Here’s my ArmadilloCon37 Schedule

I’m looking forward to a fun weekend. Look at all these amazing panelists and cool topics. I’m going to have to bring my A game!

The Armadillocon Writers’ Workshop
Friday 9:00-4:00 p.m.

The Work of James Morrow
Friday 9:00-10:00 p.m., Ballroom D 
Christopher Brown, Claude Lalumiere*, N. J. Moore, Rebecca Schwarz, Jacob Weisman
Our panelists explore the humor, breadth, and impact of our Special Guest’s writings.

How Would Discovery of Alien Life Affect Us?

Saturday 7:00-8:00 p.m., Ballroom F
Aaron de Orive, William Ledbetter, K. B. Rylander, Patrice Sarath, Rebecca Schwarz, Amy Sisson, Barbara Ann Wright
Do we run scared, work things out in the spirit of peaceful cooperation, or accept our new alien overlords?

SF as a Survival Guide

Saturday 10:00-11:00 p.m., Ballroom D
P. J. Hoover, Juan Manuel Perez*, Lawrence Person, Rebecca Schwarz, Lee Thomas
OK, you’ve read about dozens of apocalypses. How are you going to use that to survive?

Short Fiction You Should Have Read Last Year

Sunday 1:00-2:00 p.m., Southpark A
Eugene Fischer, K. B. Rylander, Amy Sisson*, Nate Southard, Rebecca Schwarz
Our panelists discuss short fiction from the last year that you need to know about.

Sunday 2:00-2:30p.m., Conference Center
Rebecca Schwarz
I’ll be reading The Nephelai’s Song, and one other story.

Check out the full schedule here!

ArmadilloCon 36

Now that my local Science Fiction and Fantasy convention has become an annual tradition, it’s becoming harder and harder to divide my time between all the interesting panels and readings, and visiting with writerly friends old and new. ArmadilloCon has become something between a con and a reunion.

I am naturally pretty outgoing, and writing is a very solitary endeavor so a good con can be a real inspiration. I invariably end the weekend exhausted, but also energized — ready to write ALL the things!

This year was an embarrassment of riches with two guests: Guest of Honor, Ted Chiang, a fascinating writer of deep and thoughtful stories; and Special Guest of Honor, Ian McDonald, who writes expansive novels set all over the world (India, Turkey, Brazil) and beyond (Mars).

Mario Acevedo came down from Denver to be the toastmaster. Funny and full of interesting stories, he was the right man for the job. He writes books about an ex solder who is now a vampire and a private detective. Here’s his character’s tagline: Felix Gomez went to Iraq a soldier. He came back a vampire. Nice! I don’t usually read books with vampires in them, but his take has me interested.

The editor Guest of Honor was Jacob Weisman from Tachyon Publications. Of the books he had in the dealers’ room, I already own quite a few (Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by Triptree, Feeling Very Strange: The Slipsream Anthology, The Dog Said Bow Wow by Swanwick). Still, I managed to find a couple to add to add to my library (a copy of Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip and The Madonna and the Starship by James Morrow).

This year I volunteered for the Writer’s Workshop. It was fascinating to have a peek behind the curtain and see how Marshall Ryan Maresca and Stina Leicht pull this great workshop together. I’ll definitely be back to help again next year.

I got to hang out with my local author buddies Patrice Sarath, K. G. Jewell, Nicky Drayden, and D. L. Young. I also met Cassandra Rose Clarke and picked up her YA book The Wizard’s Promise. By the time I met Skyler White, my book buying budget was running low, so I decided to put The Incrementalists, which she co wrote with Stephen Brust, on my short list to acquire and read soon.

I heard Michelle Muenzler read a couple wonderful stories and Rachel Acks read her excellent They Tell Me There Will Be No Pain, soon to be available in Lightspeed’s Women Destroy Science Fiction anthology.

This year’s con was just the right mix of good friends and new faces. 

I’m inspired and ready to tackle my very own novel!

Writers Groups & the Value of Critique

The ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop was excellent again this year. The morning was devoted to a wide-ranging discussion about different aspects of writing and publishing. Pros who write, edit, publish and review all had great advice and opinions about the process of writing and the business of getting published.

After lunch we broke into separate critique groups. The ratio of pros to students was nearly 1:1. My group had four students and three pros! (Cat Rambo, Liz Gorinsky from Tor, and Stina Leicht) Everyone, student and pro alike, put their egos aside and came to work. I feel like everyone gave and got good feedback for the chapters and stories they brought. I’ll be revising my short story next week and look forward to sending it out into the world.

I have always felt that both getting AND giving critiques are valuable tools when learning how to write. There are so many techniques that you must manage to produce really good prose. When I write I try to get inside the story, the characters, and their world. It’s easy to loose perspective about what’s working and what isn’t. Putting the work away for a few days can help (and I do that too). But getting a critical perspective on a work in progress is often what will help me take it to the next level.

The key is a CRITICAL perspective. It sounds scary, and the endeavor is not without pitfalls. There isn’t really any instruction for critiquing, so most of us just have to learn how to do it any way we can. The world of critiquing is full of trolls and ogres who will tear your work down so they can show how brilliant they are (NOT). There are well-meaning dolts, toadies and yes men (usually relatives) only interested in heaping praise on anything you show them.

Learning how to give good criticism will help you recognize and find good critiquers for your own work. I started out reading slush for the Austin Film Festival‘s annual screenwriting competition. I would recommend looking for slush work. It’s an eye-opening introduction to the basics of presentation and storytelling, and you don’t need that much experience to weed out the awful.

Most of the time the only option is to dive in. Take a workshop if you can, or look for a group in your area. Many people form their own groups after attending a workshop like the ArmadilloCon Writer’s Workshop. With Skype and other chat services it’s possible to have a real-time discussion regardless of where you all live.

Here in Austin, Texas I attend the Slugtribe writer’s group, which is an open critique group. I like meeting face-to-face because it allows for a give and take that can be useful and illuminating. People in the group can ask you questions and tailor their comments to your stated intention. Also, people can disagree, which often generates a discussion about the piece that goes in interesting places.

When you’re live and/or in-person the Milford rules are a good format, which is essentially keep your trap shut – and listen, really listen – while everyone gives their thoughts and impressions on your work. Don’t worry you’ll get your turn at the end. But remember a critique is not about you defending your work against all comers, it’s about problem solving and making what you’ve done better.

You may find that learning how to articulate how a story isn’t working, will teach you as much about writing techniques as any book or class. Good criticism requires you to fully engage with the work of others; to think not about how YOU would write this story or chapter but about what this writer is trying to accomplish.

The more you learn how to give it the easier it is to take it. Getting good criticism helps you to develop a thick skin, because you can’t write good stories without becoming emotionally involved, and even if you know they aren’t perfect, it still hurts to have their imperfections pointed out.

Also, it will teach you to be brave. By accepting errors (in a story in particular or your work in general), you reduce their cost. Once you see that the flaws pointed out by a good critique session can be addressed, you can spend less time perfecting your work before anybody sees it and more time being daring and trying new techniques.

There are also some online groups out there for genre writers. Most of them require you to critique other members’ work in order to put yours up for critique, providing both an opportunity to give and receive critiques. The downsides of these groups are the same as with any web-based endeavor of this sort: from amateur or lazy critiques to snark and worse. I still think it’s better than nothing, just gird yourself for the experience. Critters is an open and free group. It’s quite high volume and can be a good place to start. Currently, I use the Online Writing Workshop they charge a small annual fee. I feel that this investment shows in both higher quality work and better critiques.

Just remember to critique in the spirit of generosity. No matter how bad someone’s work is, they were still brave enough to put it out there, so find a way to be both kind and honest. Just remember, it’s about the work and, I believe, about supporting each other on the journey.

ArmadilloCon34 Writers’ Workshop Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop. I am really excited to participate again this year. This convention knows how to do workshops right! It’s all morning and afternoon tomorrow BEFORE the convention actually starts, so I don’t have to miss any panels to participate. I’ve been working all week on my critiques for my fellow workshoppers, who I’ll meet tomorrow. It’s a little nerve wracking to write critiques for people I’ve never met but it’s a good practice. It’s also refreshing to critique work from writers I don’t know.

I attended ArmadilloCon and the Writers’ Workshop for the first time last year and had a great and productive weekend. My pros last year were none other than Paolo Bacigalupi, Lou Anders and Mark Finn. They all provided great advice and insight. This year I’ll be sitting down with Liz Gorinsky (an editor at Tor), Stina Leicht and Cat Rambo!

Manuscript page from J. G. Ballard’s Crash

Okay that page is a revision not a crit, but it was just too cool to ignore! I’ve been putting together some thoughts about why I think workshops and critiquing are valuable and will be posting that soon.

Meanwhile, I’ve been re-reading Bradbury’s collection of essays and remembering that while I’m working very hard to hone my craft, writing should always be fun, more than fun, thrilling. His enthusiasm is truly inspirational.

This morning I watched the long and gorgeous trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas.  I don’t know if they’ll pull it off, but that was a beautiful six minutes. It made me want to read that book all over again.

Countdown to ApolloCon 2012

The show that spawned a million conventions.

I have my reading list for the last of May, and I’ll post it eventually, but today I’m on deadline to finish (a revision of) a story for the ApolloCon 2012 Writers Workshop. I am excited to be able to attend not one but two con workshops this year. I’ll be going to both ApolloCon in Huston in June and, attending my home con ArmadilloCon here in Austin in July. I’m looking forward to comparing these workshop experiences. After going to the ArmadilloCon Writer’s Workshop last year, I’m hooked! I’ll be doing these workshops and going to as many conventions as I can get my hands on for the foreseeable future. Why do I love them so you might ask, here are just a couple reasons:

  • You can’t beat the price, compared to most writer’s workshops, these workshops are generally well under $100, and that’s with 3-day convention badge included.
  • Getting feedback from pros and other writers who are unfamiliar with my themes and quirks (as opposed to feedback from my regular critique group, which is also good but in different ways).
  • Geeking out at the hotel bar with other writers and scifi/fantasy genre types.

Han Solo says, “Enough talk, get back to writing.”