Wow. That’s the best way I can describe my experiences at the “Sail to Success” science fiction writing workshop cruise in the Bahamas, Dec. 5-9, 2016, on the Norwegian Sky. I’ve never been on a cruise before, so my comments on that are from a newbie. However, I’ve been to numerous writing workshops, and this reached the rarified airs of the best of them. The cruise was put together by Arc Manor, an award-winning publisher.
What made it so great? The staff! But I’ll let you judge for yourself. The Instructors were (alphabetically):
- Eric Flint, 6-time NY Times Best-selling author, creator of the 1632 Universe
- Nancy Kress, 6-time Nebula winner, 2-time Hugo winner
- Jim Minz, Senior Editor, Baen Books
- Mike Resnick, 37-time Hugo nominee (a record), 5 Hugo wins
- Jack Skillingstead, short story specialist, Philip K. Dick Award Nominee
- Eleanor Wood, head of Spectrum Literary Agency
Dan Dandridge, a best-selling self-publisher, also ran two sessions, though he was officially one of the students. Setting up everything and making sure all ran smoothly were Arc Manor’s Shahid Mahmood and Lezli Robyn. Here were the actual sessions, each roughly one hour, except for the two 3-hour critique sessions. They started each day at 2PM, and typically went to about 10PM.
- Publishing Business 101 (Eric Flint, Eleanor Wood)
- The Importance of Character Building (Nancy Kress, Jack Skillingstead)
- Query Letters and Contracts (Eric Flint, Eleanor Wood)
- Developing Property Rights (Jim Minz, Eleanor Wood)
- Working with Editors/Publishers/Agents (Jim Minz, Mike Resnick, Eleanor Wood)
- Doing It Yourself: Self-Publishing Your Book (Dan Dandridge)
- Working with Magazines and Anthologies (Eric Flint, Mike Resnick)
- Getting Past the Magazine Slush Reader (Mike Resnick)
- Using Modern Tools to Sell Your Own Book (Dan Dandridge)
- The Professional Approach to Writing (Eric Flint, Nancy Kress, Jack Skillingstead)
- The 1623 Universe: Intro and How to Write for It (Eric Flint)
- Jim Minz Manuscript Critique (3 hours)
- Tips to Increase Productivity (Mike Resnick, Jack Skillingstead)
- Nancy Kress Manuscript Critique (3 hours)
- Sharpening Your Prose: An Exercise (Jack Skillingstead)
- What Type of Writer Do You Want to Be? (Mike Resnick, Jack Skillingstead)
The cruise started in Miami. Each night, starting about 5PM, they’d leave for the next destination at 22 knots per hour (that’s about 25mph for us landlubbers), and we’d be there by the time we woke up the next morning. We left Miami on Monday night, arriving at Freeport Tuesday morning. On Wednesday we were at Nassau, the capital and largest city of the Bahamas. On Thursday it was Great Stirrup Cay, a small island owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, which they turned into a private beach attraction for their passengers
My daily schedule was simple. Get up around 7AM, eat breakfast, visit hot tub, write for one hour, and then excursions to the local Bahamas. I bought about $50 in souvenirs at Freeport, and then restrained myself the rest of the way. At Great Stirrup Cay I spent an hour out in the ocean, with fish swimming about my feet, and then pigged out on the buffet the Norwegian Sky cooks had set up next to the beach. Like all meals on board (with a few exceptions for luxury items), it was included in the cost of the cruise, and so (at that point) free. The food was great, with lots of variety. I mostly had French toast for breakfast, large salads for lunch, and various dishes for dinner.
The classes started at 2PM, and generally went to about 10PM, with a two-hour break for dinner. Then it was off for the Deck 11 gabfests! (More on that below.) There was a TV in my room, but I never turned it on. I did, however, spend some time in the small balcony off my room that overlooked the ocean, where I’d read or go over my work or that of other students.
The two critique sessions were great as Jim Minz and Nancy Kress are incredible at critiquing – analyzing the story, finding its strengths and weaknesses, and finding solutions to problems found. Plus lots of line editing. We went around the table, with the others in the class giving their input on each story while the author took notes. I’ve already done my rewrites based on their critiques, and will be submitting soon.
Throughout the sessions, and often in informal ones outside, numerous pearls of wisdom were dropped on us, like manna in the Bahamas. But the workshop was much, much more.
- Private Meetings. One of the features of the workshop was two 30-minute one-on-one sessions with two of the instructors. I got to meet with Super Agent Eleanor Wood and multi-Nebula winner and writing guru Nancy Kress. I went into each meeting with specific questions and some trepidation, and came out smiling, with answers not only to my questions, but to questions I didn’t even know to ask. Their knowledge and professionalism went far beyond expectations. Suffice to say that much of my future, both near- and long-term, are now mapped out, and I now know the exact date of my first Hugo.
- Late-Night Bull Sessions. Most nights, after classes ended, some of us headed to the 11th deck, where there was a huge outside area with tables and a late-night restaurant. Lots of great stories from Mike and Carol Resnick! We’d talk under a starry sky, with ocean on one side, the late-night cafeteria on the other. (There was also a 12th deck, but it only covered half the ship.) I’d go to bed around 1AM, while Mike, who is a late-night owl writer, would go to work, reading from the slush pile and writing all night. Is it any wonder he has eight books coming out in 2016 (!!!), a number of short stories, while also editing Galaxy’s Edge? (He co-wrote one novel with Lezli and I, “When Parallel Lines Meet,” coming summer of 2016.)
- Writing Habits. During the “The Professional Approach to Writing” session, Nancy Kress and Eric Flint described their writing habits. Nancy is one of those who writes to find out what she’s going to write about, i.e. doesn’t plan much – just figures it out as she writes, then does extensive rewrites. Eric is more of a planner, and often has trouble getting started. I listened to him describe his various routines to get started, and how he goes about planning his novels, with the mesmerizing realization that it was almost identical to mine. We also explored writing in a number of exercises in the “Sharpening Your Prose: An Exercise” with Jack Skillingstead.
- Sold a Story. On the first day Mike Resnick told me he’d accepted a new story from me for Galaxy’s Edge. The story, “Death, the Devil, and the President’s Ghost,” was a humorous satire on politics. It was my 8th sale to Galaxy’s Edge, 15th “pro” sale, and 81st altogether. I tried not to jump up and down like the waves surrounding us, but probably failed. Mike has rapidly become one of my favorite authors. Regarding Mike…
- Mike’s Books. He’s published 86 books in the SF field (novels, short story collections, and how-to books), of which I’ve read 15. I’ve made it my mission to read the other 71 over the next two years, while still reading other novels – alternating between Mike’s and others, such as Probability Moon by Nancy Kress, the first book of a trilogy I’m currently reading. But since Mike keeps putting novels out, it’s going to be hard to catch up. Next up by Mike is Ivory: A Legend of Past and Future, a Nebula nominee, which covers 6000 years of history (past and future) of the tusk of an elephant.
- Ping-Pong Tournament. On Tuesday they held a cruise ping-pong tournament. Since in the outside world I’m a top player and coach in this Olympic sport, I won rather easily. Not to brag, but in four matches, games to 11, nobody scored more than 2 points – and twice I gave away points at 10-0.
- Ship Features. The ship had three swimming pools, four hot tubs, basketball and volleyball courts, golf driving nets, two ping-pong tables, jogging track, fitness center and spa, about a dozen restaurants, numerous gift shops, a gambling casino, theater (with comedy, magic, and other shows), the Mark Twain Library (lots of books, not just Twain’s), a daily ship-related crossword (which I did over breakfast each morning), an art show and gallery, and lots more.
- Norwegian Sky vs. the Titanic. Both ships are huge – but Norwegian Sky is bigger. While Titanic was slightly longer (882 feet to Sky’s 848), Sky is wider (123 feet to Titanic’s 92), heavier (77,000 tons to Titanic’s 46,000), and has more decks (12 to Titanic’s 9). Sorry, Titanic, you are now Petitenic. (They had similar crew sizes, 899 for Sky, 892 for Titanic, while Titanic had a passenger capacity of 2435 – lots of cramped quarters for the 1006 in third class – to Sky’s 2004. Stop and think about that – the Sky had roughly a crew member for every two passengers!)
- The View. Yes, it was incredible. Imagine a 12-floor building. Now imagine it’s nearly the length of three football fields, and 123 feet wide. Now imagine it’s surrounding by bluish water as far as the eye can see, with waves crashing into the ship. Throw in a few dozen seagulls, a sky full of stars you never see within one hundred miles of a city, and you have the view that would kill.
I, and I’m sure everyone else involved, would like to thank the entire staff for the great job they did, and Arc Manor’s Shahid and Lezli for the great job they did in setting this up, as well as for all the free “goodies” they gave out – Galaxy’s Edge carry bags, copies of Galaxy’s Edge, a copy of Locus, fancy magnetic metal nametags, and of course the small rubber ducky that only Sail to Success grads will ever truly understand.
[NOTE – a photo album should be going up soon. When it does, I’ll link to it.]
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