Wise Owls

Neil Gaiman arrived yesterday to take the reins as our instructor for week four of the Clarion workshop. The whole group went to see The Dark Knight and Neil came along as well. Pretty exciting. The general consensus seemed to be that without Heath Ledger it would have been a bad film. With him it was a work of genius. Personally I think its the only Batman movie we (as in the human race) need. No sequel required, and all previous Batman movies should be deleted from the hard-disk of history.

There is a theory gathering momentum that each of our instructors is bringing a new totem animal into the symbolic landscape of the UCSD campus. Kelly is represented by the many rabbits leaping around campus. Jim remains in the hoardes of jet black Crows and Mary Anne was accompanied by an influx of humingbirds. On Neils first night, a pair of owls (not common in SoCal) took up residence on campus. It remains to be seen what Geoff and Nalo bring with them.

OK, so I’m learning things here. Lots of things. I’m internalising a store of knowledge on fiction writing that I can’t imagine any more effective way of gathering. In the last week I’ve been challenged to think particularly about developing character and deep theme in my writing. There is an ongoing debate about political content in stories – how to tackle it, or when to avoid it. The genre / literary divide is being consistently challenged on every level. Its a fake divide, we all know it. And yet there it is none the less. Storytelling vs. wordsmithing. Balancing character, plot, ideas and concepts. And all thses issues seem to swirl around the basic question – what makes story work? Every story has a unique answer. Leaning how to find that answer afresh for every story written is what Clarion is all about.

I’m starting to find the answer to the big question I lugged over from England in my hand luggage – what do I want to write? I had a file full of ideas on my computer when I arrived. Now I can look through those ideas and strike at least a third off as stories I’m not passionate about to do justice to, and another third that just don’t engage with the themes that I’m really interested. I’m starting to see very fundametal commonalities in the stories I do want to tell, something I’ve always struggled with before.

None of this has been easily gained. Clarion life happens at very high velocity. Workshoping, critiquing, reading, writing, talking, debating, arguing, eating and sleeping. Its a little like being in a war, all experience is immidiate with no time for consideration or refelection. We even have the god awful food at Canyon Vista to reinforce the feeling of army life.

Thats all for now.

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