Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Search for Research

By Stacy S. Jensen

While Google is my regular online search tool, I've been using another search engine recently —Facebook.

With a billion users generating content every second of the day, this site is filled with material about people, places, and hot topics.

During the political season you can find a lot of great examples. For everyone's sanity, I will not share any here. I'll try something else.

To search, you go to the search box on Facebook. Here's an example of searching for "Colorado Springs sunsets."

Facebook shared several posts from that evenings sunset shared by local friends and those in other states. They have friends here, too. Facebook also shared a variety of sunset photos posted by strangers.

The search engine here allows you to search information by who posted it, tagged locations, and dates posted.

Recently, I've used the search option research a novel idea. Within a few keystrokes, Facebook compiled a variety of posts, links, and pictures associated with the topic. Facebook doesn't limit your search to your friends. You can choose "anyone" and see public posts for your search.

By looking at real people's discussions, I found everything from conspiracy theories to political party talking points. I also gained insight about the tone and demeanor of the people on each side. I did all this without interviewing friends (or strangers). Instead, I just read their real words.

Trending stories are also a great way to discover what people are saying about a topic. I tend to look for the public post in this area. The quality of the posts varies by topic. Celebrity or political stories tend to trend a lot. I gravitate to the rant-ish posts.

If you dig beyond the people who post about a celebrity only to complain that the celebrity is trending, it's fascinating to see how people talk about news stories, hot topics, and celebrities. While your close friends may stick to Facebook Happy-type posts, people who post publicly thankfully don't.

Facebook also provides the option to save links in your account, so you can read links later.

While researching on Facebook, you may fall victim to the newsfeed and tumble down an assortment of "what's for dinner photos," political endorsements, and cute cat videos. That's OK. Turn off your notifications and get busy.

All these interactions may result in future research for your next novel. And, who knows, your posts may show up in someone else's story search. 

About the Author: Stacy S. Jensen worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for two decades. Today, she writes picture books and fiction. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and son.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Pikes Peak Writers Newest Advice Column

Dear Annie:

I’ve just begun to write after waiting for the opportunity for years. Where do I begin? Is it better to simply sit down and write? Or should I take brush-up courses on technique or find a critique group to work with before I begin?

~ Eager to Write

Dear Eager to Write:
Things change in the industry over time. Familiarize yourself with the current expectations of publishing houses. Learn the requirements of the genre in which you hope to write; learn about the currently preferred viewpoints and tenses; and above all, brush up on your basic writing skills. Without a thorough understanding of rules for grammar and sentence structure, your attempt to hone creative skills will lack a necessary foundation. You’ll drive those improper word arrangements deeper and deeper into your subconscious mind. That, dear reader, is a recipe for stagnation rather than growth.

Dear Annie:
I’ve brushed up on my writing technique and I’ve found a critique group. I’ve completed my first short story and researched sources to which I might submit. Am I ready to push the send button?
                                                                              ~ Ready to Go

Dear Ready to Go:

Have you read through your manuscript when you were fresh, after a good night’s sleep? Try reading several times for content and another several for grammar and spelling problems. Though I do this multiple times, I still find a need for improvements on each go round. Our work is never done, fellow grasshopper. If you have edited and re-edited your story until you are positive that it is your best writing, yes. Take a deep breath and press send.

Dear Annie:
I’ve sent off my first story, and now I’m having trouble thinking of another plot. What to do?
                               ~Lacking Imagination in Colorado

Dear Lacking Imagination:

Don’t fret. If you tense up, you’ll have a more difficult time. Let your mind wander while thinking of a theme that is important to you —a subject or cause that touches you. Get out into the world and observe people and their lives. Interview those who have experienced something about which you hope to write.

I’m not suggesting that you interview a serial killer unless he or she has been safely locked away in a high security prison. As writers, we are comfortable before a computer creating worlds and structuring events in fictional lives. We need a balance between reality and imagination. It is from our own and vicarious life experiences that we draw our ideas and passions. Only by feeling a situation deeply can we recreate that emotion in our readers. So take a hike at Garden of the Gods. You may meet a homeless person whose story inspires you.

Dear Annie:

Sometimes I get so involved in building my platform that I don’t have adequate time to write. Do I really need to cultivate this huge following to be successful? Or is it better to commit my time to improving my written word?
~Dazed and Confused

Dear Dazed and Confused:
In my opinion, the amount of time called for depends on where one is on the road to success. Be reasonable about the time you invest toward this purpose. If one creates a platform but fails to deliver a worthy product, his followers will dwindle faster than they were accumulated. On the other hand, the ability you foster in yourself can never be lost. If you write well, readers will find you just as the famous baseball players found Kevin Costner’s field of dreams.

Dear Annie:
I’ve put heart and soul into a novel for three long years. When I sent out my manuscript, I received only rejections. Where does a writer find the courage to go on? The “devil” keeps whispering, “You’ll never get published.” It’s too easy to believe his discouraging message while knowing the actual odds.

Dear Disillusioned:
If you are driven to continue writing after a day or two of lamenting over your disappointment, you are a writer whether you are published or not. No one with your drive can avoid improving his skills. You have heard “the call,” my friend. Keep writing if only for self-fulfillment. Don’t ever give up.

Remember, your day may come; but if fate disappoints you, you'll have had a whole lot of fun.

About the Author:  Dear Annie is the pseudonym for Ann S. Hill. After hearing the call to write in her thirties, Ann set the ambition aside while life happened. Now that she has retired from her career as a dentist and her children are adults, she is seriously attacking that parked ambition. She spends significant time on her true passion and has recently completed her first novel, Wait for Me. She has written several short stories and is currently working on a concept for her second novel. In the meantime, she remains a voracious reader and film aficionado. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

“Sometimes I panic and think I can't really write.” Sara Paretsky

Source: Wikipedia 

Sara Paretsky (born June 8, 1947) is an American author of detective fiction, best known for her novels focused on the female protagonist V.I. Warshawski.

This week on Writing from the Peak:

June 27         Dear Annie PPW’s Writer Advice Column Ann S. Hill

June 30         The Search for Research by Stacy S. Jensen

July 1            Welcome to July and Pikes Peak Writer Events

Friday, June 24, 2016

Sweet Success Celebrates DeAnna Knippling

By: Kathie Scrimgeour

This week, Sweet Success celebrates DeAnna Knippling. A longtime member of PPW. She had the privilege of being interviewed by Big Pulp for one of their podcasts. We were curious how that came about. Here is what DeAnna told us:

Recently, I was contacted by Big Pulp publisher Bill Olver for an audio interview related to the work that I've published with Big Pulp over the last few years.  I have six stories with them and love the aesthetic of the magazines.  Bill has this taste for very pulpy weird stories that I love, so I bombard him with a lot of stuff and otherwise try to keep up with what he's doing.  

Right now, he's pushing to renew the magazine somewhat; due to life and other issues it's lagged for a bit (as you do).  So he's doing interviews with his authors and starting a Patreon campaign to help support the magazine and make sure the word gets out.  I got to be the first of the audio interviews recently; we talked on Skype for a while.  I babbled :)

The interview, which covers some of the stories that I wrote for Big Pulp as well as a short reading of the opening of Alice's Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts, is here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

To Critique or Not to Critique

By: Jason P. Henry

It is a wonderful thing to write a novel. That moment you type the last sentence is an incredible, exhilarating feeling. You should be proud. Many want to write a book, but not all follow through. Far fewer see that dream to completion. If you have started a novel, I applaud you. If you have finished, give yourself a hand.

So what next?

Have you ever seen a diamond in the rough? It’s not an overly attractive thing, to be honest. It doesn’t stand out from many other varieties of crystals. To see a diamond uncut, it would take a lot to convince you to shell out the thousands of dollars you pay for a finished gem. It takes a lot of skill to get a rough specimen into the highly valued items you see in jewelry stores. Hours of cutting and polishing go into the process.

Consider your first, or rough draft just that, an unfinished diamond. It may be OK now, but the time you spend cutting and polishing is what really makes it shine. That is what makes it marketable and something readers want to buy. If somebody purchases a book, only to find it filled with misspelled words, plot holes, poor sentence structure, and other problems, they likely won’t purchase something with your name on it again. A nail in the coffin for potentially the best authors.

There are steps you can take to avoid this pitfall. Use spell check, read your work out loud and hear how it sounds. More importantly, let others have a look.
Let’s go back to the cave where we found that diamond. The person who discovered the rough-looking specimen is not likely to be the one who will polish or cut it. That person loves the adventure, the thrill of discovery. Much like an author enjoys writing a great story. The miner who finds the diamond extracts it, then sends it off to another who will cut and polish the gem to give it more shine. As a writer, you do the same with your novel or story. In fact, it’s essential.

Your first step in that process should be a critique partner and/or a group. When your first draft is complete, and you have used my advice listed above, find someone else to give it a read. You’ll be amazed at what he or she finds. You have looked at your story for hours upon hours. You know it inside out. But your brain sees what is supposed to be there instead of what actually is. A critique partner looks at things with a fresh set of eyes. He catches things that you have likely missed multiple times already. After you make the suggested corrections, you’ll be amazed at how much more your diamond shines.
So what makes a good critique partner?

A critique partner is not the person who tells you what a great writer you are and that your story is the next New York Times bestseller. If that is the type of feedback you want, give it to your mom and put on it on your refrigerator when she’s done. Yes, compliments are great, but too many unaccompanied by constructive feedback are counterproductive. So, before giving your work to someone for critique, have a conversation with potential candidates. It is OK if they are people you know. You still want to make sure they are right for you.

First, make sure they appreciate and understand the genre you’re writing. You would not critique a romance novel the way you would a horror novel.

Secondly, I recommend you choose a partner who is a writer. (Every relationship is about balance. Trade manuscripts and help each other out by swapping critiques.) A critique partner is not the same as a beta reader or paying an editor—that comes later.

Next, make sure your potential critique partner is someone you can work with, someone with whom you share a mutual respect. If you can’t accept criticism from him or her without getting upset, or vice versa, move on. (But consider this: If you can’t take constructive criticism, you might not be ready for a critique group.)

During critique you may find your critique partner makes a suggestion you disagree with. Remember, it is your story and it should never become anything else. You are free to ignore.

Setting Guidelines for Critique

After you’ve chosen your critique partner(s) you and your partner should set guidelines. Among these are location, frequency, time and the day of the week. These probably sound basic, but don’t underestimate the complications that can arise. You and your partners ideally have lives outside of writing.

Determine the times that are mutually available for all of you. My partner and I attempt to meet weekly. It works at the rate both of us write and can finish a critique. We also understand that there are weeks we have to skip. You and your partners will eventually settle into a rhythm and understanding. This comes with time, so be patient.

I consider location to be one of the most important aspects of a critique group. I prefer a neutral environment. Perhaps one member wants to meet at her house. Maybe she has kids, or maybe she simply loves to play hostess.

Personally, I don’t like putting that constant strain on one member. Always feeling the need every week, to clean, prepare snacks, drinks, etc. I find it distracts from the whole purpose of the group. Remember, this is your dream, and it is not an easy one to pursue. It deserves proper, dedicated attention. This is where a neutral venue comes in handy, or at least a constant rotation of private homes if that becomes necessary.

Wherever you decide to meet, the environment should be conducive to productivity. It should be quiet and comfortable enough to focus. It should have amenities, e.g. restrooms, beverages and food. It should have favorable hours of operation. Your group may move a few times before finding a venue that works. That is OK because atmosphere is essential to progress.

Now the tough advice—What if the relationship isn’t working?

Even after all the above has been addressed, and you have spent time with a group, you may find it doesn’t work for you. Know that it is OK to step away. These folks may be your friends, family or coworkers, but your goal is to improve your writing. If that is not happening, you’re in the wrong place.

Likewise, if, a member isn’t carrying his weight, it may be necessary to ask him to leave. A critique is about progress. Yes, there may be hurt feelings, but you have to move beyond that. This is your career, not a social club, although that can be a side benefit.

Once you are with the right group, you will be amazed at how much your writing improves. More importantly, how much you grow as a person. Critique boosts your confidence level because you’ve allowed others to see your work. You now have momentum and may be less hesitant to submit to contests, agents, editors, and/or publishers. Your skin also thickens as your learn how to take criticism.

To critique or not to critique should not be a question. The answer is absolutely. Writing can be a lonely venture. But even many of the best writers don’t go it alone. Get started, collaborate with others. Share your journey, and grow as an author. Watch that rough-looking specimen become a diamond.

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

Monday, June 20, 2016

Scholarship Recipient Shares Thoughts on 2016 PPWC

By: Ledema Renfrow

Pikes Peak Writers Conference was my first writers’ conference so I went not knowing what to expect. But four days later, I left with many new friends, tons of valuable information and an invitation from a New York City agent to submit my manuscript.

What more could a writer ask?

I was grateful for the choice of presenters at the 2016 PPWC. The only problem was choosing just one at times when I wanted to learn so much. Every program I attended offered something I needed.

On Friday afternoon during a break, I noticed the sun coming through a lobby window. It had been snowing so the sun was very inviting. I sat down on the window seat and a young man sitting on the other end started a conversation.

He asked what I was writing, and I told him I had just finished No Star in the Window. 

He asked if I had published anything, and I showed him the book I self-published in 2014, Two Decades of David: Life, Death, and Beyond. “It is the true story about our son who was killed by a drunk driver,” I explained.   

He glanced through it. “What was the moment of sweet revenge at the end?” he asked. 

“I was selected for jury duty a few years after our son was killed. When the judge asked, ‘Is there anyone in the jury box who thinks they could not give a fair and honest verdict in this case?’ I raised my hand.” 

“Why is that?” the judge asked.

“I stood and pointed. ‘Because you are the judge who sentenced the drunk driver who killed my son to just 30 days in jail on a work release.’ Then, I pointed to the defense lawyer. ‘And he is the lawyer who defended the drunk driver who killed my son.’ It was truly their moment of reality and my moment of sweet revenge.”

After that, I asked the young man if he was an agent. He introduced himself and asked me to send him a copy of my new book.

No Star in the Window is written for Middle Grade students about the journey of an eight-member family through WWII. The young protagonist, Lerna, is under the power of her slightly older sister, and their struggle to the end. The setting is the unique city of Pueblo, Colorado, which had many military connections during that time. Pueblo also has an interesting history, which fits into the story quite well.

As for the workshops, after attending Self-Publishing, I decided the most difficult part was marketing.

Thank you to Pikes Peak Writers for the scholarship I was awarded, and to those who planned such a wonderful conference That scholarship was a tremendous help and I will be forever grateful.

About the Author:  Ledema Renfrow retired from the University of Southern Colorado after 20 years. She took classes on her lunch hour and in the evenings for 10 of those years to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications. As an Information Specialist in the Communication Services Office, she wrote news releases about activities at the university and edited the weekly Faculty/Staff Newsletter. She was a member of Toastmasters for 19 years and earned the highest rank of Distinguished Toastmaster. She entered numerous TM International and Humorous Speech Contests and advanced to the District level in one international competition. She was recognized as District 26 Toastmaster of the Year in 1997 and Chaired the TM District Conference in the fall of 2000. Ledema helped produce the hospice book, “Sharing the Journey: The Essence of Hospice” in 2010. In 2014 she finished and self-published “Two Decades of David: Life, Death, and Beyond.” It is featured on her website Ledema may be contacted by e-mail at

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

“I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.” 
Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Source: Goodreads and Wikipedia 
 Ray Douglas Bradbury (Aug 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012) was an American fantasy, science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery fiction author. Most widely known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) dystopian novel as well as his science fiction and horror story collections The Martian Chronicles (1950), Bradbury was one of the most celebrated 20th- and 21st-century American writers.
Recipient of numerous awards, including a 2007 Pulitzer Citation, Pulitzer Citation, Bradbury also wrote and consulted on screenplays and television scripts. On his death in 2012, The New York Times called Bradbury "the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream."

This Week on Writing from the Peak:

June 20        Ledema Renfrow, 2016 PPWC Scholarship Recipient

June 22        To Critique or Not to Critique by Jason P. Henry

June 24        Sweet Success Honors DeAnna Knippling

Friday, June 17, 2016

By:  Kathie Scrimgeour

LS Hawker’s thriller, Body and Bone (ISBN: 9780062435217, ebook), was released by Harper Collins Witness Impulse on May 3, 2016. Visit Ms. Hawker’s website at: Website: 
Her book is available on Amazon:

When a commenter on Nessa Donati’s blog starts harassing her online, Nessa shrugs it off. Trolls are a part of internet life. But eventually the troll threatens her and releases personal details  only her missing ex-husband would know.
As Nessa’s life is dismantled, her only option is to find John and put a stop to the lies. But when their son becomes a pawn in his twisted game, she must face a disturbing truth: Maybe John isn’t tormenting her, after all. But if he’s not . . . who is? And how far will this monster go to exact revenge?

LS Hawker grew up in suburban Denver, indulging her worrisome obsession with true-crime books, and writing stories about anthropomorphic fruit and juvenile delinquents. She wrote her first novel at 14.

Armed with a B.S. in journalism from the University of Kansas, she had a radio show called "People Are So Stupid," edited a trade magazine, and worked as a traveling Kmart portrait photographer, but never lost her passion for fiction writing.

She's got a hilarious, supportive husband, two brilliant daughters, and a massive music collection. She lives in Colorado but considers Kansas her spiritual homeland.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Does Your Book Meet the Test for High Concept?

By: Karen Albright Lin

We typically hear of High Concept in the context of movies, but it applies to everything from poems to comic books, novels to fortunes in cookies.

High concept is a unique premise with mass audience appeal, the essence of a highly marketable story. It is the seed of a log line, what will be on the book’s back teaser.

Consider these high concepts:

l  Nonfiction - East Eats West – a cookbook about how Asians adjust our food to meet their tastes (I foresee writing this one in the future).

l  YA - Wish You Were Dead by Todd Strasser. High school students mysteriously disappear after being mentioned in a blog.

l  Poem – Ginsberg’s Howl.  Sexual outcasts find their glory.

The Fewer the words, the higher the concept. Snakes on a Plane. The title is the high concept, as is Memoirs of a Geisha. Titles and phrases are great but it’s more common to pitch with a sentence or two. Here’s a sentence that captures the high concept of a comic book: Super Zero is about a geeky, terminally ill teen who goes from utter obscurity to becoming humanity's last hope after the zombie apocalypse.

Occasionally a book is successful without being high concept. Haven Kimmel’s memoir, A Girl Named Zippy, is about growing up in small town Indiana. It’s her witty voice that sells the book. Contrast that with Ally Carter’s high concept novel called I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You. Again, the title is the high concept.

Convey what the story is about, not what happens. There are several ways to do this. And they work for all genres.

You likely have a high concept if it can be described as one story crossed with another or one story with a twist. X meets Y. An example would be Time Traveler’s Wife meets grown up Harry Potter. Be sure to compare with books that sold well. Jaws in space is a pitch for Alien, a quick idea of what’s coming.

Often a winning high concept often implies fast action and suspense, an intriguing locale, or a promise of interesting subject matter. It’s easily understood and implies an inciting incident, a problem that must be solved like a man-eating shark must be destroyed. Take us on an emotional trip as in 127 hours.

Put your idea through some tests. 

Can you tell someone the gist of the book quickly? Does it imply the protagonist, goal and major obstacle/event/battle, an antagonist, genre and sometimes a sense of time and place?  Example: A man has a gene that causes him to involuntarily time-travel. He meets his wife at various stages of her life.      
Does the premise sound unique? Have mass appeal? Imply a promise and execution?  Would it stand on its own without the author’s name on the book? Is it specific enough to stand out from the crowd. “Urban fantasy love story” is vague. But “Romeo and Juliet with vampires and werewolves” is high concept for Underworld

Implied in my earlier praise of Snakes on a Plane, high concept has all the elements in its title. It helps to think through your high concept before you write your book. You’ll understand your story. When your work is finished, high concept will help titillate your buyer.    

About the Author: 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