THE CURSE OF THE WANDERING PROTAGONIST

Originally published in Nelson Literary Agency’s monthly newsletter

Here are three examples of a formula I’ve seen many times in our query inbox. See if you can figure out why the formula doesn’t work…and why we’re probably going to pass on reading the sample pages:

Example #1: Middle Grade

“Protagonist and his friends go on many exciting adventures. Along the way, they encounter a band of pirates, a herd of mystical unicorns, a swarm of angry fairies, and one club-swinging giant who just wants to find his way back to his home in the Mountains of Malfesioria.”

Example #2: Coming of Age

“It’s the last summer before college, and in the wake of his father’s death, Protagonist needs to figure out who he really is. He takes off on a cross-country road trip in Dad’s old Jeep. Along the way, he meets a wise homeless man who teaches him about gratitude, a scrappy orphan who teaches him about forgiveness, and a blonde cocktail waitress who teaches him about love.”

Example #3: Crime Fiction

“In her quest to capture a serial killer, Detective Protagonist must interview one quirky character after another: a past-her-prime exotic dancer who bakes the world’s best chocolate-chip cookies, a grouchy old chess champion with an eidetic memory, and a cynical comedian whose dark sense of humor has managed to offend nearly everyone in Setting City.”

Each of these story-summaries is based on the same formula—a formula I call “The Wandering Protagonist.”

Keep in mind that there’s nothing inherently wrong with a novel in which the main character goes on a journey. And, of course, anyone on a journey is bound to meet interesting folks (human or otherwise) along the way. However, journeys and interesting side characters are neither story nor plot. As such, these three summaries have all missed some very crucial marks. What they’re missing, in the immortal words of Debra Dixon, are Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. I’d also add stakes. (Donald Maass puts his lesson on stakes at the very beginning of his book The Breakout Novelist.)

Let’s look at each example a little more closely.

In Example #1, our middle-grade protagonist has no goal—at least not one that’s mentioned in the query letter. (Hint: The protagonist’s goal should be present in the query letter!) What does he want? What is he looking for? Why? (That’s motivation.) What happens if he finds it, or doesn’t? (That’s stakes.) How can you (the author) make me (the reader) care about Protagonist’s impending success or failure? While this example does hint at conflict (pirates, angry fairies, a club-swinging giant), none of that conflict is directly hooked into the protagonist’s goal. Do the angry fairies want the same thing Protagonist wants, and will they do anything to prevent him from getting it first? Are the pirates the swashbuckling sort, or are they another antagonistic force standing in Protagonist’s way? Do our heroes end up helping the giant get back home? While the author might answer all that in the manuscript itself, this summary, unfortunately, is too vague and does little to pique my interest.

In Example #2, we have a goal, but it’s not a very strong one: Protagonist wants to find out who he really is. We’re missing motivation: Why does he need to find out who he really is (whatever that means), and what happens if he fails (stakes)? We are given hints of conflict: He’s mourning the death of his father, and apparently he needs to learn about gratitude, forgiveness, and love. But in this example both goal and conflict are internal to the protagonist. Remember that there are two kinds of dramatic conflict—internal and external—and that a good story develops both. Give this protagonist an external goal (to visit his grandmother in Sedona, or to scatter is father’s ashes at Niagara Falls, or to return something his father stole to its rightful owner) and some external conflict (the Jeep keeps breaking down, or the scrappy orphan steals his wallet, or his sister is chasing him across the country to stop him from, say, returning the object their father stole, etc.).

In Example #3, we have a goal that’s both clear and genre appropriate: To capture a serial killer. The motivation is implied: To stop the killer from killing again. The stakes are also implied: If Detective Protagonist fails, someone else will die. (Hint: For higher, better stakes, make the killer’s next target someone close to Detective Protagonist. Make the stakes personal.) So far so good. However, the author then wanders off into Wandering Protagonist territory, and there’s zero conflict in the rest of the summary. Perhaps this author, like the author of example #1, hopes to hook agents with his cast of quirky characters. But any author who thinks his secondary characters are more interesting than his plot probably needs to take a long, hard look at his manuscript!

To see if your query letter’s pitch paragraph is solid, print it out and grab a highlighter. Highlight your protagonist’s goal, motivationstakes, and conflict. If they’re all present and accounted for, you’re on the right track!

 

AngieHodappAngie Hodapp has worked in language-arts education, publishing, professional writing, and editing for the better part of the last two decades. After completing her master’s thesis, a work of creative nonfiction, and leaving academia, she gave herself permission to write what she really wanted to write: speculative fiction and romance. Angie is currently the contracts and royalties manager at Nelson Literary Agency in Denver. She and her husband live in a renovated 1930s carriage house near the heart of the city and love collecting stamps in their passports.

Pitch Like a BOSS by Angie Hodapp

Originally published in Nelson Literary Agency’s monthly newsletter

Pitching your book to an agent or editor is daunting. How are you supposed to cram the essence of your entire novel into a pithy couple of sentences? (Hint: You’re not.) Here’s a formula for a concise pitch that will set you on the right track. Ladies and Gentlemen, James Scott Bell‘s “three-sentence pitch”:

First Sentence: Your lead character’s name, vocation, and initial situation. Will Connelly is an associate at a prestigious San Francisco law firm, handling high-level merger negotiations between computer companies.

Second Sentence: “When” + the main plot problem. When Will celebrates a recent merger by picking up a Russian woman at a club, he finds himself at the mercy of a ring of small-time Russian mobsters with designs on the top-secret NSA computer chip Will’s client is developing.

Third Sentence: “Now” + the stakes. Now, with the Russian mob, the SEC, and the Department of Justice all after him, Will has to find a way to save his professional life and his own skin before the wrong people get the technology that can be used for mass destruction.

Boom. Three sentences. The first introduces the protagonist in his ordinary world. The second presents the inciting incident. The third is what your character stands to lose if the antagonistic forces prevail. Here’s another example:

Dorothy Gale is a farm girl who dreams of getting out of Kansas to a land far, far away, where she and her dog will be safe from the likes of town busybody Miss Gulch. When a twister hits the farm, Dorothy is transported to a land of strange creatures and at least one wicked witch who wants to kill her. Now, with the help of three unlikely friends, Dorothy must find a way to destroy the wicked witch so the great wizard will send her back home.

Give it a try, but keep each sentence brief. Having taught this formula at pitch workshops, I know how tempted writers are to pack those three sentences full of backstory, secondary characters, and world-building. Resist that urge!

Now, can you boil your three-sentence pitch down further to create an even more concise pitch? Conversely, can you expand it to craft an evocative query letter? Whichever way you go, start here: with three sentences.

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Above, we looked at a quick three-sentence formula that will help you start to craft your pitch. Did you try it? Yes? Awesome!

Did you thwart the temptation to squeeze in a bunch of backstory, secondary characters, and world-building? No? Alas. Go back to those three sentences and whittle, hone, refine, and polish. Until you do, your pitch probably isn’t ready.

Go ahead. Do it now. I’ll wait.

Are you back? Excellent. Then let’s get you ready for your pitch appointment:

Ditch the idea that your pitch is supposed to be a complete summary of your novel. It’s not. Your pitch is a conversation starter. Pitch appointments at writing conferences tend to run about ten minutes. Deliver your pitch, then let the agent you’re pitching to ask you questions about your novel. About you. About your writing in general. Relax and have a chat.

Focus on character and plot. Ten-minute pitch appointments fly by, and many are wasted by the author who spends…way…too…much…time…explaining (1) his protagonist’s backstory, (2) his world-building elements, or (3) all the cool historical facts he discovered when researching his novel. Seriously. I once listened to a pitch during which the author never actually told me a single thing about her plot. Even when I asked questions about the story itself, her replies remained focused on backstory and setting. The agent wants to know if the story you put down between page 1 and page 350 is something they can sell. That’s what’s on the table, so focus on that.

Be prepared to respond to feedback and questions. Things I’ve said (gently, I hope!) to writers during pitch appointments include: (1) You’re pitching this as YA, but it’s coming across as a middle grade. What makes it YA? (2) How will your novel stand out among current bestsellers in your genre, or how will it appeal to readers of those bestsellers? (3) What are the last three books you’ve read in your genre? (4) What is your novel’s inciting incident, and how far into the manuscript does it occur? (5) In the story you just described, it concerns me that your protagonist isn’t actually the one who solves the plot problem. (6) The conflict you describe is very internal to your character. What is the story’s external conflict, and how does it get resolved and/or relate to the internal conflict? (7) Has your manuscript been critiqued by a critique group or beta readers?

Bring a copy of your query letter. If the agent stops you in the first minute of your pitch appointment with something like “I don’t represent that genre” (or anything else that feels like a shutdown/letdown), then politely ask if she wouldn’t mind giving you her quick impression of your query letter. After all, it’s your ten minutes. You paid for the appointment. And her input on your query letter just might help you land a different agent—one that’s right for you, your genre, and your project.

Understand that a disappointing pitch has zero bearing on your future as a writer. There will be other conferences, other pitch appointments, other opportunities. Keep pitching. Keep sending out query letters. The more doors you knock on, the more likely one (or more) will open.

And above all, keep writing.

 

AngieHodappAngie Hodapp has worked in language-arts education, publishing, professional writing, and editing for the better part of the last two decades. After completing her master’s thesis, a work of creative nonfiction, and leaving academia, she gave herself permission to write what she really wanted to write: speculative fiction and romance. Angie is currently the contracts and royalties manager at Nelson Literary Agency in Denver. She and her husband live in a renovated 1930s carriage house near the heart of the city and love collecting stamps in their passports.

Master Classes at 2016 Colorado Gold

RMFWConference_Chalkboard_MasterClassesLooking to dig deep and expand your learning at conference? Master Classes are back this year and we've added new times for more offerings!

These classes are four hours in length and provide more specialized instruction on writing and the business of being an author. This year’s classes are scheduled for Friday morning and, based on attendee feedback surveys, we've added a new Saturday morning and afternoon class as well.

The fee to attend a master class is $60. Space is limited.

Check out this year's lineup:

Friday Morning Master Classes

Avoid Real Life Drama: Nuts and Bolts of Contracts and Tax Law | by Lisa Adams
When you enter the digital or print marketplace, it helps to understand both the contract and tax aspects of your publishing adventure beforehand. This is true regardless of whether you are an indie author or traditionally-published. Knowledge is power and a wonderful drama avoidance tool.

Emotion in Fiction: Making Characters Real, Making Readers Feel | by Angie Hodapp
Memorable stories are rooted in emotion. Come learn how to make the three actors of emotion in fiction-writer, character, reader-connect on the page. Then learn dozens of ways you can use character, story, and prose to elicit emotion in readers-and make your stories unforgettable!

Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: The Secrets of Book Architecture| by Stuart Horwitz
Have you ever asked yourself while writing: How many drafts is this going to take? It doesn’t seem like such a question would have an answer but Stuart Horwitz proposes it does–and that the answer is three, provided you approach each draft in the right spirit, and know what action steps to take between drafts. This presentation will discuss the best outlook and direction for each of the three drafts so that you can increase your efficiency, satisfaction, and engagement with both your writing process and your final product.

Nailing an Agent-Grabbing Opening | by Heather Webb (Submit pages by August 1)
Learn what makes an opening grabby-or trite-and how to win the agent's eye for which you're vying. The class will be divided into instruction and workshop time. Attendees are invited to submit up to five (5) pages ahead of time for feedback from the instructor, as well as during class from peer groups.

Writing a Killer Mystery | by Susan Spann
Plotting the perfect crime requires more than merely killing off imaginary friends. You need a sterling sleuth, well-crafted clues, a cast of (un)usual suspects, and a killer eye for details. Come learn the inside tricks of writing standalone and series mysteries, with useful techniques for both plotters and pantsers. Whether you’re a veteran mystery writer or plotting your very first (fictional) murder, this master’s class will give you the practical tools to write complex and compelling crime fiction.

New! Saturday AM and PM Master Classes

Vocal Training for Writers: An Introvert’s Guide to Developing a Fabulous Book Tour Persona | by J. Dylan Yates
55% of people fear public speaking more than death. Why? Lack of training! Writers can overcome public speaking fears using writing skills. This workshop helps align your storytelling talents with your vocal presentations. Get prepared to deliver your biggest promotional asset-your own voice! This fun, engaging workshop utilizes relaxation exercises, professional acting techniques and 1-on-1 coaching. You’ll be given the tools to create a polished, professional speaking presentation. Traditional public speaking principles will be used to develop individual promotional plans. We’ll use vocal and physical relaxation exercises, beginning acting techniques, individual vocal production feedback using personal writing pieces chosen by the attendees. Each attendee will receive a handbook for future reference. BRING: yoga mat or towel, a personal writing piece for reading, a sense of fun, humor, and wear comfy clothing.

Tell and Sell Your Story Smarter | by Betsy Dornbusch
Queries and Synopses are required sales tools for any writer who wants to be-and stay-professionally published. Besides being necessary to sell on spec, they can become valuable tools not just for selling, but for writing. A big secret for success is to write them from the very start, before you get much past the idea stage, and let them evolve with your book. They can validate your idea and give you a process to balance market vs. craft. But even if your book is finished, you can figure out how to write selling copy for your story. In this workshop we'll learn how to write queries and synopses to use not only as sales tools but as novel-crafting aids. There will be plenty of writing time and work-shopping opportunities so participants can walk out of the class with a solid query and synopsis. BRING: Laptop and/or pen and paper.

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.

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

BAD MOON RISING: SET THE TONE THROUGH MOOD AND ATMOSPHERE
~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.

QUERY LETTERS 101
~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.

The RMFW Spotlight is on Angie Hodapp, Newsletter Editor and Retreat Chair

The first Monday of the month the RMFW Blog features one of the members of the board of directors or a volunteer. This month Angie Hodapp has agreed to answer our questions. We hope this helps members and potential members get acquainted with the incredible folks who keep Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers going and growing. And just in case these spotlights inspire other members to step forward and volunteer, feel free to email Judy Matheny, Volunteer Coordinator.

Angie Hodapp1. Angie, Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I first joined RMFW’s board of directors in 2011, when I answered an ad in the newsletter requesting a volunteer to fill the hospitality chair. Not long after I took on hospitality, I was asked to switch gears and become the programs chair. So for two years, I booked speakers for RMFW’s free monthly programs, which was a total blast! Now, I serve RMFW in two capacities. I am both the retreat chair and the newsletter editor.

I’ve always been a big fan of writing retreats—of sequestering myself away in the mountains for several days, either alone or with other writers, to really focus on my work in progress. I wanted to bring the magic of the writing retreat to members of RMFW, so I put together some numbers and brought a proposal to a board meeting. Funding was approved, and the RMFW Writers Retreat was born! The first retreat took place last September, immediately following the 2013 Colorado Gold Conference. The second took place last March. Our next retreat will be March 11-15, 2015, at the YMCA in Estes Park, Colorado. I can’t wait!

As the editor of Rocky Mountain Writer, RMFW’s monthly newsletter, I get to draw upon my past experience in the magazine industry. My editor antennae are always out, feeling around for stories or regular features. Got an idea? Send it my way!

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

I’m very excited to be published in RMFW’s 2014 anthology, Crossing Colfax. My contribution, “Seven Seconds,” is a superhero story about a guy whose power is neither super nor particularly heroic. (Crossing Colfax is available now on Amazon and includes stories by fifteen RMFW members. Very cool!)

Last February, I really switched gears with my writing. I’d always written science-fiction, fantasy, and speculative YA, but I decided to try my hand at writing contemporary romance. So I did my homework. I read a bunch of bestselling romance novels, studied several how-to-write-romance books and articles, and joined Romance Writers of America. I’m looking forward to attending the RT and RWA conferences in 2015.

The result of this switch is that I’m having a ton of fun! My almost-finished WIP is the first in a trilogy about three very different sisters living in a Colorado ski town. I hope to start shopping it this fall, though I might take the indie-publishing route—I haven’t decided yet, and my plan for the trilogy fluctuates daily. But my romance nom de plume is Holly Anders, so look me up in the near future!

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

Probably like most people reading this, I’d love to be a full-time writer, one who actually makes a decent living at the writing game. Writing aside, I hope to spend more time traveling. My husband, Warren Hammond, and I are going to spend three weeks in China later this year. I can’t tell you how excited we are! Other locales we’re looking forward to visiting in the future include Bali, Japan, and New Zealand.

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

I constantly compare myself, rather unfavorably, to my literary heroes. I read China Miéville and think, “I wish I could write like him.” I read Diane Setterfield and think, “I wish I could write like her.” I read Ian Tregillis and Laini Taylor and Connie Willis and Diana Gabaldon and Neil Gaiman and think, “I wish I could write like them.”

If you can relate, then go listen to episode 106 of the Nerdist Podcast, wherein Chris Hardwick interviews Neil Gaiman, and Neil, ever eloquently, tells aspiring writings to stop sabotaging themselves with these negative comparisons. You can’t write like other writers. Stop trying. Write your stories as only you can write them.

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

I love piecing together a story from little sources of inspiration that pop out at me during the course of everyday life. It takes some practice, learning to pay attention to those pops of inspiration, learning to recognize them as whole stories just waiting to be told, or as characters in the throes of an intriguing catastrophe, or as mortar for the bricks of a story idea that isn’t quite standing up on its own yet. Being on a constant lookout for story ideas makes writers see the world in far more vivid color.

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

Get involved with an organization like RMFW sooner rather than later! Or at least join a critique group, attend a conference, take a community-based creative-writing class, find a writing-related Meetup, or do something to get yourself out of the house and into the company of other writers. Online groups serve their purpose, but for me, regular face-to-face interaction with other writers was key to getting, and staying, motivated—not only to write regularly, but also to improve my craft.

Along with that, start showing your work to other people and asking for feedback right away. Don’t be afraid of what others might say about your writing. Give up caring what others might say if they find out you’re a weirdo who writes science-fiction or a sappy sentimentalist who writes romance. I wasted way too much time worrying about such things and pushing my writing off into the future as a “someday” thing.

Angie'sBackpack7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

I’m a backpack writer. I do most of my writing away from home, at coffee shops, libraries, restaurants, bars, or bookstores.

In my backpack, you’ll find all the essentials for hours of away-from-home writing: Kleenex, lip balm, hand lotion, dental floss, eyedrops, Advil, a comb and extra hair ties, hand sanitizer, earbuds, and gum. Depending on the season, you’ll also find sunglasses, an umbrella, a sweater, or fingerless gloves.

Oh…you want to know about the stuff I need to actually write? OK, well, when I’m working on a rough draft, my backpack contains reference books and my Alphasmart Neo. This is a word processor that neither connects to the web nor allows you to easily edit your work. (Google it. Every writer needs an Alphasmart Neo.) When I’m working on a more polished draft, you’ll find in my backpack my laptop, power cord, and stacks of critique notes from my awesome critique partners: Warren Hammond, Mario Acevedo, Jeanne C. Stein, Aaron Michael Ritchey, and Travis Heermann.

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

I just finished Necessary Evil, the final book in Ian Tregillis’s Milkweed Triptych series, which is brilliant alternate history supposing that Britain had employed warlocks during WWII and the subsequent Cold War to battle a squad of terrifying superhumans engineered by the Germans. Stunning writing, excellent storytelling.

Earlier this summer, I read (and loved!) The Hum and the Shiver and Wisp of a Thing by Alex Bledsoe. These novels suppose that the Tuatha De Danann of Gaelic mythology are alive and well in modern-day Appalachia. Very unique worldbuilding and beautifully flawed characters who will stay with you long after you finish the books.

Up next on my to-be-read list is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.

Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Angie. See you at Colorado Gold.

Retreat! Retreat! Getting Away to Write

By Angie Hodapp, RMFW Retreat Chair

Headshot_Angie HodappWhen I was in graduate school, I figured out pretty quickly that my best writing happened away from home. Home was where the dirty dishes were. And the laundry. The television. The pets. The old comfy couch, which was just perfect for mid-afternoon naps.

It’s fair to say that if it weren’t for the Barnes & Noble café, I might never have finished my master’s degree.

Writing away from home has always been a powerful tool in my creative arsenal. From an hour or two at my neighborhood coffee shop to long weekends spent writing with friends in the mountains, I long for opportunities to get away from real life and immerse myself in my writing.

In March 2012, I attended the Rainforest Writers Village (RWV) retreat on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula. I’d seen a notice about the retreat in Locus magazine and was immediately intrigued. I signed up, and away I went.

Organized by Patrick Swenson, RWV is held at a rustic lodge about an hour away from the nearest town. Not only are attendees treated to four days of sunup-to-sundown writing, but they also have the opportunity to get to know thirty-nine other aspiring and published authors. Breaks are taken to hike around Lake Quinault and the surrounding mountains. Meals are shared. Ideas and inspiration are exchanged.

It was without a doubt one of the coolest things I’ve ever done as a writer—and not just because the short story I wrote while was there earned me a semifinalist spot in the Writers of the Future Contest (although that’s a definite plus)! I knew right away I wanted to bring the magic of the writing retreat home for members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

RMFW’s first retreat was held September 22-26, 2013, immediately following RMFW’s Colorado Gold Conference. (Read attendee Darla Bartos’s recap of the event here). However, in order to help members defray the cost of two consecutive, relatively expensive, and time-consuming events, we will now hold our retreat annually in March.

This year’s retreat will be March 16-21 at the Table Mountain Inn in Golden, Colorado. (Next year, we may look for a more remote location. Wouldn’t Estes Park be amazing?) The retreat is open to both members and nonmembers, and flexible registration allows attendees to come for two, three, or four days. All breakfasts and lunches are included in the cost of registration, as is a Thursday-night farewell banquet. We are also excited to welcome agent Kate Schafter Testerman (ktliterary) Thursday afternoon, March 20, to provide a workshop for retreat attendees.

To register or learn more, visit the Retreat page on the RMFW website. You have until February 17 to book your room at the hotel at the special retreat rate, and you have until March 15 to register for the retreat itself.

I hope to see you there!

Exciting Events Ahead from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Attend the 2nd Annual RMFW Writers Retreat

With Special Guest, Agent Kate Schafer Testerman
Organized by Angie Hodapp
March 16-21, 2014
Table Mountain Inn,
Golden, CO
REGISTRATION CLOSES FEBRUARY 15TH

The 2013 writers retreat was a smashing success! It's back in March of 2014 and will become an annual spring event. How much does it cost to attend the retreat? We are pleased to introduce flexible registration options. Attend for two days (minimum), three days, or all four days, and pay only for the days you attend. How do I register? Go to the RETREAT EVENT PAGE for more information and the link to register.

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Attend an Online Class

Heroes, Henchmen, and Sidekicks:
The Characters-First Approach to Plot
Presented by Angie Hodapp
2 Week Course
Start Date: Monday January 6
End Date: Sunday, January 19
$25 Members - $30 Non-Members
MORE INFO

Editing and Revision
for Fiction Writers
Presented by Cindi Myers
3 Week Course
Start Date: Monday February 3
End Date: Sunday, February 23
$35 Members - $40 Non-Members
MORE INFO

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Attend a Free Program in January

Denver
Short Story Breakdown:
Prepping for Anthology 2014 Crossing Colfax
Presented by Nikki Baird
Saturday, January 25
1:00 P.M. - 3:00 P.M.
Bel Mar Public Library
555 S. Allison Parkway
Lakewood, CO 80226
MEMBERS ONLY
MORE INFO

Western Slope
Writing the First Pages of Your Novel
Presented by Shannon Baker
Saturday, January 11
8:45 A.M. - 1:00 P.M.
Grand Junction Business Incubator
2591 Legacy Way
Grand Junction, CO
Please RSVP to Vicki Law at vruchhoeft@gmail.com
MORE INFO

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New events and other announcements are available on the Home Page of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website.

Heroes, Henchmen, and Sidekicks — An Online Class From Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Heroes, Henchmen,and Sidekicks:
The Characters-First Approach to Plot

Presented by Angie Hodapp

2 Week Course
Start Date: Monday, January 6
End Date: Sunday, January 19
$25 Members – $30 Non-Member
Register

AngieHodapp“Character drives plot.” You’ve heard it before. But what if it’s true? Is it really possible to start a novel with nothing more than a cast of characters milling around on a stage, waiting for you to tell them what to do and say?

Yes! Not only is it possible, but it’s actually a lot of fun! Inspired by David Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines, this workshop will take you from zero (no idea for a novel, no notions about a situation, premise, or plot) to ten (a ten-page outline, synopsis, or treatment of a novel) in two weeks. We’ll discuss all the major and minor roles you might want to cast in your novel (even though you don’t yet know what it’s about). Then we’ll set up some conflict between characters and listen to them as they tell us their stories. We’ll wrap up by discussing story structure and plot devices (things like crucibles, time bombs, and try/fail cycles), and you’ll finish by writing your novel’s ten-page (give or take) outline or synopsis.

Whether you’re laboring on a story that just isn’t working, taking a break between projects, or just looking for a fun exercise to get some new ideas flowing, the workshop is for you!

Angie Hodapp holds an MA in English and is a graduate of the Denver Publishing Institute. A 2011 winner of the Colorado Gold Contest and a 2012 semifinalist in the Writers of the Future Contest, she has taught workshops and developed curricula for Writer’s Digest University. She currently works at Nelson Literary Agency in Denver, Colorado.

Making the Long and Winding Road to Publication a Little Shorter with RMFW

by Mark Stevens, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers President

As she accepted the Writer of the Year plaque at Colorado Gold, Linda Joffe Hull talked about living and writing for a decade in the “purgatory of almost” before finding a publisher for one of her books.

As she will tell you, it was a long and winding road.

But Linda credits a certain organization (its initials are Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers) for the final break-through. As she talked about the two books she has launched in the last 12 months, she talked about the relationships she developed by taking an active role in the group.

Our group.

Yeah, yeah, yeah—for the last few weeks it’s been all Colorado Gold this and Colorado Gold that. (See paragraph #1 above.) It was three days of good times for us fiction nerds.

But RMFW is so much more than Colorado Gold and, I dare say, the tremendous variety of other events on the calendar offer an even better chance to develop relationships and make new friends who might have that one key introduction to an agent, an editor, a publisher. The conference can be, you know, intimidating. Fun, sure, but pressure too.

I’m not saying the conference isn’t cool, but now it’s another 12 months away (Sept. 5—7, 2014).

In the meantime, there are plenty of other chances to dive in and make friends—and develop your network—in a more casual setting. (And, in some cases, free.)

Check it out:

  • Later this month, a free two-hour workshop titled “Diving In: Character and Motivation” by Courtney Koschel. Location: Arvada Public Library, downtown Arvada. Date and time: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 1p.m. Courtney is the senior acquisitions editor for Month9Books. Senior. Acquisitions. Editor. Enough said.
  • Also this month, the experienced Trai Cartwight is offering a dirt-cheap online course called “Building a Better Book” that will help you demystify the process of novel building. It’s all about asking—and answering—key structural questions at the heart of every well-executed novel. Trai has roots in Hollywood, among other places. Get to know Trai and it’s one degree of separation between you and Stephen Spielberg. Or something like that.
  • Next month, there’s a free two-hour workshop titled “World Building: Don’t Let the Dream Collapse.” Location and times are still being finalized, but the program will be given by Colleen Oakes, author of the best-selling Elly in Bloom.
  • Also online soon, Sharon Mignerey (a true RMFW legend—she helped start our group about 30 years ago) is running a dialog workshop called “Let Your Characters Do the Talking.”
  • Also next month, over at our Grand Junction home away from home, best-selling author and RMFW stalwart Jeanne Stein is leading a day-long workshop titled “A Publishing Primer.” The first 20 people who register have the chance to pitch to Angie Hoddapp with Nelson Literary Agency and/or receive a two-page critique and 10-minute meeting with Warren Hammond, author of the KOP science fiction series. (Warren also won the Colorado Book Award this year!)

Cool programs, great opportunities to improve your craft and, maybe give you a chance to get to know other writers, develop connections and work your way out of the “purgatory of almost.”
All the details are available at www.rmfw.org. You probably knew that.

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2013conference66Mark Stevens is the President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the author of the Western hunting guide Allison Coil mysteries Antler Dust and Buried by the Roan.

You can learn more about Mark and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.