Sunday, January 7, 2007

Viable Paradise, day three

Note: the diary is of events that occurred in October, but is being entered here now with minimal editing. Just because.

Tuesday night
You'll excuse me if I'm a touch incoherent today. blubwublubulubwu. I haven't done anything on my story assignment, but this diary may be approaching the desired word-count of the story.

Group crit was led by Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Cory Doctorow. PNH is short, slightly stocky, dark hair and trim beard, glasses. He projects intensity, an interesting trick since he doesn't often look at the person he's speaking to, but keeps his eyes on the pages or screen while speaking. He reminds me in a way of a couple of my friends, Ken and Larry, guys who aren't physically big but seem physically dense, as if they could just tuck their heads down and barrel through a shieldwall. Cory has his hair very short (buzz-cut? crew-cut?), wears black-framed glasses, was stretched out in the armchair with what could be relaxed calm or jetlagged fatigue. A big guy, sort of former-jock physique overlaid with geek enthusiasm, if that makes any sense?
The other students were Scott, who has the room next to ours (I'll have all this down by the time I leave), has a well-scrubbed, good-natured look, like the guy you really really want as your supervisor because he'll actually listen to you; Greg, whose posts I've read on Making Light, a dark-haired, dark-complected guy with a straw cowboy hat, whom you could imagine meeting in a desert town where he would miraculously fix your broken-down car; Terri-Lynn and Diane who took the heat yesterday; John, long black hair and bemused air, from England--I could imagine him as a roadie or musician. Laura was the other victim. She's probably one of the younger people here, slender, long brown hair, and an alert, almost birdlike way of holding her head. She always looks as if she's about to smile.
Laura's manuscript had some very cool concepts, of big animal spirit totems (mangan) each tied to a particular country, and cultures sufficiently urbanised to have bureaucracy administering the beasties and their human shamans. Some issues about modern language and not thinking through how the level of material culture would be affected by a metals embargo, but apparently she wrote this originally in highschool. (I couldn't write that well in highschool--my faith in educational standards is bolstered). It had a prologue, which everyone liked, but which may be extraneous to the story, giving an impression of the mangan that was a bit misleading. A fair bit of discussion about how much backstory was needed, where was the conflict, where did the story begin.

My crit session was...what do I say? For my author's rebuttal the only thing I felt I could say was 'it's not that good, really, there are some issues that need to be dealt with.' It verged on a love-fest. Terri and Scott want to read it when it's done. PNH said 'a cast-iron grip on non-anachronistic detail'
omgomgomg (that last bit was me, not a quote)
Issues identified: There needs to be more at stake. Tyl's mistreatment needs to be front-loaded so that the impetus for them leaving is more apparent to the reader, something bad enough to drive them into the unknown. Perhaps expanding the scene in the kitchen to show Myl being slapped or pinched surreptitiously, and include the information that Midame overlooks or even encourages that sort of treatment. Also possibly plant here the idea that it's considered unwise to cross Midame, even the hint of witch-fear. Cory suggested that the three springs might be reduced to two, that keeping the story moving might be more useful than keeping to the fairy-tale pattern of threes (which led to a short discussion of triunes and the pleasure of pattern-finding between him and Patrick). Greg felt the witch/deer aspect wasn't laid enough beforehand, which might be helped too by the expansion of the scene in the kitchen. Funny that in OWW that scene was suggested for expansion, and that I did it, but didn't follow why--it needs to show more of the inner life of the house and thus of its mistress. About half the readers felt the dialogue needed to be more differentiated from the narrative, which almost seems like an invitation to raise the archaism of the dialogue--but probably isn't. Nobody had problems with the style, which flat-out astonished me, after OWW (which has run about 50/50 people having trouble with the style and vocab). In fact, it seemed to be the strongest point for everyone, that the style was poetic, and evocative, and lyrical and stuff. Nobody said purple or overwritten or too writerly, which is my great fear. PNH said he wanted to disagree with the poetic etc. and say that it was a good clear style and a grim style, to go with the fairytale grimness, and I shouldn't try to be pastoral and lyrical at the expense of the grimness. He said it read not as if I was drawing from Tolkein but as if I was drinking from the well that Tolkein drank from and that the Brothers Grimm drank from. He said
(I pause for emphasis)
that it was the sort of story he wanted to see. Got that? PNH wants to see my story.
I better finish it. No more messing around with the short stories until the Willow Knot is finished. I didn't get a marked copy back from Patrick (as far as I can tell) but Cory marked his copy mostly with check-marks of spots he thought were good.

Lectures were Debra Doyle and TNH, and I list them together because they were playing tag-team to an extent. DD said she sometimes spoke on 'sentences that go clunk' but we were pretty good that way, so instead it was Style and Story. TNH spoke on Exposition. I made a lot of notes. Random quotes:
Style is what you can't help doing. Strange events should be set in straightforward prose. The Law of Conservation of Wierdness. The main action should be in the main verbs, not in subordinate clauses: Shooting him in the head, I turned and opened the fridge. Words have a budget; some can be used once in a lifetime (formication, phantasmagoria), while others once per book, once per short story. Words have buried history in them, and buried technology. SF/F must worldbuild while telling the story--the Ginger Rogers of fiction. Stephen King's 'the gotta' is a trance state while reading, to achieve it, don't slow the reader down with decoding (adjectives and exposition). A word is the negative space of all the words it doesn't mean. A novel is a transactional space; the reader wants to trust you. Get the economics right--things have price and weight, goods must be paid for and shipped, characters must have jobs.

Lunch break (peanut-butter sandwich, muffins)
Evelyn pleased with her crit session, and some great quotes from the instructors (woo!). From the sounds of it, Evelyn has done the most original world-building of anyone in the workshop. I'm so pleased for her. Hope Mur's session goes well tomorrow.

My second one-on-one was Steve Gould. I really don't know what to make of this, and I'm going to find some others who had sessions with him and compare notes. I feel kind of as if I've had a session with a Zen master but didn't attain enlightenment. I went to the Gould-Mixon room, and Laura Mixon gave me a glass of juice while I waited. When he got in, he asked if I wanted to stay there, and I said whatever was convenient for him, so he drove me into Oak Bluff(s?) and showed me 'Methodist Munchkin Land', the middle of the town. Apparently in the mid-1800s this was a major tent-revival centre, and people came so regularly that they took the same tent-plots each time, rented from the church, and eventually the church built a giant pavilion, like an inflated bandstand or gazebo where the revival tent usually went, and people built summer-houses on their tent plots. The summer houses are like miniature San Francisco painted ladies, Queen Anne houses with front parlour, back kitchen, upstairs bedroom, little front porch or verandah, all within the tent's footprint. Mr. Gould pointed out decorative features like the shape of windows and door arches that mimicked the tent swags. There's no insulation, because they were meant only for the summer. And yes, one does expect Munchkin people to be sunning themselves on the verandahs, or bustling about the streets. "If you're going to write way-out fantasy, you have to be able to describe things more way-out than this reality."
I'd expected him to be tougher than Debra Doyle, because he writes modern sf, and wouldn't be so easily swayed by the tropes of the past. It turns out that he's a Georgette Heyer fan, and we compared notes about favourite Heyers. I asked 'how do I make my book better' and he said 'Zeppelins. Everything is better with Zeppelins.' Then we discussed whether the technology of the world allowed for dirigibles, and decided that hot-air balloons were allowable. Digression on which Heyer has a hot-air balloon ascent (Frederica). Driving back, he did get into the questions of religion and magic in the world, and how the magic works, so I had to put into words more on the knot-magic that Myl learns and remembers. I've been slacking on that rather, because it seems to put itself together as I go, so I haven't worked it out in advance.
Going down for dinner, I saw Mac on the stairs and got up my nerve to ask what the turnaround time was for Coyote Wild. Didn't want to be pestery about the story, but I figured that was a legit low-pressure question. And she said she wants it and would have made up the contract except for being busy prepping for VP, and I said completely understand, no hurry, and did the happy dance because it would be my first sale. Which surprised her (ego-boo all over the place).
Then, walking into dinner, Cory asked me if I did short fiction at all, because he's co-editing the new Tesseracts anthology. So I said yep, I did, and what lengths were they looking for (the usual 7.5k or less) and where should I send it, while being kind of boggled. Mac told Cory he couldn't have my long story anyways, because she was taking it.
My bogglement was tempered by the realisation that I'm the only other Canadian attending, and Tesseracts is Canadian, so it may be more a factor of my having made it to VP and being Canadian than his being overwhelmed by my work. Still, 'at VP Cory Doctorow suggested I submit a story' is better than a cover letter with no creds.
Then during dinner I asked Patrick about submitting to Tor when the Willow Knot was revised and finished, and what I should say in the cover letter. He said to mention VP and that he'd suggested sending it, and also to email him when I did, so he could let his assistant know that there was a legit sub coming and not just someone taking his name in vain. Which apparently happens. Big surprise, hm? I would never have the nerve, because it's so easily checked, but I suppose people are counting on their writing being so wonderful that no one bothers to check their veracity. I said something fumbly about understanding that this didn't mean a sale necessarily, and that the market and the commercial side needed to be right, and he said it wasn't a commercial novel, or not only a commercial novel, it was one with a strong voice and a strong story, like Gene Wolfe or Howard Waldrop.
I wonder if I should start keeping a list of writers I've been compared to? (Kelly Link compared the voice in 'Fluke' to Jennifer Crusie and Connie Willis.) But I don't think anything can beat Evelyn's story being compared to Thomas Wolfe or a Henry James Bildungsroman among the amphibians, by TNH. That purely rocks.

Dinner was shepherd's pie. Nostalgia of a sort, for me, it being the end-of-the-month meal in my family. The first time I saw it on a restaurant (pub?) menu, I laughed. I suppose the equivalent would be seeing sloppy Joe on a menu. Perhaps that too can be ordered now? After meatloaf, all is possible.

After dinner I went over to the NH hotel room to see if Teresa was up for a one-on-one. Met Elise at the door, just leaving. Teresa was just about to eat dinner, Jim Macdonald was just leaving, and she looked exhausted. She asked for a raincheck and I said of course, because I knew this was a bonus, and since getting a line-edit from TNH was like getting beaten up by Emma Peel, I'd want her to be on form for it.
I didn't get a Teresa point, but she did laugh. She said 'So you'd like to see my party trick?" and came around to the table and sat down. And thus did I get a line-crit from TNH. She reads with intense concentration, you can see her gaze tracking down the page; occasionally she smiles or pushes her bottom lip out (which oddly is the trait Tyl has when concentrating). She mutters short comments, and from time to time her pencil darts down, rather the way I'd imagine Duerer or Giotto adding a line to an unfinished sketch. (Yes, I am a fangirl, but I'm a pretentious fangirl, give me credit) She fixed one of my not-quite-parallel constructions, added 'she' to a couple of long sentences for clarity, and pointed out one sentence where the referent may be unclear but didn't fix it because it isn't a straightforward fix (and I must learn to do these things myself). And asked me if Myl used the subjunctive, which I didn't know, off the top of my head. She said that I have good clear prose, and that the mock-archaic is a difficult style, but it looks as if I can handle it. I asked her about my commas, and whether there was a good text for comma usage. She said my commas are pretty good (now I want to tattoo that on myself somewhere) and that a 1st or 2d edition of Fowler's Usage was good for commas, but that commas were variable, and many places had house usages that were just strange. She changed one of my commas to a colon, so I asked her about colons, which frighten me the way semicolons used to. The colon is 'the stage magician conjuring up the rest of the sentence' (PNH added that the semicolon is the maitre-d' showing the rest of the sentence to its table.)
She read both chapters and the outline, though I'd rather expected her to stop after the first chapter, since I'd said I didn't want to impose when she was tired.
Partway through, Patrick showed up and was pleased. He said that when he'd asked her about scheduling a session with me, she'd gotten that hunted look in her eyes (which I can understand) and he'd said: 'No, you want to look at Barbara Gordon's manuscript'.
We had a brief chat afterwards, with sugar cookies, and I explained about being myself the best line-editor I had access to, and needing to know whether I was good enough to trust for my own work, or just wannabe-writer-level-good. Who shaves the barber?
I thanked her again, and asked her if she'd sign my copy of Making Book. She asked if it was a first edition and made a correction in the text of the Bret Easton Ellis article (the compulsion never fades, I see), then inscribed it 'to Barbara Gordon, who knows what she's doing.'
I went back to my room in a state of both exaltation and exultation. I think the only place it can go from here is direct translation into heaven. Where I suspect it would be hard to find an agent.

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