Clarion West — Day 3

0630 Wednesday morning and I just crawled out of bed.  It’s the beginning of our third day at the Clarion West workshop and all is well so far.

This thing is everything that people say it is — exciting, intimidating and so much fun. Michael Bishop is the kick-off instructor and he’s been fantastic.  He uses a Socratic style of teaching, asking directed questions, expecting lots of participation and the class has been responding well.  He started with a three-hour session Sunday night, sending us off at the end with an assignment — write a story — under 1,000 words — that involves a quest and focuses on one character.

It was due in twelve hours.  That was a scramble, for everyone, I think.  Particularly for me.  I’d put in a full day on Saturday on zero sleep — ferrying folks to the Clarion West house — and then I slept a couple hours before going to work at midnight to finish out my week.  I got back to CW house, got my things moved in just before the Sunday afternoon session started.

I finished first draft of a story — a upbeat love story — and was in bed by midnight.  “Piece of cake,” I figured.  Then my muse smacked me awake at 0300 with another idea — a contemporary fantasy that wound up as Into the Fading Light.  I finished it in four hours, just in time to send it off for printing, and stumbled through the rest of the day on three hours sleep.

There was another assignment Monday — for Tuesday’s consideration — a science fiction love story that involves only the emotions of love, not the physicality. Four pages or less, thank you very much.  That became Galatea, for me.  Another assignment for today then, two of them, actually — do either one or both.  800 words of sensory description that brings a setting to life and a speculative fiction story, under 800 words, developed using Jim Simmerman’s Twenty Little Poetry Projects template.

Twenty Little Projects gave me Time Travel, Considered as Stream of Consciousness.  One of the things I’d hoped to bring away from CW was the ability to write less conventional stories.   That’s what this one is, I think — a bit screwball comedy, in fact — and I’m pleased with the result. We’ll see how it’s received today.

I’ve also been working on my week-two story submission — a bit of contemporary fantasy/horror piece with a working title of Kindred Souls.  That’s got to be submitted by 2100 Thursday night and I’m done with first draft.  It runs just under 5,000 words (I’d like to cut 10 or 15 percent of that away as I rewrite) and it’s a cautionary tale about aging.  I like the main character, a self-described one-time tomboy named Dorothea.  We’ll see.

In summary, the first three days have been packed full of work and new ideas.  I like the other folks (several are close to my age, one of my concerns), Michael Bishop is a treat (he critiqued our submission stories for us, way over and above. Thank you so much, Mike. You’re the best.) and the work and company is stimulating.  Oh, and I’m catching up a bit on sleep.  Got six hours last night.  More on Sunday morning.

March 1st is upon us

To paraphrase Don McLean, February made me shiver, with every word that I delivered.

Well actually, it didn’t.  The weather has been oh, so mild in these parts.  In the low sixties today.  But the writing scene has been sort of chilly.

The writing progresses steadily — up to almost 27,000 words now — but not a word on the pieces I have out.

I add to the pile, though.  I’ve sent The Night Bus Doesn’t Stop Downtown on Mondays Anymore out into the cold to knock on doors, along with A Very Narrow Bridge, my fourth completed story for the year.  It’s an alternate worlds story set in Seattle.  That went to Scheherazade’s Facade, an anthology due out in October.

For those of you who are attending, I’ll be at Potlatch 19 next week-end and I’ve been invited to Norwescon 33 as a participating professional.  That will be the first weekend in April.

That’s it for now.  I’m off to drive my Chevy to the levee.

Thoughts on workshopping and the Campbell Conference

There is a morning session today to wind up the Campbell Conference and everyone will be going off in our own directions early this afternoon. It’s been a busy and fruitful two weeks. Something of a paradox, as well, for it seems as if they lasted forever AND came to an end much too quickly. I meet so many great folks here and made a couple of friendships that I think will become long-term.

The workshop, which ended Friday afternoon, was everything I had hoped it would be. I brought three stories and I’m taking them home as three completely different tales. Better, I believe. The first that was workshopped, A Prayer to Saint Barbara, has become Fat-Bottom Girl.  That name is a misnomer. It is slimmer and tighter than it was two weeks ago and it is ready, I believe, to submit to the professional markets.

Jim Gunn thinks so, too.  Thursday, at the completion of its second critique, he suggested that I send it off to Stan Schmidt at Analog.

So Tuesday, when I have settled into place in Seattle, it is going in the mail. I most likely will change the title before that; I don’t even want to think about a Fair Use lawsuit from the folks that hold the copyright to Queen’s big hit, but whatever I wind up calling it, I have hopes for this story.

I think I’ve made a breakthrough in my writing, thanks to Professor Gunn. He has a comfortable but incisive style of teaching and he is such a gentleman.  When he wants to make a point, he begins his remarks with, “It seems to me ..”  I figured out quickly that when he said that, something worthwhile would follow.

The story-telling style he suggests is deceptively simple. Write in scenes of 800-1000 words. Start the story with the crisis situation from which the protagonist escape. Decide what the story is about and remain true to that theme throughout the narrative.  Of course, it’s not the only way to write a story but it is one successful way to do so and I think I got it.  We shall see.

My second story, As A Wind Among the Reeds, has morphed into Stuff of the Old Gods, using the same techniques.  It has become a better, stronger story, too. It needs just a bit more polishing, but I expect to have it in the mail to Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine within the week.

The third story, which I’m now calling Fractal Jack, is going to need more work. Only 5,000 of it’s 9,000+ words survived critique, but I believe I see the path that it must follow, too. It will be in the mail, too, before the end of the month, along with Being Abednego, which I was able to plot from its new beginning to the end, using Gunn’s suggestions.  It’s earmarked for Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

The Campbell Conference, so named to honor John Campbell, long-time editor of Analog, was a worthwhile experience, too.  There were some great round-table discussions (and casual evening chats, I met a ton of people who are involved in the business of writing and publishing science fiction and I had a chance to talk with published authors James Alan Gardner, who won the Sturgeon Award for his short fiction, Raygun: A Love Story, as well as Ian MacLeod and Cory Doctorow, who shared this year’s Campbell award for best novel. MacLeod for Song of Time and Doctorow for Little Brother. Great fun.

Tomorrow morning it is back to real life but I’m taking so much back to Seattle with me.

Yes, Sir! It’s my first time

Friday, I got a painful rejection from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.  I had such hopes for Deadman’s Drop, a swell tale of what one man will endure for love and revenge; it would have been my first sale to a professional-rates publication.

Today I got e-mail from Editor Jake Freivald, at Flash Fiction Online, accepting my flash, At Both Ends.  And guess who pays professional rates?


At Both Ends presents a conversation at the multiplex — one of those casual chats struck up while waiting for your spouse, significant other or friend (pick one or more) to return from the restrooms, and it considers the balance between power and responsibility.

So, it would seem that I have at last nosed my way into the ranks of professional writers.  I’ll let you know when I get word on the publication date.  And unless you’re halfway around the world, you’ll hear my shout of joy the day it goes online.

Thank you very much, Jake!

A change of plans

There’s a great 1988 movie, starring Don Ameche and Joe Mantegna, called Things Change. It was written by the director, David Marmet, in collaboration with one of my favorite writers — Shel Silverstein.

The film has so many great lines, so well delivered, but one of my favorites is just five words long — six, if you count the contraction as two words.

“What’d you have in mind?”

On January 1, I posted Some Thoughts on Janus Day, a list of writing goals for the coming year. The major project I had in mind, just over three months ago, was to complete a science fiction novel, Northlands Chronicle, before the end of the year.

But, as Mamet’s film title says, things change.

I’ve been kicking around an idea for a time, a private eye noir set in Las Vegas; the working title is Concrete Lions. Not really much more than a situation, not really a story with a fully developed plot.

On Friday morning, I got one of those mental tickles and started to set down words; by yesterday afternoon I had the entire plot outlined. So, Lions is now a go, my major project for 2009.

I’ve updated the site to reflect that, including editing the original post and have 3,800 words complete — the first four chapters. And there is more on the way.

Northland Chronicle is just going to have to wait.

Some thoughts on janus day

Another year has come and gone. I have reached an age at which the months fly by but they have been eventful months. Last January, I promised myself that 2008 would be the year in which I stopped playing at writing and pursued the craft in earnest.

My goal was to write 40,000 words and to have ten short stories placed. I thought that was ambitious, but I am pleased to say that I exceeded both goals.

Total count for thirty completed short stories was 45,000 words, with another 17,000 words written on eight stories that are not yet complete. In addition, I completed a world bible for a speculative fiction novel titled Northlands Chronicle and wrote nine thousand words toward its completion.

Of the thirty stories I completed, seventeen have been published or accepted for publication at ten on-line or print magazines and the other thirteen are in circulation.

Every Day Fiction is one of those ten magazines. My sixth story there, Upon the Doorsteps, will appear as the featured story on January 22. My 62nd birthday. My seventh story at EDF, Sydney, Down Under, is coming soon.

I could say thank you to Jordan and Camille every day for the next decade and still not convey how much I appreciate their acceptance of my work and the kind words they have said about it. I also appreciate the new friends I have made through the EDF forums; I felt as if I had come home the first day I visited there. What a great bunch of people.

In 2009, I am shooting for 145,000 words; 65,000 words to complete Concrete Lions and 80,000 words to complete forty stories. And I hope to see twenty-five stories accepted for publication, with at least two of those placed in professional-rate magazines.

That’s a lot of writing. My friend Gay talks about “keeping your bottom in the chair”. I hope to put enough wear on my existing chair to require purchase of a new one. We shall see.

In any case, I hope all of you will have an eventful and successful 2009; I hope the same thing for myself, too.

I am so excited.

Edited 04/06/09