Friday, August 17, 2001

Well... I guess this will conclude my Clarion West journal, although Clarion's been over for a while. Maybe I will go through my notebooks next time and do a "What I Learned at Clarion West" roundup. I am the big slacker of the bunch, as Allan, Sam, Karina, Philip and Thomas are all done with their Clarion journals and back to their real lives.

OK, so I'll have to be briefer with the last part of Clarion.

"A Wind Passes Over Him" received mixed reviews. Some people loved the language, the style and the weirdness of it; others were frustrated by it being several episodes without any clear connection between them, and it being so long. I felt like it was not really successful, but there was a lot of good stuff in there. I'm letting it sit with the rest; I may break it up into more than one story, ultimately.

I was a little depressed after the critiques of "Utopia on Jellyfish" and "A Wind Passes Over Him" -- it seemed like I was getting worse, that the best story so far had been "Embracing-The-New" and I was wandering downhill fast. It helped that Kiini told me to get over myself -- that in "Utopia", in particular, I was letting showing off how smart I was get in the way of the story. This was very useful -- it let me see how to move beyond where I was stuck.

Ellen Datlow, editor of SciFiction, was week five. She is a wonderful person, very nice (and yet very New York -- these can apparently be combined. :-)) and with a deep grasp of the genre and the industry. It was fascinating to hear things from an editor's perspective. One gets the sense, too, of how decisive an editor must be: she made simple decisions about the stories, "that won't work" or "I like that." She gave us a lot of information about contracts, etiquette, building the writer-editor relationship and how editors see the business. She suffered from the lack of real bagels in Seattle.

Week five I wrote a Susan Cooper-inspired urban fantasy. The best thing about it was the characters: the protagonist is an old woman with senile dementia who has to decide the world's fate, and everyone in class liked her. They also liked the cool magic visuals. The worst thing about it is the plot: it's too spare, and it makes the philosophical dilemma I try to set up too easy. The resolution satisfied almost no one.

Week six we had Jack Womack, who is very funny, also kind and generous (this seems to be a theme with the Clarion West instructors -- they were uniformly gentle with us -- nothing like the hard-ass confrontational approach I'd read about in stories of Harlan Ellison and Chip Delany teaching Clarion), and likes zaniness and weird things. His day job is as a publicist (for Harper-Collins, I think) and he had lots of fascinating information about how novels are assessed, bought, produced, distributed, pushed, sold to the public, and reviewed. I was particularly struck by the counterintuitive way the success of a book is measured. A writer who sells 1,500 copies of a 3,000 copy print run is better off, oddly, than a writer who sells 10,000 copies of a 30,000 copy print run. Hmm!

I felt like my last story, "What Do We Lack", was the most successful of all of them. Raymund called it "a domestic drama of the posthuman". It depicts a family crisis of the Geranium Superbounce Family in the year 2312. In it, it seems to me I finally solved the problem I'd been wrestling with since "Utopia on Jellyfish", that of how to give the reader the exposition and backstory they need, and only what they need, without boring or annoying them or kicking them out of the story.

During the last few days many of us asked everyone we could to rate all the stories we'd written, in that person's opinion, from their favorite to their least favorite (so somebody might give "Nematode Wiggle" a 1 if they liked it best among my stories, and "Utopia on Jellyfish" a 6 if they liked it least, and so on). Not everyone played this game, and some thought it was dumb -- who cares which story people liked best? You just make them all as good as you can. But I found it extremely useful, mostly for correcting the misapprehensions I had about the feedback I'd gotten. For instance, I'd thought that everyone hated "Utopia on Jellyfish" and loved "What Do We Lack". But no. The ratings were all over the map. Every single story I wrote was one or two people's favorite, and almost every story was someone's least favorite. I found that fascinating. Actually, "What Do We Lack" was no one's absolute least favorite, and it may be this general adequacy, rather than any quality of excellence in the story, that made the critique of it seem so positive.

In the last couple of weeks a bunch of us played basketball almost daily, and it was a great stress reliever. Future Clarion Westies: go to the gym and play basketball! It's worth the steep, if inconsistently applied, $5 entry fee to do something so distinct from writing, that gets you out of your head and into your body. 

I also did end up doing some pull-ups. I got up to nine.

I miss my fellow Clarionites. 

I'm very proud of us that we went through Clarion West with such grace and generosity. Sure, as Allan notes in his journal, there were some tensions and crises, and times when life intruded -- some of which were, I think, extremely hard on some people. But in terms of group friction... well, if that was the dreaded Clarion crucible -- pshaw! It was a lot of work, and being up against those deadlines could be frustrating and depressing, and of course people pissed each other off sometimes -- but I've been in some dysfunctional communities, and man, by comparison CW2k1 was a model of tolerance and mutual support.

We seem to have a thriving email list, and I expect we'll see each other somewhere, somehow -- but we'll probably never all be physically together again. Which is sadder than I would think it would be: strangely sad, wondrously sad.

The Pedestal rejection was for "The White City". I'm a little disenchanted with that story, but it's out again, to an oddly well-paying lit mag called An Affair of the Mind

"The Death Trap of Dr. Freezo" is out to Hemispheres, United Airline's very well paying and well-respected inflight magazine. I don't know, I think it would be really fun to have all these transatlantic travelers happen upon it, and read it instead of watching the crappy movie.

Revised "Droplet", clarifying a little and putting back a couple of things I'd cut to make Mary Anne's word limit, and sent it out to GVG. I also dropped a hint in the cover letter that if he wants to see a revision of "A Siege of Cranes" where I try and establish the story's genre earlier, I'd be game. In the meantime, I'm going to try and fix his concern before sending it to Realms of Fantasy

I'm in a cycle of revisions with the Strange Horizons editors about "Other Cities" -- I'm hoping we'll get done soon so they can actually buy it. As part of this, I broke out one section that was a little too real-world and too politically controversial, "The City of Peace", and made it a separate short-short. I'm going to try it at Harper's.

I'm thinking of submitting something soon to McSweeney's. It doesn't pay anything -- which violates my usual rule of not giving fiction away for free -- but they've generated so much buzz that it seems to be pretty prestigious by now, plus Jack Womack suggested them as a good market for stylistically experimental stuff, plus they seem like such a fun and funny bunch of people, who can resist playing with them? And they seem to be masters at ingenious and wonderful packaging. I've ordered a sample copy: we'll see if it lives up to the hype. Their website is hilarious, though.

Here is Aviva at Brown:              2

Here is Aviva visiting Clarion:    1   2

Aviva crawls, on her elbows and belly, like G.I. Joe. She zips from room to room, panting with excitement, going over thresholds and through chairs, aiming for your feet. This is a revolution in her world, let me tell you. She can go and get whatever she wants! Even when you're holding her, if she wants some other object or person, she just launches herself at it. Sometimes she'll launch herself from me to Esther and back again several times. (With our cooperation, I mean. We don't really let her jump.)

She also eats. She loves eating. This may be because we waited quite a while -- she was practically 7 months when she had her first bite of banana mush. So she was already really aware of people eating and eager to try it herself. She's so into it, she bounces up and down impatiently while you're refilling the spoon. It's darling.