This is part 2 of an interview with author Barbara A. Barnett, author of Mortis Persona, which was published yesterday online at Fantasy Magazine. Barbara discusses Fantasy Magazine, Mortis Persona and the musical and theatrical influences on her work in part 1 of the interview, which you can find here.
Could you tell me more about your online writing group? What were you specifically looking for when you found them? Where did you find them? How did you join? How do they operate? (I'm currently interested myself in knowing more about writing groups. I've been a part of a few, but haven't gotten a lot out of them.)
When I first started getting serious about writing several years ago, I did a Google search for fantasy-oriented writing groups. I had just finished the first draft of a novel, so mostly I was looking for a place where I could get critiques as I revised it. I found a site that was open for anyone to join. It was a good place to start as a newbie, and I'm still in touch with some of the people I met on there. I got the critiques I was looking for, I learned that critiquing other people's stories was just as beneficial to helping me grow as a writer, I got to chat about writing with other people in the forum area, and they had monthly contests that got me back into writing short stories after a long hiatus. After a while, though, I felt like I was putting more into it than I was getting out of it. Most of the critiques I was getting had gone from helpful to "OMG this is the bestest story ever!" While nice to hear, that wasn't going to help me grow as a writer. And then some unfortunate drama blew up at the site, so I took that as my cue to move on.
However, a few of the folks I had gotten to know at that site--primarily the people whose critiques were at a level that was helpful to me--decided to start a smaller, closed online group. In addition to critiquing each others' work and general chatting, we started the weekly hour writing prompts I mentioned in my interview answers. Unfortunately, because it was a smaller group, the energy and commitment level was harder to sustain. We still do the weekly hour writes (I haven't been able to do one in a long while, but I'm hoping to get back into them soon), but the discussion and critiquing elements of the site aren't very active anymore.
Even before the activity level went down there, I started again feeling like I wasn't getting enough out of the critiques to push my writing to a level where I could finally crack the pro markets (I had sold to semi-pro and token-paying markets by that point, but couldn't seem to make a dent above that level). That was a big part of what prompted me to apply for the six-week Odyssey Writing Workshop (http://www.sff.net/odyssey), which I was accepted into and attended in 2007. It was extremely intense and one of the best things I could have done for myself as a writer. And while online groups can be very beneficial, the chance to interact with other writers in-person brings an extra something that you just can't get online.
One of my Odyssey classmates lived nearby me and had an in-person speculative fiction critique group that she invited me to join after we finished Odyssey. I did, and it was great. We met at a coffee shop every other week, critiqued each others' stories, talked about writing, did writing exercises on occasion, and we even had some awesome guest writers join us for an afternoon to talk about their careers--Samuel Delaney, Michael Swanwick, Ekaterina Sedia, Jeffrey Ford, and Victoria Janssen were among the ones I was there for. Unfortunately, as people in the group moved out of the area or just got busy with other things, the group sort of dissolved.
So now, me and a good friend of mine who I met through that group spun off into an even smaller group. There used to be four of us, but one of our numbers recently moved out-of-state for grad school, so we're down to three. We meet once a month to critique each others' stuff, or very often just to talk books and writing.
Odyssey also has a week-long workshop each summer for graduates called The Never-Ending Odyssey (TNEO) where we do critiques and lectures on a different topic each year. I attended that this past summer (2010) and in 2008, and it's been fantastic each time.
After Odyssey, I also joined the Codex Writers' Group, which is an online community for, as they put it, "pro-level speculative fiction writers in the early stages of their careers who are actively writing." They do a lot of the same things the other groups I've belonged to do--discussions, contests to get you writing, critiquing. But because the membership requirement is at least one pro sale and/or having been through an intensive workshop like Odyssey or Clarion, there's a much different level to everything compared to the other groups I've been involved with. I'm actually a little intimidated by Codex and as a result spend more time lurking than anything. :)
I guess to summarize, I've found writing groups to be extremely beneficial, but I think the key is finding the right fit--people whose goals, interests, commitment, and general skill level is in line with your own--and being prepared for the possibility that the right fit now might not be the right fit later on.
Any advice out there for people who want to get started writing?
Read. Write. Understand the rules before you break them. Learn how to take criticism, and learn how to give it, but don't lose sight of whose story it is. Remember that not all first drafts are created equal. Some will need just a little bit of tweaking; others will need some serious digging to the guts. Others will fall somewhere in between.
And don't be afraid to dig your story's guts out—or the guts of someone else's story, for that matter. You may end up stitching the story back together exactly the way it was; you may not. But if you never dig in there to see how things tick, you increase your chances of hitting a plateau with your writing and never moving beyond it.
And to quote C.J. Cherryh's law: no rule should be followed off a cliff.
Did any writers inspire you to become an author? If not, what sparked that desire in you?
My mother gets to take the credit (or the blame?) for turning me into a writer. When I was about 8 or so, I pestered her to come watch as I made my stuffed animals act out a little adventure I had created for them. Busy mom that she was, she told me to go write it down. Much to her surprise, I actually did. The result was a 3-page fantasy adventure handwritten in play format, starring Thumper and other assorted critters. (Does the inclusion of a Disney character make it fan fiction?) My mom encouraged me to show it to my teacher at school, who was thrilled and made photocopies for me to give to family and friends. After that, writing down the crazy stories that popped into my head seemed like the obvious thing to do.
What are you currently reading?
I've recently begun aiming for at least one short story a day, mostly online in publications like Fantasy, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, and others. There's always more out there than I'm able to get to.
I also recently picked up a copy of Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier's Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology. Because there are zombies. And unicorns. I am sad for those who do not find that awesome.
Other than your personal Blog, what are some good ways to find you?
My website is www.babarnett.com. I'm also on Facebook (www.facebook.com/barnettstewart), though that tends to be more general randomness rather than writing specific stuff. And I used to swear that I'd never do Twitter, but I must confess that my resistance weakening.