Category Archives: Clarion UCSD

All Hail the Worrad

Just about three years ago I was wondering what the Clarion writers workshop had in store for me. Well now my good friend and fellow Speculator, Jim Worrad is going through the same thing, for he has joined the tiny number of English men to stride across the Atlantic ocean and meet the American’s on their SF workshop soil. Congratulations Jim!

The Worrad does not blog, or indeed tweet. Until today! Follow @JimWorrad on Twitter to track his progress through 6 weeks of literary bootcamp. Jim isn’t entirely aware he is on Twitter yet, so give him a warm welcome to arrive to.

(Jim does in fact occasionally blog right here.)

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A Little Something for Us Clarionauts

Today is the two year anniversary of the start of Clarion 2008. This time two years ago I was being collected by Dan Pinney and Megan Kurashige from a random street corner in San Diego, for the drive up to La Jolla and UCSD where I and seventeen others were going to spend six weeks of our lives writing and workshopping SF stories. And as I write eighteen new Clarion students are heading out on the same journey.

I haven’t written up my Clarion experience. I have often tried to but in the final reckoning I don’t think I can and I don’t think I’m going to now. There was too much, and attempting to express it has always seemed to limit it somehow. I’ve expressed parts of the experience in different contexts, but as the two year anniversary has approached and I’ve been flooded with memories of that six weeks, I want to try and say something about what it meant to me, in the hope that will mean something to the other people who have been and are going there.

Clarion was a very intense experience for me. It was my first trip to America, and to California, which in itself was a wonderfully rich and powerful journey. I find California overwhelming and intoxicating, and have returned twice and will again.

(I would love to live and work there for a time, so if anyone reading this happens to want to offer me a year of work, please do.)

And it marked a separation from the life I had been living up to that point. I went to Clarion with a job to come back to, but knowing I was not going to come back to it. What I did not know was that the very close relationship I was leaving behind was also going to end with Clarion. If you had asked me why I wanted to go to Clarion while I was sitting in the departure lounge at Heathrow airport, I could not have told you. But looking back, I can see that I had for some time had a growing yearning for adventure, and for a space to grow and develop as a person. Clarion became a catalyst that brought those things into my life, and for that reason it will always have tremendous personal significance for me.

But Clarion was and is an intense experience for everyone who attends, whether they bring along the kind of personal drives that I did (many do I think) or whether they are just attending a six week writers workshop. I’m going to try and explain where that universal intensity stems from, and I’d be interested to know if other people who have been there agree.

Speculative Fiction writer is, and I mean this respectfully, a weird career ambition to hold. Like a lot of people, my relationship with SF started with a parent. My mum LOVED science fiction. Arthur C Clarke and C.S. Lewis particularly, and also Lord of the Rings which was almost a bible in our home. And she also wanted to write. So in one way or another, I have been on a journey into the world of SF pretty much since birth.

But the SF world can be difficult to find. It is almost a secret world, invisible even to some of its biggest fans. Millions of people read Hugo and Nebula award winning novels, but only a fraction of them even know about WorldCon or the Science Fiction Writers of America. There are new bestselling SF novels every week, but the short story markets where SF was born and around which much of the community turns are barely known. It took me, and it takes most writers, years of work and effort to find my way into the SF world.

And then, at Clarion, you are not just in SF world, you are at its heart. A world that until then had been built out of books, and internet forums, and weekend conventions and maybe a few real life friendships or a writing group, is suddenly made of eighteen passionate, committed, ambitious, aspiring SF writers who all share much the same vision. A world that had been subjective, ghostly and intangible is now solid and real, and you are in it twenty-four hours a day with no work or other distractions.

The feeling of being at the heart of the SF world at Clarion is incredibly strong. I have had heart-to-heart conversations with Clarion graduates from different years that I had never met before but felt instant friendship with, simply because we had the shared experience of being at the centre of a place that few people get to enter. In contrast, I’ve met professional, published SF novelists who feel much less a part of that world than completely unpublished Clarion graduates.

More than anything else, it is that sense of belonging and community in the SF world that is Clarion’s real gift. Leaving Clarion is very difficult because of it (and because you are leaving behind very real and very true friendships). After those six weeks end you are back in the big bad world, and that can be very hard. But that feeling of belonging never really goes away. In fact it can get stronger. As Kelly Link said to our Clarion group in week one, some of us would go away from Clarion and start reshaping our lives so we could be part of the SF world permanently, whether as writers or editors or committed fans. Its been a pleasure to watch all of my friends from Clarion do that in their own ways, as I’ve been doing it in mine.

I titled this blog post after a short story by Philip K Dick, A Little Something for Us Tempunauts. It’s a story about time travel, but also about leaving home and coming back, and about belonging. Clarion graduates are commonly called Clarionites, like citizens of the state of Clarion. But I think of us as Clarionauts, travellers into the strange and weird and ever so slightly odd world of SF. If we come back from our travels a little strange and weird and ever so slightly odd please forgive us, it’s the nature of the journey itself.

(I want to know all about Clarion 2010! If you are there now and reading this or know someone who is please give me blog / Twitter / Facebook links below or at http://twitter.com/damiengwalter )

(And look, I’ve done a whole Clarion post without mentioning Neil Gaiman once! Oh…darn-it…)

Husbandry by EJ Fischer @ Strange Horizons

If you only read one work of speculative fiction today, make sure it is Husbandry by E J Fischer (if you read two, read Husbandry twice). Its a wicked zombie story with more than a little to say about the state of modern realationships. Strange Horizons have once again displayed the presence of mind to recognise the good work of a Clarion ’08 grad (they displayed genuine sci-fi skills by publishing Dan Pinney before he even went to Clarion!) So, go read! Whats stopping you?!

Food, San Diego, Clarion

There are seventeen other people in the world who know the slightly sick feeling I experienced when I read these words in the search terms used to find my blog just a few minutes ago:

Clarion San Diego Food

As I type eighteen new Clarionites are preparing to embark on the potentialy life changing experience that will be Clarion 2009. I know who you are, I’ve had a full list of your names and send you all good wishes. Continue reading

Clarion applicants…batten down the hatches!

Clarion classmate E J Fischer recounts his last minute application to the worlds greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy writing workshop @ UC San Diego. If its any encouragement to those of you who barely scrapped the deadline, it seemed that almost everyone in the class of 2008 applied at the last minute (and now of course I’m discouraging those of you who applied in good time…)

Continue reading

A Story of Courage, Tenacity and Dedication

Here in the UK we once had a prime time children’s TV programme called Record Breakers. On said programme, the now sadly departed Roy Castle would play the trumpet over the theme song whilst a chorus of gospel singers (I may be exagerating, but this is how my memory remebers it) sang the shows catch phrase over the top. ‘If you want to be a record breaker, dedications what you need’.

Well, if you really want to see what dedication means, swing over to The Watchtower of Destruction and read in Ferrett Steinmetz own words his story of courage and tenacity. I was there the day in week 5 when the students of Clarion ’08 played their part in pushing Ferrett to his limit and beyond. If souls made a sound when beig crushed, I think it quite likely we might have heard Ferrett’s crack as we delivered our critiques. Being it that room felt like watching a back alley beating, and then realising you were in the gang and it was your turn with the baseball bat. It wasn’t a pleasant expereince, but it was necessary. A Clarion critique can be a brutal, brutal expereince, and without doubt Ferrett took the toughest of our six weeks there.

But Ferrett took that critique, learned the lessons and turned in his best story for week 6. And not only that, Ferrett then went and sold the story to best market in speculative fiction, Asimov’s. I have only one thing to say about that.

Good on you Ferrett. You are the paragon of dedication.

Clarion 2009 Instructors Announced

The Clarion Foundation have announced the writers teaching the 2009 science fiction and fantasy writers workshop at UC San Diego. Its quite a line-up with Holly Black, Robert Crais, Kim Stanley Robinson, Elizabeth Hand, Larissa Lai and Paul Park. Applications are open from 2nd January – 1st March. Good luck to any aspiring 2009 Clarionites reading this. I’m already jealous! If Clarion is for you then go for it! (Just beware Canyon Vista).

Word War Clarion

The gauntlet has officialy been thrown, and four hardy veterans of Clarion 2008 have taken up the challenge! Thats right it’s…Word War Clarion!!

Over the next 30 days Daniel ‘Smoking Buddha’ Pinney, Gra Linnaea, Keffy Kerhli and myself, Damien G. Walter will be competeing to be the first to reach 50,000 words as part of this year’s NaNoWriMo. Competition will be fierce, but as with all great contests the real challenge is against ourselves.

So take your seats and place your bets ladies and gentlemen, Word War Clarion is underway.

Good luck one and all.