Friday, January 14, 2011

A New Perspective

By Susan

I've written here before about writing uniquely, about critique, and about writing and real life. This post is about an interesting mix of all three.

I was in Kentucky in November for my grandmother's 90th birthday, and I wrote about it here. While there, my father, an ardent reader, begged for the beginning of my manuscript. He could tell me whether it was worth all the time I'd been putting into it, or not, as he so bluntly put it. My father is a 6-foot-6-inch mountain of a man, a retired high school football coach, and an intimidating and unlikely critique partner. I relented, and left the first 10 pages with him before I returned to Texas.

Four days before Christmas, my mother fell on the ice and broke her leg. After a week in the hospital, surgery, and struggles with pain medication, she is now recovering well yet is officially home-bound. Earlier this week, she called me, wanting me to send additional pages. Also a retired teacher and avid reader, she'd re-read the pages I'd left there in November.

"I need something to read," she said. "And I want to know what happens next."
Throughout the past few days, both of them have called me, peppering me with questions, suggestions, and insight. Since my manuscript is based on Kentucky families and their secrets through the latter half of the last century, and my parents have lived there their entire lives, they are suddenly my resident experts. My audience of one--myself--has now broadened to include a very unexpected extension--my parents. And as I told Pamela earlier this week, you never grow too old to glow from praise from your mother.

What I love the most is that when I started writing The Angel's Share, I thought my parents would disapprove. Was the content too close to home? Did I use a stronger version of "darn" one too many times? And why did my characters seem to be drinking bourbon all the time? (The backdrop of the novel is the bourbon industry). But they have surprised and impressed me. Not just with their thoughtful critique, technical detail, and fact-checking, but with their approval.
At What Women Write, we talk a lot about our critique circle, because we value the uniqueness of our alliances with each other. And at WWW, we all know each others manuscripts. We know each others plots, characters, and conflicts. I recommend that all writers find a group where you can receive healthy critique. Yet receiving an outside eye can give you an entirely new perspective.

For me, that outside eye came from the most unexpected and welcome place--home. And as far as my father's know-how on whether I should keep writing or quit now?

"Keeping writing, girl," he mumbled to me over the phone. I could hear the way the words stumbled out of his mouth, tripping over the cigar clenched between his back teeth.

And for a little girl who always thought her parents disapproved, it was the best thing he could have ever said.


  1. My mother is also one of my very first readers ... and even though she's my mother, I still tremble when I hand the laptop over to her with my story for the first time! She is my biggest support and I want her approval badly! :) And she tells it like it is, too.

  2. Mom and Dad14 January, 2011

    Thank you, dear Susan. We are honored. Everything you said about us was plain heartwarming. Of course we approve. Your writing is a gift. Dad will read your blog when he comes in. He's washing the salt off his truck now.
    Did he tell you he loved your description of the bootleggers' cars? Being high-assed, I mean. He took your pages to Steven, and he wants to know more, too!


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