Monday, July 28, 2003

You seen About Schmidt?

In all honesty, I'd love to hear from someone who saw it and loved it what made the movie so great. For me, it was slower than watching glaciers melt. Not coincidentally, the amount of emotion Jack Nicholson brought to the role felt like he was channeling the rich emotional life of a glacier as well. The character does experience some change--about the amount of change that would come a glacier after two hours worth of melting had reshaped it, I felt.

The movie was a critical and popular success, I know. It won't be the first time I missed something really powerful. We all do. Clue me in. I'll forever be in your debt (even if I continue to disagree).

P.S. I finally sent my letter to MSU asking them to reconsider defunding Clarion. I wanted to have a few days away from the total immersion of Clarion before I wrote anything to them. I also wanted to be respectful when telling them I disagreed strongly with their decision. I do sympathize with the budgetary difficulties, even though I think they made a terrible decision for MSU.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Some random thoughts upon the end of Clarion 2003:

I had a very good time. Talking with so many others who share the writing obsession is neat. Seeing all the different writing that fits loosely under the rubric of speculative fiction was mind-expanding, having more than 20 other writers (mostly) confirm the positives and the negatives about my writing in its current state was strong reinforcement of where I am and where I need to go.

Friends. Allies. My writing "generation." Well, I believe in the first, though probably not the other two. The dream of writing professionally is a unifying one. We had little else in common, but that was enough. (So, too, Howard, Nalo, Richard, Kelly, Gavin, Scott, Jim, Maureen and Charlie lived up to Science Fiction's status as the one field where professionals intermingle most freely and comfortably with wannabe's and fans. It's really very special.)

I'll confess it openly. I did (do) dream of breakthroughs - those eureka moments that come when least expected after long, dedicated toil. That's the point, of course: they come when least expected. Until then, there's always slogging ahead, one verb, one noun at a time. I do generally enjoy the slogging too.

The blow up:
It happens. We had ours on Wednesday of the last week. I don't want to go into further details, so I won't.
Vague lessons to take away:
Tricking exhausted people into doing extra work is not a way to get anyone on your side.
If you hear only positive, or only negative, when you are critiqued, you're hearing wrong.
(it is true that as much as 2/3 of what is said will not resonate with the writer and be disregarded. That's fine--it's better than baseball batting averages.)
Never ever critique the person. Only the work is fair game.
Anything can be gotten past, but it takes time.

Reasons to have a blog:
Hopefully, the record of my experiences as related here will help someone else know what they're getting into, or remind a future me of what it was like for me. Communication, it's what writers do.

Reasons not to have a blog:
It takes care not to write about others or their work in ways that might hurt feelings or violate the sacred trust of the circle. I pretty much dodged the issue, thereby making this journal a little less interesting than it might have otherwise been. Also, your instructors will read them, and use your posts to question your mental state. Seriously.

Clarion's Future:
What do I know? Send emails to MSU asking them not to cut the program. Be ready to fundraise for Clarion if that's the direction that must be taken. Clarion is so much better than any writing course I've ever taken. (Those of you who have taken writing courses in colleges and elsewhere know that the competition ain't exactly stiff.) After so many years, Clarion will endure. Believe it. Help make it happen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

And that's all, folks
Some more results of Clarion:

I learned about my writing voice.
I learned more about constructing story.
I learned more about the effect my prose has on readers: What works I can work with, what doesn't I can work with too.
I will learn yet more in the months to come.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Some benefits of Clarion for me:

Getting feedback on stories from 16 fellow writers, all of whom bring their unique, personal perspective to reading the work. Our group represents a much broader array of readers than I have access to at home.

Meeting professional writers, seeing how different their perspectives can be on our work and on what SF is all about. I've always known SF isn't a monolithic genre, but to experience personally the differences in taste and style from Kelly Link to Richard Paul Russo hammers that home on the visceral level. ("Show, don't tell" as they say in the writing cliche business.)

Talking about writing, differents habits, different aspirations, different techniques. Even brainstorming to see what makes an idea click for a writer to the point where they're ready to apply the writing/unconscious magic to it.

Seeing what works and what really really doesn't work for the group about elements of each other's stories. First, it's fascinating. Second, it tells me what pitfalls I'm skirting in my own approaches to similar techniques.

Writing. Don't forget the writing. Of course, if writing volume is what you're after, it may be counterproductive to come to a fun place with lots of interesting people. In response to the idea mill here, the different styles, what I'm seeing and feeling - and most importantly sheer idea exhaustion - I've done some different writing than I've ever done before. Better? That's too linear a judgment to place on it. Different. I've gotten over some of my hatred of word repetition, done my second second-person piece, sworn off my obsession with workable plots, played with making no sense, dream sequences, dark humor, fable, and homage. And I've sworn off writing 4 times, come back 5. (okay, I'm lying for poetic effect: I'm too dumb to swear off writing, or maybe too stubborn.)

Thinking, perhaps in new ways, about markets, submissions, etc.

Watching Jim get soaked. I've never seen anyone take himself hostage in a watergun fight before, nor followthrough and drench his own head when his terms weren't met.

Knowing how to play Mafia. Just in case...

Somewhere in there is the letter I'll write to MSU about why they can't end their association with Clarion. I'm a writer, I should be able to make the note work as a cohesive argument. Compared to fiction, nonfiction is easy, especially the impassioned plea. No one ever wonders what the character's motivation is when it can be stated on line one.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Post Trauma

Ok, I haven't posted much lately. I think it may be because I'm too tired to trust my own judgment.

My writing is coming with difficulty right now, but that's not so unusual for this stage of the Clarion experience - nor to be honest so unusual for me...

Writing isn't all there is to life. I could use a long weekend home about now with Michele (and felidae and puppaloos), to get me ready for the week to come. Then all would be right with the world.

Alas, that is not to be. So I will spend the last week of intensive association with this group of wonderful people at less than optimal (optimum?).

In my conference with Maureen and Jim, we talked about many things including the post-Clarion plan of attack we'll all need. I'm sure they will address the class about this in the days to come. Paring away all the specifics, I was reminded of "What Jonathan Needs to Work on Most."

Not so surprisingly, it is the same as it ever was, the massive achilles heel, the monster in the closet. A very minor subset, of which, is: The boy who wouldn't want to harm a fly needs to get out the heavy weaponry and hurt the reader. I know I'm quite capable of inflicting pain and being meaner than anyone I've ever met, I just don't do it often enough in my work. Sometimes the most pain can be inflicted through the quietest stories.

I am tired, but perhaps not tired enough. Dreams of breakout are postponed, but not forgotten. So much of writing success is perserverence (thanks Dale Carnegie! May I have another?) Talk to me 100,000 words from now.

P.S. I'm hoping I don't have to write my first drafts in second person, then transcribe to third. But if that's what it takes, I'll do that too. Just not this week...

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Met with Scott yesterday. He didn't make this analogy directly, but what I took away most strongly from him was this image of the eating contest he watched where contestants were competing to eat the most sushi in a short period of time.

The sushi was all in one continuous roll, with each foot containing different stuff. Foot three is the foot of wasabi. (wasabi is a very strong Japanese root, similar to horseradish.)

Getting through the first two feet to get to Clarion is relatively easy, just takes a little time (or, in my case, a lot). Getting through the foot of seemingly endless wasabi -- now there's your challenge. [Disclaimer: the meaning imparted to this eating contest is an artifact of my twisted mind, not Scott's intent. Please see attached comment.]

And maybe that's why it's all worth doing. Taking on the process is the victory rather than acheiving any particular results.

Countering that, the famous quote from a famous writer, when asked if workshops discourage people to become writers: "Not enough of them."

That's not so deep, but it's the best I can do as we reach the middle of week five. Our story production is falling off drastically, but the learning continues. If I could just write one story instead of three, I'd have one finished by now :-)

I thank Scott for not discouraging me (whether he wanted to or not, I'll never know). Taking the time to come share his many years of wisdom as a writer and editor was a great and noble thing for which I am most grateful.

Sunday, July 06, 2003

Wrote 733 words today. And slept.

I feel somewhat better. The first scene of my entirely new (yes, yet another) short story is going in a promising direction. I will finish the other two, also, but maybe not first. Sometimes right away isn't the best timing for me.

As long as I'm still writing, that's okay. After four weeks of intensive critiques, learning the inside tales from multiple POVs, and writing writing writing, that I found the way to write any words at all is good. I'm pleased by small things sometimes. You have to be in this "business."

Kelly (and Gavin) will be missed. There is much about their careers that I find appealing, from bookstores, to zines to small press to editing on their own terms. Even if I'm not a frequent reader of the LCRW style, I must confess to being a fan of Small Beer Press. And its founders, a perceptive and talented couple.

For the record, I did find a missing hyphen in issue number 12 of LCRW, but it is a very clean publication, impressive considering the proofreaders are sometimes paid in beer (maybe only after they've finished, which would help).

I'm looking forward to two weeks with Maureen McHugh and Jim Kelly. I hope I can come up with a good genre story for them...

It is July 6th.

Real life seeps in around the edges of the illusions of Clarion. And the drum beats louder with each passing moment...

I took two days without writing a word. A break, a moment, the pause that refreshes.
When I returned to the keyboard last night, I found what I always find when I go any period of time without writing, the words come sluggish, the flow even more discombobulated than before. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson by now.

I finished one story that is non-SF. There are two stories remaining in the partway done state. The first is SF, but of the semi-fable, quasi-Emshwiller variety (if it were to work). The other is/wants to be high fantasy. That is a bigger challenge, since I am not as well read in that section of the SF universe. Also, fantasy has a habbit of sprawling in my experience. Is it likely that I would finish the story before Clarion ended? I'm not sure, but probably not.

Nothing spectacular happening there. I'm not exactly thrilled with where I am right at this very moment with my writing. What is it that I have learned from critiquing and from critique circle and from writing and from feedback and from pondering potential revisions? Hopefully something's bubbling beneath the surface. If so, it's kind of far down, where my flashlight doesn't reach.

Dreams of breakthrough die a hard death on the rocky shoals of mundane reality.

Having said that: Clarion is a wonderful workshop experience. I believe it has shown me what isn't working about my writing. (No, I won't go into details. Read it, and decide for yourself.) The exposure to the many professional writers who give of themselves to make Clarion happen is a treasure beyond words (writers shouldn't say things like that, I know. There is no treasure beyond words, except that there are some.) Perhaps I'll find the magic to obliterate my weaknesses and strengthen my strengths (soon as I find one, of course) from the swirling information planted in my unconscious by Clarion. Even if not, I'll better understand the rejection letters that arrive upon my doorstep. There is value there, too.

Help keep Clarion alive. Help keep Clarion alive! The provost mailbox may or may not be full, but that's not necessarily the best place to write anyway. Go over the provost's head. Write to the state legislature of Michigan. Write the papers. Hit the streets with handpainted signs (ok, maybe not that). Know that Clarion will have a future, and help it come to pass.


Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Read Maureen McHugh's quote on the FSF board that what distinguishes slushpile wallpaper from "maybe I'll consider this" is authorial voice. How depressing. I have no voice, often as not. Such is life in the big city. (East Lansing is more of a town than a big city. More on the bad news for Clarion tomorrow.)

Works well with my conference today, wherein Kelly, to my surprise (except that I read other blogs :->), went over almost all my stories with me from submission on down. It seems my voice comes through strongest in the second person. Now, that's what I call inconvenient!

[not to mention the usual pre-professional struggles with plot and character and the like. It's all in the mix. Everything's up for grabs.]

She gave me much to think about, and I'm in the process of processing it all. (Donald Maass wrote a great book about writing the breakout novel. All I dream of, for the moment, is writing an itsy-bitsy breakout short story.) When I start my zine - sometime after crows learn to fly backwards - every story will be required to be in second person. Yowsers!

Oh, yes. She gave me a delicious peach!

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

We critiqued my button story today.

It was quite interesting to see all the reactions. I suspect there were some more negative things being thought but not said about it. It's a bizarre story - not my norm.

What do I think of it? I'm not sure, really. Much of the language worked well, some of it not yet. There's no plot, but I think there are themes. If it resonates in a coherent manner, is that enough?

I was reading in a book that the change of the 1600's was from a model of the universe based on love to one based on science. There's something there, something not science, that might unify this story and drive it forward. Or maybe I just need more sleep.

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