Inhuman Swill : Blue Heaven

When worlds collide

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tf-postcard-2011-06.jpg
Since 2006, I've spent a week almost every summer at a workshop for novel writers—either Blue Heaven or a spinoff based on its organizing principles. And since fall of last year, I have co-produced and co-hosted a monthly reading series called Tuesday Funk at a Belgian beer bar on the north side of Chicago.

I'm pleased to announce that these two worlds will soon collide! I'm spending the next week at the Wellspring Workshop in Lake Geneva, WI, organized by Brad Beaulieu, but for one night only the group of us will be roadtripping back to Chicago to invade Tuesday Funk for a "Science Fiction Sextuple Feature."

This special edition of Tuesday Funk convenes Tuesday, June 21, 2011, 7:30 pm, in the upstairs lounge at Hopleaf, 5148 N. Clark St., Chicago. Arrive early, stake out a table in the upper room, and grab a beer from John at the cash-only bar. We start seating at 7:00 pm and no earlier. Admission is free, but you must be 21 or older.

Our readers will include Brenda Cooper, Sarah K. Castle, Holly McDowell, Gregory A. Wilson, Vincent Jorgensen, and Kelly Swails, not to mention, as usual, a Poem By Bill. We hope to see you there!

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The plan

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I keep wanting to write a long entry about Blue Heaven 2009, but I keep not having enough time to put together something of appropriate length, depth, and breadth. (And also something that works as a sufficiently laudatory travelogue of Kelleys Island so Marvin will stay my friend.) Suffice it for now to say that I could not be happier with the feedback and suggestions that [info]hollailama, [info]rambleflower, and [info]secritcrush gave me on my novel-in-progress Technomancers. And I can't fail to mention [info]bondgwendabond, who lent half an ear to the proceedings, offered more great suggestions, and may well have renamed my novel to Endgame. (And I can't fail to mention [info]ccfinlay for putting everything together and making it so much more than just a week of critiques, and my great once and future[?] roommate [info]gregvaneekhout, and...)

Anyway, I thought, since I outlined my writing goals at the beginning of the Endgame project, I'd post an update about where I am on it and what I have left to do. 70,000 words into the novel, I realized I was only about halfway through the plot, if that. For a young-adult novel, this was rather unacceptable. With insufficient ruthlessness I was able to hack and revise that down to 60,000 before Blue Heaven, but there's more cutting and rewriting that needs to be done. That will come after I complete the current draft, though, which I'm already moving forward on. I'm giving myself 50,000 words and to the 30th of November to reach the end. Then I'll spend December reworking the problematic opening of the novel and cutting that first half down from 60,000 to, I hope, 30,000 words or fewer. That will give me an 80,000-word novel to start shopping. That's the plan, and a mere thousand words a day will get me there.

One of the consistent comments I got from my critiquers is that the book is pleasant enough but really starts humming around page 200. The faster I can get to that point, and the more humming I can coax out of it before that point, the better.

And now, back to executing my Endgame.

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Sizzling hot bacon

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This is for my compatriots from Marvin's Blue Heaven breakfast table:

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I finally made it back home yesterday to my lovely wife and fuzzy dog after eight days away at the Blue Heaven workshop. I'm delighted to be home but nostalgic for the workshop. It was an extraordinarily helpful, intense, and fun week, maybe even moreso than last year. I don't want to be a namedropper, so I'm not going list all the terrific skiffy writers who attended. Suffice it to say that the week was professionally and personally rewarding, filled with learning, insight, humor, collegiality, friendship, food, beer, free Stormclouds, animal heads, turkey vultures, TNT explosions, Totally Outrageous Behavior, quips that can never be repeated without someone choking almost to death, and Old Gregg. My novel Silvertide was critiqued by two sharp readers who restored my confidence in it, and I hope I served as useful a function to the three embarrassingly talented scribes whose novels I critiqued in full (or nearly so).

Too many good times to recount them all, or even to pick a handful. I leave you with my entry in the Blue Heaven 2007 Raunchy Limerick Challenge, posed by a fellow workshopper who shall remain nameless, for reasons that will remain unstated. The challenge was to compose a limerick employing the words pump, rump, and Cockney.

Down at the Village Pump

A barmaid of bonny sweet rump
Set empty beers down with a thump.
    "Don' just sit and watch me,"
    Said this comely Cockney.
"You want some, get back 'ere and pump."

It's good to be home.

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Explosive critique sessions

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Greetings from Kelleys Island, Ohio. I've been here since Sunday with the Blue Heaven writing workshop, and though I've had plenty of opportunities to report, I have somehow found other things to do instead.

But now that we have something of a lull, and no alcoholic beverages at hand to distract ourselves with, I will mention some excitement from this morning's critique session. (And no, I'm not talking about the deer that wandered past.) So we're sitting on the patio behind a bed and breakfast in the woods not far from a giant limestone quarry. At about 11:45 two long siren blasts came from the direction of the quarry. There was idle speculation that this was a warning preceding an explosion.

Sure enough, a few minutes later the ground rumbled beneath us with a deep whump! That was exciting enough, with our ribs vibrating, but a second or two later followed the sound of an immense explosion that was loud enough to make everyone jump in their seats a little. It was so loud I expected to see a debris cloud lift over the trees, or rock fragments to come sailing toward us, but nothing of the sort happened.

Gee, that was kind of a boring explosion.

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More of that Blue talk

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Is it possible to be nostalgic for something that only happened a week ago? Laura and I were sitting out back in the dusk last night, me with a beer, she with a cigarette, the dog with a chew toy, and I was telling her about how if I felt this way after only a week at Blue Heaven, I must have been a complete mess at 17 coming home from six weeks at Clarion.

For a few days I've resisted sitting down to write up the social side of the workshop, figuring the ground has already been covered pretty thoroughly by others. But the idea wouldn't let me go, so here (rapidly and possibly incoherently) I go.

[info]paulmelko picked me up at Port Columbus on the afternoon of Friday, May 12th. Cathy "Chance" "Jaded Reader" "[info]secritcrush" Morrison, having arrived earlier that afternoon and checked into an airport hotel, was with him. I almost immediately supplied the first running gag (or "callback") of the week when Paul, pulling out into traffic, said, "So your plane was a little late."

"I thought we landed early," I said, looking from my watch to the dashboard clock. "Is that the right time? 4:20? I set my watch back an hour when I got on the plane."

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Blue language

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Though I've been involved with local writers' group on and off in the time since, I hadn't attended a formal away-from-home writing workshop for nearly 21 years—well over half a lifetime, and all of my professional writing career. So it was with excitement and some trepidation early this year that I accepted Charles Coleman Finlay's invitation to attend Blue Heaven 2006 on Kelleys Island, off the Ohio shore of Lake Erie.

Excitement because this would be a peer workshop focusing on SF and fantasy novels, and I was having definite trouble transitioning from short fiction to longer work. And also because I'd be hanging out with some first-rate writers and rising stars.

Trepidation because, for all that I sometimes get worked up online and probably don't come across as bashful, I'm fairly reserved in person and don't usually say much in a new group until I'm comfortable, if then. And also because I'd be hanging out with some first-rate writers and rising stars.

The immediate benefit of Charlie's invitation was that it sparked me to write a hundred more pages on my novel Inclination in something under a month, which for me qualifies as a blistering white heat. The next benefit was the chance to read the first fifty pages of ten other nascent novel manuscripts that ranged from cool and fun to fucking awesome.

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No heaven, just blue

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Bill on the rocks
Came home last night to a happy dog and an even happier wife. And I couldn't have been happier to see them.

But quite a comedown to return to work—and be plunged into a manufactured crisis—after a week-plus at the Blue Heaven workshop. No time to post about the week's experiences yet, except to say that it was an amazing week filled with great people, and that the help I received on my novel was and will be absolutely invaluable. You may or may not glean more tantalizing details from [info]ccfinlay, [info]secritcrush, [info]sallytuppence, Paul, Greg, Tim, Brenda, and Toby.

And you may or may not be tantalized by Secritcrush's Blue Heaven photo album!

Oh, and here and here, if you read down the yellow columns on the left, you can see what happens when writers with too much beer and wi-fi edit one another's Wikipedia entries.

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Wing nuts

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It's WING NIGHT at the Village Pump, sort of a happy hour for chicken wings, 4 to 6. I could get used to this kind of living. Beer, wings, and internet.

Oh, yeah. And the critiquing of novels is very good, helpful, and educational.

But boy. Beer, wings, and internet. Yeah.

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Heaven is very blue

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I'm enjoying the week greatly here at Blue Heaven, on beautiful Kelleys Island off the Ohio shore of Lake Erie. It's raining like a mother, and will for the rest of the week, but I'm still having a wonderful time and learning a lot.

There are two places and two places only to get free wi-fi on the island: the public library, and a local bar called The Village Pump. Guess which one I'm sitting in right now with Paul Melko, Greg van Eekhout, and Tim Pratt?


Hint: we're drinking beer.
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