She loves cashews, organic chocolate, and looks fabulous in a red hat. I'm sure many of my readers are familiar with today's interview guest from her blog, which happens to be one of the best hand-on critique blogs I've come across. I love her wit and energy, and that she loves to celebrate (if not create) success stories when aspiring authors find their perfect agent. To give you an idea on how wonderful she is, here is an excerpt from her Twitter profile: "I want to bring out the best in others as well as myself."
Gah! Such a sweetie. And a large portion of the aspiring author world recently celebrated with her when she landed agent Josh Getzler (so funny how she appears in his leading client list with her anonymous name). I threw confetti. And ate a cashew (well, we were out of cashews, so I ate a peanut while imagining it was a cashew).
Did you guess yet (I mean, without looking at the title of this post)? That's right. We have the quintessential madam of anonymity and class here today: Authoress.
|Authoress and Jodi Meadows|
Authoress writes MG and YA fantasy and science fiction. She has an adoring husband
and a stash of organic chocolate that keeps disappearing. (The chocolate, not the adoring
husband.) She is also a classical pianist, a trained soprano, and an unabashed foodie, and
is represented by Josh Getzler of Hannigan, Salky, Getzler.
NAE: Who, as a critiquer/beta-reader, have you learned the most from, and what did you learn from him/her?
A: I've got two answers to this question!
First and foremost, above and beyond, I have learned the most from Jodi Meadows. (I probably sound like the president of some rabid Jodi Meadows Fan Club, but her influence on my writing has been immeasurable.) She took an early draft of my YA dystopian and showed me pretty much everything I had done wrong, from a preponderance of unnecessary prepositional phrases to the fact that, during the climactic scene, it was completely unclear what my protagonist was actually doing. (That was probably because I wasn't quite sure myself.) She is also the Mistress of Worldbuilding, and she pushed me to create a believable world with rules that didn't break themselves.
(She has been known to send me "writing assignments." Oh, yes. Like, "Send me 500 words about the history of your world." This gal is tough!)
So, truly, as I expanded my critique circle, I began to incorporate Jodi's methods while developing my personal critique style. As well as, yanno, applying what I'd learned to my own storytelling.
My second answer is Beth Revis. Beth's a gifted critiquer/editor. In fact, if she weren't already a bestselling author, I'd say she ought to be an editor. She's just THAT GOOD. And I'm including her here for a very specific reason: Back when my dystopian had garnered what felt like a thousand "you're a great writer BUT" rejections, Beth did a detailed critique that showed me, for the first time, HOW my story was broken. It takes a keen eye and a special talent to pick out what a gaggle of agents claim they "just can't put their finger on."
So from Beth I have achieved a heightened awareness of story arc and what makes a plot work. I'm totally not where she is, but one can always aspire!
NAE: What is the one piece of advice you can give to someone trying to develop his or her critique skills?
A: Read good critiques! Naturally my blog is an excellent way to do that. But it's important to get good critique on your own work from someone you trust, too. I've received, on numerous occasions, emails from people asking for help finding critique partners. Thing is, that's like asking help finding a spouse. You've got to click on both a personal and artistic level before you can critique each other's work. And that's a relationship that takes time to develop.
So, yes. Invest time into finding someone with whom you resonate on both levels. Don't just throw your work out there to strangers (e.g. critique sites, which can be very good, but can also be detrimental, because the relationship aspect can be missing).
NAE: When you critique someone's work, what is your process?
It depends what each person wants, and what stage the manuscript's at. One thing's for sure--I never go through twice. I prefer to work as I go, so if I'm giving a detailed line edit, I add my comments/corrections right in with the text, usually in red (I hate track changes--I mean, HATE--so I usually don't use it). When I'm finished with the line edits, I write an editorial letter outlining my main impressions. I don't go into a lot of detail in the letter, since that's what the line edits are for.
NAE: Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing?
I am admittedly a grammar nazi, so grammatical errors JUMP at my eyeballs. I don't focus on them, though. I pay attention to things like believable dialogue, clean sentences, and pacing. Plot arc is not my strength, so I'm more likely to comment on the believability--or necessity--of given scenes. As a critter, my strength is definitely the WRITING CRAFT over the story craft. (Which is why it's important to always have more than one person critique your work.)
Question Added by A: Where should your blog readers send their gifts of artisan chocolate and pedicure spas?
A: To Jodi Meadows, of course. She knows my address. *grin*
I love how Authoress brought up Jodi Meadows, whose critiquerly interview can be found here. You can read them both side by side to see how each critiquer compliments the other. And Beth Revis, too, whose critiquerly interview can be found, er, well. Wait for it. It's coming sooner than you think.
As Authoress would say, *grin*.