Applications for Viable Paradise XX Now Closed

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

For More Information:

For The Incoming Class of VP XX

Phil Margolies is a VP XIX (2015) alumni, and here offers the incoming class of VP XX some great advice.

Dear Class of VP XX,

First of all, once again, CONGRATULATIONS!

I CAN imagine what you are thinking and feeling right now because a year ago I was in your shoes. Well, not literally. I think.

My educated guess is some combination of anxious (in both good way & stressy), excited, nervous, and still unbelieving that in mere WEEKS you will be at Viable Paradise. At least that was me.

Your mileage may vary. With that in mind, here are some thoughts and suggestions to (hopefully) help you. And no, I’m not going to give you the keys to the closets where they keep the Deep Dark Secrets like [REDACTED]. Rather, these are intended to be more general tips, some of which at least I hope you haven’t heard yet.

The Staff

You may not realize it yet, but you will by the time you leave Martha’s Vineyard: the staff is composed of the most awesome people in the world. They are there for you. They are more precious than Gollum’s Precious. Cherish them and take advantage (kindly) of their wonderfulness.


I know Uncle Jim and the Handbook are all about packing for the crazy weather—some days hot, some days dripping with rain, and some nights chilly—and that’s good advice. You can pack too much and end up lugging two suitcases when everyone else fit it all into one. Don’t bother asking me how I know because I’m going to tell you I’m that guy.

I am, though, presuming every one of you is far smarter than me and recognizes that nobody cares if you wear the same sweatshirt every single day. If you want a second one, don’t pack it, just buy one on the island. The tourists may be gone, but most of the stores and shops are still open.

“Downtown” Oak Bluffs

Speaking of walking about and shopping, if the weather is good and you are able & up for it, head into town (if you aren’t able to walk the mile or so and want to go, there are ways). One of the best things we, VP19, did bonding-wise was trips to Oak Bluffs for downtime, food, and shopping.


Speaking of which, VP is intense. It’s a six-week course compacted into a week. Expect long days and nights. So, downtime. It’s important. Take it. Do it. Live it. Whether you’re an extravert who hangs out in the staff room chatting or an introvert who prefers quiet time alone, do that. You will need it. Especially because of [REDACTED].

The Instructors

Speaking of that thing, I don’t know about you, but this was me a year ago: I’m one of those introverts who used to (ha!) put REAL WRITERS TM on a pedestal and felt unworthy of talking to them. I mean, look at your awesome instructors:

  • Steve Brust
  • Debra Doyle
  • Steve Gould
  • Scott Lynch
  • Jim Macdonald
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden
  • Teresa Nielsen Hayden
  • Sherwood Smith

and for writers-in-residence:

  • Elizabeth Bear
  • Laura Mixon

(yes, I KNOW you KNOW that) BUT read those names again. I mean, wow. And they are there to help you level up. That’s you, personal-like.

Pinch yourself if you want, but it is NOT a dream. It was not a mistake. YOU got into Viable Paradise.

Second best of all, those Real Writers TM) believes in your potential.

Best of all, they are all Real People. Some of my best memories from VP include walking back to the inn at night with Steve Gould, and hanging out with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden until literally the last minute before I had to grab my bags and run to the car to make the ferry back to the mainland.

One of my goals in going to VP was not to be intimidated by the prestige of the instructors and I think I accomplished that. By the end of VP, you will realize (or they’ll beat it into your head enough that it will be imprinted there) that you are a Real Writer TM too.


Here’s the thing that I didn’t realize until Friday of VP. I’d spent so much time and energy with my focus on interacting with the instructors that I forgot to really bond with my classmates. Which is why our virtual and actual hangouts post-VP have been copacetic. Take the time to get to know your new family. You’re going through this thing together so getting through it together makes the only sense.

Because while your pre-bonding via social media is all well and good (we did it via our own Yahoo! e-mail list), it’s nothing like being there. Because you will need each other, especially during [REDACTED].

Good luck, have fun, and see you all on the other side!


1/24th of VP 19

VP 2016 Decision Emails

We have now sent out decision emails to everyone who applied to the 2016 workshop. If you didn’t receive your decision email, please send us an email AND a direct message on Facebook or Twitter (@ViableParadise) as soon as possible.

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.