Category Archives: Conferences & Retreats

My New Job

Northern Colorado Writers

I’m thrilled to announce that I am the new benevolent overlord of Northern Colorado Writers. Kerrie Flanagan started the organization in 2006 to help support and encourage writers of all levels and genres and I’m looking forward to continuing that mission. 

NCW offers classes, workshops, meetings, retreats, and an annual conference, so I have my work cut out for me. Luckily, I have some great folks behind the curtain who help me run this amazing organization. 

SAVE THE DATE: April 22-23, 2016 marks the 11th annual NCW Conference. We will be bringing in an impressive list of industry professionals, so keep an eye out for that. 

I’ve got a few changes up my sleeve such as lower membership dues and a lower conference fee. There’s also some great classes and workshops in the pipeline. 

Stay tuned!

Mini Writer’s Retreat

I just got back from a writer’s retreat, but I didn’t actually go anywhere. How is that possible, you may ask? Well, during the course of visiting bloggers during the A to Z Challenge, I came across a writer who talked about how she and another writer from her critique group would take turns going to one another’s house for an overnight writing foray. They’d have quiet writing hours and brainstorming sessions. This struck me as a fabulous idea, so I presented it to my dear friend, fellow writer, and publisher, Kerrie, and we picked a date. With The Husband in India for work, this worked out great, plus, this entire week has been rainy, which always makes me want to hunker down with a mug of tea and paper and pencil. 

Kerrie helped me brainstorm some plot and character ideas for my new novel, I worked on some poetry for a Words and Images workshop I’m taking, and then we hammered out the storyboard for a children’s book we co-wrote and I’ll be illustrating. Even my teenage son offered his ideas when we were discussing the book. But we had potato chips, so I think that lured him.

We accomplished a lot. 

Writing retreats can be quite a financial investment, so something on a smaller scale, and in your own space, is a great option. Having the opportunity to brainstorm ideas, can set you on the writing path if you’re feeling stalled. Plus, it it’s a good excuse to clean house.

Happy Friday, everyone. And if you’re one of those who like a great book for a great deal, you can download Bobbing for Watermelons for half price at Kobo today through Sunday. That’s only $2.99!  (You don’t need a Kobo reader; just download the app.) 
Bobbing for Watermelons by April J. Moore

Have a great weekend and Mothers’ Day!

E is for Exposure

E is for Exposure, 2015 A to Z Challenge -- April J. MooreTo sell books, exposure is crucial. But what’s the right exposure? And where do you find it? How do you avoid over-exposure? Hell if I know; I’m still trying to figure it out. For what it’s worth, here’s my two cents:

Attend writer’s conferences. These are great places to network and get noticed. If you’re an expert in your field, or have a great workshop idea, many conferences offer opportunities to submit a proposal for teaching a workshop or doing a presentation.

Blog. I know, some of you hate blogging and I get it. You don’t have to do it, but it is a good way to showcase your writing chops. I love this post by Chuck Wendig who takes a hysterical look at whether or not you should blog. I do it because I enjoy it. I might say stupid things every now and again, but I really do try to be helpful and maybe even entertain here and there.

Offer free stuff. Many authors will tell you to never write for free, and I agree, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with offering a free chapter or two to entice readers. There’s no obligation to the reader, and if your work is the on par, it will get readers to buy. (You can read the first 4 chapters of my novel, Bobbing for Watermelons HERE. I didn’t plan this. I promise.) I talk about a Lead Magnet in a previous post about marketing that might help. 

Be active on social media. Choose your poison: Facebook, Twitter, Google +, whatever . . . focus on one and submit quality content. I don’t have a big Twitter following, but I enjoy using it and meeting others and tweeting helpful links. 

Join a local writing organization. This is another opportunity to network and talk shop with like-minded folks who want to help you on your writing journey. The more writers you connect with, the more writing/book events you’ll attend, which will lead to getting your name out there.

A couple of don’ts:

Don’t over-tweet or over Facebook your book. That’s over-exposure and people will soon ignore you because they’ll think you’re a narcissistic ass-clown.

Don’t post pictures of your bare ass.

That is all.

What do you do for maximum exposure? 

A to Z Challenge 2015

2015 Conference Creative Team Video

Here it is. Yes, it’s low-budget. Yes, it’s cheezy. Yet somehow, it’s still a crowd-pleaser.

If you thought that was corny, wait until you see the others:

2014 NCW Writer’s Conference: 2014: A Writing Odyssey
2013 NCW Writer’s Conference: The Artist and the Writer
2012 NCW Writer’s Conference: Writer vs. Wild
2011 NCW Writer’s Conference: Safety Briefing


A Few Things I Learned from the NCW Conference

Another amazing NCW Conference. What a weekend of fantastic presentations and workshops. Here’s a sampling of what I learned:

Publishing Industry changes/trends

  • Consumers are the new publishing gatekeepers. Websites like WattPad, which allow writers to post their work online for readers to critique, is getting the attention of agents of editors, who want to know what readers want. Those in the book industry peruse sites like these to find out what readers are reading and will approach writers with contracts.
  • E-books are having little to no impact on print book sales.
  • Dystopian books (particularly in YA) need to be extremely unique and must stand out from similar books to be considered by an agent.
  • New Adult fiction, aimed at 18-25 year-olds, is gaining lots of momentum.

Children’s book Publishing

  • According to Laura Backes of Children’s Book Insider, children’s book sales (both e-versions and print) are way up; board books are especially hot right now.
  • Editors are seeking middle grade books right now, particularly those geared toward boys.
  • Word counts are changing in kids’ books. Picture books (ages 3-5) are at 500 or less, and for ages 4-8, the word count is 800 or less.
  • Illustrations are doing more of the storytelling these days (thus, the decrease in word count)
  • Turn illustrations into an app; broaden the story’s capabilities.

Creating Compelling Characters from Todd Mitchell

  • Weaknesses in a character are what make them interesting and bring your character into focus.
  • Characters should have both conscious and unconscious desires that may or may not conflict with one another, and plot drives a character’s unconscious desires to the surface.
  • Make your characters do something that you would never do; have them make big mistakes.
  • Be interested by your character, but if you know them too well, they won’t surprise you. If you don’t allow your characters to surprise you, they won’t surprise your readers either.
  • Mitchell offered a great way to get started on developing a character by filling in the blank: He/She is the kind of person who ______________________. For example, my answers were: She’s the kind of person who turns the toilet paper roll around in other people’s bathrooms. He’s the kind of person who makes restaurant servers cry. These are great ways to “find a window into your character.”

Plot from Todd Mitchell

  • Plot must escalate and accelerate. Each scene should increase in tension, making things worse for the main character and show what’s at stake.
  • Focus on internal rather than external problems by challenging your characters in emotional ways. The action in a story works best when it’s the external representation of an internal conflict. 
  • Killing off the main character is often a cheap way to avoid change. Life is more challenging than death.
  • Keep turning up the heat on your characters. Find ways to constantly challenge your characters until they’re exhausted; then see what they do.

Marketing with Jon Bard 

  • Create a “tribe” made up of people with a common passion, concern or viewpoint, and when the time is right, market your book to the “tribe.”
  • The author/reader relationship is a connection, not a transaction.
  • Instead of having links on your blog that direct readers to where they can buy your book (which never really sells books) offer readers something else based on your common interests and passions. Once you’ve established a relationship, then offer links to your book.
  • Do this by creating a Lead Magnet. Offer something, such as an informative video or a free ebook, or top ten list, etc., that is only available to those who offer their email address. 
  • Participate in groups where your “tribe” members reside, then use social media to point people to your Lead Magnet. Reach out to bloggers, podcasters, e-zines, etc. 
  • Stop pushing your books on readers and start pulling them to you. It’s not about you; it’s about your readers and what you can impart on their lives.

Queries & Synopses with literary agent, Kimiko Nakamura

  • Queries: Agents like when it shows you’ve cyber stalked them; just don’t send flowers
  • Queries: Don’t bury the lead, such as title, genre, and word count.
  • Queries: Cliche beginnings can pigeonhole your work; originality counts so stand out.
  • Synopsis: must have clarity of plot and pacing.
  • Synopsis: Knowledge of industry-standard formatting is extremely important. It shows you’re in the know.
  • Synopsis: Agents/editors expect to know the ending; don’t hide anything.

There were several presentations I wish I could have attended, but it’s tough to be in two places at once. Overall, the conference was a huge success. As soon as our conference Creative Team Video is available on YouTube, I’ll post it.

I’m also thrilled to announce that Edward Hamlin‘s fiction submission (Grace), for the Top of the Mountain Book Award took first place and Jerry Eckert‘s memoir (Weeping Kings and Wild Boars: Moments of Magic and Sorrow from Forty Years of Trying to Save the World) took home the top prize for nonfiction. I’m very excited to see both of these books in print, which I suspect will be within the next year or so. 

Happy writing!


NCW Podcast: Conference Creative Team

April Jenny Kelly--NCW Podcast

For your listening pleasure, here I am with my fellow NCW Conference Creative Team members (and authors) Jenny Sundstedt and Kelly Baugh, talking about the behind-the-scenes magic of the conference. We had a fun time getting cheeky with our host, NCW Assistant Director, Rich Keller. Have a listen!

NCW Conference Magic is Happening, plus Contest Finalists Announced

Another Northern Colorado Writers Conference is only a few weeks away! This is the fifth conference I’ve been in the Conference Creative Team, and this is the conference’s 10th anniversary, so we’re pulling out all the stops for this one. I get to work with authors Kelly Baugh and Jenny Sundsteadt on the conference’s theme, decorations, and activities. This year, we’ve gotten a little rebellious with the decor (the theme is the Roaring Twenty’s—“The Lawless Decade,” after all) by using . . . glitter, deemed the syphilis of the craft world (thanks, Kelly for informing us of this).
GlitterThat’s all I can show you right now. The Fort Collins Hilton has always been so accommodating when it comes to our grand ideas of previous conference themes, but using glitter is typically frowned upon. We figured if it’s glued down, we’re not disregarding rules completely. It will be worth it, I promise.

We are also working hard on finalizing our annual video that the three of us write and perform in, to be shown opening night. For a sneak peek, you can check out our cheesy trailer:

I’m also thrilled to announce that our 2015 Top of the Mountain Finalists have been announced! So check them out HERE.
There’s still time to register for the conference, but don’t wait too long; attendance is capped at 130 participants. Hope to see you there.

Happy Writing!

Anthology, Conference, and Contest . . .Oh My

So I have just a few reminders for you. . .

baby shoes

First, the Kickstarter for Baby Shoes: A Flash Fiction Anthology will be relaunching this Friday. In the meantime, check out the Facebook Page for it. My piece, “An Affair to Forget,” about a man who sees his imaginary girlfriend deep in conversation with his wife, will be nestled among 99 other authors who are participating, like Linda Needham, Joe Lansdale, Danika Dinsmore, and Walter J. Williams. This will be a great project to support, so I’ll keep you posted on the progress. 

10th Annual NCW Conference March 27-28 2015The Northern Colorado Writers Conference is open for registration. This is the 10th annual conference and as part of the Conference Creative Team, I can tell you, it’s going to be one hell of a party conference. 

NCW Top of the Mountain Book Award

And that’s a good segue into the 4th annual Top of the Mountain Book Award that we  give out at the conference. You don’t have to be an NCW member (or even a Colorado resident) to enter, and the contest is open to both published and unpublished authors. You also don’t have to attend the conference to enter. Submit the first 20 pages of your fiction or creative nonfiction manuscript, plus a 3-page synopsis by February 1st, and you could win $1000. It’s so easy it’s ridiculous.  

That’s it for now.

Happy writing!

My New Writing Gig

Northern Colorado Writers

The Writing Bug

If you’re not completely sick of me, then I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to know that I’ll be a regular contributor to the Northern Colorado Writers blog, The Writing Bug starting January 14th. I’ll be sharing Wednesdays with the talented JC Lynn. I’m excited for this new endeavor and I hope you guys can find the time to stop by and visit me, JC, and the other amazing authors at The Writing Bug. (In case you’re wondering, I’ve already been told that I have to keep my trucker mouth in check while I’m over there.)

And if you’re really not sick of me yet, you can see me with my fellow Conference Creative Team members in a trailer for the 2015 NCW Conference on March 27-28. Have you signed up yet? It’ll be a smashing good time! (Click above, not on the video pic).
NCW Conference Trailer

2015 Top of the Mountain Book Award

NCW Top of the Mountain Book Award

It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not talking about when I blog again. Yes, it’s been almost a year. (I will be posting regularly from here on out.) I’m talkin’ about the Northern Colorado Writers’ Top of the Mountain Book Award that is open to published and unpublished authors, and for fiction and nonfiction. Deadline is February 1, 2015 but I advise you to get your entries in before the time-sucking phenomenon called “HalloThanksMas” takes over your life. Before you know it, you’ll be tossing your shriveled jack-o-lanterns in the trash and waking from your post Thanksgiving meal nap to the jolly jingles of “Deck the Halls.” And don’t make this a New Years’ resolution because who sticks to those anyway? (If you do, call me; there’s an article in that.) Did I mention, the top prize is $1000? I’m pretty sure last year’s winner put his winnings in a low-risk, high return investment and now writes bestsellers from his Swiss chalet. What I’m saying is, that could be you. Check out the rules. Enter. Good luck.

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.


He stopped and smiled.

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


“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?”


“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.


 *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.”


A Writer’s Retreat a.k.a. Naptime


I just returned from the NCW annual writer’s retreat held at the Shambhala Mountain Center near Red Feather Lakes, CO. Maybe it was the soothing incense wafting about, the 8,000+ feet in altitude, or that the staff and other visitors seemed to peacefully float about with serene expressions on their faces, that I found myself to be rather sleepy on this particular retreat. Despite this, however, I only took one 90-minute snooze, which I chalk up to hours of vigorous writing, part of which, took place outside in the warm mountain air. Although my toasty room, equipped with a comfy bed, may have contributed.

Retreat1This was the first time the retreat had been held at the SMC, but I had visited the center once before. There were some rules to follow . . . one of which, was removing shoes when entering the housing facility. It took me two days, but I finally learned in the end, to strategically plan my outings to ensure the least amount of shoe removal. But up until then, I repeatedly forgot which entrance I left my shoes at. But I survived. The highlight of the center is of course, The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya that stands 108 feet tall and took 13 years to construct. It is considered one of the largest and most significant pieces of sacred Buddhist architecture and said to “promote harmony, prosperity, longevity, good health and peace.” Sounds good to me.

Retreat2All zenful shenanigans aside; I did get a good amount of writing done. Even though I came there with a 20, 653 word manuscript and left with a 20, 875 word manuscript,  I still accomplished quite a bit: an outline (that otherwise did not exist) and I rewrote the first 4 chapters because originally, they sucked. I came away with a much better WIP and I was able to work out some plot issues so that I could move forward with it. Had I not gone on the retreat, I imagine the only writing-related thing I would have accomplished would have been playing Words with Friends and maybe a kick-ass grocery list, complete with clipped coupons . . . while burning incense. I needed this time away to focus on writing and get re-energized with this book I’m working on. Plus, it never hurts to be around other writers, snacks, and wine…just don’t forget your slippers.

20131109_083348A selfie with the Stupa.

2014 Top of the Mountain Book Award

TOM logo

The Top of the Mountain Book Award Contest is officially underway! This book award, given out at the Northern Colorado Writer’s annual conference in the spring, is  open to unpublished and previously published authors. Plus, the award money has been upped to $1,000! You do not need to be a member of the NCW, nor do you have to attend the conference to win (although you should really consider attending this highly-rated writer’s conference). Check out all the rules HERE and good luck!

The Artist and The Writer: A Short Film

I’m still recovering from the 2013 8th Annual Northern Colorado Writer’s Conference and having the opportunity to meet Andrew McCarthy and hear his amazing keynote. (I’ll have more on the conference coming soon). In the meantime, you can enjoy this short film (6.5 mins) that yours truly and a couple of my fellow writers and Conference Creative Team members put together for the big event. Click on this LINK to view it, not the picture. (I’m too cheap to pay for the video upgrade).


I salute you, UPS Man


I just took this picture. Seriously, I just picked up my camera, pointed it at my backyard and  . . . click! . . . here you go. This is a *little bit* of a freak spring snow storm here in Northern Colorado. We typically get most of our snow in March, but the snow gods decided to put it off until April 15 and it hasn’t let up too much since. When it’s all said and done (hopefully by tomorrow) we should have accumulated a little over 2 feet.

So I have to give a shout out to my local UPS guy who braved the storm and delivered my box of new postcards and business cards that I recently ordered. (He must have known I was ignoring all my other tasks today by sitting at my computer thinking about what my next blog post would be). I also think it was the one and only time he couldn’t wear his little brown shorts. Anyway, I have the NCW Conference next week and unfortunately, I’m not able to get any reader copies of my book by then, so these post cards will have to do.


Pretty snazzy, huh? (Front and back) I keep fearing that as I read them, I’m going to discover a typo—no matter how many times I went over them before clicking the all-powerful and no-going-back order button. Now lets hope I get rid of them all before the release date in July. And it looks like I’m be returning to prison July 20th with an initial signing at the Folsom Prison Museum, that sits just outside the prison. I think, however, I’ll stay on the outside of the prison walls this time. That is of course, if I make it through this blizzard.


Save the Date: April 26-27 Northern Colorado Writers Conference


I am so excited for this year’s NCW Writers Conference. We’ve been pretty much planning this conference since last summer—it’s gonna be good! (And not just because actor, author, and director, Andrew McCarthy is going to be our keynote speaker) . . . it doesn’t hurt though, does it? The theme, The Art of Writing, is definitely up  my alley and myself and the rest of the Conference Creative Team are hard at work. . . We’ve decoupaged canvases with book pages and have picked famous artists to inspire us. It may not look like much now, but I’m going for an Alphonse Mucha thing here . . .


I’ll unveil this sure-to-be-a-masterpiece 😉 when it’s finished. Or burn it. We’ll see. Anyway, this conference (like the previous ones) are going to be one hell of a good time and I encourage all you writers to register and head on out to Fort Collins, CO April 26-27. Did I mention you’ll receive a copy of Andrew’s book, Longest Way Home? And get an opportunity to have him sign it? Well, you will. Looking forward to seeing you!


Oh, and while I’m at it, I want to remind folks about the Top of the Mountain Book Award that we will be giving out at the conference. You do not have to attend the conference to win, but it’s a great opportunity to swagger your bad-ass writer self on stage and be recognized for your amazing writing talent in front of your peers, agents, and editors. Check out the link above for contest rules. Deadline is March 1. Good luck!

How I Retreated and Came Back with a Story to Tell

A couple of times a year, my husband takes a week off to go fly fishing in Montana. The days, sometimes weeks, leading up to these fish n’ beer excursions, he’s a little on the grumpy side because his mind is on the river and typically, there’s a lot to wrap up at work before taking off. Just a couple of weeks ago, he returned from those healing Montana waters, a new man. Little did I realize, that I myself had begun to morph into Oscar the Grouch the days leading up to my writer’s retreat. With a lot on my plate (not all of it appetizing) I haven’t found much time to write, let alone, relax. I had been struggling with starting a new novel, so the retreat called to me, not unlike the way trout call out to my husband.

original image

This was the third consecutive year I’ve gone on the Northern Colorado Writers retreat up at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, and each time, I made great progress on whatever project I had going. This year, I didn’t have anything in particular to work on since I’m in between projects. For the first hour or so, I sat in my room and stared at the wall. Another one of the attendees suggested I try these story cubes . . .

They may be geared toward kids, but they’re worth a shot. I ended up jotting down some short story ideas from them, but resumed my wall-staring for a while. Then, thanks to a few writing prompts from Writer’s Digest, I hooked into a story. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). I hand wrote several pages of ideas, then  plotted out the structure using the Plot Line Skeleton.

Based on the skeleton plot line, I then wrote a three-page outline. Before I left, I had nearly the first two chapters written. Since I’ve already started the book, I’m obviously not participating in NaNoWriMo, but I’m going to certainly write like I am. My goal is to reach the halfway mark by Christmas. So what’s the moral to this story? If you find yourself wanting rip the heads off kittens, please don’t. Take a time out to recharge and regroup. Your friends and family will thank you, and you’ll most likely end up with a new project that you otherwise wouldn’t have come up with.

It also didn’t hurt that we had plenty of wine to help reduce those high stress levels:

Top of the Mountain Book Award

As contest coordinator, I’m thrilled to announce the Northern Colorado Writers are now accepting submissions for the 2nd annual Top of the Mountain Book Award. The contest is open to unpublished works of fiction, creative/narrative nonfiction, and nonfiction. The contest is open until march 1, 2013. Winners receive a $100 and a framed certificate, as well as recognition at the NCW Conference April 26, 2013. Get the submission guidelines HERE and good luck!

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!

7th Annual Northern Colorado Writers Conference

There is nothing like a writers conference to get that writing fire lit. Like any type of conference, being surrounded by like-minded people, can get you excited about learning new things, and then implementing them into your work.  This is the third NCW conference I’ve attended, and the second one I’ve helped organize. The conference is located in Fort Collins (where I live), is typically capped at 125-140 participants, and a great deal of thought goes into the details. The presenters are always top notch, and this year, we had a particularly outstanding group of faculty. They were personable, friendly, and eager to talk with participants outside of the workshops. For a good time (in the most professional sense) call Adriana Dominguez of Full Circle Literary, Nicole Resciniti of The Seymour Agency, and Steve Metee of Quill Driver Books if you are a conference organizer.

One of the (many) highlights was our keynote speaker and NCW member, Jim Davidson, co-author of The Ledge. Have you read this book!? It’s fantastic and Jim is such a high energy, dynamic speaker.

Classes included: Writing & Publishing Your Memoir, The Difference Between Selling & Slushing, Dealing with Self-Sabotage, and The ABCs of Writing for Children, just to name a few. There were 28 different workshops and classes in all, as well as an opportunity to pitch to an agent or editor.

It’s hard to believe we’re already discussing our plans for next year’s conference, held in March. This year’s theme was Take the Road Less Traveled. To see yours truly make a fool of herself, you can see “Writer vs. Wild,” a video I co-wrote (and starred in) with my fellow Conference Creative Team member, Jenny Sundstedt I apologize in advance.