Category Archives: writing groups

No Motivation

Life has been busy lately.  Almost all fun stuff.  My writers club had its last meeting of the year–our annual holiday carry-in–last Wednesday.  Dawn and David went all out to decorate their beautiful house for Christmas, and trees and holiday decorations brightened every room.  The food was wonderful.  It always is.  We gossiped and laughed, and since we’re writers, ended up talking shop here and there.

We won’t have another meeting until January 9.  And for some reason, that makes me feel like I don’t have to be a “good” writer and pound out so many words a day, like I usually do.  The pressure’s off, which is silly.  I still have 15,000 words to write on my fourth Jazzi mystery.  But no matter how hard I try, when I don’t feel accountable to Scribes for making progress, I revert to being a kid on summer break.  And I don’t even feel that guilty about it:)

I intend to still write, still work on book four, but I’ll write at a more leisurely pace.  I’ll enjoy the perks of the season more than usual.  We had friends over for supper on Friday night and I made Cheryl’s favorite dessert–bread pudding with rum sauce.  Next Friday, we’re having another friend come for supper.  She loves smoked meat, so I’m making smoked Cornish hens.  And Tuesday night, I’m going to a Christmas program with Sia.  I’m in the mood to play more than work, ready to make jolly.

I still have writerly duties to do.  Lyrical Press scheduled the book cover reveal for The Body in the Wetlands for December 22nd.  I need to go to Canva.com to design Facebook and twitter headers for the second book.  I need to find some excerpts I can share once in a while.  Today, I want to polish the Jazzi and Ansel Christmas story I’m going to post on my webpage this coming week.  BUT, I can work for a while, play for a while, because I won’t be reporting what I’m up to at Scribes.  I don’t have to be a responsible author again until January 9th:)

Happy writing to all of you, but I hope you get some play time, too!

 

It’s Not Easy

My writers club had its last official meeting for the year on Wednesday.  We meet twice a month except in December, and for that month, we have our annual Christmas carry-in, and that’s it.  No critiques.  No agenda.  Just sharing food and conversation.  I always e-mail every member and invite them to come, even if they’ve missed a few meetings.  I did that this morning, and as always, it made me think about the people who used to be regular members who no longer are.

Plenty of people have tried Scribes and dropped us as quickly as possible.  We’re not for everyone.  But I’m not talking about those.  I’m thinking of writers who came month after month, sometimes year after year, and then disappeared for various reasons.  Sometimes, they move.  Sometimes they get divorced and their lives go into upheaval, and they can no longer write.  A baby’s arrival can usurp a mother’s time.  Some have health issues.  One of our members just had three heart surgeries in two days, and she finally got to return to us, thank heavens.  Not everyone can.  One member retired, and now she travels and plays too much to write.  I know Life can throw people curveballs, and it’s sad to lose them from our group, but I understand why.

The missing-in-action because of discouragement bother me more.  I’ve watched people who share their pages with us rewrite them, share them again, get better, and become talented writers, only to give up under the heavy weight of rejection.  They decide they’ll never be good enough, never sell.  I get it.  Rejection hurts.  But . . .  it’s part of being a writer.  Still, and I have to remember this, it’s not for everyone.  When writing causes more pain than joy, maybe it’s time to walk away, to give writing a break.  I always hope they’ll pick it up again at some other time, but maybe they won’t.  Maybe writing doesn’t grip them like it does me.  Maybe other interests bring more fulfillment.

There have been many times that I’ve been discouraged.  Many times that I think I must be a masochist for pounding away at stories and novels.  But if I stop for a while, the emptiness is too much.  I never dreamed of being a writer, but writing is just like my pet strays.  Once I opened the door for it a tiny crack, it took over my life.  Writing isn’t easy.  Rejection is worse.  And talent doesn’t guarantee success.

Jeez, I sound gloomy.  But the good news is that I celebrate every time a writer I know, including myself, finds some success.  And there have been enough successes to keep me hopeful.  Scribes is full of wonderful, brilliant writers, and we work to encourage each other.  I hope you find encouragement and joy in your writing, too.

Happy December!

 

And P.S.  If you live in Fort Wayne, Kyra Jacobs and T.G. Wolff will be signing books and reading short excerpts at Half-Price Books this Saturday, Dec. 1st, from one to three.

 

A nice compliment

I had Scribes last Wednesday.  One of our members brought in a newspaper article about Louisa May Alcott with a few lines highlighted to share.  I never realized how hard Alcott had to work to make ends meet.  “She taught school, went out in service, sewed, and most of all, wrote.  She read all the magazines, figured out their style, and gave them what they wanted.  She wrote thrillers and mysteries, sentimental romances, modern fairy tales, and Gothic horror.”  (from Sarah Young’s column).  And then Rachel smiled and asked the group, “Does this remind you of anyone?”

I’ve never sewn, but yes, I’ve written a lot of different kinds of fiction over time.  And I appreciated Rachel’s compliment.  I’ve written a short Christmas science fiction story for a newspaper tabloid, and they bought it, but accidentally published it under another author’s name.  I’ve had short horror fiction in two anthologies.  I’ve sold dark fantasy, urban fantasy, and short mysteries.  And romances.  I like playing with genres, but I’m glad to be working on a mystery again.

Since it’s been a while since I’ve written one, my hubby and I went to the bookstore to see what kinds of mysteries are out there.  I read my old favorites, but they aren’t very helpful for research.  They already have built-in audiences.  They can break the rules and still sell books.  I haven’t kept up with new writers in the field.  I wanted to see who’s selling today and what they do.  I asked my editor what mysteries he likes, and he sent me a stack of Kensington authors, most of whom he works with.   They were all “niche” mysteries. Every book had a protagonist with a specialty of some kind–one runs a bakery and includes recipes in her books, one writes “clambake” mysteries and includes New England type recipes, another entered poodles in dog shows and gave details about that, and yet another runs an organic farm and spa.

At the bookstore, to my surprise, I found the rows of mysteries all clumped under the “mystery” title, but the first half of the shelves were filled with “niche” mysteries in alphabetical order, and the second half was filled with “serious” mysteries.  The books were kept separate from one another.  I’m assuming that means that readers who buy the niche, cozy-style mysteries rarely buy the heavier ones, and vice versa.

I’m writing the niche style.  That’s what my editor likes.  And yes, like Louisa May Alcott, I’m going to try to give him what he wants.  That also means that my agent won’t have much luck if she ever tries to sell me to a bigger publisher.  They want books with higher stakes, bigger themes, more drama–page turners.  I’m okay with that.  I like the idea I thought of for mysteries, and I’m having fun writing it.

In the meantime, Kensington sent me an AWESOME book cover for my sixth romance, due out in November.  Thought I’d share, and whatever you’re working on, happy writing!

SpecialDelivery

 

7 Questions

Last week, I answered questions that my fellow friend/writer, Kathy Palm, asked when she nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger award.  This week, another friend/writer answered questions for me, and Mary Lou never fails to surprise me.  How many people, if they could travel back in time to watch an event in history, would choose the parting of the Red Sea? Okay, that had to be a major event and dramatic to boot,  but I honestly thought she’d pick the sinking of Atlantis, since she has sort of a thing for crystal skulls and Cayce.  Just look at the books she’s written as M. L. Rigdon: http://www.amazon.com/M.L.-Rigdon/e/B0086UZFGA/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1469288066&sr=1-2-ent    Her answers show what a history buff she is.  A movie buff, as well.  Anyway, without further ado, here’s my friend M. L. Rigdon’s 7 questions and answers:.  And if YOU had a chance to witness a scene in history, what would you choose?

7/21/16

Many thanks to Judith Post/Judi Lynn, who invited and suggested this blog thingie. She is my guru. She’s also the Fearless Leader of Summit City Scribes, the best writing group in the world. Many local writers are blessed by her open-hearted support. For me, I cannot imagine a better critique partner. Strike that. There is none. She knows how to slash through my work with unerring directions and corrections, her teacher’s pen bent on perfection. I shudder, and go briefly catatonic, to think what would go into print without her input. But most of all, her encouragement keeps me lifted up and on track. She can tell me with precision what doesn’t work, and as importantly, what does.

 

The deliciously quirky Kathy Palm promoted Judy for the sunshine award. Perfect choice. Here are my responses to Judy’s questions.

 

Wine or beer?

Depends on what I’m eating. German food or pizza, must have beer. Everything else, wine, if I’m not driving. (More than one glass, I’m on the table or under it.)

 

Your favorite food?

Is this a trick question? The list goes on and on.

 

If you could be transported back in time and WATCH a moment of history, what would it be?

The parting of the Red Sea.

 

If you won a trip to anywhere in the world, were would you go?

Scotland.

If you could be any author in the world, past or present, besides yourself, who would you be? And why?

Carson McCullers. All that’s needed to make me teary eyed is to think the title The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Read it in my teens and never recovered. Can’t even aspire to that kind of literary empathy.

 

Cats, dogs or guinea pigs.

Dogs. (First up is horses, but you never asked that. Maybe because you already knew.)

 

Your favorite movie.

The Best Years of Our Lives. More than its capture of the aftermath of war on our valiant warriors when they had to return to “normal” life, this work exemplifies the “Greatest Generation.” So few remember what our country had to endure to win two world wars simultaneously, especially stateside. The courage and determination of mothers, who sometimes had to wait for years to hear if their loved ones survived, had to put their children in temporary orphanages to build planes and tanks. What kid today would understand the rationing of sugar, bacon and gasoline? Due to the present, widespread entitlement attitudes, I doubt that our nation could again rise to that level.

 

Thank you for visiting my blog, Mary Lou!  And thanks for being my critique partner.  I value your critiques every bit as much as you appreciate mine.  Every writer needs a critique partner, and we make a pretty good fit:)

And just so you know, Mary Lou also writes Regency romances under the name Julia Donner.  http://www.amazon.com/Julia-Donner/e/B00J65E8TY/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1469289093&sr=1-2-ent    Once every full moon or when the mood strikes her, she also writes a blog:  https://historyfanforever.wordpress.com/

You can find her on twitter at: @RigdonML

Her Facebook page:   https://www.facebook.com/marylou.rigdon?fref=ts

Happy writing, everyone!

 

A nose ring? Who knew?

It’s been interesting how people have reacted to my romances.  I’ve read a couple of chapters to my writers’ group–Summit City Scribes.  And I sent the finished manuscripts to my critique partners and both of my daughters, Holly and Robyn, and to the girl who grew up across the street from us.  Heidi is Holly’s BFF, and spent a lot of time at our house.  We call her our “adopted” daughter, because we think of her as part of our family.

When I used to read my urban fantasies to Scribes, I got really mixed reactions.  The comments always started with “I don’t read this, but….”–which is fair, because a writer should know that a reader doesn’t know his/her genre.  Comments can be very genre specific.  My friend, Julia Donner–whose Regencies I madly love–used to get an abundance of feedback about “Why do you use so much description?  You describe the room, what the people wear–in detail.  You even mention buttons and hose.”  She’d grin and say, “That’s part of writing a Regency.  The stories are as much about social mannerisms and soirees as the romance between the protagonists.” I thought when I shifted to romance, I’d fit into what people in my group read more. The joke was on me.  When I read for my fifteen minutes, and we started around the table for critiques, almost every single person said, “I never read romance, but…”  Kathy Palm, another writer in our group who writes fantasy and horror asked, “Is there kissing?”  Lol.  She’d rather have someone mutilated.

My group might not read either urban fantasy or romance, but I still get great feedback–when I tell instead of show, when I should use more dialogue, discussions about word choice, repetition, using action tags that aren’t haggard, more internal dialogue, more emotion, etc.  I always come away a better writer when I read at Scribes. It’s especially fun when people react strongly to something I purposely added because I thought it was clever.  I love raw, gut reactions, and I’ve gotten more of those for my romances than I expected.  For instance, in my second romance, Opposites Distract, I wanted to introduce a character whom I could feature in my third romance.  I wanted a heroine who wasn’t the typical pretty girl.  Paula’s a chef whose husband died overseas in the military.  She has two young kids, and she’s Goth.

The Goth part got me in trouble.  My writer friends shrugged and said since she was from New York, they could buy into the penchant for black.  They could even overlook the stud in her cheek.  But a nose ring?  Oh, lord.  Who knew that a nose ring could get  me in so much trouble!  They liked Paula.  They just didn’t like the nose ring.  “She’s a chef.  It has to go.”  I held off on changing it for a while, and then decided what the heck?  In the big scheme of things, the ring could move to her eyebrow and still make the statement I intended it to.

My second surprise came when both my daughter Robyn and our “adopted” daughter Heidi called me to say they wanted to hit Brody in the head with a two-by-four in the beginning of Opposites Distract.  A few other people had read that manuscript, too, and they especially loved Brody, but he starts out opinionated and a little on the bossy side.  He’s a big, bad brooding hulk who takes responsibility too seriously.  That endeared him to some. Not to Robyn and Heidi. Both of those girls are Leos–independent and outspoken.  Brody might not live if he tried to bully them:)

Anyway, it’s been interesting how readers have reacted to the male/female couples in my romances.  I should have expected stronger opinions, I guess, since romances are character driven stories.  I didn’t see that coming, but it’s been a pleasant surprise.

And since I’m talking about romance–happy Valentine’s Day 2016!

 

My webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/    (BTW, there are three short Mill Pond romances at the end of the left column of free, short stories).

Author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/

@judypost on twitter

 

Writing Feedback

Right after I first dipped my toes into the world of fiction, I was lucky enough to find a good writers’ group.  I wasn’t all that serious back then, but a lot of writers who came to Scribes were.  They pushed and prodded me into writing more than I’d intended and into sending things out when I was happy to toss them in a drawer.  They forced me to grow.

They invited me to go to writers’ conferences with them, and that was a real eye-opener. Attending panels at a conference expanded my vision.  Writing was a career for the authors who lectured us.  They were professionals–writing was a business.  I’d never seen it as that.  They talked markets and publishers, bestsellers and mid-list fiction.  They discussed how publishing was changing.  Big publishers were gobbling up little publishers, and they warned that writers would feel the pinch.  I listened and soaked it all up, but I didn’t see the big picture.  I was too naive.

After I placed short stories in several anthologies and in Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine and Ellery Queen, I was one of the writers on conference panels.  And I felt outclassed again. I could talk “how to” for writing, but I still didn’t know much about selling and publishing. Even when it came to writing, there’s nothing more humbling than to have people raise their hands and ask questions when the answers, for me, were nebulous, at best, and when the writers on either side of me could prattle off answers faster than my brain could process them.  At one mystery conference, I sat on a panel with Charlaine Harris and Carolyn Hart to discuss short story writing.  I mean, really.

At home, at Scribes, some of the writers were so far ahead of me, I dreaded it when it was my turn to read at our meetings.  We met, and still do, every second and fourth Wednesday from noon to two.  Two writers and an alternate (who sometimes we get to, and sometimes we don’t–depending on how wound up we get over critiques when we go around the table) share their work with us.  Each writer gets fifteen minutes to read. After the first reader finishes, we go around the table to discuss what we thought was really good about the piece and what might make it better.  We stay supportive and positive, but we still lose people.  And I understand that.  It’s hard to listen to critiques.

We finally had to make a rule that the reader can’t comment on what people say until we’ve circled the entire table, and then it’s his/her turn to talk.  We made that rule for a reason.  First, most writers feel the need to explain why they wrote a scene the way they chose to.  They can’t help it.  They’re attached to the pages they wrote.  They’re attached to the story, the characters, their baby.  Even when we have almost all good things to say about it, the things we pick at rankle.  It’s like having someone walk up to you and say, “Cute kid, except for that wart on his nose.”  The flaw stands out.  It makes writers defensive.

Even writers who SAY that they want lots of feedback, that they don’t want only praise, that they want us to FIND something that they can make better.. crumple for a bit.  I love criticism. I want my friends to find my screw-ups before I print them.  I’m fine when those comments are on paper, and I can read through the scribbles of red ink and consider them without pressure.  But my first reaction, almost always, when the critique is vocial, is to get defensive.  It feels more threatening somehow, major instead of minor. I’ve learned that about myself, but I’m not the only one.  I watch it over and over again at Scribes.  So now, I just listen and nod and thank people for their feedback, then go home and give myself a few days to filter it all.  Then, I can appreciate what my writer friends were telling me.  That doesn’t mean I always agree with them, but I’m glad they gave me something to consider.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot by listening to the critiques of my work and others’ at Scribes.  I’ve watched people who fold under the feedback and never come back.  And I’ve watched writers who listen to every single comment, then change their manuscript to try to please everyone. Some waffle so often, they never finish a book, or else they water it down so much, it’s a weak effort when it’s finished.  It’s impossible to please everyone.  If you do, something’s wrong.  I’ve also watched writers who nod and then never change anything. Those writers are interesting.  They dig in, tell us that they like their manuscript the way it is, and then write what they please.  And sometimes, that works.  Sometimes, it doesn’t. But it’s taught me that being defensive is all right, to a point.  A writer needs to find balance.  He needs to be flexible enough to listen to and consider criticism, but also to have the confidence to believe in himself.

Hope you’ve found your balance, and happy writing!

 

https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/

 

 

 

Writers’ Groups

I read a blog post a few weeks ago, and the writer gave reasons why she thought writers’ groups weren’t very helpful. I happen to love mine. Not only have I learned a lot from the comments people give there–for my work, as well other peoples’ pages–I also come home recharged, ready to dig into my manuscript. Just being around fellow writers, talking nuts and bolts, shared successes and disappointments, news and markets, gets me excited about pounding the keys again. Some people join our group and stay. Some people join our group and run. It’s not for everyone. It’s HARD to read your work for 15 minutes and then get critiqued. After all these years, I still get nervous when I share my stuff there. Everyone works hard to give positive, helpful feedback, but we tend to be honest about what could be better. After all, that’s why we share, right? To find our flaws and make them better. But that’s not as easy as it sounds.

It took me a long time to learn to listen–really listen–to their feedback without getting defensive. Writing is personal. We pour our minds and passions into our words. It’s no fun to hear that we messed up, but I’ve finally learned that if I just leave my friends’ comments alone for a few days and let them stew, then I can look at them and decide what works for me and what doesn’t.

The blogger who found writers’ groups lacking stated that readers only share a small number of pages with each other at a time, that it’s too hard to determine story and character arcs, to feel if the pacing works. I suppose some of that depends on how often a writer gets to share. In our group, writers read consistently enough for the rest of us to remember how the chapters flow. But the blogger’s right. Reading a work in its entirety is a different thing than hearing chunks of pages at a time. But who says we have to choose between a writers’ group or critique partners? Not so. Most of us break off into smaller groups to trade manuscripts. We rely on Scribes to catch trouble spots and brainstorm ideas to make them better. And then we have critique partners who look at the entire manuscript.

Not every group is like ours. Ours is dedicated to encouraging writers and trying to make their works better, to make them publishable. So, what can we offer each other? What exactly do we look for?

1. Opening hooks. Did we start the story/novel/article at the right place? Or is there a spot 2 or 20 pages farther into the book where the story really starts?

2. Will the first chapter grab and keep a reader, or did we introduce so many characters at once, we drowned the reader and left him confused? Did we bury the book’s big question under backstory? Are we grounded in the story’s setting? Do we know what type of book it is in the first chapter, and what it’s about? Do we know what the protagonist’s problem is and how he might try to solve it?

3. Did we show, don’t tell? Did we use active verbs? Were we careful with word choice? Our group REALLY notices word choice. Did the ideas flow? Did the characters grab us? Do we CARE about them? Did the characters feel REAL? Did the dialogue feel real? Did all of the characters sound the same?

4. Did the tension build as the chapters flow and keep building all the way to the end, or did we go off on a tangent somewhere? Did the story sag? Did each scene move the story? Did each scene have tension? Did we use the right POV to tell the story or that particular scene? Did the characters stay true to themselves, or did the author try to force them to do something to move the story along?

5. And the biggie: Did the pages WORK? Did they have the right tone/mood/style for their genre? Did the tone stay consistent from one chapter to the next? Each genre implies a promise to its readers. A mystery has a crime that needs to be solved. A romance has boy meets girl and a happy ending. Did we deliver?

Our group is pretty eclectic. We write different things–YA, fantasy, Regency, espionage, mystery, urban fantasy, and literary. We even have a memoir writer and a nature writer, who specializes in articles on birding. We don’t always read each others’ genres, and we admit that, but we know what’s expected from them. So we focus on if they’re well-written, not if they’re something we’d read.

Do I value my group? That’s a big, resounding yes. Quite a few of the people who’ve moved away, though, tell me that they can’t find another group like ours, so I know that not every writers’ group is created equal. I value our group’s feedback. If you can’t find a good group, though, I recommend Victory Crayne’s advice on critiques. He gives a good, solid list of things to look at in writing.
http://www.crayne.com/howcrit.html

P.S.
I added a flash fiction story to my webpage. Not a “nice” story. It’s early times in River City.
There’s a reason the voodoo spirit Manette has downturned lips. http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Michael finished the cover for my third Wolf’s Bane novel. I love it! Sharon’s formatting it this week, so it will be up soon. In the meantime, here’s the cover for you to see:
cover_mockup_48_1 (1)