Applications for Viable Paradise XX Now Open

Application Period: from January 1 – June 15, 2016

Viable Paradise XX | Sunday, October 16th, through Friday, October 21st, 2016

Viable Paradise is a unique one-week residential workshop in writing and selling commercial science fiction and fantasy. The workshop is intimate, intense, and features extensive time spent with best-selling and award-winning authors and professional editors currently working in the field. VP concentrates on the art of writing fiction people want to read, and this concentration is reflected in post-workshop professional sales by our alumni.

With twenty years of experience, our students have gone on to be nominated for and win Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards, and to reach the New York Times Best Seller list.

Viable Paradise encourages an informal and supportive workshop atmosphere. During the week, instructors and students interact in one-on-one discussions, group critiques, lectures, and free-flowing Q&As. The emphasis at first is on critiquing the students’ submitted manuscripts; later, the emphasis shifts to new material produced during the week.

Even when not actively engaged in teaching or critiquing, Viable Paradise instructors often share meals and general conversation with the students. Uniquely among professional-grade writing workshops, Viable Paradise often features writers-in-residence and guest lecturers who work in the field and offer their insights into the craft and business of writing.

The Viable Paradise experience is more than the workshop itself; it also includes the autumnal beauty of coastal New England and the unique island setting of Martha’s Vineyard. Taken all together, Viable Paradise creates a learning environment that’s perfect for helping you reach your writing and publishing goals.

Still not convinced? Take a look at what past VP alumni have said about their experiences.

Apply Now for Viable Paradise XX

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Erik Gern On Life After Viable Paradise

Erik Gern (VP XVI/2012) on Back to Privet Drive, or Life After Viable Paradise:

You arrive home. After a few days of recovery, you’re back at your day job. Early in the week you realize you still haven’t finished unpacking that one suitcase. You toss things into the wash heedless, when suddenly you stumble on your nametag. You hang it up on the wall on your corkboard, a reminder that this thing actually happened. It’s like Harry Potter glancing at Hedwig every few minutes after his first year at Hogwarts.

Read the whole thing.

When I Hung Upside-Down from a Tree

In 2009, I had been writing “seriously” for just over four years and I had given up. It was subtle–I didn’t chuck my laptop at an alley wall, soak it in lighter fluid and throw lit matches at it until it exploded in a supernova of crushed hopes and dreams. I just had learned that even though I had potential and was developing skill, the parts I liked most were what others wanted me to change.

That’s a simple thing to say, but imagine it for a moment. I truly believed that no one wanted to hear what I had to say. The brand of paint you use is wonderful, but the canvas is ugly; that outfit is fabulous, but not on your body; your child would be better if it had different parents. And I believed it, because every workshop I’d ever been to had given me positive feedback on my technical skills, and negative feedback on the parts of me inherent in the work.

I didn’t need to murder my darlings, because critique had done that for me.

I still wanted to be a writer, but I was convinced this would be a job like web development or graphic design, something I did because I was technically proficient but which offered no true home for my art. Like a dayjob that asked me to cover my tattoos, commercial fiction would ask me to cover my heart. I could do that, I thought, even though it hurt. I wanted to write so badly that I would make it work.

The deadline approached for my next workshop. I agonized over which novel chapter to send in for weeks before I finally admitted to myself that no sample of mine was going to get a magically different response. “Smooth prose,” “vivid imagery,” and “It’s not very funny. You should try reading Terry Pratchett.”

So I just submitted something that was all darlings. I already knew what they were going to tell me, so what did it matter what I showed them? I chose the worst of my stories, self-indulgent tripe I’d written only for my own amusement, and sent it in. It was about 25% fart jokes, 15% f-bombs, an elf that cleaned its crotch like a cat, and so on. Somewhere in between, there were some adventurers and a quest or something.

When we sat down to critique, I heard mostly what I expected. It was a mixture of likes and dislikes, with some recurring annoyances: why is there modern swearing in this fantasy novel; the main character is rude and I don’t like him; have you read anything by Terry Pratchett, because you could learn a thing or two about writing fantasy humor.

The instructor that year was Jay Lake, a man I had met casually at a few conventions who later became a fast friend and who is no longer with us. He was invited to be an instructor at VP, but had to decline due to his health, and this is just one of the myriad ways in which we were all robbed by his cancer. I’m exceedingly fortunate that I had the chance to have him read and respond to my work, because at that moment in time, I very much needed exactly what he gave me.

When we’d gone around the circle and it was his turn to speak on my work, he referred to it as hilarious, did not utter any combination of the words “Terry” and “Pratchett,” and in fact, he offered to show my manuscript to his agent.

He couldn’t have known then that something inside me was dead, or that he was the mad scientist who brought it back to life, but it was the most pleasant of electric shocks. And what happened inside my headguts was just as complex as Frankenstein’s experiments. Not only had I come across a kindred spirit, someone who liked weird gross silly/serious work, when I’d assumed I was alone, but he was a professional, someone who wrote weird stuff and got paid, who had confidence in my work! And perhaps most importantly, I now had the notion that when five people say they’d make changes and one says they wouldn’t, I could listen to that one. I could, and should, listen to the person who got what I was trying to say, not the person who wanted me to say something else.

When his agent wasn’t as enthused about the manuscript, he showed it to one of his editors, and every time he saw me for years afterward he asked me where it was and who was looking at it. Jay alone gave me more confidence in my work than any other single human has. That manuscript is still in my hands, unsold in spite of its apparent potential, but some day I will publish it, even if I have to do it myself with my own blood on bathtub newsprint, so I can write a proper note of blame to Mr. Lake.

Because of Jay, I stopped murdering my darlings–in fact, I added more darlings. My darlings bred and made bizarrelings and some four-letter-wordlings. Writing is a passion again, somewhere I can explore instead of merely coloring inside the lines.

This is my story, but the best thing about Jay is that he was friends with everyone, and everyone who met him has a story about him. If you have time, please share one of your Jay stories in the comments. I’d love to hear more about an amazing man who isn’t with us anymore, because every time you do share a story about Jay, for a brief moment, while I read and imagine it, I get to be with him again.

Happy Book Launch Day to VP Alum Greg van Eekhout

california_bonesVP alum Greg van Eekhout (VP III/1999) is launching California Bones today at Mysterious Galaxy, the first stop his book tour. California Bones (Tor) is best described as a fantasy heist novel. You can read about Greg’s only personal heist. Today Greg’s a guest on John Scalzi’s Whatever, talking about California Bones. You can find an excerpt of California Bones at Tor.

NaNoWriMo: You Can Do It

NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. From its humble beginnings in 1999 when founder Chris Baty and a group of twenty friends each agreed to write a novel-in-a-month, NaNoWriMo has become a world-wide phenomenon with over 340,000 participants in 2012. The event is held every November, and helps one-day novelists (as in, one day I’ll write a novel) achieve their dream.

“Butt-in-chair” may be the most common issue for any writer. There are so many other things to do in a day, like heading out to your paying job, or doing the laundry, or feeding your kids/animals/ spouse. Elective activities, like playing music or writing stories, get shoved down the list. Making the time to write, without a sword at your throat, may seem difficult at best.

NaNoWriMo provides that sword in the form of a deadline.

“A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most kick-ass form. It’s a potent force that, when wielded with respect, will level any obstacle in its path. This is especially true when it comes to creative pursuits.” – Chris Baty, No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

NaNo Crest ImageWith a limited amount of time, and a firm deadline, writers can accomplish anything. By November 30th, you could be a novelist!

The question of quality comes up. We are given permission to write badly, dreadfully, through both Viable Paradise and NaNoWriMo. First drafts are, in technical terms, crap. But the first draft can still make sense, and have a beginning, middle, and an end. Characters can have goals and motivations, settings can create tone, and the world presented suggest verisimilitude.

How is this possible? Because there is nothing in the “rules” that prevents you preparing BEFORE November 1st.

The secret to finishing a NaNovel, one that can be edited, critiqued, revised and submitted without considerable wailing and pain, is in the work you put into it before you start. No, you can’t write a word of prose before November 1st, but that doesn’t mean you can’t determine what you are going to write. World-building, character sketches, research and outlining, are all allowed in advance. Pantsers might do this in their heads. I’m a plotter; I like paper notes. Programs like Scrivener allow you to organize it all in one file on your computer. This process might take a few days, a week, or longer depending on how you work and what kind of story you plan to write.

To achieve 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to write 1667 words each day. I recommend writers round up to 2,000 words-per-day to create a buffer in case they need time off for family or Thanksgiving. In his book On Writing, Stephen King says of his pace, “I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words…only under dire circumstances do I allow myself to shut down before I get my 2,000 words.” NaNoWriMo forces such discipline on its writers. Some people write faster. Stephen King himself wrote The Running Man in a week. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in six days. John Boyne wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in just over two days. Last year, my ninth participating in NaNoWriMo, I wrote 95,355 words in 30 days. High word counts are achievable with a goal, some discipline, and the deadline.

Published authors started writing Pep Talks for Wrimos (those writing novels in November) in 2007. The list of authors includes Neil Gaiman, Tamora Pierce, Piers Anthony, Brian Jacques, Holly Black, Mercedes Lackey, Brandon Sanderson, Scott Westerfeld, and VP’s own Sherwood Smith. This year will feature pep talks by James Patterson, Lev Grossman, Malinda Lo, Patrick Rothfuss, and Jeff VanderMeer among others. The talks are especially helpful when you are thrashing about in the middle of your novel, or are struggling to make it to the end.

The advice to write your first draft fast, to prevent your inner editor from interfering in the creative phase of your work, is sound. If you keep second-guessing yourself, you’ll continue to rewrite the first part of your work or remain lost in the middle and never get to The End. Perfectionism will bring your momentum to a grinding halt. NaNoWriMo recommends locking your inner editor away for the month so you can finish. Take a break in December, and start editing in January instead.

Many participants take on the challenge for fun. Others take the effort seriously and go on to publication. Well-known books that started as NaNovels include Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, Wool by Hugh Howey, and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

The NaNoWriMo site provides a multitude of forums for its users. The most useful include the Regional forums, where participants meet writers in their area. Municipal Liaisons, the organizers for each region, create and schedule events in their regions, moderate the forums, send informative and supportive emails, manage word war challenges, set up dares, encourage donations, and provide virtual hugs as needed. Each writer has a profile page with author and novel information, a buddy list, and the author’s history of years done/won NaNoWriMo. The site provides graphs for current word count stats for each author and their region.

If you win, you earn winner goodies like a certificate, web badges, and offers from NaNoWriMo sponsors, such as a half-off coupon for Scrivener, or free books through CreateSpace. The best prize earned is your extraordinary accomplishment. You’ve finished a novel.

Participation in NaNoWriMo is free, but donations are encouraged to help fund the site, those running NaNoWriMo, and the Young Writers Program. Each year, NaNoWriMo provides materials for thousands of students and educators through YWP.

I had been writing for two years when I first signed up to do NaNoWriMo in 2004. Could I write an entire story, at this length, for a deadline? Knowing myself, my distractions, my toddler twins, and my deadly habit of procrastination, I decided that I needed to know the answer. Not only did I win that year, I have met or exceeded the NaNoGoal nine times in a row. I’ve learned a lot about planning, organizing, and using my writing time as efficiently as possible. Most importantly, NaNoWriMo taught me that I could start, and finish, a novel.

So can you.

Lee Budar-Danoff is a former history teacher and current stay-at-home-mom. She writes sf/f, sails, plays guitar, and has been a participant in and Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo in Maryland since 2004. Lee is an alumni of VP17, the class of 2013. You can often find her on Twitter, as @Punahougirl84