“The Unspeakable Horror of the Literary Life”

15 Oct

I left Viable Paradise yesterday afternoon, and my brain promptly dissolved into mush. In case this mushiness is permanent, I’m writing my post while the experience remains fresh. I apologize in advance for any lack of coherency.

In short, Viable Paradise is wonderful, in the literal sense of the word. It is a mind-boggling, sleep-depriving, life-changing experience. Uncle Jim calls it “liminal,” and I have to agree. We have crossed water and returned from the dead.

For those unfamiliar, Viable Paradise is one of the few workshops specifically designed for writers of fantasy and science fiction. Others are Clarion (for short story writers only), Odyssey, and CSSF, all of which happen over the summer. Clarion and Odyssey are significant time commitments; Viable Paradise is only a week (thus the “viable” part). Viable Paradise surrounded me with people serious about writing and publishing in fantasy and science fiction and then proceeded to bludgeon tools into my skull through lectures, critiques, discussions, and exercises. Other workshops have their advantages, but none of them can compare with the instructor lineup of Viable Paradise.

My classmates were incredible, but it really is the instructors and staff that make Viable Paradise so special. We had eight and a half instructors this year. Uncle Jim, aka James D. Macdonald, exudes story out of his very being, and Debra Doyle is an expert on language and history (really). Teresa Nielsen Hayden is a genius with something insightful to add about everything, and I dare you to try to take notes as fast as Patrick Nielsen Hayden dishes out the depths of his knowledge. It will come as no surprise to anyone following this blog that I have an enormous amount of respect for Sherwood Smith and her writing, and discussing my work with her involved revelation after revelation. Steve with a Hat, aka Steven Brust, pretends he’s the amateur of the bunch (it’s a lie) yet has a way of getting to the heart of the matter in just one phrase. Steven Gould always approached issues in an unexpected way, and Elizabeth Bear was an absolute powerhouse on any subject I could think of to ask her. Although technically not an instructor, Scott Lynch nevertheless graced us with his thoughts on world-building and plot tomatoes.

If you are interested in writing, or fantasy, and any of these names are unfamiliar to you, look them up. Listening to our instructors bounce ideas off each other was one of the most educational experiences I have ever had, and they were always willing to sit down and work through something with me.

I also can’t remember a time when I’ve been so thoroughly sleep-deprived. Much of that had to do with the busyness of our schedule; some is because of how much time I spent chatting and singing with classmates and instructors, the latter of whom know far more folk music than you do. I wanted to never miss a moment if I could help it. My brain was spinning so fast trying to process everything that I had trouble even falling asleep once I got to bed. Fortunately, I got my caffeine tolerance way down before the workshop started, so between Irish Breakfast tea and the cooking of MacAllister Stone and the staff I survived.

I can’t recommend Viable Paradise highly enough. The experience boils down, for me, to the feeling that “These are my people” and the belief that I have the tools I need to be a successful writer. I’m sure I will have more to write in days to come, but my brain is starting to fritz, if that wasn’t evident, and so I will leave you with a few thoughts:

1. POV fixes everything, including structure. Conversely, structure can also fix POV.

2. Never mention the concept of subtext around Uncle Jim.

3. Control your plot tomatoes. If you are unfamiliar with plot tomatoes, I refer you to Scott Lynch.


Posted by on October 15, 2012 in The Publishing Industry


Tags: , ,

4 responses to ““The Unspeakable Horror of the Literary Life”

  1. T. S. Bazelli

    October 16, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I feel the same. It took me an entire day to try and sum up my thoughts on the workshop. It’s just… too much, too big! (Also, the sleep deprivation). :)

  2. Foster A.R.

    October 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    OK. I give. Google can’t bring me the answer — what is the nature of a “plot tomato”?


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