Below I excerpt from my ongoing erratic journal those sections relevant to Clarion West (with some irrelevant stuff thrown in). Comments in [brackets] were added after the workshop. This is NOT particularly representative of Clarion -- I wish now that I'd kept a better journal, but I didn't, and such is life. Take what you can from it.
Will try to write more later, but understand that things may be rather sketchy for the next six weeks. I have a *lot* of other work to do while I'm here...
More later, I hope, but for now please note (if you live in Seattle), that I will probably be reading at the Elliot Bay Bookstore the last Tuesday in July, at 5:00.
Let me get the weather and surroundings out of the way. When we first arrived, Seattle was cool and rainy, much like the Bay Area in April. Very nice, from my point of view. Dear Susan (from Moab, Utah) was miserably cold almost the entire time. If you're a sun person, the Michigan workshop might be a better place for you. It got warmer as the weeks progressed, and by fourth week or so, it was crisp and cool and in the morning and high 70's by lunchtime, when we got out of class. Definitely a place to layer your clothes. (If you're considering coming to Clarion and want to know what to pack -- comfortable things, from swimsuit and shorts to one heavy sweater. No makeup. No need for anything dressy. One umbrella if you're really afraid of rain -- it doesn't seem to storm, just sorta drizzles mostly.) Enough about the weather. I enjoyed it.
The dorm, Campion Tower, is in the Capitol Hill district, which is moderately cool. It used to be the gay ghetto, and traces linger. The main street nearby is Broadway, with a fair number of restaurants and useful shops, including a used CD store. The biggest thing I regretted not bringing was my stereo (bought a boombox almost immediately) and cd's. Second biggest was my printer (although Ceej was more than generous with the use of hers, I hated bugging her). So you can theoretically hang out and eat out a lot if you choose, and we did often eat lunch out. On the whole, we ate group dinners in the dorm (ah, Rob's maka-maka; Barbara's noodle kugel; Therese and Robert's steamed clams; Leah's Thanksgiving dinner). Mostly vegetarian, since we had three veggies among us, but not entirely. Lots of fun. Highly recommended.
The dorm itself was not too painful. Nice big rooms for each of us, a computer room downstairs of limited utility, ping pong and pool that we never took advantage of, a nice lounge for cooking and general socializing. No real complaints.
Our first instructor was Michael Bishop. Sweet, sweet Michael. They gave us someone gentle to ease us in. (If you're curious about his writing, go read Ancient of Days. That's the one that SHOULD have won the Nebula.) He gave us an assignment, but it was a baby one -- one 1000 word story, with the subject "In the Beginning" for a short story contest, and one 2000 or less story for another contest, no other restrictions. The piece I ended up writing had actually a pretty strong premise, but I agreed with the class that execution was flawed. Most people managed to get the first story done. Many turned in the second for second week (myself included). Michael did a lot of work with us on the sentence level; a good place to start.
It's strange looking back and trying to think of these people as strangers I had just met. I know them so well now. The first ones I met were Rob (a professor stationed in France) and Alex (a Brit who had moved to the States a year previously). Rob and I took wonderful long walks together in the early morning the first two days (then we got lazy). The three of us got along well, and I was encouraged as to the odds of liking the rest of the group. One of them, Naomi, had been a friend of mine in college years before, so I had a pretty good idea of where I stood with her, but the rest were pure ciphers. Some surprised me utterly. (Bill, for example, who started out writing rather stock 50's hard sf and ended up reaching deep into himself and spilling his guts on the page. I really really admire Bill.)
It was very nice having friends in the area -- Elf, Omaha, Walt, John. Even though I rarely saw them, their presence offered a potential escape valve that was very useful. Elf also dragged me back and forth from the airport. John threw a nice party, which Walt escorted me to. Pleasant.
Highlights of the week: My first earthquake, minor fire in the dorm (same day), realized I really must go read Bird by Bird at some point, realizing that the rest of the people here are as least as good as I am, thank the gods, met Vonda McIntyre (also sweet), watching "Mirror, Mirror" in the lounge (GREAT classic Trek episode -- Spock with a beard, Uhura dressed skimpy and dangerous), surviving my first critique with ego mostly intact, realizing that everyone was actually committed to trying to be nice without pulling any punches in the critiques. A very good group -- nobody malicious, as far as I could tell. A relief. The only week I didn't break down into tears. On to week two.]
I decided I needed a break today when a particularly innocuous conversation sent me into tears. Exhausted and overwrought. Time to rest. So I'm going to write a little here, do some e-mail, and then go read a very fluffy book.
I note here that if any of you are so inclined, I would adore a care package. :-) E-mail me for the address...
Despite my silliness, Clarion is actually going exceedingly well. Exhilarating and exhausting, surrounded by intelligent, talented people who are managing to be remarkably sane (so far) despite the grueling pace. I'm working slowly through the plotting of my novel (yes, I decided to go back and replot the damn thing). I'm fascinated and slightly disturbed by some of the stories coming out of my head. I'm narrowly avoiding a minor crush on one of my fellow Clarionites. I've met Delany. I adore Michael Bishop - go read Ancient of Days. Then read it again. Nicola Griffith is beautiful and sardonic as well as talented. I'm going to be at Westercon all day Friday and Saturday (and will be on the erotic sf panel at 10 p.m. on Friday) -- if you're in Seattle, stop by. I'm going to be on tv. (Seattle's KOMO-TV, on the show: Town Meeting). I don't sleep enough. I don't exercise enough. I think I'm eating enough, but it's really hard to keep track. I definitely am not getting enough hugs. The intensity of the writing makes it all utterly worthwhile.
That's probably enough babbling for today. Sorry again, my dears -- no promises as to when I'll write again. Perhaps the next time I fall apart. :-)
Life is still good. Still frantic. No longer very ahead, but not behind yet either, which I have to think is a good thing. There appears to be some confusion on whether I'm on the Westercon panel or not, but hopefully this will be sorted out soon.
One more thing to print...wait...wait...wait...
Okay, you don't need to hear this, and I'm still too sleepy to write anything more coherent. Talk to y'all later...
I'm doing fairly well -- busy with Westercon, primarily. I'm going to be at various writing panels today -- if you see me there, feel free to come up and say hello, please. Tomorrow I'll be on the Clarion panel. Last night I was on the SF Erotica panel, which went pretty well, I think.
I'm very tired. This is going to become a refrain.
I wrote what I think is one of the best stories I've written in a while -- so much so that I'd really like to perfect it. If you'd like to read a copy and e-mail back some comments, drop me a note, asking for "Amanda Means Love".
Off to eat and get to the Con...talk to y'all later.
I really liked Chip Delany. I'm afraid he didn't make such a good impression on the class. I wish I'd taken notes, because he said a lot of useful stuff (hopefully it's all percolating in my brain somewhere). Maybe I'll steal Alex's notes. This week's critiquing was a bit harsher, but still good. The roughest part of the week was the end, when Chip went around the room and told people whether a) they had something interesting in their writing, b) they had something, but it was muddied by lots of junk, or c) they didn't have anything interesting in their writing. This was preceded by lots of caveats and a long discussion of the virtues of this approach. Chip's take on it was that it wasn't fair to not give you his honest assessment of where you stood, and that he did it in public among the group so that you could get support from the group later (as opposed to being privately smashed and holding all of it inside you silently). I generally understood what he was shooting for, though I wasn't sure how useful it would be. Lots of people really didn't like the idea (a few left before he did the assessment). Created huge controversy, most of which calmed down over lunch at the local IHOP (International House of Pancakes) later. (If you're curious, I was in group B). I mostly agreed with his assessments, though not entirely, keeping in mind that they were based on all of two or three stories from each person. Many people disagreed vehemently.
There was also some controversy about his assignment for us -- two 2500-3500 word stories (he says that length is most marketable), one of which must be hard sf (also more marketable). I wrote "Amanda Means Love" and "Slow Illuminations". Amanda was the (just barely) hard sf story, and probably the best thing I've written in years. Needs some polish, but is actually a pretty solid story, IMHO. The class liked it a lot too, even if it did squick some of them. A lot of the fantasy writers were not pleased at having to write hard sf.
Highlights of the week: Meeting editors David Hartwell and Kathleen Kramer (no idea if I'm spelling these names correctly). Kathleen was gorgeously pregnant. They sat down with us and told us useful and interesting (if somewhat bleak) things about the publishing world. Nobody is buying first novels these days -- try back in two years. Lucky for me, since there's pretty much no chance I'll have a novel ready before then. Really nice views of Mount Rainier, meeting Thida's friend, Jed, talking on the sf erotica panel with Elf at Westercon (went very well; Elf and I give good panel), watching the Pathfinder landing, surviving crit and Chip assessment, talking to one of my heroes (I did my bachelor's thesis in college on Alternative Sexualities in Speculative Fiction, and ended up focusing on Chip's work).
On to week three.]
This week is Lucius Shepard. I'm not that familiar with his work, though I did read The Golden (apparently not his best), and his short story in Paragons. He has an interesting article on setting in there. We'll see how it goes -- he seems to be pretty laid back.
All right -- I'm going to attempt to use the disk drive from hell. Wish me luck.
8:25 - disk drive worked! Hooray. Those of you who requested copies of "Amanda Means Love" should have them on the way. My new column is in Intersmut. Eventually I will get copies of these on this site, but until then, you might want to swing by there. It's free. Two column entries so far, and the introductory interview.
By the way, thanks to those of you who stopped by the Tower books signing in Bellevue. It was nice chatting with you, and every little bit of presence helps convince them to carry lots of the darn book. Much appreciated.
Plotting is amazing. I've axed a major and a minor character, and turned two good characters into bad ones (one through political gain, one through a mercenary nature and self-delusion). Fascinating. Another minor character has gained much prominence. And I think (though no promises), that I may even see a happy ending at the end of the road. That won't be set in stone until I write it, though....and there's a damn long way to go before that. I wish I'd done this four years ago.
Lucius seems like a very laid back guy, who gives thorough critiques. He's doing a new piece of mine, "Slow Illuminations", tomorrow. Again, if you want a look at it, holler. I think I'm going to send "Amanda Means Love" to Asimov's once I finish the rewrite (which should also happen this week). We'll see what the group thinks of "Slow Illuminations" (another sf piece).
Dinner's almost ready, so I'm going to head back up. Baked potatoes today, yumm... Hope y'all are doing well -- I'm tired, but pretty happy. Feel like I accomplished a lot this afternoon.
Life is going moderately well. Kinda freaked out again in the middle of the week -- had a rough critique of "Slow Illuminations", had big novel plotting problems, had Lucius tell me that he thought I should be writing mainstream stuff instead of sf/f, made four false starts at stories, about 1000 words each, all of which died. Bad day.
On the good side, the novel plotting appears to have been ironed out, with a lot of help from Kate, Kevin and Alex. I wrote a short funny piece yesterday which I think I rather like, "On the Rocks". I decided that Lucius is occasionally full of shit. :-) And it's Friday. Party tonight, party at Greg Bear's tomorrow. And no time to stress, since I have to write a novel synopsis by Monday and cook dinner tonight for the group. (Chicken and mushroom crepes in a white wine sauce, steamed broccoli, crepes with fruit and chocolate syrup and ice cream for dessert). They will say about us in later years -- 'Ah yes, they may not have been able to write, but that was the Clarion that ate well.'
We're also thinking of nicknaming ourselves the "Sensible Clarion". There are all sorts of stories about past Clarions -- multiple affairs, suicide threats, pregnancies (planned and unplanned), and generally dire straits. We're at the end of third week now, and as far as we can tell, nobody's suicidal, nobody's pregnant, and nobody's sleeping with anybody else here. We're actually generally getting our work done, on time, and doing some extra work as well. And we still like each other!
Anyway, I should probably go answer a little more e-mail (I'm getting very behind, so apologies if you're waiting on a response from me -- I *will* get to it at some point) and then get my laundry out of the dryer. And then chop mushrooms. Lots and lots of mushrooms.
Have a good weekend, everyone. And while you're relaxing, think of me, hunched over my laptop, typing madly.
3:15 - Note: I've collected the interviews (and will soon have the columns) here.
I suspect that I didn't treat Lucius fairly. I wasn't so impressed with what I'd read of his, and his style frankly grates on me (laid-back, man who's done a lot of shit, doesn't bother to point out the good things while doing critiques, etc). Most of the class loved him. Most of the class felt they learned a lot from him. My feelings were a lot more lukewarm. He does do setting gorgeously.
Highlights of the week: Mostly covered in the actual entries. The Greg Bear party was a lot of fun, even if I was the only one who actually went swimming -- the water really wasn't that cold. I needed that time to soak in the water, to lie on the dock and soak up sun. Some people were falling in love by now, which has generally been hard on everyone involved. Bonding was very tight by this point. On to week four.]
Tonight meeting with Beth and Tappan from Tor, our instructors for this week, and then perhaps I'll manage to get a little work done. This is still a very interesting and good experience for me (and I think everyone, though I must admit that levels of UST (unresolved sexual tension) are running high -- understandable when you stick 17 people with very similar interests together in this sort of hothouse situation). Still tired. Always tired.
Reminder to those in Seattle -- Carol Queen (check out the Good Vibrations web page for more info about her) is performing at Beyond the Edge on Wednesday -- well worth seeing. (She's travelling around, so if you're somewhere else, you may want to check out her calendar anyway). Author of Live Nude Girl, co-runner of Good Vibes, way cool and totally hot chick. Highly recommended.
Okay, I just read her July journal, half of Clarion so far. Her journal is far more gut-spilling than mine, her pages are prettier, and I think she may be more self-analytical. So if you go visit her pages, don't leave me forever, okay?
I'd praise her more, but Thida is visiting Seattle to see Walt, and I promised I'd be up there at 6, and it's now 6, so I need to get up there before she arrives if I can. I really want to read the June Clarion section of Ceej's journal. Damn damn damn.
7:45. I'm back, having read the rest of Ceej's Clarion journal. Interesting. Very very interesting. I'm going to give her permission to write about me if she feels like it, so you may grab odd tidbits about me over there.
Thida's sitting next to me, reading Ceej's journal. Thank goodness for friends as geeky as I am. :-)
I should update you on last week with Lucius -- it wasn't bad, but I feel almost as if I met a different person than the rest of the class did. On some fundamental level, Lucius and I didn't really connect at all. I wonder if this is perhaps because I didn't like anything of his I read -- maybe in the dank recesses of my brain I decided he didn't have anything I wanted? Probably totally false, if I did, but it is difficult to control the dank recesses. I still learned a lot from my fellow students that week, as usual, and Lucius's nudging at me on dialogue produced a neat little piece that I think I'm rather fond of.
Met Beth and Tappan last night. From what I saw then and this morning, they will be very very helpful in a practical sense. They're telling us all sorts of good stuff about the publishing side of things, and critiquing our stories in a very pragmatic, structural way. Earlier instructors concentrated far more on the sentence/paragraph level. I still need to learn more about plot. Alex has been profoundly helpful with that -- being an AI consultant must require an extremely analytical brain. He's being badgered quite a lot, actually, since the class has generally picked up on his logical nature. Good thing he's good-natured. Of course, everyone's pretty good-natured. This is really an excellent group. CJ gives little thumbnail descriptions on her page -- I'd tell you more about them, but I agree with her that privacy is probably an issue. Without their consent, it just doesn't seem fair.
I had quite a little crisis Sunday night. At the meeting, I asked Beth and Tappan whether they wanted a plot synopsis (which is what I had written) or something more. They definitely did not want a plot synopsis. They wanted a selling document, a work of art, a multi-level masterpiece, in 10 pages or less. Argh. I came back to the 7th floor (screaming in the elevator along with the rest), ran down the hall, bounced around my room for a while, spun with Alex in the hallway, and eventually sat down to revise the damn thing. Did so. Did so on disk, like an idiot, and when I took the disk out to print, it died. Almost broke down and cried on Alex's shoulder (he was very supportive and basically told me to 'buck up', which I did). Went back and rewrote the damn thing. Handed it in this morning. It will be critiqued tomorrow morning. We'll see.
Now I'm going to stop neglecting Thida. Talk to y'all tomorrow...
I just received a check in the mail. I *think* it may be from one of my roommates paying me rent I'd forgotten he owed me. If that's not it, then it's a really really nice gift from a stranger. In either case, it's most definitely appreciated, and comes at a really useful time.
It's a good thing I got *some* good news today, 'cause in other ways, today was utterly horrific. No, I'm not exaggerating.
Guys, let me tell you about my novel. It's a beautiful novel, I sincerely believe. My protagonist is a strong woman, who's had a tough time of it (which is about to get tougher). She deals with moral issues, cultural issues, gender issues. The novel examines all sorts of philosophical areas through the lens of her vision and experience. It's lushly written, rich in specifics, and a little weak on plot.
Yesterday I handed in what was supposed to a proposal for the novel. It wasn't. It didn't get any of that across. Instead, I handed in a plot synopsis (you note above that plot is my weakest area). Beth and Tappan trashed it. Moderately gently, but trashed all the same. Ditto the class. Thankfully, some of the class had read the first chapters of the novel, and prefaced their critique with comments to the effect that the novel was beautiful and what I'd handed in had nothing to do with it. That's about all that saved me from utter despair.
As it was, I got progressively more stressed as we went around the room. By the time Beth and Tappan talked I was physically shaking and my hands were ice cold. By the time I responded, I was working damn hard to keep the quaver out of my voice so I could present a professional demeanor to these two editors who might at some point be very important to my future. I think I managed that at least.
I learned a lot from that failed proposal. I learned what not to do, and got some indications on what to do. I learned to concentrate on my strengths. I learned that I do need to replot the last third of my novel. I learned that my novel may not be marketable without a real magic element. Since I was the first to volunteer for this, it made sense that I did everything wrong. I learned that my fellow classmates appreciated that. :-)
In a few hours, I get to conference with Beth and Tappan and talk more about what to do right. I'm nervous, but feeling somewhat calmer after eating lunch and getting lots of sympathy and encouragement. In the interim, they will read the first few chapters of my novel -- I hope they get a better impression of what it will be like. I desperately hope they like what they read. I'm trying hard not to be too panicked about all this. *deep breath*
Hopefully, this whole hellish experience will help me write a damn good novel proposal. That's what this is all about. I'm here to learn -- so every time I make a mistake, I learn something, right? This is only somewhat convincing.
What a day. I think I'm going to go back to my room and weep now.
5:35 - Hope I didn't freak anyone out with that last line. My emotions have been seesawing like mad, but really, I'm fine now. Better than fine, actually -- pretty damn happy. See, I met with Tappan and Beth, and they had had time to read some chapters of my novel and the earlier synopsis (which they liked much better) and "Amanda Means Love" and "Slow Illuminations" and "My Mother the Alien" -- and they were very encouraging. In rather an odd way, I must admit -- after half an hour of discussion, they basically told me I probably shouldn't be submitting novels to them....but that was because they thought I might be better off submitting to mainstream markets. In the discussion we all realized that yes indeed, I do appear to have literary pretensions.
It's an interesting question -- what to do with my life right now. They said that I was at a crux, and could choose to shoot for the fantasy market squarely (and risk getting stuck in it) (but probably make a decent living there), or aim for the wider 'real' market (and risk disappearing entirely). My momma always told me to aim high, and I got to admit that the idea of 'settling' for just the fantasy audience (much as I love them), when I could potentially have a much broader audience to preach at, sticks in my throat.
I described my novel to them as sort of a mix of Jane Yolen tale-telling, Guy Gavriel Kay scene-setting, and Amy Tan cultural/personal issues. They liked that. I liked that. I think it could be a damn good novel - lush and rich and deep. I don't know for sure that I have it in me right now to write that, but I think what I decided today is that I'm going to try. Do my plotting. Do my social/historical research. Brace for some more failed attempts. And brace for possible rejection -- or even worse, indifference. I must admit, I'd rather a glorious failure than a mediocre pass.
I'm feeling very talky today -- I hope you guys don't mind. It's been an exhausting day. I'm mostly taking the rest of it off (ordering pizza with Leah and Alex and helping them plot their novels). Let me leave you with two poems I wrote recently in class (the first was during a particularly boring lecture; the second series was in an attempt to maintain my composure during class today. I find haiku soothing.)
I believe I am taking refuge in formalism these days. I haven't attempted a sonnet in months.
A hooker shivers, lost on Fifth and Main,
with fourteen years behind and four to go.
She doesn't know. Mascara in the rain.
That thin black coat must last her through the snow
soon shivering down. A soldier sits alone
in sodden park. His eyes are fixed, his stare
leads to a girl in Vietnam. Her moan
caught in his throat; released to fractured air.
The same that breathes in sleeping child, in night-
time bumps and grinds, in muffled laughter screams.
Yet in the rain the cracked black lampposts make
a space for hope. Pools of wavering light
illuminating city's tortured dreams.
Rejoice or fear? Soon this place will wake.
And the other...
Fractured Haiku II
Curve of your long arm
dressed in pale skin. It would glow
if laid against mine.
Lying against me
are only empty sheets. I
know this cannot last.
This can't last, I know.
Home waits, yet in this small world
we've made, home is not.
Home is not spoken.
The syllables of the heart
echo in our tales.
In our tales we find
the truths we dare not speak. All
whispered in the dark.
Whispers in the dark
a would-be lover's promise --
my lips long for yours.
My lips against yours.
Can you taste my body's shape
curving in your arms?
That's all, folks. I'm not going to even attempt to explain those to you -- consider them products of Seattle rain, sleep deprivation, close quarters and UST.
In other news, I'm feeling much better today. After the encouraging conference with Beth and Tappan, I had a good working session with Leah and Alex - very satisfying. Woke up with some ideas on how to fix plot holes in the novel. Good class today. Generally the world is a brighter place. :-)
Tomorrow and Friday are going to be long classes, as more novel proposals come in. I am preparing to be somewhat grouchy and tired those days.
Tonight is Carol Queen's performance at Beyond the Edge ($6, 7:30 p.m.) should be fun. Tomorrow is the tv thing, which has incidentally changed a fair bit from an internet focus to a tv focus. This means that they may 'play me from the audience', whatever that means, instead of putting me on the panel -- not quite what I was hoping for, but such is life. It's still an important issue, so I'm glad to be participating.
Friday I'm hoping to go see the movie Contact -- I've heard really really good things about it. I'll let y'all know. And Saturday, Leah's SO Mike (Clarion '94) is in town, and some of us are driving up to the Twin Peaks setting to enjoy the woods for a day. Should be very nice and a good break from the city.
Off to read and crit -- talk to y'all later...
In other news, today was pretty stressful. I had a story up for critique, but that wasn't actually the problem -- that went fairly well, in fact. Easy fixes.
The problem was that we got the bulk of the novel proposal critiques today, and it was just painful. Critiquing these forces us to be a lot harsher than we normally would be, and it's really hard saying these things that you know hurt -- or even worse, watching basically negative critiques go around the room. I wish sometimes that I could turn off the empathy.
On the plus side, I read Suzy McKee Charnas's The Vampire Tapestry yesterday afternoon and really enjoyed it -- the monster stayed a monster, yet managed to make me empathize with it. And after that I got to go see Carol Queen's show, which was great. I ended up writing a column about it last night -- that'll be on the Intersmut site in a week or two, and on here as soon as I get around to it (may be a little while).
Another note -- I told you to send urgent mail to email@example.com? Well, I forgot to turn off mail forwarding from there yesterday. Duh. So if you sent anything there, it got forwarded to the silent Mills account. Will go turn it off now. Sorry 'bout that.
Correction -- tried to turn off forwarding but couldn't find the damn .forward file. Let me apologize again and redirect incoming mail to firstname.lastname@example.org -- I hardly ever check that account, but I'll start checking it now. Argh.
Think that's it for now -- I have to go research the tv ratings thing for the Town Meeting show tonight. I'm going to be on tv -- wish me luck! :-)
Mail RECEIVED between Friday, July 11 and Monday July 14 at 4pm that you did not delete has been lost and can not be restored.
Dammit. Not much to be done. If you think you sent me mail during that period, please resend. Anything sent since Monday will probably come through okay.
There appear to be all sorts of other problems with the site -- many many missing files, for example (damn good thing I've gotten paranoid -- most of my stories/poems are either on disk or on this site). Not sure what else is missing. Pine also appears to be down. I'm not going to panic until they finish trying to fix it and I know what the final status is.
Didn't need to deal with this now.
3:30. Argh. Don't send me mail. Just don't. I tried looking at what they've retrieved -- it's a huge mess, and I have no real idea how to cope with it. It looks like all the old saved messages can be accessed with 'mail', while all the new stuff is in one huge file called Mailbox. I have no idea how I'm supposed to deal with all this. Maybe they'll fix it soon and pine will come back. Maybe I'll log in tomorrow and it'll all be better. Meanwhile, I still have no idea how to stop forwarding on this account, and it turns out that they're changing machines at the Chicago account, so I can't access that one either. Argh. Argh!!!
In other news, yesterday was a very stressful day for the class -- a bunch of minor explosions occurred. It's all calming down now, but it was the first real crack in our cohesion. Hopefully, we can recover the solidity, but some people were really hurt.
We did go to an awesome party last night at an administrator's house. I think pretty much everyone had a great time, and we all relaxed a lot more than we usually do at these (probably in response to the stress of the day). Today an expedition is planned to go see woods and waterfalls and mountains, which will definitely be a good thing. We've been spending way too much time staring at computers.
Much as I'd like to keep chatting, I'm definitely avoiding the story I need to write by sitting here. Will let y'all know when and where I think it's safe to send mail. If by some odd chance you must reach me desperately, send mail to email@example.com -- that's Sherman, and he has my phone number. Emergencies only, please.
Highlights of the week: Seeing Carol's show, being on tv (I wrote a long column about the tv ratings issue for Intersmut) (terrifying, infuriating, but fascinating), encouraging discussion with Beth and Tappan, having my account die. We had a really rough critique, and some hurt feelings, which eventually got mostly mended. A few people wrote really strong novel proposals (Rob and Therese, esp.). Bob moved in (our sole Seattle-ite, who had thought he could work from home, hah!). Bob brought his praying mantises with him. Eating Nancy's ceviche (raw fish :-). Really good party. The server crash really destroyed the end of the week for me, and made me incapable of commenting coherently. Apologies. I should note that it actually was a lot of fun being on Savage Love Live -- Dan Savage and his cohost Mary were very nice to me, and let me read "Morningsong" on the radio, and it looks like the show segment will be on their Best of Savage Love Live -- which will be online at some point, so you can take a look if you're curious.]
I'm exhausted. That seems to be the general trend here at Clarion, though Ceej has managed to do a much better job of keeping up with her journals than I have this week. See her for details on what has occurred. My story (very short) for this week went actually pretty well. It was actually a little mainstream piece (my first), and the class seemed to like it. Even got two stories out of it, 'cause I wrote it again from another character's point of view. If you're curious, ask -- they're "Mint in Your Throat" and "Sorpresa". The first was also an experiment in 2nd person present, which I think worked fairly well (it's the voice they tell you never to use...)
Another first -- I missed class yesterday. Skipped out with Alex; played hooky. It was his birthday; we were both exhausted, overworked and bummed for our own separate reasons. We worked together at Cafe Paradiso for some hours and cheered each other up a little. Then we walked down to Borders (12 blocks?) in the sunlight. That helped. Then I sat and read the third Books of Magic compilation (I adore Books of Magic. If you love Sandman, try them. If you haven't read Sandman, you are in for an amazing treat. Go look for it. It's in graphic novel format) while Alex looked at CD's. That cheered me up quite a bit. Then we went and got lunch -- grilled chicken rustica sandwiches (I forget the name for that kind of Italian sandwich) at a little open air place called Sisters down at the Pike Street Market (well worth visiting if you're in Seattle, although Alex did note that it was a little sad that one of the biggest tourist attractions in Seattle was a mall (arrogant Brit :-)). Sitting in the sun, flowers nearby, good food in our tummies -- we were both pretty cheered up by the end of it. And the long walk uphill in the sun was pretty damn good too. Worked some in the afternoon; I cooked curry for the group for dinner, and then we rented Mars Attacks to cap off Alex's birthday -- he wanted to laugh. Good day.
My birthday is tomorrow. :-) That alone is enough to make it a little easier to get through today. Cards (and gifts :-) welcome -- I'm at:
Mary Anne Mohanraj
Campion Tower, #246
914 E. Jefferson
Seattle, WA 98122
...until August 2nd. Then I go home, and you can e-mail me for that address if you need it.
Going to go veg out for a while now -- I'm reading Giant Bones by Peter Beagle (the one who did The Last Unicorn, which was made into a truly lovely animated movie -- Molly is an amazingly wonderful character) -- it's a collection of short stories. Neat. I gave Kevin a copy of his A Fine and Private Place last Christmas. It's one of the sweetest love stories I've read.
I'll try to write tomorrow. Take care, everyone.
Oops. Just realized that I forgot to explain why you can't read my stories. They were in the Mills files that got deleted. Fear not -- there is a backup. However, I can't figure out how to uncompress the darn thing -- I'm getting error messages when I try. I have sent frantic e-mail to Kevin, who will hopefully be the wonder mathematician and fix it. Also, the nice Mills people may get my lost files back. Don't worry -- one way or another, the stories will come back.
Another thing I meant to note -- while the waterfall near Twin Peaks was painfully commercial, Bob (native of Seattle) took Rick and Alex and me to a secret place he knew (he worked for the forestry people for a couple of years -- cool Bob!). Hiked uphill for about a sweaty hour -- sat by a gorgeous lake for a while, then hike downhill again. Got soaked in sweat and sunshine. Recited poetry coming down. Talked to Bob about my family (sometimes hard to explain :-). Felt happier in my body than I have in a while. It was very good to be exercising it. I recommend hiking. A lot. (I've noticed that I use probably too many superlatives in this journal, but I gotta say that that day was wonderful, fantastic, marvelous, etc. Partly 'cause of what we did, partly 'cause I spent it with three of my favorite people here. If I could pick a second dad, Rick would be it. And if he didn't have a daughter my own age, I'd be tempted to marry him. :-) Bob and Alex are pretty darn cool too. :-) Heck, they're all cool. Clarion is worth doing if only for the friends you make here -- the incredible people you meet.
It is just about lunchtime, and an excellent birthday so far. Conversations with family, Roshani, David -- I've spent more time on the telephone this morning than I probably have in two weeks at Clarion. :-) All the Clarion people are being very sweet to me, hooray. And a story idea that I've been sort of twisting around in my head started coming into sharp focus, which is really nice.
It's an odd sensation when it does that. You start with an idea, right? A rather vague one. It bounces around in your head, while you try to figure out who's the one talking in the story, and what person do you want to use, and how old are they, and at what point in the story should you start talking....all these decisions you have to make before you put down word one. (Of course you don't have to. You can go back and rewrite it. You may anyway. But it's nice to know where you're starting from). For me, there usually comes a point where I'm considering another possibility for all of these -- and it just clicks. The idea stands up and shouts and says 'yes! tell my story THIS way'. It's a big relief, let me tell you. For the story I'm working on, that happened this morning. There are still a bunch of unclear areas that will probably come into focus before I actually start writing, but I'm at a much more comfortable place to be in the story now. (Oh, this one is gonna be sad. This one will hopefully wring your heart out...)
So now off to lunch with whomever I can drag...then pick up some stuff for the party tonight (ice cream, balloons, etc...) and maybe a present or two for myself. Fun. :-) Then probably come back and try to get some more work done.
Life is good. 25 was a good age to be -- I had a great year in most respects. I am lucky. I am blessed. I'm glad I know that...
A birthday poem by Charles Bukowski, for your reading pleasure:
Poem For My 43rd Birthday
To end up alone
in a tomb of a room
just a lightbulb
and a potbelly,
and glad to have
...in the morning
they're out there
and you turn over
to your left side
to get the sun
on your back
of your eyes.
And a little long to include here, I recommend stopping by to read Dylan Thomas's Poem on His Birthday.
I'm in a very good mood right now, having just finished a 3900 word story in approx. 5 hrs. Pleased with it. If you're curious, drop me a note saying you'd like to read "Deep with Sea". Keep in mind that it is currently very much a first draft.
I'm doing a bit of cleaning up and updating of the website currently -- nothing major. Had a nice lunch with Alex at the Rosebud cafe (they're a dyke hangout with great brunches -- I recommend the baked egg thingies if you're ever in Seattle). Going to mostly putter the rest of the day, I suspect. I've got an erotic mystery due for Puritan hanging over my head -- that should get done in the next day, so if I'm good, I'll start on that. It's pretty much plotted out (very weird plotting a mystery, let me tell you!) now. Oh, I should remember to put a copy of Interplanet Janet up on the stories page. That issue of Puritan's been out long enough. If you don't see it in a couple of weeks, feel free to remind me.
I had a lovely birthday -- pizza and cake and ice cream for dinner, with various Clarionites. Lucius came and gave me a huge gilt toad, on Bob's recommendation. It's a little hard to explain why, but it's connected to a Asian restaurant named Ballet (good, cheap, fast). That's probably all you need to know.
Generally feeling pretty happy. Going to finish up this puttering and ask Alex to read my very rough story. Let him hack it up some before class. :-)
Clarion really does change you. You come here, and you expect to learn, you expect your writing to change and improve, you expect to maybe network a little, meet some famous people, meet some childhood heroes. That all happens. But what also happens is that who YOU are changes. I don't know whether it's baring your soul to 17 strangers, or the hothouse pressure-cooker boot camp atmosphere, or the increase of your critical faculty as applied to your own work, or something else entirely, or some combination of the above. I don't know. But you do change. Some of the dross gets burned away. Nicola described it yesterday as 17 individual crucibles, taking in information and skills and lots of stuff, and then turning the heat up high. Burning away lots and seeing what you have left. Sleep deprivation is undoubtedly part of it. Emotional stability goes out the window for a few weeks, as you burn to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can -- hopefully without breaking. There are people who come to Clarion excited, talented, hopeful -- people who then leave and never write again. I hope that doesn't happen to anyone here. It had damn well better not happen to me. I expect you guys not to let that happen to me. Feel free to yell, if necessary.
It really is a once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing experience. If you're thinking of doing it, first make sure you're in the right place and time for it (lots of people do it too early, and that can kill your writing), then be sure you can leave you job, your family, your life for six weeks, then scrape up the money (they do offer some small scholarship money -- and if you love science fiction/fantasy, the Clarion workshops are a great place to donate money to) -- then go.
I probably should have saved that great big speech for after Clarion, but I'm all excited now, and I plan to be exhausted later. :-)
Tomorrow night at 5 p.m. I read at Elliot Bay Books. Come if you can. It would be great to see some of you there. I'll be having dinner there afterwards, and attending Nicola's reading at 7:30.
Ditto ill-making on readings, one of which is soon. Must go revise Amanda in hopes of reading it there.
Am behind on deadline for Puritan with erotic mystery. Dammit. Wrote 2500 words this morning, and I think I can finish it by Friday, but that's a week later than when I thought I could get it done by (though still on time for the original deadline). Must do unpleasant phone call to Jeff and say "when do you absolutely have to have this buy" and hope the answer is next Monday and not last Friday.
Too frantic to write much else -- will have more time tomorrow. Later, gator...
I wake up around 5:30 usually -- sometimes a little earlier, sometimes later. This is about an hour before my Bay Area wake-up time...I hope I can keep it up when I go home. Mornings are when I write.
At 5-ish in Seattle, from my window, you look out over a cityscape of bright beaconed buildings. The sky has just gotten a little light, but the main illumination is still coming from the buildings. On the horizon are two large buildings -- one square in front of me that looks rather like a state capitol building; one off to the far left that looks sort of church-ish. Sharply silhouetted.
Pink streaks across the sky at first, then golden, then orange. This process lasts about half an hour, and is the time when I'm puttering around, making the bed, showering and brushing teeth, straightening my desk and preparing to work. By the time the first gold edge of sun pushes up over the edge of the city, my room is neat, and I'm staring at either the papers on my desk or my computer.
These have been my mornings, for the most part, over the last six weeks. I'm going to miss them.
This last week has been a little unusual -- Alex ran out of breakfast cereal, and we've been leaving around 6ish to go work at Cafe Paradiso. We've done that occasionally before, but it's been rather a regular thing this week. Another thing to miss. They know our names at Paradiso now, and what we're likely to order. (Alex gets an iced latte or orange juice and onion bagel with cream cheese. I get a hot chocolate or an orange juice or chai. Sometimes a bread product later. I can't eat first thing in the morning.) We read and crit and talk more than we should. His company has immeasurably brightened this Clarion for me. He'll likely either be staying in New York or moving back to England -- both too far away.
There are others I will miss. This is what is on all of our minds now. I am very glad to have gotten to know Naomi again. Rick and Nancy are two of the sanest people I know. There is definitely something to be said for not being in your twenties anymore. :-) Therese is beautiful, both in herself and her writing. (I look at her and I think 'yes! everyone should wear earth tones' -- and then I realize it's not the earth tones, it's her.) Kate...I don't know how to explain Kate. I want her in S.F. I'm trying to persuade her.
There are more, but I can't describe these people. Ceej does a better job of it. Each and every one of them has touched me. They can all write. As I get to the end of this it becomes utterly apparent how rare such an experience is. To be in the company of seventeen kindred souls, people who care deeply about character and voice and story and words, about the heart of who you are and what you believe in -- this is a richness I never expected. I undertook Clarion so lightly. I was told it would be good networking. I thought I might learn something (and I have. Gods, yes). I didn't know I would learn to love so many, so quickly.
This has been a great gift.
Two things I've learned from Nicola and the group and the experience:
When writing, you must:
1. Be faithful to the terrible truth, the deepest part of you, the hardest things. And once you've found that, torn it out of you, dripped and shoved and splashed it on the page...
2. Do the work. Don't take the easy paths -- take the hard ones. I could fill this space with lovely metaphors, but it all comes down to doing the work.
Wandering through the dorm this morning was hard. Woke up at five and packed. Breakfast by the fountain with Alex (and later Leah). Back to say more goodbyes. Goodbye goodbye goodbye. Rob looked shattered. He's going back to France -- so far away. If any of you are English-speaking writers living in France, let me know, okay? He's so isolated there. I was too stressed to cry. Just felt ill. Wound up so tight. I was envious of those (Ceej, Nancy, Leah...) who were crying. Tried to give Alex a copy of my book, and he insisted on buying it, supporting my work. Silly, stubborn Brit. A stranger moved into Barbara's room, an old man. How dared he? Almost broke down when Bob hugged me in the elevator, as we were seeing Leah out. Held together all the way to the airport, later. Read and slept on the plane, trying not to think. Have been alternating between glad to be back and desperately missing them ever since.
I'm going to try not to inundate you with weepiness over the next week or so, but bear with me. This will take some time to assimilate. I keep thinking I hear their voices -- in the airport, down the hall.
It was an amazing experience. It changed my writing. It's over.