June 02, 2001
As you probably are aware, I'm not much of a baseball fan. I have mentioned in an earlier entry (before this handy dandy, automated web journal; I'll have to dig out the essay and re-post it) my take on the whole organized sports thing -- how, ultimately, it tickles the same parts of some peoples' brains the same way other serial stories, like Star Trek or General Hospital or The Sopranos might appeal to others'. While I confess to following *some* organized sports and particular teams (NFL football, Cornell and ECAC hockey, et al), I have not tended to get similarly interested in major league baseball.
Nonetheless, I catch the occasional game. I've seen the Yankees take on the Red Sox at Fenway, and I chanced to witness the exciting '95 Mariners make their improbable playoff run at the Kingdome. The year 2001 finds me again in Seattle, where another interesting baseball story is unfolding.
Last night, I attended my first baseball game at Safeco Field, the new baseball park in Seattle. Unlike the now-imploded Kingdome next door (the rubble of which is being recycled to build a new open-air football stadium on the same site), Safeco Field *feels* like a baseball park, with all of the good and bad that that entails. Good: natural grass, open air, friendly facilities. Bad: crowd noise gets lost easily and there's a quality to the crowd of... distraction. Unfocused attention.
At the Kingdome, the building was concrete gray, the lighting was entirely artificial, and so was the turf. But, the acoustics were amazing. When something interesting was taking place on the field, you could feel the electricity. The hush or the rise in the crowd was amazing. A group dynamic like that is hard to capture when the sounds are lost within the heavy sea-laden atmosphere of a port town's open-air park. Of course, that's just one man's observation, and there are others out there who can wax much more eloquently than I on the relative merits of our nations sports facilities.
Nonetheless, there is a bit of magic in the air in Seattle these days surrounding their baseball team, the likes of which I never expect to happen (or have seen happen in the past) around the city's football or basketball teams even when they experience success. Even though the acoustics of Safeco muffled some of the buzz, there was something palpable in the crowd's excitement last night as the Mariners hosted the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
The last time I saw a baseball game in person, I watched Ken Griffey, Jr. hit two home runs in a meaningless game where the local team was visibly falling apart in a stadium that was likewise literally falling down (even before it was demolished, parts of the Kingdome would tumble to the ground at inopportune times). Last night, I watched a team where one of the "stars" of the team -- Ichiro Suzuki -- very deliberately hit a sacrifice in order to get a runner into scoring position (and who did end up scoring). We saw a bad call by the ump give way to the tying runs of the Devil Rays, and we saw the Mariners hold it together and work their way back into command of the situation.
In the eighth inning, Ichiro (which must always be pronounced with an exclamation point at the end: ee-chee-ro!) hit a beautiful double, then stole third base on the next play and, thanks to a very interesting error by the Devil Rays, was able to turn that into a run for home. It was in the eighth inning that this close game was finally sewn up by the home team.
It was a fun game to watch, and the Mariners are a team that is obviously playing together and playing well. I am still not as much of a fan of baseball as I am of any number of other forms of entertainment. Nonetheless, it is always fun to watch folks at work who enjoy what they are doing enough to put it all together *as a team* and make good things happen. It's inspiring.
June 03, 2001
Clarion West begins in two weeks. While the official first meeting takes place on Sunday afternoon on the 17th, most of us will be arriving at the dorms on Saturday.
My plan is to get my own stuff over there as early as I can manage on Saturday, and then I'll be picking up several of the other students at the airport throughout the day. This, of course, means packing on Friday the 15th. Friday the 15th also marks my last day of work before the program begins. Thus, I have two weeks to try to get everything squared away at work and to get everything ready at home for me to pack and head off.
Work, naturally, has been a bit hectic. Not only am I attempting to smoothly transition my work to various co-workers who will share my duties while I'm on leave, I'm also finding myself in a bit of a crunch as two of my bigger projects are coming down to the wire. One has already been delayed by at least a week (meaning it won't launch until this next Friday at the earliest) and is actually likely to be delayed by an addtional week. The other project suddenly involves a presentation to our President and CEO this coming Monday. You can imagine how this adds to the excitement in one's work day.
And so, I need to pull that all together and gracefully make my exit, all while trying to get ready for Clarion. No big deal, really. Add to that the fact that we're wrapping up the Commercial Fiction Writing Course at the Unviersity of Washington this week (which means finalizing my big project *now*). Now, the fun is starting to pile on.
I also am most delinquent on getting things rolling for the Cornell Class of '90 website. Bad, bad, bad. And, then there's this novel I'm trying to advance. In the words of Bill the Cat: "Ack! Pth!"
This is all by way of saying, I have an exciting couple of weeks ahead of me. Perhaps the six weeks that follow -- those that belong to Clarion West -- will seem like a cake walk after all this.
When people ask me if I'm excited about my upcoming Clarion adventure, the truthful answer remains: I don't have time to be excited. Yet. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to it. I just have a wee bit of work to do in the meantime.
June 05, 2001
My grandfather did his best to instill a few basic principles in his children and grandchildren. One such precept was: if an appointment is worth making, it's worth keeping. From my grandfather, I developed a strong aversion to being late and a strong dislike for when others are late for me.
Particular friends of mine in college tried to break me of this ingrained attitude. I was too uptight, they'd point out. Blah, blah, blah. They were probably right, and I certainly did come to recognize that sometimes things just happen and it's no use to have a brain seizure over being a few minutes late for some pre-ordained meeting time. Nonetheless, the general principle has stayed with me. I tend to arrange my schedule to allow extra time to get someplace, just in case of bad traffic (or whatever).
Sometimes things just happen. But, in one case, things are getting ridiculous.
In my current position at work, I have a number of managers to whom I report. There's the Group Program Manager, who is responsible for coordinating the program managers for the "hardline" site development group. Because this position is actually vacant at present, the person acting in this capacity is our Director of Site Development. There's the General Manager of one of the stores for which I am responsible. And, since the General Manager position happens to be vacant for two of the other stores for which I am responsible, that role (those roles?) is (uh, are?) being handled by the stores' Vice President.
While I report to each of these folks, there is no real direct reporting relationship that they have to each other. Well, okay, the General Manager dude reports to the Vice President -- which could pose some interesting complications but hasn't yet -- but the Director (er, Group Program Manager) actually reports through a different branch to the Senior Vice President above my particular Vice President.
This is what the old-timers at my company used to call a "matrix" before they decentralized into store-based units; back before a movie of the same name hit the scene. When the decentralized units were dissolved and reorganized along functional lines again, the reconstituted structure was no longer referred to as a "matrix" (which, given the themes of the movie of that name, would be amazingly apropos), but rather have simply been dubbed "re-centralization".
Yes, centralization means I have three bosses. The Group Program Manager (er, Director) is my *official* supervisor. But, come on. When you are responsible to a vice president in addition, you'd better believe that the veep is also your boss... even if this veep is in a different branch from your Director.
Anyway, the Vice President in question made a very strong and favorable impression upon me the first time we met. He had just taken over our group when *his* boss left the company (and whose position also remains unfilled), and he had a directness that I found to be a breath of fresh air.
There's just one little problem.
For the life of me, I can not manage to be on time for any meeting between us. I somehow manage to make *most* of his team meetings on time, but anytime it's a small group or just the two of us, *something* always happens. It's frustrating. It's annoying. It's embarrassing.
And, it's starting to become almost funny. Funny, ha-ha. I mean, what else is there to do? I hate being late. I really want to do well by this guy. I make every effort to be on time. Early, even. Something always happens. Today, it finally reached the point of silliness.
We were prepping for a big presentation to the company's Star Chamber -- did I say Star Chamber? I mean the President's happy fun advisory council -- where projects are being evaluated before being sentenced to death. We had a pre-meeting meeting to go over our presentation so that our project could be shown in the best light before being condemned to die. I have a major role in this project, and I had an hour of no scheduled meetings before this pre-meeting meeting. I was all set to be there, be prepared, and wow everyone with how well I would be able to handle any technical question regarding the project.
Chalk this one up to my own dumb fault. While tracking down a particularly thorny question about how part of the project would be handled, I got lost in the details. I looked up from my screen at one point, and noticed that, well, I was ten minutes late for the pre-meeting.
I booked over to his office where my compatriots were just finishing up going over the presentation (it was a short one). And, then, I made a well-intentioned comment about how we should head over to the building where the master project meeting was being held so that we could be certain of being there "on time". Oh, the irony.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I want to do a good job. I want to do right by those I work with. And yet, lately I've been in a big muffing-it-all-up loop. In this one case -- timeliness and this particular Vice President -- I'm beginning to recognize that I'm doomed. I guess it's funny because it's true.
June 07, 2001
I guess things are going pretty well for me these past couple of days, which is a pleasant state of affairs.
Last night (Wednesday, June 6th) was my final class for the Advanced Commercial Fiction Writing course at UW (University of Washington), wherein I was studying how to more effectively write that which others would pay to read.
Our major project for the term had to be turned in yesterday: the book proposal for our respective novels-in-progress. As is so often the case, I waited until the last moment to assemble the pieces, and the end result was nowhere near what I would prefer to send out as my proposal for The Do Over.
Well, actually... maybe it actually is *near* what I would send out. And, that's the thing. There is still a lot I want to do to flesh out and improve the proposal, but the fact is that I now actually have a proposal. One that I can modify, as need be, but nonetheless one that I can send out, too. And the only reason I have a proposal for The Do Over right now is because I took this course that had this deadline that required me to finish this project by this date.
It may be modest, but it's a start. Another step in the right direction.
I'll give an update soon on how the novel writing itself is coming along. In the meantime, I've managed to put together one more tool that should ultimately help me to sell the finished product.
June 09, 2001
I have only one week left at work -- and home -- before heading off to Clarion West 2001. This is my last free weekend for a while. As much as there is for me yet to do in preparation, I'm excited by the prospect of my upcoming adventure. Six weeks devoted to exercising the writing and story-telling poriton of my brain. Woo-hoo!
One of this year's instructors, Nalo Hopkinson, has just been nominated for a Hugo Award. The nomination is for her second novel. Not too shabby.
Awards are cool, and I'm all for recognition of doing good work. Perhaps, someday in my not-too-distant future, I might have the honor of standing alongside these wonderful writers at the winners podium... and that would be most excellent. The Hugo is particularly cool, because it's an award that is voted on by the fans.
I have to say, though, that there's another award that I'm much more interested in pursuing: the well-paying publishing contract. If the fans award my work with their hard earned cash, that's plenty award enough for me. I'm so easy-to-please.
Before I can pursue that, I have to finish the novel and get a few short stories under my belt. Writing is a very weird profession: you have to do all the work long before you find out if you'll ever get paid. Kinda risky. As a friend of mine has often pointed out, I seem to be a glutton for doing the most amount of work for the least amount of pay. C'est la vie.
Regardless, for six weeks I am going to be a dedicated writer. Should be quite an exciting time.
June 12, 2001
For various reasons -- mostly having to do with some short story ideas I'm kicking around and a general love of science -- I've been reviewing the famous theories of relativity. As is so often my wont, I'm always struck by the parallel between the so-called "hard sciences" and the "social sciences" when it comes to enduring principles.
For instance, in Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, it has been established that two events that occur simultaneously in one frame of reference will occur *non* simultaneously in other frames of references. A description goes something like this:
Bob the Observer is sitting on a planet when two ludicrously speedy spaceships heading in opposite directions pass each directly above him. Both spaceships were made at the same factory to the same specifications. To Bob, they appear to be equal size and shape, are travelling at equal speeds, and they each are aligned so that the tip of the tail of Spaceship 1 passes the tip of the nose of Spaceship 2 at exactly the same instant as the tip of the tail of Spaceship 2 passes the tip of the nose of Spaceship 1.
No big deal, right? Since both ships are the same length and are heading in opposite directions, it stands to reason that their respective noses pass the others' tails at exactly the same instant.
But, because of special relativity, if we observe the exact same event from Spaceship 1, it turns out that the tip of our spaceship passes by the tail of Spaceship 2 a split second *before* the nose of Spaceship 2 passes by our tail. This is because, relative to those of us in Spaceship 1, the second spaceship is travelling a most ludicrous speed and is therefore *compressed* in time and space relative to us. The second ship appears to be smaller, and hence not as long as our own spaceship. The simultaneous events witnessed by Bob are not simultaneous when witnessed from Spaceship 1.
Likewise, Spaceship 2 sees the rapidly approaching Spaceship1 as a smaller craft, and they, too, witness these events non-simultaneously. In fact, they view these events as happening in the reverse order from the observations made from Spaceship 1.
Okay, okay, I'm getting confusing here. The point is, events A and B appear to happen at exactly the same moment from one frame of reference, A precedes B from another, and B precedes A from yet another. All of these are correct, accurate, verifiable, reproducible. And they all follow a logic that is irrefutable.
No, I will not explain why. That's a lot of ground to cover, and I don't have that much time tonight. Just take my word for it: this is one of the consequences of special relativity.
As I was reminded of this juicy little tidbit, it reminded me of the cause of World War I. Don't stare at this screen blankly; just go with me on this one. It'll all make sense.
Observed from one frame of reference, Russia and Austria made their respective decisions to mobilize their forces, thereby triggering WWI, *simultaneously*. Observed from the Austrian point of reference, however, it was *they* who mobilized first. Likewise, the Russian point of reference would reveal that it was the Russians who mobilized first.
Historians have debated ever since over which events were *truly* the start of the War. Unlike their cousins in the hard sciences, the social scientists have failed to show the imagination necessary to accept the idea that all three positions can be correct at the same time; just not from the same point of reference.
This is a key point, one which I think would help political scientists and other social scientists to better understand the nature of the political and social world in which they live, and their motion through it.
As you may be aware, one of the most common viruses on the internet is the hoax announcement of viruses on the internet. They usually take the form of "Microsoft and McAfee have just announced on their websites that the most virulent virus to date has appeared on the internet. If you receive an e-mail entitled 'Good Times', DO NOT OPEN IT!!!!" Etc., etc.
The message will go on to tell you that it was pulled directly from the Microsoft press release (MS never issues press releases with exclamation points, by the way), that it affects everyone in your address book, and then tells you to forward the warning on to everyone in your address book.
As viruses (viri?) go, this strain is very common but not very dangerous. It spreads itself with the cooperation of the host, it takes up some bandwidth and hard disk space, but it doesn't take up enough space or bandwidth so as to be terribly damaging at any particular point in time. Sure, at any given moment there's thousands of useless messages like this clogging the Internet's arteries, but never enough to bring it down. These viri mutate as well, insofar as they are modified from time to time by the people who pass them along. ("Embellished" is the more appropriate word.) In other words, it's just like any other virus.
There are some destructive versions of this strain, though. Recently, I received one such message that urged me to delete a certain .dll file from my Windows directory. Of course, since I use a Macintosh, this kind of warning is pointless to me, anyway. But, the .dll file the message urged me to erase is actually a valid and necessary file for Windows to work... well, insofar as Windows works at all. The point is, it *looked* real enough, and a lot of people followed the instructions and deleted the .dll file and then forwarded the message to everyone they knew.
Tsk, tsk, tsk.
Well, recently someone did this one up a little better. You can read about it here and here. This fellow sent out a joke version of this kind of message, wherein he told the reader that there was a malignant file that was taking up 30M of hard disk space, and that the reader should look for and delete a file called 'aol.exe'.
The author of the joke then included a number of references that should have tipped off the reader. For example, the message said that failure to delete the file would result in the reader being charged a monthly fee. Hilarious.
Allegedly, some people didn't realize it was a joke and forwarded it along... and then deleted their aol.exe files.
My friends, there is a message in all of this: don't believe everything you read. Unless you read it here.
PS: three working days left until Clarion West begins. Woo-hoo!
June 14, 2001
So, I have learned something recently. A little distinction that I think is both interesting and important. I've, uh, been doing research at work and have noticed something about what happens when you put good people into awkward situations for too long....
A person with what we typically identify as "a bad attitude" is not necessarily grumpy all the time. This person is not necessarily always negative. Quite the contrary, the Bad Attitude person can still identify and enjoy good times and funny things every bit as often -- even more frequently -- than he or she did before catching this contagious condition.
The difference between the Bad Attitude and the Normal Guy (or Normal Gal) is the suppression of the safety switch that would otherwise know when to cut the connection to one's vocal chords at a crucial moment.
In a relationship, this may be best expressed by the following example:
Relationship partner says, "Do these pants make me look fat?"
Normal Person replies, "Not at all."
Bad Attitude person, you might think, would reply, "Yes, they do." But, that is a misconception. The Bad Attitude person is not a negative person, and does not seek out to deliberately be mean. Bad Attitude person simply fails to filter out the last part of "the whole truth" part of his/her testimony.
So, in response to the question, "Do these pants make me look fat?" Bad Attitude person replies, "Not at all. It's your butt that makes you look fat."
Now, why does the Bad Attitude compel this kind of truth-saying? Why? And, what is the cure?
I had recently suffered a bout with this dreaded disease, and it seems to be coming under control. This is the first time I've contracted this condition without having to take radical measures (like quitting my job) to be free of it. What's with that? Am I maturing? Growing complacent? What?
I don't know, and I'm not sure if it's good. But, I certainly find it interesting.
June 15, 2001
Tomorrow is my last day at work before taking off for Clarion West. I'm not ready.
"Oh, sure," you say. "Not ready to leave work. Yeah right." That's not quite what I mean.
I haven't read through all of the stuff that came in the info pack for Clarion West. I haven't packed. I've just started making a list of things to bring, for crying out loud.
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever."
I haven't had a chance to read samples of writing by each of my instructors yet.
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever."
I'm sleep deprived.
Okay. Yes, I'm pressed for time as far as preparing for Clarion goes. But, that's only part of what's really bothering me. The fact is, I'm not ready to leave work yet... not just because I am leaving behind projects unfinished (I am), but because I just discovered today that I have made an error in how I've been working with one of my fellows at the office. I've been treating this person terribly, in fact.
This is a major failing. Projects can be set back on track. Relationships (working, personal, or otherwise) are harder.
I think the error I've made is recoverable. But, I'm crushed that I could make this kind of mistake and I won't be able to fix it until, at best, after I return. *This* is the kind of thing I hate to leave "undone".
I've been so rude, and I won't be able to do anything about it.
At the same time, one of my other co-workers very kindly gave me a "come back soon" gift that was, well, very touching. Appropriate. Actually, it's touching because it's so inappropriate. It's one of those stress things that you squeeze, in the shape of a cow. Only, when you squeeze it... well, let's just say I haven't seen something this crude since I accidentally watched part of an Adam Sandler movie. You squeeze it, and a big brown bubble forms....
Nevermind. It's disgusting. It's hilarious. And, very touching. And, the effort this person made to reach out to me came right on the heels of realizing what a heel I've been to this other person.
I have a lot of writing to do. A ton of reading to do. I still owe my Grandparents a big fat phone call (by way of thanks for something they mailed me a couple of weeks ago). I never talk to friends anymore. I'm terrible about replying to e-mail. I'm sleep deprived. I'm about to take a leave from my job when there are so many projects left dangling... and, well, that matter of how I've been treating that co-worker. My e-mail and web servers have become unstable again and I am juggling getting them onto new machines. I stand at the threshold of an intense six-week writing program.
This, it seems to me, is where things start to get interesting.
June 17, 2001
Sunday, June 17th marks the official start of Clarion West 2001. Saturday, June 16th is when it really all began.
I spent most of last night (Friday night, that is) packing everything I expected to need for the next six weeks so that it would easily transfer into my car and then from there into the dorm room. (For those who aren't familiar with what the Clarion West intensive writing workshop entails, I recommend that you check out their web site.)
Since I had volunteered to make a few trips to the airport to pick up some of our incoming classmates, I wanted to get to the dorms early, get my car unloaded, and start settling in before it was time to make those trips. Paulette (who went through this routine last year when she was a student here) was kind enough to get up early with me and show me around the campus and immediate vicinity. A handy tour, since we'd retrace those steps later in the evening on a QFC run.
Anyway, I went to the airport on three occasions and brought back a couple of Clarionites each time. In order to be easy to find in the crowd, I wore a Charlie Brown t-shirt. It seemed to work; they all found me. I enjoyed meeting each of my workshop-mates, and I'm very excited to be working with them. They are not only top notch, they come from such a varied set of talents, contexts and points-of-view... I won't be able to help but learn from their examples.
Following my final airport run, those of us who were at the dorm (14 of the 17 total Clarionites plus one relative) got together as a group, agreed to all eat dinner together, *successfully* chose a place to try in very short order, and -- this is the amazing part -- all 15 of us were able to travel as a group to the restaurant, get seated, and actually find something to eat. Given 1) the constraints of the restaurant to host us such a large party and 2) the varying dietary preferences of the group, I consider this feat to be nothing short of miraculous.
Note to future Clarion West attendees: We found the local Ethiopian restaurant, within about three blocks from the SU dorms, and much fun was had by all. Recommended.
Also, I heartily endorse the idea of arriving the day before the first official meeting takes place. Bonding with your fellow Clarionites is a Very Good Thing (tm).
I loved the meal; loved the conversation. At the end, roughly half of us decided to make a run to the grocery store to pick up a few essentials, and then we returned to the dorm. The evening wound down with a late night bull session in the lounge.
We are living on the top floor (that's floor 12) of Seattle University's Campion Dormitory building, so the lounge commands a wonderful view of the surrounding area (as do our rooms). Renovation was recently completed in the main lobby of the building and in the individual rooms of our floor, so the digs are pretty cool.
My room is set up: the computer works and my connection to the Internet is operating; the printer prints; the stereo sounds excellent; my alarm clock displays the correct time. Oh, and a big shout out to Amy: thank you for the fridge! It's keeping my beverages nice and cool.
While I've got the room set up, I still have three stories I need to read and critique in time for Monday (these had been mailed out last week, but I didn't have a chance to read them, regardless), and I want to flesh out a couple more story ideas of my own before the rubber hits the pavement. Somehow, I have to find time to do this tomorrow and still stay on board for a group Costco run.
No problem. Right? :-)
June 18, 2001
[note: the date for this entry is incorrect; the geeklog file was hosed last night and fixing it this afternoon included reposting this particular entry, which should be date stamped sometime late on Sunday, 6/18/01.]
A bunch of us (12 of the 17 in our class) spent the late morning walking down to the International District (which, coincidentally enough, is where I work when I'm not on leave for a writing program...) to pick up some specialty foods. Several members of our class like to cook with particular ingredients that are more commonly found outside of the traditional American supermarket.
Afterward, we toured Elliot Bay Books (where the Tuesday night readings will be held) just a few blocks away, and then the Eastern edge of the Pioneer Square area. At each stop in our little tour, one or two members of our group would peel off and head back to the dorms. By the time we ended up at an Indian cuisine restaurant just past Yessler, we were down to seven. A perfect-sized group for inclusive conversation. (When the larger group had dinner the night before, it naturally became a collection of smaller sets engaged in conversation...)
Topics included: teaching languages & accents, and what's the worst movie ever made (there was no agreement on this one. One person's Citizen Kane was another person's Eraserhead). Then, we walked up the James Street hill to return directly to the dorm.
Now, at this point, I should mention that 1) I recently bought new sneakers, 2) we'd done so much walking the previous day that my feet had started screaming in agony the night before, 3) I'm a fat old man who is waaaaay out of shape. In short, I very much needed this long walk today, including the bit taking us up that hill, and it was also... a painful exercise. D'oh!
A while later, several of us made a Costco run. Most of us were there for more foods in bulk, and I picked up a couple of new reference books plus some shorts and other clothes for the nicer weather... and so as to postpone my next laundry day.
We paid our bills for the course and then had our first official class meeting, followed by our introduction to Octavia Butler, the first week instructor. She gave us three assignments:
1) Long term -- submit one of the stories we write for this year's Clarion West to be considered for publication.
2) This week -- explore an emotional event that was significant in our lives, and then take that raw emotion and put it into the story we turn in for this week.
3) Tomorrow morning -- write a one-sentence synopsis of a project we are working on, taking care to state something about character, conflict, and resolution.
I signed up to turn in a story on Thursday morning (so that it will be critiqued Friday). I plan to do the one-sentence exercise both for the novel I'm currently writing and for the short story I hope to write this week.
As for my other assignment -- critique the three submission pieces we were sent a week ago -- I've finished two and now have the third to go.
Octavia had a few words of wisdom for us as we went around the room making introductions. I'll repeat two interesting tidbits here: first, it helps to have an idea how you intend to end your piece before you begin writing it. Even if you end it differently, at least you are working toward a definite end. Pam Goodfellow, who taught the UW Commercial Fiction Writing program, often gave this same advice... and, it never hurts to hear good advice more than once.
Second, if you can manage to not feel above such things as self-help or motivational tapes, there are worse ways to get yourself into a good frame of mind before sitting down to approach the blank piece of paper.
Keep in mind that what I've written above is my take on what she said, and is not a transcript of what she said. Others may have taken away a different interpretation of her points.
I must confess that I feel a bit silly just putting up a blow-by-blow description of the days events, rather than the observations and arguments I'm prone to writing in my journal (both off-line and on-). That, itself, may be an essay for another day: the difference between transcribing and interpreting events. But, that will have to wait, as I must now return to my homework. Ack!
I'm looking at about four hours sleep tonight, if I get things done in a timely fashion.
June 19, 2001
[the Clarion journal continues...] So, I think I managed about four hours of sleep after all. Or, thereabouts. No thanks to my server going wonky and homework taking disproportionately longer as I get closer to the metaphorical finish line.
Woke up relatively on time, pulled everything together for class, and met up with a bunch of the crew at the lounge before heading out for class. Several of us went down to pick up Octavia and bring her along with us. We knocked on her door. No answer. Since the Clarion West Administrator (Leslie) had told us the previous day that Octavia was "God" for the next week, I called out to the closed door, "Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret." Chuckles all around, but no Octavia.
We made it to our first session at the SCCC building and found a menagerie of novelty animals positioned in a parade in the middle of a circle of desks. We were introduced to the verisimilitoad (maybe I'll explain later; maybe not). Octavia showed up. We got rolling.
Octavia had a few things she wanted to cover in lecture, and then we went on to discuss the assignment she'd given us for today. I learned that I had not properly understood what Octavia had in mind for the one-sentence exercise. After going around the room and having us present ours, she pushed and pulled several of us (including yours truly) until she finally got us (me) to see what it was she was after. Now that I understand (I think), I'll be using this tool to begin work on my first story here, which I am to hand in on Thursday morning.
...which means that before I go to bed, I still have to write that new sentence!
Anyway, the class was fine and the critiques went quite well for a group that's never done this together before. When all was done in the class room, it was time to read the three stories (also submission pieces) for tomorrow and do whatever else we felt like doing.
I have discovered that I am a master at yielding to distractions. Food? Big distraction. Walking around the neighborhood? Natch. Chatting with Paulette? But of course. Then, there was fixing that problem with this here log, updating an e-mail alias situation that had arisen at about the same time, calls to family members, and the like.
Highlights from my conversation with Paulette earlier today, who attended last year's Clarion West:
* Three stories to critique for tomorrow? That's all?! Back in *our* day, we had four! Every day! When we were done, we had produced more stories and more total words than any Clarion, East or West, ever! (supposedly, this is actually true.)
* The longest story you have to critique is 7,000 words? Why, we used to DREAM of stories that were only 7,000 words long. Last year, our shortest piece was so long, we'd have to read Stephen King's The Stand as a warm-down afterwards just to cool off! And, we're talking the expanded version here, not the originally published version, you know...
* You guys aren't handing in new material until Tuesday morning? Geez! Last year, they made us hand in new material the day *before* lecture started. Why, even this year's Clarion *East* has been backed up on new material... since day one! They've had to add Saturday sessions! Even their stuffed animals are writing!
Blah, blah, blah. Just another Monday. If I'm very good, I may actually get to bed in time tonight to manage six hours of sleep. Woo-hoo!
Oh, and about that story I'm thinking of writing this week... it's going to be a very dark piece. A tale of revenge and a most unusual murder. Bwahahahahaha.
June 20, 2001
[Clarion West 2K1, Week 1: the saga continues...]
No formal lecture, as such, today. Octavia wanted to dive right (write?) into critiques. This group is very good at POV and character development through emotional and visceral responses. The critique is quite good.
Through our dissecting each of three stories in class today, I learned that there are three kinds of symbioses (handy info to know, I assure you) and that one person's sub-plot is another person's distraction. Well, that last bit is not news to me, really. But, we had a most excellent free-for-all discussion about one of the stories. Very juicy. We got into politics and religion and ethics (and permutations thereof). To me, that's part of the best that good SF has to offer: something to make you think, talk about, and wrestle with.
I learned my lesson from the last couple days (ha!) and started to work right away on reading the stories for tomorrow as soon as I got back from class. Our group is starting an interesting tradition of silently reading and critting in the big lounge that we share on the 12th floor. A cool bonding experience (silent though it is) which I haven't yet participated in, but I expect I will once my writing this week is done.
Today, though, I chose to work in my room. After I was done with the crits, I had time to walk around, see what others were up to, think about my story that I have to write for Thursday morning... and procrastinated actually starting to write it.
A group of ten of us headed down to the "I District" (in Seattle, the I District means the International District; the U District is the University District) and had Thai at a favorite restaurant of mine near where I work. We had a great conversation about scapegoating. Truly, this is a talented bunch of people with whom I just love to spend time listening and sharing stories and the like. One can only hope that we'll all still feel as good about each other in week six as we do now. Given our conversation today, I think we're going to make every effort in that direction.
We barely made it out in time to walk over to Elliot Bay Books for Octavia's public performance there. It was a fun Question and Answer session. I picked up a couple books while I was there, and the group generally broke up into smaller pieces for the return trip. I was one of the poor fools who walked up, engaging in another wonderful discussion about politics with one of my fellow Clarionites. This particular fellow is the one who gave me the idea for how, exactly, the murder is going to be committed in my upcoming story.
Walking up Capital Hill from the Pioneer Square area is, well, an awful lot of exertion. And, sad to say, I'm still a fat old man. If I keep up this walking around thing, though, I'm hoping that I'll start to see some improvement in the physical fitness department.
Upon returning from the reading, I immediately hopped on to check e-mail, started typing this entry, etc. Then, a bunch of folks were camping outside my door and laughing at some game they were playing, so I naturally had to go into the hall and see what was up. The long and the short of it is: I'm still procrastinating starting my story for Thursday morning.
So, I'm going to sign off now. See how early it is? Not even 10:30 Pacific Time yet. I may even get a reasonable night's sleep. I just want to put in some time on the story first.
Well, maybe after I make just one phone call....
June 21, 2001
[Clarion West 2K1, Week 1 continued]
I didn't write a thing on Tuesday night. After running out of things to do to procrastinate, I decided that it was a mighty fine time to go to bed at around 11:30pm (very early for me). I got what amounts to a full night's sleep, getting up at around 7am on Wednesday.
I managed to write two paragraphs for my new story (ultimately entitled "Diffusion") before heading off for class.
Because we had four stories to critique instead of three, Octavia opted to just have us crit rather than have a lecture. We managed to wrap up around noon or one or so. I made a bee-line for "home" (the dorm) after picking up lunch supplies at the grocery store. Made and ate lunch in my room while I plowed through the four stories for critique. Finished around 5pm or so, ate dinner, and started work on "Diffusion" in earnest.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, I managed to plot out the entire story in my head amidst all of the critiquing and classwork and procrastination. In fact, it became obvious yesterday that I had to read and crit my fellow writers' stories before working on my own, if only because I'm learning so much by seeing what they are doing well and traps that we're all falling into.
I was surprised at how things came out when I sat down to type. Usually, I write my short stories first in outline form and then fleshing out the outline. Not this time. I just sat down and typed. What I ended up handing this morning (I am typing this entry on Thursday afternoon) was a first draft in the truest sense.
The first scene took a couple of hours. The second one took maybe an hour and a half. Each successive scene went faster. By midnight, I had written maybe 2,500 words (having started at 5 or 6pm). Three hours later, I had finished the 4,800 word rough draft. It was brilliant. I re-read it and made a few corrections and changes, and realized that this was indeed brilliant work. People would read this and cry over how beautiful and poignant the story was. I went to bed at around 3 am, set my alarm to allow myself four hours sleep, and fell asleep knowing that I had truly managed to crank out exactly the kind of story I had wanted to write.
And, then I woke up.
Thursday morning, 7:30 am, my back-up alarm went off. Turns out that I'd forgotten to actually turn on my primary alarm. Rushed out of bed and showered, running over the story in my head, and realized that I was about to turn in the worst piece of crap imaginable.
Well, not quite as bad as the infamous "Viking Sex" story that has made the rounds here, but maybe the second worst submission. It's maudlin. The murder ends up being more implied than directly observed; the Poe-esque elements had been replaced by hokey corn-ball melodrama. In short, I had created a monster and had no time left at all to come up with something better. I didn't even have time to print up an old trunk story, "just in case".
Class today was again focused primarily upon critique. I handed in my pathetic excuse for a story, and received it along with three other stories to be read and critiqued by tomorrow. As I type this, I've finished my crit work for tomorrow and I'm ready to go out and grab some dinner.
Before I sign off, though, I want to mention two other things that I think are important. I'm glad I got a full night's sleep at least one night this week, but yesterday's experience truly was exhilarating. From the time I started writing to the time I finished, I was awake and alert throughout. No sluggishness. By the time I went to bed, I was still too wound up to fall immediately asleep. Since getting up this morning, I've been likewise charged all day. This is cool. As long as "Diffusion" is in any way salvageable, it was time and energy very well spent.
One last thing: many of my fellow Clarionites are very sensibly writing every day, putting in a thousand words a day (or more, or less, depending upon the person) and keeping up a strong and steady pace. Me? I resort to sprinting. No new words all week, and then five thousand all in one night. A part of me wishes I could write like the others (schedule-wise), but I know I can't fight my nature. I need a deadline, and then I need to write to it. This isn't anything new; it's just cool to be surrounded by other writers and actually watch them go about their steady pace every day. It's fun to watch.
I'm curious to see if "Diffusions" has any redeeming qualities at all. Tune in tomorrow....
June 23, 2001
[Clarion West 2K1 week 1: last day]
Managed to get about 7 hours of sleep last night, and I'm not showing any signs of sleep deprivation from events earlier in the week. Yee-haw.
...unless you count the fact that I went to take my shower this morning and forgot to bring my room key with me.
We occupy the top floor of the Campion dormitory, where we enjoy an amazing view of downtown Seattle, the Cascade mountains, the Olympics, and of course Mt. Rainier to the south and Mt. Baker to the north. Each room is intended as a double (read: only big enough for one person, but really intended for two) for the students at Seattle University. My room has two beds, two closets, two desks, a sink and a very cool view. It also, like all of the other rooms on this floor, has a door that is always locked.
So, I get back to my room from the showers this morning only to find that I'd forgotten to bring the key that would let me enter. There's a phone down the hall that must have been installed for just such situations; a quick call to public safety and then I only had to wait ten minutes for the nice man to come let me into my room. I felt a little sheepish standing around in my bathrobe while others were getting dressed and heading out (even though one of my fellows was kind enough to offer me a place to hang out while I waited), but thems the wages of my crime.
I found out later in the day that I'm not the first of us to run into this problem. One has had to call to be let into his room three times already. We've been here almost a week.
Anyway, it was a great way to start the day. Then, it was off to our last class with Octavia. We had four stories and lots of ground to cover after class, so we dove right into the critiques. Mine was the last one, and this was my first time on the hot seat at Clarion.
I received some incredible feedback on what worked and what didn't, and I'm convinced (rightly or wrongly) both that there is a lot of work to do and that this piece *can* nonetheless be salvaged. I had gone over the top with the story to build the tension, and the class largely agreed on which parts I might trim to hit a more appropriate note. I'll also have to add a few minor scenes to clear up a couple of confusing points.
While the critique was mostly a list of things that didn't work for people, I found the feedback to be wildly constructive and oddly reassuring.
After critique was over, we all posed for a picture in front of the "french fries" sculpture at the class building and then the entire class took Octavia to lunch at the Ethiopian restaurant that many of us had been to last Saturday. This time, we had the whole gang: all seventeen students plus the instructor. After a fine meal, we returned to the dorm and celebrated Octavia's and a classmate's birthday with cake and presents. We had two cakes, one vegan and one made with real ingredients. (Allow me to mention that I had a bite of the vegan cake and it was actually quite good, much to my surprise.)
In my conference with Octavia that afternoon, she gave me a new way of looking at the novel I'm working on, and we went over a few things about my short story that, with some work, might make it ready for submission to Analog.
The day wrapped up with a party north of the city where we had the chance to meet with past Clarionites and other writers. All but one of us were able to make it. (I keep mentioning the group solidarity thing for reasons which I will get to in a future post.)
All in all, it was a satisfying conclusion to a great first week at Clarion West. Tomorrow (Saturday) is our day off before we meet Bradley Denton on Sunday. I'm anticipating a quick visit to Redmond, a tour of the Seattle "Underground", and other touristy activities tomorrow.
Gotta say, I'm very much enjoying my experience here so far.
June 24, 2001
Differences between this year's Clarion West and last year's:
We all (well, all but one) went to the party on Friday. Of course, this was only the first party....
We always wash our dishes after each meal. So far.
Our group observes POV as an important tool in storytelling. So far.
We value emotion in the story (as well as conflict and resolution), as emphasized by our first week instructor. Again, so far.
We are not keeping score (ha! get it? irony!). So far.
We have written fewer new stories and fewer words per story than the previous year's class had by this time.
Today, I visited home to pick up a spare hard drive with which to back up my computer, pick up some more music CDs, and visit with Paulette -- as well as a couple of friends in Redmond -- before returning to the dorm. At various times during the day, I chipped away at the reading and critiquing that is due on Monday (finally finishing at about half past midnight).
A few of us made a quick run to Cosco where we picked up our respective supplies of water, soda, pop tarts, and/or cereal in bulk. I finally conceded that I'm not going to be kicking my Dr Pepper habit anytime soon, and went ahead and bought a case (a two or three day supply?) for about half the price that I'd normally spend at the grocery store.
Four of us went out for dinner to Pagliacci's Pizza on Broadway, and happened to catch some gay rights parade that was making its way down the very same street heading in the other direction. This is the third or fourth such parade to which I've been an unintentional witness. I wish I could add some pithy observation about the parade, but really... there's not much to tell. There were lots of chicks walking down the street with police escorts holding signs that said "Dyke Pride Now" and the like. Sorry; that was bad writing. The paraders held the signs. The police escorts did not. But, the sentence is too funny for me to re-write.
Back when I was in college, protests and marches usually centered upon something that I could either get behind or stand against. Divestment was one. This was the idea that the university should divest itself of investments in companies that did business with apartheid-bound South Africa. These parades and sit-ins called attention to a political issue that you could at least hold an opinion about.
Where do you stand on "Dyke Pride"? Who cares? I find it hard to have an opinion about whether lesbians should have good self-esteem. Quite frankly, as battle cries go, it just doesn't sing to me.
I must confess, though, that one person in the parade carried a sign that said "Free Abortions On Demand" and I started thinking that the idea of mandatory abortions was a little odd. I mean, is it really such a good idea that anyone can go around and freely demand that people have abortions?
"You, there, with the sign. I demand that you have a free abortion. Now!"
Sorry. I'm getting side-tracked here.
Upon our return to the dorm, we joined most of the rest of the Clarionites to watch "The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T," a '50's children's movie that was co-written by and featured set-designs and music lyrics by Dr. Seuss. This was a true Mystery Science Theater 3000 moment (well, 90 minutes), as we all made wisecracks throughout this decidedly silly movie.
Tomorrow, one of our fellow Clarionites will be making a much touted spicy Thai dish for the rest of us, and we'll meet our instructor for week 2: Bradley Denton. Yee-haw!
June 25, 2001
Sunday, June 24th. It's been a busy day.
Woke up. Read some short stories by famous published folks (looking to see what works and what doesn't, and further researching our own instructor for the week, Bradley Denton). Ended up declining an invitation to stroll around the neighborhood with some of our group because I was trying to get a few stories completed before I did anything else... and, besides, for the first time since Clarion West started, it was actually *precipitating* in Seattle (a light drizzle).
However, I later accepted an invitation to play ultimate Frisbee once I'd read "enough". I am, as I've mentioned before in this Clarion West journal, a fat old man. I haven't played Ultimate since college. And, even though I'm in a little better shape now than I was a week ago (thanks to rigorous walks every day), I'm not yet quite up to maintaining the pace of my more athletic comrades. So, we ran up and down a drizzly field in slippery grass, throwing and trying to catch a slick flying disc while slipping and sliding on the ground. In short, I had a great work out.
But, oy! Me feets is killing me!
While the six of us were playing in the rain, a few others were beginning the preparations for a grand meal. One of our Canadian compatriots was spearheading an effort to build a Thai cuisine ensemble that would work for both the vegans and the meat-eaters among us.
She had been planning this for a few days, and eventually *all* of us opted in for the meal, including our instructor for the week.
Those of us who were playing Frisbee returned with enough time to shower before the Sunday kick-off meeting. As it so happens, there is no sound-proofing between the women's and the men's showers; as a couple of us began our showers on the men's side, a couple of our female colleagues engaged us in conversation that led to the two of us in the men's showers singing poorly harmonized tunes from the 40s and 50s as we washed away the grime from our Frisbee match. When we came out of the showers, we were greeted by mock applause from others in the lounge who could apparently hear our concert even out there.
At five, we assembled as a group and met Bradley Denton. He told us that this week, he wanted us to build upon what we had been working on last week (character, conflict, and conclusion... he also added "complications" to the conflict part) and pay particular attention to the opening of the story. He read us a few examples, and then asked us to write a paragraph justifying (my word; not his) the opening to our story. We need to explain how the opening relates to and sets up all that is to follow in the rest of the story. This sounds like a very useful exercise; I'm looking forward to it.
He also told us that he particularly encourages his students to use standard English. This makes good business sense, as editors are not likely to read more than a paragraph of your submission if the proper mechanics of language aren't there. He also noted that readers respond better to standard English (and, who wants to bump out the reader), and that there is something to be said for showing respect for your language.
Agree or disagree (I happen to agree) with this philosophy, the fact is that for at least the next week, our grammar is going to be under closer scrutiny than many of us typically experience.
After the group pow-wow, we settled in for our large group meal, which was absolutely fantastic and filling. There was enough tasty food for everyone (it can't be easy to cook for eighteen people when you're used to cooking for a more manageable group. My hat goes off to Karen, our ring-leader and head chef for this endeavor), a delicious fruit salad for dessert, and fun conversation. A few of us set up tables in the big room where we have our weekly kick-off meeting; a few others of us broke the arrangement down afterward and washed the dishes.
After an abortive attempt at organizing a movie screening (the Clarion West administrators were kind enough to arrange that we have a wide-screen TV in our lounge, plus VCR), most of us headed off to work on our respective projects for the coming week. I began reading a long-ish Greg Egan story that was recommended by our Australian comrade, and talked over my story idea for this week with both Paulette and a member of this year's class, both of whom gave me some good things to think about.
I'm quite optimistic about Bradley Denton working with us this week; he's clearly going to help us build on what we've already begun with Octavia Butler, and I think I can learn a lot from him as far as style goes. I've enjoyed each of the stories of his that I've read so far, and particularly enjoy the style with which he writes. (Of course, I can say the same for all of the other instructors for this year's Clarion West, even though they all have a different style. :) It doesn't hurt that the guy has had experience teaching. Here's to another excellent week at Clarion West!
June 26, 2001
[Clarion West 2K1 week 2: the saga continues...]
Today's events included:
* Grogginess. Had one of my patented insomnia bouts last night. Couldn't fall asleep right away, and then kept waking up every half hour or so.
* Our first full class with Bradley Denton. We went over the "three basic story types": Boy Meets Girl (stories about relationships), The Little Taylor (stories about characters who struggle against great odds), and The Man Who Learned Better (stories about beliefs that are challenged).
* Critique. We aren't pulling as many punches as maybe we were during the first week. But, nonetheless, the criticism remains constructive. I remain amazed at how much there is for me to learn from my fellow Clarionites... and bummed that I'm not learning it quicker. :-)
* Handouts. Received our stories for tomorrow's critique session. I started on these as soon as I had lunch after class, but then fell into a light nap (wahhhhh thump!) and struggled to concentrate for a couple of hours thereafter.
* Food. One of our number volunteered to make dinner, and a bunch of us volunteered to help him eat it (and clean up the dishes afterward). Most yummy.
* Challenge. There are so many good stories here. I have to turn something in on Thursday morning, insofar as that's what I've signed up to do, but as there are so many great stories being submitted that I'm hesitant to work on the lighter plots I'd brought in with me. So, here I am at 1am trying to figure out what I could write that could possibly have enough *weight* to it that it would be worthy. I'm thinking I'll save the humor pieces I had in mind for next week or the week after. But, that leaves me this week with... nothing, so far.
I've spent so much of this evening trying to come up with the killer story idea that will be "worthy" of a slot this week that I haven't come up with anything. If I don't have a new story idea by tomorrow afternoon, I must move forward on one of my ideas from "the trunk". [sigh]
Brad Denton made another interesting observation during a recent conversation. Wanna make money writing fiction? Foreign rights is the key. Without the foreign rights, he wouldn't be able to continue doing what he's doing without seeking an additional source of income. I find this a very important tidbit to keep in mind. (And, let's face it: one must not ignore the business aspects of this pursuit.)
Off to brainstorm some more. Nighty-night.
June 27, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1, week 2 continues]
Tuesday. Only three manuscripts critiqued in class today (excellent though they were) and a brief bit of advice from Brad: read your work out loud. (I'll pause to point out here that Pam Goodfellow has strenuously made this suggestion to her class at UW that we took last year; it is the foundation of our Wednesday night critique group. Nonetheless, excellent advice and I'm glad that others in the field see its value.)
Tuesdays, I reckon, are going to be light on the class side of things because that's the evening that the instructors offer their readings at Elliott Bay books, and there's a lot of work involved both for that and for class the next morning that can't be made up for during the presentation.
Anyway, I got back to the dorms from class and dove straight into crits and, even though I didn't pause for a nap or nothin' (after a brief lunch), I still seemed to make extremely slow progress. I only managed to have three stories critiqued by the time we headed down for dinner and then the event.
A bunch of us had gone out on one of the ferries to work on the water; an excellent idea, but I (and another six or so of us) chose to work here in the dorms anyway. Both groups met up at a Mediterranean restaurant on Cherry by 1st Street. A couple folks said that they liked it, but I found it to be both expensive ($8.50 for a shish kabob sandwich and a beverage!) and poorly cooked. C'est la vie.
[note to last year's Clarion West: speaking of differences of opinion and differences in experience... our group has found the local IHOP to be completely out of the question. After giving them just one chance, a small group of ours ran away vowing never to return because there was hair in their food. Then again, we had a good experience at the Ethiopian place nearby, and I've been told that your experience was less pleasant. Funny how things work out.]
Anyway, we went to the reading. Brad is a wonderful reader; he presents with passion and wit. He read the first and fourth chapter from his novel Lunatics, and there was a Q & A session afterward.
'Twas a long walk back up James Street to return to the dorms. I finished my critiques, and am now procrastinating... I have yet to type even one sentence for the story I will be handing in on Thursday morning.
I'm going to do something similar to what I did last week at this time. I'm going to finish this entry, type for a bit on the new story (that would be a change from last week, when I hadn't actually begun work until 6pm the night before), go to bed by midnight and get a relatively full night's sleep, and then charge ahead full bore tomorrow. That plan worked well for me last week. Let's see how it goes this week.
I've also decided to go with the story idea I'd originally thought to pursue this past Monday. Makes no sense to hold up the writing while I try to make that next "great idea" appear. I'll continue to strive for the great ideas, but I'll write what I can in the meantime. There's also a strong temptation to revise a story I've been working on before coming to Clarion, but that's not going to move me forward as effectively as starting a new one from scratch. So, there ya go. I've got a plan.
June 28, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1, week 2: the saga continues. Barely.]
Wednesday. We critiqued four stories in class. We received four stories to crit for tomorrow. I got back to the dorms after class and went straight to work.
The previous night, I'd managed to write exactly one sentence for my new story. (The new story is entitled "Suspicious Activity".) I didn't resume work on it until roughly 5pm today. Made great headway, then did some last minute research and discovered that I was being way too tentative with the direction my story was going. Had to re-write a bunch. Ended up with a 3,500 word story. It's still much too tentative and a little bit... uh... transparent. But, nonetheless, I've got at least *something* that my fellow Clarionites can now help me to work into something *good*.
And, yes, I even had to re-write that first sentence I'd composed the night before.
BTW, if you want to see something really scary, do a search on the web for "Know Your Customer". This forms the foundation of my story's premise. As I said, I was way too tentative with my story. I'm going to have to punch it up a bit. I'd forgotten how scary real life was/is.
No time to talk; got some more typing to do and then it's off to bed for a few hours before it's time for class again tomorrow. Whee!
June 30, 2001
[Clarion 2K1, week 2: the saga resumes...]
Thursday: Bradley mentioned to the group Samuel Delaney's (sp?) concept of "protocols for interpreting science fiction." Because sf context can be quite different from mainstream fiction, the conventions need to be spelled out early on so that the reader will correctly interpret the action that is going on. While there is only one way to interpret "he turned on his left side" in literary fiction, this sentence can be interpreted several different ways in sf depending upon the context. As authors, we need to establish the ground rules (ie, establish the protocols) as early in the story as we can. By doing so, we can make sure the reader understands when "he turned on his left side" means he rolled over and when it means the character flipped a switch to activate half of his mechanical body.
The stories have been excellent, by and large, and the stakes are getting higher. I turned in my own story on Thursday morning to be critiqued on Friday. "Suspicious Activity" weighed in at 3,500 words and, I feared at the time, probably didn't raise the bar any.
For dinner on Thursday, a large group of us went to The Outback Steakhouse because one of our group is Australian, and we all thought it would be fun to show him the best of the American Kitsch Treatment given to Australia.
Friday. During week 1, each of Friday's stories had a "death in the family" element. This Friday, each of the stories we critiqued had a strong political element. The feedback I received on "Suspicious Activity" was pretty much uniform in telling me that I needed to push the stakes for the main character up a couple of notches, and I completely agree. The other stories generated quite a bit of politically charged conversation (mine, though identified as a "libertarian allegory," was lighter in tone than the others because it was a quasi-comedy. As such, I suspect that it was less threatening than the other, more hard-hitting pieces).
The group as a whole handled the differing viewpoints with intelligence and tact, even when emotionally-laden subjects entered into the conversation. In later, "off-line" conversations, I found that even the folks who had disagreed most vehemently with others in class still maintained a healthy respect for each other. This is crucial, as we are dealing with some heavy issues (race, sexual orientation, gender, et al), and we need to stay focused on how we develop as *writers*... not as debaters or opponents. Thus far, I think we're handling this well, and in a lot of ways I think it's healthy that we're starting to strip away the "let's all be nice" layers and get to the meat of the matter. I think we've passed the first test successfully.
Of course, this *is* only week 2. That said, our instructor for Week 3 is Nalo Hopkinson, who has a reputation for being similarly interested in exploring a lot of the issues that we've started only recently to explore as a group, and who also has already expressed to us her desire to help us keep cool and constructive. With her steady direction and then the practiced hands of our following instructors (Connie Willis, Ellen Datlow, and Jack Womack), I think we'll come through this just fine.
Anyway, today was our last session with Bradley. After class, we all took him to "Bill's", a nearby pizza and salad/sandwich shop. Once again, all seventeen of us plus instructor managed to make it. I still think it's a minor miracle to be able to get this large group together, with its vastly differing preferences and priorities, for a meal at the same place at the same time.
As a gift for Mr. Denton, we presented a nice Mariners shirt (there had been a number of bad baseball puns floating around during this past week) which we had all signed, plus a Mariners baseball cap that we figured he might actually wear.
In the afternoon, some of us played cards ("Hearts") in the hallway (inadvertantly waking up some of our group who were trying to nap) while others actually began working on their critiques for Monday. Another member of our group began setting up a perpetual-novel chain that a bunch of us are going to participate in. (Uh... in which a bunch of us are going to participate.) I had my one-on-one with Brad, and he had some excellent suggestions for how I might rachet up the tension in my short story. He even told me that he'd try to read through the stories we'd submitted last week and get us some feedback on those, as well.
Since my submission piece for the application to Clarion West was the first chapter of The Do Over, he was able to offer me a few helpful suggestions on that one, as well. Like Octavia, he favors changing the name (I'm increasingly inclined to agree), and made other good suggestions as well. I'm glad he took the time to take a look at it.
In the evening, we all made it out to the Friday Clarion West Party. This time, it was being held at the house of someone I'd actually already met through other circles previously (he writes computer books, which is how I came to know him), so it was nice to see him after having been out of touch for quite a while.
Now, here it is almost 2am. Another week at Clarion West 2k1 has reached its conclusion... and it's definitely time for your humble correspondent to ready himself for sleep. Ta ta 'til tomorrow, my friends.
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