Author Archives: Ace Jordyn

Coffin Hop Press – Home of Weird and Wonderful Fiction

An Interview with publisher and author Axel Howerton.

Axel Howerton has a great sense of story – not only for those he writes, but also for those he publishes. What strikes me about Axel is his sincerity – he isn’t involved in the writing community as a marketing or publishing strategy – for him, it’s a passion for a good story told, to support authors, and to provide readers with access to the unique and weird tales they love. I asked Axel about his experiences as a publisher and what he sees in the future for noir and noir crime genres.

Axel, Coffin Hop Press serves the genre of horror and noir and embraces it in all the sub genres of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, detective noir, western and literary. You belong to the Crime Writers of Canada and have had several stories published. What did you see or not see happening in the market place that spurred you to start Coffin Hop Press?

When I came back to writing fiction (after a decade of “entertainment journalism” doing reviews, interviews and articles on film and DVD), I started in horror. My first few publications were in horror publications, and I worked briefly as an associate editor for a quarterly called Dark Moon Digest. I found myself in a new community of horror and dark fantasy writers, and found that there were very few promotional avenues for us at the time. I started a blog hop event called Coffin Hop. Back then, all of the blog hops and online events were for romance writers.

By the third year of the event, it had exploded beyond expectations, and many of those involved wanted to put together a book. So, we chose a charity – LitWorld.org – and put together what became the first Coffin Hop Press book, Death by Drive-In. Once I had created that imprint, and had the systems in place, I used it to self-publish a few things, but something about that felt disingenuous, so I sought out a new anthology project. The first idea was for weird westerns, borne of my own love for weird pulp fiction, and the number of writer friends I have who have similar interests. As I became more involved with Crime Writers of Canada, and especially my local writing community in Alberta, I once again felt the need to build something to showcase the underexposed people I had been working with. That led to AB Negative, a collection of Alberta-based crime stories by Alberta-based crime writers. My new goal is to turn Coffin Hop Press into a solid business, to continue making great anthologies, but also branch out and help the world discover great new writers and unusual genres.

Coffin Hop Press has done a lot of interesting things to promote itself, its books and anthologies but also to promote the genre of horror and crime. I sense you’re having too much fun with it all! You have Noir at the Bar events, you participate in Canada Crime Writer and con events, you’ve sponsored several fun and twisted crime anthologies and now you’re launching Noirvellas.

I’ve long been known (in my own little publishing circles, anyways) as the genre guy, and particularly as the “noir” guy. My tastes have always run to the weird and wonderful – 40’s gangsters, 50’s sci-fi, 60’s sleaze, 70’s crime thrillers – and that’s what I want to publish. With novellas being more marketable due to the proliferation of digital readers, and “noir” becoming something of a catchphrase for dark crime thrillers, it seemed like a no-brainer to put the two together. I think the dark subject matter and shorter format go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

Noir at the Bar was another way to foster crime writing in my own community. It’s something that started a while ago in St. Louis and spread across North America. I’m proud to say ours was one of the very first in Canada, but more than anything, it’s a way to get people out to hear local crime writers and talk about that kind of fiction.

I’m also working with the Chiaroscuro Reading series, which is a national series sponsored by ChiZine Publications that focuses on the darker side of sci-fi and fantasy, as well as horror. All puddles that I still have my toes dipped in. My latest novel, Furr, and the upcoming Wolf & Devil series are a mix of crime and dark urban fantasy.

For a few years, you held the Coffin Hop which was a week of blog hops and tours held in October. What were your goals with that event? You eventually stopped running it. What were your take-aways from the event and would you recommend it as a marketing strategy for other niche presses?

At the time, an extended multi-author event was a novel approach for horror. We tried very hard to make it something special. We made it a week long, with required cross-pollination between authors. We added special events like poetry slams and art shows, and everyone was required to do giveaways. The problem was, the more popular it became, the more diluted it became, until it was just a flood of people demanding to be involved, yet unwilling to follow those rules, or provide those benefits to readers. The original participants began to get disheartened by the number of people who swooped in and just threw up a paragraph mentioning the hop, then spent a week blasting their own repetitive advertising, instead of working together to make the week a real event for everyone’s readers. Eventually, I got tired of explaining the rules to boorish spammers, and trying to enforce some semblance of fun and frivolity out of the chaos of hundreds of people trying to out scream each other. It had become something akin to a carnival barker convention on crack. At the same time, I wanted to use the imprint that I had created and owned the website for, etc. etc. to work on new book projects, so I suspended the hop and opened the press.

I do think that a similar type of event could work very well, if contained and managed properly. I blame myself for opening the floodgates and not being ready for the onslaught. It was definitely a wake-up call to see the difference between writers and self-advertisers. There’s a troubling ocean of people out there who are flooding the internet with product. They care much less about the art and value of their writing, about telling stories, than they do about getting attention and flogging their wares for a quick buck.

What is local and normal for some is exotic for others. You’ve made it a point to encourage and promote crime and noir stories set locally in the province of Alberta and in Canada. Why this strategy?

AB Negative was a way for me to try and foster the community that I’m in, my hometown crime writing community. There’s a lot of great talent here that is mostly overlooked. There are a lot more avenues for promoting your work in Toronto or Vancouver but, as I found in my dealings with the Crime Writers of Canada, the rest of the country is very much left out in the cold, if you’ll excuse the pun. I wanted to showcase some of the people whose work I admire, and put out the kind of collection I like to read, something eclectic and diverse, with different voices, different styles, and different sub-genres of crime fiction. Nothing annoys me more than using the label “Crime Fiction” and then only applying it to a narrow definition of cozy mystery stories, or quirky local detective yarns. Crime should encapsulate everything from Jim Thompson psycho-sheriff stories to Agatha Christie locked room mysteries; from James Ellroy’s serial-killer lit to Elmore Leonard’s Detroit hipster pulp; from Poe to Patterson and from Marlowe to Fargo.

Looking into your noir crystal ball, what do you see for the future of noir and the noir crime genre? What would you like to happen next?

Neo-noir is big business these days, mostly due to the amount of great television out there, and the ease of access to foreign crime shows and books. The Nordic stuff, especially, has had a great influence on our own culture through shows people are watching on Netflix and the like. There’s also a wider appreciation for the great history of incredible British crime programming. People are watching these dark crime shows and movies, and it’s resonating, much as it did in the 30’s and 40’s when the term “noir” was coined to describe nihilistic American crime flicks.

It’s a much slower, and more difficult process to see those trends in book selling (and especially book writing). It takes an incredibly long time for a book to gain traction, let alone cause a profound influence in our modern culture. Television and movies, current events, these are the things that tend to reflect more quickly in our fiction. The great thing about writing books – and I’m not condoning writing for the purpose of getting a TV deal or anything, I think a book should always be written for the sake of the story itself – but, the great thing about writing books is that you become a one-person production studio on your own film, your own epic TV saga. In the end they are all just mediums to carry our stories. When you produce visual media, you need hundreds, sometimes thousands of collaborators with individual interests and opinions. When YOU write a short story, or a novel, or a “noirvella”… YOU control the mood, the lighting, the sets, the actors.

That being said, the culture right now (as always seems to happen in times of social upheaval and political insecurity) seems to be leaning towards science fiction again. There’s already a number of great films and tv shows coming out, and the revival of old favourites like Blade Runner, Aliens, and Star Wars (albeit with a darker edge), seem to point to a coming resurgence of science fiction in our popular literature. It’s already been happening with runaway hit novels like Ready Player One and The Martian. I think there’s a lot more to come.

That’s partly why we have revived the Sci-Fi Noir anthology we had shelved last year. Keep an eye out for Black Hole Son in 2019. Before that we have an anthology of weird holiday tales, Weird Wonderland, coming this November and featuring writers like Jessica McHugh, Will Viharo, David James Keaton and the amazing Sarah L. Johnson. We have an anthology of “Ladies of Canadian Crime” called The Dame Was Trouble coming out in April next year to celebrate the “Year of Publishing Women”, and a second volume of weird western tales, Taller Tales of the Weirder West, next summer.

Right now, Coffin Hop Press has a sort-of dual presence as a publisher of “weird tales”, EC Comics-type stuff, and crime fiction – usually dark, almost always tempered with black comedy. We have plans to spread out more – take the weird side towards more horror, sci-fi and urban fantasy; expand from crime into more literary -tinged mystery and gothic fiction.

Any advice for those thinking about starting their own small press to fill void in a niche market?

Diversify. Serving a niche is fine, serving several works better. More than anything, just like writing what you love, publish what you love. While publishing is a business, if you’re smaller potatoes – julienne, even – why waste time on material you don’t believe in? Why waste passion on books you wouldn’t want to read. Here’s the tip. You’re going to have to read these books. Over and over and over. They might as well be the kind you really enjoy. Seek out authors that you find exciting, not just profitable names. If you help those emerging writers who are doing really vibrant and exceptional work, the world will eventually notice, and you may be the one who gave them that break. Surround yourself with authors and editors that you respect and really connect with, and treat them with respect in turn. Word gets around. If you do good work, and you treat people professionally, you can build a business. If you’re in it to make fast deals and crap out product en mass? You may make a little money to start, but you’ll be dead in the water by your second or third project, and nobody is going to want to work with you. Of course, if you’re treating it like a scam, you probably haven’t read this far because I’m not talking about revenue streams and Facebook ads. Be good. Be true. Tell stories. That’s what it should always be about.

 

Axel Howerton is a former entertainment journalist, and the author of the Arthur Ellis Award nominated detective caper “Hot Sinatra”, the modern gothic fairytale “Furr”, and the forthcoming “Wolf & Devil” urban fantasy series. His work – including short stories, columns, poetry and essays – have appeared the world over, in no fewer than five languages. Axel is a former Prairies director of the Crime Writers of Canada, and a member of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, the Calgary Crime Writers, and the Kintsugi Poets. He is also the editor of the books “Death by Drive-In”, “AB Negative”, and “Tall Tales of the Weird West”, and is the Calgary chair of the Chiaroscuro national reading series, and the organizer behind one of Canada’s first recurring “Noir At The Bar” events, #NoirBarYYC.

 

 

Fairwood Press – The Future of Fiction

An interview with Patrick Swenson, publisher of Fairwood Press.

A small press can have a huge impact in the writing community. Fairwood Press, for example publishes highly recommended non fiction such as The 10% Solution by Ken Rand which has helped countless writers improve their craft. Then, there are novels and anthologies which are destined to be classics. Notably, but not exclusively, at Fairwood Press are authors I admire such as James Van Pelt, Louise Marley, Michael Bishop, Brenda Cooper, and many more. Whether you decide to publish with a small press or a large press, there are differences to be aware of. Patrick Swenson, owner of Fairwood Press, has been published by both and so I asked him about his experiences.

What motivated you to start Fairwood Press?

At first, Fairwood Press was created as an umbrella business name for Talebones Magazine to be under in case I ever decided to go into book publishing later. That was 1995. I actually started the book company as an S-Corp in 2000, prompted by author Patrick O’Leary’s query about doing a collection of his work. I’d published his first short story, and one other a little later, and he already had a few novels out from Tor. I said “Yes!” And then: “Let me figure out how to do that and get back to you.” And off we went.

What about distribution and marketing, how do you compete with the big firms?

The truth is, I can’t compete with the big firms. I have distribution through Ingram, but so do most small presses (and self-publishers), and then some with Baker & Taylor as well as a number of library wholesalers. But my books are not returnable, unless ordered directly from me for special events, so big chain stores won’t carry them. As for marketing, I do my best to get the word out. I print advance reading copies (ARCs) for all my titles and get them to potential blurbers and reviewers. I do what I can on social media. I lean on my authors to do what they can too. With a full time teaching job, I do what I can, which is not enough, but better than nothing.

You’ve had work published with a big press (Tor) and you’ve been published by a small press. Can you talk about some of the differences between working with a large and a small press?

Low overhead! Several thousand hardcovers sold for Tor is not a success, but for a small press (like Fairwood), I’d be in the money in a big way. Naturally, the big publishers are established and have long-time working editors and publishers on board who know their stuff, as well as the business side of things, and doing things at a grander scale.

But a small press doesn’t mean lower quality. You currently have a Hugo Award finalist Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg, by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro. To name a  few more, you publish work by Jay Lake (winner of the 2004 John W. Campbell Award and Hugo and Nebula nominee) ;  James Van Pelt, a nominee for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and Nebula Award; Daryl Gregory, winner of the World Fantasy Award. And you have others.  

I only do 6-7 books a year. Naturally, I need to get the best books I can for those projects, so I’m pushing to get works from the best writers I can. I pick my own projects. I can afford to be picky! A lot of Fairwood books are collections, so the editing process is obviously different for those. Most stories in the collection have already been published, and edited. I’m there to make sure there are no nagging erorrs left, or that creep in during the edit or layout process.

If anyone is thinking of starting their own small press, what advice would you give them?

I’m thinking of a smart-alec answer like: Go climb a mountain instead! Or: Don’t do it! They say the best way to make a small fortune in the publishing business is to start with a large fortune. But that being said, it’s a labor of love, and I’ve enjoyed almost every minute running almost every aspect of my press. My best advice would be:

(1) start small and grow very gradually (I did one book a year for the first two years before upping it to 3, and so on);
(2) be professional and respectful to writers, artists, staff, and volunteers (easy for me to say, I’m a one-man operation); and
(3) understand how to design a book and put out a professional-looking product.

Anyone with a computer and a WiFi signal can publish a book today. I was very much self-taught over a span of many years. Most people don’t have that kind of time these days. So hire trained designers or personally take classes. I see covers that writers post on social media, and they say, “Look, my new cover! Isn’t it wonderful?” And it’s just hideous.

6) Do you have any advice for writers who are considering publishing with a small press?

Honestly, see (2) and (3) above in the previous answer. Make sure the press holds these ideals as sacred. Check their website. Check their published books and book covers. Check the rights they take and don’t take.

You’ve grown over the years and have over 70 titles by authors such as Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Michael Bishop, Brenda Cooper, J.A. Pitts, Mark Teppo, Laura Anne Gilman, Daryl Gregory, Jay Lake, Ken Scholes, Jack Skillingstead, Louise Marley, William F. Nolan, Devon Monk, Caroline M. Yoachim, Tina Connolly, James Van Pelt, Alexei Panshin, Mary Rosenblum, and others! What do you feel are the greatest benefits a small press can have for writers and why you have such a stellar and loyal group of authors?

One benefit is the freedom to go back and forth with my writers about all things. That includes layout, cover, and design. They get more of my attention from me than a big press editor has time to give. Another is low overhead. If a book from Fairwood does fairly well, that book is going to earn out and start earning some money fairly quickly. Even a book that doesn’t sell well can still stay in the black. 

I’d say for the first 10 years of the press, a good 95% of my author list were alums from Talebones magazine. I liked their writing. I’d go to them and ask, “Hey, what do you have? Got a collection? Novel?” Talebones has been gone now for eight years, but the word got out. I have a wider variety of author now, not just Talebones writers. 

Patrick Swenson’s newest novel is The Ultra Big Sleep (August 2016), a sequel to first novel The Ultra Thin Man, which appeared from Tor in August 2014. He edited the small press magazine Talebones magazine for 14 years, and still runs Fairwood Press, a book line, which began in 2000. A graduate of Clarion West, he has sold stories to the anthology Like Water for Quarks, and magazines such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Figment, and others. He runs the Rainforest Writers Village retreat every spring at Lake Quinault, Washington. Patrick, a high school teacher for 30 years, has a Masters Degree in Education, teaches in Auburn, Washington, and lives in Bonney Lake, Washington with his son Orion.

Jayne Barnard and Adria Laycraft: Creating Successful Author-Editor Relationships

Interview with author Jayne Barnard and editor Adria Laycraft.

An author’s worst fear can be about getting their work edited or critiqued by an editor, an agent, or even a critique group. Yet, whether indie publishing or working with a large or small press, the process of getting edited is critical to make the story the best it can be. I had the fortune to meet over dinner with award winning author Jayne Barnard and her editor Adria Laycraft to chat about what makes their relationship work. Adria edited Jayne’s latest novel Maddie Hatter and the Gilded Gauge.

Ace: Jayne, what is your worst fear when working with a new editor?

Jayne: You really have to take a leap of faith that the person is coming into it has the right spirit, that they’re not looking to score off you or browbeat you into doing what they want with your story.

Ace: It’s not about ego, it’s about making the story as good as it can be.

Jayne: Yes, and it can come apart very quickly if either the editor or the writer is acting superior. You see that in so many series. The example of Harry Potter comes to mind. The first three books when J.K. Rowling was a new author were clean, tight, and tidy, and they’ve got cool structure. The fourth book could have been cut by 10% off the top and the fine details polished. Did that not happen because of Rowling or because the publisher felt that they didn’t need to make the investment? We’ll never know.

Ace: Adria, what is your fear when taking on a new client?

Adria: That’s a loaded question. In this case, it’s about not only doing the best for Jayne, but for the publisher who hired me, Tyche Books. The big thing for me in a new relationship is being understood.

Ace: Understood?

Adria: You know how easy it is to misunderstand the tone and the body language in a text? Are they saying: I’ll be right there, or I’ll be right there? But when we speak, we use different intonations to convey specific meanings. As an editor, I have to figure out the author’s intention and if that intention is being conveyed. So, when I make changes and suggestions, my fear is about being misunderstood and upsetting the author. If that happens, it’s difficult to achieve our common goal to make the story its best.

Ace: How do you make it the decision whether it’s grammar or the author’s voice?

Adria: I don’t make the decision. I point it out to the author and they make the decision. It’s their book and their choice. For example, I pointed out some things to Jayne which weren’t technically correct and let her decide.

Jayne: Like capitalizing the seasons. Adria noted that technically this wasn’t correct and asked if I wanted to do this. That’s a very Victorian style that I deliberately used.

Adria: Whereas an editor with a nice big ego <<grins>> charges in and fixes things so that it’s technically accurate but ends up ruining the story.

Jayne: But a good editor can also help make the story richer. For example, Adria and I are working on foreshadowing and subtext. Foreshadowing and subtext build things up from the very beginning. One word here or three words there, and then the choice of colour for a hair bow – all the things which build up a character or subplot subconsciously. Individually, they don’t mean much but all together they make the story amazing. What happens when you over-edit, and you can over-edit yourself <<laughter – we’ve all done that!>> you edit out the things that make your work colourful and strong. In effect, you’ve flattened your work. It becomes more of the same, less whimsical. When you have an editor really into your work and I’ve only discovered this because Adria is the best editor I’ve ever had…

Adria: Now I’ll have a swollen head. <<peals of laughter!>>

Jayne: …she points out the things that I can exploit to make the story richer. Sometimes, though, I think, “Hey, I could do this with it!” and then Adria asks if it’s relevant and if it serves the story.

Ace: You’re talking about danglers which should be either eliminated or exploited?

Adria: They’re the elements that never get properly tied up in the end. Some are so cool that you have to find a way to use them. But always you have to ask if you need them and if so, how you’re going to use them.

Ace: The question is: Is it a gem you need to polish or is it a stone you need to throw away?

Jayne: It’s more like throwing a ruby into the gravel. To me it’s just coloured glass, a whimsy, until Adria she points out that it’s really a ruby, dusty and uncut, but a gem. The question then becomes, does it need it be faceted and polished to its full potential, or does it need to be removed because it’s a distraction from the greater story?

I also think it helps to be edited by someone who’s writing a speculative fiction because I know her ego isn’t invested in my work, but her own.

Adria <<grinning>>: My ego is also invested in how well your book does, Jayne.

Jayne <<laughing>>: Because your name is on it too!

Adria: And I want other people to hire me to edit too. I love editing. I love helping other people realize the dream of what they want their book to be! I’d like to read something that Jayne texted to me recently: the crux of a good editing relationship is the free flow of information and ideas like a conversation between professionals. It isn’t hard to keep it professional, is it?

Jayne: No, it isn’t.

Adria: Then I said, the key for the editor is to help an author create the best version of the story they want to tell and to remember not to start rewriting their words.

Jayne: Agreed.

Adria: I’ve personally had that experience with other editors and in critique groups and all the years of critiquing others and being critiqued. The key thing that helps me be a good editor now is knowing not to over critique or to over edit, and especially to not try to rewrite the person’s story for them.

Jayne <<laughing>>: No matter how tempting it is!

Adria: And sometimes it’s really tempting! But, it’s their story and all I can do is make suggestions. It’s not my story to write. That was the big learning curve for me to become a good editor.

Ace: Advice to new writers would be that to learn how to work with an editor go to critique groups get critiques done, and give critiques. That teaches us how to be respectful of an editor and which fights are the important fights to pick.

Jayne: That’s a good point: which fights to pick. Now, I’ve been fairly lucky with Adria because she reads and writes in my genre. She thinks it’s all fine fun <<more laughter>> so in that sense we have some fundamental compatibilities in looking at the project. Adria challenges me to make it better, deeper, richer – I’ve never had an editor do that before. They focused on making it technically correct or easier for the reader to understand, but not creatively greater than before.

Ace: The special sauce of this relationship is mutual respect with a common goal which is to make the book the best that it can be.

Adria: Yes, but to really make the relationship work, my advice for new authors is to be professional, and don’t get defensive. Take the comment and go sit with it for a while. When you kick into defensive mode, I can’t help you. You won’t see what I’m trying to point out if all you’re going to do is to defend why there has to be a ruby in the gravel.

Ace: Perhaps if you have to defend something, then maybe you haven’t expressed it clearly as a writer. If your editor isn’t getting it, then no one else is going to get it.

Adria: If you have to explain it and defend it, then that’s why I’m pointing it out – because there’s an issue.

Jayne: And from the author’s side, I would say that if the editor says something you really disagree with, don’t answer right away. Go for a walk, go whack down some weeds in the back yard, or sound off to your best friend. Then, as a professional, set aside your feelings and think about what those comments mean for the story.

Ace: Some reader will always tell you that you’ve got it all wrong and they may not be so nice about it. But with an editor, you have the opportunity to consider the comments and make changes. Once published, you don’t have an opportunity to change the manuscript.

Jayne: Readers paid for your book in money and time so they have the right to their opinion even if they totally missed what you were trying to say.

Adria: If you’re a new writer, even an established writer, and you’re getting the same comment from 5 out of 8 people in a critique group, then there is a problem. If it’s just one, and you disagree with it, you have a right to disagree. If you’re getting the same thing again and again, then you must look at it. For instance, early on in my writing, I was told that my characters were passive. It took me a long time to hear that, to stop being defensive about it. I was trying to tell the story of characters who were passive and it didn’t work. When I stopped being defensive, I realized they were right.

Jayne: It’s all about the outcome – the best words in the best order. Unlike the football player or the stage actor who have to make it perfect in the moment, with no do-overs, writers have the leisure to consider what words we’re putting in what order. There’s no excuse for a writer to publish a shabby story.

Ace: Thank you both for your candor and your time. Now, when I’ve transcribed this interview, I’ll send it to you both for your editing.

Adria: But you’re the interviewer, you’re supposed to edit it.

Ace: As a good editor, I know that these words are yours and not mine and only you can have the last say!

Jayne: Touche!

<<peals of laughter>>

Adria is a grateful member of IFWA (The Imaginative Fiction Writers Association) and a proud survivor of the Odyssey Writers Workshop. She is also a member of the Calgary Association of Freelance Editors (CAFÉ). Her biggest claim to fame as an editor is Urban Green Man, which launched in August of 2013 and was nominated for an Aurora Award. Look for her stories in Orson Scott Card’s IGMS, the Third Flatiron Anthology Abbreviated Epics, the FAE Anthology, Tesseracts 16, Neo-opsis, On-Spec, James Gunn’s Ad Astra, and Hypersonic Tales, among others. To learn more about her work and editing services, contact Adria at adrialaycraft.com.

After 25 years writing short mystery fiction, Jayne shifted to long-form crime with the YA Steampunk romp, MADDIE HATTER AND THE DEADLY DIAMOND (2015), a finalist for the BPAA and the Prix Aurora. The second Maddie Hatter Adventure, MADDIE HATTER AND THE GILDED GAUGE, (Tyche Books, May 2017) is on shelves now and the third is due out this fall Her contemporary suspense novel, WHEN THE FLOOD FALLS, won the Dundurn Unhanged Arthur in 2016 and is being published by Dundurn along with two sequels. Jayne divides her year between the Alberta Rockies and the Vancouver Island shores.
Website: jaynebarnard.ca; Facebook: @MaddieHatterAdventures;
Twitter: @JayneBarnard1

 

 

The Key to a Successful Crit Group – A 29 Year Example

There is a ‘special sauce’ when it come to making group dynamics work and having an effective writers group requires its own special brand of nurturing.

I’ve been a member of the Imaginative Fiction Writers’ Association (IFWA) for several years and I value every moment spent with this group. Founded in 1988 (yes, as of this writing it has been together for 29 years!) IFWA has nurtured, trained, and supported many writers along their writing career paths.

What is IFWA’s secret to success?

There are several factors but my favorite four (besides the fact that the members are awesome people) are:

1) It is not a book club. It is a writing group for writers who want to improve their craft and hone their skills.
To that end, the monthly meeting begins with crits. In the previous month, two people volunteered a work to be critiqued at teh curernt meeting. The work is no more than 5,000 words and usually is either a first chapter or a short story although we have had epic poetry. Two people volunteer to provide a a critique. There are rules for how to critique. To learn more about the art of critiquing, you can read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 on a series I wrote on critiques.

The critique porrtion of hte meeting begins with the author reading their story for ten minutes (a necessary skill we all need to practice). Each person critiquing the story gets five minutes to give the author feedback. An opportunity is given to the author to respond and only then is the group at large allowed to provide their feedback (for five minutes) to the author. These guidelines are strictly enforced.

The first time I experienced this process, it was nerve wracking. I read too quickly because I wanted to read the whole story in my allotted ten minutes. Mistake! So, I learned how to read calmly and more slowly. The second time it was much better. Some comments I agreed with and others I didn’t but I had to practice what I knew in my head – that there were things I needed to hear so I could learn them; that everyone has their own opinion and if you ask for it, you have to respect it, no matter what you do with it; and people are much kinder, much gentler than that stupid critic in my head!!!

That’s the thing, everyone in this group offers insight and wisdom, from a reader’s perspective and a writer/editor’s perspective on how the story can be improved. We do it from a genuine desire to see each other succeed. And we run the gamut of skill sets for our members include professional writers, editors, and beginners. No matter what stage any of us are at, we all have something to offer and something to learn – and we know it! This form of humbleness is the group’s core value and that’s why I think it’s been successful for so long.

2) The group isn’t exclusive.
We have every form of writing (screen, short story, novel, novella, graphic art, comic, etc.) and although we are a group for speculative fiction writers, we have lots of other genres and cross genres represented (fantasy, science fiction, horror, thriller, detective science fiction, noir, space opera, and fairy tale to name a few). Some members are published, some edit anthologies (and write too), some are not published. But we are all there with a view to encourage and support each other while encouraging growth in craft and business skills.

Then there are the splitters groups. Splitters groups are formed by members who have specific interests or needs. For example, I belong to a critique group which comments on novels and shorter works with a view to being submitted.

Our members are at all stages of development, including beginners, those trying to break into the market, and published and award winning authors. The group also counts many small publishers and well-known authors as friends.

3) A pay-it-forward attitude is practiced within the group and the larger writing community.
We help each other out with our projects. We share what we know. We organize writing events such as a writers’ weekend, workshops, manage a short story contest, produce an anthology exclusive to the group, attend and participate in national and international cons, and are a large part of organizing and volunteering in the local, annual con When Words Collide. We attend each other’s book launches, readings, and celebrate the victories of getting published and share the disappointment of a rejection. We are there for each other.

4) Skills sessions.
Every meeting has a skills session which can be on any aspect of writing from craft to business. Sometimes the learning comes in the form of a presentation, sometimes it’s a discussion, and sometimes it’s a little of both. But always we learn, always we share and after the meeting that sharing continues at a local pub.

IFWA has a lot to offer its membership because it’s members contribute in so many ways. The group’s enthusiasm is infectious and the friendships are long lasting. This writers group definitely has its own brand of ‘special sauce’.