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Me and My CP

Brenda WhitesideI’ve invited my critique partner, Brenda Whiteside, to join me today to discuss our critique relationship – and also to celebrate the release of her debut novel, “Sleeping With the Lights On,” available May 21 from The Wild Rose Press! Congratulations, Brenda! I’m so thrilled for you!

BRENDA: Thank you, Tammy. I know you are and I appreciate that.

TAMMY: Brenda and I sometimes joke that we connected as critique partners by sheer dumb luck. Soon after I joined Midwest Fiction Writers, the Minneapolis-based chapter of Romance Writers of America, I sent an email to the chapter’s Yahoo email loop, asking if anyone was interested in forming a critique partnership. Brenda answered. Despite both of us being in MFW, we didn’t know each other very well. We wrote in different subgenres, but we had a couple of very important things in common – we were both deadly serious about getting our books published, and we both wanted to discuss our writing face to face rather than get feedback via an email loop.

Our writing journeys have taken us on somewhat parallel paths. During the time we’ve been each other’s CPs, we’ve both sold books, Brenda publishing with primarily an e-pub company that does some POD, and me taking the traditional publishing house route. We get together once a month to provide each other with feedback on our WIPs over a cup of coffee – and to talk about the business of writing.

Brenda, why do you think our critique relationship works?

BRENDA: We complement each other in so many ways, and I’m not referring to the kudos we hand out to each other! If opposites attract, then that’s the case with our styles, our genres, and our editing processes. But a good many of our views concerning the business of writing are in total agreement. It works and we have fun!

TAMMY: I’m just waiting for one of the baristas at the Barnes & Noble Starbucks to overhear one of our “I had to kill him, and here’s how I did it” conversations and call the cops! 😉 But I think our strengths as writers complement each other. I have the utmost confidence that Brenda will hogtie all those extraneous it’s, that’s and just’s into submission, and that she’ll smooth out some pretty heinous sentence structure. As someone who was an English major back in the day, the things she catches are pretty damn embarrassing.

BRENDA: And you are a stickler on character arc and plot development. I love “discovery” stories and need to bring my heroes and heroines through a believable growth process so they come out in the right place at the end. You keep me honest. No sneaking in coincidences or lame results in a scene when you read one of my chapters. I depend on that from you.

TAMMY: What do you think about us writing in different romance subgenres as critique partners? As someone who gloms paranormal and urban fantasy for both personal enjoyment and for research, I find your stories – about real-world people, with real-world problems – to be such a palate cleanser. There’s not a vampire or a werewolf in sight.

BRENDA: Well, if I cleanse your palate, you load mine up! I’ll never forget the first pages you gave me to critique. I didn’t know you and knew nothing of your writing. Halfway through the first page I was yelling at my husband, “OMG, you should see what this woman writes!” Thankfully, you’re good at what you write and I keep turning the pages for…well, you know!

TAMMY: Thanks for not spilling the beans about Stephen’s little idiosyncrasies! Well, I have to tell you that in “Sleeping With the Lights On,” you made me fall just a little in love with your hero, Carson, who’s a country singer. (A note to regular readers of this blog – ANOTHER MUSICIAN HERO! Who says these books don’t sell?!) I’m not much of a country music fan, but dayum, girl! He’s absolutely yummy. Tell us more about the story.

BRENDA: The story lies slightly outside the standard romance story. Sandra is fifty, twice divorced, and has dated quite a variety of men. With a positive attitude and a sense of humor, she’s still looking for the right guy and a good career. Like I said earlier, I love stories of discovery. And when it involves someone who’s heavy with life experience, the journey can be that much more interesting. Enter Carson, the ex-husband she never really got over, who’s been aging as finely as the Beaujolais wine they both love. He gets in the way of her current relationship with a quirky millionaire and won’t say why exactly he’s in town. Add a secret admirer, a voluptuous redheaded stalker, and her sister’s marriage falling apart, and Sandra has her hands full.

TAMMY: Well, having an ex-husband of my own, I have to say that I think Sandra is a very brave woman. (rimshot!! Just kidding. Really.) Thanks for spending some time with us today, Brenda. I’m so excited that people will finally have a chance to read this great book.

BRENDA: Thank you, Tammy. You helped, you know! A good CP is priceless.

So, we know what works for us. Which factors do you think are important in a critique relationship? Tell us what you think works – and what doesn’t.

Brenda Whiteside’s debut novel, “Sleeping With the Lights On”, is available May 21 from The Wild Rose Press.

63 responses to “Me and My CP”

  1. Jeannie Lin says:

    Welcome Brenda! It’s interesting to see how you two play off of each others strengths. It’s also very cool to see how you both write in very different genres. I agree that it’s refreshing to read stuff contemporary or paranormal after spending days with my head buried in historical research.

    What works for me in a critique partner is a strong point of view. I tend to gloss over minor changes and line edits as I’m not ready for those until the very last pass. I like people who can tell me the deep edits that need to be made. The suggestions may seem ruthless and daunting, but that’s the sort of eye I want from another writer. What are the structural issues that need to be fixed?

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    • Hi Jeannie,
      I think once you reach a level of comfort with a critique partner, the issues with an ms can be easily addressed. And with Tammy we reached that comfort level early on. In the beginning, I think it’s important to equal dose what’s right with what’s wrong. But after a while, if you’re on the same wavelength, you know that your CP knows what is right. Not to say you still should not hand out some compliments or point out what is outstanding. We need to hear that too so we can repeat our successes.

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      • Jeannie Lin says:

        LOL. Good point. One of my most trusted critique partners actually made a comment to that effect in her last critique. Something to the effect of, okay, I know we’re beyond qualifiers like “this is just my opinion” and “take it or leave it”, etc.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I agree, Jeannie–I’d just about kill for a critique partner who’d focus on the deep structural stuff. (I’m sorta working solo right now, while my CP deals with health issues. Sob.)

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  2. Tamara Hogan says:

    So true, Jeannie – a strong point of view is a very important in a CP. To me, this strong point of view is proportional to the CP’s confidence with her own work. I don’t have to be concerned about wounding Brenda with my feedback. I don’t have to stroke her ego; she doesn’t have to stroke mine. We don’t have to spend time sandwiching our constructive criticism between positive feedback. When I tell her that something isn’t quite working for me – and why – I know she can take it. 😉

    One of the things that I most enjoy about my critique relationship with Brenda is the time we spend away from the page, talking about our characters, and how their GMCs drive the story. This brainstorming can yield some very productive insights.

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  3. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    Brenda and Tammy, you are so blessed to have found each other. A good CP relationship is worth its weight in hardbacks! *G* Although Laurie and I have a lot in common, it is our differences that make our CP relationship work; we bring different strengths to the table and, thus, offset each other. To me, balance is what makes most things in life work.

    Congrats on your release, Brenda. May it be the first of many.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      —-> balance is what makes most things in life work.

      As always, Gwynlyn, the voice of wisdom!

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    • Thank you, Gwynlyn. Balance is oh so important. Every time I topple over in a yoga position I realize that! I hadn’t thought about the balance Tammy and I have, but you’re right.

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  4. Elise Hayes says:

    Congrats on the debut, Brenda!! Whoo-hoo!

    I’ve got an amazing CP. I think what makes her so incredibly helpful is all the time and energy that she’s put into learning the craft of romance writing.

    When I first started writing, I had a couple of non-writer friends who provided critiques for me. Those critiques were helpful. They let me know whether the “big-picture” stuff was working: whether my characters were likeable, whether the plot line was consistent, whether they were satisfied with the ending or not, whether they saw any loose threads still dangling at the end.

    But while those comments were helpful, it wasn’t until I started working with a CP who was a fellow-writer (and specifically, a fellow-writer who had studied the craft of writing in some depth) that I felt I really started developing myself as a writer. Suddenly I was learning about scenes (yes, they should have a shape!), deep POV, character arcs, building up to the black moment, and lots of other useful stuff. It’s made a world of difference to my writing!

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  5. Shea Berkley says:

    What works for me and my CPs (I have three and we meet every week) is knowing they all bring something different to the table, a strength that I am missing. The danger of having a CP is getting one that thinks everything you write is wonderful. I’ve had one of those. It’s great for the ego, but not good for getting published.

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    • How true, Shea. If I get only positive comments, the ego boost is short lived. Then my inner voice says, hey wait – she thinks it’s hopeless and doesn’t know where to start. Bad either way!

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  6. Love the face to face. There’s nothing quite like sharing war stories, valuable info, and a critique over food and beverage.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      The face-to-face component is very important to me – I spend way too much time in front of a glowing monitor every day as it is. And? There’s coffee!

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    • Jeannie Lin says:

      And sometimes me and my CPs will spend a little too much time chit-chatting over coffee and scones and not enough time working….

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  7. You both have a humor and lightheartedness that shines through the interview. It’s wonderful…actually, imperative, to have someone like that to reflect and deflect. Mirrors, rubber and glue.

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  8. Liz Talley says:

    Congrats on your release, Brenda. Love the name of the book, btw.

    I have a pretty good relationship with my cp. I have two. One I meet face to face. We write together weekly at Starbucks – so I get coffee and straight talk . The other is online and I swear she’s like an editor.

    I seem to have issues with my plot structure and motivations. I get asked “why” a lot. And sometimes it makes me mad. I say “Because” and she says, “That’s not good enough.” But thank goodness I have two people who call me out on the things I try and sneak in and when I go “off character.” It just makes for a stronger book. And that’s what I’m after.

    Thanks for sharing your relationship, Tam and Brenda.

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  9. Thanks for your input, Liz. You and I have something in common. Tammy doesn’t let me get away with any “because”. There are times I feel like as she is talking, the character or the reasons are being pulled from me. She reaches inside me and yanks them out. Oh, dear – sounds like the antics of some of the characters in her books!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Nah, that’s just brainstorming! But it helps to brainstorm with people who know what you hope to achieve with your characters, and who have the craft vocabulary to help nudge things in the right direction.

      Brenda builds my confidence that I might know how to plot. Sometimes. 😉

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  10. Great interview, Brenda and Tammy! And congratulations on your book, Brenda! That’s awesome.
    I have three cp’s that I love too. They definitely keep me on track and make me think. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

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  11. Elisa Beatty says:

    What a fun interview! Thanks so much for being here with us, Brenda, and congrats on the book!

    It’s great to hear the two of you jamming off each other–it’s clear how and why your critique relationship works!

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  12. My local chapter is discussing becoming a critique chapter, the concept of which I don’t entirely understand but I gather it means some members will meet regularly to trade and discuss work. I liked the idea until I realized that I’d have to commit to another thing at least once a month, to say nothing of the time I’d spend reading and critiquing other people’s work.

    Also, I’m not sure I want that many hands in my pot. 😉 I get territorial, I think.

    But I’m glad it works for you two, and I know it works for many, many others. It’s great to meet your CP, Tamara!

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Our land chapter started doing critiques a couple of years ago, and I think it’s proven itself quite valuable. We typically use the first hour of our monthly meeting time for critiques, never doing more than one critique per meeting, and some months we don’t have one. Members who are interested in receiving a critique by the group sign up for a time slot, bring copies of the first ten pages of their manuscript, talk about whether there’s a specific type of feedback they’re particularly interested in, and then they read their manuscript aloud. While the member is reading aloud, we scribble feedback on the manuscript itself, and then have a faciliated feedback discussion. (Tamara Hughes, who just commented, is one of our fantabulous facilitators).

      Our chaptermate Ann Bleakley talked about our chapter’s critique process with Blythe Gifford at RWA National 2009 in a workshop called “Critique Mystique.”

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  13. Beth Trissel says:

    Great post ladies and congrats to Brenda on your release. I think a critique partner or small circle of friends who give helpful feedback is invaluable.

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  14. Jamie,
    If they plan to distribute the pages in advance and then discuss at the meeting, I can see why you might be concerned about time. I meet with Tammy once a month and that is what we do. I also meet with another group of ladies and we do the same thing.

    But in our local chapter, we also critique each month and handle it differently. Someone will bring in a chapter, pass out copies to everyone present, and then read aloud. We have a few moments to comment on the copy before we discuss the chapter aloud. It works quite well. You might want to suggest to your chapter to do it this way.

    As far as getting territorial – you can dismiss everything you hear, if you want. But at times, even a dismissed comment might spark some other idea for you. Thanks for your input.

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    • Brenda, thanks for the response.

      We’re having our monthly meeting tonight, at which I presume we’ll hear the results of our online vote. I suspect that the critique portion of the chapter will actually be a separate meeting, like on a Saturday instead of a Thursday, so it won’t in any way impact those who don’t wish to participate.

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  15. Mary Ricksen says:

    I wish my critique partners would give me the same help I give them!! I am always willing to drop everything, even my own deadlines, to help someone. But sadly, I get the I’m busy I will get to it later. Which is not a big help. I never say anything, but I feel comfortable here in telling you. I have had people ask me and I’ve said sure can you read mine. They’ve said no and so I don’t jump anymore. Turnabout is fair play here people. If someone helps you, help them back!!! Has any one else had the same thing happen to them?

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    • Mary, Sounds like you critiquing is a bit too casual. I’ve found a set schedule works best. Such as, we will meet on the third Wednesday. We will have 20 pages emailed two weeks prior, etc. Life does get busy and a schedule lets everyone know what is expected when. Does that help?

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    • rita says:

      Yes! A lot of people have the same experience. Don’t be afraid to move on if it isn’t working for you.

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  16. Darynda Jones says:

    Awesome post, Tammy and Brenda! I love being able to meet face-to-face as well. There are just some things that are easier to discuss and bounce around ideas for in person.

    Brenda, your book sounds wonderful! I’m truly interested in reading it. And of course I can’t wait to read all of Tammy’s. I got a sneak peek but it was not nearly enough!

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    • Thanks, Darynda. Even though I am lucky to be reading Tammy’s books as she writes, I can’t wait to read them either. We don’t run our last edits by each other. And reading a chapter at a time gives too much breathing time between Tammy’s chapters. Tammy writes sexy and knows how to ramp up tension. I’m going to enjoy long reads so I get enough to get my heart rate up.

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  17. rita says:

    Wonderful post! You seem to have found the perfect critique partnership. The same core belief about the business is a good foundation. I really think writing different genres is a big help. Coming at it from different views can only help.

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    • Thanks, Rita. Writing different genres adds a new dimension for me. I think I’ve learned from critiquing Tammy’s work.

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      • Tamara Hogan says:

        And vice-versa. Brenda’s writing is so …clean. Yeah, I’m jealous. 😉

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        • rita says:

          that green eyed monster does keeps us striving to do better-grin

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        • Why Tammy, I hope you mean clean as in sentence structure. My heat might not compare to yours but I don’t want to come off like Mary Poppins either! ;0

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          • Tamara Hogan says:

            Being that earlier this week we were discussing Benjamin’s bulge and Claire’s cleavage… Yes, I meant clean as in sentence structure. Maybe ‘crisp’ would have been a better word! 😉

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  18. Linda Engman says:

    Brenda, great interview! So excited for you and for the release of Sleeping With The Lights On. Congratulations and Best Wishes. Linda 🙂

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  19. It’s been fun and interesting. Unfortunately, 5:00 am comes ridiculously early so I’ve got to head upstairs and do the nightly ritual – you know the cleanser and creams that promise to smooth out wrinkles making me look ten years younger.

    I want to thank Tammy and The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood for having me. Don’t let my slipping out spoil the party. Talk amongst yourselves. Nite – nite!

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  20. Good night Brenda. Thanks for dropping by. Enjoyed hearing about your critique rel. with Tamara. Congratulations on Sleeping With The Lights On!

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  21. Lilly Gayle says:

    I have two critique partners. One keeps me writing and pushes me to produce. I need that. I too often let life get in the way. My other critique partner isn’t as persistent. We don’t critique on a regular schedule. Her calendar is busier than mine. But, she is a Regency expert. She knows computers. She keeps my gramma, punctuation and sentence structure on the money. And she can sure turn a flowery phrase.

    Between the two of them, my writing has improved dramatically. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Different people definitely serve different needs in our lives, don’t they, and every person who reads our work is going to bring with them a different perspective and area of subject matter expertise. It sounds like you are lucky indeed, Lilly!

      I’m doing editorial revisions on my debut novel right now, and some of the feedback I’m responding to is a result of my editor’s knowledge of how Sourcebooks plans to market the book. She’s the one with that expertise. For TASTE ME’s followup, I need some technical expertise (archaeology, metallurgy) that neither Brenda nor I possess, so I plan to hit up contacts at my alma mater.

      It takes a village to write a book, doesn’t it?

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  22. I’ve been thinking I need a critique partner. There are a few members in my chapter who have read my MS, but not with a terribly critical eye. Of course, I don’t mind hearing, “I liked it” … I’m not very good at criticizing others’ work, either, so it may be a lost cause.

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Maybe you can hit up some different writers in your chapter. Like Rita said upthread, sometimes the fit isn’t quite right. You might also consider writing classes; they’re a rich source of potential critique parters. Here in Minneapolis, we’re lucky enough to have The Loft Literary Center to take classes in person, but I’ve taken several online classes via Yahoo loop where someone will post a message asking if anyone might be interested in critiquing offline, after the class ends.

      A good critique partner, who possesses craft knowledge and a critical eye, can bring so much to your work, Arlene. I’m glad you’re thinking about this. Don’t give up.

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      • Tamara Hogan says:

        (Hit Submit too soon.)

        There are also online and special interest RWA chapters such as RWA Online, Kiss of Death, Futuristic, Fantasy & Paranormal, with their own critique groups and threads. Each group has its own approach to submitting material for critique, but this is another avenue you might consider if you’re looking for fresh, knowledgeable eyes!

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  23. Congrats on your debut, Brenda! I am not surprised you and Tammy have a great CP relationship. This blog shows what a lovely rapport you two have.

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  24. Helen Brenna says:

    Congrats on your debut, Brenda! Hope it sells like hotcakes!!

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  25. Since I logged off early last night, thought I would check back in once more. Tammy had some good advice and insights above. Thank you, Helen, Vanessa, and Bev for your well wishes.

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  26. Lanny Whiteside says:

    Congrats Brenda, I’m so very proud of you!

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  27. I received my hard copy, btw, and i can’t wait to start reading it next week……after the move.

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  28. […] Tammy and her critique partner, Brenda Whiteside, discuss their critique relationship at The Ruby Slippered […]

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