How to Survive Clarion West… After Clarion West

One year ago I came home from Seattle.  When I left for the workshop I knew that I might have a rough time at the end of it.  I had plenty of writer friends who had gone and talked about being inexplicably angry at having to hang out with people who were not Clarion West people.  I’d heard about the week of sleep, the six months of not writing, the random bursts of tears.

When I got home, there was no time for recuperation. I had to pack all my stuff and move to Raleigh so that I could start a new graduate program.  I’d also signed up for a writing contest based on Balderdash where the objective was for other people to try to write a story that made other people think I wrote it.  This of course required that I actually turn in a story (I still won, by the way. People came close to mimicking me, but I was still incomprehensible enough to stand out.).  Plus there would be stories to write for workshop that fall, and classes, and dealing with people who weren’t Clarion West people.

…I wasn’t very good at that last one.  I’m a shy person by nature so I don’t make friends quickly.  I go into most social situations knowing that people will find me cold and standoffish because apparently people will assume you don’t want to talk to them when in fact you’re really just too scared to.  But this time it was a good bit worse because all the people I most wanted to be with were now scattered all over the damn place so I was afraid of being actively hostile to everyone around me.  So in the interest of maybe helping out the new classes of people who suddenly find themselves thousands of miles away from home… Here’s some advice:

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Everyone Will Want One

Last summer my friend Kelly Sandoval wrote a story during Clarion West.  She almost didn’t finish it because she didn’t like it, but she thought better of it and turned it into workshop.  It was a sweet (and darkly funny) story, about an awkward teenage girl who is gifted an electronic pet that tells her how to navigate social situations.

My immediate response was Jesus fucking Christ do I want one of those… Which was pretty much the reaction of a lot of other people in workshop and she eventually changed the title to reflect it.

Because seriously.  It’s an adorable kitten that tells you what to say and how to act so that no one laughs at you… Continue reading

My Love Letter/Apology to Kelly Link

I’ve always been an avid reader, but not always of genre fiction.  And certainly not always of genre short fiction.  I know there are plenty of SF/F writers who grew up reading F&SF or Asimov’s or Analog but I was never one of those people.

Most of the genre fiction I read in high school and college was militaristic SF.  Ender’s Game (and its various permutations), The Forever War, Dune & Pern and all of their sequels (not quite militaristic, but a similar feel).  The first anthology of SF fiction I bought was ‘The Best Military Science Fiction of the 20th Century.’

I also read Isabel Allende, though I thought her more of a literary writer than fantasist.  And of course I read Lord of the Rings because I didn’t want to see the films before I’d read the book.

And as my novel reading expanded, and as I started taking more creative writing classes at Tulane, I thought maybe it’d be a good idea to read more genre short fiction and bought The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror Volume 16 edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.  What I particularly loved about this anthology was the front section where they recommended novels in various fantasy genres (Urban, Epic, etc).  It’s how I learned about Patricia McKillip’s Riddlemaster Trilogy which I devoured in a matter of days.

So clearly this is the point where I read the anthology, become obsessed with genre short fiction and that’s how I ended up where I am today.

Except no.  Not at all.  Continue reading

Clarion West Write-A-Thon

Every year Clarion West holds a big fundraiser to help defray the costs of the yearly workshop.  Writers sign up to write, and sponsors sign up to throw money at Clarion West in the name of those writers.

What is Clarion West? (I know most of you know this, but in case you’re a billionaire philanthropist wandering the blogosphere for worthy projects, this bit is for you)

Clarion West is a six week writing workshop held in Seattle, WA.  Writers from all over the world apply, and only 18 are selected.  Each week we have a different instructor–someone who is well established in the field, an excellent teacher, and basically a giant, fluffy ball of awesome (last year my instructors were Liz Hand, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Margo Lanagan, Chip Delany and Ellen Datlow).  We spend most of our time writing (we each turn in a story a week) and reading each other’s work (we critique stories in the morning–3 or 4 each day).  Some people have called it the 6 Week MFA–which having attended one MFA program and being in the process of procuring another–is a fair statement.  Though clearly the best thing to do is go to Clarion West and then to NC State’s MFA Program (which is what I’m doing because I’m brilliant like that).   Continue reading

Reasons I’m Not Writing A Story Right Now

  1. I’m writing this blog post.
  2. I’d rather check my email.
  3. I’d rather write an email.
  4. I’d rather war with myself about how I shouldn’t write the email I want to write because I’ve written enough emails and the story is more important.
  5. I’d rather wallow in actual, perceived, and imagined rejection.
  6. I’d rather check Facebook.
  7. And Twitter.
  8. Oooh… what’s Oculus Rift?
  9. Why is Mississippi executing a woman who (in all likelihood) didn’t actually do anything except try to help her son?
  10. Is it because they can?
  11. I should read some Karen Joy Fowler.
  12. Reading Karen Joy Fowler makes me feel inadequate.
  13. I should do more research.
  14. Research gets me discombobulated.
  15. I really like the story.  I like the idea of it and the themes I want to play with.
  16. I don’t think I’m capable of writing the story as well as I wish I could write it.
  17. Every time I try to write a story, it’s like teaching myself to ride a bicycle. I know I can do it. I have done it. There are familiar rhythms and I’ll fall into them.  But I don’t know how long it will take to reach that point, and right now I feel like I’m standing at the edge of the cliff and I’m waiting for someone to push me off.
  18. This Starbucks is cold.
  19. This Starbucks is playing a really interesting cover of the Buddy Holly song Words of Love.
  20. I should look it up on Youtube.
  21. There are other songs on Youtube too. Like Lazarus by Sophie Solomon.
  22. I wonder what music I have in my iTunes that I could listen to while writing…
  23. I wonder if it would interfere with the Starbucks music…
  24. People keep opening the door and the newspapers flutter and I feel cold and irritated at strangers.
  25. I’m irritated at many things.  Mostly myself.  For many reasons, some of which are related to how I’m not writing this story, and some of which are related to other things.
  26. I feel like I should end this list on a prime number.
  27. 17 would’ve been a good one, but that was ten items ago.
  28. I’m still not writing the story, and probably won’t until the night before it’s due.  Because that’s just the way I am, and I hate it, but it’s the way I am.
  29. This is why I’ll never manage to write a novel.

The Spark Writing Contest

Apparently all my blog posts lately have been on dates ending in 5.  I was sad this afternoon because I couldn’t think of anything to write about, and then realized I forgot to mention this:  I’ve been named as a guest judge for Spark’s latest contest, the theme of which is “Fables.”  You can find more information here.  The contest is for both poetry and prose, and there is no fee to enter.  Grand prize is $500 plus publication in Spark: Volume VI.

In Which I Do Not Review a Story

The January/February issue of Black Static contains the story “Passion Play” by Malcolm Devlin (aka Vince Haig).

I first read this story during the third week of Clarion West and fell in love with it pretty much instantly.  I loved it so much I even didn’t care that the re-enactment of a missing person’s last moments for the press made absolutely no sense to me as that’s not something people do in the United States.

I loved it because it was a ghost story.  I loved it because it was delicate and fragile.  I loved it because of the nuns.  I loved it because it was about a friendship between two girls that fell apart.  I loved it because of the ending.  I loved it because it was beautiful and perfect and strange.

I loved it despite the title (which I still hate).

I loved it despite the fact it was 6900 words.

The story is a little longer now.  And a few things have been changed here and there, particularly the ending (not the last few lines, which were gloriously perfect and remain so, but the final scene).  But the most important thing is it is published.  It is in print.  It is now and forever on my bookcase.

And I love it just as much now as when I first read it.  And I know you will too.

The Dark

Issue 3 of The Dark has been released on Weightless Books.  Don’t know when the stories will be put up on the website but my guess is soon.

Burial” is the first story I wrote after coming back from Clarion West.  I cheated a little by relying on a first paragraph I had written beforehand (and it really is cheating considering the story only has about 8 paragraphs in total).  It’s an odd little thing.  My workshop wanted me to try to expand on it and make it a bit more logical, but ultimately it is what it is.

Edit: The story is now online at The Dark

Lois Tilton reviewed The Dark and recommended my story as well as “Zeraquesh in Absentia” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

Formalism, Humanism, Failism

On the first day of Workshop this spring, John Kessel introduced me to a new framework of examining stories: the Formalist approach (where technique is all that matters) vs the Humanist approach (responsibility of content).  He was discussing it in the context of novels such as Lolita which a Formalist would praise due to its craft, whereas a Humanist would be bothered by the fact that it’s about a pedophile and doesn’t do enough to condemn him.  Having never read Lolita, I can’t really wade into that particular debate, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about off and on since then.  Which is more important: telling a good story, or telling a story that supports good values.  Obviously the easy answer is ‘do both’ but I think I generally fall on the Humanist side of the equation as a reader.  I’m more interested in reading things which challenge sexism and racism, than a story that is technically flawless, but seems to support a world view which I find abhorrent.
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