Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Best Online Writing Group Ever

All through February, we’ve shared some of our favorite Writing and Critique Partnerships Ever. I’m ending the month by talking about a few of my favorite online groups, which I enjoy much more than live meetups.

About fifteen years ago, I belonged to an online group called Book-in-a-Week. Every month, we posted goals, and were required to submit our word counts daily. A small team of moderators tracked and tallied all our reports. I didn’t actually work on a novel in these sessions, but cranked out a lot of non-fiction writing like newspaper articles and blog posts. Somehow, the group accountability was important to my productivity and success. I also met some really good writers there, including several of our Blood-Red Pencil team bloggers. Ann Parker was working on one of her early titles in the Silver Rush Mystery series, perhaps even the first. Before long, I became a beta-reader and occasional editor and writing partner. It was a small group of 100-200 participants in any given month, but it inspired many authors.

Alas, the group eventually folded, and for several years, my only writing group interaction was during National Novel Writing Month in November. I got a fair amount of fiction writing done, but I found the forums to be awkward and uninspiring. And, of course, it all lasted for only one month.

Then a few years ago, I stumbled upon a new and small Facebook group called Colorado Writers and Publishers and the big attraction for me was that it didn’t allow book promotions. What a relief to be free of buy link bombardments! Before long I became a moderator and the group grew to over 2,000 members. We share local events, write-ins, book signings and readings, but most importantly, the group is focused on writing. There are daily conversations about our writing challenges, questions that need authoritative answers, and participation in weekly, if not daily, writing sprints. (The group is available to anyone, not just Colorado writers, so do join us. Just remember - no book advertising!)

It’s noteworthy that Ann Parker participated in and even lead many of the group sprints and completed books #6 and #7 in her series! Mortal Music was recently released to great fan enthusiasm and critical acclaim. Watch for an interview with Ann here at the blog sometime in March.

In this new adventure in the award-winning Silver Rush mystery series, pianist Inez Stannert must track down a murderer before he silences a famous vocalist―forever.

Our next month's theme is the Best Writing Tips and Hacks Ever. We’ll share old and new, and by all means, if you have suggestions, leave us a comment! We all have special tricks and tools to make writing more pleasant and productive, and we'd love to read yours.

Dani Greer is a long-time publishing professional who is the founding member of this blog. She lives in the Colorado outback with her husband and too many cats. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Diagramming a Critique

I've been critiquing with Maggie Toussaint for more than ten years. Maggie writes cozies set on the Georgia coast. We write nothing alike. My books lean toward dark suspense and thrillers. They have "language" and sometimes sexual scenes if the story calls for it. Our strength as critique partners is exactly because we don't write in a similar manner. We trust each other, and though we may not always take the other's advice, we usually do. I thought the best way to explain our partnership was to show a critique Maggie did of a book I never finished. I might some day.
It's a follow-up to my Kindle Scout winner, Indiscretion and The Last Heist, sold separately or as one of four novellas in Low Country Crime.

A little background: my main character, Paul Swan, has lived on the other side of the law all his life. He's a diamond thief, and a very good one. The line from the Godfather comes to mind: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."
Paul has decided to go straight, mainly because of the female character, Zoe, and his teenage daughter, Lily, whom he hadn't met until recently. Someone wants Paul to steal a diamond, and he kidnaps Lily to force him to do it. Paul would do anything to prevent Lily from getting hurt.'s the critique. Maggie's comments are in BOLD

Though you are in Paul’s POV, the reader isn’t grounded in his POV for another page, which leaves us floundering. What could you add to the very first paragraph? Just a beat of something is all that’s needed. Maybe something about his gut wrenching fear for Lily? Or maybe he feels ashamed that he’s feeling the “thrill of the hunt” while he’s also scared out of his gourd? Or maybe he’s upset that everything is so out of control and he’s been so controlled his whole career?

The temperature had dropped, so Paul put up the top on the Jaguar for the ride home. “I’m glad someone is thinking straight,” he said. “My thoughts are all (tied) 'Tied is good, but KNOTTED gives a better visual' up with Lily, imprisoned somewhere, helpless, and at the hands of a man Cat described as liking them young. If that wasn’t enough to tempt me into calling the authorities, I don’t know what would. So help me God…”

“(Maybe it’s time you consider that,) Zoe said. By having her mention this here, when she says it 2 or 3 pages over, it weakens the impact. What if she turned it into a question? “Are you considering the cops?” Zoe asked.

“Then what? If you were Nicolaides and had kidnapped a girl who could put you in prison for the rest of your life, what would you do? I’ll tell you. He’d kill her.”

“I don’t want to (put) rub salt on your wound, but he might do that anyway. If he lets her go, he has no guarantee she won’t talk, your deal notwithstanding. Then there’s Byron Mitchell to consider. He’ll make sure you’re all outed.”

“I have considered him.”


“Byron Mitchell is not a good man.”

“What does that mean?”

“In my business―” he glanced in Zoe’s direction just long enough to catch her eye (you need him to get his eyes back on the road, otherwise he’ll wreck)― “my former business, when you want to control the problem, you control the source of the problem. I think Mitchell might have something he doesn’t want exposed. It’s my job, or maybe your job, to find out what it is. It might be a business practice or a personal one.”

“What personal one? What aren’t you saying?” [this is a good place to slow down the dialog. You could do it and add a beat of setting and reaction to what he’s thinking. (you have NO SETTING on this page.) Add something as simple as: Paul’s grip tightened on the steering wheel.) “He has a nasty temperament. I saw it last night directed at Sarah and their boy.”

You think he’s abusive?”

Paul shrugged. “Maybe. I think he’s worth deep scrutiny.”

Zoe paused. “I’m just a writer, Paul. I don’t have access to what a detective would, or the police. If he is abusive, Sarah would have to press charges, and even then I doubt I could find proof. I’ll do my best. I have groups I belong to that might help.”

“What groups?” he asked.

“Writers Groups. Writers can ask questions about anything (in the context of book research), and someone with the knowledge answers. That (still -DELETE) (kind of generic query) won’t get into anyone’s police files.”

“I’ll call Cryptic again. He shouldn’t get in trouble digging around there.”

“So, to keep Mitchell under control, you want (to find something DELETE) leverage to use on him?”

“Yes, long enough to get Lily back and to keep my word that we won’t expose what Nicolaides did.” He felt Zoe’s eyes searing into him.

“You mean you’d keep your word to him?”

“A man’s word is all he has. But if his story’s a ruse, or if anything happens to Lily, all bets are off, because he lied.”

“If he did this to one of my sons, I’d want to kill him, word or no word.”

“Then you wouldn’t have lasted thirty years in my business. Don’t forget, I was on the other side. Revenge has no place in the life I’ve lived. But this time, my daughter is in danger, and that makes me even more determined to get this bastard. But it has to be within the parameters we set.”

“If that includes Byron Mitchell,” Zoe said, “so be it, right?”

Zoe’s conclusion felt like a slap of reality. This wasn’t a quid pro quo game. It was serious business, dealing with people used to playing dirty. Mitchell was another story. If they found out he was corrupt, it: Comment: This “it” doesn’t add anything, and I was confused. If Paul and Zoe found out Mitchell was corrupt how would that destroy Sarah’s marriage? I’m surprised he would consider Sarah as part of his “they”. He begged her to take him back. He begged her to let him be part of Lily’s life. If he is still in love with her, that’s okay, but he shouldn’t be with Zoe. That would make me hate him. He could still want to look out for Sarah so that Lily’s life wasn’t screwed up.

Could you do something like this?

If they found out he was corrupt, Paul wouldn’t hesitate to tell Sarah, even if it destroyed her marriage. He didn’t like Mitchell, and he didn’t want a loser in Zoe’s life. Any reason he got, he’d use it. To drop Mitchell’s sorry ass

could destroy Sarah’s marriage. Paul had already experienced the man’s ugliness. He would have to tread lightly. But Lily’s life was at stake, and he’d do whatever it took to get her out of Nicolaides’s control and to keep his word at the same time, even if he has had to destroy Mitchell to do it. He didn’t want an aftermath of revenge to follow his daughter and her family.

“So be it,” Paul responded. “Just because Nicolaides frees Lily doesn’t mean she’s safe. Remember, Mitchell doesn’t know what I’m supposed to do for Nicolaides, and I don’t want him to find out. If he did and he exposes the kidnapping and the theft of the diamond to get some sort of twisted revenge against me, you can be sure Nicolaides will counter. And it won’t be pretty. We have to prevent that from happening.”

“By getting something on Mitchell.”


Zoe was quiet for a long moment. “Maybe it’s time to think about calling the police.” (this is much more powerful if she doesn’t suggest it several pages earlier. With that earlier prompt in the story, this seems like she’s nagging him.]

The cold, hard statement stopped Paul. Was he risking his daughter’s life to protect his own? Could he be that self-serving? “Nicolaides said he’d kill her,” Paul said. “I’m afraid he will.”

Zoe stretched her arm across the console to stroke his shoulder. “He gains nothing by doing that. All he wants is his diamond.”

Just then his phone chimed. Unavailable. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t answer a call from an unknown, but he answered this time. [I think it would add to the story to know what he said. Or didn’t say to answer the phone]

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

A scientist by training, a romanticist at heart, award winning author Maggie Toussaint loves to solve puzzles. Whether it’s the puzzle of a who-dun-it or a relationship, she tackles them all with equal aplomb and wonder.

Maggie writes cozy mystery and suspense under her own name, and science fiction under the pen name of Rigel Carson.

Friday, February 21, 2020

#FridayReads Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors of Color - #BlackHistoryMonth2020

Last week we delved into Literary Fiction; if Science Fiction or Fantasy are more your thing, then pull up your favorite armchair and turn on the reading lamp. Here are four excellent authors of color writing Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi
Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

26-year-old Tomi Adeyemi wrote Children of Blood and Bone in response to police shootings of innocent African Americans. Beneath our skins of varying shades and differing features, we are all just “children of blood and bone”. Fantasy is a great way to explore oppression and cruelty metaphorically in a way to help stimulate empathy for real humans being treated so horrifically.

Twitter: @tomi_adeyemi
Facebook: T Adeyemi Books

Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor
Photo by Cheetah Witch - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Nnedi Okorafor’s dual Nigerian-American heritage has given her a wealth of material for fiction that explores a wide range of social issues through a Science Fiction lens. She says, “…I ended up writing science fiction and fantasy because I live on these borders – and these borders that allow me to see from multiple perspectives and kind of take things in and then kind of process certain ideas and certain stories in a very unique way. And that has led me to write this strange fiction that I write, which really isn't that strange if you really look at it through a sort of skewed lens.”

Her Sci-Fi novella trilogy, Binti, is currently being adapted into a TV series by Hulu.

Twitter: @Nnedi
Facebook: Nnedi

Nora K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin
Photo by Laura Hanifin -, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

American psychologist and author Nora Jemisin has won the Hugo Award for Best Novel three times (one of only four people to do so in the 66 years of the award’s existence), for each of the three installments of her Broken Earth trilogy. Her writing also highlights themes of cultural conflict and oppression.

Twitter: @nkjemisin

Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson
Photo by Markku Lappalainen - CC BY 4.0

Nalo Hopkinson is an associate professor in creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. She is the author and editor of a number of works of Speculative Fiction and Fantasy, many of which incorporate elements of Caribbean folklore, as well as being a contributing author to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Universe graphic novels (House of Whispers). 


Twitter: @nalo_hopkinson

List compiled by Elle Carter Neal

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Beta Readers—a Different Perspective on Critique Partners

So, what is a beta reader?

"Beta" is the second letter of the Greek alphabet, which implies it's the second reader of an unedited manuscript. It also suggests there must be a first reader, an alpha reader. What's an alpha reader?

The first reader of a manuscript that's likely draft number one, an alpha reader evaluates the story from the viewpoint of a reader. Often a friend or close family member, he or she looks for the big stuff: readability, continuity, major story gaps, etc. After those issues are addressed by the writer, the story should go to the beta reader(s).

Beta readers—who also consider a story from a reader's point of view—may be avid bookworms who work alone or members of a writing group. Ideally, two to five readers will provide a rounded review of the story, its strengths and its shortcomings. They comment on sentence structure (ineffective, awkward, unclear, rambling, etc.), as well as addressing character development (including effectiveness of individuality and keeping each character true to herself), voice, forward momentum, etc. Their suggestions and concerns will be more detailed and specific than those of an alpha reader. This is a very important step in the creation of a great story and should not be neglected.

Finding the right beta reader(s) can be a challenge. Here are some resources:

Once a beta reader (or readers) peruse the manuscript and note areas of concern, the writer should seriously consider the suggested changes and then seek a professional editor to put the final polish on the manuscript. This is the time to start spending money. (Remember that alpha readers are usually friends or family, but beta readers are more likely to be strangers. Neither are typically paid; however, it may be a reciprocal arrangement that benefits all parties involved.)

Today's book marketplace can swallow up new entries to its massive international shelves, and the competition is beyond fierce. Starting out with a powerful, well-written book is essential if you have any aspirations of making a good name for yourself in the literary world. Remember to include beta readers when you're considering critique partners; they're an invaluable part of the equation.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thrillers. You can contact her through her websites: and

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The Best Ever Writing Critique Groups in History

The Eagle and Child, the pub in Oxford where The Inklings met every Tuesday while Oxford University was in session for more than 16 years. Both C. S Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were members of this famous writing critique group, which focused exclusively on works of fantasy.

My fellow Blood-Red Pencil blogger, Patricia Stoltey, wrote a wonderful post this month about her own Best Ever Critique group. Be sure to read Patricia's wonderful post here.

While I had already started a post on the same topic, after reading Patricia's entertaining and inspiring story, I switched gears a bit and decided to explore the history of a couple of notably successful writers' critique groups.

Throughout recorded history, some of our most beloved authors have belonged to a writing and critique group or had a personal critique partner whose opinion they valued and trusted. While not every writing group produces a literary genius and not every critique duo helps each other achieve publication, there is no doubt that such groups and partnerships have played a huge role in the development of many of our most notable authors, people whose works have far outlived their creators and will continue to live on.

When C. S. Lewis joined the English faculty at Oxford in 1926, he had no idea he was about to meet J. R. R. Tolkien or that the two would become the best of friends. They even called each other literary soul mates. While the exact date is disputed, sometime between December of 1929 and the fall of 1933, they launched an informal literary discussion group called The Inklings specifically intended for authors who wrote works of fantasy. Every Tuesday morning for the next 16 years, up to 15 members, most of them either literary scholars or writers, met at a pub called The Eagle and Child to hear a reading of a work in progress by an author, followed by a lively discussion of its merits and a barrage of suggestions for improvement. It was in this creative soup that Lewis simmered his Screwtape Letters and the beginnings of The Chronicles of Narnia while his friend Tolkien was busy creating the Elvish language and writing The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Both men frequently acknowledged the contributions The Inklings made to the successful completion of their respective masterpieces.

Outside the regular meetings of The Inklings, the two men became critique partners, a development that arguably led to the creation of some of the finest works of fantasy ever written, works that still resonate not only in the book world but also across our stages and movie and television screens and even in the world of digital gaming.

When Ernest Hemingway moved to Paris in 1922 as a correspondent for The Toronto Star, he frequented a book shop called Shakespeare and Company that had just been opened by an American, Sylvia Beach, at number 12 rue de l'Odeón. Beach had elevated literary tastes and a shrewd eye for talent, opting to publish Ulysses by James Joyce when no other publisher would touch the controversial work. She created an intellectually stimulating climate for authors in her shop, who came there to argue and to recharge. In addition to Joyce, she ended up attracting such literary luminaries as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. Joyce jokingly named the group Stratford-on-Odeón, a play on both the birthplace of Shakespeare and the physical location of the bookstore. Unlike The Inklings, the members of Stratford-on-Odeón did not meet on any fixed schedule but just hung out with whoever happened to be in the store when they stopped by. In fact, Stein and Joyce never actually met each other.

Also unlike The Inklings, the members of Stratford-on-Odeón were quite contentious, and frequently jealous of each other's successes. Despite the significant encouragement several members of the group freely gave Hemingway, helping him find influential publishers for his first short stories and loudly singing praises of his work in print and amongst people whose opinion mattered, many were deeply hurt when Hemingway wrote cruel and thinly disguised depictions of them in his work.

Prior to this denouement, Stein, Pound, and Joyce each took the much younger Hemingway under their separate care and guided his development as a writer in their own ways. They all encouraged him to write short stories as he became increasingly bored with filing stories for the newspaper. All of them, Hemingway included, were apparently unaware that his artful coverage of the horrors of war was quietly redefining wartime correspondence. When they saw the raw talent Hemingway displayed in short stories such as Indian Camp, they next encouraged him to write a novel. Under their mentoring, in 1925 Hemingway completed his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, which was published the following year by Scribner's.

While it cannot be denied that Stein, an acknowledged leader of the avant-garde and modernist movements in Paris, deeply influenced Hemingway's writing style, despite her prodigious intellect she had never published anything. Thus, she benefitted from Hemingway's help when she tackled her first few serious writing projects. He is credited with helping Stein make her rather stiff dialogue more natural, but when she went on to write several works now considered to be masterpieces, it only increased Hemingway's resentment of her.

Despite the many difficulties, created mostly by his alcoholism and volcanic temper, after Hemingway and his second wife moved back to America in 1928, he kept in touch with his literary mentors, even though he and Stein famously engaged in a 20-year literary quarrel that consisted mostly of an ongoing exchange of insults through third parties.

While few of us may ever be lucky enough to be part of a group that includes authors of such status, that doesn't mean we should ever stop trying to find fellow writers who like the idea of sharing critiques. You may have to visit several groups to find one that suits your personality and is supportive of your writing style. Or, you may prefer to find one good writing friend who understands your work and critiques it in an honest and truly helpful way, while you are able to do the same for him or her.

The benefits of being a member of such a group are indisputable. Writing is by its very nature a lonely profession. It's all too easy to isolate yourself in favor of falling into the arms of a sometimes indifferent muse. When you find other writers who can help you through your slumps and genuinely celebrate your triumphs, you just may have found the key to a more successful and satisfying writing career.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.

Friday, February 14, 2020

#FridayReads Authors of Africa - #BlackHistoryMonth2020

Looking for a good book to curl up with this weekend? Here are four brilliant authors from Africa to add to your bookshelf, ranging from the rising star to the well-established novelist.

NoViolet Bulawayo

NoViolet Bulawayo
by EuphoricOrca - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

At just 38 years of age, Zimbabwean-born NoViolet Bulawayo is definitely a name to watch. In 2013 her debut novel, We Need New Names, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, making NoViolet the first Zimbabwean and first indigenous African woman to do so.

We Need New Names tells the story of ten-year-old Darling beginning with her escapades in a Zimbabwean shantytown after the destruction of her home and school by the paramilitary police, and following her to suburban America where new challenges abound.

Author website:
Facebook: NoViolet Bulawayo

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
by Slowking - Own work, GFDL 1.2, Link

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2004 and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book in 2005. Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, performed even better, taking the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Her third novel, Americanah, was selected by The New York Times as one of "The 10 Best Books of 2013". Do yourself a favour – don’t try to choose; get hold of all three of Ms Adichie’s novels and read them in one go.

Author website:
Facebook: Chimamanda Adichie
Twitter: Chimamanda Real

Sefi Atta

Sefi Atta
Image via

Nigerian author Sefi Atta has been the winner of the Wo̩lé S̩óyinká Prize for Literature and the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa. Her production company Atta Girl supports Care to Read, a program she initiated to fund charities through staged readings.

Her most notable work is Everything Good Will Come, and her latest novel is The Bead Collector.

Author website:
Facebook: Sefi Atta

Tsitsi Dangarembga

Tsitsi Dangarembga
photo by David Clarke, Ayebia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Tsitsi Dangarembga is a world renowned author and filmmaker in the Zimbabwean film industry. She is one of the founders of the Institute of Creative Arts for Progress in Africa. Ms Dangarembga was the first indigenous Zimbabwean woman to publish a novel written in English – an accomplishment that was probably not surprising given that her mother, Susan Dangarembga, was the first black woman to graduate university in Zimbabwe.

Tsitsi Dangarembga’s debut novel, Nervous Conditions, was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and more recently voted one of the top 100 books that have changed the world by the BBC. Nervous Conditions is the story of young Shona woman, Tambu, who is granted her brother’s place at a school following his unexpected death. The Book of Not continues Tambu’s story after she is awarded a scholarship to study further.

Twitter: Tsitsi Dangarembga (@efie41209591)

List compiled by Elle Carter Neal

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Ten Tips for Successful Collaboration

Other than parenting, I can’t think of anything else that is more difficult for two people to share than one writing project.  But when it’s done right, when everything works, the results are amazing. I've had the pleasure of collaborating with several other writers over the years, mostly on screenplays but also on a couple of books, and they have all been satisfying experiences.

Craig Wargo was the first writer I worked with on screenplays, and we wrote several during the years we worked together. In the course of our writing partnership, we came up with these tips for a successful collaborative effort as a handout for a workshop we presented at a film conference.

  • While writing fiction, both writers must have an equal understanding of the plot, the characters, and the character arc. That will avoid costly mistakes later. 
  • Both writers must have the same vision for the direction of the story. Otherwise it would be like two people trying to get to a destination while following two different maps.  
  • One writer should not object to a scene, character, or the way something is written without first being able to clarify why they object, and secondly having an alternative ready to offer. This ensures careful, well thought out criticism. 
  • Don't count words or pages, or try to measure individual input in concrete terms. You could destroy the partnership by trying to keep all things equal. 
  • Be flexible, frank, yet kind. Respect each other's talents and feelings. 
  • To get the most out of brainstorming sessions, don't stop to evaluate as you go along  - just keep the ideas flowing.   
  • Decide with each new project who is going to have the final say if you reach an impasse on a major decision. 
  • Have periodic reviews of the state of the project, as well as the partnership in general. 
  • Always let your partner know if something is coming up in your personal or business life that is going to affect the partnership. 
  • Relax, laugh a lot, and have a good time.

I continued to keep those in mind as I worked on a few screenplays, "Holding Point," "Bunker Knows," and "Broadway's Finest" with Stephen Marro, a producer/director in New York, and again when I collaborated with Gary Martin on "The Benign," a ghost story set in East Texas. The guidelines served us well, as all of those efforts were mutually pleasant and creatively satisfying.

Going into my first collaboration on a novel, the guidelines were again most helpful. When I first met Margaret Sutton and we decided to write a book together, all I could think of was “The Odd Couple.” Not that either of us matched the personality types of Felix and Oscar, but we certainly were as opposite as opposite could get. How could a humor columnist, who was known as the Erma Bombeck of Plano, Texas, and an entrepreneur whose writing credentials included invoices, business letters, and a single sale to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine turn out anything even remotely appealing to fans of hard-boiled crime fiction?

Finding our way from that awkward beginning to the publication of Doubletake, a police procedural featuring a female homicide detective, was a most interesting journey. I juggled five young children and a weekly deadline at a newspaper, as well as numerous freelance writing gigs. Margaret juggled a manufacturing business and a busy social life.

I had no social life. I had five kids. :-)

But somehow we made it, mainly because we were able to put ego aside and focus on the story.

A writing partnership that is a complement of talents is a real gift. In the two years we worked on Doubletake, I noticed that Margaret’s strengths bolstered my weaknesses and my strengths bolstered hers. Each of us brought something unique and special to the process and, now, reading through the book, I’m never sure where one of us left off writing and the other began. I couldn’t look at a chapter and tell you specifically who wrote which section. I may know who started a chapter. Margaret does have a wonderful way of setting up memorable secondary characters - the introduction of the irascible Dr. Davis is uniquely hers - but beyond that, the lines blur; which is a very good thing. Even though quilts play a central part in the plot, I’d hate to think the book resembled one.

That balance/blend of writing strengths was very evident in my other partnerships, as well. Craig was a master of characterization. Stephen was a master at unique storylines, and Gary was a master at setting a scene. One of my greatest strengths as a writer is writing good dialogue, followed closely by my ability to set up good pacing. All of these strengths coming together to create a story was an awesome experience.

I've worked on two other books with another writer, the nonfiction history books about Winnsboro, TX that I wrote with the Winnsboro Historian, Bill Jones; Images of America: Winnsboro and Reflections of Winnsboro. That process was much different from writing fiction, so we didn't need all those guidelines, but we did establish early on that we should have mutual respect. Not that it needed to be said or put on paper.

It was a given.

I've had the greatest respect for Bill and his long career as a historian and journalist, and he has had the same kind of respect for my somewhat shorter career as a journalist. Plus we can laugh a lot when working together. He does like to tell a good joke.

What about you? Have you collaborated with another writer? Was is a good or not-so-good experience? If you haven't worked with another, would you consider doing so?

Posted by Maryann Miller  You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page, read her Blogand follow her on Facebook and TwitterHer online workshop on self-editing, part of a series of online writing workshops from Short And Helpful, can be found HERE

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Best Critique Partners

I have been fortunate in my writing life to have the support of two wonderful groups and other brilliant individuals.

The first group came at a very difficult time in my life when I was searching for answers. I found my first writing home on Thursday nights at an organization called Women Writing for A Change in Cincinnati. I spent several happy years there communing with other writers and finding my voice.

Then I moved and it took several more years for me to get out and meet other local writers. I had several writing partners and finally found a steady group we called the Ladyscribes made up of several members over time: Sharon Pielemeier, Susan Hoskins Miller, Tracy Richardson, Janet Koberna Skoog, Cameron Steiman, Kathie Huddleston, Rita Woods and Cynthia Adams. I met most of my tribe through the Midwest Writers Workshops at Ball State in Muncie, Indiana. I have also had the pleasure of working with authors Nicole Amsler and Jennifer Jensen.

There is nothing more affirming than finding your tribe. I learned so much from them all and could not have written my four book young adult series, Mythikas Island, without their collective wisdom and encouragement.

Critiquing other writers' work helps you improve you own writing in unique ways. Every scene read is filtered through multiple lenses and points of view. You can't buy that kind of feedback, even with a developmental editor.

While I went the self-publishing route, Rita Woods  met a terrific agent at the MWW in 2009. Rita writes some of the richest prose I've ever read. Her characters, settings, and dialogue dance on the page. I have read thousands of books, and place Rita in the top ten authors list - and that would be true even if I had never met her.

It has taken many years to bring her first project to fruition (the start of I am certain many many more). Most agents would have given up, but #Diversity and #OwnVoices changed the fabric of the traditional publishing field and I am thrilled to announce the release of her first book #Remembrance , a fantasy take on the underground railroad, published by Forge Books and released on January 21, 2020.

Remembrance…It’s a rumor, a whisper passed in the fields and veiled behind sheets of laundry. A hidden stop on the underground road to freedom, a safe haven protected by more than secrecy…if you can make it there.

Ohio, present day. An elderly woman who is more than she seems warns against rising racism as a young nurse grapples with her life.
Haiti, 1791, on the brink of revolution. When the slave Abigail is forced from her children to take her mistress to safety, she discovers New Orleans has its own powers.
1857 New Orleansa city of unrest: Following tragedy, house girl Margot is sold just before her promised freedom. Desperate, she escapes and chases a whisper.... Remembrance.

Another benefit of finding your tribe is having a support group to get you through the hard times and cheerleaders to celebrate your success!

Further Reading:

Ten Tips for Finding Your Writing Tribe

The Benefits of Genre Associations

Five Kinds of Critique Groups

Ten Tips for a Successful Critique Group

What Type of Writer Are You Part 1

What Type of Writer Are You Part 2

What Type of Writer Are You Part 3

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

The Best Writer’s Critique Group Ever!

One of the things that will make this an awesome writing year for me: I belong to the best writer’s critique group ever. My group is called Raintree Writers and currently has seven members, three women and four men. How this group evolved from its 2003 all female beginnings to 2020 is a long story, but we’ll leave that for another time. For this post, I’ll focus on the high points for the best ways to find or create a group that works for you, what makes a successful critique group, and how to be the best critique group member ever.

Finding or Forming a Critique Group


Back in 2003, I took a well-attended novel-writing class here in Northern Colorado from author Brian Kaufman. After the class ended, a couple of the women proactively invited several classmates to form a new critique group to keep each other writing and to help with “eyes-on” submission evaluations.

In my opinion, this is the best way to find an existing group, find a critique partner, or form a new band of writers. Attending a class, even a one-day experience that one might find in a conference master class or a local organization’s monthly educational event, gives the writer an opportunity to meet new people over a period of hours or days and evaluate whether personalities and writing level are a good fit.

Writer contacts through a website or “speed dating” events do not give writers the time needed to get to know each other before the first meeting and does invite hurt feelings if that first meeting does not go well.

What Makes a Group Successful?

One person must be the go-to leader for scheduling and overall decisions. The meeting leader may be rotated, as Raintree Writers has done over time by making the meeting host the meeting leader.

A regular schedule with assigned dates for each member to submit their work is helpful. This avoids the meeting when no one brings new work. Having an assigned submission date is a very nice motivator as well. Raintree Writers meets every two weeks with three submissions scheduled for one meeting and four the next. We allow up to 20 pages for each writer.

Set rules for attendance and for submissions. We allow only new writing or substantially revised chapters to avoid a member submitting work multiple times with only minor changes. If a member is to be absent from a meeting, the member must still do the critiques for others. Members may give up a submission spot or trade a spot when needed.

Becoming a Great Critique Group Member


First, I highly recommend developing a crocodile hide, well-oiled so that constructive criticism does not penetrate like a knife but rolls into a helpful pool of suggestions the member can use to improve plot, characters, etc. And if you don't already have a well developed sense of humor, work on that as well. In Raintree Writers, we call a big goof an “outrage” and delight in being the one to catch a big error with a “zing.” The ability to take that kind of teasing with laughter is learned over time, however, and is not recommended when a new group is forming.

Members must learn to be respectful when critiquing, comment on the good points as well as the points that need work, and always frame an alternative idea as a suggestion with no implication that the critiquer is “right” and the critiqued member “wrong.”

Recognize that the member being critiqued owns the piece and may not follow every one of your suggestions, or even any of your suggestions. That’s okay. We don't want members to "write to the group" because that seriously tampers with members' ability to develop an individual voice as well as each character's voice.

Be aware that you may ignore or only partially use suggestions other members offer. That’s okay as well, but pay close attention if more than one member offers the same advice. They may be onto something good.


You can find the best writing critique group ever, or even the best critique partnership ever, if you find and become active in a writers’ organization, meet lots of other writers and get to know them, and take that first step to ask the question: Would you like to help me form a new (best ever) writer’s critique group?

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is also now available in a large print edition. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” appears in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West, released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.