Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Clarion Week Five

Everything's a bit of a blur right now.

The lovely Hawaiian shirt given to
me by Clarion class of 2009 as part
of the Leonard Pung scholarship
Parts of my brain had turned to mush by week five, and in an effort to make the final weeks a bit easier (hahahaha), I made a decision: I was going to write two stories at once. Stupid? Inspired? Probably both.

Unfortunately, as I tend to do, I went too hard too early, and I feel I produced my best works in weeks two and three. So not only am I suffering from exhaustion, my stories are suffering too. I need distance. Probably a few weeks off from writing and fresh eyes will help me reassess what I see as my "failure" of the workshop. It's probably not a failure at all...and really, we came here to fail hard, try something different, surprise ourselves, and race into the cushioning wall of our classmate's critiques at a hundred miles an hour. Failure is okay.

Ann and Jeff Vandermeer are the tutors tasked with easing our poor, gibbering souls back into the real world, while at the same time expecting us to produce great works of art. They're with us for week five and six, and they've been giving us excellent lectures and advice on the publishing world (plus some hairy stories!). As always, what happens in Fight Club, stays in Fight Club.

Ann and Jeff have been so kind and accommodating. Some of us have joked that Ann is the "mom" of genre publishing - she's always there to listen, and has great advice for us all. She even offered me the services of a hitman when I described some of the bad writing advice (ie: you suck) I received when I was younger. It was funny yet emotionally validating at the same time to see someone so invested in my success ("I think of all the stories we missed from you in that time!" she said).

On the Wednesday, Shauna Roberts of the Clarion class of 2009 came to visit, as she has a special gift to present to me. As part of my scholarship, the class likes to give the recipient an Hawaiian shirt in honour of Leonard's memory, and I got a really beautiful shirt. Just the type I like to wear. Thanks class of 2009, you're all awesome, and your investment in my future means the absolute world to me. There may have been a few misty eyes involved, I can't quite say.

Thursday was Let's Practise Being Growed Up Writers Day. As the first day of Comic Con (AHMAHGAHDCOMICCON) in San Diego, Ann and Jeff were working panels and signings, but took the time to take us all out to lunch with some authors. We met Lev Grossman and Charles Yu, as well as Charles' publicist Josie, who "speed dated" with us all to get an idea of our experience at Clarion, and expectations of the business. Charles even let our table practise our 30-second elevator pitches, so that was a lot of fun. Thanks Charles! You were awesome.

And then...there was Saturday.

SCIENCEBROS: I met Phil Plait at Comic Con

I was really tired all week and found it hard to get motivated to make proper plans for Comic Con, other than "going" and "Night Vale show" (because: NIGHT VALE). I ended up spending most of my day with Nino Cipri which was SO MUCH FUN. We had such an epic day getting lost, finding each other again, meeting awesome queer comic publishers, wandering around the floor, doing random stuff. My BEST moment of Comic Con was bumping into the "Bad Astronomer" Phil Plait and getting a selfie together: SCIENCEBROS, ACTIVATE! My worst moment was finding out the Avengers cast had appeared on the con floor after I had left to sit in on the John Barrowman panel, coz I thought 'Hey, they're too cool for school, they won't appear amongst the pleebs' LITTLE DID I KNOW. [Insert prolific cursing here]. According to Martin Cahill, Chris Hemsworth has "perfect eyebrows". Really Marty? His EYEBROWS?

And let's not forget what a highlight the Welcome to Night Vale/Thrilling Adventure Hour crossover show was. It was funny, and sweet, and such a thrill to see the voice actors performing live. They have quite the presence behind a live microphone, especially Cecil Baldwin and Dylan Marron. ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD. There are no dumb questions, just dumb realities.

To top it off, Nino and I had a hilari-tragic getting home story, which involved being stuffed into the San Diego Green Line trolley like sardines, catching the last bus to La Jolla which ended service halfway there, then having to negotiate a cab the rest of the way, which we shared with a UCSD acting student who had been working the Walking Dead walk-through exhibit at Comic Con. I was halfway between terrified exhaustion and hysteria at 1am.

I should stop capslocking on, because there's still a few more days to go...

I don't wanna go home.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Clarion Week Four

This week is brought to you by the letter E (for exhaustion), the number oh my god I don't know how many stories I've critiqued now, and ends with gumbo and water fight instigated by Nora Jemisin.

Nora Jemisin and I hanging out
I'm late with this update, I know, but the weekend of week four I crashed big time. I was really feeling that bone deep tiredness . I'd gone hard core on my story for the week and I was running out of juice. I decided by the Thursday to take it a bit easier and planned and started on a flash piece for week 5 and my longer final submission for the workshop. Yes, it sounds like an oxymoron that I would take it easier working on TWO stories at the same time, but I have a lot more time to get things sorted, where a lot more = a couple more days (eons, in Clarion Time). That's one of the funny things about Clarion - time goes all wonky. You can write a first draft in just a few days (or hours, as some students can attest to), and I'm so tired (in a good way) and fully immersed the first couple of weeks are a little blurry. I don't want to forget any of this. Come on brain, make those rainbow connections!

Working with Nora Jemisin was A-MAZE-ING. When she arrived, it was immediately bribery with desserts - she'd brought with her on the flight real New York cannoli! Oh my, to die for. She was also very game for Karaoke at our somewhat regular Tuesday session at the campus pub.

Nora and I had a lot to talk about because some of our interests align - she's smart, savvy, politically astute, and a straight talker. She gave a lot of really interesting talks on the nuts and bolts of the publishing industry, as well as writing the other, and we had a great discussion about Wiscon. It's very strange (and gratifying) for one of your writing heroes to say "I expect to be competing with you on the awards ballots in a few years time!"

One of my enduring memories of the week will be Nora finishing up her final talk, and releasing us to the wilds of the donning sunglasses Ah-nold style and proclaiming we had sixty seconds to grab our (water pistol) weapon, and find a hiding spot. The Great Waterblaster Fight of Clarion 2014 was on! It was a great way to let off steam after a particularly difficult week of intense  discussions and people reaching their energy limits. I came to understand the Week Four Syndrome is totally a thing, and should not be ignored. Nora was the perfect tutor for the week as she gently guided us through some rough patches as well as talking honestly about the politics of the publishing industry.

Haralambi Markov and I drinking mimosas at
11am on Pride day in Hillcrest, looking spunky
Saturday was PRIDE DAY! A group of us headed down to Hillcrest for the San Diego Pride parade. It was awesome to see the suburb zhooshed up for the celebrations, and so many smiling faces. I would have liked to stay for the entire weekend of events, coz the bars were pumping even at 11am, but there was a lot of work waiting for us back at campus, and I'd only put enough energy in reserve for a few hours of partying. Still, I got to don my new bow tie, and looked especially dapper for the day.

Saturday night Nora cooked us all a fantastic pot of gumbo, and just as we were serving dinner the Vandermeers arrived. Ann and Jeff are our tutors for weeks five and six, and they were all greeted by a rowdy bunch stuffing their faces with chicken and Andouille sausage! Welcome to the madhouse!

Sunday morning rolled around far too quickly, and we were repeating that emotional farewell for another tutor. How did we get here? This is not my beautiful life...

Thanks Nora - your inspiration will sit close to my ears and heart for a very long time.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Clarion Week Three

Cat Valente and me, just hanging out,
like cool people do...
Can someone pass me an adjective or three to describe the week I've just had? I've run out.

Week Three with Catherynne Valente. Wow. I am exhausted and thrilled and inspired and emotionally drained (there, I found a few adjectives). On the Scale of Incredible Experiences, it's rating right up there.

I had the best day of my Clarion experience so far, and I also had my worst day. Yup, all in the same week with Cat.

Cat was...well, one can never reveal the personalized wisdom that comes from being in the orbit of a White Witch (a phrase I learned from another of my heroes). Cat gave me things that will stay in my heart forever, and will keep me going in the harder days of my writing journey. Those days will never be darker, because after this week I can see that The Way only goes up from here.

There was a different dynamic to the week again, and one conversation about craft, or the politics of the personal and publishing flowed into one another. We did Karaoke. She told us ghost stories. She taught us how to put on a professional face in panels. She told us to be the best of our selves that we can be. She sat with us into the small hours, held our hands, treated our hearts in that gently rough way only the honest can, and was an absolute freaking delight. I could listen to her talk for hours (and I did).

My best day was when she delved into a deep critique of one of my stories. I've never felt so on the right path in my life than on that day.

The very next day I cried in class. It was a mixture of emotional and physical exhaustion, and tough subject matter. I'm not ashamed. It happens with every class we've been told, everyone hits the wall, and I was just the first to do so in view of 17 other people and a tutor I hugely respect. Yay me *pathetic fist twirl*.

I had good people bundle me up and give me hugs and cups of tea and really good conversations about the subject once we sorted ourselves out. A few of us chilled later that day having a laugh over an Avengers rewatch (so much fun). It's to be expected - Clarion is a trial by fire, and we're hugely invested in doing right by our work and each other. We're building the core of a peer group that will sustain us for the rest of our careers. I would trust any of these people, even 3 weeks in, to beta read honestly for me once I go home.

Cat presents the plotstrich to us,
Lion King Style
Career. It's a word I've been able to say honestly and out loud to myself this past week. A writing career. I will have, I have, a writing career. It's a weird and empowering feeling.

Saturday was one of those crazy days I could only dream of having (and I've yet to have more, with 3 weeks to go!). In the morning, Cat cooked us brunch of a scrambled ostrich egg she had been gifted - it was called the "plotstrich", a wonderful metaphor I'm sure I'll figure out once my brain comes down to earth. Then she signed one of my favourite books of all time with a personalized epigraph. Then a group of us went walking around downtown San Diego through the Gaslamp District and Seaport Village - it was a beautiful day around beautiful buildings, and I invested in some very dapper hats and a bow tie. Then we all went to the cinema to see the most talked about movie "Snowpiercer". THEN we came back to meet up with Nora Jemisin who had just arrived, performed a reading ritual beneath the supermoon, and talked MORE into the wee smalls with Cat because she was leaving early the next day.

*deep breath*

Oh yes, and the week with Nora begins now.

Bye Cat, and thanks. It was out of this world and into the many others we love to inhabit.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Clarion Week Two

The entrance to the Giesel Library at UCSD
There are many things Clarion is teaching me. One of them is exhaustion limits.

When I read up about other's students experiences of Clarion, a common theme was exhaustion. While I didn't think they were exaggerating, I thought I was well acquainted with stress limits.

How very wrong was I.

Week two was "get your ass into gear" week, presided over by Geoff Ryman. Geoff was a firm task master: we'd have workshop in the morning, writing and critiquing in the afternoon, an early evening lecture, and more of that writing and critiquing in the evening. Thousands of words to read and write, with cogitation aplenty. A lot of people started hitting the wall - late nights, missed meals, and our first sickie of the bunch. Brains were turning to mush. The zombie hoard was closing in.

Thursday and Friday were especially difficult days for me. I hadn't paced myself well in the first week, going hard out to be The Cool Chick From Outer Space instead of the slightly dorky aunty who never really knows what to say in any given situation. I was running on fumes and 6 hours sleep a night. I was heading for a crash if I didn't budget my mental energy right.

So I've set myself a regime. I must have everything finished by 11pm every night, a certain word count every day, and get at least seven hours sleep, eight is preferable. Dang, is turning out a story a week a challenge for this perfectionist, but it's certainly oiling the creative gears. I've already finished two stories, have outlines for two more, and I just need inspiration for my fifth (five is all I will manage within the six weeks here). I'm trying to pick a theme or style challenge for every story. I'm not here to sit quietly in my comfort zone - I came here to get good.

My first critique went well, and I was uplifted by the feedback from my classmates and tutor. Being minutely dissected is an uncomfortable but also enlightening experience. I thought I wouldn't survive the gauntlet, but then I took my fear by the hand and said "nope, buddy, we're doing this together". Of course, that fear will change from week to week under the gaze of a new tutor. Who knows how the other tutors will flay my soul?

Cat Valente, Geoff Ryman, and various Clarionites
Come Friday afternoon, everyone was pretty much toast, and we lowered the cone of silence until darkness fell and the vampires came out. It was July the 4th after all. What? You think we got the public holiday off? No way. There were still workshops and word counts to be achieved! But after dark fireworks were observed, a few (well, more than a few) beverages were consumed, and much bloviating ensued. To entertain a group of writers: just add water. And corn chips. And a dash of salsa.

Saturday, much regret was entertained in the Pickled vicinity. I had been considering going into the city to check out the shopping, but a quiet day of plugging away at the word count (and pain killers) ensued. I'd also volunteered to help welcome our next tutor Catherynne Valente into the fold [Insert gif of nervous pacing]. There was a really cool chilli making party, and more bloviating, then we were back to having to say goodbye once more to our tutor and then all of a sudden Geoff was gone.

My Clarion Motto: Eat, sleep, rave, repeat. Or it could be: There's a story in that. Both work.