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.

Winning the Writing Lottery: Young Writers


            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 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.

Interview with Agent Gordon Warnock

California Agent Gordon Warnock
of Foreword Literary – August 18, 2014


Interview by Tania Urenda, agent coordinator
& co-author of Chronicles of Douglas County, CO (July 2014)

Self-promoting is essential in today’s writing market. Authors need a strong platform which usually involves speaking engagements, social media, networking and being an expert in your field or book. What are some of the most time efficient strategies your busiest authors have used to promote their books? Is it possible to fit family life, work and a budding writing career into a 24-hour period?

Gordon: Absolutely. The classic time complaint holds little water because thousands of new and established authors write, work, publish, promote, and live their lives every year. But as with most aspects of this business, there is no magic bullet that will instantly gain optimal results for everyone. It really varies depending upon the strengths of the author and which outlets the material naturally fits. We have a few clients who are absolutely killing it on Instagram right now. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum is the one without any form of social media whatsoever who maximizes her speaking events by tying in local and national traditional media. Regardless of the tools you use, you’ll start seeing the best returns if you approach your writing like a business. Stop thinking of yourself as an author, and start thinking of yourself as an authorpreneur.

Writers Conferences are an exciting and sometimes nerve-wrecking experience for any level of writer. It’s often said that writers are writers, not speakers, for a reason.  Pitch sessions with an agent or editor can fumble if authors come on too strong or are too nervous. What is the best way for an author to approach you when trying to sell themselves and their book? Do you have any horror stories from your earlier years of being an agent or writer that you could share?

Gordon: I have horror stories from a couple weeks ago, mostly of folks who just didn’t prepare. Make it a dialog. One person should not be speaking the entire time. Talk about your manuscript for maybe half of the session and then be prepared to answer questions. Know your manuscript inside and out, know the genre you’re writing into, know your qualifications as an author, and know what your plan is for the success of the book. And to save both you and the agent a lot of time, research the agent before you sign up to pitch. You don’t just want an agent. You want the right agent. I literally had a pitching writer get frustrated and say, “I thought you represent fiction.” I do, but not all of it. In fact, it’s a small portion of my list, and I say so right on my website. If I don’t rep your genre, there are a lot of other agents out there you’re better off contacting.

At the Castle Rock Writers Conference you’ll be presenting a workshop on how to hook an agent and doing some limited critiquing. What are the most common mistakes writers make within the first five pages of their manuscript or proposal? What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Gordon: There are so many mistakes that make an agent stop reading. You have to be compelling, and you have to present tension or at least some sort of imbalance that creates intrigue and must be righted through reading on. If you open with the info dump, large blocks of exposition, or back story, you’ll lose the reader right away. You also have to be on your A game as far as the prose is concerned. This is our first impression of what you can do as a writer, and I simply can’t stick around for 50 pages to see whether or not you have skills, especially if you spend those pages convincing me otherwise. Just as a browsing reader does in a bookstore, an agent must make decisions within a certain window. If I have a pet peeve here, that might be it–writers who don’t understand that or complain about the agent passing on a manuscript without reading the whole thing. Readers often don’t make it through a book before putting it down (or back on the shelf at B&N). That’s just the nature of things.

Fiction writers strive to make characters original and lifelike. In other interviews you’ve also expressed this important aspect of writing.  What are the best ways for doing this?

Gordon: Study humans. We’re an interesting breed. Give your character real human quirks, and don’t base them entirely off of one person or character you’ve read. For example, I get a lot of people pitching me “the next Holden Caulfield.” There already exists a Holden Caulfield. Give me someone new. Really stretch your creative muscle.

In non-fiction writing the author must be a known expert in his or her field and have legitimate credentials. Are there any subjects you feel are underrepresented in the publishing field, ones that are on your bucket list?

Gordon: Not really. They usually end up on my client list instead of my bucket list. For example, I think libraries aren’t given the attention or priority they deserve in society, and I now have an amazing project with the author of the viral photo essay, “This Is What a Librarian Looks Like.” I’m working on the book, Neil Gaiman is narrating the documentary, and we’re getting great support from libraries internationally. We’re making it happen. Also realize that publishing is a multi-faceted ecosystem. There’s a lot more going on than just the projects agents work with.

As a founding partner of Foreword Literary, your agency has been at the forefront of the evolution of traditional publishing into the digital age. Many thought this would herald the end of paper books, publishers and agents. Obviously the end of the world is not coming and bookstores are alive and well, so what new and exciting things do see in the future for your agency and the authors you represent?

Gordon: Mostly things I can’t talk about at the date of this interview. I have the luxury of working with some of the brightest minds in the industry, and we’re always cooking up new ideas and new ways for our authors to succeed in this ever-changing, highly competitive marketplace. As for things that can be talked about, we have an amazing list of fall releases. Here are a few Sept/Oct highlights:

DRAGON’S BREATH AND OTHER TRUE STORIES by MariNaomi is out Sept. 9th. If you’ve never had comics profoundly touch your heart, check her out. She’ll make you feel.

FALLING INTO PLACE, the debut by 18-year-old phenom Amy Zhang, is out the same day. This one has received crazy good press, and there’s plenty more we can’t mention.

THE BOOK OF KINDLY DEATHS by Eldritch Black is out Sept. 16th. Having grown up on Goosebumps, I’m a tremendous fan of this twisted storyteller. 

The first in the TALON series by NYT bestseller Julie Kagawa releases on Oct. 28th. Universal optioned it and Chris Morgan is writing the screenplay. 

MARTYR, the first in THE HUNTED series by A.R. Kahler, releases the same day. Keep an eye on this author. He’s a rising star. 

If you’ve done any research into the publishing field, you will have heard about the massive slush piles that loom in the darkest corners of every agency. How often do the slush piles see the light of day and how much better are the odds of being represented after a pitch session at a conference verses being found in a slush pile?

Gordon: Yeah, I’ve researched that a bit, and in my experience, you’re much more likely to get a request from a conference. But that means nothing if the work doesn’t deliver on the promise of the pitch. I’ve signed (and sold) way more from the slush than I have from conferences, though there are gems to be found in all methods of submission. Except from the one where you slide the manuscript under the restroom stall. You’ll never get a book deal that way.

Gordon will be participating on an Agent Panel on Friday, October 3rd, 2014 for our Pre-conference event, “Reading Through the Slush Pile, Agents Share their Thoughts.” He will also be accepting a limited number of verbal pitches and written critiques during the 2014 CRW Conference and presenting the workshop, “How to Hook an Agent.” Conference date is Saturday, October 4th, 2014. Look under the Conference page for more information.

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.



Getting to Know Author Laura Pritchett


     Laura Pritchett, novelist and professor, is the winner of the PEN USA Award for Fiction, the Colorado Book Award, and the Milkweed National Fiction Prize. In addition to novels, she has written short stories, essays and nonfiction. Holding a Ph.D. in English in Contemporary American Literature from Purdue University, her writing career also includes coaching and instruction as a faculty member at Pacific University’s low-residency MFA Program and Denver’s Lighthouse Writers.

Her latest novel is Stars Go Blue, which Library Journal calls “a brilliant novel, filled with heartache and humor.” Aging and estranged, couple Renny and Ben have been living at opposite ends of their northern Colorado ranch when Ben is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The connection between the characters and the land threads its way throughout the narrative. Regardless of the genre, Ms. Pritchett says that place is important in her writing because she finds her “solace, center, and [my] ideas while outside, engaging in the natural world.”

Ms. Pritchett first wrote about Renny and Ben in Hell’s Bottom, Colorado. She knew she would continue their story, even though it took a decade. Her raw, piercing prose tackles some of life’s most painful losses including the death of a daughter and the increasing loss of Ben’s memory and independence to Alzheimer’s.

Drawing from her personal experience, when Alzheimer’s was stealing her father’s language, Ms. Pritchett said her father became poetic. She wanted to convey this lyrical communication and the story using Ben’s point of view but Ben’s confusion could confuse readers.  Adding Renny’s point of view provided the voice of a tough, hard working woman wearing down under the pressure of constant caretaking. It also gave structure to the narrative. Ms. Pritchett believes that her characters are heroic in the way they bear up to life, making choices from their core, even when Ben’s mind is under siege from Alzheimer’s.

Reading Ms. Pritchett’s’ heart-wrenching passages, I wondered what the experience was like for her as a writer to live a long time with the character’s painful experiences. While she acknowledges that the passages are “difficult,” she was “invigorated and happy to be writing the real stuff of life” because she is not a fan of what she calls the “dessert stuff.”

“Writing, for me, also helps me understand things—I write what I’m curious about, what I need to process or ponder. In other words, it’s always a joy to write, even difficult passages. Because I’m interested in real life.”

Ms. Pritchett is the keynote speaker for Castle Rock Writers Conference 2014: Write Around the Rock on October 4, 2014. Readers will find more information at .

Based on an interview with Laura Pritchett by Susan Rocco-McKeel, Castle Rock Writers Conference Team member and co-author of Chronicles of Douglas County, CO (July 2014)