Monday, March 15, 2010

The Clarion Writers' Workshop

I have now officially been given the go-ahead to shout it from the rooftops:

I have been accepted to the 2010 Clarion Writers' Workshop.

Clarion is an intensive six-week summer program focused on fundamentals particular to the writing of science fiction and fantasy short stories. It is considered a premier proving and training ground for aspiring writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.  Instructors are among the most respected writers and editors working in the field today. Over one third of our graduates have been published and many have gone on to critical acclaim. The list of distinguished Clarion alumni includes Ed Bryant, Octavia Butler, Bob Crais, Cory Doctorow, George Alec Effinger, Nalo Hopkinson, James Patrick Kelly, Vonda McIntyre, Kim Stanley Robinson, Martha Soukup, Kelly Link, Bruce Sterling, and many others. 

They told me a week ago, but asked that I keep it under wraps until all the candidates had been chosen and the invitations sent out, so, although I've told a number of people through word of mouth and hinted at it on my Facebook page, this is the first official announcement I've been able to make.

I am, to say the least, deeply humbled. The most I expected was to make the wait-list, if I was lucky. They've been accepting applications since December, but I only found out about the workshop and the deadline somewhere around the second week of February. The deadline was March 1st, at 11:59pm. I came across it kind of randomly, on a thread at John Scalzi's Whatever blog, and decided kind of on the spur of the moment to go for it.

But here's the thing: it's a short story writing workshop, so, naturally, they wanted two short stories as part of the application.

I don't really write short stories. It's not that I have anything against them. It's just that all my creative energies, such as they are, have been directed at my novel in progress, GoATDaD and the Army of Monkeys. I've been working on it for years (seven or eight of them now, off and on). It's my self-declared and self-taught apprenticeship to the craft of writing.

I'd begun toying with the notion of writing a few short stories as secondary texts to the novel, which is a giant, sprawling mess of a thing, in which lots of interesting ideas are sort of glossed over in the background so I can focus on the other interesting ideas that are more at the forefront of the story. I thought it might be helpful to write out some shorter pieces, both to flesh out some of those ideas that are being given short shrift, to do a little world-building, as it were, and to maybe take a crack at something I could credibly finish in a relatively short time. I'd already sort of started in on a couple of things, though I'd yet to really do much with them.

But now I had a reason. And a deadline. Both of which were marvellously focusing for me. I honestly didn't expect anything to come of it, aside from what I'd learn in the doing, but the application fee wasn't much, and some of the instructors at Clarion this year are people whose work I am deeply enamored with and impressed by (Jeff VanderMeer and George R. R. Martin especially, although all of the instructors are really impressive authors, and I look forward to working with all of them).

To tell the truth, I have never attended a writers' workshop, nor really been tempted. I'm a bit cussed that way, set for some reason on teaching myself what I need to figure out in order to follow my chosen avocation. I've labored away in obscurity for all these years by choice (and some degree of fear, to be honest), working when I could find the time and motivation, figuring I could teach myself what I needed to know and that I'd figure out the whole getting published thing when I had something I thought was worth publishing.

It's always been my stated purpose in life to become a writer, but I'd be lying if I said that I hadn't gotten distracted here and there along the way. But my mother's death last summer had a profound effect on me, and one of the repercussions of that was a determination to quit fucking around and get serious about this thing I meant to do with my life. And applying to Clarion (and Clarion West, while I was at it) seemed like a good excuse to hunker down and get some work done. I am, after all, easily distracted, despite my determination, and there's plenty of other business for me to attend to and things to spend time on.

So, for most of three weeks, I spent as much time as I could make in front of the computer, pounding away. The first story came easily enough. It's not my most original work, certainly, but it gave me an opportunity to explore a couple of things in the background noise of the novel that I wanted to get a better handle on but that I didn't plan to really dig in to. It almost seemed as if the story was already there, more or less complete, just waiting for me to write it. I even liked it (which is pretty rare; I'm usually insanely critical of my own work, and read it with the same macabre fascination most people experience while driving past an accident on the highway). The second story, well, that was another thing entirely. That one didn't come easy, and took several false starts before it took on its own momentum. I'm not sure if it's because it comes from later in the novel, a section I haven't focused on for a few years, or because it's a bit more original than the first story, or if it was just buried a few dozen feet deeper in my psyche, but the second one felt like pulling teeth from the south end of my body cavity. In the end, though, it seems to have worked out, and I think it's probably a stronger effort than the first one.

Whatever it was, I seem to have done something right.

I still kind of can't believe it. I've spent the last week convinced that it was a mistake, or a hallucination. But it's real.

I'm gonna go squee into my pillow some more now.

Post-Script: Today seems to be a good day for my ego. Not two minutes after emailing the folks at the Clarion West workshop here in Seattle, thanking them for their consideration and withdrawing my candidacy (the two run more or less simultaneously), I got a call from one of the admissions people offering me a spot there as well. She said she really liked the story I'd submitted, and seemed quite sad that I'd already accepted a spot at Clarion. I hardly knew what to say. It's one of those problems you dream of having, ya know?


Stephanie Denise Brown said...

Congratulations on your acceptance to both workshops! I enjoyed reading your post and was moved when you talked about your mom.

I applied to Clarion West this year, and like you, I've been spending the better part of my writing time on a novel.

I hear the Clarion and Clarion West workshops are fantastic, and I'm sure you'll have a great time bonding with your classmates! :)

Jed said...

hellllllllllz yeah. now it's to get to work again. i have faith, looking forward to future work.


Andrew said...

yay dallas! ...but this means you'll be out of seattle for few weeks this summer?? boo.