Worldcon Starts!


Wednesday, August 19

While we are checking into the Grand Hotel, both other members of our writer’s group appear.  Leasspell is together for the first time…My, but Jason is tall! (or I’m short…one of the two). Was so glad to meet him face to face.

But down to business. Dropped off five books from Tickety Boo Press in the dearlers room to be sold by the Northwest Writer’s Association.  They were great to let TBP sell at their table.  Thank you Jeffery Cook for putting that together!

After that, had to get to my first panel: To Include or not to Include: Evaluating Writing Critiques

This panel recommended that you version control your work…and not version control it.

That when forming a writer’s group, you get a pro to run it…and that you not get a pro to run it.

That you listen to critiques…and that you not listen to them.

This was a good panel with lively discussions.  In a nutshell, it said that you are your own best judge of what you should listen to. So you need to know yourself.  Are you prone to rejecting authority? Are you likely to take advice no matter what?  In the past, what was your first response to a critique you knew was right.  I told how I’ve spent years training my husband to be a proper critique.  When I know he’s not right, I can just think, yeah yeah, move along.  But when he’s right…I get mad at him.  Damn it! Why won’t he just let me sweep that under the carpet?  Grumble, Grumble.

A good policy is to read the critique and then put it away for a week.  Often times it’s not as bad as you remember.  Now you are likely in a better place to address it.

If one person makes a comment about something, think hard about changing it. If several people make the same comment, take a closer look.  Even if each person says something different is wrong, if they say it at the same place, likely something is wrong there, the readers just couldn’t put their collective thumb on it.

Worldcon or Bust

Tuesday, August 18

Three of us pile into the car for a long day of driving.  Bye Bye Klamath Falls.  Oh! Look, Bend is on the way!  Dechuets Brewery for lunch!  Denise has to continue her tradition of getting the paddle of beer samplers…Six glasses, four ounces each!


Perhaps the empty paddle of beer explains some of the lunch banter…

Memorable lunch quotes after the imbibing of beer!

Said of the Central Oregon Saison beer: It’s as if chai tea was a beer!

Queen Elizabeth didn’t have a chest either!  (And no, context wouldn’t help…this pretty much just came out of the blue…after 20 ounces of beer)

The Bat’leth goes on top.  Well, duh, doesn’t it always?




Conning your way: Moderating a Writer’s Workshop

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Graphic from Bo’s Cafe Life

Moderating a writer’s workshop at a con is easy.  Someone has passed you the power to sit down and conduct.  All you have to do is show up, say go, and let the people talk. Right?

Yes…but no.

Moderating a writer’s workshop well at a con is not so easy.  The point of a workshop is not to see that a half dozen people get to talk on a manuscript; the point is to guide the workshop to help an author make a better manuscript.  Workshops can do that, but they can also do the reverse.

I know of one instance where the writer went home, took the advice of one of the pros, and totally chopped up the manuscript.  I was at the workshop so I heard the advice, and since I know the writer, I saw the result.  The advice was a reiteration of something I’d said: writing structure should reflect writing content (a blog for another time).  For instance, in the writer’s action scene, her sentences sometimes got away from her.  They were longer and occasionally more rambling than they should have been for the situation: a gun fight in the forest. While these sentences were perfectly good sentences for the right situation, right there, they needed to be shorter, punchier, and more directed to the immediate events (no time to dissemble on stray thoughts).  However, what and how the pro said it may have confused that writer  for she went home and applied the advice to the whole manuscript to its detriment.  Took her a few months to undo the damage.

You as moderator want to try to keep the workshop session focused on the goal of helping author-entrants to improve their works.  The value of those works should not be under discussion. At one time, I had a writer’s group member make the comment in group about my work, “Ho hum, another Conan the Barbarian novel, but I guess you know that” (No, I didn’t, he is the only person to have ever said that—I left that group as a result).  Another con workshop I heard about had an author-entrant writing about Norse mythos.  A workshop participant compared her to Marvel’s Norse-influenced work and said they liked Marvel better.  We writers need to follow our bliss, so don’t judge the author’s choice.  Instead, guide each author to make his or her take on the subject his or her own unique story.  So in your workshop, judge the intent of the stories and help the author-entrants meet their goals. If this type of judgment does happen, be prepared to gently redirect the attention to the intent and those goals.

Over the years, I’ve learned from my mistakes and successes to develop pretty simple guidelines.

Workshop Format

The science fiction and fantasy cons I’ve moderated for use the same format.  The workshop comprises three author-entrants, two pros, and a moderator.  Three manuscripts of up to thirty pages are delivered to all the workshop participants in advance to be critiqued in a three-hour session.

I will breakdown the process of a workshop using this format. If your workshop varies, you’ll have some math to do. This also assumes the room is yours for the full three hours. If it’s a dedicated room to the workshop, this is likely the case, but if a panel follows you, they will assume you were supposed to be out before the hour.  To be sure, ask your program coordinator or look to see who is in the room after you.

Introduce yourself and that this is a workshop session. If more people are in the room than you expect, let them know it’s a private session. Go around the table and have everyone introduce themselves. I like to ask the pros to share their latest project—a moment of shameless self-promotion if you will. Set the rules for the workshop.


I’ve adjusted these guidelines from my college creative writing workshops.  Each critiquer reviews the manuscript without interruption either from the other critiquers or the author-entrant. The critiquer whose turn it is to speak should not engage the others at the table (including the author-entrant) with questions unless the critiquer has a quick clarification he or she needs to make a point.  He or she may then ask a question to elicits a very short answer from the author-entrantYou as moderator should be prepared to say, “let’s make note of that and address it further at the end” if the answer goes on too long.

The author-entrant will have time to ask questions.  I like to stress that this workshop is for the author-entrant, not the critiquers.  Author-entrants should not defend their work. After all, a shrink-wrapped version of the author does not come with every copy of the book sold.  It’s not important that the critiquers understand what the author-entrant is trying to do, it’s important that the author-entrant understands what a reader may infer.  No rebuttals or justifications are necessary and no good ever comes of such.  If a critiquer is wrong, it’s just not that important that he or she knows. You as moderator may be called on to gently curtail an author-entrant who is trying too hard to defend the work.  The only exception to this is if an author-entrant would like clarification on why a critiquer came to a particular conclusion. In this case, the author can outline the back information necessary to frame the question, ask where he or she went wrong, and inquire about suggestions to fix it.


  1. Each manuscript gets (about) 1 hour.
  2. Each critiquer will get up to 8 minutes to speak with a one-minute warning at 7 minutes. (I use my phone to have an alarm go off at the seven minute point. This way, I don’t clock watch, can remain engaged in the workshop,  don’t lose track of time, and  don’t have to personally interrupt folks.)
  3. 10 to 15 minutes of open table time starting with asking the author-entrant if they have questions.  This will usually instigate an open table conversation. If it doesn’t, be prepared to ask questions to get conversation rolling.
  4. 5 minute break


I give the order the critique will go in.  This is really up to the moderator. I usually go clockwise, counter clockwise and clockwise again.  However, some people may have never been involved in a workshop or feel insecure about going first, especially in the presence of pros. If one of the author-entrants is sitting left or right of you, you might inquire if they would prefer to go later (but don’t forget them!  It’s quite embarrassing).  Or you may just choose to start with one pro and move in a circle from there. Or you could determine an order before you even arrive and announce it when you start that critique.  I tell people I will go last so that I can adjust for timing if it gets off.

I then announce the order of the manuscripts. Because of the workshop introduction, the first manuscript may go over the hour. You may wish to start with a manuscript that is shorter or you think might elicit fewer comments.

End of Workshop

Thank everyone for their time and participation.  Remind the author-entrants to take time to think about and feel out the advice they have been given. They are here to learn, but ultimately they are the shepherds of their own work. They are the ones that need to guide it.  Sometimes in experimenting with new ideas and ways of doing things, the writing can go wrong. So make a clearly marked back up of the story before massaging it.  It will be liberating, allowing the author-entrant to push harder, and it will ensure that writing paths that lead to dead ends don’t lead to a manuscript’s dead end.

Conning Your Way: Mr. Diva and the Worldcon Workshop


The writer’s workshop at this upcoming Worldcon has been so well enrolled (thanks to the hardworking program coordinator, Adrienne Foster) that a request for more moderators went out.  I asked a couple of people if  I could pass on their names. They both asked what  a moderator does. I Googled to see what I might send them on the subject.  While I found a lot on moderating panels, I found only a little on moderating one-time writer’s workshops where the work is distributed in advance, in other words, SF and fantasy con workshops. Since I’m told I’m a good moderator, I’ll share my process and some experiences.  This week, I’ll start with one of my experiences…

My Nightmare with Mr. Diva.

If you are into SF and fantasy and haven’t heard about the Hugo kerfuffle at this year’s Worldcon, I think I envy you.  But dickishness isn’t limited to Hugos and Sasquan (who by the way look like they are putting together an amazing Worldcon.  Scuttlebutt I heard is that over 10,000 people are coming. Wow!).  I am lucky enough to be a panelist and a workshop moderator this year.  I’m thrilled to happy hamster dance status.  But it’s not my first Worldcon.

Many, many years ago, I was excited to be asked to moderate at a Worldcon writer’s workshop.  What’s more, I had a BIG NAME as a pro critiquer in my section.  Oh, fan me before I feint!  So I was certainly twitterpated at the prospect of not just meeting him but also sitting down and working next to him.

When the workshop started, he was nowhere to be found, so we started without him.  We had three manuscripts, two were military SF and one was fantasy.  Now even back then, I’d been an editor for over a decade, so I knew writing.  The two military SF manuscripts were rough as sandpaper, but the fantasy submission showed enough promise that I was going to ask the author into our writer’s group.

For that con, the timing of the workshop was off what I usually did at con workshops. We either had only 2.5 hours (instead of 3) or an extra pro. This meant that each person was severely limited in the amount of time to give the critique.  One of the other pros was in the middle of his short turn when Mr. Diva whirls in like a cartoon Tasmanian devil.

Before he sits down, he announces, “We all know everyone here wants to hear from me, but I’ve got places to be. So I’m just going to give all three critiques and get out of here.” He then sat down and dived into the critiques.  He spent fifteen to twenty minutes each on the two guys who wrote the military stuff, praising them.  Lastly, he turned on the fantasy author and told her how boring and not worthwhile this work was, giving her less than five minutes of his time.  Then he just upped and left.

In all of thirty-five to forty minutes, he’d disrupted the workshop with his whirlwind entrance; he’d been discourteous to a fellow professional by cutting him off in mid critique; and he’d stolen time from the other critiquers.  But that’s fairly insignificant stuff for a big fish splashing about in a little writer’s workshop pond.  What was unforgivable was his treatment of the submitting writers.

He’d stolen time from them. Each one did not get the benefit of a broad critique.  They did not get to ask him questions at the end or get clarifications on points.  But worse still, he was wrong.  He let his preferences cloud his judgment of the works.  As a military SF writer, his critiques demonstrated a bias for those two manuscripts that shared his genre.  As an editor, I edit things all the time that are outside my main interests, but that doesn’t mean I cannot recognize good writing independently from the subject.  The woman fantasy writer had better skills and a more developed writing style.  Mr. Diva did a hatchet job on the woman’s work and, judging from his comments and the more promising quality of her work, he at best did so purely out of a disinclination for fantasy.  At worst he was sexist, which it sure felt like at the time, but I can’t say for sure. In the end he undermined her, dismissed her work, gave her an unequal share of his time, and stole the time other critiquers would have spent on her manuscript. She certainly did not get the value of her manuscript submission fee.

Mr. Diva swept out of the room, leaving me there as moderator to figure out how to clean up the mess.  I did the best I could to get her extra of the remaining time, but it was precious little.  The other pros and folks still had their comments to make on the military SF.  I sought her out afterwards and apologized.   I did invite her to our group, but she declined.  I was sorry about that.  She showed real promise.

Since then I’ve given a lot of thought on how to improve my moderating skills so that I can ensure each participant gets a fair critique.  After all, the point is to give them the direction they need to write better and to improve their manuscripts.  I’ve often thought about what I could have done differently.  It’s a tough call, but if I had it to do over again, I think I would say something like this:  “Mr. Diva, I’m so sorry to hear that your schedule is overloaded.  But right now, so-and-so is in the middle of her review. I’d hate to be rude and interrupt right now.  Everyone here would love you to take a seat and join us but if you are too busy, perhaps I can help out with that.  Why don’t you just hand out your written comments to the authors.  That will allow you extra time to pursue whatever you need to.”

It’s important when you moderate to think about the process and the pitfalls in advance.  You won’t always foresee every problem, but there are many you can.  Think about what you will do to handle people who talk too long, start up a conversation with the author or other participants, or just come in late.  One person came in late at one of my workshops and sat down in a chair that we’d gone past in our critique.  When we came to the end of the circle, I forgot to go back to her!  Fortunately someone else was on the ball and let me know. Now I make a note to go back to anyone who comes in late.  Take the time. Sit. Think.  Visualizing these things will help your workshop flow more smoothly.

Travel into Your Imagination


No good vacation goes unpunished.  They are work from the whole booking-travel-and-lodging thing to the packing thing to the prepping-your-work-and-personal-life-to-survive-two-weeks-without-you thing. I find myself so harried before vacations that I wonder, why am I doing this again?  This vacation, my work life was particularly bad…STRESS!

But I marched all my ducks into a row with my trusty cattle prod and got on a plane to cross another bucket-list item from my to-do list.  I’ve always wanted to take any one of my good friends back to the Northeast to share my childhood stomping grounds.  Finally one of my dearest friends agreed to come with me to spend a week each in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

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But this is a blog about writing, not vacationing, so what’s the deal?  Well, in addition to the fun, family, and friend time, I’ve gotten more out of my travels. I’ve cultivated  a wider first-hand understanding of the world from people to places to nature.

This was my friend’s first trip to the Northeast.  For the most part, she’s spent her time on the West Coast.  Sharing such a different place with her was an interesting experience for me.  I saw things in new ways. We spent a lot of time driving so we talked a lot.


Wolfeboro claims to be the oldest resort town in America. We got to see it from the deck of the Mount Washington on a day cruise.

For instance, we were driving through New Hampshire when my friend asked, “What is the biggest city in the state?”  Huh, I didn’t have any idea.  So out comes the trusty smart phone and voila!  It’s Manchester. Of course next to that information is the population: 109,565.  Wow, that twisted my head.  Largest city in California is Los Angeles at 3.8 million.  My hometown, what I think of as a medium-sized suburban area between San Francisco and San Jose, has a population of over 140,000.  Shoot, the population of the Bay Area is five times the whole state of New Hampshire (7 million vs. 1.3 million).  And cities…well, the Bay Area alone has 101, while New Hampshire totals 13.

The point of this is that wherever we are, we get sedentary in our thoughts of what is “normal.”  While we know that things are different in some way anywhere we go, feeling it gives a whole new perspective.  If you follow my blogs, you have heard me say that what readers want from fiction is an emotional experience.  You as a writer can give them that experience so much more vividly if you yourself feel it first.  Statistics don’t generate such emotion, but every day of our week in New Hampshire, we felt and saw the ramifications of these statistics.

NH. cov. bridge.20150703_104450_resized

That sign reads: Five dollar fine for riding or driving on this bridge faster than a walk.

NH.cov.bridge.20150703_104546_resizedI live within three minutes of three major freeways.  I go everywhere on freeways.  But in New Hampshire, we went almost everywhere on twisty two-lane highways (just one lane each direction) with turnouts for passing if we were lucky.  We only got on the interstate thrice in the week, and two of those were to cross into and out of New Hampshire.   Every day we were there, we drove along highways overhung with leaves that I knew would burst into glorious golds, reds, and oranges in the fall.  We rumbled across a one-lane covered bridge with a sign warning of “dire”  penalties if you drove faster than a walk (a walk?! How different is that?  Not even a number, just something subjective…talk about a different mindset from the Bay Area).  We rode alongside twisting brooks bubbling white over river rock.  We wended through notches of bald granite towering over us.  I never noticed how spectacular they were until my friend did…I had remembered them as normal from childhood; I needed her eyes to really see them.  The whole state of New Hampshire is granite, and it infiltrates its very nature…maybe down to the state motto, which is as intractable as the craggy granite cliffs: Live Free or Die.  Something as simple as the ground people walk on can characterize not only them, but become a metaphor for an entire culture.

NH.conway.church2.20150702_163415_resizedOn our car trips, we passed through dozens of towns, with clapboard general stores, steep, snow-shedding-rooved old houses, and quaint white churches that looked like they belonged on postcards.  But you better be paying attention…some towns were only two blocks long—no blinking.

This trip reminded me of how people in a smaller, less populated world lived (or at least one of the ways).  And as small as these towns seemed to me, many were metropolises compared to the types of towns I put into my fantasy novel.  These contrasts generate the feelings I draw upon to write from an emotional place to create an emotional experience for readers. I can characterize entire civilizations with just a few choices, so long as they are good solid choices…solid as granite. When I write, I lean on the memories of these woods where I roamed as a child, on the snow and the thunderstorms, the small towns that close up at 5:00, and the apple pie that grandma put on her old rustic farm table. Even the air smelled different on the forested little island of Black Cat where we stayed.  Travel refreshes and adds to those memories.  This trip revitalized my connection to things that I use in my writing.


Grandma’s house, full of hugs, apple pie, and memories. I used to sleep in that room to the upper left, but it was a shed dormer then, not a gable. And Grandma’s beloved tiger lilies are gone…but then, that’s why we need our memories.

Whether you live in a concrete metropolis with seven million people trying to rush about on ten-lane freeways or alone on a tiny island that needs a boat to get to the nearest town, if you write, you can weave travel experiences into your imagings.  Get out of your “normal” and feel—feel something different.  Everyplace has its own characteristics, from real estate to food to landscape to nature and to people. Get out there. Smell it, touch it, taste it, listen and see it.  What surprises you? What touches your heart?  What can you use to make your own worlds come to life?  Weave the magic moments of your travels into your story the next time you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to create vivid new worlds to share with your readers.


Cabin on Black Cat Island, a view from the dock.