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

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