Farewell to all that

Final thoughts about Clarion and writing:

1. It's hard to have ideas, strange ideas, exciting ideas, novel ideas.

2. It is even harder to write good prose than to have good ideas.

3. It is hardest of all to tell a good story. Story—the mysterious alchemy of plot arc, character arc, thematic integration, atmosphere, and all the other story-like values—is very, very difficult. It may be the most difficult part of writing to learn and perform successfully. At Clarion, lack of story was the most common flaw I saw. Lots of folks had great ideas. Lots of them could write prose that was smooth, exciting or even both at the same time. But the commonest failing I saw was lack of conflict, excitement, tension, suspense, risk, or the failure of these at some point. Writers, as Nancy Kress said, can't be reluctant to *hurt* their characters. You don't have to have physical conflict, or physical risk. But your characters have to have something at stake, something the reader must care about. It's *tough* to tell a compelling story.

All the instructors said I wrote well on the sentence level. My problems are with story. They may not be insurmountable problems. All the instructors were quite positive. But storytelling is what I have to work on.

That having been said, I can *still* write better prose than I am writing, and have better ideas. There are no laurels to rest on.


Learned just before I left that one of Amelia Beamer's stories in particular was smiled on by Kelly Link, who suggested sending it to Major Market, with Kelly's blessing to Big Name Editor. Yay! I haven't seen the story, it was written pre-Clarion, but Amelia writes some very good prose, about big ideas and edgy themes, and I'd love to see something of hers in print.


And that, folks, is that. Last post to the Clarion blog. If I have anything more to say about Clarion (and I probably will) I'll post it as slithytove, my usual LJ. st_at_clarion will remain up indefinitely, but probably receive no more posts.
  • Current Mood
    accomplished accomplished

Clarion, Day 42: So long, and thanks for all the caterpillar sushi

Dinner tonight with the gang at Omi, a sushi/other Japanese place within easy walking distance of the KKG house. I had caterpillar sushi, which I had never had before, and which is both beautiful and delicious. Also octopus with shoyu and sesame oil, likewise delicious. Came home, packed as much as I could tonight. Tomorrow I should be able to get out of here in an hour or so. Plan is to leave at 7 a.m., to be home by 6 p.m.

From the conversation at dinner, everyone else is feeling pretty much as I do: very sad, with a tremendous sense of loss. If I had one misconception about Clarion before coming here, it was this: I didn't realize how all-consuming it would become, or how much the other students would become a part of my life, the elemental components of my world.

Six weeks of Clarion is about right. More would be too much, less would not be enough. Clarion must end, I know that, we all know that.

But damn, it's painful.

This is probably my last post from East Lansing. I'll post some summing-up stuff after I arrive home, get unpacked and reorganized.
  • Current Mood
    lonely lonely

Clarion, Day 42: I've got no expectations to pass through here again

Reading by Kelly and Jeff at the Archive Bookstore two nights ago. Kelly read part of a story about a cheerleader and Satan going backward in time, and it was wonderful, but I didn't catch the title or where it had (or was going to) appear. Jeff read "Creation," the first story in his The Fantasy Writer's Assistant collection. Books were bought and signed. A good time was had by all.

Last crits were on done on Friday. Lots of Mafia played and movies watched over the last 24 hours. Nikki coordinated the making of an impromptu chapbook as a going-away present for Kelly Link; everyone got a copy and there was a mad signing party over pizza. Clarion 2004 T-shirts showed up. When I have a little time I'll transcribe the quotes from the back. The keynote quote, from the front, reads, "How can I get my word choices more better?"

Six of us have left already, two more are leaving this evening. Jeff Ford left this afternoon. Most of the rest of us are leaving tomorrow, Grace, Peter and (of course) Amelia are hanging on until Tuesday.

I am feeling inexpressibly sad. It is an almost physical sensation in my chest, and a weakness of my limbs.

I wandered into the crit room -- the Kappa house's formal living room -- this morning, stood, and looked around. The circle of chairs was still there, empty. No more crits, ever. No more group, no more voices offering praise, correction, encouragement, hesitation, voices of other writers, who think my thoughts, have my dreams, struggle with my problems. Whatever happens to us now, Clarion is over, forever. Brynna, Al and Tenea came in. We just looked at each other for a while.
  • Current Mood
    crushed crushed

Clarion, Day 42: Kelly and Gavin on pulishing/small press publishing

Cory Doctorow, The Idiot's Guide to Publishing Science Fiction
Few houses take unagented fiction; Tor does.
It can take up to three years to hear back from Tor; they are known occasionally to lose manuscripts.
Usual advance for first novel US$4K to $10K;
Typically takes 18 months for novel to publish; beware of shorter time frames, 6 months is not sufficient time adequately to design, edit, and typeset a book.
Many editors nowadays tend not to do much editing; your book may be published pretty much as submitted.
Author increasingly expected to help with the marketing; author may be responsible for getting blurb quotes from other writers.
Gavin: for folks at our level, focus on writing better, not on publishing. [This was pretty much Jeffrey Ford's line, too.] Subscription to Locus is a good idea.
Bookstores typically keep new novels on the shelf 90 days, then strip them.
Gavin: advises against self-publishing, iUniverse, etc. "iUniverse is good for your aunt's memoirs."
Gavin: Chapbooks are acceptable, even though they sort of edge towards self-publishing.
Year's Best Fantasy and Horror may be useful source in looking for markets and publishers.
In small presses, besides Small Beer, of course, recommend Golden Griffin (although tends for some reason to be a boy's club), Nightshade.
Distributors, such as Ingram, typically take up to 2/3 of the cost of the book (40% is passed on to the bookstore).
Advertising budget for publisher is typically US$1 per copy printed. I.e., print run of 5000 will have ad budget of $5000.
Kelly: even the best proofreaders miss about 25% of errors in manuscripts.
Kelly: SMF, SMF, SMF. If you want to say you went to Clarion, do it in the cover letter, not the ms.
Kelly and Gavin: LCRW likes self-stickum-no-lick envelopes (like Carina at RoF).
Gavin: chapbooks are inexpensive to make, and nice to give out at readings. Along the same micro-micro-publishing lines: bookmarks with tiny stories on them.
  • Current Mood
    cheerful cheerful

Clarion, Day 42: Conference with Kelly Link

Had my conference with Kelly Link on Monday.

She talked a good deal about the stories I'd written here; she's read them all. One of them she offered to buy for LCRW outright, but also seemed to think I should shop it around to professional markets first, including non-genre markets. She mentioned 3rd Bed, a publication I had been unaware of, as well as McSweeney's, New Yorker, Penthouse (is Penthouse the new Playboy for sophisticado genre fiction with a soupçon of sex?). She also generally likes Polyphony and Alchemy as outlets for fiction.

Reading suggestions:
George Saunders
Robert Reed
William Browning Spencer, Resume with Monsters
Stacey Richter, My Date with Satan
Jane Hamilton, Disobedience: A Novel
Anne Pratchett, Bel Canto
M.T. Anderson, Thirsty (The author is associated with 3rd Bed, mentioned above
Holly Black, Tithe : A Modern Faerie Tale

She offered to introduce me to a writers' group near Philly. (!)

She gave me two books. (Kelly is noted for giving out books to students at her Clarion conferences). For me, it was David Quammen's The Flight of the Iguana and Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds Thanks, Kelly!

Final, no shit, really truly the last teaching session right now, with Kelly and Gavin, on small presses and publishing, must go, more later.

7/22/04: Update/correction. Kelly Link informs me that she was recommending Tin House magazine, not Penthouse. Oops. Slip of the ear on my part.
  • Current Mood
    hopeful hopeful

Clarion, Day 42: Conference with Jeffrey Ford

This is a catch-up post.

Had my conferences with Jeffrey Ford and Kelly Link on Monday. Jeff's basic advice was to keep writing. He believes that at this point, I need more writing time, not workshops. He has limited patience for non-standard narration: "Cut the narrative tricks, just tell the story." In fact, that's been one of his watchwords in the workshop in general. His going-away gift was a wooden paddle, signed by all of us, with the motto on the back, "Just tell me a damned story."

He thought that if I kept developing as a writer, I should be expect to be published professionally within a year or so.

Other advice: "The writer should write as the reader reads: from point A to point B. The writer should *discover* the story in the same way the reader discovers it." He doesn't like titles that are literary/philosophical name-dropping (case in point, the title of one of my Clarion-written stories, "Tabula Rasa.") He says the title should not give anything away.

He had a number of suggestions for changes in the stories of mine he had read, and suggestions for markets, including Polyphony, Argosy, Leviathan (a roughly biennial anthology), Third Alternative, and the Say... series.

Jeff Ford's recommended reading (for me):
Aristotle's Poetics
John Gardner's The Art of Fiction
Steven Millhauser's short fiction.
Raymond Carver, especially "The Knife Thrower."

Because I asked him specifically for any tips about character development, he recommended these authors:
Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle, for character development
Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books
Laurie Colwin's Goodbye Without Leaving
Stephen Bury (pseudonym of Neal Stephenson), The Cobweb
  • Current Mood
    melancholy melancholy

Clarion, Day 40: In which we watch zombie movies and have adventures in the kitchen

Lunch was excellent, left-over coq au vin over toast, to soak up the scrumptious au vin. I cooked dinner for the crew last night, from this recipe for coq au vin. Also made carrot cake, for the second time, and both were well-received.

While cooking dinner, something exciting happened.

V frg gur fgbir ba sver.

Jr'er abg fhccbfrq gb or hfvat gur fgbir, nf cneg bs bhe nterrzrag jvgu gur fbebevgl jubfr ubhfr jr'er fgnlvat va. Ohg vg'f orra uryy qbvat nyy bhe pbbxvat ba gur tevyy bhgfvqr be gur gbnfgre bira. Fb va zvq-jrrx 5, nf cneg bs Wrss naq Xryyl'f rssbeg gb pher bhe znynvfr, ohea-bhg, rkunhfgvba naq ovggrearff, gurl gbyq hf jr pbhyq hfr gur fgbir.

Fb. Cneg bs znxvat gur pbd nh iva vf gb qbhfr jvgu pbatnp naq synzr. V qvq fb. Gur synzrf vtavgrq bar bs gur ternfl ubbq svygref, naq yb, jr unq n fgbir sver. "Bu, fuvg," Avxxv fnvq, "gur fgbir'f ba sver." Tbfu, fur'f n cebsrffvbany pbbx, V gubhtug fur'q xabj jung gb qb. "Trg gur sver rkgvathvfuref," fur fnvq. Fb crbcyr jrag ehaavat sbe gur sver rkgvathvfuref. V jbaqrerq ubj ybat vg jbhyq gnxr gur sver gb fcernq sebz gur fgbir gb gur erfg bs gur ohvyqvat. Crbcyr sebz gur cngvb fgernzrq va, orpnhfr gurl unq abgvprq oynpx fzbxvat cbhevat sebz gur irag. Avxxv fnvq gb fuhg gur ubbq rkunhfg bss, orpnhfr vg jnf snaavat gur synzrf, bs pbhefr, fb jr qvq. V jbaqrerq ubj ybat vg jbhyq or orsber gur sbnz sver rkgvathvfure phg ba. Svyyvat gur xvgpura hc jvgu sbnz vf hapbby.

Ohg fb vf frggvat gur ohvyqvat ba sver. Ybbx, vs gung unccrarq, ab bayl jbhyq gur fbebevgl arire yrg hf hfr gur ohvyqvat ntnva -- juvpu jnf tbvat gb unccra naljnl -- ohg vg'f yvxryl AB BAR jbhyq yrg hf hfr NAL ohvyqvat ntnva, naljurer. Artbgvngvbaf gb gnxr Pynevba gb FHAL jbhyq snyy guebhtu, orphnfr jub jnagf n cebtenz gung abg bayl oernxf gurve pbagenpgf, OHG FRGF OHVYQVATF BA SVER?!?!

Fvatyrunaqrqyl, V unq qbbzrq Pynevba. Whfg ol synzvat. gur. shpxvat. pbd. nh. iva.

Fb, guvf jnf jung jnf tbvat guebhtu zl zvaq.

V jnf gelvat gb trg gur synzvat ubbq svygre bhg bs gur ubbq, gb guebj vg vagb gur fvax, jura vg jrag bhg ol vgfrys. Naq gung jnf gung. Ab zber sver. "V arrq n fzbxr," Avxxv fnvq, naq ehfurq bhg. Ng guvf cbvag sbhe crbcyr ehfurq va jvgu sver rkgvathvfuref, naq V gbyq gurz gb tb njnl, gunaxf ohg vg'f nyy bire, abguvat gb frr urer, sbyxf. V frnerq gur arkg ongpu bs puvpxra, ohg synzrq vg jryy njnl sebz gur ubbq.

A classic Clarion experience.

Bu, lrnu, jr'er oernxvat bhe pbagenpg va bgure jnlf, gbb. Yvxr, 'ab nypbuby'. Uru. Uru.^2 Fb sne, ab bar unf ebyyre fxngrq va gur ubhfr, gubhtu. Znlor jr pna znantr gb qb gung orsber jr yrnir.

Last night many of us watched Dead Alive, the canonical zombie movie. Remarkable. Stomach-turning. Several people had to leave in the middle. Two word's: Chekhov's lawnmower.

Post too long. More later.

5:05 pm: if you want to share this with someone, please do so by private email, not in the comments.
  • Current Mood
    melancholy melancholy

Clarion, Day 40: In which my critting abilities crash and burn

Keats, dying of tuberculosis in Rome, spoke of his 'posthumous existence'. I'm having the same feeling about Clarion. 2 days to go. Actually, I've been feeling this way since Tuesday, 7/13. And I've been starting to preemptively miss my fellow Clarionites for the past week and a half. We critted a story this morning that Kelly Link suggested was an end-of-Clarion story: it was about separation and loss.

I turned in my seventh and final Clarion story, "Lives of the Saints," Monday and it got critted Tuesday. People either liked it until page 13 or until page 20. The Taoist assassin chick picking up the hero in a AH-1W Super Cobra just broke the suspension of disbelief for many. Either that or the talky philosophical discussion at the end. Jeff didn't like the non-standard narrative technique, Kelly liked it and wanted to see more of it. Universal agreement, including me, that the story needs major revisions/rethinking.

This morning I had a bit of a shock that I'm not over yet. We critted a story that I thought had interesting ideas, but significant story-telling problems. Most of the rest of class agreed. Jeff and Kelly absolutely loved it. Kelly suggested SCIFICTION, that it was the kind of thing Ellen Datlow is looking for.

This is a real problem for me, in that it challenges my idea that I know what is successful fiction. Even if the would-be writer can't write as well as he'd like, he *has* to be able to distinguish what fiction is successful and saleable from what isn't, if he is ever to improve his own writing. How do you know what to write if you can't tell good from bad? Up until this point, I thought I had a fairly good idea of *what* worked and what didn't, what an editor would buy and what they probably wouldn't, even I didn't understand fully *how* it worked, how a story achieved its effects. After that story this morning, I'm no longer sure I can even tell good from bad fiction. This is very distressing.

I'm still worried about this.

Also hungry. More after lunch.
  • Current Mood
    shocked shocked

Clarion, Day 38: Stuff costs

Sometimes I remember important advice that one of our instructors gave us that for some reason didn't make it into this blog. Here's one: stuff costs.

That was Nancy Kress's line. "Remember, people: stuff costs!" By which she meant: happy endings are not free. Your characters come out okay if you like, but if you want your reader to buy it, if you want your ending to feel right, your cast has to pay a price for what they get.

Stuff costs, people. Remember: stuff costs.
  • Current Mood
    determined determined

Clarion, Day 37

Temp: 80.4. Humidity: 74%. Fan: on. Shirt: off

Jeffrey Ford from crit circle this morning: "A story about a specific death is a story about a specific life." I.e., if you kill off a character, we must know how their life connected to their death, or we won't care about them, and their death won't mean anything.

Both Jeff and Kelly Link are also adamant (Jeff more vocally, but I think Kelly feels the same way) that the writer should write the damn story, and let the reader find the meaning in it. Don't beat the reader over the head with your meaning.

One of the stories we critted this morning was Kelly's. OMGWTF. Working title, "Some Zombie Contingency Plans." Very cool and creepy story, unmistakably Kelly Link, and that's all I'm going to say about it. It will see publication some day, after a couple of more revisions. This was about draft 2.

No post yesterday, but not much happened. I did about 1900 words on my current wip, working title, "Lives of the Saints." I hope to have in the mss. box by tomorrow morning, so it can go up for crits by Wednesday, before the final rush. Watched most of Underworld with the gang. This movie is all about Kate Beckinsale in full-body PVC. Oh, yeah, and werewolves with AK-47's. And vampires.

Now I go write.
  • Current Mood
    working working