Critique Group Interview: Tessa Gratton

You might have heard me mention my adoration for the Merry Sisters of Fate: Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff. 

I admire their willingness to engage their fans and the writing community, their MAD talent, and that they are side-splittingly hilarious (they did not make me say that, even though I may or may not have knowledge of arsenic laced cupcake batter).

World domination is imminent.

Along with posting short stories on their blog they dispense writing advice with wisdom and grace - and humor, always with the humor. I've been very curious about the dynamics of critique groups and how they work as opposed to working with a single critique partner.

Who better to ask than the experts?

Tessa Gratton, author of BLOOD MAGIC (Summer 2011, Random House), is up first!

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

Humor. A similar sense of humor. 

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

Being unable to keep critting because there are tears of laughter distorting your vision.  (I know this can sound a little facetious, but I think it was really really true. It lets us cut to the heart of the matter with one silly or sarcastic comment, instead of mincing around. We say we make fun of each other's writing all the time, but it's part of the critiquing for us. Not only does it help keep us honest about what we're writing, but it also keeps us *enjoying* it, even the really hard bits.) 

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

We're tethered to gchat. With intestines. I like it because it allows the illusion of being together without actually sitting next to each other. When we're in the same location we get NOTHING done. Except Shakespeare. And cookies.

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

I think in general we wait as long as possible. Sometimes that's the whole book, sometimes its 500 words. It really depends on how the book is going and what problems we're having. Or how excited we are. But if we DO have a rule it would be wait as long as you can.

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

Yeah, natural ebb and flow. So far we haven't all been sliming at the same time (see here for a definition of sliming a la Merry Fates). I shy away from imagining what it would be like if that ever happened. *shudder* The great thing about our working relationship is that when I'm reading/critting for Maggie or Brenna it FEELS like I'm working on my stuff, too. So I don't resent the time away from my stories. So far. ;)  I think that's really ideal. I'm invested enough in their success, because they're awesome and my friends, but also because our successes are intertwined at a certain level. Working on Maggie's book or Brenna's book is an indirect way of working on my career, too.

6. How did you decide to handle disagreements? 

We talk them out. I wouldn't say we have huge disagreements (though sometimes we fall just next to each other on grand philosophical questions!). When it comes to disagreements about the BOOKS, you have to remember that it's ultimately the writer's choice, and if you disagree with what they're doing your responsibility is to explain yourself and then back away so they can choose. 

And we DO disagree about that stuff sometimes. But it always always resolves. Like there was something Maggie was going to do in Forever that I adamantly disliked, but she loved it and thought it was right, so I told her I hated it and why it made me uncomfortable, she listened, and then did what she thought was right. I still thought I was right, but I let it go bc that's what you have to do.  And just last week she told me she thought I was making a mistake with Crow Magic. I took a couple of days off just to think about it, really rolling it around in my head because I trust her instincts, too. All her reasons were spot on, so I'm working to rethink how I'm thinking about this aspect of the book. (That sounds complicated, doesn't it? hehe.)

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

We definitely have different strengths. Sometimes it's just about who's online at the moment of need, too. Sometimes we group chat, but that always leads to hours of non-productivity. We like each other too much and are too funny. ;)

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

No way. Personal feelings are the most important. More than half the time, it's a FEELING that something is wrong, and then you have to find the words/rationale for communicating it.  Feeling is what makes books last forever, so I want to know what they're feeling, and I want to let my feelings about their feelings hint at the Truth. Novel-writing is all about personal feelings. I could go into brain chemistry and imagination here, but that would get pretty geeky. 

You HAVE to be vulnerable in order to see truth.

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

Friends. If we never wrote another novel, we'd still be friends. But we definitely started out CPs "first." The friendship happened remarkably fast, though. Probably because when you're working at this level of critique, you have to be open to that vulnerability I mentioned above, and create bonds of trust. 

Thank you so much, Tessa! 

We'll hear from Maggie tomorrow. Post any questions in the comments!


  1. I love this.

    And I think we can both sympathize with the hours of unproductivity that can be caused by mad hilarity and an obsession with cupcakes. ;)

  2. Great interview! That sounds like one fun, smart critique group! (that obviously helps produce awesome books!)

  3. Excellent interview, thanks for the insight! As a non-CPed person myself at this point, I find the dynamics of a dedicated crit partner (or group) endlessly fascinating.

  4. Great post, especially #9. One must always be friends first!

  5. Love it! Makes me happy because I've got that sort of friendship and pattern forming (or already formed) with my own crit group =)

    And, hey--the work would be way less fun if we didn't fall into those moments (ok days or weeks) of just giggling and distractedness.

  6. Excellent post! I <3 the Merry Fates, too.

  7. This is such a great interview, totally reminds me of my critique group although we meet in person a lot more:)

  8. Great interview! I particularly enjoyed Tessa's answer regarding how vital personal feelings are to the process.

  9. I love the sisters. They share so much and interact with readers. Tess is awesome. Terrified me for a while. She's intense and passionate. I'm looking forward to reading her books.

    Thanks Myra for all three interviews. Yes, I'm posting backwards.


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