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Chronicles of the Garden Variety Writers -- Week #9
We barely have a quorum this week. Attending are Fabian, Peter, Pamela, Sapphire and Hachi. Absent are Wilton, Nettie, Lewis, Caprice and Kasim. No doubt the events of last week's pool party have contributed to tonight's poor attendance.
In the intervening week, Kasim has sent an e-mail to Pamela, and she passes the printout around the table. In the message, Kasim says he is quitting the group. He also seems to be wrestling with the idea of quitting writing altogether. He offers up some unkind words for Fabian, calling him offensive and ineffectual as a leader. He is also dissatisfied with the GVW as a whole, stating that the group is too picky and critical, and not nurturing enough. No doubt, I have been partly to blame for Kasim's opinion, since I am usually a bit pickier than most of the others in my critiques.
I jot down Kasim's e-mail address and pass the printout on to the next person. I'm a little surprised that Kasim faults the group for being "too critical" since this is a critique-oriented group. Perhaps he needs a different sort of writing group or workshop that stresses coaching instead of critiques. I don't recall the critiques being particularly harsh with Kasim's work, though, and I think the group will be much poorer for his absence.
Fabian hands out copies of a flier announcing a genre writing course being offered at the local Community College. Fabian, according to the flier, will be the instructor for this class. The flier lists the objectives of the class -- to write a science fiction, fantasy or horror short story and prepare it for submission to professional genre markets. The flier also lists a short bio for Fabian: "Founder and leader of the Garden Variety Writers. Author of over 30 short stories, with sales to such markets as . . . " The bio lists four magazine markets, three of which I know to be semi-pro publications paying very low rates, and the fourth unknown to me (and I know most of the usual markets, even the obscure ones).
I am unsure if, by handing out the fliers, Fabian is suggesting that the GVW members should sign up for his course, or if he is just doing some self-promotion. As Fabian talks, it becomes apparent that he does, indeed, think we could benefit from his class. He describes the syllabus of the course, and how the lessons can help us improve some of the problems he's seen in the stories we've submitted for critiques.
Hmmm. I have not found Fabian to be much of a leader or a teacher in the GVWs. The group, as I have observed it, is essentially a leaderless democracy. If Fabian has done any leading, it is just as a facilitator, telling us when to stop gabbing and get on with the critiques. His writing advice is sometimes sound, sometimes a bit off base. Would he really make a good teacher, good enough for the $60 price of the class?
I personally would not think Fabian would be a good enough teacher for most of the GVW members -- they are all roughly at the same level as Fabian. A few are more advanced than he. An absolute beginner who wants his first taste of writing might find Fabian an acceptable teacher. I should probably not judge how good a teacher he might be based solely on what I have seen in the GVW meetings, but I think the college could have done a bit better in finding an instructor for such a course. (And no, I am not implying that I would make a good teacher for such a class.)
We start the crits this week with Hachi's story. It is a very short and unusual fantasy piece. The entire story is told through a dialog between two characters. There are no "he said, she said" dialog tags, nor any narrative. Just dialog.
I find the piece daring and inventive. It is certainly a bit unusual, and I give it some style points for going out of its way to be different. It is not an easy thing to do to tell a story like this, since it is all "telling" and no "showing." All the action is relayed in the conversation between the two characters, one of whom fills in for the reader, asking the questions so the other can tell the story. I was drawn in by the device, and the short length of the piece kept it from becoming too tiresome. During the course of the story, there is a nice turn where the reader discovers that both of the speakers in the story are not what we first assume them to be. It works for me.
My critique, then, consists mostly of minor points. In several places it becomes confusing who is speaking, and I suggest a couple of ways to differentiate the speakers without adding any dialog tags. I suggest making some of the language a bit more vivid and involving more of the senses, since a talky story like this can be dry. The ending, where it is revealed who the two speakers really are is a bit too spoon-fed, in my opinion, and I suggest making it a bit more subtle, so the reader must figure out who they are instead of just being told. Overall, though, it's a successful story, told in an inventive way.
Fabian has some trouble with the tale in his critique. He actually faults it for "too much dialog," which seems to me to miss the whole point. He believes the piece should be expanded to include dialog tags, descriptions, action and narrative sections, just like a "normal" story. I let him continue without comment, but I let Hachi see me rolling my eyes. These are not rookie mistakes in this case, but rather artistic decisions.
Pamela, Sapphire and Peter are kinder to the story, and praise its uniqueness. We all agree that the stylistic risks Hachi has taken may indeed turn off some editors, but may just as well sell the story to others.
Next, my story is critiqued. This was a science fiction "invention" story, with emphasis on how the science negatively affected the life of the story's protagonist. Hachi and Sapphire found the science in it a bit confusing, although they liked the human part of the story. Peter and Pamela seemed OK with the science, and Fabian actually wanted more science, with more detailed explanations of how the thing worked. I'm not sure after the critiques if I've succeeded or failed with this story, since the comments are not at all in agreement. I will have to do some thinking for the revisions.
We get into a discussion about how much "explaining" a science fiction writer should do. Explaining the science too much is a bit of a turn-off for the well-read SF reader -- you don't need to go into minute detail about how a time machine, or transporter, or virtual reality viewer operates, you only need to say what it does. But to newer readers who may be less familiar with the concepts, some explanation may be necessary. The SF writer must balance the two extremes, giving enough info to bring the newbies up to speed without putting the veterans to sleep with too much detail.
Because of the poor turnout tonight, the critiques are done fairly quickly and we have some time left over. I suggest that with Wilton and now Kasim departed from the group (and who knows how many of the others, after the disastrous pool party incident), we may want to start looking for a few new members. Everyone agrees, and Pamela says she will put the announcement in the next Creative Loafing newspaper and post notices on the bulletin boards at some of the bookstores and libraries in the area. I hope the group can attract some good new talent. If not, then I fear the end may not be too far off for the Garden Variety Writers as a group.
Sapphire submits the only new story for next week.
Copyright © 2002 Brian Plante Count=6539
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