Three Ways of Looking at Austin Mystery Writers or, Why I Go to Critique Group by Kathy Waller
#1 Yesterday Dominica felt faint, and Molly, my protagonist, steered her to a bench on the courthouse lawn and then dithered over what to do. She couldn’t leave Dominica there to topple off the bench, but asking a passerby for help sounded lame, and there weren’t any passersby to ask. So there was poor Molly, needing more help than I could give her, stuck any way you looked at it. She stayed that way all night.
Today, talking about treatments for migraines, one of my critique partners took a bottle of peppermint oil from her purse and passed it around. At the first whiff, I said, “Molly suffers from migraines! She carries peppermint oil in her purse! She can use that to revive Dominica.”
In one fell swoop, I both saddled Molly with migraines and solved a knotty problem.
That is why I go to critique group.
#2 I said to my critique partners this morning, The whole project is stinky it stinks it’s just nothing no hope.
They said, But it’s so good so funny Molly is so funny it’s not stinky.
I said, Yes, the first part and the last part are funny and very very good but there’s still no middle and what there is stinks and anyway the other 5,000 words stink except for a few hundred here and there.
And they said, But the middle could be revised edited it has promise.
I said, But it won’t work because I have written myself into a hole and can’t get out so I have to trash that part and anyway the whole concept stinks.
And they said, NO you can fix it just keep going because we like Molly she’s so funny.
This is why I go to critique group.
#3 So I finally got things together with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and today my critique group said it was fine. But…
“Nobody died,” said Kaye.
“I know,” I said. “It’s li-ter-a-ry.”
“But it’s crime fiction,” said Gale. “Somebody has to die.”
Laura and Valerie, sitting on the other side of the table, nodded. In unison.
“I was going for subtlety,” I said. “It’s a death of the spirit.”
They stared at me. I stared back.
“Somebody has to die,” said Kaye.
Then all four said they didn’t understand the last line. I had written the entire story so I could use that line, and no one understood what it meant.
I kept staring and thought about words like philistines, peasants, and bourgeoisie.
Finally I spoke. I said, “Thank you.”
Then my friends began throwing out ideas for endings they liked, in each of which someone died. I sighed and said, Yeahhhh, and, Okayyyy, and, I guessss…
Gad, they were irritating, telling the truth like that. Especially the way they all kept agreeing. Especially since I’d known the ending was bad before I let them read it.
And then Kaye said, XXX—and I thought, YYY—and everything fell into place: I knew who would die, and how, and why, and what would happen next…
And I thought, Kaye has given me the perfect ending. All the suggestions are good, but hers works on multiple levels. It’s so right. Why didn’t I think of it myself?
And then I thought, Oh, who cares about why. What matters was that Kaye thought of it, and shared it, and that she and three other writers not only told the truth but grabbed me by the lapels and made me listen.
I rewrote the story, and it was published in Austin Mystery Writers’ crime fiction anthology, Murder on Wheels.
And that is why I go to critique group.
Every. Blessed. Week.
Kathy Waller’s A Nice Set of Wheels and Hell on Wheels appear in Austin Mystery Writers’ crime fiction anthology Murder on Wheels (Wildside Press, 2015). A former librarian, former teacher, former paralegal, and former pianist for a string of churches desperate for someone who could find middle C, Kathy was born and reared in a small (pop. 150) town in Central Texas, and as a result nearly everything she writes includes a river, a cow, or a group of old ladies playing dominoes on someone’s front porch.
13 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Kathy Waller – Three Ways of Looking at Austin Mystery Writers or, Why I go to Critique Group”
You have me rolling on the floor!!!
Reading Kathy’s blog, I could just imagine you sweetly telling her she needed a dead body……I laughed as hard as you did. Thanks for stopping by. Debra
Sweet at first, Debra, but by the time she was finished… Well, I do bear some responsibility. I can be obstinate at times. But so can Kaye.
Well, my dear Kaye, whatever it takes. You know I’m telling the truth. You DID say just the right thing.
It had to be done. You eventually saw the light!
That was fun, Kathy. I feel the same about my critique partners. I couldn’t get by without them.
Thanks, Earl. We’re lucky to have then, aren’t we?
So true! I’d be heading to my group tonight except…snowstorm. The group rescues me over and over. You are well blessed – especially to have KAYE in the mix!
Hope the snow passes quickly and you don’t miss your next session. Somehow, I bet you are a great member of the group….on point but sweet and funny with a wry twist.
Snowstorm! That’s one of the best reasons I can think of to miss critique group. Of course, my idea of a snowstorm is a sad affair compared to what you have. I hope all is well there. You’re right about KAYE. She’s a treasure. She tried to escape us, but we’ve hung on and I think she’s finally resigned herself to having her Austin Mystery Writers groupies. Without her, our anthology would never have happened. Thanks much for your comment.
And congratulations on your Agatha nomination for Best Short Story. It’s definitely a winner.
I’m happy to be your critique partner and friend, Kathy. Even if I am a peasant sometimes.
Peasants have their place…as do pheasants and ….. never mind, I need a critique group
Thank you, Gale. I appreciate your help, even when I’m posting mean things about you on blogs. You’ve probably wanted to call me worse than peasant. Debra, thank you for your kind words to Gale. She is neither peasant nor pheasant, but she’ll probably make me pay for the honesty I’ve displayed here.