Monthly Archives: March 2016

Writing Critique Groups: Are They Worth It?

When it comes to writing a novel, short story, poem, etc. it’s essential to get outside opinions. Or, more specifically, to get critical feedback of your work. Your work will not be the best it can be without at least a few other people reading and critiquing it.

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Why?

You are too close to your work. There comes a point during the writing process where you can’t see the holes within your story. You can’t tell what is unclear or missing or out of order. Just because everything makes sense in your head doesn’t mean it does so on paper.

For this reason alone, it’s a good idea to consider joining a critique group. (Not to mention that sometimes family members, significant others, and the like aren’t the best people to be handing your work in progress to. Many times they won’t give you valuable feedback, or you won’t be honestly open to listening to their critiques.)

Critique groups can also provide a sense of community, support, accountability, and seriousness, as well as take your work to the next level (and hopefully result in getting your work published).

However, finding the right critique group is essential. Without the correct people, a critique group could do more damage than good. Like aiding in the formation of bad writing habits. Or lacking/skewing perspective. Or over-explaining every little detail within your story.

How can this happen?

Often times, a critique group meets once or twice a month, and will set a limit to the number of pages read between meetings. In my previous critique group, we met once a month. There were five of us within the group, and though we were all fiction writers with a tendency to write fantasy/science fiction (and thus were familiar with what type of content went into such works), we only read ten pages from each person a month.

See some problems?

  • With having so much time between meetings, it was easy to overlook what we’d wanted to say about each other’s work.
  • With reading so few pages a month, it was even easier to forget the overall story line. So, while we were able to adequately comment on a page by page basis, the general story could have some major problems that went unnoticed. (And they did… I remember having to go back and re-read sections of my cohorts’ stories from months ago because I couldn’t recall what had happened and thus was confused with the current submission.)
  • Have you done the math yet? If a novel is 250 words per page (double spaced) and a book is 80,000 words, and we only read 10 pages a month…that’s over a year to read a work in progress one time through! Not very effective.

But, if you find the right critique group, you will be a lot better off than you were before.

My current critique group is made up of individuals from my MA in Writing program. We’ve all been through the program’s classes and writing workshops. We’re all familiar with each other’s works, personalities, feedback styles, etc. More importantly, we know how to workshop and have all built up a thicker skin, so that when we receive negative feedback, we’re better equipped to handle it. (This doesn’t mean that we don’t get mad at the individual(s) ripping apart our work, but we know to take a breath (or several), calm down, and then, more objectively, take another look at what was said. Often times, but not always, that individual(s) had a valid point.)

The group I’m presently in also moves at a faster pace and meets more often than my previous group, which is great because we get more accomplished, can remember what happened, are more structured, and look at both the big and small pictures. It doesn’t hurt that we’re all nit-picky with editing, so after looking at the bigger issues, we’ll go back and tear apart all the smaller ones.

As a side note, it’s good to also have a few beta readers. A beta reader is different from a critique group in that a beta reader usually reads the entire novel before providing feedback. Beta readers won’t comment on the smaller problems, but they’ll see the big holes within your work that your critique group might miss.

What do you think of critique groups? Is it worthwhile to be a part of one?

(Photo courtesy of Paolo Fefe’.)

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“Me Before You” Book Review

Okay, so this is my second week in a row posting a book review, but after reading this novel, I had to share my thoughts with you! (And with the movie being released on June 3, 2016, it might be a good idea to get this book read.)8522901355_96c1bdf450_z

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes blew me away. I laughed. I cried. I experienced the full range of emotions. More than that, I become fully immersed in the characters and story. When I closed the back cover, I felt that I had lost a really good friend.

Eccentrically dressed, small town Lou and once high-powered, adventure laden Will are two people who would have never met, if Will hadn’t been the victim of a horrible accident, which left him a quadriplegic, and if Lou hadn’t been hired as his caretaker (despite being seemingly unqualified for the job).

When the truth behind why Lou was chosen as Will’s caregiver unveils itself – that Will wants to end his life – Lou has six months to change his mind. And, of course, this novel being predominately a love story, Lou and Will begin to fall for each other, and have to deal with the complications that arise with their more unusual circumstances.

The question remains: Will Lou’s attempts to cheer Will up help to change his mind?

More importantly: Will their love for each other be enough?

Yes, this book contains romance, and, yes, it deals with some serious and controversial issues. (You may find you disagree with some of the decisions made in this novel. That’s perfectly fine. The characters certainly didn’t all agree with each other. Or all like each other.) However, the core of this story is about the choices people make in their lives and the impact of those choices, not just to the people who make them, but also to those around them.

(A quick note on the romance: It’s not the mushy, star-crossed insta-love that’s so often seen in romance novels. There’s actually not a huge amount of overt romantic moments. The love that develops between Lou and Will is subtle and realistic.)

A good portion of what made this novel so successful was its combination of humorous situations common in fiction and hard shots of reality that force readers to question their beliefs, ideals, etc.

Engaging and thought provoking, Me Before You is a book, not simply to read, but to experience.

(Photo courtesy of Johnny Lai.)

“We Are the Ants” Book Review

“We Are the Ants” is a Young Adult semi-science fiction novel by Shaun David Hutchinson. I say semi-science fiction because the novel is more contemporary than Sci-Fi, and it deals with some very realistic and dark issues. However, if I rated this novel on a scale of 1-5, with five being I absolutely loved it, I’d try to cheat the system and give it a six.15785386571_4b0249c2ff_z

At first, I was put off by the amount of cursing within the opening chapters (heads up there’s several f-bombs), but I quickly became engrossed with the protagonist Henry’s personality, trauma, and, most importantly, story.

This novel engages readers, and forces them to witness bullying, mental illness, and come to understandings that they would normally otherwise rather not think about. Shaun David Hutchinson uses Henry to send some very important messages to readers: “Remember the past, live the present, write the future” and that we do matter; maybe not to the universe or in the grand scheme of things – all of us will be forgotten in time – but we do matter and because we live the present, we’ll keep on.

After all, we’re the ants. And what do ants do? They keep marching one by one.

There’s a deepness to this story that isn’t initially apparent, but then showcases itself brilliantly through the pain of loss, the presence of new love and the guilt and fear that sometimes accompany that love, and much more.

This novel begins with Henry telling readers about how he’s been abducted by aliens multiple times, and that they’ve now given him a choice: press the button and save Earth or don’t press the button and on 29 January 2016 the world is going to end. The question remains: will Henry press the button?

Though there is a love story within this book, this novel is so much more complex than a YA romance between Henry and Diego. Henry’s ex-boyfriend Jesse – the love of his life – committed suicide. Henry’s mother is a chain-smoking waitress, who cannot stand her one-time dream of being a chef because that dream reminds her too much of Henry’s dead-beat, door-slamming father, who abandoned them. Henry’s brother is a college dropout. The most popular boy in school alternates bullying and making out with Henry. Henry’s grandmother suffers from Alzheimer’s. The list goes on, and it is dark and amazing and heartfelt, and at times when readers need it most, comical.

Insight abounds in this novel, and what’s more is that the insight is conceivable. Usually in YA books, the protagonist possesses an awareness other characters miss, and often that insight is too deep or advanced for that character. However, in this novel Henry struggles with the big life questions. He asks others for answers, and the answers they provide create a well-rounded and realistic picture, with each of their answers reflecting the events that have occurred in their lives and how those events have impacted them. This story and its characters are believable to the point I imagined it as real life. That’s a big part of what makes this novel so engrossing, and what had me smiling, crying, and feeling all the emotions throughout the tale.

This book left my mind reeling with thoughts long after I closed the back cover. Definitely take the time to read this.

(Photo courtesy of Michael Brace.)

Travel Blogging: A Helpful Endeavor?

I’ve always loved traveling, however over the past number of years there seems to have been many more things to do than time to do them. What happened? Traveling fell off the radar.18541833062_daad0e01d0_k

This past summer was the last time I traveled somewhere (I visited my cousin at Dharmalaya in Eugene, Oregon, and then meandered over to Deschutes National Forest.), but before that was even longer. This saddens me because traveling fulfills a part of my life nothing else can.

So, this summer I’m planning on going to New Orleans with a friend, who had two other opportunities to go, but wasn’t able to. When I mentioned to her I’d always wanted to explore the “Big Easy,” she was delighted to tag along. I’m also doing something a bit more geeky…another friend is joining me in Florida to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and, yes, there will be epic House rivalry pictures. (We’re also going to the Everglades for an airboat tour and are hanging out at some of the beaches. Maybe attempt to act more our age.)

Anyway, I mention all this because as I’m planning on doing more and more traveling, I want to share my experiences. Originally, I’d intended on completing a three month road trip around the U.S. Circumstances arose that prevent me from doing this, but as I was planning the road trip, I thought about starting a travel blog.5530280949_3e3c2f38b5_b

Part of my research for this trip included exploring numerous travel blogs. I found all these extremely helpful in plotting out my trip. And, though my travels will be less of a long-term adventure, I still think it would be exciting to share them with people. Whenever I want to go someplace, I look up reviews because I want to know what other people enjoyed and how they spent their time at those locations. Travel blogging provides me with a more in-depth picture of what the bloggers experienced, and more than that, travel blogging tends to share details and locations (restaurants, hang outs, etc.) that are off the beaten path.

What do you guys think of travel blogging? Got any places you’d love to see?

(Photos courtesy of Don McCullough and Keoni Cabral. A little backstory on the pictures: The first picture is of the Oregon Coast. Though I didn’t take this pic, I have been to the Pacific Coast and it is as beautiful as the picture shows. The second photo was taken in New Orleans at an abandoned Six Flags amusement park thanks to Hurricane Katrina. The photographer has the entire story on her flickr page; all you have to do is click the link. It’s an interesting story. You should take a look!)