Critique Group Interview: Brenna Yovanoff

Today we hear from the final of the Merry Sisters of Fate, Brenna Yovanoff. Her debut, THE REPLACEMENT (Razorbill) is due out this fall, and I can't wait to pick it up. That cover is CREEPTASITC, and from what I've heard from early readers it is made of 100% win. 

Thanks again to Maggie Stiefvater and Tessa Gratton for their interviews earlier this week (click the links to check those out).

I only know Brenna from her blog and short stories, but I get the sense that she's thoughtful, introspective and very kind. Here's her take on critique groups (and make sure to pick up THE REPLACEMENT on September 21st!).

1. Everyone will have different criteria for a crit group, but what's the most vital thing to have in common?

I think one of the most important things is just having a similar approach to writing.  Not a similar style, or even similar tastes, but more like a matching attitude.  We're all very prone to laughing at ourselves and at each other, and that's not going to work for everyone.  Find someone whose communication style matches yours, and who works as hard as you do.  If you all have similar approaches, in makes it much easier to communicate about what's not working, and I think it also helps your crit partners see what you're trying to do, even if you're not doing it successfully yet.

2. How do you know when you've found it? 

When someone tells you something about your work that is so spot-on, so RIGHT, that it could have come out of your own brain but you just hadn't gotten that far yet!

3. I know your group isn't in close physical proximity. How do you handle this?

Chat.  So much chat.  It's nice because it's low-key and efficient, and because if something really good was happening in a chat, I can go back and read over it to get into that mindset again.

4. How do you decide what/when to share?

I think we share work based on what we're struggling with and when our respective deadlines are.  We usually try to get as far as we can alone, and then send it along to the other two and talk about what we're struggling with and why.  Sometimes all it takes is that extra set of eyes to show you what's not working and what to try next.

5. How do you achieve balance when it comes to meeting needs? Is there a natural ebb and flow?

I definitely feel like there's a natural balance.  So far, we've never had a critiquing-overlap or a real scheduling conflict.  It's always very apparent where the focus of the group needs to be and we kind of adjust our approach accordingly.  Also, if there's Slime involved, it's easy to tell who needs the crit support-system right then.

6. How did you decide to handle disagreements?

I'm trying to think . . . let's see, usually Tess and Maggie duke it out metaphorically while I flutter around waving my hands and suggesting compromises?  Okay, I'm being glib (though strangely accurate).  We really don't do a whole lot of disagreeing.  Sometimes we argue recreationally about books, but it's for the sake of argument.  If two people disagree about what's going on with one of our stories and where the natural solution lies, usually the third person weighs in.  In the end though, it's still up to the writer.  It's their book, and the others can give feedback, but it's not about imposing personal taste.  There's always an understanding that critique is intended to help, but it's not law. 

7. Is everyone in on every phone call/chat/discussion/email? Or do you handle mood with Maggie and pacing with Tessa, etc. individually?

There's just no way everyone can be involved every time (and seriously, we would get nothing done), but we still do a fairish amount of work in group-chat, usually for the larger concerns like pacing and story arc.  A one-on-one approach seems to work well for a character or a scene, but for the really big story elements, group-discussion helps a lot.  Two people might still get tunnel vision on a particular element, but with a third there, the next logical step always seems to involve tossing around new ideas and approaches.

8. Did you pinky swear at the beginning to leave personal feelings out of it?

I don't remember ever really talking about this in so many words, but it's interesting to consider that when we started this whole endeavor two years ago, we weren't friends--we barely even knew each other.  I think we started with the attitude that we were crit partners, and then got in the habit of reading each other's work with that in mind, even after we were friends.  That said, we care a lot about each other's work--both as friends and as colleagues. There's a huge amount of investment, so feelings definitely enter in on that level.  We don't sugarcoat, but we handle the writing itself with absolute care.

9. Are you friends first or CP's first or are all things equal?

I don't know that I feel like there's a clear distinction at this point.  We're an effective critique group because we trust each other because we're friends, if that makes sense?  I mean, we're friends even when there's nothing to critique, and when we critique, we don't do it gently or like we're trying to protect each other--we just do it like we're critiquing. So I'd say, we're friends who just happen to critique each other's work like pit bulls.

Thank you so much, Brenna, and we can't wait for THE REPLACEMENT!

More on critique groups next week from Bree Despain, author of THE DARK DIVINE (Egmont USA). 


  1. Myra, thanks so much for this series. It's coming at a time where I'm shifting from a montly, local group to two on-line writing friends.

    One is an agent-mate who doesn't write my genre but takes a similar approach to her writing (comfortable with picking apart). The other writes mg as I do. Both are willing to be honest and read ms. in one stretch. And now that we're all working on deadline, these ladies are just what I need.

  2. I have this I want to write like Brenna dream. *love*

  3. This is so awesome. I've been lucky enough to finally find the right fit group-wise, and I found myself nodding at what Brenna had to say... almost like it could have come out of my own brain!

    Le gasp. :)

    And I am biting my nails in anticipation of her book. Just sayin'.

  4. Wow! I'm all over that book - and yes, the cover is creeptastic! Thanks for sharing :-)

  5. It has been so interesting to see how they each answer the same question. Thanks for following the rabbit down the hole of awesomeness


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