Critique Groups

With the revolutionary changes in the publishing world today, presenting a clean manuscript to an agent or publisher is important.
A critique group is one of the easiest ways to get eyes on your manuscript for free, before sending it out. My experience in the small critique group I attend works well for me.
The five of us are published authors, we meet once a week and can read up to ten pages. We must have copies for the other participants to read along and to write comments on as each of us reads our pages aloud. This can be time consuming, but is helpful. Then we take turns critiquing what has been read. At the end of the critique, the pages with notes go back to the writer.
I find each part of this process important. It helps encourage me to write so I can produce the ten pages, an easy task since I’ve finished writing long before reading the last chapter at the critique group.
Reading aloud lets me discover awkward phrasing or mixture of words that look good on paper but sound horrible when read out loud. One of the members has an editor complex and enjoys marking up my pages from an editor’s viewpoint. People pay for this, I get it free.
As happens, sometimes I’m told my pages move the story along and as often as not, I’m told they make no sense in moving the story forward. Usually, the comments fall in-between. On occasion all four participants agree and it’s usually that what I wrote doesn’t advance the story. When that happens, I pay attention, go home, read the notes on the pages returned to me and see what I can do to correct the problem. I wouldn’t have seen the problem if it weren’t for the critique.
The critique process works in different ways for different people. I attended the local ‘writers guild’ session and found it too big, too unorganized and more of a social gathering than a critique session.
A critique group has to be honest. Sometimes that honesty hurts, but if it is helpful, it’s priceless. Writers have to have a thick skin and my critique group has helped prepare me for reviewers!
A good critique group’s honesty should cut both ways, pointing out why your selection doesn’t work and/or why it does work. A writer should walk away not bleeding but curious as to why things where said and what he/she can do to fix it. If it’s praise, the writer needs to see what he/she did that brought on the praise and try to repeat that style of writing, just as he/she should not want to repeat what caused the confusion with bad pages.
I wanted a critique group that had mystery writers/readers. For me, having to explain over-and-over why you did something in the story to someone who doesn’t read my genre is a waste of time, especially since it takes away from others who may have a better understanding of the story line.
What I didn’t want in a critique session is someone saying, “If I was writing this . . .” I am not interested in anyone else style, just mine. I want to know what’s confusing, what slows the pace or what makes no sense.
While it’s always self-rewarding to show your writing to family and friends, unless that includes Stuart Neville, Ken Bruen, Louise Phillips, Declan Burke, Tana French and the like, family and friends don’t constitute a critique group. Enjoy their comments and then go look for a critique group that will tell you the truth.
The more colleagues’ eyes you can get onto your pages, the better the book will be in the end. You must be as giving and honest as you want the others to be. Sometimes that’s not easy.
I wouldn’t admit this in my group, but more often than not, the critique group’s questioning something I’ve written has been more helpful than their praise. My ego is stroked with the praise, but my book becomes better with the questions, even when I bleed a little from it, and I become a better writer too.
One size doesn’t fit all. Check out more than one critique group to see if you are comfortable with the other participants. If not, move on. If all else fails, you are probably not alone, so why not form your own critique group of fellow writers/readers. In case you do that, remember what turned you off on the other critique groups and avoid those mistakes.

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Heading home

By Mike Jastrzebski

Just a short post this week. We’ve been busy getting the boat ready to head back down south. We say we’re heading home but the truth is we don’t have a real home right now. We consider Florida home because our home address is in Green Cove Springs, Florida, but we’ve never been there.

We no longer have a regular marina that we return to every year, and we sold our car and emptied our storage locker before we headed up to the Chesapeake so we don’t even have a need to stop in any particular town on this journey.

I guess our home is our boat and wherever we drop our anchor.

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The D word

by Christine Kling

If you are a writer, you know the word I’m talking about. Distraction. That word that whispers alluring messages in my ears when I am supposed to be working on the new book. That word against which I am sometimes so poorly armed. That word that, uh, just a minute, my computer just dinged receipt of a new email….I’ll be right back.

For my new book I am attempting to write a storyline that takes place in 1942 and another that takes place in 1798 when Napoleon invaded Malta. What do I know about the Napoleonic era in Malta? I am learning plenty, but the point is I need Internet access all the time as I do the research into how people lived at that time. But with that Internet comes this pipeline of news and ideas that is so hard to ignore.

This week has been a particularly difficult one for me so rather than let my distractions be all for naught, I’ve decided to blog about them. He he he. Very clever of me, I think.

Geek that I am, of course, I was up early the day of Apple’s recent big event and their introduction of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch. Bandwidth here doesn’t allow me to watch the keynote like I usually would, so I distracted myself with searching the web for reports and reviews. Last year when I returned from the Bahamas with a drowned iPhone, I considered upgrading to the iPhone 5s, but instead I told myself to wait for the newer model. I had no idea then that when the time came I would be living in Majuro. The telecommunication company (NTA) here in Majuro simply doesn’t offer cellular data, so I’ve been trying to talk myself out of the huge expenditure that an unlocked iPhone would be. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t spent many an hour distracted and dreaming of playing with the better camera and the new method of purchasing called Apple Pay.

The most important part of the Apple announcement for writers has to do with the new operating system for i-devices called iOS8. Up until now, if users wanted to buy books from iBooks, they had to download the app onto their iPads or iPhones. For the first time in iOS8, iBooks will be a permanent app on the front page of devices. According to this article in Digital Book World, “some 150 million Apple mobile devices have iBooks installed as of June 2013, the latest figures available. As of June 2014, the company had 800 million iOS devices in circulation . . .” They go on to point out that even if only a small percentage of those 650 million devices (a number growing daily) upgrades to the new iOS, it will means millions more devices potentially in the ebook market. The article goes on to say that Apple is going to promote iBooks by offering a selection of 54 titles from 39 publishers in 30 countries and nine languages free to users. They are top notch best sellers, so if you have an i-device and you are upgrading, check out the iBooks offer.

The second most important part of iOS8 for writers is the new feature called Family Sharing. According to this article on digital sharing in the New York Times, Amazon is also offering a similar program. The Apple plan “lets you share books, movies, music and apps that you’ve bought at iTunes, iBooks and the App Store with up to six members of your family who are logged in using their own iTunes accounts.” Lots of people have seen the inability to share digital content as a roadblock to adopting ebooks. I believe these sharing features will be one more nudge to push people towards ebooks.

Then when it comes to distractions, there is hardly anything better than the ongoing Amazon Hachette dispute and the ridiculous posts that are flying around on both sides such as Authors United’s recent missive to the Amazon board where their thousand some authors managed to miss the typo in the first sentence and to dis all non-American authors — and Joe Konrath’s hilarious response titled Nonsense United.

And finally, the Steven Pressfield blog piece titled When not earning out is a good thing, is a fascinating look at the how the top earning authors are really paid and how publishers calculate what to offer them.

Even with all these interesting distractions, I managed to make some breakthroughs this week on the new book. And now, it’s time to get back to it.


Fair winds!


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The Soggy Bottom Boys…

C.E. Grundler

2014-09-17 16.44.41

Summer may be winding down, but for Loki and Rex, there are still plenty of great beach days. Those stretches aboard the boat, staring at us in that funny room under the floor while we fuss with that shiny red thing in the middle can be boring, but there’s always a passing freight train, forklifts, travelifts, assorted humans and yard kitties to catch their interest. And when we pause for lunch or a run to the head, they know this is their chance to feel some sand in their toes…and harnesses, and fur, and the cockpit, and ultimately the back seat of my car. This time of year, the river is still delightfully warm, and for these two there’s nothing better than a jump in the Hudson.

If I were trying to describe happiness in its purest form, I think ‘dog on beach’ provides a superb example. And the wonderful thing about happiness is that it is contagious — and well worth the wet-dog smell and some sandy paws.

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Shark Repellent

by John Urban

They’re at it again. Great White sharks taking chunks out of surfboards and kayaks, putting fear into beachgoers everywhere. This past weekend a surfer in La Selva Beach, California was knocked off his surfboard by a fifteen-foot white shark. The surfer emerged just fine. Unfortunately, his board is no longer usable.

(Another good board gone to crap.)

This isn’t some random incident. Back home in Massachusetts, two kayakers paddled out of Plymouth earlier this month, intent on getting some GoPro photos of a seal colony. Again, personal injuries were avoided, but the twelve to fourteen foot Great White gave them a shot of adrenaline when it tried to chow-down on one of the kayaks.

(Here’s a glimpse at nature’s Apex Predator)

(The kayak after the shark encounter)

Here at Write On the Water, we are in a position to address this in any one of several ways, including:

1) Adding to the panic by writing graphic shark scenes into our novels;

2) Pointing-out the lunacy of swimming or paddling into a group of seals where sharks are known to feed; and

3) Taking a temporary detour from writing to explore additional ways of financially exploiting shark anxiety.

My own approach is a combination of all of the above, but let’s spend some time on #3, the financial opportunities this provides.

Given my proximity to the beach, my understanding of fish and sea life, and my considerable access to the biotech, health sciences and academic resources that Massachusetts has to offer, I have undertaken research – at considerable personal expense – to identify, test and market an effective shark repellent.

After exploration of numerous beta approaches that relied on testing sound wave technology, electromagnetic pulsing, and various forms of laser transmission, I have identified an over-the-counter product that has been proven to be highly effective in laboratory simulations.

Yes, that is correct, science led me to one of the most odorous compounds known to man, the hockey equipment bag.

photo (1)

In tank tests conducted at the Boston Aquarium, exceptionally small amounts of this organic compound were found to repel sharks of all kinds a full 100% of the time. In fact, it was also effective in repelling moray eels, bluefish, barracuda, snapping turtles, wolves, varmints, paparazzi, and door-to-door salesmen. As with all ground-breaking discoveries, there are some side-effects and initial field tests indicated that beach-going participants became ostracized when wearing the product. Life is, though, all about choices, isn’t it?

Fortunately, there is no waiting time required for FDA or other such approvals. Purchasers are encouraged to place their orders now as demand will likely rise following a planned marketing campaign on the Discovery Network.

Order it here while supplies last.

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What I hate about cruising.

By Mike Jastrzebski

Sorry to say it but it’s true, cruising is not all about island hopping and cocktails in the cockpit. Most of the time cruising is fun and exciting, but what I hate about it can be described in four words–working on the engine.

It started last week, when we were getting ready to leave Deltaville. I needed to change the oil so I started the engine. It started up just fine but three minutes later it quit running. I started the engine several more times with the same results, so I changed the oil and the next day started looking for the problem.

Now we still have an old Atomic Four engine and despite my hatred of working on the damn things, I can usually find the problem and fix it myself. It’s why we haven’t swapped out the engine for a diesel engine, the other being the cost of doing so.

You can imagine my relief when I discovered a fuse for the wire leading to the coil had burned out. I replaced it and we were up and running. At that point I did an inspection of the engine and discovered that the fresh water pump was leaking. It wasn’t a complete surprise, after all the pump was ten years old, so I went to my Atomic Four parts source (Moyer Marine) and ordered a new pump.

Yesterday, when I should have been writing this blog, I started pulling out the old pump. First I had to take off the alternator. After that the old hoses had to be removed, then the pump. That’s when trouble reared it’s head. The water pump is located in the back of the engine in a space where the lower bolt is nearly impossible to reach. The upper bolt to the pump was a piece of cake but that lower bolt was another story.

There was no place where I could actually see the bolt. I ended up climbing into our storage area, lying on my stomach and reaching in to find the bolt by feel. It just wasn’t working so I had Mary drag out a small mirror that she keeps on board and I was able to see the bolt. Then came the fun part.

All I needed to do was to get a wrench onto the bolt. Sounds easy, right? Not when everything is backwards in the mirror. Three hours after I started pulling the alternator I had the old pump off the engine. Since I had to cut the hoses to get them off the pump, I had to buy some new hoses.

Mary and I climbed into the dinghy and went to shore where we were able to use the marina car. There’s a NAPA just down the road but I forgot it was Sunday and they were closed. So was the local hardware store. That left West Marine. I avoid shopping there as much as possible because of their prices, especially now that they won’t match prices with Defender. Still, they were open and they had the hose so I bought what I needed and headed back to the marina and the boat. Today, while you’re reading this, I will be struggling to attach the new pump. One consolation is that Moyer Marine sells an extension bolt for that bottom pump bolt. I’m hoping it will be a little easier to put the bolt back in, but if not, at least if I ever have to remove the pump again it will be a little easier.

And now you know what I hate about cruising. What about the rest of you out there? I can’t be the only one who finds some aspect of cruising distasteful.


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Piece by piece


Licensed for use under Creative Commons

Licensed for use under Creative Commons

by Christine Kling

There was a time when I was trying to write what I thought I was supposed to be writing. I was in grad school and it was the late 80’s. Ray Carver type of short stories were all the rage. Minimalist. I had a stack of New Yorker magazines piling up in the corner of my bedroom all still in the plastic wrap they had arrived in. You see, I didn’t actually READ those stories. No, I read mysteries, thrillers, and adventure novels, but I thought I was supposed to be writing Literature

See, I love puzzle books. Some of the books I’ve loved are Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, The Book of Air and Shadows, by John Gruber, and The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. There are lots of others.

But writing these ding dang books is a whole other story, so to speak. It’s hard, hard work. My brain hurts at the end of the day. Trying to put one of these stories together is like trying to create a jig-saw puzzle by starting with a bunch of square pieces, and then trying to paint each piece and cut it to shape. I can’t see the big picture until I shape all these little bits. But my brain just can’t seem to hold all these little bits together at once.

In addition to being hard work, though, it’s also fun. When working on the beginning of a book, it feels like anything is possible. I keep thinking up more and more complications to put my characters through hell. It’s great to throw ideas out there and not know if any of them will make it into the book. But then I do wind up with a huge mass of ideas, and the time comes to try to put them into some kind of order.

So being me, I try to find tools that will help me. The writing software Scrivener has been a huge help in the past six or seven years that I have been using it. I throw documents and web pages and all sorts of bits of information into my Research folder. It makes for huge files (my WIP is already over 50 MB), but it’s great having all that stuff at my fingertips because I just cannot remember it all. I use character sketch templates and bits and pieces I’ve found from several other authors. One of the general Scrivener templates I like can be found on novelist Caroline Norrington’s website here. I write down chapters and scenes, and I can drag and drop them as I see fit. It sure beats all those colored Post-it notes that used to be all over the wall above my desk.

Now I am trying to find the best Timeline app. To make my puzzles work, I have to make sure I don’t screw up the time sequence. I used an app called Aeon Timeline for the last book, and I’ve started agin with it on this book, but I don’t love it. The guys at Scrivener recommend Aeon Timeline, and they say there is a way to import your timeline into Scrivener, but I haven’t got there yet. Unfortunately, the software is not very intuitive, and I have trouble moving around from one decade to the next. If anyone out there is using a timeline program they like, please share in the comments here. Much as I resist, I might just have to resort to paper!

In the end, though, all the tools in the world won’t write the book for me. I need time, concentration and butt-in-chair. That’s not as easy as you might think when anchored in lagoon in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Truth be told, that’s not easy anywhere.


Fair winds!


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Engine Room Acoustics…

C.E. Grundler

An important, but often overlooked area of boat design is sound levels throughout a boat. And while I’m looking forward to hearing this little beauty fire up (any day now!) an ample helping of Sounddown always kept that purring rumble confined to its cozy confines.

2014-09-10 15.04.43

But these acoustics go both ways. You never know how many hours you might find yourself spending in the company of your engine while it is silent, and a little music can fill the engine room quite nicely. Just park the computer out of the way and enjoy.

Or I can just close my eyes and play this 80 hp lehman. Mmmmh!



What’s left down here? Connect the new fuel lines, fresh and raw water hoses, belts, filters, engine and trans coolers, a few random wires and sensors, and we should be good to go. The collection of boat parts not attached to the boat is shrinking fast!


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Book release party – reason for print Vs eBooks

Today’s publish world is changing faster than I can swill a Guinness. I, like many others, have benefited from it. My last three books have been independently publish. Each has gone through the editing and cover design once offered by my traditional publisher. Two differences, I pay for the editing and cover design and like the result much better.

I have to do my own publicity, but then publishers have cut much of the PR budgets, so writers who are not on the NY Times bestseller list probably have to do that too, if they’re traditionally published. It’s time consuming until you get the routine down and then many of the markets still are hard to break into. That will change as more and more bestselling authors become independently published. The upside of going independent is the money. From Kindle I receive 70 percent and the Kindle website gives me daily sales numbers and a 30-day graph of how my sales are doing. Something the NY publishing world says they can’t do.

I still do offer my books on Amazon as POD trade paperbacks. The sales are not worth mentioning.

So why do it?

I have books to give family and friends, books to use for PR purposes and for signings. While some independent bookstores will agree to hold signings for non-traditionally published writers, here in Key West I hold my book release party for NOBODY WINS at the Smokin’ Tuna Saloon in Old Town.

I don’t have to give the saloon a 40-percent cut of the sales and that’s a big thing. More money for me!


I will also be at the Kilkenny House Irish Pub in Cranford, NJ on the 20th of the month, around 5 pm, and Barry, the owner let me use his pub for a few chapters in NOBODY WINS. It’s an unofficial book signing, but I’ll have a few copies so stop by if you’re in the my pocket. I will be having a book release party on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2-4 pm at the Smokin’ Tuna, so if you’re in Key West, please stop by. We’re a small community and everyone knows everyone. In this case, I know the local Budweiser man and he has donated a keg of Mich Ultra. Buy a book and get a free draft of beer. I’m not sure if anyone will be keep track of who gets the drafts, so the curious may also get a free draft. The local rep for Pilar Rum has donated a few bottles and there will be specially priced Pilar Run drinks. All this makes the book release event more of a party, Key West style.

Other than book release parties, I don’t really sell many traditional books. You would think that the big publishers would take notice. More and more writers, like me, are having good sales on Kindle. Writers that the NY publishers weren’t interested in.

While I love books, to hold it while reading, to see its spine on my bookshelf, times are changing and when my kids inherit my book collection, they will probably be inheriting antiques. The same with newspapers. I want to hold it, smell the ink and hear the rustling of pages as I turn them. Not to mention that when I spill my café con leche on the newspaper it’s still readable. Not sure what a Kindle or tablet would do with my coffee soaking it.


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The sunsets of our life

By Mike Jastrzebski

Our cruising life that is. On September 2nd Mary and I celebrated our eleven year anniversary of living aboard Rough Draft and I thought I would post some of the nicer sunsets we’ve experienced while traveling over those years.









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