Alyx Dellamonica

Peer review and workshopping novels

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Posted on January 26, 2015 by

imageWriting is, to a great degree, learned through trial and error. But errors can be hard to identify – especially as a writer starts to be pretty good at the basics. Once things start to go subtly wrong with a person’s work, it becomes obvious there’s no single right answer as to how to fix a given challenge within a manuscript.
Part of the answer, of course, is to find a group of peers with good reading skills and the same need to have outside eyes laid on their work. People with goodwill, a story in progress, and an understanding that half of critiquing is about helping the author fix their work and the other half is about cultivating your own critical sense so you can better address your own.
With short story critique groups, there’s a rhythm that can work quite well: new writers submit a story to a workshop, everyone critiques it, and then everyone goes home to hopefully rewrite the piece before sending it to market. When they return, it’s generally with another piece. There’s a fresh start. This is how Clarion and Odyssey and a number of other workshops are configured. (There’s an article in Wired about the SF workshops this week, by the way. I found it a bit shallow, and the comments thread may make you blind with rage, but some of the actual interview responses are interesting.)
With novel workshops, the logistics get much trickier. If you submit your first three chapters, and get a bunch of feedback, do you then revise those chapters? If you do, do you submit them again to make sure they’re working? If they’re not, do you revise and resubmit them again? That’s just an ornate way of never getting the book finished.
On the other hand, it can feel very weird to submit chapter one, get feedback, try then to use that feedback to write a better chapter two. (Next you submit that, and try to use the next round of feedback to inform chapters three and four.) This gets your novel done–and I am a huge fan of done! But drawback can be that if you are truly improving your craft as you go, the last chapters of the book may be significantly better-written than the opening ones. This leaves you to discover, four or five hundred pages later, whether you’re up to the task of revising. You are drafting better, which is great, but can you raise something you wrote six months ago to the level of what you’re creating now?
Additionally, the plunge-forward system doesn’t address any huge structural changes you decide to make along the way. When you turn the guy who was formerly the love interest into the main character’s brother, around about chapter five, the question arises again… do you go back and tweak this before moving forward?
Okay, so what if you got a dozen writers together and they all managed to submit a completed novel draft on the same day… make it November 30th. You could then set some kind of reading period–one book every two or three weeks–and trade off so that each participant was getting one critique during each round. But how to get a dozen writers to all finish their book on the same day? I chose November 30th because it’s the end of Nanowrimo, but most Nanowrimo projects would require considerable massaging before they were workshop-ready.
There are other logistical challenges with novel-in-progress workshops, but these are some of the things I’m mulling right now.
Has any of you been in a novel group that worked? How was it structured?

Nesting, day 277

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Posted on January 25, 2015 by

Faux Headboard

Kelly and I have been in our home near the Art Gallery of Ontario for 275 days as of today, and while we’re counting things I’ll add that we got the cats 252 days ago. (Yes, I derive insane amounts of pleasure from the Days Until app.) Obviously we settled in quite quickly, especially as it was such a small move compared to the one in 2013.

Still, it takes awhile to sort out all the little bits and pieces, to make everything cozy and satisfying. We had trips and company and more trips; it took awhile to nail down a bunch of little annoyances, like patching a hole in the counter, fixing the floor and getting the closet door fixed. Actually, we obliged a recent guest to do that last thing for us. Thank you, Bill!

Something that has helped lately was Kelly’s having discovered Posterjack, an Ontario company that makes it ludicrously easy to get nice framed prints of some of our favorite photos.

Last week we hung three photos we took while rambling around Italy… how many days ago did we leave? Oh, a mere 1139! The first is an earthquake-damaged fresco in the Palazzo dei Normanni, otherwise known as the Sicilian parliament. The second is on display at Il Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. The third is a bit of street art, also from Naples, that Kelly shot while we were wandering around on New Year’s Day.

Speaking of Naples, Italy, and the Archeological Museum, the Royal Ontario Museum is getting Pompeii artifacts this June. Witness their glee!

They’re excited. I’m excited. Are you excited? One hundred and thirty-nine sleeps!

Toronto, day 608

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Posted on January 15, 2015 by

imageI am sitting in my office with Chinchilla stretched out across my lap, occupying the space atop my left hand, and so I am dictating this blog entry on my phone.

Fiction writing continues to be in revision/wrap-up mode: I have been rereading the last couple novels in the trilogy, just reacquainting myself with every little detail and thinking about where I might insert one more story element into the last book. I am simultaneously trying to trim a novelette down to 7500 words, the better to send it to a specific horror market. (160 words to go!)

Over at UCLA, Novel Writing II opens next week: I will have a dozen writers working on 50 pages apiece, for 10 weeks.

I finished reading Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies on the weekend,and the history book of the moment is A.N. Wilson’s The Victorians. The next novel I will read is for a review, so you’ll hear about it when I’m done.

And television this winter is currently taking the form of re-watching the Laurie/Fry  Jeeves and Wooster, watching Marvel’s Agent Carter, and slipping in the occasional episode of Community.

I have not been out to take pictures in a couple weeks, but yesterday on my way to get my glasses adjusted I did get a great look at what was almost certainly a peregrine falcon, fluffed up against the cold as it sat on a branch on D’Arcy Street. I will spare you all the pixelated phone shots. It was, however, miraculous.

Story podcast – “The Dream Eaters”

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Posted on January 13, 2015 by

cover and illustrations by Charles Vess

cover and illustrations by Charles Vess

My short story “The Dream Eaters” is featured this week on the Far-Fetched Fables podcast. This is a fairy story I wrote for Ellen Datlow and Sharyn November a number of years ago, for The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm. It takes place in Kasqueam, the fairy city that overlays and underlies Vancouver, and makes faekind out to be quite the predatory species.

Here’s the opening:

Mo Cottonsmith had just turned sixteen when she started Lopside Fashions, with cash she stole from a neighborhood fizz dealer. The money wasn’t enough to sustain a business, but Mo counted on getting lucky. She believed in making her own luck, too: thanks to a roving copcam, her first creation just happened to debut on all the morning news shows.

The dress was daffodil yellow with simulated dewdrops on the bodice and a chainmail hoop skirt. Mo’s pal Juanita Jones was modeling, and the footage showed her fighting off a couple of deviants.

Voice-over artist Heidi Hotz Nourse does a great job with the story; I hope you enjoy it, and the other piece in the issue, a short story called “The Flying Woman,” by Meghan McCarron.

Story sale, telewitterings, weather report

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Posted on January 12, 2015 by

illustration by Richard Andersen

illustration by Richard Andersen

I am underslept this morning, and thus in no fit state to write intelligently about writing technique or craft, so instead, some bits and pieces of news:

As some of you may have seen on Facebook, I have sold a third Gale story to Stacy Hill at Tor.com. It’s called “The Glass Galago,” and it is next in the sequence that begins with “Among the Silvering Herd” and moves on to ““The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”.”

I saw all three instalments of the Hobbit this weekend, and I find I don’t have much to say about it. It went down better, in some ways, because I had just rewatched the extended Lord of the Rings. Of course, it also suffered in comparison, especially since both the storytelling and characterization were so much weaker. Bilbo’s play with the Arkenstone was brilliant, and nicely executed. But the Bilbo/Thurin relationship never gelled for me. The actors and direction were a bit too wooden, and as a result the emotional beats were as often miss as hit.

On the small screen and only two episodes in, I am very much enjoying Marvel’s Agent Carter.

It’s gray outside as I write this, and dense-grained snowflakes are falling swiftly from above, their descent lines barely aslant, as if there’s no breeze at all. It was chilly and windy all weekend, but I still found it more invigorating than miserable. As long as the snow itself isn’t wet, the rest seems quite bearable.

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