Sunday, February 26, 2017

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

“Be ambitious for the work and not for the reward.” ~ Jeanette Winterson



Source: Wikipedia Winterson Warsaw Poland 2005

Jeanette Winterson, OBE, born Aug. 27, 1959, is an award-winning English writer, who became famous with her first book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a semi-autobiographical novel about a sensitive teenage girl rebelling against conventional values. 


This Week on Writing from the Peak


Feb. 27         Work the Workshops by Darby Karchut


March 1        The Writing Coach Deb McLeod


March 3        Pikes Peak Writers March Events


Friday, February 24, 2017

Sweet Success Celebrates Agatha Nominee Cynthia Kuhn

By: Ann S. Hill 

Congratulations to Cynthia Kuhn for her recent Agatha nomination for her novel, The Semester of Our Discontent (Lila Maclean Academic Mysteries #1) The novel, published by Henery Press, became available April 5, 2016 in both hard and softcover as well as Kindle formats. The author’s intriguing plot summary as well as her bio follow:


English professor Lila Maclean is thrilled about her new job at prestigious Stonedale University until she finds one of her colleagues dead. More attacks on professors follow, the only connection a curious symbol found at each of the crime scenes. Putting her scholarly skills to the test, Lila gathers evidence, but her search is complicated by an unexpected nemesis, a suspicious investigator, and an ominous secret society. Rather than earning an “A” for effort, she receives a threat featuring the mysterious emblem and must act quickly to avoid failing her assignment…and becoming the next victim.

https://cynthiakuhn.net/

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Revolutionary Way to Cope with Rejection


By: Michael Alvear

Editor's Note: Special thanks to guest blogger, Michael Alvear, Author of The Bulletproof Writer for covering such an important topic to writers.

Ever greet a literary rejection with such a disproportionate reaction you think, “Where the
heck did that come from?”

There’s a reason. And it isn’t because you’re overly sensitive, lack self-esteem or emotional control. It’s because your brain is wired to perceive social rejection as a mortal threat.

That’s the consensus of neuropsychologists like Rick Hanson who’ve proven that the brain has a built-in negative bias that gets easily “hijacked” by alarm. Imaging studies show that the human brain produces more neural activity when it’s exposed to negative than positive stimuli. The negative is perceived faster and easier and stays with us longer. Hanson coined a memorable phrase to describe this phenomenon: “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.”

What’s This Got to Do with Writers?

A lot. It explains why the pleasure of an editor’s acceptance Teflon) is not nearly as intense as getting her rejection (Velcro).  


Neuropsychologists believe that we developed an out-sized reaction to social rejection as a survival strategy. Back in the day (you know, like hundreds of thousands of years ago) we survived by being part of a tribe. They gave us access to food, water, and social structures to raise kids. Being cast out of the tribe meant almost certain death. So over the course of thousands of years, the brain developed a hypersensitivity to social acceptance. The earlier you could detect a tribal leader’s dissatisfaction the earlier you could head off disaster. The people who did not develop this hypersensitivity were likelier to be cast out of the tribe and die.

Again, How Does That Apply to Writers?

Let's say an editor rejected your manuscript. Your conscious mind takes it in stride because you know how hard it is to get published. But your brain reacts as if it were being kicked out of the tribe (or more to the point, being prevented from joining the tribe).

Wait, wait. What tribe? The one called “Published Writers.” The one that can guarantee your survival as a writer because it gives you money, resources, respect and access to power brokers.

That, in essence, is why you overreact to rejections. You and I are wired to react this way. The bad news is that we are initially powerless to stop this response. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to neutralize it, and over time, rewire your brain to react differently.

How Writers Can Overcome Their Brain’s Wiring

Upon receiving a rejection, connect to your personal tribes. Prove your brain wrong. It thinks you're being cast out or prevented from joining a tribe. By connecting with family, friends and other writers (in person!) you neutralize the brain’s alarm.

It’s best to connect in person. Choose coffee over a phone call. But if you can’t, then a phone call is okay. And if you can’t do that then take what psychologists call “social bites” -- look at pictures of loved ones. Studies show they have an amazing power to calm you. They are part of your tribes and make you feel connected.  

There are other simple but powerful ways of rewiring your brain to transform your reaction to rejection, but they are too detailed to describe here. I applied Rick Hanson’s concepts specifically to writers in my book, but I encourage you to check out his best seller, Hardwiring Happiness for a fuller understanding.

Developing a Coping Strategy

Understanding how your brain works will go a long way to building resiliency as a writer. But it doesn't stop there. You must learn how to manage the real pain of rejection and build a higher threshold for failure. Dean Simonton’s research (On The Origins Of Genius) uncovered a profound revelation:  Amongst the most intelligent, creative, talented people the one differentiator that accounted for success was the ability to cope with rejection.

When you fully understand the enormity of his discovery you will realize, as I did a long time ago, that in addition to improving your craft, you must improve your ability to cope with rejection if you are to meet with success.  


About the Author:  Michael Alvear is the author of The Bulletproof Writer: How To Overcome Constant Rejection To Become An Unstoppable Author (Woodpecker Media January 2017).  LINK: http://writingforaliving.us/how-to-overcome-constant-rejection/

He’s been a frequent contributor to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and his work has appeared in Newsweek, The Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Huffington Post.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Query Letters: One Solid Approach

By: J.T. Evans

Query letters are a vital piece of the publishing world. It's rare to land an agent without a solid query, and once you get that agent, he or she has to query publishers on your behalf. Query letters are the introduction to a piece of work, you the author, and any comparable titles already on the marketplace. 

Source: Pixabay
Query letters are so important. Pikes Peak Writers has shifted some of its focus to representing this fact. Our fiction writing contest, The Zebulon, has a query letter round. We've also replaced the typical pitch session with a Query One-on-One session where you can get feedback on your query letter, and, hopefully, make the initial contact with an agent or editor that will lead to the path of publication.

There are numerous approaches to query letters that are taught in classes, workshops, and seminars. No single approach is "the one true way" to composing a query letter. There are a variety of designs to presenting your work, but my favorite structure was taught to me a few years back by Pam Howell while we hung out at Pikes Peak WritersConference.

Her favorite style of query letters involves three parts, with an optional introductory paragraph if you've personally interacted with the agent somewhere. The three parts are: hook, book, cook. Let's dive into those sections in more detail.

Hook

What will hook the reader, agent, or editor into your story? Do your best to avoid questions, especially hypothetical ones. Stick to interesting statements and facts about your story. Be concise and hit the high points here because all you have is three to five sentences. I also make sure to lead this paragraph with the genre, word count, and target market (young adult, middle grade, adult, etc.). This lead-in information sets the stage and allows the agent to know what to expect out of the rest of the query letter. I conclude this paragraph with comparisons between my novel and one or two other titles already on the market. Aim high, but don't claim to be "the next [insert famous author here]."

Book

This is where you talk about the core plot and characters. Stick to your main protagonist (or two if there is a split point of view). Don't delve into the details in this area. That's what your synopsis is for. Keep this paragraph (again, three to five sentences) focused on the tale you're telling. This is probably the most difficult portion to write because condensing your 100,000 word novel into a paragraph is rough. It can be done, though. If you need help, look at the back cover copy of several of your favorite novels. Practice writing some back cover copy for your own story. This will naturally lead to content you can use here.

Cook

This is where you get to talk about yourself! Make all content here pertinent to your writing and the novel. Don't include winning the third-grade spelling bee or any non-critical details. You also want to list up to your last three publication credits. If you're not published yet, just leave that out. There's no need to state, "I currently have no publication credits."

Miscellaneous Bits

I include the first and last name of the agent I'm querying in the salutation. This prevents me from using "Ms." with the name "Pat" and it turns out "Pat" is a man. It's the safe road to go. I also go to their web site and use copy/paste to snag their name from their own content. This keeps me from misspelling a name, and there are some tricky last names out there.

I always include, "I look forward to your reply, and thank you for your time in reading the submission," as a closing statement.

Just below that I put something along the lines of "The synopsis and first XXX chapters of the novel are below my contact information." This reiterates the fact that I am able to follow instructions, and that I have checked their submission guidelines on their web site.

The next thing is my contact information. I make sure they have every available means of contacting me listed. This includes my physical address, phone number, email address, and my Facebook and Twitter accounts. If they want to get back in touch with a "yes," I don't want a communication failure to turn it into a "no."

Once that's done, I copy/paste the requested materials into the body of the email and send it off! Please make sure to read the agent's query letter guidelines and only include material they want with the query letter. If they don't specify additional content, only send the query letter.

Query Letter for Griffin's Feather

Here's my query letter for my novel that will be coming out later in 2017:

Dear [AGENT NAME HERE]:

GRIFFIN'S FEATHER is an adult urban fantasy novel standing at 62,200 words. This is the first novel in what I plan to be a series. It is about an immortal Roman Centurion working as a bounty hunter for the Ancients. The deities and powerful entities of the distant past use the protagonist, Marcus, as an agent to do their bidding. When bartering for payment, he asks for copies of his missing father's journals. Marcus Barber, as he is known today, uses his abilities of dogged determination, two millennia of experience, and a few close friends to finish his jobs. While working for a pack of egotistical Ancients who treat Marcus more like shared property than a person, he searches for his still-living father. Griffin's Feather would appeal to people who enjoyed Kevin Hearne's The Iron Druid Chronicles or the invocation of mythology found in Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

Marcus must rescue Freyja's Daughter from a cult of Ereshkigal in San Antonio, Texas as he recovers Nemesis's lost Griffin, frees a captured Pixie on behalf of Cailleach, handles a "mundane" private investigation for a mortal client, and chases down clues as to where his father's next steps might lead. During the course of his adventures, bullets fly, Barghests attack, a demi-goddess invades his mind, and he assaults a drug dealer's stronghold at the Griffon's side. His immortal soul will be lost to the Ancients if he fails in any of these tasks.
I am the current president of the Pikes Peak Writers and received the 2014 Pikes Peak Writers Volunteer of the Year award. I was the president of the Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group from 2009 until 2013 and have been active in the Colorado Springs writing community since 2006. My publication credits include stories in "An Uncommon Collection," "Phobias: A Collection of True Stories," and "Carnival of the Damned."

I look forward to your reply and thank you for your time in reading the submission.
The synopsis and first [XXX PAGES/CHAPTERS] of the novel are below my contact information.

Sincerely,
J.T. Evans
Contact Information:
Cell Phone: 719-REDACTED
Email: REDACTED
Website: http://jtevans.net/
Twitter: @jtevans
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jtevans.writer
Address: REDACTED

===========

[ADDITIONAL MATERIAL GOES HERE]

J.T. Evans writes fantasy novels. He also dabbles with science fiction and horror short stories. He is the president of Pikes Peak Writers. When not writing, he secures computers at the Day Job, homebrews great beers, spends time with his family, and plays way too many card/board/role-playing games.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come


I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning. ~Peter De Vries




Peter De Vries Source: Wikipedia


Peter De Vries Feb 27, 1910 – Sep 28, 1993 was an American editor and novelist known for his satiric wit. He has been described by the philosopher Daniel Dennett as "probably the funniest writer on religion ever."

He joined the staff of The New Yorker magazine at the insistence of James Thurber and worked there from 1944 to 1987, writing stories and touching up cartoon captions. A prolific writer, De Vries wrote short stories, reviews, poetry, essays, a play, novellas, and twenty-three novels.

This Week on Writing from the Peak


Feb 20          One Approach to Query Letters by J. T. Evans


Feb 22          The Bulletproof Writer by Michael Alvear


Feb 24          Sweet Success Celebrates Cynthia Kuhn



Friday, February 17, 2017

Sweet Success Celebrates Ann Myers

By: Ann S. Hill

Author Ann Perramond (pen name Ann Myers for this series) has been nominated in the amateur sleuth category for an RT book award. Her intriguing book summary follows:
Cinco de Mayo brings margaritas, guacamole—and murder—to the menu in the second Santa Fe Café Mystery.


Tres Amigas Café chef Rita Lafitte is whipping up green chile soufflés and chocolate flan cake to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and prepare for a romantic dinner date. If only her friend Linda, the daughter of Rita’s octogenarian boss Flori, could get into the festive spirit. Linda’s humble food cart, Tía Tamales, is under siege from Crepe Empire, the hottest stand in Santa Fe, and its owner, a pompous star chef named Napoleon.

Linda confronts Napoleon in a public argument that leaves her dying from embarrassment. However, it’s Napoleon who ends up dead. When Linda discovers his body, stabbed and pinned beneath her tamale cart, she becomes the number-one suspect. Determined to prove Linda’s innocence, Rita investigates. From Napoleon’s disgruntled former employees to a shady health inspector, the list of suspects grows longer than Flori’s strings of dried chiles. And when another corpse surfaces, Rita must scramble to catch an elusive killer with an appetite for murder…

We’ll be watching to see whether you win, Ann, and we’ll be checking out your book in the meantime.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Business of Writing: Characters: Make the Reader Care

By: Linda Rohrbough

One of the things I heard about my work when I first started writing fiction was readers cared about my plot, but they didn’t care about the characters I’d created. So my question was, how do you create characters readers care about?

I’d done my best up until that point to create the characters I saw in my head, so I was clueless as to how to make readers care about these people who were so real to me. But the answer is actually quite simple.

Tags.

Motivation.

Let’s take tags first. Tags is the term in fiction writing given to character traits the reader can “see.” I learned them when I had three walk-on characters all dressed the same in a prison environment, who readers told me they couldn’t tell apart. And it got confusing for my readers. So another writer said give them tags, short but specific physical characteristics that are different for each one. A big space between a character’s front teeth, big hair, rhinestone glasses, a limp, a mannerism like rubbing their eyes a lot, and so on. So I gave each of those three walk-on characters, a unique tag. And it worked.

Watch people and you’ll see all kinds of tags you can make use of in your fiction. For example, one of the cheapest tricks in the book is to give a character a cold or an allergy– especially a walk on character. The writer has this character sneezing on others, or wiping their nose, or doing something related to having a cold or an allergy, and that sticks in the reader’s mind. Any time a character comes on to the “set” with cold or allergy symptoms, the reader will assume it’s the same character.

The classic example of this from my TV youth was Columbo. The character played by Peter Falk was always in a wrinkled beige trench coat carrying a cigar he never smoked with one eye askew. And he was kind of clumsy physically and socially. But he was smart and people always underestimated him. We loved that. And we remembered him. If you recall, no one else on the show was dressed like him or behaved like him.

I am constantly looking for fresh tags I can use in my writing when I watch people around me. I started dancing as a counter to sitting around writing all the time. Dancers are a great source for tags, especially in couple’s dancing. For example, there’s the guy with the plastic black framed glasses that are too big for his face that he constantly pokes back into place with his forefinger. And he wears big black shoes that look clunky, but he’s cut and glued a chamois to the soles, so he can glide on the dance floor in those shoes. And it turns out he used to be a dance instructor, so he’s actually a pretty good dancer. And he’s almost always in a short-sleeved collared sports shirt that’s some shade of teal. See, you’re already involved with this guy. I didn’t tell you his name or how tall he is or how old but you’ve already got a picture of him in your head.

Notice I didn’t have to give a lot of details. Just a few, and the reader will fill in the blanks. In fact, that’s one of the things I don’t like about television and movies, especially if they are remaking a book. I prefer the pictures I have in my head of the characters to what the producer came up with.

Here’s an illustration of tags I like to use in my writing classes. If I tell you a woman walks in to a room and her hair is pulled back into a bun, she has on a dress that hangs to mid-calf, and she has on SAS shoes. I don’t have to tell you she hasn’t had a date in five years. And notice you don’t have to know what SAS shoes are to get the picture they look like dark-colored versions of the shoes nurses wear. You made that up in your head, too.

If I wanted to surprise the reader, I could have all the men in the room vying for her attention. I could even put a beautiful blonde cheerleader type in the corner of the room that everyone is ignoring. Now the reader will want to know why the men pay attention to the SAS shoe gal and not the cheerleader, and the reader will start to make up reasons in their head. And I’ve already got a story brewing because I created conflict with my tags.

So you need tags. And if you don’t have them, even if you’ve gone into long detailed descriptions about your character’s appearance, your reader won’t remember. In fact, I avoid long, detailed descriptions about anything. I like to paint the picture with a few well-chosen strokes that are playing double and triple duty, like I did in my SAS shoe gal example. It’s fun and elegant to create a brief description that sets up potential conflict, and plays off the reader’s assumptions and stereotypes.

Motivation is another thing that will help your reader care about your characters. I recently was in an airport that had a special table in front of a bookstore which had multiple copies of two paperback versions of The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins with different covers, and then a hard back version. But no other books on the table. So I asked the bookseller why. And when he explained one paperback was the original version written by the author, and the other was the movie version of the book, and that both paperbacks would cost the same as the original hard-cover version, I bought the two paperbacks. Since I’ve done some writing for television, I wanted to compare the original to the movie version.

I had time on the plane so I started with the original paperback version, and I can tell you had it not been a New York Times best-seller, I would have put it down after about five pages, then deposited the book in the nearest paper recycling bin once I got off the plane. Because the girl on the train was someone I didn’t like at all. And it was because her motivation was nothing short of selfish and despicable, when there was any. Most of the time she was like a leaf blowing in the wind with no motivation whatsoever. It’s a principle of fiction that readers don’t like victims and this gal was definitely in victim mode.

My friend, and multiple Spur award-winning western author, Dusty Richards says your character needs to be motivated toward a goal and that you cannot remind the reader too many times of what that goal is.

I don’t know if I need to mention this, but the character’s main goal is always broken down into sub-goals. For example, let’s say there’s an old-west sheriff character on horseback. He can barely see in the moonlight. But he needs to make it over the next rise before sunrise to  the bad guy's camp to see if the thief he's after is in his bunk, and can be apprehended. The goal is to catch the thief, but the sub-goal is to make it over the next rise by sunup.

And, of course, there are obstacles to each goal, which is what keeps the reader engaged and the story moving. The character should have deeper motivation, usually produced by a painful past, that drives him as well. Like our cowboy sheriff hates thieves because a thief stole grandma’s fall harvest back when the character was a little tyke and grandma died that next winter.

The obstacles also need to be reasonable obstacles, not ones the character creates by their own stupidity. In the romance writing world, they have an acronym for this mistake in character development: characters who are TSTL (Too Stupid To Live). Readers are not interested in “I Love Lucy” plots where it’s all about manipulation and deception for some inane goal, like an elaborate deception to keep Ricky from finding out Lucy spent $5 more on groceries this week than the budget allows.

And The Girl On The Train so reminded me of “I Love Lucy,” only not as kind and gentle. It began with a good fifty pages of boring narrative about this woman who rides a commuter train back and forth past a row of houses every day, laced with detailed descriptions of the landscape, houses and the players, in between bouts of this woman drinking herself into a stupor at night. We finally get to something happening many chapters in, which is a murder. But even then, the main character was TSTL until nearly halfway through the book. What made it all worthwhile was the really satisfying ending, which of course, I had my doubts would actually happen in real life. But it was accomplished by a secondary character I had some respect for, who was helped by the main character, and that made it somewhat plausible.

I’m sure in a case like this, the author would argue people really behave the way she wrote them. And I agree. That does not mean, however, that I’m willing to pay money to put up with reading about it. (I did a little research and found out Paula Hawkins is British journalist, and I hear the Brits are accustomed to this take-a-while approach to getting into a story.) The only thing that kept me going was all the hoopla about the book, which I still think was rather unfounded. But I can see how the ending would strike a chord with women, who are the main readers of fiction. So I get it.

Now away from the book review and back to my subject, tags and motivation are the two things writers can utilize to make readers care. If you don’t have those two things, readers aren’t going to care. And they really want to care, so they’re disappointed when they can’t or don’t. Making the reader care is part of the job as a writer, but it’s not particularly hard work if you know what you’re doing. And I think it’s fun work – clever tags coupled with motivation that’s obvious and deeper motivation peeled back in layers. That’s the ticket.

Now, to be quite honest, we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and I’m no exception. I have several writers to thank for this information, including my romance writing friends, specifically Debbie Macomber and Jodi Thomas. Romance is very character driven, so those gals were a big help to me. And Dusty Richards, who is quite a character in his own right in his ten-gallon white hat and hands so big he has to buy special keyboards with extra wide keys to keep from “fat fingering” when he types his manuscripts.

I also want to thank the people who gave me feedback, because that consistent feedback created a tangible problem that I could then take to the “big boys.” But even with help, it took a while for me to wrap my head around this.

So if you’ve gotten the “I don’t care about these characters” feedback, then give your characters tags and motivation. If you think you already have, make changes anyway, and see if you can hit on a something that works for you. Because if you can make the reader care about your characters, that’ll keep them engaged in your story.

Bio: Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit, along with writing for television, and seven national awards for her fiction and non-fiction. An iPhone App of Linda’s popular “Pitch Your Book” workshop is available in the Apple iTunes store. Find her on Facebook as “Linda Rohrbough – Author” or visit her website: www.LindaRohrbough.com.