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:

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: . If you have any questions about this policy, or its application, please either contact our Executive Director, MacAllister Stone (, 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.

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.


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.


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.


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!


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!


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.


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.


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> 🙂


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 🙂


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.


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.


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.

Advice for New VPers

By Leigh Wallace

Leigh Wallace is a VP XVII/VP 2013 graduate. She wrote the following piece in 2015, after reflecting on her experience. 

Let’s say it’s a given that you’ve read all the other blog posts about how wonderful VP is by now, and you know that it is wonderful, magical, sublime. It is also hard. But not too hard. If you’re going to VP in October I want to share some survival methods with you.

First: The anti-harassment policy is serious business. The staff and instructors are true believers in safe space. If you and your cohort are cool with that, the week will be easygoing and lovely, as mine was.

Accept your physical boundaries. Some members of our group spent time in hospital during VP week. Our group had a variety of physical and emotional disorders and we survived so not to worry. Just try to strategize to get the maximum awesomeness out of the week that is within your personal capacity.

On that note, you will have trouble sleeping unless you’re one of the few gifted souls who can sleep through anything anywhere. You’ve heard that already from other alums, I’m sure. There’s lots of homework to do and your brain’s default state will be a-mile-a-minute. All of these people are super interesting. The instructors like to play music and get drunk together and will let you play music and get drunk with them! Also, the ceilings aren’t insulated. BUT. You will likely be so happy and interested in every damned thing that you won’t feel as tired as you ought to. If you can get up early, go for walkies with Uncle Jim. You will feel more awake and physically alive for it despite sacrificing some precious sleep, especially after a few days in those terrible chairs. Just do what you can to get an acceptable ratio of sleep to EverythingAndEveryoneISSOCOOLOMG.

Accept your emotional boundaries. For some, merely walking into that space is going beyond your comfort zone. That’s ok. Just keep a close eye on your ability to cope, on a day-to-day basis. Miss a lecture or event if you really need to. I missed one. It was apparently a lot of fun, but it was a problem for me for stupid personal reasons and I walked away. No one gave me a hard time. They respected my need for self-care. On a related note, when it comes to connecting with others, fitting in is the default state at VP. Trust me. Some in our group felt that they weren’t interpersonally geeking out as hard as others were, but found out after the week was over that they were not alone in feeling this way and that others appreciated their company. Your attitude coming in is likely going to be “OMG this is SO fun you’re SO cool and YOU’RE SO COOL TOO!” Same goes for everybody else with regards to you. Try not to judge your emotional state or sociability against those of others. Just take care of yourself and have fun.

There are a few things you can actually practice ahead of time that might help the week go smoothly. The first is a special one: do what you can to be the kind of person who can ask for help when needed. The week is intense and can be hard for different people for different reasons. The staff will cheerfully rearrange their whole day for you if you need them to, especially around Tuesday or Wednesday when many students hit their feedback wall. Let them do this for you. If you come to the staff room and ask a bit of company, someone will take a walk with you and fix your world a little bit. The staff are former students; they’ve done Tuesday/Wednesday/The Horror that is Thursday; they know. Rearranging and fixing the world is what the staff do. It is a beautifully controlled chaos they have going on, and you are the very center of their chaotic universe.  One student left our group before the week was out. I don’t know if they would have made it through the full workshop and taken more away from the experience if they’d chosen to ask for whatever help they might have needed. I wish they had. Definitely don’t forget that people love helping other people. It makes them feel badass. Let the staff do that if you possibly can. And if you want to pay them back, do some dishes. There are lots of dishes. They’ll be thrilled.

Practice receiving a critique. Try having people read your manuscript and tell you it’s not perfect.  Ask for honest criticism of your work from honest, trustworthy people. If you’ve never done that, this will almost definitely be your biggest stumbling block at VP. I expect that those with prior experience with critiques enjoy their week a great deal more. I’ve heard VP doesn’t take people whose writing is so good that they wouldn’t learn from the experience. This means that you are there because you’re good, but you’re also there because you have room for improvement. This is a great opportunity to grow for those who perceive it that way. Most people are kind in their feedback but not everybody is. Even kind feedback will include instances where you could do better. It doesn’t mean you should have done better, it means you can in future. There’s a difference. Ask yourself: “Can I survive having one of my favourite authors tell me they just don’t get my piece and don’t have anything to say to me about it?” That for real happened to me, and I survived, and then I went and asked Pippin, staff-member-in-charge-of-hugs, for a hug. Practice hearing that your work is not perfect. Daydreaming about blowing everyone away with your raw talent could be detrimental to your VP experience on the whole.

As an addendum to practicing receiving criticism, you can plan some specific questions to ask. You might find yourself in a one-on-one and the instructor doesn’t have 45 minutes’ worth of feedback planned for you. They probably only just read your story last night and made a few notes (though be ready; a couple of them have loooots of advice; possibly a little more than you’re mentally ready for; they’re all different). This extra time is actually a great opportunity. I was curious about forming a critique group in my city, the hows and the whys, and got a great little speech from Steven Brust about their purpose and value based on his and other authors’ experiences. I also asked my critiquers whether I was insensitive about racial or sexuality issues in my story, which had been a concern for me. I asked what markets might be appropriate for submitting my work as I didn’t know much about them. I learned a lot thanks to my prepared questions! Not as much as I did from the critiques and lectures, but still, a lot. On a related note, please do what you can to keep in mind that you’ll get a lot more from this workshop by listening and asking questions than by talking. That’s not to say you shouldn’t talk but keep in mind that there’s pretty well nothing you can do to impress these people more than just being fun to be around. They’re smart. As smart as you. In a million ways that you’re not that smart. Pick their wonderful wonderful brains.

Practice giving criticism. Give it to other writers, or do it to stories or novel openings you’ve read, particularly ones outside of your comfort zone.

If you’re not a fan of war stories, space opera, or cyberpunk, you could quite literally end up critiquing a WWI space-opera turned cyberpunk. I did not make that up. That story existed and me, all fantasy and soft SF and lit fic, I critiqued that story. Everyone is getting at least eight pieces of feedback on their submission manuscript during VP so do your best but don’t think you have to get it just right every single time. The more honest and kind and helpful you are, the more you might have to offer. Also, definitely don’t rip everybody else’s piece to shreds. That is seriously not what critiquing means. Writers need to know what’s working just as much as what’s not, so that they’ll know what elements to use as the foundation for rewrites (or at least what not to delete in later drafts).

Here’s an example of the many online resources on critiquing for those who might be new to it (and as a bonus, this is a blog that Sherwood is involved with):

Just remember to start with something positive, then focus on areas that need work in your opinion, then end with another positive comment.

Practice writing very quickly. You are going to get homework, and the deadline is tight. I knew this was the kind of thing that causes me to freeze right up, which is a waste of precious time. I practiced using random writing prompts (i.e. Wikipedia’s “random” feature) and my rule was I had to write a page on the topic, no matter what it was and no matter how idiotic the writing turned out to be. At VP I managed my homework fine. My piece was gawdawful but it was more important to me to participate in the activity and to keep learning than it was to write emergency masterpieces. Other people did write splendid things, incidentally. You will not be in control of the subject matter. Here are some not-so-hypothetical questions: Was the last time you read or watched horror half your life ago? Despite this, can you handle a situation where you now have to write horror in a limited amount of time and let these brilliant people read it? All while someone else in the group who happens to be a huge horror fan and writes it all the time has written a splendid, polished horror piece? That’s what happened to me. It’s just an exercise. You’ll have more opportunities to impress people with your genuine skill long after the week is out because your classmates will become your critique community.

And then there’s the really sad part: after VP is over. This went really differently for everybody. As far as writing goes, some hit the ground in full stride. Some started NaNoWriMo in November. I hardly managed to get a business case written for work. I lost the confidence or foundation of what had made it possible for me to write. I can’t say why or how (it could be related to the gawdawful horror story I wrote). Be part of your new VP community on social media and do whatever you need to do to get over the next writing obstacles, if any. Some of us stumbled after VP. All of us are still writing and submitting, and we’ve got a stack of rejections between us and a respectable little pile of publications, too! Many of us are still critiquing together. If you stumble, don’t worry about actually falling. You have 23 new people who will hold you up. Take your time if you need to recover a bit after VP.

Us 17’s also got a post-VP advice post from a 16, which I will pass on to you:

I’m not kidding when I say it’s hard. I’m not kidding when I say it’s worth it, and I’m not kidding when I say it’s not too hard. Before VP I said to myself, “If nobody gets my story, if I don’t really connect with any of the people, if I’m exhausted the entire time, will I still be happy I went?” I decided: yes. In the worst case scenario, my answer was “yes.” And lo and behold, some people didn’t get my story, I didn’t make besties with the GodsImeanInstructors, and I was exhausted most of the time. And I loved it so damn much it broke me a little bit when I had to leave. I felt like my heart grew two sizes during that week, and then I had half of my heart ripped clean off at the end. This is when you will realize what this tribe really is. My only suggestion or dealing with this is to save up for Boskone or Readercon; a lot of Veeps go to Boskone and Readercon. If you can’t afford those, then avoid social media while everyone else is talking about them like I do. And an added piece of advice for the 19’s that I’ve learned in the last year: It is HARD to watch the next group go to the island without you and your group. You might want to take a break from twitter around then as well.

Advice for Viable Paradise Students-To-Be

By Lisa Nohealani Morton

Lisa Nohealani Morton is a graduate of VP XIII/2009

08:34 pm – September 29th, 2010

I registered this journal about six weeks before Viable Paradise 13, with an eye toward having an LJ that I could point my fellow students at, and with the feeling that if I was actually going to get serious about this writing thing, it might be a good idea to have a bloglike thing that was easily associable with me and that I wouldn’t mind hypothetical readers, actual co-workers, etc, finding (unlike, say, my Usenet postings from 1992 or thereabouts).

And then, being me, I promptly did absolutely nothing with it. I’m not good at maintaining a blog or a journal. My periodic efforts inevitably peter out after six months or never get off the ground in the first place. I’m much better at the low-commitment style of Twitter updates. But I always meant to do something with it.

So here we are, just over a year later, and the VP14 class is starting this Sunday. I follow a few of them on Twitter, and I’ve been watching their posts about their preparations, nervousness, and excitement with envy. Oh, to be so young again . . . And so I decided: What better way to inaugurate this journal than with a post about the things I wish someone had told me before I went to VP? And so, below the cut, my advice to the VP14 class of 2010:

First and foremost, relax. You’re going to have a ball. You’re also going to work damned hard and be exhausted and worry about running out of spoons and, if you’re lucky, have an epiphany or two. Don’t worry about what people are going to think of you, even if you’re a little odd or used to not fitting in. It’s likely that at least one of your classmates will be just as odd as you, if not odder. We’re speculative fiction writers, people: very few of us come in “Normal.” Don’t freak out about whether you belong at the workshop; if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have been invited to attend, and that’s a promise.

A few more, shall we say, practical tips:

Go to the grocery store as early as you can. It keeps somewhat inconvenient hours, and so will you be. Don’t count on being able to go twice or more during the week.

Keep your daytime meals simple. You don’t want to plan on making elaborate lunches and then find yourself without time to make them — you will need those calories. Don’t count on having time to do more than heat up a can of soup — or even less, if you get caught up in an interesting conversation when you’re supposed to be rushing back to your room to eat before the next lecture.

Get your assignments done as early as possible. It’s much better to come out to play later than to realize at 2AM that you still need to write, after you stayed up half the night hanging out with your fellow students and the instructors.

Socialize. If you’re an introvert, by all means spend as much time as you need to recharging in your room — I am, and I did — but make an effort to spend at least a couple of evenings hanging out. Socializing with fellow writers was one of the best parts of VPXIII for me.

Spend at least one evening hanging out in the staff room. You can usually find one or more of the instructors in there, telling old war stories or having an impromptu jam session or just sitting back with a glass and relaxing, and it’s always a good time. Make sure to leave when Mac kicks you all out, though.

Help the staff. Carry stuff out for dinner, or ask if you can help cook if you have time and can cook. Pitch in after meals to help clean up. They’ll thank you for it, and it’ll make everything run that much more smoothly.

If you drink, stop at the package store and stock up. I only got rip-roaringly drunk on the last night of VP, but I was frequently glad for a drink or two at the end of the day’s classes — usually while hanging out with a few of my fellow students and one or more instructors. And if you do want to party, there’ll probably be something going on in one of the rooms every night of the week.

If there’s an instructor you particularly want a one-on-one with, don’t be afraid to ask if they have some time to chat with you about your story. You’ll be assigned two one-on-ones with instructors chosen for you, but often the instructors will be willing to do additional one-on-ones if approached by students, and if they have time. It’s best to ask early on in the week so that their schedules will still be (relatively) open, and not to propose sitting down immediately, because they may want to refamiliarize themselves with your story.

If you do approach an instructor, and they say no, don’t pester them. Remember that they’re all people with lives who are taking a week out of those lives to teach the workshop, and they may not have the time to spare. Or maybe they already agreed to do as many one-on-ones as they feel they can do. Or maybe they just don’t feel they have anything helpful to say about your story. Whatever it is, you’re unlikely to change their minds by being a pest about it.

Don’t steal Scalzi’s Coke Zero.

Take part in the mandatory fun. Sure, you’re tired, you were up late last night, you have an assignment to write. Suck it up. You’ll regret missing it.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t all fall magically into place. Every VP’er I know says that some pieces take a while to click — often a long time after you leave the workshop. Take lots of notes, record the lectures if you can (ask first!) and be prepared to refer to them a lot after you leave.

Make sure to get some sleep. Listen to what Teresa says about sleep, meals and showers. You’ll feel much better for it.

And finally, relax, already. None of the instructors bite — much. You’re going to have an amazing time. Oh, and pack a sweater — it can get chilly on the Vineyard in October.

Used with kind permission from Lisa Nohealani Morton VP XIII/2009