Monday, January 26, 2009

Back From The Borderlands

I spent last weekend in Baltimore, attending the Borderlands Press Writing Boot Camp, an excellent program for anyone interested in writing prose, especially if your work falls in that strange territory we call 'Genre Fiction' (whatever that really is).

As I posted a while back, this was was my fourth -- and probably final -- time through the program. I had a fair amount of experience with comic book scripts and screenplays, but I'd never tried my hand at prose before, so I spent the first two trips through the program trying to get a grip on the basic mechanics of prose. As my confidence grew, I started to focus less on how to write than on how to write the kinds of things I was interested in writing. It's a subtle difference, but an important one for me, and it influenced the material that I brought to be critiqued.

Last year, I brought a Fade short story, which was the first piece I'd written that felt like 'me' as opposed to something I'd written to just follow the rules of telling a story that would make sense and be nominally entertaining. And it went over well with half the people, while the other half thought it was well-written, but not particularly entertaining. Better than I'd expected, really.

This year, I brought what I think of as my ultimate goal as a writer, and the reason I wanted to learn how to write prose in the first place -- the Fade novel. It's a story I've been developing for years, but never found the right outlet to tell it properly. It doesn't quite work as a month-to-month comic book, works slightly better as a graphic novel, but really comes alive for me as a prose piece. Which pretty much meant that I was going to have to learn how to write prose, all of which lead me to these repeated visits to the Borderlands Press Writing Boot Camp.

With the feedback on the Fade short story in mind, I began work on the novel in earnest, working out the plot, breaking it down into chapters that flowed well, and writing the first few chapters to be critiqued. My friend Dan Waters served as an occasional makeshift editor, telling me what was working and what wasn't, often encouraging me not to settle for the easy solution to a story-telling problem.

Yeah, he's going in the acknowledgments if this thing ever gets published.

Even with Dan's encouragement, I was pretty nervous to see how the material went over with the Boot Camp instructors and my fellow attendees. Considering some of the difficult choices I'd made in my approach to the material, I was expecting a failure of epic proportions. Can't help it. I've got self confidence issues.

But the material went over very well. I can't say that everyone loved it, but the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and I got some good suggestions for tightening up a few things in the sample chapters I brought. Plenty of food for thought as I work on finishing the novel over the next few months.

So, yeah... feeling pretty good about everything I've learned over the last few years. I still have a long way to go, but more than ever, I feel like the best thing to do is write a lot more, have fun, and keep trying to tell the kinds of stories I want to tell.

And on a personal note, I got to hang out with a couple old friends last weekend, including my roommate Kyle Steele, our friend Martel Sardina, the always entertaining Brian Hatcher, the disgustingly talented James Chambers, and a host of new and interesting people like John Hornor Jacobs. A successful weekend all around, as far as I'm concerned.

Oh, and Kyle taught me a new and thoroughly disturbing joke that I can't really tell anyone without getting things thrown at my head.

What more can you ask for?


kkogrady said...

Can you at least email the joke out separately? Now I am curious..

matthew dow smith said...

Oh, I'll butcher it, as always. I've never been good with jokes. Maybe Kyle can step up to the plate and post it here in the comments.

You hear that, Kyle? An open invitation to tell your house fire joke. And as far as I know, there's no way to throw shoes over the internet...


ksteele said... goes:
So one day Little Johnny was playing with matches and burned his house down.

Little Johnny's mother was very upstet. "Little Johnny, when your daddy gets home he's gonna beat your butt. He's gonna beat you within and inch of your life!"

Little Johnny just laughed and laughed...

He knew his daddy was in the house.

matthew dow smith said...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Mr. Kyle Steele...

Thanks, Kyle.