DIY Critique Group

Having trouble finding a writers’ critique group that works for you?  I was in that spot two years ago. Then I received an email from an author who had relocated to New Orleans. Missing her group from California, she decide to start one here. The following tips are a combination of how she organized the start-up and how we have evolved over the past months.

  • Determine what genre(s) of writing you want submitted to the group. One of the groups that didn’t work for me included critiques of any type of fiction. I was the only children’s author and the gamut of adult books we critiqued ran from mystery, sci-fi, romance, Christian, Steampunk, to erotica. While I have no problem with any of these, and there were some excellent authors in the group, I felt that critiquing with people who wrote for  a similar reading audience would be more productive for me.
  • Audition applicants to the group. Knowing that she wanted to limit participants to writers of middle grade and young adult fiction, the woman organizing our group contacted the regional advisor of our local chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She asked her to send an email to chapter members about the critique group she was forming. Interested persons were requested to submit a short query letter and a ten page writing sample from a current manuscript. From these submissions, she chose participants she thought would work well together.
  • Pick a meeting place. Most public libraries have meeting rooms that can be reserved and are free, but usually participation in the group must be open to the public. Some coffee shops have meeting rooms, but often charge a fee.  Our first few meetings were held at a neighborhood chain restaurant. I don’t recommend this option. We weren’t guaranteed a table and noise sometimes interfered with our discussions. We thought about taking turns meeting in each others’ homes, but that wasn’t feasible for everyone. For the past eighteen months we’ve been meeting in a conference room in my husband’s office which is centrally located for the group and has free parking.
  • Determine the desired number of participants and how often the group will meet. These two seem to go hand in hand and are directly related to the type of critique you expect to do. We started with nine participants and met monthly. At that time, we each submitted ten pages of our manuscript by email to every member of the group at least two weeks before the next meeting. At the meeting, we discussed each selection and gave the author a written critique. This was okay for a while, but it became difficult to remember where you had left off in each story the month before and have a feel for the story arc. Our critiques became mainly line edits, and this wasn’t what any of us were looking for.                                                                               We now meet approximately every six weeks and critique a whole manuscript that has been submitted by email from a designated member a month in advance of the meeting. At the meeting, we each give a verbal critique of the manuscript and turn over a written analysis to the author. Unless she is asked a question, the author does not speak until all critiques have been given, at which point we discuss the novel as a group. Right now, this is working for us.
  • Length and time of meeting. This depends on the schedules of group members. We find meeting from 6:30PM to 9:00PM works for us.

I’d love to hear about your critique group. What is working well and what would you like to improve? What suggestions would you offer someone wanting to start up a group?

Lessons from a Life Well Lived

Boguey in DeSotoThe text was short. “B gone. Talk another day.” I was expecting it, but that didn’t make the message any easier to accept.

My son had called the night before. “Boguey’s not doing well,” he said. “He didn’t get up to greet me. He didn’t eat his dinner.”

Jeb, now forty-one, was twenty-five and paddling with a friend on the Chickasabogue River near Mobile where he lived when the little hound dog swam out to meet the kayak. A search of the camp grounds and a conversation with the park manager turned up no one looking for a lost puppy. A hamburger dinner for the pup on the way home sealed the deal, and a beautiful sixteen and a half year relationship was begun.

Boguey stayed with us in New Orleans for a couple of months until Jeb could move into a pet-friendly rental in Mobile. Every week-end, Jeb drove almost 300 miles round trip to visit him. Every Friday, Boguey’s silky ears perked when he heard the old Honda Accord pull into our driveway. Every Sunday, he looked at Jeb in hope of making the return trip with him. There was no doubt in Boguey’s mind that he was Jeb’s dog.

Boguey and Jeb were pals. Two carefree bachelors having fun. Boguey went to dog-friendly bars, hung out with the guys, drank and ate strange things—Jeb’s sofa being one of those things. But what’s more important to a single guy? Sofa or dog? The dog wins hands down every time.

People grow. Relationships change. Boguey knew better than most humans the importance of adapting to change. Girlfriends, girlfriends’ dogs, the occasional cat, long work hours as Jeb’s responsibilities at the newspaper grew—he took it all in stride. He and Jeb were a team, and Boguey valued that team more than anything.

Eight years ago Jeb met Sarah, the young woman who would become his wife. She and her little rescue Chihuahua, Cheshire, became part of the family. The Chihuahua ruled the animal sector of their house, and B was okay with that. One particularly cold February, Jeb and Sarah rescued a German shepherd stray who had been roaming the neighborhood for a few weeks. Fritz  joined their family, and Boguey accepted him, also.

January, two and a half years ago, Boguey faced the biggest challenge of all. Jeb and Sarah introduced him to this tiny, little human—their newborn daughter. The old guy was fourteen and very much a confirmed guy’s dog. What’s a fella to do? Boguey did as he had always done, he adapted.

In spite of failing vision, diminished hearing, painful arthritis, and, finally, doggy dementia, Boguey accepted and loved—first the infant who commanded so much of Jeb’s attention and then the toddler, who took his toys, spilled his food and water, and occasionally ran into him while riding her Tyke Bike in the house. His patience was rewarded as she grew older. She affectionately called him BoBo. She learned to pet him gently, feed him his dinner, and step over him when he was no longer able to move out of her way.

Now he’s gone, but his legacy remains. To live well, we must love well, place others above ourselves, and we will be rewarded with a rich and love-filled life.

To Boguey and a life well lived. Rest in peace, loyal friend.

January, 2000 – August 16, 2016



Don’t Leave Home Without Me

You can file this under “Been there. Done that.” Some hurricane evacuation prep is definitely last minute—securing lawn furniture, topping off the gas tank, emptying the freezer and fridge. Preparing to travel with your pet, not so much. Save the last minute stress (Evacuation is stressful enough!), and get Muffin and her supplies ready now.

Research in advance the names and locations of pet friendly lodging along your intended route. Check to see what their specific policies are. Better yet, plan to stay with friends or family that live out of the storm’s path. Always travel with a pet carrier that’s large enough for your pet to stand up and turn around in.

Unless your dog is a lot smarter than mine, she can’t talk and doesn’t know her address and phone number. ALL pets should be microchipped and wear a securely fastened collar with up-to-date rabies tags and a tag with the pet’s name, your name, address, and cell number. Print or have on your mobile device a picture of your pet and her veterinary records.

Pack a bag of necessary supplies, including:

  • bedding
  • food
  • bottled water
  • food and water dishes
  • medications
  • manual can opener if canned food is used
  • poop bags
  • doggy shampoo
  • towels
  • leash
  • favorite toys
  • paper towels

Keep your dog safely on-leash at rest stops and when you arrive at your destination. She’ll be as stressed as you are, so you can’t be sure how she’ll react off-leash.

As I write this, storms are brewing in the Gulf, so what are you waiting for? Start your prep now.

Zoe Comes Home

When Chris welcomed the beautiful tan and white border collie puppy he named Zoe into his home in California, September, 2005, he didn’t know how long she would be with him. All he knew was that she needed love and a safe place to stay. You see, Zoe was one of thousands of animals that made their way to various rescue groups and shelters throughout the United States following Hurricane Katrina and the flood waters that destroyed their hometowns.  Zoe, like many of the pets recovered from the flood waters, was not reclaimed by her owner. So, in January, 2006, Zoe officially became a part of Chris’ family.

Chris remembers the water sores on Zoe’s paws and belly and the resulting scars that became her iconic freckles. Zoe suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was deathly afraid of fire detector beeps, fireworks, and strong winds. She did not shy away from people, however, and often barked with a head snap as if throwing it up at people and other dogs passing her new home. If you were a guest at Chris’ home, Zoe welcomed you with pure love. She padded up to visitors, checking them out with a few well-placed sniffs and then giving a wag of her luxurious border collie tail. For more than ten years, Zoe, who could have become another sad Katrina statistic, made Chris’ life a little better.

When she passed away in June, 2016, Chris knew she had to return home.  She was laid to rest at Heavenly Pets Ossuary in New Orleans on July 8. Chris and his seven year-old son were in attendance, along with representatives from the Louisiana SPCA, NOLA City Bark, and dog lovers from around the city. Rebirth Brass Band gave Zoe a traditional New Orleans send-off, and a New Orleans style reception with po-boy sandwiches provided by Chris followed at the animal shelter on the Westbank.

This trip, this remembrance, was something Chris knew would be a tight squeeze for his budget, but he understood he had to do it for Zoe and his son. Chris feels that all should return to the land where they were born. And so, completing the circle of life for his beloved Zoe, Chris brought her home.

There is an emptiness in Chris’ heart. “She is missed so much,” he writes. He knows he was blessed to have Zoe in his life, and he is satisfied that he returned her to New Orleans.

Author’s note: Check back on Thursday for tips on evacuating with a pet.