Monday, July 28, 2014

A Rookie PPWC Experience

By Lise Bennett

My head spun for weeks from everything I learned at this year’s Pikes Peak Writers Conference - or was the spinning due to lack of sleep combined with altitude? Whatever the reason, my first PPWC was an incredible experience. I went into the weekend with the simple intent to soak up as much novel-writing knowledge as I could each day, wring my brain out every night, and be ready to absorb again the next day. Soak, wring, repeat. I left with much more than I’d imagined.

I arrived the first morning to “A Murder in Aspen Leaf” where EMTs, CSIs, FBI agents, and I think IPOs were investigating a death. I had my money on Professor Plum in the bedroom with a belt— the one that matched the ligature marks found on the victim’s neck. The presenters taught us how to set up a realistic murder investigation scene by explaining the flow of events that take place, clarifying who has jurisdiction over what, and illustrating how the various specialties do what they do. I found the forensics portion particularly fascinating. Chris Herndon, the Coroner, explained how rigor mortis follows a predictable time pattern and can be used to estimate time of death. She showed us how the location of lividity, discoloration caused by congestion of blood pooling in a dependent part of the body, can indicate that a body has been moved. After a detailed explanation of the careful observations, examinations, and calculations she uses in her work, she said that in reality, calling time of death boils down to SWAG; coroner lingo for “scientific wild-assed guess”.

Middle-grade novelist extraordinaire and seasoned wrangler of 12-year-olds, Darby Karchut exudes acceptance and support as only a 7th grade teacher can. She’s the kind of person who would be completely unfazed if some guy laughed so hard at one of her anecdotes that he snorted diet soda out of his nose and onto her dress. She’d whip out a tissue, rub the spill and pat the snorter at the same time, and then spin her story in a way that made soda guy look like a hero. She’s that good. She was the perfect person to guide us through the intimidating world of querying, publishing, agents, and contracts. Apparently the fun of writing in stolen 15-minute bursts every single day, juggling families and day jobs, mustering enough courage to slash the things that don’t work, and sweating through the fear of not being able to make up something better is only the beginning of the levity yet to come. I learned that pitching is not for weaklings or those whose stamina is taxed by walking from the computer to the coffee pot. Darby pitched her first book 102 times before she got an offer. Since everything about the publishing journey— from the writing to the waiting— moves at a glacial pace, she encouraged us to acknowledge and celebrate every milestone along the way, from fixing a difficult chapter to typing “The End”. Darby went out to eat after her first book was released reminding herself, “Yesterday I didn’t have a book published; today I have a book published.” I’m just trying to decide how many pages I need to write to justify some dancing and cookie eating merriment.

Hank Philippi Ryan, the ultimate in unaffected coolness, is a mystery writer/investigative reporter. She talked about the way her career in TV journalism has supported her novel writing. She said that any story, whether it’s a three-minute feature on the nightly news or a 400-page novel, has to capture people’s attention and keep them hanging on until the end. That means originally my writing has to excite me, the writer. Does the story move me on a heart level? Is the idea compelling enough to sustain me through the unfolding and resolution of the plot? Hank’s trick for uncovering meaning in the story is to repeat to herself over and over “Why do I care?” It’s also apparently vitally important to say this aloud in a nasal twang to channel the voice and spirit of one of her executive producers. By asking this question again and again with the proper inflection, it will help me discover what it is that I can sink my teeth into without letting go. It will transform me into a literary pit bull for the months or years it will take to tell my story. It will show me where the meat is— or the marinated soy, if I’m in a vegetarian state of mind.

Before attending the conference, I knew that flaws are what make a character relatable and interesting, but Carol Berg, writer of all things demonic, enchanting, and magical, gave us a great tool to discover these flaws. She suggested asking, in terms of our characters, “How do you get them riled up?” Trai Cartwright, screenplay goddess, took a similar, if less subtle approach. Her M.O.? Character harassment. Her eyes gleamed when she told us we can’t really know a character until we put him in a fight. Thanks to her, I now have visions of each of my characters enclosed in an MMA-style chain link ring— with Trai. They don’t have to fight her, though. They could fight their boss, the rain, fate, or a Thin Mint-toting Girl Scout with a kick ass sales goal and a take no prisoners attitude. And if there are multiple main characters, Trai says everyone needs to be messed with!

When I signed up for PPWC 2014, I was expecting to have an enjoyable weekend and learn a lot about writing. I wasn’t disappointed. However, my experience went far beyond that. I met wonderful people with enormous vocabularies and even more enormous hearts, and I think I may have walked away with the Holy Grail— not only for success in writing, but for success in life:

  • Mess with everyone. Really rile them up.
  • Rejoice in flaws. They are more interesting than strengths.
  • Care. (using my best nasal twang)
  • Celebrate every victory no matter its size.
  • Accept that I’ll never have all the answers and then take my best SWAG, because in the end, I’m going to die anyway.
  • Write here. Write now.

About the Author:  Lise Bennett is a transplant to Colorado but is thriving in the reduced oxygen. She won the grand prize in a scene writing contest sponsored by Showtime, was a winner in the Fresh Voices Screenplay Competition with her script, Crossing the Line, and was a finalist in both The Moondance International Film Festival and The Latino Screenplay Competition with En el Nombre de Dios. Formerly working full time in private practice as a naturopathic doctor, she has now gotten her priorities straight and spends her time making stuff up and writing it down. If she’s not behind her laptop, Lise is probably balancing on two wheels or one leg, huffing up a 14er, blowing into the small end of a sax, or compressing and extending her way through West Coast Swing. Lise is currently converting her script, Crossing the Line, to a novel, writing an action comedy screenplay, and is part of a documentary film project called Voices of Grief.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Quote of the Week and Week to Come

"I never try to convey a message, I just want to tell a story. Why that story in particular? I have no idea, but I have learned to surrender to the muse. I become obsessed with a theme or with certain stories; they haunt me for years, and finally, I write them."

Isabel Allende (August 2, 1942 - )
The House of the Spirits
Daughter of Fortune
Winner, National Prize for Literature

This week on Writing from the Peak:

* A Rookie PPWC Experience                    Lise Bennett

* I Hate All Writers Everywhere                Aaron Michael Ritchey

* August News and Events                          Debi Archibald

Friday, July 25, 2014

Sweet Success! Carol Berg

Compiled by Kathie Scrimgeour

Carol Berg has sold the audio rights to her mythical fantasy novel, Dust and Light (ISBN: 978-0451417244 - print copy, 464 pages, trade paperback, ebook, audio). The audio book will release in August 2014 by (NAL/Roc Books for the print and ebook already available).

The Pureblood Registry accused Lucian de Remeni of “unseemly involvement with ordinaries,” which meant only that he spoke with a young woman not of his own kind, allowed her to see his face unmasked, worked a bit of magic for her. Now the Registry has contracted his art to a common coroner. His extraordinary gift for portraiture is restricted to dead beggars or starvelings hauled from the streets. But sketching the truth of dead men’s souls brings unforeseen consequences. Sensations not his own. Truths he cannot possibly know. The coroner calls him a cheat. The Registry will call him mad—and mad sorcerers are very dangerous....

About the Author:  Former software engineer Carol Berg’s fourteen epic fantasy novels have won multiple Colorado Book Awards, the Prism Award, the Geffen Award, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature.  Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews called her work things like compelling, intelligent, and superbly realized.  Her newest fantasy/mystery duology begins with Dust and Light in August 2014. Carol writes, camps, hikes, and bikes in Colorado. You can find out more at

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 23, 2014

Flaw Goggles

By DeAnna Knippling

So at my house we have this phrase, “flaw goggles”. It’s what happens when you look at your work or your abilities, and all you can see are the flaws.

My husband came up with it. He started woodworking about five years ago or so. He builds me furniture. For example I have a bookshelf in my office of which I am fiercely protective; he keeps threatening to take it apart and rebuild it.

Personally, I can’t see any flaws in the bookshelf, even though he assures me that there are a lot of them. Nevertheless, it’s my bookshelf, and he can’t have it back.

Writing is like that, too.

Sometimes, all we can see are the flaws.

This always hits me especially hard after I’ve read something particularly good that someone else has written. I always feel the bitterest failure. And then, when something good happens to me, I feel like a complete and utter fake. There are days I have to force myself to admit my successes, because they never feel deserved.

Because of the flaw goggles.

What to do if you’re in the grip of flaw goggles?

Personally, I find it a big help to have my husband there, calling me out when I start complaining about what a terrible writer I am. And, really, trying to get the flaw goggles out of your life in general is a pretty broad task without a quick and easy solution.

But, well, to play a tune that I’ve played before--

You just have to send it. Or publish it. Or whatever.

Sure, there are going to be issues with your story. But you can’t “fix” a bookshelf by fussing with it for years and years and years. Once that bookshelf is built, you have two choices: take it apart or use it.

Likewise, you can’t “fix” a story by fussing with the words for years and years. You can either get it into a reader’s or editor’s hands, or you can delete it. Everything else is just a delaying tactic.

In the end, I still just see the flaws in the things I write. All the flaws, all the time. I don’t think you get to be a real craftsperson and ever just feel satisfied with what you’ve made. I mean, you might be ninety percent satisfied...but you will always have some part of your brain that’s assessing what you just did and trying to figure out how to make it better.

Is that a bad thing, wanting to improve? Nah. The problem isn’t that we can see flaws. It’s that we choose to get emotionally screwed up when we see them.

Yes, you’re going to encounter nay-sayers who are driven by the idea that you have to have some kind of magnificent masterpiece before you’re allowed to release things into the wild. It’s certainly a safer approach, to have the experience of a master writer under your belt before you make your work public.

But is it a practical approach?

How do you become a master craftsperson if you never let anyone else see your work? If you never have the feedback of a friend saying, “You know, the stain on this bookshelf is magnificent...but next time, some shelves would be nice,” then how do you become a master craftsperson?

You can’t bootstrap yourself if you’re not allowed to bootstrap yourself until you’ve already bootstrapped yourself. And there’s only so far you can go as a selling writer if you’re not allowing yourself to try to get sales until you’ve already had sales.

So send it.

Sure, another craftsperson might take a look at your work and point out that there’s a rough spot you forgot to sand (or even a complete lack of shelves). But they have flaw goggles, too.

And, believe me, there are plenty of people who just need a set of bookshelves.

About the Author: DeAnna Knippling started freelancing in May 2011 and wouldn’t be able to do it without her wonderful family and friends, especially her husband. In fact, she owes a lot to Pikes Peak Writers for helping her be a better writer, especially through the Write Brains, both in the lectures and in meeting lots of other writers.

Her reason for writing is to entertain by celebrating her family’s tradition of dry yet merry wit, and to help ease the suffering of lack of self-confidence, having suffered it many years herself. She also likes to poke around and ask difficult questions, because she hates it when people assume something must be so.

For more kicks in the writerly pants, see her blog at or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, available at Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, and OmniLit.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Consequential Conflict

By Karen Albright Lin

Some of us walk around looking for a battle, but most of us try to avoid conflict.  We dread the “conversation” we have to have with our son who just got a full-face tattoo of a praying mantis eating its mate.  We refuse to challenge ourselves with the Class 4 rapids our first time in a raft.  We resist the urge to use a few choice words when the IRS threatens an audit.  We are cavemen doing whatever we can to avoid the cougar that will inevitably stalk and eat us.
Self-preservation is an instinct.  So it can be a challenge setting aside our reputation-preserving, risk averse, considerate and conscientious selves to create that most essential element of fiction—CONFLICT.

Conflict is about high stakes.  It’s not simply a disagreement about whether a shirt is gray-blue or blue-gray, unless the discussion is between a savvy cop and a color-blind murderer.  No ho hum disagreements please. 

True conflict requires consequences.  That’s not to say that all conflict has to be bigger than life—like an antagonist holding your hero over the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Sometimes the conflicts are quieter, yet just as devastating, as likely to thwart a plan or create an obstacle between a character and her goal.  The beautifully written Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, is a relationship book with neurotic baggage as obstacles.   

Conflict can be found in surprise, even sideways humor:  When Dawn met “Mr. Sexy", she had no idea that his first name was Chip and his last was Dale. 

Conflict can be fear:  Ben saw the clown’s face frozen in a scream as it floated in the shadows of the forest.

It can be self-contained like a trail of insecure thoughts:  I’d doubted, believed, doubted again; I’d dared to speak of what I shouldn’t have even known; I’d become my own Grim Reaper.

It can be a bitter divorce, the denial of a call to action, a guilty admission.  And yes, it can be a machete at the throat.

We can think of a book as a series of conflicts, some smaller ones resolved along the way and at least one building to a black moment when our character must face the choice between two bad alternatives, the ultimate test of his moral fortitude, a climax of inner conflict.  This need not be a life or death moment, but your hero’s choice needs to lead to life-altering consequences.  Ask yourself: how will my character’s life change depending on how she handles this particular conflict?  If you don’t have an answer to that question, you lack the power of consequence. 

Readers crave cause and effect that matters.  They love to see courage they can admire and enjoy books that put their own life challenges into perspective.  They return over and over to books that get the adrenalin pumping, the endorphins rushing, leading ultimately to the satisfying release of tension.  Our readers ride a chemical roller coaster on the waxing and waning of conflict, but only if it is consequential conflict.  

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, July 20, 2014

Quote of the Week and Week to Come

“I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows.”

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

This week on Writing from the Peak:

* Consequential Conflict                              Karen Albright Lin

* Flaw Goggles                                              DeAnna Knippling

* Sweet Success! Carol Berg                       Kathie Scrimgeour

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sweet Success! Ashley Hodges Bazer

Compiled by Kathie Scrimgeour

Ashley Hodges Bazer’s Sci-fi/Space Opera, Heralds of the Crown: Poison, (ISBN: 978-163-310-0060, E-book and trade paperback, 93,000 words, family-friendly/adult) was released on May 16, 2014 by Distinguished Press. Poison is available on Amazon and Smashwords. The author’s website is

When Gaultier Lassiter discovers an unconscious young woman buried in a snowdrift, his world is turned upside down. She has no memory and no ability to speak. The question of her identity leads to a journey of legendary proportions. Between his own personal struggles with his estranged brother, his unmet potential, and the murder of a close friend, Gaultier fights to cling to his faith. And once the mystery is solved, will Gaultier be prepared to face the truth?

Ashley Hodges Bazer is often decked out in bellbottoms and grooving out on the dance floor. Okay, not really, but she does have a thing for the BeeGees. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three children. After earning her bachelor’s degree in theatrical stage management from Arizona State University, she went on to work for Disneyland in that capacity. Currently a producer for an international daily radio program, she’s learning to balance working, writing, and momming duties. When she’s not writing, she’s crocheting or belting out Broadway show tunes. And she's a real duchess!


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.