn’t possibly mention all of the golden nuggets of advice, some of the ones that I’ll always remember are:

His five rules for writing mystery/thrillers (and could fit with any genre) are:

1.)  Know why you're writing what you are. If you’re writing what you are simply because it’s popular at the moment, you may want to re-evaluate writing that genre. What you’re writing should be personally meaningful; because you can’t imagine not writing it; because it should be worth spending a year (or more) of your time on.

2.)  Know the history of the genre you’re writing. He states, “we can’t recognize when a plot is hackneyed if we don’t educate ourselves about the best that has been done in the genre.” He suggested that if you’re writing a specific genre, you should know enough about the history that you could give a lecture on it.

3.)  Do your research. Your research can come from interviewing experts, reading non-fiction books on the subject, physically visiting the place you’re writing about as well as doing the activities you’re writing about. This last one, in particular, opens all five senses to the experience. The Internet is another deep well to gain knowledge. What not to do is to get your research from TV or movies. The details are not reliable. (Think courtroom and police dramas.) My husband and I both work in the law enforcement arena, and trust me when I say real life is nothing like it shows on Law and Order, CSI, The Good Wife, etc.

4.)  Be yourself. His exact words are worth repeating over and over and over. And over again. “Be a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of another author. Innovate rather than imitate.” Wow! (Yup, another exclamation point.)

5.)  Avoid the genre trap. What we write should be the most exciting and moving novel that we can write. Our job is to write a genre novel that doesn’t come off as a genre book.

Other notable mentions:

  •  There are no “odds” on whether you will succeed, get published, etc. What happens to you happens 100%.
  • One thing all of us writers are prone to is daydreaming. In fact we can’t shut it off. Children are often told to “stop wasting your time daydreaming” as if it’s a negative thing. In reality, daydreaming is not a waste of time at all. It’s where ideas come from. The key is to be aware of your daydreams. Too often they’re mini narratives that we dismiss.
  •  Don’t write what you’re supposed to. Write what you’re meant to.
  •  Don’t chase the market because you’ll always be looking at the back side.

I had David Morrell’s writing book, The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing, on my bookshelf at home waiting to be read. I bumped it ahead of all the others I want to read and I’m not regretting it.

This post was originally published by Rhonda Blackhurst at her blog, Novel Journey, on April 12, 2015.

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

Rhonda was born and raised in northern Minnesota and now resides in Colorado. She is a paralegal, restitution advocate for a District Attorney's Office, avid reader, writer, and lover of words. Her greatest joy is her family, which includes her husband, two sons, a stepdaughter, one granddaughter and five step-grandchildren. Her love of writing blossomed at the tender age of four when she began writing with crayons on the knotty pine walls of her family home. Her first published novel, The Inheritance, was born from NaNoWriMo in 2012. She is in the process of writing the first two books in the Melanie Hogan mystery series, Shear Madness and Shear Deception.

Her blog, A Novel Journey, can be found at www.rhondablackhurst.com. She can also be found on twitter at @rjblackhurst and her author Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rjblackhurst.

What’s Going On at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers?

The Colorado Gold Conference

JefferyDeaver200x2302015 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers
Colorado Gold Conference

September 11-13, 2015
The Westin, Westminster, Colorado

Keynote speakers: Jeffery Deaver and Desiree Holt

Register now at the RMFW website conference page.

 

Colorado Gold Writing Contest for Unpublished Novelists

The deadline for entering is June 1st, 2015

New This Year
Enter the first 4000 words of your manuscript and a 750 word synopsis in one of six categories. Final judges will pick 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners.

The final judges for Colorado Gold 2015 are:

Action/Thriller: Denise Dietz, Senior Editor, Five Star Publishing
Mainstream: Danielle Burby, Agent, Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency
Mystery/Suspense: Trish Daly, Associate Editor, William Morrow/HarperCollins
Romance: Latoya Smith, Executive Editor, Samhain Publishing
Speculative Fiction: Emily S. Keyes, Agent, Fuse Literary
YA/MG: Melissa Jeglinski, Agent, The Knight Agency

You'll find lots more information and submission requirements on the RMFW website contest page.

 

Upcoming Free Programs

Sean-CurleyThe State of Independent Publishing presented by Sean Curley

Saturday, May 9, 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Grand Junction Business Incubator Center
2591 Legacy Way
Grand Junction, CO
Western Slope Free Program for members and non-members

Joining the Revolution: Self-Publishing Made Simple presented by Teresa Funke

Saturday, May 16, 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Anythink Wright Farms Library
5877 E. 120th Ave.
Thornton, CO 80602
Denver Free Program for members and non-members

 

The #RMFWBlog

And while you're checking out these great opportunities, please stop by the blog and scroll through the posts -- a team of regular bloggers and lots of visiting writers provide writing advice and encouragement most weekdays.

We use the hashtag #RMFWBlog on Twitter so you can always find information on the most recent posts there. We also post the links on Facebook and Google+. To make sure you don't miss anything, you can sign up for email notifications of new posts.

THOSE WHO CAN’T TEACH, DO.

By Kevin Paul Tracy

This is not going to be a popular opinion with a lot of people out there, including many aspiring writers.

In answer to the question, "Can you teach someone to write?" my answer is yes...and no.

I firmly believe you can teach someone to write, but you cannot teach anyone to be a writer.

I've said for many years, everyone has at least one story to tell, and I mean it - absolutely everyone has at least one story to tell. Telling that story is one thing. Telling it well - in the sense that the words are spelled correctly; the grammar is structured according to current norms; the characters are built according to the latest personality tropes and types; the plot follows standard forms and formulas; the narrative utilizes the prescribed forms of metaphor, simile, and exposition; and the arc of conflict builds, climaxes and resolves as it should - can be taught to someone willing to learn. These are all critical building blocks to fiction we all need to learn, but if this is all you have, I've read these stories, and all I can say is, "Yawn!"

Learning to weave a tale like a fine but tattered fabric is nothing that can be taught, it can only be felt. Writing is passion, writing is pain, writing is one of the most intimate acts of self-exploration, and in some cases self-destruction, there is. But more than anything else, writing is love. Writers love stories, love the written word, love to read as much as write. Until you've tried to continue typing through the fog of your own tears, you've never written anything. Until you've read and re-read a passage, unable to believe that you wrote something so beautiful, you've never written. Until you've chewed your nails until they bled while waiting for your favorite reader to finish your latest chapter and tell you what they think, you haven't written.

Ouroboros WormWriters love the story. They embrace it, swaddle it in a way only a parent who holds their own newborn child could possibly understand. Their own favorite writers, novels, characters, and stories are as known to them as boon companions, loved by them like family, cherished by them like the unrealized dreams of childhood. Writers keep a copy of an obscure book or an otherwise critically panned movie for the one line of dialog or piece of narrative that speaks to us. I, myself, keep a copy of the flawed and largely disregarded "The Worm Ouroboros" by E.R. Eddison because the over-the-top scene setting and narrative descriptions tickle my sense of author self-indulgence and narrative excess.

Finally, writers will understand what I'm trying quite poorly to say in this article. Anyone can teach you to write, but no one can teach you to be a writer. That is something you must discover within yourself entirely on your own, if it is there to be found.


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:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog

The Greatest Chicken Thief in All of Europe … by Guest Mike Befeler

Befeler_For LibertyI wasn’t planning to write a non-fiction book. But all that changed in May of 2013 when I met Ed, a 94-year-old World War II veteran.

Here’s the back story. At the time I was on the Boulder County Aging Advisory Council and gave a ride to another council member. She told me about this fascinating man who lived in her senior residence. Later that day she introduced me to Ed, and he told me stories of fighting as an infantryman in Europe, becoming a prisoner of war and being liberated by the Russians. He got to one point and said, “At one time I was the greatest chicken thief in all of Europe.”

Unfortunately, I had to leave at that time for an appointment. Two weeks later I gave a talk for the book group at this senior residence, and Ed was in attendance. Afterwards, I pulled him aside to hear the rest of the story. He recounted this experience of stealing rabbits and chickens to regain the 40% of his body weight lost as a prisoner. Given his impish sense of humor, he had me laughing out loud. Although Ed expressed no interest in writing his life story, he agreed to work with me, and our collaboration began.

We met approximately once a week, and I took notes and recorded the sessions. In writing Ed’s biography, I learned that fiction writing prepared me well. Ed’s life has been full of pathos and humor, attributes I have put into my mysteries. Along the way I learned a tremendous amount about World War II. As an example, Ed mentioned the name of the captain of his company, and through Internet research, I was able to locate a write up describing how Captain Batrus had been awarded a silver star.

Some highlights of Ed’s life: He experienced an unusual early education, attending an anarchist school, and suffered through the depression. As an American of Jewish heritage, he chose to fight Hitler, and in the Vosges Mountains of France faced a number of life or death encounters with the enemy. On New Year’s Eve 1944, he was a forward observer when the Germans’ last initiative on the Western Front, Operation North Wind, overran his position. He survived behind enemy lines for two days before being captured. He spent seven days and nights in a crowded freight car with no food and the only water being from snowflakes caught on his fingers through slats in the side of the railroad car. In Stalag IV-B, he survived by trading cigarettes for food on the black market, tried to escape but was recaptured.

After being freed by the Russians and although he hated Germans, he saved four German refugees. When he returned to American command, he was almost killed in a back alley in Paris, before shipping back to the States where a medical authority informed him he would be lucky to live into his early fifties. Suffering from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, he almost killed himself, had a disastrous first marriage, lost custody of his son and struggled to support himself. Pulling himself out of the depths, he found his true wife, who helped him rebound and run a successful business.

An example of Ed’s puckish sense of humor. His second wife was a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. One night at a reception, he was introduced to a pompous academician who looked down his nose at Ed and said, “What do you do?” Ed replied, “Oh, I sweep the floors and clean the equipment at a machine shop,” (not mentioning that he owned and ran the business). The man raised an eyebrow. Ed then put his arm around his wife, Sonia, and said, “And this wonderful woman taught me how to read and write.” Afterwards, he got an earful from Sonia.

For me, one of the highlights of this project, was locating the son from his first marriage, whom Ed hadn’t seen in fifty-seven years, and facilitating a reunion that took place in October of 2013.

The working title for the book is For Liberty: A Soldier’s Inspiring Life Story of Courage, Sacrifice, Survival and Resilience, and it will be published this spring. And Ed is the greatest chicken thief in all of Europe.

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Mike BefelerMike Befeler has six published books in his Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, the most recent being Nursing Homes Are Murder. He also has two published paranormal mysteries, The V V Agency and The Back Wing and a theater mystery, Mystery of the Dinner Playhouse. His first historical mystery, Murder on the Switzerland Trail, will be released in October. Mike is past-president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

To learn more about Mike and his novels, visit his website and blog. He can also be found on Facebook.

Your Book…Or Your Critique Group’s?

By Patricia Stoltey

Yes, I’m piggy-backing on Mary Gillgannon’s excellent Friday post called “Your Book…Or Your Editor’s?" She raised some important points about picking your battles and keeping an open mind about suggested editorial changes.

Going into a book contract without a little flexibility along with confidence in your story and characters is a risky business. You can’t work well with your publisher’s editors unless you have both.

As the member of a critique group, or even with a single critique partner, you may face similar challenges as you submit chapters to your group for review. Getting through the first round of critiques, especially if you’re submitting first draft quality, is not so bad. You wouldn’t be part of a critiquing arrangement unless you’re open to constructive criticism, suggestions, and even an occasional round of laughter at a huge mistake. Right?

By the end of the first draft, you will have a bunch of character notes, corrections (some big, some nit-picky), suggestions, alternate plot ideas, and timeline errors that must be considered during the revision process.

Whether you revise as you go, or put it all together after the first draft is written, there is now a big decision to make. Will you submit revised chapters to the group?

My own process is to submit basic first draft quality writing to my group because I want them to have free rein in picking on anything and everything.

If I do decide to submit revised chapters, it’s usually because I’ve made big changes. And if I only want “big picture” observations, I say so. I also tend to discourage line-by-line editing because it’s a waste of the critique member’s time. I go over my manuscripts so many times after the critique group’s contributions, and I make so many changes, that most outside editing is lost in the shuffle anyway.

There are risks involved when you submit revisions for critique, so it’s important to:

1. Define your novel’s genre. There are structural differences for romance, for traditional mystery, for thriller, for horror, for YA.
2. Know if your novel is plot-driven or character-driven.
3. Understand your novel’s theme or message.
4. Decide if you’re open to big changes to plot or character during the next revision.
5. Tell your critique group ahead of time what you want…and what you don’t want.

If you take revised work back to your group but leave the options open, you may receive suggestions for major plot changes, deleting or changing characters, or using structural techniques that don’t really apply to your genre.

What happens then?

You might have a crisis of confidence and feel your novel is absolute garbage.

And start making random changes to absorb all those great suggestions.

And end up with a mess.

More experienced writers tend to work through this stage with their critique groups and learn when to implement and when to reject suggestions. Writers new to the craft, or just new to critique group dynamics, may need to go through a learning phase before they understand that suggestions are just suggestions, like the results of a brainstorming session.

If you know and understand what you’re writing and why, you’ll learn to trust your instincts when absorbing feedback from a critique group or critique partner. And you’ll learn to guide your critique partners before they examine your submission so they don't waste time on comments you’ll only ignore.

In the end, it’s your book. Take control.