7 Reasons to Teach at a Writers Conference

RMFWConference_Chalkboard_7reasonsWorkshop proposal submissions for the Colorado Gold Conference opened January 1st and we’ve already received quite a few excellent proposals.

You may be asking yourself if you're qualified to teach at a writers conference or if it’s worth your time and effort to develop a course. We’re here to tell you that everyone has something to offer. Below are just a few of the reasons why you should submit a proposal for this year’s conference.

It Inspires Others
Writers need endless inspiration. We probably want to quit more often than people in any other career including those who clean port-a-potties for a living. Experienced writers who publicly share their failures and successes captivate and inspire conference attendees. Be a part of an event that sends writers home with a renewed sense of creativity and drive to complete their works in progress.

Saturday Panel 8It’s Challenging
Taking time to develop a workshop is challenging and well worth the effort. Many of us writers are introverts and teaching is an opportunity to interact in a public setting. Students will test your knowledge, and you may even learn something from them. In the end, you’ll leave the conference closer to perfecting your own skills.

It Renews Your Ingenuity
Taking time away from fiction writing to develop a course for writers redirects your creativity. Your efforts will leave a lasting impression on students, and you’ll return to your own work with a refreshed frame of mind.

Saturday Workshop 2It Shares Your Knowledge
Think about how much you’ve learned at the writers conferences you’ve attended. It’s time to give back and share your knowledge with fellow writers. Mold the minds of future fiction authors and set them on the right path. Help fellow writers perfect their skills and bring their stories closer to publication.

It’s Self-Rewarding
With all the rejection writers face on a regular basis, we need to frequently rejuvenate our spirits. One way to do this is through the rewards that come along with teaching and inspiring others. You will gain a sense of accomplishment by coaching fellow writers on their journey to publication. Students will inspire you, and you’ll leave the conference with a positive outlook about your own work as well.

It’s a Responsibility
If you’ve been writing for years, whether you are published or not, you are a leader and shouldn’t be afraid to see yourself as such. New writers look up to your knowledge and experience. They want to know how you succeeded. Share your skills and wisdom with confidence.

Mario Acevedo and someone else leading a workshopIt Earns Compensation
One of the best reasons to teach at the Colorado Gold Conference is to save a little cash. Presenters receive compensation that’s good toward discounts off the base conference registration fee. Panelists receive a $50 discount on the conference registration fee per discussion panel they sit on. Co-presenters of workshops receive half off the normal registration fee per workshop. Solo workshop presenters may attend the conference at no base charge.

Note that the maximum compensation for any presenter is one base conference registration fee. Paid add ons are not included in the base conference registration fee and are not part of the compensation. RMFW does not provide travel or other expenses. More information about compensation is found in the conference proposal form and Conference Proposal Worksheet.

Teaching or speaking at a conference can benefit you as well as the writing community. One of the best things about attending a writers conference is the opportunity to gather and grow with your tribe. Being able to share your knowledge and guide others down a path that’s familiar to you is a great way to be a part of that. You get to connect with other writers, give back, and get your name out there as an expert. If you have knowledge to share, consider teaching a workshop at RMFW’s Colorado Gold. We look forward to seeing your proposals!

Check out the Conference page or go directly to the conference proposal form for additional details.

Is Writing Getting in the Way of My Life?

So I have a spiritual adviser. I know that can be off-putting, but If it helps, you can picture me talking to Yoda. I mean, after all, Yoda was a spiritual guide for Luke and various other people who never listened to the green-skinned guru. Oh, well, we are a headstrong bunch.

My little green spiritual adviser asked if writing was getting in the way of my spiritual development. He’s unimpressed by me, which is good, because I am so damn impressive.

Is writing getting in the way of my spirituality?

Well, it makes me miserable, and since I’m a third Catholic, it counts as being beneficial. As my friend Jason Evans says, “All suffering is redemptive.”

To be clear, I’m not someone trying to get into heaven. I’m a guy whose natural inclination is to find a nice corner of hell and set up shop. I choose my suffering, and my spirituality is about me trying to suffer less.

Does writing help me suffer less?

Ouch. No. But let me continue…

You might have heard of a small film that came out in December of 2015. It’s called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I know, weird title, right? I think it might have something to do with Yoda, but I’m not sure.

I can’t tell you how much fuller my life is because of this one movie, which I’ve not seen at the writing of this blog post. It it fills me with a dreamy kind of hope, an excitement, a wonder.

I had to accept, early on, that writing stories is a selfless act and the world is better for the stories people tell. Even when the stories are sequels spun out of a story machine who’s only aim is to make as much money as possible. Even those stories matter.

When I write and publish books, I am adding stories to the world and I don’t know what will happen. And I can’t just write books and keep them hidden. I spent twenty years doing that, and those days are over. Lucky you, my practice books won’t see the light of day. But the practice is over, and it’s show time.

Writing doesn’t help me to suffer less. That’s not the point. The writing makes me strive harder, work more, and to really push myself to the very limits of my endurance, which makes me seek a power greater than myself.

The world is better for the stories we tell. And if I have stories to tell, I have a sacred duty to tell them.

I’ve had to pray and meditate more than ever because of the writing game.

I’ve had to reach out for help because of the writing game.

I’ve had to swim through frigid oceans of screeching fear because of the writing game.

Writing has made me a better human being, but that doesn’t mean it’s made me happy. Happiness is such an American ideal. Part of me is old school, yo, as in, I’m here to do my duty. Happiness may or may not come, but honor, courage, discipline, those are what I should focus on.

So I told my Yoda all that, and he was unimpressed, as he should be, because he knows I’m clinging to the writing business.

The real danger is that I have spent a lifetime, thirty years, in pursuit of this dream. Could I let go it now? If the divine muffin came down and told me to put the pen down, could I?

Our Buddhist friends would say attachment leads to suffering. And I’m not just attached to writing, I’ve superglued it to my soul. My query letters have been etched on my bones.

So, no, I can’t let go of it. It’s too late for me to stop, even if I wanted to. Even if I could.

But this is my calling, my vocation. I’m committed, for better or worse, even when it makes me suffer and I hate it so. Even when the dreams of fame and fortune flutter away and I’m left with an Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,426,891 Paid in Kindle Store and even worse, an Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,552,680 in Books. And no, I don’t want to see the Top 100 in books, thank you very much.

So, I’ll keep writing books. I’ll continue to suffer, since I like it for some odd reason, and I’ll continue to fight fear.

Because I am Jedi, like my father before me. And the work of writing stories matters more than my own happiness.

May The Force be with you. Always.

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!

How Writers are Like Turkeys: A Thanks for Nothing Post

Toon Thanksgiving Turkey. Isolated on a white background.

What? Are you seriously comparing me to a turkey?

Why, yes. Yes I am. But don’t take it personally. I’m comparing all writers to the Thanksgiving bird (or Thursday bird as people outside the US call it).

You suck.

Valid point. But I wasn’t commenting on your smell as in you stink like a turkey (which honestly isn’t that bad). I was referring to a turkey’s ability to see at least a 1000 feet in front of it. Now, I don’t literally (used correctly in this case so no emails) mean a writer has the power of supersight, but rather a writer has the ability to ‘see’ where their character will go and eventually end up. Some of us choose not to use this power, rather we pants it to the finish line, but the ability is still there.

What else you got?

Male turkeys are call gobblers as they announce themselves to the females using a similar sound.

I didn’t come to the RMFW blog for this crap. I’m leaving…

No wait! I have a point (not a great one, but still a point). Writers often announce themselves, not with a gobble, but with a million questions about everything or telling everyone around about their book, and/or my personal favorite, straining to eavesdropping on the couple out on their first Tinder date. Not that I’m admitting to anything, but I’ve fallen off my chair trying to listen to a conversations a few tables away.

You are such a weirdo.

Thank you, but I can’t take all the credit. The voices in my head help a lot. Now back to the turkey. According to the Smithsonian, “Studies have shown that snood (that hanging red thing on their throats) length is associated with male turkey health.” You are probably asking yourself, what this has to do with me as a writer?

Duh.

The length of your manuscript is directly related to your health. No, really. I’ve heard from a few writers about physical or mental health and its effects on their ability to write. Menopause is a bitch, apparently. For the men, I’m sure Manopause sucks too.

That was a reach.

Give me a break. Do you know how hard it is to relate writing to turkey droppings?

Speaking of turkey droppings, apparently you can tell the gender of a turkey by what it drops. Males produce spiral-shaped poop and females’ poop is shaped like the letter J. Now I could say something about writers using the letter J, thereby relating the two. But that is a reach, so I’m going to talk about how you cannot tell a writer’s gender by their book. Often people make assumptions based on the narrator as to the gender of the writer. They shouldn’t. We are writers. Good at faking stuff.

Yawn. Are you done yet?

Yes. Except for one final fact, that you as a writer will obviously understand my point:

Benjamin Franklin praised the turkey as being “a much more respectable bird” than the bald eagle.

We ARE turkeys. Each and every one of us. Better than those bald eagles. Now go strut your stuff as turkeys can only fly about 25 feet in the air.

Do you have Turkey Day plans? Does it include eating this respectable bird? Kind of cannibalistic, don’t you think?

Fate and the Crooked Pathway

I recently had a dream about the boss who fired me. I remember being pleased to see him (in real life he’s been dead for nearly ten years) and wanting to thank him for firing me. Because it ended up being the best thing that could have happened to me. If he hadn’t fired me and I hadn’t struggled to find a job and ended up staying home with my toddler children, I might not have started writing. Bored and frustrated, I channeled my angst into poetry and then a novel. Although I only wrote a few chapters of the novel, a family saga, before I realized I was way over my head.

If I hadn’t been fired and finally been forced to take a job working at a bank where I sat all day, the discs in my lower back might not have given out, resulting in back surgery. Because when I signed the paperwork for the surgery and got to the part where it said I could potentially die, I realized I couldn’t die. Not only because I had two small children, but because I hadn’t written a book yet.

If I hadn’t been fired and been forced take the bank job I hated, I might never have considered applying for a position at the local public library. It wasn’t a career job, and it didn’t pay very well. But because of what I’d gone through, I applied for the job and got it. And it was working at the library where I discovered the genre of historical romance and realized this was a kind of book that I could write.

Being fired, which was devastating at the time, set all the steps in motion for me to become a writer, and also for me to get published. Because it was the support and encouragement of my co-workers at the library that made it possible for me to see myself as a writer and to take the necessary steps, like joining RMFW, which gave me the connections to sell that first book.

Since then, my career has been very up and down, with a lot of downs. But on my journey, when things have been very grim, I’ve reminded myself, that a lot of the time, bad things happen for a reason. When doors slam shut in your face, it means you’re supposed to backtrack and go a different direction. And even then you may still find you’re not going the right way. You may have to alter your path several times before you find the right one. The one that will lead you to where you need to go. Although where you need to go might not be the place you expected.

My philosophical outlook may have no meaning beyond being my personal coping mechanism. A way for me to see my checkered career path in a positive light. But even if that’s all it offers, it still has value. By allowing me to remain positive, it’s given me the strength to fight through the tough times and keep writing. And since writing is a big part of my personal happiness, that’s definitely a good thing.

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!

Is It Enough To Simply Tell An Entertaining Story? … by Glenn Rogers, Ph.D.

Glenn RogersIs it enough for a writer to simply tell a good story? No. In the process of telling an entertaining story, a good writer, even if only implicitly, deals with important ethical, social, relational, or personal concerns. A good writer helps readers think about important things while they are being entertained.

There is a long and proud tradition in the Arts and Literature, going all the way back to ancient Greece, that utilizes stories as a way not only to entertain, but to teach and to provoke consideration of and reflection on important issues and concerns. Being born in 1951, one of the cartoons I grew up with was Rocky and Bullwinkle. One of the regular segments of Rocky and Bullwinkle was Aesop’s Fables, a collection of morality tales designed to teach important concepts. Aesop was a Greek storyteller who probably lived between 620 and 560 BCE. His stories were meant to teach lessons about good character and proper behavior. They were designed to make people think. Why did the creators of Rocky and Bullwinkle use these ancient stories in a cartoon program meant to entertain children? Could it have been that they believed that it was the responsibility of those who have the attention of people, even children (or maybe especially children), to say something meaningful, to provoke thoughtful consideration?

But even before Aesop and the ancient Greeks, tribal peoples utilized stories not only as a way to entertain but to teach. Anthropologists who work with tribal peoples know that this is still the case even today. Through storytelling, tribal peoples taught their children about their origin as a people, their religion, their culture, and wise and moral behavior. Storytelling has always been a way of teaching and provoking insightful reflection.

Good storytelling—in our Western tradition, good writing—has always involved more than just entertainment. A good story has to be entertaining. But it must also provoke insightful reflection. Consider Shakespeare’s work. He writes about moral corruption, social interaction, politics, love, and desire. He provides contrasts between virtue and appetite, sobriety and revelry, being trustworthy and untrustworthy. And in what may have been Shakespeare’s last work, The Tempest, at least one scholar believes him to have provided a theodicy, that is, a justification of God’s benevolence in a world filled with evil and suffering. Shakespeare did not simply write to entertain.

Later in the 1960s, Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek. One of the reasons the TV and movie franchise has remained viable may be due to the fact that Roddenberry’s approach to exciting and entertaining storytelling, an approach that has remained foundational to the franchise’s success, was the use of morality plays. Episode after episode of Star Trek, especially the original TV series, deals with important human issues or concerns.

Those who are considered great writers today have adopted that same approach. Consider a few examples:

Jane Austin, in Pride and Prejudice, deals with the status of women and the institution of marriage in eighteenth century England.

John Steinbeck, in Grapes of Wrath, addressed the economic challenges faced by the rural class during the depression.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, wrote about conspicuous consumption, the generation of wealth by questionable means, and a deplorable general lack of interest in the social concerns of his day.

Ernest Hemingway, in For Whom The Bell Tolls, wrote about the brutality of war.

Upton Sinclair, in The Jungle, wrote about the dangers and health risks of the food industry of his day.

Harper Lee, in To Kill A Mockingbird, wrote about the coexistence of good and evil and the moral nature of human beings.

George Orwell, in 1984, wrote about the dangers of totalitarianism.

Rogers_THE IMMORTAL AlabasterWhat made those writers great? Was it that they got the grammar right? Probably not—though getting the grammar right is important. Was it that they knew how to construct an intriguing story? That was probably part of it. But each of those authors has a distinct writing style and their books have a different feel. So what made those books great books produced by great writers? While there was likely not one single thing that made their work great, I suspect one of the things was that they wrote not just to entertain, but to provoke thoughtful reflection. The fiction of these well-known writers (all of it, not just the stories mentioned above) helped readers think about important issues. They (and other authors like them) didn’t just write. They wrote about something, about something important.

Could it be that too many writers today have lost sight of this important component of good writing? Is it enough to simply write an entertaining story? No, it is not. The good writer finds a way to touch on some important human issue or concern. The good writer not only entertains, but also provokes thoughtful reflection.

The important human issues or concerns don’t always need to be huge issues such as the status of women, the brutality of war, social equality, or health issues. Things that might be considered lesser concerns by some can still be important. Issues such as personal integrity, self-control, loyalty, friendship, kindness, discretion, moderation, courage, trustworthiness, and the like are important concerns for human life and interaction. Think about what J.K. Rowling did in her wildly popular and influential Harry Potter books. While she entertained us with a wonderful world of magic, she wrote about the struggle between good and evil. She wrote about courage, friendship, loyalty, determination and sacrifice. And while some critics might say that Rowling is not a great writer, maybe it is possible for a good writer to write a great book … or two or seven.

Writing that focuses attention on important aspects of human existence, even if only implicitly, is, I believe, better writing than that which simply entertains without provoking any kind of thoughtful consideration.

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

Dr. Glenn Rogers is Professor of Philosophy and Social Sciences at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa. He is the author of twenty-six academic books on cultural studies, theology, and philosophy. Dr. Rogers is also a novelist, writing mysteries and thrillers. His fiction includes a frontier thriller trilogy: The Colemans The Reckoning, The Colemans The Journal, and The Colemans The Knife. He has a mystery series featuring a private investigator named Jake Badger: Family Secrets, Love and Lies, and Abducted; and another mystery series featuring an immortal detective named Aaron Archer: The Immortal Alabaster, The Immortal Betrayal, and The Immortal Carnage.

Glenn is a movie buff and a dog lover. His favorite author is Robert Parker. He especially enjoys Parker’s Spenser series.

Glenn’s fiction can be found on his website: booksbyglennrogers.net

Fear, Failure, and Respect by Terry Banker

“There are three types of hooks used to open a book: fear, lust, and curiosity.” This is what Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard out of Carolina, told me after we slammed our shot glasses onto the bar*. She added, “…and curiosity is never enough.” Ever since then, Dorothy’s words haunt me.

I have a confession. Like a good hook, my writing days are filled with fear.

As a novelist, the one thing I fear the most is not a book’s hook. I fear I will run out of time, money, energy, that I will lose my health, faith, or my luck, etc.—all before I can complete the book I’m working on. I worry that as my life changes, so will my writing, and that what I believed important in the beginning will be different by the time I finish.

To summarize: on the bad days, fear of failure leaves me paralyzed.

I have good reason. Out of every writer I’ve ever met, I am the slowest, the least intelligent, the pickiest, the weirdest, the worst speller, the most eccentric, the most regimented, and the least patient writer I’ve ever encountered. Sometimes, I forget what I’ve written, or worse, I’ve forgotten what I’ve edited out. Sometimes I call characters by the wrong names. Sometimes in the middle of a book, the object of importance magically transforms into something else—and I have to go back to the beginning to rework the entrance. After months of work, only Ariadne’s Thread can help me find my way to The End.

How could this be? I used to be smart—well, smart enough. When I was a “new” writer and had yet to write millions of words, writing came effortlessly.  I wasn’t bothered by making situations worse or by what technique to use to tell a story. Point of view and perspective came naturally. I didn’t worry about First versus Third (and never 2nd)—but since then, writing has become more complicated. Now, I think long and hard about using Henry James’ effaced narrative in the simplest of paragraphs.

Something happened to me.

After 10,000+ hours of writing, I became hyper-aware of the many different story elements to select from, and my day-to-day production began to slow. Had I lost my way? More importantly, was I the only writer on the planet who felt like this? The subject seemed taboo. Was it just me or did famous writers fear failure, too? I asked a few.

Dani Shapiro writes memoirs and fiction that Anne Lamott calls “rich in honesty and intelligence.” Dani told me fear of failure never leaves her side. She compares writing to leaping into a pool without water. Every day she stands on the diving board.

It gets worse.

Akhil Sharma wrote over 7000 pages that he edited into his 220-page, bestseller, A Family Life. He explained writing 7000 pages was the equivalent of writing 32 books. The New York Times named A Family Life one of the 10 Best Books of 2014. Akhil told me he feared death (or the haunted house in his head) would take him before he could finish his 12 ½ years of edits. His book was so big, he told me he regularly got lost in his personal history. Even after the book’s immense success, he remains afraid to approach a blank page. The lesson he shared? “Learn to abandon things quickly.”

Andre Dubus III told me to “Always respect fear.” Without facing his fear, he added, he would never have become an author. Andre’s father is the great poet and short story writer, Andre Dubus. Andre III almost couldn’t write a word out of fear of his father’s constant presence. Yet, he was a National Book Award finalist and Oprah beneficiary for his 1999 novel, House of Sand and Fog. Andre is tough. For every hour he works, he hopes for 20 good minutes of writing. Over beers he confessed: more often, he gets less.

And then there’s Richard Russo, who told me he was once lost in fear—despite his 2002 Pulitzer for Empire Falls. When he worked on his first book, Mohawk, he suffered from a “crushing sense of self-doubt and loathing” and was ready to “make a pact with the devil” to pull him through. (He too admitted to forgetting his characters’ names.) What he learned? “I, the author, don’t matter. Only the characters matter.” This fuels his writing to this day.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only writer afraid of failure. Oddly, this didn’t make me feel better. I polled my writer friends for suggestions. This is what we came up with:

  1. BIC – Butt in Chair. Without BIC, nothing gets done. You must be present to win.
  2. Guard your time. It’s all you have. You have the same amount of time as anyone else, from Aristotle to Russo to Zora Neale Hurston. (Get. Off. The. Internet.)
  3. Failure is imminent. Budget your emotional energy.
  4. Not getting what you want is often better than getting it.
  5. Failure at one (paragraph/page/book) is not failure of You—as a writer or a person. Experiment with your eyes, ears, and heart open.
  6. Know your strengths and make them stronger.
  7. Know your weaknesses and learn from them.
  8. Be a kind and generous person.
  9. Find a mentor. Be a mentor.

Most importantly,

  1. Be your own voice.

Easy to say and hard to do, right?

One final confession: sometimes I fake it.

To get by, I look at the many successful people around me—in the writing community and in my life—and I emulate their confidence. I pretend that every day in my office is a good day, and that every word I write takes a reader to a magical place. And when I fail, I pout—then I return to work and move on.

Writing is a solitary sport. This world doesn’t need another damn book, yet we continue to write more. Writing is who we are—and we are an obstinate bunch. Success comes when least expected. Remember J.K. Rowling’s final effort to publish a book about a young wizard? Recall a young Stephen King, whose wife pulled his first book, Carrie, from the trash to launch him into living-legend status?

“Don’t fake it until you make it; fake it until you become it.” (Attributed to many people.)

To summarize: on the good days, anything is possible.

No one ever said life is fair. Now get back to work.

Respect the Fear.

BIC,

Terry

 

Terry Banker

Novelist, Ghostwriter, Creative Consultant

*Regarding Dorothy Allison: Okay, we were drinking coffee and didn’t slam our mugs, but what’s the drama in that?

Do YOU Know How to Find Your Agent Match?

Finding an agent isn't just about finding "someone" to represent your work. The author-agent relationship works best when author and his or her agent match well on a personal and professional level. 

Some people prefer to work via email; others like to talk by phone. Some authors want to know about every submission and every editor's comments, while others would rather hear only positive news. 

Although, to a certain extent, authors must "wait" for an agent to offer representation, we can increase the odds of getting that offer by making smart--and informed decisions--about which agents to query in the first place.  

Agents often advise authors to "do your homework before you query" but many authors struggle with understanding that assignment. 

Three weeks from now, at Colorado Gold, I'll be presenting a joint workshop with my fantastic agent, Sandra Bond, on exactly what it means to "do your homework" and how to pick--and work with--the agent that's right for you.

In the meantime (or for those who might not make the conference) here are some tips to start you in the right direction.

 

1. Query only agents who represent works in the genre where your manuscript belongs--and your subsection (if any) within that genre. 

Note: this requires knowing what genre you're writing. 

Every book needs to be shelved (or "shelve-able") in a bookstore. Figure out where your book would be shelved BEFORE you query. Even if you're writing a speculative-historical-mystery-YA/MG-romance...one (2 at most) of those are primary. Know your genre.

Narrow your query list from "all agents in the known universe" to "agents who want to represent MY genre." No matter how well you write, you won't convert a romance specialist into a mystery lover--or vice versa. Do not try. The easiest way to rejection is querying agents who don't represent the type of book you're offering.

2. Check the agent's bio, website, or wish list (if any), and see whether the agent likes the type of book you've written. 

Finding the right agent requires more than just a genre match. Huge diversity exists within genres. You need to find an agent who likes the type of book you've written (e.g., cozy mystery) rather than something on the other end of the genre spectrum. 

Many agents also use the "Manuscript Wish List" (#MSWL) hashtag on Twitter to let people know what they're looking for. Check this too. 

3. If you can't tell what the agent is actively looking for at the moment, look at the his or her client list and see if your work fits into the "group." 

An agent whose client list consists primarily of cozy mysteries and middle grade novels might not be the best candidate for your gritty, erotic police procedural. It's tempting to just send queries out to every agent in your genre, but don't. It wastes a lot of time and effort on both sides.

Determining whether your work fits into an agent's client or wish list requires honest self-reflection about yourself & your work. The question is not "do I want Agent A to love me?" but "do I genuinely believe Agent A will love this book I wrote?" These are not the same thing.

4. Google the agents you want to query; read their articles and interviews.

Before I pitched Sandra, I read an interview in which she mentioned liking character-driven mystery. That's what I write, so the interview helped me decide to pitch her (at the 2012 Colorado Gold Conference).

Researching agents individually does take more time than simply carpet bombing the Writers' Digest listings, but it also gives great insight into whether an agent would be a good fit for you as well as your work. The query process isn't just about sending a thousand missiles into the night and hoping one of them hits a target. "Aim" comes before "fire" (or "send") in queries as well as warfare. 

Want to know more? I hope you'll join Sandra and me for the "Finding the Perfect Agent" workshop at Colorado Gold!

Susan SpannSusan Spann is a California publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and a finalist for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel. BLADE OF THE SAMURAI (Shinobi Mystery #2), released in 2014, and the third installment, FLASK OF THE DRUNKEN MASTER, released on July 14, 2015. Susan is honored to be the 2015 RMFW Writer of the Year, and when not writing or practicing law, she  raises seahorses and rare corals in her marine aquarium.You can find her at her website (http://www.SusanSpann.com), on Facebook and on Twitter (@SusanSpann), where she founded and curates the #PubLaw hashtag.

ONE OF THESE THINGS JUST DOESN’T BELONG HERE…

My ruminations today are on the delicate balance between presenting our readers with something they want to read vs. challenging them to read something that is uncomfortable and even Clasicsunpleasant but that might stick with them a little longer. It starts with the photo I've included with this post. While browsing blogs and online news articles about books and literature I came across the ad you see at right, and it struck me as blasphemy that Fifty Shades of Grey should be listed among such classics as Catcher in The Rye, of all things. It is outrageous that a book that, by all accounts, is barely more than poorly written Internet porn should find itself on a shelf, albeit an imaginary online shelf, with To Kill a Mockingbird.

Now, being an expert on web design and development I know ads such as these are rarely put together by humans any more. These days there are algorithms smart enough to detect the topic of the article or blog being read and assemble ads automatically that are aimed to draw the attention of a reader with similar interests. It is more likely that this ad was put together by what is called an ad-bot (short for advertisement robot) based on the content of the article I was already reading than by a human being. He doesn't know any better, all he knows is the criteria around which his algorithm was written. Which made me wonder what that criteria might be, that would list a universally panned piece of populist tripe amongst such literary gems. Artificial intelligence is still decades away from being able to program value judgments into computers, so it had to be some mathematically quantifiable metrics on which the ad-bot made the choice to include those particular books in this particular ad.

This got me asking what these books had in common. Emotionally I wanted to reject the notion the Shades could have anything in common with the other three. But I looked at them objectively. Since the article I was reading made reference to Atlas Shrugged, it made sense that it was this book which seeded the initial algorithm, which them searched for other books in common with Shrugged. For one thing, all four books are listed on most retail book sites as General Fiction. I would've though Shades would be Romance, but I looked and before Erotica it is listed on most sites as General. Next, each of these books had a profound impact on our culture when released. Again, a bot cannot make a value distinction as to whether that impact was good or bad, only that there was indeed a measurable sea change as a result of the release of each of these novels. For better or worse, each book was destined to go down in history as a classic, if by no other definition than that it impacted society in some significant way.

This got me to thinking about the books I've read that I enjoyed, and those I did not. Oddly enough, I found that there was a much greater number than I wanted to admit that I found uncomfortable or unpleasant to read but that stuck with me, that I could not shake. These were not necessarily badly written books, in fact most were quite well written, but books that forced me to confront things I usually avoid, or made me see things in ways that made me uncomfortable, or even changed my outlook on life against my will. Books like, for example, The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis, a very dark look at attraction and rejection that includes the most detailed POV description of a suicide I ever read; or A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess in which a young man's love of Beethoven is stripped away from him as a casualty of an experimental behavioral modification procedure (read torture); or Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs which I'm still not entirely sure I understood but that contained some of the most disturbing images I've ever read.

What surprises me is, arguably, these books that I profess to dislike have impacted my life to a greater degree than any book I read that I liked. I say arguably because there are some neck and neck.

And that brought me to an assessment of my own writing. Even as a small boy I aspired to write books that people don't just enjoy, but that they cherish and want to keep in their libraries to read again and again. I still go back and read Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, The Hobbit, and Dune. And you can have my original hardcover copies of the Harry Potter series when you pry them from my cold dead fingers!

But I ask myself, is it better, for my own immortality, to have written a series of dearly beloved books, or to have instead left a legacy of disturbing, uncomfortable, haunt-you-in-your-sleep books that nevertheless impact people in a significant and long enduring way? I waffle on this occasionally. I still have no answer, except that in the end I write whatever I write the best way that I know how, leaving it all on the court, so to speak, and let others decide where my legacy falls. If you, dear reader, have an opinion on the matter, I'd love to read it in comments, below.


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.

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