Sometimes the Best Reviews…

I just finished the first draft of my novelette, “Road Trip,” and I’m now working on my second draft edits. The is the story that’s going to be published in May in the anthology, Reliquary, so I’m well on track to have it fully polished and ready by the April 30th deadline.

Since I’m working on my second draft edits, I’m looking at the comments I’ve received on each part of the story from the members of my writing group. The best thing about going over all the comments with a fine-toothed comb is that I found this little nugget from Lou Lamoureux, the author of Recalled to Duty:

Good story. Reminds me of Neil Gaiman w/ more flavor.

Not sure it’s true, but still… Gotta love it.

The official blurb for “Road Trip” is:

Rocco Fitch, a wounded veteran of the war in Afghanistan, doesn’t have much left to live for. He’s disabled, unemployed and his wife has left him, taking their daughter with her. Then a beggar, a war veteran like himself, offers to sell him a road.

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Immerse or Die: Most Common Writing Mistakes

So, a writer friend of mine, Dominick Daunno from far-off Texas, pointed out the ImmerseOrDie review site to me. The picture below sums up the philosophy of the site in one memorable tagline:

Immerse or Die: The Web Site for Writers With No Fear

The site is the brain child of Jefferson Smith, a writer who admits he’s disenchanted with the professionalism of a lot of the indie-published ebooks he’s seen. So he reads an ebook while he’s on the treadmill each morning. He gives each story three strikes (which he calls WTF’s) against reader immersion before he stops reading. Then he reviews the story and tells what pulled him out of the story, if anything did.

This is what Jefferson Smith says about his review process:

If somebody is charging us money for their books, we have the right to expect a few things. They should be good stories, well told, with proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The logic of the story should be consistent, the choices and behaviors of the characters should be plausible, and they should actually be doing something. Something interesting. Something worth telling stories about. A book that gets all those right will probably go the full 40 minutes with me. Sadly, a great many indie books do not seem to get those basics right.

The really cool thing is that he analyzed his results after he hit 50 reviews, and wrote an excellent article detailing the flaws he was seeing in ebooks, as well as some reasonable grouping of the flaws into categories. His conclusions are startling, but also very useful to writers.

Check out the article. And definitely check out the reviews…he’s brutal but fair. Reading the reviews is sort of like a condensed course in what not to do in your own stories. As for me, I’m sending my next ebook to Jefferson Smith…’cause I’m willing to take the “Immerse or Die” challenge. How about you?

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Loudoun County Writers Group

Loudoun County Writers GroupThis past spring, I realized that I was getting really serious about my writing. One of my stories had failed to come together, but the next one was coming along extremely well. I wanted to get other viewpoints on my writing, hopefully informed viewpoints from other writers.

I decided to find out if there were any writing groups in my area. It turned out there was one. It was called the Loudoun County Writers Group. The group met every Saturday from 10:00 AM to Noon for the Saturday Morning Review. Once a month, they ran the Writers Workshop on Sunday at the same time, but at the Atanta Bread Company, a nice restaurant for breakfast/lunch. Group membership and the meeting schedule were coordinated using Meetup.

I decided to check them out further. I literally had no idea what to expect. Were they going to be a bunch of pretentious literary types? Or a dismal group of no-talent wannabes? Or, maybe, just a group of serious, hard-working, aspiring writers like myself?

The Saturday Morning Review was capped at 12 attendees, and the next one was full. The closest, upcoming event was the Writers Workshop the next day, so I registered for that. Even if the experience was negative, at least I’d get a good meal out of the Atlanta Bread Company.

I showed up early for the event and got myself a drink and a breakfast pastry. Then I sat down and waited to see if a group coalesced anywhere, figuring that would probably be the workshop attendees.

My plan worked. A few minutes later, I was one of seven people sitting around a couple of tables that had been pushed together. In the center, the organizer, Elizabeth Hayes, had placed a bunch of books that had something to do with the topic of Point of View (POV).

Over the ensuing two hours, we had a wide-ranging discussion of POV, as well as other writing topics. I had a lot of fun, and felt that I learned something from the discussion as well. Further, and this was a curious effect, I felt more like a writer. Here were people who were experiencing the same problems I was.

Granted, the attendees varied in what I perceived as their writing level, but some of them were clearly competitive with my own skill level. I seemed to have the edge on everybody there in terms of depth of knowledge of the science fiction field, although Elizabeth Hayes probably had me beat in the fantasy realm. She also knew more about The Lord of the Rings than anybody I had ever met. Interestingly, I had also met one of the attendees before. Beth Sadler had been in the same Writing Workshop as me at Capclave 2013.

Since the Writers Workshop had been such a positive experience, I decided that my next step was to attend a session of The Saturday Morning Review. I registered for the next session online. I also submitted my story, “Winter Roses,” for review.

The first five stories submitted each week by Wednesday at 11:00 AM were reviewed on Saturday. Each story, or chapter or fragment, was expected to be under 2000 words. All of the attendees would review all of the stories, discuss them on Saturday, and then hand the author of each story their notes.

Now, I submitted my story as a bit of a test. It’s really a speech. It takes about ten minutes to present. As a speech, it has some inherent limitations as a prose story. It’s locked into one scene, one POV, and has the narrator relating his feelings about some incidents in the past as his lover lies dying. In 1500 words, it’s a love story, a crime drama, a fantasy and a revenge tale.

I wanted to see how the group critiqued it, because that would really let me know how good they were. Essentially, I wanted to know whether this group was going to be worth the investment of my time.

For me to read and do a quality review of 8000 words per week (all the stories except my own) took about three hours. The meeting itself was going to last for two hours. That’s five hours per week out of my already hellacious schedule. Frankly, the group had to provide some tremendous value in order to be worth that much of my time.

Prior to the meeting, I had quite a good time reviewing the other stories. I learned a lot from what the other writers had done well, and also what they had not done well. I was able to write up what I felt were some very good notes for the other writers.

Next, I attended the meeting on Saturday at the Cascades Library. There were eight of us present. Overall, the reviews of the various works were very insightful

Then, my turn came up. The group quickly pinpointed all of the issues that I had expected. They also came up with some good ideas for expanding the story so it would work better in prose. Finally, one of the other writers even suggested a plot twist that I’d never thought of that could help take a longer prose version of the story to the next level. I was extremely impressed.

There was no question in my mind that the review session had been exceptional useful. By the end of the meeting I had already decided that the Loudoun County Writers Group provided exactly the type of support that I needed to take my craft to the next level. Those five hours a week — indisputably worth it.

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