My First Interview

Well, for the first time in my life as a writer, I have officially been interviewed. Rob Killam, good friend and zombie connoisseur extraordinaire, has just had our exchange posted to the Pikes Peak Writers blog. Check it out! It is about my pitch appointment with a literary agent at the PPWC, and I’m glad Rob decided to interview me about it.

http://pikespeakwriters.blogspot.com/2012/05/pitch-under-fire-interview-with-john-k.html

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Conference Report 2012

Last weekend took a lot out of me. Fortunately, I gained so much more for the experience. Pikes Peak Writers Conference 2012 was my first official writing conference, and seems to be the start of my official career as a writer. And I couldn’t be happier with the results. No wonder its attendees and faculty speak so highly of it.

Jeffrey Deaver, one of the keynote speakers, in his finest James Bond costume.

Aaron Ritchey, author of "The Never Prayer" and an awesome guy all around. Crazy in the best and most enthusiastic way possible.

Thursday consisted of all-day workshops for topics like “So you have an idea for a book,” “Writing for young adults,” and a seminar based on Donald Maass’s “Writing the Breakout Novel” (the one I attended). Friday began the conference proper, with more workshops all day, and a costume party at night.

My friend Patty, looking positively resplendent.

Lara Croft dropped by for a visit.

Can't have Bond without a lovely Bond Girl!

Saturday had more workshops, and pitch appointments. I pitched my manuscript to an agent, and she requested the full manuscript. That is something to celebrate right there – most writers, even at those rare instances when they can pitch in person, usually get turned down, or are asked for a synopsis or the first three chapters, so a full manuscript request is a big deal. It’s a big step forward, but I’ve also got about a month before it needs to be emailed to the agent, and it still needs some good old-fashioned revising. To the revisionmobile! (Cue the Batman theme)

And Sunday had even more workshops, with reluctant farewells to the wonderful human beings I met over three days.

And I got to see my first ladybug of the year as I left the Marriott on Sunday. Honestly, can you have a better denouement than this?

Yeah, this was totally worth it. Barring the zombie apocalypse, I am absolutely going back next year. Later today, I will deliver a recap of Donald Maass’s amazing keynote address, and some of my thoughts on it. If you can get a recording of that speech, it should be required listening for every fiction writer.

Pikes Peak Writers Conference: Coming Up Fast

Well, as I have stated before, the Pikes Peak Writers Conference is coming up fast. Slightly under two weeks until we are there. Right now, it costs about $450, but I’m passing along the word that it’s one of the top ten writers conferences in the country, and is the friendliest overall. Seriously, a Marriott with a great view of Pikes Peak, you’re surrounded by professionals – writers and agents and editors with years of experience – and quality dining and service from the hotel. What’s not to love about that idea?

There’s still time to register. If you are a writer who wants to expand their career, make connections in the business, and meet with hundreds of other writers, this is the place to be.

With people like Robert Crais, Jeffrey Deaver, Donald Maass, Susan Wiggs, Kevin J. Anderson, Bree Ervin, Ronald Cree, Angel Smits, etc., there will be hundreds of fellow writers, either going for the first time to give their professional careers a shot of adrenaline, or returning veterans who have stayed with the conference since it was formed twenty years ago. And you will be hard-pressed to find a more pleasant city to hold an event like this.

Hope to see you there!

VICTORY – The Novel’s Finished

My aspirations to write a fantasy series solidified (more or less) five years ago. I embarked on a journey to create a world, to find a huge story worth telling inside that world, and play the part of Victor Frankenstein as I sent a life-giving shock through its muscles and bones. The months were drawn out by a curse of procrastination, a Bachelors degree to finish, and no small amount of laziness under the guise of writer’s block.

Tonight, that curse has been lifted. Revived, the first volume in my epic fantasy series entitled The Wolfglen Legacy, now has a complete first draft. Wrapped up into one bundle of documents and backed up across cyberspace, this first novel marks the beginning of my journey through the world and stories I have labored over since I was a teenager. Today, my writing as a career begins.

Today, I celebrate. Tomorrow is for revision. Lots and lots of revision. Half of the book, right now, is probably worse off than the hurried scribbles of a NaNoWriMo project, and reads like Cliffs Notes that only outline the plot, and hardly speak a syllable of the character development, worldbuilding, personality, or fine-tuned language I am aspiring to bring into this novel.

I have no idea how I’m going to pull those other things off. Fortunately, revision is a process I happen to relish, because that’s when I have something to work with. The old saying goes, “you can’t edit a blank page.” But now, Revived no longer has any blank pages. And at least for today, that’s victory enough.

God be thanked, it’s done. It’s finally finished. The dragon is slain.

"Tyrant's End: Morent's First Thrust." Image courtesy of E.J. Mickels II, a talented artist who was kind enough to paint this in 2006 for my short story "Battle at Engorlash."

Progression and Feedback for Your Novel’s Synopsis

There is nothing like an upcoming writer’s conference to give you a kick in the pants and force you to be a better writer. When your work will be scrutinized by many of your peers, often face-to-face, and especially when you are pitching a novel to editors and agents, it can present wonderful new challenges to a novelist.

And that is a challenge I look forward to in April, with the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs, one of the nation’s most respected gatherings of writers and publishers. I have started to gear up for the conference by working on the “elevator pitch” for my soon-to-be-completed novel (the elevator pitch is how you would describe your story to someone who’s riding an elevator with you, a 10-15 second description of your story, who the characters are, what they want, and whatever conflict stands in their way). I thought it would be a helpful thing to post here, in case any of you are planning on attending the conference, or are simply a writer who wants to submit your work to a publisher soon.

Draft 1

This is the “early” draft of my elevator pitch for the fantasy novel entitled The Wolfglen Legacy: Awakened. Before I got feedback, I focused on the titular Wolfglens, the royal family in the story, and the desires and conflicts they face:

A royal family and their allies fight to protect their people and government from a supernatural enemy’s covert war that is engulfing the country.

It’s a starting point, but it needs work. The pitch provides no specific characters for the reader to connect with, and doesn’t offer much information on the conflict. It’s a detached take on the overall story. A good pitch, however, packs as much specific detail into as few words as possible (an area where I have a long way to go). Fortunately, at a recent writer’s workshop I found some truly great assistance from my writing friends Connie and Grant McKenzie, and Bonnie Hagan. I hope to pass their advice along to you.

The Three Big Questions

Something else which is important to remember about an elevator pitch (and which I learned in the feedback) is that you need to answer three essential questions:

1. Who is the story’s central character?

2. What does he want?

3. Why can’t he have it?

If you can answer those questions right away when you are pitching a novel, it stands a much greater chance of getting read and accepted. I’ve been toying with ideas and building the world for my books for five years. Now it’s time to populate it with deep characters, with human beings. Well, them and elves, fairies, nymphs, etc.

Lynchpins

Especially when you only get a few seconds to pitch your idea, it’s vital to know who is the “lynchpin” character, the one sitting at the heart of the story and most connected to its main events. If you can “sell” an agent or editor on that character and what they do, then selling them on your novel becomes all the easier. In the case of my novel, the best character to fulfill that role is Josh, a young man from another time who wakes up in the fantastical world, and who gets embroiled in its events.

Draft 2

Once Josh has been established as the “lynchpin,” at least for the purposes of the elevator pitch, I can focus on his side of the story and make it specific enough to give the reader an idea as to what his tale will look like. After discussion with another writer about focusing the synopsis on Josh, this is the suggested pitch he wrote:

Twenty-one-year-old Josh wakes up in a future world, more primitive than his own, and finds himself in the middle of a global uprising against the supernatural powers that threaten their very existence.

Now this is an elevator pitch that tries to get you invested. It gives specific information about Josh (his age and his status as a fish out of water), reveals a little of his new setting (a world not as advanced as the one he knew), and tells the reader what the stakes are (obliteration at the hands of a strange enemy).

[It’s also worth noting that revealing his age as twenty-one will help inform an agent that this is a book for adults. Generally speaking, 21 is seen as “too old” for a character in a YA novel.]

Giving it the Old College Try

Now, given all the excellent counsel from my fellow storytellers, I will attempt to build a summary that still has Josh as the novel’s lynchpin – for the purposes of the pitch, that is – and combines his story with a sense of the larger story and stakes. Additionally, this pitch integrates a hint that the world does not meet his expectations. (Remember those three questions: Who is the character? What does he want? Why can’t he have it?)

Twenty-one-year-old Josh awakens to a future where magic thrives, and must face this world’s dark realities as he takes sides in an escalating supernatural war.

This will need some more work, I am sure, but I have until April to polish it up. If anyone has feedback for it, I would love to hear from you. Thanks for your time, and have a wonderful weekend!

And Now, for the Main Event

Now, back to the conference: If the Pikes Peak Writers Conference sounds like just the thing for you, you can register here: http://www.regonline.com/builder/site/default.aspx?EventID=972508

If you would need a scholarship, go here instead and learn how to apply for one: http://www.ppwc.net/html/scholarships.html

And for additional incentive, here is a picture of Roo, the official mascot for the conference:

Seriously, who doesn't love a big, soft-hearted dog?

Roo would love to see you there! And so would I. If you can set aside April 19-22, you would be more than welcome. God bless, everyone!

Update: January 19, 2012

Based on further critique and advice from some good friends of mine, here is the most up-to-date version of the pitch. Let me know what you think:

“Twenty-one year old Josh wakes up in a future where magic thrives, and is drawn into an escalating supernatural war while searching for a place to call home.”

The Pikes Peak Writers Conference: 20th anniversary

(Gathered from Facebook)

This April, I am (hopefully) attending the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference in Colorado Springs, at the Marriott Hotel. My fellow writers who have attended the conference have assured me of its quality, helpfulness, and potential. From what I understand, it is among the ten best conferences in the nation, and the friendliest as well.

April 19-22 marks a special occasion, for it is the 20th anniversary of the conference, and contains an abundance of opportunities for those authors looking for an agent to represent their novel, pitching a book to get a publisher’s attention, forge connections in the writing world, or simply to search for community and helpful advice on making yourself a more recognized and more professional writer.

If you’re interested in going, there will be a good number of high-profile speakers there, including agent Donald Maass, bestselling author Jeffery Deaver, novelists Susan Wiggs and Robert Crais, and many others besides.

Their official website has what you will need to learn if you decide to go: http://www.ppwc.net/html/ppwc.html

A lot of the volunteers and leaders are good friends of mine. This will be my first conference, but I look forward to it. There you can also register, apply for a scholarship if you can’t pay for the whole ticket, or donate to the Pikes Peak Writers or the scholarship fund.

You can find out more about registration here: http://www.regonline.com/builder/site/default.aspx?EventID=972508

I hope to see you there in April! Keep writing, and keep looking for the best stories.