This year I attended my second conference run by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. This year was a very different experience from last year in many ways. It was at a different hotel, I was able to attend on Thursday and Friday, and I wasn’t pitching to any agents or editors. This led to some good moments, some bad.
Several weeks ago, while talking about my submission to Cobalt City: Dark Carnival, my friend Torrey pointed out with faint surprise that I actually had fun writing my story about Snowflake. And, I’ll admit, I have had stupid fun writing for all the other Cobalt City stuff I’ve participated in. I can’t say that it’s strictly a matter of the publisher. My entry into Growing Dread was a very difficult thing to write. But I think overall my Cobalt City stories have allowed me the opportunity to cut loose and play with the topic a bit.
I’ve tried to set this blog up so that it automatically posts to Twitter. We’ll see how that goes.
Anyway, last night I went with the girlfriend to the Cyndi Lauper concert. It was one of several outdoor concerts our local zoo puts on. My girlfriend is a big fan, especially of her older stuff, and I have a few of Lauper’s songs that I like a lot. I’m not a huge music geek. I love music, but most of what I love is based more off of nostalgia than technical skill or innovation or whatever. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “She Bop” take me back to the mid-80s, watching wrestling with my grandfather. “Time After Time” reminds me of high school and college when I heard the song for the first time in the soundtrack for Strictly Ballroom. (And, really, that movie is directly responsible for one of my tattoos. Just saying.)
What we didn’t realize prior to buying the tickets was that Cyndi Lauper had just released an album called Memphis Blues in which she sings blues songs. Specifically, she sings blues songs with her thick Bronx accent. It has apparently been at the top of the blues charts for a while. This concert was part of her tour to promote this blues album.
So the opening act was an old blues singer who was part of the blues band that she was touring with. And then when she came on stage she spent almost an hour and a half singing blues songs.
When she did the Obligatory Encore, she sang four or five of her older songs and ended on another blues number. Through most of the show the crowd was pretty mellow, just hanging out on the lawn and listening. A few people, who I suspect were chemically altered, were grooving around like they were at Woodstock again. Or still. But otherwise, really sedate. When Lauper busted out the old songs, everyone sprung to their feet and the entire field was filled with people dancing.
Through the workshop, the same criticisms came up over and over again. On a certain level, I wish I had known some of these things long in advance so that I could have done things differently. It would have been nice to have the basics tackled so that they could critique things on a deeper level.
On the other hand, I had the opportunity to read James Gunn’s The Science of Science Fiction Writing before I got there, but didn’t. I was just too stubborn. It’s one thing to have a person you don’t know and haven’t heard of to tell you that you’re doing something wrong. It’s another to have a dozen people all say you’re doing the same things wrong.
So this is what I got from the workshop in terms of things to remember when writing a short story. Many of these also seem to apply to a novel. Keep in mind this is what I came away with, and I may have gotten some of this wrong. If you want it straight from the source, pick up Mr. Gunn’s book. Also, this is what I’ve been taught, not necessarily what I believe. (Or, at least, I’m too stubborn to believe in.) But I’m giving it a shot to see if it improves my writing and my acceptance rate. If you’ve done his workshop or read his book, feel free to correct me.