Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sample My Short Stories: A Taste of Dark and Dangerous Things

So, for the next two days (October 30-31), my friends and I are celebrating Halloween by offering our speculative fiction ebook anthology, Dark and Dangerous Things, for free on Amazon.

That's right, FREE.

But if that's not quite enough to convince to you to check it out, here's the start of my first short story in the antho, titled "Under New Management." It's tempted two readers already today. Let it tempt you too!

------------------------------

Officer Castro eyed me as he stirred another creamer into his paper coffee cup. I squirmed
under his dark, probing gaze, hoping he wouldn’t ask if I had skipped class again to hunt in the woods for the spaceship. Because I had. And I didn’t want to lie.

No one believed me about the ship, but I knew what I’d seen—a silver streak across the sky, streaming trails of dark smoke like a dragon crashing to earth. The spherical UFO went down beneath the forest’s canopy, where I couldn’t see it anymore. Moments later, I heard a series of booms and then the ground shook. The rest of the town heard it too, felt the shaking. But no one else had seen the ship. They didn’t believe me, not even when the alien walked into the diner’s front door, asking for work in broken English.

He was short, squat, about four feet tall, with shuffling flat feet and exceptionally long fingers. His silvery, scaled face looked like it had been squashed in by a giant fist. Calling him ugly would have been generous. I couldn’t understand why no one else was reacting. But as soon as I stuttered a confused question about his appearance, Mom pinched me and hissed in my ear, “Don’t be rude! He’s one of those short people, is all.”

Everyone in the diner was staring at me like I was the weirdo. Even Jim looked disgusted. I didn’t want to set my stepfather off, so I mumbled an apology and let him do the talking. He wanted someone to clean the bathrooms. The next thing I knew, poor Vergel, the silent crash survivor, was working in the diner as a lowly janitor. I was the only one who knew the truth.

(Well, my therapist knew. But when I told him, he asked if I ever hallucinated or heard voices. It was shaky at first. In the end we made a deal. I promised to work hard to “accept reality,” and he promised not to prescribe me pills. I also decided privately not to think too much about why no one else could see what Vergel really was.)

I pulled my thoughts back to Castro, who was still studying me. The burly Italian officer didn’t ask about the ship, the aliens, or even my therapist visits. He asked about the sign. “Michael, isn’t it time to take that down?” He tilted his head toward the ragged paper hanging crookedly on the wall, scrawled with big red Sharpie letters:

Under New Management

“Jim says it brings in business,” I muttered, “because customers like to help out a new guy.” Which was stupid. Everyone in town knew we weren’t new. But there was no arguing with Jim, who had a persistent delusion that this dumpy diner would make him rich one day.

“Speaking of Jim,” Castro said carefully, “how’s he been treating you and your Mom?”

I shrugged and traced the scratch marks worn into the weathered Formica countertop. What was there to say? The police came to our house every few months. Mom refused to press charges. Then the spaceship crashed, and I talked about it. Since then, Castro came in for coffee every day, asked about Jim and Mom, and sometimes about school. He thought I needed help and had a soft spot for kids with messed-up parents, like me. But I still didn’t want to talk to him about my stepfather. The truth was too uncomfortable.

--------------------------

Not bad, eh? And there's more where that came from. Go ahead... Download your copy on Amazon. Tell your friends. And after you read the anthology, review it on Amazon. I don't care how many or how few stars you give it. Just share your thoughts. Those reviews not only help me get attention on Amazon, but they help fellow readers decide whether or not to buy, and as a reader myself, I always appreciate knowing what other readers thought of the book.

And stay tuned, because I'm also getting ready to relaunch this blog on WordPress soon. I'll let you know more about that in a few days.

Thanks, and happy Halloween! Muahahahahaha!

The Chipper Muse

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Preparing for Nanowrimo and Writing a First Draft

Let's face it:  If you're participating in National Novel Writing Month, what you're really doing is writing a first draft of something. Could be fiction. Could be nonfiction. But it's a first draft. And Nanowrimo is a way to help you work on that first draft regularly enough to actually finish it. That's what makes Nanowrimo a clever idea.

I have lots of friends who like to participate in this writing event each November, and they're talking about it on their blogs, so this week, I'm linking you to what they have shared. Enjoy!


Twitter buddy Derek, (aka @wrytersblockDH), gives some great basic tips for how to kick off November: http://wrytersblockdh.blogspot.com/2013/10/its-october.html


Fellow Nano-ite Rebekah blogs on what to do if it's November 1 (or near enough) and you're not at all prepared for Nanowrimo:

http://fictionalferrets.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/unprepared-and-dont-care-prepping-for-nanowrimo/

Writer Jami Gold talks about what you need to plan for November:

http://jamigold.com/2013/10/nano-prep-do-you-know-what-to-plan-in-advance/

Alexandra Sokoloff discusses how to choose what you'll write and more:

http://www.screenwritingtricks.com/2013/10/october-is-nanowrimo-prep-month.html

And Writer's Digest talks about the benefits of writing fast, which is what Nano is all about:
http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/benefits-of-writing-a-fast-first-draft?et_mid=642159&rid=239191047


Now, you share:  We have a little over a week until November 1. How are you getting ready for Nanowrimo? Or are you not even participating with the rest of us "fools"? Let me know what you're up to!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Nanowrimo Tips and Resources


We're rapidly approaching November 1, which kicks off one of the most insanely fun writing ideas ever invented: National Novel Writing Month (also known as Nanowrimo). If you've never heard of it, or if you have but you've blacked it all out of your memory, Nanowrimo is an effort to write 50,000 words between November 1 and 30. If you reach that goal, you win.

Have I won, you ask? No. Then again, I write for a living at my day job, so I can only do so much writing at night. But I have learned some Nano-related tricks to help me reach a higher word count. And so, I offer up some great Nanowrimo resources for you as you consider whether you're going to enter November madness with the rest of us!

GET STARTED

The official Nanowrimo Page - If you join no other page, join this one. It'll give you the official Nano updates, fill you in on local Nano groups in your area, help you find online writing buddies, and give you tools to keep track of your progress. It's a great feeling to see your word chart rise up toward the 50,000 mark.

Tips from Nanowrimo's Forums - includes research help, plotting, word count advice, an ideas bank to pick up characters and scenarios when you feel stuck, and more.

25 Things You Should Know About Nanowrimo - Chuck Wendig shares one of his classic 25 things lists. Yeah, there will be cursing. But Mr. Wendig is nothing if not honest and practical.

11 Ways to Prepare for Nanowrimo - Good advice to help you plan what to do before November 1 rolls around.


WRITER'S TOOLKIT

Writing a Novel Scene by Scene - A good general source of the types of scenes that make up a novel and how to approach writing them.

How to Get Ready for Nanowrimo - Basics from coming up with an idea, to working with characters, to planning out the plot

Media Bistro's Monster Links List - A long list of online links compiled by the kings of writing over at Media Bistro. Explore it in spurts. It's going to take a while, but well worth it.


SOCIAL MEDIA 

Facebook groups

Generally, you have to request to join these groups. But if you like connecting with others through Facebook, then you definitely want to find a group to participate in, such as:

Nanowrimo 2012 group
Nanowrimo 2013 support group

Blog tools

Word count meter - You can add this widget to your blog so your readers can kick your butt when you fall behind. Or cheer you on when you soar above!

Twitter

Nanowrimo's Twitter account - Why, yes, you can get the madness in 140 characters or less.
Nanowrimo Sprints - Get prompts to do word sprints (aiming to hit a set word count in a set time)
Nanowrimo Word Wars - More word sprints

Your local group may have a Twitter account too, and keep an eye out for hashtags that help you keep track of what others are saying. I don't have a list of hashtags to suggest. You know how they evolve. Just stop by #mywana, #amwriting, and the official Nanowrimo account to look for the hashtags others are using.

Now, you share:  If you have resources you have found helpful for writing in general, or specifically for Nanowrimo, share them in the comments for your fellow writers. And stop by the blog or visit me on Twitter at @chippermuse to let me know how your writing is going!

Happy November madness to you all!

And don't forget... If you want a taste of my fiction writing, check out the short story anthology that my writing buddies and I published recently. It's a collection of eight speculative fiction tales with touches of humor, tragedy, and horror thrown in to keep you reading. Buy it on Amazon here!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 7, 2013

What Is Publishing Success?

So, I had an interesting experience recently.

Three of my writing friends and I finished the short story anthology we were working on together, and it is now officially published on Amazon. (Yes, here's the link to buy Dark and Dangerous Things, eight short stories of dark fantasy for 99 cents, because I do have to market myself.)

But marketing isn't really what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about is how we define "success in publishing." And here's why:

Here's the book cover. Done by a friend who fit
it into his schedule for free. Works for me.
I happened to see someone tweet about wanting to see what people were publishing on Amazon. I didn't bother to check out the Twitter feed, and just assumed (yes, you know what that makes of me) that the person wanted a reading suggestion. So, I sent the person a link to the book. As it turned out, this individual is actually on a crusade about why self-published books are bound to fail. I basically got a bitter sounding tweet back about how my book is ripe for the trash heap.

Here's what is interesting about this:

I never asked this person to define success for me. Or failure, for that matter. I've defined it for myself, and here's what it looks like.

Success right now is finishing a project that I started. Done.

Success is getting the book up online and seeing what the process is like for self-publishing so I can learn from personal experience what I think about the process and whether I want to keep it up. Done as far as getting the book up. In progress as far as seeing what I think of it all.

Image for one of my short stories
Success is meeting my publishing budget for this project, which my three friends voted to put at zero. Done. I proofed it myself. There are probably some things I missed, but I'm okay with that. My friend Donna did the layout. We know that's not perfect, but since this is the first time we've done this, we're still playing around with best practices. So we are both okay with uploading another version if we need to. Amazon lets you update your files. Works for me.

Success is at least asking a friend to create the book cover and related images rather than attempting to use clip art myself. Done. It's not a Michael Whelan professional cover. But it's better than what I can put together on my one. I'm okay with this.

Success is getting at least a few people to buy the book. Done. I've already had some people buy it, and I already have a review. One review is better than no reviews, and I know lots of self-pubbers with no reviews yet. This kind of thing happens. You put it up, and no one responds. You put it up, and some people respond. You put it up, and you become the next big thing. What can you say? You can't predict it. I've already beat the odds, in a way.

So, for me, this endeavor is already a success.
And here's the image for my
second short story.

I suspect the Twitter individual who was so negative to me defines success and failure differently than I do. But I have no grand delusions. I don't think I'm Ernest Hemingway. I don't expect to be the next JK Rowling (whose writing is okay and whose story ideas are inventive). I don't expect to be the next EL James either (whose writing isn't so okay but whose story ideas get women hot and bothered so she sells well). I expect to be a person who wanted to get my stories online so that when I meet people via Twitter and blogging who ask me if I have something they can buy, I can actually say, "Why, yes I do. Here's the link."

By that definition... Success.

Sure, it's disappointing to know that there are going to be some bitter people out there, who wanted self-publishing to make them rich and famous and want to tear the rest of us down because they didn't get what they wanted. But then, that's life. There are bitter people in all professions. But there are nice people out there too. You're the ones I'm going to focus on.

To those people who will be supportive of me even though Dark and Dangerous Things is probably not going to turn me into the next Amanda Hocking, I say thank you. You get it. It's not about making me rich and famous. It's about making connections. I like being connected to you, even if you don't buy my book. And I like hearing what you have to say, even if you think my writing can use some work. And if you do buy the book and like it, yes, I'm going to ask you to leave a review on Amazon. But hey, who wouldn't ask that?

But that's not why I blog...not to get reviews...not to get sales. No, I'm here because I like writing, I like people, and I like the Internet.

Buy the book here, or at least visit and say hi to it. I won't mind.

Happy writing!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Getting a Useful Critique...and then Using It


Today's guest is Donna Leahey, a fellow writer from my very own critique group. She's awesome, and she is also proof positive that you can find a critique group that works. Here, Donna shares great advice for how to get the critique you want and need from your group, and how to use what they give you in the most constructive fashion. Enjoy!

*******************************************************************************

There may be no shortage of advice offered at your critique group, but how much of it is useful? It's important to remember that not all critique is created equal, and some of it should be ignored utterly. But which advice should you ignore and which should you carefully consider?

In order to get the most out of your group, you have to learn to ask for what you want, as well as separate the good advice from the bad.

Help your group give you the critique you need:

Tell the group what type of advice you're looking for.

Before you take your work to the group, figure out for yourself what kind of advice you're seeking – proofreading? plot? characterization? dialogue? If you point out the specifics of what you're concerned about, then your group can focus on that. If there's something you're not concerned about, let them know as well so they're not wasting their time or yours.

Say something like, “This is a rough draft and I know there are still a lot of typos, but I'm not concerned about that right now. I want to know if Rick's grief feels real and if you believe that it would provoke his next action.

On the other hand, if you want technical help, say something like, “I'm not comfortable with how to punctuate dialogue, so please let me know if you see something wrong there.” 

Set up the scene.

Unless your group has a fixed membership who always attend, you will find yourself reading a scene to some member who isn't familiar with your work. Therefore, be sure you give the information they need to understand the significance of what you're reading.

Example: “Billy is confronting Rick, who he believes killed his father. There is a red bird in this scene, and every time we've seen a red bird, violence has followed.”

This will help prevent non-helpful comments like “Why is Billy being so mean?” and “Why did you spend so much time describing the bird outside the window?”

Provide printed copies.

When you hand out printed copies of the work you're about to read, it enhances understanding of your reading and provides a place to make comments in the moment they occur to members of your group. This can make all the difference between “Somewhere there in the middle there was an awkward sentence, something about Rick and his father... I don't remember exactly what, but you might want to reword that,” and “There in the first sentence of the third paragraph on the second page, you've got a dangling participle that makes it sound like Billy is rolling in his grave instead of his father.”

Evaluating your critique:

Perhaps the worst mistake you can make is to comply with every suggested change from your group. Carefully consider the source of each comment and decide if it works for you and what you're trying to say with your writing. Some advice can and should be ignored! 

Damning with faint praise.

We all love to hear that our writing is just perfect – but that's not terribly helpful because it's almost certainly not true. People want to be nice, and that will sometimes prevent them from saying they don't like something. They may offer non-specific praise because they weren't paying attention, and people rarely press for more information on a compliment.

Copyright 2009 by Paigy_POP (aka Paige Reed)
http://paigy-pop.deviantart.com
Don't be afraid to ask for specifics. Often if you say something like, “Did the description of the red bird work?” then you'll get more helpful answers.

Be thankful for the negative.

Would you rather hear the criticism from a group of friends or from a publisher rejecting your work in a form letter? Someone responds to your writing with, “You went on about the bird for half a page, and then it just flew away! I got bored with the description and then I felt cheated because it seemed to be an unimportant waste of my time!” It would be easy to focus on “bored” “cheated” “unimportant” and “waste of my time” and either get angry or depressed, but instead, look at what he's saying. Is the bird important? If it is, then you failed to communicate that adequately. This is an opportunity to find a way to make it clear how important that is, or, if you have to admit that it's not that important, to maybe cut it down to a few sentences and then get on with your action.

Beware of the personal preference.

If one of your group prefers cozy mysteries and historical romances, they will probably not love your dark and gritty post-apocalyptic tale of revenge. Hopefully, your reader will understand the problem is the genre, but if not, they may inadvertently offer advice that could drastically change the tone you're striving to set, like “I think he should be able to save the girl!” or “Did you have to describe all the bodies at the pillaged farm? I thought it was just too much.”

Also beware of the “expert” on publisher preferences.

Unless the person in question is an actual publisher, they can't speak for the entirety of the publishing industry. And if they are a publisher, they can only speak to their own preferences. Watch out for comments like, “Publishers don't like flashbacks!” and “Publishers are tired of dark stuff and want happy!” 

Never pay attention to statements that start with the word “never!”

Never open with a discussion of the weather. Never open with waking up. Never open with looking in the mirror. Never open with a flashback. Never use the words “suddenly, almost, or seemed.” Never open with a prologue. Never, never, never...

If your story is about tornadoes, opening with weather is probably appropriate. If your protagonist suffers from a sleep disorder, then starting with waking up may work for you. Most of the items on the writing “never” list are more appropriately on a “you should be careful with” list or a “use sparingly” list. While these things got on the “never” list for a reason, if that “never” is appropriate for your writing, then ignore the never and do what's right for you. 

You'll need to handle conflicting advice.

“I love symbolism of the red bird!”

“I hate that red bird and think you should get rid of it!”

This is real life. No matter how wonderful or terrible your work is, someone will love it and someone will hate it. This is where it falls most squarely on you. Do you love the red bird, or is it not that important to you? If you believe in it, keep it! 

I don't understand why...

         “I didn't get why Billy blamed Rick.”
            “I don't understand what happened to the girl.”
            “I don't believe Rick would just accept the blame.”
            “I'm sorry, but what's the deal with the red bird?”

Always pay attention to “I don't get” and “I don't understand.” These kinds of comments tell you one of two things – your group wasn't paying attention (which begs the question: why aren't you holding their attention?) or you failed to adequately express your point. As writers, we walk a careful line between making things too obvious and making them too obscure. Sometimes, the confusion comes from someone missing an earlier scene, but if not, you need to address that problem. 

What is the importance of this scene to your story?

            “Where is the conflict?”
            “How does this scene advance your story?”
           
Perhaps the biggest red flag of any comment, questions about the importance of a scene to your story should make you look hard at what you've just read. Does the scene progress your story? Does the scene have conflict? Is it important for establishing character, setting, or plot? How would the story be changed if this scene were removed entirely? If you can't answer those questions, you should consider removing it or heavily editing it. 

Or, maybe it is you.

            “I am SO tired of hearing about that red bird!”

If you keep getting the same comment, over and over, from different people, take the time to carefully consider that advice. No matter how much you love the symbolism of the red bird, if it's just distracting your readers, it either has to be fixed or it has to go – or you have to accept that you're going to keep hearing criticism for it.


That is the challenge:  When you have something in your work that you love, but you consistently receive negative feedback on it, it is time to make that hard decision.

Taking it home:

Once you've asked for the critique you need and then sorted out the wheat from the chaff of the critique you got, you just have to take it home and make the changes. Be thoughtful and remain true to yourself and what you have to say. Remember, it's your work, it's your voice, and in the end, it's going to be your name on that cover page.

Happy writing!


As a child in school, Donna Leahey turned her vocabulary homework into short stories. Years later, she is still crafting stories. Now a practicing veterinarian, Donna is the mother of one son and currently shares her home with a very well loved mutt, Sammy. To paraphrase one of her favorite authors, Anne McCaffrey, she has green eyes and curly hair – the rest is subject to change without notice. Donna has a both a professional (At Home Mobile Vet) and a personal blog (So, what happens now) which have been sadly neglected of late, but she is frequently promising herself and anyone who will listen that she will post more soon! Also, after writing this post, she has a strong urge to write a story featuring a symbolic red bird.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Critiquing Without Losing Your Mind


Today, my writing friend and fellow blogger, Kristin Nador, is guest blogging her thoughts on how to find a critique group, share your writing, and give critiques without losing your mind. She offers a lot of great tips. So glad to have her here! Enjoy her insights, and be sure to visit her blog. (I've included links below.)
*******************************************************************************

Thanks to The Chipper Muse for letting me share today. I love writers who have the heart of a teacher, helping writers be their best with positive encouragement. The Chipper Muse is all of the above.

My first experience being critiqued in a writers’ critique group:

After pushing aside my social anxiety, I attended two meetings of a local critique group (no longer in existence). It seemed my speed: beginning and intermediate writers eager to improve their craft.

The third meeting, I brought a short story for critique. My voice shook as I read my piece. My knees knocked during the five or so minutes of silence while the group studied it. 

A man sitting across the table from me, who I’ll call Attila, looked up, slammed his fist on my handout, and bellowed, “You’ve got to show, not tell! There’s too much telling, not enough showing. Show, don’t tell!” Then he lectured for ten minutes, spit flying and landing in his writerly beard, as he proceeded to ‘teach’ everyone this lesson. No one else commented, then they moved on to the next victim, I mean, critique.
Sometimes, critiques make
us feel this way, don't they?

I wanted to crawl under the table. Somehow I kept my composure. Afterwards someone patted me on the back and said “That’s Attila. He’s very intense about writing.” They added in awestruck whispers, “He’s a published author, you know.”

Did I need to do more showing and less telling? Definitely. Did I need to be told like this? Probably not. 

I’ve grown as a writer since that meeting, but I’m glad Attila ranted that day. It taught me the importance of researching critique groups, and of learning the proper way to give and receive critiques.

Some tips to finding the right critique group for you:

1) Be willing to ‘try out’ different groups before you commit.

Don’t keep going if the group doesn’t meet your needs. Be honest but polite with other members if you decide to move on. Critique groups are not a ‘one size fits all.’

2) If you think you might like to join a critique group, listen, observe, and ask questions:
  • What is the average writing level of the group - beginner, intermediate, or seasoned?
  • What happens at a meeting? Small talk or critique? Are they lions, lambs or owls: do they tear a piece apart, only give pats on the back, or impart wisdom when needed?
  • Is there an established structure?
  • Do the writers submit consistently?
  • Is there an atmosphere of encouragement, or is there tension and competition?

3) What are YOUR expectations? Do you need an objective eye or are you just looking for validation?

True story: ‘Reb’ attended our critique group for the first time. Instead of the instructed
5-6 pages, he brought 16 pages for feedback and insisted we read the entire piece. His work was haphazard and lacked continuity. Even with the gentlest of critiques, he became defensive, rejecting it as ‘not understanding the genre.’ He stormed out before the meeting ended.

Don’t be that writer. 

If you aren’t ready for true critique, try a class at your local community college. Writing classes teach students about craft as well as how to receive critique in a safe structured environment. Good critique groups aren’t there to stroke your ego, but to challenge and stretch your writing skills.

In some critique groups, the trouble is not with the structure or level of critique, but with lack of respect or selfish attitudes. 

At one critique group meeting, ‘Mimi’ proudly passed out her piece for critique, and asked that she be allowed to read it aloud, as she ‘knew where to emphasize for emotional impact.’ As she read, each of the writers in attendance, a mixed group of men and women of various ages, began to shift in their seats.

The reason: the piece was a detailed description about an event of sexual abuse of a child, written in a very seductive manner. The writer had not warned anyone of the nature of her piece. One woman left the room. Worse, a group member’s child was in attendance and heard the entire thing. (Another tip: don’t bring young children to adult critique group meetings.) The rest of the meeting was spent debating the inappropriate nature of the piece. No other critiques happened.

Want to avoid being an Attila, Reb, Mimi, or other critique group drama queen? Here are some tips:

When giving critique:
  • Be honest, but use the sandwich method: note something positive, then something that needs improvement, then something you like or that they’ve improved upon.
  • Be specific. Not ‘Good job’ but what about it makes you like it. “I like how you show how John is feeling by the look on his face.”
  • Don’t ‘rewrite’ the story. That’s their job.
  • You are critiquing the writing, not the genre. Maybe it’s not your favorite genre, but that doesn’t figure into a critique.
  • Critique as you’d want your piece critiqued.
  • If your critique skills need improvement, don’t let that deter you. Practice.
When receiving critique:
  • Be prepared. Print enough copies for everyone. Don’t expect a detailed critique when you read the piece out loud from your computer. If your group has a critique sign-up, show up when you sign up.
  • Brace yourself. Some people are less than tactful. Develop a thick skin. You’ll need it if you intend to pursue writing as a career. Agents and editors are not in business to spare your feelings.
  • Ask if the group will consider R-rated or controversial subjects first.
  • Don’t defend yourself. Listen, take notes while people share their thoughts, and remember they want to help you. If you defend yourself, you are basically saying that the person’s opinion is irrelevant and you aren’t interested in it.
  • Thank everyone for critiquing whether you agree with the opinions or not.
  • Come to a meeting with an open mind. Look for helpful suggestions, but stay true to your vision. As a wise man once said, “Chew up the grass, and spit out the sticks.
Today I’m part of a small critique group that helps keep each of the writers in it challenged, accountable, and encouraged. It’s possible to find the critique group for you without losing your mind.

Happy Writing!

In 2007 Kristin Nador's desire to be a published author, left dormant for many years with a busy life as a military wife and homeschooling mom, sparked again with a simple statement from a writing teacher: "NOW is the best time to write." Since then she has had a short story published in a national magazine and had two short stories and a poem win prizes in writing contests. Kristin is currently working on a contemporary suspense novella. She is a member of Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. and the current vice-president of Tulsa NightWriters. On her popular blog, kristin nador writes anywhere, she invites other creatives to journey with her and discover their best creative life through posts on writing, creativity, and blogging. Kristin lives is Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, with her husband and Pinkerton the Cat.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Top Rules for Writing

Not long ago, one of my critique groups did a fun exercise:  We all came in with our top 3-4 rules for writing, and then shared them with each other. As you might expect, some of the rules overlapped. But not all of them did. We had some interesting ideas come up during the discussion. So, I thought I'd share these rules with you, and see what you think. Here they are:

Look! We all have a philosophy, don't we?
My own rules for writing:

  1. Write every day.
  2. Write what you love.
  3. Write what you want to read.
  4. Edit later.
Bill's rules:
  1. Nothing is ever "finished." You just
    stop working on it.
  2. Be true to your genre, and stray
    from it at your peril.
  3. Do not edit or proofread on a
    computer. Use a printed copy.
Renee's rules:
  1. No limitations!
  2. Write when it works for you to fit it in.
  3. Let the story write itself, and then edit it.
  4. Always keep paper by your bed (to capture ideas).
Peter's rules:
  1. Unless I see it in my head, beginning to end, I don't write it.
  2. When I write something, I have my target audience in mind.
  3. When I'm writing creatively, I don't interrupt it with editing.
Casie's rule: Write in the environment that works for you (quiet, etc.).

Dorothy's rule: Set aside a specific place to do your writing.

Gloria's rule: Always write something.

Proof that I really did
write these ideas down
That's a lot of rules...but I think they all have their uses. I don't use all of them, and some of them I don't agree with. For example, I write in a variety of locations, rather than a specific location like Dorothy. But still, it's worth thinking about what works for other people.

Now, you share:  What are your personal top rules for writing? What do you think of the rules that other people shared in this post? I look forward to hearing what works for you. It's always interesting to see how different we can be, yet how we can all get writing done somehow anyway. The life of creativity, eh?

Until next time, happy writing!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 12, 2013

5 Good Things You Can Get from Critique Groups

Last week, I posted some negatives about critique groups. But in the interests of fairness, I want to talk this week about some of the positive things a critique group can do for you.

This is how I feel after
a great critique session!
Of course, it probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway:  The better the group of people you're working with, the better the experience will be for you. It's not just a matter of having strong writers in the group. What you need are people who can be both honest and diplomatic, who have your best interests at heart, who are open to receiving from you as well as giving to you, and who love the craft of writing and their potential readers enough to be humble in the face of critical feedback. A group like that is a blessing from the heavens, and when you find one, hold onto it, because not all groups are created equal.

But assuming you have a good, solid group of caring, committed, honest, dedicated writers to work with, you'll get some very good advice:

  1. They'll tell you what they love about your work. This is important because we can get blind to what is actually working in our writing. We can edit to death if we're not careful. Good readers will tell you what NOT to fix. Take that advice seriously.
  2. They will kick their own jealousy (if they have any) to the curb. I've had someone tell me they were jealous of my work. But this person was so kind about it and so honest that it was easy to forgive, especially when she kindly said I should get back to what works in my own fiction, because she kind of wanted to be jealous some more. We all appreciate, admire, and even envy others for doing certain things well. But the mark of a mature person is to be able to recognize our envy and put it aside.
  3. They'll tell you what isn't working. This is the number one reason to belong to a good critique group, or at least to have some strong, honest readers. That passage we think is brilliant...well, it may not be that brilliant after all. It might be confusing. It might be overwritten. A good reader, a good critiquer, will tell you how much they love you...and then they'll tell you to fix your crap anyway. Because they love you.
  4. They'll listen to what you need and see how they can meet that need. Sometimes we know what we need, don't we? We need to know if the fight scene is easy to follow. We need to know if the character's motivation seems believable. We need to figure out where to go next with the story. A good critique group is capable of taking your questions and then answering them in ways that help you write better and move forward, instead of confusing you, discouraging you, or keeping you blocked.
  5. They'll inspire you to keep writing. We all get discouraged at times. The creative process has ups and downs. But a good critique group knows that, and they will help you through it. They'll remind you in the down times that you are a good writer. When you want to throw away everything you've ever created, they'll say, "Well, why don't you just hold onto it? Maybe you'll be able to use it again someday." In other words, when you feel a little insane about it all, they'll remind you that you are, in fact, very sane and you should just take a deep breath and relax.
And your critique group is how you make it, too!
Now, you share:  What other good things has your critique group done for you?

Next week, I'll share a list of tips...top rules of writing...that one of my critique groups shared with each other. Until next time, happy writing!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Do You Really Need a Critique Group?

I've been asking myself this question for more than a year now, and I blame Steven James.

Steven James is the prolific author of more than 30 books, including the popular Patrick Bower thrillers, which I have mentioned before on the blog. He was the guest of honor at the 2012 OWFI conference, which I was able to attend. In a Friday night "rap" session with many writers, including me, James told us he doesn't use a critique group. When we asked how he improved his writing, he said (paraphrased since I can't recall his exact words):

"I send it to my editor."

His editor is a professional editor-for-hire that he respects, works well with, and yes...pays...for her services.


(To paraphrase again, more loosely this time), James also said some things about critique groups that many people that Friday night found to be very controversial:
  • that critique groups do more harm than good
  • that you can't rely on critiques to improve your writing
  • that many critique groups leave writers confused, making their writing worse
  • that you'd be better off hiring a professional editor, who makes a living helping people improve their books than talking to people at your level
  • that no...no, really...you don't need a critique group.
His thinking was reasoned. He wasn't just spouting off at the mouth, and he was definitely firm in his opinion. And I've come to think that in certain circumstances, at least, James is right. You might be better off skipping the critique group.

Now, I'm not saying your work needs no editing. In fact, no matter how good a writer you are, you still need an editorial eye to catch the things you can't see anymore because you're too close to what you're writing. (This applies to both fiction and non-fiction, by the way.)

But critique groups can be tricky. To make one work for you, I think you have to be sure you have good writers, smart readers, and people who are mature enough to set competition and jealousy aside, as well as the stubborn voice inside that tries to scream, "You just don't get it! My writing is perfect as it is!" And that group, trust me, is kind of hard to find.

In just the past few weeks of meetings with two different critique groups that I've been attending, I've seen:
  1. A strong disagreement between a writer and two critiquers (including me), who gave that writer very good feedback, and two follow-up emails from that writer insisting that I didn't get what she was trying to do. I did get what she was trying to do, and it wasn't working, which is why I gave her feedback. Feedback she clearly didn't want. So, why was she even present at a critique group, whose purpose is to critique?
  2. An author insisting that the "clever" little joke with which she'd started her novel was consistently making her novel funny all the way through page 40. (I disagreed on the principle that no story functions on a single joke for more than a few minutes, and after those few minutes, you have to do something else to keep it funny, or the joke gets old and people stop reading.) Again, this was unwanted feedback.
  3. A freelancer who always writes wonderful stuff admitted to me that she was a little jealous of my work because it was so strong. This was a compliment, even though it came in the wake of sharing something of mine that was apparently weak and needs some work. I admire the things others write, even and especially when it's something I don't do well. Am I the only one who feels that way? Is everyone else jealous, and I'm just too nice not to feel that way?
  4. A couple of people whose writing needs significant edits, but they received only positive feedback even though they could benefit from more honest feedback. I'm not talking about ripping something to shreds but pointing out the things that do strengthen a piece (like adding more sensory detail here to a scene). Did they get only praise because they're favored, or because people secretly don't want to help them improve?
  5. Two writers, who apparently are also friends, came to our group to visit and proceeded to talk mostly between themselves for the entire meeting. Being polite, I asked them to join us afterwards for drinks and snacks at a local restaurant. They agreed to come, walked in, and then immediately ditched the group. Rude!
I know critique groups can be good, especially when they function as they are meant to...as honest places where writers can hear both what they're doing well and what they're doing poorly. Where you can share something with people hearing your piece for the first time, as paying readers will do. Where you'll get questions that you suddenly realize you forgot to answer in your piece, but you need to. Places where you can really learn to improve your technique and really help others, with integrity, truth, and respect.

Some people seem lucky enough (or smart enough) to be in a group that is truly able to be excellent, supportive, and challenging. The writers of the Writing Excuses podcast, for example. They're all published, and they know how to critique each other effectively.

But for those of us who find ourselves in groups with people who only want to be heard without listening, who want to take without giving, who don't know how to offer feedback and aren't working hard to learn how... Yeah, I think maybe Steven James has a point. Maybe a professional editor is a better option in some instances.

So, what do you think? Controversial topic, controversial viewpoint... Surely you have an opinion, so go ahead and share it below. And if you have a critique group that's really working for you, let me know how you found it, or how you formed it.

Until next time, happy writing!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Reaper's Rhythm: A fun dance for YA fans

Last week, I previewed a look at Clare Davidson's new young adult urban fantasy novel, Reaper's Rhythm. This week, I have a review for you. Enjoy!
***


Reaper's Rhythm tells the story of Kim, a teen whose sister Charley has apparently committed suicide. The only problem is, Charley had been happy, and Kim doesn't believe her sister killed herself. But other than the nagging sensation that something is wrong somehow, Kim can't prove anything, and no one believes her. Worse, Kim is suffering from a form of amnesia. Even though she discovered her sister's body, she can't remember anything from the time she arrived at home until she wakes up later in the hospital.

Trying to make sense of what happened, Kim begins talking to Charley's friends. She is hit on by the creepy Gage, hated on by mean girl Tia, pitied by Charley's close friend Amy, befriended by Kevin, an older teen who Charley had fought with the day she died...

But the real mystery is Matthew, a cute guy with a winning smile that no one else seems to notice lurking around except for Kim. The otherworldly Matthew warns Kim from trying to find out what happened. And of course, she ignores him. That's how she discovers there is magic at work...and with her stubborn need for closure in the death of Charley, Kim gets caught right in the middle of a magic mess...

Reaper's Rhythm is a lot of fun. The beginning drops us right into the middle of the action. Now I'll be honest: that felt a bit abrupt to me personally. But I quickly got my feet grounded in the story, it moved along nicely, and I didn't mind the quick start so much. For young adults, the target audience, I expect the quick start will be greatly appreciated.

In a typical YA novel, you want a hint of romance. Author Clare Davidson provides this deftly. Kim is drawn to Matthew, but Kevin is cute in his own way too. And then there's Gage, who is clearly a bad boy, but he has a certain charm that is hard to ignore. You wonder which, if any of them, Kim will end up with.

The magic in the story is also handled well. It never overpowers the main drama, which is how Kim solves the mystery of what happened to Charley and comes to terms with it. But the magic is a key to what happened, and Davidson weaves it into the story so that it makes perfect sense in the urban, English setting where the story takes place. My only criticism is that I wanted to know more about the magical, demonic and angelic creatures who are players in the story. We do get an explanation of sorts, and it works, but I'd like to more. Perhaps that's an area Davidson will explore in a sequel someday.

All in all, Reaper's Rhythm is a solid book that teenaged fans of Twilight (by Stephenie Meyer) and City of Bones (by Cassandra Clare) are sure to enjoy!

Now for a little excitement...
You can win a copy of Reaper's Rhythm for yourself!
Just join in the raffle:

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Author
Clare Davidson
To learn more about author Clare Davidson, to contact her, or to order Reaper's Rhythm, connect with her online:

Website: http://claredavidson.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ClareMDavidson
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ClareMDavidson
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6445758.Clare_Davidson
New releases mailing list: http://eepurl.com/zpjGf


Next week, I'll share some thoughts about critique groups...and why maybe you don't need one as much as you might think. See you then!

Copyright (c) 2013 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.