Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Apply to Clarion West

If you want to improve your writing, if you want to devote yourself to writing, if you want to witness world-class imaginations at work: Apply to Clarion West.

Here's the link Apply to Clarion West

That thing about world-class imaginations? Well the 2013 instructors are Elizabeth Hand, Neil Gaiman, Jo Hill, Justina Robson, Ellen Datlow, and Samuel Delany. Really. Here's the link to that list: Instructors for 2013 Clarion West

But the instructors are only part of the story. I can't tell you who else you will encounter if you become part of Clarion West 2013, but I can tell you your classmates will be geniuses, extraordinary intellects and creators, and genii, your family of attendant spirits. 

And, because I know that the process of application can be anxious, here is my introductory essay. I don't offer it as an example of excellence—it isn't that—but only to encourage you to take the chance. Apply to Clarion West.

Dear Clarion West Instructor,

I would like to be a better writer. That’s why I’m seeking admission to Clarion West.

I’m writing this letter during a break from revising my third novel. I’ve been given spectacular guidance from my editors, and I’m about to tackle the phase where I break every bone in my book’s body and reassemble it. This is required because I have a tendency to write books that are the literary equivalent of Japanese mermaid mummies; they are interesting, but not exactly viable. I have to tear them into the constituent parts. I have to ask myself, “Why does this book have two heads?” and “Can a wad of crumpled newspaper substitute for a living plot?”
This is a Japanese mermaid mummy.
I just thought you should see one

I’d like to give editors better work in the first place. I believe that the Clarion experience, six concentrated weeks invested in learning storytelling, would put me closer to that goal. Working on short fiction, in particular, would demand improvement in the area of structure. I might even learn how to write endings. (I think my readers would appreciate that change.)  And I would also benefit a great deal from conversation with other writers—the opportunity to see how they read and think.

I write contemporary young adult fiction. So why seek the guidance from writers of speculative fiction? Most of what I know about writing I learned through osmosis while reading good books. When I read for fun, I read science fiction and fantasy. Those are the sorts of stories I’d like to tell: stories infused with invention and imagination. I want to learn from writers who understand how to evoke amazing things in the reader’s mind.

Although no one labels my books science fiction, physics is the heart of The Freak Observer, and evolutionary biology is the prime mover of Catch & Release. There are fantastic elements in my books as well. The Bony Guy (a character in TFO) is a hallucination, but he’s also a traditional fantasy figure. Catch & Release is as much about myth as MRSA. I want to push further with generic recombination. I’m interested in splicing some more speculation into my creations.

Finally, Clarion will also mark the first time I’ve ever devoted myself entirely to writing. My “day job” for the past decade has been creating indexes for academic books. I started writing my first novel to fill the nervous chinks of time between projects. Through crazy good luck, my books are being published. That changes things. I have to respect that. Writing is something more than my eccentric hobby now; I need to shift gears and give it higher priority. Applying to Clarion is a way for me to acknowledge to myself that my writing matters.

Thank you,

...and this was my mantra when I got scared: "I don't have to prove anything; I just have to improve." 
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