Category Archives: General Interest

How Being an Aspiring Writer is Like Looking for A Media Job

by Trai Cartwright

What could being a filmmaker have in common with being a novelist? Lots! I’ve got a foot in both worlds, so I’m always seeing where they cross streams—including some great advice about how to frame your writing as a job.

With all the news about how Colorado Film is growing, it feels almost the inverse of the publishing world. Whenever I get discouraged about the State of the Novel, I jump across the medium-verse. What I learn there invariably informs how I look at working in fiction.

Take, for example, a recent event I attended from the Colorado Film Commission. The Production heads of the most successful media companies in Denver came to speak about their hiring practices.

My first thought was that the things they had to say was exactly the sort of information aspiring writers needed to hear, too.

Here’s the advice these media pros gave:

1. Everyone wants to live in Colorado. The competition for work is only getting stiffer.

Translation for writers: Doesn’t it seem like everyone you know is writing a book, or just published one? Doesn’t it sometimes feel like the competition has tripled in the past ten years? Where will we all fit? Are there enough readers? What if even 10% of those new writers are better than me? What are my chances?

Whenever I hear an agent or editor asked, “What do you look for in a property?” they all say this: “Something awesome.”

So make it your business to be awesome and you will have no competition. How to be awesome? Read on.

2. Plan on coming in as an intern and if you impress them, they will cultivate and promote.

Translation for writers: Getting one book published is just the beginning, and by no means are you on the road to riches and Amazon #1’s. Many writers never get their second book picked up, and while the reasons for that are myriad, it often comes down to not being up to the effort.

Here are some ways to impress and be cultivated:

Seek out every marketing, book touring, vlogging, residency, interview, and guest blog opportunity. The more you hustle, the more three things happen:

1. Your publishing house will appreciate you and will be all the more willing to find ways to work with you in the future. They know a pro when they see one.
2. The more your fans and soon-to-be-fans can find you, bond with you, and promote you to their friends. (Oh, and sell books!)
3. The more you will feel like a writer. Now all this becomes more than just “making copies and getting coffee” – this is your Job, and as you’ll see in #3, your job is your life.

3. If you aren’t passionate (like, 16 hours a day passionate), you are in the wrong business.

Translation for writers: If this isn’t The Dream, The Thing You Wake Up For, then are you sure this is the right road? It’s a damn hard road, and there are thousands of people for whom this is The Dream, and they are all packed on the road with you.

Every successful writer I know or have read about has the same habits:

1. They treat their writing as a top priority. Which means even those with day jobs write every day. Even on holiday. As one writer said, “If I don’t write every day, I feel like I’m stealing oxygen.”
2. They read. A lot.
3. They attend classes or teach them (both are great ways to learn more about writing).
4. They support other writers because they know that when it’s their turn, their community will support them.
5. Oh, and all that marketing stuff in #2.

4. Consider TV news and corporate videos, as that’s the big game in Denver, and it is absolutely storytelling.

Translation for writers: There’s lots and lots of ways to be a writer besides scoring the big contract with Random House. The concept of the hybrid writer has finally broken through: be every writer you want to be. Short stories, non-fiction, blogs, books in seven different genres, fan fic, poetry, all of it. Do whatever speaks to you, because it is absolutely storytelling, and you are a writer.

5. Once you get a job, don’t plan on ever leaving it cuz media work in Denver is hard to find.

Translation for writers: Hey, how much hard work have you already put in? Hasn’t this always been your dream? Then there is no Plan B. You are in this for the long haul, with all the highs and lows. Hunker down, and get back to work.

Speaking of, off I go. My 2,000 words are calling…

Trai’s teaching a FREE writing class at the Poudre River Library in Fort Collins on August 3rd. Register and come play. Click on “Straight Talk About Dialogue” and sign up.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

Adventures in Genre Writing- Part I

Thanks for visiting this RMFW blog. My name is Jeanne Stein. I currently write two series: The Anna Strong Vampire novels and a new series, The Fallen Siren Series with co-author Samantha Sommersby, under the name S.J. Harper (I’m the ‘J’.) I also have stories in over a dozen anthologies, two of which made the New York Times Bestseller list. I write Urban Fantasy. I’ll be contributing each month on the second Thursday of the month. And I’ll be talking about the craft of genre writing.

What we’ll be covering in these topics applies to all genres. While some are specific to UF/Paranormal/ SciFi, world building, for instance, most pertain to crafting a good a story. I’ll also talk about the business of writing, something often neglected but very important. The publishing world is changing daily. You need to be aware of how those changes affect you.

. I’ve organized the topics as follows:

1. What is genre? Descriptions, Author Lists, Examples

2. Where do you start, especially in the Scifi/Paranormal/UF world? POV, Setting and World Building

3. How do you write for a genre audience? Some “rules”

4. Character development

5. Story Structure – Plotting, Inciting Incident

6. Dialogue – Putting words in Your Characters’ Mouths

7. Conflict – What is it? Why is it important?

8. How to keep a reader engaged — Creating and Maintaining Suspense

9. How much Sex? How much romance?

10. Common Mistakes

11. The Market – Big Press, Small Press, Self-pub

Following the end of most lessons, I’ll include a brief interview with a popular genre author. Among them are Mario Acevedo, Charlaine Harris, Jackie Kessler, Richelle Mead, Lynda Hilburn, Mark Henry, Anton Strout, and Devon Monk. Each will each make an appearance and share some of their thoughts about being characterized as an Urban Fantasy author. A few have sent pictures of their writing spaces. Since if you’re like me and curious about where these successful authors work their magic, I hope you enjoy these glimpses into their working worlds.

I’d like this to be an exchange of ideas. I’ve been writing a long time and published since 2002, but I’m learning new things everyday about writing and the publishing world. I’m happy to share. Writing is a complex, surprising, often frustrating business.

It’s also the best job I’ve ever had.

We’ll only be meeting once a month—but if you have any questions you’d like to see addressed, send them on. I’ll check in here often.

See you in August and we’ll get started!

5 Things You Should NEVER Do in Fiction

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

Writers are given a lot of rules when we first start writing: Don’t change tense, don’t head-hop, don’t plagiarize the Bible… After awhile, we learn to pick and choose what rules are right for us and our work. But there are still some NEVER to be broken rules like those below:

5)  Kill a dog. Just don’t do it. Other animals are questionable decisions at best, but whack Fluffy, and there’s no coming back.

4)  Dare the reader to hate it. Yes, that’s right. Never, ever, dare your reader to hate your book or to put it down. Guess what? I’m not 5 any longer and can see right through your lame ass attempt at reverse psychology.

3)  Stand on your pulpit. If your book calls for political and/or religious views, fine. That’s well and good. Fiction is about what the book needs. But if you’re writing a spy thriller and suddenly I’m forced to read a passage about your viewpoint on building a fence around illegal aliens and I’ll stop reading right then. Never write to hear your own voice.

2)  Add characters to fulfill a quota. Unless that one armed, Jewish, lesbian sidekick is vital to the story, please don’t throw her in. She has a hard enough time playing catcher in her softball league.

1)  Follow the rules. If you want to kill a one-pawed, Jewish, lesbian canine stuck behind a electric fence with the Taco Bell dog, go ahead. I dare you. There are no absolutes when it comes to writing. Good advice on what people hate, sure, but if you dare to write it, then get on it.

How do you feel about ‘the rules’? Any no-no’s you can think of?

RMFW Spotlight on Tracy Brisendine, Publicity Chair

Tracy BOne of the RMFW Blog monthly features is the Spotlight Q and A where we ask a board member or volunteer to tell us a little bit about themselves and the tasks they perform in support of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This month we welcome Tracy Brisendine as our featured board member.

A special note: Tracy is teaching the August free workshop in Denver called Homicide 101 (For Writers, Not Criminals). You can go to the event page for more information about the course content and Tracy’s bio.

1. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I’m RMFW’s Publicity/Public Relations Chair. I organize RMFW’s public face via social media, member communication, and by publicizing our events. I started out volunteering by writing articles for the RMFW newsletter on the free programs. I took over the RMFW Twitter account last year and somehow ended up on the board. It’s possible I may have been coerced, but I won’t name names.

RMFW’s membership is growing and evolving, and I think it’s important our PR grows with us. If anyone has any ideas or comments on where RMFW can improve, or something you’d like to see more of, shoot me an email (publicity@rmfw.org). I’m always looking for new blood; I mean volunteers. So…if PR or publicity interests you, let me know. We’d love to have you on our team.

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

I’m slugging through my third round of edits on my novel and in my copious amounts of free time I’m playing around with a novella. I love all things supernatural and paranormal, so vampires, shifters, witches, and the occasional alien almost always make an appearance in my stories.

My short story, Ghostly Attraction, will be published in RMFW’s Colfax Anthology, launching at Colorado Gold in September. Squee! I’m excited for everyone to meet Dina, my ghost-seeing prostitute.

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?

I’ve tried and repeatedly failed to learn another language. I have three years of Spanish and various semesters of French, Latin, and Arabic—but nothing has stuck. Most days, even the English language is hard for me! Maybe someday I can pay an exorbitant fee and have Russian downloaded directly into my cerebral cortex. You never know. As a far-fetched dream, that tops my list, but a more realistic goal would be to learn to cook. Like really cook. I can rock mac-n-cheese and an occasional omelet, but I’d love to make delicious, healthy food and enjoy doing it. Humm…now that I’ve typed that I think that might fall in the implausible dream category too. Damn.

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

I have the attention span of a pygmy squirrel. I get super enthused about a project but almost immediately get distracted by life or other projects. Speaking of projects, I’ll be teaching the free program in August, Homicide 101: For Writers Not Criminals. If you fictionally address the evils that lurk in our world or if you just want to add some realism to your work, I hope you’ll come. Why you wouldn’t want to spend a Saturday afternoon learning about murder is beyond me.

And…I’ll get back on topic now. Making time to write daily is almost impossible for me. And if I pick up a book my writing will be on hold until I’ve finished it. I have zero will power when it comes to reading, and I can’t read and write at the same time.

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

For me, writing, like reading, has always been a form of escapism. The ability to venture into another world is a cheap mini-vacation. I’ll never get enough of it.

I also love all of the fabulous people I’ve met. Writers are some of the most interesting and fun folks to be hang out with. Other than the lack of money, sleep, and glamour, what’s not to love about the writing life?

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

Don’t take criticism personally. It’s taken me years and years of getting pelted with critical reviews and not-so-nice comments to develop a thick skin, but it’s been worth it. You can learn something from every review and opinion, you just have to take a step back and listen without getting your panties in a twist.

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

Brisendine_HomeDesk
This is clean and organized, so imagine piles of notes everywhere, and a glass of water balanced precariously on the scanner next to a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. As you can see, Boba Fett has a place of honor on my monitor. Sometimes a good disintegration is necessary now and again. The purple-sparkle lizard is my muse, and the signage in the background is for inspiration and motivation.

Brisendine_DayJobDesk
Since I also try to write during my lunch break at work, here is my other desk. This is the desk that gets way more use for un-fun and non-fictional things. I have to hold on to the good vibes at my day job, so I’m not choking out my creative flow. Hence, my work desk is way more glittery, colorful, and lovey-dovey.

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

When Hannah Bowman was here for the May Education Event she made me buy Red Rising. Made me. Like twisted my arm behind my back and threatened to feed me to the anacondas. Kidding, but I just finished it and really enjoyed it. I’ll definitely be reading the second book when it comes out next January. Within the last few weeks, I’ve also read Shield of Winter by Nalini Singh and Maze Runner. Sadly, between judging for Contest, book edits, and working on my various schemes the rest of my reading list is on the back burner until next month.

Thanks for having me on the blog!

Better All The Time?

By Mary Gillgannon

Some of my writer friends enjoy revising. They’re excited to have the first draft done and begin polishing the story. I, on the other hand, dread that part of the process. I much prefer the thrill of having the story unfold in front of me. The adrenaline rush of having my characters come to life and make things happen. That’s what keeps me writing.

Of course, it’s not always like that in the first draft. Sometimes my characters refuse to tell me what the story is. Or they take me off on a wild goose chase and I end up re-writing half of the book. But still the initial process is very often exhilarating.

And yet, I eventually get to the end and have to begin the important work of cleaning up the mess that is my story. It’s a seriously cringe-worthy process: Oh, my God, I didn’t really write that! No! I didn’t really use the word “really” about a hundred times. Not to mention “pretty” and “that’ and a dozen other bad habits. And then there are the doubled words (which Word never seems to catch) and the missing words. The logic problems. The occasional “homophone”; I didn’t mean “there”, but “they’re”!

And of course there’s the process of “quieting the ripples”. Because when you realize the middle part of the book is crap and try to fix it, you inevitably affect plot points throughout the story and have to fix them, too! And my beginning sucks! And why didn’t I think about that earlier in the book?

I always get through it. But it’s not fun. And I especially get discouraged because I’ve been writing for so long. I think: Why isn’t easier? Why aren’t I a better writer after 20 books?

Well, according to a research study, I am better. A scientist studied the creative process by tracking brain activity with MRI’s. His research subjects included both novice adult writers and “expert” writers (they were enrolled in a MFA program). To separate out the creative part of writing, he had them first copy something already written to get a baseline for the actual writing process. Then he did MRI’s as they brain-stormed an original story and wrote it.

He found that novice writers used different parts of their brain even while brainstorming. The novice writers had more activity in the visual center of the brain while the expert ones had activity in regions involved with speech. When the two groups began writing, there were other differences. In the expert writers a region in the brain called the caudate nucleus became active, while in the novice writers it was quiet.

The caudate nucleus is involved in skills that are learned through practice, such as piano playing, basketball or even board games. When a person begins learning these skills, they have to consciously think about what they are doing. But as they become more expert, the caudate nucleus takes over and coordinates these complex skills.

There has been a lot criticism of this study by other scientists, who are skeptical that it really shows where the creative process takes place in the brain. But I found the results encouraging. It suggests that as writers we do become better and more efficient in the writing process. We start using parts of the brain that are involved in more complex functions.

Maybe the problem for me is that as I get better, I also raise my expectations and become more critical. I have to tell myself that even though I still find stupid mistakes when I revise, at least I know they are mistakes and can recognize what needs fixing. So all the years of doing this have paid off and I really am becoming better at this.

At least I’ll believe that until I have to revise the next book!

You can read more about this study on the creative process in this New York Times article.

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.