Sunday, May 31, 2009

Great Crit Groups - Worth the Wait

I have been fortunate enough to find and belong to three of the best critique groups in the business of children's book publishing. I know this because I've tried lots of them, only to be disappointed in the end.

I searched high & low for a really long time to find an illustrator's group until, believe it or not, they found me. How lucky is that? I wish everyone could experience the bliss of being found by creative, talented, and caring people such as these. It is not only a blessing, but a foundation on which to blossom your career. Wonderful things begin to happen when people get together in the spirit of creative collaboration and unified, eager support of one another.

My first illustration critique group inspired me to begin my search for a similar writing group. Again, I tried several, but always found them lacking. Although it's true that not every group is for everybody, I've always played nice with the other kids in the sandbox and stuck it out until all professionalism died in the hands of an almighty ego.

It seems that in writers groups, a dominant character always emerges and takes over while the moderator's back is turned. This person can ruin the collaboration if the moderator allows it, and unfortunately, that has always been my experience. Often, it's the moderator herself who sabotages the group and eventually things turn sour and begin to unravel.

I couldn't bare to watch it happen again, so I did something about it. I applied what I learned to a group of my own, and founded "The Yellow Brick Road". Actually, I don't see it that "my own". A great critique group is the sum of all it's parts. It's the level of dedication that's given to the group, by the group as a whole.

By dedication, I don't mean that each person in the group has to constantly be posting new manuscripts and critiques, (although that would be nice). Dedication for me, means that each member is dedicated to supporting each other in every way possible. That could be by providing the group with important information, passing along helpful URL addresses, or alerting the group to a publisher submission deadline, etc. It means understanding when a group member must take time away from the group for personal or business reasons. It means celebrating together when one member achieves the success that we are all seeking. There is no room for back biting or petty jealousy. It takes away from precious writing time.

Having been an innocent bystander in a collapsing house of cards, I decided to be a different kind of moderator. One who stands in the shadows, like a school teacher on the playground. I quietly watch whats going on, and...
I only step in when clouds begin to gather
and thunder rumbles in the distance.

Other than that, I am a participant like all the rest. I have the same responsibilities as everyone else in the group, and I am determined to keep what little ego I have in check. After a successful year, with many in the group achieving the much sought after title, "published author", YBR is going strong. We have a waiting list of writers who wish to join us and a happy, talented cast of characters in 'Oz".

If you have witnessed the rise and fall of many a critique group, I suggest you follow my lead and form your own.
The SCBWI message boards are a great
place to recruit new members,

as they are filled with eager, dedicated writers who are looking for a new on-line home. provides free web pages that are simple to set up (just follow the prompts) and they're user-friendly. You can have your own private critique group up and running in just a few hours, and with any luck at all, your critters will also become life-long friends!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sharing space

The awesome critique group I work with suggested we share pics of those who share our studio space. I thought it was such a cool idea that it spilled right over into my blog!

Say hello to "Snoop"! He's our resident stalker. He likes to hang out on the windowsill, next to my studio. This was a rare occasion, as he usually only comes out at night to spy on me and tell me his troubles. I just happened to snap this pic early one morning, before he'd had a chance to retire to our attic!

Here's "Buttons", my precious Lhasa-apso. She was having a bad hair day and was awfully unhappy with me for sharing it with the world. Not to mention, she hadn't even had breakfast yet. The nerve of some people!

Her bed is right beside my desk. It's there because if it weren't, she'd lay on the cold, hard floor, just to be near me. She never leaves my side, unless I have to go out into the world. That is something she really resents. Now that she's really old, I treasure every minute with her.

I also share my space with Button's brother, "Levi". He deserves a blog entry of his very own, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


It's interesting how inspiring a little one can be. The mere presence of my new nephew "Alexander" is all it takes to brighten my day and lift my spirits. The world takes on a new glow when I see it through these little eyes that are experiencing everything for the very first time.

As an artist, I imagine how bright colors must be...can he feel the warmth of orange, or wonder about the taste of purple? Trees must be so green and pink must surely be soft and squishy.

When you hold a new little life, how can you not feel transformed? There's a tiny face in front of you, who doesn't know anything but joy when they see you. They don't know your dark side, or the fears that have held you back all your life. Looking at him, I wonder where those fears really came from. Did someone plant them, or did I let them sneak in?

Either way, for now, Alex doesn't have any fears or faults...he's perfect. A miracle that makes all he touches turn to magic. For this brief moment in time, his eyes reflect the person he sees as flawless. To him, I am the aunt who will always be there for every birthday, every ball game, and every performance. I'll let him build tents in my living room, finger paint at my kitchen table, and I'll blow giant bubbles for him on hot summer days. I am given another chance to be a better aunt, friend and person than I have been in the past. How could I not love someone so small, who already believes in me and Winnie the Pooh?