Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Viable Paradise, day four

Wednesday is the short day, lunch but no dinner. Have I mentioned the weather yet? It's been beautifully clear and warm. I wander about in a t-shirt (today is the Not Being Nice to Characters t-shirt). This evening we had wind and spitting rain, nothing severe.

Morning crit was Evan and John, led by Jim Kelly and Jim Macdonald. Other students were Diane, Elise, Terry-Lynn, Linda and me. Evan looks almost alarmingly straight and clean-cut, someone who should be calculating the trajectory of something other than story arcs. Elise is a jeweler, rather deaf, has short white bristling hair, slightly googly eyes, and wrote the best of the openings read by Jim Kelly, one I'd deeply like to read (especially after getting a precis of the world). Linda has short white smooth hair and an intent gaze, like a white mouse that is also an eerily wise familiar to a sorcerer.
Evan's story is sword-and-sorcery turned on its head, though since my s&s reading faded out after the golden days of Fritz Leiber, Howard and C.L. Moore (special exception made for Jo Clayton), about half of his twists went over my head until he provided the interlinear gloss. Everyone liked the patchwork woman warrior held together by sorcery, and everyone agreed the sexual tension between the exiled swordsman and his nubile student needed upping. My difficulty with the text was the many, many modernisms, which jarred me out of the story. Evelyn not being in this session, I waved the language geek flag to the best of my small ability. (Evan came to our room later and Evelyn gave him a terrific reading list of sagas etc. for style and for details of everyday life. Yay!)
John's story is about some laddish boffins and their wide-boy friend, who discover an antigravity drive. The setup is heaps of fun, but the story reads more like an outline. I got major, major geek points for knowing the reference of John's title, which is 'Spaceport to Pimlico', the ref being, of course, to the late '40s? Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico, where in the repairs after bombing damage, a sealed box is discovered, with a deed by Henry VIII giving Pimlico to some minor European royalty. Hijinks ensue as Pimlico declares itself independent and abolishes rationing, the govt blockades it and sympathetic Londoners toss food over the walls. Also the descendant of the European royalty shows up. I also compared John's work not only to Douglas Adams (I could see him flinching as Hitchhikers came up again and again) but to Tom Holt and to Compton Mackenzie, author of Whiskey Galore. Turns out he has a whole shelf of Ealing comedies at home.

Lecture was Laura Mixon, about the two aspects of the writer's brain, the internal editor and the beast. Stories are lies that reveal truth. Story has the ability to transform our lives (Scheherezade). The beast provides raw material, and must be fed in turn. Other names for beast--silent partner, lizard brain, story place, Fred. Beast doesn't work to deadline, has no logic, speaks in emphasis not words, but is like a 2 year old, requires structure and routine, like setting a time and place for writing. The beast provides, the editor prunes, it's a dance between them. A scene should provide sensory detail, illuminate character, advance plot, reveal theme.
Writing exercise: walk around the room in an unusual way, then ask the beast about the person who walks that way. Take three words at random from the book or magazine we were told to bring, and write a few lines about that person using those words. Bart's was the best, about Mr. Persimmon the bandleader, and his amazing hat.

The rest of the day was free, so we could work on our writing assignments. Or, more likely, socialise and nap. I hung out in Scott's room with him and Mac and got all goofy about Patrick asking for Willow Knot, and they kindly indulged me. Patrick has asked to see Mac's story as well--hurrah!
Back in our room, Mur was feeling the after-effects of mixed feedback in her critique session; apparently non-comics-fans were just not getting it. However TNH was getting it, and that should count for more, I think. Though I admit to surprise that any genre writer in this culture would miss superhero tropes.
I worked on my writing assignment for a while, taking Evelyn's advice about going with the light satirical story rather than the grim predictable one. Then wrote some of this. After a while I realised that I was feeling self-doubt and a conviction that I was really quite a boring person, so I had a nap. And felt more interesting after an hour lying in the dark. It must be the contrast. Evelyn finished her story and read the ending to me--wonderful use of pulp concepts, would have been OTT except, well, how can you be OTT when writing pulp?
I tried to call Mark and vapour at him, but the phone company frustrated that plan (and me) because it wouldn't accept any of my long-distance cards or collect, and when I got to an operator she just put me through into the system where the same thing happened. I tried to phone my service provider's help number, but it too was refused because (oh no!) it's long distance. Jaysus. And I can't email.
Will write more later. Walking to Oak Bluff for dinner now.

Back. One story to read tonight. Monica's. I've read it, but I think the comments will have to wait until morning, except for in-text comments. I'm wiped. But I got a free dinner--thank you John Chu!
Oh, and I got through to Mark, somehow. Still not sure why it worked this time. Gave him my news. His response was "Will you cancel your return ticket and float home under your own power?"

We walked into town along the water. The wind had come up and spray spatted over the retaining wall. It reminded me of the breakwater at home. I'd just resolved (out loud) to be Mature and Responsible and not walk on the wall, when I saw that Mac was doing so. The hell with Responsible. I love walking on top of walls and any wide balance-beamy thing. So I did. The wind blew into my face and spray settled on my glasses and I was cold and happy.
Dinner, yes dinner. We ate at the place everyone recommends for its ambience, they have sawdust and peanut shells on the floor. The decor is lots of wood. And a couple of televisions as well as (I dimly recall) many team banners on the walls, and I think sample hats and sweatshirts that one can purchase to commemorate having visited Martha's Vineyard. VPers were strung out along the booths because there was no table arrangement that would accommodate large groups. I had fish and chips, because it's usually a safe choice in a pub. And a glass of red wine. Prices were high, but not in the dreaded $25 hamburger range.
I compared notes with others who had one-on-ones with Stephen Gould, and the only one who really felt she knew what had been going on was Mac, who asked about agents. Which reminds me that I did get the information that if I get an offer from a reputable publisher, I can phone agent-of-my-dreams directly instead of writing to them. Which I didn't know, so I am wiser by that much. Erin got a nice latte out of it, and John watched laundry be folded, so my experience is in the middle.

I'm sitting in the common room, allegedly working on my Hats of War story (sitting at 2k), but in fact engaged in a long tipsy conv with John Hawkes-Reed and catching up on this chronicle. Names of bands I might check into back home. Severed Head? Instructors have come in, and it looks as if a Thing game may be about to erupt.

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