Saturday, August 2, 2008


At 10:00 a.m. we met in the conference room of the Hilton, the hotel where I’m staying. So I basically had to walk for about 45 seconds to get to where we were meeting. There were 17 of us sitting around a long table. Orson Scott Card of course sat at the end of the table to mediate. I was near the opposite end of the table.

Card said this was the first time in memory so many bootcampers turned in their stories on time. He told us that he would be taking us to dinner at P.F. Chang’s on Friday night.

Then we got started.

What we did is one at a time, go around the table critiquing the writing. We addressed each story in the order that they were turned in. The person to the left or right of the author would begin and it would go around the table until everyone had a chance to give their comments. The rule was that once you had spoken, you could not speak again. The author also was to refrain from speaking the whole time. After the sixteen other bootcampers each had their say, Card would say everything he wanted to say. Then finally, the author would have the opportunity to make any final comments. Most everyone at that point, simply said, "Thanks." Then we would usually take a short break or go to lunch or dinner, depending on what time it was, and then start with the next story.

We averaged about 1 – 1 ½ hours per story. It was of course exciting and somewhat ominous as your own story drew closer, but it was also a great learning experience to explore the successes and pitfalls of everyone else’s work.

The first story was called “Norma Rae.” A hitman in the future is assigned to kill a zombie. The second story was “The Muse.” A father suddenly regains amazing artistic ability and discovers that his little daughter is actually functioning as his muse. Third was “The Elf Maiden.” A fantasy piece dealing with the hunting and execution of a banshee. Fourth was “The Legacy.” A woman, whose father dies in the midst of inventing a computer that acts as kind of a second brain, must carry on his work. One moment possibly worth mentioning: When it came my turn to comment on this story, I mentioned that it reminded me of a story Card had written called “Happy Head.” A slight flashback: Back in Denver, I found a copy of the story in an old magazine at a used bookstore and noticed that it was not included in either of his short story anthologies. I read it and thought it wasn’t half bad. Later, I was reading one of the anthologies and he mentioned that story in particular. Turns out, he specifically excluded that story because he didn’t think it was good. So flash forward to me. “Hey, this reminded me of your story 'Happy Head' which I didn’t think was that bad. If you don’t mind, tell us why you didn’t like it.” He didn’t seem too keen about discussing it. I don’t think it was because he was necessarily upset or embarrassed about it, but I don’t think he wanted to take away any time from the story at hand—and rightly so. He said, “You’re probably the only one who’s even read that story,” followed by “Let’s just leave it at that.” At first I thought I had presented myself as psycho fan-boy, but it actually was just a short blip. Nobody really seemed to give it much thought. After another break, we discussed a story called “Death Takes a Job.” A guy who has been working as Death is forced to retire and reenter the work force, at one point as an air traffic controller. Then we read a story called “Spheres." A man tries to salvage the essence of his wife by visiting all the known planets to collect dust, while trying to stay ahead of Angels attempting to recapture her. The last story we discussed that day was “Son of the Selkie.” A young man whose father is a selkie (a kind of merman who takes the form of a seal) has to decide between living as a selkie or staying on land with the woman he loves.

At this point, I need to say that all of the stories were obviously written by people who had written before. None of them were terrible. Some of them were great. All of them made me realize things that I could be doing with my own writing.

We finished about 8:00 or 9:00 that night. Some food, some TV, some reading, some sleep.


Jarud said...

Son of the Selkie reminds me of Roan Inish. The title that really caught my interest was Death Takes a Job. It sounds amusing and I would probably pick it up in a bookstore. Whether or not I would buy it...

To me, this is all very exciting but it would be mentally exhausting. I don't know how you do it.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Bret. This is Rich. I was the guy sitting to your right at the boot camp. Thank you for not mentioning that though my idea may have been good for Norma Rae, the execution left a lot to be desired. I'm reading through your blog, and just had to stop and say something at this point.

By the way, Myriads was one of the better stories. I'm hoping you can fix it up a bit (but not too much; it just needs a couple of tires and maybe a cheapo paint job) and I can read it in Weird Tales or something along those lines.

Take care.