Viable Paradise: Day 1, Sunday

Note to readers: I won’t be using student names often; mostly to preserve the privacy of my classmates.  When I do use a name, it’ll be first name only.   

So my flight took off late—at about 8:30pm.  I was supposed to have an hour and a half in SFO, which should have been enough time to get a medifast-acceptable dinner.  But it was not; I had only twenty minutes to get to my gate and board the flight to Boston.  Fortunately, I had stashed some extra medifast meals in my shoulder bag just in case this happened, so while I didn’t get the dinner I should have, I didn’t starve.  I slept ok, I think, though the engine noise was present even in my dreams, which made me feel like I hadn’t slept.  And nothing beats being jolted awake by turbulence at 3am.  I had an hour and a half until my bus arrived.  I waited.  I read.  I waited some more.  Then, just as I was getting incredibly bored, I waited even more.  

Finally it arrived, and I began the third leg of the journey.  The ride was quiet and uneventful, though packed.  I met up with one of my VP classmates when he transferred buses, and we rode the final leg of the trip together.   We were picked up in Vineyard Haven by a VP staffer and taken to the hotel, where I got my room key from my roommates and then retired to wash off 18 hours of travel grime.  Once cleaned up, socializing began, and that lasted until 6pm, when the official Viable Paradise program began.  

First was dinner, which was interesting; we tended to group according to room assignments and whomever we’d connected with via Twitter prior to arriving on the island.   The instructors seated themselves throughout the room, getting to know students.   It was a great time, and the students and support staff all did their best to reduce any nervousness we felt.

After dinner was Orientation; we were given our packets of work to critique, some handouts to read, and given the schedule.  We then played Thing, which also goes by the name Mafia and Werewolves.  I won’t go into the details here, but if you really want to know, holler and I’ll clue you in.  Suffice to say: If you’re playing with Steven Brust, don’t believe anything he says—except when he tells you he’s the Thing.  We were also given a small toy, and informed that this is our Doom.  This relates to the Horror that is Thursday, and we’ll learn more tomorrow night.   (I’ll warn you now that I won’t be saying much about the Horror; except to say that for a writer, the Horror is real; if you don’t write, you probably won’t get what was so scary.  Catch me socially and I’ll give you more, but in the spirit of preserving the mystique, I won’t say much here.)

After Thing, my roommates and I went to the staff lounge to read our stories for the first critique group on Monday.  We had just settled in when the instructors filed in with various musical instruments and began to play.  Reluctantly, we trekked back to our room (just down the hall) so we could actually concentrate.   By the time we came up for air, they’d all gone to bed, so we sat in our common room and shot the breeze for a few hours.  

My roomies and I are the California contingent; Alex hails from Berkeley, and Beth from Pasadena.   They’re both fairly younger than I am at 28, but we got along really well, so we went to bed ridiculously late.  

One thing I’d like to say about the instructors (and the staff) is that they are insanely disarming.  Within moments of meeting Steven Brust I’d realized that this is not going to be the kind of workshop where the Pros dispense wisdom to the aspiring writers from on high.  The jokes fly fast and furious, and while there is definitely an awareness that the instructors have knowledge and technique to impart, they are doing so from right beside us.  They make it very clear that they do care about us not just as students, but as prospective colleagues in the SF/F field.  They also disagree sometimes, and watching them argue teaches as much as listening to the lectures does.  

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About Michael Johnston

Father of a fifth grader, high school English teacher, writer. Forty-six years old and feeling almost every bit of it on some days, and not a bit of it on others. Based in Sacramento, California, USA
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