Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Hullo. I'm just back from getting one of the lovely custodians here to unlock my room. I popped into my room to check on my computer and popped back out to go for a walk, and the second--the very second!--that I shut my door, I realised that my keys were still sitting on my desk, no doubt luxuriating in their uselessness.

My head is all foggy with too little sleep.

I had to turn in a story this afternoon, and because my head was being stubborn and resisting thinking in "story", I couldn't get down to it properly until yesterday afternoon. Then I had to write and write and write. The story came out all lumpy and amorphous, but at least it's on paper (though I had to delete some TRULY awful and maudlin lines that probably occurred to me at three o'clock in the morning), and that makes it easier to think about. Someday, I want to be able to tell a proper story, something with characters to love and a real yarn down the middle. Right now, it's hard for me to think of anything even remotely like that, but once a story is out of my head, it's so much easier to look at it and see where the wobbly bits are.

Neil says that you have to walk a fine line between giving a reader everything and leaving them enough space to make art. I've been thinking about that quite a bit lately. I don't think I've been able to work that balancing act properly yet, but it's a thought that's fascinating to poke at from different directions.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Owls and Cricket

It's entirely because of Neil Gaiman that I'm here at Clarion. Not just because I love his work (which I do), but because I only found out about Clarion through his blog. I had never heard of Clarion before, so when he mentioned that he was teaching, I followed the link and poked around the Clarion website and decided that this was a very cool thing and that I should apply, if only for the excuse to write two stories.

My supply of stories is very thin, and I didn't have any stories at all that fit the word limit for the application. So I wrote two new ones and had much fun. Thank you, Mr. Gaiman.

Neil is lovely, he really is. He is very kind and generous, with his time and thoughts, and he tells fantastic stories. He does these voices that are just hilarious. Some that I remember in particular: Harlan Ellison, William Shatner, and this wonderful, elderly librarian voice that made my stomach hurt from laughing too much.

Random reasons for happiness this week:

1. The cricket players and owls who arrived on Neil's first day.

2. The discussion of story, which broke all sorts of new holes in my head to let in more light.

3. Watching Liam McKean do breakdancing moves... The boy is a miniature Renaissance man and he can dance his feet off. I am such a fan.

4. A Saturday afternoon of NOT going to ComicCon and instead lounging about on the grass and getting lightly roasted while talking about radio plays.

5. Hearing about the Danse Macabre, the Mack-a-bray, in a chapter from The Graveyard Book which says, in a few sentences, what it feels like when you're really dancing, when it's going so well that you forget that you ever had to learn the steps.

6. Dancing until 3:30 in the morning to Neil's odd, and yet wonderfully appropriate, DJ-ing skills.

7. Getting picked up for a huge hug, which I've always felt are the best sort of hugs anyway.

8. Tea. Lots and lots of tea. The only way to survive critiquing SEVEN stories in one evening is to drink copious amounts of tea.

...And this is all on top of insightful and articulate teaching. Neil is very, very good at what he does, and he is able to articulate his thoughts about it, which is what makes for good teaching. He spots out the weaknesses in what you're doing now and points you towards other paths that you might not have noticed, but which you can explore, if you like, and find interesting things.

Some suggestions from Neil:
Angela Carter
Martin Millar
Gene Wolfe (Peace in particular)
"The Gardener" by Rudyard Kipling
Drowning By Numbers, a film by Peter Greenaway

I'll be missing him so much! Next up though are the wonderful Geoff Ryman and Nalo Hopkinson. Geoff has been around and he is very tall and very lovely. Nalo comes in later this evening and I can't wait to meet her.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Clarion, or, why sleep is irrelevant.


I haven't been writing here, mainly because I am very lazy. I am incredibly lazy. Supremely lazy. Extraordinarily and over-the-top lazy. Writing in any kind of journal is one of those projects that are doomed to fall by the wayside for me.

However, right now I'm at the Clarion workshop in San Diego, and since I have been a horrible friend and fallen behind on all phone calls, I thought I'd write a bit here, make it a big letter of sorts. Six weeks is a long time, especially when you're drenching yourself in an unfamiliar world, and I feel like I've crammed in more new thoughts and ideas than could possibly fit.

So. Clarion is kind of fantastic. Right before I left for San Diego, I got really unenthusiastic about the idea of spending six weeks writing instead of dancing. I even thought about pulling out so that I could spend the summer in the studio doing boring physical therapy and moping about (when I look back, I'm not sure why this seemed so tempting, but dancers are crazy). But then I told myself to get it together and go. At least I'd be able to find out whether writing stories was really as fun as I thought it was.

It turns out that, not only are stories fun, they're also fascinating, frustrating, and addictive. The way you can create a version of a truth out of all the loose scraps rattling around in your head is interesting to me. In dance, you can't really stand apart from what you're making, so having something that sits outside of you when you finish working is really odd, but wonderful to me.

A recommendation to all of my bookish friends: try some Kelly Link. Kelly was our instructor for week one and I hadn't read any of her work before I got accepted to the program, but I'm now a solid fan. Her stories are flat out weird, but they're also intensely honest. Sometimes I don't understand what is going on in her stories, but it doesn't matter because, somehow, they slip in and make sense in all the shadowy, dreamy parts of your head. She introduced me to the term "night logic," which is now my favourite way of saying, well, that was weird, but I completely got it.

The people here are wonderful. I won't describe them now because it will take too long and it's so beautiful outside that I want to run out there and take a walk while it's still afternoon. Just take my word for it and know that they're great. Except for when they tempt you into staying up all night and going into workshop the next morning on zero sleep. Just say no. It may be fun, but the words start to come out of your mouth in the wrong order.