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Orycon, Day 2 (Saturday): The Long Day and Night of the Wanna-Be Author

Summary: I spend the day doing what all wanna-be authors do at a convention: Attending writing-related sessions, listening to writers read their work, kneeling at the feet of big-time writers, critiquing and being critiqued, and then staying up really late partying. OK, maybe not the last one. I did stay up late, but it was doing writing-related activities. How dull am I?




The day started with a quick workout, a shower, the donning of the tie-dyed shirt and the kilt, and a coffee and a treat. I am offically living off decaf non-fat eggnog lattes here.

The first session was a quick panel of writers reading work. The writers were all associated with a Broad Universe, an organization with the primary goal of promoting science fiction, fantasy and horror written by woman. The writers were: Camille Alexa, Deborah Layne, Heidi L-- (sp), Brenda Cooper, Robin Catesby, and Mary (MK) Hobson. The stories were funny, interesting, and well done. This session confirmed for me that I like hearing writers read their work out loud. I learn how they approach the craft and hear them work around things I find are problems in my work. I hear new interesting concepts for stories. I often hear a deeper sense of character than is regularly associated with the genre. Even though the session was 30 minutes total, it was really enjoyable.

I went to the last half of the "Writers of the Future: What it has done for us and can do for you" panel. It was five Writers/Illustrators of the Future winners, including jaylake. This did cover subjects I've heard before (WOTF is *not* linked with Scientology, WOTF is something that *every* new writer should make a habit of entering), but also some new subjects (WOTF does want to be accessible to a younger read "high-school" audience so send appropriate stories). All five talked about how incredible the experience had been for them and their career, but also stressed that in the end you still have to get back to work.

David Goldman, who would be one of my critiquers at my session in the evening, was on the panel so I said "hi" to him and we chatted a bit about WOTF and how the story he was critiquing "Samsara" was a Quarterfinalist when I entered it.

I spent the next hour at two readings, for davidlevine and jaylake. Both were really fun. David read an interesting story that I would roughly sum up as "YA suburban Jewish-esque magic set in the 1970s". A wild topic and David did a great job reading. He also got me to remember "Million Dollar Duck"! Jay read two stories, both very lyrical and intriguing. Jay also gave out candy (Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, yay!) and copies of "Trial of Flowers". Afterward, I set up a meeting with Jay for later in the afternoon.

Next was a session on "Women Role Models in Science Fiction". "Role Models" was interpreted to mean both writers and characters. I got some good names of writers the panel admired and remembered that I need to read more Kate Wilhelm. I also have some names of YA works with strong female characters to look at getting E for Christmas, so that we can quit having "Gossip Girls" books around the house.

I stopped by the "Movie Updates - What's NEW" session. Unfortunately, it wasn't really actual previews but more discussion of information. So I left after a bit. I was also hungry and needed to start doing some gift shopping. So, I made a quick sandwich from the fixings in hospitality and wandered the dealer room for a while. I purchased a couple gifts, but will need to go back tomorrow and finish up my gift buying.

jaylake and I met in the sports bar in the hotel so I could buy his time with a soda pop and ply him with questions. We talked for a while about what the Viable Paradise experience was like for me and he gave his thoughts about some of the things I was experiencing post-workshop. I also asked him questions about sending stories to WOTF, pre-filtering oneself in general, and some craft things he'd done in a story from the reading. Jay was very nice, very friendly, and very helpful. This was, of course, no surprise at all.

lilithsaintcrow, the other pro for my critique session later in the evening, was finishing up an autograph session so I stopped by to say hi and get the "this is what I look like" aspect of the session over with. I think it's nice to break the ice a little early rather than in the nervous atmosphere of a crit session.

At 4, I grabbed another decaf non-fat eggnog latte and went to a "Futures that Weren't" session. I thought perhaps it was going to be a recounting of predictions made by science fiction writers that didn't work out, but it took a change in direction (as most panels do).

The session moved into a really good discussion on what I call the two roles of speculative fiction: to look at how things might change, and to look at the effects of that change. For me, the change is almost secondary to the effects of the change especially the effects on the people stuck in the middle of the change. In this sense, it doesn't matter if a science fiction writer didn't get the future quite right if the story set in the future was entertaining and enjoyable. The audience got stuck a few times on the possibility of flying cars and why it has or hasn't happened, but the panelists did a good job of staying away from the rathold and keeping the conversation at a larger scope. A rather good session.

Mary Rosenblum was done with her autograph session, so I offered to buy her the Beer of Thanks I've been promising. Back to the sports bar I went with another pro writer, and Mary and I ended up spending an hour talking about writing, about what I found about my writing while at VP, and about how a writer acts to work on issues in writing like the ones I learned at VP.

Mary has read quite a few of my stories so she was really able to use them to provide some concrete examples how to apply the VP learnings. We ended up talking a lot about "Walls of Stars" and then I told her about the basics of "Witness" and we talked about that story a lot as well. I felt bad that our friendly chat about writing turned into a "let's work on Jeff's stories" session and apologized for that but she was, as always she was very gracious and helpful and insightful. She will be an instructor at Clarion West next year, and the students will definitely benefit from her presence.

I did miss a session entitled "Advice to new writers - Things I wish someone had told me" to hang out with Jay and then Mary. But I learned tons more from talking to them and interacting with them than I would have ever learned in the lecture format of a panel. I think the time talking with them was definitely a highlight of the day.

After talking to Mary I had one hour until my critique session. I grabbed my story from the room, along with the story for the Open Read and Crit session which was directly afterwards. The hospitality suite again provided my meal (pasta with tomato sauce and some bread) and it turned out that Bruce Taylor was in the suite as well. I thanked him for his comments on "The Game of Chase" and we talked for a bit about writing and Magical Realism before I ran off to my critique session.

The critique session was me, one other writer, and previously-mentioned pros David Goldman, and lilithsaintcrow. I was the first victim subject. The comments comprised of positive things about the story (concept, the prose, and the execution) and suggestions on things that needed work.

Almost everyone hit the following:
- The dialogue is too direct (in Hollywood terms, "on the nose"), which I now see as the Drama degree clicked in and said "they're right, you know"
- Sarita is a flat character, something that has been trouble since the beginning as she really is a one-note madonna
- Too much passive verb tense ("has " and "was " a constant trouble of mine).
But overall, the critiquers felt there were many positive aspects to the story and all recommended revising it and then sending it out.

The comments were dead on. "Samsara" is 10 years old, and I can call it "story #1" as it was the first full-length short story I wrote seriously. It and "Padre" date to 1997 and were the first two I revived and revised when I finally took up writing ("this time, for sure") two years ago.

I have much fondness for the story but I have also felt that it wasn't quite working yet couldn't name its demons. Now I have some names for these demons and I can gain control over them and "Samsara" can finally go through a revision or two and make its way out into the world. Another excellent and useful workshop critique session. I just seem to have some real luck at these con workshop sessions (I've heard many stories about "eh, they're really hit and miss" but I've gotten hits).

The Open Reading and Critique session was supposed to start at 8 but only a few of us writers (all from the previous night) were present at 8. We hung out for a while and chatted and I almost considered leaving when 8:30 rolled around. However, I didn't and very soon our two moderators showed up. A few more participants showed up, we chatted for a while and then all of a sudden there were 10 people in the rom so we got going about 9 pm.

The format changed from the previous night. We went for longer reads (10 manuscript pages, thus about 2000 words or about 10 minutes) and we did full Clarion-style "around the circle" critiques. I was a bit worried when it was 9:45 and we had just finished up the first story (as we had eight works total) but we tightened up the critique time allowance and the pace picked up.

I was sixth to read and what I read was the first scene of "Real Space". I had just finished dragging the overall story to a close the night before, but I also had done a revision of the first scene in order to try to tighten it up. It's a fun work to read so there were some big laughs on the strong lines. Overall people had some good suggestions for things to work on (avoiding over-exposition, moving exposition from narrative to dialogue, watching adverbs), but were also very positive about the work and its potential.

I was very glad I stayed and didn't run off. By the end of the evening we were all pretty comfortable with one another and giving each other some useful feedback in a relaxed setting. It's amazing how fast that can happen. I'll be keeping in touch with the group and perhaps on one of my future Portland trips I can be a "special guest" at their critique sessions.

We wrapped up the critiques about 1:45 AM, and in the post-critique talking I discovered that one of the folks (Steve) worked for HP and we knew many of the same people at HP Vancouver (including the folks I'd been working with on Friday). That's only the second time that's ever happened to me ("do you know so-and-so" is usually answered with "no, sorry. it's a big company").

I went in search of a cookie and didn't find any, so I conforted myself with a small peanut butter sandwich from Hospitality and went back to the room. No words were produced today (beyond those in this blog) but I think I still was good about writing as there was much reading and critiquing.

Tomorrow I'll get back to it, with either a start on "Last Night with the Picture Lady" or a work/rework on an ancient partially-done story "The Break-In". Or maybe something else. But now it's 3:30 AM and I need to go to sleep.

UPDATE: Added links for David W. Goldman, the books and Million Dollar Duck.
Tags: orycon, real space, samsara, writing
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