Writing from the Peak, PPW Blog

Marcus Aurelis Turns 1,898

Photo of bronze of Marcus Aurelius courtesy of the Louvre.

Today’s writing advice is nearly two thousand years old. Roman Emperor and Philosopher Marcus Aurelius would be celebrating his 1898th birthday today*.  His core work, Meditations, originally entitled “To Himself”, may be one of the earliest self-help books. 

Aurelius’ advice is 65 generations old, yet still valuable. You’ll not get that next project finished until you start!

*appropriate calendar adujustment

Lit-Quote provided by, Gabrielle V. Brown who writes all manner of fiction and nonfiction.  Find her on Facebook, and instagram ; contact her at gvbrownwriter@gmail.com.  For more about today’s birthday author, visit her website.

Using the Tax Code – Part 1

In this two part series, Jason Henry tells us about how the tax code can be used to further your writing career. Jason will be teaching, Understanding How the Changes in the Tax Code Effect Your Writing Career, with his wife, Linda Evans at PPWC2019.

Today I want to talk to you about your writing journey, but first I want to talk about my wife.

The Fetching Mrs. Evans has put up with my shenanigans for over fourteen years. Why I’m not living in my car trying to watch Youtube on my laptop while stealing the wifi signal from McDonalds, I’ll never know. She is truly a saint for putting up with me.

She is an accountant and tax preparer by trade. She was introduced to the business by her merciless parents who forced her into child labor at the wee age of nine by chaining her to an adding machine. (I kid, I kid!)

You know, your view of the world is bound to change when you’ve married an accountant. For example, the Fetching Mrs. Evans has taught me the ways Congress has tried to modify our collective behaviors in this country by incentivizing some acts and de-incentivizing others. For example we are all encouraged to put money away into retirement accounts because that money doesn’t get taxed until you use it. We are encouraged to own and not rent housing because we can take a portion of our monthly payment off as a write-off when we own. Stuff like that.

So I want to talk about how you can use the current tax law to help you with your writing craft.

In the beginning …

The tax code is designed to incentivize certain actions. For most of the 20th century, Congress wanted to reward people for being good neighbors and community members by creating the Schedule A on the tax form. Your mortgage interest deduction is noted on the Schedule A because we believe homeowners are better community members. Those uniforms you bought for the local little league team? A Schedule A write-off. That computer you donated to the Boys Club? A schedule A write-off. The mileage on your car you gained by driving your daughters dance team to the competition? A write-off as well.

Amateur writers used to be able to take their deductions off under the Schedule A. Taking a writing class? Schedule A. Going to a writer’s conference? Schedule A! Talking on a panel at Denver Pop Culture Con? The mileage and food purchased were on deductible under the schedule A!

Things have changed.

Unfortunately for us, Congress gutted the provisions of the Schedule A in the latest round of tax reform. No more writing off convention hot dogs! No more mileage deductions for pontificating about Dr. Who at a sci-fi convention.

In order to use those deductions now, you have to put them under a Schedule C. The Schedule C is for business. All of those deductions you could have taken off for your writing hobby you can now use under the Schedule C – provided that you treat your writing as a business.

Business Best Practices

In order for you to take advantage of the tax codes you have to start practicing the habits of a business. So what does that mean?

  • Keep track of incoming revenue and outgoing expenses
  • Starting a separate checking/savings account
  • Using contracts when you hire people to do services for you. (Cover artists, editors, formatters, & web designers, to name a few.)
  • Issuing 1099 tax forms


The great thing about treating your writing like a business is that it opens up a lot of petty expenses you’re paying for as deductions.

  • Going to a writers conference and you need a new dress? That is a write-off.
  • Did you donate a set of your books to a library or school? Write-off!
  • Did you buy a table at your local geek convention? Write-off
  • What about the mileage you drove to that book signing? Write-off
  • Did you have to pay for food or a hotel room for a writing event? Write-off.
  • Do you pay for meals or dues in a writing organization? (Like a critique group?) Write-off

Now please don’t feel like you can write everything off. You can’t. But you if you were going to make a purchase for your writing career – and you’ve gotten into best business practices for writers everywhere – then you can legitimately claim that purchase as a write-off.

Here are some examples.

I write historical fiction and I blog on for Pikes Peak, as well as my own website. So I take 70% of my internet access as a write off. I can’t take all of it off because I, like you, watch HULU, Netflix, goof off on game sites, and send non-business emails with my wifi at home.

I take off about 50% of my phone bill because I have a smart phone and I use the data to talk to other writers through FB messenger, text, and email – which I access from my phone when I’m not at home. I will also use the internet for research, too. I can’t use any more than 50% because I gab with friends, send funny memes and other shenanigans with my phone, too.

I live close to Denver Pop Culture Con, so I don’t take the mileage – I take the cost of the lite rail.

When I teach at Pikes Peak Writers this year, I can’t take the any of the registration or hotel costs off because I’m on faculty and that’s being comp’d. But I can take the mileage for the drive down there and back.

I will have my black suit dry cleaned for the conference, so I’ll take the write-off for that, too. (I only wear suits for conferences and book launches – so this is a legitimate business expense.)

I’m going to end this blog here, but next time we’ll talk about book keeping, writing contracts, & whether or not you need to issue 1099’s in your writing business.

Jason Evans

Jason Henry Evans says that life is funny. “In 2004 I moved from Los Angeles to Denver, newly married with a desire to be a great teacher and husband. I dedicated myself to public education and realized my heart was not in it. So I moved on. At the same time I stumbled into a creative world of art and literature I now call home. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been worthwhile.”
You can catch up with Jason on his Facebook 
Author Page or on Twitter. You will also find up to date posts on his blog.

Conference Like a Pro –

Everything You Need to Know

Pikes Peak writer's Conference 2019
April 28, 2019

Most of the time, writing is a solitary act. But if you’re in it for the long haul, it quickly becomes apparent that not only will other people have to be involved at some point, you need other people to stay motivated and succeed. Attending the Pikes Peak Writers Conference is a terrific way to start finding those people – your tribe.

If you’ve never been to a writers’ conference, being around a few hundred or so other aspiring authors can be a little overwhelming, even anxiety-provoking, until you realize the amazingly wonderful fact that these folks are following the same mysterious calling as you. Eating lunch with an agent or an editor is one of the best ways to understand that these inscrutable entities are, in fact, human beings who truly want you to succeed. Because, after all, why would someone get into the publishing industry unless they, you know, LOVED BOOKS?? It’s their business to find good work.

PPWC Conference Director Laura Hayden and Programming Director Bowen Gilling joined conference mavens Patrick Hester, Stacy S. Jensen, and Shannon Lawrence to provide insider tips and insights during Write Brain on Wednesday. They even suggested icebreaking strategies for first-time attendees. (Hint: asking another writer “What are you working on?” is a great way to kick off a long conversation.)

Bowen had some particularly helpful advice for those new to the conference experience. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment with a statement like, “My attendance will be a failure unless X happens,” where X equals a 3-book deal or the like. Instead, stay open to the unexpected networking opportunities and discussions that spring up naturally. Keep looking. You’ll find your tribe.

Deadline to register for PPWC2019 is April 28, 2019. Conference is, May 3 through 5, 2019. Can’t make it for the whole weekend? The conference prequel on May 2nd is a one-day event with eight different workshops to choose from.

Go to https://pikespeakwriters.com/ppwc/ for more information.

Robin Laborde

This recap from Write Brain is presented by Contributing Editor Robin Laborde. Robin is not sure exactly how long she has been a member of Pikes Peak Writers but she enjoys it very much. While she is currently writing a speculative fiction novel set in the near future, she dreams of flying to the moon in a spaceship made from butterfly wings.

Networking for Writers

This blog post originally appeared on the Killzone Blog (TKZ), to which John Gilstrap contributes every other Wednesday.


Like any other business, this publishing game is built in part on personal relationships. Want to rise to the top of an agent’s slush pile?  Want to get a blurb from a big-name author? Want to know how to deal with the frustrations of cover designs, finding an editor, or fleshing out the technical details of your plot?  All of these challenges and just about everything else you want to know or do can be flushed out through networking.  That’s what I want to talk about in the paragraphs ahead.

In no particular order of importance:

Followers, Friends, Likes and Contacts don’t count. 

There’s a widespread presumption “out there” that the way to start a writing career is to build an enormous social media platform.  I see the logic when it comes to nonfiction expertise, but when it comes to fiction, it makes no sense to me to concentrate on finding customers for a product that doesn’t yet exist.  Yes, I suppose a well-done blog about one’s writing process could be interesting to other writers, but here’s the sad truth: Writers don’t buy books. I’ve overstated that, of course, but in large measure I think it’s true when it comes to writers’ blogs.  I’m not being bitter here at all, but we get statistics every week on how many people visit TKZ every day, and trust me: If all those people bought all our books, we’d all be driving better cars.

Now, think of the number of writing-related groups and blogs you subscribe to through Facebook and LinkedIn and all the other social media platforms.  I get that those are the safe spaces that make you comfortable, and give you an opportunity to actively participate in conversations, but if you’re writing, say, about police procedures, might your time and efforts be better spent on groups and blogs that talk about those things?

I don’t think it’s insignificant that the social media push is largely driven by people who make money by helping people build their social media platform. I mean, think about it: Authors are brands and books are products. Would you be more inclined to buy a Chevy over a Toyota because the president of Chevrolet posted a picture of his breakfast?

Step out of the virtual world into the real one.

Given that you’re currently reading a blog about writing, I feel a little awkward telling you to push away from the computer and stop reading blogs about writing. None of us are truly who we pretend to be in public forums like this. Many of us try to be genuine–I know that I do–but my armor is always up in an online interaction.  My inner-cynic won’t let me get but so close in a cyber-relationship, and I expect the same level of cynicism from others. I would never dream of asking advice or asking a favor from someone I have not met in person.

Go to where the experts are. 

It’s no secret to TKZ regulars that I’m what you might call a gun guy.  I like firearms and I know a lot about them. I also know that there are people who know far more than I do, and that a large percentage of those people will gather in Las Vegas at the end of January for the annual SHOT Show, which is to weapons systems what the Detroit Auto Show is to automobiles. I need to be there.

My first SHOT Show was in 2012, and it was there that I met a guy who is a world renown expert in martial arts and edged weapons. We bonded and became friends. Through him, I’ve met a number of Special Forces operators, and through them some FBI special weapons experts.  I try not to bother them too much, but they always take my phone calls and answer tough questions.  They trust me never to write things that I shouldn’t and I pay them every year with an acknowledgement and a free book. Most of these guys have become good friends.

But you don’t have to go to Vegas. 

Want to know about how cops interact with each other? Start with a community ride-along program and chat up the officer who’s driving you around.  Listen not just to the words, but to the attitude.  Ask that cop if he can introduce you to other cops–say, a homicide investigator–so that you can ask a few questions.  I think you’ll be surprised by the results.

BTW, for police-related immersion learning, you cannot beat Writer’s Police Academy.  Lee Lofland puts on one hell of a 4-day show every year. His blog, The Graveyard Shift, is informative, too.

You need to meet other industry professionals. 

Pick a conference, any conference. They grow like weeds around the country–around the world, for that matter.  I can’t speak to other genres, but in the world of mysteries and thrillers, you could spend virtually every weekend at a conference.  Yes, they cost money, but before you complain about that, remember that writing is a business, and every business requires investment.

  • 100% of all business at a conference is conducted in the bar. You don’t have to drink, but just as lions on the hunt target watering holes for their dinner, smart rookies scope out the bar at the conference hotel to meet people. Authors of all stature are there to hang out with old friends and meet new ones. Agents and editors are there to develop relationships with existing clients and to scope out new ones.
  • Have a plan. Are you attending the conference to simply get to know people and hang out, or are you going there to accomplish a particular goal?  If you’re on the hunt for an agent, be sure to research who’s attending and what kind of books they’re looking for.  Basically, read the program booklet.
  • Don’t be shy. Okay, you’re an introvert and are uncomfortable around people.  I get that.  Now, get over it. This is a business, and contacts are not going to come to you. To a person, everyone you see at the bar knows that they’re in a public place among hungry strangers, and they’re willing–anxious, even–to talk with shy rookies.
  • Know what you want. After sharing a laugh and a few stories about life and family, be ready for the question, “So, how can I help you?”  That’s your cue for your ten-second elevator pitch delivered without notes. With a smile.  The home run here is a request to send a manuscript. Then chat some more.  This is a people business, so be a real person.
  • Hang out with the crowd you want to belong to.  I’m always amazed–and a little dismayed–at conferences when I see all the rookies hanging out with each other, while the veterans and bestsellers hang out separately. I don’t mean to be crass–and remember, this is a business conference–but your fellow rookies are not in positions to help you.  If Connolly and Lehane and Deaver and Gerritsen are all hanging out, drinking and laughing, pull up a chair.  If the Agent of All Agents is holding court, join the crowd. Unless it’s an intense one-on-one business meeting, I guarantee that no one will ask you to leave. (And why in the world would anyone choose such a public forum for an intense one-on-one business meeting?)

Overall, “networking” as a concept attempts to complicate something that is inherently simple.

 You have goals that you wish to accomplish, and you want to get to know people who can help you get there.  As an alternative step, you want to get to know someone who can introduce you to someone who can help you.  It’s as easy–and as hard–as showing up and asking.

John Gilstrap
John Gilstrap

John Gilstrap is a New York Times bestselling author with four books optioned for the big screen. He will co-produce the film adaptation of his book, Six Minutes to Freedom. A frequent speaker at literary events, John also teaches seminars on suspense writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to The Smithsonian Institution.  Outside of his writing life, John is a renowned safety expert with extensive knowledge of explosives, weapons systems, hazardous materials, and fire behavior.  John lives in Fairfax, VA.

Lit-Quote with Tom Clancy

Today, April 12th, is the birth anniversary of Tom Clancy.

Tom Clancy was once a Maryland insurance broker with a passion for naval history. Then he wrote The Hunt for Red October, which catapulted onto the New York Times bestseller list after President Reagan pronounced it “the perfect yarn”. Clancy was known for  weaving realism and intricate plotting into can’t-put-it-down suspense novels.

Photo taken by Gary Wayne Gilbert, 20Nov1989 at Burns Library, Boston College and is used under Creative Commons License..

Have you ever written real life situations that were just too unbelievable to be included in your work?

Profile Photo of Gabrielle V Brown Managing Editor Pikes Peak Writers BlogLit-Quote is provided by, Gabrielle V. Brown, Contributing Editor with Writing From the Peak. Gabrielle writes all manner of fiction and nonfiction.  Find her on Facebook, and instagram ; contact her at gvbrownwriter@gmail.com.  For more about today’s birthday author, visit her website.

Pet Peeves of Editors and Agents

What are the “Peevie Jeevies” of Editors and Agents?

Here are the top five, in no particular order, from agents and editors I have spoken with throughout my years of attending PPWC.

  • When I say, “No, it’s not for me,” please don’t argue with me or state your case why I should change my mind.
  • Don’t tell me it’s going to be the next bestseller. Comparing it to a particular book is fine, but a little humility goes a long way.
  • Please don’t stalk me, especially in the restrooms. It’s creepy when I turn around and you’re simply always there.
  • I don’t want to be handed your entire manuscript. If I’m interested in your book, I’ll let you know by giving you information on how/where to contact me or I’ll give you my card.
  • Although it’s flattering, don’t treat me like a god or goddess. I’m human, just like you.

Here are the top five things agents and editors would like you to do.

  • Introduce yourself and give me a brief (keyword brief) logline of your story. I don’t need you to recite the entire book.
  • If I do ask for materials, make sure you follow the submission guidelines carefully.
  • Yes, you can buy me a drink. I’d love a drink. Or two.
  • Mingle. Make some small talk. It could lead to bigger things.
  • Talk to me as you would anyone else you’re meeting for the first time. We enjoy meeting new people. That’s why we’re here.

PPWC 2019 is just around the corner. Get ready to meet with editors and agents, but don’t rile their “Peevie Jeevies”!

Becki Davis

A member of Pikes Peak Writers for over 20 years, Becki Davis has written dozens of lifestyle articles for local publications and has been published in a national women’s magazine. Currently she works as an advertising manager for a local newspaper writing copy and designing ads. She and her husband are graphic designers and have won numerous awards both locally and internationally throughout their long careers

Stuff You Should Know About Writing

Susan Wiggs is one of the keynote speakers at PPWC2019, and she graciously shares this post with us about her writing process.

I have the worst work habits. Sometimes I look at the pile of books I’ve written and I wonder how they got there. One reason this body of work has eked out of me (sorry about that visual) is that I have a friend like Sheila. Writer friends keep me accountable.

The actual process of composing a book is not pretty. The best way to describe it is “word-by-word.” You put down a word. Then you cross it out. Then write a few more. Stare out the window. Wonder if the can opener needs cleaning. Wonder if someone’s having a hissy fit on a social network. Wonder why you thought this was a good idea for a novel in the first place. Call a friend. Call Sheila and disrupt her day.

Sometimes you have to go to Bali to clear your head and get some serious thinking done:

Clear your head in Bali.
My brain works better in Bali.

I write my first draft in longhand. In a Clairefontaine notebook with a fountain pen loaded with peacock blue ink. Not because I’m quirky but because I think in longhand. And I’m left-handed so ordinary pens smear my hand as it drags across the page, but Skrip peacock blue on Clairefontaine paper does not.

The first awful draft.

So now what, you ask? After I bleed blue all over the page, I realize there is no backup copy. If I happen to step out for a while, the house might burn down and the only existing manuscript will go up in flames, like Jo’s novel in Little Women. (I didn’t cry when Beth died. I cried when Amy burned the manuscript.) Sometimes I keep the notebook in the freezer, like Tess does with her notes in The Apple Orchard. I figure that’s the last thing that will burn if the house is reduced to rubble.

Eventually, I fill the notebook with about 100,000 words that loosely resemble a novel. Then I have to type the thing up. I can’t use a typist because I tend to revise as I transcribe. Dragon Naturally Speaking voice dictation software works really well for me, provided the dogs don’t go off on me when someone comes to the door. When that happens, here’s what appears on my screen: hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep hep.

Oh, and here’s something. I don’t use Word. I know, I’m awful, but my very first writing software was WordPerfect and my brain is stuck with it. I have to have Reveal Codes and anyone who knows WordPerfect knows why. Please, Word, figure out Reveal Codes! F3! Save my sanity!

Then I print the thing out and my writers’ group has a meeting about it. I’ve been in some writing group or other since 1986 and I don’t intend stopping. Magic happens in a writers’ group–critiquing and brainstorming and commiserating and celebrating. My current group consists not only of the fabulous Sheila Roberts, but also Lois Faye DyerAnjali BanerjeeElsa Watson and Kate Breslin. We read and talk about each other’s work and I adore these women and I would pledge them my first born child but she already has a kid of her own.

My group sometimes meets at a quaint waterfront bakery in a small town, or in Sheila’s incredible waterfront condo. Writing tip: Baked goods make the brain work better.

Moving right along…I rewrite the book a couple of times. At various stages, it looks something like this:

Revisions are not pretty.
Revisions are not pretty.

…but you get to buy lots of colorful office supplies, so that’s something.

…and then I send it to my literary agent and editor. We have long deep talks about every aspect of the novel. Sometimes we get together in person and they are smart and kind and supportive and motivating and I thank God they are in my life.

Susan Wiggs at her wedding.
They came to my wedding. We did no work that weekend.

And then I put on the Sweater of Immovable Deadlines and rewrite that sucker again.

And at some point my editor says we’re good to go, and my agent says yippee, let’s send that girl her advance check…

Susan Wiggs is an international #1 New York Times best-selling, award-winning author of more than fifty novels. Her work has been translated into two-dozen languages. She is a three-time winner of the RITA Award, the highest honor given for a work of romantic fiction. Wiggs has been featured in national and international media, including NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Her most recent novel is Between You and Me (William Morrow). Susan’s life is all about family, friends…and fiction. She lives at the water’s edge on an island in Puget Sound, and in good weather, she commutes to her writers’ group in a 21-foot motorboat.

Her latest releases include: Between You & Me, Family Tree, and Summer at Willow Lake book club edition.

Available for pre-order: Map of the Heart in paperback, and
Between You & Me in hardcover.

Thinking Outside the Publication Box

Write Brain with Debbie Maxwell Allen –

We’re all aware that readers are finding their favorite content in many places besides physical books. With this in mind, Debbie Maxwell Allen’s Write Brain presentation provided a refreshing look at how writers can take advantage of multiple technologies to get themselves and their content in front of readers.

Affordable print-on-demand services make it possible to produce a variety of creative materials such as card decks, board games, and even coloring books. Augmented reality (AR) apps open up the possibility of adding animated artwork and video, viewable by smartphone, to your books and promotional tie-ins.

Of course, no discussion about self-promotion would be complete without mentioning Facebook. Citing the platform’s rising costs for paid advertising, Debbie shared ways to use Facebook in a more organic and conversational way. Rather than boosting posts and buying ads, she suggested leveraging currently free features such as groups and live videos to connect with fans and share content such as story world details, what you’re currently working on, or how you found an idea.

As much as some of us (and by some of us I mean me) would like to imagine it’s not necessary, both traditionally and independently published authors need to find and build their own audience, even before publication. Fortunately, technology makes it easier than ever to get your words and your brand in front of an increasingly global audience.

Debbie Maxwell Allen is an editor, YA author, and Scrivener teacher. She works as a project manager for Good Catch Publishing and writes young adult historical fantasy. Find more of her resources for writers on her blog, Writing While the Rice Boils.

Robin LabordeThis recap from Write Brain is presented by Contributing Editor Robin Laborde. Robin is not sure exactly how long she has been a member of Pikes Peak Writers but she enjoys it very much. She worked as a technical writer for over ten years and has had nonfiction articles published in newspapers and magazines. While she is currently writing a speculative fiction novel set in the near future, she dreams of flying to the moon in a spaceship made from butterfly wings.

Why Diversify our Characters?

Diversity. What is it, anyway?

In this case, I mean specific categories: Race, sex and gender, orientations, ethnicity, national origins, religion, and so on. Diversity of ideas we won’t spend much time or energy on but that’s also a thing that exists.

The better we represent people in our writing, the more we can reflect and create a just and equal society.
~Jason Diaz

Why try to write it? Just because it’s Politically Correct (PC) or in demand – or for deeper reasons?

There’s respectful language and careless language. If one is motivated by fear of criticism, that’s a solid reason to add diversity. That’s how society changes: We criticize outmoded ways of doing things. Nothing wrong with responding to that.

I’d like to start with one primary reason to be as inclusive as you can.

Representation matters; The Doll Test

Mamie Phipps Clark and Kenneth Clark are famous for the Doll Test, which they wrote about in three papers between 1939 and 1940. The internet is replete with various versions of this test (for example https://youtu.be/tkpUyB2xgTM). The short version is this:

A 5-year-old black girl is shown two baby dolls. One has black skin, the other white skin. Mamie asks her a series of questions about the dolls. “Which one is pretty?” “Which one is good?” “Which one is ugly?” “Which one is bad?” and so on. The girl points to the white doll for pretty, good, and nice and to the black doll for the opposite answers. Then Mamie drops the bomb: “And which doll are you like?” At this point, the girl looks at the researcher with this hurt expression. Like, “You sonofa… you tricked me.” Because she knows which doll she is like.

This is a segregation-era test, but it wasn’t set in a segregated state and the results persist across time and place. Segregation matters for this thing, but isn’t the only factor. One of the issues must be representation – otherwise, why would brown kids south of our border react in just the same way?

It isn’t just little girls of color. The suicide rate for people on the GLBTQIA+ spectrum always exceeds straight folks. People of disability constantly push back on well-meaning microaggressions. Jews, Sikhs and Muslims in America often experience literal danger, and black trans women, being at the pernicious apex of three disadvantaged groups, are some of the most murdered people in this country.

The better we represent people in our writing, the more we can reflect and create a just and equal society.

Five Diversity Errors

With that, let’s delve into five diversity errors, ranging from worst to best. To get into the plus side, ways of getting this right, come to PPWC and drop in on my talk on this subject.


People will pay to see films and read books/comics that portray them. Sometimes creative products get made that include or focus on minority or underrepresented groups just to pump sales.

The comic book character, Cyborg, was written and produced by white, able-bodied people. Black people had no say and the money they spent didn’t profit them or their communities. The titular character hates himself and his prosthetics—a very able-bodied view of what it might be like to rely on medical devices for empowerment.

Women in film and comics, and yes in literature, are often-usually included for sexual value. There’s a certain trope in horror, for example: A serial killer stalks around the nightclub scene and finds his perfect victim. She’s young and hot and we get to linger on descriptions of her sexuality. The killer gets her home, things get hot and heavy, and then she murders him. She’s not there to empower female readers; she’s there to profit white male writers.


A lesser form of exploitation. The character is still there to attract a certain audience and still doesn’t profit the minority community. She doesn’t necessarily conform to a bunch of stereotypes or otherwise outwardly offend, but she’s alone on the screen.

Example: Rogue One. Felicity Jones stars. She has a non-romantic plot, a Hero’s Journey, with tons of screen time. BUT, the male crew, and stars, outnumber females by well over 6:1. Only male characters die on screen.

Mary Sue

Sometimes we’re so afraid to say anything bad about a minority group that we go too far the other way. A Mary Sue is overly idealized and usually has incongruent skills.

The NCIS TV franchise is notorious for MarySue characters: the Goth girl with extraordinary hacker skills (“girl” being a misnomer; Abbie is portrayed as eternally 28 despite being born in 1969). Wheelchair bound Patton Plame (portrayed by Daryl “Chill” Mitchell) is an unrealistic hacker with magical superpowers. Sebastian Lund played by not #ActuallyAutistic actor Rob Kerkovich (as far as I know), starts in forensic medicine, graduates to field agent, also has unrealistic levels of skill and knowledge and ability to “overcome” “autism”.

If you’re doing Mary Sues, you aren’t necessarily doing anything terrible, but you can do better.


Some writers may not know any people of the minority group and therefore relies on stereotypes to write the characters. Sometimes we get our ideas about people who aren’t like us from movies, TV and books.

Positive stereotypes are still stereotypes. What’s the harm of positive stereotyping? It tends to pigeonhole the group. You can be black and not into rap music or dancing. You can be Asian and have neither talent nor aptitude for math. You can be female and have actual ambitions.

I’m an autistic man. You don’t know me. Everything you think you know about me from watching TV is wrong. I’m not smart because I’m autistic; I’m both smart and autistic. I worked very hard for my academic success.

Positive stereotyping tends to credit our success for attributes rather than effort and dedication and sacrifice.


So, you’ve decided to include people of color in your novel – congratulations – because people of color exist, and you want to write a realistic world. Racing towards inclusion, in good faith with good intentions, we might make some mistakes. Call them microaggressions.

I’ve read a lot of books lately where, when a character is black, the author mentions it but, when a character is white, they don’t mention it. This sets up black as a category that bears discussion, but white as default mode: nothing to see here.

If you’re going to describe characters as black, then their skin color is in some way noteworthy. Probably you’re right. But the truth is, black is important because white is important. So, I advise also describing white characters as white.

What else? Describing females in terms of their sexuality but not the males. Lingering on black hair but not white hair. Describing a Hispanic person’s accent but not those of Euro people from all over the country.

Now that you have a glimpse into what not to do, sign up for the conference workshop and we’ll primarily spend time on doing this stuff right, with more positive examples.

Jason Diaz

Jason Dias is a doctor of clinical psychology with fifteen years of experience working with developmentally disabled adults, and is the co-founder of the Zhi Mian Institute for International Existential Psychology. His writing credits include web journals and articles for The New Existentialists and A New Domain, two book chapters about existential psychology, a book of poetry and several novels and anthologies. Jason lives in Colorado Springs with his wife and son and keeps mostly to himself.

Let’s Go Camping!

Okay, I know it’s still a little too cold to be camping outside. But this is camping you can do at your computer. I’m talking about Camp NaNoWriMo.

I know you’ve heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. Camp NaNoWriMo is the same premise, but a little different vibe. It’s like the younger sibling of NaNo. Camp NaNo takes place twice a year, in April and July, during a less stressful time of year. No major holidays to worry about or Christmas shopping to stress over, and little Sally doesn’t eat the cat’s food for lunch. I personally like Camps better than NaNoWriMo in November. I don’t feel as if I’m in a cave the entire month of writing, and it’s less stressful than NaNoWriMo.

Your Cabin Awaits

Cabin in the woods. Photo © Kathie Scrimgeour
Photo © Kathie Scrimgeour

In NaNoWriMo you have writing buddies, whereas in Camp NaNo you’re put into “cabins” with other writers, up to twenty in each cabin. If you have a group of friends you’d like to “bunk” with, you can create and name your cabin with those friends, or you can find a cabin to be a part of. Either way works. The fun part is encouraging each other, making jokes about your cabin (Okay, who left the smelly sock on the floor? Do we have stuff for the S’mores?”), and tracking your progress as well as each other’s.

The Count is up to You

Camp NaNo allows you to choose your goal by selecting either a word, page, line, minute, or hour count (anywhere from 30 to 1,000,000 words). You keep track online the same way as you would during NaNoWriMo, by inputting your words each night. Don’t feel like you’re going to make your goal? You can adjust your goal by editing your profile. If you have to change your goal, it’s okay. Life happens and the main thing is you’ve started writing, so that’s a major win!

Camp with Friends

If you like a more local feel, there are several places which host writing nights, where you can interact with other Wrimos in the area after being in your cabin all day. You can find them on the website by looking for your city. Municipal Liaisons will keep you informed on the whens and wheres, too. Writing sprint prompts, helpful hints, and more will be sent to your inbox once a day.

You’ll probably want some of the same survival items you had for November’s marathon. Tea or coffee, snacks, music if that’s your writing thang, and a notice to family and friends to only bother you if the house in on fire.

If you’re looking for a retreat to do some writing this year and you don’t want to spend a lot of money renting a cabin in the middle of the woods, Camp NaNoWriMo is the place to be, and you don’t have to pack the sunblock and insect repellant to participate. Happy camping!

Note from editor: Although Camp NaNo is a non-PPW event it is a perfect opportunity to write your novel just in time for #PPWC2019’s Query 1 on 1.

photo of margin holmesMargena Adams Holmes was born in Bellflower, CA sometime in the 1960s. She has always had a love for both reading and writing, writing her first song/poem in 1st grade. Margena is a big supporter of indie authors and will read anything that draws her into the story. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.