Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Pencils! Points: August 28, 2007

Terrific meeting, folks! This issue of Points is packed with information, so be sure to relax and enjoy it all with a cup of joe, glass of wine, or beer. Or Kool-Aid's okay too!



The Pencils! 2007 Field Trip to Washington Irving's Sunnyside, in Sleepy Hollow, NY, has been slated for SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20. At Sunnyside, we'll enjoy a guided tour of the writer's home. The cost will be $12 per person, unless we can guarantee a group of 10, and then it will cost $11 per person. Usually following the trip, we go out to a nice lunch either near the museum or back home near Norwalk.

Sleepy Hollow is not very far at all, and it's the perfect place to visit right at the height of October. This is a late-fall outing you won't want to miss! WATCH YOUR MAILBOXES FOR MORE DETAILS!


I'm pleased to announce that the meeting and event dates for 2008 are now posted on our website, www.pencilswritingworkshop.com. Just go to our main page and you'll see the link on the far right.

You may notice on our new schedule that we're starting very late in January – the 4th Tuesday in January, to be exact. I've been giving this a lot of thought, and there are a couple of reasons for this:

1. Although everyone's usually raring to get back to group after a crazy Holiday hiatus, the first January meeting's always a little sparse because people are still recovering from – well, the crazy Holiday hiatus. Although we have no Pencils! meetings in December, who's had time to write with all of that other stuff going on? Chances are you used the extra time to shop, clean, and party. Take our normal first meeting in January, light some candles, and write instead!

2. It makes for one less meeting threatened by bad weather. Fret not, though, about the lost meeting! If you look further down on the schedule, you'll see there are a couple of "extra" meetings in the months in which there are five Tuesdays.


The Pencils! Writing Workshop T-shirts (see Leon model it, below!) were a big hit at this year's party. If you came to the party, you got one. If you weren't there, here's what I've got left:

XXL – 0 (The one I had has already been set aside)

XL - 2

L - 5

M - 3

S - 3

For some reason, the sizes run a little smaller than typical, so keep that in mind. If you receive your shirt and it's too small, we can up it.

If you'd like one, just e-mail me with your size and I'll set one aside with your name on it. I will bring them to BOTH the September meetings. If you live far away and no longer attend meetings and would like one, let me know and I can arrange to mail it.

What I have left is on a first-come, first-served basis; when I run out, I can order more, but I probably won't be able to do that until after the first of the New Year. Please e-mail me if you'd like one, and if I run out, you'll go into the "re-order" pile for early next year.

These T-shirts are free–my gift to all of you for making Pencils! what it is.



I don't know about the rest of you but it feels like I just got done with the Holidays, doesn't it? This year's gathering has been slated for the evening of Saturday, December 1! It will be held either at Al's or Carol's – the jury's still out on that one! Plan on joining your fellow Pencils! members for some good cheer and surprises. We'll be doing our usual grab bag. Watch your snail-mail and e-mail boxes for details soon.


September's approaching. It's a time when many of us begin to turn over new leaves, begin new classes/semesters, begin to survey our accomplishments in 2007 and figure out how we're going to close out our year (not to scare anybody, but 2008 is just about four months away!) and begin a new one.

The dozen members at the Pencils! meeting on Tuesday August 28 got a lot accomplished in that department, so Pencils! is going to have some exciting new features!

1. New! PENCILS! PRE-TEXT. We've been doing very well with keeping to the state 3-to-5 page limit, and it's ensured that most everyone who wants to read gets a chance. Several times in the past couple of years we've talked about what to do if there's a longer piece that a member would like to present. This is our solution. Please note this is IN ADDITION to what we do at Pencils!. NOTHING ABOUT THE MEETING STRUCTURE OR HOW WE DO THINGS WILL CHANGE. THIS IS SIMPLY AN ADDITIONAL OPTION WE'RE CREATING FOR THOSE WHO MIGHT NEED IT.

Starting in January 2008, any member may send a longer piece to our e-mail address with the following in the subject line (I'm NOT trying to be difficult or an ass, I just get a lot of mail through that account and would HATE to not realize it's a submission!):

For Group Read – Name – Title of Story

Although there is no "specified" page limit, use your judgment. I would suggest a ceiling of 15-20 pages maximum.

From there, I'll take the story and forward it to all the members of Pencils! with a meeting date at which we'll discuss it. Pencils! members then have the option of reading it and bringing their comments already prepared to the specified meeting. As a Pencils! member, also note you're not obligated to participate, but it would certainly be great if you could and contribute to the conversation.

Each member will be allowed 2 submissions per year – this way, everyone gets a chance, and this will also keep the longer pieces to a frequency we can handle. Of course, as always, any member can approach any other member at any time to exchange work outside of group and give each other feedback. Nothing's changed about that at all, and exchanges with other members directly don't count toward your 2 submissions.

Also note, there will only be one longer piece discussed per meeting so we have plenty of room and time for our usual agenda.

Again note: NOTHING ABOUT THE WAY THE MEETING IS RUN WILL CHANGE. Everything will stay the same EXCEPT when there's a longer story to discuss, we'll do that right at the beginning of the meeting. After we're done discussing the submitted story, we'll go on to the 3-5 pages just like usual!

…and yes, I know the word "pretext" really means "something that is put forward to conceal a true purpose or object; an ostensible reason; excuse" – which makes NO sense for what we're doing. So I stuck a hyphen in there. Why the hell not?

If you're concerned you'll forget all this, not to worry – it'll be sent out under separate cover at the beginning of the year.

Also keep in mind, too, that this will be an experiment. If it works well, we'll keep it. If we find it doesn't work for us, we'll just discontinue it.

2. New! RESOURCE DATABASE. Need to know what kind of wine would be best in a given dinner scene? How about whether or not an iron fence would have been around in the 1800s? Or how to tell the difference between and male and a female lobster? What type of tool you'd use for a woodcutting project? You'd be surprised how many Pencils! members could answer these questions, and more! We're our greatest resource, and yet how many of us know who to call?

Announcing the Pencils! Resource Database. Each member will be listed by name, and beneath it, a few areas in which he has some expertise. We will publish this in both print and electronic formats; the print edition, which will only go to Pencils! members, of course, will contain contact information (probably e-mail) for each member. The electronic version will simply be a list on our website.

We got going on listing ourselves at Tuesday night's meeting. What we've collected so far will be going out in e-mail shortly. To add yourself:

1. Hit "Reply."

2. Type Your Name

3. Type the list of subjects/topics you'd be willing to answer questions about

4. Click "Send"!

When I get everyone's information, I'll compile it all. Of course, if you don't wish to participate, you don't have to! We just all agree that it would be great to be able to have a question answered in an e-mail or phone call instead of having to look it up!


At the top of the meeting we presented our responses to last meeting's prompt: "Who is the lucky person who gets garbage detail?" We had to write 500 words or less using that phrase as a basis or included somewhere in the text. What's always interesting about prompt responses…every single person's response is different.

Prompt Responses

1. Vance opened the meeting with his 375 word "Astan's Dinner": Satan throws an elegant meal and who's going to be the political figurehead that takes out the trash? "The hushed conversation among the guests was like the spilling of a thesaurus—each trying to find a word that would capture the essence of the dish. That was only the appetizer. What was to come?"

2. Arun presented "Gobbling Up the Garbage": a fun sci-fi outer-space creature feature. "Of course nobody on Earth knew about this. Nobody on the ship either. Not only had I found life on Mars, I was altering its biochemistry. Whatever happened to these critters in the future, they'd have me to blame—or thank. Some renegade astronaut, out for kicks."

3. Jerry read his untitled piece—another gritty mystery/suspense/crime! Unfortunately, there wasn't a copy since he wrote it by hand! I'm so bummed!

4. Henderson wrote a poem called "Man's Work" –nice philosophical bent. "After the first cells formed in the soupy ocean basin/and clustered together as a colony,/it soon became evident that all was not well./Who is the lucky cell ho gets the garbage detail?"

5. Beware the pissed off pastry chef! Claudia presented "Sweet Revenge." "Who is the lucky person who gets garbage detail? In order to answer this question, one must first understand what garbage is. Garbage is anything unwanted or unusable…She took delight and pride in the business she built by herself, a very successful pastry shop in the North End named Sweet Revenge.

6. Nick shared a little 428-word "Garbage Detail", an interesting reflection on the world today. "The theme, which New York magazine reported is carried through their college years, is "gay until graduation." Then off for a doctorate, a Nobel Prize, or a University chair. With all that grey matter spilling out, I wonder who is the lucky person to get garbage detail?"

7. Kaye was last up with a 466-word "The Unnamed". Which she doesn't know what it's about, and mostly she just played with what it would be like to try to write opening sentences with no verbs in the style of a recent Joyce Carol Oates story she read called "The Banshee." "Cabin, at the end of a weed-tangled dirt road. Bird feeder, crowned with a crude piece of thin metal sheeting."

To move forward with the regular Pencils! meeting:

1. Vance shared some good news! Back in 2005 (some members probably recall this), Vance workshopped a piece called "Flowers for Frank," which he sold shortly thereafter to a magazine called GreenPrints. The magazine paid him a generous $200 for the story, which Vance was expecting to see in print within a few months.

Well, just a couple of days ago, Vance FINALLY got to see his story in print in GreenPrints Autumn 2007 issue! Not only is the story in print, it's also on CD. The editor sent one to Vance and encouraged him to share it with local radio stations in the hopes of getting it on the air.

Vance read "Flowers for Frank" from his copy. "Early in October, 1980, almost every flower in the greenhouse came into bud at the same time: orchids, gardenias, camellias, stephanotis, and more. A few days later, they all bloomed. That was the day we found Dad sitting among the blossoms. He looked asleep, surrounded by so much beauty."

2. Next up was Joyce, who re-wrote a scene from her novel Venus Ascending. "The passage beamed to Estelle in a new, revealing clarity. She understood that even when she stood alone, the Lord would be her loving support. I'm a good person, she thought. I can massage people and relieve them of pain. I'm a woman of value, with or without a husband."

3. Welcome back, Dave! Dave had an extremely productive and rewarding summer in Manchester, New Hampshire, at the widely-acclaimed and well-respected Odyssey Writing Workshop. Scifipedia describes Odyssey as:

"Founded in 1996 by World Fantasy Award winning editor Jeanne Cavelos, the Odyssey Writing Workshop is one of the most highly respected workshops for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. The workshop, held annually on the campus of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, runs for six weeks, and combines an intensive learning and writing experience with in-depth feedback on students' manuscripts. Guest lecturers come in once a week to add their own unique perspectives and provide feedback to student work. Also, one week of the course is taught by a writer-in-residence. Top authors, editors, and agents have taught at Odyssey, including George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Jane Yolen, Terry Brooks, Charles de Lint, Ben Bova, Elizabeth Hand, Patricia A. McKillip, John Crowley, Terry Bisson, Ellen Datlow, Donald Maass, Robert J. Sawyer, and Dan Simmons. Talented, enthusiastic students whose work is approaching publication quality come from all over the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. to focus on their writing in a supportive yet challenging environment. Over fifty percent of them go on to be published."

During the six-week live-in camp, Dave said the student met and had class, and two hours of critiquing. They turned in 6 stories over the course of the workshop; they were allowed to bring one, but had to write the remaining five while they were on-premises. Dave said it was "very intense, a lot of work" and the students were drilled on plot, characterization, and all the other basics. There were writers-in-residence, and even George Scithers, former editor of Weird Tales, teaching courses.

Dave described his experience as rewarding—and a lot like boot camp! "I thought I was going to get to see New Hampshire, but there was just too much work!" On the one weekend excursion – a Field Trip to Readercon (I think that's what it's called but I could be wrong) – he ran into Lon!

He talked about how much he learned.

He then shared a piece he wrote while he was there; it was specifically written for a Flash Fiction Slam. Although he didn't bring copies, the piece was called "I Was a Teenage Overmage" and poked fun at all of those gaming clichés.

Great to see you again, Dave!

4. With the time we had left over, we read Walt's piece that he e-mailed in response to the prompt—a crazy turn on today's marital situations when only one parent works and the other stays home. From "Working Woman's Wife": "Well," he said, scratching his ear, "I can cook and clean house and take care of Jamie, but I absolutely refuse to wear your nightgown to bed." Thanks for chiming in, Walt!


Those of us who did the prompt had so much fun, we decided to put forth another one:

500 words or fewer containing:

"There was nothing left to see."


Vance: Well, the 23rd Psalm everybody knows. It's like the National Anthem.

Jerry: In what country?

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