2017 Eligibility Post

It’s that time again, folks! If you will, please indulge me in talking about the work I had published this year, and if you enjoyed them, please consider them for nomination and share this post with others.

Bear Language
Illustration for Bear Language, by Galen Dara

My short story “Bear Language,” was published at Fireside Fiction in May, and can be found here to read: https://firesidefiction.com/bear-language

It is a story about family and abuse, about language and power, about failing as a parent and growing up enough to realize that love can’t always save everything. It is a hard story to read, but I’ve been thrilled that it has resonated with so many, and so grateful for the love it has received from readers. It’s appeared on multiple recommended reading lists of 2017, and is currently listed in the SFWA Nebula Recommended Reading List. Thank you again to Brian White, Daniel Jose Older, Pablo Defendini, and Galen Dara, for helping to make this story what it became.

Here are some nice things folks have said about it:

“This is a beautiful but wrenching story about family and about truth and about beasts and monsters . . . It’s a beautiful and magical piece about safety and about protection and you should definitely give it a read!” – Charles Payseur, Quick Sip Reviews

“The voice is perfect in this bittersweet and fierce story about family and strength and survival. Plus, Susan is such a good bear—and one should never get between a bear and her cubs.” – Merc Rustad

“I love this story so much. LOVE. IT. Heartbreaking and dark, this story of two children stuck in a house with an addicted and abusive father who is not capable of being the parent they need, still manages to be oddly uplifting, thanks to the presence of a Very Good Bear. I really love how Cahill manages to infuse a desperate and nightmarish situation with a fairytale vibe, and gleams of resilience and hope. This story will stick with me for a long time.” – Maria Haskins

“Such a stunning, completely absorbing story. A bear has broken into a house and trapped two children and their father on the upper floor. But who is the real threat to the children? This story is so perfectly done. It’s full of hurt and truth and love that exists but which cannot save.” – Vanessa Fogg

And here are some of the 2017 reading lists it can be found on:

Quick Sip Reviews 2017 Recommended Reading List – Charles Payseur

Some Favorite Stories of 2017 from Sam J. Miller

My 2017 Recommended Reading List from Maria Haskins

Some Awesome Stories from 2017 from Merc Rustad

My Favorite Short Fiction of 2017 from A. C. Wise

Awards Recommendation Post 2017 from Jordan Kurella

800px_july2017 (1)
Shimmer Issue #38 Cover by Sandro Castelli

My other short story published this year was “Salamander Six-Guns,” at Shimmer Magazine in July.

It can be found here to read: https://www.shimmerzine.com/salamander-six-guns/

It is a story of pain and loss, of scaled creatures from another world looking to dominate this one, and the two broken men who have to last long enough to stop them, let alone figure out their feelings for each other. It’s a queer Weird Western with magic six-guns, were-alligators, and dragons from another dimension looking to burn it all down. Thank you to all those who have read it and enjoyed it, and thank you especially to gunslinger elite, Elise Catherine Tobler, without whom it wouldn’t be what it is.

Here are some of the nice things folks have said about it:

“Tragic, heroic, and built around aliens bent on twisting the human landscape, be prepared to jump into an exotic yet satisfying ride.” – Tangent Online

“I’ve been quite impressed with some of Martin Cahill’s recent stories and ‘Salamander Six-Guns’ is pretty great. Not one to miss . . . This is an action-packed and nicely weird western story featuring mutants, guns, loneliness, and hurt . . . It’s a story that centers this idea that trying, even against a seemingly-insurmountable foe, is the only real option. Because without trying, everything is already lost. And it’s a dark and moving story with a fast pace and a fun aesthetic, which makes for a great read!” – Quick Sip Reviews, Charles Payseur

“This is such an extraordinarily weird and wonderful western. A gripping story of love and vengeance plays out in a world that has been fundamentally altered by the arrival of… something new… that has changed both the landscape and the people in it. Action, emotion, and glorious prose.” – Maria Haskins

“The greatest part of the story is some of the beauty of the lines. Cahill is clearly a writer who is as much in love with the sound of language as the story it tells.” – SFF Reviews

Thank you once again to all of the editors who published me this year, and to all of the readers who read, supported, and shared my work with others. Your continued support and enthusiasm for my work means the world to me, and I can’t wait to show you what I have coming out in 2018.

Thank you for reading and for considering these two stories for nomination.

 

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So You Need To Rewrite Your Novel

(Is the title a little dramatic? Maybe? Eh, I’m going to roll with it.)

So! You need to rewrite your novel. Bummer, right? All those hours of work only to be told that this draft just isn’t strong enough, isn’t good enough, some things are working but some things are not, why is there a tortoise in a tank you need to answer that if your readers are going to trust you, and so on.

From here, there are two options:

1: Tell your first and beta-readers to go screw themselves, and shove your work into the world, critics be damned.

2: Take a month off, think about your reader’s comments, and when you’re ready, get back to work.

Now getting back to work could mean a few different things, which is why I advocate taking time off from finishing a novel to working on it right away. For several reasons:

  • You’re far too emotionally attached to it to be critical: this is your baby, man! You’re sweat and blood child, crawling in the world, screaming to be loved as you love it, and those guys over there just said your baby sucks eggs! Which isn’t true.
  • The fixes you think you need to make today are not the fixes that will last tomorrow. As much as your beta-readers are smart and insightful, not everything they say is going to be right for your next draft; likewise, you’re not going to be thinking critically after people have critiqued your novel. You’re going to need time to back away, and then return to their thoughts, and your novel, fresh.
  • Time is the creative’s best tool. There are chance moments when insight strikes from the sky, but many times, a creative person’s ability to mull things over, and work away at it in their mind, until they can come to a synthesis of the best way forward is usually these sorts of edits and fixes will happen.

Take the time you need to absorb the critiques, but don’t take forever: you’re going to want to keep those fires going, and not let them burn down. It’s much harder to jump back into a cold project than a warm one. I myself took a few months off from my critique for Magnetic, but I spent that time asking myself questions about my writing groups thoughts, talking it over with friends, and finding out the best way to preserve the heart of the story, but change the form of it. Now, several months later, the re-outline has started.

Now, I know the title of this post is cheeky, but I want to make a point here: you don’t have to do any of the above. You don’t have to listen to your beta-readers (though you should). You don’t have to re-outline your novel, (but it’s not a bad idea). and you certainly don’t have to rewrite your novel (though it could possibly make it stronger). It’s your project, and it’s up to you how you want to move forward with it. This is what works for me, and I think it’s going to make it stronger in the end.

Do I want to rewrite it? Not particularly. But the art doesn’t ask us to do what’s comfortable. It asks us to do what’s right by it.

So I’m rewriting my novel, Magnetic, as soon as this re-outline is done. And I’m actually really excited about it.

I’ll go through the re-outlining process in a later post, but with the help of my beta-readers and writing group, I have a very cool, clear vision of what this novel could be. I’m changing the tense. I’m adding several new POVs. I’m fleshing out more of the world and side characters. I’m asking for a deeper, more emotional pull from this story, and I think I can get it there. Like I said, hoping to maintain the heart of the novel, but change a lot of the outer layers to get to where I need to go.

It’s going to take work. But I think it’s going to be worth it.

Let’s call this the first post in Novelhead Revisited, and I’ll post more on the outline process as we go. Cool?

Cool.

Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

Do you enjoy alternate realities, epic fantasy, ships on the sea and ships of the heart, magic, more magic, holy shit magic, and characterization strong enough to bend a steel bar?

Welcome to A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab.

The second in a trilogy, Schwab once again brings readers to her world(s) of magic, mayhem, intrigue, and more, as Kell, the rather dour world traveler from Red London, and Lila Bard, the cunning and charming thief from Grey London he brought back with him, reap what they’ve sown from the first book, and hard.

Following the events of A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows picks up several months later, as our intrepid and broken heroes do their best to adjust to their new lives: Kell, his life bound to his brother to keep him alive, and not trusted by the crown, skulks through Red London, burning with the need to escape and to live for himself. Rhy, the crown prince, drinks through the pain of a life hobbled by his connection to Kell, in a deeper fashion than either would want, and must come to terms with his new life, with perhaps an old flame coming back into his world. Lila sails the high seas, pursuing wealth in the only form that matters to her: power. She’s training in magic with her captain Alucard, even though a Grey London girl shouldn’t have any potential for magic. Meanwhile, across realities, worlds thought dying or dead find themselves suddenly coming back from the brink, but at what cost?

Victoria Schwab can write, man. Of this, there is no doubt. Zilch. Nada. Her work on Vicious proved that to me, and every book of hers I’ve read since has either ascertained this fact, OR, has in fact proven that she’s even better than I thought before. Every project is evidence of leveling-up, and AGoS is no exception. ADSoM was a very good book, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. As much as I loved it, ADSoM seemed to me a very Plot book: A to B to C, a lot of movement and a lot of set-up that was ultimately rewarding, but tended to slow the book down as a whole. There was a wealth of character, and I loved it very dearly, but the narrative focus seemed to be honed in on the plot.

Not so for AGoS; this book simply SINGS with characterization. While ADSoM introduced our characters and their flaws, AGoS really pushes down on them, and forces them to fight for what they want. It backs them into a corner, and offers no escape. It brings the readers right into their heads, and watches as they choose for themselves, or for those they love, or neither. In AGoS, our characters are able to further burst from their initial sketchings, and truly step into their own. Kell and Lila and Rhy always interested me in ADSoM, but watching them fight against the injustice of the worlds, craving escape, demanding happiness? Thats when things get really interesting. ADSoM did an amazing job of introducing these characters to me, and AGoS has helped me to know them on the deepest level possible, and it’s fan-freaking-tastic. Schwab knows exactly what she’s doing, and she moves her players across the board with a confidence and poise I honestly want to steal, (but I will not, for I know she only uses her powers for good).

Schwab’s worldbuilding is on full display in this book as well. While many would be happy to simply have four different worlds to showcase, Schwab doesn’t stop there. She dives deep and showcases individual conflicts and peoples inside those worlds, bringing an already vibrant world into brighter hues and tones, highlighting cultures, magic, and more that we didn’t even know were there. She really takes the opportunity to show the reader that these aren’t just alternate versions of London; it’s alternate versions of our whole damn world.

And dear god, the action! The central plot of this book involves the Element Games, a series of competitions with players from all over the world and country of Arnes, where Red London is, and once this particular ball gets rolling, Schwab doesn’t take her foot off the pedal. Ever. Like, she has a lead foot when it comes to hardcore action, y’all. Every face to face battle sequence is  thrumming with adrenaline and fancy footwork, as magic, characterization, and plot all roll together into scene after scene of heart-pounding fights that had me grinning from ear to ear.

I mean, look, what else is there to say aside from: kissing, magic, knives, fire, duplicity, tension of the sexual kind and the secular kind, shadows, bargains, ghosts, and a cliffhanger so goddamn muthatrucking audacious, it had me shouting at the book while on public transit. I’m not kidding. Ask the NJT.

If you enjoy deep characterization, alternate realities, people kissing each other on their faces, deals in the dark, turmoil, friendship, humor, and tragedy, then this book is for you. If you haven’t read A Darker Shade of Magic, well, get to stepping. If you have, then order A Gathering of Shadows now!

It’s most absolutely worth your time.

BONUS!

I was sent an extra copy of the book by the publisher, and would happily see it go to a good home. If you’d like to WIN a copy of A GATHERING OF SHADOWS, simply comment on this review to enter. I will draw a week from Tuesday, March 1st!

(US and Canada only).

 

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?

#

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.

Clarion 23

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.

Clarion 26

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.

Clarion 24

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.

Clarion 25

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.

Clarion 19

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.

Clarion 21

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.

Clarion 18

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.

Clarion 20

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. 

Clarion 22

 

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.