Oh hey, remember how I’m writing reviews now?
I wrote another one.
Oh hey, remember how I’m writing reviews now?
I wrote another one.
I deal pretty well with stress. Of course, I have my tells, as do we all (stomach aches, memory issues and curling into a ball and staring into space, to name a few), but overall I like to think that when faced with stress, I carry on as though nothing bad is happening. I’m a titan of industry!
When that stress finally lets off, I have different tells. Specifically, crushing exhaustion and sinus issues. This usually happens after exam time, or a move.
And RELATEDLY, I just switched jobs. (I promise this is related.) The ones I had before were fine, but probably not ideal for my interests and personality. I’m an introvert, and I was in sales. So I’m in this new job, and it has its share of blinding terrors, but significantly, despite working less hours here, I’m totally exhausted and rocking a head so clogged I feel like I’m going to overbalance. My body is reacting to this full-time job as though it has the same stress level as a vacation.
I’m guessing the job is a good fit for me.
As of this morning, my plan was to write two novels this year. They are both ideas I’ve sat on for years, so I figured it would be hard, but doable. And I’d done a bunch of brain-storming on my world building, I was working on character sketches, i was READY TO WRITE.
And then I read an article about funeral traditions in the Victorian era, and realized no, I was NOT ready to write. I have a lot of research to do. I have so much research to do that I am downgrading my objective from two novels to one.
This is what I am looking into;
Week Six! The last week before I was thrust out into the cruel, uncaring world. The week when I realized that there was an ocean I could go heal my soul with RIGHT THERE, and the week when I got my feet put underneath me again by my classmates, and the week when I realized that this workshop wasn’t the pinnacle of my writing journey (with everything downhill from here,) it was a beginning.
“You wrote a story about a man who drowns a fish. Good job.”
Yeah, remember how last week I was despairing about ever being able to plot well and write like a grown-up? This week it was pointed out to me by several people that I was 22, with plenty of time to LEARN. I kinda clued in that I could rest, and let things percolate through my subconscious, and work on my skills and knowledge. I didn’t have to have it all in hand right yet.
“Self-loathing is not a good career path. Cut yourself some effing slack.” ~Kessel
I also slept a lot more, which helped.
(Side note; this did not actually take place at Clarion, but once I had left there, I listened to some people conversing, and I was utterly shocked to realize that they weren’t discussing writing. And worse, they were talking about it like it mattered, in a serious conversation. I just didn’t understand. I still don’t understand. It’s a trip to Disneyland, not a novel!)
So, on this final week I had my retelling of Eros and Psyche critiqued! This was slightly awkward in the classroom because a.) I’d run out of time and energy and literally left out half the story, and b.) I was the unwitting perpetrator of that story that happens every year, the “I never really thought about it as rape before” story. Oops. (I’m sorry, everyone. And I’m gonna re-write that story and yeah. Sorry, everyone.) But on the non-awkward side, the general consensus was that my prose was SO MUCH BETTER. So, y’know, I curled into a ball when it was over and went HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ICANSTOPWRITING AHAHAHAHAHA oh I am so sad now. What should I do? How do I feel? How do I hands? How I can? I cannot can. Words gone. Words all gone. Ocean now?
You think I make a joke. I do not make a joke. That is the actual level of my language ability. I wrote a journal entry which reads.
“Went death-mobile story kit.
Ocean with Gill, mark, Chris, Todd.
Social Crit Session
Drank Beer– not good.
YOU DID NOT NUDIST BEACH.”
Clarion– it will ruin your capacity for language.
But inability to talk notwithstanding, the last week of Clarion was strange and amazing. We were becoming aware that we had been living in a state which most people would classify as “not the real world” and as we turned in our last stories day by day and looked around, we didn’t want it to end. I mean yes, there was some significant missing of family and significant others going on, but giving up this for the daily grind was not appealing.
“Tim will call you and be like ‘Send Lawyers, guns and money.’”
So we went to the ocean a lot, we hung out in the common room, we chatted and ate cupcakes and drunk tea and whiskey and wrote messages in each other’s books and took pictures and packed up and went to crit session and told each other we were awesome and made promises to keep in touch. My memories are all coloured with sorrow, but I’m pretty sure that’s the nostalgia talking.
Our group was entirely composed of introverts (what writing group isn’t,) and we were voluntarily spending as much time as possible together. There were trips to Sprinkles Cupcakes! There was ritual emptying of all the alcohol bottles which couldn’t be brought on a plane. There was the last trip to Mysterious Galaxy, where Kij read Story Kit, and like the week before, when Kessel read from his upcoming novel, I forgot to despair at how GOOD they were and how bad I was and just gloried in all the beautiful words.
(Btw, Mysterious Galaxy is the bookstore where we went every week for readings. I come from a small town, so the idea that there are bookstores entirely devoted to Spec Fic was a REVELATION to me. I restricted myself to one new book a week, which was very, very hard. The staff was also amazing and kind and basically I’m a fan. If you’re in San Diego, go!)
And then we all had to pack up and fly home.
“It’s not that Burger King is salvation, but it’s reality.” -Kessel
If you want to apply to Clarion you can do that here. Should you apply? Clarion isn’t for everyone. It’s six weeks, which is a lot of time, and it’s five thousand dollars, which is a lot of money. However, there are scholarships for poverty and talent, (I got a “I work minimum wage jobs” one,) and six weeks is less than the time most jobs will give you for mat leave. IF THEY WON”T LET YOU TAKE THE TIME OFF YOU DON”T WANT THAT JOB ANYWAYS. *Jasmine Hast SPOKEN*
“You disappointed me, I thought she was going to be naked under the butterflies!”
In addition to the time and money budgeting, Clarion is also difficult emotionally and mentally. Even critique from very kind people who are your friends can be hard to take when you don’t have the opportunity to make it good, and you know that you COULD, if you just had more TIME.
It is personally hard for me to take it when people say that ANYTHING is wrong with what I’m doing, as I have a strong attachment to being perfect, so it is a testament to the group I was in that I was able to take critique as well as I did. Add the strain of critique to the strain of all the writing and critical reading that is expected of you, and it is very tiring.
Bolander: “I want to eat the effing prose in this with a spoon.”
Chris: “You can’t eat it, it’s mine. I’m eating it.”
I’ve tried to be honest about the ups and downs of the experience in my recaps. (Other posts about Clarion, including my post about being accepted and other weekly recaps, can be found here.) In my mind, the positives of the experience wildly outweigh the negatives, and I say this as someone who is going to be working a 14 hour day today because I had to go quite far into debt to swing the cost of the workshop.
If I could go again I would be applying this weekend and crossing my fingers even HARDER than I did last year. People have gone at ages 17 and at “more than 60,” people have traveled from Australia and the UK and Canada and from in San Diego. It’s my opinion that Clarion is AWESOME and I’d really, really encourage anyone who wants to be a writer to become part of that group.
Yeah, I want to go again.
“Excellent first draft, what a giraffe, covered in nanobots.” ~Worrad
Week 5. Oh, week 5. Week 5 was the hardest week. More on that in a minute. But first– QUOTES OF HILARITY. Because seriously, we were all comedians in week 5.
(I’m censoring the quotes, cause my little sister reads this blog. I’m sure you can infer what they were originally.)
“I wrote this story to let you know I’m a bigot.”
“I really want to commend this story for being sentient.”
“You keep using single quotes when they should be double quotes. It’s all over page 7. Everything single quoted there should be changed to double quotes. I don’t understand why people keep doing this. You keep doing this and I’ll kill you.”
Josh: Someday 20 years from now you’re going to look back at your Clarion stories and go “what the eff was with all the bees?”
Becky: “No actually, I’ll be the author of my bestselling zombie bee series, reminiscing about at its genesis. ‘Ah yes, I remember it well.’”
“I refer you to Jasmine’s ‘look of death’.”
Josh: “This is not the first day for this biscuit. It’s a bit-” *bangs it against a plate*
Chris: “That’s not a biscuit, that’s hard tack!”
Jasmine: “It’s supposed to be eaten soaked in bacon grease.”
Someone: “It would probably taste better soaked in bacon grease.”
Josh: “Yes well, what wouldn’t?”
Tim: “Don’t say that. In this crowd, someone will take it as a challenge.”
Josh: “That’s true. With our luck, one of the stories this week will be titled: the thing that does not taste good soaked in bacon grease. If we’re lucky it’ll be written by Jim. If we’re unlucky it’ll be Dennis.”
Kessel: “That is a effing useless comma. I want to kill you for that comma. You’re going to hell for that comma. You know who does this? Effing journalists!”
Kessel: (Later) “I have to do this every once in a while. To exercise my adrenal gland.”
“Oh my god the verbs Todd!”
“That sentence was just full of words.”
“Story in which you get to the end and nothing happens- you stole my trick.”
“I wrote ‘Effer’ in tetris blocks, so there you go.”
Re: Erin’s orgasmic spaceship story:
Jim B.: “I thought the pace quickened really well.”
“This is the happiest ending to a Laika story I’ve seen, until I write my space opera in which Laika is irradiated, becomes a superhero, and returns to Earth to avenge herself on her Soviet oppressors.” ~Josh
“Space whales having sex is three awesome things that go together awesomely.” ~Kij
“The official Clarion 2011 mascot: NARWOLVES.” ~Josh
“Don’t pretend to be a normal person. That’s…that’s just a bad idea.” — Kim Stanley Robinson
Weeks five and six are presided over by an anchor team of two authors, and our anchor team was Kij Johnson and John Kessel– both of whom are unremittingly awesome. The title of this blog comes from the talk which Kessel and Kij gave us on their first day. Kij said;
“You’ve all demonstrated that you have a lot of talent to get this far. Do not waste your talent on trivial stories.”
That was the theme of their week, telling us that we had the talent, and we could do better. Strive for MORE. Do BETTER.
But yes, the emotional low which was week 5. This was for a couple of reasons. A component was the fact that I was going for Monday crits, which meant that I turned in my sixth short story on Sunday night. Given that my first new story had been turned in for a Friday crit on week 1, I wrote six short stories in four and and half weeks. I’m not saying that to brag– I know a lot of people write faster than I do, and they weren’t long stories anyways– I’m just saying the word part of my brain had moved past IGNITION to smouldering weakly.
Another component was emotional. Despair, to pinpoint the emotion. I’ll be honest, I nearly gave up on writing as a career in week 5.
A lot of that came from the whole “I am tired tired so tired” thing. Five weeks writing, editing and critiquing every day, plus a MAD WEEKEND at comic-con, plus fighting off the Clarion Plague. The tired made it very difficult to fight off the despair at a fundamental quality of my writing. Description can be added, world-building can be researched, prose can be revised. It is very difficult to fix plot. And I had been going into my personal conferences with the authors, and every time they pointed to plotting as my weak point.
A word about personal conferences. All Clarion students get an hour to talk to each author about anything they want. Given that we are at a workshop where we eat, sleep and breathe story, what we want to talk about usually comes down to writing. So I’d go into my personal conference, perch terrified on the edge of a couch, and the instructors would be massively kind to me. Maybe it was the tangible aura of fear I was giving off. But yes, I cannot stress enough how NICE all the instructors were to me.
And in the process of these talks, I would ask what I was doing well and what I could work on, and everyone said “well, your stories aren’t very original, are they?”
So yes. Five weeks of hearing this, and I just believed I wasn’t good enough to fix this. I was too young, too flawed, too unoriginal, too ignorant, too goofy, too poor. I was legitimately making plans to pack up my publication dreams and consider alternate employment, with writing on the sides.
So yes, if you go to Clarion, don’t expect it to be all sunshine and awesome. It is amazing, but it also holds you to a high standard– one I hadn’t been held to in the realms of writing before. It’s hard. It’s really hard.
Other posts about Clarion, including my post about being accepted and other weekly recaps, can be found here.
If you want to apply, you can do that here.
Imma start with some quotes this time.
“You have wrung true pathos from giant metal spiders- a first in SF!”
“The medical and drug scenes were written cleanly, with an obvious comfort with your subject matter. As was the breaking and entering?”
Jake: “Name’s Jake. Been to jail.”
Durham: “But you were innocent, no doubt.”
Jake: “No. But I was a minor.
“Pedophile tornadoes creep me out. That’s something I never thought I’d be saying. Another thing I’d never thought I’d be saying; I thought the tornado’s personality could be developed more.”
If anyone reading this has ever done NaNoWriMo, you’ll be familiar with the week-four feeling. That’s when you’ve forgotten what life was before you weren’t in a gollum-like relationship with your laptop, and you’ve lost interest in food or showering. The only thing that matters is the word count. You have entirely lost all shame connected to the quality of your story, and you’re following the “when in doubt, include fight scene, drunk scene, seduction scene and/or torture scene” model in your Middle Grade novel. Week Four–when you no longer have the self-awareness to realize that what you are doing is crazy.
So week four is usually when Clarion goes MADHOUSE. There has been the tradition ever since the first year that week four is when water fights break out, real fights go down, and people dye their hair shocking colours.
Class of 2011, inveterate followers of tradition that we are, got sick.
This probably helped to keep things appearing calm, because we really didn’t have the energy for full-scale battles of any kind. That doesn’t mean we didn’t flounce into crit session wearing the last shreds of our sanity like banners, we just did it quietly. Or at least my memory thinks we did it quietly. See above, the week-four-destroys-your-frame-of-reference-for-crazy. I wrote a story about a teenager who gets into a fight with a petulant mountain. Maybe I was giggling madly at all times, and I’d just accepted it as normal at that point.
And yes, I wrote a story about rock-elementals. Everyone thought it was super original, which only proves that I’m the only one in the room who’d read Tamora Pierce like a mad thing. In terms of the stories I wrote, it was a mmm-okay week. In terms of the things I learned? OH MY GOSH WEEK FOUR.
The first HUGE THING was world-building. This week we were directed by David Anthony Durham. He writes Epic Fantasy and Historical Fiction, and teaches MFA students, and y’know. He won the Campbell. Man knows what he’s talking about. We talked about lit fic advances, and MFA programs, which was very interesting (if probably never going to apply to me). We also talked about research, which was not even a lightbulb moment for me. It was A CONCERT TOUR’S WORTH OF FLASH-BOMBS AT ONCE moment for me.
After four weeks in California, I had started to miss home. I am a northern, ocean-facing girl, and all the heat and blocky buildings and the subtle sense of dislocation was starting to wear on me. I hadn’t put my finger on it, I was just a little edgy. And then in class, Durham told the story of a student of his who had been writing a story set in ancient rome. (This was to demonstrate the possibilities of research.) In the story, a run-away slave was hiding as some guards passed by. And Durham stopped him there and said
“Look, you have an opportunity with this to really anchor the story. First of all, the guards aren’t going to be just generic guards in a generic outfit. They’re going to have a name and number of some kind, because the Romans loved special emblems for their soldiers. They’re going to have a standard, for example, and their uniforms are going to be significant, and they aren’t going to just be led by a Captain, they’re going to be led by a Lictor. He has a special title, he’s not generic western-european-leader. And he’s going to be carrying his badge of office– an axe surrounded by a sheaf of sticks– which is both his badge of office and what he users to dispense justice.”
(Yes, I just typed that from memory. Sorry for my memory’s grammar.)
There was more, in the talk, but at that point my head exploded with world building and I forget it. My recent sense of dislocation and eternal history-is-awesome and travel-is-awesome stances all came together in a perfect storm of OH EM GEE WORLDBUILDING I LOVE YOU. I was aware that places were different on a fundamental level– really aware– and treating places and times as though they were like mine– only with different window dressing– wasn’t going to cut it any more. I mean, I had seen the difference just in travelling within two very similar countries on the same timeline, think about the difference between my life and a world I was constructing!
I had liked world building before, from a “let’s add all the cool things and make it internally logical” way, but this shifted it from something I thought of as happening near the end, adding extra do-dads and curlicues to the plot, to something I thought of as happening first, hand-in-hand with the plot, informing and directing it. Setting as character and motivation and frame, instead of just decoration. It sounds rather dry to write it down here, but this was absolutely MIND-BLOWING for me.
Oh yeah, and the other mind-blowing thing was Comic-Con. (This post is too long augh sorry everyone I just have a lot of FEELINGS about this week!)
So yes, Comic-Con. One hundred and Fifty thousand people crammed into a single convention centre. Many of them are wearing costumes. Thanks to the generosity of a donor to Clarion and to Tim, one of my Clarionmates, I got to go on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
I absolutely loved it.
I got to spend six hours on the dealer’s floor, looking at cool things and people in costume, and I got to go to all kinds of panels about books, and I bought three t-shirts and I got to go to a sneak peak of Avatar: The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra, and I saw even MORE young adult and middle grade authors do their thing in front of crowds.
Even though I didn’t really know a lot of the references that were going on, I got enough to get by. And to be surrounded by people who were determined to be nice and to have fun, and who thought that “fun” consisted of being enthusiastic about books, movies, tv shows, comics and media? It was so much fun. My main regret is that I over-dosed on crowds so fast that I forgot to take pictures unless actively reminded– say by the noisy person next to me taking pictures, (the reason for the two pics above). There was a guy dressed as a LOCUST and I forgot to take a picture. Gosh, Self.
So Comic-Con taught me that a.) there are LOTS people who like the same things that I do, and who like it with more energy than I, even. b.) knowing how to speak in front of crowds (see above, how I went to five author panels) is incredibly important and difficult and I should get over my crowd-terror, and c.) I should write middle grade.
Oh, I didn’t explain that? Yes, you see, I was waiting to get into my last panel, and they said “there’s seats available if you want to go in for the one before it,” so I said “A chair? Thank you!” and sat down. It turns out it was a panel on writing for the Middle Grade audience, run by Mysterious Galaxy. (I also learned that if I am every invited to be on a panel by Mysterious Galaxy, I am ALL OVER THAT. They are pros.) So I wandered in, and once again, for the– I think it was the third time this week– my head exploded in a symphony of flash bombs. I had been trying to write a MG novel as YA edging into Adult SF, and it was ALL WRONG, and Middle Grade was AWESOME, and now I saw the way forward, and DUDE. Also, the MG panel, In contrast to the YA panel, was male-dominated. My competitive side came out and I was all I CAN WRITE ABOUT SHARKS TOO. ONLY I CHOOSE TRAINS AND ROCKETS INSTEAD. I THROW THE GAUNTLET. Only I really don’t throw the gauntlet, cause Greg van Eekhout was on that panel and he just got nominated for the Norton and he was very nice IRL and I throw no gauntlets in his direction.
See how that paragraph up there disintegrated? That’s about what my mental state was like after ComicCon. And I still had two weeks of Clarion left to go.
Other posts about Clarion, including my post about being accepted and other weekly recaps, can be found here.
If you want to apply, you can do that here.
P.S. You want to apply.
“Week three, the filking begins.”
Week three– the week we discovered Sprinkles Cupcakes and that Jasmine had never had sushi. So, if you go to Clarion? Just off the edge of campus, across from Trader Joe’s, there is a cupcake store. Go. Spend the three dollars and fifty cents on a cupcake. I am fantasizing about those things NOW, and it is eight months later. SO GOOD.
Also, chopsticks are very hard to use. They had to bring me the chopstick training wheels. I’d claim being Canadian as my excuse, but the other Canadian in the group happened to be from Vancouver, so that excuse is shot all to pieces. Also– if like me and you’re a sushi neophyte, and you go with people who can keep a very straight face– be suspicious. Todd kept trying to get me to eat the wasabi. Thankfully I’d watched cooking shows enough to know THAT, or everyone would have been treated to the unlovely sight of Jasmine drinking all the water at our table and also the next one.
And why do I open this post with two mentions of eating off-campus? Well, because the food at this point was starting to get a little tiresome. The serving people in the cafeteria were awesome! But large-volume food is difficult to keep exciting, and when you eat the same stuff for six weeks… We had people opt to buy their own food with increasing frequency (see above, Trader Joe’s), and by the end of the six weeks we were down to a core of people who were just stubbornly eating the food they’d paid for. I mean, it wasn’t BAD, it just wasn’t great either. Also it was “healthy,” so everything was light on salt and spices.
By the end Gill was pretty much eating entirely pizza, Chris was down to chickpeas and lettuce, and I had voluntarily eaten cafeteria oatmeal. If you stick it out to the bland end, you may find, like me, a strange sense of bonding with those who will continue to eat food that has lost its appeal entirely. But this was only at the three-week mark, where most everyone was eating social meals and dreaming of fancy cheeses.
Oh right, also there was writing. This week was a bit of an roller coaster for me, writing-wise, because I had intended to turn in a re-writing of Cupid and Psyche. Then somewhere between realizing writing a story with a main character being THE GOD OF LOVE would require a sex scene, and panicking about my inability to describe anything other than a dress made of butterflies, I dramatically cast that plan aside and wrote a time-traveling story based on a dinosaur with a briefcase I had once dreamed.
(It is important to note that the story features neither briefcases nor dinosaurs. It does, however, include a woman who turns into a giant bird.)
I got the story to crit session with no expectations. The previous three critiques had broken me of any hope of a story that worked. And then everyone looked at me and said “Jasmine, this is a STORY. Look, it has all its parts! It is actually a story! HIGH FIVE JASMINE YOU WROTE A STORY!” I got cartoons.
Having a story which was received by the Clarion group as actually working was as significant to my self-confidence as getting into Clarion was in the first place. I’m afraid I’ll come off as pathetic if I go into it deeply, but you guys. Entering week three, my fellow clarionauts were people I TRUSTED. And they thought it was good.
Though– I have to come clean about something. There’s a canary in my story, and Elizabeth Bear thought it was amazingly clever– and I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t figure out to spell “budgie.” We can either decide my subconscious was super-clever, or that it was an accident. (And yes, the knowledge that THE CROWNING POINT OF MY STORY ACCORDING TO ELIZABETH BEAR was not actually supposed to be there has kept me from, y’know, prancing around in victory on top of it.)
And this week in class, in addition to critiques, we had some lecture time! Elizabeth Bear was presiding, as uh, mentioned, and she taught us about plot, and brainstorming ideas with the newspaper, and Want vs. Need, and how to pitch a hollywood blockbuster in five minutes, and how to make this WORK. She is an incredibly hard worker, our Bear. We were lounging around the common room talking about how hard our lives were, and she was pounding out another thousand words on a short story.
One of the reasons I wanted to go to Clarion was to catch a glimpse of what an actual Author’s life would look like. I think week three was the point where I decided that it was even harder than I had imagined before. And I wanted it to be my life even more than I had before.
In conclusion, quotes!
I’ve moved into camp confusion and bought a summer home.
I don’t get it and I don’t like it.
“Dude, you can rub words together.”
“I can’t wait until the first person shows up to crit still drunk.”
Annie: “Adult protective services are such a bitch to deal with.”
Josh: “Adult protective services? Those are the police.”
“This story spends all its time kicking holes in the fourth wall and firing shotgun blasts through it.”
Other posts about Clarion, including my post about being accepted and other weekly recaps, can be found here.
If you want to apply, you can do that here. Do it! You have a weekend to do a last edit! You can do it!
So, the deadline for Clarion 2012 is in six days, and you should apply. (Yes, you. All of you. Everyone who wants to write and meet people in the industry and learn like crazy. Rev your laptops now.) In an effort to explain why this is so, that you should apply, I am pulling out my journal and emails from that period and recapping this week by week.
Let’s all just pretend that I deliberately planned to post my recaps now– in the time last year that I was deciding to apply for Clarion– instead of the fact that I forgot to write these. Yes, pretending is fun!
Week 2 was the week of John Scalzi. It was also the week my journals moved from detailed and hilarious retellings of the Clarion life to one-line entries such as this one, from the second weekend
“Also I thinked we have medical inference.”
My commitment to posterity’s knowledge is fabulous. But I can reconstruct from what I do have, because I have DETECTIVE SKILLS. And because I’m feeling daring, I’m going to put the week’s quotes and the week’s pictures and the week’s reconstruction into the post and hit BLEND.
Jacob: “That’s a great first line! A great first line for me to underline and write ‘glib’ under.”
Becky: “Looks like Jacob just volunteered to be the one killed and eaten!”
So the week before I turned in a for a Friday Crit– that was the one with a tactile telepathy and auditory danger sense. Awesome idea, poor execution. This week I decided to go for a story about a small town and tea and ice. I turned it in tuesday night, after a weekend where I looked at my grip on reality and decided it was overrated.
It was– disjointed. (Something which happens when you realize 800 words in that you’re writing a flash fiction with no spark and so you shoehorn a romance and a quest into it.)
The general verdict from everyone was that there were world building issues, and I still hated details, and I wrote TERRIFYING ice scenes. I’m still smiling eight months later, remembering the reactions to the ice scenes. From what others have said, the second week was hard for them, but for me, first week was such an I AM FAILING AT EVERYTHING that second week was much easier. I hit bottom, but that meant I wasn’t free falling into the dark any more.
“Hey man. I-I liked your story.”
“Needs more Aaardvarks.”
On the story-learning front, week 2 was also when I made two big discoveries! The first was the difference between a twist and a plot. In the year previous I’d been writing a story a week, as mentioned previously. Most of those were flash, and for a non-trivial amount of them I was setting up a situation, inverting it at the end, and calling it a story. That’s not plot, that’s regurgitation mixed with mental gymnastics. So learning that was good for everyone. (In related news, actual plot is hard.)
Brooke W: “Is the AC Broken?”
Andy: “Beelzebub, are you with us?”
The second thing was why I never described anything. I had been thinking about it, and had come up with theories ranging from “description is boring” to “my imagination is not visual” to “why are you all SO MEAN?!?!” Just joking about the last one. Really.
In some self-analysis of my writing history, I remembered the several teen years when my primary writing outlet was to go on walks with my siblings and tell stories to them. These walks would go on for hours, and the culmination of that time period was during a road trip when I told a eight-hour fantasy epic to my road-stunned siblings. (This also means that my early writing work is impossible to display and shame me, because it was never recorded. VICTORY IS MINE.) The oral story-tradition was a fun activity, I learned a lot about plot and world-building, and I never described anything. (Try it some time, when you’re telling a story out loud. See how much attention you pay to visual description.) And in my head there was still this idea that description was unnecessary. So of course, now that I knew my bias against description was based on a teenage fallacy, it was a bit easier to say “description is for winners, let me commit some of it for you.”
“You had all the themes in one story. Every one.”
We went to John Scalzi’s signing at Mysterious Galaxy on Wednesday, and let me tell you– we were not the only ones there. They were lined up around the walls, and the air conditioning was sending everyone a letter about how sorely mistreated it was. Scalzi read from a novel that at the time was under a ban of secrecy, but now I can tell you is titled Red Shirts. It is hilarious and I want it.
“Were it my story, I would throw the baby out with the bath water at the end.”
One of the things that is not usually mentioned when people talk about Clarion, is that you get to see six very different professional writers in their public professional context. For many people this might not be as eye-opening as it was for me, but I’m from a small town. I had been to a grand total of no readings before, so seeing a wide range of author-audience interactions was AWESOME. I had assumed that there was one style of readings? And then in two weeks I saw Nina Kiriki Hoffman and John Scalzi do readings. They both KNOW their audience, and they’re both really good at it. They give a show.
Scalzi also wrote my critique in elvish. He says it’s a secret code, but I SAW it. Elvish.
In conclusion, a final quote from critique session.
Chris: “James, you have opened my heart.”
Gill: “With a sonic screwdriver?”
Chris: “Turns out it’s the only way.”
Other posts about Clarion, including my hysterical first post and weekly recaps, can be found here.
I started this blog post back in October, so it’s probably time to unearth it from my drafts and actually post it. Onwards!
Back in the fall of the year last year, during the Occupy movements, one of memes that was circulating the internet was of people saying “I am wealthy– tax me more!” I, being the cynical person that I am, wondered aloud why these people didn’t give the money they thought should be taken in taxes to charities, if they really cared so deeply.
Then I thought about that more, and it actually seemed an excellent idea. If you think you should be taxed at a higher rate, or if you feel that the government is falling down on the job on a certain issue– give a bunch of money to a charity! That way you actually know where the money goes, and you don’t have to wait for tax reform to roll around, a process that might take five or more years.
Side note: I am not advocating for high-income persons paying taxes at a lower rate than middle-income people. That is absurd. I’m thinking about the possibilities inherent in making 200k or more a year, which is the benchmark for the Canadian 1%.
At any rate, I was so taken with my idea that I mentioned it to someone else who was taking an interest in the Occupy movement. His reaction was first to accuse me of conservatism, and then when I requested an answer to why this idea I’d just come up with would be bad, he responded.
“Well it doesn’t work to just have people give money to charities, because then it gives people free rein to be bigots with their money.”
Now I found that to be a fascinating response, primarily because of all the assumptions it contains. The first one is that it presumes that the government is free of prejudice and/or bigotry. Is that true? On the one hand, no, because no choice can be free of a value statement. Every decision is prejudiced one way or another. But semantics aside, is our government free of prejudice?
I have been thinking about this, and I don’t believe that simply because the government is the government it is imbued with some quasi-mystical protection against awfulness. The record of history is that governments make mistakes, and usually when they make mistakes they make horrible ones. They also do good things, but it is far from a 100% skew in favour of infallible government. Yes, our governments are committed to justice and equality. In Canada we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which the government is committed to upholding. But so is every other institution– and by law. If I want to go around discriminating against people on the basis of age, class, race, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, etc, I am prohibited by law from doing so. I could be working for the government or the local corner store, it makes no difference. So there’s that.
And the second presumption which that statement contented is that it’s the government’s role to stop bigotry. And that also, I think, is incorrect.
Please don’t stone me.
I don’t mean that the govt should be advocating or turning a blind eye to bigotry. Our duly elected officials, as representatives of the people, should be fighting grossness and injustice, protecting the powerless and disenfranchised, and helping those who need it. But that’s just it, as representatives of the people. Change shouldn’t come only from the government, it should come from the people, with “official” channels being only one of the channels which change travels.
So yes, it is government’s role to stop bigotry and grossness. But it is also EVERYONE ELSE’S role to stop it. If we rely on legislation as the only path to change things, I think we make a mistake. Social change usually comes in small increments, on the community and household level, after all.
So that is how a simple statement about charity and taxes opened up a whole can of worms in my head about the role of government and re-established in my own head that legislation is not the end-all-and-be-all of society. Feel free to point out my mistakes and mental flaws in the comments.
No really, I have a question.
I’m brainstorming world building for a book I’m gonna write, and I’m having LOTS of fun. Working out food shipments and gravity generation and all kinds of stuff. However, it seems both boring and inaccurate to assume that SOCIETY OF THE FUTURE would be primarily drawn from my own culture. Particularly because, y’know, I come from an island in the North Atlantic. People eat fried bread dough and fried bologna for breakfast, with molasses on both. SO I wanted to take a bunch of other cultures and make a melting pot of awesome, basically.
AND then I was wondering whether it would just come across as rude and appropriation-ist if I have this stew of elements from cultures that aren’t mine. If I have, Asian and European and American ELEMENTS, but not a careful homage to any culture.
I figured I should ask this now, before I get a bunch of it all nailed down in words.
My motivating theme for the book is THINGS THAT ARE AWESOME, and you know, racist grossness is not exactly awesome.
P.S. The world has kitchen gardens and chopsticks and awesome collars and kids with wings and magnetic trains and quarantine zones and DEATH and grapefruits (maybe) and biometric scanners and embassy blocks and spy trains and secret thieves writing and NO KISSING and amnesia (yes, this is my amnesia story (I figured I’d go all the way and try so make a novel out of my one story.)) and friends and con boys and oxygen rationing and incense. And possibly faith, too. Also, a girl named Pax who has a sideline as the personification of Justice.