A Student Does Well

Claire Humphrey, a 2008 graduate of the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop, has sold the book she workshopped “to Quressa Robinson at Thomas Dunne Books, in a nice deal.”

Good job, Claire!

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Sounding Brass and Clanking Symbols


Myself, I like to use numerological symbolism….

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

To a lot of readers, literary symbolism is that thing in high school English class that the teacher went on and on about instead of talking about the story.  Then some of them turn into writers, and come to the understanding that literary symbolism isn’t some sort of academic game of  “Gotcha!” – it’s just another tool in the toolbox, a way of deepening and enriching the theme of the story without having to take the reader’s attention away from the plot and the setting and the characters.

Sometimes the gun over the mantelpiece literally goes off in the third act.  And sometimes the gun over the mantelpiece is there to keep the reader aware of something else in the story that goes off in the third act instead.  That second gun is a symbol.

There are two sorts of symbols.  One sort consists of symbols drawn from several…

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Yes, We Write Short Fiction Too

La Belle Winery in Amherst, NH, is hosting a Short Story Slam this Sunday, 02 November 2014, from 4:00 – 6:30 pm (1600 to 1830; eight bells of the noon watch ’til five bells of the second dog).

Doyle and I will be reading an all-new story, “Late Train,” (which you hope you’ll enjoy).

If you were wondering “What are we going to do this weekend?” this is the answer.  Just an hour (by car) north of Boston.  (Dress warmly, please.)

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Today’s Cranky Observation


I lost IQ points just reading Yglesias’ post.

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

If ever I needed to present any evidence that this blog post by Matthew Yglesias was mindboggling in its sheer wrong-headedness, this quote alone would do the trick:

Transforming a writer’s words into a readable e-book product can be done with a combination of software and a minimal amount of training.

It appears that even noted bloggers on politics and economics aren’t exceptions to the widespread belief that novels aren’t so much made objects as they are the naturally-occurring fruit of the fiction tree.

There are a whole lot of things that have to happen to an author’s manuscript before the printer, or the e-book producer, ever gets hold of it, and surprise, all of these things involve the services of people who expect to get paid for their labor.  Yes, the author could do these things him-or-herself,  or could hire other people to do them for him/her – but…

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Farewell to the Island


Viable Paradise is done for the year. Applications open January 1 of next year for VP-XIX, the nineteenth class.

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

vpxiGayHead Light

The Viable Paradise workshop is over for another year.  We had writing and music and pancakes and jellyfish and a sky full of stars.  (Also, if you were me, lobster tacos at the Lookout restaurant, and I just have to say, that was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted done to a lobster.)

The photo, by the way, is of the Gay Head Lighthouse on the Cliffs of Aquinnah — one of the five lighthouses on the island.  (The others are East Chop, West Chop, Edgartown, and Cape Pogue.) It’s called “Gay Head” because the headland there is a multi-hued clay cliff.  Obligatory literature reference:  The harpooneer Tashtego, in Moby-Dick, was a Native American from Gay Head.

If you wanted to apply to VP this year and couldn’t make it, next year’s applications open on 1 January 2015.

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Another Nifty Digital Archive


Doyle and I often use research to write our stories. Recently we’ve had to learn exactly what Victorian streetwalkers said to their would-be clients to entice them, who was the Bishop of Denver in 1934, and what color was the General Electric Pavilion at the “Century of Progress” fair in Chicago.

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

Because the past is another country, but sometimes you can visit it through pictures:

The CARLI Digital Collection, “established in 2006 as a repository for digital content created by member libraries of the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI) or purchased by the consortium for use by its members.”

You can find all sorts of stuff in there, from a photo of the 1908 Pinckneyville Fire Department to a shot of the interior of the Voss Brothers Bicycle Shop in Peoria, Illinois, circa 1920.  They’ve also got Civil War era letter collections, an archive of material dealing with the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair. a collection of plans and drawings for Pullman passenger cars, and lots and lots of campus newsletters and alumni magazines.

It’s the sort of place you can wander around in for hours.

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He, She, It, Them, and all Their Friends

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

English pronouns are a mess, and there’s no getting around the fact.

We’re missing a second-person plural in the standard dialect, which hinders translation into and out of languages that have it.  All the possible alternatives – y’all, youse, yez, yinz and so forth – are strongly marked for region, or social class, or both, and using one of them would inject unintended meanings into the text.

We used to have some dual pronouns to go along with the singular and the plural – pronouns for “the two of you” and “the two of us” – but those were gone by the late Anglo-Saxon period.  (We know English used to have them because they turn up in Beowulf, in the passage where Beowulf and Unferth are having their disagreement about what actually went down during Beowulf’s youthful swimming-match with his friend Breca – Unferth says “the-two-of-you…

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Why Grown-Up Writers are Still Paranoid

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

There are a lot of reasons – ours isn’t a job famous for encouraging a sense of security at the best of times – but this sort of thing is one of them.

A middle-school teacher in Maryland has been placed on administrative leave and “taken in for an emergency medical evaluation” based – if the news reports coming out of the town are to be believed – on the fact that he wrote and published a science-fiction book involving a school shooting some 900 years in the future.

Is it a good book?  I don’t know; based on the fact that it appears to be either self-published or published by an exceedingly small press, my guess is probably not.  But dammit, if we’re going to protect art from oppression and restraint, we shouldn’t get to throw in an “only if it’s really good art/the kind of art we approve…

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The Inverse of Robert Burns

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

The Scots poet Robert Burns wrote, famously, of being able to look at oneself as an outside observer:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae
mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion…

For writers seeking to create believable and well-rounded characters, however, another important question to ask is, how does a character see him-or-herself? 

This question has more than one side to it.  The more obvious side, perhaps, deals with a character’s secret self-doubts and hidden shames:  the heroic leader who is inwardly convinced that he’s making a bombastic fool of himself every time he has to make an inspirational speech; the charitable volunteer who secretly hates the good works they do out of a sense of duty.

On beyond that, however, is another question:  what is the character’s heroic self-image?  That is, when they’re…

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Peeve of the Day


Worse still are the azure orbs that fly across the room to land on the beloved….

Originally posted on Dr. Doyle's Editorial and Critique Services:

Today’s peeve, for those of you who are collecting the whole set (also for those of you who aren’t; I’m not particular) is orbs.

Not the literal ones that are carrying out material functions, such as being part of some monarch’s regalia, and not the non-material ones that are nevertheless actual visual artifacts that can occur in flash photography.

No, I’m rendered peevish by the sort of romantic over-writing in which characters never have blue or green or hazel eyes – instead, they’re graced with sapphire or emerald or topaz orbs.    Pity the poor character with brown eyes, who has to deal with chocolate orbs instead.

(It is probably fortunate, both for the characters and for the reader, that this particular school of over-writing tends to bestow evocatively-colored orbs only upon the sympathetic characters.)

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