Tag Archives: guest blogger

Writing a reader-friendly historical romance

by Janet Lane

For thou with me while iuel shall I not dread…

???????????????????????????????My first inspiration to write fiction involved a thought that flashed through my mind when entering rather boring sales data into date fields. I inadvertently entered something like 1798 instead of 1998, and a “What if?” idea flashed above my head, just like in the commercials. What if my protagonist entered an ancient date and was somehow transported to that time?

That initial spark grew into a time travel romance, which has yet to see the light of day, but the vision revealed my passion for the past. I told my husband, John, that I was writing a novel. I visited Denver Public Library and hauled home a dozen monster books on England, covering the twelfth through the eighteenth centuries, and dragged them to bed with me for late-night research.

“I thought you were going to write a book,” John said. “You’ve been reading these books for a month.”

And so my research began. I eventually settled in the fifteenth century, in Somerset. To this day it feels to me as if I indeed traveled to the past.

Writing about it, though, was a different story. I studied dialogue in historical fiction novels, learning antiquated sentence structure and vocabulary, and laboriously inserted it into my story. I was bombarded by helpful contest judges with comments like, “Your dialogue is so stilted.” “Your scenes sound formal, unnatural.” And, “Don’t be afraid to use contractions!”

My research was helpful for scene-setting, describing dinners and clothing, but dialogue continued to mystify. Writing in the 1400s, was I limited to the vocabulary of the time? Fearful of being called a research flunkie, I hauled entire chapters to the library (little was available on the Internet then), painstakingly researching the history of each suspect word.

Chaucer was not much help: “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heath.” (During a plotting session, I asked Jasmine Cresswell for help. She amazed me by speaking flawless Middle English. It was exquisitely beautiful, but more suited for academic tomes than historical romances.)

Four historical romance novels later, I’ve reached a comfort level with my dialogue. Here’s what I have found useful for my fifteenth century characters.

  1. I write my first draft dialogue as it naturally leaves my pen or keyboard. I refine it later in revisions.
  2. I take more freedoms with narrative than dialogue. For example, if I find a word that came into use in the sixteenth century, I have no problem with using it in narrative. I hesitate to use such words in dialogue, however, and research further for similar words specific to my century. If I can’t find a suitable substitute, however, I am not a slave to etymology. My genre is historical fiction.
  3. I purge all obvious slang and anachronistic words or expressions that will wrench my reader from the historical world I’ve so carefully created. I purge them from both narrative and dialogue.
  4. I get help. Fresh, more experienced eyes can catch seemingly small errors that may disappoint and upset an avid reader who knows better. For example, fellow RMFW member and accomplished historical writer Denee Cody pointed out that I used a screw-top lid when a scrivener inked his pen to begin recording a legal document. Forewarned, I had the scrivener remove the stopper. (I also avoided referring to a cork.)

Contractions and more familiar sentence structure make the writing more graceful and easy to read–provided it isn’t peppered with anachronistic words or phrases such as my protagonist “rocking” his latest set of armor or having a “meltdown” moment.

Lane_TraitorCover11_14_14And there are appropriate times to inject a feeling for the past, when my characters appropriately say, “Good morrow,” “Nay,” or “Godspeed.”

To evoke the past, I added historical dialogue in my latest release, Traitor’s Moon, but I made it brief and added a succinct background for the reader. Queen Margaret is recruiting young boys to accompany the king to the Battle of Blore Heath (King Henry VI was devout and ill, and even in times of war, Margaret brought young boys to the battles to entertain him by singing hymns.)

Here’s that dialogue.
Enchanted, James clapped his hands and began singing, “Gabriel fram heven-King, sent to the Maide sweete, Broute hir blisful tiding, And fair he gan hir greet…” He sang the carol with a clear and perfect pitch, a song of the angel coming to Mary with news of the conception and salvation of mankind.

That’s my personal history on the struggle with historical dialogue. Have you had a similar struggle in your genre? If so, how did you solve it?

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Lane_Coin Forest 1 2 3 copyJanet Lane is an Amazon Bestselling Author. The latest book in her Coin Forest series, Traitor’s Moon, released recently on Amazon as a Kindle. Her awards include Best Novel of 2006 Award–Preditors and Editors; Best Seller List–Rocky Mountain News, and Best Romance Novel—RMFW Colorado Gold contest. Her social media sites include her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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!

6 Best Marketing Tips for Authors

By Heather Webb

Heather WebbAll authors are looking for that magic marketing formula. How much money should we spend on ads? What should our websites look like? How much time should we spend on social media? How do we distinguish ourselves amidst all of the white noise? But these are the wrong questions. The best way to establish oneself as an author, to be an effective marketing guru, isn’t quantifiable. *rips out hair* So what should an author focus on for promotion?

CULTIVATE YOUR VOICE Be yourself, which is to say, be unique! Don’t try to rip off another author’s style. It will not only feel phony to you and your readers will see that you’re trying too hard. Don’t assume they can’t tell. Give them more credit than that. A quick point about online articles and interviews—they are more informal in voice. You don’t want to sound like a stiff or a nag, or you’ll bore your readers.

BE CREATIVE Start your own writing-related services, writer group, or hashtag. Set up a bookstand with your novels at a soccer match, purchase inexpensive paraphernalia with your cover on it or maybe your character’s names. Sell it on your website, distribute it at conferences. People like stuff! Make cupcakes with your book cover on them and bring them to the day job, the community center, or the library. You get the idea. Think outside of the box.

RESEARCH A writer’s research is never finished. Pay attention to what is selling in the book market. Listen to what readers want. Track the changes happening in the industry. How will this information affect your current platform? How can you change to incorporate new trends and more importantly, to reach MORE readers? Do your research, if not daily, weekly.

Webb_Rodins LoverENGAGE Reach out! Find ways to connect to different groups of people, both in person and online. Attend conferences, book fairs, and author signings. Volunteer at writing organizations. Cheer on your fellow writers in their quest to publication. Form relationships with people. When your agent tells you to get on Twitter, what they mean to say is, TALK TO PEOPLE. Make friends. Swap anecdotes, swap war stories, or craft ideas, or gardening tips. Anything! What you’re actually doing is forming your tribe. Your tribe will gladly help promote your works because THEY LIKE YOU. Because they’re your friends. And NOT because you spammed everyone with and reviews and quotes from your novels. (I’ve avoided more book buying by seeing people clip a really horrible line from their book and posting it on Twitter or Facebook.) (Be sure to follow the 80%–20% self-promotion rule here. More writers break this rule than not, and it’s REALLY annoying.)

FOCUS ON READERS While it’s true we should be involved in our writing organizations, it’s imperative that published authors, in particular, shift the focus of their efforts toward readers. We love to get caught up talking to other writers and industry pros and traveling to conferences, but other writers aren’t your target audience. Reach out to book clubs. Purchase ads in book club newsletters. Speak at your local library. Write articles on your blog that tie in with your novels, your platform, and interesting or fun or exciting information readers would like to see. Readers talk and share these morsels with others. Word of mouth is still the single most effective method of spreading the word about your books. Direct the bulk of your efforts to getting readers talking.

WRITE AMAZING, DROOL-WORTHY BOOKS The best way to gain more readers, to harness your success, is to write more books. The kind of books that send readers on a journey, that wrench open minds with a crow bar, that break hearts. Never stop working on your craft. It’s a skill and can only improve with practice, hard work, and time.

So get writing! And remember that being yourself and building relationships are the most effective marketing tools.

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Heather Webb writes historical fiction for Penguin, including BECOMING JOSEPHINE and the forthcoming RODIN’S LOVER (Jan 2015). In addition, she is a freelance editor and contributor to award-winning sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. When not writing, she kicks around a local college teaching craft and industry courses, flexes her foodie skills, or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.

Learn more about Heather and her books at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The Easy Button

By Terri Benson

Benson_Unsinkable finalMy day job includes coaching start-up businesses at a Business Incubator, and as a writer, I counsel people who want to write. Recently one of my clients opened the meeting with “I’ve started on a book. What I need is advice on how to find an editor who will give me a big enough advance that I can work full time on finishing the book.”

I so badly wanted to hand him that big red button that says “EASY” on it and have him give it a whack. You know, the one we hit to find the greatest story ever written, most savvy agent, or big publishing house editor who is floored by our writing. The one that ensures we have a huge marketing machine selling the heck out of our books, royalty checks pouring in, and a personal assistant who schedules our blog tours, book signings, workshop presentations, and makes sure we have time for a mani/pedi.

I got news for you, and for him. There ain’t no easy button.

We all know this, of course. But it doesn’t stop us from wishing we could just write, and have the rest of the icky work done by someone else. Not going to happen, folks.

Instead of wasting your time wishing away the unfun stuff, embrace it (this would sound so much better coming from an inspirational speaker). Because we have to write, it’s in our blood. If we want to publish (assuming most of us do), we have to finish our work and get it into the hands of someone who can make that happen. If it’s not a traditional publisher or Indie publisher, it’s us/our hands. Never before has the concept of “DIY Publishing” been so open. It’s not seen as “vanity” anymore. Big, well-known writers are self-publishing, and unknown writers are making some substantial royalty checks doing it.

So, in the absence of an easy button, here’s the scoop:

  1.  Write a great book (good isn’t good enough); use contests, critique groups and beta readers to get feedback on your writing – and listen to what they say!
  2. As you are writing (not after the fact), put together a marketing plan – know who will read your book, where it would go in a store, the cover it needs; write a great back cover blurb; brainstorm writers/reviewers who could review for you.
  3.  Set a timeline for finishing the book, edits, having it read by critique groups and/or beta readers and/or professional editors; have all the details covered BEFORE the book is ready to publish, not once you think it is.
  4.  Get a cover done – check out the local talent; you don’t have to pay huge fees to get a great cover (don’t do it yourself unless you really can).
  5.  For traditional publishing or an agent, list your top 10 choices, and stalk the heck out of them – follow them on twitter, subscribe to their newsletters/blogs/websites, get your submission in PERFECT condition, read every article you can on query letters, FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES, put on your big girl panties (or boxers, whatever) and send the sucker out. If you never send it, you can’t blame anyone but yourself for never being published. Be ready for the rejection letters and read every word they send you, because you can learn from them. Writers are so close to what we write that sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees; kill your darlings and make the book better – then do #5 all over again.
  6.  If you don’t feel the need to go traditional, and you’re positively sure your book is ready to see the light of day, get your manuscript correctly formatted and get it posted.
  7.  Then (better yet, while) doing #6, refer to #2, and market your book and yourself in every conceivable way possible. There are millions of books and writers out there – if you want to sell your book, you need to stand out.
  8. And do all this while you’re working on your next book. And attending conferences and workshops to hone your skill and learn new and different marketing ploys. And dealing with your other life – the one where you have to work a day (or night) job, that includes family, friends, mortgages, crashing computers, and your mother-in-law calling to mention she noticed your house wasn’t very clean and asking if you’ve been sick.

No, there’s no easy button. But hey, it’s not like you picked an easy job, either.

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Terri Benson1As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel, award winning short stories, and over a hundred articles – many award winning – in local and regional magazines and on-line e-zines. She has been a member of RMFW and Western Slope events are hosted by her employer, she also belongs to RWA. Benson currently promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

Her historic romance, An Unsinkable Love, a truly Titanic love story, is available from Amazon.

Guest Post by Chris Pitchford: Dream jobs. Sometimes it’s not enough to have just one

By Chris Pitchford

Benny had two of my all-time favorite jobs. He was a writer and he commanded a space station. Actually, he was a character played by Avery Brooks in one of my favorite television shows. In one memorable episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Benny’s original writing was attacked by hostile indifference. The publisher pulped an entire run, destroying the magazine’s complete monthly edition, rather than let a story featuring a prominent person of color see the light of day. Benny’s remaining options were few. When it was suggested that he publish his story himself, he said, “More people would read it if I wrote it in chalk on the sidewalk!”

That idea has stayed with me ever since, and I’ve misquoted it regularly. So why am I self-publishing my new novel, The Agility of Clouds? (“The what of what?” my mother might have said—our memories will surely differ on this account. “Clouds can’t be agile…” She is one of my toughest critics. Naturally, I dedicated the work to her. I suspect this pleases her yet simultaneously drives her nuts). The Agility of Clouds is part Jane Austen, part James Bond; but more than that, it is a story of a woman who questions what it means to be a woman and what it means to be flawed but moral. As I am none of those things, I had plenty of questions to work with.

But when it comes to the question regarding whether to self-publish, the answer is much different today than it was in the nineties when DS9 originally aired. And that decade had more in common with the Golden Age of Science Fiction when the story was set than today. (As a self-published author, I can truthfully attest that more people have read my novel, Sonata: A Fantasy in One Movement, than read what my kids and I wrote on my sidewalk). While the market for short genre fiction is still strong, it’s not nearly the same today as it was seventy years ago. Being published in periodicals was how some of my favorite authors of the last century, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury among others, cut their teeth as professional writers. Unfortunately, being a novelist means that my work isn’t well suited to periodicals. I love reading Analog, Locus, Strange Horizons and others. But the self-contained book is the definitive text for me, so what could I do?

Traditional publishing then and now is going strong. According to John DeNardo (SF Signal) http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/author/john/, over 300 titles are scheduled to be published on genre-related topics in the month of August alone. It is apparently a very crowded field. So crowded, tossing one’s novel over a virtual transom in hopes of it landing upon a suitable editor’s desk is surely the height of fantasy. Also, successfully pitching one’s work to hungry but savvy agents is also a dream come true for only a few. Did I mention how crowded the field is? And the demands of publishing all those titles mean that control passes largely from the creator to the producer. Like Benny, an author can do all that a creative type can but the final say is ultimately in someone else’s hands.

The alternative, being self-published, is almost a misnomer, as many, many people can still be very much involved. Getting early feedback from readers was critical—but also inspiring—for the work on The Agility of Clouds. Littleton Writers and RMFW were almost as tough and as supportive as ‘me own mudder.’ Once the novel was written, getting a real, honest-to-goodness, hard-as-tacks editor was next on the list. And Karen Conlin of grammargeddon.com was just the independent wordsmith with a background in fantasy (having worked at TSR, once the home of Dungeons and Dragons) that this project needed. Also, a brilliant illustrator was one of the early readers who inspired me, and so my main character, Seramis Helleborine, took visual form under the pen of Marjorie Schott, http://www.facebook.com/WaterstriderDesign.

I’m not getting any younger (thankfully, as I never want to see the inside of a Junior High classroom as a detainee ever again), so it turns out to be a good thing that self-publishing is much quicker than traditional publishing. But a publisher can’t rush some things. And a publisher also has to make decisions using vastly different criteria. As a writer, I wanted to see the cover of the book sport a fully realized airship, an eighteenth-century caravel soaring through the skies. But as a publisher, I looked at what covers of books that sold looked like and saw that main characters were featured more often than the gee-whiz cool things. Gone are the days of the DAW edition of The Gods of Mars by ERB featuring two almost indistinct warriors battling upon a flying ship on the cover. Fortunately, working with an illustrator and a cover artist meant that I could do both. The cover presentation would be designed to sell books (and somehow be legible at postage-stamp sizes on Amazon), and the content would cater to the dreams and hopes I’ve had since I was a child for action/fantasy with a strong female lead character.

Speaking of Amazon (and selling books in the same sentence—coincidence? I think not), their options for self-publishing allow for a great deal of freedom and control. From CreateSpace to Kindle Direct Publishing, the publishing options start at free so the price is right for someone just starting out. Benny would have rather enjoyed the empowerment, I think. Of course, while it remains doubtful that I will have the opportunity to share with Benny the two dream jobs of writer and space station commander, at least one of those jobs is possible with the addition of adding one more to my curriculum vitae: that of self-publisher.

http://chrispitchford.com

Guest Post by Rebecca Taylor: “Am I Good Enough?”

By Rebecca Taylor

I think there may be a singular question that, at some time or another, burns in the soul of every writer.

“Am I good enough?”

As we barrel towards the 2014 RMFW conference this weekend, I know it’s a question that many writers are hoping to have answered for them. Whether they are waiting to hear about the contest results, hoping to stun an agent during a critique workshop, or praying for a partial request after a pitch appointment— the central premise for many aspiring writers is the same.

Am I a good enough writer to make it? Will I receive some evidence, a contest win, a request for more pages, a good critique, that will provide me with a fricking floatation device that would suggest I continue to dog paddle out here, alone, in the middle of this dark and stormy writer’s life instead of jumping aboard the next Disney Cruise ship filled with normal, happy, smiling people that get enough sleep?

And if I’m not good enough, will you just say so? Out loud and clear as a bell so that my head and heart can stop bleeding from wanting this thing that I don’t have a chance in hell of ever achieving?

Over the years, I’ve come to believe that this question doesn’t actually get answered to the satisfaction of many writers. Furthermore, it’s not even the correct question.

When we want someone to tell us, just tell us the truth, regarding our writing ability, we are only really looking at one piece of the “making it” puzzle—the talent piece. We want to know if people, the experts, think we have any talent for writing.

Talent is important, but it’s only going to get you in the door, and sometimes, if you don’t have these other two pieces, you’re not even getting that far.

What you need to find out is if you have three things:

  1. Talent—specifically, a great narrative voice
  2. A great Concept
  3. The skill to Structure a novel

In my opinion, number two and three are totally learnable skills (if you’re willing to actively seek out and study ways to get better.) Admittedly, number one is more difficult. I happen to think that anyone can improve his or her narrative voice, but that we tend to have a range of innate ability, or talent, to work with.

This is just my opinion.

Having said that, I know and you know that there have been PLENTY of books published by traditional houses that excel in concept and structure, but fall pretty flat in the narrative voice, or innate writing talent, department. So really, if we have nailed a great concept and we’ve become a Jedi Master of novel structure, there’s still hope for those of us with only a mediocre amount of talent—right?

So what’s my point? My point is, while you may be hoping for an agent or editor to fall all over themselves as soon as they hear about your fantastic book (or your concept) just remember it’s almost never as simple as, “Am I good enough?” (or am I talented?) The real question is more like, “Do I have a sufficient amount of writing talent that I have applied to a great concept in my skillfully structured novel?”

I mean, don’t ACTUALLY ask an agent this because they will definitely lean waaaay back, give you the “you’re a crazy writer” look, and then signal to the moderators to escort you as far away from them as humanly possible …just realize that these are the things that agents are looking for after they smile and say, “Send me the first thirty pages.”

Rebecca Taylor 2000X3000Rebecca Taylor is the young adult author of ASCENDANT, winner of the 2014 Colorado Book Award. The second book in the Ascendant series, MIDHEAVEN, will release in 2014 and her standalone novel, THE EXQUISITE AND IMMACULATE GRACE OF CARMEN ESPINOZA, is now available.

You can find more information about her work at www.rebeccataylorbooks.com.

 

 

 

 

Series or Standalone or The Problems of Estimating When You Don’t Outline

By Carol Berg

Carol Berg PhotoIn my published writing career, I’ve started six projects. Three of them, I intended to be standalone novels. Only one of those three stayed that way. One project I sold as a three book series and it turned out to be four. Clearly I’m not great at estimating.

My problem is that I am an organic story developer. I hate the word pantser, because to me that implies the writer doesn’t know where he or she is going. I always know where I need to start, and I always know where I’m going. My problem is, I don’t always know how many events or scenes or words it’s going to take me to get there. Nope, I don’t outline individual books or a series as a whole. I generate events and scenes as I write, because, for me, story ideas blossom as I get to know my characters and see what kind of challenges and personal interactions will drive them toward the climactic events that I want to happen.

Berg_ThreeCoversOne example: My novel Transformation was intended and sold as a standalone. I brought it to a very satisfactory ending. A true completion of the story is very important to me. Only, just about the time I sent the book off to my editor, I realized something critical about my demonic villains. The story I had told was only a piece of a much larger story arc that dealt with the identity of those demons and how that related to the identity of my hero’s people, their religion, and their single-minded pursuit of a war that took place in the physical landscape of human souls. That realization delighted me, but it also generated two additional novels that became the Books of the Rai-kirah. The single fantasy story became epic.

Three of my five “not-standalone” projects are this same kind of series. In these three series, the individual novels are separated by as little as a single day, or as many as four years. Each volume is a complete story in itself, but also a piece of a larger, continuing (epic!) story arc involving the same core of characters. Sometimes the books will have the same point of view character (like the Rai-kirah books) sometimes different ones (like the novels of the Collegia Magica).

I envisioned my Bridge of D’Arnath series as three books – and proposed and sold them on a three-page synopsis. The story centered around a disgraced noblewoman, a sorcerer/warrior who happened to have a displaced soul in his body, and the search for a kidnapped child – a child who had been brought up to believe he was evil. The third book ended when the boy was sixteen. But once I got there, the ending wasn’t right. Having sons myself, I knew that no kid, especially one who had undergone the traumatic childhood of this one, was “finished” at age sixteen. That’s where book four came from – Daughter of Ancients (NAL/Roc 2005) my first Colorado Book Award finalist. Oops!

Another project I mis-estimated was the novel Flesh and Spirit. I sold it as a standalone. But I also sold it on the basis of a single paragraph . When I was about halfway through writing it, I realized that there was no way this story would fit inside one book. I had to go back to my publisher and say, “You know this book I’m writing? It’s really two.” That is not a happy thing to say to a publisher. Fortunately, they liked it well enough to buy the second book! This became the Lighthouse Duet, a slightly different kind of epic series because it is really one big story split into two volumes. The resolution at the end of the first volume is really more of a turning point. Hey, I’m in good company. Lord of the Rings is really one big story split into three volumes, right?

Berg_DustandLightMy new series, the Sanctuary Duet is a parallel series to the Lighthouse books. I had the idea for Dust and Light (released just this month from NAL/ROC Books!) and wrote it up. Uh-oh, a paragraph! But I also wrote the first six chapters before I sent off the proposal. And this time, I told them it was going to be two books, even though I wasn’t sure the story was big enough. . . Indeed, when I reached the resolution mark of Dust and Light, there was an overarching mystery that had not yet been solved, and so I clobbered poor Lucian de Remini on the head and sailed into Book 2, Ash and Silver (NAL/Roc, August 2015). But I haven’t finished Ash and Silver yet, and there sure are lots of threads to resolve. Stay tuned…

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Carol Berg never expected to become an award-winning author. She chose to major in math at Rice University and computer science at the University of Colorado so she wouldn’t have to write papers, and ended up in a software engineering career. Now her fourteen epic fantasy novels have won national and international awards, including multiple Colorado Book Awards and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. A starred review from Publishers Weekly uses words like captivating, impressive, and perceptive about her newest novel, Dust and Light. Learn more at http://www.carolberg.com

How Exhaustion Helps Writing

By Trai Cartwright

How does exhaustion help writing?

It doesn’t. Of course it doesn’t.

Writing through mental and physical exhaustion has always been a struggle of mine, and it seems in the past year or two, I’ve heard much the same from many of my writer friends. Whether it’s acute over-programming or serious health ailments, managing their lives drains away their precious creative time and energy.

It’s gotten to the degree that they don’t get any writing done.

Does being a writer attract a heightened level of affliction? Is that how we know we’re writers—not because we’re sicker than everyone else but because we feel the terrible intensity of our failings all the more for their negative impact on our art?

Are we as a tribe, too tired to do our jobs? Did the writers who came before us suffer these same maladies to the same extent, and if so, how did they manage to get their work done?

How do we, as an afflicted body of scribes, manage to get it done regardless? Or do we?

I read “Z” not too long ago, a book from Zelda Fitzgerald’s point of view (genius, by the way), and not only was her own mental health eroding, but she had to rely on a husband who’s proximity to drink determined his own daily output.

Scott wrote dozens of short stories because it was all he could manage around his alcoholism.

Stephen King, on the other hand, used his prolific drug habit as a production tool for his writing. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can tell when King’s addiction began impacting his writing negatively—there are a couple dozen books that, well, suck. But his habit never impeded his output.

The tales of mental illness among writers and artists in general is prodigious. Their careers seem to go in two directions: one, they waited for bouts of sanity to work; or two, their affliction seemed to drive them to produce.

Myself, I was a chronic insomniac. The longer a person goes without the required sleep (seven hours uninterrupted), the worse their brain, organ, and nervous system function. A fugue state takes over and soon cognizant thinking becomes impossible, much less creative thinking. There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is a torture technique.

We all have our afflictions, don’t we?

But does the human condition make writing impossible? And what a terrible joke that would be, with so many of us with something to say.

And now that our lives are so overly complex with 24/7 jobs, family schedules that require herculean efforts to maintain, and increasing health issues across all ages, is there any way our artistic pursuits won’t suffer?

How do we compensate?

Or do we give in?

A friend of mine, Amy Kathleen Ryan, had triplets a few years ago. She still wrote two books around their tyrannical infant demands. You might have read them.

Another friend of mine has been diagnosed with MS, making it impossible to type some days. Many days. He still finished his most recent mystery novel.

Another woman I know has worked full time, pursued two advanced degrees, and raised her kid for the past five years, and is inches from finishing an epic fantasy we all know will publish the second she finishes.

Another has taken over the care of both her invalid parents while raising her own family. She’s learned to write in doctor’s offices.

A man who attends most of my library creative writing classes tells me he’s on the road three out of four weeks a month, but he’s taught himself to write on airplanes and in hotels.

A woman in my MFA program walks with two canes and is in constant, chronic pain from a back injury. She still got her degree and recently published her first short story.

There are lots of examples of life becoming what really ought to be written off as unmanageable, crushing our creative selves, making writing laughably impossible. But even these people find ways to write.

They all tell me the same thing: writing is their life’s blood. They’ve learned to stop making attachments to the outcomes and just be glad for the days they get some words on the page.

Is that enough?

As more and more novels are written under the pressures of our modern, debilitating lives, the answer seems to be a resounding yes.

Exhaustion may not help our writing, but it doesn’t have to stop it entirely.

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Trai-Cartwright-HeadshotTrai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Library by Guest Author Travis Heermann

Research and Cultural Connections in Fictional Worlds

by Travis Heermann

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation about surgical masks. A member of my family recently was forced to wear a surgical mask for a time to reduce risk of infection due to a compromised immune system. When I was living in Japan a few years ago, I often saw people wearing such masks in public, and during this conversation someone assumed the motivation behind masks in public was fear of infection.

“That’s not why they wear the masks,” I said. “They wear the masks because they’re sick themselves and don’t want to infect other people. They’re protecting the community.” This cultural practice was explained to me while I lived there, probably because I once made a similar assumption.

This is a striking example of behaviors that are similar on the surface, but for which the underlying values are drastically different. In the West, and in the U.S. in particular, the Individual has been elevated to greatest importance, with Community relegated to secondary status to a degree that puzzles natives of the Far East. In the Far East, that dynamic is profoundly reversed, such that Family and Community come first to a degree that mystifies Westerners.

When writing fiction not set in one’s own neighborhood, writers need to realize that we swim through our native culture like fish through water, largely unaware of its effects on our values, on our underlying assumptions about life, on our daily behaviors, on our perceptions of Others, the Outsiders who are intrinsically Scary and Not To Be Trusted. An individual from another culture, whether from a tribe in New Guinea or from Planet 10 Across the Eighth Dimension, may exhibit similar behaviors to someone from middle-class America, but the underlying value system and cultural reasons for those behaviors may be poles apart.

So for writers, the key to getting it right is research. The key to good research is to access the most direct sources you can. By direct sources, I mean museum exhibits of real medieval weapons, letters and documents from the time period, scholarly work, textbooks, etc. I do recommend you don’t use derivative works; for instance, using medieval fantasy novels, or even historical fiction, to learn about medieval culture is a bad idea.

If you find a good resource, search out the research sources that author used. Better still—and I realize this is not always feasible—travel to the locale yourself. If you’re wearing your Writer Eyes and Ears as you should be, you will pick up untold little details in the area, its people, its customs. In a country as big as the U.S., with so many different ethnic groups, even an area across the state—or across town!—can exhibit striking differences culture, dialect and attitudes. Barring the possibility of travel, Google Earth can be an astonishing resource for getting a look at the area, in conjunction with a library card and the will to use it.

The good thing about research it can be recycled over and over. If you’re writing science fiction, paranormal, urban fantasy, anything that requires creation of a non-mundane world, all kinds of research, academic and experiential, is melted into the bottomless, cast-iron cauldron of your subconscious and can be used to season alien worlds with enough verisimilitude that your readers will devour it with relish.

One of the cool things about being a writer is that we have a wide range of disparate knowledge, some of it as thorough and detailed as any academic’s. Fun on the page, fun at parties.

 

Author Bio: Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of the Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Shivers VII.

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Raising the Bar

By Shannon Baker
Photos by Mark Stevens

I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be named Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 Writer of the Year. See how many times Writer is used in that title? That means it’s an award for a writer voted on by writers. And for this one moment in time—well a whole freaking year!—I get to be The Writer of the Year. That probably sounds self-promoting and egotistical, but I’m throwing manners out the window and, in fact, might actually shout it out that same window. I get to be the Writer of the Year!

Shannon Baker WOTY2It was such a thrill to be nominated with Christine Jorgenson and Terry Wright. Christine has penned two series and this year was nominated for the Colorado Book Awards. She also received the Writer of the Year honor in 1995. She’s not only an accomplished writer but is the nicest woman on the planet. Terry has his own publishing company and is a legend creating book trailers. Even his name is all about writing.

We writers can be a funny lot, or as the man I live with says, crazy. At least, I can. Among other issues, I have what I call Raising the Bar Syndrome. It goes something like this: I get a glimpse of something I want to achieve, I set a goal. I work really hard toward that goal. If I finally get there, I spend about 1.5 seconds of happiness and then see that I’m nowhere near successful because if I were a real writer, I’d be (points finger into the distance) there.

I came to my first Colorado Gold conference somewhere around 1994, toting my second completed manuscript, sure it was brilliant. It wasn’t. A very New York editor pointed out to me just how far from brilliant it was. I was smart enough to believe him. I needed to learn a ton just to know the basics of why it failed, let alone how to go about fixing it. At that conference, I sat at the banquet and watched as the contest winners were announced. Wow, I thought. If I could only win the contest, I’d know I was a real writer.

I set about the painful task of learning to write. I hate to say that for me, as it is for many, it’s a slow process and one that will never end. I can improve, and improve, and still, there is room for improvement. But after a couple of years, I did win the contest. Twice. That’s a thrill and a milestone and should be celebrated. It means a writer has reached a certain level and should be congratulated.

But self-congrats were soon replaced with a new goal. Look at those writers getting their Pen Awards, RMFW’s acknowledgement of a first sale. If I got one of those I’d be a real writer. I kept at my craft. I worked hard. I sent out hundreds of query letters. I tweaked and revised and rewrote. After a very long time, I finally joined the ranks of the traditionally published and took home my Pen Award.

But that contract wasn’t all I’d hoped and I wasn’t satisfied. I told my husband, “If I can get a contract for three books with a decent press, I’ll be happy. I can say I’m a real writer and will never have to write another book.” And guess what? After a few more years, that’s exactly what happened. Two books of that contract are on the shelves with the third due next spring.

But I’m a nobody in the grand scheme of publishing. I know some big deals in that world and I can tell you, I’m small potatoes. I’ve just finished the first book in a new series and maybe if I sell it and it takes off I’ll really be a writer. Raising the Bar Syndrome is in full flower.

Shannon Baker WOTY1But here’s a twist. This summer, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers honored me with Writer of the Year. That’s as high as the bar goes. For twenty years I’ve seen that title awarded to the creamiest crème de la crème. This is a rare time in my writerly journey when I will pause and let myself revel. For once I’ll make no excuses or justifications or downplay it. I’m going to be a big, fat, obnoxious self-centered peacock. Further, I’ll frame the certificate and display it proudly and go to it whenever I feel like a failure or a poseur. It is my proof that I AM a writer. My writer tribe told me so.

Thank you, RMFW. Thank you very much.

Please join 2013 Writer of the Year Linda Joffe Hull and this year’s nominees, Christine Jorgenson, Terry Wright, and me at the Tattered Cover on Colfax August 14th at 7:00 PM as we rev up for the Colorado Gold Conference. One free conference will be given away, as well as lunch with lunch with J. Ellen Smith, publisher of Champagne Book Group, lunch with Raelene Gorlinsky, publisher at Elora’s Cave and lunch with NYT Bestselling author William Kent Krueger.

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Shannon Baker writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Tainted Mountain, the first in the series is set in Flagstaff, AZ and is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist. Broken Trust, book two of the series, takes place in Boulder, CO and was released in March. She serves on the board of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is nominated for 2104 Writer of the Year. She is a member of SinC and MWA. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com.