Jeanne Cavelos, a World Fantasy Award winning editor and writer, runs the Odyssey writing workshop in Manchester, New Hampshire. Odyssey is a six week intensive workshop with a 50% publishing rate for its graduates.

While I was unemployed in 2005, I briefly entertained notions of attending Odyssey; if I had still been jobless in June of the following year, and if I had been able to (somehow) get the money together for the tuition, I would have applied for the 2006 workshop. As it was, I landed a job with IBM, and my small flame of hope for attending the workshop flickered out. (Alas, paying the mortgage and eating is a higher priority than attending a writing workshop. Even this one.)

Jeanne, however, has done a brilliant thing; she is releasing podcasts of past lectures by visiting Odyssey instructors. The first three podcasts are lectures by Charles L. Grant, whom we lost last year (R.I.P., Charlie), Jeff VanderMeer, and Gardner Dozois. Future podcasts may include lectures by Steve and Melanie Tem and Bruce Holland Rogers, as well.

I’m psyched. I can’t wait to listen to these podcasts, especially since my chances of attending Odyssey are slim right now. Because of what Jeanne is doing, people who are unable to attend now have a chance to experience a small slice of the Odyssey experience and gain valuable information from successful instructors in the process.

Thanks, Jeanne!

Phoning It In

I was supposed to go to my writer’s group tonight. I had critiqued the manuscript for the session and even done the homework for tonight (which is always optional, but also always encouraged.)

So, what happens? I get my first migraine of 2007. It wasn’t too bad in the early afternoon, but then I spent two hours at Dave & Buster’s fixing a register while a corporate party was going on. Ugh. I love D&Bs, but between the loud games just off the midway bar and the louder corporate revelers, that pushed my headache off the charts.

I drove the few miles home, took some migraine medicine, clamped pillows on both sides of my head, turned out the lights, and somehow spiraled into sleep between waves of throbbing pain. When my wife woke me up for dinner, the migraine was still there, but food and hydration (and probably the meds) helped take the edge off.

My writing group will be finishing up in about fifteen minutes, assuming they are on schedule. I feel guilty for missing the group, especially since I had confirmed my attendance with the group’s mentor, Melanie Tem, a couple of days ago.

One thing I have learned over the last couple years, though, is that my health needs to come first. One scary incident in the ER with chest pain was enough to teach me that. I don’t think I would have enjoyed class tonight, and I doubt I would have contributed much to it. Add to that the blinding bright headlights that I would be facing on the way home, and I’m sure I made the right decision. (My migraine flared just imagining those headlights. Talk about being susceptible to suggestion!)

I did want to spend at least part of the class time actually writing, though. My headache is a dull roar, and I think I can eek out a few more words for my daily writing prompt exercise. So, I’m off to journal now.

I’ve been creative … really, I have!

It seems I’ve lost track of the purpose of my Creativity Journal recently. I’ve blogged about all kinds of things in recent posts, but not much about creativity.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been creative, though. My band, Steel River Three has continued to play occasionally, and we have two gigs coming up next week. I’ve written a new song (with the valuable feedback assistance of Lannette Robinson, John Jesitus, and the members of Melanie Tem’s writing group) called “New Guy Smell”, and we’re hoping to debut that at the next show. I’ve also been working on editing down raw video footage to produce a demo DVD of the band’s performance at Pink E’s in Westminster. (Video editing on a shoestring budget is much more difficult than I originally anticipated, and it takes forever.) When that project is done, I can extract the audio and create a live demo CD, as well, perhaps with a couple of studio tracks thrown in for good measure. All the big bands do that to get you to buy their live records, you know.

I’ve also done a lot of work for Melanie Tem and Steve Rasnic Tem, revising their existing website. The new site is not up yet, pending final approval from the Tems, but it should be available for public consumption soon. I’ve received verbal confirmation from the editor of ComputorEdge magazine that I will be assigned “a few” articles before the end of the year, and that’s great news.

My crowning creative achievement lately has been poetic, though. Early last month, I presented Lannette with a silver skeleton key, a silver-topped leather ring box from Scotland, and an engagement ring. I handed these to her as I read a proposal sonnet (which I had written, of course) at Lily Lake, near Estes Park, Colorado. We will be married on that spot on August 1, 2005, and have our reception at the Baldpate Inn right across the highway from the lake. (That link also has a couple of pictures of Lily Lake and the surrounding area.) The significance of the skeleton key is that Earl Derr Biggers‘ first novel was called Seven Keys to Baldpate, and the Baldpate Inn in Estes Park was officially endorsed by Biggers in the first half of the last century as being virtually identical to the fictional inn he had described in his 1913 novel. Lannette purchased a copy of that novel for me on eBay, and keys have been a theme of the relationship ever since.

Lannette has put up a wedding page at Geocities if you’re interested. It includes pictures of the site, the rings, and a copy of the sonnet.

So you see, I really have been creative and productive. I just haven’t been recording it. I have future plans for this site, though. Using some of the research I did while working on Melanie and Steve’s website, I plan to add some blog management features to this one, which will make it much easier for me to edit and/or delete these Creativity Journal entries. I will also put a “teaser” paragraph on the opening page of the site, so people can have a taste of what the latest journal entry is about.

When I get time, I will add the proposal sonnet to the Original Poetry page, as well as the lyrics (and maybe even an MP3) for “New Guy Smell.”

Going Public

First, the big news. June 18th, Stories for All Seasons will be presenting Melanie Tem and her new novel, The Deceiver. In addition to reading, Melanie will introduce members of her writing group, who will answer questions and discuss the group dynamic in general. Some of the students will also read works inspired by assignments. I’m proud to announce that I will debut my short story, “Sphere of Falling.”

“Sphere” is the result of a class assignment to write something with a strong sense of place. As I thought about the topic, two different works came to mind: Spider Robinson’s Callahan Chronicles and the story “Shottle Bop” by Theodore Sturgeon. Though “Sphere” is only superficially like either of these works, if similar at all, I do feel that I owe Robinson and Sturgeon a note of thanks, along with Melanie, of course, for the inspiration. It’s a cute story, and could be the germ of a whole collection of stories, assuming I get my butt in gear and write them.

Of course, that’s always the trick, isn’t it?

Lately, I have felt much more like an editor than a writer, though. I participate in two writing groups actively, and I am on extended sabbatical from two other groups. In at least a couple of these groups, I have earned a reputation as a grammarian and editor. Deserved or not, people seem to think of me when it comes time to submit a story, and they often ask if they can run something by me before it hits the group. This reputation seems to extend beyond just writing groups, too. I’ve received editing requests from several people I know who aren’t in writing groups. I’m open to that; I’m happy to help people out, and it helps me improve my own writing.

However, I might be a little too open to it. In the last several months, I have found that I am proofreading manuscripts much more than reading for pleasure, and certainly more than writing my own material. One of my favorite annual short story anthologies has been collecting dust by my bedside for months. And one look at this website will tell you that I have done little to update it in the last half year.

I have started no new creative writing since October 2002, and the guilt is starting to wear me down. I think I’m going to have to finish my current queue of non-group manuscripts and then stop accepting outside manuscripts for critique. Unless I want to become a freelance editor, that is. I don’t think I want to do that, though. I have a hard enough time editing my own work; I think I would go insane if I only edited work by other people and didn’t start producing some of my own again.

In other news, Eight Inch Weeds, my band project, seems to have gone on indefinite hiatus. There are no hard feelings between any of us, but we are not currently a functioning unit. It is possible that I will get back together with a couple of the guys in another band, or perhaps a revamping of this band, but for now I am pursuing other musical projects. Currently, I am working with a couple of members of Dante on some acoustic trio material. Hopefully I will have some news to report in that department before too long.

Update (6/9/2004): I do have news to report about that project. I have been playing with Steel River Three for several months now, making the rounds of coffeehouse jams and playing occasional gigs. Check out the website to see where we are playing next!

The “Garden Variety” Writer Exposed

Okay, the cat’s out of the bag. I can finally say that I knew Brian Plante’s Chronicles of the Garden Variety Writers was fiction for most of its run. I began e-mailing Brian shortly after the series started, taking issue with the way he was playing unfairly with the writers in his group. He responded, in a rather civil and friendly way, but said that he planned on continuing the blog despite my objections and those of the other people who had e-mailed him to complain.

Encouraged that there might be a person with a real soul behind the e-mail, I continued the thread, and discovered that Brian really did care very much about how he was coming across, and he assured me that he had gone to “much greater lengths” than I could imagine to protect the people in his blog. I even did a little investigative web browsing, trying to point out to him how poorly the people were protected. I pinpointed the library where the group was meeting, the city they were in, and even attempted to check through back issues of the magazine in which he claimed to have found the ad for the group. I wasn’t able to find an exact ad, but I was convinced that an enterprising photographer (read out-of-work paparazzi) could hide out at the Hemby Bridge Library and snap blackmail photos of the group entering and exiting.

There was only one problem. I found reference to the county’s library system, and that it serviced the Hemby Bridge area. I could not find references to the shopping mall that Plante described. Enough of the details fit, however, that I was convinced Brian was endangering the trust of the people he was writing about. I could only think of one alternative, and that was that it was all fictional. At the end of one of our e-mails, I said to Brian that I hoped this was all made up so that he wasn’t playing with the lives of real people. He wrote back to confirm my guess the next day.

Brian asked me to keep quiet about it so the experiment could run its course, so I made mention of it in this journal a few times to see if I could assist in the experiment without directly exposing it. I did tell a few of my friends in Colorado about the blog’s fictional nature, because it hard sparked quite a controversy among us.

How do I feel about it now? I think it was a good experiment, and now that Brian has come clean about the nature of the blog, I think it succeeded. It’s a good way to illustrate some of the positive and negative workings of a writer’s group without betraying the trust of any real people. However, I also think it was a very risky thing for Brian to do to his career, and I know of a couple of people who lost respect for him because of the way he presented the fiction. Hopefully most editors and readers will look upon him with favor for daring to take the risk, rather than being upset with him for duping them.

Speaking of writer’s groups, the Melanie Tem group met tonight. I read what I had of “Chesterfield Gray” and got good feedback from the group as to where they thought the story should go. At the end of the meeting, I played “Ode to Billy Joe” on the guitar while Melanie sang the lyrics, aided by a few of the class participants. The assignment is to write something about what we think the narrator and Billy Joe threw off the Tallahatchee Bridge. I hope to come up with something completely off the radar and wedge it into a vignette before the next meeting.