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In my Writers Weekend posts I mentioned my camera battery died almost as soon as I arrived in Moclips, and I obtained only a small number of images from my first walk down to the beach. I post them here for the record, recognizing that the more photographic interesting subject matter for a Writers Weekend would be, you know, people.

It's very beautiful country up there, but I didn't get to see much other than this beach (extending a few miles north and south of the Ocean Crest Resort) and a stretch of highways 101 and 109.

We'll see how this looks once posted, and I may interject little text commentary bits beneath some of these.
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On the first day of the recently-blogged-about Writers Weekend my digital camera battery died. You'd think a gadget-loving, tech-savvy guy like me could do something simple like charge a rechargeable battery, right?

As a result I have no pictures of my trip, except a dozen or so pictures of the long wooden stairway winding crazy angles down through the trees to the ocean, and maybe one or two ocean pictures.

One of the other weekenders must have been more capable with a battery charger, and took plenty of pictures, which were linked to in this recent post. So check out his Writers Weekend pix. My own non-existent pictures would be similar, yet different.

Anybody else who has posted pictures from the weekend, let me know via comments or email, OK?
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The reason this post is called "...Part the Third..." is because I've already recapped the first two days of the Moclips Writers Weekend -- you can read those posts by either scrolling down, or following these links:

Writers Weekend Recap One and Writers Weekend Recap Two.

Part Three gets us up to last Saturday morning. I again skipped breakfast, not because I have an eating disorder, but because sleep sounded better to me than yogurt.

Saturday, the critique groups occurred in the reverse order of Friday's groups, meaning David D. Levine's group met in the morning, and Jay Lake's group (my group) didn't meet until 2pm.

I took advantage of the free morning to go for another run on the beach, basically a repeat of the prior day's run. Then we had lunch in cabin 601, and members of David's critique group made various in-jokes to which the rest of us were not privy, and immediately after lunch David gave his second lecture, this time on "Using Sets and Props to Define Character." As with David's first lecture, I won't give away the guts of it (that would be telling), but the basic idea was that certain props convey things about a character, such as what kind of clothing they wear, or their car, for example. David has a background in theater and many of his examples were related to that, and many of the same tricks apply in written fiction as in a stage play. The way you "dress up" your character, or if you give them a certain kind of weapon or vehicle or house, says something about that character and helps the writer's job of character-building. Again, a useful lecture, less specifically useful to me individually than the "plot" lecture of the day before, but David does a great job with these.

Directly after the lecture, our second critique group met. This one had quite a different flavor from the first, as three of the stories were YA novel chapters. It's a whole different deal to critique a finished story than a chapter in someone's novel, and while I won't go so far as to say people shouldn't submit novel chapters to critiques like this, I will say half the purpose of such a critique is defeated by submitting a partial work. It's impossible to judge a work in a macro sense, to evaluate whether the story arc is successful or not, when evaluating only a small segment. We're left to judge the beginning as a beginning, and to evaluate the sentences and the dialog as they stand alone, but there's no way to accurately judge the story, and of course judging the resolution based on a first chapter is out of the question.

Because of this, the second critique group was quite a change from the first, though we did find things to discuss about the novel chapters. Additionally there was one short story considered, and the writer admitted she had hurriedly cut the story's length by half (in order to meet the critique's length limit of 15 printed pages) and the story's problems were mostly down to missing information due to these cuts.

We held off discussing Jay's story until last, because he wanted to make sure we had time for the stories of us eager, wide-eyed youngsters. In the end we had plenty of time for Jay's story, which was outside the usual length limit, about 20k words. Jay's critique went, perhaps surprisingly, just about the same way the other critiques went. That is, people found suggestions to make, and Jay listened and nodded and made notes, and people mentioned what things they liked about the story as well.

Without giving away any specifics of Jay's story, I can say that the man writes a very clean first draft. My own first drafts are a rough, disordered spew, bearing little resemblance to my finished stories. I view the first draft process as the creation of a block of jagged stone, roughly the right size and shape for what I expect to sculpt, but without any of the detail, nuance or texture that will end up in the final. For me, the revision process is one of scraping off extraneous bits here and there, and adding fine details or bits of polish, until it starts to read like something a person might want to read. It was fascinating for me to see first drafts that are basically at the opposite end of the spectrum from my own. Jay's story had some informational matters that needed to be clarified, and he agreed he would adjust the structure and balance in a macro sense, but the individual sentences were already just right.

Sometimes at an event like this, you learn interesting and informative things in places you wouldn't have expected. I've always wanted to write more polished first drafts -- I mean, when you're a twelve-to-twenty-draft kind of writer, it sounds pretty good to find a way to reduce that -- but whenever I try, I find it reduces the speed of my production so much that the story's natural flow suffers. It's not that I believe seeing Jay's very polished and finely detailed rough draft will somehow magically convey to me the ability to do the same thing, but it's informative nonetheless.

Following the second critique we had a short break before dinner, and I took a trip down Hwy 101 to a little town a few miles south, where I found a quaint, snobby little market where I chose from their selection very expensive beers, and very-very expensive beers. I selected one of each, and enjoyed a Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale ($5.99 plus tax) prior to dinner. Samuel Smith's is my favorite brewery in the world, incidentally.

I arrived in cabin 601 feeling pretty good, and enjoyed the final dinner and group photo. We proceeded right back to the conference room, though, for the final presentation by David D. Levine's, which was his "Mission to Mars" talk. If you have a chance to see David give this talk, don't miss it. It's both entertaining and inspiring, and if you're sure you won't have a chance to see David give it in person, here's that link again to a YouTube version of David's Mars talk.

When the presentation ended, it was still light out but getting cold, and though I figured everyone would go back to cabin 601 for more social goofery (I mean this in a good way), everyone seemed to make a beeline back to their rooms so I figured we were all tired, and went back to my cabin. There I found solace in my last, very-very expensive beer (don't remember what it was... Asahi? Anyway, $7.49 plus tax for the bottle), and sat outside on the picnic table next to my car. Then I saw people going back to cabin 601, and realized everyone had just gone back to their rooms to change into warmer clothes, so I went back to 601 and people were excitedly talking about going to see Hell's Belles at the Quinault casino about twenty minutes away. The "away team" ended up just being therinth, quantumage, Seamus (no link -- Seamus, are you out there?), and me.

Hell's Belles is an all-girl AC/DC cover band and the show, as Sailor Ripley would say, was rockin' good. AC/DC's own Angus Young refers to Hell's Belles as the best AC/DC cover band he's ever seen, and I'm not surprised. Such awesomeness! If my wife ever runs off with the circus, or leaves me for the mailman, I will endeavor to marry this girl instead:

High voltage rock and roll!

By the time the show was over and we arrived back at the resort, it was midnight or something. SF writers may be cool, clever and smart, and they may even like to throw back a few drinks and act silly, but they don't seem to like to stay up late. So really, that's the end of my Writers Weekend story. I crashed, slept in a bit, and by the time I woke up I had to get back to Portland to pick up Lena at the airport. Quite a whirlwind, lots of fun, and something I'd love to do again next year. I enjoyed meeting a lot of new people, and I learned a lot of stuff, including specific feedback I'd hoped to obtain on my story, and a variety of other writing-related wisdom.
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The second day of Writers Weekend was Friday, but it was the first day of real activities. I skipped breakfast in cabin 601, just because I'm not really into breakfast foods most of the time. I had a Diet Pepsi and a Clif bar and a few potato chips -- yes, that sounds nasty for breakfast but they were baked chips, and they sounded good so I popped 'em open before heading out to the first 9am critique.

Attendees were split into two critique groups, one each overseen by Jay Lake and David D. Levine. I was in Jay's group. Each writer was responsible for submitting their story electronically about six weeks in advance, and for printing out the stories of all the other writers in their group. Each reader made notes, comments and suggestions on the manuscript, and returned the annotated copy at the end of the critique. Both groups included eight participants and one "writer guru," and Jay submitted a story for critique by his group, but David didn't. This meant we arrived for this thing with nine printouts (in Jay's group, at least, eight printouts for David's group) covered with notes, and we sat in a conference room and introduced ourselves, though mostly we knew each other's names already. Each critique group met twice -- once on Friday and once on Saturday -- so half the stories were covered in each meeting.

I won't go into individual writers' names or story details, because I'm not sure the other participants would want that (though if you were a member of David's group and want to know about how it went in Jay's group, message me and I'll let you know). Here's a quick, spoiler-free, privacy-respectful summary.

Tthe first writer's critique went fairly easily because the story was both fairly short, and quite a successful piece of work.

My critique was second and went about as I expected. Some people "got it" and really liked it, and several felt I left too many concepts undefined, and were thus confused. "They were confused" implies that I think they were wrong, and that's not the case. Some elements in my story, particularly the reasons and details underlying the central mission, were not explained very clearly. I hoped this would be acceptable to the reader -- because the mission is the reason the characters are going where they're going, but it's not the heart of the matter. Some readers focused on the interpersonal drama and were satisfied, while others were bothered by the large amount of future-tech jargon-osity. I definitely feel the suggestions I received will help make me a better story, and that's all I could ask. Also, though I had no "please let them love it!" expectations, it was nice to receive very strong praise from some members of the group.

The third and fourth critiques in the first workshop were somewhat similar, in that both stories started slowly but real strengths, and could definitely be made publishable with reasonable revisions. Other readers in the group seemed to like those last two stories less than I did myself, but that's hard to tell in these things.

Our first workshop ended, we hurried to lunch in cabin 601, and then immediately to David Levine's first lecture, on the subject of "Plot." I don't want to give up too much of what David said, as that content belongs to him, but I found his presentation very well-done, entertaining, and definitely useful. David considers himself a plot-focused writer, while he acknowledges that most writers are more about the characters. I'd say my biggest weakness as a writer in my earlier stages (say, throughout my twenties) was plot. Back then, my idea of a story was sticking a handful of cool people in a room and having them drink and banter and say clever things. One of my more action-packed early stories might have a person feeling disenchanted with their relationship but doing nothing about it... or feeling terribly frustrated at having to work a full-time job instead of doing their art, but doing nothing about it. Holy shit, young writer!

It's been a primary focus of my more recent writing to focus more on plot, not just in the "action" sense but in term of events driving things forward. To me, an important key discovery is that if it's hard to describe what a story is about -- if you find yourself grasping for things like "it's about a guy who feels like..." or maybe "it concerns a couple that has a vague sense of malaise about..." -- then maybe your story isn't really about anything. The best test you can give to determine whether or not your plot is strong enough is, can you describe your story and make it sound interesting in a one or two sentence summary? If not, then maybe too much of your story is air-fairy and not going to compel the reader.

Anyway, none of the last paragraph was anything David said, just my own interjection. But hearing David talk about the importance of plot, and having a protagonist who acts like a protagonist (you know, actually does stuff, takes action and moves in a certain direction), helped drive the point home. You know, drill it a little deeper into my hard head.

The lecture was just an hour, and immediately after followed David's group's first critique, while those of us in Jay's group had four hours free time until dinner. I changed into running clothes and went down to the beach, and ran about an hour.

Then it was time for the second night's dinner, and I'm not sure if it was because more people had a glass of wine, or because we'd started getting comfortable together, but it was a more lively and funny evening than the first night. I ended up talking at length with another writer, obadiah, who is involved in music, and when I mentioned my own musical activities to him, I discovered he's very good friends with Robert Rich, one of the artists on my Hypnos label. We ended up talking until I started yawning, and just like that, day two was over.

It was a fun night, and the social stuff ends up being at least as compelling a reason to make a trip like this, as the critiques or lectures.
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Now that I'm back home and fully immersed again in the insane stress busy-ness of regular life, I want to recap my Writers Weekend experience before I forget. It was quite a packed, long weekend so I'll probably split this into more than one entry.

I left home early enough that I expected to get to Moclips at least an hour before 4pm check-in but ended up being mis-directed at one turn by Google Maps so I arrived right on time. The drive took me through very familiar I5-North-Between-Portland-and-Seattle territory until just past Centralia, then I explored little highways like 88 and 12, through towns like Montesano and Aberdeen.

I had never met anybody in this group before, but I had sought out a number of people's blogs (many of the writers in attendance posted contact information in advance, as well as simple bios) so I figured I'd recognize a few. When I checked-in, though, I didn't recognize anybody, and went off to my cabin -- a real cabin, a tiny old box with rough timber beams in the ceiling, built in the 50s. This Ocean Crest Resort is a family-run place out at the end of Hwy 101, before it dead-ends on the Olympic Peninsula. The resort includes a number of buildings constructed at different times, so there are private homes converted into separate rooms, conventional apartment-style hotel rooms, larger cabins split into 3 or 4 rooms, or in my case, a single, stand-alone tiny box off at the edge of things.

The first event on the schedule was a dinner at 6pm in cabin 601, which was one of two prime activity centers for the group all weekend. Feeling a bit like the new kid, moving to a new school mid-year after everyone else already knew each other, I went on over there, made myself a name tag and had dinner. Before and after dinner there was social time. As I suspected, everybody else seemed to be familiar with at least a few other people in the room, and some like Jay Lake and David D. Levine seemed to know most of the others. Those who didn't know everybody at least seemed drift into small groups of three or four. I don't have much to report from this first evening. I spoke only briefly with a few people, but that was OK. I sat back, put names with faces, and oriented myself, and this was the last time I had that awkward feeling all weekend.

After things had broken up at 10pm or so, I went back to my cabin but wasn't tired yet, so decided to seek out a beer. The resort's lounge was upstairs from the restaurant, and next door to the conference room we'd be using for critiques and lectures all weekend. To my surprise, the lounge was not a real bar at all, but just a room with wood tables and chairs in it, where you can sit and drink wine or beer someone brings you from down in the restaurant. That was kind of weird, and I had sort of wanted to belly up to a bar and have somebody draw me a draft, you know?

Also in the lounge happened to be Peter, one of the writers I had just met (sorry, can't link to him here because he's proudly blog-less), along with his wife Rose, sampling from the resort's very impressive wine list. The service was perfectly fine, and though the beer came in a bottle it was enjoyable. It one of the Deschutes brewery beers, and Peter and Rose said they were from Bend, so we talked about that for a while. Then it turned out Peter and I both knew, remembered and enjoyed each other's stories, so we were able to talk about those at some length, and pre-critique them to some degree. Our stories were both similar in the sense of pertaining to early days of space travel, humanity trying to edge outward in the solar system (rather than the more conventional SF "way out there in the galaxy" kind of space travel), and we both had more positives to say about the other's story, than negatives. We talked not only about our stories up for critique that weekend, but also a few other stories we had each written in the same "world." I knew my story would confuse and/or annoy at least some people, so it was nice to get at least one positive response up front.

I felt much better after a couple of beers and an hour or so talking to Peter and Rose. Gosh, I hope I'm remembering her name correctly, because she only had that name tag the first night, but I think that's right. I thought it was charming, the way she was familiar with all her husband's stories and seemed to have helped him critique them, the way my wife Lena helps me with my stories until she's intimately familiar with all my settings, characters and titles.

You'd think the relatively uneventful first night would merit a much shorter entry, but that's how we roll, we writers... spin a tiny little idea into a whole bunch of introspective, detail-obsessed self-indulgence! Tune in tomorrow (or later today) when we reveal the untold story of Friday at Writers Weekend.
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I came back to Portland yesterday from the Writers Weekend in Moclips, Washington, and my wife returned from Indiana, so life is familiar again now.

I had a great time up in Moclips at the Ocean Crest Resort, and will blog in more detail about the experience of the Writers Weekend. Took part in workshops, socialized a bit, went for walks and runs on the beach, and even got to see Hell's Belles (all-girl AC/DC cover band) at the nearby casino. The most fun, probably, was meeting and talking to a great variety of cool, fun and interesting writers of fiction.

The "writer gurus," Jay Lake and David Levine both did a great job as critique group leaders, and David performed double-duty with a series of three presentations, including his "Mission to Mars" (see a more hurried version of an earlier presentation on YouTube here). Big thanks to Jay and David for their efforts, and also to Karen Junker who not only organized the event, but put up with a writer swarm filling her cabin for most of the long weekend.

I'll say more in a subsequent blog post about some of the people I met, and specific things we did. The biggest surprise, to me at least, was the overall very high quality of the critiques given. I figured a lot of people would give other people's stories a shallow reading and a careless critique, but everyone seemed to dig in, read the stories closely and think about them carefully, and make a sincere, good-faith effort to help each other improve the work. I look forward to staying in touch with many of the writers I met. Overall it was great fun, both stimulating and challenging, and something I'd recommend. So if you missed out on going to this year's Writers Weekend and you're considering going next year, I'd say it's definitely worthwhile.
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I've mentioned this upcoming Writers Weekend retreat in Moclips, Washington a few times, and I keep saying "I'll write more about this soon."

Here's a link to the thing, in case anyone's interested:

First of all, I've never been to Moclips, Washington, which is on the central coast. In fact, I've only been to the Washington coast once (not counting Long Beach or Ilwaco, which are just across the bridge from Astoria, Oregon), to Hoquiam, which is more of a harbor town than real ocean beach. I'm kind of an Oregon Coast snob, which was probably reinforced by briefly living in Seattle, when all the Washingtonians I knew drove down to Oregon, to Seaside or Cannon Beach or Manzanita or Lincoln City, when they wanted to vacation at the beach.

This is one part "fun beach trip" and one part "writing workshop" but I'm looking forward to both aspects. The group is about fifteen people, including two "writer gurus," Jay Lake and David Levine -- in case you haven't heard of these guys, they're both award-winning, widely published writers of science fiction and fantasy. The other attendees are a diverse assortment of NW writers, some already fairly skilled and having some success getting published, and others closer to the beginning of the learning curve. I'm looking forward to seeing how this goes, though I suspect I may be the only one who's completely new to this kind of thing. I've done writing critiques before in classroom settings, but never a workshop like this, and I've done a variety of other art-related critiques as well (I'm a renaissance kinda guy like that) so I think it'll be somewhat familiar.

These things are always a little twitchy for me, because as a critic (say, evaluating music for Hypnos which -- if you're just tuning in -- is the ambient music label I run, along with my wife now) I tend toward blunt honesty. Usually I figure that's best for everyone involved, but in these settings that doesn't always work. I suspect these critiques may tend toward the opposite extreme... everyone finding two things to praise and two things to politely suggest tuning-up, for every story. You know, one person submits an A+ story that is immediately publishable with small tweaks, another person submits a real careless, confusing mess, and both people get critiques that basically say, "I like what you did with X, but if I were you I'd change Z a little bit -- overall good job!"

That's fine, I'm up for it. I figure with this kind of thing you make an honest effort, both beforehand with your submission, and during the event with your critiques, without sweating too much if a few of the others are trying not quite so hard. The old 80/20 rule always applies, so most of the helpful insight I receive on my own submission will come from just a few critiques, and the people who make the best use of the critiques they receive will likewise number in the single digits. You can't know who is who until you get underway, so you just have to act in good faith. Critique groups always have a self-aggrandizer, and at least one person who's absolutely offended at any suggestion they might change anything about their work.

But usually, there are sharp minds, good ideas, and wisdom to be shared.

Anyway, I'm expecting this should be fun, and I may even blog from Moclips, if there's wifi. I was originally just going to take along just my iPad and see if I could go computer-free, but if there's no wifi it'll be useless, so it looks like the Macbook Pro (for writing and note-taking, even if I'm offline), plus iPod Touch for the drive.

If any of you fellow workshoppers happen to see this, I look forward to meeting you.


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August 2013

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