Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Critique group

My critique group meets in a the restaurant attached to a biker bar in Beavercreek, Oregon. When I go there in the summer, half the parking lot is roped off for Two-Wheel Tuesday, and a bunch of middle-aged Harley riders are gathered in their leather clothes with their leathery skin and talking about whatever middle-aged Harley riders talk about. In the winter, the dark parking lot is filled with pickup trucks sporting Harley decals.

I go into the family restaurant portion of the building and always find, no matter what time I arrive, that Tom and Chuck, my critique partners, are there before me. Tom is an engineer with a gift for story telling and a determination to bring meaning out of the sadness and humor he's experienced in his life. Chuck has worked in forestry and now writes a monthly nature column for a small newspaper, as well as some fiction. And then there's me.

The restaurant is a down-home kind of place with coffee mugs on all the tables and stacking chairs and a friendly waitress who keeps coming by to fill our coffee. We've had a parade of these waitresses--it must be hard to staff a restaurant in Beavercreek, Oregon--and most of them are young and cheerful, with pleasant banter and young kids at home.

None of us is a writing guru. I've been banging my head against the wall the longest, I think, but Chuck has had a literary agent, and Tom has a fool-proof plan to accomplish anything he sets his mind to. It may not work for me, but I believe it will work for him.

Chuck could easily be syndicated for his nature writing, and he occasionally gets experts contacting him about some topic or other. Tonight, I was looking for the population of Boring, Oregon, his hometown (couldn't find the information in 25 pages of google links, but that's a different frustration), and I ran across his comments (scroll down a ways) about the habits of the pika (a large mountain ground squirrel that looks something like a Guinea pig).

Last evening Tom brought back a story that he had showed us once--it's in third draft now, and I think he'll sell it.

And I brought 10 pages of my novel and got such good comments from them that I solved a bedeviling problem with the premise in a way that adds depth and aids character development through the whole story.

The only thing we have in common is that we live in Clackamas County, Oregon, and it's easier to drive to Beavercreek for a critique group meeting than to, say, downtown Portland. I walk out smelling of cigarette smoke (not ours, from the bar next door) and hopped up from coffee and writing. Serendipity is a beautiful thing.

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