July 15th, 2006

About Workshopping

Bosstweed requested that I share my thought about Odyssey & other workshops, both in and outside the genre. Well, if you do some hunting, I made another post a while back called "On Workshopping & the Rules." That may answer some of your questions, but I'll try share some of my general feelings.

Overall I like workshops. Odyssey (which I attended) and the various Clarion workshops (which I haven't) feature six weeks of study. Odyssey is run by Jeanne Cavelos, an editor & writer. She teaches her students to consider their works with an editorial eye. Each week she brings in a different writer guest at the end of the week. Week five features a Writer-in-Residence, who stays and teaches for the week, and usually features one of the bigger names in the industry. My year featured Dan Simmons. Week six finishes off with a writer and/or editor guest instead of a writer. This year features Realms' very own Shawna McCarthy.

Clarion's structure is somewhat different. Still six weeks, but each week is bascially a different writer-in-residence, teaching the class, except for one week, when it normally has the editor guest instead. Having not been to Clarion, I can't get into specifics, but most Clarion students swear by Clarion, as most Odyssey students do the same for Odyssey.

Clarion is more established by a few decades, and between all of its students they've won every major award and have been published everywhere. Odyssey is now teaching in its tenth year, but in that time we've done fairly well ourselves. Students have been published in most of the major specualtive magazines (I think the only one left for us is F&SF), we've scored book deals with Tor, Del Rey, Warner Aspect, EOS, Phobos, and Prime, we recently had a former student nominated for the World Fantasy Award, and I *believe* I represent the first student to work for one of the major speculative magazines/book publishers in an editorial capacity.

So, IMO, things are at the point that when choosing between Clarion & Odyssey, reputation & credits don't factor in as much as they might have say, eight years ago when Odyssey was just starting out. The gap has closed. Choose between these workshops based on what appeals to you. The two primary factors would be the way the curriculums are structured and who the guests are.

Dan Simmons is my favorite sf writer, so I didn't even bother with Clarion when I applied. I just applied to Odyssey for early admission (and was accepted :)). Dan turned out to be a great teacher, but one thing to keep in mind is that not all great writers will be great teachers. And just because you don't care for a writer's works, it doesn't mean that can't teach you a lot about writing. Hard to believe, but true. I listened to lectures from a certain Odyssey guest on tape, and while I don't like his writing, he was a fantastic teacher. Also beware of the infamous writer's block that strikes many a student after these six week workshops. There is always a % of students that either can't write or can't finish anything after these workshops from anywhere between 6 months--2 years. My guess is that too many students are trying to apply everything they've learned all at once, and it creates a creative logjam. The best thing to do is finish your stories anyway, no matter how wretched they seem. Over time things will get easier (but never easy).

Of course, not everyone can put aside six weeks of their life, so there are some wonderful one-week workshops. I also attened Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp. Scott is perhaps the best critiquer I've ever encountered, which explains why he felt he could edit his magazine. Lots of students from Scott's workshops have gone on to impressive feats in a short time, so this workshop has lots of merit. Be warned that Scott has very specific teaching methods about his writing, and you may not always agree, but he's a wonderful teacher. There is also Viable Paradise, another respectable workshop, and they've also had students go on to get published in real venues. The last one that comes to mind is Jim Gunn's workshop in Kansas. This one is also highly regarded, though I don't know much about it.

As to non-genre workshops, the most important thing is that, like genre workshops, they should teach you how to write better. But if writing better translates to putting a lot of unnecessary emphasis on style but little focus on substance, then I'd say avoid them like the plague. Hope this helps.

Help Save Talebones!

Is it wrong for an editor from one magazine to try and help save anther magazine? Not if he loves the genre, and wants it to continue thriving! That's why I'm posting this piece, which has been floating around for a few days:

Dear Family, Friends, Peers, Acquaintances:

Talebones has been a part of our lives for almost 11 years now. We have enjoyed every minute of putting all 33 issues together for our readers. It has truly been a labor of love. Most of the time that labor has cost us money, and now, because the amount of money we can put into the magazine has dwindled and, for whatever reason, subscriptions and renewals have not been as strong as we had hoped over the past year, we figure we may have to close down the magazine.

A couple of days ago, it was actually a final decision. "That's it, there's no way can we keep going." There were tears. A few VIPs we mentioned it to asked us to reconsider. So we took a step back and decided: We will issue renewal notices as usual, but put an extra strong plea in there about this. And then we will send a more detailed email to everyone in our email address book who might have an interest. Based on what renewals come in over the next month, based on the response to this email, we will see if Talebones can continue on past 2006. Issue #33 is already in its final preparation stage. With our decision to make this final stab at keeping things going came the decision to at least have an issue #34, to be published in November of December. We will make a determination then if it is to be the last or not.

If you've subscribed to our magazine before, if you've never subscribed, but maybe sent us stories (or had stories published by us), or have wished us well with our little venture, we hope you'll consider helping out. (We didn't go through our files to know which of you are current subscribers and pull you off this email list, so forgive us if you're already subscribers in good standing. If nothing else, we wanted you to know what was up.) At this point, even a single issue copy of our upcoming issue #33 will help. (We've put the order form/info up on our website early.) We have Paypal ready to go if you'd like to go that route. Or you can send money order or check payable to Talebones to our physical address at 5203 Quincy Ave SE; Auburn, WA 98092. Or you can ignore this, delete this, or, do whatever you like. It won't change the way we feel about ANY of you. We just thought we'd do something we've never done in over a decade of publishing the magazine: beg!

That's our sermon. Thanks for your support. Regardless of what happens to the magazine, never fear: Talebones and Fairwood Press will continue to have a presence in the SF world.

Patrick & Honna Swenson
Talebones Magazine
Fairwood Press, Inc

There are so few quality speculative magazine as it is. Considering that Talebones doesn't pay quite so much as the big boys, it's quite impressive what they've accomplished in terms of their story contents during their run. Let's help that run go on. Have a speculative heart, my peoples.