Writing from the Peak is pleased to introduce you to PPW member Stacy S. Jensen. Many of you have met her at PPW Conferences coordinating the silent auction, fundraising, and now at the query desk. She loves to volunteer because it’s such a great way to meet people.
KJ Scrim – How long have you been writing and what genre do you prefer to write? Stacy Jensen – I wrote my first book, All About Me, (a memoir) in the second grade. I write children’s picture books. It’s more difficult than it looks. I’ve also written a more recent memoir. I love both picture book and personal essay format.
KJ – Do you have anything in particular you are working on right now? Stacy – I’m working on several picture books simultaneously. Right now, I’m working on back matter for a picture book. The manuscript text is around 230 words. The back matter is double this. It’s a concept book on our land and how it changed over millions of years.
KJ – You have a story in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Dog’s Life. What other publications do you have under your writer’s belt? Stacy – I continue to submit my manuscripts to agents. I created and published a series of journals which are available on Amazon.
KJ – With every published work there are rejections.How do you get past the “No’s”? Stacy – I’ve been told NO plenty of times. I know you can’t hear YES, if you don’t try. In both 2017 and 2018, my main writing goal is to submit more of my work.
KJ – Writing conferences, workshops, and critique groups are an important part of the new writer’s experiences (and more experienced writers too!). How have they helped you? Stacy – Conferences are a great way to refresh both your skills and your spirit. It’s helpful and fun to be immersed with other writers. I’m blessed to have a large support network of writers, but it’s still great to be surrounded by your writer tribe — discussing your work and your craft.
KJ – Do you have any “self-help for writers” books that you use regularly? How do they help? Stacy – I’ve found a support network with online and in-person writer friends. I’m working my way through Story Genius by Lisa Cron. I’ve enjoyed several online classes on writing and revision. Reading is a great way to study craft and trends. For my picture book study, I read 20 plus new titles a week.
KJ – What expertise in your background do you draw on in your writing? Stacy – I was a journalist. I love learning about how people live and what they think and why. I sometimes search public posts on Facebook to “watch” how people interact with one another. It’s fascinating and frightening to watch this. It’s good way to research the way people talk and specific topics for a story.
If you would like to learn more about Stacy, and her books, please visit her website.
She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter
KJ Scrim is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder . She has several non-fiction stories published along with a short story that received an Honorable Mention in the NYC Short Story Contest. Her debut fantasy novel (not yet published) is titled The Manx. Her inspiration for blogging, flash fiction, short stories, and the long haul of novel writing comes from her many life experiences. When she’s not writing you can find her out walking or rock climbing at the local gym.
Elena Alvarez has learned small actions can have terrible consequences, from the deadly fire she started as a child to an unwanted pregnancy, and she’s intent on avoiding the future. Perhaps she can hide in the Colorado mountains and wait for something—anything—to make her next choice for her.
Instead, reflections of her own troubles surround her—the recent widower and his children, Elena’s own mysterious family history, and the community’s interwoven pains and joys. When the children go missing, the prospect of fresh loss and blame exposes the terrible burdens we take upon ourselves, the way tragedy and redemption are intertwined—and how curses can lead to blessings, however disguised.
Margo Catts grew up in Los Angeles and has spent her adulthood in Colorado. After raising three children in the U.S., she and her husband moved to Saudi Arabia, where her Foreign Girl blog was well known in the expat community. Originally a freelance editor for textbooks and magazines, she has also done freelance writing for business, technical, and advertising clients. She is a contributing author to the anthology Once Upon an Expat. Among the Lesser Gods is her first novel.
Today, Kathie Scrimgeour (aka KJ Scrim), Meet the Member and Sweet Success editor, shares her recent interview with member Ana Crespo. We’re pleased to share successes and highlight our diverse membership. Kathie can be reached at email@example.com.
KJ Scrim: What inspired you to write children’s books?
Ana Crespo: When I had my first child, I couldn’t find any books featuring Brazilian characters or culture. At the time, that was okay, because English is not my first language, so I was learning new words everyday by reading to my daughter. We did have Brazilian books sent to us from relatives. However, by the time my second child was born, about seven years later, it started to bother me. I wanted my kids to be able to share some of their cultural background with their friends. I wanted them to see themselves in books, to feel they were represented. I was always very creative and decided to give writing for children a try. My first book in English, THE SOCK THIEF: A SOCCER STORY, was inspired by my father’s childhood memories.
KJ: What is the general process for getting a children’s book from your desk to publication?
Ana: First and foremost, you have to write it. It is amazing the number of people who tell me they have an idea for a book, it is a great idea, and etcetera, but they never sit down to write it. And, as with any other project, you must revise it, share it with critique partners, revise it more, and repeat the process as many times as necessary. Then, ideally, you find an agent who will submit your book to the many publishers that, currently, do not accept unagented submissions. In my case, however, with THE SOCK THIEF: A SOCCER STORY, and the MY EMOTIONS AND ME series, I didn’t have an agent. I met my editor during a conference, very much like the one offered by PPW. I had a paid critique with her. She enjoyed THE SOCK THIEF, although she had a variety of concerns and comments about it. I made most of the changes she suggested, cut a lot of words, and a month after submission, I had an offer.
KJ: What are a few of the challenges you face when writing children’s books?
Ana: When you only write picture books and don’t illustrate them, you face a variety of challenges. First, you have to write with illustrations in mind, even though you are not going to be the person illustrating the book. That means that you must leave out detailed descriptions, as they will usually be depicted by the pictures that do not exist yet. On that same page, there may be key information for the plot that will be relayed to the reader only via the illustrations. Illustration notes can be a tricky subject in picture book writing, because not all editors like seeing them. You must save them for those times in which they are extremely necessary. As an example, JP AND THE GIANT OCTOPUS is told in first person. The boy, JP, imagines the octopus, but the octopus is really a car wash. Of course, in order to explain to the editor what the story was about, illustration notes were necessary. In sum, the way I see it, picture books are the product of a team. As the writer, I am just the first step in that collaboration. And that in itself, might be a challenge for some writers.
KJ: You were born in Brazil. How does this influence J.P. and Felipe, the two main characters of your books?
Ana: I don’t think my Brazilian roots influenced the JP character. However, Felipe’s story is based on my father’s childhood memories. My father and uncle used to take my grandmother’s stockings to make soccer balls. They weren’t poor, but it was the early 60s, cheap soccer balls weren’t common, and they were a family of seven. They stuffed my grandmother’s stockings with newspaper and spent a long time playing soccer in the backyard or on the streets of Rio. This was a widespread practice. Even Pelé, Brazil’s most famous player, played with newspaper-stuffed soccer balls when he was a child in the 40s. So, Felipe’s resourcefulness is something I find to be very characteristic of Brazilians.
KJ: One of your book series is about J.P. who says, “I am fast. I am strong. I am brave. But sometimes I feel afraid.” What inspired this as his mantra?
Ana: The JP books were inspired by a trip to the car wash with my son. He was terrified of it, partially because his mom (guilty!) pretended they were going into a monster’s cave. The beginning of the story is basically the same in every book of the series. JP is learning how to deal with his feelings. In JP AND THE GIANT OCTOPUS, he learns how to deal with fear. In the next book, JP AND THE POLKA-DOTTED ALIENS, he learns how to deal with anger, so the character says, “Sometimes I feel angry,” a line that will lead into what causes him to be angry and how he will deal with it.
KJ: What advice would you give a writer who was just getting started in writing children’s books?
Ana: If you plan to write picture books, I’d say the most important thing to do is to find an organization that focuses on them. That will help you understand the industry, lead you to like-minded people and, hopefully, connect you to critique partners. We often hear people say, “Oh, I could have written this,” but writing picture books is a bit more complicated than it looks like, and you will need all the help you can get.
Ana Crespo is the winner of the 2016 International Latino Book Award for The Sock Thief in the category, Best Latino Focused Children’s Picture Books. She is also a member of Pikes Peak Writers for about five years and last year she attended the conference for the first time. She enjoyed volunteering and loved meeting some of the agents and editors.
Today, Kathie Scrimgeour (aka KJ Scrim), Meet the Member and Sweet Success editor, shares her recent interview with member Matt Bille. We’re pleased to share successes and highlight our diverse membership. Kathie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KJ Scrim: You newest book, Raven’s Quest was just released in December 2017. How does it feel to see a project come to fruition?
Matt Bille: This always feels great to a writer because it means you can start the next project or turn full attention to one you’ve left in limbo. I and my wife/coauthor Deb tried to bring back C.S. Lewis-style fantasy adventure with an underlying Christian/family theme, and I think we nailed it. Readers will let us know.
KJ Scrim: You write both fiction as well as non-fiction. In your creative process, how are they different? Similar?
Matt Bille: That’s an interesting question because I write science and history, both of which require that you research from the origins of idea on through the latest developments or, in the case of space history, the most recent declassifications of documents that may have lain in government vaults for decades. With nonfiction, I’ll craft each chapter as a go along, with all documented information included or reference. With fiction, I do some research at the start to know what’s possible, but then what matters is getting a whole, coherent story down. If I need to know what brand of snowmobile is most popular around Lake Iliamna, I don’t need that right now, I can use a generic name and fill it in later.
Characters are different because you have to invent them instead of borrowing them from history, but there’s still an overlap. The antagonist in Apex borrows a lot from wealthy adventurer Steve Fossett, only with no ethics.
KJ Scrim: You have been a former Air Force Titan II ICBM commander, an extra in the film 1941, along with many other endeavors. How have these influenced your writing? (feel free to use any other examples).
Matt Bille: Everything in life helps you write. My most acclaimed nonfiction, The First Space Race, wouldn’t have been possible without the time in the Air Force. I’ve always been a space geek, but Titan training included learning, in painstaking detail, all the components of a rocket and its support infrastructure. When it was time to write the history of the first satellites, I could look at a diagram of an old rocket and explain its features to non-engineers like myself. A film or TV extra doesn’t learn much about the production process, but it does teach you to think of the whole scene, the way the director must, and not just the actors in the foreground.
KJ Scrim: Do you have any “self-help for writers” books that you use regularly? How do they help? Please share your list of your top 2 or 3.
Matt Bille: For novelists, find an old one called How to Write Best-Selling Fiction by Dean Koontz. The industry has changed, but the principles haven’t. Maas’ The Fire in Fiction is the best of his many books, or so it seems to me. If you are not by nature a strict grammarian, you need Elements of Style. You can break grammatical rules in fiction, but you must know what they are. King’s On Writing is valuable for King’s discussions of how to focus on the basics of your story and minimize the “fluff.”
Matt Bille has been writing since he was 16 when he sold a little humor piece to his local newspaper, then went on to publish his first book, Rumors of Exsitence, in 1996. Matt has been with PPW since the 90’s and has only missed two conferences since he became a member. He had his great moment in nonfiction, when he offered Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson a copy of The First Space Race at a symposium and Tyson replied, “I have that.”
Today, Kathie Scrimgeour (aka KJ Scrim), Meet the Member and Sweet Success editor, shares her recent interview with member Mike Torreano. We’re pleased to share successes and highlight our diverse membership. Kathie can be reached at email@example.com.
KJ Scrim: How long have you been writing and what is the genre you prefer to write?
Mike Torreano: I started writing when I retired about six years ago. I seem to be inescapably drawn to mid-to-late 19th century America. I have two traditional western mysteries out (The Reckoning and in a couple months The Renewal), both set in South Park 1868 and 1872. Also, my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, just brought out The Renewal as an audio book as well.
KJ Scrim: Do you have anything in particular you are working on right now? Tell us a little about it.
M.T.: I’m writing another western, but it’s not the third in the trilogy, it’s set in 1871 New Mexico territory, and my hero travels north during a cattle drive. He has a mysterious background that is slowly revealed as he rides. For a long time he doesn’t even realize someone is hunting him. I’m a pantser, so the rest will come together as I go.
KJ Scrim: On your website, you say that you consumed Zane Grey’s work. Of the vast array of his writing, are there any that stood out for you? Why?
M.T.: Riders of the Purple Sage is probably his most enduring work and contains several story line threads which add complexity and heighten interest as the reader waits to see them all come together. I’ve more or less structured my storylines with the same multiple threads.
KJ Scrim: What other authors influenced your writing?
M.T.: Certainly Louis L’Amour and Larry McMurtry, but also the poet Robert Service and novelist Jack London. My stories seem to be set in the Old West or in the northlands. I tend to gravitate to descriptive, but sparse writers.
KJ Scrim: Writing conferences, workshops, and critique groups are an important part of the new writer’s experiences (and more experienced writers too!). How have they helped you?
M.T.: I always come away with a stack of conference notes, but honestly, if I can come away from a conference with one or two good ideas it’s been a success. The trick then is to force myself to apply those ideas in my writing, so those gems don’t just gather dust.
KJ Scrim: Do you attend the events outside PPW’s conference and, if so, which ones are your favorite?
M.T.: I’ve always enjoyed the Write Brain sessions and OpenCritiques.
KJ Scrim: Do you have any “self-help for writers” books that you use regularly? How do they help? Please share your list of your top 2 or 3.
M.T.: I would recommend everyone writing historicals use a period reference book or two. They’re available online and will give you a clearer picture of what life was like during a particular time.
I’ve found The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi, to be very helpful, along with Donald Maas’ Fire In Fiction.
KJ Scrim: If you met someone who was thinking about starting to write, what advice would you give them?
M.T.: Whether you’re a pantser like me, or a plotter, take time to think in detail about your main characters. Once you know them well, their scenes will likely spill off the page.
The second thing I would recommend is to find a compatible critique group of similar genre if possible. Mine is very valuable in helping polish my manuscripts.
KJ Scrim: Is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t discussed?
M.T.: Craft your storylines with care. Pick something you just have to tell so you’ll be able to finish what you start.
Mike Torreano is a western mystery writer. He joined PPW about six years ago. Mike devoured Zane Grey which sparked a lifelong love of American West of the 19th century. He has one book published, The Reckoning, with two more in the works, The Renewal, Fireflies at Dusk. Website: miketorreano.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Readers, today Contributing Editor Kathie Scrimgeour introduces us to Margena Adams Holmes in her regular Meet the Member post. You can reach Kathie here.
Please meet PPW member Margena Adams Holmes. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. She has written for Examiner.com, Kapost, and the now-defunct Yahoo Contributor Network, where she earned the title of Top 500 Contributor for her story on the Black Forest fires in Colorado. She has been an active volunteer with Pikes Peak Writers since 2016 and favors the monthly Write Brain.
KJ: How long have you been writing and what genre do you prefer to write?
MARGENA: I have been writing ever since I can remember! I wrote poems in school, and minored in English in college. But I started getting serious about it and working on novels about 18 years ago. I took a little break for a few years to raise my family and just started writing again about 10 years ago. I prefer writing Science Fiction/Space Opera because I can create anything and have my characters go anywhere because it’s my world. I’m a big Star Wars and Harry Potter fan (Yeah, Gryffindor!), so that influences me a lot. I have written a general fiction novel as well.
KJ: Do you have anything in particular you are working on right now? Tell us a little about it.
MARGENA: Right now, I’m working on the second in what I hope will be a trilogy, titled The Elixir Trade, which I’m editing/rewriting at the moment. The first in the series is called The Elixir War. The elixir was discovered a thousand years ago which gives people certain abilities based on the person’s genetic make-up. The antagonists want it so they can have control over their people and take advantage of others. Prince Jory and the Royal Planet Fleet have their work cut out for them in trying to stop that from happening.
KJ: Have you set any goals for your publication date?
MARGENA: I’m shooting for Spring 2018. I’m hoping to get it to an editor by December.
KJ: Do you set daily, weekly, or monthly writing goals? If yes, what are they? What do you do to insure you meet these goals?
MARGENA: I set daily goals of 500 words. That may seem low, but I have a day job as well, and a family. Some days I make that goal easily and then some; other days it’s a struggle. I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo in July. I set my monthly goal for 20,000 words, and I made that with two days to spare! When I’m writing, I pretty much tell everyone to leave me alone! Ha ha! I try to treat it like a job and limit distractions, but sometimes life gets in the way. If the phone is ringing a lot, I bring the phone to my desk, thus ensuring that it WON’T ring anymore! Murphy’s Law and all that.
KJ: You have two books published and one on the way, what important lessons did you learn between writing The End and getting to publication?
MARGENA: I learned to not be hasty. I need to remember to take my time when I edit. I’m using a beta reader for the first time. I never really understood the need for one until I wrote The Elixir Trade. I’m at that stage right now, looking for someone to read it over. I mean, I’ve used my sister to read over my manuscripts, but I need someone who will tell me what’s wrong with it, not “Oh, this is good!”
KJ: With every accepted manuscript there are many rejections, how do you get past the “No’s”? What best advice, or lessons learned, have you gotten from them?
MARGENA: Some No’s are encouraging. I’ve gotten form rejections. You know, “Thanks for letting us consider your story. While it looks intriguing, we’re inundated right now.” But a couple have been encouraging. I sent an article to a national woman’s magazine a few years ago. I got a rejection, saying that they don’t publish works of writers without national experience, and to let them know when I DID have that experience. I was going to start papering my walls with the rejections! After a while, you just get used to the No’s, but you keep going. Just because someone rejected the story, doesn’t mean they are rejecting YOU. You keep writing to get better. I was happy when self-publishing became a thing, though.
KJ: Do you face road blocks as you write? What do you do when it is winning over writing?
MARGENA: Yes, I do face road blocks. Head, meet desk. If I’m having trouble with my writing, it’s just not working out, I seek
help in the writer’s groups I’m in, both on Facebook and Pikes Peak Writers. I’ve met quite a few helpful people through both places. I was having trouble with my book cover for Dear Moviegoer. The cover was printing too dark on Create Space. Could not figure it out. I had heard KL Cooper talk at the mini conference and Friended her on FB. She heard of my plight and took pity on me and designed an awesome cover. Other times, taking a break for a day helps with the road blocks, and things then seem a lot clearer.
KJ: Writing conferences, workshops, and critique groups are an important part of the new writer’s experiences (and more experienced writers too!). How have they helped you?
MARGENA: Oh, my gosh! Where to start? When I lived in CA, I went to a couple of writer’s conferences, and just one workshop was so helpful, it was worth the money of the conference. It helps to get a fresh set of eyes on your work at critique groups. I went to the PPWC mini conference this year and took lots of notes. I go to Write Brain every month. I feel I can never learn enough about writing and I always learn something at the conferences, webinars, critiques, etc.
KJ: Do you have any “self-help for writers” books that you use regularly? How do they help?
MARGENA: I do! They are marketing books, because as a self-published author, you have to wear many hats! The Author’s Guide to Selling Books to Non-Bookstores by Kristina Stanley, and Online Marketing for Busy Authors by Fauzia Burke have been very helpful with ideas and strategies to getting my books “out there.” I also want to get Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
KJ: Does your reading influence your writing? How?
MARGENA: You must be a reader as well as a writer in order to write your stories. When I sent one of my manuscripts to a publisher when I was first starting out, they suggested that I read more in the genre I wanted to write in. I picked up Sandra Brown’s Fat Tuesday. I had read the required books in school like Hamlet and Grapes of Wrath and the Little House books, but those weren’t my writing genres. I loved how the story flowed and I could “see” the action happening in my mind. Reading her books and books like the Harry Potter series have helped me fine-tune my writing. She has been my biggest influence and I got to meet her last year at a book signing in Castle Rock! Scratch that one off the Bucket List!
Margena currently lives in Colorado with her family, where she enjoys hiking, photography, singing, scrapbooking, and couponing. She also loves Star Wars, Star Trek, and going to the Renaissance Festival each year. Although she is in Colorado, she still supports her Los Angeles Kings and Los Angeles Dodgers.
Today, Kathie Scrimegour, Meet the Member and Sweet Success editor, shares her recent interview with member Maria Melendez Kelson. We’re pleased to share successes and highlight our diverse membership. Kathie can be reached at email@example.com.
On Writing In Diverse Genre
KJ Scrim – I read that you are a poet and a mystery writer. Does one help with writing the other? How?
Maria Melendez Kelson – Both poetry writing and mystery writing involve a dance between fulfilling and subverting a reader’s expectations about form and structure.
Poetry taught me to look for opportunities to use unexpected phrasing, and to appreciate the potential for patterning in the physical sounds of language.
Fiction teaches me to look for opportunities for unexpected emotions or events, and to appreciate the potential for patterning in symbols and motifs.
Each genre adds to my understanding of the other. I wouldn’t go so far as to say one helps, or doesn’t help, the other. Who knows?
Current Work in Progress
KJ – What are you working on right now?
Maria – I’m writing a contemporary mystery set in the redwood country of northern California. The lead character, Boots Montoya, is a multiracial single mother of an adopted teen son. She’s an education reformer with a lot of do-gooder self-righteousness. But when her son is accused of the murder of an undocumented boy, she becomes a liar, a prowler, and a thief in her struggle to find the real killer and exonerate her kid. Clues lead her deeper into the area’s Spanish-speaking immigrant community, out to the wild Pacific coast, and into the ancient forest backcountry of Humboldt County, where she discovers a clandestine camp for teenaged domestic spies. If she fails to find the threads connecting these worlds, it could cost her son his freedom. When the killer learns Boots has come too near the truth, her search for answers becomes a fight for her very life.
Santa Fe Art Residency
KJ – You were recently selected for a writing residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute. What did you have to do to secure this residency, and what does this mean to you as a writer?
Maria – The Santa Fe Art Institute has a theme each year for what they call their “sponsored residencies.” These are residencies for which the cost of housing is underwritten by sponsors, and residents need only pay for food and personal needs while living on-site.
Apogee Journal, a literary magazine I follow, tweeted out the SFAI call for residency applications, where I learned the theme for the upcoming residency year was “Equal Justice.” I thought—isn’t this a concern of many crime writers? It’s a concept that raises driving questions for the characters I’m writing about.
The application requested a current work sample and a proposal for work to be done at SFAI. So I sent sample chapters from the work-in-progress, and … *gulp* … a brief outline of a “Book 2” with these characters. This felt like a huge leap of faith, since I’m still revising Book 1.
I submitted the application in February of this year. When I found out in July that I’d been selected for a residency, it meant a panel of strangers that included writers, residency staff, and other artists had seen value in what I am doing. This was a significant affirmation, and a handy little oar for (what feels like) my solitary writing raft. I’m not really going a whole lot faster with one oar, but it’s something to hold onto, and I might be able to beat back a shark with it.
The residency itself, I imagine, will be a big fireworks show of inspiration! I’ll be living at the Art Institute for the month of July 2018, which is a month the brilliant SFAI staff have designated for artists who are parents. I’ll have my family with me, and I’ll be living with seven other residents from multiple disciplines and their families. SFAI provides an apartment and a separate studio workspace. I’m so excited to learn about the other artists’ creative processes, and to see what kinds of unpredictable things come of our time with each other. The only thing I’m tasked with doing, as a resident, is my own writing, but residents are encouraged to interact and collaborate if their muses move them to do so.
For writers who are starting to build a record of publication, or for established writers who could benefit from a concentrated period of time in the company of other working writers or artists, applying for residencies is a great way to validate that your work, and the time needed for your work, are things to be taken seriously.
KJ – What do you do when procrastination is winning over writing?
Maria – I’ve gotten better at measuring when I am truly procrastinating and when I am simply living my life. I used to think that ANYTHING I did that wasn’t writing was a way of procrastinating from writing. For this reason, I could feel guilty brushing my teeth, guilty about taking my car in for an oil change. Who can live like that? Now I make a weekly writing schedule at the start of the week, and set the expectation that I’ll be at my desk during those times. When it’s not those times, I consciously let go of guilt or anxiety about whatever it is I might currently be working on. Something that helps me do this is physically putting the work back in a drawer after each session.
When it comes to maintaining focus during a scheduled writing session, I have a couple of tricks: tracking my focused time in 25-minute increments (aka “the Pomodoro method”), leaving the home modem off, and keeping my writing desk generally free of non-writing related stuff.
Conferences, Workshops, Critique Groups
KJ – Writing conferences, workshops, and critique groups are an important part of the new writer’s experiences (and more experienced writers too!). How have they helped you?
Maria – Pikes Peak Writers Conference and SleuthFest (a mystery writers’ conference in Florida) have both been great for how-to sessions and for unparalleled opportunities to network with agents and editors.
Although I’ve only attended one or two events in each case, I should also mention that I’ve learned quite a bit from periodic free or low-cost workshops run through Pikes Peak Writers Write Brains, Pikes Peak Writers Critique Group, Romance Writers of America, and Colorado Sisters in Crime. The volunteer person-power that goes into running these public events year-round is staggering, and every one of these organizations’ board members and volunteers deserve a room of their own with unlimited chocolate, coffee, and craft beer in that great writer’s retreat in the sky.
Sisters in Crime runs a wonderful workshop the day before the annual mystery fiction fan-con (aka “Bouchercon”) that I’ve attend a couple of times. It’s for Sisters and Misters!
My local anchor for professional development as a writer has been the Rocky Mountain chapter of Mystery Writers of America. I attended their monthly dinners, where there’s always a generous and free-flowing exchange of information, heartaches, and triumphs. Members range from newbie writers to established bestsellers with 30+ books in print.
Because it’s the largest writers’ conference in North America, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference is a wonderful place to meet other writers of color from around the country for fellowship and mutual support. In fact, writers of many stripes can find their tribe there. There are panels for and about writers with disabilities, writers who’ve lived abroad, veterans who write, etc. As a poet, I’ve presented at AWP a number of times over the years, and two years ago I put together a panel of women of color who write crime novels. The chance to connect these novelists I admire with potential new readers in the audience was a real high, for me.
As far as critique groups go … over the last 20+ years I have lived in Wyoming, South Carolina, California, Indiana, Utah, and (now) Colorado. In four of those six states, I’ve participated in critique groups. Some writers do fine without them, and in the two states I lived where I didn’t have a critique group, I still produced a fair amount of work, but I simply enjoy my own process more when I have regular meetings with peers to provide understanding, challenge, and … deadlines!
Go to Books for Writers
KJ – Do you have any “self-help for writers” books that you use regularly? How do they help? Please share your list of your top 2 or 3.
Maria – Around the Writer’s Block, by Roseanne Bane, helps with organizing time and understanding the neurological conditions under which creativity can/can’t flourish.
Plot Whisperer, by Martha Alderson, helps with fictional structure and with seeing a sense of purpose in the highs and lows of the process of writing.
7 Secrets of the Highly Prolific, by Hillary Rettig, helps writers understand and improve their own processes and mindsets.
KJ – What is one (or a few) of the most important lessons you have learned so far?
Maria – Learn to love your process, not someone else’s process. And if learning to love your process is too much to ask, then learn to accept that feeling confident is desirable but not required. Only showing up and working is a must. In the words of an 80s candy bar commercial: “Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.”
Maria Melendez Kelson is a poet and mystery writer. These very different genres lend a dynamic approach in writing. She has been accepted to a month-long writing residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute beginning in July of 2018.