Where to Begin: A Review of Sharon Mignerey’s Workshop … by Samantha Ross

The story is … off. There is something wrong with it, and you don't know exactly what it is. How do you fix it? Something went wrong somewhere. Not sure where. Or what is wrong. You’re stuck. It’s a huge tangle. How do you even start to fix it?

You start at the beginning.

Oh, wait. You tried that. That is where you’re stuck. The attempts to rewrite it, cut out parts, add parts, none of it worked. You made it leaner. Made it juicier. Tried this, tried that, and so many other things. And then you started to doubt the whole story. The whole thing is just one muddy mess.

Go back to the basics. And go to the beginning. Unmuddy the waters.

Sharon Mignerey reminded us of this at her Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers event “Sucked in from Page One - Beginnings.”

Where does your beginning begin?

You, the author have the story in your head, all jumbled in there, parts of it on paper, parts of it still floating around in the universe waiting for the ink. The backstory is done. We know her goal, motivation, conflicts, the obstacles she has to encounter and overcome, both external and deep within her. We know all these things about our story.

Here we are at Chapter One. We need to set the scene up, show the ordinary world so the reader can see the change. Start with the main character dreaming about apple pie, and the hidden meaning of home and safety? Do we add all the back story of her loving, yet somewhat dysfunctional family? It’s all going to change in a moment. Show her everyday life with all the things she has woken up to on past mornings, or all the things she wished she had woken up to, because what wakes her up today is a huge moment of change. The reader has to be aware of her stressful job, and why it is so stressful that she usually sleeps in on the weekends to recharge. That explains why being awake so early is odd today. And, of course, we want the reader to care about her. Show that she feels guilty about arguing with her best friend, how she is unsure of her relationship with her boyfriend; so when she has to team up with her coworker, it’s ok that the sparks fly.

This is where we start, right?


Jump to the problem with their day - the change. Why start there? Because that is where the trouble starts. It’s the inciting incident. That inciting incident is the moment that her life is different from what it normally is, or different from her expectations. It doesn't start with her dreaming, and then being woken up by a frog. You start with the frog dressed in a cowboy outfit sitting on her pillow aiming his shotgun at her forehead informing her in a slow drawl that she has to get up to save her coworker, George. Because if she doesn’t, George will come back as a werewolf, and eat everyone under the age of four on the next full moon.

That’s great you say, but why does the reader care about this character? Where is her character arc? The reader gets to know this character by how she reacts to the frog. Then the reader keeps caring about her as she changes due to the decisions she makes, the actions she takes, and the external and interior struggles as she strives to reach her story goal.

The beginning needs to get to the point. On the first page you need to let the reader know who is telling the story, where they are, what’s going on, and why it is important. And it should give the reader a hint at the story problem - both the external and the internal, and how that can alter the characters life. Don’t dally around with the past. Get on with it.

Begin with the frog. That is the change. The call to action. The moment the character steps onto the road that changes her life. That change gives her a goal, motivation and conflict. It clarifies your story. For the reader, and for you.

Now you are both sucked in.


Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.

Learn more about Samantha and her writing at her website/blog.

For more information about Sharon Mignerey's workshops, please visit the workshop description page on her website.

Another Successful Year at Colorado Gold

What a wonderful weekend we had at the 33rd Annual Colorado Gold Conference! On behalf of our board and volunteers, we hope you learned new things to apply to your writing, found yourself encouraged and inspired to keep developing your ideas, and felt supported and connected after three days of classes, panels, critiques, workshops, speeches, and one-on-one coaching with your tribe.

Cheers to each of our presenters and panelists. The conference doesn't happen without you. Content of the workshops was great. We all learned a tremendous amount with the variety of topics and expertise of the presenters. Even Jeffery Deaver and Desiree Holt were found taking notes. Thank you for making the 2015 Colorado Gold Conference the best one yet.

A very special thanks to each of our first-time attendees. There were 123 of you, and it was fun spotting your green ribbons and seeing you with new friends, sharing stories, and becoming a part of our wonderful tribe.

Many of us appreciated the return of the hospitality suite, but don't worry, no photos. What happens in the hospitality suite, stays in the hospitality suite.

If you missed the conference or didn't want it to end, read on for a recap of all the amazing presentations, contest results and honored attendees.

Writer of the Year

On Friday night, 2015 Writer of the Year Susan Spann moved the room with an emotional and inspirational keynote address about the power of a name. Using the story of Weeble, her seahorse who defied the odds despite serious setbacks, she challenged us all. She gave us all a name: Writer. In addition, she gave us the mandate to follow our dreams.

Keynote Speakers

Saturday night, Keynote Speaker and acclaimed author Jeffery Deaver brought us back in time to meet his younger nerd self (before being a nerd was cool), striving to find his way as a professional author. Through his own experiences he shared how subjective this business is, and how important it is to never give up.

On Sunday afternoon, Desiree Holt, The Queen of Erotic Romance, closed the conference with her Keynote address where she shared through her own experience that it is truly never too late to get started or to make it in this business.

The thread that carried through each of these keynote speeches was clear: Never give up. Don't stop writing.

Honored Members

There were so many wonderful notes of love and thanks that our attendees left for our honored guiding members Carol Caverly, Kay Bergstrom and Christine Goff.

Pen Awards

Congratulations to the Pen Award recipients! The Pen Award is given to authors who have published their debut novel.

Maura Weiler • Margaret Mizushima • Rae James • Catherine Dilts
Stephen Benjamin • Emily France • Thom Nicholson
Katherine Lampe • Corinne O'Flynn • Shawn McGuire
Yvonne Montgomery • Muffie Humphry • Laura V. Keegan
P.J. Hermanson • Kendrick E. Knight • Stephen C. Merlino
D.L. Orton • Liz Roadifer • Benadette Marie • Catherine Winters
Monica Poole • LM Manifold • C.R. Lemons • Cheryl Carpinello
John Turley • Laura Reeves • Lisa Stormes Hawker • Sue Duff

2015 Colorado Gold Contest Results - CONGRATS to This Year's WINNERS!

The Colorado Gold contest 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. The quality of this year's finalists was so high that our judges had an extra hard time deciding on the following winners:

First Place: Michael Hope Searing Flames (Littleton, CO)
Second Place: Douglas Adcock Massacre (Breckenridge, CO)
Third Place: Bruce Leaf Fire Step (Boulder, CO)

First Place: Trish Hermanson Mrs. Robinson's Reunion (Lakewood, CO)
Second Place: Michelle Boelter After the End (Delta, CO)
Third Place: Rebecca Hopkins The Orchid Girl's Chase (Tarakan, Indonesia)

First Place: Alan Larson Hard Red Winter (Scottsdale, AZ)
Second Place: Sherry Nelson Turning Stones (Cheyenne Wells, CO)
Third Place: Michael Hope Hallelujah is Dying (Littleton, CO)

First Place: Elisabeth Burns Rinse and Repeat (Mount Olive, IL)
Second Place: Michelle Boelter Nena (Delta, CO)
Third Place: Louise Jones Memory Lane (Arvada, CO)

Speculative Fiction
First Place: Shantal LaViolette The Iron Duke: Voices at the Door (El Prado, NM)
Second Place: D.L. Orton Crossing in Time (Colorado Springs, CO)
Third Place: CJ Collins In the Ghost Prints of Dragons (Clovis, CA)

First Place: John Christenson Starball (Boulder, CO)
Second Place: Corinne O'Flynn The Ghosts of Witches Past (Parker, CO)
Third Place: Mary Johnson Awoken (Englewood, CO)

Special Thanks to Ron and Nina Else!

As always, the bookstore and signing were fabulous thanks to Bonnie Biafore and Who Else Books.

"The bookstore with Ron and Nina Else was well stocked, and I brought home an armful of new treasures at great prices."

Liesa Malik, PAL Liaison

Thank You to Our Volunteers

Jasmine Award

Wendy Howard is this year's Jasmine Award winner. She reminds everyone that volunteering with fellow writers is an important part of personal and career growth. During those times she is down and ready to quit, the rewards of volunteering with RMFW keep her focused on achieving the ultimate goal of publication. In addition, she adds that never has she volunteered with a more amazing group of people. She encourages everyone to email volunteer@rmfw.org and get involved.

Nugget Awards

Thank you to those volunteers who won Nugget Awards this year.

Mark Stevens • Vicki Rubin • Wendy Howard • Charles Senseman • Susan Smith
Angie Hodapp • Wendy Terrien • Vicki Law • Terri Benson • Linda Joffe Hull
Corinne O'Flynn • Susan Brooks • Susan Spann • Not pictured: Maura Weiler
Margaret Mizushima • Rae James • Catherine Dilts • Michael Ruchhoeft

Special Thanks to Mark Stevens! THANK YOU Mark (top left) for all your hard work capturing the heart of the conference in all the amazing photos you have taken and shared.

Simile Contest

As usual, the Simile Contest was a fun time for all and had us rolling on the floor laughing. Thanks to Peggy Waidde and Alice Kober for picking some real winners! Congrats to Chad Mathine, Matthew Porter, and Michele Winkler for making us laugh.

Take Aways from #RMFW2015 by Martha Husain: Winner of the Treasure Hunt

Martha Husain won the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize in the treasure hunt contest. Well, she was the only entry but did get ALL the answers correct. Below are the lessons Martha took away from this year's conference:

  1. Reconsider having first drafts critiqued before the whole story is completed. Reworking the same passage may be futile because you may have to ditch it when you put it all together.
  2. Meet, make friends, and keep up with your fellow authors in your genre. They are your future blurb writers when you all become published and famous.
  3. Having multiple WIP at once is a good way to deal with "getting stuck."
  4. Avoid spending a lot of time on research before editing for story. The need to research may get cut.
  5. World building should include macro, micro, backstory, and (what was the fourth thing? Something like context?)
  6. Take pictures of people you meet and post them on social media. The memories survive better with a visual record.
  7. The Corinne O'Flynn method of avoiding the awkward memory lapse on names: "Hi, I know we've been introduced about four times now, but remind me what your name is?"
  8. The "herd" is there to support you and they're rooting for you to succeed. Show them you can do it.

The Biggest Thanks to Susan Brooks, Conference Chair

Susan Brooks took on the role of conference chair four years ago and gave herself the mandate to make each year's conference better than the one before. Well, this year she's done it again. This is no small feat, as RMFW has a reputation for bringing a stellar event to the Denver area for over 30 years! In fact, she was presented with the Jasmine Award in 2014 for the level of excellence she has brought to Colorado Gold. While Susan has stepped down as conference chair, we are fortunate to have her take on the role of retreat chair. Thank you Susan for all you've done to make this year's conference the best one yet and all you will do for RMFW in the future.


A fellow member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers did not see any immediate impact on the careers of those she witnessed working so hard on our all-volunteer staff, either at the annual Colorado Gold Writers Conference, nor throughout the year on our board and support positions. She asked me if I found participation in RMFW rewarding. Because of the context of the question I knew she wasn't asking whether I found it personally rewarding. What she was really asking was: Did I feel the effort and time I put into volunteering in RMFW translated in any way to book sales, or any other help for my career as a novelist.

Not at all a simple question.

You've heard, I'm sure, the term: You get out of it what you put into it. And I'm sure that's true, as far as it goes. The benefits of participation in RMFW as just an attending member are direct - E=MC2. But are the benefits for volunteering and actually participating in the operation of the organization even measurable in any instant or even short term calculation? I submit that one actually gets back much more than what they put in when actively participating in RMFW.

I post to the RMFW email loop (RMFW@yahoogroups.com) to keep members with whom I’m acquainted, but not necessarily on a direct-email basis, informed of what’s going on with me. I may not get any direct response to my posts, but doing so also helps to keep one's name out there on the loop. Your name also becomes prominent in other areas of RMFW such as the newsletter, volunteering for conference, submitting to the blog, etc. Keeping your name out there in the RMFW community does translate to your publicity, if not directly to sales, and opens doors that may not be open otherwise. Eventually guest publishing professionals – speakers, visiting editors and agents, etc. – will hear/read it. There are a million subtle ways in which this can benefit you. I’ve gotten a lot more attention (followers on Facebook and Twitter, name recognition when introducing myself at workshops and conferences, etc.) since I agreed to become a regular contributor to the RMFW blog, and I love doing it. You never know where this kind of networking might benefit you down the line.

So no, volunteering does not perhaps convert directly to sales, and I suspect that’s why things like the email loop aren't nearly as active these days as they once were. It used to be a very lively forum for discussion and debate, but lately most posters want to sell their books and that’s all. Well I assure you that while most readers of the loop scan over or even ignore ads for your books or promotions for your blog, they are eager to read other news and opinions of current events and hot publishing industry topics. The loop and other methods of keeping your name prominent in RMFW may not translate directly to sales, you never know what it might lead to indirectly down the line.

Likewise attending our free workshops and education events throughout the year. These are not just opportunities to look at an aspect of our profession from another colleague's perspective, something from which you are far more likely to learn than not, you also have the opportunity to network, to meet fellow writers and introduce yourself to them.

conference1The Colorado Gold Writers Conferences, sponsored every Fall by RMFW, is the Grande Dame of all networking opportunities the organization offers. There is no end to the openings you have to make yourself known to the organization at large, not to mention guest professionals from the publishing industry from around the country, and even, sometimes, other countries. From pitching a workshop, if you feel you have something to share with others, to volunteering to moderate workshops. You can volunteer to judge the contest, work the registration table, help in operating the pitch sessions, or just in general as a docent or information source for newcomers and other attendees. One of the best opportunities is to volunteer as a driver, to pick up and transport conference guests between the airport and the venue - here you have a good thirty minutes or more alone with one of the visiting editors, agents, or authors invited to the conference to chat with them and become acquainted. No better networking opportunity in my book.

In short, never pass up an opportunity to volunteer and participate in RMFW and get yourself and your name out there. Doors only open to you if people know who you are. And RMFW is one of the greatest local opportunities you will have to do so.

Oh, and when the doors do open, always be ready and never say no. Even if it doesn’t end up going anywhere, sooner or later one will.

Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the bestselling sequel to Bloodflow; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

Follow Kevin at:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog

Look What’s Coming from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers!

rmfw-logo"Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) is a non-profit, volunteer-run organization dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and educating writers seeking publication in commercial fiction. To that end, the organization strives to:

  • Provide an environment of support and encouragement among members
  • Stimulate interest in and appreciation for the art of writing
  • Act as a dissemination point for information concerning commercial fiction writing
  • Bring together authors, editors, agents, and other related professionals for the mutual benefit of all"

Free programs, a fall conference, and a spring retreat!  Who could ask for anything more?

Western Slope: Montrose Free Program

Great Beginnings presented by Sharon Mignerey

Saturday, August 15, 9:00 AM to Noon
Hampton Inn Montrose
1980 North Townsend
Montrose, CO

Participants at “Great Beginnings” are encouraged to bring the first chapter of a work in progress, as this hands-on class is designed to help writers–new or old hands–sort through conflicting advice about first chapters, and create compelling opening chapters that draw readers into the story.

Writers hear all kinds of conflicting advice such as: you MUST introduce a compelling character in an inciting incident, but someone else says you MUST show that compelling character in his/her ordinary world; the reader MUST care about the character’s previous life but then again, you MUST avoid backstory; world building that anchors characters and reader is vital but, no, you MUST NOT do anything that stops the forward momentum of the story….it’s enough to make a writer’s head explode when all the writer wants to do is tell the story.

This workshop will help writers do that – tell a story – while also identifying the elements needed for their specific story to keep the reader turning the pages. This is a free workshop presented by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Writer of the Year Panel

Tuesday, August 25, 7:00 PM
Tattered Cover Colfax
2526 East Colfax Avenue
Denver, CO 80206

Western Slope: Grand Junction Free Program

Everything You Need to Know About the Next RMFW Anthology presented by Mario Acevedo

Saturday, September 5, 9:00 AM to 12:30ish (Light breakfast at 9:00 AM.)
Grand Junction Business Incubator Center
2591 Legacy Way
Grand Junction, CO

Mario Acevedo, the new Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer anthology editor will present a talk about the anthology, its history, this year’s theme, and why contributing to the anthology will add to an author’s experience as a writer. Mario will discuss the submission and selection process, and the literary expectations of short fiction versus novel-length fiction.

2015 Colorado Gold Conference

Friday, September 11 - Sunday, September 13
The Westin
Westminster, Colorado

2016 RMFW Writers Retreat

March 10-13, 2016
Franciscan Retreat Center
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Registration Opens October 1, 2015

Join RMFW at the official website "Become a Member" page.

Query Letter Basics – Western Slope Recap by Samantha Ross

Query letters are a one page- yes, that is right, one page business letter that you are sending off to an editor, agent or publisher. It’s you and your story packaged up in one page, sent off to that coveted publisher, editor, or agent of your choice.

This is a brief overview of Angies Hodapp’ s presentation that she gave in July at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Western Slope event. The presentation that Angie gave is a shortened version of the class she teaches on this subject.

A query letter consists of:

- A personal greeting - one or two sentences

- The project summary - again short, one or two sentences

- Story synopsis - a few paragraphs that sums up all of the story

- Your biographical information

All on one page.

The first step is to finish your book, short story, poem, what ever it is. Make sure it is complete, critiqued, edited, and polished. If all of that is not done yet, you are not ready to send out a query letter. Just because your friends and family love it, does not mean it is polished. Several of them need to belong to a writers group, or are in the writing business. If not, find people who are. Get it reviewed before you say you are done.

Second step is research. Make sure you are sending the query to the right place. This is where research comes in. A common mistake is to send your query to everyone. Huge waste of time for you, looking up everyone and typing in all those addresses. And a waste of effort for the incorrect person who has to read it, and delete it. Make sure you are in the correct market. If the agent/editor/publisher only accepts memoirs of rodeo clowns, don’t send in your science fiction futuristic utopian poem to this person.

Third, and this one is important - follow the rules. Meaning the submission guidelines, those rules the publisher/agent/editor has set out there for you. These rules are online, and in books such as the yearly Writers Market. In the rules are great pieces of useful information such as genre(s)they accept, length of story, who to mail it to, how to mail it, what to mail, what happens after you send it, and many other things. Don’t deviate from the rules. That makes you a deviant, and no one wants to play with you.

Be professional.

Pitfalls to avoid:

  • Claiming you met the person, when you never have
  • “Dear Sir or Madam.” Find out who you are querying and make you sure spell the name correctly
  • Don’t do a page count, do a word count
  • Flattery of the person you are querying
  • Self depreciation
  • How hard you worked at this/how long it took you

Take a class on writing query letters if you have never written one before, or you feel overwhelmed, confused, or clueless.

Don’t forget the person on the other end of the query letter wants to hire you.

Editors/agents/publishers want to find you, and they want you to succeed. When you succeed, they do also. It’s a win-win situation.

“There is no such no thing as a perfect book, and no such thing as a perfect query letter.” Angie reminds us.

Finish it, follow the rules, be professional. Send it off.


Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.

Tone Up Your Setting – Western Slope Recap by Guest Samantha Ross

By Samantha Ross

Our characters come to life through their attitudes, perceptions, personality, their point of view of themselves, and the their world. The reader knows this is a person. The reader is on this journey with them.

Setting should reach out and grab the reader, pulling them into the moment. It’s just as important as character. They need to know this place you have transported them into. It needs to be lived, experienced.

How do we, the author, the storytellers, do this?

We go to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Events. In July, at the RMFW Western Slope, Warren Hammond presented “Setting - Set the Tone with Mood and Atmosphere.”

Setting can be similar to the story, such as a horror story in a horrible place. Or you can contrast the story by placing your horror story in a beautiful place. Choose your setting, and the descriptions that will enhance the story the most. The key is that it needs to be vivid. It has to grab the reader in the gut, in the heart, in the soul deep places. Sounds complicated? Take it piece by piece. All those pieces make it a whole.

Lets start with location. Location can be anywhere. Outer space, an alternate world, Africa, Texas, made up places, Russia, Ireland, a mansion, a trailer park, the Mississippi, a bedroom, a tree house, the roof - the list is endless.

When is it? Past, present or future? Is it world war one or fifteen? Han Dynasty, Middle ages, 1960’s? What time - day, night, morning, nap time? Remember this world needs to be in proportion to your story. Characters without advanced technology are not going to say to each other “Meet me here at exactly one twelve this afternoon.” A letter on horseback takes a different amount of time to get there than modern day snail mail.

Is it raining, snowing, blizzard like, sunny, inside with an air conditioner on or a tiny little fan going? Fire blazing trying to beat back the cold, or cozy? All are very different atmospheres. And moods.

Mood, and atmosphere go hand in hand. Is the place desperate, upbeat, decietful, creepy, hopeful? Remember to show, don’t tell. If you have to use the word creepy, you’re telling. Show us what makes it creepy. Mood and atmosphere have to enhance the story.

Use all five senses. Smell, taste, touch, sound, sight. Is the air foul or fresh? When you breathe it in can you taste it on your tongue? Are the vibrations of the car or spaceship making your teeth clench? Is the horse or dragon breathing hard underneath you? Are you moving so fast everything is a blur, or can you see the pollen blow off in the breeze?

Your character needs to view this all through their perspective. If your character hates living in the city, her world, and circumstances may be ugly, and cruel to her. If she loves the excitement, a different world altogether. A story about building a new football field on foreclosed land will view the stalks of wheat growing on that property as something to be cut down, and controlled. The story about losing the family farm will view that wheat stalk another way. If that location holds an ancient buried evil, the stalk of wheat may be mutated, or simple part of an idyllic small town. Same location, same time, but all very different tones, which will set the mood and atmosphere, drawing your reader in.

The word choice you use will affect the tone also. Are your words luscious or stark? Gritty or wondrous? Everyone has their own style of writing. And every story has its own style. The goal is to take the reader there, make them forget about the chair they are lounging in.

Setting is a mix of the place, the time, the conditions, the vibes, the senses that draws the reader into the story. It’s a creation as powerful as character is. They both reflect and effect each other.


Samantha Ross pictureSamantha Ross is a ghostwriter, freelance writer and editor. She lives on the Western Slope in Montrose, Colorado. For years she taught adults, organized lesson plans, developed curriculum, and encouraged everyone to be a success. One day she stumbled into her high school librarian who pointed her toward the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Now Samantha’s days are spent writing fiction and non fiction that covers a wide range of topics. If she’s not standing in front of her desk working, she’s spending time with her family and friends.

The 2015 Writer of the Year is Susan Spann!

By Wendy Howard

CLICK HERE to view the announcement party photo gallery. The 2015 Writer of the Year finalists were Joan Johnston, Cindi Myers, and Susan Spann.

Susan SpannSusan Spann's mysteries have made a splash, published in hard cover to unfailingly good reviews. Her third Shinobi mystery, Flask of the Drunken Master, was published earlier this month and now Susan has been named 2015 Writer of the Year. Her mysteries are set in sixteenth-century Japan and feature ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Jesuit Sidekick, Father Mateo. The first book was Claws of the Cat and the second was titled Blade of the Sumarai.

Claws of the Cat was named a Library Journal mystery debut of the month and was a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. As a result, Susan was interviewed for an article in Writers Digest by Chuck Sambuchino.

Susan has been a voracious reader since preschool in Santa Monica, California. In high school, she wrote her first complete novel, a fantasy that started as a short story assignment, though she vows that book will never, ever see the light of day!

A yearning to experience different cultures sent Susan to Tufts University in Boston, where she immersed herself in the history and culture of China and Japan and earned an undergraduate degree in Asian Studies—a background she draws upon for her Shinobi mysteries. But before justice-seeking ninjas took over her imagination, Susan went to law school. She practices law in California, where her long-lasting love affair with books led her to specialize in intellectual property, business, and publishing contracts. She has also been a law professor.

Susan is the current president of the Northern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and also a member of the MWA National Board. She belongs to Sisters in Crime and the Historical Novel Society.

Susan founded and is curator of the #PubLaw Twitter hashtag, through which she provides pro bono information for writers and answers questions about copyright and publishing issues. When not writing or practicing law, she raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.

Susan has been an RMFW member since 2010 and has presented workshops for conference. She lives in California but remains a regular monthly contributor to the RMFW Blog, Writers In the Storm, and Murder Is Everywhere. She met and pitched to her agent, Sandra Bond, at the 2011 Colorado Gold Conference. Please visit Susan’s website to find out more.2015 WOTY finalists

The Free July Program is on the Western Slope

Western Slope Free Program - No RSVP

Two workshops, two presenters, one morning.
Join us!

Saturday, July 11th, 9:15 AM to 12:00 PM
Grand Junction Business Incubator Center
2591 Legacy Way, Grand Junction, CO

~with Warren Hammond

Your character needs a voice, and so does your setting. Whether it's dark-and-stormy or bright-and-sunny, it's time to bring your setting to life just like your characters. Learn to take your writing to a new level by infusing your story with mood, tone and atmosphere.

~with Angie Hodapp

A query letter is a one-page pitch letter—an absolute necessity for novelists seeking agents. Writers dread writing them, agencies receive hundreds each week, and most of them elicit no more than a form rejection letter. However, there are many things writers can do to avoid that fate. Angie Hodapp of Nelson Literary Agency will walk you through writing a standout query while avoiding common pitfalls. Learn the anatomy of a query letter, including what it should (and shouldn’t) say about both you and your completed manuscript, and practice writing synopsis paragraphs that are clear, concise, and compelling. Get tons of tips and tools that will maximize your chances of landing a publishing contract.

What’s Going On At Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers?

The Colorado Gold Conference

JefferyDeaver200x230Have you signed up yet? With keynote speakers like Jeffery Deaver and Desiree Holt, how can you go wrong? Add in agents and editors--Danielle Burby, Trish Daly, Denise Dietz, Tiffany Schofield, Chelsey Emmelhainz, Sarah Joy Freese, Erin George, Carrie Howland, Emily S. Keyes, Melissa Jeglinkski, Ben LeRoy, and Latoya C. Smith--and you know Westminster, Colorado is the right place to be September 11-13, 2015.

If you haven't registered yet, you better do it now. Last year the conference registration was filled in record time. You don't want to miss out. For all the information on master classes, conference sessions, meals, hotel, and how to register, click here to go to the website's conference pages.

The Podcasts

Mark Stevens is currently hosting a series of interviews and programs with the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Podcasts. Podcast #5 featured Heather Webb with "Finding Your Voice." #4 -- Holt Finalist Tina Ann Forkner Talks Romance & James Norris Previews RMFW Workshop on Boosting Character Conflict.

The complete list of podcasts and links are available in the website Podcast section right here.

The Blog

Are you following the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog Monday through Friday? With a team of regular contributors and several guest bloggers each month, all from the RMFW membership list, the blog is a great way to meet other members and enjoy the information they're willing to share with the tribe and all aspiring writers interested in what we do here at RMFW.

Did you follow Jeanne C. Stein's lessons in genre writing? Get a chuckle (or a groan) from reading the humor of Julie Kazimer or Aaron Ritchey? Explore ways to get reviews with Janet Lane? All these and more are available on the blog pages of the RMFW website.

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The Social Media Connection

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Pearls of Wisdom … by Guest Rhonda Blackhurst

Rhonda_Genrefest 2015Last month I attended Genre Fest 2015, an event organized by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and The Colorado Authors’ League. The speaker for the morning was David Morrell, creator of Rambo–-as well as numerous novels (both fiction and nonfiction) and short fiction-–and to say I was impressed is a serious understatement. While I expected great pearls of wisdom coming from such a successful author–-and he certainly delivered--what I didn’t expect was his level of humility. What an incredible man. Would I go see him again if he’s in the area? In a heartbeat! I realize I just used the dreaded exclamation point, but that’s how strongly I feel about it. I would recommend anyone who has the opportunity to grab that sucker. You won’t be disappointed.

While I couldn’t possibly mention all of the golden nuggets of advice, some of the ones that I’ll always remember are:

His five rules for writing mystery/thrillers (and could fit with any genre) are:

1.)  Know why you're writing what you are. If you’re writing what you are simply because it’s popular at the moment, you may want to re-evaluate writing that genre. What you’re writing should be personally meaningful; because you can’t imagine not writing it; because it should be worth spending a year (or more) of your time on.

2.)  Know the history of the genre you’re writing. He states, “we can’t recognize when a plot is hackneyed if we don’t educate ourselves about the best that has been done in the genre.” He suggested that if you’re writing a specific genre, you should know enough about the history that you could give a lecture on it.

3.)  Do your research. Your research can come from interviewing experts, reading non-fiction books on the subject, physically visiting the place you’re writing about as well as doing the activities you’re writing about. This last one, in particular, opens all five senses to the experience. The Internet is another deep well to gain knowledge. What not to do is to get your research from TV or movies. The details are not reliable. (Think courtroom and police dramas.) My husband and I both work in the law enforcement arena, and trust me when I say real life is nothing like it shows on Law and Order, CSI, The Good Wife, etc.

4.)  Be yourself. His exact words are worth repeating over and over and over. And over again. “Be a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate version of another author. Innovate rather than imitate.” Wow! (Yup, another exclamation point.)

5.)  Avoid the genre trap. What we write should be the most exciting and moving novel that we can write. Our job is to write a genre novel that doesn’t come off as a genre book.

Other notable mentions:

  •  There are no “odds” on whether you will succeed, get published, etc. What happens to you happens 100%.
  • One thing all of us writers are prone to is daydreaming. In fact we can’t shut it off. Children are often told to “stop wasting your time daydreaming” as if it’s a negative thing. In reality, daydreaming is not a waste of time at all. It’s where ideas come from. The key is to be aware of your daydreams. Too often they’re mini narratives that we dismiss.
  •  Don’t write what you’re supposed to. Write what you’re meant to.
  •  Don’t chase the market because you’ll always be looking at the back side.

I had David Morrell’s writing book, The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing, on my bookshelf at home waiting to be read. I bumped it ahead of all the others I want to read and I’m not regretting it.

This post was originally published by Rhonda Blackhurst at her blog, Novel Journey, on April 12, 2015.


Rhonda was born and raised in northern Minnesota and now resides in Colorado. She is a paralegal, restitution advocate for a District Attorney's Office, avid reader, writer, and lover of words. Her greatest joy is her family, which includes her husband, two sons, a stepdaughter, one granddaughter and five step-grandchildren. Her love of writing blossomed at the tender age of four when she began writing with crayons on the knotty pine walls of her family home. Her first published novel, The Inheritance, was born from NaNoWriMo in 2012. She is in the process of writing the first two books in the Melanie Hogan mystery series, Shear Madness and Shear Deception.

Her blog, A Novel Journey, can be found at www.rhondablackhurst.com. She can also be found on twitter at @rjblackhurst and her author Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rjblackhurst.