A Dream of Viable Paradise, and gushing over the instructors. Because I can.

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.

Published by Michael R. Johnston

Father of an eighth grader, high school English teacher, writer. Fifty 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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