Sunday, January 28, 2007

still writing, still submitting

Let's see.
Realms of Fantasy rejected "Foretold", and Strange Horizons rejected "Bride of the Vampire" (though they liked the writing). I was going to send Bride off to RoF, but after thinking it over for a while, I submitted both of them to Glimmer Train, one as a regular submission, the other as a contest entry. Mark fronted me the contest fee, on the rather sweet grounds that I'd subsidised his career in its early days.
Glimmer Train doesn't do genre. I write genre, mostly fantasy. So was this a bad idea? Well..."Foretold" deals with gods and men, a conflict which has had some long-term mainstream usage, and one plot aspect (men forgetting the gods) is kind of tired in an sff context, but may look fresher to someone without a genre background. It also has a deeply downer ending. (Rocks fall, everybody dies) which seems to be a commonplace of mainstream or litfic.
"Bride of the Vampire" doesn't have a lot of plot. It's more observational, what I think is called 'slice of life' by some. There are some pop-cult refs which will probably sail past someone who only reads litfic, but they also sailed past an sf-reading critiquer, so it's fortunate the minimal plot doesn't depend on them.
"Milk Run", retitled "Chimps on a Blimp", has floated off to its fate, whatever that might be, so I'm back to working on The Willow Knot.

I've had another happy plotty thing happen. Once Myl gets hold of a hatchet, she can make full use of the osier-bed she found at the marsh. I'd sketched in much of what she does, very lightly, and my old fascination with the prehistoric-to-medieval timber trackways through marshland popped up. Causing her to make narrow hurdles (the fence kind, not the jumping kind) and make a secret pathway out into the marsh, along the lines of the Sweet Track.
I don't know yet whether she'll need it herself, but with the addition of a threat to Alard to the plot-mix, and him being (as according to the original text) away hunting while she's giving birth, I'm pretty sure that he's going to need that trackway to escape from the people after his head. Tyl, of course, will be the one to lead him to it, and that will give Tyl more presence in the events, which he needs.
When Myl first finds the osier-bed, she sees it as a troll army, frozen while erupting from the earth, with the stools being their contorted faces, and the osier coppicing a crown of spears on each. So I'm playing about with the idea of having the osiers do something thorough to Alard's pursuers, during the night, so it's all by sound-effects and no one's quite sure what's happening but it sounds nasty. We'll see.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Viable Paradise, day five

Thursday. Today is the deadline for the short stories assigned during UJ's lecture on Monday. I have an opening, an ending, and an expandable/contractable middle section that is not actually written. About 2k, not 5k. I could probably have done 5k if I hadn't socialised yesterday, or the day before. Or hadn't slept. Or written any of this. Which is probably over 5k by now, but writing without plotting is way faster.

Breakout group was Monica's story, crit session led by Laura Mixon and Cory Doctorow. Other students were Bart, John, Terry-Lynne, Dave, and Laura. Bart is from Arkansas, short pale-brown hair, narrow face, pressed clothes, makes me think of a deadpan standup comedian, like Dave Foley, maybe. Jen Pelland was giving him a hard time about buying Diet Fresca(?) on Sunday (so long ago!) because she'd expect a country boy to choose something less metrosexual. John is slightly built, Chinese, shaved head and abstracted air--he ought to be able to levitate in the lotus position, or have dragons spring inkily from his brushwork. Dave is a big quiet guy with spiky brown hair, like a punk rocker in jock disguise. It's starting to occur to me that I don't have much time left to get to know people. Monica is very pregnant. She has long brown hair parted in the middle and wire-frame glasses, a pale round face caught somewhere between the inwardness of pregnancy and the almost-painful outwardness of someone being critiqued. Kate Salter and Monica look alike to me, but I'm not sure if it's just that they're about the same height and build, hairstyle and glasses, round serene face, or if the mum-and-baby vibes are what's tripping me.
Monica's story is about a woman who can share experiences with the dead. As the story opens, she's retracing her route through mysteries that she solved when she was much younger. Only a couple in the group read mysteries (me and Laura Mixon?) but that aspect was addressed. More concerns about there not being enough visibly at stake for the heroine, that the exercise of her talent doesn't come with enough cost--should it jeopardise her connection to the living? The concept interested most of the group, and the framing device got a fair bit of discussion.

First lecture was Cory Doctorow, about copyright and Creative Commons, tracing how established industries/technologies have reacted to advances in technology, starting with sheet music and continuing to downloading. Quotes: Technology law lags behind technology; pirates are the industry that hasn't sat down at the table yet; this is an age of superabundance in entertainment and suppliers of entertainment; science fiction is a social process; the internet is a permanent, floating, low-grade sf con full of people sharing books & recommendations of books etc.; who wouldn't licence rather than sell if they could? licencing holds the item in perpetuity; connection with others will drive technology more than entertainment will; live performance was rise of charismatic artist, recorded performance was rise of virtuoso artist, internet is rise of conversational artist (Neil Gaiman, Making Light) having intimate conversation with several hundred people at once; blogging or LJ gives your readers the tools to be your sales force; don't be a jerk online.

Second lecture was Stephen Gould, on the hazards of the writer's life or mental health for writers. Different motivations for writing--decide what yours are and how you reward yourself for writing. Echoes of Hambly's warnings, to have a dayjob or spouse with dayjob and health benefits, can supplement by teaching or lecturing on writing. Advances are paid on signing and on delivery, royalty period are May and November. Do Not fax your mss. or text-message your mss. Do Not 'clear the decks' before writing, instead use dry times to catch up with household stuff and use chores for thinking things over. Whole body is writing tool, change in body can make change in style. Don't tie your writing to any habit or substance, if you drop the habit you may be unable to write.

Writing assignments. We called off numbers and split into groups. I was in group three, led by Steve and Laura, including Elise, Scott, Terry, Zak, and John. Have I forgotten anyone? Zak's story was about obsessive love and the flu pandemic, Terry's was about a young woman finding independence by going off to war, John's was about a cyborg soldier sacrificing himself to save a scientist (with old-movie refs throughout), Scott's was about industrial espionage and torture (with a great hook), Elise's was about an ongoing competition between two dogs, mine was about bureaucracy and psychotropic warfare. The vote went for Elise's story, Scott's being the second choice. Scott's was more powerful but unfinished, so kind of a tough call. All of these did seem to take place at least partly in the Cape Cod house and most involved hats. Elise's had the biplane! Straight on to each group's champion reading their stories. Laura's was the flat-out winner, a surreal/cosy/hilarious story about the daughter of the Devil just trying to have a quiet little dinner with her dad, and instead having to deal with Armageddon. Everyone told her to get it out to the magazines.

Remembered that I meant to go to the beach and find feathers, so bundled up at last and went (not having the story assignment to feel guilty about). It's easy to find y way around, at least. Partway I met Bart, so we went on together and chatted, or attempted to chat against waves and wind. My general inaudibility was a drawback. The wind is surprisingly loud. I don't remember as much difficulty in conversing over the waves and wind at Willows Beach, but perhaps the long shallow rise to the shore is louder than smashing against rocks as at home? Heard about Bart's story, which uses a number of biblical refs in a modern industrial setting and his mild disappointment that no one spotted them, not even TNH, which surprised me. Though it might be something that builds through later chapters until you're slapping your head for not having caught on earlier. I ended up nattering about the Bookwyrms outline, it being my modern fantasy piece.
I found a half-dozen decent feathers, all rather battered, and heaps of shells and horseshoe crab carapaces like relics of an unsuccessful alien invasion (followed by lobster-roast, yeah!) but was defeated by the concept of carry-on baggage, and limited to about 4 small shells for keepers. Still dragged a biggish crab carapace back as a trophy to keep for the last couple of days. Wonder if I could take it back carry-on (yeah, pun, I know) after all, it's not liquid at this point.
Back in the warmth of the common room, I borrowed Mur's pen-knife and Niki brought her ink over, and I messed around with cutting quills. The feathers weren't aged & hardened enough and the paper was too thready and absorbent, but we did succeed in making marks and writing a few lines. Missed my writing slope like heck! All I need is a decent pen-knife and a flat piece of wood, but can I take those as carry-on? Not even a bottle of ink. Sigh.

Tonight is Pizza and Shakespeare, or Beer with Billy. I had a rootbeer, being as cheap red wine with Billy wasn't an option. Retterson, god bless her, sponsored a majestic array of cookies for dessert.
The group this year being unusually large, 28 students rather than 24, added to staff, families of staff and instructors, so that there were too many people for everyone to have a speaking part. Hamlet was thus put in the company of Henry IV, divided into parts one and two. I wonder if TNH has a Shakespeare algorithm for large groups, like the pizza algorithm? I snagged Laertes for pt 1, with most of the casting being more eccentric than even me as semi-incestuous duellist. Pretty quickly saw who had done a smidgen of theatre and who was just a natural ham. Good Guildenstern and Gentle Rosencranz (or vice versa) did a nice patter, and I'm betting Ophelia's death-metal trio "Young men will do't if they come to't, by Cock they are to blame!" will get mention in everyone's memoirs. Best laugh was during the Players arrival, when their play was able to be altered because it was under a Creative Commons license with derivative works allow'd.
Hamlet is a right bastard. I'd forgotten or not realised that his browbeating of Gertrude is done with Polonius's corpse right there in the room. Is he the writer, the way Prospero is, in the Tempest? Or is he a writer-wannabe, whose plots all miscarry?

Enough thought for one day. People are collapsing and melting all about the common room, and I think I'll do that privately.

Friday, January 19, 2007

contests and prizes and things I never usually win

The first. So. Umm. There's this contest held over the Labour Day weekend (a long weekend in Canada) where entrants attempt to write a novel over three days. The 3-Day Novel Contest. It started in 1977 and continued haphazardly, sponsored by a few different publishers. The winner gets published. The runner-up gets $500 (Canadian). Finalists get prizes - probably copies of previous winning titles, is my guess.
It started in Vancouver BC, so I've been aware of it for years, in a vague way. One of the current sponsors is ABEBooks, which is based in Victoria BC. ABEBooks has a great community forum, and each year there's a thread for 3-Day Novel entrants. Which made me even more aware of it.

I'm a slow writer. My handwriting is slow, although clear and easy to read. I was a slow typist and am only a slightly faster keyboardist. I compose slowly, doing the first edit between brain and hands. And I like to stop and look things up and fact-check while I'm writing, because I'm not one of those writers who can simply Make It Up. I'm willing to mess with the facts if it improves the story, but I first need to know what the facts were.
And I'm usually at an SCA event that weekend--September Crown. Camping, no electricity, tent, commitment to attend meetings, possibly teach a class, visit with friends and all that.
These seemed like good reasons not to enter. As soon as I had that settled in my mind, I started wanting to enter.
That meant working out a storyline that wouldn't require any research, relying on subjects I already had a grasp of. A storyline that could be radically shortened if time ran out, or expanded if things went unexpectedly well. Epistolary? Picaresque? Absurdist? I decided on a picaresque structure, easily changed in length by the addition or removal of an episode or two.
It meant relying on my husband and friends to keep me on track, to get me to places with electricity, and to put up with my distractedness. That, fortunately, was a given. As a bonus, my apprentice Alicia le Wilfulle lent me her laptop which has a much longer-lasting battery than my little Thinkpad. So I was able to work at the campsite for quite a while before being shipped over to the nearby Haggen's caff.

I attended a meeting, taught a class, gave feedback on a display, got a decent night's sleep, ate meals, and typed. Typed on the ferry, typed in camp, typed in the Haggens and typed at home. Wrote about a boy with the ability to fold himself away, surviving in a war-torn country, and losing pretty much everything except the stories he told himself. God that sounds pretentious. I think the theme (really? I never have themes) would be 'you can hide but you can't run'. It was patched together with fragments of Grimm's tales, refs to child soldiers, to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, to the persistent story of a young child smuggled through a concentration camp in a suitcase, to refugee and resistance stories, and my acquaintance with the joy people feel when they rediscover a lost book from their childhood. I wrote litfic (I never write litfic), possibly magical realism. I discovered that I can write 1k an hour, for 3 hour bursts, and remain coherent, on the screen at least.
The last part was pretty much what I was interested in--finding out what my speed was if I just wrote and didn't research, fuss, or edit. And I wanted to wear the t-shirt, because I like it.
Unlike Nanowrimo, the 3-Day has no word-count objective. I believe they like a story to have a beginning, middle and an end, but that's only my guess. Most entrants turn in about 100 pages, which in standard manuscript format would be about 25k words. Mine was closer to 16 or 17, but it was a complete story. I was clever enough to write the ending on the second day, leaving me with the adjustable middle to occupy my time and what was left of my brain.
I printed it out, shipped it off, and got back to my usual genre writing and collection of rejection slips.

This week the results were announced, and I made the shortlist. Which I will copy here, because I don't know how long they'll keep the whole announcement up:

First Prize (publication, summer 2007)
Brendan McLeod for The Convictions of Leonard McKinley

2006 2nd Prize Winner

Terry Dove of Vancouver, BC wins $500 for Rocketdial

2006 3rd Prize Winner

Carolyn Magner Mason of Tuscaloosa, AL wins a library of 3-Day Novels for Hopeless Causes

2006 Shortlisted Novelists

  • Tom Alexander, London, UK
  • Timothy Anderson, Edmonton, AB
  • Emily Anderson and Marit Peterson, Chicago, IL
  • Rae Calvary, Milwaukie, OR
  • Patricia Chao, New York, NY
  • Trisha Cull, Victoria, BC
  • Jody Franklin, Victoria, BC
  • Joe Goodwill, Vancouver, BC
  • B. Gordon, Victoria, BC
  • Thomas Gray, Olympia, WA
  • Cammy Lee, Toronto, ON
  • Colleen Marlin, Toronto, ON
  • Kari McKay, Edmonton, AB
  • Walt Morton, Venice, CA
  • Richard Schwindt, Kingston, ON
  • Andrea Wijayakoon Phillpotts, Richmond, BC
  • Ron Yamauchi, Vancouver, BC
And this is the acknowledgement email I received:
Congratulations on making the shortlist! The judges really liked "Fold".
Hope you keep working on it!
Melissa for 3-Day

* * * * * * * *
The 3-Day Novel Contest
The world's most notorious literary marathon.

All of which is, y'know, cool. On re-reading Fold, which I hadn't looked at, I was amazed to see that it was a pretty decent piece of work, and although I had not allowed myself to edit as I went (which is my habit) it read rather well. I had no urge to break out the virtual red and blue pencils.
There may be a lesson there, but I'm going to ignore it.

The second. Reading Smart Bitches recently sent me over to the Juno Books blog, which made entertaining reading and a peek into the early days of a new imprint. And some bloody gorgeous cover art. One cover has Chinese characters on it--Dark Maiden, by Norma Lehr--and a request to email if you know what the characters mean.
Three years of Mandarin Chinese at last pays off! I know how to struggle through a Chinese dictionary. I sent in the pronunciation and meaning of the characters, and I won a copy of the book when it comes out.
Much coolness. But I have to be patient until the book comes out. And since I'm aware that publishing time is closer to geological time than to some others, I shall be patient.

The third. Our workplace encourages United Way donation. One method of encouragement is prizes. The only thing I've won was a shoulder-bag with about 20 sponsor marks on it, left over from the Commonwealth Games. This year I won dinner for two and a night at the Dunsmuir Lodge, not the sort of place our budget usually runs to. Couch at a friend's place is more my speed. I haven't collected yet, what with Christmas, Twelfth Night, finishing the short story and Mark about to leave for Estrella and the Tucson gem fairs. But I have until the end of March.
I did consider giving it to my son and his girlfriend, and I may yet.

All these things coming my way. It makes me a bit nervous.

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.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Cute cat picture for the New Year

Yes, she's in there. Bottom right. This was during our December snowfall, and for some reason I resisted the urge to pitch Priscilla out into the soft, deep, fluffy snow and watch her hop back affrontedly. She watched it from the safety of the porch.

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.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

interval: what's out right now

I'm waiting for someone on Absolute Write to start the Rejection Pledge for this year. Last year I made my target of 12 rejections, plus a bonus acceptance, go me!
This is what I have out on submission, so I have a head start on my rejection total, but I still don't think I'll go higher than 12, because I Need To Finish The Novel and can't be putting too much time into knocking off short stories:
'Spellcheck' is out to Tesseracts Eleven.
'Foretold' is out to Holy Horrors anthology (very longshot).
'Fluke' is out to Asimov's.
Siege of the Revenants is out to Juno Books.
'Bride of the Vampire' has just gone out to Strange Horizons.
And yes, as soon as I get the rejection for any of those, I have a next market pencilled in for it to head off to. None of these stories are lollygagging around the house, eating their heads off and dropping towels on the bathroom floor.

I don't think I've hopped about in a Christopher Robinish way about selling 'The King of Elfland's Stepdaughter' to Coyote Wild, have I? I should. I have been paid! I asked for a photocopy of the check, though I haven't framed it yet. I am a real writer!!!!eleventy!!!
I'm not sure which issue it will show up in. Not the first, I know that--the long story spaces are going to Elizabeth Bear and Sherwood Smith. Talk about starting strong.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Viable Paradise, day two

Morning group crit was Diane and Terri-Lynne in the hot-seat, led by Debra Doyle and James Macdonald, in the Doyle/Macdonald room.
I'm trying to attach names to faces, so let's start. Diane is thin, with short dark hair, and tends to lean forward, which makes her seem both attentive and eager (this might have been because of the situation, though.) She looks as if she's on the verge of racing off after something that she's sensed before anyone else has. Terri-Lynne also has short dark hair, stocky build, and smiles frequently. She reminds me of Sandy, the cook who was so nice to me (and who ran off an armed robber once!) at Buddy's Steak Ranch, a no-nonsense earth mother.
The others giving crits were Evelyn, my roomie, who's tall and gently rounded, with soft brown hair and an unexpectedly intent manner (any language-geek laurels I have handy must go to her); Lucia, from AW, red hair, English accent and great glittery t-shirts; Erin, tall and sturdy, with long brown hair and an open face; Chris, already met on the trip, long brown hair and pale face, good at fading into backgrounds (I thought I was good, but he's better).
This was quite tough for Diane, I think, because nobody was really happy with the first chapter, though the second was strong, and several people suggested she start with it (myself included). The third chapter has some backstory infodump issues and more crucially a number of generic fantasy aspects. The second chapter (and parts of the first) is a convincing and at times touching examination of a schizophrenic girl's inner turmoil. It turns out that Diane had a schizophrenic relative, and she certainly got it right; I was getting Rose Garden echoes. But the third chapter jump to a fantasy world was totally unexpected. As I said then, if I'd picked it up in a bookshop I'd have thought the book was misbound. I didn't give her my annotated printout, because that was all line-crit stuff and if she's going to be rewriting as much as it seems, she'll be dumping most of the problem stuff anyways.
ETA: turns out her original submission began with an action-packed prologue, which she later cut, because of what everyone says about prologues. Sounds as if she'd do better to call the prologue ch.1, and cut her current ch.1 instead. Debra Doyle pointed out that moving from fantasy to our world is simpler than moving from our world to fantasy, because if you start in our world, you set the reader up for a realistic story. (The children's books that move from our world to fantasy have a prominent means of moving the characters, not a scene-break.)
Terri-Lynne's was easier on everyone, because she's more at ease with the structure than I think Diane is. It's an easy read, though a couple of spots dragged a little, and the fantastic elements are really nicely woven in. The weakest part is the plot element of the game, the thing that will presumably suck the characters into the fantasy world. It's spoken of as an FRP, but it reads like Fox and Goose, or Candyland, or any one of those roll the dice and jump a few spaces games. The role-playing aspect just didn't appear. Partly because I think she skimped on the gaming session, making it an explanation of mechanics instead of a chance for the characters to show themselves in play. She's not a gamer, and that did show, but it's an easy fix. I got props for my summary, which she said she'd like to use for agent queries. Woo! I am so the summary girl!
Back to the commons room, which is a large neutral-coloured room with what looks like indoor-outdoor carpetting. Pillars, and glass-paned doors to the outside. An alcove to the right with tables for coffee and hot water and bottled water. The challenge of getting hot water out of the coffee-maker while it brewed was met and mastered, though I almost stuck my foam cup to the hotplate by holding it too low.
First lecture was Jim Macdonald on plotting, with models of a chess-game and a model(yeah, model demonstrated by a model) of a house to explain art as being done within limits but providing the illusion of reality, which does not have limits. Much of this is covered in the Writing with Uncle Jim thread, so I won't retype it here. Positional chess, putting elements into story because they may be useful later or are just cool--you can always cut in revision. Can't count the rivets on a moving car; to fudge firearms use the word 'modified' because firearms and horses are what the readers will get you on; every piece and pawn thinks the chess game is about them.
At the end we got a story assignment: the editor of the anthology Hats of War has had a 5k story withdrawn, after the cover art and layout was done and the covers printed (so the anthology must be the right size or the spine won't fit. The cover shows the clapboard shingled house in the model, so that has to be included, because the withdrawn story is the one featuring that house. Plus, it has to feature the toy we were each given on arrival. (Mine is a crystal cat lick'n'stick tattoo.) Put 'an interesting person' into an interesting place (in this case the house) at an interesting time. Just that simple.
Jim is a big bear of a man, with a fondness for going barefoot. This makes an interesting conjunction with his leather jacket, sort of a biker guru.
Second lecture was Jim (James Patrick) Kelly on cheap plot tricks and other snippets. The reader's three questions: What is this story about? Is anything happening? Why should I care? The construction trick of Leaving Out the Boring Parts. Damon Knight(?) in a hurry, once wrote only the interesting parts of a story, planning to fill in the necessary transitions later. Found out that none of the boring parts were really necessary.
P pretty protagonist plot
G good goal generation
P plot problems paradigm
He talked about openings that make you want to read more, and read out a selection of openings from our subs. Mine was one, but he read the Brothers Grimm quote, which I can't take credit for, other than good taste in theft. He also talked about transition scenes, walking from one place to another, and how to skip them. Funny, because it's the analogy I use in the ballads class, about transitions in ballads being sudden but followable, and how close they are to cinematic transitions. Then I was beset with misgivings, realising that my story begins with three chapters of walking. It's one long transition scene. Okay, one of the characters is turned into a deer, but otherwise it's walking. In fact, the first 2/3ds of the book are walking back and forth, with occasional breaks for sleep and food.
Jim Kelly is a leprechaun (both stereotype and cliche, yet accurate). Small and spry, with immense energy, he springs about the room, gesturing and talking. He teaches creative writing, and must be a compelling lecturer.
Break for lunch. Muffins and peanut-butter sandwich for me.

My first one-one-one was with Debra Doyle. I brought cookies, the sugar cookies with cardomon. (Always bribe the judges) And my copy of the Madhouse Manor Pleyn Brown Wrapper songbook. She likes my story (woo!) though she gave the caveat that she loves this sort of thing and she may be so close to my perfect target audience that she will miss problems due to bias. No problem with the language, loved the physical details and the upstairs/downstairs interplay of the staff; we shared a brief gripe about pre-industrial fantasy settings without servants and attendants, and where nobles and powerful people were able to get privacy easily, or able to be seen and met with at a moment's notice. She suggested that I need more dialogue and interplay between Myl and Tyl before he's turned into a deer, to clarify their relationship, and that he might be made much younger than her, like 8 or 9 years old, so that his somewhat feckless behaviour is more excusable, and her mothering of him is intensified. Which I think would work really well, and would also make the beating and bruises crueller, because he's 'only a child'. He does need to be old enough to remember something of their life before Midame, though. Maybe 9 years old, that would leave him 3 when they arrive, depending on birthdays. Also what brings Myl back out of the willow knot? If Alard is endangered and she comes to warn him as well as nurture her baby and brother, it makes her commitment to him more of a factor in her finally abandoning her safest nest of all.

This was jellyfish night, it being clear. The beach is an easy walk away, and there are streetlights. The instructors and staff led the way, with students in untidy clumps trailing after. We reached a wooden bridge (untarmacked) with heaps of large stones flanking the banks beside it. The water rushed under it with a tidal sort of hurry.
Some people said they'd seen the glimmers, but it was hard to tell (for those who hadn't previously seen them) from moon reflections on the ripples. The kids were the first to clamber down the rocks, and I followed, giving in to my fondness for rock-clambering (which has been hampered by having to be careful of my stupid shoulder) and we found that under the bridge, shaded from the lights of passing cars, was the best spot.
The jellyfish are small, green-tinged lights, flickering on when they're disturbed, like fireflies under water, no larger. Many had gathered or been swept into the quiet bits between the rocks and the pilings, and lit up like tiny Christmas lights if you swished your hand in the quiet water. The kids found many stranded on the land after tide-change, and hopped up and down to shake the ground and light them up. After a while I climbed back up to let others use my prime spot by the piling, and ended up babysitting a plush bat brought by one of the kids (small, long blonde hair, determined). Her dad asked why she'd brought the bat, but it seemed obvious to me that it was because it was night, and bats go out at night.

And I only have one ms. to read tonight, Laura's, because I'm the other one on deck. I am too tired for trepidation. How are other people getting these things done? Do they not need to sleep? I have done nothing with my story assignment.