April 10th, 2007

yeff yahoo avatar

Mon Feb 26: Potlatch Writing Workshop Details Received

I received my information for the Potlatch Writers Workshop. My session is Saturday, March 10 from 10AM to noon. I submitted the newest version of "This Moment, and the Times Before" for critique.

The pros reviewing my group are Jay Lake (http://www.jlake.com/) and L. Timmel Duchamp (http://ltimmel.home.mindspring.com/). Yikes! There's only one other writer in my session, which means each of us gets an hour. Double Yikes! That's very intimidating and nerve-wracking, but also awesome.

Mary Rosenblum (http://www.theflyingparty.com/maryrosenblum/index.html), who is coordinating the workshop, is not one of the pros for the short story sessions. That's a bummer, as I picked up her collection "Synthesis & Other Virtual Realities" and have been enjoying it. I think my style and sensibilities and close to hers, so I'd be interested in her opinion. I might see if I can bribe her into a critique!

The preliminary Potlatch program is up (http://www.potlatch-sf.org/program.php), and looks really good. I don't get there til Saturday morning, so I'll miss the Friday night fun. But I'll be there for the auction, almost all the sessions, and the Sunday brunch. I'm really looking forward to it!
yeff yahoo avatar

Potlatch 2007 Report, Part 1 (Getting There)

Potlatch 2007 in Portland was excellent, once I got there.

"Once I got there"? Here's the story. I'm on a 6:30 AM flight from Sacramento to Portland, which gives me plenty of time to take public transportation to the hotel. It's just a MAX Line (Light Rail) ride away.

I walk into the airport and go to the Alaska kiosk to check in. It won't take my reservation number. I try my last name, that doesn't work. That's odd, I think, must be a problem with the kiosks. I look at the flight listing board and see that it says my 6:30 AM flight to Portland is ON TIME. While I'm watching the board, the flight status changes to CANCELLED.

Oh, crap. I get in line and while in line, call Southwest and ask "Do you have anything going from Sacramento to Portland now?" They have an 8:30 flight, so I get a reservation.

At the Alaska desk, the Alaska rep says "We had a mechanical problem, but we can put you on the flight through Seattle which leaves at 7:00 AM and arrives in Portland at noon." My writing workshop session at Potlatch is from 10-12, so that won't work. I ask about putting me on the Southwest flight and he says "let me see what I can do" and goes to talk to the manager.

Thankfully, they will pay for my Southwest flight. I get a voucher from the rep. All around me, people are virtually screaming at the Alaska people about the delay and the Alaska reps are totally stressed out. Not a job you want.

I dash over to Southwest (in the other terminal), check in and go get breakfast. I get online (thank goodness Sacramento now has free wireless Internet) and send email to all the emails I can find associated with Potlatch and the writing workshop saying "flight cancelled, arriving Portland at 10AM, will get there ASAP."

Everything else goes smooth, I hit PDX at 10AM, jump on the MAX light rail, jump off at the stop, find the hotel, dash upstairs to the hospitality suite, find out where writing workshop is, dash into the room and arrive at 10:45 AM. Pretty good, all things considered.

(Workshop experience in Part 2 of Potlatch post.)
yeff yahoo avatar

Potlatch 2007 Report, Part 2 (Workshop, Plus)

My Writing Workshop session was one other novice (Ulrika O'Brien) and two pros, Jay Lake (http://www.jlake.com), L. Timmel Duchamp (http://ltimmel.home.mindspring.com/), and me. I was having the story "This Moment, and the Times Before" critiqued.

Once I'd finally arrived at the Writing Workshop the pros had already critiqued Ulrika's story so I sat down, gathered myself after my crazy morning, and went into my critique of her story.

After that, it was my turn. Ulrika went first, then Jay, then Timmy (as L Timmel Duchamp preferred to be called). All three made some excellent points about the story, especially with respect to my use of first person present tense (which didn't work for anyone). They also gave some good input about making sure the secondary characters were real, some issues with the technology of the story, and some input into the plot and setting.

Jay mentioned that my story at first felt like the SF classic "Light of Other Days" by Bob Shaw, but went in a different direction. I didn't remember the story until he mentioned the concept of "slow glass" and then it clicked that I had actually read the story a few weeks before (in the excellent book "Science Fiction 101" by Robert Silverberg).

I got a lot out of the session and at the end we had a great discussion about some themes and issues in the story (like use of different tenses), and about the role and responsibility of a writer with respect to using what he/she sees and observes and experiences when telling a story. The folks were positive about the story and that, as always, felt very good! Jay even suggested sending it to Eric Bain at Bain's Universe and saying "Tell him I told you to send it" (!)

After the workshop I had a critique from Mary Rosenblum, who was coordinating the workshops. When the workshop writers were first listed, I looked them all up and read some of their work and I realized that I was doing work very similar to Mary's in style and sensibilities. I asked her if she'd consent to a critique and she very kindly agreed.

She was also very positive about the story, had some specific points that she would like to see improved, but said that once I revise I should send it to Sheila Williams at Asimov's and I'd have a decent chance of selling it (!)

Overall, it was a great experience with the critiques. It fulfilled my expectations and even surpassed them. I feel like I learned a lot from the sessions and that my work might even have taken a step up. I'll have to see how much I can keep working away at getting better but I think Potlatch was a tremendous help and well worth the trip!
yeff yahoo avatar

Potlatch 2007 Report, Part 3 (the Con)

Once the Writing Workshop and critiques were over, I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the con.

On Saturday, I went to three sessions, the auction, and the reading. On Sunday, I went to the brunch.

The three sessions were on "Ethics and Science Fiction", "Environmental Catastrophes" and "Humor".

Ethics was a very interesting session which talked about the ethics that both writers and readers might consider with respect to stories. For a writer, one of the big questions could be "why are you telling this story" with respect to what you want readers to take away from the story. I know that's something I regularly think about when writing, so it was really interesting to hear the discussion.

Environmental Catastrophes sounded intriguing, I expected it to be a discussion of "what happens after the lights go out?" in stories. It might have started that way, but morphed into how farming corporations are doing all sorts of awful things to the environment and how you can live a greener lifestyle. It was still interesting, and there was much food for thought with respect to stories and how to live your life, but it definitely wasn't what I expected.

Humor was a lot of fun, as would be expected, and the panel made sure to crack jokes at every opportunity. They still had a very good discussion, especially about how humor often arises from "having a completely absurd world, and taking it very seriously" or "having a completely serious world, and taking it absurdly." They also talked about how something is humorous because it's unexpected, so you have to watch your "set-ups" for anything that you want to be humorous. In fact, maybe you shouldn't try to set it up at all!

After a dinner break, where I went to McMenamins with some friends who live in Portland, I returned for the auction. The auction was a blast, with lots of interesting items and Ellen Klages (http://www.ellenklages.com/) as the host. She was hilarious and really ripped it up! She has a new short story collection out titled "Portable Childhoods" and now I need to get it. The auction made good money, I can't remember if it was to benefit Clarion, Tiptree or both, but no matter what it was an excellent cause.

The reading was "Bad Medicine" by Robert Sheckley (http://www.scifi.com/scifiction/classics/classics_archive/sheckley2/sheckley21.html). It was a good performance of a fun story, but I was getting tired (I'd been up since 4 AM) and started drifting off. After that, I crashed.

Sunday morning was the brunch, which was very tasty. I sat with some fans from California and Oregon and we talked about past Potlatch conventions and why they liked coming to Potlatch.

After brunch, I went to go visit another friend who now lives in Portland with her family, headed back to the airport and went back home.

Overall, Potlatch was great, both the workshop and the con. I'm sure I'll be attending more Potlatchs in the future and would highly recommend it to anyone who loves the literary side of speculative fiction and likes talking about books and stories and the issues they raise.
yeff yahoo avatar

Norwescon 2007 Writing Workshop details received

I also received the details on my session in the Norwescon 2007 Writing Workshop. My session is Friday April 6, from 10-11 AM. I submitted "The Case of the Killer Dog" and there are four people critiquing it: Chris Bodan, Ted Butler, Deborah Layne, and G. David Nordley.

Chris's name was all in caps in the email, so I'm assuming he's the member of the Fairwood Writers Workshop (both critiquing and moderating) and the other three are the pros. I didn't recognize the names off the top of my head, so I'll have some homework to do in getting familiar with their work before the session.

I find that if I am familiar with a writer's work before I get a critique from them, I can get a better sense of where they're coming from and how I can interpret their feedback (including any suggestions).

The classic critique story is the one someone at Worldcon told about being critiqued by Bruce Sterling: First, he tears your story to pieces; second, he tells you how to make it better. The first part, if you can take it, is very useful. The second part usually sums up to "turn it into a Bruce Sterling story", which can be useful - if you want to write stories like Bruce Sterling.

But still - it's just me, three pros, and one Fairwood member in the room for a whole hour! Wow! It's sessions like this that will hopefully help me pick my writing up to another, higher, level.

Overall, Norwescon looks like it should be fun also, though there's not that many details on the events available yet. I'll volunteer to help at the con, now that I know when my writing workshop commitment occurs.
yeff yahoo avatar

Writing: March, in a nutshell

Submitted Part 2 of "Brand Loyalty" to the SacSpecFic group for critique. They continue to enjoy the story even though this was a pure first draft, and think it has a lot of potential once I clean it up and handle a couple character issues that will be hard to pull off.

March 31 is the WOTF Q2 2007 deadline. I was going to revise and submit "This Moment" but after folks at Potlatch told me I should go for Asimov's first, I was challenged to write an entirely new story and make it as good as I could before March 31.

I decided to tackle "This Is Your Life, Version 2.0", which is another side of the technology used in "This Moment". I managed to pull off a first draft and a quick revision (6500 words, more than I expected) and shipped it off today to WOTF. It's okay, not as good as "This Moment" (in my opinion) so I have no expectations for it in WOTF.

I'll also submit "This Is Your Life, Version 2.0" to SacSpecFic for the April meeting and see what they have to say.

Next up is a revision of "This Moment", which I'm going to try to get gone within the first week of April. Mary Rosenblum offered to do another read of it and I just might take her up on it. After that, "This Moment" goes to Asimov's and I sit and wait, nervously.

I'm at Norwescon (http://www.norwescon.org) from April 5 through April 8. While there, I'll have a workshop session with three pros: Ted Butler (http://www.sff.net/people/ted-butler/), Deborah Layne (http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?Deborah_Layne), and G. David Nordley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._David_Nordley). The story I submitted was "The Case of the Killer Dog" and I'll be interested to hear what they have to say about it.

I also signed up for the "Flash Fiction Workshop" being run by Mary Rosenblum. I believe we'll be writing a 1500 word story during a 2-hour session! This should definitely be interesting - I actually have an idea I think works in the flash style, I'll see if I can leave it alone until then.

After Norwescon and "This Moment", I think I'll start on "The Fishing Trip" and I'm really looking forward to working on it. I'm hoping it'll be an interesting and different story for me.

Also during April, I need to preparing applications for the Orson Scott Card Bootcamp and Viable Paradise workshops. I'd like to attend one of them and if allowed to choose, I think I'd choose Viable Paradise even though I've been told that Bootcamp is really really good.

And that's March, with a look towards April. I have the feeling things are on the edge of becoming very interesting. It's just going to be a matter of keeping on working at it and trying to get better every time I put butt to chair and fingers to keyboard.
yeff yahoo avatar

Analog Jan/Feb 2007

I read an entire Analog for the first time in a very long time, perhaps ever, and I now understand what people mean when they call something "an Analog story". I found these stories ... well ... obvious, blatant, or some adjective similar to those. The stories usually seem to contain a quite intriguing premise, but then the story is advanced almost completely through narrative exposition or expository dialogue.

I thought that the "world exploration" was, at times, quite clumsy and handled in a manner similar to what people often (negatively) attribute to "old time" science fiction or modern Star Trek (a la, "As you know, Doctor, the prothalium drive is a simple extension of the hypertrophic Quanset Field").

To me the best stories were less obvious and (somewhat) more subtle in their presentation. They also had in common that they were simpler in scope and character. For this issue, my favorites were "Super Gyro" by Grey Rollins (in a world of meta-humans, a fast food worker tries to handle a robbery gone sour) and "If Only We Knew" by Jerry Orton (a man in for a simple insurance exam discovers that he is more special than he could have imagined).

But even these stories, in my opinion, suffered from being too "surface" and not going deep enough into the characters and the implication of their setup. Even these stories also tended to have a "pithy one-liner" ending that went for a small chuckle (usually sexual in nature) that, for me, undercut the potential depth of the story.
yeff yahoo avatar

Asimov's January 2007

None of the stories in the January 2007 Asimov's received top grades from me. Most stories were at about the same level (B/B-), except for "Cafe Culture" by Jack Dann, which I found rather unenjoyable (and almost distasteful) no matter how I tried to interpret it.

The two I enjoyed the most were "The Hikikomori's Cartoon Kimono" by A.R. Morlan, for its different subject matter and post-cyberpunk feel, and "Poison" by Bruce McAllister, a story of a witch, a boy and some lizards that doesn't end like you'd expect and had a nice "fairy tale" style.

Forced to choose a favorite from this issue, I would choose "The Hikikomori's Cartoon Kimono".
yeff yahoo avatar

Asimov's February 2007

An interesting month for Asimov's. I thought several of the stories had very strong starts and intriguing plots and characters, but then took a major turn in style and/or plot turn right near the end of the story and didn't live up to their promise. I would put "Outgoing" by Alex Wilson, "The Chimera Transit" by Jack Skillingstead and "Close" by William Preston in this category.

My favorite story in this issue was "Recovering Apollo 8", a deep character study of a man driven by a love of space and respect for those who explored it. (It's my guess that the character was modeled on Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Enterprises.) The story had some alternate history aspects to it that I felt weren't really necessary except to allow for certain plot elements to occur, and a bit of a coincidence at the end (to resolve a final plot thread). Those were the only things that kept it from being a top-notch story for me.

I'd also give credit to "A Portrait of the Artist" by Charles Midwinter, an interesting look at an artist, his sometimes girlfriend, and an interesting turn of events in his life and his art. I don't think it knitted together as nicely as I would like - again, a few too-convenient events at the end - but I still enjoyed the style and (minimal) scope of the story.
yeff yahoo avatar

F&SF February 2007

An okay month for F&SF, with one highlight. The short story "Red Card" by S. L. Gilbow was an absolute stunner. It takes a fascinating premise, which I'm not going to ruin by giving it here, and explores the premise in depth with a look at how one specific person is affected. It also has a nice kick at the ending.

Afterwards, I thought about the story and realized it also could be seen as a commentary on various social issues and governmental practices. Again, I don't want to give it away. Go read the story. Go read it! It's apparently Mr. Gilbow's *first* published story. Astounding. I look forward to many more.

A couple other stories in the Feb 2007 F&SF were fun and well-executed: "Fool" by John Morissey, and the first half of a new Guth Bandar story "The Helper and His Hero" by Matthew Hughes (which are always entertaining). But "Red Card" was a stand-out story for me, and is already on my personal Hugo Ballot nomination list.
yeff yahoo avatar

Puzzles: Tues Apr 10

Jumble = 2:29 (she WAS "LEFT")
Word Sleuth = 2:02 (Words in Alphabetical Order)
NEA Crossword = 4:32 (4-10-07)
NY Times Crossword = 4:53 (No. 0227)
Sudoku = didn't finish (Easy)

A mish-mash of times. Fast on Word Sleuth and NY Times, slow on Jumble and NEA. Was doing these while hanging out at the doctor's office waiting for appointments. Made some sort of big mistake early on in Sudoku and never recovered.
yeff yahoo avatar

An Appropriate Buddhist Thought

My feed from "Buddhist Thought of the Day" (http://www.amidabuddha.org/) gave me one today that is very appropriate for writing:

"An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea. - Buddha..."

How appropriate. In a panel at Norwescon 2007, Jay Lake said "Ideas are a dime a dozen. It's what you do with them that's important."

Once you have the idea, act upon it.
yeff yahoo avatar

Norwescon 2007, Part 1 (Thursday)

As opposed to Potlatch 2007, getting to Seattle for Norwescon 2007 was trouble-free. Left Sacramento at noon, arrived Seattle at 2:00, hit the hotel at 2:30, checked in, and was able to make a 3:00 session.

Thursday was:
3:00 - 4:00 = "Breaking In Through the Small Press" session
4:00 - 5:00 = "Text-lepathy" session
5:00 - 6:00 = "Let's Make A Movie" session
6:00 - 7:00 = eat dinner, hang out
7:00 - 9:30 = Flash Fiction Workshop
9:30 - 10:00 = "Write A Story In An Hour" session
10:00 - 12:00 = Norwescon Casino
12:00 - 1:00 AM = watch "Buckaroo Banzai" midnight movie for a while.
1:00 AM = go to bed

"Breaking in Through the Small Press" gets its own post.

"Text-lepathy" was a kooky, fun discussion on the subject of "what if you could get an IM hookup in your brain?" with Lisa Mantchev and Heather Lindsley.

"Let's Make A Movie" was about movie making on the cheap, with emphasis on horror movies (blood, zombies, scary places). It was fun, but I left before they got to digital effects because I was hungry.

Dinner, like every meal, was a choice between Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, the hotel Starbucks, and the overpriced hotel "cafe". Like I said, I ate junk the whole time.

Flash Fiction Workshop gets its own separate post.

I only caught the last half hour of "Write A Story in an Hour" (with Jay Lake, Caitlin Kittredge, Lisa Mantchev and Kat Richardson), but it appeared to be a wild hour of madcap fun.

In the Casino, I drank a six-dollar beer, lost all my chips in the poker tournament in 30 minutes, then played blackjack for an hour and a half while drinking another six-dollar beer. I was up a few million (play money), then lost most of it, then eventually turned it in.

"Buckaroo Banzai" was, as always, fun. I haven't seen it in a while so I'd forgotten what a kooky movie it is and just how many famous people were in it (Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Christopher Lloyd, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Clancy Brown, and more).

And that was Thursday.
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Norwescon 2007: "Breaking in Through the Small Press" session

Panelists: Bruce Taylor, Jay Lake, Bluejack (L. Blunt Jackson)

Summary:

There are only three major short fiction SpecFic magazines left: Asimov's, Analog and F&SF. Their circulation has declined tremendously since the glory days. There are a few mid-major magazines like Realms of Fantasy. But there are tons of small press magazines and collections and anthologies and it's going to be these that are the future of short fiction in the SpecFic field.

You still have to do your work and research before you submit stories, but there are even resources for that research such as Locus, Internet Review of Science Fiction (IROSF), Rich Horton reviews (google it), tangentonline.com (review anthologies), ralan.com (markets by pay rate), and Quintamid.com (searchable market list). Also, if you find a writer you like or whose style is like yours, then you can follow their career and see where they publish.

My Thoughts:

This was a really good panel. For a beginning writer like me, it's nice to think that there are a lot of places where a story can find a home and where you can find stories you like. It's a little disappointing to think that the major magazines are losing circulation numbers. You have to worry that one or more of them could shut down one day. But even if they did, the small press would keep the short form of speculative fiction alive.

I'd bet you can see the effect of the small press by looking at the makeup of the Hugos, Nebulas, and Year's Best anthologies. I know I've noticed more stories from the small press and less from the majors (Asimov's, Analog, and F&SF).

However, I do think the short fiction market will continue to change. It's already an accepted truth that a speculative fiction writer will never make a living writing short fiction. I know I'm not in it for the money! I could see the magazines acknowledging this by lowering their pay rates.

Yet, how much of the cost of Asimov's is the stories? The March 2007 Asimov's has 4 short stories, 2 novelettes, and 1 novella. Even if all of them were the max length for the category, that's about 100K words. At 6 cents/word, that's $6000. This is 1500 sales (newsstand or subscription) at $4. Even if you toss in a few hundred more $$$ for the columns, I still don't think it's the words that are the cost. I'm guessing the cost is primarily production and distribution, because you know the editors aren't making a living wage either but doing it for love.

I can see a future where short fiction could become something that's essentially done for free and distributed on the Internet. Writers would submit to the short fiction magazines because they are selective and that's how you establish your name. Magazines would make money from subscriptions, newsstand sales, and advertising in the magazine. Perhaps you could put a story in an "e-major", then put it on Amazon to sell, then put an audio version on EscapePod, etc.

Now this would mean SFWA would have to reconsider what it means to be a "pro" (especially if you don't get paid). Think about it, would you rather see Asimov's fold or get paid nothing for your story? I know my answer, but I have a day job.

In the end, this session was very thought-provoking, very scary, and yet very encouraging. In the end if you do a good job then somewhere out there your voice can be heard.
yeff yahoo avatar

Norwescon 2007: Flash Fiction Workshop

The Flash Fiction Workshop was Thursday from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM. I received an email from the workshop organizers the week before the session saying that there were still spots left. I had somehow missed the email about the workshop, but it sounded like fun and since it was run by Mary Rosenblum I knew it would be useful. So, I signed up and I'm very very glad I did.

Once I signed up for the workshop, my brain started crunching - what would be a reasonable idea for a Flash Fiction story (less than 1000 words)? An idea popped into my head! I started breaking down the idea, and got the first two lines of the story and how it might end. Then, I forced myself to stop and save it for the workshop.

At the workshop, we had an introduction from Mary about what you are trying to achieve in flash fiction then we all wrote for the rest of the first hour. I made through almost all of the story. The time limit was nice, I kept thinking "keep it short" and "get to the point". I ended up with four "scenes": intro, explanation of situation, conflict/resolution, and wrapup/exit. I liked the story and was happy with what I'd done.

For the next hour, people would volunteer read their stories and Mary would comment on them. I did a little tuning while others read, and I must apologize for not listening to other folks' stories as closely as I should have. I was very very distracted.

Finally, I volunteered to read. I got a couple laughs in places I'd hoped might be humorous. At the end, Mary said "That was good. You should send it to Stan at Analog." (!) A couple other folks gave nice comments as well!

My story was one of the last, and people started trickling out during the last couple to go to other sessions. Mary wrapped up and we were done.

I must say, it was quite an experience. Fun, yet stressful, yet very very rewarding and enjoyable. I wrote a story in an hour and it didn't totally suck! During the rest of the con, occasionally folks from the workshop would come up to me and say they had enjoyed the story! It was rather mind-blowing.

Since then, I've done a small revision on the story, and I'm mailing it in tomorrow. I'm going to try Asimov's first because I think it fits with the Asimov's sensibilities. If they take it, I'll be overjoyed. If they don't, then perhaps it can serve as a nice calling card. If it comes back from Asimov's, then I'll try Analog and I'll keep trying places until it finds a home. I think there's a home for it somewhere.

Wow. I'm still stunned by the workshop and the result. I'm certainly glad I got the email and signed up. Talk about luck!