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An Interview with Corrales Writing Group: On Writing

This is part two of an interview with Corrales Writing Group, a closed group of six members who encourage each other in their individual writing journeys. Together they produce an annual anthology of essays and short pieces of fiction and memoir. The current group is made up of authors Christina Allen, Maureen Cooke, Sandi Hoover, Thomas Neiman, Jim Tritten, and Patricia Walkow. Their third anthology, Currents, was published in 2015. You can visit Corrales Writing Group on Facebook. To read the first part of the interview, go to “On Group Structure and Indie Publishing.”

Currents Corrales Writing Group 2015 Anthology200

Chris Allen lives in Corrales, New Mexico with her husband and a menagerie of animals. She prefers to write stories that spark a smile or a laugh.
My career involved technical writing—telling, not showing. The feedback from Corrales Writing Group pushes me to write in a way that provides the reader with imagery, not simply facts. In addition, as a procrastinator, the routine of twice monthly meetings has imposed a structure and rigor to my writing that enables me to complete stories that have rattled around in my head for years. I also learn how to improve my writing at every critique session, whether the work discussed is mine or that of another member. Ideas come to me from my life experience. In order to convert these ideas to text, however, I need deadlines as I work better under pressure. Also, as someone who has always worked with groups, I need activity around me. I have set a schedule to write twice a week at a local coffee shop where I concentrate solely on completing my stories to present to the group. I love to entertain, to tell stories, especially to provide people with a laugh or a smile. I also enjoy writing concisely and logically. I have no difficulty conveying facts and truth. However, moving past facts to creative imagery, embellishment, exaggeration, etc., has been difficult for me. I now have the benefit of the experiences of my fellow group members, and they have helped me to understand it is ok to be creative.

Maureen Cooke is originally from Bay City, Michigan. She began writing in second grade at St. Joseph’s School, under the tutelage of Sister Mary Earl.
I write every morning. I get up really early—somewhere between 4:30 and 5:30—when the world is still dark, when the animals are still asleep, and when I’m not distracted by other responsibilities. I’d say my greatest strength as a writer is being a word stylist. Any weaknesses come from self-doubt and resistance to write, both of which I overcome by writing early in the morning when I’m more apt to enjoy it and less apt to doubt my ability to do so. I’ve actually used writing as a type of therapy in the past; consequently, first-draft writing has taught me how to deal with the stress of life. Creating the first draft is probably my favorite part of the process, although I do enjoy every aspect of a project. Scenes involving a lot of people are the hardest for me to write, because I’m not sure the level of descriptive detail to include. I’ve known I was a writer since second grade when Sister Mary Earl first inspired me to write. She shared my work with the nuns in the convent, and that was the best encouragement I could have gotten.

Corrales Writing Group 2014 Anthology150Sandi Hoover finds nature both entertaining and interesting, motivating her to write natural history essays to share her findings.
Having a support group whose members are both honest and kind in their assessment of each other’s writing is critical to growth for a beginning writer—at least that’s true for me. Before joining Corrales Writing Group, my writing was confined to travel journals and descriptive letters about trips. I loved writing interpretive trail guides for a nature sanctuary, and having the pleasure of painting word pictures of exotic places in my travel journals. Writing for deadlines has made me approach writing with more discipline. I still find it easier to write nature essays than fiction, but that is an area I intend to work on more. I’m still hesitant to use the term “writer” about myself, but I am thoroughly enjoying working with the writing group to improve my skills and learn from their expertise. I like creating images on paper best, and then reworking to get them the way I see them. I binge write, ignoring the yearning for a day or two and then devote hours at a stretch to typing furiously. Lots of rereading, lots of messing with minor changes. Scenes of emotional conflict between people are the hardest for me to write. Getting that right is difficult and painful. Those are still in progress and unseen by the writing group. Loving words and finding the right word to express a situation or emotion is a strength I can rely on. My writing weakness is in finding a balance between dialogue and action—just writing more is a requirement to learn how to do that. Writing has taught me that I can procrastinate without guilt. Seriously, it has made me look with interest, and more compassion, at people’s emotions and the way they are expressed in times of stress.

Tom Neiman has been writing since 2012 and has published four short stories and one mystery novella.
My first experience as a writer, if it counts, was writing administrative code while employed by the federal government. When laws changed, I wrote instructions for bureaucrats. Not very creative, I know. All that changed when I was invited to join Corrales Writing Group. The group helped me convert an 800-word summary into my first completed project (“The Leather Truths”) which was published in our 2013 anthology. I’ve learned to take a kernel of an idea and develop it into a story, prepare an outline, and move to the actual complex sentence work. I love creating detailed characters and their dialog. And I spend time researching those areas I have the least experience with. I enjoy doing the research and the writing, but I’m not much of a copy editor. Writing has taught me that an old dog can learn new tricks. Since I retired eight years ago, my passions have been creative writing and arboriculture. Given enough time, I can be an asset in both. For me, the hardest things to write are the subjects I haven’t tried, but I love to experiment. Sometimes my technique drives the writing group members crazy. What is the best advice I’ve received in my writing journey? To paraphrase the late Al Davis, the former owner of the Oakland Raiders professional football team, “Just write, baby.” I’d like to encourage others to get their thoughts and ideas down on any media. Write, audio-record, dictate to a computer, complex sentences or stream of consciousness. Don’t worry about editing or revision, and find some like- minded people to discuss your project with, either in person or over the Internet.

Corrales Writing Group 2013 Anthology150Jim Tritten is a retired naval aviator living in Corrales, New Mexico with his Danish author/artist wife and five cats.
My first writing for publication was for the high school newspaper. Can’t remember what motivated me, but I suspect it was to have a venue for being funny. Or just getting attention. Or perhaps being with the good-looking girls on the newspaper staff. At work I learned I could write in an environment where very few had that skill. Writing was a way to stand out and make contributions that were frequently recognized, and I soon got paid to do what I liked to do. When I retired, more than a few people suggested I break free of non-fiction and move into other genres. Then I realized it was an excellent way to process trauma and PTSD. That is now my primary motivation to write. When I switched from academic writing to fiction I had a lot to learn. Initially I wrote memoir. I used all of my life experiences, my diagnosis of PTSD, flying, etc. and blended that knowledge with what I needed to learn about writing in new genres for different audiences. I have learned that writing about what you know does not just mean about things that you did. More importantly it means feelings that you have experienced and can describe so that someone else can experience them as well. When I worked and wrote non-fiction, I learned discipline and how to complete tasks. This was a leg up when I stopped working and shifted to totally different types of writing. Learning about emotion, and then being able to describe it, were integral steps in the PTSD recovery process taught by the VA. The next step was writing words on paper that would make the reader feel, see, etc. exactly what was going on inside an individual when faced with a variety of circumstances. When I learned I could do that, I felt good. My advice to other writers is to take every opportunity to write, even if it isn’t an article or book or something that can be published. Be a recording secretary for a volunteer organization—it will teach you good skills about summarizing what happened. Write experimental pieces that stretch your skills and abilities. My recent experiment in horror was an eye opener. And above all, don’t stop writing until someone pries the pen from your cold, dead hands.

Pat Walkow writes fiction, humor, satire, and non-fiction. Her favorite is satire, but she’ll try any genre.
Writing is something I’ve always enjoyed. I think I was seven when I knew I wanted to write. I prefer creating to any other aspect of a writing project. Unfortunately, most of my inspiration comes at night. I often find myself awake in my pajamas writing in the wee hours. But I have learned if I have an idea, to jot it down. The kind of scenes I find most difficult to write are erotic scenes, mostly because I think it is overdone in print, and I prefer subtlety. Often it is not even necessary. The best advice I’ve received in my writing journey is not to be afraid to try different genres, to take chances. Having written in a corporate environment for a while, it is a pleasure to have a voice that is my own and not a mouthpiece for another entity. Writing has taught me that it’s okay to experiment with writing and okay to seek the opinions of others. The Corrales Writing Group has made me a better writer and exposed me to new ideas and perspectives. I’ve also learned that a blank piece of paper (or a blank computer screen) is nothing to be afraid of. It is a canvas for the writer and can become anything you imagine.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Corrales Writing Group: On Group Structure and Indie Publishing

Corrales Writing Group is a closed group of six members who encourage each other in their individual writing journeys and together produce an annual anthology of essays and short pieces of fiction and memoir. The current group is made up of authors Christina Allen, Maureen Cooke, Sandi Hoover, Thomas NeimanJim Tritten, and Patricia Walkow. Their third anthology, Currents, was published in 2015. You can visit Corrales Writing Group on Facebook. For part two of this interview, go to “On Writing.”

Currents Corrales Writing Group 2015 Anthology200If you were pitching your anthology to an agent, how would you describe Currents?
Currents is an anthology to which six writers have contributed. All contributors live in the Village of Corrales, on the western flank of the Rio Grande in New Mexico. The members of the group share a love for New Mexico, and in particular, a love for the Village. Currents is the third anthology the group has produced, and over time, the constant flow of ideas and critically valuable suggestions has enriched not only our writing, but also our lives.

It’s typical for works in an anthology to share a common theme, but this isn’t true of your anthologies. Why did you decide not to write to a theme?
While it is true most anthologies share a common theme, the only common theme in ours is the place where the writers live—Corrales. One of the benefits to this approach is that the anthology may offer something for everyone. Another is that the book’s targeted audience does not expect a single-topic theme.

The members of your group do all the work necessary to bring your books to market. What kind of learning curve did you go through to accomplish this? What was your most helpful resource?
Although all members of the group are comfortable using a computer, there are varying degrees of computer literacy within the group. Three of the members spent many years working with computers and applications in their chosen professions. These were the first editors, and they found the process quite straightforward, without specific training needed. The other members of the group are learning from their experience, as the first three editors have prepared guidelines and processes for the subsequent editors to follow. We explored various independent publishing options and selected CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing based upon ease of use. Frankly, anyone can master their templates.

Each year your group rotates the duties necessary to publish your books. Why did you decide to do this?
We decided to rotate the duties so that: (1) every member of the group gains the knowledge necessary to do each task required to publish a book, and (2) the same task does not fall on one or two people all the time. Editing is quite time-consuming and involves not only the technicalities of grammar and punctuation, but also the layout of the book, developing back and front cover options, the assignment of work, and the development and management of a schedule with a publication date at the end. The editor manages the work to meet the scheduled publication date. The members of the group meet their due dates on their tasks. It’s a project, and the editor is the project manager.

How long does it take to put the anthologies together after the stories are complete? What is your typical editing/publishing timeline?
The writing and review process for the coming year’s anthology begins in December, right after the current year’s anthology is published in November. So the timeframe to write all the pieces and review them runs from December of one year through mid-July/early August of the following year. The editing process begins in August, and involves not only the editor, but each member of the group who is given specific editing assignments managed by the editor.

Each piece in the anthology will be critiqued a minimum of two times within the group before the piece is considered for publication in the anthology. During the creation of the book itself, each submission is reviewed probably another four times to include thorough reviews for formatting, grammar, and consistency with other chapters.

Usually at the end of all the editing, proof copies are produced and another round of editing is done. A second proof is always produced, and sometimes a third. Kindle editions are not produced until the final paper version is ready. Proofs for Kindle editions are handled online. Members share the responsibility of reviewing the final product in all the different Kindle platforms offered. The final paper version is not published until the Kindle edition is approved since we have learned that many formatting issues are not seen until reviewers look at the various Kindle platforms.

Corrales Writing Group 2014 Anthology150What marketing strategies have brought your anthologies the most success?
Our business plan was to establish an LLC (Limited Liability Company). We market our products through Amazon, Kindle, local retail sales, Facebook, Goodreads, newspapers, local media and launch parties. Since we have remained financially solvent every year, the group’s plan is to continue independently publishing our books (paperback and Ebooks) into the future.

What are the goals of your writing group? How do you ensure potential members are a good fit?
Individual members of the group have their own goals, but as a cohesive entity, the group seeks to achieve recognition in the writing community, as well as win awards; awards, however, are not the primary focus. Developing our craft of writing is very important to our members. In addition, in order to continue operations, the group needs to maintain fiscal solvency. Costs are constrained to permit continued annual self-sustained publication within realistic expectations of annual sales.

We have learned it is best to have potential members of the group attend a meeting and decide if what we do and how we do it is something they might be willing to commit to, long-term. Commitment is a key success factor for our group. We review each other’s work before a meeting, come prepared with each piece critiqued and commented. On the rare occasion members can’t attend a meeting, they’re still expected to send their comments to the writer. Common computer literacy is another requirement of being a part of the group. It includes the use of Microsoft Word not only to write, but also review and critique. Electronic file organization is required as is the ability to effectively use websites, such as CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing. Although reviews are done face-to-face at our meetings, the actual comments and critiques are sent to each other electronically.

We are a closed group and no longer accept beginning writers. As a group we have come far from those early days, and we’ve learned it’s not productive for our members to be teaching a new writer all the time. Nor is it fair or healthy for a prospective writer to be overwhelmed. However, we do encourage new writers to form a group of their own, and will help them with what we have learned along the way. We have taught writing classes in New Mexico at the Corrales and Meadowlark Senior Centers.

Take us through a typical group meeting. How are your meetings structured?
We meet every two weeks, usually at a restaurant. Sometimes we rotate our meetings in members’ homes. One person is the facilitator of each meeting. Another person is the scribe who keeps the notes. We start by doing our reviews of new and 2nd review work. Usually we do about three to four reviews at each meeting. We use a structured process we adopted with the assistance of Rachel Hillier (associated with Central New Mexico Community College), who the original group hired to help with some aspects of writing. From our six weeks with Rachel, we have a set of standard questions we consider each time we review a piece. Writers are free to have each reviewer answer additional questions, also. Once the reviews are completed, we begin the business meeting. The Corrales Writing Group is an LLC, and we review old business and discuss new business. We assign dates for people to present their work and make any other assignments necessary for the group to function.

Corrales Writing Group 2013 Anthology150What makes a good critique group member?
Adhering to our process is a great help to the writer. We expect our members to use our standard critique questions. Not that those questions stop a reviewer from making other comments. The reviewer needs to critique the writer’s work in a way that makes it clear what is working well in the story, as well as what is unclear or repetitive, and to let the writer know what the reviewer thinks the story really is all about. The objective is not to tear anyone down, but to build up the writer. The writer always retains the right to make or not make changes based on the critiques. In general, if two or three reviewers find the same problem, the writer really should pay attention to it.

For those who might want to organize their own writing group with the goal of publishing, what steps do you suggest they take?
Hire or consult with someone who leaves you with a viable critique process. Make sure everyone understands being a member of the group is a commitment. Learn from those who have already independently published. Consider hiring a publishing entity, if necessary.

One of the strengths of your group is how well you get along—you even socialize and travel together. What do you attribute this to?
The members of the group respect our different backgrounds, opinions and experiences. It is key to our getting along…along with wine and lots of laughter. The process we use helps. Nothing is personal—it’s about the writing. We know each other’s strengths and use them effectively.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

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