Category Archives: General Interest

I Could Have Lost Everything

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up and started my usual routine of preparing for work. I work at home so I have a short commute to my office: down the hall, take a left at the entryway, and an immediate right through a set of double doors. It was a gray morning, typical in Oregon for this time of year, and like any typical morning, I pressed the little silver power button on the tower of my Mac Pro. I was rewarded with the Mac “bong” of greeting, but what followed was anything but typical.

Sick MacMy computer, my livelihood, my career-in-a-box, showed me an odd image on my monitor with scrolling words in several different languages. Something was wrong. The operating system refused to load.

Panic ensued. I called my local computer shop the moment they opened, we tried a few things over the phone, but the conclusion was indisputable. I think I heard Taps playing through my computer’s speakers.

Had I backed everything up? Most everything. The important stuff, at least. But I was going to be without my home business until whatever was wrong with my computer was fixed. They also needed my back-up drive in case the files on my hard drive couldn’t be restored.

I started imagining all kinds of worst-case scenarios. My back-up drive had been acting up recently after my dog dropped her ball on the USB cable plugged into the back of the computer and disconnected the drive. I’d had an error message that it might have been damaged. I’d checked it and it appeared all my files were there, but when I tested it on my laptop, the drive didn’t show up. Lovely.

Deep breaths. Okay, so at least I had the laptop I shared with my husband and I could access email, the Internet, Microsoft Office… But all my graphics software, the lifeblood of my business, was on the sick Mac Pro in the shop. I had design deadlines and various unfinished projects needing my attention. What was I going to do? There wasn’t anything I could do but wait.

After 3 days and 2 sleepless nights, I called the shop to ask for a diagnosis. They’d just started to run a diagnostic test and would call me later that day to give me the result. They didn’t call. It felt as if I were waiting at the back of a very long line that wasn’t moving.

I had to do something while I was waiting. It’s not in my nature to be unproductive. Since my husband and I were sharing the laptop I had to use my time wisely. This is how I learned the value of my Kindle Fire for things other than reading.

I’d recently finished revisions to the first book in a new series I was writing and had sent it off to my agent a couple of weeks before all this happened. It was time to start on the next book and the unexpected down time was a sign for me to get a jump on it. Though I’d been entertaining some ideas for the second book, I hadn’t planned anything yet. Two notebooks, a pencil, and a few Kindle web searches later and I was on my way. Not writing it but preparing to write it, which is not my usual process. The pantser inside me would normally hop directly to page one and get busy, but not this time. I had an opportunity to plot and develop my cast of characters, to fill up however many days I’d have to wait for my career-in-a-box to be in working condition again.

The nights were hard as my imaginative brain kept churning out horrible outcomes and expensive repairs, thinking of all the “what ifs” writers are conditioned to think. What if someone dropped my computer and it exploded into a thousand pieces? What if the tech working on my machine spilled his coffee all over the inside while he was working on it? What if the shop burned down? What’s the worst that could happen? I practically what-iffed myself into a nervous breakdown.

Seven days after I dropped off my poor old Mac at the computer hospital I got the call that it was ready to pick up. It had passed all their tests, but some internal workings within the drive were mysteriously preventing the system to load. All the data was still there and they were able to manually load it onto a new drive. I had them install a second drive inside the tower that houses the main drive so it could back itself up an hourly basis. That gives me a little peace of mind knowing my data is protected, but I can still imagine possibilities for disaster. I’m a writer. It’s what I do. Damn it.

In the end I survived. My computer survived. My work survived. What lesson did I learn? That if I’m not careful I can worry myself into an early grave? That there’s no such thing as idle time? That I have to make every moment count? Yep. All of the above.

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013. Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

http://www.karenduvallauthor.com

No Need to Bleed: Painless Ways to Breach the Blank Page

By Lori DeBoer

“It is easy to write. Just sit in front of your typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway likely wasn’t recommending that one literally open a vein. I think.  Besides being dark and witty, this quote keeps coming back in different forms, attributed to disparate authors, because for most of us wordsmiths, it speaks a truth.

I’d rarely had to search for that vein in my 20 years as a journalist, because the fear my editors inspired made me able to compose leads in my head during the drive home from an interview or an event.  By the time I hit my computer, I already had a few full paragraphs ready to tumble to the page.

That was until I sat down to write my first piece of fiction. I pulled up a blank page and blanked. It was sheer, imposing and seemed to offer no toeholds.

I breached that blank page, with a bit of determination and a fair amount of bloodshed. Since blood, metaphorical or not, makes me faint, I’ve developed some easier ways to get into story, ones that don’t require stocking up on iron supplements.

Here goes:

Write nonsense–Type any old thing until your brain stops its bitching and gets engaged in the story.  You may have to write nonsense for a few pages, but keep going.  If you fail to gain some traction midway through your allotted daily word count or writing time, then shift to revising, research or sending stuff out.

Write a shitty first draft–I wish this were my advice, but it’s Anne Lamott’s.  If you aspire to write, you must read her book, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. She talks openly about her own fits and starts and has this to say:  “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”

Give it your worst shot–I teach for a living and found that my students not only loved examples of crappy writing, but they learned from trying to improve them. Since I am a do-it-yourself kinda gal, I rose to the challenge of writing some of the crappiest crap around for my advanced writing classes. There wasn’t a cliché I didn’t borrow, a run-on sentence I didn’t elongate to a ridiculous end. Writing crap turned out to be fun and liberating.  Often, crap turns into keepers. For inspiration (and a spot for your own terrible writing), please visit the website for the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction contest, organized by the English Department at San Jose State University, which invites entrants  to write the worst opening sentence to the worst possible novels.  (www.bulwer-lytton.com)

Pen a gossipy letter–This strategy confuses your internal critic because it doesn’t know whether to bark, bite or wag its tale. That’s because writing a letter–dripping with juicy details that only someone in the know would know—is rather a quaint endeavor, don’t you think?  In that letter, which you may or may not send, indulge in the latest scandal about your characters.  What is up with your main character’s latest choice in lovers?  What is your antagonist hiding, anyway?  You love to dish.  Indulge.

Borrow a line–Your English teacher would call this plagiarizing, but I prefer to think of it as priming your pump.  Just remember to delete this line from your story at some point during the revision process.   For bonus points, don’t pick a line you love; pick one at random. For extra bonus points, jump genres.  Caveat:  don’t spend all day picking out a line, please. If procrastinating’s your game, go scrub your tub.

Cut to the exciting part–Instead of walking in circles, trying to figure out where you are supposed to start story, try fast  forwarding to the exciting part.  Chances are, that’s your real beginning, anyway.

Prompt yourself–If you find yourself staring down a blank page, having someone tell you what to do can help.  Lucky for you, there are a kazillion tried-and-true writing prompts.

Throw in some mystery–If the main point of view character encounters some sort of mystery to puzzle over or an intriguing problem to solve, chances are your fuzzy little writing brain will start puzzling over it, too.  You’ll find yourself several pages in just because you want to figure out what’s going on

Come out swinging–You don’t need to have your characters taking physical punches at each other like mad monkey ninjas, unless that sort of scene suits your genre. Simply starting a story with two characters at odds with each other will send a thrill up your storyline and have you coming back for more.

Picture it–Break up a blank page by slapping some pictures on that sucker and you’ll be closer to starting your story.  Many writers take this to extreme, creating whole Pinterest boards with photos of their story’s characters, settings, costumes and the ilk.  If you do this, I not only approve, but am a teensy bit jealous.

Start with the ending–I like writing the ending of a story before I start the beginning because I can trick myself into feeling like the heavy lifting is done.  Plus, I have a better chance of starting a story if I know where it’s going to end up, just like I have a better chance of having a successful road trip if I know if I am driving to Santa Fe or San Francisco

Well, that’s a sampling from my bag of tools for breeching the blank page.  What are some of yours?

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Lori DeBoerLori DeBoer is an author, freelance journalist and writing coach whose work has appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, The New York Times, Pithead Chapel, Arizona Highways, Gloom Cupboard and more. She has contributed essays on writing to Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts, Keep It Real: Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Research and Writing Creative Nonfiction and A Million Little Choices: The ABCs of CNF. She founded the Boulder Writers’ Workshop, is a contributing editor for Short Story Writer and is a homeschooling mom. She and her husband Michael and son Max live in Boulder.

For more about Lori, please visit her website and blog.

Work Management

I started off my February post here by mentioning I’d been busy lately. In fact, I had to check because I started off this post in almost the exact same way.

Oops.

However, it’s less me running in the same rut than that things haven’t really let up yet. Happily, last Friday I finished the draft of Rogue’s Paradise, which is due to my editor 3/15. It’s out with the crit partners (CPs) right now. Once I finished that, I turned to line edits on Going Under. My editor asked for those by 3/9 and I negotiated for 3/12. Those are almost done and need just one more pass – something I’ll do as soon as I complete this post. Then I’ll turn to polishing Rogue’s Paradise, using the approach I detailed in my November post, Easy Steps to Polish that Draft, and incorporating comments from my CPs.

Amusingly (and with perfect timing), another editor sent the developmental edits for The Tears of the Rose, that second Twelve Kingdoms  book I mentioned in that polishing post – and those arrived Friday afternoon, hours after I finished Paradise. (I was dreading the eventuality that those edits would arrive before I had the opportunity to clear my head space of these other two books.) The other aspect of this auspicious timing is that I can do the edits on Tears and then go straight into writing book 3 of that trilogy, The Talon of the Hawk, which is due 6/1.

Thankfully, also, the sixth and final episode of my serial novel, Master of the Opera, comes out 3/20 – so my promo efforts for that will be over. Gives me a bit of breathing room before the 5/27 release of the first Twelve Kingdoms book, The Mark of the Tala.

See what I mean?

But I took the weekend to chill. We drove to Tucson for my mother’s birthday and I spent a lot of time hanging out, chatting, and reading for pleasure. My mom worried that I was tired and I was. But the rest helped and now I’m ready to get back at it. She wanted me to take it easier than I am.

I can’t.

That’s the thing about deadlines. If you don’t work on stuff, it doesn’t go away. It just stacks up and makes the work even more difficult later. Yes – in the future I’ll make sure not to stack my writing deadlines together so tightly. For now, however, I need to get through them, and keep myself sane and healthy while doing so.

My husband pointed out to me that the issue isn’t time management. Earl Nightingale takes the position that the concept of “time management” is worthless because time is beyond our control. Time flows as it flows, whether we attempt to manage that or not.

What IS within our control is the work we do. That is, I need to manage the work within the time that I have. One solution, I’ve decided, with the man’s input, is to resist the urge to multitask. One thing at a time. And when I rest, I rest. An hour or two of solid relaxation is far better than five hours of working social media while answering emails and watching a movie.

That’s my plan. Anyone else have good suggestions for work management?

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Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial

Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook.

Her most recent works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns;  the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, including the newest, Five Golden Rings, which came out as part of the erotic holiday anthology, Season of Seduction, in late November; and a  contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera, which released beginning January 2, 2014. A fourth series, the fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, will hit the shelves starting in May 2014. A spin-off story from this series, Negotiation, appears in the recently-released Thunder on the Battlefield anthology.

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog, on Facebook, and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary.

10 Myths about Being an Author

By J.A. Kazimer

My name is Julie and I’m an author.

You know I’m telling the truth, because it says so right there on that book —>

Anyway, people are always asking questions. The big one is “Would you like fries with that?” but sometimes the questions relate to being an author. I’m not sure how they know that I write books for a living. Perhaps it’s my author-like scent. I’ve heard all authors emit this special sort of scent- Ode to Words, but I never believed it. Not till my first book was released and I noticed this stench clinging to me. Sure you could blame the whiskey, but I prefer to think that the smelly author myth is actually true. By now you’re probably asking yourself, is there a point to this rambling?

And the answer is…”Can I supersize my drink?”

Okay, now that my order’s complete, let’s talk myths, especially those 10 little ones that cling to authors:

10.  Books are easy to write.

I hate to burst this particular bubble since most people I know say stuff like, “I should write a book.” (And they should. Everyone should try at least once, and then I would never, ever hear that statement again). But book writing (at least good, publishable book writing) is damn hard and it takes months, sometimes years to finish.

9.  Authors are all rich.

Sigh. I wish.  Like me, most authors I know have a day job or a very nice spouse who supports the author’s dream. Even semi-famous authors aren’t making the big bucks. For every six-figure book deal you hear about, there are twenty four figure ones. Worse, if you get an advance, you have to sell enough books to pay that advance (called earning out) before you make a dime on any book you sell.

The recent survey by Digital Book World hubbub showed us all, basically saying, most authors (60% Traditionally-published and 80% Indie-published) make less than $1,000 a year. Ouch. Not that I’m bragging (because I am so not, by a long shot), but I made slightly more than that last year. Mind you, I had 10 books for sale. By the time I have 1,000 for sale I might be able to afford a Venti at Starbucks….But I doubt it.

8.  Authors sell thousands and thousands of books.

To who? Please tell me where can I sell that many books? An average mid-list author with a new release will sell anywhere from 500 to a couple thousand book a year. Most books don’t even sell that many copies.

7.   Once an author sells a book to a publisher, the author can just step back and reap in the royalties.

Ha! How I wish this myth was true.  I sold my first book thinking this same thing. Boy did I learn a lesson over the next year. I had to arrange every book signing, send out all newsletters and press releases for media attention, and buy all my own book swag.  A publisher does their part with editing, printing, and distributing my book, as well as helping to promote it but most of the work falls on the author.

This isn’t Castle. No fancy, black-tie booksignings for me. I’m lucky when a bookshop will let me beg outside the doors for change. That being said, Broadway Bookstore/Who Else Books is the exception to this. Nina and Ron Else are huge supporters of the community. And it’s a great place for a signing!

6.  All books are somewhat autobiographical.

Let me answer this as quick and easily as I can: NO. No. No. No. I am not a fairy tale villain. I’ve never been a fairy tale villain. I don’t shoot people, though sometimes I want to. Nothing in my novel is me or about me.

5.  The narrator in the book is the author.

See the answer above. Whatever point of view a book is told in is a decision made by the author as a means to tell a story. I, the author, am not the narrator. I am merely the chick who types the words.

4.  The day a book is released it will be front and center of the bookstore.

Not true. Here’s another painful lesson I learned. The books you see in the front of the bookstore, well, those are there because someone, likely the publisher, paid the store to place them there. Sadly, bookstores have less and less space for books. Many are now selling e-readers in space that used to house books. So the odds of finding your book on a store’s shelves are about 30/70, even less if you aren’t published by the Big 5.

3.   Authors love attention and talking about their book.

Some do. Others, like me, would rather not be the center of attention. But it’s the nature of our business. If I want to succeed I have to tell people about my book. I’m getting better at this, but the idea of trying to sell my book to a stranger is still hard.

2.  If a book has vampires, ball-gags, or a kid named Harry in it, you’ll make millions.

False. Please, for the love of all words, stop writing to what you think the market is or wants. If J.K. Rowlings or Stephenie Myers jumped off a bridge would you? Be fresh. Be unique. Be yourself.

10.  All authors are young, sexy and hip.

That one is obviously true.

Any myths you would like to add? What are the questions non-writers ask you and how do you respond?

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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. Novels include CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, FROGGY STYLE and The Assassin’s Heart, as well as the forthcoming mystery series, Deadly Ever After from Kensington Books. J.A. spent years spilling drinks as a bartender and then stalked people while working as a private investigator.

Learn more at www.jakazimer.com or on her writerly talk blog More Than a Little F***ed Up. She can also be found (way too much of the time) on Twitter as @jakazimer and on Facebook as Julie Kazimer.

Murder Your Darlings

By Jan Weeks

Jan WeeksSir Arthur Quiller-Couch said that over a hundred years ago and writers have followed his advice (or not) ever since. I, for one, being of kind heart and semi-sound mind, hesitated to do something so cruel. Occasionally I’d shoot a few of my darling words in the butt with a BB gun and watch them scamper to safety but my heart ached for them. I wanted to call them back and nurture and cuddle and soothe them into believing they really were worthwhile. I wanted to build their self-esteem, just like I did for my fifth grade students.

The first wholesale massacre was planned one day while driving down a Colorado back road, thinking of nothing in particular. I’d been working on Season of Evil, Season of Dreams, my first suspense novel, for years. The protagonist was Lorna Hollingsworth, a retired school teacher who discovers a child’s skull in a meadow in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Ben Logan, police chief of the small town and Lorna’s former student, uses the teacher as a foil for his thoughts and surmises as he investigates.

The story began with Lorna taking her dog for a walk early on a September morning. A bloody sun rose through lavender mist. Sentinel pines lined the trail. Sweat sheened her skin as she labored up the steep path. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Years and miles after writing that scene, I realized it had nothing to do with the story. Once home, I booted up the ’puter, highlighted the 3500-word first chapter, and pressed delete. Oh, the tears! Oh, the sorrow! Oh, the pain as my darlings disappeared into oblivion, never to return, unless I wanted to hire a techie to save them. I hardened my heart and started the story where it truly began, with the discovery of the skulls. (Yes, more than one.)

More years passed. Rejections flew like autumn leaves in a gale, adding frustration to insult. Why the heck couldn’t editors see what a great story I’d written? Surely they couldn’t all be rejects from the Arthur Murray School of Great Writing…or something like that. Each rejection caused me to stalk the manuscript, BB gun upgraded to a .22 rifle, in hand. Now my darlings seemed to know when they were in for the high jump and some scurried away with barely a nudge from the barrel.

Then the second mass murder sneaked into my mind as I washed dishes. I had the wrong protagonist. It wasn’t Lorna’s story, it was Ben’s. I sank into a chair, poured another cup of tea, and wept, not for my darlings, but for me. I had been writing this damned book for twenty years! Enough, already! I didn’t want to condemn the whole thing to oblivion. I didn’t want to start over!

The fit of self-pitying hysteria passed, as all fits must, and I buckled down. As I rewrote I realized that the book was becoming better. Now, readers could live in Ben’s mind and investigate along with him. They didn’t have to wade through pages of talking heads as Ben explained everything that he’d discovered to Lorna. Switching POVs between Ben, Lorna, and the antagonist further moved the story along. Some of the babies I’d plunged into purgatory crept back into the manuscript, a few at a time, this time in their proper places. The bloody sunrise and sentinel pines never did find their way back, thank God.

After 25 years and 59 revisions, Season of Evil found a publishing home and arrived in hardback in the spring, a time of renewal and life.

Now I believe in wreaking murder and mayhem on my dears. I also believe in reincarnation, as long as those little darlings know their places.

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Jan Weeks is an editor and award-winning writer with three published adult novels (Silverton Summer; The Secret of Spring Hollow; Season of Evil, Season of Dreams) and a middle-grade novel (The Centerville Code) available as an e-book, as is The Secret of Spring Hollow. Her articles, short stories, poetry and essays have appeared in local, regional, national and international markets, such as Outdoor Life, Guideposts, Natural Health, California Lawyer, Grit, and Midwest Fly Fishing.

She belongs to The Authors’ Guild and the Western Colorado Writers’ Forum, and has facilitated the Colorado West Writers’ Workshop. She teaches workshops in creative writing, writing for magazines, and basic grammar for writers.

Visit Jan’s website for rates, links to books, and more information.

Jan is also giving away a print copy of her novel, Season of Evil, Season of Dreams, to one U.S. or Canada reader who leaves a comment on today’s post. The mystery involves a small-town cop who must stop a serial killer before more children vanish. Comments through Tuesday, March 11th will be included in a random drawing.

An Awkward Confession

By Mary Gillgannon

I’ve been writing historical romance for over twenty years. In the beginning, the genre was also my favorite reading material. I read the best-selling romance authors to find out what magic they worked to rise to the top. I read the “up-and-comings” to see what they offered and get a feel for the direction the market was headed. And I read pretty much anything in my preferred sub-genre, medieval and Viking romances. I once heard that before writing a book in a particular genre, you should read a hundred books of that type. Over the first few years of my writing career, I probably did that.

But gradually I got away from reading historical romance. I discovered historical mysteries, which helped me immerse myself in the world and time period I was writing in and often gave me new ideas for stories that were more unique than the ideas I got from romances. I dabbled in literary fiction, which had been my preferred reading in college and immediately afterwards. Chick lit came along and I ate it up. Fantasy started getting popular and I added it to my reading “oeuvre”. Then, a few years ago, I stumbled onto a contemporary mystery I really liked and started reading them too.

I’m currently writing my fifteenth historical romance, and yet I have to guiltily admit that, except for books written by friends, I haven’t read a historical romance from start to finish in years. I have good intentions. I purchase e-books that sound interesting and download free copies to help other authors get exposure. I order historical romances for the library where I work and sometimes even check them out. But some other book (or books) always seems to be calling me, and I never get far into the romances before I move on.

It doesn’t help that I acquire fiction as part of my job at a public library and read dozens of reviews every month, covering fiction in all sorts of genres. I usually skim the non-fiction reviews, too, adding to my choices. When I check in the new books (to confirm the cataloging is correct, etc.) I set aside the order slips of those I’m interested in. I now have a pile about fifty order slips on my desk. I’d like to read these books, but it seems like there’s always something new and irresistible and I seldom end up going to “the pile”. I guess I’m sort of ADHD when it comes to reading for pleasure.

Lately I’m obsessed with gritty contemporary mysteries set in the British Isles. I could never write stories like these. I don’t have a good feel for contemporary dialogue and as an American, I certainly couldn’t pull off the slang or the authentic local details that make these books so intriguing to me. For the most part, I avoid portraying much violence in my own stories (they are romances, after all), while these mysteries are full of dark and disturbing scenes. They also don’t have “happily ever after” endings. Indeed, sometimes the endings are downright grim.

I suspect that my preference for reading books that are nothing like what I write is a little weird. When I read interviews with writers and they discuss their reading habits, they may mention stories that are a bit different than what they write, but not usually the complete opposite. I’ve tried to analyze why my tastes are this way. Maybe it’s because when I’m writing, I’m living in that world on a much more intense level than when I’m reading. When I’m writing as a character, I really am that character, and I don’t want them to endure too much violence, pain or suffering because I don’t want to experience it myself on that intense level.

It’s one thing to be exposed to darkness and evil vicariously. Another to feel like you’re actually living it. In the books I read, I identify and care about a lot of the characters, but I don’t become them the way I do my characters. I can read a gritty mystery and go on an exciting, vicarious ride. But I don’t envision my real self in that world.

I’ve heard other authors complain that writing fiction takes away from enjoying reading it. You become too critical of technical details, too aware of pacing flaws and places where the characterization is weak, etc. You stop reading as a reader and start reading like an editor. For the most part, I’m pretty forgiving and tolerant of these things. If I find the story compelling, I can ignore a lot of issues that might bug some of my writer friends.

At least when I’m reading non-romances. When I read a romance, it’s much harder for me to turn off the editor in my head. And even if I have no problems with the writing itself, it’s hard for me not to think about how I would write the story. That puts a distance between me and the story and makes it hard for me to really immerse myself in the book. More specifically, other authors’ fantasies are not my fantasies, and that is ultimately a very important component of the romance reading experience.

Despite all these things, I plan to keep trying to read more romance. After I get through the two mysteries and the historical novel I’m waiting to come in at the library, and that book I just ordered that sounds so interesting and well… you know the rest.

What about you other writers out there? Is there a big discrepancy between your reading and writing interests?

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Mary GillgannonMary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the dark ages, medieval and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at public library, where she she has the enviable task of purchasing adult fiction. She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing she enjoys gardening, traveling and reading, of course! For more about Mary, visit her website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook.

Well, doggone — no RMFW post today?

By Patricia Stoltey

I have an explanation.

See, I was going to do the Coming Events post today, but then I realized one of the classes I wanted to promote started last Monday. I moved the Events post back to Sunday, and that worked fine.

Except, of course, now there was nothing scheduled for today.

So I thought about it, did some other stuff, procrastinated, went for coffee with a friend, did a batch of critiques and attended my critique group’s meeting, enjoyed a massage appointment, and finally ended back up at my computer wondering if anyone would notice if we just skipped a day.

I couldn’t do it.

Here’s what you’ll find on the RMFW Blog:

Posts from regular contributors Mark Stevens, Mary Gillgannon, Julie Kazimer, Jeffe Kennedy, Lori DeBoer, Karen Duvall, Pam Nowak, Kerry Schafer, Susan Spann, Sean Curley, Katriena Knights, Liesa Malik (and starting in April, Tiffany Lawson Inman).

In March and April, we have scheduled guest authors Jan Weeks, Lucinda Stein, Ann Gordon, Julie Luek, Mario Acevedo, Mark and Kym Todd, and Aaron Michael Ritchey.

We’ll continue with a monthly RMFW Spotlight on board members and volunteers. Chris Devlin is our victim for April.

And from April through mid-August, we’ll be interviewing as many of the Colorado Gold agents, editors, and guest speakers as we can.

You can sign up to receive notice of our posts via email, or watch for the links on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPatricia Stoltey is the author of two amateur sleuth mysteries published by Five Star/Cengage in hardcover and Harlequin Worldwide mass market paperbacks. The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders are now available for Kindle and Nook. Five Star will also release her new standalone suspense novel Dead Wrong in November 2014. You can find Patricia hanging out at her own blog, on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

The Secret to Scoring a Tradtional Book Contract

By Shannon Baker

IMG_westernslopeI’ve got a new book coming out! This has been a dream of mine for a very long time. In fact, if the first novel I completed had been a baby, it would be able to drink in any state of the union now. If you’re here on the RMFW blog, it’s a pretty good bet you’ve got this dream, too.

This message is for everyone struggling to land a traditional publishing contract. I do know the world has turned and this isn’t the only road to publishing. I’m dabbling in indie publishing, too, which is a story for another day.

Congratulations! You’ve come to the right place and you’re doing exactly what you should be doing—along with writing every day. (Okay, I know successful writers who don’t actually write every day. But unless you know you are special, I’d recommend “touching the ball” every day.)

That other thing you should be doing? Getting informed and involved. You’re here reading about writing, learning what’s new, what people are publishing and reading, who the publishers are. That’s good. You need to understand your market and how it works. While remaining isolated and researching publishing might work for some people, I don’t think it’s enough for most of us.

There is no substitute for good writing and you must study your craft and practice it. I highly recommend peer critique. (Again, I know bestsellers—CJ Box, Joseph Finder—who never had critique partners. But most of us are regular folk and need help from our friends.)

There is something else you can do to get more involved. In my case this made a huge difference in my road to publication.

Volunteer.

Yeah, I know how it goes. We’re all busy. If you volunteer it takes time away from writing and improving your craft. That’s all very true.

Baker_Broken TrustI remember sitting at my first RMFW Colorado Gold conference watching this boisterous, supportive group of writers who had known each other for years. Most of them were published. One of the speakers gave full credit for her success to RMFW and pointed to a table of published writers, all of whom were volunteers in some aspect of RMFW. Every one of them.

But I lived in Nebraska. How could I volunteer from out of state? (Remember, this is before everything was online.) I kept returning and meeting more people every year but still felt like an outsider, shy and afraid to join in. Then my chance came. Someone suggested I volunteer to run the agent/editor pitch appointments. It was something I could do long distance. I jumped at the chance. The first year was a disaster. I didn’t notify the agents and editors of their schedule, assuming they knew they had appointments starting at 8 A.M. They didn’t. The next year was a little better. With the help of dedicated writer friends who volunteered beside me each year, we got better and better. I worked in that position for nine years. After that, I was registrar for three years, and now I serve as board treasurer.

Every single one of these positions has been purely selfish. In the truest Ayn Rand tradition, there is no altruism. I am not that good at meeting people. I am a terrible self-promoter. (For instance, I’ve had business cards printed for each of three books I’ve had published. I have never made it through handing out one box of 250.) But working with conference, I met so many people. While I got tongue-tied around the agents and editors, I felt comfortable joining groups of my writer friends and these Golden Guests would be part of the group. That made getting to know the professionals very easy. I even learned most of them are regular folks.

I didn’t parley volunteering into a book contract overnight. Some may argue volunteering had nothing to do with signing with Midnight Ink. I know otherwise. Because I’d met so many people through working at the agent/editor pitches and registration, I felt at home and comfortable at conference. I’d learned that editors and agents are real people. So when I had an opportunity to meet Midnight Ink editor, Terri Bischoff at conference, I didn’t pitch her my book. We spent time getting to know each other.

Terri didn’t acquire my book because we’d made a connection at the conference. But she read it with a more open mind than she might have. She also was willing to take on a book that needed an extensive rewrite and I don’t think she’d have done that if she hadn’t met me first. Or, if I’d missed my opportunity to get to know her because I was too nervous to talk to her.

So here are my bullets on getting that traditional contract:

  •  Write every day
  •  Read a lot
  •  Learn all you can about the publishing industry
  •  Get involved
  •  VOLUNTEER (especially with RMFW)

Roll call: Who’s going to join us in Denver in September for the Colorado Gold conference? What a line-up! Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords and William Kent Krueger, the amazingly wonderful mystery writer. Also, loads of Golden Guests (agents and editors).

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Shannon Baker writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Broken Trust, due March 2014, takes place in Boulder, CO. Tainted Mountain, the first in the series is set in Flagstaff, AZ and is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist. She serves on the board of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is a member of SinC and MWA. Visit Shannon at her website.

About Broken Trust:  Nora moves to Boulder and lands a job as an accountant at an environmental non-profit. But the trust is rife with deceit and corruption. Nearly half a million dollars is missing and one person has already been killed for knowing too much. Complicating matters are Nora’s uninvited visitors: her mother, Cole Huntsman, and a Hopi kachina that technically doesn’t exist. As the body count climbs, Nora races to stop a deadly plot to decimate one of the planet’s greatest natural resources.

George Saunders on Writing

By Mark Stevens

George SaundersOne of the most highly-decorated writers of the last few years stopped by The Tattered Cover a couple weeks ago.

The man was George Saunders, who wrote the short-story collection Tenth of December.

Saunders has been showered in praise and critical acclaim. Shower? More like Niagara Falls. The list of awards and prizes is long. Seek elsewhere if you don’t know. It’s impressive.

I wasn’t there, but I listened to the podcast posted on “Authors on Tour.”

I listened three times.

Stwvens_Saunders_Tenth of DecemberThe stories in Tenth of December are stunning pieces. I reviewed it when it first came out. Put it this way: the guy is highly original. The stories have bite.

So what about his presentation? Pompous? Snooty? Professor know-it-all?

Hardly. He referenced Honey Boo-Boo as easily as William Faulkner.

I highly recommend listening to his rapid-fire, enthusiastic style of talking about his writing—and his way-cool reading from a portion of one of his short stories, “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” (a hilarious bit of whacky sci-fi).

Here’s a recap of a few of Saunders’ key points about writing.

(A brief comment first: holy smokes, this guy works hard, thinks hard. Tenacious.)

1. Listen to Yourself. “Follow your natural instincts—it’s all you’ve got,” he said. After some early efforts at writing fiction (“Joyce meets Hemingway meets Quaaludes”) and poetry (“scatological Dr. Seuss kinds of things”), one day his “so-called voice sort of appeared” and it was “kind of disappointing.” Nonetheless, it was his natural self. Saunders confessed to a former “medical affliction” called the “Hemingway boner.” “It was like this mountain, Hemingway mountain, I love you, I’m going up you.” After also failing on “Kerouac mountain,” Saunders finally realized there was a “little dung hill” and it had his name on it. The dung hill was his natural voice and he stuck with it.

2. Meaning Doesn’t Matter. “Maybe never,” says Saunders. “What you’re trying to do is get the thing to be energetic and the way you do that is baffling yourself someway.” Saunders added: “My end goal is to put you (the reader) through an invigorating and maybe confusing experience.”

3. Don’t Think in Categories. “You should do whatever you can do.” “Don’t lower the ceiling on yourself.”

4. Reader Intimacy Is Key. “By any means necessary, I’m trying to get the reader to lean in and have an intimate moment with me.” “Engage them first and move on.”

5. Rewrite and Rethink With No Attachment. “I take the story I printed out the day before and inch up to it and say, ‘Let me just read it with no attachment.’ If you are not too hung up on what you thought yesterday, you can see” (what needs work).

6. Dialogue As Plot is DOA. “Bad dialogue is when A asks a question and B answers it, because people don’t do that.” “Dialogue that fulfills plot function is dead on the page.” Dialogue should be two people “firing missiles past each other.” Well-written dialogue is “like poetry—it’s not functional but it looks good on the page and has a zinginess.”

7. Throw Trouble at Your Characters. Quoting Chekhov: “Every happy man should have someone with a little hammer at his door to knock and remind him that there are unhappy people, and that, however happy he may be, life will sooner or later show its claws.”

8. Make it Undeniable. When is a story done? “Everyone will tell you something different…it’s whatever works for you.” For his own needs, Saunders said it’s when every moment in the story “feels undeniable; it feels like what happened.” He worked on one story two months of every year for four or five years. “I have to be solid with it myself. I go to pretty obsessive lengths to make sure I like it.”

9. Writers Don’t Get to Stabilize. In most jobs, he said, we want to have mastery, not only in our jobs but in our life. And we want to coast. In art, you want to find the method but the method is always changing. For writers, “you’re on a cruise ship, your job is to juggle, the ship is sinking, it’s coated with ice and we’re in roller skates and we’re drunk. We don’t get to stabilize.”

10. Good Stories Don’t Choose Right or Wrong. Fresh-cut grass is good; falling off a bridge is bad. A writer doesn’t have to deny one or the other. “Part of the fun of a story is you can think one direction, life is miserable, and then put in the other valance and suddenly those two things are resonating and the reader looks to you and says, ‘well, which do you believe?’ And you say, ‘Excuse me, I have to go on to the next paragraph.’ To credit both is really fun.”

11. Milk Your Insecurity. “I feel like if I even let up for one sentence, you’ll go away….My stories are kind of manic because I don’t want to lose you.”

12. First Draft Doesn’t Matter. At one point in his life, Saunders thought “if your first draft is no good, it’s ‘Shit, I’ve got to go to law school.” Now it’s “you have an infinite right to go in there and tweak it forever…just keep coming back to it again and again; that’s the key to a healthy and long writing life.”

High standards? You bet.

But isn’t it magic when you’re reading and you are so deep down in the story that you forget your reading? That you question nothing? That you lose yourself?

It’s that “undeniable” bar I love. A mighty goal. It’s magic, yeah, but if the master doesn’t mind sharing a few secrets, I’m all ears.

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

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

RMFW Spotlight – Wendy Howard, Website Liaison

Introducing the wonderful board members and volunteers who do so much for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers is one of the missions of this blog. This month we shine the Spotlight on Wendy Howard who works behind the scenes to inform and educate writers at all levels, whether they belong to RMFW or not. Her job is neverending. Thanks, Wendy. We couldn’t have brought this blog online without you.

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wendy12131. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I do a number of things for RMFW, my main job being Website Liaison. I’m a long-time computer geek, and serving as Website Liaison gives me something fun to do when I need a break from writing and editing. If you have any questions or suggestions for the website, contact me at website_liaison@rmfw.org.

I’m also a member of the Publicity team. I prepare and distribute email communications twice a week to remind everyone about events, classes and such. If you have a new release or event to promote, email the details to communications@rmfw.org. Time permitting, I’ll include your announcement in an email.

And I recently set up our new RMFW Google+ community. I help run the page with other members of the Publicity team. Be sure to join us at https://plus.google.com/communities/104404222760779325232.

2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available? (Feel free to attach photos of book covers—platform opportunity time!)

My current work in progress is a re-work in progress. Heavy sigh! The first in The Courier series, Call for Obstruction won an award in 2009 and was published by a small press late 2011. Unfortunately, the publisher went out of business and returned my book shortly after it was published. Instead of being upset about losing a publishing contract, I decided to take advantage of the situation and restore the book to the short length I originally intended it to be. That meant cutting out 150 pages, one of the hardest editing task I’ve ever tackled. It’s almost done, and I’m hoping to self-publish it in April. My long-term goal is to find another agent and editor and do the traditional publishing thing with it again.

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?

Go on an archeological dig anywhere in South America, but if I do it, I’ll probably never come back to the U.S.

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

I’ve been a professional writer for over 25 years and I still struggle to call a work complete. I want to edit to perfection and there really is no such thing.

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

Developing a new story from an idea, especially inventing the characters and creating new worlds or planets. I also enjoy research and writing the first draft.

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

Don’t be in a hurry to publish. Learn the craft and be cautious with editors, publishers, and other writers. Over the last five years, I’ve worked with and managed small presses, and have moderated online networking communities for writers and filmmakers. While I’ve met some of the most amazing people, I can also tell you quite a few horror stories. Join a writer’s organization like RMFW. Being a part of a community is an important step to becoming a better writer and protecting yourself against predators in the publishing industry.

wendydesk7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it? (Include a picture of your work area, if possible)

I move around a lot while writing and editing, and work outside as much as I can during warm months. There’s just something about a change of scenery that stimulates my imagination. I do have an office and on my desk are my idols: Jesus and Abraham Lincoln. Whenever the going gets tough, I sit back and look to them for inspiration. And every now and then I rub the Laughing Buddha’s belly for a little luck.

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

I just finished Faith on the Rocks by fellow RMFW member Liesa Malik. I attend the Southwest Critique Group with Liesa when I can and sat in on a few critique sessions for Faith on the Rocks. I bought her book at conference last year and had her sign it. I really enjoyed the read, probably more so for knowing a little about the blood sweat and tears Liesa put into her baby.

I’m also reading Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger by Jeff Wise. A very interesting read, and one I’d suggest any writer read. Halfway through the book I’ve learned better ways to torture characters and describe their panicked reactions.

You can also find me on my website, @by_wjhoward, Google+, and sometimes on Facebook.