Critique Heaven- AAW- Awesome Austin Writers

Illustrator/author Don Tate got creative with our group’s “Outsiders” theme. What a hilarious bit of photo editing. Thanks Don!
You know that old saying that “everything’s bigger in Texas?” We’re not just talking about the size of our summer thermostats or chicken fried steaks. Austin, in particular, is home to the biggest hearts and talents among children’s writers. Really! Not only is our local SCBWI chapter a rockin’ group who can count on 60-100 people at each month’s meeting, but we’ve got authors who can turn the difficult task of critiquing into a perfect stew of conference/cheerleading camp/manuscript intervention/party. And it all works.

Yesterday, twenty authors, dubbed the AAW (Awesome Austin Writers), gathered for one heck of a motivating, informative, constructive, and downright blast of a critique workshop organized by P.J. Hoover, Debbie Gonzales, and Meredith Davis. Not to outdo the “biggest” theme, our group was invited to take roots at the enormously gorgeous waterfront home of Meredith Davis. If ever there was an inspiring locale, this is it. The Davis’ home is stunning with architectural details to rival any show of homes, plus a kid’s dream, an actual Narnia wardrobe that opens to a hidden door, furs and all. But, I digress.

Most AAW authors have books published already. Those who don’t have books out YET, are on the threshold and are very serious about the craft.

We’ve had similar events in the past, hosted by the lovely Cynthia Leitich Smith that lasted three days. Really! Unfortunately, Cynthia couldn’t join us this weekend because she was polishing up her latest novel, Blessed, which was under the gun of a deadline. This year, we experimented with one full and productive day. In June, each of us submitted ten pages of a work in progress to be critiqued by a designated group of five fellow authors. Each group was christened a name; The Outsiders, The Ramonas, The Frogs and Toads, and The Wild Things. Little did I know that in the span of this one day, my four critiquers would become my adoptive kin.

We broke into private areas of the house with a schedule to keep. One hour would be dedicated to each author. That’s right. One full hour for four experienced authors to provide indepth feedback on each manuscript. The manuscript’s author was not allowed to speak until the last 10 minutes when he/she could answer questions and discuss the story. I’ll admit that silence was difficult for me, but oh so worth it.

I enjoyed the varied suggestions. Some were surprisingly unanimous. A few were worlds apart from each other which just further illustrates how very subjective this business is. All of it was constructive and full of optimism. Everybody was supportive of each other. Ultimately, that’s what makes this group awesome.

The work-in-progress I shared is one that I am very passionate about. Being a nonfiction piece, I worried that my cohorts would be too unfamiliar with the genre to offer much feedback. How naive of me. Each of them offered jewels of suggestions that I will definitely take to heart. And the quality of their own manuscripts truly humbled me. What talent!

Besides the invaluable critique time, we came together as a group for a catered lunch after which we congregated in the living room for a Q&A session about craft and the business side of writing. We ended the day with readings from first pages submitted anonymously by all in attendance. It was so much fun to guess who the author was for each piece. What a wide range of genres. From hysterical picture books, tragic YA, poetry, and nonfiction, it was all put out there for first impressions. Again, what fun. And how revealing.

Below are a handful of photos from the day. Now it’s your turn to identify the following authors. Just pretend it’s a game of Where’s Waldo. Oh, and as for me- I’m wearing a bright blue shirt. Happy hunting.

Brian Anderson ,Varsha Bajaj ,Chris Barton, Shana Burg, Meredith Davis , Alison Dellenbaugh, Helen Hemphill, P.J. (Tricia) Hoover
Donna Bowman Bratton (Thats me), Julie Lake , Greg Leitich Smith, Carmen Oliver, Andy Sherrod, Don Tate, Brian Yansky, Frances Hill Yansky, Jennifer Ziegler, Debbie Gonzales, Lyn Seipel

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