First Cup of Coffee – August 25, 2022

My thoughts on writing workshops, critique groups, taking critique, and other musing spurred by S.L. Huang’s excellent essay on Tor.com. Also a bit about the era of the Facebook birthday and monetizing relationships.




Transcript
00:01.71
jeffekennedy
Good morning, everyone! This is Jeffe Kennedy author of epic fantasy romance I’m here with my first cup of coffee.

00:13.45
jeffekennedy
Fabulous today is Thursday August Twenty fifth and I’m back home and another year older ah wiser hard to say. After a certain point. Do you continue to grow wiser? I don’t know ah during my brief very brief right? Podcast hiatus ah Zencaster changed their thing and now my image is reversed. I don’t know if it’ll be reversed for you all on video. It’s a little disconcerting. It’s just that the flowers are on different sides of me than they used to be um I was trying to figure out if I can change it but um, who knows.

01:04.99
jeffekennedy
So I had a lovely birthday time spent well with family mixture of business and Pleasure. We got um birthday stuff done and also took care of like financial things and stuff like that. So It was good. It was good trip. And I am home. Something’s rustling on the grape leaves.

01:32.88
jeffekennedy
Ah, bird. Um, yeah, so I’ll be here today and tomorrow and then tomorrow I go down to Albuquerque to Bubonicon if you are local to New Mexico which I know most most of you are not It’s a good convention. Sort of our local sff convention and I am going to be doing many many things I will be on a bunch of stuff I was cki I was talking about this before I left. But um, you know it used to be that I would post mice. Appearances and schedule at conferences online and now I’ve kind of it’s like well why because the people online who aren’t there can’t go see the things and the people who are going to the thing will see it when they’re there. So. I see other authors showing this on social media and I know I used to do it. But it’s um, it’s a puzzler I just keep getting around not to posting my stuff and maybe that’s an excuse. So um. And then after that I will be doing podcasts on Monday Tuesday and then Wednesday I fly to Chicago for worldcon – ChiCon – in Chicago did I mention Chicago at which I’m also doing many things I should.

03:03.57
jeffekennedy
Probably post my schedule for that just because worldcon’s so big. But anyway, um, yeah, so little behind on the book stuff not horribly actually I’m I’m on track I’m not where I want to be but. On track still to release September Twenty Ninth nice to see all those preorders coming in. Thank you. SHADOW WIZARD, Jadren and Selly. ah so let’s see so I have. Things to talk about and it’s one of those things where I make notes I want to talk about this when I come back. But then ah you know after the fact I’m not nearly so fired up about it. Um, but so 1 thing about birthdays in the modern era. Is the Facebook birthday right? So it’s a funny thing because this is really throwing me off that my image was reversed I really just shouldn’t look at myself I did get a new webcam. Ah, for my birthday from my wonderful aunt and I started to try to set it up but I can’t if I have the laptop open it defaults to my laptop camera instead of the one on the tripod and I’m sure I can change that somewhere.

04:35.35
jeffekennedy
And my settings Zencaster settings by can’t figure it out. Ah and I thought well I could just like use the webcam and not look at myself which might be a plus. So I’d stop obsessing and but then I wouldn’t be able to see that the image was right. So I may save the webcam for indoors. That’s all, um, probably never mind but that’s that was sort of my process. This morning is figuring out how I’m gonna handle all that. So anyway, Facebook birthdays. Um, and you know I should have my cane out so I could shake it you know because back before Facebook it wasn’t a thing right? You know you had keep track of people’s birthdays and like I don’t know send cards through the mail via pony express um, but now. And it was fun at first with Facebook because it would remind you of people’s birthdays and you’d be like oh cool tell people happy birthday and then the social media marketers got involved right? and so they tell people things like um, you know every. Time you post to somebody’s timeline is an opportunity to advertise your business and ah, it’s like who do I want to say this that sorts of profanities are welling up.

06:06.17
jeffekennedy
You know it it really cancels out the ah you know purported good wishes if somebody is using it as an opportunity to advertise their business so there is this one gal. Who I went to high school with and I don’t even think we were friends in high school which is the other phenomenon about Facebook right? is that there’s all these people that you are friends with on Facebook that you are never friends with in real life. So this girl is a real estate agent and she posts to my timeline with this square ad that has like a picture of her and a picture of her. You know, sister agent at at the business and. You know it’s like the realty company and and they say wishing you a happy birthday and it’s basically a fucking ad for their real estate company on my timeline dressed up as happy birthday wishes and so I deleted it and and you know what. I deleted that in the morning because I was online for my birthday which I’m not always, but you know hanging out my folks’ house because it was a Monday ah, my mom and I you know had ah to meet with her financial advisor via Zoom so we were online a lot.

07:35.25
jeffekennedy
And so I was just keeping up with the Facebook messages this year because I do appreciate all the the nice birthdays from the people who are just trying to advertise their business. So so. I deleted this fairly early in the morning because she posted it right off. Do you know what later that day like actually let me take it back Tuesday morning Tuesday morning I so was catch you know there all the people are like oh sorry I miss to birthday yesterday perfectly. Nice she posted that fucking thing again. Like the evening before and it’s I don’t know if she thought that she you know she went to check to see if it was on my timeline and she was like oh um, maybe it didn’t post or something but I deleted it a second time and then I went and looked at our friendship and our entire. Friendship and I’m putting air quotes around this for you not on video consisted of her posting her fucking real estate ads on my birthday and did I I didn’t unfriend her because we have other like high school friends in common. But yeah.

08:56.10
jeffekennedy
So You know and other people there. There’s only a few people who do this but you know if you’re gonna listen to the marketers think about what you’re doing to your human relationships. Ah actually. Do. We even have a human relationship I don’t I barely remember the scale I should go look her up in my yearbook because I don’t think we were like even I don’t think we ever had a relationship I should unfriend. Her shouldn’t I ah.

09:30.23
jeffekennedy
So I wanted to mention that um the you know monetizing every relationship right? Yeah, um, the other thing I wanted to talk about which I’ll probably put in the show notes billings. And will probably be the thing that most of you are actually here for and like sat through 10 minutes of my blathering to hear about but um, esel ho did an interesting essay on tor.com about clear own workshops and. Ah, science fiction and fantasy writing workshops and writing workshops in general and I wanted to talk about that a little little bit because there’s been a lot of people tweeting about it giving their experiences. Um, there was a lot of discussion of the Milford method and it. This was a really well done essay and it elicited a lot of ah good conversation and you know it’s writing workshops are fraught anyway and i. Hold on him. Um, okay so I I went to check. It’s S.L. Huang which I’m glad I checked ah because she is pretty emphatic about don’t pronounce it to rhyme with bang rhymes with wrong. So SL Huang she does not give um pronouns which is what I was looking for.

10:58.99
jeffekennedy
And ah, but she presents as female. So I’m gonna go with she/her apologies if I get that wrong anyway, um so she talks about the the background of. Science fiction and fantasy workshops and the Milford method and basically the milford method excuse me mosquitoes ah boils down to that people give critique and the author listens and gets an opportunity to say something at the end. And 1 of the criticisms of this technique that Huang brings up is that it’s um, it silences the author and that it can be a really brutal critique method and also how there were.

11:54.41
jeffekennedy
There’s sort of a dearth of other ways to teach and I’m getting a link to the essay because she does a great job of breaking it down much better than my brief summary broken summary here. Ah but 1 thing I did want to say is that. There is a reason for the author to listen without speaking um and I totally get the how it’s problematic I understand how what makes it difficult but something that happens a lot when you give author’s critique. A so. I want to say not even newbie authors I was starting to say that but um, authors even very experienced authors will do. This is that their first instinct is to begin to argue with you and it stops them from hearing what you’re trying to say or they try to explain. Um, and this is something that happens a lot. You know if I’m teaching writing workshops and so forth I’ll ask someone a question about their story I’ll say well you know think about why did the prince want to sacrifice himself and. Their first instinct will be to say oh well see the thing is is that the princess and and I have to say no no, no, don’t explain it to me because I don’t need to know explain it to the reader. What I’m saying is explain it in the work and so i.

13:23.35
jeffekennedy
So I think that there’s a lot of value in learning to hear critique of your work and absorb it without having to have an immediate response and something we talk about a whole lot in the industry is like when you get your. Edit letter back or what have you that you take 24 hours or more to absorb it and assimilate because our first reactions tend to be emotional and that’s um, you know which is usually you know like how dare you say my baby is ugly.

14:01.18
jeffekennedy
And believe me, we all go through this so it’s hard to hear criticism of your work and but so so so absorbing it in silence is a really good discipline to build and I am not. From a marginalized group. You know cis-het white girl here. So I I don’t know how it feels when um, it feels as if you’re being silenced so I realize that’s a fine line there but I did want to mention that about The. The benefits of simply listening um and you don’t have to you don’t have to yeah what are the words I want words what are words? Um, you don’t you don’t have to do what they say and I realize that this becomes an issue for people in marginalized groups too because. There’s that power imbalance and it’s very hard I think for all creators to learn that difference between hearing the critique and making the decision of what to do about it. But it’s good to hear it. It’s good to do your best to Listen. And take it in and then decide later whether or not, you’re gonna listen so all of that said my opinion on writing workshops I have done a few mostly ah through the University where I was at when I was working and.

15:39.89
jeffekennedy
Feel like I’m not going to have time to explain all this I may have to go along so okay, quick quick intro to to Jeffe’s history I was going to be a research scientist I was doing my PhD um I decided to cut bait get my masters because I didn’t actually want to be a research scientist and I decided that i. Wanted to be a writer. Um, it was big pivot I was 23 22 when this happened and so I did that I got my masters in neurophysiology I started taking I got a job as an editor writer to start building my writing chops. And I started taking night classes with the creative writing department and learning from these visiting writers. Usually it would be like these 5 nights a week seven to 10 pm for one week. There were other ones. But. I would do that sometimes they were semester long. But so I started learning directly from writers and it was actually an english department and then later they developed a creative writing program and I was able to do some great things I was awarded a. Fellowship to the Ucross foundation and went and did a two week retreat and that was amazing but I did not get a formal education and at one point the university where I was at they.

17:12.29
jeffekennedy
Did develop a creative writing program and they started a creative writing MFA and one of my professors suggested that I be in the first class and get an MFA now. At this point I had already been published I had already published. Um.

17:30.88
jeffekennedy
My essay collection was a university press and I published lots and lots of essays short stories and I thought oh cool. Yeah maybe I should get an MFA and so I looked into it and it was going to cost me like $40000 and and that was you know going to be right there in my hometown. I had a full time career job I had stepchildren I had a lot of stuff going on in my life and it was kind of as much as I could do to get the writing in and you know and she said well this would be a big boost for you if you have the Mfa and I was thinking. Well how why does it make a difference. Um, and I ultimately did not do it because I thought I already have 1 master’s degree and I don’t want to teach so why do I need an MFA when I’m already a published author and isn’t that my cred. Well. You know and it’s interesting because here I am now I am president of the science fiction and fantasy writers association and I have not done those um cred workshops I came up partly through romance because romance is what. Published my funky crossover of epic fantasy romance first. So I never went to Clarion I never went to Taos toolbox I didn’t go to ah Iowa writing circle or any of these things and I’ve been part of.

19:06.60
jeffekennedy
These courses where we had writing workshops where we workshopped work I’ve been part of several different critique groups and what I say it makes a difference. Yeah, everything is helpful. But. When people talk about and this is something that as heil huang mentions in her essay is that there is this and I had not heard of it before but it didn’t surprise me. That there’s there’s this rather famous rebound that after you do Clarion and workshop a lot of people don’t write for a year or 2 years and and Mary Robinette Kowal who you know is a friend and I think she’s very smart and I I adore her. But she did a Twitter thread saying well that’s because you’re absorbing everything you learned and it just takes time to assimilate that and and that was her experience and I believe that that’s how she felt but I also think that. People not writing for a couple of years after our workshop is an indication that something got broken and I don’t think necessarily in a positive way I quit one critique group because the critique felt so toxic to me and.

20:31.88
jeffekennedy
And when I give authors advice on this because I do do author coaching um I have a lot of conversation with authors and this is something that comes up a lot is they say well. How do I know this is looping back right. How do I know when to listen to the critique or when is it toxic and it’s hard. It’s really hard to know and the best answer I have is that you learn from experience. You have to you know you know, sit on it and then see if you agree with it. If um, if you’re hearing the same thing over and over that’s an indication that it’s something to pay attention to doesn’t mean you have to do it. Ah, especially if you’re a different kind of writer if you come from a different culture. A non-western non-white. And know non heteronormative culture. There’s gonna be differences for me. There were a lot of differences because I was writing this crossover I was writing this epic fantasy with romance in it and I would get people wanting me to take 1 side or the other out of it. Um. Men male fantasy writers science fiction writers that critique group I was in um, they would have to keep telling me that they were not my reader and and and they would kind of clear their throats self importantly, well I am not your reader but you know and they would acknowledge I was a great writer.

22:07.37
jeffekennedy
Great. Well, they would say I was a good writer. You know that it was a good story and they’d say but people have these very long exchanges is that typical for romance you know? and so all these little barbs right? They lodge into you and they can interfere with your creative process and 1 thing I talk about a whole lot is. Learning how to kick the other voices out of the room when you’re actually drafting and so I know this is a muddle I probably should have made this a much more um plant podcast. But so it goes maybe I’ll talk about this more tomorrow but it’s bothered me for a very long time. That um, that especially the science fiction and fantasy community seems to be very consumed with this cred about whether or not you have done these writing workshops. Ah when I was early on the board of SFWA and I was at. My first Nebula conference I think I was one of the other board members introduced me to someone who was working with Clarion and I don’t remember if it was east or west and I don’t remember who it was but we were doing cocktail party conversation and at this point I had probably published I don’t know. Ten fifteen books and but I wasn’t really well known in the science fiction fantasy community because a lot of those were on the romance side of publishing and she I said to her. Well you know I always thought it would be very fun to do something like Clarion and she said oh well, you know.

23:42.73
jeffekennedy
It’s never too late and and then she wandered off and my friend, the other Board member looked at me and he said she doesn’t really know who you are and I was like well you know and that’s all right, but there is this incestuous. And this is something that’s been talked about in other circles like I started out as a creative nonfiction writer and you know I would do like the literary festivals and all this kind of thing and I knew a lot of people who had come out of like Iowa writing circle. And it’s this deal where you go to Iowa writing circle there’s that faculty. Um, you have your fellow students that become your cohort and then you move up into the world of like choosing fellowships and editing and so forth. And they would choose other people from Iowa writing circle and so it becomes this loop where a certain kind of writing that is produced by a certain kind of writing workshop becomes established as this is good writing this is how we should be doing it. And then you have um, it perpetuates it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle and I think that that’s what happens in the science fiction and fantasy community too that the people who go to these workshops are taught this is how you write a correct story.

25:12.11
jeffekennedy
And then as they move into the gatekeeper positions. They reinforce that and say oh well, this is how you write a story and this is good kind and this is not a good kind because this would never fly in clarion workshop. Or for example, so as I promised I have gone on long. All of this has to be taken with a grain of salt because basically there are these self-reinforcing communities that are vetting each other and it there’s tremendous pressure I think um. And I I think I started to say this before and didn’t quite finish the thought but sometimes when I’m author coaching people will ask me should I do should I do Taos Toolbox should I do one of these other things and and I will say I don’t think you need it to learn how to write. Um, but it is good for the credit. It gets you into the community and which I feel like is that a good thing and I say this as someone who does not have the card right? so. On that thought I am going to go do my thing but thank you for sticking with me and my rambles this morning. Maybe I’ll be able to speak more more coherently about it tomorrow. Ah yeah, so um, hope you all have a wonderful Thursday and I will talk to you tomorrow.

26:46.83
jeffekennedy
You all take care bye-bye.

Being Proud of Being Different

I’m just back from #WorldCon76, which was a whirlwind of great stuff. I caught a moment of downtime at the lovely Fairmont pool, including a much-needed nap.

This week at the SFF Seven, we’re asking “What are you most proud about with regards to your writing?” Come on over to read about mine