Category Archives: Archive Seasons 11-13

Writing Excuses Retreat 2019 Scholarships!

The seventh annual Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat is going to be amazing! We begin in Houston, TX, on September 13; we’ll visit Cozumel, Georgetown, and Falmouth, and end up back in Houston again on September 22. You can find all the other info, including our incredible guest list, here.

This year we are offering four scholarships. One of these is sponsored by the hosts of Writing Excuses, one by our amazing patrons on Patreon, and two by our incredibly awesome alumni. They’ve been on the retreat (sometimes more than once), they love it, and they want to share it with as many people as possible.

As always, our scholarships come in two categories: two Out of Excuses Scholarships, awarded to those in financial need, and two Carl Brandon Society Scholarships, awarded to writers of color. Both categories have introduced us to some incredible writers in the past, and we can’t wait to see who we get to meet this year. Share this post with everyone you know, read the rules carefully, and apply!

Information and Entry Rules
Each scholarship offers full tuition, $500 of travel expenses, a bed in a double occupancy room on the ship, and hotel expenses in Houston for one night both pre- and post-cruise. Because the food on the cruise is free, this covers essentially all your expenses for the week, though depending on the flights you arrange, you might need to cover some of the travel yourself. You may apply to either scholarship, but only to one of them (even if you qualify for both).

These scholarships are very popular, and get a lot of applicants, so please read the instructions carefully and follow them exactly; incomplete applications will be disqualified.

To apply, please prepare the following scholarship package as a Word document, and send it to [email protected] with the subject line: “Scholarship Application: [name of scholarship].” Please copy and paste the cover sheet to the main body of the email, and also include it as the first page in the package.

1) This cover sheet, filled out completely:
Name: [name]
Email: [email]
Phone Number: [number]
Scholarship: [“Carl Brandon Society” or “Out of Excuses”]
I confirm that my scholarship is complete, including: a personal essay, three letters of recommendation, and a writing sample.
Personal Essay word count (between 450-700 words): [insert word count here]
Letter of Recommendation 1: [Name of recommender]
Letter of Recommendation 2: [Name of recommender]
Letter of Recommendation 3: [Name of recommender]
Writing Sample total word count (1-3 pieces, limited to 10,000 total words): [insert word count here]
2) A single attachment, saved as [Name of Scholarship Your Name]
We will accept the following three file formats.
* .DOC
* .DOCX
* .RTF
Examples:
Out of Excuses Scholarship Jane Doe.doc
Carl Brandon Scholarship Jane Doe.doc

The attachment should contain all of the following, in the following order:
1. The Cover Sheet, again, as described above. Yes, we want it twice.
2. A Personal Essay: A 450-700 word personal essay explaining why you are a good candidate for the scholarship. What makes you unique? What can you bring to our group that no one else can? Keep in mind that even as we focus on “need,” the panel will also be reviewing your writing in terms of “merit.”
3. Letters of Recommendation: Three brief letters of recommendation (no more than 300 words each) from people who are not your relatives: friends, bosses, people from your writing group, anyone who can tell us exactly how awesome you are. Please note that we would like all three letters to be included in the scholarship package, and not to be emailed individually; we’ve had too many letters go astray, and we want to give you the chance to personally make sure every aspect of your scholarship package is complete before submitting it. If you have a concern with this, please contact Dawn at [email protected].
4. Writing Samples: A brief example of your writing, consisting of 1-3 separate pieces and totaling no more than 10,000 words. These can be short stories or novel excerpts. Don’t feel obligated to fill the word count: if you can wow us in less, more power to you.

Again: make sure to send everything in one email or your application will be disqualified!

Please review your application several times, or have a friend or family member review it for you, because we will reject applications on technicalities, just like an editor or publisher would. We would much prefer to read your awesome writing and give you a scholarship.

The application period for both scholarships opens on January 16, 2018, at 9am EST, and closes at midnight EST, March 16. We will contact the winners in April, and announce them officially the morning of April 15. That gives applicants three months to get their packets ready, it gives us one month to review them, and it gives the winners just under five months of notice before the retreat.

If you have any questions regarding the scholarship, email Dawn at [email protected].

FAQ:

Q: What do The Letters of Recommendation need?
A: Think of this like a college entry application letter. Have your recommenders tell us why you are the best candidate for this scholarship. They can point out what they think might be relevant to the decision that the committee would otherwise not know. The letters help us round out the picture for each candidate.

Q: Do you have any specific formatting requirements?
A: Other than what’s listed above, no. You can use whatever type face or point size that you like, as long as it looks professional and is easy to read. No glitter, weird colors, blinking text, etc.

Q: Are the scholarships open to anyone?
A: Provided you meet the basic qualifications, yes. We welcome writers from any country anywhere in the world, though remember that a) the classes will be taught in English, and b) the scholarships only cover $500 of travel, so anything beyond that you will need to cover yourself.

Q: But what if I’m already published?
A: Apply anyway. The only requirements are writing talent, financial need, and—for the Carl Brandon scholarships—being a person of color. The way this industry works, it’s entirely possible to be published and talented and still poor and unsuccessful (spoiler warning). But the things you learn and the contacts you make on our retreat can still help in that situation, and we’re not going to disqualify anyone just because their first break wasn’t a smashing success.

Q: That doesn’t sound fair to the rest of us.
A: Don’t sell yourself short–we believe in you! You’re competing against all of these people in the real world anyway, every time you submit a book or story for publication, and this is no different. Your writing has to be the very best it can be no matter what you’re trying to do with it. But we’re confident that you are up to the challenge, so do your best and knock our socks off.

Q: Ah, but what if I know one of you personally? That’s GOT to disqualify me, right?
A: Not at all, though it does change the way we read and rank the applications. As soon as one of our judges realizes that they know an applicant in real life, they pull themselves off of that application and send it back to us. We strip that application of identifying info and send it out to new judges, completely blind, to get their unbiased opinion. The final decisions are made by people who do not know who the applicants are. We take this seriously, and strive to keep the process as fair and balanced as possible.

Q: Okay, so remind me of the basic qualifications again.
A: The Out of Excuses scholarships are for writers in financial need: if you can’t afford the scholarship on your own, you qualify. The Carl Brandon Society scholarships are for writers of color: if you’re a person of color who writes, you qualify.

Q: What about kids? Can I win the scholarship as a teenager?
A: Teens are welcome on the cruise and in the classes, but will need to be accompanied by an adult (who will have to pay their own way, as the scholarship only covers one person). If you have questions, please contact Dawn at [email protected].

Q: How can I contribute to the scholarship fund?
A: The easiest way is through our Patreon. We have a pledge level specifically designed for scholarship donations.

Q: If I apply to the scholarship and don’t get picked, will there still be time to buy a ticket?
A: We discourage this for two reasons: first of all, no, there might not be time to buy a ticket. Some years (such as 2017) we sell out incredibly quickly, and people who wait often end up out of luck. We always try to get more rooms on the ship, but it’s not always possible. Second of all, if you can afford to just buy a ticket, go ahead and buy a ticket, so we can give the scholarship to someone who can’t. That said, we recognize that there’s a difference between “I can afford this no problem” and “I can afford this but it will be a very painful sacrifice.” If you’re among the latter, you are welcome to try for the scholarship first and buy a ticket later if you don’t get picked; we will not look down on you at all, and we’ll do everything we can to make the retreat worth it.

Q: I sent in my application, but I’m not sure it arrived and/or I got an automated response saying it was too late and/or something else happened and I want to be sure we’re cool. What do I do?
A: Email Dawn at [email protected]. She can look through the inbox and tell you for sure whether your application arrived safely.

Q: I have a question not covered in this FAQ.
A: Email Dawn at [email protected]. If you post the question online (whether here or on Facebook or on Patreon or wherever), there is no guarantee that we will see and answer it quickly.

13.52: Working Dad is a Spaceman

Your Hosts: Howard, Mary, and Dan, with NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn.

Last week’s episode may have sounded like the last one for 2018, but that’s an artifact of December having five Sundays rather than four. Fifth Sundays are our “wildcards,” and something wild seems like a nice way to round out the year.

Tom Marshburn, who is both spaceman and parent, talks to us about what it’s like to be both.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Ben Hewett, and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

The 3D sense of space’s blackness meets Type I, Type II, and Type III fun

13.51: Wrap-up on the Year of Character

Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard

We decided to wrap up this year on character by letting Brandon ask us some deep questions. “We decided” might be the wrong phrase, because nobody except Brandon knew what the questions were, so it might be more accurate to say “we rolled with it.”

It rolled quite nicely.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson and mastered by Alex Jackson. It was posted to the web by Howard, who is also the one who didn’t post until twenty-eight hours and twenty-minutes after he should have. 

 

Play

No homework. No prompt. But, y’know, if you want to flip through the homework you’ve done this year and consider what you’ve improved at, and where you might need more practice, that would be awesome.

13.50: What Writers Get Wrong, with Zoraida Córdova

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard, with special guest Zoraida Córdova

Zoraida Córdova, an award-winning author of urban fantasy, was born in Ecuador and grew up in Queens. She joins us to talk about what writers get wrong (and what they can get right and do well) when portraying latinas in the United States.

Credits: This episode was recorded live at FanX Salt Lake (formerly “Salt Lake Comic-Con”) by Dan Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes: 

  • The comic book Howard referenced is Guardians of Infinity #3, (2016), which features a back-up story entitled “Yo Soy Groot.”
  • Peggy Whitson is the astronaut Mary referenced. As of this writing, she holds the record for longest single spaceflight by an American. 

 

Play

A challenge! Find (and read) books written by Ecuadoran authors. Then make one of your own secondary characters be from Ecuador.

Labyrinth Lost, by Zoraida Córdova

13.49: How to Finish

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Amal, and Maurice

Last week we talked about character death. This week we talk about other, less fatal ways in which a character story can be finished, and how we, as writers, can tell when we’re done with a character arc.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Andrew Twiss, and mastered by Alex Jackson.

Play

You’re about to cut into a cake… and it speaks.
(Note: the phrase “the cake is alive” might qualify as “low-hanging fruit.”)

This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El Mohtar and Max Gladstone
(note: Between the time we recorded and the time this episode aired the publication date was pushed back. The novel is, however, available for pre-order.)

13.48: Character Death and Plot Armor

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard

The characters we create are not all destined for long lives. Sure, some are, but a great many of them are on paths that will end in an abrupt fatality of one kind or another, and in this episode we’ll talk about how we choose which characters to put on those paths, and how those paths might be shaped.

We also talk about characters who walk perilous paths and emerge unscathed (sometimes thanks less to their pluck and wit, and more due to plot armor.)

Liner Notes:“The Worshipful Society of Glovers” can be found here at Uncanny Magazine .

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson and mastered by Alex Jackson.

Play

An SF/F conceit in which death is looks exactly like death to the people to whom it’s not happening, but is actually a transformation for the person experiencing it.

Random Access Memorabilia, written and illustrated by Howard Tayler, with colors by Travis Walton
(available to read free online beginning here)

13.47: Q&A on Fixing Characters

Your Hosts: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, and Howard

You had questions about fixing character problems. We had had answers! Here are the questions:

  • How do you fix character voices when you find out that two of them are too similar?
  • How can you tell if a character is, in fact, the problem?
  • How do you maintain interest in a character who is largely inactive?
  • How do you write interesting bad guys when your only POV characters are the good guys?
  • How do you give meaningful challenges to a powerful character?
  • How can you make a normal, everyday character interesting?
  • How do you edit an existing manuscript to give characters interests which mesh with the plot?

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson and mastered by Alex Jackson.

Play

Cheeto McFlair: Who are they, and why are they asking questions of the Writing Excuses team?

Myths and Monsters, narrated by Nicholas Day (currently available on Netflix)

13.46: The Unsexy Side of Space, with Bart Smith and Ben Hewett

Your Hosts: Howard, Mary Robinette, and Dan, with special guests Bart Smith and Ben Hewett

When we talk about space travel we’re usually talking about rocket scientists and astronauts. In this episode we spoke with our guests Bart Smith and Ben Hewett, about the “unsexy” (read: possibly boring but don’t be deceived) side of the space program—budgeting, logistics, and procurement. RFI and RFP, with toilets, hammers, and business cards; that’s this episode.

(For those unfamiliar with the above TLAs [three letter acronyms], RFI and RFP stand for Request for Information and Request for Proposal.)

 

Play

Write a story in which a budget analyst and a procurement intern save the day

The Martian, by Andy Weir, about which we have gushed repeatedly