Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Where I write

By: Stacy S. Jensen 

Where do I write?

Lately, it's been in a lot of places — the kitchen counter, the bench where I wait for my son after school, and a messy office.

Long ago, I abandoned the dream of having large blocks of time to write. I discovered that using any amount of time gradually adds to my manuscript. Maybe it's a sentence or just a word. Either way, they all those letters add up to a story.

The kitchen counter typically is my place for ideas. I capture information on my iPhone or on a notebook. I'm not super focused here. This is for quick, "trying to get that down before I forget" moments.

The bench is where I sit and revise. I print out the story I'm working on and will mark it up before the class arrives for dismissal. When it's warm, this works very well. Even if I only look at a paragraph, it's one more polished paragraph.

My messy office is where I keep my MacBook Pro. Since I work from home - doing website, volunteer, and writing work — my office is the home base.

My laptop sits on a wooden desk I received on my 30th birthday. It was a random gift, but the desk has survived death, moves, memoirs, lots of picture book manuscripts, and a toddler. Dust gathers at the back of it, but the front is covered in sticky notes and to do lists.

Eighty percent of my vomit drafts are written in the office on the laptop. The draft stays on my computer's cluttered desktop for a while, until I'm ready to revise where I create a folder for each story. Then, I fill that folder with each revised version. I'm still testing to see whether holding on to the revisions adds value to my writing process.

Since most of my writing is in the picture book genre — think 500 words or less — I spend a lot of time defending each word. Much of this work is completed on the go ... while running errands, in the shower, or right after my head hits the pillow. I send myself a lot of notes from my iPhone or via email.

I also recognize there are two places where I don't write, but they contribute to my writing experience and to my idea notebook — Facebook and my email inbox.

Calm down if you think I'm a Facebook hater. I LOVE Facebook. Some people watch cat videos; I look at my Facebook newsfeed to see updates about everyone's children. It's story gold for me.  I connect on Facebook with a bunch of super helpful writers, who share tips on the craft, agents, and support. However, I'm not writing when I'm doing this.

My email inbox is another area where I get a ton of ideas from blogs, writing organizations, and writers. However, managing my emails takes time away from writing.

So, I'm off to the office to write. Where will you be writing today?

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 son.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Subplots: Intersect and Complicate

By: Karen Albright Lin
Subplots are secondary stories intertwined with your main plotline. They’re necessary in longer works such as novels and feature-length screenplays. They add depth to your story by complicating and advancing your plot. They are not little extra stories thrown in for fun. They’re interconnected. They can be about evolving relationships, personal growth, tied-in events, anything that complicates your plot.  

As your antagonist overcomes obstacles to reach a consequential goal, the stakes are made even higher when other situations or characters becomes involved, ones that matter to the main character or to the world. Each layer of conflict must impact your lead.  When it doesn’t we are disappointed. In the 2013 The Purge, we have a main plot reminiscent of Soylent Green, Logan’s Run, The Hunger Games, and The Lottery—involving a state-sanctioned “healthy” purge of the population. A daughter has a boyfriend who wants to be accepted by her parents who happen to be under siege by envious neighbors on a sanctioned night of murderous rage. Though he got in the house in some unknown way, he is kind to his girlfriend, even resisting sex, wanting to first get her family’s blessing. Then out of nowhere he shoots the girl’s father. Which wouldn’t endear himself to anybody. It is never brought up again. Why did he do it? Why didn’t it play into the overall plot? Especially after he’s shown himself to be moral. For the rest of the movie, I was distracted by this, wondering when I’d learn how this had any influence on the main plot. I was disappointed.     
If you have a bigger-than-life main plot, subplots can be used to make it more relatable. In The Purge, the boyfriend/girlfriend interaction was one we’re familiar with, unlike government-prodded murder sprees. It could have been put to good use, but the subplot was squandered.

Subplots help us understand character better. Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon is despondent after his wife dies. We understand, then, why he goes on what seems like a suicidal mission to thwart the bad guys. Coming to terms with his pain is a backstory subplot enlightening us on character, making us care.  
Even if a subplot primarily acts on a secondary character, it should still have an impact on your protagonist. The mother in my favorite movie, Harold and Maude, has her own superficial relationships and diversions separate from the life of her son. And yet, in large part, her material and snobbish distractions help form Harold into the dramatic “emo-wanna-be” that he is. She is germane to what drives him, yet she seems peripheral to the main plot, which is an unlikely love story.
A subplot can even drive the main plot forward. Young boy Cole sees dead people in The Sixth Sense. His struggle is the vehicle by which Bruce Willis discovers that he’s dead. Cole has a separate plot of his own in exposing the poisoning of a young girl. Bruce Willis’s character also has a jealousy subplot in which he thinks his wife is having an affair.

Think of subplots as goals. You have long term goals such as becoming a senator. You have medium term goals like getting a degree in political science. You have shorter term goals like convincing a professor to hire you on as an intern. There are also those very short term goals like dressing smartly for the interview. For this reason, it would ring untrue if your secondary plots all lasted exactly the same length of time. Your main plot is typically the last or next to the last to be resolved. Bang, it is solved… plus there may be a subplot resolved quietly in the dénouement, like a tender moment of redemption or reconciliation or renunciation. The possibilities are endless, but do make each relevant.  
Subplots justify otherwise extreme or inexplicable behavior. My favorite movie backstory subplot is from Air Force One. Poor president (Harrison Ford) has to go up against the unstoppable hijacker (Gary Oldman). Why would a bad guy do what will likely leave him dead in the end? We learn that his Russian family and friends have died in what he believes is an American made war. He has revenge and the release of a compatriot hero as his goals.  He is the hero of his own story. Without that subplot we wouldn’t buy into what would be a ruthless cardboard antagonist. Building backstory subplots serve another purpose.  The best antagonists are ones that we like or empathize with on some level—think Hannibal the cannibal in the brilliant Silence of the Lambs; he’s smart, intuitive, and cultured.    

Hannibal himself is motivated by getting out of prison. His mini-story is a perfect example of how a great secondary subplot can take your novel to the next level, IF it makes the conflict for the main character all the more difficult.  
Complications are key to successful subplots. A love interest being taken hostage as the bad guys head toward an Ebola-contaminated village will certainly complicate what might have otherwise been simply a plot about preventing the outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever. Subplots thwart problem solving, making goals harder to reach, better yet, seemingly impossible.      

Successful subplots enhance theme.  In my suspense novel in progress, isolation plays a role for a few of the characters. It is a blatant diagnosis in one: an agoraphobic secondary character. It is a toxic time bomb in my antagonist. It is a backstory requiring personal growth in my protagonist. Isolation is damaging and critical to the resolution.  
Subplots are not detachable stories.  Test each subplot to see if its progression interacts with your main storyline. I find it useful to imagine each plotline as an undulating line with points of intersection with the other plots.   

It can be especially powerful if the subplots all come together at some point. For example, imagine a main plot line of saving Chicago from a renegade group with a nuclear bomb.  But we’ve been developing a cop-partner relationship subplot along the way: the obstacle to our heroin taking the marriage plunge is her personal baggage from a failed relationship. Let’s hit the main plot climax at the same moment she realizes she needs to let go of her painful past and accept her beau’s proposal.  In the same scene, there’s an external resolution as they disarm the bomb, an interpersonal resolution when she accepts a lifelong commitment, and a personal resolution as she comes to terms with her past.

What I like to do is make a timeline for each of my plots, how it waxes and wanes, its climax.  Then I make note of where each intersects with the main plot. This helps keep chronology straight, gives me a clear idea of where a subplot should begin and end, and points out how it adds to the overall conflict and complexity.  
Our lives are multi-layered. Our stories should also be. Subplots can offer up allies, foils and opposing viewpoints. Subplots can be funny or otherwise entertaining, but they must be more than that. Unlike life’s unpredictable and unrelated diversions, subplots shouldn’t feel thrown in. Have them intersect and complicate your main plot. They will add important dimensions to your story.

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, December 27, 2015

Quote of the day and the week to come

"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."  ~ Rudyard Kipling

Source: Bing and Wikipedia

Joseph Rudyard Kipling, born Dec. 30, 1865, in Mumbai, India was an English short-story writer, poet, and novelist. Kipling's works of fiction include The Jungle Book, Kim, and many short stories, including The Man Who Would Be King.

This week on Writing from the Peak:

December 28: Subplots: Intersect and Complicate by Karen Albright Lin

December 30: Where I Write by Stacy S. Jensen

January 1: Welcome to 2016 and Pikes Peak Writers January Events

Friday, December 25, 2015

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

NanoWriMo? No! Don't Make Me!

By: Aaron Michael Ritchey

I really like it that as human beings we now have the ability to publish books rather easily. I think the more books we have the better. I don’t believe in gatekeepers. I don’t believe that only good books deserve to be written. I believe in all books, the good, the bag, and the ugly. If you want ugly, Allison M Dickson wrote STRINGS, which is kind of like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets The Sopranos. But only better. It’s, um, ugly all right, but awesome.

Many people spend November writing a novel, because, as you probably know, November is what we in the industry like to call NanoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I know lots of authors who sold their NanoWriMo book and made a career out of it. My friend L.A. Witt was dared to write a male/male romance for NanoWriMo, and bam, years later, she is a bestselling warrior woman. Her books would fall under the good category, if your tastes run toward the spicy jalapeno side of romance.

NanoWriMo. November. You have thirty days to write a fifty-thousand world novel. On your marks, get set, go.

This encourages people to write books and later, to edit those books, and then publish those books. Which I fully support.

I love the idea of NanoWriMo.

I will never, ever, ever do it.

It’s not for me.

You know what else is not for me? Writing with people. I hate that. Ew.

Because when do you talk? Should I talk to you if you’re not typing? What if you’re thinking? Worse yet, what if you want to talk to me while I’m writing? No. Shut up. Go away. I’m working.

And sometimes when I’m not pounding on the keyboard, I look up, and our eyes meet, and I’m a million miles away, but you might think I’m coming on to you. It’s awkward. That happens to me at coffee shops, but then we’re strangers, so it’s easier to glance away. Or for them to call the police.

So, no, I don’t write with other people. I write alone…well, I like to write in coffee shops while I stare at people. Or cry. I do a lot of crying when I write, and laughing, and yelling. Starbucks has a restraining order against me.

I will not do NanoWriMo. You can’t make me! Do you know why? Do you? Do you?

Getting words on the page isn’t my problem. I can easily sit down and write three thousand words. Without breaking a sweat. Yeah, I’ll probably cry, but we’ve covered that.

My problem is editing. I have to take the words and, gasp, cut some, add some, and change most of them. I craft really awkward sentences because I forget words that could make my life easier. An example?

Bad sentence: I lifted my arm, bending my elbow, my wrist at a ninety-degree angle, while holding a frothy cup of ginger ale.

Good sentence: I raised a glass of ginger ale.

So yeah, I need help taking my tens of thousands of words and making them readable. NanoWriMo ain’t about that. Maybe we need December to be NanoNoEdiMo month. National Novel Editing Month. But then there’s Christmas. My wife frowns when I write on Christmas morning. Dumb holidays and family. Sigh.

And if I did NanoWriMo, well, it would kind of limit me. I mean, I’m working on short stories, I’m editing, I’m doing marketing, and yeah, I’m writing new books. All the time. But it’s all jumbled together, and focusing on one project for a month? Um, I’m not sure I could do that anymore. But don’t get me wrong. I don’t think NanoWriMo is for newbies. I think it’s a great tool to focus people, for amateurs and veterans alike.

It’s just not for me.

I’m odd. Different. I'm not like other boys. I know people who love to go on writing retreats and write with other people, all day long, in some exotic location.

That’s my definition of hell. I’m not a binge writer unless I have no choice. I like to write, for about two hours, every day. Thanksgiving included. But not Christmas.

So, writing retreats, like NanoWriMo, is great for most people, they’re just not right for me.
But do you know what I think the goal is of NanoWriMo?

Get into the habit of writing. Make every month NanoWriMo. Make every month NanoEdiMo.

Work, my friends, work. We’ll all be dead soon, and the world needs your stories. Now, more than ever.

Even the bad books.

Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of The Never Prayer, Long Live the Suicide King, and Elizabeth’s Midnight. In shorter fiction, his G.I. Joe inspired novella was an Amazon bestseller in Kindle Worlds and his steampunk story, “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” was part of The Best of Penny Dread Tales anthology published through Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press. His upcoming young adult sci-fi/western epic series will also be published through WordFire Press. In 2015, his second novel won the “Building the Dream” award for best YA novel, and he spent the summer as the Arist in Residence for the Anythink Library. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two ancient goddesses of chaos posing as his daughters.

For more about him, his books, and how to overcome artistic angst, visit He’s on Facebook as Aaron Michael Ritchey and he tweets - @aaronmritchey. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Critique Buzz Words: Word Territory

Lots of phrases, buzzwords, slang, jargon, and perfectly cromulent words are thrown about critique groups on a regular basis. Newcomers to critique groups can mentally stumble when they hear something along the lines of, "The POV in your WIP head hops through white room syndrome, and all of the narrative is written in passive voice with lots of tense shifts."

POV? WIP? White rooms? Is there padding on the walls of these white rooms? I feel like I'm going insane! I know I'm tense, but how is that shifting around?

Have no fear. I'm here to help expand your vocabulary into the writerly world of the critique group.

This month, I'm going to cover word territory.

Word Territory

Words, like many animals, are deeply territorial. They don't mind sharing their space with other critters, but bring in one of the same species, then all hell breaks loose. This means if you use the same word in a short span of time in your prose, the word will get angry and leap out to the reader as a distraction from the story you're trying to tell. 

You may hear phrases like "power words" or "overused words" as well, but those are different issues (which will be covered in later articles). In the case of word territory, if the same important word appears multiple times on the same page (or within the span of a few pages), then you have a word territory issue.

Most new writers tend to overuse a character's name, and this can lead to reader exhaustion as they tire of reading the same repeated moniker. A trick I use (but try not to overuse) is to give some tags or phrases to each character and use some of those in place of the character's name. As an example, I have a character named Laurin. She is a Warmaiden who is a warrior-priestess in my world. I'll swap between "Laurin," "Warmaiden," and feminine pronouns to represent her place in the prose.

Now that I've brought up pronouns, I want to mention overuse of that particular part of the English language. I was fortunate enough to work with an editor who despised pronouns, but recognized when they should be used. Through working with him I reduced my pronoun word count. Seeing "she" or "he" several times in the same paragraph can become tedious to the reader and is an indication of a word territory issue.

How do you identify word territory problems? As most folks know, I work in technology for a living, so I leveraged my software engineering skills and created a tool. If you head over to you'll find what I created and the instructions for how to put it to use. The Passive Territory Checker will help you find overused words, some indicators of passive voice (also a future article), and might help you clean up your prose a bit.

How do you reduce word territory? In my case, I tend to restructure sentences to "dodge" the overused word to eliminate it from the prose. In other times, I'll whip out the thesaurus and find a different (and usually better) word to drop in place of the overused word. I make sure the sentence restructuring doesn't require weird grammatical gymnastics because that will throw the reader even more, and I also ensure my replacement words truly fit the meaning and intent of the sentence.

As with all guidelines of writing, there are times when overusing a word with intent and purpose can be a good thing. In one of my stories, I used the word "tears" four times in a single paragraph to drive home the point that my protagonist broke down and cried over four different things at the same time when life finally culminated into the perfect storm of stress and loss. According to my critique group, the repetition of "tears" created a powerful effect at that point in my story.

If you've heard a phrase or word in a critique group and you think others should know about it (or you're not sure what to think of it), drop me a comment below, and I'll add it to my list of Buzz Words to talk about.

J.T. Evans writes fantasy novels. He also dabbles with science fiction and horror short stories. He is the president of Pikes Peak Writers. When not writing, he secures computers at the Day Job, homebrews great beers, spends time with his family, and plays way too many card/board/role-playing games.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Quote of the week and the week to come

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” – Jane Austen

Source: Bing
Jane Austen (Dec 16, 1775 - Jul 18, 1817) was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism, biting irony and social commentary as well as her acclaimed plots have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics.

This week on Writing from the Peak 

Monday, December 21: Critique Buzz Words -- Word Territory by J.T. Evans

Wednesday, December 23: NaNoWriMo? No! Don't Make Me by Aaron Michael Ritchey

Friday, December 25: Christmas 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Sweet Success celebrates Chris Goff

By: Kathie Scrimgeour

Chris Goff’s adult thriller, Dark Waters (ISBN# 978-1-62953-192-2, hardcover, trade paperback, e-book and Audio formats, 346 pages), was released September 15, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books and is available at: Tattered Cover, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and IndieBound. 

DARK WATERS is an explosive new thriller set amid the Israel-Palestine conflict. Diplomatic Security Service Agent Raisa Jordan is tasked with investigating the assassination of one of her own while protecting two endangered U.S. citizens—a federal judge and his eleven year-old daughter, Lucy. This is a series debut that mirrors global headlines and will have readers frantically turning pages. Booklist says, "Goff, known for her intriguing mysteries, reveals a knack for thrillers. A sure bet for fans of international thrillers;" Publishers Weekly calls it a “strong first thriller;” and Lee Child says, “Great characters, action and location—altogether terrific.”

Chris Goff is the award-winning author and two-time WILLA Award Nominee of six environmental mysteries and a new international thriller. She began her career writing non-fiction for local newspapers, and articles for regional and national publication. Later she edited rock and ice-climbing guides for Chockstone Press and worked in graphic production for a division of The Morehouse Publishing Group. She has taught writing workshops nationally and internationally, and served on the national board of Mystery Writers of America. Her current novel DARK WATERS is the first in a series, and she currently working on RED SKY, due out in 2016.

 ~  Order your copy now at: Tattered Cover Book Stores,  Barnes & Noble , Amazonand IndieBound

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Breaking Points: Life Management for Writers

By: Jason P. Henry

Life sucks.

There, I said it. Why bother wasting words?

Life is an unfair, argumentative, demeaning, uncooperative, pain in the eraser. I should just give up on all of my dreams, quit living in the clouds, focus on reality, and all the stress will just melt away. I need to stop wasting my time on this ridiculous idea of writing a novel and accept the fact that I am not meant to be more than just another face in the crowd. I can focus on my job more. I can spend more time with friends. My family, maybe I’ll get a little more time with them as well. All of my problems could magically disappear if I…
Just. Stopped. Writing.

I think it is safe to say that we have all been at this point more than once. Some days, it is hard enough to keep up with the demands of our jobs, friends, families, hobbies and health. It is all we can do to keep our heads above water, our bank accounts in the positive, and to make those around us feel loved. Then we decide that we also need time to write? 


If Life was a graphic novel, Creativity’s arch-nemesis would be Stress.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that there will always be stress. If you spend time trying to eliminate it, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. There will be days when the frustrations ebb, but there will always be something else waiting in the shadows to disrupt your peace of mind. So, the goal should not be to eliminate stress, but to learn how to manage it and lessen its impact on your productivity.

One of the phrases (excuses) that irritates me the most is “I don’t have time.” Yeah, you do. Every week you have seven days. Every day you have twenty-four hours. Every hour you have sixty minutes. That is 10,080 minutes every single week. YOU HAVE TIME. It’s the same amount of time that everyone else on this planet gets. Pick a name: George R. R. Martin? Stephen King? Danielle Steel? Brandon Sanderson? J. R. Ward? James Patterson? ALL of them get the same 10,080 minutes per week.

How many of you are saying “Jason Henry is an idiot, those people are successful authors. All they have to do is sit down and write.”

True (well, not the Jason Henry is an idiot part). They are all successful authors, but they haven’t always been. They’ve been where we are, struggling with reality, trying to find time to sit down and get their books written. Even now, published and recognized, they still have lives outside of their novels. They have to make the time to sit down and get their next bestseller finished.

I firmly believe that the key to success and coping with stress is time management.
I meet many people every day and I hear the words “I don’t have time” quite frequently. I’m very much a conversationalist so I usually ask about what they do and how they do it. And, quite often, I talk about myself. About what I do and how I do it. Many are surprised to learn how much I am involved with.

At this very moment, I am the Conference Director for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. I also have a full-time job. I have a family. I have three active WIPs in three different genres. I write short stories. I have three blogs that I contribute to. I am partnering with someone to build a short story anthology. I am partnering with other folks to create a group that helps young writers. I am active on social media, I have a website, I have a dog, I like to hike, I’m a rock hound, I love music, and yeah, I only get the same 10,080 minutes in my week as everyone else.  

Trust me, I have reached my share of breaking points. I have smacked into brick walls so hard that I couldn’t move for days. Stress, that silent assassin, lurks in my shadows every day. So, when folks tell me they don’t have time, it is difficult to suppress my irritation. When they start complaining and saying “there’s no way,” I interrupt and I ask one simple question:

“How bad do you want it?”

The question is simple, but the answer is not. In fact, when I ask, most don’t have an answer for me.

Life has this funny way of making us work really hard for the things we want most. We are issued challenges daily and we must decide for ourselves if they hold us back or propel us forward. See, that stress that we keep trying to eliminate isn’t there to prevent us from realizing our dreams. It’s there to motivate us, to teach us, to make us better. When we learn how to manage that stress, well, that is when we truly break through and begin moving forward.

Decide how bad you want to be a writer. Then, sit down with your family and friends and explain to them how important it is. In that same conversation, remind them of how important they are. Then take a look at all the things you need to accomplish in a week. Create a schedule. Take those minutes I mentioned and begin dealing them out appropriately. Make sure to leave some time for the ones you love. Be certain to devote some time to writing. You may find you have an hour a night that you can spare, or maybe only a couple hours a week, but it is still time to write.

Be flexible. You can’t control life’s many demands no matter how detailed your schedule is. Work will demand extra hours. Kids will get sick. The unexpected will pop up. However, having that schedule will help you see where your time is and provide a road map for getting through the roughest of weeks. I think you will find that no matter how busy you are, you have more free time than you realize. Don’t let the stress cloud your vision and stop your momentum. Some weeks will be far more productive than others. A lower word count does not mean you were slacking, it means you were living. If we don’t live, we won’t have a whole hell of a lot to write about. 

Remember, stress is a vital part of life. How you handle that stress determines where it takes you.    

About the Author:  When he's not working with the dedicated and passionate people of Pikes Peak Writers, Jason P. Henry is lost in a world of serial killers, psychopaths, and other unsavory folks. Ask him what he is thinking, but only at your own risk. More often than not he is plotting a murder, considering the next victim, or twisting seemingly innocent things into dark and demented ideas. A Suspense, Thriller and Horror writer with a dark, twisted sense of humor, Jason strives to make people squirm, cringe, and laugh. He loves to offer a smile, but is quick to leave you wondering what lies behind it. Jason P. Henry is best summed up by the great philosopher Eminem “I'm friends with the monsters beside of my bed, get along with the voices inside of my head.” Learn more about Jason at