The Crackerjacks

Writing is a solitary activity. Sitting alone in a quiet room staring at the screen, waiting for words to assemble themselves in one’s brain, for hours on end. For days, For years.

As Mick Jagger said, we all need someone we can lean on.

Today I’m exploring the possibility of starting a writers’ group of my own. Not just an ordinary writers’ group. I’d like very much to start (or join) a group of writers who are actually — how shall I put this? — good. That’s the word I’m looking for.

I’ve sought out other writers. Networking, you know. I’m a member of several Facebook writers’ groups. I’m a member of the local branch of the California Writers’ Clubs. Not too long ago I joined Sisters In Crime. (I’m an honorary sister.) Right now I’m taking the plunge with two critique groups. I’ve also read several novel-length manuscripts by friends who were not affiliated with any of the above.

The results have been consistently disappointing. I’ve met a number of very nice people, and possibly I’ve helped a few of them by offering critiques of their work, but I have yet to find a group of my peers.

I don’t want to give myself airs. I’m not the world’s greatest writer, nor anywhere near it. But I do have quite a lot of experience. I spent more than 25 years as a full-time staff writer and editor (of nonfiction) at a well-respected magazine for musicians. My first two novels were published in paperback by actual New York publishing houses. That was more than 25 years ago, and that first novel would not be publishable today; but nonetheless, I am quite legitimately a professional. My stories have been published (infrequently and not recently) in Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and other SF magazines. More recently I’ve self-published a four-volume fantasy epic and a fat historical mystery. I’ve edited (for pay) half a dozen music technology books, and have written (also for pay, not self-publishing) four of them.

The manuscripts I’ve read by others in the groups I’ve joined have suffered from an assortment of deficiencies so wide it would be difficult to catalog them. And I’m not here to kvetch. I’m just saying, these people are not my peers. I would like very much to hang out (via Zoom or whatever) with a few of my peers.

Trading beta-reads of one another’s manuscripts would help me, and I’m pretty sure it would help others to have me read their pro-level work. We can all benefit from insightful comments made by people who know which side of the bread has the jelly on it. (Yesterday I read a pleasant, fun, and successful SF novel that has the imprint of a major London publisher, and honestly, that author could have done better with her scene-setting, dialog, and characterization. As Joe E. Brown says at the end of Some Like It Hot, nobody’s perfect.) Brainstorming plot problems, giving or receiving a little encouragement when things are going badly, tips on file formatting for self-publishing or for pitching to agents when one is going that route — it would all be very helpful.

So how do I find these people? Emailing total strangers using the message interface on their author websites? That might not be the best method, especially if I choose them at random.

The interim name of this nonexistent writers’ group is the Crackerjacks. Or how about the Prose? And you’re invited to join! If you’ve sold a novel to a major publishing house and/or self-published two or more, I’d love to talk to you! Self-published work is not, I hasten to add, a guarantee of admission; there’s a lot of swill swirling in the sewers of self-publishing. But if you’ve done it, sure, I’ll have a look at it.

I’m mainly interested in genre fiction: fantasy, mystery, or SF, either YA or adult. I don’t claim to be a first-class beta-reader of literary fiction, but if that’s what you’re writing, I’ll tread cautiously while making notes on your text, and I’m sure I’ll learn a thing or two! Romance and horror, probably not, although I’d love to read a humorous romance with zombies. Memoir, no.

Them’s the parameters. If this idea appeals to you, hit me with your best shot. You might win a kewpie doll! More to the point, we might both win kewpie dolls.

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