Villa Diodati Leisureshop 7

[ Read this in Dutch ]

Couldn’t that jazz musician have his cake and eat it too?

Okay, okay, it was a workshop, but that word just doesn’t fit right if it’s so much fun!

How does one deal with zombies in the workplace?

The 7th Villa Diodati expat writers workshop was held in the idyllic and snow-covered village of Obereggenen (southern Schwarzwald), in Landhaus Hanebecks Hof, yet another marvellous location arranged by benign workshop dictator Ruth Nestvold. I was almost, but not quite able to attend the whole thing for the first time in two years; househunting priorities made me arrive half a day late and depart a day early. But the time in between was so worth it!

Are those two main characters really the same person?

There was the joy of seeing my fellow writers again: Ruth herself, and John Olsen, and Aliette de Bodard, and Jeff Spock, and Steve Gaskell, and Ben Rosenbaum, and Nancy Fulda (of AnthologyBuilder fame), and new face Christian*, who was a very valuable addition to our group. Rochita was unable to make it this time, unfortunately, and Sara Genge had to bail out as well, but with the group growing by the month, and the house accommodating 10 attendees max, there was no way anyway we could have fitted everyone.

Does this story really need that many ghosts in the graveyard?

There was good food, as always—the only dinner I attended, John cooked delicious non-quiches preceded by lovely soup—and good booze—Ruth brought pear liquor from her own garden/still. There was good conversation, which is almost a given when you stick 9 speculative fiction writers in one place for a couple of days.

How does the main character know the correct shoe size for the glass slippers?

There were beautiful surroundings, covered in picturesque layers upon layers of pristine snow.

How would dark matter experiments affect the Nigerian timber industry?

But of course, the main thing were the stories! As always, everyone had turned in a short story (or a couple of novel chapters) before the workshop, so that the others could read and critique the stories in advance. Saturday and Sunday morning, we took each story apart in turn, everyone but the writer giving his thoughts on what worked in each story, and question the bits that might need to be changed to make it an even better story (see interspersed questions—these are all real issues raised about really good stories).

Would giant lizards evolve on a slowly revolving planet?

My own story, The life and death of George Hayes—renamed by Jeff to The Lonely Planet Guide to not being immortal—collected so much excellent feedback that I can’t wait now to start work on it. Lose the prescience of my protagonist, it doesn’t go anywhere. Go a bit easier on the travelogue sections (the story is full of long location descriptions), but without destroying the sense of place. Work on the ending—it needs to end this way, but it’s not believable right now. (Thanks, Ben and Nancy, for solving that one for me!) But apart from the great feedback on what needs to change, I’m also very happy with the bits that everyone agreed already are fine.

Can you really beat someone to death with an amputated, petrified penis?

Needless to say, there was also a lot of laughing.

* Rest assured that he does have a last name; it just escapes me at the moment. Sorry, Christian!