We asked alum and staff member Cory Skerry to tell us more about what to expect from the workshop experience at Viable Paradise. Many thanks to Cory for his contribution!
Location: Martha’s Vineyard, MA
Workshop Schedule: October 7 – October 12
Housing: $175/night + tax or $155/night + tax
Application Fee: $25.00 (non-refundable)
Application Deadline: June 15, 2011
Stockholm Syndrome is a phenomenon in which hostages display loyalty to their captors, even once they’re free and could conceivably call the police or exact bloody revenge.
After Viable Paradise in 2010, I hugged all the instructors as if they hadn’t just dissected my brain and put all the parts back together in a different order before supergluing it back into my skull. Elizabeth Bear calls this useful torture “intense neural reprogramming.” The other survivors and I reluctantly departed the island, and in the next year, amassed a pile of short story sales to markets including (but not limited to) Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Strange Horizons.
Viable Paradise is a one week workshop (which is why they call it Viable) and it’s held on Martha’s Vineyard (which is why they call it Paradise). For many people, one week is easier to manage than two, three, or six. The workshop is a good excuse to visit the island during October, the most beautiful season. There’s autumn foliage, beaches made of more shells than gravel, and if the weather is right, at night you can sneak down to the water and watch the bioluminescent jellyfish flashing in the tide.
I think the biggest reason I loved VP, even though I barely got four hours of sleep each night, was that it never shot me or handcuffed me to the radiator. I admit, however, that there were additional factors.
Students get eight instructors, and instead of one (or two) per week, they’re all there simultaneously. You’ll have face time with all of them, at varying levels of intimacy, and you get to listen and participate as they discuss issues of craft and business. The focus is mostly on craft, a tidal wave of knowledge about craft, but around it you’ll experience eddies of contract advice and career strategy, insider views on the current state of publishing, and suggestions on how to nurture your creativity and keep it safe from the vitriol of your internal editor. The instructors hardly ever beat you. They do make you write, finish, and share a story in two days, however, which is one of the reasons people are surprised when they hear the students didn’t revolt and feed their captors to the jellyfish.
I’d recommend Viable Paradise to people who are at least getting personalized rejections, because your $1100 tuition covers not just many super-delicious meals, but also an intermediate-to-advanced curriculum. It’s okay if it’s your first workshop, but it’s foolish to have Patrick Nielsen Hayden explain to you how you should have formatted your manuscript or why he stopped reading at the second paragraph when you could have him explain how you could strengthen the suspense or deepen characterization. I waited an agonizing four years to apply to VP, learning the basics for free online and at smaller, less expensive workshops, and I’m glad I did. Both short story authors and novelists are encouraged to apply, though it’s good to remember that your application submission is the story you’ll be working on while you’re there—so make it a project you’re willing to set aside for several months, or at least one you won’t be tired of revisiting. And of course writers who want to network but haven’t quite figured out how will gain entry into the legion of Veeps who maintain a friendly presence at just about every major genre convention in North America.
It’s hard to say who shouldn’t apply, but in my experience (which includes my year as a student and my year as a staffer), hubris led to disappointment. If you think you don’t have anything to learn, submit to markets, not workshops! Also, if you’re not especially keen on being published, VP may be too focused on commercial prospects. The main goal here is for your dayjob to become your hobby, something you might keep for the medical benefits and because you like your red stapler.
You have from January 1, 2012 to June 15, 2012 to put together a submission packet containing $25, 8,000 words of your best work, and an introductory letter explaining your background and what you hope to get out of the imprisonment. The letter is less important than the submission, and I’m under the impression that while name-dropping won’t disqualify you, they seriously don’t care if George R. R. Martin says you’re the most amazing writer who ever watched his pets while he was on vacation. Like most workshops, science fiction stories often get more attention because there are less of them. If you apply early, I unofficially estimate it will help your chances of getting in, because the readers have more time to consider your work. Toward the end, they get slammed with the deadline-flirters and aren’t in nearly as patient of a mood.
If you get accepted, I’ll see you in October! If one of the instructors goes crazy and lunges at you over a refusal to quit split infinitiving at them, it’s my duty to throw my body in front of you to protect you from their sharp talons. You’ll laugh, you hopefully won’t cry, and I know you don’t believe me now, but when concerned maids call the police in an effort to save you, you’ll help fight off the S.W.A.T.
Cory Skerry lives in the Northwest U.S. and works at an upscale adult boutique. In his free time, he writes stories, draws comics, copy edits for Shimmer Magazine, and goes hiking with his two sweet, goofy pit bulls. He took a break to be the class clown at Viable Paradise in 2010. When he grows up, he’d like science to make him into a giant octopus. For more, check out http://plunderpuss.net.