Where Are We Now?: Kim Neville

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.


 

Storytime with Kim

Storytime with Kim is dangerous; you might actually fall into the book! (fun fact – this was taken in Greg Bear’s jealousy-inducing library.)

Today we have Kim Neville, who makes even Fairy Godmothers seem badass, and whose secret mission in life might just be to fill the world’s pockets with gummy bears.

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

I had sold two short stories to semi-pro magazines and written a handful of others, probably less than ten total. I was shopping a novel around to agents (which I trunked post-workshop, once I revisited it with my new eyes).

What sort of expectations did you have for the workshop?

I tried not to expect too much. I knew I had a lot to learn about the writing craft, and I wanted to go into the experience with an open mind and heart. That said, I did expect the workshop to be both terrifying and exhilarating (it was). I expected it would push me way out of my comfort zone. (Definitely, but I’m a Piglet so it doesn’t take much. Applying for the workshop was out of my comfort zone. Everything after was free fall.) And I suspected it would change me forever (it did, though perhaps not in the ways I’d imagined).

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

The revelation, for me, came from stepping into a larger community of which I’d previously been largely unaware. I’d been involved with writing groups over the years, but for the most part I’d always worked in isolation. I read a lot, but I read only what I liked (or what I thought I liked). I’d been missing out on so much, so many rich and diverse voices in the field. Clarion West gave me a new perspective on my own work and how it fit into the tapestry of speculative fiction. I realized that my early stories were not particularly unique or memorable, but that I had developed a distinct voice, one that I ought to be putting to better use. I’m still working on this. During the critique of my week five story, one of our classmates (and I can no longer remember which one) told me, “You need to figure out what you’re trying to say.” I think about those words all the time.

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

The most meaningful and lasting impact for me was connecting with a group of peers who are now dear friends and invaluable mentors. Besides that, the workshop made me take my writing seriously in a way I never had before. It meant a lot to have a room full of writers—both the teachers I admired as well as the classmates I grew to admire—treat my words on the page with the utmost respect. It allowed me to do the same, and to treat myself as a professional. I know my work has improved as a result of regarding it in that light.

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

I kept writing when it got hard. My husband is also a creator; he makes games. Since his industry is more likely to be lucrative than mine, we decided getting his indie game out into the world would be our family’s main focus. For two years I was the primary income earner. Fitting writing into my schedule was difficult between the day job, family, and my husband’s increasingly demanding work schedule. I woke up early and wrote every weekday morning from 5 to 6 AM. A lot of weeks that was the only writing time I had. A lot of days my writing hour was literally what got me out of bed in the morning. I didn’t accomplish much during that time. I made creeping progress on a novel. I wrote no short fiction. I sold no stories. But I kept going—what you called “quiet persistence”, Alyc. It’s the most important thing I’ve done since the workshop ended. [Ed. Note: <3. This touches on what I took from the workshop: all the little things you guys said that stuck with me, the seventeen voices in my head.]

What are you working on now?

I’m currently in the later stages of revising a novel whose seed came from a short story I wrote for George R.R. Martin in week three of the workshop. Also, this spring my husband’s game shipped and I was able to reduce my day job hours, so I’ve got several short stories in various stages of development (see my Write-A-Thon page for details!).

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 are you going to do right now when you’ve finished this ordeal?

One of my favourite daily rituals—bedtime stories with my daughter. We’re almost finished with The Hobbit, next up is Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. After that I’ll pour a glass of red and start watching the new season of Orange is the New Black.

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

How are you feeling about your writing career, four years post-workshop?

At first, I wanted things to move more quickly. I had ideas about what would mean “success” for me and they didn’t happen immediately, and I was disappointed. Now I try to keep the words of Connie Willis in mind. She told us, “Writing is not a career, it’s a holy vocation. You put in as much time as it takes.” And I’m excited about the next year. I’m more productive than ever, and I know my new work is better than anything I’ve produced up to now.


 

You can find Kim on Twitter @kaneville, and you can sponsor her in the Clarion West 2016 Writeathon here.

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Where Are We Now?: Carlie St. George

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.


 

carlie as drew barrymore

Trivia: We called Carlie’s room ‘The Smothering Room’ for REASONS. Here, she contemplates how best to get back at me for making her go first.

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.

Share your bio, website, social media.

My blog is mygeekblasphemy.com, and my Twitter handle, unimaginatively, is @MyGeekBlasphemy.


 

You can also find a list of Carlie’s publications here, and you can sponsor her in the Clarion West 2016 Writeathon here.

The Conclave of Shadow Sticky Post

Preorders and reviews are an author’s best friends!

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

 

The Dragons of Heaven Sticky Post

Preorders and reviews are an author’s best friends!

Cover Designed by Amazing15

Cover Designed by Amazing15

The Dragons of Heaven, by Alyc Helms
Published: June 2015
Publisher: Angry Robot
ISBN: 9780857664327

Missy Masters inherited more than the usual genetic cocktail from her estranged grandfather. She also got his preternatural control of shadows and his enduring legacy as the legendary vigilante superhero, Mr Mystic. After a little work the costume fits OK, but Missy is far from experienced at fighting crime, so she journeys to China to seek the aid of Lung Huang, the ancient master who once guided her grandfather. She becomes embroiled in the politics of Lung Huang and his siblings, the allegedly mythical nine dragon-guardians of all creation. When Lung Di – Lung Huang’s brother and mortal enemy – raises a magical barrier that cuts off China from the rest of the world, it falls to the new Mr Mystic to prove herself by taking down the barrier. It’s a superhero novel, a pulp fantasy novel, with lashings of kung fu, immense kick-ass dragons and an unfailingly sympathetic heroine – yes, it’s another wonderful Angry Robot title.

Angry Robot | Powell’s | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Amazon UK | Waterstones | Goodreads

Every Steampunk Writer Needs a Good Coat

Months and months ago, Beth Cato revealed the fantastic cover of her debut novel, The Clockwork Dagger.

This is a pretty important moment for a writer. This is the moment where you receive the first and most obvious fruits of putting your baby into someone else’s hands and seeing how those people represent it to the world. The moment is all the more fraught because authors have little control over this process. There are many forces at play that are not only counter to representing the author’s vision, but that can seem downright counter-intuitive (like the fact that marketers are not always marketing to the general public; often they are marketing to the book-buyers. In that case, you want a cover that looks like all the other covers, so that someone buying in bulk can look at it right away and know where the book is going to go/who it is going to sell to. Or, that has been the conventional wisdom for a long time. Please god let it be changing.)

Beth lucked out. Beth got an AWESOME cover:

Cato.Clockwork.9780062313850

So much hotness, right up front.

Trigger the following Facebook exchange:

Me: Omg, I totally want that red coat.

Beth: I want the green one; it’s my favorite color.

Me: I could totally make that.

Beth: [jfwoiefja;oije ío;jlas;dihg!!!! [I paraphrase. She was much more articulate in her enthusiasm!]

Months pass. Emails and measurements and cover-sample-photos-that-I-cannot-share are exchanged. I tell Beth that I never sew for money–only materials reimbursement–because, if I’m actually getting paid for something like this, I get exceedingly anxious about it not being PERFECT! Also, it puts me in a deadline situation, and my life is too busy for those.

In June I journeyed to my favorite cheapy-mc-cheapmeister fabric store down in San Jose because screw Joann’s and their crappy selection and over-priced goods. After a few miscues on what fabric to go with, I found the PERFECT material!

 

Armed with cotton lining in the same green, a heavy muslin for patterning/interfacing, and a Simplicity pirate coat pattern for me to gut, I was ready to sew! Which, of course, is why everything sat by my desk for two months.

IMG_20140808_171653

The calm before the storm. Also known as Thrace’s new cat toy.

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Geometry was the only math class I did well in, believe it or not.

Like I said, there’s a reason I don’t sew for money.

But this is the weekend I tackle this project! Last night I hied myself over to Marie Brennan’s place. She’s got a large floor, an absence of cats, and a similar enough body-type to Beth that I can use her to rework the pattern I’m using. For payment, I might need to make her a duplicate coat (this green is also HER favorite color), but I’m okay with that.

We chatted plot issues on Marie’s forthcoming novel, Chains and Memory, while I cut out the pattern pieces I would need. Then we watched The Avengers, talked about writing ensemble casts, and sighed many sighs over Loki (that was mostly me doing the sighing) while I tried to make Simplicity’s stupid geometry fit into reality. I finally gave up around the time the Hulk was taking out S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Helicarrier and laid out the pieces in the way that made the best sense to me. I mean, it’s $1/yard muslin. I don’t need to conserve it.

I have all my pattern pieces cut in muslin. I’m going back to Marie’s today to make a mock-up, adjust the pattern, cut the fabric and lining, and probably start on the actual sewing. I’m thinking today’s sewing movies will be Thor and Thor II. Loki is my muse.