Viable Paradise – Tuesday

All great stories start with ‘So there I was…’ or ‘I shit you not…’


No forced march this morning.  Instead, I went out for a three mile run.  A bit on the chilly side, but I can’t really complain.  It’s hard to do that when you’ve got the coast to your side.  I love the water, but alas, all we get is rivers here in Iowa.  The ocean, now that’s something completely different.

JMD made pancakes this morning, then we headed off for our break-out groups with TNH and SG as instructors.  This time, I went through Lisa Morton and Eric Kelley. I was really impressed with Lisa’s story.  I’m a lousy short story writer so I’m always impressed when I see someone pull it off and do it well.  Eric’s need a tad bit of work, but there’s a lot of potential in it.  He caught me afterward and we went for a short walk and discussed his piece.  It was pretty cool.

Once we finished with the break-outs, we headed back downstairs fora lecture on Grammar, Syntax, and Finding Your Voice by Debra Doyle (DD).  Lunch, then a lecture on Exposition by Teresa Nielsen Hayden (TNH, Editor at TOR).  Always eye-opening, even if you think you know what you’re doing.  EB did a collegium, basically an open-ended discussion on a variety of topics.

My One-on-One for Tuesday was with John Scalzi.  This filled me with glee.  Yeah, I admit it, glee.  Scalzi’s writing style is somewhat like mine and I’d hoped I’d be paired up with him so I could get his opinion.  Just read his blog, you’ll see that he’s a smart fellow. I also felt intimidated and feared I’d go all Fan Boy.  I didn’t.  Scalzi was easy to get along with, fairly down to Earth.

Thus, I learned another important lesson from Viable Paradise – “The instructors are no different than the rest of us, only published.”

Scalzi’s critique was to the point and went a lot like this – “Page one, this is good.” *flips page* “Blah.”.  *flips page* “Blah.”  Repeat until page 18 and then “This is good.”  Alright, exposition is lousy.  Get to the action.  He also went into more of Theo’s character and his mental state, a bit on physics (Scalzi has a non-fiction book on Astronomy so he’s good at that), and a few other things that really helped me out.  We ended off with a short discussion of freelance writing, something that interests me but I had no real experience on.  Scalzi did, so he helped me answer a few burning questions.

Tuesday night ended with ‘Beer with Billy’.  We all pitched in for some good pizza and sat down to read ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.   Due to its incredibly sexist nature, we did role reversal – the guys read the girl parts, the girls read the guy parts and we alternated actors after each act.  Most of the pictures on my Flickr stream are from that evening. I had some pretty good parts, we all laughed at Eric adding his southern drawl to every role, and so on.  In short – a great evening.

Eventually, we all trickled off to our rooms to read our final critiques and for some of us, get a bit of work done on our assignments, and then drift off to bed.  2am … again.

Viable Paradise – Monday

If you are here, it’s because you are in the top 2 – 3% of the slush pile.”


The day started early with a forced march – 6:30am, MacDonald led a 3 mile walk along the coastline.  I opted to join so that I could stretch my legs.  The island is beautiful in the rising sun.  Wish I had taken my camera because I would have gotten some glorious shots.  I got this one a few days later.

0830 – We meet in the downstairs room to go over how the week works.  The night before, we’d been given packets with our schedules and all the stuff we were supposed to read.

We then separate out into break-out groups.  The break-out groups work like this – 5 to 6 students will read and critique your work, each one getting five minutes.  Then the 2 instructors in the group will critique your work. Then you’re given a few minutes to respond, but not before.

I’m not sure if I was fortunate or not, but my work (Genie Memories) was up on Monday alongside Irina’s ‘Brief Horizons’.  The critiques were interesting.  If anyone came to the island expecting to be coddled, this was the moment they’d be broken of that belief.  We’re all of professional level and we should expect professional critiques.  That said, it’s not like we tore into each other.  Every critique had a purpose and I’ll be damned if not one of them wasn’t on target.  It also exposes you to a larger, more diverse audience.

I had Patrick Nielsen-Hayden (PNH, Editor at TOR) and Steven Gould (SG, author of Jumper) as the instructors. Leah, Cath, Miranda, Christian, and Irina were the students.  How’d it go?  Fairly well. PNH compared it (favorably) to Zelzany.  It was called a spy thriller meets superheroes.  The second chapter slowed it down.  SG pointed out a few errors in my technology.   Theo was an exceptionally strong character.  A few other things, all of which I noted.  In the end, I was extremely happy.

After the break-outs, we had a lecture on Plot by MacDonald (JMD).  Very interesting, especially when the chess board came out.  I’d read about using chess in relation to plot via the Absolute Write boards, but until I saw it in front of me, it never made sense.  Lecture was followed by lunch, then another lecture by Elizabeth Bear (EB) on Structure.

We then went into a series of writing exercises with Laura Mixon (LM).  That’s when we found out what we’d use our toys for – the writing assignments, due Thursday.

The highlight of the day?  My One-on-One with JMD.  This was one hour alone with a master of plot as he dissected my story.  This was damned cool, eye-opening, and all that.  He spent the first twenty minutes tearing it apart, pointing out errors, exposition that wasn’t needed, etc.  Then he told me “Theo is not your main character.  It’s Abbott.”  Probably could have picked my jaw up off the floor.  But it made sense.  Abbott was the one that had the wants and needs.  Doesn’t mean he’s the viewpoint character, just that he’s the one that has a lot riding on this.  So JMD and I spent the last forty minutes plotting out a new outline that I think will make the story transcend into the kick-ass territory.

Dinner that night was fun.  There was a lot of chatting and sharing what we learned through the day.  Someone told me of SG’s 48/12 rule – write for 48 minutes, then you can reward yourself with 12 minutes of stretching or surfing the web or whatever.  Useful tidbits like that were all over the place.  It’s hard to drag yourself away from the conversations, but in the end, I did and went up to read tomorrow’s pieces.  I didn’t finish til 2:30am.

Viable Paradise – Sunday

And thus begins the journal of Viable Paradise…



I went to Viable Paradise to find out if I had what it took to become a writer.

The trip began at the ungodly hour of 4:30am.  That’s when Steph dropped me off at the Dubuque airport to catch a 6am flight.  In retrospect, I could have shown up at 5:55 and still made it.  Yeah, Dubuque is that small of an airport.  In any case, all my flights were uneventful.  Arriving in Boston, I was met by Julia Rios who gave me a lift to Woods Hole where we caught a ferry to the island.  Once again, uneventful except for some nice scenery.

When the ferry docked, we disembarked and found Steven Gould waiting for us.  There were a couple of other students too (Leah and Lisa, I think, I was pretty tired).  We all jumped in the van and were whisked away to our home for the next week – the Island Inn Resort.  Checked in and headed up to the Staff Den to get our keys and were introduced to Bart, Kate, and Mac (of Absolute Write fame), then headed down to our rooms.

Nothing really started until later that evening, so I had time to get settled in and take a few photos.  The Resort is a pretty nice place.  VP took over most of Building G.  I had a nice view out of my window and the main conference room was downstairs so that was easy to reach.  The rooms – yeah, they were large and comfy.


Come evening, we all headed downstairs for the Meet and Greet.  The staff was pretty cool – Bart, Mac, and Kate, all former VP Alumni and by god, they were fantastic throughout the week.  Students came from all over the place.  California, Texas, Oregon, Iowa, Northeast coast, Florida, the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland.  We were presented with our toys (more on that later) and Jim MacDonald informed us that we were all 100 pages behind in our reading.


Of course, we didn’t all rush to our rooms to start critiquing.  Nope.  We had ourselves a nice dinner, then sat around chatting for quite a while. During a conversation with John Scalzi, he asked our little group our guilty reading pleasures.  I said “Heroes Die by Matthew Stover“.  Instant high-five from Scalzi, and then about six other people.  Wow.  I was surrounded by people who liked Stover.  I’ve never been near another person who liked Stover.

This was my type of crowd.

After a couple of games of Mafia and Thing, we all retired to our rooms.  I was up until 1am critiquing the story for the next day.  Little did I know, that was early.  VP had just begun…

… and home again


Sure, the cat’s torked, the dog needs out (constantly), and groceries need to be bought, but by God, it’s good to be home again.

I’ll try to write up my experiences on VP XII over the next week or two, as I’m sure all my other classmates will as well.  I did get one things done – I had several hours to kill in Boston/Logan while waiting for my flight, so I sat down and wrote up the list of the books and films recommended to me by the instructors, in my group breakouts, and my one-on-one sessions.  I did miss a few (haven’t listened to the recordings yet), but it’s fairly complete.

For your glory, here it is:

So, um, yeah.  I think I’ll need a second mortgage.

Back to the Mainland

In just a few short hours, I’ll be hopping a ferry back to the mainland.  Viable Paradise XIII is over.

This has indeed been an incredible experience but it’s time for it to be over.  Sometime in the next week or two, I’ll probably post up my thoughts and what went down here (at least what can be told – What happens on the island, stays on the island).  Probably post some pictures too.

I’m eager to get home.  I’m eager to see my wife.  I’m eager to see the back of my eyelids for more than four hours at a time.

From the Little Island…

If you do a Google search on Viable Paradise, you’ll undoubtedly come across comments from previous attendees.

These comments read like praise of a cult. Fantastic instructors. Awesome staff. Great friends.

Believe me when I say this : Every Word Is True.

I have learned more in the three days I have been here than in my entire writing life up to this point.  I’ve met some people with whom I hope I remain friends with for many years.  I’ve spoken with authors whom I highly respect and found out I’m not the damned idiot I thought I was.  I had someone seek me out today for my advice!   And the staff here – well, these dude(ettes) are amazing.  I feel like I’m at an all inclusive resort.

More later.  I’ve got two stories to critique yet tonight, three short scenes to write, and a 5,000 word short story to get ready for Thursday.  Did I mention I’m posting this at 11pm?  Yeah, I’m having an awesome time 🙂

A Viable Reason

Yeah, I’m stretching it on titles for Viable Paradise. Sue me:)

My plane lands in Boston at 11:50 am on Sunday.  That makes it a little over 72 hours until I’m on Marthas Vineyard.

The bag is mostly packed.  Actually, it was on Wednesday night.  The cat helped out a lot by constantly jumping in.  He just couldn’t come to grips that he wasn’t on my list of things to take.  Just another load of laundry and a few more items to pick up at the store and I’m good to go.

Why yes, I am nervous and giddy, thanks for asking.

Thankfully, Steph made it back from her trip to Chicago so I get a couple of days with her before heading off.  I hate leaving her here for a week, but we were able to test out Skype while she was gone and it worked out great.  She also planned a bunch of things with friends and promised me she’d go to TKD at least once during the week, so that makes me feel a lot better.

So back to giddiness – Glee!