Vegas, for writers?

When you think of Las Vegas, writing retreats may not be the first thing you think of.  Booze. Gambling. Scantily clad women. Hangover-esque bachelor parties. But not writing.

And yet, Vegas is an unexpectedly awesome place to have a writing retreat.  Think about it. There are usually cheap flights and deals on hotels.  The rooms are often quite large – many are suites which have comfy living areas perfectly suited for a bunch of writers to get together to critique or draft.  If you want a distraction but don’t want to waste time, everything and anything you could imagine is usually located within the hotel you’re staying at.  There is no need to even go outside.  You can eat anywhere from a food court a to five star restaurant, see a show, go to the spa, drink, dance, shop or gamble…all under one roof.  This cuts time wastage to a minimum.

And if you’re looking for inspiration, there’s no place better.  I mean, come on.  The place itself is a massive temple to the imagination, to the absurd, the sublime and the tragic.  Vegas is humanity dressed in its most colorful follies.  It is surreal.  Grotesque.  Glittering.  The only thing it is not is boring.  I dare you to walk the length of just a single hotel in Vegas and not come away with at least 3 new ideas for stories.

So, yes, Vegas is actually a fabulous place for a writing retreat.  In fact, I just got back from one yesterday (my second in Vegas).  A group of my writer-friends from Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox decided it would be nice to have a retreat just for women (no offense, guys, but sometimes it’s nice for us to get away from you).  We wrote, we went to the spa, and we wrote some more.  In just two days I got more writing done than I have in the past month.  Better yet, I got excited about my project again — mostly because talking about it in person with other writers reignited my ethusiasm.

Many of us engage with other writers through writing groups — often online, exchanging manuscripts and feedback via the twisty tubes of the interwebs.  Sometimes we do Google chat or “hangout” online or Skype, but it’s no substitute for live, in-person interaction, for being able to bounce ideas off each other, share worries and triumphs, swap industry gossip and tips, and get to know each other better.

You can do all this at Cons, of course, but they’re so…overwhelming.  There are so many people and everyone’s attention is being pulled this way and that.  Small writing retreats offer a chance to develop relationships and support each other — both as people and writers — that Cons never could (at least in my opinion…please feel free to disagree in the comments!).  Writing can be a very solitary activity and the friendships formed at retreats and workshops help you feel tethered to a community when you’re beating your head against the keyboard alone in your office at 3am.  That is invaluabe, and thus the time and money sacrificed to travel to retreats and workshops is (again, in my opinion) money very well spent.

So, if you’re debating attending a workshop or retreat, I advise you to debate no longer.  Go.  And, if you’re thinking of planning one, I recommend Vegas.

36 hours in the hospital…

…will do wonders for your sense of perspective on life.

Yesterday morning I was taken in an ambulance and admitted to the E.R. at Methodist Hospital for the sudden onset of chest pains.  At first, it was pretty scary.  I’m a fairly healthy, young person with no risk factors for heart disease who was inexplicably having chest pain for the first time in her life.  Anxiety and indigestion were quickly ruled out, which left few attractive alternatives.

However, after a couple (okay, more like 6 or 7) hours in the E.R., it started to become clear that the problem wasn’t cardiac either.  My blood work, Xrays, and EKG were all fine.  Doctors would look at me in surprise when they pulled back the curtain to my “room” and fellow patients – most either puking or bleeding uncontrollably – would eye me with envy.  Apparently, I was healthy as a horse.

But the pains weren’t going away, either.  Despite my lack of risk factors and good test results, the E.R. doc didn’t want to discharge me.  She admitted me to the hospital proper where more tests would be run and I’d be observed overnight.  So began the long wait for “a bed on the floor” (aka a space opening up upstairs so I could escape the E.R.).  13 hours after first being admitted, I was finally taken upstairs to a relative oasis of calm, settled in with my diabetic, incontinent 80 year old roommate and left to “sleep” through the night.  The cardiologist saw me this morning and confirmed that my heart was just fine.

Turns out I have some sort of muscular-skeletal issue – possibly inflammation around the ribs.  Uncomfortable and annoying, but nothing serious.  3 more hours after being pronounced good to go, I was finally discharged.  I’m home and clean (though I debate whether there is actually enough soap in the world to wash Methodist Hospital off me).  Oh, and my chest still hurts.  36 hours at the hospital and the only difference is that now I know I can ignore the chest pain.

The experience, though, gave me more than that.  It left me with plenty of time to experience the full range of human suffering (in the form of my fellow patients) and reflect on what it means to be healthy.

I’ve spent some time in hospitals before, but never have I been the patient left alone in the madhouse after visiting hours are over, never have I lain in the semi-darkness listening to cries coming from through the curtain or down the hall that hardly seem human–in short, never have I fully appreciated how wonderful it is to be healthy.

Health is something I’ve taken for granted – feeling sorry for myself when I have a pulled hamstring or contracted a cold virus.  The last 36 hours have shown me people who are *truly* unwell, and I can safely say it is a gut-wrenching, sad, and horrible sight.

I learned some smaller lessons in my time at the hospital too — like NEVER let a medical student draw your blood, and that “soon” actually translates into 1.5 hours give or take in medical parlance — but my true take-away was a profound sense of gratefulness.

I’ll try not to forget it.

In the meantime, I think I may go take another shower…

In which she comes up for air

Sorry for the infrequent posting around here.  In fact, pretty much everything has been infrequent for me of late — except course prep, that is.  The spring semester begins a week from Monday and I’ve got a new class on the docket.  For those of you who don’t teach, maybe a ‘new class’ sounds like a lark.  Oh, a fun new topic!  Endless possibilities!  Neat-o!

Well, that is true, but teaching a new class is also a sh*tload of work.  A new class means selecting an entire 16 week long syllabus worth of readings (which means reading about 2x as many readings as you end up using).  It means writing about 30 new lectures, discussion questions, a whole boatload of new quizzes and exams and review sheets…and so on.

In the past, when preparing a new class I have usually managed to get the syllabus together and perhaps the first few lectures sketched out before the semester begins.  The result is a 16 week cram session, desperately trying to get lectures and other materials prepared in advance of the next class.  Never mind grading.  Never mind writing a single word till the semester is over.  Or cleaning the apartment.  Or doing much of anything else.

So, this time around, I vowed not to let the happen.  I vowed to get a substantial portion of my prep materials done before the semester started.  So I set aside writing and blog posting and all that fun stuff for the last three weeks and knuckled down on this course.  I’ve had moderate success.  Probably a third of the course is ready to go, and I do still have a few more days to prepare before the semester starts.  So, that’s where I’ve been lately — neck deep in scholarly articles and textbook chapters and powerpoint presentations.

And that’s where I’ll be next week too…but, with any luck, it’ll pay off and the coming months will be merely busy rather than stress-inducingly insane.  Or, that’s the hope.

Wish me luck!

A Rejection to Break the Heart

I don’t usually let rejections bother me.  After all, they are an inescapable fact of submitting fiction for publishing consideration.  Send work out actively and no matter how great your writing, you’ll accrue a big old pile of ‘no, thank you’s’.  Typically, when a new one lands in my inbox, I glance it over to see if it’s a form or if there are any personalized comments from the editor, note the relevant information in my spreadsheet, and send the story back out.

I don’t practice rejectomancy, reading nuance and meaning into the wording of rejections that are, in all probability, not there.  I don’t take rejections personally.  Heck, I don’t take them as anything other than what they are:  part of being a writer.

We get rejected.  A lot.  Life goes on.

But today I got a rejection that nearly broke my heart.

Today the editor of a pro publication I love, love, love wrote to tell me that she really liked my story.  She went on to discuss the elements of it she loved — the very elements I myself love about this particular work — showing me she really got what I was trying to do with the piece.  But (and isn’t there always one?), the story didn’t quite fit with the very specific type of thing this market publishes, and because of this, they had to pass on many great stories, and mine, she said, was one of those.

Oh, damn.

I get personalized rejections all the time, but for some reason this one hit me hard.

I completely, 100% understand her reasons for passing.  A market gets known for a particular kind of tale, and this wasn’t quite that.  But if an editor of a market you love, who says she really likes your story, who calls it great and seems to really get what you’re trying to do — if that person isn’t going to publish your story…well, then, who will?

I know I should focus on the positive aspects of this rejection.  An editor generously gave of her time to sit down and write an email telling me a story I happened to really love is great.  That’s a nice affirmation.  It tells me I’m on the right track, that my assessment of my own work is not too far off the mark.  That’s a good thing.

But, still…sadness.  Still the feeling that if this editor and this market aren’t the right ones then perhaps there isn’t a right one.

So.  I allowed myself a whole day of mourning.  I didn’t work on any fiction and I didn’t send the story back out.  I did dull, everyday, day-job work and I let my heart mend itself and even let myself indulge in a pointless cry of SO CLOSE!

But, now the day is over.  Tomorrow the story will go back out and probably get rejected again and will go back out again.

People say that the writing business is not for the faint of heart or the easily discouraged.  Certainly that’s so, but it’s more than that.  This business isn’t for people who allow themselves to be discouraged at all.

And I won’t.

Taking stock, looking ahead

2012 was a pretty good year in writing for me.

  • I had one novel (BLOOD RED SUN) out on sub to just one agent in 2012.  She requested a full before passing.
  • I had 8 different short stories out to market (for which I garnered 39 rejections — of which 7 either included personal notes from the editor or stated that the story made it to the final round). I also received an Honorable Mention from the Writers of the Future Contest.
  • I wrote 6 new short stories.
  • I researched, outlined, and began drafting a new novel, PROJECT AWESOME, (of which I’ve written 30K).
  • I revised an ongoing novel project, ABSENT.  This included a complete 80K rewrite, followed by submission to readers, followed by another rewrite, which is currently underway.
  • In total, I estimate that I wrote approximately 250,000 words this year.
  • Sadly, I did not sell anything, but — hey — it’s a marathon, not a sprint!
  • I attended 1 con (Readercon) and 2 writing retreats (one in Dallas and one in San Antonio).

So, what are my writing goals for 2013?

  • I intend to finish revisions on ABSENT and begin subbing it to agents and editors.
  • I intend to cycle through the whole process (write, send for feedback, revise, repeat) on PROJECT AWESOME and get it out the door to agents and editors by the end of the year.
  • I vow to write and submit 7 new short stories (gotta top last year!).
  • I’ll probably keep my con attendance to just Readercon, but who knows?  So far I’ve got 3 writing retreats lined up (back to Paradise Lost in San Antonio, a group retreat in Colorado, and a women’s writing retreat in Vegas in just a few weeks).
  • …and, though, I have no direct control over whether I sell any work this year, I will keep writing and subbing to maximize my chances of success.

So, 2013…bring it on!

What are your writing goals for the New Year?

Happy New Year!

2013! We made it.

Just wanted to say Happy New Year, one and all.  As artificial as I know it is to point to January 1 as a “fresh start”, I’m looking forward to grabbing on to just that, and as foolishly optimistic as it is to make resolutions, I always harbor a few this time of year.

Eat better.  Exercise more.  Work harder, smarter, and with more joy.  Be more grateful.  Watch less television.  Read more.  Be happier.

Probably these resolutions are little different than your own, but there’s something affirming in that, don’t you think?  We silly monkeys are all the same at heart.

So, it’s a new year.  Go forth and be awesome.