- 8am: open discussion
- 9am: Lecture by Patrick Nielsen Hayden on the State of the Industry
- Group pictures and the VP Oath
- 1230pm: 1on1 talk with Laura Mixon
- 2pm: Group discussion on publishing
- 6pm: Dinner and the start of tearful farewells
- 9pm: Movie Break for a few of us
- Late: Late night in the party room telling "origin stories"
- Very Late: crash
Discussion and Lecture
This was a pretty free-form discussion, structured as a Q&A with the instructors. Topics included: online writing groups (like Critters and SFF OWW); the long slog across the tundra that is writing a book; copying and typing stories as a way to understand form and value; how to speak out loud and do it well; being nice to bookstores and bookstore clerks and booksellers; readings and promotion.
Lecture: Patrick Nielsen Hayden - The State of the Industry
Patrick talked about the publishing industry, which for science fiction (and in general) is primarily concentrated on the novel. He covered the history of short fiction and the novel and how in the beginning there were almost no novels, something that changed when the mass market paperback appeared. Books were sold everywhere in all kinds of stores (like grocery stores, which I remember) and were distributed along with magazines. The SF/F field was part of this large business and thus was able to support many journeyman/journeywoman writers along with the big names.
In the 80s, the changes in retailing led to massive changes in the SF/F genre. The distribution people went from being little businesses (two people with a station wagon) to massive companies. Magazines and newspapers were always the primary part of the business and paperbacks (like SF/F) were an afterthought. Once the big companies took over and started squeezing the business, part of the squeeze was making things simple (like, "just use the big authors"). So you don't have paperbacks all over the place any more.
Yet, at the same time bookstore chains were expanding and bookstores were getting large (think Borders and B&N). These stores needed backlist to fill the shelves, so the backlist has come back big time. However, big bookstores like hardcover and trade paperback (not small mass market paperback) because of return on shelf space. Publishers have slots they use to publish books in certain time periods.
What all this means for the writer is that the "old school path" doesn't really apply any more. This path was "write short fiction and sell to magazines until you get attention for a novel." Now you can try for a book, but there's also not room for second rate journey people learning the craft. You have to be professional and you have to deliver on time. It's important to be distinctive, to some sort of niche. Covers are important now because they present a visual summary of the experience of the book.
There were many questions afterwards about process and the markets and the Anglo/whiteness of SF, and world science fiction, and the status of YA, and writing in different styles and subgenres, and writerly tricks (macguffin, props) and pseudonyms and "scifi" vs SF vs "speculative fiction" vs "skiffy".
This was an interesting industry history and status talk from Patrick followed by a wide ranging discussion that touched on a lot of relevant and useful topics.
Pictures and the Oath
Once Patrick's talk and the ensuing discussion was over we went ahead and did the group picture as people were going to start leaving later in the afternoon. We grouped up on the steps outside the basement meeting rooms and did a few snaps. I'm sure the picture will surface somewhere. I'm the bald guy about one-third the way up.
While we were all there it was time to do the Oath. The first Oath was really a joke oath. I don't remember all of it but people have pointed out that part of it involved drinking, passing out, and passing out face up so people know I'm not a Clarion graduate.
We then took the "true" Viable Paradise Oath: I vow to write, to finish what I write, to revise what I finish, to send it out (to paying markets) until Hell won't have it, and to tell everyone that Viable Paradise is the Best! Workshop! Ever!
These are fine words to live by.
1on1 with Laura Mixon
Laura and I talked about my story. She considers herself a "core reader" for this type of story, felt that it was clean and easy to read, and liked the noir aspect with the twist of the augmented animals. But she felt the story and the payoff were too easy. There need to be real problems and the main character needs to be more active. This is a story where you can actually do more to "hide the football." The main character needs a bigger arc, along the noir lines of a cynical man gaining courage and hope.
We also talked about a concept I presented of "small science fiction", science fiction that isn't about big ideas and big outcomes but about everyday people in difficult situations who are trying to deal with the problems in their lives and make things a little better. I consider this the kind of speculative fiction I write and sometimes wonder if there's a place for it. Laura felt there definitely is a place for this kind of SF/F, which was good to hear.
Colloquium: Discussion about Publishing
This session turned out to be less about publishing and more a continuation of the earlier discussion and Q&A.
There was some talk about the short fiction market, which really consists of the three digests (Analog, Asimovs, F&SF), magazines (such as Realms of Fantasy) and a thriving semi-pro market. The digests and magazines have falling circulation and don't seem to be able to get out of it, so who knows what the future will bring for them. Short fiction is a "club scene" and the "garage band rock" of science fiction, but it is still a way to get to know up and coming writers. The online market for short fiction is definitely a place to go, and you should worry about quality and respect rather than circulation and payment. It never hurts to be the best story in an anthology, but take the big chunk of up front money (and not royalties).
There was much discussion on agents and the relationship with an agent (including firing your agent).
The group talked about conventions; some of the recommended ones were: Potlatch, Baycon, Wiscon, Readercon, Norwescon, Orycon, World Fantasy Con. Cons are full of fans and are interesting and fun, but the writers workshop can be hit or miss. And, as always, Don't Be A Jerk.
This workshop has been an intense experience. You have written under pressure, you have experienced a professional-level critique session. Filter the feedback, revise to the critiques and you have gained skills. Now it's time to submit your work. Keep in touch with each other; use each other as a resource.
Don't get caught up in a bad critique/workshop group (characteristics of this were described). Don't judge your success against someone else's success or their "remaindering" (See "The book of my enemy has been remaindered" by Clive James). Remember the varieties of insanity known to affect authors (the list can be found on Making Light blog). Be good to the staff and the copy editors at publishing houses. The manual, hardcopy method of moving things around may see cumbersome and old-school, but it works.
Dinner and movie
After dinner, I went to go see the latest "Resident Evil" movie with Andrew, Stephen and Jim McDonald. We had fun watching a completely mindless movie that primarily focused on zombies and people attacking each other. The zombie crows were pretty cool. It was a nice brain-free break at the end of the week.
Late Night of "Origin Stores"
Upon return, I went up to the "party room" (Room 50), where a large group of folks was gathered drinking and telling "origin stores". "Origin stories" are stories of how you met your significant other, or a past tale of a torrid relationship. The stories were always quite involved and longer and featured many entertaining tangents and discursions into side topics and threads. When it came my turn I told a stripped-down, bare bones tale of how C and I met and got together. Total time was maybe a few minutes. Once I was done Mark Teppo said: "Don't forget, Jeff's a short story writer". It was the highly appropriate comment.
Eventually the party started winding down. At about 2:30 am, I went off to bed and left the last few people chatting away. They apparently finally crashed about 3:30 am. And thus ended the last official night at Viable Paradise.
It was a fun and enjoyable night with a group of people who had been through a lot in the last week but had truly enjoyed each other's presence and company tremendously.