ReaderCon, Well-Met!

July 16th, 2012

I had a great time at ReaderCon this past weekend!

I saw a bunch of BCS authors, including Matt Kressel, Mike Allen, Marko Kloos, Raj Khanna, Maggie Ronald, and Mike DeLuca. I also met several BCS authors for the first time, including Ann Chatham and Seth Dickinson. And I saw many con acquaintances, like George Morgan and Amanda Downum, and drinking buddies, like Devin Poore, Claire Humphries, Chris Cevasco, and probably tons more that my delayed-flight-addled brain can’t remember.

I chatted with a bunch of other editors, including Matt Kressel (who also built the new BCS website), Mike Allen, Leah Bobet, and Sean Wallace, which I always enjoy. One of my favorite editors to chat with, Neil Clarke, had a heart attack at the con, which was a big shock, but he was recovering well at a hospital right down the street; excellent news. I started a get-well card for him, which tons of people signed, and a bunch of other people manned his dealers room table all weekend.

I met a bunch of new people, like fellow Viable Paradise grads Fran Wilde and A.C. Wise, Clarkesworld slushie and homebrewer Rebecca Wright, Patrick Swenson the editor of Talebones (a sole-proprietor editor and zine, which I always admire), agent Eddie Schneider of JABberwocky (I’ve met and been on panels with his boss Joshua Bilmes), Appalachian F/SF writer Andy Duncan (whose reading, from an upcoming cover story in F&SF, was awesome), novelist Daniel Abraham (who knew of BCS from my publishing our mutual pal Saladin Ahmed), his co-author Ty Franck (who I knew from fellow Odyssey grad Carrie Vaughn, and who had helped me get my GRRM science-fantasy anthologies signed by Mr. Martin for the BCS science-fantasy month giveaway), and many many more.

The Saturday panel I moderated on Genre Zines in the 21st Century had some great discussion about interesting aspects of current magazines, which made the panel fresh and different from the usual panels on that subject.  Among the cool nuggets that the audience seemed to enjoy was this one that I dropped in passing. My solo reading on Sunday had excerpts from four BCS stories, like “Ratcatcher” by Garth Upshaw that will be in Issue #100 next week and the new Lord Yamada story by Richard Parks that will be in the Fourth Anniversary Double-Issue in October, and was solidly attended by BCS writers and readers alike.

I had a great time; I bought way too many books; I had crates of awesome local beer and shared it with all who would have me. :)  All my criteria for a great con.  I’ll be back again next year!

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At ReaderCon This Weekend

July 10th, 2012

I will be at ReaderCon, in north Boston, again this year, for discussion and fellowship and beer.

Saturday at 11 AM, I’m moderating the panel Genre Magazines in the 21st Century. It includes a bunch of longtime editors, like Neil Clarke, Shawna McCarthy, and Gordon Van Gelder, a group which nicely spans both older paper magazines and newer online ones. “What goes into keeping genre magazines fresh and afloat in current times?” the program book muses, also mentioning “success and cautionary stories.” I’ll have some good discussion questions laid in.

I will be at the Group Reading for the Odyssey Writing Workshop Grads, Saturday at 2 PM. I don’t know if I’ll be reading yet, but I’ll bring along a Homeless Moon chapbook just in case….

And Sunday at 11 AM, I have a solo Reading, where I will read a story from Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Audience’s choice! Including older stories, current ones, and even forthcoming ones from Issue #100 or our Fourth Anniversary Double-Issue this Oct.; stories from the new Ceaseless Steam theme anthology and even from the not-yet-announced Best of BCS Year Three.

I’ll have flyers featuring the new Issue #100 artwork by Raphael Lacoste and postcards for Best of BCS Year Two and Ceaseless Steam.  Feel free to drop by the Sat. panel, the Sun. reading, or to stop me in the halls (or in the bar!  :-) ).

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Shiny!

July 5th, 2012

The new Beneath Ceaseless Skies website debuted this week!  After consuming three months of my attention. :)  But its cool new features were definitely worth it.  Check it out and see!

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Milling the Ford: Don’t Expect the Wrong Things from Critiquing

July 4th, 2012

I’ve seen recent online discussion of writers and workshoppers slagging the Milford method.  (That’s the formal name for classic critiquing method, used by most all F/SF writing workshops including Odyssey and both Clarions, where you go around in a circle and everyone gives the author their comments on a submission).

These writers blame it for, among other things,  sending young writers into a spiral of unending revisions on the same story and leaving them tied in knots of self-doubt about their own ability.

Those fates are possible consequences of critiquing. I’ve written probably a thousand critiques and had hundreds done on my own work.  I’ve seen those outcomes and at times resembled some of them myself.

But the Millford method is not the cause.

The cause is writers expecting things from critiquing that it’s not going to deliver without work.

Critiquing is only as good as the critique group’s insight, but not just their insight on writing in general or the specific type of writing in that submission.  Also their insight on you the author–what kind of writer you are, what your goal for that submission is. If they don’t know as much about your writing and its goal as they know about characters and their goals, they won’t be able to give comments that fit not just your vision for the story but also your aim for it.

The benefits of critiquing also depend on you the author’s ability to extract the wheat from the chaff. You have to decide which comments fit your vision for the story and which don’t. Writers who end up tied in knots from getting critiques clearly haven’t figured out how to do this. It’s difficult; even maddening. But that’s not the fault of the method.

And critiquing is never going to add a spark of brilliance or magic or “quan” to a story that doesn’t already have it. The onus for instilling spark rests squarely with the author. Maybe it happens on first draft, or maybe inspiration strikes after critiques or even during. But if the story ends up merely average or competent and without any spark, there’s only one place the blame lies.

To be fair, these subtleties require critiquers who are experienced, familiar, and mature, far moreso than the beginners at most workshops. In fact, a reason why most workshop critiquers are not this good may be that critiquers who are this good have no need to go to a workshop.

Rejecting the Milford method seems to feel liberating for some young writers, but to me it looks like an escape hatch. Spend time cultivating some familiar and mature critiquers, and tackle its difficult decisions, before you give up on it.

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