January 17th, 2005


1/17/05: Novel Weekend

Just back from the novel workshop at Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch's house on the Oregon Coast. I haven't posted anything here for the last two weeks because I was exceptionally busy at work (I think I had a total of two working hours last week that weren't consumed by meetings) and I had to critique two full novels and four partials before the workshop. So not only didn't I have any progress to report on my own writing, I didn't have any time to report it. But I'm back now, and things should be a bit less hectic for the near future.

Travel to and from the workshop was interesting, in the Chinese sense. On the way out of Portland on Thursday night, I took a wrong turn and didn't realize my mistake until I'd gone 15 miles in the wrong direction and was thoroughly lost; it took me over two hours to get all the way out of town. Then on Saturday Portland was slammed by an ice storm that made the streets impassible, but I hung out at the workshop house until mid-day Sunday and it had all thawed out by the time I got home. But we had lovely weather at the coast all weekend.

The workshop itself was a lot of fun, with the seven of us and Dean (plus Kris and local writer Steven York in the evenings) talking about writing stuff in the mornings and evenings and between crits. We ate exceptionally good Thai food and far too many M&Ms and potato chips (Karen Abrahamson kept pushing junk food, which proves that Canadians are not nearly as nice as they are made out to be), and got way too little sleep. We walked on the beach and visited the bookstore down the hill and made friends with Galahad the cat. Some of us even got some writing done (I didn't).

I got very useful feedback on my novel. Reactions from the other workshop participants were mixed but Dean and New York editor John Douglas (who sent comments by fax) said that it would most likely sell if I made some changes: add a prologue showing the Cedar Point disaster; increase the emotion and sensory detail throughout, especially in the opening chapter; clear out the table of contents and the time map and date at the top of each chapter, and replace them with solid scene setting to ground the reader in time (if readers get lost between the two timelines, don't try to paper over the problem with graphics and typographical tricks, fix the underlying problem!); watch for places where a chapter ending that's supposed to be a cliffhanger goes past its emotional peak and cut it right at that peak; use more varied paragraphing; replace the detailed outline with a shorter, more focused proposal (in proper manuscript format!). These changes are actually not that large, especially by comparison with the major surgery Dean suggested to some of the other participants. I should be able to get this puppy in the mail in a few weeks.

Dean gave several long talks on the business and craft of writing, some planned and some impromptu and all exceptionally valuable (if sometimes a bit discouraging). I took about 14 pages of notes, which I will attempt to summarize here as a public service. Collapse )