Clarion, Day 35: Attack of the sexually ambiguous bird-goddess

[originally posted around noon, but eaten by LJ]

Story about killing saints is underway, about 600 words written, and the scantiest of plot outlines. But I think I know now what the story is about, what the theme is, what the general world of it feels like, I've got a lot of major incidents sketched out, and so on. I plan to work on it all of today and tomorrow, hoping to get it done by Tuesday at the latest, before the final rush of stories. I've written myself in on the list to cook for the gang on Wednesday. Plan is Coq au Vin and carrot cake again. Nikki cooked for us last night. Absolutely. Superb. Friday is our last official day here. Probably some sort of dinner Saturday night, and I'll leave Sunday 7/18. That'll be it for Clarion, for me, forever. I feel rather like a man whose doctor has given him a week to live. Please straighten your affairs, sir.

There was a party last night. There was much dancing and mirth-making. Crossdressing happened. Tenea lent me a sundress, and Kelly Link lent me a necklace, ring, and clogs, Marjorie lent me a big floppy colorful hat. Tenea got my blue blazer, a button-down shirt and tie. Marjorie made me up, green and purple eye shadow and some glitter on the cheeks. Mascara. I wanted some boobage, but the sundress was too tight. Many photographs were taken. None will be released. For now. We all swore a terrible oath that the first to publish in SCIFICTION... something about Locus... damn, I forget the details. Stupid alcohol. Will someone remind me of the details of our terrible oath about the crossdressing photographs? Thanks.

Some guys look excellent crossdressed, some... don't. Peter had a very convincing David Bowie/Annie Lennox thing going on. On the distaff side, Amelia was very, very hot in a three-piece wool suit and tie. Literally hot, too. The temps were probably in the 80's, as they usually are, so the wool got lost pretty quickly. I was told I looked like someone's mom. Uh, thanks, guys, I was going for the Jackie Kennedy late-1960's look, so, like, crap. Grace was all shiny in PVC, and is reported by reliable sources to have done an exemplary cage dance within an upended bed, however, it was brief, and I missed it.

About halfway through the evening I acquired a black half-mask from Rebecca, somewhat in the style of Pantalone in the Commedia dell'arte. I wore this for the rest of the evening, not speaking, communicating solely by making bird-like motions with my head. This completely creeped out everyone else. Hopefully few photographs of the sexually ambiguous bird-goddess of Clarion exist, and hopefully anyone I hit on while in this condition will have an alcoholic blackout about it.

This morning I am less hung-over than expected.

I now go to lunch, then write-write.
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(no subject)

This journal is on Chef cluster 8, which is totally hosed. A day of entries is (or was, a few hours ago), only visible on friends lists, not on the main page. LJ released a tool to restore these posts; instead it restored other posts which had not been missing, and the missing posts are still missing. Several of the comments in the 'restored' posts are now gone, probably forever.

Right now, I'm just afraid to post anything.
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    pissed off pissed off

Public Service Announcement

Relics of Santa Claus are for sale on eBay.

It's unclear what body part or body fluid is present. The vial of the relics of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra in Lycia (present-day Turkey), the person known to us as Santa Claus, appears to contain dust.

Some day we'll be able to recreate saints from their relics, sort of like the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. I'd call it "Apostolic Park." I propose first to reanimate St. Christina the Astonishing, who, at her funeral, flew up out of her coffin and sat in the church's rafters.
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    ecstatic ecstatic

Clarion, Day 34: In which our slide into actual polymorphous perversity accelerates

1. Our 900 word stories were read aloud in crit circle today. Not much per-story feedback, although we discussed the process a little, afterward. Jeff suggests that if you're blocked on a story, one technique is to try to write it as a short-short. When you've done that, then decide whether you want to keep it that way. Even if you don't you may have gained insight into a story that will help you when you write it to its proper size. There was some more discussion of the nature of the paragraph, and how it is critical to get paragraph breaks right. The end of a paragraph is a power position: what goes there has high impact on the reader.

Some other emphasis by Jeff and Kelly that beginning writers tend to tell too much, because they're afraid the reader won't get it. Let your readers do some of the work. They're smarter than you think. Kelly says that not nailing down the meaning of your story is helpful in expanding your potential pool of readers: different readers may get different things out of the story, including things the writer may not have intended. That's okay.

Hm. I'm getting echoes of the 'texts have no fixed meaning' stuff here.

My own 900 word story? I don't like it. It feels stale, both in the situation and the sciffy element. I probably should have done something else.

2. I am but an egg.

3. There is a party tonight. Nikki is organizing it. There will be mandatory crossdressing.
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Scandinavian robots

One of the fine points of writing sff that a couple of our instructors have made is that in this field you have to be especially careful with figures of speech. If you write, "A glorious sunset exploded across the western sky," in a romance novel, it will be taken as a figure of speech. But in an sff novel, your reader may be knocked out of your narrative by the thought that the sun really is exploding.

I remembered this a minute ago when I wrote, "The family room had been designed by Scandinavian robots." Um, wait a minute. This is a ghost story, there aren't any robots in it, but the reader doesn't know that yet...

"The family room appeared to have been designed by Scandinavian robots..."

Clarion, Day 33: She's mafia, I know she is!

In the original ending of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee got married.

The story I had been working on is now, sadly, on hold. I loved the voice, but I don't know enough about gender issues or transsexuals. I still want to do it, but research will take time, and can't realistically be done at Clarion. Another story is in the works. Oh, wait, it's also on hold.

Kelly and Jeff called us together Wednesday night, early, and asked us for feedback on Clarion. How did we feel? How were we doing? Is there something we would like them to do differently?

There's definitely some frustration and burnout going on. K & J detected it in Wednesday morning's crit session, which was palpably too harsh and tense. Therefore: today's stories were critted more lightly, everyone's wip stories were put on hold, and a 900-word writing assignment was given for tomorrow. Folks were also told to concentrate on producing one more *finished* story. Part of the problem is that everyone has been trying to produce the canonical story-a-week, with the results that a lot of stories seem to be coming to the crit circle at draft 1.0 or 1.5. The writer knows there are problems, but wants to get the story in that week. Then the writer is frustrated by the crit circle telling him all those things wrong with the story that he already knows are wrong because it's draft 1.0 or 1.5.

Our other solution was to go out drinking. Then we all came home drunk[1] Kelly taught us to play "Mafia" and "Thing". This was followed by a watergun battle, after which I went to bed, and I deny all knowledge of any shenanigans which happened thereafter.

Mafia and Thing are classic Clarion games. Tons of fun. I had never played them before, but I loved them. They're very subversive, and very game theory-like: best play depends on the actions of others, and others' play depends on yours, in an near-infinite feedback loop. Charles and Tenea in particular proved to be very good players.

And now I go to write my 900-word story for tomorrow.

Oh, thanks to the folks who responded to my cri du cour of two days ago. I'm feeling better now.

[1] This is slightly different than what actually happened, but details have been altered to protect someone or something, and that's all I'm sayin' about that.
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Clarion, Day 31

My steampunk time-travel romance got beaten up pretty badly in crit circle this morning.

I went down to the St. James Infirmary
Saw my story there
She stretched out in the Kappa House crit room
So cold, so sweet, so fair
Most of the problems mentioned I was aware of, some are solvable, some may be insolvable. Gordon has been banging on the grounding thing, so I grounded the story hard in the first two paragraphs, and virtually everyone, including Gordon hated it. Okay, so I overdid it. I grounded it so hard it never got airborne and crashed into the grove of trees at the end of the runway.

One problem I had not anticipated was the language, which many people didn't like. It's fairly formal. To me, the language is part of the voice and tone of this story, and any other diction would just feel wrong. *fret*

Nikki Kimberling had a great idea of how to deal with a particular character problem by condensing two characters into one, several others agreed, and I thought it was an excellent idea myself, then Kelly Link said she'd prefer to keep the second character, she liked his quirkiness. Groan. Now what?

Right now I'm just feeling suicidally depressed about the story, about writing in general, Clarion, and the future of human life on earth.


Kelly Link handed out free copies of Lady Churchill's No. 13 this morning in crit circle. 1/8 of the contributors are mutual LJ friends, and one made the front cover. Eek!


Conference with Gordon Van Gelder last night. Reviewed my stories. He had read them all, my two submission stories, and the four I had written at Clarion. Wow. Thanks! No, he didn't want to buy any of them. He thinks all the genitalia in a couple of the Clarion-written stories may be a problem, in terms of finding a market. He was the toughest of any critic so far on "Du Bist Der Lenz", and no, he doesn't think foreign language titles usually work, either. Interestingly, he thought 1) they were all genre (even the surreal postal delivery story and the horny-bonobos-in-the-boardroom story), and 2) they all sounded like me. I've been saying 'I haven't found my voice yet' to a lot of people, and I *thought* I had written a bunch of very different-sounding stories. Maybe I've found my voice after all. Or maybe I should just stop caring about finding my voice, and just write what I want to write.


Watched The Big Tease with the gang last night. Funny movie, a Spinal Tap-like mock documentary about a Scottish hairdresser who comes to LA.
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Clarion, Day 30: Publishing stuff with Gordon and the gang

Only two, rather short, stories to crit this morning, so the gang spent a couple of hours talking about publishing. It was a free-for-all between Gordon Van Gelder, Kelly Link, Gavin Grant, and Jeffrey Ford, who arrived in the middle of the story crits.

I took the following notes during the session, and haven't made any attempt to turn them into a coherent narrative. I didn't bother to include a lot of stuff that should be familiar to everyone reading this already: if you get an email rejection, DON'T try to get into an email discussion with the editor; the shorter the cover letter the better; include an SASE; use Courier; use pound signs to separate ms. sections, not little unicorns; etc.

Gordon Van Gelder: F&FS publishes 1.2% of received submissions.
Perseverance is critical.
Breaking in: every one does it differently. "There are nine and sixty ways..."
You may find an editor you connect with, and not others: not all editors like all authors.
Do your homework: use Standard Manuscript Format, do not staple mss., follow guidelines, etc.
Know your market: do not submit stories to inappropriate markets. Read the mags you are submitting to. Address your envelope to the current editor, not one who retired in 1963 (this really happened recently).
Kelly Link and Jeffrey Ford: submit not just to top markets, but to a market which is in sympathy with what you are doing. Look at where writers you admire have published their work. "I want my work to be part of this conversation that is going on now."
Gordon appreciates letters which acknowledge that the author had read a book Gordon edited, and thought his story was similar in some way to the stories Gordon liked.
KL: include in your cover letter that you have included an SASE (so if it goes missing, the editor knows you at least tried), that you have attended Clarion (may be of *slight* help), and recent sales to equal or one-tier-below markets. Do NOT include that you are a member of SFWA.
KL: keep in mind that the slush reader is usually pissed off, and looking for excuse to put down the manuscript. But she is also, thinking on some level, "Please, please give me something good."
GVG: you generally need an agent to sell a book.
Jeffrey Ford: advises writing short stories first, before you start your novel.
GVG: agree and disagree with that. Kate Wilhelm: the novel is more forgiving form. Additionally, different writers are stronger at different lengths. Gardner Dozois formula: sell a dozen mind-blowing stories to top markets, *then* write your novel. [Me: damn, why didn't I think of that? *slaps forehead*] GVG believes that the unforgiving nature of short stories is the best way to learn the craft of writing. GVG says he is occasionally contacted by an agent who has read a short story, been very impressed by it, and wants to know if Gordon knows if the writer is working on a novel: another reason to try to place short stories first.
GVG: find a writer who you admire, see if they acknowledge their agent in their foreword, then contact that agent.
GVG: Do NOT approach an editor with a marketing hook of your own invention. Your job is to write the book, not market it.
JF & KL: Do not expect to make a living as a writer.
KL: A bad agent is worse than no agent. Check the resources on the SFWA site.
GVG: It's helpful for a new writer to use a more experienced writer's career as a model. It's reassuring to find out that Ursula LeGuin didn't sell her first story until she was 29, and that Raymond Chandler didn't even start writing until he was in his late 30's. Tiptree didn't start writing fiction until she was in her 50's (Me: thankyouthankyouthankyou...).
GVG: Chief occupational hazard of a writer is jealousy.
JF: Ignore all this information about publishing, what you want to concentrate on is writing a good story.
Everyone: For god's sake, don't do simultaneous submissions unless the editor says it's okay in their guidelines. You will be found out, every editor will hate you, and in worst case, will never accept anything from you again.
KL: Simultaneous submissions to non-paying academic literary magazines that hold mss. for the better part of a year may be more acceptable.
KL: consider Penthouse Tin House [corrected 8/7/04], McSweeney's, 3rd Bed, Conjunctions, Zoetrope (especially on-line version), which publish spec-fic but don't like to call it that.
GVG: Don't forget anthologies. Ralan and Speculations keep up with which ones are accepting.
KL: Young Adult is one of the few hot areas right now, and is very accepting of themes that have not been accepted before: sex, violence, suicide.
KL: Most series tie-in fiction, Star Wars, Star Trek books, are almost entirely invitational. Unless you are already known to publishers, you will have a hard time breaking in.
GVG: Longer stories are harder to sell. Over 15K is especially difficult. The longer the story is, the more GVG has to like it to buy it.
GVG: If you are writing in the field, you must keep current. You can't base your writing on what was written thirty years ago, no matter how much you liked it. Or even what was written ten years ago. "Stories about child abuse feel so 1991."
JF: "Never run with the pack or you'll be left behind." Says he doesn't read much in the genre. Reads what he wants to read, writes what he wants to write.
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Clarion, Day 29

Happy 4th!

Andy Duncan left today, and Kelly Link and Gavin Grant arrived, but I haven't done more than say hello to them yet. They caught me shirtless in my room, eek. 4th of July barbecue at Lister's. Was good. We taught Grace, who is from Australia, how to make smores. She wasn't impressed. I think Njihia was slightly more impressed, but still not especially.

Lots of butt-in-chair time today. Finished my current story, tentatively titled 'Moving the Sun'. Total 7200 words, woof. Longest story I've written at Clarion so far. Wordcount in the past 24 hours: 1900 words. Ouch. Last half is still fairly first-drafty, but I really want to get it in tomorrow for crits Tuesday. Plan is to sleep on it tonight, review it in the morning before crit circle, make last minute revisions, and print it out.

Now I go to do my crits for tomorrow.

Temp: 80.4. Humidity: 63%. Fan: on. Shirt: off. Stuff going on outside: intermittent rain.
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