Why do I need a critique partner?

The answer is basically the same as one would give to, “Why do I need an editor?”

The answer is simple. We cannot see our own mistakes.

There are three reasons for this. One, we may not know we’re making a mistake. Unless we are very experienced in writing in the specific area of our current work, there are things we may not know or understand. For instance, if I write a mystery, there will be certain police or medical procedures I don’t know about. Some I will research. Others I don’t understand that I need to.

There may be basic accepted practices of writing I don’t know. As an example, I might not know how to handle internalization. Do I use quotes, italics, first or third person, present or past tense, attribution?

The worse aspect of this is you may not know you don’t know. You do what you think is correct. Checking on what is accepted never enters your mind.

The second reason we can’t see our own mistakes is that our mind knows what we intend, and if our fingers don’t accomplish this, our mind will. I can write a sentence and leave out an important word. But when I read that sentence, my mind will automatically supply the missing word. I am not even aware that a word is missing.

The third reason, and often the most important one, is that another set of eyes, another reader, may be able to point out things that don’t work, or don’t work well. Perhaps it is something that you, the author, know very well. But somehow, it is not transmitted to the reader. Or you may be trying to get a certain feeling across. The critique partner may tell you that you did not. A good critique partner might say you are too verbose. Or your dialogue is stilted. Or perhaps you spend too much time on description – or not enough. Another person may say the protagonist is not well drawn, or the motivation doesn’t come across. Maybe the pace is off.

Another person can see so much that the author cannot. This is a valuable resource you should not fail to use.

A  good critique partner can help on all of those. Ideally, she’ll know the area in which you are weak. If not, perhaps she may question your choice and cause you to do more checking. And when she reads the sentence in which you left out a word, her mind will not supply it. She will immediately see that you have left out a word.

The same thing is true of certain spelling errors. A spellchecker won’t catch many spelling problems. If you put down “your” when you need “you’re,” the spellchecker won’t catch it but your critique partner will.   You type “there” when you mean “their”—no help from spellchecker. But the dependable critique partner will circle it in red.

There are two points I must make before I close. First, you need a good critique partner. You are not looking for someone to pat you on the back and say, “That’s the best thing I’ve ever read.” You need one who is knowledgeable in writing, particularly in your area. You need one who will catch the mistakes and tell you what they think you need to do to improve the writing.

The second point is, you must be willing to listen objectively. I’m not saying you must follow all suggestions. You must consider all suggestions and then implement those that make sense to you, that fit your style. Remember, the partner is not criticizing you, rather trying to help you improve your writing.

Select a critique partner carefully. Work closely with her. And both of you can become better writers.

Writing Your Family Story

Today’s guest blogger is Donna Schlachter.  She lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a hybrid publisher who has published a number of books under her pen name and under her own name. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests.

A couple of years ago, I had the unhappy fortune to be with my father as he answered questions for the intake counselor at a hospice facility. He patiently answered her questions about his family, his children, what he’d done for a living, until he grew tired. And then he simply said, “If you want to know any more, read the book.”

“Read the book?” She looked at each sibling. “What book?”

“There on the bookcase.”

I handed her the book. “It’s the first part of his life, up until he married my mom, and then the last part, where he found his half-siblings from his father’s side of the family.”

She thumbed through the book then she looked up at us again. “You won’t believe how many family members come through here every year who say they wished they’d listened more closely to their parent’s stories. Or how many parents who say they wished they’d taken time to write down the stories. This is the first time I’ve met anybody who actually did it. You have a treasure here.”

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, you might want to record family stories for future generations. Here is the process we used to write the book for family only and then prepare it for the general market.

  1. Decide what your goal is: first and foremost, this was a history book for the family. Secondly, he knew his story wasn’t unique, but the setting and the characters were, and we felt that would set the book apart in the general market.
  2. Decide the structure: he wanted to tell three separate stories including how he came to be born and placed in the family he was raised in, his life growing up in a unique setting, and finding his half-siblings on his birth father’s side of the family. So we went with the three-books-in-one approach, from two different points of view, his birth mother’s and his.
  3. Decide what to include: a person’s life has innumerable stories, so we kept to the ones that best described my father—pragmatic, logical, forward-thinking.
  4. Decide whom to protect: in the family-only version, we toned down some stories where we felt we knew the truth but couldn’t prove it, while in the market version, we changed the names of the characters, kept the name of the town, and wrote it the way we believed it happened.
  5. Decide what to exclude: my father came to Christ three weeks before he passed away, so that was a huge part of the family-only book, even though it was a short part of his life on this earth. The title, My Cup Has Overflowed, came from a song I love called “I’m drinking from my saucer, Lord, because my cup has overflowed”. We decided not to include much of that story in the market version.

So, if you’re thinking about writing your family story, don’t wait. If you’re tired of hearing Uncle John’s stories or Grandma Mary’s tales, don’t tune them out. Write the stories. They won’t always be here.

Donna  will be teaching an online course for American Christian Fiction Writers in June 2017, “Don’t let your subplots sink your story”.   Her current release, Echoes of the Heart, a 9-in-1 novella collection titledPony Express Romance Collection” released April 1. 

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/DonnaschlachterAuthor

Twitter: www.Twitter.com/DonnaSchlachter

Books: http://amzn.to/2ci5Xqq

Echoes of the Heart: http://amzn.to/2lBaqcW

Fiction Needs Facts!

Today’s guest is a retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth.  He lives and writes in a house built by a man who rode with Buffalo Bill Cody. He has published 16 novels, including six in his Sticks Hetrick crime series, plus a non-fiction regional history. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and is a past vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. He currently serves as librarian of his county historical society, where he assists patrons with genealogy and research

If you write fiction, you have to pay attention to facts.

That may sound like a contradiction, but it isn’t meant to. Fiction offers a simulation of reality and if you wrongly portray something your reader knows as ‘fact’ you may be called out on it.

Suppose you’re writing a story set in Arizona in the 1870s (as I did with Geronimo Must Die). You can rely on imagination and create a world to suit your purpose. That’s called fantasy and, if your reader is informed that’s the intent, it’ll probably be accepted without question.

On the other hand, if you want your reader to believe the story is set in this place and time, it becomes important to express things as they actually were. You can twist things a little to suit your purpose (that’s called fiction), so long as your reader is willing to accept them. For instance, your reader will accept your character riding a horse or mule but may frown if you seat them on a dragon (that would be fantasy).

There are two methods. One is called empathy. The other is research.

Empathy is vicariously experiencing the emotion, thought or action of another person. This is a useful tool for a writer in many circumstances. However it has its limits. Some characteristics are timeless. But you live in the 21st century and attitudes today differ to a certain degree from those of the 19th century. How can you know what’s true today was also true then?

The answer is through research. You don’t have a time machine, but we do have a good substitute to give us some idea of what life was like in those days. Reading biographies, histories and fiction of the period provides some insight. These sources were important to me in accurately depicting the Apache and life on the San Carlos reservation. An even better choice for general historical fiction is newspapers of the period. Newspapers reflect the character of the times in which they’re created–they show us what was important to people, what they did with their time, their morals, their prejudices. Everything you need to create a believable character of the period.

These newspapers are available in collections at historical societies, in many libraries and even on line. Librarians are good at telling us where to find newspapers to suit our needs. Reading them is fun and sure to stimulate your imagination.

Here’s a blurb for Geronimo Must Die:

Geronimo and rascally half-breed Indian scout Mickey Free have never been friends.

Yet, Mickey has already saved Geronimo’s life twice (without acknowledgement) and is the only one who can keep the great Apache leader out of the sniper’s sights now. The sniper has already murdered several tribal leaders and Mickey believes it’s all a plot to prompt a great runaway from the hated San Carlos reservation.

Mickey’s efforts are stymied by Al Sieber, head of scouts, and John Clum, reservation agent, as well as suspicion of other Indians. Adding to his problems, Mickey is in love with a girl whose name he keeps forgetting to ask and who may be allied to the plot.

Only perseverance, risk to his life and, eventually, Geronimo’s help will enable Mickey to resolve this dangerous situation.

Lindermuth’s  latest novel, Geronimo Must Die, a classic Western, was released on March 28 by Sundown Press.

 https://www.amazon.com/Geronimo-Must-Die-J-Lindermuth-ebook/dp/B06XFZJG5H/ref=la_B002BLJIQ8_1_20?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1490444850&sr=1-20&refinements=p_82%3AB002BLJIQ8

 

 

The King and I

Today, Steve Sabatka, talks about growing up watching the early animated movies when each scene would require twenty-four graphic panels for a single second of a movie.  Steve lives in Newport, Oregon and teaches at Newport High School.  Steve writes short stories (has won the NETWO short story contest one year) and in 2016, published a young adult novel about teenagers finding a … well, I’d better let Steve tell you.

  1. I was five years old, watching that classic old flick, King Kong, and losing my little boy mind. Drum-beating natives. Hungry dinosaurs. Wild, throbbing orchestral music. And a giant gorilla with rolling eyes and great, fearsome teeth – fighting biplanes from atop the highest building in the world. It was better than any three ring circus or screaming carnival ride. But when Kong, shaggy, bleeding, and defeated, let go and fell one hundred and two stories to the Manhattan pavement, I lost it, son, flipped out, crying and screaming so loudly that my dad thought a police car, old-style siren blaring, had pulled up in our front yard. The King was dead and I was not happy about it. Dad consoled my by explaining that Kong wasn’t dead – because he’d never really been alive. It had all been a trick. A special effect.

In time, I learned that Kong was a puppet, basically, just eighteen inches tall, with metal joints under layers of rubber and trimmed rabbit fur, and that an ex-boxer and newspaper cartoonist named Willis O’Brien brought the mighty ape, to life, one frame of movie film at a time, just like Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck, and that one fleeting second of snarling, chest-beating action required twenty four separate poses, twenty four clicks of the camera shutter. I could imagine Mister O’Brien going off to work every morning – with a briefcase full of toy monsters and dinosaurs – and being paid to play with them all day.

I wanted to be a monster tamer, too. Just like O’Brien and Harryhausen and all the other movie magicians, the names you see at the end of movies like Mighty Joe Young and Jason and the Argonauts and When Dinosaurs Rules the Earth. So I started making my own monsters out of dime store modeling clay – with toothpick points for teeth and eyes that were sucked-down lemon drops – posing them, a millimeter or two at a time, and then snapping off frame after frame of eight millimeter, Kodachrome film.

When the finished film came back from the pharmacy, I would thread up the projector, hit the lights, and then stare, awestruck, as my homemade creatures prowled across the white wall of my bedroom – on their own, as if they had been resurrected from their fossil tombs to growl and shake the earth once more. It was truly magic – and the thing I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

But then, as I got older, something very sad happened – just like in the folk song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Clay monsters and dinosaurs made room for other toys. I grew up, went to school, got a job as a school teacher, and pretty much gave up on making monster movies. I also started writing. A lot of short stories. Two bad novels. Strangely, monsters kept cropping up in my stories. Aliens. Dinosaurs, too. I even wrote a very short sequel to King Kong, entitled Fall Guy.

Jurassic Park all but killed the art of stop motion. Made it extinct. And so gone are the days when folks would walk out of a theater after seeing The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, say, or The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, asking. “How did they do that?” Everybody knows the three letter answer: CGI. Computer Generated Imagery. Monsters have become nothing more than a file on an ILM desktop.

I miss the old days. And I want younger folks to know about my heroes and all their frame-by-frame voodoo. So I wrote a young adult novel about a teenage monster nerd (me, basically), and his two oddball buddies – a Vietnamese refugee, and a 250 pound wrestler – trying to explain the scaly, hairy, multi-toothed horror that has just washed up dead on the Oregon Coast.

My book, Mister Fishback’s Monster, was recently unleashed on an unsuspecting world by Black Bed Sheet Books, and, from what I’m told, it was their bestselling young adult title for 2016.

The back cover of my book reads like a B-movie poster:

“Ravenous beasts from the dawn of time! Gun packin’ roller derby queens! Chattering freaks, belched up from the ocean floor! Bug-eyed Martian bullies! Political intrigue! Corporate corruption! Bigfoot! Blood! Guts! Pam Grier!”

Mister Fishback’s Monster is funny. A little creepy. And the special effects are amazing.

I hope you’ll check it out. And I hope to hear from my fellow stop motion maniacs. I’ll send a free copy to the person that can tell me (via Facebook) the name of the unsung hero, the amazingly talented man that actually made Kong (and all the other denizens of Skull Island) out of so much rubber and cotton and metal before handing them, lifeless, over to Willis O’Brien.

 Postscript:

I was fortunate enough to meet Fay Wray in person several years before she passed. I told her about freaking out when I was a kid and how I had hoped she and Kong would’ve lived happily ever after. Ms. Wray gave me the kind of expression usually reserved for the hopelessly delusional and said, “Surely, now that you’re older, you understand that the relationship was not very practical.”

Or something like that.

I guess she was right.

But still.

 

 

JIM:  We love for you to leave a comment.  Thanks.

How Two Covers Came About

Talented and prolific writer Jim Ainsworth has a book launch of two books at the same time.  (I said he was prolific.)  It will be from 5 to 8 p.m.  March 28 at the A&M-Commerce (Texas) Alumni Center.  Because it is unusual to do two books at once, I’ve asked Jim to tell us the story behind the covers of the two books.  Very interesting.

Circle of Hurt – We worked diligently to come up with real photos that matched my description of the general store, the table and chairs, the ambiance of the place, but we just could not make it work.  I decided a shack might work, with wooden boards as the background.

The real picker shack was clearly in my mind, but it is long gone. My wife, Jan, suggested we drive around and look at cabins, shacks. As we drove by my cousin Marion’s cabin, Jan pulled over.

“What about that one?”

“That cabin is only a few years old. The picker shack would have been maybe a hundred years old when the novel takes place.”

Jan smiled. “Yes, but wasn’t this one built to look old?”

She was right. Marion’s cabin was a cross between the picker shack in the book and Tee Jessup’s rented farmhouse. It could serve as either. And Marion would be pleased.

Sure enough, the table where we had weekly poker games looked ready for players. I realized that this setting, the old jukebox and a few other things might have partially inspired the scenes inside the general store described in the book.

After what seemed dozens of shots, I turned and saw Jan with her camera inches from the wall, snapping more photos.

I was puzzled. “What are you doing?”

She kept on clicking. “You said you wanted boards for the background, didn’t you?”

Days later, she showed me her concept, saying, “I feel as if I’m on the inside of the cozy cabin stealing a look at the story that is taking place outside.” That worked for me.

She and Vivian Freeman got together on the concept and colors and the rope and that’s how the cover of Circle of Hurt came to be.

Believing in a Grand Thing – My original idea for the cover was a cowboy or western scene on the front—maybe a kneeling cowboy with a cross in the background. But we see of lot of those in yards all around. We tried a few photos in public domain, but the lights just did not come on for me.

Something about the way the cowboys (or models) sat their horses; or the way they put their boots in the stirrups; or the way they held the reins; or the way they wore their hats always bothered me. Something just wasn’t right and I couldn’t express what.

Again, my wife Jan came through. “Do you still have that shot of Marion on his horse at his daddy’s grave?” Marion was a close cousin of mine.

The photo was taken on the next to last day of our wagon and horseback trip across Texas that I chronicled in Biscuits Across the Brazos. We were almost home, coming to the end of our fourteen day, 325 mile journey when it was taken.

I saw Marion lope ahead as we neared Shiloh Cemetery and knew where he was going. When he stopped at his father’s grave, I pulled a throwaway camera I had bought on the trail out of my saddlebags and took the shot. I knew it was a special moment, but never imagined it would one day be on the cover of a book. Of course, it is also inside Biscuits Across the Brazos.

If you look closely, you will see a slight hazy glow around Marion and his horse’s back legs. Unintended, but I like that a lot. I am certain Marion would, too.

Marion’s mom now lies beside his father and Marion is laid to rest a few feet away.

Try to visit the launch party.  There you can ask Jim Ainsworth questions about the books, the covers, or anything, for that matter.  I highly recommend it as a pleasant, fun, informative trip.

The Joy of Creating Characters

Jean Lauzier loves to play in all the different genres, but especially  mystery and fantasy.

She is a member of several writer’s groups and  president of the East Texas Writer’s Association. When not writing,
she enjoys reading, trying to grow bonsai trees, training dogs,  editing, and mentoring other writers.

“Fictional characters are made of words, not flesh; they do not have free will, they do not exercise volition. They are easily born, and as easily killed off.” ― John Banville

I’m not sure who John Banville is, but I have to disagree. At least for myself. I have one of those obsessive personalities and when I’m writing, I live and breathe my characters. I think about their likes and dislikes, how their past affects their present, and just what they want out of life.

Sometimes, I even forget they aren’t real. For example, one day while in the middle of a writing session, a song came on the radio and I realized Cande would have listened to and liked that song. Now, Cande is a character in a mystery novel I’m editing, but we’re also best friends. I know about the time she tried to paint her pony black because she wanted to go as the headless horseman for Halloween. I know how she defends those being bullied, her soft spot for animals, and how much she loves settling in front of a fire with a cup of hot cocoa. She’s a person I’d really like to hang out with.

I also know that as her writer, I can’t get her to do something against her nature. At the end of the novel, I really wanted her to take justice in her own hands and off the bad guy. But that’s not her. Yes, she’s an emotional wreck because of what she thinks he has done, but she believes in doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. And that is one of the things I love about her.

Another thing I love is when a character just appears and refuses to disappear. While writing Dragons of Jade, I was typing along in the groove, and a dog appeared in a scene. I didn’t want a dog in the book so backspaced and deleted him. A few sentences later, my character opened the door and in bounded the dog. He had a name, a personality, and I knew exactly what he looked like. I thought about deleting him again but just couldn’t. Turns out, he was an important part of the story.

Some authors seem to have no problem killing their characters. I read the Game of Thrones series and every time I became attached to a character, they turned up dead. I’d be a blubbering puddle of tears if I killed off as many characters as he has.

Once I read we need to get our characters up trees and then throw rocks at them while setting the tree on fire. I have a hard time doing that, especially with characters I love. I want things to go right for them. I want them to succeed and be happy. It’s something my editor says I need to work on. And, I am trying.

Creating characters is one of the fun things about being a writer. I learn about their jobs, their culture, and just what makes them tick. Then, we hang out in front of the fireplace sipping hot cocoa and telling stories.

You can find more about Jean on  her Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/jeanlauzier2319

All her  books are available on Amazon or can be ordered from any bookstore.

 

 

 

Mailboxes and Murals

A few years ago, we traveled to Tasmania. It was for us like finding a beautiful gemstone while playing in the sand.

It is an island roughly the size of West Virginia located about one hundred  fifty miles across the Bass Strait from Melbourne, Australia. It was discovered in 1642 by a Dutchman named Abel Tasman, but there were a number of Aboriginal tribes there when the British came to settle it in the late 1700s. At the time we were there, the population was just over half a million people.

Until recently, fully one third of the island was in a protected forest, with no roads, no villages to disturb the natural beauty. In the last couple of years, some timber companies have been allowed into this area (a mistake in my opinion).

One day we set out to drive across the middle of Tasmania. We observed some rather interesting mail boxes. Upon asking some questions in the first village we came into, we learned that the people who lived along this highway had a friendly competition to see who could come up with the most unique mail boxes.

Some of these were extremely elaborate, many very clever, all attention-grabbing   And throughout the day, we continued to find such out-of-the-ordinary ways to receive mail.

In the midst of this, we came upon the town of Sheffield, often called Tasmania’s Outdoor Art Gallery.   If we found a building with an exposed side wall, we would find a mural. The first mural in Sheffield was commissioned in 1986. Many of the pictures give aspects of the history of the town and Tas. We could not count all of the murals, but there must have been close to a hundred walls colorfully decorated. Keep in mind that Sheffield is a small town of approximately 1,400 people.   However, it has become a major tourist attraction, with an estimated 200,000 visitors each year.

But Sheffield and the mailboxes are not the only things to see and be amazed over in the middle of Tasmania. In another blog, I’ll talk about the incredible wall being carved and the amazing use of hydro electric generation in Tasmania.   Oh, and we must not forget the Tasmania Devils, the only thing we knew about the island (thanks mostly to Walt Disney)before we visited it.

 

 

Feel free to add your comment about interesting things you’ve seen on your travels.  Thanks.

 

SIDE NOTE:  The winner of the free book, Blind Man’s Bluff, A Candle Island Cozy by the Sadie and Sophie Cuffe, was won by Mary Watson Hamilton.  Congratulations.  It’s a great book.

James R. Callan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In print & e-book format

Road Trip to Main

Today’s guest bloggers are the Cuffe Sisters, Sadie and Sophie. They were born, raised, and still live in the rugged area known as the Unorganized Territory in Main. They maintain a small farm, but (we know) their main goal is to produce great novels. They write “squarely to the hearts of real women who don’t always wear a size two and who prefer boots to high heels. And they believe some of the best stories are composed on the seat of a tractor.  They will give a free copy of their latest book to a name drawn at random from those who leave a comment. Here are the Cuffe Sisters.

We grew up on road trips. After traveling around the State of Maine, we later branched out to cross-country travel, vising relatives in California. It’s 3240 miles (give or take) from here to there. We traveled in a VW bus and camped out along the way. Six people in an old canvas Army tent was an adventure in itself, LOL. At the time, one of our cousins pointed out that we’d now stuck our toes in both major oceans. Some people haven’t experienced either one. Funny, the things you take for granted.

We grew up on the coast and now live Down East – where the sun first strikes the easternmost point of the USA.

Throughout the years we’ve hiked and biked around many islands. To date we’ve visited about twenty, but that’s nothing considering there are over 6180 left to explore. Some are easily accessed by huge bridges (one of Sophie’s biggest dreads), others by ferry, some by private boat. We rode the mail boat on our first trip to Isle au Haut many years ago, and asked the captain if we could go out on the deck. It was choppy, but he let us. As soon as we stepped out, a huge wave slapped the bow and covered us in spray. We went back into the cabin, soaked, but laughing like fools. It was wicked fun!

We experienced ten seconds of fame once, when photographers from Down East Magazine took a picture of us roasting hotdogs at our island campsite. When we finally found the article, months later, we were surprised at the caption: Local campers cooking over an open fire. Even WE didn’t recognize ourselves!

Our coastline, as the crow flies is, 250 miles, but the reality is vast – it’s over 5500 miles when all the islands are included. Islands hold a precious place in our hearts, but they’re more than our memories and adventures. They hold their own special mystique in their fiercely loyal people, their rugged independence, and their wild solitude. We hope our love of Maine and its islands comes through in our newest book, Blind Man’s Bluff, A Candle Island Cozy. Come to Candle Island, hear the lonely cry of the gulls, feel the spray of the raging surf, and plant your feet on the bedrock ledges of Maine that have endured for millenia. We’re giving away a copy, so if you’d like to be entered in the drawing, all you have to do is leave a comment. Good luck, and thank you, Jim, for letting us visit!

JIM:  Makes me want to visit Maine again.  Please leave a comment and the Cuffe Sisters will draw a name and send the winner a FREE copy of their latest novel.  Thanks.

A NaNoWriMo Education

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Galand Nuchols is a retired school teacher.  While teaching, she found that writing short stories that incorporated the names of students helped to improve their interest and motivated them to work harder.  At the same time, she found she really … Continue reading

Mixing History with A Fiction Novel

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Elaine Faber is a member of Sisters in Crime, Inspire Christian Writers, and Cat Writers Association. She lives in Northern California with her husband and three housecats. She volunteers at the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop in Elk Grove, CA. … Continue reading