Finding Critique Partners

I've decided (somewhat randomly) this is going to be Critique Week on Author's Echo. Some of this stuff I've said before, but finding critique partners and getting/giving good critiques is so dang important, it's worth repeating.

But where do you find someone willing to read 80,000 words and tell you what they think? More over, where do you find people who are actually good at that sort of thing?

I know of three places, though the first two specialize in SF, Fantasy, and Horror. Hopefully folks can offer more in the comments.
  1. Critters Writers Workshop. Cost: Free. Wait Time: 4-5 weeks for each submission (you may submit many at once though, and they will be put up for critique one week at a time). Requirement: Critique at least 3 stories every 4 weeks. Submission Length: Up to 20,000 words.
  2. Online Writing Workshop. Cost: $49/year (first month free). Wait Time: Minimal. Requirement: Critique at least 4 stories for every submission (after the first). Submission Length: Up to 7,500 words.
  3. The Entire Freaking Internet. Cost: Free. Wait Time: Varies based on social media skills-slash-how nice you are: a week to years for the first submission. Subsequent submissions usually have minimal wait time. Requirement: Usually critique 1 story for every submission. Submission Length: No limit.
You laugh, but that last one is a gold mine. My first novel was critiqued by two friends (albeit an avid reader and a lit professor). My second by self-selected readers, still mostly friends and family.

Now, thanks to my *cough* "charisma" and a LOT of time wasted on the internet, I feel comfortable asking for critiques from multiple writers at or above my level, two agented authors, and two published (or scheduled-to-be-published) authors. Shoot, if I can make friends this awesome, so can you.

Social media, man. It really works.

The Great Criddle-Heine Art Swap

The great K. Marie Criddle approached me to exchange sketches, which does all kinds of nonsense to my ego (e.g. "Your ego's so fat, it uses Wilson Fisk's socks for finger puppets"). ESPECIALLY since I failed to win a Criddle sketch from her recent contest. It's like I won the contest for free!

Well, not free. I got to draw this:

This is Miss Hannah P. Bartleby, the main character of a manuscript Marie is revising for her agent. She's not the most graceful of young ladies, but she can be a mean duelist with that grappling hook when she wants to (that's right, it's for DUELING).

And for me, Marie drew a picture of Ren from Air Pirates:

He's a machinist who took care of Sam for a number of years (before Sam ran off to become a pirate). His face and arm got kinda messed up in the war, but he can still wield a mean sledgehammer.

Speaking of Air Pirates, the YA revision is finished (did I mention that yet?) and in the hands and Kindles of some betas. Also the query is being worked on, even though I plan to do at least one more revision/beta cycle before I call it finished. I'm getting excited, but that always happens in this stage. Talk to me again in 6-8 months when I either have a new idea for revision or have decided nobody wants a steampunk adventure about fortune-telling stones, air pirates with mechanical arms, mothers who were presumed dead...


Answers the Second: Randomness and Torture

Matthew Rush asks: Would you rather be Jirayah (Pervy Sage) or Kabuto (the dork with the glasses)?

I can't say I approve of Jiraiya's choice of hobbies or Kabuto's choice of employer, though they are both pretty powerful. But any way I look at it, Jiraiya's got one thing going for him that Kabuto doesn't. Sage Mode:

Susan Kaye Quinn asks: Favored platform: Mac or PC?

I would love a Mac. Thank you for offering.

Every time I buy a new computer, I have to make this decision, and it always comes down to the same thing: Macs are expensive, and PCs have all the open source software I want.

Preferred literary success: Bestseller or Hugo?

Oy. Fine, if I have to choose, I go with the one that gets more readers: bestseller.

Apocalypse: Super virus or sentient computers?

Neither. The world is destroyed by robot pirates and zombie ninjas (also dinosaurs).

Awesomeness: Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

For the purposes of this exercise, we will pretend George Lucas stopped fiddling with Star Wars in 1983. With that in mind, the most awesome trilogy ever is ISTHATSAMUELL.JACKSONINANICKFURYMOVIEZOMGITIS!!!

Caped Guy: Batman or Superman?

Batman, hands down. Did you know he has a file on every superhero's weakness, just in case he ever has to fight them? The guy's a genius.

Asea asks: What's your favorite local food?

Market food: fried pork and bananas, dim sum and pork dumplings, chicken satay, rotee, fried potatoes... (Hm, just got a Mary Poppin's song stuck in my head).

If your characters (from your various WIPs) were caught in a zombie apocalypse, would they make it?

Heh. Hagai would be the first to go, though Sam and Ren might last a while (good fighters, and I bet the zombies would have a hard time storming their airship). Suriya, on the other hand, should have no problem. She has a tendency to blow things up when she's mad.

Do you ever make up your own board/card games? How about twists to existing ones? Do you play games in combination (e.g. you play Monopoly, and the profits from it fund expansion in Puerto Rico)?

Before I focused my creative energies on getting published, I designed games all the time. As for twisting existing ones, we don't do it often (I tend to assume the game balancers did their job well), but we do it to our most familiar games. We've played Settlers with a blind setup (i.e. flip the numbers over after you place your settlements) or with a 12-sided die, and we once played Ticket to Ride: World Domination, in which we combined a board of regular TtR and TtR:Europe. I don't like Monopoly much, but I love your combination example. Sounds like it would be fun for a tournament or a gaming marathon.

Thanks again for your questions and for putting up with my answers. Don't forget our special guest artist on Friday!

Answers the First (or "Hi, This is What I Do")

Apparently 88% of us would rather be lonely (and smart) than stupid (with friends). I'm with you guys, but you should know this is how super villains are made.

You guys asked some fantastic questions! I'll be answering some today, some Wednesday, and on Friday we have a double sketch featuring a very special guest artist. Now, to the questions!

An anonymous visitor from Natalie's blog asks: Can I ask what your main profession is?
Believe it or not, the "About Me" description over there is pretty much it: I write and I foster kids. My wife and I have a heart to give a family to kids with nowhere else to go, and most of our income comes from folks who support that mission (though obviously I'd love it if writing could help with that!). In my previous incarnations, I programmed computers, led Christian worship, and developed computer games.

Yeah, I don't see the connection either.

Advice for people who did not study writing or English or anything related to that in university...and struggling on how to really "start". Is there a method?

Ha! As you might have guessed, I studied Computer Science in college, not English. I think I wrote a total of ten papers--none fiction--and I haven't read a novel for a class since I graduated high school. So no, I don't think a formal education is necessary at all to write good fiction.

Here's what I do instead:
  1. Write.
  2. Read.
  3. Get and give critiques.
That's it. I would (and do) read books on writing as well as fiction. I always recommend Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint and Nancy Kress's Beginnings, Middles, and Ends. But everyone's got their favorites. I bet they'll tell you in the comments (hint, hint).

And I'd love to know what a typical "day" or daily schedule is like for you (how you fit in work, writing, reading, eating, etc).

Yeah, I'd love to know how I fit all that in too.

Seriously, most days kinda look like this:
  1. Wake up (or get woken up) about 6 am.
  2. Get boys fed, girls ready for school, etc.
  3. Check e-mail and the rest of the internet.
  4. Write (my wife teaches the boys, and a helper takes care of the baby for a couple of hours).
  5. From about 11 am - 4 pm: watch/play with the boys, keep the baby happy, clean the house, fix the house, and (if possible) write blog posts, critique manuscripts, and maybe read or draw.
  6. Pick up the girls from school.
  7. Repeat #5 until bedtime.
  8. Bust out Secret Snacks. Watch So You Think You Can Dance until unconscious.
Today was a little different. Cindy took all the kids to a homeschool co-op, and one of our friends is leaving the country soon. So it was more like:
  1. Wake up.
  2. Check e-mail.
  3. Play Agricola.
  4. Eat bacon and ham sandwiches.
  5. Visit Lutiya's school.
  6. Play Agricola.
  7. Write blog post.
  8. Pick up girls.
  9. Play Agricola.
  10. Pass out.

Myrna Foster asks: Have you written a ninja story?
Sadly, no. I've got ideas for one, but it still feels too much like Batman Begins (which I guess isn't a bad thing). Later this year, I expect to choose a new project. We'll see if the ninjas make the cut.

How many children are you guys raising at the moment?
Nine. And we're in the process of adopting a tenth. This is what we look like now (click to enlarge):

More answers on Wednesday!

Questions! 2011!

It's been a while since we've done questions, and there are a number of new faces around the blog lately. I figure it's time to do it again.

The rules are simple. Put your questions in the comments. You may ask anything you like, serious or silly, professional or totally inappropriate. I'll answer all of them as best I can and may even do so honestly!

You may, if you like, review old questions and answers, but it's not required. Part of thinking like a pro means realizing some questions will be asked repeatedly. I'm okay with that. Ask away!

And just to keep things fair, here's a question for you, devised by one of my most devious Irish friends:

Books I Read: Favorites of 2010

I know it's a bit late, but here are some of my favorite books I read last year. A few I've talked about before. Those have just a brief summary and a link to my original post on the topic, but there are a couple here outside my regular genre(s) that I wanted to point out.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Mark Haddon, 2003, Mystery/Literary
An autistic teenager investigates the death of the neighbor's dog and ends up learning secrets about his parents he was never meant to know. Read more...

Million Dollar Baby: Stories from the Corner
F.X. Toole, 2000, Short Stories
A collection of stories drawn from the author's experiences in the world of boxing. Now I don't like boxing, and I don't normally like short stories, but I really enjoyed this book. The trainers and fighters in this book are smart, showing that boxing isn't just about hitting the other guy until one of you drops. It's about strategy, timing, knowing where and when to do the most damage. As Toole put it, "Boxing is like chess with pain."

Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins, 2008, YA Science Fiction
Do I really need to talk about this book more? It's awesome. Worth all the hype (the two sequels are pretty good too). Read more...

Mistborn trilogy
Brandon Sanderson, 2006-8, Fantasy
In a world where the nobility exhibit super powers just by ingesting metal, a small band of thieves sets out to do the impossible: start a revolution among the commoners, and overthrow the immortal tyrant known as the Lord Ruler. Read more...

Itchy Brown Girl Seeks Employment
Ella deCastro Baron, 2009, Memoir
A collection of stories, poems, and essays that serve as an ironic resume of experiences one wouldn't normally tell a potential employer. Ella is a first generation Filipina American who writes about her struggles with faith, prejudice, eczema, death, miracles, and more. I'm biased, as Ella is a good friend of mine, but there is a lot here to make you laugh and to make you think. I was most moved by the story of her friend Emilia who died of cancer, and Ella's struggle to trust a God that didn't answer our (because I was there too) repeated prayers for her to be healed.

 So tell me, what were your favorite reads of 2010?

Think Like a Pro

"There is a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't, and the secret is this: It's not the writing that is hard. What's hard is sitting down to write."

-- David Mack, Kabuki: The Alchemy

Do you want to be a pro?

I didn't at first. I knew I wanted to write. I wanted to prove to myself I could finish a novel, maybe publish it if anyone was interested (little did I know finishing a novel is the easy part).

Then I learned about the system. I read the blogs of authors and agents. I researched everything I could about writing a good query letter. I looked up statistics on debut author's advances. And as I poked my head into the publishing world, I discovered something.

I really, really wanted to be a part of it.

Something weird happened that day, and has been happening since. I wanted to be a pro, and suddenly I began acting like one. I tried to write everyday. I paid attention to what worked and what didn't on my blog, even kept a schedule. I became more professional (a term which often means "silent") when voicing my opinions on the internet. Sometimes I even interacted with people in real life(!) thinking they might someday buy the book I don't have published.

Totally insane, but helpful, I think. If you're writing for fun or therapy, and you don't care whether you ever sell anything, then who cares? Do what you want. BUT if you want to become a professional someday, now is a good time to act like one. It might feel silly at times, even a tad arrogant -- and you should never, ever let it get in the way of real life.

But for all that, it works.

"You imagine what you want to be and you act as if you are that. Ghandi said, 'Be the change you want to see in the world'.

If you want to create, you must treat it with the respect and dedication that a pro would."