Goodbye to You(s)

As they say in Jersey, see you(s) around. The term is over! I always feel a flood of relief when classes conclude. I no longer have all these groups of people depending on me to be energetic and helpful. Of course, I still have permanent people fixtures, known and loved, who require those qualities of me, but at least I don’t have to pour it out to strangers, for now.

This has been one of my best terms, honestly. I stayed on top of the workload, most of my students were engaged and hard-working (there are always a few who aggravate, wheedle and cheat), and I enjoyed my time with them. However, it’s incredibly draining for me, and a distraction from what I want to be doing. I’m glad to be done.

The truly excellent part of the fun is I have no plans to teach for the rest of the year. Summer is Clarion West, and fall is the time when I use all that knowledge I’ve hopefully gathered to make some magic happen. I also have a homeschooling responsibility that needs ramping up. Mr. B finally starting reading and writing independently this year, and he’s primed for big advances now that those building blocks are in place. Double excitement.

On Skimpy Blogging, and Cabbage

Not been much going on here lately, huh? I’ve been keeping super-busy with end-of-term preparations, homeschooling, Clarion fixations (such as ever-expanding reading and packing lists), and gardening.

I do love digging in the dirt. My black thumb syndrome has dramatically improved this past year, but I was beginning to think the spring window was going to zoom right by, and I wasn’t going to get enough new planting done.

However, last weekend I cleared out a lot of old growth and this weekend, I have been working to replant. One exciting aspect of this is the opportunity to eat up remaining foodstuffs that were grown by the earth in my front yard and cultivated by my own hands. It’s a thrill, if you’ve never done it.

Here, three heads of cabbage that came straight from the garden into the pot. It was peppery and delicious. I have a couple more to go before that particular bed can be replanted, but I put out a bunch of bell pepper seedlings and I’ll probably put in the hot pepper ones tomorrow. Yum!

Of course, I should be writing.

A Clarion West Reading List

Hooray for Spring Break! Now I can tackle more of my reading list for Clarion West more effectively. The instructors, of course, are Michael Bishop, Maureen McHugh, Nnedi Okorafor, Graham Joyce, Ellen Datlow and Ian McDonald.

I’ve finished Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang, her first novel and an engrossing multi-perspective future piece. The short version: China basically runs the world after a revolution in the U.S., and we’ve colonized Mars with climate-controlled habitat domes. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s a character-driven story, and I loved those characters. I didn’t want the book to end.
I’m now reading Ian McDonald’s The Broken Land, which is probably set in one of the weirdest future Earths I’ve ever read. I’m not sure I can adequately describe it in brief! It has compelling characterization, too, but I’m most intrigued by the fluid manner in which McDonald switches from third to second person, from past to present tense, as suits the scene, often in mid-scene or even mid-sentence. It feels unexpected and sometimes jarring but always appropriate.
The rest of the list:
  • Eyes of Fire, Michael Bishop
  • The Shadow Speaker, Nnedi Okorafor
  • Requiem, Graham Joyce
  • Speaking in Tongues, Ian McDonald
  • Stolen Faces, Michael Bishop
  • Desolation Road Ian McDonald
  • King of Morning, Queen of Day, Ian McDonald
I’d like to add some more of McHugh, Joyce and Okorafor’s works to the list; this was just what I was able to get at my local used book store and on Randy Henderson, a Clarion West 2009 grad, has suggested that folks also look at the Nebula Awards Showcase for 2009, edited by Ellen Datlow. I’ve been looking over some of Datlow’s horror editing, but horror is really not my genre at all.

In Which the SIlence is Lifted

At least, the Clarion West “radio silence” is over. I can officially announce my acceptance, not that I’ve been as quiet as I should have been (it’s really difficult). Shout it from the rooftops! Except I still can’t talk above a whisper without strain. Argh! Oh, wait. I can’t even say “argh.”

When I applied last year to the Clarion West Writers Workshop, I took two “bathroom mirror” photos of myself, one with the Acceptance Face that can be seen here, and the Rejection Face, which I was too deflated to use in my 2009 rejection post. Don’t ask why. If you’ve played the Clarion waiting game, you probably know that it has serious side effects on your sanity. The photo’s a little myspace-ish, but what the heck.
The stupified expression I’m sporting in the photo is appropriate, as it turns out. When I got the call, my brain turned to mush and made me incoherent. I’d gone for a walk and left my phone at home, and there was a voicemail waiting from Seattle when I returned. I called back immediately without collecting my thoughts, which may not have helped matters anyway. Enter the gibbering idiot. I probably said “wow” and “thank you” about ten times each and failed to process much of what was being said on the other end, except the part about acceptance. Yikes! I’m glad to know I’m not alone in this instant moron reaction, as a few of my future classmates have expressed the same.
While waiting to share the news, I have to say that my overall response to this turn of events has not been quite what I expected. Instead of triumph and elation, I think the word for what I’m feeling comes somewhere between anticipation and terror. Kinda like I felt right before walking down the aisle at my wedding. Attending the workshop involves sacrifice, not just a financial one and not just on my part; plus, it’s an opportunity that, I think, comes with a certain kinda price tag, an obligation to live up to the faith being placed in me, both during and after. Most importantly after. I hope I can, more than anything.
Needless to say, I’m already planning what to pack.
EDIT: Oops. I didn’t apply to Clarion West in 2009. Rather, I applied to Clarion (San Diego), which is a whole different workshop. Maybe I am a little giddy after all.

A Silence Descends (for now)

I have no voice! In more ways than one. This is extremely hard on me as a super-jabber type. Yesterday was another complete waste due to this awful throat infection. I got out of the house briefly to go to my book club, but I really shouldn’t have because now my voiced is tapped out.

Overall, I feel somewhat better. This improved vigor is dampened, however, by the release of the latest round of rejections from Clarion West. I’ve been getting to know these hard-working, bright people who seem to have a lot in common with me (for one, a lot of them teach = much respect). Speaking from last year’s experience, rejection is hard to take when you’ve pinned your hopes and plans for the future, or at least your summer, on something that may not happen. And, unfortunately, the kindly worded rejection doesn’t shed much light on the reason your work wasn’t selected.
After the rejection I got last year, I did some real soul-searching in order to determine for myself the extent to which “the Clarion dream” was just a foolish fantasy (for me). Did my work merit the time the readers put into it? What did it lack? What could I do better? What books should I read to improve? And worst of all, should I just give it up?
For me, anyway, the answers to most of the questions didn’t matter. I had done all I could at that point, except work more consistently. As for the last one, writing is important enough to me that I won’t be stopping.
To my fellow hopefuls, please take heart. Don’t stop. Not ever.

(More) Whining, groaning, sniffling

Ugh. I am so sick. I knew I was sick on Tuesday morning, but instead of staying home like a good girl, I went on a field trip to Animal Kingdom with Mr. B’s homeschoolers’ group. I thought I would faint half the time we were there, but the kids had a great time, and I just collapsed after I got back home. I couldn’t/wouldn’t move this morning (and didn’t even get out of bed until noon); I had to cancel my classes, again. Luckily, I could email and call and take care of the details without getting out of bed. Thank Gods for smart phones. Poor Mr. B had to get his own cereal and entertain himself (which isn’t hard for him, fortunately).

In better news, I got the first issue of my Locus subscription today, good stuff. Dense. I flipped through and set it down for further reading when my brain comes back online.
I’ve been working on my Clarion West reading list. I finished Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang a few days ago, and I truly enjoyed it. I may write a little review sooner or later (like I said, when brain function returns). I started Ian McDonald’s The Broken Land a bit ago, but at some point I sat in front of the laptop and started watching The Guild and couldn’t stop.
Bleh. Hope I feel better tomorrow. Today feels wasted.

The View From Here (in which some whining is heard)

It’s been raining for two days straight, and I feel like I’m going to sink down into depression if it doesn’t stop. The weather has that effect on me. It’s a good thing I don’t live in the Northwest or in England, or some other place where it rains or looks overcast all the time. This drives the Florida girl crazy.

At least the cabbage plants (on the far right) enjoy the rain. They have been growing steadily and forming nice, firm heads without any effort from me whatsoever. The mustard (in the foreground) have finally bolted so maybe next week I can collect seeds.

Mr. B has an earache, and now he’s watching Race to Witch Mountain over and over. Ugh. There’s only so much I can take of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, explosions, and so on.

I’m also pacing and then leaping to the phone every time it rings, in hopes that it’s Clarion calling. Sigh. I said I wouldn’t freak out this year, but as time passes, I’ve become more agitated.

My Clarion Essay

Applicants to Clarion West Writer’s Workshop have to write a letter of introduction, presumably for instructors to preview. Of course, we all hope that the letter exerts other (positive) influence during the selection of candidates. A few fellow applicants are sharing theirs on blogs and such, so here’s mine. I tried to write from the heart; hope it doesn’t bore anyone to tears.

As a writing instructor at a community college, I enjoy helping others learn to express their thoughts in writing, and I think I’m pretty good at it. I have a BA in English and a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. I first encountered the workshop method in the English program and did four terms of short story and poetry workshop there. Often, I worked with people who resisted the workshop process because they felt their writing was art, and art need not yield to criticism. Another sad aspect of the program was its hostility to science fiction and fantasy. Fortunately, the experience hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for either, or my desire to attend Clarion.  
    The Women’s Studies program prepared me to write science fiction in ways my instructors would probably never have guessed. My MA thesis concerned women writers and utopian fiction, which was a guarantee that I could spend hours reading back issues of Science Fiction Studies and Utopian Studies in the stacks of the campus library, plus all the utopian and dystopian novels I could get my hands on. A pleasing side effect of the research was my first professional publication, on the same topic. I learned a great deal about science fiction criticism and applied a fresh eye to aspects of works I had formerly enjoyed for their entertainment value alone. Of course, the program also taught me a tremendous amount about gender analysis, which is sometimes but not always important to science fiction. This is not to say I converted from a naive reader to a joyless analyzer of theme, plot, characterization and so forth. Rather, my enjoyment was magnified by that critical understanding, as was my desire to write my own quality stories. 
       Like many writers, I have been writing since childhood. Writing is a smaller portion of my life than I’d like for it to be, but it is an immensely satisfying part. When I’m not grading papers for class, helping my son with his homework, performing various volunteer tasks, escaping in a sci-fi novel or walking the dog, I’m writing. I write a monthly feature for a local newspaper and write pieces here and there for academic publications, but my passion is science fiction. Reams of notes and hours of voice memos are filled with story seeds and half-remembered dreams, working in my subconscious until I can sit at the computer and work the ideas into stories.
    I recently emerged from the office after two solid hours of keyboard-pounding, with what must have been a triumphant expression, when my spouse said something that completely floored me. He remarked, “I can see this is what you’re meant to do.” He was observing my exultant behavior, but he rarely sees the work itself. I submit to publications and have online buddies who occasionally critique my writing, but my husband is too biased to be my first reader. However, his words that day hit home because they felt true. To say that writing makes me happy only makes a vague swipe at description of my inner experience; it’s an inadequate understatement of the obsessive, focused, thrilling condition that overtakes me.
    After years of jotting notes and fantasizing about the types of fictional worlds I want to create, I’ve now given myself permission to take that work seriously. I typically have several stories in process, and I have submitted a handful of shorts which have been politely rejected. I keep working on the parts of a novel that will one day click into place. This feels by turns incredibly frustrating and delightful, which (I’ve been told) means I’m doing something right. However, I can’t shake the feeling that something is missing, and if I could just figure out what that is, something amazing might happen. 
    At Clarion, I hope to develop a quicker, more critical eye that I can use to hone the writing that I’m doing into something professionally viable. I want to work hard and fast, and ultimately learn what’s working and what not. I crave the focused intensity of the experience and the intelligent company of other writers who feel the same. I’d also like to know that I’m on the right track, creatively, or if I should pack it in and stick to my day job. 

As an avid reader and writer from a young age, I wish to explore my own potential and soothe (or perhaps ignite) the craving I seem to have, the insistent urge to create the kind of fiction that has entertained and inspired me for so long. 

Clarion West, and a theft

I’m thoughtful and mostly calm about my Clarion West application, so far, not like last year’s histrionics. I finally joined the online forum for applicants, so I feel connected to the collective angst.

For my application, I submitted a revision of the story that I used last year as one of two stories for Clarion (the other one), and it feels a little crummy to do that. First, if it wasn’t accepted last year, why use it again? I’m convinced it’s a promising story, and I made some changes for the better. Second, I realized I’ve been working since last year on two stories that I’ve not yet finished. To be fair, one is a novel, and I wrote several flash pieces in the meantime, but the output otherwise is pathetically low. One thing that NaNoWriMo taught me is to let go of some responsibilities so I can write more, but the increase in pace has been marginal.
So, what’s the problem? Some of it, I think, is the fact that my favorite ideas, the unfinished ones, are ones that began with a seed, not a whole picture, whereas the finished ones hit me all at once. They were complete pictures that just needed to find a way out onto the page. I’m still floundering around trying to figure out what those unfinished stories are really about and how I want them to end. Now, I know that’s not inherently a bad thing, but I get stuck and can’t seem to get unstuck.
The other issue is discipline. If I don’t work consistently, it’s not going to happen. I spend way more time reading than writing.
Anyway, enough whining.
On another note, someone stole a big wooden statue of Buddha from my front porch. What kind of dick steals a Buddha? It galls me a bit. I don’t feel especially angry, though. I hope thieving individual at least gets some spiritual satisfaction out of it, however tainted. I should write about it, if for no other reason than spite.