July 01, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1... the saga continues]
Saturday. Good day to work on my crits for Monday and then maybe come up with a story idea for this coming week. So, did I? Nah. Ran some stuff that was cluttering my dorm room over to the house, got some stuff from the house (like a dictionary... can't believe I've been borrowing all this time) to bring to the dorm; read one story for critique and then went to see a movie with a bunch of my fellow Clarionites.
We went to see A.I.
There is no better way to describe this movie than to say that it sucked. It was an experiment that failed. On almost every level. The one level where it did not fail: as a rapid presentation of successive still images, it *did* conjure up the illusion of motion. Other than that, it was pretty abysmal.
Of course, here we are, a dozen science fiction writers in full-critique mode, going to see a schmaltzy pretension of a sci-fi premise. From the gushy lets-make-machines-feel-love opening scene, it was all down hill. There were some good moments, but most of them came after the movie was finally, finally over. (This movie had roughly five endings, which is why it's three hours long. Three hours!) Once this abomination concluded, the twelve of us began to dissect it. A few folks were intent upon writing new endings for it. The movie already had five endings; my humble opinion was that it didn't need any more.
Other than that, not much to report. I'm feeling a bit blue at the moment, more because of some bad memory triggers than anything else (or, maybe it was just the fact that I rushed through dinner to see that awful movie). Maybe I'll do my critique work tomorrow. That's my plan, at least.
July 02, 2001
[Clarion West 2K1, the saga continues]
Sunday. I manage to critique a story. Then a few of us go for a walk to Dick's Burgers for our cholesterol injection. A few phone calls, and then a few of us head to Archie McPhee's for some shopping. Archie McPhee's is a cool novelty shop. We get back just in time for gettin' ready for our big group dinner thing. We have our weekly meeting to kick off the week, and then it's time to actually begin work for real.
So, yeah, I've been goofing off again for most of the weekend. :-P
Our instructor this week is Nalo Hopkinson. She told us that we should get into the practice of reading our material out loud (she is going to ask us to read our first pages aloud in class) so as to enable us to get the cadence right on the page. She also talked to us about the importance of a counter-story within our fiction... even our short stories.
During our conversation over dinner, we also talked about the business side of being a writer. This is a topic she says that we'll be getting back to as the week progresses. It also turns out that she and Kelly Link were both attendees at Clarion East together in 1995; Kelly taught at East this year. We were told today that this is the shortest turn around from Clarion student to Clarion instructor to date.
Dinner itself was fantastic. Karen prepared a curry-based chicken dish with tomatoes and peppers. Kiini prepared collared greens (is that how you spell it?) while Ibi produced some fantastic vegetable dishes. I have volunteered to spearhead next Sunday's meal with a meatasaurus's delight while I'll be enlisting help for dishes to feed our vegan contingent.
Once the group meeting and dinner were completed, I split my time between doing the crit work I had left to do and fraternizing with my fellow students. As I've said before, I'll say again: this is a great bunch of writers and people. I haven't been spending as much time with some as I have with others; this has largely been a function of eating habits (insofar as the meat-eaters are not often co-preparing dishes with the vegetarians and vegans) and of convenience (early risers and night owls often socialize more among their own groups). I'm pleased to have spent some time tonight hanging out with quite a few members of the group with whom I normally don't get to spend as much time as I'd like.
My big Clarion goal for tomorrow, in addition to my usual crit work, is to come up with a story idea for the week. I'd rather not wait until the last minute this time.
Thassall for now. More later, potater.
PS: dig that shift from present tense to past tense right after the first paragraph. Yikes.
PPS: Happy Canada Day, eh? Nalo lives in Toronto (across the lake from Buffalo, where I allegedly grew up), and several of our Clarionites hail from north of the border. One actually posted the first few lines from the Canadian national anthem on her message board, but the other Canadians in the group observed the day with typical Canadian aloofness.
July 03, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1 week 3... the saga continues]
Monday. Up and at 'em early, we all headed off to the classroom, where a couple of elves (my compatriots during our recent trip to Archie McPhee's) had placed little plastic creatures at each of our seats.
They had put a little mouse in front of my name plate. I asked why.
"Why?" I asked.
"Well, because you're Charlie Brown. Everybody's always picking on you."
I still don't get it.
Anyway, we had yet another excellent critique session which brought out some wonderful issues with regard to sympathetic characters and unsympathetic characters and making them compelling regardless of how sympathetic they are.
Then, Nalo talked to us about killing off our characters. She says that most writers have to be encouraged to be more "mean" to their characters in order to make dramatic things happen. Not in our case. We're killing off our characters left and right. (Write?) She told us that this is not always the best way to go, by way of discussing resolutions. A resolution can be a conclusion, but it can also be a revelation/realization. The resolution doesn't have to be THE END, but it should point the way to the end.
Nothing overly profound, perhaps, but important to hear, as our class has more and more gone down the path of making our resolutions rather final. It's funny, because the story idea I ended up coming up with today is rather final in its inevitable conclusion. I've been pretty good about *not* killing off characters (well, okay, I had one murder story), but I think my next story is going to see an awful lot of characters bite the dust.
I don't want to spoil the ending for my fellow Clarionites who actually read this journal (I'm told that they like to find out what they've been up to :-), but my next story has something to do with a Ms. Solar System pageant which, uh, ends dramatically.
After class, a few of us went to Pagliacci's for pizza and Ben & Jerry's for ice cream. The weather here was perfect today, and the walk to and from lunch was exquisite. Upon returning to the dorms, I discovered that we could see both Rainier and Mt. Baker today. The Cascades and Olympics were also out in full view.
I did my critique work, made some phone calls, and generally failed to begin writing my new story. At one point, I had even hoped to actually get the first draft done tonight. But, really, I'll begin it tomorrow.
A few of us ended the evening with milk and cookies and an attempt at not talking politics... which was kinda hard, given that one of us was an intern at the White House in the summer of '96, one of us clings to the "stolen election" story of the Florida ballot, and the other of us (which is to say, me) had the audacity to suggest at one point that Reagan will ultimately be remembered more favorably than any of the other Presidents of the second half of the twentieth century.
There was a great deal of other time wastings as well as good, deep, productive conversation... but, alas, I think tomorrow I shall have to focus on my writing.
Or, have I said that already?
PS: Carly Simon tune -- "Procrastination/ Procrastinaaaaayaaation/ It's making me late...."
July 04, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1 week 3: we now join our program, already in progress]
Tuesday. As I've mentioned before, we seem to have days where all of the stories we critique appear to have a common theme. The three stories we critiqued this morning all seemed to be written to advise the reader: don't have sex with ethereal beings.
Nalo suggested to the class that we should be wary of writing stories around cliches or "well used furniture", including:
* school for underprivileged youth with psychic ability
* privileged individual exchanges places with poor individual who looks remarkably similar
* warships full of steely-eyed, hierarchical tough guys and gals
* furry fiction
* elvish anything
* all the heroines are heartbreakingly beautiful, young and able-bodied and all the heroes are tall, strong, handsome, and utterly capable
* martial arts studios run by magical non-Asians
* the kindly old (male) druid, mage, wizard, sorcerer
* man of principle forced to become a killing machine (oops. I think I did this one)
While writing these kinds of stories is fine, they are done quite frequently. Therefore, there is an even larger onus than usual placed upon the writer to make a major effort to create something original.
The story I plan to hand in this week has been causing me grief. At one point, I was worried that it might even ultimately fit into the category mentioned above about heartbreakingly beautiful, young, and able-bodied heroines (since my characters are in the Ms. Solar System contest).
But, one of my fellow Clarionites gave me a work-around (presumably without realizing it) when he mentioned that he wanted to see a King Arthur story (which are also overdone) so that he could make a pun during critique (which is supposed to be *my* job, but never mind). Anyway, I've decided to add a character named Arthur, and the story will be in *his* POV, and not that of one of the heroines.
(The pun, by the way, is this: now my story will be in the "Arthurial voice".)
(Incidentally, there will be no puns in the story itself. You can see why.)
This will all make sense when I tell you more about the story... after I've written it.
In the meantime, tomorrow is the fourth of July. We are preparing for a big chili cook-out meal and then we'll watch the evening fireworks from our penthouse lounge or -- hopefully -- from the roof of our dorm. Yee-ha!
This means that there will be lots of distractions tomorrow, and since I still have a story to turn in on Thursday morning, I'd better get at it.
[Clarion West 2k1 week 3: just some spice for flavor...]
Tuesday night: I forgot to mention in my last entry that Nalo gave her reading at Elliott Bay Books last night. I wasn't feeling terribly well; I walked down, but planned to ask for a ride back from the group that had driven. (They were kind enough to give me the one remaining space for the return trip.)
Nalo is originally from the Caribbean but has lived in Canada for the past twenty-four years. As a result, her normal speaking voice is an interesting blend of the accents to be found in both parts of the world. When she got up to speak, she told us that she was going to read from her third novel, a work-in-progress, and then she picked up her manuscript and read.
What a reading! The part of the novel that she read was set in pre-revolutionary Haiti, and her story totally came alive as she read each of the characters with Caribbean voices... and at the same time, each voice was completely distinct. She is quite a story teller. If her books are ever made into audiobooks, I hope she'll be the one to read 'em.
July 06, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1 week 3, continued...]
One of my fellow Clarionites, Sean, has commented that he likes to check my site to see what he was doing the day before. I am just now catching up on my entries on Friday, July 6th. So, Sean will soon know what he's been doing since Tuesday. I hope finding out all at once doesn't make his brain explode. :)
Wednesday. The building where our classes are held was closed for the holiday, so we had our class on the 4th of July in a conference room in our dormitory building. It was another picture perfect day in Seattle, and I sat opposite the windows which gave me a view of downtown against a backdrop of the Olympics and a clear blue sky. At one point, a Budweiser blimp sailed by.
Nalo kicked off the day with a brief lecture on writing sex scenes in fiction. Why write them? They can be particularly useful in character development, insofar as they represent a moment of extreme exposure (vulnerability was the word she used) and emotion that can reveal a great deal about the characters to the reader. They can also provide action that advances the story in a very particular way. However, sex is not generally a part of the speculative fiction genre. Thus, the writer is advised to tread with special attention.
I won't repeat her entire lecture here (yes, I took lengthy notes :), but fellow writers may wish to be aware of a couple of books that came up during the conversation: The Big Book of Filth details cross-cultural and historical word usage, and then there's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue which was written over a century ago and is also a good reference for ways to, uh, refer to various acts and body parts.
Other reference books mentioned included: The Joy of Writing Sex, How to Read and Write Dirty Stories, and Biological Exuberance. In some cases, these texts are simply good writing manuals that happen to focus on this particular kind of scene.
Of course, there's more to writing sex scenes than word choice, but language is important. As is choreography. Sensual imagery. And, most importantly, the writer needs to keep in mind what he/she wants to elicit in the reader with the scene. Titillation? Horror? Amusement? Arousal? Repulsion? Knowing where you want to go will lend more weight to the scene, which must ultimately contribute to moving the story forward.
Writers must also keep in mind that their own sexual mores may not be the same as their characters.
Nalo gave us a writing exercise: try writing a paragraph that's a sexy description of something you wouldn't normally find as sexy. A light switch? A rioting crowd? Drowning? Getting a piercing? She then read us an example, in which there was a very sensual description of an ice floe.
[temporal shift: one of the stories we critiqued for Friday included such a scene, and it was excellently done. The sexy presentation was of a white dwarf star. It worked.]
Nalo noted something that I recall coming up in a number of conversations over the years: the two biggest drivers of technological advancement are porn and war, a sentiment with which I tend to agree. (I will stipulate that there is a third fundamental driver of technological advancement, and that is religion. Gutenberg's press advanced printing forever on the basis of mass producing two texts: the Bible and a pornographic novel. I think the novel in question was Moll Flanders, but that might be wrong and I'm too lazy to look it up right now.)
After the lecture and the critiques, we discussed the issue of how many stories we should be critiquing each week (and whether folks should be submitting more than one story per week). This is a point of legitimate debate, as several of us favor a write-and-critique-until-you-puke approach (after all, we're only here for six weeks), while others prefer a more measured, mamby pamby approach (something about being fair). I am saddened to report that the group consensus represented a perfect compromise that satisfies all, and we are agreed to limit the submissions each week to 19, which allows two people to shoot for an extra submission each week (assuming that everyone else still writes one story for the week).
[temporal shift again: this topic will come up again on Friday....]
That afternoon, there was much critiquing and, in my case, much writing to do. One of my fellow Clarionites, Sean (who has given me permission to use his name, which I will now do shamelessly), assembled a wonderful dinner of chili and picnic-style sides (potato salad, macaroni salad, watermelon) in honor of the holiday, and there had also been a concert effort to make sure we had other traditional adult beverages on hand to celebrate the holiday. Once it got dark outside, we congregated in the south room of our penthouse floor to watch the fireworks over Puget Sound and the southern reaches of the greater Seattle area. We were unable to get access to the roof to see the fireworks, but we still had a good time.
I then stayed up until 5am working on "Derivative". The story centers on the broadcast of the Ms. Solar System Pageant, in which the contestants compete to the death until only one survives to be crowned. The story needs an awful lot of work, but the basics are there. The story weighed in at a scrawny 1900 words.
My fellow Clarionites thanked me for giving them something short to read. :-P
[Clarion West 2k1, week 3. The saga continues]
Thursday. I managed to get up at 8am and make it to class on time to hand in my story. My eyes looked smaller and pinkish, as if I'd been crying. Others said I looked sick/distressed/disappointed. Sleep deprivation always makes me look weird, but this was an odd effect. Had I been aware of this on my way to class, I probably would have brought along my sunglasses.
I wasn't the only person who struggled to hand in a story Thursday morning. One other person who submitted that morning ended up late to class (I assume he was catching up on sleep, but I could be wrong), and another had to take a pass altogether from handing in. Too bad, too, because I was interested in seeing how he was going to pull off having his liquid rock beings falling in love.
Oh, the opportunities for puns there! I hope he hands this story in soon. :-)
Anyway, Nalo talked to us about research sources (she used to work as a librarian, so this was a natural topic with lots of good ideas) and she also recommended a method for tracking our submission stories. She then went on to talk about the day-to-day mechanics of being a writer.
Given my lack of sleep the night before, my plan had been to take a big long nap after class. Instead, I found I could sleep for no more than an hour, so I dove right back into reading and critiquing and worked through the day's stories relatively quickly. (It helped that one of them was mine, so that I had a reduced work load.)
Then, several of us decided to go for pizza at Pagliacci's. This little trip turned into a little bit of a production, as I had promised to drive one of my fellow Clarionites to the airport to pick up his wife who was flying in from Switzerland with their infant child. He came with us for Pizza, but I ended up driving (while most folks walked) so as to make sure we'd be able to get on the road in time to get to the airport.
At the same time, I noticed that no one had taken the fourth story slot for Monday's critique session. Given that there are only 19 slots, and given that one other person had claimed one of the two extra slots, and given that she comes in order of priority over me (we have a system, you see, for working out who gets to bump whom), it became clear that if I were to be able to have two stories critiqued during week 4 (which I very much want to happen), I would have to turn in something on Friday morning to take the only vacant slot, which was Monday.
In order to get a story in by Friday morning, I would have to put something together Thursday night. I was not in a state to be able to write a story from scratch on Thursday night, but I had a draft of a story that I'd been working on and had had critiqued a few months before Clarion West started. My plan was to pick up my critiques of that story, which were sitting at home in Redmond, and then run them back to the dorm, read through them, and then write my revised version of the story to hand in on Friday morning.
Ergo, time was starting to close in on me, with a trip to the airport, a trip to pizza, and a trip to Redmond before I could even begin to work on my story for Friday morning.
So, we all eventually met up at Pagliacci's and had a fine meal, and then the two of us who were airport-bound went to Sea-Tac. It didn't seem when we left that we quite had enough time to stop off in Redmond before going to the airport, but it was soooo close. We therefore arrived at the airport very early, since I'd decided not to take the risk. The flight arrived, we had to wait for baggage, and then we loaded bags into the car, set up the safety seat, secured the child (she's a cutie, too, I must say) into the seat, etc., etc. Got to the dorms by around 10pm or so.
Unloaded the car. Went to Redmond. Found my stuff. Quick chat with Paulette. Back to the dorm. By the time I'd started work revising my story, it was midnight.
By the time I finished, I wasn't as far along with it as I had hoped. But, I was as far along with it as I was going to get and still manage a few hours sleep. The story was supposed to have shrunk from its original 5,100 words, but by the time I'd finished cutting and adding, it had actually gained a little weight at 5,300. Oh, well.
The things I'll do to get extra feedback from Connie Willis!
My plan is to spend some time this weekend prepping for the next story (which I plan to hand in on Thursday morning of next week) and recharge so that I'm as fresh as possible for week 4.
The big question as I went to bed on Thursday night/Friday morning was whether I'd actually turn in the revised story, since it still required a lot of work.
To be continued...
[this is the danger of writing these entries well after the fact; there's no punchy wrap-up at the end of the day... it just blurs right into the next.]
July 07, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1, week 3: Thank God it's Friday]
Friday. In the morning, I had serious second thoughts about submitting my story, "Broken Connection". It had a few major things going against it, mostly stemming from the fact that I was perfectly aware of a few fatal flaws that still needed to be corrected. But, that said, I also want additional feedback on it as it goes through the revision process and I still wanted to have two crits during Connie Willis's week.
The big concern about submitting it, though, is that it would be my first story during Connie's week, and if something came up that would squeeze the number of slots available for the week, I would lose my Friday slot... and that is when I'd be handing in whatever story I create after I've heard a couple of Connie's lectures.
I brought the story in with me to class and again talked to most of my classmates to make sure that it would be cool if I was the second person to submit two stories for the week. Everyone said fine, no problem, and I went ahead and submitted the piece.
Nalo gave a lecture about writing race. This was a topic that many of us wanted to work on, as it had come up a few times during the first two weeks. Nalo handed out an essay by Nisi Shawl on the subject (published by Speculations) and then addressed a number of issues that surround writing race.
The points were many, but a few highlights include (please keep in mind that these are my notes; you are reading what I think I heard and what has passed through my own internal filter, and it may not accurately reflect what Nalo was trying to say):
* Think of writing race as writing culture. Race is sometimes defined by skin color, or ethnic heritage, or religious background, or class, or any number of other characteristics.
* The minute you stop writing autobiography, you are writing outside your experience. Writing race/culture is likewise outside your experience (when you take into account characters or situations outside your own racial experience). Approach accordingly.
* When writing race, remember that you can't separate race from power. Who profits from the racial distinctions in the world about which you are writing?
* The dominant race is not necessarily preoccupied with matters of race; the non-dominant races are always aware of it, however.
* Keep in mind how racial distinctions constrain your characters. (Will they affect the jobs your characters can hold? The places they can travel? The people they may associate with? et al)
* Watch out for blanket generalizations. It's okay if your characters make generalizations, but the author should not.
* Keep a diverse diversity. How many cultures are there? In real life, there are always more than just two (the majority and -blank-). Once you've set up a character's race, don't tokenize him/her. Show *exceptions* to the known archetypes.
* Tell the reader the important characteristics of your character early on. You will often have to use more than simply physical appearance (read: skin color) to convey something meaningful. Use additional cultural cues: music, food, dialect, clothing. Do not withhold this kind of information, as it will only bump the reader out once you bring it up.
* If you are writing a story *about* race, keep in mind that simply flipping racial roles isn't sufficeint to be effective. It's not a real paradigm shift to just switch black and white people, for example, because if the minority position is generally demonized in reality, it is then shown as the oppressor in your allegory when you flip roles and the race you try to show as oppressor ends up being the underdog. If the reader already holds biases, then those biases are only reinforced when you simply try to put the shoe on the other foot. Take special care to make a *real* paradigm shift if such is your aim.
I found the lecture most useful, and it brought out some points I'd never considered before (esp. that last one).
Halfway through class, there was a little blip when someone who hadn't signed up for a slot next week asked to take the Friday slot (which would bump me) after all. Happily for me, several of my fellow Clarionites were kind enough to alter their own schedules slightly so as to accommodate this late change and still allow me to stay in my own Friday slot. (Recall that I would be the first one to get bumped if there was slot compression.) I was amazed to see the group pull together as smoothly as it did to make this all work out when, for a second there, it seemed like my fragile plans were all about to fall apart. :-)
After class, most of us went to a nearby Thai restaurant. This was the first Friday when we did not all participate in the farewell lunch; a couple members of the group had other commitments. Alas, I suspect this will continue to be the case for the next couple weeks, as well. Still, I'm impressed that we've hung together as a group so well thus far.
In the afternoon, I had my conference with Nalo. She gave me feedback on my story and on a couple of my earlier stories; all of the feedback was very helpful... even if, in a couple of cases, it went completely contrary to the prevailing opinion of some previous discussions. :-) I liked her take on the stories.
Ah, but let me speak for a moment about "Derivative." Before I had handed it in on Thursday, I had twisted a couple of bits so as to make them inside jokes for my fellow Clarionites. It was a humor piece, after all, and I could always change them back. Well, it turns out that during week three for other previous Clarion classes, someone ultimately writes the inside-joke piece. Nalo made sure during class to discourage this kind of thing, as it can start to get out of hand. Since I had drawn first blood on the inside joke thing, she seemed to come down a little hard on me.
Now, I must confess that I thought her apparent anger was simply because she saw promise in my work and that I'd failed to live up to the potential. Self-centered, of course, but I can rationalize anything. Turns out that the reason she came down so hard on me was because, well, during *her* Clarion experience six years ago, *she* was the person to draw first blood on the inside jokes, and she, too, had had her hand slapped.
We talked about ways I can bring out the satirical aspects of my story, but it's obvious that I have a lot of work to do. Poking fun at the media is hardly a new idea; I'm going to have to work hard to make this one fresh.
Anyway, I got a lot out of our conference and truly appreciated her insights and suggestions.
Later in the day, a slight computer malfunction gave me the pleasure of losing all of my e-mail that was pending in the Out queue. This meant that some pieces of humor I'd been working on for the Top5 Music list got lost, as well as some personal correspondence. Guess that will teach me to work on non-Clarion writing during Clarion.
Oh, wait. And, I lost my un-posted entries for my online journal. Hmmm. I wonder if that's a message that I should stop writing to my online journal for a while...
We went to the Friday night party, this time held in Wallingford, and had a pleasant wind-down for the week. Several of our group decided that they were going to go hike Mt. Rainier on Saturday morning, but I knew that I was going to have other plans: sleep in, and then sleep some more.
Got to bed at around 2am. A fitting ending for a sleep-deprived week at Clarion West.
July 08, 2001
[Clarion West 2001: the halfway point]
Saturday: Slept 'til 10am. Most of the hall was empty, because more than half of the group had taken the day to go for a hike at Mt. Rainier. Those who didn't go on the hike soon left to pursue other adventures; by the time I was done showering and ready for breakfast, there were only a few of us left.
By noon, there were only three of us here at all. Then, the other two decided to take a trip to Greelake. That left me, all alone, on the twelfth floor of Campion Tower.
What did I do, you might ask, to enjoy the solitude of the building, or to enjoy the excellent weather that Seattle received this fine day? Or, you may well wonder, did I use this time to great utility and begin my Monday reading/critique work, or start writing my next story?
I did nothing. Nada.
I played solitaire. I surfed the web. I did zilch. Squat.
Didn't head out of the building at all until around 3pm or so to buy some milk because I'd run out. Came back from the grocery store and, well, did nothing. Had dinner with Paulette, who had stopped by en route to picking up friends from the airport. Then, when I was back in the dorm... you guessed it. Nothing. Some folks were watching a movie (X Men), so I sat for a bit and watched that. Other than that, a totally blank day.
Boy, I needed that.
Tomorrow, I'll be cooking lots o' food for the troops. So, tomorrow morning, I'll be grocery shopping, prepping the food, and making myself all kinds of busy. Should have done my critiques today/tonight. Didn't. C'est la vie.
July 09, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1: we enter the second half of the six week program. Hard to believe it's already half over.]
Woke up. Got outta bed. Dragged a comb across my head. Went grocery shopping. Made Jambalaya for the crew. It was a double batch, and therefore I needed help in order to make sure stuff got cut up and into the soup before too much time was spent simmering various ingredients. Thanks to Ling for helping out!
I came up with an idea for my next story. This is a record for me. Ran the idea by one of my fellow classmates, and she gave some excellent suggestions of pitfalls I should seek to avoid. :-)
We met Connie Willis today, who is our instructor for week 4. Highlights of today's introductory session:
* She brought The African Queen, which we will watch at some point this week so as to use it as a teaching tool for handling plot.
* She mentioned that we need to not focus on the critique we receive on our work, but instead, we need to pay attention to the critique that our fellow writers are giving each other. This is where we will learn the lessons we most need to hear.
* She gave us an assignment for tomorrow: Write how five of your favorite novels/stories/movies/poems/whatever begin. What triggers the action that sets off the story?
* Part two of the exercise: think of a favorite story/novel/movie/whatever that begins with: *a letter or a note, * a chance encounter, * an arrival, * a departure, * a death, * a wedding, * a disaster, * a crime, * a mistake, and * a disappearance.
None of her exercises asked us for a story that starts "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" or "Once upon a time." Har, har.
After the introduction round, it was time for dinner. In addition to my spicy jambalaya that turned out not to be so spicy, we had a vegan stew, a house salad (with emphatically no celery), and crawfish. The food was excellent, and once again I marvelled to see the entire crew come together to prepare the meal, set the table, and break it all down when it was over. One interesting glitch: we had run out of paper plates and paper cups, so we resorted to scrounging up real plates; for cups, we used these thimble-sized dixie cups that someone found who-knows-where.
Dinner and dessert (one of our Vancouver-based members retrieved some amazing strawberries and other fresh fruit from north of the border) were both fine, and I'm pleased to say that no one threw up after tasting my contribution to the meal.
The same, alas, can not be said about the reaction to the story I handed in on Friday for Monday's critique. There are two things at issue: 1) it is a revised version of a story that had been written prior to Clarion, and 2) it was over 4,500 words, which makes this group squirm. The combination is deadly, and I'm already getting totally killed over it. (The fact that the story still has major flaws doesn't help.)
I made an error, and I will be eating serious crow tomorrow. Tip for future Clarionites: when you think you might want to rework a story while you're here, don't do it. I shoulda known better.
Glad I have a new story idea for this week; bummed that I'm still going to have to face the music tomorrow for reworking a previous effort.
One final note. Connie returned from a shopping trip this evening with disposable cups for us all. They have riddles and jokes pre-printed on them. My kind of thing. I'm very much looking forward to this week.
July 13, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1: the fun never ends...]
Got to bed at roughly 2am on Sunday night; awoke at 5am Monday without the ability to fall back asleep. Insomnia in one of its more insidious forms. Since I couldn't get back to sleep, I decided to type, instead. By the time I left for class, I was a thousand words into my new, as yet untitled, story.
At class, we talked about the different kinds of stories that open with messages (Alien), an arrival (The Terminator), a departure (The Running Man novel), a death (A Death in the Family), a wedding (The Godfather), a disaster (Carrie -- this would be a personal disaster, in this case), a crime (The Pink Panther), a mistake (What's Up Doc?), a disappearance (The Vanishing).
Connie pointed out that in each case, these stories are starting off with an upset to the equilibrium. They require a response. The rest of the story unfolds from there, and is ultimately concerned with a drive toward the new equilibrium.
Connie encouraged us to think about what kicks the story into action and why.
Another point from today's class: feed your information to the reader on a need-to-know basis.
The critiques were good, and I have to say that while my story was thoroughly and properly dissected to a pulp, the critiques didn't get personal as well they might have. I found them useful; I think the story can salvaged. All that said, my warning for future Clarionites still holds: submit no re-writes! Ever!
While the crits were good, they are also showing signs of getting a bit raw. I wasn't the only one who received some sharp comments. All part of the week four phenomenon, I'm told.
After class, Connie volunteered to have lunch with us, so about nine of us went out for Thai food and talked up a storm. I had a great time, and it seemed that the others did, too.
Circumstances forced me to miss my one-on-one with Connie during the afternoon. She and I agreed that we can make it later in the week (possibly after I turn in my story on Friday), although there were now some new threats to my slot on Friday (in the form of another possible shift in scheduling). Did I mention that I made a mistake by turning in a story to fill that open slot on Monday?
[Clarion West 2k1, week 4: raising the stakes...]
Tuesday. An extreme shortage of sleep for me, but I still managed to get my critiquing done for the day and get up in time to make it to class.
Connie gave another excellent lecture. Once again, I couldn't possibly post everything she had to say, but here are some tidbits:
* Rule: You can't always use a detail just because it's true.
* Rule: The space something takes up in a story *should* be directly proportional to its importance to the story
* "Plot explication only under heat, and even then, break it up. " -- Raymond Chandler (If I have the quote and the attribution right. I can only rely upon my notes.)
We discussed plot in general, complications as a device for making plot interesting, and reversals in particular as one effective kind of plot complication.
An interesting plot complication will often change or thwart the characters goals or means in some interesting way. Either the character changes what he/she wants, the character gets what he/she wants but not how they wanted/expected to get it, or the character gets the exact opposite of what they wanted at first.
In a "reversal", the plot or action suddenly veers off in another direction from what was expected. The reversal can be good *or* bad. It doesn't always have to be bad. A really good reversal changes the goals/questions for the characters involved.
Connie showed us snippets of several movies to illustrate the point. These were very helpful to me, as they helped to bring the idea to life.
One example that sticks in my mind is from "Six Days and Seven Nights". The Harrison Ford and Anne Heche characters are marooned on an island. In the scene we watched, their goal is to reach a transmitter tower that is located on the peak of a hill on the island. If they damage the tower, a repair crew will be flown out, and they'll be rescued.
Reversal (bad): they get to the top of the hill. No transmitter. Turns out they're on a different island.
Reversal (good): from the top of the hill, they see a yacht in one of the lagoons. So, their new goal is to get to the boat. They have to climb back down the hill, get to their life raft, and paddle around to that side of the island. Hopefully, the yacht will still be there when they get there.
Reversal (good): the yacht is actually still there when they get to that side of the island.
Reversal (better!): there's actually two boats there. Bonus!
Reversal (bad): as they approach the two boats, they see in their binoculars that the folks from one boat have just shot and killed the guy on the yacht and dumped his body overboard.
Reversal (worse!): one of the bad guys notices them, gets binoculars, sees that there are witnesses to their crime, and now initiates a chase of our two main characters. The goal has now changed for Harrison and Anne, who now want to flee the boat for their lives, and they turn back for the island, baddies on their trail.
These reversals happened in quick succession and changed the course of the story dramatically. The class discussed a number of other well known stories that used this device effectively. Another that I recall vividly is Star Wars. The goal in Act I is (eventually) to get the droids to Alderaan. Reversal: Alderaan has been destroyed and they are captured. Now the goal is to escape. Reversal: Princess Leia is on board! Now the goal is to rescue her and escape. They escape. Reversal: the Empire *let* them escape so that they can track them! Now the goal is to use the information that the droids have to try to find a way to thwart the Empire before the Empire destroys the rebel base.
If I've misquoted Connie or the class discussion, I apologize. You can believe me when I say that this was only part of the very interesting discussion.
Critique was as lively as ever, and I think we successfully avoided the "rawness" that may have edged into our critique the day before.
Tuesday afternoon I was unable to get any reading in, so the evening became a cramming session of reading, critiquing, and I even managed to write about 300 words of my new, still untitled, story.
The new story is a ghost story. I've never written one before. I now have a new task, as well: get a reversal in there. :-)
[Clarion West 2k1, week 4: a pivotal day in a pivotal week]
Wednesday. Again, I got very, very little sleep. Again, I managed to get my reading and crits done for class and got to class on time.
Highlights from Connie's lecture, continuing the discussion about plot complications:
* Obstacles. This kind of plot complication is a hurdle in the characters' path. They must be a natural outgrowth of the nature of their goals/backgrounds.
* Unintended Consequences. The actions that should result in a certain good or bad effect might produce a different outcome. For example, the droids in Star Wars are kidnapped by the jawas. This should be a bad thing, right? But, it has the unintended result of saving them from capture by the Empire, which would be even worse. Another example. You need to get to America from Europe and time is of the essence. Your tickets to board that speedy new ocean liner are delayed in the mail, so you miss the trip that would have gotten you there on time. But, since the ocean liner happens to be the Titanic, and the unintended result is that your life is spared.
* Raising the stakes. You can raise the stakes by creating a shortage of resources: the good guy runs out of bullets in the middle of the fight scene. The helpful sidekick gets taken out of the action. The radio, your character's only link to civilization, goes dead. The carriage turns into a pumpkin. *Time* is a particularly useful resource to constrain in order to raise the stakes. Getting back to Cinderella: she's gotta get in, make a great impression, and get out before midnight, or she be walkin' home.
For the second time this week, Connie was generous enough with her time to have lunch with us. We tried an Indian cuisine restaurant which was happy to accommodate us. I think there were 13 of us or so, this time. Great conversation was the order of the day. Then, it was back to work.
I had promised myself yesterday that I would get right down to work after lunch: to read and critique the four new stories, to wash my laundry, and to finish writing my story that was due on Thursday morning. [Note: the possibility that I would get bumped from this slot was again averted thanks to the wonderful efforts by my fellow Clarionites who really pulled together to make sure that everyone was happy with the schedule change. I very much appreciate how well everyone is pulling together to help out.]
Sometimes, however, real life has a way of inserting itself. I found myself needing to take some time away from Clarion to attend to personal matters, and didn't get back to the dorm until around 10pm or so. I read and critiqued two of the four stories, and then began working on my story at around midnight. (I'd already written the first 1,300 words on Monday and Tuesday.)
By 6am, I'd finished my 4,700 word ghost story, "Jessica's Love", and resumed reading/critiquing the other stories for the day. One of my fellow Clarionites was kind enough to glance over the manuscript to make sure it was coherent (she had just gotten *up* for the new day).
I stretched out on my bed for an hour and a half nap at 6:15am....
[to be continued]
July 14, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1: a very special episode.]
Thursday. After going to bed at 6:15am for an hour and a half nap, I found myself waking up at 7am -- that's a mere 45 minutes later, in case you don't want to do the math.
Not that an hour and a half is much by way of a good night's rest. But, I woke up and decided not to risk the possibility of oversleeping and missing the day's class. So, I showered, performed a sanity check on my story, rearranged the ending ever-so-slightly, and generally walked around in a daze before heading to class.
Connie spoke to us about two other plot devices: coincidence and flashbacks. She suggested that coincidence is generally a no-no in the *resolution* of the story or of a plot thread. This is the dreaded deus ex machina. There are exceptions, however, where coincidence *can* be used to tidy up the resolution of a story or plot thread, such as when coincidence is already established as an integral part of the setting.
While, in general, the reader will tend not to enjoy coincidence as a mechanism for getting the characters out of a story jam, there are a number of places where coincidence can be used to great effect:
* at the beginning of the story.
* when the coincidence makes the characters' lives worse
* when it is a part of the kind of story you're telling (perhaps you have a character you are trying to establish as being very lucky)
* things appear to be coincidence, but you later discover it's actually a conspiracy
It seems to me (here's where we see if I'm understanding Connie's point) that in the example of Six Days and Seven Nights which we saw earlier in the week, it might be a bit of an unsatisfying coincidence if the yacht that Harrison and Anne saw from the hilltop was still in the lagoon by the time they got down and then the owner of the yacht ferried them to safety. That's a yawner. But, since the yacht was ambushed by armed pirates, the coincidence of the yacht in the lagoon ends up dramatically raising the stakes and making life worse for Harrison and Anne. This is a thrill. :-)
Connie also spoke about flashbacks. These are a plot device best used only sparingly, and should generally be incorporated in little chunks, if at all. She also gave us some linguistic tips for how to ease into and out of flashbacks.
Given my staggering shortage of sleep, I found it a bit of a struggle to stay as attentive and alert as I would prefer to be during critiques. I hope that my own contributions to the discussions were helpful. Somehow, I managed to make it through class without having to slip into a coma.
We picked up our four stories for the next day... and my story was the shortest of them all. Usually, my stories (an average of about 5,000 words) come in as the longest or second longest piece on any given day. On this day, my 4,700 word story was dwarfed by 7,900 and 6,900 stories, plus another at 5,500 words. This represented the biggest single-day reading load we've faced so far. It also represented a challenge for me: how do I manage to take a nice long nap, attend lunch with Connie (when Connie asks if one would like to join her for lunch, I'd be hard pressed to respond "Gee, I'd rather take a nap"), attend Connie's movie night (wherein we'd be studying plot by example), crit these longer-than-usual stories, and get a full night's sleep for the next day?
The answer seemed to be that I wouldn't be able to do all of these things. So, I decided to just play it by ear. I joined the group that had lunch with Connie. We ate at the Thai restaurant again (this is the second time we went with Connie, and the third time we'd been there in a week... and, I still enjoyed the food). When I got back to the dorm, I seemed to still have some energy, so I read the longest of the stories I had to read. Took a two-hour nap. Read some more. Attended movie night. I'm still not sure how I managed it, but I then finished my reading in time to get to bed by 1am... which in turn enabled me to enjoy seven refreshing hours of sleep before Friday's class.
Movie night: we were going to watch The African Queen, but there was a last minute change. Connie still encourages us all to see it, and I plan to rent it soon after Clarion. In the meantime, she chose as a replacement The Sure Thing, and we had fun watching the coincidences, reversals, obstacles and stake-raising that carried the story forward.
By the time my face hit the pillow at one in the morning, the big push for the week was over. My story was in. My obligations for Friday were out of the way. My life outside of Clarion stablized. I'd managed to attend to my full roster of activities for the week....
It's hard to describe the relief I felt now that the pressure I'd been under all week was finally abating. I realize that I haven't been doing a good job of describing the feeling of that pressure in the first place. Nonetheless, it was an exhausting week, and I went to sleep feeling good, knowing that the worst was over.
[Clarion West 2k1, week 4. It's not just for breakfast anymore.]
The ending of my previous entry was not foreshadowing, even though it could be interpretted as such. The worst of the week really was over. Even though we still hadn't arrived at:
Friday the 13th.
Seven hours of delicious sleep. I woke up just before 8am, showered, and dashed off to class. I noticed that one of my fellow Clarionites had written on her white board (we all have little white boards on the doors to our rooms) that *she* had just pulled an all-nighter. My heart went out to her, having just gone through that peculiar kind of nastiness the day before, myself.
Class was great, as usual. Connie addressed foreshadowing as a plot device. She quoted Opus the Penguin, late of Bloom County:
"Foreshadowing... your key to quality literature."
Connie recommended against the use of Dickensian-style foreshadowing ("Little did she know that the man she was about to meet would change her life forever"). However, she heartily endorses what I guess you could call Chekovian-style foreshadowing (my term, not hers): planting clues early on that you will use later in the story.
(Checkov has been noted as saying that if you see a pistol over the mantle in act one, then the pistol should be fired before the end of act three. There is a corollary to this, and the corollary is what Connie addressed: if a pistol goes off in act three, you should see the pistol at some point during act one.)
I won't go into detail on the lecture here today. However, here are a couple of highlights:
* As a general rule, every scene must have *two* purposes... one of which is to further the plot.
* If you receive a detailed rejection letter from a story you have submitted for publication, this is not a bad thing. If you're cool with the suggestions, go ahead and make the changes and re-submit with a cover letter. And, be sure to send the piece to other marets, as appropriate. Don't give up after only one try.
* Connie joked that you can't consider yourself a real writer until you "kill a magazine" -- you sell your story to a publication that then goes out of business before they print it. :-) We have a couple folks in our Clarion class who have already "killed a magazine".
Connie has been encouraging all of us to attend "WorldCon" -- which I think is short for the World Science Fiction Convention. It's a professional convention; not what most people think of when they think about sci-fi fan or "star trek" conventions.
[Attention all y'all who are writing or want to write science fiction: you really owe it to yourself to attend this event.]
Among other things, this is where the Hugos are awarded -- in fact, members of the convention vote on the Hugo awards. It is *the* event of the science fiction writing profession.
This year's WorldCon is being held in Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend. Check out their website.
Anyway, Connie gave us an important tip regarding the etiquette for when you bump into authors at cons and elsewhere, whom you have met before. She told us that when we see her, for example, at the cons, we should make a point of always reminding her of who we are when we re-introduce ourselves. So, we shouldn't go up to Connie and say "Hi, remember me?!" Nodding and smiling doesn't distinguish you, and authors meet many, many people over the years.
Instead, say something like, "Hi, I'm Allan and I was one of your Clarion students in Seattle, the one who... " People don't always remember other people out of context; give them the context, and they'll have a better time of remembering who you are. She then told us a few stories as to why this can be important.
The critiques during class were wonderful. Fantastic. I received the strongest feedback yet on ways I can improve my story to make it ready for submission. It may have helped that I gave them more to work with this time than I had with my previous piece. Nonetheless, I also think that the critiques are getting sharper; more focused. This was very exciting.
I thought the critiques were generally helpful and on target for all of the stories, not just mine... but, you'd have to ask the other writers if they agree. :-)
After class, Connie took us all to lunch. Woo-hoo! We went to "Bill's Off Broadway", the same place where we had our farewell lunch with Brad. [Note to future Clarions: if you go to Bill's, stick with the pizza.] Once again, the conversation was great.
My conference was scheduled for right after lunch. We talked about the story I'd just handed in as well as the story I'd handed in the previous week ("Derivative" -- the humor piece about the Ms. Solar System contest). She was very helpful, pointing out things I can do to make these two stories more compelling, and she encouraged me to polish them up and send them out. I ran an idea by her for how I might address some issues with "Broken Connection" (the story I workshopped on Monday), and she seemed to think that the new opening I proposed would work much better.
After my conference with Connie, I found a conversation already-in-progress in our 12th Floor lounge with the editors from two well-known e-publishers in the sci-fi field. They were talking about the direction the industry is taking with regard to e-books and webzines.
The rest of the afternoon was generally decompression time. We went to the Friday Clarion party where a number of notables in the industry joined us, we bade our good-byes to Connie (and presented her with going-away presents) and then it was back to the dorms. Had an enjoyable late-night bull session, then off to bed at around 2am.
Week four was definitely the most trying week for me so far. It may also have seen both my worst and my best writing at Clarion to date. There are only two weeks left of the program, but that feels about right. I look forward to cranking it up a notch... and then retrenching for a bit.
July 17, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1, the saga continues]
Saturday. For the second day in a row, I managed 7 hours of sleep. I'd intended to sleep in longer than that, but I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep. Still, I'm starting to feel like I'm recovering from my massive sleep deprivation of the past week.
The bulk of the day (other than the time I wasted at my computer "catching up" on web and e-mail) was spent at Greg Bear's annual Clarion West party. Many Clarion supporters and sci-fi notables were there, including our instructor for week 5 and editor extraordinaire (how do you spell that, anyway? :), Ellen Datlow.
Many floors and walls of the Bear household were covered in cardboard which featured the opening lines to books both real and imagined. I was pleased to find that classic opening line, "It was a pleasure to burn." (Mr. Bear and Mr. Bradbury go way back.)
A fine time was had by all. A note to future Clarionites: should you have a chance to attend a party at Greg and Astrid's house, plan to spend a relaxing afternoon. Take it easy. And be sure to stroll through the library. :-)
[Clarion West 2k1, week 5. Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats.]
Wow. Actually managed *eight* hours of sleep. That's three days in a row of a relatively decent night's sleep. Woo-hoo!
Puttered around. Read and critiqued my four stories for the day. Read a Kelly Link story called "The Specialist's Hat" that Sean recommended to me. (You can find it on the web, I believe... I'll look it up, soon.) I was looking for "spooky stories" for inspiration. This one definitely counts.
The kick-off meeting with Ellen Datlow (current editor of Sci Fiction, the fiction portion of The Sci-Fi channel's scifi.com, and well known co-editor of the annual Year's Best Fantasy and Horror collections) was pretty much a "getting to know you" affair. We all introduced ourselves and, per Ellen's request, mentioned some of the things we were each hoping to get out of this week at Clarion West. Ellen told us that she plans to work the classes around our questions and any issues that come up in our writing during the course of the week. She gave us some excellent information about the industry, by way of answering some of the questions that were fired at her.
As has become our tradition, we had a big group dinner on Sunday after our kick-off meeting. This week, Carla led the charge with a ziti and pesto dish and tobouli (spelling?) for all, while Kiini organized the salmon cakes brigade for those of us who dig eating fish. The meal was fantastic; I particularly enjoyed the salmon cakes and the ziti. For desert, we had a fruit crisp prepared with farm fresh ingredients... I think this was spearheaded by Karen. (I'm sure someone will let me know if I'm in error. Anyone? Anyone?)
As it so happens, Karen and Linda are from Canada, while another of our group, Ari, is an American living in Vancouver, BC. Several of us had recommended the South Park movie for it's completely unbiased account of Canada's influence on American pop culture, and they finally prevailed upon us to show this fine example of American film on the big screen TV that graces our lounge. Fortunately, I just happened to have a copy of the video with me here in the dorms.
The movie was a big hit, not only with our neighbors to the North but also, it seemed to me, with our Clarionites from elsewhere in the Commonwealth, as well. I also gained a new appreciation for just how deliciously offensive this movie really is. It even made our Australian representative gasp in shock.
I went to bed with the song "Blame Canada" running through my head and I slept most soundly.
[Clarion West 2k1, week 5: into the final third of the program...]
Monday. Woke up having *again* gotten seven hours of sleep. Four nights in a row of a decent amount of sleep. And, yet, I found it harder to wake up on this day than on the previous days. Go figure.
Class was excellent. I laughed. I cried. It was better than Cats. And, I'm not posting my notes, other than to repeat Ellen's advice that if you want to see dialog done well, check out any novel by Elmore Leonard.
We all fended for ourselves for lunch and most of us dove right into the day's reading and critiquing afterward. Sean prepared an excellent beef stew for dinner and invited Ellen to come up and join us, which she did. Fine conversation and fine food; what better way to spend an evening?
Conversation topics included body piercing and tattoos. What would happen if you accidentally swallowed the metal orb of your tongue piercing? Ewwwwwww.
I had managed to finish my reading and critiquing by then -- the reading load was lighter than usual -- and spent most of the evening agonizing over developing a story idea for my assignment this week. Over the dinner table, it was suggested that I write a horror story featuring a florist (straight), a "company man," and a horse. Possibly along with a monster truck named Grave Digger. In Cairo. The horse should be alive at the beginning and the ending of the story, I was told, but dead at some point in the middle.
As difficult as it was for me, I decided to pass on this lovely suggestion. I spent some time chatting with a couple other friends here who had missed the dinner conversation, and generated a couple of other possible topic ideas. But, those didn't quite sit right with me, either, even though the general topics are compelling. So, I hopped into my car and went for a drive. Driving has often helped me to "get" ideas, although I have no idea why. By the time I arrived in Redmond (whereupon I bought Paulette some flowers and gave them to her before driving back), I had the story idea I'd been looking for.
Usually, I don't get my titles until I'm pretty far into writing the story, but this one already has a title. "Let There Be Life."
Arrived back at the dorms and typed up my journal entries for these last few days. Now it's time to go to bed. I'm looking at about six hours of sleep. That's not so bad....
July 21, 2001
[Clarion West 2001, week 5: we now return to our normally scheduled program, already in progress]
Tuesday. We talked a bit about opening paragraphs during class today. Ellen read the openings from a few short stories in William Gibson's Burning Chrome as we talked about those as "grabbers".
We also talked a bit about some of the technical matters of the industry: manuscript format concerns, being experimental and getting an editor's favorable attention, and submitting novels.
Since we were already into week 5 and none of us had done anything about the traditional class t-shirt, I asked the group if anyone was interested in working on putting one together. After a few folks expressed interest, I suggested a quick meeting in the afternoon to get the ball rolling.
After class, a fellow Clarionite and I had lunch at the Ethiopian restaurant that few (if any) of us have visited since we'd been there for Octavia's farewell lunch at the end of week 1. It was nice to have an unhurried, mellow meal there.
By the time I got back to the dorms, it was getting kind of late in the afternoon (class had run a bit late, and lunch was leisurely), and I still hadn't done any work on my story for the week. But, there was only an hour left before the scheduled t-shirt meeting, so I certainly couldn't get any real work done. Perhaps it was more important that I play some computer games, instead....
At three o'clock, Ben, Raymund, Sean and I got together to talk about the class t-shirt. We each took a task and set deadlines. There was still a possibility that we'd be able to get the shirts printed up before the end of Clarion (ergo, we wouldn't have to mail them out when they were done), but we'd have to hurry.
Since I had agreed to take on the task of phoning for quotes, I started doing that right after the quick meeting. I found a place that would be able to take our artwork by Friday and still have the shirts to us by next week.
Of course, none of this furthered my story for the week.
I read the four stories for the day and wrote my critiques for a few of them, and then it was time to head down for the reading at Elliott Bay Books. The "reading" this week was an interview-style Q and A. Howard Waldrop conducted the interview.
Afterwards, a few of us decided to order pizza, since quite a few of us had neglected to eat dinner before the reading. We ordered some Pagliacci's and then settled into a critique party in my room. There were five or six of us just quietly reading our stories and writing our critiques.
Pizza arrived, and there was much rejoicing. By around midnight, our late dinner was done and most of us had finished our reading and critiquing for the day. Bedtime for Bonzo.
But, did I end up getting any writing done for the week? Well, not really. But, I did jot down a quick outline of how I wanted to story to unfold. There. I got *something* done on it.
But, yet again, I saved the bulk of the work for the night before my story was due. Again. Duh.
[Clarion West 2001, week 5. It's not just an adventure. It's a writing workshop.]
Wednesday. Went to class. Ate lunch. Read stories. Critiqued them. Went to a doctor's appointment. Ate dinner. (Karen prepared Panang Curry and several of us helped her eat it. Ellen joined us for dinner, as well, which was fun.) Started writing "Let There Be Life." Didn't go to bed.
[Clarion West 2k1 week 5: the never-ending story...]
"Let There Be Life" weighed in at 3,100 words. While this may have been the tightest plotting I've done for a story yet, the story still went in a direction I didn't expect while I was writing it. Certain elements took on a greater significance than I had originally intended (which seemed to work fine as far as I could tell), and I ended the story short of where I originally thought I would go. I lit the fuse, so to speak, but didn't describe the explosion.
Went to class and handed in my story. For various reasons, the class agreed to go with five stories for Friday rather than the previous tradition of four, so four of my fellow Clarionites were also enjoying the benefits of at least *some* sleep deprivation that morning. Nonetheless, as we arrived and handed in our stories, one of the administrators commented on how surprised she was to see us coming in quasi-early. She said that she was more accustomed to folks showing up at the last minute to turn in their stories.
Class was excellent as always. I'll pause to mention a couple of things discussed: copyright issues and writer/editor etiquette. On this last subject, let it be known that it is bad form to puke on an editor if you are an aspiring writer. I take this to mean that it's okay if you're an established writer. :-)
After class, most of us joined Ellen for lunch at the nearby Indian restaurant (Maharaja). Much good conversation and good food was enjoyed by all.
Went back to the dorms. Settled myself in for a nap, knowing that I'd be spending the evening reading and critiquing more than the usual load for a Thursday night. Drifted off to sleep. Phone rang. Talked to the person who called me. Drifted off to sleep. Phone rang. Talked to the person who called me. Drifted off to sleep. Woke up twenty minutes later expecting the phone to ring. D'oh.
While I was sleeping, a couple of my compatriots went shopping for a gift for our instructor. We had decided upon the very specific item we wanted to get, and I had given them directions on how to get to the store where they could find this item. When they returned, they told me that the store in question wasn't where I'd said it would be; that it had closed.
"No problem," said I, "I know where there's another store just like it on the Eastside." We agreed to all head off to the Eastside to find this item.
The store in question,
[Clarion West 2k1, week 5: closer to fine]
Friday. Went to class. We critiqued five stories. Managed to stay relatively succinct. The group had excellent suggestions for improving my own story, although I'm now at a loss because it is the ending that is at issue, and changing it will require a lot of re-work.
Still, it appears that I'm getting the hang of tightening up the story, if nothing else. :-)
After class, we all went for lunch to the Thai restaurant that has become a mainstay for us, and treated Ellen. Paulette joined us for lunch (reminder: Paulette was a Clarion West student last year and is helping them out with creating promotional materials this year, so she is occasionally seen helping out. :) and afterward, she was kind enough to donate some of her time to the cause of getting the t-shirt design done in time to get it out to the t-shirt printer.
I'm pretty happy with the final result; we'll see how it looks on the shirts.
The big event of the day for me was at the Friday Clarion West Party. While there were a lot of very cool and interesting people both hosting and attending, I was most surprised to end up bumping into someone from my high school days. Someone, in fact, who I hadn't seen since my sophomore year in high school, if I recall correctly.
A bunch of us at the party were talking about novel projects, and when I mentioned that mine was partly set in Buffalo, one of the women made a cross sign and a hissing noise. As bad as I am with names, her name had sounded familiar when we were introduced, and her negative reaction to Buffalo convinced me that she was the person I'd known way back when. (And, no, when you're in your thirties, you are not likely to recognize someone whom you had last seen as a teenager, especially out of context.)
Turns out that in the intervening years, she had attended Clarion West in '94 (I think; I'm bad with dates), spent some time as a Clarion West volunteer, and had worked at my former employer, Microsoft, for about eight years. She and her husband are now living about two miles away from Paulette and me in Redmond. Crazy coincidences abound.
Oh, and she's in a writing critique group with another person who I bump into all the time in completely different circles (a previous grad of the UW Commercial Fiction program and a board member of RASP). Crazy, crazy, crazy.
Made the acquaintance of some other very cool people at the party, as well, who also live in the area. And, a couple of Clarionites from last year came up for the party, as well. A thoroughly enjoyable evening, for me at least.
Came home. Went to bed.
...which leads to the thought of the day. This is the end of Week 5. There is only one more week to go. Only one more story to write. On the one hand, I can't imagine that this is all going to be over so soon. On the other hand, I couldn't imagine going much longer than one more week, either.
July 23, 2001
[Clarion West 2001: only one week left to go....]
Saturday. Not much to report, insofar as I spent most of the day doing pretty much nothing. Many of my fellow Clarionites spent the day shopping or otherwise taking it easy; I can't say for sure if that was a universal situation, but it definitely appeared to be the pattern.
I spent part of the day assembling the material for the t-shirt printer; this included getting people's t-shirt sizes and their desired quantities. Ellen was kind enough to proof the copy before I finalized the Illustrator file which I am to e-mail to the printer.
The highlight for Saturday came in the evening, when we had agreed to meet to watch the movie Unbreakable and partake of egg creams. (Egg Cremes? How's that spelt, anyway?) Ellen is a true New Yorker, and wanted to show us all the proper way to prepare this fine potion. (Quite yummy, by the way.) At the same time, she hadn't yet seen this particular movie, which was true of several others among us, as well. I *had* seen it before, and was eager to see it again.
In the end, the egg cremes (creams?) were most delicious, but the group was split on the movie. I'm pretty sure that I was in the minority (I liked the movie), but we all dove in and offered our critiques. An enjoyable way to wind down week five.
July 24, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1, week 6. The final week in this six week program....]
Sunday. Spent most of the day figuring out just who was ordering what as far as the class t-shirts goes. We're making quite the fashion statement, going with "baby doll tees" as well as the standard Hanes Beefy-Tee style shirts. The class has ordered at least one of every available size in each of the available styles, and has also made special requests for special exceptions here and there. No big deal; just lots of details for me to track and make sure that the t-shirt printer tracks 'em, too.
Don't let my mentioning all this fool you: I actually enjoy this kind of work. :-)
We met Jack Womack, our instructor for the sixth and final week. Jack told us that we'll be working on characterization as well as endings, and several of the Clarionites mentioned a desire to make sure that we covered applying our tools to the crafting of novels as well as to short stories.
For our final Sunday group dinner: chicken masala (this effort was organized by Avi), vegan stew (I'm sorry; I don't know who led this effort), miso soup (Ari! Not to be confused with Avi...), and fruits for dessert (I think this was Karen, again, but I'm not certain).
Down at the end of the table where I was sitting, Jack and a bunch of us were talking about Russia and Russians, as several of us have had various adventures in and around the country and with the people.
Once critiquing was done for the day, I finally prepared a couple of batches of homemade chocolate pudding from scratch. This was around 10pm. It seemed to go over well, although a few people later complained that they found it hard to go to sleep that night thanks to the pure concentration of sugar and chocolate. Bwahahahaha....
I managed to get to bed at around 1am, for a total of seven hours of much needed sleep.
July 26, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1, week 6: only a few days left...]
Monday. Went to class, where we had four stories (many of which were short shorts, per our assignment from Jack) to critique. Throughout the morning, Jack gave us tips on making our story-telling more compact.
A short short, by the way, tends to run under 2,000 words and often focuses on one incident or episode. The idea is to get a lot information across in a short amount of space. As such, writing one is a great exercise at sharpening your skills.
After class, a few of us headed for lunch at Dick's. Jack was unable to join us, but he indicated that he's a fan of their fine, fine cuisine. (Have I mentioned Dick's yet in this journal? A deluxe hamburger, fries, and a chocolate shake for only a few bucks. Mmm, mmm.)
Back to the dorms for reading and critiquing, and then six of us decided to try a different Ethiopian/Nigerian cuisine restaurant. Carla, Kiini, Avi, Emily, ibi, and myself. ibi was kind enough to recommend the plantains (did I spell that correctly? :), which were excellent, and I enjoyed the Nigerian-style beef meal as well with a banana juice chaser.
As has often been the case, we wrapped up the day with a group silent critique session (wherein we all gather in one room and read our stories and write our crits silently), and then a few of us retired for milk and cookies before trundling off to bed.
July 27, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1, week 6: only four days of class left....]
Class was relatively short, insofar as we only had three stories to crit and they were on the short side (most of us are turning in short-shorts this week). Alas, we collected the manuscripts to be read for Wednesday, and there were five (instead of the usual four), one of which was ten thousand words long. This elicited some groans, but all this really meant was that our reading load was back up to about the same level as a typical day in earlier weeks, since most of the other stories were short.
Jack gave us an excellent lecture on the role that publicity folks play in selling a book: what they do, what works, what doesn't. (As an interesting side-note that came out of his lecture, it came up that Ray Bradbury continues to get more fan mail than any other spec fic author at his publishing house. It seems to me that industry types might deride the classic style and the not-necessarily-scientifically-correct premises of the golden agers, but the fact remains that the reading public ponies up the bucks for those kinds of authors.)
Key distinctions in lecture: no publicity is bad publicity. Any publicity is good publicity. Publicity is not the same as marketing, and neither of those are the same as advertising. The publicity department of a major publisher is primarily concerned with getting review copies (galleys) out there to be read by influential reviewers, and with setting up book tours for authors who have a proven track record.
Advice for writers: as you develop a fan base, be nice to them. They can help you to build up momentum for your projects as they come out. (Sounds basic, but there's much more to it than that....)
For lunch, we went to Dick's again; this time, because Jack was able to make it, and that was his preference. That was fine by me, although in retrospect I think I gained about eighty pounds by eating there two days in a row.
That night, most of us made our way to Elliott Bay Books to catch Jack's reading. I have to say, he has an amazing style when it comes to presenting his work. He read a portion of his latest novel, Going Going Gone, and blew the crowd away. I was particularly captivated by the alternate history of his story, in which it was President Nixon assassinated in 1963, and President Lodge was running for re-election as the story opened up in 1968. The language was exquisite, and I'd have bought the book then and there if it weren't for the fact that I'd just recently bought several other books of his that I haven't had a chance to read, yet. :-)
That evening, i still hadn't come up with a story idea for the story I'd have to turn in on Thursday morning (keep in mind that, at this point, I would only have Wednesday night to write it), and I still hadn't read the stories for critique. So, when I walked by the room where a bunch of fellow Clarionites were playing poker, I reluctantly had to... join them, of course.
Didn't generate any solid idea of what I'd write the next day, but toyed with an idea I'd had for a while, set on Gilligan's Planet. Rejected it, but couldn't get any further.
Read those five stories (starting with the long one), and went to bed very, very late.
Sleep deprivation. Blech. This is the last week, though, so I can make it. Right? Just plow through for a few more days.
July 28, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1, week 6: the home stretch...]
Wednesday. Woke up about an hour earlier than usual, and so I spent the extra time thinking about what story I'd write this week. Story idea #1 finally worked it's way into my consciousness, and I greeted the day with renewed confidence.
Went to class. We critiqued the five stories, and then Jack talked to us a bit about comedy. Because we had a particularly good example of an opening page in this batch of stories, we also talked about effective openings of stories.
Jack also added a fourth story type to the three Bradley had written on the board ("Boy meets girl," "The little tailor," and "The man who learned better."): "What goes around comes around." This is the revenge story, and doesn't often fit into the three other categories.
For lunch, a bunch of us went to the thai food restaurant that we've been haunting quite a bit. We also plotted to head out for dinner that evening, since this would likely be our last chance to all dine together as a group.
After lunch, I came back to the dorms and started writing. Story idea #1 wasn't working for me at all. Happily, a derivative -- which I shall call Story Idea #2 -- soon presented itself, and I began typing. By the time we headed off for dinner, I'd written over 700 words of what I'd intended to be a 1000 word short-short.
Then, we went for dinner. It was a fiasco. Almost the entire group trekked down to McCormick's Fish House and Bar at 722 Fourth Avenue downtown. We chose this place because it was closer than their location on First Avenue, they were known to have some vegetarian and vegan options, and others among our party had eaten there and liked it.
Our experience of this restaurant was not good. They placed us at a series of tables rather than all together (so, why go as such a large group if we have to eat separately?), the service was slow, the vegetarian and vegan options were meager, the three of us who ordered steak ordered medium rare but received medium well or well done, and the food was both lame *and* expensive, and they wouldn't allow us to break up the check by tables since we were, in their eyes, one group.
I've been told that the one on First Avenue is better, but I'm in no hurry to try it. It's possible that this place is good under other circumstances. But, I don't reckon I'll find out. Attention all you future Clarionites: don't bother bringing a large group to this restaurant.
We returned to the dorm, and I completed my story, which turned in at 1,500 words. On the longish side for a short-short, but still technically part of the range. Emily was kind enough to read it over (several of us have found that there is a benefit to having a primary reader to catch obvious stuff before submitting to the group; Emily and Karen have been wonderful about helping me out in that capacity), and then I was done with my final writing assignment for Clarion West 2001.
It wasn't even midnight, yet. :-)
Emily and Avi and I had milk and cookies in my room for the last time, here. With all of us leaving in a couple days, it wasn't likely that any of us would be buying more milk....
July 29, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1, week 6: the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train...]
Thursday. Went to class and turned in my last story for Clarion West, as did three others. Did I feel relief? Not at the time. Didn't feel momentous at all. Kind of like one's 22nd birthday. Did you feel particularly older or excited on your 22nd birthday? Or, was it just another birthday?
During class, Jack talked to us about extrapolation both of societies and of character. He noted that authors often look at macro changes but fail to capture micro changes... and it's the micro changes that make the new landscape interesting. For example, authors of speculative fiction, even as far back as the late 19th century, had projected the widespread us of automobiles... but had never forecast the idea of drive-in movies.
There's also a tendency to go off on a "if this continues", but the future is more often going to look the exact opposite of what would happen if "this" continued. For example, if you were to forecast the future of New York City in the mid 1970's, it would be easy to envision a kind of nightmare landscape like in *Escape From New York*. (My example, not his.) But, in fact, NYC has become the opposite. It's cleaned up so much as to have become unrecognizable as the heir to the 1970's New York.
After class, we mostly fended for ourselves for lunch. Kiini talked about the possibility of putting together a little awards ceremony for the class -- for us, by us -- and Carla agreed to help put them together. I volunteered to help out as well, starting with trying to find the materials to actually put certificates together.
The t-shirt printer called a few hours earlier than expected to say that the shirts were ready. So, I headed out to pick them up, and then picked up some certificate paper while I was in the neighborhood of my favorite stationery store.
A note about the t-shirts: the folks at Alita Design did an excellent job; they filled the order exactly as specified (which, given all of the variations we asked for, is just short of a minor miracle), and did a wonderful job on the printing, itself. If you're ever in Seattle and need t-shirts done quickly and inexpensively, I highly recommend these guys.
Anyway, when I got back, I grouped the shirts so that they could be easily handed out to the individuals in our class, and then helped out with the certificates. Kiini and Carla did a great job of coming up with material that was both funny and appropriate. I typed them in and printed them up (and helped with the wording on a few, where asked :) and we were ready to go. At seven o'clock, we began a pot-luck dinner which was essentially a left-overs party wherein we cooked what remained of our food stores in the pantry (which would have to be cleaned out on Friday) and shared one last, big meal together.
Two of our classmates were unable to join us for dinner, but one would be returning at 9pm, so we decided to present the awards and the shirts at 9pm. To kill time between dinner and the ceremony, most of us sat in the lounge and took turns reading tawdry scenes from the two Connie Mason books in our class' library. Each person offered a very different style of dramatic presentation. We were also treated to an impromptu storytelling by ibi, one of our classmates who is particularly attuned to the tradition of oral storytelling.
At around 9pm, classmate number 16 returned. Number 17 was going to be out all night, unfortunately, so we got on with the show. We read the awards for each person and then handed them their t-shirts. Afterward, we all dressed up in our new t-shirts and sarongs, and enjoyed some photo-op time. (I'll post a group shot in the next entry.)
Late that evening, several of us got together for our final "critique party", and then it was time for bed. Tomorrow would be the last day of Clarion West 2001.
The photo below was taken on Thursday, July 26th, featuring 16 of the 17 classmates of Clarion West 2001. Emily Mah set her camera on a delayed timer, which is how she manages to be in the photo while still getting the photo credit. I'll post other images in the near future....
From Left to Right, back row: Raymund Eich, Samantha Ling, Allan Rousselle, Patrick Samphire, Karen Abrahamson, Benjamin Rosenbaum. In front: Emily Mah, Linda de Muellemeester, Sean Klein, Stephanie Burgis Matthews, Carla Johnson, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Susan Ee, Pascale (ibi) Philantrope, Ari Goelman, and Avi Bar-Ze'ev. In the elevator and therefore not visible in this shot: Michael Barry.
Notice the fashionable Clarion West 2001 T-shirts and the equally fashionable sarongs, official outerwear of Clarion West 2001.
[Clarion West 2k1 draws to a close, and only a few more entries remain to be written...]
Friday. The last day of class.
I was supposed to be up in time to leave by 8:30am, which is when I normally leave for class. In this case, though, the idea was to be ready to meet with one of the administrators so that a classmate and I could help her carry some graduation-related ceremony items (as it turned out, cake and goodies) from her car up to the classroom. Interestingly, for the first time during the program, I slept through my alarm.
I woke up at about a quarter past eight and, realizing what time it was, managed to compress my hour long morning routine into the fifteen available minutes. Raymund and I met her mostly on-time, and we got everything up to the classroom without incident. Nonetheless, it was an odd way to start my last day of class.
We critiqued four stories, mine being one of them. As always, the comments on my own story were helpful, and I am optimistic that this piece can be fixed up and submitted with the guidance from my peers, as have been some of my other stories. We'll see.
We'd been encouraged to write alternate endings to our stories this week, but the story I'd turned in, quite simply, had no other ending. I'm thinking, given the critique I received, that I might want to shoot for an alternate middle, however....
I also think that the week ended on a particularly strong note with the other three stories that we critiqued. They were strong stories with tight writing and quick pacing, and represented some of the best writing from their respective authors. One in particular had a terrifically dramatic first paragraph, while another had a rather gruesome conclusion. (Two, if you count the alternate ending.) And, yes, I know I'm using adverbs quite a bit in my journal. Get over it.
A few of my classmates had grabbed long streams of raffle tickets and draped them as headwear about half-way through class. Very humorous.
Jack's talk for this class was, fittingly enough, about endings. Unlike certain other art forms or presentations, the novel should not end at a point making the reader want more. Rather, the novel needs to end at exactly the right point; the reader should feel fulfilled (my interpretation), not deprived. The closing of the book is how the reader will remember the author, long after the details of the story have faded.
Jack also encouraged us to get to the ending of a project and then *move on* to the next. Don't keep re-writing your current project indefinitely.
At the end of class, it was time for the usual week-ending business. We had our raffle drawing, and for the first time, *I* won the author's book. Jack has several novels out there, and I'd already purchased a couple (Let's Put the Future Behind Us, and Terraplane), but the one that was raffled off was one that I've been wanting to get but hadn't, yet: Elvissey. Most excellent.
We then had our graduation ceremony for the course, followed by cake and beverages. A co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Science Fiction -- Cory Doctorow, a Clarion East grad -- graciously donated a copy of the book to each of us, and we in turn signed each other's copies, wishing each other the best and all the sort of things you'd expect to see in a yearbook. Jack signed mine with a hilarious comment about politics.
The group then had lunch at the Thai restaurant. Everyone kept asking where we should go, and no one could come up with a better idea, so this fallback became our plan. Once again, we had almost the entire group in attendance. Most excellent conversation over good food; my idea of a good time.
During my one on one conference with Jack later that afternoon, we talked about the stories of mine he liked and what could be done to clean them up, and we also talked about The Do Over -- a premise that he says he likes. We talked about the possibilities and the pitfalls that come with that kind of premise. We also talked about humor and satire, in general. I have to say that, in retrospect, I wish I had turned my story in earlier in the week so that we could have had our one-on-one earlier. Had we had a chance to get to know each other better earlier in the week, I think that would have elevated the fun-factor for me even more.
Later that afternoon, Avi and Karen and I went on a trek to Ballard, looking for salmon jerky. Avi used to live in Seattle, and he knows of many places where cool stuff can be found that I have not yet discovered, myself. We arrived at the Portlock store... but, they were out of salmon jerky. Too bad. Avi and Karen each bought some strips of smoked salmon (which is most yummy), and we made our way back to the dorms.
As it turns out, Avi's birthday was only a couple of days away, so a bunch of us followed Emily's lead and took Avi out to have sushi for dinner. As many of my friends know, I'm happy to eat sushi on occasion, but I really don't know the first thing about ordering it. So, as usual, I let the others figure out what we were going to have, and I went along for the ride. The meal was good, but it was getting late, so we rushed back to the dorms to regroup and head out to our last Friday night Clarion party.
Once again, we had a chance to meet several influential people in the industry as well as local supporters. The fact that this was the weekend of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference (PNWA) meant that we had a lot of people in from out of town, as well. We were also treated once more to seeing a Very Large Book Collection. Mmmmm. I guess it helps that our hostess is an avid reader as well as writer, and our host is a manager of a used book store. :)
But, alas, this was also the final party of the final week of the program, and I'm sure I must have looked as dazed as I felt.
We returned to the dorms and my classmates dove into the task of packing their rooms and cleaning out the kitchen and pantry. As much as I wanted to stay up and visit with my classmates for one last, late-night session, I knew I was going to have to get up early and start shuttling people to the airport the next morning. I went to bed at around 1am, and fell asleep right away.
July 30, 2001
[And, so concludes my adventures at Clarion West 2001...]
Saturday morning. Everyone's packing or packed. I hadn't even started packing, yet, but there wasn't any hurry. Since I was only moving back to the suburbs, it didn't seem like there was any urgency.
I showered, got dressed, and enjoyed a couple of leftover pancakes that Avi had prepared earlier.
Ben may have been the first to leave. Hugs and farewells to him.
In order to reduce my airport load (I was originally signed up to bring pretty much everybody back to the airport), Avi was kind enough to take Carla on the first airport run. So, quick hugs and goodbyes to Carla. Then, Emily likewise helped out by bringing Kiini and Ibi to the airport. Hugs and goodbyes to them. Sean drove out at some point while I wasn't looking. (Maybe I was in the shower; maybe I hadn't gotten up yet.) I'd had a chance to say goodbye to Ari earlier in the morning, and he, too, was gone by the time I had my wits about me. I think Michael left with Karen... both of whom I was also lucky enough to catch and exchange goodbyes with before they left.
With each person gone, they left an open, empty room that gave the floor a spooky, ethereal feeling.
Linda left. I took Raymund to the airport, and returned to see Emily and Avi finished packing their respective cars and heading out for their respective home states.
At this point, the dorm floor was downright strange. Wind whistled through the empty rooms with their open windows and stole down the hallway and through the lounge. I started packing.
After an hour, I had most of it done. Just a few items left. And, suddenly didn't want to be there anymore. My next two trips to the airport were for Susan and Ling. However, when we talked about the timing of the trips and tried to figure out when I'd get my own stuff moved out, Ling offered to head out to the airport with Susan on the same trip, and then I'd be free to bring my own stuff home before it got too late in the day.
Fourteen farewells in about ten hours. Zoiks.
Packed up my stuff, and took a stroll up and down the hall. The last two residents were out foraging for dinner, so I had the floor all to my self. I closed all of the windows in my classmates former rooms, and then loaded up the cart to bring stuff down to my car...
Where I said farewell to Chris and the other dormitory staff.
Went home. Unpacked the car. Vegged out. Slept in my own bed. Ahhhhh.
Sunday. Woke up early and went to the dorms to pick up the last two Clarionites, Stephanie and Patrick. Stephanie surprised me with some of my favorite chocolate as a thank you for the airport run, just as Ling and Carla and others had done earlier. Wonderful!
And that was that. Like the last puppy after a litter has been picked over and divvied up, I watched them all leave. (cue violin music here)
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