Getting to Know You: The RMFW Q&A Project #4

The Getting to Know You Project is intended to introduce RMFW members with short responses to three questions, a photo, and a few social media links if available. If you would like to participate in the project for future months, please email Pat Stoltey at

Mari Christie (Mariana Gabrielle)

Professional Services Website:

2015_Mariana Gabrielle1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

My historical novels feature second chances for scarred souls; all of my characters come to my books broken in spirit and are, in some way, uplifted. I write Historical Romance (Regency and Victorian) as Mariana Gabrielle, and Mainstream Historical (American Civil War and Turn-of-the-Century New York) as Mari Anne Christie. In my day-to-day life, I am a professional writer, editor, and designer in various corporate, government, academic, and publishing industries.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

I chose writing over auditioning for the National Musical Theatre Conservatory.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

I don’t do anything except write. I am a very boring person in that respect.


Karen Duvall


2016_KarenDuvall1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

That’s a tough question because my process changes and evolves all the time. In fact, I’ve recently switched genres. I used to write strictly fantasy, but now write mainstream fiction with elements of magic or the supernatural (magical realism). I write because I’m compelled to, yet I don’t write as enough as I’d like. My day job has interfered more than ever, leaving me very little time to get much writing done. I write on my desktop computer in my home office. As for how I write, I can’t write with music playing, that’s for sure. I need a blank auditory background to get in the flow.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

During my first year of college at the University of Hawaii, I took a skydiving class on a dare and loved it so much that I went on to do it competitively. I bought my own rig and logged in over 60 jumps before I moved to Colorado and hung up my parachute because the altitude was too much for my sea level-accustomed body. A few months later a bunch of the people I jumped with in Hawaii, including my skydiving instructor, died together in an evening skydiving accident while doing an exhibit jump into football stadium.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

I’d have to say my day job as a graphic designer. I’ve been a professional graphic artist for well over 30 years and I now specialize in designing book covers for self-published authors. However, I also design 3D art for an online computer game called Second Life. The Second Life virtual world gets 40,000 to 50,000 registered uses from all over the world logging on every day. I’ve been a Second Life resident for seven years and though it’s a way for me to make a good income, it has also been a tremendous help to my writing through inspiration and roleplay opportunities for character development.


Karen Albright Lin


2016_Karen Albright Lin1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I do my first drafts longhand at restaurants over lunch. I typically work on more than one project at a time. I used to be a contest junky; every win offered oxygen. I'm a produced screenwriter who has done work-for-hire, script doctoring, and happily collaborated on a few projects (most importantly with my Sister of the Quill, Janet Fogg). I've been represented by a few very successful agents for a novel, cookbook, and a ghostwriting gig. Why did they fall through? I’ll tell you when I'm keynote! I've published articles, personal essays, shorts, flash, and a column for BTS Book Reviews. I'm also an editor for award-winning and bestselling fiction and nonfiction writers. The best perk of all--I get to teach for cruise lines and that means cruise for two for free to places like Russia, Tahiti, and Costa Rica.

Why do I write? I'm a show-off. But I probably would have been a forensic entomologist, if not for a high school teacher who encouraged my writing by taking me to a writer's conference, helping me get a full-ride creative writing university scholarship, and getting the principal to announce writing awards instead of only news of winning football games.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

My first genre was erotica (the middle school kind). I still write it, but thank goodness it's different now.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

Dancing and food tourism with my husband of 29 years.


Elizabeth Richards


2016_Elizabeth Richards1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I am working on a historical mystery set in Colorado in 1893. I’m fairly sure I didn’t spend all my growing up years in the 20th Century so historical fiction is a natural for me. I spend 10-20 minutes writing every morning before going to work. On the weekends I am often found writing at EverBean Coffee Shop in Evergreen.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

My career has spanned everything from cleaning up sheep poop at a petting zoo to being the director of operations at an Artificial Intelligence start up company. Both were fun in their own way.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

Is it too much of a cliche to say reading? I grew up a military brat, often moving every one to two years. Books were friends when life could be lonely. They opened up a world beyond our everyday life. When I was in 5th grade (New York City) I discovered Rosemary Sutcliffe and read Warrior Scarlet, the coming of age story of a Celtic boy. The next year, in Miesau Germany, we lived near a Celtic graveyard from the time of Isiah. It was as if, out of the corner of my eye, I could glimpse the echo of people who’d lived there a hundred, a thousand, three thousand years ago.

Many thanks to Mari, Karen D., Karen L., and Elizabeth for volunteering for the Getting to Know You Project. If you'd like to participate in future GTKY posts, please email me at

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

A picture really is worth a thousand words, sometimes more. Humans are visual creatures and as writers, we rely on our sense of sight above all the others. As storytellers, we use written visuals to tell a story by creating pictures with words instead of paint. The earliest known stories before recorded language were written with pictures. Prehistoric man told stories through paintings on cave walls. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics are a combination of logographics and alphabetic elements. The first historical civilizations of the Near East, Africa, China, and Central America used some form of logographic writing. It's how written language began.

So it's no surprise that stories can be told through art and photographs. Comic books and graphic novels are designed to do just that, but some artwork can tell a tale without words to go with them. As a prime example, I offer Norman Rockwell's phenomenal storytelling via his paintbrush. Growing up, I idolized Rockwell's work and would study his paintings for hours, noting every tiny detail he included that told a story about his subjects. He's quoted as saying: "No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations. He's got to put all his talent and feeling into them!" And Rockwell did exactly that.

Rockwell painted life as he wished it really was: happy children, engaged parents and grandparents, good clean fun.

Then there's the darker side of art; the very detailed religious art by 15th century Dutch painter Heironymus Bosch. The longer you look at his paintings, the more you see. But unlike Rockwell, Bosch mined the depths of his subconscious to create what's never been seen, but only imagined, and only by him. Don't look at his paintings late at night or they may invade your dreams.

If you prefer realism to fantasy, photojournalism is an incredible true-story telling medium. A picture being worth a thousand words is the motto of the photojournalist whose goal is to capture a moment in time for eternity. Each photo tells a story that is felt as much as it is seen.

In this digital age, some artists have discovered innovative ways of telling stories through pictures. One of my favorite digital artists is Amelie Fravoisse. She reminds me of Norman Rockwell in how she stages her scenes to convey heart-warming messages of family, seasons and holidays, except that she uses three-dimensional graphic tools and objects with a computer. The details in her work are amazing, and the more I look, the more I see. Every picture makes me smile.

I'm an artist who relies on the pictures in my mind to tell my stories. I'm nowhere near as talented as Amelie, but like her, I use 3D computer graphic tools to create art and each image tells its own story. Here are a few of my own story pictures I can share:


Midnight Dance



Karen Duvall

Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.

Karen is represented by the McIntosh & Otis Literary Agency out of New York city. She’s currently at work on a new women’s fiction novel with elements of magic realism.


Still Learning

I'm on a borrowed computer at the moment because yesterday I tried to update my system software and it failed. Now the darn thing won't even boot. Computers are such a pain. So it means a trip to the repair shop later this morning.

This post is a continuation of my last post about the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop called How Writers Write Fiction. I'm currently taking this free workshop online and it's incredible. Last month, the program had just started and I believe we hadn't even turned in our first assignment yet. It's an 8 week  program and we just completed Lesson 6. I'm really going to miss this class when it's over.

So what makes this course so special compared to the hundreds of other writing courses available online? Aside from the price being right (can't beat free), this workshop teaches from a perspective I rarely see in fiction writing classes. It's focused on creative writing. Isn't all fiction writing creative? It is, of course, but most of us, at least those of us in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, are writing commercial genre fiction. There's a slight difference.

The session we just finished is on description. Most people don't think description is a big deal, that it's basically exposition used for setting a scene, less is better than more, and that's partially true. Too much and you can bore your reader, not enough and your narrative becomes thin and underwhelming. So when it comes to description it's important to have balance.

I learned about a new sense in this class, a sixth one to include in my "sensorium." We all know to use sight, sound, taste, touch and smell, but the sixth one is called proprioception. This last sense is the sense of our bodies as we move through space. I'd always taken this sense for granted, but after this last week's session, I'll never forget it. Did you know that we go through life filtering out our sense impressions because they can be too overwhelming for us to get through a typical day? But when we write, we want to hone in on all these senses to help our readers live through our characters and experience the story from a wholly new and different place. Realizing this has made a significant impact on my approach to writing description.

Description needs to create a vividly experienced world for the reader, reveal a characters' psychology and development, and influence the progression of plot. This week's class on writing immersive fiction fired up hundreds of discussions among my classmates and was explored in a video with lectures by 3 award winning literary authors. It was a very enriching experience for me as a writer.

So for this week's assignment, we had to write a thousand-word scene using description that had all the elements a scene needs to propel a plot forward, like tension and conflict. It would seem impossible, but it really isn't. To share an example, here's three paragraphs from the assignment I turned in a couple of days ago:

The door looked like a jaw that creaked open on rusty hinges and it groaned with a widening yawn. I stepped onto the ladder--the attic's tongue--and entered its dark throat that filled my nostrils with a dank scent of mildew. The wooden joists and bare frame of the walls were its teeth. They appeared rotted with decay, but when I tugged the chain attached to a bulb on the ceiling, light chased back the shadows so that I could see the wood wasn't rotten, just discolored with age.

I blinked through a rain of fluttering dust motes that swirled around cardboard boxes of all shapes and colors and sizes. Some boxes were labeled, some were not, some had rips and smashed corners, others appeared almost new. Wide strips of shiny tape sealed them from the elements and I suddenly felt eager to rip them all open, like a child stumbling upon unexpected presents on Christmas morning.

I slid a dusty box out from the center and spun it around so I could read what was etched onto its side with a thick black marker. In capital letters was my dead brother's name: NATHAN.

You can still sign up for this class that has about 2 weeks left. It's free, and though you can't participate in the earlier lessons, you can still read the discussions and view the teaching videos. You can find information about it here.

Do you struggle at writing description? Do you usually skim over passages of description while reading? What makes description interesting and what makes it boring?


You Can Never Learn Too Much

When it comes to writing, there’s always more to learn, either through instruction or experience. I think most writers love to learn, or simply to refresh what we think we already know.

You may have heard of the famous University of Iowa Writers Workshop that’s held every summer. I know of a few writer friends who have had the privilege of attending. I haven’t had the pleasure myself and really hope I can someday (when I’m able to afford both the time and the expense), but the good news is there’s an annual free online writing workshop sponsored by the University of Iowa that’s open to anyone interested in expanding his or her writing education. It’s called “How Writers Write Fiction” and this year’s course is currently in session (not endorsed by RMFW).

I attended last year and got so much out of it that I knew I wanted to take it again. This year they have both a beginning writer’s track and one for experienced writers, though students are free to participate in both. We’ve just finished the Welcome Wagon, a week-long introduction that includes getting to know our classmates, the instructors, the teacher’s aids and the moderators. The host is NovoEd, which has an interface similar to Facebook in the way it’s organized (but without all the annoying ads). Lots of great conversations are going on and this year we are encouraged to form our own discussion groups based on location, interests, writing levels and/or genre. It’s only been a week and I’ve already met some great people with similar interests.

Every day there’s a short video made by one of the workshop instructors. The first week’s daily videos focused on best practices, and every day there’s a link to a different writing article, usually essays by renowned fiction writers. All of them are excellent. Then a discussion thread is started for us to talk about what we saw and what we read. For example, today’s short video covered nine basic writing tips.

So far, we’ve had a series of writing practice assignments to prepare us for the actual lessons that begin right after Welcome Week is over. It’s getting us ready for Class Session 1 called “Starting With Character.” This was so helpful to me last year, and there’s even more focus on character this year, which is extremely important to me. Each week there will be a new class video, required reading assignment, discussion topics on best writing practices, writing assignments and peer feedback. Each week will also have a different fiction fundamentals video followed by a discussion and a quiz.

Everything on the course site is incredibly well organized. The course itself is set up like its own website with links to different areas that we can access throughout the course. It’s an 8-week course, entirely self-paced, and I could spend an entire day, every day, exploring the site and participating in all the different discussions going on. Hard to believe it’s all free, but I can attest to its value since I took it last year as well, however this year’s course is more extensive.

Each week will focus on a different area of fiction writing, as it applies to both long form and short form. Here’s this year’s course schedule after Welcome Week:

Class Session 1: Starting with Character
Class Session 2: Expanding on Character: Cast and Dialogue
Class Session 3: Working with Plot
Class Session 4: Using Character to Produce Frame and Arc
Class Session 5: Voice and Setting
Class Session 6: Immersion and Setting: Description and World-Building
Class Session 7: Embracing Revision
Farewell Class: Onward! The Writing Life

I’ve just started writing a new novel that I’m approaching from a new angle. This story is not genre specific for a change, so the course comes at a great time for me. I’m learning something new and I'm eager to dig in.

It’s not too late for new students to enroll this year, but as stated earlier, this course is not endorsed by RMFW. Since we’re only a week in, you can still sign up. If you'd rather wait until next year, you can get on the mailing list to receive advance notice. The Iowa Writing University has something going on all year long and there are lots of great articles on the blog. Check it out here

Happy learning!


Are Your Characters Larger than Life?

So what exactly is a “larger than life” character? You hear that term bandied about all the time, especially as one of the attributes agents and editors are looking for in a good story.

If you were to take the term literally, you’d be wrong. It fact, larger than life is often misused and assigned to god-like characters and Rambo-esque heroes. LTL characters are less likely to be big in size and personality, or to talk big and lead with their fists instead of their hearts.

Don’t get me wrong; the Rambos and Supermen and Thors are certainly memorable and deserve to have stars by their names. They’re big enough to be household names and have the neighborhood kids dress up in costumes that look like them on Halloween. But are they truly LTL characters?

My point is an LTL goes beyond the physical. You make your characters bigger than life so they’ll be worthy of the role they’ve been given, and deserving of the boon they'll win at the end of a book. The LTL character is put in extraordinary situations and forced to make extraordinary decisions, to make sacrifices and put the needs of others above their own. There are LTL characters in real life as well as novels and movies. Lets look at some.

Mother Theresa – She’s famous for saying “A sacrifice to be real it must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves.” She was big on sacrifice, but there were three things she said you should never sacrifice: your family, your heart, your dignity. She’s memorable and heroic for what she stands for, and this makes her bigger than life.

Winston Churchill – Small in stature, yet big in wisdom and courage, Churchill was the greatest statesman of the 20th century. As a leader, he perpetually demonstrated enthusiasm, determination, and optimism and was the lion that roared when the British Empire needed him most. Unforgettable quotes from his speeches are repeated to this day.

There’s a lot we can learn from the flesh and blood LTLs to help make our fictional characters more authentic. Flaws, foibles and insecurities as well as morality, compassion, empathy and countless other characteristics shape a three dimensional human being (or non human, depending on your genre).

LTL characters are deserving of a prominent place in our stories because they’ve risen above adversity and made the hard choices that led them to victory. Strength is superficial without the weakness a character is forced to overcome in order to win.

Who are some fictional LTL characters? I’m sure there are many who star in your favorite books and that’s why those books are your favorites. I have some, too.

Katniss Everdeen – Yes, I’m a big Hunger Games fan. Katniss is made of courage and compassion, and is a great example of a LTL faced with the horrors of a cruel government run by a totalitarian dictatorship that uses children to fight its battles. These atrocities affect Katniss’ family and her own district, and against all odds, she stands up to her nemeses and refuses to back down. She deserves to win.

Vivian Daly and Molly Ayer – These two heroines get equal billing in the critically acclaimed novel, Orphan Train. The best book I’ve read in years. What makes these two ladies LTL characters? Vivian is an elderly survivor of the torture she lived through as an orphan, shipped from home to home, one hard life to the next, starting in 1929. Molly is a teenager, a foster kid, who’s had to survive similar tribulations. Molly records Vivian’s story, which allows her to understand more about herself than she ever knew just by listening to the elderly woman’s memories. A truly moving tale of determination and guts. I’ll never forget these two. They were real, and yet they were more than real. They were larger than life.

Can you share any LTL characters you’ve read in your favorite novels? What makes them larger than life?


Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.






Role Play for Fiction Writers

noun: roleplay
1. PSYCHOLOGY -- the acting out or performance of a particular role, either consciously (as a technique in psychotherapy or training) or unconsciously, in accordance with the perceived expectations of society with regard to a person's behavior in a particular context.

Adult role play comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s therapeutic, sometimes it’s entertainment, and sometimes it’s both. It can even be used as a training tool to prepare someone for a future performance and to improve abilities within a role, like aircraft flight simulation and war games for the military.

I decided to blog about role play (RP) because it’s not a subject I’ve encountered in the writing blogs I follow, yet fiction is at the heart of all RP. It involves imagination and creativity, and quite a bit of make-believe; the very stuff of fiction.

Star Trek_001
Star Trek RP

Remember when you were a kid and you’d get together with your friends to pretend you were a character from a cartoon, or a super hero, or you parceled out roles for a make-believe family? Or maybe you played doctor, or cops and robbers. RP is just like that, only for adults.

Role play can be done in a number of formats, like board games, card games, email, online forums, and virtual worlds like Second Life. I’ve never role-played myself, but a lot of my clients do in the virtual reality game-world where I run a business. I create 3D designs for computer gaming, and the Second Life computer game is a premiere playground for the RP community.

History of RP. Any theatrical performance can be considered a form of RP, which dates back to ancient Rome, Greece and medieval Europe. However, today’s RP is spontaneous, not rehearsed. There’s always some kind of backstory agreed upon by all players involved, but the play itself is improvised.

The futuristic city of Insilico

Genres of Role Play. RP can be based on popular novels, movies or television shows, where players take on roles of existing characters or make up new characters to parallel the storyline they’ve created. It’s typically a collaborative effort between all players who work together to create a narrative using what they know of the model story-world on which they base their RP. You might compare it to fan fiction.

Or role players can make something up totally from scratch. Create a planet and become an alien race, make up a village of dwarves and goblins and elves, produce a noir detective motif set in the forties, design your own zombie apocalypse, develop a historical community based in fact. The possibilities are endless.

Virtual Pregnancy

It’s important to know that RP doesn’t have to be fantasy. There’s military, law enforcement, and even family to name a few reality-based RPs. In fact, in Second Life it’s not uncommon for players to gather in family units and name its members mom, dad, sister, brother, son and daughter. There are child characters played by adults, usually because they’re recreating childhoods that may not have been so happy in real life, or reliving childhoods that were. Women who can’t get pregnant in real life have their avatars go through virtual pregnancies that include doctor visits, maternity clothes, baby showers, followed by simulated deliveries in virtual hospitals. RP can allow people to work through emotional and personal issues while buffeted by the support of helpful players who are sympathetic to their situations.

A version of Venice run by vampires.

RP as a writing tool. Similar to brainstorming, you can invite others to play characters from your story and work out plots together in real time. You may not know it, but you’ve already participated in RP when you did the character interviews for your story, or wrote letters in you character’s voice, or blogged about your characters from their points of view. The very act of writing your story is playing all the character roles yourself. However, traditional RP is a social game, not a solitary one.

I don’t role play, but I have dressed my Second Life avatar like my character and visited Second Life locations that are similar to my story’s settings, then parked my avatar there for inspiration as I write. I’ve found it to be very helpful.

Have you ever participated in role play?

Here's a link to some top RP sites:

If you're interested in Second Life, visit


Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.

Descriptive Power on Page One

By Karen Duvall

Description often gets overlooked for the power it can have in a story. Some dismiss it as no big deal, just use the five senses and you're good to go. Some avoid using it altogether because they think readers skip that part to get to the action. Some worry over excessive exposition that could be perceived as an info dump. And some apply it strictly as a means for building their story world, period.

The above assumptions are mostly false.

Effective description is one of the most powerful tools in a writer's toolbox. There's a skill to making it work in an active way that enhances both plot and character, and can make the difference between an okay story and a compelling one.

I could spend an entire day teaching a workshop on description, but I'll condense the basics for the purpose of this blog. In fact, I'm going to start at the beginning. Of a book. Like, page 1.

An overall issue I see with a lot of first books is an eagerness to reveal the setting in a cinematic way. A literary camera pans across a vista in the land where the story takes place. Or the camera slowly zooms in on some metaphorical image that sets the tone of the story about to unfold. Or perhaps the lens is pointed out the window as thick clouds of fog roll across the screen to create atmosphere.

The above might work great for a movie, with a voice over done by the main character. And though screenplays share a number of similarities with the novel form, they are different medias. Film engages the viewer visually and captures attention that way. Books use words, and call upon a reader's imagination to conjure the image that's intended to be seen. This takes time, and readers are less likely to have the patience to translate all those words into something visually engaging enough to compel them to turn the page. A writer needs to hook them before they decide to go watch a movie instead.

But you want to set the tone, the atmosphere, and visually engage your readers, so how else can you do this? If you want to use description to open your book, your job is to create context. Associate the description with the action and the characters. Don't separate the two. Engage your reading audience by creating a balance that ties all these elements together.

Let's use the vista as an example. As your words paint a panoramic view of the story world, they need to include an active element in the story. You'll be in a character's point of view as you do this (please avoid omniscient if possible) so his emotions are attached to this unfolding landscape. Maybe it's morning and the character is tense because of something about to happen. What he sees and feels relate to this scenery in some way. Maybe his job is to slaughter a farm animal to feed his family and he's loath to take a life. Or he has to check the zombie traps that were set the night before and he's scared of what he'll find. Consider having some conflict at play here because readers will be most engaged by tension rather than entering the land of the happy people. Even if your characters are happy, there needs to be a hint of unpleasantness just around the corner. Tension on every page.

Just remember that context is key, especially for genre fiction. And even though you think you're showing rather than telling, a description that lacks engagement with the plot and characters is like a barren island floating in a sea of nothing. Dry. Boring. Stagnant. It doesn't take the reader where he or she needs to go.

Does the first page of your manuscript open with description or action?


Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.


Coming to a Genre Crossroads

I’ve always been big on mixing genres, long before it became a thing. I’ve blogged about it before. I love the various juxtapositions you can get by tossing a genre salad into an innovatively unique story.

As an omnivorous reader, I can’t help but enjoy adding a little of this and a little of that to my own work. It’s been my process for over twenty years now, and I’ve met with some success and some failure. You won’t know how a genre mash-up will work until you spin it out. There was a time whe I could afford to indulge in such experiments. My work schedule allowed it then. Not anymore.

I’m unable to write as much as I used to because I’ve had to increase the amount of paid work I do, which is graphic design. Must pay the bills somehow. So I’m trying my hand at mainstream fiction through short stories to see if it’s something I’m even any good at. I’ve always been a fantasy writer, but to be honest, I’m a little burned out on the woo-woo stuff. I have a few contemporary fiction ideas calling for my attention. Will there be magical realism? Well…

When you come to a genre crossroads, it’s comforting to know you have options and that self-publishing is one of them. I’m not a big fan of self-publishing for myself, but hey, it’s there if I need it. And kicking the tires of a new story in short form is a great way to discover, or rediscover, enthusiasm for something new and different.

After twenty-plus years of writing, I’d hoped to be settled into a genre comfort zone by now. Ha! Looking back, I remember when I lived and breathed RMFW and read volumes of craft books, missed only one conference in the twenty-one years I’ve been a member, and then I became a teacher myself. Teaching writing workshops is one of my favorite things and I do it every chance I get.

I’ll really miss all my RMFW writer friends who’ll be at this year’s Colorado Gold. The conference is the highlight of my year and I was so looking forward to attending, but unfortunately neither of my workshop proposals (one on pacing and one on story endings) was accepted. That means I can’t afford to attend this year. I’ll try again next year and hope to see you all then. Who knows what’s in store for 2016? By then, I may have discovered a whole new genre, or gone back to writing what’s familiar. In any case, every year is a journey of new discovery. There should always be something to look forward to.


Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.



The End: Bringing Your Novel to a Close

There’s a lot of emphasis put on story beginnings as well as its muddy middle, but what about the end? I think the topic deserves more consideration.

Every book has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning must be engaging enough to hook the reader, and the middle has to hold your audience’s attention until the end. It would be awful for a reader to stay with the story all the way through and then be disappointed by how it ended.

The goal is for your book to leave a lasting impression. We want readers to close our books with a sigh and jump online to search for another book we’ve written. How the story ends is a direct reflection on an author’s skills as a storyteller.

What do we know about endings? First off, we know there are four ways to end a story.

Happily Ever After – A happy ending fulfills the promise made by the author to a romance reader because that’s what’s expected. The audience has stayed with the hero and heroine for a few hundred pages, witnessed the couple’s trials and tribulations. The romance reader’s prize is the reward of a blissful union, possibly marriage or at least an allusion to one. That’s why they read romance. They want to see good things happen to good people they’ve come to care about.

Romance isn’t the only genre that works well with a happy ending. Many genres have stories about characters that grow and achieve their goals so they can be rewarded for their efforts. In a mystery, the bad guy is brought to justice. In women’s fiction and a lot of commercial mainstream fiction, the story concludes with happy characters that rejoice in the favorable outcome of their journey.

Satisfying Ending – This can also be considered the “happy for now” ending. When the story reaches the final page, it’s not all sunbeams and rainbows. The main character is relatively pleased with the outcome, at least for the time being. He may have had to sacrifice something to reach his goal. Maybe someone dies in order for another character to live, or the character had to lose his job or wealth or title to achieve his objective. It wasn’t what he wished for, but he knows it was inevitable for the greater good.

Any genre can have a satisfying ending that’s not necessarily “happy.” But plot problems have been resolved, all questions answered, and readers are left feeling hopeful that a better life for the character or characters is on the horizon.

Cliffhanger – You can expect a cliffhanger at the end of a serial or a series book, however the central story question has already been answered. A mystery is solved, a romance engaged, a war won, a world conquered, a throne claimed... But somewhere along the line a subplot came up that hasn’t been resolved by the last page. Hints are left at the end to let the reader know to expect something more in the next installment.

The important thing to remember about cliffhangers is that neither cliff or hanger suddenly appears on page 351 of a 352 page book. It’s an established plot line that came up earlier in the story. Maybe the king’s illegitimate son was kidnapped twenty years before the story ends, and the last chapter alludes to the boy’s return as usurper. Or what if, at the end of a romance, the hero’s brother comes home injured from his last tour in Afghanistan and hits it off with the heroine’s sister, who just enlisted in the military. We know something is bound to happen with these characters, and we hope to read about it in the next book.

Unresolved Ending – Or what I consider the ambiguous ending. Can you tell I’m not a fan? Some readers enjoy being left to ponder what might happen now that the story is officially over without a conclusion. It’s left up to their imagination.

I can see the literary appeal of this sort of ending. Maybe the final note is a shocking event the reader wasn’t expecting. Or it ends with no one getting what they wanted, or there’s no foreseeable future for any of the characters, or not only is justice not served, but the antagonist comes out the winner. This could also be referred to as the unhappy ending. It’s kind of like one of those write-your-own-ending type of stories. It makes me think the last chapter was accidentally, or purposely, left out of the book. Nope, not a fan.

Should you plan your ending before you start writing your book? I think it’s a good idea to know where your characters will end up by the last page because that can help you figure out the middle and plan your character arcs. Synopsis writing is helpful for this.

What type of ending is right for your story?


Karen DuvallKaren Duvall is an award-winning author with 5 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare, in December 2014.


Your Character’s Loss is Your Gain

Let’s talk about character and plot for a minute, and how one can’t exist without the other. Everything that happens in the plot forces your character to react, and your character’s reaction impacts what goes on in the plot. This creates a connected string of events that lead to the story’s ultimate conclusion.

Action/reaction. Time and again. Do you think this constant interplay could get repetitive? It can if it’s strictly played out on the story’s surface. That’s why every good novel has two kinds of plots running parallel to each other. I’m not talking about secondary plots, which are also vital to a multi-layered story, but about the all-important A and B story-lines.

But let’s not call them A and B because it’s too easy to get them mixed up. An A plot in a mystery novel might be the B plot in a romance. So get rid of those labels right now and call them what they are: the External Plot (EP) and the Internal Plot (IP).

The EP—as you’ve already guessed—is the conceptual plot for your genre story. It’s catching the murderer in the mystery, taking down the drug cartel in a thriller, finding the secret talisman in the fantasy, saving planet Zignog from obliteration by asteroids in the science fiction novel, etc. Metaphorically speaking, it’s that giant rollercoaster the characters will ride for 400 pages. The external plot is the tactile, the visible, the elephant in the living room. It’s the plot that gets in your face.

The IP, on the other hand, is all about the character and his inner story, his inner drive. It’s the plot that focuses on what he has to lose if he doesn’t get what he wants from the EP. It’s not so much about him avoiding taking a bullet while in pursuit of the murderer, but about what’s personally and emotionally at stake for him if he doesn’t accomplish what he sets out to do. The IP is what drives the emotions in your character and in your readers. The IP is what compels your reader to turn the page. In fact, depending on your story, it might behoove you to put greater emphasis on the IP than the EP because on a subconscious level, that’s what readers really want anyway.

Let’s look at an example of what happens when the EP and IP are braided together starting from page one. There are many great novels like this, but a recent bestseller comes first to my mind because I just finished reading it: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. If you read it, you either think it’s brilliant or the most manipulative piece of crap on the planet, but the one thing it doesn’t fail to do is make you feel something. Passionately.

I, for one, adored this book. I loved the articulate writing and the honest voice, I thought the stylistic treatments were brilliant, and the unreliable narrator kept me on my toes. My point is that the entire book, love it or hate it, mashes the EP and IP so closely together that it’s hard to tell them apart.

Another book that might be a better example from a commercial fiction standpoint is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It’s a violent, emotionally gripping story that keeps the IP for Katniss completely meshed with the EP of the game and its puppet masters. A gripping read by many accounts, but again it’s something you either love or hate. There’s rarely a lukewarm consensus for a truly great novel.

The most common question asked of a story is: What does your character want and why can’t he have it? That’s a decent starting point, but if you really want to dig your heels into the guts of your story, ask your character what he has to lose. His answer is far more compelling to your reader. Braid this with your EP and I can almost guarantee you’ll end up with a better book.

So what books have you read that you feel have an equally compelling EP and IP?


Karen Duvall is an award-winning author with 4 published novels and 2 novellas. Harlequin Luna published her Knight’s Curse series in 2011 and 2012, and her post apocalyptic novella, Sun Storm, was released in Luna’s ‘Til The World Ends anthology in January 2013.

Karen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and four incredibly spoiled pets. Writing under the pen name Cory Dale, she recenly released the first book in a new urban fantasy series, Demon Fare.