• Who We Are

  • Schedule

    Mondays ~
    Tuesdays ~ Snarky
    Wednesdays ~ Dreamer
    Thursdays ~ Naughty
    Fridays ~ Dreary
    Saturdays ~
    Sundays ~

    Whenever ~ Smokey, Mighty, Eerie and Wicked

  • Snarky’s Tweets

  • Kinetic’s Tweets

  • Dreamer’s Tweets

  • Wicked’s Tweets

  • Eerie’s Tweets

  • Mighty’s Tweets

Critique Groups

critique group

A critique group can be defined as a lot of things, but to me, it’s simply a group of people who get together to go over their writing. If you are a writer and you aren’t in one, I highly recommend either joining one or creating one. I spent years writing on my own, working my hardest to reach my goal of becoming a published author. Yet, it wasn’t until I joined a critique group that I not only grew a lot as a writer, but had the confidence and knowledge to become a published author.

But what makes a successful critique group?

  • The most important thing is that all the members have personalities that work well together. If everyone can’t get along, they can’t work together.
  • Trust is equally important. If you don’t trust the members of the group, it’s hard to accept and give critiques. The whole experience leaves you pretty vulnerable, which means you need people there you know want the best for you.
  • Depending on your groups goals, the members should always be thinking, “what can we do to improve their story so it can be published?” If the members are just trying to tear apart your work, the group isn’t helpful for anyone.
  • Keep the group small. More than ten members would make it very difficult to have time to read and review people’s work (well). I actually think five or so members is plenty.
  • Meet regularly. Every two weeks seems to work well for me, but each group will have different needs.
  • Submit each meeting. The only way you’ll see a lot of growth is if you have regular feedback. Each meeting you’ll try to apply the comments from the last meeting so that your problems change and minimize. This really helps your growth as an author.

I asked my fellow critique group member and friend Aeon Igni her thoughts about the benefits of a critique group, and I think her response was brilliant:

“If you’ve ever read Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, you know that much of business success comes from individuals grouping together to accomplish greater tasks than any one person could accomplish alone. A good writing group gives an author this power. With several minds focusing on their process, product, and career rather than their single mind, it is almost assured that the end product will be exponentially greater than what the author could create without this feedback.

Critique groups share information, techniques, tips and tools of the trade, as well as powerful brainstorming sessions and constructive criticism. We can see the power of critique partners and critique groups among published authors today – many authors I follow reference each other on social media and post pictures of themselves dining out or taking cruises together. 

For me personally, it is comforting to know that I don’t have to go it alone – that there are others to turn to when I am struggling or need advice. Even a simple text with an article to read or asking how my writing is coming along can be powerful motivation to keep moving forward. I expect that I will always be part of a critique group, and I can’t imagine a writing life without one.”

So if you aren’t in a critique group yet, find one or created one. It may be the single most important thing you do as a writer.

Writing, a New Team Sport?

Yes, writing is essentially a solitary activity. It usually involves one person in front of their computer or with a pen or pencil in hand.

But in today’s publishing world, it really does take a community to put forth a book. Take a peek at any acknowledgement page and you’ll see a long list of editors, agents, cover artists and such not.

I think writing has evolved even beyond this. I just finished a book, The Iron Trials, by two of my favorite authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. More and more authors are teaming up to co-write books. Here is a great article I remember from some time ago by Mark Sullivan who co-authored two books with James Patterson.

I also believe critique groups and editing partners are an invaluable part of the writing process. Last month the evil dwarves gathered around to hash out plot points. We push each other as we question our character’s motivation and pick out any possible plot holes. I relish their critiques even if they sometimes they bruise the ego. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Right? Even when the paper is bleeding red. They also help calm the negative voices and help me push through the hard times.

I realize how essential my writing team is. How about you? Who is your support team?

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Writers…

Change has come to stalk the Wicked household, or more specifically, for Wicked herself. It’s a good thing she has three books out this year, because getting two more out next year is going to test her time management skills.  And here’s why…after many, many, many (add thirteen more) years of being blessed with a telecommuting position, Wicked has decided to take a newly opened path of gainful employment. Not that she strayed far from her original path, just laddered up to the parent employer and new challenges. Including the one where she has to dress like an adult and leave the house to pursue said challenges.

What this means, is now for an hour, one-way, Wicked and her brand-spanking new filly, must brave the crowded roadways, dodging carts and overdrawn carriages (no, that’s not a mis-spelling), stop at the new giver of pay’s offices, toil away for a set number of hours, re-brave the clogged travel arteries, and then kick off the torturous devices known as “heels”.  While on one hand, this is wonderful, on the other it meant re-organizing a writer’s schedule.

Most writers hold day jobs while they craft their art. It’s not easy and something always has to be sacrificed (sleep, time, chocolate, homemade dinners, handcrafted gifts).  In this case, it meant the every other week meeting of like minds of the Evil 7’s critique group. A decision not easily made, mind you. After seven years with the Evil 7, I must take a reluctant step back.

There is no magical potion to imbue when trying to balance work, family, and writing, it comes down to your personal goals/needs. While I am behind on my writing counts for the last month due to all the upheaval, my overall plan has not changed.

One book from each series each year. That won’t change because I am a writer and this is something I’m willing to sacrifice for, to keep to.

While I’m uncertain how well my plans will be carried out, I’m determined to make it work. So it’s:

Monday through Fridays, get up, get the Prankster Duo out and Knight out and running, then gallop away.

Fulfill my contractual obligations for my pot of gold at the end of working person’s rainbow.

Come home, touch base, check in, ride herd over the three males and one fur rug.

When everyone’s settled in fighting off ogres, snipers and various other individuals of coded fame, I shall plant my butt in chair and pound out words of fancy while they battle in the background.

Saturdays shall become days of Writer Biz–marketing, blogs, and various sundry items that come with being a writer.

Sundays are mine–for family or writing or both, they are all mine.

So if I seem a bit quiet, don’t worry, I’m still here, just a tad busy settling into my well laid plans, and you can keep up with me at www.jamigray.com where my personal blog is updated each Wednesday. I’ll keep you posted on just how well it works out though. Maybe I’ll be able to give up the 8-5 to peddle my own magic formula.

Character Therapy…When they’re too messed up… #writing #characters

Confused 1

Last week Eerie gave us some insight into why we use flawed characters.  Of course, me being me, I had to point out the only interesting character is one who is flawed. C’mon, no one likes reading about Perfect Polly and her Awesome, Astounding Life of Ease.  Yet, can a writer hobble their character with too many flaws?

Our motley group of eight (because why have seven if you can do more?), we’ve considered numerous challenges to place before our various protagonists, be it a solid box where magic can’t operate, a juice mixer that only works with certain souls, or a snowy day in New Orleans.  The whole point of telling a story is to take your character, give them a few hurdles, some hidden pits with stakes, and shiny pot of gold at the end of the wacky rainbow and see how they turn out.  Are they better? Worse? A little more colorful or holey?   It’s one of the more fun aspects of being a writer, coming up with some great challenges that utilize creative thinking to get around or under.

Yet the goal of these challenges is to shine a great, big spotlight on our character’s flaws (or give it a steroid shot).  There is a fine balance a writer must navigate–creating a likable, flawed character a reader can connect with.  That’s a great deal more difficult than it sounds.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been puttering along, my Muse occasionally sticking her foot out so I trip, then snickering at me, when I suddenly realize I really don’t like my characters all of sudden.  Why? They’re just too…too…good.  They aren’t suffering enough or they’re not asking enough questions or they’re playing way too nice with the other characters.  That’s when I know, my character is becoming well adjusted…NOOOOOOO!

I don’t have a magic formula or chart (especially since Math is not my forte) on how many flaws or how deep those flaws have to be for a character to work, but think about it.  How boring is it if we aren’t challenged through out our life?  Same with our characters. We’re picking up a book so we can jump into the most exciting point in a character’s life, therefore as writers, we must make sure that the challenges and flaws they must face will keep a reader hooked for the entire story. Readers (and I say this since I, too, read) want to see the main character emerge triumphant over evil and themselves at the story’s end.  Or if not exactly where they should be, pretty darn close.

However, I have read some books when I hit the end, I need some serious therapy. The character faces such overwhelming odds from themselves and their world that it’s all I can do not to hand them a gun and just nod sadly.

So, is it just me or have you read something similar? Can a character be too flawed to read?

Flawed

Returning to our regular programming…

So I made it back, dragging 29 pages behind me. Mentally exhausted, pleasantly over stuffed on great food and endless pots of coffee, it’s taking a few day to drop down from my caffeine high.

The Prankster Duo and The Knight managed to survive, the shack was still standing, albeit a little lopsided, but upright. The backyard, aka the jungle of horrors, looks like it got into a fight with a machete wielding barber, but at least you don’t have to send up signal flares to find your way back. And I had nothing to do with it! Nope, the title of Conqueror goes to the Knight.  *folds hands under chin and sighs*

We managed to lure out the Muses with promises of uninterrupted “them” time and then proceeded to hold on tight as they dragged us through our paces. Mighty Dwarf caught a late night broom into town and joined the fun.  Even our newest member, Ninja Dwarf, snuck in. One minute not there, the next-POOF-she’s right behind you! You have to be careful not to trip over her though, small and quiet isn’t always the best combo!

Snarky whipped out a couple of outlines, Eerie figured out a few new ways to enjoy the delicacy of brains, Smokey got dragged out of a cavern and into a new dragon infested world, and Quirky, although he wouldn’t share, was stuffing pages into his bags at the end of trip.  So I think we can consider this a productive retreat.

At one time the Muses decided we could indulge in a short reprieve, so we quickly made our escape to swing by a lovely little place in Winslow to enjoy the visual offerings of Tina Mion. So before I sign off for this week, I’ll share with you one of my favorite photos.  You want the story to it? Check out Tina’s site or if you’re in the area, swing over to La Posada Hotel in Winslow and see it for yourself!

Until next week…

IMG_0990

Photo taken on the sly at the exhibit…

Wicked

WAS IS NOT A VERB

Greetings and Salutations loyal readers of the blog,

Today I will be paying homage to one member of my critique group. She will know who she is, but I will keep her name out of it for now. Among the many things I hear during our working sessions is, “Was is not a verb.” Because I don’t edit while I ‘m writing, I didn’t know how bad my use of was is. This past week I opened a short story I wrote some time ago. The story in question is 7,000 words over 22 pages. Was occurs 72 times. That’s 1% of all the words in the story. waswaswaswaswaswas. when you line them up they aren’t impressive are they? They are no more impressive when you sprinkle them throughout a piece. In fact they take a good story and water it down to the point that nothing sticks in the colander of your brain after you’ve read it.

To all the people I’ve asked to read those stories, professional and personal, I apologize for my laziness. I believe that the story is first and foremost the most important component of writing. That said, it is a grave injustice to seed a good story with poor word choices. I’d like to think I know better and yet after doing one simple word search I have to admit the evidence shows otherwise. Improvement is something I strive for every time I sit down to write. It would seem I have plenty of room for growth.

I pledge to do a better job in the future selecting words. There is no shortage of words to choose from. Leaving me with no defense. Slothfulness is my sin.

If you write, take heed of my dilemma and try not to fall into the trap of using the easy choice. Aim higher than what comes too easily. Language is the most important tool in the writer’s tool kit. Treat it with respect, oil it, sharpen it, and keep it close to hand. A well used tool fits comfortably in the hand  of the craftsman who utilizes it often.

I’ll leave you with this quotation.

“Words are sacred.  They deserve respect.  If you get the right ones in the right order you can nudge the world.” Tom Stoppared

Write On,

Eerie Dwarf

Hellos and Goodbyes…

It’s been awhile since we’ve visited the Swamp and her inhabitants. Today I thought you might like to take a peek into our little farewell get together for Mighty, who shall remain with us via the technology gods until her return, and meet our newest member…

Wicked: *shoving Might’s duffle on to the back of the lopsided jackass*  Why the hell are you going to the Windy City? Between the Werewolf Monks and Eerie’s Free Range Zombies, I would’ve thought we had enough drama for you.

Mighty:*stashing her Staff of Bull Shark Repellent*  You know how it is, money’s a little tight and those Bull Sharks aren’t going to leave the lake any time soon. I’m just going to make sure they don’t pass beyond where they’re allowed.

Snarky: *lazily curling and uncurling her whip*  I can whip them into shape.

Mighty: *look of indulgent disdain*  Your whip is not going to reach.

*Overhead Mischievous calls out*:  Hey Mighty, you ready to lose a few fingers and toes?  The temps over there will keep you in deep freeze.  *He cackles at his lame attempt at humor*

Mighty: *rolling her eyes across the road. Picks them up and puts them back in*:  That bird would be great fried.

Wicked: *grinning in agreement, even as the Prankster Duo comment on Mighty’s gory trick*  Yeah, but I think Eerie might take exception to our meal plans.

Eerie: *taking his Free Range Zombies for a walk with chains and a pointy stick*  What meal plans? The Werewolf Monks have been promising me a new vintage, I could pester them for it.

*A cloud of smoke drifts over* Smokey: “Just took down a mastodon over by Swamp Thing’s place. It’s been smoking nicely for the last few days. I’ll have my Spicy Bit bring it over. We don’t want you heading off without a full belly, Mighty.

Quirky: *practicing knots with some newly purchased ropes*  The Muses headed out a few hours ago, so we could probably hang over at Filet Your Own Deli without worrying about another knock down drag out argument over the use of details or lack thereof.

Dreamer *arms full of colorful blooms and Angel Boy fluttering around her ankles*  What about your cabin, Mighty? Do you need someone to pop in and keep an eye on things for you?

Mighty: *the smirk we all know and love but have learned to be wary of appears* Nah, I forgot to mention I found someone to cabin sit while I’m gone.  That way it’ll still be standing, Zombie Free, when I get back.

Dreamer *beatific smile appears* It’s so nice to have new blood in the community.  So much to play with…*a small blush*  I mean, perhaps they’ll have new playmates for Angel Boy.  *Turns to Wicked and Snarky*  No offense girls, but I believe your progeny may be perhaps a bit too adventurous for mine right now.

Wicked & Snarky exchange high fives.  

Wicked: None taken…

Snarky:  So this new peep.  What’s the deal? Who are they? Where are they from? Most importantly, can they pass the Swamp Entry Exam?

*A loud pop and a blue telephone booth appears and settles in the road. Red Dwarf steps out

Red: Good eve, all, I thought I’d pop in before tea to bid Mighty adieu.  

*A small blond races from behind Red and joins forces with the Prankster Duo, where upon a discussion of how Yoda took down Darth in this year’s Star Wars March Madness*

Red: Did I hear something about an entrance exam? I thought we’d straightened that out months ago.  Besides, I don’t see any dead bodies lying around. Everyone’s here–Snarky, Wicked, Smokey, Quirky, Eerie, Dreamer, Mighty, myself…doesn’t that put us one over?

Eerie *capturing a wondering single hand and wrestling it back in line*  Even though you’re over the Pond and Mighty will soon be in the Land of Winds and You-betchas, we’ve decided to allow one more individual into the group.

Quirky:  We did? When?

Wicked: It was during the brawl over at the Kilted Ferret pub when we had to hold off that damn Molly and her two henchboys from Eerie’s Three Misfiteers.  

Quirky: *flying fingers and rope pause before continuing their dizzy dance*  Oh yeah.  So, who is the new person?

Mighty: *tossing another package on top of the lopsided jackass* I’d introduce you all, but she’s been here the whole time, so I ‘ll let her do the honors.

*All seven dwarves start checking out their surroundings*

Eerie: Short? Tall? Gnome? Troll? What exactly are we looking for here? And a name would be good.

*Mighty smiles and continues to finish her packing*

*From behind him a shadow separates and forms into a petite, lithe form*  Names are not to be given lightly, small man.

Eerie: *huffs up to his full three foot one inch height* Who you calling small?

Wicked: *arms folded so knives are in easy reach* Nice move there, I need to introduce you to Raine.

Snarky: *lets her whip snap, crackle and pop*  And you would be…

*Shadow girl drops a very elegant bow* I am called Ninja Dwarf.

Quirky: *looking intrigues*  Wow! Totally cool, we get our very own ninja!

Cliche’s are Tabu

Greetings and Salutations loyal readers of the blog,

Mischievous and I are preparing to visit the old unconsecrated catholic graveyard.  I need to do some research on ghosts and who better to ask than ghosts.  We’ll be hiking through the Impenetrable Forrest to get there.   The shortcut puts us at risk while we’re in the forest, but it cuts days off the trip.  It’s worth the risk unless, of course, we get attacked by Killer Koalas, Piranha Hummingbirds, or Vampire Tarantulas.  You may ask again, why?  My friend, Mischievous Raven is picking up some survival gear from his friends over at A to Z AMMO.  He assures me we can make the trip safely.

“Hey Eerie.  A little help.”

Glancing up I see what appears at first sight to be the regurgitation of debris from an Army surplus store that has somehow been animated into a moving heap of junk.  Then an ebony wing waves frantically from under the moving pile.  Mischievous, is that you?

“Yeah, who else?  Now, can you get this stuff off me?”

Sure.  I pick off bandoliers of ammunition, automatic weapons, a selection of swords and camouflage everything.  Finally a familiar face pears out.  Is all this stuff really necessary?

“When I told my buddy at A to Z where we were going he through in a bunch of stuff he wants us to test.”

I’m afraid to ask.

“Check it out Vampire Tarantula repellent.  Apply this to any exposed skin and breathe easy.”

Peuu.  Breath easy, I can’t breathe at all.

“Don’t use it.  I promise to drag your dehydrated husk out of the forest after they’ve sucked you dry.”

Okay okay.  What else you got.

“Killer Koala pheromones.  We’re supposed to leave a trail of this as we go.  It makes the Koalas horny and they forget all about eating.”

Hmmm.

“Next we have this camouflage gear.  This will keep away the Piranha Hummingbirds.  And finally, a digital camera that will upload any pictures we take directly to A to Z’s server.”

How is that supposed to help?

“Since no one has ever seen a Black Tiger and lived, they asked if you would take a picture for them.”

This would be my last act on the planet, to send your buddies a picture of a Black Tiger.

“Yeah you know for science and all.”

Fine let’s get started.

At the bi-weekly gathering of Dwarves, the topic of clichés came up, again.  So I decided to repost this blog.

 From November 12, 2010.  You know all those clichés about ‘time’? Like: time is fleeting, time heels all wounds, only time will tell, time is of the essence, time waits for no man, in the nick of time, time after time, a stitch in time saves nine, time is money, in due time, at a time like this, there is no time like the present, the times they are a changing.  

We have; good time, bad time, due time, on time, in time, only time, no time, spare time, same time, next time, big time, first time, full-time, part-time, easy time, closing time, save time, waste time, hard time, hot time, kill time, borrowed time, long time, short time, lost time, mark time. 

I could go on and on because, I’ve got time on my hands, but time is running out, so let’s make time. Making time; what the hell does that even mean?

For writers, clichés are the quicksand of language. (I’m going somewhere with this I promise) Time and again, (there’s another one) writers are cautioned not to use clichés and yet you can’t put time in a sentence without risking the use of a cliché and yet that is the job of any writer worthy of the title. Do we falter? Continuously. But try we must, not to fall into the quicksand. Among the Evil Dwarves I admit I am the guiltiest of this infraction. So for this I throw myself on the mercy of the court and ask for lenience. My point here is (I told you this was going somewhere) that writers are not perfect, but we do our best to spin a worthy tail and follow the thousands of mind numbing rules that the industry imposes. So forgive us our indiscretions, allow for the misplaced comma or the occasional cliché and instead enjoy the story. Because in the end the story is what it’s all about.

I think I’ve wasted enough time. It’s about time I get on with this. If you can think of any notable ‘times’ I’ve missed, please chastise me in the comment box.   

As you know by this time, I always leave you with a quotation.

“Everything changed the day he figured out there was just enough time for the important things in life.”  D. Andreas 

Write On,

Eerie 

I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive,

Greetings and Salutations,

Allow me to paraphrase the great James Brown, I’m back and I’m proud.  First let’s get all of  the excuses out of the way.  Of course I was on vacation through the beginning of October, then the let down at coming home and of course jet lag took its toll.  And that was October.  In November I participated in NANOWRIMO, I did not make the goal of 50,000 words, but I did write.  And that my friends is what it’s really all about.   Half-way through November my bipolar disorder’s misshapen form crawled from the ooze it lurks in and I sunk into a depression, that thanks to the Mrs. Eerie, my friends, and my docs I don’t have to experience very often these days.  The effects of that depression are slowly waning and I’m feeling much more my self today.  The strain of the holidays and life and frankly some laziness filled out the rest of December.  And now here I am.

The rest of the Evil Seven carried on in my absence and we’ve even had a prestigious visitor to the Swamp in the form of C.E. Murphy.  Thanks to the hard work of Wicked Dwarf and Red Dwarf.  I must mention here that Mischievous Raven is a big fan of Ms. Murphy and thinks that he somehow inspired her book Raven’s Call.  Be sure to check that out when you’re cashing in your gift cards at bookstores, virtual and real.

Mischievous will be stopping by later to say hi and he will bring you up to date on all the news around the Swamp.  Until then let’s talk about writing.  There was a time when I wrote with a word count goal in mind.  I stopped doing that at some point, telling myself quality over quantity should be my goal.  The problem with that is it allowed me to become undisciplined.  I learned this lesson only after I was coerced, pressured, compelled, threatened, intimidated, dragooned, and railroaded into participating in NANO this year by the Evil Seven (it was mostly Snarky and her glossy Whip).  A writer writes, it is what we do.  If we are making excuses NOT to write then we are (let’s all say it together) NOT writers.  A published author once told me that you can’t fix a blank page.  And yet I allowed myself to drift into the realm of writing so little, I had mostly blank pages.  This year I have several objectives in mind, but the top of the list is to write with a goal.  Not an abstract suggestion, but a real number.  It may come in the form of hours or words I’m not sure yet, but it’s going to be quantitative.  And I’m giving the Evil Seven (I may regret this later) permission to hold me accountable.  Yes, that includes Snarky, and her whip too.

Hey Mischievous good to see say hi to our visitors.

“Greetings everyone.  It’s good to see you all.  Eerie, if I were you I’d wrap this up and get out of here Swamp Thing is looking for you and sheOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA does not look happy.”

How can you tell, she never looks happy.

“Trust me on this you do not want to be here when she arrives unless you have a carload of raw meat you can distract her with.  I’m outta here.”

Well it looks like I’ve got to be going.  Thanks for stopping by.  I’ll be back next Friday and we can talk about the Mayan Calender debacle and the new year.

Until then, as is our custom on Friday, I’ll leave you with a quotation.

“Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you land among the stars”  Les Brown

Write On,

Eerie

Creating Character Driven Novels

 

I have a tendency to create novels with main characters that remind me of myself in many ways, however, the novel I am currently working on has a main character who I feel is very different from myself.  She has a lot more emotional baggage than most of my other character, and rather than making the best of her situation, she is a lot more jaded and hardheaded.

It was a nerve-racking experience to submit my first chapters with this character to my writing group.  I waited for my turn, fearing the worst, that they would find my character hollow and unbelievable.  But much to my surprise, this was their favorite character so far.  They really understood her and her motivations right from the start.

This came as a great surprise to me at first, but then, I took some time to think this puzzle over.  I realized that this was the first character I had to really flush out.  The others I understood entirely, as if they were an extension of myself, but this character was foreign and unpredictable.  Each time a situation occurred, I had to ask myself, “what would she do?” or “what would she say?”  I think the considerable time spent trying to understand someone so different from myself really helped to create a really complex and interesting character.

This experience also helped me to realize that there is a lot of good that can come from creating characters that are vastly different from myself.  It helps to create a strong separation between narrator and character, and this allows the characters to stand on their own two feet even more so.

Writing certainly is a never-ending learning process.

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