Monday, June 29, 2015

Throwing the Switch

By James P. Stuart 

I don’t remember the day I decided to become a writer. I get asked about that day quite frequently, perhaps because of the tremendous uphill battle we face in this industry. My family, friends and coworkers have all asked me at one time or another if there was a flash of light from above or a booming voice from a burning bush that set me on this path. But – much to the disappointment of many – there is no such grand event impressed on my mind. Luckily, after completing my first Pikes Peak Writers Conference this year, I am happy to report that while I may not be able to tell you when I chose to be a writer, I can absolutely tell you when I first felt like a writer.

Prior to coming to this year’s Conference, I had attended a handful of Pikes Peak Writers events. However, my participation in those events was considerably short of notable, and left me feeling like a bit of an imposter. This was due mostly to the fact that I was not investing my time and energy in any meaningful way to get the most out of those activities. Coming into the 2015 Conference, I was determined to break that cycle.

From the time I arrived at the orientation session on Friday until the time I (reluctantly) headed home Sunday afternoon, I immersed myself in everything the weekend had to offer. The most valuable thing I took away from the Conference was a tremendous burst of creative energy, stemming directly from the interactions I was able to have with so many aspiring and established writers. I was amazed at how quickly talking about my writing – no matter how casually – shed light on it and forced me to really know my stories and characters. Without having these conversations regularly, I had compartmentalized my work in a way that made it feel unreal. This was the root of my inability to feel like a true writer. The Monday morning following Conference, it was as if a switch had been thrown, and I was reintroduced to my own potential. For this, I am extremely grateful to everybody I interacted with in between sessions and at meals.

I cannot properly express how much I look forward to seeing you all next year, where I hope to have the opportunity to be inspired by even more of you. The sheer amount of talent in our community continues to astound me. I will do my best to be a large part of in the coming months until we are all back at Conference 2016!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Quote of the Week and Week to Come

"Don't you wish you had a job like mine? All you have to do is think up a certain number of words! Plus, you can repeat words! And they don't even have to be true!"

Dave Barry (July 3, 1947 -)
American Humorist

This week on Writing from the Peak:

* PPWC Attendee James P. Stuart tells us how he "threw the switch".

* Deb McLeod shares her first Wednesday post.

* PPW July News and Events.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Mission: Amazing

By Piper Scherkenbach

Before I say anything else, I want to thank all the staff that made this year’s conference possible. I also want to thank them for giving me the opportunity to attend by offering me a scholarship. It was an amazing three days and one of the best experiences a writer could ask for.

The overload of information I gathered at the conference bogged down my mind for a few days… or a few weeks. All I could think about was writing. Is my plot exciting enough to not put people to sleep? Are my characters being tortured enough by the conflict? And then, after One Moment in Time: Writing Scenes, presented by Cara Lopez Lee, I ended up dissecting each and every one of my scenes.

There’s a lot to take away from a huge conference like this, but the thing that stands out most in my mind was the use of psychology. One workshop mentioned the psychology of color, and another Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As a college student with a psychology minor, this instantly jumped out at me. It was one of those ‘duh’ moments. A light bulb just went off, saying, “Gee, genius. Maybe you should apply this to your writing.” I’d never even considered how much psychology is woven into writing. Understanding how people’s minds work is important to invoking the reactions you want from your readers. Writing feels like reality, but if we wrote it like reality we’d leave the readers wondering what the heck was happening. So how do people perceive reality? That’s really the question we need to ask.

Every moment had its merit. Every workshop gave me the knowledge I needed to become a better writer. Even if at times I already knew the information presented, the reiteration strengthened my understanding of the how's and why's.

With one final statement I’ll say this: PPWC felt like home to me. Surrounded by fellow writers, I finally felt like part of the group. As an introvert, I tend to avoid interactions, but being with writers flips a switch that turns me into a social butterfly. And it feels amazing. One word to describe it all: Amazing.

This blog from Piper is part of the series of posts written by PPWC15 scholarship attendees. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Besides Fear, What's Holding You Back?

By Karen Albright Lin

There are many reasons we get stuck. We lack confidence, develop a fear of failure or, ironically, fear of success. What other obstacles stand in your way?

Lack of writing skills: It’s a rare author who has raw talent and the sponge mind to read others’ work and instinctively “get it,” subsequently pounding out a first book that hits the publishing jackpot. If one hasn’t attended classes, critique groups, workshops or retreats, or hired a personal writing coach, it may be time to seek education just as someone needs to learn coding before becoming a software engineer.

Ambiguous motivations: If publishing is on your bucket list, why? Are you writing a memoir to get revenge on your high school nemesis? You want to lecture but not entertain? Are you expecting fame and fortune, showing off? Are you seeking catharsis instead of allowing that to come naturally in the process? These may be valid. Or they may be restraining you. Dig down deep, identify what’s really motivating you, and it may help you move forward or decide to start a different project.

Unrealistic expectations: There are many myths about being an author. Mention that you are a writer and people venerate. What an easy job! They expect you to have success with Stephen King money and fame starting from book one. Instead we are crushed by negative experiences. Our critique groups don’t pile on the praise; we don’t meet our minimum words per day; we find that life and writing patterns take sharp turns into brick walls. Setbacks are part of the process, so reopen that file but this time with a pragmatic mindset.

Impatience: One reason to have realistic expectations is to allow for the long writing apprenticeship. “Overnight successes” are rarely that. Ask authors about the three books or film scripts in their drawer. This is not a career meant for someone who can’t stand in a line at the movie theater. Your goals may be unrealistically grand. You may need to take smaller bites. It helps to celebrate every time you meet a benchmark.

Lack of writing sanctuary: How can you leave your insecurities at the door if you don’t have one? You create one. You may live in a small apartment without an office but you can reserve a little corner in the bedroom or living area exclusively for writing. If hubby is watching Monday night football, use earplugs. If you write better out in public, find that coffee shop or restaurant that welcomes loiterers. Buy something, nurse it over your laptop. The white noise might allow you to be a part of the world but without the burden of having demands placed on you.

Loneliness: Often writing in a coffee shop isn’t enough to conquer that feeling of isolation. Most professions involve interacting with coworkers. We writers also need social stimulation to refill the writing well and to be satisfied in general. Most places have writers’ communities you can reach out to: regional writing organizations, critique groups, conferences, retreats. You can pair up with a beta reader, collaborate, or create a support and accountability group. Report progress regularly. If you can’t or don’t want to schmooze in person, try one of the on-line communities. General and genre-specific critique groups and forums abound. Families don’t typically understand the happy dance you do after having your essay published in a magazine that pays you two copies. Being part of a writing community allows you to celebrate with a crowd that understands.

Writing by committee: Though it is good for your writing to get feedback from beta readers and critique groups, be careful not to allow your voice to be combed out of the book. Let your readers know what you are looking for. Be as specific as possible: believable dialogue? consistent characterization? skillful transitions? If you were happy with your plot and characters before seeking input be careful not to take your pile of written feedback and start amending without putting every comment through your own filter. Every idea may sound fun. Not every thought will be appropriate, especially not a salad of impressions. Listen, make note of opinions, then think each over before applying it. A decision to let an idea go is not repudiation; it’s allowing your book to tell you whether it needs a particular change.

Magical thinking: Some wait for their muse to come along and drag them to the keyboard. Multi-published authors will tell you that the best way to call the muse is by getting your butt into that seat and your fingers moving. Get going on that “shitty first draft” as Anne Lamott calls it. Momentum is your muse. Just like luck, wonderful words come your way through hard work.

Take inventory. If you are stymied by any of the above obstacles, tap into your strengths and determination. Confront them head-on, triumph over them, so they won’t have the power to hinder the progress on your writing project.

About the Writer: Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Quote of the Week and Week to Come

"I still get up every morning at 4 A.M. I write seven days a week, including Christmas. And I still face a blank page every morning, and my characters don't really care how many books I've sold."
photo courtesy

Dan Brown (June 22, 1964 - )
The DaVinci Code
Angels and Demons

This week on Writing from the Peak:

* Karen Albright Lin asks what is holding you back, besides fear.

* PPWC15 Scholarship recipient Darlene Grippo-Sowa checks off her bucket list.

* PPWC15 Scholarship recipient Piper Scherkenbach shares Mission: Amazing.

Friday, June 19, 2015

DENVER COMIC CON!!! The Ultra-Glamorous Life of an Author

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

So, I just got back from the Denver Comic Con, and boy, are my arms tired. Not from flying. You know that old joke? Right? Or am I old? Dang, I’m old.

Anyway, my arms are tired from carrying my own books.

I carry my own books. A lot. I bought a wheeled cart from Office Depot (Collapsible! Inexpensive! Durable!) because I got so tired of showing up to events dripping with sweat from lugging boxes around.

Jim Butcher, whom I met this past weekend at the Denver Comic Convention, doesn’t have to carry his books around. He sits down, his minions come in and provide books which he signs, and then when his time is over, he get up and moseys out of the room.

Now, Mr. Bucher is a helluva nice guy and he’s written some amazing books. His fans love him, and I watched them line up to get a chance to talk to him. It’s the dream, baby, the dream of the world-famous author with money and movies, flowing in and coming out.

It’s easy to see that and get jealous. I generally waltz right past envy and right to despair. I love despair. It’s so cold and empty, and it gnaws at me with the needle teeth of midnight spiders.

I’ll never get to be the rock star author. I’ll always be struggling. No one will ever love me like they love Jim Butcher.

Part of my journey as a writer is coming to understand that if I want to be a writer, I’m going to have to carry my own books and sell them, one at a time, to the skeptical masses. This is not the glamorous life I thought it would be.

Since my epic six-book series is coming out from Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press in September, I helped them run the WordFire Press booth at the Denver Comic Con and helped sell books.

I talked to people as they walked buy, saying, “Do you like to read? Do you like fantasy and science fiction novels? Do you like stories about sixteen-year-old girls on treasure hunts in France with their crazy grandmothers?” I was ignored. Or politely told they don’t read. Or they didn’t like France. That last one hurt.

But do you know what? Some of them got excited about the books. Some of them bought my book (the one about France). And some seemed to really appreciate how much time, effort, and suffering it takes to write a book. A lot of the people were writers themselves.

Then after three days of that, I helped the amazing Quincy J. Allen and Josh Vogt tear down and box up the inventory. And so it goes.

As I was schlepping boxes and tables and bins around, it suddenly struck me…I get to do this. I don’t have to do this. I get to do this.

There are millions of people who want to write books. There are thousands of published authors who would like to sell their books in big venues. And there hundred of those authors who would’ve loved to be at Denver Comic Con. But for whatever reason, the people aren’t writing, aren’t publishing, aren’t putting themselves out there. For whatever reason.

I get to write. I get to publish. I get to sell. All of this isn’t the wonder and glamour I thought it would be, but it’s real. And you know what? There is a camaraderie among writers and artists who go out in the world, doing the deal, and yeah, carrying your own books around and trying to foist them on other people is hard, but it’s the struggle that makes it good. It’s the work. The sweaty, uncomfortable work.

It’s not the cocktail parties and check-cashing I thought it would be, but I’ll continue to carry my books to places (ha, no, I'll wheel them in my collapsible cart from Office Depot), and I’ll continue to get fans, one conversation at a time.

I don’t have to do this.

I get to do this.

Hurray. Hurray. Hurray.

Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of The Never Prayer and Long Live the Suicide King, both finalists in various contests. His latest novel, Elizabeth’s Midnight, was called “a transformative tale for those who believe in magic and in a young girl’s heart” by Kirkus Reviews. In shorter fiction, his G.I. Joe inspired novella was an Amazon bestseller in Kindle Worlds and his steampunk story, “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” was part of The Best of Penny Dread Tales anthology published through Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press. His upcoming young adult sci-fi/western epic series will also be published through WordFire Press. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two ancient goddesses of chaos posing as his daughters.

For more about him, his books, and how to overcome artistic angst, visit He’s on Facebook as Aaron Michael Ritchey and he tweets - @aaronmritchey.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Checking Off My Bucket List

By Darlene Grippo-Sowa

Hello, All.

I was honored and excited to be a scholarship winner to the Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2015. It was a definite bucket list experience for me. I self published a book for my dissertation called Rebuilding the Veil. It is a book on cults, but I had no experience and no idea how to write a book.

The conference was an eye-opening experience. I’ve never met so many incredible, giving, kind, and helpful people in my life, and here there were hundreds in one place. The speakers, authors, agents and fellow writers were kind and supportive beyond my expectation. Before I left for the conference, my husband told me not to get my hopes up and to try to have a good time. I was literally on Cloud 9 the entire time. And I’m a New Yorker - nothing surprises me. 

The authors who came were so giving of their time and knowledge and the staff and attendees were nothing short of incredible. Each workshop was brilliant. I’ve never been to a conference where I could say I learned something at every single event. I was given the opportunity to read the first 32 lines of my manuscript and the author/attendees gave me the best advice and support. I was also asked to submit a manuscript. How I will ever come off that cloud, I have no idea.

One of the best experiences was during a talk about comedy by Robert Spiller, author of The Witch of Agnesi. He said he loved midgets and anything to do with them. I asked a question and made mention that my book was about a very small coroner. “You had me at hello,” he said. I couldn’t have laughed harder! What a great moment.

I also have to add that the Marriott staff were the most kind I’ve ever encountered. I attend about four or five conferences a year. I usually have to tote all my own food due to my 20+ allergies. The hotel staff bent over backwards (and did some flips) to meet my dietary needs. Again, completely blown away. 

This was the best experience and the most fun I have ever had at a conference and I plan to go again and again! I was completely in awe. I will go every year and donate and support the Pikes Peak Writers. Thank you so much for this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Darlene Grippo-Sowa
Teller County Deputy Coroner