Monday, October 31, 2016

Surviving the Road to Publication

Editor's Note: Pikes Peak Writers has two of the most knowledgeable marketing people serving as our publicity volunteers. We are honored to have them because they often make sense of social media where some of us can't. S.M. Rose is one of these experts. Here's his first blog on Writing From the Peak. 

By: S.M. Rose

With a series of thin plots and an extra helping of ad-lib comedy, Hope and Crosby paired up in their legendary “Road to” flicks, inevitably meeting up with the eye-catching Dorothy Lamour. Though predictable, these movies provided more than a decade of entertainment that is now entrenched in American film culture.


More than four years ago, I began my own “Road to” journey. Unlike Bob and Bing, there was no partner in crime nor fetching femme fatale. These existed only in my manuscript. I felt the writing process was one best served alone, or at least only shared with those shadowy voices inside one’s head. I would close my man cave door, sit down, and start madly typing away. Or I would sneak some “me” time, daydreaming about the next scene or chapter, or maybe other books to be. Sound familiar?

Through this rite, I cobbled together more than 188,000 words in a little over nine months. In reading my family the manuscript, we all agreed the story should sell so I promptly went to find an agent.

Act I

Though green as moss, I was smart enough to check the Internet first. I knew I needed a synopsis and a query letter, and I attacked these challenges as I did my book. Alone.
From a local newspaper article, I found a list of literary agencies and subbed to each of them, one by one. The 2013 Canadian landscape was far different than its American counterpart. There were only about a dozen well-known agencies, and most wanted exclusivity when it came to their snail mail submissions. This made the process long, laborious, and frustrating. After a year, I exhausted that list without success.

Undaunted, I meandered outside my comfort zone and decided to submit to American agents, latching on to one in particular. She was totally into Science Fiction and Fantasy, and what I considered the perfect agent for my novel.

Unfortunately, she did not think so. I was devastated.

Act II

While submitting to this agent, I stepped further outside my comfort zone. I joined Twitter and began stalking her (in a good way, of course! :-), finding out what she liked and didn’t like when it came to representing an author. I later discovered this was a backwards approach, but that pearl of wisdom is for another blog.

That decision changed my writer’s life forever. I was no longer alone. I surveyed the digital landscape and found it filled with other writers going through similar experiences. I began with baby steps, connecting with a small group of writers and hiding behind an avatar of Superman—whose creator was my second cousin twice removed.

I fell down the rabbit hole of social media just as #SFFPit ended. In its aftermath, I found a tweet offering query critiques for $10 a pop. Well worth the investment. I respected the woman, and I learned a lot. She suggested I enter #PitchWars.

From there, I met hundreds of other writers. Looking at them as colleagues opposed to competitors, I gathered followers by the dozens, ending up on a communal critique board called GetOfMyLawnCon.

Here, I found the motherlode. Writers critiquing other writers. A concept I had heard of but never invested in. Another mistake. Venturing even further outside my comfort zone, I begin interacting with them directly. Being green at writing, this was a big step for me.

Another aftershock from #SFFPit was the formation of a critique group. Joining, I lucked out and was paired with a fantasy writer. Unfortunately for me, but fortunate for him, three weeks into our critiquing, his book was picked up by a publisher and he had to bow out.
My bubble burst.  Deciding this was a sign from the Writing Gods, I retreated back into my comfort zone. Alone.


Then something amazing happened. In revisiting GetOfMyLawnCon, I stumbled across two writers whom I had been tweeting with since #PitchWars. We clicked, instantly becoming the best of friends. In another bold move, I swapped manuscripts with the fantasy writer, then partnered with the paranormal romance writer. These experiences improved both my writing and critiquing skills.

From there, I left my comfort zone far behind, contributing more and more to the writers’ community each week. I began by tweeting learned advice, cheering on pitchfesters, to finally joining the Social Media team at PPW. So here I am, expounding upon my journey in a public blog. Something I would never have dreamed of doing a mere two years ago.
No, this is not an HEA story. My manuscript is still undergoing revisions, but it is far superior today than when I pitched it in #PitchWars of 2014. Dissecting and rewriting was difficult, but I now have help. My goal is to be query ready once more by Christmas.

  • Writing is best accomplished alone, but transforming that first draft into a sellable book is not. Find one or more CPs whom you trust with your literary life. Their brutal honesty will be more than appreciated. And when you trip over those potholes along your own “Road to Publication,” they will be there to pick you up, dust you off, and make sure you continue on to that bestseller’s list.
  •  Before you sub, research the agents. There are tools like QueryTracker and AgentQuery. I highly recommend checking out the Twitter hashtag #MSWL. Because, if you’re subbing to the wrong agent, you’re asking for a rejection.
  • There are many online writers’ contests and pitchfests available. Contests help hone your craft, pitches help you find potential agents and publishers. Use both to your advantage.
  • Check out your local writers’ convention. There are lots of workshops for the budgeted time. It’s also a great way to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. I did both at PPWC2016.
  • Above all, don’t become discouraged. There WILL be highs and lows along this road. Guaranteed. But you’re never alone.
  • Nothing great happens to those who never leave their comfort zone. 

About the Author: SM Rose found his calling of writing late in life but attacks it with fervor. He continues to hone his craft on science-fiction and was a finalist in the 2015 Neoverse Short Story Competition. He is also a member of the Social Media team for Pikes Peak Writers. He day jobs as an IT manager at one of top five cancer research and treatment centres on the planet. When not writing or taming computers, he enjoys the arts of all forms, especially the movies. If you’re looking to engage, look no farther than @smr0se on Twitter or SM Rose on Facebook.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

“Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for.”  ~ Alice Walker

Author Alice Walker, Source Wikipedia

Alice Malsenior Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist. She wrote the critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple (1982) for which she won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Oct 31     Surviving the Road to Publication by S.M. Rose

Nov 2       The Writing Coach Deb McLeod

Nov 4       Pikes Peak Writers November Events

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sweet Success Celebrates Shannon Lawrence & Shifting Sands

By Kathie Scrimgeour

PPW member Shannon Lawrence doesn’t seem to slow down! Another of her incredible short stories has found its way into the realms of publication. On July 15, 2016 her horror story, “Shifting Sands” was published in Dark Moon Digest by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing (ISBN10: 1943720169, ISBN13: 978-1943720163, soft cover and ebook). Issue #24 is available on Amazon.

Issue #24 contains Horror Stories by Sarah Szabo, Gordon White, Jonathan Balog, Adrian Ludens, Shannon Lawrence, Matt Andrew, and Joshua D. Moyes
With Columns by George Lea and Jay Wilburn
And an excerpt from The Train Derails in Boston by Jessica McHugh!

A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in anthologies and magazines, including Under the Bed, Devolution Z, and The Deep Dark Woods. When she's not writing, she's hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there's always a place to hide a body or birth a monster. Find her at

Are you a Pikes Peak Writers member and have something to celebrate? Big or small, we want to hear from you. Contact Sweet Success Coordinator Kathie Scrimegeour at

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Importance of a Bad Review

By: Karen Albright Lin

A bad review only has as much power as you give it. 

I’ve had my fair share of rejections, discouraging critique, and bad reviews. Each hurts like sliding down a razor blade. But I’ll tell you my own true story that may give you hope.

I submitted a personal essay to Red Line Magazine. (
It was about the Chinese preference for having male children. I’d written it as part of a series of humorous accounts from my marriage to a man from Taiwan. It was called “The Importance of a Penis.”

It received the worst review my work has ever gotten. For your entertainment, here is my dirty laundry:

“Given that this is a book club with members accustomed to Chinese Traditions and Writings, the story felt hackneyed to some, heartfelt to others. Unfortunately the writing was staccato in style, more akin to disjointed pieces of text stuck together than the expected flow of a well-constructed short story. While the vocabulary and grammar lacked precision (for example, many of our readers were turned off by the author’s use of the word ‘hubby’) some of the analogies and descriptive language seemed unique. Although the basic premise of the story would be considered solid if indeed it reflected a personal experience, the author should have paid more attention to its pace and flow. There was general agreement the story lacked maturity in style and flow.”

La Brea Tar Pits, LA Wiki Free Images
My first instinct was to find the nearest tar pit and drown myself. Then I reread the review and decided to preserve my ego by wallowing in the two phrases that seemed positive. After I fully recovered, I went about addressing the reviewers’ concerns. I also applied some of their recommendations to other essays in the series.

The result?

“The Importance of a Penis” went on to become a top 10 finalist in the Boulder Writers' Workshop Make Me Laugh Writing Contest and was read by TV comedy writer Gene Perret (Bob Hope’s writer). I was then invited to read the piece aloud before an open-to-the-pubic audience in Boulder.

I spiffed up the essay, expanded it, and gave it a new title, Dancing with John Wayne. That version received honorable mention in the Writer's Digest Writing Competition.

It became a chapter in a “novel of my life” and took 2nd place in the Paul Gillette Memorial Writing Contest (PPWC).  That novelized version, then entitled Culture Shock, made Quarter Finals in the  Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest.  It was given 5-star ratings by Vine Reviewers (top 1,000 Amazon reviewers).

I reworked it again into a chapter of a memoir, Mu Shu Mac-N-Cheese, which became a top 10 finalist (out of over 2,400 entries) in the HuffPost 50/AARP Memoir contest.  (  )
An agent is currently waiting to read it after I add a subplot to the book.

To wrap up my story with irony, “The Importance of a Penis” was published by the magazine that gave me that worst review. It can be read in Red Line Magazine Power issue 5.

Rejection is a writer’s workplace hazard. But there is a way to deal with that terrible review.

Make it work for you.

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

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Farewell to My Characters

By: Natalia Brothers
My publisher just sent me a photo of my ARCs. I no longer must call what I have written “a story,” “a manuscript,” “a novel”—the words I used in my queries and pitches. Now I can call it a book. But there’s something else in the fusion of delight and excitement I bask in as I await an announcement of the release date. The sentiment is bitter-sweet, reminiscent to a stroll through a garden on a bright September day. Chrysanthemums are blooming, the dew sparkles on the grass plumes after the night’s storm, and every leaf and berry looks beautiful and vibrant; but the scent of autumn fills the air and you know the summer is over.

So, what causes all this brooding when I’m only weeks away from fulfilling my ambition and getting published?

It took many drafts before the manuscript turned into the story I envisioned, the tale I aspired to tell. The cast—the characters—resided in my head throughout the process, and I had grown accustomed to thinking of my fictional crew as if they were real people. Her face and smile, his voice and mannerism, the food they liked, the melodies they hummed…Their fears, joys, heartbreaks, victories…I knew more about them than I know about some of my friends.

Every detail popped into my mind whenever I sat down to write a scene. My characters accompanied me on long mountain hikes, my brainstorming time. The heroine awakened me at three in the morning:

“Hey, this is what I’d like to do. Is it very bad?”

Whoa. Would she dare?

She always did.

I was taught that since our characters exist entirely in our imagination, they possess no will of their own, their actions are fully under our control, and they will do whatever we picture them doing. It seems this conception is only partially true. Yes, I had the power to create these personalities. But once I had my cast, all I had to do was devote my creativity to conceiving the wickedest fight-or-flight, sink-or-swim, life-or-death scenarios. Day after day for several years, I let my characters wrangle with the pressures of the unfolding plot, while I chronicled their struggle.

Day after day. For several years.

Then, all of a sudden, it was over. The last line written, the last revision finished. The end.

How happy I was last summer when the contest edits called for changes in a couple of scenes. I could immerse myself in the plot again. Experience the characters’ emotional states. The situation. The setting.

Speaking of the setting…I’ll miss it too. A sequel will take place somewhere else, and it’s still in a world-building stage. The new locale is more of an impression, a fluid vision, a mirage in the process of shaping up into a major element of the story. The cast is a bunch of strangers I’m getting to know. The new heroine tries my patience. I gave the role to a secondary character from the original novel, thinking it would be easier if I at least knew someone in the new crew. But it didn’t help; it’s as if she’s not used to being the focus of my attention and refuses to be as proactive as her predecessor.

Of course, the logical explanation is that I, a hopeless pantser, shouldn’t have tried to plot that sequel. I don’t enjoy writing a story when I know what’s going to happen. I crave my characters’ spontaneous dialogues and actions. I want a heroine who won’t hesitate waking me up in the middle of the night.

So maybe I’ll tear up the sequel’s outline and start from the beginning.

About the Author:  Born in Moscow, Natalia grew up with the romance and magic of Russian fairy tales. She never imagined that one day she’d be swept off her feet by an American Marine. An engineer-physicist-chemist, Natalia realized that the powder metallurgy might not be her true calling when on a moonless summer night she was spooked by cries of a loon in a fog-wrapped meadow. What if, a writer’s unrelenting muse, took hold of her. Two of her passions define her being. Natalia is an orchid expert and she writes dark fantasy.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”  ~ Philip Pullman

Writer Philip Pullman, Source Wikipedia 

Philip Pullman CBE, FRSL is an English writer. He is the author of several best-selling books, most notably the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials and the fictionalized biography of Jesus, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. 

This week on Writing from the Peak:

Oct 24       A Farewell to My Characters by Natalia Brothers

Oct 26       The Power of a Bad Review by Karen Albright Lin

Oct 28       Sweet Success Celebrates Shannon Lawrence

Friday, October 21, 2016

Sweet Success Celebrates Ann Myers, Barbara Nickless & Hooked on Books

Hooked on Books is a lovely new space in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs. Shelves of books, a beautiful view out the large front windows, and a helpful staff make it a great place to visit … and to hold a book signing.

Ann Perramond (writing as Ann Myers) and Barbara Nickless held a signing there on October 1st. Ann was celebrating the one-year anniversary of the first book in her Santa Fe Café cozy mystery series, Bread of the Dead. The third book in the series, Feliz Navidead, comes out October 25th.

Barbara Nickless launched her debut novel, Blood on the Tracks, the first in a mystery/thriller series about a railroad cop and her K9 partner.  (pictured here with Jim and Mary Ciletti, owners of Hooked on Books)


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Buzzwords! Resist the Urge to Explain

By: J.T. Evans

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?

Well, 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 R.U.E., aka: Resist the Urge to Explain.

Resist the Urge to Explain: 

I'm horribly guilty of this. I've gotten better over the ten years (where has the time gone?!?) I've been part of critique groups, but I still open my mouth to explain some things when one of my critique partners doesn't get it. I usually catch myself and clack my jaw shut while scribbling my notes.  Here's the premise of why you should R.U.E.: Your words have to stand on their own because you will be entirely unable to stand over the shoulder of every reader of every book you sell and explain to them, "No. No. You didn't get it right there. That's not what I meant. The way you should interpret my words is…."

It's just not possible to do this. If your critique partners are struggling to understand something, then you need to clarify things using words on the page, not words passing your lips.
The only exception to R.U.E. is when a critique partner asks you a direct question of clarification that will assist them in framing the rest of their critique or feedback. There are times when it's valid to answer these questions, but also take the question as an opportunity to clarify your work.

Since I primarily write in the fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction genres, there can sometimes be lots to explain to the reader or critique partner. If I lay down some thick mythology or world building that doesn't make sense, then I need to readdress my approach at the descriptions. If I toss in some far-future tech into a story, it needs to be clear on how the tech affects the daily lives of the characters. If it's hard science fiction, then the deep dives into the sciences backing the futuristic predictions need to be understandable by the "common person" out there.

I don't write much romance, but I've read a bit of it inside and outside of critique groups. The things that need to be made clear to the readers are the emotional beats and reactions the characters are going through. If a particular character smiles when another one enters the room, we need to know why. Different readers will interpret the smiles in different ways, and losing that clarity of the emotional response is a good way to confuse or lose the reader down the road.

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.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Roll Them Bones: Indie versus Traditional Publishing

By: Aaron Michael Ritchey 

So Donnell Bell is to blame for this post.

No, blame me. I can take it. 

Donnell suggested I write about the benefits and drawbacks of Indie publishing versus Traditional publishing. I’ve published independent books and I’ve published through small presses (and WordFire Press, a medium-sized publishing that is gaining ground). 

One of Donnell’s many friends published through a big publisher and her readers found some typos. The friend asked her big publisher if they could be fixed, and the big publisher said, “Sorry, girlfriend. Your book is what is. We’ve moved on.” 

If the friend had Indie published, she could make the changes and re-upload. So, yeah. But before we go any further, I have to be clear. I could write FOREVER on the different avenues and mouse holes and mazes and labyrinths and bear-traps of the publishing industry. 

But I will say this…. 

In this day and age, it takes about fifteen hundred dollars to publish a book and do it right. When I say that, I mean you pay for several rounds of editing and you pay for professional cover art. You can do it cheaper, and there are no rules. You could publish your book for free and do it all yourself. Some people warn against this, but I think they’re Nervous Nellies who are terrified that people might laugh at them. Be brave. There are no rules. And if you publish junk, oh well. Lots of junky novels do really well. No one knows anything for sure.

So, if you have $1500 in the bank, and if you are willing to risk it, I say Indie publish because you have creative control, you’ll make more money, and this is the big thing: EVEN WITH A TRADITIONAL PUBLISHER YOU WILL MOST LIKELY BE DOING ALL YOUR OWN MARKETING ANYWAY!

Notice, MOST LIKELY, I emphasized in all the capital letters because if you get a huge, big, huge publisher (huge), there is a chance the will choose your book to push. If they choose your book to pour the marketing dollars into, then you’ll get a ton of help and you win! Hurrah! 

But most likely, you’ll be doing it yourself. So, dude, if you are doing all the work, why pay
some nameless corporation 90% of your total profits? And you have to jump through their hoops, follow their rules, and you become a line item on someone’s to-do list. Most likely, no one at the house will care about your book as much as you do. 

There is the whole status thing. I’m published with Random House. Look at me! 

Yes, you win the status thing and people will say your name in awe. Wow, she’s a Random House author and she has huge distribution into bookstores. Okay, but how many people are buying books at bookstores? 

I don’t know. 

So if you can afford it, and if you are willing to do the work, going Indie seems like the best bet. 


Unless you a can find a publisher that will “help” you market your books. 

Notice, “help” is in quotation marks. Many will promise to help and won’t. Others will do a few things and call that “help.” Warning! The level of help will vary!

I love WordFire Press because they help me market my books by setting up massive booths at comic cons where I can harass crowds until they buy my stories. And I love WordFire because really, it’s a coalition of Indie authors backed by industry professionals with the best contract I’ve seen in the publishing world. Walking away is easy. Staying is even easier.

What really makes the most sense is playing the publishing game like craps.

In craps, you have all these different bets you can make on the next roll of the dice. If it comes up a six, you’ll win. If it comes up “snake eyes,” you’ll win. If you hit boxcars, bam, winner, winner, chicken dinner. 

Placing your bet on traditional publishing is betting on the long odds, the weird roll of the dice that hits it just right. Yeah, you might get screwed on a cover, and you might have typos, and you might have issues, but you can manage some of that. Every single time I’ve worked with a publisher, I’ve used my own line editors along with the one the house provided, to make sure my document is as clean as possible. And I went in with open eyes. I’ve talked with other authors at the publishing house and learned what their experience was. 

I will say this, if you find a small press that will publish your book and they don’t offer any kind of marketing, what’s the point of publishing with them? You can do it yourself. Email me. I’ll set you up with my vendors. If you have $1500 to spend. 

So there are no easy answers. Being a hybrid author, independent and traditional, makes good sense. I get to place lots of bets for every roll of the dice. 

And the querying process is good for my spirit. It keeps me hopeful and it keeps me strong.

If you want an easier industry, I’d go into health supplements. You’ll make more and it’s easier. But if you love stories, if you are called to write books, then you have a duty to get those books out into the world. 

By any means necessary.

About the Author: Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of The Never PrayerLong Live the Suicide King, and Elizabeth’s Midnight. His fourth novel, Dandelion Iron, the first book in The Juniper Wars series, is available now from Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press. If you like the first one, Killdeer Winds, the second book in the series, just hit the streets. In 2015, his second novel won the “Building the Dream” award for best YA novel, and he spent the summer as the Artist 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.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

Editor’s Note: Since our inception, we’ve tried to coincide authors’ quotes with their birthdays. This is becoming redundant. Therefore, Writing from the Peak is switching to great, inspirational quotes about writing. Such as this one . . .  

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ~ Stephen King

Source: Wikipedia 2007 King at Comicon

This Week on Writing from the Peak:

Oct. 17          Indy v. Traditional: Roll Them Bones       Aaron Michael Ritchey

Oct. 19          Buzz Words: RUE                                  J.T. Evans

Oct. 21          Sweet Success, Ann Myers & Barbara Nickless           

Friday, October 14, 2016

Sweet Success Celebrates Catherine Dilts Stone Cold Blooded

By Kathie Scrimgeour 

Congratulations to Catherine Dilts on the publication of her new mystery novel, Stone Cold Blooded – A Rock Shop Mystery (ISBN: 10: 1-893035-34-4 / 13: 978-1-893035-8, 325 pages, paperback and ebook, adult), was published October 10, 2016 by Encircle Publications LLC. It is available on Amazon.

When rock shop owner Morgan Iverson’s reclusive neighbor is blown to bits, she doesn’t believe his violent demise was accidental. Her hunt for clues collides with an invasion of alien hunters, and the heated campaign for a small town city council seat.

In book three of the Rock Shop Mystery series, a Triceratops brow horn may hold the key to solving a prospector’s Stone Cold Blooded death.

Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, while her short stories appear regularly in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. With a day job as an environmental regulatory technician, Catherine's stories often have environmental or factory-based themes. Others reflect her love of the Colorado mountains, fishing, and running.
Visit Catherine’s website at: or contact her via email at:

Are you a Pikes Peak Writers member and have something to celebrate? Big or small, we want to hear from you. Contact Sweet Success Coordinator Kathie Scrimegeour at

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Why I Love History

By: Jason Evans

For my second blog for Pikes Peak, I thought I would share why I love history so much. This might take a while, so be patient. To be fair, I think my love of history was originally an infatuation with trivia and quirky events that evolved into love, then obsession.

In 1984 I entered Mr. Perdy’s 7th grade World History class at Woodrow Wilson Jr. High, in Pasadena, California. (Does anybody remember Jr. high school?) Mr. Perdy was this really cool guy. Older, jovial, and full of jokes, he had great classroom management and taught really well. We were about six weeks into school, learning about the ancient Romans and Greeks, when he brought a film for us to watch; Cleopatra, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

I had never seen a film in class before, and this film was epic. The costumes, the plot, (the overacting), I was completely hooked! I think that was the first time I realized that history was about people. Real, flesh and blood people, who dreamed, became jealous, failed and succeeded.

For the rest of that year, my number one question in class was: why? Why did the Romans declare war on Carthage? Why did European Christians start the Crusades? Why would anybody live that way? . . . Why?
Many years later I was at community college, hanging out with the misfits in the cafeteria, when I discovered that a bunch of them worked at the Southern California Renaissance Faire. At my faire, the actors are divided into social groups named after saints. The military guild was called the Guild of St. Michael (patron saint of soldiers). The Queen’s court, (it was an Elizabethan faire,) was named the Guild of St. George (patron saint of England).

So my friends were in the Guild of St. Andrews. They played Scots & Irish. Now for some reason, this 350 pound black man was always infatuated with kilts and bagpipes. So I begged and pleaded to be an actor at faire. Long story short, I worked faire for seven years. These people were my friends, and my family.  

They were also really into peer pressure.

See, you had to know your history to work the Southern Faire. (That’s what we called it because there was a Northern Faire in the Bay area.) I was given a freakin’ bibliography of books and was told to read them. Now, no one was going to kick me out if I didn’t read, but I learned quick that the ignorant were mocked.

I also learned that every group specialized in its own history. That people would get into heated arguments about fabric fibers, blade lengths, historical dyes, and the political motivations of monarchs dead centuries.

Faire impressed upon me a second time that history was about people; how they lived, what they did, and why they did it.

In 1994, I got accepted at UC Santa Barbara. (Home of the Gauchos!) While applying, I discovered that being a double major was pretty simple. I also discovered they had a Renaissance Studies major. So guess what I did?

Yup, I doubled majored.

Now Renaissance Studies was an interdisciplinary major, meaning I could take classes in
theatre arts, history, art history and English. I took about four history classes for that major. I also took two theatre classes (on costuming), two art history classes on Dutch painting, a classics class and an English class on Renaissance Theater. I read the revenger’s tragedy and the Spanish tragedy, among other plays. (Both had plots and characters Shakespeare lifted from Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet.)

Both majors reinforced what I already knew; history was about people. What UC Santa Barbara did was introduce me to their words. I read Shakespeare, Daniel Webster, and Frederick Douglass. I read speeches Vichy French politicians gave imploring their fellow leaders not abandon France to the Nazis. I held an original pamphlet declaring South Carolina’s secession from the United States. I read the Sykes-Pico Accords, which laid the foundation for the Mideast as we know it today.

As I finished my studies and graduated from college I realized I had something more important than a bunch of facts in my head, or the ability to write killer essays. I realized I could now envision how our world got to the place it is today. More importantly, I knew why.

History is important because it answers that question. Why is the world in the state that it’s in? Why does our government implement the policies that it does? Why are some groups disadvantaged while others flourish? Why do we have an electoral college, instead of direct elections for President? Why?

When I’m sad or lonely or angry about an injustice, I’m comforted by the fact that I am not the only one who has felt this way. Teenage boys in ancient Egypt mooned over girls they would never kiss. English nobles frequently got in trouble with banks, and that in spite of their profound faith, the Puritans were wracked with guilt and fear, just like some of us.
Understanding that we express the same hopes and fears for our children, make the same mistakes and carry the same kinds of prejudice somehow makes me feel better. Like I’m not alone. History makes me feel like we are all in this together.

And, if you’re really wise, then you can learn from history. Learn that courage is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of it. That things could have been different if this person had gone left instead of right. That the world we live in was built by courageous, imperfect people who worked hard for what we have today. That at the end of the day, we are all human. Flawed and petty, but full of hope.

And THAT, gentle reader is why I love history. Now tell me why you love history? Leave your stories in the comments section below.

About the Author:  Jason Evans always wanted to be a writer, he just didn't know it. He grew up in Pasadena, California, in the 1980s where he watched way too much television, but was introduced to literature by his grandfather and his favorite middle school and high school teachers. He wasted his youth working at the So Cal Renaissance Faire (a dangerous place because it’s the gateway drug to other historical costumes,). In his leisure time he’s an educator, a writer, and a bon vivant. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara, with degrees in History & Renaissance Studies, a teaching credentials from CSU Los Angeles, as well as a graduate degree from the University of Colorado, Denver. He currently resides in Denver with his wife, the fetching Mrs. Evans, their three dogs and a mischievous cat who calls him his thrall. Find out more about him at @evans_writer