Life After

It’s been a busy summer, and I’ve only covered a fraction of it here. As proof that there’s more to life than Clarion West recovery, I actually set some goals.

One of the cooler gifts I was given at CW (among others too miraculous to quantify) was a autographed copy of Jeff Vandermeer’s Booklife, which is an extraordinary survival guide that all serious aspiring writers should have. Thanks, Jeff! In the book, Vandermeer handily explicates the notion of goal-setting as it applies to the writing life, along with a wealth of other helpful suggestions.

I sat down and cranked out goals for the week, month, and coming year, including the number of submissions I think I should be rotating at any given time in marketland, and conventions for professional writers that may help further my career. I made plans to attend one, World Fantasy Con, and outlined plans for other events in the year to come.

The momentum is exciting, but I realized pretty quickly that my weekly goals are unrealistic; part of me crazily expected to keep up a CW pacing outside of the workshop bubble. When a child is tugging my sleeve, other family members need attention, and I find myself launched back into service of my faith community, the pace really slows.


I have recently submitted three works, two of them stories from the workshop, and I’m currently working on a promising new idea. I’m keeping in touch with CW colleagues, and I joined the Codex Writers’ Group.

I guess this is a little pat on the back to reassure myself that the thrills and successes I experienced over the summer aren’t going to fade away into the ether of memory as the present realities of my life assert themselves. I’m working toward my future, one goal at a time, and I know what I want. I just have to keep moving forward.

The Clarion West Narrative: Eight Crazy Things Clarion West Made Me Do

This ongoing narrative thread about Clarion West is less coherent than I’d like, but I’m starting to think that’s symptomatic of the experience. My brain is so full of memories, sights, sounds, faces, places and ideas that the story is coming out in a jumble. A rough draft that I’ll clean up as I go, at least in my head, as I rewrite my life story.

One way I want to address some of the story is to drag it out of my past and into the present moment.

The welcome packet I was given warned us that we’d return home changed people, and in my case, the advice was dead-on. From very basic things (I started chewing gum to stay awake and developed a habit) to major shifts in self-concept that I can’t yet articulate, the workshop was transformative.

I developed an almost paranoid relationship with my laptop and still feel uneasy if it’s not where I can see it. I’m addicted to Twitter. I drink too much coffee. I’m aggressively protective of my privacy and free time. I can’t sleep (yet) on an Eastern time schedule. I returned to veganism with a passion. But, HEY! Results may vary.

I also learned to think and work like a professional writer, which is a good thing, one hopes.

This last part may seem a little juvenile, but when I came back, I also had a burning desire to be a bit funkier, to make my outer appearance match my changing inner self-concept. After some careful thought, I made a big change.

So, here’s my new do, some of which is blue. I feel fabulous and more comfortable in my own skin. I can’t sufficiently explain why this was important to me.

At my age, you’d think I’d be past little things like appearance. But I’m becoming a person I’ve wanted to be for quite some time, and it feels totally right.

Clarion West Narrative: some tidbits

Clarion West students work to build collegiality, but the workshop tone is set by the instructor.

Case in point: Week One

Michael Bishop was wonderful, a pro. Right out of the gate, he launched into an enlightening lecture on the evils of passive voice and tired phrases, and discussed the useful concept of the “object correlative.” During week one, it was clear that Bishop expected us to be familiar with more than just work in our chosen genre. We discussed James Joyce, Eliot, and Robert Hass. We talked about Flannery O’Connor and characterization, “say-able” dialogue and careful prose. And we wrote our butts off, with a different short piece due each day on a particular theme. The extraordinary part, one I dearly loved, was the fact that the stories were turned in anonymously, and Bishop read them aloud for us to critique.

The quality of those early stories blew me away. I had found myself in the company of some brilliant people. Good place to be to grow as a writer! In this process, Bishop taught us how to workshop stories without blasting authors. It set a marvelous tone for the weeks to come. Bishop himself was positive and humorous, a delightful guy.

On Tuesday, we attended a reading at the UW Bookstore where he read from a recent anthology he edited entitled Cross of Centuries. His selection was a fabulous re-imagining of Christ as a woman. Definitely worth the read.

The Clarion West Narrative

Finally back at home, after some training and travel unrelated to writing (more on that later, perhaps).

Many people are blogging about the workshop experience, and I know why (here’s a superb example). I’ve written for newspapers, but this isn’t reporting. This is grieving and restructuring the narrative of our lives, post-CW. At least, for me it is.

I don’t have adequate words to explain how much the workshop experience impacted me and changed me. I’m opting to tell the tale more thematically after a failed draft attempt to break down my Clarion West experience into week-by-week description. The bottom line is, the week-by-week stuff all blurs together, even if you take extensive notes, like I did.

Having said that…

Arrival at the workshop, Saturday June 19. Palpable excitement as classmates arrived. Lots of hugging and thrills of recognition from forum and blog posts, photos shared online in our Google group. Threw luggage into my room. The admin folks, who are lovely people, left us to our own devices to get acquainted. We went out for Indian food on University Avenue, the smorgasbord of ethnic cuisine yum-yums.

Imagine showing up to a beautiful house filled with people who share your fondest hopes. They’ve read some of the same books you’ve read. They speak your language. They laugh when you make reference to Babylon 5 or The Princess Bride. They’re wearing t-shirts with geeky sayings on them. I breathed deep, in spite of my jitters. These were MY people.

The most precious thing about the CW experience for me? Friendships. This was also the toughest part, as the workshop drew to a close. Not only did we get an extraordinary chance to learn from pro writers, we also got to share our own talents and passions with other new writers, and the combination of these factors makes for some seriously powerful bonding.

Now, some of us are working hard to stay in touch, which is professionally smart but also fulfilling in other ways. I miss them terribly. This matters so much to me that words fail here, but this aspect of the workshop was huge. I’m sorrowful, but so very grateful.

Heartfelt thanks to all.

Home Again

Wow. I just had my life radically altered by Clarion West Writers Workshop. I wish someone had told me coming home would be like ripping my heart out.

It was lovely. It was terrifying. It was complex and full of joy and discovery. It was everything I ever wanted and then some, including things I didn’t even know I needed and a bunch of new best friends.

I didn’t blog about it during because it’s just too damn hard. Some folks did in the past, and I really appreciated their efforts, for giving me a window into that life-changing event before I attended the workshop. I learned that every workshop class has a different experience, that the time we’re given is shaped by us, the participants, but there are lots of commonalities, too. Read and compare, if you are a future hopeful.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll attempt to reconstruct some of the narrative of my experience there. But it’ll be mostly for me, I think. The last six weeks have been so intense and important to my life as a person and as a writer, and I need to decompress and process some of that data, if you know what I mean.

In the meantime, here’s photo #1, arrival and unpacking.

Arrival and Ecstasy

If you’ve been reading along, you know I’m at the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle, Washington, which is amazing and surreal and a bunch of other words that don’t tell much. I will probably post irregularly, and I am beginning to understand why it is officially discouraged. There is far too much other activity and purpose here to spend it doing any writing other than fiction.

Having said that…

The house is like a palace on the bottom (where we eat and talk) and an institution on the top floors (where the writers sleep and work). The administrators are praise-worthy in the extreme. I already feel like I’ve known them a while, and they work hard to meet our every need (or demand). I nearly fell out of my chair this morning when they announced that there would be a massage therapist coming to the house at intervals to service our cramping shoulders and backs. The food is incredible and constantly available: I will probably gain back every pound I lost in May and then some.

The people, the other writers, are delightful. We’re all very different but share that one intensity of purpose. It’s sort of like being on a nerdy con panel but small, intimate and regular. So far I’ve seen work from nine of the eighteen, and they have serious chops. It’s good company.

Our first instructor, Michael Bishop, has made me think more about narrative theory in seven or so hours than I’ve ever done before. Not everything we’re discussing is new to me, but bringing it all into focus in one place, and then sitting down to write minutes later, has already produced writing of which I can be proud.

Description is inadequate to convey the experience. Suffice it to say, I’m having a blast though I miss my family, and today I ate a Vegemite sandwich for the first time ever.

Now, back to writing.

Journey’s Beginning (Random Pre-flight Ramblings)

Up early and eager to go. I don’t think I’ve mentioned before that I hate flying with a passion. If I could avoid it in a reasonable manner, I would, but I can’t see traveling for days and days clear across the country for this workshop.

So, I’m packing my usual pile of flight survival drugs and earplugs and so on, in hopes that I won’t get sick or have to endure excruciating ear pain.

The packing is almost complete, I just have to shuffle things around so my pillow will fit. I’m happy to report that I located a satchel in my closet that will accommodate my groovy but unnecessary doumbek, so now I can add one more parcel to the three I’ll already be trying to manage.

Now I’ve just got to wake my boys so we can finish up and hit the road to the airport.

No Rest for the Weary

Can’t sleep, must pack! And repack, fidget over loose ends and contemplate the prospect of fitting just ONE more thing into the suitcase.

I actually shopped today for a carrying case for my doumbek, but I couldn’t find one, so I guess it stays at home. Why do I even think I need that?

Every time I really think about what I’m doing, I feel the urge to vomit. I may yet take some decongestant to knock me out so I don’t lie awake for the rest of the night worrying about what I’ve forgotten to pack (relax, I have a cold, so it’s not total drug misuse).

This time tomorrow I will be in Seattle. Terrifying, really.


Clarion West begins in five days. I tried (unsuccessfully) to avoid thinking about the whirlwind adventure waiting for me in Seattle, but now that the days are down to single digits, and friends are wishing me well, I feel pretty scared.

I’m still working through the instructor reading list; I’ve changed it up a bit from my original plan, and now it’s on round two, where each author is going through my brain a second time with a second book. I’ve been absolutely blown away by Maureen McHugh. If you like Ursula K. Le Guin at all (and I adore her work), then McHugh is for you. I’ve also been impressed with the style of Ian McDonald, Nnedi Okorafor and Michael Bishop. Reading Graham Joyce’s Requiem was a little unpleasant for me, but now that I’m into The Limits of Enchantment, I’m ready to give the author another chance to make a first impression. One more by Bishop and I reach my minimum goal.

Other than that, I’ve been trying to tie up loose ends and set other bits in motion, in hopes that those plates will still be spinning (how’dya like that mixed metaphor?) when I return from the workshop. A big challenge is figuring out what to pack, and although I’ve been making the list and assembling the collection of stuff for over a month, now that the time is really upon me, I’m struggling a bit. I realize yet again that I like to be in control of anything and everything that I can. This whole thing is outside my comfort zone, but the nervous part of me has been properly chided by the thrill-seeker and the aggressive self-promoter. I’m almost ready.

I’m not sure how much time I’ll get to blog while I’m there; in fact, we are encouraged not to. Other participants have promised a daily update and fallen off halfway due to the demands of the workshop, so I’m not making any promises. But I do hope to document the experience a bit for myself and for future hopefuls because those who did blog gave me a window through which to look and dream.