Three Things I Learned After Viable Paradise

'after the rain i' by suttonhoo on Flickr (CC 2.0 by-nc-sa)

A short, informal note to the graduates of Viable Paradise 17.

It’s been a month since you stepped off the ferry from the island.  (Or off the plane.  Or out of the car, if you live on Martha’s Vineyard.  It can happen.)  You crossed the threshold of your home or your apartment, and you weren’t the same person who had crossed the other way a week and change before.  Now you crossed it a fresh-faced and eager graduate of Viable Paradise — the seventeenth Viable Paradise, to be specific — inheritors of a long tradition, ready to go out and write and publish and change the world.

A month on, I bet that has faded some.  The demands of your job, your partner(s), the kids, the pets, laundry and bills and video games…  A lot of the leaf-litter out of which lives are made is still there.  And that leaf-litter makes good and necessary soil, so don’t mind it too much.  It feeds lives and stabilizes them, and when the rains come it stops them from washing everything away.

In the same way that in book series we look for our characters to learn and grow between volumes as well as during them, so the learning of Viable Paradise doesn’t end at the Oath.  Here are three things I learned after Viable Paradise:

  1. The Oath says, “I will submit to paying markets only.”  But how do you find paying markets?  It turns out that SFWA maintains a list of paying markets which it considers “pro” markets in its membership requirements.  This is especially useful for short fiction, as almost all of the markets listed accept unsolicited submissions and have a link to their guidelines.  This doesn’t cover semipro markets, but Asimov’s can’t ever accept your Thursday story if you don’t submit it, and you may as well start at the top.  Following the SFWA list, you can keep your story productively tied up for months.
  2. If and when you run out of pro markets, there are a few sites that can help you find semipro markets.  Ralan is one.  The Grinder is another, and the one I use.  Both are free and donation-supported.  The Grinder is also a story-submission tracker.  It can be an unfortunately attractive avenue for cat-waxing, and it can feel a bit like playing Progress Quest to watch my little purple dot advance through the forest of red rejections (it provides graphs of the past 12 months of recorded submissions to each market), but I find it a useful tool.  (Okay, let’s be honest: it’s exactly like playing Progress Quest, if Progress Quest had random character death.)
  3. I’d strongly encourage you to join the Codex Writers’ Group, which you’re all eligible for now that you’ve graduated from VP.  It’s an incredible community of writers sharing critiques, experiences with markets, acceptances, rejections, laughter, and tears.  The way I actually find semipro markets to submit to is by watching where other people on Codex are submitting.  Even if you just lurk, there’s so much knowledge in the discussions available just to read, I’ve found it extremely valuable. It will also show you that even big-name, Hugo- and Nebula-nominated writers get rejected out of the slush pile.

And that’s the secret fourth thing I learned after Viable Paradise.  I still write stories one word at a time.  Many doors are closed yet, and maybe they’ll open later once I’ve learned more, or maybe that means they’re not the right doors, and I need to go find the right doors first.  The embarrassment of opportunities my life has provided me means I’m writing standalone prose fiction more slowly than I would like, which is not the same thing as not writing at all.

And so I put my head down and do the work, trying to nurture and grow the seeds that were planted on the island.

Toes in the soil, hands reaching upwards towards the sky.

While of course I hope for wild and quick success for all of you, Viable Paradise 17 grads, in the event that that doesn’t happen, I still hope that, whatever else is the case, a year from now you can say that too.

Toes in the soil, hands reaching upwards towards the sky.

The post image is ‘after the rain i’ by suttonhoo on Flickr, used under the terms of its Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.  The photo has a short accompanying microstory — go check it out!

Reflections on Viable Paradise

Summer’s holding the door for autumn, and this time last year I was looking forward to Martha’s Vineyard and my first ever writing workshop, Viable Paradise.

Now, one year later I’ve been thinking a lot about VP and my class. I’ve been thinking about it because I feel a little like I’ve let the side down – no professional-level publications to date – but also because it’s getting cool and it’s about the time of year I started to think how am I actually going to get over to the east coast? and because I learned far more than I realized when I was there, and those lessons have taken some time to percolate through the limestone of my skull, but they’ve made it at last, almost twelve months on, and I think they’re worth sharing.

Everything Tam says is true.

I had had four jobs in a year, if you counted my stint as a freelance blogger, and had collected the trifecta — quit, laid off, fired. I was unemployed at the time. Like Tam, I planned to walk from the ferry to the Island Inn. I wonder how many of us were in that same place, standing on the dock at Falmouth. Alone. Vulnerable. Receptive.

It’s easy to descend into hyperbole about these things. Like Tam, I haven’t had anything professionally published. I’m holding down a job not related to fiction writing, but I’m happy there. I don’t know that I can say that Viable Paradise changed my life, in the rapturous way that’s usually meant. But in that moment, it made all the difference in the world. And it’s still making a difference. And that’s enough.

Fiction: “The Fun Police”

No Clowns

More fiction.

This was the story I wrote during Viable Paradise (my “horror-that-was-Thursday” story).

My classmates liked it! Steven Brust liked it!

All the markets I submitted it to sent it zinging back with polite little “nope, sorry, not for us” notes.

So it goes.

That means you get to read it here!

The prompt involved a grab-bag draw, from which I received a red foam-rubber clown nose, and asked us to write a story about a future in which a thing that is presently legal has been banned…

Continue reading

Holy crap…

I got in to Viable Paradise, a SFF writing workshop on Martha’s Vineyard in October, which is run and taught by people I respect a great deal and who I have always wanted to learn from.

I’m still not quite over the shock, so I have nothing particularly useful to say other than that I’m honored and humbled and really looking forward to meeting everyone in October!

(The right mental image is really that animated gif of Kermit the Frog, dancing around, arms flailing wildly, that various people have as a userpic on LJ.  Just picture that here.  ~flails!~)