The conference will be virtual this year and the organization has again invited me to speak.
Here’s what I’ll be presenting. I’ll also be participating in The Blue Pencil sessions, 15-min. meetings where authors can ask about anything related to writing.
I hope you join us!
Flaming Good Dialogue: How to Create Unforgettable Characters Through Exchanges That Singe
11 a.m. PST Sat., April 10
You think you’ve got fantastic, unique, bestselling characters? You’ll have to prove that to readers, not only through your characters’ actions, but also by what they say, how and when they speak almost as important as what words they use. In this workshop, you’ll not only learn how to sidestep the most common dialogue pitfalls, including why characters all too often wind up sounding alike, but also how to employ the five techniques that will make your characters unique and eminently believable.
The Little Red Riding Hood Dilemma: What Kind of Publisher to Aim for, Big, Medium/Small, Self
9 a.m. PST Fri., April 9
10 a.m. Sat., April 10
Over 2 million books a year are published annually in the United States alone. That intense competition pushes authors toward three avenues: publication through a big publisher, a medium or small publisher, or self publishing. This workshop will offer the advantages and disadvantages to each, while helping participants form a concrete path for their current project that includes resources for pursuing that route.
Now available via Amazon and all other online booksellers.
I just finished reading Ever Rest, Roz Morris’ new novel due out June 3, 2021 (available for preorder). A fantastic read! Below is my Goodreads review of this literary book club treat.
Roz is the author of two previous novels — My Memories of a Future Life and Life Form Three — as well as the memoir Not Quite Lost and the book for writers Nail Your Novel. Besides being a writing coach and instructor, she’s a ghostwriter for bestselling authors.
Ever Rest by Roz Morris is the kind of book you sink into and emerge from in a state of wonder. This beautifully written story steeped in the majesty of music and mountains is balanced on the riveting concept of a rock star, whose presumed death after an accident while climbing Mt. Everest, casts a years-long pall over the many lives he touched when young and famous.
Twenty years after Ash’s disappearance, his former girlfriend, Elza, a once young and beautiful dancer, is now an artist whose boyfriend has little concept of the celebrity that continues to follow her as fans worldwide keep her former lover’s memory alive. Ash’s bandmate, Hugo, the musical genius behind the duo known as Ashbirds, is the man who talked Ash into climbing Everest. Now he’s a climbing guide who eschews fame and wealth.
Following these people, along with and another five characters on the periphery of Ash’s inner circle, creates a wonderful tension akin to that evoked by Daphne du Maurier “Rebecca,” where the once grand lady of the manor continues to rule with the power of a ghost ever-present in the lives of those who walk beneath her portrait. While not as dark as that classic novel, this story captures that sense of purgatory where each discovery of a corpse on Everest reignites passions about the idol’s death while disrupting the lives of those closest to him.
The question quickly becomes, will the now forever enshrined by tragedy and mystery rock star ever really rest and give the living peace? Hence the brilliant title that creates foreboding as the pressure builds with every new body found on the famous mountain; a threat of avalanche exacerbated by an eccentric investor who wants to draw Hugo back into the rock scene and see the Ashbirds live on.
The story seamlessly moves amongst the viewpoints of the various characters while producing prose that brings the narrative alive with rich, authentic details and sensory descriptions that convince you you’re in the room with these people, whose lives, and demons, are so real.
Now available via Amazon and all other online booksellers.
For me, dialogue makes or breaks a book. Cliche dialogue typically indicates cliche characters. What do you think?
If you’re a writer, help is on the way via the 2-hour online workshop I’m teaching this Saturday in which I’ll combine lessons in character development with dialogue. If you know a writer, pass on the news! I’ll post the description at the bottom.
There’s no way your character can authentically voice a fabulous comeback, desperate plea or brilliant courtroom argument until you know exactly how s/he operates! Through discussion and writing exercises in which you’ll actively work on your own characters and scenes, Martha Engber, author of GROWING GREAT CHARACTERS FROM THE GROUND UP will first explain how to grow your characters, whether for a memoir, novel, screenplay or other project. Then she’ll teach you the secret to fantastic dialogue that leads to exciting, unforgettable scenes where your characters truly speak for themselves!
It’s the third Monday of the month, we’re zooming towards spring, and Martha Engber is here to share her writing life with you.
Martha’s second novel, Winter Light, was published in October 2020 by Vine Leaves Press. She’s also the author of The Wind Thief, a novel, and Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up. She’s had a full-length play produced in Hollywood and over a dozen short stories, essays and poems published in anthologies and literary magazines such as the Aurorean, Watchword and the Berkeley Fiction Review. A Chicago native, she now lives in Northern California with her husband, bike and surfboard.
Welcome to the Fountain Pen, Martha! Tell us a little more about yourself.
On Christmas morning when I was four, I glanced up from where I sat on the floor to see my grandma come through the kitchen door. My eyes went from her huge…
What a treat! Vogue’s poetry reflects her demeanor: emotionally accessible. The way she read her ode to British singer Amy Winehouse, who died of alcohol poisoning in 2011, was unbelievable. She cried during the recitation, the emotion such a natural outpouring of her powerful words. She’s a truly talented spoken word performer! If I get a chance to share the Zoom recording, I will.
She was the Poet Laureate of Clark County, Nevada, during with she read her poetry during events now posted on YouTube.
Do you feel unqualified to read poetry? If so, try reading Vogue’s work, or listening to her speak her work, because she’s clear and passionate in talking about universal topics: love, loss, self-doubt.
I’ll be teaching three writing workshops in March and April. In anticipation of so many of your stories pouring fourth as a result, and to encourage them, I’m offering the above giveaway. Entry is easy! Subscribe to my newsletter via my website and email me about what you’re currently working on. If you’ve always wanted to write, enter! If you have loved ones who aspire to pen stories, pass on the news!
Martha Engber is a wordsmith in multiple ways. You’ve met her briefly – when she asked me to write a piece about my horse. Her most recent release is a YA novel, Winter Light, but that’s just one aspect of Martha’s art and work. So here she is in full – editor, playwright, poet, novelist, essayist, writing coach, journalist.
Roz What’s the core Martha, your recurring themes, the character types you’re most interested in? And where did they come from?
Martha I grew up in a nuclear family of two older sisters, a mom and a dad. My mom strongly believed women should be independent financially and in action, a sentiment with which my dad agreed. As such, my sisters and I mowed lawns, played to win, stood our ground in arguments and otherwise always believed females can do almost everything males can, other than pee standing up…
When I asked her to write about her horse for a feature on my Facebook page, she could have simply written a few paragraphs to satisfy the many such requests a writer is asked to fulfill, both to spread wisdom to other writing communities and keep in touch with the reading public. Instead, Roz reacted like the top-notch writer she is: she ran with her passion about a subject close to her heart.
Specifically, she wrote the piece with the same level of enthusiasm as she seems to apply to her books, which are listed at the end of the essay. She also used the same tools of great writing: description, humor and an epiphany that leaves readers satisfied. Lastly, she very thoughtfully checked if the length was appropriate. I said yes, and am glad she did, though I’m sure she would have amended the length if necessary.
I hope you enjoy her essay as I much as I did!
An Irish horse
by Roz Morris
Val was a handsome hunter with dark squirrel eyes and an adorably dainty way of standing with his toes slightly turned out, like a ballerina, which made me want to hug him. He steered like a supermarket trolley, but was unfazed by traffic, quad bikes and lashing winter rain. He’s a good horse, said my instructor.
So I brought Val home.
If moving home is stressful for humans, for a horse it’s like being abducted. Suddenly they are removed from every place and creature they know. They don’t even have their own rugs and tack. The seller keeps those. Imagine being kidnapped, and stripped of every familiar thing, even your clothes. Val lost it completely. He walked as if he feared the ground would crack beneath his feet. He spooked at every sound, with a violent unseating dodge like a judo throw.
With my instructor, I began a settling process. We would school him, to build trust. Also to make him comfortable, as he had the horse equivalent of terrible posture. He was obliging, but rigid with worry when asked to do something unfamiliar. He even worried about procedures he was supposed to be used to, such as when the farrier shod him. If somebody didn’t soothe him throughout the process, he’d panic and escape.
Over several months, he relaxed. I learned about his personality. Most horses I knew could be jollied past a worrying obstacle, such as a child’s tricycle. With Val, you had to pretend you couldn’t see a tricycle at all. You certainly must not laugh. If he was a person he’d never joke. He’d be absolutely earnest. But he was amazingly rewarding to ride. He looked for your wishes and took them seriously. We had hacks in blissful harmony, like a centaur. Stop, go, jump that log. It was easy.
Then I fell off.
I needed an ambulance, though I only pulled a muscle. After that, my husband Dave was terrified about the next fall and his fear rode with me. Sensitive Val received my emotions in full confusing glory. My determination to master my fear, and my fear itself.
On one ride, he seemed to be quivering with nerves. I couldn’t figure out why, but he felt, every second, like he’d throw me. Perhaps the next day would be better. It wasn’t. Within minutes he was a trembling time bomb. This couldn’t be fixed. Our chemistry had gone bad. I decided I’d stop, get off, lead him home and sell him.
He halted instantly, his mind in mine as always. So immediate and trusting. I wasn’t expecting that.
If I get off you now, I thought, I’m selling you.
He stood patiently. As if to say, I know we’ve got problems, but you’ll get us safely through.
I stayed in the saddle. I did not dismount. We rode on, quaking, but in a strange understanding. We needed a new start. I made a change. Those last couple of rides he’d worn a waterproof rug. I blamed it for the bad rides. Perhaps the fabric made a disturbing noise. Whatever, it contained an unknowable evil and I sold it. Exorcism via eBay. I tried a warmer rug, though his previous owner never rode him in rugs, not even waterproofs. When I put the warmer rug on, he melted with relief. He was cold.
That helped considerably, though I still found him alarming. He locked up solid when we taught him a new move, which felt like a warning of emotional meltdown. ‘I trust him,’ my instructor said to me one day after a difficult, grappling lesson. I realised I didn’t trust him. And maybe, with all the faith he’d given me, I should.
Then lockdown came. Riding was allowed, because horses need exercise, but instructors were banned from working. I’ll be back when I can, said my instructor. How would I manage?
I found classical dressage videos on YouTube. I watched them every night before sleep. I learned how to ride him to reshape his muscles, like Pilates. While the world went into limbo, we worked on our own. Val relaxed at last, enjoying the focus on simple moves that made him feel good. He lost his fear of learning new things. He found a new, arched poise, and showed it off to me as if to say ‘this is how we now move, this is us’.
It turns out I was right about the evil rug. I got the same reaction with a summer fly sheet made of similar material – he trembled when he walked in it. I took it off him and it crackled like hair rubbed on a balloon. He had tolerated that for two entire rides, getting electric shocks with every stride. Many horses would have a strop or lose their minds. Not Val. I began to understand he must actually be a saint.
People now comment on how well he’s going. We all remember the days of violent spooks and panicky escapes. My farrier recently said: ‘He’s happy now. He knows where he is at last.’
“Gritty” or “edgy” when applied to YA and New Adult books means literature that deals with the darker side of adolescence.
The best part about these intense books is the payoff: stories you deeply feel by virtue of traveling through terrible turbulence with the main characters.
Here are 10 YA/New Adult books where the emotional ride, and resulting enlightenment, are worth the harrowing journey.
Winter Light by Martha Engber: Mary Donahue, a 15-year-old on the cusp of failure during the brutal blizzard winter of 1978-79, learns the only difference between life and death is knowing when to grasp an extended hand.
Serenity & Grace by Annalisa Crawford: The streets are unforgiving, the winter is closing in and 19-year-old Grace isn’t prepared for the harsh realities of survival, but they’re better than what she faces if she returns home.
In the Fullness of Time by Carolyn R. Russell: In a future where people joyfully arrange their own deaths, a young woman battles the consequences of a biotechnology gone horribly wrong and the cruel theocracy that enforces a sinister solution.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: A high school outcast becomes more and more isolated until coming to terms with what happened to her.
The Giver by Lois Lowry: The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.
The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake: Maleeka Madison is a strong student who adopts a tougher crowd to deflect criticism about her “too black” skin and handmade clothes. The last thing she expects is to get “messed up” with another “freak.”
The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton: Your young readers will love this coming-of-age classic featuring street-smart teenagers trying to make their way in the world without privilege, supervision, or education.
Monster by Walter Dean Myers: Facing the death penalty, a young, black filmmaker copes by writing a movie script based on his trial. But despite his efforts, reality is blurred until he can no longer tell who he is or what the truth is.
The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg: Over the course of one summer, Jordan and Max will have to face their biggest fears and the unlikely chemistry developing between them.
The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne: Two young boys encounter the best and worst of humanity during the Holocaust in this powerful read.