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.

 

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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.

Clarion 2

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.

Clarion 4

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.
Clarion 3
Roofbrews!

 

So What Is All This Clarion Jazz?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alright, back later tonight for more Life Stuff Updates.

Until then, write on.

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.