That’s right, you found us! We’re the Columbus chapter of Sisters in Crime, formerly known as Sisters in Crime-Columbus, Ohio. We’re a group of writers from just about every sub-genre – crime noir, cozies, horror, you name it. If it has a body count, it has a place with us! We ranged from published authors to new writers – all experience levels are welcome. We work to help each other out with critique sessions, schedule authors and other experts to come visit us, and even take the occasional field trip. The goal is to help our members become better writers and achieve their dreams of publishing their stories. Please take a few minutes to check out our coming events, some past events for a flavor, and get to know us!
Captain Kidd. Blackbeard. Pirates of the Caribbean. The Pittsburgh Pirates. You like pirates? Of course you do . . . who doesn’t like pirates? Probably some Yankees fan, like Rudy Giuliani, because his name starts with an ‘aarrrrrrr’ (shut up, that was hilarious). Anyway, since everybody likes pirates, you have no reason to not attend the Old Worthington Library on Saturday, May 26, from 12:30 – 2:00 and converse with our monthly speaker, Steve Goble. Steve is the home-grown Ohio author of THE BLOODY BLACK FLAG, and THE DEVIL’S WIND (coming out in September, 2018). Both books feature a reluctant pirate protagonist who solves murder mysteries in the early 1700’s off colonial America . . . a plot device so cool it’s got antifreeze in its veins. Steve is a debut author who’s also a local journalist for USA Today, a former speaker at the recent Murder and Mayhem Conference in Chicago (with Gillian Flynn and Jeffrey Deaver), and just for fun he has Godzilla as his spirit animal. In short, he has tons of experiential advice to pass on to new authors which you don’t want to miss. So bone up on your pirate lingo and fancy sword skills and spend some quality time with a few of your faves (and join us for lunch afterwards, per usual). Oh, and keep writing.
(by SICCO Board Member Connie Campbell Berry)
You’ve spent months alone with your characters. The setting of your novel is more real to you than your hometown. You can quote whole chapters word for word. You laugh and cry at all the right places. But is your manuscript ready to be seen by agents and publishers?
What you need is feedback. An unbiased take on your dialogue, characterization, and plot flow. Someone to point out lapses in continuity or point of view. Someone to catch the typos your brain automatically corrects. But where can you find unbiased readers who don’t demand your firstborn in payment?
One option is to join a critique group. A critique group is a small group of people who read and give feedback on each others’ submissions. Sometimes After belonging to several critique groups, here are the top ten things I’ve learned:
- You can’t write a novel by committee.
Critique groups work best when members feel free to express honest opinions and writers feel free to ignore them. You are the final arbiter of your work.
- Agree on the guidelines.
Will you meet in person or online? How many pages will you submit? How long will you have to complete critiques? My suggestion is to limit submissions to
ten or twenty pages, double-spaced. The fewer members of the group, the more pages you might agree to read. Reading whole scenes or whole chapters is the best, but the length can vary greatly. Talk about it in advance so everyone’s on the same page. A week or two to complete critiques is usually workable (depending on the number of participants and length of submissions). The important thing is to agree in advance.
- Limit the number in the group.
More than five is probably too many. Critiquing four submissions every two
weeks takes time. Most of us have day jobs and families.
- Seek a group with relatively similar skills and projects.
Including an inexperienced writer with those more skillful can work, but it can also be frustrating. Critique partners aren’t teachers or editors. And while good writing is good writing, the norms for various genres vary wildly. Would a group of cozy mystery writers really get dystopian fantasy? Would a writer of steamy romances fit into a group writing Christian historical fiction?
- Share approximate word count in advance.
If three manuscripts fall in the 75,000 to 80,000 range and one is an epic of 250,000 words, you’ve got a problem. Will three of you hang in there with the fourth for several additional months at the rate of 10 pages per week? If manuscripts are dissimilar in length, agree on a plan. Those with shorter manuscripts might agree to post revisions or another WIP.
- Don’t expect to be told how magnificent you are.
Be open to both positive and negative feedback. If you don’t want an honest
critique, ask your mother to read your manuscript instead.
- Don’t argue.
Avoid the temptation to defend or explain your work. You’ve made no promises to agree with or use the feedback of others. Asking questions, however, can be very helpful. For example: “Can you tell me why that section didn’t work for you?”
- Be timely.
Submit on time and finish critiques on time. Period.
- Include positive feedback.
In addition to pointing out what doesn’t work, tell your critique group partners what you loved: a character finely drawn, a passage you just couldn’t put down, a lovely turn of phrase, the place where you laughed out loud. There is always something positive to say.
- Give group members the right to opt out.
No explanations necessary.
If you are interested in forming or joining a critique group, find a local chapter of one of the national writers’ organizations like Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and American Christian Fiction Writers. I hooked up with my first critique group through the Guppies, an online chapter of Sisters in Crime, dedicated to helping writers get published.
The Columbus chapter of Sisters in Crime (SiCCo) has several Writing Critique sessions planned for 2018. Check our Facebook page and website for dates and locations. Those participating will register in advance, submit pages, and download the pages of others to read and comment in advance.
Attending writers’ conferences and workshops is another great way to meet fellow writers. The critique group I’m in now was formed at Seascape Writers’ Retreat in Connecticut.
Or you can find a group online. Check out these possibilities:
Ladies Who Critique (www.ladieswhocritique.com)
The Critique Circle (www.critiquecircle.com)
The Writer’s Chatroom (www.writerschatroom.com)
Absolute Write (www.absolutewrite.com)
UPCOMING FOR 2018
Hey, welcome! This is Patrick Stuart, the upcoming 2018 SICCO President taking over the reins so that our 2017 President, Kristin Crump, can spend a long sabbatical
recuperating relaxing after an incredibly successful year. To recoup; in 2017, we had several successful speakers, including Cleveland author and winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award D.M. Pulley (February), Pulitzer Prize-winning author and novelist Julia Keller (June), and a field trip to the Ohio Fire Marshal Forensics Laboratory (August). In addition, we dissected the book Girl On A Train (January), watched and discussed the movie Chinatown (March), and had our annual member writer’s workshop (May). And, oh yeah . . . our daylong BIG EVENT in September, with speakers including Peter Tobin (U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Ohio), Gary Wilgus (Special Agent with the Ohio BCI Forensic Underwater Dive Team), Mitchell Seckman (detective with the Columbus Division of Police), and keynote speaker Andrew Welsh-Huggins (Associated Press reporter and author of the Andy Hayes mystery series). Holy bovine . . . no wonder Ms. Kristin is wore out. And this year proves to be just as exciting and intriguing. Here’s a small teaser:
For 2018, the SICCO board decided to spend the year focusing on (drumroll); writing. This will be a year spent getting back to basics and supporting one another for the sole purpose of getting published. So instead of one critique meeting, we’ll now have (3) . . . tentatively February, May and October/November (also NaNoWriMo month). However, this doesn’t mean we’re abandoning our regular speakers. We have a way-cool list of speakers and/or trips where we’re still finalizing the details (see our Events category for regular updates and changes). Once we get confirmation we’ll put it out there, but in the meantime we don’t want to jinx ourselves. In addition, we’re in the last stages of finalizing our Manuscript Critique group. Need beta readers? Contact us. If a rough draft of your manuscript is complete, we’ll distribute it among member volunteers for a healthy critique. Because we want to see more authors exchanging words for filthy lucre. And in order for this to happen, you need resources. So once we get the details finalized, it’ll be another resource available to you as a member. Because although we’re already part of a national organization with over 3600 members across the country, and our local chapter already has award-winning members, NYTBR authors, etc., we want more. We’re just weird like that. Helping to get you published makes us a little, well . . . giddy. We like giddy.
So come join us for 2018. If you’re unaware, we typically meet the last Saturday of each month, at a local central Ohio library location, with the exception of the occasional field visit or day-long special event. And after our monthly meeting, we typically hit a local restaurant or diner to
liquor up engage the speaker, commiserate over writerly obstacles, and basically offer group therapy. In other words, we’re social. Let’s face it: writing is a monastic pursuit, and you need a place to get out of your shell occasionally. So let us be it. Come see what we’re about and hang for awhile. Meet up with like individuals and talk about craft, writing the perfect query letter, finding an agent, navigating the rewards/perils of self-publishing, trading research tips, or just to have an excuse to get out of the freaking house and leave the pets/kids/spouse/significant other behind for a couple of hours. Or four. Whatever. We’re writers . . . not mathematicians.
So stop by in 2018. Attend gratis for one or two meetings and kick the tires. Give us a test drive. Check under the hood (enough with the car metaphors, Patrick, we get it!). Sheesh, all right . . . you don’t have to yell. But give us a look-see. You just might like us.
Patrick Stuart: SICCO 2018 President
Saturday, September 23, 2017!
Our annual BIG EVENT!
OK, if you missed this on the home page then you shan’t be blamed (we’ve been experiencing some website thingies since switching over to the new format and our site became . . . ah . . . infected). Nothing you need worry about, but a big pain in the butt for us. So we’ve been letting things sit and cool out until we were sure the fire was extinguished, and now we’re testing out the new wheels (baby steps) with the most pressing update to REMIND YOU OF OUR BIG EVENT ON 9/23/17!
Our speakers for the all-day extravaganza are as follows:
Andrew Welsh Huggins (Keynote Speaker): AP reporter, local author of the Andy Hayes mystery series, and all-around terrific person (not to mention a popular past speaker for SICCO), Andrew will discuss his research methods for how he nails the details on his now 4-book series with Ohio University Press.
Peter Tobin (U.S. Marshal for the Ohio Southern District): holy cow, is this someone not to miss. Former Chief of Police for Powell and London (Ohio), SWAT commander, Narcotics Division Chief for BCI, and now Superintendent of BCI/US Marshal. If you’re looking for info on how to catch bad guys or just a lot of wicked, big-time anecdotal stories, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Gary Wilgus (Supervisor for the Ohio BCI Forensic Underwater Dive Team): we’re still scratching our heads how we were able to get this guy. If you’ve ever wondered how they find the people with ice water in their veins to strap on SCUBA gear in the middle of a freezing January night to search for a drowning victim, this is your chance. A definite must-see.
Mitchell Seckman (Detective with Columbus PD/member of the FBI Columbus Violent Criminal Task Force): there’s not enough room to include this officer’s bona fides. Part of the Columbus Police gang unit and a popular SICCO past speaker, Mitchell is the quintessential cop’s cop. With a wealth of experience for anyone interested in police procedurals, cozies, mysteries, thrillers or anything in between.
So for anyone interested in reading or writing about criminal activities, this is for you. Whether an author looking for technical details or a reader simply wondering ‘how the hell do they do that?’, this is a perfect way to spend a central-Ohio autumn day. The time is 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. at the Blacklick Woods Metro Park/Beech-Maple Lodge. Cost is $60 for SICCO members, $70 for non-members (lunch and breakfast goodies included). Visit the SICCO Facebook page and click on the EVENTBRITE.COM link to sign up (parking is available, but space may be limited). And please contact us at our Facebook site with any questions!
Happy Valentine’s Day!!
As most of us know, February 14th is celebrated by couples as a day for love. Although the exact origin of the holiday is not widely agreed upon, it is recognized as a day celebrating devotion and romance. It’s difficult to say exactly where the traditions started, since there are many stories involving saints but not much is reliably known. One story tells that Saint Valentine cured the blindness of the daughter of Judge Asterius of Rome. Another tells he was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples and aiding Christians being persecuted by the Emperor Claudius. Other depictions of St. Valentine’s arrests tell that he secretly married couples so husbands wouldn’t have to go to war and still another variation of the legend says he refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, was imprisoned and while imprisoned he healed the jailer’s blind daughter. On the day of his execution, he left the girl a note signed, “Your Valentine.”
Whoever he was, Valentine did really exist, because archaeologists have unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine. In 496 AD Pope Gelasius marked February 14th as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom.
The romantic nature of Valentine’s Day may have derived during the Middle Ages, when it was believed that birds paired into couples in mid-February. According to some scholars, Valentine’s Day was most likely created to overpower the pagan holiday, Lupercalia.
St. Valentine is the Patron Saint of affianced couples, bee keepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travelers, and young people. He is represented in pictures with birds and roses.
When pondering this day and what to get my husband, it occurred to me Valentine’s Day could be a day to celebrate not just the romantic relationships in your life but your other loves as well. I think as writers we have to love what we do. Very few people get rich, let along make a living, doing this. If we didn’t love it, why else would we do it? There’s something so deeply satisfying about stringing words together and once you get it right, hearing the rhythm and flow of a well-crafted sentence, paragraph, scene or story.
So I say, regardless of your relationship status, use today, Valentine’s Day as an excuse to celebrate this thing you love, the written word. And if you feel so inclined, light some candles, open a bottle of wine and sit down to a romantic dinner with your manuscript. If you don’t, who will???
Here’s an ugly thought: as per the beginning of every new year, IBM recently came up with a list of (5) technological advancements that will be worth watching in 2017. Along with disease tracking technology and personal x-ray vision (yo quiero mucho) was this: determining mental illness through language.
As Austin Powers would say, “Yeah baby!” Roughly one in (15) people worldwide is estimated to have some sort of mental illness, much of which is undiagnosed. Researchers think that artificial intelligence may soon be able to parse our speech and writing patterns to figure out which of us could use an occasional Xanax bar.
Which is a fascinating concept; not just as an analytical tool with real-world goodliness, but also to find out if writers truly are, to put it bluntly, ‘nutty in the filbert.’ You know what I mean . . . as authors (especially in the crime genres) how do we come up with all the nasty we write about without wondering if we were dropped on our heads a few times? All of the eviscerations, amputations, decapitations, blood-splattering, eye-gouging, gunshots, explosions, etcetera? I remember an interview on Terry Gross’s show Fresh Air where author Ayelet Waldman (wife of Michael Chabon) laughingly mentioned the horrible deaths she imagined upon the various parents at her kids’ soccer matches. You know you’ve done the same (I certainly have). Standing in line at the grocery. At the gas pump. In the shower. At office meetings.
And just think about your favorite authors. You want to analyze Stephen King’s latest? How ‘bout Kathy Reichs? Dean Koontz? Sue Grafton? I’m willing to bet that one in fifteen ratio starts approaching even odds, right quick. Flip a quarter; heads, Hilary Mantel is a sweet, elfin personality who makes strawberry scones in her spare time. Tails, she has a kitten’s head in her purse.
Point being, who cares? If you think like this, you’re one of us. You’re not alone. So put those thoughts to good use and write something. Make a story out of it. Or a script. A novella, or even the big kahuna; a full-fledged novel. But don’t think for one nanosecond that something’s wrong. On the contrary: you’re muy bien. Keep writing.
Hi! Patrick Stuart here, a.k.a., not that ‘other’ Patrick Stewart (of Star Trek fame). As the outgoing president of SICCO for 2016 (and anxiously awaiting the 2017 presidency of our new commander-in-chief, Kristin Crump), I just wanted to welcome you to the site and make an official ‘howdy’ before shifting gears as records keeper-slash-web custodian. I also wanted to give any newbies an update on who we are, why you should join (if you haven’t already) and let people know what we’ve got planned for the new year. So to begin:
- Our name: SICCO. How cool is that??! Saying you’re a member of SICCO (pronounced Sick’-Oh) is like saying you’re a member of Hell’s Angels. It’s an acronym for Sisters In Crime of Central Ohio, but that’s wordy and pedestrian. SICCO, however, raises eyebrows.
- We’re the local affiliate of a national group, i.e., Sisters In Crime. There’s (56) chapters scattered across North America, so we have a network. Just like Smith & Wollensky; we’re in several locations and are consistently mouthwatering.
- Twenty buh. Yeah, you heard me. Twenty buh for an annual membership to local, and forty buh for national. That comes to five buh a meeting (once a month). Can’t beat that with a stick.
- I’m a dude. Although the primary intent of the organization (when it was formed in the mid-eighties) was to support underrepresented female authors, even if you have a Y-chromosome you’re absotively welcome. Gals still outnumber guys, but despite the name SICCO is non-gender specific.
- Write in a different genre? Horror? Literary? YA? Just like to read? Don’t matter us none . . . if you’re a proponent of the written word, we like you. As the song says: “come on in, take off your skin and rattle around in your bones.”
- Cool features: from our revamped Facebook page and website (now a little over one year old) to our special events with national experts and speakers, we have become absolutely awesome. For 2017, we have a special event in September with speaker commitments from (check this out) the federal U.S. Marshals Office, the Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) forensic dive team, and an agent with the FBI’s Cincinnati field office. We also have an upcoming visit to the Ohio Fire Marshal’s forensic lab in August (think arson, explosions, etc.), our popular writing critique/workshop in May, and loads of other fantastic events (check out the Monthly Meetings section). In addition, this year we’re also implementing beta readers for blind critiques of completed manuscripts (for a small additional fee, ask for details). Because ultimately we want to see you published. And to do that, we need to offer as many tools as possible.
- Finally, the ultimate reason to join: we’re simply enjoyable to hang with. Just ask us. Not too big and not too small, i.e., just right. Whether you’re an MFA grad or enjoy Mickey Spillane novels, are published or struggling to get published, have several completed manuscripts or are just thinking about writing, I have one word: welcome. We are an inclusive group of all kinds and backgrounds, ranging from NYT bestselling authors to self-published folks and beginners, all supportive and excited about the craft of writing. So if you’re looking for a writing group, go ahead and kick the tires. Take us out for a test drive and attend one or two of our monthly meetings for free, just to get the feel of the road. And fulfill that New Year’s resolution to put something on paper with other like-minded individuals. So see you in 2017 . . . keep writing.
OK, before you read any further . . . this is a satirical novel. So if you are a serious writer:
- Do not follow the advice in this book.
- It’s equal parts hilarious and depressing.
- The protagonist is, well, kind of a dick.
So anyway, some backstory. I ran across this book listed among the literary humor favorites from several (actual) authors and thought I’d give it a try. The premise is one we’ve all considered: the main character, Pete Tarslaw, is a frustrated writer and the ex-boyfriend of Polly Pawson. Polly gets engaged and sends out a mass email wedding invite which includes Pete. The wedding is a year away and Pete, a slacker who makes a living writing fake college admission essays for foreign applicants, decides to become a famous novelist to enact revenge on his ex via jealousy, envy and regret that she broke up with him.
All right, that’s not the part we’ve all considered. The part we have all considered is how Pete goes about becoming a famous novelist. He just can’t believe some of the horrible novels making their way to the bestseller lists (you know you’ve done the same). So he visits some bookstores, reads some reviews and uses a mental cut and paste technique to come up with his own terrible, Frankenstein concoction of mishmashed plot arcs, sappy dialogue and wooden characters which he titles the Tornado Ashes Club (plot spoiler: the title refers to the main character’s grandmother’s quest to throw her lover’s ashes into, wait for it . . . a tornado). Pete’s nemesis is Preston Brooks, a weathered cowboy author straight from a Williams Sonoma catalog who writes sentimental tearjerkers Pete is convinced are complete balderdash masquerading as literature. As a result, Pete becomes obsessed with exposing Brooks, and the story basically follows his misguided attempts to exact revenge on everyone he feels is a shallow, one-dimensional fraud. Which, as it turns out, is really himself.
What’s interesting is the central theme: that authors can make bank by writing to trends and lucrative audiences, rather than focusing on craft. We’re now seeing algorithms devised to forecast bestsellers based on empirical data (see links to Wired and The Atlantic below). Is writing just one more bowling pin in a 7 – 10 split of humanity, waiting to drop to a computerized Brunswick? Manufacturing, Amazon drones, autonomous driving . . . maybe it’s just the natural evolution of things. And maybe I’ll just hide under the bed with a bottle of bourbon and a shotgun until the end of times. Anyway, author Steve Hely has written for the Late Show with David Letterman, American Dad!, 30 Rock and The Office. He also won Columbus’s very own Thurber Award in 2010. Out of 4 thumbs up, I give this a 2.5 overall; again, some hilarious parts, but they couldn’t override Pete being a complete tool. Keep writing.
NaNoWriMo. A word that invokes fear, desperation and loathing. Kind of like taxes. Politics. Lutefisk. And colorectal exam.
That last one was two words, but still.
NaNoWriMo (short for ‘National Novel Writing Month’) is coming up this November. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, NaNoWriMo started in 1999 on a whim by a group of 21 folks in San Francisco who were trying to encourage each other to write. The goal was to put 50,000 words on paper during the month of November. They continued the next year and got 140 participants. So they thought ‘what the hell, why not?’ and continued to 2001.
They got 5000 participants and crashed their website.
Soon, the group was mentioned by such news agencies as the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, NPR, and CBS Evening News. Fast forward to 2015: 351,489 participants, 40,426 of whom completed their 50,000 word goals. In a pre-event called Camp NaNoWriMo, held in April and July, there were 57,402 participants from 56 countries, with 1015 libraries, bookstores and community center partners lending a helping hand. The non-profit group now has an annual operating budget over a million dollars, and some past NaNoWriMo projects include the following:
- Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen); NYT bestselling novel (10 million copies sold), made into a movie (2011) and now being adapted for Broadway.
- The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern); NYT bestselling novel.
- The Persistence of Memory (Tony Eprile); about the waning days of apartheid in South Africa, praised by several reviews and Nobel-winning author J.M. Coetzee.
- The Darwin Elevator (Jason Hough); NYT bestselling novel.
- Cinder (Marissa Meyer); NYT bestselling novel/series.
So guess what SICCO’s doing this November? You got it; NaNoWriMo. Which means, guess what you’re doing this November? Same thing; NaNoWriMo. What else you got going on? Dry turkey and tepid conversations with the relatives from Oklahoma City? Muay-Thai training in anticipation of Black Friday? Decompressing after 18 months of election year bickering? Shoot, might as well make it productive . . . join SICCO at a reserved space with the Columbus library system this November (see the Calendar section for times and locations). Just hang, chill, and do up that novel. Note: Saturday, 11/19 will be our regular meeting, kinda sorta (we’ll be in the room writing, with coffee and snacks available), but otherwise it’ll be relaxed and comradely. So stop on in with people of like minds, bring your laptop/typewriter/notebook pad/stone tablet and join us. And no lutefisk . . . promise.