Saturday, January 31, 2015

Book Giveaway Winner, Next Week's Guests, and the RMFW Blog

The Winner

I'm pleased to announce that Alex J. Cavanaugh, author and blogger extraordinaire, has won a copy of Crude Carrier from Rex Burns. Happy reading, Alex!


Next Week's Guests

Monday you'll meet Colorado author Pam Wolf who will see her book on Jake the therapy cat released soon. You'll especially enjoy Pam's post if you love animals as much as I do.

On Thursday, author Becky Martinez will join us. Becky writes romance, suspense, and mystery under the pseudonym of Rebecca Grace.


The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog

As co-editor of the RMFW Blog, I have recently promoted myself to a regular monthly contributor spot on the first Monday of the month. I hope you'll stop by on February 2nd to read and comment on my post, "To Blog or Not to Blog? Good Question!"

(Special Note: I mention the A to Z April Blog Challenge, too. Signups are already open and the list is growing.)

The RMFW blog features sixteen regular contributors and several guest bloggers each month. We post Monday through Friday with occasional special weekend announcements. All of the contributors write fiction, most are published, and many teach workshops locally and at conferences and conventions around the country.

If you want to make sure you don't miss an RMFW blog post, you can sign up to receive them via email. Just check the right side bar on the RMFW blog page, fill in your email address, and click Subscribe.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Story's "Alter-world" ... by Rex Burns

The first and most fundamental question for me in starting a book is "What the heck do I write about now?" A glance down the "books published" column in the Mystery Writers of America newsletter hints at the challenge posed: it's almost impossible to find a topic that someone hasn't already written about. OK, refine the question: What am I interested in learning more about?

A good part of responding to that question is, of course, the idea of "setting"—the physical stage on which a scene of the story takes place: a town or city, a house, a prison, a room, etc. But for me, and, I would guess, for most writers, the concept of setting also includes more than a stage for the action of a single scene. In the broadest sense, it's the world that the novel creates. This "world" not only encompasses the physical (and fragmented) individual settings that form each scene, but also those story elements that span the entire novel—the characters, customs, costumes, and more that appear in many or all of the individual scenes.

In the mystery story, the novel's general setting underlies the criminal act of the plot. It contributes in various ways to the type or types of personalities who populate the story, it defines the type of crime that brings disruption into that world. It usually provides the motive or motives behind that crime, and it even dictates the language and thought patterns that define the story's characters. It is, in short, the fictional alter-world.

This last year, I was lucky enough to find two topics that piqued my interest with the promise of providing interesting and entertaining alter-worlds: professional wrestling and sea transport of oil. Neither topic is, by itself, a crime. And both subjects were set in locations that were somewhat exotic. But those alter-worlds also dictated the characters who could be invented to populate each of those locations and even to act in certain ways. Most important, by setting the stories in the realms of professional wrestling (Body Slam) and super-tankers (Crude Carrier) presented the opportunity to develop alter-worlds that I knew little of and was curious to know more about. This last point is labeled "most important" because I've found that if the alter-world of a story is interesting enough to carry me through the effort of writing, then there's a probability that I can generate in readers that same curiosity—and that I can develop their curiosity about the story's alter-world without boring the readers with turgid and intrusive exposition.

And that's the challenge and opportunity for writers: to inform the readers about an environment while entertaining them with the characters and conflicts that are native to that alter-world.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rex, thank you so much for being my guest today and introducing my readers and me to your exciting thriller series. I've put both Body Slam and Crude Carrier on my Goodreads "Want to Read" list.

Rex Burns, author of numerous books, articles, reviews, and stories, won an Edgar for The Alvarez Journal. Another novel, The Avenging Angel became a Charles Bronson film. His "Constable Leonard Smith" stories appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. His novels, including the latest, Body Slam and Crude Carrier, are available in print, audio, and e-format from Mysterious Press/Open Road Media.

You can learn more about Rex and his novels at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Goodreads.

Rex will be giving away one signed print copy of Crude Carrier to a U.S. or Canada reader who leaves a comment on this post by midnight Mountain Time Friday, January 30th. The winner's name will be posted here on Saturday.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Schedules, changes, guest posts, and blog book tours

I'm not going to stick to a blogging schedule, except for my guest bloggers, of course. Their calendar is over there in the right sidebar so you know who's coming for a visit and when. Mystery/thriller writer Rex Burns is my guest on Thursday, and he's giving away a copy of Crude Carrier, a Touchstone Agency mystery.

I also have a pretty tight routine for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog -- but I have a very good co-editor, Julie Kazimer, to share the responsibility. Check out her post today about resolutions versus goals, and why goal-setting is better. I'll be posting there on the RMFW Blog as a regular contributor the first Monday of the month the rest of 2015.

But that's it!  

Schedules are a pain in the butt when we take them too far.

The pressure of coming up with a coherent blog post on certain days to publish at certain times was too much for me. I'd freeze, think hard, then post nothing at all. Writing  semi-coherent nonsense whenever I feel like it suits me so much better.

I have a big problem scheduling writing time, too. The ability to dedicate a specific block of time each day never works for me. What does work is binge writing over a block of days. I'm so productive on a writing retreat I amaze myself (that photo at the left is from a 2012 retreat at Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch which was devastated by flood waters the next year).

Mini-writing retreats at home are almost as good, even with the cat on my lap, pinning my left hand under her head as her pillow. I can type pretty fast right-handed.

I'm doing another one of those mini-retreats Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until the start of the Super Bowl, but I may take my laptop to the library for some solid two-handed writing time.

Now about the changes....

I have a creative designer friend working on a new website/blog combination for me with the goal of taking it live sometime in May. That and the April knee surgery are the main reasons I'm not scheduling any guest authors after April 2nd. Once the new site is done and I know how to use it, I'll start scheduling guests again.

For now, keep your eye on this site for announcements, my wonderful scheduled guests, and more amazingly boring blog posts from yours truly wherein I dump a variety of opinions and observations no one cares about except me. But humor me. From time to time I might even post something fun.

Did you read all the guest posts I've done here and there lately?

Three of my favorites are:

It's Never Too Late to Try Something New at Buried Under Books

The Joy of Being an Eclectic Reader at Susan Says

My Love Affair with Fat Ass Sammy Grick at Death on Nostalgia City

A few thoughts about blog book tours...

The thought of meticulously arranging a tight blog book tour schedule made my skin crawl and my body tense up as if I were a football quarterback who sees the blitz coming before he goes down.

I did it the easy way by touching base with one or two bloggers at a time, setting up the date, writing the posts, then going on to the next one or two bloggers. It was nice and relaxed, and my friends didn't get sick of following me from place to place every day over a two or three week period.

The idea behind a blog book tour is solid, but I think a lot of writers schedule too many posts too close together. Many hit the same audience over and over by staying within a small network of bloggers. We need to expand our network (and one of the ways we do that is to serve as hosts for guest authors from a wide variety of genres).

As a reader who loves to promote other authors, I have to admit I usually stop reading blog tour posts about day three. After that, I may check in when the tour is over, looking for one or two post titles that intrigue me. I don't usually read posts from a character's point of view or interviews of characters, although I know some readers enjoy that a lot.

The blog book tours I like best are the ones that don't focus exclusively on the new book release. Once I have a bit of information about the book, I'd lots rather hear about the author's writing life, travels, great anecdotes, philosophy, etc.

But that's just me.

Okay....that's it for today. What do you think? Do schedules rule/ruin your life?  Can you type pretty fast with just your dominant hand? How do you feel about doing or following an author's blog book tour?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Runaway Brides, the Art of Persuasion, and Katie Cat

This is a mixed up blog post because I'm going to throw out a few things I have on my mind, sort of telling it like it is (from my point of view, of course).

First, novels and movies, especially made-for-television movies, about runaway brides.

Stories about runaway brides make me gag--those women who change their mind at the last moment and run from the church (or whatever venue they favor), leaving a bewildered fiance standing there with his jaw sagging, his eyes tearing, and his extreme humiliation showing in the sag of his shoulders and his inability to make eye contact with any of the wedding guests, especially his mother who knew the bride was wrong for him all along.

I've watched way too many of these films, supposedly romantic comedies, and even if I find the groom less than desirable, and the guy who wins the bride a handsome, sexy hero, I find the bride totally despicable. The guy that finally ends up with her gets a flightly, cruel ditz who can't make up her mind and doesn't hesitate to destroy a man in public. I get tears in my eyes every time, but my tears are for the guy left at the altar. It's a sucky story and I'm boycotting all books and movies that pursue this theme.

Unless, of course, it's a crime novel and the bride gets what is coming to her.

Second, the gentle art of persuasion doesn't seem to exist in social media.

I cannot for the life of me figure out why people make a bunch of friends on Facebook or other social media sites and then set out to piss some of those friends off by spouting dumb ideological nonsense in the name of free speech. Their belligerent claim goes like this: "I have a right to express my opinion wherever I want and if you don't like it, you can unfriend me or hide my updates or go fly a kite."

Okay, I believe in the freedom of speech too. And there are points of view on issues I could be persuaded to embrace...but I won't be persuaded by dumb ideological rants--statements and memes that declare something is a fact or moral truth or solid statistic based on science when it's not. And when friends rush to support that kind of goofiness, I lose respect for all of them.

I don't mind engaging in civil debate from time to time, but that's really not possible on social media. There's always someone who charges into the discussion to make trouble. I've read discussions where very nice, reasonable, open-minded people were called "stupid" because they introduced an alternate idea or study about a controversial topic.

The worst thing about this "I have freedom of speech and I don't care what you think" attitude is that sometimes the person with the attitude has a friendly or business relationship with some of those online friends. Did I mention above that I lose respect when a friend or business associate tries to ram an ideology down my throat with nonsense, an ugly tone, and the implication that anyone who doesn't agree with him (or her) is an idiot? Yep, I did. I guess they don't care.

But just so you know, I'm done with it. I'm dumping the folks on social media who post stuff I find rude. I don't care either.

Third, and on a somewhat lighter subject, I've been working on Katie Cat to pose for photos, and I'm making progress.

For a long time, I'd try to take pictures of the cat and she'd be moving so fast, I'd only catch her tail. Lately, she's become more interested in my camera as well as sitting still for more than one second at  a time. I guess she's mellowing as she gets older. Or she just likes the attention.

I took a few new ones this month. I need to work on better lighting, but my focus for now is just to get her interested in posing. Here are two of the best so far this month.





In the top photo, Katie is on the window sill in my office. From this spot she can watch all the neighbors in the court, especially keeping an eye on Oswald, the orange kitty from next door who comes into our yard to use my garden as a litter box and lurk near the bird feeders for a chance to grab one of my birdies. Katie yowls and hisses when he gets too close to the house, and she always hears him when he jumps up on our gate to come in the yard.

That's when she runs to her spot in the bottom photo. She's on a towel-covered table we have in front of the window where she can watch the yard, the bird feeders, the squirrels and observe the approach of invaders (the gal who runs the scary vacuum cleaner, the members of my writing group who totally mess up Katie's lap-sitting schedule, or Oswald the orange kitty).

Do you have a pet you try to photograph? Do you have any luck catching the best moments?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Finding Your Passion ... by Darla Bartos

Switching to fiction presented me with any number of problems, but the greatest was why I couldn’t seem to get published.

As a magazine and newspaper reporter and columnist, I’d always been published. And with a by-line. So what was wrong now? I wrote a few completed books but never quite hit the mark. What was lacking?

Then, I heard the magic words. “Find … your … passion.” Too simple, really. I’d heard it before. But I realize now that hearing the words at the right moment from the right person is key.

Find your passion? I was passionate about my children. Then the proverbial bolt hit me. Aha! Africa. I was passionate about Africa. We’d lived there in the late 70s with a swimming pool and tennis court. Nelson Mandela was in prison for being a communist and apartheid was in full swing.

In 2000, I flew back to Africa to visit my daughter’s godmother who had been in a head-on collision. During her recovery, I met the new group of nuns and decided to stay a while and volunteer in Malamulele. Sometimes there was no running water and no electricity, but I stayed for six months. I was hooked. Over the last 15 years, I returned often to volunteer. The last time I was there, I stood amazed at the school, which had grown from two rooms to a campus of sixteen buildings.

As I began to think about what I loved, what moved me about the people who took me in, I realized what I had to do. I also realized why I wasn’t hitting the mark with my writing. I hadn’t been fully invested in the earlier books. I’d only been practicing.

My next book I set in South Africa. I wanted to write a crime novel. Could I create a murder in an imaginary convent? Characters floated through my head and a world appeared!

I had practically finished this lovely little murder mystery when one day I was perusing the Star newspaper, where I had actually free-lanced articles a hundred years ago. Then I saw the answer. Something different. A recent murder, a young woman found in a field. Muti killing was mentioned.

As I explored the topic, I became fascinated about an area of crime I’d never heard of before. And if I’d never heard about it, having lived there, then maybe no one else had heard about it either. Maybe it would give my book a sense of direction as well as bring awareness to this type of crime tied to some African cultures.

Local Detective Baloyi and Annabelle Chase, the visiting crime reporter, surprisingly became involved and a romance blossomed right in front of the fictitious nuns.

Read more about Midnight in Malamulele on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo or Smashwords.

Send your aha passion moment to dspbb@aol.com by midnight Feb. 1 and I’ll pick the best entry for a signed copy of Midnight in Malamulele! Postage included!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Darla Bartos writes murder mysteries set in South Africa. After receiving a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University, she pursued work as a crime reporter, authoring the first of her trilogy, MIDNIGHT IN MALAMULELE. Darla taught communications at Metropolitan State University of Denver and Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, CO. She raised her five children on three continents.

You can learn more about Darla and her work at her website. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

April Moore interviewed on "Justice for All"



April Moore is the author of Folsom's 93: The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men. This is long radio interview, but April did a fantastic job talking about her experience writing and researching the book. If you have the time to listen, you'll enjoy it.
You can learn more about April, her writing, and Folsom's 93 at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter. She is a member of Northern Colorado Writers and the Raintree Writers Critique Group. Her novel, Bobbing for Watermelons, will be released this spring and she'll be here on March 19th to tell us all about it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

May I Introduce You to.....

I've been on a reading jag lately. It's what I'm doing instead of writing because writing is hard work and requires thinking. Reading is not hard work, and requires only a joyful focus on the result of someone else's efforts.

A variety of books and authors are waiting their turn on my coffee table, in bookcases, and on my Kindle and Nook tablet. I'm being very selective about the books I choose. Here's how I do it.

1. Great cover art, and

2. A short synopsis that intrigues me, and

3. A good hook on the first page of the novel.

4. Or....the book is written by someone I know in person or through online contacts, and I want to sample that author's work.

5. Or...there's an online buzz about the book.

6.  Or it's just sitting there on the shelf at the library or bookstore and something about it grabs my attention.

My most recent reads include Song of the Beast by Carol Berg, an award-winning author of high fantasy; Crossing Colfax, the most recent anthology from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers; Words Left Behind: tales from a life gladly lived, memoir by Nancy L. Reed, and The Stranger on the Train by Abbie Taylor. Now I'm reading Haunted, an Anna Strong vampire novel by Jeanne C. Stein.

I read for entertainment, so I want solid narrative and dialogue with no little annoyances to drag me out of the story (typos, dialect,  word repetitions, or timeline screwups). I want memoir to tell me something new about the author. I want thrillers and suspense to keep me turning the pages. I like tight writing for some genres, and expanded beautiful prose for others.

Rarely do I decide to read a book based on the reviews on amazon.com or Goodreads. I do look at the spread of rankings, however, and then look for reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, and BookList, as well as favorite blogging sites such as Lesa's Book Critiques and Buried Under Books.


So how did I choose those books I listed above? For Carol Berg's novel, I attended a dinner where she was the featured guest. That reminded me I hadn't read any of her books yet and don't read much high fantasy, so I choose the standalone Song of the Beast to get my feet wet in the genre. This is where I fell in love with dragons.

Crossing Colfax was a must read anthology because I had met most of the authors included at the RMFW Colorado Gold Conference or through blogging contacts. These stories inspired me to read lots more as I strive to master the art. For me, writing short stories is hard.


Words Left Behind: tales from a life gladly lived is memoir written by a good friend up here in Northern Colorado, and this first publication was released through another friend's new indie project, Wooden Pants Publishing. I'm more motivated now to self-publish something of my own one of these days.

Abbie Taylor's book, The Stranger on the Train, was a pick off the shelf at the library. I had a tough time putting it down to do important stuff like laundry and supper preparation.

Haunted is written by Jeanne C. Stein, a Colorado author who is also a regular contributor on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog where I'm co-editor.Even though I'm not usually a fan of vampires, I'm hooked on this kick-ass Anna Strong character and will have to read more novels in the series.. She's tough, likable, and sometimes brutal. The story arc in Haunted is current and gripping.

You might wonder if I've been in a dark place this winter, considering the cover art on most of these selections. I assure you, that is only a coincidence. I also read the light and delightful A Wedding in Provence by Ellen Sussman. I wanted to list it last because there's nothing more beautiful than a field of lavender in the South of France. Sussman's book was a fun read, romantic and sexy, and full of family drama as two grown and slightly dysfunctional grown daughters attend their mother's wedding.