Thursday, April 17, 2014

Denver Teen Writers Get Their Own Summer Camp, Their Own Way ... by Trai Cartwright

Like lots of us, I’ve been writing stories since someone shoved a crayon in my fist. I got lots of oohs and ahhs from the adults in my world, not unlike a trained monkey at the circus might, but what I didn’t get was any kind of organized or professional support. There was exactly one creative writing class at my high school, and only a third of that time dealt with fiction. The rest of the time, I had to hack my way through poetry (anon, no!) and nonfiction (and this was before creative nonfiction, so it was basically journalism).

I was a sci-fi writer. I had no business or interest attempting either of those other mediums, but if I wanted any kind of fiction education, I had no choice.

When I grew up and started teaching creative writing for a living, I knew right away what my dream program was: a “boot camp” for teen writers. Four hardcore days of studying the craft with other teens, forming a tribe of people who understood exactly what it meant to be a writer, and encouraging them to pursue this most impossible of dreams.

It was the sort of program I would have died for as a teen.

So I went for it. I hired four local authors from different mediums to teach different tracks, I took on screenwriting, and away we went. Five years later, over 200 kids have attended Explorati Teen Writers Boot Camps, and the customer satisfaction is exactly what I hoped it would be:

"This was such a friendly environment, great learning and awesome people! Working with a writing teacher is important to me because they really have the finesse to help you. I can't wait for next year!"

Young writers are everywhere, but being writers they tend not to draw attention to themselves. They are the ones who disappear into their rooms for hours on end, not surfing or texting, but writing stories. They are the ones who pretend to follow along with classwork at their desks but in fact are revising a scene that just won’t stop running through their heads. They are the ones talking to themselves in different voices as their characters work out a piece of dialogue. They are the ones who keep book stores alive, who always have one foot and half their mind in another world, and who look somewhat bewildered when others are cheered for scoring a goal when they’ve just finished writing a 350-page novel and no one broke out the marching band for them.

Explorati Teens breaks out the marching band. We celebrate writers. We’re here just for them, so they can disappear into their very special cave for four days and do the thing they were born to do: write. Craft gets explained on a level designed just for them, revelations as well as friends are made, and best of all, they get help writing exactly what they want to write.

In Denver, no one else “lets” teen writers do this. There seems to be this idea that teens need prompts and guided exercises in order to write. In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth. They want to learn how to do what they do better. And that’s Explorati Teen Writers Boot Camp’s goal –whatever they are passionate about, we are passionate about.

So if you know a teen writer in the Denver area (or within commuting distance) who could use this sort of celebratory, inspiring, very serious approach to bolstering their endeavors, send them our way. We’ve got a camp for Middle Schoolers, developing High Schoolers, and for High Schoolers who are so advanced, they’re ready for a college-level education.

This summer is going to be serious fun!

Explorati Teen Writers Boot Camp

Fiction I (middle school) – June
Fiction II (high school) – July
Fiction III (advanced high school) – July – August
Cost: $275
Location: University Park, Denver (next to University of Denver)


Trai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.

A to Z Challenge: O is for Opera (and Linda Osmundson and "Ordinary Grace" by William Kent Krueger)

Holy cow! I'm getting this one in at the last second. Hopefully I can get a couple days ahead this afternoon so I don't start stressing out before the month is over.

Best to get to it.

Featured Author:  Linda Osmundson

Linda is a northern Colorado resident who developed a beautiful series of Western art books intended for kids from 5 to 105. From her website:

"At the age of fifty, she told her husband she wanted to take a writing course. Because of her many past interests, he asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" She has grown up to publish many articles in local and national magazines and publish [three] books. Although she lived and attended college in Texas, she was never a cowgirl."

 Her books include How the West Was Drawn: Cowboy Charlie's Art, How the West Was Drawn: Frederic Remington's Art, and her new release, How the West Was Drawn: Women's Art. Any one of them would make a wonderful gift for a child or grown-up who appreciates Western art (or just loves pictures of cowboys and Indians and all things related).

Featured Book:  Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

I am a big fan of this author's Cork O'Connor mystery series set in Minnesota. The book I'm featuring today, however, is a standalone novel--one of the best books I read in 2013. Here's a shortened version of the blurb from Krueger's website:

"New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson's Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. ... Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family—which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother—he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years."

Ordinary Grace is a nominee for the Edgar® Award for Best Novel. It already won the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award for Best Fiction, Thriller Dilys Award (Independent Mystery Booksellers Association), and Left Coast Crime "Squid" Award for Best Mystery Set Within the United States.

Krueger will be a keynote speaker at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference in September.

Word of the Day:  Opera

I love rock opera. My favorite is Jesus Christ, Superstar. And I enjoy some traditional opera. Carmen is a favorite. So is La Boheme. I think of Porgy and Bess as opera, too, though the Gershwins were most likely happy to have their masterpiece called a Broadway musical.

Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are fun, too.

And I like most anything with a wonderful tenor in the cast.

Do you enjoy opera? If so, what's your favorite?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A to Z Challenge: N is for Nocturnal (and Pam Nowak and ...)

As I told one of my writer friends, the second half of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge is a slippery slope.

This is where I let my mind wander, take a day off from blog hopping, don't stay two scheduled posts ahead, and then risk panic.

What if my visitors stop coming? What if I don't get more comments today than I did yesterday? What if I fail the challenge?

Well, I won't die, that's for sure. But I will be disappointed. So, I'll soldier on and finish the month without goofing off too much more than I already have.

Featured Author:  Pamela Nowak

Pam writes historical romance, and she does it so well that she wins awards. As a matter of fact, she's a finalist for a 2014 Colorado Book Award for genre fiction for her novel Changes.

From Pam's bio on the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Blog:

"Pam has a B.A. in history, has taught prison inmates, managed the Fort Yuma National Historic Site and run a homeless shelter. She was named the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year in 2010, chaired three conferences, and now serves as president. Pam and her life partner Ken live in Denver. Their combined families include six daughters and several grand-children. Together, they parent two dogs and a cat."

You can find out more about Pam and her novels at her website. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Featured Book: ..........

Would you believe I couldn't think of a title I've read that starts with N? I couldn't believe it either. It's probably just a bad case of A to Z Brain Freeze.

Feel free to throw out a few suggestions.

Word of the Day:  Nocturnal

This is not a word that describes me. I start to fade around eight p.m. so I'm not good for much but watching a little television...mostly stuff that doesn't require concentration. I'm usually in bed before eleven.

I suppose I have to admit I'm not much of an early morning person either. I like mornings, but I want them to be quiet. No talking. Just reading the paper and drinking coffee.

What about you? Are you a night owl?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A to Z Challenge: M is for Marijuana (and April Moore and "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis)

M. Does this mean we're halfway home on this cursed Blogging from A to Z April Challenge?

Why do I sign up for this thing every year?

There are reasons. It gets me back in the habit of regular posting (although definitely not six times a week). I re-connect with old blogging friends and make some new ones. And I always learn something by reading all the extra posts I somehow find the time for (usually in the evening).

So here's my contribution for Day M.

Featured Author:  April Moore

April is a Colorado writer I met back at the end of 2003 when we ended up in the same novel-writing class. Shortly after, she and a couple more classmates started a critique group which I was thrilled to join. We are the only two original members still writing, but Raintree Writers has survived.

April's nonfiction book Folsom's 93: The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men was published in 2013. She has a website and blog devoted to information related to her research.

 She has also completed a novel of women's fiction (with lots of humor) and is currently working on a YA/NA story. Learn more about April at her website and her Epicurean Vegan blog.

Featured Book:  Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis

I'm not the most dedicated sports fan in the world, especially when it comes to baseball which I find a tedious game that always turns into a hot dog and beer marathon with a side of sunburn.

I do like football....but prefer to watch it on television.

Reading sports stories, however, is a whole different ballgame. I read the sports section of my local paper (admittedly searching mostly for the human interest stories), and I love books and movies about sports--nonfiction (especially biographies) and fiction.

Moneyball is one of the books I loved, and the movie was excellent too.

I'll send you to Michael's blog for his photo and videos of interviews and talks.

Word of the Day:  Marijuana

If you know what's been going on in Colorado with the new pot laws, you probably guessed I'd at least mention the subject during the challenge.

The new laws don't affect me much because I won't smoke anything (quitting nicotine back in 1982 was hard enough--I've seen the effects of lung cancer in my own family). And I'm already high on life so I don't need drops or edibles or infusions or whatever else is available out there.

However, I don't like the remote possibility a little smoke will blow my way. I've smelled pot, and to me it reeks worse than skunk. And I didn't much care for the inconvenience at Denver International Airport on my last trip when we had to line up single file to approach the Concourse A security station so TSA agents with drug-sniffing dogs could walk up and down the line and let the dogs check us out.

And that's all I have to say about that....for now.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A to Z Challenge: L is for List (and Sophie Littlefield and "Long Live the Suicide King" by Aaron Michael Ritchey)

I think that's the longest title I've had yet.

So it's Day L on the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. If you're visiting here for the first time and don't know about the challenge, you can visit the official website and list of 2,127 participants at Blogging from A to Z Challenge (April 2014). Here's the jazzy 2014 badge in case you missed it in my sidebar.

Featured Author:  Sophie Littlefield

I fell in love with Sophie's protagonist, Stella Hardesty, in the very first book of the series, A Bad Day for Sorry. There are now five books in the series. The blurb from Sophie's website:

"At first glance, Stella Hardesty looks like a typical housewife. Then she kills her abusive husband with a wrench right before her fiftieth birthday. A few years later, she's so busy delivering justice, helping other women deal with their own abusive husbands and boyfriends, that she's barely got time to run her sewing shop."

Sophie now has books in a second mystery series, women's fiction, and YA. I can't even keep up with her new releases anymore.  Sophie grew up in Missouri and now lives in California.  I think she should move to Colorado!

Featured Book:  Long Live the Suicide King by Aaron Michael Ritchey

I haven't read this YA novel yet, but it's on my Kindle, waiting patiently for me to hide away and read it straight through. Here's the blurb from Aaron's website:

"Seventeen-year-old Jim “JD” Dillenger knows exactly how his miserable suburban life is going to play out. At least drugs added a little chaos to his life, but after almost losing his soul, JD knows he has to quit. Now clean, he figures he has another sixty years of boring life followed by a meaningless death. JD decides to pre-empt God by killing himself. However, once he decides to die, his life gets better, more interesting, and then downright strange. New friends, a possible romance, and donuts, lots of donuts. Once the end is in sight, every minute becomes precious."

I've become a big fan of YA novels over the last couple of years. The writing is excellent, the stories fast-paced with great plot twists, and  the length lends itself to a fast weekend read.

Word of the Day:  List

This is a cool word because it has so many meanings. One can make a list like my To Do List which lists all the things I need to do for the next three days. One can list to music while he reads. And an object can list to the side as does my old office chair. Or a human, as I do when my knee is bothering me.

My To Do List is getting way too long, by the way. I think it has something to do with unfinished chores during the month of April while I'm busy writing 26 blog posts, responding to comments on those posts, and visiting new blogs on the A to Z list.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A to Z Challenge: K is for Killer (and Julie Kazimer and a whole list of "K" novels)

K threw me for a loop when I tried to pick a book written by a Coloradoan or with a Colorado setting or even a remote relationship to this part of the country.

But the author was no trouble at all.

Featured Author:  Julie Kazimer (aka J. A. Kazimer)

In spite of Julie's busy schedule with work, school, co-editing the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog, and goodness knows what else, she also writes fiction.

We learned she had a great sense of humor from her first two messed-up fairy tale books. Her latest, however, is a romantic thriller that is receiving all kinds of great reviews. The Assassin's Heart is an excellent read which I'll be reviewing in the near future (but probably after this insane A to Z challenge is over).

To get a taste of Julie's sense of humor, check out the posts on her blog.

Featured Book(s): I couldn't settle on one favorite, so I'll just suggest you read these if you haven't done so already.

The Kite Runner
The Killing Fields
The Kalahari Typing School for Men
King Solomon's Mines

Can you think of more?

Word of the Day:  Killer

Killer can mean delicious, as in "this is a killer chocolate cake."

For those of us who write mystery/suspense, however, killer is mostly used to refer to the perpetrator of a homicide. (Writing that sentence made me laugh.)

To tell the truth, at the moment I'd like to deal with that killer chocolate cake instead.

Friday, April 11, 2014

A to Z Challenge: J is for Jam (and David Jessup and "John Dies in the End" by David Wong)

We're speeding right along, aren't we? Already at the letter J and jogging right along toward the halfway mark.

Featured Author:  David Jessup

I had David in mind for this challenge from the beginning, but I wasn't sure whether to make him the featured author or use his excellent historical novel set in Colorado, Mariano's Crossing. I finally settled on the man instead of the book because of the unbelievable challenges he and his family have faced since September last year.

When the floods came to Northern Colorado and the Big Thompson overflowed its banks near Loveland, the waters claimed big chunks of building and ground at the Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch owned by the Jessups. Northern Colorado Writers held its first few fall member retreats at that ranch, so it holds a very special place in our hearts. Happily, the Jessups are rebuilding, and have been blessed by donations and volunteer labor from many of their friends who want to see Sylvan Dale back in business.

 David will soon have his second novel, Mariano's Choice, completed. It is described as a prequel to Mariano's Crossing.

Featured Book:  John Dies in the End by David Wong

This is one of the few books I'll mention that I have not read yet. I bought the novel because I like the cover, and because the stuff on the back of the book is entertaining, and I liked the short synopsis which goes like this:

"It’s a drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. On the street they call it Soy Sauce, and users can drift across time and dimensions. But some who come back are no longer human.

Suddenly a silent, otherworldly invasion is underway, and mankind needs a hero. What it gets instead is John and David, a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs.

Can these two stop the oncoming horror in time to save humanity?

No. No, they can’t."

So why haven't I read it yet? Because I've loaded myself down with so many projects I haven't had time to read anything longer than a blog post for weeks.

Word of the Day:  Jam

There are so many ways I can go with this word. Jam as in apricot jam, something I use regularly as a glaze for chicken and Norwegian salmon.

Or jam, as in traffic jam, something we'll experience often in my town as the weather gets better and all kinds of construction and road repairs and gas pipe replacements take place. Sweet progress.

Or jam as in "come on by and bring your keyboard and electric guitar and we'll jam for a couple of hours in the garage where I have my drums, which is right under the neighbor lady's office where she's trying to get some work done, but if we play real loud we can jam her concentration and ruin her day." High fives all around....

I could go on and on, but I think I've said enough.