Editing on my novel has been proceeding more slowly than I’d like, so to motivate myself I returned to my writers’ group for a critique night. To get myself back in the spirit of things, I submitted “Misconquest,” a short story that you’ve seen on this site.
It was a good way to remember why I stopped going to critique nights.
One of the critics in our group is an odd fellow whose parents are evidently Woody Allen and Gene Shalit. He tries to get people to call him “The Z,” which of course nobody ever does. (I actually do call him that in my head, but I pronounce it the Canadian way: To me, he’s “The Zed.”)
I won’t talk about The Zed’s writing skills. That would be difficult. But he loves to tell others how they should be doing their writing, and that makes him fair game. To put it tactfully: It can be hard to figure out where he’s coming from. Or, to put it accurately, he’s weird as hell. Go read “Misconquest,” and then I’ll explain what I mean by that.
Notice that character “Ashmole the Jelly”? The Zed was thrown into a flux by that name, because he initially misread it as “Asshole the Jelly.” This, to him, was a terrible weakness in my story. But not to worry! The Zed was on the spot with a solution. He proposed to solve my problem by renaming that character to “Ashmole the Jelly Fish.”
I’m not kidding; he really said that. I can prove it, too, because he put it in writing.
A bit later in the story, I wrote of Cetaculan soldiers singing joyful songs of slaughter. The Zed objected to this as well, on the grounds that these sea creatures were not behaving enough like Klingons. I swear to you, I’m not making any of this up.
Still further, Admiral Lop laughs at the idea of anyone living above the surface of the water: “What would their flippers even do up there?” This earned me the kind of look The Zed might give to a grade schooler who has said “can” instead of “may” for the 11th time in a row. “This should be ‘gills’,” he said, looking like a paragon of self-control as he forced himself to be patient with silly, ignorant me. “Flippers don’t really do anything.”
That’s what I’m dealing with.
Other minor objections were lodged, such as an argument that dolphins count as intelligent life (“compared to some,” is one of many things I didn’t say). He also expressed disdain for my character names, but I was ready for that one. I said I found it a bit racist to criticize another culture for its names. He had no answer to that.
And that’s why I avoid critique groups.