Take Two Advice, and Call Me in the Morning: GOLD EDITION

I’ll bet you came back from the RMFW Gold Conference, excited to dive into your current project, filling it with all those things you learned over the weekend. Right up until it came time to actually write. The post-conference blue/block is a very real thing. Trust me, I’m not a doctor.

And I don’t play one on TV either (*millennials, google that those last two sentences, it’s funny. Really).

Anyway, you, like me, might be sitting around in your pajamas (because, what else would you wear?) wondering about how to incorporate what you learned with your writing style and voice or promotional style and voice.

The thing about the advice provided at conference is, the facilitators aren’t looking to change you as a writer, but rather let you explore their ways and means of creating great books. The whole take some, leave some approach. Try things out, see what fits and what doesn’t with your own writing life.

There are no perfect fits when it comes to being an author. What works for one writer, might fail for another. My best advice, and you can take it or stick your tongue out at me, is don’t live your writerly journey in the shoes of another writer. For one thing, they pinch, but most importantly, wearing someone’s shoe is unsanitary. Trust me, I’m NOT a doctor.

What advice did you learn at the conference that you plan on implementing in your own style/journey?

Marketing Physics

Back in the dark ages when I took physics, I learned about the six simple machines. When dealing with marketing, I find the lever makes a good analogy. It increases the force applied by a given amount of effort. Rephrased: You don't have to work as hard to get the same result.

Call me lazy, but any time I can get the same result with less effort - especially in marketing - I'm all over it.

The concept is simple. In marketing, we need to apply effort to gain purchase - literal as well as figurative. The more leverage we have, the less effort needed.

Marketing isn't the lever. It's the fulcrum. It's base you need in order to focus the application of effort. The fulcrum needs to be solid enough to take the load of both the effort and the output. If it's too squishy, applying effort will crush it. It can't really be too strong, but there's no need to make one stronger than you need. A fulcrum that can support ten tons doesn't actually give you any advantage when you're only trying to move a ten pound load.

In this context, marketing is not what you do. It's the way you've decided to do it.

I write SF/F novels. I self-publish them. I use social media as my primary communication channels. I follow the "Big Frog, Small Pond" and "1000 True Fans" strategies. Those were my decisions regarding marketing. That's my foundation, my fulcrum.

Effort is the sum of all the forces applied to the lever. For authors, that can be time spent at conventions, on social media, or writing blog posts. It can be cash spent on ad buys and market research. It can be anything the author does to promote the works. It's built from all the decisions an author makes about strategy and model. What do you have to offer? Where do you offer it? How do you choose to make people aware of your product?

The output load in this case is the number of purchases or - perhaps more accurately - profit. After all, it does little good to spend $10 for every $1 in revenue. It might be advantageous to achieve some short-term goal, but it's a bankrupt model in the long run. Literally.

The lever is the key. The lever is what multiplies the effort and provides the applied force to the output. For authors, that's the backlist. If you only have one book to sell, then the lever is short. You have to apply a lot of effort to get a unit of output. If you have two books to sell, then you get a multiplier. Perhaps people who buy the first will buy the second. You have more visibility - a bigger footprint - which makes your lever longer but also stronger. Add a third and a fourth and a fifth and you begin to build a machine where only the lightest touch of effort can give you a huge amount of purchase.

It's just simple physics.

Thrillers, Part 1 of 4

In my four-part blog series on the Thriller genre, I'm going to discuss the core nature of the thriller and what sets it apart from other forms of fiction. In three future segments, I plan to discuss the hero(es), the villain(s) and plotting and pacing. My intent is to offer some insights to fellow thriller-writers and perhaps learn something myself along the way.

The primary thing that sets the thriller apart from its cousin, the mystery, is that most often there is no whodunit. For the most part, the bad guy (or guys...assume hereafter I mean both singular and plural, masculine and feminine) is revealed fairly early on in the plot, if not the very first page.

This leads to a temptation for many aspiring thriller writers to open their book with a prologue, in which the villain incites the story through some nefarious act that sets his plans in motion. Please resist the urge. Most editors do not like prologues and neither do I. There are justifications for prologues, but they should be the exception, not the rule. Prologues are a whole other blog article.

While the primary question in a mystery is 'who?" the big question in a thriller is 'how?' How is the villain planning to accomplish his goal? This is critical for the hero to know how to stop the villain. In a mystery, on the road to finding out who committed the crime (usually murder), finding the 'why?' or motive goes a long way toward helping the protagonist sleuth to finding the culprit. In a thriller, similar but different is the 'what?" Finding out what the villain plans to do helps our hero know how to thwart him.

Which brings us to another difference. In a mystery, finding the perp is usually the end of the story, sometimes after a brief pursuit and/or capture scene. In a thriller, finding the answer to 'how' only kicks the thriller into high gear. Our daring protag still needs to execute a spectacular plan to dismantle the villain's plans. And of course when has a plan ever come off exactly as laid out? Therein lies more fun.

Your audience for a mystery is those who like the process of uncovering secrets and following obscure evidence trails to uncover even more. In many cases, the more shocking the secrets revealed the better they love it. I know that's part of what makes me love a good mystery. Your audience for a thriller are those who like action, adventure and daring do. The pitching of two enemies against each other until one comes out on top. Where a mystery is like the old card game Concentration - uncovering clues and remembering them, matching connections when they appear - a thriller is like chess - opponents making moves in attempts to misdirect and outwit each other and win the day.

Of course, like all attempts to define something complex, these definitions (mystery vs. thriller) are not all-encompassing or true in all cases. For example, I haven't mentioned how many mysteries and most thrillers include elements of romance, or how either can take place within the realm of historical fiction or SciFi, etc. As with all forms of fiction, there is overlap. I've only attempted here to lay out the broad strokes of what makes a thriller. Your results may vary.

Colorado Gold 2017: Some Practical Information

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Conference is almost here!

In addition to the previous conference day-by-day walk-through info post, here is some practical information to help you get organized:

Parking: Parking is free at the hotel for conference attendees. Yay! You'll need to validate your parking ticket at the front desk before you leave.

Airport Train Info: From the airport, you'll need to take the Light Rail train, ($9.00) to the the Central Park Station, which is 0.7 miles from the hotel. If you arrive and there is no shuttle present, call the hotel. They will pick you up at the station. For more details about train times, station stops, and other info, download the RTD info flyer or check out the LIGHT RAIL schedule. There is no longer a free shuttle from the airport.

First-Timer Meeting: On Friday at 12:00pm (before conference officially begins), our New Attendee Liaison, Kevin Wolf, will be hosting our "first timer meeting" in the Vail Room.  This is an opportunity to meet some of the RMFW conference staff and get a brief orientation about conference. We will also have a special prize to give away to one lucky attendee! This meeting will last about 30 minutes. Feel free to bring lunch or purchase a boxed lunch from the hotel kiosk.

Conference Badges: Your 2017 official conference badge must be worn AT ALL TIMES. If you are not wearing your official conference badge, you'll be asked to retrieve it. Without your official conference badge you will not be able to attend the meals. If you RSVP'd to bring a guest to any meals, your guest must wear their official guest badge in order to attend the meals. There will be no exceptions to this rule.

Don't Forget! Bring a Blank Journal to Conference! RMFW Special Guest, Stuart Horwitz, is delighted to share: Book Architecture has partnered with Cocoon Journal, a non-profit organization that puts blank books in the hands of high school writers.

The idea is that by writing, they can clear their head (and maybe generate the first draft of a future project). Do you have some blank journals lying around that you aren't using? Now, the solution: BRING THEM TO CONFERENCE! Cocoon Journal will be collecting unused, blank journals during Colorado Gold this September. You can also ship blank journals to: Cocoon Journal P.O. Box 740340, Arvada, CO 80006.

Classes to Prep For: If there are classes on the schedule that you're planning to attend, be sure to read the class description in the event the instructor wants you to bring something to use in class. Some that have requested a mention:

  • Deep Revision Master Class - Heather Webb: Bring a some pages of your writing to work on in this session.
  • The Joy of Writing Great Sex - Andrea Catalano & Heather Webb: Anyone who'd like to participate in an anonymous critique may bring one printed page from one of their scenes without a name on it. We'll read aloud and talk about what's working and what isn't.
  • The Art of the Author Reading - Aimie Runyan: please bring a short cutting from one of your works! Laptop, printed pages, bound book--anything you can read from comfortably.
  • The Faster I Go, The Behinder I Get - Becky Clark:  Check the handouts download and bring a paper copy of the calendar with the times down the side.  We'll be doing an exercise with that one

Handouts: Handouts are available online. Check the HANDOUTS page often as we get closer to conference and more are added by our presenters. Please download handouts to your device or print them at home. You *can* download them at the hotel using the public wifi in the common areas of the hotel, but you will have to leave the classrooms to do so. While there is Wi-Fi in the hotel, there is NO Wi-Fi in the classrooms. 

Wi-Fi: There is wifi in the hotel public areas but there is NO WIFI in the classrooms for presenters or attendees. If you wish to access the handouts for a class but your device requires wifi, you will need to download them before your class.

Agent & Editor Pitch Appointments: If you requested one, your specific appointment details will be included in your registration packet. There will be a separate check-in table for the pitch appointments located on the third floor. Please make sure you arrive at least 10 minutes before your appointment. If you have any questions or conflicts regarding your pitch appointment, you will need to speak to the volunteers at the third-floor check-in table. Additional pitch appointments are free and available on a first-come, first-served basis while space allows. Any questions about booking additional free pitches should be handled at the check-in table for the pitches with our Pitch Master, Mike Ruchhoeft, and his team of volunteers.

Preparing for Your Pitch Appointment: We always have many questions about pitch appointments. Remember to relax and know that the agent is there to hear about your story. It's ok to be nervous. It's ok to ask questions. Your appointment should be a conversation. It's not a requirement that you have your pitch memorized; bring notes and read from them if that's what you need to get it right. For more prep, here is an excellent blog post from RMFW Pitch Coach, Susan Spann.

Have a Special Appointment? Arrive 10-minutes early please! If you have an appointment with Pitch Coaching, Mentor Room, One-on-Ones, or Agent/Editor Pitches, etc., please arrive 10-minutes before your appointment. This helps everyone stay on schedule and prevents delays.

Leaving Classes In-Session: If you signed up for an appointment, it is likely that you will have to leave a workshop in-session in order to attend. If you need to leave a workshop in-session, this is perfectly fine and happens throughout conference. Simply gather your things and quietly depart. Once your appointment is over, feel free to return to any workshop in-session.

Conference Check-in/Registration: Conference Check-in will be at the bottom of the escalators, accessible from the lobby. If you're attending a Friday morning session (Master Class or a Critique Round Table) check-in opens at 7am. If you're not attending a morning session, check-in opens at 10:30am.

Need Help? Have Questions? “ASK ME”: We have a whole army of conference veterans who know the ropes and are there for you to ask questions. If you see someone with an ASK ME ribbon on their badge… don’t be shy! Also, the Registration Table is HQ for conference. We will have volunteers there just about all the time throughout conference, so this is another place to go if you need assistance.

At-A-Glance Schedule & Brochure: The AAG is the go-to document when you're looking for the workshop schedule. There are lots of shifts that happen with the AAG over the months leading up to the conference, and the brochure updates lag behind. In the event the brochure elves slip up and there is a discrepancy, the AAG is the true schedule.

Workshop Recordings: All the open workshops/panel programming at conference are recorded. If you’re unable to be in two places at once, or if a class was especially helpful to you and you want to listen to it in the future, purchase a copy during conference at the recording room, next door to Boulder Creek. Orders placed before the end of the day on Saturday will be available on Sunday. Orders placed on Sunday will be shipped to you.

What to Wear: Dress comfortably for conference, and wear shoes that make walking easy. You’ll do a lot of walking at conference. Dress in layers to be sure you aren’t too hot or cold as the temperature shifts. Some people do dress up for the Friday Kickoff and Saturday Awards Banquets, but you’re going to see everything from jeans to cocktail dresses and capri pants to suits. Don’t be afraid to dress up, but be equally assured that you can wear whatever makes you comfortable.

Need a Break? Take a Break! You don’t have to attend a session every hour. If you need to take a break, then you’re totally welcome to skip a session, go back to your room, hang in the open areas, or find a quiet place to write.

Drink Water! CO is very dry, and if you’re not from here, it can come as quite a shock how easy it is to become dehydrated. Drink lots of water. Drink lots of water. Drink lots of water. And if you're not sure... DRINK LOTS OF WATER!

Meals: Your conference registration includes several meals:

  • Fri Lunch - ON YOUR OWN
  • Fri Dinner - Kickoff Banquet, Plated Meal, Included
  • Sat Breakfast - Continental style, Included (7-8a)
  • Sat Lunch - Buffet style, Included
  • Sat Dinner - Awards Banquet - Plated Meal, Included
  • Sun Breakfast - Continental style, Included (7-8a)
  • Sun Lunch - Buffet style, Included

Conference Badges: Your 2017 official conference badge must be worn AT ALL TIMES. If you are not wearing your official conference badge, you'll be asked to retrieve it. Without your official conference badge you will not be able to attend the meals. If you RSVP'd to bring a guest to any meals, your guest must wear their official guest badge in order to attend the meals. There will be no exceptions to this rule.

More Questions? Join our
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How to Avoid the Dangerous Trap of the “Perfect Writing Life”

We all have that one dream in our heads.

You know the one. It’s the dream of the perfect writing life, the one where you don’t have a day job or a house to clean or a car to fix or errands to run. Instead, you have hours of empty time you can fill as you like with your writing.

There’s nothing wrong with dreams, unless they interfere with your ability to move forward. Unfortunately, that’s what the dream of the prefect writing life often does.

 

When the Dream Interferes with Your Progress

I used to think about this dream a lot, especially before I my first book was published. I firmly believed that if only I could find a way to ditch the day job so I could go away somewhere and just focus on writing, then I could finally make my novels good enough to get that traditional publishing contract I wanted.

I was working a lot of hours at my day job, which meant I had little time or mental energy left over for my fiction writing. A lot of us are in the same boat these days. Even published authors find themselves drowning in marketing activities that can rob them of their creative writing time.

We can get so wrapped up in what we wish would happen—and what we think needs to happen to take our careers to the next level—that we can completely stall our work in the real world.

 

The Dangerous Mindset of the Writing Dream

Creative people love to talk about following their dreams. We’re dreamers, we writers. We spend a lot of time in our imaginations, and we love to think up new and amazing scenarios, often for our characters, but sometimes for ourselves.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live up in the mountains where no one would bother you and you could write all day at a table by the lake?

Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to work all day and you could just get up when you wanted to, eat a nice relaxing breakfast, and spend the day writing?

Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could chuck all your responsibilities and spend three months at a writing retreat where people brought you your meals in your room and you looked out on the ocean and wrote in the company of seagulls?

Sometimes you can make these dreams (or a more modest version of them) come true. The danger is if you allow yourself to imagine that only in this dream version of the perfect writing life can you succeed.

This often happens when you get discouraged, tired, and run down. You work extra hours, and have to deal with more life emergencies than you’d like. Feeling helpless and a little out of control, it’s common to imagine an easier life that is more encouraging to the creative arts.

The danger occurs when you start to let the dream take over. You get discouraged with your lack of progress, and start to believe that you’ll never get where you want to go. You wanted the perfect writing life, but you didn’t get it, so you start to believe that you never will, and you start to walk away from your dream.

 

A Successful Writer Doesn’t Let Dreams Stop Her

A successful writer enjoys dreaming, but doesn’t let it slow her down. She realizes that dreaming is nice, but that her writing has to fit into her life as it is right now. She knows that no life is perfect.

Yes, maybe someday she’ll have more time to devote to her stories, but for now, she needs the paycheck from her day job, and she wants to help take care of her elderly mother, and she wants to be involved in her children’s lives, so she has to make writing work in that scenario if she wants to succeed.

So she does. She takes little steps every day. She writes for fifteen minutes in the morning before the kids get up, and for 30 minutes at night after they’ve gone to bed. She leaves work early on Fridays and heads to the park where she steals 30 minutes to write before going home to make dinner. She makes a point of attending at least one writing conference or other related event each year. She sets deadlines for herself, and makes sure that she keeps them.

Would she like oodles of time to devote to writing? Of course. But she’s not going to let that stop her from putting making time in her life right now.

She knows that the only way to make her dream of the perfect writing life come true is to fit writing into the life she has right now, today.

 

Colleen M. Story is the author of Overwhelmed Writer Rescue: Boost Productivity, Improve Time Management, and Replenish the Creator Within—a motivational and inspiring read full of practical, personalized solutions to help writers escape the tyranny of the to-do list and nurture the genius within. Discover your unique time personality and personal motivational style when you get your copy from Amazon and other common book retailers. Enjoy your free chapter here!

She has worked in the creative writing industry for over twenty years and is the founder of Writing and Wellness (writingandwellness.com). To find more information on Colleen and her work, please see her website (colleenmstory.com), or follow her on Twitter (@ colleen_m_story).

 

 

Power-charge your blurb with hooks

As we prepare for this year’s RMFW conference, I’m guessing that many of you are tearing your hair out, trying to write good blurbs or condensing your 100,000-word novel into a short, captivating sentence worthy of the so-called “elevator pitch.”

I’m going to expand on a blog by my fellow RMFW blogger, Mary Gilgannon. She wrote, candidly and entertaining again this month, about how difficult it is to write good blurbs. When her publisher recently needed a blurb for her latest novel, she did the RMFW thing and consulted her writer friends. They met, brain-stormed, and she produced a good blurb.

I, too, cringe from writing blurbs. I’ve even given workshops on blurbs. I recognize great ones when I see them, and can de-construct them to reveal their strengths. I can write blurbs for other people. Yet sitting down to write my own? Blek.

Among her many other strengths, Kay Bergstrom is a genius at blurbs. I, too, used to use the journalistic approach Mary mentioned in her Aug. 4 blog. I thought of the blurb as a mini-synopsis. Thanks to Kay, I've come to think of the blurb more as a fishing expedition. Fish don't always want the same things, and all fish don't respond to the same temptations. Sometimes they want a sparkling lure, other times they’ll bite some drab, rubbery thingy. Sometimes its best to adjust your bobber so the hook sinks deeper in the water, other times more shallow. Whatever the variation, though, readers (and agents and editors) need to be hooked.

What are the currently hot tropes/hooks? The editors and agents are always quick to point out that they only know what they used to be—what they were last week, last month. They are ever-changing, fickle as the market.

There are some trusty tropes that seem to live forever, though. Cinderella. Survival. Strong female lead. Fish out of water. Returning home. Family betrayal. Change of fortunes.

What makes your story unique? I think this question is what paralyzes writers. Their answer (like ours) is probably … everything! “It’s my story,” we may say. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and there are many reasons why it’s unique.”  So we expound and expand.

If we stay with the fishing analogy, this would be like spilling a dump truck of junk into the water, gooey stuff that contains an odd mixture of many, many ingredients. Some of it may be really good, but it’s been amalgamated into an incomprehensible sludge.

Setting aside all the wonderfulness of your story, what sets your protagonist apart? Perhaps your response is: My novel has a kick-ass heroine. Okay, but how can you make that more interesting, and specific to your novel? Consider these from the archives:

Tough widow Norma Rae has a lot on her hands, working to the bone at a textile mill--and fighting to unionize her hazardous workplace.

Feisty young mother fights for justice any way she knows how. She takes on a powerful utility company and won’t take no for an answer. (Erin Brokovich)

 It is one woman’s fearless quest, criss-crossing the globe in an amazing attempt to save the world.  (Lara Croft, Tomb Raider)

 Gutsy Lieutenant O’Neil dares to earn a place with the elite Navy SEALS.  (G.I. Jane)

 Going beyond the cliché of something like “kick-ass heroine,” what dominant trait does your female protagonist possess? In what unique/interesting ways does she demonstrate that?

Be it kick-ass heroines, secret codes, ghosts, secrets, or intergalactic wars, remember to craft your hook as well as you crafted your book--and use tantalizing bait.

So here's your chance to practice before conference ... what's your blurb? Hook me!

The Tales of Benson the Bard

To write: perchance to edit: ay, there's the rub; for in editing to death, what epiphanies may come…

Okay, so I’m not the Bard. What I am, is sitting in a hotel room editing the night before I give a workshop on research.

Maybe what I should be doing is reviewing critique roundtable submissions for Gold? Or typing up my notes from the Writer’s Police Academy? Or sleeping, after a whirlwind 10 days driving to Wisconsin and back? What are my priorities?

In the end, edits won. At least until I started this blog. I was going to write about how amazing and informative a conference like the Writer’s Police Academy can be – but Chris Goff beat me to it.

Instead, I decided to share some of my writing practices and pet peeves. Now, I don’t claim these are “best practices”, and probably not even really good ones, but they’re mine.

  • I write best under pressure, even if it’s made up pressure because if I have all the time in the world I can find something else to do in a heartbeat
  • I like to write when I’m alone, but always turn on a movie I’ve seen at least three times for background noise
  • I write in a recliner or on a bed with my laptop, never in a proper chair at a desk
  • I can write eight hours in a stretch if I’m in the zone, which generally results in ordering pizza for dinner to prevent divorce
  • I can tell when I’m not in the zone because I’ll have started the laundry, done the dishes, and wandered outside to pull weeds
  • I like to have junk food handy when writing - Dark Chocolate Kisses being my favs, and a gin and tonic is a close second, but not until at least….um, 5 o’clock?
  • When it’s cold I have a pair of plush Tigger slippers I wear when I’m writing, and my granddaughter is convinced I have tigers living under my bed in the summer
  • I hate texting because my kids don’t want to read more than 3 words from me and think punctuation is a waste of time

Ok, so some of this doesn’t have anything to do with writing, but it kept me from having to edit for a while (bad Bard, bad, bad!)

What are your writing-related practices? What puts you in your writer’s groove (or takes you out)?

The Drive-in Movies

There I was at Sam’s Club on 52nd near Wadsworth yesterday and that’s when the memory surfaced. This is where the drive-in used to be. (One of those places where families, friends and dating couples went to watch movies on a humongous screen while sitting in their car, one speaker hanging on a window.)

Ahhhh…

After our parents found the best in-the-middle-of-the-dirt-lot-parking-place, where we experienced the first surround sound system ever, (one speaker per car x 100+/- cars), us kids trotted to the playground in front of the gigantic screen. We played as far into the darkness as possible, until horns beeped, demanding children return to their respective car.
After the first seconds into the cartoon just about every mom, trailed by kids, walked for what seemed like miles to potty. Often the trip was on false pretenses because some kids just wanted to see the vast variety of available treats.

A friend of mine and her four sisters seemed to always walk in front of our car on their way to the restroom/refreshment bar and disrupted my concentration of Woody Woodpecker—until that night. They never showed.

Worried until I saw my friend at school the next day, she explained her mom was never taking anybody to the bathroom again, at least at the drive-in. If anyone in their family had to go, the only container available was an empty coffee can (in or behind the car) or the dirt parking lot because her mom was tired of missing over half of most movies.
Oh, the horror!

At age 16, the same friend and I enjoyed our first trip alone to the drive-in movie theatre. However, we missed the movie because of the romantic antics of the couple in the car in front of us.
The next thing I recalled was my friends and me were short of money for the drive-in, so we pooled our finances. Still short on funds, I volunteered to hide in the trunk of the car just until the driver found a place to park. That lasted about thirty seconds. I pounded and kicked and yelled to be let out. The attendant who took our money, (sort of like a person at a toll road booth), ran to the car and demanded the trunk be open. We were kicked out and told never to return.

However, at the prime age of almost 18, a (new) friend and I arrived at the same drive-in, in style—I drove a 1968 GTO with Hurst automatic racing gears. Oh yeah. We pulled next to the speaker pole—but too far from in front, and then I reversed—too far back. That’s when my car died. Not to worry, remember every car had a speaker. Besides, the show was Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie. You remember the one. Only the mime spoke.

To quote Skipper, the head penguin from the Madagascar gang, “Kowalski, analysis?”

You gotta love irony.

The Critical Importance of Look Alike Words

A word from Conan the Grammarian:

Concerning the Critical Importance of look-alike words, or similar or commonly mistaken words. Learn the diffs! As Conan has often admonished writers, this is not advanced rocketry or even higher mathematics.

In no particular order, these words often appeared incorrectly in this year’s contest manuscripts.

Stanch & staunch

The first means to stop up or prevent from bleeding; the second means stout-hearted, loyal.

Of course a character would never stand stanch at the hero’s side, so please don’t go staunching any wounds!

Discreet & discrete

The first means circumspect or tactful; the second means separate, distinct: individual.

Conan finds that scientists and engineers often write about characters who act discrete, because apparently they don’t know there is another word (the same way lawyers often have characters waive instead of wave).

Rack & wrack

The first means to torture (as in the eponymous medieval device); the second is debris from a storm.

Characters who wrack their brains not only commit cliché, but they perform a very odd non-action, too. On the other hand, characters may go to wrack and ruin, but never to rack and ruin (though that’s a cliché, too).

Lead & led

The first is a soft, toxic metal or the present tense of the verb to lead; the second is the past tense of that verb. Memorize this!

Pour & pore

The first is a verb meaning to decant liquids (or rain); the second is a noun meaning a teeny tiny hole or a verb meaning to scrutinize.

One ought never pour over a document, unless one spills something by accident.

Grill & grille

The first is a type of cooking device or the act of cooking on that device; the second is a grating or lattice.

One could, Conan supposes, grill burgers on a makeshift grille, but Joe’s Bar and Grille is trying to be fancy and ends up looking ignorant and pretentious.

Rain & reign & rein

Rain falls from the sky; emperors, queens, and terrors reign; riding horses and some metaphors require reins.

It rained for ten days after King Mutt’s reign ended, causing his people to rein in the celebrations.

Council & counsel

The first is a noun meaning committee or board; the second is verb meaning to give advice. A counselor is a lawyer or other professional advice-giver.

May & might

For the verb indicating possibility, may is present tense; might is past tense – past tense as in the tense most storytellers use most of the time.

Alright & all right.

The first is not a word (yet) in accepted English; the second is how it should be spelled.

Conan admits that languages change over time, but alright remains nonstandard, and Conan will fight it to the death. All right has nothing to do with already, so the attempt to “normalize” one into t’other is as foolish as the egregiously erroneous rules that one must never split infinitives or end sentences with prepositions.

FREEZE! SMOKE POLICE!

I’m sure most of you have heard of Writers’ Police Academy, the four day conference offering an exciting and heart-pounding interactive and educational hands-on experience designed to enhance a writers understanding of all aspects of law enforcement, firefighting, EMS, and forensics. If you’re writing anything with a cop in it, I highly recommend the experience.

Day One

The first session is all about Drones! The expert had six or seven drones, 3D glasses so you could see from the perspective of the drone, and in-depth information on types, uses and hands-on demonstration! Registration fee justified!

At the opening ceremony, the Oneida Tribal Police blessed the WPA – the campus and conference hotel are located on tribal lands. There are dancers, and then I’m one of 10 people chosen to wear a gun belt. It comes complete with an orange gun (a solid plastic training gun) and blue taser (again, solid plastic). My assignment—wear it ALL day Friday. Things I learned:

  • The belt is heavy. It adds about 20 pounds around your waist. Add the Kevlar vest (which they want their officers to wear 24/7) and I was lugging around an extra 35 pounds. It makes it hard to run!
  • You’re told to take it the gun belt off when you go to the bathroom, but there’s a problem. Where do you put it? Place it on the floor? Yuck. On the back of the public toilet. Yuckier. If you hang it on the back of the door, it’s apt to get stolen. It’s happened. Tami Hoag solved the problem by pulling it up over her boobs. Brilliant! Maybe that’s why she’s a NYT bestselling author.
  • It’s hard to draw the gun and/or taser. But then, just wearing it was enough to scare some people. Take the stoner smoking within 5 feet of the hotel door. He saw the belt and his demeanor changed. He stepped away trying to gauge 25 feet. He glanced warily over his shoulder at me a number of times, and then seemed truly scared with my “police” dog (a 13-year old, 14 pound, black, miniature poodle) trailed out the door behind me. Freeze! Smoke police!

Day Two

This is a full day of classes. Six sessions a day, with some special assignments. These were hands-on trainings where you shoot real guns, drive real cars, search real buildings, and blow off real doors. I was assigned to “Handgun Live Fire” and I want to go back to try “Building Search/Room Clearing,” “Pursuit Immobilization Technique (PIT),” “Wait Explosive Entry.” “Defense and Arrest Tactics.” FYI, this is where you learn to handcuff people, but I’ve already done that. At a Rocky Mountain Chapter or Mystery Writers of America workshop I handcuffed RMFW’s own Jedeane Macdonald. Only one problem, the handcuff keys were missing. No problem! We just took a field trip to the closest Fire Station and had them cut off.

Regular sessions included things like “Incognito, Exploring the Undercover Experience” (with a real undercover cop who busted drug dealers in New York City), “Blood Spatter” (with a real dummy that spatters blood when he’s struck in the head), “Arson Investigation” (where they actually teach you how to start a fire with three different accelerants), “Federal Law Enforcement,” “Prison Gangs,” “Dogs, Dogs, Dogs,” and the list goes on. Too much to do in one year. Too much to do in two years.

Day Three

I was assigned to “Shoot, Don’t Shoot.” This was a special setting with a simulator that presented various scenarios the cops might encounter. I went first, with a partner, and we were called to a building with an intruder. We had no idea what we’d encounter, then a guy came out of the front door shooting. I fired three shots. My partner emptied his gun. Neither of us got shot. 15 rounds were fired, and only one shot connected, bringing the bad guy down—mine!

Other scenarios included a domestic dispute, an attack on an electrical transfer station, a attempted mugging in Central Park, an encounter when off-duty… Here’s what I learned:

  •  Shoot until the danger is neutralized.
  •  Shoot if there is eminent danger to you or others.
  • If you empty your gun when it’s not necessary, you may find you’re out of ammo and still facing danger.
  • I want one of these simulators!!

Banquet

Tami Hoag ran the live auction, and there was one item of note. Dr. Katherine Ramsland, an expert on serial killers and author of CONFESSION OF A SERIAL KILLER: THE UNTOLD STORY OF DENNIS RADER, offered a “personalized (to the winner) drawing, done by and signed by Rader, of one of his crime scenes.” Most people know this man as the BTK killer, an acronym he gave himself which stands for “Bind, Torture, and Kill.” No doubt the sketch will be a collector’s item. And, he fancies himself a poet, so it might even come with prose. Yet… It drew a final bid of over $800. Writers are a strange lot! Now, I’m fascinated by serial killers, and I’ve studied a lot of them, but I can’t imagine having something with such negative energy in my home. I actually went out to see if I could find an example on line and couldn’t actually bring myself to cut and paste one here. They’re just too creepy. Interested, here’s a link.

Day Four

I was ready to come home, and yet I attended the debriefing. Lee Lofland, the writer and ex-cop who put WPA together, led a rousing Q&A session with all of the guest presenters that had attendees rolling in the aisle.

WPA Cost: $395 registration; $20 t-shirt; $55 banquet; $500 (approximate) hotel bill; $30 in extra meals; $600 travel (approximate)

Value: Priceless