Monday, September 22, 2014

Guest Post by Charlie N. Holmberg

Occasionally you come across an idea that is so charming you wish you'd thought of it. Well, maybe I shouldn't say "you." Maybe I should own up to the fact that it is "I," and that I went totally green-eyed monster when I learned of the magical world Charlie N. Holmberg has created in her debut series. 

THE PAPER MAGICIAN, featuring Ceony Twill, is enchanting readers worldwide.  It's good enough to make me jealous, and that is about the highest commendation I can think of. :)   -- JDH

Collecting Criticism: Writing Groups vs Critique Partners

by Charlie N. Holmberg

Writing groups aren’t for everyone.


But hear me out.

When I say writing groups aren’t for everyone, I don’t mean that some writers don’t need criticism. Every writer needs criticism. Rowling and Brown and Martin and Patterson all need a second, third, and/or fourth pair of eyes on their work. But over the years I’ve noticed two models for critique: the writing group model and the critique-partners model. I personally started out with the first and have moved to the second with grand success.

So which model is right for you? Allow me to deconstruct them:

The Writing Group

The Writing Group is a very sociable setting, great for making friends and sharing cookies and just generally being loud. It’s like an in-depth book club.

·         Getting to hear group discussion on your work as though spying on a book club.
·         Acquiring a more social aspect to writing, which can be very isolating work.
·         Eliminating a lot of wait time. Everyone reads your manuscript at the same time and gives you feedback at the same time, so there are no gaps between critiques.
·         Real-time feedback. If you have a question, you can ask it and get an answer right away. No waiting on emails.
·         Keeping structure. At least, a writing group should have ground rules. Otherwise it’s chaos.

·         Disappearing into the crowd. If you tend toward introversion, it’s easy to get your voice swallowed up.
·         Defensive authors. A writer who won’t take criticism and defends their every word makes for an awkward meeting.
·         Lazy readers. Sometimes group members don’t stay on the ball, and you end up with only a portion of the feedback you were hoping for.
·         Possible embarrassment. Not everyone is tactful in a writing group. I once sat in on a writing group where a guy actually printed out a speech about why another member’s writing was terrible. Made her cry. It was awkward.
·         Scheduling problems. Finding fellow writers who can all meet at the same time and the same place can be a headache, especially if your group is online and you have to deal with time zones.

Critique Partners

Critique partners are fantastic if you don’t have fellow writers in your area. A few of mine I met online; others are friends from previous writing groups or from high school/college. It’s a great way to get feedback without changing out of your pajamas.

·         Having a wider range of people critiquing your work (since they don’t have to be local).
·         Receiving all your critiques pre-written for you. No note-taking; it’s all in the document. This also makes organizing the criticism a lot easier.
·         No scheduling required.
·         Picking and choosing your readers is a lot easier. If you use a critique partner you end up not liking, it’s simple to cut them out of the loop and use someone else; in a writing-group setting, if you don’t like someone’s critiques, you either have to deal with it or leave the group as a whole.

·         No community desserts.
·         There’s a lot more wait time. Some critique partners are really quick to get back to you, others aren’t. And sometimes you’re not sure if that email actually went through…
·         No group discussion. Someone may point out a problem, and if you want a second opinion on that opinion, you have more emails to write and more waiting to do.
·         You have to actually find each critique partner. Joining a writing group is a two-step process: find the group and join it. Finding the same number of readers you’d have in a writing group to use as critique partners is much more time-consuming because you have to seek out each one personally.
·         It’s less sociable.

So how do I do it?

I have about fifteen critique partners, which I suppose I could split into two “writing groups”—my alpha readers (fellow writers) and my beta readers (non-writing readers). My rough draft goes out to the first set of readers, and I make changes to my manuscript based on their comments as they filter through my email. That modified manuscript then goes out to my beta readers, and I incorporate their changes as well.

If you go the route of the critique-partners-model, I highly recommend using several of them. That way you get the varied feedback of a writing group, and if someone is too busy to read your stuff, you have others to fall back on.

Side note: If you’re one of those writers who won’t share your work for fear of others stealing it, you can always do a poor man’s copyright and email the manuscript to yourself. Don’t open the package when it arrives. The post office stamp will more or less keep your creative works yours.

Homegrown in Salt Lake City, Charlie was raised a Trekkie with three sisters who also have boy names. She writes fantasy novels and does freelance editing on the side. She’s a proud BYU alumna, plays the ukulele, and owns too many pairs of glasses.


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Tuesday, September 2, 2014


WARNING: If you haven’t read THE SOURCE yet, the following contains a spoiler. Step away from the screen.

There. Give them a sec.

Okay, are those folk gone? Yes?

Good. I want to share a bit about Mercy and Jilo’s relationship—and my relationship with Jilo—and why Jilo had to die at the end of THE SOURCE.

A lot of what you see in the series was planned. A lot—including Jilo herself —wasn’t. When I started writing THE LINE, I knew where Mercy’s story would begin and where it would end. Or so I thought. I knew it would kick off with Ginny’s murder, and I knew it would end up very much near the place where THE VOID does end.  Still, everything in between those points? Phew. Not the same story at all.

Mercy started off with a different boyfriend, Daniel Trujillo, a soldier who had returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan with a djinn on his back. This boyfriend hung around for four drafts before it hit me that he just didn’t want to be in the story, and that he was much more interested in Oliver than in Mercy anyway. (Cue sound of record needle scraping across a vinyl album.)

Martell was supposed to play a much greater role in THE LINE, serving as the northern, urban, African-American foil to Mercy’s entitled white southern belle. I didn’t meet Jilo until my fourth or fifth (maybe sixth) stab at writing THE LINE. I kept getting up to around page 150, and then the story would fall apart.

Jilo Wills was intended to be a toss out character, serving only to send frissons through the Taylors when her name got mentioned as they sat around the kitchen table discussing Martell and his possible involvement in Ginny’s murder. And then once again, I hit page 150. I knew there was a story in all this, I just didn’t know how to tease it out. I sat staring at the screen, not having a clue which way to write. Then I heard Jilo talking to me. Really. Full on auditory hallucination. “Jilo, she knows what happen here. You listen to her, boy. She tell you the story.” I knew I either needed to see a doctor or start typing fast. I let myself run with it.

As the story progressed, I could feel an emotional connection forming between Jilo and Mercy. They wanted to be friends. They wanted to look out for and protect each other. Now, here’s a little scoop on Miss Mercy: Mercy can be a difficult character to write, in the sense that if she doesn’t like what I’m doing, she will not participate. She will dig in her heels, with her arms crossed over her chest, and stare at me until I come up with something she likes. (And yes, I am completely aware how imbalanced that statement makes me sound, even if you are willing to overlook Jilo’s talking to me.) For example, THE VOID was supposed to begin with the Taylors having a little fun, time traveling to the last party at the Greenwich Plantation, a Savannah mansion that once rivalled the Biltmore Estate, until a short in a sewing machine sparked a fire that leveled it. The party got scrapped when I couldn't find a nice enough 1921 maternity dress for Mercy to wear to it. Seriously. Like it’s my fault that in the early 1920’s not enough pregnant women attended balls to have inspired designers to do maternity wear for such events.

Still, all I had to do to get Mercy to show up for a scene and deliver was to write Jilo into it.

After a while, I realized Mercy and I had both grown too dependent on the old woman of the crossroads. By the time I began writing THE SOURCE, every time Mercy encountered a difficulty, her first response was to turn to Jilo. (And every time I started to get bogged down in plot, my go-to idea was to bring Jilo in.) Jilo got very good at solving Mercy’s problems, and even better at solving mine.

The story was supposed to be Mercy’s hero’s journey, but Jilo grew into such a large character, even though I hated it, I knew I had to move her offstage. Otherwise, Mercy would never grow as a person, as it was too easy for her to run to Jilo. (And I would never grow as a writer, as…well, it was way too easy for me to run to Jilo, too.)

As I drew near the end of THE SOURCE, and I knew the death scene was coming, I started slacking off. Not getting it finished. Watching television or playing computer solitaire. Finally, I grabbed a box of tissues and set down to finish the story. Lordy, was this boy a mess by the end of the chapter! But I completed the book and sent it off to my publisher. Then, much to my horror, I realized I had committed to writing THE VOID without Jilo’s voice to guide me. Believe you me, it wasn’t easy finding that groove without Jilo’s voice to guide me.

WARNING: Spoiler for THE VOID follows.

Now, here’s the point where if you don’t want a spoiler for THE VOID, you should click away. (*Hums the Jeopardy theme.*)

Okay, so maybe it isn’t that much of a spoiler, but as I have told a few people who hate the idea of not seeing Jilo and Mercy together again, a little thing like dying is not gonna keep Mother Jilo down. I, too, wanted to give them one last chance to save the world together. So, you may not see Jilo show up when you expect to see her, or how you expect to see her, but in the end, when our girl Mercy really needs a shot of Jilo, Mother doesn’t let her down. And if you don’t like spoilers, but couldn’t resist reading this anyway, don’t worry, there are so many twists in THE VOID, this one little tidbit is just a drop in the bucket.