Thursday, June 9, 2011

Critiquerly Interview with Author Brigid Kemmerer

(Or, Critique ‘til it’s Automatic)   

With only a few more Crits for Water interviews left, I’m excited that Brigid Kemmerer is able to visit us today with an interview. These authors and agents generously donatetheir critique time for a fantastic cause: saving lives through Charity: Water

Brigid has a fantastic debut novel coming out in 2012, and she’s offering a 5,000-word critique (all YA genres except for historical or SF) up for a drawing on Thursday, June 10th. How terrific can she be? She’s been through the pre-discovery trenches, landed wonderful Tamar Rydzinski as her agent, and made her first sale. From the sounds of her novel, it's right up my alley.

And I think she does a great job explaining how critiquing helps.


Brigid Kemmerer is the author of ELEMENTAL, a story in which a girl becomes entangled with four
brothers who control the elements, and their battle with those who want them dead, coming in
June 2012 from K Teen, a new imprint of Kensington Books. Brigid lives in a suburb of Baltimore with
her very tolerant family. You can find more about her on her blog and on Twitter.


NAE: After a writer gets back an in-depth critique, what would you recommend in terms of a review/revise process?

BK: I think the first thing any writer needs to do upon receiving a critique is sit back and let it sink in. Let the knee-jerk wear off. Writing is personal. Seeing someone's criticisms all over your manuscript is like watching someone smack your child for mouthing off in public. Yeah, you know your kid shouldn't be doing that, but how dare someone else pick up on it and correct it?

NAE: What is the one piece of advice you can give to someone trying to develop his or her critique skills?

BK: Keep doing it. Seriously. Keep swapping crits. Learn what pisses you off -- so you can avoid pissing off other people. Learn how to pick out the good things and emphasize them. (Sometimes we're so focused on what doesn't work that we forget to heap on praise for what does.) Keep critiquing work until you start critiquing things automatically. (In your head, people.) Published books. Magazine articles. Whatever. Personally, I can't watch bad television anymore, because I find myself wanting to tear the scriptwriters a new you-know-what.

NAE: When you critique someone’s work, what is your general process?

BK: I generally prefer to do critiques piece-meal, meaning chapter by chapter, until someone proves they've got the chops. As a writer, nothing is worse than sending your work out there and hearing nothing but crickets -- forever. So I try to avoid taking on an entire manuscript blind. Especially if you're just starting out, save yourself the hassle. Don't commit to a full manuscript -- which is seriously going to take at least 8 hours of your time -- when there's a chance you might read the first chapter and want to hang yourself. (And it doesn't have to be bad writing. One guy asked me to beta his work. He said it was a YA paranormal romance, and he had an agent, so I said sure. I get the MS, and it's hardcore sci-fi. So not for me. So far outside my wheel house that I wouldn't even be a good critique partner for it.) Commit to one chapter, give honest feedback, and go from there. 

NAE:  Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing?

BK: I always line edit, because I just can't help myself. If something is a glaring repetitive error (like putting punctuation outside the quotes), I'll mark up the first few pages and then put a comment for the writer to fix it. I carefully watch for pacing and plot issues. I write YA, and I think it's a demanding genre because you can't cut corners. Teenagers can smell BS a mile away. If your character acts in a way that doesn't make sense, everyone is going to see right through it. So I'm tough on character motivation, too. Over the last year, I've started thinking about bigger scale things, like series potential and character depth and intertwining plot arcs, because brainstorming those things with other people is a great way to get my own creativity flowing.

Question added by BK: How do you go about finding a good critique partner?

BK: Finding a good critique partner is like finding a husband. (Or wife.) You've got to put yourself out there. You need to be honest, and reveal your true self. You're going to get your heart stomped, a ton of times. You're going to hate some of them. You're going to feel lukewarm about others. You're going to hurt when you have to let them down. But then -- one day lightning will strike. You'll read something that feels like it's a match to your own writing. You'll both be mature, stable adults. You'll decide you can live with the minor irritants ("How many times can I tell her to STOP USING TWENTY-WORD DIALOGUE TAGS?!") because the writing makes it worth it. Her feedback on your own stuff makes it worth it. And when you succeed together, it makes it worth it.


Brigid, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with critiques. I have some wonderful crit partners, as well, and they are so worth it.

Remember to stop by the Crits for Water website on Thursday to get in on Brigid’s 5,000-word drawing. Good luck!


Jessica Silva said...

Great interview! Someone's going to be super lucky for a crit from this lady :D

Marybk said...

You're so right.

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