Magic of the Everyday, Nature, Taos Toolbox, Writing, Writing Workshops

A Two Bunny Day

Yes, I currently have two bunnies in my garden, right up against the lanai screen, contentedly devouring sweet potato leaves and leaf-stems. Yesterday was a 3-bunny day, a major milestone! Once we replaced our rotted out and falling over wooden fence, the back fence that barriers against a wooded retention pond runoff area was changed to powder-coated metal, which allows the critters to easily slide right through.

Terrible pic, but you’ll still see two rabbits if you squint. I hope. And the new fence that they love.

We’ve definitely seen an increase in backyard wildlife. Used to be we’d get maybe one rabbit sliding through the low hollow beneath the fence. Now it’s all the critters gliding right on in and out to come a-visiting! I’m not too concerned about their eating the sweet potato vines down to stumpy bits; I’ve already harvested and given away more sweet potatoes than I care to think about, and still have about half of the vines left–or, well, I did, until the rabbits decided to help ūüôā

Dash getting really spoiled!

I’m so glad for this bit of delight, and the cooler weather that allows us all here to enjoy being and working outside, because not everything’s been bunnies and harvests. Dasher had another scary episode of seizures (he’s idiopathic epileptic). Before that we had the longest span without seizures he’s ever had since his seizures began at about 1 year of age. As he’s nearing 8 years old, every seizure wracks his arthritis-pained limbs, causing more discomfort and pain for longer after he recovers. It’s truly heartbreaking, but I’m glad to report that he’s fine again now, and seems to have completely come back to his good, happy, regularly-abnormal self!

Writing-wise, things were going swimmingly up until Dasher’s seizures started. I had an “aggressive” writing plan for the month of December (aggressive for me, at least!), pushing through the last half of the novel’s edits to be finished before the end of the year. However, I’ve now lost a full 6 days, plus another 1.5 for recovery–I got somewhere between 2-4 hours of broken sleep each night of the dog’s “episode,” and multiple auto-immune issues mean I really don’t do well with that; stress literally turns my thinking capacity to mush. So… I’m still trying to push ahead and finish as much as I possibly can between now and the end of the year, but I’m gonna try to not flay myself if I fall short of that goal (I hope).

Which brings me to another point about writing: if you are a writer, maybe you feel bad when things don’t go well. Maybe you feel like a failure if you don’t get that story, or novel, published. But I’ve got news for you: rejection of your writing doesn’t mean you are a failure. Not ever. As a human being, you have more value than just what your writing brings in. Human value is not transactional. Never was, never will be. The duo of writers that comprise the byline James S. A. Corey (of The Expanse fame) were guest speakers at Taos Toolbox the year I attended, and it was one of their key points: failure happens, over and over, between the successes that all focus on. Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress gave stories of their own professional ups and downs, reiterating that theme. (I say this so you know it’s not just some rando spouting nonsense at you, okay?) This wisdom has helped me, so I hope it helps you, too, if you need to hear it.

Speaking of which…

Taos Toolbox is open for submissions beginning January 1. They plan on hosting their 2022 workshop in person, June 6-19, 2022. It’s two glorious weeks of focusing on writing and its craft, and it’s set on the gorgeous slopes of Angel Fire, NM. Find out more and apply over at their website: http://www.taostoolbox.com

publication, Taos Toolbox, Writing, Writing Workshops

Galaxy’s Edge now available free online!

That’s right, starting with this January 2018 issue–which just so happens to contain my story¬†After the Story EndsGalaxy’s Edge Magazine is available free online for your reading pleasure. I recommend you hop over to their site, read not only my story but the other great works online there, and tell others, too. I love this story. It’s one of my very favorites of the things I’ve written, and I would love as many eyes on it as possible. (Scroll down in the orange table of contents box to get to my story; it’s right after the one by Kij Johnson.)

Okay, now for a little bit behind the story. Are you ready for this? After the Story Ends¬†was written for a contest. That’s right–the title was given to me in a contest over on the Codex forums, and I had to write a story to match that title. I got to choose my own title from a huge long list of possibilities, and I scrolled through so many of them, seeking ‘the one.’ Many were often wonderful titles–ones I’d like to read, even–but I couldn’t see myself writing those stories. So I kept scrolling along, and along, and along.

Then I saw this one. It immediately called to me. After the story ends, what? So often, stories end with the “happily ever after.” But I’ve always wanted to know what occurs when that wears off, when you’re no longer the hero of the moment, but just another oddball to the folks around you. The return from fairy lands came from the beginning, and after that, it just rolled right along. But the story wasn’t done yet!

I subbed this to the Writers of the Future contest, where it garnered me Finalist–much to my utter shock! When I’d subbed it, I was sure–utterly, totally sure–that this just wasn’t going to be Dave’s ‘thing.’ So when the Finalist announcements were delayed, I wasn’t worried. I mean, I was totally sure that my story would be another late Honorable Mention, maybe a Semi-Finalist if I was really lucky.

This was the year that I attended Taos Toolbox, and I even had this very discussion with one of my roommates as I pondered whether I should use this story as my week two re-write. I mean, I knew I liked it, and I thought it was pretty good–but I knew it could be better. So, I edited it, and submitted it for critique during week two. And that’s where things get really weird.

There at Taos, Nancy Kress gave me probably the most influential line edit of my life. She pointed out every place in this story where I pushed too hard emotionally, using a two-by-four instead a whisper, where I told instead of showed, or worse, did both in turn, and where my emotions contradicted one another from line to line. She and Walter Jon Williams, and my classmates, helped me take this story from “pretty good” to “great.” My classmates’ enthusiasm and the instructors’ teaching propelled me to rewrite the story again, becoming this version you’re reading in Galaxy’s Edge as the result.

And then, I came home and got “the call” from Joni Labaqui at the WotF Contest. It was the day after I arrived home from Taos, and I still wasn’t over that experience, or recovered from the long trip home. And I swear, right until she said “Finalist,” I thought she was calling to tell me my story had been misplaced, or that I’d gotten an HM but the announcement had gotten misplaced…and a tiny part of me wondered why she’d bother calling someone for that.

So, after I hung up and picked myself up off the floor, I was in a daze. An hour later, I was in a mild panic. I’d looked up on the website to see who judges the Finalist stories, you see, and found Nancy Kress’s name there. I hadn’t thought about it at all while at Taos, but the stories are supposed to be completely anonymous. Sure I’d forfeited my spot, I called Joni the next day and told her Nancy had seen my story already–no problem, she said. And relief washed through me so fiercely my legs nearly gave out and I had to sit once again.

In the end, the story as I’d subbed it to WotF didn’t place in the top 3, so it didn’t become a Winner. While part of me was sad, at least I no longer had to worry about somehow exchanging the improved story for the original. And now the improved story is published in Galaxy’s Edge, a home where I’m very pleased to join the ranks of published authors. Win all around.

All that from a title found in a contest.

(Oh, and did you see–Taos Toolbox is open to submissions for this summer’s session…)

Taos Toolbox, Viable Paradise, Writing Workshops

It’s That Time of Year Again.

If you’re a writer, you know what I mean. December 1st (or January 1st) is when many writing workshops open their application period for the following year. I’ve been to two workshops: Viable Paradise in 2013, and Taos Toolbox this past summer of 2016. Both have been wonderful experiences, and I’ve met wonderful people–classmates as well as instructors–at both. If you’re looking for a workshop experience, I highly recommend either one of them. So, how do you decide?

Viable Paradise is open for applications Jan 1 – June 15, and the workshop this year is Oct 16-21. It’s held in Martha’s Vineyard, MA, and lasts one week. Both short story writers and novelists are welcome. At VP,¬†a whole bunch of instructors are there the whole time, and a couple special guests, as well. You may think, “Well, what can anyone learn in one week? That’s just not enough time.” And you’d be wrong. That week is intense. It’s filled to the brim with lectures and laughter and bonding and critiquing and reading and writing and food and fun and the Horror That is Thursday. You will arrive one person, and leave someone else. Maybe not obviously different, not at first. But fast or slow, you will be changed by your journey across the sea and back again.

Recap: one week; lots of instructors the whole time; no before-hand reading prep.

Taos Toolbox opens for applications on Dec 1, and has a sliding payment scale based upon when you applied (so it helps to apply early if you can). This workshop lasts two weeks, and is located near Taos, NM. It’s mostly novel-focused, but short story writers are welcome, too. Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress are the co-instructors the entire two weeks, and guest lecturers came in for an evening of extra instruction. This year’s three guests are George R. R. Martin and Steven Gould and E. M. Tippets, so you’ll certainly find something to your tastes there! Two weeks is twice one week, but the pace here is a bit slower, since there is more time . Also, we got reading packets before the workshop, so we¬†read and critted one another’s novel excerpts before arrival (mostly, at least!). There was a free weekend inside the workshop, too, when many of us explored and did fun things¬†(I hiked down Angel Fire Mountain with two other classmates–how often do you go hiking¬†above 10,000 feet, after all?–and most of us went on¬†a group tour of Taos Pueblo). We wrote, we read, we critiqued and learned the joys of “plot breaking” and talked writing until bats swooped into the skies, distracting us. We learned and learned and learned more. The desert skies changed us, and our words.

Recap: two weeks; two co-instructors and a few 1-day guests; lots of pre-workshop prep.

Of course, these are not the only workshops available. The big six-week workshops are Clarion, Clarion West, and Odyssey. While I’ve heard good things from those who’ve attended them, I haven’t gone to these, so I’m¬†only¬†linking to them for your convenience.

Of course, no one has to attend a workshop in order to become a writer. No one will look down on you, and your career as a writer won’t suffer if you never attend one. But if you can and want to attend, it’s a fun way to learn, to make friends at your own level, who’ll¬†go on to crit and hang out afterwards, both online and in real life. And those friends can see you through a world of ups and downs relating to writing and the writing life. They can make you feel less alone in the isolation of writing from your desk, wherever it may be. And that is never a bad thing.

If you can, I recommend you apply.

Taos Toolbox, Writing Workshops

Workshop Round-Up

I returned home from 2 weeks at Taos Toolbox Writers Workshop on Sunday, dragging and tired. My dog hasn’t left my side or my lap since. (It’s nice to be loved, but really? Still, he’s on my lap sleeping now, as I type this, so I guess I missed him just as much.) Fortunately for both the dog and me, husband-dearest caught me out of my freefall and helped me settle¬†my feet firmly onto home ground again.

How was it? Amazing. Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress each know more about publishing and writing than any five other folks, and their advice was wonderful and specific. The guest lecturers–James S.A. Corey and Emily Mah Tippetts–also had great insights for us, which we ate up like tasty petit fours. Daniel Abraham’s talk on success vs failure was¬†a perfect fit;¬†while some of my classmates found it depressing, I found it liberating and uplifting.

My classmates were wonderful and extremely talented, kind and funny, critical and yet supportive. I’m sure you’ll be seeing them in print and publication soon! Some are self-publishing already! (You can see our class photo at Walter’s website, and soon in Locus magazine.) My roommates were a joy to be around. (*waves hi!* ¬†Miss you guys already!) Conversations about writing took place in the classroom, in the resort lobby, in our rooms, in the hot tub and pool, in cars, on the mountainside, on the roads, and are probably still echoing in the halls we’ve left behind.

Speaking of which, their new location at Angel Fire Resort was beautiful! Three of us took the chairlift to the summit of Angel Fire and hiked down during our¬†Sunday off, and found it gorgeous and exhilarating. But why hike down, you ask? Well…I found out that altitude sickness was a real and actual thing that can whoop your butt. And it did whoop mine. Be forewarned, and if you’ve lived your whole life near sea level, arrive early! Your body and brain will thank you for it.

For two weeks, we students got to live, breathe, eat, and sleep words. We read and critiqued, we wrote. We discussed ideas. And I got to write down snippets of funny things said, especially out of context, as I’m going to present them here:

“We didn’t have a day before yesterday.”

“There are actually things in the first chapter I like.”

On the Oxford comma:
Student: But what about editors who tell you to take it out?”
Instructor: “That’s what ‘STET’ is for.”

“I’m enjoying it, but possibly I’m enjoying what’s going on in my head and not what you’ve written down.”

“Oh, you’re the one with the writing.”

“Most manuscripts aren’t smelly enough.”

“So you’re saying ‘horror’ is undead?”

“I hate words.”

“OK.¬†That’s hard to follow.”

“You need to build the world more before you destroy it.”

“It just seemed like there should be more paragraphs?”

“I like it when Science Fiction novels encourage the metric system.”

“Yeah, what they all said.”

“I have a high tolerance for things that don’t make sense.”

“You want a light spice here, not Sriracha.”

“It had all the excitement of trying to remember where your car was parked.”

“Ditto everything, but with some ‘buts.'”