Viable Paradise 17: So Much Good Stuff!

This is the Info Dump post. It’s partly here for my own use as a diary, partly for curious future applicants, and finally for whatever fun my own classmates take in reading my blather.

There was so much goodness packed into such a fast-flying week. Like about half the class, I arrived on Saturday. I was in fairly late, about 9 pm but had time to meet my roomies, hang out in staff and generally feel like I was in the right place.

Sunday my roommates and I walked to town for a meal and shopping. Per Uncle Jim’s strong recommendation to coffee drinkers, I bought a large souvenir mug. I’m drinking from it now, and suspect it will be my writing mug of choice from now on. One of my lovely roommates would make a big pot of GOOD coffee each morning and we’d replenish our mugs from it. (She’d cleverly brought her own Warren Ellis “Where’s my Fucking Coffee?” mug.)

We talked all day about writing and books and who should read what and how the world would work if we were allowed to run it properly.

My notes about the day also say “so pretty.” And Martha’s Vineyard is!

Sunday night was our first group dinner and we received our bags, which included the pieces to critique. During the welcome, Elizabeth Bear told us that the goal for the week is not to fix the story you submitted. It is to teach you so that every story or novel you will write after this is sellable. That was a good rock to hold on to for the rest of the week.

Monday morning we had bleary morning announcements before our first group critique session. They gave us some critique tips: I especially remember Steven Gould saying, “Be kind, say something true, say something useful.”

The instructors also kept telling what to do if we were upset, and how to avoid being upset. I honestly hadn’t been freaked out about critiques, but they kept warning us so much not to freak out, that I started to worry.

It reminded me of the time we took my mother-in-law on her first roller coaster ride. She was keyed up and nervous, but not scared. Then I remembered that the only time people usually get hurt on a roller coaster is i they try to get off the ride. So I said to her, “No matter what happens, don’t try to get off.” Then, she was scared!

The Monday morning coaching kicked off five days packed with critiques, lectures, discussions, fun, and mandatory fun. In between there were always people to talk to, people to get hugs from, and space to go for a walk and let the wheels start to grind what had been given.

We had group dinners every night but Wednesday, when we had a group lunch. That gave us Wednesday afternoon free to work on our writing assignment, which we’d been given Monday night and was due Thursday afternoon.

Wednesday night one of my clever classmates called a cab and a group of us went into town for dinner. Again, any chance to talk with any random group of VP classmates was very fun and rewarding. We’ve all done different things, have different skills and challenges and were all willing to share.

At night there was often music, as several of the teachers and students had instruments or were otherwise musically inclined. Singing in a group is something I love and seldom get to do, so every night I sought out the music room. In retrospect, I missed out on some more writerly conversations, but at the time it was a perfect fit, for me and for “writer camp.”

The basic problem with Viable Paradise is that at any one time outside of formal goings on, there are five fascinating conversations going on and I wanted to be in ALL of them. I knew this would happen though, so I had steeled myself to accept it. We were all pretty interested in wanting to talk with new people and it was perfectly fine to say “Hey, I haven’t talked to you much, let’s sit at the same table during dinner.”

During the week, I found that not only was I staying up late, I was also waking up before the alarm by an hour or two because my brain was simply raring to keep chewing on what it was being fed. Somehow I powered through the week on happiness, adrenaline and west coast jet lag.

The staff at Viable Paradise are amazing. They are all former students (with one awesome exception) and are there to care for you physically and emotionally. I had an annoying medical issue pop up when I was there that necessitated two trips to the ER. One of the staff took me there and waited cheerfully while he had no idea when I’d be done. When I got back, a bit the worse for wear from the poking and prodding, Mac gave me all the hugs I needed to deal.

In fact during the week, I frequently found myself plopping down on the couch next to Mac or one of the other staff, just for a few minutes, to check in after a rough critique, or to share some encouraging comment that made me so happy that I was almost more fragile for having received it.

When I was reading other students recaps of Viable Paradise, one of the said, “Before VP I wrote stories. After VP I craft them.” I felt that way. My brain has been rewired and stuffed so full I still don’t know what all they’ve shoved in there. On Friday I tweeted, “My brain is like a bowl so full I can’t stir it.” Another student quickly agreed with me. So I still can’t tell you what all I learned or how I changed.

Here’s one thing I know changed. I reprioritized my life. At the airport coming home, I unsubscribed from news feeds that didn’t matter, including one about a hobby I realized doesn’t feed my soul like writing does. The first day I was home, I started purging books so I can remove a bookcase. I need room in my study for what I’m calling “The Big Wall of Plot.” I will continue to work to find more time to write, and to be part of my new tribe.

Thank you instructors, staff and students of Viable Paradise 17. I love you and will forever face out your books.