Friday Five: What I’m Doing During My MG Break

So October is my step-away-from-the-MG month. I’m taking four weeks between finishing the first draft and starting to revise. Why? Well, mostly, because everybody (right?) says it’s a good thing to do. And you can probably add to that that I’m a bit nervous about this revision, just because it’s been a while and my head is telling me all sorts of things that could go wrong. Which will totally be cured by waiting a month to start (right?).

What am I doing with that month, though? Oh, several things!

  1. I drafted a new picture book and sent it off to my critique group. It was a new idea mostly because when I looked back at my past PiBoIdMo ideas, nothing shouted “This one! This one!” I’m going to look through again this weekend and actually, you know, think about some of them.
  2. Looking forward to PiBoIdMo 2014 and thinking about how I might want to do it differently. Like maybe I want to write down 30 titles. Because titles are so much easier than ideas. Ha. And buying this awesome 2014 PiBoIdMo notebook from CafePress.
  3. Watching summer turn into fall and thinking about how this will be the first year in many that I’ll be driving to and from work in the dark, thinking about ways to stay alert and productive once I’m home, at least a few nights a week, instead of just heading right for the pajamas and cat snuggles. Tips and suggestions welcome!
  4. Making some trips. Next weekend I’m going to KidLitCon in Sacramento. So excited to meet people who are part of a world I love and to hear more discussion on diversity in books and what bloggers can do about it. Then my husband and I will make a quick run up and back to see my son in his first college concert.  His latin jazz combo will be playing here. How gorgeous is that? And the acoustics are amazing.
  5. Reading, reading, reading. Right now I seem to be on a mystery kick–just finished and really enjoyed Annette Dashofy’s second Zoe Chambers novel, Lost Legacy, and moved on with a Yay! Finally! to Deborah Crombie’s newest, To Dwell in Darkness. Then, happy dance, I found two more books by favorite authors at the bookmobile today: Elly Griffiths’ The Outcast Dead (If you haven’t read Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series, start now) and Jill Paton Walsh’s The Late Scholar, a new one in her “Based on the characters of Dorothy L. Sayers” series (and, Sayers’ fans, Walsh’s books are a very, very good continuation of Sayer’s own books). So, you know. I’m set for at least a few days!

Happy October, everyone!

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Saturday Six: Links to Share

Lately, I feel like I’m checking in a blogs a lot, but not necessarily posting comments. I know there’s a lot of discussion around about whether blogs are on the way out, and I never know if my pattern is part of a trend or just a piece of my general business? Either way, I know there is still a lot of good stuff out there, and I thought I’d share a few today.

1. First, in case you missed it during the week, a link to my own blog–but to someone else’s post! Annette Dashofy guest-posted here on Wednesday about managing and participating in an online critique group. She’s got great stuff in the post, and if you leave a comment before Sunday night, I’ll enter you in a drawing for a copy of The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.

2. Have you been following the Ed DeCaria’s Madness 2012! Poetry Competition? I’ve been popping in and out to see some rounds and give an occasional vote. I’m not a big poetry expert, but when something wows me, well…then I feel like adding my reaction to the count. It’s an amazing concept, I think–each poet gets a random word to build a poem around, and their poem comes up against another poet’s poem, written around a totally different word. Susan Taylor Brown wrote a great post here on dealing with her word and her fears–check it out. I wasn’t sure what page to link to for the contest itself, but here’s the scoreboard for the competition, which does have links to some of the poems. I think! Myself, I’ve just been watching for status updates on Facebook and then following those posts to the poems. Whether or not you’re a poet, I think this is both amazing and fun.

3. I’ve had people see me at the bookmobile, with my (yes, rather largish) stack of books to check out, and sigh that they wished they had time to read that much. Ack. Yes, I get that there’s never enough hours in the day to do all we want, but I also know that nobody in my family would want to live with me if I didn’t get my reading time in. Even so, I totally know what Jennifer R. Hubbard means about the rarity and the delight of just curling up with some reading time, not letting anything else demand your attention or your minutes. And someday, I’m going to get myself away on the kind of reading retreat Debbi Michiko Florence has been scheduling for herself this past year.

4. Until I was scanning my blog roll for links today, I actually missed this post by Nicole at Viva Scriva on getting back to her WIP after a forced “vacation” from it. Oh, so much here that resonates with me this week, plus some of the links that helped Nicole get back on track. Blog links within blog links–that’s what it’s all about today, folks. BTW, if you don’t have the Viva Scriva blog on your reading list, check them out for a few weeks–I’m guessing they’ll be a permanent add.

5. Another post I missed until this morning (okay, maybe I AM skimming too much!) is Jen Robinson’s review of Robin LaFevers‘ new book, Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book 1. I am a huge fan of Robin’s Theodosia books and enjoy her Nathaniel Fludd books, too. Not to mention I read Robin’s blog posts avariciously for her help with plotting. I haven’t read this new book yet, because if the car works and the creek don’t rise, I’m hoping to go buy my copy (and finally meet Robin!) at her Books Inc signing on April 4th. Jen’s review should give you a good idea, though, about why you want to read this book.

6. Here’s a fun post from Beth Revis, where she polled the members of her debut-authors group, the Elevensies, on the top three things they learned in their first year of publication. There’s a definite thread of letting the things that are out of one’s control be, well…out of your control. And another one on getting that next book started.

Enjoy the links, and enjoy your weekend. Happy writing inspiration to everyone!

Guest Post: Annette Dashofy on her Online Critique Group

It’s that time again: time for the monthly guest-post on critiquing. Remember, leave a comment on this post, and I’ll enter you to win a copy of my book, The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.  I met Annette Dashofy when I went to Pittsburgh for the Pennwriters Conference (one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to, btw). We’d talked back and forth on Twitter before, and meeting her in person confirmed everything I thought about her from our online conversations–she’s sharp, funny, and a great person to be around.

Annette Dashofy is secretary of the Mary Roberts Rinehart (Pittsburgh) Chapter of Sisters in Crime and vice president of Pennwriters. She’s a regular contributor to Pennsylvania Magazine. Her short fiction includes “A Murder Runs Through It” from Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology (2011) and “A Signature in Blood,” a 2007 Derringer Award nominee. She is currently working with an agent on revisions to her mystery novel set in the world of Thoroughbred racing. She blogs at Writing, Etc.  and Working Stiffs. To learn more, check out her website .

And here’s Annette’s excellent post.

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Over the years, I’ve belonged to a number of critique groups, both face-to-face and online. Becky has asked me to share a bit of my experience with my online group.

I started out as just another member. When the owner put out a call for assistance, I became one of three moderators. Now the three of us have taken over as owners. We divide the tasks. I’m known as The Cleaning Lady.

Our group is genre-specific. We’re crime-fiction writers, although we span a wide range from historical to traditional to thriller to paranormal. And anything in between. We keep a maximum of 20 members, and participation is required. Each member must critique three submissions and post one chapter each month. If you want to run more than one chapter a month through the group, you must critique three for each one.

I’d love to say the system runs flawlessly, but I’d be lying. It’s my job to track everyone’s submissions and critiques. If a member stops participating, it’s up to me to nudge them. If they continue to drop the ball, I drop them.

Sometimes I hate my job.

But with only 20 members, we need to keep everyone honest. Besides, I’m not the wicked witch (although I’m sure there’s at least one member who might disagree—you know who you are!). If life has simply gotten in the way, I’m happy to put a member “on hold” for a month or two, reserving their space until they can get back to writing.

There are good and bad points to a critique group of this size. With twenty members, not everyone is going to be on the same level skill-wise, whether you’re talking about writing skill or critiquing skill. We have published authors. We have rank beginners. Not all the stories are to everyone’s tastes, either. But the good part is that members do tend to gravitate toward those they can best work with. No one has to read all the submissions (although there are those over-achievers who try—you know who YOU are, too!) We tend to have “clusters” of members who critique each other’s work.

Each member gets at least three critiques on each of their chapters. Often they’ll get more. So while they may not find one person’s comments particularly helpful, another critique might really ring true to them. Even the very unskilled, beginning critiquer can offer some insight from a reader’s point of view.

Regardless of how helpful a particular critique might be, I think it’s of the utmost importance to be gracious in receiving it. You may disagree with the feedback, but that person took the time to read your stuff and offer suggestions on how they think you might make it stronger. You can take it or leave it, but it’s nice to offer a genuine thank you to the critiquer. After all, that person spent time on your story. Time they could have spent working on their own.

I’ve been a member of other online critique groups as well. Most weren’t as structured as this one. But those didn’t seem as productive either. Having the obligation to post and critique each month keeps our members plodding (and plotting) ahead. I’ve run three and a half manuscripts through this group and my writing has benefited greatly from the feedback I’ve received.