Category Archives: Douglas County

Poetry & Youth Songwriting Part 2: Swallow Hill Music

Songwriting is rarely taught. It’s instinctual. Or is it? Maybe you’re already do everything right. The notebook by your bed is full of sleepy-eyed, dreamscape lyrics, your phone holds hours of recorded cords and melodies, and best of all, your bff screeches, “You’re gonna be a star!” after every song.  There’s no better feeling than the encouragement from your loved ones. They can carry you through the desert lands of inspiration and be an invaluable source of collaboration. But there are also resources like SETH who will be teaching his workshop, The Poetry of Writing Song Lyrics at the November 7th Castle Rock Writers cConference (Part 1 of this article – read it here) and of course, there is the school of music in Colorado, Swallow Hill Music.

Swallow Hill Music, a non-profit established in 1979, strives to positively impact the quality of people’s lives through the art of music. Besides providing private lessons, camps and concerts for all ages, they also host a yearly Young Songwriters Competition. Thomas Koenigs, a student of Regis Jesuit High School and 2015 winner of the Swallow Hill songwriters’ competition, explains that he used to be shy about his music. Then someone told him that music was an expression of the self.

“We aren’t perfect people, but we grow. Good music reflects that imperfection and personal growth,” said Koenigs. “Expression does not and should not require justification or explanation.”

Swallow Hill’s Director of School Operations, Cheri Gonzales, counsels kids starting out to “never be afraid to try something new and challenging.”  She encourages young songwriters to perform as much as possible, actively participating to “create material that is completely unique to [them] as an individual.”

Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone and into a state of unease might be frightening, but it can also lead to an ultimate experience of performance euphoria and acceptance. So make it fun, get crazy, and rejoice in the double takes and sideways smiles of those around you as you recite poetry to your dog or sing in your car. Invest in a rhyming dictionary or find one online, like www.rhymer.com, because rhyme can make for powerful lyrics.

Be sure to create an irresistible hook. Songs often have several hooks. The title, chorus, and riffs. Use everything you can to keep your audience captivated. Write about topics or events that interest you, not what’s popular in music at the moment, unless the two are the same. Koenigs’ winning song, Beat the Drum wasn’t about love lost or flashy lifestyles; it told the story about three musicians that suffered from mental illness, drug use and acts of rage. Subjects that evokes strong emotion–like Ferguson, Koenigs’ most recent song—touches both our hearts and our beliefs.

The emotions songs lyrics evoke remind us of our humanity. But it isn’t about telling: it’s about showing. Write lyrics that conjure vivid images. Try word associations by writing all the words you think about for a certain event, subject or detail, and use these words in your song.  When you think you’re done, put it down for a few days. Revisit it with a critical eye. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Just like fiction writing, don’t be afraid to kill off that character, chorus, or single line that, in the end, is throwing off your work. As Gonzales says, “It’s like a beautiful puzzle that fits together just the way [you] want it to.”

Swallow Hill Music’s annual Young Songwriters Competition starts in February. There’s no fee to enter and according to Gonzales, contestants usually take total responsibility for the process of submission deadlines, although parents are welcome to be involved. But who can wait for 2016?  Starting November 1st Swallow Hill offers a program called House of Rock.

“Here they’ll work constructively within a group of kids with similar goals and passions. You might see a timid 13-year-old the first day of camp who’s very soft-spoken and nervous and by the last day that same [kid] is shredding an electric guitar solo at [a] performance,” says Gonzales.

Teens that participate in the House of Rock will perform a concert at Moe’s BBQ for their final class.

The Castle Rock Writers Conference will offer a similar experience for teen poets who attend Jovan Mays’ Slam Poetry workshop. Jovan will lead students through the process of creating poetry using tools to craft pieces that can be performed in three minutes or less. Teens will then be invited to kick off CRW’s January free monthly workshop by performing their Slam Poetry for family and friends.

Opportunities for youth expression abound in Colorado. Coloradoans are passionate about their art and culture and want to pass on that love to their children. The success of non-profit organizations like Swallow Hill Music and Castle Rock Writers proves that expression through music and writing is an important part of that culture.

Read the full interviews with SETH, Thomas Koenigs, and Cheri Gonzales at www.CastleRockWriters.com/updates. Information about Swallow Hill Music can be found at http://swallowhillmusic.org/denver-music-school/. Swallow Hill has also donated one of their Family Memberships to CRW to offer during their silent auction. Information about CRW can be found at http://castlerockwriters.com/events/annual-conference/conference/.

Student Interviews


Julianne Marsh – Interview Tania Urenda

As a 9th grade student at Mountain Vista High school what type of reading do you generally enjoy the most away from school? Are there certain genres that you prefer over others and why?

Julianne: Away from school, I really enjoy reading the whole Young Adult section. I mean, dystopian, fantasy, realistic fiction, paranormal–they all appeal to me. I guess what I read really depends on how I feel on that particular day. The one constant is that it’s all YA, but I do dig those adult murder mysteries and horror stories.

What are the last two novels that you chose to read? How did these resonate to you and your friends?

Julianne: The last two books I read were continuations of two series’ that I have grown to love. The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey and  The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan were the two I finished this week. My friends and I all love both of these authors, and these new books were not a disappointment.

What are your current writing aspirations? What do you like to write? Which genre? Do you have one major project or many smaller ones?

Julianne: I like to say that I don’t settle down when it comes to writing a certain genre. I have a lot of ideas that do not correlate with each other whatsoever. I am trying to find a good genre where I can satisfy all of my ideas, yet it’s my strong point. Right now, I’d say realistic fiction is what I’m working on. Project wise, I work on one major project, but I keep tabs on all my ideas.

With homework and other activities, when do you find time to write?

Julianne: It’s difficult to find time to write, that’s for sure. However, if I tell myself “I will write today,” I can do it. NaNoWriMo and weekends are times where I get a lot done.

What inspires your writing? What do you love about writing?

Julianne: I think that reading inspires my writing. I want to create something that others, and myself, can read and really be drawn into the story. I love that with writing you can make a world different from your own; there are no limits.

Do you have a writing mentor? If you do, could you tell me about them and how they have inspired you to write. If not, do you feel that this would be beneficial to your budding writing career? Who is your biggest fan and supporter?

Julianne: I do not have a writing mentor. However, I have good friends that happily give me their thoughts about what I’m writing. I think that when I’m further along in writing projects, having a mentor would be beneficial to making it better. My biggest supporters are probably my friends who edit my work. I edit theirs as well, so it is sort of a critique group.

When complete, will you try to publish your work? If so, what means do you feel would work best for you, traditional publishing with an agent and publishing house or digital self publishing?

Julianne: I would really love to publish my work. I’d say I would prefer to go through a publishing house rather than self-publishing.

What are your writing/publishing goals for the next 5 to 10 years?

Julianne: In the next 5 to 10 years I would love to have had a book published. A lot of work can be done in this time period, so I think I can do it. Also, I really want to have written a lot of diverse things, whether it be horror or a cute romance story.

This year you attended the Castle Rock Writers conference. How do you feel this helped you as a young writer?

Julianne: At the conference, I believe that I learned a lot more about the actual publishing process and what goes into the process of book-making. That was incredibly cool.

Writers attend conference for many reasons, among the reasons are networking  and pitching ideas to agents and publishers. Did you have the opportunity to make connections with some of the workshop leaders, board members, agents or attendees?

Julianne: I was in the Young Adult program, so I connected with more teenagers with similar aspirations. I also met an author and an agent. Everyone was very friendly and open and I feel very welcomed into the world of writing.

Grace Wilson –  Interview By Susan Rocco-McKeel

Gracie Wilson is a delightful young woman who attended the 2014 Conference’s youth sessions. As a writer in 10th grade, Gracie said she thinks the most important thing for people to know about her is that she is “just as passionate a writer as some who have been writing their whole lives.” Although she has explored writing in many genres, her current favorite is historical romance.

Tragedies inspire her. “Take the Titanic, for example. There were almost two thousand people on board. As a writer, I feel that it’s my duty to preserve each and every one of their stories. Every story is different and spectacular in its own bizarre way. The possibilities are endless. If you look up a list of Titanic’s victims, there is something like: “#47. FEMALE, DARK HAIR, YOUNG, GOLD WATCH, NOTE IN POCKET SIGNED E. H. CONNELLY.” Imagine the possibilities of that story! Why does she have a watch? What’s her name? Who’s E. H. Connelly? And the craziest thing is that it’s all real.   I find myself wanting desperately to make the right guess of something close to it, of how that young woman’s life ended.”

There are many authors she reads and admires but the one she respects the most is Jodi Picoult. While Gracie finds many of Picoult’s topics uncomfortable and disagrees with the morals of some of her characters, Gracie praises the method Picoult employs to tackle tough issues, especially Picoult’s extensive research.

“[Picoult’s] work brings up issues in my own life and brings my fear to the surface.” Despite the controversial topics, Gracie finds herself engrossed in Picoult’s stories. Gracie believes this is the hallmark of an accomplished author.

Gracie is committed to practicing her craft as a means to grow as a writer. She “hope[s] to express in [her] writing something powerful, something that will make people stop and think and wonder and go about their lives in a different way.”

Annie Borelli – Interview by Jean Jacobsen

How long have you been writing or expressed an interest in writing? Where are you at in your writing carrier? What is your favorite subject to write about? Which genre do you write in?

Annie: I have been writing books since about third grade. Right now, I am working towards publishing my first book. I like to write most about kids my age. I write in a variety of genres- contemporary, science fiction, and sometimes fantasy.

Describe a couple of the classes you attended at the CRW conference. Was this your first year to attend?

Annie: I attended the CRW conference for the first time with my friend Julianne. We went to two young adult classes and two adult classes. The young adult classes were fairly plot-oriented and the adult classes involved the publication process.

Would you attend another CRW conference? What would be of interest to you as future workshops in writing?

Annie: I would love to attend another conference! I really enjoyed visiting each of the classes and hearing the speaker. As far as future workshops, an in-depth explanation of the publication process especially for teen writers would be awesome.

Winning the Writing Lottery: Young Writers

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            Passion for the written word is ageless. Unhindered by adult realism, children flourish in their make-believe, fantastical worlds.  Book characters become new best friends and difficult lessons are explored in the safety of loving arms. Blink and those children have morphed into creative teenagers, who want nothing more than to challenge their adult counterparts to acknowledge their ferocious dedication and potential within today’s writing industry.

            The next generation of successful writers is hungrily absorbing information. They read writing blogs between classes and collaborate with friends after school. Most inspiring is the vision of themselves as published authors in the not so distant future.

Like many writers, my own passion for writing sparked at a very young age. I wrote my first of two novelettes at the age of ten. I remember my mother tediously typing my beloved manuscript on a black antique typewriter at our kitchen table. As I look at my early work now, I find the mosaic of black ink and White Out endearing, the floral wallpaper-covers very 80sish and the red duck-taped spine hideous.

Not only were these precious single copy treasures my first exposure to self-publishing, but they’ve also become an inspiration for my own eight-year-old year old daughter who also loves to write. But this marked the end of my writing career until I reached adulthood. While my family and friends applauded my accomplishments, knowledge about teen authors and publishing was largely non-existent in my world.

I’m thrilled that today’s youth have the support and access to resources like never before.  Websites like YouthWritersSociety.com provide a social network for writers, ages 13+, to share their creativeness, ask questions and make connections with mentors and other young writers.  NaNoWriMo YWP, which stands for National Novel Writing Month, Young Writers Program, is an event in November which challenges its youth participants to write a novel in just 30 days.  Young writers’ camps and professional writers’ conferences, like the Castle Rock Writers Conference, that provide writing workshops in a safe and supportive environment with other like-minded people.

Castle Rock Writers has proudly offered a Teen Track program for Young Adults during its writers’ conferences for the past three years. Susan Rocco-McKeel, past Teen Track coordinator for the Castle Rock Writers was delighted with the enthusiasm shown by young writers from all over the Front Range of Colorado.

One such attendee of the 2014 Conference’s youth session was 10th grader Gracie Wilson. Gracie thinks that the most important thing for people to know about her is that she is “just as passionate a writer as some who have been writing their whole lives.” This is a common feeling among most, if not all, youth writers.

Enthusiastic friends, 9th graders Julianne Marsh and Annie Borelli also attended this past year’s writer’s conference. Julianne’s maturity was as clear to me as her writing during a post-conference interview. When I asked her how she finds the time to write, she explained that “it’s difficult, that’s for sure. However, if I tell myself ‘I will write today,’ I can do it. NaNoWriMo and weekends are times where I get a lot done.” Good advice for any aspiring writer.

Annie demonstrated her writing drive in an interview with Jean Jacobsen, 2014 Conference Director. “I really enjoyed visiting each of the classes and hearing the speakers. As far as future workshops, an in-depth explanation of the publication process especially for teen writers would be awesome. I would love to attend another conference!”

Like all writers, no matter their age, teens want to leave their mark on the world. Most read and enjoy writing within the wildly popular Young Adult (YA) genre. It seems reasonable that they would be the experts in this area which can include love, loathing, sacrifice, self-discovery, family contention, and other relationship interactions. Gracie “hope[s] to express in [her] writing something powerful, something that will make people stop and think and wonder and go about their lives in a different way.” Julianne wishes “to create something that others can read and really be drawn into.” She loves that “with writing you can make a world different from your own; there are no limits.” I have no doubt that these three brave young women will accomplish exactly these things in their future writing aspirations.

There are some very impressive gems whose authors astound us with their youthful success. For instance, Christopher Paolini started his journey to the New York Times bestseller list at age 15 when he started writing his novel Eragon. The book’s first edition was published by his parents’ small publishing house, but it wasn’t until his novel was discovered by Alfred A. Knopf  Books for Young Readers that Eragon climbed to the bestseller list, after a reedit and release in 2003. Perhaps even more impressive is Alec Greven from Castle Rock, Colorado, who at age 9 published his first book, with HarperCollins, How to Talk with Girls, after an invitation to the Ellen DeGeneres show in 2008.

Dreams can, and do, come true for young writers.  With encouragement, information and a supportive network of friends and mentors, youth authors can find their way to winning the writing lottery.  They may even one day share their stories with those they love the most, generation after generation to come.

Castle Rock Writers will be hosting free monthly workshops starting January 5th, 2015 at the Philip S. Miller Library, 6:30 – 8:30pm.  First workshop is “Recognizing & Fixing Common Writing Mistakes in Your Own Work.”  Anita Mumm, freelance novel editor will lead an interactive workshop in which she will discuss the most common fiction writing faux pas, with a particular focus on opening pages.

Laurie Marr Wasmund Releases Clean Cut

The following overview is from the book jacket. Following the selection, see the flier on the upcoming Local Author Showcase  Congratulations, Laurie!

For Shari Brock, who loses her on-again-off-again husband in a tragic accident, change arrives with his  illegitimate daughter, Erica. Meanwhile, Shari’s son, Jason, embarks on a cockeyed crime spree that makes him the laughingstock of the town. But that isn’t all: the local sawmill has been taken over by a multinational corporation, a wolf appears out of nowhere, and the yearly town celebration becomes a battlefield.

Vivid characters lend both grace and humor to this romance of the western heart: Ronald Dailey, a sawmill manager who falls in love at first sight with a mysterious environmentalist; Marguerite Brock, Shari’s mother-in-law, who accepts the lonely choices that have made her the richest woman in town until an old love reawakens her; Dave Phillips, a cowboy whose horse has tragically betrayed him, and others–all surrounded by the stunning beauty of Yellowstone National Park.

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Chronicles of Douglas County RELEASE PARTY

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Greetings from the board of Castle Rock Writers! 

The Castle Rock Writers Board and the Conference Team have been very busy!  First of all, Castle Rock Writers want to invite you to a special event this Friday night. The details are as follows:

Book Release Party

Friday, August 22, 7 p.m.

Philip S. Miller Library

100 S. Wilcox Street, Castle Rock

Join us for a wine and cheese reception to learn more about Chronicles of Douglas County, Colorado, published by The History Press on July 29, 2014. A short presentation on the book will be followed by a book signing.