Workshop Mania – 3 writing workshops in 4 months

I’ve been extremely busy with writing workshops the last few months. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the writing workshop process, it usually involves (1) writing madly to get your submission in shape and send it in, usually about a month before the workshop, (2) reading and critiquing the manuscripts from all the other workshop participants, (3) going to the actual workshop and getting your writing beat up by guest professionals and the other participants, (4) fix up the story based on the critiques you received at the workshop. (The rewrite (4) can be done right away or put off until later.)

Sasquan

In late August, I attended Sasquan (WorldCon 2015) in Spokane, Washington. Sally and I made this trip into a vacation, visiting our son and daughter who live in Oregon and Washington State the first part of the week, then going to Spokane. Under a black cloud of smoke from nearby forest fires, I received writing critiques on the opening to my book, Enemy Immortal, from pros Mark Van Name, James C. Glass, Laurel Anne Hill and fellow participants. The main take-aways were that my book got off to a slow start (too much setting up) and my synopsis seemed to pack an awful lot into one book. I rewrote the opening and submitted the new version to the Sail to Success workshop in December (more on that later).

ICON

ICON – Cedar Rapids, Iowa

In October, I attended the writing workshop at ICON in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There I received writing critiques on my short story, “Jubilee,” from fellow participants and met with guest speakers Joe Haldeman, Anne Leckie and Tamara Siler Jones. The main critique was that I needed to do more to develop the romance between two of my main characters.

At ICON, the workshop participants also gave short public readings from their works (typically a different work than was critiqued). I read from the opening of Enemy Immortal (revised version). Unfortuantely I had a cold and had to cut my reading a little short. In any case, thanks to Brent Bowen from the Hugo-nominated Adventures in SciFi Publishing, who recorded this session and has released it in his pod cast. I am the last reader on Part 1.

SpaceRangersSmall

Adventures in SciFi Publishing – Part 1

 

Adventures in SciFi Publishing – Part 2

 

 

Sail to Sucess

 

 

 

 

In December, I attended Sail to Success, a writing workshop aboard the Norwegian Sky cruise ship. While cruising the Bahamas, I received writing critiques on my short story “Collisions” from Nancy Kress and on Enemy Immortal from Baen editors Jim Minz and Toni Weisskopf. I’ve updated my stories based on these critiques and they are off to the publisher’s slush piles.

Phew!  After this marathon of workshops (including a fourth, Paradise Lost, last May, which makes 4 workshops in 9 months), I plan to slow down the pace, but most likely I will workshop at this year’s WorldCon in Kansas City. I’ve also volunteered to be presenter on a panel in the KC WorldCon, so I hope something interesting comes of that.

Seven Waves of Inflation have Rocked our Universe.

OscillatingUniverseThis is huge, pardon the pun, and very much under-reported. We have supplanted the idea that there was a sudden, huge inflation when the universe was born and then a flat, smooth curve with a slight increase in inflation rate recently.

A careful, new study of Type 1a supernova brightness–the universes’s standard candles–give a different picture. Yes, we still have a huge expansion soon after the big bang, but then the evidence is for seven waves of diminishing contraction and expansion thereafter (decreasing in size like the waves around a stone dropped into the water or the ringing of a bell). We are currently on one of the waves of expansion, which will peak and then slow into the next inflationary rate trough. The new model clears up a few anomalies in the old model, like the rate of early galaxy formation. Check it out at  Universe May be Ringing like a Crystal Glass

The diminishing waves of inflation suggest that one big event probably triggered them, with the forces of the universe seeking equilibrium thereafter. Perhaps our universe collided with another baby universe. Maybe it is still recovering from the force required for expulsion from a singularity. My bet is we have the answer soon.

Why doesn’t evolution eliminate mental illness?

I was reminded by a couple recent articles that mental illness, specifically psychosis and depression, must have significant survival value, or surely evolution would have rooted it out long ago. After all, these conditions often lead to risky behavior or suicide. Where’s the value in that?

The value is to the species, not to the individual. Male black widow spiders suffer from evolution’s ruthless disregard for the species at the expense of the individual, as do those who suffer from sickle cell anemia.

The articles that caught my eye were:

Tributes to the “Beautiful Mind” of John Nash,  such as this one by   Rachael Rettner at LiveScience.com  

which reminds us that psychosis, or “thinking outside the box”, has both good and bad sides.

The Nash tributes appears on the heels of a recent study Are Entrepreneurs “Touched by Fire” by Michael A Freedman

which highlights the (to me) more surprising association of depression with successful entrepreneurship. One mechanism that could explain this association is that depression results from or in an increased sensitivity to the needs of others, which entrepreneurs then proceed to do something about.

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First day on the slush pile

I started a new adventure today as a slush pile reader for Flash Fiction Online by reviewing 9 stories. (Flash Fiction Online is a SFWA-approved, free electronic publication that offers a variety of stories of 1000 words or less–mostly speculative in nature.)

My job is to look at freshly-submitted stories and help decide if they will make the cut into the next round of serious consideration for an upcoming issue of FFO. My first reaction was OMG, how do I decide?

So I read all 9 stories beginning to end and examined how I responded to them. What I learned was that stories should not have any defects. Duh. We all know that stories should be well-written with interesting characters, a good pace and plot and satisfying ending. But the point is that any one defect is enough to cause a story to be rejected. A great beginning does not make up for boring writing. Great writing does not make up for a weak ending. And so forth. It doesn’t have to all be perfect, but nothing can be noticeably lacking.

This brings to mind the conventional wisdom (or myth, depending on your persuasion) that editors are looking for a reason to reject your work. This is more real to me now, but it also makes more sense. That one defect will not only turn off the editor, but it will turn off the reader, take them out of the story, and that is what must not happen.

In the end, I rated one story as good, two as maybe and the rest as rejects. Most of the rejects just didn’t have compelling writing. One was good all the way to the end, which then fell flat.

My initial goal with the slush pile project is to learn how to make my own writing better by understanding the editorial review process a little. So far, so good. Eventually I hope to see some great publications that I contributed to behind the scenes.

What I learned today about writing is that before you send out that story, don’t forget to reread it and look for the one thing that doesn’t seem quite right, but maybe nobody else will notice. They will notice. Fix it. The work will be worth it.

By the way, FFO uses an anonymous review process, so if you are a friend of mine, that is neither to your advantage or disadvantage. If you write flash fiction, Flash Fiction Online and I would love to see it.