Writing Update, August 2016 Edition

The last 12 months have seen a lot happen in my writing life. I finished the first draft of what I hope will be my first book, “The Frozen Past”, early last December. Along the way I learned a lot about what works for me in terms of writing process. (I do best with 2+ hour stints in a place that’s not my house.) I could also see my writing getting better as I went.

Not entirely coincidentally, completion of that manuscript coincided with the beginning of an “Open Door” period at Angry Robot books, a time during which they accepted unsolicited submissions. I sent it off with fairly realistic expectations, knowing I wouldn’t hear anything for months – the window didn’t close until the end of January 2016, and they expected to get hundreds of submissions.

They got over 1100.

I went for quite a while without hearing anything. I passed the manuscript around to a select few friends and family to read – my alpha readers – and got some good feedback. After giving it a few months, I started a revision pass in March that finished in April, which fixed a few of the more salient problems. I knew the beginning was too still too slow but tried a few things to fix that, with limited success. I sent it around again, including a few new folks, in early May, with a request to provide feedback by month’s end.

May saw a couple of developments. With my surgery date set for July I was free to attend Balticon, the big SF/F convention held annually over Memorial Day weekend, and the con suddenly added a set of writing workshops (for an additional fee). I signed up for two. I also got my expected rejection from Angry Robot. Since they were looking at the weakest part of the book, and the first draft at that, the rejection went down pretty easily. (I’ve taken a leaf from writer Tobias Buckell and stuck a print-out of the rejection e-mail in a binder.)

Feedback on the second draft started rolling in, and I trucked off to Balticon, which proved to be a significant event in a couple of ways.

The first few came during the initial workshop, on “Worldbuilding in a Hard SF Universe”, taught by Chuck Gannon. There were only three students counting myself and one turned out to be Beth Tanner, a friend (and friend of the family). During the session Chuck, Beth and our fellow student talked about our works and several key things about my setting crystallized for me on the spot. Chuck also brought up a couple things I absolutely hadn’t considered which make the background of the Exile Clusters more real, but also helped me find the key conflict going on in my little fictional universe. The session was well worth the $180 I spent on it.

The second thing happened over the course of the weekend while participating in the grand tradition of “Barcon”, i.e. the conversations between folks at the hotel bar during the convention. Beth asked if I had plans to submit my writing to any workshops, particularly the Viable Paradise workshop coming up in October. I’d thought about it, and had originally hoped to apply to the Taos Toolbox workshop run by Walter Jon Williams and Nancy Kress over the summer, but my surgery and the expense precluded that from this year. Beth kept at me through the weekend: “You’re at the level where this is the next step for you,” she told me on more than one occasion. “Just apply – you’ve got nothing to lose!”

So, after a week of wrangling with my synopsis and fixing up the beginning of “The Frozen Past” a bit more, I submitted the synopsis and first 8000 words. I also won a professional manuscript critique in a charity auction for “Con or Bust”, and sent the entire book as it then stood off to the terrific writer Yoon Ha Lee.

And then, at the end of June, I was accepted to VP.

This is a really big deal for me. Viable Paradise only takes 24 students. It’s an intense, one-week workshop, and the instructors are some of the best authors and editors in SF/F today. People who apply often get wait-listed and have to re-apply the next year. Alumni include award-winning and best-selling authors.

Now, there’s no guarantee I’ll ever become one of those. There’s no guarantee I’ll even be published (traditionally, anyway). But no matter what I’m going to learn a huge amount. I’m learning lots already from my interactions with my classmates as we get to know each other ahead of the workshop.

Then Yoon sent his critique of “The Frozen Past” back right before my surgery, and it included words I was really happy to see: “There’s nothing here that can’t be fixed in revision.” The book is probably going to need a lot more restructuring and rewriting than I’d thought, and there’s some problematic characterization at points which needs addressing. But the last third seems to really work – which is feedback I’ve gotten from everyone who has read it – and the rest can be fixed. But not until after VP.

So what’s next? I wish I was more of a short fiction writer, but I seem to be stuck in book mode. I’ve spent the last part of July and first half of August working on the plot for my second book, which straddles the line between stand-alone and sequel to TFP. I seem to be on-target to start writing the first draft by the end of August.

And we’ll see what happens.