Save the Date Writing Butterflies, This Year’s Armadillocon Writing Workshop is Friday, August 3!

 Crack your knuckles and warm up your keyboards, it’s time to polish up your short story or first chapter for the annual Armadillocon Writing Workshop!

 Submissions are DUE Friday June 15, 2018

This is an excellent, low-cost workshop for writers who want to:

 Work with professional writers and editors familiar with speculative fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. 

  • Learn how to give and receive critique in a small-group, face-to-face setting
  • Find out if workshops and in-person critique groups are useful to their writing progress
  • Find their tribe and make connections with others that will serve their writing year round.
  • Take their writing to the next level.

The workshop will be Friday, August 3, 2018 

We will spend the morning in panels on the craft and business of writing and doing a writing exercise or two. Then, lunch with the professional writers and fellow students in your breakout critique group. The afternoon will be spent in in-depth, collaborative critique sessions where you will be both giving and receiving critique. 

Just $90 gets you the full-day workshop and a full convention membership to attend all of the activities for the entire weekend. ArmadilloCon is an excellent regional literary convention, which means there will be lots of great panels about writing, reading, and the state of the genre (there are also panels about movies, tv shows, gaming, and everything geek). 

Sponsored seats for writers of color!

We are committed to promoting diversity and access for all workshop attendees. Writing in a genre centered on exploration and encountering the Other must include voices and visions from writers and readers of all kinds. The Workshop actively seeks to include students, faculty, visiting scholars, and volunteers from a variety of backgrounds including, but not limited to race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, and ability. 

To that purpose we are offering a limited number of sponsored seats to the workshop for writers of color. To apply for a seat, follow the link on the workshop page.

 If are interested in sponsoring a seat for a writer of color, contact me at armadilloconwritersworkshop@gmail.com

The Exquisite Corpse at the ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop


It’s officially fall, the kids are back in school, summer and ArmadilloCon are quickly receding on the horizon as we zoom toward the winter solstice. I meant to blog about the Writing Workshop looong before this, but life, as usual, got in the way. I have so many thoughts about the con and Writing Workshop, which I will get to in later posts. The first order of business is to talk about the writing exercise.


The morning of the workshop consists of two panels covering broad topics in writing and publishing broken up by a writing exercise. The panels, while informative, require a lot of sitting and focused attention, so my goal for the exercise was not only to get people writing and thinking about the creative process, but to also get us all out of our chairs and moving around a bit. What I came up with a classic exquisite corpse exercise paired with some guided freewriting.

People really enjoyed this exercise, so for any of you who might be in a writing group and interested in doing it, read on for instructions. I’ve also posted a sampling of the results. I think this would work for almost any size group, just be sure to build in time for all the moving around and passing pages!

  • First, create exquisite corpse drawings. I confess I was a studio art major for a couple years before switching to English, so the idea of doing a quick sketch was appealing to me. That said, I know even the thought of drawing can make people nervous. The great thing about this exercise’s roots in surrealism is that there is really no such thing as a bad drawing – nothing can be too weird for the purposes of this exercise. 
  • Have everyone fold their paper into thirds. Start by drawing the top of something on the top portion. Instruct people to extend their “top” drawings just a bit below the folded line so that the next person has something to connect their drawing up to. After a few minutes (I used a timer set to 3 minutes) have everyone fold the paper in a way that hides their portion of the drawing and have them pass it on to someone else, who will draw the middle without looking at the previous drawing (again extending the bottom of their drawing just a bit past the last fold).
  • Repeat for the bottom of the drawing.
  • The complete drawings are passed one more time to someone new. During any of these stages (drawing or writing), it doesn’t matter who they pass their drawings to, though I encouraged everyone to try to pass whatever they had to someone new.
Now that everyone has a delightfully weird character in hand it’s time to write. I kept exquisite corpse structure for this part too. I used 5×8 index cards for the writing in order to encourage everyone to keep things concise. 

  • Card #1 (write 1 in the top corner of the card). Look at your drawing this is your main character. In just two or three sentences write the opening of a story. A little bit about the world, a bit about the character and that character’s desire. (as Vonnegut says, your character should want something, even if it’s a glass of water). Think “Once upon a time.” This is the Regular World of the story. (I gave people 5 minutes to write each section.)
  • Hand card #1 off to someone new (along with the drawing) – this time it’s not a secret. Read what you get. Write #2 on a new card. Time to write Act Two. Think, “And then…” This is the character, in pursuit of their desire, leaves the normal world and/or encounters a new element. It could be negative, i.e. the wolf shows up on Red Riding Hood’s trail, or positive, i.e. Charlie Bucket getting one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets.
  • Hand both cards and the drawing off to someone new, read over what you have so far. Write #3 on the last card. Time to write the ending. Think, “Until one day.” This isn’t easy but we’re just having fun here. It’s time for the character to commit to a course of action. The character can be forced to change or the character’s perception of the world can change. The world can be not what it seems (the character’s realization and/or the reader’s realization)
After everyone finished with their last card, I invited people to read what they had. Unfortunately, we didn’t have nearly enough time for this part. With the getting up and trading drawings and cards around. If I repeat this exercise, I will definitely block out more time for people to simply enjoy checking out the drawings and for everyone to get up, move around, and get resettled in between each stage.

All this mixing and matching isn’t meant to create a beautiful story, but to illustrate how considering at wildly different scenarios, images, ideas can lead to innovative narrative solutions. Also, I hope that it can give some confidence in our ability to come up with fun narrative solutions on the fly. 

Another thing that I really liked about this exercise is that since everyone is encouraged to pass want they’ve got to someone new at each stage, everyone gets to mingle just a bit without it being super awkward. Since the afternoon is spent in small group critique with people that workshoppers have often only just met, this exercise serves as a bit of an icebreaker. 

I don’t know if I can top this exercise next year, but I am going to try. 

After the workshop, lots of students wanted to see more of the collective stories and drawings. In hindsight I would have created a better way for everyone to share the results of this collective exercise. I did manage to collect some of the results from students over the weekend. Scroll down to see them.*

If you were at the workshop and would like your exercise posted, ping me in the comments and I’ll add it to the roll.

* Apologies if the resolution isn’t great. I’m no expert in the finer points of web formatting.

























ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop T-Minus 36 Hours: Letting Go

The aphorism, “A good conversation never ends, it’s only interrupted” comes to mind. I feel the same about the stories I write. Creators, artists, and writers are always striving to improve their craft. Reaching for perfection, always falling a few inches short. This is why it can be hard to determine when to call a piece you’ve struggled over finished. For me, it’s more about knowing when to let it go.
Creating something is its own reward and its own punishment. Every story starts with some nugget of inspiration, a character, a mood I want to capture, a moment I want to bring to life. It’s this vision that compels me to create the first draft. Invariably, after writing it out, and working through however many revisions, what I end up with is NEVER what I originally imagined. I won’t say it’s better or worse, but it is different. Even when I am happy with the final result, there is always a tiny nagging feeling of missing the mark.  
If you keep writing and working to improve, you will look back at old stories, even the ones that are published and see ways that they might be improved. I remind myself that that was the best story I could produce last week or last year or three years ago. M. Rickert says her old stories are like snapshots of the writer she was at the time she wrote them.
It’s important to strive for excellence, at the same time once you feel you’ve made a story the best you can – let it go. It may be flawed, have some element that you wish you could manage more astutely, but if it’s viable (i.e. has a plot with a beginning middle and end, a character who changes or comes to a realization, etc.), then it’s time to let it go (today, that might mean sending it to the ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop). Submit somewhere for publication and move on to the next story with the goal to make that one better.
Whether I see you at the ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop or not – I hope you go forth and write story after story. I look forward to reading all of them out in the wild! 

ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop Boot Camp Week 5: Give it a Rest!

Noon: Rest from Work by Vincent van Gogh
Three weeks to go before the June 11 deadline to submit work and sign up for the AmradilloCon Writing Workshop. There is still time to go through the entire boot camp program from the first post and create a short story or novel chapter in order to participate. Consider blocking off a few chunks in your schedule if you can, take a vacation day from work, or bargain with your family for some “away” time and create your own mini writer’s retreat.
If you’ve been following along with the program so far you’ll have a rough draft in hand that has the essential elements of characterization, plot, and worldbuilding in place. Now it’s time to give it a rest. I firmly believe revising my own work effectively depends on my ability to see it with new eyes. One of the best ways to do this is to put it aside for a while. If no deadlines are involved, I find a week or two to be ideal, but even putting something down for 24 hours can be immensely helpful.
In this post, I’m going to talk about both resting and your next revision. Because, as I mentioned before, there’s no rule against submitting your work early!
For me looking away from my current writing project is just as important as the time I spend focused on it. If, like me, you have a few pieces in various stages of completion resting one piece means that you can turn your attention to a different one for a while. If you don’t have anything else on deck, then spend a day or two with your reading. If you’re working on a short story, pull up some short stories online (see the fiction links in my sidebar for a start). If you’re working on a novel chapter, read the first chapters of the novels in your bookcase or at your local library or go to Amazon and preview a bunch of first chapters.
Resting, in this case is, more like what happens when bread dough “rests.” After activating the yeast and kneading the dough a baker covers it and lets it rest. But a lot is happening under that kitchen towel. While the baker is attending to other things, the yeast ferments, the dough expands and the final loaf’s signature flavor and texture are formed. When the baker returns to the dough, it is something different. For writing the transformation takes place in your head. Your subconscious is always percolating themes and ideas and this process doesn’t stop during revision. Time away from your piece can give you space to solidify what is important about this story and what elements might need to be enhanced or minimized in order to refine it.
After you’ve given your piece a rest, read through it again. If you feel that everything is roughly in place then it’s time to start refining your piece with a more granular revision. (If, on your read through you find a logic problem or plot hole, go ahead and excise or plaster in some words or a scene before you go on to the next step – all of these revision stages can be repeated as needed.) If you’re ready to refine what you have, here are some things to focus on:
Transitions
These are the breaks between scenes, changes in location, point of view, or gaps in time in the story. An extra space, a short line of asterisks, or a transitional sentence can mark these changes. Generally, I find that too many transitional separators are often a sign that the story (especially one limited to 5,000 words) is perhaps trying to paint on too large of a canvas. If you have a lot of disjointed scenes, consider scaling your story down, e.g. by narrowing the amount of time it covers or number of characters. When I write a first draft, I can be pretty lazy about writing transitions between scenes, this draft is where I write those sentences that link adjacent scenes together. If you are looking to write a story that is more conceptual or is set in a vast time scale you can use alternative forms. For example, when I wanted to write about all of the different ways we think about time, I did it as a list story.
Paragraphs
Once you’re happy with the way your story flows from one scene to another, turn your attention to your paragraphs. A good paragraph, like a good story, will have a beginning, middle, and end. It should progress to a tiny resolution of it’s own. At times, for impact, you might want to have a one sentence or one word paragraph.
Dialogue
Is tricky, because in fiction dialogue is not the same as natural speech, which is often rambling and circular. Dialogue has to accomplish something while looking like it isn’t, to be intentional without appearing intentional. Dialogue often moves the plot, but it really shines by revealing character. Employing dialect can work, but it is often more effective to think in terms of individual habits of speech. Actors often do this when creating character, think of how Lumbergh in Office Space almost always starts off with a long, irritating “Yeah.” Try to give your main characters unique speech patterns and check that all the dialogue is accomplishing something, either moving the plot forward or revealing character (preferably a little of both).
As you’re refining your piece the ultimate goal is to focus it both structurally and for emotional impact. You’ll be surprised how much you can dial up the conflict and drama of by making small adjustments at this point.
Next week we’ll talk about the final polish, and working at the sentence level for clarity and grace. There’ll be a bit about dun DUN dun! Grammar.

If you have any questions, put them in the comments and I’ll address those too!



NOTICE: Diverse writers welcomed here!
Diversity is vital to speculative fiction. A genre centered on exploration and encountering the Other must include voices and visions from writers, readers and thinkers of all kinds.

This year the Armadillocon Writing Workshop has sponsored seats for writers of color! Visit the workshop page for more information and to fill out the sponsorship request form!

ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop Boot Camp Week 4: What have you got?

We’re About a month out from the June 11 deadline to turn in your work and sign up for the Armadillocon Writing Workshop (of course you can turn in your piece early – hahaha! No, seriously, the door’s open). If you’ve been following this boot camp program you should have a messy zero draft in hand. (If you just found this, it’s not too late to catch up. Scroll back to boot camps one and two for gathering and developing ideas, and week three for writing your zero draft.)

NOTICE: Diverse writers welcomed here!
Diversity is vital to speculative fiction. A genre centered on exploration and encountering the Other must include voices and visions from writers, readers and thinkers of all kinds.
This year the Armadillocon Writing Workshop has sponsored seats for writers of color! Visit the workshop page for more information and to fill out the sponsorship request form!
This week it’s time to set aside your writer’s hat and start revising. But when it comes to revising you’ll need more than one hat. I’ll call this first hat the big picture hat. This is where you need to assess just what exactly you’ve got.
Sometimes our stories are buried beneath our conscious thought. If you wrote your first draft free and fast, new story elements or characters may have emerged or changed direction on you. Instead of forcing things back into your original plan, this is an opportunity to see what this draft has to say to you.
This is big picture editing. Start by simply reading through the mess and listen for the piece’s beating heart. What are the things your characters believe in? Fight for? What is won or lost? Try not to be distracted by scene details or sloppy sentences. Resist the urge to do any housekeeping at this point. Try to get a bead on the essence of the story, the thing that will guide your revisions.
Now that you’ve read your draft for you, it’s time to pick up your pen (or put your document into revision mode) and read through it with your readers in mind. Is your story coherent or are there places where you might lose your reader logically or emotionally? This first revision is where it’s easiest to make big structural changes. Move the furniture around, write new material, change a character’s motivation, age, gender if you need to, try different dialogue.

Oscar Wilde’s handwritten manuscript 
page of The Picture of Dorian Gray

Mostly, I’m drawingwith my red pen here, circling text to be moved, crossing out chunks, writing brief notes for new scenes or dialogue. Here are some things to think about:
Plot:
Is there a beginning, middle and end to the story? Does the protagonist change in some way? Do they succeed or fail at something? Do they have a goal or desire? Did the characters get side tracked? If so and if the story lost its focus you can either redirect the characters to your original idea or explore the alternate story that the sidetrack suggests. It can be helpful to write a brief reverse outline here. Make a list of each thing that happens to see if you have cause-and-effect chain of events running through your story.
Pacing:
May be wonky at this point. Frankly, pacing can be tricky in shorter forms. Five thousand words can go by in a flash, so check for long stretches of description or rambling characterizations. Try to keep things concise and make sure events are progressing in a way that increases the tension (i.e. keep tightening the thumb screws on the protagonist).
Clarity:
Are there logic holes or missing steps in the chain of events that will confuse the reader? Are there places where you can adjust the description or characterization that will make the ending resonate more powerfully? In theater, early rehearsals are devoted to blocking out the actors’ stage movements. Think in terms of blocking. Make sure it’s clear to your reader where your character is in the room/woods/spaceship/etc., and in relation to other characters.
With scribbled up draft in hand or on screen, you are ready for your first big rewrite. You’re not shooting for perfection here, just improvement. Try to improve the overall shape of the story, dial up the conflict if you need to, refine the characters and their desires. You can rinse and repeat this process throughout the week. Hell, if the zero draft isn’t cooperating, you have time to start over from scratch. Maybe there’s some moment within your first try at a story that branches off, intrigues you, go ahead and see where that one leads you. Your goal is to come out of the week with something rough but cohesive, something with all the moving parts in the right places.
All of this advice holds for an older piece that you want to refurbish. Except that what you have may be more polished, and it might be harder for you to scrap big sections, rearrange or take the story in a new direction. If so, this is the week you kill your darlings. No matter how beautiful your sentences, how shapely your paragraphs, if the story isn’t working it’s going to have to change and probably change into something very different than your original idea. Sometimes I feel better if I keep the stuff I amputate in a folder with the idea of using these scraps in something new someday.
Next week will be a rest/catch up week. I will also talk about revising for style and grace (that other editor’s hat) for writers who may want to fast track and get their story in early.

ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop Bootcamp Week 2: Playing in the Sandbox – Developing Ideas, Old and New

Welcome back to bootcamp. We’re T-minus 6 weeks to the June 11 deadline to enroll and submit your short story or novel chapter to the ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop. Last week, I talked about how workshops can benefit your writing and what you can do to get ready to write by carving out some time in your schedule and gathering ideas.

This week is a good time sort through your collection of ideas and/or unfinished projects and throw your lot in with one lucky winner. In other words it’s time to decide and develop your idea.
The first thing to decide is whether you’ll be working on a short story or the first chapter(s) of a novel. (I’m going to put a caveat in here that I am primarily a short story writer. I’ll do my best to keep the advice here universal, but this series might by slightly more adapted to short form fiction rather than noveling. I am currently working on a novel, and learning a lot, so stay tuned for more novel friendly posts in the future.)
While I think submitting a stand-alone short story might be slightly more productive for a one-day workshop, many students opt to submit the first chapter(s) – up to 5,000 words – of a novel. Since it is just a piece of something much larger, you’ll get less feedback and insight into shaping middles and creating satisfying endings. Even so, first chapters are critical to attracting readers. This is where you set up and set in motion a larger story, and there will be plenty of faculty and fellow writers who are on the same page at the workshop. If you decide to write opening chapter(s), focus on writing a scene or a sequence of scenes that create a strong hook. Introduce the main characters (but not too many all at once!). Salt in some world building and think a bit about setting the tone for the story (e.g. is it creepy, gritty horror or a space comedy).
Short stories are great for workshops in particular and for honing your writing skills in general. A stand-alone piece will give you a chance to get feedback on a complete unit of storytelling. Writing short fiction has helped me develop skills like assessing and managing the size of an idea, managing plot and pacing on a small scale, and understanding scene and sequence. It is also a place where you can try out crazy ideas, unusual forms and methods. Experimentation isn’t just a great way to master the form – it’s also a lot of fun. So, even if short stories aren’t your main interest, consider writing at least a few.
Starting from nada?
First, keep reading, listening, and viewing stories that engage your emotions and challenge your thinking. Whenever something piques your interest note it down in your journal (or wherever you keep notes) but don’t stop there, riff of these idea kernels, combine them with others.
Here are a couple common ways to develop ideas. 

You can think in terms of SCENARIO. Collect vignettes, fragmentary scenarios, themeatic ideas that intrigue you. Spin ideas out by asking “what if” over and over again. Be present. Be inquisitive. We witness (and act in) a thousand little dramas every day. After you get off the phone with the Help Desk wonk, imagine that disembodied voice in a surreal scenario, if you hear a quiet argument between a couple at a coffee shop spin out your idea of what might have caused it, or how it might come to an unexpected end. Start with a moment or interaction from your day, or open up Pinterest or Instagram and look for evocative images. Get out a blank piece of paper or pull up a blank document and play around with “what ifs.” Write down as many as you can, everything that comes into your head. Try combining a couple unlikely elements into a scenario that you can develop into a complete story.
Or approach story via CHARACTER, keeping in mind that for a short story or the early chapter(s) of a novel, it’s usually best to limit the number of characters. I find that two or three characters are ideal for anything under 5,000 words. If you have some characters in mind, try putting them together in conversation, and write it out in dialogue only. Give one of the characters a secret. Think about characters who want something deeply, or want to escape something. If you have a half-formed character, interview them. Pose questions and have them state their opinion and then keep writing, letting them talk. Keep going until they say something that surprises you.
Want more? Check out John Dufresne’s talk about creating a story.
The unfinished.
If you’ve been writing for a while, and you’re anything like me, you might have what I call The Island of Misfit Toys: a collection of unfinished or broken stories languishing in a folder somewhere. I keep these stories around for the day when I have acquired whatever skill I need in order to pull that particular story off. If you’re looking to refurbish a story for the workshop, this is the week to read it as critically as you can. Summarize what happens plot wise, and make notes about what you think are the its strengths and weaknesses. Be prepared to tear it down and start again from the ground up. If you’ve kept the story around, then the kernel of the idea that inspired you should survive.

So keep reading and mulling over ideas, let them grow into some vignettes and character interactions, make notes. If you have any questions, put them in the comments. 

Next week you’re writing your ZERO DRAFT.

Pick up your pens, it’s time to start thinking about the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop!

When I told a writer friend that I would be coordinating the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop this year, he asked me if I’d lost a bet? I laughed and said, no. I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to give back to a workshop that has given me so much! Excited and a little nervous. Lucky for me I have the support of the previous coordinators Marshall Ryan Maresca and Stina Leicht. With their help I’m looking forward to making this year’s workshop the best experience it can be!

When I returned to writing fiction after my children were born, I did not have the option either financially or time-wise to travel to the big name workshops like Clarion, Odyssey, or Viable Paradise. When my kids were small, even the idea of jetting out of town for a weekend seemed financially onerous and physically exhausting. There are a lot of great online workshops, but many of them are also costly. What I really needed at the beginning, was to find out if workshopping was going to be useful to me. Looking at where I am now, it’s clear that a good writing workshop is a valuable asset. As a student of the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop I received one-on-one input on my work from amazing writers and editors including Paolo Bacigalupi, Lou Anders, Cat Rambo, and Liz Gorinsky. I moved on to volunteering for the workshop as both a first reader and instructor, and it’s been no less inspiring to be on the other side of the table teaching with hard-working talent such as Ken Liu, Jacob Weisman of Tachyon publications, James Morrow and Timmel Duchamp of Aqueduct Press.

Just $90 gets you the full-day workshop and a convention membership to attend all of the activities for the entire weekend. ArmadilloCon is known as an excellent regional literary convention, which means there will be lots of great panels about writing, reading, and the state of the genre (there are also panels about movies, tv shows, gaming, and everything geek). This is a great gateway workshop. If you think you might enjoy writing in general and genre in particular, this is a great low cost way to check out a workshop. This is the place to learn how to give and receive critique and to get instruction that will help take your writing to the next level. At least as important, is that the workshop and weekend are an opportunity to meet other writers. To find your tribe and make connections that will serve your writing year round. 

I’ll finish by saying that we are committed to promoting diversity and access for all workshop attendees. Writing in a genre centered on exploration and encountering the Other must include voices and visions from writers, readers and thinkers of all kinds. The Workshop actively seeks to include students, faculty, visiting scholars, and volunteers from a variety of backgrounds including, but not limited to race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, and ability. 

As far as instructors, so far we have: 

Nisi Shawl (Guest of Honor)  
Trevor Quachri  (Editor Guest) 
Martha Wells 
Don Webb (Toastmaster) 
Nicky Drayden 
D. L. Young 

I will be booking instructors throughout the spring, so check the workshop page for updates. 

Check back here for posts about workshopping in general and how to prepare for the ArmadilloCon’s workshop in particular. 

Now it’s your turn: The first order of business is to start writing, so fire up your laptops, grab your pens and let’s get started!