A few months back, Laura Boldin-Fournier, a member of my writers’ critique group, mentioned that Chicken Soup for the Soul was looking for stories for an upcoming volume, Inspiration for Teachers. A few local writers submitted stories, and two got lucky.
Laura wrote Expect the Unexpected, recounting some amusing incidents of her 33 years working in an elementary school. “Remembering my experiences with children still makes me chuckle, and I hope that sharing my stories make others smile,” she said.
Laura has had two other stories in different Chicken Soup volumes, Family Caregiver and Very Good/Very Bad Cat. She met Amy Newmark, editor-in-chief and publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. “She is a wonderful person, an inspiration for everyone,” Laura said.
Laura published her first book last October, An Orangutan’s Night Before Christmas, a humorous children’s book with fun illustrations available at local bookstores and on Amazon. She writes for both children and adults, has submitted her next manuscript and highly recommends that aspiring writers join critique groups.
“Hearing criticism is very insightful,” she said. “It opens your eyes. You can’t take negative comments personally. In fact, they’re especially helpful in knowing what’s not working and how to improve.”
Laura attends three critique groups, one of which meets twice a month at the Royal Palm Beach branch library. Karl Zwarych, assistant branch manager, facilitates the group. “It’s the best two and a half hours of my week,” he said. “I always look forward to it. I’m lucky to be involved in the process.”
Although Karl doesn’t write, he listens and offers perceptive comments. He’s pleased that the Royal Palm Beach library offers the program, as well as a variety of other programs, all free of charge.
“Libraries are places where people not only enjoy, share and access information, it’s where they can explore and create all sorts of things,” he said. “Like all our offerings, the critique group is run by experienced professionals and sets a high standard.”
Lori Flynn, another group member, has self-published a book, Absolute Recall (available on Amazon), and is hard at work on another, I Love You to Pieces.
“This group helps us learn from each other,” she said. “I joined last year, and it has aided me immeasurably. I write romantic suspense, my favorite genre. My bookshelf is filled with Nora Roberts novels. This group has made a huge difference in my writing. I’ve learned so much.”
Lori Norman started the group in 2010, originally just for children’s writers. “When I moved here, I looked around for a critique group, didn’t see one, so decided to start one,” she said.
She published her first story in Highlights for Children magazine back in 1982, and articles for adults in other media. This year, she self-published Beyond the Drawbridge (available on Amazon), a fascinating memoir about her life’s journey from entering the novitiate at 18 to the eventual reexamination of all she knew and trusted.
“Writing is a lot harder and takes much longer than you think,” Lori said. “I revised my book about 1,973 times. You have to understand character development, story arc, plotting, conveying emotion, using hooks to draw in readers, and of course, proper grammar. It takes a lot of determination and patience.”
She highly recommends that aspiring writers join a critique group.
“Writing is a craft which needs to be honed. We’re all learners, and participating in groups, along with taking classes, attending conferences and reading, is a kind of apprenticeship,” Lori said. “Accept feedback without arguing or becoming defensive. Respect others’ opinions. Use what works, and ignore the rest.”
And then there’s the other critique group member whose story was accepted. That would be me. Many of you know me from my weekly horse column in this publication. I also write on other topics, and was thrilled when my story got green-lighted. Tough School recounts an experience when I taught at Pahokee Middle-Senior High School some years back.
I love the critique group. The members offer serious and professional suggestions, which always lead to improved rewrites. Although I never bring in my columns, I do bring in other works-in-progress: short stories, nonfiction books and novels. I write for both children and adults in a variety of genres, and unlike the others, I don’t have anything for sale on Amazon. I’m still hoping and trying to get one of my books published. It’s the only thing on my bucket list.
In the meantime, I love writing the columns, am thrilled to be included in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers, which is available in local bookstores and Amazon as of April 18, and keep hoping that one day, an agent or publisher will say that magic word: yes!
ABOVE: Ellen Rosenberg and Laura Boldin-Fournier are featured in the new Chicken Soup for the Soul book out this month.