It’s Dr. Doyle’s Question and Answer Time!

Q. Are you really a Doctor?

A. Yes.

I got my Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, back in the Dark Ages 1981. My primary field was Old English, and my cognate field was Old Icelandic, which makes me the sort of person who once stayed up until 2 in the morning reading a book on historical linguistics for fun. Old Icelandic is a great language – we get “to egg (somebody) on” from there, as well as “ransack”, plus a wonderful verb that we don’t have in English but sometimes I wish we did, ydda (“to show the point [of something] on the other side [of something]”; as, for instance, a sword and someone else’s back.)†

Q. What on earth are you doing here, then?  Shouldn’t you be off in an ivory tower someplace, instead of writing fiction and editing other people’s novels for pay?

A. Hah.  Don’t I wish.

I finished my degree at about the same time as Academia started devouring its own young.  The need to hire lots of new-minted scholars every year to teach the glut of baby-boomers and draft-avoiders was coming to its end, and colleges were starting to use spreadsheets and do the math and figure out that they could hire adjunct faculty (aka “temps with doctorates”) and avoid the extra cost of insurance and other perks, and tenure-track positions got scarcer and scarcer.  (Also, colleges realized that you could dangle the prospect of tenure in front of a new hire, and they’d run after it like a greyhound after a mechanical rabbit for five or six years of high toil and low pay, and then you could turn them down for tenure and start the whole process up again with the next victim.)

So I became one of the science fiction and fantasy field’s renegade medievalists, instead.

Q.  Well, that explains the writing, I guess.  What about the editing?

Money, at least in part.  Writing can pay well, but it always pays irregularly, and almost all the writers I know do a lot of other different things to fill in the gaps.

As for why this, in particular:  Teaching (and marking up essays) was something I learned how to do as a grad student and teaching fellow at Penn, and while at the time I thought I didn’t like doing it very much, I eventually figured out that what I actually didn’t like was working on stuff written by people who didn’t want to be writing it.  (I’ve graded freshman essays, and I’ve read slush – unsolicited manuscripts, for those not conversant with the lingo of the trade – and I’m here to tell you that as bad as slush can get, at least it’s all written by people who are willingly putting words onto paper or pixels onto screen.)

Working with people who are actually interested in improving what they’re doing is, on the other hand, fun.

Q. Do you only work with established writers and self-publishers?

A.  Heavens, no.  I’m just as happy to work with writers who are at an earlier stage of their development.  As I say on my “about” page, I can’t promise that their  work will publishable when we’re finished, but I can promise that it will be better than when we started.

Back when I was laboring the the fields of freshman composition, under whatever name it was being called at the time – Introduction to Rhetoric, Expository Writing, or plain old English 101 – I often found that while working with the one or two natural A-level students in the class was easy and refreshing, at the end of the semester I got more satisfaction from having helped a high-B+ student move on up into the A range, or from helping someone who started out as a C- lift themselves up to a good solid B.

†I’ll freely admit that I picked Old Icelandic for my cognate field because I liked all the bloodshed and violence in the great sagas. But my geekhood is safe – my other big interest was subordinate clauses in Anglo-Saxon poetry.

One of the Pleasures of This Job

It’s always good when a student, or a client, does well.  Debra Jess was one of the workshoppers at Viable Paradise XVI, where I was one of the instructors, and after that, she was one of my editorial clients.  And I’m pleased as punch to say that her novel, Blood Surfer, has won the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award (NERFA) in the Paranormal and Futuristic category.  Blood Surfer was also a finalist in the Best First Novel category.

Needless to say, I am tickled pink on her behalf.

Time’s A-Wastin’

vpxiGayHead LightApplications for  the Viable Paradise Writers’ Workshop are still open for this year, but the door shuts on June 15, so if you’re interested, better get your submission ready soon.  Viable Paradise is an intensive one-week residential workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers, held annually in the autumn on the New England island of Martha’s Vineyard.

Full disclosure:  Jim Macdonald and I are instructors at the workshop.  So are several other really fine people.  And instead of getting us one after the other like a parade, you (if you’re a student) get all of us at once, interacting not only with your fellow students but with each other – “This story is the wrong length; it needs to be shorter!” one instructor will say.  ‘’This story is the wrong length; it needs to be the first chapter of a novel!” another will respond.  (From which the takeaway lesson is usually that your story is indeed the wrong length, but it’s up to you to decide which way to fix it.  Also, that short story writers tend to think that problem stories need to be shorter, while novelists . . . you get the idea.)

A Timely Reminder

Applications are still open for the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard, running this year from October 18-23.  If you’re definitely planning to apply, help spread out the admin workload by going ahead and doing it now; if you’re still on the fence about it, let me urge you to give the workshop a try.

It occurs to me – as it does every year about this time – that not everybody outside of New England can be counted on to know that Martha’s Vineyard is an island off Cape Cod, accessible by Cape Air and the Martha’s Vineyard  ferry.  (Or, I suppose, by your private plane or personal yacht, should you have one.)  As such, it has excellent seafood, five picturesque lighthouses, and glowing jellyfish.

Applications close on the 15th of June; get yours in now and avoid the rush!

Farewell to the Island

vpxiGayHead Light




The Viable Paradise workshop is over for another year.  We had writing and music and pancakes and jellyfish and a sky full of stars.  (Also, if you were me, lobster tacos at the Lookout restaurant, and I just have to say, that was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted done to a lobster.)

The photo, by the way, is of the Gay Head Lighthouse on the Cliffs of Aquinnah — one of the five lighthouses on the island.  (The others are East Chop, West Chop, Edgartown, and Cape Pogue.) It’s called “Gay Head” because the headland there is a multi-hued clay cliff.  Obligatory literature reference:  The harpooneer Tashtego, in Moby-Dick, was a Native American from Gay Head.

If you wanted to apply to VP this year and couldn’t make it, next year’s applications open on 1 January 2015.

It’s That Time of Year Again

Yes . . . it’s my sporadically-recurring post in which I wave my hands and point to the “Editorial and Critique Services” bit of this blog’s title, and to the About and Editorial Services links on this page.  (Click on either one; the content is about the same either way.  The salient details certainly are.)

Short version:  One of the ways I keep the electricity and the internet running around this place is with freelance editorial and critique work.  If you’ve got a short story or a novel that you’d like to spruce up for submission or for self-publication, or that you’d like to make better for some other reason (including the learning experience), then I’m available to help you out.

My base rates:  $1500 for a standard 80,000-100,000 word novel; $100 for a short story or the first chapter/first 5000 words of a novel.  Rates for odd lengths – novellas, extra-long novels – are negotiable.  Also, if you go for the first-chapter deal on a novel, and then decide you want the whole enchilada, you get $100 off on the novel fee.

A Friendly Reminder

Applications for this year’s Viable Paradise sf/fantasy writer’s workshop close on June 15th.

VP is a one-week residential workshop, held annually in the autumn on Martha’s Vineyard – eight instructors and twenty-four students, all in it together for the whole week.  (Why one week?  Because not everybody who wants and needs the workshop experience is at a point in their lives where they can spare six weeks or a month away from whatever it is that they normally do with their time.  But just about anybody can manage to hack free a week if they absolutely have to.)

We’re also the workshop that features lighthouses and (the weather permitting) luminescent jellyfish.

From the Department of Interesting Stuff

An amusing mini-essay in defense of the semicolon, here.

I confess; I am, myself, one of those who love the semicolon, sometimes perhaps not wisely but too well.  Much as other writers need to double-check their second and third drafts for run-on sentences, excessive sentence fragments, and comma splices, I have to go through and make certain I don’t have entire paragraphs where every single sentence has a semicolon in the middle.

And a thought-provoking long article here about the connections between the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the Cold War, and the CIA. The whole thing makes me strangely grateful that my writing lineage comes through science fiction, which at least in those days was an inhabitant of the outer darkness and hence spared conscription into the feuds and politics of respectable literature.

I did come briefly into contact-at-a-remove with the academic workshop style, in that I took a couple of undergrad creative writing courses at the University of Arkansas, whose MFA writing program has a certain degree of credibility as these things go.  To which all I can say is, I learned a lot, including just how little respect genre writers got in writing programs back in those days.  My reaction was to go off and get a doctorate in medieval literature and write almost no fiction for the next seven years.

(Things are a bit better these days, or so I’m given to understand.  But if you’re working in fantasy or science fiction or mystery or romance, and have a hankering for the MFA experience, it’s still a good idea to check out your prospects for genre-friendliness first.)

Tales from the Before Time: Classroom Issues

For a long time, I was — to put it mildly — skeptical about the value of classroom writing instruction, if by “skeptical” we mean “unconvinced of its utility and halfway convinced that its influence is largely malign.”

I blame early-writing-life trauma.

Picture me, in the eighth grade, bookish and awkward and laboring under the further social burden of being a new kid in the sort of town where everybody has gone to school together since first grade.  I wanted desperately to be — well, not popular, because popularity looked like it came with more strings and preconditions than I felt like dealing with, but ordinary.

At the same time, I was already a beginning writer, turning out lachrymose poetry and lumpy prose and working hard at my efforts to improve both (harder, in fact, than I ever worked at any of the  “draw one line under the subject of this sentence and two lines under the verb” exercises in our English textbook .)  And I was as hungry for outside validation as any writer, beginner or established pro.

Unsurprisingly, there came a day when I had a finished story in hand and wanted somebody else’s opinion on it.  (Needless to say, the story sucked.   I was, after all, only in the eighth grade.)  So I screwed up my courage to the sticking-point and showed the story to my eighth-grade English teacher, hoping to at least get some useful commentary out of the deal.

This was a big mistake, because she liked it.

She liked it so damned much she read it out loud to all her English classes.  Which put paid to any hopes I might have had of appearing ordinary, and got me out of the habit of trusting English teachers about anything.