Sunday, June 29, 2003

Color me uninspired. I legged out 1,000 words today, which as others have noted may not be a good idea. Indeed, Kelly Link recommended slowing down to us all today. She felt the pause that refreshes might be the opportunity for what we've learned to absorb into our writing bones.

Yet, still, I have aspirations of being not only publishable, but prolific. I'll take the Stephen King dictum that writing alot is part of the apprenticeship process, even if writing well doesn't happen that particular day. But, geez, wow, those last few hundred words sure felt like work. (I won't even mention what critiquing feels like. Perhaps my peers have gotten too good too fast. I'm having to work more than normal these past several days to find constructive nits to pick. We can't have that )

Richard Paul Russo passed the gavel today. We learned from him, we laughed with him, and I am grateful for his presence. It is very interesting to experience each week as a brand new workshop, taking the lead from a different instructor with a different brand of wisdom, and yet all the same students, and very much the same format. If I were wiser, I would have learned much more than would fit in one head. But one's all I got.

Evidently, we'll be myers-briggsing it this week. Seems unneccessary. We already know the writer's personality type: masochistic. Everything else is nuance.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Halfway Reflections: Are we half-baked or half-assed?

It's been three weeks. This worries me. I'm not halfway from where I started to where I want to be when I finish. In fact, my "best" story written at Clarion so far was finished on the plane on my way here. So it's time for a little analysis and reflection. Maybe I'll find the right track for my final three weeks here...

+ Took some valuable feedback and advice from three talented writers, all of whom have broken through to successful careers. Hey, it ain't all about the money. For all three. The money challenges may not be completely surmounted, but the dream is kept alive. The machinations are well worth it. They're inspirations.

+ Read stories from many different styles, most of which worked (or would in future drafts). Even though most did not bear much relation to the shape that I find most satisfying for my own work. I'm reminded again and again that short stories can succeed in many ways and achieve many ends other than the ones I usually conceive of for my own major efforts. Broadminded though I think myself, I am continually reminded that my view is so much narrower than it might optimally be.

+ Good people. A bunch of folks willing to take six weeks away from the grindstone and chase windmills of shimmering success in a realm that more often brings prestige than material comforts. Others, professionals in the field, gleeful (literally full of glee, a glittery substance that is prone to grow into diamonds under proper pressure) to take a week or two away from their normal lives to help their future comradepetitors possibly discover their own unique talents. A third, smaller group, fighting against a sterile world to make sure the setting is possible year after year after year after...And the sponsors, donors, and friends of Clarion of all stripes. You can't write this stuff. It just ain't plausible.
More importantly to my own narrow set of eyes (two front, one back, and three askew), they're good to be around.

Didn't work for me:

- The food. now I'm gaining weight, just because I'm not adhering to the same health standards I would at home. And I'm not a healthfood vegan. Ah, well. White flour to all. And a white sugary goodnight.

- The sleep. Hah. I'm sure I can figure out a way to blame Clarion for my insomnia if I put my mind to it. It's only been fifteen years. Perhaps I will time-travel from here to my college years, and plant the seeds.

- The writing volume. I'd like to write another novel, with a difference. This next one I'd like to publish. (a guy can dream.) For me to get the story out like I want to, I'd want to be able to write 3,000 words a day. All good so far. Except, and this is a big except, I've never written 3,000 words in any day. I thought maybe it would be possible to work up to here. So far, no go. Well, there's always the secondary goal: consistently whipping out 1,000 words a day. Ha! Tertiary: posting the largest number of story words of any month ever. Okay, I made that, with a paltry 21,000 in June. I can do better. I must do better. I will do better. Don't mind the zombie at the end of the hall. If you offer it coffee and story ideas, It's perfectly harmless.

- Story Quality. This is an odd complaint, but I was hoping for that one breakthrough story to happen, and it hasn't. I think I've written some good stuff, with exceptions, but I dreamed I'd write "the story that will break me into the professional ranks." Or at least a strong, consistent story that, when read in the funzine marketplace, would force it's audience to admit, "I've read worse in the professional markets." I've been writing for a long time, with a high quality of critiques from local folks, who shall remain as nameless as my fellow 2003 Clarionites. (Why? It's my blog, and I'll obscurify if I want to.) I'm running out of time to pull a miracle out of my hat, or other appropriate locale.

- The cracks are forming - whispered in appropriately ominous voice by one of the 2003 Clarionites. Good thing there is so much wit and humor here. I've heard it makes a good caulk.

Coherent analysis? Probably not. I may have even applied a light rose-colored coating to this entire exercise. (Come find me at Worldcon to hear me argue against myself on all statements with convincing counterpoints.) It's what I've got right now. Hopefully there won't be a quiz.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Wisdom, wisdom, wisdom...

Another week done, and I'm still a fool. Darn.
Oh, well. It wasn't reasonable to expect miracles, I suppose.
It's getting harder to inspire me to write. Perhaps a departure from routine is in order.
I will sleep, intending to re-awaken as Mark Twain channeling HG Wells, with perhaps jus t a touch of J thrown in.
"There is nothing new under the sun."
May I not be struck by lightning.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Week Four Will Come - Right on Schedule

We have spent some time congratulating ourselves on being different. We are impervious to the spells that have brought down mighty wizards throughout the history of Clarionia. And yet...

The curse was never conquered. My inner burro has bucked a few times, and I have mostly absorbed self-inflicted blows. The smell in the air evokes potions mysterious and dark, not to mention burnt grilled cheese and ham sandwiches. A darkness descends upon the land. And lo, the storm approacheth.

Glossary: Week Four: A mythic time at the end of days - and the middle of Clarion - when the winds blow hot with the fury of a thousand manuscript pages and hailstones the size of crumpled up rejection letters fill the skies. No one knows if there is any truth to this legend. None who have come out the other side admit to even remembering the passage of this time.

Hey! I got accepted for a market that pays $6 a story, more than the $5 I was paid for the last one! At this rate I'll be a professional writer in 2061. Seriously, I am honored to be accepted for the April, 2004 issue of Hadrosaur Tales. Y'all run out and buy yourselves, a copy y'hear?

Shalom y'all.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

I took a nap and figured out what was really wrong with my swarm story: I didn't write about the interesting parts.

Instead of dealing with a fascinating, just this side of unfathomable other, I stayed firmly in the mind of a petty human and his little issue with his daddy.

this is tough because he is the one who's hurt the most/has to make the tough decision. but I think I wimped out, and dodged the part that would fascinate the most because it might be impossible to write.
Okay. 'nuff said. That specific isssue I'll leave for August, but hopefully wade into the muckiest muck on the stories yet to come.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

We had a "goodbye Nalo / Hello Richard " Bar-B-Que tonight. I would thank the person who set it up, but since I committed to never mentioning any Clarion students' names (lest I misrepresent in any way, in which case I would never be able to sleep again.) I can't.

I really appreciate the advice we all received, and Nalo's willingness to share her perspective on the writing life and making it work. Truly, "writing is hard," but managing all the logistics of making a living as a writer may be harder. It was also great to get to know her a little.

Another voice of wisdom that will be missed around these parts. Why can't all the writers stay six weeks? No, on second thought that would be a disaster! Why can't all the writers move into my house and be on call whenever I need help with a story? That would be perfect. ("If I were a rich man..." as one of my fellows said was their only exposure to Jews growing up. That is from Fiddler on the Roof, right? I really have to see that one of these days...)

About the writing: didn't do as much as I wanted to, it wasn't as good as I would like it to be in my wildest dreams. What else is new?

Nalo took the time to look over my submission story, for which I am very grateful. It turns out I lost her in a few places where I really didn't want to. My 15th draft isn't clear enough. (Have I really written fifteen drafts? I'm not sure at this point. This story has been worked and worked hard. And more work's a'coming. Cool.)

I'm just a little wary of the push to harsher critiques, from Nalo, and others. [after the fact disclaimer: "still tactful, but more honest" may be a better characterization of what is being asked for.] By all means, we must say what doesn't work for us and why as clearly as we possibly can. However, we are all experimenting here. (Me not yet as much as I need/intend to. Isn't that a scary thought - fellow Clarionites, it's all gloriously downhill from here!!! Pity the instructors yet to come...) I wonder if we aren't going to make that more difficult.

My other major concern is that I not threaten a writer's confidence in their story that works perfectly, even though it doesn't work for me. I don't "like" a significant portion of the professional SF I read. In some of it, I perceive its virtues anyway and can be impressed without being engaged. There are some tales, however, where I have to give up: I believe there is some merit that got this piece published or won it awards, but it exists in a portion of the spectrum to which my reading eye is blind. That's fine; we all have blindspots. But I don't want any of mine to needlessly threaten the writer's confidence in their own story. (it is so much more traumatic to critique than to be critiqued, especially when the inner demon whines like a pit bull who misses her person and really needs a kiss.)[I'll leave that glorious failure of a metaphor intact. Steep, I'll be home soon. Stop licking the computer screen.]

Ha. Enough about that. We are/will find the range. I feel like there are so many more helpfully critical comments on the second manuscripts that were given back to me than there were on the first.

Let the record state that I lost at hearts today. By quite a bit.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Second story critiqued. (days ago now)

My wonderful colleagues did me a service and pointed out where the story wasn't working for them. Sadly, despite a good half hour of good points, they missed a few spots. Argh. They also found positives aplenty - some few of which were off the edge of the page, as they say.

It's funny. I think we're all spending less time per story on the reading and critiquing, but the quality and depth of the comments has taken a large step forward. Is it the positive influences of Howard and Nalo, or maybe just getting into our groove?

Bowling beckons. More later...

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Nalo Hopkinson read tonight.
She gives a very good reading.

Afterwards, an earnest questioner asked Nalo how she felt about writing fantasies that would be read by children who are already too disconnected from the real world. (It was a polite question, politely asked. The questioner wanted to challenge her, but with respect, I think.)

Nalo answered, affirming her faith both in children and S.F. as a serious literature of ideas and examination of our world.

This got me thinking. If put on a similar spot, how would I respond? It is a serious, legitimate question.
Off the top of my head, probably poorly. On second thought, I would want to mention two points.

1) Children who read, and through that reading learn to think are part of the solution, not the problem. Science Fiction creates people who engage big questions and apply them to their understanding of the world around them.
2) Mythology and other fantasies have been a part of the human cultural process of teaching morality, and broadening the horizons of our young, for far longer than we've had literacy.

There is so much more that I would inevitably bore an audience to tears. Oh, well. I must accept that most people don't see the world as I do.

Much the pity.

Monday, June 16, 2003

The time has come. Print and submit. Print and submit.

There are only three ways this can come out:
1) My story is perfect. I nailed it.
2) The story is terrible. It nailed me.

3) We both die with our ideals intact.

This is evidently the "happily ever after" outcome. I kid thee not. Yet another example of why truth is stranger than fiction could ever be.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

No, he said defensively, I'm not wimping out. See, this connection happened and I did some work on the story, see (I'd go into details about how I missed the extremely obvious in my own story, but it hasn't been critiqued yet and so... I won't.).
Then I realized that the story hadn't ended. So Tuesday is looking like the day.
Meanwhile, I'm working on this other story that will hopefully fail in a different way and make me oh so much more capable after it gets wrung through the ringer if, and when, the time is right.

By the way, for the record I am completely in awe of those Clarionites past, present, and future (some time traveling to read this now) who write coherent, cohesive journals. I had all sorts of plans. Excellent paragraph style. Maybe a "Clarion in space" story once a week on the blog (Not). Even a continuation of the goofy glossary definitions.

Sometimes, you're et by the bear.

Saturday, June 14, 2003


In Which Our Hero Tries to Distill the Clarion Experience Based on (Almost) No Personal Experience

Alright, so I'm nobody's hero. Sue me. It has been pointed out to me that the only real reason that this blog would get read is by someone who is contemplating whether any of the various Clarion/Milford style workshops is in their future.

Is there something I can write, without naming any names of my esteemed and wonderful colleagues, that would answer this question? I rather doubt it, but that won't stop me from trying.

This week we spent 9 AM-noon or one every day critiquing stories. Howard Waldrop gave his insights, and some lessons on the nature of SF vs Fantasy, the state of mortality and temporality, and much more besides. (You had to be there-which I guess is kinda the point.)
I have been in a conversation or three about writing, what inspires us each, why we keep doing it when the frustration surpasses the pain (pain good-frustration bad), and what excuses we use with our various others when they point out the fundamental insanity of our enterprise.
I have even done a story idea brainstorming session with my suitemate. Will any of the ideas we discussed and threw at each other lead to anything? Maybe not, but that wasn't the point. It was a great experience to watch ideas germinate in ways and directions I would have never taken them alone or at all. Sixteen is too many to all do a brainstorming session at once, I think, but I hope I get a chance to try similar things with others here before all is said and done.
I've written some. More than I would have at home. I've critiqued a broaded variety of stories by a larger number of talented writers than life usually provides.
And we're just getting started.

Oh yeah, and I wrote a story for Nalo Hopkinson on monday that I'm really unhappy with. Do I try to hack-hack-ack it apart and recreate the perfect monster, or do i admit defeat, hand it in - or don't - and move on to the next demon? Perhaps there is a middle path... I'll certainly be glancing at it tomorrow.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Drats. Foiled again.

I almost had the ultimate fad diet to sell. Go to Clarion as a vegan, lose five pounds a week. I think I would have made millions, counting the book, the movie, and the assorted merchandise. But, then Michele had to go and ruin it all. She sent me a care package with enough food to add those five lbs right back and then some.

Seriously, if you are vegan and coming to Clarion, be prepared to do some walking in pursuit of the wild legume. The grocery store is in (longish) walking distance. The dorm cafeteria always has a salad bar, but so far that salad bar has only occasionally had a bean. I'll be bringing some chickpeas with me down from the room to augment my salads, as soon as I walk into town and buy a can opener to go with these excellent cans that arrived in the mail :-)

The restaurants around town that I've been to so far have had good veg. options on their menus.

Thank you, Michele, for all the goodies! I suddenly have the upper hand should any waterfight break out...surely, there'll be none of those.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

What to say? Here it is: I must write. I haven't written today, and now I must. No, can't avoid it. Can't go over the stories for critique again. No dancing on the head of pins.
Write Write Write

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

First story critiqued today. I learned why my ending was lacking. It was because my focus was on the wrong thing in my story. (When Howard Waldrop first told me that, I didn't quite believe him, but resistance is futile. More importantly, I'm grokking that he's right.) Frustating that one of the few times in my life that I focus at all, and it's on the wrong thing!

I don't really know yet how exactly I'll make the adjustments to grab the readers by the heart and twist, but at least I have some idea what the finished product ought to be about. That's progress of a major sort.

In one-on-one conference, we talked about another story of mine. On that one, I have much much further to go. I fabricated the ending out of thin air, which gives me magical powers, I suppose. Howard Waldrop wasn't convinced that it could be saved, but he was kind enough to humor my folly and offer some suggestions anyway. In August, I'll see how well the salvage operation goes...

If I could learn one thing in the next six weeks, it would be how to recognize the point of my own stories (and those of others, even if imperfectly realized) and put it on the page. It boggles my mind that someone of moderate intelligence (myself), years of writing experience, and decades of experience reading to excess, if such a thing were possible, still can't automatically zero in on the kernal of every story.

I know Clarion doesn't promise miracles, but I choose to infer they are possible.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Hey, I'm actually at Clarion now.
Didn't think it would ever happen, didja?
For some reason I write blogs in second person. Sign of a twisted personality, I suspect.
And now I've gone meta-nonfiction on you, too. Oh well.

So far, there's been much of what I expected. Large group critiques, everyone commenting on everyone else's stories, sharp insight from our author-in-residence. We started with six folks' submission stories. Kinda bad luck for them, because they didn't get to choose whether they wanted their submission stories critiqued. But it looks like they'll have plenty of chances to get critiqued, maybe even this week for some.

I've eaten some horrific dorm food already. If you're reading this and you bear some responsibility for Owen hall's "cooking" policies, I'm sorry. I'm sure you're a wonderful person.

Now, the lesson for the day, delivered as succinctly as our instructor Howard Waldrop has given it (and will several more times, I suspect): Writing is Hard.

Alas, he's right. Even writing badly is hard, sometimes harder, which is the thing that's been driving me nuts for years. Of course, it's never been more than a long walk to nuts for me. It is somewhat of a relief to know I'm not the only one who has experienced this "hard" stuff. Unless, it's all just an elaborate trick being played on me. Did you see that? The walls have eyes...

Saturday, June 07, 2003

A gathering has commenced.

Meeting people in person is much different than chatting over a message group. Its good to meet people in the flesh.

So far there are eight or nine folks around. By Sunday night all should be assembled.

I'm too tired to be tense. The red eye to Chicago, three hour layover, and puddle-jump to Lansing can take a bit out of a person.
On the bright side, I was able to finish the draft of my last pre-Clarion story on the plane thanks to Michele's amazing ability to find batteries for the Dell 7500 on ebay (the machine's only five years old, and those goobers don't even support it anymore. So much for their vaunted exceptional service. =>)
On the dim side, I received a rejection from Permutations, a semi-pro zine, suggesting one of my character's lacked sufficient development. Since that character is not a major one in the story, my problem is that I deceived the reader into focusing on the wrong character, not that I failed to develop who I wanted to develop. A smaller sin? Lesser or greater doesn't make much sense in this context.

It is time to put aside considerations about other stories and see what sort of writing environment develops for me here. Tomorrow, I will be anxious to get rolling.

Good night.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

How can I write at a time like this? Must pack, must spend time with wife. Must pet the dogs and chat with the cats.

But if I don't write now, I won't magically be able to write five days from now.

Panic is the order of the day.

Or is that exhaustion? Is it advisable to start Clarion already sleep deprived? I can't imagine it is. Certainly I'll sleep well on the red eye plane ride (complete with transfer) to get there. No need to panic.

What will I do for a costume? I could come as a wannabe writer. What do those look like?
I once met the best editor this side of the continent (by which I mean Europe). This editor said never to write a question in narrative, because it weakens the prose. Was he right?

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

More good news.
Twilight Times has accepted my short story "Join Zercati" for another notch in the "little dab'll do ya" category. They won't be publishing it until next spring, so offered me the opportunity to continue to shop it, which I gratefully declined.

I had some real struggles with Zercati, making it meaningful enough and consistent at the conclusion with the beginning of the story. It is the second story I wrote in the "universe" of Isolated Populations, a story that is still making the rounds. I find it more challenging to make a story "work" in a set world, as opposed to a completely free standing story where I can tailor the universe to meet the exact needs of one particular plot/theme. That my efforts on "Zercati" led to a final story that an editor of a paying market found worthy is very encouraging.

Now, the daunting task of cracking the semi-pro markets (1-3cents/word) still looms ahead...

Monday, June 02, 2003

Packing List:

Books by Authors:
Writing Books:
fifty years from now
Short Story Magazines:

Inspiration/Meditation/Theta CDs

Vitamin B-12

Ethernet Card and cords
camera so wife doesn't forget what I look like

Alarum Clockum

Socks 15 pair minimum
Underwear 20 pair
Shirts 14+
Shorts 8 pairs
Jeans 2
Sandals 2; one for each foot
Shoes wear onto plane (or verse vica)
Hat - bald man protects his pate

Shades - so I can see you when you're not there
Baseball Mitt - distraction


notebook - old-fashioned, I know. I coldn't get my hands on any papyrus in time.
pens - the chisels were on backorder

Rottrador & Pet Bull (135 lbs. of wriggling, jumpy dog) nothing like a good face lick to overcome writer's block.
bunch 'o cats - Pax Felidae

toothbrush & holder
bar of soap


Tea: - looseleaf from Steep & Story Teahouse, alive in the annals of memory if no longer on the streets of Tacoma.
2 Black
1 Green
1 Mint
1 Fruit

stuffed animal: "Keez" (or is that just a Clarion West tradition?)

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Good News!

My short short "Prosperity" has been accepted by the Emporium Gazette. Another one for the "little dab'll do ya" category.

I thought I might calculate my "batting average" of stories accepted per submission, but then I realized... I can't see up to the Mendoza line from here on a clear day with a pair of Geordi goggles set to high.

Why disturb the joy?

GLOSSARY Mendoza line: 20% success rate batting (which is very very bad)

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