Monday, December 25, 2006

Viable Paradise diary, day minus one

Just a reminder that this diary is not current. It relates events from early October, at the Viable Paradise workshop. For the sake of immediacy, I have done little editing.

Friday night. Back at Kate's with everyone else, everyone being Kate, Mac, Daniel and Mark. The Master Classes were overall good. I bussed out to the Executive Airport Plaza Hotel (is a more generic name possible?) with the help of helpful bus drivers (my usual means of transport being helpful people) and got to the hotel way too early--which was okay. After chatting with a remarkably boring oldtime VConner, I followed people I recognised (who seemed to recognise me) to Hospitality where I discovered that my name-tag etc. were among the 9 not-yet-arrived nametags etc. So I made myself useful as directed, making coffee with a coffeemaker I wasn't familiar with (Bodums are so simple, but don't hold nearly as much) and was saved from making Turkish-level coffee by kind advice about how to gauge the amount in the filter. Also set up a garbage bag pro-tem.
I spotted Alma Alexander, who looks just like her programme photo, but not Barbara Hambly, who has cut her hair since the programme picture. She is small, perhaps a little shorter than me and thinner, rather bird-like, with a pointed nose and bright searching eyes. Her hair stands out in frizzy curls. I didn't see Serena arrive, and my attempt to hold a chair for her failed, though we did connect at the break.
Hambly gave the keynote lecture, which was to prepare yourself for not making a lot of money. She's going back into college teaching, because she has neither a day-job nor a spouse to support her. Writing has its rewards, but easy cash is not one of them. Writing, communicating an idea or experience, is a great joy, and find that joy, which will sustain you.
Matt Hughes talked about scenes, and how each scene has a purpose, how it advances the story. First he discussed the difference between narrative (telling) and showing by means of scenes--including close pov, sensory detail, time dilation, emotional responses. He gave out two examples of the same piece of action, one as half-page narrative, the other as three-page scene-showing. I was irresistably reminded of the foreword to Varney the Vampire where the writer turns a three-line action into a full instalment of the serial by stuffing it full of adjectives and description. Gene, the fellow sitting next to me, rather missed the point by saying that he didn't think much of either excerpt. And since Gene is deaf-ish and speaks with a booming voice, his whisper wasn't much of a whisper. It's very clear that Hughes was a professional speech-writer; his talk was organised and clear. He's a big, broad guy with short white hair, you'd think of him as perhaps a pro golfer, not 'the literary heir to Jack Vance' an attribution he's proud of. The story of his that I read in F&SF is definitely Vancean.
Barbara Hambly discussed setting, the setting as a character, the setting as determining character and determining actions. The novel of Stagecoach was used as an example - the setting of a stagecoach in that time and place constrains what is possible for the characters in that setting. Amusing anecdote about writing Travelling With the Dead - she wrote a gripping scene of flight and pursuit through the alleys of Vienna, but on visiting, discovered that Vienna has no alleys. And thanked god that the mss hadn't been delivered yet. Advocate of visiting the scene. Gave us a writing exercise: a superior of some sort sitting down, a subordinate enters and says they have a problem, superior says don't tell me it's and subordinate says, no, it's worse, it's . Within this frame, the setting should become clear. Those who could not think of settings could have random cards with places and dates. I figured a Victorian kitchen parlour and the housekeeper and a scullery-maid. Mine was not one of those read out; for some reason the first choices were a run of ships of various kinds, but one was set in Hell and quite funny. Serena's was set in a frontier brothel (random card) and was quite good, lovely sweaty sensory detail. I think she should develop it into a story.
Alma Alexander's talk was on character, and wasn't as clear or organised as the others. She also seems a bit tightly wound. I don't know that I'd want to take a course from her (don't know if she does teach). I didn't have trouble hearing her, but others did. She's a character-channeler, and believes in talking to them and bringing them out gently. I guess that's where I am, since I don't do the character-sheets except for fun, but it felt kind of woo-woo. Oh yeah, and story arises from character, which is kind of true. Another writing exercise, this one to write a series of questions you might ask your character, five vital and five general, then to swap those questions with someone else. The idea being to explore aspects of your character that you wouldn't normally consider. It worked well enough for me, but I gather some people were very specific about the general questions, making them inapplicable to random fantasy characters.
Hung out with Serena during the lunch break, and caught up. I told her about the hard-drive wierdness, and everything converting to rtfs and she said she could send hers again, so I may get her to do that after I get a new hard-drive. And reinstall Word. Gah. She's doing pretty well, sharing a room with the Walshes for the con, and asked me to come to the Hobbit Country Dance workshop on Saturday. Apparently I haven't sent her any of my stuff since 'Spellcheck', so I'll deal with that when I get back, if the computer's working.
We were fed a self-assemble burrito, tea and coffee, all reasonably okay, and the afternoon break was chocolate, though I didn't have any. I spoke to Barbara Hambly and told her of Anne's wish to kiss her feet, and that I metaphorically kissed her feet for Anne. She was pleased and said to thank her. Accidentally got my picture taken with Matt Hughes and said I'd enjoyed his story in F&SF, and we talked about the Vancean stuff. He's got a bad back since a car accident some time ago, and was on muscle relaxants. Serena took my picture with Barbara Hambly. Serena also chatted with Barbara about chronic fatigue, which Hambly may have, and some things (food avoidances etc) Serena has found useful for dealing with it, and took Hambly's email for sending info to.
Went for a drink with Serena after the classes, our brains being full, and talked about writing. She bought me an Irish coffee (I'm broke until I hit the States) and had soup, and we yattered until Mark and Daniel showed up, followed (after Mark parked the van) by MC. I split dinner with Mark and MC, which was just as well, as there was just too much food. The service was kind of inefficient--I don't think the server spoke much English.
Back to Kate's fairly early, so that we can make decent time tomorrow morning.
Hobbit Country Dance tomorrow, and the Clarion-style workshop. First time critting in person. Oh, ran into Randy (who wrote the talking cats story) at the Master Classes, and he said mine was the one he most enjoyed of the workshop stories, which was nice because reciprocal. I liked his best.

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