There and back again

Home from L.A. and Writers of the Future. I had a fantastic time.

Had dinner Monday night with Andy, Carol, Gay and Kelly.  Learned a lot from K.D. and Tim, and so many other well-known writers. Strengthened old friendships, participated in the budding of new friendships. Righted a small wrong. Wrote a short story in twenty-four hours (and it wasn’t bad.).

Chatted Saturday night at the barbecue with Larry Niven, carried on a coherent conversation with the man, I think  All I can say is “Wow!”. How many times in our lives do we get to talk to our heroes?

I missed the awards ceremony Sunday night (because of health problems) but everything else was swell.  Thank you Joni and John and Marcus and (especially) Sophie. C’est si bon!

Headed to Wyoming

I’ll be on my way to Wyoming this summer.

Got an exciting e-mail from Mike Brotherton this morning. I’ve been invited to attend Launch Pad, the SF writers astronomy workshop July 10-17 at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

The focus of the NASA-funded program is to “improve science literacy through words and media”.  Hard science lectures, jazzing with other SF writers and a night or two peering at the heavens through the University’s observatory telescopes.

Classes are taught by SF writer (and University of Wyoming astronomy professor) Mike Brotherton and Jim Verley, also of the UW faculty. Guest lecturer this year is Stanley Schmidt, editor of Analog.

Geez, all those hard-science doctorates.  I just hope my business and marketing degrees don’t make me look too stupid.

Home from Clarion West

A good deal of what I know about life, I learned from Mother Goose, and she said:

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

To market, to market, to buy a fat hog,
Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.

To market, to market, to buy a plum bun,
Home again, home again, market is done.

The six weeks at Clarion West was an incredible experience, but it’s good to be home.

More about it when I don’t feel so ridden-hard and hung-out-wet. I’ll just say that Ian McDonald, our sixth-week instructor, was bloody marvelous — both as an instructor and a human being — and last day, one of our number got word that a piece of flash she wrote first week for Michael Bishop has sold to a major market.

It’s her news, so I won’t spoil it by saying any more than Hazzah!

Clarion West — Week Five

Sorry for fading away for the past three weeks.

It’s been a whirlwind.  Since day one of Clarion West, I’ve written nine stories (almost 40,000 words), read and critiqued ninety stories (closing in on half-a-million words), attended four fan parties and the Locus Awards and been to the emergency room twice (it was for food allergies and after the second trip I was covered with hives for five days, Fun and games.).

I’ve had to learn to live with seventeen strangers, aged 21 to 60, of both genders.  I’ve come to like most of them, formed what I hope will be lasting friendships with two or three, and I’ve probably pissed off all of them at one time or another over thirty-five days (Rachael will tell you I’m not always easy to get along with).  I know I’ve been pissed off myself from time to time.

All in all, though, I find the bunch of them funny, intelligent and interesting to talk with, not to mention incredibly gifted writers. Some of the stories I’ve read have moved me to tears, made me laugh and blown my mind.  They’re not my stories, so I can’t tell you about them, but I suspect you’ll have a chance to read some of them — in print — before too long.

It’s been a singular experience and there’s still a week to go. Ian McDonald is here for last week. We met him last night; he’s a bright and funny man (with a lovely Irish accent). He’s going to talk to us this week about world-building and writing other cultures and pitching stories and who knows what all.

Seventeen more stories to read and critique. One more party to attend. Then it will be over and we haven’t even had a chance to play Thing.

More when I can.

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.

Clarion West – Day 10

Half way through the second week.

Maureen McHugh is the instructor this week and it’s been an interesting time.  As a person, she’s laid back and friendly, very approachable, but as an instructor she intense and analytical.  It’s obvious that she cares (and thinks) a lot about what goes into a story.

One of the things she said this morning, while critiquing a story by one of the other writers, is that when she reads a story, she wants to feel that the author is totally in control of what is going on, that every element of the narrative is there for a purpose, that the author intended it to exist.

Her own writing reflects this intensity.  It’s exhilarating to think about but it’s also sort of scary.  I know I still stumble through a good part of my own stories.  Even so, my first submission, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One, got generally good critiques.  It starts out as a police procedural and along the way turns into a first contact story.  Everyone, including Maureen, seemed to understand and accept the underlying humor, and she opined that I’d succeeded in making the two aliens genuinely alien, even though the nature and presentation of their conversation is essentially human.

The group is coming together nicely.  Critiques have been insightful and honest, without being tactless and insulting.  Everyone is submitting excellent first drafts.  Several of the stories we’ve seen so far are close to being ready for submission to publications.

Apart from writing and critiquing, we’re having a good time together, which is a significant part of the process.  It’s been suggested to us several times by different people that friendships and professional relationships that we develop here will stay with us throughout our careers.

I can see the bonds forming.  We just had our second Wednesday night hour-long “tea party” and tomorrow night, after story submission deadline, most or all of us are going for cocktails with Maureen.  Three of the women got Clarion West tattoos today.  They look so great that others of us — myself including — are planning to head to the tattoo shop tomorrow.  If I don’t chicken out, I’ll post a picture of mine on Sunday.

More later.

Clarion West – Week 1

The past seven days have been a whirlwind.

I’ll begin with a paean to the program administrators, Leslie and Neile (the E on the end is silent, BTW).

What super people these two women are. Both give unstintingly of their time, advice and emotional comfort. They deserve medals for what they bring to Clarion West.

And my hat is off to Michael Bishop, our instructor for week one. Mike is a patient, thoughtful teacher who used Socratic method to bring out the best in each of us. And he’s a funny, friendly man, as well.

In five days, we wrote five stories — all under 1,000 words. I’ve already described the first three in Wednesday’s post — a quest, a science fiction love story and a prose poem using Jim Simmerman’s Twenty Little Poetry Projects.

I liked the results of that one — Time Travel, Considered as Stream of Consciousness, so I did a bit of polishing Friday afternoon and sent it off to Jake Frevald at Flash Fiction Online. We’ll see.

The fourth and fifth assignments were: 4) a first-contact story, using three different points of view, and 5) a story with at least two characters, involving dialog and illustrating a proverb.

I’ve expanded #4, the first-contact story, as my week-two story for Maureen McHugh. It’s titled Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One. It’s a 2,000-word SF murder mystery featuring Seattle PD detectives John Osbourne and D.D. Gayle.

Oz and D.D. have appeared before in one of my stories, an unpublished piece titled Against the Grain. Oz is older, close to retirement, and D.D. is a hard-charging newcomer.  They’re bit players in this one, but I like the dynamic between them and I hope to see more of them in other stories.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One offers the timeless bit of dialog, “So this alien walks into a bar …” It’s presented tongue-in-cheek. Those of you who’ve read some of my stuff are probably saying “What else is new?”

I wrote it in six hours Thursday afternoon and evening. I had such a nice little piece of horror prepared , Kindred Souls; 4,200 words that I’d been compiling a bit each day all week.

But when my muse kicks me in the shins, I have to respond. If I argue too much, she goes away and sulks.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One is set for critique Monday (06/28). It’s definitely first draft; covered in warts and typos, not the sort of thing I’m comfortable showing to other people, but that’s what we’re supposed to be presenting.

In any case, I had to submit it Thursday night by 9:00 p.m., so there wasn’t a lot of time for rewrite. I’ll let you know Wednesday how that goes.

Friday night and all day Saturday were devoted to celebration.

The entire class attended a reading by Connie Willis (Blackout) and Greg Frost (Shadow Bridge) Friday night at the University of Washington Book Store.

The two of them put on quite a show. They read to a packed house from recent work, answered questions and did a sweet bit of partnered comedy schtick that had everybody giggling. Among other things, Connie declared her undying infatuation for actor George Maharis and Greg channeled Yosemite Sam to read from Beowulf.

After that, the traditional end-of-week party was held at a downtown condo (no names or addresses, please) and it was a big success.

The eighteen of us were on display, of course, and had a chance to schmooze
with published SF authors, Clarion West alumni and fans.

I enthused with Greg Frost about a mutual fascination — Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder stories. I discovered that Maureen McHugh and I are both from Ohio and are glad to be from Ohio.

And I spent some time saying goodbye to Kij Johnson (Spar) who is headed east next week to teach novel writing at Jim Gunn’s SF Writers Workshop, to traipse around the country for a bit, and to eventually resettle far away to pursue further education. Good luck and God speed, Kij.

I also chatted with Greg Bear (Mariposa), Nancy Kress (Steal Across the Sky), Jack Skillingstead (Harbinger), Nisi Shawl (Filter House), and a ton of other folks I should remember but am just too tired at the moment to recall all the names.

Thanks to all of you for being so gracious and entertaining.

Saturday, the entire class trekked to the downtown Seattle Courtyard Marriott for the Locus Awards ceremony and luncheon that was part of the Science Fiction Awards weekend.

The day began with two panels — one on author research and the other on mistakes new authors often make. Ursula K. LeGuin sat in on the first. She’s eighty years old, vital and funny, and still active as an author (her essays, Cheek by Jowl, won one of the 2010 Locus awards). She gives me hope.

I also shared lunch (and conversation) with Nisi Shawl and had a chance to chat with Ken Scholes (Canticle) and John A. Pitts (Black Blade Blues), two of my favorite new SF authors.

All in all, a great day and a fantastic week.

Maureen is scheduled to meet with us this afternoon to outline the coming week. More later.

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.

Tomorrow is move-in at Clarion West

Saturday is arrival day at Clarion West.  It’s going to be hectic.  I’m picking up Kelly at the bus station at 1:30 a.m. and we’re set to check in at the CW house at 10:00 a.m.  Once settled, I’ll be headed for the airport to pick up Stephanie, John and Andy.  The eighteen of us will have 24 hours to get to know each other and we meet with Michael Bishop Sunday afternoon.  That’s when the whole thing begins.

I’m going to try to post at least twice a week, more if I can.  We’ll see.

BTW: I downloaded Nnedi Okorafor’s new novel, Who Fears Death, to my Nook yesterday and I’m six chapters into it now.  It’s a fantastic read. Nnedi will be our instructor week three.  I’ve read a couple of her short stories, too, and I’m looking forward to working for a week with her.  Good stuff coming.

Four weeks and counting

The 2010 Clarion West writers’ workshop begins four weeks from tonight, just up the road aways in the University district.

I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t nervous, but I’m also excited and SO ready for it to begin. The past ten weeks, since I first learned that I had been invited. The weekly sessions will be taught by- Michael Bishop, Maureen McHugh, Nnedi Okorafor, Graham Joyce, Ellen Datlow and Ian McDonald.

Ellen Datlow is an editor, with more top-notch anthologies to her credit than you can [cliche warning] shake a stick at. I’ve examined several of her books and been reading novels and short stories for the five writers, and I am in awe. This is a bunch of top-notch creative people.n To paraphrase Mark Twain, they’re not just paragraphs; they’re whole pages.

But I’m just as impressed by the work I’ve been reading by my fellow classmates. Seventeen people on the cusp of professional writing careers and every single one of them is younger than I am.

That’s my biggest concern about attending Clarion West; whether or not I can keep up with these folks intellectually and physically. Long days; late hours and little sleep. And six new stories in six weeks.

It’s going to be a challenge.