Monday, October 21, 2013

Viable Paradise 17

I'm home again from the last big trip of my year. This one was the hardest physically, but easily the most rewarding. The Viable Paradise workshop is is one of the best writing environments I've ever been in, stewarded by such professional instructors, staffed by compassionate graduates, and everyone I worked with in the class belonged there. It was a solid week of working with people who were at or above my level in various areas of craft, sometimes challenging the ego, but usually exciting the mind. I met so many people who I want to help succeed. You're going to see amazing work from these folks.

The workshop itself is world-class. Group critiques of submitted work began at 9:30 AM, though on Friday Teresa Nielsen Hayden had me over before breakfast for a one-on-one at 8:30, and Debra Doyle saw me as late as 7:00 at night. Ultimately I got four one-on-ones and one group critique just on the manuscript sample and synopsis I'd submitted. And that was a tiny part of everything we covered that week.

There were lectures and collegiums spanning the craft throughout most of every day in addition to a challenging assignment we'll call The Horror That Is Thursday. It's as stressful as they could reasonably make it, never cruel, simply packing the week they had. It was supplemented by the staff providing moral support and excellent meals, and some wacky evening fun, like a group improv performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Any emerging writer that can handle criticism would benefit greatly from this sort of environment.

It's all organized by James Macdonald and Debra Doyle, who have been publishing and editing all manner of fiction for many years. Additional instructors included Elizabeth Bear, Steven Brust, SFWA-President Steven Gould, Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Patrick Nielsen Hayden from Tor Books, and Scott Lynch. Scott was with us for the announcement that he'd cracked the New York Times Bestseller List for Republic of Thieves.

I was giddy to get critiqued by Scott, whose novels aren't just splendid, but are also the closest to what I'm trying to do that I've found in the current market. For his first time as a full-on instructor, he fit right in (full disclosure: some of his critiques made me do a little dance). The crew is a diversity of successful writers and editors who, at many points, respectfully disagreed with each other in front of the entire class. Everything was steeped in the sincerity of deeply experienced and intelligent people who taught and tipped on things ranging from inspiration to submissions.

It never felt unreasonably stressful, but if you know me, then you know my body isn't reasonable about stress. Each night I woke up at least twice from health-related problems, such that by Tuesday I was fighting the losing battle against a sleep-deprivation migraine. Asthma blindsided me for Thursday; hotels typically have carpets, and that means prolonged exposure to dust and residue. It will be a couple of weeks before I can pull myself together. The syndrome pain is extremely disorienting, and really started to get to me on my second bus towards home. My lungs are caked, my ears are ringing, my legs keep locking up, and I don't regret a thing. Just please excuse me if I'm a little radio silent for a while.

I feel so damned lucky for all this.David Twiddy was a great roommate to me, and I could babble about conversations and people I met for an entire blog series. Instead I'm going to finish a short story and leave you with a photo I've shamelessly stolen from Shannon Rampe's blog. These are the fine folks who granted me the best week of my year. Thank you, one and all, and to Bart, Chris, Jen, Mac and Pippin, who are not in any of these photographs because they were busy taking them.

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