Critique Groups: Debra Dunbar, Author of Eleven Blood

Elven Blood is Debra Dunbar's answer to fantasy fiction.I’ve never been in a traditional critique group, but last year I signed up for a short-term one at our local college. The class met for four session, one each week, and we discussed the first twenty pages of each student’s novel of their choice. We wound up with 2 critiques per week, so there was a bit of work involved.

The appeal was that the class gave me feedback from a broad swath of readers – all ages, both male and female, writers of fiction and non-fiction. I was finished with the draft of my second book in the Imp series and hoped this would be a great opportunity to have fresh eyes give the novel a review. My hope was that other writers would be articulate enough to let me know any issues they had with the early part of the novel.

And, of course, there is the dreaded “series” conundrum. Is the recap too much? Does it read like an info-dump of what happened in the first novel? Is it too little? Are readers thrown unprepared into a new world and characters, drowning in references they don’t understand? What is critical to bring readers up to speed in the first few pages, and what can be sprinkled in throughout the latter parts of the novel?

I went into the critique group thinking to learn more about my own novel, but it was reading and giving feedback on everyone else’s work that really brought me the most value. I tend to be a rather forgiving reader, skimming over the rough spots and concentrating on what works well. Having to comment on these other works helped me to look closer, to realize that each word, each sentence provides a sense of unity to the flow and tone of the book.

Among the many novel excerpts I read a funny memoir, a promising quirky thriller, a rather convoluted dark drama, and a stream-of-consciousness psychological fiction. And I got feedback on Satan’s Sword– feedback that helped me tighten up the beginning, give my characters more emotion, and balance action with a slower paced descriptive scene. Not bad for a four-week class and a twenty page review!

I’m again taking the class, this time with many new authors participating. Personally, I like this type of critique group far more than the dedicated participant model. I love that each time I get a whole new perspective on my writing, and I love exploring and learning from another author’s work.

Others may work better with a set group that sees their novels and writing style as they evolve, but, for me, this was the best model. Maybe your local college has one, too. If not, perhaps you’re just the person to set one up!

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Author’s Biography and Links:

Debra Dunbar lives on a farm in the northeast United States with her husband, three boys, and a Noah’s ark of four legged family members.  Her urban fantasy novels feature supernatural elements in local settings. In addition to A Demon Bound, Satan’s Sword, and Elven Blood, she has also published a short story erotica series titled Naughty Mom. Connect with her on Twitter @debra_dunbar, on Facebook at debradunbarauthor, and on her website at http://debradunbar.com.

A Demon Bound:  http://amzn.to/MK6nxD

Satan’s Sword: http://amzn.to/Tsi1Wr

Debra will be awarding an e-book copy of A DEMON BOUND (book 1 in the Imp Series) to a randomly drawn commenter at every stop, and a grand prize of a Kindle Fire with an ELVEN BLOOD book cover skin to one randomly drawn commenter during the tour (US ONLY). E-book copies of A Demon Bound and Satan’s Sword and a basket of awesome swag will be awarded to a randomly drawn host.

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Elven Blood is Debra Dunbar's answer to fantasy fiction.

BLURB:

Sam may be the Iblis, but she is also an imp with a price on her head.  The powerful demon Haagenti won’t rest until she’s dragged back to Hel for “punishment”.  Sam knows she can’t face Haagenti and win, so when an Elf Lord offers to eliminate the demon in return for her help, Sam accepts.  It’s a simple job – find and retrieve a half-breed monster dead or alive.  But finding this demon/elf hybrid isn’t proving easy and time is running out.

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EXCERPT:

The hiss of Wyatt’s shower penetrated through the fog of my pre-caffeinated brain.  I was still sprawled on the bed, hidden under a heap of covers, wondering whether I could sneak in a few more minutes of sleep. It was rent day, and I was already late in making my collection rounds.  Stretching, I poked my head from under the blanket and watched a small lizard cross the floor.  It had a scorpion tail, pointed ears and crimson eyes that darted intelligently across the room.  Those red eyes locked onto the bed just as I realized this wasn’t a lizard.  It was a demon—and not the usual Low one either.

There was a flash, and I rolled across the bed and onto the floor just before the mattress sliced into two smoking sections.  Unfortunately I was trapped in a tangle of sheets.  Instinctively I converted my form, deconstructing my usual human one into basic atoms and re-assembling into a creature that was small and hard to kill.

I heard a muffled curse, and I felt the sheets snatched from above me.  The demon was no longer a lizard; he was bipedal with furry, clawed legs and a scaled torso.  Arms hung down past his knees, ending in sharp hooks.  His head twisted and turned, forked tongue tasting the air as he searched for me.

Elven Blood is Debra Dunbar's answer to fantasy fiction.

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Do Writing Critique Groups Help?

Barbara Custer of Night to Dawn writes horror and science fiction.At the Writers’ Coffeehouse meeting last Sunday we had a discussion on critique groups and whether or not they help. Some people felt it best to stick with a group that has professional people such as published writers or editors. Without such member, said some, people may go to a critique group not really expecting to get published.

It was interesting that this topic came up. When I first started writing, the first piece of advice I got was “join a writer’s group.” At the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, I found plenty of writer’s groups. Some of them specialized in romance; others in nonfiction. Others preferred a mix of genres and subjects. My main consideration, though, was location and dates.

I started out with a group in Plymouth Meeting, PA. I got some great critiques initially, but we wound up becoming more of a social group. We wound up talking about movies, families, everything but writing. The group split up because of this but we remained friends.

I later moved on to Montgomery County Community College Writers’ group. They hold their meetings every other Thursday. I stayed with that group for several years until my problems with night vision made driving difficult. The college is on Route 202 and Morris road, and both of those streets have poor lighting.

For the last year or so I’ve been going to Bucks County Writers’ group in Warminster. They’ve been holding meetings Monday nights and Thursday afternoons. Editor Rita Breedlove runs the group, and I’ve found her critiques invaluable. Humor goes a long way when you’re delivering critiques. I’ve listed the advantages and disadvantages that I’ve found below.

Advantages

  • You can get instant feedback on material you’ve written. This works especially well with a short story if you’re able to read the entire story in one sitting. A novel critique can work if you read installments to the same people each time. The other members can work as your beta readers.
  • Socialization. Let’s face it, writing is a lonely job. I can sit behind the desk so many hours, and then I got to get up and walk around for a little bit, with “little bit” being the operative phrase. After a few minutes, I’m back at my computer. The prospect of showing up at the next meeting empty-handed motivates me to keep writing.

Disadvantages

  • If you’re working on a novel, and can’t get to sequential meetings, you’ll need to spend time filling people in on what happened in your book since the last reading.
  • Your timetable – if you work a day job, then you can’t get to morning or afternoon meetings. During the winter, a bad snowstorm may prohibit attending the meetings. Sometimes you can work around this by agreeing to have an online critique during the winter. Bucks County has done some online critiques, and I’ve been able to schedule days off to get to a meeting.
  • Other members may disagree with each others’ critiques. When this happens, I go with the majority. If one person tells me I’m a balloon, I smile and go about my business. If two people tell me I’m a balloon, I take pause and listen. If three people tell me I’m a balloon, I grab a ribbon and start floating.

All up, my experiences with Bucks County and the other groups have been great. The critiques have enabled me to get my short stories published. For my novels, the critiques point me in the right direction. After I’ve worked extensively on the book, then I take it to a content editor.

So…do you belong to a critique group? How has it worked for you? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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