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! ūüôā

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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

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

 

 

 

Writers and Writing

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Is there anything more intoxicating than being in a room full of motivated writers? If there is, I can’t think of what it would be.

This past weekend I was fortunate to attend a writing workshop in Denver, Writing Commercial Fiction, by Jeffery Deaver, hosted by Rocky Mountain Chapter Mystery Writers of America, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This was my second time I was blessed to learn from him, the first being at the Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference. What a talented, generous, wonderful man!

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The five hours were packed with useful information, no fluff, no time wasted.

He started with general rules of writing fiction which included:

Define your goal as a writer, remember your mission, writing fiction is a business, adopt the mint-flavored business model (as an author it’s our job to give the reader a pleasant experience, mint vs liver-flavored toothpaste), the subject of your story and what it should be about, plan your book or story ahead of time (he’s a huge advocate of outlining and research and completely convinced me to put more time into each), and know your craft (from style, prose, grammar, punctuation, syntax, the publishing market, and technology). He touched on being aware of your shortcomings, the importance of rewriting, continuing your education via classes and conferences, that rejection is a speed bump and not a brick wall (something we can all benefit from to remember) and take your time in all aspects of writing. Hurrying the process will only result in a lesser quality piece of written work.

From there he spent time on the four elements of a story:

Plot – Continually introduce conflicts. Every scene needs to raise questions. Aim for the WOW! factor. He suggested holding off on answering those questions as long as possible. Unresolved anticipation is good, but never leave a conflict, clue, or subplot unanswered. Every question needs to be answered at the end of the book and every clue resolved. He talked about adding subplots, humor, and even a few fun facts. He explained the importance of using plot reversals and how to energize the middle of the book. I was surprised (pleasantly so since I’ve always struggled with the 3-act structure) that he doesn’t believe in the 3-act structure but rather a linear structure with a series of ups and downs. He talked about the need for surprise endings, that your twists need to have consequences, and the necessity of creating risks for your characters by incorporating physical threats, death, or a loss of something, whether it be love, friendship, a career, or any other loss that’s significant to a character. He touched on using the Goldilocks principle when incorporating research–not to little, not too much, but make sure it helps the story and furthers the reader’s understanding.

Characters – It’s good to have a protagonist with flaws but s/he needs to be likeable, don’t create passive characters, observe people constantly to make your characters better, give them quirks and tics, the best way to reveal a character (telling the reader directly, describe the appearance, thoughts, and feelings, using dialogue, through the character’s actions, and through others reactions). And we can’t leave out that even the villain needs to be a little likable. Shoot for compelling characters instead of interesting.

Setting – The setting is essentially another character but less important than plot and character. The plot should be developed first, then populated with characters, then setting comes into play. He stressed the importance of doing your research on settings. Boots-on-the-ground research is best, but if that isn’t possible, use the Internet.

Dialogue – Don’t over explain during dialogue, write as if someone is talking (use contractions and break the rules of grammar), match the characters with their dialogue, and when using a dialogue attribution “said” and “asked” are best.

This is only a brief explanation of topics covered. Each section was chock full of information, suggestions, examples, and personal stories. And when I asked if I could record his presentation, he was kind enough to allow it. That’s generosity, folks! His passion for his profession is hugely contagious. (How’s that for the ole ly adverb?)

Numerous members of my Sisters in Crime-Colorado writing group attended as well. (I’m third from the right with the cut-out shoulder shirt). To say it was beneficial to us as writers is an understatement. If he’s ever presenting at a conference/workshop in your area, I highly recommend any and all writers to attend. You won’t be sorry. It will be a mint-flavored experience!

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And now it’s back to Camp NaNo where I have a manuscript vying for my attention.

Write on. Have a beautiful week!

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
‚Äē Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Authors Supporting Authors

Paulo Coelho

This past Saturday I was fortunate to be a part of book event at Welcome to the Bookstore with some author friends. There was a scavenger hunt, trivial pursuit, author readings, refreshments, drawings, and a whole lot of camaraderie with some amazing authors.

I’m equally fortunate to have found such an amazing writer’s group to belong to, Sisters in Crime-Colorado¬† (SINC-CO). What amazing and talented women we have, not to mention a lot of fun! We learn and build from each other, grow together, support each other, and celebrate each other’s successes. I get all that and I’m not even able to participate in several of the events because of this “thing” that gets in the way. It’s called busy-ness. ūüôā

Being part of a writer’s group has grown my writing career beyond anything I could have hoped for, and for that, I am so grateful! I’m also a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and urge you to check them out as well. I’m over-the-top excited to attend the Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference next month in Denver.

Speaking from my own experience, if you’re a writer and on the fence about whether to join a writer’s group or not, I would like to give you¬†a gentle nudge, helping you to the other side of that fence–the side that finds you surrounded by the amazing support of a writer’s group.

Book Event with SINC-COThose of us that participated in Saturday’s event include from left to right:

Rhonda Blackhurst (that would be me ūüôā ), Karen Whalen, Francelia Belton, Theresa Crater, Donna Schlachter/Leeann Betts, Rosa (owner of Welcome to the Bookstore)

I encourage you to take a moment and check out their websites.

Happy reading, happy writing, and most importantly, happy living!

 

 

Writing Communities

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For a writer, deciding to belong to a community of other writers will be one of the best choices you make. Writers understand other writers and the struggles we all go through like no one else can. It’s similar, I suppose, to any group of people with like interests.

Cops can understand each other’s black humor and often use it as a healing method, when the rest of society might think¬†they’re crazy and a sandwich short of a picnic.

Alcoholics draw strength and support from one another that they can’t get from anyone else, hence the¬†huge success of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Christians find peace, joy, and acceptance from brothers and sisters in Christ among other Christians, as they come to know there is strength in numbers.

Victims of crime find comfort in the presence of those who have gone through a like experience. Other human beings who understand the pain, the shame, the healing, and the rising from the ashes.

And on and on. You get the picture.

Paulo Coelho

For writers, the¬†benefits of belonging to a community are endless. There are groups on Goodreads for just about everything writers experience; there are online critique groups as well as in-person critique groups; there are¬†local writers groups as well as online writers groups, some with local chapters; there’s the blogging community to connect with those who have similar interests as you or to broaden your knowledge base; and let’s not forget the magazine community (think Writer’s Digest, Poets and Writers, and¬†The Writer.) And these are just a few of the groups out there.

It’s in these groups that you will get ideas on how to¬†manuever through the publishing process, whether you’re aiming for traditional publishing or going the indie route; it’s in these groups that you will get ideas for and help with:

Marketing and Promotion – One of the most difficult aspect of being an author is how to market and promote your book after it’s published. It’s here an author¬†learns that writing the piece was actually the easy part. But it doesn’t have to be as hard as we sometimes make it. Building¬†from one another’s successes and learning from each other’s failures make the load a whole lot lighter to bear.

Formatting and Editing РFor indie authors, formatting a manuscript for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or the old-fashioned paper format, can be a daunting task. Especially for those technologically challenged. Like yours truly. The knowledge from others in the group that are technologically savvy is priceless. And giving back in an area that is your strength is beyond satisfying.

Support and Encouragement – When a writer gets a bad review, isn’t selling any books, is having a serious case of self-doubt or writer’s block, who better to get support from than the very people who have gone through the same exact thing. Over. And over. And over.

Reviews and the Chance to Review – The truth of the matter is, as much as we would like them to, our books don’t sell themselves. Many readers depend on the sum of a book’s reviews to determine¬†if they want to read it. Swapping reviews gives you a chance to get your book reviewed by someone who’s well-read and offers the chance to review another’s, which in turn only strengthens your own writing.

Critiques – What a better way to perfect your writing than by having other writer’s critique your work and having the opportunity to critique theirs. It’s a win-win.

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I have my blogging community where I share, learn, connect and make friends. I belong to¬†local writer’s groups, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Northern Colorado Writers,¬†where I learn¬†by listening to other writers, taking¬†classes and attending writer’s conferences. I’m a member of Sisters in Crime, of which we’re starting a local chapter,¬†and Guppies, an online chapter of Sisters in Crime. I belong to several groups on Goodreads, and participate in NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo, both of which take writing communities to a whole new level. ūüôā It’s in these communities I find myself improving and growing as an author. And it’s in these places that takes the joy of writing and turns it into a thrilling adventure.

What groups/communities do you belong to? How has it benefitted your growth?