M31

Still time to apply to Claron!




There's still a month in which you can file an application for the Clarion Writer's Workshop!   The deadline is March 1st.

I've told you what it did for me.  (Check out my Clarion posts for a reminder.) It's an experience I wouldn't trade for the world.  In addition to what I believe to be the palpable growth in my writing, I've made seventeen friends for life (twenty-three, if you count the instructors) who read and mercilessly critique my work, encourage me when I fail, cheer me when I succeed, and generally make me feel like a member of a tribe.

Sure, it's expensive. But it's a once-in-a-lifetime, game-changing, mind-bending experience. If you want to write seriously, do this. All you have to do is look at the list of writers who are alumni to see the results that can come of it.

In 2010 it's running June 27 to August 7 at UCSD. The instructors will be Delia Sherman, George R.R. Martin, Dale Bailey, Samuel R. Delany, Jeff VanderMeer, and Ann VanderMeer. If you saw that list and your jaw didn't drop, you didn't read carefully enough.

Do it now!

Phoenix Rising

Albacon


I had great fun at Albacon, really my first con in decades. (I've attended a few HP cons over the last few years, and I was at ComicCon, which is like visiting the Emerald City, but no straight SFF cons.) For me, the big deal was seeing five of my Clarion buddies, including [info]enggirl, as well as both Paul Park and [info]lizhand, both of whom were our teachers.

I've heard that Clarion grads have a reputation for being a bit cliquish, i.e., not talking to anyone else at cons but each other. In our case it was probably more true than it should have been. Observers probably put this phenomenon down to a misplaced sense of superiority, but it isn't that. We just miss each other. You spend six weeks living, working and suffering with someone, it's like they're family. So when we get back together, which (I gather) is mostly at cons, we're desperate to catch up, to stay up all night talking, to touch each other to make sure we're really there.

Having said that, I met a number of nifty new people at Albacon, including both [info]parttimedriverand [info]ianrandalstrock. If life at cons is anything like life at academic conferences (of which I have attended 'way too many), it will be joyous to meet these people again at other cons, and the circle of friends will grow...
Fireworks

Like Mayflies in the Stream


Hooray! Shauna Roberts's new novel, Like Mayflies in the Stream, has just become available for pre-order on Amazon.

The first of the Clarion 2009 graduates to publish a novel has done herself proud. I've read it. I love it. Go out and get it.

Shauna's novel is part of a Hadley Rille Books series of "archeologically-accurate novels about the daily lives of ancient people living and coping with significant crises." This one is based on the tale of Gilgamesh.

A word of confession, here: I've never read the Epic of Gilgamesh, except in summary form, and I had to look up the summaries to get an idea of how much Roberts has deviated from the original. Not much, it turns out. Like Marion Zimmer Bradley in The Mists of Avalon and The Firebrand, or LeGuin in Lavinia, Roberts takes the essentials of the legend as a starting point, and goes from there. It's a wonderful question: what real events in the lives of real people could have inspired a story like this one? The result is stranger, sadder and sexier than the myth itself. I especially like how Roberts imagines Enkidu -- how he became who he is, why he behaves as he does.

Although we get glimpses into the minds of Gilgamesh and Enkidu themselves, the story is told primarily from the point of view of Shamhat, the woman sent to "tame" the wild man Enkidu. While various translations of the original suggest that Shamhat was a temple prostitute, Robert's archeological analysis suggests that that belief is an anachronism from the much later time when the Epic was composed. In Uruk at the time of the legend, Shamhat is more likely to have been a priestess of Inanna, and so she is in this novel.

It's fun to read stories told from alternative points of view. From Stoppard's Rozencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead to Bradley's two books mentioned above, we love to think that we're getting the "inside scoop," the part the party-line didn't tell us, and that's one of the joys of this book.

Another is the archeological project itself. The Mesopotamian world of this novel is so real you can taste it.

The characters are well-drawn and compelling, especially Shamhat, Gilgamesh, Enkidu and Zaidu, the hunter Shamhat meets on the way.

I knew that Shauna was a medical writer as well as an anthropologist before I read the novel, but it hadn't occurred to me how useful her medical knowledge would be in interpreting the Gilgamesh myth. I'll leave out explanations because they'd be spoilers, but suffice it to say that several things came into sharp focus because of physiological truths, never stated explicitly but clear as day.

All in all, this novel is a terrific read. I started it on the plane home from California, and couldn't put it down after I got home.
Superman shirt

Poetry Aloud Suggestions?

Not sure this is a great idea, but I've resolved to begin each class session this term with a poem read aloud.  Since I teach business law, this is rather a strange thing (you should have seen the looks I got on the first day), but my instincts say it's good for them.  I've brought all my poetry books to the office (was pretty amazed by how many I had), and  I'm taking other poems off the Web as necessary.

I only have a few minutes at the start of class to do this, so I can't be goin' into epics or Four Quartets or anything like that.  Each class meets 20 times during the term.  The first day I gave 'em "Ozymandias," which I can recite from memory. The second day it was Edgar Lee Masters's "Herman Altman," which wasn't ideal, but I wanted to read something about "truth."

So: anyone have any suggestions for poems to read aloud? Sad, insirational, moody, optimistic, whatever.  (But not sexy, please -- I'm a male professor, and we can't be giving people opportunities to claim harrassment...)  No fair nominating your own stuff, but if you want to nominate your friends' (and I can get their permission), great!

Clarion

@#$! proof that the Clarion method works


There are some people who think that the main advantage of Clarion is the networking. And, sure, it's neat to have seventeen new friends who are all great writers. But the theory is that doing 100+ critiques in six weeks (35,000+ words of crit, for me), plus listening to 80+ hours of 17 people doing 1,700+ three-minute crits of their own (not exaggerating; do the math) will create an "internal editor" for the student that will allow you to examine your own work with a more effective critical eye.

The theory is correct. Damn it.

The 2009 Clarionites have created an online crit group to continue to help each other with stories. I am slated to submit a story at the end of next week, and thought I would revise one I wrote in February-through-April. I liked it well enough before I left for Clarion, and I figured, hey, I'll do a quick revision and show it to 'em.

So I looked at it last night (after telling my classmates about it, of course), in preparation for that "quick revision."

WTF.

The characters are opaque and mostly cardboard, the narration utterly on-the-bloody-broken-nose, there's no sense of place, and the language is so wooden I could use it to build a gallows. I stared in disbelief, thinking "I really liked this?"

So I'm rewriting from scratch. I have no idea how much better the thing I submit will be, but at least I have some idea of the thing things battalion of things that is are wrong with it, and can take some aim at it them.

So thank you, Clarion, for this new critical eye -- a freaking raven on my goddam shoulder, croaking insults in my ear.

(...*sigh* Not really angry, just a little rueful and embarrassed...)