Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Crits for Water Interview with Author Jane Kindred

(Or, Voice + Stakes = Paramount)

A charity water fact: 50% of the schools in the world don’t have access to clean water or adequate sanitation.

Fantasy romance author Jane Kindred thinks that all schools should have access to water. That’s why she’s donated a query critique to the 2012 Charity Water campaign.

Meet Jane, member of team Megibow, and bid on her query critique here.


Jane Kindred began writing fantasy at age 12 in the wayback of a Plymouth Fury—which, as far as she recalls, never killed anyone…who didn’t have it coming. She spent her formative years ruining her eyes reading romance novels in the Tucson sun and watching Star Trek marathons in the dark. Although she was repeatedly urged to learn a marketable skill, she received a B.A. in Creative Writing anyway from the University of Arizona.

She now writes to the sound of San Francisco foghorns while two cats slowly but surely edge her off the side of the bed.

You can find Jane on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and on her website.


NAE:  What valuable lesson have you learned from one of your critiquers/beta-readers (feel free to share who it was)?

Jane: I took an online workshop with Writer’s Digest editor Jane Friedman where she critiqued first pages, and she got right to the heart of what was wrong with mine: I was trying to set a stage; she wanted to be intrigued. It wasn’t necessary for the reader to know exactly who my character was, or where she was, but they definitely needed to care what happened to her before the end of the first page, if not the first paragraph. The voice and the stakes were paramount.

NAE: What’s one of the worst mistakes a critiquer can make?

Jane: I’m not sure I know what the worst mistakes in critiquing are, but I know one of the worst mistakes a writer can make is to try to rewrite to please every reader. You have to evaluate which critiques are valid for you--without your ego getting in the way, which can be hard. It’s a fine line between thinking every word of a critique is right and thinking every word is wrong. LOL.

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

Jane: I line edit as I go, otherwise I’d forget the things that initially stick out as I get lost in the story. It’s also an OCD thing; I like marking things, and can’t resist line editing, even if that’s not the version I’m ultimately going to give to the writer.

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

Jane: I definitely gravitate toward grammar. If the grammar is distracting, I can’t even pay attention to the characters or plot.

Crits for Water Quickfires—And, go:

1. Oxford comma?   YES.

2. Should "I like him too" have a comma before "too"?   It depends on the context. Are there two people being liked? Or two people liking? Or is the person doing something in addition to liking? Never mind; just change it to “I also like him” and you don’t have to worry about the comma. ;)

3. Italicize or underline?   I know there are some agents and editors who still prefer underlining for emphasis so they can see it clearly (and I think there also used to be printer typesetting reasons to do it this way in a manuscript), so if that’s what they want, give it to them. But the correct type style for emphasis is italic, and that’s what it will end up being in print.

4. How do you separate scenes: #, ***, line break?   However your editor tells you to separate them. ;) It seems to be largely dependent on house style, but what I’ve seen most (and therefore, how I do it in my drafts) is to use a line break for a minor scene break and three asterisks for a major scene break.

5. What's your favorite verb?   I don’t think I can say that here, but it’s possibly of Scandinavian origin, and according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “the earliest examples of the word…are from Scottish”…and if it’s not Scottish, it’s crap. ;)


Thanks, Jane, for stopping by! Take a peek at Jane’s novels, such as THE FALLEN QUEEN.

Heaven can go to hell.
Until her cousin slaughtered the supernal family, Anazakia’s father ruled the Heavens, governing noble Host and Fallen peasants alike. Now Anazakia is the last grand duchess of the House of Arkhangel’sk, and all she wants is to stay alive.
Hunted by Seraph assassins, Anazakia flees Heaven with two Fallen thieves—fire demon Vasily and air demon Belphagor, each with their own nefarious agenda—who hide her in the world of Man. The line between vice and virtue soon blurs, and when Belphagor is imprisoned, the unexpected passion of Vasily warms her through the Russian winter.
Heaven seems a distant dream, but when Anazakia learns the truth behind the celestial coup, she will have to return to fight for the throne—even if it means saving the man who murdered everyone she loved.


If you’re curious about the voice and stakes in your query and you think Jane could help, go to the Crits for Water campaign page for her query critique up for auction.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Crits for Water Interview with Author Imogen Howson

(or, the Impossible becomes Possible)

A charity water fact: The lack of clean water accounts for more deaths in the world than war.

Young adult author Imogen Howson is ready to help out, to slow the number of water-related deaths, through the 2012 Crits for Water campaign. She’s donated a 3000-word critique (available Monday, May 7th). She’s a writer, she’s an editor, and she’s got an eye for scene necessity.

Meet Imogen.


As a child, Imogen loved reading so much that she not only read in bed, at the table and in the bath, but in the shower and – not so successfully – on her bicycle. She enjoyed books in a slightly unorthodox way, too – many of her childhood books have ragged edges where she tore paper from the margins in order to eat it.

Some years later, she's busy writing romantic science fiction and fantasy for young adults and adults.
She lives with her partner and their two teenage daughters, in a house that desperately needs a second bathroom, near Sherwood Forest in England. She still reads in most places, but she no longer eats paper.

She's a member of The Romantic Novelists’ Association, the group blog The Lucky 13s, and the online writers’ community Romance Divas. She's represented by Mandy Hubbard of D4EO Literary Agency and her debut YA science fiction thriller, LINKED, is coming out from Simon & Schuster in 2013.


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

Imogen: Read it a couple of times, then let it sit in your head for a couple of days. Often, a writer's first response to an in-depth critique is either "but that's WRONG" or "but I can't!" A couple of days thinking it over will help you get over your first instinctive response, and you'll get a better idea of whether it really is wrong or impossible.

At this point, assuming you've decided the suggested changes are useful ones (and totally ignoring the voice that might still be saying "but I can't!"), make yourself a list of what you're going to deal with and in what order.

Personally, I deal with the little things first (overused words, little continuity issues like someone's shoes disappearing mid-scene or someone else's eyes changing colour). I leave the bigger things (particularly the ones I still think are impossible to fix) for later, because I find that as I work through the manuscript fixing the little things I tend to get an idea of how to fix the bigger ones.

As you work through the manuscript, take note of the points where you can change part of a bigger issue (such as a single character's development). Then when you're done fixing the little things, you can go back to those places and start working on the bigger changes.

You'll probably find that what started out feeling totally impossible becomes a whole lot more possible later in the process.

NAE: What’s one of the worst mistakes a critiquer can make?

Imogen: Fixating on particular "rules" without paying attention to whether they're appropriate for the manuscript they're working on. For instance, some writers overuse weak verb/ adverb combinations ("she walked slowly"), and it's useful to them to be told to use stronger verbs ("she strolled") instead. However, if a critiquer goes into a critique with the attitude "all adverbs are bad" and tries to strike out the one or two carefully, precisely chosen adverbs this author has used, that's the reverse of helpful!

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

Imogen: I read super-fast (it's a curse, not a gift!), so I'll read through once, getting a sense of the characters, plot, setting, conflict etc. Then, having noted the more global issues (unconvincing character development, fuzzy world building and so on), I'll go through and do a line-and-content edit, picking up everything (well, almost!) from character issues to awkward sentences to comma splices.

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

Imogen: I work as an editor, so I've been trained into looking for everything. I think I'm particularly aware of pacing issues, though. If a scene doesn't advance the plot or deepen the reader's understanding of the characters, then often all it's doing is bogging down the book. Not always, though...

Crits for Water Quickfires—And, go:

1. Oxford comma?   Only if it's needed for clarity.

2. Should "I like him too" have a comma before "too"?   Only if you need it for emphasis.

3. Italicize or underline?   Italicize.

4. How do you separate scenes: #, ***, line break?   I like asterisks, or even better, fancy wingdings, but I've been trained into using two line breaks instead.

5. What's your favorite verb?   Shatter. I like verbs that come with images and sounds.


Thank you, Imogen!

There you have it. If you need help making the impossible possible, take a stab at Imogen’s 3000-word critique here (May 7th).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Crits for Water Interview with Michael Underwood

(Or, Happier with Your Story)

A charity water fact: One child dies every 19 seconds from fatal water-related illness.

Sadly, it’s true. That’s why author Michael Underwood jumped at the chance to help out in the 2012 Crits for Water campaign. He’s donated two separate query critiques and a 10,000-word critique. Watch the Crits for Water calendar for his auctions.

Meet Michael.


Michael R. Underwood grew up devouring stories in all forms: movies, comics, TV, video games, and novels. He holds a B.A. in Creative Mythology and East Asian Studies from Indiana University and an M.A. in Folklore Studies from the University of Oregon, which have been great preparation for writing speculative fiction. Michael went straight from his M.A. to the Clarion West Writers Workshop and then landed in Bloomington, Indiana, where he remains. When not writing or selling books across the Midwest as an independent book representative, Michael dances Argentine Tango and studies renaissance martial arts.


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

MU: Read over the letter carefully, getting the general sense of the response. Then, if you can, put the critique away and work on other things for a couple of days. Then come back and re-read the critique, taking your own notes about comments you think are useful, and re-examining those you think are not.

Once you’ve gotten a handle on the comments, prioritize the revisions to be made. I always try to start with the biggest changes first, since they will have the largest ripple effect on the rest of the novel. If the big stuff is really intimidating, maybe do one or two little things in between the big tasks. Keep track of your revision tasks and don’t get discouraged.

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

MU: Read, read some more, and think in terms of the writer’s efforts. Critiques, for me, aren’t about how you as a writer would fix what needs work, but helping the writer discover the solution for themselves.

At Clarion West, our system called for starting with positive comments, identifying elements that worked well for you. Then you can move into comments about elements that didn’t work. And if you have suggestions of approaches for revision, those can go at the end, but again, try to frame them in terms of what the writer is already doing or seems to like doing, not how you would fix their story.

NAE: When you critique someone’s work, what is your general process?
MU: It depends on the level of critique I’m giving. I don’t generally find it too useful to do a developmental/editorial critique at the same time as a line edit/copy edit, because they are different levels. If you still need developmental editing, why go ahead and clean up the prose, when thousands of words could still change?

I usually read through a whole time, making major notes on the side as I go, and then when I’m done, I think about the whole story/selection, and re-read the selection if I can to get another look and clarify my comments.

If I’m line editing, I will do everything at once, commenting in the margins as I go.

NAE: Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing?
MU. In a developmental edit, I tend to focus on character arc or the paradigm of the world – how the magic fits into the world, making sure the setting is consistent.

In a line edit, I usually focus on flow and readability, making sure that the prose is doing right by the story.

NAE: How do you reconcile contradictory critiques?

MU: As I was revising my last novel, a New Weird Supers fantasy, I revised it frequently enough with so many different voices that I was totally lost about what I needed to do. Some people said I needed to get to the action faster, and let the action provide the exposition, others said I needed to slow down and focus on character first, setting the stage.

They were both right, and both wrong. There is no one way to open a novel, because there are countless ways to hook a reader, many of them mutually exclusive, depending on the reader. If you’re stuck between contradictory critiques, go back to your own vision of the story. Which change are you more excited about? Which way of fixing it would give you the story you’d prefer reading? I always find revision easier when I’m changing the novel in a way that makes me happier with the story.

Crits for Water Quickfires – And, go:
1. Oxford comma?   Essential.
2. Should "I like him too" have a comma before "too"?   Depends on context, for me.
3. Italicize or underline?   I used to believe that editors wanted underline instead of italics, but Adam Wilson, my editor at Pocket, just had me change everything over to italics even before we went to production. Which makes me happy, because I’d rather the draft look like the page will look whenever possible.
4. How do you separate scenes: #, ***, line break?   I like ***
5. What's your favorite verb?   Defenistrate.


Giggling at defenestrate. Michael’s debut, GEEKOMANCY, will be released later this year. In the meantime, if you need help in attaining happiness with your story or your query letter, check out his items up forauction this month.