August 07, 2001
[Clarion West 2001: some thoughts in closing]
It's been just a bit over a week since Clarion West 2001 came to a close. Before I get on with my usual online journal activities, I wanted to share a few parting thoughts for those who have been following the saga of CW2k1.
First, there's the issue of the journal, itself. In general, daily online Clarion journals are discouraged, primarily because of the *potential* for causing disruption among your peers, and also because time spent writing a journal is time not spent writing your fiction. Nonetheless, every year, at least one or two fools in each of the Clarion classes chooses to keep an online journal. I've never been one to shirk from a foolish endeavor.
Writing time is a funny thing for me; the mental resources I spend journaling is altogether different from energy I would spend writing fiction, writing a shopping list, or reading, researching, or whatever. I know this isn't true for everybody, but it is for me. I also find that I work best up against a deadline; I'm not going to write an extra hour a day simply because I'm not spending that hour writing in my journal (be it my online or my private journal). Rather, I'm going to write most when I'm up against my deadline, and any time I might have "saved" by scuttling my journal would be time ultimately spent on other useless activities, like sleeping or conversing.
But, the first concern -- about alienating one's peers -- is a trickier issue. I chose to address it by not going into details about the full Clarion experience if only because many of the stories I might choose to relate here are not entirely mine to share. "More on that in a moment," as one of my fellow Clarionites would say.
Also at issue is the fact that we tend to make assessments on a daily basis that can come off as judgements -- about how this story was a chore to read or that comment during critique was unwarranted cruelty, or about how one story was brilliant or how thoughtful someone was to do the dishes that everyone else ignored. In an effort to not alienate my peers, I tried not to make public those assessments which could portray others in a negative light. I have no idea whether I succeeded in this endeavor. And I'm well aware that I, too, had my less-than-wonderful moments as a Clarionite.
That said, I think that my journal may have come off a bit drier than I prefer as a result of this kind of self-censorship. This has been more of a catalog of events, with not as much interpretation or emotional connection as I'd like. Anyone who has read the essays that came earlier in this journal will note that even when I'm talking about technical matters, it all boils down to how those matters affect *people*.
Usually, me. :)
I hope this journal has been a service to those readers who are interested in getting a glimpse inside. I know that I certainly found previous Clarion journals helpful when I was preparing to attend this year.
So, now that all is done, I'd like to close by saying a little bit about what's been left unsaid.
Clarion West 2001 was not the proverbial "boring Clarion". I know that a few classes, both from East and West, have occasionally earned that title, and they wear it with pride (justifiably). What does that title mean? As I understand it, the title is conferred upon (or assumed by) a Clarion class that had little in the way of trauma, romantic entanglements or romantic disintegrations, or other behavior that might be considered exceptionally exciting or explosive. Usually, "boring Clarion" is meant in a good way; a life changing event, to be sure, but not a particularly traumatic one.
Clarion West 2001 was probably not one of the more explosive classes, either. For all that did happen, I think that potential blow-ups were generally contained and the participants came through as a very cohesive group. We did okay with our non-boringness, and I'm sure that this is partly because of the makeup of this group and partly because of the practiced hands administrating the program.
But let's be frank: the pressure was high, and there were some interesting changes both adding to and resulting from the tension. For example, I am aware of two romantic pairings during the six weeks, I am aware of two relationships that were fundamentally jeopardized during the six weeks, there were at least two jobs sacrificed on the Clarion West alter, and then there were deaths in the family, disappearing roommates, and other sorts of personal tragedies and challenges that reached in from the outside to affect our world views. None of us were immune to this kind of exposure.
When tragedy struck, my fellow Clarionites supported each other. When good news came in, we all shared in the joy. Cliques formed, dissolved, and then new ones formed and dissolved.
When all is said and done (as, alas, is the conclusion to which we now draw), the six week pressure cooker that is Clarion West turned the 17 of us into an odd sort of family. I found it prudent not to comment publicly as some of the stickier dramas were playing out within our group, but the fact remains that the events both good and bad helped to shape us into the kind of family which, I believe, has an excellent chance of doing great things and of sticking together along the way. This may be one of the greatest assets of the Clarion experience, in that it not only helps to improve your writing, become more familiar with the writing community, and allow you to work with some of the best instructors available, but it also enables you to forge close bonds with sixteen other people who will be an important part of your support network for the rest of your life.
And, so, if you are considering a writing workshop like Clarion, Clarion West, or Odyssey, I say: Go for it! If you're reading this having already been accepted into such a program, congratulations! Go forth with an open mind while staying true to yourself. If you are a fellow Clarionite from any year, East or West, I am honored to join your ranks.
As for Leslie, Neile, Karen, and the other administrators and volunteers who helped run this year's Clarion West: Thank you for running such a fine program! You guys were great.
Octavia, Brad, Nalo, Connie, Ellen, and Jack: I learned much from each one of you. Now, whether it was what you intended to teach is another matter, I suppose. :) Thank you for your support, encouragement, and instruction. I can only hope to "do you proud" in the years to come.
Ari, Avi, Ben, Carla, Emily, ibi, Karen, Kiini, Linda, Ling, Michael, Patrick, Raymund, Sean, Stephanie, and Susan -- I couldn't have asked for better classmates. I wish you all the best of success, and look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.
We now return you to our irregularly scheduled journal, already in progress.
August 10, 2001
So, is there a writing life after Clarion?
I am a member of a weekly writing critique group that meets on Wednesday nights (currently), so once Clarion was over, I still had a regular writing deadline. This particular critique group is where I'm working on my novel -- I bring in one new scene each week. I've now written enough of the novel to get to that point where the scenes that remain to be written are either "bridge scenes" that connect the major ones, or they are the major scenes I've been postponing either out of dread or waiting for that moment of inspiration to strike.
My first critique group meeting after Clarion (Wednesday the 1st of August), I was dreadfully uninspired, so I worked on a bridge scene for which was the third part of a three-part sequence. No sweat... which means, of course, there was no real electricity in the scene, either. This is how it goes, sometimes.
I took advantage of the day and typed in all seven scenes I'd written prior to Clarion that hadn't yet been typed in... I'm one of those guys who often hand writes with a pen and paper. Over two thirds of this novel was written longhand, with the remainder being originally composed at the keyboard.
After typing in all of those scenes and the new one, my word count on The Do Over is 87,000 words. Woo-hoo!
Once again this week, I found myself in the middle of the day on Wednesday with no idea of what scene to write for critique that night. Once again, I decided to write a scene that follows one in a predetermined sequence. In this scene, the young lovers were just about to be interrupted by the parents. My plan was to show how calm, cool, and collected our protagonists were under fire, and how they escaped detection by the parents with grace and panache. (Which is not to say they escaped consequences....)
Then, I remembered something that Nalo said to us during Clarion and something that has been echoed frequently around the critique table lately: GO THERE! Go where the tension is. Get your characters hip deep in it and follow them as they try to wade their way out. Don't avoid the conflict... go there.
So, I went there.
As soon as I decided to favor tension over easy resolution, this scene practically wrote itself. It was delicious. Alas, now the scene has ended at a cliffhanger, and I have still at least one more to write before this sequence is done.
That's okay. It was fun to go there, and I look forward to returning there next week.
Had it not been for this weekly commitment, I have no doubt that I would not have written a single scene for The Do Over between the end of Clarion and today. I just haven't been in the mood. Luckily, schedules aren't interested in your mood, so I wrote because I had to write. And, now I feel like I've broken through some barrier and I'm back in the groove.
Within the next few days, I'll have to come up with a plan for how I'm going to finish the project. I'd like to have the first draft done by the end of September, but I'm not sure how that's going to happen. I'll strategize this weekend.
In the meantime, there is one other issue with the project that demands attention: the name. I had several Clarion instructors recommend changing the name. In my feedback from the PNWA contest submission, all of the remarks were very glowing (yet I wasn't a finalist. Beh.) except one of the two judges indicated a desire for a better title.
Should I change the title? If so, to what? Please let me know your thoughts! (Post a comment on this entry or send e-mail to me via the link at the bottom of this page.)
August 24, 2001
So, you've no doubt seen those bumper stickers which proclaim that "A mind is like a parachute: it only works when it's open." Well, it occurs to me that there are other ways a mind is like a parachute:
* It only works when you're travelling at outrageous speeds
* It only works when it's folded properly
* It's very stringy
* People only use it as a last ditch effort to avoid becoming a bloody pulp
* It's function is to slow you down when you're already moving
* They both are effective at capturing hot air
and the number one way in which a mind is like a parachute:
* grade-schoolers sometimes pull them taut and bounce kickballs on them.
I have heard it said that revenge is a dish that is best served cold. There are, however, other good ways to serve revenge.
Revenge is a dish that is best served:
* with rice
* after the entree and before dessert
* with a Merlot or similar red
* after 11am
A funny thing happened last night. Paulette and I went to see the recently-released remake of *Planet of the Apes*. That wasn't the funny thing, but the funny thing happened there. This is not to say that voluntarily spending a couple hours of your life watching a movie that has so much potential to be so bad isn't, in and of itself, kind of funny. I mean, let's be honest: Mark Wahlberg is no Charlton Heston, and it'll be hard to top the Rod Serling twist of the original. (I'm probably misspelling the actors' names, too... sorry about that.) Although, when all was said and done, Helena Bohnam Carter did a mighty fine Roddy McDowell. But, where was I?
Oh, right. A funny thing.
So, before the movie, they showed roughly six commercials (including a bizarre music video of Brittney Spears singing the praises of Pepsi, with comic relief provided by Bob Dole. Since we don't have a television feed, we miss a lot of the latest trends in commercials. But, this Brittney Spears thing was just plain weird. And besides, there's no Coke to be had in the movie theater. It's Pepsi or some other Pepsi-owned product. That's your choices. Why are they advertising Pepsi? You have no choice!) and then six or seven previews.
Six or seven previews! I loved it. It's like watching all the good parts of six or seven movies without having to pay for the privilege of seeing the bad parts, too. I dig previews.
Among the previews were: a movie called *The One*, which looks like *The Matrix, Part Two* starring Jet Li who must fight, well, himself; a movie with Bruce Willis as a bank robber who just can seem to help letting a neurotic whiner join his bank-robbing gang; and a movie in which Mark Wahlberg plays a lead singer of a cover band who is invited to join the very band that his band was covering.
As soon as I saw that preview, I perked up. "Metal Gods!" I told Paulette. Turns out the movie is now entitled "Rockstar."
"Metal Gods" was the working title of the 80's-era movie that filmed in Seattle last summer. I worked on it as a backgrounder... it is entirely possible that there will be a scene or two in the movie in which you will see a fat old man in the background wearing a raincoat and a beret, walking in the rain. That's me. If I had a credit in the movie (which I won't), it would be: "Fat old guy in a beret and a raincoat walking in the rain."
I'm excited. The movie looks big. It looks cheesy. Pride of ownership swelled up within me as I watched the preview. Mmmmm. Big and cheesy.
...Although, come to think of it, I didn't even own the silly beret I wore. Oh, well; so much for pride of ownership.
Now that I've seen how expensive and labor intensive it is to put together a few minutes of film, though, I'm excited that I'll now get to see the finished product. Fun!
August 26, 2001
This year's World Con -- the World Science Fiction Convention, which is the largest annual assemblage of professionals, semi-professionals, and fans in the industry -- is being held in Philadelphia starting on Wednesday, August 29th. Dubbed "Millenium Philcon," this year's event is described at their website, http://www.milphil.org. Each year's event tends to take on the name of the city in which it is held. Last year's World Con, for example, was held in Chicago and was therefore known as "Chicon".
Each year, attendees get an opportunity to "vote" on where the convention will be held in three years. Thus, at Chicon last year, the attendees cast their ballots for where World Con 2003 would be held (the winner was Toronto). This year, we will have a chance to decide between two final candidate cities for the site of World Con 2004: Boston, MA and Charlotte, NC.
In order to vote, you must essentially buy a supporting preliminary membership to that year's convention. In other words, you have to put your money where your mouth is. I'm not sure if the minimum you can put down is $50 or $100, or what, but I'll be finding out soon. This year, I intend to vote.
If you, dear reader, happen to be an attendee at this year's World Con, I strongly encourage you to vote for Charlotte, NC in 2004.
Reasons to vote for Charlotte instead of Boston:
* Boston's convention facilities and airport are currently a disaster because of a massive public works project called "The Big Dig". There is no realistic reason to believe that this work will be completed by August of 2004. Because of the Big Dig, traffic into and out of the airport is a nightmare; renting a car involves a hellish journey into the bowels of Revere, MA (many miles from the airport itself), which takes you further away from the convention facilities and places that much more construction and traffic between you and your World Con. The facilities themselves are not conveniently located all in one easy-to-navigate area, and have a run-down quality that I would hardly deign to call "charming".
* Charlotte does not suffer from the ails of the Big Dig, and its facilities are newer; more modern. The city is easier to navigate. The airport is easy to manage.
* The people. Simply put, the locals in Charlotte are pleasant; the locals in Boston would just as soon you go away, which they make paifully clear in every encounter.
* The traffic. Boston drivers are aggressive to the point of being homicidal. If you dare use your traffic signal, they will immediately move to cut you off... even if it means missing their exit or turn. I've seen it happen. I lived there for several years, and was reintroduced to this sad fact the last time I visited the area (I made the mistake of using my turn signal, and was rather rudely reminded that I had to relearn all of my old, nasty Boston driving habits if I was to survive). Drivers in Charlotte, in my experience, are reasonable; quick, without being rude.
* The weather. The natural unpleasantness among the Boston drivers and the shopkeepers in the area is exacerbated by the brutally muggy and hot summers. If weather is a factor in your voting, let me tell you: Charlotte has no disadvantage when it's compared to Boston in the summer. Both will be hot; Boston will be unbearably muggy.
* Hospitality taxes. Okay, I have to admit something here: I don't actually know what the hospitality tax situation is in Charlotte. All I do know is that it is patently absurd in Boston. Want to rent a car? There's sales tax. Excise tax. Massport (airport useage) tax... even though the rental car companies are not actually located at the airport during the Big Dig. On my last visit to Boston, the taxes added roughly 35% to the total bill. Want to get a room at a local hotel? There, too, the taxes are simply outrageous. Again, I can't say whether this is the case in Charlotte. They certainly must have *some* taxes upon the hospitality industry. I intend to do the research. But, let me warn you, friends: the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has worked hard to earn the moniker "Taxachusetts".
Okay, I'm ripping into Boston little bit here. Believe it or not, I love to visit Boston. It's one of my favorite cities in the country to visit. But, not in the summer; not in August. I've done too many conventions in Boston at that time of year to know better. (Living there for several years has also informed my thinking on this subject). Visit in the fall. Visit in the spring. But not in February. And not in August.
Charlotte is also a fun town to visit. Clean and friendly, with many interesting sites to see and new facilities to enjoy. It's a town that knows how to beat the heat... it has to. :)
So, if you're going to be at World Con this year, allow me to encourage you strongly to vote. And, if you do vote, allow me to encourage you to vote for Charlotte.
Either way, I look forward to seeing you at World Con 2004... as well at World Con 2001!
Your humble Science Fiction correspondent,
August 31, 2001
I am suffering from a mild case of allergies right now. Runny nose; stuffy sinuses; mild headache. Low level stuff. My eyes haven't started itching at least, yet. I haven't shown these symptoms since my previous visit to the East Coast.
Today I am writing to you from Philadelphia, PA. I've spent the last few days travelling all over the mid-Atlantic region of the US: New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania. I've had low-level allergy symptoms throughout the visit. At first, I'd thought it might be an allergy to pets (we stayed with a very good friend who has a very pleasant dog), but the last couple of days have been pet free, and I'm still sneezing. Those who know me well have pointed out that I don't show these symptoms on the West Coast; only on the East.
The operating theory is that I'm allergic to the East Coast. I'm beginning to agree.
But, how does one treat such an allergy? Do they offer allergy shots to ward against the East Coast? Is there a patch? A pill? How does one protect oneself? How might a hypnotherapist attack this kind of problem?
"You are not really in Philadelphia. Imagine you are in Portland. It is a pleasant, rainy afternoon...." Probably wouldn't work. There's a Portland on the East Coast, too.
We've been spending time in the major cities and in the countryside. No difference. I'm curious as to whether the symptoms will go away upon my return to the West Coast. Hmmmm.
On a completely different topic, I received a wonderful suggestion tonight for an alternate title for the novel I'm working on. I'm going to start collecting suggestions, and then I'll put up a new poll to see which ones y'all think might work better than "The Do Over". Please keep the suggestions coming in!
Heard this at a panel on the future of the space program, and it got quite a laugh out of the audience. One of the folks on the panel is a Heinlein-style libertarian.
Q: How many libertarians does it take to stop a Nazi Panzer division?
A: None. The market will take care of it.
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