Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tamara and the Three Critique Partners

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there lived a woman named Tamara. Though she had a huge assortment of shoes, ate double stuffed Oreos by the pound and had plenty of free time to write romances, something was amiss. Her stories were falling flat. Her worlds were boring, her prose choppy and her grammar atrocious.

So she squeezed into her favorite platform Mary-Jane's and pocketed a zip-lock full of black and white cookies and a thermos of milk. She then hoisted her laptop into her arms and made the decision to leave the safety and comfort of her thatch roof cottage in the middle of the woods.

Braving the wide open landscape was a frightening prospect. Could knowledge and inspiration come from such a daunting place? And what if she encountered Big Bad Doubt on her journey? Or worse, what if she ran into the Wicked Pessimist of the West? How could she defeat these villains? How would she survive their influence all alone? Fear nearly forced her to turn back, but taking a deep breath and placing one stiletto in front of the other she continued on despite her insecurities.

Her first encounter with civilization was a small, shining kingdom called Borders. Its bright castle was a treasure trove of the written word, but best of all, there was a tavern inside. Tamara's pulse raced. Had she finally reached Camelot? With a cautious smile, she asked, "Grande decaf, mocha latte, extra whip, please?"
When the friendly barkeep winked and answered, "Coming right up," she felt sure she had found the promise land.

There was so much to see, so many villagers mingling in the bustling tavern. But finding a quiet corner table, settling in a comfy chair and opening her laptop, Tamara decided to get to work. She had come here with a purpose and refused to be distracted from her goal.

For some reason, the kingdom of Borders helped her concentrate. Maybe it was the enticing scent of fresh pastry wafting from the microwave. Or possibly the new release CD playing in the background. Whatever it was, the tavern encouraged her muse. Tamara banged away at the computer keys, prose flowing like rich espresso, heart thundering in joyous time with the nearby coffee grinder. This is Camelot, she thought as she bit into a warm cinnamon scone.

Three witches took seats directly behind her. The ghoulish trio wore flowing rags that billowed on the chilly central air currents. Their cackling voices pierced her concentration. Their obnoxious laughter frightened Tamara's muse into the darkest corners of her mind. Once or twice she turned to give them a scathing glance. But her menacing expression had no affect on the demonic beings.
"Shut up! Stop yapping! Can't you see I'm in the process of writing a romantic best seller you bunch of yammering @#*%@&@'s?"
Tamara wanted to yell these words out loud, but she refrained. After all, she had been raised by fairies and shouting expletives wasn't exactly fairy-like behavior.
Instead she sat there, trying desperately to block out their noise.

She actually started listening to what the hags were saying. How could she not? They were louder than a pack of drunken Hyenas for goodness sake!

In between bursts of macabre laughter, Tamara was able to pick up a word or two. "Character. Hero. Heroine. Love," the witches had said.

Is this possible? Are they talking about...romance writing?

Tamara leaned back in her chair, cocking her head to hear better. She had to be sure. Were there others like her? Unpublished authors battling doubt and pessimism in an attempt to see their work in print?

Her curiosity piqued, Tamara took a deep cleansing breath, wiped the whip cream mustache off her face, clicked her Mary-Jane's together three times for luck and then did the unthinkable. She spun around in her chair and faced the witches head on.

Only they weren't witches at all.

They were women. And they smiled with sincere warmth and introduced themselves. Connie, Pam and Mary.

Their voices had changed from the bleating of crones to the delicate tinkle of bells. "We're writers," they sang as one. "Romance writers and we meet here every Thursday to critique each others work."

Could it be? Is that sunlight breaking through the clouds? Are those happy woodland creatures congregating at my feet?

"I'm a writer too," Tamara said, her scowl dissolving into a giddy smile.

"How wonderful," Connie commented. "That's great," Pam chimed in. "What a coincidence, Kido," Mary intoned.

Tamara bombarded them with questions and to her delight they informed her of a magical world called RWA.

Romance writers of America? Is it for real? Are there really thousands of unpubs, grouping together in support of one another? Are there really published authors willing to take time out of their busy schedules to Can I truly meet a real life editor and agent?

And were these three women, no... Literary Knights, actually inviting Tamara to be a member of their round writing table?

Damn skippy.

Three strangers took in a novice and shared a fabulous new world, full of knowledge, wisdom and most importantly, determination.

With their help Tamara realized that what her stories needed were seasoned combatants with a common goal, publication.

Pamela, Warrior of World Building helped her to construct amazing scenes utilizing all of the senses.

Constance, Warrior of Prose guided her novel's rhythm, tightening sentences and dialogue.

And Mary, Warrior of Grammar did the job of making her actually appear literate.

Tamara in turn added something to their novels as well. (Or so she hoped)

Together they have become Novel Knights capable of taming the written word as a team. The foursome roam the imagination, battling insecurity, jousting fear and slaying self-doubt. And with each passing week, as they learn and grow under RWA's wise tutelage the critique group, otherwise known as the Fantastic Fiction Femmes, move closer to pulling the sword from the stone.

The published sword that is, torn from the stone of perseverance.

As Tamara looks back on that fateful day five years ago, she doesn't remember a noisy tavern, a trio of witches, or their unending chatter. What she does recall are three irreplaceable women, Novel Knights, The Triple F's, who smiled warmly, welcomed her into their midst and taught her to believe in her talent.
They still meet each Thursday in the Kingdom of Borders, swilling mochachinos and sweet tea and re-arranging chairs to suit their needs, much to the dismay of management. So if you happen to be there, quietly reading the latest issue of InStyle or immersed in your favorite romance, but are interrupted by a foursome of cackling crones, don't fret. Smile and be thankful, because you might just be sitting next to the best critique group ever.

The End
This fairy tale is dedicated to Connie, Mary and Pam, my dearest friends, my inspirations, my sister Knights. I love you guys.
Happy writing to all.


Sandy Elzie said...


Very intertaining, a fun way to remind every one that they're not on this road trip alone. Georgia Romance Writers is a group of people who truly want to see others succeed and will reach out a hand to help them.

One of the first things I did when I arrived was to put my name on the Want A Critique Partner list. I work regularily with Debbie Kaufman and it's amazing what another pair of eyes will catch. Ana Aragon also helps us, and here's my chance to publically thank both ladies.

Great Post!


Chicki said...

Great post, especially since I "know" the ladies you're talking about!

It's amazing how much a good crit groups can mean to a writer. I've started to think of mine as my sisters.

Thanks for the morning chuckle, and stop by my blog when you get a free minute:

Tami Brothers said...

Great story, Tamara!!! LOVE IT!!!

This is a neat way to highlight that feeling you get when you decide to share your work.

Thanks for sharing!!!


Cyrano said...

I wanted to say quickly that as everyone can plainly see, I'm not good at leaving a post. Look at that huge gap in between my fairy tale and the comment icon. Jeesh! Sorry guys.
Also, Sandy and Chicki,
I totally agree. For years I was writing all alone completely unaware of RWA, GRW, critique groups. Now that I'm a member of each, I believe my writing has gotten much stronger with their influence.
Thanks ladies,

Debbie Kaufman said...

Don't worry Tamara. Someone (not me) fixed it for you! We've got your back :) Just think how life would have been different if you hadn't spoken to those three!

Anna Steffl said...

This is so great! I smiled all the way through...and do I need that!

I also find it easier to work away from home. My coffee shop has newspaper clippings on its fridge of "their" writers that get published. One guy's photo was from inside the shop. My goal is to be on the fridge of fame.

Tammy Schubert said...

Writing away from home is how I get my writing done. A few of us from GRW try to meet a couple of times a week at either Atlanta Bread Company or a nearby coffee shop for what we call Write Night. This is my most productive time.

By the way, you have the greatest shoes.

Cyrano said...

Thanks so much! You always have my back and I love ya for it.

what a great coffee shop you go to! That's so cool that they post the local published authors. I can't wait to hear that your name is up there one day too.

Thanks for the shoe compliment. I love my collection too.
Plus, I'd love to hear more about your Write Nite. I've always wanted to do something like that.

Stay dry guys,

Marilyn Baron said...


Your post was hysterical and so creative. You are destined for greatness!

You're right about the importance of critique partners. I don't know what I'd do without my critique partners, Nicki Salcedo and Jeanette Cogdell.

I've never tried writing at a coffee shop although those cinammon scones sound heavenly.

Marilyn Baron

Susan May said...

Tamara,There's nothing having a supportive critique group. I think writers are a great giving group of people, especially in GRW and RWA. Great post. Very creative.

CiCi Barnes said...

How sweet to dedicate such a lovely post to your critique partners. I say they are lucky to have you in their group.

Whether you pass your work back and forth on line, meet once a week or month, face to face, or have a weekend retreat several times throughout the year, make contact with someone else who is writing. You can learn so much. And the GRW folks are the best at helping out.

Thanks to all of those who have given me advice, once, twice, or constantly. I appreciate it all.


Carol Burnside said...

Love it!

I've tried writing at a Starbucks several times and am always amazed that I can concentrate with all the coming and going, music, barista noise, etc. It just fades away into white noise and the words flow.

I envy you and your sister Knights. :)

Cyrano said...

Marilyn, you are the sweetest! Can I have your little purse? And also, Nicki and Jeanette are the absolute best! I love those two. You're very lucky to have them (and that little purse)

I agree. Writers are givers. We sometimes feel uninspired or blah when it comes to our manuscripts. Our writer friends know just how to remedy that, with kind words, encouragement and sometimes a good alcoholic beverage!

I feel so lucky to have my girls at my side. I wouldn't trade Connie, Pam, or Mary for anything. (except maybe a three book deal with a movie option) JUST KIDDIN!

You're right. For some reason the noise and chatter in the cafe melts away when I'm in the zone.
I'm just glad my critique partners broke through my concentration that day or I would have never had the pleasure of meeting them.

Linsey Lanier said...


Your wonderfully funny and charming story is a bright spot in a very busy and stressful day.



J Perry Stone said...

That was flippin' awesome, Tamara!! I loved this from beginning to end.

And also, you are me and though your witches are three, mine is just one (I love your guts, Cynthia)--but she did the same for me as yours did for you. Did your witches pour whiskey in your Sprite the first time you met them, too?

And where would we be without our writing witches?

And why does it bring me such comfort to know you battle Big Bad Doubt and the Wicked Pessimist of the West as well?? Do you think once we're published, they'll go away?


Cyrano said...

It makes me happy to know I brought a smile to your face. Thanks so much.

First of all, I had so much fun with you on Sunday. Did ya buy stuff? I did!
And, no, unfortunately my witches didn't ply me with liquor when we first met. I probably would have hitched a ride on their wagon sooner if they had.
And, again, no, I (at least in my case) do not think that Big Bad Doubt or the Wicked Pessimist of the West will ever leave me. Those two villains will skulk around every corner, even when I'm published. But at least I'll have my sister Knights on my side. And you'll have Cindi on yours.

Ana Aragón said...

Great post, Tamara,

I've really enjoyed hearing all the different ways we've become members of GRW. Like you, I couldn't do without my critique partners (for me, they're scattered all over the world, thanks to online critique groups.)

Write Night is my time. Family understands that supper is what they make for themselves. And it's amazing the amount of writing we accomplish!


Cyrano said...

This Write Nite thing sounds so cool. Can I somehow be a part of it?

Jill James said...

Tamera, you had me in tears. The moment when you discover you aren't alone, you aren't the only one hearing voices in your head, and others have stories whirling around them, is magic. You are blessed to have found such wonderful friends.

Mary Marvella said...

Baby Chick, Interesting take on the situation, as you remember it. Cackle.

We really wanted you for your cute shoes.

You forgot to tell them about kissing our rings.

I think we make a good mix. Can't wait 'til we're all published and still supporting each other.

Cyrano said...

It's great to have friends who are after a common goal, huh Jill. Thanks for the comment. Happy writing!

Momma hen,
One day we will all be published and I know for sure we'll still be supporting each other. And you're right, I forgot the ring kissing thing!
luv ya momma

Alicia said...

Tamara, this is cool! You have a great voice for the fairy tale. :)


Maxine Davis said...

You have talent!! I loved everything you wrote. You made a great point. I keep hearing 'critique group'. I've got to get with it. (Tami, you're right - as always.)

Pamela Varnado said...

Sorry it took me a few days to find my way to your blog. You know about my email problems.
I can't speak for all the witches-turned divas :), but i'm glad you came to Borders that day. Your wit and creativity has added so much to my writing. Thanks for all you bring to the group.

Nicki Salcedo said...

I heart this. Is it fate, destiny, luck, chance? Does it matter once it happens? Don't we all deserve happily ever afters?

A good critique group is a wonderful find. You made me smile today!