Tag Archives: Clarion West

Writing: Writers in Need

Back when I did the Clarion writers workshop, we had a different instructor for each week. Ed Bryant was the first one. With his dry wit and wry attitude and no-nonsense ways, he broke the ice and got us into critiquing, in a gentle way.

Ed had been one of Harlan Ellison’s prodigies and typical of Ed, he can get along with a lot of people, even those as temperamental as Harlan. But that doesn’t mean Ed didn’t have anything interesting, witty or even sarcastic to say.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bryant

Somehow after Clarion, I either bumped into Ed at a few conventions or contacted him or both (more likely the former as Ed has always been notoriously a bad correspondent) we developed a slow friendship. One which often existed of us only seeing each other at conventions.

At one convention, I was walking through the art show with a friend. We stopped in front of an honest-to-god velvet painting. Yes, those cheap and tacky remnants of the 70s. Or was it 60s?

This was shortly after the Star Trek movie The Voyage Home and featured a couple of humpback whales in it as well as the Enterprise returning to Earth to save the day and the planet. So here we are staring at this painting, our mouths dropping open at the horribleness of it. I can’t remember it exactly but it had fat Elvis in his bright white suit spread across its velvet expanse and Spock and the Enterprise I believe over some skyline.

It was dreadful and Kij and I laughed at it. It was so bad I couldn’t believe anyone in their right mind would paint it. Then I noticed that it was not for sale and had the title of “Save the Whales.” And it had been commissioned by Ed Bryant which is when it all came clear. It was such a perfect piece of tongue-in-cheek kitsch.

Ed has always had long hair and worn T-shirts and jeans. Except for when he dresses up and puts on a button shirt so that he can wear a special tie. Whereas David Hartwell is known for his god-awful ugliest ties since creation (and the eye-jarring contrasting stripe and check suits and shirts that don’t go with them) Ed is somehow subtler. His shirts aren’t too wild but his tie might be shaped like a fish or be plastic with a bunch of plastic bugs in it.

And Ed is of course, a writer. I read his collection of short stories Cinnabar a long time ago and, where his penchant for creepy shone through. Ed has never written a novel, which may be why the greater fan community does not know of him as well as the writing community does. He has written reviews for Locus for many years. He has also worked on screenplays, nonfiction and other forms of writing.

I consider Ed a good friend, even though I don’t know him super well or all of his problems. He once told me that in that land of the free but highly impoverished he paid $800 a month in medical insurance because of his diabetes. A month! I was aghast. How could anyone have a decent life like that?

Ed has had complications along the way, including not being able to get out of bed once because he had suffered hairline fractures through a bunch of his bones, which had immobilized his arms. I started calling him Tyrannosaurus Ed at that point.

I haven’t talked to Ed for a few years, though I tried but no answers to emails, which was kind of typical. Still I worried because Ed has had some major health issues. At the World Fantasy convention this last fall I asked another friend if he’d seen Ed and that I worried about him. It seems I had a right to.

Because the US has such a crippling, and I do mean crippling, health system, people must have a good job that has an insurance plan. This doesn’t always mean it’s a completely comprehensive plan and may have all sorts of restrictions on it. I know a couple that even though working, can only afford to put their two children on health insurance. Another person, an epileptic, could only afford to have her medication covered because she once worked as a coast guard. I have other American friends who suffer in pain because they cannot afford their health care.

Canada’s may not be perfect but at least everyone can get help. It may just take longer. We get the basics without being impoverished and on the street. It would never cost hundreds per month, and medications after a certain amount (less than a thousand but varies by income) are paid for or subsidized.

Now Ed seems to need some help as the health bills have become astronomical. Friends and associates have set up a website where donations can be made. Ed has always been involved in the SF community, from writing and doing panels to writing reviews and being a mentor to others. In Colorado he started a writers’ group and I consider Ed to be one of my mentors.

I’m not rich but I’ll be sending some money to Ed because he has given to the greater writing community in many ways. If you’re at all influenced by writers and SF, check out Ed’s Wiki page above and the link below for more information on Ed Bryant and where to donate.

http://www.friendsofed.org/

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, entertainment, fantasy, health care, horror, life, memories, people, Publishing, relationships, science fiction, Writing

Writing: Clarion Daze

I’m soon to embark on the second major writing workshop of my career. I attended Clarion West in Seattle lo, these many years ago. Clarion was a six-week workshop with a different instructor per week: five authors, one editor. I still think it was a stellar cast of instructors that year: Ed Bryant, Octavia Butler, Connie Willis, Ursula Le Guin, Tappan King and Samuel Delaney.

There were 21 of us attending from all over the US and three from Vancouver, BC. You arrived with a story written, ready to critique. Each day we would critique three people, then go back to the dorms and write and read stories for the next day. We were supposed to produce a story a week for critiquing.

Ages ranged from fresh out of high school to a couple of people in their forties. People came with all levels of ability though all of us had made the selection process. I knew I had a lot to learn and if we were all standing on a ladder, I was beneath most of the other people. But in the process of that six-week course I climbed a long way up the ladder. There were those above me who climbed maybe only a few inches. There were those who didn’t move at all.

Connie Willis gave us humor, Ed Bryant gave us horror. Tappan gave the realities of publishing and Chip talked about the novel format. Octavia and Ursula were a wealth of insight and information. Of course they all taught the process of writing and story structure as well. I think I was the second most prolific person and did write a story a week, if not more. I also got by on four hours of sleep a night for six weeks and felt like I was close to having spontaneous out of body experiences. I can say that things became jittery and I was drinking Pepsi regularly and I don’t really drink pop.

We did let some of our stress out with a massive water fight that soaked the dorm, with a few people like Gordon Van Gelder being tossed in the shower. After that (or maybe it was the culmination) we had everything from water pistols and weenies to Uzis, and would skulk down the street with a water weapons, laying in wait for our unsuspecting classmates. We curtailed the street attacks when someone pointed out that the police might not take kindly to people lurking about with what looked like weapons.

The slug became our mascot, specifically the banana slug. Somehow it was mentioned in class the first week, and Seattle is prolific with them as is much of the West Coast. I believe we read that there was a slug race going on in one of the nearby cities. We bought some rubber slugs and would leave them outside people’s doors. Then Octavia Butler, in our second week, mentioned how she was phobic of slugs and once had one in her bathroom. By the third week Ursula, who lives in Portland, cemented the image though I can’t remember what she said. So we had Cyril the cyber slug and eventually when I did up T-shirts to commemorate our workshop, it was Cyril, with pierced antennae, mirrorshades, a mohawk and riveted body parts that graced the shirts. Somewhere, I still have one.

The reason some people didn’t write much was that they came to the workshop knowing they could write well. When twenty people critique your story it can be pretty deflating and sometimes ego crushing. There were times when the critique would consists of six or more people saying the same thing, which became irritating. We had meetings so that people would just say ditto if they had nothing new to say. There was one fellow who really only wrote one story the whole workshop and would name drop constantly. That was not his most annoying trait. He had the habit of not reading someone’s story and then sitting halfway around from who was being critiqued (we’d know the night before). Listening to everyone else’s critiques, he would then cobble his critique together. It soon became obvious to us and though we had a meeting where we didn’t address him directly we tried to make sure he knew that we could tell which people didn’t read the stories. He also decided to come to my room one night and give his personal opinion of my writing.

Each weekend there would be a party (coupled with the Clarion reading series) at a host’s house. Some hosts were authors like Greg and Elizabeth Bear and we got to probe their minds in an informal way. Many of us were so burned out after the workshop that I think some people never wrote again. I slept for about a month.

Our year seemed to birth more editors than anything else. Kij Johnson worked for Dark Horse comics and Tor at one point, Gordon Van Gelder worked for St. Martins before taking over F&SF. Michael Stearns still works for Harcourt I believe, in New York now. Kathleen Alcala edited for a publication in Seattle and wrote magic realism. I freelanced copy edited for years and still do, as well as currently editing for Aberrant Dreams (and soon to help with poetry editing for Chizine). I’m not sure where some of the others went or what they did but few published novels came out of our year. To date, I think Kij is the most successful there. Others sold poetry and short fiction. Kij and I recently googled Dean Shomshak, who we knew as the revenant guy (because of his one zombie story) and it seems he became quite successful in writing game books and articles. Kathryn Drennan wrote shows and series in Hollywood.

Did Clarion help my writing? Yes. Did it help it enough? I don’t know. Would I do it again? I don’t know but here I am getting ready for a shorter two-week workshop. There is something about being immersed in a group of your peeps and doing nothing but eating, drinking and spewing writing. If nothing else, you usually come out of it with more ideas and a better path through your story.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, entertainment, fantasy, horror, humor, people, Publishing, science fiction, Writing

Musings on the Muse: Early Inspirations

I always knew I wanted to be an artist (after brief thoughts of being a doctor, a nurse and police woman) from the age of six. At that time it was drawing. But the earliest influence on my mind and expanding my worlds was in reading.

I’ve already talked a bit about some of those books in Worlds of What-if. There were Aesop’s Fables, Br’er Bear and Br’er Rabbit, various fairy tales and myths such as the Norse tales. I began writing around the age of twelve, for myself, and like every teenager, some was emotional, angst-ridden. I still have some of these poems and it was only a small number like that. Many were exploring philosophies; time, infinity, death, birth.

 In grade 9 I took a creative writing class instead of regular English. My spelling and writing were good enough that I could miss it. I think the class was actually called Communications. At that point, I began working on writing a book. It was handwritten and I managed fifty pages of single-spaced text. I still have that partial book somewhere at home. I think at some point in the past I actually typed it up but I don’t think it’s on the computer. I don’t remember a ton about it but the character, Carla Adamson, was in the desert and her husband (ex-husband?) was trying to kill her. But…I think there was going to be an alien intervention.

I was influenced by the fantastic from the beginning. Besides the articles in the newpaper of the future in grade 7, this was probably one of my first fiction scribblings. I continued to write poetry, which was less fantastical and just more straightforward. Then I got a job in a book store; comics, fantasy and SF. Ordering the books, reading the tales every day, cemented the genre in my head. It was then that I started to write a few stories.

I took a writing course at UBC. Then, I applied to the Clarion Writers workshop in Seattle in 1987 and was accepted. That was the true beginning of me taking my writing seriously. I began to send it out then. I’m still not sure it was the right thing, to take it seriously, but here I am, writing writing writing.

Leave a comment

Filed under fairy tales, myth, Writing