Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NaNoTRYMo – Or How to Write the Great American Novel in 30 Days or Less by Cathy Dilts

If you aren’t participating in National Novel Writing Month this November, you might confuse participant symptoms for an invasion of benign zombies. You’re reading this, so you must be a writer, and your circle of acquaintances surely includes people with dark circles under their eyes. They wander aimlessly, mumbling phrases to themselves like “kill Henry on page 22.” They shuffle from work to school to write-ins, lost in a fog that you hope doesn’t include a growing craving for human flesh.

Not to worry. These symptoms should subside by midnight November 30, when NaNoWriMo officially ends.

Pikes Peak Writers and the Imagination Celebration host NaNoTRYMo at the Chapel Hills Mall every Tuesday in November. Instead of the grueling requirement to write 50,000 words in a month, PPW offers writers the opportunity to set their own goals. Participants in a recent write-in survey discussed their novel writing ambitions.

Cynthia is writing contemporary women’s fiction. This is her first NaNoTRYMo. She started with an outline, and her goal is to complete 50 pages of her novel about a marriage as told through letters.

Sandy’s goal is to write a novel. She says she had an idea for a story about a werewolf for a long time. Sandy believes she has more of a perspective now, and is gaining confidence that she can write a novel and possibly get it published. This is also her first NaNoTRYMo.

Karen is participating for the first time in NaNoTRYMo, although she has been a long time member of the writing community. Her novel is a vindication of Grendel’s mother, based on the classic work Beowulf.

Rachael was the youngest participant at the write-in. Her story title is How Zombies Ruined Christmas.

Tamsin, writing a romance, and Becki, writing a children’s story, are not new to NaNoTRYMo. They knew what they were getting into, both having participated before. The intrepid repeat NaNo-ers offered their thoughts on the experience of attempting to write a novel in a month.

“Easier than I thought – thanks to plotting beforehand,” Tamsin wrote. Becki offered these words: “Gratifying, intoxicating, frustrating, exhilarating, hair-pulling, poke-in-the-eye not fun.” Her goal is “to finish the darn story.”

Rachael insisted the experience is “Great.” Ah, youth. Karen finds it “energizing,” while Sandy said it is “fun, as long as you are willing to work at it.” Cynthia echoed the concerns of most participants when she wrote that the experience is “hard – to make myself concentrate and find time.”

The time factor was mentioned by many participants. Karen wrote, “What helps me is to write every day – even if only one sentence.” That is the point of the NaNo experience – to push writers to write. If only we didn’t have day jobs, school, families, or lives to balance with our writing, we could get the darn thing written.

But then, if we didn’t have lives, I suppose that would make us zombies. We would have no excuse for the dark circles under our eyes, the shuffling walk, the mumbling to ourselves. I’ll stick with being a writer.

About the Writer:  Cathy Dilts is an assistant editor for the PPW blog. She writes cozy murder mystery and inspirational fiction, and has recently begun writing short stories because they’re easier to fit in to her busy schedule. Cathy’s publication experience is similar to fishing – getting lots of nibbles on the line, but no bites yet.

In her spare time, she enjoys raised bed gardening, which her husband claims look the perfect size for burying bodies, while reminding her that you can’t get rid of the bones.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Write ON # 1 from Chris Mandeville

Write ON #1
Five Tips, Quotes and Exercises
Provided by Give! 2011 Collaborating Nonprofits

If you're having a little trouble getting started writing, here are some exercises, an inspiring quote, and a tip from a Master to help get the creative juices flowing:

1. "You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes." Winnie the Pooh

Push yourself outside your comfort zone and see what's out there!


2. Give your character a dream. It can be a literal dream while sleeping (a fantastical tale? a nightmare?), a daydream, or a life goal. Whatever type of dream you decide on, remember to dream BIG. Write that scene and see what it reveals about your character.


3. "Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of." Kurt Vonnegut

Think of the worst possible thing that could happen to your main character, then make it even more awful.


4. What is one of your favorite stories? Why did THAT story pop into your mind? Think about what in that story resonates with you and what makes it stand out from all the other stories you've read. Try to use this information to make your plot, character, setting or idea more emotionally gripping.


5. Look around the room. Pick a stranger and tell their story. Look at how they are dressed, their posture, their attitude, and invent a scenario. What does it look like they are doing here? What are they REALLY doing here? What do they want and what's at stake for them? Then think about the elements of this "story" or "character" that make it compelling, provoke a strong emotional response, or create curiosity about what happens next. Use this as a jumping-off point for your own work-in-progress.


For more information about these nonprofit organizations and their collaboration in Give! 2011, please visit http://pikespeakwriters.com/html/give_2011.html

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Write Brain Report: Chris Mandeville’s “Plot Problems? No Problem!” by Cathy Dilts

Have you written yourself into a corner? Is your main character is in a bleak situation with no way out? Have you been rattling along at a nice pace, churning out the words, but now you’re just plain stuck? Chris Mandeville offered a variety of solutions for plot problems at the November 15 Pikes Peak Writers Write Brain.

Over 25 people and one large yellow dog attended the combination Write Brain and NaNoTRYMo Write-In. Chris, president of PPW, offered the audience plotting tips and tricks, packing an amazing amount of information into thirty minutes.   

Chris defined plot as the events that make a story. They are typically in a pattern and sequence. Plot is what happens to your characters externally, not what their goals are, or how they feel about what’s happening.

When it comes to plot, there are two types of writers: the Plotters and the Pantsers. Plotters plan out their story. They know where they are going, whether they plan their story scene by scene or in a less detailed overview. Pantsers, or seat-of-the-pants writers, just sit down and start writing. Chris believes that most Pantsers actually have a goal in mind. Rarely do writers plunge into the ether without a clue as to their destination.

There are many ways to plot, and Chris demonstrated several approaches. These are just a sample.

1) Create a destination. Do you know where your story is going? Just knowing the story’s ending is enough of a roadmap for some writers. 

2) Chris recommended reading Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Knowing the main character’s goal and motivation enables the writer to dump obstacles in the path (conflict) to keep the character from reaching the goal. If you have used GMC, and you are stuck, try revisiting your character grid. Perhaps you gave your character the “wrong” goal. Perhaps the motivation to achieve the goal is too weak.

3) A logline incorporates goal, motivation, and conflict. Who is your main character? What is at stake (what is the goal, or what do they want)? And what is in the way (obstacle or conflict)? Chris told the audience to revisit the logline if they are stuck. It may remind you of what you originally intended to write about, or show you that your story has evolved.

The logline is also called the “elevator pitch.” How do you respond when someone asks, “What’s your book about?” Chris said that a writing buddy can help you write your logline. He or she might better see the root of your story.

From my experience, if you can’t create a coherent logline, you don’t know your story yet. Spending some time developing the GMC of at least the main character creates a roadmap for your story.

4) Another technique Chris discussed is using the structure described in The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. Based on Joseph Campbell’s academic Hero’s Journey, Vogler’s book is aimed at writers. The techniques he discusses have been used for movies such as Star Wars and The Lion King. Chris explained how knowing this structure can help when you are stuck, using as her example how much or how little “Ordinary World” to present to your reader.     

Grant MacKenzie spoke up to recommend the second edition of The Writer’s Journey, not the third. He described it as more writer-friendly.

Chris demonstrated plotting techniques using a recycled science project tri-fold poster board. She said you can use anything, such as the back of an old calendar. One of her examples used the GMC structure from Dixon’s book. The other used the Hero’s Journey structure.

I have also heard this called creating a storyboard. I use this technique in the early stages of my novels, and I highly recommend it. Chris demonstrated how you can write your scenes on Post-It notes, which can then be rearranged as your plot changes.

Chris said for some writers, knowing the Beginning, Middle, and End provides enough of a map to keep them writing. For others, a heavily detailed, scene by scene outline might be required.

After sharing lots of plotting advice, Chris examined ways to figure out why you’re stuck. She likes to play the “What If” game.

“If you don’t know why you’re stuck, ask yourself ‘what if’ questions,” she said.

  • What if you change the age of your protagonist?
  • What if the story was told from a different character’s point of view?
  • What if you change the time period or setting?
Chris said you will know your story better if you ask and answer the questions on her list. Maybe you make changes based on your answers, or maybe the story stays the same. In her case, she resisted the reality that her main character was 17, not 28. Her novel was a YA. But it was not until she asked, and then answered the questions honestly, that she was able to consider changing the age of her main character. She became unstuck, and was able to move forward with the story.

You can also ask your character questions. My character won’t run for help – why? This might sound silly to non-writers, but I saw lots of nodding heads when Chris suggested this technique.

Next, Chris suggested asking an expert. Are you making assumptions about how something works, when you don’t know the facts? This is obviously essential for a police procedural novel, or hard science fiction, but what if your character works in a mall, or as a chicken farmer? Research the answers to your questions. If you make something up, it needs to make sense.

I decided to use this advice for my current work in progress. I asked one question about wills, and my lawyer brother’s answer sparked new ideas about my story, as well as giving me the information I needed.  

Chris told us that sometimes facing plot problems head on doesn’t work. You have to come at it from a different angle. And if you have problems with your characters, fixing the plot might not help.

The main reason Chris gets stuck is that she hasn’t given herself the time to get unstuck. She described this not as a technical problem, but that she just needs to give her mind time to percolate on story problems. Taking a shower is Chris’ #1 problem solving technique.

Chris turned us loose to continue working on our novels. NaNoTRYMo kicked in as 25 people sharing the same space studiously ignored each other. Some tapped away on laptops, while others scribbled on notepads. We munched on cookies and sipped coffee, the caffeine and sugar fueling our dreams.

Plot problems? If we run into any, we now know techniques and resources to get us “unstuck.” No problem!

Friday, November 18, 2011

PPW and the Indy Give! Campaign

What is the Indy GIVE!?

After a highly competitive selection process, PPW was chosen to participate in the 2011 Give! Campaign sponsored by the Colorado Springs Independent Newspaper. This innovative program seeks to raise awareness and funds for 49 non-profits that serve the Arts, the environment, community-building, and other worthwhile causes.  We encourage you to visit www.indygive.com, browse through the array of worthy non-profits, and give what you can where you can.  Money is a great gift, of course, but many of the non-profits are also looking for volunteer support and in-kind donations.  PPW is honored to have been selected for this program, and we appreciate your consideration.  Donations, such as those through Give! 2011, enable PPW to provide free membership, more than 25 free and low-cost events per year, an informative website, and a high quality low cost annual conference.

As part of Give!, PPW will be hosting and participating in a number of fun, free events.  For more information, please visit http://pikespeakwriters.com/html/give_2011.html

During this season when we take time to remember all we have to be thankful for, I'm thankful for the members of Pikes Peak Writers who respond so enthusiastically to our workshops, Write Brains and other events.  We always enjoy seeing you and hearing your feedback.

The Indy GIVE! 2011 has officially launched and I wanted to ask you to take a few moments to visit the link below to read about the many worthy nonprofits who strive to make our community, and the world, a better place.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

Jodi Anderson
PPW Executive Director

Thursday, November 17, 2011

News from the Trenches: New Developments in the Publishing Biz by Linda Rohrbough

In September, I was in St. Louis at a fascinating discussion on the publishing business at Bouchercon, a mystery conference. It was a panel discussion with two editors, two writers, and a bookstore owner.
One of the editors was Neil Nyren from Penguin/Putnam. He’s editor to a number of best-selling authors, including Patricia Cornwell. The bookstore owner was Gary Shulze of Once Upon a Crime books in Minneapolis, one of the top independent bookstores in the country. The authors were Eric Stone and Abigail Padgett, and the other editor, Kate Grant, was from a small press. And the discussion was around the future of books and publishing and what’s happening in the industry.
Lots of interesting stuff was said. But two things stood out. The first was a discussion about the expenses behind production of ebooks. A librarian stood up and asked why, if ebooks are so much cheaper than paper books, ebooks don’t cost less than paper books. And Neil and the other editor took exception to the assumption that ebooks are cheaper to produce.
One interesting fact stated by Neil was hard cover books cost about two dollars each to produce. Yep, you’re hearing me right. Two buckaroos. For hard cover. (Imagine how cheap the paperbacks are.)
Now that figure assumes a large quantity, but still it’s a lot lower than most people would assume. Neil said the expense in producing books is in the editing, advertising and promotion, cover art, and royalties. Of course, everyone forgets cover art when it comes to ebooks. I also got the impression from the discussion that readers assume production costs will be borne by the paper version, so the ebook is essentially free. Clearly, it isn’t.
But what was even more interesting were the statistics Neil mentioned. Right now, he said ebooks account for twenty percent of sales. As a consequence, big name authors are facing lower print runs, which used to be the industry standard for the commercial success of an author. The higher your initial print runs, the better you’re doing. My friend Debbie Macomber is up to one million on her initial print runs, last I heard. That number may be higher now.
That initial print run is significant because publishers don’t print more books than they think they can move in about three months. This is because bad things happen to stored books. They get yellow, bugs eat the paper, humidity puffs them up, and all sorts of other unpleasant circumstances can ruin the final product.
Neil said his authors faced a certain amount of dismay about their print runs being lower, until they learn that the ebook sales are higher. And then they’re okay because the industry standard royalty right now on ebook sales is twenty-five percent, which is a lot higher than the royalty on paper books.
The last statistic I heard from the American Association of Publishers was that ebooks accounted for six percent of sales earlier this year. But it takes time to gather those stats, so the numbers are usually behind what’s actually happening. And given the exponential growth in sales of ebook readers, it would stand to reason that ebooks would also experience exponential growth.
As an aside, no one, it appears, trusts Amazon much. Part of the problem is there’s no third party auditing of ebook sales. Another part of the problem is Amazon appears to be encroaching on everyone’s territory.
Which brings me to my second major take away:  that Amazon will be frozen out of the market anywhere it can be, if book retailers have anything to say about it. What brought that topic up was the mention of Barry Eisler.
Earlier this year, best-selling author Barry Eisler started a stir by announcing he turned down a seven figure offer from his publisher to self-publish instead. Partly because he could get to market faster with the book, which was already written, and therefore earn more. But one of my friends close to Eisler said wait, that there was another deal in the works. And sure enough, Barry didn’t self-publish after all. Instead, he and Amazon.com announced a deal where they will publish Barry’s new book on Kindle and on paper through Amazon’s CreateSpace. So CreateSpace has become a publishing house instead of a vanity press.
Here’s where it gets interesting, because it took me by surprise. The bookstore owner Gary Shultz, shook his head, looked down and said, “We miss Barry.” Like Barry died. As the discussion went on, I realized that in a way, Barry had died, because Gary also said they have no intention of carrying any books published by CreateSpace. And I suspect most of the standard retail distribution outlets in the country are going to feel the same way. Amazon is their biggest competitor, so they are not going to share.
Did Barry just knock himself and his books out of the retail distribution channel? And if readers married to hard copy can get what they want from CreateSpace, will they care that they can’t get the titles from their favorite local book distributor? Will it go so far that bookstores will boycott all Barry Eisler’s titles, and not just those published by CreateSpace?
Barry didn’t always have this attitude. His initial book published by Putnam had national distribution so he took several weeks driving the U.S. alone promoting the book. He introduced himself and signed stock in every bookstore he could reasonably get to. He told about it at a writer’s conference I was speaking at in Amarillo in 2002, and the number of bookstores numbered in the hundreds. So he believed in the retail channel, at least at first. But then his books took off, he got a movie deal, spent a year in Japan during the filming, and so on. Clearly, he’s changed his mind.
Debbie Macomber told me she romances bookstores. She learned from watching her father, who made furniture and built relationships with furniture retailers. This isn’t new. Author Jacqueline Susann (Valley of the Dolls) was known for going to the distributor warehouses early in the morning with boxes of fresh donuts for the drivers so they would be more inclined to stock her book on their routes.
Barry’s move begs the question:  Are the days of building relationships with retailers and distributors ending? I don’t think so. But Amazon better watch their step because if the regular distribution channels get the chance to take them out, the carnage won’t be pretty. While Amazon may be too far in the clouds to reach, a single author is much more accessible. My guess is Barry’s move is going to be seen across the retail channels as a bite to the hand that fed him. I think it’s going to hurt him. But, obviously, he doesn’t think so.
Barry is no dummy, though. He is currently offering a short story on his website for free download, with pictures of the locale in Paris where the story is set. Included in the download are the first three chapters of the novel from the Amazon deal. He’s clearly romancing his reader base. Will it work? It’ll be interesting to watch how things shake out. 

About the Writer:  Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with national awards for her fiction and non-fiction. New York Times #1 bestselling author Debbie Macomber said about Linda’s new novel: "This is fast-paced, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat reading. The Prophetess One: At Risk had me flipping the pages and holding my breath." She recently won the 2011 Global eBook Award and the 2011 Millennium Star Publishing Award for her new novel. An iPhone App of her popular “Pitch Your Book” workshop is available in the Apple iTunes store. Visit her website: www.LindaRohrbough.com.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.  – Thomas Mann

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sweet Success! – j. a. kazimer

j. a. kazimer's urban fairy tale novel for adults, Curses! A F**cked-Up Fairy Tale (ISBN 978-0758269126, 320 pages, trade paperback), will be published on February 28, 2012, by Kensington Publishing Corporation.  The book will be available online and in bookstores.  The author's website is at www.jakazimer.com.

When Cinderella is run over by a bus, her not-so-ugly stepsister, Asia, suspects murder. So she hires RJ, a private eye, to investigate. Little does she know RJ is actually a villain on mental health leave from the Villain’s Union. Cursed with an inability to say no to damsels in distress, RJ travels to the Kingdom of Maldetto to solve the crime while dodging bullets, explosions, fires, and his own ex-wife to slip his own version of glass handcuffs on the wrists that fit. All while falling for Asia, who has a curse of her own to deal with…

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, j.a. escaped at a young age, and now lives and writes in Denver, Colorado. Books include, The Junkie Tales; Stolen Kidneys, Dead Hookers & Other Nursery Crimes; and The Body Dwellers. Forthcoming novels include CURSES! A F**ked Up Fairytale (Kensington, March 2012) and Holy Socks and Dirtier Demons (Champagne Books, Spring 2012). j.a. kazimer holds a master's degree in forensic psychology and has worked as a PI, bartender, and most recently at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Column: Jealous Much? by Becky Clark

I know a lot of writers. Some are friends, some just acquaintances, some via six degrees of separation. Professionals, amateurs; some are talented, some are not, some are still learning their craft. Some sell a gazillion books, some are pre-published. Some write fiction, some non-fiction; short works and epic tomes. Men, women, old, young, funny, scholarly, entertaining, deadly boring …. well, you get the idea.
I must make a confession. (I’d call it a public confession, but who am I kidding. Both of you reading this do not a ‘public’ make.)
For a split second — sometimes longer — when I hear of the successes of my writer peeps, I’m jealous of 99.3% of them. (The rest I simply don’t like so I don’t care about their news. Don’t judge me.)
This ugliness doesn’t last too long before I shoot them … a note — c’mon, I’m not a monster! — congratulating them on their achievement. But I can’t deny the ugliness was there, however briefly.
Recently I stared my green-eyed monster square in its slack-jawed face and tried to figure out why my emotional knee jerks in such a manner. I came up with some reasons.
1. Guilt. I’m not working as hard as I should to finish the manuscript/market/step out of my comfort zone/get better at my craft/blah, blah, blah. And they are. And hard work wins out every single time. And I’m a lazy slacker doo-doo head.
2. The unshakable belief that I’m a better writer than they are and yet — poor, pitiful me — nobody quite sees my incredible talent.
3. Or, equally appalling, the humbling idea that I’ll never be as good as they are and giving up is my only possible option.
4. I’m a terrible, terrible person.
No, I don’t really think I’m terrible. I guess I’m just human. But I do have moments of lazy slacker doo-doo head-ness. After all, I wouldn’t want anyone to be jealous of me.
What about you? Do you have pangs of jealousy? Have you figured out why?
(Originally posted November 4, 2011 at Becky’s blog, I’m Just Sayin)

About the Writer:  Becky Clark is a popular blogger, entrepreneur, speaker, and author of wildly divergent books — for example, An UnCivil War – The Boys Who Were Left Behind (middle-grade historical fiction); Reading Maniac — Fun Ways To Encourage Reading Success (a guide for parents of reluctant readers); and The Lazy Low Cal Lifestyle Cookbook. Her BeckyLand blog can be found at http:/beckyland.wordpress.com and her healthy living website/blog is www.LazyLowCalLifestyle.com. She is a highly functioning chocoholic.