Monday, September 30, 2013

Reviews - Read 'em and Weep? Or Ignore Them Completely?

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

Oh, Lordy, reviews. Online reviews are the modern-day equivalent of saying to the universe, “Read my book and tell me what you think.” Reviews are now vital because, as we all know, word-of-mouth sells more books than anything else, and hopefully, online reviews are word-of-mouth turned up to the power of ten. Hopefully it goes to eleven.

And speaking of numbers, there is an urban legend that if you get fifty reviews on Amazon, and if you stand in front of the mirror in the bathroom and say “Joe Konrath” three times, your book will become a bestseller. Okay, you may have to light a candle or something, or maybe you have to say “Barry Eisler” seven times. Either way, the more reviews the better. And they better be real. Amazon has hired a hit man to kill anyone who gives their friend a glowing five-star review. It has to come from your heart, dammit.

Agents, editors, readers, writers, everyone is looking at reviews, and this is why your friend who has the book published is pleading with you to write a review and post it on Goodreads, or Amazon, or anywhere else reviews are collected.  Then people might stumble across your book, buy it, and tell two friends who tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on.

I miss 1970’s commercials.
But what are the real value of reviews?

I have some friends who don’t read their reviews, who have yanked their Goodreads account, who write, publish, write some more, and move on. Which is probably smart. However, since I am not smart, nor wise, I read my reviews and relish them.

Word of caution. It’s kind of awkward to email an acquaintance who reviewed your book, and didn’t like something, for more information. I did that, and the person was nice about it, but yeah, awkward. No one likes to be specific about telling you how much you suck.

The problem with reviews is kind of like the problem with critiques. People like\hate\love\adore \loathe different things.

I had some reviewers of The Never Prayer who hated Jozey’s voice and they said he didn’t sound like any three-year-old boy they had ever met. And Johnny Beels, his southern accent? Please, could I have some grammar? I wrote him in dialect. Nobody liked it.

Until a reviewer did. I met a young reader at RT this year who promised to read my book and give it a low ranking. I wanted a one-star scathing review. I’ve gotten a two-star iffy review, but I wanted more. I wanted scorch. The reader promised me she’d roast me over the coals.

In the end, she couldn’t. She loved the book and wrote me a long message about all the things she liked and didn’t like. She liked Jozey, yeah, and Johnny Beels’ southern accent? She thought I nailed it. Boom.

So read your reviews, don’t read your reviews; in the end, it doesn’t much matter. However, do you know why I relish my reviews? It’s proof someone read my book.

I wrote for years, not letting anyone see what I wrote. I was too afraid of what they would say. I overcame the fear, got published, and I love it when someone reviews me. Even the guy from Germany who hated Johnny Beels’ southern accent. No, especially him.

A guy in Germany read my book. Girls in the Philippines have read my book. Real people all over the world are reading my words.

In this crazy business, we don’t get paid much money, but some of the experiences we get are priceless.

I’d like to thank all of the people who reviewed my book. Even those who hated the name of my character Chael.

Hard “K” sound. Chael. Like the vegetable. I liked the way it looked on the page.

About the Author: 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, September 29, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

“That's what fiction is for. It's for getting at the truth when the truth isn't sufficient for the truth.” -Tim O'Brien, born October 1.

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Aaron Michael Ritchey addresses reviews and what they mean to authors

...Our monthly news, events, and links, sharing local writing events and news, as well as links to publications and contests you might find helpful

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sweet Success! Karen Albright Lin

Compiled by Kathie Scrimgeour

Karen Lin has a lot of Sweet Successes to share!
It was announced that Karen Albright Lin’s feature length horror screenplay, Dark Side of Morning Light, is a quarterfinalist in the 2013 Scream Craft Horror Screenplay Competition.  The screenplay tells the story of a mother who wades through Chinese mythical culture to free her son of a hunger striker who has possessed him.  Ms. Albright Lin is now a monthly columnist for BTS Book and Book Trailer Reviews, a partner with Barnes & Noble.  She’ll be writing about the multitude of genres she’s dabbled in.  Her column is called "Karen’s Writing Detours. " Her first article is in the August 2013 issue.  Karen is now represented by Deborah Ritchken of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, who is currently marketing Karen’s cookbook, Nature's Wrap: Cooking in Leaves; Recipes from Around the World.  Ms. Albright Lin just returned from teaching writing classes on a cruise through the  Baltic and will teach again in December for Celebrity Cruise Line, destinations Belize, Panama, Cartagena, Costa Rica and Colon.

Karen Albright Lin is a professional editor/consultant for multi-published and yet-to-be published writers of fiction, nonfiction, and screenplays. She’s a ghostwriter of novels and writes for newspapers and magazines, as well as literary magazines. She has won or placed in 25 writing contests. She’s written and collaborated on five short scripts and ten feature length screenplays that have garnered international, national and regional awards - one produced. Her co-written scripts have been considered by James Cameron, Barry Sonnenfeld, HBO, Showtime and the Sci Fi Channel. She speaks at writer’s conferences, retreats, and on cruises.

We love to hear of fellow Pikes Peak Writers' Sweet Successes, including story acceptances, winning contests, getting published and book signings. Please email Kathie Scrimgeour at if you've got a Sweet Success you'd like to share.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Working on My Puzzle, er, Manuscript

"Easy-to-read is hard to write."  — Pam Zollman

By Stacy S. Jensen

As a kid, I worked on jigsaw puzzles. Today, I'm back at work. No pieces this time — a jumble of words.
My quest to add submissions into my writing process has resulted in feedback and rewrites.

The revisions click on some days. I hear angels sing.

On other days, I feel like all the puzzle pieces are black. I have no idea where to begin. I hear my toddler say, "Now, that's a problem."

Before critique groups, I rewrote my manuscripts completely. It's an easier technique with a 500 or less word picture book manuscript. Third person point-of-view changed to first person. My main character morphed from a boy to a girl. Secondary characters vanished.

Now with an assortment of critique groups — in person, online, and a local Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) critique group — I add a new layer to the process. I pick a version to submit and absorb the feedback.

I've decided to allow myself to be irritated by some suggestions.

"They can't kill my darlings! That's my job!" Oops said that out loud.

Of course, I've found that acknowledging how the feedback annoys me actually helps me. I think about it (well, steam about it sometimes). I question the validity. I rewrite the scene with the suggestion.

I've found that it works sometimes and sometimes it doesn't.

At the end of the day, it's my story. For me to pitch it, to be passionate about it, and to continue revision after revision, it has to stay my story.

After attending the Big Sur in the Rockies last spring, I am bolder about how I utilize critique time. I may ask for specific attention to an area of the story or a format issue like an illustration note.

Even though critiques fire me up to revise, I often will wait a week before opening up the story again. I do research like check out books brought up during the critiques as possible comparable titles. Then, I return to the critique notes. I make changes. I ignore suggestions. I write new scenes. I replace words. 

The perfect word is important in any genre, but in a short picture book it can be difficult to find.

Then, I decide whether the story is ready to return to the outside world. Oh, and whether I need to rewrite the query letter or not.

As I go through revisions, I do focus on whether I really love the story or not. At one conference, an agent mentioned she must love a story, because it takes two to three years for it to reach bookstore shelves. The same can be said about a story I write. You must love a story to keep revising it over and over again until it's right.

What's your favorite way to revise a story, scene, or novel?

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.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Writing Theme-Based Stories

By DeAnna Knippling

I know there are writers who hate theme. As an idea. They hate it. The idea of having to have a theme is a shackle on their creativity; it’s a burden that former English majors have thrown onto their shoulders like a dead camel: smelly, heavy, and full of fleas. They cast off theme and run giggling into the wilds of story. If their work has theme it’s because the readers put it there...the fools. Why ruin a perfectly good story with theme?

Okay, most writers aren’t like that - they just leave theme alone and let it take care of itself. If some theme wanders in, great, but they’re not going to worry about it beforehand.

Me, I like theme.

Sometimes I let it come up on its own, but sometimes I sit down at the keyboard with something thematic to say, dang it, and I’m not going to avoid consciously using theme just because some writers get the heebie-jeebies over it.

Why would I bother? Because I need to add “depth” to my stories?

Uh, no.

Sometimes I’m in the grip of a strong emotion. I wrote one story because someone had cheesed me off by writing about a Magic Indian character with no function in the story but to solve a (I think) white character’s problems.

“Magic Indian, I’ll show you a Magic Indian,” says I. Then I sat down to write a story, because that’s what you do when someone is wrong on the Internet. Whether it was a wise project to take on, I couldn’t say, but the theme is what made me write the story.

I wrote another project, not in the grip of an overwhelming passion, but to answer a question. The question wasn’t a particularly nice one: “Why would a guy kill his spouse for leaving him?” Another maybe not-so-wise project, but that’s what I do.

The point being that theme doesn’t have to be a set of shackles. It doesn’t have to be something you paste artificially onto your story nor does it have to grow naturally out of your story. You can sit down with a theme in mind and run with it.

You can even write by the seat of your pants with theme (I’ve been doing this a lot lately). The Anti-Magic Indian story ended up taking me back into unpleasant childhood memories, to find sympathy for a person I barely remembered and had totally taken for granted at the time. The theme of story started out with anger, but ended with regret. The other story, the domestic violence one, made me realize that need and fear and loss of self were at the core of what motivated my character. I couldn’t condone his actions, but I knew him. It scared me. It was one of my earlier stories, and I didn’t think at the time that monsters were supposed to be sympathetic. Not like that.

Okay, fine.

So how do you write a theme-based story? I don’t want to go into too much depth, because, really, there are a million ways to write any story. But some of my helpful mental tools for writing them are these:

  • When you set up your character, setting, and problem, make each of the elements relate to your theme. That is, if you’re writing about family, make sure the characters have families, or don’t have families, or have messed-up families, or have failed their families. Make sure the setting is a family home, or a million miles away from on. Make the opening problem about family, wanting one, having one and hating it, etc. 
  • If you use trite examples of your theme, your story’s probably going to be trite. A story starting out with a housewife whose kids don’t like her pie is probably not going to interest people - even if she goes after people with an axe for always being on a die-et. 
  • Instead of a statement theme, like “you need a family to survive,” ask a question: “Do we need families to survive?” The best answers aren’t “yes” or “no,” but “It depends; let me tell you about this one time...” 
  • If you like mapping out character motivations, this one’s for you. Don’t just map out your character’s internal and external journeys. Map out the scenes like each one’s a point in a debate or argument related to your theme. If your theme is “reading expands your world,” then first show a world without reading and the efforts of the characters to solve their problems without reading. Then expose the characters to reading and have them mock it, reject it. Then show the characters getting in a situation where the thing they mocked could have prevented or quickly resolved the problem, etc. The problem with this one is that it can quickly settle into our blind spots, and take a lurch for the preachy. However, you may need to do it once or twice anyway to get a feel for the idea of theme as a kind of subplot or story within the story. (There’s nothing wrong with trying a technique a couple of times, then abandoning the conscious use of it - it’ll come out when you write if you’re meant to be using it.) 
  • Let go and trust yourself. Theme is a kind of secret story within your story; it rises and falls, it tries and fails. If you let yourself follow your irrational urges to go off-outline (or completely off-topic, for pantsers), you might find yourself in a little eddy of theme, working itself out, making your story richer and truer. 
Theme doesn’t have to be dry; it doesn’t have to be forced. You can force it, of course. You might even want to your first couple of times working with it consciously, even though it’ll feel fake, the way trying any new technique feels fake. Theme can be driven by emotion; it can take you places you (and the reader) would never guess. Theme doesn’t have to be a blank on your outline that you “should” fill out; it doesn’t have to be an artificial spice that you add to give your story “depth,” but really just keeps you from the real work of developing the story. You definitely don’t have to add the same amount with every story, either.

In short, there’s no reason to fear theme. It’s just another tool for your toolbox. Okay, maybe sometimes people use it like a chainsaw, but you don’t have to. You can use it like a fine-detail brush instead. Or a tighten the nuts and bolts underneath the chassis.

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.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries and predecessors. Try to be better than yourself." -William Faulkner, born September 25.

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...DeAnna Knippling teaches us about "Writing Theme-Based Stories" and takes away the stigma

...Stacy S. Jensen puzzles out approaches to her manuscript in "Working on my Puzzle, er, Manuscript"

...New Sweet Success columnist Kathie Scrimgeour shares a new Sweet Success story

Friday, September 20, 2013

I Can Write a Book? I Can Write a Book!

By Susan Hardy

I've loved writing for as long as I can remember. I excelled in English and literature classes, and have always written from the heart. Maybe it's because I have always enjoyed reading. Growing up with a less than stellar childhood, reading was an escape from my father's abuse. Every night, in my tiny little room, I was transported into the exciting adventures of Nancy Drew, the imaginative world of Ray Bradbury, and the eerie depths of Edgar Allen Poe. As I got older and my husband was off on TDY's, I enjoyed Danielle Steel and Patricia Cornwall. And I have always loved the romantic classics in the genre of Jane Eyre, Little Women, and Pride and Prejudice. These days, however, after the devastating loss of my beloved son, I'm devouring books on suicide survival and the journey of life on the "other side". I'm still looking for answers. And being alone in that quest—after my husband of thirty-seven years abandoned the marriage—has not been easy. But I always know that my son continues to encourage me (as he always did) to follow my dreams of entrepreneurship and authorship.

Now, I can't help but feel that through adversity writing has become a purpose for the remaining days of my life. I am compelled to write my story of unwitting life with a sociopath. It needs to be cathartic, but mostly the intention is to help prevent even one woman from stumbling down that same path. When I am strong enough, it is imperative to write my son's story, as well, and give meaning to his all-too-brief and anguished life. He will tell me when the time is right. And there could even be a third book hiding in this old brain of mine! One never knows.

As a giant step in my pursuit of authorship, I recently attended my very first Pikes Peak Writers Conference. I was told about PPW by a dear friend who has been a published author for many years. I was able to attend one monthly meeting, but I found it noisy and daunting. They were speaking a language I had never heard before. A myriad of "insider" terms left me feeling perhaps this was not the place for me, after all. Or was I just missing something? But it was at that same meeting that I learned about the opportunity to win a scholarship to the PPWC one-day workshops. I mentioned it to my writer friend, and she said it would be an excellent opportunity for me to get my feet wet in the frustrating world of getting published.  She further explained that a full three-day conference, to a novice, would feel like "trying to take a drink from a fire hose." An accurate, albeit extreme, analogy.

So, feeling I had nothing to lose, I took a leap of faith and submitted my scholarship entry, quite literally, at the eleventh hour. I could not have imagined that I would actually be awarded that scholarship! I was thrilled to receive an e-mail notifying me that I been chosen to receive this year's scholarship. And I had even been awarded my first choice workshops! I couldn't wait. I felt like a five-year-old on the first day of school! I took confirmation of the award and a notebook of my writings, and nervously entered a whole new world.

My first workshop was "Truth and Consequences: The Pleasures and Perils of Writing Memoir, Personal Essay and Creative Nonfiction," presented by Katherine Eastburn. I could not have asked for a better initiation into the world of writing. Her presentation was warm and personable, informative and experienced. She made me feel as if I was in a one-on-one mentorship and she was talking directly to me. Of course, she was there for all of us, but if each participant felt the same way, Ms. Eastburn had done what she came for. She explained the genre in detail, provided countless resources, and offered smart suggestions. Even if I had only attended this one session, it was a wealth of guidance and support.

The afternoon workshop, "The Four P's of Nonfiction," presented by Matthew Frederick, was a virtual "how-to" in the pursuit of publication. He outlined what publishers are looking for and the best path for achieving those goals. A self-identified atheist, and somewhat more direct and matter-of-fact than Ms. Eastburn, Mr. Frederick was nonetheless a fountain of "inside" information. He provided additional resources, truthful insight, and abundant encouragement to all seekers of literary achievement.

Overall, my first foray into the formidable world of professional writing was a fruitful one. One simply does not write what they wish, send it off to a publisher and become a best-selling author. Not in the real world, anyway. It takes skill, determination and lots of patience, the latter of which I have in abundance. Stephen King was not an overnight sensation. But he did persevere. And so shall I, with God's grace.

About the Author: Writing has always given me a sense of "ownership" of my own thoughts. I've enjoyed writing articles, correspondence and poetry. But not until recent hardships in my life, did my writing become an integral part of trying to make sense of it all. My husband's abandonment of a 37-year marriage has inspired me to write something that might save someone else from the same fate.  Something cathartic and cautionary. And the recent life-shattering loss of my only son will be a future inspiration, when I am emotionally strong enough to pen his story. Until then, it's one day at a time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Your Relationship With Your Work (or Do You Have a Doris?)

By Linda Rohrbough

I’ve never heard this put the way I’m about to put it, but I think writers have a relationship with their work. And I think writers worry about that relationship. I know I do.

Experienced writers know they have a relationship with their work and they cultivate it. If you listen, you can hear them talk about the life the work takes on and how it affects them.

New writers don’t really understand this, which is one of the reasons it’s hard to get a new writer to be quiet in a critique group. They want to jump up and defend their work against what they see as attack. They don’t realize they have a golden opportunity. A critique is a way to see their work through fresh eyes – and learn what their strengths are as well as how to improve.

I don’t see experienced writers defend their work. They listen carefully, taking in every word. Sometimes I can’t get them to even comment on what I’ve said. If we’re alone and I’m talking about something of theirs I read or about an idea they’ve presented to me, they go deep into themselves, taking that information with them and digesting it in great detail. Sometimes they lock down so tight that I realize I’m alone and I have to wait for them to come back. And that can take awhile. So I just shut up and wait.

Earlier this year, I was on a road trip, driving across Florida with a writer friend. We were talking about a novel I’m plotting, and I closed up like that. I realized that what I had done was move inside the book. I was no longer in the car driving past the Everglades on the way to a small town cameo shop my friend wanted to visit. I was on the runway at Denver International Airport, the wind blowing my hair, the jet fuel making my nostrils tingle, the hard pavement under my feet, my ears ringing from the sounds. I was my main character now, reliving her memories of Afghanistan, the goose bumps on her arms, the press of a jacket rearranging itself as the cool prairie wind folds and unfolds it against her arms. I felt her dread of sand in her teeth from the last explosion because everything was the same, except the wind then was hot, like when you open an oven. She dreaded the ear blasting sounds of mortar rounds, and the sand that would pelt her cheeks and leave small red marks she’d have to scrub off later along with the coppery smell of blood that wouldn’t leave.

It took me a while to come out of it. And my writer friend, knowing where I was, patiently waited as I’ve learned to do.

In thinking about relationship with the work, I remembered one of the things that helped me a great deal when I first started writing was my friend, Doris, who lived up the street. She doesn’t know it, but I screwed up the courage to write some days, most days actually, by pretending I was writing to her.

This was back when I’d just started writing for pay and I was a PTA president in Los Angeles. Doris was treasurer and I often thought our roles should be reversed, that Doris was the one who should be leading and I should be doing the arithmetic. Because Doris had a brand of self-respect that rubbed off on others. She was brilliant, pitched in to help at the slightest provocation, never criticized, and she was a listener. I still remember the small comments she made that encouraged me, usually just a single sentence. Like one day I was telling her about an editor I was working with and she said, “Your business is really starting to take off.”

When I wrote, I tried to talk to her to drown out the negative voices in my head. I’d forget about the editor and the pressure to write, and with my imagined Doris standing behind me nodding her approval, I would thrash the piece around into something I hoped we’d both like.

That was more than twenty years ago, and Doris and I are still friends. I never told her. But I went out of my way to do things to help her, like putting together small wrapped gifts for her kids to open each day on their road trip from Los Angeles to their new home in Atlanta when her husband got transferred. She thought I was just being way too nice. But for me, it was payback, a small gesture of gratitude to someone who’d done so much to help me overcome almost insurmountable fear. Part of the reason I never told her is I’m not sure she’d understand. But I know you, fellow writer, get it.

I heard from a corporate executive that large companies are using a similar technique to serve customers. They build a typical customer, give them a name and a story, and then work to build products and services for that customer. Not some faceless crowd, but Paul who has three kids under the age of seven, a mother in a nursing home, and he and his wife just started shopping for a new family car. What would Paul be looking for from the company’s new product?

There are a number of relationships in publishing, or any other business. The relationship with the work is the one I care about the most. What is your relationship with your work like? Do you have a Doris? If not, are you thinking of getting one?

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:

Monday, September 16, 2013

Be A Winner - Marketing Your Book

By Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

It’s Football Time!

Bring on the tailgates, the barbecue, and the excitement. I’m originally from Birmingham, Alabama, and there is nothing in this world like a Saturday in autumn down south.

RV's park themselves outside the game field a week before the game. Crowds litter every available inch of real estate on campus and set up tents, grills, coolers and yes, even televisions. Strange new phrases reappear in the lexicon after a six-month hiatus. “Roll Tide,” “The Swamp” and “Suuu, eee” are heard from Savannah to Texas. Can’t you hear the marching band and the cheerleaders?

What does this have to do with marketing your book? Everything.

Legendary Alabama Head Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once said, “Everything you ever need to learn in life can be learned on a football field.” With six national championships under his belt, I think he might be on to something. So grab a box of hot wings, a cold iced tea, and some Dreamland Barbecue Sauce. We’re gonna' talk football.

First, what do Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, and Joe Namath have in common? He married his college sweetheart; he wrote a book about faith; and he played football with my Daddy, respectively. So nothing, really, other than they were all SEC quarterbacks who made it to the NFL.

Quarterbacks are in charge. They read the field, decide the play, and either let go or keep the ball - all before the barreling monster of a defense lineman squashes him to a pulp. In the writing world, you are the Quarterback. The head honcho of your team. The one to decide when to release the ball and when to hold onto it.

And here’s the deal: whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, if you want to sell your book, everyone expects you to do the marketing. Yep you. Even if you get the Big NY Deal, you are still expected to do the marketing because, frankly, there is no reason to gamble on a new or mid-list writer, which means little-to-no marketing money. And who wins? The guy with the biggest motivation and perseverance. They guy who reads the field and decides how to make the plan.

Repeatedly, writers tell me they just want to write. They hate marketing. They don’t want to learn and don’t see the point. I understand. Really. But if you want to sell that book, listen to Knute Rockne: “Build up your weaknesses until they become your strong points.” He is often considered one of the greatest football coaches of all time.

Once you decide you’re gonna' dig in and go for it, the first thing you’ll do as the quarterback is find a way to fend off the defense. For writers, that can be anything. The massive defensive end coming at your left side is self-doubt, the one on the right is procrastination, and the guy coming up the middle? That’s the competition. Finally, that defensive line blocking every move you make? That’s the industry. In spite of all this, crush ‘em head on because “when you win, nothing hurts” and Hall of Famer Joe Namath, veteran quarterback of the NY Jets and the University of Alabama, should know.

And winning is only possible with a Coach. You need a Coach who will yell and scream and holler and cheer and push and hug all at once. In the world of writing, there are a lot of different coaches: writer's conferences, marketing programs, books, mentors. These coaches will teach you to develop, understand and tackle the game plan. Do you understand why you need to market on specific outlets? Do you understand the outlet? Do you know how to reach people online and turn them into readers? Seek out the people who can help you with this. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” - Archie Griffin, the only two-time Heisman trophy winner. So get out there, high five the coach and fight, fight, fight!

Why? Because there is nothing sweeter than stepping into a fan-crazed stadium pushing its outer limits with pandemonium. Look around. The world is your stadium and it’s bursting with fans screaming and cheering. The band is playing and the cameras are popping; they want you to succeed. So after you find your coaches, you need a game plan.

Coach Bryant said there are three rules: 1.) Surround yourself with people who can’t live without football. 2.) Recognize winners. They come in all forms. 3.) Have a plan for everything.

In the biz, the marketing plan, or playbook, is called a communications plan. The best way to learn the playbook is find out what is working for other writers. After that, create your own.

Every game plan should include:
  • Target audiences
    • Readers
    • Interest Groups
    • Media (TV, radio, print)
    • Bloggers
    • Other Writers
    • Agents, Editors and Publishers
  • Online strategies
    • Website and/or Blog
    • Facebook Author Page (not the personal one, a professional one)
    • Goodreads (for giveaways and author discussions)
    • Twitter ('cause it’s fun & all the publishing industry is on it)
    • Pinterest (it’s the up and comer)
    • YouTube (3rd ranked search engine behind Google and Facebook)
  • Face-to-face strategies
    • Attend club meetings
    • Hold a signing at a hardware store
    • Speak (schools, civic organizations, anywhere)
  • Messages and themes
    • Define the overarching themes in your story and use those to help sell it
    • What message are you trying to get across in your novel?
Ask yourself: Who will you market to? How? What will you say? Put all that in your playbook. Be as bold and creative as you can. Include offensive and defensive methods.

You will be successful, but it takes time. Start slow and make small goals. Inch up to national championship status with daily interaction on all outlets. Most of all, hang in there. Writing, just as with “Football, is like life – it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.” – Vince Lombardi.

In the life of writing and marketing, the game never winds down. You play, you practice, you watch game film, revise the game plan, sometimes you’ll even switch out the players. But it is all part of the continual cycle of getting better, finessing your game and playing to win.

Now “Winning isn't everything, but it sure beats coming in second,” said Coach Bryant. “And I ain’t never been nothing but a winner.”

Now, go out there, find your game and Be A Winner!

About the Author: With a combined 12 years of active and Reserve time as a US Air Force Public Affairs Officer, Jennifer Lovett has marketed books, shows, concerts and more. She is currently an Air Force Reserve Public Affairs Officer at Patrick AFB in Florida and in her full-time life, pursuing a career as a fiction writer.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"The bests time to plan a book is while you're doing the dishes." -Agatha Christie, born September15

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Jennifer Lovett Herbranson gives us tips for marketing your book (as well as some great football quotes) in "Be a Winner"

...Linda Rohrbough talks about having a relationship to your work and how to conquer the inner editor in "Your Relationship to Your Work (or Do You Have a Doris?)

...A PPWC 2013 scholarship recipient talks about her experiences at her first writers conference

Friday, September 13, 2013

September Free Events Reminder & Conference Deadline

If you're planning on submitting a proposal for PPWC 2014 (Pikes Peak Writers Conference, held in April), the deadline is Sunday, September 15. You can go HERE to propose your workshop or HERE to suggest a workshop you'd like to see, but don't intend to present yourself.

September Write Brain
What: Advanced Plotting
Who: Chris Eboch
When: Tuesday, September 17, 6:30 to 8:30 PM
Where: Online Only, RSVP will be required for attendance, as we will need to email you a link to join us online FREE!
More Information: Many books and workshops teach the basics of plotting: conflict, complications, climax. Now learn advanced techniques that will make a decent plot dynamic. Start with a "grab you by the throat" opening to pull readers into the story. Learn how to pack the plot full by complicating your complications. Control your pacing through sentence and paragraph length. And finally, cliffhanger chapter endings ensure late-night reading under the covers. Learn techniques to make any story or book better. Novelists will benefit from these insights, whether they are just starting out or have years of experience.

About the Presenter: Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with 20 traditionally published books for children. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of the Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series. her bookAdvanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more Chris also writes novels of suspense and romance for adults under the name Kris Bock. What We Found is a suspense about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods; Rattled follows a treasure hunt in New Mexico; and Whispers in the Dark involves intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. Read excerpts at RSVP to
PPW Open Critique Night
When: Wednesday, September 18, 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, September 23, 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, September 11, 2013

Introduction to Scene Writing

By Jax Hunter

Greetings fellow storytellers. I’d like to welcome you to a new series of articles on scene writing. 

As you guys know, I love movies. Yes, I love books, as well, but I’m fascinated with movie making. When DVD’s first became available, the thing that sold me on them was the extra stuff. It was the “making of” extras that really had me at hello.  

Recently, I got to spend almost an entire Saturday with Spiderman 2. I think this was my favorite of the Spidey movies. Certainly, it was better than the first - much better, in fact. Spidey was more Spidey in this one. But what was amazing was that the “making of” features were as long as the movie. I came away not only excited about what a “spidey cam” could do, but even more, with some inspiration from director Sam Raimi and his crews. 

He spoke about getting the most from the actors, the sets, the script. His job, as he views, it is to raise the characters to be heroic, to push, pull and cajole them to heroism, to trust, to love, to honor. Wow! As a director, he works hard to bring out the best performance of the actor, to create the lighting and the sets and the vision. He tells Tobey “you’re my partner in creating this character.”

This vision can be applied to what we as writers do, as well. It’s our job to bring out the very best performance from our characters, our settings, from every word that makes it to the page. I came away from listening to those interviews with a renewed dedication to, in each scene, be the “best director” I can be.

Another movie I recently watched again was Timeline. Again, I love the “making of” features from this movie. The thing that struck me in the extras from that movie was the amazing job of script supervisor (Sioux Richards). She’s the one that, among many other things, has to make sure that the details are right from one scene to the next. What hand was the coffee cup in, etc. There’s a very funny scene in one of the extras in which Sioux gets on Paul Walker because he went to Hawaii in the middle of production and now doesn’t “match” his last scene. This is another thing we as writers must keep track of. But I digress.

Back to the topic at hand: writing great scenes. Last year we took a look at the bigger structure of stories from a screenwriting perspective. We looked at three act structure, turning points, plot twists and outlining. In this series, we’re going to get down and dirty and study what makes a good scene. 

The scene is the basic unit of story. (Some might argue that there’s an even more basic unit, called a bit or a beat, but we’ll stick with this definition.) Robert McKee (STORY) defines a scene this way: “A SCENE is an action through conflict in more or less continuous time and space that turns the value-charged condition of a character’s life on at least one value with a degree of perceptible significance. Ideally, every scene is a STORY EVENT.” If you had to re-read that more than once, you’re not alone. I love McKee, but sometimes he’s a bit obtuse, don’t you think?

Frankly, I’m a tad overwhelmed by all that goes into a scene. Trying to remember everything is a bit like juggling. I tend to rush through scenes, not savoring the details, or at least not letting the reader savor the details. I tend to not squeeze every drop of emotion from the characters, to not think about all the bits and pieces - hence my determination to learn to do better. 

In Story Sense, author Lucey tells of Bo Goldman’s advice to writers to think of their scenes as a box into which all the ingredients of the scene go. Setting, weather, costuming, lighting, props, animals, whatever can “jack up the drama.” The life, as they say, is in the details. So this year we’ll look at what we have available to go into the box. What needs to be in the box. 

Lucey also states that “a primary cause of weak scripts is the failure of scenes to make their dramatic point in an unequivocal manner.” I suppose he could have stopped with the failure of scenes. As storytellers, we simply must get everything we can from each scene. Or why bother writing it at all? 

Unlike books, movies are pretty much limited to the visual. We can’t get inside the characters heads like we can in books. On the other hand, we’re constantly reminded as writers to show not tell. I believe it might be helpful to look at each scene as if we would be putting it on the screen. 

So this year, we’ll look at setting, beats, opening and closing values, subtext and a whole lot more. As much as possible, we’ll take what we learn from the film industry. I won’t guarantee, though, that Bickham won’t sneak in on occasion. Next month we’ll look at the importance of knowing clearly the purpose of each scene before writing it. 

 One of the FX staff on the set of Spiderman 2 said this: “You have to really know what you want beforehand or you’ll just throw together a lot of really mediocre stuff.” Wow. Don’t want to just throw out mediocre stuff, do we?

One quick thing here. I want to pass on my favorite screenplay site. There, you can download screenplays for a good variety of movies. In these, you can see how the writer “dressed” each scene. Here it is:
Until next month, BICHOK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard)

Jax (

(This series first ran in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers newsletter in 2005.)
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, September 9, 2013

Mentors and the Mentored

By Karen Albright Lin

Having been both a writing mentor and a beneficiary of the gift of mentoring, I’d love to share what a mentor is, what role one plays, how to find one, and how to accept the generous guidance offered by one. 
A mentor is a trusted guide, one more experienced than you, one that has a level of success beyond yours, and one who can counsel you in developing your writing and your marketing.

Some “mentors” are hired. In my opinion, they are more accurately called writing coaches. Though I’m a coach and editor and believe whole-heartedly there is a place for such professionals, I’ve been lucky enough to mentor and to be mentored without money being involved. There’s tremendous satisfaction and appreciation in simply helping and being helped.
Before you seek a mentor, there are some things you should be aware of. Mentee etiquette. Test yourself to see if you have the right personality makeup and the right attitude going in.    

A Good Mentee
  • Is prepared to receive a wide range of advice
  • Welcomes potential for growth rather than feeling demoralized by critique
  • Always keeps control of his ideas and writing
  • Doesn’t slavishly follow every suggestion or lose his vision
  • Respects the mentor’s time
  • Doesn’t expect line edits from a mentor, instead seeks more global advice
  • Receives feedback gracefully
  • Doesn’t expect the mentor to do all the work
  • Reads suggested books
  • Is professional with a winning attitude
  • Avoids asking questions he could find answers for; does his research first
  • Also does her due diligence in finding a critique group/critique partner/beta reader
  • Lets the mentor know his feedback is helpful
  • Sends a gift and a copy of his book or article the mentor helped with
  • When ready, pays it forward to other writers
It is important to be an effective receiver of counsel. A protégé shouldn’t take unfair advantage of the kindness being offered. Remember the mentor has a home life and deadlines. She isn’t a babysitter. Be a good mentee. 

In the next post, I’ll address what a good mentor is and how to find one.  In the meantime remember: seek feedback from admired sources but don’t allow your voice to be combed out of your work.

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, September 8, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced." -Leo Tolstoy, born September 9.

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Karen Albright Lin tells us a bit about mentoring and being mentored in Mentors and the Mentored

...Jax Hunter brings us a new series on using screenwriting tips to write in Introduction to Screenwriting

...A reminder about our free September events and the conference proposal deadline

Friday, September 6, 2013

September News, Events, & Links

PPW News

The September Write Brain will be "Advanced Plotting," with speaker Chris Eboch. Many books and workshops teach the basics of plotting: conflict, complications, climax. Now learn advanced techniques that will make a decent plot dynamic. Start with a "grab you by the throat" opening to pull readers into the story. Learn how to pack the plot full by complicating your complications. Control your pacing through sentence and paragraph length. And finally, cliffhanger chapter endings ensure late-night reading under the covers. Learn techniques to make any story or book better. Novelists will benefit from these insights, whether they are just starting out or have years of experience. Tuesday, September 17, 6:30 to 8:30 PM. **Please note: This is an online only Write Brain. You must RSVP to to receive a link to the online forum in which you can view and interact during the Write Brain. You can find more information on the PPW Events tab above.

You can listen to the August Write Brain, "Writing a Winner: Tips & Tricks for Entering Writing Contests" on the PPW Events tab, along with the May, June, and July recordings.

Writer's Night has a new location. The next one is Monday, September 23, 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, September 18, 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 has three events this month. Their Writer of the Year Panel will be September 12. The Colorado Gold Conference is the weekend of September 20-22. And their retreat will be directly following the conference, from the 22 to the 26.

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

Pikes Peak Romance Writers will welcome Courtney Milan on self-publishing this Sunday, September 8, 2-4 PM, at the BAC. Cost $5 for non-members.

Pikes Peak Pen Women is returning from their summer hiatus with a program on the journey with bipolar disorder, presented by Kathy Brandt. September 21, 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM, Blue Sage Café, $23 for non-members. RSVP to

Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America are also back from their hiatus with a publicity panel. Presenters will be Deb Courtney, Susan Mitchell, and Jennifer Lovett. Evening of September 12. $25 for non-members.

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.

The Zebulon, the new Pikes Peak Writers fiction contest, opens for submissions on September 16.
The Hugo-winning Clarkesworld Magazine is currently seeking submissions of short stories, non-fiction, and art. Pays 10 cents per word for the first 4000 words, 5 cents for each word over that. Science fiction and fantasy.

Highlights Magazine for children is seeking a variety of pieces for their magazine. Each type pays a different amount. Examples include $150 for short fiction and non-fiction articles, and $25 for crafts. They also seek verse and various puzzles and games.

Storm Cellar is a literary arts magazine seeking submissions year-round. They're eclectic, and want to receive varied submissions. They want art and writing of all creative kinds, including creative non-fiction, poetry, flash fiction, etc. Pays in a contributor copy.

Four Chambers Press is looking for submissions for the inaugural edition of their literary magazine, so they're holding a contest. They want good work of any kind in any form. $100 first prize.

Kazka Press holds a monthly themed flash fiction contest,
713 Flash. Their theme this month is Outsiders. Submission window is September 1-20. Pays $10 per accepted story.

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is open for submissions, seeking both new and previously published authors. They take all kinds of mysteries, and pay .05 and .08 cents per word. Lengths can be anywhere from minute mysteries (250 words) to novellas. Short stories seem to be the general format, though.

Fantastic Frontiers is open for submissions year-round. They're looking for science fiction and fantasy short stories, serials, comics, videos, voice recordings, and other media. Pay varies per format. Fiction pays .03 cents per word.

Writing Tomorrow is taking submissions of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, novel excerpts, and artwork. Pays $50-100 for fiction/nonfiction, and $25 for flash and poetry. Open submissions; no deadline.

The Fountain is holding an essay contest. They want to know about your motto for life. Open worldwide. 1500 to 2500 words. First place gets $1500, with cash prizes for 2nd, 3rd and 2 honorable mentions, as well.

Martinus Publishing is accepting submissions for their sci-fi adventure anthology, VFW-Veterans of Future Wars. 2000-6000 words. Deadline December 31. Pays in royalties. Additionally, they're seeking submissions for Altered America, an anthology. Deadline is the same, as is pay.

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   


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Voice From the Inside Out

by Deb McLeod

Deb McLeod's blog Voice From the Inside Out
 A few weeks ago, I learned a new way to analyze voice, to look at where the character came from by the words she uses and the rhythm of how she speaks. To see what the character thinks by how her attitude reflects in her clothes and what she notices about other people and their surroundings, etc. 

At the end of it, my friend, who was showing me this method, said, "I can analyze voice in other fiction. I can see it. I understand what I need to know about my character. So why can’t I create it?"

Since then, I’ve been contemplating how to teach voice. Some of my stories have a stronger voice than others, and all of my short stories have a stronger voice than my novels. Why is that?

At the University of Arizona, where I earned my BA in creative writing, I followed the literary events in a town rich with university culture. I loved being in school. I loved going to lectures and readings at night. I loved the intellectual conversation. But I also saw the politics, the posturing, the quirk for quirk’s sake and the art of every bit of it.

Long after I left, a voice burbled up from the past and I wrote a three-titled short story called: Green Light Over Tucson or Liddy, Loran and Me or The Last Lost Hour of My Life from that time in my life in Tucson.

Deb McLeod's blog: Voice From the Inside Out
The story is about a girl who’s sees the writing world as a club she doesn’t belong to. She’s going to barter the story of a possible alien abduction in the desert to get into the group. Here’s an excerpt:

I was driving my mother’s car, so perhaps they mistook me for someone who would normally drive a four-door white Ford Fairlane in southern Arizona in the early fall. But I only borrowed the car to drive from Tucson to Bisbee and then back again for a poetry reading of Loran Lorado at the Luxor Hotel. Bisbee’s a little more than an hour away from Tucson toward the Mexican border. A dingy mining town turned artist colony that’s actually a perfect setting for literary soirees.   

The parlor where they put the reading is way too small. People are hanging out the doors, into the hall, leaning against large-tasseled burgundy drapes that once covered the doorway. Grad students are opening metal folding chairs and acting like nobody knew this was going to happen. Like the sense of excitement wasn’t planned.

It’s a swank. Loran’s a big draw. They could’ve sold twice as many tickets if they’d held the reading at the U in Tucson. But then they wouldn’t have filled the auditorium. He’s a poet, after all. And how would that look with a scattered audience and empty rows? People might have even left before he was finished.

But Bisbee? Now that’s smart. Not only does the audience have to drive an hour, once they do, they have to work to get in. Anyone out in the hall feels cheated and vows to be here early next time to be on the inside. Result: Loran Lorado’s a hit before he even hits the stage. 

Years later, I was living in Highlands Ranch and studying for my MFA at Antioch University in Los Angeles. The following excerpt from my story, White Girl, comes out of the dichotomy of inhabiting both places and both lives. Mother and wife in one of the largest suburbs in America vs creative writing student at a socially conscious university in LA. This is about a juvie creative writing teacher (also an MFA candidate) who looked around at the girls he was teaching and asked among other things: Where are the white girls?

Robert Fox, white man, white hair, indignation splotching an indiscriminate red against your neck. It creeps past a day-old beard to colorless lips asking, where are the pimps? Where are the parents? Where are the teachers?

Robert Fox, white man, teacher in East LA, surrounded by thirteen, fourteen, twelve-year-old girls doing face time for prostitution, for knife fights, for murder or drugs. Still he asks: Where are the pimps? Where are the parents? Where are the teachers?

Black girls, Latina, Chicana, Asian, given permission to speak, they write him their stories. There’s nothing else to do in juvie. Who’s responsible for this? Robert Fox wants to know.

Both of these pieces have a strong voice. There’s an opinion residing behind the words. A way of thinking that comes out in the rhythm and the word choice as well as the plot of the story.

I think I can say that my stories with the strongest voice reflect a passionate opinion. I wrote White Girl in two hours during a predawn rant on a day I was to give a reading, defending the idea that white girls have not abandoned their sisters of color. I read those pages instead of the ones I had planned to read. It was a successful reading, though hard to keep my voice steady because the passion and anger that drove that story was still fresh and still rippled inside me. It’s the angriest story I’ve ever written and there’s a very strong voice driving it.

Deb McLeod's blog: Voice From the Inside Out
Taking my experience, I am beginning to wonder if a character's voice is never going to be revealed by coming from the outside like the method my friend was teaching me. Perhaps you don’t create voice by making a list of dialect and attitudes a character might use if they hailed from a particular place. And suffered particular wounds. Perhaps the trick is to find the passionate opinion first. And let that passion show you who the character is when you let that passion speak.

Perhaps the answer is to connect to what your characters love. And threaten to take it away. Or tap into what they hate. Or expose their prejudices and their wounds. Then step aside and see what they say.

Maybe then you analyze and make lists and try to connect to that same passion as you move through the story, faking it with the details she told you when she was talking.  

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.