Monday, December 22, 2008

Our Family Has Suffered a Sad Loss

On December 6, 2008 our family suffered a tragic loss. Our oldest son, Byron, and his wife Debbie, were returning home from a dinner/theater event, celebrating Debbie’s 48th birthday. About a mile from home, a car driven by an 18 year-old slammed into them, head on. Debbie, who was driving the car, died at the scene and Byron was air-lifted to Harborview Hospital, the area’s trauma center. Byron suffered a severally broken wrist, bruised lungs, an impact injury to the collarbone, and a lacerated forehead.

Besides Byron, Debbie leaves a daughter, Bobbie, almost 18 and a son, Jacob, almost 20. Jacob serves with the U.S. Marines, currently at Camp Pendleton, so he was able to come home for a few days. Bobbie is in her senior year at high school.

The following Friday, December 12, we celebrated Debbie’s life at the Presbyterian Church in Maple Valley, WA. The service was lovely, upbeat and inspirational with about 150 people in attendance. Byron is healing physically quite well. Emotionally he’s doing as well as can be expected. Bobbie is coming along, though it is a terrible age to lose your mother. Jacob was splendid in his U.S. Marine dress blues. His mother would have been so proud. Actually, I felt her presence–she was with us.

Farewell to our beloved Debbie. May God keep you in His amazing grace.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Critique Group: Getting on-line feed-back

Although I prefer the face-to-face interaction of a critique group, where I not only hear verbal pats on the back but get to "feel" the reaction to my work, there is another increasingly popular approach: an online critique group.

Three types of online critique groups meet most writers’ needs–web-based groups, listserv-based groups and private email lists.

With the web-based critique group, participants send their work to a web site administrator who publishes the manuscript on the web site for members to review. Member comments are e-mailed either directly to the author or to the site administrator for distribution. To research available groups, do an Internet search on "on-line critique groups."

Listserv-based groups are set up with a list service.Manuscripts and critiques are e-mailed to the list and members can receive each individual email as it is sent or messages that have been collected into a daily digest. To find a group to meet your needs, do an Internet search on "Listserv based critique groups."

Private email lists are set up directly with participants who share work via e-mails and attachments. Search for "Email based critique groups."

Advantages of online groups include ease in scheduling, especially if you are also employed outside the home. You can participate at your own convenience, day or night. Also, there are obvious geographic advantages–no driving for miles to meet with your group. Additionally, online groups draw people from all over the country–even from all over the world–who are dedicated to common goals. You have the advantage of a national or international viewpoint. Finally, many writers like the idea of receiving critiques without having to be present.

Whether you participate in an on-line critique group or a face-to-face interaction group, honest feedback from thoughtful readers is among the most valuable tools a writer can use. A serious writer can’t afford not to do it.

Please share your thoughts and experiences on critique groups–either in-person or on-line.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Critique Group: The Importance of By-laws

Last week I discussed the value for writers of Critique Groups. In this piece I’ll discuss the importance of good by-laws. You might think going to the trouble of by-laws is a bit anal. Maybe so, but our group is convinced it has protected us from possible disaster.. We’ve been in existence for 15 years–that’s a long time in critique group years!

Each February we hold a business meeting to discuss current or potential areas of concern which we feel may weaken the group’s goals and to fine-tune our by-laws. Every member has an equal vote and the majority rules.

Newcomers are often puzzled. "By-laws? What’s to discuss?" You’d be surprised. We often assume we have the same slant on issues, but when we get down to the nitty-gritty, it’s amazing what holes we find in those assumptions.

A brief outline of our By-laws:
--Goals: What we hope to gain my our group–honest opinions and caring support.
--Rules of Conduct: Critique the work, not the author or subject matter, etc.
--Definitions: Define member, honorary member (past member), guest (there are 3 kinds of guests!)
–By-laws: Covers the meeting date and time; responsibilities of the group leader, a position which changes each month; order of reading; announcements; annual business meeting; appointment of secretary who takes care of administrative issues; attendance; new membership procedures; procedure for former member to rejoin the group; stand-by, a procedure to form a stand-by list if our membership stands at 10; leave-of-absence.

So you see, we have plenty to talk about and to fine-tune. Being writers, we really hone in on every nuance. If something suddenly comes up–say someone wants to join us to see what we’re all about–we have procedures to follow which allow this to happen, but with safe-guards. We all agree that our annual meeting to review our by-laws is a valuable session in preserving our group.

On my next Blog, I’ll discuss on-line critique groups. In the meantime, I hope you’ll share your thoughts and experiences on critique groups in the "Comments."

Monday, November 24, 2008


When a writing friend approached me with the idea that we should start a critique group, I was reluctant. I didn’t feel I could afford to take time away from my work.

"You can’t afford not to," she countered. "We need to work with people who share our goals and aspirations." She was right and I have never regretted my decision to help form our group 15 years ago.

Our critique group has proven to be one of my most valuable writing tools and has helped me to produce gratifying, saleable work. Not only that, since I work at home in a solitary environment, my critique group brings me important social contacts with others who share my professional interests, people from whom I gain inspiration and confirmation that my work is important.
It didn’t take long to find other dedicated writers also looking for ways to improve their writing skills. We soon had a strong, workable group, meeting three intense hours every Wednesday in a meeting room at our local library, which offers a neutral, business-like environment. Several of us get together beforehand for lunch so that we can get the chatting out of our systems because once the meeting begins, we hold a fifteen-minute period for announcements then get right to business.

We have no permanent leader in our critique group but rotate that responsibility each month. That month’s leader passes an attendance sheet around and each member indicates whether or not she has brought work to read. One of our members designed a simple matrix, a good tool to use to determine how much time each person has to read, based on the number of readers present.

We limit group membership to ten so that everyone has a chance to share her work each time we meet. In our tightly knit group, potential new membership is taken very seriously. After first submitting a sample of her work for our initial approval, newcomers must attend three meetings as invited guests and fully participate in the critiquing process. A unanimous vote is required before a new member is invited to join the group. Yes, unanimous. We’ve all heard horror stories about how one member can ruin a critique group. We make every effort to see that it doesn’t happen to us.

Care is taken to critique the work, not the author, subject matter or style of the work. In other words, if a member writes a piece on a sensitive topic, such as abortion, we do not discuss the issues of abortion per se, but rather, did the writer state her case clearly? We strive to point out the strengths along with suggestions for what might make the writing clearer and more powerful. Is the story compelling? Can the facts be verified?

On my next Blog, I’ll discuss a valuable feature of our Critique Group–our By-laws. I invite you to share your thoughts and experiences on critique groups in "Comments."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Book Review: In the Shadow of Rebellion, by Gladys Smith.

In the Shadow of Rebellion, by Gladys Smith (Llumina Press) is a riveting novel based on historic events starting in1889. Maggie Rigby hates mining, hates what it does to men, to their health and to their long-suffering families. She’s had a lifetime of witnessing the cruel hardships caused by appalling conditions, low wages and the violence between the miners’ union and owners. Despite her dislike of mining and mining communities, she finds herself falling in love with a miner, but a fair, strong man with a promise of beating the odds as an owner of one of the richest mines in the district.

Herself strong, Maggie, as publisher of a newspaper, dares to raise a woman’s voice against the dominance of men and the plight of the hard-working poor.

Smith’s impeccable research of this epic novel is impressive, reaching into the depths of the inner-workings of mines of the period. Love, compassion and courage play major roles in the lives entwined in the story. Smith’s depiction of the people of that era and circumstance is impressive.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Writers' Conference

Picture Caption: Heidi Thomas, Treble Heart Publisher Lee Emory, Mary Trimble. Photo by Gwyn Ramsey

A real highlight for me each year is attending the Women Writing the West (WWW) conference, held in different parts of the country. This year’s conference, my tenth, was in San Antonio, TX. What a perfect venue with its rich history.

The unofficial start of our conferences are Friday morning guided tours, which gives us a feeling for the place. Sometimes I’ve written travel articles based on these tours, but this year I just sat back and soaked up The Alamo and other fascinating sites in San Antonio.

Getting together with old and new writing friends is inspirational. I see some of these friends during the year, but mostly our get-togethers are crammed into this 3-day event. I come away feeling uplifted by the dedication and success of these women. I also absorb a lot of information garnered in talks, panel presentations and individual discussions.

A wonderful feature at these conferences is an opportunity to talk one-on-one to agents, publishers, publicists and editors. This year I talked to David Balsiger of Grizzly Adams Productions about the possibility of making my first two books, Rosemount and McClellan’s Bluff, into movies. I suppose every writer dreams of her work made into a movie. After all, we see our stories so vividly in our minds.

But the big event for me was that publisher, Lee Emory of Treble Heart Books, offered me a contract for my new novel, Tenderfoot. What a thrill!

I’ll post from time to time on the publishing progress of this book.

Monday, November 3, 2008

First Blog, Nov 3, 2008


I'm a writer with two books published, Rosemount and McClellan's Bluff, and another book, Tenderfoot, on the way. I've also had 400+ articles published in magazines and newspapers, mostly travel articles but also articles of interest to homeowners (like, How to Protect Your Home from Wildfire, which appeared in Log Home Living).

One of my great interests is research. The idea for my first book was the result of my husband, Bruce, and I researching camping spots in Eastern Oregon. I saw a teenager with one of those huge backpacks, alone, trudging down a hot country road. I wondered what her story was. I would never know, but out of that came my first book, Rosemount, a story about a runaway teen. All three books are set in Washington and/or Oregon. I call them contemporary westerns; in other words, they are set in ranch country, but are contemporary novels.

Bruce and I live on five-acres on Camano Island, in northwest Washington. When we can get away, we travel in our pickup and a camper.

That's it for now--I plan to post once a week.