At Viable Paradise (and yes, I will talk about other things again, I promise, but this was a watershed event for me, so learn to cope), both the instructors and the staff kept telling us that there would be a delay of anywhere from one to six months before we could really put any of what they’d told us to good use, and some of it wouldn’t even make sense for a while. And I scoffed, just as I scoffed when VP alums talked about what a transformative and liminal experience it would be.
I know. For a smart guy who got a degree in Literature, teaches, and specializes in Romantic/Transcendentalist literature, I can be pretty dumb.
Just as it was every bit as transformative as the prior grads said, it has also been a trick trying to integrate the things I learned into my work. In working on my major WIP, I find myself occasionally paralyzed trying to figure out which of many approaches I should use.
Should I rewrite my space battles to be more Hard-SF, or keep them firmly in the Space Opera fighter-jock mode they’re in now? Should I mix the two? One author loved a bit that another author thought was questionable; which do I listen to (the easy answer is the one who agrees with me and how I want to tell my story, but then I wonder if maybe the other way will make it better… see what I mean)?
The goal is, of course, to write a publishable story. But sometimes it’s still hard to see what that is.
Anyway, I’ve got work to do. See y’all later.
Before I left for Viable Paradise, I had nightmares about Steve Brust burning my manuscript. That didn’t happen, of course. Nor did the one about Patrick Nielsen Hayden threatening to beat me to death with my own manuscript if I ever submitted it to Tor. Contrary to my fears, I was given several nice compliments by PNH, and Brust was the soul of gracious wit–except during that Cards Against Humanity game, when he was an evil, hilarious nut. Gotta love that guy’s sense of humor.
Anyway, last night I had a dream of VP. It wasn’t a nightmare, but it did make me a little tiny bit sad, because it was about some of the best things about VP. I was sitting before a fire (nobody burned any fires when I was around during VP, but there were fireplaces, so ok, brain) with several students, Scott Lynch, and Elizabeth Bear. And I turned to Lynch and asked him if knowing authors as people changed how he experienced their books at all, because I was thinking at the moment that I would never again be able to pick up one of the VP Instructors’ books without having very specific memories of them pop up in my brain. And his reply was typical of dreams. Sadly, I cannot remember what it was, exactly–but I’m pretty sure it was something Scott actually said in one of our conversations, that had nothing to do with the question I asked in the dream, but which was absolutely hilarious. Sadly, within seconds of waking up, I forgot what it was.
But it got me thinking. I made some connections with instructors there that will affect me forever. And I wonder if they realize how powerful that is. I suspect they do; for all the humor that flies around during VP, these are perceptive people (you can’t be a good writer, in my opinion, without being perceptive) who genuinely care not only about what they do, but about who we are.
Aside from the lessons and critiques, I will always remember:
- Scott Lynch’s pointy ears and delightful oratory style
- Elizabeth Bear trying to get me to sing, and saying to a group of us on the penultimate night “You’re not our students anymore. You’re our colleagues.” I wonder if she knows how profoundly powerful that simple phrase was for those of us who heard it?
- Steven Brust’s trancelike face, and the intricate motions of his hands, when he’s drumming. I think I get Aibynn more now.
- Steven Gould doing sword katas with a spatula. Yes, you heard that right. He also gave me an incredibly great critique of my MS, but I’ve written about that already.
- Patrick Nielsen Hayden getting the class’ attention with a hilarious “Shut up, you assholes!” Also compliments paid, to me and to others, that brightened all our lives.
- Teresa Nielsen Hayden, upon seeing me a little worn-down, talked to me for some time, and gifted me with the single best compliment I got all week. I got several compliments, from students and staff, but hers was striking for not only it’s simplicity, but for the tone of her voice when she said it, as if it was something I should already know and she was shocked I didn’t. I’m not sure if that’s what she was going for, but it’s how it played in my ears, and I adore her for it.
- James Macdonald, raising his glass to me and declaring “You’re a writer!” Also his laughter when I confessed I couldn’t set a story aside, and the comment “Boy, you’ve got it bad.” And his very simple advice, when I asked what I should do: “Finish your book, Michael. Then write another one. And don’t stop.” Also his estimation of my ability. And so much more. One of my regrets is that I didn’t get up early and walk with him; one of my aspirations is to sit and have a drink with him again.
- Debra Doyle’s dry wit. I spent the least amount of time with Debra; she tended to disappear to her room in the evenings, but I noticed in her a gracious soul who really, really knows her stuff. I could not resist, however, tweaking her in my Thursday story, which I would bet she didn’t notice, by putting her words in a character’s mouth.
Later, I might post on memories of students. Not sure; I didn’t spend time with everyone and I wouldn’t want to slight anyone.
Life is… well. It’s life, right?
It took me a couple of weeks to get back into the groove of life after Viable Paradise. Now I’m back in the saddle, so to speak, on several fronts.
I finished redrafting my novelette, “Choices,” and submitted it to Tor.com. If and when it gets rejected, I’ll incorporate any new crits to it and send it out again. I won’t stop until it’s done the rounds and not found a home. Then and only then will it be trunked.
I’m beginning work on restructuring, rewriting, and revising the portions of The Remembrance War I that exist now, and adding more to it. My goal is to have the entire book done by next November, if not before.
I say “I’m beginning,” but the truth is, I’m pretty much done now, at least with the novel outline. I’m trying to decide if I want to write a synopsis/treatment, or just go straight into composition. Probably straight into comp. We’ll see.
In the day job, things are getting better. Not perfect yet, but certain students who are a complete pain in my butt are inching themselves closer and closer to expulsion. I doubt we’ll see many of them next semester. I still want better classes next year.