Borderlands Boot Camp 2019: Stepping Way the Hell Out of My Comfort Zone, Part Three

(Update 1/31/2023: My comments on the recent controversy involving Thomas Monteleone’s racist and bigoted comments can be found here:

So. The verdict? If you’re researching Borderlands Boot Camp on the web to find out if it’s legit before applying, I can assure you: it’s for real. (Note: As of 2023, this program has been taken over by authors Brian Keene and Mary Sangiovanni and renamed the Scares that Care Writers Workshop. I think that’s a great development.) If you’re a spec fic writer who wants feedback from both your peers and some highly-respected writers in the genre, this is a great opportunity. A few of my fellow Boot Camp grunts had attended the workshop at least once before, which I think says a lot about the value they’re getting from it.  

You’ll have to be ready to hear some very tough feedback about your work, but if you want to pursue writing seriously, you should be seeking that out anyhow. I know that getting criticism while everyone’s sitting around in person staring at you can be a daunting prospect; like I said, I’m the person who had a teacher throw her story draft in a wastebasket in front of an entire class. But the feedback I got at Borderlands was worth conquering my past fears. People were pretty blunt, but none of it ever felt personal or gratuitously mean.

The only thing I didn’t get much out of was an exercise held during the introductory session. We were asked to send in the first two pages of another project when we submitted our critique material; we weren’t told how it would be used other than that it was for an exercise. 

On Friday night, the instructors told us we were going to play “Bookstore Browser.” They’d take turns reading our short submissions aloud (and anonymously), and we’d raise our hands at the point that we’d put the book down. Once five hands went up, the reading would stop and the hand-raisers would have to explain what lost them.

OK. In theory, that’s not a bad idea. But here’s the thing: If I’m in the library or the bookstore and I skim the first pages of something and put it back, it’s rarely because the author did anything wrong; the story just isn’t grabbing me for whatever reason. Maybe the writer’s style is complex and I’ve had a long week and just want something simple. Maybe it’s a zombie book and I’m not in the mood for zombies that day. 

Lots of hands went up during pieces I was enjoying, and I put my hand up early a couple of times too. (My submission didn’t last very long, if you were wondering.) All this taught me was that tastes are extremely subjective. Which is, y’know, not news. The critiques the next day were far more in-depth and useful, and I’ve barely even begun to go through all the notes and marked-up manuscripts I brought home. 

And something else I loved about the workshop that I didn’t expect to enjoy so much: Meeting other writers. I’m generally a very introverted person; I tend to eat meals alone or with my husband, and I can get overwhelmed fast in a big group of people.

And honestly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a solitary-type person. Even so, I think it was good for me to crawl out of my shell and actually *gulp* talk to people. Most of us seemed to be in the same general age range, and we were all there because we love writing and want to work hard on ours with an eye towards publication. I felt like at long last, I’d found my people. There were no God’s Gift to Writing types in any of my sessions, and as I’ve said before, I was blown away by how talented everyone is. I fully expect to see some of these people on bookshelves or in top magazines before much longer.

Will I do Boot Camp again next year? Not sure, but I definitely wouldn’t rule it out. I have Futurescapes coming up in just a couple of months. I don’t know how that’s going to compare to Borderlands, but I’m anxious to find out. 

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