2015: A Report from the Field

There are cobwebs covering the monitor, yet still, a cursor the color of fresh limes blinks against the stark night of the computer screen. He walks into the room, the air itself wrapping him in a musty, eager embrace.

“My god,” he said. “You’re still here . . . you’re really still here . . .”

The blog chirrups, a baby bird trilling to see its parent flying back home. The green cursor blinks rapidly, as though staving off tears. He walks to the dusty chair; sitting in it feels like coming home. His hands hover over the keyboard like a conductor appraising the orchestra moments before the song starts.

“I’ll never leave you again, blog,” he says, his own whisper sounding far too loud in the holy space.

After a moment, he starts to type.

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Hi friends.

::scratches back of head::

So, that weather . . . crazy, right?

Okay, you got me, you got me! I’m sorry, okay? I know it’s been . . . ::checks watch:: . . . a while since I’ve posted here, and believe me, I wish I had a good excuse. Aliens. War. Extradimensional game of chess. Any of those you would understand, I bet. But really? I just got caught up in the usuals of life: work, family, friends, writing, and love.

Well, some of those things are new. I shall explain what I’ve been up to since 2015 came roaring into our lives. The last time we’d left our intrepid hero, he had just gotten hired at a small publishing company to work publicity. He had ended his time behind the bar and the bookstore. He was working on a novel (again). And he was dating.

Eleven months later, we find him . . .

-In a stable relationship with one of the best people he’s had the privilege (and sheer luck) to become so close to, and share his heart with.

-Part of a prestigious writing group, with the first draft of a finished novel, and a number of short stories written this year.

-Brimming with publicity knowledge from his previous job at that small publisher, and now ready for an adventure working in marketing, which starts on Monday.

-Happy, healthy, confident, and ready to see where life takes him.

It really has been an amazing year, even with its ups and downs. I got to work in an industry I love, and despite the stress that came with it, I made some amazing friends. I got to work on my writing, and join a group that supports me and lifts me up. I got to celebrate landmarks and milestones with friends and family. And most importantly, I learned how to share my heart with an amazing woman who supports me on the good days, lifts me up on the bad days, and makes me laugh and smile when skies are grey. I’m truly a lucky guy to have her in my life, and the lessons of love has been taught well to me this year. I’ve learned so much from her, and she makes me the best version of me I can be. We started dating only a few days into 2015, so if there is any running theme this year, it’s been her.

2015: The Year of Love.

I can take that.

I’ll elaborate in a future post. I’ll also be doing more reviews, more writing stuff, more life stuff, but know that I’m back, and I won’t let 2015 pass unremarked upon again.

With love,

Marty

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2014: A Retrospective on the Whirlwind

Another year in, another year out. The more I think about it, the more I’ve come to realize: this has been an absolutely insane year. I hit a lot of personal milestones, achievements, events, bucket list items and more. Below, in rough chronological order, are those chips of brightness that make up the mosaic of 2014.

January, I went over with my older brother, and visited Ukraine, my first time overseas in a foreign country, on a long-ass flight, experiencing a culture and peoples different than my own. It was mind-blowing in the best way, and through the haze of vodka-laced memories, I can still see the cities, the plates of Christmas dinner, the statues and shops and winter fairs, feel the squish of wet socks in damp boots on a train rocketing through the night, sharing a cabin with three other people in a space for two. It was an amazing way to kick off my year, and was so glad for the experience, (especially because it helped me get out of the polar vortex).

February through late March, I worked six weeks straight, and got more sick than I’ve ever been; at one point my doctor though it may be some form of y’know, meningitis. So that was awful. But it taught me as much as I want to stay busy and work, I have to learn to take some time for myself.

All the while, I had a chance to work with the incredible men and women of the JABberwocky Literary Agency, where I picked their brains about agenting, contracts, writing, and more. To Joshua, Eddie, Sam, Brady, Lisa, Christa, Krystyna, and Eeyore, I say, thank you so much for letting me become a part of your team for a while, and for teaching me all you knew. Through them, I got to know the Drinklings crew, and my circle of friends in the SFF publishing community grew by leaps and bounds. And it was about to grow even more . . .

Early in March, I received my acceptance letter to the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, one of the preeminent science fiction and fantasy short fiction writing workshops in the world. I was lighter than air. I literally turned to hydrogen for a moment, and then came back together, screaming my head off, jumping up and down in the JABberwocky offices, freaking out. When Jeff Vandermeer messaged me to say congratulations, my body deflated and I turned into a puddle of excitement on the floor. I’d been applying for five years and I had finally gotten in.

But that was still months away! So I continued bartending, bookselling, and working at JABberwocky. Around that time, thanks to the lovely and intelligent and kickass Rebecca Schinsky, I started writing for Book Riot, an amazing book related blog and news website, full of passionate, bookish badasses.

In April, a story of mine was published for the first time. And then a second in May. In both cases, there was a huge outpouring of love and support from the industry, and it warmed the entirety of my soul to know that kind of support for a new writer on the scene. Big thanks again to John Joseph Adams and Brian White, the two editors who took a chance on me; thanks again for putting my stuff out there.

May came in like a goofy, leaping hound, or maybe that was just me? In any case, had another amazing experience at the Book Expo of America, especially with my new Book Riot crew.

And then it was time for Clarion.

I’m not going to rehash what I’ve blogged about before, but it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. I made friends for life, (many of whom I’d been reading for years), learned an insane amount about myself, my writing, and the industry in general, and experienced a new world of beauty in San Diego. Clarion, we salute thee. ::stand up, salutes, pants fall to ankles by accident::

Coming back from Clarion was a fist of cold water to the face, and for many weeks, it seemed as if I’d never recover my equilibrium. But then I attended the Writing Excuses Retreat, and for a week, out in the cooling autumn embrace of Chattanooga, Tennessee, I started to come back to center, learned how to process everything I’d learned at Clarion, and enjoyed time writing and talking writing with a great group of folks, who were all struggling to write, same as me, same as all writers. Thanks again to Mary Robinette Kowal (who helped clean my brain out of neuroses), Doc Brown and his lovely wife for putting us up in their ancestral, beautiful home, Dan Wells for the lovely gaming nights, Howard Taylor for making Rock City gnomes hysterical instead of terrifying, and Brandon Sanderson for typing quietly so I could sleep.

Refreshed from the experience, I jumped from that right into my first professional fantasy convention, World Fantasy Con down in Washington DC. An amazing experience, I’ve never been surrounded by so many heroes at once, and I was almost too stunned to go into hero worship mode. It was one long weekend of summer camp friends all seeing each other again and catching up. Thanks to everyone who made me feel welcome, bought me a drink, and to Sara Glassman for letting me buy her ticket, Gama Martinez for giving me a floor to sleep on, Scott Andrews for the beer, and Mom and Dad Vandermeer for the love. And Max Gladstone for talking drunk Marvel movies at 4 in the morning.

And that brings us to now.

I started a new job on Monday, as an assistant publicist with Skyhorse Publishing. I’m more than halfway through a new novel and hope to have that done soon. I’m going to begin looking for an agent soon after. I have a bunch of short stories I’m shopping around. I’m looking to move out of my parents house soon. I’m dating again. And I’m happy.

It’s been great 2014. Here’s hoping 2015 is full of magic, wonder, stories, good beer and great friends, not just for me, but for all of you as well.

See you on the other side!

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.

 

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.

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.

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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

 

 

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.

 

Clarion Week 1: Grandmapunk, Roof Brews and Porky Pig

This is a Clarion blog.

I slept maybe four hours, and dragged my ass out of bed before the sun was even thinking of rising for the day. Showered the sleep away, woke up with a razor to my throat as I shaved, threw myself together as best as I could, and just as the sun was over the horizon, we were off to JFK. There, I was lucky enough to meet up with my classmate, Ellie, and together we navigated TSA and within the hour, were in the sky. Wedged between two oddball passengers, I dozed and read while the plane whisked us across the US. We traveled back three hours, and were in San Diego proper around 11:30. Classmate Zach picked us up and before we knew it, Clarion had begun.

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Forms to fill out, keys to receive, hands to shake, folks to meet, we came together all of us, various waves crashing in on the same shore, the same new and alien landscape of cloudless blue skies, and a consistent low seventies temperature. Director Laura Martin walked us through the campus, introduced us to the dining hall, and by the time the sun was setting over the Pacific, we were all gathered around Gregory Frost, Man of the Written Word Extraordinaire, and we sat in rapt attention.

“This isn’t Viable Paradise,” he said, bedecked in his hawaiian shirt, grinning. “This isn’t Taos or Odyssey or like any other workshop out there. This paved the way for a lot of those, but this is it, this is Clarion.” He spoke to us for a little while, his biggest lesson being: now is the time to fuck up, fuck around, experiment, “drive your story into the wall at 90mph and see what happens.” We all left that room, and I swear I could hear our minds and gears spinning and whirring and coming to life in a way they hadn’t before.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were a storm of prompts, exercises, and lectures, as we weren’t going to be discussing our submission stories. (We were too far away from them, Greg said, and I agreed). Those first few days were learning the campus, learning the format, the google drive, and preparing ourselves. Folks were already writing their stories by Tuesday. Things move awfully quick at Clarion.

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But it wasn’t all work. Monday nights have become Roof Brews, where we sit around on the roof on sunset and drink, play ukelele, get to know each other in a way only imbibing and music can allow. Tuesday night, we reversed it, as we hit up Karaoke Night at the local pub, and sang our heart out, the beers lowering our Social Shields. Highlights include Meatloaf, TLC, Kiss From A Rose, Rihanna, and Johnny Cash in the style of Porky Pig.

Wednesday was our first time at Mysterious Galaxy Bookshop for Greg’s reading and signing, and it was fantastic. Such a beautiful home of science fiction and fantasy and mystery books, and a great cadre of people working and shopping there. Got to meet a few Clarion grads, (HI SARAH MACK), and got to talk with Greg Van Eekhout, whose novel, CALIFORNIA BONES I just read and loved. Afterwards we grabbed some In’N’Out Burger, and got ready for our first day of critiques the next morning. I also finished the first draft of my first story, “The Sleeping Stone,” (being critiqued Monday!).

Clarion 1And if the way things went yesterday and today is any indication of the weeks to come, I’m looking forward to it even more. Everyone had very intelligent things to say, being supportive without being appeasing, and being direct without being cruel. I’m nervous for Monday, but I’m ready for it.

Kat Howard, my mentor and friend, told me that Clarion is basically a Time Warp, and it really is: Sunday feels a year ago, and August feels as though it is breathing down my neck. I’ve already begun work on my second story, “The Composer’s Betrayal,” should have some movement on that in the next day or two.

I’ll most likely do a massive blog at the end of it all, with lines and quotes and lessons, so you can look forward to this weekly missives as a detailing of our adventures out here. And from the feel of this group, the beauty of the campus and the area, the excitement we all have whenever we walk in the room, there are adventures more to come.

Clarion 5
WESTWARD, HO.
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Roofbrews!