Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Submissions Are Open for Viable Paradise, OR, Why Leigh Wallace is My Gosh-Darned Hero

They teach you about symbolism, too.
While I was in the hospital, submissions opened for the Viable Paradise workshop. It's run by the incomparable James Macdonald and Debra Doyle, and attracts superstar staff-authors like Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear. If you're a beginning or emerging writer, you want to go to VP. It's held every October in Martha's Vineyard, a week in a cozy hotel space with a couple dozen other aspiring authors, and a host of professionals who critique your work and educate on the underpinnings of storytelling and the publishing industry. I learned more in one week at VP than any year of college. If you take your craft seriously, you could not ask for a better week.

But that's not why you want to go to Viable Paradise. There's something more.

Through shared interest and mutual support, some classmates came to feel like family. The workshop improved our game through insights and streamlining. In the year after my class, I sold my first pro-rate short story. Many classmates sold their first pro shorts, too, or pro flashes. One friend giddily explained to me that she was paid more for one anthology acceptance than everything she'd ever made in writing before.

That's not why you want to go to Viable Paradise, either.

If you fast-forwarded a year after VP17, you'd find that my body turned on me. Close friends, including some VP alums, were rightly scared for me. My health has always been poor, but over the course of nine months my body rejected the meds I'd always relied on, and then four new experimental courses of medication. The pain became so disorienting that my ability to multitask disappeared. I spent two hours writing symptoms on a piece of paper so I could read them at the doctor, because I was incapable of having a casual discussion about them. My ability to write, and finish stories, dwindled.

And if you care about writing, then this is why you want to go to Viable Paradise.

Because a month ago I was lost in the wilderness of illness, completely unable to edit my work anymore, despite having what I'm sure was the best short story I've ever written. It was a promising first draft, and became a phenomenal third draft, and in December I could tell it just needed its science rigorously checked. The story is about a sympathetic, even funny, protagonist with albinism, one attempt to counter the Evil Albino trope. And while I'd done a lot of legwork to depict albinism accurately, I could not check my own science further. Paragraphs felt insurmountable. The pain, and the brain-fog that chronic pain brings on, were winning. Having your best work just outside your grasp is purgatorial.

Leigh Wallace, one of my classmates from Viable Paradise, e-mailed me an offer. She'd check the science of the story for me. She'd read up on albinism and ocular disorders, and flag whatever I'd gotten wrong or left confusing. She'd point out my problems and then all I'd have to do was fix them.

She turned the story back over to me in days. The way she marked it up? It was so accessible that I corrected the entire story in a weekend. And it was a hard weekend on the health front, my friends. Leigh was my gosh-darned hero.

Now the story is out to markets, and I am on a sixth course of medication. At least for today, I'm thinking clearer and making the most of that clarity. I'm beta reading a classmate's novel.

That's why you want to go Viable Paradise. The greatest gift a workshop can give is supportive relationships with other smart writers who can have your back when your back gives out.

Submissions are open here. If you get in, congratulations! My advice is to spend half your time working hard at your craft, and the other half helping your classmates with theirs. That's the gift.


  1. Now that was a true gesture of friendship. What if you'd never gone? Things like that you can't put a price tag on.
    Praying the sixth medication is the last one.

    1. I'd like that! I have novels to write, and all this health nonsense is an uninvited obstruction.

  2. As another member of John's VP class, I love this story! It makes me warm and fuzzy and tells the truth about what VP has given us. I can offer another example of the incredible support we've found. I was having a particular hard spell a few months after the death of my estranged mother and the lack of recognition for her death and my loss. Two members of the class, knowing it was exactly what I needed, sent me flowers.
    We support each other tremendously with writing (John gives an awesome critique) but also with so much more.

    1. I wish I'd been in less of a hole of illness at that time. I still feel I should have been more present for you, but I am glad other VPeeps helped. We have such a great class.

      Also, you give helpful crits too, lady!

  3. I was in VP16, and we've all kept in touch on Facebook and Twitter and such, and trumpet one another's successes and critique each others' stories. It truly is worth it to find your tribe.

    1. I wish I was in contact with more students from other years! I've been trying to make up for it on Twitter, but struggle not to seem like a weirdo friend from nowhere.

  4. Fingers toes and eyes crossed that this medication is the final one. Chronic pain is a very sucky beast.
    And cheers for Leigh. I suspect it was a case of what goes around coming around - but love that it did.

  5. Yet another VP17er chiming in to say "Yes, just this." We do not exist in isolation, and we keep one another afloat pretty well, I'd say. Both with writing and with writing obstacles (i.e., life). I'm so glad Leigh was able to give you the best crit, but not surprised. And yes, like Nadya said, John critiques wicked-good, too! Here's hoping the new meds work.

  6. What Leigh did was incredible. It's great to have friends like that. I continue to wish you luck with your medical battles.

  7. That's a lovely friend! And wow, get well!


Counter est. March 2, 2008