Category Archives: Authors

News and a Giveaway

I really need to be better about consistently blogging, but lately, I’ve been putting everything I have to say in the YA I’m working on. You can catch me at The Writing Bug, however, every other Wednesday. But while I’m words-smithing away, the writing world keeps spinning, so here’s some newsworthy tidbits to pass along. Plus, I’m giving away a copy of Bobbing for Watermelons . . .

2015_Hot-Chocolate-Press-Library

My Bobbing publisher, Kerrie Flanagan of Hot Chocolate Press is at Patricia Stoltey’s blog today discussing the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a small publisher. It’s a great interview, plus Kerrie is giving away a book, so head over and leave a comment.

The Water Holds No Scars

The Water Holds No Scars: Fly Fishing Stories of Rivers & Rejuvenation, edited by Dean K. Miller, is  now available from Tulip Tree Publishing. This is a compilation of essays from various authors about their healing experiences of fly fishing. Proceeds benefit the Platte Rivers Chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.  I’m anxiously awaiting my copy to arrive in the mail.

 

 

The Devil's Lament

I highly recommend Kenneth W. Harmon’s ebook, The Devil’s Lament. Ken is a longtime member of my critique group and this book has always been one of my favorites of his. He set is aside for a few years, so I was thrilled when he finally decided to shop it. It didn’t take long for his publisher, Winlock Press to snag it. “It is 1932. The world has turned to dust. Lucifer stills walks among us, testing the faithful at every turn. Then he discovers the reincarnation of Eve in a Dust Bowl revival tent … and their ancient passion threatens the world again. When Lucifer and Eve were together in Eden, their relationship changed the fate of humanity.” An excellent read.

 

NCW Top of the Mountain Book AwardThe 2016 Top of the Mountain Book Award is underway. Deadline is February 1, 2016, but wouldn’t it be great to get your submission in before the craziness of the holidays? Top prize is $1,000 given in two categories: Fiction and Creative Nonfiction. Fiction entries tend to outnumber the nonfiction ones, so please pass along the contest to all your memoir writers!

Bobbing for Watermelons by April J. Moore

Finally, what  you’ve all been waiting for, right? I’m giving away a copy of Bobbing for Watermelons to one (outrageously) lucky and (obviously) smart reader. Just leave a comment (preferably a nice one) by next Monday, the 7th at midnight, PST. Open to U.S. residents only.

And if you read any of these books I mentioned (or any book for that matter) leave an honest review on Amazon, Kobo, B&N, and/or Goodreads. It helps authors out a great deal, especially considering there are roughly 750,000 books published a year!

Happy reading!

Get Over It, Harper Lee Fans (or ex-fans, as it may be)

Harper Lee booksAdvice to authors: watch your back, because if you have the audacity to not meet your readers’ demands, you will be skewered. I feel for Harper Lee. It took only a matter of days to rip her down from a place of reverence and admiration (a position readers have bestowed upon her over the last fifty-five years) all because readers sanctified one of her characters.

(A character who the amazing Gregory Peck gave a nice, polished finish to.) 

Go Set a Watchman tells the truth and the truth can hurt. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Finch is defending the law, not supporting desegregation. We see Atticus through the eyes of his adoring 6-year-old daughter, so it’s not hard to imagine readers becoming the same 6-year-old who later discovers disappointing truths. But to say things like, Harper Lee ruined my life; and To Kill a Mockingbird is no longer my favorite book, is childish and petty. To suggest that Lee owed readers a happy ending to the lives of these fictional characters is selfish. You don’t have to like it, but to tear her down because of it, is terrible. Get over it.

To Kill a Mockingbird took on a life of its own and it’s no wonder Lee didn’t publish anything until now. If anyone wants a happy wrap-up to the lives of Scout, Jem, and Atticus, then take to the fan fiction boards and write your own damn sequel. 

Lee didn’t owe us a thing.  

 

Help a Writer and an Illustrator Out (Not talking about me)

David Kulczyk is a talented author friend of mine who is published under the same imprint as my first book, Folsom’s 93. David’s previous titles, Death in California, California’s Fruits, Flakes & Nuts, and California Justice are excellent true crime reads; I highly recommend them. For his forthcoming book, about the murdering ladies of the golden state, he’s hired an illustrator to provide original drawings. David is working with Oalf Jens, an amazing illustrator, but of course, it costs money. If you’d like to help a couple of guys out, check out David’s Go Fun Me; every little bit helps.

Go Fund MeAs David says, “being a writer is a tough row to hoe.” Because of my own fondness for whacked out, historical true crime, I’m enthusiastic about this new book. Also, tune in and listen to David on True Murder podcast; it’s a great interview.

Thanks!

California Fruits, Flakes & Nuts

Ivan Doig

Ivan DoigThis is Ivan Doig, my favorite author. I just read that he passed away today, and it breaks my heart. He wrote 15 books, his first one, This House of Sky, was his beautiful memoir. His 16th, Last Bus to Wisdom is scheduled for an August release. From the first page of the first Doig book I read, I fell in love with his writing style and his characters. Doig was a master of witty, one-of-a-kind descriptions that always made me stop and re-read, out of sheer awe. He had a way of developing characters, who within a page or two, became people you wish you could meet in real life. What a loss. I encourage you to check out Doig’s work. My recommendation is to start with The Whistling Season or English Creek.

Rest in peace, my friend, and thank you for your contribution to the literary world. You’ll be missed.

A is for Androgynous

A is for Androgynous A to Z Challenge, April J. Moore

Oh, goodness. 1989, aged 12. Around this time, I had been in California visiting family and spent a day playing with a kid named Ray, a friend of my cousin’s. Apparently, the whole afternoon, he thought I was a boy. He obviously hadn’t caught my name, so when it came time to leave, something came up about names. “April? But that’s a girl’s name,” he said. Androgyny happens . . . especially when sporting a pre-pubescent short haircut. But I think I could go either way in this picture.

In 1832, poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “The truth is, a great mind must be androgynous.”

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf interpreted Coleridge’s quote by saying, “And I went on amateurishly to sketch a plan of the soul so that in each of us two powers preside, one male, one female . . . The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co-operating . . . Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties. Perhaps a mind that is purely masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine . . .”

Woolf asserted that “an androgynous mind is present when one is working at the absence of sex-consciousness, thus producing output at its highest capacity, without impediment and free from gender-biasness.” (source) Woolf believed that “to write without consciousness of sex is to see the piece of work for itself not as its author.” Much of this theory stems from the sexist treatment she and other women writers had endured. 

Woolf received a great deal of criticism for this view, resulting in a ping-ponging of arguments, but the whole idea of having an androgynous mind is fascinating to me. Recently, author, Andrew Smith got speared for some comments he made when asked why his books lack female characters:

“I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though. 

A lot of The Alex Crow is really about the failure of male societies. In all of the story threads, there are examples of male-dominated societies that make critical errors, whether it’s the army that Ariel falls in with at the beginning, or the refugee camp, or Camp Merrie-Seymour for boys, or the doomed arctic expedition, they’re all examples of male societies that think that they’re doing some kind of noble mission, and they’re failing miserably.”

Some authors accused him of calling women “less than human,” while others said Smith was only being honest; that the underpinning issue is that as a culture, a book’s default is to feature white males.

So where am I going with all of this?

I’m not entirely sure, but I found Woolf’s theory intriguing. Can “a single person of either sex  [embody] the full range of human character traits, despite cultural attempts to render some exclusively feminine and some exclusively masculine?” And thus, create authentic emotions and insights of characters of both genders? Is it even possible? Or are we merely guessing when we write the viewpoints of the opposite sex? 

I wasn’t offended by Smith’s comments. I think he unintentionally kicked a beehive. I’d be interested to hear what Woolf would say, however. Are authors (particularly male authors) obligated to include female characters in their books? (And of course, they can’t be gun-toting, bikini-wearing blondes, right?) 

I realize this is a much deeper issue than what I’m making it out to be, but in order to scratch the surface, I’d like to know, 1.) Is it possible to write with androgyny? and 2.) Are we being sexist if we don’t?

A to Z Challenge 2015

Artists Behaving Badly

Just yesterday, I was talking about toddlers and temper tantrums, so I’ll continue with that thread and talk about Kanye West. On Sunday, during the Grammy award show, he nearly repeated his infamous onstage rant of 2009, when he hopped on stage after Beck won for album of the year. He didn’t follow through with his tirade, but later pouted and cried, telling US Weekly Magazine:

The Grammys, if they want real artists to come back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. Flawless, Beyoncé video, and Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé. And at this point, we tired of it because what happens is, when you keep on diminishing art, and not respecting the craft, and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration.” 

Wow. Talk about arrogance on an epic level. Chrissy Teigen, wife of musician John Legend, defended West, laughing about it on The Today Show, saying she thought it was a joke. Legend called the incident “funny.” Even jokes can be low-class and tasteless and shouldn’t be defended with giggles and eye rolls at those who find it distasteful. This isn’t about free speech either. It’s about being a sore loser, whether it’s he himself who lost, or someone he was rooting for, in this case, Beyonce. 

I’ve always liked Beck’s music, and his response makes me respect the guy even more (although I thought it was almost too nice). Aside from West’s immature and disrespectful behavior, the sad conclusion, I see, is that he’s in it for the accolades. He wants his music and the music of his friends to be recognized. Apparently, that’s how he measures his self worth, which is unfortunate, because an award shouldn’t validate you. The guy’s a talented musician, no doubt about it, but is that license to take away another musician’s incredible moment? 

This sense of entitlement translates to all professions, including writing. Late last year, author Ayelet Waldman threw a fit for not making the NYT’s “100 Notable Books of 2014.” Is that what’s she’s in it for? Is that why anyone does what they do? To be recognized in front of millions? Sure, that would be nice, but if that’s what you’re in it for, excuse me for not supporting your quest for stardom. Isn’t selling millions of copies or even having thousands of 4 or 5-star reviews enough? 

Perhaps when you reach a certain level in your career, you feel you’ve earned that award, or that coveted spot on some list, but to me, the second you step away from your humility and grace, is the second you start losing the respect you’ve spent so much time garnering. I doubt I’ll ever be that in position anyway, but at least I write because I love to, not because I want to fill a space on my shelf with an award.

That’s my rant for the day. I’m going to go download Beck’s album now.

Writing Blogs to Follow

I know, all of you probably only follow me and hang on my every word, but I’ll let you in on a secret: I get my wisdom from other writers and industry professionals. Here’s my top 8 writing blogs I like to follow:

  • Make a Living Writing Carol Tice is a freelance writer based in Seattle and her posts are full of amazing advice. 
  • Jody Hedlund Hedlund is an award-winning author who offers tons of advice from creating strong characters to how to navigate the publishing industry.
  • Terrible Minds Chuck Wendig . . . I’ll let him tell you what his blog is about: “novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. This is his blog. He talks a lot about writing. And food. And the madness of toddlers. He uses lots of naughty language. NSFW. Probably NSFL. Be advised.”
  • Helping Writers Become Authors K.M. Weiland is a bestselling author who talks about (among many topics) common writing mistakes, how to structure a book, and writing inspiration.
  • Writer Unboxed Focusing on the business and craft of writing fiction.
  • Write it Sideways: “Write It Sideways’ has been helping you see the world of writing from a fresh perspective. Our experienced team can help you learn new skills, define your goals, increase your productivity, and prepare for publication.” Need I say more?
  • Live Write Thrive Get your grammar on here with novelist, copyeditor, and writing coach C.S. Lakin.
  • Quick and Dirty Tips from Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty is a true grammar maven. She makes remembering grammar rules easy.

What are some of your favorite writing blogs?

A Weekend of Writing

A weekend of writing events, that is.

Folsom's 93: The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men

Yesterday, my publisher emailed me and asked if I could do a live, one-hour radio interview this Saturday to discuss Folsom’s 93. I thought, ‘Gee, I don’t know. An hour to talk about my book? Writers hate that stuff, right?’ I did have to cancel my luncheon with Beyonce, but she’s always calling to come over, so I’m sure we’ll reschedule. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chat with George Yates, host of “Justice For All,” a radio show broadcasting out of Chesapeake, VA on WHKT. We go live at 2 p.m. EST/12 p.m. MST, but if you can’t tune in, don’t fret; it’ll be available online—I’ll update with a link. UPDATE: CLICK HERE to listen in.

Hot Chocolate Press Festival

Then it’s off to more book bliss with the Hot Chocolate Festival happenin’ Saturday evening from 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. I will be joining other Hot Chocolate Press authors for readings and book talk. I’ll be revealing the cover for my women’s fiction, Bobbing for Watermelons, and I have to say, I love how it came out! (And I hear that Boardwalk Gallery will be decked out like a winter wonderland for the event . . . who’d want to miss that?!) Click the link for more information.

The Eclectic Reader Bookstore

The Eclectic Reader bookstore is having their first-ever Open Mic Night January 10th from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The night will feature “Fragmentary Writing.” From their website:
“‘Fragmentary writing,’ what’s that?” you ask. Well, that’s what most of us do first (before we publish our Opus Majus). It’s bits and pieces of stuff, snippets, shards of thought, letters, diary and journal entries, short prose pieces, poetry, aphorisms, short essays, punchy letters to the editor and character sketches Oh, and songs…so music is welcome, too.
We’ll put out a money jar for a prize…winner takes all. Audience to be the judge.
Join us for some fun.
On the night of this frenzy of exposition, all books in the store will be 20% off.
Questions? Call 970-223-4019

Have a great weekend and happy writing!

The Gift of Reading

If you’re in the Fort Collins area, I want to let you know about Lattes & Literature, a book fair featuring local author books as well as some delicious caffeinated concoctions. It all goes down Dec. 11 at Ft. Collins Coffeehouse . . .
Lattes and LiteratureFor those history geeks in the family, you’ll be able to pick up my book, Folsom’s 93, but if you’re not in the area and don’t feel like a road trip, it’s also available from these fine local booksellers: Old Firehouse Books, The Eclectic Reader or from the big guys: Amazon and B&N.

Folsom's 93 by April Moore

Among these local scribes who’ll also have her book available is Kerrie Flanagan with Claire’s Christmas Catastrophe, a children’s book for 7-10-year-olds. For the writer in the family, she’ll have Write Away: A Year of Musings and Motivations for Writers available as well.
Flanagan.jpgThere are also some author signings coming up that you don’t want to miss out on.

Dean K. Miller will be at Lo Co Artisan Coffeehouse in Loveland, CO on December 12, from 6 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. signing copies of Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse.

Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse by Dean K. Miller

Patricia Stoltey will be at The Eclectic Reader December 13th from 1:00-3:00 signing copies of her 3rd book, a stand alone suspense-thriller, Dead Wrong

Dead WrongSome other great titles you’ll want to get your hands on is Sheala Henke’s YA, IDEA-33: A Regeneration
idea 33And Nancy L. Reed’s Words Left Behind: Tales From a Life Gladly Lived
Words Left Behind
One of my favorite children’s books that just came out is Count the Clouds, by M.C. Myers that has incredible illustrations and comes with a CD and digital download for a sing-along good time. 
count the cloudsAll right, that’s about it for now. (And just so you know, I wouldn’t promote any ol’ writers; these are very talented, high caliber authors whose company I’m humbled to be in.)

The Effect of Andrew McCarthy on the Female Brain, by Guest Author Katherine Valdez

Oh, Andrew . . .
My guest author, the talented Katherine Valdez, had an opportunity to chat with actor/director/author Andrew McCarthy earlier this year. I had also met him at the same event, and I think Katherine perfectly captured the essence of what it means to have “brain melt.”

Andrew McCarthy 719

As teenaged girls, we swooned over him and Rob Lowe getting into trouble in “Class,” romancing Molly Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink,” and falling in love with Kim Cattrall in “Mannequin.”

We feel like we know him. We refer to him by his first name. And when we see him in real life, part of our brain melts.

This is the effect of Andrew McCarthy on the female brain, a.k.a Brain Melt. I know it’s real, because it happened to me.

Earlier this year, I attended the Northern Colorado Writers conference, featuring actor/director-turned-bestselling-author Andrew McCarthy as the keynote speaker.

I joked a couple of times with NCW Director Kerrie Flanagan about picking him up at the airport, a challenging task she had selflessly decided to take on despite her hectic schedule. I volunteered to put my heart on the line, too. “If you need help, I’m available,” I emailed, punctuating my offer with a smiley face.

Still, when I attended the volunteer training – a dozen of us answered Kerrie’s request for help as “ambassadors” – I was surprised to see my name printed on the assignment sheet next to the task “Book Signing.”

Kerrie requested one more volunteer for that task, and my friend Dori added her name. We chatted calmly about Meeting a Famous Actor, and pretended the teenybopper part of our brains wasn’t screaming and jumping up and down.

The big day arrived. I spotted him walking through the hotel lobby. In a burst of confidence, I called out his name.

“Andrew!”

He stopped and smiled.

“Hi, I’m Katherine. I’m going to assist you with your book signing tonight.”

“Hi.”

“Your essay ‘Going Back In’ really spoke to me,” I said, referring to his first-person account of a young woman’s death years ago in Wyoming during an outdoors leadership backpacking trip. “I backpacked the Wind River Range once with my husband. I mean, my ex-husband. I’m divorced.” I realized I was babbling. “We saw a lot more people than we wanted to.”

“The Wind sees a lot of people. I’ve spent a lot of time in Lander going on trips,” he said, mentioning the town where backpackers launch their expeditions.

“We hiked in about 12 miles and there were crowds,” I said. “We even saw a Paris Hilton-type girl carrying her little dog.”

He smiled, as though he sympathized with our quest for solitude.

“We went up Fremont Peak and there was only one other person, so it was nice to get away for a while.”

He said something about the mountain, but I can’t remember, because I was too busy thinking I’M TALKING WITH ANDREW MCCARTHY!

“You know Fremont?” I asked him. “You’ve been up it?”

“Yeah.”

“The summit is so exposed, like ‘I don’t want to look down,’ ” I said with an embarrassed laugh.

Aware that I was starting to make a fool of myself, I said in closing, “I hope you have a chance to explore a bit before you leave town.”

He perked up. “What do you recommend?

“A good hike with a view of the whole city is hiking up to the “A” above the football stadium. You go all the way west on Prospect…” I pointed in the wrong direction.

“This way is west?” He pointed in the opposite direction.

“Yes, all the way west on Prospect and there’s a gate and you walk up a hill that leads to the trailhead, and you hike up the ridge to the white “A” painted on the hill above the stadium, and you get a view of the entire city.”

“How long does it take?”

“If you hike at a brisk pace, about a half-hour one way. So, go all the way east on Prospect…”

“East or West?” He smiled.

The painful realization struck me: I was suffering from Brain Melt.

“I’m sorry, West,” I said. I need to stop talking, NOW.

Andrew wore a slight smile on this face during our entire conversation, as though he knows the effect he has on women. No doubt he’s witnessed Brain Melt many times.

The irony is I hate the idea of being star-struck. When I see ordinary people screaming and falling all over themselves in the presence of a celebrity, I think, “C’mon, he’s Just a Normal Person.”

What the heck was I thinking? Of course he’s not Just a Normal Person. He’s a Movie Star. He traveled to India in search of the perfect cup of tea, went diving for black pearls in French Polynesia, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and published articles about these adventures and more. And, of course, he’s the author of a best-selling memoir, The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down.

The best possible thing happened next. He turned away from my Advanced Brain Melt deteriorated state to talk with two female writers who waited patiently at his side.

I was so relieved. And just a tiny bit disappointed. But mostly grateful this episode of epic humiliation had come to an end.* Note to Self: Don’t ever talk to a famous person again. Ever.**

Later, Dori and I showed up at the book signing table, only to find that a vivacious redhead had appointed herself Andrew’s assistant, single-handedly corralled everyone into a line, and asked them to open their copies of Andrew’s memoir to the title page, ready for him to sign.

Dori and I swallowed our disappointment, and exchanged amused smiles. Brain Melt had claimed another victim.

—-

Katherine Valdez is the author of “Close Encounters with David Sedaris” and “Little Red Riding Hood Seeks Vengeance.” If you subscribe to her blog and like her author Facebook page, she would be glad to entertain you with more embarrassing, true stories.
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 Footnotes:

 *With a fist bump to Aisha Tyler, comedian and author of Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation

 **With apologies to Taylor Swift, “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together.”

 

Meet Jason Brick

Guess what? I found someone who actually makes a living writing! Really, I’m not kidding. And lucky for us, we can learn how to do the same from his new book, Mastering the Business of Writing: How to Earn a Full-Time Living as a Writer. Jason was kind enough to answer some questions and bestow some of his writer wisdom upon us mere mortals. Thanks, Jason!

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1.) In addition to being an freelance writer, you’ve also published a travel book, short stories, and from what I hear, penned a young adult novel. Does your passion for writing reside with one more than the others?

It’s more a matter of what I’m passionate about at any given moment. One of the things I love about writing is I can bounce between one project and another as the mood suits me. I have lots (LOTS) of interests and this lets me chase them all down. 

 2.) You’re also a writing and a martial arts coach. Do you find many similarities between the writing clients and the martial arts clients? Is one group easier to coach than the other?

The process is almost identical for both, even though the details of what I’m coaching change. In both cases, what I’m really teaching is how to take control of your life and support the things that you hold dearest. Martial arts students are way easier to teach, I think because there’s more of a culture of listening and trying something out in the martial arts world. Writers resist more before trying stuff, and they tend to be a little more fragile. 

 3.) During your years of coaching, what’s the toughest thing to teach writers?

To think of writing as a business. A lot of writers don’t seem to want to do that. Some are afraid of the organization, marketing and self-discipline it takes to run a business. Some don’t want to “sell out.” But I have to ask…what constitutes selling out your talent? Turning out a few hours of work for pay every day, or spending those hours working at Home Depot and writing nothing at all?

 4.) You recently e-published two writing books, Mastering the Business of Writing: How to Make a Full-Time Living as a Writer; and 9 Steps of Highly Profitable WritingDid you learn anything surprising during the process of writing those? And what’s one important thing you hope readers take away from these books?

Full Disclosure: I had a publisher — TKC Publishing out of Hawaii — do the actual e-publishing. Working with them, I learned that promoting an ebook is way more complex than I imagined. But TKC has it to a science — Mastering hit #1 on the Amazon chart for books about writing for a day an a half last week. The most important thing I hope readers take away from either book is that this is the best time to be a writer in the history of the written word. Don’t let Scott Turow or a bunch of scared agents tell you otherwise. The door’s wide open for anybody willing to put in the work. Walk through it, already. 

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5.) You’ve also written some dark, yet humorous short fiction under a pen name that has received great reviews on Amazon. Wingman in particular is said to be “like [The] Hangover, but funnier.” You’ve proven that writers don’t have to stick to one genre or style of writing; do you find it easy or difficult to keep them separate? Do you recommend it to other writers?

I find it necessary to bounce between genres. Otherwise, I get bored. And being bored does not keep my coat glossy. I recommend it to other writers who feel inspired to write in different areas. If you want to, you should. If not, you shouldn’t. I should also say that the industry says it’s a mistake. You spend energy in areas you don’t already have a following, and have to duplicate a lot of effort. That’s changing with the new face of publishing, but it’s still something to keep in mind. 

 6.) What do you think is the most common mistake that writers make?

Not treating your writing like a business. If you want to be a professional writer, you have to approach it professionally. If you want to just write a little and publish from time to time, though, it’s probably not that important. 

 7.) What, in your opinion, are the downsides, as well as the advantages, of digital publishing?

The biggest downside is that print still has all the cache. There’s something to holding the finished book in your hand, or being able to give a copy to a friend, that’s really special. Other than that, digital wins. Selling one copy or 10,000 copies costs you the same amount of moneyIt’s easy to fix typos as readers point them out to you. And you don’t have to wait a whole damn year between finishing the book and seeing it up on Amazon. 

 8.) As a busy father of two, how do you make the time to write full-time? (I’m assuming that after twenty years of teaching martial arts you’ve learned to stay focused and disciplined).

First, it’s my full-time job. I write from home, and it takes me only 3 or 4 hours a day to write enough to make my living. That alone gives me 5 hours (plus a couple theoretical commute hours) I wouldn’t have if I punched a clock. The focus thing is sort of true. I did learn how to create and apply systems to keep my time on track, and the martial arts helps me stick to those systems. Being systematic is a huge part of both of my books on writing. It’s an important habit to succeeding in any freelance endeavor. 

9.) What’s next for Jason Brick? Or for your alter ego, Jake F. Simons?

Jason Brick has three things in the hopper. My YA book about quantum mechanics and the zombie apocalypse should be finished up in the next few months. I’m also joining up with SEOWiSE, an outfit that teaches writers how to conquer the web to support their careers. But what I’m really most excited about is Precious Cargo. It’s a book I’m working on with some top martial arts, close protection and law enforcement guys where we apply bodyguard doctrine to family safety while traveling. I think it will be important, and it’s really fun to research.

As for Jake…Wingman’s sequel Train Wreck hit Amazon on July 31st. The next story in the series, Cluster*&$k, should be out before the holidays…just in time to buy grandma the trilogy.

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I encourage you to check out Jason’s website that is full of great information about freelance writing, writer’s conferences and more. Thanks again, Jason/Jake! (You can also check out my interview on Jason’s website)

Coffee, Zombies and Apocalypses

It must have been the gradual cooling of my heated mattress pad that woke me up. The power was out. Granted, it was 7:45 AM and I should have been up anyway, but still. How rude. All right, North Korea, you’re really starting to piss me off. Actually, my first thought was, Am I going to have to take my zombie-face to Starbucks? Panic set in. When you don’t know where your next cup of coffee is going to come from—if at all—things can get hairy pretty fast. I texted my friends who live in The Sac with me. (This is the name all of us have given to our cul-de-sac). One was about to break out the camp stove to brew some beans. I was ready to trek over in my bunny slippers, cup in hand, when bleep! Power returned. Crisis averted. Whew! Because any major apocalypse before my morning coffee is just plain mean.

Perhaps deep down, I was thinking about The Dog Stars, that I just finished for book club. It’s only the second post-apocalyptic novel I’ve read, and incidentally, they both are set in Northern Colorado. A little advice . . . when first diving into reading about this subject matter, you may not want to start out with books that take place where you live. The first, was Brian Kaufman’s Dead Beyond the Fence: A Novel of the Zombie Apocalypse. Not a good apocalypse to be around for, not that it’s even possible to put a positive spin on an apocalypse.

TDS

So, it sounds like most of the gals in my book club really loved The Dog Stars. We’re meeting next week to discuss it. I have to say, I didn’t love it, but I certainly didn’t hate it either. I think what threw me was the style in which it was written; I found it distracting and confusing in some parts.  Overall, however, it was good.  What did you think of the book? And what other post-apocalyptic (I’m getting real good at spelling that correctly the first time!) books do you recommend? (preferably ones set outside of Colorado)?

Man-Eating Fish and Crime

What do these two things have in common? They’re combined into a short story, part Stephen King weirdness, part crime noir by author, Jason Brick, (PG-writing, family-friendly-writer, etc) writing under the pen name of Jake F. Simons (bad-ass R-rated, foul-mouthed writer).

Fish

Panamanian Stompers is an entertaining and funny short read that’ll only cost you .99 . . . such a deal.

[The bar] squatted there in a nasty neighborhood like a freshly picked scab on an acne-strewn face, between a bare dirt parking lot and a stinking stretch of industrial shoreline.

If that doesn’t pique your interest, maybe this will . . .

The sound came again, much closer than before. Fernie’s gut rolled. He flinched, expecting the next sound to be . . .

Learn more about Jason and his writing on his blog, BrickCommaJason.

“So, how’s that workin’ for ya?”

Ah . . . the immortal words of Dr. Phil. I can hear his voice in my head asking me about my latest “Get-Writing-Quick” scheme that I started just over a month ago. You know, the whole Jar Idea.

DSC07167

Well, I haven’t been able to utilize them the way I was hoping; too many tasks already on my plate. However, I am happy to say that I had an article accepted for publication in the April/May issue of Whole Life Times. Take that, Pinterest! Speaking of which, it’s been two days since my last Pinterest visit and I’m hoping I can stay on the wagon for a little while longer.

I have also made sure that I threw some fun into my schedule by attending a book signing by friend and fellow writer, Chuck Barrett while he and his lovely wife were visiting from Florida. Chuck’s third book, Breach of Power is scheduled for a mid-March release which I was able to pre-order (just like you can!) and picked up signed copies of his first two.

home-books

So all in all, I haven’t been totally unproductive; I do have a writers conference to help set up after all . . . And, I’ve been receiving edits from my publisher of Folsom’s 93, so it hasn’t been all hammocks and margaritas here–I promise, Dr. Phil.

Dr.Phil

Fantasy Critique Group

I love being a part  of a writing critique group. Who else is going to constructively  tell me the chapter I spent a month writing, sucks? (And besides my mom), who is going to put those hard-earned smiley faces next to certain sentences and paragraphs that were funny or well-written? My critique group, that’s who. Plus, it’s much wiser to have a trusted group of fellow writers tell me that my plot has pacing issues, my characters are flat, or that I misspelled an agent’s name on a query, instead of a big, fat rejection letter telling me. I’ve been with the Raintree Writers since it began in late 2003. We’re the fab five and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. When I wrote the acknowledgments page for my book, it was with great honor to include each of their names, because after all, I wouldn’t have gotten that far without them. Of course, it would have been really cool to be able to write, “And a big thank you to Stephen King. This book could not have been possible without his invaluable input.” Does Stephen King even have a critique group? Hell, does he even need one? This got me thinking . . . (as much as I love my group) who would be my fantasy critique group? Sports enthusiasts have their Fantasy Football; us writers have our Fantasy Critique Group (or maybe I’m the only one) . . .

1.) Ivan Doig. Mr. Doig is hands down, my favorite author. His thirty-two year writing career has yielded 14 books, including a memoir, that are all set in his home state of Montana. He’s arguably considered the dean of western literature. I greatly admire (green with envy, actually) his clever, witty, and original prose that makes me stop and re-read lines several times, just because they’re so damn good. His characters are so well developed, you almost forget they’re fictional.

2.) J.K. Rowling. And no, not because of her lovely British accent (although I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be mesmerizing to hear her read her submissions aloud), but because I would hope that a even just a tiny bit of her badass creativeness would rub off on me. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt if we became besties and she paid for my son’s college education.

3.) Jefferey Eugenides. Eugenides is a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist who wrote Middlesex, probably one of the best books I’ve ever read (as evidenced by the 5 stars I gave it on Goodreads). I don’t hand out those Goodreads stars willy-nilly. That  book earned every one of those yellow, five-point accolades. Everything I learned about a hermaphrodite, I learned from Jefferey Eugenides.

4.) J.D. Salinger. Oh yes, did I mention that your Fantasy Critique group could be made up of dead authors? (That’s why it’s called a Fantasy Critique Group). Granted, he’d probably sit in the corner and not say much, but c’mon, it’s J.D. Salinger.

5.) Fanny Flagg. Holy shit, her books are funny. We’d probably get nothing done except drain some bottles of wine and laugh. She’s most known for Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (which, like most books, is better than the movie), but her other books are just as funny, poignant and damn good reads.

6.) Harper Lee. Room for two Pulitzer Prize winners? Of course. It’s my fantasy group, so anything is possible. Who hasn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird? Seriously? Who hasn’t?

My list could go on and on. There are a hundreds of authors I would love to have sitting around my kitchen table, brainstorming ideas and telling me how fabulous I am at eliminating passive voice. (Again, it’s a fantasy, right)? I also wouldn’t turn Davis Sedaris away if he showed up with a six-pack and fruitcake.

So, who would be in your Fantasy Critique Group?

Jackson Hole Writers Conference

I just returned from the Jackson Hole Writers Conference with my dear friend, and director of the Northern Colorado Writers, Kerrie Flanagan. We decided on this conference frankly, because of the location. Kerrie’s husband is a pilot and the idea of piling into a 4-seater and getting to Jackson in half the time it takes to drive was well, scary at first, but simply perfect.

Me and Kerrie

Kerrie has put on seven successful writers conferences with the NCW and I have been helping out as part of her Creative Team for the last two, so of course we were anxious to see how the JHWC stacked up.  We’ve also attended other conferences such as the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference and Pike Peak in Colorado Springs. The JHWC is in its 20th year and had a great lineup of presenters, so it really was a no-brainer. Now that I am starting a new novel, it seemed like the perfect time to take in a conference. By the way, I should point out, that no matter where you are in your writing career, whether you’re a beginner or an established author, you will benefit immensely from attending conference workshops and hearing presenters. Every writer could use a kick in the pants to get started (or to keep going), so I highly recommending attending conferences when you can.

We weren’t sure exactly how large attendance typically is for this conference and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was certainly on the small side, about 100-125. It was held at the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts, located near downtown. Luckily, we were able to find affordable lodging in walking distance to the center. A lot of conferences are held at hotels which is nice when there is downtime between conference events. There seemed to be a lot of downtime between sessions at this conference. The conference schedule was posted on the JHWC website, however, workshop descriptions were not, so we expected the program to be more detailed. It wasn’t. We received a folder with a one 2-sided piece of paper with the schedule, but no description of the workshops—sometimes a title, but no description.

The conference opened with a fabulous keynote from freelancer and author, Michael Perry. Perry’s humor and witty presentation got the conference going. Up next was a an author panel with Anita Diamant, Margaret Coel, and Alyson Hagy. Then it off to the one and only “craft class” of the day. So you had your choice: Poetry, Fiction, Social Media, and Nonfiction. You basically picked which presenter you wanted to hear because there was no description of the workshop. I write both fiction and nonfiction, so how do I make my decision? Not only was it difficult to find a person to ask, the workshops were difficult to find. I ended up taking Margaret Coel’s Plot Your Way to Success. I figured since I’m starting a new novel, this would be a good place to start. I’m glad I did. She provided some great tips on outlining a novel—she’s the author of 17 novels for Pete’s sake! Here’s some highlights:

  • Look for ideas everywhere, i.e. newspapers and real life
  • Then ask the what if questions
  • Know your characters! What do they want? What drives them?
  • When it comes to outlining, start with note cards. Write important events, one on each card and start arranging them.
  • For pacing, make an action graph by rating each event 1-10. If you find you have a straight line at 5/6, then you know you have to beef up the tension a bit.
  • Let your characters go off on bunny trails; readers like to be surprised.
  • Characters must be proactive. Don’t just have them react to things that happen to them. Have them cause events, as well.

The session ended at 4:30 and the next event wasn’t until 7:00—the cocktail party. Since we stayed close to the conference, it was fine, but for those who did not, I could see how that much downtime would be difficult…unless you’re a shopper. There’s certainly a lot to see in Jackson if you’re up for it. We met some great people during the cocktail hour, but decided that after the early morning flight and long day, we knew we’d unfortunately never last for the 8:00pm talk from Naomi Shihab Nye.

Day two opened with a presentation from Margaret Coel. She authored three nonfiction books before diving into fiction, so it was nice to hear that it’s ok to genre jump! She also said, “Don’t write what you know. Write what you want to know.” She knew very little about the Arapahos when she got an idea to write about them. 17 books later, she’s an expert. Write what you’re interested in—you don’t have to know it—you just have to have the desire to know it.

Next up, Anita Diamant, author of The Red Tent, spoke about why she writes historical fiction. I was excited to hear her speak since I’ve decided to tackle historical fiction myself.

She joked that her editor, after reading one of her drafts, said, “Your research is showing,” as in, your slip is showing. It’s essential to do research for historical fiction, but don’t bog your reader down with every historical morsel or tidbit you’ve come across. Historical facts are less important compared to the characters; weave in those details little by little.

Next up came Q&A with the agent panel. Alex Glass, Lisa Bankoff, and Robert Guinsler answered various questions from the audience, but we didn’t feel there was anything said that we hadn’t heard before. It comes down to subjectivity and pure luck.

The Craft Classes were next and again, there was only one and our choices were Poetry, Fiction, Nonfiction, and Going Digital. I decided to stick with fiction and attended Alyson Hagy’s workshop called Physical Fiction. Again, I had no idea what that entailed, but I wanted to stay with fiction. She provided a one-page handout about creating realistic and engaging characters.

  • Don’t forget to use all five senses in your fiction: “…use of smells, tastes, sounds, and textures in your work can really create authority with readers.”
  • Remember that your characters have bodies. We tend to just describe our characters’ faces, hair, or height. “…don’t present a reader with every physical detail about a character all at once. Parcel it out in the early pages or scenes of a piece. Then remain aware of your characters’ bodies—and how they might change throughout the kinds of niche fiction.
  • Think about the careful use of physical gesture in dialogue. Best to use “he/she said” but every so often, let your character do something with their hands, or show where their eyes are looking when they say something.
  • Read and Observe. Analyze characters from authors you love. “Borrow from them. Improve upon their strategies…you want to be a writer who is known for being evocative, for drawing a reader so deeply into your written world that they forget the real world…for just a while.”

Individual conferences, or pitch sessions began after the workshops. Since neither of us planned on pitching anything, we sat this one out and attended A Conversation with Anita Diamant. A moderator posed questions to Diamant and it was certainly fun to hear about her processes of researching and writing. I love that she said, “Breaking rules makes things interesting.” This seemed to be a theme throughout the conference.

We decided to attend the wine and cheese walk with cowboy poet, Jayme Feary who did a poetry reading. It was a great chance to enjoy the outdoors with fellow writers.

I also got to see what a half-ass looks like…

Her name is Big Mama.

Next up were some more craft classes, but frankly, by 7:15, we were exhausted. The poetry workshop went to 9:45pm, another until 9:30, and one to 9:00. After the wine and cheese event (and I don’t eat cheese!) it left little time for dinner, so we decided to call it quits for the night.

Saturday opened with a presentation from NY Times bestseller, Brandon Mull, who wrote the middle-grade series, Fablehaven and Beyonders. I was looking forward to hearing him speak, as my son and I really enjoyed reading the Fablehaven series. He’s a great speaker and a lot of fun. I’ll paraphrase some of his gems of advice:

  • To get published, you have two audiences: You and your readers. Please both.
  • Write something that fits squarely into an existing category, which allows publishers to know who your audience is. BUT, it has to be different—in a cool way.
  • Like Margaret Coel, Mull said to look for ideas and writing prompts in real life. Constantly keep your eyes open for ideas, then ask the what if questions. The cooler it gets, you’re on a roll. Be a good observer.
  • He builds roller coasters with his books, creating twists and turns.

Dennis Palumbo, a former screen writer, and “psychotherapist to the stars” talked about The Three Cosmic Rules of Writing. We really enjoyed Palumbo and learned a great deal from his talk.

  • Rule One: You Are Enough. The fact that you are writing is enough to get you published. “Everybody thinks the party is happening somewhere else. It isn’t. This is your party.”
  • Rule Two: Work With What You’re Given. This goes to write what you know. “No one else has your perspective.” He said that there is more inside of us than people can see, so look for those things and write about them. Focus on what readers want: Feeling, consequences, conflict and stakes. “Your feelings are the root of your writing.”
  • Rule 3: Writing Begets Writing. This is certainly my favorite. “Writing anything is better than writing nothing at all.” It doesn’t matter what it’s about—write it down because it can lead to something. “It doesn’t have to be good, just there,” and waiting for inspiration is just plain stupid. Write. “Keep giving [publishers] you, until you is what they want.”

Editors, Sarah Bowlin from Henry Holt,  and Denise Scarfi from W.W. Norton & Co., took the stage next for some Q&A. Here’s what I took away from them:

  • Publishers are looking for original and surprising voices in fiction. Voice is so important at getting their attention. They are looking to be transported from their world to your character’s world.
  • Editors are looking for authors to be their partner in the publishing and marketing processes.
  • If an author feels forced when it comes to publicity, it will appear forced. Marketing your book has to be authentic to you and what works for you. It’s a myth that authors have to do all the work once the book is released.
  • Editors are reading literary journals and magazines, so write those short stories and submit, submit, submit! They find clients through magazines.
  • The jury is still out on whether or not social media really sells books.

Sticking with the fiction theme, I attended Kyle MillsMaking Sure You Get the Easy Stuff Right: The Nuts and Bolts of Novel Writing. Mills focused on the basics of novel-writing. Much of it was review, but it doesn’t hurt to hear it again:

  • Tell the story through dialogue as much as possible; avoid data-dumps.
  • Follow correct grammar as much as possible; avoid trying to get fancy with accents and dialects, or spelling phonetically. It will distract your readers and pull them out of the story.
  • Recommends past tense, unless you have a compelling reason for present tense.
  • Research is at your fingertips! You have no excuse when it comes to getting facts wrong.
  • Don’t get heavy on description based on your research, especially because your reader may not share the same passion.
  • When it comes to repetition, Mills chalks it up to a lack of confidence. Trust that your reader got it the first time. If you did it right the first time, there should be no need to reiterate a point.
  • Breaking rules is fine, as long as you know the rule and know how to properly break it. Understand what you’re doing and why.

The last day involved more individual conferences, so Kerrie and I attended Mark Hummel‘s Learning to Listen to the Voices. This was about developing your characters, which was ideal for me. You really can’t write or even know your story until you know your characters—as real people, Hummel suggests. It was the only workshop I attended that actually involved writing exercises, which I love. Hummel had us pick a character we’re working on and ask him/her questions, in which your character would answer—in their voice. 1. Ask your character about their mother. 2. What does he/she fear? 3. What do they desire? And ask questions you don’t want to be asked yourself—you’ll get to the heart of your characters. Don’t let them off the hook, make them answer. I found this exercise extremely helpful.

The conference went on to Student Readings (with beer apparently), book sales and signings, and then a buffet dinner from 8-10pm. We decided to forgo these and enjoy dinner with our husbands who spent their weekend fly fishing. Overall, the conference was a lot of fun. I don’t know that it was worth the hefty $390, but I still came away with bits and pieces of great advice and with a fire lit under me. Nothing like a writers conference to get you inspired to write!

The Plot Line Skeleton

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to take a class from author Bonnie Ramthun at the Northern Colorado Writers. I had always known I wanted to return to fiction when my nonfiction project was completed, so taking Bonnie’s class was exactly what I needed.

The author of 8 successful novels, Bonnie knows a thing or two about plot structure. She dissected bestsellers and found that they all follow the same plot line structure. She showed us that The Silence of the Lambs, The Hunger Games, The Da Vinci Code, and even children’s books like Where the Wild Things Are, all have this plot structure.

“Every great story contains a great beginning, some sort of a turn around, or catalyst, a number of pinch points, a second turn around or catalyst that leads to a climax, and then a final wrap up of the plot.”

-Bonnie Ramthun

“Each one of these elements is balanced, like a see-saw, on the strong midpoint element of the plot. The exciting beginning is matched by the exciting ending; and each element doesn’t overwhelm the others. In stories as short as children’s picture books or as long as a complicated thriller, a strong skeleton supports a great novel.”

Bang!: Obviously, a strong opening is critical.

First Turn Around: A big event or catalyst that’s not only going to propel your story along, but your main character as well. What’s at stake? What challenges is your hero facing?

Pinch Points: You can have several pinch points, but you must have at least 2 major ones AND they must relate to one another. Oftentimes, these two pinch points involve the protagonist and antagonist. For example, in the Harry Potter books, the first pinch point usually is a confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, and again before the Second Turn Around.

Midpoint: This is what keeps everything in balance, like Bonnie said, “like a see-saw.”

The Second Turn Around: Also called the “Hero’s Choice.” This is where your hero has to make a decision and whatever he/she decides, it leads to the climax of the story.

Bang! (#2): Is the climax of the story, such as a battle scene. Typically, this is between the protagonist and antagonist.

Wrap up: Tie up all those loose ends. Make sure everything you’ve brought up, has a resolution.

After seeing this structure, I now know why the first manuscript I wrote has pacing issues. I didn’t use an outline. Now, I can’t imagine trying to tackle a novel without implementing a plot structure like this. Now that my nonfiction manuscript is in the hands of the publisher, I can finally start something new and the process isn’t as daunting as before. A bestselling novel can only be supported by a strong skeleton; once you have that, it’s a matter of adding the meat of the story.