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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
Nate follows Jaycee’s gaze. She’s focused on the bump lying on a bench that’s shadowed by the longest branch of a huge oak. Their breath forms clouds. Nate aches to ask what they’re waiting for, but Jaycee looks angry.
Tigress, a short story by D. Marie Prokop
Alyssa doesn’t eat lunch. Instead, she uses the time to show off her latest shopping spree finds or text voraciously. One text by Alyssa could ruin you socially for the rest of your high school career—and maybe your life. You could say Alyssa ate people for lunch.
On The Outward Appearance by D. Marie Prokop
When Leona lifted her face to thank him, she couldn’t speak. She froze all over again as soon as she viewed his icy blue eyes. For years, eyes like Luke’s appeared in her dreams. She obsessed over them, though not in a romantic sense. It was an obsession much less pleasant.
-The Good Shepherd, future YA speculative fiction novel by D. Marie Prokop
Stay tuned. Leona’s story is coming…
Happy Valentine’s Day! Here I am, lurking outside the fanciest-shmanciest restaurant in the heart of downtown Cosmopolis, watching couple after couple celebrate their possibly fake, possibly genuine, possibly dutiful, or possibly delusional love over candlelight and a bottle of wine.
Tigress, a short story by D. Marie Prokop
The vehicle rounds the corner. A white van. Seriously? Can they be any more cliché? Oh, who am I to judge? I look a bit cliché myself in my orange, white, and black striped costume and mask. The long black hair in my high ponytail bounces on the back of my neck as I scan the road for the approaching vehicle.
Tigress by D. Marie Prokop
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