Tag Archives: Shannon Baker

Raising the Bar

By Shannon Baker
Photos by Mark Stevens

I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be named Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 Writer of the Year. See how many times Writer is used in that title? That means it’s an award for a writer voted on by writers. And for this one moment in time—well a whole freaking year!—I get to be The Writer of the Year. That probably sounds self-promoting and egotistical, but I’m throwing manners out the window and, in fact, might actually shout it out that same window. I get to be the Writer of the Year!

Shannon Baker WOTY2It was such a thrill to be nominated with Christine Jorgenson and Terry Wright. Christine has penned two series and this year was nominated for the Colorado Book Awards. She also received the Writer of the Year honor in 1995. She’s not only an accomplished writer but is the nicest woman on the planet. Terry has his own publishing company and is a legend creating book trailers. Even his name is all about writing.

We writers can be a funny lot, or as the man I live with says, crazy. At least, I can. Among other issues, I have what I call Raising the Bar Syndrome. It goes something like this: I get a glimpse of something I want to achieve, I set a goal. I work really hard toward that goal. If I finally get there, I spend about 1.5 seconds of happiness and then see that I’m nowhere near successful because if I were a real writer, I’d be (points finger into the distance) there.

I came to my first Colorado Gold conference somewhere around 1994, toting my second completed manuscript, sure it was brilliant. It wasn’t. A very New York editor pointed out to me just how far from brilliant it was. I was smart enough to believe him. I needed to learn a ton just to know the basics of why it failed, let alone how to go about fixing it. At that conference, I sat at the banquet and watched as the contest winners were announced. Wow, I thought. If I could only win the contest, I’d know I was a real writer.

I set about the painful task of learning to write. I hate to say that for me, as it is for many, it’s a slow process and one that will never end. I can improve, and improve, and still, there is room for improvement. But after a couple of years, I did win the contest. Twice. That’s a thrill and a milestone and should be celebrated. It means a writer has reached a certain level and should be congratulated.

But self-congrats were soon replaced with a new goal. Look at those writers getting their Pen Awards, RMFW’s acknowledgement of a first sale. If I got one of those I’d be a real writer. I kept at my craft. I worked hard. I sent out hundreds of query letters. I tweaked and revised and rewrote. After a very long time, I finally joined the ranks of the traditionally published and took home my Pen Award.

But that contract wasn’t all I’d hoped and I wasn’t satisfied. I told my husband, “If I can get a contract for three books with a decent press, I’ll be happy. I can say I’m a real writer and will never have to write another book.” And guess what? After a few more years, that’s exactly what happened. Two books of that contract are on the shelves with the third due next spring.

But I’m a nobody in the grand scheme of publishing. I know some big deals in that world and I can tell you, I’m small potatoes. I’ve just finished the first book in a new series and maybe if I sell it and it takes off I’ll really be a writer. Raising the Bar Syndrome is in full flower.

Shannon Baker WOTY1But here’s a twist. This summer, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers honored me with Writer of the Year. That’s as high as the bar goes. For twenty years I’ve seen that title awarded to the creamiest crème de la crème. This is a rare time in my writerly journey when I will pause and let myself revel. For once I’ll make no excuses or justifications or downplay it. I’m going to be a big, fat, obnoxious self-centered peacock. Further, I’ll frame the certificate and display it proudly and go to it whenever I feel like a failure or a poseur. It is my proof that I AM a writer. My writer tribe told me so.

Thank you, RMFW. Thank you very much.

Please join 2013 Writer of the Year Linda Joffe Hull and this year’s nominees, Christine Jorgenson, Terry Wright, and me at the Tattered Cover on Colfax August 14th at 7:00 PM as we rev up for the Colorado Gold Conference. One free conference will be given away, as well as lunch with lunch with J. Ellen Smith, publisher of Champagne Book Group, lunch with Raelene Gorlinsky, publisher at Elora’s Cave and lunch with NYT Bestselling author William Kent Krueger.

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Shannon Baker writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Tainted Mountain, the first in the series is set in Flagstaff, AZ and is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist. Broken Trust, book two of the series, takes place in Boulder, CO and was released in March. She serves on the board of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is nominated for 2104 Writer of the Year. She is a member of SinC and MWA. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com.

5 Ways to Pick a Mystery Writer Out in a Crowd

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

In honor of mystery writer friend, Shannon Baker’s winning Writer of the Year for RMFW I’ve decided to offer some helpful tips to those needing a little help picking out a mystery writer when in a crowded room. This will be helpful in September during the Colorado Gold Conference, so take note!

5)  See that woman with the grey hair? Yep. She’s a mystery writer. In fact, most mystery writers I know are older women same as mystery readers. The bloodier the better for this blood-thirsty lot. That’s why we love them (and yes, I am one of them, I just use a lot of hair dye and lye to get rid of the bodies).

4)  See that guy twirling the end of his mustache? Nope, not a writer, just a serial killer, but if you look directly behind him to the woman unabashedly taking notes on his every move, yep, mystery writer.

3)  Ink and often blood stained hands.

2)  Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me? A mystery writer will answer gun 98 out of 100 times. The other two times the answer is rope and penis.

1)  Any guy driving a Magnum PI car and wearing Hawaiian shirts outside Hawaii (Mario Acevedo and Tim Dorsey come to mind).

You’re welcome.

Any other ways you know of to determine if you have a mystery writer in your midst?

The Secret to Scoring a Tradtional Book Contract

By Shannon Baker

IMG_westernslopeI’ve got a new book coming out! This has been a dream of mine for a very long time. In fact, if the first novel I completed had been a baby, it would be able to drink in any state of the union now. If you’re here on the RMFW blog, it’s a pretty good bet you’ve got this dream, too.

This message is for everyone struggling to land a traditional publishing contract. I do know the world has turned and this isn’t the only road to publishing. I’m dabbling in indie publishing, too, which is a story for another day.

Congratulations! You’ve come to the right place and you’re doing exactly what you should be doing—along with writing every day. (Okay, I know successful writers who don’t actually write every day. But unless you know you are special, I’d recommend “touching the ball” every day.)

That other thing you should be doing? Getting informed and involved. You’re here reading about writing, learning what’s new, what people are publishing and reading, who the publishers are. That’s good. You need to understand your market and how it works. While remaining isolated and researching publishing might work for some people, I don’t think it’s enough for most of us.

There is no substitute for good writing and you must study your craft and practice it. I highly recommend peer critique. (Again, I know bestsellers—CJ Box, Joseph Finder—who never had critique partners. But most of us are regular folk and need help from our friends.)

There is something else you can do to get more involved. In my case this made a huge difference in my road to publication.

Volunteer.

Yeah, I know how it goes. We’re all busy. If you volunteer it takes time away from writing and improving your craft. That’s all very true.

Baker_Broken TrustI remember sitting at my first RMFW Colorado Gold conference watching this boisterous, supportive group of writers who had known each other for years. Most of them were published. One of the speakers gave full credit for her success to RMFW and pointed to a table of published writers, all of whom were volunteers in some aspect of RMFW. Every one of them.

But I lived in Nebraska. How could I volunteer from out of state? (Remember, this is before everything was online.) I kept returning and meeting more people every year but still felt like an outsider, shy and afraid to join in. Then my chance came. Someone suggested I volunteer to run the agent/editor pitch appointments. It was something I could do long distance. I jumped at the chance. The first year was a disaster. I didn’t notify the agents and editors of their schedule, assuming they knew they had appointments starting at 8 A.M. They didn’t. The next year was a little better. With the help of dedicated writer friends who volunteered beside me each year, we got better and better. I worked in that position for nine years. After that, I was registrar for three years, and now I serve as board treasurer.

Every single one of these positions has been purely selfish. In the truest Ayn Rand tradition, there is no altruism. I am not that good at meeting people. I am a terrible self-promoter. (For instance, I’ve had business cards printed for each of three books I’ve had published. I have never made it through handing out one box of 250.) But working with conference, I met so many people. While I got tongue-tied around the agents and editors, I felt comfortable joining groups of my writer friends and these Golden Guests would be part of the group. That made getting to know the professionals very easy. I even learned most of them are regular folks.

I didn’t parley volunteering into a book contract overnight. Some may argue volunteering had nothing to do with signing with Midnight Ink. I know otherwise. Because I’d met so many people through working at the agent/editor pitches and registration, I felt at home and comfortable at conference. I’d learned that editors and agents are real people. So when I had an opportunity to meet Midnight Ink editor, Terri Bischoff at conference, I didn’t pitch her my book. We spent time getting to know each other.

Terri didn’t acquire my book because we’d made a connection at the conference. But she read it with a more open mind than she might have. She also was willing to take on a book that needed an extensive rewrite and I don’t think she’d have done that if she hadn’t met me first. Or, if I’d missed my opportunity to get to know her because I was too nervous to talk to her.

So here are my bullets on getting that traditional contract:

  •  Write every day
  •  Read a lot
  •  Learn all you can about the publishing industry
  •  Get involved
  •  VOLUNTEER (especially with RMFW)

Roll call: Who’s going to join us in Denver in September for the Colorado Gold conference? What a line-up! Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords and William Kent Krueger, the amazingly wonderful mystery writer. Also, loads of Golden Guests (agents and editors).

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Shannon Baker writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Broken Trust, due March 2014, takes place in Boulder, CO. Tainted Mountain, the first in the series is set in Flagstaff, AZ and is a New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards finalist. She serves on the board of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is a member of SinC and MWA. Visit Shannon at her website.

About Broken Trust:  Nora moves to Boulder and lands a job as an accountant at an environmental non-profit. But the trust is rife with deceit and corruption. Nearly half a million dollars is missing and one person has already been killed for knowing too much. Complicating matters are Nora’s uninvited visitors: her mother, Cole Huntsman, and a Hopi kachina that technically doesn’t exist. As the body count climbs, Nora races to stop a deadly plot to decimate one of the planet’s greatest natural resources.

Exciting Events Ahead from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Attend the 2nd Annual RMFW Writers Retreat

With Special Guest, Agent Kate Schafer Testerman
Organized by Angie Hodapp
March 16-21, 2014
Table Mountain Inn,
Golden, CO
REGISTRATION CLOSES FEBRUARY 15TH

The 2013 writers retreat was a smashing success! It’s back in March of 2014 and will become an annual spring event. How much does it cost to attend the retreat? We are pleased to introduce flexible registration options. Attend for two days (minimum), three days, or all four days, and pay only for the days you attend. How do I register? Go to the RETREAT EVENT PAGE for more information and the link to register.

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Attend an Online Class

Heroes, Henchmen, and Sidekicks:
The Characters-First Approach to Plot
Presented by Angie Hodapp
2 Week Course
Start Date: Monday January 6
End Date: Sunday, January 19
$25 Members – $30 Non-Members
MORE INFO

Editing and Revision
for Fiction Writers
Presented by Cindi Myers
3 Week Course
Start Date: Monday February 3
End Date: Sunday, February 23
$35 Members – $40 Non-Members
MORE INFO

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Attend a Free Program in January

Denver
Short Story Breakdown:
Prepping for Anthology 2014 Crossing Colfax
Presented by Nikki Baird
Saturday, January 25
1:00 P.M. – 3:00 P.M.
Bel Mar Public Library
555 S. Allison Parkway
Lakewood, CO 80226
MEMBERS ONLY
MORE INFO

Western Slope
Writing the First Pages of Your Novel
Presented by Shannon Baker
Saturday, January 11
8:45 A.M. – 1:00 P.M.
Grand Junction Business Incubator
2591 Legacy Way
Grand Junction, CO
Please RSVP to Vicki Law at vruchhoeft@gmail.com
MORE INFO

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New events and other announcements are available on the Home Page of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers website.

RMFW Spotlight on Shannon Baker, Treasurer

The RMFW Spotlight feature will introduce a few of our RMFW officers and volunteers. We started out with the board of directors, sat them in the hot seat, shined the bright light on them, and channeling our best inner Oprah, plugged them with a few questions. This week, we’ve interrogated our Treasurer, Shannon Baker. I must say, Shannon didn’t squirm one bit. She sets a powerful example for volunteerism within our organization from a distance and while on the move.

Shannon Baker scuba1. Shannon, tell us what you do for RMFW and why you are involved.

Back before the dawn of time I lived in western Nebraska and I had thoughts of publishing novels. I certainly read plenty of them so writing one couldn’t be too difficult. And it wasn’t. I wrote two and thought the second was pretty darned good. I looked for the closest conference around so I could present it to an agent who would gratefully take it to New York. (Quit laughing.) It didn’t work out that way.

I discovered how little I knew about writing but thankfully, found a home with RMFW. The support and knowledge and camaraderie drew me. I hadn’t found anything like it in Nebraska. I was hooked. I volunteered to coordinate agent/editor appointments for conference and did that for nine years. Then I worked as registrar for three years. Finally, by that time I was living in Colorado, I joined the board and serve as treasurer.

In October, we moved to Nebraska. (again). It’s not that far to commute to Denver to participate in RMFW events and I intend to stay as involved as possible. I’m stone cold sober when I say this (I really haven’t been drinking or I’d be a lot more sentimental), I really love these guys and want to hang out with them as much as possible.

Baker_TaintedMountain2. What is your current WIP or most recent publication, and where can we buy a book, if available?

The first book in the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, Tainted Mountain, was released by Midnight Ink in March 2013. The second, Broken Trust, which is set in Boulder, is slated for a March 2014 release and I just sent Book 3 to my editor. It should be out in 2015.

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 just got back from a sailing adventure in the British Virgin Islands, which crosses that off my list. But I’d dearly love to go on a live-aboard diving trip someplace sunny and warm with incredible reefs. I’m thinking next year. Other than that, my wish is to not have to move again for a year or so and pound out a couple of books.

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

I am just not smart or clever enough. It takes me way too long to work out plot twists and come up with new and exciting scenes. I read amazing books that are surprising and perfect and I wish I didn’t struggle so much with plot. I could probably use some of those brain cells that evaporated in happy hour fumes.

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

I love writers. There have been times in my life when I would have given up writing. You know, when real life gets pretty rocky and you need to concentrate on trimming the sails and setting the tack. It would have been easy to let the writing go, because, you know, writing is hard work. But if I quit, I’d lose touch with the writers I love and I wouldn’t meet new writers. The people have tethered me to this crazy business.

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

First and above all else, write. Every day if you can, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. Everyone says it and it’s true. So I’m going to give you another piece: trust the process. In every book, with every writer (I’m sure there is an exception but they are so rare it is okay to generalize) there comes a point when it seems hopeless. The book is a mess, you can’t possibly salvage it, you might as well give up writing and take salsa lessons. Even the best, most successful writers experience this. So expect it, accept it, and keep writing. It will all work out.

Baker_office7. What does your desk look like? What item must be on your desk? Do you have any personal, fun items you keep on it?

I haven’t had a desk for years. We keep moving (I’ve said this, haven’t I?) and we end up in tiny houses. I write on a laptop and it gets hefted from here to there. I write on the couch, the kitchen table, the bed, outside, if the weather is nice.

I plot on an Excel spreadsheet and print it out, cut it into strips and pin it to a cork board and that’s usually stashed behind the couch and pulled out when I need it.

I rigged up a standing desk by plopping a boot box on a pub table and stand there a lot. I don’t have any special items. I usually just write hell-bent on accumulating my word count quota so I can quit for the day.

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

I’m reading the Longmire series and loving it. I’m also reading a bunch of new adult novels to get a feel for the genre. I’m itching to read fellow RMFW writer, Susan Spann’s new release Claws of the Cat, but I need to unpack a few more boxes before I indulge.

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Thank you so much for answering our questions. Shannon. I hope we didn’t keep you from your writing (and moving and unpacking) too long.

To learn more about Shannon and her novels, visit her website. She can also be found on Facebook.