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.
For the inaugural post, I’m shoving Carlie St. George into the spotlight. I can almost hear her groans and sardonic mutters at having to go first, like she’s curled up on the other end of ‘our couch.’
What was your writing and publishing experience coming into Clarion West 2012?
I’ve been writing for pretty much my whole life, but the only things I had published going into Clarion West were a few prose poems at Gargoyle, and a One Minute Weird Tale at Weird Tales. I think I got $25.00 for that 100-word story. It was the first money I ever made from writing. Took a picture and everything.
What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?
Honestly, I was nervous as hell and didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know anyone at all in the SF/F community. My only workshop experiences were from creative writing classes at college, and the only time I’d ever gone away specifically to learn the craft of writing was at this state summer school for the arts when I was a teenager. Ultimately, that experience didn’t give me what I was looking for, and it was part of the reason I was trepidatious about Clarion West. I wanted to go; I was hugely excited by the idea of learning from actual professionals in the industry, from writers I had read and admired. I desperately wanted to improve my own craft and figure out how to actually sell a full-length story, if nothing else. But I was also nervous I wouldn’t manage to put any newfound knowledge to practical use, and I was very worried I wouldn’t fit in at all.
What was something indispensable or revelatory that you learned from an instructor or special guest? From one of your classmates?
Crap. I only get to pick one thing, huh?
I heard a lot of advice and encouragement over those six weeks at CW, and I took a lot of it to heart. But I think the first Lightbulb Moment I had was with Mary Rosenblum, when she talked about finding the universal, that one thing in your story that your readers will connect to. It sounds so frustratingly basic when I try to talk about it, but that lecture just clicked something in place for me. I genuinely felt like a better writer after the very first week at CW, which obviously I’d hoped for, but can’t pretend I actually expected.
How was the workshop meaningful for you? How has it impacted your writing?
Um. There is too much, let me sum up?
The actual workshop made me a better writer and gave me so many resources and publications I didn’t know anything about, especially because I was primarily a novel reader and felt like I was floundering in the dark trying to understand short story markets. But the biggest thing I got out of Clarion West–and good God, there’s just no way to make this NOT sound corny, like just cue the inspirational film score now–was a sense of community and, more importantly, a group of friends who knew infinitely more than I did about the industry (and writing in general) and who were just a bunch of silly bastards I could nerd out with. In four years I’ve gone from selling zero short stories to ten, and I’m proud of that, but I can’t imagine it happening without CW or, pivotally, my 2012 classmates.
What’s something you’ve accomplished since the workshop that you’re really proud of (doesn’t have to be writing related!)
I don’t have a favorite story—because, you know, MY BABIES, how could I ever choose between them?—but I’m probably the most proud of my Spindle City trilogy at The Book Smugglers. A lot, a LOT, of work went into those stories, and there was a time I despaired of ever actually finishing the series. But I did, and that world and those characters are very important to me.
And not for nothing: the first story, “The Case of The Little Bloody Slipper,” was actually my 2nd Week Clarion West story. So, yay, tangible accomplishments!
What are you working on now?
Well, I’m just finishing up a review/essay for Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, which will almost certainly be posted on my blog by the time this interview appears. [Ed. Note: It is, you can find it here!]
I’m also desperately trying to finish this melancholy fairy tale that nobody will want to buy because my obsession with 2nd person narratives has somehow coupled with my interest in multiple POV stories, and everything about that is just ridiculous. But sometimes selling the story isn’t the most important thing. (Sure is nice, though.)
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?
Literally: work. All hail the graveyard shift.
Less literally: loads of things. General life anxieties, fear of death, the knowledge that I’ll never, ever get to all the stories that I’ve dreamt about writing. Also, the baby spider colony that I’m convinced is hiding near my desk. And if any of you just thought “Aww” at the idea of baby spiders, then you are obviously a terrible person and should be forced to eat tuna-smeared rice cakes with only orange M&Ms on top until you think about what you’ve done. [Ed. Note: I will admit. I went “Aww.”]
What question do you wish I’d asked? Answer it!
Hollywood is constantly signing off on remakes that no one was ever asking for. Which movie would YOU remake if you had the capability?
Well, there’s an absolutely awful 70’s horror whodunnit movie called The Beast Must Die, in which a dinner party takes place where one of the guests is secretly an evil werewolf. The premise is gloriously cheesy, but saving the honest-to-God Werewolf Break (where the story literally stops so that the audience can guess who the werewolf is before the Big Reveal) it is an excruciatingly dull film and desperately needs to be remade into something ridiculous and fun with great dialogue and terrible special effects and awesome actors who used to be on TV shows that were unworthy of them, like, say, Nicole Beharie and William Fichtner and Tim Kang and Gillian Anderson. (Yes, I’m still bitter about the tenth season of The X-Files; why do you ask?) I would write that script in a heartbeat.
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My blog is mygeekblasphemy.com, and my Twitter handle, unimaginatively, is @MyGeekBlasphemy.