Blue Heaven 2003

The Blue Heaven Gang
Mary Rickert
and our host - Marvin

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Saturday, April 19, 2003
Blue Heaven: Day -1

Well, I survived the 12 hour drive to Columbus. Who knew Pennsylvania was so hilly or so boring. Of course, when I hit the Ohio border I was thinking yay! I'm almost there. Ha! I still had another two and a half hours to go.

But I got there, eventually. And that made me first on the scene to hear Charlie's (Finlay's) good news about making the Hugo Ballot, not once but twice (for "The Political Officer" and for Best New Writer - he rocks. He should note that I am not mentioning the happy dancing, not even a little, I would have had photographic evidence, but he is a party pooper.)

We picked Jim (Stevens-Arce) up at the airport and he was exactly like I always pictured - very suave with many amusing stories. We ran into Roger (Eichorn) at the airport and US Airways had eaten his luggage. (Roger's a freshman (not quite the world's oldest) in college and is cutting class this week to be at Blue Heaven.)

Once he'd gotten it straightened out (or as straigthened out as you can when you have no clean undies) we drove Roger to his hotel. (This would be after I got lost in the parking lot, and an extensive driving tour of the airport road, because the hotel had gotten lost. No, it really was confusing, well, if you are me, anyway.)

We were hangning in Roger's room talking shop, when Karin (Lowachee) and Nancy (Proctor) showed up with damsels in distress - they needed manly assistance with luggage. (As Nancy said, Southern women don't carry luggage when there are men around.) Charlie, always the gentleman, came to their rescue.

Karin's got the most infectious laugh. Everytime she started laughing, I had to laugh too, even when I didn't have a clue why.

Eventually we all trundled off to Paul's (Melko) for a barbeque and got to meet his wife and his two adorable kids - Eli very helpfully spelled his name for us many times. We probably bored his wife to tears with all the shop talk, but she was too nice to say anything. After chowing down yummy burgers and dogs and my favorite (strawberries) we talk more shop. (Because can writers talk about anything else when they get together?) And we learned of Paul's obsessive quip writing habit and pinned a new nickname on Charlie (LC for Library of Congress) and also on Jim (Ace).

Blue Heaven: Day 0

This morning Charlie and I picked up Mary (Rickert) at the airport and headed off into the northern wilds of Ohio. Mary is a total sweetie (and an excellent nanny because she brought us snacks to eat on the trip up. yay! snacks!) It was a fun ride with more book talk which might almost make one forget how damn flat Ohio is.

We reached the ferry around 1. Well, 1:05, so we just missed the ferry. We hung out for an hour in the sun (I am now all pinky-faced) and then hopped the ferry.

Once at the island we ran into Jim and Paul and Tobias (Buckell) - Toby look like an Aphgani in a burkha because he has a head cold and he has a sweatshirt wrapped around his head. We ran off for food, while Toby, Jim and Paul watched us eat at the one restaurant that was open on the island. (I imagine we will be eating there a lot this week.) Those three ended up going there three times today, because once we were done, we ran over to the Eagles' Nest and ran into Nancy, Karin, Roger and Amber (van Dyk). (Yay- Amber was still a tangerine head - totally made my day.) We plopped bags and then scurried back to Himmelblau, except Mary who'd settled in for a nap.

We hooked up with Chris (Barzak) and Ben (Rosenbaum - yes, Celia, I took pictures) and then ran back to the restaurant for dinner/lunch for some. And much spectating of eating for those of us who'd just come there. Much loud and boisterous talking - Charlie and Ben talked muchly on magazine distribution while Amber and I mostly soaked in the knowledge. Ben nicely told me I got to pick the next topic, so I picked cute boys, and he went with it - much discussion on the Ted Chiang/China Mieville groupies.

Robin and Marvin had arranged a reception for us at the Eagle's Nest, but we hung in Karin and Nancy's room for a while first (highlight of the evening - Ben explaining the Iron Chef board game his friend had created).

The reception was fun and yummy with much good conversation, but by nine I was dragging beyond belief and was content to listen to the brain trust (Charlie and Ben) discuss writing theory. Things broke up around 10.

So that's the cast for the next week, there'll be quiz tomorrow.

And now I am not completely prepped for tomorrow, but I'm going to bed anyway, with hopes of getting up fairly early tomorrow and finishing up, but I am too beat to think coherantly - I'm basically done, but I want to make some notes to refresh my thoughts.

Sunday, April 20, 2003
Blue Heaven - Day 1

(approx 9:45 pm)
Woke up at 7 this morning after some very good sleep. The bed in my room is just about firm enough, not quite, but close enough for good sleeping. I could have slept more, but I needed to review my crits for the workshop sessions today.

Robin was up and dressed in a lovely dress and greeted me with "Happy Easter" and I was like "oh yeah, it's Easter" - I've already managed to reach that out of time/out of touch with the world state, where the only thing that is real is the writerly business. It's refreshing to focus on nothing more than writing, and to have no distractions from the outside.

Marvin made us a very yummy and very filling brunch and then we got to work. We learned that Mary's book made amber's butt tight (a very good thing, apparently).

I was a little nervous about giving my first face to face critique, and of course compensated by talking very fast. Which helped me to cram more talking into my allotted five minute time limit.

It was really stimulating (and yet somehow wearing) to hear everyone's take on the different pieces we read today - Nancy and Mary's were up in the morning.

We had a traditional Passover lunch - matzoth ball soup, noodle kugle, potato pancakes and applesauce, and macaroons for dessert. The soup was the yummiest soup I've had in a good long while. (I told Marvin it was the best chicken soup I'd ever had, and he said that it actually had a vegetable broth - oops. Still tasted very chickeny to me.)

After lunch we critted Chris' ghost story novel, and learned that masturbation is good for both the living and the dead. We also got to see Ben doing an impersonation of a fish headed man. We did that crit session on the screened-in porch, which was really nice, except that at some point a large flock of birds had gathered outside the window, and I felt like I was in The Birds.

That was the last crit session of the day, so we ran off for some very mediocre food at the only restaurant in town (henceforth to be known as ORIT) Now we are back at the B&B and some folks are playing Balderdash - I bowed out because I am trying to get some of Toby's book critted - I'm still only a third of the way through.

The was a bit of an internet withdrawal going on for some of the guys - it only seems to be the guys who are really jonesing - only Charlie and I arranged to get some access on the island, but we've been having trouble holding a connection.

OK - I'm off for some more reading or perhaps conversation.

(approx 11 pm) Well, I didn't get much work done. (maybe 3 pages total - whee - only 400 more to go) I did learn that I was born on the day of upward mobility, and that I ought to meditate on "to the crazy man, the normal are insane"

I also learned what kind of couple Paul and Roger would make, but I can't discuss that because it is far too disturbing. - now for 15 minutes of good work before bed.

One last note - I did manage to give Charlie a wedgie when he was bending over to unplug the phone cord - go me!

Monday, April 21, 2003
Blue Heaven - Day 2(~11:30 pm) or Arrrgh said the gay space pirates

Today was Karin, Jim and Paul's turns under the gun and it seemed like a pretty helpful day for all three, with much fun and silliness all around. And don't forget those boy smoochies for Amber.

One of the things I love about the process of critting the novels is that there is a huge disparity in what people choose to comment on - obviously there is a good amount of overlap, but it's interesting to see what's important to each of us as writers.

When we were discussing Jim's novel, Mary spent a good bit of time talking about how she like the way he had been developing the thematic elements, Ben was fascinated with the historical immersion of the story, Charlie was concerned about the distance he felt from the characters and I was all about how I didn't feel like enough of my senses had been engaged and how the story felt overly cinematic to me.

We had the very yummiest vegetable soup for lunch today - I think I am officially a soup convert. We also had yummy pie for breakfast. Cocoanut cream pie. Mmmmmmm. Also breakfast cookies. Well, chocolate masquerading as breakfast cookies, anyway. We were in trouble with Marvin for mentioning the yumminess of the pie, and also because somehow he got the idea that Robin said that we said that he made is bus our own dishes. (Probably because she had called over before we'd made the short drive *grin*) But that is seriously crimping my plan to have Marvin adopt me and cook for me all the time. Alas.

Anyway, back to writerly things.

We had a long discussion about story structure tonight, with many many interesting points, and far too many for me to be able to wring a coherent discussion about it before bed, but a few thoughts:

We started off by going over the structure of a couple of recent books - Nekropolis by Maureen Mchugh, The Years of Rice and Salt, The Mount by Carol Emschwiller, The Briar King by Gregory Keyes and Warchild by Karin Lowachee. This segued into a general discussion of what kind of structural elements throw us, as readers out of the story.

One of the things we discussed was how the novel structure should generally be transparent to the reader, unless the structure is being used to create part of the appeal of the story. (And you damned well better have the chops to pull it off, if you go that route) Ben offered up the example of The Years of Rice and Salt, which is basically a series of linked novellas where the characters are reincarnations, and between the novellas are interludes where they are aware of the process.

We also discussed the idea of transitions being danger points in the narrative for the reader, and there needs to be something to pull the reader through that point, whether it be character or plot or a really neat concept. We also need to be aware of the danger of breaking the contract with the reader - this seemed to be especially prevalent when a major character died, or there is a radical shift in tone or structure.

Roger brought up an interesting idea of something called a passport character, where this character acts as a transition to introduce new characters or places, to smooth the transition and make it more easily digestible for the reader.

We talked for a little bit about something Ben had learned at Clarion, or rather had been suggested at there - that there are three fundamental story types:

Boy meets girl (i.e. the relationship story)
The little tailor (man learns to rise above his circumstance)
The man who learned better

(and of course each of these have their converse - boy loses girl, the mighty are brought low, and the man who didn't learn better)

and we discussed where we thought each of our stories fit into this classification system (mine's a little tailor story) and where they fit in the MICE (milieu, idea, character, event) structure.

About that time things started to fragment up into individual discussions, and since it was late, Mary, Amber and I decided to head back out and into bed.

I'm sure I forgot tons and tons of things, but now I am weary and must sleep with my fingers in my ears so none of my new knowledge dribbles out.

Oh, and I almost forgot, SH rejected the zombie unicorn story today - where am I ever going to find another market that takes zombicorn in space stories?

Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Blue Heaven - Day 3 - Attack of Tobola

Today was the day when most of the folk came down with the Ebola Tobias has been walking around with, most particularly Amber, who seemed like she was pretty well knocked on her ass. The only folks who are still at 100% are me and Paul, and Mary, who had her case of Tobola before she came.

We did Amber's crit first thing this morning, and I was up first. I was glad because apparently because I had told Amber that I had a ton of line comments on her novel that made her a bit nervous - dunno why because I am a total pussycat.

We also critted Roger and Ben today, and you could definitely feel that we had been going at it for a while - not that people were burned out, but there is definitely a little sense of weariness, especially after the discussions of last night.

We had a good talk about American Gods (chug!) today, and in particular Shadow's farewell tour, which is sort of the inverse of the structural problems we talked about yesterday in The Briar King (the prelude/prologue/here's seven POV characters and half of them are dead now).

I also got some really good Clarion advice from Ben and Toby at dinner. Ben's boiled down to 1. There shalt not be a scapegoat. 2. Thou shalt not expect to sell your Clarion stories, so have fun with them and experiment. 3. Thou shalt not measure your success against those of your Clarion classmates. 4. Thou shalt not take offense when someone attacks you personally in a crit and thou shall always act as professionally as possible. 5. Thou shalt get one's ass out of the dorm and exercise.

Toby's was a bit more nebulous, and mainly about how to approach Clarion and be receptive to the instructors, and the other Clarionites, and not to get an ego or be defensive while there. Don't spend your time whining about not being able to write, and just really go to it.

After dinner, I came home almost immediately (meaning around 10, since we are eating so late) and now I think I am going straight to bed - I ought to work for a bit, but I think I am tired enough that I just want to sleep some.

Ben decided today to make a Blue Heaven tarot deck, with the Major Arcana all being characters or elements from our stories - we had some fun at lunch trying to figure that out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Blue Heaven Day 4 - Miss Direction

So, Johnny B. asks, what is Blue Heaven?

The short answer is a novel writing workshop. The long answer is that it is trying to develop a new model for workshopping long fiction. Short story workshops have long been a staple in the genre, both for newbie writers (Clarion, all flavors) and for the more established writer (Sycamore Hill, Rio Hondo), but there isn't really a good solid model for workshopping a novel. This is the brainchild of the always innovative Charlie Finlay.

For the first four days we have been workshopping the first 50 pages of our novels- 3 each day. These fragments are critted by all twelve of the participants, traditional workshop style. For the last three days of the workshop, each person is going to get their entire novel (or novel to date) in depth critiqued by two of the workshoppers, although anyone is welcome to sit in on the sessions.

In addition to the miscellaneous and sundry discussions on writing and crafting a novel, we've scheduled three formal discussions on writing. The first was the structure discussion from Monday. Today we discussed the 3 act structure, as generally applied to screenwriting, but also novels - that was hosted by Jim. And later in the week - probably Friday, we are going to discuss Voice, and that'll be lead by Jim.

Today was my day to be the fish in the barrel and I was really pleased by the way it went. First, by and large people enjoyed reading the story - even the ones who are not the kind of people who like a YA book, seemed to be generally engaged by it. This is nice, not just because we all like to have our writing appreciated, but I had some anxiety about having all the folk read my writing. Before we came Amber had her little freak out, but I'm much more the novice writer than she is, and I wasn't really sure if my writing was going to be up to the same level of everyone else's. (I was pretty sure my critting skills were good enough to be useful, but I had some anxiety on the writing side, because they are all scary published writers - yes, even you Amber) So I was pretty happy that people seemed to enjoy it.

And even better, I got some really good feedback, both in areas that I knew needed work, and a couple that really, I hadn't a clue. It also helped me focus on where I wanted to go with the plot and some changes I need to make to heighten the tension.

I do still have some concerns about the eventual marketability of the book, but I am more confident that when I finish it, it will be a good story and one that people want to read.

We talked a little bit about misdirection today, and how we use it in our writing - for an excellent example, go see "Bread and Bombs" by Mary (M. Rickert) in the April issue of F&SF. Really nice stuff.

While we were discussing it, Chris got a bit fretted that he never uses misdirection in his novel. But a few minutes later he realized he did and that made him very excited and very happy. That's when we realized that his drag name is Miss Direction.

While we were waiting for lunch we played a little sex trivia - I can't explain why it was so funny, but damn it was. Then Ben read from The Years of Rice and Salt as a porn novel. It worked disturbingly well.

Charlie's evil side got a new nickname today - Jim accidentally called him Steve - who is the very unappealing and misogynistic character from Ben's novel during my crit - and ever after we were calling him Steve most of the day.

We had Indian food made by the divine Marvin (yes, we are planning on forming a cult around him) for lunch today. I've never really cared for Indian food, but this was good.

We took some group photographs after lunch (and yes, all the boy babes too, Celia) I'll post them after I get back - It's practically impossible to hold an internet connection here, so I've just been getting mail and pretty much nothing else.

Still not prepared for Mary's detailed focus session, but it's midnight and it's time for bed.

Thursday, April 24, 2003
Blue Heaven Day 5 - No Water

Today was the first day of full novel critiques - we were each assigned two, and I, being an overachiever, had to read more, so I was at sessions in the morning and afternoon. First up was Mary, who is writing a very creepy literary novel, which I totally love. Me and Miss Direction were the critters for her, and had a fabulous time.

In the afternoon Amber was up. I wasn't her official critter, but it worked out well because Jim didn't have time to read her novel. Charlie was her other critter, and for a bit I thought she was going to crack at being double teamed by the two of us. But she offerred me presents this morning, so I think it went well.

We had a bonfire last night, so everything smells a bit of smoke, and the boys were doing their drag queen serenades. They all got drag queen names - Toby is Miss Understood, Ben is Miss Defefying, Charlie was Miss Construe. (I forget the rest, alas, though at one point we were assigning names to randome SF writers)

The Tobola is still running rampant through the group, with Amber the worst hit right now - she crawled into bed right after dinner last night, and most of the day was a blur for her.

We had to move over to the Eagle's Nest in the middle of the day because Marvin's place ran out of water. The water guy had come by to fill up the cistern, but somehow forgot to fill it up when he was here. Very strange.

Friday, April 25, 2003
Blue Heaven - Day 6 Weary

Today was my long critique day - Charlie and I doubleteamed Toby - who knows if he will ever be right again. I think it went pretty well - it's a good book, but basically unsellable in its current configuration, but I think if he does another rewrite, he's got a good chance of a publisher wanting it. It's got good characters and really great world, and some nice plot arcs.

In the afternoon it was my novel critique session. Unfortunately, I didn't submit more than my first 50 pages, so there wasn't much added value. I did get an idea of some of the problems in the book, and where I might need to go to correct them. And I really need to decide what age group this is a book for. (On a side note, I got a critique from one of the YA workshopppers (Melissa's 8th graders) and I was happy that the style seemed to work for her, and overall she enjoyed it - go team.

The pace has been a bit more leasurely for the past couple of days, and that's a good thing. I've reached the critical mass of peopledom, and really just want some time for myself and to just sit and relax, with no one around. It's been a bit draining for me to be here - large groups of people tend to just suck up all my energy after a few days.

So we played some scrabble in the afternoon, and some Balderdash - fun, but I always get a huge sense of impatience - I expect everyone to be done as quickly as I am, and I want to just say "well, hurry up" when they aren't - that's one of the reasons I usually don't play games like that.

In the evening we had a bit of discussion about chapter structure. The most surprising thing to me was how few people seemed to have really thought about chapter structure and chapter placement,so it was really good to have the discussion.

We did have some big doings this morning over at Robin's - the idiots at the quarry decided to drain some water, so they pumped it into her yard - we woke up to a pond in the backyard this morning - good thing we had the bonfire the other day.

Well, time to run off and do Ben's crit - I probably should stop hiding on the porch.

Saturday, April 26, 2003
Blue Heaven - Day 7 The day my mother drove me to prison

Today was the last official day of the workshop. In the morning I attended Ben's session - I love his book, really creepy in the best horror way (eww! tarantula girlfriend in the bellybutton), but the protagonist didn't excite anyone, even Ben. He says he's not going to finish the book until about a year from now, but I cannot wait that long. *very stern work inducing looks towards Switzerland*

In the afternoon I sat in on Charlie's session - he didn't have all that much for us to read, but we talked about some of the structural issues from the first book and this one, and I think we helped him get some perspective. Nancy, Karin and I all got multiple circles on his notes. Go team!

We'd all reached the really low energy point of the week, so once his session was done, we all remained couch potatoes and sat around discussing the workshop and things we'd like to see next year. Charlie invited everyone back for Blue Heaven 2004, but it already looks like a couple people aren't going to be able to come. (boo! Write faster Mary and Ben!) Overall, everyone agreed the format was a success, though Charlie may tweak it a bit for next year (some folks were advocating 3 people reading each whole novel)

We spent the rest of the afternoon telling stories about encounters we'd had with the police (or in some cases encounters we should have had with the police) My personal favorite was Mary's story about her brother and how he got grazed by a bullet that they had inserted into a film projector. While this was going on, many good smells were drifting from the kitchen, and at last it was dinner time.

Charlie had arranged for Marvin to cook us dinner on the last night, and it was just fabulous. He'd been making us the best food all week for lunch and breakfast. (I'm especially impressed because he had two vegetarians to work around, one lactose intolerant, and also it was Passover)

The cheesecake with strawberries was to die for, though Marvin with his Buddha smile told me Robin made it, and of course I believed him - Robin told me the next morning it came from Meijer (that's a mid-west grocery chain). During dinner Karin told us some stories of the time she spent up near the Artic circle - totally fascinating. I especially loved the one of the girl that remembered being in the womb and being born.

Later, a bunch of folks played Mafia. They roped Marvin in, and he totally rocked at it - his expression never changed whether he was lying or telling the truth. I was reading in the other room and chatting with Charlie when his voice drifted in from the other room. "You can't kill me Nancy, I'm already dead." Oops. Right around the time Ben was accusing himself, I decided to run back to the Eagles' Nest and hit the sack.

Sunday, April 27, 2003
Blue Heaven Day 8 - Studmuffin

Today might have been called the day of infinite goodbyes. We had another fabulous breakfast and headed over to Marvin's. We worked on the table of contents for our joke anthology (The Bulimic Shortstop), assigning everyone stories to write. Though I am genuinely thinking of writing The Bulimic Shortstop, because I got a bit of an idea when the phrase first came up during a game of the surreal oracle.

We all hugged goodbye (I got a great picture of Ben and Toby hugging that screams boy smoochies!) and headed off for the ferry.

Where we all hooked up again and hung out on deck, until we hugged goodbye again and went on our merry way. Charlie, Mary and I all were traveling together, and when we stopped for gas, we ran into Nancy's car (Roger, Karin and Amber with her) and decided that since none of us were leaving Columbus until the next day, to have dinner together.

We all hooked up at around 8 and had dinner at this great family style Italian restaurant. Totally yummy, but worth the price of admission to watch Roger grooving to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. We also got to see the table with the spinning pope head. Very cool and disturbing and so, so, very wrong.

The hostess called Charlie studmuffin when we got there. Yeah, it's just that kind of place. (and don't forget the 11 month pregnant goth chick in the skin tight dress or when Amber started discussing Viggo/Legolas boy smoochies with our waitress)

After dinner, Charlie gave us a walking tour of downtown Columbus. He makes the perfect tour guide, because he knows everything about everywhere. It was creepy though, because there wasn't a person out and about. (never mind that Columbus celebrates Halloween and the 4th of July on the wrong day.)

We all hopped back in cars and drove to the hotel most folk were staying at for the last round of hugs. waah!

Though by the time I got home, there was email from a bunch of folk, so my withdrawal pains were eased. Paul, the roadkill assassin, had apparently hit a bird on the way home, completing his weird trifecta of bird/snake/rabbit kills. Chris was home with his girlfriend and already missing us. *sniff* me too.

Pictures coming soon - after I make the infinite drive back to Boston. Go team!


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