Monday, May 30, 2011

Interview with author, Christine Goff

Hi all - We are gearing up for the second Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2011 Education Event. For the first time, RMFW is venturing across the mountains to provide a workshop to our western slope members and hopefully to make new friends. On June 11th, Christine Goff, Mario Acevedo and Robin Owens, all successful authors and members of RMFW, will join Charlotte Cook when she presents workshop, The Final Edit. Visit to learn more. 

But right now, please welcome Christine Goff, who has graciously joined us to answer (with her own unique twist) the same questions we have put to other authors. 
We appreciate your time, Christine...

First off, tell us a little about yourself and when/how/why you started writing.
I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I was in third grade and wrote this great book called “The Haunted Mansion.” It was about these kids who snuck into a haunted house at night when the witch that lived there was out flying around. They got caught messing around with the bat wings and stuff. It was a great book.  It never sold. It was published, however, in my mother’s scrapbook, and I never gave up. I went to school and studied Journalism, then switched to Creative Writing. I left school and moved to the mountains and became a ski bum. I took a job with the local newspaper and started writing again. I got married and took a correspondence course with the Institute of Children’s Book Writing (or something like that) and wrote this great book called “The Mystery of Phantom Ranch.” It was about these kids who rode the mules down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. After being told about the ghost of Bert Loper, an octogenarian who died rowing on the Colorado River at night, they set out to find it. Only, it wasn’t a ghost, it was an Indian artifact smuggling ring. It was a great book. It never sold. Then, finally, a real writer moved into our ski town and I took a workshop in romance writing and wrote this book called “Frozen Assets.” It was about this counterfeiting ring in Breckenridge and had a great romance, great ski scenes—and it never sold. It got close though, so I started on a serial killer novel. Hey, if Thomas Harris can do it…. So I wrote this great book called “Stalked.” It was about this killer who stalked mothers at the school bus turnaround. Funny, it was like the school bus turnaround where I dropped my kids off every morning. It never sold. But, I was scaring myself, and I scared an agent. He agreed to represent my work, and the rest—as they say—is history.

And your books, what do you have published and what are you working on right now?
I published five novels in a Birdwatcher’s Mystery Series for Berkley Prime Crime. They are all out-of-print now in the U.S., though I will bring some copies to the workshop. They are, however, selling well in Japan. Maybe I’ll do a karaoke book tour in Tokyo someday. I am currently working on an international thriller set in Israel. My agent is really anxious for me to get it finished, and I’m excited at the prospects. It’s a new genre for me, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to write, so…

Rejection letters: How many did you receive before you were published?
Man, do I have to say? Counting editors, agents, family members and fans (yes, they send you mail when they don’t like something), maybe 30 or 40 or…  I will say this, it doesn’t always happen like you think it will. I was rejected and rejected, then I sold my series on a partial (30 pages and a 4 page synopsis) without ever having published a thing in fiction.

You are participating in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers June Education Event, meeting with attendees and maybe critiquing the first 2 pages of their wip. In your experience and opinion, what is the biggest mistake or misconception new writers have? Did you as well, when you were new to the industry?
I think new writers make two mistakes – they don’t listen to advice when they should, and they listen to advice. You have to be open to suggestions, weigh them carefully, see if it makes sense, if it resonates. You have to be willing to change things, hear what isn’t working and be open to the idea that going at it a different way might make your story commercial. If you’re only writing for yourself, then by all means, don’t change a thing. Otherwise, know that almost anyone who’s taking the time to critique your work only wants to help you succeed. What success is for you is another matter. That said, don’t make every change anyone suggests. People have differing opinions, and you’ll never please everyone. You’ll end up making changes and making changes until it’s not the story you want to tell. Make sure that you only change those things that you see can help.

Did I make these same mistakes? YES. When my romance workshop instructor gave me a three page, single-spaced critique on my full manuscript, once it was done, I cried, threw the pages on the ground and stomped on them. A week later, I picked them up and read them. I made a few changes, not many. When my manuscript was considered for publication by the senior editor at Harlequin Intrigue, she rejected it with a very nice letter sighting some of the same problems my romance workshop instructor had pointed out. If I only had listened, I might be a romance writer today. I’ve also gone the other route and tried to make every change my critique group suggested, until I was writing a book for the critique group and not telling the story I wanted. When I submitted that book, I was told it had no heart.

How often do you write? Do you stick to a schedule or work it in around life?
I try and write every day, for at least an hour, preferably four, Monday through Friday. Sometimes I write on the weekend, but that time is usually reserved for family. And I do put my writing aside when I have things come up. I have six kids (now all graduated from or in college), so my time is more my own these days; but, when I was writing my Birdwatcher’s Mystery series, I had three at home. You can’t always ignore life. That said, if you plan on hitting the NYT list and being a famous author someday, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. All the really famous writers I know gave up time with friends and family to get where they are. Most of them have come back around to find a balance, but you’ll find the publishers will want you to turn in a book every nine months to a year, and they may want you to tour (at least put in appearances at the big writers conventions in your genre). You will have to answer your fan mail, keep up a blog or website presence. It all take time. More time than you think. So, pace yourself. Make a schedule. Stick to it. And build in time for life. It’s what fills your stories with heart.

When not writing, what do you do?
I’m a mom and a wife. I take bridge lessons on Wednesday nights. I knit. I make stuff (I’m crafty). I tile my bathroom, play with my dogs, read.

What did I not ask that you want to talk about?
 Reading. You must read. Read. Read. Read. If you don’t read—including in the genre you write—you cannot write. I know that’s a generalization and someone will point out someone who did it brilliantly; but, trust me.  The best writers read their colleagues work. Notice, I didn’t say competition. It’s not a competition. You can only write the best book you can write. And every writer’s success builds interest in the genre and in books, it expands the market. Writers need to be each other’s best advocates and cheerleaders. So, you go!

Thanks, Christine. We look forward to seeing you in less than two weeks!!!!  

Anyone who has more questions or comments, feel free to join the conversation. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cowboys and Dragons at the Cafe: Susan's Beginning

Thoughts on Words

No one picks up a book to read about what they have done in their ordinary life. Books are meant to be entertaining, to remove the reader from everyday life, boredom, everyday anxieties. To give a rest from being oneself.

As writers, we have a responsibility to engage the reader in an entertaining way, and I also believe, we should encourage them to keep reading in the future. To manage that, we must pay attention to how we use words, and to which words are chosen.

In today's American culture, a lot of entertainment is by formula, in TV, movies, and in video games. Books seem to have more freedom from these constrictions, and I feel it would benefit our national intelligence levels to exercise readers' brains by writing in more challenging forms than the entertainment industry is using.

To live through another character has great value to most of us readers. We get to have more than one life, so to speak, for a short while. We get to feel pain, joy, sexual activity, frights, curiosity, and other methods of interpreting life in general. How valuable. And, best of all, when that life gets to be too much for us, we simply close the book for a while and enjoy our simpler life in our own world.

A single adjective or adverb, well chosen, can take the place of an entire boring descriptive sentence. Study the great writers' works and notice how you are given motives, visuals, and sensory input by the use of a single word well placed here and there.

Using synonyms in place of simple words is recommended in every lesson for writers, and certainly words such as sneak and waddled serve writers well to not only describe a movement, but also a subtle motivation. In other words, "walk" has been expanded not only visually, but empathetically, and we feel the action, we put ourselves right there in the street where the action is taking place. This is what books can do that visual entertainments cannot do.

Without using a greater vocabulary than is normally encountered in our worldly life, we cannot convey the fascinating realms that draw loyal readers. Don't dumb down your work. Let yourself reveal to the reader concepts beyond the boring, the ordinary. Let the reader have to grab a dictionary at least twice during the novel, or let the extraordinary words reveal their own meaning within the context of the sentence. You are writing because you want to fascinate a reader. Stretch their brains!


Some interesting words for "walk"

Gait, plod, amble, mince, strut, stram, saunter, somnambulate (to be used in a murder mystery?)

I have found the Crossword Puzzle Dictionary by Andrew Swanfeldt to be extremely useful when looking for synonyms. It has tons more info than any thesaurus.

Cowboys and Dragons at the Cafe: Susan's Beginning: "Em closed her eyes against the setting sun reflecting off the ocean waters. The daytime wind had at last died down and it was safe to lie on..."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Does knowing too much suck the fun out?

Good morning Blogies

    Can you still do it? Can you read for the fun of it? With all the rules and tips and pet peeves floating around in your head, can you still just pick up a book and get lost in the pages?

    It’s one of the hazards of writing, I’m afraid. I should have known that. Before I started writing I was involved in theater as an actor, director, stage manager, stage hand, set builder, you name it and I did it. Well, except anything to do with music, no talent there. Anyway, the more I learned, the more critical I became as an audience member. I was ruined as a patron of the theater. Even when everything was great, I still analyzed why rather than let the cast take me to a place and show me a story. The wonder, the experience, the thrill; all gone. Crap!!

    Then, along came writing. I went to conferences and workshops. I joined a critique group. I read books and articles and blogs and forum posts and I analyzed books I should’ve been reading for enjoyment. Double crap!! I tell you right now, I vow never to pick up a book on deviant sexual behavior. You know, just in case I ever...I want it to be fun. Well, enough said.

    So, back to reading. I found myself critiquing the works of, published authors. I’d try to figure out why the author did this or inserted that? What was the authors intent? Is there some hidden meaning?  I puzzled out motivation; oh, so-and-so works at the shelter because he wasn’t allow a puppy as a child. Looked for tell-tales; and he’s going to kill the neighbor for kicking his dog. Anticipated plot twists; then he and the widow will fall in love. Agonized over internal and external goals; he wants to open his own non-profit shelter for abused dogs but really he just wants to be loved. Ditto for internal and external conflict; Oh, no, the police found his footprint in the neighbor’s garden. But worse, he doesn’t feel he deserves the widow’s love because he killed her husband.

    #@(& it! Reading wasn’t any fun. So I quit. Reading, not writing. Can’t quit writing. What reason would I give for banging my head against the wall? I probably didn’t read fiction for more than a year. I’d like to say I was in a dark and brooding place, but I wasn’t. I just had no interest in reading a novel. I read my crit partners’ stuff because that’s what crit partners do and you are supposed to analyze that stuff. I read Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader,  Ripley’s Believe it or Not and that sort of thing for distraction. But I read no books.

    Things were going along fine until my wife wanted to get a Kindle. Somehow, I ended up with one too. So I read. And I put it down. And I picked it up. Put it down. Picked it up. So on and so forth until I got lost in a story.

    Ha, this is fun. I read another, and focused on the characters, listened to the characters and it was fun again. I’d discovered the secret.

    Just read the damn book. The characters may have motivation, goals, blah, blah, blah, but the author didn’t put them there, didn’t decide anything. In fact, there is no author. The story just appeared out of the ether. The characters are the story. It’s the characters telling the story and they don’t know squat about writing. Remember that when you read. Remember that when you write. And, have fun when you do both. And that other thing too, deviant or not.

    Simple, huh? So, can you still read for fun?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Memorial Day Blog Bash!

Check this out, everyone! It's a blog hop! Cool, right?
Permission to repost granted….
Crescent Moon Press
Memorial Day Weekend Bash~!

Three Day Blog Tour
May 24th, 25th & 26th
Prizes at every stop
Grand Prize Nook or Kindle, Your Choice
Every stop along the way will have a posted quest
Sign up for the newsletter or blog 
Email your quest answer to the author to enter for great prizes.
Complete all blog tour stops to enter into the grand prize drawing 
A Nook or Kindle, Your Choice
BONUS a dozen digital books

Full itinerary will be posted on the CMP blog
All stops must be completed to qualify for the Grand Prize.
You can join the games late. All quests must be completed by May 26th end of day.

All Winners Posted on CMP blog by June 4th.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Interview with author, Carol Berg

Here's the thing. Carol is my mentor. Most likely, she doesn't know that. She probably thinks I'm just a stalker. However, I have learned much by hiding around corners, friending her on Facebook and listening to her when she talks about her process. My writing is better for knowing Miss Carol. 

We have now interviewed Kirt Hickman, Jeanne Stein, Betsy Dornbusch and Carol Berg. Remember they will all be at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' May Education Event, which takes place this Saturday at the Renaissance Hotel, Denver. 

Marne and I will be there. Alas, Mike, Gail and Susan cannot make it, but we will bring home new information to share.

The price at the door is $85, however, if you mention this blog, I'll give you the early registration fee of $70. 

Now, please welcome Carol Berg. 

First off, tell us a little about yourself and when/how/why you started writing.
I'm a former software engineer, formerly a full-time mom, and formerly, for a very short time, a math teacher, who grew up with a book always in my hand.  Though a lifelong reader, I never imagined I could write a story.  I didn’t even like writing!  One reason I majored in math in college was to avoid writing papers.  But around 1989, a friend and I were talking over lunch about a book we’d just read.  The upshot of our book discussion was an agreement to start writing email letters in character, just for fun.  Over the next year and a half we sent 32 letters each and built a whole story.  The writing was awful, but the story wasn’t bad.  I couldn’t quit. I wrote for about nine years just for myself, never imagining anyone else would ever want to read my stuff.  I sold my first three books in 1999.  Writing gradually replaced gardening, needlework, and a lot of the other things I used to do.  In 2002, it replaced my day job.

And your books, what do you have published and what are you working on right now?
I have twelve novels published. I write epic fantasy--complex, layered, adventure stories centered on interesting (I hope!) characters.  (Nope, no elves or dwarves and not Harry Potter!)  Big stories, where the stakes are large.  Some reviewers call my stories dark – and yes, there is violence and angst and the stakes are high – but I like to think that the endings are satisfying and hopeful.

I have just completed my thirteenth.  Well "completed" in that I have a first version that I'm sending in to my editor.  It is called The Daemon Prism and is the third and final "novel of the Collegia Magica."  I call these three books my double agent murder mysteries set in a late Renaissance-era world where science is replacing magic.

Rejection letters: How many did you receive before you were published?
Not as many as some, as I never really believed anyone would want to read my stuff.  By the time I was bold enough to send things out, I had developed quite a bit as a writer.  So the answer is: 3.

You are participating in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers May Education Event, meeting with attendees and maybe critiquing the first 2 pages of their wip. In your experience and opinion, what is the biggest mistake or misconception new writers have? Did you as well, when you were new to the industry?
Believing that one's original outpouring of words is art, and that any meddling with it is artifice.  I believe the true art of writing is blending that passionate outpouring with the hard thinking and deeper probing of revision.  The craft of writing is what we use to make our art resonate with our readers. 

Yes.  I did it, too.  I read over that first letter and thought, "Damn, that's pretty good."  And the next day, I reread it, and said, "Damn, that needs some work."  And I tweaked and rewrote, and thought that was pretty good.  A few weeks later, I reread it, and thought, "Ugh."  Etc. Etc.  I still have a lot of that early writing.  It keeps me very humble.  The cool thing is, I see good stuff in it too.  Training the eye and inner ear is critical.

How often do you write? Do you stick to a schedule or work it in around life?
Writing is my full time - and often my more than full time profession.  When I started out, I had to squeeze it in around work and kids and house and everything else.  Now I have a very supportive spouse who puts up with my long hibernations.

When not writing, what do you do?
I love to watch movies with my hubby, and with a group of old friends who've started getting together once a week.  I love to teach writing at conferences and hang out with writers.  I have three great kids who are out on their own, two with little ones.  Yep, that's very much fun.  And I love the mountains.  This year, yes, more camping!

          What did I not ask that you want to talk about?

I often get asked what I did to "learn" to be a writer.  I tell them, I read. I think reading (not watching TV or movies, though that's fun) is the single most important education for a writer.  Reading good writing across many genres, not just one’s own.  Reading bad writing, too.   Listening to the flow of words, feeling how a good writer lays in a plot, watching the writer reveal character, and build tension, and use words in narrative and dialogue.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Interview with author and editor, Betsy Dornbusch

I am very pleased to introduce to you Betsy Dornbusch. Betsy writes HOT. I've read some of Betsy stuff and you gotta be careful not to burn yourself. It is most luscious.

I love seeing all the different answers to the same questions...

Welcome Betsy.

First off, tell us a little about yourself and when/how/why you started writing.

I've been writing since I was in 4th grade. Incidentally, I met one of my favorite authors, SE Hinton then, though I didn't read her book THE OUTSIDERS until a few years later, which has so influenced my writing.  My best friend at the time got me writing and it was my distinct honor to dedicate my new novel to her. Now, years later, I'm a full time writer. 

And your books, what do you have published and what are you working on right now?

My pseudonym Ainsley has two vampire eroticas out, QUENCHED and QUENCHER. I also have a space opera erotica called SALT ROAD SAGA BOOK 1: LOST PRINCE out from Torrid in July.

Whiskey Creek Press is also releasing my mainstream urban fantasy SENTINEL: ARCHIVE OF FIRE, this year. It features demidemons who rebel against the demon king Asmodai, hot boys, and a whole lotta wicked violence. Still waiting on a release date for that one.

So as you can imagine, I'm working on sequels! I'm wrapping up the first draft of the second SENTINEL book right now: it's called ARCHIVE OF EARTH.

I'm always trying to keep up with my blog Sex Scenes at Starbucks, too. Tough to do under deadline.

Rejection letters: How many did you receive before you were published?

Hundreds, easily. A word on that; I spent a LOT of time in the short story trenches, which I think is a really valid way to learn to write and to get and keep your name out there. I miss writing the short form. I'm too swamped with novels right now to write short stories. Sucks.

You are participating in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers May Education Event, meeting with attendees and maybe critiquing the first 2 pages of their wip. In your experience and opinion, what is the biggest mistake or misconception new writers have? 

That MOST new writers' first attempts suck. Sorry to be blunt. Mine definitely sucked. (Hell, my tenth attempts sucked too). It doesn't mean we shouldn't keep on, though. And we all learn soon enough how wonderful, as a class of people, writers are. There is nearly ALWAYS a writer willing to help you. Take advantage of it.

How often do you write? Do you stick to a schedule or work it in around life?

It's my full time job, though less full time than I like. I'm always swamped and never writing fast enough! But I work a lot of odd hours, too, evenings and weekends. I try to work to word counts, generally. Right now I'm under a pretty tough  deadline imposed by the impending end of school, which means I'm writing some real drivel. I'll have to get 2-3K words a day to make it.

When not writing, what do you do?

Snowboard, punk rock concerts, read, hang with my kiddos and husband, play with my dog 

What did I not ask that you want to talk about?

I'm an editor with Electric Spec (  and have been for 5 years. Come check us out.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Interview with author, Jeanne Stein

Thirty year old Anna Strong is a bounty hunter-- tough, confident, at the top of her game. But when she is attacked one night in a parking lot, her life is inexorably changed. She awakens in the hospital to find she has become Vampire and her destiny is no longer with the living, but among the undead. With her mentor, the vampire doctor who treated her in the hospital, she strives to make sense of it all. But then her home is burned to the ground, and her business partner and best friend is kidnapped. Anna suddenly finds herself alone on a quest to save more than her missing friend, but herself as well.

Sound interesting?  It is, and what's more, the author of the Anna Strong books is just as interesting as her characters. When you are done reading the interview, feel free to ask Jeanne a question of your own or leave a comment. Then head on over to her website and check out more information about her and her books. 

Please welcome one of my favorite people, Jeanne Stein. 

First off, tell us a little about yourself and when/how/why you started writing.
I think I've always been a writer--but I didn't start taking writing seriously until I moved to Denver 14 years ago. I joined RMFW, found the perfect critique group and from them, learned what I needed to know about the craft and the business. I became a professional with their help and encouragement.

And your books, what do you have published and what are you working on right now?
I have six books published, the seventh coming out in August (Crossroads--the Anna Strong Vampire Chronicles) and am working on the eighth in that series. I also have stories in eight published anthologies and two new ones coming in June-- Hexed and Chicks Kick Butt. My novels are available in three foreign countries and the short stories published in the US and UK.
Rejection letters: How many did you receive before you were published?
Too many to count. Some were the good kind, offering tips to improve the manuscript,  and some just form letters. And the rejection process doesn't stop once you're published. I've pitched ideas that were rejected my agent for one reason or the other. You have to develop a thick skin if you want to be a professional writer and roll with the rejections. 
You are participating in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers May Education Event, meeting with attendees and maybe critiquing the first 2 pages of their wip. In your experience and opinion, what is the biggest mistake or misconception new writers have? Did you as well, when you were new to the industry?
The biggest misconception I've found is thinking that once you're published, you're on easy street for the rest of your life! Lightening does strike, but generally it takes years of plugging away, slowly building up an audience, and never giving up. Since I'd been with writers in various organizations since I first decided I wanted to write professionally, I knew what to expect. It's still a hard lesson to learn.
How often do you write? Do you stick to a schedule or work it in around life?
Deadlines make it imperative I write everyday. I have a schedule that I try to stick to which includes producing 2000 words a day.
When not writing, what do you do?
Read, garden, kickbox, think about the next project.
What did I not ask that you want to talk about?
If I have to add one more thing, it would be to emphasize what I mentioned earlier. The most important thing for a new writer to understand is that persistence does more for you than anything else. To paraphrase Calvin Coolidge: Nothing takes the place of  persistence. Not talent, not education, not genius. Persistence and determination are most important.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Let's Write About Sex

    Hey all,

    How do you like your sex? Do you want all the slippery details or carefully worded suggestions of the action?  I like details but not everyone does. One only has to look at romance to see variation in our tastes. At one end of the spectrum the door closes and the book ends, the other, the book opens with a coffee table orgasm. What’s a writer to do?

    I say, write what you like to read. You’ll be more comfortable with it and you’ll know what to call the pieces and parts. That’s a big concern. Cock, shaft, member, manhood, himself, what do you call it? Female anatomy poses a similar problem. Your choice of names plays a big role in the tone of the scene. The nature of the scene dictates some of the choices. Hot monkey love calls for more vulgarity than the gentle bedding of a lover after a romantic candle lit dinner. Not that the scene can’t change as it progresses. Characters are only human and sometimes get carried away by the moment.

    That’s an important point. Characters ARE human. For the most part, your characters will be narrating the action. How would they describe it? Not how would they describe it to their mother? How would they describe it in their mind? What are their thoughts? How interesting would it be if your prim and proper heroine thought, “Yes, yes, shove it in, you big burly stud.” in the middle of it all. (Anyone wants to use that line, take it, it’s a gift. ;) )

    Now we’ve hit on the most important reason for writing sex; you can use it to give the reader important insight into your characters. The calculating become impetuous. The bold become timid. The reserved become wanton. Normally hidden character traits can be revealed and explored during sex. You can use those traits later to justify some unexpected action.

    You can also use sex as a motivation. Once a person has been intimate with another, their relationship changes. They can become dangerously jealous or overly protective. You can turn cowards into heroes with sex. You can pit friends and siblings against one another. You can incite murder and betrayal. You can inspire greatness, forge alliances, topple governments or conquer the universe with sex. Sex is powerful. But for it to be all that it can be, ya gotta write it.

    Long, long ago, in a coffee shop not so far away, I had a protagonist going along with a dangerous plan because he was attracted to a girl, maybe even falling in love with her. Her motivation was helping the creatures they had encountered, his was helping and protecting her. My critique partners weren’t buying it because he’d only known her a couple days. “He could die,” they said. Sex to the rescue. I wrote my first sex scene and his motivation was no longer in doubt. They’d had sex, he thought he was in love, he would go along to protect her.

    However, the scene, in the opinion of one partner, was purple, whatever that means. So I rewrote it. Made it more detail oriented and submitted it again. The critiques I got on it were very short, punctuated by pauses, and accompanied by pink faces. Exactly what I was going for. One more reason to write sex; the fun of it. I still have that scene, maybe I’ll post it in my stories tab.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Critique Groups, what's up with them?

Critique Groups what’s up with them.

Hello everybody,

    How many blogs, forum posts, articles, chapters in writing books and rants have been dedicated to critique groups? I don’t know either, but here’s one more.

    First, the four of us who inhabit this blog, plus one more, are a critique group. We meet once a week, usually on Thursday at 5:30. So, if at that time you feel a strange current in the ether, it’s just us. Not that we’re strange. Well, not all of us are strange. Okay, you got me.

    So, what’s up with crit groups? Mayhem! Irritation! Hurt feelings! Anger! Exasperation!
Critique groups have their problems but, in my opinion, they are the best tool you’ll ever find to hone your craft. Books, seminars, workshops, conferences and even college are nothing but flimsy bargain basement screwdrivers compared to a sturdy critique group crowbar. Why? Because none of them are as specific to your writing as a crit group. The others give you examples. In a crit group, your stuff is the example.
    If that doesn’t convince you, nothing will. Moving on. How do you make a crit group work? Well, you can write up a bunch of rules, make copies, distribute them and appoint someone sheriff. You might also make up a mission statement and recite it in unison at the start of every session. You laugh but I have met people who would love that. If you are a person who would love that, do that with other people who love that and God bless. But our group evolved in a different way.

    Long, long ago in a coffee shop not so far away Marne, Vicki, and I belonged to a crit group that had a rule or two written down. The group split. How and why is not important. What is important is that three fast friends were freed from written rule constraints. (That sentence is tongue-twister poetic.)  Bravely we walked, arm in arm, into the dark, dank night.

    Okay, if I don’t stop, this blog post will go on forever.

    Anyway, we three found other writers and brought them into our group. We had, and still have some unwritten core beliefs that some got and some didn’t. The ones that didn’t were either asked to leave or left of their own accord. Of the others, some stayed for awhile and one is still here. Eventually, one member of the old group snuck under the wire and joined us. We three are now five and have been for several years. And we all get it. And that’s the secret; find people who get it. What is it? It will vary from person to person, group to group but here is our basic IT:

    We offer positive along with the constructive. We offer solutions if we can. We give honest feedback and encourage discussion during the crit. And we do it all naked.

    Alright, I made that last one up. So, that’s it. All you have to do is let it happen and kick out the nuts.

    Oh, by the way, Marne has a publishing contract. And, I believe the rest of us aren’t far behind. We just have to put it out there like Marne.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Creature Feature

Hi Everybody,

     This is for all the fantasy fans out there but I suspect there may be a bit of character building information in here also. I say, I suspect, because I haven't written it yet and I just don't know.

      So, do you prefer building your own creatures or going with the tried and true? Little of both maybe? That's me, a little of both. I use dragons and wyverns because they are just so cool. Bad-ass, usually sentient, able to attack from the air or ground, how can you top a dragon? They are almost too cool to be really scary. Fascination gets in the way of the fear. Also, how many times can your guys battle a dragon and win? Once? Okay, maybe, but more than that and it's not believable. We need other, less formidable foes. But, there is one quality these lessers must have. 

     I need stuff that scares the hell out of my good guys.

     It's for their own good. How could they think of themselves as courageous if they never faced something that made them want to run home screaming and waving their hands? And I need them to know they are courageous or they will not do courageous things. (I used courageous three times in that paragraph to illustrate the usefulness of repeating a word deliberately. For impact or some such thing they told me. Just don't spread them out all over the page. They need to be close together or it looks like you don't have a good vocabulary. That's the theory anyway.)

     Back to building scary creatures. How do you make them scary? Their method of killing is one component. What's more frightening than being eaten alive? Nothing. So I built a creature to do just that. I started with an octopus. They have a nasty beak at the center of their arms, perfect for biting off bits. Ouch! Then, I made the body the size of a sheep. Uh-oh. Then I gave it claws like a sloth's and put it up in the trees where it hangs upside down. As it turns out, the supot is a mindless solitary ambush hunter that drops on its victim from above, wraps it up like eight constrictors, bites repeatedly to get blood flowing then presses its fleshy outer lips to the wound and sucks the prey dry. You'll want to be very careful wandering the woods in supot country.

     What else is scary? Big, big is scary. In this case, I borrowed a creature from my friend, Marne. She invented a disgusting, smelly, gargantuan, man-like thing called a golgea. It's similar to the cave-troll in 'Lord of the Rings'. Great for cooperative heroics on the part of my protags. However, mine are dwarf golgea, only seven feet tall.

      Sneaky and stealthy is a worrisome thing in an opponent. Nepdak change the color and texture of their skin to match their surroundings.  And, they attack in groups. Like camouflaged werewolves in a pack.

      Okay, there are three creatures I built for my current project. There are more but you get the point; pick something scary and make a creature to fit. What's scary? Getting strangled. What strangles? A snake. Can't be just a snake. How about a two hundred pound carnivorous squirrel with a long muscular prehensile tail. It clings to the trunk of a tree or bough and whips its tail down around the neck of unsuspecting prey then hauls them up the tree, hanging the unfortunate animal...or person.

      You can do this with your human characters too. What would be frightening in a person? A fascination with edged weapons. Okay, but it can't just be a guy with a knife collection. How about a skinny pencil necked guy with an overbearing mother and a collection of vintage surgical tools?

     Got creatures? Tell me about them.