Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Monthly Archives: April 2012

So you’re going to Clarion…

Okay, take two of this, since WordPress’s “Hey, try our quick post!” apparently means, “Hey! Type out a post and we’ll make it disappear!”


Clarion apartment I attended the Clarion workshop in 2011, and I remember going into it that everyone said kind of encouraging but also infuriatingly vague things like “it was great, but it’s hard to put into words what was so great about it.” Post-Clarion, all of us struggled to capture that feeling as well, and for a bunch of writers, it’s amusing to see how difficult it was to state plainly. But I think the reason is that we are not only aware of what we got out of it, but what everyone else got. For me to say, “I learned to critique better, I learned some things to improve in my writing, I met some amazing people in the writing community and gained confidence about my writing” sounds very dry and doesn’t convey the power of the six weeks we spent there. But to say, “I gained a writing family,” while it does convey that, sounds rather overblown and overdramatic.

The point is, I guess, not to stress about what you’re going to get out of Clarion. If you go in as a writer open to the idea that you need to improve and that you and your classmates are all there to help each other do just that, you will get your money’s worth and then some. I know that I was a little stressed about what to expect, about whether I’d fit in (and you will no doubt be told many times that YES YOU DO FIT IN and it will not be enough times but you will end up believing it in the end, I hope), but at the same time I don’t want to tell people what to expect, mostly because everyone’s experience is going to be different.

I do have a few words of advice and I will just toss them out here as bullet points:

* Double-check your logistical arrangements to be gone from the real world for six weeks. You can’t stop reality from interrupting Clarion, but to the extent that you can minimize it, really do so.

* Take advantage of the blog to introduce yourself and meet your classmates. It doesn’t completely eliminate the “getting to know each other” period, but it does shorten it. It was great for us to show up and be able to put faces to names: “Hi, Jim! Hi, Jasmine!”

* Set yourself at least one goal before you go, something to improve in your writing or your process. But also keep yourself open to new goals. You’re going to meet seventeen awesome classmates and six awesome instructors, and the ideas and suggestions are going to come at you like tennis balls from one of those serving machines gone wild in a comedy sketch. Try something new. Don’t be afraid to fail at it.

* Share with your classmates. You guys are all there to help each other. You are a team, and you can’t add any new people to that team. If you see divisions or cliques forming, blow that up. We were a pretty lucky class in that we all got along and stayed pretty tight–not that there weren’t conflicts, but we didn’t let them fracture the class. Your support for each other will be one of the best things you come out of Clarion with.

* Learn the path to Rock Bottom and Trader Joe’s. Really. It will save your life when you can’t stand one more cafeteria meal.

And I hope all you guys have as amazing a summer as I did last year!


Furry Awards: My Hobbyhorse and Solution

* Wow, did this never post? Sheesh. Talk about using things properly. :/ I wrote this a month and a half ago. Sorry about that, guys.


I don’t want to come off as one of those cranky people who just pick holes in everything without offering a solution. And the best way to avoid that is to offer a solution. So here you go.

It seems to me that at this stage of the fandom’s life, the goal of an award should be to highlight any quality book that comes from the fandom. We are trying to show the outside world with these awards that there is really something to this fandom, that we are not just a lot of people writing “I WISH I WAS A CAT” stories.  And the main gripe with the Ursas has not, by and large, been the awards process, but the winners. You will also note that the complications in the previous part are all generally tied directly to selecting a “winner.”

Yes, that is the purpose of an award. But if we are trying to show quality in the fandom, then why do we have to restrict that list to one book in a year? I can look back at the Ursas in many years and find two novels that were worthy of recognition, or three or more short stories. So why don’t we have an award that recognizes, not a single work, but any work that passes a bar of quality? Make the award inclusion on a list, so that it carries the same weight as being a Hugo or Nebula nominee.

At a stroke, you eliminate many of the barriers to a juried award. Authors whose works are in contention need only excuse themselves from considering their own book; with no competition, they could fairly judge other works, knowing that praising one book or story doesn’t hurt the chances of their work to be listed. Jury members need not have read all books in contention as long as enough people have read each entry to provide a balanced judgment of it.  I can envision a system whereby a work would need a minimum of, say, fifteen votes to qualify for the list, and would need to have a 2/3 positive score (10 yea to 5 nea) to be on the list.

The main problem I see with this award is the main problem I see with any furry fandom award, and that is my problem from the last post: this is a young fandom without a lot of experienced, professional writers. So even if this proposal is put into effect, I can see that the release of the list of winners each year will be accompanied by the same kind of complaints about some work that should’ve been on but wasn’t, or some work that made it but shouldn’t have…

But it’s in people’s nature to complain, and at least this way there would be an approximate record of what the fandom considered its best works. And as the quality of writing improves, and the discrimination in the readership improves, the overall quality of the list will improve as well.

I think that aiming for a list rather than a single award will feel like a more manageable goal to beginning writers, and having several books or stories included on a list makes it more likely that someone will find something they like, whereas a single winner may not be to everyone’s taste. And perhaps that will motivate people to do what we are all hoping these awards will do, which is: write better fiction. This fandom is still in its youth (in many senses of the word), is still growing fast, and there is no shame in recognizing that the fiction may have a little ways to go to catch up to big brother/parent Science Fiction. While I don’t believe the sometimes-repeated contention that the popularity-rewarding Ursas discourage writers from even trying because they will never be as popular as already-established writers (*), I do see that it would be nice to have a larger body of work for them to look up to.

*This argument seems to me close kin to the argument that raising taxes on rich people will hurt the economy because it removes the incentive for people to be successful. Anyone with the means to accumulate a fortune does not choose whether or not to do it based on what the tax rate is, and any writer who gives up just because he/she doesn’t think they will ever be popular should not be writing to begin with, and is therefore probably correct. Real writers, the ones willing to put in the hours per day and days per week and weeks per month and months per year into their craft, those people are aiming for a larger goal than popularity, and they would not be deterred if the Ursas did not exist at all.

Of course, I help run a publishing company that prides itself on selecting the best available work in the fandom, and one might argue that having a work selected by a business that depends on quality to make profit is pretty similar to being chosen as a high-quality work by a small group of people with trustworthy judgment. There aren’t that many works published in the fandom each year in print, after all, and if you really want to be analogous to the Nebulas, then publication as a barrier to entry isn’t that bad an idea. However, it does weed out those potentially brilliant stories that just don’t have an audience or a venue—the market for short stories in the fandom is pathetic, much as it is out in SF at large. So I’m not opposed to the idea of an independent group that can scan all the writing in the fandom.

There you go: my thoughts on writing awards in the fandom. I’ve written these out as much for my benefit as for anyone else’s; next time someone tries to set up something like this, I can just point them to this series of posts.