I’m on my way to Kansas again, this time for a four-week writer’s retreat. Well, to be precise, I’m writing this post from a motel room in Bloomington, Illinois, which was about halfway between Hamilton and Lawrence. I’ll be auditing one workshop in the first two weeks, and participating in an alumni novelist workshop in the last two weeks, but compared with other workshop programs, I’m going to need to push myself to get writing done. Read the rest of this entry »
I had a great day at Polaris, but it’s nice to be back in my own apartment in Hamilton after having had so many adventures over the past two weeks, in Lawrence and Toronto.
The place was 33C when I got in, because of the summer heat and my leaving the air conditioner off to save on energy. Last I checked, the kitchen thermometer was saying 28 after a few hours of full power conditioning. 😉
A few more Polaris highlights – waiting for over an hour to volunteer help set up the autographs room, which I didn’t get a chance to because nobody showed up to unlock the room, sigh. (But I got some extra credit with the volunteer people, including a volunteer pin that I didn’t quite qualify for based on my hours. 😀 ) Got my picture taken with Miracle Laurie, had this big crazy grin on my face.
Also panels for: Ad Astra convention, Castle, Star Trek, Isaac Asimov, Chuck, and Doctor Who. And I made pretty good time driving back. I’ve been keeping track of my mileage for car trips, to help figure out how much I spend on gas going places, and from the Best Western parking lot to my building was exactly 100.0 kilometers.
I’m so excited to be here!
My day started back in Lawrence Kansas, before 4am local time, and has taken me through three airports, and one Swiss Chalet restaurant.
Got to the Polaris venue around three this afternoon, got signed up for volunteering though there weren’t many volunteer spots left open for today. I’ve participated in the Star Trek geek-off, come in third but very much awed at the level of knowledge shown by the winners. And I was able to watch some of the Constellation awards.
So, I’ve been in Lawrence, Kansas for something like 18 hours now – arrived yesterday afternoon, in an airport shuttle with a very cool driver who’s a Science Fiction fan – we chatted about Doctor Who, Larry Niven, and Heinlein for the whole hour. 🙂 And I’m starting to get acclimatized.
Our housing for this year is definitely not like Templin, third floor – which looked very much the part of an institutional dorm residence – the soft pastel walls, the cheap prefab furniture, the open lounge space in the elevator lobby. This year we have Krehbiel hall to ourselves – the workshoppers and our writer in retreat. And parts of Krehbiel look like a rambling manor home than a dormitory – not the bedrooms themselves, but the downstairs lounge where Short Fiction will be doing our critique circle, and the hallways and stairs, the billiard table room, and a few other places. It’s weird but fun.
I’ve been up to the Kansas Union, and walked downtown a few times, and there’s really more interesting stuff within easy walking distance than last year. I can hardly wait.
So, I think that overall, I’ve done pretty well on my January goals and projects list, but one area where I’ve been procrastinating is the short stories department. Week after week I’ve resolved to outline a new short, (or even complete a first draft!) or rewrite one of my existing stories, like ‘Project Fast Track’ or ‘Father Ismay’, and for four full weeks, I made pretty much no progress.
Working on shorts is hard, especially since I’ve raised my expectations for them, and I guess part of the problem was that it was easy to procrastinate while I hadn’t reached my JanNoWriMo goals for sample chapters of ‘The Scroll’ novel manuscript. Maybe I shouldn’t be pushing myself to work on a novel project and shorts at the same time.
But I really do want to do more with shorts this year, and before the end of June in particular, since even though I’m not planning to go back to the short story workshop, I’m sure if I go back to Lawrence, some people will ask me how my short stories are doing this year. When it comes to breaking short story ideas, I think that it’s the sort of thing that I can build momentum on if I keep working on it every day – keep a file of notions that haven’t quite jelled into story outlines, for instance, to see if maybe I can find the right angle on them tomorrow, or next week.
So I think that’s going to be one of my big targets for February. (As well as revising the ‘Scroll’ stuff, gulp – I want to have my workshop application ready for Feb 29th.) And I think I managed to make some headway on a new story outline this evening, based on a random prompt I found on a website of random generators.
“The seaside is the location, happiness is the theme. A mirror is an object that plays a part in the story.”
At first I thought that was a pretty useless prompt, and I was even tempted to try a different website. But I kept at it, looking to see if I could figure out a fantasy take on those three elements, and something’s coming together. I’ve got two characters – the first is a teenaged boy, Melvin, who lives in the seaside fishing village; his father’s a fishing boat captain, and his big brother that he loved was lost overboard in a storm.
Everybody in the village says that the storms are bad because of the old, ugly witch who lives in the grey house up on top of the cliff. But when Melvin climbs up the cliff to confront the witch, he finds a beautiful girl about his brother’s age, Sorina, who isn’t a witch, but she has a temper and a dark secret involving mirrors…
I tried using the random character generator at http://shortstoryideas.herb.me.uk/ to flesh out the teenage boy character, but I got a name that just didn’t fit – I think it was ‘Walter Jenkins’, and the full description was so ludicrous, I wish that I’d saved it. 😦 I remember that he was 80 years old and had muddy blue hair.
I’m leaving Lawrence, Kansas, at the age of thirty-five.
To chase down my own notion of the writer’s life.
With my netbook, my convention shirts, and Mom’s old suitcase bags.
If anybody can make it, then maybe I can too…
(With apologies to Sarah Buxton and Bob di Pero for “American Daughters.”)
I leave for the airport late this morning. It’s going to be weird leaving the workshop crowd behind and returning to everyday life. I’ve learned some great things here:
- It’s not that hard to find good food at Mrs E’s cafeteria.
- It takes a lot of work to come up with a good critique.
- It can take even longer to figure out what to do with a critique of your own writing.
- The main character needs to be proactive and overcome his own obstacles.
- Be very careful about how much information you dump on the reader and where.
- As Kathy put it, “Resist the urge to explain” what you’ve just described. (She had a tendency to hand our manuscripts back with just R U E marked on them where we were doing this.)
- Don’t give the editor an excuse to say ‘no’ to your story at any point, especially at the beginning.
- Keep working on every word, every sentence, every scene, every character. They all need to support the completed story.
- A good sentence is one that makes you want to read the next one.
- If you can get an editor to read all the way to the end of your story, you’ve got a good shot at an acceptance.
- Every sentence ought to be worth reading. You shouldn’t get by with a sloppy sentence – though occasionally the rest of the story can carry it.
Well, at something like sixty-one hours since I arrived in Lawrence, I feel like I’m finally caught up and into the swing of things.
The short fiction group has done two afternoons of critiquing, which have been pretty interesting sessions – we’ve been taking about an hour per story, plus some side tracks, and I learned a lot about the first story that I had critiqued – especially that I had a promising theme buried in the plot that I hadn’t noticed. Four hours an afternoon doesn’t seem like that much of a time investment, but really, the organized activities part of the day so far seems to have gone something like:
- noon – gather for lunch and sometimes a lunch lecture
- 1pm – back from lunch, gather in the lounge for critiquing.
- 5:15 pm – critiques finish, discussion keeps on going.
- 5:30 pm – leave the lounge to quickly check email and a few other things online
- 6 pm – gather for dinner downtown
- 8:30 pm (approx) – back to campus after dinner.
So, yesterday afternoon I emailed off three stories to the other student writers for the CSSF workshop in Kansas. It was fun and a little giddy stuff, finishing my rewrite of Harry and Mars, and going over my critique tracking spreadsheets for both Landing and Harry.
The third story, ‘Survey’, on the other hand, I just dug up the most recent draft from last September, checked to make sure that the formatting looked good, and sent it off. It’ll be interesting to see if anybody notices a different between that story and the ones that I’ve put more work into revising recently.
This evening, I booked a town car service to take me from the Kansas City airport to the University in Lawrence. I’m flying in fairly late in the afternoon, none of the shuttle schedules look like a good fit, and I don’t want to have to wait around the airport, so I’ll be making the trip in affluent style. Woot!
I’ve been doing a lot of travel planning over the past few weeks, and the anticipation can be almost as much fun as the actual travelling. (It can also be a bit frustrating.)
- There’s the big trip, of course, to Lawrence, Kansas for the CSSF workshop, last week of June and first week of July.
- Dragon*Con 2011, Labor day weekend in Atlanta!
- Fan Expo 2011, the week before in Toronto. Going up to Toronto for a day or an evening doesn’t really count as a trip on the same level as flying to the states, but when I’m booking a hotel room in the city for the weekend, then I tend to count it.
- And, I’ve just made the arrangements to go back to San Francisco in November, to attend the Night of Writing Dangerously for my third straight year!
So I got into the CSSF Short fiction workshop – I’ll be spending two weeks in Lawrence, Kansas this summer! I’m really excited, and you’ll definitely be hearing more from me about this.
In other travel and vacation news, I found a vacancy in an Atlanta hotel for Labor day weekend and registered for DragonCon 2011!
Been running around all evening, need to go to bed soon. Blog more tomorrow.