CLARION 2014–Teaching Week One

I teach the fiction workshop at Swarthmore College. That’s a workshop usually comprising the “smartest kids in the room” as the saying goes. Outside of Swarthmore, that’s not been my experience: Workshop attendees usually span the range from “interesting” to “cannot write for toffee.” Understandable, as most workshops work on the premise that you pay for a slot and you’re in. Well, that’s not Clarion. And that really is not Clarion 2014.

Anybody who has taught at Clarion SD, Clarion West, or Clarion South will tell you that every week has its own character, just as every class of Clarionoids develops its own collective personality. They’re tight or loose, they subsume or embrace each other’s idiosyncrasies to varying degrees, they riff off one another, and sometimes people melt down and go home early—not often, but it has happened, though not, I think, in the first week.

The first week is, for me, where the bar is set for critique and interaction, where the rules get defined and bent and the common courtesies of workshopping stories are established. Lectures and prompts and bears, oh my.

This was my second time jumping into the first week drop zone, my fourth time teaching at Clarion.

It was the best experience I’ve yet had.

The group proved far more cohesive and supportive of one another than any I’ve experienced either as a student (1975) or as an instructor. Maybe I’ve gotten good at this; more likely, these people were prepped for the bootcamp. Part of that is certainly due to social media and to the Clarion staff’s having set it up for them all to communicate well in advance of their arrival (hats off here to Laura Martin, Shelley Streeby, and Karen Joy Fowler). These clever, devious, hilarious eighteen were primed before they got anywhere near San Diego.

This was a party waiting to happen, one that lasted all week long. I dialed the volume up to maybe ‘5.’ Week two was going to be Geoff Ryman, and Geoff’s the sort who says, “Oh, look here, this knob goes to ’11.’” From what I’ve heard back, he did and it did. Everyone, so far as I know, lived.

So, science fiction should get ready to welcome in a new team of the Supremely Wyrd. As of this writing, they have four more weeks to go, four more powerhouse instructors, and they are going to come out the other end with literary plasma flowing from their fingertips. World, you’re going to hear from this band.

I am proud to have been there to flip the switch.


BVC member Gregory Frost is the author of eight novels (including Shadowbridge, Lord Tophet, Fitcher’s Brides, The Pure Cold Light) and well over fifty short stories of the fantastic, including dark thrillers, historical fantasy and science fiction. His novelette “No Others are Genuine” (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Oct/Nov 2013) was a 2014 “Long Fiction” finalist for the Bram Stoker Award. A collaborative novella with Jonathan Maberry, “T.Rhymer,” graces Dark Duets (HarperCollins, January 2014), an anthology of dark fantasy collaborations.

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About Gregory Frost

Gregory Frost is the author of eight novels and well over fifty short stories of the fantastic: dark thrillers, historical fantasy and science fiction. His latest published novel-length work is the Shadowbridge duology (Del Rey/Random House), voted "one of the best fantasy novels of the year" by the ALA. Recent short fiction includes his collaborative novella with Jonathan Maberry, “T.Rhymer,” is in Dark Duets (HarperCollins); and a collaboration with Michael Swanwick, "Lock Up Your Chickens and Daughters, H'ard and Andy are Come to Town" in Asimov's Magazine. He is a contributor to The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (Cambridge University Press), and serves as the Fiction Workshop Director at Swarthmore College.


CLARION 2014–Teaching Week One — 2 Comments

  1. Getting the “rules” right so workshopping is supportive and not combat is essential. How to establish collegiality is a terrific skill.