Skip to content

The Best Broken Heart You’ll Ever Have

February 25, 2014

Sam J. Miller is a writer and a community organizer. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Electric Velocipede, Shimmer, Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Nightmare, The Minnesota Review, The Rumpus, and many more. He is a graduate of the Clarion UCSD class of 2012, and the co-editor of Horror After 9/11, a critical anthology published by the University of Texas Press and included in the “Brilliant/Lowbrow” quadrant of the famed New York Magazine Approval Matrix. Visit him at www.samjmiller.com


When it’s over, you’ll be sad for the rest of your life. #Clarion

Lisa read the tweet to us at the beach, ankle-deep in warm La Jolla surf. “That’s from a Clarion 2010 graduate. I said something about how we were entering the final week.”

“Damn,” someone else said. “Sad for the rest of your life? They oughtta tell you that going in.”

It’s the next-to-last Friday night of Clarion 2012. Beautiful boys paddle out on surfboards, all tan smiles, impervious to the chill that has broke me out in goosebumps. The tweet is right: I can feel it already. Even with seven more days ahead of me, I can see the soul-fracturing pain of separation on the horizon. Soon I will have to leave this paradise of seventy-degree days and great writing, and return to the sweaty New York City heat wave where my day job waits.

But what if they did tell us that going in? What if there was a warning on the label – THIS EXPERIENCE WILL BE SO INCREDIBLE THAT YOUR REAL LIFE WILL NEVER FEEL THE SAME AGAIN?

Well, I’m giving you that warning label now. And I think you should ignore it.

For years, I debated going to Clarion. There are so many excuses, if you’re looking for them. For me they were: the money – the time off from work – the time away from my husband – my father’s poor health. Perhaps the biggest obstacle, and the one I never said out loud because I had the good sense to be ashamed of it, was that I felt like I already knew what I was doing.

If you didn’t study creative writing in some kind of structured program (MFA, writer’s workshop, etc) – or if you did, and didn’t have a positive experience of it, it’s tough to think about what community means, in writing. Writing is such a solitary act, and the submission process involves so little actual dialogue, that we often underestimate just how much we can gain from sitting down with members of your tribe and listening to them tell you how to become better.

And that’s what Clarion gives you: a tribe. People who get you. You won’t love everyone in your cadre (there will always be THAT ONE PERSON who you JUST CAN’T DEAL WITH), but you’ll love most of them. Not everyone will get your work, or offer helpful advice… but most of them will. And the insight and knowledge and perspective you’ll get in those six weeks will forever change you as a writer and a person.

In the year and a half since Clarion, I’ve sold seven short stories to some of the most exciting SFFH markets in the business, including Electric Velocipede, Shimmer, Strange Horizons, Nightmare, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and more. Two of them have been subsequently anthologized. I’ve sold three of my Clarion stories. I’ve seen my classmates in print, stories we workshopped at Clarion; seen the workshop advice they took (and didn’t take). I’ve met and bonded with tons of terrific writers, at cons and readings. Clarion connected me to the exciting community of speculative fiction writers and readers right here in my own NYC backyard, where I had lived for twelve years without ever realizing how much exciting stuff was happening all around  me.

I’m not saying all this to brag. I’m saying it to show you how much you can gain by ignoring the excuses and embracing the heartache.

The basic perks of Clarion are well-advertised. Six weeks of spec-fic writer bootcamp. Intensive bonding time with some of the best SFFH writers in the business. A trial by fire with 17 other writers who will become your team, your crew, your Hive Mind. Access to some phenomenal facilities, including a gym (I just found a photo of me, shirtless, taken right after Clarion – it’s as close as I’ve ever come in my life to having a halfway decent body) and the gorgeous and very science-fiction Geisel Library, where I sat for hours every day reading and writing. Freedom from all your other responsibilities – and you’ll never see until you step away from it how much free time you have when you no longer have to ever worry about buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, commuting, the kids…

And Clarion doesn’t just teach you to write. It teaches you to read as well. BUT I KNOW HOW TO READ, you say, and as proof, you say I’M READING THIS, AREN’T I? Yes, but. Clarion shows you how to read as a way of life, as a part of your work, as a way to see what’s new and fresh and wonderful, and what the venues that you value are publishing. I was always a voracious reader, yet after Clarion it took on a new urgency – a sense that so many of these writers operated within a universe I was now part of, and that my work existed in dialogue with theirs in a new way.

So. Like I said – the basics are all well-advertised. But here’s the one big secret bonus of Clarion, and the thing that makes heading back to your Real Life so hard: for six marvelous weeks, you’re part of a wonderful exciting community of people who are passionate about writing and reading science fiction & fantasy & horror. Some of the best writers in the business are treating you like an equal, offering you invaluable advice and feedback and input – but also eating with you, getting drunk with you, gossiping with you. For a nobody like me, that was addictive. To be cut off from that, all of a sudden, and to have to go to work and shop for groceries and submit to the slushpile, was really painful. One minute the greatest living science fiction short story writer was offering incredibly helpful critiques of my stories, the next I was once again shouting into the darkness and hoping someone heard me.

But here’s the thing. Once you’re in? You’re in. You’ll feel cut off, but you’re not. You’ll interact online, extensively. You’ll be leveraging the friends you made, to meet new friends. You’ll be part of the Greater Clarion Collective Hive Mind, encompassing all Clarion UCSD and Clarion West graduates. Say the C word to any writer who’s been through it and you’ll get an automatic hug/fistbump/highive/Twitter followback. You’ll see your instructors and your classmates at cons. You will lose your mind with happy. You’ll only be cut off when you cut yourself off.

For ten years prior to Clarion, I’d been in the business of writing. I’d gotten dozens of stories published, some of them in some pretty highly regarded literary journals. But I never felt like I was part of a community.

SFFH is different. Writers, readers, bloggers, editors, publishers – the majority of folks I’ve met at cons and readings and parties are people who genuinely love the genre, and love to geek out about brilliant books and stories. John Scalzi wasn’t one of our instructors, but he did come to visit us and have pizza one day, and he said that the difference between fans and hipsters is that hipsters love something less when other people like it (“oh, you like that [obscure music group/foreign film/writer]? seems like everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon now.”), whereas fans love something more when they get the chance to talk about it with someone else who likes it. And I’m not saying that the literary fiction community is full of hipsters – or that there are none in SFF – but in ten years of publishing stories in non-genre venues and going to non-genre events I never once had the experience I’ve had several times in the past eighteen months, of meeting a big-house editor or famous writer and immediately going into shared hyper-squee mode with them over Avatar: the Last Airbender or Alif the Unseen.

Louis C.K. has a great bit about how there are no good outcomes, when it comes to dating. Maybe it ends in immediate embarrassment and shame. Maybe you click and the sex is great and everything’s fine for a month or a year or ten before it all ends in bitterness and anger and divorce. And maybe, best case scenario, you find your soul mate and have a blissfully happy life and get old together… and then one of you dies, leaving the other miserable and alone on this planet.

“Nothing good ends well,” he says.

Well, that’s true of most meaningful things in life. And it’s true of Clarion. You’ll save yourself some pain if you don’t apply, but you’ll also rob yourself of an experience so transformative it might just jump-start your writing career, and welcome you into a brave new world of great people who care about great fiction.

Announcing the 2014 Calendar Celebrating Clarion Workshop’s Founders and Alumni

October 30, 2013

PRESS RELEASE

Dateline: October 29, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jim Shea, Chief of Development, calendar@theclarionfoundation.org

The Clarion Foundation Announces 2014 Calendar Celebrating Clarion Workshop’s Founders and Alumni

The Clarion Foundation announced today the launch of its 2014 calendar, a first for the organization, highlighting some of the ways in which depictions of gender, and particularly women, have changed since the Golden Age of science fiction some 60 years ago.

“Back in the day, it was common to see SF book and magazine covers featuring shapely, screaming females helpless in the clutches of monsters, robots or bad guys, waiting for handsome heroes to rescue them. We’ve come a long way since then,” says Jim Shea, Clarion Foundation trustee and Chief of Development. “Modern science fiction and fantasy is full of complex, powerful, attractive characters of both genders now. Clarion graduates and faculty members have made major contributions to this evolution that we are very proud of, and we felt it was a good time to showcase some of those writers. We’re pleased to take a format that once contributed to sexist stereotypes and turn it on its head.”

The calendar, developed in collaboration with acclaimed artist Lee Moyer and currently available only through Clarion’s Indiegogo campaign, will be available in bookstores nationwide by mid-November. The Indiegogo campaign is designed to generate publicity and give Clarion’s friends and supporters the opportunity to secure perks like archival prints of calendar pages while simultaneously supporting the Foundation’s mission to preserve and protect the future of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop at UC San Diego.

The third in Lee Moyer’s ongoing Literary Pin-up Calendar series, the Clarion 2014 calendar celebrates the work of Clarion co-founders Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm; alumni Kim Stanley Robinson, Kelly Link, Cory Doctorow, Kathe Koja, Greg Frost, and Pat Murphy; and Workshop teachers and friends Neil Gaiman, Karen Joy Fowler, Mary Anne Mohanraj, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Many of the authors worked closely with artist Moyer — who donated his time and talents — to identify a story and character representative of their work, and then to shape the right image.

Describing Clarion’s take on the pin-up tradition, Karen Fowler, Clarion Foundation President, stated, “This is our attempt to take new ownership of an old tradition. We knew that the ‘pin-ups’ defined by people like Mary Anne Mohanraj, Pat Murphy, Kelly Link, and Kate Wilhelm would not be traditional.”

Blogging about the calendar, author Mary Anne Mohanraj encouraged her readers to visit the Indiegogo campaign, pointing them to her page in the calendar, “…featuring the kick-ass grad student programmer and fighter Kimsriyalani, from The Stars Change. Mohanraj continued, “If you think it gives me a thrill to see one of my characters, a cat woman with pointed ears, in a gorgeous sexy illustration, then perhaps you know that I’m the girl who grew up on Elfquest comics, and spent perhaps too many of her formative college years hanging out on FurryMuck.”

For further information on the campaign, or to order copies of the calendar for your bookstore, please contact Jim Shea at calendar@theclarionfoundation.org.

Download a PDF of this press release 

Instructors for the 2014 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop at UCSD

September 23, 2013

We are happy to announce the instructor lineup for the 2014 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop.

  • Gregory Frost
  • Geoff Ryman
  • Catherynne M. Valente
  • Nora Jemisin
  • Ann VanderMeer
  • Jeff VanderMeer

Applications will open in December. For more information, please visit http://literature.ucsd.edu/affiliated-programs/clarion/index.html

Writer’s Craft #129 Best Humour Arises from Character

September 3, 2013
Lynda Williams

Lynda Williams, Author of Okal Rel Saga

Your host, Lynda Williams, is the author of the Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). She also works as Learning Technology Manager for Simon Fraser University and teaches an introductory web development course at BCIT. For a list of Okal Rel titles see: Lynda Williams on Amazon.com.


The best humour is based on knowing the character and watching that particular character respond to a bizarre challenge – to paraphrase well-loved comedian Betty White, in her Labour Day Special, Betty White’s Funniest of the Funniest.

Watching her chosen vignettes proved the hypothesis. For example, Mary’s character from the Mary Tyler Moore Show struggling not to laugh at a funeral is funny because she’s Mary, the proper, respectful one. It wouldn’t work if Mary was just anyone.

Okal Rel humour of the same sort sprang to mind, immediately.

A disoriented Ranar awarding a failing grade to what he takes to be a simulation of a Gelack bedroom, in Part 1: The Courtesan Prince, is funny because Rire’s Gelack expert hasn’t yet remembered he is actually on Gelion. And because he is usually so disgustingly correct in all his suppositions.

Eler winding up Ranar’s beleaguered substitute, Josune, in Part 5: Far Arena, is funny because we know Eler is far from the intellectual lightweight Josune presumes him to be. And we just know Eler is going to out-anthropology the anthropologist.

Ilse holding out the urine sampling kit, to Horth, in Part 7: Healer’s Sword, is giggle-worthy because he’s Horth Nersal. And she’s Ilse. He doesn’t expect his own rules about empowering medics to apply to him. And, despite a bad case of the hots for him, she’s a reputation-conscious Demish woman.

The challenge, in this age of attention-bombardment-fatigue-syndrome (ABFS), is coaxing readers into the story far enough to get the best jokes. But that’s another story.

Share an example from your own work when the humour relies on knowing the unique traits of the characters.

Writer’s Craft #128 – Beyond “Crack” Literature: Valuing Complexity in Entertainment

August 5, 2013
Lynda Williams

Lynda Williams, Author of Okal Rel Saga

Your host, Lynda Williams, is the author of the Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). She also works as Learning Technology Manager for Simon Fraser University and teaches an introductory web development course at BCIT. For a list of Okal Rel titles see: Lynda Williams on Amazon.com.


We’ve all been there, in the audience at a writer’s conference or at a blue pencil session, getting brow-beaten by the marketing mavens of the book trade who tell us:

 

* Make that first sentence so hot it’s irresistable.
* Connect your work to something famous that people recognize instantly.
* Summarize the whole thing in a sentence.

I hereby brand this phenomenon crack literature. Front load the bang. Ask nothing of your reader but the purchase.

My personal antedote this month is the wonderful review of Part 1: The Courtesan Prince, by Derek Newman-Stille on his blog, Speculating Canada.

Derek says: “The Courtesan Prince is a pedagogical text in the best sense of the word, not because it gives answers (as many think that teaching does), but because it asks questions, opens things to debate, and encourages readers to be uncomfortable with any easy answers.”

I’m proud of that.

* If someone buys my book, there’ll be something more for that reader beyond the first sentence. In fact, they might re-read the whole thing more than once.

* And while I recognize the need to speak in terms of connections to what is familiar, I’m proud of the Okal Rel Saga for being original. If that means readers have to do a little work up front, in the end the bang is so much bigger.

* As to summarizing the whole thing in one sentence, sure. Gene Roddenberry had to sell Star Trek as “Wagon Train to the Stars”. But let’s not allow ourselves, as writers, to forget the goal is to produce something worthwhile.

What do you think?

Writer’s Craft # 127 – Writing Space Travel

July 29, 2013

Michelle Murrain

Michelle Murrain


Michelle Murrain is a science fiction writer who has published seven novels. Her novels are largely hard science fiction, and incorporate social, political, and spiritual topics. She lives in Northern California.


I’m a hard science fiction author. Proudly, even. As much as I love to ponder social structures, like relationships, culture and family, explore political systems, and delve into theological questions, first and foremost, I love science, and the implications of science as we understand it.

Hard science fiction does provide certain parameters for writing. Of course each subgenre of speculative fiction has its own set of rules, generally obeying the laws of physics is one rule of hard SF. The fun part, of course, is that you get to think about how our understanding of the laws of physics, or our abilities to manipulate matter might get better over time. And that framework actually creates some really great opportunities.

Space travel has been a core part of science fiction since the beginning. In fact, one of the earliest novels considered science fiction, C.J. Defontenay’s Star ou Psi de Cassiopée, published in 1854 is about space travel. (There is a translation available. It’s a strange read.) And as our understandings of our current and possibly future limitations on travel have changed, new inventions and ideas have been created to circumvent those limitations. I’ve used one of them in some of my writing, notably wormholes. They are useful short cuts, but in the end, I think some of the most interesting stories don’t allow such workarounds, but make us face head on the vastness of space, and the terrible distances involved.

In one novel I wrote, called Becoming Queen, I combined the idea of using quantum teleportation for immediate communication with the long amounts of time space travel would take (even with improved drive capacities.) It’s fun to think about how that might affect things – ideas can travel fast and easily, but people can’t. There are a lot of ramifications to that kind of reality, and it was a quite enjoyable exercise.

And of course, there is a richness in our own neighborhood of space, and there will be a lot of time, if we ever get around to it, where travel within the solar system will be quite interesting. Quite a bit more interesting than, say, the Oregon Trail was in the mid-19th century.

I have noticed a marked decrease in the number of science fiction novels about space these days. I guess perhaps that might be a reflection of the malaise related to the US space program. Or maybe it’s just not as popular as it used to be. But I’ll be writing about space for a long time to come.

Writer’s Craft # 126 – Treasures on Paper

July 22, 2013

Holly Jennings

Holly Jennings


Holly Jennings writes speculative fiction from her home in Tecumseh, Ontario. She has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, AE Sci-Fi Canada, and elsewhere. For more, visit www.hnjennings.com or follow her as she attempts to understand twitter @HollyN_Jennings.


When Lynda first asked me to write an article about the richness of writing in notebooks, I felt my stomach twist from the dirty, little secret I’d kept hidden from other writers for years. So now, I stand — or rather sit — before you to confess my greatest literary guilty pleasure.

I prefer the computer to the notebook.

As someone who enjoys painting, the blank screen reminds me of a canvas full of possibilities while a spiraled, ruled notebook reminds me of school and homework. I crave 1” margins, perfect Courier text, and double spacing on demand the way most people crave their double tall macchiatos with extra foam (Sprinkled cinnamon on top? Really, what were you thinking?). And yet, I’ve found an undeniable fault with my love for all things digital: it’s way too easy to hit the delete button.

If a story I write doesn’t sell in six months, it ends up nestled between My Computer and Internet Explorer: inside the Recycle Bin. I’ve tried battling my compulsive need to digitally erase my rejections, failures, and do-overs. I even created a scrap folder for retired stories titled Don’t delete or the ice caps will melt and you’ll be living that horrible dystopian tale you wrote every day. Needless to say, it was to no avail (so get your life rafts ready).

In 2011, when I was packing to move back to my hometown, I came across an old banker’s box stuffed in the corner of my office closet. Inside, I found notebook after notebook filled with stories and half-finished chapters from my pre-laptop years. I had unearthed a custom-made time capsule, a treasure chest of themes, characters and ideas that were important to me a decade ago, and some that still are today.

I recently completed work on my first novel, which ended up a mishmash of the old and the new, fresh premises combined with characters created during my first incursions into writing. Had I typed these original story nuggets, they’d now be forever lost in the black hole of deleted Word .docs and corrupted .txt files, and I may have never found my way home — both in city and in spirit. So as much as I love my computer, there is one truth I just can’t deny…

I owe a lot to the notebook.

What story gems have you uncovered in your old notebooks?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,117 other followers