Thursday, March 24, 2011

Interview with Guest: Anita Howard

(Or, Letting Voice Flourish)

Anita Howard has graciously come here today to talk about her views on critiquing. Anita and I met on the boards at QueryTracker. I immediately liked her for her positive attitude and for cheering other querying writers on with encouraging feedback. She recently told her story on how she decided among multiple agent offers here.

Anita Howard writes YA and adult literary fantasies with a romantic slant and is represented by Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency. Jenny has recently sent Anita's YA Alice in Wonderland spin-off to publishers and they're in the process of finding it a home.

NAE: Who, as a critiquer/beta-reader, have you learned the most from, and what did you learn from him/her?

AH: Okay, I have to cheat a little here. I can't name only one, because my crit gals are who I've learned the most from, and am still learning from today. We call ourselves The Divas; there are four others besides me. Each of us writes something different, so we use our individual fields of expertise to help one another craft more well-rounded and layered books.

Linda writes thrillers, and is our pacing and tension expert; she keeps the story moving along at a clipped speed and excels at finding ways to insert more tension or suspense into a scene.

Marcy writes mainstream literary, and is a voice queen. She has a way of honing in on each of our unique voices and keeping us on track. Plus she's a motivational speaker on the side and keeps us positive and upbeat about our WIPs and publishing journey.

April writes romance, so of course she's awesome at sexual tension and internal conflicts. She's also a particularly exceptional grammar and line editor.

Then there's Jenny. Like me she writes YA, but hers are a little less fantastical and more on the light paranormal side. She has a very literary voice and rocks at characterization, helping us inject emotional depth into our characters. She's also super-imaginative and is good at brainstorming when someone needs to come up with a unique twist.

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

AH: Learn to differentiate between voice and story. Sometimes you might feel like something doesn't jive as you're reading along. But make sure it's actually something wrong w/the story itself and not just a subconscious bristle triggered by the prose.

Critting is not a place for subjectivity. Sometimes critters try to change the WAY their partners write. That happened to me in my first group and if I hadn't left, I would never have honed my voice into what it is today. My prose would've been stifled. It's best to concentrate on the things that aren't individual to us as writers. Plot, characterization, pacing, conflict, motivation, grammatical errors, etc. All of these are up for grabs. But leave the voice alone so it can flourish into what it's meant to be.

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

AH: I like editing as I go.

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

AH: I have a good ear for dialogue, so that's something I pay close attention to. I'm also a very visual /sensory writer so I'm attuned to issues with setting. Aside from that, it's really a combination of all elements.


NAE: Thanks, Anita, for stopping by and sharing your responses with us.

Leaving your critique partner's voice alone is a fantastic point. We're not there as a critiquer to make the person into a clone of us. Let. Voice. Flourish. Also? Note how Anita felt compelled to named several people in the first question who’ve influenced her in various ways, which seems to go along with our Pie Post this past Tuesday. I love it when things tie together in a neat little bow.

Watch Anita’s blog for updates on her submission-to-publishers process.


Trekelny said...

Thanks Mary- there could not be a more encouraging and motherly cheerleader over on QT than Anita and I've watched several people (besides myself) take encouragement from her contributions. It's all the more incredible when interviews like this reveal what a sharp cookie she is- wouldn't surprise me a bit if she didn't have time for the little people anymore now that the career is deservedly taking off! But she still stops by and lends an "ear", cybernetically speaking, and that's one of the best things about seeking authorship online. Also one of the only good things, unfortunately! Rock on, Anita!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Mary, thank you so much for having me here!

And Trekelny, thanks for that wonderful boost! I LOVE QT and everyone there. It's been a couple of days since I've been able to get over (yep, things are getting a little crazy this week) but I'm making a point to hit the comment sections today! Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kindness. ;-) You're a very supportive contributer there, too, BTW.

Kalen O'Donnell said...

Excellent post Mary and Anita - some great advice in there about focusing on the parts of craft NOT tailored to you uniquely. It can be SO frustrating having a crit partner try and critique your voice when the problem isn't the voice itself, its simply that it doesn't resonate with that particular CP.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Hey Kalen! Thanks so much. That's some hard learned advice, let me tell you. But it's always stuck w/me, ever since my first crit group. Like you said, running over someone else's voice is something we should all be on guard against.

Cathy said...

I think that people who are new to critiquing don't realize it's not their place to debate word choice or phrasing. It's what pops out at them, and so that's what they see and comment on, rather than seeing flaws in underlying structure and so on.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Kalen, thanks! And that's so true. That's why it's important to find crit partners that understand the diff between voice and craft.

I agree, Catherine. And I'm sure in the beginning, I did the same thing. But having a group that tried to hammer the voice out of me, it sure made me come around quick. It's all about learning as you go, you know?

Marybk said...

Thanks, Anita, for coming back and commenting while I was away. (Vegas, baby, but now I'm back. A little poorer than before, but not much.)

One of the hardest things for me when I was a beginning critiquer was to figure out where I could help the person without stepping on creative genius. Who was I to say what worked and what didn't? Voice, though, I've determined is sacred ground. Unless, of course (and there always has to be an exception), you're pushing the writer to take it to a higher level of itself.

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