Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Friday, May 21, 2010

On subs and crits . . . and reading

I'm making the last round of changes on Standing Stones. By mid-June, I'll be finished and ready for a new writing project. I know I could keep working on this novel, adding layers of detail, nuances of setting or character, but, for now, it feels done, complete in itself, and I'm ready for the next phase. This next phase requires tenacity of a different order as I begin the agent search.

So the question before me is what is my next writing project? I have the proverbial folder with some ideas. Do I continue the saga of the MacDonnell's, following what's next for them, staying in the mid-19th Century in three different settings -- India, Australia, or Hawaii/the Pacific Northwest? I begin to feel that the "next" story that's closest to my understanding is here, in the Pacific Northwest. I've grown up with a sense of the wilderness and the history of early settlement right here. So maybe. But I have two other stories cooking -- one a quilting mystery and the other, Mothers Don't Die, a first draft novel of a serial killer's attempt to build family.

I sent off the first chapter of Mothers Don't Die to my critique group on the Internet Writing Workshop. I asked for the harshest criticism possible, figuring that would bring me a sense of whether this first novel had validity. Ouch! Within a week, seven faithful readers generously gave me their sharpest comments. And ouch again! I learned some new things about critiquing others' work, even as the harshest of the comments taught me humililty. I learned that even writers of very bad stuff want to hear something good. That whatever I've written, some readers will see what I intended. If I do pick up Mothers Don't Die, I have at least 6 months of revision ahead.

I'm reading Jeffery Deaver's Watchlist, a thriller written by a committee of 22 established writers (including Lisa Scottoline, Brett Battles, David Hewson). Found two typos so far, but the stylistic issues are fascinating as each author contributes a chapter to the story. And I'm reading Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures, a tale spun from the story of Mary Aning, an English woman who discovered fossils (and who is the woman behind the old tongue-twister, She sells sea shells . . . ). Here, I see shifting point of view as Chevalier changes the first person narrator chapter by chapter. Beautifully written. Interesting characters so sharply defined. This video on introduces Chevalier's book with a wonderful author interview (so much more here, writer's process, a look at a writer's workspace, and the setting itself in Lyme Regis). Very, very nice.

My last discovery comes from Ann Hite on Writer Woman Blog, who brought me to Natalie Goldberg's new book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir. Goldberg's book of writing exercises promises another way to explore "between".


  1. I think with writing, as with politics, the reader's/critic's view is densely colored by his own experience. Hence: Ouch.
    There's a way and there's a way, after all.
    I went to IWW's site; I'm not ready for the kind of serious back-and-forth it offers. Kudos to you for being so brave.

    So that's where "Sally Sells..." came from! I just finished reading an unmemorable novel wherein the character:
    a) practiced that tongue twister and
    b) wondered who Sally was.

  2. Critisicm is hard...I once showed my work to a friend of mine, asked him what he thought a few days later and without hesitation he said he didn't like it. Ouch! But writing is mostly rewriting anyway. I'm sure it's way better than any of your harshest critics said.

    Love Tracy Chevalier. Will have to pick that one up.