April 12, 2016

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"My First Not-kiss" or "Why I Love My Critique Group"

Disclaimer: Some names have been changed to protect the not-so innocent.
I joined a new critique group a year ago. It was a bumpy start. My previous critique group – all children’s authors – was great for cheer-leading. But I wanted feedback, whether or not it hurt my feelings. The new gang is an all genre fiction group and they’re harsh, man!
It took me months to get over it. I started bringing my middle grade novel, Archieology. The one I’ve been working on since 2005. I’d sent it out to a few editors, got some glowing rejections, but no more. What was wrong? My old critique group loved Archie. Wah!
New critique group: the plot doesn’t pull us along because it’s episodic, the antagonist is one-note. Every time she’s on the scene she does the same thing. Pick on Archie. Boring.
Tonight, I brought pages 97-111 (of about 135). The group was picking on my bully character again. Sure, it’s funny when Nina chases 11-year-old Archie into a tree. But why is she chasing him? They don’t buy that Nina’s mean just to be mean.
So Edith offers me a memory from her childhood. Riding her bike. Boys who’ve been picking on her give chase. She races to a nearby construction site, looking for help.
And suddenly, I see it. I’m 11-years-old. My best friend and I are walking on Sicomac Ave, on our way home from the Candy Box. Across the street, Brad and Tyler are playing on Brad’s front lawn. They’re both in our fifth grade class. They start chasing us.
Heart pumping. Excited. Weirded out. Tyler is the tallest boy in class and I’m the tallest girl. Kids assume things.
My friend and I are running past school – still far from home. The boys are gaining on us. Tyler calls, “I want to kiss you.” I run like the wind, my friend behind me. Tyler avoids me for the rest of elementary, middle and high school.
I was saving this event for another book. But it’s perfect for Archieology. If Archie and Nina’s first meeting at the novel’s opening plays out like my first not-kiss – with Nina as the kisser and new-to-the-neighborhood Archie as the runner – Nina becomes a woman scorned. The reader knows straight away that Archie is emotionally immature.
It’s an epiphany and it happened because of/during/witnessed by critique group. They're my BFsF.
Anyone else with a first not-kiss story out there?
If I can occupy the children (11 more days!) tomorrow, I'll follow up with some words of critique-group wisdom from fantasy author Holly Black. During SCBWI L.A., I went to her break-out session on critique groups.


Tabatha said...

When I was in elementary school, I had to go to the principal's office for running in the halls (I was running away from a boy). He didn't get in trouble (then), but when I told the principal why I was running, he just sent me back to class. I was pretty mortified about being sent to the principal's office until I realized that I wasn't going to get in trouble.
Glad that your group is helpful!

Author Amok said...

Sent to the principal's office for running away from a boy. Tabatha -- they should have given you a "good thinking" medal. Elementary school and mortification seem to go together.