Summer in Montana provides little time for the popular “beach read” novels. Instead, during our action-packed summers, I find myself re-reading Night of the Grizzlies, Christine Carbo’s The Wild Inside, and various touristy hiking books. With recent cold mornings and the “termination dust” of snow on mountain tops signaling the end of summer, Montanans know the cold days of winter are ahead. Maybe a good blizzard can help us hibernate and accomplish goals with a surge of writing, and reading those novels on the “to read” list.

The annual Flathead River Writers’ Conference during the last week of September is one way to energize creative urges. Among ten speakers at the 25th Silver Anniversary conference, Lavonne Mueller, playwright and the recipient of many writing awards and grants, (including National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright and Guggenheim), will present a workshop for attendees. If you like to travel, develop your writer’s biography with her help, and apply for grants in the coming year that could take you around the world to write in exotic locations.

If you are considering a fast track to completing your next novel, or your first, consider taking the Novel Challenge course at FVCC with award winning author and MMW member, Kathy Dunnehoff. She’ll guide you through completing your first draft in one month. Her course is a take-off on Nanowrimo – the annual National Novel Writing Month each November.

writers' block .3Whatever your plans, each day provides the opportunity to begin a new book, a new chapter, a new scene in your life. People speak of “writers’ block,” being stymied and unable to proceed. This is something I’ve never experienced, but recently I found an interesting and tasty red wine you could sip while reading a book next to a roaring fire while dreaming up your next storyline.

Betty Kuffel

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More on Reseach

By Marie F Martin

Last month I blogged about how research is a must tool in a writer’s bag.  For my new story, I discover I need a couple of my plus-seventy ladies to go to a shooting range.  The plot has one of the widows keeping her husband’s gun collection, hidden in a garment bag.

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The plot thickens and my ladies must defend themselves so they unload the bag.  One of the gals needs to learn how to shoot .  Rifle locked and loaded they drive to a shooting range.rifle

That is the short explanation to set up my trip with faithful canine friend, Katy Lou.  The rifle range is north of town, out in the boonies.  Katy and I drive into the bowl of our valley on a country road named Farm to Market.  Ahead are alpine mountains cut with ski runs.  To the west are the lower mountains covered with the Flathead National Forest and to the east are the snowy peaks of Glacier Park touching the clear sky in a reverent way.  We can’t see to the south, but on such a bright sunny day the waters of Flathead Lake must be crystal blue.

I turned right onto Church Drive and follow it to Prairie View Road and turn north on the dirt road, working up into a forested foot hill.  My dog and I keep an eye out for signs directing the way to what I consider a newfangled shooting range.  The narrow road widens at the top of a hill.  A sign reads Clay target and 4-H shooting range.  I turn onto the muddy roadway leading down to the building and park in a wide spot where the gravel looks thicker.  I set and ponder the plot of my story.  I do not need to investigate the range closer.  I have now unlocked a new twist to my plot.  Research is the key.


Ina Albert, Author


It’s late on a Wednesday night, and Franklin Crawford, 52, is pushing a shopping cart around a 24-hour grocery store in Ithaca, New York. He’s found the bananas and cat food he needs, but as he roams the aisles he adds ice cream and other nonessentials to his basket. “This is the meeting place, the agora,” he explains. “It’s the abundance, the people, the bright light. It makes me feel good.”

Crawford visits a store like this almost every day. This one is his favorite because the café stays open until 10 p.m. and the security guard lets him hang out if he buys something. Paying for stuff is not the problem. Crawford is employed. He is also fit, well dressed, and well read. Other good-looking, well-dressed people are also here alone, slowly pushing carts of their own. Most of them don’t seem to be in a hurry, either, but Crawford says he usually doesn’t make eye contact or start conversations. “I don’t think we really want that from each other,” he says. “Sometimes I think maybe we despise each other, because we’re all here instead of home with someone else.”

Today more than 44 million adults over age 45 suffer from chronic loneliness.

Crawford is lonely — but he’s not alone. A groundbreaking AARP The Magazine survey reveals that millions of older Americans suffer from chronic loneliness, and their ranks are swelling: Of the 3,012 people ages 45 and up who participated in our study, 35 percent are chronically lonely (as rated on the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a standard measurement tool), compared with 20 percent in a similar survey a decade ago. Loneliness was equally prevalent regardless of race, gender, or education levels. Unexpectedly, though, age does make a difference: Those who said they are suffering most are not the oldest among us but rather adults in their 40s and 50s.

Chronic loneliness, experts tell us, is an ever-present, self-perpetuating condition that pushes people away from the relationships that sustain us and make us happy. But the chronically lonely are not merely unhappy — they are in danger. “Loneliness has surprisingly broad and profound health effects,” says John T. Cacioppo, Ph.D., director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago and a leading authority on the topic. There is mounting evidence that loneliness significantly increases the chances of diabetes, sleep disorders, and other potentially life-threatening problems. Research has also shown a greater risk of high blood pressure among lonely people, as well as higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, weakened immune systems, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Authors are often lonely. Spending time in our heads doesn’t permit the open expression of our ideas and critiques of our premises.  What better reason to join a group, bring your secret characters to life through someone else’s eyes, express them in a different way and recheck your premises.


Training Wheels

Lg book case.brighterAfter more than ten years of research and writing, my biothriller set in Montana is nearing a final edit. Fatal Feast has had many beginnings. I always knew the middle and end but getting the story started at the right point is the most important part of any book.

This is the eighth book I’ve written, including two nonfictions Indy-published on Amazon. The first books were all training wheels for Fatal Feast. After many attempts that didn’t really get you into the story, I pulled out a stack of books I liked and surveyed the first 1-2 sentences. Do these authors get you hooked?

Stephen White Manner of Death: Adrienne’s tomatoes froze to death the same night that Arnie Dresser did.

Caleb Carr – The Alienist: Theodore is in the ground.

Grace Metalious – Peyton Place: Indian summer is like a woman. Ripe, hotly passionate, but fickle, she comes and goes as she pleases so that one is never sure whether she will come at all, not for how long she will stay.

Ridley Pearson – The Angel Maker: The young woman’s pale, lifeless expression cried out to Daphne Matthews from across the room. Nearly all of the kids who sought out The Shelter were high on something.

Nora Roberts – Montana Sky: Being dead didn’t make Jack Mercy less of a son of a bitch. One week of dead didn’t offset sixty-eight years of living mean.

Sharyn McCrumb – She Walks These Hills: The woman had been running through the woods a long time.

Opening words of these novels made me want to read more. Many books didn’t sound interesting, even best sellers. I encourage you to look at your works. Do your novels give readers a jump-start with intrigue? Conflict? Foreshadowing something important? -Or do they drag your readers through a description or setting. Does your beginning get your readers into the who, what, when, where and why should they care?

Prologues are often skipped by readers. Prologues don’t show, they tell. To get your reader involved immediately, some experts say to open with dialogue. Show something is happening. Involve your readers. Get them hooked.

Writing skills evolve over time and reading many books in your genre is key. When I look back at my first books, I can see my writing has improved over years. Each conference, each class, each critique, and each completed manuscript added skills.

References My personal library is filled with books on writing. I found many of them useful including Stephen King’s book On Writing and Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure. But Jodie Renner’s Writing a Killer Thriller – An Editor’s Guide to Writing is the best I have read to date. Not only does she provide examples from many sources, this is a concise quick read I would recommend to writers of both fiction and memoir. Jodie will help you raise the stakes and not bore your reader.

A sample beginning:


Deathwatch September 2020

“Callie, I lied to you. I have Mad Cow Disease.” A shudder rocked my father’s frail body. His mumbled words delivered an aftershock of disbelief and grief. Anger flashed at him for his carelessness and at myself for not recognizing signs of the fatal disease. How could my scientist father have allowed himself to become infected?

His head bowed in shame. “Before I go crazy and demented like everyone with prions swimming in their brains, I’m going to kill myself.”

Sitting beside him on a rocky outcrop above a thousand foot drop, I put my arm around his shoulders to comfort him, but after his confession, I braced myself, fearing he might try to jump. In his weakened state, I hoped I could stop him.

Happy Writing and best wishes to the people participating in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. By the end of November, in just 30 days, many will have finished their first draft. Then the real work begins.

Betty Kuffel


By Marlette Bess
It’s strange to think that a small place like Kalispell, Montana could have such a smart and interesting writer’s conference, but they did just. The Flathead Valley Community College where it was held in a conference room large enough to accommodate a hundred people but the room itself gave off a feeling of coziness, almost intimacy. When the speakers spoke, it was as if they were speaking to you while you were sitting on a couch in front of them.
For me, the joy of the conference was having my worked critiqued by one of the two agents who attended that weekend. Jim McCarthy of New York City gave me a fair and honest assessment of my work. He was neither cruel nor humiliating but concise with a little compassion. Before this conference I had only been to the big conference in Seattle put on by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. To meet an agent or editor there you had to go through a process of speed pitching. I don’t think you could find a mate with speed dating and I don’t see how you could find an agent with speed pitching.
My overall impression with the conference was positive, encouraging and very helpful. I want to thank the staff and presenters for doing such an excellent job and to the crew at the culinary department for putting on two good lunches. I would happily attend again.