Friday, October 31, 2014

Sweet Success! Darby Karchut

By Kathie Scrimgeour

Darby Karchut’s middle grade novel, Finn Finnegan (2013 from Spencer Hill Middle Grade/Spence Hill Press) recently won the 2014 IPPY Silver Medal for Juvenile Fiction. Finn Finnegan, the first in a seven-book urban fantasy series, is based on the ancient Celtic legend of Finn MacCool (Fionn mac Cumhail) and is set in modern-day Colorado Springs. The other books in the series include Gideon’s Spear and The Hound at the Gate (coming January 2015).

About the Author:  Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. She's been known to run in blizzards and bike in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby writes urban fantasy for tweens, teens, and adults. Visit her 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, October 29, 2014

Should I Attend PPWC? A Q&A With the Voices in My Head

By MB Partlow, Conference Director, 2015 PPWC

I don’t know if I should attend the conference. I’m not a “real” writer.
If you write, or if you want to write, you are welcome at our conference. You don’t need to show ink-stained fingers at the door to prove your worthiness. If you have the desire to write or learn more about writing, you’ll be welcome at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

But I’m shy/introverted/antisocial and nobody will want to talk to me.
Then let me teach you the four magic words: What do you write? Ask anyone that and they’ll happily talk your ear off. And if they aren’t socially stunted, they will in turn ask, “And what do you write?” Instant conversation starter!

Aren’t these things often cliqueish?
People do tend to like to talk to people they already know. But everyone on the conference planning committee, and every single volunteer, is encouraged to reach out and be especially welcoming to the new faces in the crowd. Friendships, critique groups and love affairs have all started between people who were strangers before they met at our conference. (Okay, possibly not love affairs. But it could happen.)

Where should I sit during the meals if I don’t know anybody?
Pick a table, any table. For lunches and dinners, every table is hosted by a faculty member. There are signs on every table indicating who is sitting there and what they write or represent. So you could sit at a table with someone knowledgeable about your genre, or you could strike out in a new direction. You might sit with an author you’re a fan of, or an agent or editor you’re interested in querying at some point (a great way to break the ice). And remember the four magic words!

I can’t possibly talk about my writing. I’ll probably vomit on my shoes if a Big Author or Agent asks me what I write. Help!
Relax, Grasshopper. That story you’re writing? It’s your story. Own it. Be proud of it. Remember that people ask because they’re interested, not to trick you out of your inheritance or learn your secret family recipe for barbecue sauce. Also, the people asking the questions are human beings, not deities. They’ve got pets, children, achy feet, cranky coworkers and a mysterious rattle under the hood of their car, just like the rest of us. So erase any pedestals you’ve erected for them in your mind, and you’ll be just fine.

I’m not a beginning writer. Is there going to be anything there for me?
Tons. When we put together the workshop schedule, we try to balance between beginner, intermediate and advanced writers, as well as balancing the craft and the business aspects with the writing life. And we’ve never met a writer yet, no matter how experienced, who didn’t think there was some aspect of their writing they could improve upon. Sometimes just doing the writing exercises in a workshop will spark ideas you can apply to your work in progress, whether it’s your very first manuscript or your seventh published novel. And don’t forget, this is a wonderful time to network with other writers, as well as industry professionals.

Will you be talking about my specific genre?
We do have some genre-specific workshops, plus we take the attitude that good writing is good writing, no matter the genre. We find that elements of different genres, such as romance, horror, suspense and mystery, cross a variety of genres.

Where do you stand on indy vs. self vs. traditional publishing?
One thing we’re never going to do is tell you the exact path you have to travel. We support all paths to publication, because we want the stories to be told. We want to help writers put out their best work. To that end, we try to provide a balance of insight into as many types of publishing as we can. This year we’re focusing on Choose Your Writing Adventure because we want to celebrate all the choices available to writers today, as well as bring back the fun of the most wildly diverse occupation there is—writing.

For more information about the 2015 Pikes Peak Writers Conference: Choose Your Writing Adventure, please visit our website

About the Author: MB Partlow
MB's first paid writing gig was for the A&E department of The Independent. She wrote a parenting column for Pikes Peak Parent for several years, and freelanced for The Gazette. She’s a longtime volunteer for PPW, working her way up from chair stacker at Write Brains to Moderator Coordinator, Contest Coordinator, Director of Programming, and now Conference Director for 2015. A voracious reader across genres, she primarily write urban fantasy, although she ventures into space opera, mystery and magical realism. MB is physically unable to restrain her sense of humor, and her mouth occasionally moves faster than her brain. She blogs at, and can be reached at

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fantasy MFA

By DeAnna Knippling

(Thanks to Deb McLeod, J.T. Evans, Carina Bissett, and Roberta Crownover for inspiration and feedback!)

So I got in this conversation with Deb McLeod after I posted this link on Facebook to Practical Art: On Teaching the Business of Creative Writing. It’s a lovely article, but I thought it didn’t go far enough. Anyway, we got to talking, and ended up agreeing to write articles about what kind of things we wanted to see writers learning.

Deb posted an article called here on the blog called The Practical Magic of Writing that includes things you need to know, to really believe in, in order to be a publishable writer. Ten truths. You should check it out.

As a writer, I took it as my right to go in a completely different direction:  redesigning an MFA program.

So, for the sake of the argument, let’s say that I get to design an MFA program in the English department of some (presumably prestigious) university, because clearly I should be in charge of an English department without actually having to hire professors, manage the paperwork, or negotiate for resources.

All right. What can I get away with?

First, let's look at a real-life program. Supposedly, the top MFA program in the U.S. (according to a quick Google search that pulled up this list from Poets and Writers) is the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City. (Nice place; just don’t misspell “espresso” while you’re there.) 

The Iowa Writers’ Workshop is designed to be a two-year residency program consisting of 48 semester hours of classes at approximately 3 semester hours per class (16 classes). You must take a critiquing workshop every semester (4 classes/12 semester hours). The last semester includes a creative thesis, e.g., a novel, short story collection, or poetry collection (1 class/3 semester hours).

Approximately half the classes are writing classes from the program, which looks like it means half your classes come from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and half come from somewhere else in the rest of the University of Iowa which your advisors approve. The course listing looks pretty sparse, but my guess is that it's deceptively simple and a lot of work.

There are no business classes.

Admittedly, I’m just looking at a single MFA program (and it’s a resident program). I have talked extensively to other writers about low-residency MFAs, and on the face of it, the general structure of the programs sounds similar. If you know of MFA programs that are significantly different, let me know in the comments.  

In addition, I don’t know enough about publishing poetry to include it here, so this is purely a fiction program.

Here’s the basic outline for my Fantasy MFA:
  • Designed to be a two-year program consisting of 48 hours of classes at approximately 3 semester hours per class (16 classes).
  • You have to write and submit a 75K+ novel or the equivalent amount of material in short stories, novellas, and flash every semester. You will not be critiqued by students, only professional writers and editors.
  • Paid positions/internships for members of the program are available as part of the university’s for-profit publishing imprints, including our highly-respected line of romance novels. Highly recommended. Rumors of an underground erotica imprint are completely unsubstantiated. [Cough.]
  • Approximately half the classes taken must be craft classes, and the other half must be business classes.
Course Listing:

Required Courses:

CRAFT1001:  Basics of fiction. Covering openings/cliffhangers, scene-building, plots, ideas and genres. 

CRAFT1002:  Advanced topics in fiction. Covering setting, world building, character voice, structure, and more.

CRAFT 2001:  Special Topics in Genre. Will rotate through major genres throughout the semesters. May be taken in any order; must take at least one.

CRAFT 2002:  Developing Writing Skills. Will focus on advanced-level study of developing current skills, including researching techniques and genres for further development.

BIZ1001:  History of Publishing. Give an overview of publishing industry throughout recent history (1880s to today). Cover topics in copyright, trademarks, contracts, work for hire, self-publishing, and more.

BIZ1002:  Basics of Business. Basic accounting, tax strategies, and more. Gives additional depth on topics in copyright applicable to the writer.

BIZ2001:  Basics of Selling Fiction. An overview of current tracks in publishing, including traditional and self-publishing.  Log lines, synopses, marketing materials, freelancing, portfolios, contracts, and bios will be covered.

BIZ2002:  Basics of Marketing and Promotion for Writers. An overview of book design and packaging, distribution, and passive and active promotion. Focus on ethics.

Note:  Those following the publishing track are required to take BIZ1001 and 1002 only.  Those following the Presence track should replace BIZ2002 with another elective.

And one class a semester for your writing; in other words, paying a professional writer to listen to you whine about writing and help you address specific topics as you go along. 

That covers, at a minimum, twelve classes of the sixteen. Paid internships at the imprints are highly recommended.  


EDIT1001:  Basic fiction editing. Proofreading. 

EDIT1002:  Intermediate fiction editing. Copyediting.

EDIT2001:  Advanced fiction editing. Acquiring and managerial editing, with an eye to working for/developing a magazine or imprint. 

EDIT2002:  Developmental editing. Emphasis on appropriateness to genre and preserving authorial voice.

DES1001:  Basic Book Design. Covers, interiors, ebooks, and more.

DES1002:  Cover Design for Non-Artists. 

DES2001:  Basic Marketing Design. Websites, ads, promotional materials.

DES2002:  Advanced Cover Design.

PRES1001:  Basic Online Presence. Social media, blogging, mailing list, keywords, and newsletters.  Includes writing articles and online interviews.  Ethics.

PRES1002:  Basic Community Building. Forums, writer groups/collectives, co-promotion, co-writing, bookstores, libraries.

PRES2001:  Branding. Developing a consistent, logical brand from the writing through promotions phases.  Special focus on marketing what you write, not writing to market.

PRES2002:  Intermediate Presence. Press releases, tours, in-person/voice interviews, appearances, release parties, and more.  

PUB2001:  Basics of Publishing. An overview of the issues involved in setting up a small or independent press, with a focus on writing a business plan.

PUB2002:  Intermediate Publishing. Focus on employees, schedules, contracts, and tax/accounting issues.

Note:  Those following the publishing track must also take EDIT1001, DES1001, and PRES1001, 1002, and 2001.

I hit 48 hours of course work for everyone that isn’t on the publisher track; they really ought to take a third year or graduate on the presence track and come back for the other classes as they get time. 

This is not a complete list of things you really ought to know as a writer. But imagine hiring someone who knows this stuff: An editor who understands genre and when not to screw with your words. A writer who has a clue about writing a marketing plan. A publisher who knows how not to fold in six months. A book designer who makes covers appropriate to the genre and doesn’t get road rage from being asked to make room for a title. 

Yes, there’s less of a focus on workshopping and standard literary analysis courses, and more of a focus on getting words on page and money in your pocket. And yes, all genres and paths to publication will have to play nicely together. A miracle!

My hope is that injecting this kind of professional into the writing industry would reduce the amount of wheel-spinning it takes to establish a professional career as well as increase the general level of knowledge about the publishing industry, making it harder to screw writers over. 

Please don’t take this as an end-all, be-all list. I wanted to make sure that I had a reasonable number of courses for an MFA, which means that your doctorate-level writer courses and post-doc course of study are not included in this list.  

Learning to be a writer appears to be a lifelong quest; you don’t think a little MFA’s going to cover everything, do you?

What would your fantasy MFA look like?

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.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sweet Success! Karen Albright Lin

By Kathie Scrimgeour
Karen Albright-Lin’s memoir, Mu Shu Mac-N-Cheese, was one of the finalists for the HuffPost 50/AARP memoir contest. Ten finalists were chosen from a pool of more than 2,400 contestants. Next step, Karen has to cut 77,000 words down to 50,000 by Dec 15th. 

About the Author:  For Karen, a food writer, twenty-years of passionate marriage to her Chinese husband has given her a new identity, offsetting a white-bread Midwest past. But can her marriage survive cross-cultural mayhem when her dominating mother-in-law arrives for a poorly-timed visit?

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, October 22, 2014

A Little Zebulon Fiction

By Robert Wyckoff

Winter is coming, and the deadline for entering The Zebulon Contest is fast approaching. November 2nd, noon MST. Is your entry ready?

If you’re still undecided about entering, consider M.B. Partlow’s list of reasons to enter a writing contest:

If you’re still undecided, consider Rezi Edwards and her story of entering The Zebulon.


Like any highly evolved, adolescent, pimple-bedazzled Homo sapien, I was born in the watery confluence of two stories. That’s me floundering in the river right there: Resina Edwards. Nineteen year old non-prodigy.

My father’s story—or his river if you’re interested in extended metaphor—flows straight and true, through mountains and not around them. Arthur Edwards is my provider of physical necessities, the renowned astrophysicist, and the stalwart defender of the logical and the mundane. He wears his emotions on his lab coat sleeve—and his sleeve is always starch white.

I admire my mother’s story for her lovingly sculpted prose and meandering plot. Annabella Dahl had been my muse, the elementary school teacher, the author, the wandering warrior of words and worlds. I remember she laughed only with her jade eyes because she believed laughing with her throat was cliche and revealing.

Nineteen years ago, when tectonics and erosion allowed my parents’ rivers to meld, to spring forth the Resina River, they fought like rapids for my name. My father the amateur DNA researcher championed ‘Amber’ because—and I couldn’t make this up if I tried—he liked the Jurassic Park movies.

“Scientifically absurd and unrealistic,” he reportedly said. “But I’m quite in love with that chap’s mosquito-amber cane. I want one.”

My mother couldn’t stand naming her child anything remotely common, so she convinced him to name me Resina. As in, you know, amber resin.

Massive, exasperated sigh.

So here’s me. My friends call me Rezi. Or they would if my friends existed.

More sigh.

I’m sick. Not like oh-surprise-this-is-a-tragic-cancer-story sick, but dizzy sick. From spinning in my computer chair.

I stick my feet—fuzzified in adorable green alien slippers—down to slow my spin.

“EEEYYEERRRH,” I say, trying very maturely to mimic squealing brakes.

I stop. I wait for the world to quit swimming.

When it does, I’m looking dazedly at the alarm clock on my desk. 11:30 A.M., November 2nd, 2014.

I have half an hour to enter this…

I squint at the computer monitor.

Zebulon Contest…thing.

If my life was a story, this would be a ticking time bomb plot. Thirty minutes before the human ambassadors fail in negotiations, and the aliens abduct all of our cows. Thirty minutes left for Rezi, Badass Space Pirate Princess, to steal aboard the mother ship and sabotage the cow-beamers, thereby ensuring the survival of American fast food culture.

Thirty minutes until the real Rezi, nineteen year old girl from Nowheresville, Suburbia, must make the ultimate choice.

I sigh, looking at the two windows open on my monitor.

Submit my sci-fi novel to this writing contest? Or submit this college application to MIT? Novelist? Or astrophysicist?


Whoops. Another ten minutes lost to The Navel Gaze. Twenty minutes left.

I whirl to face the windowed wall of my bedroom/office/Lair of Eternal Navel Gazing. Beneath my old One Direction poster—which is now scribbled on to read ‘No Direction’, with the boys colored green and wearing jetpacks—is a half-sized filing cabinet. Heaps of never-submitted, half-complete novels and short stories litter the top and base of the gray metal. I’ve never considered organizing them into the cabinet because that space is reserved. Special.

My mother’s old photo album lies within.

I deliberately keep it hidden, yet easily accessible. In my darkest moments, when my ship’s out of oxygen and I’m lost in the void, I take the album out to remember her smiling jade eyes. She injects air into my lungs and direction in my bones.

But when I’m only slightly adrift, systems not critical, seeing her in only two dimensions fogs me up and turns me about. Scrambles my nav systems. Makes me really damn sad.

I consider taking her out of the cabinet, but only briefly. Star Rezi One isn’t quite that lost on this mission.

I sigh, turning back to my computer. Ten minutes left.

Jiminy, propped up in a sitting position behind my alarm clock, seems eager to say something.

“Hey, Conscience. What advice do you have?” I say, picking him up in one hand.

Jiminy Space-Cricket is a doll my mother gave child-me, presumably because she was tired of watching Disney’s Pinocchio approximately eight billion times a week. But I’ve since made some wicked cool alterations to this little green man. In place of his top hat, suit, and opera gloves, I donned him in an astronaut suit I Frankensteined from a futuristic Ken and Barbie set.

This is how I make friends.

“Let your Conscience be your guide,” I say in a squeaky voice, tilting Jiminy’s space-helmeted head in a sagely fashion.

“No duh, dude,” I say. “So guide me.”

Jiminy says nothing.

I stare at him, and finally begin the same argument I’ve cycled through a hundred times. “My father would tell me to think of my mother,” I say. “Her writing never amounted to much more than financial strain on the three of us. She was depressed. In the end, she was too depressed.”

Jiminy says nothing, and I feel like shaking him.

“In the end,” I repeat, feeling the familiar itching heat in my jade eyes. “She was too depressed.”

Jiminy says nothing.

“My mother would say….” I feel the cool wet slide down my cheek. I remember how she rocked me to sleep, singing. “When you wish upon a star….”

I swallow hard. The alarm clock is blurry now. Five minutes left.

My voice is broken as I sing. “Makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires, will come to you.”

The glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling seem to whisper to me. The final frontier. Astrophysics. Science Fiction.

“If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme, when you wish upon a star, as dreamers do.”

I grab the computer mouse. It’s stupid, I know—but it’s shaking in my hand. Depression is stupid. It doesn’t always make sense.

But writing helps. It’s my reserve oxygen supply. A heat shield for my plummeting ship. A wishing star to steer by.

And now it’s time to find out if I’m any good at it.

The mouse cursor twitches over the submit button. I’ve checked the formatting a hundred times. I’ve put in the sweat and tears and blood.

One minute until the cow-thieving aliens win. One minute until my river changes course forever.

I take a breath.

I close the window, and hit the submit button on my MIT application. Then, mouse hand darting, I open the Zebulon Contest window. And I hit submit.

I hold Jiminy tightly. He doesn’t seem to mind.

In the end, there was no decision at all. Rivers on Earth flow one way: downhill. But I’d like to think that on some worlds, perhaps, rivers flow up.

Toward the stars.

* * *

The moral of the story? A cow is abducted every minute you procrastinate.

Find out details about The Zebulon Contest here:

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Importance of Catchy Titles

By Karen Albright Lin

A catchy title has always been an important part of marketing a book. It’s no less true now that e-books are taking over the world. It ranks up there with cover art and your blurb. As your potential buyer scrolls across relevant titles, yours needs to grab their attention NOW!
 Your title should reflect the genre and flavor of your book. If it’s snarky, let the title reflect cynicism and irreverence. If you write ironic, make that clear with your title. If your book is dry, rewrite the book.

Short, simple titles are easier to remember and tend to rank higher in sales. But a good long title is still far better than a crappy short title. That being said, I find lengthy, abstract titles irritating because I can’t remember them. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet starred in the surreal Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I tend to remember the “Spotless Mind” part of the title, but I have to look the movie up on IMDB whenever I want to refer to it properly. I’ll channel Eeyore here; if they’d asked me, and nobody did, I would have suggested they stick with “Spotless Mind". As is true with all elements of writing, from plot down to the structure of a sentence, the first thing that comes to mind is often not the best. Brainstorm and shoot a few ideas past your friends.  

Some titles mean something different by the end of the movie. Some have double meanings, one figurative, one literal. Challenge yourself to find a title that works on several levels. An example is Sophie’s Choice. The title refers to the gut-wrenching choice forced upon her—which of her children to save—but also her choice to survive the Holocaust through an unsavory relationship with a Nazi. And it works for her present-day story, her choice to stay with an emotionally abusive man.

You can even make up a new word for your title. Butterology. We can guess what that book would be about. Since I love butter, I could get behind such a book. Lulu has a fun title scorer. Statisticians analyzed the titles of NY Times #1 bestsellers. Lulu’s algorithm judges your title based on how many words, what parts of speech, literal or figurative, whether it includes a name, etc. It will suggest to you what percentage chance your book has of being a bestseller. Of course, this is just for fun, but it will make you think about the importance of titles. Go to

Nonfiction is often easier. These titles tend to be straightforward. Two considerations are most important. Along with the promise of entertainment, a nonfiction title needs to suggest how the book will benefit the reader. Its subtitle usually qualifies the title’s promise. If I knew how to design hats, I might write Top it Off: The Lost Art of Designing Hats. Think catchy and clear. 

It’s obvious for nonfiction. But with fiction, too, you’ll want to make it easily found with search engines, not only for online sales sites like or, but for general search engines like Google or Bing.  Be sure the title contains the most obvious words your reader would use in a search. If you write bibliomysteries, consider having a subtitle that reads "A Bibliomystery by XXX".  A fitting title is only one piece of Search Engine Optimization, but I’d argue that it’s the most important. If you decide to dig in deeper about how to get your book seen online, you can read one of the many tomes on SEO. On a quick search, the ones that caught my attention are those with “Secret” in their names. Apply their wisdom to your own title.

If you are going traditional, your publisher may insist on using a different title. Gripe into your pillow. Their publicity people have years of experience behind their suggestion and you would be wise to follow their lead. They could be appealing to an audience with more disposable income or making it more edgy to capture younger readers. They might have had a bad experience with a title that was a little too close to yours. They may need something that will complement the cover art they have in mind. That too may not be to your liking, but typically you don’t have much input on that. Allow the experts to help; they have every reason to do what is right for your book sales.   

Browse through a brick and mortar or online bookstore and see which titles draw your attention and why. Remember the title you have in your head as you write may be an inspiration for your opus and the greatest marketing tool. It may also act as a placeholder, changing later. Find the best title you can and be open to discussion if asked to change it by those who have more experience than you. Most importantly, have fun with it! 

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, October 19, 2014

Quote of the Week and Week to Come

“I write because I want more than one life; I insist on a wider selection. It’s greed, plain and simple. When my characters join the circus, I’m joining the circus. Although I’m happily married, I spent a great deal of time mentally living with incompatible husbands.”

Anne Tyler (October 25, 1941)

Breathing Lessons (Pulitzer Prize)
The Accidental Tourist
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

This week on Writing from the Peak:

* The Importance of Catchy Titles               Karen Albright Lin

* A Little Zebulon Fiction                               Robert Wyckoff

* Sweet Success! Karen Albright Lin           Kathie Scrimgeour