Uncanny Vale

Home to the Literary Creations
of Erin Wilcox

Why I'm Thankful for A Viable Paradise

In October I attended my first workshop for speculative fiction writers. A Viable Paradise 18 was held on Martha’s Vineyard, where the season stood on the cusp of change. It was still warm when I got there, the leaves mostly green. I came back a different person. It’s been interesting to observe the shift.

Online Again

I was a hermit in 2014, a year of introspection and rebuilding. I’ve gone out less and been online less, in part to make space for writing. While I still covet my solitude, social media feels less vapid post-VP. I genuinely want to see what the writers I met are doing. I root them on and vice versa. I mean it. They do too. In this context, social media and online forums have not stolen time from my writing. They’ve spurred me to prioritize it.

I felt a strong sense of belonging among the students, staff, and faculty that has continued. It’s good to be back in community.

Hard Left

My mantra for this year was “writing is my job.” I feel the nearness of this possibility post-VP. Editing remains a valuable way for me to contribute to my field, but I’m taking fewer jobs these days, even if it means a steady diet of mung beans and grits. As much time as I made pre-VP to write, it’s time to make even more. This feels like taking a tight bend on a racetrack. It would be so easy to sling out into a life in which I only edit, having invested so much momentum there. But my heart wants the next corner, so I hold tight to the wheel.

VP helped me refine my mantra. One of our instructors suggested that while freelance creative writing gigs pay in the short term, they might not ultimately benefit one’s career as much as completing that next piece set in your world, with your name on it. While I respect ghost and fan fic writers and seek some work-for-hire opportunities of this kind, the comment resonated. I have worlds to build, characters waiting. They’re getting cranky! It’s tempting to write in worlds someone else has created, especially coming at spec fic from the literary side of things, where one doesn’t need to craft worlds in quite the same way. But rather than avoid that work, I’m starting to lean into it, and lo, not only can do it, I even enjoy it! Here is a whole new dimension with which to make meaning.

Revised mantra: “Creating original fiction is my joy.”


My nerd DNA involves music. Incarnations of this include playing violin for an underground opera troupe in the East Bay, playing in the UC Berkeley orchestra, fiddling for Scottish dancers at highland games, and providing gong, violin, and shruti box accompaniment in a yogic context. This year, I finally picked up the guitar, which I’ve wanted to learn for a long time. I’ve spent some long nights teaching myself a small repertoire of simple songs. Playing and singing them has sustained me through a difficult year. I’d only shared them with a few friends pre-VP. Then I ferried into paradise, where I found myself playing music with Elizabeth Bear, Steven Brust, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and some of my musically talented classmates. While I felt a bit of performance energy, it wasn’t that degree of stressful, ego-driven edginess the violin evokes in me. It was fun to play minstrel for the group.

Upon my return, I went to a birthday party. I found out about it last minute and had no present. I thought, Maybe you could bring your guitar and play and sing as a gift. Pre-VP, I would not have considered my guitar playing a worthy offering. But I brought the acoustic and played my little repertoire at the end of the night. The birthday girl and two other friends huddled up outside and listened owl-eyed. It was magic to them.


The gift of my three-year MFA experience was humility, for which I’m grateful. But what I seem to have needed at this time, seven years later, was a dose of encouragement. VP brought me courage in so many ways. It wasn’t just being treated like royalty, how instructors carried my bags and staff catered meals to our appetites, how someone brewed a batch of VP18 beer and last year’s class gifted us a bottle of Writers Tears whiskey, shipped from Ireland. It wasn’t only hearing an instructor say, “You’re all very good or you wouldn’t be here.” It was all that and also seeing how much of themselves our instructors put into each lecture, how they wanted to share what they know with us. It was Steven Gould’s surprise that I haven’t yet sold a story to a SFWA-qualifying market, Jim McDonald’s simple query about my workshop piece, “Have you sent this out?”

The message was three-fold: a) We value you. b) You are perfectly capable. c) Erin, get off your ass!

Much as I’ve felt the pressure of c) since earning my MFA, in the absence of a) and b), I’ve struggled. I do hope to reach a point where these affirmations become self-talk, but receiving them at VP shored up my confidence. I am so grateful.


VP was a well-controlled narrative. I sensed I was in good hands from the moment I received my acceptance, and, like a reader picking up a well-structured story, I was able to relax into the experience. I had plenty of room to choose my own adventure: will you view bioluminescent jellyfish tonight or read your classmates’ pieces thoroughly? Take a morning walk to Methodist Munchkinland or offer a yoga class? But there was also enough group activity, professional and social, that I got a chance to imbibe a concentrated dose of knowledge and get know some of my peers. In five and a half days I received two one-on-one critiques and one group critique of my fairy tale. I participated in multiple peer workshops, absorbed something like fifteen lectures and colloquia, played one game of Things, and completed a rough draft of a new story. Somehow I had all these experiences and retained a little time to myself. I don’t quite know how this could have happened except through excellent design.

Perhaps the best part of VP’s deep structure was the vow we took at the end of the workshop to send out our new pieces within one month of leaving Martha’s Vineyard. I have long been a snail with my writing, tinkering over stories for months and years. I tell myself a story needs more time in the drawer; it’s not ready yet; I need to make rent or update my website or clean my house or whatever activity feels most procrastinacious at the time. I found the challenge of finishing a piece in one month exhilarating, since it addressed my core problem of delaying completion. I owed it to myself and my fellow VPers to keep that vow. And okay, to be honest, I was several days late getting my story out. But I did finish a solid draft and submit it to a great market within about thirty days of leaving the island. This kind of timeline is unprecedented in my writing career. Meeting this kind of timeline makes me think I might actually be able to sustain a writing career.

I am now a racing snail.

[Image of Racing Snail (from Neverending Story)]

This Thanksgiving, my circle of family, friends, and colleagues has expanded to include a new tribe. Thank you, my fellow VPers. May we all continue to write and send forth our work, “until Hell won’t have it.”