GUEST BLOG: CLARION WEEK SIX- LYN BATTERSBY

And so we come, at last, to the end: the final week of Clarion South ’07, the final guest blog. And for a variety of reasons, there’s nobody better to look back at endings and partings than my own darling wife, Lyn Battersby.

Lyn’s gone from strength to strength since Clarion, although you’d be hard-pressed to convince her of that. Humility is a core aspect of her personality. Appearances in just about every Australian market, including highly regarded pieces in places such as Canterbury 2100, Daikaiju II: Revenge of The Giant Monsters, ASIM, and Borderlands, have consolidated her reputation as one of the most unique female voices in Australian speculative fiction. Horrorscope have anointed her as an Australian writer to watch and Alexandra Pierce, reviewing her story The Hanging Tree for ASiF, called Lyn’s writing ‘weird and interesting’– “you don’t want to look,” Pierce writes, “but you’re fascinated all the same.” Those who are familair with Lyn’s work would consider it an apt description- her stories horrify and mesmerise in equal measure, and those who read Battblush, her intensely personal Livejournal, will agree that is not just her fiction that has that effect.

Here then, to round off our look back at Clarion South 2007, is Lyn Battersby.

Clarion Week Six

Once upon a time there was a girl called Lyn. Lyn was a writer married to a writer. Lyn loved writing and with this in mind applied to join Clarion South, the six week ‘boot camp/Big Brother’ for writers.

Lyn signed up for Clarion South for one reason and one reason only. To get away from the family pressures for six weeks and write. (Okay, that sounds like two reasons, but it’s not. Take my word for it.)

She had a busy household that changed in number from week to week. Clarion South offered her the opportunity to go away for six weeks and be by herself. She could shut herself away from the world, forget it existed and immerse herself in the pleasures of the written word. Sure, there would be critting and being critted, but that wasn’t the real point of the exercise and she was fairly convinced the morning workshops would be a breeze.

If I could turn back time…

If I could turn back time I’d march up to Lyn and slap her on the upside of her head.

“Fool,” I’d say. “You think you got it made? You’re nothing but a one hit wonder, full of yourself because one little story got a bit of notice. You think the crits don’t matter, my friend? The crits do matter. They matter plenty, both to you and to the people around you. Go in there, concentrate, take it all in AND LEARN.”

In a way that did happen. Not by her – time travel is impossible – but by another class member and it came in the sixth week of her stay.

Yes, she was up herself when she started Clarion. She had been published in the small press. She’d even been nominated for several awards. She was going to Clarion for the peace and quiet and maybe to hand out a few words of wisdom gained from her experience as an author and editor.

What Lyn didn’t know at that stage was that she lacked agency. She let things happen to her and as a result the flash fame had petered out. What had happened to her star? Where had the brilliance gone?

It was during Week 6 of Clarion South that she learnt the most valuable lesson of all. My classmates had more to offer her than she could ever hope to return. They taught her that brilliance doesn’t lie in finding the perfect word, or having the perfect idea. Brilliance as a writer isn’t about talent or skill or being ambitious.

They taught her that brilliance is the child of two things: determination and humility.

Determination to believe in yourself and your product and to go after the best markets possible coupled with the humility to listen to others and accept that they are probably right when they insist that your character doesn’t have agency, or the POV is wrong or the plot mimics one used by another, more experienced author.

At the time it seemed silly to quibble over little problems during the first draft stage. It was only later, when the stories came out again and the next lot of drafting began, that those silly nothings took on a whole lot of importance and she realised what her classmates had been saying.
Then she could look at her work and say “They were right. This one word disrupts the flow of the whole paragraph.” Crits that had made her cry over the six weeks suddenly made sense. She made the changes accordingly and began to sell her work. And she thanked each and every 07 Clarionite for their contribution to her sales.

Two years on I look back at the Lyn who got off the plane at Perth airport, swearing she’d make it despite the six weeks of hell she’d just endured. I look back at her and I simultaneously want to slap her and hug her. “Yes,” I would say to her pale, sleep-deprived and homesick face. “It was hard. But believe it or not you’re now a better writer, editor and thinker than you were six weeks ago. In fact, you’re on the road to being a better person.”

She’d probably humph at me and send me on my way, but deep down she’d know it was true. She had grown within herself, thanks to the love and support of her sixteen classmates and seven tutors.

Six weeks of Clarion South were hard. By the time she finished she felt beaten and bruised and totally over writing. But she didn’t stop. And nor did they.

For her and her classmates Clarion South will never end. She has the emails to sustain her as well as the gauntlets and the phone calls. She’ll share in a wedding, a baby and a separation. She’ll share her acceptances and rejections with her friends and she’ll rejoice and commiserate with their news.

This story, unlike Lyn’s own writings, has a happy ending. Today Lyn does realise just how important Clarion South was to her. It helped her to become grounded within her craft, to look more critically at each word and to listen to all sixteen voices when they shout ‘ditto’ and ‘anti-ditto’.

And, to use an already clichéd addition to modern vernacular, that’s made of win.
___
Crits to note about this entry:

The 3rd person POV should be first person. 2 dittoes. Several anti-dittoes.

It’s too long. Anti-dittoes all around. Indicates length can stay.

The ‘Lyn’ character lacks agency. Well, I did establish that. Look at again.

The ‘Lyn’ character is well written and we see why she behaves the way she does. Good growth outcome. The ‘I’ character doesn’t have a background. What’s their motive? Resounding dittoes. Ummm, I don’t know.

The ending is clichéd. Everyone dittoed. But I state that in the text. I’m relying on the cliché. Remove it and find another ending that fits.

“I got the feeling that there should have been a third character mentioned. Maybe the week six tutor or something.” Tick Tick Tick. Add Simon into the next draft. Poor poor Simon Brown. He walked into a week where tempers were frayed. Thank goodness we ended on a high.

“I ditto the mention of another character but wanted to know more about the person who set Lyn straight in week six.” Total anti-dittoes.

“I anti-ditto that because I think the implication of the secret character works better than an actuality.” Only one anti-ditto. Everyone else dittoed.

“I think this plot was used before.” Check facts.

And that, my little darlings, was that. As the current crop of Clarion students head home to South Beach diets, AA meetings, and therapy, I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into why the students from two years ago know where all their local clock towers are, and exactly when the President’s cavalcade will be passing.

GUEST BLOG: CLARION WEEK FIVE- DAN BRAUM

Dan Braum seems to have gone mad since Clarion: stories in Dark Recesses, Full Unit Hookup, and Pseudopod, amongst others; a list of upcoming stories as long as a very long thing; an appearance at the famed KGB readings and regular fictional contributions to the Daily Cabal all point to a massive outpouring of imagination that can only lead him to an early burnout, alcoholism, and climbing a clocktower in Texas with a rifle and a whole bunch of cheerleadres in his scope… added to which, of course, are not one, but two blogs. Clearly, the man has something to say, and anyone who’s been fortunate enough to read his work knows that what he says is never less than erudite, literate, and bloody entertaining.

So, with no further ado, here speaketh one Braum, Dan, for the use of:

Clarion Week Five

This blog is titled:

Naked in the Magic Chocolate River

or

Clarion 2007, Week Five

or

Into the Heart of Darkness with Margo Lanagan.

Prior to my journey to Australia I’d met plenty of Australians, but only in small groups and mostly in Central American beach bars. Thanks to Clarion conveners, Kate Eltham and Rob Hoge, this all changed. Soon after arriving in Brisbane I joined Kate and Rob on a bus filled to the gills with Australians, which then dropped us off at a stadium where Australians flowed in by the thousands to watch a 20 / 20 Cricket match. I most certainly was not in East Lansing anymore. Kate warned me that watching a game with modified rules as my introduction to the world of cricket might cause me some confusion. But nothing could be more confusing to me than the fact that I was not handed an official copy of the Blood of Heroes, aka “Salute to the Jugger” upon deplaning. As the weeks of my trip rolled by I wondered how could it be that so few Australians I encountered knew of this movie. I found myself in a strange twilight zone. Me on Australian soil trying to explain the movie to Australians, and most of them speculative fiction writers! Peter Ball valiantly tried to aid me in remedying this. After searching several of Brisbane’s record and video stores we found a lone clerk who knew of the movie, but she was unsure she’d be able to get it at all and certainly not in time before the workshop ended. This might have been in week five, I don’t remember. I do remember getting off that plane though and Heather Gammage was there to greet me and whisk me away to a much needed meal where I realized that the amazing ginger beer I had onboard was not a freak occurrence and that many kinds of great ginger beer flowed plentifully in Brisbane.

Anything I could write about Clarion South would be woefully lacking without expressing my gratitude for the conveners, Kate Eltham, Robert Hoge, Robert Dobson and Heather Gammage. Particular gratitude to Heather for leading by example by running in the opposite direction when we encountering a brown snake in the zoo. She wisely informed me that standing there and taking pictures like a stupid tourist, as is my inclination, is not a good idea. Even when said brown snake is in a zoo and supposed to be in a cage, but is not. ( Now that I have my pictures next time I think I will just follow that advice.) Collectively the conveners chauffeured us around, searched for random computer parts, handled catastrophic computer failures, handled catastrophic human failures, chaperoned trips to restaurants and zoos, interpreted road signs, offered quick wit and quick advice and that doesn’t even cover the workshop part ! They were role models of professionalism and our cool, calm and collected guides through the Clarion process, as we followed our own individual and collective writers journey down what came to be known as the magic chocolate river.

In the first moments of the actual workshop each student said a little something about why they were here. Riffing off another student’s response, I answered, “to drink from the magic chocolate river.” ( later I decided a better answer, and the answer I gave Kelly Link when she asked, was to learn to write like Jeff Ford ) It was an unusually sparkly thing for me to say. I must have been scarred a bit by the goanna versus turkey death match Chris Green and I had recently witnessed in the campus brush. And much like those aggressive territorial birds and giant black tree climbing clawed lizards, ( that is if they could read) I prefer my fiction non-sparkly. I like stories that engage the dark heart of things. So at first I thought this blog was going to be a treatise on why the Magic Chocolate River (along with the Easter Bunny) is not real. Then I thought I’d have some kind of awesome “Heart of Darkness” / “Apocalypse Now” analogy thing going. All the elements seemed right there, the magic chocolate river, a sleep-deprived heat-addled crew, Margo “Singing my Sister Down” Lanagan at the helm. I couldn’t figure out who’d be Colonel Kurtz. Maybe we all were. We certainly were all on our own quests, all of us forging our own creation myths, main characters in our own hero/ writer journeys in that Joseph Campbell sense. A clarion workshop offers the opportunity to dig into the heart of things, to face challenges. And most certainly by week five, which I’ve been enlisted by Lee to blog about, whether we knew it or not and whether we liked it or not we were all naked and hip deep in the dark heart of the magic chocolate river.

I volunteered to have my story for the week critiqued first so our week with Margo started out something like this…

“It seems that your playing with a tinderbox full of fireworks here and this time you have been burned.”

and…

“Your hero is more weirdo than hero”

and…

“There were a few elements in the story that made it not laughable.”

Okay, I’m focusing on the body blows for a reason. Once upon a time I had a karate teacher I often sparred with. Every time I would drop the hand guarding my face he would rap me on the nose just hard enough for it to hurt and sometimes bleed. After so many times with a sore face and bloody nose you bet I learned to keep my guard up when sparring. You get the point.

Perhaps inspired by Margo, I noticed more little “tough-love” jabs finding their way into our critiques. Such as this one…

“… freight trains from hell. They just ran me over and I staggered into the darkness and heard the sound of another freight train coming…”

No matter what kind of sting they were offered with the critiques were always very incisive and got to the heart of things. The stories and discussions they inspired impressed me to no end. And with each story, with each comment, we learned. I’m tempted to offer up even more details of my first-draft wreckage but that’s just being a little more naked than I’m comfortable with. Suffice to say, clarion is a place to take chances. It is the place where flying failures, such as that draft of my story, become springboards of discussion on life and craft and learning experiences for one and all. Clarion is a place to push one’s comfort level and that’s why I was there. After an awe-inspiring week with Kelly Link and a Zen-masterful session with Gardner Dozois I was pumped and primed to do so and found I had reached a new place in my writing.

Margo’s advice to our class was rock solid. Her lessons admonishing against words like skitter and scurry and akimbo was not only humorous but unique and effective. Her critique of my story served also a lesson about “sentimental” aspects and how to more effectively use them in a story.

One of my week five highlights was the Clarion reading series at Avid Reader bookstore featuring our weekly tutors. The conveners arranged for students to read for a few minutes before each tutor. I was excited to be one of the “opening acts” before Margo’s reading. So rock and roll. I loved Kate’s introduction for me. She said something like, “I’m not sure our next reader is destined to be a great sci-fi author, a benevolent dictator of a small pacific island, or a New York crime boss, or maybe all of the above.” Yes we all had “mafia” on our minds. The readings are just another great thing a clarion workshop offers and having this and other readings under my belt I felt more confident when I read at Ellen Datlow and Gavin Grant’s Fantastic Fiction reading series a year later.

Thursdays were most certainly my favorite because it meant attending these readings held at the little outside area with giant fruit bats winging it high in the dusky sky. I loved the street the store was on. The store. The bats. The sense of community. And most of all our tables for twenty at Punjabi Palace complete with Bollywood videos cranking as we feasted on palek paner and an assortment of curries.

In the dark heart of week five we were receiving messages from Planet Pitchforth on a regular basis and found we needed no ambassador to decipher them. I went on car rides with Peter Ball with old Cure, Regina Spektor, and Goldfrapp as the soundtrack. Tasks like checking a post office box and running through the supermarket were a delight and an adventure. Dumping the water pail from the Dalek-like robotic apparatus they called an air-conditioner became a nightly ritual. The clarion owl and creatures of the night that lurked round the garbage dumpster had become so accustomed to us they no longer paid us any mind. Our games of mafia heated up and we thought that we might actually find the pattern to the patternless man after all. On the first floor, politics and fiction, tales of worlds real and imagined, stories of our pasts and futures, all swirled together into one great everlasting late night blur. I noticed that the B-movies that we watched began incorporating elements of and messages about our workshop stories. To this day I swear it was not us reading into them. Lunchtime curry with the gang and the crows and kookaburra that liked to hang around was a daily delight. As was morning eggs and discussion with Chris Green. But at some point during week five a hint of something bittersweet and mournful entered the mix for me. And it was not just that I was planning my clarion “week seven” writing binge and trip to the Red Center and Great Ocean Road after that. I worried how I would ever survive back home without a supply of ginger beer.

But the real source of the feeling was that since I’d been down this river akin to this before I knew the emotional punch that waited at the end. We all wanted it to last forever, this sense of common purpose, the sense of expansion, the working daily and all day long towards common dreams and artistic pursuits. This feeling of dread slowly took over our last night. After the wrap party. After the after party. And during the after-after party, huddled in the corner of the first floor we thought maybe if we didn’t sleep then tomorrow and the end would never come. One by one people dropped off until the most drunk of us, or in my case the most sorrowful of us, greeted the end of night and the new day. I’m filled with so many potent images of this end time. Right now I am there seeing the expression on Simon Brown’s face as he watched Chris Lynch and I load Chris’s infamous treasure chest of words into his car. The image has perfect symmetry with how my time in the beloved residence hall began; the one of Chris Green and I unloading Melania’s car which was full of so many things that seemed random at the time, among them a giant paper-mache love heart and load of fresh rich soil and seeds to grow.

I wanted this blog to be all about the fact that when it comes to writing that there is no magic bullet, no magic workshop, no magic river; that there is only hard work and blood sweat and tears and more hard work and facing fears; that writing is a lonely pursuit with only you and your ass in your chair writing away, but these words did not come. Two years on I remain convinced that the magic chocolate river is indeed real. My “pre-clarion-south self” wanted this river, my imagined Australia, to be filled with Blood of Heroes like images, the kind of stuff that would make Jasoni scream out “Gold dust! Absolute gold dust !” and break into a knee-bloodying November Rain air guitar solo like he did in a particularly infamous week five critique; but what I got was much more surreal and much more potent. Enduring. Beautiful. And so, so dear to me. What I got was real Australia. What I got was six weeks with these people and their words, their worlds, their stories, their lives and their dreams. I could blog forever about them. I promised myself I’d say just one awesome thing about each of them but I couldn’t contain myself. So instead I give you their names. Christopher Green, Richard Pitchforth, Melaina Ferranda, Michele Cashmore, Helen Venn, Ben Francisco Maulbeck, Jason “Jasoni” Fischer, Laura Goodin, Jessica Vivien, Chris Lynch, Lyn Battersby, Jason Stokes, Alessio Brescani, Michael Greenhut, Jess Irwin, and Peter Ball. My friends. My community.

The magic chocolate river flows on.

We finish our journey down memory therapy with my very own luscious wife, Lyn Battersby, on Sunday, when she wraps up or Clarionarama with a look back at the final week, week 6, and the parting of the ways

GUEST BLOG: CLARION WEEK IV- CHRIS LYNCH

In the aftermath of Clarion, the students went in a million different directions: writing, publishing, returning to their everyday lives. Chris Lynch went for a walk.

Okay, so it might have been just a tad more than ‘a walk’. It was, in fact, a walk from one end of Japan to the other, raising funds for the Fred Hollows Foundation. He described the journey in no less than 202 haiku on his blog, Hydrolith, and in fuller forms on Four Corners of Japan. And he’s now in the process of writing a book about his travels.

And let me tell you, this boy can write: The Australian called his story This Is My Blood (co-written with fellow Clarion alumni Ben Francisco, and appearing in Dreaming Again) “a powerful combination of human religion, alien culture and first contact”. Of all my Clarion students, Chris was perhaps the one who thought most about writing- not just the placing of words upon the page, but the way the page itself could be used, the shapes and spaces you could create with word placement and the white space between, the function beneath the form.

No surprise, then, that his look back is as much about lessons learned as it is about the experience itself. Here, then, is Chris Lynch:

Clarion Week Four

I’m enjoying the reminiscing about Clarion. I plunged into work straight after Clarion South 2007 finished, and have spent most of the last two years overseas. So it was only last month that I opened the box marked ‘Clarion’ and pulled out all the manuscripts scrawled with the feedback of my classmates and tutors. I revised my Week 1 story and sent it off to a magazine straight away, and in the process began to decipher what Clarion was all about for me.

The days were long, and the weeks were short. By Week 4, I had my routine:

* Wake up bleary-eyed at 8.45am, pull on some clothes (if I’d bothered to take them off), grab a banana and cup of tea, and run out the door.
* Arrive at the crit room around 9am. Nurse my mug of tea and finish writing a summary for one of the 3-4 stories of the day while the other latecomers trickled in.
* Finish the crit workshop at 1pm. Now starving, so would often join the post-critting crowd at Cafe Enternet for some potato wedges and ginger beer.
* Get back to my room around 2pm, and collapse on my bed. Sleep until 5.30pm or so, then get up and read through the stories for the next day, doing a line edit as I went.
* Make some dinner in the common room, wander around downstairs and upstairs, and see what other people were up to.
* Get started on my story around 9pm. Take breaks when it became too hard (frequently) and wander around again. There was always someone up.
* If my story wasn’t due that day, stop writing around 3am, then write crit summaries for the stories for that day.
* Fall into bed at 4.30-5am. If my story was due that day, write until 8.45am.

Week 4 was the week with the lowest combined weekly word-count of the six weeks: 61, 203 words. I was mostly responsible for the highest word-count (a 10,000 word monster during Kelly Link’s week brought us up to 75,000 words), and I was partly responsible for the reduced workload of Week 4: I didn’t actually submit a story.

My partner-in-crime was Ben Francisco, who I collaborated with. Partly because our Week 4 tutor was the inimitable Gardner Dozois and partly because we wanted to give it a go, we’d settled on an old-fashioned sci-fi story: first contact with aliens. My notes for our initial brainstorm read: “Missionary priest — female alien Jesus — bloodfarm — internal alien conflict. Questions: What happened to the first missionary? What is the central conflict? Does the priest have a friend? What is the conflict within the alien culture?”

Out of that brainstorm grew our story This is My Blood, which appeared in the Dreaming Again anthology. But, as the notes above might suggest, we weren’t really sure what we were doing, and we decided to pull our story at the last minute and submit it in Week 5 to give ourselves another day to work on it. I think I learnt as much from writing that story as I did my Week 1-3 stories combined, and I recommend every writer try collaborating with someone with complementary strengths at some point in their career.

It’s fair to say the group took a while to adjust to Gardner’s style– among other things, he led the class in singing “Undead Camels Ate Their Flesh” to the tune of the “Doo Dah, Doo Dah” song, immediately becoming Jasoni’s personal god. He was also brutally honest about stories that bored him. But as you’d expect from someone with 15 Hugos for Editing, he had a wealth of knowledge about story writing and the writing industry. Some of Gardner’s wisdom, again from my notebook:

ON STORIES

  • Don’t start stories with dreams or gun battles
  • Story = A character in an interesting setting with an interesting problem
  • Don’t have easy moral choices
  • No flashbacks until you have a foothold in setting
  • Personalise stories: the things that make you uncomfortable; local colour
  • Dare to be flamboyant — give us “reader cookies” — drama, colour, characters
  • Don’t be afraid to be sentimental
  • Think about the ecology of the supernatural
  • Stories need blackout lines
  • Write what you want to read

ON SUCCESS

  • Most of you will never be heard of again; 2-3 will have steady presence in field; 2 will pop up occasionally
  • Writing life is a series of kicks in the teeth
  • Have confidence in your own work
  • Success in the workshop means nothing
  • Persistence is more important than talent
  • Read a lot; read everything
  • Write 5-6 excellent short stories set in same universe + Publish over a year in Analog, F&SF, etc = Hot new writer + Novel offer
  • Maintain connections

A few people were quite depressed by the “most of you will fail” speech, but in the end most of us have taken the Han Solo approach to being told the odds. So far, I think we’re doing pretty well — who knows, maybe that’s what Gardner intended. For my part, I loved every minute of Clarion, my first and only chance to breathe writing for six weeks straight. And to feel like talking about the physics of unicorns and the sexual life of dwarfs was a completely normal thing to do at 2am on a Monday night…

Tune in on Wednesday, when week 5 will be interrogated, interred, and interfered with by Dan Braum

GUEST BLOG: THE MADNESS OF CLARION III- HELEN VENN

Some Clarion graduates take different paths.

Whilst our week one and two correspondents have established reputations as up and coming short story writers, Helen Venn has taken the longer route. Only recently, almost two years after throwing her identity documents on the fire and setting off the last of the roach bombs underneath the sleeping Clarion convenors, has she finished her debut novel. It’s been a labour of love for a writer firmly engaged in the task of creating a world she’s loved for years.

But the lessons of Clarion hang low over her clear and noble brow: just check out the name of her blog. Imagine Me At Clarion is a repository for her thoughts on writing, nature, and the life of a mature woman in touch with those things most important to her: her words, her family, and the active intertwining of her surroundings and her passions. It is fitting that she has been announced as the Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Tom Collins House for 2008: somehow, a less historically important domain would not seem quite so suitable.

Here then, is Helen Venn:

Week Three. Close to the half way mark.

As I am sure is the case with all Clarions we were a very diverse group. We ranged in age from early twenties to late (very late in my case) middle age. Some of us had a number of publications, others had none. There were creative writing graduates and others who had learned by doing. We came from different parts of the world but we all had the same need – a hunger to improve our writing and become professional writers.

My reasons for applying for Clarion South were to improve my critical skills so I could apply them to my writing and to learn to write to a deadline. Writing is easy enough if you just wait sit around waiting for the Muse to call on you but that’s not the way to be a professional and Clarions are aimed at setting their participants on the way to being professional writers. This was hard work but I achieved my goals and learned much more in the process.

Clarion South has its own rhythm. It centres around the crit room and the computer but it also has a social side and by now there was a definite pattern. The Mafia aficionados would disappear to the common room after dinner while the rest of us would chat for a while (oddly enough this always ended up about writing no matter where it started) and then get on with critting or writing. Eventually the night owls would settle in one apartment or other and get on with writing or critting until they couldn’t stay awake any more. One night I went out to get a glass of water around 2:00 am to find ten of my fellows at work on their laptops and another coming in the door asking, “Where’s the writers’ party?”

By Week Three, we had settled into a routine. We knew each other well enough to feel comfortable. We had a fair idea of how each of us wrote, critted, even thought and we had developed a trust in each other. We’d become a family of sorts with all that involves – support, irritations, encouragement, spats and the shared highs and lows of this incredibly intense experience.

We were so tired. Given I’m one of those folk who need their eight hours a night sleep I was constantly challenged to get enough rest but sleep was not high on our priorities and just as well since we had a story to write every week not to mention writing coherent critiques of sixteen other stories. Not only coherent but useful, sensible, tactful (not always easy to manage after two or three hours sleep for days on end) commentaries that gave praise where it was due but more importantly were going to help the recipient recognise what needed fixing and why.
At the same time we were learning – from our tutors but just as much from our fellows all of whom had had different experiences. Writing tools that had been instinctive or something we were vaguely aware of were acquiring names and the reasons for forms and structures were coming clearer. We were starting to talk confidently about agency and story arc and other intricacies of style and content. We found ourselves pushing the barriers in every area, constantly surprised at how far we had progressed in every part of our writing.

For some the actual experience of being critiqued so intensely was threatening and hard to take – and didn’t improve the longer we were there. It’s not easy to sit quietly while seventeen people – your peers and your tutor – dissect a first draft that you may have finished minutes before you handed it in with no time for revision and only a cursory run through with the spell checker. It was the first time in my life that I had ever shown anyone a first draft and to discover a gaping plot hole or a misplaced section of text after you have turned it in is torture. I can see why Clarions have a make or break reputation.

Kelly Link was our Week Three tutor. She is not only a gifted and prize winning writer and publisher but a generous and thoughtful teacher. Kelly’s grasp of the business and skills of writing is phenomenal and she made us work hard but it was worth every minute. In my one on one with her – all students get an hour one on one with the tutor for the week – she was willing and able to answer my questions about a wide range of writing related subjects ranging from style and critiquing to potential markets for stories and I came away wishing it could have gone on much longer.

Kelly came with a bonus, her husband, Gavin J. Grant, with whom she runs Small Beer Press. Gavin may not have been an official tutor but he made himself available for extra discussion sessions and was a source of much valuable information. I was saddened to hear that they have had to withdraw from tutoring at this year’s Clarion South.

Other things happened in Week Three – several of us were panellists at the Summer of Speculative Fiction Festival, some of the Clarionites took part in the weekly readings at Avid Reader bookstore (my turn came in the final week) and the first person came down with the Clarion flu followed by others during the next week. It’s interesting where a fever will take you. In my case it resulted in a story featuring a large scrub turkey of sorts based loosely on the dozens of wild ones ranging everywhere on campus.

But the absolute highlight was the Aurealis Awards. Lots of excitement where we got to dress up in our finery and the Western Australian contingent (I can’t help being a bit parochial) cheered on our local representatives among the finalists and in some cases eventual winners. If you look at the photos very hard you might catch a glimpse of us all up in the top left hand corner. Then we attended the cocktail party along with the talented and famous. The food was simply beautiful to look at and just as delicious as it looked. The local Clarionites vanished into the crowd to catch up with friends while the rest of us huddled together momentarily bedazzled until the convenors took pity on us and introduced us around.

And then it was home to bed to gather the energy for Week Four.

Coming on Sunday: Week 4 is when the paranoia and insanity really begin to bite, and Chris Lynch is just the man to describe it…

GUEST BLOG: CLARION THE SECOND- MICHAEL GREENHUT

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.

Cometh the Wednesday, cometh the lady. Helen Venn is next, with her discussion of week three.

GUEST BLOG: CLARION THE FIRST– PETER M BALL

It’s Clarion South time, and has been for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve had some vague, unformed idea about doing something to mark it– after all, it only happens every two years, I had a blast, and I’m not likely to get asked back 🙂

So it’s only fitting that I build a little shrine and paper it with hidden CCTV snaps of all my former students interfering with themselves in the shower when they think nobody is looking.

Or, I eventually decided, I could just ask them to guest blog their experiences. Which is less open to prosecution, and saves you from all those nekkid piccies of shower heads and loofahs and people accidentally falling on soapy objects and stuff.

So, for the next couple of weeks, twice a week, six of my former poops (If peeps is short for people, then surely the short version of pupils is poops, non?) will tell us about a week of their Clarion 2007 experience. I hope you enjoy. First off the mark, with his recollection of Week One (The Australian Rob Hood Show), is Peter M Ball.

Peter left Clarion and immediately started making a big splash. Appearances in markets as varied as Dog Vs Sandwich, Fantasy Magazine, and Dreaming Again have followed in quick succession, and he’s widely considered by those in the know as Someone To Watch tm. The Last Great House of Isla Tortuga, his Dreaming Again story, received an Honourable Mention in this year’s Aurealis Awards, prompting the juges to call it a thoroughly engaging story with crisp and enjoyable prose and vividly three dimensional characters. As a person he’s funny, gregarious, and always, always one step ahead, as his LJ, The Fall of The House of Arwink, reveals.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Peter M Ball:

CLARION WEEK ONE

Later this year Twelfth Planet Press is going to publish my novella, Horn, which originally started life as the short story titled The Unicorn I wrote during the first week of Clarion. Our week one tutor was actually Rob Hood, but since my week one story was critiqued on the very first day I started worrying about the looming presence of our week two tutor, Lee Battersby, right from the outset.

It’s hard to talk about The Unicorn without mentioning Lee, primarily because it was written in response to his prejudices against a particular fantasy trope. I won’t tell the full story here, not least because Lee’s already mentioned it back when the news that I’d sold the novella first broke, but the short version is pretty simple: One of my fellow students at Clarion was Lee’s wife, Lyn. She was giving us tips on what not to write for week two, among them the advice Lee hates stories about unicorns and virgins. Don’t write them. I’m not sure why, but I took that as a personal challenge – my story would have both unicorn and a virgin in it, and Lee would like it whether he wanted too or not. The idea that flowed on from there was a crossbreed of noir and horror, full of autopsy scenes and several less-than-savory characters.

Now, I’ve been known to lay some of the blame for Horn at Lee’s feet as a result of that, and I gather Lee’s pretty tickled by the way it came about too (even if he believes he needs to hunt me down and kill me before the nickname Unicorn Boy sticks). The reason I’m not going to dwell on the inspiration of the story is because it rarely gives kudos to the other Battersby who was instrumental in getting my random ideas about noir and unicorns off the ground – Lyn.

Lyn’s a writer and a reader who isn’t necessarily bothered when a story gets squicky. In fact, her week one story managed to make me profoundly uncomfortable in a way that good horror stories are meant too (but so rarely do). I respected her immediately because of that, and I knew I wanted to achieve a similar affect with my unicorn story. Writing the first draft The Unicorn turned out to be pretty brutal – it went to some places that turned out to be dark and uncomfortable for me to write – but Lyn remained the constant voice of encouragement who told me that there was nothing so dark it should be considered taboo. I think half the reason Horn has scenes as creepy or uncomfortable as it does is because trying to out-squick Lyn was as much a part of the challenge as writing something Lee would like (I achieved the latter, but I’m still not entirely sure I managed the first). During the writing process I’d keep coming out with these bizarre idea that I’d test on my dorm-mates, wondering if this time I’d finally gone too far, and every time Lyn told me to go back and write it (In fact, between the ideas suggested by Lyn and JJ Irwin, the squick quotient in one scene got much, much worse). It was the first time in a long while, perhaps ever, I felt like I was being pushed to write outside my comfort zone.

I have other fond memories of that first week– being introduced to the game Mafia, meeting a bunch of writers who fast became friends, and the look of sheer joy on Rob’s face when the class gave him a Shaun of the Dead figure as a thank-you for his guidance – but I’ll always associate that first week with Unicorns and squicky moments and emerging into our lounge room at 2 am to find someone willing to assure me that it’s okay for a story to go places your uncomfortable with as long as it’s both necessary and cool. For me, this is the strength of Clarion – it’s a place where you’re both supported by your peers and pushed to do things better all at the same time. I don’t think I could have written the first draft of The Unicorn anywhere else, and I never would have turned it into a novella without the support and encouragement of many of the folks I met either at (or because of) Clarion South.

Tune in on Sunday, when The Patternless Man, Michael Greenhut, covers week 2.

SUCH A SHAME HE HAD TO DIE

Amongst my students at Clarion South 07, there were a couple of real stand outs. Jason Fischer, who I talk about regularly on this blog, was one. Peter M Ball was another.

When it was mentioned to him that I loathe stories about unicorns, he set out to write one that even I couldn’t object to. The result was a stomach-churning mix of detective noir, gross supernatural sex, maggots and blood. Frankly, I loved it. It was an utter hoot.

Peter went on to publish equally disturbing and wonderful stories, such as The Last Great House of Isla Tortuga in Dreaming Again, and On The Finding of Photographs of My Former Loves in Fantasy Magazine. It was all going so well for him.

And then Twelfth Planet Press announced this week that they had bought a story from him for their new novella line: an expanded version of that unicorn story he had presented to us back in January of 07. Peter even announced that it would see light in the latter half of 2009. And that was why I had to hunt him down and kill him, your honour. Because I couldn’t stand the poor fellw being known as Unicorn Boy his whole life. Because he was such a talented guy, and the readers of this blog, having already seen his above-mentioned work, would go out and buy the novella, and he’d never be able to dress in a fairy costume in public again….

It was a mercy killing.