mount_oregano: Let me see (Leafy Oregano)

Applications are being accepted for the 2013 Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UC San Diego:
The workshop will be held June 23 to August 3.

I attended back in 1996 when it was still at Michigan State University in East Lansing. We spent six intense, brain-melting weeks honing our skills for writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror. What did I learn? Too much for one sentence, and each of my classmates learned different things. In my case, I learned how to get from idea to story in sure steps along several possible paths, and how to make that story tighter.

It’s not cheap, but you can get scholarships. I donated to the Write-a-Thon Scholarship, so put my money to good use.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Clarion Write-a-Thon)

What was I thinking? By raising money in the Clarion Write-a-Thon, I was creating my own competition.

But I did. In fact, I raised $610, which places me in the top 10 fundraisers. Overall, the 2011 Write-a-Thon exceeded its goal and raised $16,500, which will help the 2012 class attend the world-famous six-week workshop and hone their skills as science fiction and fantasy writers.

I spent the six weeks of the Write-a-Thon making the final edits on my novel, due out in 2012 — more (much more) about that when the date draws near.

Let me thank my sponsors:

• Jennifer Walker, [ profile] evilshrubbery, a talented and ambitious fellow member of the Madrid Writer's Critique Group.
• Jerry Finn, my muse.
• Patricia Bowne, a member of the critique group I belonged to in Milwaukee; you can buy her wry, inventive fantasy novel, Advice from Pigeons, here. (I have my copy.)
• Ginnie Finn, a fine sister-in-law.
• Lou Burke, my beloved baby brother.
• Oz Whiston, a member of my Clarion class.

I had promised that the highest donor would get to name a character in Chapter 6 of the novel. Oz won, and that character shall henceforth and forever be known as Osbert.

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Clarion Write-a-Thon)

After I finished writing the novel Transplants in 2004, I started sending it out to agents and publishers, and I had no luck. Since the market was so tough to break into, I decided to market the novel to publishers by another means.

Here was my plan: I'd write a couple of short stories set between chapters of the novel and try to sell them. If they were successful, that might nudge a potential publisher.

So I wrote two stores, "Cinderella Faraway" and "Spiders." I never sold the first one, but the first market I sent "Spiders" to bought it: Asimov's Science Fiction. I did a happy dance. It was published in March 2008.

Then in January 2009 I got an email from David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer saying they wanted to include the story for Year's Best SF 14 anthology. Best of 2008!

As soon as I had finished that happy dance, I dropped a line to the publisher who had Transplants in its slush pile, EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy. An editor replied that she'd move it to the top of the pile. The rest is history.

Feel free to use this plan to sell your own novel. I hope it works as well for you.

Sponsor me:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Clarion Write-a-Thon)

The Clarion Writer's Workshop lasts for six weeks and has a different teacher each week. The teachers are successful science fiction and fantasy authors, often with teaching experience.

Maureen McHugh was my first Clarion teacher, and the first thing she did was establish a four-step critique format that I still use:

1. Say what the story or work is or does, in one or two sentences.

2. Discuss the successes.

3. Identify the weakest parts.

4. Give one or two suggestions for the fastest and biggest improvements.

Occasionally Step 1 can yield pleasant surprises, such as a valid interpretation of your story that you hadn't thought of. It can also identify critiquers whose reading of the story is off-base, either because you didn't actually write what you tried to write, which is useful to know, or because they wanted to read the story they would have written instead of what you tried to write.

Step 2 helps you know what you probably shouldn't change in a re-write.

Step 3 helps you know what you probably should.

Step 4 permits the critiquer to be helpful, but not too helpful. We've all encountered critiquers whose suggestions amount to turning your work into what they wanted to read, not what you wanted to write. I think that critiquers can identify the problems of a story, but their fixes are often wrong — simply because no one knows your story as well as you do. Anything they do to rewrite it, no matter how well-meaning and skillful, will of necessity be a bit ignorant.

I'm one of the top ten Clarion Write-a-Thon fundraisers! Sponsor me:

Or support someone else. Just $5 or $10 will be fine, and there more than 100 other writers to chose from. Here's why:

— Sue Burke

Free speech for Russia!

mount_oregano: Let me see (Clarion Write-a-Thon)

In 1996, when I was at Clarion, traditionally each class made its own commemorative T-shirt. (This may still be the case. I hope so.)

Ours featured a design on the front evoking a video game. The boy mannikin in the illustration had certain sentimental significance.

The back, in keeping with tradition, listed remarks taken out of context from our critiques:

I would really like to say something nice about your story.
You should use a lighter shade of foreshadowing.
The story was dances with wolves, bears, deer, and thunderclouds.
Spirals down into madness and incompetence in a lighthearted sort of way.
This story is about Emily Dickinson's pivotal role in the space program.
What do we want? THE PRESENT! When do we want it? NOW!
You have everything you need; it all just needs to be changed.
I also like gratuitous incineration.
This story is Waiting for Godot, but without all the action.
I'm not sure that this story needs to have exactly what you want to say in there.
What we need are some Zombie rules.
This story is so well-written I bet you've written something I'd like.

Sponsor me — I'm one of the top ten fundraisers:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Clarion Write-a-Thon)

This photo was taken at the Clarion Writers' Workshop on Friday, June 21, 1996, to the best of my recollection. We were working on an exercise proposed by our instructor Gregory Frost. In order to explore plot, we had to create a story — "a parody on a grand scale," my notes say — that included every trope and cliché we could think of.

I believe we came up with something very similar to the plot of Avatar.

Sponsor me:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Clarion Write-a-Thon)

I like maps. When I was a newspaper editor, my coworkers called my office "the war room" because the walls were covered with maps.

Since the setting is important to the novel Transplants, I made some maps to help me write about it consistently.

Sponsor me:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Clarion Write-a-Thon)

To encourage you to sponsor me for the Clarion Write-a-Thon, I'm offering the highest donor the chance to name a character in the novel Transplants, which will be published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing in 2012.

The character, a human male, appears in Chapter 6 and does very little besides die at a decisive and heartbreaking moment, and for maximum heartbreaking effect, he needs a name. This character goes by only one name, a first name.

You can name him — perhaps after yourself, or after a loved one as a one-of-a-kind gift.

So far you have to beat a pledge of $10.

Sponsor me:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Clarion Write-a-Thon)

My goal for the Clarion Write-a-Thon is to finish the final edits of my novel Transplants. I'm working with Susan Forest, an accomplished writer and editor in Canada, and fiction editor for EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing. We've been working through the novel one chapter at a time, and Chapter 1 is now more or less in its final form.

The biggest problem with the chapter: infodumps. The novel takes place on a distant planet, and its ecology drives the story in many ways. My challenge has been to provide enough information for the reader without dumping information and slowing down the plot — because something is killing the colonists. The chapter's main character, Octavo, has to find out what and why and how to stop it.

Here are the opening paragraphs, as currently edited:

The war had begun long before we arrived because war their way of life. It took its first victims among us before we understood what was happening, on an evening that seemed quiet. But even then, we knew we could easily be in danger.

My wife, Paula, shook her head as she left the radio hut in the plaza of our little village. "There's too much interference again. I'll try one more time, but if we can't reach them, we'll start a search."

An hour ago, three women had gone to pick fruit. They had not come back, they were not answering their radio, and the sun had sunk almost to the top of the hills.

Around us, tiny lizards in the trees had begun their evening hoots and chimes. Nine-legged crabs silently hunted the lizards. The breeze smelled bittersweet, perhaps from something in bloom. I should have known what, but I did not.

Sponsor me:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Clarion Write-a-Thon)

As I said in the last post, when I was at Clarion in 1996, I did an exercise to begin a story involving a special kind of wall, and I thought the story might go somewhere. I had done some research about the scientific questions involved in the plot two years before. When I got home, I began writing.

In April 1997, I finished a short story called "Adaptation" and began sending it out. After nine rejections, I sold it to a magazine called LC-39 in May 1999, and it was published that fall. I hadn't read the story since I'd written it, so when I was editing the proof, I saw it with fresh eyes and decided I liked it and could expand it into a novel.

I had various projects to finish in the meantime, like moving to Spain, so I began writing the novel in April 2001. The short story became Chapter 1. I finished Transplants in November 2004 and begin sending out queries to agents and publishers — 39 agents and publishers. Finally, in March 2010, EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing offered to buy it.

It's scheduled for publication in 2012.

Moral of the story: Sometimes dreams take time. I hope all these years have aged Transplants like fine wine into a work with intoxicating depth and complexity.

I also hope you're now in awe of my meticulous record keeping.

Sponsor me to help more people attend Clarion:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Clarion Write-a-Thon)

Right now at the Clarion Workshop, ambitious and excited participants have begun writing. Fifteen years ago, I was one of the participants.

During week three, the instructor, Gregory Frost, assigned an exercise involving a wall. As I recall, it went something like this:

"Imagine that a wall that appears overnight between two groups about to go to war. They can see through it, they can communicate through it, but they can't pass through it and attack each other. Begin that story."

We only had to write the opening paragraphs, but some of us were inspired to continue. Mike VanWie wrote a bittersweet love story that we would now call steampunk, but back then we just called imaginative. Dan Jeffers wrote a comic sword and sorcery novel with sex scenes in the appendices, which he hadn't had time to write yet.

I eventually wrote a science fiction story in which the wall was a human colony on a distant planet. That story was published, and later I expanded it into a novel, Transplants. I'm doing the final edits on that novel as my Clarion Write-a-Thon goal. It will be published in 2012 by EDGE.

Sponsor me:

— Sue Burke

mount_oregano: Let me see (Clarion Write-a-Thon)

What's Clarion (UCSD)?
It's a six-weeks-long science fiction and fantasy workshop founded in 1968. I attended in 1996, when it was held at Michigan State University in East Lansing. The workshop has since moved to the University of California San Diego, where I hope there are fewer mosquitoes. It has also spawned Clarion West, a workshop in Seattle.

What's the Write-a-Thon? It's a fundraiser for Clarion. During the six weeks that Clarion is underway — this year, June 26 to August 6 — writers who support Clarion write with a goal in mind, and seek sponsors. More info here:

What's my goal? To finish editing my novel for my publisher. I will be blogging about that here during the next six weeks.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to sponsor me. (Or another writer, at least. You can chose among hundreds for Clarion UCSD and West — writers love Clarion.) No donation is too small (or too big).

My sponsor page:
You can win great prizes if you donate:
And if I get enough donations, I can win great prizes, too. (Hint.)

In any case, I'll get a finished manuscript, you'll be able to buy the novel in 2012, and Clarion will continue to produce exciting new writers.

— Sue Burke

July 2017

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