Clarion Write-a-Thon: Join Team Bears Discover Fire

Wanna light a fire under your writer’s bum and do a good deed?

Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop has developed the Write-a-Thon to help YOU and to help THEM.

You might be in a place in your life where you haven’t been writing much, but you wish, wish, wish, that you could–or that you had the time.  What we need, rarely, is the time—we need encouragement. The time will magically appear when we feel people in our life actually WANT us to write.

So Clarion has developed teams of writers to help you reach your writing goal—AND help Clarion reach their fundraising goals.

Here’s how it works:

1.  You say to yourself, I give myself permission to write for six weeks as much as I can.  I don’t have to take off from work, but I will find some time–with the help of my spouse, my significant other, my parents–to cordon off even a smidgen of time a day to write.

2.  You sign up with Clarion Write-A-Thon by clicking on those words.

3. (from the Clarion write-a-thon website)

  • First, sign up to write! Fill out as many of the fields as you can. It’s especially important to include a bio and excerpts. A link to your website and/or personal blog helps, too. Your name and a link to your new writer’s page will appear automatically on the Browse Writers page of the Write-a-Thon site.
  • Be sure to upload a recent photo of yourself. A .jpg that is a maximum of 200 pixels in width is ideal. But our software can resize it for you if necessary.
  • Post frequent updates everywhere. Refresh your Write-a-Thon writer’s page often with new excerpts. Post writing progress reports on your personal website, your blog, your Facebook page, and your Twitter feed. Make sure all of your efforts link to your Clarion Write-a-Thon writer’s page.
  • Line up your sponsors. Contact friends, family and fans to let them know you’re raising money for Clarion while nurturing your writing life. Your writer page comes complete with personalized donation buttons to make it easy for your supporters. Feel awkward about asking? Here’s a model letter to use as a starting point.
  • Participate as both a Writer and a Sponsor. When you support others, they’ll support you in return.
  • Join a team and get a mentor. Once you have $20 in donations, you’ll have the option of joining a small group of eight Write-a-Thon writers. Each group is mentored by a Clarion Workshop instructor or graduate, ready and waiting with advice and encouragement. To join a team, wait for your emailed invitation, or write to treasurer@theclarionfoundation.org.
  • Get Write-a-Thon badges for your blog and your website.
  • Remember, there are prizes! We’re giving away iTunes, Amazon, or B&N gift cards to our top earners, along with Write-a-Thon keepsakes. And each writer who brings in $250 or more gets a free story critique from a Clarion author!
  • You can also earn Write-a-Thon merit badges. You can begin writing any time. But beginning on the June 24, the official start of the Write-a-Thon, we have a special treat for you. On your Write-a-Thon writer’s page, you’ll see a grid with a question mark in each square. You can earn a maximum of one merit point every 24 hours by clicking the “I WROTE TODAY” button that will soon appear near the grid. As your merit point total passes certain milestones, merit badges will appear in your grid. We’re keeping the formula secret, so you never know when a badge will appear or what it will be. It’s all part of the motivational fun. We’re also trusting you to be honest. Only click the button if you really did some writing!
  • Sign up for the Clarion E-bulletin mailing list. It’s the best way to keep up with the latest Write-a-Thon news

See that part about “JOIN A TEAM”— that’s where I come in.  I’ve volunteered to be a mentor–with advice and encouragement!  My team is called TEAM BEARS DISCOVER FIRE after Terry Bisson’s story, “Bears Discover Fire.”  You’re going to discover fire in this group–as I’ll encourage you to write every day.  I’ll give prompts for those who want them, and encouraging little notes as we go along.  You’ll be in a group of people just like you who are pushing themselves for six weeks!  It’s just six weeks.  I wonder what YOU could do in six weeks if you had the encouragement from family and friends to do a little writing.

MY goal is to churn out six stories—they’re trunk stories, for the most part, but I need to get them finished.  And Clarion is the way to do it!

You might have a book that needs more chapters.  You might have some stories that need to get out.  You might have an idea that needs a story!

This Write-a-Thon is Write Up Your Alley.

Join my team and light the fire you need to get some stories and writing done.

BEARS!  Go light that fire!

[Visit the TEAM BEARS DISCOVER FIRE on WordPress and see what we’re up to!]

Bless You, Ray Bradbury

I was sad to hear of the passing of Ray Bradbury, a giant in my life.  He was 91, so he lived a good long life, and he gave us amazing writing like Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fahrenheit 451.  But I will always remember him for his collections of short stories, The Illustrated Man, Martian Chronicles, R is for Rocket, S is for Space, Medicine for Melancholy, and others.  They fueled my imagination–as I’m sure they did many people.  But I can truthfully say that Ray Bradbury–with his lyrical writing, his vivid description and interesting stories–shaped me as a writer. I heard he was one of those bridge writers–the ones that transcended genre.  But that didn’t matter.  What mattered was that he took me places, expanded my imagination, urged me to tell stories.

We met once.

I was in Lubbock, working, I think, on my last year at a degree at Wayland Baptist University.  It was 1992.  Ray was speaking at a Young Author’s conference, but also as a public speaker.  I was there to meet my hero.  I brought a copy of Martian Chronicles with me, and the picture of him in the paper.

He talked about his time working for the Smithsonian, designing famous garages of inventors; his work on the Moby Dick screenplay for John Huston.  He didn’t talk much about making science fiction…  but I was rapt nonetheless.  This man had produced so much.  His imagination was so vivid.

Afterwards, there was of course a line up to get signatures. Ray sat behind a small table, and I worked my way up to him.  While I was still a couple of people away, a woman came out of nowhere and jumped the line–with a stack of ten books, all open to the front page.  These she plunked down in front of Ray, saying “These won’t take you but a minute.”  Then she grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him sideways so her daughter could snap a picture.  I think Ray was a bit miffed–a whole line of people trailed out in front of him.

After quickly signing all her books, while she babbled, he turned back to the line with a huge amount of graciousness for our patience.  When I got up there, I put my newspaper and book in front of him, and said, “You’re the reason I started writing.”

He looked up.  “Are you sending stuff out?”

“Well, I’m trying to…I mean…” I stammered.  I wasn’t a very confident writer in 1992, with no sales to my name, but thirty bad stories completed and sitting around somewhere.

“You have to send them out.  Send one out a week.  That’s what I did.  I wrote one story a week–started on Sunday and mailed it on Saturday.  I did this for years.  That way I had 52 stories in the mail and some of them had to sell!”

He laughed.  He shook my hand.  I assured him I would do that. I didn’t keep that promise.  I went on to college, studied writing, but never writing one story a week–until I got to Clarion Writing Workshop and had to write one story a week–(I got five out of six weeks!)

That day back in 1992 I felt blessed by Ray Bradbury.  My hero took time with me, gave me advice.  Perhaps he was fueled by the woman who had taken the time he wanted to give us–maybe he felt an extra special need to be encouraging to me.  I don’t know, but I’ll never forget it.

Bless you, Ray Bradbury.  Bless you for blessing me that day.  And bless you for all the wonderful stories and novels and essays you left us.  And how you crafted magic out of an ordinary day.

Which do you want? Love or Power: Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

I was living with my folks the last time I saw the Ring Cycle on PBS in the US.  I made my parents endure several hours of it before they said, enough!  After all I had hi-jacked the TV for several nights.  And I was in the middle of Siegfried, and well, maybe…..  actually my mother came to me and said, “Are you really enjoying this?” with a hint that she’d probably prefer something else.  And actually, then, without the absence of distraction–I was inside the living room of an active six person house with dog–I don’t remember much of the Ring Cycle at all.  I do remember telling my mom that we could change the channel.

I know, high recommendation eh?  But it was a small tv, on a fuzzy station, in a mad house of six people and dog— it wasn’t the Yukon Arts Centre, with its HD and surround sound.  It’s giant screen.  And it wasn’t hunky Bryn Terfel, the Wotan of this Ring Cycle.  I’m unabashedly crushing on Bryn Terfel.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to going through my first RING CYCLE in its entirety!  As a fully realized, aware, culturally-interested adult (without a dog).  I want the t-shirt that says I got through it.  I may ask Triple J’s to make some!

Anyway, a FREE movie begins the cycle–it’s Wagner’s Dream: the Making of the Ring Cycle at 7pm on Saturday, May 12.

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Because we are offering the Ring Cycle and because I’m kind of the defacto host of these Met Opera’s, I needed to know more about it–so I looked up the story.  It’s freakin’ amazing!

It might sound familiar: A ring forged that will let the wearer rule the world, dwarves fighting for the ring, dragons that guard it, doomed lovers— seems like Wagner’s Ring Cycle might be  The Lord of the Rings with music.  It’s not true.

Though there is a strong case that Wagner and Tolkien both got their source material from the same places–German and Norse mythology and sagas–what they crafted is very different.  And with all proper credit to Tolkien, Wagner’s opera has just as much amazing storytelling as the tale of hobbits and wizards.

Tolkien’s Trilogy of books starts off with a prelude book, The Hobbit, just as Wagner’s trilogy of operas starts off with Das Rheingold.

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Characters with Something On Their Minds: the brilliant writing inside Deep Impact

Recently, I re-watched Deep Impact, one of two “asteroids-going-to-hit-Earth” movies that came out simultaneously (the other being, the poor-in-comparison, Armageddon).  Deep Impact builds slowly, and has amazingly drawn characters.  It’s worth it to watch just to pick up some tips on character development.  These are my thoughts after watching it.

1.  Every character in the movie has their own worries or concerns BEFORE their first scenes.  Jenny Lerner (Tea Leoni) wants to make a name for herself as a reporter and move up faster than the news organization’s corporate ladder will allow.  Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood) is falling in love.  Jenny’s mother (Vanessa Redgrave) is achingly going through the news of the marriage of her ex-husband to a younger woman; and the ex-husband has just married, and in the process, estranged his daughter.  Others are having babies, concerned about parties coming, or debts, or something.

It’s very easy for me as a writer to create characters who come into my scenes to do my bidding and then exit, stage left.  This makes them one-dimensional and cardboard–it also makes them a bit robotic, there to get my plot done for me.  BETTER are characters who have had something JUST happen to them when they come into your story, in other words, they are recovering from a cold, they are dealing with bills, parents passing, daycare that’s too expensive–something.  These scenes were really short, but they helped me care about the characters quicker because they had outside interests, outside agendas besides the imminent needs of the PLOT.

2.  They make CHOICES based on their previous problems or worries.  I was very surprised to see what kinds of choices they made, choices bound by the plot, yes, but could only have happened because of the natural cause-and-effect of the plot.  Someone chooses not to be saved; someone chooses to rescue someone else; someone kills themselves; each new choice brings about other choices–but choices that build on one another.

Sometimes writers (like me) create plots that are heavily structured because of what we want to see but we don’t quite take into consideration the kinds of choices  the characters would make—we make their choices from who they are in the beginning, not who they are BECOMING as the story progresses.  Events change us, and I was reminded that characters in the movies could not have made certain choices without having gone through the events in the movies. It’s a good thing to remember that the events of your story change your characters–and they do it gradually.

Change doesn’t happen because of one event, usually.  It happens because we are exposed again and again with events and choices.

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“Amina” Acid and the Ballad of Bill of Tom: deception in the pursuit of activism

What to make of the sudden revelation that two prominent lesbian bloggers, both activists, were really men?

Tom MacMaster, an American student studying in Scotland, his subject Middle Eastern Studies, created the blog “Gay Girl in Damascus” as a way to give himself a voice in the debates about what was going on in Syria, a voice others would believe.  Well, he got more than he bargained for.  The new found fame–when other people started reading the blog—went to his head, he admits, and he took the opportunity to start pushing his opinions, through Amina Arraf, on all sorts of things related to Syria.  He wanted to make a difference and claimed that no one would listen to him as a white American male.  His blog seemed to be recording life during the “Arab Spring”–a time that’s exciting everyone all over the world.  Oddly, instead of a male protagonist, in Syria, he made his “character” a lesbian:

“It was part of the challenge of being someone who wasn’t me. It was a way of also drawing attention to things, I do think there is a certain orientalism, where we in the West tend to pay more attention to people that are like us, people we can relate to, someone marginalized is more interesting.

I also think I wanted to show that in Syria, too, there are people who are all different, gay, straight, people of every possible permutation.” (from the Washington Post)

When, in a dramatic turn of events in “Amina’s” life, MacMaster writes that she’s kidnapped, he suddenly got the world’s attention.  People were noticeably upset about what was happening to this lesbian blogger in Syria.  They wanted to help. The Post says that this is the moment when a blog that might have remained believable took a misstep.  It was that Amina had so many supporters, so many people “she” had talked to, that they wanted to help her.

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X-Men vs. X-Men: First Class

Okay, I just had to re-watch Brian Singer’s original X-Men (2000) after seeing X-Men: First Class.  I wanted to see how these two movies played off each other.  Call XM:FC what you want–origin story, prequel–it still has to be a good movie.  And I think Singer’s original X-Men is a much better movie than X-Men: First Class.  Here’s why.

1.  XM: So much more character development of several characters–Rogue, Wolverine, Magneto, Xavier, Jean Grey.  This movie takes time with its characters and keeps focus on Wolverine as the “schill” or the “new guy” who gets to experience all the Xavier School like we do, for the first time.  He operates “as us” so other characters tell him things we need to know.  Their world is well-developed already and intricate and we get the idea that it’s solid and has been this way for awhile, and has stuff that we haven’t seen yet.

XM:FC barely develops Eric as a tragic, one-note, revenge-minded character, and Charles as a privileged fop whose compassion comes because of his blindness to others hardships (though occasionally, his mind-link helps him “understand” your pain).  FC Xavier comes by his compassion too easily; original Xavier seems much kinder, empathetic, a person I’d admire.

None of the minor characters in XM:FC are even developed.  They barely get screen time except to fight.  Sure XM has its share of background/throwaway characters who simply run through a door, or make an ice rose, but we don’t need to know who they are.  They aren’t pivotal to the plot.  XM:FC characters are, and it’s a shame they are never really developed.

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Mob Rules and the Art of the Team Movie— a review of X-Men: First Class

I saw X-Men: First Class last night.  It was a good, solid action movie with stunning special effects.  It moves and kept me interested.  It never had me on the edge of my seat.  It’s an origin story– it has to go through certain details to collect them all–but it doesn’t do it very interestingly, in my opinion.  It also has trouble with multiple characters, having a hard time giving them much development.  I thought the original X-Men did a better job at giving each character a moment.  While Wolverine, Rogue, Dr Jean Grey, et al have their moments to shine as characters pre-Xavier, we don’t have that in this movie.  Here, we barely know anything about Banshee, Beast, Raven, Angel, Darwin, Havoc.  They are more about what they can do than who they are–though they hint at something deeper.  In all, it’s a pretty good film, but not an amazing one.  Enjoy it as an action flick.

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