I almost didn’t go. I could easily have blamed the weather; we’ve been on the receiving end of a storm the past two days and the roads were slippery and snow-choked. But if I didn’t go, I knew it was because I had chickened out, again, and I couldn’t let myself off so easy. Ate at the Subway down the street aways, though it’s not my favorite place. Sandwiches for dinner … meh. But there were no other options to pick up chow that quick before the meeting. I left it late, you see, wondering whether Will or Wuss would win. Black Cat Too (so named because it’s the sister shop to a strictly newspaper and cigarette store down the corner) is closed in the evenings, so me and another woman, riding a power wheel chair with her ride nearby, waited to be let inside. She’s small, fingers knarled, with streaked straight gray hair and a pair of light glasses, but spunky as hell. Her name is Vera, and she’s one of the co-presidents these days. I like her. Finally, someone saw us and came to unbolt the door, letting us into the downtown book and magazine store set into a converted old jewelry store. Nothing cooler than seeing marble displays out front that showcase local authors as the jewels instead of diamonds or sapphires. Vera peppered me with questions, which I did my best to answer. Why do I get so nervous at these things? The first time I must say anything to a group of more than three people and I feel like my voice will strangle itself to silence me. People trailed in slowly, the weather keeping many away. I think there were about fifteen people there, and after an extended ‘new business’ beginning, they broke into groups for the critiques. It was great. Different people offered different angles on the critique, some looking at the structure, some looking at the theme and the emotions generated by the material. I found it neat what people would read into the same stories and what they imagined was happening before and after the events of the tale. I read two of the four stories critiqued in the group I sat with, because the woman, plump with large hands and a teacher’s demeanor, offered them to me to read. Two of the stories had a very similar structure – they start with a good first paragraph and a decent hook, then spend the next two-thirds to three quarters of the story laying passive-voice storytelling set-up before banging the actual story on at the end. The other two pieces were excerpts from larger works, but sounded more cohesive, more immersive. I’ve toyed with joining some online critique groups, but have been (surprise!) too shy to post anything. The only thing I’ve finished so far is the book, and it’s not edited yet. I’m working on a few short stories and I do have a few completed story prompts that turned into vingettes or short-shorts. I might use the latter on some of the online critique groups just to get feedback on whether or not it sounds all right, i.e., do the words flow, are the sentances interesting? Plot I can work towards, but I need to know that I’m not an illiterate. But I want to have completed stories for the group. The roundtable discussions really inspired me and I think, having people face-to-face with me, will make me all the more driven to get it done and to do it well. So I handed my membership dues over at the end of the night. I only wish they met more than once a month! Then Todd begged me to come to the dinner I was missing, a fundraiser for pheasent hunters of all things. We came home with a plush-animal deerhead mounted like the real thing.