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.