Do You Need a Critique Group – Or Something ELSE?

Yesterday I cooked brunch for writer friends Jim Sorenson and Sage Walker. (That’s me in my Orchid Throne apron that the amazingly talented Minerva Spencer made for me. Isn’t it awesome??)

We sat in the grape arbor, listened to the bluebirds feed their nestlings, and talked all things writing. It got me thinking about critique and what we need to improve our work that ISN’T critique. Come on over to the SFF Seven for more. 

Crit Partners vs. Beta Readers

P1012997This week’s topic in the Bordello is critique partners (CPs) – why we do or don’t have them.

It’s surprising to me that, while many aspiring and newbie authors use CPs, it seems like many authors gradually grow away from them over time. Particularly if they are working with editors. Also, more and more these days I hear writers refer to “beta readers” more than CPs, which I think indicates a few trends. 

Anyway, read more about it on the group blog!

Doing Right by Our Friends

boundbyinkHappy Release Day to Marcella Burnard with the newest in her Living Ink urban fantasy series, BOUND BY INK!!

This is such a cool series, with tattoos that capture demons and bind them to people. Marcella has been a friend for a long time, so seeing her books release is always fun for me. I met Marcella online through RWA’s Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal (FFP) chapter, back in… wow – 2009, I think. We used to “meet” every morning in the online water cooler and do writing sprints. Later, when I happened to be out in Olympia, Washington, she drove down to meet me for dinner. I’ve had a number of writing friends come and go over the years. This business seems to be particularly hard on friendships, with some people withdrawing as our careers and fortunes wax and wane.

Marcella, though, has been a steadfast friend to me throughout – something I’ve really come to value.

There’s a saw that friends are the family you choose and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. I have friends who go back most of my life, nearly as long as some of my family and some longer than the younger/newer family members. How closely in contact we are changes all the time, but the best friends are the ones where that doesn’t matter. I recently saw two college friends while I was out in Baltimore and it was lovely to visit with them, touch base with their lives.

The people who are our friends form the fabric of our lives, their threads interweaving with ours. Maybe part of one space of time, maybe running throughout the length. Their impact on us, and of us on them, can be profound.

This is on my mind because a friend of my mother’s died last week. They’d known each other for around thirty years. They shared a whole group of mutual friends, couples who spent lots of time together, partying, traveling, celebrating each others’ milestones. Her death came as a shock to most everyone in that more-dispersed circle. Largely because no one knew she’d fallen ill. All her friends knew was that they’d left messages that she hadn’t returned. Finally she didn’t return so many that one of them pinned down the husband. Turned out she’d not only been sick, but she’d gone comatose, was on life support and the family was meeting to make a decision. She died the following day and the service set for the end of the week.

None of them got to see her before she died.

Of course, by the time they knew, she was beyond communicating. But, while it’s understandable that a family in crisis will circle the wagons and not communicate such a terrible event, it hurt my mom and the woman’s other friends terribly not to be able to say their own goodbyes. They could have let her know one last time that they loved her. For themselves, they could have tied off that thread, instead of it hanging as a ragged edge.

It’s something to think about – if we suddenly fall ill, is there a list of who to contact? For many of us, a phone call to one or two friends will set in motion a chain of communication. It’s probably worth it to make that list. Just in case.

If not for ourselves, then for our friends who love us.

Cleaning Someone Else’s Kitchen

021A lovely vista at Cerrillos State Park from a hike last weekend. I mentioned before that author, critique partner and fab friend Carolyn Crane came to visit for a long weekend.

 She mainly came to Santa Fe to get out of the crushing Minneapolis winter. In fact, when she Tweeted that she didn’t know how she could make it through the endless snowstorms, I sent her a link showing how cheap plane tickets to Albuquerque were and reminded her that I have a guest room.

Ostensibly I was doing her a favor.

 But then she did me one. First of all, having her visit brought several days of nonstop writer convo into my life. Carolyn is one of my favorite people (and RWA roomie!) and we had the best time rambling over numerous topics, gossip, business and ideas. We even came up with an amazing brainstorm for a Sekrit Joint Project. Best of all, Carolyn got along great with David and even had him bringing out his guns to show her the different kinds. You’ll all be pleased to know that her Associates will have a much more varied arsenal now. 🙂

 At the same time, I got back my final set of line edits on an upcoming manuscript. For this third round of edits, my editor STILL wanted more on a particular scene I’d never wanted to put on the page in the first place. Her instincts are good on this kind of thing, but I felt so *done* at this point that I just couldn’t face taking another stab at it. But Carolyn – well, she cleaned my kitchen for me.

You all know what I mean, right? Or maybe this is mainly a female thing. I know a lot of guys cook and clean, too, but I’ve never heard them mention this. But my female friends and relatives sure have. And I know I’ve said it to them.

“Oh, let me finish the clean-up – it’s so much more fun to clean someone else’s kitchen!”

Because it just IS.

My own kitchen I’ve cleaned hundreds, if not thousands of times. I know every countertop stain, the persistent yellow crud in that hard-to-reach lip of the sink at the back, that one pan that never *quite* yields up that old burn on the bottom. Over time I give up on these things. I just don’t care enough and I’m resigned to these little, enduring failures to reach perfection.

In SOMEONE ELSE’S KITCHEN, however, I become a dynamo of shininess. I scrub those pans until they gleam. Those countertop stains cannot withstand my zeal to see them gone, gone, gone. My mother managed to get my glass-top stove cleaner than it was when we moved in – and was happy to do it.

So much more fun to clean someone else’s kitchen.

Likewise, Carolyn took up the torch of expanding that scene with excitement and enthusiasm. She wrote a page for me in no time at all – and had fun doing it. Once I had that from her, I was able to see past the old stains and revised it to blend with the story. What she gave me was brilliant. More, I don’t know that I had it in me to do myself. I might have just let that stain go, yet again.

A gift beyond price.

Best of all, she’s excited that I owe her. She’s got ideas for a scene or two she’ll ask me to riff on. And I’m excited to do it. I’d love to take her story and play with it. For the first time, really, I get what fan fiction is all about.

It’s all the fun of cleaning someone else’s kitchen – just once – without having to face it day after day.