Sunday Blog Share: Steel Venom

I thought maybe I’d start sharing why I picked a certain piece for the Sunday Blog Share. In this case, Almost Iowa gave me a hysterical reminder of the crazy, dangerous things I did as a kid.  Prepare to laugh (or cringe).

Comments are closed here, so click through and enjoy.

Steel Venom

by Almost Iowa

Every summer my wife tries to get me on an amusement park ride called Steel Venom.

She loves the contraption – about as much as I hate it.

Last summer was no exception and one afternoon we found ourselves bickering in the shadow of a half roller-coaster half catapult.

“You’re chicken,” she taunted.

“Not at all,” I said.

Overhead, the ride flexed and moaned as a trolley corkscrewed its way up a high tower. When it reached the top, it paused for one heart-thumping moment to dangle its riders above a flock of confused birds – then it plunged into a wild spiral that ended only inches from the ground.

The riders flashed by us, howling in terror. A few wore faces whiter than death and I thought for a moment that I recognized an old friend among them.

Without the slightest hesitation or remorse, the trolley fired up a companion tower then repeated the process over and over – until everyone, rider and observer alike, was nauseous.

“Don’t look like much fun to me,” I observed.

“Chicken,” she repeated.

Believe me, Steel Venom did not frighten me. I’ve dodged bullets, survived a car wreck and endured an audit by the IRS and not one of those things even quickened my pulse – because nothing, absolutely nothing will ever come close to the ride I took on a Radio Flyer wagon when I was six years old.

***

At first, I simply put things into my wagon and towed them around the yard. But I soon discovered it was more fun to hop in the wagon and roll down our backyard hill…

(Continue Reading: Steel Venom)

Kari’s Reckoning

She abandoned the view and walked, arm outstretched, slender fingertips leaving invisible ribbons where they glided across the smooth surface.

The unseamed gray of the floor, the cool walls, and flat ceiling held no memories of those who’d trod the halls before. They demanded no care, no cleaning, no mending, or maintenance. How long would the alien cities last unchanged, impervious to the passage of time? Another three hundred years? A millennium? Lives came and went, washing from the tiers’ petals like rainwater to the porous, wet world below. Was her life within these walls any more important, other than being hers?

Perhaps, only a world of wrinkles and grooves could capture the fragmented stories of wounded souls, hold them tight in the ashes and rubble. One required pitted stone and cracked wood, ragged bark and churned soil to heal a heart’s broken flesh. Her lover and daughter lived in that foreign world.

Her skin matched these walls, smooth and serene. Yet, the emptiness of her expression, the monotony of her smile hid a secret fire within her that would one day flare and burst forth in a conflagration of pent up desperation.

***

The final book of the Rose Shield Tetralogy is live.

Thanks to all for your kind comments and support along the way.

Start at the beginning with Catling’s Bane, Book 1 – Global Link

Writers’ Critique Groups

I just had the great pleasure of visiting my old writer’s critique group, a few people who became dear friends over the five years I was part of the group. It seems a good time to revisit the importance of peer feedback:

My first book was a masterpiece, of course. I poured my heart onto the pages, begged my family to read it, and labored over revisions until it was undeniably sublime. Then I sent my newborn tome to agents and publishers, certain they’d coo with delight and sign me up with a fat advance. The result: Reject…Reject…Reject…Reject…Reject…

“What went wrong?” silly, starry-eyed me asked, a clueless look on my face. Little did I know (literally).

I discovered the answer to that question when I joined a writers’ critique group. With tender support and pointed criticism, my peers taught me that my baby was far from beautiful. Apparently, I was determined to describe every character’s point of view in every scene. Among other lame verbs, I found “was” extremely handy. I overwrote with reams of tedious detail; I could sink an insomniac into a coma. This embarrassing confession encompasses only a teeny-weeny sliver of my writing transgressions, but you get the idea. My baby was a toad.

The good news? After two years with my critique group, the toddler emerged transformed. I landed a publisher and the rest is history. I know now that well-informed, honest feedback is essential to learning and refining my craft, and joining a critique group was the smartest step I took in my writing career. Without hesitation, I advise all new writers to find one or start your own.

Group Composition

Not all groups are alike and finding the right group is like finding the right therapist, sometimes you have to work at it to get a good fit. You want the truth, but in a way that’s helpful and encourages you to grow. Some groups are loosey-goosey, others more formally structured. Learn as much as you can about the expectations of a group and be honest with yourself about your needs and the time commitment you’re prepared to make.

A few considerations:

  1. Not everyone in a critique group needs to write in the same genre, but there may certain drawbacks to being the only romance writer in a group of military sci-fi writers.
  2. Four to five members is ideal, providing sufficient feedback while not overwhelming members with critiques.
  3. A mix of male and female participants is great for garnering different perspectives.
  4. Though some writers may prefer a group with equivalent experience, a mix of new and seasoned members can be extremely rewarding.
  5. If a group experience leaves you discouraged or angry, don’t stay. Groups are supposed to vitalize your love of writing, not drain your enthusiasm.

Structural Norms

Structure varies group to group. Some meet face-to-face, others are entirely on-line. In general, guidelines for effective critiquing are the same, but I’m a strong proponent of in-person feedback where it’s easy to elaborate on comments, ask/answer questions, and take advantage of group brainstorming and discussion.

However a group is structured, there will be norms related to timing, length of submissions, and how critiques are returned to the authors. My critique group met twice a month for approximately three hours. We emailed submissions and received critiques between meetings. During our meetings, we elaborated on our critiques and answered questions for the author. (Set time limits if meetings run over. Don’t skip someone’s work.)

Receiving Feedback

Rarely do two people provide the same advice, and sometimes what one person loves, another would “suggest tweaking.” Sally may be great at tracking emotional themes; Margo is the queen of punctuation. Larry gives a man’s perspective of … well, everything. Jenny adores lurid descriptions, and Katie is the verb-police. Everyone brings something to the table and the author uses what’s helpful and dumps the rest.

Some writers submit first drafts, others a final product, and most something in between. What a writer turns in for critiquing will flavor what comes back. A critique of an early draft may point at awkward dialog, holes in the story, and believability of action and emotion. For a later draft, the critique may focus on word choice, phrasing, grammar, and/or punctuation. Remember, a critique group does not eliminate the need for careful editing prior to submission or publication.

Giving Feedback

A critique group is different from a support group, though they overlap. My mother is a one-woman support group; she loves everything I’ve written since I was six. Critique groups, on the other hand, should offer a balance of support and criticism. Writing is personal, and when a writer shares his work and asks for feedback, it’s an act of trust, worthy of respect.

An effective critique starts by emphasizing the strengths of the work. An initial focus on the writer’s successes makes hearing suggestions easier on the ears and heart. There’s always something positive to comment on – story, scene, character, dialog, a description, humor, rapport, tension, punctuation, word choice, grammar, pace. A critique is successful if a writer feels good about his or her work and eager to tackle the hurdles.

When we critique another person’s writing we are commenting on the work, not the person. We are cognizant of our personal preferences and writing style and separate these from our critiques. The most helpful criticism is specific to the piece. It points to a word, scene, or paragraph and explains what isn’t working for the reader. Then the writer can see exactly where the challenge lies, learn about another’s perspective, and make a choice. Broad negative statements aren’t only signs of a poorly-crafted critique, they’re unhelpful and demoralizing. Broad positive statements are fine, but grounding positive feedback with examples shows the writer the strengths they can build on.

A note of encouragement: When I joined my critique group, none of us were published. Five years later, we all were! Happy Writing!

Sunday Blog Share: Photograph

Photograph

by Michelle Cook
Putting my Feet in the Dirt

Hidden away

In the recesses

Of a forgotten room

There lies a young

Misplaced soul

Fair and bright-eyed

With an angelic smile

She awaits

An unexpected admirer

Sheer panels

Of wispy white fabric

Flow fluidly

From a bare window

Gently reassuring her

That the breeze

Has not abandoned her

Tiny elbows rest firmly 

(Continue Reading: Photograph)

My Chili Attempt

Perhaps some of you remember my Oven Saga where I survived without an oven for 4 months and only one stovetop burner for 6 years. The culinary arts are not my forte, and I blame the ineptitude on my childhood. When I was growing up, we had a garden, but everything else came out of a box or can. I never learned to cook.

But I try.

To fill some of my new free time due to my writing break,  I decided to make chili. How hard can chili be?

You might also remember my post about how I learn by Failure. This approach to life I also attribute to my childhood and my dad’s tendency to jump into projects high on enthusiasm and low on planning. That’s me. So here goes:

First I defrost the lamb burger (acquired from a local farm). Add it to the skillet with some chopped onion and fresh garlic, and since the only pepper I have is an orange bell pepper, in goes the orange bell pepper. Good so far.

Everything is cooking nicely, so it’s time to add the tomatoes and tomato paste, but I don’t have any. Uh oh. It’s already time to improvise. I rummage around in the cupboard and… aha! I have some canned tomato bisque soup! So in goes the tomato soup. It’s a little thin, but I can doctor that up. Just you watch.

Add the kidney beans. Check.

Now, I sent my husband to the store last week for chili powder, and he brought home two little jars of red stuff. “Chili Powder” the jar says. I scrounge in the cabinet, grab the jar of red stuff, and a jar of coriander seasoning. No cumin, oh well. I add coriander and open the jar of the red stuff, scoop some into the skillet and taste test.

Hmmm. Doesn’t taste very chili-ish. So I add some more. Tastes sort of odd, not bad, just… different. Hmmm.

To counter the lack of chili taste, I add garlic powder and more coriander. Still not right. Add more chili powder. Then I notice the label – Red Curry Powder. He got two jars of red stuff, but only one was chili powder! Now, what to do? The answer is obvious. Dump in a huge helping of chili powder and garlic powder to counteract the red curry powder.

All the powder is starting to thicken up the tomato bisque soup nicely. I told you I could doctor it up!

Add a little garlic bread (made with bagels because I’m out of bread) and the husband said it was good!

ALL TRUE!

Farlanders’ Law

Excerpt from Farlanders’ Law, The Rose Shield: Book III

The baby reminded her of Gussy on the day Zadie delivered her into the world of the stead. Such memories raised tears for a lost lifetime, a wistful dream that evaporated upon her waking to a harsher, crueler morn. Those days had marked the most sacred of her life, a few years of recaptured innocence when they called her Rose for lack of another name. Zadie had chosen the name because of her eye, and Wenna had given her the choice of calling it her own. The tender mothers of her youth had seen the ugly mark bruising her face and named it something lovely, called her a thing of beauty when she was a scrawny cast off lacking a voice of her own.

This little one possessed no flaws, no strange blemish or discoloration or unexplained power, nothing to hurl her life into heartbreak and ruin. So, Catling chose the name again, and in that instant, all her misgivings, all her dreaded anger and doubts and regrets about the baby resting on her body vanished. Every indignity inflicted upon her, every threat and injury and act of destruction faded into the murky distance. For years, those with unfettered authority had wielded her as a tool. Now, the power of the infant’s face, the gray eyes and soft hair, the little bowed lips, the helplessness of this new life eclipsed them all. Suddenly, only this life mattered, her child’s life, and she drifted instantly and deeply into love.

***

One more book to go and then I promise I’ll stop! Lol.

Now available on Amazon

Sunday Blog Share: Love Letters #35

Love Letters #35

By Lenora of Ocean Bream

I didn’t know I could feel that way. That reckless abandon. That absolute peace. It felt like I was in a small bubble, and I knew it would pop at any moment, but I didn’t want to think of that until it happened.

I just wanted to enjoy the now most thoroughly.

We walked on the mountain for hours every morning, as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky. I could feel its malignant beam on my back, scorching through my clothes, making my skin prickle uncomfortably before it broke down and wept rivers of sweat. My feet were sore by the end of the day.

We ate whatever we could get our hands on. Pineapples chopped, mangoes until the orange stickiness dribbled down our chins and under our shirts. Strawberries by the bowlful. Fruit in abundance.

We jumped in the lake straight after, with all our clothes on. You swore loudly because the water was deceivingly cold, and we glanced back at our parents, our relief palpable when we saw them laughing on the lake’s edge, oblivious to our transgression.

We cycled on old rusty bikes found in the garage, the wheels patched and pumped, the chains oiled

(Continue Reading: Love Letters #35)