In Search of a Critique Group

Critique groups for writers are a necessary evil. Aren’t they? Most of us who write prefer our own company to any other. Also, as long as we are the only one reading our writing, we can believe it’s pretty good. Or not too bad. Or actually, it’s terrible and not worth the hard drive on which it has been stored. (See what I mean?)

But there comes a time when, if we’re serious about putting our work out there to the public in some way (preferably publication as in people are lining up to buy our books or we’re winning prizes for our stories and New York is calling), we must find some other writers who can give us constructive feedback. Letting your friends and loved ones read your work and tell you it’s the best book they’ve ever read (even if they haven’t read anything since high school) is all well and good, but will not impress any agent, editor, or publisher.

How to find that perfect critique group has eluded me so far, so, unfortunately, I am not here to give you any helpful tips if you are in that same position of looking for a good group. I have a couple of possibilities right now, and I hope to be able to share with you in the next few months about how I have finally found that group and how amazingly helpful they have been.

So, while I’m continuing my quest for a critique group, I will share the basic guidelines for what I expect from a group, and maybe you can suggest a few more. The first may seem obvious, but you would be surprised. Everyone in the group needs to be writing and to be serious about writing. (Who would join a group about writing who isn’t actually writing? All those who dream about writing and know how easy it really is, and think ‘what’s the big deal anyway?’)

Secondly, everyone needs to be willing to share something of what they’ve written and be willing to listen to everyone’s comments on their selection without being defensive or apologetic. And, third, everyone needs to be willing to read the writings of all members and give helpful feedback. No “this was great” or “this was terrible.” Be specific at what you like, don’t like, or feel needs to be made more clear.

Coming Soon: Besides rewriting Solomon I (totally changing the POV; more on that another time) and working on Solomon II, I’m working on a story to post in this very blog. Soon.

Fun Fact: I noticed when I started writing this blog, I have published one hundred posts, so here’s to 101.

P. S. For any of you writers out there, the Charlotte Writers Club has their nonfiction contest open now. Any piece of unpublished nonfiction from 750-2000 words may be entered. For more information, check out their website: charlottewritersclub.org

How about you? Have you been part of a critique group? What worked and what didn’t?

 

 

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New Name, New Domain

For those who have been following my blog from the beginning, you know I started this blog for a class assignment while working on my masters degree. My original intent was to share homeschooling news, library events, and book reviews.

For the past two years or so, I have returned to writing on a more serious and full-time basis. I have heard and read that I need to have my own domain–under my own name–in order to build a better platform and so that people can find me. I have been dragging my feet about it, but have finally taken the plunge and will be blogging under http://www.pmgilmer.com. I will start with an introduction, then will post “My Name is Absalom”. It will still be in seven parts, but I will probably not wait a week between each post as it is a rerun to most of my readers. Of course, I hope to attract new readers, and I believe this is a good example of my writing.

It will take me a few days to set up my new blog, (and if you go to it now, you will only be redirected to “declare”) and I will continue to post book reviews and other random things that take my fancy on “declare”. I know many people keep up with more than one blog, but I doubt I will do that for long. Then again, who knows?

I hope you will continue to follow me here, but will also join me in my writing journey at http://www.pmgilmer.com

Characters & Spoilers

As a writing exercise for myself, I have been writing a section of my manuscript through the eyes of the antagonist, Absalom, rather than the protagonist, Solomon.

This exercise has been beneficial for helping me better understand that character. But, another reason has come to me and that is to share this story on my blog. Why? Well, I hope to make my blog more interesting and also to find readers who also enjoy reading historical fiction.

One danger in this type of sharing is the presence of spoilers for a future book. However, in writing historical fiction, one has an advantage in that spoilers already exist if a reader has any knowledge at all of the time and events being written about. For example, if a reader picks up a book about Anne Boleyn, that reader will probably not be surprised to learn that she marries King Henry VIII or that she eventually loses her head. However, a good writer will be able to draw the reader into the story so well that even when reaching a foregone conclusion, the reader will gasp in horror at Anne’s fate. I have read many books when this was the case. Even though I knew a certain character was going to die and even how that would happen, the empathy I had developed for the character caused me distress and sorrow for that character.

So, in reading this short story about Absalom, there may be spoilers for any future book, but if you have already read 2 Samuel, there will be no big surprises. Rather than spoilers, this story should put the character of Absalom in a clearer light that readers might see him more as a real person rather than just a “Bible character.”

Starting tomorrow I will begin posting the story, “My Name is Absalom.”  This will be the first of seven parts, and I will continue posting for the next six Fridays. I hope you enjoy it.

Going to a Writers Conference

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On Friday I will be attending my first writers’ conference–the Christian Writers Conference in Spartanburg, S.C. I’ve been pretty excited for several weeks now, but I can now add: scared, nervous, and a bit intimidated.  My first class will be on “How to Get the Most Out of the Conference.” That was an easy enough choice, but choosing the right class in the different workshops is a little more difficult, though it’s great to have so many interesting ones to choose from.

There are many writers conferences out there, and even though I haven’t yet been to one, I can already recommend that if you’re into writing at all, that you look for one that you can attend. Besides the classes that are available, attending a conference gives you the opportunity to meet other writers and others in the industry. I especially hope to connect with some writers who might live in my area.

Also, for any of you on facebook, I started an author’s page under the name–P.M. Gilmer. I’m posting and sharing news about reading and writing, so if you’re on facebook, check it out and give me a follow. I’ll be sharing some highlights from the conference on there (probably through Twitter) when I can, but I will definitely be sharing more right here when I get back.

How about you? Are you attending any writers’ conferences this year?

Books on Writing

I read several books on writing last year and have quotes from these scribbled in notebooks and other various places. In all of them, I have found some kind of encouragement (in spite of the inevitably dark humor; most be a writing thing?), as well as helpful suggestions.

bird-by-birdThe first I read was Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. I’ve had this book for awhile and read bits of it here and there, but when I decided to get serious about writing again, I got it out and read straight through. On plot: “Plot grows out of character. If you focus on who the people in your story are, if you sit and write about two people you know and are getting to know better day by day, something is bound to happen.” This resonates with me, not only as a writer, but also as a reader. I have found myself bored in the middle of book, not because of the plot or the story idea, but because I could not care about the characters. Character is king.

Then I finally read Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Another one that I started once upon a time, but never finished. Sentences and paragraphs to quote abound but two of my top ones: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” And, “In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring’, the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.” I struggle with adding description to my stories, preferring to “keep the ball rolling”, so this one amuses me.

art-of-war-for-writersNext was a book by James Scott Bell, The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises. (Something else I’ve noticed about many of these writing books is their rather wordy titles. Authors trying to get their word-count in? Or, perhaps, writers are just naturally loquacious?) Bell has several books out on writing, and I feel I need to be collecting these.

I reviewed Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers in a previous forest for the treespost. (September) This book is unique as Lerner has been an agent, an editor, and a writer, so she is able to share her perspective from all three of these roles. I shared several quotes from this book already, but here’s another one: “For the writer who truly loves language, a trip to the copy editor is like a week at a spa. You come out looking younger, trimmer, and standing straighter.” Not sure we all feel that way, but I get the point.

My most recent read was by Bret Lott, Letters and Life: On Being a Writer, on Being a Christian. More quotes on the importance of characters rather than lengthy descriptions. “I saw, suddenly and fully, that a story was about the people involved. I bret-lottsaw that embellishment brought to the table an unwanted intruder: the author.”

And: “What I saw in his (Raymond Carver) work was that in my own, I had to be the last one heard from in this pile of words I was arranging, and that humility was the most valuable tool I could have, because the people about whom I wanted to write mattered so very much more than the paltry desires of the writer himself. They mattered so very much more than me. My job was to get out of the way.”

I have several more writing books on my tbr list and just picked up a new one from the library. How about you? Read any good books on writing lately? Which ones have inspired you or just made you laugh? Which would you recommend?

 

 

 

The Ophel Inscription–Writing from the time of King David

Half the fun of writing historical fiction is the research. Sometimes I can’t find what I’m looking for (or scholars disagree on certain findings) and that can be frustrating, but more often I run across “fun facts” that I had not even considered (which makes it sound like most of my research is serendipitous and maybe it is). I may not always be able to add these “fun facts” or details to my story, but learning more about the culture of my characters helps me, as the author, to know my characters in a more rounded way.

As most of you know, I’m writing a story about Solomon during the time of King David, so I was intrigued when I ran across an article concerning a find in 2012 by Israeli archaeologist, Dr. Eilat Mazar. From the Ophel mound between the Temple Mount and the old city of David, a pottery shard was found containing seven letters. Now known as the Ophel Inscription, there is still quite a bit of debate about those letters and what it all means, but there are those who have concluded that the letters are Hebrew, making the find highly significant concerning the kingdoms of David and Solomon.

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Hebrew letters on a 3,000 year old pot gives credence, not only to the existence of King David living in Jerusalem at that time, but also suggests that the written language was not just for the rich and their rulers.

I have no problem believing the Bible concerning the existence of King David and that he ruled in Jerusalem, but have wondered about how literate were the people of that time. After all, David was not raised as a royal son, yet he wrote psalms from an early age, so one must believe that both reading and writing were more common than some may assume.

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From one article (link to follow): “The Ophel inscription–though untranslated–joins the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon as part of a growing body of archaeological evidence supporting the biblical truth that ancient Hebrews were literate. Rather than inventing a post-dated history, they had the linguistic and cultural tools in place to record it from the earliest days that Israel was recognized among other monarchies of the ancient world.”

https://answersingenesis.org/archaeology/shard-shows-written-language-at-jerusalem-when-david-ruled/

Studying the history of the Bible and reading more of different archaeological finds continues to make the characters of the Bible more alive to me. My prayer as I write of stories in the Bible–specifically, Solomon and imagining what his life may have been like as he was growing up in the court of King David–that the Bible will also become more alive to others who will one day read my stories.

 

Writing Contests: For Better or Worse

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In the past few months, I have entered two different writing contests. Though, of course, I hoped to win (or at least be a finalist), I mostly entered these contests in order to receive feedback from those in the industry (other writers, publishers, editors, etc.) Well, I got my feedback.

I did not win. I did not place. I did not even impress.

When I received my scores, I already knew I was not a finalist, but it was still painful. Looking at the first judge’s scores, I saw 4’s and 5’s and hoped that meant the scores were from “1” to “5”. Since the next judge had some 7’s and 8’s, I knew it must be out of 10.

In both contests, I received comments from three different judges (anonymous so as to protect them from irate and sensitive writers). In both contests, the first judge dislikes my story and has little (if anything) good to say. In the first contest, the second judge was a bit more middle of the road with her/his comments, and the third had at least a few good things to say. In the second contest, both the second and third judges had encouraging things to say, even though they weren’t totally sold. I had to wonder if they were doing a bad judge/good judge routine.

My first thoughts upon reading the comments was to want to throw my beloved “work in progress” into the deepest sea. But, from following a recent online discussion among members of ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), I know that receiving such a wide range of comments is not unusual, and that I am not the only one that might feel a bit confused by the seemingly inconsistencies of the judges. (One person said they had received a 67 and a 98 from two different judges in the same contest). None of us enjoy receiving criticism, but it would seem to be more helpful if the comments were more consistent across the board. But, judges are human and they do not all like the same kind of stories.

Takeaway: Though I have struggled at accepting the comments, I have been able to go back through them and find what is helpful and what is just one person’s opinion. After I sent in my last entry, I changed a few things and have a few other areas marked to be either omitted or rewritten. So, if I had been a judge myself, I have to admit, I would have been of the same opinion in several ways. Will I enter more contests? Yes; definitely. Overall, it has been helpful and has made me work harder to perfect my writing before sending it to an agent.

Are you wondering about the shells? All are olive shells found on the same beach (Myrtle Beach, S.C.), but none of them are the same. Basically the same shape, but different colors and sizes. I picked up the shells that attracted me and wanted to keep. So are our stories and those works in progress. Not everyone will be interested enough in what I write to even desire to pick it up. Some may be interested (even when I finally get it right), but maybe not enough to read it through. But, I will work at polishing my stories and finding the readers who will be interested for their enjoyment.

Any writers out there that have been entering contests? Have you found them helpful? Worth the submission fee or not? Not every contest is for every writer, so it’s important to find some that will benefit you and will be worth that entry fee.

 

 

The End! Or, at least, the Beginning of the End

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I just came to the end of my book. Not one I am reading–the one I am writing. And like so much of this book, it was kind of unexpected.

Ok, I have some rough spots and a couple of places I know I want to rewrite, but I actually came to the end. I was planning on another chapter. Actually, have it started and sort of have an outline for that final chapter. (In my mind, that is, which is where most of my outlines actually live).  So, I was working on finishing up this chapter, started adding a bit, then realized as I completed the chapter that I really could end the book here. I’ve long since conceded that it is going to take another book to tell the story I want to tell. Since I have (gasp) 113, 308 words, perhaps it is time to wrap this up. But, I have so much more to say! You think because you’re the author that you’re in control, but, no, not really.

I want to tell the story of Solomon–growing up in the court of King David. What was it like to know you were the chosen prince? When exactly did he know that? What did his brothers (and others) think of that?

So, I started telling the story. And, along the way: Solomon’s brothers are fighting; Solomon wants his father to raise horses to drive chariots; Solomon’s mother seems to be the only one who really thinks he is special; and Solomon and two of his brothers take a trip to Egypt.

So, over 100,00 words and Solomon isn’t even king yet. But, he will be soon. I can’t wait to begin writing that story, but first–I need to work on my platform. Do any of you follow your favorite writers on facebook? Twitter? Why? What do you look for? Or what do you enjoy about what they do? I hope you will all stay with me as I begin to share more of what I’ve written and begin my search for an agent.

 

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Carolinas WordFest Saturday October 15, 2016

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Interested in reading and writing? Want to learn more about writing? Would you like to meet some local writers? This Saturday in uptown Charlotte will be the Carolinas WordFest. Being a new member of the Charlotte Writers’ Club, I am excited about this event and am looking forward to meeting others in our community who are also interested in writing.

From their flyer: “Writers are a creative lot. We appreciate how reading and creative writing can feed the soul, and about a year ago, we let loose our imaginations. The result: Carolinas WordFest. The festival is a celebration of some of North and South Carolina’s finest writers with free, interactive programming designed for all ages and literary tastes. It is a smorgasbord that invites you to become engaged, sample something new and enjoy something familiar. Come. Be inspired. Have fun!”

This is a free event for all ages. For example, I will be spending time at ImaginOn helping children put their stories down and creating their own books. There will also be musical story telling in the afternoon which kids of all ages should enjoy.  Other events will be held in First Ward Park, Spirit Square Knight Gallery, and in the Main Library. For a list of all events: https://carolinaswordfest.com/about/schedule-of-events/

There will also be a chance to hear and meet different authors from the Carolinas. For a detailed list of the authors: https://carolinaswordfest.com/writers/

What’s an event without food? A few food trucks will also be around, so come on out and have some fun with your local writers!

 

Declare to (the) Next Generation

 

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Well, I said a few weeks back that I would take some time to explain the name of my blog. When I started my blog, I had in mind writing about homeschooling and sharing news in education (mostly in reading and writing). I wanted to share and review any books that I consider worthwhile, as well as give information on any events going on that other homeschoolers might find helpful. (I’ll go ahead and say, I don’t post reviews on books I didn’t like or can’t recommend. I may blast a book privately, but knowing the struggles of writing, I have no interest in being public about one that maybe just wasn’t my cup of tea; though I just returned one to the library that might make me change my stance on that). Being a mother, a teacher, and a mentor–sharing with the next generation is always very much on my mind, so hence the title. The idea to “declare to the next generation” is hardly an original thought. (Do I actually have those? Sorry; that would be another blog). There are several verses in the Bible that instruct us to declare or say to the next generation what we have learned concerning Him and His Name.

Psalm 78:4–We will not hide them from their children but tell to the coming generation, the glorious deeds of the LORD, and His might and the wonders that He has done.

Psalm 145:4–One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. In the Amplified Version: One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty and remarkable acts.

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All of these verses express a desire and an expectation. We are expected to declare, to commend and to praise–not to hide–His works; especially to another generation. And that is what I want to do with my reading, my writing, my life. Since I decided to recharge my blog (focusing more on reading and writing and less on education), I thought of changing the name, but what could be more important than declaring His works to the next generation? Whether reading, writing, or educating, it is only because of Him that I can do any of these things.  “If we grant that as artists, our ways of creating and seeing begin with the creativity of God, then let’s look at the root of that imaginative impulse.” (Luci Shaw)

Though I am writing and sharing with my peers, as well as older generations (yes, there are still one or two of those still alive), my ultimate goal would be to pass on my learning and experiences to the next generation. What we learn is worthless if it is not passed on to others. It is also this thought that has inspired me to begin the book I am writing. But, more on that at another time.