Friday, October 31, 2014

Don't Give Up

by Kelly

Earlier this week my daughter decided to enter a short story competition for a school publication and asked me to critique her rough draft. She’s a strong -opinioned type of gal (I have no idea where she gets it from), so I’m always very careful when I send constructive criticism her way. Often, it’s not well received, but this time, I broke protocol.

She created a beautiful fictional story about a young Greek and Trojan who meet during the fall of Troy. I became attached to the characters and invested in their star-crossed woes. I almost fell out of my chair, however, when after facing many trials together, my young authoress ended her story in one sentence with the death of the hero.

No! Not acceptable! (Unless you’re J.J. Abrams, and even then it still makes me mad).

We had a long discussion (read: argument) where I told her that after the climax of a plot, there has to be a denouement/resolution.  Yes, you don’t want the denouement to drag on and on, but there does have to be one. She did not concur and we’ve agreed to disagree. Reading between the lines, I got the impression that she’d written herself into a corner and didn’t think a $25 Barnes and Noble card was worth the time it would take to struggle through this tough part of her story.

This debacle reminded me of something I’d recently read in Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat! (I know, I know. You’re saying, “Will she ever shut up about that book?” No). For him, the hardest part of a manuscript is the end of Act Two, when “the forces that are aligned against the hero, internal and external, tighten their grip. Evil is not giving up, and there is nowhere for the hero to go for help. He is on his own and must endure.”

For me, the hardest part of the book is the crisis and character development in the middle of a manuscript. I either tend to meander, going off on tangents about the scenery and side plots,  or under-develop, having  played out a scene in my head so many times I can’t see it from my reader’s point of view.

"Never, never, never give up."
All of us have our weak spots when we write. What is the oh-so-wise Snyder’s advice when we come to these blocks? “There’s no method to get through other than to just muscle your way.” In other words, fight, don’t give up. Keep thinking, obsessing and replaying a scene in your mind until a moment of enlightenment comes. Then, Snyder says, the answer will seem so obvious that you’ll wonder how you didn’t see it in the first place. 

This leads me back to the primal axiom of writing. Those who succeed are those who don’t give up. No matter what. If you're thinking about giving up on a manuscript, article, or other writing project that's driving you crazy, don't! Be stubborn and enlightenment 
will follow. 

Snyder promises.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


By Rich

This past weekend I attended ReadCon 2014, a book-inspired event in the Northern Colorado town of Greeley. I, along with many other local authors, participated in the book signing/beer sampling program toward the end of the day. Initially, I didn't know what to expect. Perhaps only a few folks would meander into the event space during the two hours. Or the other hand, the place could be packed from start to finish.

Luckily, the latter happened. The area filled up even before the official start time. Perspective buyers walked along the aisles, examined the authors' publications, picked up their freebies, and asked them plenty of questions. Numerous folks stopped by my table to inquire about Wooden Pants Publishing, Coffee Cup Tales and Paradise Not Quite Lost. A few of them even knew about me from workshops held earlier in the day or from the ReadCon website.

At the end of the two hour event I was quite happy. Though I sold just one book during the program, I connected with readers, authors, and publishers I had never met before. And while the books remained on the table, my business cards continued to disappear. Thus, connections were made, and those can be worth more than a few book sales.

Like many other industries out there, the book world thrives on meeting up with authors and book sellers. Yes, it's easier to do this in the 21st century thanks to social media and self-publishing sites, but there's still nothing better than a face-to-face discussion with others. First, they get to tell you how dashingly handsome or gorgeously beautiful you are. Second, they hear what you and your books are  about instead of reading it in an Amazon synopsis.

This type of connection is a powerful tool. It may not show up in immediate sales figures or reviews. Yet, there will come a time where you see a spike in book purchases or an increase in speaking engagements. Those events will lead to other connections. Soon enough, you'll be reaching plateaus you never thought you'd make.

Many authors rely exclusively on social media to market their material, and this is just fine. However, just one event outside of the home office can help make connections that could change your writing life for the better. Think about it the next time a local author event is announced. I doubt you'll be sorry.

Have you made any significant connections at writing events?

Self-promotion alert:  Just in time for the Halloween season, you can purchase a copy of my eBook Dining with Zombies at Amazon. It's $3.49 for stories on zombies at Denny's, formal dining experiences, and zombie romance.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Back Where I Come From

By Sarah Reichert

The human brain is a fascinating creature.  It will hold on to some memories and let others go like flicking a light switch on and off.  It can create new paths with nothing but old lessons learned.  Every writer’s brain began somewhere.  We often take for granted what this means to our writing later on.  Our early years not only shape the people we become, but also shape how we filter the world around us.  Call it culture or call it experience, but what happens when we are raised in a certain environment affects the way we tell our stories, even when those stories are set someplace completely different.

I discovered the phenomenon when I was writing my first novel, Fixing Destiny.  It's set in Northern Maine, hell and far away from my tiny hometown of Saratoga, Wyoming.  But the people and places that line the streets of Southtown Harbor took on the flavor of places from my past. 

It was easy for me to write drawly dialogue and scenes that painted dripping, small-town charm, because they were in my memories and from the places that feel like home in my heart.  I knew how open space felt to the senses, and how crushingly lonely it was to drive across the empty darkness between towns at night.  I knew what a billion stars looked like.  I knew the particular golden shade of light that catches dust in the headlights on an old country road.  I knew the keen eye of small-town busybodies, and the true warmth hidden in the folds of isolated communities.  These are the places I come from. 

The challenge for me, as a writer, is to go beyond what I know by heart and be able to write as though the foreign is my place.  If I had the means to bank roll a trip to every corner of the world I could easily expand the truth behind my fiction.  For now, I make do with imagination, transposition of people and knowledge I do have, and as many resources I can find on the Internet.  

No matter how sweet and beautiful our memories are, its important for us to step beyond the comfort of them to experience new and different places, people, and views.  It will help us to be more true to the worlds we create with our words.

Curious about the parallels of Southtown Harbor and Saratoga?  Check out my novel at Amazon.

Have you, either knowingly or unknowingly, added real memories to your fictional stories?  How have you stepped out of your comfort zone as a writer either in character or setting? 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ghosties, Ghoulies, and Beasties, Oh My!

by Shirley Drew

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore…”
 ~Edgar Allan Poe, The Raven

Standing on the deck, I pull my jacket tight around my shoulders. The evenings are chilly now. I gaze out at my butterfly garden, once full of color, now fading. It’s starting to get dark. Walking back inside, I drop my jacket on a chair. I find myself glancing at the fireplace. Should I build a fire? And then I remember…it’s nearly Halloween.

I close the blinds. I check the door locks. I sit in my favorite chair, pull a quilt over my lap, and curl up with one of my favorite scary tales. I love scary stories. Stories that make me pull that quilt up a little higher, almost to my chin. Stories that make me hear every sound the house makes as it settles into the foundation. Stories that make me want to peek carefully around the blind so I can see outside the window to my front porch…is there someone--or something--out there??

As Halloween approaches, I challenge you to to curl up with your favorite scary stories. Just make sure your doors are locked. And close the blinds. What--no favorites? Then perhaps I can interest you in some of mine…

"The Tell-Tale Heart", by Edgar Allan Poe (1843)
     “Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees --very gradually --I made up my  mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.”

Dracula, by Bram Stoker (1897)
     “There was one great tomb more lordly than all the rest; huge it was, and nobly proportioned. On it was but one word, DRACULA.”

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson (1959)
     “It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until it was destroyed.”

In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote (1966)
     “I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”

The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty (1971)
     “Perhaps evil is the crucible of goodness... and perhaps even Satan - Satan, in spite of himself - somehow serves to work out the will of God.”

 The Shining, by Stephen King (1977)
     “Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”

The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris (1988)
     “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

Enjoy your Halloween. And don’t forget to lock the doors…

Monday, October 20, 2014

Spell It Out

Post by Jenny 

I was almost finished writing this post about acronyms when I read Sarah Sullivan’s Wednesday post about the same topic. First I thought, that's a strange coincidence, but great minds do think alike. Then I thought, whew, I’m not the only one who feels that “today’s language is so littered with acronyms that it’s hard to keep up.” Thank you, Sarah!

Earlier in the year, as international terrorism was again raising its ugly head, I made the whispered, after-dark confession to my husband that I didn’t know what ISIS stood for. As soon as I got straight on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, it became ISIL. Now it is IS. Or maybe it ISn’t. Depends on who you ask. 

Acronyms are nothing new. I grew up with NASA, SCUBA, and ELO. But we’re apparently such busy people now that we’re relying more and more on this shortcut. No one is spared. Though POTUS, FLOTUS, and SCOTUS have been used by Washington insiders for years, they have more recently leaked into the country’s everyday vernacular. But I draw the line. I refuse to refer to some of the world’s most powerful and influential people by acro-names that remind me of a mining byproduct, marine debris, and a canine skin condition, in that order.

The other day, after I ran across two unfamiliar acronyms in quick succession—HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and OIAJ (Oatmeal in a Jar)—I thought, that’s it. I cannot keep up. I don’t want to have to keep guessing whether any seemingly random grouping of letters refers to an organization of global importance, an infectious agent, or a sly teenage code my sons might use in a text.

So, I must respectfully request that more people return to spelling things out. Replacing real words with shortened mash-ups may save time for whoever is writing the magazine article/news copy/Zits comic strip, but it costs me that plus more in internet search time. Because I can’t just let it go. I must know, for example, that PDIC stands for Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation. Or is it Professional Diving Instructors Corporation? (Hint: it’s both.)

When my 8th grade son, who is learning German, rattled off the word for 9,999 (neuntausendneunhundertneunundneunzig), I felt a little giddy. All those letters, and nary a hyphen among them. It made me want to find a way to work antidisestablishmentarianism into this post. And there, I just did.

Are acronyms a help or hindrance to your reading and writing?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mary Shelly and the Gang

by Kelly

In light of the approaching Halloween holiday I’ve dusted off some of my Gothic classics: Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Monk by M. G. Lewis, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. My all time favorite, however, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

One of the things I love about Frankenstein is how it goes beyond being merely a back-tingling spooky story; in this it stands alone among the other Gothic tales. Who is the villain--the creature or Dr. Frankenstein? Which voice do we believe? Is Shelley really talking about  societal constraints on science or women? Is scientific creation without ethics or murder the greater crime?

What’s especially astonishing to me is that the book was written by an eighteen year old girl in 1818. Yes, her parents were both revolutionaries in the fields of politics and feminism, but still, an 18 year old writing this masterpiece? It blows my mind.

The secret, I think, is that she didn’t attempt this alone. Shelley pinned Frankenstein in the creative community of her husband Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Polidori (also, they were all holed up in a villa in Switzerland, which probably didn’t hurt). After spending a few nights reading ghost stories, the friends initiated a challenge: who could write the best horror story. The others in the group had different ideas that were hashed out to various degrees of realization, but Mary Shelley was the only one who completed her book.

Would she have been able to accomplish this groundbreaking literary classic without her community? I don’t think so.

I know I’ve written about community before, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, especially in light of some drama in my own life. I couldn’t have handled my challenges without the community of family and friends who encircled me with love and assistance during this time.

The same is true of writing. We authors seem to vacillate between megalomania (as in, my work is a creative masterpiece, the best  that’s ever existed) and despair (as in, my work is terrible, barely coherent and worthy only to be burned). We need a writing community to bring perspective, constructive criticism and understanding as we struggle through the mountaintop and valley experiences of being an author.

Those of us living along the Front Range are incredibly blessed to have the resources of Northern ColoradoWriters at our disposal: critique groups, classes, networking and social events, conferences, monthly coffees, resources, and, most importantly friendships. Even if you don’t live in the Front Range area, I encourage you to find a writing community. None of us can write effectively in isolation. Supported by a network of mentors and friends, who knows what we can accomplish? Perhaps the next great masterpiece.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


by Sarah Sullivan

imagebase25 82Today’s language is so littered with acronyms it’s hard to keep up! The practice of word cropping that began with e-mails (BFF, LOL, POV, NIMBY, BTW, GR8) has grown right along with communication technology that seems determined to shorten the time it takes us to convey our thoughts and ideas to the world. These same acronyms are now seeping into our speech. Apparently we are all too busy to say “Oh My God!” and now must simply utter OMG! 

There is one acronym in particular that I am hearing a lot of these days andI feel we should talk about, writer to writer. TMI is the acronym for “too much information”. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why your brother-in-law may cringe at hearing the blow by blow of your sexual history and that detailing your birth experience to the mail man might be considered socially inappropriate. But for a writer, is there really such a thing as TMI? 

The notion that over sharing is somehow negative is rarely useful for writers. In fact avoiding TMI can be downright disastrous! Over sharing and TMI are distinct from over writing which burdens the reader with so much superfluous language or useless detail that it dilutes and/or derails the story. But stark uninhibited honesty not only saves a lot of time, but it can also transports a composition from a puff piece or intellectual exercise to a cathartic experience. As a reader, I appreciate an author who takes chances and trusts me to understand the multi-dimensional nature of the human experience which explains why a person or character makes choices that might be considered morally questionable, totally irresponsible or just down right idiotic. 

Cheryl Strayed is a no-holds bar writer who explores her drug use, infidelity and the pain of her mother's death both in her memoir Wild and as advice columnist, Dear Sugar. No one would argue that Louis Zamparini, the focus of the book Unbroken, was an incredible human being who was also a not so nice alcoholic for a time. Sherlock Holmes had his opium, Edward Rochester locked his mentally ill wife in the attic and Bridgette Jones, well...Bridgette Jones is the poster child for over sharing and look where it got Helen Fielding. 

Where as maudlin and cloying are born out of false sentiment and emotional manipulation (think everything Nicholas Sparks has ever written - not that he's complaining!) raw emotion is a different animal all together. Underneath it's ugly surface the warts and all human being is someone we can usually relate to or at the very least learn to understand. One of the great virtues inherent in writing is it's ability to shine the light of truth into an often deluded world. Be brave, writing friends, let us know who you and your characters really are and err on the side of TMI! xoxoxoxoxo

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