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)

“The Rules of Magic” : Basic Human Truths

 

One of the reasons that I attend several book clubs is for motivation to try new genres and authors. Although I’ve read some books in the past that would be considered paranormal, I don’t know that I would have chosen to read The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman unless it had been a book club pick. It isn’t AT ALL what I expected.

This book is a prequel to Practical Magic, for which there is also a movie that I’ve never seen. Possibly it was the picture on the movie ad that made me expect The Rules of Magic would be light, autumnal entertainment. Not so; in fact, tears came to my eyes countless times in the reading. Yes, the blurb DOES mention “loss,” but I just didn’t anticipate the feelings this book would evoke.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many paranormal elements to the story, especially as the children…Franny, Jet, and Vincent break more and more of their mother’s rules aimed at protecting them from their history and connections to magic. No walks in the moonlight, no black clothing,  and no cats, just to name a few! Once their mother and father allow them to visit their aunt, however, things really start to devolve. Over time, they eventually break most of the rules they’ve been taught, including warnings against falling in love.

Before I get to those “basic human truths,” or BHTs (not to be confused with that suspect additive, BHT :) I want to mention that Ms. Hoffman’s use of setting…both place and time is excellent. The Northeastern U.S. with its change of seasons affords wonderful atmosphere, and I felt a comfortable familiarity with the times in which the children grow up and try their hands at being adults, the 1960’s and 1970’s. Now, for those nuggets of humanity that even the witches and wizards in this book experience:

winter scene from Pixabay.jpg no attrib. req.

“…forgetting her loss would be worse than the loss itself.”  (p. 231)

“…when you truly love someone and they love you in return, you ruin your lives together.” (p. 254)

“I just do the best I can to face what life brings. That’s the secret, you know. That’s the way you change your fate.” (p. 258)

“Life is a mystery, and it should be so, for the sorrow that accompanies being human and the choices one will have to make are a burden, too heavy for most to know before their time comes.” (p. 266)

“It is simply the way of the world to lose everything you have ever loved. In this, we are like everyone else.” (p. 297)

“Well, we can’t really know our parents, can we?…Even for those with the sight, parents are unfathomable creatures.” (p. 331)

“But rules were never the point. It was finding out who you were.” (p. 365)

“Know that the only remedy for love is to love more.” (p. 366)

***

The book closes with unexpected developments and a new set of rules, one of which I know from my own life: “Always leave out seed for the birds when the first snow falls.” I thoroughly enjoyed this story and look forward to reading others by Alice Hoffman!

Hoffman, Alice. The Rules of Magic: A Novel (The Practical Magic Series Book 1). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

To end this post, I’m including a link to a lovely song, “A Case of You,” by Joni Mitchell taken from the soundtrack of the movie, “Practical Magic,” which I plan to watch, someday very soon. 

If you’ve read this book or others by the author, please share some of your thoughts in the comments!

 

Critique Group: what we bring to the table

 

The first Wednesday evening of each month finds me at the local library rearranging the tables for critique group. This gathering of writers and illustrators for children’s works has taken place for about 18 months, now, and has evolved a great deal during that time. Attendees come and go with their own particular needs, which is to be anticipated with this type of group, and a usual core of ‘regulars’ shows up on a dependable basis.

Members include those who are traditionally and self-published, in addition to those who are seeking their first publication, or who might just enjoy the process of writing. We share our works in progress, give voice to our successes and disappointments, offer praise and helpful advice, in addition to discussing common concerns related to our craft and industry.

I think that the biggest change I have seen during this time is the wide variety of creations that those attending bring in to read, show, and discuss. Yes, writers still share complete and partial picture books or chapter book texts. In addition, we’ve mulled over many a query letter and just had our first taste of a press release, as well. Illustrations now run the gamut from sketches to full-color renderings and include those to be used in picture books, magazine/newspaper stories, social media banners, and for pure inspiration!

Bottom line, there’s a great deal of “work” and communication that needs attention, beyond the specific written and/or illustrated products that we hope to publish. Within our ranks, we’re finding a supportive environment for ALL of those needs, and we’re each adding to or reinforcing our personal knowledge with every new encounter.

I can hardly wait to see what the second half of this year brings!

If YOU belong to a critique group, I would love to read comments about the types of works that are shared.

~Becky~