I'm still processing much of what happened at VP. Some of it feels dream like at this point. I think it was a by product of being exhausted when I arrived. As I'm continuing the WIP I can feel what I learned there creeping in. I owe the "messed up" part of the story at this point to Uncle Jim and his plotting. I see myself making things clearer on the fly because of Teresa's party trick. I'm more energized by the writing. At some point in the last three chapters I heard each one of the instructors voices or felt their presence as I type in the words (Doyle, Lisa, Steve, Bear, Jim). Patrick's voice comes out when I'm looking at the markets with a clearer eye. And Scalzi's voice reminds me to not be stupid about the business side of writing.
In fact, with the last round of submissions, I was going to go one way, and then I heard our oath as VP Writers, and went the more career oriented path. I'm going to tempt the fates here and say since I haven't yet heard back from JJ Adams (he's a damn fast reviewer), I made the right choice (now watch his rejection email come tomorrow morning).
First was the process of getting there. Applications. I had wanted to apply for the past four years and just never got my butt in gear enough to do it. Last year (VPXII), when I heard John Scalzi and Elizabeth Bear were the invited instructors (Teresa and Patrick Nielsen-Hayden, Debra Doyle and Jim McDonnald, Laura Mixon and Steven Gould have been long time instructors there, the website has the same line up as this year) last year, I knew I had to go. Unfortunately I didn't have 8000 words ready that I wasn't going to end up finishing and sending out. So I was full of fail in 2008. Then, when they announced the same line up of instructors for this year, I knew the universe had given me a second chance and I better not blow it. Also, my friend Mer was lining up a novel workshop group. I knew it would take me at least half a year to write a novel (it's now looking like a full year), so I knew this was my chance. The current WIP at the time wouldn't work (it's in disjointed pieces). I knew that one of the things that was holding me back was the dual thoughts of "the first novel is a throw away" and the "OMG, a novel is so figgin' huge." So I switched gears and started the current WIP, Bladesman. It was an idea I had for a long time, but couldn't work out the story and it felt to big for a short.
I wrote as much as I could for Mer's workshop. And I surprised myself. The novel was coming out in order. And it was coming fast. I was also surprised to find I really like it. After all, this would be the throw away novel. I did the critiques with Mer and rewrote the first five chapters which brought me to 8000 words and sent it in.
At the time I really only gave myself a minor chance of getting in (not sure of the story, not time to polish, and I was sending it in very, very late). Our finances were all wonky because of the instability of the day job and even if I did get in, I might not be able to attend. When I received my acceptance I did two things. Danced like a maniac all while having a massive panic attack inside. I talked myself into and out of it several times in a half hour. Then I talked with Bette and she helped me make the decision that come hell or high water we would find a way to send me there.
The time from acceptance to going didn't help. The day job continued to spin out of control. The night job had two major set backs (one at the last minute). The story began coming slower. I was up, I was down. I reserved the room and paid for half up front (note to students who maybe going, reserve a townhouse unit and get roommates to share the cost, there's enough people going that this can happen). Then I worked out how to get there. The first time I looked at tickets to the island, they were over $500 (I think it was $780 actually). Slight panic. And then the sister-in-law concocted a scheme that she and Bette would go along as well. Major panic. But, then something happened. Part of my brain said I should. I hardly ever get to take Bette anywhere, and we really do want to travel. So I said yes. Fortunately VP is a very friendly group.
And then something else happened. Todd offered to give us a ride from Boston down to the ferry. I booked the flights from Akron to Boston. That's when I knew I was supposed to go. The total for the round trip flights from Akron to Boston was $500, for all three of us. I had hit it just right for multiple sales and discounts. With Todd giving us a lift we could afford a car on the island. Everything, except the writing, started falling into place.
And then the night job exploded. But the chiefs solved the issue and we're in a better situation. I didn't have the time to get things done at home. The day job went crazy. I was able to solve all of it with a lot of help, but it left me exhausted and not able to sleep. I couldn't find a whale watching cruise that Bette could go on (one of our "must do" things in life). What had turned around to looking so right, now started looking so wrong.
Then it rained all the day we arrived there in Boston. And not a little rain. Were talking localized flooding because the water couldn't drain fast enough kind of rain. We were soaked. And Todd was soaked because of us. I have to say our time at the sandwich shop, waiting for the ferry, I had given up on "the universe is pointing this way."
And then we were on the ferry. It rained as we left so we couldn't be on deck. But then the rain stopped. And I was able to go out on the deck as he headed out of Woods Hole. That's when I remembered how much I love to be on the water. The air tastes different, the light is more spectacular. Give me a tall ship and a star to steer her by. The ferry is large, but there was enough chop to feel it. A seagull rode our bow wave (the air around the ship) all the way out to the island.
We arrived the day before the workshop. Mostly because I didn't want to be rushing. Since the schedules required lots of points of contact, I didn't want to be rushing all over. So Sunday morning, before the meet and greet, that would be my vacation. I chose to go out to Aquinnah Cliffs. All the tour books said it was the place to see on the island. On the plus side, it also meant being on the ocean.
They were fabulous. We spent way too long there, but we enjoyed ourselves. And yes, I took off my shoes and walked in the ocean. The cliffs themselves are chaulky clay and are federal reserve (Indian) land, the beach is open though.
There was much shell and rock gathering (I have a very nice size quartz), walking in the sand, and generally being silly. Then we went on top of the cliffs to Gay Head just in time to see the last of the tourist buses and the fleecing of them by the little shops. We also caught a nice sandwich. By then the time I had alloted for sightseeing was halved. We started driving back, got a little lost, and found and interesting graveyard. Since I wouldn't have any other time to do this, I wanted to go see it.
It was magnificent. There were plenty of very interesting stones, some of the oldest I had ever scene. Some that were stories in and of themselves (a journalist who was eulogized by FDR) and some interesting decorations (include ceramic ducks, several of them). Then, since we were running out of time, we started out to be stopped by a grave right next to the entrance that looked strange. The stone and top engraving looked old but it was in excellent condition. So we had to stop and look.
John Belushi's gave. That's when I knew it was going to be all right. We had stumbled on John Belushi's grave. How cool is that (okay, I guess you have to be a certain age).
So we went back. I met my classmates, instructors, and staff. I worked my ass off, and then was given permission to have fun. So I had fun. I learned and listened and tried to stay awake. At the end of the week I didn't know up from down, but I think I hid it well. I got chuffed, and punctured. I saw the Milky Way (God I love looking at stars in a dark sky) and glowing jelly fish. I read excellent pieces from my classmates. I didn't get to do everything I wanted (sorry I missed the morning hikes, but I had only gone to bed 3 hours before then). Learned a metric butt load and had the connections made in front of me. Yes, the universe wanted me there.
The trip back was something different (that didn't have anything to do with VP or Todd, who was excellent). But that will be another post.
And finally, here's the promised photo for our Anonymous Cassie.
See, right before we left for VP, Cassie sent me a brown paper-bag with the inscription that I should use it to control my hyperventilating, or at least use it as a puppet Scalzi. Well, of course I had to take it with me. Who knew if I would need it there on the island. And, I took it to my one on one with John Scalzi.
The first time I ever met John Scalzi, it was at Confusion in Detroit (and excellent con, BTW). I was pretty much a regular on his blog at the time (I still am, although I don't find the time to comment much anymore, much to my chagrin). Some people have the impression from his blog that John can be a bit of a dick, it's not anywhere near the truth. Within five minutes of meeting him he had introduced me to most of the luminaries of the convention. He also kept me engaged in the conversation. That's a big debt I owe him.
Now, Scalzi's critique was to the point, and I would say was on the plus side of things. We talked about both the piece, writing in general, and careers. It was very nice and John's a great guy (but I already knew that). edited John did point out several things that were wrong, BTW. Things that I knew I would have to fix (mostly by pushing up some world building), and a few he was the first to point out. end edit
The puppet's critique, however, well, let's just say the ointment is working well and I'm almost healed. The mental scars though. The nightmares. Those will probably never go away.
(Just kidding, Cassie. John thought it was funny.)