A writer’s world
Steamboat authors find support, success through writers' group.
October 16, 2016
These wildly different books and their authors have all brought home prestigious Colorado Independent Publishers Association, or CIPA, EVVY awards, in the past year with the support of Steamboat Spring's community of fellow writers.
Sue Leonard, local writer and publishing guru, established "We Write Steamboat" in 2011 for Steamboat-area authors who are trying to get published independently.
She's thrilled with members' success.
"It's all about sharing information and trying to help each other out," Leonard said.
From learning about where to find editors and layout specialists, to just having other writers who are going through the same stress … the latest award-winning authors give credit to having "We Write Steamboat" and other writing groups as a great source for independent publishing.
"Sometimes, it's so disheartening when you're putting your blood, sweat and tears into your writing, and nobody notices," said D.A. Hill, author of the sci-fi romance "Cerelia's Choice."
"It helps when you know others are going through this," he said about his fellow members.
Continue reading for a look at the latest award-wining authors who are making a name for themselves in independent publishing.
A passion for plants
Karen Vail-Mary O'Brien
Need some "natural" toilet paper while hiking in the southern Rockies?
How about using a little painkiller that's growing right outside your door?
Look no further than the deeply researched and well-organized reference book, "Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies," written by Routt County residents Mary O'Brien and Karen Vail.
"I'm an herbalist, and Karen's a botanist; her specialty is edibles and mine is medicinal," said O'Brien, gardener and education program developer at the Yampa River Botanic Park. "We've been hiking and co-teaching for years, and people kept asking when we were going to write a book. We started giving it a 100 percent effort about six years ago."
O'Brien and Vail's years of research, education, working and volunteering — combing the mountain paths for herbs and plants, educating children and adults along the forest trails — have finally paid off. Vail and O'Brien are the latest members of the "We Write Steamboat" group to win awards from the prestigious Colorado Independent Publishers Association EVVY awards, one of the longest-running indie publishing competitions in the country.
The We Write Steamboat group is dedicated to helping independent writers navigate publishing when the writers are unknown and not represented.
"Being able to sit in this group and ask them questions … we had no clue about writing or publishing this kind of book," said Vail, who runs her own landscaping and gardening service and has a bachelor of science degree in horticulture and a master of science degree in gardening from the Royal Horticultural Society in England.
The 272-page book won first place for Interior Layout/Design and second place in the Academic/Reference category in the 2016 CIPA EVVY competition. The book includes colorful photos with various guides and detailed descriptions of their medicinal uses, history and what they can do for you and if they can be dangerous.
Maybe it was inevitable that Vail's life would revolve around nature when her family settled in beautiful Steamboat Springs in the 1940s.
"My first memory was lying in a meadow with my mom, looking at flowers," Vail reminisced.
Her tiny, cream-colored house with the brown trim sits amidst a cacophony of plants, bushes and even a little orchard on a small lot across from the Steamboat Springs High School.
"I like to experiment in my yard to see what works," Vail said, as she walked through dozens of plants, some with tomatoes or berries still on the branches after a cold snap. "Then, I know what to use in clients' yards."
The inside of Vail's home is also like walking into its own little ecosystem, as plants abound from the ceiling, tables, cabinets … anything that can support her beloved herbage. A pair of parakeets keep up their twittering to add to the jungle effect.
It all seems quite appropriate for one of the founders of Yampatika, the nonprofit environmental group that's known for educating the public through hands-on nature walks.
"There was a really important reason for this book," Vail said. "If you know something first, then learn to love it, you'll want to protect it."
"Agreed," said O'Brien, as the friends talk about their shared passion, bouncing back and forth with their thoughts as two people can only after working together for so many years.
"We're big supporters of native plants," O'Brien said. "We want people to introduce these plants into their garden, to grow what would be natural in their neighborhood. It's a lot more sustainable."
In fact, as O'Brien made her way back to her new home in Hayden, she pointed out dozens of plants and trees that were medicinal or edible along the way … from willows to aspens to hawthorn to chokecherries.
But it's the herbalist's basement that will soon amaze visitors. Dark bottles of tinctures, salves and extracts, all made from plants in the southern Rockies, line shelves on the right wall. On the opposite wall, a sundry of old food and product containers hold leaves, roots and other parts of trees and plants collected by the herbalist. O'Brien will spend the winter extracting their active ingredients.
Now an empty nester, O'Brien began her endeavors while parenting young children.
"I wanted to use natural remedies for my family, but I can't ever stop learning," said O'Brien, who also studies Native American use of medicinal plants.
Sure enough, Vail says she calls on O'Brien's herbal remedies whenever she needs a salve or an immunity boost.
Now, others will have these women's hard-won knowledge at their fingertips in the form of a colorful new guide made especially for Northwest Colorado, along with parts of the Wyoming, Utah and Idaho Rockies.
While the two naturalists encourage learning about native plants in their book, they also want readers to know that the movement to destroy all non-native plants is not necessary. And they include them, as well.
"There are a few non-natives that are important medicinally and herbally," Vail said.
"A lot of people also feel they should eradicate every weed with herbicide, but we want people to know they can use them, eat them."
O'Brien and Vail's reference book, "Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies, can be found in bookstores in Steamboat Springs and Craig and in a number of botanical gardens and parks in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
Creating a riveting mystery
The shocking first page of author Merit Clark's award-winning novel "Killing Streak" may be a little difficult for some readers to get through, but once they do, they can enjoy the mystery genre's newest detective on the scene, Denver-based cop, Jack Fariel.
In her first-ever novel, part-time Steamboat resident Susan Paturzo, aka Merit Clark, follows the gruesome, vulgar peculiarities behind a Denver millionaire when a body is found in his guesthouse.
It's difficult to believe the bubbly, intense brunette with yogurt in one hand, walking around her mountain home, could possibly be enmeshed in such a shameless, vile character. But alas, that's the magic of writing. And she has hero Jack Fariel to get her through it.
"I live vicariously through him … he's big, he can fight. It's so much fun writing from his perspective," Paturzo said. "I get to do things in this book I can't do in real life."
Paturzo spent her time between Santa Fe, Denver and Steamboat while writing her first novel and is currently working on the second of the Jack Fariel series.
Her quiet Steamboat home, nestled in aspens and oaks, provides the peace Paturzo needs to focus. When not chasing chipmunks, her trusty sidekick, Piper, the dog, is by her side. No "coffee-house" mayhem for Ms. Merit Clark.
"I'm entering this different world, and if someone is having this loud conversation next to me, it jolts me out of my imagination," she said.
Unlike many of the independent writers in Steamboat who have other jobs, Paturzo is now focusing full-time on her writing.
"I treat this like a business," she said.
After years of writing for others as a journalist and selling off a software company, Paturzo is utilizing every angle offered to her, including the wisdom of fellow writers in Steamboat Springs. She says writers should check out We Write Steamboat, a local meet-up group whose members promote independent publishing.
"It's a great place to share information like contests, where to run ads … it's great for resources and information," Paturzo said.
Also living part-time in Denver, Paturzo has the advantage of utilizing resources put out by the Colorado Independent Publishers Association, or CIPA.
"For mystery writers, they have speakers from law enforcement, forensics, people who do facial reconstruction. We can pick their brains," Paturzo said.
Despite growing up outside New York City, Paturzo didn't get familiar with the seedy side of life until Denver police introduced her to what they see every day.
"I entered this whole new world and tried to develop contacts. Police can be a little bit of a closed society, probably for good reason," she said. "I've got to go to death scenes, which is nothing like you see on TV."
She's also been shot at by gang members during her research.
Paturzo must be a fast learner. Her first mystery novel won the gold medal in the 2015 CIVA EVVY Book Award Contest for Fiction/Mystery & Detective and was a quarter-finalist in the Amazon breakthrough novel contest.
When not working on her own novels, Paturzo likes to read mysteries.
"Not when I'm writing, for fear of ideas 'bleeding' into my own work," Paturko explains. "So I will read biographies."
In fact, as a child, Paturzo read every biography "from A to Z" in her school library.
"Killing Innocence," her second Jack Fariel novel dealing with human trafficking, should be published in early 2017.
Mixing sci-fi and romance
Canberra, Australia — 1988
The young couple meandered through the travel agency filled with brochures and packets that promised them paradise. The sweet bride-to-be looked adoringly at the man she would eventually follow through five countries in three decades. Their eyes lit on a snowy scene: cowboys on horses while carrying their skis. But where exactly is this Steamboat Springs the girl asked? Days later, the Rocky Mountains greeted the happy couple with snowflakes. "The Ptarmigan Inn on Apres Ski Way" shouted the excited newlyweds as they jumped into their airport shuttle. Little did they know…
It makes sense that Steamboat Springs author D.A. Hill has published two hardcore science fiction novels so far … after all, he's a self-proclaimed geek who works IT in his basement while counting Isaac Asimov and Dan Brown as inspirations.
But how does the 53-year-old Aussie come to write an award-winning romance novel whose protagonists are a galactic princess and the descendant of one of America's founding fathers?
"The idea sort of popped in my head," said Hill. "Literally, I just thought, 'What if there was a princess and a space pirate; how would they get together?'"
Hill's new book, "Cerelia's Choice," makes even more sense when you learn he studied American history at the Royal Military College in his native Australia.
"I'm a great admirer of Thomas Jefferson," he said.
While not giving anything major away, Hill's main character has spent his life on spacecrafts and mining asteroids, planning a return to a "mythic" Earth that nobody really believes exists. All the characters really know themselves is that their kind started settling on "Goldilocks" planets about 15,000 years ago.
Hill's princess-meets-space pirate is a classic romance, sprinkled with real science.
"One of my criticism of 'space opera' is every planet they go to miraculously has breathable air and normal gravity, and all their ships have artificial gravity, and they travel through the universe as fast as they like, anywhere they want," Hill said with a bit of disgust.
"You think, 'What's the point of setting the story in outer space, if it's just like being here?'"
Hill's enthusiasm for science fact, not just science fiction, comes out in the novel, as readers follow the exciting action and danger in space and what it must be like to never set foot on a real planet.
Judges at the Colorado Independent Publishers Association EVVY awards loved it enough to award "Cerelia's Choice" second place in the Fiction/Romance category this year.
In the meantime, Hill sits at his multiple computer screens, sporting several days growth of beard while he alternates between working IT and writing his latest novel.
One can't help wondering if Hill will make the jump to full-time writing as he talks excitedly about "Cerelia's Choice."
"I think it'll be a fantastic movie. I think a lot of these will make great movies," he said, pointing at his previous two science fiction novels that are part of a series.
As Hill navigates the world of independent publishing, he encourages writers to join writing support groups for advice and feedback, but with a caveat.
"Look, one of the mistakes you can make is trying to write what you think the market wants. And by the time you've figured it out, the market's moved on to something else," he said. "I write books I like to read or my friends would like to read."
Lucky for Hill, his wife, Marie, is a big fan and a fast learner. Since D.A. Hill hasn't employed a professional editor, Marie Hill has to step in for proofreading.
"She's very good at continuity. She'll read it and say, 'OK that doesn't make sense given what's happened on page 67,'" Hill said.
"It's been a learning process for me," responded Marie, with a sweet modesty. "His first book, I didn't really know what I was looking for. I missed some things, and we rushed it."
But Marie caught on quickly, and the two have become quite a team.
In fact, Hill and his wife helped his mother-in-law publish a new memoir about her Lebanese family settling in Australia, "No Stone Unturned: A Lebanese-Australian Family Memoir."
"My mother-in-law worked on the book while she was visiting Steamboat," Hill said.
"Yes, I guess we can call her a Steamboat writer too," added Marie, with a smile.
D.A. Hill's books, including his newest novel "Cerelia's Choice," can be found on Amazon's Kindle and Off the Beaten Path bookstore.
Epilogue Steamboat Springs, Colorado 2016 The middle-aged couple sat on their deck overlooking the southern valley painted yellow and brown by autumn's visit. The husband was taking a much-needed break from his computer while his soft-spoken wife read through a sheaf of papers, holding her warm mug. "I think the story reads great," she tells him with the same adoring smile she wore down the aisle when they wed so many years ago.
"It's getting cold," he responded. "It won't be long until we're skiing."
He grabbed her hand and they walked inside their cozy mountain home located on a pleasant street known as Apres Ski Way. Little had they known…