The Lone Star Two-Step

Or, I could title this post “On the Road Again” or “Back to Texas I go” or…you get the idea.

This weekend is the Paradise Lost writers retreat in San Antonio, Texas. I’ll be there, soaking up knowledge, participating in critiques, eating healthful cuisine (erm…scratch that last, I guess), and hanging out with friends. And, when it’s all over and I return on Monday, I am happy to report that I won’t be getting on an airplane again for at least a month and a half.

Today, though, I journey to Queens, suitcase in hand, teach, teach, teach, trundle to the airport, and then wing my way to the Lone Star State.

I’ll try to post something useful this weekend. Emphasis on try.


I’m off today for Paradise Lost III, a writing workshop in San Antonio Texas for graduates of Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox. There will be friends, beer, and sun. There will be critiques and lectures and new insights. There will be Mary Robinette Kowal, Lynne Thomas, Stina Leicht, and Jay Lake.

Pretty fabulous, if you ask me.

I’ve subbed the first 4K of Project Awesome (aka THICKER THAN WATER) and I eagerly look forward to feedback from my assigned crit groups.

I hope to post some updates from the road, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, I’d better go find my cowboy boots…

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.

Paradise Lost, and found

I’ve just returned from a weekend in San Antonio at the Paradise Lost writing workshop and I thought I’d share some thoughts on the experience (for some photos, go here).

Paradise Lost is organized by Sean Kelley and geared towards folks who’ve already attended a longer workshop (such as Viable Paradise or Taos Toolbox).  The goal of Paradise Lost is to provide a space in which people who are starting to have some success but are not yet full-fledged pros can hone their craft and share ideas.  In this, it succeeds.

The workshop spanned 3 days, which were fairly evenly divided amongst lectures by pros (this year’s pros were John Joseph Adams, Jay Lake, and Steven Brust), small group critiques, free time for writing, and social time.  It was an excellent balance, providing opportunities to learn, relax, and get to know cool new people.  I left this workshop feeling sated but not burned out.

The lectures, particularly those by John Joseph Adams and Jay Lake, were very career focused.  It was fascinating to hear an editor’s take on submissions, querying, slush, rejections, and the like.  John also encouraged those of us who consider ourselves novelists not to turn our backs on writing short fiction.  He pointed out short fiction is a great way for novelists to stay in readers’ sights during the long wait between books, to experiment with ideas that don’t lend themselves well to long form, and to increase our odds of getting nominated for awards (there being more short form award categories).  This really hit home and inspired me not to give up on short fiction.  Thanks, John!

Jay Lake talked a lot about social media, conventions, and productivity.  His big take-home seemed to be that you really need to do what works for you.  If you don’t feel comfortable tweeting, then don’t.  If you hate writing a blog, then don’t.  If you’re too shy to be the center of attention at cons, then don’t feel you have to try.  One topic he touched on was the pros and cons of getting on con panels.  I’d always figured this would be a Good Thing in terms of career development, but Jay wisely pointed out that you have to think about why you want to be on the panel, whether you’ll have anything valuable to say on the topic, and whether you’re enough of a “competitive talker” to have your voice be heard (or, if you are a competitive talker to be self-aware enough to know not to completely dominate the discussion).  I really appreciated the nuance of his advice.

Steven Brust was the final guest at the workshop, and his advice tended towards the writing side of the equation.  In particular, he offered some really clever tricks for getting unstuck, some ways to use POV to solve problems with plot and description, how to use cliche to your advantage, and some insights on using theme to move your story forward without hitting the reader over the head with it.

Best of all, though, were the great people I met — most of whom were previously strangers or faceless “voices” on the interwebs.  I love connecting with other writers, and this group was uniformly nice, talented, and fascinating.

San Antonio was also a perfect spot for a workshop like this — the Riverwalk was just outside the front door of the hotel, offering plenty of easy options for eating/drinking — all of which were happy to accommodate big groups.  All in all, it made for an enjoyable and productive weekend.

Paradise Lost is a recurring event, so if you think you might be interested, you should consider it for next year.  Once applications open, I’ll post the link here, and I’m happy to answer questions in the comments.

Controlled chaos

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks around Casa Suri, and no mistake.  I’m pretty sure the last time I sustained this level of continuous stress was back when we were planning our (2) weddings.  Nevertheless, life must go on.  Exams must be written, proctored, and graded.  Words must be written.  The garbage insists on being taken out.

Major amounts of traveling are not helping things.  In the next seven days my husband will journey to states that touch all four borders of our country to give talks and go to interviews.  This makes me feel quite lazy to be traveling to only one place: a writing retreat in Dallas.

Though it’s adding to the pig pile of stress, the retreat also promises a much-anticipated break from it.  It’ll be populated by some good friends as well as new faces.  As hard as it’s been to carve out time to critique all the submissions, it will — I know — be well worth it.  I’m hoping for camaraderie, inspiration, good food, and plenty of beer.

Hopefully they’ll be time for the occasional update while I’m away…so stay tuned!

Writer’s Workspace: 2/29

Good morning!  It’s Leap Day!

Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on: Today I’m putting the finishing touches on the first three chapters of my newest novel, a secret project involving viruses, magic, and murder.  This 8k sample will be my submission for a writing workshop I’m attending in Dallas in March.  Here’s a sneak peak from Chapter One:

Snippet from the screen:  Aaron Rooney’s eyes bulged with dislike.  “You keep your mouth shut, you little freak, or I’ll have you up on charges.”

I was getting all ready to snarl back when Daniel settled his hand on my leg.  Time was I would have opened my veins right there, bathed the pickup with my blood, persuaded it to turn into a monster, and sent it chasing Sherriff Aaron Rooney all the way down to the Port Townsend ferry.  But that was before I’d met Daniel.  I took a deep breath.  

“Apologies, Sherriff.”  I tried to smile winsomely.  Problem was, I hadn’t felt winsome in about three years.

In my mug: It’s an English Breakfast type of morning, so naturally I’ve got a cold mug of green tea with honey.  Sigh.

On the iTunes: my playlist this morning features an eclectic mix of moody tunes.  Right now Solomon Burke is crooning “Cry to Me”; next up, “Losing my Religion” as sung by Dia Frampton.

Keeping me company: His Royal Highness, Sir Ramses the Displeased, has parked his majestic behind on my desk.  He insists on sitting on top of my mouse pad and mouse and biting me every time I attempt to dislodge him.  Please send help.

A little procrastination never hurt anyone: an interesting read here, from Jody Hedlund’s blog, on the importance of story over perfection, the latest podcast from Writing Excuses, and three pudding recipes that are sure to make you fat (and happy).

How are YOU taking advantage of our temporal bonus this year?  What’s on tap for your Leap Day?

Vegas, baby!

Only a few words today, and those with pencil. (bonus points to anyone who gets the reference).

As you may know, I’m in Vegas for a writing retreat organized by my friend E.F. Kelley.  We’re heading into Day Two and, so far, I have to say: Yes.  Though several of us have not met before in person, the group dynamic is clicking very well, the feedback provided on previously submitted works has been substantive and insightful…and, of course, it’s Vegas.  So, there’s good food and plenty of inspiration to be found on what is (let’s face it) essentially an alien planet.

In addition to crits of work by Lou Berger, George Galuschak, and Hallie Rulnick, we had a rousing discussion of the difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy.  Underdevelopment of villains came up a lot, and we talked about the five writing cards, two of which every writer is given and three of which they must learn (plot, character, setting, prose, and dialogue).  Also, we stuffed ourselves full of tasty food (Bouchon Bistro for an obscene breakfast that included pastries AND pomme frites, Earl of Sandwich for yummy lunch, and Sage restaurant for fancy dinner).

I’m up for critique this morning on an excerpt and synopsis of my novel Absent.  I’m really looking forward to getting help on shaping up the characterizations (especially my protagonist’s motivations and needs/wants) and the direction of the second half of the plot. We’ll also take a look at Catherine Schaff-Stump’s novella excerpt “Were-Humans,” a short story from Danielle LeFevre, and – time permitting – do a plot session on E.F.’s novel.  Tonight: Cirque du Soleil.

I’ll try to pop in for a an update on Sunday when things wrap themselves up.  Till then, have a great weekend!  I know I will.

Superstars Writing Seminar, pretty darn super

Last week I traveled to Salt Lake City to attend the 2nd annual Superstars Writing Seminar.  I found the workshop extremely valuable.  Unlike many other writing seminars and workshops, SWS focuses exclusively on the business of writing.  Specifically, the seminar provides an insider’s view of the publishing industry, as well as advice on networking, writing productivity, and strategies for capitalizing on your intellectual property.

The instructors this year were Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, Brandon Sanderson, and David Farland/WolvertonSherrilyn Kenyon and Tracy Hickman made guest appearances, and a few established pro attendees, including Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Tayler, also joined several of the panels.  By any measure, these people know what they’re talking about.

Basically, the seminar consisted of three days in a conference room listening to the instructors share personal insights and advice about the publishing business.  To give just a few examples, Eric Flint walked us through one of his contracts, clause by clause.  He explained the exact meaning of all the legalese, including what’s standard (and therefore where we should set our expectations), and which elements were worth negotiating over and which weren’t.  It was illuminating in the extreme.

Another panel focused on networking, driving home not only the point that it’s crucially important for both new and established authors but also providing concrete examples of how to go about doing it (both in person and online).    Other topics included things like:  collaborating with other authors, insights into the different publishing houses, the economics of the publishing industry, working in Hollywood, and, honestly, so much more I can’t even remember it all right now.  The expression “drinking from a fire hose” doesn’t even come close.

The rest of our time was spent having lunches, dinners, and drinks – both with the instructors and fellow attendees.  The instructors really made themselves available and answered questions very frankly.  The workshop itself was an excellent networking opportunity.

As many of you know, last year I attended the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop (submissions for which are open now until June 15), and it had a transformative effect on my writing.  I feel SWS will have an equally profound impact on my understanding of the business and how I approach my career.  For those hesitating at the cost, I’ll simply say I consider the money well spent and likely to pay dividends for years, if not decades, to come.

The 2012 Superstars will be held in Las Vegas.  You can find out more on their webpage – and if you have specific questions, post them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them.  If you haven’t already seen it, I previously posted a preliminary review of the first day of the seminar.