As I write this I am still days away from the most traumatic experience of my life - surgery. But by the time you read this, not only will it all be over, I will be well on my way to recovery, if not fully recovered. I will know whether or not the mass they found in a CT scan one fateful day while looking for something else entirely, was cancer or not. The worst, whatever it turns out to be, will have passed.

This bifurcation of time is extremely odd to me. It is backwards from what a writer usually experiences. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, whether writing in present tense or past, the events the writer retells have already passed for him/her by the time the reader reads their words.

It almost feels as if you, the reader, have the advantage on me. For the first time the reader has the benefit of foreknowledge of events the writer has yet to experience. Does that make any sense to you? Would that you could tell me how it all turned (turns?) out.

Honestly I'm not entirely sure what bearing this has on writing or why RMFW members should read this blog entry. There is some insight here about our responsibility to our readers, as the ones conveying to them events they have yet to experience. Something about teasing their eagerness to know what happened, and why, while at the same time respecting momentary lack of knowledge until you eventually enlighten them through prose. Something like that.

All I know is this momentary reversal of roles, me the ignorant writer, you the all-knowing reader, is delightfully disorienting, and that fascinates me.

The RMFW Spotlight is on Scott Brendel, Editor/Agent Critique Coordinator

Our monthly feature, The RMFW Spotlight, is intended to provide members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers with more information about our board members as well as featured volunteers. This month we're pleased to present two spotlights, especially in honor of the Colorado Gold Conference in Denver on September 9-11, 2016. Today we're featuring Scott Brendel, and on Monday, our conference chair Corinne O'Flynn.

2016_Scott Brendel1. Scott, welcome to the RMFW Blog Spotlight. Tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

For the past few years, I have coordinated the editor/agent critique workshops held during the Colorado Gold conference. I also help run one of RMFW's critique groups. At various times over the years, I have helped judge the contest, was the Education chair, and served for two years as President. Many people in RMFW have been enormously helpful to me in ways I can't begin to describe and volunteering has been one way to try to pay that back.

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

Last summer, my short story, entitled "Threesome," was published in a literary 'zine called Cactus Heart ( It's about two estranged brothers who meet on a golf course to carry out their father’s final wishes.

I recently finished a new novel called Just Beyond the Light, in time to pitch it at ThrillerFest. It's set in the late 1970s in the mid-South where I spent time after college. A young woman—a dancer—living in a boarding house ends up in a coma after her wrists are slashed. Her brother (a petty criminal on the run) and a detective mourning the death of his young son try to determine if it was attempted suicide or attempted murder.

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?

Here's one I actually fulfilled. I wanted to go with my father to visit Egypt. Unfortunately, our trip was cancelled after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Years later, we finally made the trip, this time with my sister, mother and our spouses.

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

I get carried away with description. As one of my critique partners says, "Tell us what the building looks like. We don't need a treatise on its architecture."

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

The unexpected things I discover in the course of writing the first draft and the sense of satisfaction when I finally get to the end of the story.

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

Take the plunge and join a critique group. I toiled in isolation for too long before putting my work in front of the kind of people who could help me the most.

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?

It's cluttered with unpaid bills and scraps of paper with story notes. My desk faces a wall with built-in book shelves that remind me of the end goal. And a nine-inch figure of a troll that I picked up in Sweden many years ago watches me while I write.

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

Everybody's Fool, by Richard Russo, who I met at a Tattered Cover reading over twenty years ago. He's a fellow, former upstate New Yorker. An incredibly talented writer with a gift for capturing the humor of hapless but earnest small town folks who struggle their way through life.

Thank you, Scott. Your work with the agent/editor critique workshops for Colorado Gold is most appreciated. There are quite a few of us who found agents or editors through our participation in those sessions.


I was re-reading some of my past posts here on the RMFW blog. Can you believe I've been a contributor for two years? Who knew I had so much to say? I would've expected to be ridden out of here on a rail just weeks in!

As I revisited some of my old topics, there were many I feel made some good points, if I say so myself, and that might be worth a fresh look. So in lieu of fresh content this month I thought I'd share links to some of my favorite past articles over two years of contributing to the RMFW blog. If you missed any, maybe take a look at one or two, see if there is anything in them worth taking away and applying to your own writing.

I HATE MY BOOK (12/2014)
How I went from loving my book to hating the very mention of it to loving it again!

How to enrich your world-building by bringing complex political pressures to bear on a plot.

Tackling what can be a daunting task: relating large-scale conflict while still keeping your story character driven.

Academics will only take you so far. Without passion, you're just writing, not storytelling.

The occasional caustic off-hand comment often says more about us than we know, and can have devastating effects on our fellow writers.

Something wrong with you.noʎ ɥʇıʍ ʇɥƃıɹ ƃuıɥʇǝɯoS (5/2016)
Worried that you aren't writing the traditional formula that sells books? Don't be - it's what makes us different that makes our stories stand out.

Thanks for reading for two years! Here's to many more!


The Cereal AisleSERIALIZE (sîr′ē-ə-līz′) verb 1. to transform cookies, donuts, waffles, french toast, crunch berries, etc. into miniature candy-like form to be dredged in milk and consumed for breakfast. 2. to broadcast or publish (something, such as a story) in separate parts over a period of time.

No sooner was my latest thriller Presence of Malice released than readers began asking if there was to be a sequel or series following it. To be honest, when writing Malice I never envisioned it as a series. It was always to be a stand-alone thriller, one of many other non-related thrillers I plan to release. I already have two ongoing series, taking on a third is, frankly, daunting.

On one hand, Malice is by far the best received book I've ever released, and not to capitalize on it's popularity by releasing a sequel or series feels like leaving money on the table. On the other hand, my writing muse has never been very motivated by monetary concerns, but mostly on whether or not I have a worthy story to tell.

On the other hand (I know, that's three hands) you always want to please your readers, and to have them clamoring for more of something you've written is not only awfully flattering, it also makes you want to do it, if for no other reason than to please them. JK Rowling can't seem to leave the Harry Potter franchise alone - even though she promised after the release of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows that there would be no new Harry Potter books, she has repeatedly tweeted or blogged new information about the wizarding world she created in those books, then released The Tales of Beedle the Bard, then the movie Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them followed by a book of the same name, then the stage play Harry Potter and The Cursed Child...

The point is, it's hard to walk away from something you so enjoyed writing and that readers so enjoy reading. So while it never started that way, Presence of Malice will most likely become a third ongoing series, if perhaps more episodic than serialized. In the end, while you may have other stories teaming around in your head demanding to be written, it's also irresistible to go back a revisit old friends and favorite villains.

Ah, had I but world enough and time!

Things I Hate to Admit to Myself

There's nothing that turns me off of a keynote speech at any gathering of writers - be it conferences, workshops, retreats, whatever - more than when the speaker starts out by telling you how impossible it is for you to become a successful writer. When they say that less than 1% of all books submitted get published, and fewer still make any profit, and yet fewer still become best sellers and launch an author's career. Or when they point out such cold hard facts as: it takes sales of 500-1000 books in the first few days of release to even get on most book-lists' radar. I could go on, but I'm guessing you hate these statistics as much as I do.

I finally sat down the other day and asked myself a very hard question: Why? Why do I hate such statistics? They are facts, after all, facts based on very real hard data, and as such they are inescapable. Resenting a fact is like hating a peach pit - you can go on hating it all you want, but every peach you eat is still going to have a pit, no matter how much you hate it. You can have someone remove the pit for you before you eat it, but this is only hiding the pit from you, not changing the fact that every peach has a pit. (Those of you who read last month's post may well wonder what's with this author's obsession with fruit. Well, mind your own business.)

We can hide from facts all we want, but that doesn't make them any less implacably true.

But I still hate these publishing statistics. And after some self-examination I know why, and why you do, too. Such statistics are like the bully who joins a pickup game of stick ball only to hit the ball over the fence and across the highway where no one can retrieve it. They are the arrogant young punk who gets on the light rail train with death metal music booming out of a portable speaker. They are the one spoiled shrimp in an otherwise delightful shrimp cocktail that makes you sick all night. They are...well you get the idea. They are spoil sports, the thorn in your side, the burning vomit that comes out of your nose as well as throat.

We hate these statistics because they ruin our fun. The fun is writing, and having others read our stories. We have been conditioned to think that we are failures if we don't have thousands and thousands of readers, and more often than not it interferes with our ability to continue writing. But is that really true? While we may dream of that, how many of us, realistically, expect to make an independent living on our writing these days? Even writers you consider quite successful continued to work other more conventional jobs during the height of their success. And many others who didn't could hardly have been called wealthy or even well off. Many more died in obscurity.

My point is, why let these statistics and reality spoil the fun? Most of us who started writing didn't do it to become wealthy (and I submit, as has been said many times on this blog, that if you did you're in the wrong business.) Most of us got into writing because we had stories to tell, we love telling stories, and we can't stop. There is nothing wrong with tracking your sales and aspiring to stardom, but for God's sake don't let lagging figures and disappointing ciphers on a page beat up on your muse. It isn't her fault readers are a fickle lot, and there's no telling what may grab their fancy at any given time. Compartmentalize your business aspirations - thousands upon thousands of sales - from the fun you have when you write. I promise you, even if you die tearing tickets at a theater, or pushing rocks with your backhoe, or building submarine sandwiches for hungry briefcase warriors, or even if you're one of those warriors yourself, you'll never regret the stories you told when you could, even if only a small circle of close friends and colleagues were your audience.

The Fruit of Your Labor

fruitGo buy a piece of fruit you haven't had in a while: a peach, a plum, a pear, a mango, even a carambola (starfruit, though they're not as good here on the mainland as they are in the islands.) Find a place to sit alone and close your eyes. Try to imagine you're a primitive human. Game is scarce, you've been living on insects and grubs, or bland roots. You're always on the verge of starvation, though never quite starved - a terrible state if you've ever lived through it.

You see this thing hanging from a tree. You've never considered eating it before because, well, it's on a tree. What part of a tree ever tasted good? Wood, bark, leaves... Still, finally hungry enough, you climb up, pull this thing down, you bite into it (bite into the fruit you bought now.) Try to experience what that starving primitive experienced as glorious sweetness and a flavor you've never imagined could ever exist floods your mouth and your soul soars.

Write that.

Many times I read work from writers who, in their jaded experience, seem to have forgotten that not all of their readers have read the same old tropes and traditions a thousand times. They sometimes neglect details that could enrich their story. How many times has a gun been fired in a thriller or mystery? So many times it is just accepted that readers know what it means to fire a gun, or have one fired at you. So why describe the way your nerves jolt at the sudden blast, the sound waves stinging your skin like electricity, the smell of expended gunpowder, the intense silence following the explosion, the heat you feel from the bullet as it leaves the barrel...or as it tears into your flesh?

Never forget some of your readers may be reading your genre for the first time, and you are their sponsor. Even if not, being reminded of details that often get glossed over or skipped because they are rote or common, can electrify some long-steeped and jaded readers, too. As you write such things, take a moment and close your eyes, try to experience the thing as your character would experience it (whatever it is, whether firing a gun, stealing a candy bar from a store, having sex). Is it their first time or they are old pros? How would that affect the experience.

Never let such things become rote or old hat in your stories. Always remember while you may have written/read similar scenes a million times, your character has not, and your reader is identifying with them. Always keep it fresh, as if this is the first time anyone ever wrote a scene like this. Never let the jade show under your skin.

Something wrong with you.noʎ ɥʇıʍ ʇɥƃıɹ ƃuıɥʇǝɯoS

Here is how I found out that there is something wrong with me.

Boy wearing dunce cap.I was 7 or 8 when, during a parent-teacher conference, I was asked to leave the room. I went into the coat room and found I could still hear everything that was said. My teacher told my parents about an assignment in which students were asked how to divide 2 apples evenly among 3 people. The correct answer, it seems, was to cut each apple into thirds and give each person 2 pieces. Most of the class got it right, but three people gave wrong answers. One kid said to tell one of the three people to leave, then give the two remaining people each an apple. Another kid said to just go buy a third apple.

And then there was me, a quiet kid who kept mostly to myself. My teacher was worried - I had said to give each person a sharp knife and let them take as much as they wanted. When asked how my answer gave each person a fair share of the apple I said, in effect, that the three people would either be generous and take only a little, leaving more for the others, or they would all fight it out amongst them, killing at least one of them, and then split the apples.

My teacher then proceeded to ask my parents if I'd ever been caught mistreating pets or weaker children. I laugh now, but at the time I was hurt and outraged. It was a different teacher who recognized my unharnessed imagination and set me on the path of channeling it into storytelling, but I still spent many years after that thinking there was something wrong with me because I didn't see the world the same way as everyone else.

As writers, we don't see the world like everyone else. If we did, there would be nothing interesting about the stories we tell, and therefore little reason to tell them. It is our own, individual skew on reality that makes our stories unique and fun and ultimately readable. If anyone tries to tell you what's wrong with you, own it proudly. Because what's wrong with you and me as people is very right with us as writers.

“The Idiot Plot”

I recently read a review of the new TV series based on Terry Brooks' classic epic fantasy Elfstones of Shannara when I read the following precis that made me laugh: "The elves' magical protective tree, the Ellcrys, is dying. Lethal demons are slipping back into the world. To banish them again, someone must take the Ellcrys' magical seed to Safehold and bathe it in Bloodfire. Problem is, no one knows where Safehold is, or what Bloodfire might be. These requirements have the weight of prophecy and doom, but they're also faintly amusing, as though the elves lost their car keys centuries ago, and don't have the faintest idea where to look for them." (article)

This made me think of the pacing and plotting of a story. Too many times I've read books (or seen TV shows) where the plot seems to move forward on the slimmest possible impetus, leaving me to wonder why the characters are even following through with it, rather than just catching a movie or running errands. This reviewer also invokes James Blish (iconic author of speculative fiction books, including many Star Trek episodes) who first coined the phrase "Idiot Plot", a story that only moves forward because none of the characters will stop to ask obvious questions or exchange crucial points of information. For example, keeping pieces of information secret for no apparent reason except that it prevents the conflict from being resolved too soon.

Rube Goldberg MachineA Rube Goldberg machine uses a complex, sometimes improbable, chain reaction to accomplish a simple task, for example cracking an egg into a bowl, which is much easier done by hand. Your plot points can be like parts in a Rube Goldberg machine, or they can be girders in a bridge. It's a subtle thing, to be certain your plot is moving forward intelligently, and not stupidly.

At any advancement of your story (plot point) be sure your characters are asking all the right questions, looking under all of the obvious rocks - and even some of the not-so-obvious ones. If someone is keeping something secret, make sure they have a reason to do so, and make it a damn good one. (Some old and tired cliches to avoid: "I kept this secret to protect you!" "I kept this secret until you were ready to hear it." "I kept this secret because you didn't ask.") Make sure that the reasons your characters got into this adventure to begin with remain the reasons they stay in it, or give readers new solid, plausible reasons to make this conflict even more crucial to the characters, personally, than before.

It is certainly important that every cause have an effect in your story, but even more critical is ensuring that every effect has a cause. Not just any cause, but one that proceeds from a prior plot point. It should proceed not only logically, but precipitously, causing the stakes to rise and the urgency to mount. And it must propel the characters headlong into the next plot point, almost against their will. At no point should the readers be left to ask, "Why?" If you have done your job correctly, they should have the answer before they even think to ask.

Avoid the Idiot Plot. Leave it for soap operas and sitcoms (and the TV show "The Arrow"...oops! I didn't say that! Except, they expend so much energy on the noble goal to "save my city" no one stops to explain just exactly what's wrong with the city! But 'nuff said!)

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.


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

The Promise by my favorite mystery writer, Robert Crais.


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 ( 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.


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.