Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Writers' Retreat

This past weekend I went down to Lanesboro, MN, on a writers retreat. My group, Creme de la Crime, does this twice a year -- once at one anothers' homes up in the Twin Cities, but the second time going away. Lanesboro has been a popular choice. This year we discovered we'd chosen the weekend of their Rhubarb Festival and Garrison Keillor was doing a show from there. The little town was packed. Fortunately, the B&B had its own parking lot or we would have had to take one of the horse-drawn shuttles into town. Each of us was given an hour to read from something we were writing and get criticism on it. There are two rules for comments: You have to find something nice to say, and you must never launch a personal attack on the writer. The goal of our group is to get everyone published -- and keep them getting published by improving his or her writing. (Publishers nowadays will drop a writer if he or she only maintains his or her audience.) We all write mysteries, but while I write from the cozy end, Kent Kruger writes from the dark end, Carl Brookins writes from the satiric end, Julie Fasciana writes from some peculiar end of her own invention, and the rest come in somewhere among there. I found this weekend extremely helpful -- except I'm going to have to do some heavy re-write of the last three chapters. It will improve them immeasurably, but it makes me kind of sad.

We did do some fun things, like going to one of the strangest plays I've ever seen, one that was kind of a satire on the gothic mystery, with vampires, werewolves, mummies, a creepy old mansion, a mising wife, a ditsy new wife fresh off the stage, a loopy lord of the manor, a sinister maid, an even more sinister one-legged servant who works in the stable -- and the entire cast was played by two men!

And we dined at a two-story restaurant that didn't look like much on the outside but had very high-end food and drink on the inside. I had the quail, and it was fabulous.

Have I said before that I love my job?


Monica Ferris said...

Let me add that once you have said something nice,then you may rip away to your heart's content. It can hurt, but it's always done with the hope of improving the story.

Camille Minichino said...

What a great idea to get away like that.
Though we meet only locally, if it weren't for my critique group I'd still be collecting rejections (a necessary step in the process!). We also run the gamut, with Jonnie Jacobs doing heavier stand-alones and courtroom; Rita Lakin doing the funny "Getting Old... " series; and Peggy Lucke with a new paranormal coming out in August.
Usually I can't believe all the holes they find in my plots, and think I'm going to have to burn the pages. But the group is very good at helping with re-construction once they've torn everything apart!
And isn't this one of the best things about our genre -- the comraderie and support.
CM/Margaret Grace

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Monica and Camille--

I think critique groups are such a key, aren't they? I'd much rather have my Tuesday group set me right than to have my agent or an editor not happy with my work!

I'm always amazed that more beginning writers don't band together to read each other's stuff. It's a great way to learn. You not only learn from your critique partners' comments about your work, but you also glean insights from what your critique partners do--how they write, what they are thinking and so on.

That said, you do have to be careful. I was in a group once with a woman who was very negative. It's one thing to be helpful by pointing out possible problems, and another to abuse people.