alisa alering

Writer of fantasy and other fictions


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 3

24-hour story writers arrive at the Frances Howard Goldwyn branch of the Los Angeles Public Library

24-hour story writers arrive at the Frances Howard Goldwyn branch of the Los Angeles Public Library

Wednesday, April 10
Library Day!

As a former librarian, I’m always interested to see what a public library looks like in somebody else’s neck of the woods. We’re supposed to be researching for our 24-hour story (that will begin this afternoon!). I have this idea that I want to pick a specific-yet-random date in history and pluck an event from that day to use as the catalyst for my story. I sit down at one of the computer terminals and call up historical newspaper databases. I make a few notes about “New Smoked Halibut” and “All Prisoners in the Cook County Jail Burned to Death,” but I can’t concentrate–the deadline clock is already ticking too loudly.

In their morning talk, Tim Powers and David Farland suggested that mythology can make a good framework for a story. I head to the stacks and walk along the 200s, snagging a copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. I grab anything else that catches my eye, hoping that contrast and serendipity will be my friends.

Too many ideas

Too many ideas

I want to jumble things up, but maybe I jumble them too much. I take notes on El Cid, the Spanish Inquisition, the prophylactic virtues of unicorn horn, traumatic insemination in bedbugs, and the first lines from short story collections of several vintages. I am hoping that if I can’t get started, I can use the ‘translation’ method I learned from Bruce Holland Rogers last year.

After lunch it’s time for the third and most-dreaded component of the 24-hour story: Interview a Stranger. I don’t doubt that there are any number of characters along Hollywood Boulevard with whom I could strike up a conversation. But the most important qualification for me is finding an interviewee that will let me end the conversation. And who won’t want to resume when I pass by the next day. I shuffle around, clutching my notebook to my chest, trying to appear bright and open. All of the sane people are–well, sane–and aren’t particularly interested in striking up a conversation with a stranger. I covertly observe a normal-looking young man working at a sunglasses kiosk. He doesn’t have a lot of business, and he looks bored, which means he might be willing to talk. I take the plunge.

Interviewing a stranger

Interviewing a stranger

He tells me how long he has been in the U.S., how beautiful Istanbul is, and that his brother is a policeman. We chat for 20 minutes or so, then his boss arrives, and I say how nice it was talking to him and melt away into the crowd. Success! I scurry down the block to Author Services to meet up with the rest of the class. Marina Lostetter also interviewed a young man from Istanbul working at a sunglasses kiosk. But it’s not the same guy. We are given a final pep talk and released at 4pm and instructed to return at 4pm the next day, with a completed story.

Now it’s time to write.

Catch up with what happened on Day 1 & Day 2. Or read on to Day 4.

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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 2

Tuesday, April 9

In what will be a dismaying trend, wake at 5:30 am. Use my phone to light my way around my suitcase, creep into my clothes, and sneak out without waking roommate. Investigate hotel’s ‘fitness center.’ Choose elliptical as least disconcerting option and settle into 45-minutes of feeling awkward and like I don’t know what I’m doing. Back to the room for a shower, hello to roomie who is awake, banana consumed and coffee obtained at the lobby bar, and now–are everyone’s pencils sharpened? It’s time for the first day of class!

Author Services library

Author Services library

Begin with a tour of the contest library, with photos from earlier contests and works by previous winners. The photo of a jubilant Sergey Poyarkov winning the Illustrators of the Future Gold Award in 1991 excites great comment and contest administrator Joni Labaqui relates an emotional Cold War story. Returning winner Jordan Ellinger AKA Jordan Lapp (Vol. 25) ceremonially places a copy of his novel, Fireborn: Ritual of Fire, on the shelves.

Tim Powers leads the herd down the block to Shelly’s Cafe for lunch. After a quick panic (greasy spoon + vegetarian = hungry vegetarian), I realize I can just eat breakfast. Order an egg and cheese muffin with a slice of tomato, and it goes down nicely.

In the afternoon, Powers and Dave Farland take the floor and talk about:
–Setting and the importance of transporting your reader to a different time and place.
–Things the author needs to know about the character even if the reader doesn’t. (e.g., When was her last meal and what was it?)
–The writer’s own embarrassment when writing emotional scenes, and how to deal with it.

My 24-hour story object. Photo by Toshiyuki AIMI CC-BY-SA

My 24-hour story object.
Photo by Toshiyuki AIMI CC-BY-SA

Objects for the famous 24-hour story are passed out. I receive a 3.5″ floppy disk. I’m thinking memory, obsolescence, 1990s…All of a sudden I’m in a K street apartment in Washington D.C. and somebody in the next room is playing Stereolab on repeat.

I struggle pack to the present. Class is dismissed and dinner is found…somewhere (maybe this was shared-pizza night at the snooty Italian restaurant?), followed by a tourist visit to the Willy Wonka candy store in the hotel mall. The illustrator winners have arrived, and a brave few join us for late night chat in the hotel bar.

Urinals in the 'gross' room at the Willy Wonka store. They dispense flavored candy powder.

Urinals in the ‘gross’ room at the Willy Wonka store. They dispense flavored candy powder.

You can go back and read about Day 1 here. Or move on to Day 3 and Day 4.


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Writers of the Future 2013, Day 1

WotF_All

A while back, I entered the Writers of the Future contest. And then I won. Here’s what happened.

Monday, April 8

Wake up at 4:45 am. I have an early flight from the Indianapolis airport, and I don’t live in Indianapolis. At 5:30 a.m., I catch the earliest shuttle to the airport. I listen to podcasts on the dark bus and watch the sun come up through the rainy windows. Some contest winners have exchanged stories ahead of time, and I vow that I will read them during the journey. Instead, I get coffee and take advantage of the free wireless at the airport to update Facebook. Then I read my Walter Mosley novel. Because that’s easier.

First stop, Las Vegas. My connecting flight is boarding before my first flight lands. I collect my backpack from the overhead bins and book it to the next terminal. They let me on and I settle down with both my good intentions and my detective novel. I enjoy the ginger biscuits Delta hands out, and as we land chat with the business guy in the next seat, a medical technologist from Minnesota on his way to Orange County. He points out the Hollywood sign.

In LA, I collect my bags from the carousel and am picked up by a contest driver. We loop around and around the LA airport making small talk as we wait for the next winners to arrive. They shared a flight and have already bonded. I listen to them talk and feel the tiredness creeping in as I watch the landscape change from billboards and bodegas to terra-cotta tiles and tidy gardens.

Grauman's Chinese Theater, down the block from the hotel

Grauman’s Chinese Theater, down the block from the hotel

Arrive at hotel, deep in Hollywood. Meet Joni, the contest administrator and have the good fortune to be assigned Andrea Stewart as my roommate. We three early arrivals get lunch at the Mexican restaurant upstairs from the hotel and quietly absorb the cost of casual dining in LA. Locate nearby grocery store and lay in supply of bananas, apples, and Kind bars for breakfasts. More winners trickle in and Thai food is consumed for dinner. Official business kicks off at 7 pm, with group photos and an informal introduction with author and workshop leader Tim Powers.

Powers addresses the grasshoppers.

Powers addresses the grasshoppers.

Continue reading about Day 2…and Day 3…and Day 4