ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop Boot Camp Week 1: Why Workshop, What to Write, and Starting From Scratch


ArmadilloCon is one of the best little, literary science fiction and fantasy conventions in Texas. On Friday, August 4, before the convention begins, writers from near and far will gather to participate in an all-day intensive genre workshop with professional writers. I have been a student at this workshop, a volunteer, and a teacher, now I’m coordinating it. I am thrilled to be helming the workshop that helped to make me the writer I am today!

I still remember how scary it was to submit something for critique for the first time. I didn’t know if it was great or terrible or how other people would react to it. Every workshop is different, and even if the workshop experience isn’t for you, it can still be a lot of fun and a great learning experience. At the very least, you will meet a room full of other writers. If you’re attending the con, that means you’ll be seeing a couple dozen familiar faces throughout the weekend. Even if you never attend another workshop, learning to receive criticism, and to evaluate and give useful feedback to your peers will give you the tools necessary to continuously improve your writing.

Maybe you want to write, but have never written a complete short story, or started that novel that’s been bouncing around in your brain. No worries, over the next two months I’m going to write a series of BOOT CAMP posts to take you step-by-step through the creation of a piece of writing that will serve you well in any workshop.

In order to participate in the ArmadilloCon Writing Workshop you must submit a previously unpublished piece of writing (up to 5,000 words), either a short story or the first chapter of a novel. In this case previously published means anything that is out in the world, in print or online whether you were paid for it or not. This includes fiction you have published on a personal blog. The focus of this workshop is on craft; so if you’ve been writing for a while and have been published or have been publishing your own work, use this as an opportunity to write something new and challenging. The goal isn’t to bring a polished gem of a piece to the workshop, it’s to stretch and grow as a writer.

You can submit a piece and register for the workshop today, but I know how writer’s minds work, so here’s the deal. The deadline to submit/sign-up for the workshop is Sunday, June 11 a little under two months away.

If you’re starting from scratch, your boot camp assignment for this week is to PREPARE:

MAKE time to write
There’s an old saying: You’ll never FIND the time to do the things you want, you have to MAKE it. This week, think about when you can make time to write. If your weekdays are jammed then carve out weekend time. If your weekends are spoken for, try writing over your lunch hour, or getting up an hour earlier in the morning, put off your Netflix queue for a few weeks. 

Short stories for young adult readers

READ

You’ve heard it before, if you want to be a writer you have to read. This week, and in the coming weeks, you are going to be reading to a purpose.

Fantasy reprints and originals

If you’re planning on writing a short story, read (or listen to – yes podcasts count! Check the side bar for links to more podcasts.) a variety of short stories. I do much of my thinking in a journal, so you may want to write down some notes after reading/listening to a story. First, did the story move you? Was it to your taste? There is a huge range of styles and types of short stories even within the genre, so when you find a story that speaks to you (or not), think about why. What are the elements that appealed to your sensibilities or put you off?

If you want to submit the first chapter(s) of a novel, go back and re-read the first chapters of your favorite novels. Think about what drew you into the story. Was there a hook that made you commit to reading on? How much world building did the author include in the first pages? How much characterization? What did the author do to set the tone of the book? If it’s a horror book, what made it feel creepy? Science fiction, what made it otherworldly or futuristic?

RUMINATE
Throw some story ideas around. Spin ideas, characters, scenarios out in your notebook or in a document on your computer. You don’t have to develop anything yet, just compile “what if” moments, vignettes, characters. Again read, keep up with the news, follow your most esoteric interests down their rabbit holes to longreads. Bookmark what you find and make a note of why it interests you. I’ve created more than a few stories by mashing two disparate ideas together, so be generous filling your idea file.

Another alternative is to REABILITATE
If you’re like me, you have sort of an island of lost toys folder of broken or unfinished stories. Often they are broken/unfinished because there is some skill that I need to acquire in order to pull the story off. As long as they’ve never been published in any way, it’s perfectly legal to rework one of these stories. This week, visit your island of broken stories and see if there are any candidates you’d like to resurrect.

If you’re brand new to writing fiction, here’s some tips from Kurt Vonnegut:




Next week I’ll talk about what kind of work is most useful to bring to a workshop or critique group, and you’ll continue to develop your idea and get ready to the first draft

If you have questions, post them in the comments and I’ll do my best to address them!

Fantastical Fictions Book Club!

 There are so many wonderful examples of fantastic literature just waiting to be discovered, and Malvern Books glitters with a wealth of rare and hard to find literary gems. So, after a successful year hosting a variety of authors and their fabulous books, we’ve decided to expand the Fantastical Fictions series to include a book club.

On Thursday March 23 at 7:00 p.m., we’ll be discussing John Wyndham’s final novel Chocky. Completed in 1968, this story originally appeared as a novelette in Amazing Stories in 1963

From the back cover:

“It’s not terribly unusual for a boy to have an imaginary friend, but Matthew’s parents have to agree that his–nicknamed Chocky–is anything but ordinary. Why, Chicky demands to know, are there twenty-four hours in a day? Why are there two sexes? Why can’t Matthew solve his math homework using a logical System like binary code?”

“Chocky, …is a playful investigation of what being human is all about, delving into such matters as child-rearing, marriage, learning, artistic inspiration–and ending with a surprising and impassioned plea for better human stewardship of the earth.”

Even if you haven’t heard of John Wyndham, it’s a good bet that you’ve heard of his work. As a writer he hit his stride after World War Two and, much like Philip K. Dick who came after, tapped into the zeitgeist of the times. Like PKD many of his works where transformed over and over into radio plays, movies and TV shows.


His novel, The Midwich Cuckoos, came to the big screen (more than once) as the Village of the Damned. Perhaps even more famous is the screen adaptation of his tale of vegetable monsters, The Day of the Triffids.

In 1984 the BBC adapted Chocky into a television series for children, which would seem to suit gentle, but no less fascinating story. 

Malvern is stocked with extra copies of this brief novel, and there’s plenty of time to read it before the meeting, but since this isn’t school, there’ll be no quiz! No worries if you haven’t read it, or have no intention to. If you enjoy discussing books–especially the type that don’t concern themselves too much with the rules of reality the rest of us have to live by, then come and spend an hour with us.

Hey Toto, we’re in Kansas! Readings and Panels at WorldCon!


It’s been a crazy, busy summer with lots of travel and time with family. I’ve managed to do some writing. I thought I’d take a quick break from the novel by writing a short story, but the story grew (as my stories seem to do nowadays) into a novella. I’ll finish revising it and return to the novel just as soon as I get back from WorldCon!


I have an early flight tomorrow, which is a good thing as I have a busy day coming up.

I’ll be reading at 1:30 in room 2202
I can’t wait to share a story or two live and in person.

From 5:00 – 6:00 I’ll be moderating “Knock on Wood: From Squirrel Girl to Lumberjanes” (room 2207) with fellow panelists Jason Stanford, Catherine Lundoff, Adam Rakunas, and Tom Galloway.

“What the junk?! In the last couple of years we’ve seen the growth of comics that might superficially appear to be aimed at a YA audience, however these titles are hitting the mainstream with a vengeance. Marvel are leading the pack with Squirrel Girl, Ms Marvel and Captain Marvel, but there’s also a vast amount of Indie work coming through such as Lumberjanes, Space Dumplins, Khaos Komix and Footloose. Our panel discuss why these titles are so popular, and what they have to offer both new and established audiences.” 

From 6:00 – 7:00 you can find me participating in “Cleaning Up Your Prose” (room 3501B) with C.C. Finlay(!), Randy Henderson, Rob Chilson, moderated by Alan Smale.
My love of revision is no secret. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion about how writers go about improving their work once the first draft is finished!

Then on Saturday from 4:00 – 5:00 back in room 2202, I’m thrilled to participate in Flash Fiction Online‘s group reading. This one is going to be tons of fun. Hosted by Anna Yeatts and Chris Phillips, come by to hear stories from Sunil Patel, Kelly Sandoval, Laura Pearlman, Beth Cato, and yours truly!

You can check out my schedule and more here. Hope to see you there!

Daniel Ausema and the Meaning of Place in Fiction

Meadow to forest to pond, ecotones are everywhere.

Today, Daniel Ausema, contributing author in Ecotones is here to talk about his story of place in SFFWorld.com’s fourth anthology.

The first time I heard the word Ecotone, it was for the literary magazine of that name. I didn’t know its meaning, only that the journal’s tagline was “a journal of place.” Place to me is vital, both in real life and fiction, especially the natural surroundings—whether that’s the deciduous woods and glacial lakes where I grew up or the mountains outside my door today. When we moved here I cared more for the view of those mountains and the prevalence of hiking, biking, and running trails than I did about the quality of restaurants and nightlife.


In writing, I’m often told that my stories have a strong sense of place, that people feel present within the imagined confines of the story. Even when that setting is surreal or out of the ordinary, readers sense that care I have for the physical surroundings. One of the joys of reading fiction of any kind is being brought to an unfamiliar place (or seeing a familiar one made new); one of the joys of writing speculative fiction especially is conjuring such a place out of words.


So when the anthology’s theme was announced, I liked it even before I’d read the explanation. An anthology about place, an anthology of stories that take note of and celebrate their settings and the physical world around them? Sign me up.


Then I read the definition of ecotone and the full explanation of the theme and found it to be different: not about place per se but about those border zones where one real or metaphorical place blends into another. If anything, this made me like the idea even better.


First, there’s a long tradition in fantasy and folktales that the border between regions is important. Dawn and dusk, the shoreline, the cusp of adulthood, the edge of the forest, the turning of the year. These are key places (and times) where magic often seeps through.


The more I thought about this, the more I began to see all the possibilities. Borders are everywhere, literal and metaphorical places and times that bleed into each other. Those ecotonal zones are such a powerful place for a story to take place. I might even be tempted to say that at some level they become a key part of Story to make it real.


Add to that the ecological aspect. I grew up in a family that placed a high value on science and the natural world. We traveled to scenic places and even at home noticed the details of nature. My older brothers ended up with degrees related to ecology and biology, one as a teacher and the other as a park ranger. And I have been both involved in various environmental education settings.


So the theme of the anthology is a great fit for my interests, and add to that the keynote writers: I didn’t know the full list of great writers who would be in the anthology, but I knew it’d be a great lineup. The chance to join such a group of excellent writers was one I couldn’t pass up.

Want to read Daniel’s story of a special magical place? Want 13 other great, ecotoned stories from professional and amateur writers from around the globe?


Enter to win a $10 Amazon gift card by posting a link to this post on Twitter or Facebook. Remember to use the hashtag #Ecotone and come back here to let us know you promoted our anthology (provide link). The winner will be contacted via the email address used to comment. And we’ll announce the winner at the end of the blog tour (December 5th, 2015) on SFFWorld.com’s main site.


If you are curious, check out what other contributors have to say on this Ecotour check out the links below:

I Write About Gigantic Sequins at The Review Review.

I continue my forays into the world of literary fiction with a review of a nifty little journal called Gigantic Sequins over at The Review Review.  I quite enjoyed this one. You can read my review here.

I have been enjoying my forays into literary fiction, and it got me to thinking about the importance of reading around. If literary isn’t your genre* that’s cool, the important thing is to seek out and read a few things that you normally wouldn’t. Writers should do this for the same reason that everyone should travel. Visiting a foreign place expands your understanding of the world, and forces you to examine your usual assumptions and beliefs. The gift of travel is that when you return, you see all the familiar aspects of your home life with new eyes.

This holds true when we read outside our normal preferences. Sometimes it’s difficult going or uncomfortable, other times its surprising and brilliant. For me, it’s always worth the effort because, when I return to my usual reading, I see it anew. I also bring this broader understanding to my writing.

So, pack an overnight bag, get out there and read around.
 

Check out more of Tom Gauld’s cartoons!

* Literary writing is a style, with the word “literary” being appended to another genre as in, Cormac McCarthy writes literary westerns. It is also considered its own genre, usually contrasted with genre writing, called “Lit Fic.”

Check out the Literary Landscape with The Review Review

As a reader, one of the things I love about literary magazines is that they are all so different, each with their own particular aesthetic and editorial style. Perusing the shelves at a bookstore or looking online, I’m always pleasantly surprised by the breadth and depth of different voices out there, and by all the different packages they come in.

As a writer, one of the things that is so daunting about literary magazines is that they present an ever shifting and varied landscape, where a writer with work to submit can easily get lost. Each magazine, with it’s own quirky voice is looking for a particular type of writing. But that’s no reason to be discouraged! You, dear writer, have your own unique voice.

Anyone would be hard pressed to keep up with the thousands of literary magazines out there. What writers (and readers) need is a kind of speed dating service where you can meet a whole bunch of them in order to find the ones you click with. One of the best resources for both readers who want to find their particular flavor of magazine, and writers who are looking to place their work is The Review Review, run by Becky Tuch.* I’ve been getting their newsletter and using their website for market research for a while, and now I’m reviewing for them.

In the about page Tuch says:

 “Here, writers can get a deeper sense of the journals by reading reviews of the latest issues. This is not intended as a substitute for the actual journals, but merely a way to guide writers toward the journals that most interest them.”

The site includes a listing of literary and creative nonfiction magazines (with brief descriptions for titles that don’t yet have reviews), a searchable database of reviews, informative interviews with editors from literary magazines, and publishing tips.

But it’s the newsletter that I find most useful. I peruse it and note one or two literary magazines that I want to investigate further, either to read or to put on one of my “submit to lists.”

So, if you write stories that defy genre, or just want to check out the rich landscape of literary magazines, check out this great resource.

* For more about Tuch and her work, check out her interview over on Bustle.

More for Your Ears

Lady Reading by Robert James Gordon

It’s always nice to sell a story, it’s a special treat to sell one to a podcast. For years now, I’ve enjoyed listening to the written word as much as reading it. I discovered audio books and podcasts when my kids were little, and my sitting-and-reading time almost entirely disappeared. Conversely, I spent lots of time on mundane tasks like laundry and driving to and from endless errands.*

I found audio books first, on disk, at the library. I dug up my dorky old CD player and it’s dorkier neoprene jog-belt carrier and started listening to books. There’s an art to sweeping the floor and listening to a book, a different kind of focus. But, if you’re busy with the banal jobs of keeping body and soul together, the house clean, and the kids diapered, it’s an art definitely worth mastering. 

I load books onto my iPod now (which is getting old and I suppose one day will be dorky too). I also stay current by listening to just a few of the hundreds (thousands? Millions?) of podcasts out there. I’ve listed some of my favorites previously, here are some new ones that I’ve added to my feed.

Cast of Wonders
And not just because they produced my story! There’s a nice selection of excellent stories here as well as links to the Camp Myth novellas. Just because they call themselves a “young adult” podcast, doesn’t mean us grownups can’t listen to them too.

Toasted Cake
Another Parsec Award winning podcast run by author Tina Connolly. This one specializes in flash fiction – like a little dessert for your ears.

This excellent weekly speculative fiction magazine podcasts selected fiction and poetry read by the talented and satin-voiced Anaea Lay

Once a month the fiction editors at the New Yorker ask a writer to read one of their favorite stories that has been published in the magazines pages. This is followed by a brief discussion of the story. Good stuff for writers!

A free audio show covering the latest in science news. Once a month they read a flash fiction story from the print journal’s Nature Futures feature.

One of my favorites. Produced by The Poetry Foundation, this podcast features one or two poems followed by a short discussion. Always lovely and useful.  
Go forth and listen!
 


* When I think back to my college days, I remember spending entire afternoons with friends at our local hole-in-the-wall bar where we would all complain that we didn’t have any time!