Thursday, January 20, 2011

Free For All Friday - Meet Author Barbara Mountjoy!

Please welcome another one of those multi-talented, multi-genre, (multi-pen-named) writers, author Barbara Mountjoy! Her first romance will be released this year from The Wild Rose Press. But she has much more to offer readers!! How about Urban Fantasy or Sci-Fi?? Please check out Barbara's website or her blog for more info, then hop on back here and get to know her better;)

Thanks for being my guest, Barbara! 
Take it away ***

As a writer friend of mine scolded, “It may be fun to chunk out novel after novel, but until you put in the work to edit, they will never go anywhere!”
For me, it is in fact, fun to chunk out novels. I enjoy the process. I’ve won NaNoWriMo twice, creating a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. Over the years, I’ve written maybe twenty novel manuscripts. Only in the last year have I been blessed enough to see them published—in fact, I received five contracts in 2010, three for fantasy novels, one for a romance and the last for women’s fiction. What has made the real difference for me is my critique group.

My personal editing process is stimulated, challenged and greatly aided by a talented critique group I met through Pennwriters. I can’t stress enough the value of a good critique group for any writer. While your mother/partner/daughter may rave about the wonders of your manuscript, if you’re serious about editing for the reading public, you need critical eyes of a variety of sorts. Our group, which meets twice a month, is a veritable mash-up of varied bodies of knowledge; a former state trooper, a dog expert, a lawyer, a truck driver, a high school librarian, some students, some working, some retired–all gifted. Many have been published in short form over the time I’ve belonged to the group, in newsletters, newspapers, or short story. The group boasts two Cup of Comfort story authors; I’m the first published novelist, though two others are coming up close behind.

This brings me to my first point: find a critique group at the level you need. If you’re just starting out, you’re still learning about everything—grammar, rhythm, metaphors—and need to become comfortable with the use of words on the page. What you don’t need in a critique group is a bunch of snippy professionals who will tear your piece apart as soon as you share it. You need a group with other beginners and a few mentors, a group that runs exercises each week to help you grow as a writer. Hold out for that group.
Conversely, if you’ve been writing some time and you’re ready for publication, you need a group with some published writers in it, to learn about queries and marketing and how to set your work before the public. You’ll want some harsher critiques—in a constructive way! Hopefully, your writer’s skin has thickened to the point where you can hear some criticism of the work, but still understand how changes might make the work better.

My second point: ego has no place in critique groups, on either the writing or reading side. In order to get the most from your feedback, you should listen, not talk. When group members comment on your work, take in what they say. They might not be right. They might not understand what you meant by a particular phrase or scene. Arguing with them just shuts down their urge to help you. Frankly, if the scene is so unclear that they missed the point—maybe the scene is that unclear. If only one person missed it, but the majority got it, maybe it’s fine. Listen. Then decide.

As a person giving feedback, remember your ego doesn’t matter, either. A critique session is not where you score points for being brilliant. Your opinion of someone else’s work only matters as far as it improves the other person’s work. It’s their work. Constructive criticism helps; tearing someone to bits doesn’t. In a business where sheer persistence is sometimes all that stands between a writer and publication, destroying their self-confidence to prop up your own ego is criminal. It happened to me, more than once. Receiving scathing words from someone claiming to “help,” I decided to give up any hope of being a writer. Thank the stars that my inner urges kept that from happening. Primarily because I found my new group.

What I like best about this group is the creative flow that works between us. Ego isn’t an issue. When we have questions, we toss them on the table, and they receive open, honest answers: Is this an information dump? Do you understand the character’s motivation? Is this too big a clue early in the story?
More importantly, in the discussion and exchange process, we’ve shared brainstorming moments that open the door to deeper understanding of my own work. What if your character did…? Perhaps the relationship between the girl and that boy could lead to…? What setting would make this scene most effective? What if the journey took on a more metaphoric flavor and…? I always love it when someone spots a meaningful undertone that I haven’t quite grasped, so I can coax it into the light.
Once you’ve worked over your manuscript with your group, then back to your computer to polish, polish, polish. Hopefully you have one writing partner who helps with final drafts. My critique mate Jean, a former high school English teacher, has read through just about everything I’ve submitted, even the science fiction she doesn’t like, attacking the pages with not only red pen but black and violet as well. Bless her. (No, really, I mean it!) 

All in all, though writing is a solitary process, editing can work best as a collective. I’d urge any writer to find a group, online or in person, that provides what they need. Be prepared to do your share to help others along the way ; keep your ego in check. And start chunking out those novels!
Barbara Mountjoy dreamed for many years of being a spaceship captain, but settled instead for inspired excursions into fictional places with fascinating companions from her imagination that she likes to share with others. She has been a published writer for over thirty years, including seven years as a reporter and editor at a newspaper in Homestead, Florida, with a list of eclectic publications from horror to tech reporting to television reviews. She writes urban fantasy and science fiction under the name of Lyndi Alexander. The Elf Queen, her first novel, was released by Dragonfly Publishing in July 2010; the series continues in 2011 with The Elf Child, and 2012 with The Elf Mage. Writing as Alana Lorens, her first romance novel, Deliverance, will be published by The Wild Rose Press in 2011.
Barbara is married to an absent-minded computer geek. Together, they have a dozen computers, seven children and a full house in northwestern Pennsylvania.
For more information, see her fantasy series website at  or on Facebook at The Elf Queen (Clan Elves of the Bitterroot Series), her writer’s blog at  or check in with her regular blog,, where she talks about life, autism, travel and writing.
 Thanks so much, Barbara, for joining me today!


  1. Barbara, wow you put the pro in prolific, and I've heard fabulous things about PennWriters. My online chair is active it the organization. Congratulations on your first sale and your blaze to publication in 2010 and 11. well done!

  2. Barbara, thanks for the great summary of critiquing. Finding the right crit partner or group is one of the most effective ways for beginning writers to learn and grow. 5 contracts, wow, impressive. Congratulations on your successes!

  3. Thank you for coming by! I'm very happy with my Pennwriter connections--

  4. Isn't it wonderful to just sit down and write with no interuptions? November is a bad month for me, but I did well with a chapter challenge in October.

  5. LOL @ Caroline! I'm not sure with three kids in the house and a job I can claim NO interruptions! But my family was very supportive in helping me get that first draft complete! :)

  6. Good Grief! I admire anyone who does NANO, but to complete it successfully as often as you have is outstanding.

    Good luck on your new release--all of them :)

  7. Hi Barbara, fellow TWRP author and Area 1 Penn writer! Congrats on Deliverance! I wouldn't be anywhere without my critique group. I didn't even know what POV was when I brought my first story. I wish I could produce novels as fast as you, but I spend too much time fixing each sentence as I write. Best Wishes!

  8. Congratulations from another fellow Pennwriter and TWRP author! Welcome to the Garden! Here's wishing you all the best, in ALL your writing genres and ventures.

  9. Congratulations. Great post about the benefits of honest critiquing. I appreciate Pennwriters too.

  10. Yay for my PW colleagues! I'm just trying to follow in the path you've so elegantly laid before me. Thanks for coming by!

  11. Babs,

    Awesome advice on critique groups - and I agree wholeheartedly, they are invaluable to pushing you forward as a writer.

    I don't have a group here that fits me, but I wouldn't give up my CP for anything! I'd be lost without her.

    Great post! Will forward on to my writing groups.

  12. Thanks, Joan! Everyone should also check out Joan's awesome book, coming out in 2012 from Kensington Brava, Fever-- AND sign up for her amazing January giveaway contests at her blog

  13. Awesome post! You got my wheels spinning.

  14. So glad you kept going Babs! Both my daughter and I loved the Elf Queen and are looking forward to the next one in the series! I still need a regular crit group or cp. I know that perfect match is out there somewhere!

  15. Thanks, Jessie! The next ones are even better, thanks to all of you and Margie Lawson at our Master Immersion Course!