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Tuesday, August 19, 2008


One of the great pleasures of my writing career has been my discovery of the writers’ retreat. Now you may read of Writers’ Retreats in writing magazines and online. Many of these offer exotic locations, motivational speakers, gourmet food, brainstorming sessions, massages, workshops, or critiquing. Some offer uninterrupted time in fancy locales. Most of these are very expensive.

It works just as well – ok, better – to find a group of serious, motivated writers – your critique group, perhaps, or people you know reasonably well – and set up your own retreat. It can be a LOT less expensive. The idea is to get away from the everyday and focus on writing. Leave the spouse and kids (promising to make it up to them later when you are relaxed, focused, and elated from your writing progress.) Leave the laundry, the phone, (preferably) the internet, the dust on the furniture, and the soccer games behind. The keys to a successful retreat?

1. Location
Find yourself a comfortable location: cabin, lodge, condo. Look into YMCA facilities (you don't have to be Y, M, or C to rent their cabins and such.) Or maybe someone's mother has a lake cabin (as long as it has electricity!) or a timeshare.

Living near the Rocky Mountains, I am fortunate to have a choice of places. One of my groups rents a basic mountainside "housekeeping" cabin at a YMCA family camp that has about 100 cabins scattered over several mountainsides. Every cabin has mountain views and full kitchens and possible elk sightings. (These are not luxury cabins, but clean and functional with heat that works well even in January and fireplaces.) My other group congregates in a funky old hotel in Fairplay, Colorado that has a ghosts (so I hear), a great view, never emptying coffee and teapots, and a very cool sunroom that we take over with tables, surge protectors, extension cords, and laptops.

A site that provides visual inspiration makes a huge difference, plus provides good walks for times when your rear end goes to sleep from sitting too long. You really don't want to have to share the space with non-writing (ie. chatty) other guests.

2. Food
Arrange for good, non-time-intensive meals. My YMCA cabin group splits up the meals – one person cooks Friday dinner, one does Saturday, one does breakfasts. For lunch and snacks we share out whatever we bring, plus tea, coffee, wine, and cookies. We keep it simple but make it good. The others work while cooking is going on, but we all stop and talk and share as we eat.

The hotel in Fairplay provides continental breakfast, afternoon cookies/popcorn/fruit, and, for a special rate, a Saturday night dinner. Everything else is on the economy, which, in Fairplay is limited, but decent, and within walking distance.

3. (and most important) People
Pick the right people. People who want and need to spend the weekend writing. People who don't crack gum, require music (without headphones), or talk too much. People who don't get grouchy when an occasional writing conversation flows from a grammar question or "what is the word for ___ " question or "Eureka! I finished chapter 15!" People who are courteous about taking longer conversations outside, or sharing surge protector outlets or reference books.

You can adjust the activities by mutual consent. If someone gives massages or reads Tarot (and you're into that) or you decide to get together and read what you've written in front of the fire in the evening, that's great. But get these big three right, and you will be amazed at how the energy flows.

(And yes, I finished Chapter 15! Eureka!)

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Back from WorldCon

What a great party! I’m still not caught up on either sleep or writing, but thought I’d take a moment out to give an overview before I forget it all.

The Program

I didn’t get to many panels. One about agenting - as my agent was on it, I wanted to know what she had to say. Not much I hadn’t heard, but a good intro to the basics of the publishing business. I urge any hoping-to-be-published writers to attend a conference or convention where reputable agents put on this kind of panel. SO much info that is good to hear. One about marketing, which didn't give any answers to the great question, "What works?"

As for my own panels, the one I was most worried about was one called Is SF the new mythology?"

We talked about how myth feeds our own work, and the difference in works one might describe as myth-based and those you wouldn’t. Think not just Hero’s Journey, but works that strike you "where you live," touching on visions common to us all, eg. Platform 9 3/4. What kid hasn’t dreamed of finding the magical amidst the mundane, the fairy house in the nest of grass? And we put forth some names of writers we felt wrote books that one would describe as mythic (McKillip, Kay, McKinley, Kushner et al).

I was the only writer on a panel about moving into the convention community from outside "fandom." I felt a bit beleaguered at first, as another panelist who has worked convention programming for many years talked about the sense of arrogance and "entitlement" she feels from authors trying to get on convention programs. I outlined my own experience of being wholly unaware of fandom and conventions before being published, and the feeling of being an outsider with no credentials but my one published book. When told how important it was to remember that the people running conventions were volunteers, I pointed out that all writers who attend a convention (other than the guests of honor) are also volunteers, who often spend a great deal of money to attend. I think by the end, we had come to a better mutual understanding of fan and writer feelings. Too bad we had only a few attendees to benefit from all our hard-won wisdom.

The Torture Panel was just Elaine Isaak and I on an evening opposite the Masquerade. But we had twenty or so people to hear us talk about why we put our characters through such hard times, and what were the limits we saw or imposed on ourselves. It is always a great topic and Elaine was most companionable. I loved her buttons: You Do Not Want to Be the Hero of My Book.

I had a standing room only kaffeeklatsch with some old fans and some new who got to sit around asking me questions for an hour. I love that. I did a reading from Unholy Alliance for a decent-sized crowd. And some people actually brought books for me to sign. All good.

Attendance seemed modest at the panels this year, maybe because they jam-packed some panels with the really big names – Willis, Niven, Haldeman, Shinn, et al, and populated the others with us lesser knowns.

The People

The best thing about a con is running into people. When I went to my first WorldCon in 2000, I knew NO one. My agent, whom I had met once for about ten minutes and my editor, ditto, were supposed to be there, but I wasn't even sure I could recognize them. And of the other 5998 or so souls, I knew not one. This year, as I walked into the hotel and convention center in Denver, I saw familiar faces everywhere. Who were they?

The Roundtable: Back in 2000 I met a fellow newly published, first-time author on the My First Novel panel. She remains a great friend to this day. At the next WorldCon, I met her writers' group. Then, at World Fantasy in 2000, I ran into a woman I knew from a writers conference in Denver, and she introduced me to some people she had met at other World Fantasy Conventions. Over the years these two connections have grown into a network of published and aspiring writers who stay connected in between World Fantasy Conventions. We call ourselves the Roundtable Writers, which doesn't signify anything in particular except for sharing ups and down, triumphs and rejections (AND PARTIES) with terrific like-minded friends. I wish you all to find such a group.

Warriors: About ten members of my WarriorOfTwoSouls yahoo group came to the con from Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas, California, and Denver. It is great having such cool people to hang out with for lunch and after panels (for my readers ARE the coolest and most intelligent of readers). We found a fine Italian cafĂ©, shot the breeze in the Sheraton after my Torture panel, played with Theresa’s Kindle reader (I still prefer paper and multiple pages to access at once, but they are pretty cool gizmos.)

Locals: For once WorldCon came to Denver. So I saw lots of familiar faces from MileHiCon and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Booksellers: To a writer, booksellers are our best friends. I always enjoy running into Dwayne Wilkins, the sf buyer from University Bookstore in Seattle. At that first WorldCon, when Transformation was a mere six weeks old, he came up to me and said, "Your book is selling well." I’ve loved him ever since. As I am 5'2" and Dwayne is at least 6'13", it is tough to hold a conversation in a noisy room. But we work it out. I caught sight of Ron and Nina Else, the big hearts behind Who Else Books in Denver, who unabashedly support regional authors. And I waved to Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman from San Francisco’s Borderlands, and the folks from Larry Smith Books who actually DID have copies of Breath and Bone at this convention.

Broaduniverse: I stopped a minute to talk to Lettie and Kathleen “womaning” the BroadUniverse table. BU is an organization that supports women writing speculative fiction. They print a "What’s New" brochure each year, listing new releases from members, sponsor rapidfire readings at cons (really sorry that I had a conflict this year!), and even sell members' books at the table. It is a great organization, and I wish I had time to contribute more to it. You can find great articles, news, and info about BU and women writers at http://www.broaduniverse.com.

Agents, editors, and other "pros": I’ve gone to enough conventions now, that I’m starting to meet up with some of the same people. Not only my own agent, and (sometimes, but not this time) my own editor, but some from other agencies and publishing houses. It was a pleasure spending some time with Rani Graff, my Israeli publisher, and to meet Jessica Wade, who works at Roc with my editor. I am not the world’s best networker, but I ran into some people I met at Westercon in Seattle a number of years ago, and had drinks and dinner with members of the Oregon Writers Network, which must be a great deal of fun as the members are all so friendly. Saw Ken Scholes who just sold a major series and had lunch with John Pitts who is selling stories. I met Devon and Laura, two new Ace/Roc authors whose books will be released this fall. And I hung out with Jeanne Stein who writes urban fantasy for Berkely and Mario Acevedo who writes really noir (like really, really noir) humorous vampire detective novels. All in all, a great time.

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Peripheral Matters

It would be lovely to think that a full-time writer gets to spend full (work/creative) time writing. But just this week, the variety of other endeavors involved in a writing career struck me especially hard. So what's going on?

Preparing for the World Science Fiction Convention

First, logistics: I don't fly this time, but I've got two airport runs to make, one for a good friend traveling in from Vancouver on Tuesday to be my roommate, and the second for two more good friends flying in from Baltimore to attend the con. Then I've got to schedule a dinner with my agent, a critique group meeting on Wednesday night to arrange as our remote member will be in town for the con, a lunch with readers from my online group, and decide matters like "do I take the car and pay the exorbitant nightly parking at the hotel or have the ES (Exemplary Spouse) drop us off?"

Second, prepare for my program items. Some are fun - like choosing what to read at my reading - Breath and Bone or teaser bits from Unholy Alliance. This can take time, and usually involves tough decision making. Some are easy, like preparing for the Torture panel and the Joining the Convention Community panel - that's just making a few notes. But the "SF as modern mythology" panel which I am to moderate is a bit more obtuse. What does that topic mean? Who are the other panelists? Do I know enough about this topic to ask intelligent questions to keep the discussion on track. I've been peeking at Joseph Campbell sites and exchanging emails to the panelists to get their take on where the discussion should go.

Preparing workshops for two upcoming writers' conferences

If there weren't handouts due to volunteers by Sept 1, I wouldn't even be thinking about workshops right now. But one of my workshops for the Colorado Gold conference is brand new. "What is This Thing Called Voice?" It's a topic I've got several pages of notes on, but I need to choose a focus [hearing voice vs. writing voice] and formulate a coherent script before I can pass on a handout. This can take two or three days to do. And then I'll need to do some run-throughs before the conference. In October I'm doing the Surrey Writers Conference, and I've got one workshop that I need to expand from a two hour to a three-hour class, mostly choosing some good exercises, and one workshop that I need to review as I haven't done it for about four years. That's at least a day and a half prep, plus run-throughs as the con gets closer.

WD (Wretchedly Delayed) Postcard/Bookmark Development

Aarrgh. Here it is WorldCon and I've still not done new postcards/bookmarks for the Lighthouse books. Part of this is my dallying because using tools like Corel or Publisher or whatever is something I do rarely enough that I have to relearn them each time. And my version of Corel is very old and it is the one thing that just won't run right on Vista. C _ _ P! Part of the problem is that I have to DECIDE things like postcard vs. bookmark, and then figure out what is needed - CYMK , 300dpi bookcover, trimmed to the right size, and then the back - which quotes? same blurb as on the F&S cards, new one for the "series" card, which fonts...etc. I can't afford to just dump all this in the lap of a professional. Wish I could. Now it is very late and I don't think I'll be able to get them done in time for the con. Phooey. But I needed to do them anyway.

Travel arrangements

The only thing I have to book is my trip to World Fantasy in Calgary for early November. I've been trying to watch fares. See if there is any wiggle room. No doubt it will be more expensive than if I'd booked it three months ago. I'm going to be in Vancouver the previous weekend. It would make sense to stay over a couple of days with my friend in Vcr and travel straight to Calgary, but I think the fact that the writers conference is booking the Vancouver trip and I'm booking the Calgary trip is going to make the whole thing too complicated. I'll just fly home and turn around and leave again two days later.

Critique prep

Can't forget to read my partners' work. They give me such useful feedback, this has to be a priority. And, as many, many writers will tell you, doing critique is at lest as valuable as receiving it. It just takes more time.

Well, here I am. The days seem to race past, and I really do like to THINK before I write. Don't want to waste either my time or yours, dear reader.

These tasks don't even cover email, reading blogs/posts/whatever, or even just reading. I'm reading two manuscripts for blurbs right now. Just finished one. Now to write the blurb...it was good. Then to finish the other one.

Such is a writers' life. Each thing fun in itself, but the scheduling, ow...
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