The RMFW Spotlight: Mario Acevedo, Anthology Editor

1. Welcome, Mario! Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

Currently, I am the anthology editor. I volunteered because I felt it was time for me to give back (again) to RMFW, the one organization above all others that helped me get published.

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

My WIP is book 7 in my Felix Gomez detective-vampire series. My most recent publication is book 6 of the series, Rescue From Planet Pleasure. Though the book was available pretty much everywhere online, WordFire Press has temporarily pulled it for reissue in the spring with added content. Stay tuned.

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?

To be a filthy rich scoundrel like my writer hero Harold Robbins.

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

Every time I read a list of Best Books, Most Influential Titles, etc., and none of my books are mentioned, I rip off my clothes, throw myself to the ground, and chew the carpet in jealous rage. I break anything within reach. I used to try and throw the dog out the window but he bites back. I curse and scream until the neighbors turn a water hose on me.

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

That there is always homework.

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

Your personal demons might in fact be allies.

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

Personal and fun items? I have an electric cattle prod that I use on the Muse when she’s not pulling her weight.

2016_Acevedo_WritingSpaceScout

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

The Promise by my favorite mystery writer, Robert Crais.

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As you can see, Mario is a man of few words. However, you can find out lots more about him and his novels on his websites, Mario Acevedo and Adelante Arts. He can also be found on Facebook and Goodreads.

The RMFW Spotlight is on Sheri Duff-Merz, Programs Chair

2015_Sheri Duff-Merz1. Welcome, Sheri! Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

I’m the Programs Chair for RMFW. I have been a member since 2011 and last year I felt it was time to give back to the organization. I answered an email when Mark Stevens was looking for someone to take over Programs so that he could run Podcasts. He made it easy by making sure most of the programs were scheduled for the year. I love attending the free monthly sessions and it has been fun setting them up. It gives me a chance to meet more of my peeps. I’m always open to new ideas so if you have one, drop me an email (denverprograms@rmfw.org). I want to make sure that the free programs are a benefit to our members and that we are representing many different aspects of writing in various fiction genres.

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

In March I self-published my YA novel, Rule #9. It is a story about a girl in high school who struggles with her new blended family. It is available on Amazon.

My current work in progress is about a girl who is trying to cope with the loss of her mother who ran off and joined a religious cult.

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?

I don’t really have a bucket list. I want to go to New Orleans and I would love to go to England but I would also be content staying in the state of Colorado for the rest of my life. My dream is that one day I will spot a teenager reading one of my stories.

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

I love words like, “just “and all of the boring verbs. I use them all in my first draft. I keep a list to go back and take these out during the editing process. I know it would “just” be easier to keep them out to begin with but for me it is “just” easier to write and then fix later.

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

I’m a daydreamer. Writing gives me a way to dream on paper. It gives me a way to make my characters real and I can converse with them. And I love hanging out with other writers because they know I’m crazy and they still accept me.

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

Don’t send crazy stupid letters to agents. Instead, “Just write” and go to conferences and don’t wait so long to join a critique group. And read, read, and read more. Read in your genre and outside of your genre. And don’t be afraid to talk to other writers. People are either nice or they are not. Make friends with nice people and ignore the rest. Then remember that writers are also shy just like the part of you that hides. Make sure to talk to them before you pass judgment.

2015_Duff-Merz_workspace7. 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 old oak kitchen table that I bought at Goodwill and painted turquoise and black. I love it. It’s big and has no drawers. When I look into the room the people who I love the most surround me in frames along with my favorite paintings hanging on the wall. When I sit in my chair behind my desk, my focus is the computer unless one of the three dogs starts clawing at me, wanting my attention. My favorite item on my desk is a poem my grandpa cut out of who knows what and put in a frame.

Never say “Die.” Say “Damn!”- It isn’t classic, It may be profane. But we mortals have need of it, Time and again; And you’ll find you’ll recover from Fate’s hardest slam, you never say “Die”—say “Damn!”

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

I am currently listening to The Future of Us by Jay Asher on CD during my commute to my paying job, and I’m reading The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins.

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Sheri Duff lives in Parker Colorado with her ultra amazing supportive husband and too many dogs. She also has two adult children who are her world. Learn more about Sheri and her work at her website. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

GET YOUR HEAD RIGHT

I struggle most with writing when my head isn't in the right place. What is the right place? For each person it's different. For me, it's when I feel good physically and when I feel good about myself, emotionally. Physically, it's just hard to write when you're not feeling well, when you're coughing or blowing your nose every five minutes, or making frequent trips to the bathroom...nuff said.

Stair MazeBut emotionally is where I'm most fragile. It's very easy for me to get down on myself. A very negative and mentally abusive father, though long dead now, still "lives rent free in my head," as they say. He's in there moving furniture around, leaving fingerprints on the glasses, changing all the presets on the remote. He knows where all my buttons are hidden, where all the worst things I can think about myself are stashed.

In truth, as is always the case, it's really not him, it's me. When alive he convinced me I'm not good enough, and even if I were, I don't deserve any success, because I am only bound to f--k it up eventually anyway. In what I'm told is a common psychological twist I still don't quite understand, after I moved out, instead of leaving all that behind, I've taken up his mantel and now do all those things to myself. That guy in my head is just an avatar of him - it's really me.

I've gotten to the point where I've managed to lock him in a basement room and, for the most part, ignore him. There are even times when I've had the pleasure of going down there and gloating over some success or triumph. Those are the good days. But it also doesn't take much for him to pick the lock and get out, running around up there wreaking havoc yet again.

A careless or off-hand hurtful word from a loved one or even a stranger; a moment of carelessness on my part, hurting someone else and making me ashamed of myself; even putting effort into a project and failing. All of these are the skeleton keys, not only to letting him out of his cell, but giving him access to all the past things I've tried to forget, dragging them out and parading them in front of me, making me feel even lower.

How do I write on days when outside events have shaken my confidence? I have to be honest with you, I haven't found a sure way yet. For me, the only thing that works is just to force myself to write. Sure, the first few paragraphs I put on the page at a moment like this are, in the vernacular of my ancestors, pure shite! But if I can stick with it, sooner or later it smooths out and suddenly I'm in my other world, the world of my making, where I control all outcomes, where the good guys eventually win and the bad guys get paid back for all their evil. I can always go back later, after I'm feeling good again, and fix the bad parts.

Meanwhile, this doesn't just make me feel better while I'm writing. When I come up for air it's with a fresher perspective on all my problems, a realization that no problem is so great it can't me handled, somehow, and compared to some, my life hardly sucks. My writing isn't just a job for me, or even a hobby.

My writing is essential therapy!

Ann Hood – 2016 Colorado Gold Keynote Speaker

AnnHood-smRMFW is pleased to announce Ann Hood is our 2016 Colorado Gold Conference Sunday afternoon keynote speaker.

Ann Hood wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember. Her favorite books when she was a kid were Little Women and Nancy Drew. Later, she loved Marjorie Morningstar, Les Miserables and Doctor Zhivago, obviously choosing books by size!

A Rhode Island native, she was born in West Warwick and spent high school working as a Marsha Jordan Girl, modeling for the Jordan Marsh department store at the Warwick Mall. She majored in English at the University of Rhode Island, and that's where she fell in love with Shakespeare, Willa Cather, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

When she was in seventh grade, she read a book called How To Become An Airline Stewardess that fueled her desire to see the world. And that's just what she did when she graduated from URI--she went to work for TWA as a flight attendant. Back then, she thought you needed adventures in order to be a writer. Of course, she now knows that all you need, as Eudora Welty said, is to sit on your own front porch.

AH-AnItalianWifeBut she did see a lot of the world with TWA, and she moved from Boston to St. Louis and finally to NYC, a place she'd dreamed of living ever since she watched Doris Day movies as a little girl. She wrote her first novel, Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine, on international flights and on the Train to the Plane, which was the subway out to JFK. It was published in 1987. Since then, she’s published in The New York Times, The Paris Review, O, Bon Appetit, Tin House, The Atlantic Monthly, Real Simple, and other wonderful places; and she’s won two Pushcart Prizes, two Best American Food Writing Awards, Best American Spiritual Writing and Travel Writing Awards, and a Boston Public Library Literary Light Award.

Over a dozen years ago, Ann began writing stories about the Rimaldi's, a fictional Italian-American family who, like her own Italian-American family, arrived in Rhode Island in the late 1800's. The Rimaldi's struggle with homesickness and alienation, and the desire to be American as they try to stay connected to their culture and traditions. When she finished a Rimaldi story last year, she realized that she had over 300 pages about the family. She printed them, placed them in chronological order--spanning one hundred years!--wrote two more, and with great delight created a family saga that centers on Josephine Rimaldi and her children and grandchildren. Josephine and her daughters and granddaughters seek love and acceptance, suffer loss and disappointment, live through wars and historical upheavals. But like all of us, they make their way--in family, in regret, in dreams, and desire. An Italian Wife is, really, everyone's story.

Visit Ann’s website and blog and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Interview: Mariko Tatsumoto

Mariko TatsumotoThis month I had the great privilege to interview author Mariko Tatsumoto, author of thelovely and wonderfully heartwarming middle-grade novel Ayumi's Violin.

What made you aspire to be a published writer?

I accidentally took a children’s writing class. I thought I was signing up for a creative writing class. Our “final” was to write a picture book. The instructor praised my work and encouraged me to get it published. I later took a creative writing class from the same instructor.

How long have you been a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers?

About ten years. I learned so much at the Gold Conferences. I always attended a session every hour, I never skipped. I also bought CDs of sessions I couldn’t attend. I relished in listening to stories speakers told. By attending conferences, I made writing friends whom have become vital in my writing life. I joined online critique groups set up by RMFW. The writers in those groups have taught me so much and have given me so much support, I could never thank them enough.

Who are some of your own favorite writers? What are some of your favorite books?

Michael Connelly, Tony Hillerman, J.K. Rowling. I used to own hundreds of books, many of them first editions or signed, but I decided to pare down only to those I really care about. Now I own about a hundred print books. I only have about a dozen ebooks. Some that I could never give away are: Tom Sawyer, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Snow Falling on Cedar, October Sky, The Wave, and all the James Bond books by Ian Fleming because they were my father’s.

What are you currently reading?

Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown

Ayumi's ViolinWhy was it important to you to tell Ayumi’s story?

I think the hardships we endure in our lives never leave us, and we want others to understand what we’ve gone through. Immigrating to a foreign country is a difficult transition. Many people don’t understand how tough it is to make a new life in a new country where you don’t speak the language and you don’t understand the culture.

In some ways Ayumi’s father is subjected to the same mistrust and racism as Ayumi, and yet his experience with these things differs from Ayumi’s in fundamental ways.

Especially in 1959, being white allowed many privileges, such as traveling unrestricted and not being judged by his looks by strangers. As the book progresses, he learns to stand up for Ayumi more, but he doesn’t carry racism and resentment from his childhood like Ayumi. Father can get another job and speak up for racism.

While to Ayumi the violin represents her connection to her mother, from her death bed mother said, “I will always be in the music.” Not in the violin itself. Why is this distinction important to what happens later?

To Ayumi, when Mother tells her to take care of her violin, the violin embodies her mother. But Ayumi’s mother knew that music is what is important to Ayumi. The violin is only how Ayumi expresses her music. Even when she can't play her violin, wherever there is music, her mother is there.

While Brenda resents sharing her parents with Ayumi, it isn't the same as the racism of those who hate Ayumi but do not know her.

Brenda is jealous of a new sister in the house, not because Ayumi is biracial. Brenda is pretty much color blind, which children are if they are not taught to be racist. Jealously of other siblings is normal and natural, racism is learned.

Diego’s presence in the story is critical to show how his experiences with intolerance differs from Ayumi’s.

People stereotype depending on the race: Muslims are terrorists, Mexicans are lazy, Blacks are thieves, Asians are smart. Of course in 1959, Asians were not attributed with any positive stereotyping, but I threw that in to show that not all stereotyping is bad, such as Blacks have rhythm, Blacks are great athletes. Because different races are thought of differently, Diego, being Mexican, is thought of as being dishonest, prone to stealing. Thus, he’s fingered whenever there might be a burglary. Ayumi, on the other hand, isn’t regarded automatically as a thief.

If there is one message you wish families to take away from the story of Ayumi and her violin, what would it be?

Never let go of your passion, it will carry you through your darkest times.

What are some of your own personal writing habits?

I think about my book, such as plot, dialogue, scenery or whatever away from my computer. I think about those things while I’m hiking, driving, or lying in bed. When I’m at my computer, I’m putting words on the screen. I don’t allow myself writer’s block. I don’t have that kind of time to spare. If the next scene isn’t coming or I can’t figure out how C gets to D, I work on something else. Maybe I work on a scene or a dialogue that’s way beyond where I’m currently working on. Maybe I rewrite a previous scene. I keep going, not always chronologically, but that doesn’t matter.

The ages old question for writers: to outline or not to outline?

A flexible outline. If I don’t know where the story is going or don’t know what the theme is, I don’t know what scenes to write, what words to put into characters’ mouths. But if a character says something unexpectedly or a scene twists a different way than planned, I go with it. In those times, the story often takes an unusual curve that turns out to change the book for the better.

What can you tell us about any upcoming writing projects you have in the works?

I have two manuscripts that are ready to publish, which I plan to release in the next 6 -7 months: Accidental Samurai Spy and Kenji's Power. I’m currently working on a book with a working title of The Messanger about twelve-year-old Lilly in an internment camp during World War II.

Thank you so much, Mariko, for taking the time to answer my questions. I'm sure all of our members are grateful to you for sharing your insights into writing with us, as well as some details about Ayumi's Violin. Good luck! Or as they say in Japan, work hard and persevere!

After the Glow of Conference Fades … by Sharon Mignerey

“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you learn to do it well.” ~Zig Zigler

Sharon MignereyIt’s been weeks since the Colorado Gold Conference. You know how it is immediately after conference … you’re enthused, recharged, ready to move on with The Plan and move toward success (or possibly, continued success). Or … you’re comparing yourself to John or Jane Writer, who has achieved the latest accolades, who writes the most compelling characters and the best plot twists ever, who has a starred review in PW, not to mention a six-figure contract. Ahhh. To be the current darling of publishing and the Awards circuits. Wouldn’t that be something?

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has felt this way a month or so after conference. When the job that pays bills sucks up all my time and energy, my motivation begins to slip. That vow to write six pages a day slips to six pages a week … or a month. Those solutions that were so clear for how to solve a plot or character problem when I was with my writer friends (translation – MY herd of other little sea horses [thank you, Susan Spann!]) begins to fade. Instead of remembering that an editor asked to see a full manuscript, I’m focused on the nit-picky and negative things that other person in my reading workshop said about my work … and I’m tempted by chocolate instead of writing. What is a writer to do?

The short answer is this: build a system of accountability and tribe building that works for you. In short, find your herd of sea horses and the part of the reef that best suits your particular style of writing.

  • Get together with a small group of writers on some regular schedule. Thanks to the internet, you can have contact even if it’s not a face-to-face critique group. You can use plain old email, not to mention Skype or Face Time. Granted, it may not be quite the same as being in the same room, but it’s close … and you can do it in PJs! In short, you don’t have to be in Denver to find your herd of like-minded writers.
  • If critique works for you, find critique partners. If your need is to set aside a certain time every day or week and write with others, then find partners who are willing to do that with you. If being accountable to someone that you’ve met your writing goals this week, find partners for that.
  • If an editor or agent has asked to see your work, send it! An editor once told me that fewer than 20% of the writers she asked material from sent it. Can you imagine that? Are you one of the 20% or the 80%? To my way of thinking, the odds of the editor liking my project just went up.

If work needs to be done on the project before you can send it, set a date for when you’re doing to send it, then parse the tasks between now and that date into manageable pieces, and get to work. I think setting a date is similar to giving a sick sea horse a name—there’s power in the commitment represented. The date … and the name … make things real. If you’re married, you made the commitment, set a date, and went to work to make it happen. The same thing applies here.

I grew up with the mantra instilled in me that “anything work doing is worth doing well.” What is easy to forget is this: before doing something well, I’m probably going to do it badly. This is where having a support system for my writer’s life becomes even more important—my herd of other writers who hang around in the part of the reef that I call home. Who are there to applaud my successes (growth in skills, finaling in contests, making a sale), chase away the predators (worry and rejection), and help me see where the best food can be found (story craft and submission markets).

RMFW has a wonderful discussion group (if you don’t belong, send a request (rmfw-subscribe@yahoogroups.com) and ask to join), where you can put out the call to find others of like mind … or respond to others who have put out a call that appeals to you. I promise, a big reef though RMFW may be, your part of the reef is also home to a group of writers who want to be part of your herd.

Happy writing, everyone!

… Sharon Mignerey

p.s. If you’re wondering about the references to sea horses, order the CD for Susan Spann’s wonderful Writer-of-the-Year talk by calling Joyco Multimedia at 720-541-7905.

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Sharon Mignerey has been a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers since 1984 and says her successes would not have come without the support of her friends and fellow writers in the group. She’s the author of eleven books, and she’s currently polishing two submissions that have been requested by editors she met at the most recent Colorado Gold Conference.

Kay Bergstrom and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Kay BergstromI joined RMFW before it was for Fiction Writers. The original group was affiliated with national RWA (Romance Writers of America), there were a handful of members and the only published author was Maggie Osborne. Yada, yada, yada, I sold my first book, Tongue-Tied, to Harlequin Temptation and realized exactly how much help I needed.

Hence, the critique groups. Jasmine Cresswell had just moved to Denver and joined our little RWA group, and we started doing critique in people’s homes. I loooooove critique, especially in the RMFW style. The idea is to give a couple of nice strokes in the beginning (good kitty!), then the actual criticism (kitty sucks!) and a happy ending (still a good kitty!). I still remember the day when Jasmine said the writing was elegant...not my writing, but I was happy for the other person.

We moved critique to Capitol Hill Community Center. It grew. Many other genres of writers were appearing, which made it a little creepy to read sex scenes. I do, however, believe that it’s helpful to have men do critique on romance. (Really? You think about sex that often? Really?) And we decided that these thoughtful, gentle, fiction-writing men (and women) shouldn’t have to become members of the national Romance Writers of America. We disaffiliated and split into two groups.

Colorado Romance Writers and Heart of Denver Romance Writers are terrific resources for romance writers and others as well. I’ve found that romance writers are incredibly generous in sharing their time and expertise. Because RMFW came from the romance genre, I think the tone of the organization is unique. RMFW is more welcoming to all genres—from erotica to literary. Very seldom have I heard an RMFW member bad-mouth the romance genre. On those rare occasions when remarks are made about trash, pulp and/or smut, the snotty pseudo-intellectual who spewed such venom is generally corrected in such a way that they never denigrate the Big R again.

As for Colorado Gold? It’s the best opportunity to stick my head out of the rabbit hole and find out what’s going on in the world of publishing. Hell, yes, I was there. I love to meet new people.

My New Venture

Partly because I enjoy playing with plots and partly because it’s easier than robbing a bank, I’m getting ready to start a plotting and editing service. I’m still figuring out the important stuff, like how much to charge and how to do it.

I’m still figuring this out and would love any sort of feedback.

Right now, my thought is to offer three services: Developmental Editing: tangling my fingers in the plotting of your fiction manuscript when you’re getting started or when you have a synopsis or if you’ve started and gotten stuck. (This is the fun part I would really enjoy). Page Editing: reading with a wider scope, if needed suggesting major changes, cutting scenes, a more hands on approach. Copy Editing: sticking with the script and making mostly stylistic and choreography changes.

Still getting my act together (finishing a book under contract), but I have set up a new e-mail for this: kaybedits (at) goodle (dot) com and I’m hoping I’ll have my Facebook page operational very soon.

I am trying to think of what to call this endeavor. For now, it’s Plots&Edits, mostly because “plots” is a fun word to say. Plots, plots, you’re such a big, old plots.

Same Old, Same Old

In addition to the New Venture, I will continue writing (for as long as they’ll have me) for Harlequin Intrigue. Though I’ve written other types of romance and even did a couple of straight suspense books, I keep coming back to Intrigue. These books are just about everything I want: They’re fast-paced, not too long (55,000 words) and they pay real money.

I like writing Short and Fast (my nickname in high school) because I can pretty much keep the whole story in my head. I would need to do brain push-ups to do longer books.

My worst habit in writing is procrastination. Putting things off until the last minute isn’t cute, and I MUST stop doing it. In the spirit of “do as I say not as I do,” my advice to all writers is write every day and don’t fall behind.

My practical writing advice: Practice Deep Viewpoint.

I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer. I was going to be an actress. I studied the Stanislavski Method and read An Actor Prepares, which could easily be re-titled A Writer Prepares. The idea is to lose yourself entirely in your viewpoint character so that you can really tell their story. If it helps, surround yourself with objects they would have, eat the food they like, etc. Use caution in writing villain viewpoint, i.e., it’s not necessary to use real blood. The main idea: Take yourself (the author) out of the picture, and focus on the character.

Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art. –Constantin Stanislavski.

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For those of you who don't know Kay, she writes the romance novels under the name of Cassie Miles. Her books can be found on the Harlequin Intrigue website as well as bookstores and online booksellers. Find her on Facebook and Goodreads.

THE POWER OF RMFW

A fellow member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers did not see any immediate impact on the careers of those she witnessed working so hard on our all-volunteer staff, either at the annual Colorado Gold Writers Conference, nor throughout the year on our board and support positions. She asked me if I found participation in RMFW rewarding. Because of the context of the question I knew she wasn't asking whether I found it personally rewarding. What she was really asking was: Did I feel the effort and time I put into volunteering in RMFW translated in any way to book sales, or any other help for my career as a novelist.

Not at all a simple question.

You've heard, I'm sure, the term: You get out of it what you put into it. And I'm sure that's true, as far as it goes. The benefits of participation in RMFW as just an attending member are direct - E=MC2. But are the benefits for volunteering and actually participating in the operation of the organization even measurable in any instant or even short term calculation? I submit that one actually gets back much more than what they put in when actively participating in RMFW.

I post to the RMFW email loop (RMFW@yahoogroups.com) to keep members with whom I’m acquainted, but not necessarily on a direct-email basis, informed of what’s going on with me. I may not get any direct response to my posts, but doing so also helps to keep one's name out there on the loop. Your name also becomes prominent in other areas of RMFW such as the newsletter, volunteering for conference, submitting to the blog, etc. Keeping your name out there in the RMFW community does translate to your publicity, if not directly to sales, and opens doors that may not be open otherwise. Eventually guest publishing professionals – speakers, visiting editors and agents, etc. – will hear/read it. There are a million subtle ways in which this can benefit you. I’ve gotten a lot more attention (followers on Facebook and Twitter, name recognition when introducing myself at workshops and conferences, etc.) since I agreed to become a regular contributor to the RMFW blog, and I love doing it. You never know where this kind of networking might benefit you down the line.

So no, volunteering does not perhaps convert directly to sales, and I suspect that’s why things like the email loop aren't nearly as active these days as they once were. It used to be a very lively forum for discussion and debate, but lately most posters want to sell their books and that’s all. Well I assure you that while most readers of the loop scan over or even ignore ads for your books or promotions for your blog, they are eager to read other news and opinions of current events and hot publishing industry topics. The loop and other methods of keeping your name prominent in RMFW may not translate directly to sales, you never know what it might lead to indirectly down the line.

Likewise attending our free workshops and education events throughout the year. These are not just opportunities to look at an aspect of our profession from another colleague's perspective, something from which you are far more likely to learn than not, you also have the opportunity to network, to meet fellow writers and introduce yourself to them.

conference1The Colorado Gold Writers Conferences, sponsored every Fall by RMFW, is the Grande Dame of all networking opportunities the organization offers. There is no end to the openings you have to make yourself known to the organization at large, not to mention guest professionals from the publishing industry from around the country, and even, sometimes, other countries. From pitching a workshop, if you feel you have something to share with others, to volunteering to moderate workshops. You can volunteer to judge the contest, work the registration table, help in operating the pitch sessions, or just in general as a docent or information source for newcomers and other attendees. One of the best opportunities is to volunteer as a driver, to pick up and transport conference guests between the airport and the venue - here you have a good thirty minutes or more alone with one of the visiting editors, agents, or authors invited to the conference to chat with them and become acquainted. No better networking opportunity in my book.

In short, never pass up an opportunity to volunteer and participate in RMFW and get yourself and your name out there. Doors only open to you if people know who you are. And RMFW is one of the greatest local opportunities you will have to do so.

Oh, and when the doors do open, always be ready and never say no. Even if it doesn’t end up going anywhere, sooner or later one will.


Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the bestselling sequel to Bloodflow; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

Follow Kevin at:
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TAKING CRITICISM

By Kevin Paul Tracy

Some of the most respected classical writers throughout history did literary criticism as either a sideline or as a career before they sold their own novels. From Edgar Allen Poe to Oscar Wilde, then great writers would often decimate their peers in papers and writing journals, eviscerating them in public treatments. Today, when two or more people get into heated, venom-laden, often imaginative insult wars in emails loops or chat rooms, we refer to it as a "flame war," but this sort of thing is not new to the journalistic world. Often quite famous writers would go back and forth in periodicals, attacking and counter-attacking each other's works in the most colorful and often personal ways. The public loved it, so it sold a lot of papers, so the editors loved it. Back then, there was a certain poetry to the insults exchanged. Poe once wrote of Ralph Waldo Emerson that he "...belongs to a class of gentlemen with whom we have no patience whatever — the mystics for mysticism’s sake." Because profanity was much more taboo than it is now, writers had to really challenge themselves to come up with original and imaginative ways to dress each other down that would both make their point and entertain the reader at the same time.

One could make a very convincing point about the lack of efficacy of such frontal assaults, popular as they were to the readers. It stands to reason than our best efforts in any endeavor are going to become intimately intertwined with our ego and self-esteem. This is our attempt to accomplish something intended for public consumption. We are expending effort and strain in its creation, and we want to do it correctly and in good form. We want others to not only read, but to enjoy it. No one sets out to fail, not on purpose. The man who does not care about whether others appreciate his attempts to create is a man better off dead - he is not truly contributing anything to the human condition, but stroking his own ego, little more than public masturbation. We are better off without him. Frankly I submit such men do not exist, or if they do, they are too rare to care about. So understandably we are going to feel attacked on a personal level whenever something we have created is attacked, and when that happens, any truth or lessons to learn from the criticism, however deeply buried under hyperbole and colorful language, is bound to be lost on us. We don't learn much from such criticism.

On the other hand, couching criticism in too much pillowy language to soften the blow often risks obscuring the points one wishes to make, or to blunt their importance so much that a very critical point may be ignored as less important. Saying, for example, "I love your writing. Just one small thing, for what it's worth, when you have a one-page character like the patrolman, who is very colorfully written by the way, discover the blood on the baseboard, no offense but you are not utilizing your protagonist, my favortie character in your book, in the most proactive manner," the point is so well couched in diplomatic rhetoric it could be lost. Ego and self-esteem of the writer aside, the best way to make a point is still the most direct, pointed, even blunt way: "You waste an opportunity to show your protagonist's sleuthing genius by having a minor cut-out character find crucial clues instead. And you do it repeatedly through the book." There can be no mistaking the point being made, and also the importance the critic places on that point.

Crying at The ComputerIn receiving a critique, I prefer the blunt approach to being coddled and swaddled and fed treacle. And still, other writers can get their hackles up and throw a glass of wine in your face for saying it.

There are those whose opinion, no matter how qualified, we as individuals do not respect, for whatever reason. I submit that the level of umbrage we take from a criticism increases exponentially in reverse proportion to the amount of respect we bear the critic: the less we esteem his opinion the greater offense we take at it. For this I'm afraid there is no remedy. As writers, we must merely bite the bullet and take it.

I further submit that to engage a critic on any level is folly. It doesn't matter that you can explain away his point, that you have a greater knowledge of writing craft than he, or that you are right and he is wrong. Engaging him can only make you look bad on a multitude of levels. One, you come off as insecure about your own writing. No matter how well reasoned or skillfully worded your retort, any retort at all smacks of defensiveness and lack of confidence, like you feel you have something to defend. Second, you can come off as petty, especially if anything you say can be interpreted as a personal attack on the critic. Reacting to a critique can sound like you are only reacting to the critique, and any personal opinions you express about the critic were only formed as a result of his critique, not based on any other independent knowledge or observation. Thirdly, you can appear quite arrogant in a retort, as if you consider yourself above any criticism at all, and not just this one critic or critique.

A lot of criticism, especially on the Internet, isn't worthy of response. It is in vogue these days on the Internet to launch attacks on someone who has put themselves forth in the public eye if only because it is so easy to do so. Fifty Shades of Grey author E. L. James recently underwent just such an ordeal, setting aside time to answer questions from fans on Twitter, only to be attacked by a collection of online thugs who found it funnier to lance and humiliate her publicly than to permit any serious dialog about her books. The only way to protect oneself from such a basting is to maintain some control over those permitted to participate - charge a nominal fee or issue invitations to the event without which one cannot participate. At any rate, the kinds of flaming criticisms to which she was submitted has been quite aptly described by many as appalling and uncalled for. These sorts of attacks aren't even worth a response, they are just ignorant and mean-spirited.

The only effective response to criticism is no response at all. Utter and complete radio science. It can be very difficult, but as I've already said, there is no way to indulge in the alternative with any sort of success at all. It is simply professional suicide to try.

There is a mind set to taking criticism gracefully, and while it isn't easily adopted, with practice it can make hearing harsh criticism much less sharp and damaging to our ego. First, always remind yourself that this person, whatever else they may be, is a reader, just like every other reader out there in the world that you wish to reach. In the end, his reaction is the reaction of a reader, which means out of the millions who potentially might read your book (and let's face it, none of us dream of a small audience) there are those out there who will have the same reactions, thoughts, and objections as him/her. You must decide whether you believe that number to be great or small, but in the end you are not going to be there, reading over their shoulders, ready to defend yourself against their reaction to your novel. So to the degree that they are honest, his criticisms are valid, not matter how they are worded, merely due to the fact that he is first and foremost a reader, your audience.

Second, if the critic is a colleague or fellow writer, be grateful that this particular reader, the critic, has himself writing chops, the skills himself to recognize flaws in prose and story craft, and the language to describe it in such a way that makes it very clear to you where you have gone wrong. Thirdly, especially if the criticism is badly worded, or deliberately worded to be insulting or to get a rise out of you, keep in mind that such personal attacks say much more about the person leveling them than they do the person at whom they are leveled. In such a case, leaving such caustic criticism unanswered tends to bring out in even greater relief and clarity the pettiness and arrogance with which the criticism was written/given.

And lastly, always remember that no matter the criticism, in the end you choose to accept it or not. If the project is still in development, you still get to decide whether to take the criticism and make the requisite changes to your work or to ignore it and leave it as it is. If already published, then you are limited as to what you can do anyway, and so it accomplishes nothing to take such things to heart. Even as you take the criticism of those whom you respect and admire, retain your faith in your own talent and skill. In the end it is your project, ultimately your offering to the world, and it must feel right to you, or you are not being true to yourself.


Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the bestselling sequel to Bloodflow; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

Follow Kevin at:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog

TURNING OUR NOSE UP AT THE INDULGENT

By Kevin Paul Tracy

The other day I stumbled across, of all random things things, the old Punk Rock hit, "Turning Japanese." ("I think I'm turning Japanese. I think I'm turning Japanese. I really think so!") Before I knew it I was laughing and doing a silly dance there at my desk. It had been ages since I'd heard the thoroughly ridiculous, utterly indulgent song, and I'd forgotten what a catchy beat, toe-tickling melody, and nonsense lyrics it brought to the ear. I found myself completely delighted, my spirits lifted for no other reason than this empty-headed little song. And, as most things do, it got me thinking.

There is a certain snobbery in certain industries, most notably the arts, that summarily dismisses and in almost all cases delights in tearing down and lambasting the simple, the silly, the indulgent. "Turning Japanese" was roundly dismissed as inconsequential and in some cases even detrimental to the library of American music, and yet someone listened to it, enough people to make it, if not a number one hit, then at least a top 40 gem. There was something about it, silly and inconsequential as it might be, that pleased people. They enjoyed listening to it.

I stopped watching the HBO TV series "Game of Thrones" after the so-called "Red Wedding" episode, but only partially because I was disappointed as a viewer. While doing research online I came across several credible quotes by the author of the show who freely admitted he killed off his heroes in ignoble ways to shock and alarm readers/viewers. He didn't want them to rely on the heroes to save the day, didn't want fans to relax in the idea that the hero would eventually prevail, that good would eventually defeat evil. Perhaps that is fine for him and for the thousands who still read his books and watch his television program. But it seems to me a cynical focal point around which to pivot a plot. I write because I have a story to tell. I write the story that wants telling. I don't indulge some disgruntled agenda to manipulate an audience or to make a rhetorical point.

There is an on-gong debate I've been following online in British literary circles where the underlying operating assumption is that any book with a happy ending is immediately dismissed as unimportant, puerile, indulgent and of no consequence. Never mind the quality writing that may fill the pages leading up to it, if it ends with the good guys winning then it is summarily dismissed. Forgive me, but such a sweeping displacement strikes me as every bit as shallow as the books themselves supposedly are. Am I wrong? To me, I love reading well written prose. How the story ends is almost immaterial to me, if the intervening story and the skill with which it was written was a joy to experience. Almost, because an arbitrary or manipulative ending can spoil a good tale.

We are all entitled to write what we wish, and if you find an audience, well good God of course more power to you. But I think it wrong to try to shame others for indulging in certain literary palate cleansers such as Louie L'Amour's westerns, Ian Fleming's James Bond series, or even Charles Dickens entirely operatic but delightful fiction. There is a reason television shows like Little House on The Prairie, The Gilmore Girls, and today's Castle run for so many years. No one mistakes them for real life. But there is something simple, silly and pleasing about them to a great many audiences.

While I, myself, prefer a happy ending, I don't dismiss a book that doesn't have one. In point of fact I think Stephen King is an American treasure, probably one of the best writers I've ever read, and I don't recall a single one of his books that ended on a totally positive note. So while I prefer one, I can appreciate all. I would never dismiss the hard work of any writer on so slight and arbitrary a criteria as that. I take in the entire work as a whole and take it as it is offered by the storyteller, and judge it on that basis alone.

Something many of you have heard me say many times, and I think it is entirely true: Whether your story has a happy ending or not depends entirely upon where you choose to end your story.


Don't miss Kevin’s latest releases: the startling and engrossing series of gothic thrillers featuring vampire private detective Kathryn Desmarias, including Bloodflow, and Bloodtrail, the bestselling sequel to Bloodflow; also the wonderfully entertaining espionage thriller, Rogue Agenda.

Follow Kevin at:
Kevin's Amazon Kevin's Blog