Wake up, Polly Parrot.


Chronicles of the Garden Variety Writers -- Week #11

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Kasim e-mails back during the week, angry about what I've detailed in this blog. I'm apparently breaking some sort of "sacred trust" by revealing to my readers what goes on in a group like this. Furthermore, he's mad that I've included details of our e-mail exchange in last week's entry. He will no doubt also be mad that I'm including mention of this week's e-mail exchange, too.

Kasim seems sorry that he quit the group and wants to come back. I assure him that many of the other members also are unhappy with Fabian as the leader, so that shouldn't be the sticking point here. Nobody remains in the group because of Fabian, and I'll bet Fabian himself is the only person in the group who has any sort of problem with the pool incident a few weeks back. For the rest of us, I think, it provided some needed comic relief. Come on, Kasim, forget about Fabian and let's get back to work. See you on Wednesday?

Also in my e-mail this week was a message from Larry (the pro who succeeded me as the "new guy" in the group). After recognizing my name in last week's meeting, he Googled me and found my webpage -- and the blog, of course. He says he respects me as a fellow pro (uh, thanks, I guess), but has a real problem with the blog. Oh jeez, another one. Is this blog really so wrongheaded? He says he'll speak to me at the meeting and asks me to come a few minutes early. Oh boy, I can't wait.

I see from the latest entry in Pamela's journal that we have some sort of understanding. She knows about this blog and I know about hers. Mum's the word, Pam. Or so I thought, before the meeting.

As requested, I arrive 15 minutes early at the library to speak to Larry before the others arrive. Larry says the blog is a bad, bad thing. I ask him if he intends to tell the others.

"Perhaps," Larry says. "I'm not sure yet. Maybe we can come to some sort of agreement."

Over the next few minutes, Larry explains what he has in mind. He apparently has more story ideas than he has time to write (uh, join the club, Larry). He respects my writing skills and tells me he'll give me some of his ideas (for free, whoopee!) and I can go ahead and write the stories, and then we'll share the byline and proceeds. I can't tell you how flattered I am that Larry would think me worthy enough to trust with his precious story ideas. Why, er, I'm always stumped for things to write about, so what a perfect arrangement this would be, huh? And to think, I'll get to share the byline and half the money! Who could ask for more?

"I don't think so," I tell Larry. "I have my own story ideas, thanks."

"You wouldn't want me to tell everyone about your web log, would you?" he says.

Is he serious? Is this a joke? Trying to blackmail me into writing his stories for him in exchange for keeping quiet about the blog? Doesn't he know I can drop this blog like a hot potato and just walk away from the Garden Variety Writers and be done with it? Can he really be so dense? Will this entire paragraph consist of nothing but questions?

"Uh, let me think about it," I tell Larry. I'm much too stunned by the proposition to think of a clever rejoinder like, "What are you, fuckin' nuts?"

The other members start arriving for the meeting. Wilton, Nettie and Lewis are absent. This week's attendees are Fabian, Larry, Pamela, Peter, Hachi, Caprice, Sapphire . . . and Kasim. I am pleased that Kasim has taken my advice and rejoined the group.

Before things get rolling, Kasim says he has an announcement. He is sorry for his boorish behavior at the pool party and apologizes to the group and Fabian. Everyone welcomes him back. Fabian gives him the hairy eyeball, but says he accepts Kasim's apology. Not that any of us care one way or another.

I, too, tell the group I have an announcement, although I'm not so sure it will be accepted as easily as Kasim's apology. Fully half of the present members already know about my blog -- Peter, Pamela, Larry and Kasim. Both Larry and Kasim are not particularly happy about it. I think the odds are pretty high that one of them will spill the beans in the next hour, so I do a little damage control.

"I have an Internet website," I start. "I've been writing monthly articles about science fiction and writing for several years. In the past few months, sort of as a change of pace, I've been writing about what goes on in a writing group like the Garden Variety Writers."

It's sort of funny, scanning the room and noting the various reactions on the members' faces. Fabian looks confused (more than normal, I mean). Kasim nods his head, letting me know I'm doing the right thing. Larry looks pissed (guess I foiled his evil blackmail plan, muahaha!). Pamela and Peter both look surprised that I'm confessing what they already know. Hachi and Sapphire don't seem to get it. Caprice's forehead wrinkles and her eyes squint.

"It's pretty anonymous," I explain. "Nobody's real name is used, and even the name of the group and the meeting place are all changed. The point of the thing is not to embarrass anyone, but just to give other beginning writers an idea of what goes on in the meetings."

There's some chatter among the members. None of the people in my "inner circle" let on that they already know about the blog. Some members are genuinely surprised, some feign surprise, and some don't quite know what to make of my announcement.

I give everyone the URL for my webpage and tell them to take a look and decide for themselves what to make of it. I am not apologizing for doing it -- just telling them it's there. I'm sure they'll all let me know if they think there's any reason to apologize, or if this is just another semi-amusing episode, like watching Fabian get thrown into the pool.

Hello, GVW members. Guess you're all aboard for the ride, now. This changes things, doesn't it? How do I comment on what goes on in the meetings, knowing that you'll all be reading it? Yes, some of you do not come off as well as others, but that is how I see things. All I can do is report what I see and what I think about it. It is just my opinion.

We finally get to this week's critiques. Fabian's story is a fantasy tale that's long on style, but short on plot. I praise his settings and use of the senses, some nice descriptions, and pretty good characters, but the plot is missing in action. Not much of anything happens in the story. Nothing important is at stake for the protagonist, who barely protags, with no complications to be overcome, and little is changed at the end. It is not so much a story as a slice-of-life literary vignette with some fantasy trappings.

Some of the others praise the detail, characters, and quality of the prose. A few agree with me, though, about the lack of plot. We get into a discussion of "storytelling" vs. "literary values." Certainly there are some genre markets that have higher literary aspirations than others, but I argue even those markets still prefer some traditional storytelling. All things being equal, a story with some higher literary values is better than the same plot written in a purely pedestrian style, but the story's still got to be there.

Some of the other members agree, some disagree. Larry (the "pro" new guy) takes the other side of the argument and says there is always a place for the well-written slice-of-life vignette. I argue that the type of literary markets that specialize in vignettes don't usually accept genre stories, and most of the genre markets want more traditional "stories." It's great when you can have both a cleverly plotted story and high literary values, but I believe that traditonal storytelling is probably more important to most genre readers. Unfortunately, this is why we often see some horrendous writing in the genres -- because the readers are reading more for plot, not artistic merit, and lazy writers with good plots can sometimes get away with it. I think it is less often that a genre writer can get away with brilliant writing, but no plot.

Some of the other members argue that I'm putting down literary writing. I'm not, and argue that I'm just saying you still need a plot for most genre markets. Pretty style by itself is not enough.

Next we critique Caprice's story. Yeah. I read it, but I'm not too happy about critiquing it. Caprice only attends meetings to deliver stories and collect critiques, and doesn't care much for critiquing other members' work in the intervening weeks, so why should I care about her story? Hey, Pamela, what good is that critique log you're keeping, if some members are allowed to take a lot more than they give in return?

I did read Caprice's story, and it wasn't all that bad. I just didn't put a lot of work into the critique. I praised the story, and honestly said it wouldn't seem too out of place in a good genre magazine. I marked up the manuscript with a bunch of minor nits to give back to Caprice, but in the oral critique, I had very little to say. Sorry, Caprice, but you only get what you give.

Kasim and Pamela give out new stories for next week. I'm relieved to get out of this week's meeting. On the way home, I'm thinking about how I'm going to write this up without making them all hate me.

I'll just keep on doing what I've been doing, I guess.

Copyright © 2002 Brian Plante Count=7306

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