Friday, August 30, 2013

Author Fest Cancellation

With deep regret, the planning committee for the 2013 Author Fest of the Rockies has had to make a hard choice. Due to the flooding in Manitou Springs, and the potential for another crisis, the decision has been made to cancel the 2013 Author Fest of the Rockies, which includes the CSI programming sponsored by Pikes Peak Writers. 
"We plan on taking this time to make next year the most amazing Author Fest ever! We are disappointed, but realize our limits as a committee, and as human beings. Thank you for your patience and understanding."
If you would like to participate in planning Author Fest 2014, please contact Natalie at For more information, refer to the Author Fest website at

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What's in a Name?

By Robin Widmar

My current work in progress started like any other. First came the spark of an idea that grew into a larger concept. Soon, plot points began to develop and I started getting a feel for the main character – her personality, her life experiences, her role in the story. I even came up with a good name that is appropriate for her and her world.

But the secondary characters eluded me. I had a vague sense of who they were and why they were in my story, but those tenuous characteristics seemed to change every time I sat down to write. So did their names. This puzzled me, because character names haven’t ever been an issue. But for this novel, the monikers I chose seemed to fit my characters about as well as a pair of size 6 shoes on size 10 feet. I finally decided that I had to nail down suitable names before I could make progress on character development.

One reason I started obsessing over names is simply because I feel names can make or break a character. Certainly, good writing trumps all, but could a character named Jane Smith have been as fiery and memorable as one named Scarlett O’Hara? Does “Jones, Bob Jones” have the same panache as “Bond, James Bond?” Think about characters like Sherlock Holmes, Holden Caulfield, and Sookie Stackhouse; would they be as memorable if they had been given more conventional names?

I don’t think that every character in a book needs a super-cool, standout name or nickname. Catchy and unique fictional names are becoming the norm rather than the exception in today’s books, but sometimes a name with less impact works just as well depending on the situation. Whatever you choose, be sure your character names are appropriate to the time, place, and theme of the story.

Here are some tips I found for selecting character names:

  • Use names appropriate to the period. If you’re writing 17th century historical fiction, you need names that were used in that time period, not popular baby names from 2013.
  • Think about your character’s background and ethnicity. Does her family tree have roots in another country? Is there a family tradition of passing on names? Use that to your advantage. You can even make it part of the story.
  • Consider the meanings behind names, but avoid the obvious unless you’re going for intentional sarcasm or parody. For example: naming an archery expert Bowman, or calling someone who is good at catching bad guys Hunter. Try for a little subtlety.
  • Use care with famous or historic names that carry their own connotations, which can cause readers to bring preconceived notions into your story.
  • Sometimes nicknames can lend substance to a character, like Ranger (real name Carlos Mancuso) in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. Nicknames can also make life easier for the reader, as in the case of the Wizard of Oz, whose real name is Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs.
  • If your character lives in the world of sword and sorcery, there’s a lot of room to play – but don’t go overboard on apostrophes, guttural breaks, and strings of consonants. They give readers a headache.
  • Read your character names aloud. If you can’t pronounce it, your reader will probably stumble over it as well. 

For more insights on naming characters, check out Brian Klems’ article The 7 Rules of Picking Names for Fictional Characters.

One of my favorite resources is The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon. It lists 25,000 first and last names as well as their meanings, and also offers advice for selecting that perfect character name.

Another of my favorite resources is the credits section of any movie – especially those filmed in other countries – where unique and unusual names often appear. Sometimes I’ll see a name that isn’t all that unusual, but it strikes me as perfect for a particular character.

I’m happy to report that after several months of indecisive agony, each of my cast members has a proper and fitting name. Now I’m on to the next round of difficult choices in character development: Ford or Chevy? Boxers or briefs? Froot Loops or granola in the morning?

About the Author: Robin Widmar works to support a horse habit and writes to follow a dream. When she’s not writing about demons, dragons, or firefighting, she discusses the rampant typographical errors threatening to take over the written world at The World Needs a Proofreader.

Monday, August 26, 2013

How to Survive the Bloodshed and Carnage of a Bad Critique

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

Okay, you’ve just left your critique group and for forty-five minutes, your group shredded your lovely words into sausage. You are left with chorizo and blood dripping off the page. One of the members highlighted every time you used an adverb. Another member wonders if your character is mentally ill, because no rational person ever would’ve done what he\she did. The entire group believes your story is on a one-way trip to Nowheresville, population you.

Okay, maybe you don’t have a critique group. Maybe your critique partner lit your work on fire. Or perhaps your editor commented on the final page, “After reading your latest manuscript, I have decided to start drinking heavily. I will work on the slop you threw on my desk, but if you have any pity in your talentless heart, you will give up writing forever.”

Okay, maybe your work made it through not only your critique group, but your editor, as well, and is actually published. You are perusing your Amazon page, obsessing over your ranking, when you stumble on a review from some English literature professor in Lithuania. It’s a one-star review. Half of it is Cyrillic, but the English half paints you as a demon with a pen, bound for hell. According to him, your work has marked the death of literature and we should all start playing Xbox.

Okay, maybe it’s worse than all that. Maybe your mom read your latest chapter and told you it’s good. Like this:

“So, Mom, what did you think?”

“It’s good, dear.”

“What’s good?”

“The words. I like how you wrote all those words and arranged them into sentences.”

“Did you like it?”

“Yes, dear. Now, how about a nice cup of tea? We can talk about Peyton Manning.”

How do you survive the bitter review, the heartbreaking critique, or un-praise from close family members?

You don’t. 

Die, writer, die.

Wait! What if you can’t NOT write. What if you tried stopping? What if you tried giving up on your current work in progress to work on something more marketable, like an erotica novel based on the relationships in Buffy the Vampire Slayer? But in Russian. You tried to dump the story you love with all your heart, but you just can’t.

You wish you could die, but you can’t stop writing. 

Then listen very closely.



Listen to my whisper.

Critique groups, reviewers, your mom, they are all tools. No, not in the negative middle school name calling way, but in the carpentry way. Sometimes you need a hammer, sometimes you need a screwdriver. Some days you need a hacksaw, some days you don’t.  You might not need the file for months. 

In the end, you are building your own house, writing your own story, fashioning your own work of art. It’s your baby. Some people will not like your baby. Others will adore it. Your story may need a screwdriver and someone in your critique group only has a chainsaw.

The secret to surviving criticism is to look for the truth, acknowledge the opinions, and then apply what cannot be ignored.

Try to ignore it all. Look at Twilight. How well do you think that would’ve done in a critique group? Um, Stephanie, there’s a lot of pining happening. When is something going to actually HAPPEN? You’re gonna' lose your readers. 

Look at the first page of Lonesome Dove. Dude, he starts off with pigs. Really, pigs? I’d have slapped Larry McMurtry. Shoats? What the hell is a shoat, Larry?

And Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone starts off so cartoony. Please. Um, Jo, you might want to watch less Spongebob. Your opening reads like good Nickelodeon gone bad.

Should Stephanie, Larry, and Jo have listened to me? Obviously not. They should’ve ignored me. Ignore criticism if you can.

If you can’t ignore it, if the critique eats away at your soul, if you wake up with it running through your brain, well, it’s truth, homie, and truth you should listen to. If a critique gets its red-inked talons into you, then embrace the truth and try to apply it.

If you can’t apply the criticism, then it’s not meant to be. But at least you were open-minded enough to try. But be careful. Make sure your critique group is supportive. If it’s just a hack and slash party, run the other way. 

And be even more careful. Don’t let a nasty critique murder your book. I’ve had bad critiques murder books before and in the end, no one knows for sure what will and won’t work. I’m not sure if writers, agents, editors, people in the industry, can read like normal readers. Normal readers in some ways are far more forgiving. In other ways, they are as brutal as a starving pitbull in a King Soopers deli.

When you give people half-finished work, they will always have an opinion. Sometimes that opinion will be valid. Other times, your beta readers may just be excited that they have input on a work in progress. If you had given them the same work, the exact same words, but bound with an ISBN number on the front cover, they wouldn’t have any opinions and they’d read the book and love the story because it’s a finished product. 

Finally, don’t take it personally. Such a simple idea, but hard to put into practice. Most likely, we’ll write lots and lots of books, so if one book doesn’t work for someone in your critique group, maybe the next one will. 

Be strong, be confident, listen to what’s true, ignore what’s simple opinion, and above all, keep writing, keep giving your work to people, because words are dead until someone reads them.

Write the story that burns you to cinders. Listen to the critiques that fan the flames.

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. Most recently, his work appears in the steampunk anthology The Penny Dread Tales Volume III and in the latest issue of Electric Spec.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." -Dorothy Parker, born August 22.

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Aaron Michael Ritchey educates us on "How to Survive the Bloodshed and Carnage of a Bad Critique"

...Robin Widmar asks "What's in a Name?"

...An announcement concerning Author Fest

Friday, August 23, 2013

"Like" Our New Facebook Page!

Pikes Peak Writers previously had a regular Facebook account, one that needed to be "friended," rather than "liked." Unfortunately, there is a cap on how many friends a regular account can accept, and we hit that cap last month.

So now we've created a Facebook page that will allow unlimited "likes." This will allow us to continue getting information out to everyone without limiting those who have access to that information.

Pikes Peak Writers uses Facebook to get out information on our upcoming events, such as Write Brains, Open Critiques, Writer's Nights, The Zebulon, and conference announcements. We also share information on our keynotes, such as shared blog posts or news articles. In addition, the Facebook page provides a place for members to connect with each other.

If you haven't liked the new Facebook page, please join us now, and throw us a "like!"

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Voice, or Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Sounding Like Stephen King

By DeAnna Knippling

New writers, we go, “I have to be careful about my reading habits when I write. Otherwise I’ll sound like whomever I’m reading instead of like myself.” I don’t know if all writers do or did this, but I did - briefly. I stopped, not because I  had some insight about it at the time or felt confident that I knew my own voice, but because it interfered with my reading.
There are probably good reasons for not reading while you’re writing, but I seriously doubt they have anything to do with picking up another writer’s voice. If I couldn’t read while I was writing, I’d have more time to write, for one thing. I did The Artist’s Way last year, and when I got to the week of no reading (it’s one of the projects in the book), I got a lot more done, both because of time (I read a lot) and because I had a craving for words. If I couldn’t read someone else’s words, at least I could read my own as I wrote.

But holding back on your reading because you’re worried about copying another writer’s voice? Why bother - you can’t.

Oh, when you’re a beginning writer, it can feel like you’re copying another writer’s voice. And, if you’re lucky in your friends, you might have someone tell you that you kind of sound like Stephen King, but - trust me - you don’t.  

Stephen King, and all writers who have a recognizable voice, have so many things going on at the same time that, as a beginning writer, there’s no way you could recreate that accurately. Sure, you could write a pastiche or a satire - but it would be just that. 

To continue with the example: Stephen King. He’s from Maine. Are you from Maine? He can do accents spot on. And not just Maine ones. Can you? Do you know how to open scenes the way he does? To handle dialogue - not just accents, but in keeping character voices different? How about pacing? Can you pace like Stephen King? And that’s not including personal details that affect his work. Stephen King has certain childhood fears. Do you have the same ones? The exact same ones?  

And so on. Stephen King isn’t just a set of features found on the page. His “voice” comes out of the unique combination of a million different things. He’s unique, I tell you. Unique.  

If you spent your life trying to learn how to write exactly like Stephen King, you couldn’t do it. You’d betray yourself, your own uniqueness. And Stephen King doesn’t hold still, either. He’s still pushing forward, getting better as a writer, acquiring new experiences to add to his “voice.” Any writer worth the paper their books are printed on does. Start trying to write like Stephen King while he’s still alive, and you’d just get further and further behind.

There’s a short story by Jorge Luis Borges called “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.” I hadn’t really grasped the story until recently. It’s about Pierre Menard, who tried to write Don Quixote from scratch. Not copying the book, but immersing himself so much in the author’s life and worldview that he could rewrite the book without actually referring to the book. The story is more complex than that, but in the end, Pierre Menard succeeds, at least to some extent, producing a few bits and pieces that match Don Quixote word for word: two and a half chapters that constitute the bulk of his life’s work.

It’s a silly story, written as a passionate defense by a literary critic, who claims that Menard’s work is “richer” than Cervantes’, even where the two texts match exactly. Silly, until you think of all the writers who are afraid of sounding like another writer after reading a couple of books by them. 

When I was younger, I wanted to write stories just like Borges. I failed; even given that I don’t have the same style, my ideas and plots aren’t even close. The writer who comes the closest, in my opinion, is Umberto Eco. In one of Borges’s stories (“The Library of Babel”), he writes of an infinite library that contains every possible book (including an infinite number of books of gibberish). Eco, in The Name of the Rose, tries to write a very similarly-described library (the library in the mysterious monastery is laid out physically in much the same way as the library in Borges’s story, and the blind librarian Jorge of Burgos features prominently in the plot; Jorge Luis Borges was himself blind and a librarian). While these two stories share a fictional element - the library - there’s no way you could confuse the two creations. The writers’ voices are too different, even though it’s fairly easy to see that Eco used Borges as an inspiration.  

Another example: Neil Gaiman likes to write Sherlock Holmes stories. Yet there’s no way you could confuse the two writers. A master storyteller - Gaiman - trying his best to write a pastiche, and there’s still no way you could confuse the two (except for, possibly, very brief passages, as in the “Pierre Menard” story).  

So what to do when you feel like you’re absorbing another writer’s voice?

The easy advice is to say, “Just don’t worry about it.” Bah. Telling someone to “just not worry” never did a bit of good. So instead I’ll say - celebrate it. Because if you can’t learn an author’s true voice, then what are you doing when you feel like you’re picking up on another author’s voice?

Learning technique. The same way the writers you love learned their techniques, from writers they loved.

Feel like you sound like Stephen King? Great! Keep at it.  

Just, you know, quick harassing your friends to constantly keep pointing it out to you.

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

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

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

COPPA Aims to Protect Children Online

By Stacy S. Jensen

Do you know about COPPA? That's the Children's Online Privacy Act. I'm not an attorney, nor do I write about them, so I can't really explain it. I am a reader, writer, and blogger, so I'll try to give you a log line.

COPPA aims to protect the privacy of children online.

COPPA rules became effective on July 1. So, if you have a website or blog catering to children — author, illustrator, or developer of children's picture books or storybook apps — you may need to have a privacy policy in place to address the rules outlined by COPPA.

Here are links with more information on the new COPPA rules:

  • COPPA and you! by Roxie Munro

The Internet is filled with tons of wonderful information — and some unsavory characters too — I want to keep the Internet a safe place for potential readers and the children I know.

If you don't have a privacy policy on your website or blog, take a look at the FAQs about COPPA and see if you need to have one or not. There are sites online to help you create a privacy policy like this one.

During a recent web design class, my teacher indicated anyone who has a form — one of those fill-in-the blanks and send me a message-type forms — should have a privacy policy on her site.

I'm not affiliated with any of the sites, but that's another post about the FTC required disclosures in blog posts.

Do you have a privacy policy on your site? Do you think you need one?

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. Blog: Twitter: @StacySJensen

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"It's just a matter of writing the kind of book I enjoy reading. Something better be happening at the beginning, and then on every page after, or I get irritated." -Jonathan Franzen, born August 17.

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Stacy S. Jensen tells us a bit about the COPPA rules in "COPPA Aims to Protect Children Online"

...DeAnna Knippling tells us why we should just relax in "Voice, or Why You Shouldn't Worry About Sounding Like Stephen King"

...We introduce the new Facebook Page for Pikes Peak Writers

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Free August Events Reminder

August Write Brain
What: Writing a Winner: Tips and Tricks for Entering Writing Contests
Who: Dawn Smit & MB Partlow
When: Tuesday, August 20, 6:30-8:30 PM
Where: Penrose Library, 20 N. Cascade Ave., Carnegie Room (Note: There is street parking, as well as two lots available. The meters are free after 6 PM.)
More Information: Want to improve your odds of winning a writing contest? Insure you're judged on the quality of your writing, not the mistakes you made in following the guidelines? Dawn Smit and MB Partlow will address tips, tricks, do's and don'ts for writing contests. In addition, you'll get advice on writing synopses, query letters, and formatting your entry. Plus, you'll have a leg up on your competition for the 2014 Zebulon Writing Contest (note the official new name of the Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Writing Contest!) We'll teach you everything you need to know about entering a writing contest, and give you the tools to meet all the guidelines they lay out. RSVP to

About the Presenters: 
Dawn Smit: Dawn Smit was born the youngest of four children in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she spent nearly all of her formative years. After receiving her bachelor's in business administration and her master's in international management, she knew what she really wanted to do was write. Marriage to a supportive husband made her writing dream possible, and she now dedicates a portion of each day to her stories. She was given an unusual gift, the ability to dream in novel format. To date she has 80+ novels in her mind, most of which tie together by what her readers will come to know as the shadows. Dawn currently lives in Monument, Colorado. Through Spiral Eyes, her first published book, placed third in the 2001 Paul Gillette Memorial Writing Contest for science fiction/fantasy. Her current book, Rainbow Editing(TM), is a companion to her workshop of the same name, in which she introduces a colorful new weapon in the war against sloppy writing and the eternal editing cycle. Visit Dawn at her website:

MB Partlow: After moving to Colorado, MB got a job in the A&E department of The Independent. She wrote a parenting column for Pikes Peak Parent for several years, and currently free-lances for The Gazette. She's happiest, though, when rearranging reality to suit the needs of her characters, currently in the genre of urban fantasy. She's a longtime volunteer for PPW, working her way up from chair stacker at Write Brains to Moderator Coordinator, Contest Coordinator, and now Director of Programming.

PPW Open Critique Night
When: Wednesday, August 21, 6:00-8:30 P.M.
Location: Cottonwood Center for the Arts, 427 E. Colorado Ave., Colorado Springs, CO
More Information: The first 8 to RSVP can have up to 8 pages of their manuscript pages discussed by the group and the night's guest critiquer. All are welcome to come observe.

PPW Night at Ivywild
**PLEASE NOTE the change of venue**
When: Monday, August 26, 2013; 6:30-8:30 PM
Location: The Principal's Office in the Ivywild School, 1604 South Cascade Ave., Colorado Springs, CO 80905
More Information: Join fellow writers on the 4th Monday of each month for writerly discussion, laughter, and socializing. The direction of the discussion is decided by the participants.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Story Tips #11 - Plotting Variations

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. 

***     ***     ***     ***

It’s been a year! How could that be? Sheesh.

Over the last twelve months, we’ve looked at the most common story structure: Three Act Structure. We’ve looked at outlining and at the Hero’s Journey Structure. In this, I’d like to give you an overview of a few plotting variations. As you’ll see, with some, there isn’t always a clear-cut line keeping these structures within their boundaries. I present them in no particular order. Remember, we’re stealing from screenwriters, so many of the examples will be films or television shows. 

Multiple Plot Stories: These are the ensemble pieces with many characters. Each character or group of characters has its own story, complete with inciting incident, turning points one and two, a beginning, middle, and end. Usually, these stories contain an overall story theme and each sub-plot is linked either by place or by time frame. 

Examples of this plot variation: many one-hour TV dramas, such as CSI, West Wing, Third Watch, and movies, such as Gossford Park and American Beauty

Act Mix-up: This is a technique in which the third act is presented first, followed by how the characters got there. The TV show Columbo was known for showing the arrest first, followed by backstory, including the reasons for the crime, the crime itself, and how Columbo put all the pieces together.

Same Story, Mulitiple POV’s: This style presents a story multiple times through the eyes of different characters. In the TV show Boomtown (which I liked - certainly the kiss of death when I like it) the crime is committed, then replayed through each character’s point of view. The movies Rashomon, Z, and Lawless Heart are examples of this style. For more information on this structure, check out Teach Yourself Film Studies, by Warren Buckland.

Two Act Structure: This is the typical structure for half-hour sitcoms. The plot is equally divided, half and half, with the cliffhanger moment at the end of Act I and a moment of truth halfway through Act II, followed by resolution. This is a simple structure that likely can’t carry novel length fiction. However, it might be perfect for the short story.

Four or Five Act Structure: Longer Films like Gone with the Wind, Braveheart, Casino, and Titanic follow this structure. The turning points in this structure are the same as with three act structure, with turning point one at the quarter mark and turning point two at the three quarter mark.

Nine Act Structure: This structure can simply be a division of three acts into nine. However, that isn’t necessarily so. It features a significant change of goal in the middle. For example, in ET the first goal was to keep ET here and the second to get ET home. In Mrs. Doubtfire, the first goal was to become Mrs. Doubtfire in order to get the kids back and the second to become the husband and father the kids’ mother wanted. If you’re interested in learning more about this structure, take a look at this website:

Portmanteau structure: These stories contain separate stories running back to back. They are linked by the same characters, the same location, the same theme, the same event, etc. This structure is often found in themed anthologies. 

As you can see, there are many flavors of plot. Genre fiction tends toward those which are less “different.” Literary fiction is often where you find the less classic structures. If you’d like to read more on these variations, I point you to Teach Yourself Screenwriting, by Raymond Frensham.

Now that we’ve studied overall story structure, the plan for the next part of the series is to study the structure of the scene, primarily, but not exclusively, from a screenwriting perspective.  

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.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Teaching My Way Through the Baltic, Part I

By Karen Albright Lin

Not long ago, I blogged about landing a teaching gig on a cruise through the Baltic. I’m back and would love to tell you about the experience: the good, the bad, and the wonderful.

My husband, Wen, and I adjusted to the mid-June BST time zone by staying in London for a few days before taking a bus to Southampton then a taxi to the port. My special boarding letter allowed us into the VIP short line, but before we could get into it, we discovered the port personnel had no idea how to mark our bags. As a guest speaker, my state room wasn’t on the manifest. We were asked to leave them abandoned, isolated from the others. We could only hope they’d make their way onto the ship.

Once aboard, it took a trip to the guest relations desk to find out that our mystery room was just past the “crew only” door. When the bags didn’t arrive, we went searching. We soon found one of them outside another state room door and grabbed it. After informing someone who appeared to be a bag delivery man, we later got the other two.

The first meal was a bit chaotic, as they implemented new server rules after the last trip included a norovirus outbreak. That also explained the obsessive sanitizer guy at the dining room door. 

I donned my spiffy blazer and met the activities director and the cruise director to film a teaser for the classes. It would air on the stateroom TVs. We filmed in what would become Wen’s and my afternoon Zumba/karaoke/pop dancing hangout the rest of the trip. In one quick take, I gave a brief bio and a general idea of what I would teach. I never turned the in-house TV station on to see it or the subsequent five classes I taught.

We spent DAY TWO wandering and sampling terrific beers in Zeebrugge, Belgium.

When the next day’s itinerary was delivered, I discovered that my classes were scheduled parallel to a quiz game modeled on a popular British TV show, as well as talks about coming ports. The competition was akin to teaching at a writers’ conference parallel to Donald Maass, Deb Dixon, and Robert Crais.

After the luggage SNAFU and the clogged up dining hall, I worried about whether there would be an A/V assistant helping me get hooked up to the screen when I was to teach the next day.

DAY THREE, Sea Day, 10:15am, first class: Have a Great Story to Tell? I was relieved the A/V guy was there, and that he was a perfect helper. I used a headset like Justin Bieber’s and felt like a star in front of the red velvet curtain, a screen the size of a three-car garage door, and one smaller one off to each side. There were 30 or so in the small theater and I discovered quickly that Brits and Australians (and a scattering of Irish and Scotts) were extremely attentive, but did not like to raise their hands when queried. I had to adjust; I was used to U.S. writer attendees who tend to be wide-eyed and eager to contribute. I was thrilled when several followed me out, complimenting my PowerPoint presentation, sharing their stories, and asking questions. The number of attendees who chatted with me after the sessions grew over the course of two weeks.

My husband and I are both gregarious. We chose the flexible dinner time and to be seated with new people each night. Along with dancing and socializing every chance we got, this was a great way to get to know many guests and talk up my classes—one reason the attendance grew. A new friendship sometimes overrides a quiz game!

The evening after my first class, we returned to our room to find a “job well done” iced-down bottle of Champagne and a plate of apples. Of course, I called the activities director to thank her.

DAY FOUR we strolled through former East Germany’s Warnemünde and took a train into the quaint town of Rostock to visit the Marienkirche Church and see the world’s oldest working astronomical clock (built in 1492).  

DAY FIVE, at sea, I taught Writing Your Life to a bit larger crowd. Lots of fun energy and a few people willing to raise hands and ask questions. Balcony vantage at that evening’s Las Vegas-style show offered a view of a sea of gray and silver hair, many likely interested in putting legacies to paper. If my class motivated a few of those in the crowd to write their stories, I will have earned my free cruise for two.

Next post, I’ll offer highlights of the rest of the 14-day cruise and more on what it was like to be a guest speaker.  

(This post first appeared on the Sisters of the Quill blog, July 16, 2013.)

About the Writer:  Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it." -Alex Haley, born August 11.

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Karen Albright Lin shares her experiences teaching on a cruise ship in "Teaching My Way Through the Baltic."

...Jax Hunter brings us Story Tips #11: Plotting Variations."

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sagging Middles, Control Tops, & PPWC 2013

By Jennie Marts

For the most part, writing is a solitary occupation. Although most of us have jobs, family, and /or friends, we still choose to hole ourselves away and spin imaginary tales of heroism and happily ever after. There are some who understand the grueling desperation of word count and edits, but most see that ‘fun writing thing’ as a cute hobby that they have either “always wanted to do” or are “going to get around to trying one of these days” because they’ve “always wanted to write a book, but just haven’t gotten around to it.”

So not everyone understands the excitement of that last weekend in April when we get to tuck ourselves away at the Marriott up on the hill and surround ourselves with other writers. The fun of being with other people who know the strange lingo of your life. The magic of walking down the halls and hearing snippets of conversation about the hero’s journey or the black moment. Who know what query letters are and that a sagging middle is not just describing your forty-year old abdomen that has seen too many Cheetos and not enough sit-ups.

One of the great things about the Pikes Peak Writers Conference is the diversity of the writers. You can be sitting at the bar between people of all walks of life who spin tales of romance, fantasy, cowboys and demons, or a story of a prince with Down’s Syndrome. You can be in the restaurant and have a famous editor plunk down next to you and ask, “How’s the cheesecake here?” You can be sitting in a workshop between an author who just signed a six-figure deal and a writer who raises their hand to ask, “What’s a log line?” And you just smile and think, "someday that will be me" and "oh yeah, that used to be me."

What a great four days to spend conversing and learning and networking. To have time carved out of our busy lives to hone our craft and learn what’s happening in the industry from the folks who are knee-deep in it is invaluable. It’s a terrible catch-22 when the majority of your knowledge comes from the very place that you vow not to get on in the morning until you have written 1000 words. The internet is a valuable tool. Where else can you take two minutes and find a good poison that will kill quickly without leaving a trace, or do a quick search for hot cowboy names? But the very thing that helps us is also a giant time suck, with too many hours spent catching up with friends, pinning new boards, and trying to clear the jelly on Candy Crush in just one more game.

Being able to sit down and talk to the people who are in the trenches with you is such a gift. To understand that writing is something in our soul, that it’s not a hobby that we dabble at, but a creative part of our being that we MUST do. To be able to say, “I’m stuck on this scene, I’m waiting for my characters to tell me what’s gonna happen next,” and have people nod and understand instead of discreetly scoot to another table.

This was my fourth year at the PPWC and I spent it hanging out with a great friend I met the first year I attended. Over the years, I have made not only contacts, but friends. People I stay in contact with through email or Facebook, whose smiles I look forward to seeing each year as we congregate in the shadow of Pikes Peak.

I love the creative aspect of the conference, as well. Walking through the lobby, seeing writers bent over a notepad, scribbling down a new idea or typing furiously on their laptops, or even staring out the window at the view of the mountains, dreaming up a yet unwritten story.

I love the magical air of possibility that surrounds the conference. Not only while you are there, but for weeks leading up to it. Wondering how your pitch will go or if you will be brave enough to read your own first page. Hoping that your number one choice of editors will sit next to you in the bar and you will be witty and charming and clever and not spill your drink on them. Knowing that anything can happen is exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Being in the presence of other authors is inspiring in itself. Listening to the speakers, the ones who have ‘made it’, who got to quit their day job and write for a living, tell their stories of encouragement. To eavesdrop on their lives and hear them tell tales of tears, rejection letters, working two jobs and writing while hoping the university doesn’t find out they're doing so on their endowment. And yet, they still wrote. They still had stories to tell. They still murdered their darlings and sent out queries and opened emails from editors with desperate hope in their hearts. And we hang on their every word. We have read their books and rush to buy another in the bookstore to have them sign. We casually sit next to them and ask if this is their first time in Colorado, when inside we are jumping up and down that we are talking to this amazing author. And I believe that the authors enjoy being able to inspire us, to encourage us, and to hear us say how we love their books. And to enjoy being with other writers who can now see them just as ordinary people who have ordinary lives and are worried about word count, and where will they will get that next idea, and how many emails are piling up while they are enjoying looking at the mountains, and regretting the decision to wear those control tops that are now cutting across their sagging middles.

All the pieces of the conference converge into one long weekend of creative engagement. But I can’t imagine missing a minute of it. From the innovative workshops to the terrifying pitch appointments. To three days of filling your head and your notebook with ideas and thoughts and new things to try (no, I haven’t checked out Hootsuite yet, but it’s on my list!). To a handful of cards and random sheets of paper with emails scribbled across them and promises to keep in touch. To a new set of friends who I now chat with on Facebook, occasionally tweet with, and have set coffee dates with. Thanks so much to the folks who put this amazing weekend together. It is a whirlwind ride, but worth every penny of the price of admission.  

About the Author: Jennie Marts writes Romance, Mystery and Humorous Women's Fiction. She loves to make readers laugh as she weaves stories about love, friendship and intrigue. She lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons, a parakeet and a golden retriever puppy. She enjoys being a member of (RWA) Romance Writers of America, the Pikes Peak Chapter of RWA, and Pikes Peak Writers. Jennie spends her spare time playing volleyball and reading and believes you can’t have too many books, shoes or friends. You can find her at or on Facebook. Her debut novel, Another Saturday Night and I Ain't Got No Body, released in December, 2012 and is available on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Courting Solitude

by Deb McLeod

Deb McLeod Writers Courting Solitude Summer is not the best time for writing classes. So I took July off to focus on getting the draft of my novel, The Julia Set, ready for my beta readers. The first thing I focused on was this giant spreadsheet of the braid of the four narrators that make up my thriller. It’s one of those pedestrian acts in my writing process that allow me to look at the order of things and make sure Character One isn’t reacting to things that haven’t yet happened in Character Two’s world. An interesting and necessary part of my process but it doesn’t tap into that creative exploration place. I’ve been in editing mode for a few months now.

At the same time, an old friend I knew when I lived in New Orleans messaged me on Facebook to ask how my book was coming. Other than the New Orleans setting, I haven’t really shared all that much about my novel, as it’s a departure from my usual writing style and genre. I’m experimenting.

During our message conversation, it occurred to me that she likely thought this was a novel about My New Orleans – the place and people I experienced when I lived there for a short time in my early twenties. It isn’t.

I went back to my spreadsheet, my characters, and my busy work until an involuntary memory of an incident in New Orleans flashed into my mind. That started a chain of memories that coalesced into an insight of ‘life as story’. The muse had come and I spent the next few hours following those thoughts, planning a story or perhaps a novella based in my experience of New Orleans and where it lived in my life.

Later, back at my spreadsheet, I thought about how long it’s been since inspiration has struck quite that way. Nowadays my inspirations come in small bursts when I’m writing a scene or figuring out a section of my novel. My writing is my work and I do it every day. But I sandwich it between my business and taking care of my health, my home and my family. My month off was intended to pare down life and quiet my mind so I could complete my novel.

Quiet and Creativity

I first noticed how my creativity craves a quiet mind when I went to Italy. I spent the first ten days of a three-week trip on a tour of the Dark Mother on the island of Sardegna. About fourteen of us followed Professor Lucia Chiavola Birnbaum as she traced the ancient goddess religion in art, architecture, and culture from approximately 8000 BCE to present day. After the tour I went on to mainland Italy and stayed in an ancient home that belonged to a branch of my ancestors in a small city in a valley in the Abruzzo Mountains.

By the time I got to the three-floor flat (4 if you count the rooftop patio) I had parlayed my college Spanish into enough Italian to get around. During my stay, I found relatives and old family homes, studied signs of the Goddess that made their way through the Etruscans and into modern day Italian life and culture—all while experiencing the most extraordinary quiet in my mind. No television or radio. Internet was in the back room of Mario’s Gelato Shop in the afternoons on the days when it was open. I did some chatting, but not much; I had no set schedule and all new experiences. I have never written so easily or eagerly. I carried that quiet home and held onto it as long as I could. But, the noise of my life came back. It’s harder now that most of us writers are fulfilling the role of creator, the role of marketer and, in some cases, the role of publisher. Courting the quiet mind has become even more important.

Here are some things that have worked for me:
Deb McLeod Writers Courting Solitude

11:00 am Boundary
My writing life changed for the better about fifteen years ago when I put up my 11:00 am boundary. My day used to start with the newspaper or a brisk walk with my neighbors. I know people who watch the news or news entertainment shows in the morning. Many, many people start the day with email.

I start with writing. Like exercise, writing is great when it’s done. I grew up with the adage "hard things first." So I write first, then engage with the world. My mind is freshest in the morning. I advise my clients to find their most alert sweet spot and put up some boundaries.

Nowadays, I’ve stretched my boundary to 1:30 pm. That means, for the most part, no client meetings, no doctor’s appointments, no lunch visits and no email (this one is hard). Not only does my boundary keep out the rest of the world, it sends a serious intention outward into the universe and inward to your muse that you want to work during these hours, and that you expect some cooperation from the rest of the world and your creative mind. Starting your writing session with a firm intention goes a long way to achieving your goals.

Coffee Shop White Noise
I’m starting to see research studies into why people are more productive in a busy environment like a coffee shop. Some say it’s the white noise. For me, it’s being in the bustle while at the same time being removed from it all. Nothing engages my writer’s mind like that feeling: isolated and observing in a world I both belong to and am alien from. That is the essence of the writer me. It is the child I was and the place where the artist in me emerges.

Mack’s earplugs
I have found the perfect earplugs: not too stiff that I can’t wear them for hours, and not too soft that I can hear through them. Mack’s Original Soft Foam earplugs are my earplug of choice. I buy them on Amazon. I have noticed a difference when I put them in even when I’m home alone. Just cutting out the noise of the refrigerator, the computer, the load of wash I put in, or the occasional dog collar jingle helps me focus. And it simulates that coffee shop feeling. With my Mack’s I can write anywhere. But my zone is sitting in a coffee shop early in the morning with my Mack’s intact.

Stepping out of life isn’t practical, but I can simulate that feeling since I’ve found what works for me. I will continue to take time off from teaching during the summer to recharge the quiet in my mind. And I will court solitude every single day.

What works for you?

About the Author: Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach and founder of The Writing Ranch. 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. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

August Letter From the Editor

August, already. The waning of summer. And with this change, we bring changes to Pikes Peak Writers.

The website has been updated. We hope you find it easier to navigate. Check it out at Want to sign up for a free Pikes Peak Writers membership? You can do that on the People tab. Want to access our online recordings of the past few Write Brains? Go to the Events tab and look for Delve Writing Events. Also on the Events tab, you'll find information on upcoming Write Brains, Open Critiques, and Writer's Nights, as well as other special events. Find out anything you need to know about The Zebulon on the Contest tab. Bonus: if you forget where this blog is, you'll find it on the new Blog tab!

In addition to the website changes, we now offer you the ability to propose a workshop online. Whether you wish to present it or suggest someone else, there is now an easy way to do either. Want to present a Write Brain or conference workshop? Go to our new Workshop Proposal Portal. You'll have the option to choose a length and describe your workshop or panel, as well as anything you need to go along with it. And it's easy to do!

Not interested in presenting a workshop, but have something to suggest? Maybe you saw someone present elsewhere, and you'd love to see them again with Pikes Peak Writers. You can Request a Workshop. Both this capability and the Workshop Proposal Portal can be found on the website under the PPWC tab or the Events tab.

Another change was to our Facebook page. It has been switched from a regular account, which you had to "friend," to a business page. If you haven't already, please pay us a visit and "like" us. Unfortunately, we had to change, because we were at our limit for friends. The only way to continue welcoming new folks was to switch to a page. The new url is We post our events on the page, and it's a great way to keep up to date on everything going on, or to chat with fellow writers.

Finally, we've changed the Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Writing Contest. It's now named The Zebulon. As in years past, the winners will be announced at Pikes Peak Writers Conference (you don't have to be present to win). For more information on The Zebulon, see the Contest tab.

A note on the blog: we are looking for a columnist, as Cindi Madsen has had to resign. We're sad to see her go, but happy for her that the reason has to do with the hustle and bustle of the published life. For those interested in the position, please email me at We ask for one blog post per month, with the deadline being the 25th of the month prior to your post date (so August 25 is the deadline for September posts). This is not a paid position, but we'll link to your personal blog or website in the sidebar, and your bio will be shared at the end of each of your posts.

We're also looking for someone to handle our Sweet Success posts. You'd be responsible for posting reminders for people to contact you with their Sweet Success information, gathering the information you'll need for their posts, and compiling that information. Again, if interested in this position, email me at This is also not a paid position, but we'll link to your blog or personal website in the sidebar.

Let us know what you think about all the changes!

~Shannon Lawrence
Managing Editor, Writing From the Peak
NCE Director, Pikes Peak Writers

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted." -Percy Bysshe Shelley (born August 4)

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...The August Letter From the Editor

...Deb McLeod talks about "Courting Solitude"

...Jennie Marts tells us about her PPWC 2013 experience in "Sagging Middles, Control Tops, and PPWC 2013"

Friday, August 2, 2013

August News, Events & Links

PPW News

The August Write Brain will be "Writing a Winner: Tips & Tricks for Entering Writing Contests," featuring MB Partlow and Dawn Smit. Tuesday, August 20, 6:30-8:30 P.M. at Penrose Library. Want to improve your odds of winning a writing contest? Insure you're judged on the quality of your writing, not the mistakes you made in following the guidelines? Dawn Smit and MB Partlow will address tips, tricks, do's and don'ts for writing contests. In addition, you'll get advice on writing synopses, query letters, and formatting your entry. Plus, you'll have a leg up on your competition for the 2014 Zebulon Writing Contest (note the official new name of the Pikes Peak Writers Fiction Writing Contest!) We'll teach you everything you need to know about entering a writing contest, and give you the tools to meet all the guidelines they lay out. RSVP to You can find more information on the PPW Events tab above.

You can find the recording of the July Write Brain, The Outer Limits of Inner Life: Bringing Characters to Life by Looking Within, presented by David Corbett, on the PPW Events tab.

Writer's Night has a new location. The next one is Monday, August 26, 6:30 to 8:30 P.M., in the Principal's Office at Ivywild School, 1604 S. Cascade Ave.

PPW Open Critique will occur on Wednesday, August 21, 6:00 to 8:30 PM, at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts. The first 8 to RSVP may bring 8 pages of their manuscript to critique. More information on the Events tab.

Other "Local" Events

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers will host Cindi Myers, as she presents How to Be Your Own Best Editor: Self Editing for Writers, on Saturday, August 17, from 9 A.M. to 12:00 P.M. There will be a continental breakfast at 8:45 A.M. The meeting will be in the Business Incubator Center. They will also have their Writer of the Year Event, Saturday, August 10, 4:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M., at Denver's BookBar.

Colorado Springs Fiction Writers has various meetings throughout at the month at different locations. Visitors are welcome. 

Black Cat Books and the BAC, located in Manitou Springs, have lots of programs for readers and writers alike.  Even knitters!  Check out the events page for more information.

The Pikes Peak Romance Writers of America will have a pot luck on Sunday, August 11, from 2:00 to 4:00 P.M. at the BAC. 

The Pikes Peak Branch of the National League of American Pen Women and Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America are both on hiatus for the summer. Programming for each will continue in September.

Publications Open for Submissions and Contests:
Please note: Inclusion of links in this post does not equal sponsorship by Pikes Peak Writers or a relationship between the two entities.  Please always be sure to pursue due diligence before submitting anything to a publication or contest.

Rose Red Review accepts submissions art, photography, short fiction, flash fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry. The reading period for their Autumn 2013 issue ends August 12. They're looking for the dark origin of fairy tales and other beasties.

UFO Publishing is seeking submissions for Coffee: Caffeinated Tales of the Fantastic. Coffee must be a major plot element. Submissions close August 31. Pays $.05 per word. Short or flash fiction with an element of the fantastic.

Rhino's submission window closes August 31. They seek poetry, translations of poetry, and flash. Pays in a contributor copy.

Dreadful Cafe is soliciting query letters for their first anthology, Membrane. All genres, but there is a theme. Pays $125 for short stories, $250 for novelettes, $500 for novellas. Deadline is TBD, but I imagine the sooner you get it in, the better, as they'll close it when they've found what they want. It opened in April.

The theme for the Kazka Press 713 Flash contest for September is Warning Sign. The deadline is August 20. Stories must be between 713 and 1000 words. Pays $10.

The Sustainable Arts Foundation issues a Sustainable Arts Foundation Award of $6000 and a Sustainable Arts Foundation Promise Award of $1000 to writers and artists with families (children). You must submit a portfolio. The deadline to apply is August 31.

Dreamspinner Press has an open call for submissions for Dr. Feelgood is for romantic short fiction stories with a medical/physical health theme. Deadline is October 1.

The First Line has their next winter theme out. They give you the starting line, you finish it. Winter theme is due November 1. Click on the link to view the prompt sentences. Pays $30 for fiction, $20 for non-fiction, plus a contributor copy.

Emby Press has several upcoming anthologies about monster hunters: Blood Trails is looking for your standard monster hunter as part of a trilogy of anthologies, with a deadline of August 15; Doomsday seeks monster hunters with a focus on an apocalyptic scenario, an outbreak, an epidemic, with a deadline of September 15; The Dark Monocle seeks steampunk monster hunters, with a deadline of October 15. All pay $25.

Alaska Quarterly Review seeks short fiction, fiction novel excerpts, poems, short plays, literary non-fiction, and photo essays. They do not open for submissions until August 15.

Descant is taking part in the 25 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with an issue following the theme of Berlin. Pays $100 honorarium. Seeking fiction, poetry, essays, and art. Deadline August 16.
Horrified Press is accepting submissions for Until the End, an anthology featuring short and flash fiction based on a couple left behind in the apocalypse. Deadline August 20. Pays in royalties. May consider poetry. They're also seeking submissions for Tales of the Undead - Suffer Eternal, Volume III. Deadline August 25. Pays in royalties.

Chuffed Buff Books seeks poetry for Poetry and the City. Deadline August 31. Pays £4 per poem.

Wolf Willow Journal has four editions of their literary journal each year. They're thematic, but will accept things that don't follow the theme. Macabre Symphony will be their October 2013 edition. Poetry, fiction, non-fiction, artwork, and photography. Fall reading period ends August 31. Pays $20 for short fiction and creative non-fiction. Pays $10 for flash, photography, poetry, and art (cover art pays $20).

Live in Brampton? The Brampton Arts Council offers a grant to writers of any kind, as long as their ultimate goal is publication. Amount varies. Deadline August 29.

Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing has an anthology call out. The Cogs of Time is a steampunk anthology. Deadline October 31. Pay unknown.

The August theme for Crossed Genres is Young Adult, with a deadline of August 31. Pays 5 cents per word.

World Weaver Press is seeking submissions for a Krampus anthology (yet to be named). Krampus is St. Nick's nasty associate, who comes along to punish children deserving of some discipline. Pays $10 and a paperback copy of the anthology.

The Sleepers Almanac, No. 9 is seeking submissions. Closes August 4. Pay unknown.

Alban Lake Publishing is seeking submissions for their quarterly MG magazine, FrostFire Worlds. Open submissions throughout the year. Pays $15 for original stories, $3 for original poems, $6 for illustrations, $10 for articles.

Submission and Contest links originally posted on The Warrior Muse.

About the Author:  After years of letting her writing fall by the wayside, Shannon Lawrence 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, and her short horror story "The Blue Mist" will be in the March 2014 issue of Nightfall Magazine. 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