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Clarion Report, Week Two

My report from the Clarion Writers Workshop, Week Two.

This week everyone was noticeably more tired. Whereas during Week One we were reading submission stories, during Week Two we’re reading new stories people have written, which meant that we were both writing and critiquing at the same time. I was lucky, in that I finished my 5,100 word story on Sunday and was able to concentrate on critiquing the whole week, although even so I was tired. I would read until around 11:00 at night, making a few marginal notations in each story, then go to bed; then I’d get up at 5:00 a.m. and type full critiques of the stories before showering and going to breakfast. This made for more perceptive critiques, I think, because I would sometimes notice something, after a night’s sleep, that I hadn’t noticed before. (Today I’m 3,100 words into a new story, 2,000 of which I wrote today alone. Ring a bell from last weekend?)

The critique of my story this week was naturally a bit tougher than on the more polished submission story last week. This one was hard science with a sociological twist, and people seemed to like the concept and the characters. Holly had advised us to "take big risks and fail spectacularly," so I did the whole thing in the voice of a working-class white woman from Boston, and the others thought that the voice was successful. But there was also a domestic violence theme running through the story, and practically everyone thought it was badly executed (except those who thought it didn’t belong there at all). Clearly I have to do that part with more nuance and verisimilitude, or else cut it altogether.

I continue to be blown away by the quality of my classmates’ work. It’s impossible and silly to compare us to each other, but I cannot believe that I am part of a group of such gifted, original writers.

I found a used bike, refilled the tires and had a rack installed, so I can get around more quickly to shop etc. if I need to, or to explore. I’ve also told my classmates that they are free to borrow it whenever they want. I figure I’ll re-sell it the week I leave, and wind up spending only a few dollars net.

We’re feeling even more closely bonded than we were before. Larissa says that our critiques are unusually strong and perceptive — stronger, she says, than in any Clarion class she’s taught before. We’re also great cheerleaders for one another’s work. Two former Clarionites showed up yesterday with a care package full of home-baked bread, cookies and cupcakes, and also bearing dire warnings about how, in Week Five, the "gloves come off" and people stop saying nice things about one another’s stories. I think the reaction to that particular prediction was generally pretty dismissive, i.e., "We’ll continue to be nice to each other if we want to, thank you very much." Also I didn’t like the implication that we were saying nice things just to be polite. We genuinely like and admire each other’s writing, and of course we say so.

Larissa Lai has been unflaggingly kind, warm and earnest throughout the week. She treats not only everyone’s story, but everyone’s ideas with the full, serious attention of her considerable intellect. She runs her evening workshops more like a graduate seminar, and we’ve picked up a marvelous device for accessing the creative core when ideas seem to dry out. I miss Holly, and I’m going to miss Larissa too.

Robert Crais, who will be teaching our third week, arrived today. He’s a Clarion graduate himself (1975, the same year Kim Stanley Robinson was here). He seems like a jolly fellow, and sincerely interested in what sorts of writing people are doing. He treated a bunch of the students to a dinner at a great Mexican restaurant (I was with a smaller group who didn’t go; we were working on stories) and I gather they all had a blast.

Have I mentioned that there seems to be a "deviant sex" theme bouncing around our stories? In the first two weeks we’ve seen characters having sex with octopi, giant angler fish, gender-bending telepathic demons, starships and entire planets. I have a theory as to the source of this particular deviation, but I’m waiting for peer review before publishing my findings.

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