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Making a Difference Pair of authors give Lodians the tools to publish their own novels

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Posted: Friday, December 30, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 8:43 am, Fri Dec 30, 2011.

It’s been 19 years since full-time writers Robin Burcell and Susan Crosby became writing critique partners. But it was those first years of critical reading, response and feedback that helped Burcell become an award-winning thriller writer and Crosby a USA Today best-selling romance writer.

In January 2011 — while still trying to meet their own book deadlines — they started a writers’ workshop to help Lodi writers find their way through their own fictional novels. The goal was not only to guide the group in writing and publishing, but Crosby and Burcell wanted the members to form their own critique groups — “To have what we have,” Crosby said.

The first meeting was held in mid-January. They hoped maybe 20 people would attend the first meeting in the library’s community room, and it would eventually dwindle down to a close-knit, workable group of about 10 prospective writers. But in the beginning, they thought, what if no one showed up?

They didn’t worry long. As 6:30 rolled around that Wednesday night, the room filled with 55 writers of all ages and writing backgrounds. They sat with notebooks and pens, waiting to grasp bits of literary knowledge from two authors who were willing to discuss their varying experiences with literary agents, book contracts, story revisions and having books on the market.

In the monthly meetings, Crosby and Burcell covered a lot of literary ground with planned discussions on theme, characterization, conflict, plot and publishing.

People were interested, and Burcell says one of her favorite parts about leading the group was the fearlessness of their interaction.

“Nobody just sat there,” she said. “They asked questions.”

In the early part of the year-long project, the group was separated into two groups and each writers’ first three pages of their novels were read aloud. There were helpful critiques for each story, which emphasized Crosby and Burcell’s belief that every writer needs at least one critique partner.

The workshop concluded earlier this month, and had 15 to 20 members by the end. Many people — those just starting their novels and those with completed manuscripts — found critique partners. Others, like Lodi writer and workshop member Dorothy Skarles, found she improved the beginning of her story after reworking it in a way that Burcell suggested. Though Skarles has been writing for years and has taught her own writing courses, she hopes the Burcell and Crosby will do another workshop in the future.

“I thought it was a very nice seminar — especially to do it all year long. I feel they are very knowledgeable in their craft, and I enjoyed it,” Skarles said.

Looking back, Crosby and Burcell are happy with the year. There were surprises: It took more planning than they expected, but they also learned how to improve their own writing as they discussed writing ideas. It was rewarding to know, too, that at the end of the year, more Lodi writers were knowledgeable about how to write their novels, and what steps to take to get their manuscripts on a book publisher’s desk.

“We accomplished our goal,” Crosby said.

Contact Lodi Living editor Lauren Nelson at laurenn@lodinews.com.

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