Volunteers…the Lifeblood of RMFW

RMFW is an organization run entirely by volunteers. For a group with over 600 members and a budget of more than $175,000, this is no mean feat!  As our new Volunteer Coordinator, I want to spend some time highlighting this Herculean effort.

We began trying to track volunteer efforts in 2014, in part because we needed the information for our audit. But we also recognized there were a lot of volunteers doing things behind the scenes without anyone being aware of their efforts.  That year, we asked all of our board committees to submit lists of their volunteers along with their job role(s).  In 2015, we did the same, but also began to analyze the data in other ways.

RMFW has a twenty-three member board: president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, anthology, by-laws, conference, contest, critique, education events, history project, hospitality, I-PAL, membership, newsletter, PAL, podcast, programs (monthly), publicity, retreat, technology, volunteers, and western slope programs. As board members, each is responsible for helping to run the organization through oversight and policy-making. However, board members also have the responsibility of chairing a committee or heading up special tasks as an executive committee member.  Each committee utilizes volunteers for sub-roles.

Our smallest committee is by-laws, which has no volunteers beyond the board member.  The largest committee is conference, which had thirty-four different volunteer positons in 2015. Some of those positions were filled by one person while others (such as workshop moderator) involved dozens of people. 

In 2015, we recorded 113 different volunteer positions.   Many of those roles (contest judge, newsletter contributor, e.g.) involved multiple slots. By our best estimate, there were 471 separate volunteer slots filled last year. They were filled by 196 different people.

Volunteer tasks ranged from short-term in duration (picking up an editor from the airport, hosting a table at conference) to long-term (planning retreat, editing the anthology). Some involved small spurts of volunteer energy (writing a blog once per quarter) and some involved daily responsibilities (maintaining the website, coordinating contest or conference, serving as president). Some efforts were easy (tweeting) and some were more involved (selecting conference workshops).

On an average, RMFW volunteers took on 2.4 tasks each.  Most (102) of our volunteers filled one role each though 79 people completed two to five different responsibilities. Eleven members stepped forward to offer their time for six to ten different tasks.  Four members fulfilled more than ten roles during 2015. 

The work these dedicated volunteers accomplish, in addition to being writers, is nothing short of amazing!  Together, we achieve as much as a crew of paid employees do in the business sector. We undertake great things and make them happen, allowing RMFW to devote its funding almost entirely to educating writers,  improving  our craft, networking, and sharing knowledge.

If you’re interested in joining the RMFW volunteer corps, please visit the volunteer page on www.rmfw.org. We’ll then send you a volunteer application to get a sense of your interests, skills, and desired level of activity then match you up with the best roles for you. 

Writing Retreats: An Experience and an Invitation

Writing retreats…they beckon some of us and frighten others. Each is unique and the decision to retreat or not to retreat is deeply personal.

My own retreat experiFB_IMG_1440138334406ence, until last year, was limited. Hamstrung for years by my introverted nature, I participated only in gatherings with my critique group. Every other year or so, we would get together for a long weekend to write and discuss story ideas and plot issues. In 2015, I stepped outside my box and attended a retreat in Ireland.

There were several factors that were key in my retreat selection. With limited funds, I considered only retreats that were small in number that would feel comfortable, would have workshops with real benefits for me, and that would be worth the expense. Ireland Writer Tours fit perfectly.

The group was limited to twelve participants, a manageable number for my social level. I’ve grown from the introvert I once was but still prefer smaller groups. An added bonus was that I knew others who were going. The instructors were fellow members of RMFW and it was soon evident that others I knew were attending.

As well, I was well acquainted with the teaching skills of both instructors (Heather Webb and Susan Spann). Their strategy of learning the needs of each participant and tailoring their topics to fit our ne20150817_070143_000eds appealed to me. I knew this wouldn’t be a cookie-cutter retreat full of classes that would target only beginning craft or general technique.

Finally, this retreat was special. It was in Ireland, a place on my travel list, and it included workshop days and touring days, all for a very reasonable price. Sure, there was airfare but I would have the chance to see Ireland as well as experience a writing retreat. I could add on extra days to see more of the country and non-writer traveling partners could be included. Hotel and many of the meals were included. Dollar for dollar, compared to other retreats I had looked at, this was a great value.

In fact, Fiona Claire, owner of the tour company that offers the retreat, planned the tour exactly to offer the experience I was looking for. Claire, a writer herself, attended a writers’ conference in the U.S. and was realized the literary festivals then offered in Ireland seemed solely seminar-based versus having the unique combination of learning, energy, interaction, and fun she experienced at the conference. Upon investigating other options, she noted, “…most international writers’ retreats are about writing only. You sit. You write. Someone talks. And then in the afternoon, you’re free to toodle around Dublin or Santorini or Florence on your own. The next morning, you get up and do the same thing all over again. No change of scenery. No one shows you anything about the place you’re visiting except maybe where the bathrooms are.”

20150819_084523_000Claire decided to combine the best aspects of U.S. writing conferences with her tour business. “I decided to start my own writers’ conferences here in the country I love and know quite well. But these would be different. They’d include fun and tours, along with all the usual writers’ conference stuff.” But she went one step further. “Putting together an international writers’ conference involves a huge amount of work, and, unless maybe you’re someone like Cheryl Strayed, they are not profit-making ventures. They’re also nasty-expensive for participants, averaging between $2,500 to $3,000 U.S. dollars, and up, plus airfare. I wanted to put together something a writer without a trust fund could afford, but would also offer great value.”

The result was Ireland Writer Tours. Her goal was to combine tour sights that were favorites with travelers who’ve CIMG3056booked with her before with workshops and editing offered by authors whose work she enjoys and who also happen to be dynamite teachers. “My dream is that these retreats/conferences/tours (they’re actually all three combined) will be a huge boost for all the participating writers. I want them to leave Ireland feeling like they’re not only better writers, but they’ve also just had the best time of their lives.”

I returned home feeling she had accomplished just that.

My trip began with extra days in Dublin, seeing big-city sites, museums, and getting a feel for the country. Then, I travelled to Galway for the retreats itself. Our touring days were filled with medieval abbeys, ancient stone circles, castles, and magical forests. We saw ancient burial mounds, the famous Cliffs of Moher, and visited the Aran Islands. There were pony-cart rides, pubs with thatched roofs, and dinner at a haunted castle. In between, there were days packed with writing workshops tailored to meet our special needs, feedback on our manuscripts, and one-on-one interaction. We spent time writing alone and socializing with fellow writers. Projects were jump-started and friendships cemented.

20150822_110243_006For me, the experience was rewarding and unforgettable…so much so that I accepted an offer to return in June of 2016 as an instructor and encouraged fellow Denver author Janet Lane to do the same. We’re hoping some of our fellow Colorado writers and those reading today’s blog will join us. We’d also love to have you spread the word to others who might be interested as well as to share and tweet about the opportunity. If you’ve thought about retreating, I encourage you to take a deeper look at Ireland Writer Tours.

Though many of you already know the two of us, here’s a bit more about us and our retreats.

Pamela Nowak is an award-winning author whose novels straddle the fence between historical fiction and romance with modern issues woven into the stories. Her extensive experience with small press and self-publishing, as well as teaching credits, means she comes to this retreat ready to share loads of knowledge about not only the craft of 20150816_092655_000writing, but also how to open doors to publication. Pam was the 2010 RMFW Writer of the Year. Her 2008 release, CHANCES, was named one of the “101 Best Romances of the Past Ten Years” by Booklist, and her 2015 release, ESCAPING YESTERDAY, has received critical acclaim. Pam’s co-instructor is Kate Brauning, author of young adult fiction and a senior editor at Entangled Publishing. Pam and Kate will teach on Choosing Your Path: Craft, Career, & Publishing June 5-11, 2016. Registration for this session closes April 1.

Janet Lane is an editor and a multi-published, Amazon bestselling author. Her novels have been traditionally and independently published in the medieval romance and contemporary women's fiction genres. She graduated with honors from the University of Colorado, where she completed the creative writing program. Her workshops cover all aspects of the writing craft, as well as practical strategies for self-promotion for both traditional and independently published authors. She is a contest judge and staff blogger for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, a national writer’s group. Her novels, TABOR’S TRINKET and TRAITOR’S MOON have received numerous national and international awards. Janet’s co-instructor is Dianne Salerni, fantasy and YA historical author. They will teach on Character, Conflict & Stakes: How to Grab the Reader and Never Let Go, August 21-28. Registration for their session closes in June.

More information about the tours can be found on the tour website: www.irelandwritertours.com.

Time to Call the Family!

The amazing thing about being a writer is that it automatically makes you part of a family. And who better to call when you're in trouble than family?

The Colorado Gold conference was four months ago. All that fresh energy that boosted us in those first couple months has begun to dissipate. Time has softened our resolutions. We’re lagging in our production and criticizing ourselves.

The flurry of emails with new friends and those we reconnected with has lessened. The daily contact we had has waned. The holidays shifted our attention and we lost touch with one another. Life seems lonely. We’re feeling more isolated and the introversion is creeping in.

Those who received nibbles on their manuscripts have slaved to edit and perfect and complete them. Some have done so and moved forward toward their goals. Others encountered road blocks. A few have had responses from editors and agents that weren’t what they desired.

It’s also the middle of January. We’ve had cold and snow and ice. Spring is still a couple months distant. “Blah” seems to sum up our distaste.

It’s times like this that we turn to those who care and bolster us most—our families.

Relatives, though, may not be the families that we writers most need. No matter how much they love and accept us, our siblings and children and significant others often do not share the experience of writing. They may love us, but that doesn’t mean they truly understand what we’re feeling in our particular unique “winter of discontent.”

These blah stretches are those during which we owe it to ourselves to reach out to our writing family. This is the perfect time to send an email or make a phone call to jump start relationships. These are the days when it’s important to meet for coffee/tea/lunch/drinks and seek one another’s energy. This is the time when we should get together and allow ourselves to whine a bit.

After all, who knows better what a writer is going through than another writer?

Lest we view reaching out as a weakness, we must remember we don’t have to leap into complaints. We just need to make the contact, ask a fellow writer how the winter is going. The conversation will flow, organically, as it always seems to do among writers. One of us is bound to launch the topic as well as to offer the support the other needs. That’s what family does.

And, in giving support to someone else, we are given the support we crave ourselves.

So, my friends…my family…it’s time to reach out, get together, and defeat the doldrums of the post-conference, pre-contest, mid-winter blues!

We owe it to ourselves and to one another.

In Reflection

As I near the end of my term as president of RMFW, I’ve become reflective. As such, I am struck by several things I’ve discovered over the past two years, about RMFW and about myself.

Most obvious is that serving as president is a huge responsibility, far bigger than I imagined it would be (though I certainly never thought it would be small). I’ve been both awed and honored to fulfill this role. I’ve learned why most of those who serve in this position get little writing done during their terms. RMFW is a huge organization, with twenty board members, each heading a committee, and presidents need to remain aware of what is happening with all of them. In addition to the organization, the president needs to be alert to the needs of individual members, listening and reacting when necessary. It means more than I can express that the membership considered me worthy of filling that role.

In doing so, there has been a less obvious realization. I have become a better person…more in tune to my fellow writers, better able to see both the forest and the trees of RMFW, and more capable in many of my personal skills and abilities. What a wonderful opportunity for development these two years have been.

I’ve also learned how many people it takes to run RMFW. I am infinitely thankful to all of the incredible volunteers who make this organization run so smoothly. In 2014 (our numbers from 2015 have not yet been tabulated) 159 individuals comprised our volunteer rank and file, filling nearly 600 volunteer positions from board members to committee members to the smallest of duties. Many performed multiple tasks. Together, they make RMFW run so seamlessly that many don’t realize all that it takes to make this group so successful.

One of the most heartening aspects to my role was becoming more aware of all the little things our members do for each other in the way of support. I’ve seen writers reach out to each other with congratulatory comments, supportive messages, Facebook posts, tweets, event and signing attendance. I’ve witnessed hugs, pats on the back, and encouragement.

RMFW is truly an amazing group of people and it has been a privilege to lead and serve these past two years. Thank you, my friends, for your faith in me.

Supporting One Another

Writing can be a lonely endeavor.

By nature, it is a solo pursuit. We write alone, whether in a private office, living room, library, or coffee shop. As well, we often “feel” alone in our profession because so many of us are introverts. Despite our families, friends, and critique partners, we nurture self-doubt. We fear our writing isn’t good enough or that others won’t appreciate our work or that we will not be able to follow through if we are successful.
Knowing all this about ourselves, it behooves us all to support one another and there are a few easy things we can do toward that end.

First, share good news. Opportunities abound for this one and it requires little effort except simply doing it. Nearly every one of us now makes use of at least one social media platform. When a fellow writer finals in or wins a contest, does a cover reveal or announces a new release, share the news! Tweet/retweet, post/share, or pin. Use social media to spread the word to your friends and followers so that a wider net learns about it. With increasing reports of some platforms blocking authors’ self-postings about releases, this is a critical way to help spread the word about others’ accomplishments, especially when the writer is modest and doesn’t make announcements on his/her own.

Equally as easy is congratulating them. Like or better yet, comment when significant writing news is posted. Offer kudos within groups and “loops” and “list-serves.” Use hashtags. These small efforts may not seem like much but I guarantee they mean an incredible amount. Each comment I receive on news I’ve shared means the world to me and I take notice of each like. As well, those “likes” drive the algorithms on social media so that that person’s posts appear more often in newsfeeds. Thus, you provide them warm feelings and a marketing boost. If the person is important to you, write a short email or send a snail-mail card and really make their day!

If a fellow writer is releasing a book, attend a signing event. Too often, many of us attend launch events for the first book released by an author. Subsequent books are not celebrated with event attendance. We often figure we don’t want to attend a launch event unless we intend to purchase a book and we can’t afford to purchase everyone’s book. Yet few people understand that there is nothing so deflating as arranging (and sometimes paying for) a celebratory event and having only a small handful of people attend. Authors are robbed of the joy of the new release. It doesn’t matter one whit if the author is debuting or is multi-published, the let-down can be devastating. In a group the size of RMFW, this should never occur.

At one of my release events, I looked out and saw members of my critique group, there to celebrate with me. My heart nearly melted. These were people who had read the book, had no reason to purchase it but there they were…present to support and rejoice, even though it was not a first book and even though I have already experienced success. To me, it didn’t even matter if they bought a book or not. Authors quickly come to understand that it’s impossible to others to buy every book friends release. The point was that they had come. Sure, selling a book is great but having a supporting audience is really what matters.

Read a book? Consider writing an honest review and posting it on Goodreads or Amazon. Not only will it mean much to the author but it will drive algorithms so that the book appears sooner in search engines. Reviews and search engine results drive sales for the author. As authors, we understand this, yet we still fail to write them. Some avoid writing reviews because they feel they might hurt the author’s feelings if the review is less than glowing. Others note that Amazon sometimes removes reviews written by fellow authors—not true if the book was purchased through Amazon, by the way—then forget the Goodreads platform. The most common reason we don’t do this for one another, however, is because it takes a bit more time to do. Perhaps all of these excuses need re-evaluation.

Admittedly, I fail to do all of these but I’m making efforts to do some of them on a consistent basis.

And you know what? It feels good!

Published Author Responsibilities

This year, at Colorado Gold, I had the opportunity to attend both the PAL and the IPAL meetings. I also talked to a lot of attendees. I heard some terrific positive feedback about the conference and I heard a few complaints. For the most part, these complaints echoed sentiments I’ve heard before. As authors, we often express the same gripe every year and wonder why we aren’t being heard. Yet, having now served as RMFW conference chair and RMFW president, I feel it important to consider our responsibilities as published authors and our roles in addressing the very things we complain about most. If we fail to do this, we are not contributing to solutions and we have no right to complain.

I agree that many workshops at conference are targeted to beginning or intermediate writers. I’ve done my fair share of complaining on that matter in the past. And, there are always workshops that appear geared toward advanced or professional level attendees but which, in the end, aren’t—something that frustrates all of us. I’ve also expressed concerns about certain presenters being selected each year.

There are topics published authors would like to see: marketing, distribution channels, getting reviews, networking in ways that translate into sales. Not all workshops that purport to be about these topics actually offer any useful information. Like my fellow authors, I want concrete methods not general information on the need to do this or that and am sick to death of not enough detail.
But, here’s the thing…if all we do is complain and never step up and take responsibility, two things happen. Some of the things will not change and we will fail to notice those that do. To avoid this, we need to practice responsible attendance and responsible leadership.

Responsible Attendance (the things to remember for next year):

1. It is my responsibility to carefully read the conference program and make selections. This means looking at session descriptions, not just the one-page schedule. The program booklet has descriptions and labeling to help me select workshops. If I choose to avoid this information, I cannot complain that there were no workshops on…. Or that there were no workshops for…. Since 2009, all conference programs have labeled workshop sessions according to subject (e.g. craft or marketing) and level. I cannot complain something wasn’t offered if it was my own lack of effort that kept me from noticing it.

2. It is my responsibility to look for look for new knowledge and glean new techniques even if the information seems to be “old.” We can always learn more. If I choose not to attend sessions, I must accept that I may have missed out on valuable information that was, indeed, offered.

3. It is my responsibility to understand that some presenters simply fail to deliver upon their promises. No matter how hard conference chairs try to select something for everyone, some presenters don’t follow the proposals they submitted. In these cases, it’s important to convey that to the conference committee so they have that information.

4. It is my responsibility to realize there are many more beginning and intermediate writers than advanced writers in attendance. This means that the majority of workshops will be designed to appeal to them. I cannot ignore the numbers nor can I disparage the workshops that provided me with the skills I needed when I was a beginner.

5. It is my responsibility to look for sessions with deeper layers or those that focus on career development, marketing, and the writing life. I am the one who needs to identify which I want to attend.

Responsible Leadership (the things to do now):

6. It is my responsibility to look for ways to address unfulfilled needs rather than simply complaining about them. If I don’t see what I’m looking for, I need to step forward and help see that those needs are met in future years.

7. It is my responsibility to submit conference proposals (if I am comfortable presenting). Because the only way the workshop selection committee can assure they are offering quality workshops with presenters that follow through is via proposal evaluation, I must provide them with enough detail to make those evaluations and comparisons in any proposal I submit. I must understand they need this information and if I feel my workshop would be unique, I must convey that in the proposal.

8. It is my responsibility to understand attendees provide feedback to the conference committee. Attendees request certain presenters return and complain about others. If I have not attended a presenter’s workshop, I have no right to complain if he or she is asked back—good presenters should be asked back.

9. It is my responsibility to ask about any feedback on my own performance as a presenter and to work to address any complaints received.

10. It is my responsibility to take ownership in the professional level workshops allocated to published authors’ needs and designed outside of the regular proposal process. This means volunteering to plan them and attending them. By making that investment, I am helping assure that they continue. If I fail to help plan them or to attend them, I sacrifice any right to complain if they are discontinued for lack of interest.

The time to take these responsibilities seriously is now. In the coming months, there will be several opportunities to be responsible leaders. PAL and IPAL will be asking for volunteers to serve on the Professional Track committee. Those volunteers will shape workshops to meet the needs of published authors and PAL/IPAL participation (in planning and attending) is essential if this program is to continue in future years. With the new year, the call for regular workshop proposals will go out—fresh new ideas presented in detailed formats are important in shaping the next Colorado Gold conference.

Are you ready to step forward?

After Colorado Gold…Now What do I do?

Twenty-one years ago, I attended my first Colorado Gold conference. I recall standing in awe of the published authors (often in the corner, scared to death, thinking I didn’t belong there). I remember how Kay Bergstrom spoke to me, offering welcome and encouragement. I went to as many workshops as I could cram in, hungry for information. I took pages of notes, wanting to learn as much as possible. I came home so excited.

But I was also exhausted and scared to death.

So, this week, I’m wondering how many of this year’s new attendees are feeling that spectacular mix of eagerness and trepidation, fatigue and desire.

Most all of us leave conference with incredible energy to write but ready to crash with physical exhaustion. It’s a strange combination and it’s unexpected for first-time attendees. But it’s also absolutely normal.

The majority of writers are introverts. Some are uncomfortable in social situations and spend the conference weekend working hard to interact with others. It takes a lot of energy to do that. Even those introverts who appear to be extroverts (that would be me, having finally realized I don’t belong in the corner) find themselves zapped by the end of the several non-stop days. That’s the nature of introversion. Socializing drains our energy while those lucky extroverts increase their energy from social situations. If you’ve never attended Colorado Gold before, don’t be baffled trying to figure out why your desire to write is higher than ever but your body is sluggish. Get some extra rest.

Minds may also take a few days to catch up. We’ve just shoved an incredible amount of information into our brains and processing it may take a while. Imagine that little guy in your head trying to keep up with the filing! It’s okay if you don’t remember everything from the workshops you attended. That’s what notes and handouts are for. And CDs of workshops can also help refresh memories. There is a link on the website if you need to order one you forgot at conference.

But, many of us are also experiencing newfound enthusiasm. This is the time to capitalize on that by setting new goals and habits. After a few days to recover, start moving forward. If you have critique buddies or writing friends (including those you met at Colorado Gold), make plans together. Challenge one another to new writing goals or new support for one another. Put new advice into practice. Rather than letting the wealth of new information overwhelm you, select a couple of the techniques you learned and try them out.

This is the time to go forth, to accept challenges, to write like you’ve never written before!

The RMFW Spotlight is on Pamela Nowak, President

Now that we have so many new members of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Board of Directors, we'll once again be featuring the RMFW Spotlight on the blog. Our goal is to introduce our board members to all our readers and encourage other RMFW members to offer their time and energy to this energetic and growing community of writers.

This month we've put the spotlight on President Pamela Nowak. Read on and see if you learn anything about Pam you didn't already know.

PamNowak1. Pam, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I currently serve as President. My official role is to conduct board meetings, manage RMFW business as it comes up between meetings and sign any legal documents. What that actually means is I also serve on a variety of sub-committees including conference, contest and most special committees, I monitor all on-line discussion of the board and manage as needed, I answer questions regarding official policies and procedures, and I look out for the good of the entire organization and its members. When voting or directing action, I must look beyond my personal reaction and see the potential impact on all of RMFW. I am a negotiator, a manager, and a behind the scenes busy-body.

As to why I’m involved…pure and simple, because I believe in and owe so much to RMFW. RMFW supported me in my craft development and nurtured me when I needed it. After years of attending critique group and conference, I moved to Denver and someone (Scott Brendel) asked me to take on an active volunteer role. Of course, one thing led to another.

But being involved has enriched me tremendously on so many levels. It has allowed me to put my non-writing skills (thus keeping them active) to use and to give back to RMFW in a very rewarding way. What makes doing this with RMFW uniquely special, is all the other dedicated and talented writers and volunteers. Everyone gets to contribute, no one takes on the load alone, and everyone recognizes what others do. Few organizations have this quality and thus, I can’t see myself not being involved with RMFW.

2015_Nowak_cover2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

My fourth book, Escaping Yesterday, will be released in September. The book is set in 1905 Elitch Gardens and has deeply conflicted characters with a bit of humor, romance, and a great setting tossed in to lighten their journeys as they cope with trust, incest survival, and PTSD. Thus far, I’ve received three major reviews and they are all positive. I hope to have the book in time for conference but also have several signings set for October including an October 9 launch at Tattered Cover Colfax and an October 24 party at BookBar to raise funds for the historic Elitch Theatre. The book will be available at all Tattered Cover locations, Boulder Books, Who Else Books, BookBar, and several smaller stores as well as via Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

My 2013 release, Changes, was a Colorado Book Award recipient and is available at Who Else Books, Tattered Cover, or Barnes and Noble or can be ordered via Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

3. We've all heard of bucket lists -- you know, those life-wish lists of experiences, dreams or goals we want to accomplish-- what's one of yours?

Becoming a NYTimes best-seller, of course! More easily reachable items are continued travel and finding joy within each and every day.

4. Most writers have an Achilles heel with their writing. Confess, what's yours?

Allowing myself to take on too many volunteer roles (RMFW and others) and devoting my time to them and not to writing. In other words, NOT writing every day.

5. What do you love most about the writing life?

Getting feedback from readers. I love hearing that my stories made someone cry or kept them up until 3:00 a.m. or made them late for work.

6. Now that you have a little writing experience, what advice would you go back and give yourself as a beginning writer?

Don’t resist growth. Learn from critique group, even when it’s painful. Stay on task. Practice, practice, practice.

2015_Nowak_office2015_Nowak_workspace 27. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

My desk is an organized mess. I have stacks of things I am working on (on my desk and on the floor) and reference books on the bookshelves. The stacks look like piles of mish-mash but I can tell you what is in each and every one of them and how far down each item is located. I also have a TO DO list and inspiring quotes. Above my desk, a few items to warm me, such as cards and gifts; nearby, where I can see them—my awards. Two special items are my Angel of Knowledge who holds a book with “writings” and “special words” on its pages and my Angel of Change releasing happiness from her hands. And lots of clutter.

8. What book are you currently reading (or what was the last one you read)?

I am currently reading The Bootlegger’s Daughter by Lauri Robinson and finished Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee a couple days ago. Since I read two to three books a week, I’ll be on to something else soon!

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

2015_Nowak_candidPamela Nowak writes award-winning historical romance. She has a B.A. in history and, prior to becoming a full-time author, she taught history to prison inmates, served as project manager for the Fort Yuma National Historic Site and ran a homeless shelter. Her novel, Changes, received the 2014 Colorado Book Award for genre fiction and a HOLT Medallion Finalist Award. Previous honors include the HOLT Medallion and HOLT Medallion Finalist Award, a WILLA Finalist Award, a listing among the "Top Ten Romance Novels of 2008" by Booklist, and being named the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2010 Writer of the Year. Please visit her at her website, friend her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter (@ReadPamelaNowak).

Saying Thanks

By Pamela Nowak

Recently, I’ve thought a lot about how much, and how many people, I take for granted.

How often do we all converse about losing people and how much they meant to us—most often in the past tense? People move, become less involved, or—worse—pass away. Too many times, we chat about how important that person was without having ever told them directly. This seems to occur in families, with childhood friends, in careers…well, pretty much everywhere.

We think conveying appreciation more with family members because there are built-in holidays that prompt us to tell mothers, fathers, siblings that we care about them. Yet, we have a tendency to mention it only on holidays and we forget entirely about our extended families. Have you ever told your favorite aunt how important she was in your life? How long has it been since you even spoke to your uncle? Your cousins?

And then there are those friends from high school who are remembered at class reunion time but easily forgotten in between. Recently, I discovered Facebook pages related to my former hometowns and was able to reconnect with people from my past…it’s been a fun experience. But…maybe it’s time to reach out to tell them how much their friendships meant all those years ago.

There are so many I’ll likely never have a chance to tell. I wouldn’t begin to know how to locate college professors, former bosses, co-workers who taught me skills I use today. One day, I’ll see obituaries and think about how important they were, and how I never told them.

And then there are those who are still part of my life, many of whom have guided me in my writing. Writers seldom develop their craft in a vacuum and seldom find the courage to undertake the submission process without the support of others.

So many fellow writers taught me craft, helped me grow, supported me as I floundered, hugged me in the face of rejection letters. RMFW is filled with people who impacted me as a writer and as a person. Yet, I may have never told them how much they mean to me. It’s as easy to neglect doing this when you see someone regularly as it is when you’ve not seen them for years.

It’s well past time to let them know the impact they’ve made.

My challenge, to myself and to my fellow writers, is to reach out to those who helped shape us. Whether it be a chatty note, a formal thank-you, or a “I never told you this, but…” next time you see them, take a moment to convey your appreciation. Tell them they’ve made a difference. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just heart-felt. The Colorado Gold Conference is a perfect time to do this but certainly not the only time. The opportunities are endless. All we need to do is take the initiative and convey our appreciation.

Think about those who are important to you. Then, reach out and let them know!

What Makes a Keeper Book?

By Pamela Nowak

There’s a big difference between an enjoyable read and a keeper book. For me, the keepers are those books that take me beyond light entertainment and involve me emotionally in the story. They are the books that make me feel as if I am in the story and make me gasp or worry or cry. They are the ones I remember long after reading them.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that for me, the books that do this have a few key elements in common: a firm grasp of scene structure, a plotline driven by GMC, conflicted/complicated characters, and tight POV.

Hah! So what do I mean by that?

Scene structure is critical. Early on in my writing, I heard Jack Bickham at a Colorado Gold Conference and immediately bought his book: Scene & Structure. His process made sense and (as a plotter) I immediately grasped the way it paired character and plot. It gave purpose to each and every scene and allowed me to keep from straying off on tangents when writing. As a reader, I find that structured scenes keep me more involved in the story, without feeling like the character is simply wandering through time with things happening to him/her.

Bickham’s basic tenet is that each scene should have a goal, conflict, and a disaster. The POV character has an immediate short-term goal. Early in the book, that goal is based on his/her long-term goal or the story question. With each disaster, a new short-term goal is formed which influences the character’s next actions. These goals are important because they allow the character to guide the plot rather than having things just “happen” to the character. This makes the character more sympathetic and guides the plot. Conflict is the result of something or someone that disrupts the goal and isn’t just made up (such as an argument for the sake of argument) and therefore will have a consequence for the character that will lead him/her to react, feel, and form a new goal which in turn moves the story forward. In short, scenes constructed in this way provide continuity and allow the characters to drive the story rather than the author.

Disasters can come in many forms from a blocked goal to partially met goal to a “yes, but…” goal (met but doesn’t turn out as anticipated). After each disaster, the character reacts, either on or off stage in what Bickham calls a sequel. He/she has an emotional reaction, processes/thinks about what happened, makes a decision, and forms a new goal. Of course, like scenes, there are variations in sequel format. The “scene and sequel” construction keeps the story always moving forward and character-driven.

GMC is closely related. Debra Dixon’s GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict emphasizes plot construction that relies on a character with a goal who is motivated by something and runs into conflict (something that blocks them from meeting the goal). The key difference here is the motivation element. A character has a back story that has shaped him or her into who they are. Goals are (or should be) related to their backstories—which really is part of character development. If you’ve ever read a book and said, “now why did she do that?” you’ve encountered a story that lacked motivation elements. As I writer, understanding motivation allowed me to more fully define my characters—villains and heroes alike.

And that leads me to complex characters.

My favorite books are those that have heroes or heroines and villains and even secondary characters with pasts that have shaped them into who they are when the book begins. Their backstories have created both inner and outer goals. I think of it this way: the outer goal is what the character wants but the inner goal is what he/she truly needs. The outer goal is usually related to the story question and launches the story. The inner goal is related to the deep part of a character and his/her arc; it’s tied to his/her flaws and often, the character doesn’t even realize it motivates his/her actions. Give me a complicated character in need of growth and you’ve got me hooked.

Pair up that character development with a tight POV and the result is an emotional link that keeps the reader constantly involved in the story; the reader feels like he IS the character. A tight POV means that descriptions are relayed in a way uniquely that of the POV character. An artist would experience the world in a broad palette of color and technique; a musician would interpret life via music. A man who has been in prison would temper things through a different lens than a free-spirit who spent time in a commune. A writer who uses words and phrases and metaphors that relate the world to the character employs tight POV and lets the reader feel what the character feels. This goes a step further when actions and movements and internal thoughts and reactions are all related in the same way.

It’s rare to find books that employ all of these elements but when I do, I read them again and again. They go on my keeper shelf and I buy such authors without regard to the exact plot simply because I know their books will be good.

If I have one goal as an author, it is to employ all of these elements and to have readers say they were so involved with the characters that the book became alive. In short,... to be put on the keeper shelf.