Answer a couple questions, and win all six Wilderness novels in e-format

EDITED to add:

The initial responses to this post made me wonder if people would be interested in more intense, short-term workshops if they were held in their own hometowns.  The arrangements for this kind of thing would be less complicated in some ways, and way more complicated in others. So I’m adding a second question, which you’ll find at the bottom of the post. You can post another answer in response to this second question, in which case you’ll be entered into the drawing twice.

ORIGINAL QUESTION: I could use some feedback on an issue I’ve been trying to sort out for a while, and so this post and at the same time, a drawing.  One name will be drawn at random, and that person will get all six Wilderness novels in either kindle/mobi or epub format, which ever they prefer. I’m going to keep this open for a couple weeks in the hope it will get more than a few responses.


  • One response per person
  • You must check back to find out if you’ve won; I won’t go chasing you. If I don’t hear from you within two weeks of announcing the winner, I’ll draw another name.
  • All I’m looking for is a thoughtful reply; no need to write a dissertation.

So here’s the situation:

For a couple years now I’ve been wondering how I could best organize teaching an independent fiction-writing class. A real face-to-face, in person class.

I have done some research. For example, England’s Guardian newspaper is currently sponsoring a class in writing historical fiction. Spots for twelve students, taught by an author who has won an award for her fiction; the course meets for one three-hour session a week for twelve weeks. The cost of this is a whopping £1,500, or about $2,500 at current conversion rates, which works out to about $200 a session.

Now, the class sponsored by the Guardian is being offered in London, which means the pool of prospective students is very deep. Even so, I find it hard to imagine that people would pay this much. On the other extreme there is one local in-person class that was offered last year. The course is more of a series of lectures/discussions by local authors, each of whom (it seems from the announcement) took one session. In this case there is one three-hour meeting a month for six months at $399, which works out to about $66 a session. The information about the course doesn’t indicate how many spots were available.

This is, of course, less than the London course, but for a very different format. And $66 each session still feels like a lot to me.

My pool of prospective students is way, way smaller than London. I live about two hours away from Seattle, and one hour away from Victoria BC.

Using a twelve-week, once-a-week, three-hours-a-week model, the pricing might fall out somewhere in this range:

Per HourTotalAdditional
$30$360  $15
$40$480  $10
$50$600 —


If I were offering the following:

  • an introductory class that meets twelve times over three months
  • ten students
  • three-hour sessions each meeting
  • materials for readings and exercises supplied
  • taught by me, based on materials I’ve developed while teaching creative writing at the university level.

If you were in the market for such a class and lived in the area, what would feel fair to you in terms of price, and (equally important) how much could you comfortably pay?



How would you feel about a one-weekend (two day) course close to your home, with something like the following structure:

  • Two three-hour sessions each day (12 hours total), broken up by breaks/lunch
  • Ten students
  • Materials supplied
  • Taught by me, using a combination of lecture, short writing exercises, and discussion that would be carefully structured. This could be designed so it would be of interest to both less and more-experienced writers.


(1) If something like this were to be offered, what would you be comfortable paying for the seminar itself, with materials (but without meals or anything of that kind)?

(2) If an individual wanted to (a) recruit participants and (b) find a reasonable venue, then the seminar fee would be waived for that person. Thoughts?

To say nothing of the dog: on proofreading

via buzzfeed

via buzzfeed

I’m almost finished with the first-pass page proofs for The Endless Forest, and I hope to hand it over to FedEx late today or early tomorrow. As I am at the hair-pulling stage, I’m taking a break to tell you about this process and how I handle it. Or don’t.

I believe I can pinpoint the very moment when my proofreading phobia started.  Writing a dissertation is never easy and everybody who has ever written one will have horror stories to tell.  I think those of us who defended more than twenty years ago, when word processing was in its very quirky infancy, probably have more horror stories than more recent doctoral students. Usually, though, the horror stories don’t happen after the fact.

It was the day after I defended my doctoral dissertation. A beautiful late spring day, and I was free. FREE.  I was so full of energy, I was almost floating. Three years of hard work in which I often doubted that I could ever finish — much less defend  — my dissertation, but I had done both. I can still recall that feeling. It ranks up there with the first sight of the Girlchild’s little new-babies-look-like-monkies face, and seeing the Mathematician down there at the end of the aisle smiling at me, and getting the first copy of the first published novel delivered. It’s that good.

Then the phone rang, and I made a mistake. I answered it.

On the other end was a very earnest librarian from Princeton’s library, who was holding a copy of my newly minted dissertation in his hands.

Librarian: Dr Lippi, I have a number of questions regarding your dissertation.

Me: Huh?

Librarian: Before I can add it to the library’s collection there are number of … infelicities that need to be addressed.

I remember my gut rising into my throat, which explains why my voice came out like Minnie Mouse on steroids.

Me: I defended it yesterday. I’m done.

Librarian: I’m afraid not. Do you have a copy so you can follow along as I ask my questions?


Librarian: Dr. Lippi?

What I wanted to say: But you don’t understand, I swore last night that I would never, ever, open my dissertation again. In fact, my plans for today include embalming my copy in a barrel of wet concrete. In short: no, I don’t have a copy to follow along, and no force on earth is going to compel me to go get one.

Me: Just go ahead.

Librarian: On page 223, chart 27a is not titled.  And on 275, chart 55 is titled ‘Distribution of Marked Phonemes by Generation’ but in the index, the title is given as ‘Distribution of Marked Phoneme by Generation.’

I think I went into shock at that point. I simply stood there listening as he droned on with his list of missing commas, reversed index numbers, and other details I did not care about. Not one bit. A long time later  I realized he was waiting for some kind of reply.

Me: I’m sorry, I didn’t get that last bit.

Librarian: These problems will have to be corrected before your dissertation can be officially logged.


Librarian: Dr. Lippi?


Librarian: If I might make a suggestion, I could make these corrections for you —

Me: You could? Really? Oh, bless you. Bless you. Please go ahead and change things as you see fit. No need to run things past me, no sirree.

And I hung up.

Ever since that day, I cringe when a proofreader makes him or herself heard. Which happens a lot while you’re doing the first-pass reading of a manuscript. Don’t get me wrong, the proofreader is crucial at this point because I don’t see half the small things she catches, and those things do need to be caught. For the most part there will be a couple of marks on a page — a comma added or a semi-colon changed to a period, for example. More serious and important are the small errors in continuity, so the proofreader will write “Do you mean Nathaniel here instead of Daniel?” And 99% of the time she’s right.

But every once in a while I flip over a page and see a long paragraph in the margin in dark blue ink, and my heart leaps into my throat. The proofreader has found a major problem in logic or a large inconsistency in backstory, and attached to those observations is a list of pages on which the fact in question has come up and has to be compared to the current page, so that corrections can be made all around.

Today I’ve run into more than the usual number of those marginal blocks, which explains why my heartbeat is galloping along and my lip is bleeding where I’ve been chewing on it. I think it was especially bad today because of the dog.

There is a dog in this story, as you probably would have guessed if you’ve read any of my stuff.

Here’s the problem: the dog is mentioned and described as a puppy, belonging to a young couple. From its first appearance, the proofreader is obsessed — obsesssed, I tell you — with this dog. Wherever the couple shows up, there must the dog be also or the proofreader is unhappy. I stopped counting the ‘where’s the dog?’ queries after ten or so. By that time I was ready to slash right to the heart of the problem and instruct her to take out every reference to a dog, anywhere. Everywhere. In everything I’ve ever written. Please, just don’t ask me about the dog anymore. And you know how much I love dogs, so things have to be pretty dire around here just now.

So now I  have to go back to proofreading. Light a candle, would you? I need all the help I can get.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Valentin.Ottone

laid up

Do you use that phrase? He was laid up for a week with back trouble.
It feels very old fashioned to me, but I do use it.  For example: I have been laid up for a couple days after minor surgery.


I’m perfectly well, but for the last two days I really wasn’t able to concentrate on very much. However,  one of the things I *can* do when my mind is muddled with high-quality dope (via the anesthesiologist) is website stuff. So I upgraded the software to the most recent version and of course, voila, the formatting fell apart.  Then I spent a lot of time staring owlishly  at the screen and henpecking my way through the overhaul. I normally type really well, but not so much when I’m woozy headed.

Aside: Did you notice that you can’t take ‘typing’ anymore at school? Now you take ‘keyboarding.’  Of course this change has to do mostly with the fact that everybody with a computer has to be able to type, at least a little, and therefore, most schools have some kind of required technology class that focuses on ‘keyboarding.’ We had to change the name to make it acceptable to 15 year old boys (and their fathers) who didn’t want to think of themselves as typists. This is also true of many women who were told (as I was) to never admit that you could type, or you’d be relegated to secretarial work for your whole career. But keyboarding is okey-dokey.

End aside.

My hope was to make it look as much like it was as possible, with the better software structure underneath. I know you’ll tell me what doesn’t work (asdfg, I’m looking at you).

I’ll also point out that the little index card is moved over to the right. And that there’s news on the index card that may not make you happy. I’m not happy about it, myself.

Harry who?

Around here things are pretty quiet. I’m trying to keep focused on writing and everybody else is reading. The Mathematician is reading the sixth HP while the Girlchild is reading the seventh. He’s just tiding himself over until she’s done and he gets his turn. I’m not worried. I don’t need to read it — the day after it came out, I read the whole detailed summary on Wikipedia. This is how I’ve handled all the books. I read the first one with the Girlchild, and after that the Mathematician took over and I was no longer obliged.

The thing is, I’m just not all that interested. Rowlings has an incredible imagination and she tells a fantastic story that has caught the interest of millions of people — not just children — around the world. But not every story is right for every person, and this is just not the story for me.

When I was teaching, we’d talk about this quite a lot. Students would be puzzled by their own lack of response to some story or novel with a stellar reputation. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, a college freshman said to me one year. But these Chekov short stories are boring. I don’t get anything out of them at all.

It’s not a crime to pick up a book and then put it down again. If it isn’t what you need to read at the moment — if it’s not what satisfies your need for a story — then by all means, set it aside. You may find that a year from that point, or two years or twenty years that you adore the story.

Or you’ll still dislike it. You may hate it. You are not the right reader for that book.
In fact that particular novel may not have many readers at all, but somehow or another it has got on the canon and so people of a certain mindset feel they are obliged not only to read and understand it, but to value it. Continue reading…