Thursday, June 28, 2012

Grab Your Tire Iron by Shannon Baker

A few days ago, Julie Kazimer, author of The Body Dwellers (her link) commented on this site about writers wanting something so badly they’d kneecap someone to get it. I thought of Tonya Harding and how she risked everything to get what she wanted. She decided what stood in her way and took the tire iron to it. I am really sorry it was Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. Obviously, Tonya was sick and a criminal to boot, and I know we writers would never sabotage another writer to get a book deal, but what, I wondered, would I risk all for?

Today, one of my dearest friends told me the story of her son, who is a senior in high school. Aside from the test scores and grades that mark him as a brainiac, he’s also a stellar athlete and all around great kid. When applying for scholarships, he was asked to write an essay on a controversial topic such as, perhaps, striving for world peace. This was not some local couple of hundred of dollars, but a full ride to a prestigious university. He chose to write about LaBron James’ “Decision.” My friend tried to talk him out if it. Too risky, she said, for something so important. The young man felt strongly about his choice and went ahead. He won the scholarship.

He didn’t stop there. He sent the essay, along with news of his scholarship, to Mr. James. Again, my friend shrugged, thinking he’d be disappointed not to hear from the very busy superstar. A few days ago, not only did the young man receive an amazingly supportive letter from Mr. James, but a book bag, with a note from Mr. James saying he thought the young man would need something with which to haul his books.

No one likes to fail. To avoid that awful feeling, many of us avoid risks. Look at poor Tonya Harding. She risked, she failed and now her fame is tied to celebrity wrestling. But people do win. If my friend’s son hadn’t risked writing an unexpected essay, he wouldn’t have an excellent scholarship. And if he hadn’t risked rejection by a VIP, he’d never have the encouragement and congratulations, not to mention the really cool book bag.

I’m pretty risk averse. I have a 30-year mortgage instead of an ARM. I work for salary instead of being an entrepreneur. And yet, I get up at 4:30 most mornings to write with no guarantee the book will ever see the light of a publishing day. I have sent out hundreds, maybe thousands, of queries over the years, knowing that even though it only takes one yes, I will have to suffer agonizing no’s. I’ve given up weekends to edit manuscripts. And I’ve quit more times than I can count, only to get up the next day and try again. Maybe I’m not as attached to security as I think I am.

Why play it safe? Today I’m advocating we take big risks to achieve our dreams. Let’s start kneecapping everything that stands in our way. Like my friend’s son, let’s kneecap doubts, those inside us as well as those around us. Let’s kneecap fear of failure and pain of rejection. Kneecap an extra hour of sleep or the urge to sit on the couch and watch 30 Rock reruns.

Don’t be afraid. Join me with now. Grab your tire iron and tell me, what do you want to kneecap?

(Originally published on the Sisters of the Quill blog April 12, 2011)

About the Writer:  Shannon Baker has a right brain/left brain conflict. While the left brain focuses on her career as an accountant, her right brain concocts thrillers, including her 2010 release, Ashes of the Red Heifer. A lover of mountains, plains, oceans and rivers, she can often be found traipsing around the great outdoors. The first book in the Nora Abbott Mystery Series will release in the fall of 2012 from Midnight Ink publishers. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Column: The Business of Writing - The Rule of Threes for Book Promotion by Linda Rohrbough

One of my favorite principles I use in my own work is the “Rule of Threes.” It goes like this: Make sure you get three benefits from everything you take on. In my publishing life, I use the rule of threes to maximize my efforts in promoting my book. Here’s what that looks like.

When I set up an event, like a book signing, speaking at a conference, or speaking to a local readers group, I employ the rule of threes. I put together a press release and fax the release to the main newsroom of the media sources. I hit radio, TV, and print media as early as four months out. If there are local online sources for “what to do” I make sure I hit them as well.

I also put together a “calendar item” which looks a lot like a press release but it’s basically a request for the media outlet to add it to their local events calendar. The idea is to get at least a mention in the community calendar about the event or workshop, which is relatively easy to do.

So I never just do an event, like teach a workshop or speak to a group or do a radio show. I make sure I send something out to the media as well. In some cases, I’ve had a publication send a reporter over to interview me after they received a number of my press releases and calendar items. Then I become local news.

Once I get a calendar item or coverage by a media source, I am sure to Facebook it and Tweet it with the URL of the media source as the link. Then it’s not me talking about me, but it’s someone else talking about what I’m doing. Of course, I put this stuff up on my website, but that’s me talking about me and that’s not as interesting (or as credible) as someone else talking about me. I do the same thing if I enter a contest and win. (I’ve got three national awards now for my novel The Prophetess One: At Risk.)

I’ll bet some of you are wondering how I get this stuff. I started small. I talked to anyone who would talk to me, including the local PTA, a Girl Scout group, anyone at all. Then I publicized the event. Because now it’s local news. After a while, I was speaking to bigger and bigger groups. Now I often do packed workshops or national conferences. And I’m winning national awards. I don’t spend a lot of time on this, but I’m steady about it. I am doing something to promote my work, using the rule of threes, at least twice a month, if not more often.

You know, I heard that in a contest to cross the United States by foot, the person who won did walked twenty miles a day, every day. Some people were faster or did more miles daily, but then they took a lot of time off. They didn’t win. My take away is it’s steady work, done consistently, that will get you there. When I first started trying to write, I did one thing a day toward my goal. Sometimes it was as small a thing as getting a stamp for an envelope so I could send off a request for information. At the end of the year, and not working on Sundays, I had over three hundred things done toward my goal.

So the next time you have an opportunity to promote your book or your work, remember the rule of threes. Try to find at least three ways you can get the word out or leverage what you’re doing. It makes a difference.

About the Writer:  Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with national awards for her fiction and non-fiction. New York Times #1 bestselling author Debbie Macomber said about Linda’s new novel: "This is fast-paced, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat reading. The Prophetess One: At Risk had me flipping the pages and holding my breath." The Prophetess One: At Risk recently won three national awards: the 2012 International Book Award, the 2011 Global eBook Award and the 2011 Millennium Star Publishing Award. An iPhone App of her popular “Pitch Your Book” workshop is available in the Apple iTunes store. Visit her website:

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up. - Jane Yolen

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Showing Up by Mandy Houk

“If I waited till I felt like writing, I’d never write at all.” – Anne Tyler

When I first signed up to teach a high school creative writing class, my number one priority was to get the kids to write on a regular basis. That might sound obvious, but I had learned over the years that, even for those who profess a love of writing, a daily appointment with pen and paper is not a given.

Today, four years later, I’m still teaching, and even though the collection of students changes every August, I have the same approach—along with the same challenges.

My approach is to require twenty minutes of “free writing” per day, five days per week. I provide each student with a composition book (a sentimental throw-back to my own early elementary days, when my love for writing was born), and I try my best to make clear in the first class session what “free writing” means. It takes a bit more explanation than one might expect. I get questions like, “Can we write poetry?” followed immediately by, “Do we have to write poetry?” Also, “I can’t spell—do I have to spell things right?” Or, most often, “What if I don’t have anything to say?!” This question, which comes up every year, is almost always uttered in a shaky voice, from a student whose eyes are wild with panic.

I try to reassure them that the key word in the phrase free writing is free. All I ask is that they show up physically, with pen and comp book; and that they show up mentally, with open minds and imaginations. They can write about what they had for supper, or how stressed they are about exams. They can write about a conversation they overheard—in fact, I encourage that one. Eavesdropping is a writer’s lifeline. My hope, of course, is that the muse will strike at about minute 15 or 16: the student will stop checking the clock and stop musing about what they want for dessert, and will take off on an inspired tangent in which a grandmother decides to poison her neighbor with toxic pound cake only to do herself in when, out of habit, she licks the beaters.

What the students don’t know, and what cannot simply be told to them, is that this kind of inspiration really will happen (heck, I came up with the poison pound cake just now—and I like it, so it’s getting kind of tricky to stay focused on this article). What they also do not know, and what I simply will not tell them, is that, for every quirky little story (like one student’s bit about the food-gang wars that go on when he shuts the fridge and the light goes out), there will be eight or ten ramblings about homework and the weather and little brothers and chores.

The students moan and whine for the first several weeks of class, sure that I’m either insane or sadistic to place such a burden on their delicate young shoulders. I’ve even received emails from parents, hinting or outright stating that writing should be organic and natural and not forced, and such a regimented approach can’t possibly be the best way to teach.

I don’t win over every student (or parent). There is usually one student who is still moaning at the end of the year. And that’s okay. Because there are others whose writing habits are changed forever by the simple act of regularly showing up to write. In my first year of teaching alone, I had two students that did not take my class by choice—they just needed the credit. At the end of the year, one of those students had discovered a love for poetry and filled his pages with truly beautiful stuff. The other student had started writing compulsively, even on the weekends when it was not required. I ran into her just a few weeks ago at a restaurant in town (three full years after she graduated), and one of the first things she said was, “I’m still writing! I just keep buying composition books and filling them up!”

What these kids have learned is this: writing is organic and natural and can’t be forced. But inspiration is not going to chase you around and tackle you. And it’s also not going to wait until you’ve got access to a pen and paper or a laptop before it pounces (how many times have you thought of something brilliant when you’re in the shower or the car or somewhere else impossible, and later, incredibly, you can’t recall what it was?). Inspiration is elusive and tricky and unpredictable, and if you’re going to be a writer, you have to outsmart it: show up. Show up at a desk or a coffee shop or your own kitchen table, equipped with a blank piece of paper and usually an equally blank mind. Sometimes only drivel will result. But other times, inspiration will fly unwittingly into the trap you’ve set, and there you’ll be—ready and waiting.

About the Writer:  Mandy Brown Houk is a freelance writer and editor, and she teaches at a small private high school in Old Colorado City. She's written for several magazines and anthologies, and has completed two novels--only one of which is worthy of the light of day. Mandy's work is represented by Sally LaVenture at Warner Literary Group. Her web site is

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pitching Pointers by Shannon Lawrence

“Are you pitching?”

It’s one of the first questions you’ll hear at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, close behind “What do you write?”  If the answer is yes, chances are the response comes with a mix of trepidation and hopeful excitement.  That, or pure terror.

There’s no reason to feel terror, though.  Easily said, I know, but if you go to your pitch session prepared and keep things in perspective you’ll do just fine.  Here are five pointers to get you through your next pitch:

#1.  Know your story.  This should really be a given.  Have a short, quick pitch prepared (and well practiced), but also be prepared to go beyond that short pitch.  Be able to tell the editor or agent your story with passion, and to answer any questions they may ask you.  If they want to know why your character has made a certain decision, you need to be able to tell them.  This also includes knowing the market or niche you expect your story to fit into.  What shelf do you envision your book sitting on in the future?    

#2.  Research the pitchee.  Don’t just pick someone at random and throw yourself at them.  You need to carefully review the agents and editors taking pitches at the conference before you choose which one to pitch to.  Know what they’re looking for, as well as what they’re not looking for.  It also doesn’t hurt to peruse their websites and blogs to learn a little about them, including any special projects or interests they may have posted about, and other books they’ve published or authors they’ve represented.

#3.  Dress professionally.  Consider this a job interview.  Dress in business casual.  Don’t wear overwhelming perfume/cologne; don’t forget to wear deodorant; tidy up your hair and makeup; consider brushing your teeth or swishing around a little mouthwash right before you head up for the pitch.  Don’t go to your pitch chewing gum.

#4.  Be on time.  In fact, be early if you can.  If someone doesn’t show up, the pitch staff may very well move you up to an earlier appointment time.  Even if this doesn’t happen, being early gives you more time to pull yourself together and practice your pitch. 

#5.  Ground yourself.  Remind yourself that they want a good story as much as you want to sell a good story.  They are just people doing a job.  Talk to them as you would anyone else.  You know those thirty people who have asked you what your book’s about?  Pretend the agent/editor is one of them. 

While it’s too late to pitch at this year’s conference, it’s not too late to start considering your pitch for next year.  Don’t wait until the last minute to figure it out.  You never know when a pitch opportunity may find you, whether at a conference or elsewhere.        

About the Writer:  Shannon Lawrence is a mom of two, a freelance writer and aspiring novelist.  She lives in Colorado Springs and is inspired by the beauty of Pikes Peak and the Rockies.  After years of letting her writing fall by the wayside, she has recently thrown herself back into it.  Her main focus is fantasy and horror and she has just finished a Young Adult Fantasy novel.  She has also recently discovered a love of photography and enjoys photographing the breathtaking Colorado scenery and wildlife, as well as her children.  She blogs about writing at

Sunday, June 17, 2012


I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. - Douglas Adams

Friday, June 15, 2012

PPWC Session Report: Tom Adair on Fingerprinting by DeAnna Knippling

Tom Adair took a hands-on approach to fingerprinting during his session at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference (pun intended). After explaining some factors that affect fingerprints, some techniques for processing them, and some ways to plant a fingerprint (hint: it’s both trickier and simpler than in the movies), the session attendees were able to try out a few methods for themselves.

Biology of Fingerprints

Fingerprints are made of 99% water; the rest is a mixture of acids, lipids, and salts. Fingerprints form during the second trimester of pregnancy and are the same throughout the rest of a person’s life. Fingerprints are different for everyone--including cloned primates and identical twins.

Due to the different body chemicals in prepubescent kids, their fingerprints degrade very quickly: in six hours, the fingerprints of a kid can disappear. (However, capturing the fingerprints using ordinary processing methods can preserve kids’ prints as well as adult ones--a fingerprint captured on a card will be preserved indefinitely.) Kids’ prints get priority processing throughout the system.

Some people leave better fingerprints than others: people who sweat more leave better ones than people with dry skin. In fact, dryness affects everything about fingerprints: fingerprints tend to degrade faster in dry climates than in humid ones.

Processing Fingerprints in the Field

During the class, we were able to try out several methods of fingerprinting:

  • Black powder
  • Magnetic powder
  • Super Glue fuming (the items had already been fumed due to potential health hazards)
  • Fluorescent powder
  • Ninhydrin
Black powder. Processing fingerprints in the field can be as simple as brushing them with black powder and lifting the prints off the surface with a piece of tape, then attaching the tape to a card (the tape leaves behind tape marks when you pull it off, by the way). Details about the location and orientation of the print including rough sketches of where the print was found, the date and time the print was lifted, and the name of the person lifting the print are all recorded on the back of the card. The black powder method is usually not destructive and doesn’t cause a permanent stain. (Agencies aren’t required to clean up after an investigation, so this can be a concern--people have complained to departments and even sued them for excessive damage.)

Magnetic powder. The powder used can also be magnetic--which means that it can be picked up again with magnets after use.

Super Glue fuming. In Super Glue (cyanoacrylate) fuming, a sealed container (or room) is filled with Super Glue fumes. The Super Glue collects on the oily residues of a fingerprint and forms a polymer. Prints processed with Super Glue are more resistant to smearing. Once fumed, prints can be processed with black powder and lifted that way.

Fluorescent powder. An alternative to black powder is a fluorescent powder that glows under ultraviolet lights. This makes it easier to pick out prints on multicolored surfaces. Other than lifting prints to black cards rather than white ones, the powder is handled just like regular black powder.

Ninhydrin. On porous surfaces like paper, ninhydrin, a chemical that reacts with the amines in skin, can be used. When exposed to the right amines, ninhydrin turns a pinkish-purple color.

Processing Fingerprints in the Lab

Anyone with training can process fingerprints in the field, but someone needs to be certified in order to testify in court about the identity of the person with those fingerprints.

In the lab, fingerprints will be submitted to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). Usually about 15-20 candidates are returned. Fingerprints are listed by State ID (SID) number. The computer will not match fingerprints to specific people; only a human operator can make that call. The system often comes back with “matches” that have completely wrong fingerprint-pattern types.

Women are becoming more prominent in forensics, at about a rate of 5:1 in current university programs. Possibly as a result, there is a lot more emphasis on personal safety, but people who are in the forensics field can’t be germaphobes. Male or female, the squeamish tend to leave the field quickly.

Planting Prints

Forging a fingerprint is extremely difficult. Generally, casting mediums like plaster aren’t as pliable as skin and flesh, and reveal tell-tale signs of being a fake.

Easier than forging a print are:

  • Taking a fingerprint out of context--for example, taking a bottle with a fingerprint on it and moving it into the scene of a crime.
  • Fabricating a print--that is, lifting a print, then claiming that you found it somewhere else. When this happens, this is generally due to police involvement, the cops who “never fail” and manage to get around having another person reviewing their evidence. Criminals tend not to think that far ahead.
Fingerprinting Is Fun

Fingerprinting was a hoot. I had a great time with the magnetic powder (brush! it’s on! magnetic swipe! it’s off!) and with the fluorescent powder; after Mr. Adair said that the UV LED flashlight would pick up on any kind of bodily fluids (and that he would never take one into a motel room again, ewww), I tested it by spitting on a finger and watching my spit glow pearly white as it dried.

Another lesson that hit home--and that I think writers will appreciate--was that it’s almost impossible to get fingerprints from textured areas (like the handle of a milk jug). Mr. Adair pointed out that the books and movies where someone’s always finding fingerprints on a gun is silly; the places you’re most likely to touch a gun are the places with the most texture (the grips, the trigger).

In the end, my main impression was that fingerprinting wasn’t as easy as it looked. It was pretty easy to see that someone had touched an item, but it was more difficult to pick out the general shapes of fingerprints, let alone to see them clearly enough to identify. After all, people don’t tend to make sure they have adequate amounts of oils and sweat on their hands, then carefully place their fingers on the smoothest part of an object, holding it carefully so that nothing smears--and all at the right temperature, humidity, and time before being investigated! I’d say that getting a decent set of prints was maybe a one-in-ten chance, at best.

About the Writer:  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.