The Clarion obstacle course

Clarion Report #3

Week 2: George R.R. Martin


My, am I getting lax. Sorry folks. This place really is like a "boot camp" for writers, and we have a horrendously productive group, so there are a lot of stories to read and a lot of critiquing to do. I already said how we're a bunch of workaholics, and that's probably very beneficial for those of us who might tend towards other kinds of "holisism" without the pressure of the OGM (Our Group Mind).

I now have two weeks to report on. The second week we had George R. R. Martin as an instructor, and while he didn't have as many specific writing pointers to offer us as Paul Park did, his critiques addressed marketablility of the individual stories in a very practical way -- quite the opposite from Paul, who is very much on the literary end of the sf scale. And while Paul admitted the existence of the plotless story, George did not. George and Tamela(Connie had a little phrase for plotless too -- "unsold").

During George's week I turned in a near-future dystopian story set in Germany, which he liked much better than I expected. (He was also the only one to get the title, unfortunately.) This particular story set him off on a "write what you know" lecture -- but of course as an sf and fantasy writer meaning really: draw on what you know. It was nice to get that lecture in the context of my critique, since I drew on my knowledge of Germany for the setting and the extrapolated politics.

George also told us quite a bit about working in Hollywood. He worked on the new Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast, and has written a number of screenplays, for which he recieved fantastic sums, but none of them has ever actually been produced. He has now returned to fiction, since he wants to have an audience again.

He was very supportive in the individual conference. His praise of my submission manuscript (the first two chapters of a time travel based on my research on Aphra Behn) was both gratifying and helpful; he gave me specific ideas on where and how to submit the manuscript in the futere and said he would be very interested in reading the book himself. I guess I'll have to send him a copy if it ever gets published. :)

Eric being a good sportDuring George's week we also played our first practical joke. Eric turned in a "story" of something like 25,000 words -- a bit much, we all decided, seeing as we also had fifteen other stories to read and our own story to write. So we all pretended we hadn't read the story, every last one of us. When it finally got around to George, he just couldn't do it, it was too cruel. (No, I did not come up with the idea!)

Week 3: Connie Willis

In the lounge with Connie

Joking and learning in the lounge with Connie

From left: Michael Bateman, Susan Fry, Daniel Abraham, Diana Rowland, Connie Willis, Karen Cupp, Ruth Nestvold, R.S. Blum

Connie WillisWe all loved Connie Willis. She adopted us and heckled us and told us how awful we were and how much she liked us, and managed to steal our hearts quite completely in the process. Her Tuesday evening reading was absolutely hilarious, better than most stand-up comedians. In her talk before the reading, she abused us - her "class" - mercilessly in public and made us feel cherished.

Connie did a lot with us on plot in the week that she was here, how to start a story (with something going wrong), how to show readers what the stakes are, making sure the reader is grounded, that kind of thing. I felt somewhat vindicated about my own method of writing during her week -- she told us about how she always starts with the idea and the plot and develops characters to fit into the framework she has. Good. I can deal with this. You so often hear the opposite advice that it's nice to hear a highly successful author with a ton of awards say that she does it the other way around. Even though we've all heard the bit about the tribal lays, so many writing books start with the advice that you have to start with character that it's a bit frustrating when it isn't characters who inspire you. What inspires me are ideas, scraps of language, an image. Character almost always comes later.

Kidnapping the toadDuring Connie's week I turned in a sex-change story which ended up being almost a group effort, since I had to hit on our men so often for information on the trials and tribulations of being male. In acknowledgement of that, I included names of a bunch of my buddies here at Clarion in the story. It's funny how many running gags we have developed in only three weeks together, words and phrases no one else besides the seventeen of us would understand. Every former Clarionite (West) of the last few years would understand about hugging the toad, but who would understand golden warbitches and Überzeitgeist and souls in jars? And although I am the only graduate of South Eugene High School, nearly everyone has the Axemen Grunt memorized by now. There is unbelievable group cohesion. We are a very old Clarion, as Clarions go, average age about mid to late thirties, I would say. (Clarion East this year is supposedly much younger than we are - our youngest would have been their oldest if he had chosen East instead of West). We are also the first Clarion ever with more women than men, by the gigantic majority of one. But a majority is a majority and I'm proud of it.

George and Clarion women

George surrounded by a portion of the majority. If you look carefully, you will see R.S. lurking in the background pretending to be one of us.

From left: Tamela Viglione, Christyna Ivers, Ruth Nestvold, George R.R. Martin, the top of R.S. Blum's head, Chiara Shah and Susan Fry.

Report #4

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