Monday, June 27, 2011

Not Captain Kirk and A Lil' Morgan in my Writing

Spoiler Alert: I'm not talking about Captain Morgan here... has been amazing and busy. Two weekends ago, Vicki and I went to Crested Butte for the Crested Butte Writers' Conference (huge Shout-Out to all our new friends). OMG, the town was such a surprise. Quaint and haunted... Need I say more?
My manuscript, "Love? Please!" placed third in the final round of their contest, the Sandy. And GREAT things came out of the weekend.
I decided to change my writing name to Marne Ann Kirk, but I'll talk about that and Branding another time.
And this last weekend, I spent four nights partying with my honey, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Craig Morgan, Sawyer Brown, Alan Jackson, and two thousand of their closest friends.
So, what I have NOT done for the last two weeks?
Write much :-(
But THAT isn't what I want to talk about.
I had one of those thinking "aha moments" while drooling over Craig Morgan in concert, and THIS is what I wanna know...
Are your characters the real deal? Do they have those qualities that make them human? Make them characters readers can relate to?
Craig Morgan is an incredible entertainer, and as close to a real-life superhero as I'll likely ever meet! (He saved two children from a fire, because he was there and it needed done)
But, and here's the part I started asking myself questions about with my characters, his heroic qualities are revealed, not by his current profession, but in the little things he does and says in his daily life.
The day of his concert, he spent time quite a while with a little girl from Grand Junction who has cancer. Then he brought the girl on stage and sang a song to her (doesn't that just melt your heart?). During his performance he spoke about the men and women serving in our military, and how thankful he was for their service (yet he didn't talk about his own service, which includes something like nine tours to Iraq). He talked about the love of his life, his wife of 23 years (and sang his newest song, not yet released, but written for her...). His song, "This Ain't Nothin'," came out after he and his band went to perform in (I believe) Oklahoma, and ended up elbows-deep in Tornado aftermath cleanup instead. Why? Because it needed done (and then he wrote a song about the experience).
My point is, I learned so much about this man from what others said about him or from what he said while extolling the strengths of others.
And those little details make me feel like I know him, like I can relate to him, like I can connect to him.
Do your characters have that connectivity? The little details that make the reader feel what I felt?
Do you think the little details are vital to your protagonist? What about your antagonist?

Monday, June 20, 2011

What's it like?

    What’s it like?

    I spend a fair amount of time trying to figure that out. So do you, probably. If you’re a writer of fiction, things happen to your characters that never happened to you. Likewise, your characters do things that you’ve never done: evil things, noble things, courageous things, things they can’t help and things they relish. What’s it like?

    What’s it like to gouge someone’s eyes out? Or rescue a child from drowning? Kill someone for personal gain? Or in self defense? What’s it like to meet a sentient being from another species? Witness a murder? Be hung by the neck? Save your one true love? Save a people? Save a world? Save a galaxy? Destroy the universe? Sheesh, we writers get ourselves into a hell of a pickle.

    Fortunately, we don’t have to experience everything we write about. Were that the case, my genre would almost certainly be erotica. What a wonderful excuse for hedonism; “I must do research for my book.” But alas, we have imagination, darn it.

    However, raw imagination is not enough. We, as writers, have to direct our imagination, personalize and internalize the scene. If we imagine something as an observer, the best we can do is a newspaper article. To write it like we want to write it, we have to live it in our imagination. We have to be the aggressor or the victim, the hero or the coward or the killer, the rapist, the husband, the wife, the doctor, the get the point.  We need to be actors. We need to immerse ourselves in the role. We need to imagine ourselves the character and live the scene.

    That’s the way I do it anyway. As I write, my imagination forges ahead twisting and turning, wringing my brain like a threadbare dishcloth. Often, I look up and ask, “What the hell am I doing here?” Then I have to back up and unleash the imagination again.  But, most of the time, my imagination gets me where I need to go; deep inside the head of one of my characters as they endure or perpetrate, flee or pursue, or fight or kiss or whatever. Until I started writing and took control of my imagination, I never knew you could have so much fun and never leave your head.

    Well, reading is kind of like that, but not exactly. Reading is like a roller-coaster ride; you are put aboard and the thing takes off twisting and turning and wringing your brain but your imagination is on rails. Writing is akin to flying an F-15; no rails, you are in control, you, with the help of your trained imagination, direct the action. The twisting and turning are free-form, the route and destination are up to you. That’s what makes writing fun, and torturous, and disturbing, arousing, humorous, frightening and fulfilling.

    All of it is something. Imagining what it’s like to fly on the back of a dragon is exhilarating, imagining what it’s like to be tortured or worse is disturbing. But it’s all important. It’s important because I want to take others where I’ve been. It’ll be on rails for them, that’s true but I want to make it a ride they’ll remember. I want to scare the crap out of them. I want to make them laugh, make them cry, arouse them, make them hate and love, ache and burst. I want control of their feelings. I  want to take them deep inside my characters and give them a dragon ride followed by a little time with a pair of thumb screws. That’s what I want.

    How about you? Do you imagine what it’s like to make love, or whatever as one of your characters?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Crested Butte Writers' Conference

So, Vicki and I are off to the Crested Butte Writers' Conference this weekend and we are dragging our mysterious new non-fiction writing critique partner with us (whose name we will not mention, until she gives us permission. Just know she's very cool and y'all will LOVE her). We are very excited about the fun we're going to have and the things we're going to learn.
For the writer friends among us, what do you enjoy more: the workshops, the opportunities, or the networking?
Personally, I love making connections with both writers and the agents/editors. Everyone at a conference is so excited about the writing world and that is cool!
And I love learning new things, so the workshops are usually pretty great too...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

novel finished, again

OK. just finished my novel again. Third time.  Oops. found one more critique and will have to re-enter that mine field.  Still, I'm almost there, still eager, still full of energy to do it.

still writing

Susan here.  I have spent three days organizing (very organized) my writings that have accumulated in boxes over the last seven years.  wow. A lot of duplicated papers and tons of sheets about where to submit my work.  Obviously I have some weeding to do and it may take two weeks  (if i did it all at once, which will never happen)  Freaked me out so much I had to run down to the local sushi bar and gobble up a California roll. Starches serve me well as pacifiers. 

Monday, June 13, 2011

Finding Inner Zen...

Summer's in full swing (meaning the garden is growing and I'm getting tan), I'm finally warm and happy, and what I consider "the conference season" has officially begun. Next weekend, some of us (Vicki, myself, and a new recruit to our critique group) are off to the amazing and fantastical land of Crested Butte (sounds like 'Ute,' not like 'butt.') for a writers' conference there (where I'll finally find out what the final judge of the romance category thought of "Love? Please!" Woot, woot!!).
And it's going to be amazing. A small, intimate conference with top notch editors and agents, and not nearly the numbers of other writers to have to fight like a bunch of ravens after the last meaty bone on roadkill for time with those editors and agents. Plus, one day will be almost completely devoted to writing, reading, renewing my inner Zen...
Oh, I cannot wait!
But with the on-coming frenzy of summer (and whatever busy things that means for you) sometimes the important things get buried under the manure of the little details. For me, writing gets buried under my family's priorities (you know the "country jam is next weekend and we're not ready." Or "mom, I need you to take me driving or I'll never get my license." And yes, she is 17 going on 18. But she's the slacker, not me.)
Now, I'm not complaining about my family being busy or needing me (because a)I created that monster, and b)I enjoy feeling needed); but sometimes I lose my priorities.
When I lose my way, I ask directions.
So I'm asking...
How do you refocus your priorities when life gets hectic?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Last stop on the road to RMFW's June Education Event: Interview with Charlotte Cook

First off, tell us a little bit about how you got into the writing/publishing industry. When/how/why you became an editor.
Since I was ten years old I wanted to write and teach. Somehow the force of Story and the ability to bring people to their own realization of their talent and the opportunities of Story has always held my imagination and focus. Then in 1991 several career opportunities collided and produced a world in which I could teach writing ... and teaching writers to be better readers ... at prominent local adult schools. I began with how to write a mystery. The class was an immediate hit, drawing almost thirty people and several local well-known writers and journalists. From there my reputation grew, and I became the central writing teacher at two adult programs.

Also at that time I took a wonderful writing class from a young writer Craig Collins who found within my writing much talent and lots of bad habits. His work with me, his focus on giving me better habits in place of the naive and sometimes melodramatic ones I fostered, and his support of my writing showed me several things: A teaching style based on identifying habits and raising a writer's levels of talent by centering attention on the positive to strengthen the writer's unique capabilities, and a love of sensitive reading and how it plays an important role in writing.

Because of Craig, I entered an MFA program where I worked with excellent literary writers such as Pam Houston, Christopher Tilghman, Lynn Fried, Jervey Tervalon, and Louis Birney as well as wonderful teachers such as Ed Biglin, Carol Lashoff, and Alden Reimonenq. Pam Houston I owe a grand thank-you. She developed and reinforced my ability to read a work with the sensitivity of a reader who loves to read and therefore find more subtly and creativity in my own works. Maybe a small thing to some. To me, I learned to measure the completeness of the writing effort by the writer's ability, craft and commitment by the ability to be absorbed by the writing. 

There too in graduate school I learned that my unique contribution in workshopping was to articulate how a story stayed on target, how well characters stayed "in character," and why readers turn the page. Christopher Tilghman celebrated my talent one evening when he said, "You all aren't too sure about Charlotte's ability to get you turn pages and her comments on how you could better stay focused to do the same. Well, if you want to be published and have readers, Charlotte is the best example among you of understanding and employing what's needed to her own and your writing."

After earning an MFA, I went into the business of editing and teaching full time always being cited as a "Story Editor" for my ability to make a story "work." I taught some thousand students over the years, more than 10% of them getting published, winning awards and even getting into special programs as a result of working with me. Several even placed in the top 100 of the Writers Digest Annual Story Contest, out of some 40,000 entrants. So statistics may seem strange to cite, but my results with my students and clients are often better than more well-known editors and teachers. And recommendations often include: "If you want to write at a higher level and if your goal is to be published, maybe you should be studying with Charlotte."

Then in 2005 I was asked to start KOMENAR Publishing. I was approached by someone who wanted to be published and also start a publishing house that focused on first-time authors. The money was provided for the publishing house with the understanding that I would build the business from scratch, acquire the titles, supervise all the necessary publishing functions and story edit the individual works. Across five years we published six novels, all of them breaking industry sales records for debut novels from a small publisher and most winning prestigious awards. Also two have gained increasing Hollywood attention along with agents and bigger publishing houses showing interest in second novels from several of these authors. When 2009 economic forces drove KOMENAR into hibernation, I made plans to move on to the the part of the industry that most feeds my own creativity ... helping talented authors complete polished and publishable works. 

Then around the same time I met Jon James Miller, an award-winning screenwriter with a multi-award-winning script he wanted to adapt into a publishable commercial mainstream novel. We worked together on his manuscript through the completion of Garbo's Last Stand, now with agents. And we discovered that our love of Story made us an excellent creative and business team to write the book Adapting Sideways. We also created the business also entitled Adapting Sideways, based on being adaptable to the times, economics and talents of the industry to reach writing and publishing goals ... If you can't go straight at something, Adapting Sideways has the strategies and can find industry professionals who can still make "it" happen for the writer and project by just adapting differently to the circumstances!

As further validation for the criteria I hold dear regarding publishable books and my experience with the industry, I have twice been a major judge for an international book contest held annually in coordination with Book Expo America (BEA). This year I judged seven separate categories as well as choosing the three grand prize winners in fiction. I have done similar judging for reputable writers conferences, but this opportunity was an acknowledgement of my work along with Jon's successes with contests and judging, as the standards and process of judging evolved out of our work. As the market place adjusts to eBooks and self-publishing, I am fortunate and honored to be considered as an industry professional who can see the past, present and future in the current crop of published fiction works. 

This Saturday, you will be the presenter for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, first annual Colorado Western Slope Education Event. You presented The Final Edit fworkshop last May in Denver for RMFW and received great reviews from the attendees. Can you tell our readers a little about the workshop and what attendees can expect.

Writers don't really know what acquisition editors and agents do and think when we open a submission from a writer. My goal is to make that process as open and understandable as it should be. 

Too often people who are neither acquisition editors or agents tell writers what goes on ... but I am a former acquisition editor and now a "pre-agent," someone who matches ready work to appropriate agents and even publishers who will take unagented work. I know this process intimately across some 5,000 submissions; 1,000 clients; and 100+ published writers. And I can articulate it in practical terms and strategies to committed writers.

In this interactive and practical workshop, I will read and share first impressions, praise and suggestions to participants based on the pages they bring to the workshop. That's it. Our whole focus will be on what's in my hand and what I would do if I were the agent or publisher.

We'll discuss and question. I'll draw diagrams and suggest agents and publishers who might be appropriate. I'll also counsel patience and preparation. Basically we will increase your chances of being successful getting an agent, being published, and being rewarded with great exposure and sales based on how a publisher reaches out to readers, reviewers and booksellers. After all that's what publishing is--whether you publish your own work or Random House offers you the deal of a lifetime.

In addition to being an editor and speaker, you have a book out. Tell us a little about Adapting Sideways and how it came about

Jon James Miller and I wrote Adapting Sideways to articulate the elements that make a manuscript publishable--in this case specifically one adapted from a screenplay. But the big take-away is that a polished manuscript that your author and writer friends think is great may or may not be ready for a publisher's investment. Knowing how to insure that your work is publishable should be as major a goal to a writer at that point in time as completing a polished manuscript earlier.

We published through my old publishing house KOMENAR for timing sake. We needed to have a salable book available Fall 2010 after Creative Screenwriting Magazine published a three-page feature article on our work and philosophy for the Fall issue and that year's LA EXPO. Now we're using it as a template for a longer manuscript represented by a top nonfiction literary agent. And another book is in the works: Lights! Camera! Novel! This book combines Jon and my love of film and literature and how to use film to make novels more effective on the page. Note: We didn't say "screenplays," we said "film."

I understand your publishing house isn't currently active, what are you doing, besides presenting workshops?

My creative and business relationship with Jon has opened a new world of writers. Working with screenwriters turning to novel-writing and advising nonfiction writers on how to manifest more Story in their work has brought some amazing and talented people to us. Also we are called on to work in more industry settings to comment on the industry and impact of the changes and the chaos. But most of our clients are novelists, memoirists, and short story writers who are working to raise the level of their craft as well as complete that work or start the next one. My goals are to see strong writers polished, published and successful. So anything that feeds that need is my passion. 

KOMENAR is actually not my publishing house, but the one I co-founded and ran for five years. My ties to KOMENAR are professional and helpful but I am not an employee or shareholder. Though I do work regularly with several of the novelists and others with whom we sought to work. 

When not working, what do you do to have fun?

I am an avid reader across a wide arena of subjects, styles and eras. I am also a committed short story writer, having finished one just days ago. Literary short stories are like Rubik's Cubes to me. So much to do in a refined space of words and paragraphs. I'm most interested in the dimensions of emotional challenge and fulfillment. 

I also watch a lot of films, which I totally enjoy deconstructing with Jon because we are such Story and Structure fiends. Also we're both quite visual and metaphoric in our appreciation of Story on the page or film. Recent favorites include: "The Fighter," "The King's Speech," and surprising little films such as "Everything is Illuminated." Some films I watch over and over again. I'm currently watching "It Happened One Night." Oh, and British mysteries are so wonderful that I bought a region-free dvd player so I could watch the most recent episodes of "Lewis," only available from

Beyond that I have a husband whom I deeply love who is a scholar and bookseller. We love to travel when we can. Otherwise we love our home and family of friends as well as our pets, most central to our family being two dogs Jewel and Bella. Both are rescues and female German Shepherd mixes. One is barely 50 pounds and almost 13 years old, while the other is 85 pounds and not two years old. The younger, bigger one is a great indulgence for me as Bella is all surprises, from her mix (GS, pit bull, Doberman, and hound) to her extreme attentiveness. We all have our weaknesses, and Bella is mine. In surprise fact of Bella's pit bull heritage so staggered me that I wrote a piece published in the Oakland Tribune about how I overcame my quickly rising and very consuming fear of pit bull mixes in the face of an adorable, affectionate and very large puppy.

Anything else you would like to tell us about?

When learning to write and working to complete a manuscript, your best peers and coaches are writing teachers (from those who work in adult schools to those with degrees in grad programs), fellow writers, and authors. 

When taking that manuscript to an audience of industry professionals (from agents and publishers to reviewers, publicists, designers and marketing people) your best peers and coaches are people with industry experience publishing books, not having books published. 

The difference in the two objectives ... writing and publishing ... should alert the writer to the difference in the best populations from which to seek advice, counsel and support. That and patience ... time works for you in this industry ... will give you a writing career if not the realization of a successful project.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Third Stop on the Road to RMFW's June Education Event: An interview with author, Robin Owens

Just a few days before the workshop in Grand Junction and tonight we are interviewing fantasy romance author, Robin Owens.

Along with Christine Goff and Mario Acevedo, Robin will meet with workshop attendees to answer questions and critique pages.

Thank you for being here, Robin. We can't wait to see you in person on Saturday.

Please welcome, Robin Owens.

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

I'm Robin D. Owens (added the middle initial after I sold my first book and the website was not available).  After a relationship bombed, I took a writing course through Colorado Free University and met Kay Bergstrom who introduced me to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.  I've told myself stories (particularly before I fell asleep) all of my life and have been writing seriously since the class, mumbledy-mumble years ago.

I write fantasy romance for Berkley Publishing Group – the "Heart" series, and fantasy with romantic subplots for Luna Books.  I am currently working on my eighteenth contracted book, Heart Secret.

My tenth book in the Heart series, Heart Search, will be issued in August 2011, and the second in my Mystic Circle series will be out – heaven and editor and copy edits willing – in January 2012.

The Heart series is set on another planet called Celta and colonized by Earth people with psi powers four centuries previously.  The books feature telepathic animal companions (cats, dogs, foxes...) as mentors and comic relief...

The Mystic Circle series is urban paranormal.

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

Ouch!  Hard to recall.  But I do know that about two months before I sold my first book (fourth completed manuscript), I decided to cut back on my writing.  I'd been working hard on it every evening and weekend for about 8-9 years and was completely discouraged.

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?
For writing, the biggest mistake I see made in genre fiction is not having a hook up front and having too much backstory.  I think I actually avoided those mistakes with my first manuscript (never to be published), but made a different error in starting with a dream sequence.  But I've made both mistakes of burying a hook and too much backstory since.  Sometimes it's necessary for the WRITER to put in all the backstory to understand the character and story, but that backstory doesn't need to stay in the manuscript.

For business purposes, the biggest mistake I see is thinking that mastering technique is easy and as a writer not taking advice and/or critique.

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

I am single and define myself as a writer.  Writing is what I am, not just a job.  I usually write every day, though I understand that time must be taken off to refill the creative well.

When not writing, what do you do?

Huh?  Ok, most of the things I do revolve around writing, other than spending time with family and friends.  I scout settings (recently, Red Rocks for the climax of Enchanted Ever.  Windsor Castle in England for my Summoning series; Cliveden, also in England, for Heart Choice).  I play an online game that lets me create characters down to the length of their noses, and helps with character arcs as well as being a background career for a couple of my own characters.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Road to RMFW's June Education Event: Interview with Mario Acevedo

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' June Education Event is one week from today. Whew. What fun we've had planning and attending the two workshops.

This week we will continue to interview the presenter and authors who are gracing us with their presence at the workshop in Grand Junction on June 11th.

Please welcome Mario Acevedo and be sure to ask Mario any additional questions you have or leave a comment or two.

Welcome Mario!!

First off, tell us a little about yourself and when/how/why you started writing.
I started writing seriously about 23 years ago and from the time I decided that I wanted to get published until I got the "call," it took 17 years (and six manuscripts). I started writing to quiet the voices in my head and I've found that I prefer my delusions to reality.

And your books, what do you have published and what are you working on right now?
I thought I was writing contemporary satire and instead it was urban fantasy--a five book series (and a graphic novel) about a detective-vampire/Iraq war veteran.  I've got a couple of short stories in print, the most recent of which is in the anthology You Don't Have A Clue from Arte Publico Press. I'm working on a variety of projects to enrich my coffers for my scheme of world domination. So far I'm up to $11.57.

Rejection letters: How many did you receive before you were published?
I measure my rejection letters by the pound and use them as ballast in my fleet of yachts.

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?
New writers need to read more and better understand their genre. Also realize that the process can take a long, long time. Be accepting of criticism as long as it is positive.

How often do you write? Do you stick to a schedule or work it in around life?
I write almost every day. I'm at the literary sausage machine by 7am and stick to it until noon or 1pm.

When not writing, what do you do?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

POV Characters Immortal or not?

    Hey everybody,

    Can, or rather, should you kill off a POV character in the middle of a book? Obviously it would be a mistake to kill a POV character in a one or two POV book. And, we all know that the bad guy can, and often does, die near the end of a book, that’s okay. But what if you have multiple POVs? Can you kill one of those?

    I’ve seen forum posts on this very thing and often, it depends, appeared somewhere in the post. It depends on how you treat it. It depends, does it further the plot? It depends on the phase of the moon. Well, maybe it does. But I’m going to take a stand and say, “Damn right you can, and you should. Why? Star Trek.

    That’s right, Star Trek. The original series with Captain Kirk and Spock and Bones and Scotty, that Star Trek. The greatest sci-fi series of it’s time and progenitor of movies, tv series, action figures, and worldwide conventions. But, Star Trek had a flaw.

    Only the guys in the red shirts that you’d never seen before ever died. Oh sure, every now and then a main character was put in mortal danger but you knew they weren’t going to croak. You knew it beyond a shadow of a doubt so, no matter how artfully contrived the pickle, your fear and dread were less than they could have been. Now, I understand that sort of thing is a constraint of an ongoing tv series but we aren’t writing a tv series. Even if we are writing a series of novels, I would argue that you have to kill a main character once in awhile and, if you have multiple POVs, you ought to kill one of them.

    The argument against killing POV characters seems to be that you might upset the reader. Okay, that may play in certain genres where there is an expectation of a ‘happily ever after’ ending. But fantasy, my genre, isn’t one of those.

    Killing a POV character changes the dynamic for the reader. The reader, once invested in the characters, will fear more for them. Tension will increase if anyone in the cast can die. The momentary, “Crap! I liked that guy.” reaction will soon be overcome by the need to find out if the rest of them make it. The reader will have to see what peril the rest of them face. Will they overcome or succumb?

    I have a novel that needs a lot of work. It’s the first one I wrote and it’s sitting in a drawer, and on my hard-drive, and on a couple sticks and one day I’ll pull it out and work on it. Many things will change; the antagonist needs some redeeming qualities, the protagonists need some work, I might pull a few scenes and write new ones. The one thing that will not change is the title character being killed two thirds of the way though. He dies for a reason and that reason is central to the book. He dies to demonstrate to the readers and the characters that the danger is real and imminent. He dies to demonstrate that his plan, no matter how vital and necessary, is likely to get some, maybe all of them, killed. And that, even should the plan fail, they must try again, no matter the cost. 

    That’s a pretty good reason to kill him. But I don’t need one that good. POV characters find themselves in threatening situations all the time, They can’t survive them all. If they all do all the time, the story will become predictable just like Star Trek. I don’t want any guys in red shirts in my books. POV characters will never get a free pass in my books. But those are my books.

    What do you think as a writer? As a reader? I’d love to hear it.