Viable Paradise: Day 3, Tuesday

The morning began with our breakout critique groups.  My roommate Alex was in my group, and she cried during her critique—but the good kind of tears, as her novel excerpt was amazing and everyone said so.  Not that it was perfect, but that it’s damned close.

The first lecture of the day was from Debra Doyle, on grammar and standard usage in fiction.  Not much there I didn’t already know, but then I teach this stuff. That said, I learned a few interesting things.

Elizabeth Bear gave a lecture on POV, which had lots of useful information and during which I asked a question I immediately felt stupid for asking, as the first example given as an answer is a book I’ve taught before—so should have known the answer already.  Ah well.  Nobody’s perfect.

Next up, Scott Lynch lead a great Collegium on non-expositional description.  The collegia are similar to the lectures in that information is given and one instructor leads it; however, there’s a major difference: In the lectures, one of the teachers will present the lesson, and occasionally one of the others will interject something.  The Collegia are more informal, with instructors piping up whenever they have anything to say, and sometimes the instructor mediating the session has to shut them down.  They’re great fun, and sometimes have more information than I could take notes on—so it’s a good thing I recorded most of them.

Then came my one-on-one with Steve Gould.

I am not exaggerating overly much when I say that he ripped my story a new one.  Now, two things about this: I can’t say I disagreed with anything he said, and it hurt.  But… he said nothing unkind, and I know he was helping me—not trying to help, but helping.  But when you’ve worked so hard on something, it sometimes hurts to have someone show you where you went wrong.  So I came away a little raw from the meeting.  He didn’t just show me where I’d gone wrong, though—he also helped me see what I could do to make it better.  He made suggestions that I am free to take or leave, but even the ones I won’t use pointed me in the direction I will go.

Bottom line?  He made my book better, just by talking to me.  As I processed not only my emotional state, but the information I got from him, I made several leaps of thought that lead to new ideas.  The first chapter?  It needs to be rewritten, and while I’ll keep some of it, I’ll be changing a lot of it.  But I have a much better idea, even before my critique group, on how to make it work.

After dinner was the Beer with the Bard event.  We sat in a big circle, and everyone had their drink of choice and the script of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor.  This has got to be one of the dirtiest of Shakespeare’s plays.  We read the play, with parts going around the circle, changing at each act.  I ended up with Mistress Page at one point, but the next time it got to me, I had Hostess Quickly, and I read her with a bored monotone voice and a Northern-ish accent, somewhat like Holly from Red Dwarf.  It was a hit, and combined with Quickly’s absurd and dirty lines, it worked.

After the play, we all scattered to our own events; I spent some time with Steven Brust, Elizabeth Bear, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, along with Shannon, Latasha, Beth, Alex, and some others for music, then eventually returned to my room to go to bed—where instead I ended up talking to Beth until sometime around 2am.

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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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6 Responses to Viable Paradise: Day 3, Tuesday

  1. Alex Haist says:

    Oh, you were so much fun to play off of during that reading.

  2. Michael Weholt says:

    Love that you’re doing this, Michael With A Beard. Reading with interest. Don’t be mean to me the way I was mean to you! But where did I see that you have recording Steve Brust’s “Stupid Writer Tricks” talk? Was that on Yahoo? Can’t find it. I really want that one & don’t have it. Any chance you could send it to me? I have a few recordings of talks if you are missing any. Lemme know. (Mike with a Hat)

  3. You were mean to me? I must not have noticed. Yeah, I’ll get that sent out as soon as I get it off my phone tonight.

  4. Michael Weholt says:

    Awesome, thanks.

  5. shannonrampe says:

    My experience with Steven Gould was similar. He opened up my story and poked at all the innards that weren’t working, and he was absolutely right.

  6. I am already in withdrawal from missing our fabulous late-night roommate talks.

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