Friday, September 26, 2008

A moving line: about writing

One of the most valuable tools a writer can have is a good critiquing group.

For a time, when we lived in the Florida Keys, I drove to Miami once a month to sit with other writers and critique each others work. Even after a change in my work schedule forced me to give up that pilgrimage, I maintained contact with two of the other writers in the group, and they continued to read my work-in-progress. That was my novel, Lifting Up Veronica.

When we moved to Seattle, I wasn't able to hook up with another group, and my work suffered, I think. Then in June, Jordan, the managing editor at Every Day Fiction, was kind enough to set up private space at the EDF web site, and the Every Day Fiction Writers' Group came to be.

In the four months since then, I have found that there are differences between a face-to-face group and an internet group; good and bad.

The bad is that you have to post work to be critiqued and wait, for which I have no talent. Life makes demands; not everyone in the group has the amount of time I have to devote to the group, and so those waits can be frustrating.

For the good, critiques, when they come, are less complicated by the hangups of face-to-face communications; and when presented by someone who truly is interested in helping you improve your writing, the results can be incredible.

That has been the case; I have come to value the opinions of the other writers in the group in a very short time; and the stories we have been critiquing for each other are starting to find their way into print.

The Banshee by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley was in Every Day Fiction this month, and got rave reviews; Dave MacPherson has a nifty tale about a sea serpent and some art students coming in October in Abacort Journal and my flash, Stand and Deliver, is in the fall edition at Boston Literary Magazine.

Stand and Deliver is a great example of the magic of a critiquing group.

It is a tale of the Pizza Dude; I conceived the character as an unassuming fellow with superpowers, who uses his ability to manipulate the flow of time to help him in his chosen work. Delivering pizzas. However, he is not above acting as a good Samaritan when the need arises.

I was so pleased with the results, and when I submitted it to the group, Dave MacPherson posted almost right away, praising the story, calling it "fast and funny". And then he said, "My one question. Is the fantasy element necessary at all?"

Was it? I rewrote the story and Dave was right; the Pizza Dude didn't need superpowers to be a hero. And the story wasn't different, just better. It was right there in front of me, but I was too close, too invested in what I already wrote, to see it.

I liked the rewrite so much, I sent it to Boston Literary Magazine, a site I have been trying to crack, and the editor replied twenty-four hours later; she said, "Fantastic. I love it. You nailed the sense of a True American Hero ... a great, great job!!"

What writer doesn't love to hear such words.

Thanks, Dave; I owe you one.

If you would like to read the Pizza Dude's adventure, check out Stand and Deliver at Boston Literary Magazine.