Applications for Viable Paradise 22 Now Open

Application Period: from January 1 - June 1, 2018

Viable Paradise 22 | Sunday, October 21st - Friday, October 26th, 2018

Viable Paradise is a unique one-week residential workshop in writing and selling commercial science fiction and fantasy. The workshop is intimate, intense, and features extensive time spent with best-selling and award-winning authors and professional editors currently working in the field. VP concentrates on the art of writing fiction people want to read, and this concentration is reflected in post-workshop professional sales by our alumni.

With twenty years of experience, our students have gone on to be nominated for and win Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards, and to reach the New York Times Best Seller list.

Viable Paradise encourages an informal and supportive workshop atmosphere. During the week, instructors and students interact in one-on-one discussions, group critiques, lectures, and free-flowing Q&As. The emphasis at first is on critiquing the students’ submitted manuscripts; later, the emphasis shifts to new material produced during the week.

Even when not actively engaged in teaching or critiquing, Viable Paradise instructors often share meals and general conversation with the students. Uniquely among professional-grade writing workshops, Viable Paradise often features writers-in-residence and guest lecturers who work in the field and offer their insights into the craft and business of writing.

The Viable Paradise experience is more than the workshop itself; it also includes the autumnal beauty of coastal New England and the unique island setting of Martha’s Vineyard. Taken all together, Viable Paradise creates a learning environment that’s perfect for helping you reach your writing and publishing goals.

Still not convinced? Take a look at what past VP alumni have said about their experiences.

Questions about Accessibility at Viable Paradise

Recently, several people have asked questions about accessibility at Viable Paradise on social media. This has helped us realize one very important fact: While we have made and continue to make significant efforts to address accessibility concerns for students who have been accepted to the workshop, we have done a bad job of communicating details to prospective students considering whether or not to apply. Thankfully that is a mistake that can be easily rectified.  We have updated and expanded our Accessibility at Viable Paradise page, and you will find that expanded information below as well.

The science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres derive their strength from the full community of writers, and from the diversity of their stories. The faculty, staff, and alumni of the Viable Paradise workshop believe that these diverse voices need to be heard, and that there are stories, styles of storytelling, and points of view the field has yet to fully promote. That includes those with disabilities, and as a workshop we support you, welcome you in our community, and work to give you the complete Viable Paradise experience wherever possible.

If you would like to discuss accessibility, please reach out to the Viable Paradise staff. We’ll be happy to discuss how things work, and are committed to solving the accessibility challenges of this particular venue when at all possible.

Accessibility at Viable Paradise

Viable Paradise hopes to provide a workshop that is comfortable for all of our students, faculty, and staff. For those with accessibility concerns, the Island Inn (the workshop’s venue) may pose some particular challenges.

Because of the breadth of information here, we have divided the overview into several sections:

The facility has three floors, with classes and workshop activity typically happening on two of the three (only residences are on the middle floor). The bottom floor – where group lectures and discussions are held – is accessible via outdoor stairs and an outdoor (paved/concrete) ramp. The middle floor (where most students reside in the hotel’s “Condo” suites) can be accessed via the ramp without needing to climb stairs. The third floor – where students who have taken Townhouse suites reside, and where the faculty and staff rooms are located – is only accessible via partially-covered outdoor staircases. While some small-group and personal instruction takes place in those rooms, those locations can be changed to accommodate participants’ needs.  In inclement weather, all staircases and walkways may prove slippery and caution is advised.

The hotel suites themselves vary in their configuration. The two-floor townhouses on the third floor feature an internal spiral staircase. Many other suites – including some (but not all) of the single-floor condos – have one or two steps inside, leading from the hallway to the main living area. We recommend that students discuss specific room configuration with the hotel when making their reservations.

The vast majority of student activity is confined to a single building at the Island Inn, however students will need to visit the hotel office at check-in and check-out. The office is located in a separate building, approximately 500 feet away. The hotel provides golf carts for transport if necessary, and the Viable Paradise staff can accommodate with their cars as well.

During the week, some workshop activity will take place off-site. For example, this may include a nighttime walk to one of Martha’s Vineyard beaches. While those students who wish to, may walk, the VP Staff also drive to these off-site locations to accommodate those faculty and students who do not wish to do so. Please be aware that none of the current VP Staff drives a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

While some instructors may use visual aids in the lectures (e.g. diagrams, props, etc.), the vast majority of the workshop experience occurs through conversation in small group settings.  Students are expected to read and critique classmates’ stories assigned to them. All workshop material is provided on paper to incoming students. The VP Staff can also provide electronic versions of this material for use with screen readers or other accessibility tools.

As of 2017, the Island Inn did not provide braille room numbers on its doors, however the VP Staff will ensure that rooms are numbered and labeled in braille if requested.  If desired, upon arrival the VP Staff can provide students with a walk through orientation of the facility so as to help establish a sense of the Island Inn, its layout, and configuration.

The Island Inn can accommodate service animals. However, Viable Paradise as a workshop has not had to accommodate service animals, and we have in the past had students with life-threatening dander allergies. Therefore, if a student would like to bring a service animal to the workshop, we would kindly ask that they reach out to the VP Staff so that we can learn more about how to best accommodate them and their service animal.

While the hotel’s interior and immediate surroundings (balcony, patios, etc.) are well-lit, the grounds (lawns, driveway, etc.) are not. As a result, visibility at night will be limited.

We recommend that students who are visually impaired review the section about food at Viable Paradise below, as well.

Viable Paradise has a long history of working with faculty, students, and staff who are hard of hearing.  As a workshop, we are able to make certain accommodations, but not others.  Much of the workshop experience is oriented around group discussions, including small group discussions (8 people), larger group discussions (30 or more people), communal meals, and individual conversations. There is often cross-talk, which may cause concern for some students.

To help alleviate this concern, faculty and instructors will take steps to ensure that line-of-sight with students who are hard of hearing is maintained during lectures and group critiques. The workshop does not have the facilities to offer ASL interpretation, but we are willing to discuss other options.

After you have been accepted to the workshop and confirmed your attendance, Viable Paradise will ask you a variety of questions related to emergency management.  These questions include emergency contacts, food allergies, non-food allergies, and other information that you would want a first-responder to be aware of in the event of a crisis.

This information is kept strictly confidential by the workshop, and is only used to prepare meals accordingly and provide first-responders with relevant information should it prove necessary.

Food is a big part of the Viable Paradise experience, and the workshop strongly believes that it is a glue that binds our community together. The VP Staff work hard to accommodate students’ dietary restrictions when preparing meals to the extent that we are able.

The workshop provides one communal meal daily, and snacks (fruits, vegetables, popcorn) throughout the day.  Students are expected to prepare other meals themselves. Each suite at the Island Inn has a small kitchenette with a range, oven, refrigerator, and freezer.

The health and emergency details we collect will include information about food allergies and dietary restrictions.  The staff will take these into account when preparing meals: Each meal will typically be served with tasty meatless and vegan alternatives, and dishes will be planned so as to eliminate allergens that students have told us about, although we cannot entirely rule out cross-contamination.

Communal meals are served buffet-style, and each dish will be accompanied by an index card that identifies it and lists ingredients.  For students who are visually or mobility impaired, the VP Staff can assist in food selection. This may include reading the card and ingredients to aid those visually impaired, or preparing a plate for those students or faculty who would otherwise find the buffet line difficult.

While staff works very hard to accommodate students’ dietary restrictions, there are circumstances where we cannot. These may include particularly complicated health conditions, observance of kosher or halal, etc. In these circumstances, we will privately let the student know after reviewing their dietary restrictions so that they can be prepared to make their own arrangements.

Staff make regularly-scheduled trips to the local grocery store in Edgartown and are usually happy to take along passengers and/or short wish lists with cash. Please note: There are soft drink vending machines, but no snack vending machines or restaurants, on-site at the Island Inn.

Some students choose to bring companions with them to the workshop, and we welcome them to public activities.  If they will be eating with the workshop, we ask that they contribute $5.00 per meal or $25.00 for the week per person to cover food costs.  They can pay when they arrive to the workshop.  On the questionnaire we send you, please tell us how many guests you’re bringing.  Your guests should be aware that you will be heavily engaged in workshop activities throughout the day and evening, and thus they are likely to be left to their own devices much of the time.

If you would like your companion to assist you during non-public activities – particularly lectures, critiques, etc. – we can arrange for that. However, we would ask that you reach out to the VP Staff for us to coordinate appropriately.

Viable Paradise strongly believes that students, faculty, and staff should all feel safe at the workshop. At the beginning of the workshop, the VP Staff provide an orientation during which we specifically discuss our harassment policy, and the steps we take to provide a healthy environment for our faculty, staff, and students.  During this orientation, we also make space for faculty, staff, and students to discuss particular issues or concerns they may have.

This is a good opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to establish their own boundaries (e.g. “if I need help, I will ask”, “try not to surprise me”, etc.), set expectations (e.g. “if I seem like I’m ignoring you, I’m not – I may just not have heard/seen you”), and make requests (e.g. “if I don’t hear the joke, please repeat it”).

If you are uncomfortable speaking up about these issues in a group environment, that is okay, too. Speak with the VP Staff before orientation, and we will incorporate the message you would like delivered into our general orientation without mentioning your name or putting you on the spot.

If you would like to discuss accessibility, please reach out to the Viable Paradise staff. We’ll be happy to discuss how things work, and are committed to solving the accessibility challenges of this particular venue when at all possible.

Early-bird Applications, Faculty, and Scholarships for VP 22 (2018)

Viable Paradise 22 (2018)

Sunday, October 21st - Friday, October 26th, 2018

Applications for Viable Paradise 22 (2018) are due to open in just a few short days: On January 1st, we invite writers to apply to this unique one-week workshop dedicated to writing and selling commercial science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

This year, we’re proud to make a number of announcements:

Early-bird Applications

Viable Paradise will be accepting applications from January 1 – June 1st – a two week shorter period than in past years. This year, we’re excited to offer a new Early-bird Application Fee that will apply from January 1 – January 31st. Here’s the full schedule of application fees:

  • January 1 – 31: $12.50 (USD)
  • February 1 – March 31: $25 (USD)
  • April 1 – May 15: $35 (USD)
  • May 16 – June 1: $50 (USD)

We hope that you’ll take advantage of our early-bird application period. For more information, and to apply when the application period opens, click here.

Faculty for VP 22 (2018)

A key part of what makes Viable Paradise unique is the broad range of experience, talent, and skill that our faculty bring to the island. This year, we’re proud to welcome the following eight instructors and three professionals-in-residence to work with this year’s students:

  • Instructors
    • Amal El-Mohtar
    • Max Gladstone
    • Steven Gould
    • Daryl Gregory
    • Scott Lynch
    • Teresa Nielsen Hayden
    • Nisi Shawl
    • Sherwood Smith
  • Writer-in-Residence: Elizabeth Bear
  • Writer-in-Residence: Laura J. Mixon
  • Editor-in-Residence: Patrick Nielsen Hayden

For more information about our faculty for VP 22 (2018), please click here.

Viable Paradise Writers-of-Color Scholarship

As we announced last month, Viable Paradise is proud to offer the inaugural Writers-of-Color Scholarship for the VP22 (2018) workshop.

Thanks to the generous support of the Viable Paradise community, we have successfully been able raise funds to expand our initial scholarship. Thanks to the community’s enthusiastic support, we are expanding the scholarship program to:

  • Sponsor half-tuitions for two students of color attending VP 22 (2018), and
  • Sponsor travel costs to and from the workshop for scholarship recipients.

For more information about the Writers-of-Color Scholarship and how to apply, please click here.

Viable Paradise Position Statement on Harassment

Viable Paradise is committed to providing an environment for our students, faculty, staff, and alumni that is comfortable, safe, and free from harassment of any kind.  Our community, and the science fiction, fantasy, and horror field more broadly, should not have to deal with harassment, or be made to feel uncomfortable or pressured. That is why we post a clear anti-harassment policy on our web site, review that policy with faculty and staff every year, and discuss that policy with each Viable Paradise class during their orientation. You can find that policy here: https://viableparadise.com/about-viable-paradise/viable-paradise-harassment-policy/

We believe and support individuals who come to us with concerns of harassment, or reports of specific incidents.  To protect the privacy and confidentiality of our students, we will not comment on any specific incident or any specific reports that they may make. However, we strongly believe that our students have the right to recount their own experiences, in whatever forum and circumstances they choose, if they so choose. We support them in this, and will continue to do so.

Our responsibility is to our students, our alumni, our faculty, our staff, and the SF/F/H community at large.  Harassment of any kind is not acceptable.  We strongly encourage any prospective students, alumni, faculty, or staff to review our anti-harassment policy: https://viableparadise.com/about-viable-paradise/viable-paradise-harassment-policy/ . If you have any questions about this policy, or its application, please either contact our Executive Director, MacAllister Stone (mac@viableparadise.com), or any staff or faculty member with whom you feel safe and comfortable.

Viable Paradise Announces Writers-of-Color Scholarship

Martha’s Vineyard, MA / November 2, 2017
The science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres derive their strength from the full community of writers who tell their stories. The faculty and alumni of the Viable Paradise workshop believe that diverse voices need to be heard, and there are stories, styles of storytelling, and points of view the field has yet to fully promote. We want to help see that change and are proud to put our conviction into practice by offering the Viable Paradise Writers-of-Color Scholarship.

Photo of Martha's Vineyard Coastline

Photo credit: Sarah Goslee

Thanks to the generous support of the class and faculty of Viable Paradise 21, we are offering two half-tuition scholarships for students of color who will be attending the class of Viable Paradise 22 in 2018.

Here’s how the scholarship will work: When our application period opens on January 1, 2018, students who apply to VP22 will be able to simultaneously apply for the Writers-of-Color Scholarship. Once all applications have been reviewed, the workshop will randomly award half-tuition scholarships to two accepted students who have applied for the scholarship.

When we initially told the class of VP21 about our plans for this scholarship, they generously met our fundraising goal within forty-eight hours (because they are awesome). And with their support, the Viable Paradise board of directors is also announcing a stretch goal for our fundraising efforts:

Should we raise a total of $2,600 via our web site, we will not only award two half-tuition scholarships but also fully fund both scholarship students’ travel to and from the workshop on Martha’s Vineyard.

ETA (December 28, 2017): Thanks to the generous support of the Viable Paradise community, we have been able to expand the scholarship. We will now also sponsor scholarship students’ travel to and from the workshop on Martha’s Vineyard.

Changes to Instructor Line-up

For personal reasons, Steven Brust has resigned as an instructor at Viable Paradise.

While we know that this change comes as a disappointment for our VP21 class, they can instead look forward to working with Daryl Gregory, who will be joining the VP faculty for VP21. Daryl brings to VP his years of experience writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror for multiple audiences across multiple formats.

Daryl GregoryHis new novel, Spoonbenders, was published by Knopf on June 27th, 2017. Prior to Spoonbenders, his recent work includes the young adult novel Harrison Squared and the novella “We Are All Completely Fine”, which won the World Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson award, and was a finalist for the Nebula, Sturgeon, and Locus awards. The SF novel Afterparty was an NPR and Kirkus Best Fiction book of 2014, and a finalist for the Lambda Literary awards. His other novels are the Crawford-Award-winning Pandemonium, The Devil’s Alphabet, and Raising Stony Mayhall.  Many of his short stories are collected in Unpossible and Other Stories (a Publishers Weekly best book of 2011). His comics work includes Legenderry: Green Hornet, the Planet of the Apes, and Dracula: The Company of Monsters series (co-written with Kurt Busiek).

Applications for Viable Paradise 21 Now Closed

Application Period: from January 1 - June 15, 2017

Viable Paradise 21 | Sunday, October 15th - Friday, October 20th, 2017

Viable Paradise is a unique one-week residential workshop in writing and selling commercial science fiction and fantasy. The workshop is intimate, intense, and features extensive time spent with best-selling and award-winning authors and professional editors currently working in the field. VP concentrates on the art of writing fiction people want to read, and this concentration is reflected in post-workshop professional sales by our alumni.

With twenty years of experience, our students have gone on to be nominated for and win Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards, and to reach the New York Times Best Seller list.

Viable Paradise encourages an informal and supportive workshop atmosphere. During the week, instructors and students interact in one-on-one discussions, group critiques, lectures, and free-flowing Q&As. The emphasis at first is on critiquing the students’ submitted manuscripts; later, the emphasis shifts to new material produced during the week.

Even when not actively engaged in teaching or critiquing, Viable Paradise instructors often share meals and general conversation with the students. Uniquely among professional-grade writing workshops, Viable Paradise often features writers-in-residence and guest lecturers who work in the field and offer their insights into the craft and business of writing.

The Viable Paradise experience is more than the workshop itself; it also includes the autumnal beauty of coastal New England and the unique island setting of Martha’s Vineyard. Taken all together, Viable Paradise creates a learning environment that’s perfect for helping you reach your writing and publishing goals.

Still not convinced? Take a look at what past VP alumni have said about their experiences.

For the Incoming Class of VP XX

Phil Margolies is a VP XIX (2015) alumni, and here offers the incoming class of VP XX some great advice.

Dear Class of VP XX,

First of all, once again, CONGRATULATIONS!

I CAN imagine what you are thinking and feeling right now because a year ago I was in your shoes. Well, not literally. I think.

My educated guess is some combination of anxious (in both good way & stressy), excited, nervous, and still unbelieving that in mere WEEKS you will be at Viable Paradise. At least that was me.

Your mileage may vary. With that in mind, here are some thoughts and suggestions to (hopefully) help you. And no, I’m not going to give you the keys to the closets where they keep the Deep Dark Secrets like [REDACTED]. Rather, these are intended to be more general tips, some of which at least I hope you haven’t heard yet.

The Staff

You may not realize it yet, but you will by the time you leave Martha’s Vineyard: the staff is composed of the most awesome people in the world. They are there for you. They are more precious than Gollum’s Precious. Cherish them and take advantage (kindly) of their wonderfulness.

Packing

I know Uncle Jim and the Handbook are all about packing for the crazy weather—some days hot, some days dripping with rain, and some nights chilly—and that’s good advice. You can pack too much and end up lugging two suitcases when everyone else fit it all into one. Don’t bother asking me how I know because I’m going to tell you I’m that guy.

I am, though, presuming every one of you is far smarter than me and recognizes that nobody cares if you wear the same sweatshirt every single day. If you want a second one, don’t pack it, just buy one on the island. The tourists may be gone, but most of the stores and shops are still open.

“Downtown” Oak Bluffs

Speaking of walking about and shopping, if the weather is good and you are able & up for it, head into town (if you aren’t able to walk the mile or so and want to go, there are ways). One of the best things we, VP19, did bonding-wise was trips to Oak Bluffs for downtime, food, and shopping.

Downtime

Speaking of which, VP is intense. It’s a six-week course compacted into a week. Expect long days and nights. So, downtime. It’s important. Take it. Do it. Live it. Whether you’re an extravert who hangs out in the staff room chatting or an introvert who prefers quiet time alone, do that. You will need it. Especially because of [REDACTED].

The Instructors

Speaking of that thing, I don’t know about you, but this was me a year ago: I’m one of those introverts who used to (ha!) put REAL WRITERS TM on a pedestal and felt unworthy of talking to them. I mean, look at your awesome instructors:

  • Steve Brust
  • Debra Doyle
  • Steve Gould
  • Scott Lynch
  • Jim Macdonald
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden
  • Teresa Nielsen Hayden
  • Sherwood Smith

and for writers-in-residence:

  • Elizabeth Bear
  • Laura Mixon

(yes, I KNOW you KNOW that) BUT read those names again. I mean, wow. And they are there to help you level up. That’s you, personal-like.

Pinch yourself if you want, but it is NOT a dream. It was not a mistake. YOU got into Viable Paradise.

Second best of all, those Real Writers TM) believes in your potential.

Best of all, they are all Real People. Some of my best memories from VP include walking back to the inn at night with Steve Gould, and hanging out with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden until literally the last minute before I had to grab my bags and run to the car to make the ferry back to the mainland.

One of my goals in going to VP was not to be intimidated by the prestige of the instructors and I think I accomplished that. By the end of VP, you will realize (or they’ll beat it into your head enough that it will be imprinted there) that you are a Real Writer TM too.

Bonding

Here’s the thing that I didn’t realize until Friday of VP. I’d spent so much time and energy with my focus on interacting with the instructors that I forgot to really bond with my classmates. Which is why our virtual and actual hangouts post-VP have been copacetic. Take the time to get to know your new family. You’re going through this thing together so getting through it together makes the only sense.

Because while your pre-bonding via social media is all well and good (we did it via our own Yahoo! e-mail list), it’s nothing like being there. Because you will need each other, especially during [REDACTED].

Good luck, have fun, and see you all on the other side!

Yours,

1/24th of VP 19

Other People, VP, and Me

by Tam MacNeil

Tam MacNeil attended VP16 and afterward ran away to become a full-time writer. She’s the author of Salt and Iron (as Tam MacNeil), A Fine Romance (as T Neilson) and many other books and short stories. Catch up with goings on by subscribing to her newsletter.

It’s a funny thing, sitting down to write a blog post about what to expect when you go to Viable Paradise. As it happens, I never expected to go.

When I was growing up and going through early adulthood I believed that writing retreats were for Other People. Those folks with more money or more time, or both, who were more serious about their careers, or more advanced than I was. I applied anyway (there’s a story in it) and I was accepted anyway, and, even though Viable Paradise was for Other People, I went.

I have always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about my working class background, and how hard it is to work in the arts if you’re living paycheque to paycheque. And I have always, at every writer’s meeting and critique group, felt as though I didn’t fit in. In spite of both those things, I fell in love with the idea of Viable Paradise, it being short (one week, unlike others which run for weeks on end) and relatively cheap, as these things go. It seemed to be trying the fill the niche of the working-class writer’s workshop. So I applied. I promised in my application that I would spit under and never over the dinner table, and that I was known to, on occasion, shower. It was an aggressively cavalier letter. I thought it would go right into the round file. After all, an arts workshop, however it positioned itself, was probably for Other People and not for me.

They called my bluff. They invited me. And I went.

They collected me and my fellow attendees at the ferry terminal. They drove us to a grocery store (and liquor store!) to get supplies for the week. When I couldn’t get into my room because the office was closed over dinner, someone stored my perishables in their fridge and my backpack in their hall. Since I couldn’t hide in my room, I went down to the venue. There I found twenty or so people all looking exactly as nervous and uncomfortable as I, and a quantity of award winning and New York Times bestselling authors working extremely hard to get us all to loosen up./p>

I got chivvied into a game. I got to know people’s names. People started joking around. People started getting sarcastic. People started getting competitive. Steve Brust got this look on his face and Bear warned us all what that meant. People started lying outrageously. I had fun, damn it.

Looking back, it was all managed so beautifully. There were no awkward introductions. I didn’t notice the time pass. I didn’t think about if I belonged, I simply slotted in. When somebody said, over chow, “Can you believe it’s still only Monday?” I was stunned. Normally, when I’m in a crowd I feel like time is moving at a geological pace, but Viable Paradise went by so fast it was everything I could do just to grab scraps of it as it went rushing by.

And now you’re going. Maybe, like me, you applied in a fit of aggressive pique and they’ve called your bluff. Maybe you’re worried about what you’ve gotten yourself into. Maybe, for you, workshops have always been for Other People. I understand. Here is what you need to know:

First: You belong.

You will be in a group of your peers. The workshop is short enough that the social stratigraphy that manifests in long-running classes doesn’t have time to harden into shape at VP. Most people will talk to most people, and hanging out with bestselling writers, great editors, and fellow neophyte writers is a profoundly democratic excercise from the start of the class to the end. The attendees are all going to be at approximately your level. This workshop is not for Other People. It is for you.

There will be times when VP is hard. If you haven’t learned to take criticism, you will. If you haven’t written to specs and a deadline, you will. If you’ve never read out loud, you will. All these exercises are designed to make you a better writer. You might hate them. You might fail at them. Here’s a secret: There’s no better, safer, place to fail than Viable Paradise. The criticisms will actually make you a better writer. The deadlines and specs you’ll be writing to are supposed to stress you out. And very few people in the world are comfortable reading out loud, but professional writers often read excerpts from their books at events, so it’s a skill worth learning.

The point is not to succeed at everything;the point is to try everything. As it happens, it’s a wonderful thing to fail in a safe environment. You’ll learn that failure isn’t fatal (at least, not when you’re a writer. Surgeons may have a different outlook.) and you learn how to improve.

Third: VP doesn’t stop at the end of VP.

It’s strange the way it sticks. There’s so much information delivered in that one week that it’s simply impossible to take it all in. I noticed when I was there that before I dropped off to sleep, my eyes were already moving behind my eyelids, as if I was hitting REM the minute my head touched the pillow. There was just so much to process. So you’ll take notes (there’ll be a wonderful kit provided for you – a notepad, pens, a water bottle, a rubber snake… the essentials, basically.) and when you come home you’ll spend a bit of time poring over them. You’ll also probably notice an absence when you leave. This absence was, for me, one of the most important things about Viable Paradise.

At VP, the default setting of the staff, the instructors, and the attendees is that everyone present is a writer, and they take their work seriously. This manifests in excellent ways while you’re at VP:

Holed up in your room during free time? Probably writing./p>

Gazing absently while standing in the chow line? Probably writing.

Asking a question about how to incinerate a human body? Probably writing.

It’s a marvellous thing, when you begin to take your writing seriously. Since I had grown up believing that working-class women don’t have careers in the arts, it had never occurred to me that things could ever be otherwise. But at VP things were otherwise. And it was wonderful.

They say it takes five days of consecutive effort to change an ingrained habit. They say if you go to the gym five days in a row, the next five days will be easier. They say if you practice your Spanish vocabulary for five days in a row, you’ll keep practicing. For a week, people had been treating me as a real writer. People whose opinion mattered to me, who were in a position to make that kind of judgement: Bestselling authors, world-renowned editors. When I came home, I realized I had a decision to make. I could treat myself the way my peers and mentors had treated me, or I could go back to my old habits

Here’s what I did.

I quit my master’s program to save some money. I changed my job to get a raise, and then, a year later when I had met my saving goal, I left that job. I left because I started writing full time as a freelancer. I’ve never had to go back.

As it happens, a career in the arts isn’t necessarily for Other People, sort of the same way Viable Paradise wasn’t for Other People. It was for me. Maybe you’ll find it’s for you, too.

Viable Paradise XVI, Revisited

By Gary D. Henderson

Gary is a VP XVI/2012 graduate. He lives (and occasionally writes) in the Atlanta, GA area. This was originally published on Gary Henderson’s blog

In 2012, I attended Viable Paradise, a one-week, intensive writing workshop held annually on Martha’s Vineyard the thirdish week of October. “Paradise” because duh, Martha’s Vineyard in October. “Viable” because only one week, not six. You don’t have to get a second mortgage and put your entire life — job, family, friends, etc. — on hold.

But you still get an amazing experience. A lot of awesome information from top-notch instructors; a lot of amazing socializing with your fellow students, the instructors, and staff; a lot of tasty food; and probably a little something else, as well: a tribe.

I wrote a retrospective post about it a few days after I got back. It’s linked from Viable Paradise’s page, and I notice an uptick in the number of hits each year around the time the new crop of students are accepted. 🙂

This year, 2016, marks the twentieth anniversary of Viable Paradise. Twenty. A two followed by a zero. That’s a lot of writers they’ve guided (~480ish!). They’ve put together a reunion the week before VPXX, and I’m going! As part of the whole ‘Twenty Years of Viable Paradise’ thing, they (the organizers) asked for volunteers from past years to write blog posts talking about their experiences, to help the VPXXers be ready for their week in Paradise. 🙂

This is one such blog post. And . . . it got a little long. I apologize, but I tend to get very excited and effusive about Viable Paradise. I can go on about it for hours if you let me. Just ask my very, very patient friends. 🙂

The rest of this is addressed directly to the twenty-four newly selected students of VPXX.

So, first things first! Which, I’ve discovered, is the perfect place to put things which are first!

IMPOSTOR SYNDROME

Curse you, my old nemesis! I have it. Chances are, you have it, to some degree. I was absolutely convinced —convinced — that the only reason I got into VP was that they had found twenty-three awesome writers and needed a twenty-fourth person to make up the last place, and they pulled my application out of a hat. Never mind the illogic involved in that. Impostor Syndrome doesn’t do logic.

Know this, and try to take it to heart: you were selected because of your talent. Your submission was good enough, and you are in because you deserve to be there.

TAKING NOTES

A lot of high-density information is going to be coming at you at relatively high speed. It will be fun information, and you will enjoy the lectures and the symposia and the . . . activities associated with The Horror That Is Thursday™. 🙂 With that in mind, however, you might want to arrange to take a recording device to capture audio to take some of the pressure off of trying to take coherent, detailed written notes. They talk fast. 🙂 A good many of the VPXVIers made recordings, and we have since shared them with one another using DropBox. They’re quite interesting to listen to and remember. I took notes and recorded. The notes consist mostly of bullet points.

CRITIQUES

You will get and give critiques. Maybe you’ve had a lot of critiques going into VP (I had), or maybe you’ve had very few or none. Either way, getting critiques from strangers — some of whom will be the instructors — can be a little daunting even if critiquing is old hat to you. One thing to keep in mind: No one there is against you. Or, indeed, your story. Some people may honestly not like it. Some people may gush over it. But all the suggestions, even the ones that might unfortunately be worded harshly or in such a way as to feel pointedly aimed at you and not the story, are done from a place of helping you to make your story the best it can be. To paraphrase Shakespeare (because pretension): “The story’s the thing.”

So! Try to make your own critiques about the story at hand, not the author, and try to phrase your critique in a way to emphasize what worked for you (and why!) as well as what did not (and why!). Avoid offering ways to fix it; just point out your issues and let the writer figure out the ‘how’ part. You’ll understand after VP. </cryptic> 🙂

EPIPHANIES

Different things are going to stick with different people. And some of it doesn’t feel like you’re being instructed in writing at all, at the time. One of the instructors was showing us what I then took as just random stuff. Tangentially related — if at all — to the lecture he was giving at the time. But! The point he made when showing us the model house with the hidden, detailed room has stuck with me longer than any single thing any of the instructors said. I think about it almost every time I sit down to write. Your experience will almost certainly be different, and something another instructor says may resonate with you more than what Uncle Jim said does with me.

FOOD

MacAlister Stone. OMG. I cannot say enough effusively wonderful things about Mac. But I’ll try. 🙂 You’ve probably already received the email from her asking about dietary needs. And here’s the thing about Mac: she will take all of those requirements from everyone and come up with a menu that will be remarkably like all the other VP menus, but everyone’s specific needs will be addressed. For dinner, you will eat well. If you’re still concerned (and that is to be understood; I have issues I was very concerned about; see below), my big suggestion is this: ship some “safe” food to yourself at the hotel.

Dinners are social events at VP, but you’re expected to fend for yourself for breakfast and lunch. Uncle Jim has pancakes and what I’m told (see below) was amazing maple syrup for breakfast. But what I did was to get a box of non-perishable stuff and ship it up to the Island Inn about a week before we were supposed to arrive. When I got there, my box was waiting for me in the office. Cereal I knew to be safe for a diabetic. Stuff for late-night snacks. Whatever you think you’ll need that’s light enough to not cost an arm and a leg to ship, won’t spoil, and that you might need while you’re there. Just ship it and forget it. You will be told that food is expensive on the island (it is), and while they took us directly from the ferry to the grocery store/supermarket before hitting the hotel, I was glad I had shipped certain things from home. I bought perishables. Stuff to make enough lunch for the whole week (I know some people bought bread, peanut butter, and jelly; I got tuna, cheese, noodles, and veggies, and made a casserole.) Every room will (I believe) have at least a stove top, if not an oven. Plan accordingly. 🙂

When the week was up, I had some of my shipped stuff left . . . and I just tossed it. It wasn’t worth taking back home. I used all the perishables (milk, eggs, veggies). I had some olive oil left that I think I gave to Mac. 🙂

THE STAFF

The staff of VP consists of VP alums, for the most part. They’ve been where you are, know how things work, and are there specifically to help you. If you have any problem, seek out a staff member. Feeling overwhelmed? Talk to them. Need a trip to a pharmacy or grocery store? Ask the staff. Need to blow off steam? Go to the staff suite. Want to socialize? Head to the staff suite.

SPECIAL MEDICAL NEEDS

This one is aimed at people with specific medical issues. You can skip it if that doesn’t pertain to you. I have a chronic intestinal thing that crops up periodically, and has for more than twenty-five years. It comes with horrible pain and, if left untreated, a visit to an emergency room. My doctor and I go way back, and I can call him up and say, “Doc, I have that thing again,” and he believes my self-diagnosis and phones the pharmacy with a prescription for antibiotics. No wait, no muss, no fuss. Because this thing crops up related to stress and diet, I let him know that I was going to be on Martha’s Vineyard for a week, that I’d be eating food I didn’t have any control over, and that there would be potentially high levels of stress involved. He gave me a prescription for the antibiotics, just in case. You don’t know how much of a load of worry this took off me. If I ate the wrong thing or got too little sleep or whatever, and came down with this issue, I could have missed a day or more of VP dealing with the fallout. As it was, I knew that I could get the medicine in a matter of a couple of hours. So take care of yourself and if you have a medical problem like mine . . . maybe talk to your doctor ahead of time and set something up to ease your mind.

SOCIALIZING

Now, onto more fun things. 🙂 Socializing! This was something I deeply wish I’d done more of. There were dinners and other times when everyone was together, and I had a great time. I’m very much an introvert (No, really!), and shy around people I don’t know. (Golly! A writer who mostly spends time alone and has problems getting to know people? Go on! ;)) It’s very hard for me to start a conversation with people, even when we have a blindingly obvious thing in common: writing. As a result, I didn’t seek out more socialization. This is the biggest regret I have about VP. I’ve kept in touch with almost everyone from VP to one degree or another. But I barely got to know several of the others, and it’s entirely my own fault, and no reflection on them. So my advice: if possible, get to know those people. They’re your tribe. But, at the same time, you know you better than anyone else does. So take care of yourself, as well. If you need me-time, take it. Everyone will understand. Most of them probably need it, too. 🙂

I didn’t partake of any of Uncle Jim’s pancakes and maple syrup because I was worried about my blood sugar. But I could have gone up and joined in the fun, regardless. I went to bed freakishly early (midnight) every night, listening to everyone having a lot of fun upstairs (I was on the lower floor), but I knew (thought?) that I needed a certain amount of sleep or my immune system might compromise and I might get sick . . . but I wish now that I’d just gotten a couple of hours less sleep per night and spent time hanging out. The cold I probably would have gotten the week after would have been worth it. 🙂 But again, you know you, and take care of yourself. People will understand.

HIKES

Uncle Jim’s hikes! Again, I didn’t go on any of them because Reasons. Mostly because I felt like I needed that extra hour of sleep rather than getting up and spending an hour walking around Martha’s Freaking Vineyard in October getting a little exercise in the insanely fresh, nippy, early morning air and talking about . . . who knows what? I didn’t go! I have no idea what they talked about. But I’ll bet it was interesting! 🙂 If you can manage at least one morning walk, don’t make the mistake I did. Again with the ‘you know yourself’ caveat.

TECHNOLOGY

The Wifi at the Island Inn is . . . there. Mostly. I wouldn’t rely on it too heavily. You won’t have time to be online much, anyway. But just know that if you’re used to lightning-fast network speeds, you’re going to be underwhelmed.

Bring a memory stick or something along those lines. Something handy to have on you for, say, copying documents on . . . to then dash up to the staff suite for printing . . . in the wee hours of Thursday morning, for instance. </cryptic> Oh, and virus-check the crap out of it. No need to give the staff your nasty computer virus. 🙂

STAY AN EXTRA DAY

I know this is something you’ve heard before, but if at all possible for your schedule and your expenses, stay the extra night and leave on Saturday instead of Friday. There is a lot of socializing that goes on that last night, and it’s a lot of fun. Also, since you can’t take home the open bottles of booze, they tend to form a . . . booze buffet, if you will. I did not partake, being a non-drinker, but there was much rejoicing. And music, and just . . . an all-around good time. So if you can, stay until Saturday.

ANECDOTE!

I will close this lengthy post by relating a little story that exemplifies the entire VP Experience™ for me. I smile every time I think about it.

On Wednesday, a group of us walked into town for lunch. We also spent some time sightseeing. When we walked back ,Nicole came dashing out of her room and ran up to us and said, “Quick! I need a way to dispose of a body by burning, but I have to be in the room with it while it burns!” (I’m paraphrasing, here, and I hope Nicole will forgive me if I’ve made her sound not like herself. Or, you know . . . kind of murdery. Which, one hopes, is not like herself. You know, I’m going to stop, now.)

Now, a random group of people selected off the street might have many reactions to a statement like that, but none of us even blinked. Instead, several people started offering suggestions and asking clarifying questions. “A fire that would consume a body will need to be hot. How big can the room be?” “Do you want the body reduced completely to ash?” “How much time do you have?” Etc. A short discussion ensued, but I didn’t hear most of it. Because I kept walking while grinning to myself. It had just hit me. These people are my tribe. They get me.

And that is a wonderful feeling to get.

IN CONCLUSION

Enjoy yourself. Get drunk (if you drink), but not too drunk. Have some Scurvy Cure. Play silly games. Play poker with Steve-with-a-Hat. Have pancakes. Take walks. Go and see the fireflies of the sea. Tour the town. See the Methodist Munchkin-land. Visit the lighthouse and watch the sunset. Read a dreadful romance out loud. Sing along. Have a beer with Billy. Bring your pajamas. Lament the dreadful, Dreadful, DREADFUL, unexquisite agony of writing. Become a Thing. Join the Mafia. Enjoy the food. Take a binding oath (or two). Seek out the staff if you have problems: that’s what they’re there for.

And the less said about The Horror That Is Thursday™, the better.