Monday, December 31, 2012

What's Next for PPW?

By Mandy Brown Houk

There are all sorts of hackneyed metaphors to use for the end of one year and the beginning of another. But for the purposes of this article, I’ll zoom in on just one: the turning of a page.

As writers, we’re all avid readers (and if you’re not, you ought to become one). We know the delicious breathlessness of the turn of a page. In a particularly lovely book, you start to slide your finger behind the page you’re on before you’ve gotten halfway through it. If you’re like me, you sometimes have to deliberately slow your eyes down to make sure you don’t miss something in your haste to flip over and find out what’s next!

I find that I do the same in life sometimes. I forget that reality doesn’t work like fiction, so resolution isn’t necessarily imminent or swift or paced in a manner I’d like. I yearn for things to be linear, to follow a pattern. For each year-end since 2004, I’ve been sure the next “page” (year) would bring a book deal, or at least an agent. I finally signed with an agent this spring, but my finger’s still paused there, lifting up the corner, itching to see when (if) the ultimate goal will actually happen, and when.

Regardless of where you are in your writing journey--starting your first draft, or going on tour with book number eight--you can’t predict what will be written on page 2013. It’s exciting and aggravating, suspenseful and maddening.

Here’s where Pikes Peak Writers can help.
First, we’re all right there with you. If you haven’t already, you need to treat yourself to an evening with Deb Courtney or Mary Karen Meredith, the hostesses of our monthly get-togethers (Writer's Night and Open Critique, respectively). You’ll find kinship and conversation and even critique partners.
For brushing up on your craft and marketing skills, we have a wonderful calendar planned for our Write Brains (both in-person and online).
And, of course, the biggie: PPWC 2013. Each year I’m amazed at the opportunities that unfold in the halls of the Colorado Springs Marriott. Opportunities to learn, sharpen skills, meet other writers, breathe life into perhaps dormant dreams, and meet industry professionals that can be instrumental in turning that crucial page toward publishing (where do you think I met my agent?!).
Check out our calendar and our conference brochure and see what we’ve got planned. You may not know exactly what’s printed on page 2013, but you can make yourself ready to meet it.
Go on. Lift that corner.

About the Writer:  Mandy Brown Houk is a freelance writer and editor, and she teaches at a small private high school in Old Colorado City. She's written for several magazines and anthologies, and has completed two novels--only one of which is worthy of the light of day. Mandy's work is represented by Sally LaVenture at Warner Literary Group. Her web site is

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Quote of the Week

Some authors write with a grave ink, of a dramatic pen dipped into their dark souls. -Terri Guillemets

Friday, December 28, 2012

Fire It Up! A Writer's Guide to Firefighting Write Up

Fire It Up! A Writer's Guide to Firefighting – presented by Robin Widmar
PPW Write Brain – November 20, 2012
Article by Cathy Dilts

Robin Widmar spoke about firefighting at the November Write Brain, with the goal of sparking the imagination while keeping writers grounded in fact.

“Firefighting is a complex subject,” Robin told us. “Every fire is different. Every fire department is different. Every fire fighter is different. Do your research!”

With a fifteen-year career as a firefighter, Robin has an AAS degree in Fire Science Technology. She covers the Falcon Fire Protection District for The New Falcon Herald. Robin went to her first fire at the age of four, and her father, stepfather, and great-great-grandfather were firefighters.

Robin finds that fictional depictions of fires often miss the mark. Giving numerous examples from television, movies, and novels of what works, and what doesn’t, she cautioned the Write Brain audience that “entertainment rarely meets reality.”

Sometimes Hollywood gets it right. Robin cited scenes from the television program Chicago Fire showing an exhaust hose on a fire truck inside the fire station. That was a realistic touch she said firefighters would appreciate. The trucks must have their exhaust vented to the outdoors because the station living quarters are basically attached to a garage. Another scene aimed a camera through the front windshield of a fire engine to show what the ride through city streets is really like.

On the downside, she said firefighters would not dress as casual as the characters on the television show. The tight tank tops, unbuttoned shirts, and sexy poses would not be found in a real fire station. 

To encourage writers to get their fire related scenes correct, Robin presented Five Myths of Firefighting.

Myth One: Fires depicted in fiction are rarely hot and smoky.
Reality: She showed us pictures from movies, and from actual fires. The myth shows neatly spaced patches of fire, great visibility, and a firefighter not wearing an air mask. Reality is that visibility can be nearly zero due to thick, dark smoke, and the temperature can be 1000 degrees at the ceiling level. 

Robin explained rudimentary fire science to us, while cautioning us that the subject is incredibly complex. She told us a story involving her training as a volunteer firefighter, when her chief told her to spray water on a burning Volkswagen as a lesson. Robin did, and the engine flared into white sparks and flame. Old VW engines were composed of a metal that reacted with water when it burned. Someone not trained in the science behind firefighting might not know that some metals are as much a source of fire fuel as wood, gas, or paper.

Fire dynamics are dramatically different today than a century ago. Robin asked us to consider the time period and setting of our fictional fires. There are new synthetic materials inside houses, contained in furnishings, carpet, electronics, and even building materials, that put off toxic gasses when burning. Robin explained how modern floor joists and rafters may be built of lightweight materials that burn more quickly than solid wood components used in older structures.

Myth Two: The Hollywood image of fire is of bright, uniformly shaped and sized flames leaping out of windows.
Reality: Robin showed us photos of structure fires. One of the “reality” photos was a house with thick smoke rolling out of the upper level. Firefighters must learn how to read fires and smoke in order to know what kind of fire conditions they are dealing with.

Myth Three: Cars explode on impact, or easily catch fire.
Reality: The reality is that cars rarely explode or burst into flames in a crash. To achieve the Hollywood effect, cars are rigged with explosives, and detonated to get that special effect.

Myth Four:  Arson fires are always successful.
Reality: While many arsons do succeed, the reality is that some arsonists don’t always understand fire dynamics. Fuel, oxygen, and heat must be in proper proportion. Robin described an attempted arson fire where the building was too air tight to provide the oxygen needed for the fire to progress. Firefighters found gasoline soaked carpets that had not ignited.

Robin said that investigating a fire is a topic that could fill an entire talk. She touched briefly on several aspects of fire investigation.
- Arson is a crime that destroys evidence as it progresses.
- Who investigates fires? It depends on the jurisdiction, since some fire departments have their own investigators, while others use investigators from the local police or sheriff’s department. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) will investigate fires involving federal property. ATF will also assist local departments when requested, particularly when a department lacks investigative resources.
- Fire behaves in specific and predictable ways, which helps fire investigators determine the cause and where the fire started.
- Dogs can be trained to detect accelerant use. Crime labs can analyze samples for the presence of an accelerant.

Myth Five: Firefighters are flawed but attractive and buff men and women.
Reality: Robin did not dispel all of this myth. Firefighters carry fifty pounds of basic gear, and can be loaded down with an additional fifty pounds of equipment. They run up ladders and stairs carrying all that weight. They do need to be buff. And of course, like all humans, they are flawed.

The reality is that firefighters tend to be pranksters and jokers, to relieve the stress of the job. They come from all walks of life, and deal with the same issues as everyone else. They are devoted to their families, communities, and crews. Firefighters may be saints or sinners, just like the general population. There is no stereotypical firefighter.

At the end of her presentation, Robin reviewed some terminology. Much depends on what part of the country your story is set in.

  • Sometimes the driver of the fire truck is called a driver engineer, sometimes a driver operator, and in some areas, a chauffeur. Do your research.
  • The correct term is firefighter, not fireman. Unless, of course, your story takes place in a time period when women were not typically working in this field.
  • A fire station is not the same thing as a fire department.
  • There are many different types of vehicles. “Fire truck” is a generic term applied to different kinds of vehicles. Depending on their function, the size of the community, and the area of the country, there are fire engines (also called pumpers) that pump water, and ladder trucks equipped with aerial ladders, ground ladders, and other equipment.
  • Not all fire vehicles are red. Robin showed photos of red, red and white, blue and white, and yellow vehicles. Again, it depends on the particular location in which your story takes place. Do your research.
  • Firefighters wear self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs) which hold compressed air, not pure oxygen. Think about it. Oxygen is fuel for fire, and a tank of oxygen would be incredibly dangerous.
When Robin was an active firefighter, she achieved the rank of driver engineer. She spoke with enthusiasm about driving the fire truck through busy traffic en route to an alarm. After attending Robin’s presentation, I believe that firefighting is more of a calling than a career.  

Robin’s knowledge and experience would fill several Pikes Peak Writers talks. Let’s hope she finishes her Firefighting for Writers book soon!

About the Author: Cathy Dilts has a short story set to appear in the April 2013 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Her day job as an environmental scientist provides fodder for fiction by the shovelful. In addition to short stories, she also writes cozy murder mystery. Her novel Stone Cold Dead is under contract with Five Star Publishing. 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.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Edward Cullen Strangelove, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Twilight

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

I read Twilight after it first came out, way back in 2005.  People were saying it was going to be the next big thing, but dang, I had no idea how that could be.

I liked the book.  I liked the setting.  I liked how she handled the vampires, evolved to be sparkly and beautiful to make hunting so much easier.  Yet, I didn’t understand why that book, that story, became such a flashpoint.  A nice little love story set in Forks, Washington as a world-wide phenomenon?  Triple-platinum bestseller?  Really?

Some people hated it, and I couldn’t understand that either.  Wasn’t much to love.  Wasn’t much to hate.  It was all so simple.  The characters were fine.  The story was fine.  The writing wasn’t awful.  It was functional. 

I didn’t become a Twihard until I watched all five movies this past November in one day, at the theater, surrounded by young girls, middle-aged women, and a few men comfortable enough in their masculinity that they could get a little teary at all the angst and romance.

Now I get it.  Stephenie Meyer is a genius.  Not because she was so innovative, no, it was because she made things so simple.  The writing, the story, the characters, it was all so simple.  And moving.

There is a disconnect at times between the writing community and the general audience.  Writers don’t read like normal readers because we aren’t normal readers.  We are writers.  We devour books, and then dissect the pieces.  How could that chapter be better?  How can I avoid the cliché there?  How can I use dialogue tags more creatively?  The general reader isn’t worrying about all that.  They want a story they can understand, that sweeps them off their feet, in a setting that seems real, and with characters they can identify with.  The general reader is very forgiving if the bones of the story speak to them.

Robert McKee of Story fame thinks story is all-powerful.  You can have iffy writing if the story is evocative, and I believe that.  Most people read fiction as an emotional experience, not a logical one.  And emotions are messy things.

The last Twilight movie, Breaking Dawn, Part II, ends with Edward and Bella in their meadow, gazing into each other’s eyes, in love, now, literally forever.  After thirteen hours of The Twilight Saga, I didn’t want to leave the theater.  I wanted to bask in their emotion, that perfect love we generally only experience in fiction.  Real love is messy and uncertain and takes work.  Bella and Edward’s perfect love is just plain perfect.  Sigh.

I want to write books that leave my readers feeling that sense of joy, wonder, and contentment.  The bad guys are all dead.  The troubles are behind our hero and his heroine, and the world makes sense.  That feeling, I believe, is more important than a perfectly balanced plot, or the depth of my characters, or my sentence variety.

Not that I’m saying I’m going to churn out first draft stuff and hope my story is good enough to hook readers.  No, I’m not going to do that.  But I do want to simplify my writing because I can make things so complicated so fast.  Ideally, my writing would be invisible—a simple doorway into the perfect fictive dream.  So, I’m going to focus on good, simple writing, a well-crafted story, and above all, emotional impact.  Perfect love.  Sigh.  Thank you, Stephenie Meyer, for giving us such a wonderful story.

About the Writer:  YA Paranormal author Aaron Michael Ritchey has penned a dozen manuscripts in his 20 years as a writer.  When he isn’t slapping around his muse, Aaron cycles to look fabulous, works in medical technologies, and keeps his family in silks and furs.  His first novel, The Never Prayer, hit the streets on March 29, 2012.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sweet Success! Jody Kessler

Jody A. Kessler's adult paranormal romance novel, Death Lies Between Us (paperback, ebook), will be published by Crescent Moon Press in March 2013. The book will be available from major online bookstores. The author's website is at

Saving the life of someone you love should not be the worst thing you have ever done, unless you are an Angel of Death.

Disgruntled with his position in the afterlife and conflicted by his feelings toward his new client, Nathaniel Evans forgoes the rules and saves nineteen-year-old Juliana Crowson from being hopelessly stuck in Forge Creek. This alters Juliana’s destiny and she finds herself in a series ofnear-death accidents.

In the mountains of Colorado, Nathaniel comforts Juliana as she struggles to understand her paranormal abilities while coping with her brother’s drug addiction. When an ill-tempered Native American Shaman teaches her the difference between ghosts and place memories, shedecides she wants nothing to do with the supernatural world. Too bad she doesn’t know that Nathaniel is part of it.

Will fate bring these two together, or has Nathaniel made the biggest mistake of his afterlife?

Jody A. Kessler enjoys writing paranormal novels and is a member of Pikes Peak Writers. She is a yoga instructor, Reiki Master, and a graduate of the Colorado Institute of Massage Therapy. When she took an extended leave from her massage practice to

stay at home with her newborn, she returned to her first true passion—writing. She spends most of her time being a mother, writing, and teaching yoga, but also likes going to concerts, hiking, practicing herbal medicine, and reading anything that catches her interest. Jody lives in the mountains of Colorado with her family. You can learn more about Jody on her website

We love to hear of fellow Pikes Peak Writers' Sweet Successes, including story acceptances, winning contests, getting published and book signings. Please email DeAnna Knippling at dknippling [at] gmail [dot] com if you've got a Sweet Success you'd like to share.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Quote of the Week

Writing is a form of personal freedom.  It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us.  In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals. -Don Delillo

Friday, December 21, 2012

Countdown to the Conference - Four Months to Go!

By MB Partlow, PPWC Programming Director

Time to make the resolutions!

All the holiday hubbub is nearly over, and then it will be time to look forward to the new year and the upcoming Conference. Sure, you've got plenty of time, but you've also got plenty you could do to make this your best conference ever.

1. I will not pitch an unfinished manuscript. Pitching a manuscript that isn't done wastes your time and that of the agent or editor you're pitching to. What if they ask you to send it, and you have to explain that it's not done? They're excited about it right now. If you have to finish writing, send it through your critique group, proof it and rewrite it, that sense of immediacy is gone.

2. I will make an informed decision about who to pitch to. Go the websites of the agents and editors. Familiarize yourself with their clients, what they like, what they don't like. Search for articles or interviews about them. Find out if they Twitter or blog and follow them.

3. I will learn about the faculty before the Conference. Faculty authors are listed on the website. You don't have to read every single word by every author, but know who writes what. You might even discover a new favorite. I discovered Robert Crais at a PPWC several years ago, and I haven't missed one of his books since.

4. I will start (or continue) hanging out with writers. Wait, what? Writers are the best possible people in the world to hang out with. Pikes Peak Writers offers you lots of chances to get together with writerly folk in a variety of informal settings. PPW Night at Poor Richard's downtown, Open Critiques, monthly Write Brain sessions--all free. Stay tuned to the website for details, and make it a point to meet some new people before the Conference.  

5. I will read my work out loud, even if the thought makes me cringe in horror. Conference has some awesome Read and Critique opportunities, and most of them involve being able to stand up and read your first page out loud. Besides, nothing will find and highlight clunky dialogue faster than hearing it spoken. If the thought of reading to nobody bothers you, read to your cat, your children, your neighbor or the mouse living under your sink. Better to get the nervous cracks and squeaks out in the privacy of your own home than in front of an agent.

6. I will practice my logline until I can say it in my sleep. Ah, the logline. That one sentence that sums up your book. Refer to #5, above. If you write a beautifully crafted, perfectly grammatical sentence of 58 words for a logline, you'll never be able to get it out without stumbling, fumbling or spitting on yourself just a little. If you're having trouble boiling it down to one sentence, see #4, above. Writers would rather work on anyone's logline than their own, and they will often have marvelous insights and stupendous ideas.

7. I will write. All the pretty plots in the world will amount to nothing if you don't write them down. Commit to your writing. Practice it daily. Just as you only have to brush the teeth you want to keep, remember that you only have to practice the writing skills that you wish to keep (or improve). Squeeze in ten minutes here and there. Don't set yourself up to fail--you can scribble a few lines in a small spiral notebook or on the back of a Starbucks napkin. You don't need a luxuriously appointed throne room of an office to create. You can write without your iPod, your iPad, your laptop, your "writing mix" on iTunes and two dozen precisely sharpened #2 pencils lined up at your side. Write outside the box. Write on the box.

8. I will be kind to myself. I can't speak for anyone else, but my inner critic is the size of Godzilla and has a voice like Gilbert Gottfried, only louder. You have to gag your inner critic and tap into your inner Little Engine That Could. When I attended my first conference, I hadn't written a single word of fiction. Ditto the second conference. I just knew that I desperately wanted to, and with every conference I attended, I was more certain that I could. Surrounding yourself with people who speak your language, who share your dreams, is the best thing you can do for yourself as a writer.

9. I will buck the trends. If you're drawn to writing Young Adult fantasy, then by all means, have at it. But if you really want to write a blackly comic science fiction novel, don't force your square self into a round hole. If the thought of making your work over into a different genre makes you want to fall on your own pen knife, then don't do it. You don't have to write about sparkly vampires, angsty teens, domineering lovers or cozy little old postmasters solving mysteries. Your muse is, well, yours.

10. I will watch too much TV, I won't floss enough, I'll lie about my weight, I'll eat too much ice cream, drink too much beer, laugh a little too much and too loud, and make a joke out of virtually anything that bothers me. What, I had to guarantee myself some success, didn't I?

MB Partlow, 2013 Programming Director for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, is hard at work getting fantastic speakers and participants for the conference.  You can reach her at or find more information on the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference at

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What Happens the Morning After a Writing Challenge?

By Stacy S. Jensen

Deadlines used to be part of my daily work schedule. There were news and advertising deadlines. Then, we had production and delivery deadlines. I began my shift at the newspaper and knew that by the end of my workday there would be a newspaper ready for readers.

Today, as a writer and stay-at-home mom, my deadlines are more flexible. They are what I make them to be and sometimes, I’m pretty lenient with myself.

Enter: Writing Challenges.

I’m not the kind, who fares well in the National Novel Writing Month-kind of challenge, especially not after the NaNoWriMo Disaster of 2009. While I have 100 pages and an outline on my computer, I never won that challenge. When December 1 arrived, I knew I had failed.  I vowed not to do that again — the failure part.

When I was ready to try again, I picked a more reasonable November challenge: PiBoIdMo. That’s Picture Book Ideas Month created by children’s author Tara Lazar. The challenge: write 30 picture book ideas in 30 days. The result:  more than 100 ideas.

So what did I do after PiBoIdMo?

Well, I woke up on December 1 and signed up for another writing challenge.

Julie Hedlund created the 12 x 12 in 2012 Challenge.  Participants write a picture book draft each month. This challenge was the deadline I needed. I’ll have around 20 picture book manuscripts when I welcome 2013. 

A pile of picture book ideas written during  the 2011 PiBoIdMo Challenge
Both of these challenges helped me in different ways. The PiBoIdMo Challenge made me get into the habit of writing down story ideas as they pop into my head. If I don’t capture it on paper or my iPhone, I’ll lose it forever.  The 12 x 12 in 2012 Challenge reminds me to write my stories. Silly sounding? I’ve had phases of my writing career where I’ve spent more time talking about writing than on the actual work.

Some people don’t need challenges, but I like them for their deadlines and the writing communities formed around them.

I know I’ll participate in several writing challenges in 2013. Will you? If so, what will it be?

About the Author: Stacy S. Jensen worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for two decades. Today, she writes picture books and revises a memoir manuscript. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and toddler.
Twitter: @StacySJensen

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Write Brain & Open Critique Reminder

You can find the December Write Brain FREE online today by clicking HERE.

The December Write Brain workshop is The Writer's Toolbox: Dialogue and Characterization, originally presented by Giles Carwyn at the 2008 Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

Description: An avalanche of practical tips for creating characters that don't think and sound just like you.  Workshop will cover: Enneagram personality profiles, shortcuts for sketching minor characters, set up and pay off in dialogue, tapping into subtext, driving plot with dialogue, avoiding "on the nose" and unfocused conversations, crafting a well-placed zinger, hanging dialogue from scene structure, and using action and inter-character tension to spice up exposition.

PPW Open Critique will be tomorrow, Wednesday, December 19, from 6:30 to 8:30 P.M. at Cottonwood Center for the Arts, 427 E. Colorado Avenue.  Anyone may attend, but for a chance at having up to 8 pages of your manuscript critiqued, you need to RSVP.  For more information, including the email address to RSVP for, click HERE.

There will be no PPW Night at Poor Richard's this month, due to the regular date falling on Christmas Eve.  We hope to see you January 28, though!

Monday, December 17, 2012

On Romance

By DeAnna Knippling

Most romance readers start at a young age, I think. At least, when I talk to them, that’s how the story starts: “I picked up my first romance at age...” followed by a number between ten and fifteen. Then they’re hooked, they’re reading 2-3 romances a day, and there are always one or two books that saved their lives when they were teenagers.

I didn’t really start until this year.

I was taking a class on genre and managed to get at least somewhat close on the rest of the genres during a particularly brutal assignment, but did a nosedive on romance. It was obvious I hadn’t read the kind of book that I was outlining for the exercise. And I hate to fail.

So the game was on. I said, “Well, I like Pride & Prejudice, and people have told me that Regencies are the closest to that, so I’ll read a few books, come up with another romance outline, and test it out on a friend who does almost nothing but romance reading and writing and see if I get any closer.”

Like dropping a cat in the cream? Is that how you say it?

The craving for Regencies hit at a good time: I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and I get depressed every winter. Living in Colorado helps a lot, as do small doses of caffeine and, in general, taking things a little bit easier than I usually do. This year, I added “read some Regencies” to my list of depression fighters.

I can definitely see where a romance could save your life. I’m originally more of a fantasy reader: to escape into a different world, where even the most unimportant-seeming character matters, where a sheepherder or destitute beggar-girl can become a force to be reckoned with. Saving the world is a kind of therapy, and it saved my life many times.

Falling in love - another kind of therapy, a drug even. I’m wondering if I’ll be as focused on it when I hit spring, that time when I go completely nuts.  There’s sunshine all day long, and I want to go outside and eat everything. (Too bad I’m a terrible gardener.) Maybe then I won’t need so much sweetness and light, and I’ll switch over to horror.

As strange as it may seem, I find horror as therapeutic as romance. Not bad horror. Bad horror is just eye-rollingly dull. But good horror confirms that the bad times, the down times, the depressing times, really are there, and they aren’t just “normal,” they’re horrific. Then, with a rush of adrenalin, you’re carried down a river of emotion to the catharsis of the ending: the main character gains control over the “normal,” yet horrifying, situation; destroys the monster; and emerges bloodied, but victorious (although, admittedly, sometimes dead, but victorious). Horror novels are meant to make you feel alive, just like romance novels.

More parallels:
  • Both romances and horror novels involve sinking deeply into the character’s senses.
  • Both invoke the most extreme of emotions.
  • The plots of both involve getting closer to and further from the object of one’s emotions: in romance, the lover; in horror, the monster.
  • Both the lover and monster cannot simply be abandoned in favor of returning to one’s “normal” life, which has itself become untenable.
  • Both romances and horror novels involve strong moments of “Don’t do that, you fool!” In a horror novel, you try to caution people against going down into the basement alone; in a romance, you try to tell them just to stop jumping to conclusions and talk to each other!

In love, as in fear, we do many idiotic things with our hearts hammering in our chests. In order for the characters to complete their journeys in both romance and horror, they must start out less than wise - appealing, sympathetic, naive - and grow into their strength and confidence.

But why Regencies?

I’m noticing some patterns: a witty female (a bit nerdy, to tell the truth) who has been unlucky in love finds herself unaccountably attracted to an older man, more experienced (i.e., doesn’t have to fumble around in bed figuring out a) how to please a woman or b) getting past the adolescent idea that one’s pleasure is all that’s important), cynical, lucky in sex, but also unlucky in love (and also witty and competent - almost every Regency I’ve read makes a point of contrasting the property management skills of Our Hero with some other member of society who had the same advantages but drove himself into the ground; it’s not just about the title, but about the idea of responsibility). The two lovers are attracted to each other immediately, and while there’s explicit sex, it doesn’t solve their problems so much as pleasurably exacerbate them until they get the emotional side worked out, too. Strange, sounds like how I fell in love with my husband.

There are Regencies that work less well for me: The ones that don’t focus on the lovers dealing with society - the ones where they never make it into Town. The ones where the man tries to control the woman and make her into something she isn’t: passive (even if the women refuse to be controlled; I’m in a Regency for a meeting of equals, not a fight for dominance, which feels too rapey for me). The ones where the man has already decided that a certain woman will be his wife and has but to convince her - how unfair! The man should get to be convinced, too; even Darcy had to have almost half a book to come around.

At any rate, I outlined a Regency. Being me, there were...creatures... in it. (I am not allowed to call them by the zed-word, and upon further thought, the creature is turning more into Frankenstein’s monster than those other things anyway.) I got the thumb’s up, though there’s more work to do on the outline, additional brainstorming on how the rules work, who the other characters are (in case of series), that kind of thing. But it was judged a romance, and I was very relieved.

I already know how to scare the pants off someone.

But it feels like even more of an achievement to think I might be able to get them to take them off on purpose.  (Eventually.)

About the Writer: DeAnna Knippling started freelancing in May 2011 and wouldn’t be able to do it without her wonderful family and friends, especially her husband. In fact, she owes a lot to Pikes Peak Writers for helping her be a better writer, especially through the Write Brains, both in the lectures and in meeting lots of other writers.

Her reason for writing is to entertain by celebrating her family’s tradition of dry yet merry wit, and to help ease the suffering of lack of self-confidence, having suffered it many years herself. She also likes to poke around and ask difficult questions, because she hates it when people assume something must be so.

For more kicks in the writerly pants, see her blog at or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, available at Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, and OmniLit.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Quote of the Week

Writing is an exploration.  You start from nothing and learn as you go. -E.L. Doctorow

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sweet Success! Cathy Dilts

Catherine Dilts's mystery short story, "The Jolly Fat Man," will be published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in April 2013. The magazine will be available on bookstands and at online bookstores.

Dr. Charles Jerome Harrison, scientist at a gasket factory, plays the role everyone expects of him--the jolly fat man. When a back-stabbing employee is murdered, Charles cannot fathom how he lands in the center of the investigation. He is certainly not the only employee to have opportunity and motivation. His new intern, a skinny college kid with a bad case of ebonics, suggests that being African American makes them both the focus of police scrutiny, a paranoia seemingly confirmed by the detective’s probing questions. Besides, as the kid points out, threatening the victim just hours before her demise doesn’t exactly make Charles look innocent.

Cathy Dilts is a long time member and volunteer with Pikes Peak Writers. Her day job as an environmental scientist provides fodder for fiction by the shovelful. In addition to short stories, she also writes cozy murder mysteries, environmentally-themed stories, and apocalyptic inspirational fiction. 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.

We love to hear of fellow Pikes Peak Writers' Sweet Successes, including story acceptances, winning contests, getting published and book signings. Please email DeAnna Knippling at dknippling [at] gmail [dot] com if you've got a Sweet Success you'd like to share.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Link Travel to Your Writing

By Karen Albright Lin

If you travel a lot, you may consider selling what you learn.  On a visit to China I found delightful material for magazine articles.

“The words lock and enchantment are not usually paired.  But look in all the right places as you travel throughout China and you’ll find that the two will become forever linked.”

That is the first paragraph of an article I’ll submit to a travel magazine.  It’s meant to intrigue by juxtaposing two seemingly unrelated things.

Then I introduce China’s misty Yellow Mountain where Emperor Xuanzong concocted an elixir of immortality.  I follow that with the focus of the article: thousands of brass locks hanging from fences – heart-shaped, rectangular, and circular.  Each is etched with customized calligraphy with a message of lifelong love, prosperity, or safe travels.

Next, I add interaction: a limping man who has traveled from the island of Taiwan to hang a lock for good health.  Then I broaden the picture.

“Now that you’ve beheld those clinging symbols atop this World Heritage site, travel through other provinces and keep your eyes open.  Auspicious locks cling in barnacle bunches even beside reverent Buddhist temples and the once-home of Confucius in Shandong Province.”

Here I’ve offered tourists a charming detail to watch for as they travel throughout China.  This might fit in nicely in Go World Travel which pays for articles as well as photos.  I can customize and sell this experience to several noncompeting magazines.

For a teen magazine, I’d focus on Love Locks and a teen couple hugging over the enchanted brass, hanging their dreams of lifelong devotion.  Blue Jean Online was ready to take this one if I was willing to offer online unlimited time rights.

I could approach a family oriented magazine, homing in on parents I saw cupping their baby’s hand around a lock – its Mandarin Sino graph wishing for longevity.

For a gentlemen’s magazine, I might tell of the German man in a rumpled business suit touching his forehead to an impressively large fifteen-dollar specimen boding well for his small business.

Thinking outside the box, I might approach Master Lock and suggest using these clustered brass images in a trade newsletter or, thinking bigger, an ad campaign. 

I also have the outline for a screenplay in which the inciting incident is a broken Love Lock on the “number one mountain under heaven.”

Escaping into another culture is eye-opening.  I especially enjoy capturing the food and the little details I find during my travels.  If you decide to enjoy your trips a second time by writing about them, don’t forget to take photos and offer them to magazines as well.

“Some of the locks have clung so long that their blackened hopes are illegible.  But their promises of luck, lasting love, and success remain in spirit.”

About the Writer:  Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at

Monday, December 10, 2012

Story Tips #3 - The Two Minute Movie

By Jax Hunter

Welcome to the third installment of Story Tips From the Big Screen.  This monthly column (to be posted the second Monday of each month) explores screen writing techniques that will help fiction writers tell a better story. 

***   ***   ***   ***

Hello again from altitude.  This month, as promised, we’re going to make a two minute movie.  At least on paper we are.  I know you’re all asking “What the heck is a two minute movie?”  Be patient - we’ll get to it.  First, just a quick review of three act structure.

Last month we did a more in-depth study of three act structure (TAS).  If you missed it - stop right here - and go back to it.  It’s important for our two minute movie.

TAS - Get your hero up a tree in Act I, throw rocks at him in Act II and get him out of the tree in Act III.  Act I takes about one fourth of the book and ends with the first plot point (an event that spins the action in a different direction).  Act II takes about half the book and ends with the second plot point.  Act III takes another fourth of the book and brings us into the dark moment where all is lost, then resolves the story in a satisfying way. 

With that in mind, let’s go on.  The two minute movie is a plotting tool that will help us get past the page 30 crisis.  You know the point - you’ve taken this wonderful idea and are happily typing along when you hit the wall. Your story comes to a screeching halt because you don’t have a clue what comes next.  Writer’s block sets in and you either bang your head against the monitor until you need ibuprofen or you head straight for the harder drugs.  Just kidding.  I would guess, though, that we’ve all been there.

The two minute movie is a two page - not one or three or four - a two page treatment of your story.  Whenever I hear the word “treatment” - very Hollywoodish - I can’t help but think of Cosmo Kramer.  But I digress.  In this treatment, you “consciously develop your idea” into a story.  The idea comes from Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434

In this two-page, double-spaced overview, you walk your story through the three act paradigm. 

Act I gets three paragraphs or so, setting up the characters and their needs.  The last paragraph here sets up the first crisis - plot point one.

You’ll use five or six paragraphs to tell the rising action of Act II.  Remember to fill Act II with obstacles that stand between where your character is and where he wants to be.  This section is the action - reaction part of the book.  Each action forces the characters into situations in which the stakes are higher than the last.  Each action cranks up the tension until you arrive at plot point two. 

And that leaves two or three paragraphs to cover Act III -  the dark moment where all is lost, and the resolution. 

There’s your two minute movie.  Hunter suggests that you may want to show this two page treatment to trusted friends who will be able to give good feedback.  He states that this exercise not only helps you in the next process (the step outline) but will tell you if you really have a story at all.

Syd Field, in his book The Screenwriter’s Workbook has a similar exercise.  He calls his the 4-page treatment.  Syd says that “the hardest thing about writing is knowing what to write.”   I couldn’t agree more.

His method has the author starting at the end and writing backwards, so to speak.  He wants you to map out the ending, the beginning and plot points one and two before you start your treatment.

Here’s how Field’s four pages look:
            One half page describing the opening scene or sequence;
            One half page describing the general action of Act I;
            One half page that describes the plot point at the end of Act I
            One half page for the action of Act II
            One half page for the plot point at the end of Act II; and
            Three quarters to one page for Act III, the resolution.

These exercises are much harder than they look on the surface.  It’s way too easy, as you’re writing these paragraphs, to wonder at the why’s - to get hung up with character motivations and the small actions that thrust your character into the bigger moments.  However, if you’ll stick to the overview method in this phase of building your story, you will have much better luck staying out of the bogs and moving forward.

Another time that two minute movies are invaluable is in the midst of writing.  I have a recurring problem with getting ideas for future books while I’m still embroiled in the current book.  Somewhere recently I read that when these ideas come to you and you’re concerned about losing them, take a few minutes to an hour to get the idea on paper.  That way, the idea doesn’t escape and it won’t be hounding you as you write the work in progress.  The two minute (two page) movie would be perfect for getting this idea down before it escapes.  Then simply file it away and when you get quickie ideas that go with that story - characters, locations, whatnot - just stick them in the file. 

Until next month, campers, when we’ll take a look at outlining, I leave you to your movie making.    Don’t forget the most important thing, BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard).  

Cheers, jax (

(This series first ran in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers newsletter in 2004.)

About the Author: Jax Hunter is a published romance writer and freelance copywriter. She wears many hats including EMT, CPR instructor, and Grammy. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series set in ranching country Colorado and a historical romance set in 1775 Massachusetts. She lives in Colorado Springs, belongs to PPW, RMFW and is a member of the Professional Writer's Alliance.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Quote of the Week

The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean. -Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, December 7, 2012

December News, Events & Links

Welcome to the second installment of our news, events and links post, where you will find links to information on events and helpful or educational information.


Registration for the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference is officially open!  Pitches and Read & Critique sessions are first come, first served, so be sure to get in there and get register ed.  Information on the conference can be found on the Conference tab at or go here to register.

The deadline for workshop proposals has been pushed off to December 15, so if you have a workshop you'd like to present, or one you'd like to request, you haven't missed your window.  To submit a proposal, go to, click on the "PPWC" tab at the top of the page, then click on "Submit Proposal" to the right of that page.

The free Write Brain will be online this month.  Presented by Giles Carwyn at the 2008 Pikes Peak Writer's Conference "The Writer's Toolbox: Dialogue and Characterization" features an avalanche of practical tips for creating characters that don't think and sound just like you.  The Workshop will cover: Enneagram personality profiles, shortcuts for sketching minor characters, set up and pay off in dialogue, tapping into subtext, driving plot with dialogue, avoiding "on the nose" and unfocused conversations, crafting a well-placed zinger, hanging dialogue from scene structure, and using action and inter-character tension to spice up exposition.

There will be no Writer's Night at Poor Richard's this month, as it falls on Christmas Eve.

PPW Open Critique Night will occur Wednesday, December 19, 6:30-8:30 P.M at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts.  The first 8 to RSVP may bring 8 pages of their manuscript to critique.  


Lighthouse Writers is offering several intensive workshops this month and next, including "Breaking Into Lit Mags," "Day-Long, Kick-Butt-Get-Your-Writing-Year-in-Order Workshop," and "The Fine Art of the Writer's Workshop."

The Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America will be holding their Holiday Dinner Theater Event at the Lumber Baron Inn on December 13.

Black Cat Books has several events going on this month, including author signings, a presentation on "Slow Parenting Teens: How to Create a Positive, Respectful, and Fun Relationship With Your Teenager," and their Handmade Holiday Showing, running each weekend through Christmas.

Colorado Springs Fiction Writers Group has various meetings throughout the month for critique and discussion.  Visitors are welcome.

Please note: Inclusion of links in this post does not equal sponsorship by Pikes Peak Writers or a relationship between the two entities.  Please always be sure to pursue due diligence before submitting anything to a publication or contest.

Assent Publishing is accepting submissions at various imprints.  See the tabs along the top to check out the different types of stories they are seeking.

SNM Horror Magazine, a free mag, is seeking submissions for horror.  Not a paying market.  Scan down for information on submitting.

Steve Berman is reading for several anthologies.  Scan down for all the different types, as they do vary widely.

Alter Press is seeking submissions for an anthology called Dread Time Stories, involving splatter versions of fairy tales. Paying market.  Deadline December 31.

Hazardous Press is accepting submissions for their horror anthology Horrific History. Pays in profit shares.  Deadline December 31.

Blood Bound Books is taking submissions for Night Terrors III, a horror anthology. Paying market. Deadline January 1.  Scan down for short story collection.
Fowl Feathered Press is looking for poetry for their chapbooks. 

The Pedestal Magazine is taking poetry submissions through December 13.  Paying market.

The Pikes Peak Branch Pen Women Flash Fiction Contest theme is now officially up on the website. The new theme is "Hidden Amongst These Worlds."  $10 entry, cash prizes.


Jodie Renner of the Crime Fiction Collective has offered up a comprehensive list of writer's conferences.

Any questions on these events or links?  If you belong to an organization that is taking submissions, hosting a writing contest or presenting a workshop or other enrichment for writers, locally, please email the editor at editor [at] pikespeakwriters [dot] com.

About the Writer:  Shannon Lawrence is a mom of two, a freelance writer and aspiring novelist.  She lives in Colorado Springs and is inspired by the beauty of Pikes Peak and the Rockies.  After years of letting her writing fall by the wayside, she has recently thrown herself back into it.  Her main focus is fantasy and horror and she has just finished a Young Adult Fantasy novel.  She has a flash fiction piece featured in the anthology Sunday Snaps: The Stories, due out in late 2012.  She has also discovered a love of photography and enjoys photographing the breathtaking Colorado scenery and wildlife, as well as her children.  She blogs about reading, writing and photography at

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Beta Reader Love-O-Meter

By Deb McLeod

The concept of beta readers came about through beta testers of software. Beta testers were those people who were willing to try the program and find the bugs. They weren’t experts, they were users.

It stands to reason that when you’re ready with your book, you’ll look for a few beta readers or book users to find the bugs, the holes and the “huh?” factor.

Lately, everywhere I teach, someone in the crowd will ask me about beta readers. They can come in all flavors and can be used at all stages of your book production. It’s likely you’re already using beta readers in one form or another.

I’ve created the Beta Reader Love-o-meter to illustrate who you want to read your book and when. 

First Draft – Loves You

Here is where you want to utilize those people that love you. You’re new to your project. You’re learning the story as you go. But you’d like some testing: Is my idea working? Is it interesting? Are the stakes apparent?

Here is where I would approach someone that loves me. My husband, the environmental demolition guy, is a great plotter, title thinker-upper and champion of me. When I’m in the early stages I still need someone to encourage me. To help me with the plaguing self-doubt that drives me insane and makes me a better writer.

Here I need someone who can see possibilities and doesn’t pester me with details. I need to think big and I need a reader who can think big too. Plot, stakes, story.

If you were going to hire a professional at this stage, here is where you look for a coach or a story developer.

Second Draft – Loves Writing

Once I have my story, once I know my characters, what’s at stake and how the story plays out, then I’m ready to go up the meter to find someone who loves writing. Here is where I might (though I don’t) go to a critique group. Take your work too early to a critique group and you run the risk of a groupthink book. 

Have you noticed that with the advent of e-publishing “different” is in? Don’t believe me? Read Donald Maass’ latest book.

The best way to approach this stage is to have some trusted writer/reader friends. Ones who know your style. You might notice I like to write those short sentences that aren’t really sentences. Once I had an agent interested in a book I wrote but told me I would have to revise it. When I was famous I could write the way I write. Until then I had to prove I knew the proper way to write. I think she thought I was lazy instead of writing how I hear it in my head. I was polite, but we parted ways. Thanks, but no thanks.

If a writer friend knows your style and what you’re going for they can be invaluable in helping you to know whether you’re spot-on or off the mark. When you use a writer who doesn’t know your work, or isn’t in some way a professional editor, you have to be more careful with feedback. Give a writer some work and it’s likely they’ll want to change it. Make sure the feedback is serving you and your style and not theirs.

If you use a professional here, now is the time to hire what’s called a deep editor or content editor. Find someone who can stay true to your style and craft knowledge and make editing suggestions that will give you a better book. They are looking for holes in the plot, ways to make the characters stronger and ways to raise the stakes.

First Final Draft – Loves Reading

At this stage you want to go further up the Love-o-meter and find those people that love to read. It’s really that simple. Find someone who loves to read your genre and ask them these types of questions:
  • ·         Were you able to put the book down? Where?
  • ·         Did the characters engage you?
  • ·         Did you fall in love with my hero?
  • ·         Did my villain become human?

If you Google beta readers you will find blogs that advocate long lists of questions to ask beta readers. I think those might be best reserved for the beta readers you cultivate. I’d be afraid if I posed a long list of questions to a reader that they would be thinking about the questions instead of the spell of the book. I want them lost in the read and I want to know where they were pulled out so I can figure out why and fix it. You will find your own way to work with your beta readers as you go.

Where do you find beta readers?

When you Google beta readers you will see there are sites for exactly that. Writers and readers register and match up. Goodreads also has a page for beta readers.

Are you in a book club? Listen to the comments. Who is there for the wine and cheese and the company and who is passionate about the book? You’re looking for that passion.

Look to your circle of friends. Do you talk plot with a friend after you go to a movie? Does that friend read?

I guarantee, unless they are really, really busy, if you approach someone who loves to read and ask if they’ll be a beta reader for your fresh manuscript, they will be flattered and will likely take the responsibility seriously.

Any read is a good read

I believe any read is a good read. If my readers can tell me where they stumbled or what was confusing and that’s all they can tell me, that’s really all I’m looking for.  

About the Writer:  Deb McLeod, is a writer, creative writing coach, co-founder and executive director of The Writing School. She has both an MFA and a BA in creative writing. She has been teaching and coaching for over ten years. Deb has published short fiction in anthologies and journals. She has written articles and creative nonfiction. Deb has been a professional blogger, tech writer, graphic artist and Internet marketing specialist.