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.

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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.

Where Are We Now?: Indra Das

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 Indra Das, whose first novel, The Devourers, is being released in North America today!

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

Indra Das portrait

Look at how happy he is about his novel release! (or possibly about cuddling a sleepy puppy)

I had published three short stories in pro markets—Flash Fiction Online, Redstone Science Fiction (now defunct), and right before Clarion West, Asimov’s. I’d also had one short in an Indian anthology, Breaking the Bow: Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Ramayana (Zubaan Books).

I’d been writing fiction since I was a child. I was always twisting our boring, generic class creative writing topics into something that would interest me. I wrote a tiny remake of Jurassic Park once—about scientists in a forest valley in China discovering and being eaten by surviving raptors, and remember my teacher telling me that “gout” was not a word that could be used to describe blood coming out of a wound (I learned that it could, in fact, from Crichton’s Jurassic Park and many a Stephen King novel).

I ramble. I started actual writing at seventeen, when I started writing my first epic fantasy novel, The Shattering Sigil. I even self-published that novel, thinking the vanity press was a small publisher that was looking out for new writers, and that was a harsh and useful lesson. Anyway, I haven’t stopped since that ambitious bid at being India’s J.R.R. Tolkien. Well, for bits of time when I can’t write, but it’s my career now, more or less.

What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?

I didn’t really know what to expect. I just thought that it’d be a great place to write for six weeks, meet some writers I admired, and just build up my work and work ethic. I had no idea, or expectation of, how intense it would be, or how close I’d get to my classmates.

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

I don’t know that I learned anything that can be condensed into one line, but witnessing my classmates’ work ethic is never not galvanizing when I really need to shake myself out of the creative doldrums. They’re a constant reminder that you can write your way out of the deepest slumps (most of the time).

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

The workshop changed my life by giving me an additional little family of seventeen writers who are essentially like siblings at this point. It gave me six weeks of glorious flashbulb memories—it was like an eventful, key phase of one’s life, say college, compressed into six weeks of revelry and work. It made me feel like part of a larger community of writers and editors and publishers. I got to meet so many of the people I’d previously only read and ‘met’ online, and see that many of them are lovely and supportive (which is important when the internet gives voice to everything shitty and insular about the notion of ‘community’ too). It very assuredly showed me that I could finish writing a complete short story draft in the space of one night, which honestly does wonders for your confidence.

I don’t know that it’s affected my writing in any way that can easily be delineated, but it’s always valuable to receive and give critique, and that changes your writing in subtle ways. Ultimately, what Clarion West did was give me a massive, euphoric, supercharged dose of creative inspiration from being immersed in an environment which was all art, all the time (there’s a hard comedown afterwards too, but you level out).

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

I found an agent and achieved my first novel publication, which are both things I’d been striving for ever since I started writing.

What are you working on now?

I tend to work on various things and see what they coalesce into. Short stories. But my second book is a priority; I just don’t know which of my various ideas and attempts will turn into the final novel.

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 do you say when people ask, “Where do you get your ideas from?”

I tend to get a lot of ideas from my dreams. In the case of my first published novel (The Devourers), it all started with a stoned reverie at a small music festival in Calcutta, but actual dreams are a vital resource for me. I’m always disappointed when I wake up and can’t remember any dreams from the previous night. When I do, it’s like finding a fabulous present under your pillow.

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

What was the worst part of Clarion West, for you?

The constant state of sleep-deprivation (though that has its positives too). The goodbyes.


 

_DSC7893Indrapramit Das (aka Indra Das) is a writer from Kolkata, India. His debut novel The Devourers (Penguin Books India) was shortlisted for the 2016 Crawford Award, and is slated for a July 2016 release in North America from Del Rey. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications and anthologies, including Clarkesworld, Tor.com, Asimov’s, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction. He is a 2012 Octavia E. Butler Scholar and a grateful graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop. He can be found online at www.indradas.com.

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

Where Are We Now?: Helen Marshall

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.


 

Helen Best Above - Hi Res

Don’t let the sweetness fool you. Her first words to me were “Want some whiskey?”

Today we have Helen Marshall, who loves sharks and soup (but NOT together), and who taught me that the trick to writing children is to understand that they are sociopaths who just want love.

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

I had mostly published poetry at that stage, but I was also working as the Managing Editor for ChiZine Publications. I had just received the commission for my first short story collection, Hair Side, Flesh Side which came out in late autumn following the workshop.

What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?

I had been told that Clarion West would either be the best experience of my life, or the worst. I went in with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. At the time, I was completing a PhD in medieval literature at the University of Toronto, and what I wanted was the chance to spend six weeks focusing on my creative writing. But the experience was so much more than I had expected. I found a family, a network of friends across multiple countries, a store of experience which I continue to draw upon.

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

Oh, gosh. I suppose the most important thing I learned was that everyone writes differently: the rules for one week didn’t necessarily apply the next week. For someone used to structured learning, this felt unnerving initially, but as the weeks went on it became more and more liberating. It meant there was room for me to experiment, to be playful; it meant I could break rules, try to do things differently, and invent new ways of telling stories for myself. At the same time, I learned that a story is a story, and as much room as there is for play, stories still work in precise ways. Sometimes I had to translate what I was being told into my own grammar, but the criticisms I received were never wrong. There was always something to learn from them.

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

I think it was at Clarion West that I really discovered who I was as a writer—and more importantly that I was a writer, not just an editor or an academic. The workshop pushed me to think deeply about my writing and how it worked, and to question the assumptions that I made. But honestly one of the greatest things I gained from the workshop were the friends—not just those in my year, but the wider Clarion West (and Clarion San Diego) community. I have to say that my life would be far lonelier if it weren’t for Clarion West.

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

I’ve just taken on the position of Lecturer of Creative Writing and Publishing at Anglia Ruskin University. This is a dream job for me: my colleagues are very supportive of science fiction and fantasy, and it’s giving me the opportunity to build in England the kind of community I saw in Seattle.

What are you working on now?

I’m completing a round of edits on my novel Everything that is Born, to be published by Random House Canada in 2018. I’m also reading for The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, which will be released by Undertow Publications in 2017.

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?

An axe thrower.

IMG_5552

Sharks and Chickens: Natural Enemies

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

Why so many sharks?

I’m glad you asked…. at Clarion West we had a giant, inflatable remote control shark that cruised the stairwells and hallways of our accommodations. She still haunts my dreams. [Ed. Note: Nooo! Sandina loves you! With the love of a small child… oh. Wait.]

 

 


 

Helen Marshall is a Lecturer of Creative Writing and Publishing at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England. Her first collection of fiction Hair Side, Flesh Side won the Sydney J Bounds Award in 2013, and Gifts for the One Who Comes After, her second collection, won the World Fantasy Award and the Shirley Jackson Award in 2015. She is currently editing The Year’s Best Weird Fiction to be released in 2017, and her debut novel Everything that is Born will be published by Random House Canada in 2018. She can be found online at www.helen-marshall.com and on twitter @manuscriptgal.

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

Where Are We Now? Cory Skerry

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 Cory Skerry, whose obsession with the game Hatoful Boyfriend sparked some of the best pigeon-related fanfic and fanart I’ve ever encountered. It also helped inspire my week 3 story, A Screech of Gulls. He asked if he could illustrate his interview.

1_alychasthesmartestcat

I should have known better than to say yes.

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

Before CW, i had a few pro sales and SFWA membership.

2_bigdeal8k

What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?

3_pewpewffsshhhhI expected that it would be difficult, that i would get little sleep, that my brain would expand with a massive injection of craft knowledge, and that there would be horrible drama between the members of my class that i would just have to endure.

 

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

I have a hard time assigning moments of learning to individual instructors—my brain doesn’t tend to retain how i came by information when it’s the type that I’m going to adapt anyway. I think when Connie Willis told us it was okay to steal the structure of another work and lay our own story on it, i suddenly saw writing more like art than i ever had before. I immediately likened it to putting clay on armature wire to build a sculpture.

[Ed. Note: That’s our Week 4 instructor, Connie Willis, whose love for the show Primeval is as strong as it is baffling. YES CONNIE, I WENT THERE!]

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

It was meaningful because the terrible drama i was expecting never happened. I met seventeen good friends, thoroughly decent humans who care about others in both their lives as well as with their work. I didn’t know you could have that many good people in one place at one time, or that they could stay good through such a high-pressure environment. I gained more faith in humanity by attending. My writing, by contrast, hasn’t changed much at all—but the way i envision, plan, and put words down has altered in myriad tiny ways, all for the better.

5_beforeafter

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

6_keepoutdoor

It’s a secret 🙂

 

What are you working on now?

A YA portal fantasy i’ve been trying to write since i was twenty.7_princesofiron

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?

[Ed. note: Or… all, I guess!]

  • 8_hyperfetchChild labor
  • If i give someone a nickname it will stick. I try to use my power for good, especially if someone slips me a benjamin.
  • Wondering if Alyc Helms will ever marry me
  • A gluten-free tropical fish fetishist who only speaks Esperanto and fixes Japanese cars to pay for globe-trotting aquarium visits
  • Play fetch with my hyperactive dog

Bonus question just for you: Explain the ‘i’ thing so people don’t think I’m a lousy editor 😛

Ahahaha! I’ve always thought it was weird that English capitalized one pronoun and none of the others. Lately, as i’ve become more aware of the consequences of colonialism, this grammatical anomaly began to seem like less like a quirk and more like an overbearing, inappropriate Western propaganda campaign to subtly encourage us to invalidate the narratives of other humans by thinking of ourselves as superior. Then again, many years ago i modeled my handwriting after the Operation Ivy logo, so maybe it’s not political and i’m just being shoddy all around:

9_quickbrownfox

 

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

Your Question: Will you marry me?
My Counter-Question: How big is the ring?
[Ed. response: Pigeon-sized]

Share your bio, website, social media.

Cory Skerry tells lies because he can’t stop himself and paints things he shouldn’t. He’s seen ghosts even though he doesn’t believe in them, puts clothes on his dog because it was his dog’s idea, and he is not sexually aroused by tropical fish but he does his best. Just kidding—don’t put that part about the fish in my bio. Seriously, i don’t want people to think i’m some kind of freak. [Ed. note: the inclusion of the tropical fish line was consensual. Cory is some kind of freak].

My website is http://coryskerry.net. i’m plunderpuss on everything that matters and CorySkerryTheWordMonster on Facebook.


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

Where Are We Now?: Gordon Harper

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.


 

Next up we have Gordon Harper. He proved he had the more ephemeral qualities necessary to be a writer when he matched our entire class to our spiritual alcohol types.

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

When I came to Clarion West, I hadn’t been published anywhere. This isn’t surprising because at that time I’d only submitted one story to two magazines, and it’d been justly rejected both times. I simply didn’t feel like my writing was good enough for publication yet. I was writing a lot—I’d been inspired by Gene Wolfe’s writing regimen of two hours before breakfast, though I could only manage one hour—and my prose was gradually getting better, but it still wasn’t particularly good and I couldn’t diagnose why.

What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?

I’d been in a few writing groups before, but they’d been mostly comprised of people who didn’t read speculative fiction, and it didn’t help that I was writing genre-heavy material. A lot of the critiques I got back started with, “I don’t normally read this stuff,” and without reference points it was difficult for them to say how I could improve it. One of the big virtues of Clarion West was that everyone was familiar with genre already, so the advice they’d give would be a lot more appropriate.

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

Mary Rosenblum, our first week instructor, gave me one of my favorite critiques I’d ever received. Since it was week one and we didn’t have time to write more than quick exercises, she used our one-on-one sessions to critique our submission stories that had gotten us into the workshop. My submission piece was a somewhat lurid Lovecraftian-horror-fantasy piece that I’d run through two writing groups already, and while it had problems I was fairly happy about it. Mary was able to show me where I was going wrong. As she put it, my plot was adequate and my world-building was excellent, but my characterization “is non-existent in the first half and dire in the second.”

So that gave me something to focus on for the rest of the course.

This was reinforced by a memorable piece of advice from George R.R. Martin, who quoted a line from William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “The problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about.” (‘The Heart in Conflict’ is the name of the final section of GRRM’s short story collection Dreamscapes.) And while I ultimately don’t agree with the sentiment—there are surely vast multitudes of things worth writing about that have nothing to do with fleeting human experience—it’s something that echoes in my brain every time I sit down to write.

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

As you might imagine, Clarion West changed my writing in ways I’m still processing today. What I didn’t expect was how much it changed my critiquing skills. Reading seventeen stories a week and critiquing them (often in a sleep-deprived state), then listening to sixteen other crits of each of those stories (finished off by the practically Word-of-God crit from the instructor) gives you immense practice at critical reading skills and how to take apart stories. And, naturally enough, the better a critiquer you are, the better you’re set up to identify the weaknesses in your own stories.

I also can’t undersell the community Clarion West establishes. Our class may be unusual, but it’s been four years and we’re still regularly emailing each other with news, drafts to crit, and long-running discussions on the latest Star Wars film (250 emails so far!). Even at its most basic, there’s something surprisingly motivating about getting daily emails from fellow writers in the same boat as you are.

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

I’m pleased to tell you that my first published short story will be coming out in the next few months from Amazing Stories (“A Clean Start”). It was one of the runners-up in the Gernsback Competition last year, so if you’re interested in a cynically optimistic look at the solar system 250 years from now, check it out.

I’m also somewhat happy with my website, Ten to Infinity, which wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Clarion West. Someone, I forget who, advised having a personal website with regular new content to encourage viewers to keep coming back. Now, for the past eight years I’ve kept a spreadsheet of all the short stories I read with ratings, so it seemed like a simple scheme to cull the highest rated stories and write about why I liked them. Over time I’ve built up 180 reviews, though the first 60-odd are quick two-paragraph pieces. While it’s on hiatus at the moment, I’m currently preparing material for two review series focusing on old anthology comics.

What are you working on now?

My Federal Taxes course, part of a long road towards getting my CPA license. Writing-wise, I’m trying to finish off some short stories before classes start up again in earnest.

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 do you say when people ask, “Where do you get your ideas from?”

Ideas are ten a penny. I’ve filled piles of scrap paper, pages upon pages of notes in minute, barely legible writing, of ideas I stumble across. Everything you learn, everything you experience, is fodder for ideas. Trinitite is the name for glass formed by an atomic explosion; what windows might it make? The Order of the Blackened Dawn, founded in the Year Without a Summer, was both inspiration for and antagonist to Aleister Crowley’s efforts. The horror of accumulated paperwork and the joy of byzantine accounting systems.

No, the real trick is figuring out how to take your ideas and turn them into the form of a story; otherwise you might as well just publish a book of miscellany. Oh, and make sure there’s characterization in there somewhere. Never forget the characterization.

Share your bio, website, social media.

Ten to Infinity is found, quite understandably, at tentoinfinity.com. I occasionally remember that Twitter exists, where I’m @tentoinfinity.