So yes, the workshop. The Isabella suite was pretty flash, with an impressive view of the skyline, slightly truncated from the wide-angle view available from Hospitality. The bathroom was all gleaming oddly-angled surfaces, sort of what you might imagine from the Better Homes & Gardens special R'lyeh issue.
The other students: a trim-bearded man who took the sofa and hunched forward intently. He reminded me of Randy, who wrote the talking cats story for the VCon workshop, but it might have only been that they were each the only bearded participants. Pale, with a slightly hooked nose, like an attentive but short-sighted hawk. He'd written the walled city story.
A dark-haired young woman in casual clothes, with a rumpled but assured air. She'd written the island story. I'd tried to envision the author, and guessed at someone either quite young or older than me (nothing like hedging the bets, is there?).
A nicely-dressed young woman with shorter hair, about the length that many young mothers cut theirs. She turned out to have a two-year old daughter, and I could see her having quick reflexes and a sudden turn of speed when needed.
The instructors: Mary Rosenblum arrived first. A sparely built woman with the square-cut hair that makes me think of silent-movie actresses. Sat compact and elegant on one of the small chairs, leaning in. Suzy McKee Charnas settled back on the couch, almost the sort of merging that Cory Doctorow achieved, but quite definitely awake and attentive. Short pale-blonde hair, blunt features.
Some muddling about beforehand, placing an order for Thai food, which required a group decision on a)type of food, b)specific restaurant, c)menu items and backup choices, d)collection of money. The menu was later discovered to be a couple of years out of date and the money insufficient, but the resourceful person who went for it managed to return with appropriate food anyways.
Discussion. What with the gathering of people and the selecting of food, time had passed and events needed to speed up. When the who wants to go first business began, I threw myself into the breach ("close the wall up with our English dead", and all that) and offered to be victim #1. After that we went around the circle, with the critiques running first to the left, fleeing ahead of the story, one might say.
Now, I was pretty much expecting the worst. I'd read the critique guidelines, and early on they specify that omniscient is a questionable choice of pov. This would be the pov I'd written in. Also, "Climbing Boys" does not have 'a person in a place with a problem', well, it does, but he's not the protagonist, or even sympathetic, and the closest to a protagonist is the dead guy who shows up at the end, and the closest to a sympathetic character is the retarded and exploited child who barely has any lines. Oh, and the two characters who begin the story aren't the ones followed through the story.
It's not that I'm trying to be difficult or edgy or anything else on the auctorial insanity checklist. It's just how the story worked out. And that's after fixing the attempt to make it an sf story (though I still insist the key concept is sfnal rather than fantastic). The other stories submitted were much more in the classic mould, though the island story was a difficult critique because much of it was unclear--vivid but unclear in story terms.
Anyway. Surprisingly, the comments were largely positive. Some found the number of ghosts confusing (easy to tell who had read a lot of ghost stories and recognised the types, by the way), and the ghost-sweeper's language needed trimming, and the two excerpts of dead Stanley's thoughts were bumps in the story-course, but thought it was funny "the funniest story I've read about ghosts and child abuse" (how's that for a blurb?). Mary Rosenblum suggested that I send it to Weird Tales--I thought she might be routinely suggesting market types, but it seemed not, that she thought it would be to Ann VanderMeer's taste. Both instructors were very positive, and started in with ideas on how the ghost sweeping business could be developed into more stories, which was kind of exciting to listen to. They also liked the social commentary aspect, and Mary caught that poor little Ned wasn't necessarily being rescued at the end, that he might be just a puppet once more, with a fresh operator. She also had a terrific solution for getting Stanley's thoughts in without a bump, the mechanism being already in the story but I hadn't seen it.
I did some private squeeing later, when I read the instructors' comments, but that's probably more than anyone wants to read here.
The island story: This had a hard-boiled noirish tone from the narration, and it wasn't until the 3d page that it was clear the narrator was a woman, and quite a young one. She was also somewhat uninvolved in the story, really serving as a narrator. I didn't mind this so much, because it was very much a ghost story, and that's a common feature of ghost stories, that the narrator witnesses the events without really taking part, but is usually changed in some deep way by witnessing them. While the narrator claimed to have been changed, it wasn't evident in the story itself just how. Odd thing was that I thought I had found the story-thread, that the Bear Society rites the old recluse claimed to have secretly learned or stolen from his Indian partner were cannibalistic, and the ghost of the murdered reporter was 'pointing at his intestines' so I was pretty sure that he'd been murdered and eaten so the recluse could gain the bear powers. When I explained what clues in the story had given me this idea, even the author hadn't thought of it. She scribbled notes down, and I muttered "but it's all there. In the words."
When I'd discussed the story with Mark, before, he'd commented that it sounded a lot like the episode of I Love a Mystery we'd listened to recently, set in the West Coast islands: "The Fear That Crept Like a Cat". Not too surprisingly, when she and I chatted in Hospitality, she said she was a huge fan of old radio, including I Love a Mystery, and remembered that series. Knowing that the story had started off as a script also explained a number of the oddnesses about it, like the descriptions without much emotional context.
to be continued, rather like a radio series.