Category Archives: Clarion West

Long Busy Week, Busy Weekend

Kira, An, and I enjoy our reunion by hanging out with our laptops. That’s how Clarion West love works.

I’m going to quickly touch on all the things I never got around to blogging about in the last week or two.

Did you see Sandra Day O’Connor on the Daily Show? I’d link to the Hulu clips but there’s already enough going on here. She has got to be the coolest Supreme Court justice ever. *So cute.* As we were watching I told Bob I was going to go work on Monday and ready my favorite Justice O’Connor opinions. He said, “Sure thing, Lisa Simpson.”

An does finishing touches on Chocolate Disaster cake. I tried to impress upon Bob just how lucky he was that An made his birthday cake. I think he got it.

We had a fire drill at the office. I’m the safety officer of my business and a couple weeks ago, José from the business next door informed me he was the floor warden and gave me my orange safety vest. I said, “So, if something bad happens you’ll tell us what to do?” He said, “If something bad happens, grab your shit and get out of here.”

The alarm went off and co-worker and I said, “Huh, wonder what we should do?”

Someone told us we had to evacuate. I said, “I wonder if I should wear my orange safety vest?” Since I already couldn’t remember where it was, I grabbed my purse and An’s and Kira’s laptops and carried them down 10 flights of stairs. An and Kira were out and about enjoying downtown and just in case it wasn’t a drill, I didn’t want their laptops to fry. Take note Clarionites. I have your back.

Bob’s birthday celebration with his new Clarion West friends.

I keep putting my giant coat away in hopes that I’m done with it. Much as I love it when it’s cold and awful outside, it triples my size and is just one more thing to lug around. I keep hanging it up and then pulling it back out again. I’m hoping to take it to the cleaners and pack it away until November. Soon.

Now we have a giant Clarion West reunion and we celebrate by getting out our laptops. I don’t think “geek” covers it. From the left, clockwise: An, Eden, Caren, me and Kira.

The State of Washington just made me replace my license plates. I’m not sure why. I guess it’s been 5 years? For $20 more I could keep my same plates. Screw that. In the long run it’s probably a good idea because when parking I often stop when the front bumper hits something and that front license plate was looking pretty ratty.

Food! I include this photos so my other classmates will see that I will cook excellent food if they visit. We had sweet potato enchiladas with chicken, no cheese and another batch with black beans and cheese. Here’s the recipe we adapted from. Also fruit salad and sausages and snacky stuff. Also this photo includes Kyle who I don’t have a URL for.

Escape from Witch Mountain was one of my favorite movies and books when I was a kid way back in the 70’s or whenever the first version came out. I was moderately excited about the re-do except I saw the trailer and hated it. I don’t out of hand, hate The Rock, but the trailer made this look extra-ordinarily stupid and unless a reliable source tells me otherwise, I will not see this movie.

Clarion West 08 classmates — if you visit me, you can use my fancy wine opener and feel like a rock star while everyone takes your picture.

I’m surprised Office Despot can stay in business. EVERY single week we get a new catalog and coupon from them for our business plus another from the business that was in the space before us. Our company has an account with an office supply company and I dread using them because their prices are 50-70% higher. I don’t understand how that even works.

Oh look, Clarion geeks and laptops. This photo includes the same suspects plus Rose and Carlton

Now we’re all caught up. I’m going to get something to eat and sit here biting my nails until the Battlestar Galactica Finale starts.

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The World’s Best Shower

Me, Kira, An, Eden, Rose, Caren and Carlton in the world’s best shower.

We had a Clarion West 08 get together over the weekend which was super fun and I have photos and tales to tell but as per always, no time to tell the story at the moment. More to come, probably this weekend as I have another busy week.

Here’s a very short story that has nothing to do with the weekend: this morning on the way to work our bus passed a bus pulled over on the shoulder. I thought to myself, “Gee, I’m glad I’ve never been a bus that broke down.”

Ha ha because about five minutes later our bus broke down.

The best part of the story is that it wasn’t a big deal. People barely looked up from their books and newspapers. No one fussed or got ornery.

Ten minutes later the bus after us parked in front of us. We got off our bus and tiptoed along the side of the freeway and loaded onto the other bus. Lots of people laughed and made jokes. And another five minutes and we were on our way. A C-Tran miracle.

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Voodoo Doughnuts

Voodoo Doughnut

Kira and An made the trek to Voodoo Doughnut this afternoon. Kira samples the frootloop while An tries a Tang. Shane looks on.

I have no idea why I look so insincere.

Doughnut buffet which we just started and now Bob is coming to pick us up for dinner. oops.

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Candy Coated

Carlton Mellick III

I know there are a few folks who read this who aren’t dialed into Clarion West and LJ (I hope that link works because my computer is choking on it right now) deal.

My classmate Carlton Mellick III has a story in Vice which you can read here.

Or, even better, you can hear it by the voice who tells you which register to use at Whole Foods here

Highly recommended.

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NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up

I didn’t sign up officially. This was self-directed NaNo. I fully expected to fail when I started mostly because my work days are long and I didn’t think I would be able to do 1667 words on those days. Especially not for a full month.

I was wrong.

The final word count is around 50,300. I can’t tell you the exact number because it’s trapped in the guts of the dead computer. My best day was 2630. My worst day was 725 – but that day I was working on another writing project that I didn’t count toward my NaNo. I wrote prose-fiction every single day for 30 days and now it feels like habit.

My NaNo project was expanding a story from another project. I was only partially successful. I wrote about 44,000 words on that and it has a beginning, middle and end although there’s a little gap in there that I haven’t figured out how to fix yet. I’m confident it’s dreadful but I’ll be curious to look at it down the road and see if it’s as bad as I think.

I realized about three days in that I had the wrong POV character and shifting the focus would involve a complete re-thinking which I didn’t have time to do under the circumstances. I may revisit the story with a different approach on the POV. I haven’t decided. My expectation was that it was an exercise. I didn’t expect to write a real novel in a month.

With my leftover words I wrote three first drafts of short stories.

I’ve never been a big fan of word count goals because I don’t work that way. I wrote something about my process in April of this year. Choice quote if you don’t want to go back and read it:

A typical writing cycle for me goes: get new idea, rabid excitement, research and tons of writing, get stuck, dread the writing chair, avoid writing, hate myself for avoiding it, despair, force myself to go back to it, find what interested me in the first place, finish story.

For the record, there’s a bale of stuff in my files that’s still waiting for the part that comes after “despair.”

It’s funny to read this after Clarion West.

At CW I had to finish a short story in a week so I had to get over the despair (and if you read my posts while I was there, despair was still a part of the process) and move on very quickly. So the lesson there was that stories feel like crap in the middle. Get over it and do it any way. Or put another way, I could write more quickly than I thought I could because I didn’t have the luxury of being stuck for very long.

I also learned that I can write when I’m tired, hungry, cranky and not in the mood for writing. I can write late at night. I can write after lunch. With music. After interruptions. I had previously believed I could only write first thing in the morning and if I was interrupted the day was ruined. (Barely exaggerating.)

When I got home from CW, I had a hard time getting back into writing again and figuring out how to balance real life with writing. NaNo was a good exercise to make me find time to write every day and get over the idea that CW offered an ideal writing environment that could never repeated at home. And I learned I can write after work. I can write on the bus. I can write before bed after an evening function that includes adult beverages. I could write in short little bursts between other activities, although still not my ideal.

Now I’m a fan of the word count although 50K in a month is too many. My writing was exceptionally sloppy at that pace. I’d rather write less words that come out on the page more orderly. My goal for December is 20K.

Another thought that I don’t know where to shoehorn in is that having and sticking to word goals (and starting in January, submitting things for publication goals) is that I rarely feel panicked and annoyed that I’m not writing.

What didn’t happen during November? I only read one book. I only looked at the Sunday NYT one time which was the 30th after I reached my goal. I had to schedule my TV time so I wouldn’t get too far behind. (Yeah, I realize TV would be an awesome thing to give up. But I don’t watch that much and I don’t want to give it up.) I exercised about 15 minutes a week. I owe a zillion emails. I only did about a third of my normal autumn garden activities. I’m not beating myself up too much on this because we had a super busy month with social activities. I feel I’m on the verge of finding a way to balance it all. But I do wish I read more books.

I feel like I have lots more to say on this but also like I’ve gone on long enough. It’s very funny to look back on how much things have changed in a year.

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Writing Not At Clarion West

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I’m a little surprised by how much trouble I’m having writing at home. At home was clearly too distracting so today I tried writing in a student lounge at Clark College which was perfect. Nice open space with comfy couch. I intended to bring my camera but forgot so you get a photo of the cookies I made last weekend. Very few people. No Internet connection.

And still I had a hard time focusing. I made decent progress and did another 800 words tonight after dinner. I might get a draft finished by tomorrow. argh. It feels really half-assed right now.

I guess I felt like things were so busy at Clarion that it would be easier at home. But I took for granted that at CW 99% of my brain was devoted to all things story. And now that I’m home I have to devote at least half my brain to my other responsibilities. And even then I feel like my brain is ruined.

Before CW when I got those phone calls to remind me about appointments I always said, “I know, I’ll be there.” Since I got home I keep saying, “Shit, what time?” I usually feel like I have my act together and now I can barely remember where I parked my car.

Maybe this is all part of the process. But I’m pushing to write this new story and I’m not enjoying as much as I thought I would. I think I’m going to take one day next weekend for a no computer day and a no writing day. I just downloaded a bunch of stories to my iPod (EscapePod and PodCastle) and I can take some walks and putter in the yard. And make some pies. I haven’t had one single homemade pie yet this summer. Tragedy.

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This is my first full weekend back and I’m still trying to get my act together.

There are so many things to do that I keep circling around the house thinking of all the stuff to take care of but not feeling like doing any of it.

I thought I’d get to a point where I’d have some Clarion West definitive wrap up things to say but I’m not there yet. I’m still floating around the edge of the bubble.

The photo above is my new shower. My old bathtub was totally chipped and ugly and horrible and the new one is so pretty I could sit in it for days. I’m going to pull out some bubble bath and spend some quality time in there this weekend. Maybe reading from the ginormous pile of magazines that is threatening to take over the house.

I’m afraid to count how many books I accumulated while I was in Seattle. It’s more than 10 but I think less than 20. Plus I bought that DREADFUL vampire book at the midnight book party with some of my classmates It’s not dreadful fun, it’s dreadful bad. It’s making me mad to even have it in my house but I have to read it to find out what happens. I need to get through that and trying to work my way through the magazines. The bus rides will save me.

This is a hole in the wall shared with the bathroom. I’m guessing some sort of installation gone wrong moment. No one noticed except me. We’re doing an end of the job inspection today and I’ll point that out.

Last night I left my bottle of wine uncorked on the counter and I can see those two annoying fruit flies that were in the house floating in it. Victory?

Today I’m getting back into my routine and I got my haircut and went to Safeway and now the laundry is going.

Before I left I cleaned out my favorite homemade granola and my chocolate chip cookie stash so I’m making those this afternoon. I also cleaned out all my office snacks so all week I had to chew my hand all afternoon. I just bought Wheat Thins (big) and chips and an Odwalla bar and next week I’m hoping I can do See’s run with Shay to re-stock my chocolate supply.

Dahlias from the garden.

Yesterday I ate a pastrami sandwich that should have its own national holiday. I only finished half at lunch so I ate the rest for dinner and then I woke up at 3:30a and had to drink a huge glass of water.

Time to get rolling on my chores.

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Re-Entry: The Saga Continues

I’m getting back in the swing right now.

These are the pumpkin patch out front which is on fire! Yay. The pumpkin patches in the back are looking a little peaked.

Tonight I went back to yoga for the first time and OMIGOD.

That woman tried to kill me. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that her last name is Payne.

I can’t believe my fitness level could regress so badly so quickly.

This wasn’t even the hard class.

Right now my arms and legs feel like spaghetti.

She had us do this yogi pain pose that we had to hold forever. I had tears in my eyes and was thinking about folding up my mat and leaving.

Normally, you’re supposed to know your limits but when I put my arms down she totally name checked me.

Then she went into this thing about how this is like our lives and we don’t quit when it gets hard. We keep fighting. Frack.

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Clarion West: Week 7

The house where we lived at the workshop was on fraternity row near University of Washington which means it was noisy. There was a frat house behind us that played all sorts of strange musical choices at pretty much whatever time of day suited them.

One night we were all leaving the house to go to a party and one of the frat boys was on the deck and he leaned over and started asking questions like, “So you guys are writers?”

I guess someone said something about a party and Raj said “I’ve been wanting to go over there ever since I saw that broken window.”

So, you know where you don’t want your car to die?

Science fiction camp.

We jumped in my car to go pick up the t-shirts and it was dead. I know zero about cars except where to put the gas in and how to take it in for regular service. In my defense, I know about lots of other things.

The gang was gathered out back and I said, “Does anyone know about cars?”

And the answer back was: “No.” Then someone offered keys so we could use his car. My response: I want my car to work.

Chuckles was the one (and Owen) who came out and checked that it was indeed dead. I like how people ask you: Did you leave the lights on?

Why yes, does that matter?

Actually, my lights turn off by themselves.

In the end, I dealt with it myself. After some calls, a jump and some diagnostic running around, the car was given a clean bill of health and hasn’t had any more problems. I suspect a door was left ajar or the dome-light on.

This one is for Shane.

After a couple weeks in Seattle I lost all track of the known universe. I didn’t know the news. I never knew the date. Even if I got the day — I still got confused on the month and even the year. I almost wrote 1998 or September in my notebook a couple of times.

Also my personal hygiene went completely out the window. I could never remember when I bathed last and didn’t really care. I wore the same clothes for days in a row. I wore make-up only 2 times in 6 weeks.

Also, everything in Seattle seems to cost an amount to maximize the accumulation of tons of change. $1.05; $8.26; $11.33. I either didn’t have enough change or a pocket filled with it.

When I got home, Bob and I went to the Clark County Fair to have milkshakes (and baked potatoes, and grilled corn) and see baby pigs, goats, sheep and cows. Also grown-up versions of these things.

We also went through a tent that was like walking into a used car lot. People wanted us to sign up for vinyl siding, some sort of magnetic strip that cured pain (?), loan consolidation and tapes that taught you how to be successful. We visited the Clark College booth and then signed up for a chimney sweep.

We also tried to win giant stuffed animals. Just kidding. What am I going to do with an 8 foot dragon?

But I really wanted to see Queensryche.

Bob’s review is here.

I’m out of steam so I will just say that they were awesome and that this is the first time I’ve seen them live. My favorite album is Rage for Order which I only own on cassette and I’m such a luddite I can still listen to it in my car. I need to get the .mp3 version.

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Clarion Week 6: Chuck Palahniuk

Pritpaul and Shane share a moment

This is the first of what will probably several wrap up posts on Clarion West 2008. I’ve still got a lot to digest and I don’t know where to start so these are notes, probably disjointed, that I’ve kept since my last post.

Every Friday night we had a party which was partly farewell to the departing instructor and partly party-on for the local Clarion West/Sci-fi community and partly for us to network and get to know people in the field.

The week 5 party was in Bellevue. We followed Caren over there so we wouldn’t get lost. (She’s local and also one of the best people to follow when driving because she doesn’t drive too fast and she uses her turn indicator so you can figure out what’s going on.)

Caren in the CW 08 Viking hat and Owen

We left the party at 10:30p on our own and used Kira’s GPS to get home. He’s named Oliver and he has an Australian accent. He doesn’t know Washington so when we had to get on Washington 520 he told us to get on Western Australia 520. He was awesome.

When I first arrived in Seattle I was wigged about driving because I’m a nervous driver to begin with and I hate driving in a place I don’t know and then we added a carload of people who need a ride into the mix. The first weekend I was like a 99 year old neurotic cat lady who lost her medication trying to get where we had to be and park and be on time and keep everyone alive and in one piece. Several of the same people were in my car for the last party, 6 weeks later, and they noticed that I was way more relaxed. However, during the whole 6 weeks there was only one outing where I didn’t have to make a U-turn.

An in the CW 08 Viking hat with Christopher looking on.

It was an interesting emotional arc I went through over those 6 weeks. I had a really hard time the first week. It was tough to get settled in. I could not sleep as everyone who has been keeping up with these posts knows. I never did get the sleep thing going. I started to envy my computer for the ease with which it went to sleep. I took a 2.5 hour nap the day I got home and slept 10.5 hours that night. I did only 8 hours last night and I’m feeling droopy now and may go lay down as soon as I finish this post.

After the first week I settled in and then I felt panicked about leaving because I couldn’t imagine that I’d ever want to leave my new friends and have to go back and work and cook my own food and do chores and not think about writing all the time.

Then by the end of week 5 I was done. I wanted my own bed, my own bathroom and my normal toilet paper. Sysco has the sorriest excuse for paper products in the known Universe. The paper towels also = doodoo. I wanted to take a shower in stall big enough to turn around in. I’m not a big person I could barely shampoo my hair without poking myself in the eye with my elbow. I wanted to be in charge of my own food supply. Boy it’s amazing how quickly good eating habits can go to pot. By the end, potato chips and peanut butter pretzels with red wine as a dinner alternative seemed perfectly acceptable.

I told Kira to try to look cute and she did.

When I prepared for the workshop I brought a bunch of ideas and I brought two stories that already had first drafts just in case I got in a panic, I would have something to fall back on. I got in a panic in week #6. One of the things we were encouraged to do is take risks and try things we’d never tried before. My first 4 stories had the same tone, setting, narrative style, etc. I was perfectly happy with my style but I thought I should at least try something different. Plus I did this structural trick which is too hard to explain here but which basically served to tie one hand behind my back.

I didn’t think I was going to be able to pull it off in time so I thought back to the two stories I’d brought with me. And I didn’t think either of those was good enough. My point being that after 5 weeks of the workshop I already thought I’d improved beyond stories that were barely a few months old. I have a stack of stuff for revisions. I have hope for them all.

In fact, this was a major lesson of the workshop that every story I panicked in the middle and thought was an unfixable disaster and all of them I managed to pull something out to put in front of the class.

Waiting at Chuck’s reading. L to R Front row: Maggie, Kristin, Owen, Caren, Eden, Raj and Tracy. Back Row starting with blue shirt: Jim, Carol, Kira and Douglas (They’re working on stories for Wednesday.)

Chuck Palahnuik was our week 6 teacher and by the time he arrived, I’d lost my ability to be intimidated. A huge contrast to the first week when everything intimidated me.

“I love rules,” he said. Here are some Chuck rules as best as I can decipher from my notebook:

Don’t use “to be” or “to have” — depict with a physical action.

No abstract words (e.g. big, nice, tall, great).

No intangibles (e.g. love, remember, desire, think, consider). Make everything tangible.

No screaming the world through your characters. (e.g. “She heard a bell ring.” Instead: “The bell rang.”)

Submerge your “I’s” This is when you’re writing in the first person you want to use as few “I’s” as you can. Try to convert to Mine or My. This was the only week I did a first person story because I don’t like to write in the first person and it took me HOURS to submerge my I’s. But I got a shout out for doing a good job on that.

This is harder to explain but Chuck wants you to know your character’s area of expertise — a consistent way the character notices things, gestures, reacts to things. Watch what is dramatized through gesture.

Never forward your plot through dialogue. This is the least effective way. The best way is through action/discovery.

Wed the ordinary everyday stuff to the situation in the story. Also using the ordinary to give the drama/horror/whatever more punch. I realize out of context some of this is worthless but I don’t know how to explain better.

Use props and items over and over rather than introducing new items. If the characters shows up on the first page with a set of steak knives, then bring the steak knives back. You don’t have to waste energy explaining new objects. Said another way: “Let objects do a job and not disappear.” Be aware of every object you put in.

Be open to trashing your work at any point in the process. Be willing to take a great idea and trash it and know that better ideas will come.

This isn’t all. He had tons of great stuff and he reinforced it all week during class.

(L to R) Standing in back: Carol, Carlton and Pritpaul. Next row: Kristin, Owen, Christopher, Maggie, Douglas, Raj, Kira, Shane and An; Front Row: Chuckles, Caren, Eden, Tracy, Jim, Me and Theresa.

Quotes from Chuck:

“I wish I could teach you to be a beautiful writer but I can’t. I can teach you how to trick people.”

“Look, they catch the sperm back in their penises. It’s like Cirque du Soleil.”

Chuck’s biggest advice: “Don’t stop writing. Be stubborn and determined.”

Quotes Not From Chuck:

“So you can take that with a huge mountain planet of salt.”

“I don’t know the crustacean anatomy that well.”

“I don’t necessarily agree but I don’t necessarily disagree.”

“It’s not necessarily necessary.”

“I think your audience for this is people who like creepy baby stories.”

“I was waiting for the speculum to be busted out. I don’t necessarily know what that is.”

“Can you build in redundant systems in case of reader failure?”

“I’m unsure what Dr. Vito was doing. Why would he facilitate the unbirthing unless it was the world’s longest plan to get laid?”

“Once a again you have written a powerful story that feels like a kick in the balls. I like this one better, possibly because it was a bit more pleasant kick in the balls.”

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