Being in a foreign city alone is faintly terrifying. It’s the fourth time I’ve done this now, although on the third of those I stayed with a friend, which held its own terrors. Between times I look back on the last trip with a rose tinted desire for freedom. It’s only on the plane, once it is far too late to turn back, that I remember the slowly rising tide of fear that accompanies each flight in to the unknown. This time the thought that I would be abducted by a mexican street gang teased and taunted me from two thirds of the way across the atlantic. Why would a mexican street gang abduct me? What would they want with an English writer of weird fictions of just slightly below average height? Was it my scarf, perhaps, that would make me a target? Should I stow it well away on arrival for fear of attracting unwanted attention?
(I am recording these thoughts while still on the flight, which raises the ironic possibility that I will actually be abducted by a mexican street gang. This note will be read, from my pawned iPad, by a young American woman who will briefly consider seeking down its author, before thinking better of it.)
The seeds of such fears are always small. A brief conversation with a friend about San Diego’s high, although falling, levels of street crime. Glimpsed statistics that Ocean Beach where I have chosen to spend my first night, actually has amongst the highest crime rates in the city! The image of it burning white from the Google generated data map. At 10 kilometres above the earth, encouraged perhaps by the low air pressure, those seeds bloom to full fledged fears. Writing seems to dig out the weeds of worry. Hence this note.
I am staying at the International Hostel in Ocean Beach, San Diego for the next three nights, followed by the Town and Country hotel for the World Fantasy Convention itself. Plans after that yet to be confirmed. Should I fail to Tweet for any length of time greater than six hours please name the Kickstarter campaign ‘Damien G Walter Hostage Ransom Fund’ and spread the word far and wide.
(Even as I write I am picturing the streets of Ocean Beach descended in to post-apocalypse chaos. Roving bands of cannibal vigilantes man flaming barbed wire barricades topped with the heads of tourists. My taxi driver seems unpeturbed. It’s just another day on the mean streets of the USA.)
UPDATE : Ocean Beach exceptionally nice and friendly. Hostel good. Have eaten sushi for dinner.
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 Clarion applicants…batten down the hatches!
Today I finished two weeks at Clarion. It feels like much longer. There is a consensus that one week of Clarion world time is about three weeks of real world time (or should that be the other way around?). One of my fellow clarionites has observed that we are living in strange environment. The weather is the same every day. There are lizards and rabbits and crows leaping all over the UCSD campus, and eucalyptus trees everywhere with flaky bark that looks like skin. Its possible that the crows have been sent to watch over us, and conceivable that we are all living in a Kelly Link story (in which case dear reader, please don’t stop!)
Clarion is very hard work. You critique all morning. You write all day. You read all night. Sleep is scarce, but deep. Like intense, structured exercise, this kind of exertion has the effect of stretching the muscles being exercised. I can feel myself arriving at new revelations about story writing everyday. The combination of hours of writing, reading and deconstructing up to 20k words of story every day, discussing those stories, talking almost non-stop about story and being around one very skilled professional writer after another is filtering so many concepts into my head that I will still be processing all the details years after Clarion has finished.
Last weeks story, ‘Ocean Beach’ got all the experiences I’ve been absorbing from California and San Diego out of my system. Its very far from finished, but I’m really happy about the ideas I developed in the story, and its likely to be first on my list to complete when I get back. I hope I don’t lose the thread of it when Kalifornia is no longer looming all around me, being weird in ways that I think only this strange environment can be. I did a flash piece last week as well called ‘String Music’ which I will polish and submit when I have a spare few hours. This week I’m working on a high fantasy story, complete with Elves and magic rings. Its going v.well and is a good change of pace and style as the other pieces were very dense, this is much more exciting. I’m not expecting to walk away from my six weeks here with any finished drafts, but do want to generate as much material and absorb as many insights into the craft as possible.
Right then people. In just over twelve hours I will be zooming down the runway at Stansted, ready to hurl myself over the Atlantic with the help of American Airlines. I’ll be touching down in San Diego at 6pm local time, or 2am British time. I have three days to get over the jet lag, or as Mr Bill Gibson says, for my soul to chart a slower route over the ocean and finally reconnect with my body. Wish me luck.