Post Wiscon 37 thoughts (not too long because I’m so tired)

There was a moment at Wiscon when I was dancing with everyone in the dark at the Genderfloomp, that I stopped dancing, looked around, and burst into tears.

These are my people. I don’t want them to go.

I had ditched a family trip to Florida to be at Wiscon. I had a reading Friday night with the Oxford Comma Bonfire with Vylar Kaftan, Michael Underwood and Nancy  Hightower which went well. I was on a panel called “Remote vs Intimate Gods in literature”, which had a former Methodist who was now atheist, a former Catholic who converted to Judaism, and a woman Lutheran pastor who lives with her female partner in Tennessee. The discussion we had was wonderful, and I’m not just talking about the panel—but the long discussion we panelists had afterward with each other. I got a taste of the Kindred Reading Series. And I participated at the Sign out for the first time ever. Got to sign four copies of Dark Faith: Invocations. I was so excited, the first signing I did, I misspelled the word ‘ask’. Because I was so awesome. Or maybe tired.

But most of all, the conversations I had with the people. Ohhhh…my fellow black geeks, asian geeks, puerto rican geeks, gay geeks, trans geeks, bi geeks, poly geeks, straight geeks, atheist geeks, agnostic geeks, muslim geeks, christian geeks, pagan geeks. All of us together in one place. Sure, there were debates and arguments and words said that made people get the stink-eye and misunderstandings, but who doesn’t get that in a family reunion.

And this was indeed a family reunion.

That was why, at the Genderfloomp dance, I realized that I didn’t want any of them to go. I only get to see most of these people once a year.

Sean M. Murphy wrote a blog post that better sums up my feelings. And yeah, there’s going to be a few days when I’ll look around and feel glum and feel out of sorts with the normal world. But it’s okay. It won’t be the same, but I will continue to talk to my Wiscon friends on the internet. Occasionally, there’ll be a couple of us at other cons, like Mo*Con, which is like a smaller, room party. And knowing that N.K Jemisen and Hiromi Goto will be the Guests of Honor at Wiscon 38 already has me planning for next year’s activities.

These are my people. They never really go.

My Wiscon 37 schedule

Due to a wedding I won’t be joining Wiscon until Friday evening, so I’ll probably miss out on the Gathering. But here’s what I’ll be doing when I do get there.

Friday, May 24 9pm Oxford Comma Bonfire Reading, Michaelango’s

I’ll be joining Vylar Kaftan, Michael Underwood and Nancy Hightower for a reading at Michaelangelo’s. I’ll be reading my story poem from Dark Faith: Invocations “All This Pure Light Leaking In”. This is open to the public, so if you’re around, stop by!

Sunday, May 26 8:30am Intimate vs. Remote Gods, Senate A

Is it faith if you run into the god in question while doing your grocery shopping? What is the nature of a god whose existence you don’t have to take on faith? What does believing in an unseen god signify? I’ll be joining Heidi Waterhouse, Rose Hayes, Janice Mynchenberg, and Judy Peterson to discuss examples from recent and older literature, including N.K. Jemisin, Mary Doria Russell, Phillip Pullman, and Lois McMaster Bujold.

Monday, May 27 11:30am Sign Out, Capitol/Wisconsin

If you have a copy of Dark Faith: Invocations, bring it by for me to sign. Or just come by to chat, because, really, this being my first signing, I have no clue how to do these things.

IV Arts & SALT 2013 (con) Report

So remember in my last post where I said I should go to a Christian con in 2013? Funny how I mentioned that….

A week after I wrote that post, I learned about a consultation that the organization I work for, InterVarsity, was doing to help support their arts ministry. Any staff who either worked with art students, or who were artists themselves, were invited to attend. I’ll report on the consultation in a bit, but wanted to write about the couple of weeks before the consultation.

You see, before I went, I experienced the worst imposter syndrome ever. So much so that I nearly did not go.

Not that this was visible to anyone. I told people I was going and they were excited. My coworkers thought it was a perfect fit. My husband thought it would be a good way to nurture the writer side of me in a Christian setting. Everyone felt I should go to this. And the fact that hotel and meal expenses were paid, I would have been stupid not to go. But I struggled with it. I really did. I really, really did.

There were many reasons, but the main one I want to write about here as that up to that point, I saw genre writing as separate from, “Christian art”. Seriously, when have someone gotten up in church to read a page from Harry Potter during the sermon? Well, uh okay, nevermind, apparently I’m at the wrong church…but that’s besides the point. The point is, the Christian arts seem to only promote those that are done corporately.

I remember last year, I learned there was an Arts seminar thing being held at one of the churches around here. I thought it was cool…until I took a look at the actual workshops. They had panels for worship leaders. Ones for musicians. They had an art gallery for those who painted. For writing, they had a “drama category for writing skits to incorporate into worship”….

…and that was pretty much it.

And then there was last year, where my small group did a study of spiritual gifts. My gift came up as (duh) writing:

“How do you plan to use your gift?” asked the leader.

I said, “Well, I use it a lot when I’m writing stories. I tend to put in a lot of faith elements–”

“No, I mean, how do you plan to use it for the church?”

“……………”

When writing is incorporated into worship, it’s more along the lines of spoken word/poetry that had to refer to God. I remember back at Urbana 09, I read an excerpt from “She’s All Light” during the black lounge open mic. All the other acts were pretty much gospel songs/spoken word/rap that was pretty much psalms. A lot of people liked my reading, true, but still, it made me feel sort of weird, like my science fiction story was the oddball out.

From my experience, singing, playing instruments or performing in drama skits, all worship skills, are valued higher in the church than, well, writing stories. Wait, let me change that–writing speculative stories. Granted, I could write and/or edit church bulletins. Heck, I can even write drama skits if I wanted to. At best, I can write worship poetry, and that’s a whole different set of neuroses. I remember a long time back, before I’d started writing, when a worship leader at our church asked me and my friend to write spoken word pieces to read during worship (because this was an awesome church that had the creativity to do that). This was before I started professional writing, and I had very little experience with poetry, so I pulled some stuff together from a journal and threw in a bunch of “God make stars, made mountains, is awesome, blahblahblah” sentences. And then I read it straight, because, well, it was poetry. It was okay. On the next song, though, my friend came up and read hers. She did spoken word. With attitude. And it was awesome.

And at that point, I realized–I don’t have a gift for writing spoken word poetry. I deeply appreciate it, moreso now than I did back then, but it’s a different set of writing skills altogether.

Here’s the thing. I love stories. I love wrestling with deep truth in them. I love tales of growth, tales of woe, tales that would have you on the edge of your seat. Even my poetry are stories–just in a different format. Stories are my way of having deep conversations with people disguised as narrative. Plus, my characters get to do awesome stuff. I just had one of my main characters in Willow do a flip off the side of a building and nail a bad guy between the eyes with a knife.

That…probably won’t hold up too well if that’s read before a sermon.

I’ve come to terms that my writing life, at least the story part, and my church life, would be pretty much kept separate. Notice I didn’t say Christian life–I’ve have many good conversations in fandom with atheists, feminists, what the church would consider “secular”. I also am quite blessed to work at an religious organization that has as many geeks as it does, so I’m not hurting for that. It’s just that with the actual church, I pretty much have to check my writer side at the door. And that was one of the reasons why I really struggled with going to the IV Arts conference. If it was just going to be a bunch of worship leaders there talking about church stuff, then I didn’t belong.

But luckily, it wasn’t that.To go to the conference, you either had to be a staff worker who ministered to arts students, or you were a staff worker who was an artist.And that included writers. Even genre fiction writers.So I went.

The consultation was two days, and was a more like a Christian retreat, than a con. The third day was called SALT, and was more of a day seminar, where Christian student artists met on Wheaton campus to discuss being an artist and Christian at the same time. I got to meet many other artists–graphic artists, filmmakers, opera singers, tap dancers, harpists, small theater actors, costume designers—all who worked in Christian and secular settings. And I even got to connect with a student who drove up from Urbana because she had written several fantasy novels, but haven’t sent any out yet because she’s constantly revising them. And she had never been to a con before. At that point, I think I went supernova, I was so happy. I dare say this was the first time that my InterVarsity staffworker side and my writing side intersected.

Of course I told her about Wiscon and Viable Paradise. Who do you think I am?!

So in the end, I’m really, really glad I went. It was exactly what I needed. And I came away with my creative meter/spiritual meter refilled. And it got me rethinking the question how do I plan to use my writing for the church? Part of it may involve blogging more about my spiritual journey. As for the church, perhaps I shouldn’t be thinking in corporate worship terms but in relational terms. I happen to know there are a couple of fans who like to play RPGs. I could start up a gamer group at our church.

After all, if there was one takeaway I got from the conference, it was this: artists are bridges between the church world and the secular world. Evangelism works both ways.

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Edit: And it appears that the arts conference at that church I wrote about earlier is coming back again in April. Again, the workshops appear to be more worship oriented. Hmmm…should I go and represent anyway?

And before you say, “OHYOUSHOULDGOJARSOFCLAYWILLBE THERE”…um, I never was a fan of Jars of Clay. I heard their songs, and they’ve never really stuck with me, so, meh. And this does happen a week after Oddcon. I dunno…

Urbana 12 con report

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Readers to this blog will know that I have two day jobs of sorts–besides being a speculative writer, I work in the HR department for a Christian non-profit called InterVarsity, a ministry on college campuses throughout the United States. Every three years, InterVarsity does a huge missions conference called Urbana (though it’s nowadays held in St. Louis, MO) where thousands of students go to hear speakers, attend seminars and get information of going into missions, whether overseas or in their own backyards. Because it is such a huge event, many campus staff come to serve at the conference, and that includes us in the national office.

I’ve never attended Urbana as a student, so I don’t know the full experience, but having been to science fiction cons for about four years now, I couldn’t help but compare Urbana to a gigantic con of sorts. I mean, I didn’t see a single person doing cosplay.  The entire conference was geared towards missions, which would probably set many of my non-Christian friends to twitching. And…no alcohol, so no Barcon, which would send many of my writer friends (myself included) screaming. Oh, and the job they had for me was working for Urbana.org, so I had the strange, disorientating experience of spending most of my time at the conference not networking, but writing.

But I learned a lot at the conference that I realized that I wanted to…no…needed to do a con report.

Urbana 12 had a huuuuuuge concom.
You think the concom at Wiscon or any other large con is big? We hire people to work on the conference a couple of years before the conference. And that doesn’t include the production staff, the set up crew, registrar, communications. This Urbana, they had a social media team whose sole purpose was to tweet, Facebook, tumblr, Hootsuite, the conference around the clock. Because I was with Urbana.org, I got to be backstage, so I was able to catch a small glimpse of the work done to put together the main sessions in the morning and evening. And that in itself was a small glimpse of the whole.

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Views from backstage

 

Urbana 12 had safe spaces for POC.
When I served at my first Urbana in 2008, they had me working the BCM lounge (Black Campus Ministry). For four days, 6 hours per day, I would feed students, talk to students, play games and basically hang out. It was a lot of fun, though by the end of the conference, I couldn’t talk to people, I was so peopled out (I was not the extrovert I thought I was.)

In 2009, I went to my first full Wiscon and attended the POC dinner. When they were talking about the safe space that POC could go to decompress and have a safe place to talk about the Wiscon experience, I was like, dude, it’s just like the black lounge at Urbana!

Urbana had several lounges in fact–they also had an artist lounge, an international student lounge, and an InterVarsity Staff lounge. But still, the ethnic lounges (they had one for black students, Latino, Asian, and Native American) stood out to me as awesome spaces for people of color to sit, process, and hang out with other people of color. I liked how they were all next to each other, so you could visit them (and I saw a few non-ethnics wandering about as well). This year, the black lounge also had panels and roundtable talks of their own. I sat in on a roundtable about being black in an predominately white setting. Very interesting discussion–I wished I stayed longer. I also missed the open mic, the dancing, the games…

My only complaint is that I wish there was an easier way to get to the lounges. They were located in the Ramada on the west side of the America Center, and there was no quick way to get to it except go all the way around the block…which in winter, made for quite the trek. (Interestingly, the POC safe space for Wiscon was also in a hard to find, out of the way spot, but at least it was still inside the Concourse Hotel.)

Urbana 12 had a con suite.
That first night after doing registration, I was pretty exhausted, but my body had gone into con mode–which meant that had this been an actual con, I would go and hang out with other writers. And where else did all the writers go but to the bar–or if the hotel had no bar, some place where the writers could sit, drink, and bemoan the whole writing business.

But Urbana was a Christian conference, so there wasn’t a bar to hang out (not one I would tell you about anyway). However, there was the aforementioned staff lounge, so I went there instead, and found it to be comparable to a con suite. There was snacks. There were games. And there were plenty of writersInterVarsity Staff, bemoandiscussing campus ministry.

So the time I wasn’t working or wandering about, I hung out in the staff lounge. Got to meet new people, and I even learned how to play Dominion–which satisfied my geek fix.

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Urbana 12 helped hone my writing.
So I was given a job at Urbana–helping out with line direction during registration, and helping out with the Urbana.org site. Since all that was involved with line direction was repeatedly yelling "WELCOME TO URBANA! IF YOU ARE A STUDENT AND PAID IN FULL, GO STRAIGHT! IF YOU HAVE NOT PAID IN FULL, GO TO THE RIGHT! IF YOU ARE AN EXHIBITOR, GO TO THE LEFT!" I’ll just spare my vocal cords and talk about the Urbana.org job.

I had the pleasure to work with Kurt Bullis and Mark Breneman on the Urbana.org website. This basically meant I got to put my writing skills to work mainly through editing and formatting articles and writing blurbs. I also got to perform and transcribe an interview, which I hadn’t done in years. And I pulled quotes from blogs to give to the social media team to tweet.

While working on Willow, I’ve been learning how to utelize placeholders in my writing. I used that to help me in writing the blurbs–when I couldn’t think of anything to write, I put down something I’d would like for it to say, like <some sort of description about Bibles here> and moved on to the next blurb–then I would rework it the next time I came back to it. I also had to write fast, which meant I couldn’t spend a few days working on something. I had to write fast, take a break, proofread, then give what I had to Kurt, who could use it as is or completely rework it.

It was an interesting process. I didn’t have time to make things completely perfect, so I had to make placeholders work for me fast. And that’s something I want to bring to my novel revision. So, in a way, Urbana helped with my writing skills. Also, as you can see, I know how to write headlines within an article now. WRITING SKILL POINTS GAINED!!

Urbana 12′s spiritual side
Urbana still is, though, a Christian conference, and one thing I don’t get from cons is nourishing the spiritual side of me. Though I didn’t go to any of the seminars, I did get to see the speakers in the plenary sessions and participate in the worship. And let me tell you, the worship was awesome. Not the average ‘let’s-get-a-guitar-and-sing-kumbayah’. It was worship in many different languages, with many different instruments. Very diverse, plus, doing it with 16,000 other people made it fun. They had drama pieces which ran from ballet to stomp dancing to rap. They also showed videos, which I may have taken part in.

I truly enjoyed listening to the speakers. And it also confirmed that I’m right where God wants me to be, though I am also being challenged on a number of things (most of what I’m still processing). And having communion on New Year’s Eve with 16,000 people was a phenomenal.

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Plus there were other perks, but I’m not going to go into that.

So, all in all, Urbana 12 may have not been a con, but I got a lot out of it. And I’m not as exhausted or stressed out at the end the last Urbana (oh, a whole number of factors went into that). That said, it did make me eager to start working on my con schedule for 2013.

Maybe I’ll include a Christian con this year…

Chicon 7 con Report

So I’ve returned from Worldcon, also known as Chicon 7, and I have learned a lot of things:

    • I miss Chicago. I really miss Chicago. I miss riding the el. I miss the mountains of buildings and the valleys of streets. I miss downtown. What I don’t miss? Traffic jams, crazy drivers, drunk bums on the el and $5 for a bottle of juice (no thank you, hotel restaurant. I happen to know there’s a Walgreens right down the street from you. So nyah.)
    • Seeing that I used to work for Blue Cross Blue Shields in the Illinois Center, being at the Hyatt right next door felt very, very surreal. I kept expecting to see the ghost of my college self sitting in the lobby reading books and feeling like a nobody.
    • At Chicon 7, I am happy to say that I did not feel like a nobody.
    • Worldcon is big. Really big. Really, really, really big. Bigger than Oddcon. Bigger than Wiscon. It is that big.
    • I hadn’t signed up to do anything at Worldcon–no panels, no readings. I wanted to experience Worldcon to the full. To that extent, for the most part, I spent most of my time talking to people.
    • I saw a whoooooole lot of people. I saw so many of my writer friends, from Viable Paradise to the Carl Brandon Society. I saw a whole bunch of authors, from famous to just starting out like me. And I saw Neil Gaiman again. He geeked out over the American Gods tshirt I so serendipitously wore that day.
    • I saw my grandmother on her birthday. I also got to see a guy playing a saw with a violin bow. A genuine saw.
    • I saw the Hugos. I saw several Hugos up close. I held a Hugo. I also watched Twitter explode when Ustream cut off the ceremony. That was awesome.
    • I learned there are two types of people who attend cons: those who are fans, and those who create the works for fans. At the cons I’ve been to, I’ve met a lot of the latter, but not much of the former. At Worldcon, I got to meet a fair number of the former, from a group of Christians fans to a black woman from Hyde Park who wanted to meet more black fans.
    • I got to indulge in a little fandom when I went to watch the Gaiman theater perform The Troll and Snow, Glass, Apples as a dramatic reading. I have come to the conclusion that in the end, I’m not so interested in a movie deal. But if a three-person actor troupe come up to me and say they want to do a performance of one of my short stories, I would be thrilled.
    • The parties…oh…the parties…
    • Although I didn’t have a finished book to pitch, I didn’t feel too bad. I saw old friends, made new ones, squee-ed over some writing heroes, and, best of all, made some important networking contacts that will help me in the future.
    • I really enjoyed Worldcon. Don’t think I will go next year. It was cool, but also very, very intense. I’ll look into it maybe a few years from now. But it opened my mind up to attending cons outside of local. Like say, ReaderCon.
    • My takeaway from Worldcon: renewed determination to finish the novel. Some networking thingies to follow up on, and relationships with friends I’ll be cultivating on the Internets.
    • Oh, by the way, Jesus was there. He heartily approved of my attendance and told me to keep up the good work.IMG_20120901_193251

Can’t say no to that.

My Chicon Schedule

Worldcon starts this Thursday! Everyone is posting their schedules so I figured I would too. The thing is, though, I’m not exactly scheduled to do anything –no panels, no readings, no kaffeklatches or such. I’ve never been to a Worldcon before, so I wanted to experience  it and have fun. But if you do want to meet me, here’s the best places you can find me:

Thursday: Opening night at Adler Planetarium. I should be there around 7ish. Look for me running around, waving my arms and going “SQUEE! SQUEE! SQUEE!”

Friday: Won’t be around so much–meeting up with several people, and by happy coincidence, it’s my grandmother’s birthday, so at some point, I’ll be taking off to see her on the South Side. Best time to see me would be later that night at the parties.

Saturday: I’ll be going to various panels. Which ones? I’m still decided–they all look so GOOD. Also, around 4, I’ll be at the EscapePod meetup in the big bar. UPDATE: And I’ll be helping present the Carl Brandon Awards on Saturday, 6pm in the McCormick Room.

Sunday: More various panels and readings. Also, HUGOS!!!

Monday: I’ll be leaving in the afternoonish or when the cleaning crew kicks me out the hotel room.

At some point, Apex will have their party, and I will most definitely be there since they’ll be releasing Dark Faith: Invocations, and I’m in that! So keep your eyes open for that. Also, Viable Paradise alum will be getting together, so I’ll be at that as well.

At times, I’ll head to my room to crash, get some needed introvert time, etc. But if you see me wandering around in the main areas, feel free to come up and say hi. I always like meeting people.

And now…to the packing!!!!

 

Wiscon 36 Report

Writing this now while it’s still hot in my mind.

This year’s Wiscon was unique because I volunteer as GoH Liaison to Andrea Hairston. Which is funny because she has been coming to Wiscon far longer than I have, so she had the routine down pat. So it felt at times that I was really doing much other than checking in with her occasionally. But it was a joy to get to share in Andrea’s happiness of both being GoH and the Tiptree winner, and to meet Pan and hang out with her. And man, was Andrea awesome, both in her readings and in her speech!

Also, I apparently did a good job introducing Andrea during the GoH speeches Sunday night. Which I composed 30 seconds before I went up on stage. Luckily, I’ve had experience in doing introductions on the fly from doing Chapel at work, but man, I was a little surprised at how well it came together. And I’m not boasting. Really. I had no clue on what I’d say until 30 seconds before I went up to the podium. But it went well…so….yay!

It was interesting to see how the con works behind the scenes. In a seeing-the-sausage-made way, doing the liaison thing made me appreciate all the hard work the con committee put in– without being paid, mind you–before the con.WHICH IS WHY IF YOU’VE ATTENDED WISCON OR ANY OTHER CON, BE SURE TO THANK THE CON COMMITTEE.  A good way to thank them and to even help them is to give them feedback for the con you attended. And OH HEY LOOK: Wiscon36 is asking for feedback. Go give it!

I kept my panel load real light, this year: I moderated "Religious Agenda in SF" on Friday along with Alex Bledsoe, Naomi Kritzer, and Heidi Waterhouse. Fun panel that was actually pretty civilized! I took some notes, but I should have thought to ask someone to write down all the books that were mentioned. I’ll draw up the list I got and put it at another post at some point. I also did a reading on Saturday called "Exotic Worlds", with Brad Beaulieu, Holly McDowell, Derek Silver and Michael Underwood at Michelangelo’s. I read from my short story, "Sun-Touched", which is currently in submission mode. People showed up at it, so I count it as a success.

The rest of my time was spent hanging out with writer friends, which is getting too numerous to count, and making friends with new ones, which is an awesome sign. I had a mini-Viable Paradise XV reunion with some classmates, as well as our instructors, Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch. I did some Carl Brandon Society activities, including getting more information on how to get more involved. And man…the parties…had the best time at the "Riots of Bloom" party, and I was seriously tempted to elope with the best rose petal ice cream I’ve ever tasted. Luckily my sense of propriety prevailed. Plus, the servings were tiny.

I’ll be seeing a lot of people from Wiscon at Worldcon this year, which gets me excited because I’ll get to see my writer friends twice this year, as well as make new ones. Until then, I’m be working on my novel, because my goal is to have it done by Worldcon, which will be in my hometown! Yippee!!!

10 Lessons of Writing (that I took away from VP)

There’s a meme going around us Viable Paradise XV folk (started by thanate) on what would be your 10 lessons of writing. Since I’ve been meaning to do a list anyway of what I learned from VP, I decided to do that instead. So burn this into your brain.

1) I wrote it once, I wrote it again, by golly, let’s do it one more time: it doesn’t matter how smart you are–all that matters is to tell a good story.

2) And in that vein: in terms of the adage “Write What You Know” you know a lot more than you think. I came to Viable Paradise thinking, “Everyone is smarter, or been to more places, or done more things, than I have.” That’s not true. Every single one of us has a different set of know-how, memories, and skills to draw back on. And if you don’t…

3) The rest can be faked–with a little help from your friends. The internets is your friend. Libraries are your friend. Your friends are your friend. (Wait…your friends…uh, never mind.) You have a wealth of knowledge surrounding you. Don’t be afraid to use your status as a writer to get outside help on something you don’t know. People love it when you say, “Hey, I’m a writer and I can use your help.” Ply them with attention and maybe a croissant and they’ll help flesh out your world.

4) If you put in a lot of stuff in your story to flesh it out because you don’t think you know enough, stop it. There’s a difference between details and “a telling detail”. The latter gives you the necessary info a reader needs to know, the former is just filler. Which means:

5)Tighten, tighten, tighten your prose. Oh, my gosh. Stephen King was right. The hardest part of writing isn’t the first draft. It’s the second, when you got to figure out what stays in and what is dragging down the story. And then there’s the third draft: making sure your words work for you (killing -ly words, strengthening verbs, etc). I think this was probably the most important tip I learned at VP.

6) Even swear words have their own grammar.  Really. It’s true.

7) Become a slushreader. One of the advantages I had at VP was that I slush for Fantasy Magazine and Lightspeed, so I already knew what made a good story. But going to VP also helped me become a better slushreader because I can see why most stories don’t work. I can also see what would make them become better stories. So keep an eye on the nets, and if you see a magazine calling for readers, take it.

8.) Get in a good writer’s group, or at least have beta readers. And don’t get readers who would just say “this is good” or “this is bad”. Find readers who will be brutal. You’ll need brutal. But also find readers who can dig the good parts too. Balance is always key. You don’t need to physically meet. Google Plus is awesome place to hook up with writers. Heck, doing the Hangouts alone is worth it.

9) Don’t just write. Also read. Read everything. And watch movies. And go out and hang with friends. And do things. And Live.

10) You can cook greens by simply drizzling them with olive oil and salt, covering them with tin foil, and letting them bake in a low oven for about an hour or so. So this isn’t exactly a writing tip. I don’t care. Those greens Mac made were AWESOME!

On the aftermath of Viable Paradise XV

My brain feels full. Gooey full. Gooey-ooey-chewy full.

People have been asking me how my time went at Viable Paradise last week. I’ve been using various terms. “Intense” “Writer’s Boot Camp” “Heavy” were a few words I’ve thrown out. I’ve also used “Enlightening” “Inspiring” “Exciting”.

But now that I’m sitting down to write this blog, I can’t adequately put into words how it was.

Yes, it was intense. Yes, I learned so much I’m surprised my head hasn’t exploded. But there were also these moments of quiet enlightenment, when I wasn’t thinking much of anything at all. That was the night we all went down to the beach, and the moon was shining on the ocean like milk, and in the water was tiny jellyfish that lit up like fireflies.

And the friendships. Oh…the friendships….

I think the only way I can give you a taste of VP is by reprinting, in its entirety, the rambling post I made on Google Plus on the night of the Dreaded Thursday (and to my surprise, there really is a Dreaded Thursday–it’s not a myth after all). This was a post from an emotional me, a vulnerable me, a me that had just gone through the wringer and had emerged on the other side blinking in broad daylight.

Oh, and I had a drink or two. Just to warn you:

So…it’s the dreaded Thursday at Viable Paradise. I am an emotional wreck, weepy-eyed, sleep deprived, and every word I’m typing here feels like I’m drudging it out of my head using a rusty hook. But I need to get this out, because it’s also the day of epiphany, so here it is:

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know a damn thing about anything. What matters is that you tell a good story.

See, up to now, I’ve had this complex. I read all these awesome stories and I think to myself, man, these writers know so much. They know so much about biology/The Renaissance/World War II/quantum physics, and here am I, who don’t know diddly-squat, who have to go on Wikipedia to throw stuff into my story. I’ve never went backpacking in Europe, I don’t know how to lasso a bull, I can’t for the life of me debug a computer program, and for the love of God, I don’t know the inner workings of the Tea Party and how it differentiates between Republicans and Democrats and Liberterians, because it’s they’re all the same as hell to me. Every fricken one.

So for our VP Writing Assignment, I was to write a hard science fiction story about global warming. It had to be a positive, inspiring story. And it had to include a stomach. A disembodied stomach. Don’t ask. I don’t know how to write a hard science fiction story. Yes, I’ve written scifi before, but hard scifi? I hadn’t the faintest clue how to begin. And all I know about global warming is that polar bears hate us now for shrinking the ice caps. That’s it. That’s all. And how the hell am I supposed to write about a stomach?!

When I wrote it, I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. I couldn’t even edit it–it took me so long, when it came time to turn it in, all I had was a first draft. In my opinion, it sucked. It sucked on cheese, it sucked on toast, it sucked on crackers, it sucked, sucked, sucked. And as we read it, I had to admit, I got emotional, because to me everyone else’s stories was so much better than mine, because I didn’t have a fricken clue what I was doing. And then, worse of all, we posted our stories on the wall. So everyone could read it. Everyone.

And you know what? A lot of people came up to me. And they said, “LaShawn, that’s an awesome story.” “That beginning? How did you do that beginning?” “I love how you ended it. Awesome image.” “Great story.”

All that story knowledge consisted of a weird tidbit my mother in law shared and a couple of facts I read from Wikipedia. Everything else was “What if…what if….”
The reason why I was freaking out was that I felt that everyone else had better experience with things than I had. But we all have experience. Every single one of us. And I don’t see my own experience because…well…I’m experiencing it. You have not been to Africa like I have. You don’t know the difference between Japanese katakana and hiragana like I do. You never been in childbirth, have your inlaws move into your house, grown tomatoes, sat in a rocking chair at 4am with a nursing baby listening to geese honk sleepily in the neighboring pond like I have. And if you have done those things, it still would be different, because it would be through your own filter, not mine.
And as for the rest of the stuff, that can easily be supplied by other sources. Wikipedia. Books. That friend you can take out to lunch and pick his brain for details that will help flesh out your world. That sort of thing.

Our role as writers is not to be the smartest people on the planet. Our role is to use what we know to stretch out the unknown and bend it into the framework of a story.

Let me write that again. In bold. And in capital letters.

OUR ROLE AS WRITERS IS NOT TO BE THE SMARTEST PEOPLE ON THE PLANET. OUR ROLE IS TO USE WHAT WE KNOW TO STRETCH OUT THE UNKNOWN AND BEND IT INTO THE FRAMEWORK OF A STORY.

So I’m not going to be jealous anymore of writers who are better than me. Well, I guess being human, I will, but I’m not going to sweat it anymore. I’m going to enjoy their stories, learn what I can from them, and apply it to my own writing. And I’m going have fun doing it.

Starting tomorrow…

::collapses from exhaustion::

Dang, that’s gold.

You know what else I learned at Viable Paradise? Turns out, I really am one of those writers who do cram a lot into their stories. It’s the reason why I’ve been writing these huge 12,000 novelettes that I have a hard time selling. There’s a good chance that I can cut words out without sacrificing plot at all.

So, as you can see, I have some work to do.

First, I’m going to work on this short story I’ve sent out twice. It’s at 12,700 words. My goal is to cut 3000 words from it. I thought I had done it before, but at VP I pulled it out and saw about 100 words I could cut out from the first page alone. And that was just from glancing at it.

Then I’m going to tackle Willow. I have an after-VP assignment to trim my synopsis down so it fits on three pages. From that, I use that synopsis to put Willow on a diet. I’m going to cut out some characters entirely or hold off on other plotlines until the next book. It’s going to be brutal and a little painful, but I’m eager to dive into it. I finally got a handle on what to do with Willow now.

Heck, I may not have a doorstopper of a book after all…

Edit: When I read the post after posting it, in my recuperating from VP mind, I thought “Gooey-ooey-suey? Oo, I don’t want to imply that I’m sueing VP. DUDE NO! VIABLE PARADISE WAS THE BEST AWESOMEST WORKSHOP IN THE WORLD. So I changed it to chewy.

New Story & Viable Paradise XV

I’ll post about Wiscon in a bit, but first, NEWS.

I have a short story called "With Breath Too Sweet" that’s out in an anthology called "There was a Crooked House", put out by Pill Hill Press.

You can order the print anthology at Pill Hill Press for $14.49 or order the ebook for only $3.99 at Kindle or Nook.

Now, for the second bit of news. I’M GOING TO VIABLE PARADISE!

BlueHeadline

I’ve been selected along with 23 other SF writers to head over to Martha’s Vineyard in October to be part of the 15th class of Viable Paradise. Our instructors will be Elizabeth Bear, Debra Doyle, Steven Gould, James D. Macdonald, Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Steven Brust and Sherwood Smith.

As you can tell, I’ve been sort of stalling on Willow, so I’m hoping the workshop will give me a swift kick in the pants to finish it. In fact, even sending in the application helped me out–I had to send in an outline for Willow, which I’ve never actually sat down and did (well, I did something like it Writer’s Café, but not an actual document).

First step to all of this is figuring out logistics. I’ve gone from OH MY GOSH I MADE IT mode into holy crap I’m in how exactly am I going to pay for it mode. I’m tossing around some ideas, talking with some people. I’m thinking about doing a fundraiser, so if you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to do so. And stay tuned to the Café over the next couple of weeks. Big things are afoot.

Last October, I was hanging out with Neil Gaiman. This October, I’ll be in Martha’s Vineyard. This is going to be great, folks. No. This is going to be awesome.

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