Nostalgia, thy name is Clarion

It was this time last year when I had the greatest experience of my science fiction writing life. I’m talking Clarion’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, held in San Diego (really La Jolla) at UCSD (2007).

I was in the middle of a move out of the country—a summer I had little money to spare–but I threw a quarter of what I had into this workshop, in hopes of learning new technique, honing my writing skills and re-invigorating my desire to write science fiction and fantasy. I had no idea what I was in for…

It was 6 weeks of writing–completely devoted to writing and learning from 18 other writers like myself, who had come to pick up skills too, and from 6 writing teachers, all published writers in their fields: Greg Frost, Jeff and Ann Vandermeer (the editor of Weird Tales), Karen Joy Fowler, Cory Doctorow, Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman. We were visited by Stan Robinson, Vernor Vinge, and got to go to the ComiCon held in San Diego.

The core part of it –despite all the superheroes of writing around us–was the group of us, living and writing together in the dorms at UCSD. It was six weeks of hard work, but I look back and I think it was the best work I have ever had—creating. It was electric. Everyone was creating fantastic stories. I’m serious. People were on a level I have never been around–and they were pumping out stories, and what was great about it and allowed me to keep my head up above water, is that everyone else had rough stories too—we were at the same level, AND we were interested in each others ideas (not at all the competitive nature of grad school–colleagues actually cared about your success–I saw no jealousy.). And we learned from each other.

We also bonded as a family. We drank blueberry beer, and badly colored Vitamin water, we visited a haunted tree at night, we walked to the beach, we had squirt gun wars, drew mystic chalk circles on the sidewalk, we lived and breathed science fiction and fantasy writing, we lived a dream for six weeks, really….

I don’t know if I will ever have an experience like that in my life again. But it was beautiful, and taught me a great deal. Some of it I’m still sifting through. Some of it I absorbed and don’t know I gained it when I did…other stuff I can quote to you.

If you ever have a chance to go to Clarion (and I favor San Diego, though Clarion West is probably good, and other workshops have good things too, I’m sure) then scrimp, save, get your significant other’s permission to be encamped along these hills of light, where the joy of writing science fiction and fantasy is shared by 18 other people, and your teachers, where you are encouraged to write. Where others will look at your stuff with honesty and say, “This part here is miracle. This part here is crapola.” You will not regret it–though you have sold all you have, buy Clarion….

I can tell you truthfully, that I still talk to Clarion folks (not as much as I want) and still visit when I can, though once you get to the outer boonies of the Yukon it is hard. And call. And everyone is still writing and publishing.

Often I go back to that time and think now, i wish i had six weeks and 18 people breathing down my neck! Try it out for yourself.

7 thoughts on “Nostalgia, thy name is Clarion

  1. Emily Jiang June 18, 2008 / 9:59

    I’m going to Clarion this year, and I am soooooo excited!

  2. jstueart June 18, 2008 / 9:59

    Lucky you! It will change your life.

    Stan Robinson visited us on the first day and gave us a shocker of a challenge, in front of our first teacher, Greg Frost, his Clarion-mate and friend.

    “Skip class,” he said, only half jokingly. “Socialize. You will never have this experience again to be with these 18 other people. Spend as much time with them as possible.”

    As the year has gone by, Emily, I’m glad I took some of what he said to heart. You can always be in your room and write–and you should chuck out at least 4 stories while you are there–but don’t neglect these amazing future writers you will be living with. Hang out on their couches and talk science fiction, talk about your stories, go to the beach, go grocery shopping together, have water wars, draw chalk circles, drink beer.

    This time is precious. Yeah, go write your heart out! I never got more done than in those six weeks. But I also treasure the time I spent with my group. We had suites, so we had three other roomies, and the four of us got close. We would go over ideas with each other. So, we weren’t just goofing off together; we bounced ideas, rewrote things, edited them, played games.

    It was a womb of science fiction and fantasy creativity. And everyone was a part of the birth and growth of everyone else. The teachers watched over us and gave us advice, but we were left to grow together.

    I envy you, and hope you have a wonderful time!

  3. Keyan June 18, 2008 / 9:59

    What he said!

  4. jstueart March 25, 2009 / 9:59

    I still miss Clarion. I saw the new list of 2009ers, and I envy them all over again!

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