Category Archives: General Interest

A Few Bad Habits

By Mark Stevens

You brush your teeth. You comb your hair. You make a pot of coffee.

You’re on auto pilot, right? Not much brainpower required.

Your head is busy elsewhere, thinking ahead. Or something.

You sit down to write.

Man oh man, that first sentence of your new bestseller is going to be carved and shaped and chiseled to perfection. That first paragraph, too. Hey, go for it, the whole first page.

Then you get into the meat of the story and, well, not every image sizzles. Not every scrap of dialogue sparkles.

Your writing brain (okay, I’m taking about myself here) goes back into teeth-brushing mode.

Relaxed. Unfocused. Drifting.

And stupid.

I recently wrapped up a new manuscript. Two editors worked it over. Seven beta readers took it out for a spin. And before I hit “send” to the publisher, I decided to search deep, down in the muck of the narrative.

Not a pretty picture.

Those “weasel” words. The crutches, the lazy crap. (I wrote about this issue a couple months ago in recommending a tool called Visual Thesaurus; obviously I’m obsessed.)

To the manuscript: I did a search for the word “few.”

Stevens_FewThe bottom line?

Out of 100,000 words, 154 of those were the word “few.” In other words, .15 percent of all the words I used (out of the 1 million plus available at my fingertips) was the word f-e-w.

Even though this word is meaningless, blah, imprecise, blurry and out of focus, my slack writer brain had reached for it—over and over and over—like a strung-out junkie looking for a fix. Stare at the word for a minute and you’ll see how pointless it is. I’ll wait here….

Funny—neither of my editors’ noticed the overuse of this crutch word. None of the beta readers, either.

But there it was, this fuzzy bit of gunk dragging down all those sentences and my question is this: how do I let this happen when I’m writing that first draft? Does the brain go slack? To sleep? Into auto-pilot mode?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe that’s just part of getting out that first version.

Maybe. It scares me to think that my writing brain doesn’t note when it’s being a lazy ______. If I’m willing to put that word on the page, what other slop is creeping in?

By the time I’d hit “send” to my editor, only seven instances of “few” remained in my manuscript. Each of the other 147 sentences were fortified with a better, more precise word choice that (I hope) leaves the story on more solid foundation.

Is this part of the process of editing and refinement?

Or does my sloppy style the first time around mean I wasn’t really seeing, listening and actively writing?

It’s a question I’d rather not answer.

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

Mark StevensMark Stevens is the monthly programs coordinator for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

Book three in the series, Trapline, will be published by Midnight Ink in November 2014

The RMFW Spotlight is on Saytchyn Maddux-Creech, Membership Chair

The first Monday of the month the RMFW Blog features one of the members of the board of directors or a volunteer. This month Saytchyn Maddux-Creech has agreed to answer our questions. We hope this helps members and potential members get acquainted with the incredible folks who keep Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers going and growing. And just in case these spotlights inspire other members to step forward and volunteer, feel free to email Judy Matheny, Volunteer Coordinator at volunteer@rmfw.org.

1. Saytchyn, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

SaytchenI serve as the Membership Chair, which means I primarily help people who’ve forgotten their passwords to log onto the RMFW website. I also answer questions members and prospective members have about the group, troubleshoot membership-related issues, and try to recruit every writer I meet who isn’t already a member.

I’d long wanted to be more active with RMFW but didn’t think I could do much from Fort Collins. I’m grateful to Vicki Law for recommending me as Membership Chair to the board. It’s a job I can perform from home or anywhere I have Internet access.

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

Most of my stories published in literary magazines are still online and may be accessed on the stories page of my terrible website. My latest stories, “Devildoms” (Dangerous Hedge) and “L’Hermitage” (Typehouse Literary Journal), will be published in January.

I’m making revisions on a dark fantasy/near-horror novel that won third place in The Sandy Writing Contest this year. I plan to finish by the end of November.

3. We’ve all heard of bucket lists — you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish– what’s one of yours?

To write a great book, and then another, and then another…

Aside from writing, I want to earn a degree in either astrophysics or geophysics (or both!) and retire to a luxury cottage in Wales with a maze-like overgrown garden.

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

I began the writing life as an experimental writer. In the MFA program at Colorado State University, I allowed myself to be partially molded into a literary writer. Both of these styles got me into the habit of losing myself in a world and forgetting to tell the story. World-painting is wonderful, Saytchyn, but get to the story.

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

Writing. I’m happiest when writing. I get depressed when I take a few days off. When I’m writing, even if it’s not going fabulously, people can tell. I’m more pleasant. If I’m not writing, I’m agitated and crabby.

Also, Writers. I love to be with and talk to other writers. I love conferences, workshops, classes, and retreats. I am an introvert, generally, but not with other writers.

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

I’d hesitate to try to persuade myself to change anything, for fear of ending up someplace terrible. But I would probably say, “Start putting in your 10,000 hours as a storyteller at the same time you start putting in 10,000 as a writer. Learn earlier that everyone has something to teach you.”

Saytchen_desk7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

I must have something to write with—a computer or a notebook and a pen. I have a lot of tokens on my desk—gifts from other writers and things that inspire me—and on the wall beside my desk is a map I drew of my story world. But I can write anywhere, and all I need is a computer or a notebook and a pen.

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

The last book I read was Dust and Light by Carol Berg. I loved it, and you can read my review on Goodreads. I’ve been reading friends’ manuscripts and have only recently started reading The Diviners by Libba Bray, but if the beginning is any indication, I think it will be bewitching.

I Hate Writing to Prompts, But Just This One Time….

By Patricia Stoltey

I hate writing to prompts.

And I’ve been writing short stories for years without much luck getting published.

So when I had an opportunity to submit to an anthology of retold folk tales, in a genre I never write, I almost passed up the chance.

Then my sense of adventure kicked in…not to mention the lure of ignoring my To Do List for a few days.

I chose the old Norwegian tale of Three Billy Goats Gruff. You know the one I mean? The goats want to get over the bridge but must outsmart the troll who lives underneath?

What if the goats had been humans? And the humans were young ladies, sisters in fact? And they lived on an island with their parents, a rich although minor Norwegian king and his queen. If the demanding parents kept their daughters away from the outside world by letting that old troll guard the only road to the mainland, what would happen when the sisters made up their minds to escape? Could the three work together to develop a plan as the billy goats did? Or, being humans, would something go terribly wrong?

And that’s how I came to write “Three Sisters of Ring Island,” published in Tales of Firelight and Shadow from Double Dragon ebooks. RMFW member Alexis Brooks de Vita is the anthology editor as well as a contributor.

Tales of Firelight and Shadow coverYou can see the full table of contents and prologue on the Double Dragon website. Here’s a little hint of what you’ll find in the anthology from the inside flap:

Tales in Firelight and Shadow is a collection of short stories by well-known and fresh new writers of fantasy, speculative and science fiction, retelling folktales from many lands and cultures. Award-winning authors present challenging new twists on familiar tales: James Morrow’s museum curator and his university professor daughter discover the ultimate answer to the human condition; Mary Turzillo’s talking cat rats on a legendary illusionist; and Tenea D. Johnson’s fairies deal with the dream dolls of nightmare.

Writers testing the speculative waters with their risk-taking styles captivate and enchant us: an adventurous young professional tries out a new eatery, with disastrous results; a haunted lake binds the horrors of the slaveholding past to the land’s future; a boy steals what a Scottish fairy has no intention of parting with. A lonely girl in a beachside shack yearns for a mermaid godmother’s gifts. Shadowy stalkers haunt forests and dreams.

Emerging novelists delight us with old tales never before told like this: Jason Parent’s Salem shyster outsmarts his own self; Patricia Stoltey’s ogre is not at all what—or who—we think; Christina St. Clair’s loving wife on the ultimate spiritual quest seems to have gone horribly astray; and A.J. Maguire’s scientist alone on the moon with her husband and the man she truly loves must come up with the courage to choose if and how she will survive. We discover that fairytales and urban legends are the stuff of personal memory.

The folktales gathered and retold in Tales in Firelight and Shadow answer the oldest of our questions: “Why is my world as it is, and how can I find my way through it?” For, if folktales exorcize the pain of lessons learned over many lifetimes, then in this world of fairy, flame and chaos, enchantment—we realize with a start—is the only reality. We dream so that we may open our eyes.

Have you had a good result by stepping out of your comfort zone and writing in a new form or genre? Tell us about it.

6 Best Marketing Tips for Authors

By Heather Webb

Heather WebbAll authors are looking for that magic marketing formula. How much money should we spend on ads? What should our websites look like? How much time should we spend on social media? How do we distinguish ourselves amidst all of the white noise? But these are the wrong questions. The best way to establish oneself as an author, to be an effective marketing guru, isn’t quantifiable. *rips out hair* So what should an author focus on for promotion?

CULTIVATE YOUR VOICE Be yourself, which is to say, be unique! Don’t try to rip off another author’s style. It will not only feel phony to you and your readers will see that you’re trying too hard. Don’t assume they can’t tell. Give them more credit than that. A quick point about online articles and interviews—they are more informal in voice. You don’t want to sound like a stiff or a nag, or you’ll bore your readers.

BE CREATIVE Start your own writing-related services, writer group, or hashtag. Set up a bookstand with your novels at a soccer match, purchase inexpensive paraphernalia with your cover on it or maybe your character’s names. Sell it on your website, distribute it at conferences. People like stuff! Make cupcakes with your book cover on them and bring them to the day job, the community center, or the library. You get the idea. Think outside of the box.

RESEARCH A writer’s research is never finished. Pay attention to what is selling in the book market. Listen to what readers want. Track the changes happening in the industry. How will this information affect your current platform? How can you change to incorporate new trends and more importantly, to reach MORE readers? Do your research, if not daily, weekly.

Webb_Rodins LoverENGAGE Reach out! Find ways to connect to different groups of people, both in person and online. Attend conferences, book fairs, and author signings. Volunteer at writing organizations. Cheer on your fellow writers in their quest to publication. Form relationships with people. When your agent tells you to get on Twitter, what they mean to say is, TALK TO PEOPLE. Make friends. Swap anecdotes, swap war stories, or craft ideas, or gardening tips. Anything! What you’re actually doing is forming your tribe. Your tribe will gladly help promote your works because THEY LIKE YOU. Because they’re your friends. And NOT because you spammed everyone with and reviews and quotes from your novels. (I’ve avoided more book buying by seeing people clip a really horrible line from their book and posting it on Twitter or Facebook.) (Be sure to follow the 80%–20% self-promotion rule here. More writers break this rule than not, and it’s REALLY annoying.)

FOCUS ON READERS While it’s true we should be involved in our writing organizations, it’s imperative that published authors, in particular, shift the focus of their efforts toward readers. We love to get caught up talking to other writers and industry pros and traveling to conferences, but other writers aren’t your target audience. Reach out to book clubs. Purchase ads in book club newsletters. Speak at your local library. Write articles on your blog that tie in with your novels, your platform, and interesting or fun or exciting information readers would like to see. Readers talk and share these morsels with others. Word of mouth is still the single most effective method of spreading the word about your books. Direct the bulk of your efforts to getting readers talking.

WRITE AMAZING, DROOL-WORTHY BOOKS The best way to gain more readers, to harness your success, is to write more books. The kind of books that send readers on a journey, that wrench open minds with a crow bar, that break hearts. Never stop working on your craft. It’s a skill and can only improve with practice, hard work, and time.

So get writing! And remember that being yourself and building relationships are the most effective marketing tools.

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

Heather Webb writes historical fiction for Penguin, including BECOMING JOSEPHINE and the forthcoming RODIN’S LOVER (Jan 2015). In addition, she is a freelance editor and contributor to award-winning sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. When not writing, she kicks around a local college teaching craft and industry courses, flexes her foodie skills, or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.

Learn more about Heather and her books at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Different Voices Create a Beautiful Blog

By Patricia Stoltey

I feel like someone pulled me through a knothole backwards.

I took a little time off last week and went to visit family in Illinois. And I went unplugged for five days. The five days was great. Now I’m suffering the consequences.

My To Do list is so long I’m as jumpy as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking of something I forgot to add to the list.

Because I was out of town, the young lady who helps me keep the house from looking like a total disaster couldn’t come, so when my critique group met at my house last night, they had to wade through the clutter and pretend not to notice the dust.

Thank goodness they had no reason to look in my refrigerator or freezer. The ice cream has whiskers and there are unidentified things in containers and plastic bags that might have developed teeth and claws.

I’ve already read all that stuff from the time management gurus. They might as well try to teach me how to milk ducks.

Okay, so those colorful little phrases about knotholes, cats, whiskers, and ducks are not mine. They were swiped from my paternal grandmother who had a fun way of describing her world. That’s her voice, not mine.

That’s where I’m at today. Stealing words from my grandmother because we should have had a guest blogger in this slot.

Instead, you have me.

And that leads me to the point of this whole post.

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog has a team of regular contributors, each with his or her own point of view and unique voice. We also leave dates open each month so we can host RMFW members who want to make a guest appearance to talk about a pet topic, promote a new book, or share writing life experiences. It’s another way we can introduce members to each other (and to the world) between conferences and workshops. That variety of voices blends in a beautiful chorus that describes our organization and our writing lives better than any one writer could.

Starting in January 2015, we’ll have quite a few of those guest spots to fill (two in January and more in February and beyond). If you’d like to be a guest, contact me at patriciastoltey (at) yahoo.com or Julie Kazimer at jkazimer (at) msn.com.

Plan ahead, because we try to fill the calendar a month or two in advance.

You don’t want us feeling like that long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, do you?

Sexy Nurse? Sexy Librarian? Sexy Serial Killer? Yeah, Maybe Not that Last One. Who Will You Be?

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

I love Halloween. Who doesn’t? Free tooth decay and crazy people in and out of costumes. What more could you want?

Though I stopped (thanks to a restraining order) dressing up myself, my pups must suffer playing dress up. Yes, it’s mean. Yes, they hate it. And YES I love every minute of torturing them. That’s what they get for getting to sleep on the bed 365 days a year.

Since I became a published author (2010), I started using my main characters of whatever book I am writing as the pups’ costumes. My pups are Bodie (a Weimaraner who’s 12) and Killer (a small, short-legged mutt of something or other who just turned 3). This year’s theme is Little Boy Blue (which Bodie will be playing since he’s senior dog and gets the good roles) and The Tooth Fairy (poor Killer hates his wings and tutu. Thinks it’s emasculating. Go figure) I honor of The Fairyland Murders, releasing in December in case I haven’t mentioned it a time or two.

I’ll post photos on facebook as that’s part of the torture too.

In the meantime, check out some other literary Halloween animal fun!

See the photos by friending me on facebook!

The Perils of First Person

by Katriena Knights

Many beginning authors start their writing adventures with first person. To many beginners, it feels more natural, more immediate, and even easier. But writing in first person carries a number of stumbling blocks and dangers that aren’t as obvious in third person.

So what’s the big deal? Write in first person, and your reader will feel like they’re right in the middle of the action, right? In fact, this leads to the first peril of first person writing—keeping your protagonist in the middle of the action. Which isn’t always as easy as it might seem.

If you decide to write your story in first person, you can’t recount any events that happen while your protagonist is absent. This can cause all kinds of problems, especially with a more complex story. You should take this into account when you’re plotting your story, and be sure your main character participates fully in any major plot twists. In Twilight, Stephenie Meyer commits a major faux pas in this regard by having Bella fall unconscious during a critical moment of the story’s climax. It’s a really good way to lose your reader. Apparently this didn’t bother her jillions of readers, but it bugged the heck out of me.

Another question to ask is particularly important if you plan to write a series. Can you sustain a first-person narrative over the course of your series? This approach is common in the YA and Urban Fantasy genre, but keep it in mind as you’re constructing your initial plans and proposals.

In the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon manages to make it through nearly two massive tomes without deviating from the POV of her main character, Claire Beauchamp-Randall-Fraser. But it’s not long before her story outgrows this POV, and Gabaldon starts dealing with the shortcomings of first person by using third person in various scenes. At first, she frames this as Jamie relating stories to Claire. But then she also needs to tell Bree and Roger’s story, and that’s when the first-person train goes completely off the rails. The bulk of Gabaldon’s epic series is told in alternating first and third person, with the only first-person sections being those told from Claire’s POV. I’m not saying it doesn’t work—it works very well in these books. But it’s a tricky thing to balance, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that approach.

Another fairly common approach to first-person narrative is to alternate the POV characters, telling each section from a first-person perspective. This can be an effective way to explore more than one character, but there are some pitfalls here, as well. Don’t try to use too many characters—your reader is likely to get confused about whose POV she’s in. Also, it’s very important to vary the narrative voice. I’ve read some alternating first-person POV stories where the voices of the characters were virtually identical, even though one was female and one was male. This made it very difficult for me to orient myself, since there were few proper names to let me know whose head I was in.

I’m not one of those readers who’ll flat-out refuse to read a book if it’s in first person—although they do exist—but like any reader I can be pulled out of a story if the technique falls short. So when you’re considering the structure and plot for your first-person story, think about addressing some of these possible problems so you can head them off at the pass.

(By the way, this post is brought to you by my laboring over my recent WIP, the sequel to Necromancing Nim, which is written in—you guessed it—first person.)

Going for the Big Time—Getting your book in Barnes & Noble

Bu Liesa Malik

Okay, so you’ve written a book. And you’re getting it published, either traditionally or through independent means. Today, this isn’t enough. Today, more and more, sales and marketing have become the author’s responsibility.

How do you sell your book? Can you get it on the shelves of big stores like Barnes and Noble across the nation? The straight answer is probably, no. But there are booksexceptions here. You can get your book shelved at all of the big stores when you become a USA Today or New York Times best selling author. Or when you’re rich and famous. Or you grow your book business as most small businesses grow—store-by-store and reader-by-reader.

Recently, I had the chance to speak with Natalie Vande Vuss of the Barnes and Noble at Wadsworth and Bowles in Littleton. She gave me the bookseller’s perspective on stocking and selling your book. And it all starts with a little understanding . . .

booksellerUnderstanding the business

“We all want the same thing,” said Natalie. “We all want people to read, and we want authors to write. That’s important. This is a business I enjoy because it’s a business about ideas. Here you’re shopping for your head.”

Unfortunately, while we may all be after this same goal, everyone is reaching toward it from different directions, so it’s vital to understand your bookseller’s path to selling your book.

“Each Barnes and Noble is unique,” said Natalie. “I can be three miles away from another store and have a completely different customer base. So the community makes a difference. And each building is different. We don’t build cookie-cutter stores.” She said that the stores all have their own layouts, number of bays, end caps, and tables. And the sales will be different from store to store.

“Once you’ve been in the market a little while and the customers have come in and are making their purchases, and you’ve tracked what you’re selling, you determine what to buy based on what your store needs.”

The other huge determinant of getting your books onto a Barnes and Noble shelf is whether or not your book easily fits into the established system. “There may be a product from a mom and pop out of their garage, and it may be a great item, but how is the payable system going to work? How is the reorder system going to work? How, if it goes to the register in sales, is it going to be re-ordered? There has to be some sort of system in place where what someone is trying to sell fits into our process systems for how we manage profit.”

Natalie mentioned Ingram, Books West, and Partners Publishers Group, as distributors whose systems are compatible with Barnes and Noble’s book stores.

The challenge with smaller or independently published books and books-on-demand is that each title requires processing by hand, and as Natalie said, “In our business staff hours are limited. If I have to go outside all of my systems, and go on a clipboard, it’s going to fall way down on the priority list.”

Where you can start . . .

Let’s say you have a book that fits in Natalie’s system, or you’re willing to do the extra work necessary to get and keep your book on the shelves of the store. As an author, where can you start building your presence?

“Please, make an appointment,” said Natalie. “What a lot of authors do is they just pop-in, and they want to talk to you for an hour. You do not have an hour to talk to them right then because maybe you just got 300 boxes in your back door.” She also said that it might be a different titled person you talk to in each store (remember, every Barnes and Noble is operated uniquely with only general structure and a majority of stock ordered out of New York).

And don’t expect your Barnes and Noble contact to be your personal trainer in how the n=bookspublishing industry works. ” I had a gentleman do that to me on a regular basis. Once a week he would pop in and want an hour of my time. I couldn’t do that. It got to the point where when I would see him I would avoid him.” Natalie said she didn’t want to do so, but she just didn’t have the time to meet with him on his whim.

To Natalie, a best practice would be to go into a store and let whomever you talk to know that you’re a local author. Then ask who the person is at that store that handles the type of event you would like to have. Ask if you can set an appointment to meet that person. Then have a short agenda when you do actually get together.

 . . . And finish

The big day comes. Barnes and Noble have agreed to host a book-signing event for you. Natalie said that a surprising amount of authors think this is all they have to do.

“What you have to understand,” said Natalie, “is you need to help me help you. I’ll provide the space. We’ll have employees at the register, we’ll order all the books, and we’ll do all that kind of stuff, but just like Random House would want to sell it and promote it, you’ll have to do that.”

And when your book signing is over? You have to have follow-up in order to keep books flying off the shelves. It is your marketing plan more than anything done at a store that will sell your books.

Five Reasons Why Stephen King Must DIE!

By Aaron Ritchey

Whenever I meet anyone who doesn’t like Stephen King, I immediately mistrust and I hate them.  I’m a HUGE Stephen King fan, and I just finished reading 11/22/63, which is just one of his many masterpieces.

Yes, I am a Stephen King fan, but I also am full of envy and hate.  He’s too good.  I revel in his genius and then despise him for his craft.  At times, he’s so good I want to kill him dead and then eat his heart and absorb his storytelling spirit.  Wasn’t that like a story in Night Shift?

Anyway, here’s why Stephen King must die because he is just too good:

  • THE DEVIL: Many of my friends think Stephen King doesn’t need an editor, more like a chainsaw, to cut his books in half or more. I whole-heartedly disagree. The brilliance of Stephen King is that he sets up his world with such details that you are immersed in the experience.  He uses the senses, he uses ad slogans, he uses the minutia of the day-to-day to create a world so tangible, so real, that when in introduces the big, bad wolf, we readers are unnerved.  Stephen King has mastered the idea that the devil is in the details, and yeah, he writes horror, so at times, it’s actually a physical devil.  If there is one area I need to improve, it’s on adding details to setting, to characters, to really create the world of my story in the reader’s mind.  In On Writing, King argues that reading a novel is actually telepathy—his thoughts are transferred into our minds and we see what he sees and feel what he feels.  How does he do that?  Through details.
  • HIGH NOON: Stephen King writes page-turners. Why?  Because he knows all about    Sometimes he does it subtly, sometimes blatantly.  It’s why reading his books is so addictive.  He will write something like, “And that was the last time Ed saw his wife alive.”  Right away, we want to know what is going to happen to Ed’s wife!  Yeah, blatant foreshadowing, but it works.  Also, what I love about King is that he will set up the big High Noon gunfight, to give us something to worry about, to look forward to, and every page brings us closer and closer to that inevitable crescendo of violence.  In The Wolves of the Calla, most of the book is in anticipation of the big gun fight, and it kept me turning pages.
  • QUICK KISSES: So we have the big high noon gunfight in the distance. In 11/22/63, it was trying to stop the Kennedy assassination.  However, he gives us pay-offs along the way.  While the High Noon climax is the macro-foreshadowing (as is the mystery of Ed’s wife), he also uses micro-foreshadowing, but he doesn’t keep us dangling in an anticipation for long.  These are like quick kisses of satisfaction.  He introduces story questions, sets it up so we are curious, and then answers them in the same chapter.  Again, this keeps us reading because we want to know!  He doesn’t just give us the answers right away, but keeps us on edge.  Which is another reason why his books are so long.  They have to be, to enjoy the experience.
  • MOTHER’S MILK: So we are plunged into a very real world with lots of details.  We have the High Noon gunfight in the distance.  We have quick kisses of satisfying story answers along the way, but in the mix are layers of conflict that keep us breathless.  Or at least with a niggling bit of anxiety about what might happen.  King milks conflict.  I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read where the conflict is a single layer that is wrapped up quickly.    Please, keep me on edge.  For example, 11/22/63, we have the homeless guy outside of the time portal.  He’s not right. He’s crazy, and we know, he holds the answers, but King keeps him silent because he adds another dimension to the conflict. As does the romance with the high school librarian.  As does the evil bookies who realize our hero knows way too much about the past to be lucky.  Throw in a psychotic gunman trying to kill the president, and the conflicts add up.
  • THE DAREDEVIL: King writes fast, writes his heart, shoots from the hip. His novels aren’t perfect, but perfection is overrated.  The Walking Dead is a popular show not because it’s perfect, but because it gets certain things right, the important things. So too, Stephen King gets the basics just right.  Not perfect, but right.

So yes, King is a master, and, really, I don’t want him dead. He’s good, but he’s spent a lifetime working on his craft and taking chances. I will read his books until the Grim Reaper drags either him or me into that cold grave.

 

 

 

On Finding the Right Writing Partner

By Colleen Oakes

Confession: I’ve never liked writing a book without a writing partner. I’ve written one, and although the book is a source of pride for me, it was a lonely enterprise and not one I’m likely to repeat.  I know it’s possible to write alone – in fact, it’s pop-culture vision of the ideal writer: a man – usually – sits alone in a narrow room that looks out onto a snowy, wintery landscape.  He has a pipe in his mouth, a pen in his hand. The room is cluttered with books and papers, and it all looks so cozy and intellectual, the perfect combination of genius and isolation.   In this business, we tend to cling desperately to the idea that a true writer writes alone, and yet I have found that only in a good writing partner can I reach my full potential as a creative writer.

My first writing partner’s name was Emily.  We decided on New Year’s Eve that we would both write books in the next year and with just a few months over our desired deadline, we did.  Writing with her was incredible. She had the best way of weaving her words and her thoughts deep into my characters. She understood what my characters should and should not do. She was brutally honest when she needed to be, the best beta reader a writer could ever have.  We had the best time writing together.  Likewise, I was the same for her novel, a beautiful musical sigh of a novel called Serenade.

Yes you can

Then Emily moved to North Carolina, and my writer’s heart broke.  I could write without her, but it wasn’t the same.  It wasn’t the same level of coordination,  feedback and understanding. Mostly, it just wasn’t as fun.  I miss her every day, but we stay in close touch as good friends. However, the distance makes it almost impossible to be the same level of writing partners that we once were.

Enter Mason, stage right.  Mason was so different than Emily. Emily and I are both women. We were very close friends before we ever started writing our novels.  Our books were about women, for women. We have a lot of feelings.  Mason, on the other hand, is a dude.  His character is a dude. He is a Sci-Fi writer. He loves tech and plasma guns and biology and astronomy and a million other things that I don’t understand in the least.   And yet…he is also the perfect writing partner.  Our conversations are hilarious and sometimes very harsh; one promise we made to each other early on is that we are always, always honest. Even when it hurts. Always supportive, always honest.  He’s pointed out while I write Wendy Darling that I didn’t give much thought to the dynamics of flight.  (I hadn’t.)  My characters need voice work. He hates my mountain range.  I dislike reading tech-y descriptions and could care less about Magnetic Reactors. His main character arc needs work. We throw these missiles at each other, but instead of exploding, we take them in and use the fire to hone our pens, to make our gifts sharper and better.  We grow together as writers. I’ll take someone harsh but helpful over kind but useless any day.

If I could impart any advice to new writers, it’s this: find a writing partner. You might need to go through a few before finding the right one, but it’s worth the struggle. Don’t be that solitary writer scribbling out mad genius on the corners of his cell. That guy isn’t real most of the time. Writing can be dreadfully lonely when you only have characters in your mind to keep you company. Find the person who raises you above your own art.

This.

Some tips to finding the perfect writing partner:

1. Make sure you have a similar pace of writing. If it takes one writer two years to write a book and the other a mere three months, it might not be a great partnership. (James Patterson and George R.R Martin would probably not work out.)

2. Writing different genres does not matter, but are you the same level as talent? When you speak to them, do you feel on equal footing?

3. Ask these questions: Are they responsible with your work? Are they responsive? Is their advice helpful? Are they able to find the honest flaws in your writing or are they just trying to make themselves feel better by criticizing?

4. Finally: do you like them? As a person, do you like them? Because there will be times when you feel like a failure. When the publishing industry will spit you out and they will be there to pick you up.  You should like that person now, because you will need them later.

Once you find the right writing partner, make sure you do your part to keep the relationship humming.  It takes work, just like any relationship, and you can’t let it fall to waste.

The perfect writing partner is a gift, and it’s a gift you, as a writer, should choose give yourself.