workshop stuff

October 1, 2014

So, I taught a workshop last weekend!  And it went pretty well, I think.  I talked about a lot of stuff, and I promised my students I would post one of the checklists I mentioned, but didn’t have a print out for.  (See, every workshop I learn a lot about what works, and I incorporate that into the next one. I’m really getting to like slide shows and handouts.)

This is a character checklist, but a much more useful one that the one that goes “What is your character’s favorite food?”  Because I worry that the “vital statistics” type checklists I’ve seen in some “how to write” books trick us into including information in our stories that isn’t actually necessary, while forgetting more pivotal details like Why is your character doing this stuff in the first place.  So yeah, I’ve never really done “What is your character’s favorite color?” type characterization surveys, and instead think a lot about “How did my character get into this situation and what  personality trait is going to get her out?”

So, here’s a character and plot checklist I’ve adapted from the course materials from the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop, by Jeanne Cavelos.  (Yes, sixteen years later I still have all my course materials from Odyssey and I still use them.)  Jeanne has put a ton of writing information and resources on the Odyssey website — and Odyssey even sponsors online workshops, if you’re interested in more in-depth work.  So, without further ado, a character checklist:

Character Checklist (from Jeanne Cavelos & Odyssey):

  • Does your character grow out of the setting in which he was raised? What is his relationship with the setting? Does he have any effect on it?
  • Is the reader “shown” the character through powerful, concrete sensory details that allow him to visualize the person and his actions?
  • Are small and large actions, appearance, and dialogue the main sources of revelation of character?
  • Is what you tell us about the character consistent with what you show about the character?
  • Are all the details included significant, or is there extraneous detail or information?
  • Are there any generic elements in your character? If this character is an archetype, have you made him individual and specific?
  • Does the character have some “consistent inconsistencies?”
  • Have you researched necessary areas to be able to write about such a character?
  • Does the character’s personality have an effect on the plot?
  • Does the character have a clear central desire? Why does he want this? Is this desire integrated into the plot? Do we know what set this desire off, and how it is finally resolved? Does the character have something important at stake in the conflict?
  • Does the character have clear opinions about what’s going on around him?
  • Does the character enhance or embody symbols or themes in the story?
  • Does the character change?

FenCon this weekend

September 24, 2014

So last night was the season premiere of Agents of SHIELD:  Dirty pool, you guys.  Dirty effing pool. *sobs uncontrollably*


I will be at FenCon in Dallas this weekend as the Special Workshop Guest, crushing participants’ hopes and dreams (not really).  My schedule is posted.  Alas — you had to sign up for the workshop ahead of time, so you won’t be able to just drop in.  But I’ll be around the rest of the convention.

I took some time out to do a little bit of sewing last night.  I feel much better now.



September 22, 2014

Autumn is here.  After coming home from a rainy Ireland to a rainy Colorado, I despaired that I had missed the end of summer entirely.  But no, I got a good week or so of wearing shorts and sandals and sitting outside to read and stuff. And now the weather is turning.

As I mentioned last week, I’m working on five or so different things simultaneously — research, critiquing, writing, etc.  What this means is I feel like I’m not getting anything done.  But it also means I’m going to finish up most of these things at the same time.  Then I will likely be at my wits end and flap my arms around like a mad thing.

I caught a couple of movies, or at least part of a couple of movies this weekend:

Another Earth:  this is an art-house science fiction/slipstreamy thing.  A very intriguing concept:  one day, another Earth, seemingly identical, appears in the sky.  It has some really beautiful shots associated with this phenomenon, and touched on at least some of the implications.  But the story itself was so angsty and contrived I couldn’t take it very seriously.  (Like, when he said his wife was pregnant when the accident happened, I laughed out loud, which I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to do, but it was so clearly the movie saying to us, “Hey, you thought it was bad before? Well it turns out it was even worse than you thought! Ha! Wallow in misery!” And no, I don’t think I will.)

Neptune’s Daughter:  This is an old one, and I finally found where my line is.  You know — you’re watching old movies and they’re chock full of really uncomfortable racism and sexism and the like, but you keep watching ’cause it’s old and interesting and classic and has some great acting and it’s important from a cultural standpoint? (Like, I totally put up with the harassing baby in Gold Diggers of 1933?)  Well, I know now that it can indeed get bad enough that I have to stop, and this movie did it.  The really terrible racist stereotypes, and the really ditzy man-chasing sister in a comedy “comedy” routine with Red Skelton pushed me around the corner and I had to turn it off.  Which is too bad, because this is an Esther Williams film — the woman who made an entire career out of being a swimming actress — and it also featured a young Ricardo Mantalban as a hot Argentinian polo player. So yeah, I wanted to see it, but I just couldn’t.

Also, a question:  when did shaky cam and incomprehensible action scenes in big FX movies become a thing?  Is there one movie that really started the trend?  Transformers maybe?  Because I caught part of the original Stargate movie this weekend, and I was kind of surprised and impressed at how clean it was — action-wise, it had quite 1980’s sensibility, which made it pleasant to watch but also made it seem a little older than it really is. (It’s 1994, which yeah, it might have more of an 80’s sensibility I guess.)  It just got me thinking about when sensory overload became the way to do adventure movies, and I can’t pin it down.


This week I have been:

  • Reading submissions for the FenCon writers workshop.
  • Reading the first 35,000 words of a novel manuscript so I can start working on it again after leaving it alone for a month.
  • Reading the revised version of my Wild Cards graphic novel script.
  • Reading a meaty technical thing on prehistoric archeology in Britain in Ireland for this story I’m writing.
  • Reading the books that are due back at the library in a week.

I feel like I’m back in grad school.


state of the desk

September 8, 2014

Usually I come back from long trips with a huge list of things to do. Sometimes I’ll even spend the return plane ride making that list.  I didn’t do that this time.  Sure, I had some things I needed to get done, a couple of deadlines. But no driving urgency to actually do them like I usually do.  I still managed to have a pretty productive first week home, but I gotta tell you, it felt a little like swimming in molasses.

Yesterday I cleaned my desk a bit and discovered not just a to-do list, but an entire pile of to-do lists.  Somehow, I had just been making lists of things and setting them aside.  So I consolidated, and threw away a lot of little scraps of paper, which is very satisfying.  And I now have an up-to-date to-do list that feels reasonable.  I’m actually kind of excited.  So yeah, I guess I can’t use “But I’m recovering from my trip” as an excuse anymore.

Things I’m doing:  I’m running the workshop at FenCon in a couple of weeks and the stack of manuscripts I’m critiquing have arrived.  I’m revising Now and Then, the graphic novel script I’m writing for Wild Cards.  It’s challenging, mostly because I’m learning a lot about writing comic scripts. It’s kind of a steep learning curve and it’s using up a lot of brain power. But I think it’s going well.  I’m also going over all the other projects I’ve got in progress and what needs my attention first.

I’m also making a secret cosplay outfit. I have a deadline for this, so I need to get moving on it. *rubs hands together gleefully*

I also wrote a short story last week.  When I travel solo, I meet people, and one of the things that always happens is the “So, what do you do?” conversation. It’s an ice-breaker, and people usually like to talk about their jobs: nurse, teacher, engineer, banker, pastor, whatever.  Then I say “writer” and people get really interested and fascinated.  And someone always asks, “So have you been published? Do you actually make a living at that?”  Which drives me a little batty because I’m thinking, I would not have told you this was my job if I was not making a living at it.  This is one of the reasons I always carry business cards so I can pass them out and they can see the covers with “New York Times Bestseller” on it.  Anyway.  On the Northern Ireland tour people kept asking me, “Are you going to write about this? Are you going to put this in a story?”  At the time I didn’t know.  But I kept thinking about neolithic Ireland and the people who built the passage tombs and standing stones and what they must have been like, and what drove them.  And so I wrote a story about them.

I am pleased with my story.  I hope you’ll get to read it soon.

trip report – UK, Ireland

September 5, 2014

So Loncon — the London Worldcon — took place in the same venue as Olympic fencing in 2012.  I thought that was pretty cool.  Also, Doctor Who actors David Tennant and Peter Davison went to the Hugo awards.  I did not, alas, so I can’t say I was in the same room as them.

This was my second Worldcon in another country, and I quite enjoy these, because the shape of the convention is familiar, but the content often isn’t.  New artists, new writers, diverse accents, getting confused with the money, being wide-eyed and distracted.

The convention building was a kilometer long, reportedly.  My hotel was at one end, the convention was at the other, so I did a lot of walking. Conventions always wear me out, but I spent this one in a bit of a daze, I’m afraid.  There were shadows at this con:  this was the first Worldcon without Jay Lake, and I kept looking for his shape in the crowd.  Also, Iain Banks was meant to be Guest of Honor but he passed away last year. He’s one of my favorite writers and I never got to meet him.  And I found out during the con that my brother’s family’s sweet dog Lucy had just died.  All cancer.  It’s crushing.

But there were friends everywhere to make things better, including several I’ve known since the year I went to school in York, and it was great catching up with them.

My trip had four phases: Loncon, visiting friends in Cambridge and York, Shamrokon in Dublin, and a Northern Ireland tour.  Plus, as much touristy stuff as I could in between.  It felt like I was gone a long time. But now, it all feels like it happened ages ago.  Here are some highlights, in bullet points.

  • After being out of touch for a time, I caught up with Shash, who was my best friend when I was at school in York. It was great.
  • Steampunk exhibit at the Greenwich Royal Observatory FTW.
  • Touristy things done in London: The Cabinet War Rooms (I kept thinking of Captain America) and Greenwich, which I probably could have spent more than a day at. So much to see, including at the Maritime Museum, the uniform coat Admiral Nelson was wearing when he was killed, with the bullet hole visible.  Yikes.
  • I was on the train, listening to Fairport Convention, when I got the sudden urge to compare and contrast the lyrics of “Hexamshire Lass” and “Kalamazoo.” How universal are upbeat songs about that small-town girl back home?
  • Barley Hall in York — a recreation of a 15th century merchant’s house — is marvelous. I finally got to see it and was much inspired.  Go see it if you can.  Everyone should go see York, it’s a great town.
  • Shamrokon: was fun because it was in a hotel and felt like every small regional convention I’ve ever been to. With about a dozen accents in hearing at any given moment.
  • Dublin: I’d been to Dublin 20 years ago when I was in college but everything’s changed. So I went back and did some things I’d done before: the Book of Kells, and the National Museum, which were both great. I have a new appreciation for them after 15 years in the SCA.
  • The Faddan More Psalter.  Every now and then I’ll walk into a museum exhibit and have a religious experience, because I’m just so moved and awestruck.  This is an 8th century manuscript that was dug up from a bog a few years ago. I saw the picture of what it looked like when it was found and wept. I can’t stop thinking about who made it, how it ended up buried — was it dropped? Abandoned? Stashed? What happened?!
  • Newgrange also blew me away. I didn’t expect it to.  On this trip I became rather obsessed with stone and bronze age Ireland. Everybody focuses on the Celts, but there were 3000 years of developed civilization on the island before the Celts came along.  These are the guys who built Newgrange and thousands of other tombs and forts and standing stones and so on, and we know almost nothing about them. I’m fascinated.
  • I didn’t go to Northern Ireland 20 years ago because of the Troubles.  Then, I spent one night in Belfast, and the armored cars and soldiers scared me back to the youth hostel.  This trip, I went north, and got confirmation from guides and others that staying out was probably a good call back then. But things are much better now, they really are.  The flags and slogans and walls are still up. But the soldiers are gone. I had a really nice time.
  • This last phase of the trip I was by myself, but part of an organized tour.  I travel solo quite often, especially when my choices are travel solo, or not at all.  Other folks on the tour kept telling me how brave I was, to travel alone.  Which seems strange to me, because I’m not doing it to be brave. I’ve found the world to be a generally welcoming place. I pay attention, I stay as safe as I can.  I see so much more than I ever would if I didn’t travel.

And that was most of my August.


Shamrokon Schedule

August 20, 2014

Another weekend, another convention!  I’m in Dublin this time.  Wooooo!  This time my touristy time is being spent visiting Newgrange.  I’m very excited, and very excited to spend a weekend visiting with folks in Ireland.  Woo!

Here’s my con schedule:


Cover Art, Writer Input or Lack Thereof, Friday 17:00 – 18:00, C. Munster (Double Tree by Hilton Dublin Burlington Road)


Peaceful Science Fiction, Saturday 15:00 – 16:00, D. Ulster (Double Tree by Hilton Dublin Burlington Road)


Steampunk Fact – Monorails!, Sunday 11:00 – 12:00, D. Ulster (Double Tree by Hilton Dublin Burlington Road)

Fiction – Beyond The Novel, Sunday 13:00 – 14:00, C. Munster (Double Tree by Hilton Dublin Burlington Road)

I’m not scheduled for a reading or a signing here, but if you see me in the bar or wandering about before and after panels, I’m happy to stop and sign books.  Just ask.  And yes, I am one of those writers who hangs out in the bar.

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