Tag Archives: guest blogger

Writer’s Block? Surely you jest!

By Terri Benson

Terri Benson1Who’s Shirley? But seriously, folks (OK, not really seriously, but kinda), have you ever suffered from Writer’s Block? I hear about it all the time, but I think I’m immune. Even if I wrote 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, I don’t think I could empty out the ideas and words writhing around in my head. And on top of that, every day I add more ideas and words. One of these days my head might explode (I can see it now – Exploding Head at Library: Story at eleven!).

If you find yourself stuck, and I think this applies to just about every fiction genre, go to the mall. Listen to the kids talk to each other—you’ll get YA ideas, sci-fi (you can’t get more alien than teenagers!), dialect, swear words, current clothing, technology, and lots more. Or how about wandering down Main Street and observing the architecture – don’t you wonder what went/goes on behind those covered windows on the upper floors over the stores? Who might be looking out at you right now, and why?

Unless, or even if, it creeps you out, wander through the cemetery – you’ll find tons of names to file away, see interesting art, and read some great epitaphs. Like that Masonic symbol over there. Was he one of the secret society who held the key to great riches or knowledge, or did his poor wife have to take the only headstone she could afford, one that had been “returned” by another wife who decided instead of a formal burial, she’d just flush her old hubby and call it good?

Once in a while the newspaper will run an article about some obscure crime, location, or person that you can use as inspiration in your story. The Nobel Laureate who recently died could be your character’s college roommate who invented time travel in the alternate universe your story is set in, or the little old lady found dead after begging on the streets for years who was worth millions – maybe she was a famous cat burglar, or the character’s long lost mother, sister, or even your character in later years.

Benson_monkey flowerTake a hike – literally. Check out the flora (that’s flowers and green stuff to most of us) – look close – you can see creepy faces in those things sometimes. I saw a story today on a vegetarian spider (REALLY!). I don’t think I could convince anyone spiders come with stripes of red, blue, yellow and checkerboard – unless they saw a photo of that spider. In an alternate world the spider could be the good guy for a change, up against human-eating, fluffy, sweet looking, killer gerbils.

Benson_spiderPay attention to the temperature and how it makes you feel. Remember the feeling of sweat rolling down your back and wetting your waistband – it could be blood. Goo squishing up between your toes on the riverbank? Maybe not mud.

TV, bane of our existence, can offer up a host of inspirations as well. With the History, Science, Discovery, Military and other specialty channels, you can get all kinds of ideas to research – just don’t let the research suck you down the Rabbit Hole (hey, I resemble that blog!).

Even the stupid shows might help. How about Bar Rescue? You see weird people screaming, crying, and insulting each other. Let’s see: a story about the owner of a bar being renovated who kills the reality host and tries to pin it on the sex offender posted on the city website that lives in the scary old mansion-turned-flophouse down the road, who is actually the father of the highest ranking senator in the state, and the murder weapon was a 3D printed candy cane sharpened to a point with an electric pencil sharpener located in the office of the local Clerk & Recorder under investigation for fraud and involved in an affair with the bar owner’s wife (and If I see this in print, I’d better be in the credits. Seriously. No, really!)

Writer’s Block? Not me, and not you, if you just get out there and let yourself be inspired.

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Benson_Unsinkable finalA life-long writer, Terri Benson is published in historic romance, has written award winning short stories and over a hundred newspaper, magazine and e-zine articles – many award winning.

She has been a member of RWA for decades, and RMFW for the last several years. She promotes Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelts RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogs.

An Unsinkable Love (with a gorgeous new cover), is available from Amazon.

When It’s Time to Part With Your Agent … by Chuck Greaves

Chuck_GreavesSigning with a literary agent is an early career milestone for many authors. Finding the right agent is, I submit, essential to an author’s long-term success and happiness. Having chosen both badly and well in my brief writing career, I thought I’d share both experiences, as a kind of authorial teaching moment.

When I finished the first draft of Hush Money – my debut legal mystery – in 2008, I proceeded to amass an impressive stack of agent rejections over the course of very few months, until finally hitting the jackpot – or so I’d thought – in the form of a request from a veteran New York agent (we’ll call her Natasha) to read the entire manuscript. My telephone rang several weeks later, and Natasha and I were in business together, our partnership memorialized in a two-page written agreement. Hush Money, she told me, while still in need of some minor fine-tuning, had tremendous market potential.

Several weeks passed while Natasha’s summer intern took a blue pencil to my magnum opus. When the line-edited manuscript was finally ready, I took a notion to fly to New York and collect it from Natasha in person, only to find that her address was a shared suite in a seedy section of Broadway that would have given Max Bialystock pause. Needing privacy, the four of us – Natasha, her husband, the intern, and I – squeezed into an office so small it required the intern to perch, knees to chin, on the radiator.

I flew home with the line-edited manuscript and a growing sense of unease. When I returned the tightened and polished manuscript to Natasha a month or so later, having reluctantly changed its ending and generally accommodated ninety percent of her editorial suggestions, she said she was pleased with the result, and promptly set out to test the fickle waters of commerce.

Greaves_Last_Heir[1]After several more months and a handful of editorial rejections, I flew to New York again, this time meeting Natasha and her husband for cocktails at the Algonquin (where I got stuck with the check.) At her insistence, I agreed to undertake another round of edits. Length (then 120,000 words) was, she said, our biggest problem, and so I tightened the manuscript even further, to a muscular 112,000 words, and sent it off for her final blessing. Meanwhile, I’d finished the first draft of Hard Twisted, my second novel, and sent her that as well.

She abhorred Hard Twisted, stating that the thirteen-year-old protagonist was “impossible to root for.” As for the new and improved Hush Money, she refused to even read it, calling it “unsaleable” unless and until I could pare it to fewer than 100,000 words. At that point I thanked Natasha for her efforts, and terminated our contract.

Newly rudderless, I submitted both manuscripts to the 2010 SouthWest Writers International Writing Contest in Albuquerque. From a field of over 680 entrants, Hush Money won Best Mystery, Hard Twisted won Best Historical Novel, and Hush Money won the grand-prize Storyteller Award, with Hard Twisted coming in second.

I soon had offers from several New York agents, and a second bite at the Big Apple. Should I again sign with a grizzled industry veteran, or should I go with the hungry young newcomer who professed undying love for both novels? I called an author-friend for counsel. He said, “Sign with whoever will still return your phone calls if the books haven’t sold in a year.” It proved to be some of the best career advice I’ve ever received.

Within a few weeks, Antonella Iannarino of the David Black Agency had sold Hush Money – still at 112,000 words, but with its original ending restored – to St. Martin’s Minotaur in a multi-book deal, after which she sold Hard Twisted to Bloomsbury. Hush Money – the novel Natasha had called “unsaleable” – would go on to receive starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal, would be a Critics’ Pick from Kirkus, and would be a finalist for several national honors including the Shamus, Rocky, Reviewer’s Choice, and Audie Awards. Hard Twisted, the book with the “impossible to root for” protagonist, would be hailed as “a taut and intriguing thriller” (London Sunday Times) and “a gritty, gripping read, and one that begs to be put on film.” (Los Angeles Times)

So what did I learn from these very different experiences?

First, that reading is a highly subjective endeavor, and one should never be discouraged by the opinions of even a few so-called experts.

Second, that you should think long and hard before committing to an agent whose commitment to your work is other than unequivocal.

Third, that while parting with your agent might seem like a giant step backward, it is sometimes the only way to move your career forward.

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Chuck Greaves has worked as a bartender, a construction worker, and a librarian. He spent 25 years as an L.A. trial lawyer before becoming a novelist (and sometimes vigneron) in southwestern Colorado, where he lives with his wife, four horses, and two German shepherds. THE LAST HEIR (Minotaur), his fourth novel, and the third installment in his award-winning Jack MacTaggart series of legal mysteries, will be in bookstores on June 24, 2014. For more information on the series, or on his literary fiction written as C. Joseph Greaves, you can visit his website, or get the latest updates here on Facebook.

BOOK GIVEAWAY NOTICE:  Readers who leave a comment on Chuck’s post before noon U.S. Mountain Time on Sunday, June 22nd, will earn an entry into a drawing for a signed copy of The Last Heir. The winner will be announced here on Sunday afternoon.

Interview with Jessica Renheim, Associate Editor of Dutton/Penguin Group

Interview originally published at Chiseled in Rock blog by Dave Jackson on June 4, 2014.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers is pleased to welcome Jessica Renheim to the Colorado Gold Conference September 5th through the 7th.

jessicarenheimJess joined Dutton in 2007 and has been there ever since. She edits both fiction and nonfiction at Dutton, including speculative and paranormal fiction, mystery/crime, thrillers, narrative nonfiction, and memoir. Among the bestselling and critically acclaimed writers she has worked with are the #1 New York Times bestselling authors Richelle Mead and Kelley Armstrong, as well as New York Times bestselling and award-winning writers Mark Adams, Dan Savage, Stephen White, Meg Gardiner, Brian D’Amato, Jennifer Lee Carrell, Raymond Khoury, and David Rich.

We are particularly pleased to interview Jessica because she apparently makes rare appearances on blogs!

CIR: How important is it for an author to be flexible with edits? By the way, I’m so flexible my leg is curled around my head as I write this.

JR: Flexibility with edits is always very welcome, but ultimately it’s the author’s book so he/she is going have the final say on most things. The editor’s primary job is to provide guidance where we think it’s needed. Is a certain character feeling too one-dimensional or predictable? Is it too easy to guess the mystery at the heart of the novel? Or is there some inconsistency between the start of the story and the climactic showdown at the end? These are the kind of editorial questions and concerns that may need to be addressed to make the book better, and I’ve been very fortunate to work with talented writers who can step back from their work and assess what’s clicking and what needs to be reconsidered.

CIR: In just the past few years the major publishing houses have become very active with electronic publishing. Can and or will this open the door for more experimental stories to be published in New York from unknown authors since costs can be saved on printing?

JR: I think so. There are quite a few digital original or digital only imprints publishing new authors across different genres these days. One recent example is Tor.com announcing the launch of a new imprint devoted to publishing original novellas, shorter novels and serializations. This seems like a natural area of growth for science fiction and fantasy, and a great way for aspiring writers to get stories published that wouldn’t have been the right fit for more traditional formats due to length or other considerations.

CIR: Have you had the chance to meet any celebrities and if so, who was the coolest?

JR: Dutton publishes the occasional celebrity book, but I have yet to work on one. There have been few brief encounters. Nick Offerman has come by our office to work with his editor. John Hodgman gathered a sizeable group of his (well-known) friend to shoot a scene for his book trailer at the office once. If you watch the trailer here http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/4cc168ca62/that-is-all it’s the scene in the conference room. I also worked on It Gets Better and American Savage with Dan Savage, who is so lovely and down to earth that I sometimes forget he’s a celebrity.

CIR: Did you always know that you wanted to be in the publishing business, an editor?

JR: I think by senior year of college I realized that I wanted to pursue a job in book publishing. I was lucky enough to attend the Columbia Publishing Course, which not only led directly to my job at Dutton, but also helped me to decide that becoming an editor would be the best fit for me. It’s incredibly fun and rewarding to work with an author through the entire process, from acquisition to well after his/her book hits stores and online retailers.

CIR: Because we strive to be unique, I must ask a bizarre question. How do you think Charles Dickens would have felt about E publishing?

JR: Well, Dickens was a prolific writer whose novels were mostly published in monthly or weekly installments, a format that allowed him to evaluate his audience’s reaction and use that feedback to shape his stories. Serializing his novels also made them cheaper and more accessible, so my guess is that Dickens would have loved the greater flexibility and access digital publishing affords to readers.

CIR: I have to ask this one because many friends and I have experienced it a couple of times. If an editor had very encouraging things to say about a manuscript, but rejected it stating that it would be better as a…we’ll say a YA, or any number of other succinct suggestions…and the author revamps it as such, do you think the writer is out of bounds to try a resubmission?

JR: It’s a good question. I think if an editor feels strongly enough about a manuscript to provide very encouraging and specific feedback before ultimately rejecting it, then it’s fair game to resubmit the manuscript if it’s been substantially reworded. There’s always an exception to the rule, of course, but in general editors are looking to fall in love with a project and champion it. As long as you’re not submitting a newly revised YA novel to Dutton—where we only do adult books—chances are the editor will take another look!

Thanks Jessica!

We look forward to seeing you at the Gold!

Interview conducted by Gusto Dave

The Top 5 Best Pieces of Writing Advice I Ever Got … by Trai Cartwright

1.   If you’re holding something back for later, drop it in now.

Last Thursday, a friend and I both had one of those explosive days you live for as a writer: the day when your story just electrifies you, delights you, reveals itself to you. She told me she had just written the scene that told her it was just another 25 pages until the supernatural elements of her book could be introduced. I’d just written a scene that was wholly unexpected: a dude who wasn’t supposed to reveal his true nature for many (many) pages to come suddenly whipped off his mask.

This reveal not only changed my whole book but radically improved it in an instant.

This trick comes from a writing teacher I reviled except for this gem. Don’t hold on to the secrets. Don’t write an entire book knowing that in the last 30 pages, all will be revealed. It drains your writing of life-giving creative energy. By “giving away the store”, I was seemingly left with nowhere to go. In fact, I was forced to imagine greater. My story expanded in the most delicious ways because I didn’t hold back.

So my advice to my friend who’s waiting 25 pages to unleash her tasty goodness: just do it now.

2.   Write something beautiful, something grotesque, and something odd on every page.

This one came from a poet who’d just published her first novel, and it’s what her editor said transfixed her. The poet had always used these tricks in her poetry, and had unconsciously carried it over to her fiction. The effect: pages and pages of surprises in the sentences, creating a unique texture that illuminated her world in unexpected ways.

3.   Don’t let the reader catch you writing.

This is from Elmore Leonard and a habit I had to break in my early years. If you’re overly-enamored with your own scintillating, bombastic, lyrical writing style, chances are your readers know it all too well. My voice often over-took my story, and instead of carrying my readers away on a fantastic journey, I was demanding they stand in awe of my cleverness. The point is this: you’re a storyteller first. The voice has to be in service to the story, not your ego.

4.   Don’t confuse, don’t bore.

This from my MFA director Tod Goldberg. Written in big letters on the board, first day of class. If your readers are busy trying to sort out why someone said such-and-such, how they got from the parking lot to Rockefeller Center, who it is they are talking to, when their mother became reanimated because you could swear she died in the first ten pages, they are being carried way on a fantastic journey. They are confused. Confusion equals disengagement as we readers try to conjure the answers that are not on the page.

And boredom, well that’s easy too. If you’re bored writing your story, your readers will have already put your book down. The fix? See #1.

5.   Stop with the semi-colon. And the em-dashes. And the parenthesis.

This is from my god-like genre teacher, Stephen Graham Jones. We all do this. We all suddenly fall in love with some punctuation device that to our minds displays brilliance, adds essential information, and in the case of parenthesis, delivers a dollop of writerly humor.

Readers get exhausted by these devices. Semi-colons create complex sentences that can feel like a challenge to some. Most of those sentences can live independently of one another, so drop in a period instead.

Em-dashes—which, to our mind, can create urgency, provide delightful intrusion, or give crucial tangential information—work maybe every five or six pages, but more than that, it’s a red flag to readers. We start tracking your over-use of the device rather than read your story. It’s like using a word like “stupendous” on every page—we will notice. And it will annoy us.

And as for parenthesis (those semi-smiles of bardic narrator grandstanding), they often break the fourth wall just so you can impart your own sense of humor rather than the character’s. Or worse, it’s a piece of exposition that the writer couldn’t figure out how to include any other way and shoe-horn it in awkwardly. The answer is simply to not employ them. We probably didn’t need that info to follow the scene anyway. And we certainly didn’t need the distraction of your joke.

So that’s it: my top 5 best pieces of writing advice.

What are yours?

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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.

The Nature vs. Nurture Clash (aka Plotters vs. Pantsers) … by Jim Heskett

JimHeskettAll across the internets, published and unpublished writers blog about how to write, edit, and market material. I find many commonalities and universal truths… show don’t tell, don’t be afraid to be bad in first draft, don’t join a critique group that meets on Wednesdays, etc. I might have misheard that last one, but I think you get my point.

If you spend enough time researching writing advice, one Nature vs. Nurture clash always recurs: Plotters vs. Pantsers.

The Plotters spend time before starting Chapter 1 (or the Prologue, if they’re about to sit down to a 300,000-word epic fantasy) writing about what they’re going to write. Outline, character interview, story arc, plot twists… most or all is designed before the first line of the story lands on paper (or keyboard. Or tablet. Or papyrus)

The Pansters skip all that careful planning and launch into it. They’ll have an idea, or two intersecting ideas, and then let the story create itself on the page. The author has only some, little, or no idea where it will go once she begins.

As for me, I’m both. Boom. I just blew your mind.

I plot my story. But I pants my characters. (gross). What I mean is: I sit down beforehand to decide the sequence of events in the story, which somehow involves a character seeking a goal with obstacles in the path of that goal. Then I think up one or two details about each of the characters, give them desires, and determine arcs for them. Then I lock myself in my basement with plenty of bottled water and caffeine pills and just go.

I don’t know my characters until after my first draft, or at least partway through.

My first draft goal is to get the story on the page as quickly as possible, so I can read it afterwards and see it as one whole work… find the plot holes, things that aren’t foreshadowed properly, and the common themes. What I often discover is that the characters reveal themselves to me through the story. They create themselves. I’ll find myself reading over a scene and think “oh, she wouldn’t do that,” because my original plotting conflicts with the character who grew into being during the process. So I adjust my outline.

So, you might ask, why bother plotting at all if I’m destined to make major changes to the story?

First of all, I write plot-twisty fiction. Planning where those beats are going to occur alleviates a lot of the pressure by reducing the scope of rewrites in subsequent drafts. Second, my protagonist’s arc and the events in the story are linked, so I have to think them through simultaneously.

So, I’ll know in scene #463 that male antagonist Dastardly Devin is going to try to convince female protagonist Innocent Imogen to give up the location of the launch codes. And I know whether or not Devin will succeed. But when I’m outlining, I don’t know what method he’ll use to persuade her, or how Imogen will resist or succumb. That’s the joy of Pantsing my characters… there can still be discovery and surprises for me as I go along.

Do you Pants or Plot, and how has it worked for you?

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Jim Heskett is a writer of short and long fiction, currently slaving away at a laptop in an undisclosed location in Broomfield. His next project is a novel about a woman who hikes into Rocky Mountain National Park to spread her father’s ashes, but she discovers something inside the urn that could put her life in danger.

For more information about Jim and his writing, visit his website.  His movie and book reviews blog is hidden away here. He can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Rebecca Taylor

By Rebecca TaylorThe Exquisite and Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza

Yesterday, I uploaded my most recent book, The Exquisite and Immaculate Grace of Carmen Espinoza, to Kindle—Yes, I self published it. And as I, only hours later took it down to make changes (I suspect it won’t be the last time) I wondered:

Why don’t more writers make the leap into self-publishing?

I thought about it all day and here’s what I came up with:

  1. In truth, self-publishing still reeks a bit of failure (if you think it has completely lost all stigma, then you’re not looking hard enough outside the self publishing community. Like it or not, self publishing is still judged pretty harshly in some circles, especially the ones surrounded by the high gates of traditional publishing. There are only two things that truly mask this odor: Winning legitimate awards and big sales.
  2. If you do it right, it’s a ton of work. It can be super easy and not at all a ton of work if you just take your first draft, upload it to Kindle, and slap one of their cover generated images in front of it. Of course, if you do it that way you should also expect to get out what you put in—which is almost nothing.
  3. And finally, and this I think is the big reason why many don’t take the plunge, you stand completely alone beside your work, taking a huge risk that, even after all your labors the only sound to reach your ears is the eerie silence of your one hand clapping (the other one is, of course, occupied holding up your book to a world that doesn’t give a shish.)

Yes, number three, lack of self-confidence, I suspect it is the real reason why many writers don’t give it a go—of course this may be simply because it was the real reason why I didn’t.

Confession: I am always a little bit in awe of someone in possession of flagrant self confidence. I watch them, without even the slightest hesitation of self doubt, they will happily spread their feathers befor2000 x 1333e you and shimmy—it has been my experience that these people are usually connected to the theatre in someway.

When that self-possessed someone happens to be a writer—well I’m flat out flabbergasted to be in the presence of such a rare bird.

In March of this year, I sat on a publishing panel answering a variety of questions from writers. Towards the end of the session, one young woman approached the microphone and asked, “What one piece of advice do you have for aspiring writers?”

Now, there are many, many good answers to this question: Write, Don’t give up, Learn the craft, etc, etc. But what popped out of my mouth was, “Toughen up.”

Yes, find those bootstraps and pull them hard because the truth of the matter is, if you are still a walking wound of self-doubt, anxiety, and crippling insecurities when your first book, traditional publisher or no, comes out—that first three star review is going to knock you to your knees. And that one star, the one with the especially snarky, and yet cleverly crafted, dissertation-length review, may likely drive you from your dreams of writing anything ever again.

I think many writers, who might otherwise be interested in the allures of self publishing, still avoid it because they believe having a publisher (regardless of the publisher’s size and actual knowledge of the publishing business) is going to fill that void, that empty gaping hole where the writer should believe in themselves, and their work. That acceptance acts like a Band-Aid of, “Look, it’s not just me…someone else likes my book too.”

And maybe that Band-Aid will be enough.

But I will tell you, if this is how you are going to prop yourself up, by leaning against the facade of traditional legitimacy, all it will take for it to all disappear is for fickle winds of favor to start blowing the other way.

And then, where does that leave you?

Ever heard the tale of the traditionally published debut author that didn’t sell enough books to earn out his meager advance? It left him with no sales, no offer for that next book, and no confidence in his ability. Even with traditional publishing, nothing is guaranteed!

Self-confidence is an absolute MUST in this business.

Be bold! Stare the very real potential of deafening silence in the face and say, “I’m not afraid of you.” Once you face that fear, whatever yours may be, it can’t hold you in paralysis any more.

When it’s ready, when you’re ready, get your work out there anyway you can. If a traditional publisher wants to stand with you—great! Just don’t fool yourself into thinking they’re going to sit up with you in the middle of the night and rock you back to sleep.

Kind of like your kids, no one will ever care about your work as much as you do. (except your mother—for both examples.)

This is just my opinion, but I happen to think you have to stand at the center of your writing career and act as the captain of your own ship—no agent or editor is going to do that for you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to talk you out of your Big Five dream—I don’t think self-publishing is for everyone. Truth be told, I actually hope it’s not the only avenue forever open to me because I’m probably the first writer in line to lick the feet of a Random Penguin should it happen to deign glance in my direction. I still want my books in Barnes and Noble just a bad as you do.

But, if it turns out that the publishing powers that be don’t want me there, I’m not afraid to stand alone, book in hand, and brace myself for silence. My biggest fear is not that I will make a fool of myself—it’s that I will stop trying.

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Rebecca Taylor 2000X3000Rebecca Taylor is the young adult author of ASCENDANT, a recently selected finalist for 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: Web: www.rebeccataylorbooks.com, Blog: www.rebeccataylorbooks.blogspot.com,  Twitter: https://twitter.com/RebeccaTaylorED,  Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/Rebeccataylor, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaTaylorBooks, Wattpad: http://www.wattpad.com/user/RebeccaTaylorED

 

My Affair … by Author Terri Benson

Terri Benson1I’m having an affair. It’s OK, my husband knows all about it. In fact, he’s kind of been involved in all my affairs and he likes it.

Oh, all right! My affairs are in my books. My hunky love interests are my heroes and, even if they don’t vaguely resemble me, I’m the gorgeous heroine. That’s one of the reasons I absolutely love to write. I get to experience everything I ever dreamed, and I’m not going to get put in jail or divorced for it. Although, I did have a co-worker who read my book say they’d never look at me the same way again…

Anyway, the thing is, what I really mean (sorry, got carried away!) is that writing lets us be anything and anyone we want. We can create people we love to hate, or hate to love. We can change the world into any kind of place that suits our fancy (and our characters), and it can be centuries ago, or centuries in the future, or in an alternate future in an alternate universe. Whew.

Where else can you think up some diabolical way to kill someone off, and not worry that you’ll be carted off to the pokey? You don’t even have to use real methods, because writers can invent them. Need a poison or a weapon that doesn’t really exist, or a language to have a rousing argument in, or a pet that has one eye and one horn and flies and eats peo… (ooops, sorry, again) – you’re a writer, you can make one up that is believable!

You can write from the perspective of a child, or an animal, or a God (or Goddess) or an angst-ridden teen, or an omniscient person of the first order or whatever. But what we all must do is write something that’s worth reading. I believe that even if we don’t intend to publish what we write, we shouldn’t waste our words on something that doesn’t move us, or our readers. Of course, I’m talking fiction here, because it’s kind of hard to move your readers when you’re writing a technical manual on gear ratios (I’m sure someone out there will argue that point, but who’s writing this, anyway!?).

What I’m getting at is that we have the absolutely best job in the world—writing. We have no limits, no restrictions, no rules (except those darn editor-people ones). The only thing that would make it better is if we were guaranteed to get paid for each and every one of the words we put on paper, but hey, life’s a bitch, sometimes. At least we have fun not getting paid. Revel in your gift of words. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s “not a real job” because you can’t quit the other one and pursue writing full time (or if you can, God, I hate you!). Keep putting those letters and words and paragraphs on the page. We’re entertaining the world, after all.

Words! Gotta love ‘em.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As a life-long writer, Terri Benson has one published novel (An Unsinkable Love), 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 for the last several years, and her employer provides the location for the Western Slope events. She is currently promoting Western Slope events for the RMFW Publicity Committee, pelting RMFW with articles for the newsletter, and randomly blogging.

Her book, An Unsinkable Love, is temporarily down as the publisher has recently been bought and her rights reverted. But never fear, she shall overcome and those of you clamoring for a copy shall be satisfied! Visit Terri at her website. She can also be found on Facebook.

Do the Dream Dance With Me

By Peg Brantley

I was asked to write a guest post for RMFW shortly after my third book became a finalist for two awards. I was stoked. The post would be due shortly after the banquet for the first award and I joked that I’d write about what it felt like to lose. I had some Susan Lucci images banging around in my head I thought would be humorous.

And then I lost. Or perhaps more accurately, my book didn’t win. Not winning didn’t surprise me. The feeling of disappointment did. Suddenly there wasn’t too much humor in living my own version of a Susan Lucci life.

And then I remembered…

Once upon a time, a fearless little girl lived in my body. Peggy Ann dreamed little girl dreams and went after them with a sureness that startles me when I think about it today. Her parents told her she could do anything she wanted to do, and she believed them.

It took me decades to realize she’d gone missing.

When I tried to figure out where I had lost that gutsy dreamer, I determined there was no defining moment, although I’m fairly certain the concept of failure was involved. As far as I could tell, successful people didn’t fail. Ever. Successful people won every award every time.

I can still hear my dad’s voice: “If you’re going to do something, do it right.” Dad encouraged my sister and I in character building almost every day of our childhoods, so when he wasn’t telling us we could be anything we wanted to be, he was telling us that a half-assed approach to things was not acceptable. At some point, I morphed “right” and “perfect” and adopted the philosophy that if I couldn’t be perfect at something, I shouldn’t do it at all. Not my dad’s fault. It just was.

It became easier to let dreams fade, even when the only way to let go was to turn by back. To walk away before I could once again be reminded I wasn’t perfect. That way, I couldn’t fail. Right? Mediocrity, a life without dreams, might be mundane but it would be a life without failure.

Then the concept we hear all the time, Nobody is Perfect, sat up serious shop in my brain. That’s when I realized when dreams are achieved, they’re achieved by imperfect people. Say what? Dreams are achieved by people who reach out of their imperfection to touch something bigger than they are. Who aren’t afraid to fail. Who consider winning as something within themselves, not outside themselves.

There’s one more award ceremony to attend. Although I might be disappointed, I will already be winning my dream.

So writers, whether you’re writing your first scene in your very first manuscript, or have an entire bookshelf that belongs to you, check your dreams. Polish ‘em up every once in awhile, and know that inside, because you’re reaching out, because you’re dreaming, you’re already a winner.

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IMG_1166-webA Colorado native, Peg Brantley is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Colorado Authors’ League, and Sisters In Crime. She lives with her husband southeast of Denver.

Peg’s third book, The Sacrifice, is a finalist for two 2014 Colorado literary awards.

You can learn more about Peg at http://www.pegbrantley.com or meet up with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pegbrantleyauthorpage or follow her blog at http://www.suspensenovleist.blogstpot.com

Westward Ho: Face-to-Face in a Virtual World … by Jenny Milchman

Jenny.MilchmanOn May 13th I am going to arrive in Denver after a 38,000 mile journey.

OK, maybe I should back up a bit.

Today a writer can feel like she needs to be everywhere at once. And I do mean everywhere—the internet gives us the power to be not just in everyone’s living room, but in their purses and back pockets on tablets and cell phones. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Pinterest…where’s a writer to go?

I’d like to shine a light on a place that’s getting a little less emphasis these days. Perhaps because it’s only one place, or at least one place at a time. I’m talking about real time, live, physical sites (not websites) where writers connect with readers face-to-face.

Last year my first novel came out after a thirteen year struggle to publication. Since the only thing harder than breaking in as a debut author is building a long-lasting career as a writer, both my husband and I knew that we would have to give this thing our all. So we did the only logical thing. We rented out our house, traded in two cars for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, and withdrew our kids from first and third grades.

OK, maybe it wasn’t so logical. But once we’d done all of that, we then hit the road, car-schooling the kids, husband working from the front seat, while I visited nearly 500 bookstores, libraries, schools, and book clubs. All told, we covered seven months and 35,000 miles.

The question I get asked most often is whether it was worth it.

It’s a difficult question to answer because it comes down to what worth it means in terms of launching a writing career. Did we sell a lot of books at every stop? No, definitely not. But we knew from the outset that this was going to be less about selling books, and more about building relationships.

Milchman_RuinFallsBooksellers receive hundreds or thousands of Advance Reading Copies. They can’t possibly read them all. By going to the bookstore, I added to the work my publisher’s reps were doing of putting a book by an unknown author on the radar. 60-70% of the reading public browse in bookstores. That’s a lot of potential fans. And no matter how an event went, I would hear from booksellers weeks and even months later about a copy they had just hand sold to a person they knew would enjoy it.

The other question I hear is, “But what if I don’t have 7 months? Or 7 weeks for that matter?” My answer to that is: Don’t worry. The power of the face-to-face can be mined in 7 days. Or in a weekend. What I love about doing events is that it’s additive, and you can start with one.

Plan an event at your local bookstore, which won’t even require missing a day of work. Take a weekend road trip, making it a working vacation. Draw a radius around your hometown, and identify bookstores within it. If setting up the events seems difficult, consider working with an independent publicity firm. In this way I was able to get booked at some places that had established attendee lists, allowing me that rare author experience of walking into a crowded room.

Another factor to consider is the power of meeting your readers face-to-face. I found that as much as I enjoy communing with people virtually, there’s a powerful connection when that relationship is lifted to real time. I met people on the road whom I now consider friends. I can’t wait to meet them next time.

That’s right, I did say next time. Because with my second novel about to come out, we are set to hit the road all over again. Hope to see you in Denver!

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Jenny Milchman’s journey to publication took thirteen years, after which she hit the road for seven months with her family on what Shelf Awareness called “the world’s longest book tour”. Her debut novel, Cover of Snow, was chosen as an Indie Next and Target Pick, and nominated for a Mary Higgins Clark award. Jenny is also the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day and chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. Jenny’s second novel, Ruin Falls, just came out and she and her family are back on the road. Please follow along at the tour page on her website.

You can learn more about Jenny and her novels at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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

By Kym O’Connell-Todd and Mark Todd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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