Reading Friends’ Work

Detroit Firefighter Frank English

When you’re a writer, especially a published writer, you will be asked questions like “How do I get published?” or “Will you read my manuscript?” all the time. If you don’t know the person well, it’s best to say “no” because down the line (I’ve heard this story often, although it has never happened to me) someone may try to sue you because you stole their idea. But if you have a good friend, and you are like me, of course you’ll say yes. Well, if you’re not really busy at a crucial editing stage of your own book.

I met with my critique group on Saturday for the first time in months and joining a group is a good way to get your work read and receive feedback. This particular group are all mystery novelists, from the Michigan chapter of Sisters in Crime. We’ve been on Zoom since the start of Covid, so that means I can still get together with them to share our work even though I’m in Florida. There is a local chapter here in Florida, but you get used to your peeps. In a writing group, we all know the drill. Praise good things and point out (gently) what does not work for you. Maybe suggest changes if you have an idea of something that might work better.

I have some friends in Florida, also moved from Michigan–and since we are “couple” friends, as well as Lisa and I being close friends for 50 years!–we saw them last night for dinner and lots of talk. A year or two ago, Frank asked me to read some stories he’s written. Since he worked for the Detroit Fire Department for 35 years, and since he is a great storyteller, I said sure. I didn’t know what to expect, but I do know how to let someone down easy. Except…Frank’s book was great. His storytelling voice, the one he uses to entertain us around the dinner table, was in every word. He has a voice, essential but often elusive for a writer.

I told him it was great (he also had tons of photos). There was a natural arrangement to the book, from the first chapter when his buddy came over and said “Hey I hear they’re hiring firemen, wanna apply with me?” to the different squads he worked on through the years, and these were harrowing years when every “Devil’s Night” Detroit would burn, to his later years in upper management. Detroit no longer has a problem with Devil’s Night, in fact they call it “Angel’s Night” as citizens and officials join together to patrol the streets. Yes, Frank knows how to finish with a happy ending. Even for Detroit, which those of us who lived there know is happening, but most people from other states still think of it as “The Murder City” a play on our original name “The Motor City.”

I didn’t know if Frank would ever finish his book. He had a lot of stories to tell. I told him about Wayne State University Press, who have an interest in publishing all things Detroit. I told him his writing was smooth, tinged with humor amid the terrorizing smoke. And all told in his unique style and voice. Whew. I didn’t have to let him down easy! I was telling him the truth when I said he had a great book going and he could really write.

Fast forward to last night. Frank said, “Oh Cindy I want to show you something,” and he left the room only to re-enter with the book shown above. I started reading it again this morning. It’s a beautiful book; he found a good publisher. The photos are gorgeous. Well, not that actual fires where people die are gorgeous, but the details captured by Frank’s friend and fellow firefighter, they catch the dramatic moments so well.

Good luck to Frank as he goes into the marketing phase. And to everybody else out there, yes I am VERY busy right now finishing my second Jane in St Pete book. That’s not even a joke. Covid messed me up and then there was moving and my husband retiring and the two of sharing a tiny condo and him not golfing or going to the gym because it is too hot. My routine of years and years of being alone to write has been disrupted. So really. I need to work if I ever want to get this series rolling.

Here’s to Bob

Bob just published his first novel! Yay!

And I had the pleasure of taking that journey with him, from the minute he sat in my Advanced Creative Writing class with at least one completed manuscript and a whole lot of determination.

To be a writer you need those three things: determination, some pages with words you wrote upon them, and a tribe. That’s my tribe, above: I’m sitting next to Bob, next to Tom, next to Vernie.

That writing class was Bob’s tribe for the moment. We writers move around. I don’t even teach college anymore; I write full time now. Neither Bob nor I were published when we met.

How Bob Baker became a friend of mine is pretty straightforward. I recognized his talent. I encouraged him. I was apparently nice enough so that he felt okay emailing me after our school semester was over. I was confident enough in his talent to invite him into my writing group, and he was confident enough to accept. Thus, a tribe was formed.

My writing group–it’s a small group, just four of us–came about through many offers for participants on my part and much comings and goings on the part of others until we settled into a fine quartet. We’ve been meeting there or four years now once a month with 10-20 pages each. We spend five hours tearing each other’s work apart giving each other constructive criticism and talking about writing in general. Publishing, too.

When the group began, we had two published writers and two unpublished. Bob has rounded it out so that now with the advent of Hiding Tom Hawk we are all published, all quite pleased with ourselves. And my best advice to any writer is to find your tribe. There’s no mystery to getting published. Practice and show your work to a few trusted souls and follow the well worn path that the internet is very happy to set out.

Here's to you, Bob!
Here’s to you, Bob!

I’ve got a book about it. I wish I could give every one of you a copy but it sold out in print although there’s a newer edition of Your Words, Your Story anyway with the whole scoop on indie publishing, and whether you are published by a traditional press or as an indie, (and I’v been both) nothing will ever feel better than holding your first book in your hands.

To help say congrats to Bob, I will send free copies of both e-books, mine and his, to the first three people who comment today. And thanks for reading about my lovely band of merry writers.

January Deadlines

It’s January 1st, but I feel none of the optimism I’d been expecting. Probably because taking down Christmas is so much more depressing that putting it up. Also, I hosted a dinner party last night, and one on Saturday night, too. It has been go, go, go and I am very happy to settle back down to writing. I’m also really tired. Too much rich food, too little exercise.

I have three deadlines this month: a chapter I must send today for my critique group, a revision of Blue Heaven by the end of the month, and a post on the 3rd for a blog thingy, I am not sure how it works or what it is called, I only know that I need to post something about a book I consider a personal classic. There are all kinds of prizes and things. And links hither and yon. I’ve not done much partying in the blog world, so I am a little lost. It’s only when I remember I simply have to WRITE that I calm down. I have produced hundreds of pieces of non-fiction on the subject of fiction. I will be fine.

The critique depends on how much of a mess the manuscript is…hoping for a bit of tidying up a scene or two and then a nap. I also promised the editor at my publishing house a substantial re-write of the manuscript by the end of the month. What was I thinking?? I had mistakenly believed I’d be able to work on the revision during the holidays. No. Revision, specific editorial revisions, take chunks of time, daily attention. I’m happy to get back to it, but also feeling pressure too!