Carol Callicotte


Conferencing March 16, 2010

I’ve been to two conferences in the last couple months: The San Diego State University Writer’s Conference, and then my fourth (!) year at the Southern California Writer’s Conference here in San Diego. I guess this makes me a conference junkie.

Going to conferences is great, regardless of where you are as a writer. Contemplating exercising that right brain in this particular creative endeavor? There’s plenty of inspiration for newbies. A draft or partial draft in and unsure what on earth you’ve gotten yourself into? Seminars on every aspect of story creation or editing can be found at most any conference. Curious about the business side? Plenty of information to be found. Have a clean, edited final manuscript? Here’s a great place to connect with agents and editors.

The thing I’ve loved most, however, about going to conferences is the people I meet and the inspiration I take away. I always leave with a few new friends (and potential critique partners) and with a renewed sense of purpose. This year was no different.

I haven’t ventured out of San Diego yet for a conference; any suggestions out there on good ones you’ve been to?


Confession: I hate time travel stories. I get stuck every time on the whole grandfather clause thing; plus the butterfly effect. But two things have snuck in under my radar. The TV show Lost. I loved it from the get go, and then they started the whole time travel storyline, but I was already hooked. And then, this not so little book. I knew it was time travel and hesitated to buy it, but I heard the author speak at the SCWC and he was so charming that I had to give his book a try. SO GLAD I did – I’m loving it so far. A caveat: both of these time travel stories contend that whatever happened, happened, so the outcomes can’t be changed. That’s time travel I can live with.


Sage Advice July 23, 2009

Filed under: For Writers,Projects,Writing,Writing World — A French American Life @ 3:09 pm
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Over the past several months, Alexandra Sokoloff has been doing a series of posts on the craft of writing. Here’s a link to her Table of Contents. Seriously good stuff, for writers and for anyone interested in how to tell a story. And if you ever get a chance to hear her speak or take a class with her, do it. She’s a brilliant teacher, a talented writer, and an all around cool person. Enjoy!

175px-TheShadowOfTheWindCurrently Reading: THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruis Zafon.


New Ideas March 19, 2009

Filed under: Projects,Writing,Writing World — A French American Life @ 4:10 pm
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There is nothing quite like the joy of a new idea. I love it. The way it wakes me up at night and bangs around inside my head without relent. Characters take shape, conversations occur, images form, all quicker than I can write them down. I recently bought a digital voice recorder on the advice of a writer friend and this helps – especially for those moments when I am unable to physically write (somehow it just doesn’t seem safe to grab a pen and paper while driving to and from work over the Coronado bridge). I’m not short on ideas, but often I’m too quick to shoot my ideas full of holes: not creative enough, it’s been done too many times, how would that ever develop into an actual story…. I’m not always kind to my writer self. So when a Shiny New Idea comes along and won’t let up, and even I can’t find a reason why it’s not worthy, it becomes my own version of heaven.


I Can’t Believe I Didn’t March 6, 2009

Filed under: Funny stuff,Reading,Writing,Writing World — A French American Life @ 3:52 pm
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I just went to a bookstore and get this: I did not buy a book for myself. That almost never happens. My focus was to buy some baby books for my girlfriend’s shower gift – I’m a writer, so gifts from me tend to be books. They don’t get the ahhing and cooing that tiny little socks and onesies do, but to me – they are the best, most important gift I can give. Anyway, I actually bought only what I went in there to buy! I suppose the fact that: 1. I have a huge backlog of books piled in my room and I’m trying not to buy more books until I read through those stacks and 2. I really had to pee and there was no restroom in sight, might have been why I didn’t spend more time under the extreme temptation of shelves stocked with stories and then eventually succumb to the need to know what a particular cover holds inside, but really, folks, this is a historic (an historic) event. Carol Callicotte browsed through a bookstore without buying herself a book.

Currently Reading: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I’ve never read a graphic novel before, but my husband insisted I read this one before we see the movie. All I can say is – wow. It’s good.


National Grammar Day March 4, 2009

Filed under: For Writers,Grammar,Writing,Writing World — A French American Life @ 1:02 pm
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Yep, that’s right. It’s National Grammar Day! So get out there and do some good talking.

Seriously, for grammar lovers, this is a great day. Remember, good grammar is hot. So while you elevate your discourse in celebration of this day, try this: get rid of “like” and “totally.” Eliminate them from your vocabulary, unless of course you are actually talking about something you like. You’ll be amazed at how much smarter you sound.


Confident or Delusional? February 27, 2009

Filed under: For Writers,Writers' Groups,Writing,Writing World — A French American Life @ 9:24 pm
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J.A. Konrath has a great post on the difference, sometimes a very grey area, between a confident writer and a delusional one. Check it out, here.


Southern California Writers’ Conference Part Deux February 23, 2009

Filed under: Conferences,For Writers,Writing,Writing World — A French American Life @ 11:28 am
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I always come away from SCWC inspired and ready to launch myself into my writing, and this year was no different. Thank you Michael and Wes! Stand outs for me were classes given by Phyllis Gebauer and Midge Raymond, both authors and writing instructors. And Val McDermid, author of 25 novels and owner of an instantly loveable Scottish accent, gave a witty and inspiring speech Saturday night. To my dear online writing group: Craig Berger, Lauren Hartney, Jeremy James, and Grace Yang – it was so good to see you all for our annual meet up! TJ Turner – we miss you! When are you coming back? And to Mike Crowe – good to actually get to see you, instead of just hear you (you know what I’m talking about). And finally, Rich Howard – good to finally get to know you and hear a bit about your book. I look forward to future successes for all of us! Now get to writing!


Southern California Writers’ Conference February 12, 2009

It’s this weekend! I’m very excited – it looks like there will be some good seminars offered. And, I get to see my online writing buddies again! This will be my third time at the conference, and I’m hoping for the same sort of inspiring, light-a-fire-under-my-arse sort of motivation that I’ve gotten from the first two. What better way to spend a weekend than studying the craft I love, and being with people who share my passion?

Currently Reading: SON OF A WITCH by Gregory Maguire. I really love this author. He creates richly textured worlds, and his characters are all flawed, complicated, and intriguing.


Making the Most of Your Critique Group January 28, 2009

When I started getting serious about writing, the thought of having my work critiqued sounded about as fun as driving a nail through my tongue while doing the Maquerena. But, anyone pursuing publication knows that the path to seeing your book in print is lined with many suggestions for improvement. I knew I had a lot to learn, so I signed up for a class on novel writing, read my work aloud, squeezed my eyes shut and went into the brace-for-impact position (In my head. I’m not that mental.) and listened to what my instructor and classmates had to say.

Since then, I’ve taken several more classes, attended a few conferences, and read a bunch of books on craft. I’m part of two critique groups – one that meets every other week and one online. We’ve learned and grown together, and their feedback has made me a much better writer. Not every writer is a part of a group like this, but all of us need someone to give us feedback. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

Finding a Group

My first critique group formed in an introduction to novel writing class, and I have to say, I got pretty lucky. The six of us all started at similar levels – some ahead of others as far as skills, but all of us working on our first novels. We’ve meshed together very well, and until recently, when one member decided to drop out due to a pregnancy and wanting to put writing aside for a bit, we’ve stuck together over three years now. My second group formed at a writers’ conference – a group of us really hit it off and were again in the same place – all unpublished but with great drive to improve our craft and become published. My first group gets together every two weeks, my second group is done via an online forum where we post and critique monthly. Coincidentally, both groups have 6 members – a pretty ideal size: enough that you get a good amount of feedback, but not so much that you are overwhelmed – both by feedback received and feedback that must be given.

There are other places to find critique partners. I love, a forum for writers of all skill levels, from multi-published authors to newbies. I’ve gone here for help from seasoned veterans of the field on some of my work. On this site, as well as a few others, you can find beta readers and critique partners.

I advise getting to know your potential critique partners before forming a group. Get to know their writing style, how they critique, what they hope to get out of writing. It’s important that everyone is committed to a regular writing practice, to improving their craft, and to showing up to the meetings. But it’s also important to be somewhat flexible with this – cracking the whip too hard can lead to resentment and loss of members, while having no structure whatsoever can also result in a group falling apart. Agree in advance with your group or partner what expectations and guidelines you’d like to follow – don’t assume that everyone has the same ideas as you do about how to go about format, etc. You might be on different time tables toward submission for publication, or – as is the case with some of my critique partners – there may be a few for whom publication is not the end game. It helps if members of the group have similar goals, but it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker if they don’t. As long as you can understand and support each other in the goals you’ve each set, it can work. But regardless, surround yourself with talented writers who are capable of insightful feedback. A good critique group pushes your writing to higher and higher levels, and should never hold you back. That said – if you start to feel like your writers’ group is not meeting your needs, it may be time to find a new one.

Before letting anyone critique your work, understand your own writing goals. Critique groups are meant for those who want to improve their craft. Are you looking for smiles and praise? Don’t join a critique group. Instead, show your writing to friends and family – they are much more likely to give you the validation you seek. Do you really want to be published? Seek out critique partners who understand the industry and have studied the craft of writing. Work with people who have studied the craft – through classes, reference books and magazines, novels, conferences, etc. And study these things yourself. There’s a lot of great information out there that can help you to become a better writer.

Giving Critiques

•Start with what works. We all need to know what we are doing well – not just for an ego boost (though we all need that from time to time), but so we don’t end up scrapping what actually worked in our scenes.

•Don’t feel like you HAVE to have a criticism. Too often we feel like we have to find something wrong. If you don’t find anything wrong and think it works as is, say so.

•Be respectful. I’m a firm believer that even the toughest of messages can be delivered in a diplomatic way. You may feel like flinging a piece across the room in frustration, but avoid doing so. Remember that your writing partners, like you, have poured a lot of heart into their work and are trusting you with it. A group can fall apart rapidly when even one member turns nasty.

•Be very specific. Instead of saying you didn’t like it, or it was boring, give concrete examples.

•Ask questions to stimulate discussion. Things like: Where do you expect to go from here with this? Is this a throwaway character or will she return? What do you envision as the arc for this character? What in this character’s background made them react in this way? Having an understanding of the writer’s intentions will help you help them. 

•If you are all working on novels, try to remember the scenes you’ve already read. This can be very hard to do, especially when you have been reading scenes from the same novel for months, or even years. If you can’t remember something, ask. It will help you give feedback on the overall plotline, character development, etc.

•You will be tempted to write other people’s books. I’ve gotten some great ideas from group brainstorms on my stuff. Some of our best moments have come from fantasizing directions for each other. But remember to respect what the writer is trying to accomplish, and realize your solution might lead the writer astray. (For example, the writer is intending a light-hearted comedy and you feel it would be better to have a deep, belly-gazing moment for the main character.) Try to point out the problem without pigeonholing the writer into a solution. If you do end up brainstorming together, don’t insist that your way is the only way.

Receiving Critiques

•Listen to what the others have to say. This is the most important thing to do. Try not to get defensive about your work. You can learn a lot by allowing your critique partners to discuss what they’ve read. Sometimes they will all agree, sometimes they’ll argue. Sit back, listen, and take notes. When their discussion slows, then ask some questions to clarify why they might have had the reactions or thoughts that they did. No need to fight them on it or scramble to justify – just hear them out. If they don’t get it, or if they saw something problematic, chances are other readers will too. I’ll never forget a late night critique session at a conference where a writer stomped – yes, she actually stomped – out of a room when another writer started asking her questions about the overall character arc. She felt the main character didn’t need to have an arc, because that wasn’t real life. Hmmm. You won’t progress much as a writer if you remain closed off to feedback.

•On that note, leave your ego at the door. Don’t take things personally, remember this is all about pounding your work into its best possible form.

•Look for patterns – do your critique partners frequently call you out on certain things? For example, do you tend to write dialogue where every character sounds the same? Or forget to get inside the head of your POV character in crucial moments? Bury the reader in adjectives and adverbs?

•Know what you are looking for in a critique. Are you concerned that the story line is confusing, that your main character’s motivations aren’t clear, or that your dialogue is stilted? Ask your partners to comment on that specifically. Do you just want a general reaction? Let ‘em rip.

•Let your work sit after getting your critique – don’t immediately try to incorporate all of their suggestions. Allow time to give you some perspective and detach from the panic that can often strike after a critique session (the “Omigod I’ve done it all wrong and must fix it now!”)(Or worse, the “screw them. They don’t know what they’re talking about.”).

•Don’t submit too early. Unless you really need help on direction, I advise submitting only work that you feel is reasonably polished (trust me, your writing group will thank you for that) and that you have some idea what your intentions are. That said, don’t become so attached to what you’ve already written that you won’t be open to a great idea generated in group.

•Remember that it is ultimately your work. You don’t have to change anything you don’t want to change. When you get to know your critique partners, you’ll discover their strengths and weaknesses as both writers and critiquers. Keep this in mind when reviewing their comments. And if there is a consensus on anything – pay attention!

•Don’t over workshop. Your fellow writers will feel compelled to find something to criticize. It’s in our nature. There isn’t a scene out there that couldn’t be changed in some way. But know when you’ve reached the point that the critiques aren’t making it better, they are just changing it.

My critique groups have been the source of much joy, a little pain, but mostly a lot of fun. What better way to spend time than with others who share your passion and want to help you reach your goals?


Finding Time to Write January 27, 2009

Filed under: For Writers,Writing,Writing World — A French American Life @ 12:17 pm
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I struggle with this, even though my current non-writing job is only part time, leaving me with ample free time. It’s all about efficiency, discipline, and time management.  Kelly Gay, whose debut novel THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS will be released this summer (I can’t wait to read it!), wrote an excellent post today on finding time to write with two young kids at home. If a busy mother can do it, I need to stop making excuses! Thanks for your post, Kelly!