Monday, January 31, 2011

Column by Debbie Meldrum: What I Learned About Writing From... Room

What I Learned About Writing From...Room by Emma Donoghue
By Debbie Meldrum

Since the book is showing up on so many Best of 2010 lists, including my own, it seems like a good time to talk about what I learned from it.

First, the blurb: Jack has lived his entire five years in an eleven foot by eleven foot room with Ma. Ma has been there for seven years, ever since she was abducted and imprisoned there. On his fifth birthday, Jack starts asking questions, and learns about "Outside."

The book is told in first person from Jack's point of view.

1. Kids can be resilient, which some writers forget.

Yes, Jack has been a prisoner his whole life. BUT it's the only life he's known. And Ma makes that life as pleasant as she can. They exercise, read, play games, watch TV--but no too much, dance and laugh. Jack loves Room and his life there. The only exception is Old Nick, who sometimes visits at night, while Jack is supposed to be asleep in Closet.

I think, too often, when we write about people in dire situations, the tendency is to write them as always down and depressed. People often rise above their situations. Most of us have experienced a time when everything has gone wrong, and everyone involved ends up laughing. Not after the fact, but during it. Adding a scene like that can make the story seem more true to life.

2. Anticipate the readers' questions/realizations

It seemed that every time I had a question about why Ma was doing what she was or wondered what would happen if . . . , Donoghue let me wonder just long enough and then answered the question or set that event I wondered about in motion. That makes for a satisfying read.

I've been in group critique situations where people wrote things like "Where is this? When is it happening? Who is Jack? What does he want?" on the very first paragraph of the story. Maybe I needed to attach what I thought the back of book copy would say. But critiques like that lead the writer to want to dump all the back story in the first chapter.

Resist this. If I know everything I need to know on the first page, why should I read the next 250?

3. Staying in character is key.

Donoghue does slip a few times--at least I thought so--especially toward the end of the book. Jack's narration seemed too emotionally and relationally savvy for a character with his history. Jack can do math and read better than most third graders. So there are times he sounds older than five, but that is with good reason.

I'm working on a novel with an eleven-year-old boy as the narrator. Not an easy task. Donoghue has set the bar pretty high for writing a realistic child of the opposite sex. I will do my best to write up to her level.

4. Inspiration only gets you so far.

Emma Donoghue has said that Josef Fritzl case was the original inspiration for the book. He is the man who imprisoned his own daughter in the basement as a sex slave.

Now I would understand how a crime writer would use a case like that for inspiration, as a psychological thriller, a case study of the man.

But Donoghue turned this inspiration on it's head and, of course, changed it. It is not the woman's father who abducts her. It's not a crime story. It is a psychological study, but of the boy and his mother.

Her website explains the extensive research it took to get everything right. Some of that research was, as you can imagine, harrowing. Then there was the mundane, like looking at decorating sites to get the room just right.

I'm going to look at headlines a bit differently from now on. Instead of dismissing certain stories with "that wouldn't fit my genre," I'll look at how it could if I took it from a new angle. This could open up a whole new world for my writing.

I highly recommend Room to all writers. It's not always an easy read emotionally, but it is a quick one. The pages just kept turning, because I wanted to know what would happen to Jack and Ma next. I think you'll want to know, too.

Debbie is a daydreamer. A fact that caused her much grief during her school career but has served her well as a writer. Her short fiction has appeared in Apollo’s Lyre, The SCWP Marathon Anthology, and The S’Peaker. In addition to being a member of PPW, she belongs to Creek Writers Council—a tough but fun critique group.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sweet Success: Deborah Martinez

PPW good news!

Deborah Martinez, Ph.D.'s new children's non-fiction book,
Trade on the Taos Mountain Trail (ISBN 978-0-9823445-0-7), was
published by Vanishing Horizons on November 12, 2010.

Set in the early 1800s, the book follows the development of trade
routes and the trade goods from Canada to Mexico, focusing on the
southwest. Trade on the Taos Mountain Trail is a non-fiction social
science book describing the concept of ‘trade’ for 4th and 5th graders
using education standards in history, geography, economics and civics.
The book describes the movement of traders and their goods from Taos
and Taos Pueblo (national historic sites, New Mexico) to El Pueblo
Trading Post (a national historic site, Pueblo, Colorado) to the
eastern plains at Bent’s Old Fort (National Park).

Deborah Martinez Martinez, Ph.D. is a writer of fiction and
non-fiction of the southwest. She is an historical interpreter at El
Pueblo History Museum, guiding visitors through a hands-on 1840s
frontier experience. Robert W. Pacheco (illustrator) has 14 years experience as a
graphic designer for Estes Rockets, an international toy company.

Congrats, Deborah!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Column: A Little Advice on Advice by Cindi Madsen

I read blogs, agent websites, attend writing workshops, and am part of a critique group. All the advice I’ve gotten from doing those things have taken me to a new level in my writing. But yesterday I read a writer's post that I didn't totally agree with. I saw her point, but you can't say that a certain plot device won't ever work in any book. I used the very one she was ranting against and my critique partners and beta readers all loved the way I did it. But I had this panicky moment while reading the post even though I knew it worked for the story. Newsflash--not everyone has the same tastes.

In my critique group, I'm known as the adverb slayer. At one point, I looked up every ly word in my manuscript and tried to replace it. I was crazy about it. But people talk in adverbs, and sometimes changing the phrase took a lot more words and slowed down the pace. Sometimes you just need an adverb. (But 75% of the time, you can find a stronger verb, I promise) I read a book recently--a NY times bestseller--that used "frowned thoughtfully," "grinned bitterly," and "nodded happily" within two pages. Is it good writing? I'd say no. Could it be tightened? Sure. But hey, she's had success while I'm still trying to get my foot in the door. So . . . yeah.

So how do you know what advice to take? Well, is it from someone in the industry who represents your genre? Do more than one of your critique partners or readers feel the same about it? Do they know your genre? I have a fabulous writer friend who cheers me up whenever I'm starting to doubt myself. According to her, my instincts are good, I just need to stop doubting them. Sometimes, I do doubt my instincts. I change things or water them down because of something someone says (sometimes a virtual someone who hasn't even read my book) only to find I liked it better the first time. It was stronger the first time. And it's my book, dang it! But sometimes, the advice I get forces me to dig deeper, and the result is a stronger chapter, page, etc.

So when it comes to advice, my advice is to take the good and leave the rest. Feel free to take it or leave it.

Cindi Madsen sits at her computer every chance she gets, plotting, revising, and falling in love with her characters. She has way too many shoes, but can always find a reason to by a new pair. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three children, and is a member of PPW and PPRW. You can check out her blog at

Monday, January 24, 2011

Column: A Bit About Believing by Mandy Houk

My creative writing students are required to write in composition books every day. Often, I find notes to me: “Sorry this is boring,” or, “You don’t want to read this,” or, “I’m lame!”

They’re wrong, but I have to laugh because of what I’m thinking when words won’t flow: “I’m a hack. This will never happen.” It’s hard to maintain belief in your dreams when the road is so long and curvy and filled with pot-holes of disappointment.

That’s what made my latest birthday present from my husband so amazing.

He’d asked a friend of ours–a photographer–to make mock-up book covers for my two novels. Mind you, neither has been published (the second isn’t finished). But the book covers are so gorgeous, one guest at my surprise party asked where he could buy the books!

What’s truly incredible is what they represent: my husband believes. That there will be real book covers one day, covering real books, filled with words that I wrote in those impossible-feeling moments. When I can’t believe in myself, I look at those book covers and let his belief take over.

My students can’t wait to open their composition books when I return them. I write notes like, “You’re not lame,” and, “This isn’t boring–I wish you’d kept going.”

Find someone who believes in you; and find someone to believe in. It makes a difference–believe me.

Originally published in the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Pikes Peak Writers NewMag.

Mandy Houk is a freelance writer and editor, and woefully underpaid home schooling mom. She's sold several nonfiction articles and stories, and placed in a couple of short fiction contests, but she has yet to break into book-length fiction. Her first novel is safely and appropriately in a deep, dark drawer. Her second is in its final rewrite, and will be sent out to agents in 2011. No, really.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sweet Success: Beth Groundwater

Some PPW good news:

Beth Groundwater's adult mystery novel, Deadly Currents (ISBN
9780738721620), will be released on March 8 by Midnight Ink in trade
paperback and e-book, 312 pages. The book will be available online
and at brick-and-mortar stores. Author website at

The Arkansas River is the heart and soul of Salida, Colorado. It fuels
the small town's economy and thrums in the blood of
twenty-seven-year-old Mandy Tanner, a river ranger. When a whitewater
rafting accident occurs, she deftly executes a rescue, but a man dies
anyway. But it wasn't the river rapids that killed him, it was poison.
Tom King was a rich land developer with bitter business rivals, who
cheated on his wife, refused to support his kayak-obsessed son, and
infuriated environmentalists.

Mandy's world turns upside down when her beloved Uncle Bill—the
respected owner of a raft outfitting business—dies of a heart attack.
Suspicious that his death is somehow connected to Tom King, she goes
on an emotionally turbulent quest for the truth—and ends up in
dangerous waters.

Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer
mystery series (A Real Basket Case, nominated for the 2007 Best First
Novel Agatha Award, and To Hell in a Handbasket, released in May,
2009). She also writes the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures mystery
series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. Beth lives in
Colorado and enjoys its many outdoor activities, including skiing,
hiking, and whitewater rafting. Visit her website at and her blog at

Congrats, Beth!!!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

PPW Conference: Ready, Set... Register

A Letter from Your 2011 PPWC Director

Trailblazers Wanted! It’s my pleasure to invite you to join us as we embark on our 19th Annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference. The theme this year is “Blaze the Write Trail,” and our hardworking staff has rounded up some of the best trail guides we can find: agents, editors, experts, and authors who’ve taken this journey and can warn you about the dangers while pointing out the amazing thrills of being a writer.

Want to know what you’re signing up for? How about…

--Dynamite workshops to improve your writing on every subject from plotting pitfalls to finding a unique voice to invaluable self-editing techniques.

--Read & critique appointments in which you get feedback on your writing (live and in-person) from an agent, editor, author, or perhaps, all three.

--A guest speaker who’s a two-time Edgar Award Winner.

--“The First Lady of the West” who’s authored more than 80 novels.

--A Bram Stoker Award nominee who has written or edited 50-plus comic books and a dozen screenplays.

You don’t have to pick and choose – we’ve got them all and many more!

Don’t forget, pardners, that with your conference registration comes the opportunity to sign up to pitch your manuscript one-on-one with some of the best editors and agents in the business – something we’re pleased to offer at no extra cost.

This shindig’s getting underway at the wonderful Colorado Springs Marriott on Friday, April 29 and lasts until Sunday, May 1. But hold your horses, there’s more! We also offer a lineup of workshops before conference on Thursday, April 28. Sign up for Thursday with your Conference registration and enjoy a 45% discount, or if you can’t make it for the entire weekend, we offer Thursday as a stand-alone day.

You want more? We’ve got more! We’ve got a bonanza of expert information available in our reality track. We’ve got an onsite contest and a silent auction with a gold mine of prizes including a VIP Package to PPWC 2012. We’ve got the past president of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents. We’ve got two Mythopoeic Award winners. We’ve got representatives from Puffin and Vikings Children’s Books, Belle Books, Harper Perennial, Written World Communications, Coffey Literary Agency, Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, Bond Literary Agency, Bradford Literary Agency, and more. We’ve got a great venue at the base of America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak. And we’ve got hands-down the friendliest staff of any Writers Conference around. What more could you ask for?

So, saddle up! Head on over to the Conference section of the website to get more details on this jam-packed weekend, and then click on the “register now” button to sign up. Remember, that all our read & critique appointments and pitch appointments are assigned on a first come, first served basis. Don’t delay, register today!

See you at Conference!

Bonnie Hagan
Director PPWC 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

Column: Screenwriting: How The Industry Works

Screenwriting: How The Industry Works
By Karen Albright Lin

In past postings I’ve discussed the technical aspect of writing original scripts as well as adaptations. Once you’ve written a screenplay you’ll want to understand the market. If you’ve adapted someone else’s work (with legal permission) you may already have a contract in place, actors attached, and producers gathering money for the project. Lucky you!

If you are on your own, however, it’s even more important to understand how the industry works. First I suggest that you explore your own desires for your career. Is your goal to write in a particular genre? Are you in L.A.? If not, are you willing and able to travel there for meetings? Having a presence there is important for pitching and rewriting. Remember, film is collaborative. And being in L.A. is essential if your ultimate goal is to write for T.V. series.

There are several ways to market using your script. 1) outright sale 2) a development deal using your script as a lure to pitch your ideas 3) audition in which your sample script secures you an audition for a writing assignment – using one of my comedy scripts, I won a writer-for-hire comedy script contract. 4) option in which the producer or director pays a fee to keep the exclusive right to buy your script for an agreed-upon time (typically 6-12 months and anywhere from $0-$20,000). When the time limit is reached the producer needs to pay the agreed upon purchase price or pass. If it’s a pass, the writer keeps option money and all rights go back to the writer.

Next posting we’ll discuss what’s hot and what’s not and what makes a screenplay “high concept.” Meanwhile, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.

Karen is an editor, ghost writer, 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

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sweet Success: Julie Kazimer

Some good news for a Pikes Peak Writers member:

Julie Kazimer's urban fantasy novel, The Body Dwellers, was just
purchased by Solstice Publishing (
The Body Dwellers, a tale of mutants and romance, also won second
place in the 2009 Pikes Peak Writers Contest.

Congratulations Julie!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tips to Mend the Errors of Your Writing Ways by Robin Widmar

Tips to Mend the Errors of Your Writing Ways
By Robin Widmar

"Never proofread your own work." - Master Gunnery Sergeant Frank Castaneda

The wise Master Gunny I once worked for wasn't the first to offer this advice, nor will he be the last. It's hard to spot errors when you're too close to the work, and your brain only muddles the effort by putting misspelled or misused words into context, causing you to miss typographical errors.

Writers often toil in solitude and under deadline, so it isn't always possible to have someone else proofread your work. If you must proofread your own writing, try these tips to minimize mistakes:

1. Use the spell check and grammar check tools in your word processing program – but don't rely solely on them! These programs have limited dictionaries, and they won't highlight a correctly spelled word used improperly (such as 'their' instead of 'there'). They also can't tell you when words are missing altogether unless the omission triggers a bad grammar alert.

2. Set aside your writing for at least an hour, and preferably a day or more. Give your brain a break, and reread the piece with a fresh perspective.

3. Print the document. Typos and other errors are usually easier to spot on paper than on the computer screen.

4. Allow yourself quiet time, free of distractions, to concentrate on proofreading.

5. Read the work aloud. Make sure you pronounce each word, and don't hurry.

6. Read it backwards, starting with the last word of the last sentence. Work your way to the beginning.

7. Always keep a dictionary and a thesaurus close at hand – and use them!

If you have the luxury of another set of eyes to review your writing, make sure that set of eyes is competent in spelling and grammar. You want to present your best work to the world, and you can't do that if your proofreader doesn't have a grip on the language.

(This article first appeared October 11, 2010 on the "The World Needs a Proofreader" blog.)

BIO: Robin Widmar is a freelance writer and copy editor who works to support a horse habit and writes to follow a dream. You can check out her blog, The World Needs a Proofreader, at:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Column: What I Learned About Writing From... Critique Groups by Debbie Meldrum

What I Learned About Writing From... Critique Groups
By Debbie Meldrum

I have been a member of two different critique groups over the past 10 years. Which, I hear, makes me pretty lucky. Some writers bounce around a lot more than that. I met all the members of my current group, Creek Writers Council, at the first one, Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group. Many lessons were picked up along the way. Here are some of them.

1. If you have to explain it . . .

I've been on both sides of this one. A reader will say, "I don't understand how George went from standing on a hill in Italy to hanging from a flagpole in Quebec." Once the writer starts explaining that, "Well, you see, he boarded a blimp in Tuscany, then he flew to Madrid where he hopped a train for Calais . . ." Yeah. But if it's not on the page, the reader doesn't know this. And you, as the writer, don't get to sit down with every reader to explain that. At least you hope not.

My friend, Jenny, calls it "getting it on the page." What I see left off the page most often is setting. Where am I? What's it like there? How's the weather? All things that the writer has in his head when he's writing, but that he needs to show me as the reader.

I'm trying my best right now to overwrite my submissions. Most of my critique group find it easier to show where to cut than trying to figure out what was left out.

2. Don't assume everyone knows what you do.

I stand by my previous lesson of "Don't underestimate the intelligence of your readers." However, not everyone has the same specialized knowledge. And the terms from that specialized area may not be easy to decode for someone not in the club.

Dancers, musicians, computer programmers, accountants, teachers, doctors, etc. all use terms that people outside of those realms may or may not know. Or it may mean something different to other specialties. A paradiddle in dance sounds like a paradiddle in drumming, but one is executed with the feet and the other with the hands.

This is a hard one, because once you learn something, it can be hard to remember that you didn't always know it. This is where critique groups from diverse backgrounds are essential.

3. No two people read exactly alike.

Everyone approaches submissions in his own way. Some read straight through the first time, then go back and dissect. Some mark as they go and only read once. And each person has his own focus for critiques.

I've seen puns be a pet peeve for one reader and a delight for another. Some will add a comma to your sentence and others are just as likely to mark one out. I once had a woman tell me that I had a male character describe a room as only a woman would. The scene didn't bother the man in our group at all.

All of this can be really frustrating. But it is good practice for when your work goes out into the wider world. Get used to people misreading your work, your intention.

I'm learning to weed through the feedback so I can determine what to act on and what to leave as is. Notice I didn't say "ignore." I do listen to and read all feedback. I just don't always agree with all of it.

4. It's your work.

That's the biggest lesson from working with critique groups. Your work has to reflect you. Your voice. Your story. Your style.

We recently shook up how we run our critique group, because the original format was no longer worker for some of us. It's not that it was wrong, just that we are at a different place in our writing. The strength of the group was tested and held. We discussed the issues and made a change that everyone could work with.

I've learned that I need to speak up when something isn't working. Because of Lesson #3. It's my work, and I'm the one who needs to take responsibility for making the best it can be. With the help of my friends.

5. Listen to all the feedback.

Even if you disagree. Violently.

This can be a hard one--it is for me. But even if you don't agree with the feedback, you should listen. Because something didn't work for that person. It may be a style thing, which you don't want to change. But the thing is, what they may have given as the reason in the critique may not be the real cause of their discontent with your story.

I'm not saying that anyone is lying to you or purposely obfuscating. But sometimes a piece of a story doesn't gel for us, and we can't quite say why. So we might look at the things we can identify: sentence structure, pronouns, adverbs--anything to try and help the author.

So do yourself a favor and try to figure out what really went wrong. Remember that one reader in your group represents a lot more potential readers for your finished work. Do you really want to lose that many people for something that you could have fixed, without giving up your personal style?

Debbie is a daydreamer. A fact that caused her much grief during her school career but has served her well as a writer. Her short fiction has appeared in Apollo’s Lyre, The SCWP Marathon Anthology, and The S’Peaker. In addition to being a member of PPW, she belongs to Creek Writers Council—a tough but fun critique group.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sweet Success: Darby Karchut

Here's another PPW member success story:

How I Wrote My First Book: The Story Behind the Story (edited by Anne K. Edwards and Lida E. Quillen) is a diverse collection by twenty authors about the trials and triumphs of writing their first novel, and includes the article, "Wings," the story behind the creation of Darby Karchut's June YA release, Griffin Rising. Coming January in trade paperback and on e-books from Twilight Times Books (

Darby Karchut grew up in a family that venerated books and she spent her childhood devouring one fantasy novel after another. Today, she lives in Colorado with her husband, where she still teaches at a local junior high school. She enjoys running, biking, and skiing the Rocky Mountains in all types of weather.
Visit the author's website:

Congrats to Darby!!!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Column: The Business of Writing: Is It Good? By Linda Rohrbough

The Business of Writing: Is It Good?

by Linda Rohrbough
One of the things that never ceases to surprise me is the ups and downs I go through as a writer. My spouse says I have my pre-book depression, my mid-book depression, and my post-book depression.

I have a prolific friend who hates editing. He sees his first draft as genius. When it’s time to rework the thing, he can end up in a dark place.

For me, it’s the opposite. That shiny, glimmering, gossamer thing in my head I’m trying to get down on the page is so elusive, I can’t seem to capture it. Some days it feels like I’m close. Those are my good writing days. Others it feels like trudging through deep snow. Recently, I have more days when it just feels so darn ordinary, which also bugs me. In any case, what’s in my head is so much better than what ends up on the page, that I can get really disappointed.

I go through the stages of loss every time I write: anger, sadness, bargaining, denial, and finally acceptance. Once I get to acceptance, I go back and look at what I’ve written.

And I get another surprise. This isn’t half bad. What’s weird to me is my lack of objectivity about my own work. I’ve learned a bunch of tools for writing fiction to help me that I’ve put together in a workshop I do for writers groups. And I use those tools. But I find it interesting that I can’t tell when I rework the material if I had a good or bad writing day when I wrote it. I guess I could keep a writing journal and put it together from that.

What I do know is the only good that comes is when I write, good or bad day not withstanding. If I don’t write, if I put it off, I’m mad at myself. And that’s even more miserable.

As we go into the new year, I’m thinking about my process. I have goals. I always do. But I want to do more, faster. (There’s a shock, eh?) When I get around writers, we almost always end up talking about our process. The pros know themselves pretty well – how much they can do, when they like to write, how their process works. I find it endlessly fascinating.

And it helps. Like when I know I won’t be able to tell later what kind of day I was having when I got that on paper. That knowledge keeps me going when it gets tough. Maybe defining your process will help.

What’s it like for you? How do you work?

Best wishes for your writing in this shiny, glimmering, gossamer new year. I have high hopes for you, and for myself.

Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, with over 5,000 articles and seven books along with a number of national fiction and non-fiction awards to her credit. Her latest book, co-authored with her surgeon, is Weight Loss Surgery with the Adjustable Gastric Band from Da Capo Press. She is also under contract for an iPhone App of her “Learn to Talk About Your Book” workshop, scheduled for release Spring 2011. Visit her website

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sweet Success: Carol Berg

Some more sweet success by one of our PPW members to lift your spirits! Check it out:

Carol Berg's The Soul Mirror, a novel of the Collegia Magica, will be released in January 2011 (ISBN 978-0451463746). It's an adult fantasy/mystery coming out from New American Library/Roc Books in trade paperback and e-book (528 pages). Her website is at, and you can find her books online and in brick-and-mortar stores.

Former software engineer Carol Berg never expected to become an award-winning author, but a hobby of writing epic fantasy novels got out of hand. Her eleven novels have won the Geffen, the Prism, and multiple Colorado Book Awards, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. She’s taught writing in the US, Canada, Scotland, and Israel, and received reader mail from the slopes of Denali to beneath the Mediterranean. All amazing for one who majored in math and computer science to avoid writing papers. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls Carol’s latest novel, The Spirit Lens, “Superbly realized.”

The mass market edition of first book in the series, The Spirit Lens (ISBN 978-0451463739), will be released the same month.

Congrats to Carol!!!