Writer's Notes

Critique Groups: My Experience

By B. Payton-Settles

July 20, 2018

BILLIE Something in the Attic.jpgWhen I stumbled onto critique groups almost ten years ago, they existed only as hard-copy, four-or-five-writers-working-together-around-a-table, incarnations. Now, through the wonders of social media, critique groups exist on-line, as well. Although I prefer the in-the-flesh model, I’m glad we have options today; critique groups are essential, both for budding writers and those whose careers are launched and moving along smoothly. We never outgrow the need for honest, professional feedback and support. My association with the critique group lovingly nicknamed Thrillerz provides that for me.

When I joined Redwood Writers Club (aka “RW”, the local arm of the California Writers Club) almost ten years ago, I was encouraged to participate in a critique group. I was new to acceptance of myself as a writer and floundering in the development of a mystery/paranormal novel. I figured I had nothing to lose.

Ana Manwaring, an RW veteran, gathered five of us for the initial meeting at a Starbucks. First order of business was choosing a maximum number of participants (five), a genre qualification (mystery/police procedure), and a meeting structure (twice a month on Wednesday evenings). We were on our way.

It took only a few meetings for us to realize that coffee houses, with their hard-to-manage noise level, don’t work as meeting places long term. When we interviewed for members, one or two prospects opted out based on that limitation. We relocated, first to a conference room in the Rohnert Park PD (member Thonie Hevron worked there), then to the Santa Rosa office of member Fred Weisel, and currently, to a member’s home in Petaluma.
Our meeting format is simple: we each bring pages for the others to take home, edit, and bring back to the next meeting, where we read a sampling and discuss the edits.
This is a great way to benefit from one another’s skill and get real-life feedback concerning subject matter. One perk: We get in on amazing, imaginative stuff as it is created. Another perk: Our understanding of human nature is indelibly deepened.

In taking a nostalgic look back at Thrillerz’ past participants—some for a few months, some for a few years—I see the enormous benefit in exposure to the many diverse personalities. We’ve had grammar divas (that would be me), adjective bludgeoners, ‘repetition’ police, plot questioners (Where’d that guy come from? You never mentioned him before. At least give us a description!), and of course, morale boosters. Thank heavens for my fellow writers and their dedication to this, sometimes, frustrating craft.
As I have developed as a writer, I’ve had many moments of doubt about the worth of my stuff, my chances for recognition, my writing ability. My critique group, as honest in their criticisms as they are lavish in their support, keeps me writing.


BILLIE PS head shotB. Payton-Settles was reading at the age of four and still reads everything she can. She’s been writing since her teen-age years (She’s retirement age, now) and loves getting feedback about her published work. Her home base is Petaluma, California, where writing, teaching, and research happen.

To purchase Something in the Attic, click here




Writer's Notes

With Malice Aforethought-Progress Report

By Thonie Hevron


Lake Sonoma overlook
Lake Sonoma overlook

The week slips away and I’ve missed another of my artificial deadlines. As I’ve said before, being so structured, I set goals for myself—for the completion of With Malice Aforethought (WMA), my latest thriller. Because this work is not under contract, I only have to answer to myself. Nonetheless, I’ve missed most of my targets on this project.

Life happens. This year, my husband and I sold and bought homes, moved, traveled for numerous family events both happy and sad, attended a conference, took a real vacation, and most recently, attended a high school reunion. Now, I’m dealing with family health issues that demand my attention—and are the priority.

If all this sounds like an excuse, well, I guess it is. I like to take one year to write and edit a new manuscript. WMA has gone over by three months and is behind schedule. The manuscript has “The End” typed on it but in version five, there are still mistakes to correct. I’m at the point where I read the text out loud. I catch so much with this method, that I can’t skip it. I have two-thirds of the manuscript left.

Dry Creek Valley--Collier Falls Winery
Dry Creek Valley–Collier Falls Winery

Next step, is off to beta readers. I have beta readers to perform several different tasks. First, my husband reads it. Being a retired fire fighter, he knows about car wrecks (there’s one for him to choreograph), electrical matters (for some MacGyver action), and lastly, the characteristic of wildland fire. Then, on to Billie Payton-Settles for editing. She culls the work for grammar, punctuation, sentence structure. At the same time, I’ll send it off to Mike Brown, a retired Sonoma County Sheriff’s Lieutenant who has specific knowledge of the procedures and culture of Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. The homicide investigation that Nick Reyes and Meredith Ryan embark on is set in the beautiful and wild Dry Creek hills area of Sonoma County. As you know, authenticity is very important to me as a writer and a reader. After I make corrections from these three, I send it to two other law enforcement professionals who will read my work for realism—John Schembra, author of Retribution and many other books and Dave Freedland, author of Lincoln 9.

One of the many fire roads that lace the countryside in Dry Creek hills area.
One of the many fire roads that lace the countryside in Dry Creek hills area.

When I receive the manuscript from the beta readers, I’ll make the corrections and decide whether to send it to another editor for a final review. Then, it’s off to Oak Tree Press. My publisher Billie Johnson has agreed to read the manuscript. My hope is that she will find it a compelling enough story to publish under her banner. With all the work that goes into the manuscript, I hope she does. If this goes according to schedule, I look for With Malice Aforethought to be available this winter.

At least my excuses aren’t totally lame. The point is two-fold: I want the reader to know that there are very sound reasons this book is slow to finish and secondly, by posting this, I keep myself honest to those who read and anticipate my next story.

Writer's Notes

Writers Helping Writers

By Thonie Hevron

“Writers helping writers” is the motto of my writing club, Redwood Writers, a chapter of the California Writers Club. Granted, it sounds a bit overused, trite maybe even idealistic. But this chapter takes its motto seriously. It’s something we all learn when we become members. From the President, Sandy Baker, Past President, Linda Loveland Reid down to the newest member—all are willing to share expertise, time and the wisdom gleaned from years of scribbling.

Something in the Attic by Billie Payton-Settles
Something in the Attic by Billie Payton-Settles

So when a friend, colleague and critique partner, Billie Payton-Settles, asked for help marketing her new book, I jumped at the chance. After all, didn’t romance writer Sharon Hamilton spend almost a full day helping me set the perfect sig line for my emails? Didn’t Kate Farrell teach me WordPress to help with the club website? I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Payback time.

Tonight, after our critique group, Billie took me into her office to show off her new website. It was wonderful! She now had a place where readers, agents and publishers can go to find out about her, contact her and order her book!

Another “Yay!” moment was my cousin Sandie, setting up a blog site within days after spending time exploring her new adventure into authorship. Yay, Sandie! She now has two posts on her site, with the promise of more. This while she works on her new book.

I know this post sounds like I’m patting myself on the back but my intention is just the opposite: I want to let the world know that these two women have taken the plunge–beyond writing a pristine manuscript and into the brand new world of social media and book promotion. This is not for the faint of heart as it requires commitment, organization and drive. Writing, publishing and marketing books isn’t like a Jessica Fletcher TV show. Times have changed. Publishers and agents demand authors promote their work more than ever before. This is almost as much work as the actual writing. And it’s a tough thing for writers, who are normally pretty shy. It’s work to put yourself and your project out there.

There will be times when they’ll be at the keyboard instead of having lunch with friends because of that commitment. Be patient, honor that streak of creativity that drives them. I guarantee, you’ll find a happier friend next lunch date.

Billie and Sandie are on the right track and I’m so pleased I could be a part of it.

Writer's Notes

A Special Black Friday Event

Join me tomorrow to find out author Marilyn Meredith’s feeling about using cop talk in her new Deputy Tempe Crabtree novel, River SpiritsRiver Spirits


Holiday Faire RP

By Thonie Hevron

Last year, my sisters persuaded me to go to the Rohnert Park Holiday Arts and Crafts Faire on the day after Thanksgiving. My first thought was old ladies who crocheted toilet paper covers, but I went anyway because I wanted to spend time with my precious sisters. What a surprise! The Faire was at a large venue, attended by hundreds during my time there and encompassed arts and crafts of all kinds. If I’d had more cash in my pocket, I would have spent waaaay too much money.

The idea of doing Christmas shopping the day after Turkey day has always kind of put me off–I’m not a fan of crowded retail stores. This Faire, however was perfect! Everything is handmade, often by locals. I thought it might be fun to have a table to sell my books. Then I took it a step further and thought about how many of my fellow authors would like to do the same.

So this year, I rented two tables and will sell my books seven other authors. For your shopping pleasure, all different genres will be available: mystery, thriller, childrens, young adult, urban art, historical fiction and memoir. A little something for everyone on your Christmas list made special by an author signature!

Check out the authors who will be there:


Friday, November 28th

Laura-McHale-Holland-Book-2coverLaura McHale Holland 10-2  Memoir, anthology

Huachuca_cover_200Arletta Dawty 10-4

CF View 1 - Intent to HoldThonie Hevron 10-4

Something in the AtticBillie Payton-Settles 10-4

71mndFIRVBLLeena Prasad 2-4


Saturday, November 29th

spycoverwebsite96dpiJeane Slone 10-4

twilight_cover_250Kay Mehl-Miller 10-2

Cover By Force or Fear

Thonie Hevron 10-4

Howie_Cover-frontSandy Baker 10-4

amazon_cover_by_grace200Arletta Dawdy 10-4

Writer's Notes

Okay, I didn’t win but this is good…

By Thonie Hevron

BY FORCE OR FEAR cover-first e-book in a series of three featuring Nick and Meredith from Sonoma County Sheriff's Office.
BY FORCE OR FEAR cover: first e-book in a series of three featuring Nick and Meredith from Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Back in May 2013, I submitted BY FORCE OR FEAR to The Writer’s Digest Annual Self-published e-Book Awards. Okay, I didn’t win. I didn’t even place but I was so very encouraged by what the judge wrote as a commentary that I had to share! Another shout-out to my fabulous editor, Billie Payton-Settles! Thanks!!

Writer’s Digest Annual Self-Published e-Book Awards


Entry Title: By Force or Fear

Author: Thonie Hevron

Judge Number: 2

Entry Category: Fiction
Books are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “needs improvement” and 5 meaning “outstanding”. “0” indicates not applicable. This scale is strictly to provide a point of reference, it is not a cumulative score and does not reflect ranking.


Structure and Organization: 4

Grammar: 4

Production Quality and Cover Design: 4

Plot (if applicable): 4

Character Development (if applicable): 4

Judges Commentary*:


The author has a strong skill when it comes to scene setting.  I love the Sonoma setting for this thriller novel.  Strong female lead and nice procedural research add to a strong plot and clever conflict throughout.  I particularly like the way that the author uses short chapters to keep the tension level high and the pages turning.

The cover is intriguing and while the blurb leaves a little to be desired, the story comes through in the end.

Nice mix of narrative and dialogue and the dialogue was realistic.  My only recommendation is that you take a look at the use of acronyms.  Be sure the reader knows what you’re referring to here.  I know that most readers are educated when it comes to these terms (DOA, DA, etc.) due to all the cop and forensics shows on these days.  But, be sure that you don’t assume the readers knowledge here.

In fact, it was hard to find problems on the editorial side.  I believe this book has been professionally editing and that is a refreshing find.  I would recommend another look at this on the formatting side of things.  There are quite a few extra spaces throughout and when the chapters begin at the bottom or middle of the page it can be disorienting.

–Judge, Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-Book Awards