Check out Houston musician (and nice guy), Keeton Coffman!
F.R.M. President Glenn Masterson was restless. Usually after a few shots of vodka, he went right to sleep. Not tonight. He tossed and turned until he couldn’t take it anymore and gave up trying.
The world was about to change. How could he sleep?
The Red Knot, Chapter 18, The Knowledge of Good and Evil
Critique. It’s not everyone’s favorite thing, right? But as a writer, critique groups are necessary for me, a good hurt. Of course, not every circle of writers is a good mix or a constructive influence. I don’t know the secret formula for finding the perfect critique group. Somehow I’ve been super lucky. I attend three amazing groups that suit my location, my genres, my commitment, and my skill level. They accept my writing for what it is, yet challenge me to do better without insulting my ineptitude. Sure, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. Critique hurts sometimes, no matter what. And we still debate the common trivialities: the Oxford comma, clichés, and the ever-popular-bad-apple, adverbs.
Today a writer in my critique group lost his battle with cancer.
William Barnes wrote historical fiction. His latest work-in-progress dealt with the sordid history of the Texas Rangers. Before I continue, I must confess—I’m a Yankee. When we arrived at the “Western Expansion” portion of our U.S. History books in high school, our teacher skipped it, claiming this part of U.S. history wasn’t important, as it contained dubious facts and silly folktales. In contrast, my children took two Texas history classes before graduating from elementary school, which I considered suspiciously xenophobic. Bill read his work-in-progress at critique group and shot bullets through my prejudice. In his native Texan drawl, he read his excerpt aloud, a complex tale with Rangers hunting down Mexican-heritage citizens while those in Congress debated boundaries and laws. Conflict, complexity, humor, and action surrounded the historical facts of his story and I was surprisingly intrigued. Funny how a brilliantly scripted “silly folktale” can change minds, huh?
But I gained more than a new respect for Texas history from Bill. That same night, I shared my piece with the group, a flash fiction horror story. Bill liked it so much he emailed me later and volunteered to beta-read anything I had. I sent him a YA fantasy short story. He sincerely loved it and detailed the reasons. When I lack confidence in my writing abilities, it helps to recall Bill’s words. A Texas grandfather and longtime-writer of historical fiction went out of his way to encourage me, a YA speculative fiction writer.
Though cancer stole Bill from the world, his encouraging words live on. They lend me confidence on days of doubt. Before he passed, I had the precious opportunity to thank Bill for his encouragement. I imagine him riding into heaven on a wild mustang.
Critique is important. Facing tough criticism molds us into better writers. But there’s a flip side. Encouragement also makes us better. If there’s someone like Bill in your critique group, thank them today.
“It’s Anne, not Andrea,” I correct him. I don’t smile, but Brad’s flashy grin remains unstoppable.
“Right—Anne. Sorry. I’ve always been bad with names. Anyway, you’re going to have such an authentic, life-changing experience at the Teens on Fire retreat. There’ll be paint ball, capture the flag, and all kinds of crazy games. Plus, the speaker is the bomb. And I can’t even tell you how super-cool the worship band is. We were lucky, I mean, blessed, they were even available. They’re a Dove award-winning group! Of course, that was a few years ago…”
–On The Outward Appearance by D. Marie Prokop
Ainsling brushed her baby-fine, lengthy blonde hair in slow motion as she stared at her reflection in the mirror. Now I have a chance to be normal, she thought. Her heart was beating wildly with excitement and apprehension. She was in disbelief at her luck.
-The Red String, Chapter 2, The Chick
I wrote this song years ago and it still remains one of my favorites. It’s an ironic play on the mantra “everything’s going to be okay.” Okay is pretty subjective. Besides, sometimes it’s not going to be okay. Sometimes that’s good. We are forced to change and grow. This song reminds us of what we can do in the midst of this not-okay-ness. Flower. Grow, wait, look pretty. Survive as long as possible, doing what you were made to do. Everything, including flowers, is temporary.
In Days of the Guardian, the Captain advises Ainsling to do what is necessary and what is possible. In time, she’ll find herself doing the impossible. On my best days, I believe this is true. Do you?
Aaliyah watched and waited for the last person, Maria, the wailing child held tightly in her arms. Aaliyah stayed by her side. As the leader, it was her job to get them all out. If anyone was going to be left behind, it would be her.
The Red Cloak, Chapter 6, The Son
Sherry Garland, Children's Author
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