Rocky Mountain Writer #112

Susan Brooks: Conference Workshop Proposals & Literary Wanderlust Update

As soon as we turned the corner into 2018, the conference planning for Colorado Gold kicked into gear.

In fact, planning started much earlier but RMFW members and others were notified a couple of weeks ago that they now have the chance to apply to present during one of 70 or so workshop slots that will be offered during 2018 Colorado Gold in September.

That prompted a check-in with conference co-chair Susie Brooks for a quick overview of the workshop proposal process.

It also gave us a chance to catch up with her publishing enterprise, Literary Wanderlust, which has 8 new titles planned on its 2018 publication schedule.

Wanderlust is the right word – she’s got a wide variety of titles on the way, from a flash fiction compilation to a fracking romance set in South Africa.

Since 2009, Suzie has served on the board of directors for RMFW and has served for many years as solo conference chair.

She holds a master’s degree in publishing from George Washington University and has many years of editorial experience.

Literary Wanderlust's website

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens:

Welcome to 2018: The Very Best Year in Your Writerly Career

With 2018 already upon us, you’ve likely already sold three books to your favorite publisher, wrote five more, and single handily solved the fiction conflicts of 2017.

What? You haven’t? What’s wrong with you? Half of January is already in the books. Get moving!

This is one of my issues with January. It expects too dang much from me as a writer. Maybe, like me, you made a resolution to write daily or write a specific number of words a week, or whatever foolish endeavors writers think up to torture themselves.

While I don’t think it’s bad to have goals, in writing or life, I do find goals set because it’s a new year to be harder than just having a clearly defined and written goal because you want and expect to achieve it. Goal setting isn’t and shouldn’t be taken lightly. For when you don’t provide the goal with the gravitas it deserves, then it will be that much easier to break.

To set a clearly defined goal, decide on just what you want and why having a specific goal will aid you in achieving it.

Now that you have a defined goal – WRITE IT DOWN.

Goals that are written down are seventy percent more likely to be achieved. Yeah, statistics rule!

While typing that goal out, write down ways to achieve it too. For example, if you goal is to write a book by the end of the year, write down how many words you’ll need each week, including time for revision. Write down your plan for the book too. Having an anticipated result for the goal helps keep it firmly in place.

Now remember, it takes only six weeks for an action to become a regular habit. The pain is in training your brain to make writing daily or whatever your goal it into becoming a habit.

Congratulations on making your goal a successful one. I know you have it in you. Now I want to see it out of you, all over the paper or computer screen. And then later in a bookstore, surrounded by other famous books.


What are some goals you’re currently working on achieving? Share your pain!

Step Right Up

"Hurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up! The show's about to begin! For the price of one thin dime see wonders beyond imagining. Sales beyond your wildest dreams and begin earning good money right out of the box! Hurry, hurry, hurry."

Yeah. No.

P.T Barnum gets the credit for "There's a sucker born every minute" but it's more likely author is a Chicago conman named Michael MacDonald(1). With the rise of self-publishing and the subsequent success of self-published titles, the hardcore scammers and Johnny-Come-Lately wannabees have proliferated like daffodils in the spring--each eager to fleece the hopeful, the earnest, and the gullible.

And they keep finding new flocks to fleece every day.

How to keep from being clipped.

  1. Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Whose books does this company publish? If they call themselves a "self-publishing company" and they want to publish your book, it's a rip-off. The degree to which they're willing to fleece you is the only differentiation. If a company publishes books, it's a publisher. If they only publish their own books, they're a self-publishing company and they're not going to publish yours. If they're trying to say they're something they're not, they're warming up the shears in the back.
  2. Do your diligence: Google the company name with "scam" as an additional identifier. There's a wealth of data which should be making it more difficult for the shearers but too many people see a glossy website and a promising pitch without remembering the golden rule of grift: If it seems too good to be true, save your gold.
  3. Who pays whom?: If you're paying them, it's a scam. This shouldn't be confused with a self-publishing author who pays an editor or cover artist for their services. Of course you'll pay but the editor will give you your file back and the cover artist won't try to upload your books to the storefronts for you. That's on you, as it should be.
  4. Ask around: If you're still not sure about a company, even after exercising a bit of Google-fu, then ask somebody you trust. There are whole communities of people who can give you guidance--people with no vested interest in separating you from your money--or your book.

The whackamole process of avoiding scammers while still trying to self-publish can seem daunting. It's not really that difficult as long as you remember that anybody with a few bucks and a willingness to lie to your face can make a good living. Some of the worst offenders have been around for decades as vanity presses. They've only changed their storefronts, not their businesses. They're expert in separating the sheep from the goats--and the gullible author from his money.

Just because there's a sucker born every minute doesn't mean it has to be you.


1. Asbury, H. (1940). Gem of the Prairie: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld. New York, NY: Knopf.
Image Credit: W C Fields as Gabby Gilfoil in Two Flaming Youths (Paramount, 1927).
Image Donated by Corbis-Bettmann to Explore PA History.

Rocky Mountain Writer #108

Pat Stoltey & Wishing Caswell Dead

Pat Stoltey’s fourth novel comes out in just a few short weeks (Dec. 20) and it’s been quite a ride.

Revised and revised some more, Pat says that one point she realized she had written the life out of her characters.

So she backed up and started over again until she got it right.

Wishing Caswell Dead is set in the early 1800's in a village on the Illinois frontier. It’s a historical mystery about the evil that hides within a village, one girl who is determined to save herself and her child, and a violent murder no one wants to solve.

Pat Stoltey grew up in east central Illinois so it's not unexpected she would use that part of the country as a setting. The Village of Sangamon is not a real place, but Pat says it has become so real to her she's now writing a follow-on story using the same setting.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, a Scottish Terrier named Sassy, and a bossy brown Tabby known as Katie Cat.

Pat's website

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens:

You are very real … and beautiful!

I’m at that scary stage of writing. I have just started a new novel.  I have envisioned the ending, the flow of the story past the inciting incident and turning points, and it’s time to write that first chapter.

Magic happens when those first words are placed on the page. I welcome them, and like a precious well flowing out of the mountain, thoughts arrive--usually in the middle of the night.

Fear rides on the tail of those ideas, though. What if the story concept isn’t strong enough? What if it collapses halfway through? Each of those early words carries uncertainties.

With these new first pages came the vision and memory of a precious song. More like a children’s fairy tale, it nevertheless took over the music charts when it was released.

It was to become my story.

And your story.

Puff the Magic Dragon was released in 1963 and made it to #2 of Billboard’s Top 100. In the late 70s, Puff became animated in a series of television specials. Late last year, it was announced that Fox Animation will produce a live-action/animation film based on the song.

When a dragon is this special, it can, indeed, live forever—a picture book adaptation was released in 2007. (A great holiday gift for that special child in your life.)

Per Wikipedia, “The lyrics tell a story of the ageless dragon Puff and his playmate, Jackie Paper, a little boy who grows up and loses interest in the imaginary adventures of childhood and leaves Puff forever. (The line "A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys" is generally thought to imply only that "little Jackie Paper" grew up.) The story of the song takes place "by the sea" in the fictional land of "Honalee".”

The song was not without controversy. Some said the lyrics were about marijuana, Jackie “Paper” referred to the paper with which to roll marijuana cigarettes, and the “Dragon” referred to dragging on the joint to get high, all of which was vehemently denied by Leonard Lipton, who wrote the poem, and Peter Yarrow of the folk singing group, Peter, Paul and Mary, who put it to music and recorded it.

Back to the shaky beginning of my new novel. Deep in my insecurities during a recent sleepless night, that song came to me. It seemed so sad – how could it have become so popular, I wondered. As memory can sometimes do, I replayed the lyrics in my mind, and amazingly, they all came back to me.

Jackie Paper and his magic dragon traveled on a splendid “boat with billowed sail.” They shared fine adventures and a lifelong friendship, but, on a particularly “grey” day, Jackie outgrows his imaginary friend and moves on with life, leaving Puff alone. Unable to remain brave and continue his adventures, Puff slips sadly back into his cave.

In my midnight state of insomnia, it occurred to me: it’s not just Puff who suffers a “grey” existence when we stop imagining and creating. It’s the creator, and all those who enjoy the products of that creativity—poems, music, games, movies.

I believe “Puff” became so beloved a character because he celebrated the magic of creativity. It's no surprise to me that Jackie's last name is Paper. For me, it's a reminder of the paper on which we as novelists write.

There’s a special video of Peter, Paul and Mary performing the song live, complete with choir and an enthusiastic audience. Unfortunately, the audio breaks up here and there, but the video demonstrates the magic of Puff, and how his story has touched so many people. You can watch it (and sing along) at:

Don't buy into the idea that you can outlive the precious gift you have been given, or that you need to "grow up" and be "real."

You are very real, and beautiful.

Treasure your magic dragon, and may your writing bring you great joy!

Have You Googled Today?

I just Googled myself. I’ve done it now and then, and I’ve set up a Google alert (but all that does is tell me someone with my name got arrested for cruelty to animals, which really isn’t what I had in mind), but I was reading an article on making sure you have a “platform” and decided to do it again.

Of the first six items on the main page, the top two were Facebook telling people they could find me there. The third one was LinkedIn saying there were fifty Terri Bensons listed. Googling

But, the next three were my website and my book. Yeah, me! A co-worker suggested I look at images as well, and I found myself starting on line three – so not too bad again. I don’t post a lot of photos of me or my family – most of them are business photos from our office website or RMFW, or the ones associated with my book launch. There was this lady in the orange jumpsuit (no, it’s not the new black!) with the big label “Terri Benson” and side bars that say – not a good look for her, and not really anyone I want to be associated with. Image of

But it was interesting to see how much I showed up (or didn’t) online. I only have the one book out, but I do have a website and a personal Facebook, which may or may not be connected to a business and/or author page (Facebook and I are having a bit of a battle about that). I had a Twitter account until my provider quit (providing, that is) and Twitter demands that you log on only with the original e-mail address, no matter what, in order to change your e-mail (??!!??), so the two Tweets and three followers (how the heck did that happen) I had are out there somewhere in the ozone, all alone.

I realize I need to do better. And I’m thinking about it. I use Facebook and Twitter daily for work, and so far my stubborn brain is telling my marketing brain that I’ve already done my share for the day and it isn’t going to go any further. That’s another thing I’m working on – getting my brains all on the same wavelength, but no luck so far.

So, have you Googled today? If not, try it. And if nothing else, you’ll find some really creepy person who has the same name and will explain the looks you got from co-workers a couple weeks ago, right?

Oh, and Write On!

Interaction, Engagement, Influence

Back in the 40's Abraham Maslow(1) put forth the proposition that humans are motivated by needs. Maslow postulates that each low level need must be satisfied before the next higher need can be addressed. It makes a certain sense. Without the foundation, you can't build walls. Without the walls, you can't build the roof. His pyramid of needs has served as a model for understanding human behavior ever since.(2)

I maintain that a similar hierarchy exists in social media marketing.

Marketing is about getting people to do what you want. Doesn't matter if you're selling toothpaste, insurance, or an elected official. Your goal is to get people to do the thing you need them to do. Buy the toothpaste. Enroll in the plan. Vote for the person. For that to happen you have to influence the public's behavior.

Mass marketing has been with us almost forever. From the Molly Malone to carny barkers. From paperboys to fast food restaurants. From magazines and billboards to television and radio. Mass media has developed some pretty compelling models regardless of what scale the seller operates on. The mass marketing is getting your message to as many people as possible in the hope that some tiny fraction of people will hear your message and take the desired action.

Social media marketing has only really been a thing for the last twenty years or so. The desired result - get people to take the desired action - is the same but the process is different. Social media marketing strives to get your message to only those people who want to hear it so that a large percentage of those people will do what you want. Mass market techniques are antithetical to social media because social media messaging is controlled by the receiver, not the sender.(3)

That's a long set up to understand the three levels that govern social media marketing.

Interaction is the base. Without some level of interaction, nothing else is possible. It's where you get likes, retweets, and followers. It's requires nearly nothing of the receiver - only that they don't block, unfriend, or unfollow you. Most social media marketing advice tells you how to grow your numbers but not how to move up the pyramid.

Engagement is the next tier. This is where people actually pay attention to you, maybe talk back to you by leaving comments or adding their own ideas to a re-tweet. Engagement is a required - but not sufficient - condition.

Influence is the goal. Just like mass media marketing, social media marketing works to get people to do what you want. For authors - particularly self published ones - it's "buy the book." There are other less demanding goals that you might pursue - sign up for the email list, leave a review, tell a friend - but the ultimate goal for authors in doing social media marketing is to sell more books.

Here's the thing:

Most measures of influence *kough*klout*kough* use interaction as a proxy for engagement. Advice on how to get more followers, more friends, bigger numbers only applies to interaction. Sure you need to reach people but these numbers by themselves are meaningless. How many are bots? How many just follow you because you're a joke to them? How many just clicked like because it's almost a reflex action and not any kind of thoughtful response?

You can actually get a sense for engagement by comments and quoted retweets. It's a rough measure because most engagement will come from the lurkers - that 90% of people below the surface who actually follow what you do and pay attention to it, think about it, but don't actually step out of the ether to make themselves known to you. It's why counting doesn't really work here. Numbers aren't the answer and can be misleading.

Influence is even harder to measure because the action you want people to take isn't an action done in social media. It's invisible in that realm and only shows up in sales. The problem gets compounded by delays between message and action fostered by the internet. _Once on the internet, forever on the internet._ A comment you left on somebody's blog last month could drive a sale next week. Messages you put out last year could result in actions taken next year. You find yourself in the position of seeing a spike in sales when you've done nothing to promote your work, because somebody somewhere referenced a tweet that you responded to and forgot about.

Bottom line:

Keep interaction going by remembering that - on social media - "yes" is conditional but "no" is forever. Foster engagement by being engaged with your audience - don't robo-tweet, reply to comments, like and +1 posts. Remember that your goal is not numbers, but engagement. A mailing list of 20,000 names where only one or two percent click through to your book is much less valuable than a list of 1000 names where eighty percent open and fifty percent click through. It means you have more influence and it's influence that gets you sales.


  1. Maslow, A.H. (1943). "A theory of human motivation"Psychological Review50 (4): 370–96. doi:10.1037/h0054346 – via
  2. The other model is called the "expectation theory" - or sometimes "drives theory." It suggests that people are motivated by experience and that a person's motivation to undertake a task will be based on prior experience and their expectation of how much they'll enjoy the reward they'll get from doing it. Restated: If you expect to enjoy your day on the job, you'll be more motivated to do it than if you expect your day will suck. If your day doesn't suck (or doesn't suck as much), you're going to be more motivated to go back tomorrow and vice versa.
  3. Social media is "pull." The receiver pulls messages they want to get by controlling who they're willing to get messages from regardless of channel. Mass media is "push" because messages are pushed to every receiver who uses the channel regardless of whether the receiver wants it or not.

Writing Romance – the End of the Beginning

Welcome again, Campers.

Last month, we talked about the inciting incident in a romance novel. And if you’ve been following along, you know that our framework for this series of articles is Jami Gold’s Beat Sheet for Romance (found here). We’re sticking to the three act structure for these articles but, as I’ve said before, you don’t have to stick to it like glue.

There’s an old adage about three act structure that in Act One, you get your hero up a tree. In Act Two, you throw rocks at him. And in Act Three, you get him out of the tree.

After the inciting incident comes the end of the beginning. As Jami states: The end of the beginning is when the hero and heroine are forced by external plotting to spend more time together and start making decisions that reflect their desire for each other.

This could mean several things. First, the external circumstances are pushing them together and they are making decisions to stop that from happening. Or, as the external circumstances push them together, they make decisions from a desire to force that to happen more.

In this section, developments arise that raise the stakes and cause the hero and heroine to reinforce their goals. Often this sets them at odds with each other or at emotional odds with their goals. This turning point is what thrusts the story into Act Two.

This turning point completely changes their relationship. It’s a wrench in the gears thing. Enter the main conflict between your hero and heroine - the thing that’s going to force them apart. It might be new information. It might be new orders from a boss. It might be the entrance of an old flame. Truly, it’s the moment when these two people realize that this is not going to be a cake walk. And usually they make this realization separately, in their own minds and hearts.

In Hero’s Journey language, this turning point takes the characters out of their normal world and thrusts them into the journey - a journey from which they can never go home. Even if they do “go home,” things there will never be the same.

By the end of Act One, your characters will likely have stated - either in their heads or actually out loud - that they want nothing to do with the other, nothing to do with a relationship with the other. No way, no how. But the final plot point of this Act will not give them that choice. It will make it impossible for them to walk away. Not until. . . So at the end of this piece, your hero and heroine are completely “up a tree” with no way of escape.

Until next month, your homework is to watch a few chick flicks and figure out where this happens (hint: in a movie, look a third of the way in) and how the writer accomplishes this. Feel free to post your insights. Or, as an alternative, share some of these “points” from a favorite book. Even yours.

Next month, we’ll get into Act Two.
Of course, don’t forget: BiCHoK - Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.

Bad advice from vomiting, armless writers

As we near All Hallow’s Eve, I thought it would be fun to search for some of the—shall we say, less stellar words of advice shared among writers. In keeping with the holiday, they’re only scary if you believe them.


‘Said’ is the invisible tag. Instead, make the reader slog through an assortment of dialogue tags—she murmured, he growled, she mouthed, he whispered, she sobbed. Show me a person who can growl or sob words.

AVOID ‘THROWING UP.” Don’t use the phrase, “throwing up his hands.”

It evokes an image of a character chewing up his hands and vomiting them on the floor. Same with, “the truck’s wheels spun, throwing up dirt onto the car behind him."


Well, if you know what you know, certainly you know what you don't know. And if you know what you don't know, write about what you don't know! –got that?

REMOVE ‘THE’ FROM YOUR VOCABULARY. It’s holding you back.

WRITE DRUNK, EDIT SOBER. Makes sense. Or, is it, write sober, edit drunk? …does that mean drunk time can still be productive? Some good writer friends of mine (who shall remain nameless) will be delighted to hear this.

Unconfirmed quote by Stephen King:

DON’T CARRY A NOTEBOOK AROUND—it’s a graveyard for bad ideas.

GO AHEAD AND WRITE IT. IT’LL ONLY TAKE A YEAR. This can only be advice from someone who has never done it.

PUT YOUR CLIMAX IN THE FIRST CHAPTER. Aristotle is rolling over in his grave. Well, maybe the advisor was speaking of 50 Shades.

WHEN IN DOUBT, CUT. The insecure writer will end up with a one-page novel. No, wait, a one-paragraph novel. No wait, a one-sentence novel. No, wait…


This depends on where you are. Sixth round of editing? Or starting your novel with a “dark and stormy night?”

WRITING IS NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. Right. How dare we try to craft words alongside the literary greats, and have the gall to call ourselves writers? Just do it in private and wash your hands. Someone once asked Stephen King why he wrote such terrifying scenes. His answer: “Do you think I have a choice?” And Kurt Vonnegut, “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.” Another good Halloween costume idea!


YOU ONLY GET GOOD BY WORKING YOUR ASS OFF. With the proliferation of good writers in RMFW, we can showcase our deformities by forming a bizarre Halloween parade.

WHO AND WHOM CAN BE USED INTERCHANGEABLY. Do not, I repeat, do not approach Conan with this statement--unless your Halloween costume includes a sword!

Happy Halloween, my friends. May the terrors delight you!

Driving for a Paycheck

I’ve finally figured it out! There are two signs on each car I drive seen only by Special Drivers. (Special, of course, meaning unusual, distinct, specific and obviously run-of-the-mill.)

I’m sure the sign on the front bumper says, “Pull immediately in front of me, proceed really, really slowly, and then wash your windshield.” The sign on the rear of the car has got to read, “Please tailgate.”

And don’t get me started on weekend traffic.

I’m not perfect, and I have vowed to change my ways: turning weaknesses into strengths like…say…cussing at, cursing, or calling other drivers dirty names. Currently, my employment involves driving various vehicles. I had almost made my nearly unachievable goal of being cuss-free for an entire week, but then...

Back up the truck to last Monday and find me buckled in, engine running and sitting at a stop light. With my own eyes I witness not one, not two, but three drivers speed past me and through the intersection—through the red light. What? Only one car was hit and it wasn’t mine. (I was happy as h*ll is hot about that.) Before I realized, words escaped over my tongue and between my lips for God and everyone with a window rolled down to hear. I called all three of the Special Drivers the same bad name.

Tuesday, different intersection and one car length ahead of me, a driver decides to change lanes. Oops—doesn’t see the car next to him. “D*mn, that’s gonna hurt.” The word blurted itself out of my mouth as though my voice had a brain of its own.

On Wednesday, I figured saying Sister and Brother to acknowledge the sobs are children of God too would be a good thing. Plus, and this is a big plus, instead of saying naughty words, I substituted good words. For instance, Sister Wad of Dip, Brother Adam Henry, Sister DS, Brother What are You Thinking? Are you thinking? Sister were you born (insert word of choice) or are you practicing for a contest? That kept the cussing away until a semi truck came inches from rear-ending my 2018 automobile.

Honestly, Thursday began with cussing. An oil truck, complete with a dirty, round tank, (one that either delivers clean auto oil or picks up used oil), was eastbound down Mt. Vernon hill. Rear brake (singular) was a-burnin’. I sped past that driver, who reminded me of a supervisor I once had—round and constantly smoking.

On that very Friday I created fictional—sort of—characters from dippy drivers I witnessed behind their wheels. Not one of my creatures received a dirty name! I know, b*tchin’, huh?

But I learned not all idiotic things happen while driving.

There I was delivering paperwork to the Jefferson County Courthouse (not my own). Alas, I was NOT in the now, not focused on the job at hand, head in an imagined book… I lost the one and only key to my employer’s new car. Wait—there’s more. Wearing out my shoes, I repeatedly raced to the parking lot to ensure the car was still there. The last time out, I ran into one of the sheriff’s deputies—he was on duty—Sh*t! Armor is stiff. In my defense, he stood on my side of the walkway.

I’m humbled now and mending my ways. However, I’ve enrolled in Cussing Anonymous because I still drive for a paycheck.

Why is it at least 60% of gray or white vehicles being driven in fog are done so without headlights on?

Why do people signal after they’ve changed lanes? Why do so many new vehicles have broken blinker bulbs? Why do blinkers not shut off after people have turned?

How in the world is it possible to read a Playboy Magazine and drive at the same time? (rhetorical question only)

I find my morning commute to work is indicative of the rest of the day.

When there are three lanes headed in the same direction, why can’t some drivers pick one—just one?