Right now there’s a sorority house in Seattle filled with eighteen amazing science fiction and fantasy writers. They’re studying with some of the best writers and editors in the field, forming lifelong friendships, and learning so much about their writing that will shape and propel their stories for years to come.
- Go to my Write-a-thon profile and click on the donate button http://www.clarionwest.org/writeathon/jennimoody
- Donate any amount to support Clarion West ($1, $5 – every bit helps)
- At the end of the week I’ll receive an email from Clarion West listing my donors and their addresses. At this point I’ll send the goodies off to you in the mail.
- Goodies will arrive in your mail! Hooray!
In going through some books the other day, I found one of my favorites from my undergrad days. It wasn’t assigned in class. I found it through researching, following the paths of different writers during my crush on the Beats.
|Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters|
Joyce Johnson is in the background of the cover photograph, behind Kerouac. In her book she describes seeing the photograph, herself photoshopped out of it, used for a GAP ad. They just wanted Kerouac.
But I loved reading Johnson’s account of her life as a writer during this time period, in many ways moreso than On the Road.
At writing workshops you’ve got your main characters – the people whose names are on the website or flyer. The writer or team of writers who will lead the workshop. They are probably names you’ve heard of, writers whose every book you’ve bought within a week of its release, whose writing encourages and challenges you to be a better writer.
If you’re accepted to a residential writing workshop like Clarion West, you’ll probably start reading books by your workshop leaders as soon as you get the call.
But workshops are a labor of love, supported by communities of writers and artists, who believe so much in the power of words and the worth of writing that they donate their time and money and backyards (for parties) and cars (for driving you to parties) to making the workshop run smoothly. Their photographs don’t appear on the main website for workshops, but their names aren’t hidden away. Look for the board of directors, the contributors to the workshop newsletter, and the workshop administrators. They’re writers, too. Excellent, amazing, award-winning authors that you’ll mingle with at parties and dinners.
When I went to Clarion West in 2011, I took at least one book from each instructor with me. When I arrived at the workshop, I heard someone talking about writing poetry with Neile Graham. I had her book of poetry, Blood Memory, at home. I’d bought it years ago, because hers was one of the most highly recommended books of SF poetry. I hadn’t made the connection between the writer whose poetry I’d admired and the person who had called me one evening in March, and told me in gentle, welcoming tones that I’d been accepted to Clarion West. I felt the sting of overlooking this fact when Neile wrote a poem for my class at the end of the workshop that was beautiful and true and the most wonderful gift.
These writers aren’t minor characters, they’re your mentors and future friends. The ones who will sit beside you and talk to you even when you’re shy and terrified, whose books you should read. So do your homework before you pack your bags to that amazing workshop with Frightfully Famous Author. You’ll be meeting many more writers, learning from them, and falling in love with their work.
The deadline to apply to the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop is March 1st. If you’re thinking of applying, I’d like to give you a friendly nudge. (Do it! Apply!! APPLY!!)
This workshop is amazing. You’ll come out the other side with so many writing friends, at least 5 new stories, a better understanding of your style, a good idea of your weaknesses and how to work on them, and the drive to keep on writing. Or at least, that’s a few of the things Clarion West gave to me.
The deadline is this Friday – go here and submit your best writing. Good luck!
David Rees-Thomas was in my Clarion West class in 2011. He’s a wonderful fellow – a sharp reader, a lovely poet, and a good friend. He’s been a Managing Editor at Ideomancer for a while, and he’s decided to start his own magazine along with Darryl Knickrehm, whom I do not know but who has stellar design skills.
I’m going to back this project on Kickstarter because as a writer I want to support great new venues for the fiction I love to read and write. And I know this is going to be a wonderful magazine.
Here’s a quick peek at their Kickstarter progress, in case you’d like to contribute, too.
I got an envelope from Clarion West in the mail today, which always makes me happy. Inside were two pieces of paper: a flyer for the instructor reading series and an invitation to the Friday night parties.
|This year’s Clarion West Readings and Parties|
I can’t show you the second piece of paper in detail because the parties are often held at supporters’ homes, and the residential addresses are listed. But it’s amazingly cool – if I could travel to Seattle, I could pop into these parties.
Who is going to be at these parties? In addition to the awesome people who make up Seattle’s SF community and the Clarion West class of 2012, each week’s instructor will be there: Mary Rosenblum, Stephen Graham Jones, George R.R. Martin, Connie Willis, Kelly Link & Gavin Grant, and Chuck Palahniuk.
This time last year, I was beginning to freak out big time about attending Clarion West. Mostly, I was afraid of letting my fears get in the way of the workshop experience. I was afraid I would be too shy to talk to anyone, and too afraid to step out of my writing comfort zone. Sometimes I failed on both of these counts. But mostly, I was able to close my eyes and push myself forward. And my workshop experience was better for it.
I also had to move forward with my writing. At Clarion West, I had to write five fresh stories. We were encouraged to bring ideas for stories as back up, but not use them. When I moved from Alaska, I had a bunch of stories that I hated. I had spent so much time working on them that I felt weighted down by my responsibility to make them the best they could be. It was so freeing, and so healing for my writing psyche, to go to Clarion West and be made to write completely new stories.
They were shitty first drafts. But they were new, and that made them wonderful. My stories got better from week to week, and all of the advice I’d gotten over the years began to make sense.
Ultimately, three of the stories I wrote at Clarion West as well as my Clarion West submission story ended up in my masters thesis. After the workshop, when I went back to my pre-workshop stories, I zipped through revising them. I wasn’t frustrated with them anymore, because I knew that they weren’t the only stories I’d ever write. I could work to make them better, but I wouldn’t let them haunt me forever.
Clarion West is starting in two weeks. I can visit Seattle and go to the parties, but I can’t go back to the workshop. So instead, I’m taking part in the Clarion West Write-a-thon.
My original goal was to revise each of the stories I wrote at Clarion West and submit it. But I’ve already been revising and submitting my Clarion West stories, perhaps too much, and I need to move forward. So I’m going to return to the concept that made Clarion West so helpful for me the first time around and write a fresh story, every week from June 17 – July 27.
This summer I’m putting my old writing in a drawer so I can explore the rest of the house. I know there have to be some secret balconies here, somewhere.
Want to know more about the Clarion West Write-a-thon? Here are the details:
If you’re looking for a challenge this summer, joining the Write-a-thon could be a great option. You’ll be part of an amazing community of writers and you’ll be helping to raise money for the workshop. You don’t have to be an alumni to participate.
|Artax in the Swamp of Sadness, from The Neverending Story|
A few times at Clarion West, on the Sunday evenings when we met our instructor for the week, we would be asked to go around the table and describe the kinds of stories we wrote.
Occasionally, I’d be asked the same question at the Friday night parties, and at other random moments, like when I went to the comic book store in search of a poster for my bare dorm room walls.
“You’re a writer? Cool! What kind of stories do you write?”
I was supposed to know this, right? Or at least be figuring it out.
I started to have a bit of an identity crisis.
“Fantasy,” I’d say. “But not like elves kind of fantasy. Other kind of fantasy.”
Or I’d list my favorite authors. Kelly Link. Margo Lanagan. Elizabeth Hand. John Crowley.
But it didn’t quite work. I needed a place on the grid, a way to plot myself among the writers I was learning from.
I needed a name.
On one of those Sunday evening roundtables, Alisa Alering gave a great description of her stories, which I now cannot remember word for word. But from her description, I embraced my own. I wrote stories where strange things happened to normal people.
This helped, but it wasn’t until recently that I found a name that I am comfortable wearing.
During my thesis defense, my advisor referenced the term “slipstream” often. I had heard of slipstream before, but it wasn’t something I had researched. So instead I talked about my stories moving back and forth between literary mainstream and science fiction. Sometimes I’d swing to one side, sometimes to the other. Overall, my stories were inching closer to some strange place in the middle. But the middle couldn’t have a name, right? It wasn’t really a place.
The middle turned out to not be a swamp of sadness. In fact, it’s the place where most of my favorite authors hang out.
This is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. ~ Bruce Sterling
Having a term I can use to describe my writing gives me guideposts. I don’t always have to stay on this path. Maybe ten years from now I’ll laugh at the idea that I once identified with slipstream. But for now, it is a way to navigate. It’s a name to fight against that terrible feeling of the Nothing closing in from all sides.
After searching for a long time, all it took was a great writing friend to help me find a name.
And, of course, a little luck.