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.
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!
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.