Thursday, March 4, 2010

Goddesses Meet in San Antonio

So last month I went to San Antonio for a writing retreat with six members of my YA writer critique group (writers Debby Garfinkle, Jody Feldman, Martha Peaslee Levine, Kate Tuthill, and Mary Beth Miller.) The group is called YAckers—which says a lot about what we do when we get together. We meet online mostly, but try to meet in person at least once each year. It is a gathering of Literary Goddesses in search of the muse, and involves prodigious eating, drinking, visiting, sightseeing, shopping, whining, bragging, and, yes, some writing and critiquing.

We stayed in a bed and breakfast (Alamo Street Victorian Inn) and had the whole place to ourselves most of the time, except for the owners and a handyman named Paul who buzzed around us like a yellow jacket at a late summer

Novelists have special challenges when it comes to seeking effective critique. Many critique groups read a chapter a month. I belong to a couple of those. They are great resources, but we never get even halfway through one of my novels in a year’s time.

Also, it’s an odd way to read a novel. There’s no opportunity to enter the dream of fiction, and it’s easy to forget what’s going on, month to month. If your readers can’t remember who Jason is, is it because you didn’t do your job as a writer, or because it’s been two months since Chapter 3?

Each chapter can work perfectly well, but the entire story arc may be flawed, the characters erratic and inconsistent, and the ending unsatisfying. If nobody ever reads more than a few chapters, you’ll never know.

So for our retreats, we submit novel-length works to the group ahead of time, and spend several hours discussing each piece submitted. The Goddesses are smart, savvy, experienced readers who work in unrelated genres. And I came away from my personal critique session saying, “Why didn’t I see that? Of course!!”

One of Many YAckers Food Opportunities at Boudreau's
It’s a safe environment in which to vent, seek wisdom, and ask the “Am I crazy?” questions. What happens in San Antonio stays in San Antonio.

On the shopping front, we are very good at encouraging each other’s vices. Martha bought jewelry, Debby and Jody bought art. I found a nifty silver wrist cuff in a shop at LaVillita. When I showed it to my fellow YACkers, they said, “You have to buy two!!” You see, there’s a character named Cuffs in my current fantasy series who wears magical silver bracelets on his wrists.

Author appearances!! School visits!! Tax deductible!! they said. And, You know you want to.

So nothing would do but I went back into the store and bought a second cuff (and gave a bookmark to the store owner whose who theorized that I was either Wonder Woman or they were slave bracelets and I was into S&M.)

Like usual, we bought too much wine. Like usual, we ate too much good food. Like usual, we were a little amazed we pulled it off, since we’re all busy with families and jobs and we live all over the country.

And, like usual, we can’t wait until next time.


KateT said...

Oh to be back in San Antonio, specifically Boudreau's! I wonder if they export their guacamole ....


Jody Feldman said...

Who knew you had the perfect outfit for the cuffs?

I wonder what we can talk you into buying next time.