Clarion Weeks 5 and 6: Ferocity, Finales, and Farewells

I think I’m able to write this now.

It’s been hard to write these blogs because in a way, it’s me letting go of the experience, letting myself say goodbye. But that’s necessary; sometimes you have to say goodbye to something good, in order to be ready to receive the next thing.

As the Vandermeers were quick to tell us, life outside of Clarion is, simply, not Clarion, and we shouldn’t pressure ourselves to find that kind of experience again.

So, here we go, ready or not, down the rabbit hole one last time, you and I. Ready?

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Nora’s last day began with me wrenching myself awake from a hangover-coma and joining her for food shopping. Nora had been planning on putting together a farewell dinner for everyone and as my hangover burned away, we had a wonderful time talking and hanging out, picking up supplies while the rest of the class slept. She introduced me to pho, for which I’ll always be grateful, and covered some beer supplies for that night. (Have I mentioned Nora kicks ass? Nora kicks ass). We grabbed food stuffs and went back to the dorms, where she began to get everything ready; we continued to hang out and chat. I may have rambled to her about the novel I was working on. Sorry.

As everyone woke up, they came by, eager to help and pitch in. Someone may have cut their thumb on a vegetable slicer. All in a day. As the afternoon burned on into evening, we brought books by for Nora to sign, and eventually, dinner was ready: ratatouille and chicken gumbo, which Nora claims was not so very spicy and yet it still burned the paint off of wall. (Kidding, but it WAS delicious). As we were eating, Ann and Jeff Vandermeer showed up and I knew we had transitioned into the final moments of Clarion.

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The next day, we bid a sad farewell to Nora, and our time with the Vandermeers began. I knew it would be interesting, since for the first few days, Jeff and I both ended up wearing the exact same outfit, only lending credence to the rumor that I was his bastard son, and thereby convincing no one that that wasn’t the case. Ann accepted me into the family with care and grace and didn’t even yell at Jeff for not telling her of my existence.

The thing about the last two weeks of Clarion, is that Time had begun to reassamble itself. We’d been hiding from it, smashing it into pieces for the first four weeks, catching it creep around corners, watching us from shadows unseen. We thought we could keep it at bay, but it’s relentless; it came for us in a swift surge those last two weeks. The Blur had begun and swept up every day in its waters.

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Ann and Jeff, for those who don’t know, are some of the best, most brilliant, and hard-working folks in the biz; between the two of them they’ve probably worked on, edited, and published, dozens upon dozens of anthologies, let alone a myriad of short stories, novels, and other works both collaborative and singular. They’re fierce in their desire for one thing: great fucking stories. And they will push and push to get that out of you. Being one of their students was like staring at the sun while painting it, like surfing on a massive wave while composing a Daft Punk remix of Beethoven’s fifth, like hiking a mountain blind, following the siren song of a Yeti singing poetry in its native tongue; a mixture of impossibility and art and intensity, the kind of work ethic and attention to detail that sounds insane but in the end, is incredibly possible and real, as long as you have passion and dedication in equal measure.

They pushed us to take risks, to try new things, to believe in ourselves wholly; their message after four weeks was: It’s time to stop doubting yourselves and be brave in your belief.

We threw ourselves into those last two weeks, flung ourselves into the last sprint of the race, trying to stay one step ahead of time, one step ahead of reality, which was asserting itself too, pressuring the edges of our Clarion existence, pushing us onward. Some of the best stories were written in those last two weeks.

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It wasn’t all writing, of course. We got to know Ann and Jeff, got to spend time with them, pick their brains, listen to their stories of the industry and adventure and straight-up insane moments in their lives. We drank and ate cheese and went to the cliffs and readings and Comic-Con. We went to breweries and took walks and ate dinner, together. They introduced us to Charles Yu and Lev Grossman and many others. They treated us as equals in the field, with a lot still to learn, but as equals nonetheless. And they encouraged us, at every moment in everything.

Most of all, they took care of us. Together, they were Mom and Dad to all of us, not only as as we wrote, but as we got ready for the real world, too. One of their goals as the anchor team of the experience, was to help prepare us for the cold plunge back into reality. They gave us advice on markets, on agents, on writing, on being kind to yourself. Clarion was a massive shock to the system, and being kind to yourself as you readjusted was one of the things they stressed the most.

As San Diego Comic-Con bled into the background and Week Six officially began, every little thing took on the air of ritual. Our morning walks past the UCSD Sun God statue, our weekly conquest of the karaoke machine, our trips out to the cliffs or beach, our final night of readings at Mysterious Galaxy: every one of these moments became packed with importance and sacred value.

Our final night, we all went to the cliffs to watch the sunset over the ocean one last time. We all went back to the common room for pizza and drinks. Jeff and I got drunk and discussed his latest book. Ellie brought out her ukelele and we sang. Lisa Bolekaja and Sarah Mack (Clarion ’12!) swung by and celebrated with us. Kayla probably said something about whales and how much she hates them. Nino most definitely tried to eat Harry. I may have done impressions of just about everyone and I still can’t remember if they were good or not. If they weren’t, my sincere apologies to my Clarion family. If they were, you’re welcome. If I didn’t do one of you, it’s not that I don’t love you, it’s that I couldn’t do justice to your amazingness.

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We drank. We sang. We said good-bye. After six weeks, it was over and only the rest of our lives waited.

The next morning, I had a hangover the size of Chicago. The sky was grumpy and grey. Some folks had left in the night. Kayla was already driving back home with her Dad, (Brian, who deserves a whole blog to himself. Man, that guy can tell a good story). Harry caught a ride on the back of a giant eagle. Noah walked into the ocean, humming to the cloud of butterflies that followed in his wake. Kiik returned to his slumber under the earth. Leena, Amanda, Tamara, and Nino constructed a flying machine from balloons, rock’n’roll and string, and sailed the skies homeward. Manish was all, “Yo bro, I gotta go,” and turned into a bat and flew away to the moon. Zach was kidnapped by a band of singing pirates. Vida vanished into thin air and left her hat behind. Sarena called her pack of hunting elks and rode one back to the southwest. Ryan unfolded his angelic wings and smiled as he took to the skies. Kristen rode a neon unicycle fueled by dreams back to Massachusetts. Marian disappeared in a puff of smoke that smelled like vanilla and ink. Amin slowly dissolved into a pile of smiling sand and flew home on the wind.

Only Ellie and I were left. We made our way to the San Diego airport. It was fitting: we came in together on the same plane, and we were leaving at the same time, too.

We said good-bye. I got on the plane and sailed through the dark of night, back home to New York.

Clarion Final

It’s fitting that the last thing I really read at Clarion was Jeff’s third book of the Southern Reach Trilogy, Acceptance. I snatched it up and squirreled myself away with it, (Sorry everyone, especially Noah), but it meant more than just reading the last book in a trilogy I was enjoying: It’s there in the title. Giving up control, giving up paradise for a world that held your past and your future but not your present, learning to accept things as they are; I don’t know, maybe I’m rambling, but it helped get me to a certain state of mind needed for entering the real world again.

It was time for us to let go, but never forget, and accept the world that waited for us.

 

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Clarion Week 4: Wisdom, Worries, and Water Guns

This is a Clarion blog.

This is a very late Clarion blog.

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It has been a little over six weeks since I wrote on my blog, and even about my Clarion experience, just a little longer than the workshop itself. And a trend I noticed, among my fellow classmates, is that those who wanted to write a week by week update like myself, have also failed to go beyond Week 3.

I have a theory as to why this is.

We had been climbing a mountain, with joy and song and frustration and love. And at the end of Week 3, as we stood on that rooftop with Cat and Nora, changing the guard under the light of the moon, the end was in sight.

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As of Week 4, we were halfway there and it was terrifying.

Why haven’t we written of Week 4 and beyond? Because as of that night, Paradise was halfway done, and I think it hurts to remember, to revisit it.

But I will, I have to!

It’d be a disservice to the last half of Paradise if I didn’t explore those days as well.

So . . . Week 4.

Nora Jemisin, who publishes under N. K. Jemisin is every bit as sweet and funny and brilliant you would have hoped for. Even battling a nasty virus, even on deadline (!), she still managed to give us a hell of a week.

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And it was a hell of a week, hell being the operative word (in no way because of Nora, mind you). As with all Clarions before, and all Clarions to follow, Week 4 is the dreaded time when wills fray, politeness snaps, and tensions that have been boiling for three weeks bubble to the surface. The stress and homesickness and frustration that had been counting down since Day 1 all comes to a head at some point in Week 4.

No one was in any way prepared to deal with it.

But Nora was.

I firmly believe that some higher Clarion power gave us the teacher we needed the exact week we needed them. And Nora, whose day job as a student counselor had prepared her for high tensions, conflict resolution, and talking down incredibly anxious and frustrated students, was our salvation that week. All of her amazing writing thoughts aside, Nora was the rock that held us together, that took our fraying ends, smoothed them out, tied them back tighter and stronger than ever. She was there for us when we knocked on her door at 1 in the morning and just said, “I just need someone to talk to, do you have a minute?” And she always let us in.

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It all came together Friday night, when she flicked open a pair of Terminator-may-care sunglasses, slid them over her eyes, kicked a box of water guns into the room, grabbed the biggest hydro-lovin’ bastard in the pile, cocked it, and said, “You’ve got a minute to grab a water gun, and get outside.”

We saddled up, and a minute later, we were downstairs on the grass shooting water, cursing like sailors, and generally causing chaos. It was a great tension diffuser, and that, paired with the great home-made dinner Nora made for us, ratatouille and chicken gumbo over rice, made for a great, feel-good weekend, and served as a delicious and smooth transition to the Vandermeers.

Writing wise, Nora spoke to us about empathy and love and history, asked us to consider cultures and societies outside of ourselves, introduced us to a lot of the realities of the publishing industry we hadn’t had a chance to discuss yet. She was frank, open and honest about her experiences, and was very forthcoming about what it means to be a writer with a day job and how best to make that work. Her and I had a lot of great discussions on epic fantasy, especially; between her and Cat, I’m still trying to process and interrogate the genre, and see what I want to do within it. 

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Nora was a great pillar of support in Week 4, and was an absolute pleasure to work with. She helped keep us afloat, kept us from drowning in our own worries and tensions, helped us find our way back to dry land for the last two weeks, the real world so much closer than the day before.

 

With that Saturday night, the Vandermeers had arrived. That Sunday, Nora flew back to NY and Week 4 had ended.

The homestretch had begun.

WONDERBOOK WINNER

Hey gang,

I’ve been away dealing with Book Expos and Beerfests and final days at Barnes and Noble, (which I will be writing all about soon).

But first, I need to announce the winner of the Wonderbook Reverse B-Day giveaway! 

Letting the d20 of Fate roll forth freely, two out of three times as is the rule with all games of chance, the die has spoken, and Nino, you are the winner!

Thanks again to everyone for entering, and expect a catch up blog soon!

Geek’s Guide Winner!

Thank you to those who entered into the Geek’s Guide to Dating Contest! Since there were only two of you, it was relatively easy to let the d20 of Fate roll, and decide who would win!

And so I say to Jason, congratulations! You are our winner. Email me at martintcahill@gmail.com your address and I will send it over to you. To Sandra, I say thank you for entering, and keep your eyes peeled for my next contest later today!

 

A Note About Health

I want to talk about personal well-being for a minute.

A friend once told me that at the end of your day, no matter what job you have, no matter where you live or who you’re with, at the end of the day, you’ve always got your health. It’s nothing you can ignore, and it’s nothing you can ever pass responsibility from. Your body, your mind, your well-being is entirely up to you, and it’s not something that should be easily forgotten.

Recently, I made myself very sick. This wasn’t Eat A Whole Chocolate Cake Like That Awesome Kid In Matilda, kind of sick. It was, Work Yourself To The Point of Exhaustion And Pain sort of sick. I worked three jobs, essentially 70 hours a week, pushed myself to my limit and beyond by working 6 weeks of full time straight, and in short, became so sick I couldn’t get out of bed to work.

It was awful. If I know one thing about myself, it’s that I hate feeling useless. I work best when there is work to be done, and to have that swept out from under me was awful. I entered the Odinsleep, and I despised it.

But what could I do? I was sick and the answer was Rest and Relaxation.

I think folks, especially around my age, tend to feel that the have to do All The Things, All The Time, in order to prove themselves to whoever may be watching. But that just ain’t true. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you need to take care of yourself. Especially if you’re like me, and throw common sense to the wind when given a chance to work and save money and prove how You Can Do It, No Matter What.

So, remember: You can’t enjoy your life if you’re on death’s door. You need to take care of yourself to to enjoy the benefits of your hard work.

Take a day off. Jump in the ocean. Eat ice cream. Watch Netflix. Fight a bear and then become friends and go eat berries together.

Don’t burn yourself out. It’s not worth it.

Rejection or Why Marty Shouldn’t Write After Shoveling

Sucks.

It does. We all know it, because we all experience it. Everyone gets rejected.

File it under Human Condition, kick it down the curb like a dinged up Coke can, shout at the sky in frenetic, spoken word poetry while the storm rumbles. However you want to flag it, rejection is a thing that happens to us all, and we all gotta confront it how we like.

I can’t seem to sell this one damn story. Hell, I’m not having luck with a few things, but lumping my stories all together is silly, because they’re all different, and hell, who knows, maybe they’ll find a home soon enough but I got one story that’s nestled between my teeth like the ghost of a steak dinner, and it’s making me a little batty.

I’ve reached the point in my career, (that bears its own blog post), where my writing is solid enough, and the stories are good enough, that many editors are reading them through the end, really reading them, considering and weighing and deliberating with the other folks involved in making and putting together all the amazing magazines we have out there. And many days, these editors will pass on the story I’ve sent them, often with words of encouragement and kindness and support and to those editors I say thank you and bless you for your time, because being an editor and being the one to read ALL THESE STORIES and then make a decision, that’s a tough job, man, a real tough job.

These guys have a really hard job. Like, A REALLY HARD JOB. I slush read for a great, popular magazine, and just the amount of stories submitted, the amount of, well, slush to slog through in order to find the gems, and even then, to separate the gems and find the ones that will not only shine, but come together in a way to make the best issue possible . . . That’s a really hard job. Editors and agents and readers have a very difficult job, (another blog post in it’s own right and one that will see the light of day soon). I think a lot of writers forget that. Believe me, I don’t blame ’em, man. Story’s not working for you, it’s not working for you. I know it ain’t personal.

But this story stuck between my teeth, I feel it’s well written, but the fuck do I know? I’m the papa bear, I wrote the damn thing. I like to think its good, that it’ll make people think, maybe make them laugh, but again, I wrote the damn thing. I should be thinking that stuff. If it wasn’t ready for the light of day, I wouldn’t even be shopping it around.

I think the frustrating thing, for me and a lot of writers, is that you just don’t know, yeah? Maybe it just hasn’t found the right market. Maybe it needs a re-write. Maybe a certain character arc, or bit of dialogue is holding it back. It could just be that this is a highly subjective business with a million and half different factors influencing how a reader will read or view or judge things, and that maybe the stars need to align just so before this piece finds a home. But I think that’s the frustrating thing: you just don’t know. And if you’re going to survive in this industry, you need to make peace with that unknowableness.

Bah, I’m rambling, and I’m amped up on adrenaline from shoveling, (seriously, we have like a foot and half out there, and part of me just wants to drown in beer and the other half wants to run a marathon to Montana and back because Adrenaline Is Scary And Makes You Want To Move).

Guess I’m trying to say, if you’re a writer who has gotten rejected, (by which I mean, if you’re a writer), then you’ve probably felt as I do. And maybe you’re ready to throw in the towel, say Fuck It, Dude, and go play PS3 until your brain turns to spinach and never submit again.

Well, I’m here to say to you and remind myself, don’t.

Don’t give up, writer friends.

Rejection is the name of the game. Rejection is going to be the 9 times out of 10, the waves that lash you and hit you as push your way out to sea, the heat that seems never ending, daunting, endless. But don’t let it stop you.

Rejection is going to come for you a lot. Let it push you, motivate you, make you work on your stories and your writing so hard and with such fervor that they can’t help but notice you. Rejection is nature’s way of knocking you to the ground so you can get back up.

Let the rejection become your fuel, your red bull, your super soldier serum.

It sucks. It absolutely sucks. But you have to keep trying. You have to keep submitting the strongest stories possible. You have to keep working on your craft in the held breath between submission and answer.

And when you sell a story, smile, celebrate, shout in joy.

Then keep submitting. Keep working.

Write on, space cowboys.

The Beast Awaketh

So, remember that whole, “I’m going to post an essay a day about Nanowrimo,” thing? Yeah, I know, I’m still laughing too!

Seriously, that was . . . a little short sighted of me. I thought juggling three jobs and writing a novel and writing an essay a day would be easy, but eh, c’est la vie.

Hope you’ve all been well. I’ve been a little busy, (see above), but things are going well.

Letsee . . .

Well, in big news, I’ve made a second short story sale to Nightmare Magazine, headed up by the Mighty Wizard, John Joseph Adams. It’s a horror story, now entitled “It Was Never The Fire.” Soon as I get news of its arrival, I’ll let you know. I’m very excited to work with JJA and Nightmare, and over the moon to have sold another story.

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As a young author, every sale is just another brick in the foundation, another sign that you’re doing something right. Hopefully, I can keep it up.

Of course, I have to give a shout out to my mentor, the inimitable Kat Howard, who has been kind and insightful and incredibly gracious with her time. She’s worked with me on a few stories, and every time she not only highlights what’s working, but provides solid ways in which to improve the story without changing it so that it’s something different entirely. If you’re an author in need of critiques or guidance, I cannot recommend Kat highly enough. She’s fantastic.

Likewise, if you get a chance to take a class with Mary Robinette Kowal, do it. I took a weekend intensive short story workshop, and it was a great experience. For three days, seven other talented writers and I sopped every bit of knowledge from Mary that we could, (as well reveled in her 17[!] typewriters). It was a lot of fun, and well worth the time and money. If you get a chance, jump on it.

So yeah, life is a little busy. Aside from all the great stuff above, I’ve been bouncing between a full time job, a part time job, a freelance gig, and finding time to write. Surprised as hell that I managed to get Nano done this year (though thanks to Mary for allowing her workshop to count towards the full count!), but I managed it.

The novel is progressing forward steadily, though I’m taking the next week or so to outline through the end. Nano made me blow past whatever outline I had going for me, so I need to plant my feet in the dirt and steady myself, take stock of where the hell everyone is and then move forward again.

This novel has been my brain for some time, and it feels great to actually get it on paper (or the process at least), but it’s been making me think. For some reason, and this may be because I’m a sadist, or I have way too much ambition, but I have an idea for a Grand Universal Theory for my works a la Brandon Sanderon or Joe Hill. What are everyone’s thoughts on that? For, against? Special circumstances? Sound off in the comments and let me know!

For now, I’m wrapping up a few short stories, while waiting on a few other stories that are out in the aether (and not that silly red cloud from Thor 2, calm yourself Malekith). One’s over with Shimmer Magazine, while another has been with Tor.com for a bit. So fingers crossed, folks.

I’m going to stop promising this or that or the other thing on the blog. I always seem to set a bar for myself, look at it later and go, “Oh, uh, yeah, but uh, this thing? Sorry, have to do this thing!” I really do enjoy blogging, but it’s going to have to be on the, “whenever I can steal twenty minutes,” kind of schedule.

Still, keep an eye on this space. I’ve got some fun giveaways coming up, especially for all those writers out there. Some nice beers too. Because yum, beer.

Links of Note:

Geeks Guide-My buddy Eric Smith’s book, The Geek’s Guide to Dating is now out, in all it’s shiny glory! Grab a copy, it’s a fun, insightful read. Watch the blog for a review and giveaway soon. Now to go test out his advice. ::grabs han solo vest from closet, covers self in Axe Cologne cloud::

-Mentor Superstar Kat Howard has a new short story out with Apex Magazine, and it is beautiful and haunting and all sorts of scarypants in its implications. Check it out, and if your heart is hurting afterwards, well, be careful.

-Fireside Fiction continues to not only be one of the sexiest magazines out there, it continues to provide wonderful stories too! Check them out and subscribe!

Worldbuilders

-All around wizard and gentlemanly writer, Patrick Rothfuss, has officially launched his fundraiser, Worldbuilders for the year! Go and donate. It’s for a great cause, with great things on the table.

Alright space cowboys, be good. Write on.