“The Silver Moment”

It's a term I made up to describe a twist in fiction that can make the "black moment" more shocking to a reader. The black moment is a part of the basic structure of fiction that has been knocking around for centuries.

  • The inciting incident.
  • The mounting tension.
  • Complications.
  • Climax.
  • The black moment.
  • Denouement.

There are as many variations on this structure as there are writers who write about writing, but roughly this is the basic formula for your plot in fiction. Everything else is a refinement on this.

The black moment is the part of the story just before everything is resolved when things seem to be as bad as they can get for our protagonist, when all seems lost and the antagonist is about to win.

The silver moment, as I call it, is infrequent in fiction but you should recognize it when you see it. It comes just before the black moment. It is the part of our story when, in contrast to the black moment, everything seems to have worked out for our protagonist, when all seems to have been resolved as it should have been and the good guys have won. The silver lining of the cloud that has been hanging over our protagonist throughout the book has, in effect, been found.

In this case, the black moment comes when the antagonist, thought defeated, reappears out of the blue with one last card to play, one last-ditch effort at accomplishing his goal, or at the very least, at destroying those who prevented him from achieving those goals in the silver moment.

Rogue Agenda by Kevin Paul TracyFor example, in Rogue Agenda the terrorists have all been rounded up by the Feds, the Al-Serhemni family have successfully escaped to Canada, and while Lainie still has an arson/manslaughter rap hanging over her head the reader knows she is innocent and, if there is justice, will be exonerated. But wait...what about the hit man who started this whole mess by trying to kill the CIA agent and has been stalking Lainie ever since? For god's sake, check the closet before you go to sleep!

Presence of Malice by Kevin Paul TracyIn th conclusion of my book Presence of Malice the villain, Dr. Gerald Gannery, is wanted by several Federal agencies and our heroes - Jet, Gregory, Patricia, and Paul - are enjoying their victory and have let their guards down. Unaware - but about to find out - that Gannery has found the brownstone where Jet has hidden his paraplegic brother and is aware of the money that his henchman tried to bribe the fixer with...and is now driven by a murderous thirst for vengeance.

The silver moment can definitely be overused. If the reader comes to expect it, it loses its impact to make the black moment come as a greater surprise and seem even blacker. But if used judiciously, it can be an effective tool in bringing a shocking and satisfying story to your readers.

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog Needs You!

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http://www.1001freedownloads.com

First:  Co-editor Julie Kazimer and I are looking for one new regular monthly contributor to the RMFW Blog. If we have several applicants, you get a bonus point if you're already familiar with WordPress. You receive a second bonus point if you are funny (as in humor writing). And you get more points if you promise to be obsessively on time (as in getting your posts in draft or scheduled at least a week ahead of time). Regular contributors educate and inform, focusing on their writing craft or writing life areas of interest. Self-promotion is minimized. Click here for the current list of contributors.

Second: Starting in January, we also need at least two guest bloggers per month and sometimes more. The submission guidelines are posted under the Blog link on the RMFW website. We'd love to see some new faces on the blog this year. If you're interested now or later, email us at blog@rmfw.org  The guest bloggers are invited to add an author photo and recent release cover art to their posts, but should still aim to educate and inform.

Third:  We need volunteers to participate in the Getting to Know You Project for 2017. For that one, we give you three questions to answer and request an author photo and social media links. Click here for a sample of the GTKY post from 2016.

RMFW Members Only:  Occasionally we feature guest posts by conference keynote speakers, agents or editors, but those are rare exceptions. We want RMFW members for these open blogging positions. Doesn't matter if you're published or not. Doesn't matter whether you opt for traditional publishers or prefer to do it yourself. Doesn't matter what genre(s) you write. Doesn't matter if you write under your own name or a pseudonym.

What's Important: You have something of value to share with the world about writing craft or the writing life. You know your grammar and punctuation. You meticulously proofread your own work. You strive to meet deadlines.

You can contact us by emailing blog@rmfw.org

Platform Building At MPIBA

Jane Friedman, former publisher of Writer’s Digest and current columnist for Publishers Weekly defines author platform in her wonderfully succinct way, as “an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.”

For many of us, the definition above may feel as if we’re in this platform building project all alone. Where have I had a story published? What credentials do I have in my area of interest? How big is my mailing list?

But sometimes, I believe that the groups we belong to build our platform more effectively than any individual effort can.  And RMFW is one of those groups.

Photo of Corinne O'Flynn and the table setup for the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association.
Corinne O'Flynn and the table setup for the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association.

Take, for example, the opportunity to go to the Mountains and Plains Fall Discovery Show, which took place October 6 through 8 at the Renaissance Hotel in Denver. A group of PAL and I-PAL members were invited to this collection of independent booksellers and publishers to represent our Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers group, and to promote our own books in the process.

Both a treat in promotion and a great learning process, the Mountains & Plains show had well over 200 booksellers from Texas to Canada and throughout the west congregating to talk shop, promote books, and meet authors.

It was a thrill to go to “Pick of the Lists” sessions to see how publisher sales reps promote our books. They have the job of “pitching” our books the way we do at conference, only they haven’t actually written the work. Talk about a challenge.  In approximately 10 minutes they have to entice booksellers to order up to 15 titles at a time.  One rep I saw held up children’s books in groups of titles to complete his task.  Another rep pushed a toddler’s train through the cardboard pages of the book she promoted.  Mostly, though, the reps had to “tell the story” of the book they represent and its author in less than 2 minutes. No wonder practicing our pitch sessions are so important.

In the exhibit hall, RMFW had two tables stretched along a prime spot to reach into the book buying community.  We displayed our books and reached out into the aisle to meet sellers, publishers, and others in the publishing community. Many had not heard of RMFW.  Some didn’t think they had, until they saw “It’s A Book,” and then they said, “Oh! I know you!”  Thank you Laura Reeve, editor and publisher of “It’s a Book.” Your many years of service remain a quiet treasure for RMFW, and a strong plank in all of our author platforms.

Thank you, too, to the RMFW authors (both indy and trad) who participated in this event.  Because of your efforts, the “It’s A Book” mailing list has grown by approximately 30 more booksellers. Through them, our opportunity to sell more books has grown tremendously.

If you’d like to know more about joining MPIBA (Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association), check out their website, where you might find, like Anne Holman of the King’s English Bookshop in Utah, that “Bookselling is a nice family to be in,” and that booksellers represent a wonderful platform building opportunity.

RUMINATIONS ON THE WRITER-READER RELATIONSHIP

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 (http://www.cactusheartpress.com/e-issue-16/e-issue-12/). 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.

Retrospect

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!

MORE POLITICS IN FICTION (2/2015)
How to enrich your world-building by bringing complex political pressures to bear on a plot.

WAR IN FICTION (4/2015)
Tackling what can be a daunting task: relating large-scale conflict while still keeping your story character driven.

THOSE WHO CAN'T TEACH DO (5/2015)
Academics will only take you so far. Without passion, you're just writing, not storytelling.

KEEP IT TO YOURSELF, SOMETIMES (10/2015)
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!

TO SERIALIZE OR NOT TO SERIALIZE

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.