The Conclave of Shadow Sticky Post

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TheConclaveOfShadow-144dpi

The Conclave of Shadow

The Conclave of Shadow, by Alyc Helms
Published: July 2016
Publisher: Angry Robot
ISBN: 9780857665188

The line between enemy and ally is thinner than a shadow’s edge.

Ever since she saved the spirit guardians of China by selling out to her worst enemy, Missy Masters — a.k.a. the pulp hero Mr. Mystic — has been laying low. But when knights serving the Conclave of Shadow steal secret technology from a museum exhibit on the Argent Aces, everyone looks to Mr. Mystic for help. If Missy doesn’t want her masquerade blown, she’d better track down the thieves, and fast.

But stolen tech turns out to be the least of her problems. Recent events have upset the balance of power in the Shadow Realms, removing the barriers that once held the ravenous Voidlands in check. Their spread threatens destruction in the mortal realm as well… and only the Conclave stands ready to push them back.

In a world of shadow, telling friends from enemies is easier said than done. But if she wants to save San Francisco, Missy will have to decide who to trust. Including her own instincts, which tell her that something is stalking her with murder in mind…

 

The Conclave of Shadow, out July 5, 2016
Available for pre-order in print and ebook
Angry Robot | Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Goodreads

The Dragons of Heaven, out now!
Available in print, ebook, and audibook
Angry Robot | Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Goodreads

 

Prep Weekend Post Mortem

I spent most of my weekend in game prep. A good chunk of prep was piecing together what I’d done and what I’d planned to do five years ago. Some of my notes were helpful, some confusing. I ended up sending a timeline to the players that included two game sessions of stuff that we hadn’t gotten to yet because I’d done so much prep for those sessions that I thought we’d actually played them!

Much of the rest of my prep was figuring out (and in some cases retooling) the metaplot. I like the adventure path for setting and encounter details, but the metaplot of Queen Ileosa eating huge bags of stupid-evil for breakfast with a generous dollop of weirdly anti-queer misogyny… just doesn’t work for me. And it wouldn’t work for my players, either. Leaving aside the problematic gender politics, when you have smart players, you need a smarter villan (or set of villains, or in my case, factions of ‘tagonists all with different, complicated, sometimes overlapping, and always ethically complicated agendas).

I had a mini char-gen session with Bryn and Adrienne. Bryn played a social rogue con artist (Renata/Arenzia) in the first iteration of the game, so we spent some time going over the new-to-us unchained rogue mechanics, pricing and selling the treasure that never got sold five years ago, and talking about the long con her character has been running and how it has progressed over the past six months of in-game downtime. She already hates her courtly foil, Lady Melia Arkona, who has set a fasion for wearing gaudy jewelry – lots of it – at court, meaning that “Lady” Renata can’t attend as many functions as she needs to. I suspect Lady Melia is not long for this world.

Adrienne is newish to gaming (she avoided it for years and then fell hard with Bryn’s L5R game), so char gen with her was a little different because she doesn’t have that gamer thing of having grown up steeped in the books and knowing all the possibilities open to her that she’s wanted to play but hasn’t yet had a chance. However, she’s a big fan of the sharks of Same-Z (especially Shumoku). When she jokingly asked if she could have a shark, I took her seriously (my philosophy of GM’ing is that there’s always a way to give a player what they want and still keep things true to the setting — you just have to think creatively). Jigsaw sharks are a thing in this setting and module, so at first I kicked around the idea that she could be a necromancer who only animated dead animals… for ethical reasons?

And then I googled ‘landshark Pathfinder’ and went, “oh right. Bulette!”

bulette_by_katemare

Now, also in the setting module, they mention that the local Shoanti tribes (who got booted out of Korvosa by Chelish colonizers about 300 years previous) hunt bulette and bring it to the city to sell. So again, the setting-as-written supports this outrageous idea. Having a Shoanti PC works great for my modified module (because of course part of the story I’m telling is going to be critical of the massacre and displacement of the Shoanti in ways that the real setting materials… aren’t).

So I pitched to Adrienne the idea of a nomad princess with a landshark animal companion (druid, using a hybrid snapping turtle/crocodile template because a real bulette would be so overpowered). She loved it. The bulette is a runt with a hammerhead mutation. His name is Olon Toms (which I’m informed means ‘hungry potato’ in Mongolian?) I suspect he’s going to win a lot of hearts and minds to the Shoanti cause.

Did I say win? I meant eat.

Gaming as Gift Giving

Crimson Throne

I’m going to be running a game. Pathfinder, based loosely on the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path, but so thoroughly reworked that it really only bears passing acquaintance in form or function.

This is a revamp of a game I started back in… holy macrame, 2011. It fizzled out when I went to Clarion West in the summer of 2012 and never got ramped back up again. This made me sad, because there were a few character arcs I was really looking forward to running my players through.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine (Bryn) asked me to run something for her for her birthday. She has run the past three games I’ve played in, with her current Legend of the Five Rings campaign being one of the best and most fulfilling gaming experiences of my life.

This means she’s hit one of the traps of being a good GM. Pretty soon, you’re always running and never playing (roll reflexes, evasion lets you play half time).

Enter the idea of games as a form of gift-giving. I’ve paid my GM dues. I co-ran a huge, six-year Changeling LARP, and it left me burned out for running games for a long time. Bryn was one of the players, so I don’t feel so bad playing in her games without reciprocating because I already ran something huge.

However, I do like the idea of running a game as a kind of (reciprocal) gift. She puts a lot of work into running games that are fun for me, and I know that I can run a game that will be fun for her. Making it fun for her (and for the other players) will make the work fun for me. In a lot of ways, this reminds me of the gift-giving culture and exchange mentality around fanfic writing in fandom (with an abandoned game being like an abandoned fic).

As for the issue of sustaining the energy (which has been my challenge in the wake of the Changeling game), I’ve let everyone know that I’m running in a 6-game arc format with breaks in between for me to work up my energy. That way, even if I do need to take a longer break, I will have finished a story arc and not left people hanging. One of the worst situations in gaming is when a game fizzles out, leaving a story or character arc half-finished.

I’ve got outlines for the first two story arcs and a more detailed map for the first six or so games in the first story arc. Tonight we’re getting together for char gen for some of the new players and char refresh for people who played in the first game. I expect I will talk more about planning and GMing in the coming weeks, since that will be my main mental occupation.

In vaguely related news, I’ve started up a community on Imzy, which so far seems to be trying to take the best of LiveJournal, Reddit, and Tumblr and mash it together, with a side of active platform discouragement against harassment culture. I miss LiveJournal, I wish I felt safe to post on Reddit, and I’ve never liked the Tumblr interface, so I’m hoping this new thing takes off. So far, I really like the interface. We will see. You can find my new community here: https://www.imzy.com/kitsune_den. Feel free to ask me for invites to Imzy if you want to set up your own stuff.

Sunk Costs and the 2016 WFC

Back in January, I sent the WFC2016 concom an email letting them know that I would not be attending unless they posted accessibility and harassment policies, as the membership and extended community had been asking them to do for months. They eventually (and very grudgingly) did put up some (painfully anemic) policies, and I decided to wait and see if their disregard for the concerns raised by the membership would continue.

Oops, they did it again.

I just sent another email:

Dear World Fantasy 2016 Organizers,

I’m afraid I will not be able to attend your conference this year. Given Darrel Schweitzer’s ongoing dismissal of (and disrespect for) membership concerns raised about the programming and recent reports that he will not be making any changes to address those concerns, I don’t feel that the World Fantasy 2016 Committee respects me as a member for anything more than the cash I put down for my membership.

I have attended the past several World Fantasies, and I always buy my membership for the next year at the previous year’s conference. Because of your strict no refund policy — which conveniently protects you from any direct protest on the part of the membership — I will be sucking this up as a sunk cost.

Mr. Schweitzer’s statements online have given me every reason to believe that your response to this will be a not-terribly-well-veiled ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out.’ However, should the committee hold different opinions on the value of the membership and our concerns, I would urge you to take action to correct the issues that have been raised around programming by writers like Anne Leckie, Ken Liu, John Scalzi, Nora Jemisin, Sarah Pinsker, Marie Brennan, Jim Hines, Foz Meadows, etc. I can hold my hotel reservation until the week before the con without any penalty, and if changes are made then I would prefer to use my membership. I am, sadly, not terribly optimistic for this outcome.

Best regards,

Alyc Helms
Howling PC Ignoramus and Outrage Junkie

 

This isn’t an easy decision, but I’m a writer of pulp adventure fantasy. One of my main focuses in writing The Dragons of Heaven and The Conclave of Shadow is to take the kind of fun adventure tales I love and drag them into the 21st century where I can critique some of the things — like Asian fetishization, colonialism, white saviorism(is that an ism?), sexism, racism, etc. — that were most deeply problematic about the original pulps.

This is me taking the $150 I paid towards a professional opportunity I hoped would be fun, and treating it as a sunk cost. It is the only form of protest I feel is open to me, and I place a greater value on my need to be ethical around these sorts of issues than I do on attending this event.

So… I guess here’s hoping the WFC places some sort of value in its membership. As I said in my letter to them, I’m not optimistic.

Where Are We Now?: Georgina Kamsika

The Clarion Workshops (Clarion in San Diego and Clarion West in Seattle) are by-audition workshops for writers of speculative fiction (SF/Fantasy/Horror). For six weeks during the summer, eighteen writers come together under the instruction of six seasoned masters of genre. The students churn out one story and seventeen critiques a week. It’s an intense experience, the sort that can break people down and break them through to becoming better writers. The intensity of the shared experience can help build lasting bonds between classmates that are as much family as friendship.

It isn’t the right experience for everyone. Some individuals shut down under that kind of pressure. Some classes run into interpersonal conflicts that muddy the potential for bonding. Some people can’t afford to go in terms of time or money. But for me (and for my seventeen littermates in the class of Clarion West 2012), it was a life-changing experience in the best possible way.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been checking in with my cohort from CW2012 and asking them to talk about their CW experiences: where they were as writers before the workshop, how the workshop impacted their writing, what they’re working on now, etc. I fell a little behind in posting the interviews, so we have two Seventh Week treats.

Like dandelion seeds, we’ve dispersed along different courses, some of us hitting ‘measurable’ success markers earlier than others. For better or worse, that’s how this writing thing works. But that’s not the full measure of our potential. One of my classmates in her interview quotes our Week 4 instructor, Connie Willis: “Writing is not a career, it’s a holy vocation. You put in as much time as it takes.” Our vocation is subject to the whims of chance and opportunity. It’s never easy, it’s never over, and it’s different for every person.


Today we have Georgina Kamsika, who may have set a record for destroying the world in new and interesting ways every week.IMG_2448

What was your writing and publishing experience coming into Clarion West 2012?

I’d been writing and had a lot of semi professional fiction published. It was a fun way to get eyes on my writing and gain some feedback. From there I joined the now-closed Chuck Palahniuk The Cult writing workshop and had a blast writing and critiquing short stories. I’d written and tried to sell my first novel, which got to the second round of an Angry Robot open door, but even I knew wasn’t good enough to go all the way. My second novel was published by Legend Press in 2011, but it was still a long way from what I wanted to write.

What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?

I didn’t know what to expect. I’d seen authors such as Neil Gaiman talk on social media at length about how good an experience it was and saw graduates enjoying it. But the specifics? No clue.

I knew I was lucky and that I had no idea how I’d made it that far. I knew I’d spend time with 17 other people and with a number of very experienced authors and editors, but that’s it.

What was something indispensable or revelatory that you learned from an instructor or special guest? From one of your classmates?

Some of it was just that I’m allowed to pick stories apart. When I watch films, I love to discuss what works and what doesn’t. Connie Willis sitting with us watching an old Cary Grant film, shouting out plot tropes and story tricks, was great fun.

Talking and listening to Chuck Palahniuk was also a treat. I loved his work – as shown by joining his workshop – and learned so much from his advice on all of our stories. Plus when he told me to write a story I would be too embarrassed to show my family, I took it and ran with it.

The indispensable advice was George R.R. Martin telling me to be less bleak and add more hope to my stories. That was quite a revelation. I’ve stopped killing absolutely everyone now. [Ed. Note: When GRRM tells you you’re bleak, you know you’ve hit the bleak apotheosis]

How was the workshop meaningful for you? How has it impacted your writing?

I made a new family. Found families tend to be the best anyway, but the seventeen new classmates, the tutors, the support staff, the previous classes, the subsequent classes. We joke that it’s a cult, (it’s not, we don’t have a special handshake), but really it’s the biggest extended family you could wish for.

It taught me to knuckle down and finish my work. I learned to get over the fear of trying new things, however much it might not work for someone.  I learned that if I pleased some of my new family with my writing, that is more than enough.

What’s something you’ve accomplished since the workshop that you’re really proud of (doesn’t have to be writing related!)

I’ve written another book. My third, ignoring my trunked first and published second. This one is an Urban Fantasy where the protagonist, Saraswath, is a four-thousand-year-old Hindu goddess working as a police detective in Sheffield, England.

I’ve also done a lot of critiquing, editing, and sensitivity reading. Mostly for friends with a small amount that’s paid work. Its great fun and I really enjoy it. I started a tiny weekly writers group that’s both fun and useful. We have a great time and it’s perfect for spitballing plot ideas and questions.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed an early draft of a YA novel set in London. The best way to describe it is to imagine the Buffy Scooby gang crossed with the Godfather, plus magic.

Pick one and answer: What do you say when people ask, “Where do you get your ideas from?” Do you have an unusual talent or skill? What keeps you awake at night? If you weren’t a writer what would you be? What are you going to do right now when you’ve finished this ordeal?

What keeps you awake at night?

It’s terrible, but it’s also amazing. So often as I’m in a half-awake state, almost asleep, my characters decide to have a conversation. It could be anything, from solving a knotty plot problem to them gossiping over a cup of tea. The thing is, if I don’t wake myself up to write it down, I’ll never remember it in the morning. So my phone with a notepad app is always right next to my bed.  [Ed. Note: Ugh. Yes. This!]

What question do you wish I’d asked? Answer it!

I wish you’d never asked anything, I’m British and talking is hard! [Ed. Note: I take it as a sign of your great love for me that you answered these at all <3]

OK, a real question. What was the hardest part of attending Clarion West?

At first, it was going to live in another country for six weeks with seventeen complete strangers. As I said, I am British and talking is hard, so this sounded like a nightmare scenario. When it came down to it, the hardest part was saying goodbye and leaving!

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But she got to go home to this sweet thing, so it’s all good!


Georgina Kamsika is a speculative fiction writer born in Yorkshire, England, to Anglo-Indian immigrant parents, and has spent most of her life explaining her English first name, Polish surname, and Asian features. Her latest novel is with her agent, and she is currently working on a Young Adult novel following a young woman pulled into a magical war between her family and the family of her best friend.

You can find Georgina at www.kamsika.com and on Twitter @thessilian. You can still sponsor her in the Clarion West Writathon here.

Coming Soon to a GenCon Near You!

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All your dice are belong to us.

Next week I’ll be heading to Indianapolis for GenCon. In preparation of which, I am building an army of Angry Robot Badge Bobbles to give out while I’m helping at the Angry Robot booth.

In addition to booth time, I’m on programming for the Writer’s Symposium. I’ll be spending some quality hangout time with my old Changeling crew, and possibly I will be dusting off my cobbled-together Merida cosplay (because heavy silk-wool gowns and three feet of curly red wig is exactly what you want to be wearing during an Indiana summer).

If you want to see me, you can catch me during the following slots. I’d particularly love it if folks could come to the reading I’m doing with the amazing Peter Tieryas. I will be giving away more amigurumi!

Thursday, Aug. 4

  • 11am-1pm: Angry Robot booth
  • 2pm-3pm: Author signing
  • 4pm-5pm: The Writer’s Craft: Supsense vs. Torture

Friday, Aug. 5

  • 11am-Noon: The Writer’s Craft: Creating Truly New Ideas
  • 1pm-5pm: Angry Robot booth
  • 6pm-7pm: Reading – Alyc Helms and Peter Tieryas

Saturday, Aug. 6

  • 11am-Noon: Character Craft: Hero vs. Protagonist
  • Noon-2pm: Angry Robot booth
  • 2pm-3pm: Signing at Angry Robot booth
  • 3pm-6pm: Angry Robot booth

Sunday, Aug. 7

  • 9am-11am: Read & Critique Session A

 

You can check out the full schedule here.

 

 

Where Are We Now?: Henry Lien

The Clarion Workshops (Clarion in San Diego and Clarion West in Seattle) are by-audition workshops for writers of speculative fiction (SF/Fantasy/Horror). For six weeks during the summer, eighteen writers come together under the instruction of six seasoned masters of genre. The students churn out one story and seventeen critiques a week. It’s an intense experience, the sort that can break people down and break them through to becoming better writers. The intensity of the shared experience can help build lasting bonds between classmates that are as much family as friendship.

It isn’t the right experience for everyone. Some individuals shut down under that kind of pressure. Some classes run into interpersonal conflicts that muddy the potential for bonding. Some people can’t afford to go in terms of time or money. But for me (and for my seventeen littermates in the class of Clarion West 2012), it was a life-changing experience in the best possible way.

This week, the classes of Clarion and Clarion West 2016 are starting on an amazing journey. It’s a time when Clarion alums get nostalgic, and I’m no exception! For the next six weeks, I’ll be checking in with my cohort from CW2012 and asking them to talk about their CW experiences: where they were as writers before the workshop, how the workshop impacted their writing, what they’re working on now, etc.

Like dandelion seeds, we’ve dispersed along different courses, some of us hitting ‘measurable’ success markers earlier than others. For better or worse, that’s how this writing thing works. But that’s not the full measure of our potential. One of my classmates in her interview quotes our Week 4 instructor, Connie Willis: “Writing is not a career, it’s a holy vocation. You put in as much time as it takes.” Our vocation is subject to the whims of chance and opportunity. It’s never easy, it’s never over, and it’s different for every person.


Today we have Henry Lien (and his Menagerie of Joy), who made his mark before the workshop even started when he proposed writing the Clarion West anthem and then wrangled us into performing it – with choreography – for our instructors every week.

FullSizeRender

What was your writing and publishing experience coming into Clarion West 2012?

I’d quietly written, but had never submitted to any magazines and never had anything published.

What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?

I had dizzyingly high expectations. I expected it to be an utter jump to light speed. I expected it to level me up as a writer. I expected it to kick open every publishing door I cared about. I expected to find the best friends of my life at the workshop. I expected it to launch my career as a working writer. I expected it to make me a better person. I expected it to make me smarter, taller, and sexier, while whitening my teeth and deepening my voice. And I clamped my hands over my ears and said, “Blah, blah, blah, I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” to anyone who gently and lovingly tried to tell me to temper my expectations. And you know what? Four out of six of those expectations got met, more or less. Enthusiasm can be self-fulfilling, if you decide it’s going to be.

What was something indispensable or revelatory that you learned from an instructor or special guest? From one of your classmates?

George R.R. Martin quoting Faulkner’s advice that the only thing worth writing about is the heart in conflict with itself.

How was the workshop meaningful for you? How has it impacted your writing?

I can’t say that Clarion West made me a better writer. I think my skills coming out were more or less what they were going in. What it did teach me though is how to work psychotically hard and that I as a writer have the power to create anything I want through sheer force of will if I’m simply willing to work hard enough for it. That’s very liberating and democratic.

What’s something you’ve accomplished since the workshop that you’re really proud of (doesn’t have to be writing related!)

I was 42 when I started writing and applied to Clarion West, so I didn’t have any time to waste. I ignored advice that I shouldn’t worry about how well the stories I wrote at the workshop turned out and that I should just use them as learning exercises, which I think is generally sound advice. I wanted each of my six stories to be daring a experiment but I was also determined for them to be successful experiments. I poured my heart and guts and soul into my six Clarion West stories. I pushed myself harder than I’ve ever pushed myself for anything in my life. I love those stories intensely. I’m proud that they all were bought by top markets within two years and a couple got nominated for Nebulas. I’m also super proud of the anthems that I wrote: Ready to Launch for Clarion West and Radio SFWA for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.image1 (1)

What are you working on now?

I am finishing up my first novel, Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword (Fall 2017, Penguin Random House), and starting work on the sequel (Fall 2018, Penguin Random House). The first chapters of the novel were my application writing sample, and I got feedback on them from George R.R. Martin, Kelly Link, and Chuck Palahniuk while at Clarion West. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written, by a good stretch.

Pick one and answer: What do you say when people ask, “Where do you get your ideas from?” Do you have an unusual talent or skill? What keeps you awake at night? If you weren’t a writer what would you be? What are you going to do right now when you’ve finished this ordeal?

“Where do you get your ideas from?”

I’m very hard on my story concepts. I value originality in story concepts intensely. I throw up challenges to myself all the time in coming up with unique concepts. Write a fantasy story with rich and memorable worldbuilding that does not rely on magic at all (“Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters”). Write the most interesting story you can about the least interesting subject you can think of (gardening, “The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society”). Write a story regarding a logical way to do something that you have always wanted to do (talk to dolphins) utilizing something that you are baffled and intimidated by (engineering, Twitter, “Bilingual”). I work hard to push myself outside of my comfort zone constantly in my concept-creation process. I only want to write things that I’ve never seen before but have been wanting to read my whole life. And I want everything I write to be radically different from everything else I’ve written (expect for obvious things like sequels). But the reward for front-loading the work in this way is that I’m confident that I’ve chosen the right story for me to write that will be worthy of my time and, I hope, of the reader’s time.

What question do you wish I’d asked? Answer it!

“What advice do you have for writers who wrestle with self-doubt or impostor syndrome?”

Cut it out. You’re being too hard on yourself in all the unproductive ways and too lenient on yourself in all the productive ways. You just need to work harder. That does NOT mean just sitting there and forcing words out regardless of their quality for the sake of saying you produced word count. It doesn’t mean willing yourself to become a better writer, which is ludicrous. One of the things it can mean though is making the effort to understand how your own creativity operates. How is your mind wired? Do your ideas blossom through exercise, exposure to good writing, interaction with the world, isolation, playing with animals, reading non-fiction, dressing up in cosplay as one of your characters, etc.? Does reading bad writing or critiquing other writers’ work truly help you learn how to become a better writer like everybody insists or does it in all honesty just infect your own writing with bad habits and cliché instincts? Does living healthier help you when you have to perform as a writer or do you need to indulge yourself and let yourself go to rot until the project is birthed? It takes work to understand these things about yourself. I think too many writers expect writing to be effortless and assume something’s wrong if it’s not effortless. I’m constantly hearing writers say, “That’s outside my skill set. That’s outside my comfort zone. I’ve got to be me.” I believe in expanding my skill set. I believe in expanding my comfort zone. I believe in expanding me. That’s the most honest response to self-doubt and impostor syndrome, in my opinion.


Henry can be found online at www.henrylien.com. You can sponsor him in the Clarion West 2016 Writeathon here.

Where Are We Now?: Bryan Camp

The Clarion Workshops (Clarion in San Diego and Clarion West in Seattle) are by-audition workshops for writers of speculative fiction (SF/Fantasy/Horror). For six weeks during the summer, eighteen writers come together under the instruction of six seasoned masters of genre. The students churn out one story and seventeen critiques a week. It’s an intense experience, the sort that can break people down and break them through to becoming better writers. The intensity of the shared experience can help build lasting bonds between classmates that are as much family as friendship.

It isn’t the right experience for everyone. Some individuals shut down under that kind of pressure. Some classes run into interpersonal conflicts that muddy the potential for bonding. Some people can’t afford to go in terms of time or money. But for me (and for my seventeen littermates in the class of Clarion West 2012), it was a life-changing experience in the best possible way.

This week, the classes of Clarion and Clarion West 2016 are starting on an amazing journey. It’s a time when Clarion alums get nostalgic, and I’m no exception! For the next six weeks, I’ll be checking in with my cohort from CW2012 and asking them to talk about their CW experiences: where they were as writers before the workshop, how the workshop impacted their writing, what they’re working on now, etc.

Like dandelion seeds, we’ve dispersed along different courses, some of us hitting ‘measurable’ success markers earlier than others. For better or worse, that’s how this writing thing works. But that’s not the full measure of our potential. One of my classmates in her interview quotes our Week 4 instructor, Connie Willis: “Writing is not a career, it’s a holy vocation. You put in as much time as it takes.” Our vocation is subject to the whims of chance and opportunity. It’s never easy, it’s never over, and it’s different for every person.


Today we have Bryan Camp, whose super power is to say that thing you’d wished you’d said, beautifully elegant and perfectly on point. He is a Logomancer. Seriously, check out his answer regarding what he learned from Chuck Palahniuk.

Bryan1

Look at this picture. You just know some literary magic stuff is about to go down.

What was your writing and publishing experience coming into Clarion West 2012?

The very first email I ever sent was to someone at Tor publishing when I was 16 or so, back in those ancient days of hotmail, asking how one would go about publishing a novel, were one so inclined. My email address was the acronym for the title of my very earnest, very cliché portal fantasy of which I had 30 pages written. The reply I got back (which in my memory was from an editor of some kind, but was likely some kind-hearted intern) told me that typically one finished the book, got an agent, and then sold it to a publishing house. Since that first email, my path wound its way through a minor in Creative Writing and an MFA from the University of New Orleans, and I was somewhere between steps one and two, which more or less led me to Clarion West.

What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?

My first answer to this question was a cynically funny (at least I thought so) breakdown of what a nightmare workshop can look like: more or less those scenes in Girls where Hannah is at Iowa. But then I thought back and remembered that I wasn’t expecting that of CW at all. Once it sunk in that I’d actually made it in to the sort of program that attracted instructors who earned swears in the middle of their names (Kelly effing Link!) when you told your friends about them, I basically thought I’d won the lottery. No, the golden ticket in Willy Wonka. Only there weren’t going to be any bad kids, just a bunch of delightfully bewildered noob writers suddenly ushered into fantasy nerd Space Camp. You know that gif of Will Ferrell in Elf just running around and around a revolving door yelling in glee? That was my brain for the first half of 2012.

What was something indispensable or revelatory that you learned from an instructor or special guest? From one of your classmates?

Whenever you’ve got a big group of people together talking, two people are going to start talking at the same time. It’s inevitable, like taxes and typos. Sometimes one of the two people will pause just long enough to see that they have the floor and keep talking. Sometimes a person is ALWAYS the person who gets to go first. Sometimes people do the verbal equivalent of stepping to one side, and then other, in embarrassing sync with the person you’re trying to step to the side for.

Whenever that happened in workshop with Chuck (Chuck effing Palahniuk!) he would do this incredibly gracious thing where he would hold out his hand to you and say, “Please,” inviting you to speak first. EVERY TIME.

Even though my classmate’s opinions were, and still are, very important to me, a big draw of the workshop is getting the varied opinions of professionals. So the fact that he would stand aside like that every time really stuck with me.

The more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that this impulse is often where great writing comes from. From holding your tongue and listening to someone else, anyone else, from being genuinely and deeply interested in how another human being sees a thing that you’ve already formulated an opinion about. I’ve tried to emulate that as a teacher, as a writer, and as a person.

How was the workshop meaningful for you? How has it impacted your writing?

Oh, man. How meaningful is your skeletal system, you know? In On Writing, Stephen King says that everyone has an ideal reader that they write for, and for me, it’s the 17 other members of the class of 2012. It’s their voices in my head along with my own when I’m editing something. It’s their discerning tastes I’m trying to impress when I twist a plot or subvert a trope.

I’m a high school English teacher in my day job, so I’ve always been aware, logically, that groups of writers in particular time periods could be grouped together in terms of interests and styles and subject matter, writers who often knew one another and shared their work. Until the workshop, I never really got WHY people would go to so much effort to share something which, from the outside at least, is such a solitary art.

Now, I get it. CW 2012 is my literary movement.

What’s something you’ve accomplished since the workshop that you’re really proud of (doesn’t have to be writing related!)

In the past four years since the workshop, I’ve been employed at a high performing private high school in New Orleans. It seems like a logical symbiosis, teacher/writer, (I certainly thought so when I set out on this path in college) but they’re actually incredibly hard to balance, because the bulk of an English teacher’s job uses the same “muscles” as writing. A surprising number of my colleagues find it difficult to even READ during the school year.

So while I don’t have any tangible writing results from these past four years, for me, just sticking with writing has been an accomplishment.

(For the record, I read about 80 books last year, too. So take THAT pile-of-essays-that-never-dies!)

[Ed. note: Bryan doesn’t mention hosting our 2014 Mardi Gras class reunion as one of his many post CW accomplishments. He is too humble.]

What are you working on now?

The revision of a novel that I have spent far too long revising, a mystery investigating the murder of a fortune god in post-Katrina New Orleans. After that I’ll be outlining the next project: a steampunk spy novel set during an alt history version of Colonial New Orleans. (Write what you know!)

Pick one and answer: What do you say when people ask, “Where do you get your ideas from?” Do you have an unusual talent or skill? What keeps you awake at night? If you weren’t a writer what would you be? What are you going to do right now when you’ve finished this ordeal?

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I’m not entirely sure what someone does at a think tank, but in my imagination, someone brings you a problem, and you learn a whole lot in a very short time about something you’ve never really been interested in before, and then you apply lateral thinking (read: crazy pants) until you come up with a solution that will be someone else’s job to implement.

If that’s what a think tank is? Then that. If not… can I just be disgustingly rich? No?

Then I guess a librarian. That’s like an English teacher without the grading, right?

What question do you wish I’d asked? Answer it!

One of our instructors asked us to describe what success as a writer looked like to us. What’s your answer, four years after the workshop?

I’m so glad you asked me that, Alyc! I was just telling my wife about this very exercise. I honestly don’t remember what my answer was in 2012, but today, it would be getting interviewed by Susan Larson on The Reading Life on NPR. That’s when I’ll know I’ve “made it” as a writer.


Bryan Camp is a graduate of the University of New Orleans MFA program and the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop. He is a fan of the Saints, mythology, and the Oxford comma. When he’s not translating ancient languages or restoring antique motorcycles, he spends his time making up lies about himself in website bios. He lives and teaches in New Orleans with his wife and their three cats, one of whom is name after a superhero. He can be found online at bryancamp.com and on twitter @bryancamp.

You can sponsor Bryan in the Clarion West 2016 Writeathon here.