Imma start with some quotes this time.
“You have wrung true pathos from giant metal spiders- a first in SF!”
“The medical and drug scenes were written cleanly, with an obvious comfort with your subject matter. As was the breaking and entering?”
Jake: “Name’s Jake. Been to jail.”
Durham: “But you were innocent, no doubt.”
Jake: “No. But I was a minor.
“Pedophile tornadoes creep me out. That’s something I never thought I’d be saying. Another thing I’d never thought I’d be saying; I thought the tornado’s personality could be developed more.”
If anyone reading this has ever done NaNoWriMo, you’ll be familiar with the week-four feeling. That’s when you’ve forgotten what life was before you weren’t in a gollum-like relationship with your laptop, and you’ve lost interest in food or showering. The only thing that matters is the word count. You have entirely lost all shame connected to the quality of your story, and you’re following the “when in doubt, include fight scene, drunk scene, seduction scene and/or torture scene” model in your Middle Grade novel. Week Four–when you no longer have the self-awareness to realize that what you are doing is crazy.
So week four is usually when Clarion goes MADHOUSE. There has been the tradition ever since the first year that week four is when water fights break out, real fights go down, and people dye their hair shocking colours.
Class of 2011, inveterate followers of tradition that we are, got sick.
This probably helped to keep things appearing calm, because we really didn’t have the energy for full-scale battles of any kind. That doesn’t mean we didn’t flounce into crit session wearing the last shreds of our sanity like banners, we just did it quietly. Or at least my memory thinks we did it quietly. See above, the week-four-destroys-your-frame-of-reference-for-crazy. I wrote a story about a teenager who gets into a fight with a petulant mountain. Maybe I was giggling madly at all times, and I’d just accepted it as normal at that point.
And yes, I wrote a story about rock-elementals. Everyone thought it was super original, which only proves that I’m the only one in the room who’d read Tamora Pierce like a mad thing. In terms of the stories I wrote, it was a mmm-okay week. In terms of the things I learned? OH MY GOSH WEEK FOUR.
The first HUGE THING was world-building. This week we were directed by David Anthony Durham. He writes Epic Fantasy and Historical Fiction, and teaches MFA students, and y’know. He won the Campbell. Man knows what he’s talking about. We talked about lit fic advances, and MFA programs, which was very interesting (if probably never going to apply to me). We also talked about research, which was not even a lightbulb moment for me. It was A CONCERT TOUR’S WORTH OF FLASH-BOMBS AT ONCE moment for me.
After four weeks in California, I had started to miss home. I am a northern, ocean-facing girl, and all the heat and blocky buildings and the subtle sense of dislocation was starting to wear on me. I hadn’t put my finger on it, I was just a little edgy. And then in class, Durham told the story of a student of his who had been writing a story set in ancient rome. (This was to demonstrate the possibilities of research.) In the story, a run-away slave was hiding as some guards passed by. And Durham stopped him there and said
“Look, you have an opportunity with this to really anchor the story. First of all, the guards aren’t going to be just generic guards in a generic outfit. They’re going to have a name and number of some kind, because the Romans loved special emblems for their soldiers. They’re going to have a standard, for example, and their uniforms are going to be significant, and they aren’t going to just be led by a Captain, they’re going to be led by a Lictor. He has a special title, he’s not generic western-european-leader. And he’s going to be carrying his badge of office– an axe surrounded by a sheaf of sticks– which is both his badge of office and what he users to dispense justice.”
(Yes, I just typed that from memory. Sorry for my memory’s grammar.)
There was more, in the talk, but at that point my head exploded with world building and I forget it. My recent sense of dislocation and eternal history-is-awesome and travel-is-awesome stances all came together in a perfect storm of OH EM GEE WORLDBUILDING I LOVE YOU. I was aware that places were different on a fundamental level– really aware– and treating places and times as though they were like mine– only with different window dressing– wasn’t going to cut it any more. I mean, I had seen the difference just in travelling within two very similar countries on the same timeline, think about the difference between my life and a world I was constructing!
I had liked world building before, from a “let’s add all the cool things and make it internally logical” way, but this shifted it from something I thought of as happening near the end, adding extra do-dads and curlicues to the plot, to something I thought of as happening first, hand-in-hand with the plot, informing and directing it. Setting as character and motivation and frame, instead of just decoration. It sounds rather dry to write it down here, but this was absolutely MIND-BLOWING for me.
Oh yeah, and the other mind-blowing thing was Comic-Con. (This post is too long augh sorry everyone I just have a lot of FEELINGS about this week!)
So yes, Comic-Con. One hundred and Fifty thousand people crammed into a single convention centre. Many of them are wearing costumes. Thanks to the generosity of a donor to Clarion and to Tim, one of my Clarionmates, I got to go on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
I absolutely loved it.
I got to spend six hours on the dealer’s floor, looking at cool things and people in costume, and I got to go to all kinds of panels about books, and I bought three t-shirts and I got to go to a sneak peak of Avatar: The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra, and I saw even MORE young adult and middle grade authors do their thing in front of crowds.
Even though I didn’t really know a lot of the references that were going on, I got enough to get by. And to be surrounded by people who were determined to be nice and to have fun, and who thought that “fun” consisted of being enthusiastic about books, movies, tv shows, comics and media? It was so much fun. My main regret is that I over-dosed on crowds so fast that I forgot to take pictures unless actively reminded– say by the noisy person next to me taking pictures, (the reason for the two pics above). There was a guy dressed as a LOCUST and I forgot to take a picture. Gosh, Self.
So Comic-Con taught me that a.) there are LOTS people who like the same things that I do, and who like it with more energy than I, even. b.) knowing how to speak in front of crowds (see above, how I went to five author panels) is incredibly important and difficult and I should get over my crowd-terror, and c.) I should write middle grade.
Oh, I didn’t explain that? Yes, you see, I was waiting to get into my last panel, and they said “there’s seats available if you want to go in for the one before it,” so I said “A chair? Thank you!” and sat down. It turns out it was a panel on writing for the Middle Grade audience, run by Mysterious Galaxy. (I also learned that if I am every invited to be on a panel by Mysterious Galaxy, I am ALL OVER THAT. They are pros.) So I wandered in, and once again, for the– I think it was the third time this week– my head exploded in a symphony of flash bombs. I had been trying to write a MG novel as YA edging into Adult SF, and it was ALL WRONG, and Middle Grade was AWESOME, and now I saw the way forward, and DUDE. Also, the MG panel, In contrast to the YA panel, was male-dominated. My competitive side came out and I was all I CAN WRITE ABOUT SHARKS TOO. ONLY I CHOOSE TRAINS AND ROCKETS INSTEAD. I THROW THE GAUNTLET. Only I really don’t throw the gauntlet, cause Greg van Eekhout was on that panel and he just got nominated for the Norton and he was very nice IRL and I throw no gauntlets in his direction.
See how that paragraph up there disintegrated? That’s about what my mental state was like after ComicCon. And I still had two weeks of Clarion left to go.
Other posts about Clarion, including my post about being accepted and other weekly recaps, can be found here.
If you want to apply, you can do that here.
P.S. You want to apply.