Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why I Write - A Piece by Stephen Graham Jones

By Stephen Graham Jones

I write because I can’t draw. I write because I can’t cut to the basket slick enough to go pro. I write because I eat too many Sixlets and drink too much tea and my fingers get all jittery, and I have to put them somewhere.

I write because, for a few pages at a time, I can make the world make sense. I write so I don’t end up trolling distant neighborhoods for pets. Not to pet. And not only pets. I write because a lot of what I read disappoints me. I write because a lot of what I read intimidates me. I write because I’m jealous. I write because I’ll drive my wife out of the house if I have to follow her around, tell her all the stories in my head. I write because I think sometimes that I know the truth. Not to say it, but how it feels. And I can sometimes glance off that if I’m not paying too much attention. I write because there’s nothing more honest that I can think of. I write because it’s not work. I write because I want more toys. I write because I don’t know what to say to people I know and love in prison. But I can send them books. I write because I love rollercoasters. I don’t write because I want to live forever. I write because I want to live now. I write because a teacher once read one of my pages, looked at me like maybe. I write because all the rest of the teachers didn’t even look at my pages before deciding about me. I write for revenge. I write because books are legal, and other things aren’t. I write because I can’t sing like Bonnie Tyler. I write because writing matters. I write because if I don’t, I get trapped counting and cutting and cutting and counting. I write because when I’m not writing, I go out and do things that land me in the emergency room. Because I want the world to feel like it should. Like it does on the page. I write because I can’t learn to play harmonica. I write because books have saved my life. I write because I’m petty. I write because lying is the best thing ever. I write because I hate to be lied to. I write because I want to run across the caliche, but that’s too secret to tell. Too terrible. Too almost wonderful. I write because I sometimes feel like I have too many secrets, too many almosts. I write because I don’t know what to do at dinner parties other than go inside my head, where it’s safe. I write because I’ve always been standing in the corner, even when I’m not. I write to scare people. I write to make people laugh. I write to let people cry. I write to hide. I write to see what I’m thinking. I write because the stories are coming out one way or another. I write because once upon a time I read the exact perfect book, and it changed me forever. I write because fiction is magic. You can reach across centuries to another person with it. Across galaxies. I write because my kids might not ever really know me the right way if I don’t. I write because I’m always afraid I’m about to die, because I always wake expecting to die and trying to do jittery little finger combinations to ward it off. I write because special effects are easy, in prose. Provided you’ve got those effects in your head. I write because I might luck on to something nobody else has ever even tried before. I write because I want so badly to just go the party, please. As a person. I write because if I don’t, then I can’t think of what else to try to do. People always ask me this, why I write. And it never makes the right kind of sense, that question. So I just stand there kind of squinting, looking around for when I can leave. Then they ask what inspires me. This makes a bit more sense, but not really. I’m never inspired. I’m always inspired. Inspire is the wrong word. I’m compelled. There are stories out there. There are stories in here. And I’m going as fast as I can, trying to trap them on a page in a way that they can still be alive. That we can still see them flying. That we can still hook on, go away with them. People sometimes write me and call me and tell me that this story I made up, I didn’t make it up at all. It’s their story. But it was mine too, for a little bit. I write because one life isn’t long enough. I write because I lost all my action figures long ago. The game went on, though. The game never stopped.

(Originally published in Stymie Magazine, April 30, 2012.)

About the Author: Stephen Graham Jones is a Blackfeet Native American award-winning author of experimental fiction and science fiction. His work includes Demon TheoryLedfeatherIt Came from Del Rio, and the collection of stories The Ones That Almost Got Away.  His most recent release, Growing Up Dead in Texas, is based on his own life and has been met with much acclaim. He shares a fan base known as "The Velvet" with fellow authors Will Christopher Baer and Craig Clevenger, and you can find him on the Web at In his day-job he's a professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. When he's not teaching, spending time with his family, reading or writing, you might catch him shopping for knives, watching movies, or eating the retro candy Sixlets.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Musings on Notebooks, Ideas and Pastel Nuns

By Deb Courtney

I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go. I will stop what I am doing to write in it, and anyone who has known me longer than 5 minutes is not surprised to find themselves quoted in it. Because, you know, I am The Conversational Shoplifter, and therefore I shoplift amusing things other people say.

My friends have lately begun calling my notebook The Book. Because The Book is ubiquitous. Where I go, so goes The Book. When I do not have it, frequently someone will ask me: "Where is The Book?"

The Book is not not just for capturing shoplifts, however. Recently, I visited a Buddhist temple and wrote The Book:

They left the temple slowly, the white haired ladies in their pastel skirts and flowing scarfs and pale straw hats, four of them, the youngest with a few streaks of dark left in her long ponytail. The wind buffeted them and for a moment they seemed as nuns -- a Catholicness to the colors, sisters in pink and baby blue and palest yellow and beige and ecru, all flapping and flowing in the wind. So gentle of spirit they barely seemed there, ghosts of a more genteel time, yet I could hear the crunch of their modern practical shoes on the pebbles, making their last walk around the temple after visiting, and so they were really present, gently, gently winding up their karma, storing it for who knows what, and then off to the gift shop they went.

And when, more recently, someone poked a bit of fun at me for clutching The Book like a small child might a security blanket, my first instinct was to explain it in terms of shoplifts, how I remember the amusing bits of wordage people drop, which I wish to shape up for inclusion in my blog. But instead, I flipped to this passage, as quoted above, and then to another, much different, written in a fit of aggravation, and then to another, written while musing through the conclusion to a scene which would not conclude of its own accord. 

And then I realized something.

Writers need to carry notebooks.

To write in.

And yes, laptop computers or iPads or cell phone note files can fulfill this very necessary receiving function for writers. But for me, there is something about the beat up wreck of paper and cover, dented by the clip of a pen, marred by some ink that bled onto the the spine, curled where a bit of coffee hit the paper and not my mouth. Something important and visceral. And flipping back through it and seeing the handwriting and noting the emotional state BY the handwriting, and recalling where I was when I wrote whatever it is I am re-reading, I know that in The Book I capture the essence of things, not simply type words into a file.

In The Book, there is the flavor of life. Imbued in all its messy inconsistencies and moods.

And this is what we do as writers: capture things, ideas, scenes, in all their visceral messiness.

I am connected to the words that flow from my brain, down my arm, through my hand, into the ink and onto the paper, in a way that I am not when I type.

You cannot backspace with paper and pen; what you capture this way is as blunt and unique and as first draft as any first draft will ever be.

I want access to my first draft unadulterated non-backspaced thoughts when I go back for them. And not just the amusing Shoplifts.

So I can remember the pastel nuns of my life.

About the Writer: Writer. Diva. Wearer of incredibly high heels. Project Manager. Mom. Ex-wife. Driver of a convertible. Extravert. Eavesdropper. Herder of teenagers. Namer of things. Shopper. Chef. Dancer. Traveler. Student of the world. Observer of the patently obvious. Martini-swilling heathen. You can find more from Deb on her blog at The Conversational Shoplifter.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Read, read, read. Read everything -- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it.
Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window. – William Faulkner

Friday, October 26, 2012

Sweet Success! Beth Groundwater

Beth Groundwater's new adult mystery novel, To Hell in a Handbasket (ISBN 978-073872702, trade paper and ebook, 300 pages), will be released on November 8, 2012, by Midnight Ink. The book will be available online and from many brick-and-mortar bookstores. The author's website is at

An icy demise snowballs in book 2 of this Agatha Award-nominated series. Gift basket designer Claire Hanover is reluctantly enjoying a spring ski vacation with her family in Breckenridge, Colorado, when a bloodcurdling scream cuts the frigid air. Claire is appalled to find the sister of her daughter’s boyfriend dead on the slopes. Others assume the girl’s death was an accident, but Claire notices another pair of ski tracks veering dangerously into the victim’s path. To protect her daughter as incriminating clues surface, Claire unravels a chilling conspiracy.

Bestselling author Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover Gift Basket Designer series (A Real Basket Case, a Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and To Hell in a Handbasket) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner (Deadly Currents and Wicked Eddies). The third books in both series will appear in 2013. Beth enjoys Colorado's many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs. Visit her website:

We love to hear of fellow Pikes Peak Writers' Sweet Successes. Please email DeAnna Knippling at dknippling [at] gmail [dot] com if you've got a Sweet Success you'd like to share.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Denver SCBWI Conference Offers Tips for All Writers

By Stacy S. Jensen

What came first: children reading at a higher-grade level or books aimed at that market?

I never figured out the answer to this question, but know from my attendance at the Society of Children’s Book Writer’s & Illustrators regional Letters & Lines Fall conference in September the market is changing.

Editors, authors and agents all repeated the comment that parents are pushing their children to read at an earlier age. As a result, picture books are geared toward a younger market as older children are reading chapter books, middle grades and young adult novels sooner.

The Rocky Mountain Area region conference brought men and women, writers and illustrators, from Colorado and Wyoming to Denver to learn more about the craft and today’s publishing market.

Women outnumbered the men at the Rocky Mountain Area Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators regional conference, so the bathrooms near the workshop rooms were changed to accommodate the attendees.

This is the first conference I’ve attended that had a specific policy outlining blogging and recording policies. My thoughts comply with this line in the policy: “While we think it’s great when bloggers share thoughts about their overall experience, offer a personal anecdote, and/or briefly talk about something that resonated with them, it is equally important that bloggers not give away that which is not theirs to give.”

In a spirit of not pirating anyone’s material (and utilizing those starred notes from the workshops I attended), I’m sharing a few observations that apply to many writers — not just children’s writers.

  • Author Todd Mitchell gave the banquet keynote with a fun Power Point. Two key thoughts: “No one else can tell your story” and “If you can be talked out of writing, then why are you doing it?”
  • Author Denise Vega: “You always need to be working on a new project.” She also emphasized in her Publishing 101 session: “It’s a business.”
  • In response to a picture book writer saying editors don’t like her story, Holiday House Editor Sylvie Frank said, “It’s not that we don’t like them. We can’t sell them.”
  • Author Chris Crutcher said real life stories can be turned into fiction. He used an iPad as he read from his books. His print books were sold in the conference bookstore.
  • Illustrator turned author Leslie Ann Clark shared her baby — her manuscript wrapped in a blanket. The power of a strong character was evident in her publication story. She created her Peepsqueak character first and then landed a contract to write her story.
  • Illustrator and self-published author Will Terry shared how he created his first picture book application and published some children’s ebooks. On the topic of self-publication, he said there’s no substitute to being early to market due to different ebook publisher ranking methods. During the discussion on children’s storybook apps, he said books face the problem of going out of print while ebook or storybook apps can face the dilemma of being nonfunctional as readers and tablet technology changes.
  • Illustrator and Designer Megan Halsey spoke about her personal creative umbrella — how she expanded into different markets and how her personal artwork feeds into her design and illustration work. She encouraged attendees to listen to her inner voice and ask, “Where’s my joy?” to help navigate the publishing and creative world.
  • For those working on book covers or any art, Will Terry shared in another session the importance of using a thumbnail size of your drawing/photo to work out the shape, design and values of lights and darks.
  • Author Jean Reidy shared her picture book revision process. A noteworthy reminder: “The publisher is your first customer.”

The regional SCBWI conference offered a variety of craft and motivational workshops for those interested in writing or illustrating for children. My favorite part of any conference is hanging out with other writers. I met several online writing friends from the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge, several PPW friends and met a few new folks from Colorado Springs.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard at a writer’s conference?  

About the Author: Stacy S. Jensen worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for two decades. Today, she writes picture books and revises a memoir manuscript. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and toddler.  You can find her at her blog: and on Twitter: @StacySJensen.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Full Experience of Being a Writer - Bad Buffet Pizza and All

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

As a writer, I want the full buffet.  I want the good, the bad, the arduous, the brilliant, the tedious and the make-your-own-ice-cream bar.  If there’s pizza, I want a slice.  However bad that buffet pizza always is.

So that means at some point in my career, I am going to get screwed over royally.  We’re talking, they promised you fried chicken, and you got oven roasted.  Or that nasty, pasty macaroni and cheese that promises to be delectable and turns out to be dreck.

You’ll hear all sorts of horror stories in the writing business.  And I can’t really connect them to a food analogy because they are truly awful.  Truly horrible.  But we all get a chance at experiencing them and, like I said, I want it all.

That’s why I don’t do buffets.  I always eat too much.  That’s why I struggle through life—I want more from life than what life has to offer.  What I do get, I greedily slurp up the experiences and long for more.

Yes, I get to live an interesting life.  But it’s not a recipe for inner peace.  Not at all.

One of my closest friends just read my book and hated it.  He didn’t hem and haw, but when I asked him about it, he let loose with a torrent of “you suck”.  This wasn’t just some guy, but one of my best friends, who I invited into my creative process, who I trust, who liked my first novels (however bad), but couldn’t stomach the one I finally got published.

Now, this is part of the buffet of being a writer.  You will get bad reviews and, for some, you will have people you love not quite get your books.  It’s a rough one, but my job as a writer is to write books no matter what. 

My friend Linda Rohrbough, who writes for this wonderful blog (Hi Linda), says that being a writer is like being an orange tree: an orange tree’s job is to grow oranges and let them drop to the ground.  Some are sweet.  Some are sour.  Some grow new orange trees.  Others just rot in the weeds.  But the tree continues to grow and drop oranges.  Plop.  Plop.  Plop.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at a table with a writer who wrote a book, landed a big-time agent, and had big-time publishing houses fighting over her book.  And guess what?  It all went away.  So she wrote another book.  Same thing happened.  The agent loves her.  The agents loves the books.  But the agent is having trouble selling her books.

So my writer friend was trying to work on her third book, but she was discouraged.  I told her that our job was to write books and let them drop into the world then get to work on the next project.  She cried, I cried, we all cried.

Yes, we need to consider our audience, and if no one can read our books (not even our mothers), well, we might want to look at that.

But if people are loving your books and you get a bad review, or a close friend gets all discouraging, well, chalk it up to a bad piece of roast beef at the buffet.

We all get ‘em.  But how lucky I am for getting to feel what it’s like to be a writer.  

About the Writer:  YA Paranormal author Aaron Michael Ritchey has penned a dozen manuscripts in his 20 years as a writer.  When he isn’t slapping around his muse, Aaron cycles to look fabulous, works in medical technologies, and keeps his family in silks and furs.  His first novel, The Never Prayer, hit the streets on March 29, 2012.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. – Robert Frost

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sweet Success! Carol Caverly

Carol Caverly's adult mystery novel, Frog Skin and Mutton Fat, Book #2 in the Thea Barlow Wyoming Mystery Series (ASIN: B008WDB5MO, ebook, 214 pages), was released in August 2012 by Amazon Digital Services, Inc. The book is available at The author's website is at The first book, All the Old Lions, is also available on Amazon, and the third book, Dead in Hog Heaven, will be available soon.

Intrepid editor Thea Barlow returns to Wyoming to vacation with her old flame and interview Kid Corcoran, last of the old-time bandits. Corcoran, recently released from prison, has returned to his boyhood home, supposedly to end his days in peace. Thea takes a cautious liking to the Kid and tries to defend him from the hostility of the towns people who are convinced he's planning to retrieve a stash of jade stolen from the area's mines and local residents. Then a body turns up in Thea's room, whirling her into a maelstrom of greed, murder and revenge.

Carol Caverly, raised in a Chicago suburb, married into a pioneer ranch family in Wyoming and spent close to thirty years there raising a family. She found the state a wild and wondrous place and grew to love the people, places, history and wild landscapes that surrounded her. She hopes that love shines through her books. She calls them light mysteries (some might term them cozies). They're fast-paced with a touch of romance, a touch of humor and something you might not know about Wyoming.

We love to hear of fellow Pikes Peak Writers' Sweet Successes. Please email DeAnna Knippling at dknippling [at] gmail [dot] com if you've got a Sweet Success you'd like to share.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Choose Your Torture

By Mandy Brown Houk

There’s a trap that many writers fall into when creating their characters. Or maybe it’s just me, in which case you don’t need to read this article.

The trap I find myself in, especially at the beginning of the novel-creating process, is the tenderness I feel toward my characters. I love them. I find them funny, precious, noble, dear. They’re flawed, sure. But only in lovable ways. In ways that make them that much more endearing. I want to stand back and smile at them,  enjoy them, laugh at the funny little things they do.

Only then, suddenly, I find that they’re not doing very much anymore. They’re merely sitting there, looking darling. Smiling sweetly. Maybe even napping.

Why is this so? Simple (and you probably already figured it out): I’ve loved them so much, I’ve protected them from all harm, all danger, all the truly serious complexities of life. Sounds like one heck of a story, doesn’t it?

A wise blue fish once said, “If nothing ever happens to him, nothing will ever happen to him.” Not only would that make for a snooze-inducing story, which is a terribly unkind thing to do to a reader; it also leaves the character in exactly the same place that he started.

In the interest of making my point clear, I will hereby embarrass myself by sharing two of my most spectacular failures in this area.

I was a top-ten finalist in a short story contest in 2004, and I was thrilled. Bret Lott, a favorite author of mine, was one of the top tier judges. When I didn’t win, a writer friend of mine convinced me to contact Mr. Lott and ask for feedback. Worth a shot, right? Mr. Lott very kindly replied, prefacing his comments with, “I hope this isn’t harsh.”


He went on to say that, while my writing was good “at the sentence level,” what I’d created was “a bathtub story.” He was borrowing a phrase from Jerome Stern, meaning that all my character did in the story was—well—nothing. She wasn’t doing. She was thinking. Ruminating. Feeling. Reflecting, regretting, hoping, planning. That’s all. And it wasn’t enough. The only thing the reader gets out of a story like that is a yawn. The only thing the character gets is pruny fingers.

A couple of years later, I figured I’d learned something from Mr. Lott. I’d taken that pruny-fingered character and shoved her out the bathroom door. I had her face a long-lost sister, returning home after thirty years. And I made that into a book. Yes, an entire book. No, nothing else really happened. Just the sister. A few arguments. Tears. I believe they left the kitchen a couple of times. Oh, wait—they went out to the garage once, too. (I’m not kidding. I wish I were.)

One of the (many) agents that rejected the book sent me her first-reader’s notes when I requested feedback. The concluding sentence from those notes made the point succintly: “There’s no reason for this story to exist.”

Now, I had been pretty pleased with my writing, “at the sentence level,” anyway. I was pleased with the characters; they were alive in my head, and I knew them, and they were distinct from one another and had all sorts of opinions and emotions and quirks and flaws. In various contests, my writing was generally received well. My characters, I was told, were likable and engaging. It was my stories that sucked (hard to get published with stories that suck). I was so in love with my characters, I refused to torture them; I chose, by default, to torture my readers instead.

Remember that story arc from your English teacher’s chalkboard? If your character never faces anything difficult or risky or terrifying, he’s never going to climb off the first flat chalk line, let alone make it over the peak and down the other side.

Throw something huge and awful at your character and see what he does. How does he react to the pain? What choice does he make to avoid it, or to protect those around him from feeling it, too? What action does he take to get revenge, or make amends, or find a way to forgive? Does the tragedy you’ve created break him? Or only almost? Does it lead him toward something even worse, that adds a whole other layer to your story?

I conquered my over-protective, reader-torturing ways at a Donald Maass workshop a few years ago. He told us to write the scene we were avoiding, to do the thing we dreaded. I did. And it was gut-wrenching and awful, and when I walked past my friend at the door, she said, “Are you okay?” I burst into tears that didn’t stop until I’d had time alone to remind myself that my character was a figment of my imagination, and imaginary figments don’t bleed or drown or cry. Not really.

And you know what? That very scene is the first one my agent brought up when we met for coffee last month. She put her hand over her heart and said, “Oh—I was so worried! That nearly killed me!”

Gleeful torturer that I am, I grinned.

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

October Write Brain Announced

“Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo by Turning Off Your Inner Critic”

October Write Brain
WHEN: Tuesday, October 16, 6:30-8:30pm
WHERE: Penrose Library, Carnegie Reading Room, 20 North Cascade Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO 80903

Note: Parking is metered until 6pm. $0.25/30 minutes; arrive after 6 and you don’t need to pay for parking.

November is National Novel Writing Month, during which time participants pledge to write a 50,000 word novel (approximately 175 pages) in 30 days. Skeptical? It can be done! And one of the keys to accomplishing this feat is giving yourself permission to write imperfectly.

Join us Tuesday, October 16th, as Angel Smits teaches how silencing your inner critic not only increases your productivity, but it can improve the quality of your writing.

A multi-published author with two Harlequin Super Romances to her name, Angel's current release, Seeking Shelter hit the shelves in September 2012. When Harlequin called this time, it was to offer her a six-book series, also for Super Romance, which she happily agreed to write. Previously, she published two paranormal romances with Imajinn Books as well as a number of non-fiction articles.

Angel lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and her daughter. In her spare time...wait, she also works a full time job, so she doesn't have spare time...she attends a regular improv writing group. That's where her muse takes the driver’s seat and leaves the critic inside herself in the dust.

For more information about Angel, visit her website:
Library website:
NaNoWriMo website:

Also, don't forget the Open Critique on Wednesday, October 17, from 6:30 to 8:30.  Held at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts in downtown Colorado Springs.  The first 8 to RSVP to pikespeakopencritique [at] hotmail [dot] com can have up to 8 pages of their manuscript critiqued.  

Last, but certainly not least, PPW Night at Poor Richard's will be Monday, October 22, from 6:30 to 8:30, in the bookstore.  Come enjoy wine, chocolate and coffee, and chat about writing.  Open to topics of discussion and questions.

Any questions on these three events?  Please feel free to leave your questions in the comments section or email the editor via the link on the right sidebar.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. – John Steinbeck

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sweet Success! Deb Buckingham

Deb Buckingham's nonfiction craft book on knitting for all ages, Dishcloth Diva (ISBN 978-1-937513-14-6, softcover/digital, 62 color pages), was released in September 2012 by Cooperative Press. The book is available from Cooperative Press and will be available soon from, Barnes & Noble, and Table Rock Llamas. The author's website is at

Let’s face it—dishcloths are a pretty utilitarian knit. But they become a delightfully simple pleasure when they have a modern design twist. In Dishcloth Diva, Deb Buckingham brings new spin to an old idea. Each pattern offers a unique take on dishcloth design using knots, lines, ribs, and textures. With 20 patterns, including a wide variety of stitches, each design is easy and fun to knit, and fits effortlessly into your bag, ready for a road trip…or the morning subway commute. Beautiful photography shows each design up close and personal, while emphasizing stitch detail. Clear and precise step-by-step instructions guide you through each pattern, achieving stunning results at any skill level. These 20 modern, enjoyable knits are perfect both for beginners and for experienced knitters looking for a relaxing project. Dishcloth Diva features a foreword from Kay Gardiner of Mason-Dixon Knitting, an avowed fan of the humble washcloth.

After a long day as a certified nurse’s aide, Deb Buckingham found that she enjoyed nothing more than to sit down to knit a simple, satisfying dishcloth. Sound familiar? She is a full-time knitting pattern designer, and has been published in the 2013 Knitting Calendar released by Simon and Schuster. Deb loves to amuse readers by engaging them in top ten lists and designer interviews on her blog,

We love to hear of fellow Pikes Peak Writers' Sweet Successes. Please email DeAnna Knippling at dknippling [at] gmail [dot] com if you've got a Sweet Success you'd like to share.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Three Style Tips for Well-Dressed Fiction

By: DeAnna Knippling

The first rule of fiction is: don’t waste the reader’s time. My favorite three ways to dress up my fiction save the reader time by cutting words and increasing clarity—all without requiring me to change out of my bathrobe.

1. Dress for success by wearing your subject on your sleeve.
There is an unnecessary amount of piffle gallivanting about on the Internet.

Who’s doing what here? What’s the subject of the sentence?

Beginning writers often hide the subject of a sentence. With a hidden subject, you can avoid responsibility and deliver opinion as fact, a survival trait when you write reports and business emails. However, in fiction, you want your characters to take a stand in their opinions and actions.

What’s the real story in the sentence?

I think the amount of piffle gallivanting about on the Internet is unnecessary.

What? I love cats who can’t spell!

2. Verbs are shoes, not accessories.

Procrastination is about as low as it’s possible to go.

Make the most active verb in your sentence do the walking. What’s the actual verb in this sentence? Is. But what’s the most active verb?

Ah, well, it’s procrastinate. This sentence used procrastination as an accessory, not as a method of moving the story along. And this sentence conceals the subject; poor subject and verb choices often go hand in hand.

You’ve procrastinated yourself into my contempt.

We can rewrite the first example sentence to fix the verb, too:

You gallivant your piffle about the Internet unnecessarily.

Also, if you need to modify your verb with an adverb—you may be clipping sparkly toe-gems on a pair of stinky, overused running sneakers.

She nodded furiously.

When I see adverbs like this, I ask, “How many times has the writer used nod in the last chapter? Probably more than ten.” A more visual description might better prevent wasting the reader’s time, even though it takes more words.

She stabbed her waffle with her fork so hard that the plate cracked underneath and the tines were driven into the tabletop. “Fine.”

Have fun with your verbs.

3. When you accessorize, accessorize with class.

With excessively hyperbolic enthusiasm, the rabidly cheering fans supported their team from their hometown where they lived with their families and friends, jumping and shouting, until after their voices were hoarse from all the shouting, loud and deafeningly fierce.

The old sawhorse goes, “Avoid adverbs.”

However, adverbs don’t inevitably fatten a sentence; the problem is when you tack on any unnecessary modifier.

Let’s get rid of some of the modifiers from the example above:

·         Anything hyperbolic is already excessive.

·         We can tell from the rest of the sentence that the fans are enthusiastic—let’s cut that whole phrase.

·         We already know their team is from their hometown, where they lived with their families and friends.

·         We know their voices are hoarse, because only voices can be hoarse.

·         We know that they were hoarse from all the shouting, because there’s nothing else they could be hoarse from (other than really hot chili peppers, maybe).

·         Loud is the same as deafeningly fierce. But loud bores me, so I’ll take it out, even though it’s shorter.

·         Interestingly, deafeningly fierce isn’t the same as shouting, so we’ll leave it for now.
Removing all that, we’re left with:

The rabidly cheering fans supported their team, jumping and shouting, until after they were hoarse, deafeningly fierce.

Often, when you’re untangling a sentence, you discover some bits don’t make sense. —They never did make sense, but the sentence was too tangled for you to tell.

Is the subject correct? Fans looks good to me.

Is the verb correct? Supported is not the most active verb; jump and shout are. Let’s rewrite to:

The rabidly cheering fans jumped and shouted for their team, until after they were hoarse, deafeningly fierce.

Cheering means the same as shouted for their team. We could use either as the verb, but let’s stick with shouted for their team, because I like it.

The rabid fans jumped and shouted for their team until after they were hoarse, deafeningly fierce.

Now that we have the sentence stripped down to its remotely necessary parts, we can see it well enough to edit:

Deafeningly fierce, the rabid fans jumped and shouted for their team well past the point of hoarseness.

We could remove rabid; the fans’ behavior demonstrates it already. However, I’d like to keep a sense of hyperbole without actually writing excessively, so I’ll leave it. Also, we could cut one of the verbs, but it’s another unobtrusive hint at excess, so leave it.

Your “style” isn’t in how poetic or descriptive you are, but in how you solve problems. Solving problems inefficiently—or solving them by concealing the fact that you didn’t solve them at all—will never endear you with readers. Write for clarity, efficiency, and elegance, and your personal “style” will take care of itself. Check out your favorite books; not a word is unnecessary or unclear—even when they appear to be (but that’s a topic for another blog). For starters, sticking with these three style tips will make your writing more professional and, more importantly, more enjoyable to read.

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.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Story Tips #1 - A Monthly Series

By Jax Hunter

Welcome to my “new” column for the PPW Blog, Story Tips from the Big Screen. In this monthly column (to be posted the second Monday of each month), I will be exploring screen writing techniques that will help fiction writers tell a better story. Sometimes we get tunnel vision, focusing on craft to the exclusion of learning what makes a good story.

Likely, there will be very little here that will be earth shattering or completely new. But sometimes, all we need is to look at a topic from a different perspective. So that’s what I hope to do, look at some of the things that make a good story.

Cheers, Jax 

***   ***   ***   ***

Loglines and Story Concepts: Familiar terms? They are both movie industry terms that, occasionally, make their way into fiction writing books. So, what are they?

My definition: super short synopses.

The words are very often used interchangeably, making it difficult to pin down if there is a difference between them. Perhaps the real distinction lies in their purposes rather than in their “looks.”

Loglines are used primarily to sell ideas, to get your screenplay - or novel - read. They are the quick, roll off your tongue answer to “What’s your story about.” They’re the one-liner used in a query letter or face-to-face meeting to hook the agent or editor into asking to see more. And if the synopsis is hard to write, then the twenty-five word logline is even trickier.

The story concept is very similar in look and feel but is used at the beginning of the process. It’s the statement that keeps you focused as you write. For the purposes of this article, we’ll simply use the term story concept and consider how we use them and how we write them. Quick digression here. To date, I have been a seat-of-the-pants writer. When I’ve begun a novel, I’ve had a fairly clear idea of the characters, a what-if premise and a happily-ever-after ending. With those, I’ve merrily begun a project and typed along just fine for between fifty and a hundred pages. At that point I completely lose my mind. I have no idea where I’ve come from or where I’m going. I have no purpose, no real theme, no nothin’. Then it takes sheer  determination to continue, and that only after taking a week off to have a breakdown.

One of my goals this year is to become an outliner. Don’t know if it can be done, but I’m learning a lot and giving it a try even as I write this. I’m using some of what I’ve learned from the screenwriting world to outline my next project right now. I’ll tell you how that goes.

My point, though, is this: I’m going to use the story concept (which I’ll have for you by the end of this article) to sharpen everything that comes after.

So how does one go about writing one of these catchy short-shorts? If you start looking, you’ll find many approaches, all fairly similar. I’ll share a couple with you, along with a few examples.

The first and simplest:

1. Character: who is the story about?
2. Goal: what does he want?
3. Conflict: What stands in his way?

The passengers on a speeding bus will die if the bus falls below 50 mph. (Speed)

A tornado blows Dorothy to Oz where she fights a witch and seeks a wizard to find her way home. (Do I need to tell you?)

In order to win the starting goalie position, A.J. Charbonneau must overcome both his rival and his heart. (From Black Ice - my first novel)

This method is a great jumping off place. But, somehow, we seem to miss the emotion the why-should-we-care part of the story.

Another method uses the dramatic question in your story.

Will a young man find justice against the uncle who killed his father and married his mother? (Hamlet)

Can two teenagers bring their warring families together and find a happy ending? (Romeo and Juliet)

Will a novice sports reporter, who knows nothing about hockey, be successful in her new job and find her heart’s desire? (Thin Ice - my second novel.)

This method is good too. It might get us a little closer to the emotion of the story. But, wow, is it limiting.
Another process gives us very little of the story, but the resulting loglines are very easy to remember. Ray Frensham in Teach Yourself Screenwriting suggests two methods:

1. The rule of threes
2. Contrasts

Here are some of his examples:

She brought a small town to its feet, and a large corporation to its knees. (Erin Brockovich)

3 Casinos, 11 Guys, 150 million bucks. Ready to win big? (Ocean’s 11)

He was the perfect weapon - until he became a target. (The Bourne Identity)

Five criminals. One line-up. No coincidence. (Usual Suspects)

AND MINE: An Airman without a mission; a woman without a memory (A Soft Place to Fall- my third novel)

Very short and to the point. But again, little is actually said about the story, about the characters. And what are stories without characters, without emotion? These are likely best used in the sales pitch.

Here’s another recipe:

Situation, Complications, Action, Crisis, Transformation.

This recipe gives you much longer story concepts but allows the emotion of the story to come out as well.

My example using this recipe: Literary attorney, Lacey McKenna, has just left the corporate world to start her own business. When handsome author Kyle Chamberlain hires her to accompany him to California to meet with a movie producer, she makes the jump out of her comfort zone to make the money. Little does she know that Kyle is only out to take revenge for the past. The trip is magical and Lacey lives and loves like  she’s never done before. When she learns the truth, she’s left with both a broken heart and a business teetering on the edge of disaster. (Magic, unpublished)

The best method I’ve found so far was “invented” by Colorado author Jameson Cole, who very graciously allowed me to use it here. With this method, we concentrate on the character and the conflict.

A story concept has three elements of character descriptions:

PHYSICAL - aging, boozy
SOCIOLOGICAL - Secret Service agent, Boston lawyer
PSYCHOLOGICAL - the Secret Service agent feels guilty, the Boston lawyer wants to vindicate himself.
PAST - the relevant backstory.
PRESENT - a current dilemma usually requiring a goal-oriented decision.
FUTURE - what happens if failure occurs.

In The Line Of Fire:
PHYSICAL - An aging
SOCIOLOGICAL - Secret Service agent,
PSYCHOLOGICAL - who feels guilty
PAST - for failing to save President Kennedy from being murdered
PRESENT - duels a deadly assassin. The outcome of their battle
FUTURE - will decide whether the current president lives or dies and whether the agent's troubled past will give way to peace.

The Verdict:
PHYSICAL - A boozy
SOCIOLOGICAL - Boston lawyer
PRESENT - receives an easy malpractice case,
PSYCHOLOGICAL - but because it is his last chance to vindicate himself
PAST - against the establishment that betrayed him,
FUTURE - decides to battle their premier attorney.

A Killing In Quail County by Jameson Cole:
PHYSICAL - A fifteen-year old boy
SOCIOLOGICAL - in small town Oklahoma in the 50's
PSYCHOLOGICAL - growing up lonely
PAST - because of his parent's accidental death and his older brother's alienation
PRESENT - learns that a vengeful old bootlegger is trying to kill his older brother
FUTURE - and decides to find the old man's still so he'll be sent to prison.

Here are the resulting story concepts:

In The Line Of Fire - An aging Secret Service agent, who feels guilty for failing to save President Kennedy from being murdered, duels a deadly assassin. The outcome of their battle will decide whether the current president lives or dies and whether the agent's troubled PAST will give way to peace.

The Verdict - A boozy Boston lawyer receives an easy malpractice case, but because it is his last chance to vindicate himself against the establishment that betrayed him, decides to battle their premier attorney.

And mine: A hotshot hockey player who violently distrusts the press after he and his friends were preyed upon painfully, is tasked with babysitting the visiting female sportswriter. When betrayal overcomes them both, they must learn how and when to say I’m sorry. (Thin Ice - my second novel)

Still two sentences - 41 words. It could use some whittling down.

As a romance writer, I’m wondering if I should have one of these each for my hero and heroine. Okay, so here goes. My hero’s story concept for the next novel using Jameson’s method.

A successful computer geek, tormented by the Holy Grail girl who turned him down in school, puts together an elaborate deception in order to get her back, but ends up dealing with emotions he hadn’t counted on. (Magic)

The upshot here, friends, is that short shorts aren’t easy to write (at least for me), but there are guidelines. I hope you find one of them that jumps off the page and helps you along. In the meantime, start reading the TV guide blurbs and here is a website that has some interesting (some good, some not so good) story concept statements.

Another suggestion. Go to and take a look at loglines and story summaries - some written by the pros and some written by the consumers.

Until next month. BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard)

(This series first ran in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers newsletter in 2004.)

About the Author: Jax Hunter is a published romance writer and freelance copywriter. She wears many hats including EMT, CPR instructor, and Grammy. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series set in ranching country Colorado and a historical romance set in 1775 Massachusetts. She lives in Colorado Springs, belongs to PPW, RMFW and is a member of the Professional Writer's Alliance.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


By writing much, one learns to write well. Robert Southey

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sweet Success! Jen Turano

Jen Turano's adult Inspirational Historical Romance novel, A Change of Fortune (ISBN 978-0-7642-1018-1, softcover, 320 pages), will be released by Bethany House on November 1, 2012. The book will be available at Barnes & Noble, Tattered Cover, Amazon, the Walmart website and most other book sellers. The author's website is at or find her on Facebook here.

Lady Eliza Sumner is on a mission. Her fortune was the last thing she had left after losing her father, her fiance, and her faith. Now, masquerading as Miss Eliza Sumner, governess-at-large, she's determined to find the man who ran off with her fortune, reclaim the money, and head straight back to London. She simply never counted on making the acquaintance of Mr. Hamilton Beckett, the catch of the season, and that meeting causes her best-laid-plans to fall by the wayside.

Jen Turano writes historical romances filled with quirky characters paired with a large dollop of humor. She believes heroines should be sassy, heroes should be slightly flawed, and every ending should be happily-ever-after. When she's not writing, she spends her time with her husband, Al, her teenage son, Dominic, and her fabulous group of friends.

The companion novella, Gentleman of Her Dreams (A Ladies of Distinction Novella), published by Bethany House on September 1, 2012, is also free on Amazon in Kindle format here.

When Miss Charlotte Wilson asks God for a husband, she decides He must want her to pursue Mr. Hamilton Beckett, the catch of the season. The only problem? She's never actually met Hamilton. Fortunately, one of her oldest and dearest friends, Mr. Henry St. James--who has returned to New York after a two-year absence--does know Hamilton. Much to Henry's chagrin, Charlotte immediately ropes him into helping her meet Hamilton. However, none of her plans to catch Hamilton's eye go as she expected, and she is even more confused when her old feelings for Henry begin to resurrect themselves. In the midst of the mayhem Charlotte always seems to cause, she wonders if the gentleman of her dreams might be an entirely different man than she thought.This novella is a companion to A Change of Fortune, Jen Turano's full-length debut novel, available fall 2012!

We love to hear of fellow Pikes Peak Writers' Sweet Successes. Please email DeAnna Knippling at dknippling [at] gmail [dot] com if you've got a Sweet Success you'd like to share.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

October is the Best Month...

By Deb McLeod

For so many reasons. First and foremost for me, it’s Birthday Month. An excuse to celebrate by going out to dinner, eating cake, checking out a movie. My husband is a good present buyer. Every October I get that postcard from The Fresh Fish Company. Some years we go to the brunch and I get my age in percent discount. That just gets bigger every year.

But birthday isn’t the only good October event.

I grew up back east and in early October, the leaves burst into reds, oranges and yellows. It was time for hiking and the last camping trip of the year. October was football games. School was in (I loved school). The air was crisp and cool. There were new sweaters to be worn. With the weather changing, there was a nesting feel to home as we readied ourselves to batten down the hatches and get through the snows about to come.

October meant first fires in the fireplace. It meant an end to endless summer salads. Beef stew and chili came back on the menu. There was homemade soup. October was always the cozy before the cold, gray winter descended.

Now I’ve found another reason to love October: NaNoWriMo.

November is National Novel Writing Month. But in October, hopes are high, the vision of completing NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 words in a month is a given. Committing to taking a huge chunk out of my current project is almost intoxicating. I can do this. In October, I know I can do this.

October is the prep. What writer doesn’t like the prep? Readying the plot so I have an idea what I’m writing; setting up my safeguards so I get time to write; prepping my psyche (and my clients, friends and family) to my new schedule.

My writing has been front and center for some years now, but committing to those 50,000 words in thirty days brings the idea of page production to a higher level. I have 2000-word days on a regular basis. But 2000 words seven days a week isn’t something I normally do outside NaNoWriMo. Because there are days that are filled with clients; there are daughter days; there are doctor’s appointments and obligations that I let creep into my writing time.

But in October, I begin to carve out my own time. Come November, when I’m in the trenches, I want to have had a good October behind me. Because October is the cozy before the cold, gray November and the commitment I made. It’s the October that gets me through.

This year I’m sharing my October with anyone who wants to do NaNoWriMo. I’ll be at the Highlands Ranch Library for a kick-off party on October 21st. We’ll talk about prep. We’ll get ready for November.

During November, I’ll be hosting a write-in every week (day still to be determined), also at the Highlands Ranch Library. I’ll bring writing prompts with me and we’ll have contests and companionship as we get our work done together.

Then in the cold of winter, on December 9th when the deed is done, I’ll host a “What’s Next” event at the Highlands Ranch Library so you can put your November effort to the best use.

NaNoWriMo is a part of my writing process and it starts with October. The best month…

About the Writer:  Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach, co-founder and executive director of The Writing School. She has both an MFA and a BA in creative writing. She has been teaching and coaching for over ten years. Deb has published short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has written articles and creative nonfiction. Deb has been a professional blogger, tech writer, graphic artist and Internet marketing specialist.