Sunday, June 26, 2011

Clarion +1: A Year of Writing

This time last year I was on an airplane, nervous with anticipation, for a 6-week writing "boot camp" in San Diego. I was on my way to the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers' Workshop. It is an intensive workshop taught by some of the best writers in the field. The instructors during my six weeks were Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner, Dale Bailey, George RR Martin, Samuel R. Delany, Jeff and Ann Vandermeer. Their insights, as well as the insights of the seventeen other classmates (all of which I'm proud to call friends and who are some of the smartest writers you'll ever read), have inspired me to not only understand what it is I do better but, simply, to do it better. With that in mind (instead of waxing nostalgic in this post because, let's face it, I miss those Clarionites every day), I'd like to post a few of my accomplishments over the past year.

Since Clarion, I've had two short stories published in Aphelion Magazine, Prime Mincer Literary Journal, and one forthcoming from Digital Science Fiction in July. The story published in DSF is a revised Clarion submission story; and the story published in Prime Mincer was the story I submitted during the final week of Clarion.

Not including these three stories, I've completed 13 short stories - most of which are in the 4,500-5,500 word range, though some are longer, nearing novelette and novella status and some are flash fiction pieces, less than a thousand words. A few of these pieces have been submitted to various markets and are awating rejections/acceptances from editors and, though some have been trunked indefinitely, most are still in the revision process. Altogether, my total word count for short stories is approximately 47,500 words.

In November, I joined the National Novel Writing Month competition, completing half of a novel at 51,180 words. To be honest, I didn't finish it because I had decided to go into the competition without a game plan. It was actually a conscious choice - I wanted to see what it was like to write without knowing anything about the story or, at the very least, having the vaguest, roughest of outlines. The outline wasn't plot-centric; the character description was for only one charater, named Moo, and it went something like this: "Moo is a thief but he doesn't know it." Beyond that and a couple of names for worlds (this was a multi-dimensional galaxy spanning story), I had nothing.

What I've done the past few weeks, however, is returned to this novel to see if there was anything worth scraping. There is, in fact, a lot worth scraping, but I don't think the novel (or half the novel) works together. About two-thirds of the way through I break from the main characters to focus on a character that, though he was secondary to begin with, kept creeping up in the text to the point where 9,000 words was dedicated to telling his story, though his story had nothing to do with the main action. Reviewing the novel has shown me that there was a lot of interesting things going on that didn't have much to do with one another and, rather than try to tie it all up in some forced bow at the end, it seems the best way to handle the situation is to create two or three novellas out of it. This is exhilarating to me for a number of reasons. Chiefly, because it has been a long time since I've written anything over 10,000 words, and I've always enjoyed longer works (yes, I am obsessive over word count). I'm also excited because I really love the voices of several of the characters - Moo, Tok Willow, Nyanna, and Balador - and am looking forward to getting back into writing about them.

One of the other lessons learned from NaNoWriMo is that I need to plan if I'm going to attempt a novel. Between short stories, I've been jotting down notes for just such a task in a faded green notebook with a bird on a limb that I markered in black permanent marker. By the end of July, I'd like to seriously start working on it. (I've always read more novel-length works than short stories anyway and, in much of the feedback from editors and beta readers, I've been told there is enough material within some of my short fiction to extend into a novella or novel. Let's hope that's true.)

My sister Mandy and I also worked on a moleskins project together. This consisted of me writing a very short story (sometimes more than one in a single volume) in a moleskin notebook, leaving blank pages at certain intervals in the tale. Mandy would draw pictures to coincide with the themes or scenes from the story. I think we made eight of these. Several sold at Spencer Bell Legacy shows my band, Tin Tin Can, performed at.

Currently, I am working on four stories. Two of them are science fiction, a third is horror, and the fourth has elements of heroic fantasy though it isn't quite that. The first of science fiction pieces, tentatively titled "The Contra-Tuba's Soul," is coming along nicely though it, like a lot of my fiction, wants to be longer than I initially thought it would be; the other science fiction piece, tentatively titled "Sleeping Bird," is in its beginning stages, even though I had the idea for it the fifth week of Clarion. The horror piece is a story I wrote at Clarion, titled "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Aye," but I never submitted it for critiques because it really wasn't a story yet - it was a piddly thing of no significance, full of gratuitous sex and violence (instead, I wrote and submitted a terribly sentimental piece about an elderly lady taken to a sock hop by an alien and which caused Jeff Vandermeer, co-instructor that week, to exclaim, in full lambasting glory, "It's as cheesy as Beaches!"). After some thought, however, I've decided to retool the story because, despite most of the action, I'm fond of the narrative voice. The sort-of-heroic-fantasy story concerns a small island village and the soldiers who return home from a war. It is a melancholic piece. It's the kind of story where all of the elements fall into place and the world is so vividly realized for me that all I really have to do is type.

Looking toward the future, I'll be working on the above-mentioned novel from my bird-on-a-limb notebook, as well as piecing together - or pulling apart, rather - the two or three novellas from the NaNoWriMo half-novel. I also have several ideas - some of which have been floating around in my head since December (and one since 2005, eesh) - for a few other novels, so I'll begin writing notes for these soon. I also hope to continue writing short fiction: thankfully, every time I fear I'll run out of ideas for short fiction, another one inevitably comes along.

So. The final word count - it always comes down to the final word count, doesn't it? - for the first year post-Clarion is 98,680 words. I've had 3 acceptances, 4 currently pending, and 43 rejections. Before Clarion I wasn't serious about writing - I had written one and half novels when I was 19, five short stories in college, and two since graduating that were rejected from one literary magazine each and trunked. In fact, I'd only decided to get serious about writing shortly before being accepted to the workshop, starting off by writing something - anything - every day, no matter what. I've done that, almost without fail, for over a year now. But, since Clarion and my wonderful classmates' and instructors' techniques and insights, I do so with a better understanding of the craft and labor of writing. Thank you all.

1 comment:

  1. I was along for a lot of this ride. Been interesting and fun, thanks, D-man-- and by extension, Clarion.