Friday, November 29, 2013

Sweet Success! F.P. Dorchak

Compiled by Kathie Scrimgeour

F.P. Dorchak’s Sci-fi action adventure novel, ERO (ISBN 0615859623 and 978-0615859620; 109,000 words; paperback; adult) was released July 19, 2013 by Wailing Moon and is now available in paperback and e-book. The book is available through Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, CreateSpace, and iTunes.

A stranded astronaut draws upon confused and contradictory memories to recall his involvement in UFO Black Operations—and Humanity’s not-so-pleasant future.

F.P Dorchak’s supernatural murder mystery novel, The Univited (ISBN 9781301573967 and 0615906826; 96,400 words; e-book; paperback; Adult) was released as a paperback October 2013 by Wailing Loon. The book is available at Smashwords, CreateSpace, B&N, Amazon, and iTunes.

Kacey Miller is on the run. Stumbling upon a heinous crime scene one sleepless night, she is drawn into an investigation where both the suspects and investigators are tormented by bizarre, supernatural experiences. She must decipher her own visions and nightmares, which forces her to confront long-denied, deep-seated, and secretive guilts—as well as her own connection with the murderers.

F. P. Dorchak writes paranormal fiction (no, not vampires), delving into the realms of the supernatural, the unexplained, and the metaphysical to explore who we are and why we exist. You can find F.P. by email: or at his website.

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, November 27, 2013

A Song for You

By Mandy Brown Houk

“How do you think up characters?”

“Do you write about real people, like your mom, or whatever?” (Hidden behind this inquiry, especially if asked by a close friend or relative: “Are you basing a character on me, and if so, am I going to learn that you secretly hate me?!”)

As a fellow-writer, you’ve all heard questions like these, and if you’re like me, they can be hard to answer.

I’ve been known to take note of an intriguing-looking person I’ve seen in public, and make up a mythology around her – like the woman at the DMV who was impeccably coiffed and dressed, except for the ratty old pocketbook.

And my characters sometimes share a habit with someone I love (the father in my first book sings his kids to sleep with morbid tunes like Tom Dooley – just like my own daddy did when I was young). But the similarities between my imaginary friends and my real ones end there.

I’ve never had a system that I can condense into a pithy answer to satisfy my curious non-writing friends—but over the last year or so, that’s begun to change.

Without consciously deciding to, I noticed that I was listening to songs in a different way. Thanks to the aforementioned troubadour daddy, I grew up with a deep love for song lyrics. My favorites, of course, are songs that either tell a story or hint at one (read: folk and bluegrass).

As I was revising my last book, working to add complexity to the inner lives of my characters, there were certain songs that would catch my attention. I noticed, for example, that when listening to Switchfoot’s This is Home, I would hear it in my main character’s voice, because it spoke so clearly to his longings for family and rest. In fact, it was this song that helped me see how the book had to end, at least for this character, and it showed me what obstacles needed to be in his path.

The song Safe, by Brit Nicole, could have been written by my secondary character, who is a selective mute. Every time I listen to it, I am reminded of what fears threaten her, what keeps her silent, and what makes her want to speak.

All of the primary characters in that book have at least one song. Even though the characters were born in my head before I associated them with songs, the songs have helped me see them more clearly, and to put more complexity on the page.

Now, as I’ve turned to a brand new manuscript, I’ve decided to intentionally seek out songs from the very beginning of the writing process (which, for me, consists of several months of thinking and daydreaming before I actually start crafting the story).

The song Barroom Girls, by Gillian Welch, gave me a vivid image of a sad young dime-a-dance girl from the 1930s. I have no idea if that’s what Ms. Welch was going for, but she’s my character now.

Barroom Girls hints at the objectification of the young woman, and her dissatisfaction and loneliness, but that’s not enough. It only gives me the character’s circumstance and general mood. The character is still cardboard and two-dimensional, and I have no idea what she wants, regrets, fears, loves, or despises.

And so, I keep listening to music (suffering for my art), seeking the songs that she would sing. Or the songs that, if she heard them, she’d cry. Or she’d cover her ears because the lyrics are too true to hear.

Just last week, I found one: Scarlet Tide, by Alison Krauss. I know now that my character has lost someone. It keeps her apart from others, detached, because she hasn’t decided if loving people is really worth the risk.

I’ve started a playlist for her, and as I add to it, I’m hoping to happen across a song for an as-yet-undiscovered character as well. It’s a new approach, but it feels promising, and I certainly don’t mind assigning myself hours of bluegrass, folk, and even jazz.

Maybe this is an odd idea to you, or maybe you’ve done something similar. I will say that I know my barroom girl better than I’ve known other characters this early in the process.

Give it a try and see what happens. Or post in the comments below, sharing your own methods for inventing and developing and learning about your imaginary friends.

Who are they, what do they want, and how do you know?

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Don't Leave Your Readers Fragmented

By Donnell Ann Bell

Fragmented sentences have left me feeling  fragmented of late.

Writing is all about feeling. If you write a story, the number one thing you must be concerned about is not perfect sentence structure, not whether your plot is the most brilliant ever, and not even whether the characters are quirky and out there. The number one thing writers must be concerned with when adding words to the page is how am I making my reader feel?

Feelings are why readers continue to read – not because you’ve written the best book ever, and not because you’re the next Gillian Flynn or Charles Dickens. You’ve grabbed your reader, done something to their heart and they’ve become invested in your story.

That being said, authors have a tendency to glom on to whatever works. Whether I’m judging a contest, or reading a book of one of my peers or my favorite NY Times bestseller, as a writer I can’t help but notice when something trends. Books are a lot like Twitter. Authors find out what they perceive as hot, and make an unconscious decision, or perhaps conscious, to implement that trend in their next book.

One of my earliest critique partners, Colonel Jim Roper (ret.), gave me some advice that I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Find your own voice.” That advice truly resonated with me, and from that point on, I’ve done my best not to copy other writers. True, we choose a genre that we prefer, but if someone starts a style all his own and the next twenty writers jump on the “Me Too” bandwagon, that kind of dilutes his style, doesn’t it?

Example: I don’t know what writer came up with using the period for emphasis. Because I mainly read mysteries and suspense, every so often I’d see a writer use something like: He had to stop him. Couldn’t. Let. That. Happen. The first few times, placing a period after a word might have been effective. Incorporated into every other book, however, the style became redundant. Interestingly enough, I’m not seeing it used much these days.

The redundancy issue brings me to the topic of this blog and why I’m feeling fragmented. Some authors are using fragmented sentences every other sentence. And the fact that they’re not completing sentences leaves Me. Slightly. Yanked. Out. Of the story. 

There are tricks that writers use to increase the pacing of a manuscript. If you’re writing an action scene, and you want to pick up the pace, shorten your sentences. If you want to slow the pace, lengthen your sentences so that your reader will take a breath. I’ve read that something in the brain is triggered when sentence structure is varied. But if you’re fragmenting your sentences because you think it ups the excitement or makes you a more compelling writer, consider changing what I personally feel is an ineffective style and an overused trend.

Am I saying never use a fragmented sentence? Absolutely not (there – feel better?)  All I ask is that when you do write a fragmented sentence, you’re doing so deliberately and not because you think it elevates the scene. Words are tools; writers are the tradesmen. Every word in your manuscript belongs to you. Don’t leave your sentences or your readers fragmented. Remember, we readers have feelings. 

About the Author: Donnell Ann Bell is a two-time Golden Heart® finalist who previously worked for a weekly business newspaper and a parenting magazine. Her debut novel The Past Came Hunting became an Amazon bestseller, reaching as high as #6 on the paid overall list. Her second book, Deadly Recall, brought to you by Bell Bridge Books, reached #1 on Amazon. Learn more about Donnell

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started."

-Mark Twain, born November 30

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...Donnell Ann Bell advises "Don't Leave Your Readers Fragmented"

...Mandy Brown Houk has "A Song For You"

...We celebrate a Sweet Success!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Preparing for the Pitch

By Kaye Lynne Booth

As a first time conference attendee of the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I was enthusiastic for the experience, but also a bit apprehensive. It would be the first time I had ever pitched a book to someone that was actually in the literary field. I would be pitching one of my children’s books, Heather Hummingbird Makes a New Friend, to Pam von Hylckama Vlieg, of Foreword Literary Agency. I was hopeful, as all writers must be as they approach the opportunity to pitch their books, but I was nervous, as well. I worried that I would stumble and fall on my face when the time to pitch finally arrived.

I spent the whole week prior to the conference practicing my pitch to anyone who would listen. I work in a long-term nursing facility, and my residents were a great audience. I’d breeze into a resident’s room and recite my pitch while making up a bed or delivering ice water. Many of my residents are supportive of my writing, so I would just take a deep breath and plunge in, concentrating on reciting the words I’d taken so much time to craft perfectly. Much of the time, I stumbled and stammered, or the words wouldn’t come, or they emitted from my mouth in the wrong order.

“Slow down,” one of my residents said. “Be sure they can understand what you’re saying.” That was some of the best advice I could have asked for and it came from someone who wasn’t even a part of the literary scene. Eight minutes isn’t long, so I was diving into the pitch as if it were a bitter pill, to be swallowed quickly before it could dissolve in my mouth. When I stopped to really think about it though, it was only seven sentences. Eight minutes was easily enough time to treat it as a hard candy and suck on it awhile, savoring the sweet flavor.

One of my young co-workers, who had experience in speech and drama asked, “You’ll have a cue card, right?” I had no idea. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to stand up in front of this woman and present my pitch as if I were class Valedictorian. I would have eight minutes to make a good impression of myself and my writing. Somehow reading it off an index card didn’t seem to be the best approach, but it might help if I could carry it around with me, pulling it out each time I had a few minutes to practice. The truth was, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never done this before. I was treading into new and unexplored territories.

Just getting to the conference posed several unforeseen obstacles, and I didn’t arrive until after noon on Saturday. I was crossing my fingers that I hadn’t missed my pitch appointment. I breathed a sigh of relief when I opened my packet and found my appointment wasn’t scheduled until later in the day.

I set about seeing what there was to see and searching for people I’d hoped to have the opportunity to speak with during the conference. Near the registration table, I saw a sign that read Practice Your Pitch. I’d been so busy trying to navigate the obstacles that stood in the way of my attending this conference that I hadn’t practiced my pitch all morning. What a relief to know I had another opportunity before I had to present it to an agent. Here was my chance to practice with someone who would know what I was up against.

I approached the pitch coaching desk and asked if they’d listen to my pitch. Of course, they agreed to. That’s what they were there for. I did well, managing to get the whole thing out with a minimum of stumbling. Then he asked me to do it again. The second time, I stumbled all over myself until my tongue was tied in knots. Boy, was I in trouble. What if I did the same thing during the real delivery of my pitch? The guys at the desk, (one, I later learned, was fantasy author Todd Fahnestock) were great. They had me stop and tell them about my book. Todd picked up on two or three things that caught his interest, suggesting that I focus on these things more, right at the beginning of the pitch. To hear Todd say it, my hummingbird’s battle with the bees sounded just as exciting as a character in one of his fantasy novels battling a fire breathing dragon. He made my story sound so fascinating, even I wanted to rush out and buy it.

They also provided pointers on what to expect during the pitch session. I was going about this as if it were a school presentation which I had to deliver from memory like a performance. They suggested that I relax a little and talk with the agent before jumping into the pitch. It made me realize that although I had an appointment with an almighty agent, she was a person like any other, not someone to fear or be nervous about.

Attending the next two sessions left me little time to rework my pitch following the suggestions offered at the pitch coaching desk. I pulled it out during each break, but ten minutes isn’t very long to try and make my book sound more exciting. What I came up with was a sensationalized version that made my children’s book sound like a fantasy novel. It just didn’t sound like my simple little children’s book that carried with it a message of friendship.

Even if I came up with something that sounded really good, there was no way I would have time to memorize it. Crap. I was nervous all over again. I could walk in and read something that I hadn’t had enough time to perfect, something that sounded only vaguely like my story, or use the original pitch I had memorized. My choice was clear.

I headed up to the seventh floor, where the pitch sessions were held about twenty minutes early. They offered a mint from the bowl on the sign-in table. Nifty idea. It couldn’t hurt, right? After listening to pitches all day long, the agents probably appreciated the gesture. Once I checked in, there was nothing to do but wait.

The lobby for the pitch sessions began to fill up. At least I wasn’t the only one that was nervous. One author tried to wear a trail in the Marriott’s tapestry carpet, as she stayed in constant motion, pacing from one side of the small lobby/waiting area to the other. If I hadn’t been nervous before, I was now. Others seemed as cool and collected as the Dalai Lama. There was a suspense/romance author, who sat chatting pleasantly with the girl running the registration table, and one man in a business suit claimed he pitched a different work earlier in the day and seemed quite at ease with the whole process. I sucked on my mint, trying to relax and went over the pitch in my head.

I’d decided to keep in mind the advice of my pitch coaches for the next year’s pitch, the one for my first novel. Their suggestions were sure to be great when applied to the western novel I’ve been working on, but children’s books are different. Their pitches don’t need sensationalism - they need to highlight what the book has to offer kids, especially those that will appeal to parents in the younger age groups. At least, that was how I saw it.

Finally, a tall dark haired girl in a gray tweed jacket with a black hat and pants stepped into the room and called out the names of those scheduled for the next pitch appointment. We followed her like herded cattle through the short hall to a large open room with several small round tables set up. I recognized Pam from her photo on the PPWC website, and as I took my seat across from her, she turned to me and smiled a smile that set me instantly at ease.

As suggested, I started the ball rolling by introducing myself and asking her if it had been a long day. Pam was pleasant and personable, easy to talk to. Once the introductions were over, I said, “So, let me tell you about my book.” I went into my pitch, which I managed not to muddle too badly and we talked about what category the book would fall into and word counts. As it turned out, Heather Hummingbird had way too many words for a picture book, so I would need to do some trimming. She gave me a slip with the information on what to send where, and we exchanged pleasantries before I exited the room with a smile on my face.

As it turned out, all of my anxiety was for nothing. That short eight minutes wasn’t really difficult at all when I followed the advice of my pitch coaches to just talk to the agent as a fellow human being. I think aspiring authors tend to place agents and editors on the almighty pedestal, looking up to them in awe. After all, here are the men or women that can make or break your manuscript, or are they? Just because one agent turns you down, doesn’t mean there’s not another out there that will think your book is fantastic. Rejection is something that every author must learn to deal with. But if you take advantage of the opportunities that come to you through great events like the Pikes Peak Writers Conference and face them in a professional manner, you can increase your chances of publication, and that’s a good thing to know.

About the Author: Kaye Lynne Booth has been published in Dusk and Dawn Magazine and was a featured poet at the 2008 Fremont County Writers' and Artists' Fair.  Her poetry has also been featured, as co-creator, with the work of artist Mitchell Barrett and was exhibited and sold at the Affordable Art Fair, Battersea Park, London with Kaleidoscope Gallery. Kaye edits through her Write it Right Editing Services at Kaye’s Literary Corner. Kaye has edited poetry, short stories, essays and novels.  She has written a children’s series, a middle grade mystery, and a Colorado based western, (as yet unpublished). She’s published articles, essays and short stories online. Her most recent article was published in The Freeman MagazineKaye Lynne is the SouthernColorado Literature Examiner for, as well, and her Writing to be Read blog is dedicated to sharing her writing expertise and helping other writers along the way.  Kaye has been a member of Pike’s Peak Writers since 2011.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dig Deeper for Your Characters

By Karen Albright Lin

We hear it all the time: create characters that are sympathetic, at least interesting. But how exactly do we do that? Consider these ideas for going beyond that simple formula.

Avoid subtlety. Many of us feel more comfortable when we dodge conflict and high risk behavior. We often don’t want to stand out, especially if it involves ruining our reputations. We want life to be easy. But instead of attempting to make a character’s choices safe and believable, make them bigger than life. Just as readers crave living vicariously in worlds in which they can’t live, readers want to take a 300-page journey with people who will do things they would never do. Shoot for cataclysmic decisions, external or internal. It may feel uncomfortable to put your characters through what would be horrifying to you. It may feel too big, but write it big with the knowledge that you can always trim it back. And take Donald Maass’s advice: make your character do what he would never do.

Go beyond the basic history we learn through sprinkled-in backstory. Create “headlines” for your characters, even your secondary characters. Think of a “headline” as a personal theme. Examples might be: Ann reacts to situations the way Jesus would. Paul was raised with, and acts out of, guilt. What unique experiences have they had that few others have had? These will often inform their thoughts and actions.
Consider his moral code. Is he sober, trustworthy, impulsive, principled? What are her dreams and ambitions? Is she like the character, Juno, who wants to find a good family for her out-of-wedlock baby? Even if those goals don’t play out in your plot line, readers will sense them. What’s her inner life like? Her self-talk, her fantasies? How does she express herself?

Even your hero has a shadow side. What are his demons and difficulties? Where is he powerful? Is it his sexual prowess? His alpha nature? Are these his real strengths or his feigned strengths? Is there a cultural component? I’ve modeled characters after my husband and his family members, all very superstitious because the Chinese have accumulated countless magical beliefs over the course of 5,000 years. Consider writing a meaning web. How do their beliefs and opinions, politics and religion meld or conflict? How do their careers guide or inhibit, enhance or burden their lives?

A great trick that can enrich a personality theme is to give the hero at least a smidgen of the worst trait you find in the antagonist. That way it’s like he’s battling himself. That gives you one more potential inner conflict and possible arc.

Will your protagonist meet his goal? He doesn’t have to. He can instead learn that it shouldn’t have been his goal. In When Harry Met Sally, Harry’s original goal was to prove women and men couldn’t be just friends. She believed they could. By the end of the movie, Harry and Sally have worked through numerous conflicts over attempts to be friends and come together as lovers.

Use plot tricks to enlighten us about your protagonist and antagonist. These will lead to arcs. Try creating a conflicted character or situation and work backwards. Change points of view at key moments. Consider sprinkling humor throughout a serious book and somber moments in humorous novels. Whatever traits you’ve given your characters, use them to guide their actions and be sure there is payoff.

Have big surprises, plot twists and reversals come from the actions of the hero, not by accident. In the course of the book, reveal something about the human condition; give readers the opportunity to laugh, cry, worry, feel uplifted, or inspired to be someone better.

Understand what is exceptional about your protagonist, antagonist, even your secondary characters. Readers forgive plot difficulties, but if they aren’t interested in your characters they’ll put the book down. You want them to stay up all night reading and then immediately buy your next one. Fascinating and nuanced characters will do that.

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Five Insurmountable Problems of NaNoWriMo

By DeAnna Knippling

So you’re thinking about doing NaNoWriMo this year for the first time. Or you’re thinking about doing better this year. Or you’re partially through NaNo and you’re stuck and you hate life and you’re reading NaNo blogs because you just like to punish yourself for not being good enough as a writer.

Um, yeah.

NaNoWriMo is a kind of hothouse of writing. It brings up all kinds of ugly things that encapsulate our failures as writers - or at least the failures as we see them.

So let’s get past that, not by treating NaNoWriMo as a kind of writers’ resolution, (”This year, I will write 50,000 words, mostly by...I don’t know, just forcing myself!”) but by looking at the root causes.

Here’s my premise: anything that stops you from writing is a bad writing technique.

1. I don’t know what to write.

Tip: Pick the first memorable person you think of, drop them in a memorable setting (it’s easier if you know the setting reasonably well), and give them a problem they can’t solve using their normal M.O. (that is, don’t give a firefighter a fire to put out--give them a parent with cancer).

It’s not that we don’t know what to write. It’s that we get hung up on finding the perfect thing to write. Why is that? Because we’re secretly convinced that stories aren’t about how the story’s told, but about the idea that sets them off.

And yet. Everybody who’s ever admitted to being a writer in public has heard this: “I have this great idea for a book. Why don’t you write it for me - I’ll even give you a percentage of the profits. Fifty-fifty!” As though the idea was worth half the work in the book. You’d laugh at that person...if it wasn’t you.

If you’re held up on the idea, then coming up with the perfect idea has got to go. Because anything that stops you from writing is a bad writing technique.

2. I have no time to write.

Tip: Give up Facebook and Twitter for November. If you want to get really extreme, give up all non-job reading and entertainment for the reading, no games, no going out, no socializing...but them’s desperate measures.

You have time to write. I’m sorry, you do. It’s not about time, it’s about fear.

I had a talk with my daughter yesterday about math class, which she normally likes and finds easy. This year, she has a math teacher who throws things at her faster than she’s comfortable with. I could have a talk with the teacher about slowing things down for her or helping her somehow. Maybe getting her a tutor (well, other than me). Instead my daughter and I discussed learning and what it feels like, and how easy it is to run away from feeling like that. I told her that part of a good teacher’s job is to unsettle you, to get you used to and over the terror of learning.

I told her it’s okay to take breaks from your homework, but she can’t run away.

You have time to write; it’s just easier to justify cooking healthy meals and spending some extra time with the kids and doing laundry and Dr. Who and even puttering around on Facebook than it is to face learning something new. If you have fifteen minutes, you can have a page of fiction.

Yes. You can. When you’re not screwing around like a kid trying to avoid homework. When you’re not paralyzed by fear.

Telling yourself you have no time to write stops you from writing--it’s a bad writing technique.

3. I write nothing but crap.

Tip: Check all the items on this list:
  • Did I drink enough water?
  • Have I eaten? Have I eaten something other than crap during one of my last two meals?
  • Have I had enough sleep?
  • Have I had enough exercise?
  • Have I journaled/stress relieved lately?

Some people are surprised to find out that mental effort is physically draining, and learning something new is even worse. NaNo is a writing marathon, and it will burn energy and other resources faster than you’re used to. When you feel drained and horrible about your writing, first check that your body (or subconscious) isn’t trying to send you a message: I need fuel and/or repairs.

The other part of this issue is the nature of crap.

The bad news is that we all write crap. The good news is that when you know you’re writing crap, it means you’re ahead of the game--seriously. In order to learn something new, you have to be uncomfortable with where you are now. Viscerally. Painfully.

The idea that you have to feel like you're writing well in order to be a good writer sounds logical but it will keep you from writing and improving. It’s a bad writing technique!

4. I wrote for a while, but now I’m stuck and I don’t know what to do.

Tip: Write the next thing. Or maybe back up a paragraph or two, delete that, and then write the next thing.

Last year I took up knitting as a bucket-list kind of thing. I’d failed miserably at it as a kid - my mom’s right-handed to my leftiness, and she’s no good at explaining things from the other direction. I thought I was doomed. However, then I realized I have the Internet. I must have gone through fifty knitting videos on learning how to get started knitting before I found The One That Made Sense. At one point, I could have watched knitting videos all day. Instead of actually, you know, knitting.

You can, and should, and will do research to find out what works for you. But it has to be based on your personal trial and error, not on other people’s advice. No class, no mentor, no co-author can replace Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keyboard. The only way to get comfortable with writing is to write.

But what if you’re stuck? Seriously stuck? And you can’t write another word?

You can. You must.

During any long writing project, you will more than likely get stuck at some point, especially as you realize you have no idea what you’re doing, what you’ve been doing, or what you’re going to do next. I’ve talked to writers at various levels of experience. As far as I can tell, this feeling never goes away.

So you look up and realize you’ve painted yourself into a corner. Oh, no - there’s no way to get the characters out of this situation! Clearly, it’s time to completely rewrite the entire book. Or just quit writing. FOREVER.

Except there always is a way out of every fictional situation, no matter how bad, because the characters get to destroy the walls and tramp all over the paint. Nuclear bombs? Alien invasion? Falling in love with someone else entirely? That’s what edits are for: rewriting the opening so the ending fits.

When you get stuck, write the next sentence. It might be weird, ungrammatical, awkward, annoying, offensive, etc., etc. Just plain wrong.

It is also yours in a way that the best-planned, structurally pretty sentences will never be. When you have pushed past everything you can think and plan, then you enter into a territory of naked honesty, which is often ugly and just plain wrong.

This is where the art of writing lies. The rest is craft. You need to know craft. I love craft. But this is where the art is, where you go, “I have nothing. I know nothing. I am writing out on a limb, on a one-sided bridge off a cliff with no opposite bank. I am skydiving without a parachute. I am a fake. I am full of crap and so is this.”

But that’s where the good stuff is.

This idea that you’re stuck because you’re at a dead end - it’s a lie, it’s fear talking. It stops you from writing - so it’s gotta' go. You’re stuck because you’re at the edge of the cliff. The next sentence you write must be magic. Not because it was good (although it will be, if you let yourself recognize it), but because you were able to write it at all.

5. Now what?

Tip: Continue to be a pain in the butt and do what’s right for you as a writer.

At some point, you’ll decide that you’ve finished your NaNo novel, or that you’re not going to.

In either case, you’re going to hear some negative things about NaNo authors, or people who don’t finish, or people who do, or new writers in general, or whatever. The people who depend on you will be relieved that it’s over. You will be relieved that it’s over.

You’ll be left dangling. Now what?

People will give you advice. A lot of it will sound really logical.

However, if it makes you want to stop writing, it’s a bad writing technique. No matter how logical it is, no matter how long people have been doing it. It’s bad. If you just want to work on something new and not finish your NaNo project - do that. (If you never want to do NaNo again - then don’t!) If you want to keep writing every day despite the fact that people tell or imply that you suck - then write. If the idea of submitting makes you want to never write again - then don’t submit (yet). If the idea of having to perfect your work before you can submit it makes you want to roll up in a ball - then submit before it’s perfect. If getting too many rejections kills you - then take it slow, or wait until you've written five other things and you don't care whether that old thing gets rejected or not. Work around the problems until they aren’t problems anymore. Learn one thing at a time, not all at once. Be kind to yourself. Keep writing.

Everything else is a bad writing technique.

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, November 17, 2013

Quote of the Week & Week to Come

"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it." -C.S. Lewis, born November 29.

This week on Writing From the Peak...

...DeAnna Knippling addresses "The Five Insurmountable Problems of NaNoWriMo"

...Karen Albright Lin discusses how you should "Dig Deeper for Your Characters"

...Guest poster Kaye Lynn Booth talks about "Preparing for the Pitch"

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sweet Success! Kristi Helvig

Compiled by Kathie Scrimgeour

Kristi Helvig’s new young adult science fiction novel Burn Out (Egmont USA, ISBN-13: 978-1606844793, hardcover, 245 pages, ages 12 and up) is now available for pre-ordering at Amazon & Barnes & Noble. The book will be released April 8, 2014. You can also check it out on Goodreads.

Most people want to save the world; seventeen-year-old Tora Reynolds just wants to get the hell off of it. One of the last survivors in Earth's final years, Tora yearns to escape the wasteland her planet has become after the sun turns "red giant," but discovers her fellow survivors are even deadlier than the hostile environment.

Kristi Helvig is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist turned sci-fi/fantasy author. She muses about Star Trek, space monkeys, and other assorted topics on her blog. Kristi resides in sunny Colorado with her hubby, two kiddos, and behaviorally-challenged dogs.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Scene Writing Series, Part III - Setting, Part I

By Jax Hunter

Greetings, Campers,

I hope you are all becoming much more aware of how your scenes are coming together.

Last month, I promised that we’d take a look at “set dressing.” Setting can range anywhere from the locale in which the scene takes place to the body language of the characters. It’s a subject that simply can’t be covered in one quick column. So, this month, we’ll look at the physical setting - the place and objects that go into each scene. Next month we’ll look at setting with regards to character. This, despite the fact that it is very difficult to analyze physical setting without talking about character. 

When leafing through my screenwriting books, I found two distinct uses of the word “setting.” First is the world created for your story - the time, place, and rules of the world your characters live in. 

Paul Lucey in Story Sense refers to this as the frame of the story. Not only does the frame include the time and place within which the story is set, it also includes the theme, mood, style and the “overall visual look of the movie.” A sci-fi thriller will have a completely different look and feel than a gothic romance will. Not only will the sets be different, even the language used to tell each story will differ. 

Second is what Bo Goldman listed as going into the box that makes up a scene: setting, weather, costuming, lighting, props, animals, whatever can “jack up the drama.”  (Again, Story Sense by Lucy.)

Keep my disclaimer in mind, though: We’re looking at the subject of setting from a screenwriting perspective. That automatically limits us. That which appears on the screen or stage is particularly visual. As novelists, we have many other tools we use to paint a picture. Sometimes, because of these tools at our disposal, we neglect the visual. 

I have a number of movie screenplays on my computer. I will share with you pieces of some of these in hopes that you’ll be inspired to look much more carefully at the dressing of your characters' surroundings. Oh, and I have an assignment for you, too. Stay tuned....

The key to great description - with regards to setting - is the use of specific detail. Michael Hauge in Writing Screenplays that Sell, says: “The particulars of appearance, attire, decor, attitude, and manner which convey the essence and the uniqueness of a character or setting are the ones to employ. Such attention to detail will create and enhance the movie in the reader’s mind and will contribute most strongly to his emotional involvement in each scene. 

Specific detail. Instead of a vase of flowers - an intricately etched crystal vase holding thirteen Brigadoon roses. Instead of a car in the garage - a hot, red Dodge Viper waiting in the bay of the spotless three-car garage. Instead of mounds of snow - mounds of dirty snow laying on slabs of ice. Instead of rain - a heaven-opened-on-our-head deluge, or a soft Scottish mist, or maybe rain just now turning to snow. We paint pictures with specific detail. 

An aside here to give you a fabulous example: "Gazing across the street at the egg-carton high-rise that partially obstructed her view of the mountains, Jackie spotted one of the few reliable signs of spring: dusty ficuses and elephant ferns crowding the screened balconies, hauled outside to bask in the sun. But the brilliant rays masked a nip to the air and the trees couldn’t decide whether to trust the calendar." (From Blind Spot by our own Stephanie Kane)

Without further ado, let’s look at how the screenwriters set the scene. Mind you, their form is different from ours, but they are still using the tools we all have - words - to set their stages. (For our purposes, I have not maintained proper screenplay formatting.)




Large hallway clock -- 6:15. A pair of boots track a freshly scrubbed floor as Leopold heads carelessly up the stairway. Three steps behind, the valet snaps his fingers signaling the staff to clean up the mess.


Gaudily framed portraits of somber relations.

A bird sits listless in a gilded cage.

Hot water is poured into a bath.

Carriages begin to arrive.

Orchestra leader signals the musicians to play.

Guests fill the ballroom in formal attire.



The bar is dirty, more than a little run down. If there is ever a cook on duty, he's not here now. As we pan across several empty tables, we can almost smell the odor of last nights beer and crushed pretzels on the floor.


CITY OF ANGELS lies spread out beneath us in all its  splendor, like a bargain basement Promised Land.

CAMERA SOARS, DIPS, WINDS its way SLOWLY  DOWN,  DOWN, bringing us IN OVER the city as we:

SPIRAL DOWN TOWARD a lush, high-rise apartment complex. The moon reflected in glass.

CAMERA CONTINUES TO MOVE IN THROUGH billowing curtains, INTO the inner sanctum of a  penthouse  apartment,  and here, boys and girls, is where we lose our breath, because --

spread-eagled on a sumptuous designer sofa lies the single most beautiful GIRL in the city.      Blonde hair. A satin nightgown that positively  glows. Sam Cooke MUSIC, crooning from five hundred dollar SPEAKERS.

PASTEL colors. Window walls. New wave furniture tortured into weird shapes. It looks like robots live here. On the table next to the sleeping Venus lies  an open bottle of to that, a mirror dusted with cocaine.



Eighteen combat-ready special forces, wearing assault black, jump packs and combat gear, stare down the deep end of a greasy ramp into the night sky. Village lights flicker 19,000 feet below.

The STRIKE FORCE LEADER signals to his team. Without a moment's hesitation, they dive into the darkness and plummet toward earth.


EXT. The SCOTTISH countryside - day

Epic beauty: cobalt mountains beneath a glowering purple sky fringed with pink, as if the clouds were a lid too small for the earth; a cascading landscape of boulders shrouded in deep green grass; and the blue lochs, reflecting the sky. We hear a voice, husky, Scottish...

VOICE OVER  I will tell you of William Wallace.



Palm trees in silhouette against a cherry sky. City lights twinkle. Los Angeles. A place where anything is possible. A place where dreams come true. As the sky darkens, triple-kleig lights begin to sweep back and forth.


The KLEIG LIGHTS are out front. Valets hurry to park a line of elegant cars.

{Note from Jax - the Kleig lights are the old time spotlights used in old-time Hollywood - invented by the Kleig brothers - I had to look it up}

Okay, so there you have a starting point for thinking about your use of physical setting. Your assignment is this: the next scene you write - write it in screenplay format. Set the scene going in with over the top description. Describe everything - you can cut out the fat later. Then, briefly describe the action and write the dialogue. See if that makes the scene pop for you. 

Until next month - BIC-HOK (Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard)

(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, November 11, 2013

What Writers Can Learn From Warriors

By Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

I’m taking a step back from writing about marketing your fiction, to writing on Veteran’s Day and heroes. Heroes are what make stories great and what keep readers coming back. In a culture of twerking and thugs, we could use more heroes, and in the military we’ve found them.

Thomas Ricks, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, recently wrote, “Our relatively small and highly adept military has made it all too easy for our nation to go to war — and to ignore the consequences. One percent of the nation has carried almost all the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the rest of us essentially went shopping. Like it or not, the (Vietnam) draft sure did encourage people to pay attention to the war and decide whether they were willing to support it.”

Veteran’s Day offers us a chance to think about war. Our military is so highly adept because of the formidable character of its service members. And war is the one situation, unlike all others, where the audacity of the human condition is on full display.

The Medal of Honor was awarded to 467 men for actions during World War II, 137 for the War in Korea, and 249 for Vietnam. Only 13 have been awarded for the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Six of those 13 are still living. Each of the warriors below looked death in the face and spit on it. I think we, as Americans and as writers, can learn something powerful from each of these real-life heroes.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta – resides in Colorado
The first living Medal of Honor recipient from the War in Afghanistan

From the 173rd Airborne Brigade, this Soldier sprinted through open terrain several times, under heavy enemy fire to recover wounded, simultaneously throwing grenades at the enemy for cover.

At one point, he raced across the field and lay prone to recon over a hill for more comrades. What he saw was the worst he could imagine: two Taliban soldiers dragging a wounded American away from the firefight. His reaction? He engaged and killed one and wounded the other, then sprinted over the hill and dragged the American to safety.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Leroy Petry
No right hand but he is still serving

From the 75th Ranger Regiment, this Ranger was on patrol to clear a civilian compound in search of a high-valued target. His patrol was ambushed with enemy fire. A bullet ripped through both of his legs, and still, he pulled two wounded Rangers behind a chicken coop.

When a grenade fell right in front of them, he picked it up to chuck it back at the enemy. It detonated, amputated his hand and raked him with shrapnel. Did he quit? No. He tied on a tourniquet, kept firing on the enemy, called in for fire support and saved the other two Rangers. After his medal ceremony, he reenlisted for eight more years of service.

Two others were awarded at Combat Outpost Keating, in the Battle of Kamdesh.

Near dawn, 300 Taliban fighters screamed down the hills from all sides and attacked this tiny outpost on the Pakistani border. Afghan coalition soldiers fled, leaving 50 Americans and Latvians to defend the post alone. At the end of the twelve-hour fight, nearly a third of the American force was either dead or wounded, and the base was nearly completely destroyed.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha
Rallied troops & fought the entire 12-hour firefight

A 4th Infantry Division Soldier, Romesha awoke to an enemy overrun of his outpost, and he ran through a bombardment of machine gun fire, rockets and mortars to rally a counter attack, then ran back again to gather reinforcements. He sprinted back yet again, with nearly every building around him on fire, to organize and gather weapons and ammunition.

While seeking cover behind a generator, a rocket-propelled grenade hit it and exploded, wounding him in the neck, face and shoulders. In spite of his injuries, he again ran through a barrage of fire to recover fallen comrades and call in air support that resulted in the death of 30 Taliban fighters. 

U.S. Army Specialist Ty Carter 
The first time two medals awarded for same battle since Vietnam

Also from the 4th Infantry Division, Carter was wounded in the first 30 minutes of the battle but ran across 100 meters of open ground overrun with enemy machine gun fire and grenades to resupply his fellow warriors -- five times. Through a hail of bullets, he carried one wounded comrade back to cover, provided first aid and returned fire as the battle raged.

Once he linked up with Romesha, Carter acted as a sniper for teams covering the bodies of fallen comrades. At one point, he braved enemy fire to cut down a tree next to an aid station to provide additional cover for the wounded. He was wearing only a t-shirt, shorts and a flak vest, and he is also still on active duty.

Two more were awarded following a pre-dawn meeting with Ganjgal Village Elders.

A small patrol of Americans and Afghan terps (translators) maneuvered to meet with elders at a pre-arranged time and place. Upon entering the village, all lights of the village homes and businesses flickered off. Then, Taliban fighters unleashed hell from every direction, trapping the patrol.

U.S. Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer
The first living Marine to receive the medal since Vietnam

After being denied permission four times to enter the fray and help, Meyer'd had enough. He ignored orders and jumped into the turret of a hummer while his buddy, Staff Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, drove them into a firestorm. Houses exploded. Trees fell. Bombs, rockets, grenades pummeled the patrol, the village, and the road.

They drove using the side of the hummer as cover from machine gun fire and rescued coalition soldiers. Not one time, not two or three times, not even four times, but five times, they drove back into that barrage of hell and Meyer jumped out to grab and load comrades into the truck. The fifth time, now wounded himself, Meyer jumped in the back of yet another hummer and brought out members of his own fire team.

U.S. Army Captain William Swenson
The first Army officer to receive the medal since Vietnam

From the 10th Mountain Division, Swenson was part of the patrol to meet village tribal elders. His response to Taliban calls for surrender? He threw them a grenade. For the next seven hours, he took charge of the counteroffensive, coordinated evacuations, recovered wounded and provided first aid, and made repeated calls for air support, most of which were denied. On the last run back into the village, he rode in Meyer’s hummer, and amid an onslaught of heavy gunfire and mortars, the two of them recovered the bodies of the last four Americans.

After the firefight, he publicly berated Army leadership for not providing requested fire support and second-guessing commanders in the field. (His decoration was “lost” for well over three years, and he left active duty in 2011.) He is now considered the most decorated living officer in the U.S. Army.

Today, on this Veteran’s Day, fathers are still in Afghanistan living in mud huts with M-4s as sleeping companions. Mothers dodge mortars and eat breakfast with M9s strapped to their sides. Brothers and sons ride in Humvees on IED-riddled roads. Daughters and sisters don heavy flak vests and weapons to meet Afghan women and children in booby-trapped homes. We’ve lost 6,717 of them in 12 years in Afghanistan and Iraq, and countless more have been wounded.

While most of us will never be put in the positions these men faced, I believe their courage, persistence, and audacity provide us the very best of heroes. 

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.