Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Hello from Clarion West. 

If you really want to know what life is like here on a regular basis, you'll need to check out the journals of Sam/Ling and Allan. They are much more organized than I am and somehow manage to post about every day! I am in awe. The Clarion Easties, Philip, Karina and Thomas, are undergoing more or less similar things as well.

I am sitting in my dorm room on the 12th floor of Campion Tower, looking out at a view with, corrected slightly for angle, is much like this one (linked from the more industrious Ling). Wow. 

It's six a.m. and I have been up since five or so finishing up my critiques of other people's stories for class. I'm still on European time in a way, and I may keep it that way. Early morning is a good time to write.

I am daily astounded that I found this place. 

I expected Clarion to feel like college -- and in a way it does, the giddiness of a new adventure, the wonderful craziness of dorm life (last night several of us were sitting in a circle on the long hallway floor running between all the rooms, playing the Surrealist Oracle game and exploding intermittently with laughter, with the sound of someone's stereo drifting through an open door and people drifting by to watch). But it's also not like college. In college we didn't know what we wanted to do -- we were crazy young animals, jumping around, trying things out, wondering what our passions were. At Clarion we are older -- and what a wealth of life experience is here, the struggles and triumphs of seventeen utterly different, examined lives! -- and we know what our passions are. And in at least one of those passions -- the writing of speculative fiction -- we are all united. So where in college there was this crazy restless puppy energy going all over the place, chasing its tail, here there is the focussed power of a pack of greyhounds racing.

For pretty much everyone here, this is the fulfillment of a long-held dream. (Some people just started writing a few years ago, granted -- but I think the writing bug, or some bug to write one's name deeply into the surface of the world, must have been there before). So there isn't much of the wasted energy of college (though, for those who recognize the Surrealist Oracle game above, it should be clear that I am a ringleader of procrastination -- ahem, I mean recharging our mental batteries). 

I am astonished at the high level of the critiques, and the diversity of ways of seeing the same story -- some people dreaming their way through its symbolism, some rigorously interrogating its plot and worldbuilding, some reaching with great empathy into the hearts of its characters, some digging into the social and political contexts it creates and challenges -- and how uniformly everyone brings something of value. I am also amazed at the difference and richness of the stories. Many are rough, and as we get more tired, they're bound to get even rougher -- it's not like reading Asimov's -- but at the same time, that roughness lets you see the richness of seventeen different souls, with their jagged edges not yet filed off. It's a privilege.

So I wrote a story Sunday night/Monday morning, revised it Tuesday morning (adding a scene and bringing it to 3700 words) and then handed it in. The critique is today. I'm excited! 

The story, "Embracing-The-New", is from the Amra/Uoo/Tring/symbiont universe you've heard me grumbling about for months on months. Amra herself is not in it. I had done a lot of worldbuilding but could never fit a story into it until now, using the exercises Octavia proposed (and which Sam and Allan have already described). I used Octavia's one-sentence summary system (the sentence must contain character, conflict, and conclusion), and before writing the story I had this sentence written down (which, of course, gives the story's end away, so don't read it if you hate spoilers and expect to read the story). It made a big difference, writing the story, to know ahead of time, in a very specific and measurable way, where I was going.

Octavia is kind and full of useful tales and ideas about writing, besides being, you know, Octavia Butler (which is to say, one of the best science fiction writers alive).

Everyone (the administrators, the instructors -- including those not yet here, and so on) keeps warning us to stay nice to each other and not let the pressure-cooker atmosphere create scapegoating. They seem overly worried to us -- but of course, they speak from bitter experience (though probably the classes with problems stick in memory more vividly than those who do fine). I appreciate their warnings -- it's good to be on our guard. I also appreciate the structures they've established to keep hostilities from arising, like the critiquing format with its strict three-minute time limit (a lifesaver for me in particular, as I would likely otherwise ramble). But I'm not too worried, now that I've met the group. We're just not going to let scapegoating happen. Period.

Just-pre-Clarion writing news: I did manage to get "Other Cities" off to Strange Horizons and "Droplet" to the "Bodies of Water" anthology. GVG rejected "Baby Love" (not enough conflict or resolution), so I resent it to Asimov's (this time with a goddamn we-received-it stamped, self-addressed postcard) and sent him "A Siege of Cranes".

The first journal entry since her birth where I have no pictures, and nothing new to tell you, about Aviva. 

; - (