Category Archives: RMFW Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pat:  That works! I laughed.

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

How to find all those Colorado Gold agent/editor/speaker interviews

Our regular blog contributors and guests have been busy interviewing the agents, editors, and speakers who will attend the Colorado Gold Conference in Westminster September 5-7.

We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for you to find and read those interviews. On the day they post, we put the link on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Facebook page and the RMFW Google+ page. The link usually gets tweeted a couple of times as well.

On the home page of the RMFW website, there’s a link to the interview list. The link is called 2014 Conference Guest Interviews. That link takes you to a concise list of the published posts with an individual link to each.

Additional interviews scheduled so far include Elizabeth Copps on Tuesday, July 15th. We’ll have more on the schedule soon.

Meanwhile, you can go to the 2014 Conference Guest Interview page to view the ten interviews published so far.

Look Who is Coming to Colorado Gold: A Conversation with Agent Sue Brower

By Kerry Schafer

Last month I had the privilege of posting an interview with Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency. Today, I’d like you to meet Sue Brower, another fabulous agent, who works with the Natasha Kern Agency.

suebrowerSue Brower loves finding and developing authors and connecting them with the reader. Book publishing has changed dramatically over the past several years and it’s no secret that the novels that create buzz through their unique writing or concepts are the ones that become bestsellers. Over the past 25 years in publishing, Sue has done marketing, editing, story development and acquisitions for Zondervan, a division of Harper Collins Publishers. Most recently, she was Executive Editor and had the privilege of working with New York Times bestselling authors Karen Kingsbury, Tim LaHaye, Stephen Carter, and Terri Blackstock and was named ACFW’s Editor of the Year in 2010. And now she is fortunate to partner with Natasha Kern at the Natasha Kern Literary Agency. Sue’s been an avid fiction fan since childhood and loves the way stories are able to change lives, heal hearts, and bring joy to readers. Today, she wants to read and acquire women’s contemporary fiction, any kind of romance, suspense, mystery and historical novels. She would love to discover the next breakaway author in any of these genres.

Kerry: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Sue. I’m looking forward to meeting you in Colorado! But first things first. Your bio tells us that you are interested in acquiring women’s contemporary fiction, and also romance, suspense, mystery, and historical novels. Could you tell us a little bit more about what gets you excited?

Sue: I like stories with strong characterization and a well-paced plot.  One of my favorite quotes about writing comes from John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction: “…fiction does its work by creating a dream in the reader’s mind.” I want to be so engrossed in the story that I am disoriented when I close the book. I do not acquire based solely on genre because publisher and consumer trends change so quickly.  But give me a well written book and I think I can pitch it anywhere, anytime.

Kerry: What was the last book you read for pleasure and what did you love (or not) about it?

Sue: I have been on an odyssey the last six months or so to read beyond my normal  favorites. Unfortunately, that left a lot of books unfinished. Probably the most memorable book I’ve read recently is Reconstructing Amelia.  It was a little dark and had some themes that put me off, but it was compelling and I still remember many of the characters.  The best book I’ve read that feeds my love of romantic fiction was Julianne Donaldson’s Blackmoore.  I loved that it drew me into an era that I read a lot about, yet this felt new and refreshing.

Kerry: Now that I have a couple of new books to add to my towering To Be Read pile, could you talk a bit about how you view the author/agent relationship? This seems to be a hot topic for writers these days.

Sue: I view the author/agent relationship as a partnership.  As a former editor and marketer, I tend to be very opinionated, so the writer needs to be open to input on their writing, where they should be spending their time, and how they should brand themselves. Notice I said “input.” I want to be available to help an author to succeed at building a writing career.

Kerry: I think that input is one of the things that makes an agent so important to a writer. Things have changed a lot in publishing over the last few years, and it gets overwhelming trying to figure out where to spend your time. Another question writers often have involves what you see as your role in publishing, and how do you help your clients navigate the slippery territory spawned by Amazon and self publishing?

Sue: I see my role as coach, career counselor, advocate, listening post, and biggest fan.  Editors today do not have time to acquire projects that just have potential. The editorial staff has more and more to do and there are fewer of them doing it. It’s my job to make sure that what I send out truly represents the writer’s best abilities.  With regards to the various ways that a writer can be published, I think we, as agents, should be aware of the pitfalls of self-publishing and coach the writer to make the best choices for their career goals.

Kerry: I see that your agency is closed to unsolicited manuscripts—do you have any advice as to how a querying author could still get your attention?

Sue: There are a number of ways that a writer can get their manuscript in front of me.  The best ways are through referrals from current client authors and through conferences.  I would also say that if you respond to a blog or online class that I am a part of, I would be open to talking with you about your manuscript.

Kerry: Could you tell us a little about what happens when writers pitch to you at a conference?

Sue: When a writer pitches to me at a conference, they need to have a completed manuscript ready to be reviewed.  I want the writer to tell me what their story is about and anything about their research or background that supports why their book is fresh or unique. I will look at a one-page, but I want to hear the writer to engage in conversation with me. If I am interested, I will ask for a proposal, synopsis, and three sample chapters to be emailed to me. If that looks good, I will ask for a full manuscript. Writing conferences are a great way to reach your preferred agent or editor since most will not accept unsolicited manuscripts.  I would absolutely ask for anything that interests me.

Kerry: If you are considering a project that doesn’t immediately shout “pick me pick me” – what tips the balance toward acceptance?

Sue: I don’t usually consider projects that don’t shout “pick me up.” I have too much to read and too many queries to follow up on.  The things that tip the balance for me are usually in the writing. If I am intrigued by a project, but the writing isn’t quite there, I will look for possibilities. Are they willing to revise? How much work will it take to get it ready for the publisher? If I am interested in an author, I usually want to have a phone chat before making an offer. If I see that they are not open to constructive criticism, or are reluctant to do the work, I will pass on the project.  Also, if there is just too much work that needs to be done, I will have to put it aside. I usually make a few recommendations including finding a critique group or editor and I offer to look at it one more time.

Kerry: Are you open to authors pitching their books to you if they see you out and about in the hallways or the bar?

Sue: No. The worse pitch I ever received happened when I was leaving a dinner on the last day of a conference and I was obviously worn out and sick with a cold, but the writer wouldn’t let me politely decline a conversation. It’s never good to approach an agent when they are heading to a meeting or relaxing with colleagues after a long day. It’s absolutely forbidden to approach them in a restroom!

Kerry: I’ve heard horror stories. Personally, I can’t imagine the desperation that would drive a writer to the bathroom pitch, but I know it happens. Would you prefer writers keep to the boundaries of scheduled pitch sessions entirely?

Sue: I think that depends on who the agent is.  If I am sitting in a common area (lobby, for instance) and not already talking to someone, I am open to a writer starting a conversation.

Kerry: Last and most importantly, what is your beverage of choice? Just in case we do find you hanging out in the bar and would like to show our appreciation for spending time with us at Colorado Gold.

Sue: My favorite drink is Diet Coke. I am particularly open to this approach when the venue is Pepsi only!

Kerry: Excellent. I’m a Coke fan myself, so if the venue happens to be misguided I will try to snag you a drink from somewhere. Thank you again for taking the time to answer my many questions.

Interview with Jessica Renheim, Associate Editor of Dutton/Penguin Group

Interview originally published at Chiseled in Rock blog by Dave Jackson on June 4, 2014.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers is pleased to welcome Jessica Renheim to the Colorado Gold Conference September 5th through the 7th.

jessicarenheimJess joined Dutton in 2007 and has been there ever since. She edits both fiction and nonfiction at Dutton, including speculative and paranormal fiction, mystery/crime, thrillers, narrative nonfiction, and memoir. Among the bestselling and critically acclaimed writers she has worked with are the #1 New York Times bestselling authors Richelle Mead and Kelley Armstrong, as well as New York Times bestselling and award-winning writers Mark Adams, Dan Savage, Stephen White, Meg Gardiner, Brian D’Amato, Jennifer Lee Carrell, Raymond Khoury, and David Rich.

We are particularly pleased to interview Jessica because she apparently makes rare appearances on blogs!

CIR: How important is it for an author to be flexible with edits? By the way, I’m so flexible my leg is curled around my head as I write this.

JR: Flexibility with edits is always very welcome, but ultimately it’s the author’s book so he/she is going have the final say on most things. The editor’s primary job is to provide guidance where we think it’s needed. Is a certain character feeling too one-dimensional or predictable? Is it too easy to guess the mystery at the heart of the novel? Or is there some inconsistency between the start of the story and the climactic showdown at the end? These are the kind of editorial questions and concerns that may need to be addressed to make the book better, and I’ve been very fortunate to work with talented writers who can step back from their work and assess what’s clicking and what needs to be reconsidered.

CIR: In just the past few years the major publishing houses have become very active with electronic publishing. Can and or will this open the door for more experimental stories to be published in New York from unknown authors since costs can be saved on printing?

JR: I think so. There are quite a few digital original or digital only imprints publishing new authors across different genres these days. One recent example is Tor.com announcing the launch of a new imprint devoted to publishing original novellas, shorter novels and serializations. This seems like a natural area of growth for science fiction and fantasy, and a great way for aspiring writers to get stories published that wouldn’t have been the right fit for more traditional formats due to length or other considerations.

CIR: Have you had the chance to meet any celebrities and if so, who was the coolest?

JR: Dutton publishes the occasional celebrity book, but I have yet to work on one. There have been few brief encounters. Nick Offerman has come by our office to work with his editor. John Hodgman gathered a sizeable group of his (well-known) friend to shoot a scene for his book trailer at the office once. If you watch the trailer here http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/4cc168ca62/that-is-all it’s the scene in the conference room. I also worked on It Gets Better and American Savage with Dan Savage, who is so lovely and down to earth that I sometimes forget he’s a celebrity.

CIR: Did you always know that you wanted to be in the publishing business, an editor?

JR: I think by senior year of college I realized that I wanted to pursue a job in book publishing. I was lucky enough to attend the Columbia Publishing Course, which not only led directly to my job at Dutton, but also helped me to decide that becoming an editor would be the best fit for me. It’s incredibly fun and rewarding to work with an author through the entire process, from acquisition to well after his/her book hits stores and online retailers.

CIR: Because we strive to be unique, I must ask a bizarre question. How do you think Charles Dickens would have felt about E publishing?

JR: Well, Dickens was a prolific writer whose novels were mostly published in monthly or weekly installments, a format that allowed him to evaluate his audience’s reaction and use that feedback to shape his stories. Serializing his novels also made them cheaper and more accessible, so my guess is that Dickens would have loved the greater flexibility and access digital publishing affords to readers.

CIR: I have to ask this one because many friends and I have experienced it a couple of times. If an editor had very encouraging things to say about a manuscript, but rejected it stating that it would be better as a…we’ll say a YA, or any number of other succinct suggestions…and the author revamps it as such, do you think the writer is out of bounds to try a resubmission?

JR: It’s a good question. I think if an editor feels strongly enough about a manuscript to provide very encouraging and specific feedback before ultimately rejecting it, then it’s fair game to resubmit the manuscript if it’s been substantially reworded. There’s always an exception to the rule, of course, but in general editors are looking to fall in love with a project and champion it. As long as you’re not submitting a newly revised YA novel to Dutton—where we only do adult books—chances are the editor will take another look!

Thanks Jessica!

We look forward to seeing you at the Gold!

Interview conducted by Gusto Dave

RMFW Spotlight on Susan Brooks, Colorado Gold Conference Chair

Susan BrooksSusan Brooks has been conference chair since 2011.  She is Editor-in-Chief of YA and Children’s Divisions of a traditional publisher and has an MA in Publishing from George Washington University.

Registration for the Colorado Gold Conference opened on May 1st. The conference is scheduled for September 5-7 at the Westin in Westminster, Colorado.

1. Susan, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I am the current conference chair, which means that I organize Colorado Gold. RMFW is such a wonderful organization and I love the mission of helping people learn. My biggest goal as conference chair is that each conference is better than the last one.

I initially got involved with RMFW in 2008. I had taken a long break from writing and after some life changes I wanted to write again. I knew I needed a critique group because I hadn’t written in such a long time. I searched online and found RMFW. I learned about the free monthly programs and I went to a few those. I met wonderful people at each event. One of them asked if I wanted to volunteer and do hospitality for the monthly workshops. I agreed, and once I started doing hospitality, it was a slippery slope. Pamela Nowak reeled me in to replace her as conference chair in 2011.

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

My current WIP is a paranormal romance and I am working on my second draft. I have been published for other writings, but no novels as of yet. I blog at http://susanbrooks.wordpress.com/ and I occasionally tweet as @oosuzieq.

3. We’ve all heard of bucket lists — you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish– what’s one of yours?

I really love helping other people solve problems, especially with stories. I think it is hard for us as writers to see our own plot or character problems. We all need another set of eyes to see what we are blind to. That is why I like editing so much. I really want everyone to be successful and am sometimes surprised by really good stories that get rejected. So one of the bucket list projects is to start a traditional publishing company. I want to publish stories that I really like!

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

My Achilles heel is that I am a pantser by nature. I love the creative process of just sitting down to write something and exploring my characters, and finding out what happens with them on the page. It suits my recursive brain to write this way. When one of my characters says something I didn’t anticipate for example, I love being surprised by that. But, the problem with being a pantser, and an ADD pantser whose brain naturally runs in tangents, is that I have spent a great amount of time writing pages of my particular story that do not actually have anything to do with my intended plot. These tangents are fun, but they don’t get me to the end. And when you have ADD it is most important to be focused.

Over the years I have learned that I must create an outline so that I can get to the end. I don’t outline every detail and I am still happily surprised by some things that happen on the page, but I know what has to happen in the chapter I am working on so that I can get to the next chapter, and get to the end. This means I have become a plotter by necessity. I absolutely must have the structure. It’s funny because I have set up a rather intensive structure in other areas of my life, such as project management tasks for the conference. It just took me a while to figure out that I needed structure for my writing too.

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

I love the element of discovery. I love when I am writing, based upon my outlines now, and something happens on the page that I did not intend. It’s magical and surprising and it excites me and sometimes frustrates me because I have to revise my outline to make it work. Sometimes I can’t make it work and I have to edit it out. But, discovering that creative spark is my favorite thing. The rest of the process is not my favorite. It is work and I have to settle down and focus in order to do it.

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

I would definitely talk myself into outlining from the start. The thing about the outline is that you can change it if something magical happens on the page which you didn’t intend. Just tweak the outline so that everything gets resolved. With an outline you still know what you need to write in the next chapter which is imperative to move forward as a writer. Outline, little Suzie! Outline.

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

Well, I have two desks actually. And I write at both of them. I also write at the kitchen table, and at the coffee table in the living room. I write with a lap desk on the chaise lounge with the cat, and occasionally in a coffee shop or a bar. I don’t have one particular place, which is probably an ADD thing. I aspire to have a regular place, and a regular writing time, and a regular routine, but I don’t. Over the years I have just come to accept this about myself.

The most important thing is not the location, but my ability to focus. I actually found an audio recording that induces brain wave patterns for focus and that has been the most helpful. The recording is saved on my laptop so I just plug in the headphones and go to work in whatever places seems best at the time. The recording is that item that I must have. Otherwise, every little thing distracts me, from shiny objects to birds flying by. I also use the audio recording when editing, or working on conference tasks or doing other things that require more than 20 seconds in a row.

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

This is a funny question for me to answer. As I mentioned earlier, I am a tiny bit ADD. And part of my reading process is that I read multiple books at a time. It tends to take me awhile to get through them all, but I always remember where I left off and I don’t get the storylines confused. I don’t know how that works, but it is how I read. I am reading several books to learn new things, like Google Analytics, but I won’t list those here because they are boring and not at all fun.

At this moment, I am re-reading Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon. She is one of my favorite authors and has a new book coming out in this summer. I wanted to re-read the series from the beginning because it has been so long since I read them. I am also reading Hotel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. This is a series that I haven’t read since…I can’t remember when, She does some interesting things with character development. The main character is Saint Germain, a heroic vampire.

I am also reading The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazney. Zelazny is wonderfully creative with plot, and again, this is something I read long ago and wanted to read again. I am reading Bruce Lipton’s Biology of Belief. Lipton is a rogue cellular biologist. Science interests me, though it definitely is not my forte. I am also reading a few different books on mythology, which are perpetually in the book stack just because I love the topic. None of these books mentioned were in my “angst pile” which is that stack of books that I want to read but haven’t yet. Reading all the books in the angst pile might need to be listed above as a bucket list item!

Current and Upcoming Events with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Special Note: Time is running out.  The Colorado Gold Writing Contest for unpublished novelists will be accepting entries until June 1st. You’ll find all the rules and entry instructions (and the names of the final judges) on the contest page of the RMFW website.

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Upcoming Classes (for more information and registration, click on the class title):

Scenework: Writing the Robust Scene (Online Class)
Presented by Trai Cartwright
Monday, June 2 thru Sunday, June 15

Reading Aloud: Public Speaking for Writers (Free Program)
Presented by Chris Devlin & Aaron Ritchey
June 7, 2:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M.
Lakewood Arts Council, Lakewood, CO

RMFW Advanced Screenwriting
Presented by Trai Cartwright
June 15 thru August 3
3498 Elmsworth, Lobby Media Room,
Cherry Creek, CO

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Registration is Open for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference
September 5-7, 2014
The Westin, Westminster. Colorado
The schedule of workshops and master classes, the list of visiting agents, editors, and guest speakers, and registration information can be found on the conference page of the RMFW website.

Don’t forget that we’re interviewing as many of the agents, editors, and keynote speakers as we can before mid-August. You can find the a list of links to the published interviews on the Special Guest Interview Page.

Look Who’s Coming to the Colorado Gold Conference: Meet Bestselling Author William Kent Krueger

Interview by Susan Spann

New York Times Bestselling author William Kent Krueger is not only a talented author (and the winner of the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Novel), also a fabulous and approachable person. I’m looking forward to meeting him in person at this year’s Colorado Gold Conference, and after this interview, I’m sure the rest of you will be looking forward to it, too. Since his website leads with “Call me Kent,” I hope he’ll forgive us that liberty here as well:

Here’s a little more about Kent: 

WKKruegerRaised in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon, William Kent Krueger briefly attended Stanford University—before being kicked out for radical activities.  After that, he logged timber, worked construction, tried his hand at free-lance journalism, and eventually ended up researching child development at the University of Minnesota.  He currently makes his living as a full-time author.  He’s been married for over 35 years to a marvelous woman who is an attorney.  He makes his home in St. Paul, a city he dearly loves.

Krueger writes a mystery series set in the north woods of Minnesota.  His protagonist is Cork O’Connor, the former sheriff of Tamarack County and a man of mixed heritage—part Irish and part Ojibwe.  His work has received a number of awards, including the Minnesota Book Award, the Loft-McKnight Fiction Award, the Anthony Award, the Barry Award, and the Friends of American Writers Prize. Northwest Angle (2011) and Trickster’s Point (2012) were New York Times bestsellers. 

A stand-alone novel, Ordinary Grace, was released in March 2013 and also became a New York Times bestseller. The thirteenth book in the Cork O’Connor series, Tamarack County, is scheduled for release in August 2013.

And now, let’s get to know even more about this very special guest:

Susan Spann: How and where did you come up with the idea for your first novel?

Kent Krueger: Iron Lake, the first novel in my Cork O’Connor series, was an evolutionary process. I began with the seed of an idea for a character. All I knew about him at first was that he was the kind of guy who was so resilient that no matter how far life pushed him down, he would always bob back to the surface. His name would be Cork. My next decision was to set the work in the great Northwoods of Minnesota. Then, because I was a great fan of Tony Hillerman, I decided that I would include the Ojibwe culture as an element. And my final decision—probably because of Hillerman—was that it would be a mystery.

What I’ve described sounds very linear, but in truth, it was all a jumble that I was sorting out as I thought everything through. I’d been trying to write the Great American Novel for years, and was sick of it. I wanted to write something that would appeal to a broad range of readership, and when I really took a look at what people were reading, I saw mystery novels everywhere. I thought it might be a refreshing change, so I altered my literary course and found a direction that proved satisfying to me on so many levels.

SS: I understand that you prefer to write in a coffee shop. Do you ever write anywhere else? And how does the coffee shop environment create an inspiring and positive influence on your creative process?

Kent Krueger: I began writing in coffee shops for a very practical reason. My wife was in law school, we had very young children, and I was the sole support of our household. When I came home at the end of a work day, I had no time or energy to write. But I knew that if I wanted to develop my art, I needed to find a way to do that on a regular basis and still meet my responsibilities to my family. I took a lesson from Hemingway, who loved to rise at first light and write. He felt it was the most creative time of the day. We lived a couple of blocks from a coffee shop that opened its doors at six a.m. So there I was every morning with notebook and pen in hand waiting for them to unlock. I’d sit down, they’d pour me coffee, I’d open my notebook, and for the next hour, I’d bend to the writing.

I find now that if I try to write at home, the environment is too quiet. I hear everything—the furnace cycling on and off, the dishes crying from the sink to be washed. The phone rings or someone knocks at the door, and I’m required to answer. At the coffee shop, I have no responsibilities except to my writing. In its odd way, it’s a very liberating environment.

SS: If you could return to the beginning of your writing career, knowing everything you’ve learned along the way, would you do something differently? Why or why not?

Kent Krueger: I would give up trying to write the Great American Novel a lot sooner. Now, there’s an aspiration that I’m sure has done in its share of fine young writers.

In terms of my career as a genre author, I can’t think of anything that I might choose to do differently. It’s been a pretty good ride. I’m proud of my body of work. I have a great readership. I enjoy a strong relationship with my publisher and editor and all the folks at Atria Books. I love my agent. I make a decent living. And when I do book events, lots of people gather to tell me they like my work. What could be better?

SS: What inspired you to write mystery novels? What do you like most about the genre?

Kent Krueger: I turned to mystery writing during a mid-life crisis. At the age of eighteen, I’d fallen in love with Hemingway, both his Nobel prize-winning prose and his mythic image. I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway. I tried for way too long to write a novel as he might have written it, which was stupid on so many levels I won’t even go there. In my early forties, I decided it was time to write something else, something someone might actually enjoy reading. I looked around, and what I discovered was that people everywhere, in all circumstances and at all social, economic, and educational levels, enjoyed mysteries.

What I realized when I read and then began to write mysteries was that there is a structure to the story that is simple yet sturdy, and most importantly, flexible. Mysteries begin with something happening. Usually this a crime, often a murder. Investigation follows. And answers are found. That’s it. Simple, right? A structure anyone can use. But its real appeal, I believe, is its flexibility. Within that simple structure, a writer is free to do anything he or she may want to do. Historians write historical mysteries. Funny people write humorous mysteries. And someone who wants to talk about important issues—social, philosophical, spiritual—can do just that within the loose framework of a good, compelling mystery. The reach of the crime genre is so broad that it can embrace any interest that a reader or writer might have. I think of it as a very egalitarian form of prose. There’s a reason it’s called “popular fiction.”

SS: Could you tell us a little about your personal editing process? What happens after you finish the first draft of a new manuscript?

Kent Krueger: I write the first draft rather slowly. Usually I’ve thought the story through significantly, so I know the basic plot. What I focus on in the actual writing are the narrative elements: language, setting, character development, themes, atmosphere. When I’ve completed the first draft, the revision tends to be rather brief (because I hate revising!)

My agent, who is wonderful, always critiques my manuscript before I send it to my publisher. She—and a few of her selected colleagues—read the manuscript and offer me feedback. I revise based on their suggestions, then it goes to my editor. She also has suggestions. As does the copyeditor. (I never feel more stupid than when I look over the copyedited manuscript and see all my errors.)

SS: Of all the novels you have written (published or unpublished), which one is your favorite and why?

Kent Krueger: Ordinary Grace, which is not a part of my series, is my personal favorite. I tapped the deep roots of my own experience for this novel, and that allowed me to speak significantly about issues that have been important to me all my life. When you’re the author of a popular series, it’s risky to write something different. Readers may not be willing to follow you to a new place. But the story of Ordinary Grace, when it finally crystallized for me, was so compelling that I had to write it. I didn’t know if my publisher would be interested. And even if it was published, I had no idea if anyone would buy it. But the reception—the sales, the awards, the personal response from readers—has been so gratifying.

*A Note from Susan: Ordinary Grace, the novel mentioned above, just won the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Novel. On behalf of myself, and RMFW, I’d like to offer special congratulations on the award - it’s a wonderful thing when a novel that’s so special to the author receives such fabulous recognition! 

And now, the speed round:

SS: Coffee, tea, or bourbon?

Kent Krueger: Oh, coffee, coffee, and more coffee.

SS: Outlines or no outlines?

Kent Krueger: Outlines, usually, though not for Ordinary Grace.

SS: Cats, dogs, or reptiles?

Kent Krueger: None. I travel too much.

SS: What was the last book you read purely for enjoyment?

Kent Krueger: I reread, for the umpteenth time, Harper Lee’s masterful To Kill A Mockingbird.

SS:  Thank you for joining us here on the RMFW blog. We’re honored, and excited, to welcome you to Colorado Gold this September! 

Looking Who is Coming to the Colorado Gold Conference: Meet Super Agent Lucienne Diver

Interview by Kerry Schafer

luciennediverMeet Lucienne Diver, agent extraordinaire at The Knight Agency. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her in person, and I’m here to tell you that besides being a highly successful agent, she’s also very lovely and approachable in person. Before we begin with the questions and answers, here’s her bio so you can start by already knowing all sorts of wonderful things about her.

Lucienne Diver joined The Knight Agency in 2008, after spending fifteen years with Spectrum Literary Agency in New York. Over the course of her dynamic career she has sold over seven hundred titles to every major publisher, and has built a client list of more than forty authors spanning the commercial fiction genres, primarily in the areas of fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery, and young adult fiction. Her authors have been honored with the RITA, National Readers’ Choice, Golden Heart, Romantic Times and Colorado Book Awards, and have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. Clients include such bestsellers as Rachel Caine, Chloe Neill, Faith Hunter, Susan Krinard, Rob Thurman and many others.

She’s also an author in her own right with her Vamped young adult series for Flux Books and the Latter-Day Olympians urban fantasy series for Samhain (Bad Blood, Crazy in the Blood, Rise of the Blood, and Battle for the Blood, which is forthcoming. Her short stories and essays have appeared in the Strip-Mauled and Fangs for the Mammaries anthologies (Baen Books), in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories (HarperTeen) and the anthology Kicking It (Roc Books). Further information is available on The Knight Agency website and her author site.

Kerry: Lucienne, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my gazillion questions! I know from experience that a lot of writers are nervous about talking to agents, and sometimes it feels like a hopeless proposition to ever find the right agent match. You have an impressive list of clients and I know you’re a very busy lady. So what are the really truly chances of a newbie author having the good fortune to sign with you?

Lucienne: I think I’ve signed at least one debut author every year I’ve been in the business—and that’s 21 years now! Some years I’ve signed more than one, of course. I don’t have a quota. It’s all about how much I love the work and how successful I’ll be in marketing it. My blog has a sampling up, since just last year I did a shout out to new voices, and I’ve sold at least one debut since then (but I have to wait for the ink to dry on that contract before I can do a big announcement…and it will be big!)

Kerry:  Very cool, and good news for debut authors looking for an agent. Just to clarify what you’re looking for, your bio says you’re primarily interested in commercial fiction in the areas of fantasy, science fiction, romance, mystery, and YA. Could you tell us what really gets you excited about these genres?

Lucienne: I love three things—psychology, suspense and the paranormal. The books I represent don’t have to have all three, but as the song goes, “Two out of three ain’t bad.” I love voice—truly unique characters dealing with real issues and feelings that are as authentic for the reader as for the person living the story. And that’s the important thing: the character should be living the story, not telling it to us. Readers want to live vicariously—travel the world, love, take risks, become action heroes, sacrifice ourselves or have someone sacrifice for us. In order to do that, we need to be swept along for the ride.

Kerry:  Just to clarify your taste a little more, what was the last book you read just for fun and loved?

Lucienne: In a way that’s two different questions. The last book I read for fun was THE KILLING WOODS by Lucy Christopher. It’s a wonderful, dark, intense, suspenseful novel. Loved, though…that’s a difficult thing to say here because I did live it, and I felt changed by the experience as the characters were. In some ways, it reminded me of THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt. I was impressed; I was absorbed. Time ceased to have meaning while I read it, but for love I might want a little more light with my dark. (Not to take away from the book in any way, shape or form.) Barry Lyga’s IN HUNT KILLERS is a perfect example of that—very dark, but with some comic relief to break things up from time to time. This is also something I love about Joshilyn Jackson’s work.

Kerry: So if a project catches your interest but doesn’t immediately shout “pick me, pick me” – what tips the balance toward acceptance? Away?

Lucienne: I find that if I’m on the fence, usually it’s best for me not to offer representation because I won’t be enthusiastic enough to keep on believing even when the rejections mount. I want to believe in something so wholeheartedly that I’m in abject disbelief when anyone doesn’t love a novel the way I do and I want to work three times as hard to sell the book and “show them.” What usually tips the balance for me is voice and the originality of it.

Kerry: You bring a special mix of experiences to agenting, being a professional writer as well. Do you think this makes for a different relationship between you and your clients? Does it create any special challenges?

Lucienne: Being a professional writer as well as an agent gives me special insight into the frustrations and feelings behind the process, which makes me better able to understand and plead my author’s cases to publishers. But since I’m the agent and not the author in the situation, I’m also able to take emotion out of the equation and shoot right to how best to present things to the publishers and to focus on the solutions rather than the problems. Challenges? The biggest challenge is finding the time to write. It’s so much easier to read or critique than to write. Some days it’s so much easier to do anything besides write. But it’s harder to give up the writing entirely. Any day I don’t write feels wasted, no matter what else I’ve accomplished.

Kerry: I asked the writer community on Twitter and Facebook what they would like to ask an agent, given the opportunity. There were a lot of questions about the shifting landscape in publishing and how agents fit in to that. What do you see as your role as an agent, what with Amazon and self publishing?

Lucienne: Wow, talk about an essay question! Luckily, I tackled it in a post just recently, so I’ve got the full answer here.

Kerry: What are your thoughts on the agent/client relationship? Is it a long term partnership or do you provide sort of menu of services?

Lucienne: Generally when an agent takes a client on, they’re doing it for that author’s career. It’s a long term partnership geared toward building the author’s brand, momentum, readership and all that good stuff. We do provide a variety of services, but it’s all toward the goal of boosting the author to success; it’s not a la carte.

Kerry: How do you feel about writers pitching you if they catch you in the bar or the hallway at the conference? Do you prefer that they stick to scheduled pitch times or are the random moments okay?

Lucienne: I love impromptu conversations. That said, I don’t love impromptu pitches. If you see an agent in a line or in the bar, striking up a conversation is a great thing. That’s part of why you’re there —to network, to learn. Often the agent will ask, “What do you write?” which is an invitation for you to do a short (elevator) pitch. But without the invitation, it probably means the pro has been pitch overloaded and you’re best keeping the conversation more casual.

Kerry: Last and possibly most important question: If we do catch you in the bar, what will you probably be drinking?

Lucienne: Oh, that depends on my mood. Wine, rum and diet coke, margarita, sometimes whiskey or bourbon… Not all at once, of course!

Kerry:  Thanks again for taking the time to chat! I’m looking forward to seeing you again in Colorado!

Growth

by Pamela Nowak

The other day, I began working on my presentation for two upcoming conferences and a thought slammed through me. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have even imagined myself in such a position.

Ten years ago, I wasn’t published. I had—finally—placed in and won a few contests after years of attending critique group, entering again and again, and plugging away at rewrites. At that stage, I was “getting close” and my critique partners were telling me I would sign a contract “any day now.” Still, I hadn’t crossed that threshold. I didn’t think I’d learned enough, and I certainly didn’t think I had anything to share in front of conference attendees.

I remember my first conference…twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, I sat in awe of the presenters. And, here I am, preparing a presentation…my tenth one, I think. Growth is an amazing thing!

But growth doesn’t occur in a vacuum and it doesn’t occur without effort. It doesn’t happen because one calls oneself a writer for a few (or more than a few) years. It doesn’t appear because one claims membership in a few writing groups. And it doesn’t get bestowed upon us just because we tinker around with writing and call ourselves writers.

Growth happens when we practice our craft, when we put our work out there and allow others to give us feedback. It occurs when we listen to critique and learn from it. We grow when we read books and observe what others are doing. We stretch ourselves each time we attend a conference or a workshop or class with the attitude that we will gain something from it. There is always a technique or tool that is new, another layer, a unique way of seeing an element of craft if we open our minds to seeing. We need only recognize that our work always needs improving and look for ways to make our writing better.

I find, even in preparing for the workshop, that I am growing. Each element I prepare to share with others leads to more growth of my own writing. As I glean examples to share with attendees in my session, I realize there are techniques I need to apply more often to my own writing.

And as I recognize that, I renew a promise to myself. This year, in all I do and in every conference I attend, I will look for ways to grow and things to learn. Whether it be in socializing with old friends, interacting with attendees as a presenter, or seeking new knowledge while sitting in the audience at a workshop, I will open myself to learning all I can and growing further.

Join me?

An Interview with Terri Bischoff, Midnight Ink Acquisitions Editor … by Linda Joffe Hull

Linda Hull_Terri BischoffTerri Bischoff  (@TerriBischoff), is not only my editor and close friend, but a perennial favorite at our annual Colorado Gold Conference. She joined Midnight Ink as an Acquiring Editor in October 2009. She leads all editorial directions and creates the seasonal lists. She has dramatically increased the number of titles per season, publishing 36-38 titles per year, as well as expanded the type of crime fiction Midnight Ink now publishes. Before signing on at Midnight Ink, she worked at Kramer Books in Washington, DC, and owned Booked For Murder Mystery Bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin. Several other Colorado authors have books coming out by Midnight Ink, including Mark Stevens, Shannon Baker Maggie Sefton, and Laura DiSilverio. Terri is looking forward to hearing pitches from potential new voices this September.

Welcome to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog, Terri. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

1. Midnight Ink is known for publishing cozies, but I’ve noticed the list is diversifying with some really interesting upcoming titles. What else are you looking for these days and how many books per year are you acquiring in each sub-genre?

I am looking for a good story that I fall in love with. The one where I have to stay late or take home over the weekend because I need to finish the manuscript. I tend toward books that have strong characters. I am currently pubbing books ranging from traditional cozy to serial killer dark.

2. As an acquiring editor, what plot and/or character do you never want to see again? What would you love to see in the next manuscript you read?

I don’t ever need to see another baby kidnapping/smuggling ring. What would I love to see? Hmmm… There are some holes in my line, for example, I don’t have a historical series or a police procedural. A female assassin would be cool. It really doesn’t matter, as long as I fall in love with the book.

3. What’s the best advice you can give to writers submitting their first novels?

To go through a critique or professional edit before submitting. I no longer have time to work on manuscripts. In the past I have done up to three rounds of revisions with an author before I put the book into production. I can’t do that now. The book needs to be solid from page one.

4. So you recommend that authors pay to have their manuscripts professionally edited before submitting?

I don’t think it’s mandatory, but the advice of a solid critique group or that of a professional editor can give you an advantage over other submissions, especially if you do not have an agent. At Midnight Ink, after I have acquired a manuscript, both the production editor and I make a list of revision requests. This is generally for content, but occasionally we will point out some copy edit issues. After the revisions are sent back in to me, I put the book into production, where the production editor will do line edits with the author. At other publishing houses, the acquiring editor does both the content and copy edit – but they also don’t acquire as many books as I do. But as I mentioned above, a polished ms will put you ahead in the submission process.

5. What is the easiest and hardest part about your job as an editor?

That is a hard question. The hardest is breaking up with an author. I don’t think there is a part of my job that is consistently easy. But the best part of my job is getting to know my authors.

6. How have changes in the world of publishing impacted your job in the last year?

To me it feels like the last year has been holding the status quo. Ebook sales have leveled out. The loss of Borders has been absorbed. Specific to my job, I do feel like I am getting a higher caliber of submissions. I have picked up a few more authors who have published with the big five (new series or stand alones.) But I am still committed to finding debut authors to balance out our line.

7. You’ve been to the RMFW conference a number of times. What keeps you coming back? (Besides your adoring authors, of course.)

The sense of community is amazing – it doesn’t matter if you have published 25 books or if you just started writing last week. The conference itself is very well run and informative.

8. What advice would you give authors who plan to pitch their novel to you at Colorado Gold?

Keep your presentation short, but include all the important info – if the ms is complete, word count, sub-genre, comparable authors. And give me the first five pages of your ms. That will tell me more than your presentation.

9. Conferences can be expensive and daunting, while querying agents and editors these days is really only a matter of sending off an email from the safety of your own home. How much of an advantage do you think there is for writers to attend conferences and meet and/or pitch you personally?

I am only taking unagented manuscripts from people who have pitched to me at a conference. Otherwise the only way for me to see it is if the author has an agent. Beyond that, I am more likely to take on a borderline project if I have met the author and feel good about the working relationship. And if I reject a manuscript, I may give the author feedback rather than a form rejection.

10. Are you coming into town early to allow extra time for some shopping and a mani-pedi with me while you’re here?

Maybe shopping, but no mani-pedi. I think I am still a bit traumatized from my first pedicure with you, thank you very much.

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

Linda Joffe Hull is the author of The Big Bang (Tyrus Books) and Eternally 21 (Midnight Ink) the first title in the Mrs. Frugalicious mystery series. Linda is a longtime member and former board member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and currently serves on the national board of Mystery Writers of America. She is the 2013 RMFW Writer of the Year. Her next mystery, Black Thursday, will be released in October 2014. To watch a recent interview with Linda please go to Off the Page on You Tube  or visit her website. You can also find her on Twitter.