Clarion Report #1 (Week 1: Paul Park)

I woke up early this morning, probably dreading my first critique session, and it occurred to me I could use my "extra" hours writing my first Clarion Report. I won't have much time the rest of this week - we have another story to finish by Friday, as well as about a dozen critiques to write, and it might be good to get the first one out before I've gone through the critical gristmill. : /

Atmosphere: The first day, Sunday, the weather was beautiful. We sat in the twelfth floor lounge at Campion Hall, the sun beating down on us through the wall to wall picture windows. Through the dorm room windows on the other side, we had an execellent view of the Cascades to the east. On Monday the clouds started rolling in, but we still had a view of Mt. Rainier to the south above the clouds. Right now all we can see is rain, a somewhat atypical rain for Seattle, real rain, the kind that causes raindrops in puddles (below my eighth floor window there is a huge one covering all of the flat roof), not endless drizzle, the more common form of precipitation in Seattle. I love this town, but it really does rain too much.

Our first instructor is Paul Park, a mild-mannered man with glasses and curly hair which he habitually rubs back and forth two or three times quickly, making sure it is sufficiently messy. On Sunday evening, he told us all we were particularly weak in visualization (you see I am practising here <g>) and told us to go write a story due Wednesday based on a place, an idea, or a character and to first think about this element in isolation. That scared us all to work right away, and we crept off into our rooms and turned on our word processors, most of us, that is. I still had to set up my room. These dorm rooms are so grungy, it's hard to imagine. Perhaps I should appreciate how appropriate that is, a true Seattle experience. But with some extra drapes of my sister's, doubling as bed covers and converting the extra bed into a comfy sofa, as well various other items leant by helpful relatives, I have now transformed the room into a place I will be able to stand for six weeks.

At Elliot Bay Paul opened the first session Monday morning by reading to us, Grace Paley. See folks, this is how it is done. The man has excellent taste and an expressive reading voice. We sit there, a group of seventeen adults between the ages of about 28 and 48, and listen like contented kindergarten kids. He then explained a little what she did (and by implication, what we didn't), and talked to us about language, imagery, and characterization. He has since read us stories by Italo Calvino, Isaac Babel and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When the the noon hour rolls around (official ending-time), he asks us if we want to hear another story, and we all nod eagerly.

He read some of his own works last night at an official reading at the Elliot Bay Bookstore down the hill at Pioneer Square. I had only read his novel Celestis before I came to the workshop, a grim novel of colonization of another world apparently informed by post-colonialist thought. (I should ask him if he's familiar with that - it would be interesting). But the stories he read last night were incredibly funny, with a surreal, Borgesian, magic realist kind of humor. Two of them are as yet unpublished, but one was in F&SF last year for anyone who's curious.

Now it's about time for me to have some breakfast and get ready to go to class. Nice to have someone else in the front of the room talking for a change. : )

Clarion Report #2

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Walking to class

From left: Susan Fry, Chiara Shah, Karen Cupp, Ruth Nestvold, Eric Witchey, John Olsen, Ellen Levy Finch