The pleasures of peer review

I just got back from Rio Hondo, a writer's workshop run by Walter Jon Williams and Maureen McHugh, in the mountains above Taos, New Mexico. Rio Hondo is a peer workshop, where a group of writers (12 in this case) get together to read and critique each others' work.

I don't know if other genres have such workshops, but they are very much a part of the culture of science fiction and fantasy, starting, I think, with Milford, started by Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm in the 60s. Most writers I know were indoctrinated early, at Clarion, a workshop where students spend some weeks with a succession of instructors.  I never went to Clarion, though I had a friend in college who did. At that time, I had no interest in becoming a writer. That just happened as I got older, and by the time I realized it was a big part of my identity it seemed too late.

Plus, like many of you, I am not a joiner, and like to pretend I am not affected by trends. Nevertheless, given my spotty career, I was pleased to be invited to this one, and had a great time. Many of the attendees like to cook, and Rio Hondo is known for the quality of the food. Plus, it's up in the mountains, with some great hiking trails. I can't sit still for that long, and afternoon hikes kept me balanced.

I have never intimately involved in the science fiction community, so it was great to meet a whole bunch of new people, all whip-smart and a pleasure to be around. Aside from Walter Jon and Maureen, attendees were Daniel Abraham,  Karen Joy Fowler, Ty Franck, James Patrick Kelly, David D. Levine, Kristin Livdahl, Ben Parzybok, Diana Rowland,  and Jennifer Whitson (who writes as Jen Volant).

I'm used to getting up early, but Diana was always up before me and got the best seat, by the window, every morning.  She also makes a mean chicory coffee. 

I'm pleased to carry on a writing career while working full time, but Ben and Maureen do the same while running companies, and having to take meetings and resolve other issues during the course of the workshop.  Diana and Daniel had deadlines, and worked on their books. I just ate, hiked, and talked. David and Jen are both intellectual resources on areas of interest to me (interface design and organizational behavior, respectively), and were willing to share their knowledge. Ty has a intimate grasp of every part of popular culture, and one evening gave a bravura performance characterizing every nationality's favored form and style of horror movie. Walter Jon led our hikes and managed the rest of our affairs.  Karen told stories of workshops and Hollywood.  Kristen educated us about animals and their humans (she runs a pet adoption agency). And Jim Kelly was as charming as a ruthless story doctor can be.

Believe me, it takes some nerve to use up the time of these 11 people on your story.

It was a pleasure to spend time with everyone. Maybe this will get me back into this world a bit more.  I'm sure you will be seeing  the work we read here, and all of it will be worth your time.