In a few weeks I’ll be teaching the first week of Clarion West. This means a lot to me. It feels like coming full circle.
I went to Clarion (the original Clarion, sometimes called Clarion East, which at that time was being held in East Lansing, MI) back in 1988, and the experience was hugely important to me, one of the landmark moments in my writing life. There’s B.C. — Before Clarion — and everything after.
Before Clarion, I’d never talked to a writer more than a couple minutes, and I’d never met a published science fiction writer. I didn’t know about cons, or how to submit to magazines–and forget about novels. Becoming a writer was like choosing a career as an alligator wrestler: I knew the job existed, and I’d seen it done on TV, but where do you get the alligators?
I had wonderful teachers for those six weeks–Tim Powers, Lisa Goldstein, Samuel R Delany, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kate Wilhelm, and Damon Knight. I learned a lot from them, and learned even more from reading them constantly in the years since. Stan and Tim have become friends.
I also learned a tremendous amount from my fellow students. Here’s a pic of us goofing off, courtesy of pal and fellow student Mark Tiedemann. I’m in yellow, juggling. Yes, it was the 80s.
L-R: Lou (L.A.) Grinzo, John Brazier, Daryl Gregory, Kimberly Rufer-Bach, Kelly McClymer, Mark Tiedmann, Peg Kerr Ihinger, Brooks Caruthers, Sharon Wahl,Nicola Griffith, Kelley Eskridge, George Ruefener, Glenda Loeffler, Sue Ellen Sloca, Mark Kehl, Paula Robinson, Andrew Tisbert. (Paula Robinson not shown.)
I’ve been lucky enough to stay in contact with a lot of these folks over the decades, and some are friends for life. Lou and I trade emails all the time. I saw Mark last week at the Nebula Awards. I went to Andrew’s wedding a few weeks ago. Kelley & Nicola live in Seattle, and I’ll see them when I go teach. I love them all, even the ones I haven’t seen since 1988, because of how important they were to me then.
This past week I’ve been reading through the 2017 students’ submission stories and personal essays, and one thing is clear: These students are more accomplished, on average, than my class was. Most of them have already published short stories, and one submission story was already in a year’s best collection. They’re also more diverse, and come from countries around the globe. They all belong at Clarion.
My job is to give them a supportive but challenging first week. I know I’ll do a little damage to them–because that’s what workshops do, they break you down a bit and dent your ego so you can see how far you need to improve — but I’ll try not to damage them permanently.
It’ll be fun.