Verbal or written critiques?

I have a question for those of you who are in writers’ groups: When you receive a critique, do you prefer only a written critique, only a verbal critique, or a combination of both?

We had a discussion on this the other night in our group. There are some members of the group that prefer not having the critique presented to everyone else in the group; others feel that having verbal presentations is a part of the process as well as part of the fun. I can see both sides, and I’m fine either way, but I was curious to see what you thought about it.

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I just wanted to thank everyone who’s left comments so far. I’m still new at this, and as such I’m not posting regularly and haven’t been replying to comments like I should, for which I apologize.

On strokes, Walter Wager and Flannery O’Connor

It was five years ago this month that I had my stroke. You know what? It happened, there’s nothing I can do about it, and frankly, I’m tired of talking and thinking about it. I get a stern reminder of it when I try to do something with my right (and dominant) hand and it doesn’t work. I’m reminded of it when I walk outside my house and need a cane to maintain my balance. The tinnitus in my right ear, the edema in my right leg, the pills I take every day to deal with the high blood pressure that caused it, the constant monitoring, all little mementos of the time a little blood vessel in my head went “pop!” and I ended up in the hospital.

So, that’s all I have to say on that, other than this piece of advice: if your doctor tells you to watch your blood pressure, watch your blood pressure.

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About eight months ago, I realized that I missed writing, and a friend of mine invited me to join the writers’ group she was in. It’s not a perfect situation (they’re all in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I’m in the suburbs of Atlanta, and they contact me with either iChat or Google Talk), but it’s fun, they give me good feedback on my stories, I give them feedback on theirs (which I hope is as good as I get), and it’s caused me to take this more seriously and to get my butt in the chair and throw words on the screen. (Pen and paper is out, which is probably just as well, because my handwriting sucked and even I couldn’t read it half the time.)

I see joining the group and getting back into writing as the start of Act 2. If you’ve read Larry Brooks‘ fantastic book, Story Engineering, you know that what gets you into Act 2 is the First Plot Point. So, I thought about it some more, and recognized the scenes in Act 1, the world as it was up to that point.

I started reading a lot when I was in the hospital after the stroke. I found many of my favorite authors during that time, in fact. I always say that Mary’s love, renewed faith, almost-daily visits from Ministers of Communion from my parish, reading, and reruns of “The Golden Girls” got me through that time. When I finally got home and was on the mend, Mary and I would go to Starbucks on Sunday afternoons (sometimes more frequently than that) and spend the afternoon reading and drinking coffee (in my case, decaf).

Anyway, about a year ago I decided that I wanted a Kindle. When it arrived, Mary asked if she could try it. Three hours later, she told me that I would have to get another one, because she was keeping that one. We have the wi-fi versions, because we have wi-fi at home and Starbucks also has wi-fi. What we like about the Kindles is, as Mary put it, “we don’t have to get out of our seats when we finish a book. We can just order another one!”

Such was the case one Sunday in May when I finished the most recent book in the “Burn Notice” series by Tod Goldberg. I love “Burn Notice”, and Tod has captured the voice of Michael Westen perfectly. (I actually hear Jeffrey Donovan reading the books to me. They’re that good.) I went shopping in the Kindle store to see if there were any more books by him, and found the book Tied In: The Business, Art and Craft of Media Tie-In Writing. It’s a series of articles written by authors of tie-in novels (original books using the characters from some other media) and novelizations (books written from screenplays and teleplays). I’ve read lots of tie-ins and novelizations, and thought the book would be interesting.

It was in that book that I learned about Walter Wager.

David Spencer has a long section in the book called “American TV Tie-Ins From The 50s Through The Early 70s” where he goes through the history of tie-in novels based on TV shows, and talks about some of the great tie-in writers, among them Walter Wager. Walter grew up in New York, graduated ftom Columbia and the Harvard Law School and became A TV writer and writer of tie-ins. One thing about him stood out. Actually, it damn near hit me in the face:

Though he rarely regarded it as a handicap, and never a source of self-consciousness, Wager had been born with no left hand, and did all his writing as a one-handed typist.

That’s when I decided I needed to start writing again.

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I still read books, of course. In fact, one of my recent purchases is The Collected Works of Flannery O’Connor. Something tells me that I should appreciate her writing, because we have so much in common:

– She’s Irish. I’m Irish.
– She was a Catholic. I’m a Catholic.
– She was born in Savannah, GA and lived in Milledgeville. I moved to Georgia almost 25 years ago.
– We have the same birthday (March 25).
– She was crippled by lupus. I was crippled by a stroke.

Most importantly, she was a remarkable writer, and I want to be a remarkable writer. I can learn a lot from her. And, judging by some of the stories, I’m going to have fun reading her.

RIP Don Cornelius

Don Cornelius died yesterday. It’s probably safer to say that he was found dead in his home with an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, and that generally points to suicide.

He grew up in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, and was selling insurance when he decided to take a course in broadcasting. When he finished that, he became a substitute disc jockey at WVON (“The Voice of the Negro”), then was asked to cover sports for “The Black’s View of the News” on WCIU (“Chicago’s First UHF Station”) in the late Sixties. Eventually he became the host of the show, and had an idea for a TV show that was essentially a Black, urban version of “American Bandstand,” a show that would feature Black artists and Black kids dancing. He started his show, “Soul Train,” for about $400. In its first year, it was a local show airing on a UHF station that many TVs in Chicago couldn’t even receive, and it ended up so popular that Don moved the show to Los Angeles and syndicated it. It became one of the most popular syndicated shows of all time.

When I was in high school in the Chicago area, “Soul Train” was on TV just about all Saturday afternoon. Even though it was aimed at Black teens and young adults, a lot of white kids (including me) watched it. We loved the music, we loved watching the kids dance, and we loved Don Cornelius. He was a Chicago boy like we were, and we related to him as our neighbor. He did a lot more than just run a Black “American Bandstand”; he brought us together. In doing so, he became a pioneer in television.

Now he’s gone. An African American friend of mine said that it’s a pretty lousy way to start Black History Month. But, really, how many people have given him much thought in the last few years? That he and his achievements will be remembered this month is a silver lining. It’s just sad that it takes someone dying to remind everyone just how much they gave us when they were alive.

Love, peace and soul, Don Cornelius. And thank you.

Challenge accepted!

I mentioned when I started this blog that one of my reasons was to take advantage of initiatives like the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. Today was the first day one could sign up to participate, and I did so. (See #140 on the Blog Hop Linky List if you don’t believe me.)

Why does this idea appeal to me? Simple. I see the writing community that exists on Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and Blogger. I like it, and I want to be a part of it. This seems to be the way to make that happen. I’ve read a lot of writers’ blogs in the last couple of months, and reading them makes me realize that there are people out there who do the same thing that I do. In some way, each of those blogs has helped me, either by suggesting a new way to look at some aspect of writing, giving me examples of great writing, suggesting books (writing and otherwise) that I’ll enjoy and learn a lot from, or just being that friendly voice.

What am I going to write about? Stay tuned.