Clarion Week 3: Writing With Your Stars Out

This is a Clarion Blog.

I’m writing this from the future, from week five, but more on that later.

Birthday Boy Manish at Green Flash Brewery.
Birthday Boy Manish at Green Flash Brewery.

When the end of week two rolled around, we were crashing headlong into a wall made of exhaustion and no sleep and no stopping, as Geoff Ryman pushed and encouraged and pushed us some more, in our Clarion journey. By the end of week two, we had experienced our first major wipeout of the workshop.

But we worked through it, with sleep and alcohol and singing, and by the time Cat and her partner Heath (who is a wise and hilarious gentleman), showed, we were ready for week three to begin.

Cat, (or Catherynne Valente as she is known to the book world), is an absolute gem, and one of the main reasons I applied this year. If you’ve never read any of her fiction, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Magical, whimsical, heartbreaking, gut wrenching, sly and charming, Cat’s work is beautiful on every level. I was half-expecting her to start bringing chairs and brooms and doorknobs to life with a wink of her eye, kept waiting to see eucalyptus trees bob and ravens wheel and stones laugh as she passed by.

Clarion 15

And even though most of these things didn’t happen, (that I could see with my very human, non-magical eyes), she was a delight and wonder in every sense, not only as a teacher, but as a mentor. Her critiques were enthusiastic and filled with overwhelming support, with questions that cut to the heart of the narrative, and an energy that always managed to revitalize a room of sleep-deprived writers.

Outside the workshop though, she took us under her wing, and spoke to us as equals, compatriots, colleagues. She taught us how to read your story with energy and confidence. She sat with us on the roof, taught us to stand up for ourselves, how to approach the community, how to sit at the table and be counted.

We cooked up Herbert the Plotstrich, and ate him for his narrative power.

Goodbye, Herbert. You were nourishing.
We said celebrated Herbert’s Narrative power before we cooked and ate him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She taught us that we have to believe in ourselves, that the stories worth telling are our stories, can only be our stories, that they have to come from a deep place, a well in the bottom of your heart that you have to pull from, have to give of yourself to the world through your writing.

She was ridiculous with us and laughed with us, and sang with us, (Backstreet Boys, if you must know).

She taught us that we have to write with our stars out, with our heart on the page.

Mermaid stories.
Mermaid stories.

Her energy and love and support and sheer fucking enthusiasm for us and our future got us through week three. She dropped truth-bomb after truth-bomb, and taught us that we can make it out in the world, that our stories are worth telling. She was a song, a poem, a spell, amorphous and all-changing and always supportive. 

I’ll always remember sitting with her, beer in hand, nodding along, rapt . . . And then playing Charades Against Humanity, embarrassing ourselves, with not a care in the world, putting ourself out there as we had to on the page.

 

 

She was exactly what we needed in Week Three, and it was an absolute blast (and privilege) to work with her. I think she helped convince us we were all on the right path, and that ultimately, we needed to be enjoying ourselves, that writing wasn’t all doom and gloom and darkness. She helped us remember that writing could be, and should be fun as well.

The Plotstrich in question.
The Plotstrich in question.
Funny Faces Are Funny
Funny Faces Are Funny

 

 

Advertisements

Clarion Week 2: Steampunk, Sunsets & Sleep-Deprivation

This is a Clarion blog.

Geoff at Mysterious Galaxy Reading
Geoff at Mysterious Galaxy Reading

Week one came to a close, and before we knew it, Gregory Frost was giving us all a bear hug and a pat on the back, leaving us in the care of our second week instructor, Geoff Ryman, a man whose heart is as big as he is tall, who exudes a quiet, intense grace in the presence of a workshop. Our first real experience with him was at an event, Steampunk Tea, which is exactly what it sounds like, where he delighted in taking pictures of all of us, and playing the instrument known as the Thunder Sheet, with a supreme gusto.

Steampunk Time Machine, RAWR.
Steampunk Time Machine, RAWR.

Steampunk Tea was a lot of fun, and a great way to get to know some of the folks on campus who wanted to know us. They gave us little Clarion pins, and said how excited they were to have us. Sometimes I forget that we don’t live in a vacuum, that there are people on campus and in the blogosphere who are actively rooting for us, cheering us on. It was a nice reminder and we left enthused. Also, David Brin says hi.

Monday brought around my first critique, and I actually had a second critique on Friday as well.  It’s always intense to read other people’s work with a critical eye, but it’s a special kind of pressure when it’s you who’s on the chopping block. A few tips I learned:

1: It Ain’t Personal- Critiquing isn’t personal. If it is, it’s a bad critique or you’ve done something so terrible in your writing, it has to be addressed. Otherwise, critiques are not an attack on you as a person, your beliefs, what you hold dear, or anything of the sort. It is an objective look at a draft of a story, a first draft mind you, of something you’ve written, and doing everything in your power to help the author make the next draft that much stronger. You should not see workshopping as an attack. If you do, you need to buck up or get out of the game. Being on the chopping block isn’t supposed to be fun.

Here, have a sunset.
Here, have a sunset.

2: Draft Numero Uno- This is a first draft. This Is A First Draft. THIS IS A FIRST DRAFT. It’s not supposed to be perfect, (unless you’re Kelly Link, whose Clarion Archive stories depressed us all because they’re pretty much what got published). The goal here is to try something new, something exciting, and to get your hands in the muck and mire as much as possible. You’re building an intricate sandcastle as high tide approaches, and you need to do what you can before the Deadline Tide sweeps in, destroying it. But that’s only because you’ll have the tools after the workshop to rebuild it, stronger and better than ever, with buttresses, and shield walls to keep out the water, and archers to take care of any water-dwelling armies, and soldiers riding the back of orca whales and–! Well, you know what I mean. It’s a first draft. Perfection isn’t the goal. Learning is.

3: Keep Typing- People worked hard on your story, and they wouldn’t be in the room if they didn’t have a lot to add to the pot. They devoted time and effort to give your story a thorough working over, so if they’re talking, you’re typing. Make sure to record everything they say, because not only are these folks smart, they all bring a certain point of view to your story that can help it sink or swim. Don’t disrespect that.

4: Solace Muffin- You can get the best critique in the world, and still feel wrung out. Make sure to have a solace muffin or cookie on hand, to help you through the worst of the head-spinny, mind-shuffle that can come after a critique.

Unwinding from Week 2
Unwinding from Week 2

But yeah, we workshopped and read and stayed up late and workshopped and read and drank, and by Friday afternoon, we all collectively passed out. This was the first week where we had work every day and every night, and it hit us hard. We had become the mental equivalent of a pile of exhausted puppies cluttering a grassy hill, exhausted and all smushed together, sleeping. We were adorable.

Geoff was an excellent instructor, very direct and academic in his analysis and deconstruction of a story. Very different in style and tone from Greg but no less helpful. I imagine it’s going to be a blast learning Cat’s style and what tone she sets for the week.

Steampunk Gentlemen
Steampunk Gentlemen

 

Oh! Cat is here, by the way. She and her partner Heath, came in last night, and we made a giant homemade chili dinner for them. It’s been less than a day and she’s already dropped like eight truth-bombs.

It’s going to be a great week three.

 

So What Is All This Clarion Jazz?

I’ll do a big catch up post soon, along with a slew of reviews I’ve had taking up space in my brain. But I wanted to talk today about the Big News:

I’m going to be attending the Clarion Writers’ Workshop this summer in San Diego!

::insert gif of flailing muppet arms set on fire, elephants swinging from the chandeliers, while a raucous party, complete with hats, balloons, streamers, and several garage bands erupts below and there is SO MUCH CAKE::

So, for those who don’t know, here’s what Clarion is all about: Six weeks out in San Diego on the UCSD Campus, only a few minutes from the ocean, living and working and writing along with seventeen other talented-as-hell writers, under the tutelage of six working, super-talented-as-hell industry professionals, one a week, with a focus in genre writing. The goal is to write a story I believe, and workshop and critique in a positive, honest setting with a different industry professional writer guiding and teaching for the week.

Those professional writers are: Gregory Frost, Geoff Ryman, Cathrynne Valente, Nora Jemisin, and Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, each and every one of them giants in the field. I really lucked out this year. I know the work of many of them with the exception of one or two, but I look forward to familiarizing myself before June.

What I do know is that they are all immensely talented and will each bring something completely different to the table. (Be warned: I will do my best not to fanboy out each time they enter the room, but I promise nothing, you hear? NOTHING.)

I sometimes still can’t believe I got in. I’ve been applying for years, dreaming of spending every summer with like-minded writers, and just . . . working, typing, having the time to focus on my craft with folks who will be just as crazy and passionate as I am. I’ve already started meeting some of the other students and I can tell it’s going to be a great group.

It’s going to be intense as all get out, but I can’t wait. I’ve been pushing myself so hard lately, working three jobs while still trying to write while still trying to sleep, that six weeks just workshopping and writing is going to seem like a vacation. Of course, I say that now. I’ll get back to you after day one.

A huge thank you to my mentor, Kat Howard and all the other writers and readers and friends who have helped me polish and rework my writing to the point it is.

The next few months can’t fly fast enough. Until then, just going to be saving money, sleeping when I can, and writing as best I can until June. (And maybe install an IV drip of coffee . . . yeah, that’ll be a good project to work on . . .)

Alright, back later tonight for more Life Stuff Updates.

Until then, write on.

Flight Reviews

Thought I’d get the ball rolling with some quick reviews of the books I read while going to, staying there, and coming back from Ukraine. You’d think four books would be more than enough. I underestimated myself and finished before I came back. That was one long ass flight with no new reading material.

Anyway . . .

among others

Among Others by Jo Walton – (Finished on the plane ride there, next to a guy who I don’t think liked me):

There was so much excitement and buzz for this book, which only grew as it claimed such awards as the Nebula and Hugo. I had picked it up a while back, and figured it was time to see what the hype was about. I was not disappointed at all. A story about a young girl, trying to pick up the pieces of her life after the death of her twin sister by their twisted witch of a mother, Mor has to get used to a life with a father she never knew, in a city she doesn’t want to live in, at a school where she doesn’t really like anyone and not many people like her. But, as with us readers, she finds comfort in her books, in trying to parse out the magic of the world around us, and works to find a medium between the world she has to live in and the worlds she’d rather live in. Deftly written in a diary fashion, with deep insights into sf/fantasy literature of the times, it is a book filled with magical realism, bildungsromanish questing, and literary criticism all at the same time. Hell, I could and will write a whole post on this book. Regardless, if you’re a reader who takes joy in their books, know that Among Others will reach you to your core and speak to you in a language you’ve known all your life but didn’t know you spoke.

The cormorantThe Cormorant by Chuck Wendig – (Finished middle of the week, read on buses, trains and more forms of transportation):

For those of you have read this blog before, you should know that I love Chuck Wendig with a fiery and totally normal passion. (SHUT UP IT IS NORMAL). His Miriam Black books have always been a pulse-pounding, dark romp through an urban fantasy nightmare with everyone’s favorite swearing, smoking, shattered mirror of a heroine, Miriam Black, and The Cormorant is no exception. It is as thrilling, as breath taking, as vicious and violent and compelling as the others in the series. For two books now, Miriam has been fighting against fate, has found ways of giving destiny the bird and going for its throat. In The Cormorant, Destiny starts pushing back. Not only does Chuck give us his signature gut wrenching, laugh out loud, black humor prose, and moments of horror that would make Stephen King blush, he starts to pull back the curtain on the world he’s made, and starts to show us the guts, the inner workings. The Cormorant is another homerun for Chuck, and I can’t wait to see where he takes us in the next installment, Thunderbird.

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – (finished while traveling through the inner workings of Ukraine, across field and stone and stream and then a hostel):

Have you read Prince of Thorns? No? The hell is wrong with you? Go do that.

King of Thorns

Done? Good. See, wasn’t it great?

Mark Lawrence brings us back to the world of Prince Jorg and his iron clad dedication in becoming Emperor, but not before bringing a very slow and delicious vengeance upon those who deserve it. Set up with his own kingdom at the end of Prince, King of Thorns burrows deeper into Jorg’s brilliant but fractured psyche, as he plots, kills, and pushes back against the forces arrayed against him, and continues to walk the bloody road to the throne. Weaving back and forth, between reality and dream and memory, past and present and just a touch of future, Lawrence brings all his talent to the sharp prose and dangerous world of Prince Jorg and his merry, malicious men. Most fascinating to me, again, a whole other blog post in itself, is how Lawrence straddles the line between science fiction and fantasy just so, giving us a world that is so broken, it doesn’t remember itself anymore. I can’t spoil too much, but suffice to say, it is one of the strongest and most clever bits of worldbuilding I’ve seen. Going to dive into the final installment soon and I’m standing on literal pins and needles to find out how it all ends.

Probably in blood. Maybe fire. Most likely both.

deathlessDeathless by Cat Valente – (started the morning of the last day, finished on the first hour of the last flight of the last day):

Ah, Cat Valente. If you mixed a quill with King Midas, you’d have Cat Valente, a writer whose very touch turns a story to gold. Deathless has been lauded by the sff community and after devouring it in one sitting, I can see why. It follows the story of a young girl, Marya, who is brought into the world of Koschei the Deathless, Tsar of Life, first as a lover, then a general, and then a traitor. She becomes involved in not just the struggle of Life against Death, but also the Communist regime, that seeps into her town and devours everything it touches. Deftly mixing worlds of story and reality, (or are they the same?), Deathless is a triumph of writing: story, plot, character, magic, history and more. It especially spoke to me, as I had just immersed myself in Eastern Europe for the better part of a week. Seeing mentions of varenyky and vodka and Kyiv, only made me sigh deeper, made me remember my time in Ukraine. A wonderful book by a wonderful writer, Deathless is an experience every reader should have.