Clarion Week 6: in which we stumble across the finish line and wish the marathon was twice as long.

Heading out to the ocean

Week Six! The last week before I was thrust out into the cruel, uncaring world. The week when I realized that there was an ocean I could go heal my soul with RIGHT THERE, and the week when I got my feet put underneath me again by my classmates, and the week when I realized that this workshop wasn’t the pinnacle of my writing journey (with everything downhill from here,) it was a beginning.

“You wrote a story about a man who drowns a fish. Good job.”
-Gill

Yeah, remember how last week I was despairing about ever being able to plot well and write like a grown-up? This week it was pointed out to me by several people that I was 22, with plenty of time to LEARN. I kinda clued in that I could rest, and let things percolate through my subconscious, and work on my skills and knowledge. I didn’t have to have it all in hand right yet.

“Self-loathing is not a good career path.  Cut yourself some effing slack.”  ~Kessel

I also slept a lot more, which helped.

Mark turned in his story for the last Friday. He slept significantly less.

(Side note; this did not actually take place at Clarion, but once I had left there, I listened to some people conversing, and I was utterly shocked to realize that they weren’t discussing writing. And worse, they were talking about it like it mattered, in a serious conversationI just didn’t understand. I still don’t understand. It’s a trip to Disneyland, not a novel!)

So, on this final week I had my retelling of Eros and Psyche critiqued! This was slightly awkward in the classroom because a.) I’d run out of time and energy and literally left out half the story, and b.) I was the unwitting perpetrator of that story that happens every year, the “I never really thought about it as rape before” story. Oops. (I’m sorry, everyone. And I’m gonna re-write that story and yeah. Sorry, everyone.) But on the non-awkward side, the general consensus was that my prose was SO MUCH BETTER. So, y’know, I curled into a ball when it was over and went HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ICANSTOPWRITING AHAHAHAHAHA oh I am so sad now. What should I do? How do I feel? How do I hands? How I can? I cannot can. Words gone. Words all gone. Ocean now?

Ocean

You think I make a joke. I do not make a joke. That is the actual level of my language ability. I wrote a journal entry which reads.

“Went death-mobile story kit.

Ocean with Gill, mark, Chris, Todd.

Social Crit Session

Drank Beer– not good.

YOU DID NOT NUDIST BEACH.”

Clarion– it will ruin your capacity for language.

Josh must now join the conversation!

But inability to talk notwithstanding, the last week of Clarion was strange and amazing. We were becoming aware that we had been living in a state which most people would classify as “not the real world” and as we turned in our last stories day by day and looked around, we didn’t want it to end. I mean yes, there was some significant missing of family and significant others going on, but giving up this for the daily grind was not appealing.

“Tim will call you and be like ‘Send Lawyers, guns and money.'”
-Josh

So we went to the ocean a lot, we hung out in the common room, we chatted and ate cupcakes and drunk tea and whiskey and wrote messages in each other’s books and took pictures and packed up and went to crit session and told each other we were awesome and made promises to keep in touch. My memories are all coloured with sorrow, but I’m pretty sure that’s the nostalgia talking.

Dying Brooke's hair.

Becky can't operate in these conditions!

Our group was entirely composed of introverts (what writing group isn’t,) and we were voluntarily spending as much time as possible together. There were trips to Sprinkles Cupcakes! There was ritual emptying of all the alcohol bottles which couldn’t be brought on a plane. There was the last trip to Mysterious Galaxy, where Kij read Story Kit, and like the week before, when Kessel read from his upcoming novel, I forgot to despair at how GOOD they were and how bad I was and just gloried in all the beautiful words.

"The class of Clarion 2011 had better be a courteous class or I'll kill you." -Kij

(Btw, Mysterious Galaxy is the bookstore where we went every week for readings. I come from a small town, so the idea that there are bookstores entirely devoted to Spec Fic was a REVELATION to me. I restricted myself to one new book a week, which was very, very hard. The staff was also amazing and kind and basically I’m a fan. If you’re in San Diego, go!)

Walking back from the ocean.

Saying goodbye is never fun to do.

And then we all had to pack up and fly home.

“It’s not that Burger King is salvation, but it’s reality.” -Kessel

If you want to apply to Clarion you can do that here. Should you apply? Clarion isn’t for everyone. It’s six weeks, which is a lot of time, and it’s five thousand dollars, which is a lot of money. However, there are scholarships for poverty and talent, (I got a “I work minimum wage jobs” one,) and six weeks is less than the time most jobs will give you for mat leave. IF THEY WON”T LET YOU TAKE THE TIME OFF YOU DON”T WANT THAT JOB ANYWAYS. *Jasmine Hast SPOKEN*

“You disappointed me, I thought she was going to be naked under the butterflies!”
-Chris

In addition to the time and money budgeting, Clarion is also difficult emotionally and mentally. Even critique from very kind people who are your friends can be hard to take when you don’t have the opportunity to make it good, and you know that you COULD, if you just had more TIME.

I took this picture!

It is personally hard for me to take it when people say that ANYTHING is wrong with what I’m doing, as I have a strong attachment to being perfect, so it is a testament to the group I was in that I was able to take critique as well as I did. Add the strain of critique to the strain of all the writing and critical reading that is expected of you, and it is very tiring.

Bolander: “I want to eat the effing prose in this with a spoon.”
Chris: “You can’t eat it, it’s mine. I’m eating it.”

I’ve tried to be honest about the ups and downs of the experience in my recaps. (Other posts about Clarion, including my post about being accepted and other weekly recaps, can be found here.) In my mind, the positives of the experience wildly outweigh the negatives, and I say this as someone who is going to be working a 14 hour day today because I had to go quite far into debt to swing the cost of the workshop.

The last lunch, posing with the cafeteria staff.

If I could go again I would be applying this weekend and crossing my fingers even HARDER than I did last year. People have gone at ages 17 and at “more than 60,” people have traveled from Australia and the UK and Canada and from in San Diego. It’s my opinion that Clarion is AWESOME and I’d really, really encourage anyone who wants to be a writer to become part of that group.

Gill, Kessel and Mark.

Yeah, I want to go again.

“Excellent first draft, what a giraffe, covered in nanobots.”  ~Worrad

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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.

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

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“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.”
-Kessel

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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.'”

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

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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.”

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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.”

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“Oh my god the verbs Todd!”
-Wonders.

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“That sentence was just full of words.”
-Annie

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

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

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

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“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

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

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

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“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.

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.”

-Me

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.”

-Dennis

“Needs more Aaardvarks.”

-Chris

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.”

-Andy

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.