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Viable Paradise, Day 4 (Thursday): Enter Everyone (ow!)

Summary: We talk about writing, talk about being a writer, talk about homework, then get really blasted and read Shakespeare. What a day it was.

Outline:
- Jim serves us pancakes for breakfast
- 1on1 talk with Patrick Nielsen Hayden
- 8 am: Final critique session, for Dorothy
- 930 am: Lecture by Cory Doctorow on writing, habits, and the Internet
- 1100 am: Lecture by Steven Gould on The Writerly Life
- Afternoon colloquium on the homework stories
- Dinner and "Beer With Billy", featuring the funniest Richard III you'll ever experience
- Everyone like, crashes.



Jim McDonald made pancakes for all who dared show up at 7:00 AM in his and Debra Doyle's room. I managed to stumble in at 7:15 AM, still slightly tipsy from my Hemingway-esque "wine and writing" excursion the night before. The pancakes were very tasty. A couple of cakes and some orange juice later, I was alive and fortified for my short meeting with Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

Talking with Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Patrick and I talked about my story. We covered some of the issues that had been covered before, specifically those of the lack of emotional connection (either in the detective or in the cat). He also raised some interesting questions about the level of the speech for the animals, and noted some authorial intrusions when depicting the villain.

After covering the story, we talked about the state of short fiction in SF/F. Circulation numbers for the magazines are definitely down, but he certainly doesn't see short SF/F going away though it certainly could move primarily to the web. Patrick calls short fiction the "garage rock band" part of SF/F - the people involved (whether writing, editing or publishing) are doing it because they love it. I know that's certainly true for me!

We also talked a little bit about why things had ended up this way, a subject he plans to cover in depth in his "State of the Industry" talk on Friday. So I'll leave off those notes.

Critique Session
My last critique session was for Dorothy's fantasy story. Since I'm not a big fantasy person, I never really got into it, but others who were bigger fantasy fans liked the story. I did raise questions wrt names, with choosing a main character, and the long-term effects of significant events, that I hope were useful. Even though it was the last day and people were obviously worn out, there were still some excellent comments and thoughts about Dorothy's story. That's always so great to see - this is a wonderful group.

Lecture: Cory Doctorow, Writing and the Internet
Our first lecture was from Cory, who covered a few subjects: Writing attitude, habits and mindset; Composition and plotting; and being a 21st Century Writer.

Writing attitude, etc: Cory used to write in a heroic fashion, pumping out massive amounts of text in a giant binge (he called it "farting out all the gas that had built up"). He found that he was getting bogged down and creating (and adding) rituals and ceremonies to keep himself from having to write. Now, he sits down every day and writes a page or two, early in the morning, with as little ceremony as possible. By the end, he can't tell the difference between when he thought he was touched and when he thought he was writing crap.

Earlier in his career, when was young and good, he got an interesting critique from James Patrick Kelly who said a story was pyrotechnic and clever and had convinced people it was art when it was devoid of emotion and heart. This clobbered him for a few years until he realized it was all about his attitude towards writing, and that he could recognize and control what was going on in his head.

Some cheap writing tricks:
- Write on your books (all about attitude and affirmation and recognition);
- Stop in the middle of a sentence;
- Think of things as pieces of the puzzle and note them (blogging is good for this);
- The first few pages can usually go, they are a prototype and are "throat-clearing";
- Kelly Link takes the last sentence off to prevent overshoot and undercut
- Compose, then revise
- Learn the Algys Budrys seven-point plot outline: Person, Place, Problem, Try to solve problem, Things Get Worse, Things Get as Bad as They Can and get Success or Failure, Denoument (wrap-up). This format is a freight train that can carry anything.
- Put a lot of stuff in (toys on the page, pieces on the board). They might help you find the ending and you can always take out extraneous stuff later
- The story is about who changes the most (Nancy Kress: "A story is a transformation machine for one character, it changes them emotionally and changes who they are").
- Reference works for bad social situations: How to Win Friends and Influence People (read it, do the opposite of everything); The Feeling Good Handbook. Also Miss Manners, Dear Abby, Murphy's Laws of Combat.
- A blog is a catalog of situations and props, of puzzle pieces you can use.
- Chekov: the gun on the mantle in Act I has to go off by Act III. Use it or lose it.
- If you're going to use a cliché, use it and don't apologize
- The second draft is the agricultural work of pruning and planting.

Being a 21st Century Writer: "Creative Commons" licenses allow you to make things publicly available, and the licenses come in many flavors. People can take your work and do new interesting combinations of things with it. Copyright as a statute is arcane, complicated, really for copyright lawyers, and even then almost no one understands it anymore.

For most artists, the biggest problem is not piracy but obscurity. How do you get the most money for a book? Get your name as widely known as possible, people will still buy books (fetish objects, hate reading on screens, more comfortable). Publishing is still evolving, and you will find different attitudes towards electronic distribution from different publishers.

Authors, Law and Policy: It was believed that there would be an "information economy" but no one knew what it meant. So it was assumed to mean buying and selling information and the technology looked at how to keep people from using information without paying for it. But people are long used to using information for their own agenda, so everyone becomes a copyright infringer. Sharing stories and information is often an anti-authoritarian act, and especially rankles governments that want to control. Cory's advice is to spread your writerly seed as widely as possible, the "search and acquisition" cost of being a writer is rapidly diminishing.

But what about the short fiction author? Publishers are still important, as they are a gating mechanism and (in some sense) a stamp of "goodness". You can do various things with short fiction after sales. The widely dispersed your work is, the more opportunities can find you.

You can use the Internet to build a reputation, especially if you can feel conversational and "available" on line (see Joss Whedon). If you have a knack for being on-line and blogging, that's great, but don't make it just about self-promotion. Good writer blogs: Ken McCloud, Ben Rosenbaum, John Scalzi, David Moles. (I'd add Jay Lake, Making Light, Ambling Among the Aqueduct, Beyond the Beyond).

Cory also talked about the SFWA/scripd situation, but I'll pass on that as it's been covered extensively elsewhere.

Cory covered a lot of ground in his talk and all of it was interesting. These are subjects he obviously spends a lot of time and energy on, and the talk was very informative and enlightening. He's also matured in his approach to writing and process, so it was nice to hear how he has changed over the course of his career.

Lecture: Steven Gould, The Writer's Life
Steven talked about the kinds of issues that can affect a writer and their life. The core of his talk was to understand what you can and can't control about your life, especially as a writer. You don't want to put your esteem and happiness in the hands of factors you don't control. The core is control what you can control, and let go of the things you can't control. Steven talked about good and bad factors and behaviors.

On the good side, just write. If you're not writing, eliminate stress that will interfere with your ability to write. Get good health care. Writer money is irregular, don’t spend it before you get it, and get a good accountant who can help with understanding writer expenses. Be proactive about getting writing time. Always be capturing ideas - when ideas happen is not in your control. Play with technique. Market if you have the knack. You can control writing, when you write, what you write, and how much you write.

On the bad side, don't tie destructive behaviors (smoking, drinking, drugs, mindless eating) to your writing. Don't make ritual a precursor to your writing. You don't control if your stories get rejected, or what form the rejection takes. Don't practice "rejectomancy".

If you sell something, do the Happy Writer Dance. But don't look for reviews, don't respond to bad reviews, don't send thanks for good reviews. Don't put the author of a bad review in your next work. Don't drive yourself crazy with self-comparison to others you might know or have been in a group/class with. Don't gripe to bookstores. Don't say "in my book". Don't track your sales numbers.

Most important: Don't Be A Jerk. Don't be a jerk to anyone. The boundary between fandom and contributors is very small.

Lecture: Steven Gould, Adventures in Hollyweird
Steven's book "Jumper" has been adapted into a movie that will be releasing in February 2008. Steven talked about the history of the movie and the changes in directors, writers, and actors. The movie is rather different from the book: new plotline, new characters (including some bad guys). Basically, the book and the movie are two different things.

Colloquium to review Homework
We broke into small groups to review people's homework assignments. Most everyone wrote stories that handle one or more (if not all) of the homework. I ended up in a group with Gen, Daniel and Rachel, with Patrick being our leader.

Gen did the assignments separately, including "Gossip Girls / Meg Cabot in space", a concept that sounds excellent and might finally get my daughter E to read science fiction. Daniel wrote a wonderfully ornate Brazilian fantasy that sounded like a real honest-to-gosh story that could be perfectly publishable. Rachel wrote a rhyming verse poem, of the proper length, that pulled in all the homework assignments and was very, very entertaining. She definitely received my prize for highest degree of difficulty. My concept was well-received as was a quick read-through of the first scene.

We got back together into the large group and the instructors summarized the contributions. My "elevator pitch" summary of the story got a big laugh, which was fun.

Beer With Billy: "Richard III"
We then had a short break until dinner, which was some tasty pizza (buffalo chicken, mmm) and beer. After dinner began "Beer with Billy", wherein the group does a full reading of a Shakespeare play while drinking. This year, the play was Richard III, a marvelous play with that snake of snakes, Richard.

We traded off the part of Richard III. Alas, I got Act II which is the shortest act with the fewest lines for Richard and he doesn't kill anybody. Darn.

There was also some extreme hilarity once Cory Doctorow (reading Hastings) started saying "Ow!" every time the stage direction "ENTER HASTINGS" was read (and it happens a lot). This, of course, cascaded into "Ow!" whenever anyone ENTERed and eventually severe painful laughter at anything that could be read as a sexual double-entendre (and Shakespeare is full of them).

By our Intermission (end of Act III), the hilarity had died down with only an occasional mild "ow!" on the ENTER of a character. Then Act V came along. Richard III, Act V, is full of ENTER stage directions with many characters, usually carrying drums, flags, or even halberds. Between this, and everyone having had large amounts of beers, the crowd was dying with laughter not only at the ENTER stage directions but the repeated mentions of "tents" and "poles" and "coming into tents".

I picked up the character of Ratliff at this point and thus got to deliver the extremely appropriate line "Thomas the Earl of Surrey, and himself / Much about cock-shut time, from troop to troop / Went through the army, cheering up the soldiers". I didn't make it past "through the army" before there was an explosion of laughter. Give Mister Will credit for his excellent (unintentional?) innuendos.

At the end, we all cheered a very successful production of Richard III. I realized I can never see this play in a theatre again, as I will be laughing at extremely inappropriate times and the rest of the audience will think I'm a lunatic.

We also ended up with what will be the slogan for VPXI ("Ow!") and an LJ icon (used on this post).

Everyone was fairly exhausted from the week, so most people wandered off to their room to crash and sleep up for the big final day and party night that would be Friday.

This was an excellent day, much appreciated after the toughness that was Wednesday.

Tags: viable paradise, writing
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