Happy Tuesday, all! I’m taking a break from my frantic NaNoWriMo-ing to send out a major welcome to our new regional SCBWI Critique Group Coordinator.
But first, my deepest gratitude to our former coordinator, Shelley Koons, for doing an amazing job!
For the past two years, Shelly has worked hard and given us fantastic tips on how to run a successful critique group with her 13 Reasons PDF and posts like this one, and this one, and here’s another, and this one for when critique groups go bad, yikes.
So again, many thanks, Shelley, you will be missed!
And with that, allow me to introduce Mike Karg, our new regional critique group coordinator! He’s a picture book writer, veterinarian, wanderer, tinkerer, and dreamer. He has contributed to As The Eraser Burns before with this great post as well as this one. Mike also visited us for some Coffee & Conversation, but first, here’s an essay that he’s written so everyone can get to know him better!
Critique Groups and Raw Acorns
by Mike Karg
I have no fear of my ideas being stolen. Seriously, this is not a concern. Story ideas are as plentiful as acorns. Knowing how to turn them into something delicious is the tricky part. I think it involves a lot of boiling and multiple pots to remove the tannins. I haven’t actually tried it, but I always boil my ideas before my first draft. And then I let my critique partners sample the bitter, soggy mess.
When I started writing picture books, a critique group seemed like something for “other writers”, those coffee-klatch social butterfly people. Hunkering down in my comfy chair figuring this thing out by reading books was my plan. Now, I can’t imagine doing this without my critique partners.
I am very fortunate to be able to share all of my writing and questions with my critique partners, knowing I’ll get open and honest feedback.
I am unpublished and unagented. Asking questions of agents and editors means trying to acquire useful information about the world of publishing while also trying to impress these gatekeepers. I have no concerns about asking potentially silly questions of my group. We share hard-won lessons on the tiniest of details. We cheer the small successes. We support each other through the inevitable series of setbacks.
Competing with my critique partners is not part of the equation. We are teammates, winning and losing with each other, no matter how hokey that may sound. Publication is not a zero-sum game. Kidlit appears to be in a golden age right now and more wonderful books means more readers creating more space for new authors. The competition is kids watching television and being ignorant and eating raw acorns. Join a critique group, for all those nutty kids out there.
Thanks, Mike! And before we get to the interview, what’s your favorite coffeehouse beverage and snack?
My home is my coffeehouse. Blueberry tea and a handful of Ghirardelli 60% cacao dark chocolate chips from the bag.
Any of those big Richard Scarry books. The constant mayhem was a subversive romp.
As a teen?
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
Tell us about your writing journey. When did it begin?
I created a living-room sketch comedy/variety show called Chimney Sweep (because I had the vague sense that an obscure random name would bring gravitas) when I was about 11. My older brother, younger sister and I spent far more time writing and rehearsing than performing for the rest of our unamused family. Now, writing picture books brings me back to that immediate visceral joy of the creative process.
How has being a part of a critique grouped helped you the most?
My first drafts have many odd and confusing passages. My critique partners help me make my stories accessible for a saner audience. I am indebted to them for every time they follow me over that rickety bridge.
What advice would you give to a newly formed critique group?
Learn about each other. Enjoy getting together. Take it seriously.
What is your goal as our new critique group coordinator?
Continue the work that Shelley Koon has done (thanks, Shelley!). “Cross-pollinate” members with members of other local regions who are a shorter distance away. MD/DE/WV is wonderful, dynamic region but it’s a long and funny shape and folks from OH, PA, VA, DC and NJ might be closer. I hope everyone that is looking for a critique group can find one (or two!)
What is your favorite quote?
“Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” -Yoda
Time for the lightning round—no more than four words per answer!
Do you . . .
- Outline or wing it? Ramshackle scaffold
- Talk about works-in-progress, or keep it zipped? Talk about it
- Sell by proposal or completed draft? Completed drafts
- Prefer writing rough drafts or editing? Editing
- Dread marketing/blogging or love it? It’s business
- Read Kindle or traditional books? Traditional books
And finally, what’s your favorite:
- Time to work? Morning
- Music to listen to while writing? None
- Writing tool? Laptop
- Pair of shoes? Merrell mocs, brown
- Guiltiest pleasure? More chocolate
- Line from a movie? “Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony” –Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Awesome, thanks, Mike, for the essay, interview, and for becoming our new critique group coordinator! I know you’re going to do an amazing job!
Happy writing and drawing, all! 🙂