My dad was a good father and grandfather, a nerdy chemist with a gentle spirit and quirky sense of humor. He seldom raised his voice. He loved to play cards and tell the occasional raunchy joke. He never exercised, and he smoked like a medieval chimney. After lighting up, he liked to leave the burnt match (burned side up) sticking out of the butter just to annoy my mother, whom he adored.
To ask for salt at the table was to “pass the NaCl.” I thought every kid knew the elemental name for iron, nitrogen, water, carbon dioxide, uranium… right? Oh. You mean they don’t?
Dad loved anything about outer space or science fiction, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Star Trek to The Outer Limits (ok, that’s more like the horror-genre, but hey). He taught me a bit about constellations too. That pattern like a pot with a handle? Ursula Major, the Big Dipper. That big “W” there? Cassiopeia, a Greek queen, lounging on her sofa. He and I stayed up all night to watch the Apollo moon landing (well, he did; I dozed on the sofa until his excited ‘This is it!’ woke me)
Dad was also a 32nd Degree Mason. Yes, that’s right! In those days (and still in some circles) being a Mason was a Good Thing, Martha. He went to meetings, made friends; they did service projects sometimes, but he wasn’t allowed to talk about certain “stuff.”
To get into the Masonic Lodge, a man had to be invited or sponsored. You had to know a Mason, to become one.
I was proud of my Mason-dad. Then…teachers came to my church (Dad didn’t go at the time as Pentecostals were too freaky for him. Go figure.) They said “Secret Societies are Evil.” Occultic. Possibly devil-worshiping; definitely NOT Christian.
My dad…worshiping something occult?! This worried me a lot as a 17 yr-old in love with God and Jesus. I worried about my dad, so I decided to ask him about it.
But, um, how does one ask a parent if they are worshiping the devil? I mean, really.
I did anyway, but as tactfully as I could manage. He assured me that the secrets were not anti-Christian. But they were more about “universal brotherhood.” And a lot of what they did, nobody else would even care about it. He spoke of symbolism, ancient traditions of craftsmen, statesmen, scientists and such. Nothing evil, nope. Probably boring to most outside of a Masonic lodge.
Finally, I asked the million-dollar question. “Dad. Are you a Christian? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and is he your Savior?” I was told that nobody could confess these things and lie; that you would somehow know if they were or they’d choke up.
Without hesitation, my dad said that he had been a Believer & Christian since boyhood. He even showed me a little black book (Masonic) and explained, or tried to, some of the symbols and things written or drawn in it (which, as he’d said, I didn’t)
I was at peace. Whew. He went to his Final Peace not long after that when a massive myocardial infarction took him. Thank God, I didn’t have to wonder where he’d gone.
As fun as it talking about my long-gone earthly father, what the hey does this have to do with Writers Critique Groups? Glad you asked, and I’m going to tell you in a paragraph or four.
I started writing fiction in my late 40’s. When I first heard about Critique Groups, it excited me. Kindred spirits! Sharing and encouraging each other, reading one another’s work and giving feedback! Having tea together and practically glowing with future authorship-kinship. Kum-ba-ya.
So I started asking around, looking for a Group to join. Like the golden-retriever personality I once was, I thought everyone would want me, pet me, love me. I’m not illiterate…reasonably personable (so I thought)…not too ugly or strange (sooo I thought) and teachable. Kum-ba-yaaaaaa.
“So-and-so has one they love,” a fellow-writer would say. “But I don’t know if they have openings. Or how to get in touch with them.” (This was before social media, guys. If you didn’t have their email or they didn’t use one, you were out of luck until you saw them again/wrangled a phone number out of them)
Or “Mine isn’t taking new members just now, sorry.” (me, with hopeful eyes) “If you do in the future, would you let me know?” *insert sound of crickets chirping here* “Oh. Sure.” (liar, pants on f…)
Finally, someone invited me to visit theirs. Yay, romp, slobber! I went and was promptly overwhelmed by what they were doing, and too shy to bring any of my own work; I just talked about it. “There’s this prince, back from a war and he’s lost his faith and is in love with half-sisters and well…um.” (I’d not learned about log-lines at that point, can ya tell?)
They were polite. But told me that they “didn’t do romance.” I should join a romance-writers group. Oh…that’s what I wrote? So I kept asking, kept looking. And got a lot of those “looks” in return. I even joined a Romance Writers Group and got involved, tried to find critiquing. Still no luck. Now I was feeling weird…what was I missing? Not asking or doing? Or worse, for awkward-with-groups me, why was I not connecting with other writers?
Honestly, I started wondering…were Critique Groups like Secret Societies? Was there a Secret Writers Handshake? A Mystic Book I’d not seen? Things to which I’d not been made privy…or should have learned via osmosis? Did I miss a vital step in Social Development for the [Literary] Human Being??
I’d even visited one or two Christian-based groups. The writing submitted was not at the level I was getting used to, and one person even went so far to say his work was ‘inspired by God, so it can’t be changed or criticized.’
Well, holy sacred cow. You’re kidding–oh, you’re not?
So I started my own Critique Group while I worked hard on the Craft. We met for three years and I learned a lot. About what a good story might be. How to encourage another writer. How to give truly helpful feedback and not just ‘you missed a comma here, a capital letter there’ stuff. (Here’s a good site to see what I mean – it’s for written crits but you get the idea: Guidelines for Writing a Critique.) No secret handshake or rites, though. I’d decided to be as open as possible about accepting folks, even if we weren’t compatible in our writing journeys. As I eventually had to realize.
Silly me. Open skull, let brain fall out.
I ended my group and wrote on my own, and took a long break from Crit Groups–and from writing entirely when I got very, very stuck in Life. Photography saved me, sort of, during that time. Aerie Images was birthed then.
When things “settled down” a couple of years ago, I took out (one of) my unfinished ms, and visited another Crit Group. It was a VERY INTENSE one. It was torture for me, as I tried very hard to fit in with those writers. I never did feel accepted; quite the contrary. I finally left the group after realizing that their Secret Handshake was still secret to me even after a few months.
I had to leave before it was the death of my writing dreams. It took me a long time to get over that group. Did I make mistakes with those people? Yes. Did they? Yes.
And then, I started writing again–trying to. Though that experience put me off Critique Groups, I felt alive again. I became determined to find a good one. A former member of my group contacted me and said “Hey, want to get together and talk writing–and just be friends?” Well, YES. And I’ve been asked to a critique group that I think, after visiting twice, that I will join. It’s small, it’s casual but to-the-point, and the writers are actually, well, NICE. Two even write in a similar genre of my current WIP. One is a multi-published author, so we are not
The Blind Leading the Proverbial Blind.
One very important thing I had to learn (still am) is that I am conceited and prideful–I tend to think I know more than I do, and though I mean to be “teachable,” I really am not so much. But I am more aware now of both of those issues and give myself an invisible head-slap when either, shall we say, starts acting up? Whack.
STOP THAT. Stop that RIGHT NOW.
Hopefully being knocked down a peg or two has taught me to notice more, when I am (1) Full of It=Pride and (2) Pretending at being teachable when I’m getting all closed-up.
It’s no secret, and I’m getting better at it.
Want to send me an excerpt of your writing? I’ll be honest, fair–and kind. Tell me in Comments, then send it to my email.