Back from Futurescapes

I’ve never been to a writers workshop before. Symposiums and conferences, yes, but nothing like Futurescapes. This workshop was designed to bring 45-50 aspiring writers with solid writing skills together and pair them with professionals in the field who could help foster their skills and help them get to “the next level”. That it brought us all together at Sundance Mountain Resort in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah was just a bonus.

When we arrived we were sorted (unfortunately not by magic hat) into two different session groups. We would have two sessions with our A group and two with our B group, spread out over the three days. In my case there was only one other writer that was in both of my groups.

The format of each session was somewhat up to the professional facilitating each group, but the basic structure was that we would each take turns with our chosen selection, getting feedback from each participant and more extensive feedback from the professional.

This format provided some interesting opportunities. My A group met on the first afternoon, and wouldn’t meet again until the following afternoon. My B group met on the morning of the next day, in between the two A group sessions, and then met again on the last morning. I workshopped my opening chapter in my A group and got some good feedback. In some groups the facilitator would ask the participants to revise their work and bring back those revisions for our next session. Ours didn’t; we could bring whatever we wanted for the next session.

That proved advantageous for me. I brought in a different scene from later in the book where I introduce another character. The facilitator immediately declared the second scene should be the starting scene of the novel. I wasn’t sure about that, but I was willing to entertain the idea. But he also said that it didn’t need to be changed, either, even though the first half of the scene was essentially the character’s ruminations on her life. I wasn’t sure about that either.

I still had one more session with my B group, so I took that second scene there, too, though I did revise other aspects of it based on other feedback I received from my A group. I figured a second opinion would be good. My B group confirmed that the second scene was the better scene to start with (and in general), but disagreed that it could keep the info-dump. The facilitator there recommended I find ways to pump up the action and mix the information into that and other scenes as appropriate.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t normally just take every piece of advice as gospel truth. But it is more difficult to argue with professionals, and in most cases their suggestions immediately sparked “ah-ha” moments in my brain. Especially my B facilitator. She was awesome at digging into my world-building and ferreting out errors and lack of depth. Every question set of epiphanic explosions in my mind, and I couldn’t write notes fast enough.

My main hope is that, having seen her do it, I can figure out how to do it for myself in the future. The ideas her ideas sparked have me so darn excited for what my novel could be that I’m having very little problem “killing my darlings” in a work that has remained largely static for over two years.

Another welcome outcome is getting an indication of what I do well, sometimes unintentionally. I had a throw-away character in my first scene, and somehow managed to make both groups fall in love with her in three sentences. Some were quite irritated with me when I told them she doesn’t even show up any more. So it would seem I do better at characterization than I thought I did. Opening lines, apparently, are another strength.

And at least a few in my groups indicated that my description isn’t as barren as I thought–so long as I actually supply some. I did have a problem with people thinking my duel scene took place in the lobby of the concert hall instead of the street outside, even though I’d explicitly said I’d moved the characters outside. I think I needed to describe the street for them before they would fully catch it. My bad–and a lesson learned, hopefully.

It’s a little more difficult to know what I can deduce from what elements people didn’t comment on. As a reader there’s things you don’t mention because they’re solid enough there’s really nothing to say, but there are also times when you don’t say anything because you don’t even know where to begin. But also I noticed that people, in spite of themselves, tend to focus mostly on the things that don’t work. So I’m going to move forward under the conclusion that if they didn’t mention it, it’s at least okay. Besides, I’ve got enough to work on as is.

Another real positive for me was meeting so many serious and solid writers. I have no trouble admitting that the Italian gentleman in my B group is a better writer than I am–even in his second language. He also come across as an open and honest guy, so his feedback was especially meaningful.

But I met a lot of people who I now hope I can lean on for ongoing feedback–and vice versa. The quality of their writing and the accuracy of their feedback during the workshop has earned my trust to where I would gladly work with them again. I hope I was as helpful to them. I admit I didn’t start out as a very effective critic, but thanks to the examples of many in my groups, coupled with the solicited advice of several, I think I got better at it.

It’s the day after now when I’m writing this, and I’m in withdrawal. I miss “My People”. We only really spent two full days together, but it was an intense experience. I had no idea it would affect me this much. I’m feeling a little lost today, and my brain is having difficulty switching back over to work mode. It keeps wanting to explore down the new paths opened up during the workshop.

And even though I’m eager to write, I can’t yet. The workshop was like the super-laser in Rogue One, or perhaps more appropriately the Genesis Device in Star Trek II. The initial shot has hit, but the explosion is still spreading outward from the impact, completely rearranging everything as it goes. My novel is going to change dramatically over the next six months.

And it’s going to be awesome! If I can just figure out how to get out of the way and let it be so.

Fun with architecture

While taking an online Java course I was introduced to this gem:

This is the Longeberger Basket Company’s headquarters. The teacher of my online course held this up as an example of design gone awry and claimed he’d never want to work there.

I have to disagree. The potential for “our company is going to heck in a handbasket” jokes is just to good to miss.

Okay, I’d like to work there for a week. Tops.

I’ll bet they have awesome company picnics, though. And their CEO really has a handle on things, though I’ve heard he’s a real basket-case. And the entire company was up in arms over Hillary’s “Basket of Deplorables” comment.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure I’ve just killed any chance I ever had to working for Longeberger Basket. Awesome landscaping, though! It would be a beautiful place to work.

Luddite trolls

Last night my wife and I were out walking the dog when someone driving past yelled something at us and flipped us off. I don’t recall what he said, but it was only to get our attention. There was no indication that there was a reason for his behavior, only that we were two strangers who just happened to be nearby when he got bored. And, evidently, what he finds entertaining is trying to make random people feel bad.

The incident would be amusing if it wasn’t so sad. I could only shake my head and think, “Your mother must be SO proud.”

It occurs to me, however, that what we witnessed was a reminder of life before the Internet. The Internet did not invent trolls. Clearly they’ve been around far longer than the epithet “troll”. They’ve likely existed as long as there have been ways for people to say or do nasty things to people while either preserving their anonymity or escaping quickly enough to avoid consequences. I can imagine medieval trolls galloping by pedestrians on horses and screaming, “Is that thy face or thy buttocks? Which way doest thou walk?”, then continuing onward before their target can respond.

Or ancient Mesopotamians secretly leaving clay tablets in view in the public square inscribed with “Samok secretly worships Ashtaroth and smells like three-week-old goat’s milk!”

It all just goes to show that technological advancement has not made us any wiser, nor any more productive in our boredom. It just opens up new avenues for the same old debased behaviors.

Book review: Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal

I’m a fan of Mary Robinette Kowal. Her books are fun, too. Her latest is “Ghost Talkers”, an alternate history set in France during World War One. Ginger Stuyvesant is an American medium helping the British Army by gathering intelligence from the dead. British soldiers have been conditioned to “report in” when they die in order to provide information that might prove beneficial.

The British have gone to great lengths to keep this unique program under wraps, but it now appears the Germans have discovered what they’re doing, and Ginger and all the other mediums may be in serious danger. Then her fiancé is murdered while investigating a possible traitor, and Ginger finds herself in a desperate race to find the traitor before more people she cares about are killed.

Kowal loves history and research. You see this in her “Glamourist Histories” series. You see it in many of her short stories. She also loves creating strong yet realistic female protagonists. “Ghost Talkers” fulfills all expectations in both areas. We also get to experience the horror of World War One, from relative safety behind the lines to the cold, muddy, brutal front. We get to see brave men and women doing their inconceivable duty. There are no superheroes here–just normal people doing extraordinary things because that’s what they have to do.

Kowal writes speculative fiction, but I got the distinct feeling she could have dropped the spiritualistic aspects and given us an equally compelling historical fiction had she chosen. And I’ve have read it just as gladly. The spiritualistic aspect provides the backbone of the story, but her characters, her settings, and her attention to detail make the story worth reading.

I do wish I could have read the ending in a single go instead of sneaking a few minutes here and there as it ended up. I’m uncertain if it was her ending being a little loose or my reading of it being too disjointed from continually dropping and picking up the threads again. The important elements were resolved admirably, but a few things seemed a little forced. It was well worth it, regardless. It was a fun escape.

I think there’s material here for at least another novel or two, but I suspect this is a one-off. Either way, I’ll more than likely be in line to pick up whatever she writes next. She’s a fun read.

The End

I’ve finally finished something. After going an entire year last year without finishing anything (over 5000 words, anyway) it really does feel good to be able to say that.

I’ve been working on a novella; a space opera with a “Scarlet Pimpernel” flavor. I initially wanted it to be a novel, but decided that it would make an odd novel the way I’d plotted it, so why not take the first chunk and write it separately? There’s nothing wrong with novellas, after all. Some of my favorite Brandon Sanderson works are novellas.

So still-unnamed-Scarlet-Pimpernel-Space-Opera project came in just under 38,000 words, half-way to a short novel. And it was fun! Oh, sure, it needs some work. A lot of work. But I finished it, and it was fun! I didn’t really plot it out, either, so it proved to be full of surprises.

Like the ending. I had been imagining something a little more concrete, a little more “and this is how they came to work together”. But as I was writing today at lunch I hit a point that just seemed the more honest place to leave it. This turned out not to be the “origins” story I had originally envisioned, but focused more on the arc of the narrator. Fulfilling that arc seemed the right note to end on.

So what next? I don’t know. This one goes in the “trunk” for a little while, at least, until it’s unfamiliar enough to come back for an editorial pass. My Futurescapes Writers Workshop is coming up in exactly two weeks. I need to select the excerpt I intend to workshop so I can get copies made for everyone involved.

But after that I’m not sure. I don’t currently have any stories scratching to be let out. I have a couple of manuscripts I wouldn’t mind working over some more. I have also realized lately that the project I worked on in vain all last year was doomed from the start simply because I’d boxed myself into a storyline that didn’t really work. And I’m beginning to learn that I’m not very patient with my own writing. I want things to move forward far more quickly than they need to sometimes. Other writers get away with several paragraphs of description all the time, but I somehow think I’m being too wordy if I take my eyes off the goal for that long.

This has to change. So perhaps I need to do with that project what I did with this one: identify the pieces in play, and then just write and see where it really goes. I don’t think my problem is that I wasn’t capable of writing that story, I just think I forgot to tell the story I wanted to read. I didn’t enjoy it, and so it became work. I’ve already got a job. Writing needn’t become a chore, too.

Anyway, I don’t know what’s next, frankly. And that doesn’t bother me, at least for the moment. I finished a novella. I intend to take a little time to appreciate that fact.

Is Utah doing something right?

I certainly don’t see the compassion discussed here on display on the roads, but this article has some interesting things to say about my adopted home state:

How Utah Keeps the American Dream Alive

General update: March 28, 2017

Wow, it’s been over a month since I last posted anything. That hasn’t happened in a while. There just hasn’t been anything to say, really.

But in general, life is good. I’m writing, work’s going well, everyone’s healthy, except our eighteen-year-old cat, and he’s on the mend. We’ve got our summer all planned out already, a lot of little things are coming together.

Most importantly, I’m writing steadily again, and enjoying it. My space opera novella is coming along nicely, and I hope to have it wrapped up in the next few weeks. I had planned to set it aside come April so I could do another significant re-write on the novel I plan to workshop at Sundance next month, but I just received some more information indicating that we’re only work-shopping twenty pages. So no need for a major revision there.

It’s a good thing I didn’t set a goal for reading this year, as I’ve read precisely one book so far, and making progress on another. I’ve got a few more queued up–I’d like to finish Mary Robinette Kowal’s new novel before I see her at the writing workshop–but my reading has been seriously neglected so far this year.

Instead I’ve been spending my evenings, when I’ve got them, writing. I reached the conclusion that a comfy chair or couch is just not a good place to write and stay awake. We’ve had a small writing desk in our bedroom for some time, mostly acting as a small display table. I took that over, added a desk lamp, and I’ve got a new writing spot that works quite well. I don’t seem to have much trouble staying awake, and I’m able to compensate for the fact that I seem to have slowed down in my writing speed. I don’t think I’ve written a thousand words during my lunch hour this entire year, when it used to be a regular occurrence. Add in another hour or so in the evenings, though, and I’m nearly keeping a NaNoWriMo pace lately.

Of course I’m not working on my novel right now; I’m blogging. I would like to start blogging again; at least more often than I have been lately, but frankly I still don’t know what to say. But I’ll at least put this up so it doesn’t feel neglected. Twenty more minutes to write–I should at least be able to finish 1000 words for today. Ciao!

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

This blog will be undergoing significant changes over the next few weeks or months. I’m going to be rebuilding it as more of a writers’ website for marketing purposes–which I admit will likely be about as effective as my vague effort of monetizing my blog. But it would be a shame to get to where I’m ready to “go pro” as it were, only to find my website just isn’t up to it. It probably still won’t be, but unless I get a publisher willing to inject some real money for a real makeover, this will have to do.

The blog will still be here, but I will be posting less frequently–that’s almost a given now anyway. I find I have less to say than I used to, and when I do I usually want it to be something amusing or positive. But as someone who is neither amusing nor positive on a regular basis, that does make things more difficult. Or at least more sporadic. And the blog won’t be on the main page.

You can expect the look of the site to change–perhaps a lot. I’ll be trying out new templates for a while, so if the place starts to look like the dressing room of a mall teen fashion boutique, my apologies. It will settle…eventually.

I’ll also be porting a lot of content to a new home. Sadly, a site for which I’ve been posting regularly for several years is closing down, and rather than see all my work disappear into the bit bucket I’ll be moving it here. Or at least the best posts. You probably won’t notice unless you go looking for it, though.

Anyway, until everything finds its final home and configuration, please be patient. Things might not work well for a while.

Airbag art

The Slow Mo Guys are back with a poor-man’s firework show, using airbags to launch paint powder in sequence. The first two attempts are cool enough, but the third catches the light perfectly, resulting in majestically vivid colors. Well done, guys!

More fun with Joerg

You’re probably getting tired of these already, but I just love clever designs!