A retrospective account of Writers of the Future – Part 1

So here I am, unpacked and somewhat caught up on sleep.  I have returned from my epic adventure to the USA and honestly?  My head is still spinning from the awesomeness of the week just gone.  I figure it’s best to just get everything down as I think of it; I know I’ve always enjoyed reading the accounts of previous WOTF winners, and found it inspiring.  I’d read these posts and put my head down, determined, sending these guys one solid story every quarter.  Perhaps someone will find this account helpful, somewhat amusing, or a cautionary tale.  I’ve littered this account with what photos I had the presence of mind to take. 

(I know it’s traditional for many folks to recount their WOTF experience day-by-day, but that’s not how I roll.  It’s all melded together at this stage anyways) 


Caught between a rock and a Hard Rock place…given the opportunity of a lifetime I still managed to squeeze in the odd tourist moment. 

After about 15 hours in the skies, I found myself blinking and shocked and somehow, my writing had transported me to the United States of America.  The word is overused, but it truly was an awesome moment, even as I spent the next two hours or so traversing some scary customs line-ups.  I’ve lived in places with less people than were in that line-up!  Finally through with nary a cavity search (I did actually paraphrase Oscar Wilde on my entry into the USA, that was 100% true) I was spotted by the good folks from the contest and whisked away in a van with Paula Stiles, a contest winner from 2008 who couldn’t make it to the last workshop.  Joni Labaqui and crew were good enough to find her a berth on the good ship WOTF 26, possibly as the bosun.  After my flight, I think I was the captain’s parrot (at least mentally). 

We got to the Roosevelt hotel just after Tim Powers and KD Wentworth had started their pre-workshop spiel, and I finally got to meet my fellow contest winners.  We’d been corresponding for months prior to the workshop week, and it was great to finally say gudday.  My previous threats to speak in naught but a Steve Irwin dialect (aka Strine) was hampered by the fact that I was too knackered to pull it off.  And I’d left the Vegemite at home, so all I had left were drop-bear stories and puns.  Somehow, it was all I EVER needed.  Mwahaha… 

The group got a brief tour of Hollywood Boulevard and environs, and were shown where the Author Services building was (about a block away).  We were pretty much across the road from Graumann’s Chinese Theatre, where all the celeb handprints are, and as far as the Hollywood tourist area is concerned, we were right amongst it.  And thus, this group of writer-samurai had formed, and we were ready for anything.  We dispersed, grabbed dinner, and I soon added tipping to the list of Things I Can Now Do.  I got to know some of my fellow winners a bit better, including my room-mate Brent Knowles, a very talented Canadian writer who was a game designer for Bioware in a previous life.  This gentleman is singlehandedly responsible for the death of at least three Fischer novels, as I plowed through Neverwinter Nights, Baldurs Gate etc, sometimes remembering to eat and bathe.  I regret nothing.

After a very restless  night (my timezones being completely out of whack, and suffering from the strange belief of the hotel’s that a thick quilt is necessary in 30 degree heat), I rocked up to the 9am workshop at Author Services, having racked up about 2 hours sleep over the last 48 hours or so.  A gibbering mess, but then I discovered the joys of American Coca-Cola (and have been ruined, unable to drink its watery Australian imitation ever again).  Even cooler was the fact that Tim Powers drinks more coke than I do, which immediately makes him a kindred spirit.  Not to mention the fact that he wrote The Anubis Gates and has several brilliant Phillip K Dick anecdotes, and really REALLY knows his stuff. 

Turns out my hands are the exact same size as Arnies.  YES!  ”GET YOUR ASS TO MARS”

It’s been said by previous winners that the Writers of the Future workshop is about 85% of the value of the prize, and this is so true.  (Brad Torgersen from this year’s class actually sat down and worked out an approximate dollar value for it all, which can be read here: http://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/the-value-of-writers-of-the-future-looking-back-at-my-time-with-the-contest/)  We were given an intensive week of lessons and exercises, and judges KD Wentworth and Tim Powers did an admirable job of pouring a lifetime of advice into our already spinning brains.  Over the next few days we read several writing essays by contest patron L Ron Hubbard, were given our infamous mystery objects by KD, had to approach and interview a complete stranger, research several plot elements in the Los Angeles public library, and then armed with this knowledge construct a complete story within 24 hours.

Here is my 24 hour story writing process:

5pm start

5:15pm – down tools and go looking for some dinner

7:00pm – resume writing.

8:30pm – abandon first attempt (a pulp detective story)

9:15pm – abandon second attempt  (a post-modern Dangerous Visions style piece)

10:00pm – delete with extreme prejudice the third attempt (some sort of awful torture-porn angle which just wouldn’t flow)

10:30pm – delete attempts four and five, too awful to even remember.  Tell Brent that I’m going for a walk to unclog my brain.

10:35pm – bump into the legendary Steve Savile (previous WOTF winner) at the hotel bar.  We chat for hours and I absorb several of his wicked anecdotes, as well as several years of his experience.  Several other writers guiltily slink into the bar.  We proceed to fritter away several hours from our dwindling hourglass.  Totally worth it.

1:00 am – crank out the beginnings of the sixth attempt, and it’s THE ONE.  I’ve finally nailed it.  1000 words appear in no time at all.

1:45 am – sleep

8:00 am – awaken, several tense hours of keyboard bashing.  The clock is TICKING.  I’d set up down in the lobby, and survived some cross-conversational flow between Steve and the super-nice Jordan Lapp (another previous winner).  I batten down the hatches and come up with the goods.

4:00pm – THE END!  Shower, and a mad dash to Author Services with my memory stick.  I have conquered the mountain, with oodles of time to spare.

Note:  KD Wentworth (first reader for the Contest, Coordinating Judge and all-round legend) mentioned that it’s best not to give too much away on the blogs regarding the 24 hour story, especially the mystery object that winners have to incorporate into the story.  I cannot agree more.  If you’re lucky enough to make it to a future workshop, it’s best to just take in the lessons and do everything the right way ie not anticipating the previously-blogged objects and trying to plan several story ideas in advance.  You’re only robbing yourself!  I made sure to give KD a new random object to add to her stash of cool stuff, and I hope this becomes a tradition.

The room where the workshop was held at Author Services.  During the week this gorgeous furniture was replaced with rows of tables but it was still breathtaking.  Mr Hubbard sure wrote a tonne of books, and they can be seen lining the shelves on all sides.  This sure has put my own brag shelf into perspective…

In my next instalment I’ll talk about: 

  • Media coaching and interviews.
  • A BBQ full of SF stars
  • Printers, and intestinal distress
  • Awards and more!

8 thoughts on “A retrospective account of Writers of the Future – Part 1

  1. Jason, I had a great time being part of the “trio” in the back. It was fascinating to get your perspective on Australia and the Australian writing scene. It was also great fun watching your sense of humor in action. Delightful. I hope all is well at home. If you ever need any help from the States, be it sending you books or materials that are too expensive to buy locally, or what have you, don’t hesitate to ping me!

    1. I had an absolute ball dude, was great to finally meet you and work together on our writing! I do love the Australian writing scene but it sure was super-cool to stick my toe into a much bigger pond :-) I don’t so much tell bad puns as much as I live an incorrigible punning lifestyle.

      All’s well, was good to finally get over my bug and get back to my old time-zone (still a bit confused on that front!). HUGE thanks for your offer of assistance, I will always treasure the moments that I was in a decently priced enormous book-store….sigh. I’ve taped a greenback above my desk for motivation, much like Arnie I WILL be back.

  2. I love reading everyone else’s perspectives on the contest. I knew you’d gone through multiple false starts on your 24 hour story, but didn’t know that it was quite that many! Giving KD another random object for her stash is a wonderful idea. :)

    1. Funnily enough that’s my usual story writing process, except this one was much more condensed :-) I’ve had one story take about a year to form, and it’s not anything like what I started with…have replaced both my original plot arcs with something else, and it’s still not quite right.

      I really do hope future students give KD some new stuff to add to her stash of groovy objects, we gotta carry the torch for future workshops!

  3. Jason — glad to see you made it back safely and hope you are feeling better! You were a great roommate and hopefully someday in the future we’ll run into one another again.

    p.s. I’ve been having great fun telling my wife all of your various puns (well almost all of them)

    1. Hey dude, great to hear from you, and same goes mate! Feeling a lot better, nice to be finally back in my normal time-zone. I’m sure our paths will cross many times, our stars are ascendant and we can do naught now but take over the world :-)

      Excellent, now my puns have crept into several countries…this pleases me greatly! When your wife starts telling puns BACK to you, you know you are a true pun-samurai.

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