Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Spooks, Tricks, & Codes: That's What October is All About

By Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

Often, writers tell me the reason they don’t want to communicate or market online is because they fear a loss of privacy or a breach in security. Security and protecting privacy is a must no matter where we are, online or not.

My neighborhood in Colorado went all out for Halloween. Everyone put up lights and decorations that lasted the entire month of October. On Halloween night, Joe set up a coffee and hot chocolate stand in the yard. Rob turned his garage into a haunted house. Sofia gathered up all the girls and took them trick-or-treating together. It was loads of fun. But part of the fun was security. Travel in groups, don’t take candy from strangers, and beware of tricks.

 So this month, in the spirit of Halloween, I wanted to chat about Internet security and help put those privacy fears at ease.

1- Spooks.

Is the NSA really spying on you? Who knows, but other people are probably trying to. Online privacy is important. Not because thugs are gonna' break into your home after you post your Barbados vacay pics (although I have heard of that happening), but because thugs will steal your information, run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card debt in your name, and send your credit down the crapper. Yes, that can happen.

The information you post is what’s out there. So leave some out.

  • Never post identifiable information: phone number, address, social security number, age. Yes, age. If you want to post your birthday, that is acceptable. Just don’t post the birth year because that information is required to open credit cards.
  • Use a Skype or Google Voice number instead of your cell or home phone.
  • Have one email address for all things commercial/advertisement.
  • Never buy anything without the Secure Credit Symbol.
2- Tricks. 

Phishing is an Internet scam that tries to obtain your bank account information. They come in the form of email notices that ostensibly want to give you money. But in reality they just want to steal yours.

Spam is the excessive sending of emails that have no relevance to your life. These generally come in the form of Viagra knock-offs and lonely hot women. Hey, if you ever need an ego boost, simply look in your spam folder to see all the folks who care about your sex life.

Savvy Internet folks can spot a phish or a spam just by the subject line of an email.  But if you can’t, no worries. Here are some tips.
  • If it comes from Africa, delete it.
  • If it comes from someone you don’t know or aren’t expecting, do not open the attachments.
  • Never give out bank account information, ever.
  • Never give out credit card information.
  • Report Spam and Phishing back to your email carrier. There should be an option in your email or inbox.
3- Codes.

How many characters is your email password? Is it the same password as your Facebook and Twitter passwords? Are they the same as your bank account or Amazon accounts?

If the answers are less than 5 characters and yes, I would bet the NSA has already cracked your stuff wide open. I know it’s tough, but have a different password for every account that needs one, and if you need to write it down, put it somewhere safe.

Here’s the deal: passwords of more than 12 characters are harder to crack and you should NEVER, NEVER, NEVER use the same one twice. Yes, if you use your address, maiden name or birthday as a password, the guy watching your house from across the street is probably accessing your home computer. 

Here’s a great idea I found for creating hard-to-break passwords:

  • Come up with a phrase or jingle you really like (preferably one you can sing).
  • Break it down into the first letter of each word, alternate capitalization.
  • Then add a zip code, with numbers and then with characters.
  • Examples below. (Don’t use them, make up your own.)

She can’t carry a tune in a bucket, 12345


He’s happier than a hog in slop, 12345


I brought you into this world and I can take you out, 12345


Internet security is really not all that hard. Don’t put out anything you wouldn’t want in the hands of a criminal. Never open an email you don’t recognize. Make sure your passwords are lengthy and vary in characters. The Internet really has too many fun things to take advantage of and if you’re careful, you’ll still maintain a level of privacy you also enjoy.

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.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What's Your Game Plan for Your November Challenge?

By Stacy S. Jensen

October is a busy month.

In addition to stockpiling candy for my late night writing (or neighborhood kids in need of a treat), it's the month before one of the biggest writing challenges of the year PiBoIdMo.

I don't participate in National Novel Writing Month. I pledge my November writing allegiance to PiBoIdMo or Picture Book Idea Month. It's one of the many spin-offs from the fabulous NaNoWriMo event that gets writers...writing.

PiBoIdMo, created by author Tara Lazar is a blessing for me. The challenge is to write a picture book story idea each day of November. The daily ritual of thinking about stories and writing them down carries over throughout the year. If an idea strikes, I write it down.

Tara also hosts a wide variety of published authors on her blog to share tips about writing picture books and to inspire all the participants to keep writing.

This will be my third year as a participant and, hopefully, another winner!

In October, I'm going through my previous year list of ideas in preparation for the challenge. I plan to organize them into types of books — like concept, fiction and non-fiction.

I want to expand at least five ideas by completing some pre-writing work, including character sheets, titles, and pitch lines. My goal is to find five solid ideas that are fresh — not recently on the market. I may write a draft, but I have a few others under revisions. This goal is to keep me moving forward as I get ready for November.

When PiBoIdMo begins on November 1, I want to add another layer to my daily idea challenge. I will add titles and loglines for my manuscript ideas.

In the past, I've looked at some ideas post-PiBoIdMo and thought, "Now what was I thinking?"
My goal is to dig a little deeper when I write down an idea. More information gathered with my idea should help me create a better first draft. Yes. It will likely still be a "vomit" draft, but I'm hopeful it will be better.

Are you participating in a writing challenge in November? What are you doing to be ready for November 1?

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.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"There is no subject so old that something new cannot be said about it." -Fyodor Dostoevsky, born October 30

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Stacy S. Jensen asks "What's Your Game Plan for Your November Challenge?" Are you participating in NaNoWriMo or PiBoIdMo?

...Jennifer Lovett Herbransen discusses computer security in Spooks, Tricks, & Codes

...We bring you the November News, Events, & Links for local and PPW events, plus publications and contests seeking submissions

Friday, October 25, 2013

Confessions of a Conference Newb

By Jessica McDonald

At my first-year student orientation in grad school, the professors spent a long time talking about imposter syndrome. If you’ve never heard this term, I’m sure you’ve experienced it—it’s that feeling that you didn’t really earn your success, that it’s only a function of luck, timing, trickery, or a mistake.

Basically, it’s sitting in a room of fifty other students with luminous backgrounds and going, "HAHA I SO DO NOT BELONG HERE." Or, in the particular case of PPWC, driving down to Colorado Springs (through a snowstorm that had me playing a thrilling game of “where the hell is the road”) and feeling so anxious I seriously considered turning around and feigning illness.

I’ve been to lots of conferences for lots of things. I spent a long time in academia and at think tanks that sent me to conferences on things like nuclear disarmament and cyber-terrorism. I worked for associations that hosted their own national conferences. I’ve experienced the truly epic lines and tsunami of people at South by Southwest. And yet, none of these scared me more than PPWC.

Why? Because of that crippling impostor syndrome.

The last fiction work I published was in a magazine for young authors when I was 20. That was [redacted] years ago. And here I was, heading down to what Wiki called one of the top ten writers’ conferences in America. I had, in a moment of insanity, scheduled a read and critique session and made a pitch appointment.

I was 99% certain I was going to get to both and the reviewer/agent/random passersby would snort and say, “Go home Jess, you are drunk.”

It was something Libba Bray hit upon in her speech—this feeling that apparently all writers have, that we’re not “good enough,” not authentic enough, that we’re impostors. We’re not “real writers,” for whatever reason our malicious subconscious concocts. It’s not true, but it feels true, and it sucks.

But, because stubbornness is the better part of bravery, I soldiered on through white-out conditions and made it to the Springs. I showed up at the registration desk and slapped my “Nope, not freaked out, not at all, I’m awesome” smile in place and marched to my first session—the Thursday morning workshop on pitching.

Within about five minutes, I was talking to other writers about everything from dead bodies (can anyone other than writers and law enforcement/forensics conference attendees do this without going to jail?) to the difficulty in pitching your own work to Internet memes. I discovered I wasn’t the only newbie and started to relax.

I was still super nervous when it came time for my R&C, that niggling voice of “They’re all gonna' laugh at you!” itching at my brain. I told it to sit down and shut up, and may or may not have wished for a shot of whiskey. But, alas, I took my sober self into the room and read my pages in a relatively steady voice.

And people laughed. Not at me, but at my writing—in the good way. They laughed where they were supposed to, at the jokes I’d hoped were funny. The criticism I received was solid, constructive, and useful. I also received heaps of praise.

Not a single person told me to go home because I wasn’t a “real writer.” Fancy that.

More than the reassurance I received about my own work, though, I got to hear other people’s writing. And let me tell you something—I know there were only about eight people in my R&C, but y’all are some talented folks. Seriously. I felt honored to be around so many clever, witty, wonderful people.

And that’s really what PPWC boils down to for me. It was a screaming success professionally in terms of the connections I made with editors and agents—as evidenced by the fact that this blog post is nearly two months’ delayed because I’ve been so busy working, writing, for people I met at PPWC. One of my top-choice agents asked to see my work and I didn’t pass out! The panels were fantastic and I took 26 pages of single-spaced notes. I learned things that improved my writing by leaps and bounds.

But what really made it worth it, what really justified the cost and the time and the death-defying drive from Denver, was the attendees.

I made amazing friends. I laughed and shared stories and got to geek out about writing. Lots of speakers talked about how writing is a solitary endeavor, but it’s not just the lack of social interaction that feeds the Impostor Monster and Dragon of Self-Doubt. Humans crave community, and that’s what PPWC gave me—for three days, I was with my tribe. We sang the songs of our people (“Dear god, please don’t let me choke during this pitch session”) and shared our common cultural heritage (“When I die, please delete my search history.”)

I don’t know what other writers’ conferences are like, but that community factor at PPWC was something magical for me, and it’s what will bring me back next year. The theme, “Writing from the Ashes,” spoke to picking yourself up when you’ve been knocked down, but I think there was something else implied there too. We come together in times of adversity—a community born of and tempered by fire.

So to anyone considering attending: do it. I promise you won’t regret it, and it will do wonders to silence your inner villains.

Which, thanks to Libba, now all of my inner villains are also French.

About the Author: Jessica McDonald lives in Denver and spends an inordinate amount of time on Facebook—and gets paid for it. She is a social media strategist, working with authors and businesses. She has published original research and presents to national conferences on how social media really is more than cat videos. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her mad scientist husband, two cats, and dog; playing the cello; gaming; doing outdoorsy stuff; and avoiding adult life as much as possible. She is the author of the urban fantasy novel BORN TO BE MAGIC, and belongs to PPW and RMFW. Find her at her website, on Twitter at @coloradojess, Facebook, or on Tumblr. Or possibly all of those at once.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Homicidal Writers Killing Characters – Film at Eleven

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

So I got the review of a lifetime from a teenage girl who loved The Never Prayer but also had some very keen insights. Like an aging, ulcer-ridden New York editor reading a novel they like.
One thing she pointed out, and while this is a spoiler, well, it won’t spoil too much. People die. In life, and in books.

She agreed to let me quote her, and you’ll get an idea of her awesomeness.
“You, and J.K Rowling, and John Green, sit behind your laptops and kill people. Good, nice people. Because you can. But as a reader, character deaths can be very hard to swallow, and are a very emotional things. I just hope that you don't get carried away, and understand that character killing is not something (as an author) you should take lightly. Because we as readers don't.”

This made me stop and think. First off, that I was in a list with J.K. Rowling and John Green. That made me kind of gush. Jo, John, Aaron. Yeah, baby, I can see it. We’ll be eating roast duck in Manhattan and talking about our paychecks and fan praise.
*snap* *snap* *snap*

Aaron, are you there? Hello! Blog post, here.
Okay, back to what I’m trying to say. I am a slave to the story. If the story needs someone killed, I will kill them. I might not like it, but at times, there is nothing better than a good, solid death.

What does killing a character do?
If you do it early on, it puts blood in the water and where’s there’s blood, there’s the fear of sharks, and fear is such a powerful motivator. I need readers to read my books, and I’ll try to use anything I can to get them to turn the page. Nice people being nice, well, some people love those books, but I have to say, I get bored easily.

So death pushes the reader on, to find out who else will die, or what other carnage there might be. Death, carnage, fear, yeah. These are a few of my favorite things.
Death also lets the reader know I’m serious. I’m not screwin’ around here. This is about life, pain, love, torture, hope, desire, and things can get messy really fast. Joss Whedon knows how powerful death is, and he wields his own headhunting machete with glee. 

In the Firefly movie, Serenity, I truly thought he was going to go all Greek tragedy and slaughter everyone. I really did. I watched, tears streaming down my face, as things looked bleak for our heroes. When that didn’t quite happen, I laughed, I cheered, and Serenity is now one of my favorite movies.
The reason The Wrath of Kahn was so good was the death of Spock. I can’t help but shout out the brilliance of the second Star Trek movie. Our aging heroes finally face their own mortality, the Kobayashi Maru, the no-win scenario.

Which is why Star Trek Into Darkness was so lame. Death was a cute, pink teddy bear in that movie, and I don’t want that. Death needs to loom large.
In Blake Snyder’s book on screenwriting, Save the Cat, he says the dark moment should have a death, or at least the hint of death. It’s the end of our heroes, and we keep watching to see it all play out.

J.K. Rowling, genius storyteller and my close friend, does this well, not only in each Harry Potter book, but in the whole series arc. Spoiler alert, but Dumbledore dies in book six. Yeah, spoiler, but if you haven’t read the Harry Potter books by now, shame on you. So each book has the story arc, the hint of death in the dark moment, and the whole series has a story arc. At the dark moment of the series, there is Dumbledore’s death. We start book seven with trepidation. Would Rowling kill everyone? Well, more people die, I’ll tell you that.
Before I even began writing The Never Prayer, I knew exactly who had to die and when and how. All of Lena’s struggles and character arc pointed to that one moment when she had to act and do something she couldn’t have done at the beginning. She’d grown, she’d changed, she’d learned wisdom and she’d learned selflessness. I couldn’t have written the book without the death I put in it. Someone in my critique group wanted me to kill a bunch of other people, but no, the story didn’t demand any more coffins. Just the one.

In all my books, there’s going to be death, and dying, and sadness and the gnashing of the teeth. However, do you know what’s so great about fiction? And even better, do you know what’s so great about speculative fiction?
Death is not always death. People can come back to life like in a bad 70’s soap opera. 

And that is why Christianity is such a powerful religion, because the story of Jesus is the story of defeating death—the resurrection. 
I like books that rollercoaster me along, that sprinkle truths along the way, and one of the great truths of life is that it will end. For us all.

To hope, to act, to celebrate in the face of death, that is what makes us human. We can face death and we can be better for it.  In fact, we can even transcend death.
But my reviewer does bring up an excellent point. Don’t kill unnecessarily. Make it count. 

After the blood spills, give us life. Give us hope. 
Roll away the stone. Why do you look for the living among the dead?
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, is available now from Crescent Moon Press. Most recently, his work appears in the steampunk anthology The Penny Dread Tales Volume III and in the May 31, 2013 issue of Electric Spec.  His next novel is under contract, due out spring of 2014.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Read Everything. Almost.

By Mandy Brown Houk

Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! ~William Faulkner

I am a picky reader. If I had my druthers, I’d probably confine myself to coming-of-age novels written within the last two hundred years, primarily by Southern and/or rural writers with a quick wit and a dark sense of humor.
I didn’t even realize this was my default preference until I took a look at the books and stories I most often assign or recommend in my English and writing classes. To Kill a Mockingbird. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Peace Like a River. Cold Sassy Tree. As I Lay Dying. Provinces of Night. All Over But the Shoutin’.
But I know that, as a writer, I can’t seal myself off from the rest of the literary world. Even if what I hope to write is a coming-of-age novel with a Southern feel, I have to read more widely – otherwise my novel will have clean, neatly browned edges, and while that’s a good trait in a Christmas cookie, it’s yawn-inducing in a novel.
And so, I force myself to branch out. Here’s what a few somewhat-recent reads have taught me, which I hope will affect and improve my own writing:
YA: The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
Never hold back. Never let convention dictate who narrates the story. Had I come up with the idea to use Death personified as a narrator, my timidity and devotion to convention would most likely have prevented me from doing so. But Death is the only one who could tell this devastating, wholly original story. I’m glad (and fiercely jealous) that Zusak isn’t the coward I would have been.
Pulitzer Prize Winner: Tinkers – Paul Harding
There’s no telling what the literary elite will like. The writing is gorgeous and intricate, but the story made my head spin. (I’m apparently too stupid for this kind of book, but if you loved it, that’s fabulous.) Here’s what I learned: I don’t need to shoot for literary recognition and prizes, which, honestly, used to be my goal. By reading this book, though, I realized that story is more important to me than language/concept/high art, even though I’m a language junkie. I don’t need to write above my own intellect, attempting to be critically acclaimed. I just want to write a meaningful story (with lovely language) that readers can sink into and adore.
Memoir: Same Kind of Different As Me – Denver Moore/Ron Hall/Lynn Vincent
This book is structured so that two narrators alternate chapters, telling their sides of the central story, with a third author acting as the invisible “as-told-to” scribe. I learned a few things from this book: first (narrator #1), don’t dumb down your writing by too much misspelling and misspeaking, even if that’s accurate to the narrator’s speech patterns. A little bit of dialect goes a long, long, long, long way. Second (narrator #2), ease up on metaphors. Just say what you mean and don’t try to be clever. It’s annoying. Third, if the story is gripping, mediocre writing can be forgiven. This story is the kind that works its way into your heart and changes it from the inside. Beautiful enough to (mostly) overcome the writing flaws.

Modern British Lit: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime – Mark Haddon
Don’t ignore a novel in the bookstore just because it has weird sketches imbedded in the narrative. I picked this book up and put it right back down again because of the odd diagrams and happy faces I saw while flipping through. It was two years before I picked it up again because a trusted friend recommended (insisted) I read it. So that’s the lesson as a reader. The lesson as a writer? Let the events in the book drive the emotion. Don’t pile a bunch of sentimental language on top of the horrible thing that’s happening—the language will muck it all up and dilute the effect. This book is narrated by a boy with Asperger’s syndrome – he is fundamentally incapable of feeling, interpreting, and expressing the emotions that the rest of us can’t hold in. So the language is about as matter-of-fact and detached as it can possibly be—yet I bawled like a baby multiple times while reading it.

A Novel That’s Not a Novel: Olive Kitteridge ­– Elizabeth Strout
Don’t let rules and boundaries stifle the story you have to tell. (Note: this is a Pulitzer winner, too, and in this case, I whole-heartedly, boisterously agree!) I don’t have any idea why/how “they” classify this book as a novel. It seems, instead, to be an anthology of short stories, all set in the same town, told chronologically, and with a certain grumpy woman named Olive appearing in each one. Olive is the POV character in only a few of them; the others may feature her prominently, moderately, or even in cameo-like fashion (in one story, she simply appears in a restaurant and is overheard being pushy with her husband – that’s it). But the book is a triumph of language, heart, and humor, and a brilliant treatise on the human condition (that is: we suck but we need each other anyway).

Classical Lit: A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
There’s a reason books become classics. Don’t overlook them just because your frizzy-haired, frumpy-clothed English teacher assigned them. Nobody creates characters like Charles Dickens, and this, to me, is his shining example. He wasn’t paid by the word for this one, so he gets right to the heart and manages to create a living, breathing, eternal character in 60 or 70 pages.

Popular Fiction/Thriller: Iron House – John Hart
Don’t judge a book by its sales. As someone who leans more toward literary fiction than blockbuster, I sometimes assume that a book with great sales numbers probably isn’t well-written. I expect a tight plot, but flat writing, cardboard characters, little emotional impact. With all four of John Hart’s books, I’ve been wrong, but most notably with Iron House. This book has taught me that character development enhances and even causes the tension in a story, regardless of genre. I don’t have to choose one or the other; I can (and should) have both.
I haven’t given up my persnickety reading habits. I admit that there are books and genres I probably won’t ever read (I won’t mention them here, because everyone’s favorites are different -- as Andre Maurois said, "In literature as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others”).
But I will continue to force myself out of my comfortable orbit, and I hope that all of this reading will make my own writing better, wider, broader, more.

What books have taught you something specific about your writing? 
What have you learned from reading outside your genre or comfort zone?

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

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"Until you understand a writer's ignorance, presume yourself ignorant of his understanding." -Samuel Taylor Coleridge, born October 21

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Mandy Brown Houk recommends you "Read Everything. Almost."

...Aaron Michael Ritchey talks about "Homicidal Writers Killing Characters"

...Guest poster Jessica McDonald gives us "Confessions of a Conference Newb"

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sweet Success! C.L. Roth

Compiled by Kathie Scrimgeour

C.L. Roth's mystery Bone Weary (ISBN# 978-0-9846619-2-3 for print, ISBN# 978-0-9846619-3-0 for eBook) was released in May 2013. This adult cozy mystery is the first book in the Weary, KS mystery series, and is published by C.L. Roth Publishing and available at CreateSpace, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. 

Charly Edgewood’s husband has lost his mind. He doesn’t want a divorce; he wants a vacation—in Australia, and he intends to be gone for a whole year. Unable to change his mind, Charly, with their disabled son, Jake, moves back to her home town, Weary, Kansas (pop. 400). Settling in among her family, Charly feels like she’s home again. But her brother is being stalked, she finds herself in the middle of a town-wide feud, and somebody vandalized the local cemetery. When the missing bones end up in her fruit cellar, can Charly figure out who stole them?

C.L. Roth was born and raised in Kansas. She has a deep love for the Flint Hills and enjoyed placing her new mystery series in a small town situated in them. She writes what she knows, which is growing up in a large family with unusual coping skills, and being a caregiver for a disabled son. Her books are full of heart, and humor, and a healthy dose of mystery.
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, October 16, 2013

What’s Measured, Grows

By Linda Rohrbough

This is an old saying, but it’s new to me: “What’s measured, grows.” If that’s true, then it seems to me that it would make sense for a writer to measure his/her work.

When I heard this saying, I thought of the ways I have measured my work and ways I’d like to measure my work. I believe the most common vernacular for “measuring” is setting goals.

Only goal setting seems like a setup for failure. I just feel guilty if I don’t live up to the goals I’ve set for myself, and I find that rather depressing. I’ve heard it said guilt is a useless emotion, but I think it’s worse than that. I think guilt detracts in a big way from creativity and blocks productivity.

So rather than blocking ourselves with language that is guilt-producing, how about if we try something new?
Seems simple enough.
All of the New York Times best-selling authors I know measure. They measure what they can do and what they have done. They know how many words they can produce in a day, how many days a week they can productively work, and how much time it takes them to produce a book. They rattle off the math like a practiced accountant.

I have a document propped up on my desk titled "Writing Math." I swiped it from Jim Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel, pages 166 and 167. I’ll reproduce it for you here.

Writing Math

Two pages per hour, or 500 words per hour, four hours of writing a day = 2,000 words a day.

One month of novel background – character biography and stepsheet – 172 pages.
(2 pages per hour x 20 hours per week x 4.3 weeks – 172 pages)

First draft - 1.43 weeks
Second pass - ten weeks
Third pass - ten weeks
Polish - eight weeks or two months
Equals a book a year, with 9 weeks left over for vacation
NaNoWriMo is a good example of measuring. Every November, NaNoWriMo participants plow through a novel in 30 days. There are email groups set up so writers can be accountable to each other, and everyone sees how far they can get on their novel in a month. A number of NaNoWriMo produced books have been published, which just shows that measuring does appear to work. Because that’s what NaNoWriMo is all about – not quality or technique or studying the intricacies of crafting a story – but just about putting words on a page.

I know in Microsoft Word 2010 you can click on File --> Info, and under Properties you can see statistics for a document like how many words it has and how long it’s been open. For example, this article is 740 words and took me about 55 minutes to write. Although, I have been thrashing this idea around in my head for the month since I heard, “What’s measured, grows.” And one thing I have figured out about myself is I need brain-time on a piece before I sit down to write it.

One writer I know heisted a stopwatch. Her nephew was using it to measure how much time he was putting in on a school project. One day when he was talking about clocking his time, she said, “Give me that.” She put it on her desk, clicked it on when she wrote and off when she stopped for whatever reason. She didn’t count playing solitaire when she was blocked, surfing the web, or answering email. She only clicked on the stopwatch when she put words on the page, either plotting or actually writing the novel. She said she was shocked at how little time it actually was. Less than an hour a day and she’s a New York Times best seller.

A friend told me about a race walking across the U.S. The guy who won it wasn’t the fastest guy, or the best-funded guy, and he didn’t hold any records for how far he got in any given day. This guy went about the same distance every day. Clearly he was measuring. And he won.

I’m inspired by that story.
Which brings me back to measuring. How do you measure your writing? I’m sure there are a lot more measuring techniques than what I’ve outlined here. I’d love to hear about any you’d care to share.

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, October 14, 2013

What is a Good Mentor and How to Find Them

By Karen Albright Lin

In my last post I discussed what you should be aware of and ready for when you seek a mentor. I also addressed the etiquette involved in receiving such a valuable gift from someone more seasoned. Now we’ll look at what can be expected of a good mentor and how to find one that meets your needs.
A Good Mentor
  • Doesn’t help for personal gain
  • Admires something in your existing skills, perhaps your voice, storytelling skills, or dialogue, yet sees room for improvement
  • Enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge
  • Sets high expectations
  • Understands your genre
  • Is there when you need her, within reason
  • Gets along with you
  • Encourages professional behavior
  • Offers challenging ideas
  • Teaches by example
  • Stands by you
  • Helps you build self-confidence
  • Gets satisfaction from helping
  • Has a high level of commitment and confidence in his own abilities
  • Doesn’t allow you to become dependent on her
  • Validates through feedback
  • Cushions you when your work is rejected
  • Supports you through writer’s block
  • Helps you do it on your own
  • Ends the relationship as a friend and colleague
I’ve had mentors who’ve approached me after reading my work submitted to anthologies (thank you Maggie Osborne) and contests (thank you Jan C.J. Jones), also mentors I met in critique groups whose skills far surpassed mine (thank you Marvin Straus, Julie Paschen, Joan Prebilich, Stacey Campbell, Janet Fogg, Shannon Baker, and Julie Kaewert). 

In turn, I’ve given back to young writers by mentoring “newbies” within critique groups and nascent writers I’ve met as a result of reaching out at conferences and through contests.  I’ve done high school outreach, jumpstarting middle school and high school literary magazines and leading workshops in English classes. I’ve mentored writers who’ve approached me after my workshops, and young writers I never met who simply happened upon my website. 

When you are ready, reach out. You’d be surprised at how flattered a more seasoned writer might feel being approached for help. Choosing a mentor isn’t something to take lightly; here are some thoughts on finding one that will work well with you.
How to Choose a Mentor
  • Approach a teacher or coach or editor
  • Accept an offer from someone who admires your work
  • Go to an expert in your genre, search the library, read her books, tell her you like them
  • Look within a writing organization; some have mentoring programs or encourage mentoring (as does Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Published Authors Liaison)
  • Check out websites such as Writers Guild of America that have mentoring programs
  • Find someone whose work you admire
  • If she doesn’t have time for you, ask if she knows another writer who might have the time
  • Let him know what you hope to learn
  • Find someone perceptive who teaches by example
  • Assess the chemistry to see if the relationship is truly helpful
  • Find someone who listens to your ideas and concerns
  • If someone speaks in absolutes (such as “never use adjectives”), beware
  • Seek a writer who willingly introduces you to new people in the industry
  • Bypass anybody who wishes to take credit or responsibility for your work
  • Choose a warm mentor with high standards for herself and you
  • Be sure he has the same goal and definition of mentoring
Having a supportive mentor can speed you along in your progress toward being published.  I hope you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy such a gift from a generous author.

Once you have the knowledge and success others can benefit from, give back.  An amazing thing happens when you mentor; you continue to learn along the way.   

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, October 13, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." -Oscar Wilde, born October 16

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Karen Albright Lin teaches you how to find a good mentor

...Linda Rohrbough explains how "What's Measured, Grows"

...C.L. Roth shares her Sweet Success

Friday, October 11, 2013

Scene Writing Series, Part II - Scene Purpose

By Jax Hunter

Greetings, Campers.

Last month, we established that we’d be looking at the components of writing scenes. This month, we’ll be looking at the first priority: knowing the purpose of the scene.

Remember the quote I shared in the last article from behind the scenes of Spiderman 2: “You have to really know what you want beforehand or you’ll just throw together a lot of really mediocre stuff.” This is never more true than in the basics: what is the purpose of the scene?

Disclaimer of sorts: For examples this month, I grabbed my copy of Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code from the shelf. It’s a book that’s been widely read - that’s the only real reason I grabbed it. (I did enjoy it and I do think that Brown has a great way with short chapters and great chapter hooks.)

The purpose of the scene is not the same as the scene question. Remember, we have a story question - in the DaVinci Code the story question would be: Will Langdon solve the mystery of the murder of Sauniere? Along the way, each scene has it’s own scene question. For example, Will Langdon find the bug in the soap, or will Silas kill Langdon?

But these are internal story questions. What we want to focus on this month is the external purpose of every scene, the author’s objective in every scene.

In every scene, there should be a change, even if it’s nearly imperceptible. The characters or the situation they face should be different when they exit a scene than when they entered. It’s pretty simple, pretty straightforward. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

Every scene in the book should be either an action scene or a reaction scene. In action scenes, your character is pursuing a small goal, meeting conflict along the way and getting an answer to that goal. Hardly ever is the answer “yes.” Then, there’s no heightening of the tension, is there. Usually, the character comes out of the scene with, at best, a “yes, but.” More often, he’ll come away with a “no” or a “not no, but hell no.” Still, though, those would be the character’s purpose in the scene, not the author’s.

In a reaction scene, the characters stop for a moment to consider what has just happened, to the setback that has just occurred. Or, the world reacts to something your character has just done. Experts say there should be far more action scenes than reaction scenes.

We must not confuse this theory of action/reaction with the natural reactions of our characters within each scene. Jack Bickham in Scene & Structure talks about the natural progression of stimulus - internalization - and response. I’ve also heard this series referred to with action - feeling - thought - action. This internal scene sequence, though is a topic for another column.

The purpose of each scene is what links the scene to the spine of the novel. Each scene must either move the plot forward or show character. Ideally, each scene will do both.

While I won’t speak for Dan Brown, here are some examples from DVC (picked randomly.)

Prologue: Introduce Sauniere and the murder - hint at the enormity of the mystery.

Chapter 1, scene 1: Introduce Robert Langdon.

Chapter 1, scene 2: Introduce Langdon to the murder scene.

Chapter 55, scene 1: Introduce Teabing’s theory of what the Grail is - Sophie’s POV.

Chapter 56, scene 1: Continue previous scene from Langdon's POV.

Chapter 56, scene 2: (3 lines) Remy sees Langdon on the news.

Chapter 57, scene 1: Give Collet Langdon’s location. Scene 2, Silas closing in.

In Brown’s book especially, there is a vast amount of information that must be transferred to the reader. Often, this is the sole purpose for a scene. The author, then, must find dramatic ways to convey that information.

Often, I find myself writing a scene just because it comes next. I’m not clear going in on the purpose of that scene. I think that keeps things from truly being in focus for the reader. As storytellers, we need to paint only one picture at a time for our reader, paint it in clear detail so our reader sees what we see, hears what we hear. If that takes one sentence, so be it.

But, if we don’t know the purpose going in, we’ll throw in all that mediocre stuff. The result will be mediocre scenes that lack the punch they could have if we focused.

In my military romances, I have prologues which serve the purpose of showing the hero of that book in his work environment and, ideally, show foreshadow the torture I will be putting him through. I want the reader to know him in his “home” environment, which, in this case, is within the Air Force para-rescue setting.

Paul Lucey in Story Sense says this: “Do not write the scene until you are satisfied with the plot and the story point that must be made in the beat.”

It seems like some of the best scenes I write are those which are out of order. A scene will build up in my head (more often my heart) until I just have to write it, even though it’s not the next scene in the book. These scenes tend to have the clear focus that some of my other scenes lack. These scenes tend to wring every emotion from inside me, emotions that end up on the page where they belong. Often, they aren’t long. That may be because they are gathered and strengthened and aimed before they’re allowed to be shot.

No mixed metaphors here.

Again, Lucey, “When the point of a scene is unclear, the thread of the story will be frayed or broken, causing confusion.”

Colorado author Stephanie Kane, in her workshop on designing scenes, teaches that we should be playing to the jury (our readers). In order to do that, we must, going in, know what response we want from the reader. Then, we can craft each scene with that purpose in mind. Do we want the reader on the edge of their seat here? In tears? Laughing? Or, maybe just resting so we can deliver an unforeseen right hook on the next page.

For now, if we can, at the very least, think about each scene in light of it’s purpose, we’ll be on the road to better scenes. And better scenes make better stories. (Thank you, Captain Obvious.)

Until next month, when we take a look at set dressing, BIC-HOK (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.