Night Writers Pool Party

One of the questions I'm almost invariably asked in interviews is: What advice do you have for those starting out?

My advice is always the same: Find a critique group, online or in real life if possible.

I'm told that can be easier said than done, that there are many reasons why critique groups fail, or don't work well, or aren't a good match.  I was lucky enough to walk into a great group--literally--on my first try.

In early November of 2005, I started writing Blue Bells of Scotland during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)  I finished it at the end of November with 53,000 words (I was a winner!)  About that time, I saw a sign posted in the glass case directly across from the studio where I taught (and still teach) on Wednesday nights, announcing the Night Writers who met in the same community center on Wednesday nights.  I called the number and never heard back.  (Judy, Judy, Judy!  Why didn't you return my call!)

About a year later, in September of 2006, after having looked at that sign every single Wednesday for the past year, knowing this group's meeting started at 6:30--exactly the time I was finishing that night--I decided it couldn't hurt to walk down the hall and say hello.

They invited me in, and asked my name.  When I told them, they all looked at each other and laughed.  Not what I expected!  But then they introduced themselves--Judy, Genny, Judd, Janet, Lyn, Linda.  And Ross.  I fit right in!

That night, I read to them from the early scenes of Blue Bells of Scotland.  They gave me great feedback, and as I listened to them read in turn, I knew I'd stumbled into a group of really talented writers.

I quickly learned their background.  Some of them--Genny, Ross, Lyn, and Judy--had been together for nearly 20 years at that point, starting as a writing class at North Hennepin Community College under Maureen LaJoy, who they all still regard as a great mentor who encouraged them and gave them great belief in themselves and their ability.  Thanks to her legacy and their own continued work together, thanks to years of experience (at least 200 collective years and many books among them), they could hone in on what worked in my writing and why; what didn't work, and why not; what could be changed, added, or deleted to fix what didn't work,  I have learned a great deal from them about the craft of writing, far more than can ever be learned from a single pair of eyes.

Her legacy has carried on in a group composed of talented writers who work tirelessly at their craft, and who come with great commitment every week to pass on their years of knowledge gleaned from study and work--more than 30 years of writing in many cases.  Among us, we have over 30 published books--with more coming--in non-fiction and fiction, in children's books, mainstream fiction, poetry, paranormal, adventure, mystery, historical fiction, and more.

Over the years, we've had a number of people come and go, all of whom I remember fondly.  Larry (he walked in introduced himself, we asked his name, and we all laughed....) wrote children's books that involved a kite.  Linda did editing and publishing and had a book out on counseling.  We had a poet for awhile.  And Brin, a high school student who wrote about a fantastical world of mice, spent about a year and a half with us. Another Linda wrote romance.

Jack joined several months after I did--they asked his name, we all laughed, and introduced ourselves--and we became a solid core group of 10.  At times we joked that we were a 10 person marriage.  Indeed, we are a group who has been together through each other's greatest joys and sorrows, through major life events, births, deaths, marriages, divorce.

Inna joined us for about a year.  Inna was from the Ukraine, and announced that year--maybe six years ago--that we must have a Christmas party!  Being that Inna had worked with the Russian military, we were certainly not going to argue!

Inna told me I would play harp at the Christmas party, and put on a fashion show with her.  I did as I was told!  We had a blast, Inna and I parading in a fashion show for the Nighr Writers.  Then I played harp while her Ukrainian friend danced a Cossack dance in full Cossack regalia!  I'm quite sure it's the only time a Cossack has danced to a harp playing a Christmas piece in 3-4!  Jack recited the Nativity story from Luke.

Inna started our tradition with the Christmas party.  Ross decided why not have a pool party in the summer.  So we did.  And both parties have continued every year since then.  So, Happy Summer, Night Writers!  Thanks for being a fantastic part of my life, both for the invaluable advice you consistently give me to help me improve my writing, but as my friends.  You are irreplaceable.

Our group today consists of Genny, Janet, Judd, Judy, Stephanie, Sue, Lyn, Laura, Catherine, Meredythe, and Ross.

For more pictures, see our Night Writers Blog.


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