Monday, July 31, 2017

Put It Out There...Then Shut Up!

My friend and colleague Gary Zenker recently wrote an article for writers on "How to Get the Most Out of a Critique."

It's a good article with some important ideas. However, I have a few points I want to add:

1)  Present Your Work...Then Shut Up!

Time and again I've seen new writers try and defend their work from every criticism. Some people find it almost impossible to just sit there and take criticism.

But that's what a critique is supposed to be: the chance for OTHERS to say what they think of your work. If you keep defending your choices, people will give eventually give up giving you honest critiques.

If someone ASKS you a question, answer it. Or, as Gary suggests, redirect their question to others in the critique session. (As in, "What did you mean here?" "Well, can anyone else answer that question?") Otherwise, shut up.


2) When You Have to Preface Your Work, Keep It Short

Sometimes you are presenting the middle of a work for a critique. In that case, you may have to give some backstory. Preferably, it should be written down, and no more than a few paragraphs long. Keep it as simple as possible.

An example is this: "This is the 15th chapter of my novel. The protagonist, Waldo Pickens, is a Junior in High School. He's being raised by a divorced mother, who has grounded him. In the previous chapter, he and his mother argued about him going out to a party. He has now sneaked out and gone to the party. We pick up the story after he's gotten drunk for the first time and is trying to walk home."

Keep it short, and relevant to the pages being critiqued. We don't need to know about his dad, the name of his dog, where he went to summer camp, or how he's doing in school. Maybe those things are important in subsequent chapters, but not in the part being critiqued.


3)  Save Your Own Questions for the End. (This is a point on which Gary and I may disagree.)

When you ask the critique members to focus on something up front, you're dragging out the process. Plus, it's important to get their honest impression of the entire piece, rather than focusing on one aspect.

If you want to ask them, "I wrote this in the First Person. Do you think it would be better in Third Person?" -- that's better asked after everyone has had their say.

One thing I like to ask is, "What do you think will happen next?" Usually, they will give you the most obvious answer. Then I'll go ahead and write the opposite. I want to surprise my readers as much as possible.


4)  Finally, Ignore the Outlier Opinions.

Act like an athlete having their performance judged, and ignore the lowest score and the highest score. Go with the majority opinion.

The guy who hates your work is probably wrong. There's a former member of one of my critique groups who often said, "I hate your characters so much I wish a meteor would fall out the sky and crush them." Yeah, that's not useful. Ignore him.

The one who loves it to death is probably wrong, too. I've actually had someone say, "This is as good as anything Mark Twain wrote." Hey, I'm good, but I'm not Mark Twain good.

The exception: if that outlier opinion is from a publisher or an agent. If someone says, "I'll publish this and pay you money if you cut out this character"...well, you might want to follow their suggestion. Or if someone says, "I'll take you on as a client if you rewrite this in the Third Person." If there's money (or the potential of money) involved, you might want to take an outlier opinion. But that rarely happens.

Happy critiquing!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Fantasy Author Molly Neely: Ghosts, Vampires and Zombies



Molly Neely is one of the authors with a story in the soon-to-be-released Fall into Fantasy anthology, published by Cloaked Press.

Molly describes herself as “a life long reader of everything from history and theology, to politics and vampires.” Her first published novel is The Sand Dweller, released last September by Black Opal Books.


Molly, we both have stories in the Fall into Fantasy anthology. Yours is titled “Six Degrees of Zombie Separation.” Would you like to tell us a little about it?

The story started out life as a simple writing prompt. I am a sucker for anything that has a zombie or bacon in it, and I was all amped up from the season finale of "The Walking Dead," so…zombies! The story begins at the onset of the zombie apocalypse, and works backwards towards the source. I intend to write at least 3 more, continuing the main story, while also being pieces that can be read independently. Did all that gibberish make sense?


Perfectly clear. Molly, you live in California, which is a good place to be for attending writing conventions. Can we expect to meet you at any upcoming conventions?

I like to stay local. Not only because I’m cheap, but because Fresno, CA, has such a diverse and active writing community. There is a Lit Hop that happens in The Tower District every year, The Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis hosts a large Author book fair and A Book Barn (local bookstore) is constantly hosting events. There is even the occasional conference at Fresno State. But, if you want to travel outside the comfort zone, there are dozens of book events and conferences happening year round in Los Angeles and San Francisco.


Your first published novel, The Sand Dweller, features a priest as its protagonist.  That’s an unusual choice.  How did you get inside the head of your protagonist, Father Caleb Glass?

It seems like every time a book or a movie comes out dealing with demons and the devil, the priest always gets portrayed as this bulletproof and fearless holy man who sails in and kicks Satan’s ass…the end. The truth is, priests, pastors, deacons, whatever, are all human! With human hang ups, human backgrounds, fears, blah blah blah. I felt it was essential to let the reader know, that for men of the cloth, the struggle is just as real as it is for us. But I knew Caleb needed to be special. So, I made him younger than what would be considered the norm. I felt his lack of experience in life would be the perfect wrench to throw into his battle with Lucifer.


Molly, you also have a short story, “A Candle in the Window,” in one of the Snapdragon collections.  That’s a beautiful title, reminiscent of one of my favorite poems, “A Candle Burned” by Boris Pasternak.  What was your inspiration for that story?  

"Candle" is an old fashioned ghost story, seasoned with young love and heartache. John Hardy assumes his young love won’t marry him because she’s of noble birth and he is not. Let’s just say, what separates these two lovers is haunting.


I know you’re a fan of vampires. Who’s your favorite?

That’s a hard question!! I love a good vampire and there are lots of them out there. Ok. There’s a film called “Dracula: The Dark Prince,” starring Rudolf Martin. It’s a Vlad the Impaler becomes a vampire movie. I loved their take on the history and legend that surrounds the real life people and I was particularly taken with the way Rudolf Martin played the character. It’s dark and tragic…and Roger Daltrey from The Who is in it. I was sold. It’s kinda hard to find, but worth looking for.


Last question: I understand that you have a pet whippet.  I’ve never seen a whippet.  Do you have a photo?

Of course!



Beautiful dog! Thank you for your time, Molly!

You can follow Molly on Facebook or on Twitter

You can purchase her novel, The Sand Dweller, via Amazon or Barnes and Noble

 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Michael's Last Day


For the past seven years, the Main Line Writers Group has met once a month at Michael's Restaurant and Jewish Delicatessen in King of Prussia (Upper Marion Township).  It was a great place to meet.  Michael's has not one but two meeting rooms.  Since our group usually draws between 20 and 30 people, we usually got the larger of the two.  (The above photo shows just a small portion of the membership, standing in front of a flag painted on the wall of the larger meeting room.)

Sadly, after 36 years in business, Michael's Restaurant closes for good today.

I contacted a reporter friend, Katie Kohler, who wrote a good article about Michael's closing.  The link is here.

Goodbye, Michael, Eileen, and the rest of the staff there.  It was a great place to eat, and an even better place to hold a meeting.