In my application essay to Clarion West, I wrote that I wanted to hangout with Science Fiction writers, because I didn’t know of any in my city.
Shortly after I came home from Clarion West, I went to a meeting of the North Alabama Science Fiction Association. When I introduced myself as a Science Fiction writer, they told me that NASFA was a group of fans. “That’s cool,” I thought, “I’m a SF fan. This is great. What more could I want?”
And then they gave me the phone number of a person who is the contact for a local Science Fiction writers critique group.
Yes. There is an in-person critique group for science fiction stories in my city. HUZZAH!!
I had never heard of this group in all of my years of living in Huntsville as a child and young adult, nor in my visits home after I had moved away. But this was my failing – I had thought such a thing was impossible. Surely Science Fiction writing groups only happened in big cities like New York and Seattle.
At the North Alabama Science Fiction Association meeting that night, they had an auction to raise money for the upcoming convention, Con*Stellation. One of the last items to be auctioned off was a signed collection of short stories written by the North Alabama Science Fiction and Cake Appreciation Society (NASFCAS). I bid on it and won.
It took me a few weeks to work up the courage to call the phone number for the writing group. When I finally did, a nice lady named Lin told me about the critique group. Then something awesome happened.
“Your voicemail said that you just got back from Clarion West,” Lin said.
“Yes. It was wonderful.”
“I went to Clarion West, too. Back when they first started,” Lin said.
Whoa! Not only is there a science fiction critique group in my city, but there’s a writer who went to Clarion West in it! I’ve been living in Huntsville for a year. I could have been working on science fiction stories with a group of talented writers all this time. I could have talked with someone who went to Clarion West and asked questions about the workshop.
I was too focused on the opportunities that were elsewhere. I was focusing on objects in the distance, and everything close by was blurry.
But then again, Clarion West gave me some important writerly tools that helped me connect with my local fan group, and then my local crit group:
- The courage to say that I am a science fiction writer, without preparing myself for an imagined rebuke. Mary Robinette Kowal told us not to be ashamed for writing science fiction or for calling ourselves authors. In the past, I probably would have just told the NASFA members that I like reading science fiction. And they would not have known that I write, and would not have given me Lin’s number.
- The need for sharing my stories with others, and getting feedback from them. I’ve always been jittery in workshops. They still make me nervous, but after hearing eighteen people respond to my stories week after week, I began to realize that what they were saying was immensely helpful to my writing. At Clarion West, I began to think of feedback from my peers as part of the writing process – an important step between a somewhat working story and a ready to go out for submission story.
- The sense that hanging out with other writers is part of life. This is more than just the concept that critiquing is useful to writing. It’s more of the feeling of community existing as a real and accessible part of the world, and knowing that you are part of that community. I’ve heard of people attending a convention, or taking a class in dancing, and having that connection, saying “This is my tribe.” Clarion West connected those wires for me, and that’s partly why leaving was so hard.
Last week was the monthly meeting of the critique group. I revised some stories, and took my little laptop with me so I could share them. The meeting was at a member’s house, and the house was on top of a mountain.
My car is old, and dying. I only made it a short way up the steep slope, going inches at a time with the engine rumbling, before I pulled off of the road and turned around.
But I am determined that my car’s inability to climb a mountain will not be a metaphor for my writing.
The NASFCAS members are holding a public reading next weekend at Con*Stellation. I’m going to be there to listen to their stories and meet them. My tribe is the seventeen other writers I spent six weeks with this summer, and it is also this expanding, enveloping circle of the new writers that I meet.