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A public conversation about our worlds.

  • Monday: Morgan J. Locke
  • Tuesday: Madeleine E. Robins
  • Wednesday: Maureen F. McHugh
  • Thursday: Bradley Denton
  • Friday: Steven Gould
  • Saturday: Caroline Spector
  • Sunday: Rory Harper

Brain Activity



Attack of the Turkeys

December 9th, 2007 by Rory Harper

I foolishly signed up for the upcoming Turkey City Writer’s Workshop, to be held next Saturday in Austin. I need to finish a story by then, and I’m only about a third done at the moment.

The TC people are a bunch of cruel, inhuman monsters. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Jayme and Chris and Jessica and Lawrence. You’re monsters, don’t think we don’t know it. Monsters.

I therefore need to finish the best story I know how to, in order to keep them from sucking the marrow from my bones.

For those of you unfamiliar with Turkey City, it’s a day-long writer’s workshop that’s been held in Austin since the mid-70’s. It’s infamous in our little frog-pond. There’s a Wiki about it here.

Close examination of the Wiki will reveal that I’m not cool enough to be listed as one of its alumni. However, someone has kindly inserted my name on the Turkey City Home Page that Lawrence Person maintains.

Everyone brings one new short story, in the sf-fantasy-horror genre, which is read at a maniacal pace, along with all others throughout the morning. (The advent of e-mail has changed this dynamic a bit, but many of us are still finishing our stories on Friday night. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.) Pause for lunch. Then the savagery begins. Your story is disassembled in front of you, as it passes around the circle, by some of the sharper minds in the craft. No holds barred. Every flaw is exposed ruthlessly. Your shiny prose is scuffed and farted upon. You sit silently and absorb it all, whether you agree with the comments or not, until you are allowed to reply at the end of the critique. It’s not for beginners who still take critique personally, and I know pros who find this sort of system wounding for them. Sometimes the critiques are on-target and useful to you, sometimes not. Them’s the breaks.

Over the decades, some remarkably good stories have emerged from this crucible.

:

:

Also infamous in our circles is the Turkey City Lexicon, which is so cool that it lives at SFWA. If you can tell a story without committing too many of the sins that it lists, you might have a shot at publication somewhere, some day. The Lexicon also gives you a handy short-hand jargon for understanding and dissecting story structure. (Oh, yes indeed, I was thinking about Caroline’s Jargon Monkey post well before I started writing this tonight.)

Here’s an example of how tough TC can be. I attended one of the early TCs, and was privileged to be present at a legendary Chad Oliver moment. This is how I remember it, though others may recall differently: Somebody, I forget who, had brought a story that drew a LOT of vociferous criticism on many levels. The person who brought it argued constantly throughout the critique, saying that his story was being misunderstood, that everyone was missing the point, that he was being personally attacked (…eventually, that was true, actually…). And so on.

After one particularly heated exchange, the manuscript passed into Chad’s hands. He flipped through the pages casually, closed them, then looked up. “I’ve always thought,” he said softly, “that if you can’t say something good about a story, you shouldn’t say anything at all.”

Then he passed the manuscript along. Owww.

I know people who think Turkey City can be way too rough, and I’m sometimes one of them. I’ve only been to three or four of them, and they’ve all had moments of glory and shame, but my experience may be atypical. If it was the only kind of feedback I got from writing, I’d end up even more unbalanced than I am.

But workshopping, including TC, serves some important and quite twisted purposes for me. I get to hang out with people I like a lot, whose writing skills I respect; the social beast in me is fed quite well. The party afterwards that evening is just whipped cream on top of the cheesecake. Writing is a solitary endeavor, and it’s good to know that you aren’t just masturbating when you do it. And I get to do something extremely intense for a long, long day; the adrenaline junkie in me loves that.

Worst of all, doing workshops effing forces me to write fiction, whether I want to or not. Dammit.

It might even improve the story.

See you there, Maureen.

You monster.

Posted in Dammit!, Personal History, Rory, Writing | 14 Comments »

14 Responses

  1. Maureen McQ Says:

    I cannot begin to describe my terror. I don’t know which is more worrying, the critiques or the sheer amount of reading we have to do first.

  2. Gwenda Says:

    What Maureen said.

  3. Chris Nakashima-Brown Says:

    Hey, at least you don’t have to worry about a bunch of science fiction writers messing up your house.

    I have a feeling the critiques at this one are going to be really good. Reading 12 (11?) stories in 3 hours is going to hurt, in a hurts so good kind of way.

    I am really delighted all of you guys are going to be there.

    Okay, back to trying to come up with the story I had in mind so I don’t have to bring the back-up trunk story…

  4. Jayme Lynn Blaschke Says:

    Sucks to be me, in that I won’t be one of the willing victims this time around. Chris has already shamed me about this, and there will likely be a blog post forthcoming…

  5. Rory Harper Says:

    McQ and Gwenda — Just remember — It only hurts until you pass out.

    Chris and Jayme — Glad you guys dropped by! Jayme, are you allowed to at least come to the party as a result of past sacrifices, I hope?

    Me – Wednesday night – 3300 words done. Am vaguely pleased so far. Another thousand tonight, then a thousand tomorrow, and I should be done.

    Whether it will suck or not will be debated on Saturday.

  6. Chris Nakashima-Brown Says:

    Go, Rory, go. Will there be post-apocalyptic biker chicks? I sure hope so…

    If Jayme does not bring some of his seasonal homebrew to my house Saturday night he will be even deeper in it than he already is for (i) insufficiently prodigious blogging and (ii) wussing out on TC….

  7. Rory Harper Says:

    Let me know if you need any help humiliating Jayme in public, Chris…

    No biker chicks in this one. This story is Serious Literature about sorrow and doom and stuff like that. Sort of…

  8. Steven Gould Says:

    … and clowns!

  9. Rory Harper Says:

    …. You jumped into my living room while I was gone, didn’t you, Steve? Again….

  10. Gwenda Says:

    You are all very funny. I look forward to meeting you on the field of battle… er, critique.

  11. Rory Harper Says:

    Incidentally, for those of you who want to read more verbiage, and nounage, from Chris and Jayme (and who doesn’t?), I can highly recommend that you check out No Fear of the Future for some smart, good writing. They’re almost as cool as EOB.

    There’s a link to NFotF in our blogroll higher up the page.

  12. Rory Harper Says:

    Off she goes. 4950 words. Now I can get back to hanging out at KVR and obsessing endlessly about software that I want.

  13. Maureen McQ Says:

    Okay, I 1.) forgot to put my wordcount on my story and 2.) went over the word limit. The story is 5800 words, but I’m bringing homemade banana bread AND Gwenda and Christopher.

  14. Rory Harper Says:

    No prob, McQ. As you may or may not know, my story last year got really out of control and ended up being about 13K words. It was shameful.

    I brought no food to conciliate with the group. They hit me only a few times. It didn’t hurt much.

    Besides, the historical real word limit is 7,500 words. I think this year’s limit is a reaction to me (and a few others, to a much lesser extent) being so self-indulgent….

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