Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Do You Request Books? — A Reader University Post

By Stacy S. Jensen

This is the eighth post in a series of 12 ways to help authors (and your writing) by reading.

We make requests for all types of things — special food at the supermarket or a song on the radio (OK, maybe that’s showing my age a bit) — so why not do the same with books?
Where you can make a request for a book:

  • at the library
  • at bookstores
  • for classrooms

I have little contact with librarians, but I’m guessing when people ask for a title they take it seriously. You may even find out the book is on order.

In recent weeks, I’ve discovered a few books via NPR weekend radio programs. When I checked my library, I was pleased to see the books were on order. So, I put my name in the hopper to be one of the first readers.
In general, I am of the “what do you have to lose by asking” mindset. If you ask and they tell you no, then nothing’s really lost. If you ask and they tell you yes, well you can get your hands on the book.
I know you can get most titles via Amazon, but if you find a bookstore doesn’t carry your favorite author, ask the bookstore about stocking the book. If the seed is planted, perhaps the buyer will consider the author’s next book.
If you have a relationship with your child’s teacher, recommend books (especially, if your child doesn’t like the selections). I’m not at this stage yet and I’m sure there are processes to approve books — subject matter, reading levels, etc. If you know of an appropriate book by a local (for instance, they reside in your state) recommend it for classroom reading lists or speak with the school librarian about adding it to the school’s selection.
Have you requested a book recently? Was it an easy process? Were you successful?
(This post originally appeared on Stacy S. Jensen's blog on February 24, 2014)

About the Author: Stacy S.Jensen worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for two decades. Today, she writes picture books and revises a memoir manuscript. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and toddler.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Don't Be a Leach Magnet

By Karen Albright Lin

Early in my editing career—let’s just put it at 2001—I was a leach magnet. I was taken on a long, treacherous four-wheel drive ride with a writer who had significant development needs and couldn’t put a grammatically correct sentence together.

I essentially wrote her story for her then followed with hours and hours of endless edits and corrections to the messes she made every time she made her own changes. 

[ Lesson 1:  Be clear in your contract how many editing passes you’ll go through if you aren’t paid by the hour or by the week. Leaches will drain the blood out of you if the contract
allows it. ]

Was there gratitude when her agent-of-the-day loved the book? No. Instead, there was a plan hatched to sacrifice a higher advance to allow the publishing company to put more money into publicity and contest entries for the novel.  That might have been a winning strategy, but not for me. I had contracted with her for a small percentage of the advance.  Only the advance, no future proceeds. Doing the math, I made pennies per hour on that book.

[ Lesson 2:  Assess carefully the amount of time and work you will put into a project to be sure you’re fairly compensated. Leaches will take advantage of a weak contract. ]

To make matters worse, said author contracted to acknowledge me but she didn’t. Being associated with the book was to be an important part of my remuneration. She had an established reputation and connections she suggested would help advance my career. Call me a sucker. It’s no surprise that since then, she‘s burned all those bridges by sucking everyone she encounters dry and leaving them on the side of the road like publishing jerky. She alienated top agents and publishing houses. She screwed other freelance editors and important media personalities.

[ Lesson 3:  Don’t count on someone’s referrals or connections. Verbal promises are worthless when you deal with leaches. ] 

Was there gratitude when the book earned great reviews and literary awards, or when it went from hardback to paperback? No. Only an expectation that I’d be equally eager to take on her sequel. I told her I couldn’t do it at the same percentage, but would consider editing it by-the-hour. Right then, on the phone, she dropped me off of all the other projects I’d spent hours working on for her—without paying me one cent, despite her use of my work in those later-released books.

[ Lesson 4:  Be sure all projects have contracts with kill fees and compensation for your work that ends up published. A leach has no problem publishing your words when her own suck. ]

Only after the fact, I learned this author had used and abused other editors in similar ways. I had failed to look for the signs; someone with an entitlement attitude in general will often carry that over into his or her professional life. Check with her peers and past employees if you can. Flash a red light if an author is in a rush to sign a contract.  Let my experience be a warning to you; it’s worth it to hire an attorney specializing in publishing. One I highly recommend is Susan Spann, generous to authors and full of integrity. Be sure they can pay and have every intention to pay you what you are worth.  Realize your self-interest may not match up with theirs.

Vow not to be a leach magnet.

If you want to link to it, Susan Spann’s website is:

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, August 17, 2014

Quote of the Week and Week to Come

"Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn't exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible."
Ray Bradbury
August 22, 1920 - June 5, 2012 

Fahrenheit 451
The Illustrated Man
Something Wicked This Way Comes 

This week on Writing from the Peak:

* Don't Be a Leach Magnet                                                 Karen Albright Lin

* Do You Request Books? A Reader University Post    Stacy S. Jensen

* Sweet Success! J.L. Fields                                                Kathie Scrimgeour

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sweet Success! Ronnie Lee Graham

Compiled by Kathie Scrimgeour

Ronnie Lee Graham’s nonfiction, And Then the Train Wrecked, (ISBN: [soft] 978-1-49083487-0, [hard] 978-1-4908-3486-3, [e-book] 978-1-4908-3485-6, 128 pages, adult) was released May 7, 2014 by Westbow Press, A Division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan. This Christian self help/personal growth book is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble,, and Books A Million. Visit Ronnie’s website at

Anyone who has known the loss of a loved one can relate to this story. This nonfiction book chronicles Ronnie’s grief and thoughts on life and God during the days leading up to, and for the year following the death of his wife, Merry, from pancreatic cancer. It captures the raw emotion of a man as he seeks to rebuild his wrecked life. It follows one rule in its telling: it must be honest from the start. That honesty comes through in every paragraph and makes this a very personal, well-told story.

About the Author:  Ronnie is a retired army officer and former government civilian. He has lived in Colorado Springs for over ten years and very much enjoys all of the outdoor sports the area has to offer.  

We love to hear of fellow Pikes Peak Writers' Sweet Successes, including story acceptances, winning contests, getting published and book signings. Please email Kathie Scrimgeour at if you've got a Sweet Success you'd like to share.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Scene Writing Series, Part XII - Polarity

By Jaxine Daniels

Hello, Campers, last month we explored BEATS: action and reaction segments within scenes. This month, we’re going to explore SCENE POLARITY, which is an extension, of sorts, of the action/reaction topic. James Hudnall explains scene polarity this way:
“Every action has a polarity in story terms. Positive or negative. Non action is neutral. But as we discussed before, neutral action does nothing, so it must be used sparingly.”
In each scene, characters enter with expectations. If things go as expected, there’s no story. If you leave your house for work, drive there via the normal route, have normal traffic, and get there in the normal amount of time, there’s no story. If, however, you leave the house, go via your normal route without running into traffic, and you get there in time to stop by the coffee shop for a caramel latte, there’s more to the scene. If, on your normal route, you come across an accident and have to drive right by the lump of twisted metal that was, in it’s former life, a Chevy or a Ford, your day just got more interesting. If you actually see that accident happen, better (especially for the EMT’s in the group, but I digress). If the accident happens to you, even better (not for you, but for the story.)
Each scene that you write will start with either a positive or negative “charge.” Things are either going well or badly at the beginning of a scene.
By the end of each scene, the polarity should have changed. Most commonly, the scene will go from a positive to a negative polarity or vice versa. Occasionally, it will go from a negative to a double negative as things that couldn’t get worse do, indeed, get worse. And when conflict is first introduced, a scene may go from neutral to positive or negative. Neutral charges can be effectively used as breathing points between highly charged scenes and can also be used to show irony. The ironic twists, though, when there is no real polarity change, are, in reality, a frustration factor for your characters and, as such, they add an overall negative charge to the situation. 
Not only does the polarity of the charge change from scene to scene, so does the strength of the charge. In the beginning of a story, the charges are mild. By mid-story, the charges should be building in intensity. By the big “OH NO!” moment, the charges should be set on stun. 
There is a natural ebb and flow to a good story. If all your scenes are positive to negative, your reader will lose interest. If all your scenes are neutral, nothing really is happening, except for the snoooooozing sound coming from your reader. As the coach in the Might Ducks movie says, “CHANGE IT UP!”
Polarity shifts occur when the mood of the scene changes. Generally, it is conflict that brings about the change. A character can go from frustration to anger. Or frustration to forgiveness. His dealings can go from unpleasant to brutal or from unpleasant to accepting; negative to positive or positive to negative. The intensity of the charge itself is shown in the degree: an unpleasant response, a dirty look, a curt reply, a physical response such as a shove or a painful grip, all the way up to an ultimate unpleasantness such as pulling and firing a gun.  As you can see, if the intensity builds to the highest level by the middle of the story, the author has nowhere to go. Occasionally, this device is used to change the direction of the story altogether, but it should only be used on purpose, not because you have backed yourself into a corner.
If you use polarity wisely, consistently building the charge along the way, you will find that the response that would have seemed absurd in the beginning of the story seems logical in the end. A character can do something completely against his nature if you’ve pushed him throughout the story to do it. This is done by taking the expectation he brings into each scene and reversing the outcome. 
For more information on polarity of scenes, I recommend Story, by Robert McKee, and Story Sense, by Paul Lucey.
Your assignment this month is to go back over the scenes you’ve written or critiqued lately. Mark the polarity at the beginning of the scene with a plus or minus sign. Mark it again at the end of the scene. If you find scenes that have not changed in polarity, you will likely find that the activity of the scene was a non-event. The scene is flat.
The beauty of writing is that you can fix it. You can throw conflict into the scene or, if necessary, you can cut the scene entirely.
Well, Campers, this is the final Screenwriting Tips column. I would like to thank you for all the great comments you’ve made to me along the way. I know I’ve learned a lot, and I hope you have as well. We will start something new and exciting next month. 

Until next time, BIC-HOK (Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard).

Jax (
(This series first ran in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers newsletter in 2005.)

About the Author: Jaxine Daniels is a published romance writer and freelance copywriter. She wears many hats including EMT, CPR instructor, and Grammy. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series set in ranching country Colorado and a historical romance set in 1775 Massachusetts. She lives in Colorado Springs, belongs to PPW, RMFW and is a member of the Professional Writer's Alliance.


Monday, August 11, 2014

The Writer's Greatest Fear: Methods to Conquer the Blank Page

By Robert Vincent

It’s a story all storytellers are familiar with. You, staring at the blank page, fingers fear-frozen over the keys, notebook empty, mind jumbled with words and characters and plots you can’t quite combine into decipherable language. It’s just a blank page. But it feels like a mountain.

The blank page feels like a volcanic peak, its slopes teeming with horrors too many to name. There are adverb beasts, flesh-hungry IRS agents, and velociraptors that can open doors.

And worse.

On Blank Page Mountain, you encounter yourself and the very worst fears within. The fear of not being any good, of rejection by peers and agents and editors. Of finding that the book of your heart is too wonderful, too massive, too perfect to be translated into mere words. You fear failure.

But these fears are conquerable. Like the proverbial magic sword the weird old dude in the cave gives you, there exist tools designed to help.

Allow me to be your cave hermit. It’s dangerous to go alone. Take these tools to assist you on your climb.

Tool One: The Internet

The Internet can just as easily be a curse as a boon to writers. I’ve seen people go from writer to cat-video addict in five minutes flat. It’s not a pretty sight. If you want to be productive, never click on anything cat-related. Ever. Except for the following website, of course. This site rewards you with a cute kitten picture every time you complete X number of words. If that doesn’t motivate you to get onto those slopes and go word-prospecting, then I don’t know what will. Offers you profile achievements and badges for completing X number of days in a row where you write 750 words or more. Great for those struggling to achieve good writing habits. This site forces you to keep typing. If you stop, the site will punish you in various ways ranging from blaring annoying sounds, showing you pictures of creepy spiders, or disemvoweling your already-typed words. Ick.

Tool Two: The Pomodoro Technique

Place a timer next your computer or notebook. Set it for 25 minutes (an interval of time known as a Pomodoro). Start it.

Then write your brains out.

There are arguably two concepts behind the efficacy of the Pomodoro Technique:

A: You can do anything for 25 minutes. Come on—it’s less than half an hour. You can type for half an hour, right? You’re a writer, dagnabbit, and if you can’t find the time or heart to write for 25 measly minutes, then maybe you should find something easier to do, like mastodon-wrangling.

B: A five-minute break between Pomodoros can do wonders for a word-weary mind. Take the five minutes after the Pomodoro dings to stand up, stretch, maybe feed your miniature giant space hamster. Whatever. Then set another timer and get back to climbing that mountain.

Do what works best for you. Experiment like the story scientist you are. Force yourself to write for that first time interval, and you’ll likely find yourself on a roll by the end of it.

Tool Three: Psychology

Changing the way you think about the writing process might help you surmount that first page and beyond. Some options:

Think about writing as a necessary task. Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, has this to say about writers and other endeavoring artists: “The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”

Like doing laundry, eating that broccoli, or re-oiling your aggressive mecha-otter, writing is a task that you simply must do.

Stop caring so much. During the 2014 Pikes Peak Writers Conference, this was the central subject of Chuck Wendig’s keynote speech. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) that as writers, we’re not curing cancer. We’re not leading nations. We are allowed to screw up without great consequences. Words can always be rewritten. More queries can always be sent. Stop caring so much, frozen by the fear of failure, and write some darn words.

Write here. Write now. Make it happen.

Tool Four: Community

You don’t have to climb the velociraptor-infested slopes of Blank Page Mountain alone. Critique groups can be a huge boon not only to the quality of a writer’s work, but to the quantity. Fellow writers can push you forward in your writing career, providing encouragement and constructive criticism. Try different in-person critique groups until you find the one that fits you. If you’d rather try it online, I’d recommend first.

Writing conferences are like the delicious chocolate nucleus in the tootsie pop of writerly fellowship. If you’ve never been to a writing conference, I highly recommend investing the time and money and licking that tootsie pop. Writing conferences are hubs of learning and professional networking, it’s true. But they’re also places where you can find life-long friends, fellow human beings struggling in the same art you are. Don’t underestimate the value of that.

The Pikes Peak Writing Conference was my personal turning point from dreamer to writer, and it was primarily because of the amazing fellow writers I met. Might it also be your turning point?

The Writer’s Greatest Fear

You’ve done it. You’ve reached the summit of Blank Page Mountain, and the page before you is swathed in your inky progeny. The adverb beasts are tamed. The IRS vampires are evaded. The clever velociraptors are stumped.

More peaks tower before you. More fears. But if you’ve written, you can rest assured that you’ve conquered, for now, the very greatest fear a writer can face. The going will still be difficult, but your feet are tougher and more sure. The mountains seem smaller.

What is the writer’s greatest fear? Not failure. Not rejection. Not despair.

It’s the utter horror of never trying.

If you’ve bested this fear, congratulations. Now get back to work. Show the world what you’ve got.

About the Author:  Writer. Game designer. Cubicle monkey. Robert Vincent's hardly started on his writing career, but has already won honorable mention in The Writers of the Future Contest and has won the PPW Zebulon Contest. He attributes his lack of publication credits to poor bio-writing skills. Robert's currently working on his epic fantasy novel, living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with his beloved Companion Cube. Find him at

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Quote of the Week and Week to Come

By Debi Archibald

(Alice) Adams sometimes followed a pattern she called ABDCE in outlining a short story, which she described to her friend Anne Lamott. "The letters stand for Action, Background, Development, Climax, and Ending. You begin with action that is compelling enough to draw [the reader] in, make us want to know more. Background is where you ... see and know who these people are, how they've come to be together, what was going on before the opening of the story. Then you develop these people, so that we learn what they care most about. The plot – the drama, the actions, the tension – will grow out of that. You move them along until everything comes together in the climax, after which things are different for the main characters, different in some real way. And then there is the ending: what is our sense of who these people are now, what are they left with, what happened, and what did it mean?"
Alice Adams (August 14, 1926 - May 27, 1999)
Awarded O'Henry Lifetime Achievement Award 
and Best American Short Stories Award
Careless Love
Second Chances
Almost Perfect

This week on Writing from the Peak:

* The Writer's Greatest Fear                               Robert Vincent

* Scene Writing Series Part XII: Polarity        Jaxine Daniels

* Sweet Success! Ronnie Lee Graham               Kathie Scrimgeour