Clarion Journal, 2003

Sunday, June 29, 2003
Got some really good cirts for "The Good Cop" on Friday - most importantly that the political setup was pretty weak and I should just handwave, because nobody really thought the end result was implausible, just the justifications for such a thing.

Looked over the story this morning and realized the prose read really choppy. I'll have to give it a good once over - I'd also like Mary to have a stronger narrative voice. (I was a little sad that some folks found her weak - I don't think she is) I have a bit of affection for her and Sully - they have blind spots, yes, but deep down they are good people. Some other plot flaws were pointed out, that I'll need to address in the rewrite. People wanted to get a bit more inside the character's heads, feel a bit closer to them. I think that's especially true in Mary's sections - her struggle is internal, so I want people to be close to her. (The story is posted on the workshop
if anyone would like to read it.

Richard diagrammed out my story in class, and when you looked at the numbers, page count, number of narrative sections, the story didn't seem all that unbalanced, even though it clearly *felt* unbalanced, until Richard pointed out 2 of 3 Mary's sections bookended the story, so the meat of the story only had one section from her POV. That, and when he diagrammed Sean's story (that focused on timeline) gave me some interesting stuff to think about for structure and how to analyze structural problems.

Richard also gave me a really good suggestion involving the ending, which I am planning on incorporating.

I was happy that most people didn't feel that the "message" in the story overshadowed the "story" in the story. (Of course the first week we were here I announced that I hate message stories, which I do, if I can feel the message coming. but I still felt a wee bit hypocritical submiting the story. oh well, consistency has never been my strong point.)

Little side point - on the writing list there has been a bit of a discussion on the writing list on whether a book or story with a political agenda can still be literature (or even enjoyable) I always come down on the Gearge Orwell side of the argument - that artistic purpose and political purpose can be one. (Though I also believe that you need to tell a *good* story, or your time is better spent writing a political diatribe.)

Then Richard did "the talking" on Friday - gave us a list of stuff to read. Told us not be afraid to abandon a story. He also told us how he got his first agent and pulisher, and also his second of each. Then we had a birthday party for Robert. We enjoyed that bit so much we did it again today. (Today's featured the mad escape by the balloons.)

OK - more about this weekend later - and soon to come the fabulous halftime show. (or midpoint wrapup for you scholarly types *grin*

posted by chance 8:07 PM
. . .
I totally forgot to mention my extreme jealousy of the westies this week - they got to meet Ted Chiang *pout pout*

*double triple pout*

i wonder if i can lure him to lansing with the promise of chocolate chip cookies?

*sigh* maybe I'll go read his clarion stories over at the library tomorrow, and kelly and richard and nalo's too, just for grins.

posted by chance 8:15 PM
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Monday, June 30, 2003
Half Time Show

It's all about the numbers (cumulative totals in parentheses):

Stories Written - 1 (3)
Stories Abandoned - Zero (2)
Words Written - 9000 (13,500)
Story Ideas in the Queue - Still Holding at 3
Stories Critiqued - 15 (16 this week total - 48/52 for the two weeks)

This week we were definitely slowing down - a lot - I think only two folks turned in two stories, and two folks didn't turn in any. But I'm ok with that; the breakneck pace wasn't really doing much for me anyway.

I'm still keeping with the one story a week plan, and that's been going pretty well for me so far.

Richard's week, I'll call all about structure and resolution. I think one of the biggest problems with my stories are tying what ever theme I'm working on and the conflict and climax into the resolution. (you're going, well who doesn't?) but I think this week was particularly insightful for me on why more than a few of the story resolutions didn't work, almost worked, but not quite.

In the story I submitted, although it's ambiguous, Mary needs to make a choice to protect what's left of her family, and accept the ambiguity and the possibility that she has just left her husband behind. She needs to act in a positive manner that emphasizes her priorities she's had throughout the story - that family is the most improtant thing.

Anyway, it gave me bunches to think about.

But the biggest revelation for me is the always cliche Nike revelation - just do it. That to grow you need to write your million words of crap, or whatever your particular allotment mught be.

We hung around in
Steph's room last night. She got drunk on 1/2 of a Mike's hard lemonade. It was sort of shocking to behold. But she's a fun drunk.

(ok, this is a totally wussy halftime wrapup, I know. If you wish greatness, go read Jonathan's.

Ran into Richard this morning and had breakfast, I was sad to see him go. We told him he could stay at Kiel's with Nalo and howard ... oh wait, we aren't supposed to mention that, kidnapping charges and all. But I do wish we could just keep accumulating teacher's each week - I hate to see them go *sniffle*

So, what we really need is a followon six week course on the art of revising. Or possibly twelve. maybe 20? lister, oculd you take care of that, please?

posted by chance 8:54 PM
. . .
Today with a good day with Kelly. She focused a lot more on how the little details can make a story work, and how to capture whatever that unique thing about you is, and playing that up.

Sat across from her at lunch, so I got to chat books and such and tell her a little about the exploits at Blue Heaven, though I didn't get to tell her about the fabulous drag queens- Miss Direction, where are you - she might have fainted from jealousy. And gossip about Charlie and Chris and folks we both know.

It also reminded me that I really want to get back to the book. Or rather books, because I want to start working on Tomboy Blue again.

Kelly talked a little about the "rules" of YA writing - sortof off the cuff, but she did mention maybe organizing her htoughts and telling us more - I hope she does.

I heard she wants to give us the myers-briggs test - maybe ?I can get Jonathan to bring a frisbee and he and I can play while people are pigeonholed. (ok, plenty of people find MB tests useful for improving interpersonal relations blah blah blah. I find them annoying. pointless. and possibly detrimental. I find most assessment tests fall into this category.)

posted by chance 9:01 PM
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. . .
New story in the works. Have done around 1000 words. Sortof a horrorish thing that I blame on Ryan with his creepy train journal entries which have been chasing me around in my sleep. This story is officially dedicated to you, Ryan.

Got an annoying, sort of condescending rejectiong from Weird Tales today. Still waiting for overdue rejections from Asimov's and WOTF. (and a cast of others)

Also annoying letter from the unemployment bureau telling me I needed to be at a meeting tomorrow - uh, guys, I'm in MICHIGAN!!! This annoys me because I had carefully informed the relevent people and scheduled the meeting when I would actually be in town.


posted by chance 9:09 PM
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Tuesday, July 01, 2003
This Sucks

So, we heard from Lister today that Clarion lost its funding from Michigan State. They are looking at alternate funding methods including moving the workshop or taking it independent.

Bleh. This Sucks!

posted by chance 12:11 PM
. . .
Jean Seok rocks. Who knew there was a chicken quote niche just waiting to be filled?

in other news, I have my compter back, with shiny new keyboard and shiny new trackpad and looks like a new display, too. I feel like I have a totally new computer. ooooooooo shiny

posted by chance 4:15 PM
. . .
Wednesday, July 02, 2003
So, I continue to be impressed with Kelly's comments. especially on a sentence level. That's the last little bit that takes you over the edge from OK to wow.

People seem much more relaxed this week than last week - I think we already had our breakdown. Matt and I were talking in his room about how no one had cracked yet, and suddenly there was a voice from the bathroom "That's what you think!"

We about peed our pants laughing.

We tried doing the working in the same room that Kelly recommended on one of her first days here. It was a pretty fun failure. I got almost no words written, but had a good time.

Kelly and Gavin came over for games around 11.30ish. Tammy Jamie and Sean were in the middle of the worlds longest, most boring game ever. After Jamie won (much to Sean's dismay), they started playing Phase Ten - another infiniete game. (much more fun and cutthroat) I watched (and pretended to work) until one - they were still going strong when I left.

Today, we all ordered lunch - pizza - and Gavin and Kelly gave a talk on putting together 'zines - very interesting. (Poor Jonathan, gave money for a pizza with no cheese, and pineapple and mushroom on it - they got the no cheese part, but then they put meat on it! poor guy)

I will write up my notes on that later - I must get to work on my story or I shall have nothing to turn in tomorrow.

posted by chance 5:23 PM
. . .
Here's the official announcement on Clarion losing its funding:

Dr. Lister Matheson has received word from the Interim President and Provost that Michigan State University will be unable to support the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop. He has asked that this message be passed on to our friends. Suggestions and comments can be sent to Interim President and Provost, Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon at, and the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, Dr. Wendy K. Wilkins at

Please copy any messages to

You may also be interested in the story run by the MSU News Bulletin for Faculty and Staff of MSU on June 26, at

Mary Sheridan and Amelia Beamer
Clarion 2003

posted by chance 5:27 PM
. . .
So, a couple of quick thoughts on Clarion losing its funding while I eat the dinner of champions (microwave popcorn - not as good as regular, but as close as I can get here):

1. I think
Ryan has it dead to rights - the shock of it all hasn't hit us yet (us being the current Clarionites). There's so much to do, so much to write, so much to learn that it's hard to grasp the enormous idiocy of MSU wanting to quit a 35 year tradition. It seems inconceivable to me that they can't see the value in continuing the workshop. I joke each week when I post my I weekly summary that it's all about the numbers, but apparently for MSU it is. They don't make money from Clarion, and apparently that's what matters to them today.

2. In no way do I think I am part of the last class of Clarion. Clarion may not be affliated with MSU next year, prehaps not with any university, but I firmly believe that Clarion shall continue to exist for a long, long time. That being said. I don't think the next couple of years are going to be pretty ones for Lister, Mary, and everyone else involved in keeping Clarion alive. It's going to be a huge struggle, and I really hope all the former Clarionites stay as angry as they are today, and pitch in whereever they can. Most likely in monetary ways. I do think they will be forced to raise tuition and housing costs, and that's really unfortunate. It is already so hard for most people to make the sacrifice of 6 weeks away from job and family, that increased costs will be another burden future Clarionites will have to bear.

3. I feel sad. Really sad. And angry. It just seems so wrong. Bleh.

posted by chance 7:59 PM
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Friday, July 04, 2003
And then there was the drinking ...

Yesterday morning Amelia showed a big notebook full of emails supporting clarion - keep 'em coming guys, keep 'em coming.

I finally finished my story for Friday Wednesday night - while we were all hanging in the lounge - Kelly came by (Gavin was sequestered in his room) and I really wanted to hang out and do The Talking. So I actually managed to get some writing done while in there - lucky I knew where the scene was going. It's going to be one of five we critique on Friday (so much for our "let's have an easy fourth of July" plan. I think at Clarion West they have to sign up to turn stuff in, but we just turn them in whenever - I think it's been working because we are a small Clarion class.

I think as a group wey've found a good balance of honesty and tact during critique sessions - we secretly had our breakdown during week three, so we are all much more relaxed now.

Kelly's reading was tonight - I didn't go to the dinner because I really don't care for Indian food. She read us part of a good story about Canadians and Zombies and the All-Night store. (There's a really funny line in there where she says something about Canadians and Zombies being alike - they're almost like people *grins* What would Nalo say? Anyway, she forgot to bring page 26, so she had to stop on 25 - I'm going to pester her until she lets me read the end. We also got our scholarship certificates tonight, and also took the class photos - fun fun fun (And thank you to Isabel (Oz) Whiston Scholarship fund, who gave me my scholarship. I bought the anthology Kelly edited (Trampoline) and also the Ray Vulovich collection published by Small Beer - oh that book addiction will never stop. Also met a Clarionite from 2000 (waves to John!)

So, Doug and I drove to the reading (he'd lost his wallet and skipped dinner too - boo, still hasn't found it yet) and Kiel came running in five minutes before it was going to start (he'd been napping), so I gave him a ride home too. And in that five minute ride, we decided to hell with work, we needed to hang out and consume quantities of alcohol.

We as a clarion group haven't done much in the way of drinking. One of our members is allergic to alcohol, so there's been very little cutting loose with quantities of alcohol, but I think we'd reached that point where we needed to blow off a little steam - so we rounded off folks and money, bought some beer and ended up at Kelly and Gavin's.

I got to talk a good bit with Gavin (he and Kelly used to live in the Boston area) so that was really nice, and also with Scott Edelman, who had just gotten in that afternoon after a pretty hectic travel day. Lots of people stopped by at one point or another, though most folks ended up staying for a good while. It's funny how fast you get a bit drunk when you haven't had a drink in a good while - we were all cheap dates (not as cheap as Steph the other night though)

We set up to the courtyard to play croquet - Scott won (hmmm the sober guy wins, what are the odds of that?) but it was really funny to watch the drunk Kiel explain the rules of croquet to other intoxicated folk.

Came back to the room around 12.30, did the reading and went to bed.

posted by chance 12:29 AM
. . .
Queen Confusion

So we did the critique of my story today, and I managed to confuse every single person in the room, including both instructors. Go Team! My favorite part was when Scott (Edelman) said that he felt confident that I had a plan when I was trying to write the story and that I really knew what the rest of the iceberg looked like.

Uh, Scott ....

Well, I did have some definite thoughts and sortof themes I was trying to develop, but I really need to sit down and try to make a coherent idea of what I want to do, and if I can do it before my conferences, all the better.

We were talking when we went down to lunch that Lance and I are pretty well neck and neck on the confusing story front. He says his story wins for most confusing ever, but I think I have confused people more times. *grins* I think I shall title my next story "The Least Confusing Story Ever"

Long day today - 5 stories, an additional instructor, and we had to break for lunch in the middle because the cafeteria closed at one.

Now, I am off for naptime.

posted by chance 2:55 PM
. . .
4th of July

She's waitin' for me
when I get home from work
oh, but things ain't just the same
She turns out the light
and cries in the dark
won't answer when I call her name

On the stairs I smoke a
cigarette alone
Mexican kids are shootin'
fireworks below
Hey baby, it's the Fourth of July
Hey baby, it's the Fourth of July

She gives me her cheek
when I want her lips
but I don't have the strength to go
On the lost side of town
in a dark apartment
we gave up trying so long ago

On the stairs I smoke a
cigarette alone
Mexican kids are shootin'
fireworks below
Hey baby, it's the Fourth of July
Hey baby, it's the Fourth of July

What ever happened I
so dry your tears and baby
walk outside, it's the Fourth of July

On the stairs I smoke a
cigarette alone
Mexican kids are shootin'
fireworks below
Hey baby, it's the Fourth of July
Hey baby, Baby take a walk outside

posted by chance 6:46 PM
. . .
So Scott has a curious fascination with fireworks. I wonder if he shall burn the courtyard down.

posted by chance 6:47 PM
. . .
Saturday, July 05, 2003
I had my conference with Kelly today. I had almost begged off and asked her if we could do it tomorrow. I woke up feeling mopey this morning and reflecting on the clarion experience, or rather my clarion experience. I've learned a lot - really a lot, and perhaps gained an even greater perspective on how much there is to learn.

One of the best things about the whole experience is just listening how each person approaches a story, what they take from it and what they think is important enough to comment on (and let me just say that I am pretty well baffled by folks who say they have trouble focusing during the critique sessions - even when people agree, it's rarely for the same reasons, and that's even more fascinating).

Anyway, I was feeling pretty mopey because the dominant emotion I've created in the class has tended to be confusion. (Not that there hasn't been some really positive feedback, but the lingering taste would have to be confusion.) And, well, confusion is an unsatisfied emotion.

Well, and I was feeling a bit jealous too. Some people have really had major writing breakthroughs (at least I think so, anyway) while they are here, and I don't feel like I have. Not that I haven't learned bunches, but no breakthroughs for me. *whine whine whine*

Anyway, so I've got the mopes and I got to my conference, and Kelly loves "The Bulimic Shortstop" (eee! she even liked the part everyone hated during critique sessions - and seems to have generally liked most of my stuff, including the latest, which was the most confusing story ever for most people) Kelly being here this week was a good emotional boost for me because stylistically, she's the instructor I'm most like. (Richard, whom I really liked and thought he gave great advice, felt so very far away writing wise, that I generally had a really had a had time connecting with his fiction - it's not a coincidence that I submitted my most straighforward story during his week.) And her comments to the group on style and voice and how to really finess your writing on a sentence level were totally fascinating. (So fascinating I generally took really crappy notes - oops)

Anyway, I talked with Kelly a little about how I was kinda disappointed that I hadn't had a breakthough, and she said that because of the level I'm at, my writing is much more likely to change in really subtle ways. She also said that she though my critiques were really interesting, and helped her learn stuff about the stories - totally cool.

And talking with her about each of the stories reminded me how I was actively trying to play with voice and structure and to be generally experimental. I had a real temptation this week to write something simple and easy and straightforward, just because I figured I could get people to really like it, and we all like to be liked.

(If there is any problem with a workshop like this it is probably the desire to get positive feedback over useful feedback - after a couple of weeks with folks, it probably isn't all that hard to find their "sweet spot", and like I said - who doesn't like to be liked?)

But I really wanted Kelly's feedback on something different, so I wrote the four POV- yet one perspective story instead, and I'm really glad I did. It was a fun experiment that I think succeeded in a lot of ways, not all but enough that I plan to work on it more after clarion.

And that's probably just about enough of mopeville - but you see how week four can really make you overly introspective. I'm generally a pretty confident writer, but weeks of constant interaction and rapid writing and critting can still wear you down a good bit.

We also talked a bit on how important it is to learn how to know which bits to take from critiques - a bit of experience, trusting your gut, and trial and error (aka learning your lesson).

Anyway, Kelly's advice on my stories was really excellent, and I'm really looking forward to getting home to be able to work on them. She gave me a couple of books before I left Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice and Flying Leap by Judy Budnitz.

I'm really going to miss her and Gavin next week.

posted by chance 5:22 PM
. . .
We got takeout for dinner (Chinese) and then ate down in Van Hoosen - then we played an infinite game of Phase 10. I won, but only because we quit in the middle to go watch Scott light off fireworks. They were totally cool, and way more fun than braving the crowds at the regular fireworks. My favorite part was watching Scott knock the spent firework off with the next one to be lighted.

After fireworks (and cookies spread with frosting) we played mafia (fulfilling Ben's fondest dream). I was mafia the first two rounds, and we won both times. (The second round, I convinced Tammy I wasn't mafia and she convinced everyone else. The third round I was a villager, and they killed me off first in revenge for the previous two rounds. (Mafia won that round, too - but the villagers were so close to killing off the right guys. ) Will really came alive in the last round, he did a great job of figuring out who was mafia, but less so on convincing other people.

Then we rounded out the evening by watching the buffy musical episode.

And now i am off to bed - Lister's big barbeque is tomorrow.

posted by chance 2:36 AM
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