I drove into the city yesterday to attend the George Alec Effinger writer’s group for the first time. (GAE passed away a few years back, but the writer’s group lives on.) Andy Fox (author of Fat White Vampire Blues) invited me to the group, and since it has some members who have significant writing credentials I figured I’d give it a try.

The first adventure was actually finding the place where it was to be held. The group had lost its original meeting place (in a “commandeered” classroom at UNO) and thus was meeting, at least for this week, in a cafe down in Uptown New Orleans. Well, I had no idea where this particular cafe was, so I left way early. Fortunately, I only passed it up once before locating it, and then only had a ten minute search for a parking place.

The next adventure was actually meeting up with the other members of the group. See, I’d only ever met two of the members in person, so as I looked around the cafe I realized that I could quite easily be looking right at all of the others and never know it. Luckily, though, one of the two that I actually knew walked in just a few minutes after me and we managed to secure a table large enough for the whole group.

So, after about 15 minutes of small talk, the critiques got under way. The biggest crimp in all of this was the background noise of the cafe, and it was later decided that the group would be relocating to another site where we could actually have a private room to ourselves. The critique portion was basic Clarion style, where everyone gets a turn to give their crit, while the author says nothing (except to answer specific questions.) Only after all the critiques are finished is the author allowed to rebut or explain.

Well, the first story to go was one that I had significant critique of. (I’m not saying it was a bad story, but rather it was one that I felt had a lot of issues and had a lot of room for improvement.) However, the first person to critique that story gave it an absolutely glowing review, leaving me feeling somewhat uncomfortable because a)I really did not want to waste my time in a critique group that was merely a mutual admiration society and b) there were flaws in the story that I had considered glaring and c) it was my turn next and I was about to give a radicaly different critique that would probably seem much more negative coming on the heels of the glowing one, and d) it was my first time delivering a critique there and I was about to lay a big nasty one.

So, it came to my turn and I took a deep breath and decided to not back down from my critique. I smiled and said, “I guess everyone’s going to hate me right from the start!” and then proceeded with my analysis of the story and its problems, strengths, and gave suggestions for possible fixes.

The next person gave their critique, and it was another quite nice one. I began to cringe inwardly. But, then, the next two people gave critiques that nearly echoed mine, which relieved me greatly.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s not that I think everyone should agree with me. And, I realize that a story might appeal greatly to one person and not appeal at all to another. Its just that if no one else had pointed out the problems with this story, I would have had serious doubts about the effectiveness of the group as a whole.

But, my fears were allayed nicely, and as the rest of the evening progressed and other stories and chapters were critiqued, I was able to get a good sense of the various critiquing styles of the various members. Overall I think it’s going to be a good fit, and there’s enough diversity in the members to ensure that the stories that come from the group don’t seem homogenized.

About the only thing I saw people doing that I don’t like doing is line edits of stories submitted for critique. See, I think that line editing of anything but the almost-final product is a waste of time unless it’s something truly egregious, or perhaps a case of a certain word being used repeatedly in a short span of time. If a story is going to go through significant rewrites, why the heck would you waste time on picking apart phrasing? [shrug] I’m sure there are many who disagree with me, but I told the group that I didn’t give line edits, and I didn’t expect them either, and I saw a couple of people nodding their heads.

And, the other good thing is that one of the other members is from the Northshore, so we plan on carpooling for subsequent meetings. Good thing since I was literally falling asleep on the drive home. I’m such a fuddy-duddy. I’m just not used to being out late anymore!

But, overall, I enjoyed myself and enjoyed the people. It is a good spur for me to write more, which I definitely need. I just have so many irons in the fire it’s far too easy for me to set the writing aside as one of the lowest priority items.