Clarion Write-A-Thon 2010

I’m participating in the “Write-A-Thon” to benefit the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop this year.  The workshop branch I’m supporting is what I refer to as “Clarion Regular,” which is the workshop that was originally founded in Milford, PA by Robin Scott Wilson, and which then moved to Michigan State University, and is now located at the University of California, San Diego.  I’m doing this as part of our BVC Clarion effort – and guess what?  If you don’t already know, Vonda N. McIntyre, who attended the mindblowing Clarion Class of 1970, founded Clarion West!!! 


This is like a Walk-A-Thon, only it’s a Write-A-Thon.  You can pledge a certain amount per-word, or just make a donation in general.  The overall goal is $10,000 to be raised for a six week period, which coincides with the current students who are now in their second week of the workshop.

There are 76 of us graduates and friends doing this for Clarion-UCSD – so each of us needs to raise at least $132 to reach the goal.  So far everyone is ahead of the game, and I’m late getting started!

I am doing this because I attended the Clarion workshop at MSU in 1984.  The story of how I then quit writing for eight years (not immediately afterward, and nothing to do with the workshop) is now pretty famous.  As I sit here and type, I still remember those six, so long-ago weeks, as the best six week period of my whole life.  I’ll probably never be so happy as I was in E. Lansing, Michigan, living in the Soviet-style housing block dorm, eating ketchup-covered pizza, collecting cans to have food and beer money, and crying helplessly and homesick-edly for the brown hills of California.  In my mind’s eye, I can see the psychotic squirrel who woke me every morning.

I was amazed to discover that the storage boxes of our work that had been kept at MSU in the library dungeon are still in existence!  I have two filing cabinets of what are sometimes referred to as “white papers” and in my case, I think I would call them “firestarters” or “recycling opportunities,” and those contain some of my Clarion manuscripts, and others of that early 80’s vintage.  Back then, writers used different tools.  Many people wrote longhand, and others used typewriters, and because I was so “rich,” I took a $10 yard sale manual typewriter with me to Clarion.  Every manuscript (they’re indescribably horrible, too) that I wrote at Clarion, and I think I wrote TEN stories or “story-lets” or “story-like” objects, was written on that cheap, rickety, faint-ribbon typewriter.  Most people are surprised at my rapid computer typing speed (120 to 140 words a minute), which is similar to speaking.  I can do transcription of people who are just talking normally.  It isn’t that fast to type on a manual typewriter. Point of this being, those of you who play guitar – typing on those old manual typewriters isn’t quite like playing guitar, but you do develop typing callouses and those manual typewriter keys start to hurt after a while!

Ah, pain for one’s art . . . 

Typewriter, squirrel, Harlan, the knit-and-purl critiques.  Smoking unfiltered Pall Malls with Glenn Wright out on the step.  Watergun fights, craziness, “Gorgo” (my husband Mike, dubbed “Gorgo” by Harlan due to his great height), and . . .

The Blue Bunny.

I have to re-take a picture of the infamous crucified Blue Bunny T-Shirt.  More recent Clarion classes don’t know who he is.  I haven’t done a thorough survey, but the Blue Bunny was a ratty stuffed blue rabbit that we passed around and held when it was our turn on the critique “hot seat.”  From what I’ve heard, he arrived early on, but probably not as early as 1970 – and he was already in horrible shape by 1984.  At Clarion, you spend every morning sitting in the critique room or “class area” in a circle on, what was, at least for us, musty, overstuffed, nasty couches.  If you were like me, you were a wretched, character-free coward who clung to Glenn Wright’s thin arm and shoulder as she also clutched the smelly, pilly, rough blue horror bunny to her chest.  But Kathe Koja has a way better story than me and . . . ha ha!!  Kathe did something so surprising and hilarious that I remember it as one of the great “perfect astonishments” ever.  It has to do with “knit one, purl two, I could not give less than a crap about you . . .” (All I’ll say is – if you’re in a writing critique group, don’t knit through other people’s critique sessions.  Just.  Don’t.)

For the Write-A-Thon, these are my three projects:

  • To Kiss the Star, novelization (YA)
  • Secret Project With Astonishingly Unusual Protagonist in High Concept Milieu (adult/older teens)
  • Flogging my cousin Robert Sterling to write about William Wilson’s Shadow Doppelganger for the Shadow Conspiracy II.

Look!  Here’s my BVC Booksheeellllffff!  You can read numerous things for free and even buy Imago!

Just saying.  That’s because I never backlink and people actually go “Where’s Amy on the periodic table of women writers . . . gee, I haven’t read anything by her.”  Well for FREE you can injure your mind and expose yourself to “real . . . talent”.  That’s a Kirkus pullquote.  Seems to me the original said, “This book would have been better served by being pulped and the opportunity given to writers with real storytelling talent.”  (Just kidding.  I made that up.  You know they do that for real, don’t you?  For movies and books . . .).

Very few of the writers that attend the Clarion workshops are rich – and they aren’t all 21 years old like I was on that long-ago Michigan summer.  People come from all different walks of life – different ages, genders, professions, cultural backgrounds, and writing interests.  What they are doing, is attending the sci-fi and fantasy field’s version of toney MFA programs or super-expensive writers workshops and retreats. 

I had NO MONEY to attend Clarion that summer.  I was working 3 horrible part-time jobs and Mike and I could barely make the rent and pay our bills.  I received $2,000 from my dad (this is the “Hi Dad, I want to be a science fiction writer” and “Oh, like AZEEEMOFFF?” conversation) and $500 from Andre Norton, who also provided money to a writer to attend Clarion West.  Why Michigan and not Seattle (West?).  Well, because I was inspired by beloved author and MacArthur Genius Grant winner, Octavia Butler.  1984: “Bloodchild,” and this was what I wanted to do.  Apocryphally, I was admitted to a prestigious fulltime MFA program as well; I chose Clarion, for reasons I have written about elsewhere.  For the first time today, reading Octavia’s Wikipedia, I realized that My Agnes, was a way better Agnes to this far-better writer than me.  “Agnes, my bright star, ever pointing upward,” (this is a quote from David Copperfield, the book, not the magician) – otherwise known as Harlan Ellison, who helped Octavia be in the WGA West Open Door Program, and then, the next year, Clarion (1970).

I had no money for myself at all, and one of the most soul-crushing moments of my life was when the liquor store guy in E. Lansing refused to accept my cans for redemption – because I’d crushed them to save space!  I was expecting $20 – and I didn’t get anything and therefore . . . well  . .  . ya know, it all worked out.  I probably wrote at least 2 of those awful story things because I didn’t have the money to keep up with the others partying.

My goal is at least $132.  You only need to give a small amount.  The money will be used for scholarships for these crazy dreamers.




Clarion Write-A-Thon 2010 — 2 Comments

  1. You know, my year (Clarion ’81) we had the Blue Bunny but it was, curiously, not much in evidence. We looked upon the Clarionites of ’78 and ’79 with awe because they were much more hell-raising than we were (although when I recounted some of my Clarion stories to the class I taught there in ’95 their eyebrows rose far enough to meet the napes of their necks…autre temps, etc. And my story “Six Weeks, No Exit,” is about Clarion…well, a Clarion founded by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir…

  2. I think the students seem to have become squarer by the year, Mad – I was on a panel at NASFiC or some such a while back with Gordon Van Gelder. It was him, me, and 2-3 others who were associated with that current year’s Clarion West workshop (recent grads, etc). So these were late 90s people. It was this “party” generation gap thing. Like, they didn’t party and had no interest in anything Gordon or I had to say. He was so hung over!!! OMG. I should have been, but wasn’t, for some reason. I am so lazy, I really should re-photo or scan that t-shirt. It’s blue color is almost white now but the bunny picture is still very clear.