On Sunday, November 21st, I’m teaching a workshop called “Writing on the Fast Track” at the Hugo House in Seattle. I just heard that there are only five slots left in the workshop, so if you’ve been thinking about signing up, don’t wait too long.
Here’s what the course catalog has to say about the workshop:
Think you never have time to write? Think again. Campbell Award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal wrote her Hugo-nominated short story “Evil Robot Monkey” in 90 minutes. If you have 90 minutes, you can have a story –all it takes is understanding how to make every word work double-time. In this workshop, learn the same techniques she uses to create new fiction. Through exercises focusing on viewpoint, dialogue and plot, you”ll learn how to let nothing go to waste. By the end of the session, participants will be given a writing prompt and complete their own short story.
Is this an insane thing to promise a complete short story after a seven-hour workshop? Probably, but it’ll be a fun ride.
I’ll be one of the workshop instructors at NASFIC this year. Here are the details from Oz Drummond, the organizer of the workshop.
Please pass the word along…ReConStruction is only a few weeks away now.
There will be a writing workshop at the NASFiC in Raleigh, known as ReConStruction. There will be two, actually. Allen Wold will run a workshop where participants will do some on-the-spot writing. Friends of mine (who aren’t writers) have enjoyed that workshop at CapClave.
Meanwhile, I have organized a workshop like the one held in Montreal at Worldcon last summer. The sections are scheduled to critique three manuscripts submitted in advance. There will be two professional writers in each section. Each participant will also critique the other two manuscripts and receive feedback from four people on their own work in the space of two hours. It’s an intimate setting, a private session that’s not open to the public, five writers in a room talking about writing.
Submissions must be 8,000 words or less. They should have some sort of speculative element to the story, in science fiction, fantasy, or horror. They can be YA, middle grade, adult. Submissions can be a short story or an excerpt from something longer, such as a novel. Excerpts should be accompanied by outlines or a synopsis and the total should be 8k or less.
If you’re interested, the email address link is here: http://www.reconstructionsf.org/?page_id=421. You can also put a comment on this post or send a message via livejournal to birdhousefrog. The slots are first come, first served, so don’t delay. You can only reserve your spot when you actually send in your submission. We won’t be charging an administrative fee for this workshop and the manuscripts will be distributed electronically for critiquing.
The following professional writers have agreed to be critiquers:
Doug Lain is teaching a six week writers workshop through the Woodstock Community Center and Portland Parks and Recreation starting on July 1st. The course will be run on the Milford Model, but will also feature presentations on aspects of writing from various local writers, including me.
Everyone has a story to tell. Join other raconteurs in a comfortable environment & gain confidence in your inspired abilities. Enjoy guided practice & constructive critiques stirred by imagination & life experience.
I spent the day teaching puppetry up in Fremont at James Leitch Elementary. One of the interesting things about schools is that they all have different name structures for the teachers. In some I’m Mary, usually Miss Mary, and sometimes Mrs. Kowal.
I always use the married version of the honorific when I’m filling out forms but it’s exceedingly rare to actually have someone call me “Mrs. Kowal.” It feels a little like I’m pretending to be a grownup.
All of this is percolating around in my head because Rob and I are celebrating our eighth anniversary this week. November 17th, 2009 we got married in Chattanooga, TN. I am as deeply in love with my husband as I was on our wedding day.
To celebrate eight years of being Mrs. Kowal, I’m disconnecting from the outside world. No phone, no internet. Just Mr. Kowal and me.
Twitter, Facebook, My Space: Social Media and Writing 14:00, P-513B
What’s all the buzz about the new social media? Writing short-short-short stories on Twitter??? Good grief! Is this networking or a new way to write? Can tweets and Facebook updates be about more than what you ate? James Strauss, Jenny Rae Rappaport, Mary Robinette Kowal, Walter Jon Williams, John Picacio
The Campbell Awards (Not a Hugo, Honest!) 17:00, P-511A
Jay Lake and other previous winners explain why you should read and vote. Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Mary Robinette Kowal, Wen Spencer
SF and the Arts 10:00, P-524A
There is a wide variety of art in the genre that has nothing to do with paper or a computer…. Elaine Isaak, Frank Roger, Leigh Adams, Mary Robinette Kowal, Stephen H. Segal, Jill Eastlake
13:00, D-Vitre Writing Workshop S
Critique session for previously submitted manuscripts Jay Lake, Mary Robinette Kowal
Beginning with an overview of puppetry, we’ll talk about how it relates to SF. I’m planning on bringing some rehearsal puppets to let people try.
Radio Theater – “The Cold Equations”
Two-time Aurora nominee Joe Mahoney directs a reading of his sf audio adaptation originally broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations.” Joe Mahoney, Mary Robinette Kowal
Stroll With The Stars
A gentle, friendly 1 mile stroll with some of your favorite Authors, Artists & Editors. Leaving daily 9AM, from the Riopelle Fountain outside the Palais (corner of Ave Viger & Rue de Bleury), returning before 10AM.
Farah Mendlesohn, Lou Anders, Mary Robinette Kowal, Paul Cornell, Stu Segal, John Picacio, Felix Gilman
Readings by me, Tony Pi, Daniel Duguay and Frank Roger. I’m planning to read “Evil Robot Monkey” and either something from Shades of Milk and Honey or Scenting the Dark. There are advantages to having a story that’s only 970 words long.
20:00, Location: P-517ABC
No description needed. I’ll have a pretty dress.
Characterization Workshop for Costumers
Good costumes are better costumes when they have a character behind them. Use characterization to bring your costuming to the next level. Give your original design a backstory and personality. Our panel will discuss ideas and show you how. Mary Robinette Kowal, Toni Lay
A chance to ask those burning questions.
To me, writing feels kind of the same way. Sure, I can always revise; if I realize that thing my characters did last chapter would logically result in them getting killed, I can go back and have them do something less dumb. But is that the same thing as practice? To some extent it’s a moot question: “practice” is a concept strongly associated with performance arts, music or dance, or competitive things like sports, where there’s a specific event you’re preparing for, at which point you will deploy the skills you’ve learned. Writing is more comparable to sculpture, say, or painting. It’s aimed toward a product, not a event.
I wrote a response in the comments, but I want to expand on it here. To begin, I should explain that I was an art major with a minor in theater and speech. Clearly, I’m also now a writer.
I also practice.
See in art school, they’d have us do these things like taking a 4H [1. Pencils range from H to B with the H being the light end and B being the dark end] pencil and shading with it from light to dark as smoothly as possible. Next to it, we’d use a 3H and on up through the scale into the heaviest B’s so that we knew what each pencil did and how to handle it.
As a puppeteer, I spent an entire day, just walking a puppet around a table at different speeds until I could do it without thought.
For instance, one writing technique is describing scenic locations. When I first started, I had an instructor who made us sit down and spend a page or so describing the area that we were in without worrying about character or plot or any of those things. We were supposed to make certain that we used all of the senses, but otherwise it was just about experiencing the setting. I’ll still do that occasionally, because it’s an incredibly useful technique.
When we got back to class, she asked us to pick the first thing we noticed. That first thing tells you a lot about the character. For instance, if I walk into a room, the first thing I’m likely to notice might be that the painting is crooked on the wall. A baker walking in might notice the smell of cinnamon first. You see? Those are conscious techniques that I can use and practice.
To get deep penetration third POV down, at Literary Bootcamp Orson Scott Card had us write about a recent hour in our lives in third person, without concern about plot. Again, it forced me to focus on that technique without having to worry about story.
I’ve taken third person stories and re-written them as first, to see what would happen.
I’ve played with authorial voice, deliberately, to see what happens if I have a visible narrator.
Back in college, while taking figure drawing we’d start out with these things called gesture drawings. Fast sketches, designed to make us loosen up and think about the whole page instead of getting hung up on a detail.
As a writer, I do that too. On the weekends, (though I’m out of practice now) I do a flash fiction challenge at Liberty Hall where we have an hour and a half to crank out a finished story from a trigger. It forces you to think about plot without giving you time to slow down and let the inner editor panic. It also trained me to write fast, clean first drafts.
As a art major, heck as a theater designer, I’d do thumbnail sketches before launching into a full piece. Just quick things to give me a sense of the composition as a whole. Again, at Literary BootCamp, OSC had us do basically the same thing. We sketched out complete story ideas on an index card. It didn’t have every detail, but it had the basic structure. I had serious plot problems before BootCamp, but that technique… it’s made a difference.
As an art major and as an actor, I learned to to hone my techniques without worrying about the art. The idea was that when I’m actually creating a piece, whether it’s in performance or not, that I don’t want to be wasting energy trying to figure out my tools. I want them to come to me as naturally as breathing. I don’t see any reason that writers can’t and shouldn’t do the same.
At the workshop I went to this past summer, Kristine Kathryn Rusch said (and I’m paraphrasing) that we are storytellers and the manuscript is the tool that we use to convey the story in our head to the reader. That makes complete sense to me. So, why not practice my craft and my techniques so that I can focus on the story when it comes time to tell it?
Goblin Art Studio is offering three-day maskmaking workshops this October. I met the instructor, Monica Roxburgh, when she interned with my puppet theater lo these many years ago. I remember looking at her mask portfolio and thinking she was overqualified for the internship because, dang, she was really good. I’m glad to see her teaching. Her masks are beautiful and for those of you based in or near Portland, this is a wonderful opportunity. Visit her website for the full details.
Professional-Quality Masks from Basic Materials
A 3-day maskmaking workshop from Goblin Art this October
This workshop includes a discussion of mask design, the demonstration of several maskmaking techniques, and the creation of an original mask. Participants will work with customized plastic mask forms, modeling compounds, paper mache and other materials, learn several mask-painting techniques, and prepare their mask for wear or display.
Instructor Monica Roxburgh has nine years of professional maskmaking experience. Notable clients include the Cirque du Soleil store, the British metal band Iron Maiden, and the recent Hollywood remake of the Wicker Man.
Chose from two workshop sessions:
October 3rd – 5th: Friday 7:30-9:30, Saturday and Sunday 1:00-3:00pm
October 17th -19th: Friday 7:30-9:30, Saturday and Sunday 1:00-3:00pm
It’s too late and complicated to explain why my hosts’ home has that moniker.
Meanwhile, the workshop is over. It was good to see old friends and make new ones. I’m exhausted and it will take awhile for me to finish processing the weekend. At the moment, I am headed for slumber.
I’m at the Historic Anchor Inn for the workshop and my room is fabulous. Seriously. It’s a two room suite with fun tiki themed decor. Now, as a special treat, see that link? There are two live webcams of the hotel.
On the way down with Ken Scholes, Jen West and Alethea Kontis we stopped at Canon Beach for seafood at Mo’s restaurant and also to run into the ocean. Crazy cold.
I’m in the airport in Cincinatti waiting for my connection to Portland.Â I’ll spend the day in town and then head down to Lincoln City for a writing workshop hosted by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch.Â Their guest instructor is Sheila Williams.Â As you might imagine, I’m excited about this.
Even more exciting, I’ll get to see lots of old friends.
The workshop rules say that we can’t blog about it while there, so expect scanty entries from me until at least Monday.Â I’ll be in Portland until the 18th and then back to NYC.Â At the moment, my plan is to do a get-together at one of the McMennamins once I have a better idea of my post-workshop schedule.Â I’ll keep you posted.
Yesterday was the last official day of the workshop portion of the event. We critiqued three stories, including mine. I’m pretty relieved by my feedback and also realized that I have a pattern in the way I write stories.
I tend to trust the reader and don’t like hitting people over the head with things, so I don’t put down every plot detail or world building element that I think of. And then the first time I hand it to readers, I get to see which things I need to clarify and which things I can leave alone. In this particular story, I needed to clarify that my character’s allergy is a contact allergy and then almost all everything else makes sense.
As much as I want to sit down and go through the notes on my story and rewrite it RIGHT NOW, I’m not going to. I’m finishing the revisions on my novel.
Last night, Mom made dinner. Oh, yes people. We are living the high life here.
Mom’s fried chicken
Tossed salad (made by Laurel Amberdine and Ellen Datlow)
Mom’s peach and apple cobbler
That’s right. Join Codex and you get to attend workshops where, not only is your story critiqued by a multiple-award winning editor, you also get my mother’s cobbler. Need I say more?
Today we critiqued four stories. By now, I’m getting a sense of whose critiques resonate with me most, which is good because– well, if I’m hearing advice that I think is spot-on to fix someone else’s story, if that same person tells me to fix something in mine, then chances are that they are right. Or at least that we have similar taste.
Garrett Winn did a workshop on time management focused on writing. One of the things I thought was interesting came up as a tangent. The old question of whether one should set wordcount goals or time goals. As James Maxey put it, you’re paid by the word, not the time in the chair.
Personally, I work with wordcount goals BUT I’ve also timed myself writing so I know that I write about a thousand words an hour. Which means that if I want to write 2000 words a day that I need to block out a minimum of two hours a day to do that.
Then there was a group discussion about what makes a story stand out as exceptional. I think about the only thing we all agreed on was “specificity.” Lots of other things were bandied about, but no golden key appeared. Granted, I left early to finish cooking dinner, which was….
Afterwards, Mom made blueberry cobbler, served with ice cream.
Oh, Dad, Luc and Danielle played music for us. We’ve discovered that the Star Trek theme is perfectly suited to the musical saw. I’ll try to get a recording before the week is out.
In between all this, I started in on the novel revisions. I was pleased to discover that they really weren’t all that bad. Most of the things people brought up can be fixed in one or two sentences. Whew.
We’re starting the mornings with breakfast foods laid out, but people on their own. Some crazy fools went jogging this morning. My feeling is that running is appropriate if something large is chasing you, otherwise not so much.
We had three presentations today: One on brainstorming story ideas by Luc Reid ((I skipped this one because I still had some reading to do for critique sessions tomorrow,. Other people report favorably on it.)) one on reading aloud (by me), and one on Medieval Studies, by Michael Livingston. I learned that people in the Middle Ages did bathe, that the Bubonic Plague was the first germ warfare and went horribly wrong, and that knights in armor actually could stand up if they fell down.
For lunch we had sandwiches. I know. You’re thrilled.
Then two novel critiques, which was interesting. It’s the first time I’ve done a novel critique session and find it the same as and also quite different from a short story critique. Mostly we dealt with Big Issues and not so much on line notes.
For dinner, now, that’s a beautiful thing. We went to Couch’s barbeque. This place has been there since my Dad was a child. It is one of the things for which I will gleefully break my pose as vegetarian. We were having really lively conversations until the food hit the table and then everyone became silent. Mmmm… A couch’s bbq sandwich with hot slaw on it, sides of baked beans and cole slaw. It just doesn’t get any better.
Tomorrow we have the first of our sessions with Ellen Datlow. Should be fun.
The workshop officially starts tomorrow. Today, a friend of mine came in and helped me set up — wait. Let me back up. When I got in last night, I discovered that my parents had already done everything. Beds were made, conference tables were set up in the workshop room. I mean… really.
So my friend and I headed out to the store to pick up groceries. She made walnut cake and bakclava. I made dinner.
Quinoa Mushroom Risotto
Sauteed Mizuna greens with olive oil and lemon
Green salad with shitake vinaigrette.
Our first guests arrived around 5:00 and the rest of the gang showed up around 11:00. We’ve got another bunch of folks arriving tomorrow. I was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one that was still frantically reading manuscripts.
I somehow forgot to tell you about this, I think. Codex Writer’s Group is an online group for neo-pro writers. To be a member, you have to have made a pro-sale or attended one of the big audition only workshops ((Clarion, Odyssey, OSC’s BootCamp, etc.)) which means that it’s chock-full of some very talented writers.
This year we wanted to do a retreat and we’re doing it at my parents’ house. I have good folks, you know? My grandmother, her sister’s and cousins all inherited adjoining property. To condense the story, Mom and Dad live in the house that he grew up in, Woodthrush Woods, and they’ve moved Robin’s Roost, a log house, ((not a cabin)) from another part of the property to theirs.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]