Clarion West – Week 2

The roller coaster ride continues.

Monday through Friday, five rounds of group critique on the first set of stories we’ve written here. It was intense.

Michael Bishop told us last week that we should give ourselves permission to submit less than perfect drafts. For less than perfect first drafts, the first week stories were damned good. One or two, in my opinion, are ready for magazine submission.

We continue to settle in and become accustomed to each other. There has been some head-bumping. When you get this large a group of strangers, living this close together, that’s bound to happened.

As for me, I like all seventeen of my classmates, wouldn’t change a single thing about any one of them, but then I’m easy. I like people and I have to say — again — that I am in awe of this group.

When did people so young get to be so smart?

We had three mystery muses this week — Connie Willis on Wednesday, Vonda McIntyre and Nancy Kress.  All three were funny and informative.  They talked about their careers, about working these days as an SF writer, about the differences between writing short stories and writing novels, and answered a slew of questions.  So much fun.

A couple of us had a little mini-celebration Saturday morning. One of the other participants, [identity deleted], just received word that [possessive gender pronoun masked] first published story, [title blurred], has appeared in [magazine name x-ed out] and has received a “recommended” review from [a major SF magazine].

Those of us who heard the news patted [identity deleted] on the back, applauded and shouted “That’s [expletive marked out], [profanity expunged] fantastic!”

There. Who says I can’t talk about the details of our forty-two days together and not be discrete?

I can’t say enough good things about Maureen McHugh. A week ago, I wasn’t really certain who she was, although I had read a couple of her short stories. After the last seven days, I’ve become an ardent fan.

She pours her entire being into teaching and remains just folks. Thursday night, a bunch of us went out for drinks with her and she used the casual time to continue to help us bond.

My work progresses. I submitted Kindred Soul for my Week Three story. It’s a fantasy/horror story with a senior protagonist (one of the goals I set for myself for the workshop).

I’ve also finished first draft on Seven Snapshots from a Black Hole for Week Four (another hard science fiction story that I hope to send to Analog eventually) and have a good start on a story for Week Five, Portraits Hung in Empty Halls. It’s a twist on time travel, with a protagonist other than the traveler.

In addition to all the writing, I’m not sleeping enough, eating too much and pretty much ignoring the outside world. I haven’t read a newspaper in two weeks. Not that I read a newspaper regularly before Clarion West, but I did look at one now and then.

It’s a Clarion West tradition to get some sort of gift for the outgoing instructor, something with some personal significance. Maureen admitted to us early in the week that she has a passion for post-apocalyptic tales, and so we put together a “survival” kit for her.

We gave it to her Friday afternoon, collected in a combat helmet doing double duty s a gift basket. In addition to the helmet, there was a gas mask, a multi-tool, a crank-up flashlight, water purification tablets, small bottles of alcohol (with rags for Molotov cocktails), a grimed and much-thumbed survival manual and lots of other essential odds and ends.

She loved it. Her only quibble was how she would get most of the items past Homeland Security on her flight home to Austin. We’ll deny everything, of course.

Good luck, Maureen. As someone else said, You’re the business. 😉

Nnedi Okorafor is here next week. She’ll be here tonight, this afternoon, actually. I’m looking forward to her time with us. Whenever I can find an idle moment, I’ve been reading her new novel, Who Fears Death, and it’s fantastic.

More Wednesday.


BTW, I haven’t gotten my tattoo yet. There was a funds snafu, but I think it’s worked out, so I hope to show you a picture soon.

I’ve changed my name to Anxious

I swore I wouldn’t talk about this until I had something more definitive, honest to God, I took an oath. But the waiting and not saying is just more than I can stand.

I’m not sleeping much, obsessing about this. I’m eating too much, what I always do when I’m faced with something important that I can’t control.

I’ve been writing, but I’m not finishing anything. I have five stories started right now, but I get to 1,000 or 1,500 words and it feels as if I’m dragging heavy weights.

And I’ve been haunting my mailbox, too; so much so that the mail carrier flinches when she sees me.

Here’s the situation.

Last July, I attended Jim Gunn’s SF Writers Workshop in Kansas and workshopped a story that wound up being titled Flotsam. It’s hard science fiction, a near-future story about a work team in low earth orbit. I don’t write much hard SF and I sweated .44 caliber bullets doing the research for it.

In mid-July, after the workshop and at Professor Gunn’s suggestion, I sent the story off to Analog. Editor Stan Schmidt requires hard paper submissions, so I knew there would be a wait before I knew anything. Maybe a long wait.

So, here’s what I’ve been holding in.

The third week in September, I got a letter from Dr. Schmidt saying that he liked the story and that he wanted to use it in his magazine, if I was willing to do a minor rewrite.

Would I be willing to do a rewrite to have one of my stories appear in Analog? Might as well ask if I would be willing to go on breathing.

It really was minor, though. In fact, all I had to do was insert five paragraphs that I had taken out in my final edit. I put the revised piece in the mail a couple days later and sat down to wait.

I haven’t heard anything yet. It’s been six weeks, but in this business, that’s nothing. I’ve talked to other writers who have had work published in Analog and they’ve all told me I just have to be patient.

But this is one of only a few times I’ve submitted a story via snail mail — there aren’t many magazines that require that anymore — and it’s the first time I’ve gotten a conditional acceptance from a major SF market.

I know it’s stupid to fixate upon this to the point that it interferes with my writing. With my life, to be honest. But I’m new enough to this profession to be anxious about the outcome. It’s possible this sort of thing may become commonplace at some point in my future, but right now this is a big deal for me.

It will be my third professional sale, which means I can apply for membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America. It’s validation that my Writers of the Future win wasn’t just a fluke. And, most important, it’s frakkin’ Analog. I’ve only been reading the magazine for fifty years.

But I’ll be good. I swear I will. I’ll wait patiently. I’ll focus on my writing; get it back on track. I won’t pounce upon the mail carrier the moment she steps down from her truck. I just hope word arrives soon, though.

Before I’m forced to resort to slicing open live chickens and reading entrails. 😉

An update

I finished Alice, When She’s Ten Feet Tall this morning. It’s a cautionary tale about mucking about with the natural order of things, even when it appears that there has been crossed signals. 2,800 words. I’m pleased with it now, but I’ll let it set a few days and then go back to it. If I still feel good about it then, I’ll send it out.

I also have completed the outline for my SF novel, Power in the Blood, and have 10,000 words in the file. I’ll tell you more about it when it’s a bit further along.

UPDATING THE UPDATE (Monday, October 13, 2009): It has been a week since I finished Alice, When She’s Ten Feet Tall, so I ran it through my critters. I wound up changing the POV from first-person to third-person, doing a full rewrite and adding 300 words.

Oh, the humanity!

My work station is littered with the skeletal remains of old paragraphs and bloodied by the wholesale slaughter of words. Even so, she lives and is a better story. A writer who ignores an honest critique does so at her peril.

I’m going to comb its adjectives and brush its verbs now, so that I can send it off to Clarke’s World before the day is through.

At long last

The story that would not cooperate is complete.

I finished first draft of Wayfarer tonight; it came in at just under 10,000 words and it fought me every single word of the way. I think it wanted to be a novel. Maybe some day I’ll let it have its way and expand it into a book, but not just now.

I’m pleased the way it turned out, but I think I’ll let it set for a day or three, let it cool off in my mind, before I polish it and send it to Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Here’s a sneak:

First glance at the little fellow, standing in the tavern doorway, I wondered why he hadn’t blown away in a stiff breeze.

He didn’t look much taller than my shoulder and he was all hard points and sharp edges. His spiky cap of hair was white as the bleached bones of a flensed whale.

“Don’t be certain he’s as old or brittle as he seems.”

Eakin’s whisper scratched at my ear. The defrocked wizard-priest was still hidden away aboard Blessèd, but his magic let him see what I saw and hear what I heard. And he hissed into my ear as if he was at my shoulder.

Eakin hid from the public, for the practice of white magic not sanctioned by the One Church had left him a ruin. His skin was pale as parchment; his arms and legs twisted from the effort of the casting. And he wore a scarlet patch over the ruined pit of his left eye to hide the price he had paid to gain the arcane sight that allowed him to witness my Journey.

I took a second look at the newcomer and decided Eakin was right.

There was nothing flyaway about the little fellow’s manner. He stood his place in the doorway, one eyebrow cocked, studying us all, as if he could shine a light into our minds and so was privy to every sorry secret in the joint.

Back in the saddle

After a six-month stint, I stepped down last week as a slush reader for Every Day Fiction. My time in the job was a delight and an education, and I think I am a better writer and a better editor for the experience.

It’s amazing what some folks submit to magazines, hoping to be published. That was part of the education. But it was also so much fun to happen upon a well-told tale. That was the delight.

And stepping down allows me to submit flash fiction to Camille and Jordan again. I wasted no time.

The day after I turned in my notice, Jake Freivald, editor at Flash Fiction Online, e-mailed me, passing on Canticles. So I wiped its nose, tucked in its noir and sent it back out the door to Every Day Fiction.

I just heard from Camille. She said it was “a great story” and that she would give it a home.

Canticles didn’t wander around forever, but it’s a good example of why a writer shouldn’t give up on a story because one or two (or a dozen) editors reject it. If it’s a good story, the right fusion of writer-story- editor will happen.

As Tim Allen’s Captain Jason Nesmith said in Galaxy Quest, “Never give up. Never surrender.”

Thanks, Camille. It’s good to be back on the writers’ roster at Every Day Fiction.

I’ll let the rest of you know when to look for Canticles. Thanks for dropping by.

An update

The folks at Strange Horizons said “no” to Stuff of the Old Gods, the story I brought back from Jim Gunn’s SF Writers Workshop.  So I tweaked the ending a bit and pushed it back out into the cold to go knocking at the door of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.

I’ll let you know whether of not they let it in.

And Downunder, Upon Whom the Pale Moon Gleams, made it through to the third round of review at Australia’s Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.  So more waiting and the editors there say only about one in three stories make it through the third round and into the magazine.

More to come there.

Off it goes

Finished Neon Knight this morning.

It’s a 2,000-word short about Arthur’s round table and vampires and revenge.

How, you may ask, do those three things fit together? I’d tell you, but then I’d have to drain every last drop of blood from your struggling body. So why not wait and see if it finds a home.

I sent it off to the folks at Abyss & Apex. I’ll let you know what they say.

Meanwhile, I’m still working on Wayfarer. It’s one of those pieces that goes into the word processor kicking and biting. Not that I’m having trouble finding words, quite the opposite.

I’m writing it for a specific market — Beyond Ceaseless Skies — that has a preferred maximum count of 10,000 words. The story’s at 6,000 words so far, I’ve already cut it back twice, and the end isn’t in sight yet.

The characters in Wayfarer keep whispering to me that they want more. Greedy bastards. I’ll let you know who wins.

Pondering the process

I’ve been thinking about One Last Kiss, which is in to Glimmer Train at the moment. I mentioned the submission in an earlier post.

It’s the first piece of non-genre fiction I’ve written in the past couple of years that isn’t flash. Actually, it started out as both — flash fantasy — but like Alice it grew and grew and grew.

It capped out at almost 6,000 words and I stopped thinking of it as fantasy when I realized that although its protagonist, Gracie Landis, considers using a voodoo spell, the actual casting never occurs.

Funny how fiction can grow and change in the telling. I have heard it said that a story is as long as it has to be. I’m not one of those writers who believes that stories come from some strange and mysterious place outside of me. I sweat out each and every word that I put onto paper (or into pixels) and I know that they all come from my imagination. My sub-conscious, if you like.

But I do wonder sometimes how that works.

Why do some stories come together with such little effort, 900 or 1,000 words when I intend to write 900 or 1,000 words and no more? And why do others have to be almost wrestled into place with more and more words flowing from the fountain even when my conscious mind says that it is time to stop?

Anyway, One Last Kiss is one of those stories that fought me, without let up, until I finally gave in and forgot about word count or genre. And the understanding that Gracie and her step-father, Jerry, come to at the end is so much more satisfying without magic.