Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Importance of a Bad Review

By: Karen Albright Lin

A bad review only has as much power as you give it. 

I’ve had my fair share of rejections, discouraging critique, and bad reviews. Each hurts like sliding down a razor blade. But I’ll tell you my own true story that may give you hope.

I submitted a personal essay to Red Line Magazine. (
It was about the Chinese preference for having male children. I’d written it as part of a series of humorous accounts from my marriage to a man from Taiwan. It was called “The Importance of a Penis.”

It received the worst review my work has ever gotten. For your entertainment, here is my dirty laundry:

“Given that this is a book club with members accustomed to Chinese Traditions and Writings, the story felt hackneyed to some, heartfelt to others. Unfortunately the writing was staccato in style, more akin to disjointed pieces of text stuck together than the expected flow of a well-constructed short story. While the vocabulary and grammar lacked precision (for example, many of our readers were turned off by the author’s use of the word ‘hubby’) some of the analogies and descriptive language seemed unique. Although the basic premise of the story would be considered solid if indeed it reflected a personal experience, the author should have paid more attention to its pace and flow. There was general agreement the story lacked maturity in style and flow.”

La Brea Tar Pits, LA Wiki Free Images
My first instinct was to find the nearest tar pit and drown myself. Then I reread the review and decided to preserve my ego by wallowing in the two phrases that seemed positive. After I fully recovered, I went about addressing the reviewers’ concerns. I also applied some of their recommendations to other essays in the series.

The result?

“The Importance of a Penis” went on to become a top 10 finalist in the Boulder Writers' Workshop Make Me Laugh Writing Contest and was read by TV comedy writer Gene Perret (Bob Hope’s writer). I was then invited to read the piece aloud before an open-to-the-pubic audience in Boulder.

I spiffed up the essay, expanded it, and gave it a new title, Dancing with John Wayne. That version received honorable mention in the Writer's Digest Writing Competition.

It became a chapter in a “novel of my life” and took 2nd place in the Paul Gillette Memorial Writing Contest (PPWC).  That novelized version, then entitled Culture Shock, made Quarter Finals in the  Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.  It was given 5-star ratings by Vine Reviewers (top 1,000 Amazon reviewers).

I reworked it again into a chapter of a memoir, Mu Shu Mac-N-Cheese, which became a top 10 finalist (out of over 2,400 entries) in the HuffPost 50/AARP Memoir contest.  (  )
An agent is currently waiting to read it after I add a subplot to the book.

To wrap up my story with irony, “The Importance of a Penis” was published by the magazine that gave me that worst review. It can be read in Red Line Magazine Power issue 5.

Rejection is a writer’s workplace hazard. But there is a way to deal with that terrible review.

Make it work for you.

About the Author: 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

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Farewell to My Characters

By: Natalia Brothers
My publisher just sent me a photo of my ARCs. I no longer must call what I have written “a story,” “a manuscript,” “a novel”—the words I used in my queries and pitches. Now I can call it a book. But there’s something else in the fusion of delight and excitement I bask in as I await an announcement of the release date. The sentiment is bitter-sweet, reminiscent to a stroll through a garden on a bright September day. Chrysanthemums are blooming, the dew sparkles on the grass plumes after the night’s storm, and every leaf and berry looks beautiful and vibrant; but the scent of autumn fills the air and you know the summer is over.

So, what causes all this brooding when I’m only weeks away from fulfilling my ambition and getting published?

It took many drafts before the manuscript turned into the story I envisioned, the tale I aspired to tell. The cast—the characters—resided in my head throughout the process, and I had grown accustomed to thinking of my fictional crew as if they were real people. Her face and smile, his voice and mannerism, the food they liked, the melodies they hummed…Their fears, joys, heartbreaks, victories…I knew more about them than I know about some of my friends.

Every detail popped into my mind whenever I sat down to write a scene. My characters accompanied me on long mountain hikes, my brainstorming time. The heroine awakened me at three in the morning:

“Hey, this is what I’d like to do. Is it very bad?”

Whoa. Would she dare?

She always did.

I was taught that since our characters exist entirely in our imagination, they possess no will of their own, their actions are fully under our control, and they will do whatever we picture them doing. It seems this conception is only partially true. Yes, I had the power to create these personalities. But once I had my cast, all I had to do was devote my creativity to conceiving the wickedest fight-or-flight, sink-or-swim, life-or-death scenarios. Day after day for several years, I let my characters wrangle with the pressures of the unfolding plot, while I chronicled their struggle.

Day after day. For several years.

Then, all of a sudden, it was over. The last line written, the last revision finished. The end.

How happy I was last summer when the contest edits called for changes in a couple of scenes. I could immerse myself in the plot again. Experience the characters’ emotional states. The situation. The setting.

Speaking of the setting…I’ll miss it too. A sequel will take place somewhere else, and it’s still in a world-building stage. The new locale is more of an impression, a fluid vision, a mirage in the process of shaping up into a major element of the story. The cast is a bunch of strangers I’m getting to know. The new heroine tries my patience. I gave the role to a secondary character from the original novel, thinking it would be easier if I at least knew someone in the new crew. But it didn’t help; it’s as if she’s not used to being the focus of my attention and refuses to be as proactive as her predecessor.

Of course, the logical explanation is that I, a hopeless pantser, shouldn’t have tried to plot that sequel. I don’t enjoy writing a story when I know what’s going to happen. I crave my characters’ spontaneous dialogues and actions. I want a heroine who won’t hesitate waking me up in the middle of the night.

So maybe I’ll tear up the sequel’s outline and start from the beginning.

About the Author:  Born in Moscow, Natalia grew up with the romance and magic of Russian fairy tales. She never imagined that one day she’d be swept off her feet by an American Marine. An engineer-physicist-chemist, Natalia realized that the powder metallurgy might not be her true calling when on a 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. Two of her passions define her being. Natalia is an orchid expert and she writes dark fantasy.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”  ~ Philip Pullman

Writer Philip Pullman, Source Wikipedia 

Philip Pullman CBE, FRSL is an English writer. He is the author of several best-selling books, most notably the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials and the fictionalized biography of Jesus, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. 

This week on Writing from the Peak:

Oct 24       A Farewell to My Characters by Natalia Brothers

Oct 26       The Power of a Bad Review by Karen Albright Lin

Oct 28       Sweet Success Celebrates Shannon Lawrence

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sweet Success Celebrates Ann Myers, Barbara Nickless & Hooked on Books

Hooked on Books is a lovely new space in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs. Shelves of books, a beautiful view out the large front windows, and a helpful staff make it a great place to visit … and to hold a book signing.

Ann Perramond (writing as Ann Myers) and Barbara Nickless held a signing there on October 1st. Ann was celebrating the one-year anniversary of the first book in her Santa Fe Café cozy mystery series, Bread of the Dead. The third book in the series, Feliz Navidead, comes out October 25th.

Barbara Nickless launched her debut novel, Blood on the Tracks, the first in a mystery/thriller series about a railroad cop and her K9 partner.  (pictured here with Jim and Mary Ciletti, owners of Hooked on Books)


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Buzzwords! Resist the Urge to Explain

By: J.T. Evans

Lots of phrases, buzzwords, slang, jargon, and perfectly cromulent words are thrown about critique groups on a regular basis. Newcomers to critique groups can mentally stumble when they hear something along the lines of, "The POV in your WIP head hops through white room syndrome, and all of the narrative is written in passive voice with lots of tense shifts."

POV? WIP? White rooms? Is there padding on the walls of these white rooms? I feel like I'm going insane! I know I'm tense, but how is that shifting around?

Well, have no fear. I'm here to help expand your vocabulary into the writerly world of the critique group.

This month, I'm going to cover R.U.E., aka: Resist the Urge to Explain.

Resist the Urge to Explain: 

I'm horribly guilty of this. I've gotten better over the ten years (where has the time gone?!?) I've been part of critique groups, but I still open my mouth to explain some things when one of my critique partners doesn't get it. I usually catch myself and clack my jaw shut while scribbling my notes.  Here's the premise of why you should R.U.E.: Your words have to stand on their own because you will be entirely unable to stand over the shoulder of every reader of every book you sell and explain to them, "No. No. You didn't get it right there. That's not what I meant. The way you should interpret my words is…."

It's just not possible to do this. If your critique partners are struggling to understand something, then you need to clarify things using words on the page, not words passing your lips.
The only exception to R.U.E. is when a critique partner asks you a direct question of clarification that will assist them in framing the rest of their critique or feedback. There are times when it's valid to answer these questions, but also take the question as an opportunity to clarify your work.

Since I primarily write in the fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction genres, there can sometimes be lots to explain to the reader or critique partner. If I lay down some thick mythology or world building that doesn't make sense, then I need to readdress my approach at the descriptions. If I toss in some far-future tech into a story, it needs to be clear on how the tech affects the daily lives of the characters. If it's hard science fiction, then the deep dives into the sciences backing the futuristic predictions need to be understandable by the "common person" out there.

I don't write much romance, but I've read a bit of it inside and outside of critique groups. The things that need to be made clear to the readers are the emotional beats and reactions the characters are going through. If a particular character smiles when another one enters the room, we need to know why. Different readers will interpret the smiles in different ways, and losing that clarity of the emotional response is a good way to confuse or lose the reader down the road.

If you've heard a phrase or word in a critique group and you think others should know about it (or you're not sure what to think of it), drop me a comment below, and I'll add it to my list of Buzz Words to talk about.

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.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Roll Them Bones: Indie versus Traditional Publishing

By: Aaron Michael Ritchey 

So Donnell Bell is to blame for this post.

No, blame me. I can take it. 

Donnell suggested I write about the benefits and drawbacks of Indie publishing versus Traditional publishing. I’ve published independent books and I’ve published through small presses (and WordFire Press, a medium-sized publishing that is gaining ground). 

One of Donnell’s many friends published through a big publisher and her readers found some typos. The friend asked her big publisher if they could be fixed, and the big publisher said, “Sorry, girlfriend. Your book is what is. We’ve moved on.” 

If the friend had Indie published, she could make the changes and re-upload. So, yeah. But before we go any further, I have to be clear. I could write FOREVER on the different avenues and mouse holes and mazes and labyrinths and bear-traps of the publishing industry. 

But I will say this…. 

In this day and age, it takes about fifteen hundred dollars to publish a book and do it right. When I say that, I mean you pay for several rounds of editing and you pay for professional cover art. You can do it cheaper, and there are no rules. You could publish your book for free and do it all yourself. Some people warn against this, but I think they’re Nervous Nellies who are terrified that people might laugh at them. Be brave. There are no rules. And if you publish junk, oh well. Lots of junky novels do really well. No one knows anything for sure.

So, if you have $1500 in the bank, and if you are willing to risk it, I say Indie publish because you have creative control, you’ll make more money, and this is the big thing: EVEN WITH A TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER YOU WILL MOST LIKELY BE DOING ALL YOUR OWN MARKETING ANYWAY!

Notice, MOST LIKELY, I emphasized in all the capital letters because if you get a huge, big, huge publisher (huge), there is a chance the will choose your book to push. If they choose your book to pour the marketing dollars into, then you’ll get a ton of help and you win! Hurrah! 

But most likely, you’ll be doing it yourself. So, dude, if you are doing all the work, why pay
some nameless corporation 90% of your total profits? And you have to jump through their hoops, follow their rules, and you become a line item on someone’s to-do list. Most likely, no one at the house will care about your book as much as you do. 

There is the whole status thing. I’m published with Random House. Look at me! 

Yes, you win the status thing and people will say your name in awe. Wow, she’s a Random House author and she has huge distribution into bookstores. Okay, but how many people are buying books at bookstores? 

I don’t know. 

So if you can afford it, and if you are willing to do the work, going Indie seems like the best bet. 


Unless you a can find a publisher that will “help” you market your books. 

Notice, “help” is in quotation marks. Many will promise to help and won’t. Others will do a few things and call that “help.” Warning! The level of help will vary!

I love WordFire Press because they help me market my books by setting up massive booths at comic cons where I can harass crowds until they buy my stories. And I love WordFire because really, it’s a coalition of Indie authors backed by industry professionals with the best contract I’ve seen in the publishing world. Walking away is easy. Staying is even easier.

What really makes the most sense is playing the publishing game like craps.

In craps, you have all these different bets you can make on the next roll of the dice. If it comes up a six, you’ll win. If it comes up “snake eyes,” you’ll win. If you hit boxcars, bam, winner, winner, chicken dinner. 

Placing your bet on traditional publishing is betting on the long odds, the weird roll of the dice that hits it just right. Yeah, you might get screwed on a cover, and you might have typos, and you might have issues, but you can manage some of that. Every single time I’ve worked with a publisher, I’ve used my own line editors along with the one the house provided, to make sure my document is as clean as possible. And I went in with open eyes. I’ve talked with other authors at the publishing house and learned what their experience was. 

I will say this, if you find a small press that will publish your book and they don’t offer any kind of marketing, what’s the point of publishing with them? You can do it yourself. Email me. I’ll set you up with my vendors. If you have $1500 to spend. 

So there are no easy answers. Being a hybrid author, independent and traditional, makes good sense. I get to place lots of bets for every roll of the dice. 

And the querying process is good for my spirit. It keeps me hopeful and it keeps me strong.

If you want an easier industry, I’d go into health supplements. You’ll make more and it’s easier. But if you love stories, if you are called to write books, then you have a duty to get those books out into the world. 

By any means necessary.

About the Author: Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of The Never PrayerLong Live the Suicide King, and Elizabeth’s Midnight. His fourth novel, Dandelion Iron, the first book in The Juniper Wars series, is available now from Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press. If you like the first one, Killdeer Winds, the second book in the series, just hit the streets. In 2015, his second novel won the “Building the Dream” award for best YA novel, and he spent the summer as the Artist in Residence for the Anythink Library. 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.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

Editor’s Note: Since our inception, we’ve tried to coincide authors’ quotes with their birthdays. This is becoming redundant. Therefore, Writing from the Peak is switching to great, inspirational quotes about writing. Such as this one . . .  

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ~ Stephen King

Source: Wikipedia 2007 King at Comicon

This Week on Writing from the Peak:

Oct. 17          Indy v. Traditional: Roll Them Bones       Aaron Michael Ritchey

Oct. 19          Buzz Words: RUE                                  J.T. Evans

Oct. 21          Sweet Success, Ann Myers & Barbara Nickless