Category Archives: Authors

I’ve had two book-buying frenzies this month.

The first: The Friends of the Library book sale. I’m a new member. I volunteered to sell books at the sale which is to say I emptied my wallet at the event.

The second: Indies First, a national event bringing authors to local bookstores on Small Business Saturday. I appeared as a local author which is to say I emptied my wallet at the event.

Chapter2Books in Hudson, Wisc., hosted four authors: Mike Norman, Stephanie Stuve Bodeen, Dan Woll and yours truly. There’s no better way to spend a Saturday than hanging out at a bookstore talking to other readers. We had a blast.

The titles in my shopping bag:

  • A Star Wars father-son collection of postcards. (Darth Vadar to Luke: No, you can’t play with Han Solo, and that’s final!)
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Nothing else needs to be said, right?
  • Who is Bob Dylan? This is a kid’s book with one of those life lessons: Yes, you won’t like his music – at least not now – but you need to know him. You’ll never win a trivia game if you don’t.
  • Where the Red Fern Grows.
  • Tree Spirited Woman by Colleen Baldrica. I met Colleen at a planning meeting for a Minnesota reading series and heard about her fantastic book. Now it’s on my shelf.

Here’s hoping your Christmas list has a few books on it. Check it twice, and be nice, for goodness sake.

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A writing family, part two

The best part of being in a writing group: celebrating publication.

The best part of being in a writing group: celebrating publication.

In yesterday’s post, members of my writing group responded to my question: What do they get from being part of a critique group? Three answers ran yesterday, and three more follow.

Amy Kortuem. Amy’s a singer and harpist who writes her own material. You can find her CDs and performance schedule at her web site. She writes professionally and recently decided to bring her own writing into the world. Look for her to publish soon. Also, Amy has the world’s best biceps from carrying her massive harp to gigs. Who needs weights?

I think what I love most is the companionship of people who are doing what I’m doing. I don’t have any harp friends, and have done everything in the space of my own head and heart. But in writing, I NEED companionship. I need to talk through ideas before I write. I need to read what others are writing and see that in all stages of drafting so I don’t put all that stupid pressure on myself to hang out with one paragraph for two weeks until it’s “good enough” before moving on. With writing, it’s hard to let anyone read something until I’m in a place where I think it hangs together. Maybe once I get used to the welcoming atmosphere and the genuine support of this group, I’ll be able to share more.

Rachael Hanel is the author of the memoir We’ll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down and an essayist. We worked together for six years at a newspaper. That’s where I discovered we shared so much – and so little – in common. Rachael loves winter, enjoys cemeteries, and is devoted to working out. Me? Not so much.

  • I need sets of eyes on my new work. You absolutely need to bounce work off others.
  • Sharing resources: magazine articles, books on writing, notes from workshops and conferences, tips we’ve learned, etc.
  • A group in which to brainstorm ideas.

Judith Angelique “Angie” Johnson is a published poet who also writes essays and fiction. Alas, we’ve been unable to bring Angie into the technical world, so there’s no web site or Facebook page. Angie looks sweet and fragile, but don’t let that fool you. She once hopped in her minivan and chased down a man who’d stolen a bike from her driveway. She raced down the street, yelling “drop the bike, mother****** or I’ll run you over.” And the guy, wisely, dropped the bike.

The group gives me confidence. I like criticism to see where I can improve as a writer and a thinker. The group keeps me balanced: to love the sound of words, but to love – even more – their meanings. Story first. Providing criticism for others has also made me a stronger writer. It forces me to think about audience, purpose, stance and so on, in order to provide feedback that is helpful for others, rather than feedback on how “Angie would do it.” I also know my writing can fall flat on its face and I won’t be judged. Our group is a safe place to fail, and fail hard, and then stand and tighten the belt again.

So there you have it. Six members; six viewpoints.

Tomorrow: what your writing group should not be.

A writing family

Publishing is an untamed beast. Your writing group members are the fence and the people who'd tell you this caption is over the top.

Publishing is an untamed beast. Your writing group is the fence, and the people who’d tell you this caption is over the top.

Writers need editors before they get an editor. They need to huddle with people who understand, people who will never say, why don’t you find a new hobby, something not so frustrating?

That’s your writing group. The members are your pre-agent, pre-editor, pre-reader, pre-reviewer, as well as support system and safety net.

My group has been meeting for nearly 11 years. People have come and gone, people have bowed out temporarily, but if you go to Mankato’s Wine Cafe every other Wednesday, you’ll find us in the back room with laptops and stacks of paper. We know all the regulars. Hell, we are the regulars.

I asked members to explain what they get from being in a critique group. So here we go:

Becky Fjelland Davis. Author of Jake Riley: Irreparably Damaged and Chasing AllieCat. She’s currently shopping a middle-grade novel. She’s a champion cyclist and has the biggest dog I’ve ever seen.

After enough rejections through the years, I find I want other eyes on my work before I send it out. Unless it’s an editor who is buying the manuscript, it’s hard to trust another reader; when you find a group of readers you trust, you want it to stick. Forever.

Kirstin Cronn-Mills. Author of The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don’t Mind (a Minnesota Book Award nominee) and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. She’s currently finishing a nonfiction book about transgender issues and working on a new novel. She often writes on her deck, the perfect writing den. I have deck envy.

  1. Having someone else’s eyes on your work. It’s good for keeping your zipper zipped. : )
  2. Sharing creative ideas & brainstorming together.
  3. Trusting someone to tell you what works & what doesn’t (makes it easier to kill darlings, for instance).
  4. Not feeling so alone when writing is shit and you want to quit. And I can tell you, I would have quit long ago without the group.

Kristin Not-sure-if-she-wants-her-full-name-used. She’s written under a pseudonym and has enough fascinating publishing stories she could write a best seller about publishing. Did I mention her husband makes the best caramel rolls I’ve ever eaten? I ate three at one sitting, so I say this with authority.

I would agree with what everyone’s said. Mostly, you all keep me from quitting. In fact, you encourage me to keep writing. I think I would have given up years ago.

Awww, don’t you feel a little teary? Because I do.

In the interest of shorter posts, I’ll share three others tomorrow.

Leonard the Invisible

Crime writer Elmore Leonard died a two days ago. A radio journalist said Leonard’s novel output averaged one book every 18 months. Incredible.

Elmore Leonard died Aug. 20, 2013.

Elmore Leonard died Aug. 20, 2013.

In honor of Leonard, a member of my writing group came to last night’s meeting with copies of Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for Writing. His goal as a writer was to remain invisible, to let the reader enjoy the story without sensing the writer is trapped in the book.

I won’t share them all, but here are a few nuggets and my comments.

Never open a book with weather. There’s a reason writers and readers laugh at the line, It was a dark and stormy night. They laugh because it’s awful.

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. He cried. She muttered. He blasted. She raged. Those types of dialogue tags insert the writer into the character. No reader wants the writer interfering with the novel she’s enjoying.

Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip … If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. His quote: I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing.

Farewell to Elmore Leonard, the invisible writer.