Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Conversation With Andrew McCarthy

Pikes Peak Library District is hosting Andrew McCarthy--actor, journalist, and author--for a reception and book signing this evening. It's not too late to plan on attending! Tickets will be sold at the door for the reception, or you can choose to attend the presentation and book signing for free if you'd rather skip the reception.

Andrew McCarthy will be discussing his book, The Longest Way Home, a travel memoir.

The reception is from 4-6 PM, and includes heavy hors d'oevres, wine and beer. Tickets are $40 to attend the reception.

From 7-8 PM, there is a free presentation, followed by a free book signing from 8-9 PM.

All programming will occur at Stargazers Theater, 10 South Parkside Dr., Colorado Springs, CO.

For more information, see PPLD's website.

Monday, April 29, 2013

I Write Because...What Really Matters

By Rob Killam

Amid the flurry of workshops, networking, eating, and socializing that went on at Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2013, Barry Eisler's keynote speech concerning the conflict between independent publishing and traditional publishing set off a firestorm that attendees are well aware of. It shortly got to the point that Pikes Peak Writers addressed the subject on Facebook, with a post on April 23rd:

Barry Eisler’s keynote speech at PPWC on April 20 regarding digital versus traditional publishing has ignited something of a firestorm on the net. We believe this conversation has value, and we hope that it can occur with respect for both sides. Whether writers elect to self-publish, to follow a traditional publishing model, or to create a hybrid of the two, the Pikes Peak Writers Conference remains a place for education and open exchange of ideas.

While I was not in the auditorium for Mr. Eisler's speech, I've become familiar with the varying opinions on what he had to say. In order to understand my take on it, you should also know that--about a hundred yards from where the controversy started (at least at the conference)--there was a poster board on an easel. At the top of that board was the phrase "I Write Because..." Attendees were given the opportunity to write down their reason(s) for writing on a piece of paper and tape it to that board. It was a fun idea, but it also showed me something about the "publishing controversy."

Among the reasons people had for writing were:

It's therapy. (That was mine.)

I can't not write.

The blank page will win if I don't.

There were other reasons people had, but one reason never made an appearance: "I want to be published." From what I understand, Jeffrey Deaver (one of the latest James Bond novelists) makes a distinction between people who want to write, and people who want to have written. The former is what I see most often at conference; they're the folks who love writing because they love the craft. The latter are what Donald Maass calls "status seekers" in his book, The Fire in Fiction. They're the kind of people who couldn't care less about actually writing, because they just want money and fame.

I daresay that writers would write even if there was never a penny to be made for it. Of course, the fact that someone is willing to pay us for it means that we can do something we love in order to "put bread on the table," as it were. As it should be, there are any number of ways to make money writing. Some ways are more honorable (read: honest) than others, and some are definitely more successful than others. Without going into the facts and figures and statistics of it (because math makes my brain hurt), I will borrow a note from Robert Frost's poem Fire and Ice, and say that both traditional and independent publication are good.

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. From what I've tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate to say that for destruction ice is also great and would suffice.

Of course, Mr. Frost was not referring to the debate between two forms of publication when he wrote Fire and Ice, but his point stands: the world could end through both fire and ice. Similarly, writers find publication through both independent and traditional publishing. Regardless of the manner in which we choose to publish, the core standard--that which determines our worth as a writer--remains unchanged. You cannot expect to succeed as a writer for the masses if you do not start with a good story. We have standards for what a good story is, and the parameters for that remain unchanged regardless of how we publish.

The reason for the unchanging standard is simple: we do not write for a publishing house, or for an independent publishing service. Those are venues to distribute our writing to those who will truly judge our work: the reading masses. If you are not a good writer as far as the masses are concerned, then your work will not be widely read (unless it's read for the curiosity of whether it's really that bad). There are some polarizing authors (Stephenie Meyer of the Twilight franchise comes to mind) whose work is both highly praised and highly criticized, but for all of the discussion concerning Meyer's work, it has to contain some talent to draw an audience.

I am not a fortune teller, but I can easily predict the outcome of any discussion on the debate Mr. Eisler inadvertently started. Those who approach from their various sides will remain largely unchanged, and--like so many theological disagreements--the debate will continue, with no one side being proved more beneficial (read: more "right") than the other. Pros and cons exist on either side, but just as writers have the choice of what to write, they have choices in how to be published. No one side is better than the other, despite how die-hards on either side might wish.

What matters most is that we as writers continue to write, not for the fame or money, but because writing is in hearts and minds, and thus the body must follow. We are compelled to write, not to be rich and famous, but because it's therapy, or because we can't not write, or because the blank page will otherwise win. Sure, there will be a time for all of us to decide when and how to publish, but we can't get there unless there's a story to be written. Regardless of your viewpoint on the debate, you're not going to get anywhere if you forget why it is you write in the first place.

About the Author: Rob Killam has been a freelance writer since 2009. He is currently living in Colorado Springs, where he is working on his debut novel, a Springs-based science fiction novel. (Photo by Jared Hagan)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Quote of the Week, Week to Come, & More Why I Write

"A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote."  -Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Conference attendees talk about their experiences

...PPLD Andrew McCarthy Event

...Our monthly run-down of writing news, local writing events, and helpful links on contests and publications seeking submissions.

Also, we'll be continuing our Why I Write posts, taken from notes conference attendees tacked up, telling us why they write. These will be posted each Sunday this month with the Quote of the Week and Week to Come.

"I write because...just because."

"I write because...what else?"

"I write because...I am compelled to heal myself and give away the truth to others."

"I write because...I love to dream."

"I write because...I love stories."

"I write because...I went through a period of time when I couldn't find science fiction I loved, so decided to write it."

"I write because...I feel compelled to create."

"I write because...the stories and characters are in my head. I must write to get them out. If I don't...bad juju."

"I write because...birds gotta' fly, writers gotta' write."

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Results for the "Done" Short Story Contest

By DeAnna Knippling

Congratulations to everyone who entered the contest!  Here were the rules, which I first put up at the Pikes Peak Writers' Conference:
Do you have what it takes to write a perfect short story?  Me either.  So we’re not going for “Great.” We’re going for “Done.”
  • Your character is an insecure traveler who is obsessed with obtaining something in particular.  You get to pick what they’re obsessed about.
  • An ancient ruin in the middle of a forest.  Any place, any time, doesn’t have to be our world.
  • Your character is about to get married to the wrong person (whether they know it or not).
  • Story AND PROOF OF SUBMISSION must be emailed to dknippling@gmail.com by midnight Wednesday, April 24
  • $50 Amazon Gift Card for first story received.
  • Two $25 Amazon Gift Cards drawn from all stories received by deadline.
  • No other judging will be performed.  Goofy?  Serious?  Planet destroyed by aliens, the end?  All we care about is done!
The point of all this?
  • To help motivate people to write, finish what they write, and submit what they write (look up Heinlein’s Rules sometime).
  • To take perfection out of the equation and just have fun!
Here are the results:
We had 10 entries.  Yay!  Each entrant had a one-in-ten chance of winning.   But wait...

Of the 10 entries, in the end, five didn't give proof that they submitted the story to a market.  Upon rereading the directions, I allowed that it might have been easy to overlook that requirement, so I emailed all the people who didn't send proof to let them know...and still ended up with five who didn't get back to me.

Which mean that each entrant had a one-in-five chance of winning.  But wait...

Of the five remaining entries, two were received past the deadline.

Which mean that each entrant had a one-in-three chance of winning.  But wait...

There are three prizes.

So!  Everyone who followed directions...gets an Amazon gift card out of this.  I'll reveal names in a minute.

Other items of interest:
  • Wordcount ranged from 705 to 5700 words.
  • Genres submitted: SF, Fantasy, Adventure (Mainstream or, mmm, maybe Thriller on that one), Modern fairytale (fantasy), Western Romance, Romance, Fantasy, Pulp Adventure (Mainstream or Mystery/Crime, depending on how the writer was feeling about markets that day), Magic Realism (Mainstream or Fantasy), and Mainstream Fiction (that could easily slide into Mystery/Crime with a few edits).
Two of the stories used the same-ish setting (Mexico), but in commmpletely different ways.

What did we learn out of this?
  • ME: Write clearer directions.  WRITERS:  If submission guidelines aren't clear--ask.  And follow up on feedback ASAP!
  • ME: Specify standard manuscript format.  WRITERS:  Always submit your work in standard manuscript format unless specifically instructed otherwise.  I prefer Times New Roman subs, but hey, Courier's cool.  Do not show up at your writer-job-interview wearing bunny slippers.  Sadly: LOTS of bunny slippers here.
  • ME: You have to draw the line somewhere.  WRITERS:  Deadline, deadline, deadline.
  • ME:  People were a lot more positive about this than I expected.  However, a lot of people I remember saying "Oh, what a cool idea" didn't send anything.  A couple of people told me that they started but didn't finish (extra props to them...but no $).  WRITERS:  No, you can't chase downevery opportunity that comes your way, but you should be chasing down as many as you can.  Repeatedly.  Because often if you follow the directions...you win.
Were the stories any good?  Ahhh, that wasn't part of the contest, was it?  But let me say - they were stories, no better or worse than what I see come through the slush pile.

Great job to everyone who participated!  Keep working on professionalism...you're already ahead of the people who didn't turn anything in.  As for the people who didn't submit:  You can't win if you don't play.  Rejection isn't losing, it's just a busted lottery ticket :)

  • First in - John K. Patterson ($50 gift card).
  • In by deadline - Dori McCraw ($25 gift card).
  • In by deadline - AmyBeth Inverness ($25 gift card).
Thanks all, and we'll have to do this again sometime :)

Friday, April 26, 2013

I Write Because...

At the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference, we put up a board and asked attendees to tell us why they write. Below, are some of the responses we got:

"I write because...I have to (and, because I can't make paper airplanes)."

"I write because...I am inspired by the goodness of my adult sons."

"I write because...I'd die without the release and escape it gives. Oh, and because the voices would drive me crazy if I left them in my head instead of on paper."

"I write because...I love it. It's fun to impact readers the same way I was impacted when I started reading."

"I write because...for my father."

"I write because...I can't not. :) "

"I write because...it is the only legal way that I can act out the thoughts in my head."

"I write because...it allows me the opportunity to be amongst a large crowd of people who would also be found insane if their thoughts entered the 'normal' world!"

"I write because...I love words."

"I write because...I like how I feel when I spin a good tale."

"I write because...I like writing and how it frees me to travel and meet new friends."

"I write because...I have one helluva' damn good story to tell!"

"I write because...it's more painful to not write than it is to write."

"I write because...I want to leave a legacy for my children, and it allows me to escape from them for a little while. :) "

We posted a piece by Stephen Graham Jones on why he writes this past Halloween. It's worth checking out if you didn't read it the first time!

So, tell us, why do you write?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Your Writer's Voice

By Linda Rohrbough

I don’t think it’s any secret among writers that a great voice will help a writer sell. Making money writing is something a lot of writers want to do. Samuel Johnson, an English writer who lived in the 1700’s, said, “Anyone who doesn’t write for money is a fool.” My friend and mentor Jodi Thomas said, “People want to write the book of their heart, but they might want to think about writing something they can sell.”

Further, there’s this notion that you can “sell out” your writing. In other words, you can just write for money and not for the “creative genius” and “pure inspiration” inside you. Which is a form of writing harlotry, I suppose.

This idea that you can sell out your writing is a very romantic notion. And one I disagree with. I had a professor of English in my first college creative writing program who tried it. He confided to a few of us that he tried to write pornography, because he figured it paid better. Despite his best efforts, he simply could not break in. He tried to sell his “writing soul” for filthy lucre and it didn’t work. He came to the conclusion that even stories the literary community looks down its nose at have an element of sincerity that cannot be mimicked. (If you’ve spent much time in universities like I have, you’ll find there’s a lot of that going on – they pretty much despise anyone who’s making money writing.)

By the way, I am not at all advocating writing pornography to make money. It’s just an extreme example to make the point that even authors who are writing what they believe they can sell still have their own spin they bring to the mix, whether they’re aware of it or not. You can’t really write like someone else. You write like you. And no matter what you’re writing, it should, if you’re developing your skill level, start to sound like you. We call that voice.

People like to talk about voice like it’s something that can be taught. I think that’s baloney. Voice comes from pounding the keyboard until you break it (I go through a keyboard about every six months), cranking out stories, and learning to tell them in a way that puts a noose around the reader’s mind so they simply cannot pull themselves away. There are techniques you can learn to help you write engaging stories, but voice itself cannot be taught.

When you start to be you, writing what interests and intrigues you, is when you develop your “voice.” And when that happens, your writing will sound like you, no matter what genre you’re producing. (Although it does seem to me that some styles of voice lend themselves to certain genres more readily than others.)

Developing your voice is a lot like learning to be a painter. After awhile, painters learn what colors work for them and work together. They learn to lay those favorite colors in amounts that work for them (twice as much Titanium White than Alizarin Crimson, for example) on their palette in the same order every time. They find a set of brushes that feel right, and ways of holding and moving with those brushes that become habit.

Writers do this, too, with the rhythm of the language, choosing just the right words, layering in conflict and the sensory details of each setting. And they start to find their voice. The only way this happens is with practice and a certain amount of trial and error, which often requires feedback in a setting that’s safe, like with a writing buddy or a critique group.

Malcom Gladwell, author of Outlier: The Story of Success, says 10,000 hours of practice is sufficient to bring out world-class talent in any field. He points to a number of famous examples from Bill Gates to the Beatles, and even Mozart. In the writing world, the theory is writing one million words will get you there. Some people try to do their million words in a single year, which is 2,740 words a day to put you just a hair over a million in a year. I got my writing legs under me when I started as a reporter for an international computer news network. With a quota of seven short news pieces a week, I thought it would kill me. But I got stronger and found I had a voice, kind of by accident. (Later when I became more experienced, I went full-time with a quota of fourteen stories a week. I run into reporters at trade shows now whose quota is six stories an hour, but they’re writing very short pieces for blogs and/or tweeting.)

Is writing 100,000 hours the ticket to reveal your voice? Will writing a million words do it? You know already there’s no guarantee here. What I do know is you can find your voice, if you persist. My friend Debbie Macomber says, “Talent is on every street corner. But persistence is hard to find.” So in the words of Winston Churchill, “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up.”

About the Author: 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 has garnered 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: www.LindaRohrbough.com.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Add "Submit" to Your Writing Process

By Stacy S. Jensen

Write. Revise. Repeat.

I repeat this phrase often and embrace it. This year, I’ve felt it’s a puzzle with a missing piece.

I’m inserting a fourth step in my writing process — submit. I’ve been on the treadmill of writing, revising, and repeating for too long.

One would think the submission part would be easy. We write to share our stories. We want to get published. So, why is it so difficult to hit the send button to submit my work to an agent, editor, or magazine?

Fear. There’s always a healthy dose of fear when one can get a rejection letter, or worse, no acknowledgement.

Time. I’ve found time to be my culprit. Through years of reading, talking, and practicing the art of writing whenever I can, I haven’t figured out how to apply this technique to the submission process.

When I write, I don’t have to read interviews or research industry guides for the right word. I just write. The submission process doesn’t feel that easy. There’s research, more research, and the nagging fear I haven’t found the right person, who will like my manuscript. So, I’ve been guilty of write, revise, and repeat with no submissions.

This year, through several associations, a critique group, and submission focused Facebook groups, I’m stretching out of my comfort zone and sending my work out into the universe.

It hasn’t been easy, so far. I’ve stumbled and found myself pushed up against “end of the month” deadlines more than once. It’s not an ideal technique, but for now my “babystep” is to hit send on those query letters to see what happens.

By the end of the year, I hope to look back and see the puzzle together — Write. Revise. Repeat. Submit.

Do you have a submission strategy for your work?

About the Author: StacyS. 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.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Quote of the Week, Week to Come, & Contest

"When I don't make any progress, it is because I have bumped into the wall of language. Then I draw back with a bloody head. And would like to go on." -Karl Kraus, translated from German by Harry Zohn

THE “DONE” Short Story Contest

Do you have what it takes to write a perfect short story?  Me either.  So we’re not going for “Great.” We’re going for “Done.”
Your character is an insecure traveler who is obsessed with obtaining something in particular.  You get to pick what they’re obsessed about.
An ancient ruin in the middle of a forest.  Any place, any time, doesn’t have to be our world.
Your character is about to get married to the wrong person (whether they know it or not).
Story AND PROOF OF SUBMISSION must be emailed to dknippling@gmail.com by midnight Wednesday, April 24
$50 Amazon Gift Card for first story received.
Two $25 Amazon Gift Cards drawn from all stories received by deadline.
No other judging will be performed.  Goofy?  Serious?  Planet destroyed by aliens, the end?  All we care about is done!
The point of all this?
To help motivate people to write, finish what they write, and submit what they write (look up Heinlein’s Rules sometime).
To take perfection out of the equation and just have fun!

This week on Writing From the Peak, we have...

...Stacy S. Jensen telling us how to "Add 'Submit' to Your Writing Process

...Linda Rohrbough will discuss "Your Writer's Voice"

...Retreating Into Your Writing, a little about writing retreats

Friday, April 19, 2013

The PPWC 2013 Couldn't Come Soon Enough!

By Charise Simpson

The Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2013 is finally here and already the ideas are flowing out of me and onto the page. Not only do I know that I will find inspiration in each and every new person I meet, but I’m so excited that I’m going to a conference where I not only know people, I can rest assured they won’t contort themselves into awkwardness when I ask “Is this seat taken?” To these people, everyone is interesting, and everything is material.

In my former life, I was an IT executive. I’m female, tall, blonde, and I enjoy the challenge of public speaking. Granted, in a normal setting, I’m socially anxious and awkward, but in the world of IT, I’m the Penny character amongst the boys from The Big Bang Theory. As a female who likes to wear fashionable clothes, I’m like an alien being in the IT world, and as a person who can schmooze with the other execs, I’m essentially a Rock Star with magical powers, someone to be studied and feared, not befriended, let alone conversed with.

But, I digress. At the PPWC, I know I’ll bump into some of the warmest, friendliest people who are genuinely interested in connecting and collaborating in the name of their craft. Critique groups and sharing are the name of the game. Learning from and inspiring each other is the food we’ll eat for lunch. And we’ll even talk to each other as we eat!

I can’t wait to see what color M.B. Partlow’s glasses are, or what Becky Clark’s latest funny of the day will be, or if Ellis Harvey is wearing Robert Crais’ shirt. Just seeing Michelle Baker will make me smile, because we always laugh together, and she has great music. Susan Mitchell and Deb Courtney will surely get me sent to the principal's office, but it will be so worth it. (I wouldn’t want to make Bonnie Hagan angry after all the great work she has done putting the PPWC together. She’s an awesome leader, and I bow at her feet. Besides, I’m on her good side right now.) I’ll have to spend time with M.K. Meredith so I can get over my shyness when it comes to those naughty romance scenes. And, of course, I’ll hang out with Chris Mandeville and hug her a lot. She’s always made me feel so welcome there, and, besides, if I get close enough to her, often enough, maybe I can absorb some of her knowledge and cool leadership style. 

Nope this conference is not costing me energy. It’s fueling my energy, my creativity and my passion for my new love – writing. Now how can anyone go wrong with that? Especially when the return on my investment in these people will continue the rest of my life….

About the Author: Charise, a recovering Information Technology executive, is currently indulging in the fun side of writing after spending fifteen years writing functional specifications and user manuals for customized software applications. She has written humorous pieces for local clubs and is also a published cartoonist. She is currently writing a memoir as well as humorous short stories. She loves spending time with her husband and two children in their Colorado home, and on the slopes of Mary Jane.   

Thursday, April 18, 2013

PPWC 2013 - Christopher Hernandez, Editor

HarperCollins Children's

Chris Hernandez

Chris Hernandez is setting out to prove his creative writing teacher wrong by seeking a publishing career, in addition to being an assistant editor with HarperCollins Children's and Harper Teen.

Chris was nice enough to come in place of Melissa Miller when she had to cancel her appearance at Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2013. He covers literary and commercial fiction for MG and YA, and is especially interested in books for boys. One series he's working on that you may be familiar with is Pittacus Lore's "I Am Number Four" series.

He's on the ECC (Early Career Committee) Board of the Children's Book Council, which is dedicated to literacy. He's a busy guy!

Chris is interested in pitches for the following genres within Middle Grade and Young Adult: Humor, Mystery, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action/Adventure, Horror.  He’s not interested in: Romance, Historical (realistic), or Picture Books, so do yourself a favor and don't pitch those to him. He seeks out well-crafted stories, with a genuine voice and original perspective.

This is our last piece on conference faculty, because conference officially starts today! We hope to see you there.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Get Ready to Pitch Your Book

By Debbie Maxwell Allen

I'm surprised I hadn't come across Pitch University in my internet browsing before. What a wealth of information. Even if you're not ready to pitch right now, you're probably ready to learn. The folks at Pitch University have worked incredibly hard to provide you the tools you need. And just in time for the conference this month.

The amount of articles, videos, and audios is amazing. Start at the home page, and scroll down to Pitching 101. You'll want to do some browsing on the site to get familiar with all they offer.

Begun by Diane Holmes, Pitch University is a safe and comfortable place for writers--no matter how hesitant or shy--to learn to verbalize their story. Holmes grew up in a family of salesmen, and even majored in marketing, but she confesses, "I suck at pitching." Makes you feel better, huh?

One of the events at Pitch University is a monthly "PitchFest". The organizers host an agent or editor who is currently looking for books. Participants are encouraged to pitch to the professional, via query letter, audio, or video.

Among the many offerings at Pitch University are:

The Pitch U Writers Manifesto (which will ease your mind)

The first of 27 lessons on pitching. Scroll down on the right to see the list.

The free Monthly Pitch newsletter (signing up gets you the free bonus "10 Reasons You Suck at Pitching Your Book")

Do you feel comfortable with your pitch? Have you pitched in the past? How did it go?

About the Author: Debbie Maxwell Allen writes young adult historical fantasy in the Rocky Mountains. She blogs about free resources for writers at http://writingwhilethericeboils.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

PPWC 2013 - Nicole Resciniti, Agent

The Seymour Agency

Nicole Resciniti

Nicole Resciniti is an agent at The Seymour Agency. She was named ACFW's 2012 Agent of the Year, and  Publisher's Marketplace considers her a top dealmaker in the country. 

For submissions, Nicole is open to romance, inspirational fiction, mysteries/thrillers, YA, MG, picture books, sci-fi/fantasy, UF and horror. No poetry, screenplays or erotica. Very select on nonfiction, and only with authors who have an established platform.

Nicole is a member of AAR, ACFW, RWA, and Mensa. Mensa, you ask? You bet! She's also got three degrees: biology, psychology, and behavioral neuroscience. She was a public school teacher before jumping into the literary world.

She is looking to fall in love with projects, so woo her with your words.

You can find her in the following places:

About the Author:  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 a flash fiction piece featured in the anthology Sunday Snaps: The Stories, due out in 2013.  She has also discovered a love of photography and enjoys photographing the breathtaking Colorado scenery and wildlife, as well as her children.  She blogs about reading, writing and photography at www.thewarriormuse.com.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Consciousness, Writing, and “George” O’Keefe

By DeAnna Knippling

In college, my playwriting professor asked me, “Does your subconscious help you or hinder you?” I jokingly answered something like, “It’s more a question of whether I help or hinder my subconscious.”

And yet. My subconscious is not the nicest place to be.

For example, I recently finished a novelette that was supposed to be something straightforward about swashbuckling pirates and mermaids. My subconscious took over. By the end, it was about a kid who’d been abducted from his Mayan village and almost destroyed by a god that had hatched on a Spanish treasure ship.  He’s rescued by pirates, but only after most of the crew has been consumed. Years later, he meets the ship again and betrays his crewmates to try to destroy it. I’m not sure why half the stuff in the story happens. Some of it’s pretty horrific, and all of it’s troubling.

I feel much safer working on a conscious level.

So I go to the recent Georgia O’Keefe exhibit at the Denver Art Museum and the question of what to do about my subconscious, that is, to ride it out or try to control it, is on my mind again.

I’m looking at the paintings and sketches up close, because I always wonder what the mindset is of an artist, how they put things together.  A van Gogh is not an O’Keefe. A van Gogh is thick, jabbing stabs of paint, covering up the canvas and punishing it over and over. From a distance, the paintings are lovely; up close, they scare me. O’Keefe’s brush strokes lay down thin layers of pigment in supple-wristed movements. Looking at her landscapes doesn’t just make me feel like I’m outside; I can feel the skin start to burn on the end of my nose and feel grit in the corners of my mouth.

The more I look at her paintings, the more I think - she’s not painting things at all; she’s painting negative space. What looks like a thing - an arroyo, a flower - is more a coincidence of different layers of shaped nothing, filled with light. You know the optical illusion where a solid face appears to follow you around? They’re called “Hollow Face Illusions.” That’s what O’Keefe’s paintings are like.  

I’ve just worked this out when a group of kids comes by and stops at a watercolor. They must have been middle-schoolers. They just had that vibe. Not quite hyped up on hormones, too cynical to be elementary students. They’ve lost the innocence of true childhood but haven’t experienced the things that make you long to run back to that innocence yet.

They’re up close, closer than I am.  They’re breathing on the art. One kid goes, “Look at that sky. A kindergartener did that.” More mocking ensues. Shortly thereafter, the security guard makes them back off, and they move on.

I look at the painting - it’s a sketch, really, a set of quick washes of the back of a church. A few squares, showing the adobe shapes and colors, and a flat wash for the blue sky. Some of the edges don’t match up; some of them overlap. It’s not realistic at all. There’s no detail. It still ripples with heat.

I look at other pictures.

They’re all like that. Flawed.

Yet she filled everything she did with an absolute, unavoidable sense of self, and she makes you feel something, even with a quick watercolor sketch of the back of a church.


“Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they may say something.”

“Slits in nothingness are not very easy to paint.”

“I know I cannot paint a flower. I cannot paint the sun on the desert on a bright summer morning, but maybe in terms of paint color I can convey to you my experience of the flower or the experience that makes the flower of significance to me at that particular time.”

“I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”

“To create one's own world, in any of the arts, takes courage.”


Later I’m sitting outside the gallery and writing all this down.  One of the tour groups that’s been wandering around is full of retirees - people in wheelchairs, people with walkers, people carrying oxygen tanks. They keep shouting at their tour guide. “IS THAT METAMUCIL IN THAT PHOTOGRAPH THERE? SHE SHOULD BE DRINKING METAMUCIL, IT’S GOOD FOR YOU.”

As the last of the group leaves the room, one of the guys goes, “THAT GEORGE O’KEEFE. WAS HE REALLY A WOMAN? YOU CAN TELL.” The guide assures him that she is, in fact, a woman. “HUH. IS SHE DEAD?” And she confirms that Georgia is, in fact, dead. “THOUGHT SO.” And off they go.

By the time their group’s out of sight, I’m not worried about it anymore. Conscious, subconscious, whatever. I may never know what it was that stopped me worrying, but it was at that moment that I figured it out. Right now there’s just the work, not knowing what it means, not letting meaning get in the way. We’ll see.

About the Author: DeAnna Knippling started freelancing in May 2011 and wouldn’t be able to do it without her wonderful family and friends, especially her husband. In fact, she owes a lot to Pikes Peak Writers for helping her be a better writer, especially through the Write Brains, both in the lectures and in meeting lots of other writers.

Her reason for writing is to entertain by celebrating her family’s tradition of dry yet merry wit, and to help ease the suffering of lack of self-confidence, having suffered it many years herself. She also likes to poke around and ask difficult questions, because she hates it when people assume something must be so.

For more kicks in the writerly pants, see her blog at www.deannaknippling.com or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, available at Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, and OmniLit.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"Writer's block is a disease for which there is no cure, only respite." - Terri Guillemets

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...DeAnna Knippling talks about "Consciousness, Writing, and 'George' O'Keefe"

...Debbie Allen helps you "Get Ready to Pitch Your Book"

...We bring you bios on Nicole Resciniti and Christopher Hernandez

...And it's Conference Time!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

PPWC 2013 - Kate Testerman, Agent

KT Literary

Kate Testerman

Kate Testerman worked in publishing in New York for twelve years before moving to Colorado and opening her own literary agency, KT Literary. She is primarily interested in YA and MG, but will consider teen chick lit, urban fantasy, romantic comedies and magical realism adventure stories. She will not be taking pitch appointments, but will host a coffee klatch on Friday.

Some fun facts about Kate: she was a cast member in the New York Renaissance Faire and she collects shoes. She's a member of SCBWI and AAR, and fully believes in using technology for marketing. Much of her social media is under her alter-ego, Daphne.

You can find her at the following places:

About the Author:  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 a flash fiction piece featured in the anthology Sunday Snaps: The Stories, due out in 2013.  She has also discovered a love of photography and enjoys photographing the breathtaking Colorado scenery and wildlife, as well as her children.  She blogs about reading, writing and photography at www.thewarriormuse.com.

Friday, April 12, 2013

How Pikes Peak Writers Conference Changed My Life

By Alicia Howie

It all started three years ago. I had finished my first manuscript the previous summer, then spent the fall and winter experimenting with query letters, working on my second manuscript, reading writing reference books, and keeping up with agent and editor blogs. I noticed a certain two-word phrase a lot: writers conference.
In late February 2010, I began my search for the perfect conference for me. There were a couple conferences within reasonable driving distance from my small town home on the central Illinois/Indiana border. But, for some reason, I wanted something bigger. The thought of it scared me, but deep down I wanted an adventure. And why shouldn’t I have an adventure? I’d just spent years sending my characters on adventures. I thought about my main character, Rayden, of her apprehension to complete her quest, and all the trials and tribulations she faced… for me. That’s when I realized I owed it to her to challenge myself.
Through my searches, I found the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Donald Maass was on the attendance list, which appealed to me since I had just finished his book, Writing the Breakout Novel. Also, location. I had never been to Colorado or even seen the Rocky Mountains. I made up my mind. In April of 2010, I packed up a suitcase, drove a hundred miles to the nearest airport, and hopped on a plane to Denver. I’d only flown once before and had never traveled by myself, especially to a place where I didn't know a soul. My friends and family thought I was crazy.
I drove to Colorado Springs, dropped my luggage at the Marriott, and headed out to Garden of the Gods for some amazing sightseeing. Of course, while struggling to breathe walking a flat path, I finally understood the meaning of altitude and all those warnings on the conference brochure about drinking plenty of water. Later, as I hydrated myself at the hotel bar (with water), I struck up a conversation with a few Pikes Peak Writers staff members, who promptly whisked me away to dinner at Phantom Canyon in downtown Colorado Springs. My conference experience was off to a great start.
I spent the weekend learning tons about the ins and outs of writing and the different stages of a manuscript. I spoke with editors and agents and made some awesome friends. I had such a great time that I traveled to the Pikes Peak Writers Conference again in both 2011 and 2012.
Last summer, I quit my day job, rented out my house, packed up my car, and drove my life over a thousand miles to start anew in Colorado Springs. Again, my friends and family thought I was crazy. Luckily, I'd learned how to answer that accusation.
Um, what do you expect? I'm a writer…
I’ve lived in Colorado for over seven months, enjoying my time with the fabulous people I’ve met through Pikes Peak Writers. Especially the ones I met at my first conference. It truly did change my life. I never thought I’d travel by myself. I never thought I’d move away from my hometown. Then again, I never thought I’d be a writer either.

About the Author: Alicia Howie is from Danville, Illinois. In college, while taking a Fantasy and Mythology course, a few wayward characters rooted into her psyche and the only way to get them out was to tell their story. She's been writing ever since, a hobby that has led her on quite an adventure, including relocation to Colorado Springs. Alicia has penned a fantasy novel, the first in a series and is currently querying her women's fiction manuscript. Alicia is an enthusiastic member of Pikes Peak Writers and a regular at the annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

See You at Mountain of Authors!

Friends of Pikes Peak Library District will be hosting their free annual event, Mountain of Authors, this Saturday, April 13, 12:30 to 6:00 PM. It will be located at East Library at 5550 N. Union Blvd.

Mountain of Authors is intended for readers and writers alike. They feature one keynote speaker and two panels throughout the day, as well as an Author Showcase and signing with local authors.

The keynote speaker this weekend will be New York Times bestselling author, Stephen Coonts. He writes military thrillers, filling them with personal knowledge gained from having been a Navy pilot. His first novel was Flight of the Intruder, which was later made into a film. He's a personable and charismatic speaker, and definitely worth hearing.

The first panel will be Love and War, featuring Nick Arvin, Kirsten Lieff, and Kathleen Morgan. Panel two will be Publishing Advice From the Pros, featuring Judith Briles, of Author U; Marilyn Largent, of David C. Cook; and Anita Mumm, of Nelson Literary Agency.

Books will be available for sale on the premises, and the authors will gladly sign them.

Pikes Peak Writers will be there with a table, so please stop by and say hi! We'd love to see you.

About the Author:  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 a flash fiction piece featured in the anthology Sunday Snaps: The Stories, due out in 2013.  She has also discovered a love of photography and enjoys photographing the breathtaking Colorado scenery and wildlife, as well as her children.  She blogs about reading, writing and photography at www.thewarriormuse.com.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Secret to Querying

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

In my next life, I'm going to start off as a used car salesman, then switch careers to write romance novels. Think Nicholas Sparks in a bad suit.

Oh, the fear and gnashing I went through to find a publisher for my first novel. This is what I had to do to query agents, editors, and publishers, so I could get my book in print. Okay, this is the big freakin’ secret.

I stopped writing and I used my writing time to write query letters and ship them out. That is what I had to do. It takes about half an hour to research an agent, write the first few lines saying how you heard about them and what you like about them, and then you copy in your pitch and bio and hit send.

Thirty simple minutes.


And yet I had to drop everything and focus on only doing query letters because it wasn’t the time commitment that made it so hard. It was the emotional work involved that left me burning into ashes and exhausted beyond belief.

Oh, the agony, the angst, the mortal terror. It’s like finding a parent for my little baby, and going door to door in a Calcutta slum to do it. Most of the time, when I knocked, no one answered. Sometimes they opened the door, said a few nice things, and slammed it shut. And sometimes they sent a robot to answer the door. They didn’t want my baby. Thank you and good luck with finding a home for your human infant.

Like most things in life, querying agents is simple. It’s the emotional baggage that makes it hard for me. That’s why, if someone wants to be a writer, they should start by going into cold call sales, door-to-door. Because querying is a numbers game.

I talked with Catharine Ryan Hyde, who is a hardcore, stone-hearted warrior, and she tried to help me overcome my fear. I asked how many agents I should query before I gave up. She said ALL OF THEM. And you know what, she’s right.

Now, let me say this. Having no agent is better than having a bad agent. Don’t go with someone who isn’t selling, who smells mildly of corruption, or with one who actually hates what you write. More and more, literary agents are becoming unnecessary, and yet, I still believe in the old system. If you wanna’ play with the big dogs, you gotta’ find a handler for your work—a home for your baby. Or did I just mix metaphors?

But it’s hard. You know what's harder? Looking a reader in the eye and trying to get them to buy your book. Same basic process, but at least with an agent, I can hide behind email. In the end, sales is a part of the game.

Now go out there and sell big!

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.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

PPWC 2013 - Pat Van Wie, Editor

Bell Bridge Books

Pat Van Wie

Bell Bridge Books came to be in 2008, an imprint of Belle Books, which has been around since 1999. Both were started by a group of veteran, multi-published Southern writers, so they focus on nurturing new voices and supporting long-standing authors.

Pat Van Wie is not only an editor at Bell Bridge, but is also a writer and writing instructor, presenting workshops across the country. She has published eleven novels, all for major publishing houses: Ballantine, Bantam, and Harlequin. She wrote three of her books under the pseudonym Patricia Lewin.

She is primarily looking for mystery and suspense, but will also consider fantasy, sci-fi, YA, romance, general fiction, women's fiction, non-fiction, and literary fiction.

You can find her in the following places:

About the Author:  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 a flash fiction piece featured in the anthology Sunday Snaps: The Stories, due out in 2013.  She has also discovered a love of photography and enjoys photographing the breathtaking Colorado scenery and wildlife, as well as her children.  She blogs about reading, writing and photography at www.thewarriormuse.com.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Story Tips #7 - Mythic Structure, Introduction

By Jax Hunter

Welcome to the next installment of Story Tips From the Big Screen.  This monthly column (to be posted the second Monday of each month) explores screen writing techniques that will help fiction writers tell a better story. 

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This month, and for the next few months, we’re going to take a look at structural variations of stories. Of course, these variations are not the sole property of the screenwriting world any more than three act structure is. However, many of the screenwriting sources talk about these variations, and I hope they’re helpful to all of us.

The first structure we’ll be looking at is that of myth throughout the ages, the Hero’s Journey. It fits nicely into our three act structure. Therefore, after an overview and review of the big picture this month, we’ll look at each act within this structure over the next few months.

The Hero’s Journey, a term coined, as close as I can tell, by Christopher Vogler, is a series of twelve stages seen throughout the centuries in classic stories. Vogler borrows from Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces to come up with his stages.   

In this classic pattern, the mythic hero journeys through all the stages of death and rebirth to come out the other end transformed. Lajos Egri in The Art of Dramatic Writing calls this “growing from pole to pole.” A lost and lonely Dorothy finds home and family. A stupid scarecrow finds his brain. A fraidy-cat lion finds his courage. And an empty tin man finds his heart.

The basic premise of this hero’s journey is this: The hero travels from his ordinary world into the mythological woods for varying reasons. While in this other world, he is faced with trials and tribulations, meets friends and foes alike and, when all seems lost, finds what he’s looking for. He then returns to his ordinary world - not always an easy trip - with the prize.

The classic mythic hero - James Bond, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Indiana Jones - is always on the side of good and always fights evil in one form or another. He is usually courageous and clever. He’s often endowed with a special talent or gift and is likely motivated by idealism. He may begin the journey with only self interest (Han Solo) but, by the end, he puts his life or fortune on the line for something bigger than himself.

In the course of the story, the mythic hero never quits. He never resorts to unheroic actions - though a shortcut may present itself that will test his integrity - and he never wins by lucky break.

The hero leaves his every day world and enters a “foreign place,” often because he has no choice - to refuse the call would go against everything he believes in. On the journey, he’ll be tested, learn the rules of this new world and be opposed by evil. He may be helped along the way by new friends and a mentor. He’ll face universal fears, both external (heights, big bugs, monsters, driving snow) and internal (failure, ridicule, loss of love.)

At the end of his journey into the woods, he’ll likely have a confrontation with the Evil One, which he’ll either win or lose. On his return home, he may be again opposed by evil.  He may lose the prize and have to retrieve it, and he will, ultimately, have a death/rebirth experience - even if its metaphorical.

When he returns to the ordinary world he has been transformed. He may find that the glory is stolen or isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. He may learn the true meaning of the journey and may get a call to another. 

Here are the twelve steps - outlined within the three act structure (remember him?)

Act I - get your hero up a tree
1.  Ordinary World
2.  Call to Adventure
3.  Refusal of the Call
4.  Meet the Mentor
5.  Crossing  the Threshold

Act II - throw rocks at him
6.  Tests, Allies and Enemies
7.  Approach the inmost cave
8.  The Ordeal
9.  Reward

Act III - get him out of the tree
10.  Road Back
11.  Resurrection
12.  Return with Elixir

Next month we’ll look more in depth at the Act I stages in the Hero’s Journey. If you would like to investigate the subject more, let me recommend the following books:

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler
The Key by James N. Frey
Myth and the Movies by Stuart Voytilla

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.