Monday, June 29, 2015

Throwing the Switch

By James P. Stuart 

I don’t remember the day I decided to become a writer. I get asked about that day quite frequently, perhaps because of the tremendous uphill battle we face in this industry. My family, friends and coworkers have all asked me at one time or another if there was a flash of light from above or a booming voice from a burning bush that set me on this path. But – much to the disappointment of many – there is no such grand event impressed on my mind. Luckily, after completing my first Pikes Peak Writers Conference this year, I am happy to report that while I may not be able to tell you when I chose to be a writer, I can absolutely tell you when I first felt like a writer.

Prior to coming to this year’s Conference, I had attended a handful of Pikes Peak Writers events. However, my participation in those events was considerably short of notable, and left me feeling like a bit of an imposter. This was due mostly to the fact that I was not investing my time and energy in any meaningful way to get the most out of those activities. Coming into the 2015 Conference, I was determined to break that cycle.

From the time I arrived at the orientation session on Friday until the time I (reluctantly) headed home Sunday afternoon, I immersed myself in everything the weekend had to offer. The most valuable thing I took away from the Conference was a tremendous burst of creative energy, stemming directly from the interactions I was able to have with so many aspiring and established writers. I was amazed at how quickly talking about my writing – no matter how casually – shed light on it and forced me to really know my stories and characters. Without having these conversations regularly, I had compartmentalized my work in a way that made it feel unreal. This was the root of my inability to feel like a true writer. The Monday morning following Conference, it was as if a switch had been thrown, and I was reintroduced to my own potential. For this, I am extremely grateful to everybody I interacted with in between sessions and at meals.

I cannot properly express how much I look forward to seeing you all next year, where I hope to have the opportunity to be inspired by even more of you. The sheer amount of talent in our community continues to astound me. I will do my best to be a large part of in the coming months until we are all back at Conference 2016!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Quote of the Week and Week to Come

"Don't you wish you had a job like mine? All you have to do is think up a certain number of words! Plus, you can repeat words! And they don't even have to be true!"

Dave Barry (July 3, 1947 -)
American Humorist

This week on Writing from the Peak:

* PPWC Attendee James P. Stuart tells us how he "threw the switch".

* Deb McLeod shares her first Wednesday post.

* PPW July News and Events.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Mission: Amazing

By Piper Scherkenbach

Before I say anything else, I want to thank all the staff that made this year’s conference possible. I also want to thank them for giving me the opportunity to attend by offering me a scholarship. It was an amazing three days and one of the best experiences a writer could ask for.

The overload of information I gathered at the conference bogged down my mind for a few days… or a few weeks. All I could think about was writing. Is my plot exciting enough to not put people to sleep? Are my characters being tortured enough by the conflict? And then, after One Moment in Time: Writing Scenes, presented by Cara Lopez Lee, I ended up dissecting each and every one of my scenes.

There’s a lot to take away from a huge conference like this, but the thing that stands out most in my mind was the use of psychology. One workshop mentioned the psychology of color, and another Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As a college student with a psychology minor, this instantly jumped out at me. It was one of those ‘duh’ moments. A light bulb just went off, saying, “Gee, genius. Maybe you should apply this to your writing.” I’d never even considered how much psychology is woven into writing. Understanding how people’s minds work is important to invoking the reactions you want from your readers. Writing feels like reality, but if we wrote it like reality we’d leave the readers wondering what the heck was happening. So how do people perceive reality? That’s really the question we need to ask.

Every moment had its merit. Every workshop gave me the knowledge I needed to become a better writer. Even if at times I already knew the information presented, the reiteration strengthened my understanding of the how's and why's.

With one final statement I’ll say this: PPWC felt like home to me. Surrounded by fellow writers, I finally felt like part of the group. As an introvert, I tend to avoid interactions, but being with writers flips a switch that turns me into a social butterfly. And it feels amazing. One word to describe it all: Amazing.

This blog from Piper is part of the series of posts written by PPWC15 scholarship attendees. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Besides Fear, What's Holding You Back?

By Karen Albright Lin

There are many reasons we get stuck. We lack confidence, develop a fear of failure or, ironically, fear of success. What other obstacles stand in your way?

Lack of writing skills: It’s a rare author who has raw talent and the sponge mind to read others’ work and instinctively “get it,” subsequently pounding out a first book that hits the publishing jackpot. If one hasn’t attended classes, critique groups, workshops or retreats, or hired a personal writing coach, it may be time to seek education just as someone needs to learn coding before becoming a software engineer.

Ambiguous motivations: If publishing is on your bucket list, why? Are you writing a memoir to get revenge on your high school nemesis? You want to lecture but not entertain? Are you expecting fame and fortune, showing off? Are you seeking catharsis instead of allowing that to come naturally in the process? These may be valid. Or they may be restraining you. Dig down deep, identify what’s really motivating you, and it may help you move forward or decide to start a different project.

Unrealistic expectations: There are many myths about being an author. Mention that you are a writer and people venerate. What an easy job! They expect you to have success with Stephen King money and fame starting from book one. Instead we are crushed by negative experiences. Our critique groups don’t pile on the praise; we don’t meet our minimum words per day; we find that life and writing patterns take sharp turns into brick walls. Setbacks are part of the process, so reopen that file but this time with a pragmatic mindset.

Impatience: One reason to have realistic expectations is to allow for the long writing apprenticeship. “Overnight successes” are rarely that. Ask authors about the three books or film scripts in their drawer. This is not a career meant for someone who can’t stand in a line at the movie theater. Your goals may be unrealistically grand. You may need to take smaller bites. It helps to celebrate every time you meet a benchmark.

Lack of writing sanctuary: How can you leave your insecurities at the door if you don’t have one? You create one. You may live in a small apartment without an office but you can reserve a little corner in the bedroom or living area exclusively for writing. If hubby is watching Monday night football, use earplugs. If you write better out in public, find that coffee shop or restaurant that welcomes loiterers. Buy something, nurse it over your laptop. The white noise might allow you to be a part of the world but without the burden of having demands placed on you.

Loneliness: Often writing in a coffee shop isn’t enough to conquer that feeling of isolation. Most professions involve interacting with coworkers. We writers also need social stimulation to refill the writing well and to be satisfied in general. Most places have writers’ communities you can reach out to: regional writing organizations, critique groups, conferences, retreats. You can pair up with a beta reader, collaborate, or create a support and accountability group. Report progress regularly. If you can’t or don’t want to schmooze in person, try one of the on-line communities. General and genre-specific critique groups and forums abound. Families don’t typically understand the happy dance you do after having your essay published in a magazine that pays you two copies. Being part of a writing community allows you to celebrate with a crowd that understands.

Writing by committee: Though it is good for your writing to get feedback from beta readers and critique groups, be careful not to allow your voice to be combed out of the book. Let your readers know what you are looking for. Be as specific as possible: believable dialogue? consistent characterization? skillful transitions? If you were happy with your plot and characters before seeking input be careful not to take your pile of written feedback and start amending without putting every comment through your own filter. Every idea may sound fun. Not every thought will be appropriate, especially not a salad of impressions. Listen, make note of opinions, then think each over before applying it. A decision to let an idea go is not repudiation; it’s allowing your book to tell you whether it needs a particular change.

Magical thinking: Some wait for their muse to come along and drag them to the keyboard. Multi-published authors will tell you that the best way to call the muse is by getting your butt into that seat and your fingers moving. Get going on that “shitty first draft” as Anne Lamott calls it. Momentum is your muse. Just like luck, wonderful words come your way through hard work.

Take inventory. If you are stymied by any of the above obstacles, tap into your strengths and determination. Confront them head-on, triumph over them, so they won’t have the power to hinder the progress on your writing project.

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

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Quote of the Week and Week to Come

"I still get up every morning at 4 A.M. I write seven days a week, including Christmas. And I still face a blank page every morning, and my characters don't really care how many books I've sold."
photo courtesy

Dan Brown (June 22, 1964 - )
The DaVinci Code
Angels and Demons

This week on Writing from the Peak:

* Karen Albright Lin asks what is holding you back, besides fear.

* PPWC15 Scholarship recipient Darlene Grippo-Sowa checks off her bucket list.

* PPWC15 Scholarship recipient Piper Scherkenbach shares Mission: Amazing.

Friday, June 19, 2015

DENVER COMIC CON!!! The Ultra-Glamorous Life of an Author

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

So, I just got back from the Denver Comic Con, and boy, are my arms tired. Not from flying. You know that old joke? Right? Or am I old? Dang, I’m old.

Anyway, my arms are tired from carrying my own books.

I carry my own books. A lot. I bought a wheeled cart from Office Depot (Collapsible! Inexpensive! Durable!) because I got so tired of showing up to events dripping with sweat from lugging boxes around.

Jim Butcher, whom I met this past weekend at the Denver Comic Convention, doesn’t have to carry his books around. He sits down, his minions come in and provide books which he signs, and then when his time is over, he get up and moseys out of the room.

Now, Mr. Bucher is a helluva nice guy and he’s written some amazing books. His fans love him, and I watched them line up to get a chance to talk to him. It’s the dream, baby, the dream of the world-famous author with money and movies, flowing in and coming out.

It’s easy to see that and get jealous. I generally waltz right past envy and right to despair. I love despair. It’s so cold and empty, and it gnaws at me with the needle teeth of midnight spiders.

I’ll never get to be the rock star author. I’ll always be struggling. No one will ever love me like they love Jim Butcher.

Part of my journey as a writer is coming to understand that if I want to be a writer, I’m going to have to carry my own books and sell them, one at a time, to the skeptical masses. This is not the glamorous life I thought it would be.

Since my epic six-book series is coming out from Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press in September, I helped them run the WordFire Press booth at the Denver Comic Con and helped sell books.

I talked to people as they walked buy, saying, “Do you like to read? Do you like fantasy and science fiction novels? Do you like stories about sixteen-year-old girls on treasure hunts in France with their crazy grandmothers?” I was ignored. Or politely told they don’t read. Or they didn’t like France. That last one hurt.

But do you know what? Some of them got excited about the books. Some of them bought my book (the one about France). And some seemed to really appreciate how much time, effort, and suffering it takes to write a book. A lot of the people were writers themselves.

Then after three days of that, I helped the amazing Quincy J. Allen and Josh Vogt tear down and box up the inventory. And so it goes.

As I was schlepping boxes and tables and bins around, it suddenly struck me…I get to do this. I don’t have to do this. I get to do this.

There are millions of people who want to write books. There are thousands of published authors who would like to sell their books in big venues. And there hundred of those authors who would’ve loved to be at Denver Comic Con. But for whatever reason, the people aren’t writing, aren’t publishing, aren’t putting themselves out there. For whatever reason.

I get to write. I get to publish. I get to sell. All of this isn’t the wonder and glamour I thought it would be, but it’s real. And you know what? There is a camaraderie among writers and artists who go out in the world, doing the deal, and yeah, carrying your own books around and trying to foist them on other people is hard, but it’s the struggle that makes it good. It’s the work. The sweaty, uncomfortable work.

It’s not the cocktail parties and check-cashing I thought it would be, but I’ll continue to carry my books to places (ha, no, I'll wheel them in my collapsible cart from Office Depot), and I’ll continue to get fans, one conversation at a time.

I don’t have to do this.

I get to do this.

Hurray. Hurray. Hurray.

Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of The Never Prayer and Long Live the Suicide King, both finalists in various contests. His latest novel, Elizabeth’s Midnight, was called “a transformative tale for those who believe in magic and in a young girl’s heart” by Kirkus Reviews. In shorter fiction, his G.I. Joe inspired novella was an Amazon bestseller in Kindle Worlds and his steampunk story, “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” was part of The Best of Penny Dread Tales anthology published through Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press. His upcoming young adult sci-fi/western epic series will also be published through WordFire Press. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two ancient goddesses of chaos posing as his daughters.

For more about him, his books, and how to overcome artistic angst, visit He’s on Facebook as Aaron Michael Ritchey and he tweets - @aaronmritchey.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Checking Off My Bucket List

By Darlene Grippo-Sowa

Hello, All.

I was honored and excited to be a scholarship winner to the Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2015. It was a definite bucket list experience for me. I self published a book for my dissertation called Rebuilding the Veil. It is a book on cults, but I had no experience and no idea how to write a book.

The conference was an eye-opening experience. I’ve never met so many incredible, giving, kind, and helpful people in my life, and here there were hundreds in one place. The speakers, authors, agents and fellow writers were kind and supportive beyond my expectation. Before I left for the conference, my husband told me not to get my hopes up and to try to have a good time. I was literally on Cloud 9 the entire time. And I’m a New Yorker - nothing surprises me. 

The authors who came were so giving of their time and knowledge and the staff and attendees were nothing short of incredible. Each workshop was brilliant. I’ve never been to a conference where I could say I learned something at every single event. I was given the opportunity to read the first 32 lines of my manuscript and the author/attendees gave me the best advice and support. I was also asked to submit a manuscript. How I will ever come off that cloud, I have no idea.

One of the best experiences was during a talk about comedy by Robert Spiller, author of The Witch of Agnesi. He said he loved midgets and anything to do with them. I asked a question and made mention that my book was about a very small coroner. “You had me at hello,” he said. I couldn’t have laughed harder! What a great moment.

I also have to add that the Marriott staff were the most kind I’ve ever encountered. I attend about four or five conferences a year. I usually have to tote all my own food due to my 20+ allergies. The hotel staff bent over backwards (and did some flips) to meet my dietary needs. Again, completely blown away. 

This was the best experience and the most fun I have ever had at a conference and I plan to go again and again! I was completely in awe. I will go every year and donate and support the Pikes Peak Writers. Thank you so much for this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Darlene Grippo-Sowa
Teller County Deputy Coroner

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Story

By Marla Bell 

Hi, my name is Marla. I write fantasy and my story is about a girl woman mature woman, who looked like your normal, everyday woman on the outside. But on the inside, hidden in the deep depths of her soul, she held a dark secret—she had written a book and hoped to get it published. The years sped by, as years have a tendency to do, and she found it more and more difficult to keep her secret hidden. It would burst free at random times and her family and friends would smile sadly and whisper to each other behind her back that she might need to be institutionalized.

This went on and on and the woman began to believe that she was foolish to dream this dream. Who did she think she was—J.K. Rowling? Then one day, quite by accident, she stumbled into the mystical realm of the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, a realm with people who had a dream just like hers. There were others there, too, who had seen their dream come true. These people didn’t know her, but they welcomed her in just the same and embraced her as one of their own. It was a magical place, and for three luxurious days, she flourished under the guidance of editors, agents, best-selling authors and other lost souls like herself, and by the end she had gained the knowledge and confidence she needed to go forth and prosper. As she drove away on that rainy Sunday, her head ready to explode with all that she had seen, heard and learned and her eyes filled with tears, she vowed she’d be back, for her life was now changed and Pikes Peak Writers Conference (PPWC) was where she belonged. The End.

If this story has a familiar ring to it, it's because it is based on a true story. It’s my story, but it could be your story, too. For a long time—too long actually—I denied my passion to write, believing no one would ever want to read anything I wrote. But I continued to play around with writing for the fun of it and a miracle of miracles happened. I finished my first full length novel. Thinking my job was finished, I cheerfully sent off the first draft to several agents. (It was their job to edit and fix it up—right?)

Of course, the rejection letters came in and I was devastated. This first book was a lesson in how to do it the wrong way, but then I found PPWC and my life completely changed. PPWC is an insider’s look at the publishing business and how it works, but it’s so much more than that. They teach better writing techniques, how to find an agent and editor, how to market, and best of all, they give us the opportunity to meet some of the greatest authors of our times—R. L. Stein being right up there at the top of my list. PPWC opened my eyes and made me a believer and has been the best thing I’ve done for my writing career. Without them I don’t if I would have ever gotten off the ground. Now I’m proud to say I’m an award-winning author with two books published and the third one just weeks away from being published, and my story is no longer a fantasy. It’s a reality complete with a ‘happily-ever-after’ ending, and yours can be, too.

About the Author: Marla Bell is the award-winning author of Chronicles of the Secret Prince. You can find her at:              FB: MJ Bell Author              Twitter: marlabell2

Monday, June 15, 2015

Are You Published?

By Nancy Provolt

“Are you published?”

A negative response to that three-word question has a way of causing non-writers, and sadly even a few writers, to roll their eyes, and cast me a look of pity as they pat me on my shoulder as if I am a kindergartener who has put the wrong end of a pencil into a sharpener. No, I am not yet published and yes, I am of sound mind.

Recently I had to have physical therapy. When my therapist found out I was a writer, he asked if I travel to the locations in which my books are set to do on-site research. When I responded that I don’t have those types of funds, but rather do most of my research on-line, he said, “Oh…well…I guess only a good writer does that.”

To put it lightly, writing is a humbling, getting-your-legs-waxed, face-planting-into-a-pile-of-cow-pooh, spending-a-week-on-a-secluded-island-with-only-your-mother-in-law profession. It is endless hours of interrupted sleep as you worry about whether or not to kill your main character, and countless days and nights of agony as you rewrite, rinse and repeat over and over only to be met with skepticism and rejection.

Attending the Pikes Peak Writers Conference was the first time I was treated like I could actually pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time without causing myself bodily harm. I was finally among my own race…an alien race, but my own kind none-the-less. I was encouraged, informed and beautifully taught. My occasionally defeated self came away feeling that if I hang onto the end of the rainbow, I will find the pot of gold at the end of my journey.

This is what I know and what was re-emphasized at conference: I love to write. I love to create characters and worlds and add in twists and turns until my head spins like an Oklahoma tornado. Putting all of that down on paper and completing a story that was conceived in my brain makes me a writer, published or not. And I also know this: “You have not failed until you quit trying.” (Gordon B. Hinckley) So “never, never, never give up.” (Winston Churchill). No matter how many potholes mar your pathway.

About the Author: Nancy Provolt, who writes young adult fiction, is a mother of four and has lived with her husband and family in Colorado Springs for eighteen years. She finally began to put her countless stories down on paper six years ago which has resulted in Veiled Menace, Deadly Shadows, and three more manuscripts in the works. You can find her reading, writing, gardening, cooking and also on twitter @Nancy_Provolt

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Quote of the Week and Week to Come

'Well, to aspiring writers, I would tell them that we live in a wonderful time where you're able to make your work visible, easily."
Diablo Cody (July 14, 1978 - )

This week on Writing from the Peak:

Two PPWC15 Scholarship Attendees are guest bloggers. Nancy Provost talks about the dreaded question, "Are you published?" and Marla Bell shares her conference story.

And Aaron Michael Ritchey gives you an insider's view to the glamorous life of an author at Denver Comic Con. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Happy New Year! Sort of....

By Jason Henry 

December 31st always gets people excited. The calendar moves forward, people celebrate new beginnings, and make new resolutions. They reflect on the last twelve months, ponder their wins and their losses, and think about their successes and failures. For me, it seems that phrases such as ‘this year’, ‘next year’ or ‘last year’ don’t hold the same meaning as they once did. In fact, I don’t look at them in terms of calendar years much at all. For me, New Year happens in April.

In fact, a few weeks into my New Year, I am reflecting on ‘last year’. The 2015 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. That was my celebration, my turning of the clock. It was twelve months of work and planning culminating into one spectacular weekend. As it is every year, the conference was exciting, informative, funny, and even heartbreaking. It was all of those things and much more. And yes, it certainly was an adventure.

My favorite part of conference is watching the newcomers. I love meeting them, talking to them, learning about their work. But I truly love observing. They come in on Friday morning, bundles of energy waiting to explode into action and take the Pikes Peak Writers Conference by storm. Then, by the time Sunday morning rolls around, their feet are dragging and they can’t speak in full sentences let alone write with them. As someone who helps plan the conference, this tells me one thing… we did our job. Honestly, it’s not just the newbies that are worn out come Sunday, it’s everyone. Adventures should be exhausting. If you set out to explore new worlds or opportunities, to absorb new ideas and learn new concepts, to do the unthinkable and pursue your dreams, you should be so worn out that it hurts to think about going on. Then you should get up and do it all over again.

Isn’t that what writing is all about? The pain, the agony, the exhaustion? We get so into our stories and characters that we feel everything they feel. If they cry, we cry. If they shout for joy, so do we. When their hearts break, ours shatter. Our hearts and souls are devoted to ripping the lives of our characters apart and then stitching them together again with every bit of love we can muster. The people around us think we are losing our minds and wonder if we will ever again find our grip on reality. And it’s okay. Let them wonder.

Let them wonder, because when we go to conferences we are surrounded by people who get us. We are surrounded by folks who have devoted their lives to the same madness as us and it feels great. It is in those moments we learn that we absolutely are not normal and again, it is okay. That is why we wear ourselves down to the point of exhaustion. For one weekend, we can forget about how insane we look to the world around us and focus on our adventure. We can hone our craft, meet amazing people, and pursue our dreams without inhibition or guilt. We do it because it feels like twelve months into a low calorie diet and eating an entire chocolate cake just to raise our frosting covered lips proudly to the world and say, “Why? Because we like cake!”

The 23rd Annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference was indeed a great end to a year. We all had the pleasure of meeting so many amazing faculty members. There were many surprises… I mean, c’mon, who else expected to get goosebumps when R.L. Stine talked, but ended up with laughter pains instead? Right now you are probably enjoying conversations with new acquaintances, and are likely still hitting accept on Facebook friend requests. You are setting new writing goals, making progress on your manuscripts, and probably still have no clear answer to “self or traditional”. You are hitting the send key and completing the requests for your pages, then immediately realizing you could have done something much better in Chapter 7. You are reflecting on the months leading up to the 2015 Pikes Peak Writers Conference and wondering what will be different when the 2016 conference rolls around.

The answer is you. You will be different. You will be another year better, another year closer to the realization of your dreams, and even more courageous as your writing adventure continues despite the concerned glances from people around you. So ignore the calendar, pour a glass of champagne, look at yourself in the mirror and toast… Happy New Year! Celebrate, and enjoy your cake.

I look forward to celebrating with you all once again at the 2016 Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

Jason Henry
Conference Director
2016 Pikes Peak Writers Conference

About the Author: When he's not working with the dedicated and passionate people of Pikes Peak Writers, Jason P. Henry is lost in a world of serial killers, psychopaths, and other unsavory folks. Ask him what he is thinking, but only at your own risk. More often than not he is plotting a murder, considering the next victim, or twisting seemingly innocent things into dark and demented ideas. A Suspense, Thriller and Horror writer with a dark, twisted sense of humor, Jason strives to make people squirm, cringe, and laugh. He loves to offer a smile, but is quick to leave you wondering what lies behind it. Jason P. Henry is best summed up by the great philosopher Eminem: “I'm friends with the monsters beside of my bed, get along with the voices inside of my head.” Learn more about Jason at

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tips for Creating Good Bad Guys
By Jax Hunter

“You must pay the rent.”

“But I can’t pay the rent.”

“But you must pay the rent.”

“But I can’t pay the rent.”

“I will pay the rent.”

“My hero.”

“Curses, foiled again.”

Ah, we do love a good melodrama, don’t we? Okay, everyone nod here and agree. At least look like you’re agreeing. We love to boo and hiss when the villain steps onto the stage, dressed in black, running his thumb and forefinger along his glistening black handlebar mustache. Melodrama bad guys are really, really bad.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we fiction writers can’t be quite so cliched when we create our bad guys. So, here are some tips for creating bad guys that live and breathe in our fiction. Ideally, they’ll have the reader booing and hissing, at least in their heads.

1. Create real people with real feelings. Remember, bad guys don’t set out to be bad. They have completely logical reasons for what they’re doing. They consider themselves the hero of their own mythology. By extension, this means that in the villain’s world, the hero is the bad guy.

2. Create a backstory that allows your bad guy real reasons for being evil. It may be as extreme as watching his family murdered or being abused horribly by a teacher or uncle. But it also - and I think this might be a little less cliched - be as simple as being rejected by the head cheerleader or having your dog run over by a careless neighbor. Little things become bigger things as fuel is added to the smoldering coals. (Caution, mixed metaphor. Use may cause snickering.)

3. Give your bad guy a number of really good qualities. Remember, all it takes for honor to become evil is a slight twist of thought. Patriotism turns to terrorism. Almost any positive quality can be exaggerated into something that motivates your bad guy to the dark side.

4. Make sure your villain is up to the task. Don’t give a great hero a less than worthy opponent. If you do, you make your hero a wimp. CRINGE.

5. Tailor your bad guy to your good guy.
This requires that you know what your hero values. If it’s honor, your bad guy will challenge his honor. You see? Of course, part of this is plotting as well. Often we must build our villain after we’ve built the hero and the plot.

6. Take a gander at the classic psychiatric problem children, the narcissist, the antisocial, the sociopath, the paranoid. Then mix and match some of the personality traits of these folks to make a unique bad guy. Be sure to come up with their motivations along the way.

7. Give your villain as much passion for what he believes as you give your hero. It takes passion to be bad. Strong beliefs. Mediocrity simply leads to ho-hum heroes and villains. Give ‘em something to roar about. And remember, since he is the hero in his own story, make him as committed to his goals as the hero is.

8. Remember, the worst villains look quite normal to the people around them.
If they didn’t, they’d be easy to spot. If all the bad guys wore black and all the good guys wore white... well, you get the picture. In a good suspense novel (where the reader knows who the villain is), the bad guy may be standing right in front of the hero. The reader will be screaming at the hero to pay attention, to watch out, but, of course, the hero cannot hear. Not yet anyway. Of course, in a mystery, the reader will not know who the bad guy is until the climax.

9. Tami Cowden (co-author of Heroes and Heroines - Sixteen Master Archetypes) teaches that our villains are the “dark side” of the hero archetypes. Check out her website - for a full explanation of the sixteen villain archetypes:  tyrant, bastard, devil, traitor, outcast, evil genius, sadist and terrorist. She also has eight female villain archetypes: bitch, black widow, backstabber, lunatic, parasite, schemer, fanatic, matriarch. If you ever get a chance to take any of Tami’s classes, jump on the opportunity. She also explains, in her article Fallen Heroes that Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are both WARRIORS who believe that they are serving the greater good.

Crafting your villains can be just as much fun and just as complicated as crafting your heroes. If it isn’t, you may end up with a cookie cutter bad guy. And that’s not a good bad guy.

Until next month, BiC-HoK - butt in chair, hands on keyboard. Have a great month.

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.

Monday, June 8, 2015

It’s all about the Base

By Link Miller

Over a military and writing career of more than 30 years I have been to dozens and dozens of conferences covering everything from space-based weapons to writing TV shows. I can say, with confidence, that what sets PPWC apart more than the topics (though there is some overlap there) is the people.

At its core, or base, PPWC has a group that truly loves writing and writers. Now this was my first PPWC so let me give you a few thoughts on how to increase your base, and by base I mean the enlarged group of friends and associates that are going to help you realize your dream of becoming a published author.

First is volunteering. Not only is the help appreciated, it gives you an opportunity to get to know the staff. My 15-year-old came down to help set up on Wednesday night. He’s learning to drive and it was his first time behind the wheel on I-25. After the ride down, I think stuffing name tags was just what the doctor ordered. Plus it allowed me to be among writers, to get to know people so I didn't feel like a stranger when the conference started, and to learn more about what the conference was offering this year.

Much of the writing game is about relationships. Remember when our keynote speaker, Andrew Gross, said his manuscript wound up on the desk of the president of a major publishing house? How do you think that happened? He had a base of people who were supporting him.

The staff always goes out of their way to be helpful and friendly, and I must say they did a bang up job this year. They are the base on which the conference stands. They know almost everyone in attendance and can point out someone you are looking for or offer advice if you need help choosing between one speaker/session and the next.

Great staff, excellent speakers… yeah, okay.  But hands down the biggest difference and one that sets PPWC apart from other writers' conferences is the ‘imbedding’ of the agents and publishers with the writers. To have them with you at a table for lunch or dinner… even if you don’t get to pitch or if the discussion has nothing to do with writing, well, that alone is invaluable. It is a chance to get to know the person and for them to get to know you. It gives you the opportunity to feel them out; maybe you ‘click’ or maybe you think, perhaps this isn’t a good fit for my work. Maybe you all click so well you are the loudest table at the Saturday night banquet.  Yes, that was us in the back corner.

What it all boils down to is a conference like the PPWC is about more than trying to get an agent. It’s about increasing your base within the writing community. After all you never know who will drop your name, idea, or maybe even your manuscript on some president’s/publisher’s/agent’s desk.

Remember, it’s all about the Base.

See you next year,

Link Miller

About the Author: Link Miller has traveled around the globe and it has provided him with a unique perspective he uses as a base for his writing. His extensive experience with aircraft, weapons, numerous adventures involving quirky people in faraway lands and even a stint as a stand-up comic help him write in a style that many people find exciting and humorous. His genres range from YA, to sci-fi, to historical fiction, and even romance. Director of the Parker Writers Group, he will be teaching How to Write Military Fiction at this year’s RMFW Gold Conference.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Quote of the Week and Week to Come

"I write books that seem more suitable for children, and that's OK with me. They are a better audience and tougher critics. Kids tell you what they think, not what they think they should think."

Maurice Sendak
June 10, 1928-May 8, 2012
Where the Wild Things Are (Caldecott Medal Winner)

This week on Writing from the Peak:

* PPWC15 Scholarship Recipient Link Miller tells you why "It's All About the Base".

* Jax Hunter gives Tips for Creating Good Bad Guys.

* PPWC16 Conference Director Jason Henry wishes you a Happy New Year... sort of.

Friday, June 5, 2015

PPW June News & Events

Compiled by Debi Archibald 

We are fast closing in on the halfway mark for 2015. Are you taking advantage of all the programming and events Pikes Peak Writers has to offer to keep you on track for your writing goals this year? Here's what's coming up in June.

Open Critique

Because Open Critique falls on the first Wednesday of each month, it's frequently come and gone by the time News & Events hits the blog. So make sure to put July's O.C. on your calendar:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 6:00 to 8:30 p.m.

Meet up at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts, 427 East Colorado Avenue, Colorado Springs, CO. 
Get the first 8 pages of your manuscript critiqued by a guest critiquer (J. T. Evans in July) as well as the other participants. Donnell Bell will schedule the first 8 that RSVP to

June Write Brain 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Meet at the Carnegie room of Penrose Library, 20 N Cascade Ave, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80903. Donnell Bell, Ron Cree, Shannon Lawrence, Chris Mandeville and Damon Smithwick will present a Critique Group Panel guiding us on the way to create independent, long-term and useful critique experiences. The panel wants you to bring your questions.

Facebook Event: Want to see who else is coming? Check here.

PPW Writer's Night at the Ritz

Monday, June 22, 2015 6:30-8:30 p.m.Meet up with your fellow writers at the Elbo Room at the Ritz, 15 South Tejon, Colorado Springs, Colorado. On the agenda: Writerly discussions, laughter, socializing.

You can always find more detail on these and all Pikes Peak Writers events on the blog "Events" tab or on the main Events tab on the PPW website. 

Other News
Donnell Bell will assume editorship of Writing from the Peak sometime next month. Watch the blog for further details and her first post as editor.

Check out this handy website loaded with resources and events for Colorado writers.

Look to the Pikes Peak Library District for writing-related groups and events during the summer:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Movement in Scene: Writer as Director, Part 2

By Deb McLeod

I’ve recently begun using Freytag’s Pyramid to plot my scenes. When I first learned about the Pyramid, it was in relation to the story as a whole. But I have found that using a mixture of five-point and three-point scenes has really made my writing sing.

When you’ve mapped out your scenes with this underlying structure, there is forward movement and you’re less likely to just be dumping information on the reader.

What Scenes Are

First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page with what a scene is. For our purposes, a scene is a unit of novel time where something changes. It might be the location. It might be the time. Or it might even be the attitude. But it’s a block of time that brings the reader from one point to another. It’s generally in real time and isn’t a block of narrative summary, though it might contain narrative summary for description or catching characters up to one another.

Scene Cluster

A scene cluster is something I’ve been working on recently. A cluster can be a few scenes that might take place over different landscapes but that relate to one another. Perhaps there are three mini-scenes leading up to a big scene that has a climax that changes everything. Those mini-scenes are necessary to set the stage for the big scene. So the entire thing is a scene cluster and may only have one climax. We’ll get to examples below.

Freytag’s Pyramid
Exposition – this sets up the situation
Rising Action – this is where the conflict in the scene or cluster begins
Climax – this is the pinnacle of the scene
Falling Action – this is the reaction to the climax
Resolution – this sets up the scene to come and sometimes contains a twist
Here is a silly example I came up with during a recent writing circle so I could teach my writers how to use the method: Maria is an accounts payable office worker on a transformational Outward Bound-type journey with several people in her office. She does not want to be there.

The protagonist is Maria and the antagonist (the character who keeps the story going) is Sherry, the accounts receivable office worker and Maria’s arch rival. Here is a scene cluster as we begin to shape this portion of our example story.

  1. Exposition – This is sets up the situation. This is where you will anchor the reader into the scene. Maybe describe some of the setting. Maria knows they people from her office will be staying in small two-person cabins in the mountains. The scene opens with Maria driving through beautiful scenery on a sunlit day. In the Exposition, you’re going to want to set up some of the mood and setting. Maybe even the mood of the character. Maria is extremely reluctant be there. But her coworkers, especially Sherry, teased her so badly she had to accept. 
  2. Rising Action – Here is where the conflict begins to push the character’s buttons. Maybe here she can’t find the turnoff. Her cell has no reception and she can’t call for directions. She was already running late because she didn’t want to be there. Now she’s going to be really late. Maybe she decides to turn back. She’ll come up with an excuse later. Just as she begins to turn around a Volkswagen bus pulls up with one of the Outward Bound guides and she follows him to the camp. As they’re driving over the rutted road her little car bottoms out and she’s getting more and more stressed. She thinks about the days ahead. Physical activity that will push her to her limits and will also be in front of all the people in the department. Especially Sherry, the girl who sits in the cubicle next to her. The girl Maria most despises.
  3. Climax – This is the pinnacle of the scene. They pull onto the compound lot and get out of the car. The guide points to Maria’s cabin and who is sitting out front? You guessed it. Her nemesis, her new partner and her bunkmate, Sherry.
  4. Falling Action – This is the reaction to the climax. Maria turns to get her bag out of the car and hide her reaction. But Sherry comes up to her. “About time you got here. I requested you as my partner. You’re the most athletic girl in the office and you are going to win this thing for me.” How does Maria react to that? Notice that this will begin to set up later events. 
  5. Resolution – What throws this scene into the next? Note the twist. Maria follows Sherry into the house annoyed at the curly blond flip in Sherry’s ponytail. Of course, Sherry took the good bunk and her stuff is already crowding the small cabin. As Maria unloads her things onto her unmade bunk, Sherry turns to her and says, “You’ve got five minutes to change. We’re meeting for a rope climb and you’re up first.” 
The above example is a scene cluster. If you drill into some of the points, you’ll find that it’s made up of different scenes. You could break down the above five points into three separate scenes – Maria driving, Rescued by the Guide and In the Compound

If you took the first scene and broke it down into five points it might look like this:

Scene 1 – Driving
Step 1 The exposition would be establishing the setting of the car and where Maria is going and maybe how she feels about it.

Step 2 The rising action would be her difficulty in finding the turnoff. No cell reception, she’s late, etc.

Step 3 The climax would be her decision to turn around.

Step 4 The falling action would be her relief, then maneuvering the car and seeing a vehicle approach.

Step 5 The denouement might be her seeing the Outward Bound logo on the side of the truck and the feeling that she just got caught. Note that this pushes her into the next scene.
But it feels better to me to use the scenes as one cluster pulling the reader toward the climax of Maria’s realization that she’s bunking with Sherry.

Can you see how you might use the 5-point scene and scene cluster to give your writing movement?

About the Author: Deb McLeod, MFA, practices novel research immersion. For her novel, The Train to Pescara, Deb journeyed to Sardinia to study ancient goddess worship and spent time in the Abruzzi village her great-grandparents left in 1905. Her metaphysical knowledge for the Angel Thriller, The Julia Set, culminates from four years of studying and teaching meditation, clairvoyance and chakra healing. For over fourteen years, Deb McLeod has been a creative writing coach helping other writers to embrace their passion and get their words on the page. For more, see

Monday, June 1, 2015

June Letter from the Editor

By Debi Archibald

It's probably safe to apply the same advice that tells us not to start our stories with the weather to blog posts. Yet it's nearly irresistible today when there is finally enough sun to splash shadows across the sidewalks and a garnet-colored songbird is serenading me from the bush right outside my office window. The variety of birdlife here in Colorado has really been a revelation to me. I hale from Arizona, and in the desert every winged creature was either a sparrow, a finch or if it was really big, a crow. (This is more a demonstration of my lack of avian knowledge than the actual scarcity of the bird population in the desert Southwest.) When our Colorado Springs weather was doing its best to mimic the climate of the Pacific Northwest over the last couple of weeks, my neighborhood enjoyed a migration of all sorts of wildly colored birds. I told my grandkids it was like watching Rio in my own backyard. Now I can add tanagers and orioles to the list of a half-dozen birds I can actually identify.

So now that I have broken the rule about starting off with the weather, and then doubled my sins by not starting my story at the beginning, I'll get down to business.

Shannon Lawrence handed Writing from the Peak off to me over a year ago and it truly has been a rewarding experience. Editing the blog has afforded me the opportunity to interact with many PPW authors whom I would not normally have met, as well giving me a sneak peak at a lot of valuable teaching and advice.

And now it's time to hand the baton off again. Donnell Bell will be assuming the editorship of the blog some time in July when her plate is a little less overloaded than it is at the moment. Donnell brings a great deal of publishing experience as well as an extensive network in the writing community, both of which will contribute to keeping your blog vital and fresh.

Thank you for the experience. It has been an honor and a privilege.

About the Author: Debi Archibald is the outgoing editor of Writing from the Peak and the author of two novels, Form and Function and Crushed. She is also passionate about gardening, reading, and hiking, but most particularly about grandmotherhood, the most gratifying do-over around. Find her at