Clarion Week 2!

So, the deadline for Clarion 2012 is in six days, and you should apply. (Yes, you. All of you. Everyone who wants to write and meet people in the industry and learn like crazy. Rev your laptops now.) In an effort to explain why this is so, that you should apply, I am pulling out my journal and emails from that period and recapping this week by week.

Let’s all just pretend that I deliberately planned to post my recaps now– in the time last year that I was deciding to apply for Clarion– instead of the fact that I forgot to write these. Yes, pretending is fun!

Welcome to Clarion. This is your future for the next six weeks.

Week 2 was the week of John Scalzi. It was also the week my journals moved from detailed and hilarious retellings of the Clarion life to one-line entries such as this one, from the second weekend

“Also I thinked we have medical inference.”


My commitment to posterity’s knowledge is fabulous. But I can reconstruct from what I do have, because I have DETECTIVE SKILLS. And because I’m feeling daring, I’m going to put the week’s quotes and the week’s pictures and the week’s reconstruction into the post and hit BLEND.

Jacob: “That’s a great first line! A great first line for me to underline and write ‘glib’ under.”

Becky: “Looks like Jacob just volunteered to be the one killed and eaten!”

So the week before I turned in a for a Friday Crit– that was the one with a tactile telepathy and auditory danger sense. Awesome idea, poor execution. This week I decided to go for a story about a small town and tea and ice. I turned it in tuesday night, after a weekend where I looked at my grip on reality and decided it was overrated.

It was– disjointed. (Something which happens when you realize 800 words in that you’re writing a flash fiction with no spark and so you shoehorn a romance and a quest into it.)

These are your jurors. Pray for mercy.

The general verdict from everyone was that there were world building issues, and I still hated details, and I wrote TERRIFYING ice scenes. I’m still smiling eight months later, remembering the reactions to the ice scenes. From what others have said, the second week was hard for them, but for me, first week was such an I AM FAILING AT EVERYTHING that second week was much easier. I hit bottom, but that meant I wasn’t free falling into the dark any more.

“Hey man. I-I liked your story.”


“Needs more Aaardvarks.”


On the story-learning front, week 2 was also when I made two big discoveries! The first was the difference between a twist and a plot. In the year previous I’d been writing a story a week, as mentioned previously. Most of those were flash, and for a non-trivial amount of them I was setting up a situation, inverting it at the end, and calling it a story. That’s not plot, that’s regurgitation mixed with mental gymnastics. So learning that was good for everyone. (In related news, actual plot is hard.)

Brooke W:  “Is the AC Broken?”

Andy: “Beelzebub, are you with us?”

The second thing was why I never described anything. I had been thinking about it, and had come up with theories ranging from “description is boring” to “my imagination is not visual” to “why are you all SO MEAN?!?!” Just joking about the last one. Really.

No one is mean! Chris even hugged a giant stone bear, just to demonstrate his love.

In some self-analysis of my writing history, I remembered the several teen years when my primary writing outlet was to go on walks with my siblings and tell stories to them. These walks would go on for hours, and the culmination of that time period was during a road trip when I told a eight-hour fantasy epic to my road-stunned siblings. (This also means that my early writing work is impossible to display and shame me, because it was never recorded. VICTORY IS MINE.) The oral story-tradition was a fun activity, I learned a lot about plot and world-building, and I never described anything. (Try it some time, when you’re telling a story out loud. See how much attention you pay to visual description.) And in my head there was still this idea that description was unnecessary. So of course, now that I knew my bias against description was based on a teenage fallacy, it was a bit easier to say “description is for winners, let me commit some of it for you.”

“You had all the themes in one story. Every one.”

-Brooke W.

We went to John Scalzi’s signing at Mysterious Galaxy on Wednesday, and let me tell you– we were not the only ones there. They were lined up around the walls, and the air conditioning was sending everyone a letter about how sorely mistreated it was. Scalzi read from a novel that at the time was under a ban of secrecy, but now I can tell you is titled Red Shirts. It is hilarious and I want it.

“Were it my story, I would throw the baby out with the bath water at the end.”


One of the things that is not usually mentioned when people talk about Clarion, is that you get to see six very different professional writers in their public professional context. For many people this might not be as eye-opening as it was for me, but I’m from a small town. I had been to a grand total of no readings before, so seeing a wide range of author-audience interactions was AWESOME. I had assumed that there was one style of readings? And then in two weeks I saw Nina Kiriki Hoffman and John Scalzi do readings. They both KNOW their audience, and they’re both really good at it. They give a show.

Scalzi also wrote my critique in elvish. He says it’s a secret code, but I SAW it. Elvish.

What happens when critique session gets out of control. Or a normal day at Clarion. It's hard to tell the difference, some times.

In conclusion, a final quote from critique session.

Chris: “James, you have opened my heart.”

Gill: “With a sonic screwdriver?”

Chris: “Turns out it’s the only way.”

Other posts about Clarion, including my hysterical first post and weekly recaps, can be found here.

Reading Cross-Gender.

I think I’ve been pretty clear about my tendency to read adventure stories. I read a lot, and I read a lot things which focus on adventure. However, the vast majority of books which will be marketed as “adventure tales” have another word in the genre description. They’re “Boys’ Adventure Tales.” There are exceptions, of course, but at least in most of the books I read, the main character in a perilous drama of strength and wit would be a guy.

And at first I didn’t even notice. There were adventures, I was reading them, I was seven, and so I just read myself into them. I was constantly the main character, daring and smart and able to escape and virtuous and awesome. I was AWESOME.

And then, somewhere in there, I started to notice gender. I started to notice that I couldn’t be the main character in the books I was reading. There was this divide, and I was on the wrong side of it.

I can’t trace it back to any one book, I think it was just a combination of figuring out who I was (and wasn’t), and the sheer amount of adventures, historical fiction, and books written a century ago that I was cramming into my head. Sometimes the characters said explicitly that girls couldn’t participate in the expedition, and sometimes it was the more insidious assumption that girls would never want to come along. And again, the selection of books that I was reading comes down to a lot of factors, (what was available in the local library being a big one), but I took to heart the universal message that guys had adventures and girls were the impetuous for adventures; they were either in need of rescue or there to be impressed by the exploits of the male sex.

And oh, I took that to heart hard. At first I tried to deal with it by fully taking on the virtues of a frontier woman. They were super competent and vital people, and sometimes had adventures of their own. Frontier women were the most badass of the role models available, in fact, because I wasn’t rich enough to be a Nancy Drew and I couldn’t quite wish myself into being a princess. There still exists a terrible picture I have not managed to destroy which shows that my dedication to a frontier aesthetic also extended to fashion. It’s really terrible. Anyways, that attempt worked just about until my temper came in.

Don’t worry, this is not another history of my reading habits. (We’ve had enough of that lately.) My point is that I was still looking into books for characters who were like me, and I kept slamming up against the gender barrier. So, did the writers intend that? In the case of books written 50 or more years ago, I think it’s quite possible. This is, after all, the era of Children’s Literature With Morals, and strict gender roles were certainly a moral good. In books written more recently, I think I fell more afoul of the assumption that “adventure novel” means “novel meant for boys”.

Eowyn is just here to be rescued...

And when I first started thinking about this I spent a great deal of time being righteously indignant that I couldn’t find myself in these books, just because of my sex. How ridiculous!

Er, yes. How ridiculous, self. You should look to that. Because the brainwave that hit today is a two-parter.

The first deals with the older stuff, where gender divides were specifically put in. The authors have expressed their view, do I agree with it? A swift look at reality proves that having your reproductive organs on the inside does not guarantee you a rescuer in all situations, so unless you want to be a tragic casualty, it’s a good idea to be prepared to rescue yourself. Damsel in distress– not a viable lifestyle. Consulting reality also shows that my lack of eye-hand coordination and cardiovascular capacity makes me a poor choice to bring on an adventure, at least as the muscle. Does that have anything to do with my chromosomes? Well, as far as my chromosomes indicate I have weak eyes and like reading, yes, but that’s about it. On the other hand, if an adventure needs a storehouse of trivia and bizarre information I am so there. I think the author and I can agree to disagree on the subject of their quaint gender views, and I can enjoy the adventure for its merits or lack thereof. GENDER ISSUE SORT’D.

And the second part of the brainwave comes regarding books written more recently. They tend to be free of side characters pointedly staying home to cook, so why would I have issues with them? Because I know I cannot be the main character? Yes, and that matters why, exactly?

I think I’ve been reading at a basically basic level. I’ve been looking for myself in stories and rolling around in the awesomeness of me for a while. Which is useful– after all it’s nice to know that you’re not alone in the world, there are people like you– but it’s hardly the only way to read. Only reading in this manner is like only eating chocolate. You’re missing a lot of the essential nutrients needed for living. In this case, empathy.

Because really, gender is only the most obvious and silly place to draw a line. If I say I can’t enjoy books with Male MCs, can I also not enjoy books with Female MCs who are sporty, or social, or interested in romance, or who live in different worlds, or who follow a different faith, or who have a different skin colour, or hair colour, or who don’t have to worry about being blind without their classes, or who aren’t interested in history, or who don’t like tea? I mean, it would be hard to get over the tea barrier, but if I can empathize past that I should be able to empathize past anything.

So delicious...

Ahem. What I mean to say is that I would be severely restricting myself, to solely allow myself to enjoy books “about me.” The reading of the books which aren’t about me is the joy of it! I can see someone else’s experience, and what it’s like to be human in another life. Unless I get new eyes I am never going to be able to play sports: I have neither the depth perception, the eye-hand-co-ordination or the interest in that activity. But I can read about someone who loves sports, and as a bonus I don’t have to experience the pain.

I mean, this realization opens up SCADS of new horizons. And for goodness sake, self, I read science fiction and fantasy like they are the chief balm for my soul. Imagining the reality of another type of life should not present a huge problem for me.