Category Archives: General Interest

5 GAMES FOR WRITERS

By Kevin Paul Tracy

Lively Discussion

Writers block is rarely the inability to think of something to write, as most people think of it. Sometimes it is more insidious: we feel as if we’re in a rut, writing the same old thing and not able to break out of the stricture; the plot we’ve outlined for our current project works, but doesn’t inspire us or entice us to sit down and write it; or we sense we are treading ground already tread by other writers and while, yes, we could probably do it as well or better, is what we can do with the subject sufficiently fresh and original to make it worth the effort.

Even if it is writers block in the traditional sense, there are ways to break out of it, with, as the Beatles put it, “a little help from (our) friends.” What follows are five games a group of writers can play to help get the juices flowing again. These can be played in a critique group, at a writers retreat, or just while sitting around sipping wine and discussing our craft. The final output of these games may not be anything of value or use at all, but that isn’t the point. The point is to recharge the creative batteries by stepping away from our current project and indulging in a little bit of literary silliness!

THE CASTING SLOUCH
Before the writers gather, the host creates three characters. She doesn’t name them, only gives them character traits: age, appearance, occupation, quirks, habits, deep dark secret, etc. She then creates a setting: time, place, weather conditions, whatever. Now, as the game starts, the writers are given 30 minutes to write a first chapter or scene, roughly ten pages, using all three characters and the setting to introduce a conflict and begin the plot that will presumably carry through an entire novel. Spelling, grammar, even structure doesn’t matter, what’s important is the story. Once completed, they read their chapters to each other and discuss.

POSTHUMOUS, THE FRIENDLY GHOST WRITER
In this game, the writers sit around a table or in a rough circle. Each writer is given 5 minutes to write a part of a chapter or story. In the first 5 minutes he starts it, then the pages are passed clockwise. In the subsequent rounds, each writer has 10 minutes (5 minutes to read what was written) to continue the chapter they were just given, and so on until the last writer on each chapter concludes it. The writers then read the chapters together. Once again none of the mechanics of writing matter, only the story. The trick here is not to try to fit your writing style to the writer who went before you, but only to continue the story in your own voice, while possibly giving some twist to stump the next writer.

TWISTER FOR GENRES
Here the writers draw genres from a hat. If it is a genre in which they normally write they should put it back and draw again. It is okay if more than one writer gets the same genre. After this, each writer is given 30 minutes to rewrite the first chapter of one of their projects, whether it is one on which they are currently working, or a published one, in the style of the new genre they have drawn. Need I repeat mechanics don’t count, only story. When done, they read them to each other.

CHARACTER ROULETTE
In this game, each writer is given 15 minutes to develop a rough character. A scenario is drawn from a hat, such as: Godzilla has just stepped on the characters’ favorite coffee shop; or a sudden mudslide carries the restaurant at which the characters are dining out to sea; or, the characters show up at a party only to discover it is really an FBI sting operation. Then, without waiting to take turns, the writers state how their characters would react, not only to the situation at hand but to the actions of other characters as they are described by their writers. The trick here is to find creative, original ideas for their reactions that would move a plot forward.

BETTER…OR MORE BETTER?
This one is pretty simple and easy. The writers take turns discussing one major or popular work for fiction from literature, movies, the stage, even a well-known commercial and how they would have rewritten a better ending for it. The writers discuss why this would be or may not necessarily be a better ending.

I know these games might seem silly, but a little silliness never hurt anyone, and you’d be surprised how they break loose the cobwebs and inspire writers to expand their boundaries or even break loose from them entirely. I encourage you to try them.

Look Who’s Coming to Colorado Gold: Matthew Martz, Crooked Lane Books

MattMartzMatt Martz began his publishing career in 2004 and joined Crooked Lane Books / Quick Brown Fox & Company in 2014 after 8 years on the editorial staff at St. Martin’s Press and Minotaur Books. He publishes crime fiction ranging from traditional mysteries to high concept thrillers. The authors with whom he has worked include Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist Kelli Stanley and Barry Award nominee Tim O’Mara.

Pat: Matt, thank you so much taking the time to answer a few questions for us prior to the Colorado Gold Conference. Hopefully these interviews will help conference attendees select the best agent or editor for their pitches or critique workshops (and persuade a lot of potential attendees to join us in September).

Will this be the first time you’ve attended Colorado Gold? What’s your favorite part of the conference experience?

Matt: Happy to. This will be my first time attending Colorado Gold, and I’m really looking forward to it. My favorite part of the conference experience is meeting with new authors and helping them both in terms of their writing as well as their understanding of the publishing industry, which can be a little less than intuitive at times. I also enjoy hearing ideas from other professionals. There are number of talented people out there, and getting their insights on the business can be invaluable.

Pat: Would you tell us all about Quick Brown Fox & Company? Is it a new venture? Is it part of St. Martin’s Press or a completely separate company? With no specific website presence, how does The Quick Brown Fox find great authors and crime novels?

Matt: Quick Brown Fox & Co. is a new venture. It is a publishing startup with a terrific marketing affiliation with Bookspan. Bookspan is the owner of the country’s premier book clubs, including Book-of-the-Month, Doubleday, Literary Guild, and, of course, Mystery Guild, among others. We have tremendous resources to help readers discover new authors and launch careers. The focus of our first imprint Crooked Lane Books will be on crime fiction. The titles we will publish range from high concept thrillers to traditional mysteries and domestic suspense. While our website is not up as I’m writing, it will be up by mid-July (2014). In fact, I’ll be working on that this afternoon.

Pat: Please tell us a little about your background and what led you to join the world of publishing.

Matt: Whenever I’m asked how I came to a publishing career, I normally say that it was a combination of a misspent youth followed by an over-education in a field with questionable employment prospects. You’ll be amazed how well this summary covers most publishing professionals… or at least editors. My misspent youth was spent reading too many books, which led to a graduate program in creative writing. From there I took a job with Minotaur Books where I fell for crime fiction. The combination of top-notch writing and gripping plots made it the perfect home for me, not to mention plenty of readers.

Pat: What do you think of the whole concept of authors pitching to an agent or editor in ten minutes or less? Is there anything a writer can do during one of these sessions to make you more interested in seeing his work? Anything that’s an immediate turnoff?

Matt: The concept of trying to pitch a book in 10 minutes or less is hard, and it seems a little silly at this stage, but is important and necessary. In many ways, the publishing industry works like a game of telephone. The author tells the agent about a book. The agent passes the message onto the editor. The editor passes the message onto marketing, publicity, subrights, and sales who then pass it on to reviewers, bookstores, foreign publishers, and readers. Having a succinct and engaging message is very important.

When presenting a book, writers want to make sure that the editor understands why the book is worth reading, that writer is the right person to write the book, and the writer is the right person to present the book.

Less is more. Let the editors and agents know how you open the book, give them some idea whom the characters are, and give them a surprising twist or conflict. Stay away from running down the whole plot. And if you’re fortunate enough to have an agent or editor ask to see more of your work, give them whatever they want and then get heck out of there. Don’t sell past the close.

Pat: The conference schedule says you’ll be conducting one of the Agent/Editor Morning Critique Workshops. Many of our members have found their agent or publisher this way, so they’re very popular. What do you hope to see among the writing submissions (any particular sub-genre, a story line you’ve been hoping for, historical time period, or even a specific type of character)?

Matt: My focus is on crime fiction. That is a very broad genre, which is one of the main reasons why I love working in it. While I want to see terrific writing and a plot that moves, I also want to see manuscripts that fit into a recognizable subgenre. If a writer is working on a traditional, I want to see that charm, wit or puzzle on every page. If it’s a thriller, I want a fast opening and a high concept worth thinking about. If it’s a suspense novel, then I want to see that family under siege, and I want the book to tug on my heartstrings. More than anything else, I want to see writers who understand the genre they’re writing in and the readers that they’re trying to reach. Writers who can do that would find a very happy home with us.

Pat: How does a writer submit queries or partials to The Quick Brown Fox & Company? Are you open to unagented submissions from writers you haven’t met at conference?

Matt: Unfortunately, due to the quantity of submissions that we receive from agents, referred by writers we know, or manuscripts we solicit, we do not accept unsolicited manuscripts at this time. My advice is to find me during the conference and hit me with a pitch. That’s what I’m there for, so please don’t be shy.

Pat: Crime fiction covers a very broad range from cozy mystery to international thriller. What specific sub-genres do you prefer, both for personal reading and for potential publication?

Matt: My personal reading is broad, and I make a conscious effort to make sure that my tastes do not get in the way of what readers are looking for. Sometimes what an editor likes can blind them to what others like. We read a lot more books than the vast majority of the audience. For the most part, that’s a good thing but not always.

I may have answered this question to a certain extent a little earlier in this interview. I’m not interested in particular subgenre so much as I’m interested in writers who clearly understand the rules of their subgenre. Crime fiction has quite a few rules, which makes for some excellent writing. Authors who know how to give the readers the type of experience that they’re looking for are authors who will have long careers.

Pat: You keep a very low profile online, Matt. As a consolation prize for doing a lot of research with no good results, would you reveal something about yourself that will make us laugh?

Matt: I wish I could, but it’s against the rules of the witness protection program.

Pat:  That works! I laughed.

Thanks again, Matt. We appreciate your participation in our Colorado Gold Interview Project. We’re looking forward to meeting you in September.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield: A Review

Review by Mark Stevens

the-war-of-art_for Mark Stevens postResistance is invisible, internal, implacable, impersonal, infallible and insidious.

Resistance, as Steven Pressfield points out in The War of Art, never sleeps.

“Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five,” writes Pressfield. “In other words, fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”

If you don’t know it, The War of Art is a must-read. (Of course, reading it might be an act of resistance in itself. You should be writing, don’t you know.)

The War of Art breaks down the interaction with your art. It encourages you to picture yourself as a soldier in the fight against, what else? Resistance.

Pressfield first defines the enemy (resistance), then encourages you to fight by “turning pro” and finally, in the third section, he shows you how to find inspiration in the “higher realm.”

The battle, Pressfield asserts, involves dedication and daily action. Some of his arguments have too many biblical metaphors for my tastes but the essence of his argument is hard to refute: get busy, show up, do the work, stick to it, make it routine, make it a habit, don’t give in.

You will understand the creative process a bit better—and even understand why you feel compelled to tell stories and to produce art.

• “The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome.”

• “When we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set in motion by which, inevitably, and infallibly heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.”

• “What I call Professionalism someone else might call the Artist’s Code or the Warrior’s Way. It’s an attitude of egolessness and service.”

Pressfield’s most convincing point, at least to me, is that if we have something to say, we are obligated to say it.

We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the world. He calls creating art a private insurrection.

“As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.”

The War of Art delivers a blow against resistance and will get you fired up. It’s a battle out there. Strike a blow, if you can, every day.

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

Mark Stevens
Mark 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

An Interview with Literary Agent Pooja Menon, Kimberley Cameron and Associates

poojamenon1Pooja Menon joined Kimberley Cameron & Associates as an intern in the fall of 2011, with the aim of immersing herself in the elusive world of publishing. She soon realized that being an agent was what she was most drawn to as the job was varied and challenging and satisfied her craving to work with books. In the fall of 2012, she began taking on her own clients. As a relatively new agent, Pooja is looking to build her client list and is eager for submissions by debut novelists and veteran writers. She represents fiction and non-fiction for both Adult and YA markets, and is searching for writing that has an easy flow, timely pacing, unique perspectives, and strong voices.

In Adult fiction, she is looking for upmarket women‘s fiction, literary/commercial fiction, thrillers, mysteries/suspense, historical and multi-cultural fiction. In YA, she is looking for strong voice-driven contemporary fiction (from the light/romantic variety to fiction dealing with darker themes and subjects), horror, mysteries/thrillers with psychological twists, fantasy, historicals–all of which need to be uniquely spun, fresh, with voices that are strong and multi-layered. She‘s also looking for multi-cultural fiction that is either set abroad or is set in the US with characters from a different culture or background.

Pat: Welcome to the RMFW Blog, Pooja. Could you start by telling our conference attendees (and potential attendees) about your educational background and experience and what specifically led to your literary agent position?

Pooja: Of course! I went quite the linear way to be honest. I always knew I wanted to work in publishing. At the time, I envisioned more of an editorial role when I thought of jobs. I planned on moving to NY and trying to get into one of the Big 6 (at that time) and working my way up. So I did my BA in English Literature from England and then, because I loved to write, I did an M.F.A from Otis College of Art and Design in LA, which was really great because it’s a small program and we’re all very collaborative (the professors and the students) and they have a publishing module/program where they release a select number of literary books each year–each of us learnt what goes into publishing a book while working on these.

Once I finished, however, life changed direction and I got married and my husband’s job required me to be in the Bay Area. So I began looking at other options and found Kimberley Cameron & Associates. I’ll be honest, until that point I didn’t know much about a literary agent and nor did I consider it a career option because I had thought of something else all along. But once I learnt more about it, I applied for an internship with Kimberley and I interned and assisted with her for a year. I realized that the job offered me a ton of freedom with the kind of projects I wanted to work on, offered me the freedom to work with the kind of people I wanted to work with, and I got to do more than an editorial role. Agents wear a lot of different hats and I enjoyed learning about all these various hats. Then in the fall of 2012, Kimberley asked me to join and I jumped at the chance.

Pat: Have you attended many writers’ conferences since you became an agent? If so, tell us a little about your conference experience, what you like most and least. If you haven’t been to many conferences, please describe your expectations, especially about the author pitch sessions.

Pooja: I did, actually. This year has been conference heavy! I attended a couple of local one day and weekend conferences, went to San Miguel in February, Houston in April, Boise in May, this July it will be my second time at the PNWA conference in Seattle, my first at Colorado Gold (so excited), quite frankly, I’ve attended quite a bit and really enjoyed them. I love meeting new writers who come to me bursting with ideas for their projects; I enjoy talking to them about their work and how far they’ve come and where they got their inspiration from. I love hearing about how active in the writing community they are—attending conferences and writing critique groups, doing readings, learning up on the industry, etc (this kind of a writer makes me a very happy agent). It’s really great.

What I like the least is when I meet people during pitches who’ve come to talk to me about their work but won’t take a word of criticism/suggestion/advice without getting irked or defensive. This industry requires people to be open and willing to learn and edit and revise, requires people to be tough skinned when getting critiqued. It also bothers me when people don’t respect the idea of space. I’m very aware that they’ve spent money to be at conferences and they’re eager to learn, but when an agent goes to the restroom or finds a moment to have lunch (unless it’s a lunch/informal pitch session), that definitely is not the best time to pitch your work. Respect boundaries and space. That’s what I think authors (definitely this is a minority) can work on.

Pat: The bio at the beginning of this interview has a pretty long list of fiction genres that you might be interested in representing. RMFW is all for and about fiction writers, so please elaborate a bit on your favorite genres, what you hope to find in the pitch sessions, and which genres are least likely to excite you. Are you interested in the New Adult genre?

Pooja: In terms of what excites me the most, I’m very fond of multi-cultural fiction that deals with family, love, boundaries, etc within a larger framework or plotline. Think of Khalid Hosseini or Jhumpa Lahiri or Adiche Chimamanda or Isabel Allende or Amy Tan or Ann Patchett or books like Shadow of the Banyan Tree and The Tiger’s Wife. Literary fiction that has strong commercial appeal. Now, by all means, not all stories have to be set in multi-cultural settings. I enjoy literary fiction and commercial fiction of any kind, set anywhere as long as the concept is fresh and unique: The Night Circus, The Orphan Train, historical fiction by Sarah Dunant, mysteries or thrillers by authors like Tana French and Kathy Reich’s, or ones that are off-beat (Gone Girl, domestic thriller that’s off-beat and dark and set in a suburb or Alexander McCall, polar opposite, for instance) from the norm.

Frankly, aside from romance, epic sci-fi and fantasy, military fiction, and light frothy beach reads (not overly fond of these), I’m open to anything unique and different. I’m hoping to be surprised and meeting authors’ at pitch sessions is usually the perfect way to be surprised. Many a time, even though I might not generally read books in a particular genre or category, I might make an exception if the writing and the characters are THAT strong and have moved me in some big way. So be ready to bring me your best work!

Pat: What advice do you have for the authors who pitch their work to you at conference?

Pooja: Be calm, be professional and courteous, and prepare your pitch and practice it before coming to a conference because agents would prefer you to pitch them face to face in a conversational manner as opposed to, a) reading off a page b) rambling on and on about your story in an attempt to tell us your whole story in four minutes.

Prepare a one minute pitch, a three minute pitch, a four minute one, depending on the pitch times for the conference you’re attending. One minute pitches regardless because if you’re pitching to an agent over drinks in an informal setting, you want to capture their attention at once, then a strong, intriguing one minute or shorter pitch would be the key. Also, practice on your spouse or friend or parents or partner until they think you’re doing it organically and until you think you are confident enough.

Lastly, we’re just people looking for an amazing story. We’re there to meet you because we want to be and because we want to find stories that make our hearts race. So don’t be nervous. What’s the worst that can happen, really? Practice makes perfect and if you didn’t click with one agent or made mistakes at one conference, there are plenty more for you to try at or learn from. It’s never a waste!

Pat: What changes is your agency experiencing because of the rise in self-published books? Do you see any differences in the quality and genre of submissions you receive?

Pooja: First off, I have to say, the explosion of self-published books hasn’t affected us as much. Mainly because books that are self-published and have sold millions of copies have been the exception, not the norm. We get queries all the time from people who’ve gone the self-published route and then learnt that a lot goes into it to take it off the ground and they would rather focus on writing and have agents take care of that bit, Unfortunately, once a book is put out and if they don’t garner enough sales or attention, there isn’t much an agent can do for them.

In the case of books that do well, people have asked us why they need an agent, and my answer is that if that’s the case, we can still get them a better deal. For instance, if an author has millions of e-book sales, an agent can get them a great print deal with a big publisher, better distribution and packaging deals for print books, movie or TV deals, work on getting an aggressive deal on other subsidiary rights, so many things an agent can do for that author while allowing the author to keep the rights of the e-books he’s sold on his own. So, in essence, agents move and evolve with the industry and our roles get more and more complex, but never less necessary or important.

Pat: The website states your agency is open to emailed queries that include a one-page synopsis and the first fifty pages of the manuscript. When you open one of these queries, what most encourages you to read on, and what makes you stop reading and reject the submission?

Pooja: A stellar query makes me want to read more. Even if a query isn’t so stellar, I still do read the first ten pages at least if I feel like the story has potential or perks my interest in some way. It’s all based on the writing for me, if I feel like the story doesn’t capture me from the first page, I would still read a few more pages in, but if I still feel like I have to force myself to keep going, that would be an easy decision for me to make. When we go through the edits with our clients, we sometimes end up reading that manuscript a dozen times! If I struggled to read it the first time, it will be a painful process indeed to get through it even a second time around.

Pat: When you like what you hear during a conference pitch session, what would trigger a request for the full manuscript?

Pooja: Usually I stick to asking from 25-75 pages based on how well the pitch is put forward or how intrigued I am by the story. I never request a full because I’ve seen a lot of manuscripts fall apart in the middle, so I prefer the cautious and bit by bit approach.

Pat: We know that literary agents spend a lot of their “spare” time reading manuscripts, but what else do you do for fun? Do you have any interesting hobbies, quirky pets, or unusual weekend activities?

Pooja: Ah fun! Well, there was a time when I used to work every day even through the weekends and quickly realized that’s a recipe for disaster. I was getting burned out and my family wasn’t too pleased by it. So I’ve scaled back a lot.

I love reading for pleasure, so I still try and find time for that. We do a lot of hiking with my dog (my quirky goldendoodle) and meet up with friends and watch plays/musicals/movies, I try and fit in working out in there somewhere despite my dislike for it, I do love dancing so I’ve been toying with the idea of signing up for classes. Ditto with wanting to learn how to bake and cook Thai/Ethiopian food, though I have to find time for it. Love to travel, so we try and do a lot of local trips if we can and go outside once a year at least. I also love trying new cuisines so we go around in the city and out of the city in search of food.

Thanks so much for answering our questions, Pooja. We look forward to meeting you at Colorado Gold.

Critical Questions with Sandra Dallas

Sandra DallasIt’s no great secret that next to advances and royalty checks, book reviews are an author’s best friend. But getting reviews are hard to come by, and no guarantee of success. Just ask Sandra Dallas, current columnist and book critic for fifty years with the Denver Post, and who is also a successful author.

“I don’t know how many books are published a year. Isn’t the figure around 400,000?” she said in a recent interview. “It’s a huge volume. You may run two to four reviews a week. What then are the chances of getting a book reviewed? It’s very discouraging for authors.”

And from the reviewer’s perspective life isn’t any easier. “Reviewing is a sideline,” said Sandra. “The Post stopped paying last year, and they never paid much anyway. It’s not keeping bread on the table. National reviewers are paid more, but local papers don’t.”

LOOKING FOR GOOD NEWS

On the bright side, Sandra said that the Post has a new editor for it’s book section; one reason Denver authors should consider themselves lucky. Many papers have done away with this section entirely. And the new editor has hinted at more articles about authors.

Also, with more blogs on the Internet focusing on book reviews there may be opportunities for writing reviews of your own to build a great reputation and add another plank to your author platform.

If you do want to write reviews for public consumption, here are some thoughts Sandra shared about the process:

WHEN TO CRITIQUE AND WHEN TO SAY “NO”

“When I started out, I was told by Stanton Peckham (the Post’s book editor at the time), ‘If a book isn’t very good, don’t review it,’” said Sandra. “‘Why give space to a book that isn’t very good, when there are so many good books out there?’ You review only the books you think are worthwhile. And keep your reader in mind. Your loyalty is not to the author. Your loyalty is to the reader.”

Sandra spoke about new critics and their biggest challenges. “You can tell a novice reviewer by a couple of things. Number one, they love to point out errors. They will take a date that’s a year off and make a big deal out of it. And then they love to be clever and to be critical. And they love to write negative reviews. You see a lot of this in blogs. I think usually they’re trying to be clever at the author’s expense.”

She said that one time a book review blogger just creamed one of Sandra’s books, and then closed by saying that she would review War and Peace in next week’s blog. There was a chuckle to go with this thought.

WHAT TO WRITE IN A BOOK REVIEW

First, you should love reading. Really love it. As Sandra’s sister says, “Hell for us (readers) is being someplace without a book.”

Then, when Sandra does a review, she says she usually keeps a paper or the book’s press release in the book and jots down notes and page numbers as she goes. This is because she rarely keeps a book she’s been given to review, so she doesn’t like to mark them up before giving them away. Occasionally, with an ARC, she’ll underline texts she wants to use.

“I look for interesting things—for catchy phrases—for summations of the book,” said Sandra. “But your job is not to please the author or to promote the book. Your job is to tell readers about the book.” She noted with another light laugh that some authors who practically beg to have their book reviewed will often focus in on the one negative she might point out at the end of a review and give her a hard time for that, forgetting that having a generally positive review is rare and valuable.

ABOUT SANDRA

Sandra didn’t start life as a book critic or author. From journalism school at the University of Denver, she joined the staff of Business Week Magazine, a true thought leader in its heyday, and still a strong voice in business as a member of the Bloomberg Press conglomerate of business news sources. She became the first woman bureau chief and covered the Rocky Mountain Region on a wide variety of subjects, “not just business, but about issues that business people needed to know.”

Then, about 25 years ago, she turned to fiction. “It was kind of a fluke,” she said. “I had never intended to write fiction. I didn’t even read fiction. And I just sort of fell into it, and I love writing it. You know that old line about someone asking you ‘do you like writing?” And the answer is ‘no, but I like having written.’ Well, I actually like sitting down and the writing process of seeing what happens with fiction. I really enjoy it.”

Today, Sandra Dallas has thirteen novels and ten non-fiction books published.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR SANDRA?

This fall she has two new books coming out. The first is targeted toward children readers between ages ten and twelve. Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky comes out in September, and A Quilt For Christmas, and adult novel will appear shortly after.

“My last novel was called Fallen Woman, which was about the murder of a prostitute in Denver in 1885,” said Sandra. “I originally called it Holiday Street, because that was Market Street’s original name, and this was the red light district. So my agent said, ‘You have to change the title because your readers are going to think this is a Christmas book.’ And then she said, ‘Why don’t you write a Christmas book? Why don’t you write a Christmas quilt book?’ And so that was the origin of this book.

So now it’s your turn. Do you have favorite book critics you like to read? How do you think their review process works? Are  you a reviewer? Please add to the conversation and let us know how you judge a book.

Everything I Learned About Writing I learned From Johnny Cash

By Aaron Ritchey

I just finished a biography on Johnny Cash, and love is a burning a thing.  Also, the book business has a lot of similarities to the music industry.

This is what I learned:

1)      Success can be a whole lotta luck — For example, Johnny Cash moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1955.  Summer of 1955.  Do you know what else happened the summer of 1955?  Sam Phillips, the guru behind Sun Records, discovered Elvis.  A few months later, Johnny Cash walked into Sam Phillips’ studio.  Stupid, stupid luck.  What if Johnny Cash hadn’t been in Memphis in 1955?

2)      You don’t have to be perfect to be amazing – So Johnny Cash would get together with this buddies Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins, and they would play music together.  They were a garage band in the south in the 50’s.  They weren’t all that good, but since they weren’t very good, they had to kind of fake it, which resulted in was called their “boom chicka boom” sound.  It wasn’t that they were cutting edge musicians, no, they were struggling to just get notes out there.  The result?  Folsom Prison Blues.

3)      You don’t have to be completely original to succeed –  So Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two (Grant and Perkins) had a distinctive sound.  However, Folsom Prison Blues was based on another song, Crescent City Blues.  Johnny Cash made it his own, granted, but in the end, he had to pay out a settlement because the two songs were so similar.  In a way, Johnny Cash’s entire career was based on Folsom Prison Blues and I Walk the Line.  One was an original work; the other wasn’t.  Shakespeare did this same thing.  I’m not saying steal and plagiarize, but for myself, I’ve thrown away perfectly good ideas because I thought they’d been done before.  It’s ALL BEEN DONE BEFORE!  Take your passion, make it happen, and write books in such a way that no one, and I mean no one, would ever think you plagiarized a thing.  I’d still clear of sparkly vampires, though.  Just sayin’.

4)      Writing for the market is iffy.  Writing from your heart makes all the difference – Johnny Cash would write what he thought of as “Johnny Cash” songs, like Ballad of Teenage Queen.  But then he would write his “JR Cash” songs like I Walk the Line and Folsom Prison Blues and Ring of Fire. Those are JR songs (growing up, his family called him JR).  How many people adore and go crazy over Ballad of Teenage Queen?  It was written for the market.   Yeah, I know.  Don’t even bother YouTubeing it.  It’s a silly song.  Those other songs?  Genius!

5)      Artists need outside help and editors are necessary –  By the early 1990’s, it was clear that Johnny Cash’s best years lay behind him.  I mean, he was playing to like a dozen people in Branson, Missouri matinees.  And the people were wanting their money back.  Cash hadn’t really had a stand-out solo song for decades. Then along comes Rick Rubin,  a hotshot hip-hop producer. Why would he want to work with Johnny Cash?  He was a has-been.  Why would Johnny Cash want to work with Rick Rubin?  He was a weird hippie commie liberal sinner.  Well, the hippie part is probably true, the rest I made up.  Anyway, Rick Rubin wanted to see what he could do with a legend like Johnny Cash, someone past their prime.  Or was he?  Johnny Cash suffered from producers who failed to push him to do great things.  Sam Phillips made Johnny Cash a star because Sam Phillips had vision.  So did Rick Rubin.  If you have not heard any of the Johnny Cash American Recordings songs, well, shame on you.  Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash, working together, made in my opinion the best music of Johnny Cash’s career.  Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails says that he now covers “Hurt” because it’s now a Johnny Cash song. The cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” is inspired. What if Johnny Cash had had someone like Rick Rubin in the 70’s and 80’s?  What kind of masterpieces would he have recorded?

6)      You can’t write books if you are dead –  Phillip Seymore Hoffman will never act again because he overdosed on drugs.  We’ve had Colorado authors who will never write again because they committed suicide.  Johnny Cash most likely should’ve died numerous times.  If he had ridden that addiction train to nowhere, we would’ve been ROBBED of his art.  So take care of yourself.  If you drink too much, stop drinking.  If you take drugs, think about it.  If you don’t exercise and eat junk food, think about it.  You can’t write if you’re dead.  So take care of yourself.

Johnny Cash made the world a better place because wrote songs and played music.  We who write books and publish them also add something vital to this mean old world.

So keep walking that line and write.

Emotional Barrier in Fiction: The Most Important Barrier For You To Cross (Part One)

Written by Tiffany Lawson Inman

Emotions play a big role in writing fiction.

That’s not a big secret, right?

Nope, but what I say next might surprise you. One of the many things I learned during my years as an actor is that most people, including writers, are afraid of their own emotions. Feeeeeeeeeeelings.Kermit Oh yes, those pesky feelings.

Most people are afraid of the thoughts and situations that forced them to feel hate, shame, guilt, terror, deep sadness, and dread. Humans are blessed to have the ability to emote, but they also have within them an emotional barrier to protect them from feeling some of those nasty things. It also protects them from revisiting past emotions. Unfortunately this emotional barrier makes emotions one of the most difficult area of fiction to write.

I say most people because it seemed that all of us crazies that were in the theatre field were only mildly afraid of our emotions. Mildly afraid and wildly fascinated. Any scene or play I came across that would allow me to crack open my psyche, I dove after it with open arms. I knew it was an opportunity to really dig in and polish my craft. Actors relish the chance to explore the demons inside of their brains, hearts, and blood. Because actors know THAT is where the drama is.  That is what the audience wants to see.  And as an actor, writer, or any other type of artist, if you can’t manipulate your emotional barrier you won’t be making true dramatic art.

Really, is that all?

Nope. Writers also have a thread of fascination with crossing this emotional barrier, however, in all of the books and manuscripts I’ve read, I’ve only seen a handful of authors create true emotion. Many get close. Even more miss the mark and are completely disconnected from their emotions.

Why????Why?

The emotional barrier is tall and wide. It has thorns that pierce flesh. It has poison that can flow into your bloodstream and taint the day, week, year after you dare to cross through it. There is no wonder why most people are very comfortable leaving it up for protection.

A few years ago I created an online course to help writers find their way through the emotional barrier and use what they find to fuel more dramatic writing using The Method.

Yesterday I cracked open a book on writing craft to gather inspiration for this post and I was more than pleasantly surprised to see Donald Maass also touching on the subject of human emotions in his book Writing 21st Century Fiction. He asks writers in the beginning of Chapter Three,

“But what is it that moves readers’ hearts? What conjures in readers’ imaginations a reality  that, for a while, feels more real that their own lives? What glues readers to characters and  makes  those characters objects of identification: people with whom readers feel intimately involved about whom they care, and whose outcomes matter greatly?

Emotions.”

He later goes on to say:

“…some writers slide into genre clichés or literary imitation. To put authentic emotions on the page, you need to own them. When you do, readers will respect you. It’s when you hide that readers feel shortchanged, cheated, and only minimally involved.”

Well gosh, we don’t want to cheat or shortchange our readers. And we definitely don’t want to become cliché or just another Joe Writer. That won’t sell books.

As an editor I want writers to be proud of their product and as a reader I want to fall in love with fiction every time I read a book. Maass makes a great point and that is exactly what I was referring to when I mentioned feeling disconnected from a character’s emotions.

One or all five of the following is happening in this type of fiction:

  • The author wasn’t allowing themselves an emotional release.
  • The author didn’t know how to cross their emotional barrier.
  • The author didn’t know how to use the emotions they could reach.
  • The author was too afraid to use their own emotions.
  • The author didn’t think emotions were an important factor in fiction.

Unfortunately in today’s technology age, we have more and more distractions to aid us in keeping the barrier up.

  • Instead of facing a feeling we can just stick our noses to a screen and entertainment will quickly cover up any emotion we are feeling. (have you ever trolled over to Netflix or YouTube for some “feel good” imagery?)
  • Instead of waiting for acceptance or rejection from a potential friend, we click around and connect with another friend.
  • Instead of the dread of not knowing a dollop of information, we can just Google it.
  • Instead of heading into a confrontation that might hurt us or be uncomfortable to face, we can just send an email, or better yet, a text.

As I was mulling over how to express how important I think this emotional barrier issue is, this hugely debilitating artistic conflict in today’s blog, I sauntered over to Facebook for a little brain-distraction (yeah, I know, ironic.) Whilst scrolling through sarcastic status updates, quotes, and friend’s family photos, I stumbled across a link to one of my favorite comedians, Louis C.K., doing a bit with Conan O’Brian on why he doesn’t want his little girls to have cell phones.

*Twilight Zone music!*

The Universe must have been watching me write this blog, because Louis C.K. brilliantly zeros in on the emotional barrier and why humans are so conflicted. And then he talks about a reaction he had to a song that rolled into his own emotional breakthrough. I actually got a zingy-zappy-tingly feeling in my limbs as he came to the end of his conversation with Conan, because everything he says plays into what I am talking about today; he hits the emotional barrier issue on the head with a cannon ball. 

I transcribed the conversation to the best of my ability because I think it is another learning experience to read the emotion in his language throughout the story. The link is below, if you’d like to come back and watch it.

Louis C.K.’s Case Against Kids Having Smartphones

Louis: Some parents really struggle with, like all other kids have the terrible thing, so my kid has to ……yeah, let’s let… no let your kid go and be a better example to the other kids. Just ‘cuz the other stupid kids have phones doesn’t mean that yeah, ok, my kid has to be stupid or otherwise she’ll feel weird.

Ya know I think these things are toxic.  Especially to kids. It’s just this thing (head downMiss Piggy and Kermitmiming texting) it’s bad.

They don’t look at people when they are talking to them. They don’t build the empathy. Ya know, kids are mean because they are trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, “You’re fat. “ And then they see the kids face scrunch up and they go, “Ew, that didn’t feel good to make a person do that.” But they’ve got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write, “You are fat!”, they go, “Mmm um that was fun, I liked that.”

Conan: Mmm that tasted good.

Photo 1Louis:  Yeah, exactly. You need…um, the thing is you need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That is what the phones are taking away. Is the ability to just sit there, like this.  (he sits there, arms still, not doing anything) That’s being a person. Right?  You gotta uuuh, uhhh… you gotta check (mimes frantically checking his phone)

Because underneath everything in your life, there is that thing. That empty, that forever empty. You know what I’m talking about?

Conan: Eh…hehe…yes.

Audience: Hahahaha

Louis: That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and you are alone. You know and it’s down there.  And sometimes when things clear away and you aren’t watching it and you are in your car and you start going, Oooooh no, here it comes… that I am alone. and it starts to visit on you, just this sadness, life is tremendously sad. Just by being in it.

SO when you are driving you are going, Aaaaahuuuhaaa…(he mimes just sitting there being a person and looking around at other drivers, alone. )

That’s why we text and drive, I look around and pretty much 100 percent of people driving out there are texting.  They are killing and everyone is murdering everyone with their cars.

But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own…because they don’t want to risk being alone for a second. Because it is so hard.

I was in the car one time and a Bruce Springsteen song comes on and it made me really sad. It’s like Jungle…what’s the …Jungle?

ConanJungleland.

Louis:  Uh, yeah, it’s the one that goes “Aaaarrrhuuuuhuuuuuuuuh! “ And he sounds far away?

(Much humor ensues here and they both start imitating the end of song, then Louis comes back to his story)

Louis: It gave me kind of like a fall-back-to-school depression feeling, it made me really sad. I go, Ooohokay I’m getting sad, I got to get the phone and write “hi” to like fifty people.  And then ya know somebody cool writes back and then them somebody not as cool writes after and I’m like, Eh, f’ you I’m gonna talk to somebody better…but uh… .

Audience: Hahahaha

Andy: Hey how come you didn’t answer my text?

Audience: Hahahaha

Louis: Eh, well. (he laughs) So anyway I started to get that sad feeling and I was reaching for the phone, and then I said, Ya know what? Don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness in…stand in the way of it and let it hit you like a truck. And I let it come and there was Bruce,  “Aaaaarraaaahhhooooh”

And I just started to feel, Oh my god, and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much and it was beautiful it was like this beautiful…just this…(gestures to his heart)

Sadness is poetic. You are lucky to live sad moments. And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad your body has like antibodies, it has happiness that comes…

Conan: …Rushing in…

Louis: … rushing in to meet the sadness so I was grateful to feel sad and then I met it with true profound happiness and it was such a trip. You know, and the thing is because we don’t want that first bit of sad we push it away with a little phone *($)#*@ (wacking off gesture with phone)  and you get a little kinda… you never feel completely sad or completely happy you just feel kinda satisfied with your product …and then you die…that’s why I don’t want to get a phone for my kids.

*******************

Yup, you just learned something from a comedic bit on Conan. Amazing.

  1. People need more direct contact with one another to be able to see and react to body language and tone. This enables us to build and recognize empathy.
  2. People are constantly being reminded of their own fears which prompts them to seek outside stimulation and social recognition on an almost OCD level of intensity.
  3. When one is in the presence of another person releasing emotions it is possible for the observing person to have an emotional reaction of his/her own.

That last line towards the end of their conversation makes me want to ask you something very important. On what level of satisfaction do you want your readers to be when they are reading your book?  How much true emotion are you infusing into your product?

So, as Louis C.K. explains it in his so-wonderfully-awkward-honest manner, in today’s techno-bombarded world it is very easy to avoid emotion.

The strange thing is humans need that release. They yearn for it. Maybe a little more than pulling off the road for a good cry. Although, I do commend him for sharing this moment with the world, I think we need more than that on a daily basis, so it doesn’t bottle up and pop during a Bruce Springsteen song. But most people don’t get that release and instead of reaching inside themselves and risking getting hurt, they look to fictional characters to do it for them.

Most folks are drawn to art like movies and books for two reasons: they want to be entertained and they want to feel something.  I think it’s easier, um, no, the word I’m looking for is …safer for audiences to experience those feelings by watching/reading a fictional character experience them first.

Yup, you guessed it!  That’s where writers come into the picture!

What does that mean for your fiction? The emotions you write had better be as close to human as possible.

  • Be vulnerable.
  • Look into your past.
  • Observe your inner self.
  • Put the technology away.

You don’t want your readers to feel like they are having a conversation with a kid attached to a smartphone.

**********

Thank you very much for reading today.  Part Two will be posted next month! I will  be talking about creating an emotional base for your characters. Sounds just as important as crossing the Emotional Barrier, right? IT IS!

Can you think of a moment in your writing life where you found yourself hesitant to cross that barrier, or completely emotionally blocked? Share in the comments!  Ever have a Louis C.K. moment? Share in the comments! Have a question? I’ll be around all day.

BIO: Tiffany Lawson Inman claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. Tiffany’s background in theatre provides her with a unique approach to the craft of writing, and her clients and students greatly benefit.

She teaches Action and Fighting, Choreography, Active Setting, Emotional Impact, Scene Writing, and Dialogue for Lawson Writer’s Academy online.

As a freelance editor, she provides deep story analysis, content editing, line by line, and dramatic fiction editing services. Stay tuned to Twitter @NakedEditor for Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs around the internet, classes, contests, and lecture packets.

Check out her previous blogs on WITS.

Death Becomes You: What Will Your Legacy Be?

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

I’m going blind.

The eye doctor told me this a few weeks ago. I have diabetic retinopathy which is basically uncontrolled bleeding behind my eyes from half a lifetime of having type 1 diabetes. Retinopathy leads to blindness. It might take a year, it might be five, ten, or twenty years.

There is no cure.

I will go blind.

(I’m not looking for sympathy, many others have it far worse. I’d like nothing more than to for you to read on because I feel like there’s a bigger point to be made).

Sadly, my first thought was, my career is over before it really started (I lie and say I’m an optimist when asked, but I come from a long line of Pollyanna-like pessimists).

And if my fate ends with not being able to write anymore (which it won’t since I plan to teach my seeing-eye dog how to type, so forgive me for any future novels begging for bones), what sort of legacy will my works leave?

What do my books say about me?

Better yet, what do your books say about you?

Scary thought, right?

Don’t get me wrong. I am proud of every book I’ve put into the world. I’ll freely admit some are better than others. Some suffered from my learning my craft. Some suffered from thinking I knew too much. Hell, in one book, and I won’t say which, I believed that using ‘said’, thanks to a bad critique group, was akin to publishing suicide. I only used it 939 times in 76 thousand word novel (Don’t try this at home; it will result in severe trauma). The book is published and available in ebook and trade paperback. I dare you to figure out which one it is.

But I’m talking less about craft and grammatical insanity than content. I wonder what sort of legacy my words leave in the world because there is immortality in your work. Even if you never publish a single word, it is forever alive.

As much as a part of me wishes to leave behind a legacy like Maya Angelou, who recently departed did, I know better. I am a genre writer, sometimes a good one, and sometimes bad. I love writing romance. I love writing mysteries. I loved writing F***ed Up Fairytales.

But I’m no Angelou.

I’m me.

And I will own my legacy.

And if we’re lucky, after we’re gone, we will have someone like Mark Stevens to convey our uniqueness with the rest of the world like Mark is doing with writer Gary Reilly. Also like RMFW does at every Colorado Gold conference when they honor Rick Hanson’s life’s work with contest where first place is usually a haiku’s using the word sphincter.

I think I’ll end this post here.

But I’d love to hear what sort of legacy you see for yourself, and what you wish your legacy could be? And if you could use the word sphincter, that would be great.

How to Make Your Editor Happy

By Katriena Knights

Nobody wants one, but everybody needs one. Maybe it sounds like a riddle Bilbo Baggins should have tossed Gollum’s way, but it’s really just a fact of the publishing business. Everybody needs an editor. Even the editors.

I’ve worked as an editor for almost ten years, in addition to writing my own books. There’s a certain satisfaction in figuring out what an author is trying to say, that maybe they didn’t even know they were saying, and helping them tease that out of their manuscript. There’s a bit less satisfaction in finding all the typos and grammatical errors an author may have committed, but it’s part of the job, too.

But this post isn’t about working as an editor. It’s about how to interact with your editor in a way that’ll keep your relationship positive and productive. The more positive your relationship is, the more likely you’ll be able to work together to produce a piece of work you’re both happy with. And if you and your editor are happy with it, your readers are that much more likely to be happy with it, too.

So, with that in mind, here are some guidelines for communicating with your editor.

  1. Your editor is always right. Well, okay, maybe not always dead right on every issue, but if your editor flags something because it made her cringe or roll her eyes or just get confused or made her go back to read a sentence more than once, it’s worth your time to take a look at the suggestions. And it would probably behoove you to make a change, even if it’s different from what the editor suggests. After all, your editor is your first reader, and if something doesn’t make sense to her, it’s probably not going to make sense to somebody else.
  2. Don’t tell the editor flat-out no. As an editor, I don’t have a problem with an author not wanting to make a change. But I do like to at least hear why they don’t want to make that change. Sometimes, by explaining what they meant to say or get across, the author can give me insight into how a phrase or a plot point isn’t doing what the author intended. When this happens, we rework it together until the author’s intent is crystal clear. At other times, it becomes clear that we’re not on the same page, and that’s fine. The author should win in these cases, unless it involves a conflict with a publisher’s guidelines. And even then, if you’ve explained something to me and I understand you feel strongly about it, I’ll go to bat for you with the bosspeople and do what I can to keep your vision intact.
  3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Fighting about punctuation is a waste of time, unless somebody’s moved a comma and completely changed the meaning of a sentence. In most cases, minor grammatical tweaks like this are a matter of house style, and even if the editor changes them, a line editor will change them back. If it’s really important to the story, then yes, talk to the editor about arranging exceptions. But if it’s just a style issue, it’s better to let it go. (This is an advantage of self-publishing, by the way—you get to make your own style guide. My personal style guide REQUIRES the Oxford comma…)
  4. Save your energy for the big stuff. If it’s worth throwing down over, throw down. There are occasions when an editor or publisher’s demands for your story are so counter to what you wanted to get across with that work that you just have to draw that line in the sand. And there are things worth throwing down over. You’ll know what they are, because the thought of changing them makes you nauseated. Focus on those things. Hopefully, you’ll never run across an editor who works at this kind of cross-purposes with you.
  5. Send chocolate. Chocolate is always a good idea.

MOMENT OF BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION: My new book, Blood on the Ice, arrives tomorrow at Samhain publishing. I hope you’ll take a gander!

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

Katriena Knights wrote her first poem with she was three years old and had to dictate it to her mother under the bathroom door (her timing has never been very good). Now she’s the author of several paranormal and contemporary romances. She grew up in a miniscule town in Illinois, and now lives in a miniscule town in Colorado with her two children and a variety of pets. For more about Katriena, visit her website and blog