Category Archives: RMFW Conference

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.

Look Who’s Coming to the Colorado Gold Conference: Peter Senftleben

I first met Peter Senftleben at the Colorado Gold Conference in 2010. After reading his bio, I joined the critique workshop where he and other writers gave feedback on 20 or so pages of my manuscript. The couple of hours I spent in that workshop changed my life.

Forever.

Peter ended up buying that manuscript, which became CURSES! A F***ed Up Fairy Tale, in a two-book deal less than a month later.

Surprisingly Peter still speaks to me, even after editing my last book.

Peter’s awesomeness as a editor is but one reason to love him. A few of the others include his taste in TV shows, romance novels, and humorous twitter feed (follow him at @gr8thepeter and find his full bio at the RMFW website).

And without further ado, here an interview with Peter the Great, Associate Editor at Kensington Books:

What genres are you actively looking for? Are there genres you would prefer not to read?
I’m looking for all types of fiction, but mostly every subgenre of romance (of all heat levels), cozy mysteries, thrillers, psychological suspense, upmarket horror, reading group-type fiction, Southern novels, and LGBT fiction. I’m not actively seeking urban fantasy at the moment (the market was flooded), and I don’t acquire westerns for Kensington. We also don’t publish science fiction or fantasy (with one exception), so I’m not really looking for those either. I also don’t have much interest in non-fiction or straight historical fiction (as opposed to historical romance or mystery).

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 can’t say there’s anything I categorically don’t want to see because even the most tired plot or clichéd character could be fresh with the right voice or twist. That being said, I tend to say no to terrorist plots, simply because I find them trite and often writers use an organization as a  faceless villain. I prefer my bad guys to be human, with realistic motivations, and something specific for the protagonist to target. Often this can be extended to drug lords and human trafficking as well. But, again, they’re all possible if the writer does it well and creates a three-dimensional, dynamic antagonist.
Whenever I start a new submission, I always look for one thing: the desire to keep reading. I recently read something while I was on vacation that I kept going back to as my “fun read” even though it was for work. That’s what I need in everything I read, because that’s what the readers will want to feel as well.

What’s the best advice you can give to writers submitting their first novels?
There are a few things, and if they follow me or other editors and agents on Twitter, they’ll probably learn them (as they will if they attend conferences like Colorado Gold). Above all else: follow submission guidelines; nothing will get your query deleted faster than not sending it the right way. Also, make sure your manuscript is complete and as polished as possible—some of us will overlook a few typos, but some won’t, and sloppiness is just too much work to correct when you’re up to your eyeballs in manuscripts. Third, be patient; your submission is one of hundreds, or even thousands for some agents.

 As a returning Colorado Gold editor/faculty member, besides seeing me of course, what are you looking forward to the most about attending the upcoming conference?
Besides seeing you? Are there other activities? :) There is the hospitality suite… Actually, seriously, my favorite part of Colorado Gold is the critique workshop. It’s great to get a taste of writers’ work and to be able to give them concrete feedback. (For me, at least; they might not like what I say!)

 And finally, what is your all-time favorite books/movies/tv shows?

I’ll start with the easiest, TV: Profiler (except the last season), The Facts of Life, Arrested Development (except the last season), The Mole (when Anderson Cooper hosted), The Comeback (the only season), Scooby-Doo (the originals), Designing Women, Golden Girls, The Twilight Zone, Parks and Recreation (except the first season), Scrubs (except the last season), and the sublime Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies. I’m probably forgetting something, so maybe that wasn’t the easiest.

Movies: Clue! Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion! The Goonies. Memento. FEDS starring Mary Gross and Rebecca DeMornay. I love actually-scary horror movies and stupid comedies, but not usually together.
Books: Too many to list, but everything I’ve worked on, of course. Also The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Dreamboy by Jim Grimsley.

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

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.

The Colorado Gold Contest for Unpublished Novelists

noimageYou’ve been working hard on your manuscript–writing, revising, self-editing, then rewriting after your critique group reviews your efforts. Now you have your first finished novel. What should you do next?

For over thirty years, the Colorado Gold contest for unpublished writers has given aspiring novelists the chance to get their work in front of an acquiring agent or editor while also providing feedback and encouragement for the craft of writing.

Writers enter the first 20 pages of a manuscript plus a 3 to 4 page synopsis in one of six categories. Two judges from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers will evaluate and score each entry. The top five submissions scoring 130 points or more in each category will make the finals and will then be judged by one of the agents or editors attending the Colorado Gold Conference.

One winner will be named in each category. Winners receive $100 and a certificate. The remaining finalists receive $30 and a certificate. Winners will be announced at the Colorado Gold Writers Conference awards banquet September 6th, 2014, at the Westin Hotel in Westminster, Colorado.

The 2014 Contest Categories are:

Action/Thriller
Mainstream
Mystery/Suspense
Romance
Speculative Fiction
Young Adult

The contest final judges have been announced. You’ll find those names on the website as well (the link is at the end of this post).

Contest Dates:

The contest is open now for submissions.
Closes June 1, 2014, 11:59 PM MST.

Entry Fee:

$30 per entry or $55 per entry to receive a critique from one of the first two judges.

By now, I’m sure you’re chomping at the bit to know how to enter. First you head over the RMFW Website and check out the Contest Page. That’s where you’ll find the links to the 2014 Official Rules and Entry Instructions.

Good luck!

J. Ellen Smith; Pioneer in Modern Times

By Liesa Malik

JEllenSmith“I’m so excited that people want to hear what I have to say,” said J. Ellen Smith, publisher and owner of the Champagne Book Group, as we talked together about our upcoming Colorado Gold conference and other writing thoughts.

Champagne Book Group publishes both electronically and in paperback formats, and Ellen will be coming from their offices in High River, near Calgary, Alberta to speak about the publishing process, meet new talented writers, and accept pitches at the Gold Pitch Sessions. She expressed a small concern, however, that writers use a professional attitude during the conference time.

“I’ve always prided myself on being approachable,” said Ellen, “but please treat us smaller publishers with the same courtesy as the large press. Don’t shove a book at me and demand that I read it.”

A few other signs that shout out “newbie writer” to Ellen include:

  • Submissions with a copyright symbol on them. “I don’t need to be told this work isn’t mine,” said Ellen. “Why copyright something that hasn’t even been edited yet?”
  • Interrupting. Getting interrupted, especially when Ellen and another editor are in conversation, is a real put-off. There are ways to find more appropriate opportunities during the few days we have together. She chuckled on this thought. “Once, at my very first conference, some woman followed me into the bathroom and kept shoving her manuscript under the door. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept shoving it back.”
  • Inebriation. “It’s a red flag to me when I see someone who has had a few too many.” Ellen says she understands that the conference is a celebration of writing and writers, but makes a point to remember that she’s out representing her business at these affairs, and wants to be prepared to conduct business with a clear head always.

Still, Ellen has sympathy for new authors and will be looking forward to meeting them. “As a guest, they like to work you to death at these conferences,” said Ellen, “but that’s okay. It’s an honor to be invited.”

She said if she sees 30 people in her pitch sessions, it’s likely she’ll ask for full reads from about five, sometimes a little more. Her role in these sessions is to help a person feel confident and get rid of their 3 x 5 cards. “‘Now,’ I say, ‘just tell me about your book.’ I want to see the passion of the author in the pitch.” She says that she knows the journey to publishing is difficult, having been a writer herself, and she’s anxious to find and encourage fresh new voices.

The path to publishing and publisher started for Ellen in her early school years, when she would write stories that she and a few friends would act out for others. “Skits and plays, really,” said Ellen. “As a little girl, I had a vivid imagination. My stories always had humor in them. It was fun to make our friends laugh.”

Later, Ellen became a nurse, but continued to write in her spare time. She had some success, but disappointment with contracts, quality of production, and publishing houses that were disappearing as fast as they went up, stole motivation from her.

One day at a coffee shop, Ellen’s friend, Penelope, said, “You’ve been complaining for years about this. Why don’t you get going and publish yourself?” They talked over the idea for a while, and Ellen continued to mull it over.

She found a small publisher in Calgary and apprenticed for a year with them, learning the ins and outs of the publishing business.

Finally, in December of 2004, with a website and $20 in the bank, Champagne Books started work. By April 2005, they were ready for a cyber-launch of their first four titles. “I totally believe in the old saying that you don’t run before you’re ready,” said Ellen. So, for six years, she kept working as a nurse as well as a publisher. The company grew and became a leader in e-book publishing.

Today, proudly loan and debt-free, Champagne Books has ten categories of e-book fiction posted and several more titles in printed form. The company believes that eBooks are the future of publishing, and Ellen and her team are ready to lead the way.

Interview With Literary Agent Margaret Bail

MargaretBail

Margaret Bail, Inklings Literary

I recently had the good fortune of chatting with literary agent Margaret Bail (@MKDB) of Inklings Literary. She’ll be one of the agents attending the 2014 Colorado Gold Conference.

KD: How and when did you become a literary agent?

MB: I’ve been an agent for a couple of years, now. I started out by doing an internship with an agency and when that was over, I signed on with another agency as a junior agent and started the learning process. I ended up at Inklings because I’d met Michelle and Jamie during my internship (they were interns too), and when they opened Inklings and Michelle invited me to join them, I jumped at the chance.

KD: What fiction genres are you looking for this year? Is there anything special you’d love to see?

MB: I’m always looking for romance in all subgenres except Christian/inspirational. I also like science fiction, fantasy (though I’m really picky about this genre), historical fiction, western, mystery, thriller.

I’d like to see a fresh take on cozy mystery; a time travel romance; a good epic fantasy that doesn’t include a dozen (or even half dozen) points of view, or names I can’t pronounce, or every mythical creature ever imagined, or magic (think Dark Tower, which admittedly has a few of those elements but is so awesome it doesn’t matter).

KD: Is it harder these days to place authors/novels with the larger publishers? How does the increase in smaller and/or regional publishers, especially those who also take unagented submissions, impact your job?

MB: I don’t know if it’s harder per se to place with larger publishers, but the increase in mid-sized and small publishers, especially digital-only presses, means that advances from larger publishers are lower, and often publishers will acquire to their digital imprint before or rather than print imprints because there’s less cost and risk involved. They can offer even lower advances, and in many cases no advance at all, for digital-only or digital-first acquisitions.

As far as my job is concerned, this means often I’ll receive offers for digital-only with no advance when what we really wanted was print. However, were it not for their digital imprint, the publisher may have rejected outright, so at least the digital imprint gets an author’s foot in the door and gets them a publishing credit.

I don’t think that publishers who take unagented submissions affect my job at all. Generally, those publishers have laxer guidelines (than the larger publishers) as far as the quality of the work they accept and publish, so often they end up taking work I would have rejected, so it saves me the time of going through those queries. I know that sounds insensitive, maybe even brutal, but that’s the truth of it for most agents.

KD: Has the increase in self-published books had an effect on your agency? If so, what?

MB: With regard to self-published books, publishing companies are wary about taking those on unless they’ve had phenomenal sales. Once something is published – even self-published – it’s ALREADY BEEN PUBLISHED, so a publisher doesn’t want it unless they can make oodles of cash off something that’s really taken off.

This affects our agency because authors don’t understand that publishing requires infinite patience. If you self-publish and your sales are bleak, or not what you expected, and then you go back to querying agents in hope of still going the traditional publishing route, you’re crippled yourself with the self-publishing. Most agents won’t touch a self-published book unless it’s had outstanding sales, which doesn’t happen often. I get many, many, many queries from authors who have self-published, but are still querying agents. I can’t sell those books, so I have to reject.

KD: What gets you excited in a query letter? What makes you hit the delete button?

MB: Excited:  Concise, well organized, outstanding voice, great story and characters.

Delete: If you don’t follow submission guidelines; if you attach information instead of pasting it into the email; if the query letter is long, rambling, incoherent; if you’re querying a genre I don’t represent; if you spend paragraphs tooting your own horn and then the writing is atrocious; an incomplete manuscript; work that isn’t fully edited and polished.

KD: Writers are often advised to have a web presence before even selling their first manuscript. Of the following web and social media opportunities, which do you consider most important for the debut author: a website, a blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads? Are there any others you recommend to your authors?

MB: “Platform” is more important for non-fiction than fiction, but a “presence” is always valuable. However, I don’t think that having an active web presence is absolutely necessary for fiction authors. I’ve sold authors who barely have any presence at all. In my opinion that whole presence thing is over-hyped for fiction. But that’s just my opinion. Other agents will likely tell you otherwise.

KD: How closely do you work with the authors you represent? Are you editorially involved, or do you prefer only to handle the business side of things?

MB: I work very closely with my authors. I tend to be laid back and casual, and end up developing great working relationships with my clients. Communication is very important to me.

As far as editing, I try to take on work that requires as little editing as possible because I just don’t have oodles of time to be an editor. It’s the author’s job to do all that before they query. That being said, I do a thorough developmental and copyedit for everything I take on. I probably do more than I should, actually, but the English professor in me just can’t help it.  And I have taken on a couple of projects that needed significant work, but were so outstanding I couldn’t turn them away. I try to stay away from those, though, because they’re so time consuming.

KD: If a manuscript piques your interest, what’s your next step? How often do you request revisions on a manuscript you want to represent? Do you offer representation before or after revisions are made?

MB: If something piques my interest and it needs very little editing, I’ll just offer representation. If it’s something I like but needs some work, I’ll ask for revisions. I don’t do that often, and if I do I wait to read the revisions before (and if) I offer representation. Just because an agent asks for a revision, doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get an offer to represent, though.

KD: When reading the beginning pages of a manuscript, what’s an immediate turn off? Consequently, what gets you excited about those first few pages?

MB: Immediate turn offs to me are:

1. Badly copyedited writing – word clutter, passive or incomplete sentences, grammar/spelling/punctuation issues.
2. Cliché openings like characters waking up, descriptions of weather, long exposition, back story, flashbacks, etc.
3. I really don’t like prologues and I don’t even read them. In pre-published work I’ve found that 99% of prologues are unnecessary.

Immediate turns offs don’t mean I stop reading immediately, but often they end up meaning rejections.

What gets me excited in first few pages:

1. Strong voice which is, admittedly, difficult to define.

2. Action with necessary exposition/back story woven in sparsely.

3. Clean, concise writing.

4. Clear setup of the story and characters.

KD: What are your thoughts on the current market for fantasy romance and paranormal romance? What areas of this genre do you think editors consider over done?

MB: Unfortunately both urban fantasy and paranormal romance are really glutted markets right now, and editors at big houses aren’t buying those genres as furiously as they were not so long ago. Stories in these genres now need to be very unique and stand out against everything else in the genre. Frankly, I’m sick to death of vampires and werewolves. I don’t know that anything new can be said about them anymore.

I think there’s still room in the market for both genres, but there’s got to be really unique angles and/or twists on it.

KD: What are your thoughts on New Adult? It’s very hot right now. Do you think it’s a fading trend like chick-lit was? 

MB: I think NA is definitely hot and on the upswing. It started out as what Michelle (my co-agent at Inklings) calls “college f**k fiction” meaning that it was just stories about college girls getting laid. But it’s developing into a genre similar to YA in that it’s all about people in this age group finding themselves, learning how to live in an adult world, and dealing with adult issues, and it’s spreading into all genres. Personally, I don’t like the college student stories, but I would like to see NA stories in any genre that deal with people that age. I don’t think it’s fading at all, and I don’t think it will.

In fact, I just talked to an editor not too long ago at St. Martins who said that although paranormal is kind of dying now, she sees NA paranormal as a growing market, which kind of ties both your questions together!

KD: How often do you communicate with your clients?

MB: Like I said earlier, I’m very laid back and often end up chatting with clients frequently either by email or social media.

KD: What do you do for fun when you’re not working? Any unusual hobbies?

MB: Not working? There are people who actually do that????

KD: What advice would you like to give authors who plan to pitch their novel to you at Colorado Gold?

MB: Relax.

Make sure the novel is complete and polished – then polish it some more. Get help if you need it, but not from your mom/brother/uncle/cousin/BFF.

Be sure it’s a genre I represent!

Relax some more – I’m a person just like you, and I write, too, so I know how you feel.

I hate the term “elevator pitch” but be able to describe the essence of your story in a few short sentences.

Relax and enjoy yourself!

Thanks so much, Margaret! We’re all very excited to see you at conference in September. Counting the days!

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Karen Duvall

Karen 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. She released a romantic suspense novel, Desert Guardian, that she published herself in June of 2013.

Look What You Missed….and What You Can Still Sign Up For!

If you thought you could wait until the last minute and then sign up for Trai Cartwright’s screenwriting class, too bad. That class filled up in a hurry.

There’s lots more going on with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, so peruse this list, follow the link if something looks interesting, and join others looking to learn and make contact (eye or virtual) with their fellow writers.

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First, there’s the online class that starts tomorrow. “Writing Meaningful and Memorable Sex Scenes” is presented by Katriena Knights. The two-week course starts Monday, March 3rd, and ends on Sunday, March 16th. Cost is $25 for members and $30 for non-members.

“There’s no question about it: sex sells, and the current romance market is thriving on more explicit content than ever before in the history of the genre. However, readers are discerning, and even the most daring content will fall flat if it isn’t integrated into the story on an emotional level and on a story level.”

Katriena’s class is not focused on romantic novel sex or erotica. It’s all about the right use of sex scenes in all genres. Don’t be shy. You know you want to put a sex scene in your next book. Learn how and when it’s appropriate and not gratuitous. For more information about the class, visit the RMFW website. And if you want to pass information and go straight to registration, you can do that too.

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2014 Conference Proposals Reminder: RMFW’s conference chair is accepting workshop proposals for the 2014 Colorado Gold Conference through March 31, 2014.

Go to the Conference page on the RMFW website for suggestions to help you make your workshop stand out and the link to the proposal form. If you have any questions, email Susan Brooks at conference@rmfw.org

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March Program free for members and non-members: “Think You’re Ready for the Colorado Gold [Writer's Contest]“?

Presented by Chris Devlin on Saturday, March 15, 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm at the Belmar Public Library, 555 S. Allison Parkway, Lakewood, CO 80226.

“Making the finals in RMFW’s annual Colorado Gold Writing Contest is a great way to get your work in front of agents and editors. Many past winners and finalists have gone on to have their books published. Finaling in the well-respected Colorado Gold is also a clear badge of honor to help market and promote your work. Don’t miss this opportunity to spend an afternoon with contest chair Chris Devlin. Come learn what makes a good entry great, what catches a judge’s eye, and how to avoid common mistakes.”

For more information, head on back to the RMFW website and check out this program page.

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If you live within snowshoeing distance of the Western Slope, RMFW has a program for you as well. Presented by Cindi Myers, this workshop is called “Agents: Myths vs. Reality.

This event is free for members and non-members on Saturday, March 15, 8:30 A.M. – 1:00 P.M. at the Grand Junction Business Incubator, 2591 Legacy Way, Grand Junction, Colorado. Please RSVP to Vicki Law at vruchhoeft@bresnan.net.

Expanded continental breakfast will be served at 8:30 A.M. and the workshop will begin at 9:00 A.M. and end approximately noon. From noon to 1:00 P.M. is networking, socializing and clean-up.

“Do you need an agent in order to get published? What will an agent do for you? What can’t an agent do? How do you find a good agent? Do you really need an agent in today’s publishing world? Award-winning author Cindi Myers discusses the myths and realities of dealing with agents, how to find the best agent, and how you can get published without an agent. In this frank discussion, Cindi will share her experience and that of other multi-published authors, and answer your questions about working with agents.”

For more information and directions to the event location, hop back on over to the RMFW website to that program page.

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becomeamember01If you aren’t convinced by now that you need to become a member of this fast-growing and extremely prestigious writers’ organization, which you can do by going here, then take a look at the upcoming retreat in Golden, Colorado March 16-21 (flexible day registration open until March 15th) and some of honored guests for the September 5-7 Colorado Gold Conference in Westminster, Colorado.

Members get a fantastic newsletter, opportunities to guest star on the RMFW blog, and more.

In The Aftermath of Colorado Gold

By Yvonne Montgomery  

One of the sessions I appreciated the most at this year’s Colorado Gold Conference was Christine Jorgensen’s Plotting Your Novel Using a Dynamic Grid.

My study has always been a forest of papers where the filing system is similar to an anthropological dig: one layer on top of another. The goal is to keep the important bits available to weave into the work. The longer it takes to write a novel, the easier it is to forget those cunning ideas that crop up at inconvenient times: twilight sleep, in the shower, as I’m cooking coq au vin. Every gem is scrawled onto a scrap of something and set aside to look at later—if I can find it. At times I’ve had more paper tacked onto the walls than piled on my desk. Always I’m haunted by the suspicion that my most brilliant ideas are somewhere in the debris.

Chris, author of the wonderful Stella the Stargazer series, and whose new suspense thriller, Missing, is coming out soon, is a voice of reason in a cluttered world. With two or three Styrofoam presentation boards, tape, and many colorful Post-it notes, she demonstrated a sane way to make plotting both three dimensional and coherent. Starting with the “Character Sheet for the Dynamic Grid,” filled out for the protagonist, the antagonist, and for important secondary characters, information about the inhabitants of the work is collected.

Major incidents or crises are compiled and noted on the Post-it notes. They, in turn, are stuck to the Dynamic Grid board, which has been divided into Acts 1, 2 and 3, with sub-headings for the vital plot elements. Character and plot information are put onto the Post-it notes, which can be moved around to suit your muse.

I have long entered plot and character information in notebooks, guaranteeing lots of flipping through pages to find needed information. First I have to find the right notebook.

Chris’s system offered a way I could see the plot elements as well as the characters interacting through them before and during the process of writing. I could take some of the clutter off my walls and, through judicious use of the character sheets, begin to tame the wild kingdom of papers scrawled with haphazard information and scattered throughout my house.

Eureka!

In the month since the conference, I’ve begun to make some progress toward organizing my writing process. It’s happening slowly, because I’m working to finish the second of the Wisdom Court books, a series of metaphysical thrillers set in Boulder. Since it’s a series, I’m using the principles of the Dynamic Grid with extra boards for the story arc that extends through the first three books as well as the plot elements specific to each book. A few of the characters are in two or three of the books, and others are introduced along the way. Putting information about them on a plot line I can see when I look up from the computer might take me out of contention as the slowest writer on the planet.

I’ve written fiction a long time, but I’m always learning something new. Thanks to Colorado Gold and people like Chris Jorgensen, who share their techniques for dealing with the issues that plague us writers, we members of RMFW can hone our craft and enjoy good company. Doesn’t get better than that.

[Chris’s handouts for Plotting Your Novel Using a Dynamic Grid are available on the RMFW website under the Conference setting.]

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Yvonne Montgomery is the author of two mysteries, Scavenger Hunt (aka Scavengers) and Obstacle Course, and co-author of Bridey’s Mountain, a Colorado saga, awarded the Top Hand Award from the Colorado Authors League for Best Book Length Fiction of 1993.

Yvonne lives in an old three-story house in Denver’s historic Capitol Hill. Its nooks and crannies and odd noises in the middle of the night have inspired her latest work, the Wisdom Court books. The first, Edge of the Shadow, will comes out as an e-book later in 2013. Her ebooks are widely available, including at Amazon, B&N Nook, iBooks.

 

Yvonne’s website is at Writer in the Garret,http://yvonnemontgomery.com/

Yvonne ‘s Facebook link: Yvonne Montgomery Ewegen

Twitter: Yvonne Montgomery Ewegen