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You Have the Power

By Kerry Schafer

Okay, writers, time for a show of hands: who among you has ever engaged in a pity party related to your writing career (or lack thereof)?

My hand definitely goes up. I’ve just dusted myself off after a particularly difficult little stretch where it seemed that everything was going wrong. And not just for me – for a lot of great writer friends out there.

The writing business is a tough one. It eats unwary writers for breakfast and smears the leavings over computer screens and scraps of paper for the wind to blow away. A writer’s world is full of politics and trolls, reviews and rejections, market trends and genre crashes, not to mention the self doubt and despair involved in trying to transform that brilliant but elusive idea into reasonably coherent prose.

So what is a writer to do?

Well, keep on writing, obviously. But here are a few other tips that I find helpful in keeping a firm hold on my own personal writer power.

If You’re Going to Have a Pity Party, Go Big. Hey, it’s inevitable that you’re going to crash at some point, and there’s no shame in the occasional meltdown. No matter how optimistic you are by nature, you can only take so many hits before a little self pity catches up with you. One too many rejections, one too many bad reviews, one too many days of beating your head against a wall with a manuscript determined to prove that I SUCK AS A WRITER  writing is really hard work.

If this should happen to you, I say let’s make it a real party. Bring in ice cream and chips. Chocolate. Alcohol. Invite friends. Weep big fat tears of failure and despair. Rage. Rant. Eat and drink things that provide an illusion of comfort. Just be sure to keep the misery offline and out of the public eye.

Also, set a time limit, say maybe 8 pm to midnight on Tuesday night. Parties that last too long suck and turn into something ugly. When the clock strikes twelve you know what to do. Clean up the mess. Dry your eyes. Let go of the anger. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and go on.

Remember, You are Here by Choice. That’s right. If you’re involved in this crazy rat race, then it’s because you chose to be here. Nobody is holding a gun to your head to make you write (unless, maybe, you’re a character in a Stephen King story). If you don’t like it, if you think the rules aren’t fair and the heartbreak too frequent, you are always welcome to pack up your computer and your stories and betake yourself elsewhere. If you choose to stay, do it with your eyes wide open. Acknowledge the reality. Sometimes great writers are passed over. Nice guys and gals may not win. Books that you consider not nearly as good as yours might make bestseller status while your work of art languishes, unloved and unappreciated.

If you continue to choose to be here, suck it up. Write anyway.

Take Responsibility. This is your writing career. Nobody else wants it as much as you do. Sure, maybe your significant other is supportive and wants you to be successful. They also want you to clean the house and make dinner and be available for sex and childcare and possibly even random conversation. And your agent? She’s got a lot to gain from your success, it’s true, but let’s face it. There are millions of writers out there, clamoring at the gates. If you decide not to play anymore she might miss you, but she’ll find another author to take your place.

Focus Your Energy Where You Have Control.

You don’t have control over whether an agent or editor accepts or rejects your book.

You do have control over writing the best damn book you can and taking the time to craft a great query or pitch.

You don’t have control over whether or not readers go crazy for something you write.

You do have control over writing a damn good book and learning some marketing strategies.

See the trend here? Nothing happens unless you write. And that means working on craft and structure and plotting and making every book better than the one before.

If you’ve already written a damn good book (and this has been confirmed by honest beta readers and editors and not just people who love you) maybe it’s time to self publish. Or try a kickstarter.

You, my friend, are not powerless. In fact, all of the power is yours. Claim it, wield it. Don’t let people walk all over you or make you believe that you are somehow not as worthy as some other writer. Only YOU can tell your stories. Only YOU can write the world through your eyes. So pick yourself up. Brush off the cake crumbs and the chocolate smears.

And get yourself back to the page where you belong.

 

Twenty Years of Conference Memories

by Karen Duvall

I had such a blast at the Colorado Gold Conference last weekend. It brought back memories of the very first Gold I attended in 1994. Twenty years. Damn, I feel old. I think I’ve only ever missed one conference in all these years and that’s because I moved to Oregon and the airfare would have killed me. I’m still in Oregon, and airfare is still a killer, but I make sure to save my pennies so that I never miss it again.

I recall my decision to attend the 1994 conference after hearing about it from a writer friend’s wife who was also a writer. She raved about RMFW and the conference, and since I’d only recently completed my first full-length manuscript, I thought it would be a great opportunity to find a publisher.

Okay, you can stop laughing now. I can hear you all the way from here.

I didn’t know much about what a conference entailed so I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know there would be workshops and published authors there, and I’d only recently heard about a special group of publishing professionals called literary agents. What a wonderful concept. I’m in!

As for publishers, I don’t think I met an editor that first year. I was too intimidated. Especially after I heard one of them speak. I’m pretty sure it was Michael Stedman of Walker that put the fear into me, but I could be wrong. It was a long time ago.

When I found out an agent had the power to get a writer’s work in front of an editor I thought, “Sign me up!” So I got in line for a pitch appointment with one. In those days you didn’t have to preregister to pitch to an agent or editor. So after hearing about this amazing chance to chat with an honest-to-god agent, I signed up to pitch to a literary agent named Grace Morgan. Once I sat down in front of this professional business woman who never cracked a smile, I lost my ability to speak. Seriously. I’d never had such a bad case of dry mouth in all my life. After a few awkward moments of silence and watching me on the verge of apoplexy, she patted my hand and said, “Honey, it’s okay. I won’t bite.” I wasn’t so sure about that, but her reassurance helped. I still choked. Even so, Ms. Morgan requested pages and I was beside myself with joy.

I also met some wonderful writers that weekend, writers I’d continue a strong friendship with for the next twenty years. I met my longtime friends and conference roommates, Shannon Baker and Karen Lin, at that first conference. We’ve shared our personal lives as well as our writing woes and triumphs, our wins and losses, and supported each other throughout our writers’ journey. We never would have met if not for RMFW and the Colorado Gold.

My first awards banquet was an eye-opening experience. I’d never before felt such a strong sense of community. I was privileged to see Rick Hanson himself read the simile winners and watched Alice Kober hand out the valuable prizes. I was awed by all the talented winners of that year’s writing contest. I didn’t personally know the winner of the Jasmine Award, but I teared up with everyone else when she walked up to the podium to accept her plaque (ten years later I accepted my own). I knew then that this organization would change my life, and it has.

When I returned home on Sunday after the 1994 conference, I tried to keep that experience alive by going through all the materials I’d brought home with me. So much information! It was overwhelming, but also exhilarating. My journey had finally begun because now I had the tools I needed to really get started. That folder of paper had ripped corners and coffee stains, highlighter marks and pen scribbles, and it reminded me of the Velveteen Rabbit because those papers were so loved.

The following year I signed with my first literary agent (not Grace Morgan). I was a finalist in the writing contest in 1999. I got my first publishing contract in 2000. I joined a critique group (go Alphas!), served on the board as PAL rep, volunteered for contest and for conference, presented workshops, started the anthology project, and though I’m now 1200 miles away from Denver, I still stay involved with conference and RMFW as much as I possibly can.

Last weekend I found myself reflecting on my first conference and all the memorable moments in between. It’s been one incredible journey that hasn’t ended, and I hope it never will. For those of you who attended conference for the first time, I hope your experience was as amazing as my first conference was, and that you’ll come back next year. And I hope you get involved with RMFW because this fabulous group of supportive writers will stand behind you every step of the way. You have my word.

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series and plans to publish her new urban fantasy novel, Demon Fare, before the end of 2014.

 

Get BIG By Going Small – The Top Five Reasons To Publish With A Small Press

By Aaron Ritchey

So once again, I was talking to someone about writing and publishing. Why do I always get myself into these conversations?

Anyhow, we were talking big press, small press, and indie publishing.

Sidenote. I got chastised the other day by someone who said that indie publishing and self-publishing were two different things and that people would be upset if I mixed the two. Indie publishing, this person insisted, was for small independent presses versus the do-it-yourself (DIY) of self-publishing. Um, yeah, anyway, I like indie publishing and self-publishing being synonymous. And besides, most authors I know who have done it themselves start their own independent publishing company that publishes only them. But I digress…

A small press, as I see it, is someone who agrees to publish my book in return for a percentage of the sales.  Like a huge press, they handle editing and cover art and some marketing.  That last piece is critical, as we’ll see.

So my friend is almost done with her book and she has her sights set on the big press, the traditional contract, the literary agent. Which I completely understand. I’ve always fantasized that I’d be at a cocktail party, and I could use the words, “My agent says…”

More and more, I’m thinking the fantasies I have really don’t matter. Reality can’t compete with my imagination, so even when I get what I think I want, it never measures up.

Anyway, I suggested to my friend that if she can’t get into one of the big houses she should try a small press. To which she said, “Why should I? I can do all that myself.”

And that is very true. Indie pub, DIY, you go, girl.

However, I have gone with small presses for all my books so far and here are the top five benefits of going with a small press:

  1. I have at least one other person in the world besides myself that likes the project, that has volunteered to spend their precious life’s minutes on my work. That not only is a confidence booster, but it also gives me some street cred. I can’t talk about my agent at the cocktail party, but I can talk about my editor, my publisher, my cover artist, blah, blah, blah.
  2. I have at least one other person in the world (generally more) who are talking about my book, promoting my book, giving my book out to others, and generally donning the fur coat and platform shoes to pimp my book. This is also huge. Word-of-mouth sells books. The more mouths wording, the more books sold.
  3. I don’t have to do all the editing myself. Yes, I have editors at my small presses, but I also have a freelance copy editor I pay for that all important final polish. You can’t have too many eyes looking at a book and yes, small presses will do editing, but I would also have a friend or three pore over the manuscript looking for typos. In this day and age, editing is everything.
  4. I don’t have to do all the cover art stuff myself. Now I like DEVIANTART.COM as much as the next guy, but I didn’t get into the book writing business to do cover art. I’m not good at it. I don’t have an eye for it. And getting help is wonderful. Be warned, however, some small presses are better at cover art than others. Before you sign up, look at the covers and take stock. In this day and age, cover art is everything.
  5. Lastly, I like working with a team of people that have skin in the game. Yes, I can hire editors and cover artists for my book, but once I write them their check, they are done. With small presses, the people I work with make money when the book sells so they have a vested interest in putting out quality books and making them shine. On my own, it’s all up to me. And it’s a lonely old world.

So that is my pitch for small presses. I have a few I adore–some I’ve worked with, others not yet.  Here’s a quick list: WordFire Press (and I don’t imagine they’ll be small for long), Entangled (also on the rise), Courtney Literary (Hi, Deb!), Desert Breeze Publishing (Hi, Gail!), and last but not least, Staccato Publishing, home of my third novel, Elizabeth’s Midnight.

Of course there are others.

Do your research! Don’t go into the game unaware. Just like everything else, shop around, talk to authors at that press, and know what the press does and doesn’t do. There are websites and author pages that will give small presses a yeah or a nay. Again, be careful.

Above all, write your book, polish it, and then get your book in front of readers BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY! Big, small, or indie, just get ‘r done.

So You Think You Can Write

One of my favorite TV shows is So You Think You Can Dance. I watch the episodes streamed on Hulu.com because I’m never able to catch them at the time they’re televised.

While watching the show the other night, I noticed some similarities between dance as an art form, and writing.  Dance is an art, as is theater, music, the visual arts, and of course the various literary arts. Each art can be performed with varying levels of creativity.

One of the points made by judge Little C was how each dancer, as an artist, interprets dance differently. They may each execute the same steps, but it’s how the dance is performed that makes the difference. Some dancers are superb technicians with impeccable timing, posture, extensions, and all the other myriad moves that are choreographed into a performance. But if their heart and style and individuality is left out, they won’t rise above the ordinary. Dancers who give it their all and let themselves feel the joy of dance, who pay less attention to their steps and more to how dance lifts their souls, are the ones who become extraordinary artists.

So I got to thinking about how writing is much the same way. I should change the title of this post to So You Think Can Write a Novel because writing, like dance, is interpreted different ways. There are superb technicians who are competent wordsmiths. Journalists and technical writers might fit in that camp. If you can write an excellent software manual, can you write an equally excellent novel?

Maybe.

Good skill in one area does not guarantee excellence in another even if it’s the same art. Aside from the X factor no one can quite put their finger on, when it comes to writing fiction, there’s so much more to it than good grammar and a knack for stringing sentences together. A great poet may be a poor storyteller, a fabulous storyteller may suck at journalism. I think it’s rare for a writer to be especially good at writing everything, but I’m sure there are exceptions.

So tell me, writers, are you a good writer? Or are you a good storyteller? Do you think there’s a difference?

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Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series last year, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. She is currently working on a new contemporary fantasy romance series.

Interview with Raelene Gorlinsky, Publisher, Ellora’s Cave

raelenegorlinskyRaelene Gorlinsky, Publisher of Ellora’s Cave, will be presenting at the Colorado Gold Conference and taking pitch appointments.  Here’s a sneak peek at what she’s looking for and some great advice on writing and submitting:

1. What genres does Ellora’s Cave publish and how many books per year in each genre?

EC publishes erotic romance, erotica fiction, and romance (about 10% overall are the non-erotic romances). We publish 500 ebooks a year, of length from 7000 to 125,000 words. (About 250 to 300 stories go into print each year.) We do all genres within romance – paranormal, futuristic/scifi, fantasy and urban fantasy, BDSM, contemporary, historical, Western…

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?

ABSOLUTELY NO:
~ Billionaires. There are only 104 billionaires in the U.K., the country with one of the highest percentages of people at that wealth level — and I bet 103 of the 104 are *not* young, handsome and single.
~ Clones of the plots or characters of Fifty Shades, Twilight or Hunger Games. It’s been done, people; come up with your own blockbuster.
~ TSTL heroines, or weak heroines who let the hero or events control them rather than developing their own strength and taking charge of their own life.
~ Secret babies or amnesia plots, or anything else that’s a decades-old Harlequin cliche.
~ Bad or nonexistent research: I can’t stand stories that show the writer just followed cliches or what she’d read in other books, rather than do thorough research and fact-checking herself.
~ If you write erotica, no stories that tell me the hero’s penis size in inches, especially male-ego inches (It’s the swing of the stick, not the size of the bat, that makes the game exciting. Fact: the average size of an erect penis is around six inches.) or that misplace the heroine’s hymen (It’s at the vaginal opening, not inches deep inside).

I WILL TOTALLY FALL FOR:
~ Great world-building – it’s the most important part of a story for me.
~ Intelligent, realistic and emotional characters I can believe in.
~ I love urban fantasy romance. I personally have a thing for fantasy wings – dragons, angels, pegasuses, any paranormal/fantasy creature that flies.

3. As a professional editor, what’s the best advice you can give to writers submitting their first novels.

Have every submission brutally critiqued by experienced authors, and then proofread by several skilled proofreaders. If you don’t respect your work enough to make it as perfect as you can, why should an editor respect you or your story?

Writing for publication is a skilled trade, treat it as such and be a professional in your field. Learn about the publishing industry, read the industry news. Join writing organizations. Take classes to develop your skills. Attend conferences to network with other professionals in the field. Learn the promotion and marketing element of the business.

4. Do you recommend that authors have their manuscripts professionally edited before submitting, or is content and copy editing part of your normal process?

All accepted books go through our full editing process. But the better and cleaner a submission is, the more likely it will be accepted and the quicker it will get through edits.

5. What gets you excited in a query letter? What makes you hit the delete button?

I love a great, grabbing – and brief – blurb about the book. That’s what makes me eager to look at the manuscript.

Delete – Personal info about the author, babbling about why they write, things that indicate they know nothing about the publishing industry or the profession of writing. The things that matter are that the story is great and the author behaves professionally.

6. Tell us about your typical work day (and especially how many manuscripts you usually have waiting in your e-mail Inbox).

All submissions from authors not already contracted to EC go to our Submissions email address, not to individual editors. They get a pre-review to determine whether they may be of interest to us and fit our guidelines. If so, they go in the queue for editors who are acquiring. We get about 800 external submissions a year; our acceptance rate is around 4 to 5%.

My day? My “day” job is publisher – I deal with contracts and rights, vendors, sub rights deals (translation, audio, etc), plan ebook sales and promotions, plan our print books, supervise the cover art department and our ebook production department, provide guidance to the editorial department…

I edit on weekends – because I started as an editor, love editing and don’t want to ever stop doing it. I edit about 30-ish stories a year.

7. 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?

Website and/or blog. The aspiring author should certainly be on Goodreads as a READER, posting comments and participating in discussions, building contacts toward the day when she will be published.

8. What do you do for fun when you’re not working? Any unusual hobbies?

Hmm. I read, read, read. I love to discuss books and the publishing industry. I have two adored and adorable Pembroke Welsh Corgis that add love and liveliness to every day. I collect Tarot decks and children’s picture books with lovely art. I aspire to being an author of children’s picture books. I love hats and pearls. I really, really wish I could afford a Can-Am Spyder RT motorcycle.

9. How have changes in the world of publishing impacted your job (or company name) in the last year?

Every week is a new challenge (either opportunity or crisis, depending on how one views it). The industry is changing so rapidly that it’s a constant effort to keep up with what’s going on with sales channels, digital formats, changing international opportunities.

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

Make sure your story fits what EC publishes. And that your pitch starts off with a bang! Be able to tell me genre, length, and what makes your story special and “different”. If I have time, I’m happy to listen to “practice pitches” from nervous aspiring authors.

When You Shouldn’t Finish What You Started

By Katriena Knights

One of the cardinal rules of being a writer is to finish what you start. After all, if you don’t finish those stories, you won’t have anything to submit or publish, right? Right. But there are times when it’s best not to finish or revisit an unfinished or unpolished piece. Continue reading

Alice Kober Has Your Reading Covered

By Liesa Malik

How many books will you read this year?

Alice KoberAs authors, we have a certain obligation to become “super readers,” which are readers, according to Alice Kober of the Arapahoe Library District, who read at least eleven books a year. If this sounds like your kind of goal, then you are doing well. But Alice may have you beat. She tries to read approximately 100 books each year.

This wonderful former host and judge committee of one for the annual Rick Hansen Simile contest at the Colorado Gold Conference has a substantial commitment to reading, writing, and all things books. A member of RMFW since 1993, Alice has made the world of books her domain.

 Super Reader

“It’s so hard for me to hang out with people who don’t read,” said Alice recently. “Reading is a passion of mine.” This is a good thing, as Alice’s role with the library is that of Adult Fiction Collection Librarian. That means she buys the print, audio, e-books, down-loadable materials and anything related to adult fiction for all of the Arapahoe Library District. “I’m an on-line shopper,” said Alice with her typical ring of humility.

Besides her personal commitment to a high level of reads for each year, Alice also posts several reviews on Goodreads. She said she used to review on Amazon as well, but doesn’t go there any more.

“I just hate Amazon reviews because they have paid reviewers. People are all saying it’s just crooked. There were authors out there deliberately panning other people’s books. I have found a lot more authenticity on Goodreads,” she said.

Dedicated Librarian

Besides her job as personal shopper for the patrons of Arapahoe County, Alice spends a good deal of her time looking for the next great book. She refers to many sources for top-selling titles that may be of interest to patrons.

“For less commercial books, I look at Indie-Next—The Independent Booksellers’ Association. And I also read Romantic Times, Locus (for science-fiction), Mystery Scene, Oprah’s list, Entertainment Weekly, People Magazine, New York Times Review of Books. So I’m looking at everything from literary fiction to action/adventure.”

“I look at my job as buying chocolate, in that reading is entertainment. There’s dark chocolate and there’s milk chocolate and there’s nuts’n’chews. There’s even orange centers.

“I really dislike it when some people will criticize inspirational fiction or romance or whatever. I feel that I represent the taxpayers of the Arapahoe tax district. Some people want erotica, some people want what we call ‘clean reads,’ and I try to get something of everything.”

Picking Books To Shelve

Another part of being the Adult Fiction Collections Librarian, is to develop sets of books patrons may want to read. One of the collections Alice works on is a local author set.

“We have a Colorado Author’s collection at Arapahoe County and I’ve been posting that on the RMFW loop. Those books have a special sticker for Colorado Author, and they circulate well,” said Alice. “Our patrons are very interested.”

If you are a published author and member of the RMFW loop, please contact Alice with your title, ISBN number and publishing date, so she can review your book for possible future purchase.

Some other tips for getting your books in the libraries:

  • Librarians prefer requests via email as opposed to phone calls.
  • When you query, provide links to reviews, past publishing successes and awards, and anything that shows your author platform or publication history.
  • Know and be able to articulate your reader appeal. For example, if your book is a futuristic romance then let your librarian know that it would appeal to readers of Jayne Castle.
  • Americans are visual. Make sure your cover is professional looking.
  • If you’re an independently published author, be sure your work is thoroughly copy-edited before publication.
  • Please don’t ask for a book review.
  • Remember, libraries are a great way for readers to discover new authors. Visit and get to know your librarians.

For Alice, the trends in reading constantly change, so purchasing for Arapahoe remains a challenging and fun position.

“I’ve read a lot of articles and I think people are reading shorter things. They talk about people’s attention spans changing, but there’s a Pew study on e-reading that says ‘3 in ten adults read an e-book last year. Half of them own an e-reader.’ Reading is all over the place. I keep buying my books and hoping.”

So, what’s your next read? Tell us in the comments below. Alice and all of us at RMFW would be interested to know. Maybe you can get it at the library.

Getting in Bed with Your Co-Writer: The Art of Collaborative Writing (Part Two)

By Kym O’Connell-Todd and Mark Todd

Kym and Mark ToddThis is the second in a three-part installment on strategies we’ve found successful as collaborative writers. In the first part, we discussed things to look for in a compatible partner. In this part, we’ll explore examples of how that plays out in practice.

Duo-writing isn’t for everyone, but one clear advantage should be obvious – two heads mean two sets of experiences. It also means two sets of critical eyes because we each bring to the “Writing Bed” individual strengths that mitigate the individual weaknesses.

The best writers say to write what you know. That’s exactly what we did when we wrote our paranormal comedy-adventure series, the Silverville Saga. We drew upon real personalities and real situations that we’ve experienced or heard about living in the mountainous West. As you’ll recall at the end of the previous post, we cited an example of a scene where sheriff investigators and coroners from adjoining counties come together at the county line to decide who has to take possession of a decomposed corpse. That event – or something close – actually took place between Gunnison and an adjoining county. To be truthful, many of the situations in our first and second books from the series happened somewhere in at least one of our pasts.

For instance, in the first book, Little Greed Men, we inserted an anecdote where townsfolk flee from an apparently rabid dog with a frothing mouth. That dog, in reality, was Kym’s childhood pet. “Roscoe” had helped himself to a meringue pie cooling on someone’s front steps. The dog scared the wits out of the neighborhood until the cook discovered her empty pie plate.

The other scene from that same book we cited last time – the one in the embalming room – draws authenticity since Mark’s family owned a mortuary business. But writers contribute more than real-life experiences to a collaborative project. In our case, Kym’s journalism background makes her succinct to a fault. Mark, on the other hand, comes from the halls of academia and doesn’t know when to quit. Somewhere between these two extremes is the point we shoot for using each other’s complementary strengths.

Kym has a keen ear for dialog: she can hear the way different characters should talk, and the result is a distinct voice for each. Mark’s characters all tend to talk just like Mark. But Mark bravely jumps right into a scene while Kym endlessly stares at the screen waiting for the right words to come. Kym constantly plays devil’s advocate when it comes to defending the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief. If she can’t buy it, she won’t let it happen. Mark, on the other hand, happily plows through a scenario with little regard to where it comes from or where it’s going. That has its advantages, though. Mark, being a college professor and natural nerd, is  never at a loss for how to phrase things. But he tends to embellish, sometimes inserting too much literary texture (that’s the poet in him coming through). Kym champions a more nonintrusive voice, constantly reminding Mark of the kinds of books we both like to read.

Above all else, we prefer escapism – mysteries by John Sanford, Sarah Paretsky, Greg Iles, and Val McDermid; thrillers by Preston and Child, of course, but also those by John Case, Andrew Klavan, Dan Brown, Nelson DeMille, and Michael Crichton; warped fantasies (no dragons or elves) by Jonathan Carroll, Christopher Moore, Mario Acevedo, and Ramsey Campbell; sci-fi by Connie Willis, Charles Sheffield, Cordwainer Smith, John Barnes, Orson Scott Card, and Cory Doctorow. These lists could go on and on.

Okay, we do sometimes read something a little more high-brow. We like Laurie Wagner Buyer, Annie Proulx, Anita Diamant, Sara Gruen, Stacy Richter, Lorrie Moore. And yes, we even read the Pushcarts to keep our pulse on up-and-coming authors.

We read a lot because we think it helps our writing. And we’re shameless when it comes to stealing techniques that impress us. John Case gave The Genesis Code a twist in the final sentence of the book. We liked it so well that we added a final-sentence twist to Little Greed Men – or we thought we had, until the editors read it. Days before our novel went to press, we ate lunch with the publishers to pitch them the sequel. When the conversation came back to the first book, they asked if we planned to reveal the hidden identity of one of the major characters. We thought we had through implied exposition along the way as well as in our original final sentence. They didn’t get it. We rushed home and rewrote the last two paragraphs and final sentence, making that character’s identity unmistakable. It’s a decision we’ve never regretted, and almost all of our readers tell us they didn’t expect that ending. “Oh yeah,” one reader told us, “there were hints throughout the book. I just didn’t put it together until the end.”

Here’s a perfect example of what rigid writing can do to the quality of a story. We just knew the ambiguity at the end of Little Greed Men was enough to clue in our readers. We were wrong. We’ve been wrong about lots of things in our co-writing endeavors
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Several years ago, we wanted to tell an alternate history about Ankh-sen-amun, the wife of King Tut. We read lots of books, did tons of research, and then sat down to outline the story arc. We wrote extensive summaries for twenty-two carefully crafted chapters, and thought to ourselves, “Man, this book is going to write itself!” While this may work for some writers, the strategy completely killed our passion for the project. We remained steadfast and followed our outline to every detail. By six chapters, we’d gotten pretty bored. We hadn’t allowed the characters any voice in where the story was going. We all became miserable, and that manuscript still sits in a drawer at Chapter Six.

What’s become more workable for us is to create a broad-stroke outline that gives us the flexibility to still listen to our characters along the way. They may not always want to go where we had originally planned, and we’ve discovered we’d best listen to them.

We loved the movie, Romancing the Stone, about an author (played by Kathleen Turner) in search of a relationship that could match her novel series’ protagonist. Eventually she found her love (Played by Michael Douglass – gee, imagine that), but falling in love wasn’t easy.

We both tend to fall in love with our mouthiest, out most opinionated and pushy characters, but we don’t always relate to them in the same way. And certainly not like Kathleen Turner’s character did. And the process of encountering characters who take over our stories has really challenged Mark’s notion of how characters come about from the unconscious.

Our experience has produced characters who seem to have emerged at the same time for us both. Take Denton Fine in The Silverville Swindle. He was a nice enough guy from the start – so nice we got bored with him. Originally, we’d tagged Denton as our protagonist, but he turned out to be a little too white-bread for our taste. Same with our real-life friends. If they’re not quirky and eccentric, they don’t make our lunch-date list for long.

Pleasance Pantiwycke, from All Plucked Up, on the other hand, always makes our A-list for lunch. She’s a risk-taker and a slob, a black-marketeer and former female professional wrestler. Who wouldn’t enjoy her conversation? It only took a few pages for her to take over the sequel and become our protagonist.

Switch gears to Skippy from our first novel. She’s the only prominent female in the story, and one would think that Kym would empathize with her personality. Not so. Kym didn’t like spending time with her at all. Getting inside a woman’s head has always been more difficult for Kym, who finds it much easier to relate to men. Ironically, Mark got along with her just fine. This character serves as the main love interest for Billy, the story’s protagonist. We talked at length about how far their intimacy should go and decided, in the end, that it wouldn’t go far at all.

Here’s why: Several years ago, we’d bought a book on how to write erotica, hoping to make scads of money on the romance book wagon. We sat down and drafted out a torrid love scene, but it was simply too embarrassing to put into words. At least our words. “Love shaft” and “hot tunnel of passion” seemed like ridiculous and corny expressions that readers of the genre expected. We know it sells; we just couldn’t do it. When it came to shaping the relationship between Skippy and Billy, we offered a lukewarm story arc, and our editors cried foul. Either consummate that relationship or back it off, they said. We backed off and left it up to the imagination of the readers. For two authors that insist that co-writing is like good sex, we still can’t figure out why we can’t pen erotica.

Billy, don’t ask us why, turned into a protagonist that readers tend to like. We made him a cheat and a conman, and neither one of us really cared much for him. He was central, as the story unfolded, and we got stuck with him. He was also a cast member whose characteristics came from a sleazy guy we both knew years ago. We’re not naming names, but he always used to hit on Kym. Which brings us to where we find our characters. Most are composites of personality types of people everyone knows: Grady, the curmudgeon rancher; Buford, the self-interested town promoter; Howard, the endearing village simpleton – all Silverville Swindle cast members. Maybe it’s telling that we were most attached to Howard and easily crawled inside his head:

Howard liked to pedal. He didn’t have to think about anything else – just push the right foot down and then push the left foot down. Sometimes he went so slow that his bike would wobble, but then he’d stand up on his pedals and pump until he sped up fast enough that it felt like flying.

In some ways, it reminded him of massaging limbs. Whenever he helped Mr. Fine embalm bodies, Howard’s job was to squeeze the arms and legs so the blood could come out and the embalming fluid could go in. At least, that’s what Mr. Fine said it was for. First the right leg, and then the left leg. Just like pedaling.

Howard looks at the world in a very simple way that makes sense to the child in all of us, and it was soothing to write from his perspective, taking everything at face value.

Buford is modeled after a specific person, but again we’re not naming names. It’s been interesting to us to watch our community try to guess his real identity. No one ever has, and probably won’t. Buford and all of our characters emerge from some weird shared consciousness where we meet and get to know the folks who live within the city limits of Silverville and the environs.

But that’s not the strangest part of co-writing. Next time we’ll talk about those characters we didn’t know could exist when you’re a writing duo – those that somehow mysteriously leap from our collective minds and take over our stories…

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Co-authors Kym O’Connell-Todd & Mark Todd are co-authors of the Silverville Saga Series, paranormal adventure comedies that take place in an “ordinary” community sitting on intersecting ley lines – punching holes in everyday reality, causing extraordinary coincidences and the random UFO, an occasional curse, a ghost or two, and even a bit of time-travel now and then.

You can learn more about Kym and Mark and their books at the website and blog. They can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.