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CriTiki Party Stirs Up Critiques and Cocktails in Podcast Paradise




Welcome to the CriTiki Party, where the sun is hot, the drinks are frozen, and the conversation about writing is intoxicatingly insightful.

 
Writing good fiction isn’t quite as easy as mixing Mai Tais. Most honest authors will admit that their occupation is a solitary one, marked with occasional highs, frequent lows, and a seemingly ceaseless stream of rejection.

“I’ve been published for ten years, which means I’m probably the one who has been most battered and bruised by the industry,” says Mario Acevedo, author of the bestselling Felix Gomez detective-vampire series.

“Getting published depends on craft,” explains Jeanne Stein, who wrote The Anna Strong Vampire Chronicles, a popular urban fantasy series, and more recently The Fallen Siren series, published under the penname S. J. Harper.

Join for a drink? Members of Critiki mix a special cocktail for each podcast. Photos by Ben Siebrase.

Workshops and critique groups are how professional writers hone their craft. And that’s exactly what Stein and Acevedo were looking to do when they founded their critique group in the early 2000s. “I credit the group for my success in getting and staying published,” Stein says.  

For 15 years, she, Acevedo, and others have met up weekly at coffee houses, bars, and restaurants — basically any venue serving booze. Some of the group’s original members have left, but Acevedo and Stein have picked up newcomers, too: Warren Hammond, Travis Heermann, Angie Hodapp, and Joshua Viola. This spring, the sextet is broadening its reach with CriTiki Party, a tiki-themed podcast for aspiring and seasoned writers.

CriTiki Origins

“I stole the idea for CriTiki Party from fellow horror writer Dan Wells,” Acevedo admits. Last summer, he met the Utah-based author at a Comic-Con, and learned that Wells was one of the folks hosting Writing Excuses, a popular, 15-minute-long podcast delving into the craft of writing and the publishing business.

Back home, Acevedo tossed around with his group the idea of a Denver writing podcast. “They jumped on it,” he says — but with one caveat: There would have to be a twist.

“There are lots of writers offering advice,” Acevedo explains. His critique group was frequenting Adrift Tiki Bar, and the gang decided they’d air their podcast to the tune of tropical-themed cocktails and Tiki attire.

It's a podcast. It's a cocktail party. It's CriTiki! Photos by Ben Siebrase.

“The idea really sparked Warren Hammond,” Acevedo says, pointing to the author of the futuristic KOP trilogy. “He not only jumped aboard — he immersed himself in Tiki cocktail culture with the obsession of a serial killer,” adds Acevedo. (Leave it to a horror writer to make fruity drinks with tiny umbrellas sound menacing.)

Hammond and his wife – Hodapp, a publishing and editing whiz – offered up their home as a recording studio for the podcast, and Hammond promptly ditched his aquarium and built a midcentury bar stocked with dozens of varieties of rum and all of the necessary accouterments.

“I’ve become the mixologist,” Hammond says. “For every episode, I think up a new tropical-inspired cocktail.”

CriTiki Party airs monthly, and every episode kicks off with a drink – daiquiris, if you’re tuned into the first installment, Our Heroes’ Journey, which went live on March 14. Hammond gives listeners the recipe for the drink along with a little bit of history behind the concoction. If you’re tuned in from home, this is a good time to pause the podcast and pour yourself a stiff one.

But the drinks aren’t purely gimmick. “In order to critique Mario’s work, you have to be a little bit drunk,” says Heermann, freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, and editor. “We’ve carried that tradition over to the CriTiki Party,” he explains.

Behind the Scenes

Each episode of CriTiki Party will feature work from one anonymous writer. “I think our initial intent was to have new and unpublished writers,” Hammond says. But CriTiki Party has received submissions from seasoned authors, too. “Really, we’re just looking for something that will be interesting to talk about on air,” he says.

After a cocktail, the episode host – that varies by week – reads a half-page synopsis of the selected work, followed by the first three pages of an accompanying manuscript. “Then we critique it,” Hammond says.

The goal is to give writers feedback on their work. The Mai Tais are an added attraction. Photos by Ben Siebrase.

“Only critiquing the first three pages — that can be a huge challenge since we don’t know where the story is going,” Hammond admits. “But, on the flip side of that, if you got an agent or editor to read the first three pages of your story, you’re really lucky,” he adds.

“We read the submission on air, and then we break it down and give our opinions,” says Viola, chief editor and owner of Hex Publishers and the author of The Bane of Yoto, which has won more than a dozen awards.

“We often disagree with each other,” Viola continues, offering, “If we took more than three pages, the podcast would have to run for hours, but we wanted to make something that was thirty minutes or less.”

“We have a lot of experience between our six members,” Stein chimes in. From horror and mystery to urban fantasy, science fiction, and romance, the writers behind CriTiki Party have dabbled in just about every genre out there. “But we’re all very commercially oriented,” Hammond clarifies, adding, “We’re not a literary group, and that’s not what we’re looking for in the stories we take.”
 
The writers bring their own experiences to the table. “Angie,” Viola says, “works at a literary agency, and she has these very strict rules. She can read one page of a submission and know if it will go further or into the slush pile.” Others in the group, though, adhere more to their personal tastes, which tend to diverge. “It’s our advice, and we may all have solid points,” says Viola.

Episode 1

“We are all professional writers in the industry; none of us has extensive audio or radio experience,” Hammond says. When it comes to making a podcast, there’s been a steep learning curve.

“We had to find our stride with that first episode,” says Stein. The group rehearses before it records. That helps. “And the fact that Warren makes a special cocktail before each session lessens the pressure,” Stein adds, noting, “We limit ourselves to just one cocktail before a session.”

You didn't hear it from Stein, but the first time the critique group attempted to record an episode of CriTiki Party, the writers enjoyed Hammond’s drinks a little too much — and decided to skip the critique and keep the party going instead.

Now there’s a one-drink limit in the recording studio. “The plan is to release one episode every month,” Viola says, noting that authors who are interested in being cast on the show can submit their work via a link on CriTiki Party’s website.

“We’re open to anybody who meets our submission guidelines, which are listed online,” Viola says. “The idea,” he continues, “is to help aspiring writers, and have fun with it.”

Getting published depends on talent and luck. “We can't do anything about the luck, but with our podcast we hope to take those new writers that much closer to getting published by helping them hone their craft,” Stein says. That’s something worth toasting.


Catch the CriTikii Party podcast at critikiparty.com.
 

Read more articles by Jamie Siebrase.

Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer who who writes about art, culture, and parenting for Westword and Colorado Parent.
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