Critique Speak

critique group 4

Another year, another critique group? I’m pleased to say that I’ve joined a third, forming a wonderful triad. How is this one different? In this case, writers gather twice a month, which doubles the motivation to produce. Situated in a smaller room, our number is capped at six. That means we all share something for feedback most times. Attendees don’t read their works aloud but do send pieces in advance through email. Instead of evenings, this half-dozen meets in the cool of the library while the Texas sun is still high in the sky.

Although several other members also belong to multiple groups, each combination develops its own personality. One gathering is specifically aimed at writers and illustrators of children’s literature, and the other two attract those who write for various levels. We critique novel chapters, stories, poetry, songs, memoir, and other types of non-fiction. Want to know more about queries, summaries, or elevator pitches? These are also presented and analyzed. Most importantly, not only do we assess possible improvements, but point out the positives of what’s working in each piece.

Beyond the share/feedback cycle, all three configurations circulate information about upcoming events of interest, in addition to facts about submissions for agents and publishers. We celebrate, praise, and console, since this calling involves both highs and lows. I find the camaraderie among people with different backgrounds who all share a love of writing to be so exhilarating, interesting AND comforting. When I first started my journey, I had no idea how important this activity would become. If you’re a writer or illustrator and haven’t yet found just the right spot, I hope that you’ll continue your quest!

Feel free to share in comments what you like best about your critique group or what you would look for in your search!       ~Becky

book fest
FRISCO BOOK FEST: Fergal O’Donnell and Gary Thornberry (current and former presidents of Write Club); Becky Michael (founding member of Write 4 Kids)

Heikki Lunta and Story Publication!

fantasy Heikki Lunta (2)

For many years, I lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I wasn’t a native “Yooper,” however, and never heard of “Heikki Lunta” while living in the Lower Peninsula. In the past, people had come to the U.P. from many different countries to work in the copper mines. There’s still an especially recognizable Finnish influence in many areas.

Finland
Finland

When I first heard of Heikki Lunta, I assumed that it was a mythological Finnish goddess or god. I was on the right track, but not quite right. Ukko is a god of weather, and Vellamo is a goddess of storms. There was no supreme being specifically for snow, which seems surprising, given that’s such a snowy part of the world.

Fast forward to 1970. As the story goes, U.P. promoters for an upcoming snowmobile race were concerned because not much snow had yet fallen that winter. A record was aired on a local radio station in which the singers pleaded with “Heikki Lunta,” a snow god of sorts, to send more of the white stuff. The whole idea took off, or “snowballed,” you might say.

Heikki Lunta sign (2)

These days, businesses like this one on the right often put up signs asking that deity for more snow. By spring, there are sometimes signs asking him to stop! At least one town in the Upper Peninsula has named its yearly winter festival after Heikki Lunta.

What does all of this have to do with my story being published, you might ask. Now living in Texas, I’m struck with the fact that many of the children here (and sometimes the adults) wish dearly that it would snow!

A few winters back, we did get a pretty healthy dusting, here in the North Dallas suburbs. My two youngest granddaughters were thrilled, and my daughter let them stay home from school to play in the snow. That’s the day my idea for a meeting of reality and myth, in “Welcome to Texas, Heikki Lunta” was conceived. I’m thrilled to report that my fictional story for kids and families, alike, now appears in U.P. Reader #3.UP Reader #3

Texas snowman
Texas Snowman

cowgirl boots b&w

I’m a Guest at the Smorgasbord End of Summer Party…Join us!

 

Welcome to the first of the end of summer posts this weekend. There are three meals today, Brunch, Afternoon Tea and Dinner this evening… and tomorrow Sunday Lunch. I hope that you will be able to visit at least one during your day. […]

via Smorgasbord End of Summer Party – Brunch Meet Robert Goldstein, Victoria Zigler, John W. Howell, Becky Ross Michael, Jemima Pett, Marcia Meara, Luna Saint Claire and Anita Dawes — Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

Inspired by a Dream

winter scene from Pixabay.jpg no attrib. req.It began as one of those dreams where the setting and events that were unfolding seemed simultaneously familiar yet unfamiliar. Instead of watching the vision like a movie, I was taking part and looking out through the woman’s own eyes toward three children gathered around a kitchen table. A snowy scene beyond the window was as well-known to me as the back of my hand.

The mood was both comforting and uncomfortable. I started to waken, but willed myself to remain in that place. Every inch of the room was recognizable to me, as were some of the occupants. As I held onto the dream, I knew without a word being uttered what had happened to these people and what their futures held.

Next, I just needed to wake up and write the story!

Several years after that writing, the resulting short fiction, “Slip of the Lip,” now appears in the 2018 edition of the UPPAA’s anthology, the U.P. Reader. That publication is an intriguing mix of fiction, non-fiction, prose, poetry, and photography, with its roots planted firmly in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’m proud to have my writing once again included, along with so many talented contributors.

UP Reader 2nd Edition

Memoir Publication and Garden Update

UP Reader

The U.P. Reader, which includes my memoir piece, “Lonely Road,” is now available in print and e-book! This literary magazine is published by Modern History Press in conjunction with the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association (UPPAA). The publication also contains fiction, humor, poetry, history, and more.

When I read the call for submissions, my first instinct was to write a fictional story set in Michigan’s U.P., where I lived for many years. What about my own, personal tales, just waiting to be told? I decided that memoir was the way to go.

As Barbra Streisand sang in one of my favorite movies, “The Way We Were,” memories really can “light the corners” of our minds. But, when too much pain is caused by remembering, we often choose to ignore and wall-off those sections of our brains. Writing memoir can be like taking the partitions down and letting the light shine, once again, onto those remembrances. The act can bring questions, heartache, revelations and healing.

Lonely Road” relates an evocative experience during my wintertime move to the Upper Peninsula, with the purpose of giving a faltering marriage one more try. The story is also a metaphor for the journey of life, with its pleasant surprises, difficult challenges, and safe havens. That “one more try” to stay together spanned several additional decades. Success or failure? Guess it depends on how you look at it. This was a very difficult piece for me to write because of all the emotions to which it gave rise. I would like to say that I felt better once I had it down. Saying it well and true did give me a sense of satisfaction. The sadness over our loss still remains.

I hope that you’ll consider reading about my experience, along with sampling contributions from other writers with connections to the Upper Peninsula, in the beautiful state of Michigan. The book is available from the publisher, through Amazon, and at several retailers in the U.P.  Reviews are welcomed!

                                                                                                                   

GARDEN UPDATE

The Community Garden is looking quite bountiful these days! Cucumbers and zucchini are already producing. Today, I also spotted tiny green peppers and tomatoes. Giant sunflowers provide a lovely backdrop. My little plot contains huge marigolds and abundant basil. I’ve already taken several bags of the herb over to the food pantry. Basil is great in curries and salads. Pesto, anyone?

The rosemary is a bit on the small side, and I’m afraid the watering that’s helping the basil thrive may be somewhat of a negative for those plants, which often prefer drier conditions. They’re growing, though, and I snipped the ends to encourage even more growth. Did my molasses and orange oil concoction succeed in the fight against the fire ants? Yes and no. It worked well enough to drive them over to the other side of the little garden bed. At least they stay off the plants!

Plentiful Pumpkins!

 

It’s that time of year again, where everywhere you turn, there’s a pumpkin meeting your gaze. Many of these winter squash are decorated as jack-o’-lanterns, while some of the plainer varieties repose as decorations that are more refined, or as actual food options at the markets. Often thought of as a vegetable, pumpkin is actually a fruit, because it develops from the flower and is the part of the plant that contains the seeds. On the other hand, vegetables include the leaves, stems, buds and roots of plants.

In recent years, pumpkins of varying colors beyond the traditional orange have been developed, with hybrids showing off shades of blue, white, tan, pink, red and green. No matter the hue, this fabulous fruit ripens throughout the summer and will normally reach its full size by September or October, thus the “harvest” time of year that pumpkin evokes.

How can authors use pumpkins in their writing? Setting comes to mind first, of course. A few well-placed pumpkins in your story or book can tell readers that it’s late summer or fall, whether the action is taking place before Halloween or well after, and might even offer a hint as to where in the world your writing is set. Using designer colors for the pumpkins in your novel? Then your book is probably set sometime after about 2005, when these became more widely available.

Pumpkins might also be used to tell readers something about your characters. Want to show that your leading lady or man is earthy, a hard worker, and probably likes to cook or bake? What better way than to show them hoeing in the pumpkin patch and getting a little dirt under their nails, or cooking up some pumpkin to use in a favorite recipe. Picture a couple pulling into the farmers market and lovingly running their interlaced fingers over the pumpkin options. Don’t tell me that scene couldn’t express fecundity, possible sexual repression or just raw sexual desire!

I’ve even used this member of the cucurbit family in my novel, Romantivores, which I’m currently revising. This portion of the book takes place in November, so I didn’t want any hint of jack-o’-lanterns hanging around. I’ve chosen to employ simple white pumpkins to line the sidewalk leading up to the stone building where one of my protagonists works. Not only can these white wonders indicate the time of year, but I also wanted them to suggest a less relaxed or homey atmosphere than their orange siblings, since there’s danger lurking nearby that is yet unknown to my main characters.

Last, but certainly not least, what about those books that include lists of recipes or deftly weave directions for tasty treats throughout their pages? Recipes for pumpkin can fill a cook’s needs throughout the day, from breakfast pancakes to tummy-warming soups at lunch or sweet desserts to finish off a delicious dinner. One of my favorite uses for pumpkin appears below. I came upon this easy idea one day when the bananas on my counter weren’t ripe enough for my usual lunchtime smoothie, and I found a can of pumpkin hiding in the dark recesses of my kitchen cupboard.

SQUOOTHIE (Squash Smoothie:)

1 cup cold almond milk (or your favorite milk product)

½ cup pumpkin (chilled is best)

1 tablespoon honey, or your choice of sweetener

¼ teaspoon vanilla

dash of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice

Blend and enjoy!

Options: Ice, banana, peanut butter, cumin, bee pollen, or yogurt in place of milk

 

Advantages and Challenges of Self-Publishing: Guest Post by Karen Musser Nortman

With the fifth book in her Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery series now available on Amazon, Karen Musser Nortman kindly agreed to reach out from Iowa to readers of Platform Number Four, with the real-life tale of her road to publication. Welcome, Karen!

 

Karen Musser Nortman: Advantages and Challenges of Self-Publishing

I have always wanted to write, but you know how it is—life intervened. When I was in my twenties, had young children, taught full time, and kept a very large old house, I read an article about how to make time for writing. The male author wrote that he had a dedicated office in his home and when the door was shut, no one was to bother him. His wife was directed to leave his lunch outside the door at a certain time. I remember thinking, “Yeah, right. Like that would work for me.”

So I spent twenty-two years as a secondary social studies teacher and another eighteen years in test development for a large testing company. However, I don’t feel those years were wasted as far as writing is concerned. My teaching taught me to do research and I have applied what I learned writing and editing test items to my mysteries. You need a defensible solution but also a number of what we called attractive distractors—other solutions that are feasible in order to keep the reader guessing.

When I retired four years ago, I was 68 years old. We love to camp, and one weekend in preparation for a trip, I was looking for something light to download to my Kindle. I thought it would be fun to read a mystery about camping. There weren’t any. But a campground is a perfect setting for a cozy mystery—a small limited area, eccentric characters, silly mishaps, and intervention from Mother Nature. So I began to write.

When I finished my first book, I began to hunt for an agent with the help of an online database. I sent out about 60 queries and had interest from several. When the agent for several well-known cozy series asked for the full manuscript, I was thrilled and sent it off. Meanwhile I read that a writer needs to allow six months for an agent to get back on a manuscript, another six months to a year for the agent to find a publisher, and another year to get the book published. At my age, that was too dang long. I looked into self-publishing through Amazon, just at that time making a big splash on the publishing scene. I withdrew my book from the agent’s consideration and dove in.

It’s a lot of work, but not impossible. I do all of my own formatting and contract for book covers. I have more control and the royalties are much better. The biggest problems are finding acceptance as a self-published writer and marketing. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad self-published books out there. Book contests and sites like IndieBRAG Medallion help self-published books gain viability.

Marketing is my least favorite thing. But I have heard that even the traditional publishers, unless you are Michael Connelly or Stephen King, expect authors to do a great deal of their own marketing. Since my books all center on camping, I have a target audience. I use RV Facebook pages to post notices when I am doing a giveaway. (I don’t bombard those places with ads otherwise.) I also hand out a few books free each place we camp because word-of-mouth is still the best advertising. I got a message from a man once who said he heard about my books in an Australian campground! I have worked a great deal on my ‘platform’—my website, author pages, email list, a blog about our camping trips, and branding. I try to put out at least two new books a year.

Finally, I keep in contact with a few other indie authors. They are an excellent resource and we support each other’s books. I only do that for writers whose books I would recommend to friends. It’s a slow building process, but it is building. My sales have gotten to the point where it’s a nice little supplemental income. Am I sorry I self-published? Not for a moment!

Website

Karen’s Blog

Amazon Author Page