Friday, December 23, 2011


When people call the Willamette Writers office and ask about finding a critique or support group, I suggest they consider that there are three basic types of groups: support, light critique, and heavy critique.

A Support group is for writers to come together and encourage each other to write. It might include social time for a meal or visiting.

A Light Critique group could have specific rules about offering a critique: a time limit for comments, a rule about starting or ending with a positive comment, time limits on how long someone can respond to a critique, etc.

There is no one convention about how a light critique group functions. Author Orson Scott Card has created a system he calls a Wise Reader to help get useful feedback. It can be used for light critique.

Heavy Critique groups are often authors published by a mainstream presses who meet to get feedback from professional peers. This kind of group is often a no-holds barred session, where an author just wants an unvarnished critique of a manuscript from writers with skills they admire or respect.

Heavy Critique groups tend to form and go off the radar, since such groups don't often revolve around mentoring or critiquing unpublished authors.

I get the occasional call from an unpublished author who only wants to be critiqued by New York Times best-selling authors. I can't help.

I suggest that authors try two or three different groups to find a group that meets their needs. Sometimes personalities will clash, or a group will have a too narrow focus (mysteries only, or horror, or fantasy).

Some groups start out as light critique groups and become support groups or social groups. That can meet the needs of some, but not others. This can also happen if too many of the members of a group are not consistently offering new work for critique.

Some groups will have authors who become defensive or angry when they are critiqued. This can become a question of whether an author is getting enough valuable feedback to figure out the personalities in a group. If someone gives a great critique but only wants vague praise in return, figure out if that works for you. Some people join groups for an audience, not a critique.

Some authors will have well-defined and defended boundaries around what they consider acceptable in a critique, and consequences for those who violate their boundaries. For folks like this, vague praise is sometimes the only safe bet.

In theater, you'll come across guided critiques when plays have public readings. A moderator can sit on the stage with a playwright and field questions. Questions that are considered outside the feedback considered appropriate are turned aside by the moderator. The goal is to ensure the playwright gets useful feedback and not unchecked commentary about how another playwright would rewrite his or her play.

This format is used for the script reading series that has been held at the Willamette Writers conference.

In classes I teach, I generally don't allow open-ended critiques of people's work because of a consistent problem with some people launching into 'this is how I would tell this story.'

Finding the right group can be difficult, but the rewards can be great.

That can also mean moving on when the rewards aren't there.

You'll know you're in the right group when you find it.

Good luck.


Bill Johnson is the office manager of Willamette Writers and the author of A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling,

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Authors Road, John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck
Author #9

Next week marks the 43rd anniversary of the death of John Steinbeck, arguably one of America’s greatest writers and author who won almost every literary award available, including the Nobel Prize for Literature. As fellow authors, we can tell you that Steinbeck’s writing drives us nuts because it’s so damn good.

When we began this journey to meet America’s authors, we bought a truck we named “Rosinante Tres.” The first was, of course, Don Quixote’s faithful nag, and the second Rosinante was Steinbeck’s truck and camper in his Travels with Charley.

We drove Rosinante Tres to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California where we met Herb Behrens. In a basement office crowded with Steinbeck photos and memorabilia Herb shared his passion on the subject of Steinbeck. And before you ask, yes, in this interview, Herb tells where Charley is buried.

With particular thanks to the National Steinbeck Center for arranging this interview, and to Herb for taking the time to enthusiastically share his knowledge – we are pleased to share with you this special interview in time for the Holidays.

And stay tuned. Our next interview is a spirited chat with Oregon’s fifth poet laureate, Lawson Inada.

Happy Holidays to All!

George, Salli & Ella

The Authors Road

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christina Katz Speaks to Willamette Writers

January 3rd, speaker Christina Katz, Topic: New Year, Fit Career: Five Flabby Habits To Lose & Five Healthy Habits To Keep

Christina is the author of three books from Writer's Digest: The Writer's Workout,Writers Workout Katz Get Known Before the Book Deal, and Writer Mama. Her writing career tips and parenting advice appear regularly in national, regional, and online publications. A "gentle taskmaster" over the past decade to hundreds of writers, Christina's students go from unpublished to published, build professional writing career skills, and increase their creative confidence over time. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia College Chicago and a BA in English from Dartmouth College. A popular speaker on creative career growth, Christina presents for writing conferences, literary events, MFA writing programs, and libraries. She is the creator and host of the Northwest Author Series in Wilsonville, Oregon, where she lives with her husband, her daughter, and far too many pets. Learn more at

All Portland meetings are held at the Old Church, SW 11th and Clay (1422 SW 11th). Doors open at 6:30 pm; the speaker or panel starts at 7 pm. Meetings are free to members of Willamette Writers and students; guests of WW members are $5. Non-members pay $10 to attend meetings. Refreshments are served.

Read more about Writers Faire in
Mary Andonian's column at

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Author's Road Posts Jack London Review

Author # 8: Jack London

We’re pleased to introduce you to the first in our series that could be named, “The Dead Authors Society” – but we’re not that tacky. In addition to the exciting and very lively authors we’ve been interviewing, we realized there is a chance to also learn from experts on some of our deceased writers as well. In the month ahead we will also share our interviews with experts on John Steinbeck and Mark Twain.

But now, let us re-introduce you to a dynamic writer, listed by Writers Digest as one of the 20th Century’s 100 Most Influential Writers. Oyster pirate, boy socialist, self-educated, adventurer, gold prospector, seal hunter, novelist, and the world’s first millionaire artist, Jack London’s brief but brilliant and tumultuous life is legendary, and he’s been an inspiration to countless writers for the last century.

For fourteen years, Louis Leal, a volunteer at the Jack London State Park, has studied London’s life and art and shared his insights with the millions of visitors to The Jack London State Historic Park Wolf outside of Glen Ellen, California, less than two hours north of San Francisco.

Louis agreed to be interviewed for our series, and we met him at London’s cottage on a beautiful autumn day. Like so many others, we were enthralled with his stories and insights, and excited to be able to share with you. Go to

Also, if you’re interested in reading an article about us that appeared in the San Jose Mercury and Pacifica Tribune, go to .
And today, Salli participated on behalf of Authors Road in a fun bloggin experience at

Stay tuned friends! Our next interviews to be posted will be with Oregon’s 5th Poet Laureate, Lawson Inada; and with Herb Behrens on John Steinbeck at the National Steinbeck Center.

Salli, George and Ella
The Authors Road

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Authors Road Interview Features Karen Cushman

Her books have also won the Carl Sandburg Award for Children's Literature, Best Books List of School Library Journal and for the American Library Association, Golden Kite Award, Bay Area Book Reviewer's Award for Children's Literature, Ten Best Books list of Parent's Choice Foundation, and the Cuffie Award from Publisher's Weekly.

Interviewing Karen felt like talking to an old friend. She is kind, patient and bright. And just in case any fans out there are reading this, she really wants a tee shirt that says "I'm a writer. I don't cook and I don't clean."

Karen Cushman is the author of seven historical YA novels - many of them award winners - with an eighth due out soon. My daughter Cassidy and I read most of her books when Cassidy was in Middle School, and we both loved each novel. Our favorites were set in Medieval England and were filled with the sights, sounds and smells of everyday people during those extraordinary times. Her female characters are strong, beautifully flawed and transcend their own imperfections as well as societal constraints. The stories are interesting, well-researched and darned good reads.

Karen has two master's degrees, one in Museum Studies, which she also taught at John F. Kennedy University, and the other in human behavior. Her Stanford undergraduate degree is in Greek and English. She grew up writing, but stopped from the time she was in college until she was nearly 50. Although she was a 'late bloomer,' she has wasted no time in winning awards - including a Newbery Honor and Newbery Medal for her first two books.

Read More and View The Video Interview

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Emigrant Online Posts Review of Lizzy Shannon's A Celtic Yearbook

Orgeon author pens a year’s worth of Irish traditions

Lizzy Shannon.
Lizzy Shannon.

Oregon resident Lizzy Shannon is celebrating her Irish heritage in style by releasing A Celtic Yearbook, a guide for everything Irish divided into thirteen chapters corresponding to the thirteen Druidic months.

Shannon’s varied works span live stage plays, science fiction novels, short stories and a children's Japanese picture book to name but a few genres. Within the pages of A Celtic Yearbook, readers can enjoy her unique take on Irish festivals, folklore, recipes, superstitions, traditional remedies and much more.

Born in Belfast but now celebrating her ninth year as a US citizen, in Northern Ireland she learned mostly British history in her early studies and did not initially realize the rich Irish heritage from which she had come.

“It wasn’t until I emigrated to the United States that I found out people loved Ireland,” she told the Sherwood Gazette recently. “I said, ‘why can’t you be Irish and British’? And I am.”

Her own family research has revealed many things; one eureka moment being the discovery that her father’s uncle was a man named Ernest Blythe, a member of the Irish Republican Army who worked closely with Eamon de Valera.

Other parts of her heritage which have made it into the book are diary entries from her late mother, Maureen, including a passage detailing how to properly clean a house, Irish style. There are also home-made how-to-dos, covering pomanders to potato bread to soap-making. On top of all that, the new title contains plenty of folklore tales which have enthralled Shannon down the years, including stories about fairies, leprechauns and the dreaded banshees.

A Celtic Yearbook is released on November 10 and can be purchased on for under $10. For more information visit

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ladder Memory, by Mark Ellis, Published

Ladder Memory: Stories from the Painting Trade

by Mark Ellis

(Mark was a student of mine, and it was my pleasure to read the stories collected here).

In Ladder Memory, Stories from the Painting Trade, freelance journalist and writer Mark Ellis recalls his 30 year journey from apprentice painter to successful painting contractor. A memoir that will resonate for painters, those in the paint retail marketplace, trade contractors and for anyone who has ever hired a painter or picked up a brush.

In “Mrs. Peltzer’s Husband” a floor epoxy job becomes a look into the life of a woman suffering from emotional abuse. “The Stairwell” takes readers through the hellish painting of a seven-story industrial stairwell with a certifiably motley crew. “Plants I Have Known” humorously catalogues the obstacles to a good paint job created by bushes and trees. “Sam Drucker and the Frogs” recounts the story of a celebrity client and a controversial neighborhood frog abatement project. A useful appendix offers proven painting tips.

These stories scrape the knuckles and get under the fingernails. Ellis brings authenticity and discovery to his exploration of the experiences of a housepainter, and the entrapments, frailties, and indomitable spirits of those living and working in the structures he paints.

This title is also available through at

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Authors Road Interview Features Tom Robbins

Friends and Fellow Authors Road Passengers,

We are very pleased and proud to present our latest video and audio interview with one of our favorite writers, Tom Robbins. At 36 minutes it is longer than our usual 20 minute goal, but we just couldn't help ourselves.

Since early childhood Robbins has been in love with writing, and he has devoted his life to this art with his publication of some of the most well-known, well-loved books of all time. It’s no surprise that he was named as one of the 100 Best Writers of the 20th Century by Writer’s Digest Magazine. We found him to be an intensely intelligent and generous man – and the funny, charming, slightly off-kilter writer we know from his books.

We hope you enjoy watching or listening to this interview as much as we did making it.

George & Salli
The Authors Road

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling Available

A fourth edition of my writing workbook, A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, is now available for $2.99 from Amazon Kindle.

This new edition offers new, unique tools for creating vibrant story characters and recognizing some of the main flawed character types in novels: characters who are emotionally numb, stuck, or too wounded to act.

If you've ever been told your minor characters are more interesting than your main character, this workbook will give you the tools you need to transform your writing.

If you've found value on this site, please buy the book for yourself or as a gift for another writer.

The book is available on several other e-book formats--including Nook, Kobo, and Sony--through Smashwords.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Todd Williams Rescue the Problem Project

Todd Williams speaks about his book, Rescue the Problem Project. Todd speaks at business conferences around the US about how companies can rescue a failing project.

I shot this video at the new Willamette Writers house in West Linn, Oregon.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spirit of Storytelling

by Bill Johnson

I've uploaded a fourth edition of my book titled A Story is a Promise and the Spirit of Storytelling on Kindle. I'm exploring techniques for writer to create story characters with fully developed internal lives separate from the authors,

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Moving On

Thursday, March 3, 2011
Moving On
A dear friend is moving far, far away. When I left her tonight I went through some powerful feelings of love and loss and closeness.

When I was young, after a fairly depressed and isolated childhood, I got into a household with three creative souls. Going home at the end of a workday was one of the most exciting events in my life, just to find out what my housemates were doing creating being. And I got to do it every day. Coming home after a trip was like going to the circus as a little kid for the first time.

I miss that, when going home is the most exciting bliss of anticipation.

Once, my best friend and house mate had been picked up by a society matron 30 years his senior at a poetry reading. He was bringing her home for a non-intimate sex thing, and told me and another house mate to be straight, no creative hijinks when this matron landed on our shores.

Well, I'd just smoked some weed and I had a BIG problem keeping a straight face when under the influence. So I'm sitting there trying to be stone faced while mightily stoned when my friend came through with this lady. Another house mate asked her a question, but she didn't answer and he left.

Then she turned to me and answered his question as if I'd asked it. Which under the circumstances felt like the most funny thing to happen ever in the history of the world.

I managed to keep a straight, solemn face until she left to do that thing with my friend, but I bust out laughing then, and my other house mate returned and found it funny as well.

God, those were the days. I had 15 months of that, then went off to do bellows breathing 3-4 hours a day for a year.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Randall Jahnson on Screenwriting

New Home

I've moved into a house purchased by Willamette Writers, a non-profit writers group that I work for. I have a room next to the office I'm working in. Easy commute, harder to stay away from the office computer.

I miss where I lived for 12 years, a quiet space across the street from a cemetery, with a performing space I could use once a month for playwrights meetings (years ago) or workshops.

The first several nights here I felt like I was sleeping in a hotel and I wanted to go home.

Now I'm transitioning.

That happens.