In June of 2011, four fiction classmates met at a local coffee shop to critique each other’s work. Fast-forward to June of 2017: six authors who cross genres will cross state lines to attend an annual writing retreat at a mountain getaway. There will have been roughly 70 monthly meetings in between these two Junes – plus anniversary dinners, blog posts and podcasts, classes attended and taught, contracts negotiated, books published, and writers’ conference appearances – some even paid! As I look back over all of this, I’m deeply moved.
However, this growing thing is not exactly easy. “Growing up” started a couple of years ago with shrinking down, actually. One of our founders got a great job 427 miles away. We kept up our monthly meetings via Skype when we could. But it became clear that if we regularly wanted to have at least four critiques on our work, BACCA would need another member.
Our interview process lasted about six months. Some folks were not the right fit because their writing was in areas we felt ill-equipped to critique (romance, theology, police drama). Others balked at our schedule – multiple critiques a month, a two-hour meeting, plus occasional retreats and appearances – a significant commitment. So we were pretty stoked when not one but two candidates really seemed like a match. We are thrilled to have two novelists accept our invitation to join BACCA this year: Noelle Beverly and Andrea Fisher Rowland. Welcome! So now BACCA is five on the regular, and six when we can.
Truth be told, however, this growth hasn’t been totally graceful. Yet. Five critiques is almost double three, and we are feeling the extra work. Is the right answer to clear out more time in our personal schedules during critique weeks? Spread out the submissions over two weeks? Rotate critiques? We haven’t quite found the rhythm yet. A little more math reveals that 20-minute critiques for 4 writers in two hours leaves some breathing room for general discussion. But six 20-minute critiques is 2 hours on the nose, leaving little room for tea and coffee and conversation. Is the right answer to trim the critiques down to 15 minutes? Extend our meetings by a half hour? We haven’t quite figured that one out yet, either. Plus, of course, there is the nature of the critiques themselves. We’ve been loosely following Luke Whisnant’s critiquing guidelines since the start of the fiction class where we met. Perhaps too loosely? We’re finding ourselves taking a fresh look at our process with the benefit of new eyes. It’s not quite clear yet what makeovers might take place. And, of course, Skype is not always cooperative!
I’m mostly fine (but occasionally self-conscious) about this awkward phase. It may be a bit itchy and scraggly, but it’s the moulting that’s the passage from the cygnet to the swan. Or, in this case – because I prefer their cute little faces – the chick to the penguin. I’m confident we’ll soon be navigating these new waters with the greatest of ease.
Bethany Joy Carlson is a founding member of BACCA and screenwriter.