Romance – my addiction of choice … by Desiree Holt

DesireeHolt200x263Okay, okay, so I’m a sucker for a happy ending. But here’s how I look at it. Every day there is so much pain and misery in the world, not to mention the problems we face dealing with everyday life. When I curl up with a book, I want to know that the ending will be happy and satisfying and the hero and heroine will end up together. Oh, their road to happiness will certainly be filled with rocks and thorns. Where’s the fun in having them meet, fall in love and just trot off into the sunset? And who’d believe it , anyway?

Because romance, for all that it’s fantasy, also has to be grounded in reality. The readers I know who love romance want to change places with the heroine. They want to meet the hero, flawed though he may be, and be the woman he falls in love with. They want to be tall, short, thin, curvy, blonde, brunette, redhead—something they are not in real life. Because even in the happiest and most fulfilling relationships, there is always the desire to dream and fantasize. Romance gives women that opportunity.

I didn’t come to the romance genre at once, though. I thought I would write mysteries, because that’s what I read growing up. But when I finally sat down to write that first book, I could not get past chapter three. Then I read my first romantic suspense and I thought, This is what I am going to write. I wrote that first book in an effort to create my own hero like the one I’d fallen in love with—dark, dangerous, self-controlled except in bed. A bad boy who did good. And so sexy I wanted to find a way to bring him to life.

It certainly wasn’t all skittles and beer after that, though. There were far fewer opportunities to “break the barrier,” so to speak, then there are now. Self publishing wasn’t even on anyone’s horizon. But I plugged away at it (totally necessary) and eventually got my first break. Others followed. And as my backlist grew along with my readership,. I discovered I could spread my wings and test other subgenres.

Maybe it was my age. I was seventy years old when my first book was published, arriving at a time in life where I didn’t feel constrained to be bound by strict rules. I read two romances about wolf shifters and fell in love with the genre. Five series have been born of that. I love the wolf. I think he is a magnificent, romantic animal so writing about wolf shifters was easy for me.

2015_Holt_DH_RawEdgeofDanger_KindleI enjoy action adventure movies and television, and read thrillers by several authors, so it was natural for me to say, okay, let’s try that subgenre. And what fun that turned out to be. No one told me I couldn’t do it, because by then the marketplace had changed drastically. I loved creating those darkly adventurous men who jumped out of helicopters, fought terrorists and took down the bad guys. And of course, were incredible lovers. As a writer I was free to let my imagination run wild and I did, drawing with words the kind of heroes I wanted to drag into my house and lock the doors!

Then I got a little more adventurous, and created heroines I wanted to be myself. They practiced at gun ranges, were crack shots, could take down criminals without blinking an eye. And were rewarded with a romance that sizzled their toes.

It has been and continues to be such fun letting my imagination run wild. As I said before, you reach an age where you ignore restrictions and create in the pages of your stories the kind of life experiences you’d like for yourself. And romance is really the only genre where you can do this unfettered.

I’ve met a lot of people on my journey. I should probably dig out my tee shirt that says, Careful or you’ll end up in my next book. Because that happens so often. I meet interesting or good looking people and immediately start creating a story line for them.

But let’s complete the circle and get back to romance. In a romance story you can push the boundaries, give your imagination free rein, write scenes that your readers can live vicariously. As you get older, it becomes so much easier to do that. To “cast off the bonds of restriction.” To write yourself into a story, playing out your fantasy.

Do you have a story in your head? A character you’d love to create? Or meet? Then sit down and put your fingers on your keyboard. Let your imagination flow and go wild. I promise the end result will be worth it.

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Known as the oldest living author of erotic romance, Desiree Holt has produced more than two hundred titles in nearly every subgenre of romance fiction. Her stories are enriched by her personal experiences, her characters by the people she meets. After fifteen years in the great state of Texas, she relocated back to Florida to be closer to members of her family and a large collection of friends. Her favorite pastimes are watching football, reading, and researching her stories.

Learn more about Desiree and her novels at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook and her Facebook author page, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.

Note from Desiree: I will pick one commenter at random (using random.org) to receive a $25.00 Amazon.com gift card. This giveaway is open to anyone anywhere, but please post your comment by midnight U.S. Mountain Time on Thursday, December 17th.

The Power of Communal Marketing … by Mari Christie

2015_Mariana GabrielleA year ago, I released my first Regency romance as an indie author, Royal Regard, under the pen name Mariana Gabrielle. Two days ago, one of my books was mentioned in USA Today, a box set that has been on the Amazon Hot New Release and Bestsellers lists for three months, and today, my newest book, a perma-free novella, hit the Amazon lists for the first time.

So, does this mean I am “successful”?

At the risk of breaking the secret author code, let me jump into the numbers a bit. I have increased my income this month—from $1/day to $6/day—though one never knows when such a drastic change will occur or how long it will hold true. As of August, I had been pretty consistently selling an average of half a book a day for months, with occasional rises for new releases and sales. For the past three months, I am averaging three hundred downloads a day (though the royalties do not accrue to me), and I have momentum, which, to me, feels meteoric. I don’t have an agent or publisher or virtual assistant, but somehow, I have managed to claw my way onto the very first rung of the ladder to becoming a HistRom lower-mid-lister. A milestone, by the by, that doesn’t even remotely come with a paycheck yet.

At this rate, after all the promo copies and contests and swag, and box set royalties to charity, I won’t break even financially for another 100 years—1000 years, if you think I should be paid for my time, too.

Bluestocking Belles logo-02But still, ‘tis the season for gratitude and celebration! So, I decided to reflect on how I got here in a year. There are a couple of primary factors, foremost the holiday box set featured in the USA Today column, which was predicated on the best marketing decision I have made thus far—creating the Bluestocking Belles.

To be clear, I have been a marketing and promotions professional since pre-Internet days, but the “E-Book Marketing Milieu” is really a whole new world for me, often highly uncomfortable. But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and I have been a co- and cross-promotion proponent for years. When I saw Mark Coker’s general advice, about a year ago, in a spectacular Smashwords blog post on the future of the industry, a few things really resonated: “Take the long view. Network with fellow indies. Take risks, experiment, and fail often. Publish multi-author box set collaborations. Dream big dreams. Celebrate your fellow authors’ success.”

As members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, of course, we believe in the power of writers banding together to advance ourselves and our industry, but this article made me wonder, as a long-time co-promoter, whether it might it work in a more targeted, individualized, sales-focused way, even in the Amazonian jungle of a marketplace? These ideas coalesced into a general online call to other historical romance authors interested in long-term co- and cross-promotion. After talking to a couple dozen writers over the space of a couple of months, eight of us finally committed to a long-term group plan and officially launched The Bluestocking Belles in March 2015. I have no compunction in suggesting that we are the hardest working Regency writers online, busting our tails to entertain our readers.

And it has paid off nine months later, to the tune of 300+ $0.99 downloads per day of our box set (guesstimating about 9,000 total by the time this blog posts), with the 35% royalty going to the Malala Fund. With another three months left in this sales cycle, we have already raised more than $3,500 for charity via royalties and direct fundraising, far more than I could have raised alone. And as far as sales of my income-generating books, my perpetual half-a-book-a-day is currently three books a day. (Meteoric, I say!)

To be sure, the success of the box set was also predicated on many hours of work the Belles have put in on other projects, establishing ourselves as a brand in the historical romance marketplace.

On top of our own individual marketing efforts—blogs, websites, social media pages, etc. —common to all of the Bluestocking Belles, managed by various individuals and committees, we have a website; an excerpt book; a twice-weekly Regency “gossip rag,” the Teatime Tattler; Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages; a monthly book discussion group; a quarterly newsletter; constant online events, an impromptu storytelling group on Facebook, the Bluestocking Bookshop; and a very active street team with its own, secret web page.

2015_Gabrielle_booksThis “communal marketing” concept is not a game for the faint of heart, but it has, in the main, been working.

  •  Our first box set, Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem, has spent three months in multiple Top 20 Amazon Hot New Releases and Bestseller lists, in Regency Romance and Holiday Fiction, earning thousands for the Malala Fund and many new readers for the Belles’ books.
  •  Our excerpt book, The Bluestocking Belles’ Guide to a Good Time, which we use as both promo tool, street team gift, and prize, features more than fifty pages of games, puzzles, riddles, and historical romance excerpts, available as a free PDF download or bound as a fundraiser for the Malala Fund.
  •  All of the Belles (even “Bluestocking Belles,” with its own Author Central page) have, at some point or another, now seen an author ranking in the Top 100 of Amazon Historical Romance writers.
  •  All of us are seeing increased sales to varying degrees.
  •  Our monthly book discussion group and guest spots on the Teatime Tattler have attracted appearances by multiple USA Today and New York Times Bestselling HistRom authors, like Grace Burrowes, Ava Stone, and Lucinda Brant.
  •  Our street team members are recommending and sharing Belles’ books and posts regularly and automatically, and are steadily reading their way through our 34 (and counting) books and writing reviews.
  •  Our books appear next to each other regularly in “Also Bought” and “You Might be Interested in” on retailer sites.
  •  We have a central “swag depot,” where one Belle acts as “swag queen” and postmistress general, making sure our contest winners get everyone’s materials.
  •  We all now have a physical presence at personal events and appearances we couldn’t otherwise attend. My coupons will be at a table at the Wairarapa Book Fair in New Zealand next week, and our Belle in Dubai can give out signed excerpt books at the RWA convention without lifting a finger.
  •  We have a communal marketing budget, an attitude of sharing when it comes to ideas and opportunities, and an inherent circle of support when it is needed.

The process of uniting into a functional group was not without its growing pains (still) and it has required a stalwart bunch, with reliable senses of humor, broad and complementary skill sets, and a lot of communal wisdom, but if I had to start over as an indie tomorrow, and I could only choose to bring one of my marketing tools with me, there is no doubt, it would be my Belles.

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Mariana Gabrielle is a pen name for Mari Christie, who is not romantic—at all. Therefore, her starry-eyed alter ego lives vicariously through characters who believe in their own happy-ever-afters. And believe they must, as Mariana loves her heroes and heroines, but truly dotes on her villains, and all bring hearts bruised, broken, and scarred long before they reach the pages of her books.

She is a professional writer, editor, and designer with almost twenty-five years’ experience, and a member of the Bluestocking Belles, the Writing Wenches, and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She has released four Regency romances, Royal Regard, Shipmate, ’Tis Her Season, and La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess, and will soon release a mainstream historical, Blind Tribute.

You can learn more about Mari and her books at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, on her Amazon Author Page, and Goodreads.

About the Belles

The Bluestocking Belles' books carry you into the past for your happy-ever-after. When you have turned the last page of our novels and novellas, keep up with us (and other historical romance authors) in the Teatime Tattler, a Regency scandal sheet, and join in with the characters you love for impromptu storytelling in the Bluestocking Bookshop on Facebook. Also, look for online games and contests and monthly book chats, and find us at BellesInBlue on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Come visit Amy Rose Bennett, Susana Ellis, Sherry Ewing, Mariana Gabrielle, Jude Knight, Vanessa Riley, Caroline Warfield, and Nicole Zoltack at www.BluestockingBelles.com and kick up your bluestockinged heels!

You will find the Bluestocking Belles’ fundraising campaign for the Malala Fund at www.classy.org/BluestockingBelles.

Words of Warning …. by Kay Bergstrom

Kay BergstromThere are no bad words...only bad writers.

Some words, however, set off warning alarms, signaling that the writer is venturing toward a danger zone and should back away slowly. Before you use these words (if you must) be aware of what you’re doing.

Here are a few examples:

Suddenly: The word is okay to use in children’s books because children’s books are limited in word length. The author doesn’t have time for motivation, transition and goal. “Suddenly, I came upon a dragon” is perfectly fine. In fiction targeted at grown-ups, “suddenly” might indicate that the writer hasn’t made a transition. Where did the dragon come from? How did you find it? Or “suddenly” could show a lack of motivation. What does it mean to find a dragon?

Almost: Catalogued with almost are: nearly, kind of, sort of, a little bit, and so on. Check these qualifiers. You’ll almost always (sorry, it got by me) find a stronger way to say what you want. “A little bit of scotch” becomes “two fingers of scotch.” “Almost afraid” becomes “afraid.” “Kind of greenish-blue” becomes “jade and teal.” Almost isn’t accurate, i.e., almost pregnant.

Very: Consider the same warning as almost but in the opposite direction. A “very large kitchen” becomes “a kitchen as big as a basketball court.” There are times when “very” is accurate. As any mother who has been even a few days overdue will tell you that there is a state of “very pregnant.”

Laugh: The phrase “we laughed” doesn’t make the reader want to laugh. We laughed so hard that we all fell down and peed our pants is worse. Pointing out humor doesn’t make it funny. As writers, we have accept the fact that much of our cleverness and wit will go unnoticed by the reader.

Smile: Imagine the variety of emotions Meryl Streep can convey with a smile. She could be sad or loving or menacing or nervous or angry, etcetera. And the observer would understand because he could see her face and hear her tone of voice. Alas, as writers we don’t have a Streep to illustrate what kind of smile is being given. There are many words to describe facial expression. Pick one that more clearly indicates what the character is feeling.

Walk: While we’re on the topic of finding the best word to suit the action, “walk” is a warning word. Whenever I use “walk,” I visit Ms. Thesaurus to look for something better: sashay, stride, shuffle, dance, leap, bound, skip. Each of those words conveys an image that plain old “walk” doesn’t show.

Exclaimed: It’s hard to think of a situation when “exclaimed” isn’t redundant. Use an exclamation point! I have two digressions here. 1) There’s nothing wrong with exclamation points as long as they aren’t popping up on every page. 2) In dialogue tags, using “said” doesn’t become redundant. Similar to a script where each piece of dialogue is labeled, “said” disappears.

Phat and other cute slang: Slang that’s current now is dated in a couple of years. I’ve never thought of my books as something that would be read years from now, and so I have been known to indulge in slang. At times, I threw around “dude” like Wayne’s World. The joke is on me. My first book was pubbed in 1984 and is available as an e-book.

“Ah jist knows dat’s de bestest.” Dialect should be used very gently. Consider whether you want the reader to stumble.

F-Bombs and all their x-rated friends: I love the f-bomb and use it frequently in first drafts to convey down and dirty rage. In final draft, the profanity usually comes out. There are too many readers that get pulled out of the story by cursing.

Not a car: If you’re writing anything set in Colorado, your character will probably be in a vehicle. Be careful not to identify the character as the car. “I made a U-turn” isn’t accurate. The car turned, you didn’t. Nit-picking, but why not?

Feel: As a writer of romance and suspense, my characters are feeling all the time. They’re scared, sexy, courageous, seductive, outraged and hurt. Whenever I use “feel” (guilty admission: yes, I use it), I stop and think about another way to say how the character feels. Better yet, I need a better way to show how they feel. Is it worth a scene to show? Where did the feeling come from? Do I need a flashback?

It: Not the Stephen King novel. Each and every time you use “it,” you’re missing a chance to say something more descriptive. Unfortunately, “it” is one of those necessary words that can’t be totally avoided. “It” is always there, like Pennywise the Evil Clown. When you see “it” on the page, let it be a warning to you. There might be a better way.

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Kay Bergstrom (aka Cassie Miles) is the author of 79 novels of romance and suspense, has been on the USA TODAY Best-seller list and has twice been RMFW’s Writer of the Year. Her next book, Colorado Wildfire, will be available in January 2016.

Kay is starting a developmental editing service. Contact her at: kaybergstrom (at) hotmail (dot) com

Friends Writers Need and When to Shut Them Out … by Margaret Mizushima

“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” ~Picasso

Margaret MizushimaWhen I was a kid growing up on a cattle ranch in the panhandle of Texas, I had a tumbleweed for a friend. Seriously. Miles from the nearest neighbors and school, our home was surrounded by thousands of acres of natural buffalo grass, cattle, and yes—weeds. To keep my tumbleweed from blowing away in the never-ending wind that swept the plains, I tied it to our back porch with a piece of yarn.

My mother negotiated a deal with the public librarian in our closest town: we could check out all the books we wanted as long as we brought them back each month when we made the trek into town for groceries. So, while friends were sparse during those days, my inner life became rich and fanciful. (How else could a child enjoy the companionship of a tumbleweed?) My parents and teachers often called me to task for daydreaming. Little did they know that I was a young writer in training.

Writing is a lonely business, but that loneliness can be countered with the right friends. (And many of these friends should be people.) Find fans—or at least one—who love what you write; mine are my adult daughters. Fans don’t have to be writers, but it’s helpful if they love to read, and it’s best if they like to read in your genre. The fan role is to encourage you along the way, cheering you on when you want to give up. They read your work, tell you they love it, and then answer your specific questions about characters, plot, and scenes to tell you how they think it could be improved. After a fruitful visit with these friends, you need to return to the solitude of your writing space and revise.

Mizushima_Killing TrailThen take your work to another group of valuable friends: your critique group. This group of friends must be made up of writers. They will give honest feedback on the work; pick apart grammar, plot, and character development; scribble “show, don’t tell” in the margins; and sometimes leave you wondering why you ever attempted to write in the first place. But what’s most important is that these friends will help you improve your writing.

Showing your work to your friends requires that you have written something. It means we writers need to shut out our friends and abandon our tumbleweeds on the porch so we can enter the solitude we need to complete the serious work referred to by Picasso. Most of us don’t have the luxury of an office or studio to write in. We eke out a creative space in the back bedroom, den, or basement. Some people have an extraordinary power of concentration and can write in coffee shops or while sitting with family in front of the television. I once saw a seasoned writer sit in the hallway at a writing conference for hours, surrounded by people, tapping away at a keyboard. (No, I didn’t stay to watch him; I merely observed him every time I came out of a session.) I admire that type of focus, but I don’t have it. I write in the back bedroom at a desk surrounded by photos of friends and family, motivational greeting cards, and inspirational sculpture and posters. I light candles made by my daughter before beginning my writing sessions.

So it’s okay to embrace your tumbleweed, but beware the prickles. It can be fun—dare I say great fun—for writers to mingle with friends in coffee shops, in online chat rooms, or on social media talking about their characters and ideas for all the wonderful books they’re going to write. But at the end of the day—or better yet for me, at the beginning—we must write! We must be alone to create our masterpiece. Fight for your own space within the house; hang up that sign that reads, “Do not enter—murder and mayhem reign behind this door.” Balance friends and fun with the solitude of work, and do the work until you finish. You’ll be glad you did.

Who are your writing friends? Where is your creative space, and why is it perfect for you?

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Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books. After earning a master’s degree in speech pathology, Margaret practiced in a hospital and her own rehabilitation agency, and now she assists her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Her short story “Hay Hook” was published in the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She enjoys reading and hiking and lives in Colorado on a small farm where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website.

Many Hats: Making the Most of Your Author Platform … by Margo Christie

2015_MargoChristieWe all know the challenge of selling fiction to the reality-crazed techie generation. Time and again we’ve been told we need a “platform” – that area of specialization that enables us to sell books to people who aren’t necessarily shopping for them.

In writing my debut novel, THESE DAYS, I was partly motivated by the resurgent interest in the Depression-era art of burlesque. THESE DAYS takes place on an historic burlesque strip, The Block in Baltimore, which also happens to be where I came of age in the late 1970s.

In 2007 when I sat down to write, “New” Burlesque was in its formative years. I was 45 – well past “formative” but still agile enough to compete as a performer. And I had that special something that appealed to aficionados of the art: I’m a “baby legend”: a performer who was around at the tail end of old burlesque. As one who bridges the gap between the old and the new, I knew my tale of coming-of-age on a notorious burlesque strip would appeal to the newbies of the craft.
With the aid of social media, I connected with the Denver burlesque scene and began performing. Author/Burlesque Performer: I wore two “hats.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t make me an instant success. I’ve sold books at burlesque shows and discussed burlesque, old and new, with bookstore audiences. I’ve given readings in towns where I’ve performed, thus tying the two together. Still, selling books in areas where I’m unknown is a challenge. I have little trouble getting events in Baltimore, where THESE DAYS takes place, or in Denver, my home for 16 years. Other cities have presented more of a challenge, however. While performing in Laramie, I gave a reading to a bookstore audience of four, one of whom was my husband and two of whom were employees – I’ll let you do the math.

This past winter, while on my third Baltimore book tour, I reached out to a bookstore in Philadelphia, ever-hopeful but expecting the usual spiel regarding the need for a local following. That came, but with a twist: “Can you teach a writing workshop?”

I hadn’t taught a workshop, but I’d talked with many in the burlesque and literary areas of my life about the process of creating. I sat down with literary and burlesque friends to brainstorm. The concept that came up most often was that of dressing up.

Writing fiction and performing burlesque both involve dressing up. In burlesque, performers spend countless, unpaid hours fashioning elaborate costumes. To entertain and amuse, we create characters that are sub- and super-human; over-the-top, even. In fiction we want our characters to be relatable; down-to-earth, yet we still strive to give them that extra “umph” that will make them walk, talk or dance their way into readers’ hearts.

We also strip them bare, manipulating them in and out of tricky situations to show what they’re made of. We do the same in burlesque, but with flair and tease – There’s nothing like expectation to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. We can make a tight-fitting gown without spending our extra dollars on sequins and rhinestones. It will suffice for peeling out of at just the right moment, but will it pop off the stage, shining at its biggest and brightest best?

No. Nor will our fictional characters be their best without details, details, details. Their backstories, motivations and predicaments are what make them shine. For better or worse, details are their “sequins.”

At Philadelphia’s Big Blue Marble Bookstore, I filled a room with aspiring writers and a few curious passers-by. I sold a dozen or so books and gained a bit of a following in previously uncharted territory. Thus I discovered “hat” number three: Workshop Presenter.

On November 7, I will present “Dressing Up and Baring All: A Workshop for Fiction Writers” at the Standley Lake Library in Arvada (Denver). Bring a sample of your writing and be prepared to “dress it up.”

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Event Details
Dressing Up and Baring All: A Fiction Writer’s Workshop

Burlesque Performer and Prize-Winning Author, Margo Christie will present a workshop on dressing up your fictional characters to make them larger than life and stripping them down to keep them real. Through her experience on the burlesque stage and examples from her own and other novels, she will talk about “adding the sequins” to otherwise everyday characters then “baring it all” to keep readers emotionally-hooked. She will also demonstrate ways to supercharge your public readings by adding some G-rated burlesque pizzazz.

No matter your style or genre, Margo's exercises will help you bring your characters to life.

November 7, 2015
1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Mountain time
Standley Lake Branch Library - Jefferson County
8485 Kipling St.
Arvada, CO 80005

FREE FOR MEMBERS & NON-MEMBERS
No RSVP Required

Learn more about Margo and her work at her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Is It Enough To Simply Tell An Entertaining Story? … by Glenn Rogers, Ph.D.

Glenn RogersIs it enough for a writer to simply tell a good story? No. In the process of telling an entertaining story, a good writer, even if only implicitly, deals with important ethical, social, relational, or personal concerns. A good writer helps readers think about important things while they are being entertained.

There is a long and proud tradition in the Arts and Literature, going all the way back to ancient Greece, that utilizes stories as a way not only to entertain, but to teach and to provoke consideration of and reflection on important issues and concerns. Being born in 1951, one of the cartoons I grew up with was Rocky and Bullwinkle. One of the regular segments of Rocky and Bullwinkle was Aesop’s Fables, a collection of morality tales designed to teach important concepts. Aesop was a Greek storyteller who probably lived between 620 and 560 BCE. His stories were meant to teach lessons about good character and proper behavior. They were designed to make people think. Why did the creators of Rocky and Bullwinkle use these ancient stories in a cartoon program meant to entertain children? Could it have been that they believed that it was the responsibility of those who have the attention of people, even children (or maybe especially children), to say something meaningful, to provoke thoughtful consideration?

But even before Aesop and the ancient Greeks, tribal peoples utilized stories not only as a way to entertain but to teach. Anthropologists who work with tribal peoples know that this is still the case even today. Through storytelling, tribal peoples taught their children about their origin as a people, their religion, their culture, and wise and moral behavior. Storytelling has always been a way of teaching and provoking insightful reflection.

Good storytelling—in our Western tradition, good writing—has always involved more than just entertainment. A good story has to be entertaining. But it must also provoke insightful reflection. Consider Shakespeare’s work. He writes about moral corruption, social interaction, politics, love, and desire. He provides contrasts between virtue and appetite, sobriety and revelry, being trustworthy and untrustworthy. And in what may have been Shakespeare’s last work, The Tempest, at least one scholar believes him to have provided a theodicy, that is, a justification of God’s benevolence in a world filled with evil and suffering. Shakespeare did not simply write to entertain.

Later in the 1960s, Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek. One of the reasons the TV and movie franchise has remained viable may be due to the fact that Roddenberry’s approach to exciting and entertaining storytelling, an approach that has remained foundational to the franchise’s success, was the use of morality plays. Episode after episode of Star Trek, especially the original TV series, deals with important human issues or concerns.

Those who are considered great writers today have adopted that same approach. Consider a few examples:

Jane Austin, in Pride and Prejudice, deals with the status of women and the institution of marriage in eighteenth century England.

John Steinbeck, in Grapes of Wrath, addressed the economic challenges faced by the rural class during the depression.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, wrote about conspicuous consumption, the generation of wealth by questionable means, and a deplorable general lack of interest in the social concerns of his day.

Ernest Hemingway, in For Whom The Bell Tolls, wrote about the brutality of war.

Upton Sinclair, in The Jungle, wrote about the dangers and health risks of the food industry of his day.

Harper Lee, in To Kill A Mockingbird, wrote about the coexistence of good and evil and the moral nature of human beings.

George Orwell, in 1984, wrote about the dangers of totalitarianism.

Rogers_THE IMMORTAL AlabasterWhat made those writers great? Was it that they got the grammar right? Probably not—though getting the grammar right is important. Was it that they knew how to construct an intriguing story? That was probably part of it. But each of those authors has a distinct writing style and their books have a different feel. So what made those books great books produced by great writers? While there was likely not one single thing that made their work great, I suspect one of the things was that they wrote not just to entertain, but to provoke thoughtful reflection. The fiction of these well-known writers (all of it, not just the stories mentioned above) helped readers think about important issues. They (and other authors like them) didn’t just write. They wrote about something, about something important.

Could it be that too many writers today have lost sight of this important component of good writing? Is it enough to simply write an entertaining story? No, it is not. The good writer finds a way to touch on some important human issue or concern. The good writer not only entertains, but also provokes thoughtful reflection.

The important human issues or concerns don’t always need to be huge issues such as the status of women, the brutality of war, social equality, or health issues. Things that might be considered lesser concerns by some can still be important. Issues such as personal integrity, self-control, loyalty, friendship, kindness, discretion, moderation, courage, trustworthiness, and the like are important concerns for human life and interaction. Think about what J.K. Rowling did in her wildly popular and influential Harry Potter books. While she entertained us with a wonderful world of magic, she wrote about the struggle between good and evil. She wrote about courage, friendship, loyalty, determination and sacrifice. And while some critics might say that Rowling is not a great writer, maybe it is possible for a good writer to write a great book … or two or seven.

Writing that focuses attention on important aspects of human existence, even if only implicitly, is, I believe, better writing than that which simply entertains without provoking any kind of thoughtful consideration.

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Dr. Glenn Rogers is Professor of Philosophy and Social Sciences at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa. He is the author of twenty-six academic books on cultural studies, theology, and philosophy. Dr. Rogers is also a novelist, writing mysteries and thrillers. His fiction includes a frontier thriller trilogy: The Colemans The Reckoning, The Colemans The Journal, and The Colemans The Knife. He has a mystery series featuring a private investigator named Jake Badger: Family Secrets, Love and Lies, and Abducted; and another mystery series featuring an immortal detective named Aaron Archer: The Immortal Alabaster, The Immortal Betrayal, and The Immortal Carnage.

Glenn is a movie buff and a dog lover. His favorite author is Robert Parker. He especially enjoys Parker’s Spenser series.

Glenn’s fiction can be found on his website: booksbyglennrogers.net

Adventures in Cover Art for Traditionally, Hybrid, and Self-Published Authors by Theresa Alan

You finally finished your one-hundred-thousand word masterpiece after tireless effort, and, if your writing process is like mine, much metaphorical head bashing against your laptop. You think the hard part is done. You are wrong.

Whether you’re traditionally published, self-published, or choose a hybrid publisher (you’ll get a small or no advance, an editor, a publicist, and higher percentage of royalties than traditional offers but maybe not the reviewers and other perks), one of the first steps in marketing your book—the cover—presents myriad challenges.

One of the benefits of being traditionally published is that you’ll get help with marketing. Depending on the size of your publisher, their assistance could be significant. There is a lot to be said about having a traditional publisher’s marketing contacts and dollars go toward helping your sales, but the trade-off is that, generally, you don’t have much say in the cover, cover copy, or the title, especially at the larger publishing houses.

My first seven novels were all traditionally published. My second novel, which is about six improv comedians, was translated into, among other languages, Portuguese, and the cover featured a swarthy construction worker wearing a tool belt in front of a half-finished house. All of the comedians in my book have day jobs, however, none of their day jobs has anything to do with construction. In fact, at no point in the book is any construction work or handsome construction worker involved. Obviously whoever picked out the stock photography either didn’t get the blurb, didn’t read the blurb, or couldn’t have possibly cared less about truth in advertising.

Of course a cover is important to sales, but you want to sell a book with a cover that doesn’t mislead readers. If they are in the mood for a light read and they buy a book with a cover that looks frothy and then get a dark, moody novel, they are more likely to review your book harshly even if it’s brilliantly written. As writers and readers, those reviews can make or break sales.

The cover to my third novel, The Girls’ Global Guide to Guys, is cute and does get the tone right. The book is about two girlfriends backpacking through Europe. The cover my publisher created has a woman wearing high heels and a flouncy skirt, and she’s carrying a tote bag. Have you ever back-packed great distances or known someone who has? If so, than you know no heels were worn and no adorable tote bags were toted because it’s rugged and challenging and hence called “backpacking,” not “tote-bagging with one mint and a single change of thong.” At least readers know from the cover that Girls’ Guide will be a fun book, and it’s not a how-to guide for backpacking through Europe.

A plus-side of being self-published is that you can be sure that your cover reflects both the tone and the plot of your book. However, getting a cover as a self-published author isn’t necessarily all rainbows. Having original artwork created for you can be a big investment, or combing through stock photography can be time-consuming and frustrating. As writers, we want to spend our available hours, you know, writing, not whiling away in a Photoshop time-suck. I looked in to self-publishing, and the process made me appreciate the challenges my publisher went through to try to communicate that I write humor, although some of my books are deal with more serious issues than others. (Although there is no excuse to have a construction worker represent a book about six people trying to make it as improv comedians/actors/performers. Seriously.)

With hybrid presses, I’ve heard from author friends that it’s the luck of the draw. You have an editor and publicist who are more your teammates than your directors, so they’re often more open to input. But most indie or hybrid presses tend to have a “look” to their whole imprint, so study the covers on their website and decide if it’s a match for your work, and ask a lot of questions before signing the dotted line.

If you do find success with a traditional publishing house, kudos! Know in advance however, that, at least at the larger houses, you won’t get much say in your cover or blurb on the back and, while your publishing house might ask for input on what you might like for the title, odds are, they ultimately don’t care much what you think. There are many stories I’ve heard of authors doing well self-publishing (sometimes while also writing for traditional publishing houses) and many cover artists charge reasonable prices, so this is a definite consideration.

Whether you land a big publisher, go with an indie publisher, or do it entirely on your own terms, CONGRATS! You are doing it. Just go into this next stage of publishing and marketing knowing the right questions to ask, what to expect, and what is going to feel right for you. Of course, then, if you do get the cover of your dreams and still get negative reviews, you’ll know it’s either because that reader just didn’t connect with your writing . . . or that you suck. (Or maybe you just need to do more polishing on your work and hit some more critique groups to get feedback for how to improve.)

In any case, happy writing!

 

Theresa Alan became a bestselling author with her first novel, Who You Know (2003), and her novella Santa Unwrapped was in the New York Times bestseller Jingle All the Way (2004). She is the author of six additional Kensington novels, including Spur of the Moment, The Girls’ Global Guide to Guys, Girls Who Gossip, Getting Married, Spa Vacation, and The Dangers of Mistletoe. Her work has also appeared in the anthologies I Shaved My Legs for This?! and Sex and the Single Witch. Theresa was named the Colorado Romance Writer of the Year in 2004.

A graduate of the University of Iowa and the University of Colorado at Boulder, Theresa lives in Denver, Colorado.

You may connect with her on Twitter @Theresa_Author or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theresa.alan

 

 

Trust is Earned in the Details … by Tracy Brisendine

Tracy BrisendineI have a confession, but it’s not that juicy of one. I won’t be sharing any of those until the statute of limitations expires. But…I have anger issues.

I have thrown books, slammed the cover shut on my Kindle, and cussed so profusely that it alarmed the dog. I once boycotted an entire genre for over a year because I was so fed up.

So what makes me so frustrated and angry? Authors who don’t research or only do it half-way.

Nothing ruins my trust as a reader faster than a faulty action scene, inaccurate firearm portrayal, careless crime scene processing, or shoddy police procedure (unless your character is a dirty cop then by means cut those corners, plant evidence, and line their pockets with the bank heist money).

I’ll admit I’m far more critical than the average reader when it comes to crime and police-related stuff. Yes, I too have watched my fair share of NYPD Blue, Dexter, and CSI. But I have also worked as a street cop, processed crime scenes, attended autopsies, and gone to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations’ Crime Scene Approach and Investigation School.

Obviously I’m not an expert on every topic that appears in my writing, but I learn enough so that I can realistically tell my story. And I expect other writers to do the same.

As authors, we have to know enough to get our readers to buy into what we’re telling them. It’s about trust, and trust is earned in the details. Every time I pick up a book, I trust the author to hook me, keep me interested and entertained throughout, and not leave me feeling gypped when I reach the final line. Readers have to trust that we’ve taken the time to learn about our subject matter. If they utterly trust us, they will be fully sucked into our story, and we will have earned a fan. They’ll stick with us, and repeat business helps keep the lights on.

So how do you learn, especially if it’s police procedure, criminal law, uncovering dead bodies, and processing crime scenes? I’d highly recommend a ride along with your local police agency. Most departments have instructions and the requirements on how to set up one online. Another thing to do is read. Read the law (the Colorado Revised Statutes are available online through Lexis Nexus). Read non-fictional texts and text books, the National Criminal Justice Reference Service has thousands of downloadable PDFs available ranging from drugs and the justice system to processing a death scene.

Brisendine_Colorado Gold 2015I also just so happen to be teaching a class at Colorado Gold. How convenient is that? This particular class, Homicide for Writers Not Criminals, will be focusing on well, you guessed it, homicide. It’ll be a nitty-gritty and graphic look at the basic characteristics of gunshot wounds, stabbings, and blunt force trauma. But before I dive into the gore, I’ll be talking statistics, motives, and scene investigation.

The first time I taught this class it gave one guy nightmares and made two other attendees ill. So for those of you not interested in looking at a ton of pictures of bloody injuries, violence, and death…I’d skip the second hour. It might save your lunch. And I promise I won’t think less of you. Not everyone loves this stuff as much as I do.

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Vernon Geberth of the New York City Police Department once said, “Death investigation constitutes a heavy responsibility, and as such, let no person deter you from the truth and your personal commitment to see justice done.” He was speaking to law enforcement personnel, but it could apply to any character (fictional or otherwise) involved in the solving of a crime. Death and the bodies it leaves in its wake lead people to want the truth, and as authors we have the ability to make it a colorful, exciting, and satisfying.

As the schedule current stands, I’ll be teaching Friday at 1 pm. I hope to see all of you at Colorado Gold! If you can’t catch my class but have a question you think I might be able to answer message me on Facebook or Twitter. I love talking about this stuff. 🙂

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Tracy Brisendine’s invisible pet dinosaur landed her in the principal's office in second grade, and it was downhill from there. To protect her mental health, she allows some of her ideas to bleed out onto the page. Her short story Ghostly Attraction appeared in RMFW’s 2014 Anthology, Crossing Colfax. When Tracy isn’t battling demons of deviance, she lives happily in Denver with her husband and snaggle tooth dog. She has seven years of experience working in law enforcement and a degree in criminal justice from Colorado State University.

My Name’s Jeff, and I’m a Failure … by Jeff Seymour

Jeff SeymourLast year, I failed hard as a writer.

I did everything right before I self-published Soulwoven. I cultivated an audience, created a marketing plan, wrote a solid book that I was happy with and that got good reviews, arranged an eye-catching cover and a professional interior, networked, tweeted, Facebooked, pushed. That first book did okay, but it was on life support toward the end of the year. Because I’d done everything right though, I had its sequel ready to go. It was an even better book than the first. It got better reviews. It dealt with serious issues. It was good art. It made a Best of 2014 list. It mattered. I pushed some more.

Thud, went my sales. We don’t care about your books, said the world. You’re going to bankrupt your family and destroy your life, whispered my fear and my self-doubt, and I had very little to say back to them.

I was not prepared for this. I’d told my wife, years before, that the hardest thing for me to handle as a writer would be a low-to-moderate level of success—enough to know there wasn’t some secret ingredient I was missing or some great conspiracy I wasn’t involved in, but not enough to justify the massive investment in time and money I’d put into becoming a writer. It was hard. Things got very, very dark for a while.

Soulwoven by Jeff SeymourBy the spring, I was still struggling. Writing was painful, because there seemed to be no point in pushing through. Getting out of bed was painful, because all my hopes for the future had been tied up in succeeding commercially as a writer and that path seemed closed to me forever. Worse, I felt I had to lie profusely about how I was doing. Nobody wants to hear a writer talk about their problems. We’re supposed to project an image of success until we become successful, and only then do our struggles (safely in the past, allegedly) become acceptable conversation.

I thought that was pretty unhealthy, so I decided to hurl an axe through the image of Jeff the Successful Indie Author. I proposed a panel on failure and self-doubt for Colorado Gold 2015. I didn’t know anyone interested in similarly tomahawking their successful image, so I shared the idea with an RMFW loop to see if any other authors wanted to join me.

People came out of the woodwork. I had more volunteers than I could fit on a panel, and in September we’re going to sit down and have an honest conversation about failure, what it looks like for different people, what it feels like for different people, and how to live through it and keep working.

I hope you’ll join us. Failing is part of making art, and preparing yourself for it is as important a step in learning to be a writer as figuring out where to put the commas, discovering what makes a character come alive on the page, or seeing the structures that underlie stories and learning how to work with them.

My name’s Jeff. I’m a failure, and it’s okay if you are too. We can hang out and be friends, and I won’t think less of you for failing or suggest ways you can be successful if you just do things the right way. See you at conference; I’ll be the one in the black-and-neon-green toe shoes.

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Author and editor Jeff Seymour has been creating speculative fiction since he was a teenager. His writing covers genres from magical realism and horror to science fiction and epic fantasy. Jeff’s nonfiction has appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine and on the website Fantasy Faction, and his series Soulwoven got over a million reads online before being self-published in 2014. As a freelance editor, he helped Harlequin’s digital-first imprint Carina Press build its science fiction and fantasy line, and he has worked on titles for the Nelson Literary Agency Digital Liaison Platform and bestselling indie authors. In his free time, Jeff blogs about writing and editing, pretends he knows anything about raising two energetic cats, and dreams.

You can find Jeff on Twitter, Facebook, and at jeff-seymour.com, and you can buy his books on Amazon and at most other major online retailers.

Cause for Whine or Food for Thought? … by Chris Mandeville

Chris MandevilleI’ve been perfecting my recipe for Coq au Vin for years. I use the happiest, most humanely raised poultry, a decent French Burgundy, organic farm-fresh veggies, and my own secret blend of herbs. The other night I prepared this special dish for my critique group—we always eat dinner before discussing our writing—and because my critique partner Aaron is a vegan, I also prepared an eggplant Wellington just for him.

As I proudly placed the food on the table, alongside a nice Cabernet, I asked the group, “So, what do you think?”

The guests tasted and slurped and savored and pondered, then they let me know what they thought of the dishes I’d worked so hard on.

Wine, not whine.

Photo “Wine” by Evan Wood, courtesy of Creative Commons.

“It’s pretty good, but I think there’s a little too much salt,” Morgen commented.

“Yeah,” Todd said. “Too much salt, not enough garlic. And the carrots are too crunchy.”

“I don’t love the wine in the dish,” Giles said. “It doesn’t seem to go with the wine we’re drinking. I would have made a different choice on one or the other.”

“I like the wine,” Aaron said. “But my vegan Wellington doesn’t relate at all to the Coq au Vin. It would have been nicer if there were at least some parallel to the dish the rest of you are eating. Besides, I personally don’t enjoy eggplant.”

“Of all the nerve!” you may be thinking. “These guests are so rude. Chris’ feelings must be hurt after putting so much time, effort and love into creating that meal. And that Aaron—what an ingrate! He shouldn’t complain, especially after she went to all the trouble to make a vegan dish just for him.”

Hold your horses and your happy chickens.

This is a happy chicken. He has not been turned into dinner because the prior story was all made up.

Photo “Don’t be a chicken” by Helgi Halldorsson/Freddi courtesy of Creative Commons.

This is just an imaginary dinner party, so don’t be too hard on my friends. The real Aaron would never say those things about a real meal I cooked for him, but he might say something like that about a story I ask him to critique. I can almost hear him:

“I like the voice [wine]. But the subplot [vegan Wellington] doesn’t relate thematically to the main plot [Coq au Vin], and I personally don’t like ‘fish out of water’ stories [eggplant].”

“Ah,” you may be saying. “I see the parallel now.”

Yes, this dinner party conversation is an analogy for CRITIQUE.

Now that you know that, let’s go back to the dinner party and change things up a little. Rather than simply asking “What do you think?” when I put the food on the table, let’s say instead I explained things this way: “I’m working on some recipes I’m going to cook for the producers of the Food Network, and they’re going to decide—based on this one meal—whether or not to give me my own cooking show. I need this meal to be perfect, so please evaluate these dishes as critically as possible.”

Would the same comments from my dinner guests feel any different to you after that?

“Sure!” I imagine you saying. “Absolutely.”

Knowing the context of the situation—that a career milestone hinged on the outcome of this event, and that I really wanted critical feedback—makes all the difference, right? The criticism at the dinner table doesn’t seem so harsh once you know that it was my goal to make the dinner the best it could be and that I was inviting criticism so I could improve.

Although we writers communicate for a living, we’re not always clear with ourselves and with others about the nature of the feedback we’re seeking when we offer up our work with a question like “What do you think?”

In my fictional dinner party scenario, without knowing the backstory about the Food Network’s interest in me (which is also sadly totally fictional), there’s no way of knowing if I’m asking for critical feedback or simply looking for a pat on the back.

Sometimes all we want is for someone to say, “You look nice,” not “Well, your butt does look a little fat in those pants.”

Sometimes we want constructive criticism, and sometimes we just want a little praise. Both are fine when it comes to cooking, to writing, and to everything else for that matter. The important thing is to be cognizant of which we’re seeking when we ask for feedback, and state our requests with a bit more specificity than the simple “What do you think?” By being clear and explicit with ourselves—and with others—about what kind of feedback we’re seeking, it can save us from a whole lot of heartache.

When it comes to writing, if you show your work to your best friend or a family member and you aren’t looking for critique, be sure to say that. But when you submit your work to a critique group, be prepared for criticism. That’s because whether you verbalize the request for criticism or not, the job of a critique group is to LOOK FOR THINGS TO CRITICIZE so that you can learn from it and improve. It would be a waste of time to belong to a critique group that said nothing but “This is awesome,” wouldn’t it?

The moral of this story is, when you submit your work to your critique partners and ask “What do you think?” be aware that what you’re really saying is: “Find problems. Poke holes in it. This needs to be perfect so please evaluate as critically as possible.” For the sake of your morale, try to prepare yourself emotionally for responses like “there’s not enough salt” or “the Wellington doesn’t relate to the theme of the meal.”

This is good. This is what we want. We like the color red.

Photo “I tend to scribble a lot” by Nic McPhee, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Remember: we want critiquers to be critical.

Even when you’re expecting criticism, it can still sting to have your precious words criticized. I find that it helps to remember that we want critiquers to be critical. Recently I had to remind myself of this as I prepared to send my debut novel, Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure to my publisher. My critique partners dealt out some heavy criticism, but I set aside my feelings, remembering I’d asked for tough feedback. Even though it was still a little painful on an emotional level to hear that my story wasn’t perfect, on an intellectual level I viewed their critiques as food for thought. I accepted the criticism and advice that resonated with me and revised my story accordingly (a process I repeated when I received feedback from my editor). In the end, my story was greatly improved as a result of all the criticism it received, and I believe it now has the exact right amount of salt, if I do say so myself.

This is not to say that critics (and dinner guests) shouldn’t be complimentary and kind and constructive with their criticism. Of course they should be.

This is to say that we—the cooks and writers—should be aware of what kind of feedback we’re looking for and prepared as much as possible to receive that feedback. If we’re clear with others about what we want, and we’re clear with ourselves about what to expect, there will be a lot fewer hurt feelings, and a lot less vegan Wellington hurled at our friends and critique partners.

So at the next meeting of your critique group, I encourage you to set ego and emotion aside and prepare yourself to receive criticism with an open mind. In fact, welcome the criticism! Because that’s what we’re seeking by being part of a critique group, right? Consider the criticism food for thought. Let it digest, then use it to make your stories better. And bring on the wine, not the whine!

Photo “cheers” by dutchbaby, courtesy of Creative Commons.

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Mandeville_SeedsMandeville_52waysChris Mandeville writes science fiction/fantasy and nonfiction for writers. She served as Pikes Peak Writers’ president for 5 years, and has taught writing workshops for 10 years. She’s teaching a Master Class “Everything You Need to Know to Write a Novel” at Colorado Gold 2015. Her books include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block. For information about Chris’ books, upcoming events, and tips for writers, visit www.chrismandeville.com.

Coming soon: watch for an interview with Chris on the RMFW podcast!