14 October 2005 by Published in: writing 2 comments

It has just occurred to me that there are possibly potential readers of “How Does Your Garden Grow?” who might find it controversial. I’m glad the idea didn’t suggest itself to me in the writing, I might have been paralyzed by it. I have no desire to be controversial. The story was well-received when I concluded the reading of it this past Tuesday at my writer’s group. It took forever (five weeks, I think) because it clocks at a touch over 6,000 words, which in my opinion is way too long. Not a single person said “Zuwhaa?” which is the usual reception my stories get. A line was picked out by several people as particularly nice, and it was a line I liked as well, so that was gratifying. I was pleased by the reaction, content to change the small things people suggested altering and continue to feel optimistic about this story’s chances in the marketplace. Now to smooth out the rough edges and send it off to find itself a home. Still aiming at before Halloween as my deadline for submission.

The new story is hard. Its filename is “dreamsba” (Dreams B.A.) and I’m trying so carefully to get things right. I don’t think it is controversial, but I suppose it could surprise me. I have to face being an outsider – my natural state – and speaking with authority about things which I frequently think I am not entitled to speak on. Still, if the story asks me to tell it, I must tell it. That’s the pact between me and the storytelling well. I draw up the bucket and take the drink, but have no choice to turn down the tale I swallow. So here I am, with the untitled piece, which moves forward only about a hundred words or so a day but fills every corner of my brain, and which suggested to me just now that it wants to be called something mythological, like “Olympus”. “Olympus” is much too blatant, perhaps my brain can work up something subtler. I had hoped to finish it this week. That seems unlikely now, as Analía has not yet spoken to our protag (but soon will), and we’ve not even purchased the requisite plane ticket yet.

Oh. You’re probably waiting to hear about VP 9, huh? Well, it was great. Absolutely worth it. The instructors were very generous with their time and very accessible. I learned quite a lot, and have the feeling that more will be making sense as time goes on. I took copious notes, and if there were interest (this means you’d leave a comment if you wanted to hear in more detail about VP9) I could go into a chronology and the various and sundry bits of wisdom that I picked up. Jim McDonald’s plot lecture was invaluable, and I spent quite a bit of time with him and with Laura Mixon chewing over the nuts and bolts of YWGYSL’s plot. I’ve got lots of planning to do, and another from scratch rewrite probably, but I think I can make it work. I’m probably not going to have a completed novel by the end of the year, though, so there’s one goal broken.

One disappointment was that there was a mixup with my first and second draft, and three out of four instructors were critiquing the wrong draft. This even after I realized TNH had the wrong draft and asked another instructor, “Please make sure you have the right draft!” If it had been four out of four, I would have deduced that I did something wrong, but I think the mix up was at a different spot than me, which may make me guiltless but doesn’t make me any happier. Even so, I did get useful critique on both drafts. The original first scene, with Father John, was universally loved. Pity it’s got to go. On the other hand, if I can’t work it around to be a short story, that makes it good fodder for the website, so all of my blog readers may get to read it.

As usual, it was hard to get really consistent feedback. Regular workshoppers gave me a pretty uniform critique which I think may have been largely positive, though I immediately discard anything that isn’t brought up as a problem, so I can no longer be sure whether it was generally liked or not. However, the instructors (whom I was really paying attention to, of course) were all over the map. Specific things that were described as brilliant by some were categorized as terrible by others. It’s somewhat paralyzing in terms of fixing things, but I think by the end of the week I had sorted through a lot of the diametrically opposed information I was getting. It helped that I could go back and ask instructors to clarify and expand on what they’d said. Only Jim McDonald twigged to the Eden scene, and it was both strangely satisfying to have someone see the extra reference I’d shoveled in as well as gratifying to know it wasn’t so blatant that everyone picked up on it.

Just as I suspected, having a for real editor look at one of your manuscripts was one of the biggest possible advantages, the thing that not many other workshops can offer. The editor in my one-on-one session (Teresa Nielsen-Hayden) told me my copy was unbelievably clean. She insisted that were I able to see someone else’s manuscript I would be agog at how little marked mine was. I thanked her of course, but viewed such praise with suspicion (as is my nature) until I talked to other folks who were like “Did she do that line-editing thing? Can you believe how much scribbling is on your first three pages?” To which I had to admit uh, no, actually, mine was fairly free of notations. This is cause for much joy, because countless of the author blogs I read go on and on about the importance of turning in clean copy. Huzzah, I can tuck that happy little card into my winning hand.

TNH also told me not to worry about my long sentences (most reassuring, because I was getting exasperated with repeated iterations to the contrary), but to learn how to break out paragraphs. In light of what she said, I have finally realized that this is something I really need to master. Happily, adding paragraph breaks is something that my local writer’s group consistently helps me out with. I’m not sure why I have trouble telling where a paragraph ends or begins. It seems basic, something that people do on instinct, without thinking about it. When people add paragraph markers in my text I’m always like “Oh right, of course!” but when I’m writing I don’t seem to be able to see it so clearly. I never had trouble with that in school while writing essays and papers and such, so I’m not sure why I’m having trouble with it in fiction. Getting the paragraph right is critically important because TNH says that the paragraph is the basic unit of language in English. Right, you didn’t expect that, did you? Me neither. It’s not the word, not the sentence, but the paragraph. (I just added four paragraph breaks to the chunk about VP 9 so far, it had been just one thing to me until I read over it). The “aha!” moment granted to me by that small piece of information was worth the whole cost of the workshop. There were many, many of those moments, scattered throughout the week both specifically about my work and generically about the craft of writing.

If you’d like someone else’s view on Viable Paradise, one of my roommates wrote down a blow by blow of her week: part 1, part 2, part 3. I rate a couple of mentions, including the social engineering bit I did to get everyone to say their names in the opening round of Mafia on the first night. Legomancer, whose knowledge of games is deepest among my friends, tells me Mafia is more commonly known as Werewolf. It’s the sort of game I’m dreadful at, due to my complete inability to dissemble. I don’t play poker, either.

Oh, Google’s new blog search, how I love thee! Other summaries and reviews of Viable Paradise 9 (I’m embarassed to say I’m not certain of the identity of all the people commenting below):

  • What I learned and general impressions from Aryllian.
  • An admission from VP: britzkrieg doesn’t like reading fantasy.
  • sfharper is glad to be home.
  • Flyby mentions (1 and 2) from the affable VPer I mentally tagged as “real estate guy”.
  • [As an aside, I found myself explaining about the mental tagging thing I do several times, which I found weird, because I was so convinced everyone does this. Maybe no one is fool enough to admit it?]

  • A day by day roundup, most of which was written as it happened by one of the quietest people there: Going to VP, Day 0, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, and Day 5.
  • [Before you ask, my mental tag for her was smiling, tall woman with dark hair.]

  • Reflections from Shadowmisty.
  • [tag : Canadian librarian (but she was colorful scarf wrapped around her hat woman first, then she quit wearing it). There were three of us librarians, and I think we formed the largest single profession block.]

  • The workshop synthesized into a single and significant piece of advice by cicadabug, one of my favorite people present.
  • What the workshop looks like if you’re an instructor or a different instructor or staff or the indispensable Kate.
  • Picture posts from staff: people and scenic.
  • [Thanks, Carol! You can see me in all my sharpie-tattooed glory if you know where to look. At some point in the distant future you may be able to see some of the photos I took in our photo database but, you know, don’t hold your breath. Also, I’m not in any of those because duh, I was taking them.]

iTunes says I was listening to Nobody Likes You from the album Taste the Blood of Zombina & the Skeletones by Zombina & the Skeletones when I posted this. I have it rated 4 stars.


Sat 15th Oct 2005 at 5:19 am

I wish I could do some fun, creative workshopping stuff! Too bad there isn’t anything analogous to VP for computer guys. :( Sounds like a great experience, and I for one would love to read more of your fiction.

Merrie Haskell
Sat 15th Oct 2005 at 11:08 pm

I’d certainly be pleased to read anything you chose to wrote about VP. :)

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