Time for the second of the six Clarion South 2007 reminiscences. This entry is penned by one of the overseas contingent, American writer Michael Greenhut.
Like our week one author, Peter Ball, Michael took the lessons of Clarion and translated them to a flurry of impressive sales, inclding markets such as Fantasy Magazine and Greatest Uncommon Denominator. His story Watermark was voted one of the top 4 stories of the year in Fantasy Mag for 2008, prompting editrix Cat Rambo to say of it, “I really love how much this story accomplishes in so little space.” A man of careful considerations and few spoken words, he makes every utterance count, both in person and on the page. He is the unofficial World Champion of Mafia, and his LJ, The Patternless Man’s Journal, gives an often raw and painful insight into the struggles he goes through for his art.
One of my favourite ‘fighter pilots’ from Clarion South 2007, here speaketh Michael Greenhut:
CLARION WEEK TWO
My most recent publication, Think Fast, is in Greatest Uncommon Denominator issue #3, and at least two reviewers named it as their favorite story in the issue. The fact that this happened to be my week 2 story at Clarion South makes for a nice metaphor.
Where Clarion is involved, to think fast is to survive. There really isn’t a whole lot of time to write; you spend the first half of the day critiquing four classmates as they hold stuffed animals, a good part of the rest socializing with your housemates, another part of it reading other peoples’ stories for the next day, and perhaps another part of it shopping, cooking, napping after your lack of sleep the night before, meeting in the lounge, watching atrocious zombie films that make for good social lubricant, playing Mafia, or preparing dinner for that week’s tutor. Finally, at some point between 9:00and 11:00 p.m., you start (read: start) writing. You push your muse until it cries like a fat kid at the mercy of an overaggressive gym teacher. In other words, time is not your friend.
While week 1 is “jump in the water” week, where you get a feel for where you’re already at before your “rebirth”, week 2 is where you really find out what you’re made of. It’s the first time you get a bona-fide Clarion story critiqued, the first true test for just how fast you’re able to think, how far you’re able to push your muse under these conditions.
I didn’t know what to expect of Lee. I’d heard he was tough, maybe not an over-aggressive gym teacher but someone who you should treat with a healthy balance of love and fear. I’d written Think Fast in a couple of days, with hours of sleep that I could count on one hand. I volunteered to put myself on the chopping block first thing Monday morning, since I like to get these things over with.
I remember his first words — “This is an excellent story, Michael” –just as strongly as I remember his suggested cuts, additions, and reworkings, and later that day, the 45 minute one-on-one session that turned into an hour and a half of shooting the breeze about anything and everything related to speculative fiction, philosophy of writing,and what have you. I followed several of his suggestions, and if I hadn’t, I seriously doubt the story would have been published (though it probably would have suffered from what I call bridesmaid syndrome– getting a string of “oh so close” personal rejections).
Lastly, if you find yourself at Clarion, don’t skimp on the laundry list of distractions just to get in more writing time. Don’t skimp on the Mafia games, the zombie films, the chopping onions, the late night Tim Tams and hot chocolate, or even the panic about getting your writing done. Without all of that, without your friends who understand you more than most people in the world, you won’t become the writer that Clarion intends to make you.