What’s that, you say? A three-day weekend? And we’re not on the road? OMG! I smell an in-house writing retreat coming on!
To that end, nibbles: watermelon, pineapple, peaches, plums, naval oranges, plus the usual crisper full of apples.
Plus: a freshly made batch of refried beans, peach and tomato salad, fixings for the godlike tuna melts with comte cheese that Kelly made this afternoon, fixings for zeytoon parvardeh, burrito wraps, two pounds of coffee (that’s the unit it comes in!), puddings, applesauce, olives, ice cream sandwiches, fresh ice cubes, red onion, green onion, onion onion, tomatoes, lettuce, and garlic. I would mention the caneles but they didn’t actually survive into Saturday.
The mountain of toilet paper is purely coincidental. It was on sale, okay?
photo by Kelly Robson
One of my irrational peeves about pop culture is the way writer homes are sometimes depicted as vast, cool, expansive spaces, with tons of square footage and twenty-foot high ceilings with massive amounts of natural light and floor to attic bookcases on the walls. This doesn’t bother me about Castle, however, because Nathan Fillion’s character is portrayed as having come from money in the first place and being extraordinarily successful in the second, but when the fictional writer in question isn’t a New York Times bestselling born-with-a-silver-spoon personality, it irks.
Having said that, my little condo doesn’t much look like a set designer went nuts on the premises, but it does have an extraordinary number of luxuries attached to it.
The hot tub you’ve all probably heard about, and like most of these places, there’s a gym, communal barbecues, and an event room. The real perk is the location: we’re five minutes from the subway and smack in the midst of cultural treasures like the AGO, the TiFF Bell Lightbox, City Halls new and old, and all the theaters.
One of the things I probably don’t mention all that often is that my marvelous well-located building also has a library, complete with a random scattering of books, WiFi that mostly does work, and a TV and faux fireplace that–as far as I can tell–aren’t plugged into anything.
It’s big, spacious, quiet, and frequently empty, and it has a couple of workstations as well as the lounging chairs pictured here. There’s a window along one wall which lets in the light of day. It’s where I go to clear my head when I need to get away from home, cats and distractions, but can’t or don’t want to go all the way out to a coffee shop.
I’m sitting here as I write these words, sifting through projects and priorities for the coming month, with Of Montreal’s Sunlandic Twins playing via a portable Bluetooth speaker and a view of gray and rainy clouds.
I suspect and hope that 2016 is going to be an extraordinary year, filled both with wonders and opportunities. This little bit of quiet, at the stub end of the year, is all about gearing up and getting ready.
Three good things about this week:
Duacon! Jessica came, she saw, and she conquered, by which I mean we walked the streets of Toronto… far more than she probably expected. It is a trait of mine that the concept of “Not far” conflates all too easily with the cold hard fact of “Five miles later, I promised we were nearly there…” Do not trust me to have a grip on distance, my dear friends. Note my walking speed and ask me for an ETA. Or stand your ground, and demand to use transit.
Okay, tangent over! We dined out, we paid homage to the cats and the hot tub, and J and I spent an afternoon on that nice beach on Toronto Island. We did not actively workshop fiction, but we did go out for multiple writing dates, and talked shop constantly.
Kelly came home! Five nanoseconds after Jessica left, Kelly had a work retreat out of town, or too far to walk, whichever distance is longer. About the night apart, the less said the better. But it was a joy to watch the purple dot of my darling’s GPS coordinates inching home along the major commuter routes yesterday evening. I did this using an app that the iStore calls Find My Friends. It was even more of a joy to have her back home again.
Oh, what was the third best thing this week? Was it watermelons? Seeing horse cops yesterday? Having someone contact me to ask for a secret spy name of their very own, thereby indicating that my sense of humor is not, in fact, a trial to all who know me? (I wasn’t actually worried about that last bit.) Getting a reprint request this morning? Or was it… turning The Nature of a Pirate in to my editor at Tor? Oh yeah, that last thing. Let’s definitely go with that.
Today’s victory dance shall be… the Charleston!
In unrelated news, my WordPress page has about 24,000 users, most of whom have the sort of names and e-mail addresses that lead one to believe they are spammy hacky bastards, as opposed to real humans interested in my blog. Is this problematic?
Writing 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?
Something I did in October when I was in Vancouver was to tell everyone I know that I’d be at Caffe Calabria in the mornings, writing if I had the place to myself, and socializing if anyone cared to show. I met Barb there. Badger came, as did Emily from our old condo. I figured I’d see some of the cafe regulars, but it turned out there are a shocking number of them: I saw both Toms, for example, the alternate-energy physicist and the religious studies professor. An aspiring YA author, Jenny, was there both mornings. I caught Adita and Harry, the snowbirds whose daughter is a poet, on their last day in Canada. Oscar was there (what I know about Oscar is TMI for the Internet), and Yespat the engineer. I even exchanged friendly hellos with a trio of people I think of (not that this reflects well on me, but their voices carry and all they do is bitch bitch bitch some more) as the Friday Snark Club.
The sheer number of people I had a “Hey, how are ya?” relationship with and the delight that came with seeing them made me realize how many connections I’d built up just by going to work at dawn in the same place, 6-7 days a week, 2 hours a day. It drove home that I hadn’t even begun to do that particular kind of in-community root-growing here.
This lack of effort was no accident–in fact, I had it scheduled for November. I didn’t put much effort into a cafe hunt in May when we first moved to our new building. I knew there’d be guests coming and then travel and more guests and more travel, and the publicity push for Child of a Hidden Sea and then the film festival and more travel atop that. It was a thoroughly awesome summer and autumn, but I wasn’t keeping to the sort of schedule that makes it possible for me to settle into a routine.
Of course it was impossible I’d score another place quite as perfect as Calabria. It was 300 meters from my door, it opened at six in the morning, and Frank Murdocco’s eclectic curation of 20th century music is uniquely delightful, irreplaceable.
But! Now that October and all those trips are in the rearview, I’ve been going to a recently opened cafe called Portland Variety. The coffee is excellent, the atmosphere is right, the staff is lovely, tables are plentiful and the music leans to jazz (which is easier to tune out than pop, satellite radio’s litest hits or the go-to choice at Jimmy’s Cafe, the Doors.) I’m comfortable working here for hours on end, and there are starting to be other morning regulars. It’s not obscenely close to home, but the route back to the condo leads past the grocery, and that’s a significant plus.
It’s promising, in other words. I have high hopes that at last I’ve found this particular piece of my workaday puzzle.