WOTY & iWOTY Guessing Game – Answers to All Your Burning Questions

Over the past few weeks, we’d provided five separate questions that our lovely WOTY & iWOTY finalists answered. Today is the day you learn all!

  • Shannon Baker - A
  • Colleen Oakes - B
  • Robin Owens - C
  • Bernadette Marie - D
  • Stephanie Reisner - E
  • Wendy Terrien - F

Ready? Here we go:

What is your favorite comfort food?

Doritos and Dr. Pepper - Stephanie Reisner

A perfectly made grilled cheese. I have spent a lot of time perfecting this creation and I can share it here: sourdough bread from the most expensive bakery in town, a combo of Tillamook Sharp Cheddar and Colby Jack, & Land o' Lakes Unsalted Butter. Perfection, I tell you. - Colleen Oaks

Mac and cheese (but the bad kind, with Velveeta) - Shannon Baker

I can’t pick favorites. The comfort-food-of-the-moment depends on what part of me needs comforting, time of year, how hungry I am, how much I feel like making something versus just opening something, how accessible certain foods are…you get the gist. - Wendy Terrien

Favorite comfort food, depends, right now it is creme brulee. Chocolate is always good. I suppose I shouldn't say bon bons because that smacks of [REDACTED] writer cliche, but, well, truffles. - Robin Owens

Chocolate! - Bernadette Marie

 

What was your oddest job?

Folding boxes for bulk packed tomatoes. (Dad owns a food warehouse) - Bernadette Marie

Either a busgirl at the Original Pancake House or a nanny at a house in NYC that was most definitely haunted.  - Colleen Oakes

Driving a fork lift.  - Shannon Baker

Must we? Trapeze artist. No, not kidding. - Robin Owens

Training and certifying people to drive buses. Especially because I hated driving those buses.  - Wendy Terrien

Guessing people's age and weight at an amusement park. - Stephanie Reisner

 

What was your childhood nickname?

Stink (which is actually the nickname of the ghost my sister made up, but if I gave you my real nickname, you'd know who I am) - Shannon Baker

Beanie. It was not my favorite thing. - Colleen Oakes

Rob. My family still calls me Rob. - Robin Owens

Berni (boring). - Bernadette Marie

Never really had one. Maybe someone reading this post can think up something fun for me. 🙂 - Wendy Terrien

Steph  (Kind of gives it away) - Stephanie Reisner

 

What’s your favorite book?

Can I Get There by Candlelight by Jean Slaughter Doty - Stephanie Reisner

Hard to tell, like many in RMFW, I've written since I was a child. Greek Mythology, Fairy Tales, learned to read on The Cat and the Hat. Andre Norton, as a youngster. Hmm. I don't know. - Robin Owens

Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins - Shannon Baker

This is like picking a favorite—seriously too hard for me. But I can tell you the majority of books I loved the most growing up were fantasy, so it seems there might be an influence… - Wendy Terrien

If Tomorrow Comes by Sidney Sheldon - Bernadette Marie

The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix - Colleen Oakes

 

What’s the best writerly advice you have for those wanting to someday win a WOTY or iWOTY?

Outer validation is a wonderful drug that you can't rely on to motivate you to write.  Inner validation is your strength:  You wrote the best book you could with the resources you had. - Robin Owens

It's a great life if you don't weaken. - Shannon Baker

If you think you can sit down and write an amazing book without spending years learning about craft you will most likely be wrong. - Colleen Oakes

Why not you? - Wendy Terrien

No matter how many times you fail, get up, dust yourself off, and try again - Stephanie Reisner

Puke out that story and don't go back to edit until you have it all out. - Bernadette Marie

 

Thank you to all our lovely contestants and to those who played along at home! It looks like Patricia Stoltey is our winner. Pat, we will be in touch with your awesome prize!

 

Launch Week

Okay, I'm writing this on Launch Week, so my mind is focused on trying to juggle normal life, extra life events (which are part of normal life) and the launch of my second thriller, RED SKY.

The book officially came out on June 13th, so most of the "heavy lifting" for launch was done in the weeks and months prior. My blog "Singing the Book Promotion Blues" detailed how and when things were done, which were the responsibility of my publisher, and which were on me. So what didn't I tell you? Note: I did factor these costs into my overall budget, so I'm not going to break them down here, except to demonstrate the payoff (or lack thereof).

Weeks ahead of the launch.

The likely response and attendance rate to event invitations varies widely depending on the event, the target audience and the relationship of the sender to the sendee. You can expect an 83% RSVP and attendance rate from most wedding invitations, according to RSVPify—a stat borne out by my daughter's wedding in February. Even though she was married in Hawaii (or maybe because of it?) approximately 80% of the invitees attended, regardless of whether they lived on island or on the mainland. That said RSVP and attendance rate for direct mail is more like 2%, according to McCarthy & King. That's two for every 100 mailed.

Just to set the stage, the Tattered Cover-Colfax launch had about 40 or 50 in attendance (depending on who was counting). A great turnout for me, and I was thrilled to learn that I had sold the bookstore out of all but five books. I couldn't have asked for better. To be fair, there was a mixture of family and friends, but there were also a number of people I didn't know that showed up. So what helped the most?

Who knows? Maybe it was the TC promotion (the ad in the paper they always take out, and/or the in-store promotion they do prior to launch), or maybe it had something to do with my efforts. To up the hope that I would have good attendance at TC, I did a couple of things:

1. I sent snail mail postcards to 180 people—friends, family, grade school classmates (I grew up in Evergreen, so we're talking locals)—inviting them to come to one of two signings: TC on June 15th or Hearthfire Books in Evergreen on June 22nd, and adding a personal note. The list can effectively be divided in half for who would come where. Out of 90 postcards sent, at least 10 of the people attending the signing would have received the postcard. That's 11% on a direct mail campaign. Better than the norm for attendance. The cost of that mailing (90 pieces, postage, etc.), meant it cost me $7.16 per person. I needed to sell 26 books to break even. Was it worth it?

2. I did an email campaign. My email list has over 3,000 names on it, so I sent an e-blast about the release and included my signing dates. I have no idea how many people that were in attendance received that, but that comes out to something like .02%, so much lower than the estimate for attendance. Still, how many of those folks bought the book? Who knows? The cost of getting that info in front of that many people totaled about $40, and as a traditionally published person I need to sell 110 books from that mailing to break even. Was it worth it?

3. I posted events on Facebook and to the various writers' list serves I belong to, put notices in the writers' organizations newsletters, etc. Of the group in attendance, there was only one person who would have heard about the signing from ONLY that venue. Of the rest, there were seven or eight others who received at least one of the other type mailings—snail or email. Big plus—this notice was free to send. No reason to question whether or not this was worth it. The answer is yes.

Spreading the Word

That is how one has to think about this. A basic marketing tenant says that someone needs to see or hear about something three times. With some folks, they've seen RED SKY or my name at least three times. With others, you hope they mention it to a friend, who then reads about my signing in TC ad, who then sees the book on the shelf at the Barnes & Noble, and buys it.

What about the people who I didn't know from anywhere? Were they TC patrons? Had they read about the book in a Publishers Weekly, Kirkus or Booklist review? Were they fans of Lee Child or Catherin Coulter, and found me because of the blurb on the cover of my book? (FYI, I've received several emails saying that someone read my book because, "If Lee Child liked this, I knew I would, too.") Were they waiting for the release because they'd read DARK WATERS?

I have no clue. A signing where so many who showed up and wanted books signed, was not the place for a survey. One person, I learned, was an old classmate of my daughter's who hoped to run into her there. He bought a book, so...

The Bottom Line

For me, the promotion is worth it. Locally, it's easier to have a profile. I do a lot of volunteering for my writers' groups—I present workshops, judge contests, participate. The more you give or give back, the more you receive in return.

National recognition comes harder. But I know I'm increasing my profile, if only because more people are offering to buy me drinks at the bar. More agents, editors and "big namers" recognize me. Does it mean I'm ever going to reach "star" status? Who knows? Would I love to have someone make a movie of one of my books so I can complain like every other author I know who has had a movie made from one of their books? Hell, yes!

There's only one thing I know for sure is I am thankful every day for the support of such a wonderful writers' community—thankful for all the pushes, for all the tips, for all the critiques, but mostly for all the friends that I've made. You guys, rock!

Now, however you decide to do this, go forth and tell us your stories!

WOTY & iWOTY Guessing Game – Final Round

Below are answers to one question for today’s Guessing Game.

Read the question, and then in the comments, assign the correct answer to the correct finalist.

On June 21st, all answers will be revealed.

  • Shannon Baker - A
  • Colleen Oaks - B
  • Robin Owens - C
  • Bernadette Marie - D
  • Stephanie Reisner - E
  • Wendy Terrien - F

Sample answer: C, D, A, B, F, E in the comments.

Ready? Here we go:

What is your best one-sentence (or more) advice for writers?

Outer validation is a wonderful drug that you can't rely on to motivate you to write.  Inner validation is your strength:  You wrote the best book you could with the resources you had. ____

It's a great life if you don't weaken.. ____

If you think you can sit down and write an amazing book without spending years learning about craft you will most likely be wrong.____

Why not you? ____

No matter how many times you fail, get up, dust yourself off, and try again ____

Puke out that story and don't go back to edit until you have it all out.___

 

You are all fabulous! Thank you for playing along.

Remember to check the blog on June 21st for the answers!

Conference Spotlight: Critique Round Table Sessions

Greeting from Conference HQ!

Thinking about signing up for a critique round table at conference? Act now, because registration is required and these sessions are filling up! NOTE: Registration for these sessions closes July 15.

The critique round table sessions are among the most popular offerings at RMFW Colorado Gold. Three and a half hours in length, the round tables offer you a chance to receive detailed critique on ten pages of your work and allow you the time to give feedback on the work of the other members in your group. The round tables are a unique opportunity to experience specific critique with other writers as well as an agent or editor. This year, we have 14 sessions to choose from, monitored by an attending agent or editor. Attendees may sign up for one or two round tables. Sessions are offered Friday morning at 8:00 AM and Friday afternoon at 1:00 PM. The tables are open to 8 critique participants and 2 auditors.

Critique Participants: You will submit the first ten pages of your manuscript, plus a one-page synopsis of your story, to be critiqued by the agent/editor of your choice as well as by the other participants at your table.

Critique Auditors: You will only observe; you will neither submit pages nor offer critiques to participants. This is a great way to see how critique works and be a fly on the wall. Hear other authors' feedback on the submitted work and listen as the attending agent or editor shares their insights.

Once registration closes, participants will receive further instructions from RMFW volunteer, Scott Brendel, who manages all the things with Round Table Critiques. He will provide details on everything, including where and how to submit your pages, which will be due August 9.

These sessions are a $40 add-on for participants, $15 for auditors. Deadline to register is July 15. Pages are Due Aug 9.

WOTY & iWOTY Guessing Game – Round Four

Below are answers to one question for today’s Guessing Game.

Read the question, and then in the comments, assign the correct answer to the correct finalist, and possibly win a prize (*all correct responses will be entered into a random drawing).

Then in the next post on, June 13th, you’ll get the next question. On June 21st, all answers will be revealed along with a list of winners. So check in on June 21st for your name!

  • Shannon Baker - A
  • Colleen Oaks - B
  • Robin Owens - C
  • Bernadette Marie - D
  • Stephanie Reisner - E
  • Wendy Terrien - F

Sample answer: C, D, A, B, F, E in the comments.

Ready? Here we go:

What was the one book that inspired you to write?

Can I Get There by Candlelight by Jean Slaughter Doty ____

Hard to tell, like many in RMFW, I've written since I was a child. Greek Mythology, Fairy Tales, learned to read on The Cat and the Hat. Andre Norton, as a youngster. Hmm. I don't know. ____

Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins ____

This is like picking a favorite—seriously too hard for me. But I can tell you the majority of books I loved the most growing up were fantasy, so it seems there might be an influence… ____

If Tomorrow Comes by Sidney Sheldon ____

The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix___

 

I have so any books to add to my TBR pile now. Thanks all.

Remember to check the blog on June 21st for the answers as well as selected winners!

WOTY & iWOTY Guessing Game – Round Three

Below are answers to one question for today’s Guessing Game.

Read the question, and then in the comments, assign the correct answer to the correct finalist, and possibly win a prize (*all correct responses will be entered into a random drawing).

Then in the next post on, June 7th, you’ll get the next question. On June 21st, all answers will be revealed along with a list of winners. So check in on June 21st for your name!

  • Shannon Baker - A
  • Colleen Oaks - B
  • Robin Owens - C
  • Bernadette Marie - D
  • Stephanie Reisner - E
  • Wendy Terrien - F

Ready? Here we go:

What was your childhood nickname?

Stink (which is actually the nickname of the ghost my sister made up, but if I gave you my real nickname, you'd know who I am) ____

Beanie. It was not my favorite thing. ____

Rob. My family still calls me Rob. ____

Berni (boring). ____

Never really had one. Maybe someone reading this post can think up something fun for me. 🙂 ____

Steph  (Kind of gives it away) ___

 

Hope this one was easy for you. Sample answer: C, D, A, B, F, E in the comments.

Remember to check the blog on June 21st for the answers as well as selected winners!

A Score and More and Still Learning

I’ve been writing fiction for over twenty years, and this week I just figured out how I do it.

For years, I’ve bemoaned my inability to plot. Back when I was required to provide my editor with a short synopsis in order to sell another book, I was always able to come up with something. But the plotting I did seldom helped with the writing. Once I started the story, all bets were off. In fact, I learned it was much more productive to ignore what I’d plotted and simply write “into the mist”.

I am a linear writer. I rarely write scenes out of order. I start at the beginning and follow wherever the story leads—the trail of breadcrumbs along the dark, winding pathway through the forest. If I start to feel I’m getting off track, I may go back and rewrite a scene or two. But I usually find it’s better to keep going and fix plot problems at the end.

Although I’ve developed a sense of what seems to work best, I’ve never really understood the actual process. It’s almost like there’s something supernatural happening. A kind of magic. That may sound exciting, but in fact, that unknown magical element has always worried me. If you don’t understand how something works, how can you make certain it keeps happening? The fear the magic will leave me has always been there.

My faith in my writing process has been especially challenged the last few years. I seem to be much less productive than I used to be. Writing a book takes longer and I get stuck more. The magic seems to have grown fickle and elusive. Maybe I’ve worn it out. Maybe I don’t really have what it takes to create stories anymore.

I started a new book two months ago. Initially, I thought I was well on my way. I already had three chapters written from years ago. I tweaked and edited, but overall I was pretty satisfied. Then it came time to write new pages, and I found myself hideously stuck. Over three weeks I wrote three scenes, but none of them led anywhere. My characters stopped talking and froze on the page.

I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I liked my hero and heroine and was interested in their story. Why did they refuse to come to life? They didn’t seem to know what to do and how to move the plot forward. They were static and cardboard and miserably one-dimensional.

This went on day after day and I started to panic. Maybe I was too old. Maybe the magic is finite and I’ve used up my allotment. For the first time that I can remember, instead of providing me with an escape from the stresses of my life, writing itself became stressful. Like my characters on the page, I froze. When I tried to brainstorm where the story should go next, nothing happened.

I briefly considered abandoning the book and working on another project. I have a closet full of partial manuscripts. Maybe one of them would reignite my creativity. But if I tried writing something else and the same thing happened, I knew I would really be in trouble. I contribute a fair share of my success as a writer to my innate stubbornness and tenacity. No, by golly, I wasn’t going to give up on this book. I was going to will it into life somehow, some way.

One good thing about getting older is that I’m better at problem-solving. I also have more perspective. I told myself to crank down the panic and try to figure out what I was doing differently this time. What had changed?

And then a simple thought struck me. The way I write is to climb into my characters’ skin and become them. I see the world through their eyes. Based on what I see and feel as them, they come to life and start doing things.

I hadn’t done that this time. On paper, I had two fairly well fleshed-out characters, but instead of getting inside them and letting them live the story, I was trying to push them to the next plot point. I was outside of them, manipulating them. They became shadow puppets. Hollow empty ideas, rather than human characters.

So I went back, climbed into my hero’s skin and started writing. All at once, the blood flowed in his veins and he took a breath and then another. And just like that, I knew what he was feeling and what he was going to do next.

I will undoubtedly get stuck again. For me, it’s part of the process. But now I know a little bit of the secret of how it works. It’s still magic. Unreliable. Tricky. Unfathomable. But I’ve finally learned a few words of the spell, the sorcery that makes it all happen.

WOTY & iWOTY Guessing Game – Round Two

Want to learn more about the finalists for the Writer of the Year and Independent Writer of the Year? If so, you are in the right place. Then again, what fun would it be, for us, if we just gave you the answers in one post to five deep, thought-provoking questions?

It wouldn’t be.

So in that vein, below are answers to one question for today’s Guessing Game.

Read the question, and then in the comments, assign the correct answer to the correct finalist, and possibly win a prize (*all correct responses will be entered into a random drawing).

Then in the next post on Monday, June 5th, you’ll get the next question. On June 21st, all answers will be revealed along with a list of winners. So check in on June 21st for your name!

Sample answer: C, D, A, B, F, E in the comments.

  • Shannon Baker - A
  • Colleen Oaks - B
  • Robin Owens - C
  • Bernadette Marie - D
  • Stephanie Reisner - E
  • Wendy Terrien - F

Ready? Here we go:

 

What was your oddest job?

Folding boxes for bulk packed tomatoes. (Dad owns a food warehouse) ____

Either a busgirl at the Original Pancake House or a nanny at a house in NYC that was most definitely haunted. ___

Driving a fork lift. ____

Must we? Trapeze artist. No, not kidding. ____

Training and certifying people to drive buses. Especially because I hated driving those buses. ____

Guessing people's age and weight at an amusement park. ____

 

So many weird and wonderful jobs. Thank you all.

 

Think You Know the WOTY and IWOTY Finalists? Think Again

Want to learn more about the finalists for the Writer of the Year and Independent Writer of the Year? If so, you are in the right place. Then again, what fun would it be, for us, if we just gave you the answers in one post to five deep, thought-provoking questions?

It wouldn’t be.

So in that vein, below are answers to one question for today’s Guessing Game.

Read the question, and then in the comments, assign the correct answer to the correct finalist, and possibly win a prize (*all correct responses will be entered into a random drawing). Sample answer: C, D, A, B, F, E in the comments.

Then in the next post tomorrow, May 31st, you’ll get the next question. On June 21st, all answers will be revealed along with a list of winners. So check in on June 21st for your name!

  • Shannon Baker - A
  • Colleen Oaks - B
  • Robin Owens - C
  • Bernadette Marie - D
  • Stephanie Reisner - E
  • Wendy Terrien - F

Ready? Here we go:

What's your favorite comfort food?

Doritos and Dr. Pepper ____

A perfectly made grilled cheese. I have spent a lot of time perfecting this creation and I can share it here: sourdough bread from the most expensive bakery in town, a combo of Tillamook Sharp Cheddar and Colby Jack, & Land o' Lakes Unsalted Butter. Perfection, I tell you. ____

Mac and cheese (but the bad kind, with Velveeta) ____

I can’t pick favorites. The comfort-food-of-the-moment depends on what part of me needs comforting, time of year, how hungry I am, how much I feel like making something versus just opening something, how accessible certain foods are…you get the gist. ____

Favorite comfort food, depends, right now it is creme brulee. Chocolate is always good. I suppose I shouldn't say bon bons because that smacks of [REDACTED] writer cliche, but, well, truffles. ____

Chocolate! ___

 

All those answers made me hungry. Did you guess right? Check the blog on June 21st for the answers as well as selected winners!

Writing Black Characters Dealing with the Culture of Poverty

Last year at the Colorado Gold Conference I taught a class entitled Writing Authentic African-American Characters. A lot of that discussion had to deal with the culture of poverty within the Black community. Today, I want to talk to you about specific things your African-American characters can struggle with because of the culture of poverty.

What about Black characters who aren’t poor?

Poverty is a part of the lives of many African-Americans. Even if your Black character is not poor, the chances are they are affected by neighbors, friends, or relatives who are. This is a conflict that awesome writers, like yourselves, can exploit for great story telling.

There is a lot of tension within the African-American community about what is the proper role of African-Americans who have made it. Do they owe anybody anything? Are they obligated to support their extended families? And how do we define Support? (Incidentally, Showtime has a funny show based on this premise called “Survivors guilt.” Its executive producer is NBA player LeBron James.)

If your black character is middle class or wealthy—and they do not come from this socio-economic group—having them financially support or guide their poorer relatives and friends would be a great way to bring in a dose of authenticity into your characters. Your character could do everything from taking in a cousin or nephew to host the family picnic to co-sign on a car loan. Or, they could absolutely refuse to participate in any of these activities, gaining the respect or condemnation of their family. Or, maybe they only support others in grand, showy events, like at a birthday party, or a graduation. As if they are flaunting their disposable income.

Writing Black characters who are poor

How do you write about poor Black characters? Here’s the trick I’ve learned as I struggled with the culture of poverty myself.

Rich people want money for its own sake, while many poor people want money to buy things.

I have been fortunate enough to get to know five millionaires. But none of them are what you call the silver spoon type. They do all have two things in common: They horde cash and assets and they are extremely cheap.

My experience with most poor people (and remember, that includes me) is that they principally want money to buy things. It took me years to figure this out. But even as a child, I can remember wanting things desperately and knowing I would probably never get them. That feeling that you’re not going to get something you want permeates you as you grow up. That hunger to be just as good as everyone else, by buying those expensive jeans, or that expensive phone.

I can remember when I got into UC Santa Barbara in 1994. I did all of the paperwork myself. I double checked my financial aid package, what dorm I was going to stay in, everything. When I left, I had everything I needed - except a personal computer to type papers on. (This was pre-internet)

One day my mom comes home to tell me that she got a $2000 signature loan. She was going to buy me a top of the line computer. Now, this confused me because I had resigned myself to using the computer labs on campus, like everyone else. My mother had other ideas. She was not going to let her son be perceived as disenfranchised, or somehow not good enough because I didn’t have a computer.

I hope you see what’s going on here. Having possession of that computer meant I was just as good as those rich, white boys I was going to school with in the fall. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t afford it; it didn’t matter that the interest rate on the loan was ridiculous. It was about being just as good as everyone else.

This is why you see some poor Black people driving expensive cars, carrying Gucci purses, or wearing expensive shoes; they are keeping up with the Joneses.

The culture of poverty effects your ability to plan for emergencies.

I was well into my mid-twenties before I heard the term emergency fund/account. The people I knew and grew up with were all busy trying to pay the rent and keep food on the table. Extra money was seen as an opportunity to get ahead of another bill. The idea that you could just leave it in the bank, just in case, was weird. In fact, when I taught in Denver Public Schools, I would talk to high school kids about personal finances. Just like me, many of my students found the concept bizarre.

How could this affect your African-American characters? What stress could you pile on to your characters because of their upbringing?

Poverty Lends Itself to Immediate Gratification.

Many people living in poverty see no way out. They don’t believe they’ll ever get ahead or beat the system. When in a situation where you believe your situation is hopeless, why deny yourself anything?

I am one of the few homeowners in my family. I am also one of the few family members with a master’s degree. Both achievements took discipline and the ability to delay personal gratification. I was able to get both because I desperately wanted them. I wanted those things more than I wanted to hang out, go on vacation, or buy a big TV.

For many people of color in poverty, buying a house, having nice things, getting an education seems pointless and out of reach. Also, there is a desperation of circumstance that supersedes everything else. This idea that this moment will not come again, and that I should live to the fullest, now. That this opportunity might never come again, so I have to take advantage of it now.

Being Poor Sucks

Poverty spans the gambit from simply annoying to plain old horrible on any given day. There is a stress associated with poverty. A stress that can be temporarily relieved by spending money—thus perpetuating the cycle.

Writing exercise.

#1.) Is your character poor? Why or why not? Would changing their socio-economic status give you new insights into their motivations, values, and beliefs? If your Black character is in a supporting role, would changing their economic status create more tension in the story? Why or why not?

#2.) How does the poverty of the Black community effect your Black character? Are they guilty for being successful? Do they feel obligated to give back? Are they uncomfortable in the Black community?

#3.) Write a scene where your Black character—who may or may not be the Point of View character—comments on the difference between how his family does something mundane and how his new friends do something. Show/describe the different values associated with each event.