Colorado Gold

Colorado Gold

Colorado Gold means more than the golden Aspens in autumn. To a Colorado writer, it also means the Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference in Denver. Held the weekend after Labor Day, it’s the perfect way to get motivated and rejuvenate one’s writing goals and spend time in the company of other like-minded writers while ushering in the fall season. By like-minded writers, I mean those who think it’s completely normal to research how to poison someone without getting caught, which gun is the best to “do the job” and who think sitting in a chair thinking is some of the hardest, yet most enjoyable, work there is.

Some conference highlights:

The view of the Denver skyline from my hotel room was motivating in and of itself.

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James Scott Bell gave a six-hour intensive workshop titled “Writing a Novel They Can’t Put Down.” I’ve read his books on the craft of writing several times over. Some of them (Plot and Structure and Revision and Self-Editing, both Writer’s Digest Books), I’ve marked up, highlighted, dog-eared, and stuck sticky notes to so many pages, that they look a little worse for wear. But I still refer to them often. Hearing him speak was writer’s gold.

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Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, and Inheritance, was a keynote speaker and delivered a powerful speech on the birth of his writing career, how Eragon began as a self-published work, growing into the enormous success it is.

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Kate Moretti, author of four novels and a novella (her first novel, Thought I Knew You, was a New York Times bestseller), gave the packed room of writers hope and inspiration regarding her immediate success that led to a series of what most would consider failure. Yet she persevered, something writers all too often need to force themselves to do, and came out on top. It’s that perseverance that makes a writer a winner no matter how many rejections s/he may get.

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Four classes, “The Itty Bitty Nitty Gritty of Making Prose Pretty” and “Strip-Searching Your Prose,” both presented by Tiffany Yates Martin, and “Beyond Goal+Conflict” and “Expand! Contract! The Dance of the Well-Paced Story,” both presented by Angie Hodapp, were by themselves well worth the cost of the conference. Anytime you have a chance to listen to either of these women speak on the craft of writing, I recommend jumping on it! I promise you’ll come out all the better for it. And the class titled “Pique Those Ears! An Author’s Guide to Audiobooks” by Sue Duff has led to a contract with a narrator. My Melanie Hogan series will soon be audiobooks! 🙂

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Another highlight was sharing this phenomenal experience with good writing friends, especially my sisters from writer’s group Sisters in Crime Colorado. These ladies provide support, advice, encouragement, and shared knowledge, enriching the full writing experience.

Colorado Gold? Yes, Please!

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.                       –Francis Bacon

Welcoming in September

Happy September!

I’ve always loved the months of September and October. Not because I want summer to end, but because those particular months carry with it evenings fit for hoodies, vibrant colors, the beginning of a new school year, renewed energy, fall decorations including the warm glow of orange lights, and all things pumpkin flavored!

My home office is decorated with a fall theme all year long, and it’s there I hibernate when I need a reprieve from the chaos of life.

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Thursday, September 6th begins a 4-day writing conference, Colorado Gold, which is a writer’s paradise. So much learning, connecting with other writers, and networking, that by the time conference is over, my head is usually so packed with information that I’m ready to once again retreat to my home office and put what I’ve learned to the page.

Mid-September my husband and I are taking a trip to Taos, NM, one of my favorite places to visit. It’s an artsy town where I feel completely at home. Last time we visited there, author Natalie Goldberg made an appearance at the bookstore. Quite the treat!

And finally, at the end of September is a 3-day conference I’m attending for work in beautiful Breckinridge, Colorado, a town at the base of the Rocky Mountains’ Tenmile Range.

What about you. Any plans for the beautiful fall months? What is your favorite season of the year and why?

Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.
― Lauren DeStefano, Wither

I can smell autumn dancing in the breeze.
The sweet chill of pumpkin and crisp sunburnt leaves.
~Ann Drake, 2013

 

Cover Reveal!

Coming in November!

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When beauty salon owner Melanie Hogan joins six of her pals from beauty college for a reunion in Pinewood Village, Minnesota, one of the gang turns up dead the morning after the party. With Melanie’s shears as the murder weapon, she’s the prime suspect in the investigation. As Melanie launches an investigation of her own to clear her name and to eliminate each of her friends as the murderer, she uncovers secrets of the victim that rocks her world.

As Melanie digs into her old friends’ histories, her own past comes back to haunt her. With someone working overtime to set her up as the killer, Melanie enlists the help of her beauty salon cohorts to find the real Shears Slayer before she’s next.

All Things Gratitude

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Gratitude fills my heart, my home, my life. And I’m so grateful for that. But I also realize that it’s all too easy to get busy with living and default, as human beings often do, to feelings other than gratitude, forgetting to be grateful. Especially for the small, simple things in life that make a big difference.

So I’ve created a gratitude jar that sits on my kitchen counter. Right beside it are pre-cut strips of paper and a pen for easy access. No excuses that there isn’t time to find a pen or “I’ll get to it later.” My husband and I frequently fill out a slip as we pass by the jar, and family and friends who visit are encouraged to participate as they wish.

Our plan is to go through each item of gratitude on New Year’s Eve as a reminder of all that we have to be grateful for in the past year. And what a way to bring in the new year–with hearts filled with gratitude!

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. -Melody Beattie

Another item of mention that I’m so excited about is that a non-fiction article I wrote titled Gratitude in All Things has been published in an anthology titled Colorado’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Nonfiction and has been released this week. Yay! It can be found here and here


May I suggest making your own gratitude jar? Get creative. Got kids? Have them help! Make it a family activity.

And in the meantime, let me know what you’re grateful for last week, today, in this moment.

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. -William Arthur Ward

Calling for Recipes

Kitchen

With Camp NaNoWriMo over today, it’s time to get moving on my work in progress.

A portion of each book in the Melanie Hogan cozy mystery series includes some time spent in Nana’s kitchen. There, not only does she teach Melanie how to cook, but they make lasting memories with time spent together and connecting as can only be done in the warmth and love of a kitchen. With good food, coffee or tea, and good company, what could be better?

Each book also includes a recipe. In fact, Shear Madness, book one in the series, contains three recipes! Since the series is set in northern Minnesota (fictional Birch Haven, to be exact), the recipes included are either hotdish or some other recipe native to Minnesota. What is hotdish some non-Minnesotans may ask? It’s a casserole that contains some sort of starch, meat, canned or frozen vegetables, and canned soup.

I’m currently searching for recipes for my upcoming book, Shear Murder, book four in the series, scheduled for publication in November, 2018,  If you have a hotdish recipe, or another that is native to Minnesota, that you would like featured in the book, send it to me via email at rjblackhurst0611@gmail.com. If your recipe is chosen, your name will appear in the book as well. I will also select recipes for any upcoming books in the series.

I’m looking forward to trying the recipes I receive. The chosen recipe, along with the sender, will also be featured on an upcoming blog post.

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Writing Lessons

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This past weekend I attended a writing workshop hosted by Sisters in Crime, presented by Nancy Pickard. Nancy is one of the founding members and former president of the International level of Sisters in Crime, an organization that supports women mystery writers. She’s also a past board member of Mystery Writers of America. Impressive, right? But you haven’t heard anything yet.

She has numerous awards under her writers belt, among them the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Barry, and Shamus awards for her short stories–WOW! And there’s more! She’s been nominated four times for the Edgar Allan Poe award, she’s received a Lifetime Achievement award from Malice Domestic, and she’s been a Mary Higgins Clark award finalist.

Who better to learn from? And did she have a lot of fantastic advice!

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In addition to learning how to better be a strong female writer in an industry that leans toward men, I want to share some tips she provided that have served her well in her career.

There are five elements every chapter needs to have–Conflict, Action, Surprise, Turn, Senses.

Conflict: Old reality vs new reality. In the beginning of the story, something happens that changes what was to what is or will be. A template for a mystery novel contains the protagonist living a normal life that something intrudes upon. The protagonist hesitates to move forward but something else happens that propels them forward into their new reality. It will serve you well to include conflict in your first paragraph.

Action:  Action propels each scene into the next one, so make sure it’s present in each scene/chapter.

Surprise:  Try insert a surprise in each chapter, no matter how subtle it may be. The best people to surprise are the protagonist or the reader.

Turn:  Recognize what your character is feeling as they walk into a scene, even if it’s neutral. Make that emotion turn into something else during that scene. The emotional tone should change in your protagonist within each scene so s/he isn’t simply ambling from one scene into the next and out again.

Senses:  This is my favorite and in Nancy’s words, the most important. All five senses–taste, touch, sight, smell, hearing–should be incorporated into your writing. She suggested looking at each scene, and if there’s not a few references to the senses, add them. I wondered how to do this so it was natural and didn’t sound forced and was surprised and how many places I could add some of the senses in the few scenes I reviewed. And it added so much more to my story. If you’re having a difficult time, stop where you are, close your eyes and focus on one of the senses at a time. What do you hear? See? Taste? Smell? Feel? Our group was pretty creative with this exercise!

Special Mentions:

  • Write the letters C.A.S.T.S. on a notecard as well as a separate notecard with each of the five senses. Keep it by your side as you’re writing as a reminder to incorporate all of these elements in each of your scenes.
  • Always check the first sentence. If possible have it contain conflict or one of the five senses.
  • Pay special attention to the first sentence, first paragraph, first scene, first chapter. Take out all the words that weaken your writing–very, that, just, so, etc. Replace weak verbs with strong ones.
  • Backstory and the current one should each be their own story, with a beginning, middle, and an end. Don’t add backstory without a purpose.
  • Take care not to spend too much time setting up a scene. This one kind of speaks for itself.
  • Go deep into research, experiencing all that you can. Ride that train, shoot that gun, visit that museum, really taste that specific food…

And, as always, what can’t be taught but is so strongly felt, is that camaraderie, that support, that creative energy, those things that can only come from being in a room full of writers.

And now, it’s back off to camp. Camp NaNoWriMo, that is. To work on my project, revising book four in the Melanie Hogan mysteries, Shear Murder, by using C.A.S.T. and the five senses. Onward!

Off to Camp

If you have a dream of writing, that’s wishful thinking. If you have a commitment to writing, that’s the way to make your dreams come true.
Nancy Pickard

 

 

 

Camp NaNoWriMo

Off to Camp

So in further explanation from the brief mention of Camp NaNo in last week’s post, what exactly is Camp NaNo? It can be summed up in two words:

Fun Challenge!

Camp NaNoWriMo is a spinoff from November’s NaNoWriMo where participants from all over the world strive to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Camp NaNo is a bit looser. Where November’s goal is to write the first draft of a novel, Camp allows the participants to set their own goal in word count, page count, minutes or hours. The “campers” are also given a place to stay with like-minded campers in virtual cabins, making virtual s’mores over virtual campfires, but having real conversation. Cabin mates encourage one another, share their expertise and knowledge, and new writer friendships are developed.

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I’ve participated in November’s NaNoWriMo in the past (in fact, my first published book, The Inheritance, was born from my very first NaNoWriMo experience), I usually participate in the April Camp NaNo, but I never miss a July Camp. I dust off my lantern, prepare the month before by planning my project and reading what I can. When Camp starts I celebrate with a real s’more on day one (No virtual ones for this part) and at set intervals to celebrate accomplishments along the way.

This year I’ll be working on edits and revisions on book four in the Melanie Hogan Mystery Series, Shear Murder. Shear Madness, Shear Deception, and Shear Malice are available here and here. I’ve set my goal at 40 hours, I’ve printed my manuscript and placed it in a 3-ring binder, I’m re-reading the book Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell (one of the best books on editing I’ve ever found), and I’m ready to roll!

One last thing–Each of the Melanie Hogan Mysteries contains a recipe. Shear Madness, book one in the series, actually contains three! I’m searching for hotdish recipes for my new book. Unless you’re from Minnesota, you’re probably wondering what in the world hotdish is. It’s a casserole that typically contains a starch of some sort, meat, and canned or frozen vegetables with canned soup. Minnesotans can get pretty creative, let me tell ya, don’tcha know. Since the Melanie Hogan series is set in northern Minnesota, the chosen recipes are native to Minnesota (like hotdish) or those that were special to me as a child growing up. If you don’t have a hotdish recipe but want to participate, anything native to Minnesota will do. Nothing with Spam though, please. I’ve yet to see anything that makes Spam edible. Ugh!

I’ll be accepting submissions for the next couple of months, and the chosen recipe, along with the winner’s name, will be mentioned in the book. If you’re interested in participating, send your recipe via email to rjblackhurst0611@gmail.com.

And now it’s back off to Camp!

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