Monday, July 27, 2015

The Adventure Begins

By Kim Dillon

What if…you had no affirmative genre, no manuscript in process, and ­no clue about how to maneuver Read & Critique X in front of Jane Stine, Parachute Press co-chair and legendary editor of the Goosebumps series?

You stay up late writing, and go for it!

The 23rd Pikes Peak Writers Conference in April catapulted me from merely thinking about writing into a phase of creative incubation. The conference provided unprecedented access to PPW faculty and opportunities to build a network of writing community colleagues.

Fearlessly entering Tales of Horror: How to Survive Plotting Nightmares, I was met by a lighthearted declaration from Stine that I must be a glutton for punishment. Translation: she recognized me from the R&C-X! “Plotting is all the same despite the genre,” she said, explaining the perfect way to develop any story idea begins with ‘What if….’

At lunch on Friday, I was a coincidental guest at the table of F.T. Bradley, an author with whom I was unfamiliar, although I had selected to attend her Write the MG and YA Mystery/Thriller session that afternoon. Our paths intersected daily, and Fleur and I engaged in multifarious laughs about Kraft Singles, shift changes in the kitchen between lunch and dinner, tongue-scorching shepherd’s pie, and a failed lemon bar heist. I’m now reading her middle grade Double Vision series – and fully intend to make good on the lemon bars.

All culinary capers aside, I sorted my collection of Flash Fiction Contest writing prompts Friday afternoon at the bar and wrote the rough draft over a serious red wine, obtained in anticipation of Mary Kay Andrews’ uncensored and highly entertaining keynote address. Her description of working for abusive jerks and learning to say ‘No!’ to work place intimidation empowered her as a human being and helped propel her to success as a mainstream fiction author. Identifying personally with her story, Andrews incited me to get mad, reclaim my assertiveness, and ‘stick it to the man!’

The next day, I caught the end of Scenes: Using Every Crayon in the Box and briefly addressed Andrews as she exited Eagles Nest within inches of where I sat. I explained that although I have not read her work, her keynote message made me a fan and inspired me in dealing with my own ongoing situation involving a man and a stick. Our conversation was short but meaningful, and before departing, Andrews drew a copy of Summer Rental out of her shoulder bag, saying, “I always bring extra copies with me because I like to give my books to people who say nice things about my work.” At Sunday’s book signing event I thanked her again and managed to turn that gift into a signed copy.

Wandering into a largely uninhabited banquet room on Sunday, I just can’t forget the warm  hospitality I received when a gentleman named Link Miller invited me to join the group for breakfast. Conversation ensued about all sorts of writing projects. I left the table with a preliminary structure for a story idea that began emerging as soon as the Choose Your Own Writing Adventure began. Connecting with Miller, president of the Parker Writers Group, was a fortuitous event as I attended their May meeting and agreed to help form a thriving critique group.

Gaining tremendous insight from Pam McCutcheon’s Saturday session, Brainstorming Using the Plotting Board, I visited with her at the book signing event. I took advantage of the personal invitation I received to attend her Writing the Fiction Synopsis presentation at PPW’s Write Brain event in May and left with a better understanding of loglines.

In closing, I must mention Trai Cartwright’s high-energy Top 10 Story-Telling Devices Movies can Teach Fiction Writers because when I went home exhausted to kids still young enough to have missed me and told them I wanted to watch Wreck it Ralph with them, I earned the high score! We watched that DVD three times that week, taking notes and pausing for discussion. My ten-year-old son Gage, who loves to write, really connected with the process of analyzing the three-
act structure of one of his favorite movies. I’m excited to have him along for the adventure! 

This post by Kim is part of the ongoing series of blogs by PPWC15 scholarship recipients.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sweet Success! Karen Albright Lin

By Kathie Scrimgeour

Karen Albright Lin’s short story, "The Snow Day," (featured initially in BTS Book Reviews Jan/Feb 2015 issue, pg. 143) has been honored by the 2014 Red Carpet Book Awards and as a result has been invited to be included in an upcoming short story anthology, Shooting Stars. Release date is set for October 1, 2015 by Ravenswood Publishing A list of available book stores will be found here:

A man thinks losing his job is the worst event of the year until                                                    his wife goes missing and he finds out why. 

Karen Albright Lin is a freelance editor for best-selling, traditionally and self-published authors. Her clients have hit #1-9 in their Amazon categories and stayed there for months. She’s a multi-award winning writer, ghostwriter, produced screenwriter, and multi-published author of essays, poetry and short stories. She’s a regular columnist for newsletters and well-visited blogs. She’s a paid columnist for BTS Book and Book Trailer Reviews. She presents workshops at conferences, retreats and on cruise lines.

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, July 22, 2015

Your Critique Group: Is it Contributing to Your Growth as a Writer?

By Donnell Ann Bell

Think back to your very first manuscript. Now fast forward to the manuscripts that you've completed since then. Are you the same writer you were when you reached THE END of book number one?

My guess is probably not. If you are, there might be a problem. If you're still working on number one, ask yourself why. And if you're submitting, getting no response or little feedback on your rejection letters, maybe it's time to take a look at that also.

Above all, if you haven't had any luck and can't understand why you’re not advancing in your career--and you haven't done so already--you might want to join a critique group.

If you're a new writer, my number one advice is to join one with more experienced writers than you are at the present time. While that might sound intimidating, that is the only way (unless you're that rare storytelling natural) that you are going to grow as a writer. You can read every book on the shelf, but until you apply craft and writing technique to your own work, e.g. develop your voice, you won't improve as a writer.

I can't tell you how much I've learned from my first book to my now eighth completed project -- not to mention all the partials stuffed deep in my drawers -- thanks to my critique partners. Comments I received in book number one were -- you've gone into omniscient POV and just blew up your POV character; you have too many POVs; you're in the incorrect POV; you're head-hopping; too many words; weak action verbs; and your research is showing.

And those are just the comments I can remember. If you listen to experienced critique partners, something will happen from one project to the next. Those new writer comments will go away. You're going to find in the next book, they'll move on to more complex writing issues. GMC (goal, motivation and conflict). Why would your hero do that? This action seems out of character? Your protagonist doesn't seem three-dimensional to me. What's his back story? Up your pacing here, this chapter is dragging. Need a transition here.

These comments may seem tough to hear, and often they're downright painful. But they are invaluable to a professional writer. It may feel fantastic to get a critique that says, "Oh, my gosh, I love your writing, I wouldn't change a thing!" Nice ego boost, but that comment isn't going to get you published. Some good advice I received--don't fall in love with your words.

Another helpful tip I've learned when you're in a critique group is to listen -- don't argue. It does you no good to try to explain what you meant. Take it all in, sit back and let a partner's words sink in from one meeting to the next. It's your story, and it's up to you whether or not to change it.

Another thing to consider when you're a member of a critique group is: Are they helping? A critique group isn't a marriage. You've joined to help you improve. It's okay to say this isn't working and move on to one that will help you. If a critique group is destructive or seems intensely negative, run do not walk away from this energy. This will only make you doubt yourself further -- and let's face it, there's no one more full of self- doubt than a writer.

Not sure how to find a critique group? Join your local writers' organization or ask about them on line. If your organization has Open Critique, go and go often. This may be the best way to establish a new group or to get an objective viewpoint.

These are my opinions regarding critique groups. Like anything in this biz, it's subjective. How about you? What do you value in a critique? What's the best -- or worst -- advice you've ever received? Are you still with your original critique group, or have you moved on? Or have you quit altogether and prefer to write alone?

I'd love to hear your stories and what you've taken away from them. I'm a member of an in-town and an on-line critique group and find their comments invaluable. I feel critique groups make me a better writer.

Donnell Ann Bell is the new editor for Writing from the Peak and the coordinator for the monthly Open Critique held on the first Wednesday of every month. You can find her at

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Unexpected Side Benefits of PPWC 2015

By Lin Kobee

Going to Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2015 as a scholarship recipient was an exciting experience for me. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I could apply for a scholarship, and certainly (wannabe-best-seller that I am) that someone would give me a scholarship if I asked.

I received my scholarship in February, and my life took a serious turn to the left between February and May. I’m now living in New York as a live-in caregiver for a gentleman with Alzheimer’s. What’s truly amazing to me is how the conference not only inspired my writing, but took my left turn with me.

I met some amazing writers there and I want to mention them all, but two made a deep impression on me, both because of my new job and their kindness and willingness to share aspects of their lives with me.

I was introduced to Angel Smits' work through the Romance Writers Open Panel. I had not read her work before, but I am very excited to find a new author writing contemporary romances set in the West. I also had a chance to speak to her and she is a caring professional who has worked with dementia patients for many years. The advice she offered on my career choice was another invaluable and unexpected gift of the PPWC.

I already knew of Seanan McGuire both through her Newsflesh series and through Carniepunk, an anthology of Carniepunk stories. The first time I saw her, I nearly dropped what I was holding and said, “Oh, my God, you’re one of my favorite authors”. Seanan later included me in a conversation about OCD which changed how I viewed it. I felt that having a different insight into how the mind works will also aid me in my new job, as her writing inspires me to grow in different directions with my own writing. (Although I have no plans to spend much time in swamps or with tape worms.)

I came to the PPWC knowing I would learn about writing, and I did. It was an amazing conference with a variety of teachers of many styles and varieties. The unexpected bonus, for me, was the direct applications to my work life. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to learn on so many levels. Thank you PPWC for the scholarship and the wonderful conference.

This post by Lin is part of the ongoing series of blogs by PPWC15 scholarship recipients. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Since I had started to break down all my writing and get rid of all facility and try to make instead of describe, writing had been wonderful to do. But it was very difficult, and I did not know how I would ever write anything as long as a novel. It often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph."

Ernest Hemingway (7/21/1899 - 7/2/1961)
The Sun Also Rises
For Whom the Bell Tolls
A Farewell to Arms
The Old Man and the Sea
Winner: Nobel Prize for Literature

This week on Writing from the Peak:

* On Monday PPWC15 Scholarship recipient Lin Kobe shares some unexpected side benefits of conference.

* On Wednesday, Donnell Bell asks if your critique group is really working for you.

* Kathie Scrimgeour shares a Friday Sweet Success story with Karen Albright Lin.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Sweet Success! Ataska Brothers

By Kathie Scrimgeour

Ataska Brothers’ fantasy novel, The Soul of a Stillborn (95,000 words, new adult, myth/folklore), will be released by Fantasy Works Publisher in Fall 2015. The manuscript is also a finalist in the paranormal category for the Linda Howard Award of Excellence of Southern Magic Romance Writers.

Russian paranormal investigator Valya Svetlova takes a group of American college students to the rustic village of Vishenky for a few nights of supernatural manifestations. But her visitors foster some dangerous agendas. When the occurrences whirl out of control, Valya realizes she has overestimated her competence in handling her human companions and controlling the energy seeping from the portals. Struggling to keep her guests safe, Valya faces an excruciating dilemma. If she allows them to leave the village, Valya will lose her only chance to prove she’s not a soulless monster destined to perish in another dimension.

About the Author: An engineer-physicist-chemist, Ataska Brothers marched into adulthood and realized that metallurgy enticed her as much as a burnt cookie. One moonless summer night she was spooked by cries of a loon in a fog-wrapped meadow. What if?  A writer’s unrelenting muse took hold of her. Ataska’s passions define her being. She grows orchids and writes paranormal fantasy.

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, July 15, 2015

PPWC First-Timer Interview

By Debbie Allen

What are a newcomer's first impressions of the Pikes Peak Writers Conference? Read on to find out.

Rena Willemin came to the 2015 Pikes Peak Writers Conference as a first-timer--she'd never been to a writing conference before. I bumped into her in one of Brandy Vallance's workshops on day 2, and she was just glowing with her experience so far. I sent her a few questions.

Debbie: First, share a little about yourself: how long you've been writing, what genre you gravitate toward. 

Rena: I like to dab in a lot of genres, but I gravitate toward young adult and speculative fiction. I’d summarize my style as contemporary with a splash of science fiction & fantasy.

Debbie: Right up my alley! How did you hear about PPWC? Since you came from out of state, what made you decide on PPWC over other conferences? 

Rena: I really wanted to connect on a deeper level with the writing community and thought that attending a conference would be a good start. I researched dozens of conferences across the U.S., and frankly I was overwhelmed by the sheer number and size of some of them. I knew off the bat I wanted to attend a small to mid-sized conference because I didn’t want to get lost in the crowd. 

In my research, I ran across a tweet about Pikes Peak Writing Conference in which the author was gushing about it being the friendliest conference he’d ever attended. That piqued my interest, so I did a little more research. I visited the PPWC website to see the lineup of sessions, authors, agents, and editors. I saw that several agents on my “to-query” list were going to be doing Query 1-on-1 and Read-and-Critique sessions, so I signed up immediately.

Debbie: Please share some of your overall impressions of the conference: workshops, faculty, other attendees, etc. What were some of your favorite aspects? 

Rena: I was completely in awe of the fantastic ideas from my fellow writers, and the support that everyone showed for each other. My fondest memories at the conference were of chatting with other writers about their novels. I really enjoyed my Query 1-on-1 with Andrea Somberg. For someone who’d never pitched to an agent, the format was perfect because it was very casual. Also, I loved that the tables at lunch and dinner were hosted by faculty members, authors, agents, and editors. I had a chance to chat with Sandy Lu, Seanan McGuire, Liz Pelletier, and Jennifer Udden.

It’s hard to narrow down which workshops I loved the most, but a few of my favorites were:

·         The Loaded Exchange: How To Write Tension Packed Dialogue by Angie Hodapp
·         PACE: Ten Surefire Ways To Keep The Pages Moving by Andrew Gross
·         Unlocking Personification And Metaphor To Deepen Emotion by Brandy Vallance
·         The Big Picture Revision Checklist by Alex Kourvo
·         Read & Critique 1-2-3 with Tricia Narwani, Jennifer Udden, and Andrew Gross

Debbie: You mentioned that you found a great connection with some other writers. Could you describe what happened? 

Rena: In the Query for Claws session, I met some of the crew from PPWC Speculators, a writing group that formed at PPWC2014. They embraced me like one of their own, and offered encouragement and friendship (P.S. I was later officially initiated into the group!).

Debbie: What a great story! What would you share with writers who are considering whether to spend the money for a writing conference? 

Rena: Writers considering attending a conference should definitely do their research. Look for a conference that has sessions that interest you as well as opportunities to network with agents and editors you’d like to meet.

Debbie: That's great advice. Would you tell us a little about your book, and how readers can find it? 

Rena: I have a manuscript currently under consideration with several agents. I also self-published a book END OF FAITH: A NOVEL that’s available at Amazon. END OF FAITH is a post-apocalyptic novel full of what-ifs. Here’s the tagline: Ninety-five percent of the world’s population perishes in the worst pandemic since the Black Plague and Valentina’s about to find out that surviving means enduring the wrath of a prophet determined to bend her to his will.

I’m always looking to connect with other writers. Find me at or on twitter @renawillemin.

Debbie: Rena, thank you so much for taking the time to visit! I'm looking forward to seeing you at next year's conference! 

Debbie drank the Scrivener Kool-aid and never looked back. When not devoting her time to revolutionizing other writers' lives with the wonders of Scrivener, she works as a project manager for Good Catch Publishing and writes young adult historical fantasy in the Rocky Mountains. She blogs about free resources for writers at