Wednesday, June 29, 2005

On writers and workshops

Sunday's writers workshop started out promisingly. Despite the extremely late night before, what with all the suite parties and good skiffy conversation, I managed to make it on time for the 9 a.m. start, in somewhat coherent fashion. I brought along copies of the Turkey City Lexicon and Vonda McIntyre's guide to manuscript preparation to hand out. It wasn't long before I felt I'd made a faux pas, as out of the half dozen folks assembled, two were Clarion grads and the rest seemed to have a bit more experience than I'd anticipated. Fortunately, only one already had copies of both, so the handouts were greeted with much interest.

The stories themselves were surprisingly competent overall. Nothing was publishable at this point, but a couple of them impressed me with distinctive voices right off the bat, and two others had the germs of good stories lurking beneath some superfluous verbage, and might emerge after some serious rewriting. There was one story, however, that was downright bad. Horribly over-written, every sentence had at least one "eyeball kick" which was bad enough, but then there was the "idiot plot" elements, the complete disregard of rational science and an utterly passive protagonist. Those weren't the worst of sins, however. The worst were the cliches--the maverick scientist that nobody listens to, and the evil child with superhuman powers that might as well have been named "Bill Mumy" from that old Twilight Zone episode It's a Good Life.

Now, the trick with writers workshops is to weigh the critiques before making any changes. What works for one reader may not work for another, and the author must judge which one understood more clearly what said author was attempting to accomplish with the story. Get 10 people reading the same story, and you can get 10 different opinions on what works and what doesn't--many of them diametrically opposed. I've seen this many times at Turkey City. What should raise red flags for the author is multiple readers of different tastes and opinions identifying the exact same problems in a story. This is what happened Sunday at Armadillocon. Six people all were tripped up by the cliches, bad logic, worse science and purple prose. How should an author respond to such comments?

Well, if you're this particular author, you start out by declaring everyone in the group morons. Then you insist that every "problem" with the story is there by author intent, and that cliches sell--that editors want cliche stories, because readers are familiar and comfortable with them. Jeff Goldblum's wacky scientist schtick is what made Jurassic Park and Independence Day mega-million-dollar blockbusters--precisely because that character is cliche. And, since that bit of unassailable wisdom wasn't enough to drive the point home, the writer goes into a spiel about how the workshop wasn't what they expected--they were looking for advice on how to get the story sold to major markets, not petty negativity. As proof, this professional author ("professional" being stressed repeatedly) who only sells stories for money, began challenging the group's credentials. "How many of you have even made a professional sale?" When several hands went up, the stakes were raised: "Were they professional markets? Have you made more than 40 sales? Well I have, so I think I know better than you what editors want." I declined to enter into this literary pissing match, because this boorish fool was beyond any help or reasoning. But I had my suspicions.

Later, during a Q&A with the convention's GoH, boorish "professional" writer let slip the URL of their website whilst bragging about an upcoming short fiction collection being published by a "small press." A check of said website effectively confirmed what I already knew: all the short fiction sales bragged about earlier were in fact to obscure, non-paying e-zines. I think I recognized one that offered a quarter cent a word. The forthcoming collection isn't from Publish America or iUniverse, which surprised me a bit. The publisher isn't that far removed from the bottom of the barrel, though, and if the writer sells more than a dozen copies to folks who aren't blood relatives, I'll be more than a little taken aback.

And, lest you think I'm withholding names to protect the guilty, let me assure you I'm not. It's true I don't generally engage in online mudslinging, but in this case I'm so annoyed at this boorish writer that I'm not about to give them one iota of free publicity. Simple morbid curiosity would drive a few people to said writer's site, and my penance would be unfathomable were I responsible for even one misguided soul wasting money on this hack's ballyhooed volume of drek. So there.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Afterglow

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