I’ve been trying for a couple weeks now to write about Viable Paradise, a week-long speculative fiction workshop I attended back in October. “Trying,” as I’ve been made aware, is bad writing— as many of our instructors reiterated over the course of the week, you end up doing, or doing not, young Skywalker, and relating the attempt in addition to the consequence takes up valuable page space.
I hesitated at first to write down, to summarize, as if by doing so I would have made the experience smaller somehow. It’s the feeling of having read an abominably good book and not wanting to read anything else for a while because it would ruin the taste of those words in your mouth— except a hundred times that, because for a week you lived inside it; it engulfed you, it took you apart and put you back together, you spoke to it and laughed and listened and sang, and the swing of your arms and your legs in your old bedroom, your “home,” feels suddenly foreign, as if your body has been remolded without you realizing.
I have filled six pages with bits and pieces— and not even lecture notes, yet— that I want to remember. Because I fear the slow grind of time and my all-too-human memory. Because I will inevitably lose the war with both. (Ba dum chh.) But black on white cannot capture the smell of ocean air or the honey glow of grasses waving in sunrise or the feeling of propping one foot on your knee as you take down the words of writers in whose worlds you have dreamed.
Anyway, the basics: lectures, critiques, writing exercises, one-on-one sessions with instructors. Jam sessions with percussion frogs and harp music fit to cue dream sequences and murder ballads. Dawn walks by the ocean and luminescent jellyfish at night and the stars stretching up and up toward strange old worlds, impossible to photograph, impossible to see all at once. Black and white kitties. Dr. Pepper for breakfast (I only did this twice, I promise) and the felling of a hypothetical galactic empire and bottles of Writers’ Tears. An afternoon walk spent dissecting the first scene of Jade City. Colleagues and instructors with universally understood jokes about eavesdropping “for research” and deep wells of knowledge about Muppets and folk music and biology. Taking fifteen minutes to lie on the couch because I had Too Many Feels and no place to put them. Reassuring each other that we haven’t joined a cult. No, really. We don’t even have a sacred text or anything.
Actual writing-related takeaways: I’m still synthesizing feedback as I finish this draft, but so far I’ve found myself thinking much more deeply about motive, causation, word usage, and what I’m trying to say with my stories. I’ve also come away with much more appreciation for how widely readers’ perspectives— even (especially?) those who are themselves amazing SFF writers— can vary. And I have a new cohort of people I can bother on the Internet and will see again soon, be it in publications, cons, or back on the Island (#VP25 reunion, anyone?).
TL;DR: to paraphrase a prophet: Went to Viable Paradise. Loved it.
(P. S. When life gives you easter eggs, you make omelets. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.)
(P. P. S. Here is the sun)