Friday, June 13, 2008

Pam Crooks ~ Online Class Junkie

Good morning! My name is Pam Crooks, and I’m an online class junkie.
There. I said it.
It’s an addiction of mine, but before I go on with my confession, I’d like to thank Mary for inviting me to be here with you. I’ve known Mary FOREVER, and I just love that our careers have joined together, not only here but on Petticoats & Pistols as well.

Now let me tell you a bit more about myself. My eleventh book, KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY, just came out this week. My first four books, all westerns, were released by Dorchester Publishing for their Leisure Books line. From Book Five on, I’ve written western romances for Harlequin Historicals, and a new 3 book contract with HH will bring me releases clear into Spring, 2010, or thereabouts.
Will 14 books, you’d think I’d have this writing thing down, wouldn’t you? But the truth is, I’m always looking for that secret formula, some special weapon that would take away the uncertainty, sweep away the fears, and make my stories easier to write. So easy to write, I could do it blindfolded.
Ain’t gonna happen. At least, it hasn’t so far. Every book is agony. Every one scares the heck out of me. What if I fail, fail, fail?
So I turn to online classes to keep learning. Fourteen books doesn’t make anyone an expert, certainly not *me*, and I have learned great things from some of these classes. I marvel at the instructors who can nail down aspects of the craft that are only a haze in my mind.
Or maybe, it’s just pure instinct. I’m not sure. I manage to muddle my way through to the end of every manuscript, and maybe it’s the tidbits of information I glean from all these classes I take that get me there.
Firstly, online classes are the greatest invention since sliced bread. One doesn’t need to get into a car and drive to a classroom. No need to dress up. No need to watch a clock. No books to buy, no pencil to sharpen.
Every lecture drops into my Inbox to be read at my leisure. I can print them out, or I can delete them. I can participate in the discussions, or I can lurk. Cost is minimal—and in my case, a tax deduction, too!
I’m a member of the Kiss of Death chapter, and their online classes are fab. It was through them I took my very first one, the reason I’m hooked. I take several classes a year, sometimes more.
In the past couple of years, I discovered Writer’s University. I’ve met Margie Lawson, one of their very respected teachers. She’s great fun, and her courses are incredible—the lectures are more than 200 pages long. I’ve signed up to take Mary Buckham’s class next spring on Pacing, and she’s awesome, too.
It was through Writer’s U in early 2007 that I discovered Gwen Schuster-Hayne’s class on Introverts and Extroverts, a course on marketing strategies based on one’s strengths. She so inspired me that I pulled together a group of western romance authors and formed a ten-author blog devoted solely to what we write.
The blog’s success has been incredibly gratifying. Our hits are steadily climbing and breaking records. Our guest list is booked months in advance; authors return again and again. More importantly, our visitors do, too. We have a great time together.
I never would’ve had the courage—or even the idea—if it hadn’t been for Gwen’s class. Perhaps I would never have had a book strong enough to go to auction, either, and eventually be bought by Harlequin (THE MERCENARY’S KISS) in 2004, if I hadn’t taken Suzanne Brockmann’s highly-acclaimed class on heroes, “Tall, Dark and Believable.” (If she ever teaches it again, run, don’t walk, to sign up. It’s the best class ever, taught by one of the best.)
More favorites? Tami Cowden’s Villain Archetypes. I swear by her book, Sixteen Hero/Heroine Archetypes, and the villain version didn’t disappoint. Mary Buckham’s “Twelve Stages of Intimacy” is a great resource for any romance writer.
Though I write historical westerns, I’m fascinated by contemporary suspense. I’ve taken classes on how to disappear, sleuthing, plotting suspense, writing intrigue. I’ve taken classes on modern-day cowboys and hunky Delta Forces operatives. I’ve studied FBI agents, serial killers, kick-ass heroines and how to go undercover. And to top it all off—how to edit the manuscript once it was written.
Whew. I’m addicted, all right. And the proof of my addiction is a whole row of fat, white notebooks, neatly labeled on my shelf, close to my computer if I should need inspiration.
And believe me, I always do.
What about you? Have you taken some great online classes to teach yourself how to be a better writer? If so, what are they? Did they help? Or were they a waste of time and money for you?
Let us know, and you’ll be eligible for a signed copy of my latest, KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY!


  1. Pam, what a great insight on online courses! You've given us a boatload of information on what classes were good... And you're right, KOD offers some of the best around.

    Hey, thanks so much for coming by Seekerville. Mary goes out of her way to be nice when her P&P buds come around, so you're totally making our Friday a peaceful, blessed time.

    Good on ya!!!!

    And fourteen books. That's wonderful. Did you find that Dorchester made a good stepping stone for you or are you planning to write for them as well as HH?

    Grab some coffee, it's early Lil' lady, and chat it up with the Seekers. Oh, and try that new carrot cake recipe I set out, with pineapple and pecans. Let me know what you think, 'kay?


  2. Hi Pam! Welcome to Seekerville. Your addiction to online classes is a great resource for us. Thanks!

    Congrats on founding Petticoats and Pistols, an informative, fun site, and on all those contracts. Fourteen books is awesome.

    I'm not an addict, but I've taken a few online classes. Margie Lawson's Empowering Character Emotions and Deep Editing were my favorites.


  3. Welcome to Seekerville, Pam. Awesome book cover. I am going to have to invest in more online classes. My hub just got an iTouch and I discovered the amazing stuff that can download to it. (like an iPod, but think iphone with no phone but with wireless). For like 200 bucks I can carry everything with me and read online class info at the airport etc.

    Great inspiration.

  4. Wow, Pam, I gotta tell ya that before I read your blog today, I had NO earthly desire to take an online class. But you make a compelling case for it and I think I may just look into it.

    Congratulations on your 14 books!! And Tina's right about the cover of KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY -- he's ... uh, I mean "it's" ... gorgeous!

    I think the thing you said that inspired me the most was your comment about the online course on Introverts and Extroverts regarding marketing strategies. Just the idea of marketing/promotion gives me cold chills, but I am so amazed (and inspired) by the result of this course in your creation (and incredible success) of Petticoats & Pistols. WOW, you had me at "Introvert"!!

    Thanks for joining us in Seekerville, Pam -- GREAT blog!!


  5. Wow, with having three little kids I've wondered about taking an online class. I think you've sold me.
    Great post!

  6. Ruthy, I happened to notice the time your post came in. 3:45 AM??? Yowza! You're an early bird!

    To answer your question, Dorchester was indeed a good stepping stone for me. I got 4 books under my belt with them and learned a lot about the business. They had great covers, and I still keep in touch with Chris Keesler, the editor bought my book--not once, but twice. LOL. Long story.

    The carrot cake sounds fab! I will indeed check it out.

  7. Well, maybe Ruthy's time was off after all. Mine says 6:42, so here in the Midwest, it's two hours ahead.

  8. Hi, Janet! Margie Lawson is wonderful, isn't she? And she has the patience of Job.

    She developed her EDITS system, and it's been a great teaching tool for so many of us.

    Great to see you!

  9. Hey, Tina, the iTouch sounds great to use for an online class--or whenever you have some downtime away from home.

    Modern electronics--gotta love 'em!

  10. Good morning, Julie! Oh, I'm an introvert, too. I've gotten better, I think, over the years, but it's still hard to push myself to talk about me, me, me.

    When I was at Dorchester, we authors were expected to do quite a bit of promotion on ourselves. It's much easier at HH, because the company is so much larger and far-reaching. I don't do as much promo as I used to.

    Petticoats & Pistols has been the one thing I really put time into. It's my passion.

    Oh, and blogging with ladies like you all, too!

  11. Jessica, having little ones is the PERFECT excuse to taking classes and bettering yourself on anything. Just head on down to the computer when they're in bed . . . right? You bet!

    Thanks for popping in!

  12. Thanks for being here, Pam. One of my first forays into the larger writing world was a critique group I attended at Pam Crooks house.
    Back when we were both unpublished.

    Finding that group of ladies and the Omaha chapter of Romance Writer's of America was an important first step in finding out how to decode the mysterious world of publishing.

    I catch myself being limited by my imagination as far as what can be done online. I think that's something we need to challenge in ourselves.

    My daughter had one class left to graduate college several years ago.
    She was going to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. She got a job she applied for online. The job was in Pennsyvania. The course required a degree so she had to finish but the job also started immediately.

    So, she started her last class, living in Lincoln, but online. She moved to Pennsylvania and never missed a step with the class because it followed along inside her computer. Then she needed a proctor for the test. UNL helped her find one in a Pennsylvania college.
    All these elements weren't that hard to arrange.

    I'm an employee of a community college (NCC) and my children... dependents only...get tuition deferment. So another daughter, going to UNL, is taking all the free classes she can find from NCC and transferring them to UNL.

    I've got a friend who did her entire degree ALL OF IT, in Early Childhood Education online. She never went to a campus.

    We need to open our minds wide to the possibilities. We can take the best classes from the best teachers and never leave our desk.

  13. Mmmm, love that cover, Pam! Congrats on all the contracts!

    The good thing about putting myself on hiatus from contests is that now I can take more online classes! Mwahaha! I'm taking two this month. I had to save all the lessons from last month's class, since I had no time, so I need to keep myself from taking any more until I go through those. Can I do it? Do I have that much willpower? All those classes you mentioned had me salivating, so I only hope they're not being taught next month!

  14. Welcome, Pam. And never fear. You're not alone.

    My name is Missy, and I'm an online class addict, too. :)

    I've taken just about every class you mentioned in your post and also loved each and every one! I'm so bad about buying how-to books, then having them serve as dust collectors. An online course seems to work better for me because I get it bit by bit in email. Easy to digest pieces. :)

    Thanks for visiting us in Seekerville today! And thanks for sharing that the fears of failure are universal. I'm not the only one! LOL


  15. Pam, I'm on the East Coast and the blog is set up on West Coast time so it wasn't nearly as bad as it looked this morning.

    But I still welcomed that first mug o' joe.

    See what I mean about Mary being all nice and professional and somewhat introspective?

    You guys have been a great influence on her. Nice job.


    I've heard lots of good stuff about Chris Keesler. Gals who've met him at National say he's a good guy, and what a great way to start your career. Wonderful.

    So, umm, Pam...

    Know any good Chuck Norris jokes??? Oh, wait.

    There are no GOOD Chuck Norris jokes.

    (Sorry, Mare, couldn't resist. I'll have to brush up on Western humor)

    Hey, does anybody have extra forks to bring along for the carrot cake? And tell me truthfully, what do you think of the pineapple and nuts being added to it? Good, bad, indifferent?


  16. All these classes sound terrific. I think I need to take more classes on writing.

    No comments, Ruthy.

  17. Hi, my name is Gina, and I'm not an online class addict, although the one I took was awesome. However, I am an introvert so I doubt I'll have the courage to say much other than...

    Thanks, Pam, for the insightful post.

    (Is she looking at me? Uggh, she is. Maybe if I turn my head this way and keep slurping away on my frappachino she won't notice me.)

    My word verification is "I'm a smarty."


    In the "yxmrxty" kinda way. But until a brilliant editor recognizes my brilliance, I'll have to leave the adulation-giving to my faithful friend, WV.

  18. Hi, Pam, and welcome to Seekerville! Thanks for some great suggestions on more online classes. See, gang, I'm not the only one with this topic on my mind (just check out my post from last Tuesday).

    Now ... if I can just find time to sign up for a class one day soon ...

  19. Hi Pam! Thanks for your recommendations. I love online classes too, although I suspect I have a ways to go to catch up with you!

    I took my first online class taught by Leigh Michaels years ago when I first thought about writing. She was wonderful and her class worth its weight in gold.

  20. Hi, Mary! Did you tell The Seekers how much we have in common? Not only that we critiqued together all those years ago, but that we each have 4 daughters, and our youngest are all the same age. We both have a 'Katie' and a daughter who went to UNL and, and . . . is that it?

  21. Hi, Melanie!

    Yep, you can always tackle those lectures when you can put your feet up and absorb every inspiring word.

    I print them out and put them into labeled white, 3 ring notebooks. Sometimes if the class isn't *that* great, I'll start a new folder in Outlook Express, move the lectures there and save the paper.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  22. Hi, Missy!

    I love that you guys are posting photos with your comments. So cool to see who I'm talking to!

    You are so right that our fears are universal. I remember Johnny Carson saying (okay, am I *really* showing my age or what?) that before every show he ever did, he would get nervous flutters in his stomach. And this guy was on the air for years and had done the same show a gazillion times.

    But that nervousness compelled him to be better, eh? Just like us!

  23. Ruthy, thanks for explaining about the time difference. I figured as much--still, you were up VERY early.

    And did you stop by Petticoats & Pistols and see all those Chuck Norris jokes Mary found?

    She does have a twisted sense of humor, doesn't she?

    And she got a TON of comments because of it. LOL.

  24. Gina, yes, indeed, I'm looking at you. In a good way. I love your pic--and for making me smile from your perspective!

  25. Okay, Myra. I had no idea you did a blog on online classes, too. Aack!

    Well, Seekers, I'd sent mine to Mary a couple of weeks ago. Sorry!

    You've all been very gracious and no one complained.

    But Myra - great minds think alike, eh?

  26. Hi, Patricia (do they call you Pat? Patty?)

    I've met Leigh, and she's so nice. An awesome teacher--and writer, too. I don't know how she does both.

  27. Pam and I do have a lot in common except she got her first contract way, way ahead of me. But I'm tagging along.

    I love the cover of Kidnapped by the Cowboy. I think cowboy covers are the absolute best.

    If you go to Pam's website there is a picture of her standing WAY TOO CLOSE to a cover model with the unlikely name of Raphael. Very nice work getting that photo, Pam. I noticed you didn't put up the one of you at his house, in the bushes, photographing him through the window.
    Or the police hauling you away.
    Good call.

    Pam's Photo Page

  28. Pam said: "But Myra - great minds think alike, eh?"

    Exactly what I was thinking! ;>)

  29. What a great list, Myra! I just looked back at your post. I think I missed it the first time around.

    Nice detective work to get that huge list of classes!


  30. What an inspiring post, Pam. I've been eyeing the course mentioned earlier this week..."Dynamic Dialogue" by Alicia Rasley.

    I just might sign up!

    Also, ACFW offers free online courses monthly for it's members. Good grief, the things are even ARCHIVED for members. Wow!

    With so much out there, we've got a wealth of info. at our fingertips.

  31. Hi, Pam! I recognized your name right away from Petticoats & Pistols. Great to see you over here, too.

    Interesting that classes are archived. I would think the group wouldn't make as much money--people could just dig through the old files!

  32. Okay, ladies! Time to draw a winner for a signed copy of my book, KIDNAPPED BY THE COWBOY.

    But before I do, I want to thank you all for stopping by and saying such nice things about online classes even though Myra had said it all before. LOL.

    It's been fun, and it's obvious you all have fun with each other. That's what it's all about!

    Thank you for having me share your day!

  33. And the winner is . . .


    Julie, can you shoot me a quick email with your snail mail addy, and I'll get the book right out to you.

  34. Aw man! I wanted that. :-) Julie's so lucky! LOL

  35. Im late getting going this week.
    congrats on the contract till 2010
    I am a reader but I do love online classes for other things (free classes) for things like graphics and web designing.

    congrats Julie on winning the book.

  36. I like the pineapple and nuts in teh carrot cake. Definitely. Of course, I am low-carbing now so virtual carrot-cake is as close as I'm going to get ... sniffle ...

    I've been taking the on-line courses given by ACFW and they have been eye-openers. All for the price of membership. Such a deal!

    Agree with all the good points you all have listed about on-line coursework. The only draw back is sharing the computer with teh rest of the family.

  37. Stepping in late here to say I loved your post, Pam!

    You didn't happen to be an ICL instructor, did you? If not, I swear you have a twin. If so, I think you were my first instructor eons ago.

    Anyway, thank you for bringing your wisdom and this insightful post to Seekerville!


  38. Hi, Cheryl,

    Nope--I wasn't an ICL instructor.

    Hmmm. A twin, eh? Now that's scary!