Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"The Two Geniuses" of Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan and Carey Baldwin

Tessa Dare says: Ladies, thank you so much for inviting all three of us to chat about our critique relationship! Courtney, Carey and I started critiquing together just about three years ago now, after meeting through the Avon FanLit competition. Over that time, we’ve learned so much a

s writers together, with each other and from each other, and we’ve also become the closest of friends. I don’t know what I’d do without

Courtney and Carey. I admire and respect their talent, I enjoy their company, and I love them to bits. Somewhere along the line, we adopted a name for our critique group: “The Two Geniuses.” Yes, you’re counting correctly--there are three of us. So why the Two Geniuses? Because we figure that between the three of us, we possess the brainpower and creativity of two geniuses at any given time. We each have our brilliant moments and our head-scratching ones, but the good news is, whenever I feel like the biggest idiot ever—I know that means all the genius has migrated to Courtney and Carey, and all I need to do is consult them to find the answer! Just last week, I had a mini-meltdown as I neared the end of my fifth novel. Courtney and Carey took time out of their very busy schedules (unlike me, both of them have high-power, uber-important professional careers in addition to writing) for a two-hour video conference, in which they helped me talk it all through. And over the past three months, in which I’ve had three single title releases, the two of them have been there for me in innumerable ways—promoting the books to unsuspecting strangers, celebrating and commiserating over reviews, and being my outlet whenever I needed to vent. They are, quite simply, the best.

Courtney Milan says: On very rare occasions, when I’m writing, I think I might be a genius. But most of the time, when I’m writing by myself, I feel like I’m a complete dullard. And that, I think, is the true meaning of the “two geniuses” line—while one of us may go off the deep end from time to time, we can (usually) count on the other two to rein in the outsider from time to time. There have been times (I hide my head in shame) when Carey had to be all two geniuses to balance Tessa and me, and I can think of some occasions in which Tessa was clearly three geniuses to make up for my negative one. The great thing about having Tessa and Carey around is that in addition to being great minds and fabulous writers, they have also been great friends, and though we’ve had our share of differences, we have worked through them. In fact, as much as I have relied on Carey and Tessa for their writing comments, if I had to choose between the friendship and the critiquing, I would choose the friendship every time. To give you an idea: When I was writing my novella, “This Wicked Gift,” which is on the shelves now, I was on a strict deadline. I was also getting married. When I was panicking about getting my proposal in, who read my pages at the last possible instant, on a moment’s notice, staying up to all hours of the night? Tessa and Carey. But who, when she heard that I hadn’t found a photographer a month before my wedding, went online and called or e-mailed eight photographers to determine their availability? Seriously, guys, you cannot buy this level of awesomeness.

Carey Baldwin says: Thanks for having us! It's really a pleasure to talk about my critique partners. I've been blessed to find in Tessa and Courtney, not only a supportive and insightful writing group, but dear friends. I think it is our friendship, as much as our love of writing, that gets us through the tough times, and yes, there have been…difficult moments. It's never easy to hear criticism, and yet this is what helps us grow as writers. If I could give one piece of advice to anyone in or searching for a critique relationship, it would be to keep it real, and to keep it supportive. Because we truly want each other to succeed, and because we truly admire each other's gifts and hearts, we have been able to grow in our craft by giving and receiving honest feedback. As the unpublished writer in this gang, I am still turtling my way to publication. Watching Tessa and Courtney go through this process has afforded me many insights and opportunities I wouldn't have had otherwise. How fortunate I am to have their beautiful examples before me every day. To watch them succeed not only because they are gifted, but because they work work work and never quit. They truly inspire me. I would also point out, that a critique relationship cannot survive if it cannot change. As our critiquing needs have altered, we have adapted the way we work together. Sometimes we communicate daily, and give line by line feedback that we turn around on a dime. Other times we work more independently and use each other for big picture feedback and brainstorming. The one constant is that we know we can count on each other. I am one lucky turtle.

The last of Tessa's debut trilogy, A Lady of Persuasion, is in stores now. You can find Courtney's novella, "This Wicked Gift" in The Heart of Christmas anthology, alongside contributions from Nicola Cornick and Mary Balogh. Her debut historical romance, Proof by Seduction, will be released on January 1, 2010. Carey Baldwin is a writer, physician, photographer, and mother living in southern Arizona.


Dianna Love said...

What a wonderful critique group you have that has turned into a close friendship. Non-writers don't understand why we call our critique partners FIRST with any writing news, but family and friends don't have the depth of understanding for what that news means. Congrats on coming up with a winning combination and for the success all three of you are enjoying.

J Perry Stone said...

Diana, you're up early. I'll bet not to ride your new motorcycle in the rain, though.

Welcome Tessa, Courtney and Carey. For a few years now, I've so admired your critique relationship. You three continuously express genuine joy at every accomplishment any one of you achieve. It's so wonderful to be around, I couldn't wait for your post today.

Tell me, would you be willing to do a critique writer's workshop sometime in the future??

Love you ladies.

Tammy Schubert said...

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to blog with us today.

I hope new writers in the process of forming critique groups take note of your advice, especially the part about flexibility. My critique partner and I have been together for several years. We can look back and see our growth spurts, how they complimented each other and how the growth forced us to change how we conduct business. Our friendship during this time has also grown, and she will be the second person I call when "the call" comes in. My husband really should be the first one to hear the news. :)

Congratulations on the success you are all experiencing. I'm looking forward to reading your books.

Cyrano said...

Ladies, two geniuses, thanks so much for visiting us.
It's always nice to hear that other people enjoy the writing benefits and the friendship garnered from a critique group. I am a five year member of Three Chics and a Hen. Connie, Pam and I are the chics, the younger members of the group and Mary, our wise writing momma is the hen. We love each other dearly and I don't know what I'd do without these three ladies.
I think we compliment each other perfectly and I wouldn't give them up for anything.
Thanks so much for sharing your stories today. I enjoyed and related to every word.
Have a lovely Wednesday,

RKCharron said...

Hi :)
Thank you for the wonderful post.
I am very glad that all three of you found each other!
Thanks for sharing today.
Love & Best Wishes,

Marilyn Baron said...

Thank you so much for blogging with us and for sharing your insights about critique groups. You are very fortunate to have each other and I wish you all continued success. I'm also in a great critique group and am lucky to be part of our wonderful Petit Fours and Hot Tamales Blog group. Those professional relationships and friendships are priceless.

Marilyn Baron

Maxine Davis said...

Thank you for stopping by. I loved all 3 blogs. Aren't friends just the most wonderful things?

Sounds like you have found the perfect fit of friends and critique partners!

I really have to find those books and stories. They sound fantastic!

Courtney Milan said...

Dianna, this is so true. When I told my CPs I had gotten an offer of representation, they cried and cheered.

When I told my husband, he was like, "What took you so long?" Not that he's not supportive; he just imagined it would be like signing up for a gym class or something. :)

Tessa Dare said...

Good morning! We genuises are all West-Coasters (now we are, anyway. Wasn't always the case.)

It's so nice to be here and hear all these other great stories of friendship and critique relationships!

Someone mentioned that their CPs were always the first to hear any writing news. Not only is that true for me, I think Courtney and Carey have been the first to hear a lot of non-writing news, too. Whenever I have a quandary of any sort, I go to them first.

I have two little ones who need breakfast and school clothes, but I'll be back later!

Courtney Milan said...

J, I don't know if we would do a workshop on it. To be honest, I think there are a ton of people who have good relationships (look at the number of people who are commenting here!), great relationships even. It's not something you can put in a workshop.

I don't know how to put "love someone to death" in a workshop.

One of the reasons I am so genuinely happy for my friends/critique partners' success is that I really do believe in their work. They deserve their successes because they are brilliant, and they really are geniuses. In fact, I'm pretty sure they deserve more than they're getting. Much more.

Courtney Milan said...

Tammy, flexibility is the key. Tessa downplays her job, but she not only has two really little ones (she wrote her first book with an infant under one year), but she is also a part-time librarian, and in the year from July, 2009, and July 2010, she is going to have SIX books out. SIX.

Just think about that. Transitioning into deadline mode (and some changes in our day jobs as well) has meant a lot of changes for our CP relationship.

I think any good relationship is flexible. :)

Courtney Milan said...

Cyrano and Marilyn, I'm so glad you are in a great group. I think having people you can trust is *so* incredibly important. Good for you!

Courtney Milan said...

RK, thank you for stopping by!

And Maxine, Tessa's complete trilogy is out in stores now. GODDESS OF THE HUNT is her first book, followed by SURRENDER OF A SIREN, and A LADY OF PERSUASION which just hit stores today.

J Perry Stone said...

CM, you say you don't know if there's a workshop in it but what you just said IS the crux of any successful relationship, professional or otherwise.

Partner up with someone you genuinely believe in and then be generous with them.

In addition to talent, I also believe in a thing called karma. It's very clear to me that you all are benefiting professionally from not only ability, but from your personal treatment of each other.

This is no accident. :)

LauraT said...

What a fun blog! I am so excited that I am finally reading your books Tessa and Courtney! It is so exciting after 3 years of wanting more than just 1400 something words of your writing to read. It's really fun going to the book store and seeing your books, and now I get to read them! Carey, I can't wait to read your book when it comes out, too. I love watching and knowing about a writer's journey. When the books finally come it it makes it even more fun!

The three of you are inspiring and really show that tenacity and a willingness to change as a group = awesomeness! Great blog!

Carol Burnside said...

Ladies, how inspiring you all are, both geniuses of you! Thanks for sharing the great relationship you share with us and our readers today.

PJ said...

Good Morning and welcome to Tessa, Courtney and Carey! It's great to have you here.

If a person had any doubts about the cohesiveness of the Two Geniuses critique group they had only to attend the surprise launch party Courtney and Carey threw for Tessa at RWA National last summer to know that these three women share love, support, encouragement, guidance and boundless joy in each others success. Is it any wonder that they are going places?

I highly recommend Tessa and Courtney's books and am looking forward to the day when I'll be able to read Carey's too!

J Perry Stone said...

I have a feeling you won't be waiting long, PJ and Last.

Carey is amazing.

Tessa Dare said...

There goes CM, always the awesome CP, pimping my books. :) This just goes to show that the benefits of great CPs don't stop once you sell a book - we've learned so much by watching each other go through this process from sale to publication, and we're committed to helping each other succeed as published authors, not just get published in the first place. That said, our critiquing style has changed and adapted over time. We used to read every scene each of us wrote, multiple times. Now the three of us don't actually do so much line-by-line critiquing anymore. It's more brainstorming and talking through plot problems and moral support.

Also, we should probably mention that we have a very open relationship. :) Meaning, we each have other critique partners and beta readers outside this circle of three. We're not exclusive, and I think that's great, because it means we each keep learn from new people as individuals. If we stuck to just the three of us, our collective knowledge would stagnate, I think.

J, I'm with Courtney--don't know that there's a workshop we could do. So much of our relationship was serendipitous at the outset, and we've never had any sort of procedures or techniques that we could really pass on as examples.

And lastly, yes - Carey is amazing!! You will all be hearing her name soon, and often.

Darcy Crowder said...

Ladies - Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. Tessa, I'm currently reading Surrender Of A Siren and loving it. :) I'll be picking up A Lady of Persuasion and Courtney's book, This Wicked Gift, as soon as I get over this head cold. LOL. Carey, I'm a turtle too. :) Though I can't lay claim to anything else so demanding of my time and energy as being a physician. Good luck!

Thank you all for not only being an inspiration as writers, but as friends.

JP - I couldn't agree more about Karma. Those who give, recieve - in endlessly wonderful ways.

Darcy Crowder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carey Baldwin said...

Good morning ladies, gents, and fellow turtles!I apologize for being tardy but am in between patients.

I love my critique partners, and I have to say, that like Tessa mentioned, it's not just my writing they critique. I consult them on so many important and unimportant life decisions, because really, we are family.

And I have to say I really feel the love (here on this blog and on others, at RWA, on twitter, etc.) that so many writers have for each other. Especially romance writers. It's a wonderful community that enriches all of our lives.

We all have other writing support and friends we love, and the more we give each other the more benefits we reap. Blowing kisses to my other cps and friends! Leigh, here's a big wet one for you :-)

And to any fellow turtles out there, let's keep plugging! Tessa and Courtney, and so many of our friends are blazing a trail, and we can do this too!

Susan May said...

Thanks for being here ladies. Great critique partners are as valuable as gold to a writer. Tessa, I enjoyed your first book, have your second on my bedside table to read and I'm going out to buy the third. Courtney I plan to get yours also. Carey, I look forward to one of yours in the future. Great you are all doing so well, ya'll make us writers look good.

Kim said...

Three of my favorite people on one of my favorite blogs. Yay!!!

Tessa, Carey and CM, you're all three totally amazing and I think the way you work together and help each other is the golden standard. It just shows, like any relationship, if you work at it and are dedicated to it how wonderful it truly can be.

And can I just say that I cried the first time I held Tessa and Courtney's books. It was amazing for me to see their names finally in print and I can't wait to do the same with Carey!

Louisa Edwards said...

When it's the right balance and the right people, there's nothing like a good critique partnership! I've got a couple of wonderful fellow writers with whom I check in daily and brainstorm and commiserate. We don't call ourselves a critique group, per se, but even the less formalized version of it is awesome.

Sally Kilpatrick said...


Thanks for sharing this relationship with us. Maybe you can't teach "love to death" in a workshop, but would you consider giving pointers on form one day? I think being real yet supportive must be a fine art.

And, Carey, I love the turtle analogy. Slow and steady wins the race, right? I'm going to keep hoping.


Tami Brothers said...

This is great! I LOVE the idea and hearing the three of you banter back and forth is very inspiring.

Great job and I wish ALL of you the best in everything you do.

Thanks a ton for blogging with the PF&HT today. This was really fun to read!


Ana Aragón said...

Thank you ladies for sharing your tips for a great critique group. I'm starting again with a different group of ladies, all in different stages of the writing life. I have other digital beta readers and crit partners, but sometimes I just like to see someone face to face to make up for the loneliness.

Do you three get together every so often?


Carey Baldwin said...

Thanks for all the kind words everyone. And Ana, yes we do get together for brainstorming summits. We've met in Las Vegas, LA, Colorado- I think the Seattle area will be next.

And BTW:
CONGRATULATIONS! To Courtney! THIS WICKED GIFT is part of THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS. It just hit #94 on the USA today list. Who's all genius today? I believe it's Courtney!

Tessa Dare said...

Sorry to be absent for a while - the Two Geniuses have been having a wild celebration, because Courtney's anthology, THE HEART OF CHRISTMAS hit #94 on the USA Today bestseller list! Woohoo!

Clearly, she is both of the geniuses today. :)

Carol Burnside said...

Congratulations, Courtney!

J Perry Stone said...

I'm going to squee somewhere else. You know where.


Pamela-reader said...

Awesome post! It's so cool... I actually ordered Tessa's latest book and The Heart of Christmas today before I read this post. Talk about coincidence! Keep up the good work you guys! I look forward to reading your work soon Carey!