Stand Together or Die Alone: Step Five, Part 3

Step 5 – Admitted to the world, to another person, and to ourselves the exact nature of our disease

Back when I started going to writers conferences, I would always attend the first-time published sessions and listen to the experiences of those lucky few that got published. Here I was in the darkest cesspool of obscurity, scribbling in the dark, but these writers, these people, they had made it!
Writers Conference

Ha. Not sure we ever really make it. Will Stephenie Meyer write another novel, or have the haters hated her right into a cesspool I can only dream about? That of the despised, successful writer.

But back to the First Published panels at writers conferences. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to see these other writers succeed. Usually, I’m a very envious person, but hearing their journeys, for some odd reason, I didn’t focus on that. I focused not on the differences, but on the similarities. They struggled. They fought. And they made it. To getting published. As my friend Linda Rohrbough says, the game changes at every stage. And they were honest.

Listening to that honesty, I knew I wasn’t alone. And I could keep struggling and fighting.

Part of Step 5 is baring our souls and letting another person see how completely wacky we are. But there’s another part. The person who listens gets to share. And the stories we tell each other during the Step 5 process are priceless. I’m scared, you’re scared, we’re Nickelback+When+We+Stand+Together+2011both scared. Doesn’t mean we stop. No, once you have two people sharing their fear, the fear is lessened. I think that’s where the idea came from of when two people meet, there is God in that meeting.

Together we can do things we can’t do alone.


One of the best things that’s ever happened to me at a writers conference came when I ran into a guy who had just come from a terrible pitch session. He blew it. The fail was epic! White-faced, he was wandering the halls and we started talking.

He explained how horrible it had been. And right then, I could look him in the eye and say, “Yeah, I know. Here’s what happened to me.” I talked to him just like how Linda Rohrbough talked to me after my meeting with an agent went terribly, terribly wrong.

That’s the power that community has. That’s the amazing synergy that can happen if I reach out and engage with other people. But I’m a dark-souled sort. I need to remember that I need to share my victories as well as my defeats. That yes, my inventory is of the darker bits of who I am, but there are many sides to life and to me. I need to remember to celebrate when it’s time to celebrate. I had a rough time with that one.

One last thing. I’m choosy about who I let into the little circle of my life. Some people won’t understand, or they’ll try and preach.

hair on fireDon’t tell me what to do. Not even if I’m on fire. The minute you say, “Oh, you should put out the fire that’s burning on your head!” I will let that fire burn me to cinders.
But if you say, “Yeah, this one time, my head was on fire, and it hurt. Jesus, it hurt.”
I’ll listen closely to what you are saying. Because you’re not talking about me. You’re not preaching. You’re sharing about what happened to you.

And then, when you say, “Yeah, my head was on fire, and I got a bucket of water, and oh, it felt so good to douse the flames.” Then, I’ll go looking for a bucket. I can learn from your experience, not your preaching.

I love stories. Tell me a story, and I’ll learn.

So find a close group of people you trust, share what’s going on, and above all, keep working. Keep writing. Keep creating.

Because no one will read the book you don’t write.

One last thing on Step 5 next week.

I Get Speculative and Rejecty With Ross Willard

bloody rossRoss Willard, a Colorado resident, has been writing speculative fiction in one form or another for as long as he can remember. A longtime member of the Penpointers critique group, Ross can often be found reading or writing at his local independent coffee shop, or working on his website,


Ross Willard. I met Ross way back in 2009 at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference along with a ton of super cool people like Aaron Spriggs. Ross had just come out of a pitch session and he looked devastated. What happened? I’ll get there, I’ll get there.

I then saw Ross at the 2009 RMFW Gold Conference where he was a finalist for his novel, Sparrow and the Toad. It was a super hero novel like no other.

And I didn’t see Ross for a long time. I suffered for it because Ross is an amazing bloke. So when it came around that he was getting his first book published, I jumped at the chance to interview him. And so, here is the interview.

But first, a little about his debut novel, System Purge:

SYSTEM Purge - 1400A 14-year-old prodigy with a mysterious past. A genetically-engineered soldier with a deadly present. A sentient machine fighting for his future. They come from different worlds, but they’ll have to trust each other if they want to survive.

Aaron: Okay, Ross, I tried to throw out a hook in the first paragraph about your first pitch session, and here is where we fulfill the promise. Or should we wait? Let’s wait. I can feel the tension building. Okay, when was the first time you ever dreamed up a story? Give us a little pitchy poo.

Ross: Ah, my very first story! I remember it well. Okay, that’s a lie, I remember it vaguely, partly because it was a very, very long time ago, and partly because I try to block my memory of stories that bad. The first story I ever remember writing was about one of the characters from He-Man. I don’t remember what his name was, but he was the guy with wings. Anyway, long story short, it was a very short story, and while it had no character development, or arc, and was, I think, one paragraph long, it did one very important thing, it made me realize that the stories I loved so much on Saturday morning did not drift down from on high—they were created. And that people created them. That I could create them. I know that if I ever found that story that I scrawled in a notebook way back when I was . . . I don’t know, five? Four? Six? Whenever I would blush at just how horrible it is, but I’m glad I wrote it. It was the first step on the journey to becoming a writer.

Aaron: What was the first thing you ever queried to an agent or publisher? How was the experience?

Ross: Oh no! Dredging up that? It was terrible! Basically, it went like this: after years (and years) of wanting to be a writer, and scrawling down anything that popped into my head, I finally finished my first ‘novel.’ In retrospect, it was awful. I mean, really bad. But it was done, and I, after years and years of trying and trying to actually FINISH a story, was finally ‘ready’ to publish it. But how? I’d never finished anything before, so I hadn’t needed to figure out what to do. Not an insurmountable obstacle, after all, my parents had the internet, and everything is on the internet. So I got online and started plugging in various combinations of ‘book’ ‘finished’ and ‘published.’ It didn’t take long to strike gold! A publishing company! It took a bit of scrolling around and digging, but eventually I found their submission guidelines. Uh oh. They wanted stories that were at least seventy-thousand words long? Let’s check that . . . I’m only at forty-seven? Uh oh. I can’t possibly add thirteen thousand words to this story. Oh! I know! I’ll add a subplot that barely relates to the main storyline, that’ll work. (time passes) Okay, that’s done, now where do I send my manuscript . . . But wait! A query letter? What the hell is a query letter? I mean, I know what a query is, it’s a question. A question letter? I’d better look that up! Another internet search in another window brought me information about these mysterious beasts. Apparently, I was supposed to write them a letter asking if they wanted to read my book. But that didn’t make ANY sense. How would they know that they wanted to read my book from what I wrote in a letter? I’d spent so much time and energy on the book, how was I going to express all of that in a single page? Still, it was what they wanted. I did more research into these ‘query letter’ thingies, and realized I needed some kind of hook. Oh, but I knew that! They wanted to know why they should read my book, I should tell them what was wrong with other, really popular books, that way they’d know how good I was!

Allow me to sum up: it went poorly!

Aaron: You said you submitted something to a publisher and their turnaround was a year. Tell us that story.

Ross: No-no. I submitted to a publisher who CLAIMED their turnaround time was a year. The upside was that they just want you to send them your entire book, which is already done. No query letters, no synopses (yes, that is the proper plural for synopsis), just the book itself! If you’ve ever had to wait four months for an answer to a query letter, then four more months for the reply to the partial and synopsis, only to get rejected anyway, then you know that waiting a year for a simple ‘no’ isn’t a terrible thing. The problem was, it didn’t take a year. I sent in a full manuscript and, after about thirteen months received a rejection from them . . . but not for the book I’d sent in a year before. I received a rejection for a manuscript I’d sent in so long before that, that I’d forgotten I sent it in at all! The manuscript I was waiting for took a full TWO years to get rejected.


Aaron: Okay, I think we’ve left everyone in suspense long enough. What happened at your first pitch session?

Ross: Exactly what I expected. It was a disaster. First, you have to realize that I have an anxiety disorder, social anxiety. Second, I was unmedicated at the time. I talked to people about what to expect, practiced my pitch, and proceeded upstairs where a very nice, very pleasant woman listened to my mumbly, awkward elevator pitch, asked a few questions, and basically told me that it didn’t sound like something she’d be interested in. I think she phrased it in a way that included letting me send her a partial if I wanted, but basically it was a ‘no thank you.’ But that wasn’t why I was so upset. I was upset because all of the planning and practice meant absolutely nothing. I’d gone in, started talking and suddenly all of my ideas sounded stupid. Everything I said was more idiotic than what I’d said before, and I felt like a fool. I knew that becoming an author was what I wanted to do with my life, it was more than a career for me, it was a calling, but I couldn’t talk about what I’d written without feeling like a fool. And when I feel foolish, I get upset. Okay, fine, I cried, I can admit it!

Aaron: So after all the trauma, where do you think you’ve grown the most in your writing life over the years?

Ross: Well, having joined a writers’ group when I moved to Colorado, my writing has grown a great deal over the past few years, but if I had to pick one area . . . I’d have to say focus. Early on in my writing I had a tendency to meander in the storytelling. I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer, to such a degree that I often didn’t know where my story would be ending. I had sub-plots that didn’t go anywhere, backstories that didn’t matter, but that I had to share . . . these days I’ve cut that to a minimum, and, while not every single word on the page is absolutely crucial to the plot, the story continues forward, instead of taking a brief tangent to Australia, every couple of pages.

Aaron: When we talked, you said self-publishing was the next logical step. What did you mean by that?

Ross: For most of my life, I held self-publishing in low regard. After all, anyone can self-publish, there are no gatekeepers, so there’s no guarantee of quality when it comes to the writing. But over the years I’ve become bewildered at the state of the publishing industry as well. I’ve read amazing books that suffered rejection after rejection, and I’ve picked up books in bookstores, published by major publishers, that were, in my opinion, a waste of paper. Publishers seem to be more interested in picking up books that fit a certain type, than books that measure up to a certain quality. The problems with traditional publishers combined with advances in technology (thus lowering of prices and raising of quality in self-published books) have started a shift in the paradigm of publishing. I don’t know where that shift is going, but I do know this: in the end, books are judged by the readers. But to be judged, they have to be available. In order to find out where my writing stands, I need it to be judged by readers, and instead of submitting the same manuscript time after time after time to publisher after publisher after publisher, I’ve decided to present my work directly to the people whose opinions actually matter. Maybe nobody will like it. Maybe everyone will love it. I can wish and hope and dream all day, or I can take a step forward, and find out.

Aaron: So the book you just published, System Purge, what drew you to write it?

Ross: I wrote System Purge several years ago (the first couple of drafts). Specifically, I wrote it around the time that I moved, for the first time, out of the town, and the state, where my parents lived. I’d lived away from home before, of course, but never farther than a quick drive away. I was in my late twenties, but it was still a sort of coming of age experience for me. A second coming of age. The themes in the book revolve largely around self-reliance, figuring out who you are apart from your parents, and connecting with people who seem, in many ways, to be quite different from you.

Aaron: I was reading back through some old interviews, and I asked Kate Evangelista this question. It’s the best question ever! If your novel System Purge was turned into a religion, what would be the tenets of the religion? And could I join?

Ross: That is a good question, and a tricky one. I’d say:

  1. There’s more to everyone than what you see on the surface.
  2. The choices we make are what define us, not where we come from.
  3. It doesn’t matter how much technology advances, it is human nature that prevents us from advancing as a species.

Aaron: As the captain of your writing career, what is on the horizon? Where are you going to steer your ship?

Ross: As the captain of my writing career, it’s hard to know exactly what the future will bring, but as I am enjoying some of the benefits of self-publishing, specifically the control I retain, I would kind of like to set up my own small press someday.

captain of my soul.php


More on System Purge:

compass ross willardFourteen-year-old Tommy Philips doesn’t know where he comes from.  He has questions that his foster parents can’t answer, questions about who he is and what makes him so different from everyone around him.  When he stumbles across evidence that one of his teachers has been guarding him for years, Tommy begins an investigation that will uncover a history he never could have guessed.

Rowan Darren wasn’t just born to be a soldier, he was made to be one.  The Nospious, a collection of twelve Houses of genetically-engineered humans, live in silent conflict, fighting quiet political wars against each other and the outside world, constantly trying to advance their interests to the detriment of anyone who gets in their way, while concealing their existence.  Rowan, of the House of Aries, is no exception.  After years overseas, expanding his House’s influence, Rowan is coming home, but the home waiting for him is anything but simple, and survival will require more than a few modified genomes.

Though he goes by Samuel, his name is ‘Three,’ and ever since The War claimed the lives of his siblings, he has been the oldest living synthetic lifeform on Earth.  Maintaining control over the increasingly restless Society of Machines has always been difficult, but a second war has been brewing for years, and if Samuel doesn’t get in front of it in time, it will cost the Society both lives and the secrecy that they’ve cultivated for years.

Three lives moving in very different directions will all meet at a crossroads, and all three will be forever changed.

PART II! I Get Goddess Literary and Shy Killer With Romance Writer Marne Ann Kirk

Friday, no angels, but we have a Marne.  Marne Ann Kirk is back for part two of the interview!  We’ll start, in media res, ’cause we go Greek sometimes.

AARON: So in the beginning, getting all biblical, in the beginning, you wanted to write, heavy, grand, ivory-tower literary fiction. What changed? How did you come to love, honor and obey the power of romances?

Marne: I did want to write literary. You’re right. I wanted my writing to make a difference in a Poe, Hawthorne, Whitman, or Joyce Carol Oates kind of way. I wanted to force my readers to wallow in the agonies of their insignificance, and then be reborn, enlightened… (wink)

And it’s happening now… just not quite how I’d envisioned it. While I wanted to be the “literary author,” and went to college with that plan in mind, I grew up sneaking romances (which I read like an addict). They were a fantastic escape from a not very happy childhood. The best thing about them? The happily-ever-after. I always knew these people would be happy, and that gave me hope. So, I needed to decide what to write. I decided I’d much rather give people hope and happiness, a happy-ever-after, than plumb the darkness of my soul to scare the holy hell out of my readers and make them search for meaning in a meaningless life.

AARON: I have new project for you, Marne. I’m thinking you should write this book: The Shy Person’s Guide to Writers Conferences. Can you give us a brief overview of what that book might look like?

Marne: The book would focus on two things: Persistence and Volunteerism. I was so shy when I first began going to conferences, I literally ran from the workshop to my room for the ten minute breaks, just to avoid talking to people. I was…we’ll say 29, and I brought my step-mom for support. I have gone from that person to searching out new attendees to make them feel welcome, and I volunteer for any position I can help with, just to get to know people. Why? Because I recognized right away, being an author is about the whole package. You can have an amazing book, and it will never sell if you can’t talk about it, if you can’t put yourself out there and get to know people, network. So, I decided to go to the next conference and the next, and I began volunteering right away. For anything I thought I might be able to do. At first, that was stuffing bags, so I didn’t have to meet too many people. Now, I’m the Vice-President of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, the Secretary of RWA’s Future, Fantasy, & Paranormal Chapter, the conference co-registrar of the Crested Butte Writers Conference, and I do as much as I can to help with the Colorado Gold Writers’ Conference. My point? It’s so difficult to put yourself out there when you’re painfully shy, but you MUST in today’s market, if you want to become a published author.

AARON: As VP of RMFW, can you have people killed? I know you get that question a lot, but I’m curious to hear your answer. Seriously, what are the benefits of holding such a high office? The drawbacks?

Marne: I can totally have people killed, and it has people very, very afraid. Mwa-hahahaha…Okay, maybe not. But you’re scared, just a little, right? The benies of being V.P. of RMFW…there are so many, and I’m not even joking. I’m totally serious. For instance, whenever I meet writers without a “home,” I get to talk up RMFW and invite them to join, and I always start with introducing myself as the V.P. It just seems to give me more courage in talking to strangers. Weird, I know, but that’s one perk. Another amazing beni is I get to influence where RMFW goes and what we do as an organization. That’s a huge bit of fun. The drawbacks? How could there be a drawback to helping RMFW be even better than the amazing organization it is?

AARON: You’ve been with the same critique partners for years and years. What are the pluses and minuses of having the same people read your stuff year after year?

Marne: I belong to a critique group of seven, right now. The core group, four of us, have been together for eight years and the other three members are all relatively new. The new people help with giving new perspectives, which is great; but the core group is fantastic about never getting “old.” Even though we’re friends, that’s left at the door, so to speak, when the critique begins.

AARON: Okay, Marne, I want your best brilliant-marketing-campaigner-carnival-barker-used-car-salesman pitch for your paranormal romance novel due out this autumn, Goddess on the Run. Hit us with your best shot! Hook us like a carp looking for Velveeta.

Marne: How about this?

All Fomorian Hells are about to break loose on earth, making human souls the daily special, if the Tuatha de Danaan can’t stop it.
Teagan, a Celtic demi-goddess hiding from her destiny in small-town Colorado, wants nothing to do with her mother’s forgotten realm or the drama of a battle of the gods. And Merric is forbidden fruit she’s too smart to taste.
Merric, leader of the Tuatha de Danaan warriors, has other plans. Teagan holds the key to salvation, for both him and their worlds, whether she wants to or not. He’ll do whatever it takes to convince her of her duty.
But can he find the key to her heart?

AARON: Last question, let’s bring it all home. You live in Delta, Colorado, metropolis of the Western Slope. Which of your characters, from either novel, would be best suited to living in smalltown Colorado? Which ones would be the worst?

Marne: Delta County has a whopping 31,322 people, roughly in 1,150 square miles. This translates to 27 people per square mile, a 24-hour Wal-Mart, and one McDonald’s open until midnight within city limits. It’s a great place to raise kids with amazing imaginations. Teagan, the heroine of GODDESS ON THE RUN, would thrive in this town. She loves small towns, loves the people, loves the energy. Issie, the heroine of LOVE CHOSEN, is used to the bustle of her inn, the fast-paced, port-city life. She’d likely go stir crazy in a slow town like Delta.

Aaron: Thanks, Marne!

Marne: Aaron, this was so much fun! Thank you! It was a blast! My husband said I gave you cauliflower ear, talking. I hope that isn’t the case… And if it is, put an onion on it. It’ll take care of any ear ache 😉


Check out Marne’s website
Marne on Amazon
Marne’s blog, Cowboys and Dragons at the Cafe
Marne On twitter



No cauliflower ears here.  Thanks for the two part interview!  Come and meet Marne and me at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference in September.  It’s the hoot of all hoots.  Later!