Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Critiquing a critique group

Over a year ago, I stepped away from a local SCBWI critique group I'd been part of for several years. There was nothing 'wrong' with the group or its members. They're all talented writers, working hard on their craft and focused on getting their WIPs in shape and ready for submission. But they were all working on picture books. I was working on a middle-grade novel.

So I set about creating a critique group focused on writing middle-grade novels. A month later, five of us, all avid readers and writers of literature for that age group, met virtually for the first time. After initial technical problems, we settled into a rhythm of monthly manuscript submissions and online critique of our middle-grade WIPs. The group seemed to be going well.

Six months later, one member withdrew. She found getting feedback early in the writing process derailed her vision for the piece. We all understood and wished her well. 

Last month, another member withdrew. Multiple demands in his work and personal life left him with little extra time and energy. Again, we all understood and wished him well. 

So the three of us who remain will decide the group's future. We've all been at this long enough to know that groups like this are malleable. They morph into what is needed by its members and are reshaped as members come and go. The three of us can tweak our guidelines and procedures or we can tear them up and start over. We can keep the group at just three members, or we can add another one or two. In any case, I look forward to the process of redefining ourselves and am excited about our future.  


Friday, November 19, 2021

The unexpected benefits of audiobooks

This year, my challenge on Goodreads was to read 50 books. I've surpassed that, mostly because I've added audiobooks to my reading experience in the last few years.  

Listening to audiobooks allows me to expand not only the number of books I enjoy but also the places in which I enjoy them. I listen to books while driving, exercising, cooking, or when I'm out for a good long walk. Time passes quickly when someone is telling me a story, and that's exactly how I perceive a well narrated audiobook.

My library system's Overdrive and Libby accounts give me access to thousands of great titles to download and enjoy for free. Courtesy of a friend, I've recently added Audible to my audiobook source list. The number of stories I can listen to boggles my mind. 

When I read books in print or ebook, I have a (guilty!) tendency to skim past wordy descriptions and long unbroken blocks of text. An audiobook doesn't let the reader do that. The narrator progresses through the text word by word, paragraph by paragraph, even parts I would have chosen to skim.

And guess what? I've learned that those wordy sections are (usually) there for a reason. They add to the setting, reveal a bit of character, or define the underlying reason for a conflict. Just what this girl needed to slow down her mind and enjoy the journey through the story. 

That said, I don't I have a favorite format for reading. I still love bookstore browsing and reading a hard copy I can hold in my hands. I also love my Kindle for its lightweight convenience and portability. But now about half of the books I read per year are ones I've accessed as audiobooks. I've found it to be a great option with its own benefit to me as a reader.

How about you? Do you listen to audiobooks? 


Saturday, November 13, 2021

Book trailers that can't be ads

I made these book trailers using the free site FlexClip. Each took me less than one hour to make. 

My idea had been to use the trailers in ads on TikTok, Facebook, Google Ads, and Instagram. Because of the swastikas on the novels' covers and the fact that the word 'Nazi' appears in the ads' description, my ads were rejected out of hand. I appealed, explaining that the novels are historical and are not pushing a neo-nazi agenda. I told them my books are well-researched, have been used in schools and book clubs, and are 'clean reads' for young readers. 

It didn't matter. The computer algorithm labeled the ads as containing 'hate speech.' The humans I spoke with said they couldn't do anything to change that label.

So I'll share them here in the hopes that you'll enjoy them and share them too! 














Monday, December 28, 2020

What I remembered

At the start of each year, I make a list of goals, both personal ones and goals related to my writing. This morning, I opened my '2020 goals' document and could have cried. So many of the goals involved face-to-face connection, travel, and new experiences. Of course, after early March, none of that happened.

Instead of lamenting what might have been, I am taking time today to reflect on what I gained during the 'pandemic pause.' Without the trappings of the external world:

~ I remembered that fresh air and sunshine are essential for my mental health. Time spent outdoors, listening to birdsong or children playing, soaking in nature’s palette and the silhouette of branches against the sky, the texture and scent of garden dirt --- ah, peace.

~ I remembered that I am okay with the status quo for a little while, but even during a shutdown, I need to shake things up. I tried new recipes, updated our kitchen, connected with new writing partners, adopted a cat, and learned to play the harmonica (badly.)

~ I remembered that I can keep some level of physical fitness without going to the gym. Hand weights, calisthenics, and Pilates can keep up my strength. Long yoga-style stretches can maintain my mobility, and brisk walks on hills can keep me in decent aerobic shape. Bonus points when those walks were with a friend who made me smile!

~I remembered the importance of connection, even when phone, text, and virtual connections had to suffice. This pandemic would have been far more devastating without technology.

~ I remembered the joy of simple things-- a scented candle, a picture drawn by one of my grandkids, the glorious colors of hydrangeas, watching TV with my husband beside a cozy fire. Oh, and I can't forget the joy of finding Clorox wipes and toilet paper! 😁

Many of the goals on my 2020 list will carry over to 2021. Best wishes to all as we close (slam?) the door on 2020 and embrace a hopefully healthy and happy new year.






Thursday, July 9, 2020

There's only Us

If I learned anything from researching and writing two novels set in Nazi Germany, it's this: dividing people into Us and Them leads to disaster for everyone. Everyone.  



From our perspective 80+ years after the Nazi regime, it's easy for us to see how labeling people, grouping folks into categories based on a set of criteria, set up the horror that was the Nazi era. The question is, do we see similar attitudes in the world today? 

Do we see it in our country?

In our cities and towns?

In our own backyard?

And the ultimate question: Do we see similar attitudes in our own hearts?





I confess. I am tired of the rhetoric. I am tired of American-born vs immigrant, Democrat vs Republican, black vs white, the privileged vs the poor. I am tired of the labels and categories that divide us. I am tired of the human tendency to paint people with a broad brush based on some criteria or other. 

I have seen historical proof of where labels can take us. I don't want to go there. 

I will do the only thing I can do. I will control ME. Today. Right here, right now. 

I will attend to the attitudes in my own heart. 

I will address my own tendency to categorize people and their actions as good or bad based on some predetermined criteria. 

I will speak out against injustice regardless of which 'side' causes that injustice. 

And when I fail, because I will, I will try to do better. 

How about you?