Assembling Your Critique Team

Team Spirit, December 2006

Originally uploaded by Jiheffe

Once you have done all you can to your novel, story, or poem, you need someone to look at it. Over at SheWrites I give some helpful hints on assembling the group of people who can help you take your work to the next level. And as a bonus, I offer five tips for writerly ettiquette!

Head on over and take a look!

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The Lucky Charms Method For 1st Drafts

Lucky Charms!

Originally uploaded by Carolyn Coles

In my graduate workshop last week, there was a student struggling with a memoir. He was frustrated about how to wind from one moment of his life to the next. What he submitted in class was a long piece, weighted down with a lot of logistical details and back story on his family. I couldn’t tell he hadn’t had a lot of fun writing it and, I sort of felt that as a reader. When I spoke to him about the piece, he gave me the idea that he wanted to get to the “good” parts—when the story heated up, but he had to get himself there, and this was the problem. I advised him to just write the parts he wanted to write. The metaphor was that his life was like a box of Lucky Charms cereal. He was being a good boy and eating everything in his bowl, writing down everything that happened. But to capture the full emotional intensity of his experience on the page, he needed to just pluck out the marshmallows, and leave the flakes behind.

By this I meant that he should write only the good parts, the irresistible moments—the marshmallows. Once he is done with those, we will organize it into a shapely draft.

I am sharing this because I think that there may be readers out there who are making the same mistake. You think you have to write the story in a chronological way. But I saw write whatever you feel like writing. Don’t think of new ways to steal your joy from yourself. Write the parts of the story that are burning to be told. We’ll worry about the rest later.

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Read This Book For Free

Yesterday, I talked to Doug Seibold, publisher of Agate Books. I don’t get to talk to him often, but when I do, it’s always a pleasure. This time he wanted to talk about Rosalyn Story, author of the new novel WADING HOME. “She is a demon when it comes to plot.”
WADING HOME is about New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We all know that this is a watershed event in American history– so why hasn’t this novel by an acclaimed writer gotten any attention? We all have our theories, but Doug isn’t interested in throwing blame around. He wants to get this excellent novel in the hands of readers. So, for the rest of this month, you can have the ebook for free. He’s confident that if you read it, you will love it and you will tell other people.
I haven’t heard anything about this book– and I like to think of myself as being in the loop! This, I think shows, how certain stories get all the limelight. I would usually wait until I have had a chance to read something before urging you all to check it out, but the free download will be gone by then. And besides, it’s free. If you take my advice, download it, and don’t like it, what have you lost.
Here is information about getting your FREE ebook from Agate, or you can cruise over to Amazon. And here is Doug’s blog post about the plight of serious novels in this uncertain climate and great info about Rosalyn Story, the author.
Go ahead. Let’s give this book a chance.

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The Real Housewives of Civil Rights

Sometimes, we just need to laugh.

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Damn, by Pierre Bennu

Why am I so in love with this video? An entire love relationship that lasts the length of subway ride.

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Eduardo, The History Maker, Links

Eduardo Corral

Originally uploaded by kleopatrjones
  • Eduardo Corral wins the Yale Younger! The first Latino in the prize’s 106 histoy. (An African American won it, too, back before I was born.)
  • Bestselling author Jacqueline Mitchard talks about starting over at age 56.
  • Can book critis and authors be friends?
  • Are male readers interested in what women have to say?
  • What it’s like to be a corpse on Law & Order. (chung-chung)
  • Do you have a habit of repeating yourself in your writing? This website can help.
  • How long do you read before you give up on a book?
  • Yelling to The Sky is a new movie starring Zoe Kravitz and Gabourey Sidibe. (Poor Gabby, is she going to play a scary black chick for the rest of her life?)
  • And soeaking of black actors in movies.. there were hardly any in 2010.
  • Lendle lets you share Kindle books.
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    The Girl With The Silver Sparrow Tattoo

    Sparrow Tattoo

    Originally uploaded by Bob 111

    and other madness

    I get a lot of email, tweets, etc. from young writers, many of them African American, who want to know how to get published. A few weeks ago, a really interesting young woman told me that she has been advised to self-publish her novel in order to get a following and only then would she be able to find an agent. I asked her if the person who had given her that advice had even seen her work. She said he hadn’t, but that because she was a black writer and wasn’t writing “street lit”, self publishing was the only way to see her work in print. (I called her right away and told her that she had just as much right to traditional publishing as anyone else. If I could do it, she could do it.)

    Then, today, a twitter pal, sent me a link to her own blog. Here is a paragraph, to give you the feel for the piece:

    Last month, while attending the Writer’s Digest Writer’s Conference, I spoke to a fellow black writer about the novel she planned to pitch. She flat out said, “ It’s a hood novel”. I wanted to say “I’ve never seen that section in Borders” but I thought against it. Turns out, she openly admitted that she’s tried to pitch other novels before, but most agents wanted an author with previous experience. So in order to gain that experience, she decided to write a hood tale, create some buzz, build a following, and then publish a book she’s actually passionate about. It occurred to me that I was talking to a genius.

    Both these young writers’ stories have been bothering me.

    Simply put, it seems to me that only black writers are put in these situations and given such extreme advice. I talk to a lot of young writers, and the black ones are told to self-publish. As for the “hood novel” issue. I don’t even know where to start.

    Here are some quick bullet points:

  • How exactly would building a reputation in one type of writing open the door for you to then suddenly publish something else? Are there meaningful precedents that give you the idea that this is an effective strategy?
  • Ask yourself why you write. Is it because you have something in particular you have to say or just because you want to be published?
  • Do you really think there is an audience for books written by people who don’t care about what they write? Even using the term “hood novel” suggests a lack of respect for the readers or the literature itself. Readers can tell and they will not respond well. I happen to know one of the authors of one of the books pictured in the graphic and I can tell you that she cares deeply about her characters and the world she writes about. Readers give her the love right back.
  • Did someone tell you this was supposed to be easy? My first novel was rejected by 22 publishers. And my forthcoming title was also rejected all over town. It’s like that. I didn’t decide to write The Girl With The Silver Sparrow Tattoo because I heard that was hot. (And if you are going to try to write for cash, think big. Why compromise yourself for chump change?)

    Okay. I am getting off my soapbox now. I think I need a new category on my blog… “tough love.”

    Keep writing, people. Write to your passion. Write what needs to be written. Write what you think needs to be read. All this cynical stuff.. well, to quote a character from my novel, The Untelling— That is NOT what Dr. King died for.

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    A Fiction Lesson in Poetry Drama

    I saw some tweet-tweet here and tweet-tweet there about someone having stolen the cardboard cutout of Langston Hughes from the hugely popular DC poetry venue, Busboys and Poets. I can’t say that I gave it a whole lot of thought, but I did wonder who had stolen it and why.
    Well, the culprit has come to light. It’s THOMAS SAYERS ELLIS. I was totally shocked and then I wasn’t. And that reminded me of the best advice I have ever heard for fiction writers.
    The ending to a story should be surprising, but at the same time inevitable.
    If you know TSE, you know he’s a hardcore DC man and only someone from DC would be sufficiently invested. And you know he’s a but, well, demonstrative when there is something he believes in. And you know he was in DC at the time of the heist. (We all were in DC, actually.) And when you really think about it, it sounds like something he would do. (The point of the theft was to protest the compensation that Busboys offers it’s poets.)And, of course, the issue of the gentrification of U Street gives the story the gravitas it needs to sort of hold it down.
    I am not blogging this to say who’s wrong and who’s right. I just don’t know enough. But the way the story unfolded was, well, art.
    So there you go, fiction writers. Take notes.
    Details here.

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    So, You’ve Been Workshopped, Now What?

    10-10-10 If you are a member of a writing group, you have to figure out how to sit quietly while a bunch of people say exactly what they think about your work. It’s hard to be there and take notes with a non-confrontational facial expression while people say, “I wanted to see the mother more!” or “I just didn’t buy the boyfriend.” Instead of saying, “That’s because he’s not for sale,” you have to say something like “Thank you, everyone, for your critique. It was very helpful.” And, it turns out, that was the easy part. Now you have ten copies of your story, marked up with ten people’s opinions. What to do now?
    Ten helpful hints over at SheWrites!

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    AWP 11, So How Was It?

    AWP Logo

    Originally uploaded by kleopatrjones

    Well, it was okay.

    As you may now, I go to AWP and I usually have a grand time, meeting up with old friends and making new ones. The book fair is like a candy store. And there is nothing I love more than an exclusive reception.

    For some reason, I couldn’t quite get my AWP mojo on. I suppose it was inevitable. For years, I have heard writers complain that it’s like a vipers’ nest. Or that they get overwhelmed by all the people. I once remember being a young writer– this was right before Leaving Atlanta was released– and I was eagerly chattering on to an older more established writer that I admire. She looked at me and gave a weary semi-smile and said, “Give me your card. If I promise to buy your book, will you promise to stop telling me about it.” My little feelings were hurt and I was quite embarrassed, but… Ten years later, although I would never say something like that to anyone, I kind of understand. So, Grumpy Sarcastic Older Writer From Yesteryear, I apologize and I salute you.

    The social dynamic was also a little intense. I has some interactions with friends which caused me to lose some of the respect that I had for them when we were friends not in the context of Writerpalooza. But by the same token, there are friends that I emerged after the three days, closer than ever. So I think I came out ahead on that front.

    Oh, my book? Oh yeah, that. Well, I gave a reading that I wasn’t all that pleased with. Murphy’s Law was in full effect. I can be something of a perfectionist, so I was kicking myself… until a professional setback took over and there was no need for me to kick myself, since that setback was all upside my head. (Again, thank heavens for real friends.)

    But there were a couple of lovely moments. Even though my reading was off, the others on the Algonquin Panel were *magic*. (Caroline Leavitt.. wow.) Then, there was the panel to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington fellowship. it was absolutely inspiring to hear from people who actually knew the woman in whose name this award is endowed. Her children spoke, as did her old friends. I am honored to have been the 30th recipient. When some of my students from five years ago showed up, all grown up and doing well, I teared up like an old lady at a graduation.

    So that’s the round up. I didn’t even take any pictures. I didn’t even tweet.

    It was like that.

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