September 01, 2006
I'd originally written the following artlce for Clarion West's alumni newsletter, The Seventh Week. After I put it together, the editor and I decided it was more a review of the kind of information disseminated during the six week program than it was a presentation of information new to CW grads, so we agreed to cut it from the newsletter. Nonetheless, this is information that writers who are new to the field might find useful, so I present herewith:
Clarion West and other writers workshops are dedicated to improving the craft of writing speculative fiction, but for the person who wants to sell his or her stories, there's also the matter of learning the business. Just as software engineers, plumbers, and law enforcement officials have trade shows where they can network and learn the business side of their trade, so too writers have conventions.
The mere mention of science fiction conventions conjures up images of men and women dressing up as Klingons and Jedi and -- these days -- students from Hogwarts going to masquerades, playing board games, and arguing over plot points from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But while these conventions (typically referred to as "cons") can have their fan side, they also often have their professional track, as well.
Cons provide a number of ways to ground the writer in the professional community. For newcomers to the field, panel discussions by established authors on subjects like "Things I Wish Some Pro Had Told Me When I Was Starting Out" or established agents on "Electronic Rights and the Future of Book Contracts" are a great way to not only learn something of interest, but also to get to know who the experts, up-and-comers, and old-reliables are in our field. And while not all panelists fit into those categories, the newcomer who pays attention will quickly get a sense of who is in-the-know and who leans to pretending.
While panels are a great way to sample some of the trends in the industry, most writers who attend cons emphasize a more important career building exercise: networking.
"I go to network with other writers," says Irene Radford, the Con Liaison for SFWA, "often from different locations I would not normally get to meet. I get to network with agents and editors."
Jay Lake, winner of the John W. Campbell Award in 2005, agrees. "You're not there to sell or do business, you're there to network -- with your peers, with better established writers, and with editors, agents and reviewers."
While much of this networking takes place at the hotel bars and the pro parties, there is also a unique opportunity offered by many cons known as the kaffeclatch. Many cons will set aside a room with several tables that each feature a prominent professional for fifty-minute (or hour or hour-and-a-half) conversations. Because seating is limited at each table, and because the idea is to allow actual interaction to take place, there are typically sign-up sheets for each scheduled kaffeclatch. One can learn a great deal by sitting down to conversation with a favorite author or editor and ten or so other interested individuals.MORE...
February 26, 2006
Science fiction legend and frequent Clarion West Writers Workshop instructor Octavia Butler passed away this weekend. The Seattle Times obituary talks a little bit about her contribution to the field.
Octavia was one of my instructors at Clarion West, and a most remarkable woman. I've encountered her a few times since that workshop, and she has always been kind -- which is not to say that the career advice she has offered me was ever, in any way, sugar-coated. ("Sounds to me like you need to send a letter to [a certain well-known editor] right away!" etc., etc.) She was a good mentor, and a good person to have in your corner. As an author, a trailblazer, and a mentor, she will most definitely be missed.
April 06, 2002
And another class is selected...
The Clarion West class of 2001 has an e-mail discussion listserv, and one of my classmates (Ling) let us know today that the new class has started setting up its own web site. She found this out by looking at who was linking to *her* webpages, and discovered that one of her pages was linked to by the new CW2002 page. (Note that I'm not all *that* bitter that they haven't linked to *my* page. :-)
You can see the new CW2002 page here: http://members.aol.com/dderovich/clarion/index.htm
I see there's another Seattlite who used to live in Philly joining this years class. Who also left his prior job in August. Who is also in his mid-thirties. Wacky. Then again, he seems to have liked Philadelphia, whereas I found living in Philly about as appealing as Rosanne Barr. [shudder]
So far, this year's group looks every bit as diverse and interesting as our group was. There's still a few more classmates to be determined, I think. (I'm not part of the admissions process, but the CW2002 site itself only lists ten or so people in the class.)
I have to admit, I'm feeling the same sort of mixed pangs that I felt the September following graduation from Cornell (and the sort of pangs I did *not* feel after leaving grad school at UPenn): some nostalgia, some sense that "I should be there, too", relief that I'm *not* going to be there, and a sense of moving forward. That as a new class comes in, I now take the next step from being a member of the current class to being an alum, with the new responsibilities that that entails.
Along those lines, by the way, I'll mention that I've currently got two short stories out there under consideration, and I hope to get the novel out by the end of April. More on that soon....
I look forward to meeting them, and I wish the CW class of 2002 all the best!
March 12, 2002
If you're applying for, or considering applying for, Clarion or Clarion West, you may wish to check out this essay written by Howard Waldrop, who has occasionally read for the admissions committee for Clarion West:
I will also confess to you that I am now on the Clarion West board (although I am not part of the admissions committee), and I have a couple of additional tips regarding submissions to the program:
1) The submissions need to be received by April 1st, not postmarked by April 1st. If you want it to arrive by April 1st, you can safely use the US Postal Service's 1st class or Priority Mail for another week or so. If, like me, you tend to rub right up against the deadline, do yourself and everyone else a favor and expedite the shipping. When they say manuscripts must be received by April 1st, they mean it.
2) There is a firm limit on the number of pages for your submission, as stated in the application instructions. Follow it. Don't ask if you can submit an extra ten pages. Don't submit an extra ten pages without asking. Just stick to the limit. Going over the limit pisses off the readers. You don't want to piss off the readers. The readers are your friend. The page limit includes all material for consideration, even your synopsis, so don't figure you can go up to the limit for a first chapter and then include a ten page synopsis. Just don't do it. The limit = the limit.
2.5) And changing the margins to make the limit is a no-no. Follow standard manuscript guidelines. (Courier or Courier New font, 12 point, one-inch margins all the way around.)
3) The application instructions tell you to send in four copies. Send in four copies.
These tips are not me speaking officially on behalf of Clarion West. I'm just saying that, based upon what I've observed, following the application instructions has benefits. For example, it improves your chances of getting in. And, in general, making the readers unhappy with you is *not* going to improve your odds.
For those of you who are not interested in Clarion or Clarion West in any way, well... I'll post something more meaningful here soon. I promise.
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 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.
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)
July 29, 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.
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, 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.
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 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 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 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 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 21, 2001
[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.
[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 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 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.
July 17, 2001
[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....
[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, 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. :-)
July 14, 2001
[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.
[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.
July 13, 2001
[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]
[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: 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?
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 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 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 06, 2001
[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.]
[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
July 04, 2001
[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.
[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.
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 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 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.
June 30, 2001
[Clarion 2K1, week 2: the saga resumes...]
Thursday: Bradley mentioned to the group Samuel Delaney's (sp?) concept of "protocols for interpreting science fiction." Because sf context can be quite different from mainstream fiction, the conventions need to be spelled out early on so that the reader will correctly interpret the action that is going on. While there is only one way to interpret "he turned on his left side" in literary fiction, this sentence can be interpreted several different ways in sf depending upon the context. As authors, we need to establish the ground rules (ie, establish the protocols) as early in the story as we can. By doing so, we can make sure the reader understands when "he turned on his left side" means he rolled over and when it means the character flipped a switch to activate half of his mechanical body.
The stories have been excellent, by and large, and the stakes are getting higher. I turned in my own story on Thursday morning to be critiqued on Friday. "Suspicious Activity" weighed in at 3,500 words and, I feared at the time, probably didn't raise the bar any.
For dinner on Thursday, a large group of us went to The Outback Steakhouse because one of our group is Australian, and we all thought it would be fun to show him the best of the American Kitsch Treatment given to Australia.
Friday. During week 1, each of Friday's stories had a "death in the family" element. This Friday, each of the stories we critiqued had a strong political element. The feedback I received on "Suspicious Activity" was pretty much uniform in telling me that I needed to push the stakes for the main character up a couple of notches, and I completely agree. The other stories generated quite a bit of politically charged conversation (mine, though identified as a "libertarian allegory," was lighter in tone than the others because it was a quasi-comedy. As such, I suspect that it was less threatening than the other, more hard-hitting pieces).
The group as a whole handled the differing viewpoints with intelligence and tact, even when emotionally-laden subjects entered into the conversation. In later, "off-line" conversations, I found that even the folks who had disagreed most vehemently with others in class still maintained a healthy respect for each other. This is crucial, as we are dealing with some heavy issues (race, sexual orientation, gender, et al), and we need to stay focused on how we develop as *writers*... not as debaters or opponents. Thus far, I think we're handling this well, and in a lot of ways I think it's healthy that we're starting to strip away the "let's all be nice" layers and get to the meat of the matter. I think we've passed the first test successfully.
Of course, this *is* only week 2. That said, our instructor for Week 3 is Nalo Hopkinson, who has a reputation for being similarly interested in exploring a lot of the issues that we've started only recently to explore as a group, and who also has already expressed to us her desire to help us keep cool and constructive. With her steady direction and then the practiced hands of our following instructors (Connie Willis, Ellen Datlow, and Jack Womack), I think we'll come through this just fine.
Anyway, today was our last session with Bradley. After class, we all took him to "Bill's", a nearby pizza and salad/sandwich shop. Once again, all seventeen of us plus instructor managed to make it. I still think it's a minor miracle to be able to get this large group together, with its vastly differing preferences and priorities, for a meal at the same place at the same time.
As a gift for Mr. Denton, we presented a nice Mariners shirt (there had been a number of bad baseball puns floating around during this past week) which we had all signed, plus a Mariners baseball cap that we figured he might actually wear.
In the afternoon, some of us played cards ("Hearts") in the hallway (inadvertantly waking up some of our group who were trying to nap) while others actually began working on their critiques for Monday. Another member of our group began setting up a perpetual-novel chain that a bunch of us are going to participate in. (Uh... in which a bunch of us are going to participate.) I had my one-on-one with Brad, and he had some excellent suggestions for how I might rachet up the tension in my short story. He even told me that he'd try to read through the stories we'd submitted last week and get us some feedback on those, as well.
Since my submission piece for the application to Clarion West was the first chapter of The Do Over, he was able to offer me a few helpful suggestions on that one, as well. Like Octavia, he favors changing the name (I'm increasingly inclined to agree), and made other good suggestions as well. I'm glad he took the time to take a look at it.
In the evening, we all made it out to the Friday Clarion West Party. This time, it was being held at the house of someone I'd actually already met through other circles previously (he writes computer books, which is how I came to know him), so it was nice to see him after having been out of touch for quite a while.
Now, here it is almost 2am. Another week at Clarion West 2k1 has reached its conclusion... and it's definitely time for your humble correspondent to ready himself for sleep. Ta ta 'til tomorrow, my friends.
June 28, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1, week 2: the saga continues. Barely.]
Wednesday. We critiqued four stories in class. We received four stories to crit for tomorrow. I got back to the dorms after class and went straight to work.
The previous night, I'd managed to write exactly one sentence for my new story. (The new story is entitled "Suspicious Activity".) I didn't resume work on it until roughly 5pm today. Made great headway, then did some last minute research and discovered that I was being way too tentative with the direction my story was going. Had to re-write a bunch. Ended up with a 3,500 word story. It's still much too tentative and a little bit... uh... transparent. But, nonetheless, I've got at least *something* that my fellow Clarionites can now help me to work into something *good*.
And, yes, I even had to re-write that first sentence I'd composed the night before.
BTW, if you want to see something really scary, do a search on the web for "Know Your Customer". This forms the foundation of my story's premise. As I said, I was way too tentative with my story. I'm going to have to punch it up a bit. I'd forgotten how scary real life was/is.
No time to talk; got some more typing to do and then it's off to bed for a few hours before it's time for class again tomorrow. Whee!
June 27, 2001
[Clarion West 2k1, week 2 continues]
Tuesday. Only three manuscripts critiqued in class today (excellent though they were) and a brief bit of advice from Brad: read your work out loud. (I'll pause to point out here that Pam Goodfellow has strenuously made this suggestion to her class at UW that we took last year; it is the foundation of our Wednesday night critique group. Nonetheless, excellent advice and I'm glad that others in the field see its value.)
Tuesdays, I reckon, are going to be light on the class side of things because that's the evening that the instructors offer their readings at Elliott Bay books, and there's a lot of work involved both for that and for class the next morning that can't be made up for during the presentation.
Anyway, I got back to the dorms from class and dove straight into crits and, even though I didn't pause for a nap or nothin' (after a brief lunch), I still seemed to make extremely slow progress. I only managed to have three stories critiqued by the time we headed down for dinner and then the event.
A bunch of us had gone out on one of the ferries to work on the water; an excellent idea, but I (and another six or so of us) chose to work here in the dorms anyway. Both groups met up at a Mediterranean restaurant on Cherry by 1st Street. A couple folks said that they liked it, but I found it to be both expensive ($8.50 for a shish kabob sandwich and a beverage!) and poorly cooked. C'est la vie.
[note to last year's Clarion West: speaking of differences of opinion and differences in experience... our group has found the local IHOP to be completely out of the question. After giving them just one chance, a small group of ours ran away vowing never to return because there was hair in their food. Then again, we had a good experience at the Ethiopian place nearby, and I've been told that your experience was less pleasant. Funny how things work out.]
Anyway, we went to the reading. Brad is a wonderful reader; he presents with passion and wit. He read the first and fourth chapter from his novel Lunatics, and there was a Q & A session afterward.
'Twas a long walk back up James Street to return to the dorms. I finished my critiques, and am now procrastinating... I have yet to type even one sentence for the story I will be handing in on Thursday morning.
I'm going to do something similar to what I did last week at this time. I'm going to finish this entry, type for a bit on the new story (that would be a change from last week, when I hadn't actually begun work until 6pm the night before), go to bed by midnight and get a relatively full night's sleep, and then charge ahead full bore tomorrow. That plan worked well for me last week. Let's see how it goes this week.
I've also decided to go with the story idea I'd originally thought to pursue this past Monday. Makes no sense to hold up the writing while I try to make that next "great idea" appear. I'll continue to strive for the great ideas, but I'll write what I can in the meantime. There's also a strong temptation to revise a story I've been working on before coming to Clarion, but that's not going to move me forward as effectively as starting a new one from scratch. So, there ya go. I've got a plan.
June 26, 2001
[Clarion West 2K1 week 2: the saga continues...]
Today's events included:
* Grogginess. Had one of my patented insomnia bouts last night. Couldn't fall asleep right away, and then kept waking up every half hour or so.
* Our first full class with Bradley Denton. We went over the "three basic story types": Boy Meets Girl (stories about relationships), The Little Taylor (stories about characters who struggle against great odds), and The Man Who Learned Better (stories about beliefs that are challenged).
* Critique. We aren't pulling as many punches as maybe we were during the first week. But, nonetheless, the criticism remains constructive. I remain amazed at how much there is for me to learn from my fellow Clarionites... and bummed that I'm not learning it quicker. :-)
* Handouts. Received our stories for tomorrow's critique session. I started on these as soon as I had lunch after class, but then fell into a light nap (wahhhhh thump!) and struggled to concentrate for a couple of hours thereafter.
* Food. One of our number volunteered to make dinner, and a bunch of us volunteered to help him eat it (and clean up the dishes afterward). Most yummy.
* Challenge. There are so many good stories here. I have to turn something in on Thursday morning, insofar as that's what I've signed up to do, but as there are so many great stories being submitted that I'm hesitant to work on the lighter plots I'd brought in with me. So, here I am at 1am trying to figure out what I could write that could possibly have enough *weight* to it that it would be worthy. I'm thinking I'll save the humor pieces I had in mind for next week or the week after. But, that leaves me this week with... nothing, so far.
I've spent so much of this evening trying to come up with the killer story idea that will be "worthy" of a slot this week that I haven't come up with anything. If I don't have a new story idea by tomorrow afternoon, I must move forward on one of my ideas from "the trunk". [sigh]
Brad Denton made another interesting observation during a recent conversation. Wanna make money writing fiction? Foreign rights is the key. Without the foreign rights, he wouldn't be able to continue doing what he's doing without seeking an additional source of income. I find this a very important tidbit to keep in mind. (And, let's face it: one must not ignore the business aspects of this pursuit.)
Off to brainstorm some more. Nighty-night.
June 25, 2001
Sunday, June 24th. It's been a busy day.
Woke up. Read some short stories by famous published folks (looking to see what works and what doesn't, and further researching our own instructor for the week, Bradley Denton). Ended up declining an invitation to stroll around the neighborhood with some of our group because I was trying to get a few stories completed before I did anything else... and, besides, for the first time since Clarion West started, it was actually *precipitating* in Seattle (a light drizzle).
However, I later accepted an invitation to play ultimate Frisbee once I'd read "enough". I am, as I've mentioned before in this Clarion West journal, a fat old man. I haven't played Ultimate since college. And, even though I'm in a little better shape now than I was a week ago (thanks to rigorous walks every day), I'm not yet quite up to maintaining the pace of my more athletic comrades. So, we ran up and down a drizzly field in slippery grass, throwing and trying to catch a slick flying disc while slipping and sliding on the ground. In short, I had a great work out.
But, oy! Me feets is killing me!
While the six of us were playing in the rain, a few others were beginning the preparations for a grand meal. One of our Canadian compatriots was spearheading an effort to build a Thai cuisine ensemble that would work for both the vegans and the meat-eaters among us.
She had been planning this for a few days, and eventually *all* of us opted in for the meal, including our instructor for the week.
Those of us who were playing Frisbee returned with enough time to shower before the Sunday kick-off meeting. As it so happens, there is no sound-proofing between the women's and the men's showers; as a couple of us began our showers on the men's side, a couple of our female colleagues engaged us in conversation that led to the two of us in the men's showers singing poorly harmonized tunes from the 40s and 50s as we washed away the grime from our Frisbee match. When we came out of the showers, we were greeted by mock applause from others in the lounge who could apparently hear our concert even out there.
At five, we assembled as a group and met Bradley Denton. He told us that this week, he wanted us to build upon what we had been working on last week (character, conflict, and conclusion... he also added "complications" to the conflict part) and pay particular attention to the opening of the story. He read us a few examples, and then asked us to write a paragraph justifying (my word; not his) the opening to our story. We need to explain how the opening relates to and sets up all that is to follow in the rest of the story. This sounds like a very useful exercise; I'm looking forward to it.
He also told us that he particularly encourages his students to use standard English. This makes good business sense, as editors are not likely to read more than a paragraph of your submission if the proper mechanics of language aren't there. He also noted that readers respond better to standard English (and, who wants to bump out the reader), and that there is something to be said for showing respect for your language.
Agree or disagree (I happen to agree) with this philosophy, the fact is that for at least the next week, our grammar is going to be under closer scrutiny than many of us typically experience.
After the group pow-wow, we settled in for our large group meal, which was absolutely fantastic and filling. There was enough tasty food for everyone (it can't be easy to cook for eighteen people when you're used to cooking for a more manageable group. My hat goes off to Karen, our ring-leader and head chef for this endeavor), a delicious fruit salad for dessert, and fun conversation. A few of us set up tables in the big room where we have our weekly kick-off meeting; a few others of us broke the arrangement down afterward and washed the dishes.
After an abortive attempt at organizing a movie screening (the Clarion West administrators were kind enough to arrange that we have a wide-screen TV in our lounge, plus VCR), most of us headed off to work on our respective projects for the coming week. I began reading a long-ish Greg Egan story that was recommended by our Australian comrade, and talked over my story idea for this week with both Paulette and a member of this year's class, both of whom gave me some good things to think about.
I'm quite optimistic about Bradley Denton working with us this week; he's clearly going to help us build on what we've already begun with Octavia Butler, and I think I can learn a lot from him as far as style goes. I've enjoyed each of the stories of his that I've read so far, and particularly enjoy the style with which he writes. (Of course, I can say the same for all of the other instructors for this year's Clarion West, even though they all have a different style. :) It doesn't hurt that the guy has had experience teaching. Here's to another excellent week at Clarion West!
June 24, 2001
Differences between this year's Clarion West and last year's:
We all (well, all but one) went to the party on Friday. Of course, this was only the first party....
We always wash our dishes after each meal. So far.
Our group observes POV as an important tool in storytelling. So far.
We value emotion in the story (as well as conflict and resolution), as emphasized by our first week instructor. Again, so far.
We are not keeping score (ha! get it? irony!). So far.
We have written fewer new stories and fewer words per story than the previous year's class had by this time.
Today, I visited home to pick up a spare hard drive with which to back up my computer, pick up some more music CDs, and visit with Paulette -- as well as a couple of friends in Redmond -- before returning to the dorm. At various times during the day, I chipped away at the reading and critiquing that is due on Monday (finally finishing at about half past midnight).
A few of us made a quick run to Cosco where we picked up our respective supplies of water, soda, pop tarts, and/or cereal in bulk. I finally conceded that I'm not going to be kicking my Dr Pepper habit anytime soon, and went ahead and bought a case (a two or three day supply?) for about half the price that I'd normally spend at the grocery store.
Four of us went out for dinner to Pagliacci's Pizza on Broadway, and happened to catch some gay rights parade that was making its way down the very same street heading in the other direction. This is the third or fourth such parade to which I've been an unintentional witness. I wish I could add some pithy observation about the parade, but really... there's not much to tell. There were lots of chicks walking down the street with police escorts holding signs that said "Dyke Pride Now" and the like. Sorry; that was bad writing. The paraders held the signs. The police escorts did not. But, the sentence is too funny for me to re-write.
Back when I was in college, protests and marches usually centered upon something that I could either get behind or stand against. Divestment was one. This was the idea that the university should divest itself of investments in companies that did business with apartheid-bound South Africa. These parades and sit-ins called attention to a political issue that you could at least hold an opinion about.
Where do you stand on "Dyke Pride"? Who cares? I find it hard to have an opinion about whether lesbians should have good self-esteem. Quite frankly, as battle cries go, it just doesn't sing to me.
I must confess, though, that one person in the parade carried a sign that said "Free Abortions On Demand" and I started thinking that the idea of mandatory abortions was a little odd. I mean, is it really such a good idea that anyone can go around and freely demand that people have abortions?
"You, there, with the sign. I demand that you have a free abortion. Now!"
Sorry. I'm getting side-tracked here.
Upon our return to the dorm, we joined most of the rest of the Clarionites to watch "The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T," a '50's children's movie that was co-written by and featured set-designs and music lyrics by Dr. Seuss. This was a true Mystery Science Theater 3000 moment (well, 90 minutes), as we all made wisecracks throughout this decidedly silly movie.
Tomorrow, one of our fellow Clarionites will be making a much touted spicy Thai dish for the rest of us, and we'll meet our instructor for week 2: Bradley Denton. Yee-haw!
June 23, 2001
[Clarion West 2K1 week 1: last day]
Managed to get about 7 hours of sleep last night, and I'm not showing any signs of sleep deprivation from events earlier in the week. Yee-haw.
...unless you count the fact that I went to take my shower this morning and forgot to bring my room key with me.
We occupy the top floor of the Campion dormitory, where we enjoy an amazing view of downtown Seattle, the Cascade mountains, the Olympics, and of course Mt. Rainier to the south and Mt. Baker to the north. Each room is intended as a double (read: only big enough for one person, but really intended for two) for the students at Seattle University. My room has two beds, two closets, two desks, a sink and a very cool view. It also, like all of the other rooms on this floor, has a door that is always locked.
So, I get back to my room from the showers this morning only to find that I'd forgotten to bring the key that would let me enter. There's a phone down the hall that must have been installed for just such situations; a quick call to public safety and then I only had to wait ten minutes for the nice man to come let me into my room. I felt a little sheepish standing around in my bathrobe while others were getting dressed and heading out (even though one of my fellows was kind enough to offer me a place to hang out while I waited), but thems the wages of my crime.
I found out later in the day that I'm not the first of us to run into this problem. One has had to call to be let into his room three times already. We've been here almost a week.
Anyway, it was a great way to start the day. Then, it was off to our last class with Octavia. We had four stories and lots of ground to cover after class, so we dove right into the critiques. Mine was the last one, and this was my first time on the hot seat at Clarion.
I received some incredible feedback on what worked and what didn't, and I'm convinced (rightly or wrongly) both that there is a lot of work to do and that this piece *can* nonetheless be salvaged. I had gone over the top with the story to build the tension, and the class largely agreed on which parts I might trim to hit a more appropriate note. I'll also have to add a few minor scenes to clear up a couple of confusing points.
While the critique was mostly a list of things that didn't work for people, I found the feedback to be wildly constructive and oddly reassuring.
After critique was over, we all posed for a picture in front of the "french fries" sculpture at the class building and then the entire class took Octavia to lunch at the Ethiopian restaurant that many of us had been to last Saturday. This time, we had the whole gang: all seventeen students plus the instructor. After a fine meal, we returned to the dorm and celebrated Octavia's and a classmate's birthday with cake and presents. We had two cakes, one vegan and one made with real ingredients. (Allow me to mention that I had a bite of the vegan cake and it was actually quite good, much to my surprise.)
In my conference with Octavia that afternoon, she gave me a new way of looking at the novel I'm working on, and we went over a few things about my short story that, with some work, might make it ready for submission to Analog.
The day wrapped up with a party north of the city where we had the chance to meet with past Clarionites and other writers. All but one of us were able to make it. (I keep mentioning the group solidarity thing for reasons which I will get to in a future post.)
All in all, it was a satisfying conclusion to a great first week at Clarion West. Tomorrow (Saturday) is our day off before we meet Bradley Denton on Sunday. I'm anticipating a quick visit to Redmond, a tour of the Seattle "Underground", and other touristy activities tomorrow.
Gotta say, I'm very much enjoying my experience here so far.
June 21, 2001
[Clarion West 2K1, Week 1 continued]
I didn't write a thing on Tuesday night. After running out of things to do to procrastinate, I decided that it was a mighty fine time to go to bed at around 11:30pm (very early for me). I got what amounts to a full night's sleep, getting up at around 7am on Wednesday.
I managed to write two paragraphs for my new story (ultimately entitled "Diffusion") before heading off for class.
Because we had four stories to critique instead of three, Octavia opted to just have us crit rather than have a lecture. We managed to wrap up around noon or one or so. I made a bee-line for "home" (the dorm) after picking up lunch supplies at the grocery store. Made and ate lunch in my room while I plowed through the four stories for critique. Finished around 5pm or so, ate dinner, and started work on "Diffusion" in earnest.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, I managed to plot out the entire story in my head amidst all of the critiquing and classwork and procrastination. In fact, it became obvious yesterday that I had to read and crit my fellow writers' stories before working on my own, if only because I'm learning so much by seeing what they are doing well and traps that we're all falling into.
I was surprised at how things came out when I sat down to type. Usually, I write my short stories first in outline form and then fleshing out the outline. Not this time. I just sat down and typed. What I ended up handing this morning (I am typing this entry on Thursday afternoon) was a first draft in the truest sense.
The first scene took a couple of hours. The second one took maybe an hour and a half. Each successive scene went faster. By midnight, I had written maybe 2,500 words (having started at 5 or 6pm). Three hours later, I had finished the 4,800 word rough draft. It was brilliant. I re-read it and made a few corrections and changes, and realized that this was indeed brilliant work. People would read this and cry over how beautiful and poignant the story was. I went to bed at around 3 am, set my alarm to allow myself four hours sleep, and fell asleep knowing that I had truly managed to crank out exactly the kind of story I had wanted to write.
And, then I woke up.
Thursday morning, 7:30 am, my back-up alarm went off. Turns out that I'd forgotten to actually turn on my primary alarm. Rushed out of bed and showered, running over the story in my head, and realized that I was about to turn in the worst piece of crap imaginable.
Well, not quite as bad as the infamous "Viking Sex" story that has made the rounds here, but maybe the second worst submission. It's maudlin. The murder ends up being more implied than directly observed; the Poe-esque elements had been replaced by hokey corn-ball melodrama. In short, I had created a monster and had no time left at all to come up with something better. I didn't even have time to print up an old trunk story, "just in case".
Class today was again focused primarily upon critique. I handed in my pathetic excuse for a story, and received it along with three other stories to be read and critiqued by tomorrow. As I type this, I've finished my crit work for tomorrow and I'm ready to go out and grab some dinner.
Before I sign off, though, I want to mention two other things that I think are important. I'm glad I got a full night's sleep at least one night this week, but yesterday's experience truly was exhilarating. From the time I started writing to the time I finished, I was awake and alert throughout. No sluggishness. By the time I went to bed, I was still too wound up to fall immediately asleep. Since getting up this morning, I've been likewise charged all day. This is cool. As long as "Diffusion" is in any way salvageable, it was time and energy very well spent.
One last thing: many of my fellow Clarionites are very sensibly writing every day, putting in a thousand words a day (or more, or less, depending upon the person) and keeping up a strong and steady pace. Me? I resort to sprinting. No new words all week, and then five thousand all in one night. A part of me wishes I could write like the others (schedule-wise), but I know I can't fight my nature. I need a deadline, and then I need to write to it. This isn't anything new; it's just cool to be surrounded by other writers and actually watch them go about their steady pace every day. It's fun to watch.
I'm curious to see if "Diffusions" has any redeeming qualities at all. Tune in tomorrow....
June 20, 2001
[Clarion West 2K1, Week 1: the saga continues...]
No formal lecture, as such, today. Octavia wanted to dive right (write?) into critiques. This group is very good at POV and character development through emotional and visceral responses. The critique is quite good.
Through our dissecting each of three stories in class today, I learned that there are three kinds of symbioses (handy info to know, I assure you) and that one person's sub-plot is another person's distraction. Well, that last bit is not news to me, really. But, we had a most excellent free-for-all discussion about one of the stories. Very juicy. We got into politics and religion and ethics (and permutations thereof). To me, that's part of the best that good SF has to offer: something to make you think, talk about, and wrestle with.
I learned my lesson from the last couple days (ha!) and started to work right away on reading the stories for tomorrow as soon as I got back from class. Our group is starting an interesting tradition of silently reading and critting in the big lounge that we share on the 12th floor. A cool bonding experience (silent though it is) which I haven't yet participated in, but I expect I will once my writing this week is done.
Today, though, I chose to work in my room. After I was done with the crits, I had time to walk around, see what others were up to, think about my story that I have to write for Thursday morning... and procrastinated actually starting to write it.
A group of ten of us headed down to the "I District" (in Seattle, the I District means the International District; the U District is the University District) and had Thai at a favorite restaurant of mine near where I work. We had a great conversation about scapegoating. Truly, this is a talented bunch of people with whom I just love to spend time listening and sharing stories and the like. One can only hope that we'll all still feel as good about each other in week six as we do now. Given our conversation today, I think we're going to make every effort in that direction.
We barely made it out in time to walk over to Elliot Bay Books for Octavia's public performance there. It was a fun Question and Answer session. I picked up a couple books while I was there, and the group generally broke up into smaller pieces for the return trip. I was one of the poor fools who walked up, engaging in another wonderful discussion about politics with one of my fellow Clarionites. This particular fellow is the one who gave me the idea for how, exactly, the murder is going to be committed in my upcoming story.
Walking up Capital Hill from the Pioneer Square area is, well, an awful lot of exertion. And, sad to say, I'm still a fat old man. If I keep up this walking around thing, though, I'm hoping that I'll start to see some improvement in the physical fitness department.
Upon returning from the reading, I immediately hopped on to check e-mail, started typing this entry, etc. Then, a bunch of folks were camping outside my door and laughing at some game they were playing, so I naturally had to go into the hall and see what was up. The long and the short of it is: I'm still procrastinating starting my story for Thursday morning.
So, I'm going to sign off now. See how early it is? Not even 10:30 Pacific Time yet. I may even get a reasonable night's sleep. I just want to put in some time on the story first.
Well, maybe after I make just one phone call....
June 19, 2001
[the Clarion journal continues...] So, I think I managed about four hours of sleep after all. Or, thereabouts. No thanks to my server going wonky and homework taking disproportionately longer as I get closer to the metaphorical finish line.
Woke up relatively on time, pulled everything together for class, and met up with a bunch of the crew at the lounge before heading out for class. Several of us went down to pick up Octavia and bring her along with us. We knocked on her door. No answer. Since the Clarion West Administrator (Leslie) had told us the previous day that Octavia was "God" for the next week, I called out to the closed door, "Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret." Chuckles all around, but no Octavia.
We made it to our first session at the SCCC building and found a menagerie of novelty animals positioned in a parade in the middle of a circle of desks. We were introduced to the verisimilitoad (maybe I'll explain later; maybe not). Octavia showed up. We got rolling.
Octavia had a few things she wanted to cover in lecture, and then we went on to discuss the assignment she'd given us for today. I learned that I had not properly understood what Octavia had in mind for the one-sentence exercise. After going around the room and having us present ours, she pushed and pulled several of us (including yours truly) until she finally got us (me) to see what it was she was after. Now that I understand (I think), I'll be using this tool to begin work on my first story here, which I am to hand in on Thursday morning.
...which means that before I go to bed, I still have to write that new sentence!
Anyway, the class was fine and the critiques went quite well for a group that's never done this together before. When all was done in the class room, it was time to read the three stories (also submission pieces) for tomorrow and do whatever else we felt like doing.
I have discovered that I am a master at yielding to distractions. Food? Big distraction. Walking around the neighborhood? Natch. Chatting with Paulette? But of course. Then, there was fixing that problem with this here log, updating an e-mail alias situation that had arisen at about the same time, calls to family members, and the like.
Highlights from my conversation with Paulette earlier today, who attended last year's Clarion West:
* Three stories to critique for tomorrow? That's all?! Back in *our* day, we had four! Every day! When we were done, we had produced more stories and more total words than any Clarion, East or West, ever! (supposedly, this is actually true.)
* The longest story you have to critique is 7,000 words? Why, we used to DREAM of stories that were only 7,000 words long. Last year, our shortest piece was so long, we'd have to read Stephen King's The Stand as a warm-down afterwards just to cool off! And, we're talking the expanded version here, not the originally published version, you know...
* You guys aren't handing in new material until Tuesday morning? Geez! Last year, they made us hand in new material the day *before* lecture started. Why, even this year's Clarion *East* has been backed up on new material... since day one! They've had to add Saturday sessions! Even their stuffed animals are writing!
Blah, blah, blah. Just another Monday. If I'm very good, I may actually get to bed in time tonight to manage six hours of sleep. Woo-hoo!
Oh, and about that story I'm thinking of writing this week... it's going to be a very dark piece. A tale of revenge and a most unusual murder. Bwahahahahaha.
June 18, 2001
[note: the date for this entry is incorrect; the geeklog file was hosed last night and fixing it this afternoon included reposting this particular entry, which should be date stamped sometime late on Sunday, 6/18/01.]
A bunch of us (12 of the 17 in our class) spent the late morning walking down to the International District (which, coincidentally enough, is where I work when I'm not on leave for a writing program...) to pick up some specialty foods. Several members of our class like to cook with particular ingredients that are more commonly found outside of the traditional American supermarket.
Afterward, we toured Elliot Bay Books (where the Tuesday night readings will be held) just a few blocks away, and then the Eastern edge of the Pioneer Square area. At each stop in our little tour, one or two members of our group would peel off and head back to the dorms. By the time we ended up at an Indian cuisine restaurant just past Yessler, we were down to seven. A perfect-sized group for inclusive conversation. (When the larger group had dinner the night before, it naturally became a collection of smaller sets engaged in conversation...)
Topics included: teaching languages & accents, and what's the worst movie ever made (there was no agreement on this one. One person's Citizen Kane was another person's Eraserhead). Then, we walked up the James Street hill to return directly to the dorm.
Now, at this point, I should mention that 1) I recently bought new sneakers, 2) we'd done so much walking the previous day that my feet had started screaming in agony the night before, 3) I'm a fat old man who is waaaaay out of shape. In short, I very much needed this long walk today, including the bit taking us up that hill, and it was also... a painful exercise. D'oh!
A while later, several of us made a Costco run. Most of us were there for more foods in bulk, and I picked up a couple of new reference books plus some shorts and other clothes for the nicer weather... and so as to postpone my next laundry day.
We paid our bills for the course and then had our first official class meeting, followed by our introduction to Octavia Butler, the first week instructor. She gave us three assignments:
1) Long term -- submit one of the stories we write for this year's Clarion West to be considered for publication.
2) This week -- explore an emotional event that was significant in our lives, and then take that raw emotion and put it into the story we turn in for this week.
3) Tomorrow morning -- write a one-sentence synopsis of a project we are working on, taking care to state something about character, conflict, and resolution.
I signed up to turn in a story on Thursday morning (so that it will be critiqued Friday). I plan to do the one-sentence exercise both for the novel I'm currently writing and for the short story I hope to write this week.
As for my other assignment -- critique the three submission pieces we were sent a week ago -- I've finished two and now have the third to go.
Octavia had a few words of wisdom for us as we went around the room making introductions. I'll repeat two interesting tidbits here: first, it helps to have an idea how you intend to end your piece before you begin writing it. Even if you end it differently, at least you are working toward a definite end. Pam Goodfellow, who taught the UW Commercial Fiction Writing program, often gave this same advice... and, it never hurts to hear good advice more than once.
Second, if you can manage to not feel above such things as self-help or motivational tapes, there are worse ways to get yourself into a good frame of mind before sitting down to approach the blank piece of paper.
Keep in mind that what I've written above is my take on what she said, and is not a transcript of what she said. Others may have taken away a different interpretation of her points.
I must confess that I feel a bit silly just putting up a blow-by-blow description of the days events, rather than the observations and arguments I'm prone to writing in my journal (both off-line and on-). That, itself, may be an essay for another day: the difference between transcribing and interpreting events. But, that will have to wait, as I must now return to my homework. Ack!
I'm looking at about four hours sleep tonight, if I get things done in a timely fashion.
June 17, 2001
Sunday, June 17th marks the official start of Clarion West 2001. Saturday, June 16th is when it really all began.
I spent most of last night (Friday night, that is) packing everything I expected to need for the next six weeks so that it would easily transfer into my car and then from there into the dorm room. (For those who aren't familiar with what the Clarion West intensive writing workshop entails, I recommend that you check out their web site.)
Since I had volunteered to make a few trips to the airport to pick up some of our incoming classmates, I wanted to get to the dorms early, get my car unloaded, and start settling in before it was time to make those trips. Paulette (who went through this routine last year when she was a student here) was kind enough to get up early with me and show me around the campus and immediate vicinity. A handy tour, since we'd retrace those steps later in the evening on a QFC run.
Anyway, I went to the airport on three occasions and brought back a couple of Clarionites each time. In order to be easy to find in the crowd, I wore a Charlie Brown t-shirt. It seemed to work; they all found me. I enjoyed meeting each of my workshop-mates, and I'm very excited to be working with them. They are not only top notch, they come from such a varied set of talents, contexts and points-of-view... I won't be able to help but learn from their examples.
Following my final airport run, those of us who were at the dorm (14 of the 17 total Clarionites plus one relative) got together as a group, agreed to all eat dinner together, *successfully* chose a place to try in very short order, and -- this is the amazing part -- all 15 of us were able to travel as a group to the restaurant, get seated, and actually find something to eat. Given 1) the constraints of the restaurant to host us such a large party and 2) the varying dietary preferences of the group, I consider this feat to be nothing short of miraculous.
Note to future Clarion West attendees: We found the local Ethiopian restaurant, within about three blocks from the SU dorms, and much fun was had by all. Recommended.
Also, I heartily endorse the idea of arriving the day before the first official meeting takes place. Bonding with your fellow Clarionites is a Very Good Thing (tm).
I loved the meal; loved the conversation. At the end, roughly half of us decided to make a run to the grocery store to pick up a few essentials, and then we returned to the dorm. The evening wound down with a late night bull session in the lounge.
We are living on the top floor (that's floor 12) of Seattle University's Campion Dormitory building, so the lounge commands a wonderful view of the surrounding area (as do our rooms). Renovation was recently completed in the main lobby of the building and in the individual rooms of our floor, so the digs are pretty cool.
My room is set up: the computer works and my connection to the Internet is operating; the printer prints; the stereo sounds excellent; my alarm clock displays the correct time. Oh, and a big shout out to Amy: thank you for the fridge! It's keeping my beverages nice and cool.
While I've got the room set up, I still have three stories I need to read and critique in time for Monday (these had been mailed out last week, but I didn't have a chance to read them, regardless), and I want to flesh out a couple more story ideas of my own before the rubber hits the pavement. Somehow, I have to find time to do this tomorrow and still stay on board for a group Costco run.
No problem. Right? :-)
June 15, 2001
Tomorrow is my last day at work before taking off for Clarion West. I'm not ready.
"Oh, sure," you say. "Not ready to leave work. Yeah right." That's not quite what I mean.
I haven't read through all of the stuff that came in the info pack for Clarion West. I haven't packed. I've just started making a list of things to bring, for crying out loud.
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever."
I haven't had a chance to read samples of writing by each of my instructors yet.
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever."
I'm sleep deprived.
Okay. Yes, I'm pressed for time as far as preparing for Clarion goes. But, that's only part of what's really bothering me. The fact is, I'm not ready to leave work yet... not just because I am leaving behind projects unfinished (I am), but because I just discovered today that I have made an error in how I've been working with one of my fellows at the office. I've been treating this person terribly, in fact.
This is a major failing. Projects can be set back on track. Relationships (working, personal, or otherwise) are harder.
I think the error I've made is recoverable. But, I'm crushed that I could make this kind of mistake and I won't be able to fix it until, at best, after I return. *This* is the kind of thing I hate to leave "undone".
I've been so rude, and I won't be able to do anything about it.
At the same time, one of my other co-workers very kindly gave me a "come back soon" gift that was, well, very touching. Appropriate. Actually, it's touching because it's so inappropriate. It's one of those stress things that you squeeze, in the shape of a cow. Only, when you squeeze it... well, let's just say I haven't seen something this crude since I accidentally watched part of an Adam Sandler movie. You squeeze it, and a big brown bubble forms....
Nevermind. It's disgusting. It's hilarious. And, very touching. And, the effort this person made to reach out to me came right on the heels of realizing what a heel I've been to this other person.
I have a lot of writing to do. A ton of reading to do. I still owe my Grandparents a big fat phone call (by way of thanks for something they mailed me a couple of weeks ago). I never talk to friends anymore. I'm terrible about replying to e-mail. I'm sleep deprived. I'm about to take a leave from my job when there are so many projects left dangling... and, well, that matter of how I've been treating that co-worker. My e-mail and web servers have become unstable again and I am juggling getting them onto new machines. I stand at the threshold of an intense six-week writing program.
This, it seems to me, is where things start to get interesting.
June 09, 2001
I have only one week left at work -- and home -- before heading off to Clarion West 2001. This is my last free weekend for a while. As much as there is for me yet to do in preparation, I'm excited by the prospect of my upcoming adventure. Six weeks devoted to exercising the writing and story-telling poriton of my brain. Woo-hoo!
One of this year's instructors, Nalo Hopkinson, has just been nominated for a Hugo Award. The nomination is for her second novel. Not too shabby.
Awards are cool, and I'm all for recognition of doing good work. Perhaps, someday in my not-too-distant future, I might have the honor of standing alongside these wonderful writers at the winners podium... and that would be most excellent. The Hugo is particularly cool, because it's an award that is voted on by the fans.
I have to say, though, that there's another award that I'm much more interested in pursuing: the well-paying publishing contract. If the fans award my work with their hard earned cash, that's plenty award enough for me. I'm so easy-to-please.
Before I can pursue that, I have to finish the novel and get a few short stories under my belt. Writing is a very weird profession: you have to do all the work long before you find out if you'll ever get paid. Kinda risky. As a friend of mine has often pointed out, I seem to be a glutton for doing the most amount of work for the least amount of pay. C'est la vie.
Regardless, for six weeks I am going to be a dedicated writer. Should be quite an exciting time.
June 03, 2001
Clarion West begins in two weeks. While the official first meeting takes place on Sunday afternoon on the 17th, most of us will be arriving at the dorms on Saturday.
My plan is to get my own stuff over there as early as I can manage on Saturday, and then I'll be picking up several of the other students at the airport throughout the day. This, of course, means packing on Friday the 15th. Friday the 15th also marks my last day of work before the program begins. Thus, I have two weeks to try to get everything squared away at work and to get everything ready at home for me to pack and head off.
Work, naturally, has been a bit hectic. Not only am I attempting to smoothly transition my work to various co-workers who will share my duties while I'm on leave, I'm also finding myself in a bit of a crunch as two of my bigger projects are coming down to the wire. One has already been delayed by at least a week (meaning it won't launch until this next Friday at the earliest) and is actually likely to be delayed by an addtional week. The other project suddenly involves a presentation to our President and CEO this coming Monday. You can imagine how this adds to the excitement in one's work day.
And so, I need to pull that all together and gracefully make my exit, all while trying to get ready for Clarion. No big deal, really. Add to that the fact that we're wrapping up the Commercial Fiction Writing Course at the Unviersity of Washington this week (which means finalizing my big project *now*). Now, the fun is starting to pile on.
I also am most delinquent on getting things rolling for the Cornell Class of '90 website. Bad, bad, bad. And, then there's this novel I'm trying to advance. In the words of Bill the Cat: "Ack! Pth!"
This is all by way of saying, I have an exciting couple of weeks ahead of me. Perhaps the six weeks that follow -- those that belong to Clarion West -- will seem like a cake walk after all this.
When people ask me if I'm excited about my upcoming Clarion adventure, the truthful answer remains: I don't have time to be excited. Yet. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to it. I just have a wee bit of work to do in the meantime.
April 27, 2001
Had two interesting shocks today. The first shock was when I visited the intranet at my place of work to look at what we lovingly refer to as "the phone tool." This is where we go to quickly find the phone numbers, supervisors & direct reports, and digital images of our co-workers. For various reasons, I had to look up a few folks, and ended up linking to my own entry in this tool. There, where there had once been a list of eight members under "Team:" was a big empty space. Truly, my team is gone. There's not even an electronic echo to mark where once my team had resided. It was as final as a tombstone.
I was dejected. Still am, actually. Thoroughly bummed. The members of my former team are amazingly talented and fun to work with. We still have jobs that resemble our previous jobs, but now we all have new masters. "Same bus, different driver." But, the ride is not the same. I understand more fully now than ever before just how permanent this break really is.
After getting home, I received a completely different kind of shock: I have been accepted into the Odyssey Writers Workshop. Woo-hoo!
This is amazingly wonderful news, especially given that I received a *letter* about it and, therefore, assumed that it was actually a rejection. Why did I assume that a letter meant rejection? Because Clarion West *called* with the news that I had been accepted into their program as well, before sending out any letter.
Yes, it's true that I heard from Clarion West a few days ago and didn't mention it here. I was waiting to hear from Odyssey before saying anything. Now, of course, I face a very difficult situation: I need to decline one program's offer to attend. Both workshops look amazing, especially this year (the instructor line-ups at Clarion West and Odyssey both feature people I very much wish to study with), but the programs overlap and I can't take both at the same time.
If you're wondering why I applied to two programs that overlap, well... let's just say that both looked great, and I wasn't so sure I'd get into either of them, let alone both.
So, I'll be facing that particular music tomorrow. In the meantime, though, I'm happy to know for certain that I'll be spending six weeks this summer focusing on improving my writing. As you can no doubt tell if you've been reading this journal for more than a couple of entries, I can certainly use some improvement.
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