Friday, March 27, 2015

In Praise of The Anonymous Woman

By Sarah Reichert

“For much of history, Anonymous was a woman.”--Virginia Woolf

March is Women’s History month and so I’m dedicating this post to the unsung authoress. 

Somehow the tide changed from humans worshiping the fertile and womanly Goddess of prehistoric times to trying to pigeonhole her into skinny jeans. I believe that moment stole the undeniable right of women as equally valuable members of the species and plunged us into an era where women were forced to hide behind masculine names to be taken seriously as writers, scientists, and philosophers. How many great stories and ideas did we lose as a society because women were kept behind their parasols?  I shudder to think. 

Being an artist of any kind is hard.  Writer’s work, should they choose to present it to the world, is always under scrutiny and critique.  But when your work could be thrown out of consideration just because you were born plus or minus a few body parts, it makes the fight even harder.

Both genders contribute to humanity through their thoughts, actions, and ideas.  But for too long, women’s contributions were, and sometimes still are, set aside or ignored completely.  Where would we be without the feminine voice in literature?  Where would we be without Mary Anne Evans, or Alice Bradley Sheldon?

I honor all of the wonderful, intelligent, creative and strong women who came before me. Those who pushed at the gates of the literary and scientific worlds, yelled at the height of their voices, and demanded to be treated as human beings, with thoughts that mattered and lives that counted.

Today, LeAnn Thieman will be speaking at the Northern Colorado Writer’s Conference.  She is a strong writer, an accomplished humanitarian, a vibrant speaker, and a woman.  I look forward to meeting her and learning how she's fought to bring her own ideas and passions into the world.  

Women thrive, like weeds in the cracks of hot sidewalks.  We are life.  We will always find a way to push through and make our voices heard.

Who are some of your favorite female writers?  Mine include Edith Wharton, Jean M. Auel, Robin McKinley, Charlotte Bronte, Connie Willis, Anne McCaffery, Anita Diamant, Jane Austen, Madeleine D’Engle, L.M. Montgomery, Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Maya Angelou, J.K. Rowling, and many, many others….

For more information on the conference happening today and Leann Thieman, please check out the links below.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Following

By April Moore
When did being followed become a good thing? Sometimes I feel like a cult leader when I'm asked about how many followers I have. There is a great deal of emphasis put on how many Twitter followers one should have, that it has almost become a source of shame, as if you've been asked what number pops up on your bathroom scale each morning. At least I don't have to reveal that number, but my Twitter number can be seen from around the world. (It's as if forgetting to remove the size sticker on the back leg of your new jeans before wearing them).

Well, I'm not ashamed of my modest 1450 followers. There you have it. But I get it. When you have something to sell, whether it  be a book or face cream, how wide you cast your net is important. Going door-to-door won't cut it anymore. But does social media really work? Most of my followers and those I follow, are fellow writers who are doing the same thing: hoping to cast their line out and snag a reader. However, are they really my audience? I'm not so sure. Anyway, I'm still hung up on this follower business. Our self-worth seems to be getting wrapped up in how many followers we have on Twitter and Facebook, as if we're not any good as writers if our followers don't rival that of a Taylor Swift concert.

It's a number; don't let it define you.

With that said, I'm not anti-Twitter and here's why:

I find fascinating articles about all kinds of things (that I may subsequently tweet, retweet, and tag as a "favorite.")

I can trash talk during the NHL playoff using #NHLPlayoffs and #StanleyCup (talking about hockey is optional).

I can create lists of Tweeps based on my interests, such as, music, art, criminology, science and celebrities (no, I'm not a Belieber). I'm talking about celebs who have interesting things to say. (Russell Brand, Nathan Fillion, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and yes, Monica Lewinski).

And where else can you read what the Dalai Lama is up to---in 140 characters or less?

Otherwise, to me, Twitter is one big popularity contest, and sure, the popular kids get all the glory, but I'm content hanging back and doing my thing. Isn't that what everyone's all tweeting about anyway---what they're working on? I'll gladly focus on what I love to do, rather than what number is on the scale Twitter home screen.

How do you feel about the emphasis placed on the number of social media followers? (Yes, I know most agents/editors insist upon a large social media following, but what do YOU think?)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Click Here for Awesomeness

Post by Jenny

Back in the day, when I went to the grocery store with my mother, I was fascinated by the headlines splashed across the National Enquirer tabloids at the checkout stand. To my disappointment, she rarely picked up the magazines. Even though the stories always seemed to include Elvis or aliens or both, my enquiring mind definitely wanted to know. That was before CNN, MSNBC, and all the other outlets that relentlessly feed the news cycle beast. Our only TV news came on in the evening and was as dry as Walter Cronkite’s mustache. No mention whatsoever of Elvis’s alien baby. Hence my fascination.

The internet has changed so many things, but not our innate curiosity. Marketers are so confident that a provocative description will catch our interest that there’s a name for it: clickbait. Oxford Dictionaries Online defines clickbait as “content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.” To me, clickbait is simply another version of those tabloid headlines.

I have taken the bait many times, and I’m always a little embarrassed, as if I’m leafing through the tabloid mag while a checkout clerk judges me by my inability to resist temptation. But I also think we writers can learn from such succinct and irresistible hooks.

Here are a few actual clickbait examples I’ve collected over the past few days:

Director of counterterrorism charged with disturbing bombshell allegations
Kate Middleton’s past comes back to haunt her
McDonald’s makes a stunning announcement
Shocking study on toddlers and coffee
6 tips for a fabulously free vacation
Dangerous arsenic levels found in US wines
10 Outrageous travel fees to avoid
Zoo discovers shameful mistake

Disregard the subject matter and look at the word choices. Disturbing. Haunt. Stunning. Shocking. Fabulously (and free). Dangerous. Outrageous. Shameful. And let’s not forget the many hooks baited with all things gruesome, grisly, and heartwrenching. Sure, they’re often hyperbole, but you can’t deny that they grab our attention.

Writers are increasingly called upon to be good at self-promotion. Maybe you already are, and I applaud you for it. But ask me for my elevator pitch, and fifteen minutes later, you will probably be experiencing your version of the SNL skit The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party.

So I’m working on trying to make my queries and pitches more concise and attention-grabbing. Whether they will top “Baywatch stars: where are they now?” remains to be seen.

What are your tips for a catchy query/pitch?


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Desert

by Kelly

“The desert, when the sun comes up ... I couldn't tell where heaven stopped and the Earth began.”
-Tom Hanks 

For the last several years whenever my family has more than a few days of consecutive vacation time we tend to flee to the deserts of Utah, soaking in the magic of places like Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and my all time favorite: Moab.

The beauty of these arid spaces boggles my mind. I love the vast stretches of openness, unmarred by massed humanity, strip malls and suburbs. I admire the extreme essence of the desert, its ferocious, unapologetic existence, one that a visitor can never take lightly because here nature is not forgiving. Lastly, I'm in awe of the transient loveliness found in clump of spring wildflowers, trickling stream, or sand arch, all of which may be gone by tomorrow.

For most people the word desert has a negative connotation. It conjures up images of stifling heat, cow carcasses, buzzards and dehydration. In folklore and fiction deserts often symbolizes death, yet all of us go through desert times in our lives and in our writing. These are the seasons where nothing comes easy, every day is a struggle, and plodding on or giving up might seem to be the only options.

I began writing fiction about four years ago and the novels that appeared on my pages were sweet, homey stories about family, love and community. After spending nearly seven years away from Fort Collins, these things were very dear to me. The fiction I wrote reflected how much I treasured being home again surrounded by the things I had missed; writing about them was nearly effortless. Then big changes came: another move; lonely times, hard times. Sweet stories didn't flow anymore, no matter how hard I tried. I sat at my computer for hours forcing out the words, but everything was stilted and terrible. I was smack in the middle of a writing desert.

It took awhile, but finally I decided to sit still in this wasteland and stop longing for something that wasn't there. Instead, I would glean whatever lessons I could from this dry time, one of which was to be more honest with myself and others. I didn't feel like writing the fiction of the years before. The stories that came into my mind were scary and more intense. During NaNoWriMo, I let myself go and out poured a paranormal Western, full of death, dark creatures and epic battles for existence. And I kinda like it.

Who knows if this change will last and the paranormal Western will amount to anything? Dry seasons always come to an end, and I would be perfectly happy to return to my gentler stories, although they may have more of a bite than they used to. Whatever happens, I've found the secret to living and writing in desert times is to accept the landscape of my reality for what it is, not what I wish it was or what it's been in the past. There's a stark and enigmatic beauty to be found in these places, one that can be easily overlooked. However, if I can embrace this beauty, who knows what lessons I can learn and what stories can flow from my imagination?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sign The Bloody Posts?! Seriously?

by J.C. Lynne

In the grander scheme of building our audience reach, the Beard’s been researching other writers. Not a bad thing, except it fills his head with ideas. Ideas are great things.'

Writers adore ideas. We covet them, court them, and nurture them. It’s the ideas others have for us that can drive us a bit mad. Okay, a little madder.

I poke fun at the Beard. He’s fun to poke, but he’s devoted to my writing career. His devotion takes a different form than mine. Being an engineer, the lens of his perspective is vastly different. People who know us separately succumb to shock when they find out we’re a couple. Good Writing Team.

It’s not remarkable, we share many of the same aesthetics. We’re SciFi, comic book, sarcasm geeks. While I’m equally an extrovert, we are both high functioning introverts. Granted, I have a better eye for style.

The beauty of our symmetry is the balance of our asymmetry. Our differences complement each other. He’s detail oriented and a planner. I like plans and tend not to sweat the small stuff.

This entire book process has been a steep learning curve and we discover something new almost every day.

The Beard didn’t spend the two weeks at the holidays off solely irritating me. He used his genius, techy brain to analyze other authors and their platform models. Not ‘scoping out’ the competition he says, but seeing what’s working for folks and what’s not.

He uses his analysis to tweak our Twitter feed, to streamline our website, and to evaluate where we generate our best traffic.

And the Beard hit me with this little gem.

“Ever think about signing your posts?” He asks.

“What?” I ask trying to keep my forehead smooth. Frowning causes wrinkles and right now, I can't afford Botox.

His voice slows as he realizes he’s hit a nerve. “I’ve noticed several bloggers sign their posts.”

“I wrap up my posts with a tidy few sentences uniting the theme and clearly indicating the end. Besides, the end should indicate the end.”
I snipe thinking about opening a bottle of wine even though it's early in the day.

Note, it’s not my intention to insult any of you who sign your posts. It’s just not me.

“It was just a suggestion.” The Beard is good at backing away quickly.

Unfortunately, he’s also crazy talented at working me up into a rant.

I went for a few more minutes.

"I don’t think my posts needed a signature."

"My bloody name is on the website init?"

"How would I even do it? Signing off. Little hi little low. Won't you be my neighbor?!"

I’m keeping up with the tweets. My blog posts are on schedule. I’m actually instagramming and The Beard has Tumblr covered, or so he tells me. I'm struggling with editor notes and moving forward on the new book.

In the meantime, consider this post wrapped up.

Enter pithy signature line here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Off to Conference V: The Creative Journey Never Ends

by Rich

I've reached a momentous occasion. I'm attending my fifth Northern Colorado Writers Conference at the end of March, which means I've attended half of those prepared by NCW Director Kerrie Flanagan and her crack staff. Or, as the last week before the conference looms, the cracked-up staff. You don't know true panic until a team member screams "We're out of chocolate mints for the workshop rooms!" It's horrifying to see, let alone hear.

Where was I? Oh, yes, my fifth conference. You know what I'm going to say, aren't you? Doesn't matter, I'm going to type it anyway ...

Boy, so much has changed since my first conference.

It's feels strange, yet normal, to be in my creative skin right now as opposed to where I was in March of 2010. I really wasn't sure which creative direction I wanted to take with my life. Do I go full-throttle with my writing or mix it up with some other creative endeavors. The 2011 NCW Conference definitely pointed me in the right direction. Um, that would be writing.

And yet, as I get ready to attend the 2015 event, I can be categorized in that ever-growing hybrid known as the creative entrepreneur. Writing is constantly on my mind and my computer screen, but I'm also a small press publisher looking to expand my titles, I'm a podcast creator, a promoter of local authors, and a coordinator of talks and events to bring humor back to the world. I continue to think of ways to expand my presence not only via Amazon and the ebook sites but through other media outlets. I want to be everywhere at once, despite the fact my wife says I do too much.

So this year's NCW Conference is another piece of my endless journey. I intend to dabble a little into all the workshops that I can, schmooze with everyone who attends, and sell some of my books and those that I publish. I look forward to seeing you all there.

What are you looking forward to at the 10th annual NCW Conference?

Promotion alert: Tune into the NCW Podcast on Monday, March 23rd, to find out how the artwork and general theme of each conference is prepared as I speak with creative committee members Kelly Baugh, April Moore, and Jenny Sundstedt. It's available on the Podcast page of the NCW website and at the NCW PodOmatic page.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fighting The Good Fight

By Sarah Reichert

            The world is full of fighting.  Countries fight.  Political parties fight.  Neighbors and friends fight.  Siblings and spouses, best friends or fellow drivers, we even fight with our selves sometimes. No one is immune because the human spirit survives by its ability to fight.  We fight for respect, we fight against greed, we fight for our dreams and hopes.  We fight for our children and for the future of the human race.  Sometimes our battles do more harm than good.  Sometimes our battles change the course of history forever.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of a poignant period in our nation’s history.  “Bloody Sunday” began with a peaceful 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  People were asking for equality, but when they reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge they got a fight instead.  It’s hard to want to count our selves in the same species when humans behave this way. 

But the thing about humans is that we are capable of amazingly beautiful things too.  After the beatings, tear-gas, and murder, the nation rose up against civil injustice, eventually passing The Voting Rights Act of 1965.  This fight is not yet over in our nation and it will continue as long as inequality still exists.  

As a writer, I encourage you to fight with your words, but always fight the good fight.  Benefit the world through your writing and through your art.  Promote peaceful coexistence.  Promote equality, compassion, and justice. A writer’s mind is a powerful tool because words change minds and lives.  I'm moved to tears every time I read Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.

Fighting is a part of our existence, but it doesn’t have to bring about negative consequences. Whatever lofty religious or cultural ideals we may have, the only true and tangible fact is that we are all human, and all on this crazy roller coaster ride together.  All we have is the now and the people who share that ‘now’ with us. How we treat one another while we’re here is all that really matters.

Dream your dream and let go of the idea that we’re so different from one another.  We’re all stuck on this spinning ball in the middle of space together.  Let’s make the ride a sweet one.

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