One drawback to our writing group is that it’s so large, it can be a few months between readings, which makes it hard to get feedback on a novel.
So at some point — I think it was Bill Ferris who tried it first — we hit on the idea of critique dinners. Ask for beta readers. Set a date. Everyone comes over, you feed them, then you get the critique. I tried this a couple of years ago, but Bill was actually the only attendee. This time, I had around nine people, and a couple who couldn’t make it are still going to provide feedback on Southern Discomfort.
Happily, everyone liked it. They also had lots of recommendations on how to fix problem parts, or improve good parts.
One criticism that came up from several people was that my ensemble-cast approach was a bit overwhelming — did I need to have quite as many characters? A couple of people said they couldn’t see what Alan contributed to the book. Several people said that throwing multiple characters at them in the first couple of chapters was overwhelming, and they got confused. I also got some comments to the effect that the actual FBI investigation bogs down (I think they’re right) and that there’s too many places where people sit around and review what happened — sometimes multiple scenes where different people review the same thing. They’re probably right on that one too.
On the plus side, everyone seemed to think Joan Slattery deserved more of a role, which is good as I like her a lot.
I got several questions about the underlying premise, too. Could Pharisee’s secret really remain secret? Weren’t the McAlisters a lot like benevolent antebellum plantation owners, and shouldn’t that be more of an issue? If Pharisee is such an oasis of nonviolence, why wouldn’t more black folks flock there? There were several calls to make it a little weirder — more magic up front and more scenes in Faerie.
One beta said the ending needed more struggle — they just walk right in and get the McGuffin — and I think she’s right. Although I’m not sure how to fix it.
Surprisingly, the actual character-arc endings seemed to satisfy everyone, whereas I’d thought I left too much hanging. So that’s cool.
After I wrap up the proofing and indexing of Now and Then We Time Travel, I’ll start reviewing the feedback and thinking where I take the book next.
My thanks to everyone who participated. Dinner, in case you were wondering, was chili, cornbread and blackberry cobbler for dessert.