Tag Archives: critique buddies

Checking in with 2011 goals

We’re now officially half-way through 2011, which hardly seems possible. Wasn’t it Christmas a few weeks ago? Didn’t I just sit down to write my goals for the year?

Back in January, I told you all about my goals for this year in the belief that making them public would make me more accountable.

I haven’t hit all of the ones I meant to by this time. It’s taken me a little longer than I expected to write and revise the two manuscripts I’m working on, but that’s okay with me because I’d rather take that time to improve them than to pointlessly send out work I’ve rushed through.

Things I have managed to do:

– go on my first research trip (to Bosnia)

– book my tickets for RWA Nationals (my very first writing conference!) and line up pitch appointments

– enter a couple of contests

– judge the Golden Heart, beta read for a couple of people, and continue weekly critiques with my partners

– connect with more people on Twitter and this blog

– blog at least once a week through WordPress’ PostAWeek challenge, and grow the number of blog subscribers and daily hits this blog gets.

The year may be half over, but that’s still a lot of time to achieve my other goals:

– completing the two manuscripts I’m working on

– writing the first draft of another story

– querying agents and keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll find the right agent for me.

Did you make goals for 2011? How are you doing with accomplishing them?

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How do you know if you’re a good writer?

I remember very clearly the first time someone told me I was a good writer. I was nine or ten and had to write a biography about a person I admired. I chose my grandpa, a remarkable man in so many ways that would never earn him recognition outside his family. Loyal, kind, hard-working – he’s turning 90 this June and still spends hours doing yard work and fixing things for the widows on his street.

I wrote his biography, and my mom helped me type it up and print it out on her cutting-edge dot matrix printer. I stapled my booklet together, decorated it with my markers, and gave it to Grandpa the next time he and Gramma came over.

The only other time I’ve seen my grandpa’s eyes well up was on my wedding day.

Grandpa checks out the Union Jack boxers my British husband and I gave him for Christmas

Grandpa checks out the Union Jack boxers my British husband and I gave him for Christmas

He read through my story, shaking his head, grinning and murmuring, “My my.” He never once called me out on all the things I’d made up or guessed at – like what the weather was like on the night he was born (my opening scene).

Poor research skills aside, for the first time I felt like I could do something special. I could touch someone’s heart in a way no one else in my family could. They’re not writers, my family, so they made a very big deal of my creation.

For years afterward, “good writer” attached itself to my identity.

I’m guessing most writers have a similar story. You probably didn’t know you had a talent for story-telling until someone pointed it out. Let’s face it, not many six year olds sit back from their first crayon-scrawled story and think, “That’s some damn good stuff. I totally nailed what it was like to be a T-Rex in the Cretaceous period.”

The problem is that we quickly learn the equation “praise + recognition = good writer”, which means we convince ourselves the opposite is true: “no praise + lack of recognition = bad writer”.

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The worst thing I’ve ever written didn’t kill me

Revolver

© Brian Lary/sxc.hu

In the months leading up to my college graduation, I panicked. What the hell could you do with an English degree except teach or go to law school – neither of which I was very excited about?

I took the LSAT, but only because I watched a lot of Law & Order and wanted to work with a hot detective like Benjamin Bratt. Fortunately, I got lost on the way to the exam and didn’t have enough time to eat lunch, ensuring I got a mediocre score and gave up the thought of going to law school.

I’d make a terrible lawyer.

My best friend was panicking, too. She majored in world arts and cultures, an even less practical degree (though she does know how to do a traditional Indonesian dance). So she proposed we apply to teach English in Japan through the JET program.

The application required me to write an essay, which I did quickly and without much care. After all, I was an English major so I could write, right?

By the time I had my interview, I’d forgotten what I’d written. I walked into the room where three people sat behind a table. One of them was glaring at me already.

Not a great sign.

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Little man’s complex: short stories that pack a powerful punch

This is cross-posted at The Season.

Taming of Mei LinI love short stories. I studied them in college and some of my all-time favorite authors (like Flannery O’Connor and Angela Carter) wrote brilliant short stories.

I’ve never been a big fan of romance short stories, though—until recently.

Last year I won a copy of Jeannie Lin’s The Taming of Mei Lin. It sucked me right in, and, best of all, I didn’t have to stay up late and go to work bleary-eyed just so I could finish reading it.

Then, recently, the amazing Suzanne Johnson posted a short story on her site. Now, Suzanne’s one of my critique partners and I Chenoire coverget to read her stuff regularly, but her first novel isn’t being published until next year, so her short story Chenoire is a (free!) taster for the rest of you. Let me tell you, the world Suzanne has created is amazing. Think about all the strange things you hear about from the Deep South. Now add fantasy and paranormal characters, and a wicked funny voice. That is the recipe for a Suzanne Johnson story.

After reading the wonderful Chenoire, I discovered Kelly Fitzpatrick was giving away her short story Holiday Hostage.  Kelly is one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter. Every conversation I have with her leaves me clutching my sides. So an opportunity to check out what her writing style’s like? I’m all over that. Holiday Hostage is funny and full of attitude—like Kelly’s tweets, but longer. Even though I never ever ever buy e-books (no e-reader, and I hate reading on my laptop), I bought Kelly’s debut novel Lily in Wonderland. Yep, couldn’t help it. The short story gave me a taste of Kelly’s voice, and I had to have more.

Holiday Hostage coverThree authors. Three vastly different voices and types of story. All awesome. And two of them—Jeannie Lin and Kelly Fitzpatrick—made me fans of their work by tempting me with a well-written short story first. (I confess, I was already a huge fan of Suzanne Johnson’s writing.)

Aside from being short and easy to consume when you don’t have much time, one great benefit of these stories is that they’re cheap (or free) ways of trying out a new author. You don’t need to invest much time or money and end up disappointed and broke.

Do you like reading short romance stories? Have you ever bought an author’s novel after loving their short story writing style?

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Finished the draft! Need a beta!

Silhouette of a jumping man

Credit: Asif Akbar/sxc.hu

After one year and two weeks, I’ve FINALLY finished the first draft of my novel.

*insert appropriate noises connoting excitement and nervousness here*

I’ve been editing and polishing as I go – which is one reason I’ve only written the last scene this weekend. It’s 343 pages (96,500 glorious words) but there are around 250 pages that only God and I have seen. They need work. Probably a lot of work. But I’ve stuck with this story when I was tired, stressed, and frustrated, so I’m not giving up now.

So here’s the deal. I’m looking for people who’d love to read it and give me feedback. Ideally, I’m looking for people who like somewhat dark, emotional contemporary single title romance. I’d love it if you could give me your feedback by mid-to-late February so I can digest it and rework anything I need to.

I’d like pretty high-level feedback (what works, what’s confusing, what’s unrealistic and makes me sound like I’m pulling things out of my butt, etc), though, if you’re inclined to point out awkward sentences then by all means please do so.

If you’re a writer, I’m happy to do an exchange with you (because of this, I will probably only take a few beta readers, as I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep).

Feel free to leave a comment below (even if you don’t want to beta read for me) or email me at romancingkatrina [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks for celebrating with me!

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2010: How writing and writing buddies got me through a shit year

My friend Suzanne Johnson wrote a great post at Write in the Shadows about how her writing career developed throughout 2010. For me personally, this year has hit higher highs and lower lows than any I can remember. For months I said I just wanted to get the year over with, but when I read Suzanne’s post and decided to write one of my own, I realized that writing – and my new writer friends – got me through it.

Here’s where I went on my roller coaster ride.

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Doncha wish your critter was hot like me?

Well, your critter could *be* me. Or rather, I could be your critique partner.

My online critique group, Rumored Romantics, is looking for one or two other partners. To find someone whose critique style meets ours, we’re running a little contest. Lynnette Labelle, who runs the group, has posted the contest rules on her blog, so if you’re looking for a group who’ll critique one of your chapters a week, go read Lynnette’s blog!

There are a few stages, and the first deadline is on Tuesday, so hurry!

As for me, I’m taking a social media break next week. I’ll be checking this blog until Sunday, but after that I’ll be powering down my internet access for a week and focusing on writing. So, if I don’t speak to you beforehand, have a wonderful week full of good books!

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Who holds you accountable?

Frustrated man at a laptopYesterday I read Jessica Faust’s post about a day in her life (not a typical day, just a day), and it occurred to me that I always get warm fuzzies when I read about agents checking in with their clients to see how they’re doing.

Maybe it’s just the agents whose blogs I read, or maybe it’s that agents who are the best with people will be more likely to set up helpful blogs, but I love that a writer could go on Twitter and say they’re having a hard day, and get a call from their agent the next day.

Now, before you call me naive, of course I know that agents and writers have a professional relationship. And yes, it makes good business sense for an agent to check in with her authors. But just because it’s done out of professionalism doesn’t mean it’s not helpful.

Sometimes it makes me think that the best thing about having an agent would be having the kind of relationship where I could send an email to say I’m struggling, and have someone to talk it through.

Before I started blogging, I didn’t have that at all. Over the last year, though, I’ve been able to virtually meet loads of writers who’ve helped me out.

As an unpublished, unagented writer, I don’t have a professional obligation to write. I do it because it’s my passion. But that also means the only deadlines I have are the ones I set myself. And that means they’re easy for me to shift.

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My critique group has an opening

If you’re a romance writer looking for a small, online critique group, check out my crit partner Lynnette’s blog. Our group is looking for one or two more people, and we run a contest to find partners we think we’d work well with.

Lynnette’s blog has info about the three current members, but you can find out more about us (and see if you think we’d be a good fit for you) by subscribing to our blogs and following us on Twitter.

Here are some handy links:

Lynnette Labelle – Chatterbox Chit Chat blog; follow Lynnette on Twitter

Suzanne Johnson – Preternatura blog; follow Suzanne on Twitter

Katrina Latham (me) – Reader, I created him blog (yes, you’re reading it now); follow me on Twitter

Soon Lynnette will be posting more info about the contest, so now’s a good time to stalk us a bit and decide if our personalities and writing styles might mesh with yours.

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“He drinks WHAT?” Product placement in novels

At one point near the beginning of my work-in-progress (a contemporary romance set in a small mountain town in California), my hero sits in a greasy-spoon cafe and thinks about how much he misses being a Starbucks customer.

I didn’t put that thought in his head on a whim. You see, he’s a small-business owner, so he tries to support other small businesses as much as possible. He’s a sensitive guy with strong moral character (even if he totally screws the pooch when it comes to his heroine).

I’ve been getting some feedback from my husband and crit partners about this scene, and it’s funny the different reactions they’ve had. Two of my crit partners said things along the lines of: “Man, I know how he feels about Starbucks! Love that place.”

My husband (a lefty intellectual) asked why I was advertising for Starbucks, and whether I’d get paid for product placement.

Sometimes as writers, especially those of us writing contemporary novels, we use brand names as a sort-of shorthand. When I needed to think of an international company synonymous with taking over the world, I thought of Starbucks.

If my story had been set in the UK, I might’ve used the name of a supermarket chain (which shall remain nameless here, in the interests of not being sued) which is often the subject of documentaries because it seems to open supermarkets across the street from independent shops that can’t compete. There’s lots of worry here that small towns are becoming generic because big-name companies suck the life out of them.

In historicals, Ye Olde Name for products can help plant the setting in a reader’s imagination. Think about all the gratuitous capital letters and superlatives companies used to use when trying to sell The World’s Most Perfect Jar of Oil Ever Created, Known For Its Laxative Powers And Abilities To Regenerate Hair On Balding Gentlemen’s Heads. Okay, I made that one up, but I love it when historical writers introduce me to an authentic (or authentic-sounding) product.

But that shorthand won’t work for all readers. In fact, like with my husband, it can backfire and make a character less sympathetic.

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