Clarion Week 5: being a tale of hysteria and despair.

Week 5. Oh, week 5. Week 5 was the hardest week. More on that in a minute. But first– QUOTES OF HILARITY. Because seriously, we were all comedians in week 5.

(I’m censoring the quotes, cause my little sister reads this blog. I’m sure you can infer what they were originally.)

“I wrote this story to let you know I’m a bigot.”
-Jim B.


“I really want to commend this story for being sentient.”


“You keep using single quotes when they should be double quotes. It’s all over page 7. Everything single quoted there should be changed to double quotes. I don’t understand why people keep doing this. You keep doing this and I’ll kill you.”


Josh: Someday 20 years from now you’re going to look back at your Clarion stories and go “what the eff was with all the bees?”
Becky: “No actually, I’ll be the author of my bestselling zombie bee series, reminiscing about at its genesis. ‘Ah yes, I remember it well.'”


“I refer you to Jasmine’s ‘look of death’.”


Josh: “This is not the first day for this biscuit. It’s a bit-” *bangs it against a plate*
Chris: “That’s not a biscuit, that’s hard tack!”
Jasmine: “It’s supposed to be eaten soaked in bacon grease.”
Someone: “It would probably taste better soaked in bacon grease.”
Josh: “Yes well, what wouldn’t?”
Tim: “Don’t say that. In this crowd, someone will take it as a challenge.”
Josh: “That’s true. With our luck, one of the stories this week will be titled: the thing that does not taste good soaked in bacon grease. If we’re lucky it’ll be written by Jim. If we’re unlucky it’ll be Dennis.”


Kessel: “That is a effing useless comma. I want to kill you for that comma. You’re going to hell for that comma. You know who does this? Effing journalists!”
Kessel: (Later) “I have to do this every once in a while. To exercise my adrenal gland.”


“Oh my god the verbs Todd!”


“That sentence was just full of words.”


“Story in which you get to the end and nothing happens- you stole my trick.”


“I wrote ‘Effer’ in tetris blocks, so there you go.”


Re: Erin’s orgasmic spaceship story:
Jim B.: “I thought the pace quickened really well.”


“This is the happiest ending to a Laika story I’ve seen, until I write my space opera in which Laika is irradiated, becomes a superhero, and returns to Earth to avenge herself on her Soviet oppressors.”  ~Josh


“Space whales having sex is three awesome things that go together awesomely.”  ~Kij


“The official Clarion 2011 mascot: NARWOLVES.” ~Josh


“Don’t pretend to be a normal person.  That’s…that’s just a bad idea.”  — Kim Stanley Robinson

Weeks five and six are presided over by an anchor team of two authors, and our anchor team was Kij Johnson and John Kessel– both of whom are unremittingly awesome. The title of this blog comes from the talk which Kessel and Kij gave us on their first day. Kij said;

“You’ve all demonstrated that you have a lot of talent to get this far. Do not waste your talent on trivial stories.”

That was the theme of their week, telling us that we had the talent, and we could do better. Strive for MORE. Do BETTER.

John Kessel sees all that you did and did not do, and he's now going to tell you about it.

Kij Johnson. All shall love her and despair.

But yes, the emotional low which was week 5. This was for a couple of reasons. A component was the fact that I was going for Monday crits, which meant that I turned in my sixth short story on Sunday night. Given that my first new story had been turned in for a Friday crit on week 1, I wrote six short stories in four and and half weeks. I’m not saying that to brag– I know a lot of people write faster than I do, and they weren’t long stories anyways– I’m just saying the word part of my brain had moved past IGNITION to smouldering weakly.

Another component was emotional. Despair, to pinpoint the emotion. I’ll be honest, I nearly gave up on writing as a career in week 5.

A lot of that came from the whole “I am tired tired so tired” thing. Five weeks writing, editing and critiquing every day, plus a MAD WEEKEND at comic-con, plus fighting off the Clarion Plague. The tired made it very difficult to fight off the despair at a fundamental quality of my writing. Description can be added, world-building can be researched, prose can be revised. It is very difficult to fix plot. And I had been going into my personal conferences with the authors, and every time they pointed to plotting as my weak point.

A word about personal conferences. All Clarion students get an hour to talk to each author about anything they want. Given that we are at a workshop where we eat, sleep and breathe story, what we want to talk about usually comes down to writing. So I’d go into my personal conference, perch terrified on the edge of a couch, and the instructors would be massively kind to me. Maybe it was the tangible aura of fear I was giving off. But yes, I cannot stress enough how NICE all the instructors were to me.

And in the process of these talks, I would ask what I was doing well and what I could work on, and everyone said “well, your stories aren’t very original, are they?”

So yes. Five weeks of hearing this, and I just believed I wasn’t good enough to fix this. I was too young, too flawed, too unoriginal, too ignorant, too goofy, too poor. I was legitimately making plans to pack up my publication dreams and consider alternate employment, with writing on the sides.

So yes, if you go to Clarion, don’t expect it to be all sunshine and awesome. It is amazing, but it also holds you to a high standard– one I hadn’t been held to in the realms of writing before. It’s hard. It’s really hard.

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.

Recapping the First week of Clarion

I suppose at this point parties interested in what I have to say on this blog and also reading calendars might have noticed that I am not longer in Clarion.

Hahahah, I said “parties.”

It’s funny cause it’s plural. And therefore obviously a lie.

Ahem. Back to my graceful intro to this blog post!

First-Week instructor Nina doing a reading at Mysterious Galaxy. Many of my classmates are visible in the audience!

As anyone who consulted a calendar could figure out, Clarion is over. And triumphantly, I completed it! I then went on to have many adventures. In fact, as I write this I am on a train speeding across rural quebec. But I’m not to that part of the story yet.

For me Clarion started early Sunday Morning. I had arranged previously to take a cab from the airport to the campus with Becky, Brooke Wonders and Gillian. I got there in plenty of time, found a place to buy coffee, liberated a baggage cart for free– and then realized that I had no idea what the people I was meeting looked like. My obvious next move was to make a sign, right?

It’s harder than you’d think to find a piece of bristol board in an airport. They don’t even sell blank PAPER. (Maybe they think it’s a weapon or something.)

Fortunately, via the airport wi-fi on my phone I had handheld access to a vast database containing pictures of the people I was trying to meet. I do so love living in the future. I like living in the future less when (that afternoon) the power cable to my laptop gives up the ghost, but that can be fixed with the aid of our modern financial system– another reason to be thankful for science and technology, really.

Once we arrived at the UCSD campus on Sunday Afternoon we were all dispatched to our separate rooms to settle in. I was rooming with the other Canadian (Mark) and an Australian (Peta), and we saw right away that the apartment, while lovely, was lacking a crucial component. As a result Peta went to Target to get a kettle and some tea while Mark and I unpacked and picked up dishes from the common room.

My lovely Clarion class! With the exception of Annie, whose plane came in late.

Throughout the whole day I was consistently surprised by just how nice everyone was. I mean, I was expecting everyone to be nice– I’d met most of them on the internet– and going in expecting intelligent, funny, friendly writers I was still surprised by just how darn awesome everyone was.

Also we had a tour, and fought the printers, and went to supper, and fought the printers, and went to buy sugar, and fought the printers. I am not going to talk about fighting the printers (those printers were jerks anyways) but the sugar expedition was actually an adventure.

Mark, Peta and I decided to walk out together to get sugar and milk for our tea. This was about when it really sunk in what kind of ritzy campus we were on. We went to a small late-night convenience store. And where normally mystery-meat sandwiches live in the drop-coolers, this store had fresh pastries and slices of cake. Where normal stores have a wilted banana and sponge-like apple, this one had a variety of organic fruits and vegetables so fresh they all but gave off light. They had tangy organic dried pineapple chips. And “organic” was definitely a theme in the dry goods, along with “fair trade,” “rainforest alliance” “ethically sound,” and all those other tags that double and triple the price of an item. We paid 8 dollars for a pound of sugar and walked out wide-eyed.

Or maybe I was just the one who was wide-eyed. I was still working with the idea that University students are creatures who live off of Kraft Dinner, Catsup and Ramen, but that does not appear to apply to California.


The Geisel library, constructed in honour of Dr. Suess.

Fortunately I didn’t have much time to ponder the mysteries of California, because I needed to have tea with my flatmates and crit the stories for the next day. It had been decided to critique submission stories for the first two days of Clarion, and after that no trunk stories would be permitted. And though a mysterious process known only to our instructor Nina and the fates, a random sampling had picked that the first three stories critiqued at Clarion were written by the three writers in apartment 2. So we used tea to cut the tension and didn’t talk much.

I had never been critiqued by anyone who wasn’t a bosom buddy of mine, so I was just about stressed enough to eat tacks. I woke up naturally at 6:30, which only happens when I am deathly ill or someone jumps on me. And then I got into session and it all got much better. My fellow Clarionauts are all super-insightful, very clever, kind critiquers. And they’re funny! In the first two hours I collected quotes such as;

“Eight-Tenths of the world’s population? Reduce your fractions, boy!”

“I totally felt it when the eagle ripped out of her and stuff but I think it could have been a little more visceral.”

And then there was my critique, which I will sum up with the quote;

“It’s a bit like being in a sensory deprivation tank with Oscar Wilde, really.”
-James W.

I had made it to this point in my writing life without realizing that I was leaving out description. I didn’t include visual description, but I didn’t include any other sensory information either. And I’d left out most of the blocking, to boot. Oops?

So I decided had to work on that. 😀

The next day (tuesday) I started a new story, and I was really excited about it. I was gonna do all kinds of cool things! It was gonna be excellent and no one would be able to say anything was wrong with it, because it was going to be perfect! It turns out I was really going to spent two days panicking over it and writing all of two paragraphs.

Time for a change of plans. On Wednesday evening I ditched it and started new with slightly lower expectations. This time I would only try to do tactile and visual detail, a weird synthetic telepathy and an emotional arc. Easy, right?

A sample of the reading we did every night. This was Thursday night, with my story as one of those I didn’t have to read.

It turns out that knowing what you what to do with a story is not the same thing as implementing it in the text. Learning curves, I love thee. I turned it in on Thursday evening with two minutes to spare before deadline, and it was critiqued on Friday. And before this starts sounding downer, the critique session was good! I got good feedback on the story its self, and I also started learning to deal with the terror of what people say about my writing, learning to not measure by what other people say, and learning to deal with the truth about my own writing and the fact that I’m not in it to stroke my ego, there are easier ways to do that. I’m in it to write a better story, and communicate better. Augh, so many FEELINGS to deal with! *swoons*

And on the ego-stroking side, the bookseller at Mysterious Galaxy referred to “when you’re back here to do your own signing.” I definitely blushed and stammered. ^_^

Also on friday Jacob said the reason I didn’t have a boyfriend was I didn’t drink. So I punched him.

And then except for the time I socked Peta in the head at the beach it was a totally non-violent weekend. *nods* It turns out that when I am rendered legally blind by salt in the eyes and no glasses, I have a very violent startle reflex.

In closing, the Clarionauts are all excellent people, the prospect of pro writing is both more terrifying and harder than I expected, the prospect of pro writing is both richer and more rewarding than I expected, and Posideon is a pervert. He got seaweed everywhere.

Peta doing some writing outside our apartment.