Tag Archives: writers

C is for Critique Group

Callaway Critique members

My Critique partners

This letter of the A-Z Challenge was easy. I wouldn’t be writing today if I didn’t belong to the Callaway Critique Group.

Most successful writers recommend a good critique group and the web is full of advice on how to form, find, or manage one.  There are debates on whether it is better to meet in person or online, whether meetings should be structured or laid back, and even instructions on how to interview “applicants.”  The general consensus seems to be that good critique groups don’t just happen – they must be planned.

I didn’t actually read any of this advice before we started the group. That’s a good thing, because it probably would have scared me off of the whole idea.   Our critique group sprang from a larger writer’s group that had been meeting once a month  for several years.    The large group was all about projects:  readings, anthologies, workshops for beginners, and  even a mentoring program for teen writers.

Some of us wanted to spend more time critiquing and getting critiques for our own writing.  It felt selfish at the time, but splitting away from the big group is the best thing I ever did for my writing.

Most expert say a critique group should be small, no more that five or six members. We have a core group of five.   We are all novelists, but genres and styles vary:  literary, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror.  (Yes, I know that’s more than five.) And if someone brings in a memoir or a bit of freelance copy-writing, nobody complains. We critique it.

We’ve been getting together for breakfast every other Saturday for about seven years.  We share manuscripts by email a few days before each meeting. We also have an online group that allows us to keep in touch at a moments notice.  Some days the emails fly back and forth, other days it’s quiet. But we always know the others are there if we need a query letter proof read right away, or quick sympathy and support after getting an impersonal rejection.

Bottom line, if you’re a new writer and don’t belong to a critique group, find one or form your own. It’s worth the effort.


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Why a Conference? The Conversation!

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Eureka Springs, Arkansas

I just came back from the Ozark Creative Writer’s Conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  This conference always feels like a family reunion to those of us who keep coming back year after year.  I’ve been to bigger conferences with bigger names, but have never felt tempted to abandon this little gem.

First of all, it’s in a gorgeous location and is held at the most beautiful time of the year. Just driving down there is an adventure.  Second, it’s affordable, since it is a non-profit conference put together by a small dedicated board whose sole purpose is to provide the annual conference. There are no other meetings. This conference is not a fund raiser for other activities – every penny not used this year is invested in making the next conference better.

Speakers are knowledgeable industry professionals. You always have a chance to go one-on-one with editors and agents. This year I visited with Daniela Rapp, a Senior Acquisitions Editor at St. Martin’s Press. She asked me to send the first chapter of my memoir.  Snakes in the Kitchen has never made it to St. Martin’s before. They don’t take unsolicited manuscripts and I don’t have an agent. But, because of this little conference in Arkansas, my story will at least have a shot with a major New York publisher.

Daniella Rapp

Daniella Rapp, St. Martin’s Press

So, do I keep going back to OCW for the scenery? The shopping? The New York editors?

NO. I go back every year for the CONVERSATION.  The buzz word is “networking,” and I appreciate all that word implies.  But what it really means when you get down to the nitty-gritty is conversation: the old-fashioned exchange of ideas, inspiration, and confirmation that comes when writers share with and enjoy each other.


Callaway Critique members

My Critique partners shopping in historic Eureka Springs. Left to right: Lori Robinett, Ericca Thornhill, Jenny Bondurant, Colleen Donnelly


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A Good Read: Bill Warrington’s Last Chance

Bill Warrintons Last ChancePicking good books for the diverse group that  comes to our public library book discussion isn’t always easy.  I found a good one this week:  Bill Warrington’s Last Chance by James King.

Protagonist Bill Warrington realizes he has Alzheimer’s and is determined to repair a lifetime of damage to his estranged adult children. He takes off with his fifteen-year-old granddaughter April on a cross-country drive, bound for San Francisco, where she dreams of becoming a rock star. As the unlikely pair heads west, Bill leaves clues intended to force his three children to overcome their mutual distrust and long-held grievances to work together to find them. Unflinching, funny and poignant, this novel speaks to that universal longing for familial reconciliation, love, and forgiveness.  By the end of the story I felt each member of this normal and normally dysfunctional family was a good friend I knew very well.

Great work for a debut novel!  We plan to discuss it in December.


The End of Rose

Rose und Eis

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking about Nano. At first I thought I wouldn’t do it. It seemed pointless to start another novel I probably won’t finish.

Then I decided that’s what nano should be this year. A pledge to finish. The first nano novel I wrote was the story of Rose and her husband Jim.  I’ve been working on Rose’s story off and on for years. The original story was about her fighting to save her marriage. I also have quite a bit of her childhood written.  But taken all together, I still don’t have a complete story.

This year my working title will be “The end of Rose.”  I will write new scenes about Roses life as they come to me and I will put it all together and write “the end”.  I’m not going to edit and polish. That would go against the spirit of nano. This will be all new material, but the world and  the main characters will be the same.

The new site is online. I put in my title and my synopsis.  I’m ready. Are you?
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Getting Ready for National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing MonthNational Novel Writing Month starts November 1. That means I have just one month to get revved up and ready to write.  This will be my fifth year doing NaNoWriMo. You would think after getting it done, 50,000 words, every year for five years, that it would seem easy by now. Or at least easier.  But every year I face it with the same confusing mix of dread and anticipation.  Every year I change the idea for my “nano novel” a dozen times during October.  Every year I tell myself I can’t possibly do it this time: I don’t have a decent idea, I don’t know what to write, and besides, I’m too busy.

There is too much going on in my life right now. No way can I write a whole novel during November. And what idiot decided to make it November, anyway? We have deer season (a two week national holiday in my neck of the woods) plus Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christmas shopping rush. My granddaughter turns eighteen in November. Big party. I can’t miss that, can I? When am I supposed to find time to write a novel?

WordPress sent out a challenge out this week. In order to get ready for the madness of November we should blog every single day during October. The Post A Day Challenge, they call it.  Get in the habit of writing something every day.  Get your fingers limbered up. Why not? That will make it so much easier, don’t you think? Write every day for TWO months instead of just one!

Okay. I’m in.