Q & A with Trai Cartwright, MFA, Workshop Presenter

by Jean Jacobsen

Can you give us a little bit on your professional background?

I have over 25 years’ experience as a professional story breaker. While in Los Angeles, I was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. Now I’m a happily-busy writing consultant and editor who works with writers one-on-one, and I teach at universities and for writers’ organizations across Colorado. I am also a screenwriter and independent film producer and founder of organizations that connect Colorado writers with their futures.   www.traicartwright.com

Education seems to be an important part of your message. What educational paths do you think are most beneficial for writers?

All educational paths are beneficial to writers. From classes and conferences to working with a writers’ group, to engaging the services of an editor, to reading reading reading, and then writing writing writing some more – all of this is going to elevate not only your skills, but raise your confidence and help you deliver work that you can be proud of. It’s a lot of work, but it’s the most fun work there is.

Creatively you write across multiple genres. What advice do you have for writers who want to jump into a new genre?

My advice for jumping genres (or mediums, i.e., fiction to non-fiction or screenwriting) is to study your new element. Audiences have definite expectations, so it’s important to have a sense of what those expectations are so that you might serve—or bend them. There used to be a marketing mandate that said a writer could only write in one genre/medium, as audiences would “get confused” if a different story emerged. The truth is, readers are by nature voracious and loyal and if they love your voice and trust your taste as a storyteller, they will follow you anywhere.

This year one of the workshops you are presenting is “Building Your Novel: 6 Critical Questions.” Can we get a sneak peak?

After so many years in development, both fiction and screenwriting, it became apparent that there are most definitely two things writers need to consider when they approach their stories: 1. That a book doesn’t magically happen, that there is intelligent design (yours!) behind it, and 2. There are issues at the heart of every book that can be broken down into questions that we can consider. We’re going to look at those foundation issues and give a high-level workshop on what they are and how to make them work for your stories. I love this class because so many writers have breakthroughs when they apply these questions.

Tell us about your workshop “Top 10 Storytelling Devices Taken from the Movies.”

Hollywood, for better or for worse, has cracked the story structure code and that structural piece is now a part of nearly every movie and book in the modern marketplace. They’re also amazing at creating characters fast and efficiently – this workshop tips their hand for fiction writers so they can make use of these techniques. I love teaching this class because it combines my two writing loves: film and books!

How can writers make the most of their conference experience?

Do not rest. Rest is for Sunday. Miss nothing, go to everything. Talk. Rumor has it that writers are painfully shy, insular creatures who cringe at human contact. Conferences are filled with your people, people who get it and get how hard this is. Reach out both to agents and editors and teachers, but to your fellow conference-goers, too. They could use the boost, and you’re gonna make a new ally.

Oh! And pitch! Even if your book isn’t perfect, practice pitching to the available agents and editors! This is how you sell your work, so make those contacts now. I believe in this so much that I run an event with Link Miller called the “Ultimate Pitchfest” – we Skype in 25 agents so writers can pitch as many people as they want digitally. It was hugely successful last year, and we can’t wait to do it again this year!

Tell us about the Friday Night “What’s Right about Your Writing” panel.

It’s absolutely crucial for writers to get insight into their work. Writers groups are a great first stop, but you have to push yourself to take in the info available from professional editors and agents. They see things differently – they know what it takes to sell, and to get that info can make a huge different in your work.

What is “right” about your writing right now?
I’m finally at a skill level where I am hired to write other people’s films! This is a big breakthrough for me, and I’m thrilled to say that I’m working on two Colorado projects, Secret Ellington and Cheap Cabernet, and there’s a couple more on the horizon.

What are you reading right now?

Mostly I read client manuscripts. Just finished a divine memoir about a couple who adopted two kids from Ethiopia, and a screenplay military thriller based on an isolated island base. I love this kind of reading – all the passion and hopes of writers putting it out there, being willing to share, and then to do the work to get their work to a publishing level. I’ve been in development for 25 years, and I absolutely adore the process, even if it means I don’t have time for the new Lev Grossman book.

 You also do a lot of work with young writers through the Explorati Teen Writers Boot Camp. How did you come to starting this group? Is there something you see in young writers that you don’t in adult writers?

I was a writer as a kid, as many of us were. I wrote seven books by the time I was 15 when I shifted my attention to theater. There was zero support for a weirdo like me. Explorati Teens is exactly the program I wish I’d had when I was that age. Members of our tribe, getting together to talk about the stuff that no one else gets or is interested in, a real opportunity to celebrate and affirm who we are, and to dig into the craft of our work. Teens are my heart, and it’s my honor to bring Explorati Teens back to Denver for the 8th summer in 2016.

Right now you have a campaign on Indiegogo.com for Colorado Script Exchange. What are the aims of the Script Exchange?

Without screenplay agents in Colorado or any organized way to pass scripts around, Colorado writers are left without any means of showing their work. The goal of the Colorado Script Exchange is to create a platform where writers can post info about their work and media-makers can “shop” for their future projects. In short, we’re building our own screenwriting marketplace in the hopes of starting up meaningful conversations between writers and makers – and maybe even spark a production or two.

In what little free time you seem to have you also helped found the Colorado Smart Film Investment Coalition. What draws you to these community based organizations?

Hollywood is community based, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Your network is your lifeblood, the people who support your career and even create opportunities for you. I worked with wonderful people there, and they taught me to always reach out a hand and help others. To my mind, the only way to thrive in a tricky business like the publishing world or the film industry is to do it together. Be generous or be alone.

Beyond writing and community work you also offer freelance writing, editing and consulting services. Can all writers benefit from working with an editor? What are the perks to freelancing that other writing careers don’t offer? If someone wanted to get into freelance writing and editing do you have any tips?

All writers can benefit from working with an editor – but it’s important they are the right editor. Do your homework. Make sure there’s a personal connection there. Ask for testimonies if they aren’t readily supplied. The right editor can cut drafts (and drafts) out of the development process and make you understand your own writing better.

As for freelancing, well, isn’t for everyone. But for someone like me who is extremely self-motivated and, shall we say, has a problem with authority figures, it’s terrific. I like my boss. I love my “clients” whether they are in a classroom or on the other end of a manuscript. This job is the best I’ve ever had, and I fight every day to do it well and to keep it.
Tips to go freelance? You have to be seriously passionate about this space or you won’t have the energy to sustain a business. You also have to be realistic about whether you can live with the financial ups and downs, and whether you have the temerity to constantly be looking for work. That part grinds. Try doing it part time and see if it’s a good fit. You’ll also be able to build your network during this trial period. Then go for it! We need all the great editors and writers we can get!





Hollywood Veteran, Writer, and Professor Trai Cartwright Talks Craft and Career

by Lindsey Lewis Smithson

Colorado based writer Trai Cartwright has taught, produced, and learned her craft from nearly every aspect possible. She started her career at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, spent time working for Leonardo DiCaprio, founded a youth writing camp, and happened to work in Hollywood for nearly 20 years.  The Castle Rock Writers are proud, once again, to be able to bring Trai, her talents and her enthusiasm, to the Annual Conference at the PACE Center in Parker on November 7th.

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/.

Interview with Cheri Gonzales, Swallow Hill Music Director of School Operations

 by Tania Urenda

The vision of Swallow Hill Music is to positively improve the quality of people’s lives through music. How does Swallow Hill Music fulfill this vision with the Young Songwriter’s competition? 

The vision of Swallow Hill Music is to positively improve the quality of people’s lives through music. How does Swallow Hill Music fulfill this vision with the Young Songwriter’s competition?

The vision of Swallow Hill Music is to positively improve the quality of people’s lives through music. How does Swallow Hill Music fulfill this vision with the Young Songwriter’s competition? 

I think the children and teens who we serve provide us with the most honest reaction to the programming we provide. You can tell instantly by their level of enthusiasm what music they absolutely love and also when they find the learning of certain skills completely boring. I’ve found this is most seen in the teen age range, which is the primary age group for the Young Songwriter’s Competition.

The teens who participate in the competition want to be involved. I mostly hear from the participants directly; they rarely contact me through their parents. They go through all the steps of the submission process and are completely on top of deadlines and email responses. I believe our vision is seen throughout this competition through challenging these young adults creatively and professionally through the power and process of music. Once we arrive at the live competition I’ve been able to witness the parents of the contestants listening to what their children have created. That positive reaction and pre and post-show encouragement is also completely exemplary of our vision as an organization.

How does songwriting benefit today’s youth? 

I have always found songwriting to be much like journaling – a way for anyone to express any feelings and organize them in whatever way they choose. I think the concept of just writing thoughts and feelings down is huge for today’s youth, and the concept of actually putting those words and phrases to song challenges them even more. It’s like a beautiful puzzle that fits together just as they want it to.

Besides the prizes awarded by your organization, what benefits do the competitors experience during the competition process?  

The participants go through a submission process and a waiting period to see if they have been selected to participate in the competition, which is based on a point system for various criteria. They also go through a pre-show sound check process and use a green room so they are really experiencing the competition as if it were any other live production.

What is your favorite part of working with youth and their musical passions?

Another program we offer at Swallow Hill Music is our House of Rock program. We offer six House of Rock summer camps for teens ages 13-18 and every summer I witness campers transform over the course of each week-long camp. Not only do they learn more about themselves as musicians but they learn how to 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 camper is shredding an electric guitar solo at the performance.  

Do you have any advice for young songwriters who might be starting out and those wanting to succeed the in music industry?

I would advise them to never be afraid to try something new or challenging. Say “yes” as much as possible to performance opportunities, because actively participating is the best way to learn. I would also encourage young songwriters to be themselves and not try to write lyrics or melodies just because it’s what’s popular at the time – create material that is completely unique to you as an individual. If that means hitting a trash can as your drum and chanting, do it.

Interview with Thomas Koenigs – 2015 Swallow Hill Young Songwriter Competition Winner

by Tania Urenda

Tania: What school and grade were you attending when you won the Swallow Hill Young Songwriter competition?

Thomas: I was a sophomore at Regis Jesuit High School when I was awarded with the Grand Prize at the Swallow Hill Youth Songwriter competition.

Tania: What was the name of the song you wrote for the competition? What kind of song is it?

Thomas: I wrote a song called, “Beat the Drum,” a positive title for a much darker song. It tells a story, that’s all I can really say.

Tania: Do you consider songwriting an expression of poetry?

Thomas: Of course. Poetic expression can’t be confined to one device. I’ve read and researched Marina Abramovic more than I’d like to admit. During one performance piece, she gnaws into a raw onion. Whatever that artistic expression means, damn, I’ll never know. But that doesn’t matter. Who am I to judge her? Expression does not and should not require justification or explanation. If eating an onion is art, then songwriting better damn well be poetry.

Tania: Did your love of music start with songwriting, singing, or playing a musical instrument? How do you feel that benefited you?

Thomas: It started with listening. I sat for hours with my parents as they worked. I picked up on melodies from The Beatles to The Beach Boys, The Temptations to The Jackson Five. Slowly but surely, I found myself being able to mimic the progressions on the piano and later on the guitar. Being able to strengthen that skill has given me the ability to hum a tune and try it out on various instruments.

Tania: Where does your inspiration come from? Experiences? People? Feelings?

Thomas: My inspiration comes from events. I’ve written some songs about feelings, but I guess I can explain myself much better through someone or something else.

Tania: What process do you use for songwriting, I.e. do you start with a musical chorus or words? What tools help you create?

Thomas: I always have a vague tune in mind, but most of the words are buried in my head. Literally. When it becomes too much, something is bound to fall out. The trick is waiting.

Tania: How many songs have you written? How do you test or share your pieces?

Thomas: I’ve written about 25 songs in total. But quantity is not quality. I try to slip songs in while playing for parents or siblings. My folks don’t sugarcoat. Both are lawyers and very opinionated. If they don’t like something, I’ll get the message.

Tania: Have you experienced failure? Do you have any advice for someone your age who is struggling with rejection or lacks inspiration?

Thomas: Sure I have, and I’m not embarrassed. I used to be really shy about my music, but then someone told me that music is an expression of the self. We aren’t perfect people, but we grow. Good music reflects that imperfection and personal growth.

Tania: What kind of issues do you care about?

Thomas: I care about any issue really. The song I sang at the competition was about Daniel Johnston, Sid Vicious, and Phil Spector, and how brilliant but crazy they were. My most recent song is about Ferguson. I’d have to say I concern myself with issues that many are concerned about.

Tania: What did winning this contest mean to you? What was your favorite part of the competition? Was there an opportunity to network or collaborate with fellow musicians/writers?

Thomas: I felt honored to even be considered for it and even more to win. Though I had fun performing, I had even more fun meeting new people. Swallow Hill is almost like a second home. I met up with people that I can now collaborate with, but also just be with. Swallow Hill people are my people.

Poetry and Youth Songwriting:

Part I. Welcoming SETH

Poetry intimidates me. I literally cringe when I think about writing stanzas. And yet each day, poetry resonates within me in the form of music. It calms me through Denver’s frustrating rush hour, pushes me during a dreadful workout, and makes my heart soar when my children sing their sweet melodies. It transcends age, gender, race and even geography as it unites us as a people. And it’s so very therapeutic. We cry. We scream. We laugh. Even a star like Taylor Swift used poetry and songwriting to work through the emotional turmoil of being a bullied outcast in her younger years. Poetry in songwriting is not only a safe and creative way to find solace, but by sharing our deep secrets, emotions and experiences, songwriters help others cope with similar feelings, both good and bad. It’s no wonder that reading, writing, and music carry so much weight with teens as they traverse through some of the most volatile and confusing parts of their lives.

This is why I was extremely excited when the speaker coordinator for the Castle Rock Writers, Susan Rocco-McKeel, asked SETH, local poet, performer, writer, and instructor, to lead a workshop at this year’s CRW conference on November 7. SETH will be leading an interactive workshop for young writers entitled the “Poetry of Writing Song Lyrics.” SETH – always capitalized – ­will be one of ten workshop leaders teaching an exciting array of writing classes with topics ranging from research to the art of writing to getting published.

SETH has been teaching the mastery of literary arts and creative expression since 1999. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t reading poetry that led SETH to becoming a poet; it was the poetry he heard in song lyrics that provided the initial spark. For his workshop, he’ll be sharing a technique he calls the “extended metaphor.” In an interview with CRW he explained, “You start with a metaphor, say using a zoo to describe what your heart is going through. Think of all the things you associate with the zoo. The various animals. The zoo keeper. Cages. The ‘Do Not Feed’ signs.” During his workshop, SETH will help guide attendees transform these extended metaphor associations into verses and choruses. This is the first time CRW has offered such a unique and exciting opportunity for poets and songwriters.

“It’s a simple technique, but once you’ve mastered the concept, you’re well on the road to writing great lyrics,” said SETH.

As writers we know to always, always, always have something to write on, no matter the day, time or place. A notebook, tablet, napkin…doesn’t matter. Inspiration will hit you when you least expect it. But if you’re struggling for inspiration, SETH has some advice. “Relax. Eventually it will come. Follow your own intuitions and something uniquely you will emerge.” He explains that his most original, innovative stories and poems occurred when he was not taking himself or what he wrote too seriously – instead tinkering and playing with words and form.

During the Castle Rock Writers Conference SETH will have CDs and books available. His book Black Odyssey (2013) encompasses everything from love, death, soul searching and “trying [to] make sense of this psychotic sea called existence.”

SETH performs at the “Jam before the Slam” which he hosts at the Mercury Café in Denver every Sunday night from 7 to 8 pm. His band, Art Compost & the Word Mechanics, improvises with his poetry and the poetry of anyone who is willing to share. Videos of his jams can be found on his website at www.wagingart.com. The full interview with SETH can be found at www.CastleRockWriters.com/updates.

The yearly Castle Rock Writers conference is known for its supportive and intimate workshops. Everyone who attends shares a passion and pure joy for the written word. I guarantee you’ll leave with new friends and inspiration to last you for months to come. For the first time the annual conference will take place at the Parker Arts, Culture and Events Center (PACE), 20000 Pikes Peak Avenue in Parker. Registration is $85, which includes a catered lunch and a literary pitch for writers with a manuscript or idea. High school students in grades 11 and 12 and those in college enjoy the same benefits as adults, but at a discounted price of $35. Educators can attend for $45. Price at the door is $95 and does not include the catered lunch. Check-in starts at 8 a.m. Workshop sessions end at 4:30 p.m. Registered, published authors can sell their books at the conference bookstore run by the BookBar.

A pre-conference Friday night event will feature a panel of attorneys speaking on Intellectual Property Rights for writers. Price for the Friday event is $10 with conference registration or $20 at the door.

More information on the 2015 Castle Rock Writers Conference can be found at www.CastleRockWriters.com or email CRW at CastleRockWriters@gmail.com">CastleRockWriters@gmail.com for more information.

Interview with SETH


Tania: When and why did you starting writing songs and poetry?

SETH:  First of all, I don’t write songs per se. I have written lyrics for songs. There are three approaches to doing this. One is to write the lyrics, then have someone put it to music. Another is for someone to compose the melody, then come up with lyrics that fit. And the third is for composer and lyricist to sit down together, at a piano or guitar, and hammer out the melody and words at the same time. I’ve done it all three ways. But rarely do I intentionally write lyrics. I have, however, written a number of poems that easily lend themselves to being put to music – and there is a reason these poems work so well.

As to when and why I started; the when is about 30 years ago. The why is a little harder to explain. I began writing fiction years before that, and one thing led to another. I will say this though: it was not reading poetry that led me to becoming a poet; it was the poetry I heard in song lyrics that provided the initial spark.


Tania: At the 2015 Castle Rock Writers conference you’ll be teaching a class on The Poetry of Writing Song Lyrics. What can attendees expect?

SETH: The poems I’ve written that can most easily be turned into songs were all composed using a similar technique. I call it “extended metaphor.” You start with a metaphor, say a zoo to describe what your heart is going through. Think of all the things you associate with a zoo: the various animals, the zoo keeper, cages, the ‘Do Not Feed’ signs. As you build your verses and chorus, incorporate as many of those associations as you can make fit. It’s a simple technique, but once you’ve mastered the concept, you’re well on the road to writing great lyrics.



Tania: How do your strategies differ when working with teens as opposed to adults?

SETH: My strategy wouldn’t differ that much. Teens differ from adults in that they are more open, more adventurous, more willing to take chances. Adults are often hung-up on the notion that there is a right way and a wrong way to write something. Teens—and youth in general—are willing to just jump in and try things. That makes them more fun to work with. But adults have certain qualities teens lack. So working with adults offer other rewards.


Tania: What is your favorite part of teaching children and teens?

SETH: There is a quote by Albert Einstein: “Genius is the ability to play.” As soon I read that, I knew exactly what Einstein was getting at. By that stage in my own writing, I could look back and recognize that my best, most original, innovative stories and poems came about when I was just playing around—tinkering with either words or form. . .not taking myself or what I was writing too seriously. Just having fun. It’s in that state of exploratory fun that the most amazing things come out. My favorite part of teaching children is getting them to understand that.

One of my teaching mantras is: the best way to do anything well is to enjoy doing it. The more you enjoy something, the more willing you are to keep doing it. The more you do it, the better you will become at it. That’s automatic. Putting pen to paper isn’t something to fear; it, in fact, can be fun.  Once I get them to grasp that, their writing takes off.


Tania: Why do you think songwriting resonates in today’s youth?

SETH: Songwriting has always resonated with youth. Not just with today’s youth. This became especially true in the 60’s after The Beatles met Bob Dylan. After that, songs became more than just about falling love and/or getting hurt in the process. What might differ between today’s youth and when I was growing up, is the advent of rap. Rap has shown the last few generations that rhyming lyrics, and spoken word in general, are viable vehicles to express our thoughts, our feelings, frustrations and outrages.

Being a teenager is one of the most confusing times in a person’s life. Songwriting and poetry are ways to start making sense of what’s going on inside them by putting it down on paper. Adding melody, and singing about it, makes it that much more powerful a form of self-expression.


Tania: What advice do you have for a young adult who is struggling to find the creative words or struggling with inspiration?

SETH: Relax. Eventually it will come. Recognize that each failure puts you one step closer to success.

Say, for instance, you decide you want to write sonnets. The first time you try one, chances are it will fall below par. Don’t give up. Next time you try one, it will probably be a little a bit better; the third try a little better still. Then at some point, when you least expect it, something will click. You’ll write a sonnet that jumps out at you. And after that, writing sonnets will feel like clockwork. You’ll still write a few below-par ones, but those will be the exception rather than the rule.

Every time I start a poem or a story and it falls flat within the first few pages, I think Okay, that’s not the way to begin. Let’s try something else. Usually within two to three tries, it comes to me.


Tania: In an interview with the Colorado Poet Center during the release of your poetry book, Black Odyssey (2013), you indicated that you’d been writing the book for over 10 years. You explain the changes of your style and diction over that time span and between chapters as being different islands and if you were “traveling from island to island, each island would be different, and somewhat unique, offering its own local color.” Beautiful! You expressed fears of being thought of as naïve or unacceptable because of your unconventional use of different poetry styles in one story. Many times young writers haven’t had their creativeness impeded by the conventional rules we learn later in life. What would you say to first time poets and how could your workshop help them?

SETH: All the greats—your Shakespeares, your Kafkas, your Eliots—either defied convention or took what was commonly done and expanded or tried something new with it. And it came about not by discovering some new revolutionary approach or technique, but from following their own creative impulses. Follow your own intuitions and something uniquely you will emerge. Innovation doesn’t come to you, but through you. Relax and trust. If it’s there, when it’s there, it will come out. You don’t have to do anything but be yourself.


Tania: Will you have any of your CDs or poetry books available for sale at the conference? What audience do you feel would enjoy them the most and why?

SETH: Yes, I will have CDs and books available. I like to think any audience would enjoy the CD. The musicianship is superb; the poetry is accessible and varied. Plus the poetry and music are well matched.

As for my book, A Black Odyssey, the people who will enjoy it most are those familiar with Homer’s Odyssey. Also any former English majors and literary aficionados—anyone who has a deep appreciation for literary craft. I take great pride in my craftsmanship. I pay a lot of attention to sound devices and the rhythm of speech, the flow of language; things readers with a literary background will especially appreciate.

Baby boomers also respond favorably to my work. I myself am a baby boomer. We were shaped by what we experienced in the 60’s. Thus we share a common frame of reference and a similar perspective.

That’s not to say people outside these two groups won’t enjoy the collection. The poems and styles are varied, as is the subject matter: everything from love, to death, to soul searching, to trying make sense of this psychotic sea called existence. Most people will find poems and whole sections that resonate with them—if not the entire book.


Tania: How do you feel when performing at Mercury Café? When can we find you performing there?

SETH: I host the “Jam before the Slam” every Sunday night from 7-8pm. My band, Art Compost & the Word Mechanics, improv behind my poetry and the poetry of anyone who wants to join in. I find it exhilarating and empowering. There is a communication between the poet and the musicians that goes beyond language. It has to do with feel. When the musicians begin, I feel the music and adapt my delivery accordingly. I don’t think; I feel. When I begin, they feel my intonation and adapt to me. Again, they don’t think; they just feel. It’s almost magical.

The Merc, of course, is in Denver, almost in the heart of downtown. Those living in Castle Rock or Parker have the option of going to my website. Click on “events” and find other places we are appearing.


Looking at a CRW Monthly Workshop

  Facilitator: Tayve Neese, MFA

Writer, publisher, editor & author of Blood to Fruit

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“Bring Poetry Techniques into Your Prose Writing” 

Date: April 6th, 2015

Time: 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Location: Philip S. Miller Library, 100 S Wilcox St, Castle Rock, CO 80104

Poetic devises aren’t just for poets. Elements of poetry, such as metaphor, simile, and rhythm enable writers to add complex layers to the sentence structure, thereby enhancing language for the reader. In this workshop, Tayve will discuss poetic techniques and their relation to narrative poetry, flash fiction, and prose poetry.  She will work with these craft elements to help participants with their character development, enhancing sensory detail, and varying sentence and paragraph structure.

Tayve Neese’s work has appeared in literary journals including Fourteen Hills, The Paris Review, MiPOesias, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and she is the author of the book, Blood to Fruit. She is also the Executive Editor of Trio House Press, an independent press publishing distinct and innovative voices of emerging and established American poets. Neese has taught poetry at the University of North Florida.  She serves on the Advisory Board for the Concord Poetry Center in Concord, Massachusetts, and currently resides in Colorado.  Check out her website at http://www.tayveneese.com/

Castle Rock Writers Success Story

Interview with teen author Anastasia Zhivotov – By Susan Rocco-McKeel


Anastasia Zhivotov

“Without [Trai Cartwright], I’m not sure I would have a book out. Without the [Castle Rock Writers] Conference, I’m not sure I would have made it out of my room.”- Anastasia Zhivotov

Anastasia Zhivotov hit a low point after experiencing what she considered to be a rejection of her creativity in the dance world. “I was bummed, I was weak, I was a zombie.”

After having coffee, a flyer for Castle Rock Writers 2012 Writers Conference caught her eye. “It said all ages and included a few free bribes like pitches …”. She immediately called Alice Aldridge-Dennis, the Conference’s co-director, and introduced herself as a teen writer. Anastasia’s relentless muse combined with her father’s encouragement, and Alice’s information, resulted in scheduling a pitch.

This was August 28, 2012. Anastasia had a pitch scheduled, but no manuscript. She struggled with her writing and then her “computer keys finally got fed finger grease”.
Anastasia met Trai Cartwright, a workshop presenter, at the Conference in October, 2012, and was “in awe”. They exchanged emails. Trai mentored Anastasia through the completion of her book. Anastasia was an eager student who remembers standing in the snow taking notes with a blue pen for an hour after their first edit. “I got a cold of course, but more importantly, I had a plan.”

Her novel, Alice in Reality, graphically scrutinizes the stress leading to addiction in teens. “I want to get the truth out. Drugs and parties happen.” Anastasia imbues her writing with her Russian culture. As she says, she was born in Colorado but raised Russian and her writing voice reflects this.

With an enviable work ethic, Anastasia manages writer’s block by writing. She will continue to wrestle with an idea until she forms a shape out of it. If she is still struggling, she will take a break to do something like cooking and then return to the keyboard.
She says that for her, writing is not only a passion but an extension of breathing for she feels “as if the arts are the only way to be freed.”

Anastasia and her mentor, Trai Cartwright, will address the 2013 Castle Rock Writers Conference attendees during lunch. Alice in Reality is available from Amazon and Trafford online.
-Susan Rocco-McKeel; November 12, 2013

Castle Rock Writers holds a yearly conference in the Castle Rock area, open to writers from youth to adult from all over the front range.  The conference includes a variety of workshops, agent and publisher pitches, a keynote speaker, and a conference book store where participants and workshop leaders may place their books.

The conference is a one-day event held at the Douglas County Events Center at the Fairgrounds in Castle Rock.

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.