I was given the opportunity to do a little write-up on the Hugo Awards for the Stranger, Seattle’s only newspaper, which you can find here. It is my first piece of paid journalism. That feels kind of special.
I knew Clarion West would be a good experience, and I knew it would be impactful, and I was expecting it to be some of the craziest and weirdest and hardest fun and work of my life. All true. But more intense. Harder. More fun, more work. Way weirder. I don’t feel like the same person, even though I know at my core I am. I’ve mutated. Leveled up. Evolved.
I wrote things I didn’t expect to write. I critiqued better than I thought I could. I learned more than I think I even realize. It was absolutely, totally worth it.
Six weeks ago if you’d asked me what I do I would have told you my day job, the thing I get paid for. That’s not true anymore. My most profound change is I no longer question who I am or what I’m doing. I’m a writer. Nobody who succeeds in this type of workshop is anything but a writer. Whether I stay one is up to me, but for the last few months there was no questioning it. Now I just have to keep going, keep looking up, and keep my priorities straight.
For vast moments since I left that house I am heartbroken by the absence of my classmates. It is profoundly bittersweet. I have friends around the world, amazing people. But they no longer live down the hall from me; I don’t get to have coffee with them every morning, or hear them singing or playing music as I go about my day. I miss that deeply. I didn’t think I would connect with that as much as I did.
I am so tremendously grateful that I had this experience. I still can’t believe I was so lucky: lucky enough to get in, lucky I was in a place in my life that I could accept the spot, lucky I had friends and family to help me raise the money to go, lucky to land with the class I did. I don’t know who to thank or how to start. The only thing I can think of to do to show how deeply I have been moved and changed by this experience is to work my goddamn tail off, to write like I’ll die next year, to sink my heart into my writing and make good art even when it feels like I don’t have a free moment in the day.
I can at least do that.
Week Six Instructor: Cory Doctorow
Week Six Instructor’s Superpower: Everything. Articulate charm? Absolute sincerity? Awesome absurd outfits? Endless ability to get shit done? Cory is the only person on the planet who gets choked up when he talks about DRM. He bursts out into song. He is way less intimidating in person than he might seem from his writing. He is so fucking nice.
Unexpected Week Six Discoveries: It wasn’t the writing that was the hard part. I could keep writing. I could write another story right now. It’s the reading. God, please, nobody make me read another piece of short fiction for critique for at least a month. I will put out my own eyeballs.
Week Six Bummer: We didn’t learn the secret word you put in your manuscript so that it automatically sells. I Cory forgot to tell us. Maybe it was corpuscle? Gloaming?
Week Six Highlight: I finally dragged some of my people out of the house, whining and complaining, all the way to Discovery Park. Once we got there and I showed them the Puget Sound and our pet mountain they stopped complaining.
Week Five Instructor: Nalo Hopkinson
Week Five Instructor’s Superpower: Dance moves
Unexpected Week Five Discoveries: I AM A WRITER LOOK AT ME I WRITE THAT’S HOW I DO I CAN WRITE YOU ANYTHING WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO WRITE
Week Five Story Wordcount, Current: 4100 words out of 5500ish, currently contains NO CONFLICT GO ME
Week Five Story Title: shut up, don’t look at me
Week Five Bummer: This was by far the fastest-moving, shortest of the weeks. Unbelievably fast. Over-before-it-began fast. I am already in mourning and trying hard, hard, hard not to be.
Week Five Highlight: I wrote a unicorn orgy and then after critique (which was heavy on the “Tegan, you wrote a unicorn orgy”) I spent an hour watching the naked mole rats at the Pacific Science Center. Life is fucking magical sometimes.
Week Four Instructor: Susan Palwick
Week Four Instructor’s Superpower: Empathy. We got into some deep shit about trauma and Big Feelings and how it’s our responsibility as speculative fiction writers to offer people hope, and not just trendy ironic bleakness. I can be ironic and bleak with the best of them but that’s not my writing, not 100% of the time.
Unexpected Week Four Discoveries: My experiment for last week was to see if I could take an emotional kernel, build a metaphor over it, and work backwards from that. Usually I do the opposite, with the metaphor and plot there first, and I don’t figure out what I’m really trying to talk about until, like, draft three. There’s not enough time for that in a week. Last week’s story (which ended up being called Epitome, if you’re wondering) was the most successful I’ve written here, in terms of my classmates’ critiques. Susan seemed to really like it as well.
Week Four Story Wordcount, Current: 3300 out of probably 6k
Week Four Story Title: The Kingdom Eternal
Week Four Bummer: We are now counting down towards the end. Time feels finite. It makes me sick to my stomach that this isn’t forever.
Week Four Highlight: Skyping with Neil Gaiman? Bumping in to Kij Johnson at Greg Bear’s house? Drunk texting Andy Duncan? This whole week has been fucking surreal.
Week Three Instructor: Tobias Buckell
Week Three Instructor’s Superpower: Plot & structure analysis, holy wowzers. The man is a story machine. Also, he’s very good at watching drunk people be drunk.
Week Three Story Wordcount, Current: 3400 out of a likely 5500, but I am not worried. Yet.
Week Three Story Title: I HAVEN’T GOTTEN THIS FAR
Week Three Bummer: Connie Willis, who was supposed to be our week four instructor, fell and is in the hospital. We have a replacement teacher who is, I am certain, totally great, but is still not Connie Willis.
Week Three Highlight: The spontaneous Friday post-party party that lasted until way past when everyone was too drunk. Definitely saw the inside of everyone’s souls this week.
Runner-up to that is getting the next 1/3 of my crow tattoo finished. I like how this is bookending the workshop; I’m scheduled for my last appointment on the day I move out of the CW house.
Week Two Instructor: Eileen Gunn
Week Two Instructor’s Most Surprising Non-ironic Quote: “Oh, but that was back when I was in that biker gang.”
Unexpected Week Two Discoveries: I can actually survive quite happily on four hours of sleep and very little food if these are tempered by extremely high-quality company and lots and lots of beer
Week Two Story Title: Feather by Feather (working title)
Week Two Bummer: We have all made a lot of plans to do things but because of the heat nobody’s been motivated to leave the house much
Week Two Highlight: Actually sleeping through the night last night, thanks to earplugs and juuuust a little bit of dog xanax
Week One Instructor: Andy Duncan
Week One Instructor’s Best Decision: To impress upon us with his entire, considerable force of personality that we absolutely deserve to be here amongst the elite of speculative fiction’s future writers
Week One Instructor’s Worst Decision: To recommend the film Cannonball Run for potential group screening
Unexpected Week One Discoveries: It is fairly common to write pantsless, especially in 90-degree heat; it does not take long to lose one’s mind when writing in a house with other pantsless maniacs in 90-degree heat; sentient molds, etc
Week One Story Title: How High Your Gods May Count
Week One Bummer: I have almost completely lost my voice due to a strangely-manifesting cold
Week One Highlight: The people in this house are amazing, both in talent and personality, and I am so grateful and overjoyed to be here. But let’s see how I feel next week.
Here I am at writer space camp, tucked into my tiny room, which I have cozified like woah because knowing my work habits I will probably spend a lot of time locked in here, trying not to look at Facebook.
(The hardest part of getting ready for Clarion West was locking myself out of my Facebook account. I am thirty-one fucking years old. Seriously?)
The past few weeks have been the superlative superlative something something of my life. Getting ready to leave my job in the midst of relocating the office, which is my job, since I am the office lady; buying my first home and moving to the seriously suburban suburbs (OUR NEIGHBORS ARE ALPACAS); taking agility classes from the 2015 20″ Preferred and 24″ AKC National Agility Champion, Sarah Baker, who is a kickass teacher but holy hell no pressure there. Also class is in Sumner and I live in Lynnwood. If you don’t know where those places are imagine mapping something on your phone thinking you might go there and then saying “oh hell no” to your phone, because it must be lying to you. There’s a lot of driving.
Last night, my beloved, genius, disgusting, wonderful, batshit-crazy work teammates came out for karaoke. We were Those People in the karaoke bar. We were the karaoke dream team. I felt so loved and I don’t think I’ve ever had a big group of people that I liked being around so much. I hope that my Clarion cohort feels like that.
Anyway, what with all of the above I did not think about Clarion West until I walked up the front steps of the house this morning carrying my boxes, and it hit me that this is the closest I will ever get to actually going to Hogwarts or slipping into Narnia.
It took a lot of people to get me here, a lot of help and support and hard work–financially (see my last post, holy shit), emotionally (hi Ryan!) and personally (hi Grace!). And it has taken so many hours upon hours of writing and hurting and pushing and writing and waking up at 4:30am day after day.
So I’d better make it count.
I have two post-its on my desk. They are my goals for Clarion West. They are deceptively challenging.
- Don’t say you can’t, because you can.
- Be the person everyone feels they can come to.
But if I have learned anything from my husband and my therapist and my best friend and my dog and all the people who love me, it is that I can do anything. So step aside, I’m counting down.