Awesome Times in Tennessee

So, it’s been a while. My apologies to everyone who enjoys reading my blog for doing it so little this year. 2014 ended up having a lot of ups and downs, but I’m pleased to say it’s ended more on the up-side of things. I had some stuff in my head that really needed sorting out, and it appears to be well on its way to being sorted. Also, Locke is doing well and growing large. He’s up to 80 pounds! Obligatory adorable puppy picture below.

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In early October I had the good fortune to attend the Writing Excuses Retreat out in Chattanooga, Tennessee, put on by the wonderful Writing Excuses Podcast team consisting of Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler. Unlike Superstars, the focus was largely on craft. Twenty-four of us writers were sequestered with the instructors and staff on a beautiful little woodsy estate owned by Mary’s parents, who often joined us for dinner conversation. The first three days consisted largely of lectures and break-out sessions. My break-out was led by Mary, and the six of us participating had each submitted the first 7000 words of our novel. All the critiques were illuminating in their own way, and I got some good insight from the others on balance between too much and too little worldbuilding, something I continue to struggle with.

The last three days was mostly free-writing time, punctuated by a trip to Rock City, some impromptu lectures, and an enormous amount of pie. Kara, Brandon’s assistant, makes a mean chocolate-peanutbutter pie I can still taste.

The whole experience was fantastic. I made some friends that I hope to stay in contact with for a long time. There were two specific experiences I wanted to highlight:

  •  Mary gave a “wildcard” lecture on writing in dialect, which turned into a broader discussion of writing characters in other cultures. This is a topic rife with pitfalls and one Mary has a great deal of experience with. As tough as it is, I think it’s important, and I don’t know anyone who could have presented the issues better. It really gave me a great deal to think about.
  •  I got a fifteen minute one-on-one session with Brandon. Admittedly, I was slightly cynical as to the usefulness of this, going in. He doesn’t know me at all, and I felt like the problems I was grappling with required more context than I’d be able to provide in the allotted time. Still, I gave it my best shot, giving him a five minute summary of some of my struggles. He made a few general remarks, paused, furrowed his brow, and then suggested that, from what I’d described, I might be overly constraining myself with certain plot choices before other parts of the story were fully developed. This point stayed with me, not least because my friend Sean had suggested the same thing a few months ago. When two people with extraordinary intuition offer the same advice, it’s worth carefully considering. I mulled it over for a few days, re-examined some of the problems I was having with The Wildfire Crown and the current project, City of Stone Wings, and basically decided they were right on the money.

I could blather on and on, but the point’s been made: the workshop was incredible. I’d recommend it for anyone. The good news is, in 2015 they’re doing it again – on a cruise ship. That means no cap on attendees. It does mean a worse instructor to student ratio, but I’m confidant that this group can figure out how to handle that (and they’ve already added at least one instructor). If that sounds interesting, sign ups are available here. 

In other news, work is progressing on my new project, City of Stone Wings, a post-apocalyptic YA fantasy novel. I was really struggling with the middle, but using the insight gleaned from the retreat, have spent the last two months rebuilding the world and back-story to fix a number of problems. The resulting outline is something I’m extremely proud of and look forward to writing. Hope to have a solid draft done in a few months.

Meanwhile, I recommend sending off the new year with Pentatonix, whom I’ll be seeing live in February thanks to a very generous Christmas gift 🙂