Good Crit Session

Good crit session with the Speculative Wordsmiths, my in-town writing group. We usually do two stories every meeting and today I gave them my most rewritten/reworked story ever, hoping for some new insight. This is my original Viable Paradise Thursday story, a ghost story, which stands at 8K, the world’s worst length for a short story. I am now convinced that I could make this a successful novelette OR a successful 5-6K short. I just have to decide which way to go.

It does need a better title, for sure.

 

Paradise Lost III – Unpacking the Workshop

I came back from the Paradise Lost Writer’s Retreat last week. It’s taken me a week to mentally unpack the takeaways from it, as it usually does. The event is part critique, part seminar, part networking and part social. It’s a great opportunity once a year to get away from my normal life, as wonderful as that is, and just focus on writing and my own future in this industry.

I had an insight while I was there. If I think of writing as a second job – and as non-poetic and non-creative as that sounds, it really is – then it’s just as important to spend time developing my skills, learning, changing and meeting new people as it is for my full time job. I sort of despaired when I first dipped my toe into the water because the thought of breaking into this group of people who all seemed to know each other seemed totally daunting. But a few years in now, I realize that, just like starting at a new company, you eventually meet new people, first the locals, then others in other offices as you travel about and increase your own presence. I know I have a long way to go, but I no longer despair at being able to break into the group, so to speak.

We had some amazing professionals in residence this year.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Campbell and Hugo Award winner, and author of The Glamourist Histories series from Tor

Stina Leicht, author of The Fey and the Fallen series from Nightshade Books and one of the coordinators of the very well-regarded Writers’ Workshop at ArmadilloCon

Lynn Thomas, editor of Apex Magazine, co-editor of Chicks Dig Comics and Chicks Dig Time Lords and main wrangler on the Hugo Award winning podcast, SF Squeecast

Jay Lake, as instructor emeritus and raconteur, provided color commentary for the weekend.

That’s a lot of experience and knowledge for 15 students to soak up, let me tell you. But we soaked it up. Oh yes, we did.

We had some great lectures on creating a unique voice, writing with humor, idea scaling, giving a great reading and working with editors. However, I was most taken with Mary’s session on how to schmooze and make small talk. I talk a lot for my day job, so I can’t say that I thought I’d get a lot out of this session. I did learn a few new things, but even more valuable was the way that Mary articulated the moments and motions of schmoozing and small talk. I would not have thought to break it down into things the way she described, but it was enlightening. Lots to think about and I’m not sure I’ll ever look across the room at two people chatting ever again without thinking about regressive movement with a closed silhouette.

In addition to meeting some pros and getting some great insight into the industry and writing craft, Paradise Lost is also about our own professional development as neo-pro writers and developing our own cohort. Sean Kelley, the organizer, talks about Paradise Lost as an experiment in community, a phrase which I keep coming back to. A community of our own, carved out of the overall writing world. And I feel like I’m a part of it.

Which is weird, honestly. I’m not sure I thought I’d ever make new close friends after college, but there’s something about sharing your writing with others that is an incredibly intimate act. I’ll have to write a separate post on that, after I think on it some more.

Now to work out some of the comments and edits to my short story provided by my gracious fellow attendees.

Sitting at the Adult Table

For the last few years, I have slowly been entering the so-called writing life. I’ve done pretty well for the amount of time I’m able to devote to it. I’ve attended some great workshops, some really good cons, made loads of new friends, joined a writing group or two and even had my first short story published in a professional magazine. Thanks, Lightspeed. I feel like I’m the kid sitting at the adult table now.

But like the kid at the adult table, I want to be there at the same time that I question whether I belong there or not. I suppose that tells you what kind of kid I was, your childhood mileage may have varied.

I still have other goals that I feel will put me at the adult table for real and hopefully, for keeps. I want to earn another two pro short story credits and become a SFWA member. I want to finish the first draft of my novel, get an agent, sell a novel. I want to see my book in the store, with my name on the cover and everything.

But first, I want to feel confident enough in what I have to say that I don’t erase every blog post or comment with an internal “God, I’ve already read a dozen people who have already said that exact thing.” I struggle with feeling like everything I think or feel or want to write is derivative or just another “Yea, me too!” which drives me crazy.

I talked about it with my wife, and of course, as always, she gets to the heart of the matter. “Do you think that every time you read a blog post about something you’ve read about before? Do you stop reading, thinking that person is just jumping on the bandwagon?”

Well, no. Not usually. But sometimes. I have to take some time to unpack my thoughts about this, but I’m going to try to be better about not censoring myself. Letting my thoughts get out there. If nothing else, it will be writing practice, I suppose.

Currently Reading: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, edited by Ellen Datlow.

Obsessing Over: How to be a Heartbreaker, by Marina and the Diamonds. Although, I kind of like the Glee version better.

Looking Forward to: Paradise Lost 3, upcoming in San Antonio.

Status Update: Projects

This is an attempt to keep myself honest and on some kind of schedule. It doesn’t generally work, but here goes.

In Progress

1. “Red Tape”. Done and in submission.

2. “Sic Transit Axis Mundi”. Have reworked it and is awaiting final edit from Stephanie then into submission again.

3. “Paper Dream”, formerly “Beckett for American Baroque”. Same as above.

4. “The Witch on the Bus Goes Curse, Curse, Curse”. About half done.

5. “A Frequent Affair”. Stalled out because I’m not sure how it ends. Also trying to decide if it an SFnal story or should I rework it as lit fic.

6. “Dancing to the Tune of Solids”, formerly “A Race through Dark Places”, formerly “Paola”. Still too mired in its previous history as a sidebar piece of fiction associated with a previous roleplaying campaign.

7. Story currently known as “Mind Your Manners” which is not the right title, AKA my Baba Yaga story. Am incorporating comments from last round of beta readers.

8. “Insha’Allah, I will Live Forever”. Maybe a third done.

9. “No Reportable Intelligence”. Maybe a quarter done.

10. And of course, Oberon’s Heir, my work in progress novel. Currently at 69K. Keeping all the stories interwoven together is really throwing me. Also, I keep losing track of where certain scenes are in relation to others.

Not Started

1. Untitled second Corolis story about the dead goldfish

2. Untitled Roxane story

3. Untitled alt-American history with Ben Franklin story/novella

4. Sleeper story. I think this is a novella, if not an actual novel.

5. Murder on the Fourth of July. Novel. Just in notes form

6. “The Left-Hand Windsor Knot of Darkness”. I have no idea what this is, but I love this title.

7. “The All Seeing Jade”, unless its title is “Lucky Fuck”

8. Untitled religious subatomic particle thing

Wanted: Hot, new idea to take me away from this drab, old thing.

So right in the middle of a project is when you tend to get your best ideas – for other projects. I’m stuck in the last 100 pages of my novel’s first draft, and I have come up with at least three great new short story ideas. I think it’s your brain’s way of trying to shake you out of the rut when you’ve been stuck muddling around in the late-middle of a project.

And of course, there’s nothing that burns so hot in your brain as the idea when it comes upon you full force, when your head reels with all the cool things you can do with it. All the connections that leap to the front. How x connects to y connects to z. And then bring in the Aztecs or that cool fact about coral reefs you just read. Or this word you’ve been dying to use in a story.

We’ll get to the boring “But why would he do that?”, “How exactly would that work?”, and “But why wouldn’t he just use his cell phone?” questions later. When the idea pops into your brain, it’s good to go ahead and just purge it. Write the thoughts out in your notebook. Let you brain make those connections while it’s hot, and then put the notes away and try to get back to your main project.

I’ll let you know when I can take my own advice.

Creating a Cohort

One of the things I enjoy most about this new writer thing is the slow creation of a new cohort of writer friends. I met a lot of people at Viable Paradise and in the time since. It’s nice to have a group of people who know what you’re going through. Submit, reject, submit, struggle to finish a draft, finish a draft, hate it, love it, rinse repeat.

As always, there are people you meet that you instantly know you ill connect with and others that are more of a surprise. I was wondering why I feel so connected to these people, when I have friends I’ve known for years that I don’t feel comfortable talking to about my writing. Miranda Suri, who I’ve never met, but is a fellow VP grad, speculates about pouring out your heart in your writing and what that means for new friendships. This rings very true to me, though I’m not sure I would’ve thought to look at it that way.

So to my new friends (you know who you are), thanks. I appreciate it.

Boskone 49: Wading in Up to the Sensitive Parts

In a continuing journey into a writing world, I attended Boskone 49 this past weekend. It was my second convention ever, after last year’s successful “dip my toe in the water” attendance at Capclave, here in the DC area. I had a great time, met some old friends and made several new acquaintances, attended some interesting panels, and learned a lot. Here to sum up –

The Top 10 Things I Learned at Boskone.

1. It’s Bos-cone (rhymes with pwn), not Bos-con (rhymes with faun). Yes, modern American English is complicated.

2. There’s usually some fruit and enough carbs to choke a horse available in the con suite, but finding enough vegetables to eat at a con is the modern fan’s grail quest.

3. Apparently, “SMOF” is a good thing. For those not in the know, it means “Secret Masters of Fandom” and refers to that group of semi-professional fans that help keep cons up and running.

4. Also apparently, Heinlen’s protagonists used their genius for douchery.

5. Kate Baker, Genevieve Valentine and the aforementioned Catherynne Valente, reading for the Clarkesworld 5th Anniversary panel, all have great reading voices. I could listen to all three of them for a long time.

6. An interesting panel insight:

All effective stories in speculative fiction end with the opening up of a new paradigm or new beginning. This makes them inherently progressive genres, or perhaps better said, genres open to new ideas, form and content. Mystery, thriller and (to some degree)  romance are more about restoring the established social order at the end of the story, a fact which makes them more inherently conservative than other genre forms.

7. Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts and John Scalzi’s Redshirts, both coming out this year, will be runaway bestsellers. The readings from both were freaking fantastic.

8. Middle books (in a trilogy) are for breaking stuff.

9. Another interesting panel insight, duly noted for the record as a gross oversimplification:

Genre protagonists have agency; they save the prince, escape the dragon, take that apparently death defying Kessel Run, and generally take action, moving themselves through the story. A lot of mainstream lit fic characters lack agency and the story moves around them, sweeping them up in its own events, to which the protag reacts. Part of the reason we identify with genre protags is that, in a world that often sweeps us off our feet, we all deeply crave that degree of agency in our lives.

10. It takes an amazing artist to paint a quick, yet accurate portrait of someone while that person is, essentially, holding a press conference. Oh yea, and a couple hundred fans watch over your shoulder and your model keeps moving. Dan Dos Santos, you are the man.

All in all, a really satisfying con experience. I haven’t decided which con I’ll be attending next – maybe Readercon in July – but I’ve definitely got the con bug now.

P

 

NaNoCrashO

So… There went November and NaNoWriMo. I have participated in NaNo before, and love the idea. Although I have come close, I’ve never made it to the finish line within the month. As I’ve said before, finding time to write has always been my big challenge. This year, life got in the way in a more aggressive way that in past years, but the principle stands. That being said, congratulations to all those NaNoWriMo winners!

I’m still on my self-imposed deadline to finish the first draft of Oberon’s Heir by the end of the calendar year. I’m at 300 pages, so I’ll need to push to finish the last quarter of the book in the next month. In addition, I have two short stories, “Paper Dream” and “Sic Transit Axis Mundi” that I’d likee to get into submission by the end of the year. Both have been in submission before, but are undergoing retooling to add a greater emotional depth.

First Writing Convention: Getting Your Feet Wet

So…November got away from me and it’s taken me awhile to put together my thoughts on Capclave, the first speculative fiction convention I have ever attended.

Capclave is small, but local to the WDC area, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to break into the con scene. Worldcon and Word Fantasy Con are the big boys on the bloc for writers of speculative fiction, but there was a lot to recommend breaking in with something small.

1. If I’m flying to another city and shelling out for three or four nights of hotel, if I don’t have a good time, I’m kind of screwed. Local and small meant costs stayed low which minimized the investment. I commuted each night – sure, that meant I missed a very small portion of the events, but I thought it was a good trade off.

1a. This also meant my wife could come with me. For moral support. Having someone there with me was a good move, at least the first time. She’s much less shy than I was, and helped me get over my “new and scary” initial reaction. (I believe it was “You’ve had your freak out. Now pull up your big boy pants and get over there.” or something to that effect…)

2. Accessible program. Unlike Worldcon’s 8,000 track monstrosity, Capclave’s program was very doable. I only had two or three choices each hour, including readings and kaffeeklatches. (Note: Speaking German was not required. A kaffeeklatch at a con is a limited-attendance small group with the Guests of Honor.) Nerd that I am, I wanted to select my program choices in advance and felt like I could with that kind of schedule. Highlights were “Using Medieval Myths in Fantasy”, “So You Want to Put Together an Anthology?” and the Guest of Honor Chat.

3. I was able to meet some new people. The con was small enough that you basically sat with the same people over and over again. One of my more convention-worldly friends suggested that you make it a habit to meet new people at each con. Networking is a huge part of the convention scene. Thanks to the wonderful Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Jean Marie Ward for the great Capclave history lesson and an explanation of some of the con undercurrents.

4. I got to meet and spend some time with the Guests of Honor, Catherynne Valente and Carrie Vaughn. Since the con was so small, I got to attend a kaffeeklatch for each. Both were awesome and gracious. It reminded me that these writers that I admire are normal real people too.

4a. My wife LOOOOOOVES Catherynne Valente, so I was able to score some major points there. She got her copy of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making signed, as well as The 2-volume set of The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden and In the Cities of Coin and Spice.

5. And I was able to better figure out what I might need to attend a longer/larger convention in another city. I need to better plan the food budget or bring food along. Be open to leaving a session if it’s not that interesting. Be ready to change plans in mid-stream. (Not easy for me.) Be open to meeting new people. Have a con buddy for shared snark and easy escape, if required.

All told, it was a wonderful experience and I will definitely attend again. I think my next venture will be Boskone in February. Watch out, friends in the NorthEast. I’m coming.

 

Being Serious

“If you don’t take yourself more seriously, how will you ever make this work?”

…she says as she glides off into the night. And she’s right, I suppose. If I can’t force myself to write down my thoughts on writing and how it makes me feel, what it means to me, how I hope to be a writer, than how am I supposed to actually accomplish anything?

I visited some writing friends in Bellingham, WA today while I’m on the west coast for business. My Viable Paradise classmates are working hard, writing a lot and trying to make it work. I feel like I’m not working as hard on writing as they are and it makes me waver.

Am I not as committed?

Am I not as good?

Or do I just have different things going on in my life?

I am nearly ten years older than they are, with a different career, (older) kids and a different life back in Washington, D.C. What I’m able to do, what I want to do, is bound more by that than by what is going on in my friends’ lives. Or at least it needs to be.

She glides back into the room and tells me not to be so frustrating.

I am an adequate writer now, but I want to be a very good writer. Even great. I can see how much I’m going to have to work to make that happen, and I’m at the stage where it’s just all rather daunting.

But I can. I know I can. I taught myself not to be shy. I lived across the world from my family for two years. I learned to read a novel in Japanese. I asked a beautiful girl to marry me.

I’ve done difficult things before. I can do them again. It’s just been so long since I’ve wanted anything this much. It’s an unusual feeling. I have to get back on track. Take charge of things once more. Force myself to push past the obvious hurdle and get to the good stuff.

She glides back in once more. “Make sure to tell them that I’m a professional at being right.” And she is.

I WILL make this work.

My immediate goal: Finish first draft of my novel by year’s end. I’m 3/4 of the way there. I just have to get through the ugly, doubting part.

My long term goal: Revise it enough to send out and get an agent. Sell the novel.

My longer term goal: Write the other five books I have floating around in my head.

My dream goal: See my book in Costco or the supermarket. (I know, but still…)

I can do it. I’ve done harder things. I’ve just gotten soft about it. Time to man up.

She smiles and says “I told you so.” Then she takes my hand and takes me with her.