Friday, June 23, 2017

Sweet Success Celebrates Barbara Nickless with Two Awards

Congratulations to  Author Barbara Nickless for taking Colorado by storm.

Barbara Nickless's debut novel, Blood on the Tracks, won the 2017 Colorado Authors' League Writing Award for genre fiction. Barbara's next book in the series, DEAD STOP, will be released by Thomas & Mercer on October 3rd, 2017.

Barbara Nickless's debut novel, Blood on the Tracks, won the 2017 Colorado Book Award for mystery fiction. Barbara's next book in the series, DEAD STOP, will be released by Thomas & Mercer on October 3rd, 2017.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

One Day with Donald Maass and the 2017 PPWC Prequel

By: Catherine Dilts

According to Donald Maass, New York agent and author of writing how-to books that push writers to new levels: "Your protagonist is your vengeance. Let him loose." 

I attended the 
Pikes Peak Writers Conference Thursday Prequel with Donald Maass on April 27. The program began as an add-on to the regular Friday through Sunday conference schedule. The Thursday Prequel has become such a success that it is now offered every year. Many of us who can’t attend the entire conference opt for this one full day.

One day with Donald Maass provided nearly an entire writing conference worth of inspiration and education. He opened by stating that our goal as writers should be to take the reader on an emotional journey. How do you do this? Not, as you might think, by getting the reader to feel what the characters feel.
I had attended a Maass workshop at the 2012 PPWC. Later that year I would sell my first short story and my first novel. Were the two events directly related? Hard to say, although the workshop certainly pushed my writing up a notch.

In many ways, back then I was like a high school kid sitting in on a graduate school class. I was definitely learning, but a lot of the workshop was over my head. Five years ago I did not know what I did not know. Now that I’ve been multi-published in short and long fiction, I was curious whether there was anything else I could possibly learn about writing.  Silly me.

This year’s Maass workshop was based on his book The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface. I had not read the book, but will have to obtain a copy now.

What this is not: An author creates a character who has an emotional experience. Let’s say – FEAR of walking into the creepy old house. In the course of reading the story, a reader experiences the fear exhibited by the character. Wrong.

What this is: Deeply thoughtful writing that creates emotional connection with the reader. "Finding the meaning in moments is what makes an emotional experience for readers." The reader must actually process the events, instead of passively observing them. 

How I interpret this: Just because the character entering the creepy house experiences fear doesn’t mean the reader will. The reader might think the character is Too Stupid To Live, and fail to connect with the character or the story. Writers have to dig deeper to cause an emotional reaction in the reader, beyond the obvious surface of the story. If you don't care about the characters, or have hope he or she can overcome the odds, you won't have an emotional reaction to the story.

Maass described cognitive evaluation - when we are surprised, we have to stop to process the situation. Generating this surprise comes from not going for the surface, the cliche, the obvious. The processing happens in our working memory. If readers pause to "chew on something," they come to their own conclusions. This emotion is his or her own. Instead of writing in camera shots, Maass suggested writers try a me-centered narration, which he called close third person.

Think of the novels or stories that have stuck with you. That keep popping up in your
thoughts at odd moments. Works that have changed you in some way. These aren’t necessarily classics – well-written genre fiction can have the same impact. These are the stories that connected with you emotionally, and perhaps even elevated the way you perceived your own experiences.

During the workshop, I jotted a dozen pages of notes for my work-in-progress. I was inspired to think in new ways about my characters, and imagined scenes that add layers to the story. I’m excited to start working on this project. Five years after my first published novel and short story, I still have a lot to learn.

About the Author: Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, set in the Colorado mountains, while her short stories appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The Chemistry of Heroes, which appeared in the AHMM May 2016 issue, was a Derringer short story award finalist. Catherine’s day job involves environmental regulatory issues, and for fun she fishes, hikes, and runs. You can learn more about Catherine at

Monday, June 19, 2017

PPWC 2017 in Retrospect by a Scholarship Recipient

By: Mason J. Torall 

I’d never won a scholarship before. Teachers and advisers were always very specific on how to write applications on what to say, and I never won. For the 2017 Pikes Peak Writers Conference I decided that if I didn’t win, that was okay. So I wrote in my own voice in a way that felt natural to me as a writer, and I won. You can imagine my surprise, and my gratitude.

Consisting of three primary days with an optional fourth day prequel, PPWC is packed with over 400 regularly lonesome people who get this rare opportunity to remember that they are not, in fact, alone. Instead, we get to leave the doldrums of our day-to-day lives and submerge alongside kindred creative souls for a few precious moments and take everything we can out of it. It’s all such a whirlwind etched in crystalline clarity in my memory.

The Thursday prequel was my first such course ever and let me tell you, it’s not something to miss. I walked out of that room eight hours wiser and laden with over fifteen pages of notes, and conference hadn’t officially kicked off yet. Dinner on Thursday was spent connecting with old friends and getting introduced to wonderful new ones as we all orbited around the bar and restaurant, and Friday came early.

Now, this was my fifth writing conference and my eighth conference overall, so I’ve done this a few times. With that in mind, I can’t say I’ve ever been around a group of people who not only showed, but who positively radiated welcoming energy. Everyone attends conference with similar umbrellas of interest, from community to ideas, from pitching to networking, to simply observing. It’s all worth it, and you have nothing to fear from your own people.

This conference was also special because it was the first I’ve ever attended without work of
my own to pitch. I’m not ready on my second book, and I was just fine with that. So this time I had the unique pleasure of absolutely no stress over getting my manuscript critically analyzed—as manuscripts should be, mind you. These are professionals and their time deserves your best effort—by an acquiring agent or editor. Many people (including myself) have come to cons before with the hopes of catching your dream agents’ eye and, ideally, business card. Let me say this right now: it absolutely happens. People pitch a book at cons and eventually make it big, but you have to attend. If you don’t come to cons, you’ll never get that opportunity.

As previously stated, these things are packed. The sessions are loaded with more information than you can possibly acquire in three days, and each regular lunch and dinner had a mind-blowing keynote speaker. They were inspirational, hilarious, personal, dark, and dire, and I loved it. The costume dinner on Friday night had the entire main hall roaring with laughter, and legends of the antics of the many, many writers who drink at BarCon (the fun name for everyone hitting the bar later) spreads like wildfire. After all, it’s where all of the introverts finally get a chance to spread our oft-timid wings.

I have to rein myself in here, because I could truly go on for pages and pages about the many wonders of a writing conference—and of Pikes Peak Writer’s brand in particular—but, if none of what I said gets through to you, let this:

I realize these things are expensive, but I wrote a short application asking for help to attend, and I was accepted. Why? Because the people who run it are there to help. They want people to attend who would otherwise be unable! So don’t let money stop you. Don’t have a book ready? Doesn’t matter. You can still learn. Never written a word in your life? Great! Get in! The sessions are mostly an hour long, and they literally have something for anyone who has any interest in books or words in general! I’m serious! And let’s say you show up, you have no idea who anyone is, you have no work, and you haven’t read a book in a decade, here’s my advice to you: Be friendly, be genuine, ask for help, and don’t let it overwhelm you. It is physically impossible to take in the entire con, so you do what you can, and you take that with you. That’s all that matters. Take what you want from these things, and attend without regret, that’s all I ask. I know it’s what I do. 

About the Author: A Colorado native, Mason J. Torall is an eclectic hobbyist. When he isn’t writing or working the odd day job, he tests board games with friends, samples Denver’s booming local fare, and bikes the metro area. A huge advocate for sustainable engineering, he spends much of his free time drafting his own engineering designs and training with technical and artistic software. His first novel, The Dark Element, is currently available on Amazon and Kindle, and he is currently working on the sequel. He lives alone in South Denver, where there is still space to think.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Quote of the Week and the Week to Come

“I think new writers are too worried that it has all been said before. Sure it has, but not by you.” ~Asha Dornfest

Source: Google & Pinterest Quotes

Asha Dornfest is a writer, parent, and insistent optimist living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of PARENT HACKS, co-author of MINIMALIST PARENTING, and co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast. 

This week on Writing from the Peak

June 19        Scholarship Recipient Mason J. Torall

June 21        One Day with Donald Maass/2017 PPWC by Catherine Dilts

June 23        Sweet Success Celebrates Barbara Nickless

Friday, June 16, 2017

Sweet Success Celebrates Darby Karchut

Darby Karchut’s DEL TORO MOON (middle grade fantasy/western mashup), received multiple offers before being sold to Hannah Smith at Owl Hollow Press, in a nice deal, for publication Summer 2018, by Amanda Rutter at Red Sofa Literary (World Rights).

Bad enough Matt Del Toro is the greenest greenhorn in the family’s centuries-old business: riding down and destroying werewolf-like creatures, known as skinners. He must also learn how to match his father’s skills at monster hunting. Odds of doing that? Yeah, about a million to one. Because Matt’s father is the legendary Javier Del Toro—hunter, scholar, and a true caballero: a gentleman of the horse.

Now, with the skinners multiplying, both in numbers and in ferocity, Matt is desperate to keep his father and hot-tempered older brother from killing each other, prevent his new friend, Perry—a horse-crazy girl who recently moved to their small town of Huerfano, Colorado—from discovering the true nature of his odder-than-oddball family, and save a group of archeologists from getting skinner-ed.

Luckily, Matt has twelve hundred pounds of backup in his best friend—El Cid, an Andalusian war stallion with the ability of human speech, more fighting savvy than a medieval knight, and a heart as big and steadfast as the Rocky Mountains.

Serious horse power.

Those skinners don’t stand a chance. 

About the Author:
Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter. A native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy at her writing desk. She is represented by Amanda Rutter at Red Sofa Literary. Visit her at:

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Finishing Your Novel - The Rewrite Blog Six

By: Jason Henry Evans

Since January we’ve been discussing the bare bone basics of how to write a book of
historical fiction. June is the sixth month we’ve been doing this fiction stuff – and it will be our last. After June, we’re going to transition into other topics, like how to self-publish and finding an agent. We’ll also talk about online marketing and email lists and appearances. So this will be our last blog about actual writing.

In May I gave you a list of five things you should do once your W.I.P. (Work In Progress,) is finished. The last three items on that list were as follows:

3.) Join a critique group.

4.) Get a good book on grammar.

5.) Print out and read your book.

All three of these activities are essential to meaningful re-writes.

  • A critique group will help you see you’re writing from your readers’ eyes. Things that look awesome to you, will read confused and disorganized to them. In addition, things you think are pedestrian in your writing will instill hope and inspiration to others. Some people might weep. (I’ve seen it happen.) Please join a critique group and take their criticisms to heart. Remember, author Jeff Goins says art needs and audience.

  • Get a book on grammar. English has more than 100,000 words in it. Its origins are wacky. Essentially Viking settlers in Britain couldn’t be bothered to learn the language of the Angles properly. You throw in some Roman invasions, one from the Normans, expansion and cultural appropriation from around the globe, and you get a language that beats up other languages and steals their grammar.

  • So, again, Get a book on grammar. No one expects you to know everything about English. It’s a process. But you can’t start that process without a primer on the basics. A book on grammar can help.

  • Finally, print out your book and read it out loud. The sound of actual words will help clean up sentence structure. You can also make notes right in the margin.

Three kinds of Edits

I looked around on the internet and came across multiple definitions for the same terms. So I’ll clarify as I write. You, the writer, before you hire an editor or query to Penguin Books, must do these three kinds of edits yourself.

A Line Edit:

These have to do with that pesky grammar stuff – and it’s hard, at least for me. Although it needs to be done, don’t sit down with a red pen and begin slashing at your manuscript, criticizing every single sentence. You. Will. Go. Mad.

Go to critique group.

Every critique group has a grammar Nazi in it – at least the good ones do. They will let you know about the minutia of grammar. They will tell you things you wouldn’t pick up in a decent book of grammar. As they slash your ten pages, you take notes and learn what rules you keep breaking. When you begin your structure edit, you will notice the bad grammar habits you’ve picked up. Note and correct them there. Then, and only then, do you do a read through looking only for grammar mistakes.

A Structure Edit:

For me, structure edits are about asking certain questions of my work and figuring out how to make them better. So, as you read through your W.I.P. (after taking at least two weeks off without looking at it,) ask yourself these critical questions.

  1. Is the protagonist’s motivation painfully obvious?
  2. Is the protagonist likeable? Do you want them to be?
  3. Do you have a theme? If so, is the theme obvious to your readers?
  4. Does your protagonist have a story arc? Is it clear and obvious?
  5. 5 Do any of your supporting characters have a story arc? Are their arcs clear and obvious?
  6. Is your protagonist the cause of at least some of his own troubles? If not, why? If so, can he fix them?
  7. At the midpoint of the W.I.P., is the protagonist able to reflect upon his or her decisions?
  8. Is there a whiff of death in the second half of Act 2?
  9. Is there at least a partially satisfying conclusion for your reader? Do the good guys win? If not, is there something satisfying for your reader to grab ahold of at the end of your W.I.P.?

When you come to the realization that you need to re-write some scenes – or add new scenes, please, please, please, open of a new file and keep those scenes there! Keep them separate from your W.I.P. Don’t go deleting stuff willy-nilly all over your book. Do your re-writes and slowly integrate them into brand new copies.

I’ll give you an example.

When I was finished with The Gallowglass, a novel about English soldiers fighting in the Irish Nine Years War, I realized I needed a love story. So I organized one, outlining the scenes I would use. Now, I use MS Word, so I created a separate file folder within my book file folder and called it “Gallowglass Romance.” I made individual word files for every extra scene. You, however, don’t have to do that. You can string them along in one .doc, if you so choose, depending on the length of your scenes.

I added an intro for the extra character. An argument scene. I added a dinner alone together scene. All in all, I wrote 11 extra scenes for my romantic subplot and kept them separate. Then, I went back and added them to appropriate chapters. But I also have that separate romance file – just in case I need to move them again.

An Historic Accuracy Edit:

Do you remember back in April when I said don’t worry about the minutia of the historical accuracy stuff when writing your draft? Just add brackets with [Do specific research later]?

Well, it’s time to worry about that stuff.

This will be the hardest part. You’ll have to research where historical characters physically were. The slang they used, the clothing they wore, even the medicine they had access to.

Start with the big stuff first. If your novel is about a famous historical figure, I really hope you created an outline of the figure’s whereabouts before you wrote your book. If you didn’t, you’ll have to do some major re-writes.

Are your characters in the middle of a major historical event, like the Battle of the Bulge, or the coronation of Kaiser Willhelm I? Then you’ll need maps, pictures (if available,) and probably a spreadsheet of historical characters your protagonist will interact with.

If your story takes place in one of those forgotten spaces in history, you will still need to learn about eating habits, sexual norms, fashions, and etiquette. These are the details that will make your manuscript glow. These are also the points that will trip your story up to readers and agents if you get them wrong. The great news is that the internet has access to all of this information.

The bad news is that the internet is the Wild West, and you’ll have to use your judgment. 

Back in November of 2015 I realized that my W.I.P., The Gallowglass, was awful. Just plain bad. So I made the decision to do a re-write from page one. I literally could not use anything from the first draft, it was so bad.

As I sat there, heartbroken around Thanksgiving about all the work I was about to do, I realized something. As hard as I thought it was going to be, I knew I had a story in me. I knew it was a good story, a story people would want to read. I also knew there was no real physical work to do. I wasn’t shoveling horse manure in the hot Missouri summer sun. Re-writing this story, my story, wasn’t going to be that hard. I could do this.

So I did. It took three months, off and on, to finish my second draft. I did it, and so can you.

If you want to have a deeper discussion about the process of re-writing, click on this link to my website:

Go on Facebook and like my Author Page.

Follow me on Twitter @evans_writer 

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. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Scholarship Recipient Beth Malone talks PPWC 2017

By: Beth Malone

A little over a year ago, the idea for a novel got its teeth into me, and the thing just wouldn’t let go. Never mind that I wasn’t really sure where writing a novel could possibly fit into my schedule. Never mind that, in doing research (I’m writing historical fiction), I’d have to read enough books to fill a bathtub. Never mind that the longest thing I’d ever written before attempting this novel was 25 measly pages, and that was in college, for heaven’s sake.

The novel didn’t care, though, about any of that. It lurked around like a stray cat yowling to be fed. Maybe just to shut the thing up, I wrote a little bit; when it kept yowling, I wrote a bit more. The more I wrote, the more real the characters became.

They acquired backstories and habits and inconsistencies, and they started making all kinds of choices. The problems facing them were like knots I just kept cinching tighter, worrying all the while that I wouldn’t be able to unravel them.

So for a year, I worked on it, and I made, basically, a mess.

That’s where I got stuck. I couldn’t figure out what I needed to do to move the novel forward, so I kept going around and around what I’d already written, caught in a writer’s eddy of endless revisions.
It was around this time I decided I needed a writer’s conference. I needed a place where I could take a step back from my ordinary life and view my work with some kind of perspective. I needed to clear away all the noise. I needed to be able to focus completely, to judge objectively, to hear ideas from others and to share my own.

Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference wound up being exactly what I needed. Four days jam-packed with workshops on everything from character development to time management. I drank a lot of coffee and scribbled a lot of notes and considered my story from every angle. By the end of the weekend, I knew what I needed to unravel all those knots. 

Some things at the conference encouraged me, for instance one agent calling his audience to write—no matter what—with honesty and hope, because we are hoping not just to tell a good story but to change hearts, to change who someone is, even in some small way. It’s a hope that I’ve always had, but maybe lost sight of, and hearing it come from someone else’s mouth suddenly gave me faith again in the rightness of it.

Some things at the conference challenged me, like hearing an author tell me, “You know the difference between me and you? I finished the damn book. That’s really it.” Somehow, I believed him.

Finally, some things at the conference put my book on an operating table, opened it up, and showed me exactly where I needed to put the stitches in. By breaking the writing into components—character, plot arc, setting, dialogue—the whole project suddenly felt possible, even probable. I just have to go home, pick up the tools I’ve acquired, and use them.

I left PPWC not only with a renewed fire for writing fiction, but with the tools I needed to finish the damn book.

About the author: Beth Malone has snorkeled off the coast of Saudi Arabia, wheedled Syrian border guards into a same-day visa, and slept in a refugee camp in Uganda. Now she lives—arguably—a slightly less interesting life in the suburbs of Denver, which is perhaps why she has begun writing fiction. She is the author of some published essays and one unfinished novel, which you can look for eventually, because she’s an incredibly tenacious person. You can find more of her work on her