keyan_bowes (keyan_bowes) wrote,

Blogging about Clarion 2007

 I've been regretting that we weren't encouraged to blog about Clarion while we were there. I understand the reasons, but it still seemed sad to have no record on the web of our amazing 6 weeks. Then Jan started writing about Clarion on her blog, and I felt free to follow suit.

So here's my impressions from the first week of Clarion.

Before Clarion:


Even before I came to Clarion, a sense of camaraderie was building up on the newsgroup. I watched in happy amazement as Shweta volunteered her couch to people who needed to spend the night, and her husband to pick people up from the airport. Other arrangements came together – everyone introduced themselves, and offered rides and assistance. The group had a good feeling. In the midst of the chaos of my pre-Clarion life, I began to anticipate the weeks ahead.


There was a minor glitch when an e-mail suggested we’d have to share rooms, which I really wasn’t up for. I frantically started searching Craig’s List for alternatives. Luckily, it was a false alarm. We had individual rooms; we were sharing apartments.


Week 1: Waterfights and Vegetable Love


I got in late, having totally underestimated the traffic between Los Angeles (my pit-stop) and San Diego. By the time I arrived, everyone was at the opening dinner on Saturday June 23rd. Kim Stanley Robinson was there with Greg Frost. He looked thrilled – more than any of us, he knew Clarion had a close call when it had to leave Michigan, and it made a happy landing in UCSD, Stan’s home turf.


He had three pieces of advice:

(1) Don’t quit your day job (and/ or marry rich)

(2) You’ll have the rest of your life to write, but only 6 weeks with this particular group of people, so if it’s a choice between writing or partying, party!

(3) Don’t miss sunset at the Bluff.


Greg, our instructor for the week,  looked as though there was nowhere else on earth that he would rather be than here, at Clarion, with Us.  I felt we were lucky to have Greg at all, and doubly lucky to have him in Week 1. He made himself the 20th member of the group. He never said it in so many words, but he made it clear that every member of the group was valuable, and that it was appropriate for us all to look out for each other. (Someone translated that into the Marines motto: No One Left Behind.) That made it a group that worked, rather than a gaggle of wary and competitive strangers.

The accommodations were comfortable – apartments with four or five rooms, each with a living room and a kitchen where, technically, we were not supposed to cook. The drawbacks were a lack of sound-proofing and clothes-hangers. An expedition to CVS Pharmacy fixed the second problem, but there was no cure for the first except tolerance. We were acquainted with Café Ventanas, our dining hall that was open for one hour for each meal and whose rigid timings informed our schedule for the entire six weeks.


Few things were within walking distance, and the Campus Shuttle didn’t run in summer. Fortunately, there were several cars among us, just enough to transport us all, and a number of willing drivers who undertook Transportation Logistics. (We few, we happy few: Kari and Kater, Betsy, Nathaniel and me.)


Can I especially mention Shweta?  She lives in San Diego, and even before Clarion started, was an enthusiastic and welcoming online presence, volunteering airport pick-ups, volunteering her living room for overnighters, volunteering to organize tickets for Comic-con. And in the same paragraph, I want to mention Nathaniel (Shweta’s husband) – a wonderful calm and even magical person who appeared bringing pots and flashlights and transport and granting occasional wishes.


A trip to Target and CVS provided supplies, SuperSoakers, colored sidewalk chalk (Thanks, Jan!) that was to result in astounding works of art, and a microwave oven. And a purple glove-puppet with googly eyes, which was named Dr. Sneag, our mascot. With the logistics under control, we started in on the actual workshop.


We met from 9 a.m. to noon, every day; and we often had formal or informal meetings after dinner. We critiqued two or three stories each day. Afternoons were for reading, writing and running errands or just running.


Speaking only for myself, my first reaction was awe. I looked around at my class. They looked like perfectly ordinary people (okay, some of them looked pretty extraordinary, actually, but still people). Well, perfectly ordinary people who came from as far away as Egypt (Peter) or next door (Katie).  They wrote with an imagination that seemed derived from a different world than the one I lived in. The writing was deft and textured, expressed with an economy of words and sharp images. I’d have been perfectly happy to spend the entire 6 weeks just reading that stuff. How did I get into this place with them?


Greg. Greg was superb. I’ve already spoken of his way of quietly pulling the group together, building trust with us and among us. He was an accomplished and confident teacher. It was Greg who established the immortal line that provides the easiest way to critique a story that just didn’t work for you: “Every story has an idiot reader, and I’m it for this story.”


His writing exercises were interesting and useful and occasionally hilarious. Kitchen utensil sex scenes, anyone? Verbing nouns gets a whole lot more interesting when it’s spatulas poaching eggplants.


Greg also instituted the Water War, and was an active (very active!) participant. Julie and  I were the War Correspondents, and after that occasion, took every opportunity to document Clarion 2007. (I would end up with around 1500 photographs, of which perhaps half were water-battle action scenes.) Most people played. Andrew armed with a SuperSoaker was the Conan figure. Ramsey and Caleb moved so fast I got several shots of empty courtyard trying to photograph them. Jan was mischievous and nimble, dancing in from ambush points to tip buckets of water over unsuspecting targets. Treachery and trickery were the order of the day. The battle was often interrupted by people laughing themselves silly. They were ethical warriors, though. A cry of “Civilian!” or “cameras!” would stop a fusillade.


The week barreled along, and we were at Mysterious Galaxy, listening to Greg reading from his new book, which we couldn’t get copies of. (I got it later off Amazon, and Greg very kindly inscribed it for me.) A few minutes later, we were chatting with famous author Robert Crais (also a Clarion alum) who had driven down from LA. Then we were listening to Nancy Holder, reading at Mysterious Galaxy; and a book agent from the Sandy Dykstra Agency who actually encouraged pitches.


Jerome found a poster, and we all signed a message for Greg. And the week was over, and Greg was handing over to Jeff VanderMeer and Ann.


The Instructor is Gone. Welcome the Instructor!

Tags: clarion 2007, greg frost, jerome stueart, nancy holder, shweta narayan

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