Thursday, August 16, 2012

Q & A with Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers President Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens has been a journalist, producer of field documentaries, bartender, and now works in public relations while he writes mysteries set in Colorado. His first published mystery, Antler Dust, introduced hunting guide Allison Coil. Buried by the Roan, the second book in the series, focuses on fracking (hydraulic fracturing), a controversial technique for extracting oil or natural gas from certain types of rock.

Pat:  Mark, how did you first hear about Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and when did you join?

Mark:  I wish I knew. I wish I could go back in time and remember who first pulled me in and what year it was because I know I didn’t appreciate it at the time—the first interaction with RMFW. (If anyone out there remembers, drop me a line.) Eight years? 10? I started going to a few workshops around town—the coolest free deal out there—and finally decided to attend a conference. This was years before I was published. I remember realizing the wealth of talent and everyone was so willing to offer ideas, discuss, chat, or share a coffee or adult beverage. And then something really profound dawned on me. All these people had the same questions I did about putting together quality prose, about constructing tight plots, about making dialogue work, whatever. I soon realized you get more out of RMFW than you put in and I thought, well, I’d found my people. I’m not much of a “joiner” in general but it felt easy and fun to hang out with my pals in RMFW. And joining put a bit of discipline into my writing so when people asked “what are you working on?” I didn’t just have a blank look on my face.

Pat:  How many members does the organization have at this time? Are they all from Colorado?

Mark:  We have 450 members representing 18 states from Washington to Florida and 1 in British Columbia. 90 percent are in Colorado.

Pat:  What does the organization offer for beginning fiction writers?

Mark:  Plenty! If I were advising a beginning fiction writer, I’d say go to the monthly workshops and sample the wide variety of coaching, information and inspiration available there. Did I already mention they are free? I think so. It’s such an easy way to meet fellow writers and pick up on some good, regular coaching. Once you see how darn friendly everyone is, join RMFW for a mere $45 and check out the monthly newsletter for other opportunities, book signings, more events and articles and insights about all aspects of the business. Then, check out a critique group. Bring some of your work to share and listen to the feedback—see if the group would be a good fit for your style. Next, submit an entry to the contest (watch the website for when the contest opens in the spring) and see how you stack up. You’ll get some worthwhile comments and maybe a high score. And who knows? (Finalists for this year’s awards were just announced). The next thing you know, you’re having a conversation with a nationally-known editor or agent.

Pat:  Are there additional benefits for published authors?

Mark:  Being published doesn’t mean you’re done. Some of the finest writers around (too many to start naming here) are still frequent visitors to the workshops, the conference, and critique groups. And so many published writers give back by putting on workshops or reading at critique groups or putting on major sessions at the conference. I think the “benefits” for published writers is the same as it is for anyone at any stage in the process—support, friendship, kinship and networking. Endless networking. And if you’re the best prose stylist since (fill in the blank, I’m not here to pick fights) then you might need some insights on the fast-changing publishing world or tips on marketing. It’s always something. Writers who manage to stay at home and pound out the novels are far and few between. They all need to get out there and keep up with the changes.

Pat:  What does RMFW have to offer writers who live too far away from Denver to attend the monthly educational events?

Mark:  Many members drive a long way to come to the workshops (an hour or more). Yes, the workshops are that good. And coming to the conference is a given—we have members flying in from across the country so driving in from around the state should be a snap. Members get access to the email loop (lots of good regular chatter about writing issues), access to the online critique group, and a monthly newsletter (you’ll never feel more connected). Plus, you can just say you belong. You’ve got friends. Friends for $45 a year? What a deal.

Pat:  The RMFW Colorado Gold Writers Conference, scheduled for September 7-9 in Denver, is being advertised as its thirty-year anniversary. Tell us why you think this conference has been so successful.

Mark:  The hospitality suite? Two late-night bashes unparalleled in the history of writer fests nationwide? (I’ve actually never gone to one of the parties.) Actually, too many reasons to name. You have to be there to see it and get it. Feel it. There is so much going on—agent and editor pitches (top-notch agents and editors from both coasts), master classes, stellar workshops, a fun banquet with contest winners announced. There’s just this wonderful buzz happening during the whole event. If you come once, you’re coming again and next time you might bring a friend. I’ve never laughed as hard as I did at last year’s keynote speech by Bernard Cornwell. Also last year, I happened to sit down next to an enthusiastic, upbeat young writer who was clearly working so hard at her craft I knew it would pay off. Now, she’s got a fabulous agent and well on her way. That kind of story is repeated over and over. Our conference chairs hear from these agents and editors that the days are very well run—and they are. It’s like the whole Mentos and Pepsi thing, the combinations can be quite explosive. And no, I’m not referring to the hospitality suite.

Pat:  You’re a published mystery author. What specific advice and training did you receive through RMFW that helped you accomplish your writing goals?

Mark:  Good question—and a tough one to answer. I wouldn’t know where to begin. I can’t cite just one. I don’t even have a list of all the advice or workshops. What inspiration you walk away with one year might be different than what you walk away with the next year—because you’re looking for different things, or you’re exposed to a new way of thinking about a specific issue. And some of it isn’t even all that specific—it’s the atmosphere. It’s being around serious writers and serious agents (some of the funniest people you’ll ever meet) who are immersed in the business, and you see how they talk about reviewing a manuscript, and you get a feel for the level of quality you need to produce to get in the door. You feel as if some of the standards they set might actually rub off on you and, well, I think it does. If forced to mention one specific piece of advice it would be the same one you hear everywhere—write and write some more and then write some more. And then keep writing. It’s a war and we’re all just soldiers doing a bit of battle each day—your job is to grab a pen and crank out the stories and keep the words flowing. You don’t get better by reading advice books—or even going to conferences—you get better by writing.

Pat:  How do you schedule your writing time, your RMFW president duties, work, family, and still get everything done?

Mark:  I don’t know. First things first? A “nail it” approach? Deal with the big stuff first and let the little stuff deal with itself? The one guaranteed part of every day is writing fiction. Forty-five minutes to an hour, every morning, at least five or six times a week. Then, the rest of the day, you know, bring it on. Compared to many others, I have an uncomplicated life and very little of it (okay, none) involves manual labor. So it’s just busy. I can’t complain about that.

Pat:  Tell us something about yourself that most of your RMFW friends don’t already know.

Mark:  I dig reality shows like “Flying Wild Alaska,” “Ice Road Truckers,” “Survivor,” “Amazing Race” and, yes, “Project Runway.” And if someone’s cooking on television, I am compelled to watch. Also love podcasts of all flavors and would love to get some new recommendations on cool new shows.

Many thanks to Mark for letting us give him the third degree this month. And I hope you all will be joining us September 7th in Denver for the Colorado Gold Conference. Maybe we'll see you in the Hospitality Suite? 


You can get to know Mark better on his website, Facebook and on Twitter at @writerstevens He also reviews books on his blog, Don’t Need a Diagram.

For more information on Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, visit the RMFW website. The full schedule for the Colorado Gold Conference and registration form is available along with information about guest agents and editors and all presenters.

Q & A conducted by Pat Stoltey via e-mail.

1 comment:

Patricia Stoltey said...

Mark, thanks a bunch for participating in the Q&A for us. See you at Colorado Gold!