Tag Archives: Colleen Oakes

That Fleeting Magic

By Colleen Oakes

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It happened last night, in the middle of a long day of writing, editing and brain-storming.  My writing buddy  and I had hunkered down for a five hour session of hammering out the problems in our respective novels. Seriously, it's such a perfect working relationship that it's a little scary.  This is how we do it: first, the good - then, the bad, which takes about five times longer than the good.  Peter's voice needs work. Damien needs feelings.  Comments range from "I LITERALLY hate your mountain range" to "I don't like or respect sexy aliens" Back and forth and back and forth it went.

At the end of our session, I was struggling with the ending of my current novel. It's a very complicated climax, with a lot of specific plot devices that have to happen just at the right time, in the right order and getting that order just right is terribly tripping me up at the moment.  I'm nowhere near the end, but I need to have my ducks in a row to proceed from this point on. I've arrived at a place in the story where I need to know origin stories - and the endgame.

So, we were at Udi's eating delicious pizza and humus when it happened.  At that point we had spent about 5 hours dissecting and editing and I was running over the plot for my novel out loud, in my head, and chasing down every thread that occurred.  To me sometimes, the best way to figure out where a story is going is just to push it down every possible dark alleyway and see what comes out. I was missing something from the climax.  I knew that something KEY was missing.  So we were running over scenarios, one by one and then I had it. A sliver of an idea.  A tiny sliver, a slip of a thing, a whisper of something big.

We discussed it.  Then, our voices rose, and started overlapping. We followed the string into the dark alley and kept following it. We started getting excited and then, we were yelling and high fiving and I'm pretty sure the table behind us thought we were totally drunk seeing how we were talking magic and pirates and musical instruments.

It was a moment, just a moment of pure creation.

Afterwards, even on the drive home as I recapped it minute by minute to my VERY lucky husband, I was still buzzing, my skin feeling like it was on fire, my brain alive and awake and flooded with adrenaline.  When you write with that kind of inspirational heat that is as rare as an eclipse, the story flows out of you like water, the best kind of drowning.

Sometimes people ask me why I write.  Most of the time, it's because I like sipping on a hot beverage and simultaneously trying not to bang my head against a keyboard. But when it's magic like this, it's a job that is so much more than a job. It's creating a living and breathing thing that can surprise, delight and frustrate you.  Honestly, it's a lot like parenting.

And when that inspirational lightning strikes, and your story falls into place like an elaborate puzzle, it's one of the best moments that a writer can have.

It might only happen once or twice a book, but when it does, it's pure, unfiltered ecstasy.

Magic.

Do You Need To Warm-Up Your Writing?

By Colleen Oakes

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The other day I was trying to explain to someone why I can't write for just two hours.  In two hours, I can do a lot of things. I can clean a house, take my toddler to the park, watch a movie. But I can't write.  Sure, I can put words on a page, but I know in my heart that they will be tired words, useless words.  At the very most, my hope would be to accomplish two pages of barren junk with a pretty good ending.

It took me a long time to realize how I write, and even longer to realize that I need to warm up. At first I regarded having to warm up as a weakness, but later came to the understanding that knowing intimately EXACTLY how I write was a strength. Denying what makes you great as a writer will hurt your career more than it will ever hurt your pride.

So - what exactly is warming up for a writer?

I could use a sports metaphor here, but I'm not going to.  To quote Mindy Kaling: "Athletics and sporting are the great non-loves of my life."  Instead, let's compare it to vocal music.  When a musician prepares to give the world her contribution to the wild beauty of art, she warms up.  A Met lead soprano wouldn't dare step on a stage without warming up her instrument.  If she did, her performance would be sub-par vocally, but also her nerves would overtake her senses more easily, seeing how she had not run the piece ahead of time.  More devastatingly, the joy of the performance would be lowered, for both the singer and the audience. The art would suffer in the end.

So - let's have a frank conversation - are you as a writer struggling because of your lack of warm up?

Do you spend a lot of time staring a blank screen, grasping at lose concepts? 

Do you struggle with finding the right word for complicated sentences? 

Are you spending massive time distracted by the internet or "research?"

Do you spend more time planning your plot than actually writing?

Does your writing tend to be rambling with short bursts of inspiration? 

If these apply to you, then I would think about how you warm up your instrument: your pen. Or keyboard. Or blackboard. Or whatever.

First, remember that you are starting on the ground level. You are ramping up to greatness.  Let your words RISE, like yeasty bread in the morning.  Warm-up writing should be simple, clean and easy.  You won't get stuck on a warm-up because it's impossible. Think of it as laying the road that you will later travel on.  Write a blog, an entry in a personal journal or a letter, heck, even an email to a friend.  What matters is that you are turning on the part of your brain that says "it's time to write."  By doing this, you push open your creative doors and prepare to stroll through them.  And don't worry about quality  -you'll face the hurdles later when you are working on your real writing.  Right now is all about enjoyable, brainless writing.   Fire up the engines, stoke those inspirational flames and go.

How long should you warm up?  I would say that depends on what kind of writer you are. I warm up for about an hour before I begin working on my novels.  I have found that my best writing occurs when I have about a five hour writing stretch. Anything less than that is not within my peak writing abilities, and anything more than that starts to get messy and tired - I see it when I edit, every time. "Oh yes, here is where I timed out."  Everyone writes different, and so you should be able to tell when you are sufficiently warmed up.  Maybe five minutes works for you, maybe two hours of warming up is what you need to have two brilliant hours of word craft.  Are the sentences flying fast and furious? Is your brain tingling with great ideas, story concepts? Are your fingers dashing out words like they are moving on their own.

Good. Now you are in the good writing zone. You've warmed up your writing voice and you are ready to share your gift.  Step out on the stage and wow us.

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Colleen Oakes is the author of books for both teens and adults, including The Bestselling Elly in Bloom Series, The Queen of Hearts Saga (Harper Collins 2016) and The Wendy Darling Saga. She lives in North Denver with her husband and son and surrounds herself with the most lovely family and friends imaginable. When not writing or plotting new books, Colleen can be found swimming, traveling, blogging, decluttering or totally immersing herself in nerdy pop culture. She currently at work on the final Elly novel and her next YA fantasy series.


Running a Kickstarter – Is it for everyone?

By Guest Contributor Mason J. Torall

The Internet, in all the craziness that it’s added to our world today, has done some amazing things. Chief among them is definitely the power to network with damn near anyone around the globe. The whole world has been opened to us in the past two decades, and I hope that the positive impacts of that continue to grow.

In being a budding writer (I hesitate to call myself ‘professional’ yet), I’ve found that the crowdfunding site, Kickstarter, is a special opportunity. Kickstarter is a website where you may host a project, ask for donations, and offer rewards in exchange for pledges in order to make your project happen. In a way, it’s like a PBS telethon for the digital age but a bit more… you.
Now, speaking to my personal experience on the site, I can’t say definitively how I’ll feel, since my own project is still live, but as to my experience thus far?

That I can go into, both as a backer and as a creator.

As a backer, Kickstarter is a piece of cake. The site itself is friendly, well designed, and easy to navigate. If you know what project you’re looking for, that’s awesome, but I will say it’s a pain in the ass to try and find “that project I heard about for that thing”, unless it’s featured at the top of the searches. There are over 700 projects live in the Publishing section ALONE, so it’s obvious to say that if the project you want isn’t making waves, you better start digging.

On the flipside, as a creator, you should know that putting a project on Kickstarter—or any crowdfunding site—is serious business. Don’t take it lightly, especially if its something that means something to you, which it should. I made the mistake of announcing my Kickstarter WAY too early, and I may have suffered for it, I’m not sure yet. But what I can say is that I wish I’d held my tongue longer.

In order to launch a project on Kickstarter you have to consider EVERYTHING. You need to know what you’re offering, how you want to make it, who you want to make it through, etc. And then you have to answer all of these damn questions: Who are you working with? What rewards should you offer? How much should you ask for? What rewards should go for what money? How much will it cost to fulfill rewards and retain positive funds to actually make the project?

And that’s only the tip. Turns out, you also need to open an Amazon Payments account, which requires you to have a business entity in order to handle funds, which took me well over two months because I had no idea what I was doing. Also, if you have questions, be ready to wait. The Kickstarter staff are understandably busy, but they are also slow. The FAQ page on the site will answer 95% of your questions, but of course it’s that last one that’ll get ya. When I had a query, it took over two weeks to get a response. Granted, they were nice and informative when I heard back, it just took awhile.

Additionally, you can’t see a lot of useful stuff beyond the project itself until you actually go live, but when you do, the creator page has everything you need: names of backers, lists of pledges, on-the-fly editing to the campaign, a directory of activity, updates you’ve put out, surveys you can submit to backers regarding rewards or their preferences and/or upgrades, and statistics about where your pledges are coming from, for how much, which rewards, and other useful breakdowns.

In short, there’s a lot there. Kickstarter is a lot of work. Hell, mine took me nearly a year to get up, and I know I still probably should have waited to grow an audience of willing backers. Don’t let that overwhelm you though. I always say there’s no substitute for hard work, and I know that whatever happens with my project, I’ve put my best into it.

Ultimately though, I can say with confidence that running a Kickstarter has been a worthy experience. Getting support feels great, no matter how small, and you’d be surprised who comes out of the woodwork to support you. It’s interesting to see. Not to mention the fact that if you do get funded, you’ve proven that your idea has monetary merit, and no matter who you are or what you want to create, that’s an encouraging thought.

Finally, I’d be an idiot if I didn’t plug my own Kickstarter, so if you’re interested, check out my live project for my debut novel, The Dark Element, right here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/689142360/the-dark-element-a-debut-novel

As of this writing, I’m nearly halfway to my goal and 9 days into the campaign, so we’re doing well. Please check me out, email me with questions if you like, and support a budding author! The project will be live until December 17, and you can donate as little as $5 to get your name printed in the book!

On The Dangers of Writing Fictional Men

By Colleen Oakes

I remember discussing Twilight (a book I'm not embarrassed to admit I loved) at length with a couple of girlfriends, right around the height of the hysteria that captured a nation of teenage girls and forced a lot of grumbling married men to watch Robert Pattinson stare for hours at an exasperated Kristen Stewart. We were all sitting around my sister’s kitchen table, a bottle of wine open, and our books open on the table. My friends were listing off Edward’s desirable traits:

“He’s strong and a perfect gentleman!”

“He’s rich – he loves to spoil her.”

“He worships her and sees her for who she truly is!”

I remember leaning back and considering the implications before reminding them that “He” was written by a woman. HE is a myth of our own making.

There is a danger in fictional men written by female writers. As a female author, I see this trait in myself: a propensity to write perfect, flawless men. It’s only natural - I want to give my characters the best of the species to interact with; a man who is all things that my character needs, a man who is the combined fantasy of a thousand women. He encompasses our deepest desires, he listens with the ears of our therapists and girlfriends, his touch is like wildfire – he is the male equivalent of the lady in the living room, whore in the bedroom mythos. He is all these things and more. He is a delightful illusion of the needs that we don’t feel are being met: a portal directly into our disappointment.

There are a litany of sins committed when we write men this way. First, we do a huge disservice to our characters. Our characters don’t need perfect. They need complicated. They need hurdles. They need emotional resonance, for their hearts to harden like diamonds under conflict. Their minds need expanding, and above all, no character needs easy. There is no book, no story in “easy”, and a perfect man without flaw is easy. While Edward might make our hearts beat a little faster with the intoxicating attraction of teenage love, it’s the real men, flawed men – think Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets - that really can turn our heads. Interesting is better than good.

The other danger in writing perfect men is that the writer, or even the reader can experience projecting – that is, when they project the expectations of a fictional character onto their real life partner. My husband, who is the best man I’ve ever known, can’t compare to a fictional man in women’s fiction. He doesn’t create elaborate dates involving hot air balloons or gallons of rose petals. He doesn’t love to clean, and he definitely never buys me cars or takes me swinging through the trees because his super strength makes me weigh practically nothing. There are no sunset horseback rides, although sometimes we do go to our favorite Thai restaurant for dinner and he lets me have one extra wonton. Our life lacks a certain romantic danger, but that’s okay, because our life is real. He may not be the rippling hunk of muscle with a secret fortune squirreled away, but this year when he dressed up like a Sith Lord to take our son, dressed as Yoda, out for Halloween, I could have fainted with adoration. He’s held my hair as I threw up in Las Vegas, he cried alongside me when we met our son for the first time, and he will never ever get his pajamas into the hamper. Ever.

But that’s okay, because he’s real. He is not a fantasy created by a female writer who is fulfilling her every Cosmo-inspired fantasy. He’s a man of flesh and blood and burps.

We don’t like it when men shove us into a box of their own pre-packaged unrealistic expectations.  Let’s not do the same.

On Finding the Right Writing Partner

By Colleen Oakes

Confession: I've never liked writing a book without a writing partner. I've written one, and although the book is a source of pride for me, it was a lonely enterprise and not one I'm likely to repeat.  I know it's possible to write alone - in fact, it's pop-culture vision of the ideal writer: a man - usually - sits alone in a narrow room that looks out onto a snowy, wintery landscape.  He has a pipe in his mouth, a pen in his hand. The room is cluttered with books and papers, and it all looks so cozy and intellectual, the perfect combination of genius and isolation.   In this business, we tend to cling desperately to the idea that a true writer writes alone, and yet I have found that only in a good writing partner can I reach my full potential as a creative writer.

My first writing partner's name was Emily.  We decided on New Year's Eve that we would both write books in the next year and with just a few months over our desired deadline, we did.  Writing with her was incredible. She had the best way of weaving her words and her thoughts deep into my characters. She understood what my characters should and should not do. She was brutally honest when she needed to be, the best beta reader a writer could ever have.  We had the best time writing together.  Likewise, I was the same for her novel, a beautiful musical sigh of a novel called Serenade.

Yes you can

Then Emily moved to North Carolina, and my writer's heart broke.  I could write without her, but it wasn't the same.  It wasn't the same level of coordination,  feedback and understanding. Mostly, it just wasn't as fun.  I miss her every day, but we stay in close touch as good friends. However, the distance makes it almost impossible to be the same level of writing partners that we once were.

Enter Mason, stage right.  Mason was so different than Emily. Emily and I are both women. We were very close friends before we ever started writing our novels.  Our books were about women, for women. We have a lot of feelings.  Mason, on the other hand, is a dude.  His character is a dude. He is a Sci-Fi writer. He loves tech and plasma guns and biology and astronomy and a million other things that I don't understand in the least.   And yet...he is also the perfect writing partner.  Our conversations are hilarious and sometimes very harsh; one promise we made to each other early on is that we are always, always honest. Even when it hurts. Always supportive, always honest.  He's pointed out while I write Wendy Darling that I didn't give much thought to the dynamics of flight.  (I hadn't.)  My characters need voice work. He hates my mountain range.  I dislike reading tech-y descriptions and could care less about Magnetic Reactors. His main character arc needs work. We throw these missiles at each other, but instead of exploding, we take them in and use the fire to hone our pens, to make our gifts sharper and better.  We grow together as writers. I'll take someone harsh but helpful over kind but useless any day.

If I could impart any advice to new writers, it's this: find a writing partner. You might need to go through a few before finding the right one, but it's worth the struggle. Don't be that solitary writer scribbling out mad genius on the corners of his cell. That guy isn't real most of the time. Writing can be dreadfully lonely when you only have characters in your mind to keep you company. Find the person who raises you above your own art.

This.

Some tips to finding the perfect writing partner:

1. Make sure you have a similar pace of writing. If it takes one writer two years to write a book and the other a mere three months, it might not be a great partnership. (James Patterson and George R.R Martin would probably not work out.)

2. Writing different genres does not matter, but are you the same level as talent? When you speak to them, do you feel on equal footing?

3. Ask these questions: Are they responsible with your work? Are they responsive? Is their advice helpful? Are they able to find the honest flaws in your writing or are they just trying to make themselves feel better by criticizing?

4. Finally: do you like them? As a person, do you like them? Because there will be times when you feel like a failure. When the publishing industry will spit you out and they will be there to pick you up.  You should like that person now, because you will need them later.

Once you find the right writing partner, make sure you do your part to keep the relationship humming.  It takes work, just like any relationship, and you can't let it fall to waste.

The perfect writing partner is a gift, and it's a gift you, as a writer, should choose give yourself.

Why I Decided to Hire a PR Company as an Indie Author

By Colleen Oakes

Last night, at approximately 11pm, I decided that I would make some promo images for my upcoming novel, Queen of Hearts. I’m up late frequently these days, which is not very conducive for sleeping or for having a newborn. I’m up late doing weird things like promo images, because in this new, strange world of indie publishing, social media and promotion is key.

The fact that I’m staying up so late at night doing promotion was one of the reasons I decided, as an indie author, to hire a PR company.

Oakes_EllyA bit of history: I had an agent. My agent disappeared (literally!) and I was left behind in a huge publishing house. What I hated about having an agent (yes, I said it) was the long wait. I waited for a year while they messed around with Elly in Bloom and then at the end, nothing came of it. That was infuriating, and I swore then that my timetable would never again be based on anyone else's whims. After all, that's one of the great beauties of indie-publishing, and patience is not one of my virtues. As a control freak, I like and need this.

About six months ago, I was getting ready to launch Queen of Hearts. It has taken me two years to write this book, and that includes a huge chunk of time taken out to launch Elly in Bloom, the first book of my chick lit series. The book, FINALLY, was ready. It felt incredible to be done, to write “The End”. I am so ready for people to read it, to love it, to hate it. I know now that it will be a bit divisive and I can't wait to see those arguments play out. I was overjoyed to be finished with this beautiful monster. But the idea of launching another book on my own was daunting because I am already sick of it…

Self-Promotion.

Let’s be honest: it’s exhausting! I worry about it constantly. Am I putting out too much? Too little? I don't have a Tumblr - should I? I only have 250 Twitter followers. I should have more. Do I need two author FB pages, one for the Elly in Bloom series and one for Queen of Hearts? I only have twenty five Instagram followers - that's pathetic! Do I blog enough? Do I need ANOTHER blog? Do I have enough reviews? How is my Amazon Author Central? My Goodreads author page? My Smashwords page? My LibraryThing page? All of these things have to be kept hip, relevant and recent. It's overwhelming and intimidating and I worry that it's annoying to those that know me.

It's a constant stream, and at times I felt like I was drowning in my own words.

I explain it non-writer friends like this: Imagine that every single day, wherever you work, you had to petition to save your job. You had to remind your bosses of how great you are, every single day. You had to enlist co-workers to publicly state that you deserve your job. You have to email and tweet and stay totally relevant minute to minute, lest your company fires you, because you face that every afternoon. That's what it's like to be an indie-author right now. We are all fighting for the same spot, and social media is the key. You want to sell books so that you can write books. To sell books, you have to get readers to find your books. To unleash your creativity, you have to become a marketing expert.

The fact of the matter is that the indie pub revolution is here. It's happening right now, and the market is flooded with indie-authors. You have to work three times as hard to get noticed, just to rise above the fray. Writing a good book is the first and most important step, but after that it's all elbow grease and networking. Then, once you've risen above the fray, gotten the reviews, you have to maintain that. Blog. Tweet. Post. Facebook. Grow your followers. Make fans. Make friends. Sign books. Do blog tours. It's a lot.

Please don't misunderstand me - I am blessed to be able to do what I love to do every single day. My dream of becoming an author has come true and it's everything I thought it would be.

But. But. I did not anticipate the level of PR and self-promotion that I would have to undertake, just to stay relevant and selling books. It has cut dramatically into my writing time, which is something that the writer cannot abide. I find myself often making choices like "PR today or writing?" Do I focus on what I'm writing NOW or do I spend the time promoting what I've already written? It's always one baby that is left in the ocean, and that baby cannot be your writing.

And that’s why I have signed with a very cool PR company, Booksparks. They have taken the load off my chest, and put their resources on what’s most important, which was something I worried about. What promotions were worth it? Which ones were not? One of many obstacles facing indie authors is discoverability and getting your name out there. If you don't have a huge publishing house churning out your name to potential readers, what do you do? How do you find people? How do people hear about your book? I'm hoping that the PR company is the answer, and that they will not only take the burden of PR off my back, but also because I want to see what my books can do with a little (big) push behind them. It was the perfect time to hire a PR company, because I will be launching THREE books this year. I'll need help with that.

Hiring a PR company was like an intervention of sorts. A writing intervention.

Now I can get back to business, my business, the business of being creative.

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Colleen OakesColleen Oakes is the author of the best-selling novel Elly in Bloom, which debuted in September 2012. A die-hard Colorado native who really enjoys living in other places, she attended Concordia College in Bronxville, NY where she received her BA in Creative Writing. When not writing, Colleen enjoys swimming, traveling, and immersing herself in nerdy pop culture. She now lives with her husband and son in Denver. Colleen captures her thoughts about life (the good, bad, and awkward) pretty frequently over at her blog, The Ranunculus Adventures. Her first foray into epic fantasy, the first book of the much anticipated Queen of Hearts series, arrives this holiday season, with the sequel to Elly in Bloom not far behind. She is signed with Sparkpress Publishing.

For more information about Colleen and her books, visit her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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.