Patricia Stoltey, local Fort Collins author, is a rock star at online author promotion

Patricia StolteyPatricia Stoltey, local Fort Collins author, is not just active in the writing community. She’s also a social media rock star, and we could all learn a lesson from her prowess online and offline in author promotion. If you haven’t visited her site,  PatriciaStolteyBooks.com, please do so immediately. If I were to write an article about a great author website, I would use hers as an example.

When I asked Patricia why she writes her blog, she told me that it’s especially difficult for new authors to reach audiences of readers. With the busyness of everyday life, it’s difficult to find readers and those willing to try a new author are not common.

She said, “There’s so many books out there. There’s so much going on, and it’s so hard to compete. So if I can get them another way to reach a few people, that’s fun.”

Patricia believes new authors are scared of promoting too much in fear of driving all their friends and family crazy, so they under promote. But others promote the wrong way by getting on Twitter and tweeting out “buy my book” every three minutes. Instead, Patricia invites people to promote the old-fashioned way: by building a network, getting their name know, and then requesting people buy their book. She often goes to authors who have been published for the first time and asks them if they want to publish an article on her blog.

After the writer has posted to her blog, she often promotes it through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. Patricia gave the example of an author she promoted on her blog. She said, “I promoted her and her book and at the same time she says ‘I’m appearing on the wonderful Patricia Stoltey blog this week’ and people say ‘The wonderful Patricia Stoltey? Hmm, I should check out her blog,’ and then they see my big picture of my book over on the right side corner sidebar and meanwhile, I have now promoted myself in that process. It’s a connection that we make. Helping to promote authors gets your name out there in a second-hand way that’s very productive.”

Most of Patricia’s social media activity is to promote the links to the blog posts she makes, but she also occasionally has fun. She said, “I swear, on Facebook, the one way you can get tons of likes and comments is to put something out there about food—something weird about food—or something about chocolate, especially dark chocolate. But it’s got to catch a person’s attention so you need to put a picture with it. On Twitter, ask a question to get a conversation going. I procrastinated about getting on Good Reads. But now that I have, I have seen tons of opportunities I haven’t even taken advantage of yet.”

Social media book promotion is very important for today’s writer. Patricia does a great job of showing how it can be done well.

Patricia considers herself a binge writer instead of a pantser or outliner like other writers do. She said, “I don’t write every day…I write in binges. I do a lot of writing in between. That can be when you’re doing the dishes or when you’re gardening. Hopefully not when you’re driving down the road because you might have a wreck. You have a story idea or you’re halfway through a novel, and you get stuck a little bit, but it’s always working back there. You’re always thinking about what you want to write next. So when you do finally sit down and write, it comes out in this big flood.”

Outlining doesn’t work for a writer like Patricia. She said, “I’ve tried a scene outline and a chapter outline and I found that it was pretty much a waste of time because I don’t follow it anyway. You’re writing along and then suddenly your mind takes off in a different direction and some authors like to say their characters grab the story and run with it or tell them what they want to do next and in a way, it’s like that. Your subconscious gets to work and you’re in the work of this character and you decide you want to do something that’s not on the outline, so I don’t bother with the outline. The problem with it is that you usually have to end up doing a lot more revision and rewriting then if you were careful and precise and did your outline and did your story. But I’m having more fun doing it my way.”

One of Patricia’s favorite things to do is go to the Northern Colorado Writers’ Retreat in the fall. Last year, it was hosted in Estes Park. She said that she can churn out more words in that weekend than she can usually do in three months.

Patricia’s writing story begins as almost every writer’s does. She was a reader as a child and read everything she could get her hands on. Through the years, she began to wonder if she could also write something. She took a few writing classes and attended conferences while busy as a wife, mother, and with a full-time financial management and accounting career. After retiring from work, she finally was able to become serious about writing at the end of 2003. Her first print book was published when she was 65 years old. She said, “It’s very cool to be a writer when I don’t have to worry about surviving, getting a roof over my head, feeding myself. It’s very cool to be able to do what I want to do.”

Patricia knows that writing is addicting, like chocolate. But writers have to work hard at their craft and force themselves to write even when they have a busy schedule. She said, “The most challenging thing about writing is to sit down and do it. There’s always an excuse. You could have three chapters in your head, but if you don’t get them written down, and then revise and self-edit, and submit, it’s not going to do any good. You have to get the writing done. I can always think of something else that needs to be done first. If you want to write, you sit down and write. No excuses.”

Patricia has six published works that include a short story, a fairy tale, crime novels, and a thriller. Her latest novel, Dead Wrong, was a finalist in the thriller category for the 2015 Colorado Book Awards. She also has four works in progress. Shown below are her three novels and anthology containing her fairy tale “The Three Sisters of Ring Island”. See her website PatriciaStolteyBooks.com for more about her work.

TalesofFirelightBandShadowcover TheDesertHedgeMurders ThePrairieGrassMurders Dead Wrong

Rich Keller, local authors’ hero, fills wooden pants

Rich KellerWooden Pants PublishingRich Keller, assistant director of Northern Colorado Writers (NCW), fills some big pants as a champion of local authors in Fort Collins. But not only are the pants big, they also are wooden. I’m referring to Wooden Pants Publishing, which he founded to bring more laughter into the world. A lot of publishing companies won’t publish humor because they say that everyone’s humor is different, but Keller’s company claims to bring the bwah-ha-ha back to books by dealing with all strands of humor. He said, “The world needs more laughter. It’s tough sometimes to live here and people need a little laughter to do it. There’s enough darkness out there.”

As assistant director of NCW, Keller serves as an idea curator and social media manager. Throughout the day, my Facebook news feed is filled with thoughts, updates, information, and inspiration about writing and local authors who are members of NCW. All of that is coming from Keller. Since I have set up notifications for writing related groups on Facebook, my phone is constantly pinging to tell me what the people of NCW have been up to lately. You can find the NCW Facebook page here.

The thing I was most impressed about Keller during our interview was his relentless quest to get local authors noticed. He believes that’s the biggest challenge that writers have. There are so many writers out there and often times their books just collect spider webs in the back corner of a bookstore or don’t even make it that far. Keller’s doing his part to ensure that never happens. He hosts a radio show every first and third Tuesday from 3 to 6 p.m. on KRFC on 88.9 FM in Fort Collins. KRFC is Fort Collins Public Radio broadcasting music, news, and entertainment. In his show, he plays music but also, about 4:30 p.m., profiles local authors and has the authors read about ten minutes of their work. He said,

“My goal is to get a program on maybe once a month on KRFC where we have four or five authors read their stuff. There are so many authors in Fort Collins and northern Colorado, and they all need a profile. They need a place where people can listen to their stuff rather than a quarterly reading or something. They need to be heard on a regular basis.”

Keller also hosts the NCW podcast, where audio is posted once to twice a month and features interviews and information on a variety of writing topics. These can include upcoming NCW classes, conferences, tools, publishing, legacy markets, self-publishing, marketing, and entrepreneurship. And eventually Wooden Pants Publishing will have a podcast.

The surprising part of all of Keller’s activities mentioned above are that those are just his side activities. His “real” job is in IT at a company located on the east coast where he works remotely, mostly from an unnamed coffee shop where overheard conversations inspired his book Coffee Cup Tales and its sequel Coffee Cup Tales 2: Extra Foam. His other published books include: Paradise Not Quite Lost: A Saunders’ Savages Adventure, Dining with Zombies, Santa is a Stalker! And Other Modern Holiday Stories, and a book co-written with Missy Grynkiewicz Thinking inside My Box: Things Not to Ask Parents about Parenting. 

Coffee Cup Tales Front CoverCCT2_FrontCoverParadise not Quite Lost ebookDiningWithZombies - Complete

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whew. I’m not finished yet. Keller also is married and is a father to five children. Being a husband and father is a full-time job in itself.

So where does Keller get all of his energy and motivation? Listen to what he has to say:

“I enjoy doing those things. I figure we’re going to die at some point in our lives. So I want to do it now because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t want to be that person who says when I retire I want to do this because the day I retire, that’s the day I’ll get hit by the car. I want to enjoy the time now that I have, and not only with my family, but to do these things. You have to enjoy your life. I have to move forward, or I will never feel fulfilled.”

Since this is a blog about literary Fort Collins, let’s talk about Keller’s writing. Keller began writing professionally at the age of 16. He worked at a local newspaper in northern New Jersey where he covered things like board of education and council meetings and wrote feature articles about people he knew. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism from Rutgers University. After that point in his life, his father suggested he get a real job, so he did. He didn’t start writing full-time until the mid-nineties when he held a series of jobs writing for different companies, including Citigroup, AOL TV, and CliqueClack TV. He also was a comedian, performing at the Delaware Comedy Theatre and the Philly Improv Theater. When he moved to Colorado in 2010, he became involved with NCW. He has written for Rocky Mountain Parent, the Coloradoan, Fort Collins Magazine, Bella Spark Magazine, NCW’s the Writing Bug blog, and Wooden Pants blog. Since 16, he has written over 2000 articles on various topics.

Keller’s writing process is similar to a lot of the other authors I’ve interviewed in Fort Collins. He calls himself a pantser, which is someone who writes by the seat of their pants. His long hours spent at the coffee shop inspire his writing as he hears good story ideas throughout the day. He’ll write the idea down and then come back to it. He says he usually knows where he’s going with a story, so outlining is out of the question. Sometimes he knows the beginning and ending of the story and just has to fill in the middle. Other times he just writes to see what will happen. Things come to mind as he’s writing and he’s able to bring those ideas into his story.

Keller writes throughout the day; he doesn’t have a set schedule like other writers do. With five kids and a full-time job, he can’t get up at four in the morning to type out 3,000 words. He also says he needs to be in a place free of distractions, like a coffee shop, with his schedule clear. He needs to be out observing people. He said,

“Writers need to be outside. They can’t be inside their office looking at the walls, thinking ‘what am I going to write now’ especially when you’re doing stuff that’s happening in the real world. You want to be out in the real world and see what’s going on and put it all together. You want to be seeing what people are seeing, what they’re actually talking about, what their mannerisms are, what they’re saying in order to get an idea so you can start creating.”

Keller told me he loves to write and that he’s never had writer’s block. He treats writing as a type of therapy that releases a natural serotonin. Here are his books coming out in the next six months:

  • Coffee Cup Tales 2: Extra Foam
  • Her Father’s Wooden Leg, an online weekly or biweekly serial vampire action mystery co-written with another author
  • The sequel to Paradise Not Quite Lost
  • A short story anthology called Wooden Short Stories
  • The Book about Squat, which is a combination of Keller’s personal essays, blog postings, and short stories.

I know you are curious as to why Keller chose the name Wooden Pants Publishing. Be curious no more. I asked for you. You’re welcome. Two books coming out in the next year inspired the name. One is Her Father’s Wooden Leg and another is I’m Not Wearing Any Pants. Put together, it becomes Wooden Pants. Keller said, “It [The name Wooden Pants] seems to resonate with everyone.”

Keller enjoys the literary atmosphere of Fort Collins. He said,

“It’s the environment, the fresh air… when you get a nice sunny day, and the trees are green and when we have seventy degree days, that brings on creativity that stokes the fire because people get outside, they can feel warmth, sunlight on their faces and that stimulates the brain and that allows them to breathe. There’s a lot of places to connect here. There are so many good groups of good writers out here and not just critique groups through NCW. You can tell by going to a conference how many writers are out there, and if you see all these authors and how successful they are, that allows you to think ‘maybe I can do it.’ And you could work toward that, toward living your dream.”

The productive author has some words of advice for fellow or wannabe writers out there. He said,

“If you want to write the great American novel, write the great American novel. Just don’t say you’re going to write the great American novel because it’s never going to happen. Get off the couch because it’s your worst enemy. Turn off the TV, go down to your typewriter or keyboard and start writing because you’re not going to learn the skill unless you practice it. And once you practice it and get good at it, you’ll be amazed at what you see. Trust me. That’s it. That’s how it happened to me. I kept saying it and eventually I did it and that’s where I am now, spending hundreds of dollars eating food here while I write.”

Dean Miller, local author, writes by the seat of his pants

Dean MillerDean Miller, local author of And Then I Smiled: Reflections on a Life Not Yet Complete and other works, is a pant-seater, as he calls it, writing by the seat of his pants. Not a recipe for success with longer pieces, he admits, but his muse sometimes visits him in moments of emotion and inspiration and he runs with it. He recalls a windy, damp day spent fly fishing in Wyoming which set the mood and his churning brain into motion as he wrote most of a piece for a blog article in his car afterward. Interestingly, the piece was about inspiration and what causes writers to write. Most of his poetry comes out in twenty to thirty minutes, and it only requires minor editing. He said, “When something moves me and I get inspired, I sit down and just throw up, put it on paper and then refine it from there. But on longer pieces, you’ve really got to plan it out so you don’t wander off on tangents so much.” Dean’s daily writing routine is squeezed into the gaps of his everyday life. Between being a father, husband, home owner, and full-time air traffic controller, he has to make the time for writing. He said, “I don’t have a schedule. My life chooses not to do that. I tend to grab some time at work on my break to write or sometimes if my wife is at work and I have some time at home, I write. I take it wherever I go and when I can, I do.” Dean has learned much from the writing and publishing process. Mostly, that patience is key because nothing moves fast in self-publishing or even traditional publishing. It is very much a group effort whether it’s the publisher, marketers, critique group, or the community of writers. He said, “I thought I’d be off on my own, sitting in my room and not talking to anybody. That doesn’t work very well unless you don’t want to publish anything. As solitary as they say the writing life is, it’s not.” Since Dean writes from the heart, he finds it a challenge to write so that the outside world will like and accept it. His goal is to get valuable products out to the reading public and keep his work visible. It’s the quality content that is key to selling books. No one will be a repeat buyer from a writer who puts out low quality work. Marketing is challenging for any writer, but Dean finds that he enjoys talking to people and doing a bit of research. He’s not afraid to bring up his work in conversation or come to agreements with bookstores to sell it. Here are some things he’s done to sell the book:

  • Guest blogs
  • Trips to bookstores where he asks to have his books placed
  • Online contests for giveaways
  • Book signings
  • Programs such as Books on the Subway in New York City

He said, “There’s so many people out there and when you look at self-publishing and e-books, it’s ridiculously hard to get discovered. But the running theory seems to be that if someone finds you somehow and they like what you do, they start to explore and purchase other things that you’ve done.” With books for sale in eight different countries and over half of the states in the U.S., he still has to work hard at his craft and think of creative ways to get his work to more people. Even writers who sign on with publishers are on their own. The market and money are too tight. Time, patience, and quality content are the keys to good marketing. Dean believes blogging holds real value, but writers must do it consistently and carefully. The majority of time should be spent writing new content for projects, not just spouting off meaningless facts and hoping to create an audience. Bloggers must have something important to say or blogging quickly becomes a time suck. Support other writers, build a network, or build samples of writing. He believes the biggest benefit for writers is that it puts their butt in a chair and they write. As the writer of Literary Fort Collins, I subscribe to all the blogs of people, organizations, or businesses I write about. Dean’s blog update faithfully makes it into my mailbox most mornings around 4:30 a.m. Now if that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is. The last time I saw 4:30 a.m. was in December for an early flight. You wouldn’t catch me up that early for any other reason. But I respect him for that. Dean says he does run across some amazing people in the blogging world, such as the writing community who are willing to make connections and support him. His relationships with people he meets in the blogging community, he believes, will be beneficial down the road. Of course there are some downsides to blogging, like anything else in promotion. Dean said, “I just read something about blogging. Never have so many people said so much about so little to so many people who don’t care.” Blogging can be lonely, like you are speaking to a brick wall. But I recommend it. This blog has created a platform for me to tell other writers’ stories, support them, and gain visibility for my own writing. Take a peek at what Dean has published and received awards for in the past year:

  • And Then I Smiled: Reflections on a Life Not Yet Complete published February 2014
  • The Odyssey of a Monk (E-book) published September 2014
  • Echoes: Reflections Through Poetry and Verse published November 2014
  • The poem Time Warp shortlisted at Torrid Literature Journal Annual contest: Honorable Mention
  • Poems Time Warp and Numb published in Torrid Literature Journal XXIII: Deja` Vu January 2015
  • Article Contributor to anthology “How I Found The Write Path: A Compilation of Letters” to be published September 2015
  • Article Contributor to anthology “Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Guide to Self-Publishing” on November 28, 2014
  • Poem Survivor to be published in Torrid Literature Journal XIV April 2015

Dean is also working on the first draft of his first novel, working title Ghost Guide, which will probably be split into two books. Scheduled release of the first book is March 2016. He is also working with Jim Hensel, founder of The Strength and Honor Code, to publish his story and program work books. To top that off, he is working on a new book of essays focused on fly fishing and started writing poems for a second poetry book. Way to go, Dean. Keep up the writing.

April Moore, Fort Collins author, knows writing is hard work

April Moore

April Moore, author of Folsom’s 93: The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison’s Executed Men, believes that writers should write because they believe in their project or story, not to make a quick buck. In fact, it’s not going to be quick or easy. It takes hard work and passion. She said, “Even if you have a published book, you’re not going to be rich and famous. You’re not going to be on these bestseller lists. Your book is probably not going to land in the hands of Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino.”

Ernest Hemingway said “Writing is easy. You just sit at the typewriter and bleed.” The reality of it is that the completion of a manuscript is a huge accomplishment. Not many people can brag about the fact that they have written or even published a book.

folsoms-93April lived Hemingway’s mantra by joining (in spirit) 93 men as they served hard time for their crimes and eventually were hanged. The research began in the fall of 2008, and the book was successfully published on July 1, 2013. Her book profiles in detail the lives and crimes of these men, and includes the lives of their victims. Their mug shots hid in the closet of April’s great-grandmother until April breathed life into each man and uncovered the truth for the world to see. Covering the years 1895 to 1937, her book has a lot to say. Even after publishing the book, April believes she could have kept going and adding more details to these men’s lives. She said, “Even when it’s in this form, published, done, it’s never really done.”

April keeps trekking on with her writing due to her involvement with Northern Colorado Writers (NCW) and a critique group that began in late 2003 after a novel-writing class. She said, “It’s great to be surrounded by like-minded people who are in the same boat as you. We’re all struggling aspiring writers. We can all learn from one another. Writing can be so lonely. Not everyone gets it.”

Because of her critique group, April feels the pressure to constantly produce thoughtful work. Needing to submit pushes the creative thoughts out of her brain and onto the paper. She said, “There’s some excellent writers in my group, so they really set the bar high. I go back and I edit and edit before I even send it to them. A lot of people in the group can just write and go. They don’t stop to edit. I agonize too much. I want it to be perfect, and I want to impress the pants off the writers in my group who I admire so much. Instead of just spewing out something and hoping for the best, it pushes me to be a better writer. I usually get a chapter every couple of weeks done just because I need to submit.”

Each writer’s writing process is different and April’s is no exception. She starts with a notebook and pencil and writes downs every thought she has and the what-ifs. The physical act of writing a chapter or a whole outline helps get all of her ideas down. Then she will transfer it to the laptop to put it all together.

April believes the hardest part of being a writer is making time for it and sitting still to concentrate. She doesn’t consider herself an introvert or an extrovert, but somewhere in the middle. So sitting in a quiet place and sequestering herself does not come naturally. She needs to see people to be inspired instead of being in an empty room. A mentality among writers is “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. No excuses.” Whatever variation of this, whether the writer is sitting on a couch or gripping a pencil instead of sitting at a computer, the saying rings true for every writer. One must make time to write, or it will never get done.

April’s second book, a women’s fiction novel, will be published in March 2015 by Hot Chocolate Press. Bobbing for Watermelons is a revised old manuscript that was started ten years ago. She polished it and added new perspective and insight. She also has a flash fiction piece in an anthology, Baby Shoes, coming in February 2015.

The literary world also benefits by April’s art. She’s collaborated with Dean Miller, another local author (feature story coming soon) by doing illustrations for two of his books: Odyssey of the Monk, and his poetry book, Echoes. The Writing Bug, NCW’s blog will see regular posts from April starting in January 2015.

Fort Collins-based Unite for Literacy strives to eradicate book deserts

Holly Hartman, Director of Publishing at Unite for Literacy, works to put 100 books into every child's home.

Holly Hartman, Director of Publishing at Unite for Literacy, works to put 100 books into every child’s home.

Holly Hartman, Director of Publishing at Unite for Literacy (UFL), believes that it is possible for every child on the planet to have access to more than 100 digital books.

The Fort Collins-based organization is a for-profit company that is working to eradicate book scarcity and get relevant books into the homes of every child in Colorado, the United States, and the world and to give children and their families the opportunity to love reading.

Research has shown that children who have 100 or more books in their home are less likely to struggle with academics and stay in school.

“If you can give children 100 books in their home, you can change the landscape of their literacy life. If you’re a child that lives in a home where there are plenty of books to read, you’re going to start school understanding what a book is, valuing books, knowing how to turn pages, how to hold books, but more than that, you have a chance to learn that books are what they are, the passport to bigger things,” Hartman said.

Literacy rates in Colorado are discouraging. The 2013 Nation’s Report Card from the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that six of 10 Colorado fourth-graders scored below proficiency in reading. Plus, six of 10 Colorado kids live in households with fewer than 100 books.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress asked 4th graders how many books they have in their homes, and how often they read for fun. Those with over 100 books in their home and who read for fun scored proficient in reading, as the following chart illustrates.

“Children who grow up without books are starting at zero. That means they’re already so far behind that the chance of catching up, especially by third and fourth grade, is low. They say you’ve got to be reading proficient by third grade. That’s a steep hill for a little one to climb if they’re coming from a home with no books,” Hartman said.

Unite for Literacy knows getting 100 printed books into the home of every child is not going to happen with the printing, distribution, and storage of traditional publishing. Their solution is to utilize eBooks and mobile technology for families on the go. Parents or children with an Internet connection, such as a tablet or smartphone, can choose any book in UFL’s library without registering or downloading content. And Hartman can guarantee the books will be free forever.

And because they can be accessed digitally, UFL has the opportunity to add cultural diversity to the books’ pages, such as audio narration available in 19 languages. Immigrant and refugee children and their families learning English, especially the growing Somali and Burmese populations in Northern Colorado, can hear books narrated in their native language while reading the words in English.

“It is often the case that with immigrant children, especially refugees, parents may not be literate in their own language, much less English. And they really need that narrated support in order to even have that reading experience with their children. Plus, it’s also an introduction to those children to American culture,” Hartman said.

The language options keep expanding as UFL grows. To select a language, they look at census data of indigenous and immigrant populations to see what would be the best options for children. “Our initial goal is 300 languages, which is the number of languages spoken within the United States. There are 6000 languages across the world, so our vision is that eventually crowdsourcing can actually make it possible for any language to be there, but that’s a ways off,” Hartman said.

So how does UFL spread the word about the library to those children who could benefit from it? Hartman says that’s where the sponsors come in, who pay to have their name beside the book. Underwriting the cost of the book keeps the library free. In return, businesses, organizations, and restaurants can sponsor a book that aligns with their mission and use it as a marketing tool so they can spread the word of the library in the process of publicizing their support for literacy. UFL is also working with libraries, schools, and local and national nonprofit organizations with similar missions. In June, they participated in the Clinton Global Initiative in Denver to connect with national and global sponsors and other organizations.

Even though UFL has an impressive goal of bringing literacy all over the world, they are not without critics who disagree with the digitization of children’s books. The organization doesn’t want to replace printed books, but only be a gateway to reading and literacy. “The reality is that children are increasingly on digital media. We want there to be content out there that is high quality and leads them back to the printed book,” Hartman said.

Hartman believes that everyone in the community can continue the conversation UFL has started in eliminating book scarcity and book deserts. “We see it as a social justice issue. The right to learn to read, we should see it as a fundamental right that everyone has because it’s such a key to personal success in today’s world. You have to be able to read. Moving that conversation out into the larger community and getting it solved is our big vision,” Hartman said.

Fort Collins Read Aloud Tackles Illiteracy in Larimer County

Toby Swaford poses at his Fort Collins Read Aloud office.

Toby Swaford poses at his Fort Collins Read Aloud office.

Fort Collins Read Aloud (FCRA) has a big vision: 100 percent literacy in Larimer County. They want to encourage, educate and empower the communities of Larimer County with the tools necessary to ensure lifetime literacy for children.

Toby Swaford, AmeriCorps member and community engagement director at FCRA, is optimistic about reaching that goal.

“To quote the old Superman comics, it’s a never ending battle for truth, justice, and the literacy way, in this case. It’s pretty lofty but it’s a good vision, it’s a good goal to strive for, but it is going to be one of those never ending missions. But by being out there in the community, by providing support, and by showing how important it is as a gateway to the rest of your education, it is one of those goals that we will get closer and closer to as time goes by,” Swaford said.

One of the ways FCRA strives to reach this goal is by sending volunteers into the classroom to read aloud to children pre-k to third grade.

“One of the things that teachers have said about our volunteers is that we’re able to provide that one-on-one relationship with the children. It’s something that a classroom teacher doesn’t usually get to do. And we’re able to come in and spend a good fifteen, twenty minutes or so with that child. Our volunteers become buddies, reading partners,” Swaford said.

And the results of that one-on-one attention can be life changing for the children. Swaford told a story of a volunteer working with a student with dyslexia.

“When they were first working together, she had a very difficult time even discerning the words; the letters would get mixed up. But she’s gotten to the point now where she can read second grade level pretty fluently and will self correct. She transposes words and she’s very aware of that,” Swaford said.

This young lady’s teacher gives credit to the volunteer who has worked with her on a weekly basis to encourage and reinforce what she’s been doing. The relationship that forms shows students not only that reading is important, but also that the child has worth.

Evan Brengle, volunteer at FCRA, is passionate about books and has found that a literacy outreach was appealing to him.

“Volunteering with Read Aloud combines my love of books with my desire to invest my time and energy in something positive for the community.  Great stories can be very enriching of course, but basic literacy skills go far beyond entertainment.  They are crucial to an individual’s future academic, professional and even personal success.  I love the way that reading aloud with a kid can genuinely bring fun and education together.  The kids don’t even realize they’re learning when they are immersed in a story,” Brengle said.

The other way FCRA tackles the vision of 100% literacy is to provide books for people who need them through book drives and donations.

“Having books in the home is a really good way of encouraging reading, and we’ll come across a book deficit or book deserts in lower income areas sometimes. There may be one book on average for every six households of children. So having that accessibility to those books is also extremely important because even if you’ve learned to read, if you’re not practicing that, you’re never really going to get really fluent or comfortable with it,” Swaford said.

The statistics involving literacy in Larimer County are alarming.

“Within the overall Larimer County, I believe right now our illiteracy rate is right around 13 to 17 percent, which is a big number,” Swaford said.

Swaford said that some students are starting school with no literacy exposure. These students are three to four times more likely to not complete their education. The students who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade also are three to four times more likely to quit school before they hit graduation.

“The illiteracy rate for third grade pretty much mirrors the dropout rate for high school,” Swaford said.

FCRA is always looking for book donations and volunteers.

For more information about FCRA, please visit http://fortcollinsreadaloud.org/.

Reading_and_graduation_rates_in_coloradoSource: http://www.coloradokids.org/data/kidscount/2014kidscount.html

Jamie Raintree balances writing and life

Jamie Raintree presents at a workshop called "Writers Online."

Jamie Raintree presents at a workshop called “Writers Online.”

Jamie Raintree, local author, wasn’t a person who was writing novels with a crayon at a young age. Although she wrote a couple of short stories throughout high school, her creative juices needed a kick start to start flowing. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrimo) was that kick that she needed. She signed up, wrote a novel in a month, and hasn’t stopped since.

“I think right about the time I discovered National Novel Writing Month in 2008, that was the first time I really realized that normal people could write novels because for some reason I always thought that you had to have a degree or some kind of qualification,” Raintree said.

Raintree writes women’s fiction about women searching for truth in love and life. Her edits from the agent and editor are coming back soon and she is in the beginning stages of another novel. She is represented by Claire Anderson-Wheeler of Regal Literary Management.

“Once I get through all the editing phases of my previous book, then this one I’ll really dive into and get serious about it. I’d love to have a first draft done before the end of the year. That’d be great,” Raintree said.

Raintree’s daily writing is squeezed into the cracks of her very busy life of managing a household, a marriage and two young children, and she also serves as the workshop coordinator at Women’s Fiction Writers Association. But she makes sure that it fits and gets a little bit of work in every day.

“The cool thing is that I got a gym membership and since they have a cafe here, what I do is drop the girls off at daycare and get a short workout in and then I’ve got an hour to two hours to work here undisturbed,” Raintree said.

Selena Laurence, local author, met Raintree through Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers when they were both looking for critique partners.

“She’s a perfectionist. Jamie will take however long is required to craft the fine grained details of a stunning story. And it’s always worth every one of her efforts. Her work is outstanding,” Laurence said.

Raintree thinks the hardest part about being a writer is making the time for it. Fiction writing is not a nine-to-five job where you clock in and out to be paid for your time.

“It took a long time for my family to really get there with me where they started to take it as seriously as I do. Luckily, now, they’re very supportive and we find ways to fit it in and it’s become an important part of our family, just like a regular job would be,” Raintree said.

Alyson Walker met Raintree at a NaNoWrimo write-in last November. She believes Raintree has the will and drive to accomplish anything she puts her mind to.

“Jamie puts in the necessary time to get the job done. She makes time when others might make excuses. Even when she feels like she might hit the wall, she perseveres,” Walker said.

Raintree loves the rich literary life of Fort Collins. When moving from Arizona, she was ecstatic when she found out the city has three libraries and lots of chances to connect with local writers.

“It’s so great. You just don’t often get a chance to hang out with your people. We’re a unique set of people. So being able to hang out with people who really understand you is fantastic, and it’s so great to live in a community where there are a lot of writers,” Raintree said.

Kerri Flanagan Shines as Director of Northern Colorado Writers

Kerri Flanagan smiles from her home office.

Kerri Flanagan smiles from her home office.

Kerrie Flanagan, director of Northern Colorado Writers, is well known among the writing community of Fort Collins. Members of NCW only have smiles for their brave leader, who guides them through the rough waters of the publishing world.

In 2006, with help from author friend, Debbie Dadey, Flanagan organized the first Northern Colorado Writers Conference in March 2006 with 45 attendees.

The next year’s conference required an even bigger location with over 100 writers at the Fort Collins Hilton. It was clear to Flanagan that one big gathering was not enough. So in August of 2007, Northern Colorado Writers was born.

“The writer’s conference she (Flanagan) organizes is one of the best in the state. The instructors are always experienced and helpful and the keynote speakers she attracts are always top notch,” said Chuck Harrelson, NCW member.

“I found that I really loved helping other writers navigate the world of publishing. There was nothing in our area. So in order to get to other writers, I was having to drive to Denver or Boulder, and I didn’t want to do that anymore. So I decided to start a writing organization up here,” Flanagan said.

The organization provides monthly meetings, classes, workshops, a newsletter and a way to stay connected and gain support from fellow writers.

“It gives them the opportunity to meet with other writers and talk shop. When I’ve done surveys before, the biggest benefit for them is being part of a community of writers. Not only do we do classes, events, and things like that, they get a chance to talk with other writers. And it seems like that is the most important component for them. They learn from each other,” Flanagan said.

And Flanagan is the perfect person to lead the organization.

“Kerrie is outgoing, somewhat gregarious but understands the solitude required to be a successful writer. She is always ready to help others when needed,” said Dean Miller, NCW member.

According to Flanagan, the writing community is thriving.

“We’ve had quite a few members who’ve released books. So it’s really fun to watch. All of this accomplishment! And a lot of them have said it’s because of the support they’ve received. They know that there’s people behind them, encouraging them, and it’s given them the courage and confidence to do that,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan has been busy as a freelance writer and writing coach. Along with a co-author, she just released a book called Write Away: A Year of Musings and Motivations for Writers. They took blog posts, essays and other writings and compiled them into one book. She also recently published her second article in The Writer magazine after having published an article in Writer’s Digest earlier this year.

On July 29 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Old Firehouse Books is partnering with Flanagan to discuss how to be a successful self-published author. Tickets are $35 and include a copy of Flanagan’s book. For more information, please contact info@northerncoloradowriters.com.

NCW continues to grow and thrive with over 220 members. March 2015 will mark the ten-year anniversary of the writer’s conference.

“My goal is to reach more writers in our community. There’s still people out there who have no idea who we are. So I’d like to find ways to reach out to them and provide that support and encouragement that we all need as writers,” Flanagan said.

NCW members enjoy being part of a supportive group.

“I love being part of a writing community, especially one that is not only supportive and professional, but fun as well. I’ve made wonderful connections with other writers, have taken some amazing classes and I would never miss the annual NCW Conference,” said April Moore, NCW member.

Flanagan has much advice for writers.

“Don’t give up. The successful writers are the ones who persevered and didn’t give up and that means they made time for writing and had enough confidence to get it out there. Find a supportive community to be a part of whether that’s an organization like NCW or you find four or five other writing friends that you can talk with and meet with regularly,” Flanagan said.

Wolverine Farm Publishing Boasts Great Attendance for A Day of Workshops

Wolverine Farm Publishing Co. and Bookstore ended the weekend’s events with a successful  day of workshops. I managed to attend three events out of the eight that were offered today.

At 1:30 to 2:45 p.m., Jamie Raintree, women’s fiction author, hosted information about writers online. She went over the important topics such as why be online?, what’s important?, website necessities, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. She told writers to remember to establish a brand and to think of themselves as a business owner instead of just a book author.

Jamie Raintree led the workshop "Writers Online."

Jamie Raintree led the workshop “Writers Online.”

“It was really helpful having clear instruction on what to do. I haven’t really made an online presence because I didn’t know how to start. So this was a good starting point,” Becca Bates, volunteer at Wolverine Farm Bookstore, said.

The second workshop I attended was “Character & Three Magic Letters” with Bonnie Nadzam from 3:00 to 4:15 p.m. The workshop began with participants coming up with character traits for a Texas state patrol officer and then listing their best and worst traits. It got participants to think how writing is very personal and what character development entails. The three magic letters are AND as writers imagine how certain character traits can be incorporated with each other.

Bonnie Nadzam writes on the board as she leads the workshop "Character & Three Magic Letters"

Bonnie Nadzam writes on the board as she leads the workshop “Character & Three Magic Letters.”

“I realized some things about myself by participating in the workshop. It was helpful,” Leslie Patterson, a workshop participant said.”

The day ended with a reading from local author Laura Pritchett who read from her novel Stars Go Blue, which tells about life with Alzheimer’s.

Live tweets for this event can be found at https://twitter.com/emilywenzl.

Publisher of Wolverine Farm Mindfully Engages Fort Collins

Todd Simmons, publisher of Wolverine Farm Publishing Co. and Bookstore, poses at the new site where The Letterpress and Publick House will open before the holidays this year.

Todd Simmons, publisher of Wolverine Farm Publishing Co. and Bookstore, poses at the new site where The Letterpress and Publick House will open before the holidays this year.

Todd Simmons, publisher at Wolverine Farm Publishing Co. and Bookstore, didn’t necessarily set out to start a publishing company and be locally known as a trendsetter in the literary scene of Fort Collins. But that’s what happened.

The 38-year-old father of two started Wolverine Farm before he left his previous job as a social scientist for the National Park Service in Idaho by self publishing a collection of essays, stories and poems.

“During that time period I went through a quiet revolution within myself. I wanted to pursue writing and more creative pursuits than my science background was allowing me, so I quit my job, built a yurt to live in, landed in Fort Collins, and spent a good six months just writing, kinda regrouping and figuring out what I wanted to do,” Simmons said.

When he arrived in Fort Collins in April 2002, he started going to poetry readings and met a lot of other likeminded writers and artists. He and three friends got together and started the precursor to Matter Journal, their first periodical. And Wolverine Farm began to grow.

In mid-2005, Wolverine Farm was granted 501(c) status by the IRS and incorporated in Colorado as a non-profit organization. They opened the bookstore shortly after that.

And the company keeps expanding.

“We’re working on our Letterpress and Publick House expansion. We hope to be in construction by late July with an ambitious opening date of before the holidays this year. Lots of letterpress work will be going on here, lots of literary art and craft workshops with kids and adults, fundraisers, collaborations with other nonprofits, a conference room and intimate event hall that will be available to community groups and other nonprofits,” Simmons said.

Simmons, whose hometown is Augusta, Kansas, continues to have success by working hard and turning his passions into a successful nonprofit and publishing company.

Beth Kopp, general manager of Wolverine Farm Publishing Co. and Bookstore, has only good things to say about Simmons.

“Todd is a visionary. He has really big ideas about making the world a better place, and he actually goes out and accomplishes them. He is passionate about bicycles, agriculture, literature, and community, and has turned those passions into a career,” Kopp said.

John Calderazzo, professor at Colorado State University, thinks that Simmons is very impressive, does what he says and does it spectacularly well.

“I’ve probably known Todd for seven or eight years, and while I don’t remember exactly how we met, I know I was struck right away by his sly sense of humor and serious focus on both science and literary writing, not to mention his (then) nascent sense of community service,” Calderazzo said.

In the middle of all the chaos, the people at Wolverine Farm have still managed to organize the Old Town Book Fair this weekend. The three-day festival will kick off with a costume party on Friday where attendees can dress up as their favorite character or author and head over to Odell Brewing Co. at 8 p.m. It will feature readings by Fort Collins Poet Laureate Chloé Leisure, Jason Hardung and Jack Martin along with music by Snake Rattle Rattle Snake.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Old Town Square will be filled with book sales, live music and literary trivia. Sunday’s activities include art and craft as well as literary workshops throughout Fort Collins. The day will end with a reading from local author Laura Pritchett. Friday’s event is $10 while Saturday and Sunday are free. For more information, please visit www.wolverinefarm.org.

“We do it partially as a fundraiser and mostly as outreach effort. And so what we’re trying to do is really showcase all the local booksellers and literary groups like the Northern Colorado Writers, the Center for Literary Publishing, and just try to bring everyone together,” Simmons said.

Simmons believes that Fort Collins contains a rich literary community that some people don’t even realize.

“We’ve got nationally known writers, Laura Pritchett, Laura Resau, Bonnie Nadzam, Steven Schwartz, all these great voices that are putting out award winning work and getting a lot of attention. I think it’s almost going to sneak up on people how literary of a community Fort Collins is. And I hope our new location with a dedicated event and work space will help lift that community up a notch and give it a platform to showcase their work,” Simmons said.