Mystery Writer Critique Group

Last Saturday, seven mystery writers from my Capitol Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime met at Temple Coffee on S St. in downtown Sacramento to figure out the who, why, what, where and how of beginning a mystery writer critique group.

On that breezy spring morning with the daffodils bobbing, I felt ready for something new. Several among our group had been in critique groups in the past and for others, like me, this was a first. Over coffee and Chai tea we got to know each other a little better and talked about the upcoming Left Coast Crime conference this month, our books, published and yet to be, and the critique group.

We didn’t want it to be rigid and rule-bound or too unstructured. Commitment was important. We passed out critique group guidelines.

We gave ourselves several tasks to complete for our next meeting to help us learn more about what we wanted from the group. That prompted me to do some ruminating.

Why do I want to belong to a critique group?

  • Writer friends. Until recently, I have worked in organizations as a writer/editor/communications person. My friends in that environment were wonderful people, but not aspiring fiction writers. Now, I’d like to enlarge my circle with friends who have my same interests. Being in a group that talks about writing for two or three hours at a stretch sounds like heaven to me.
  • You Rock and You Suck.  I need to connect with the real world in my writing and not only my internal world. One inner voice tells me I’m  great and its evil twin tells me everyone is writing mystery novels and they are all more likely to get published than mine, and so on.

What my rational self knows is that neither of these voices speaks the truth. I write because I love it.  Even rewriting and editing. I also want others to like what I write and that’s why I’m joining a critique group. Otherwise, it’s just me and my inner twins: You Rock and You Suck. I need a reality check.

I’d like to hear from those of you who have been in critique groups. What worked for you? What didn’t?

Gearing up for Left Coast Crime

This is a big month for me. I’ll be attending my second conference for mystery writers and fans, Left Coast Crime March 29 – April 1 in Sacramento.

In 2009, I attended the California Crime Writers Conference in Pasadena, a wonderful first experience. I listened to presentations, filled notebooks with new information and talked with a few people at the banquet. Keynotes Robert Crais and Laurie King are two of my favorite mystery/thriller/suspense authors.

Among her many quotes, Laurie King said:

  • “My name is Laurie King and I write crap.  Is this as good as I can make this crap? Don’t   take yourself seriously, but do take the writing seriously.”
  •  “I don’t really believe in New York.”

With my bookshelf full of how-to books, this was golden advice from Robert Crais:

  • “Only one way to write a novel. Your way.”

An admitted introvert, the scheduled networking cocktail party was event overload for me, so I didn’t attend. Although thrilled with everything I learned, I missed out by not diving into the roomful of strangers, and vowed to do it differently the next time.

This article about Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking on Brain Pickings was great preparation for the Left Coast Crime conference:

Susan Cain says, “Introversion — along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness — is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women living in a man’s world, discounted because it goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality trait, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”

Here’s her wonderful TED talk:

I’m paraphrasing but this advice stayed with me: When you attend a conference or networking event, make it your goal to make one real friend. You can’t really connect with all those people anyway.

This time, I’ve registered to participate in a day-long workshop, submitted pages for review and volunteered as a panel room monitor. But I’m also hoping to make one new friend to share my writing interests with, and maybe even connect with an agent!

Left Coast Crime is for mystery readers and writers. Check it out!