David Levine's Clarion Journal: Week 1

posted 6/24/00

6/17/00 - Saturday

I'm at Clarion!

There are a lot of things that happened in the last two weeks that deserve better than I'm going to give them right now. My last week of work. Packing up my office and moving it to JF1. Going-away lunches. "Are you excited?" "Frazzled, mostly." David Lomartire picking up so smoothly I doubt I'll be missed.

Much of the last week was spent packing. I wish I'd gotten to it earlier, like Kate did. We also went to "Titanic: The Musical", which I enjoyed but wasn't memorable, and on our last night in Portland saw "Mission: Impossible 2", which featured brilliant cinematography and fight scenes. I updated the Ramblers, OSFCI, OryCon, and Westercon web sites. I crossed off a lot of stuff on a big list of Things to Do, and scratched out the rest (a fine distinction, but important). And then, on Friday 6/16, I disassembled the computer, loaded up the car, and drove to Seattle.

We had a bit of a scare once we got there, when on a typical Seattle hillside traffic light I hit the gas pedal and the car barely inched forward, though the engine was racing and I had the clutch as far out as I dared. I did manage to creep through the intersection before the light changed. When we pulled off and looked under the hood, the transmission was smoking and there was a smell of burnt insulation. Shit!

We walked from there to the dorm and got checked in. To cut a long story short, the car has been behaving reasonably well since then (well, maybe some hesitation -- but that could just be paranoia -- and it still smells a bit) so I think the problem was that I was trying to accelerate from a standing start on a steep hill in third. Amazing it worked at all; hope I didn't do the transmission any damage. Well, 90K mile service is coming up soon; I'll ask them to look carefully at the clutch.

6/18/00 - Sunday

Kate's in the shower; we'll be heading for the airport momentarily. Waah!

The dorm is... well, it's a dorm. Partly under construction. It'll do.

[later:] Dropped Kate off at the airport. Very, very lonely. On the radio, Dylan sang "How does it feel? To be on your own? With no direction home? Like a rolling stone?" Picked up Patrick Weekes at the airport. Bought groceries; gave Kameron a lift home. Initial meeting with John Crowley and Paul Park. Paid tuition; took photos of everyone. 500-word story (hard!!) to write by 9AM tomorrow. Aack!

[still later:] Finished story by 11:00: "The Equations of the Dance." I'm quite proud of it; the last line gives me chills. Helped Miriam and Amy with computer problems (though I wasn't actually able to help in either case...). The group got pizza delivered for dinner. Must investigate gym tomorrow! Kate called; she arrived safely, though cell phone isn't working. Called my folks and wished Dad a happy Father's Day. Going to sleep now, 12:17 AM, with a 7AM alarm for a 9AM class. And so, it begins.

6/19/00 - Monday

I've never lived in a real bathroom-down-the hall dorm before. I had a private bath my freshman year, lived in a suite with 6 people my sophomore year, and lived in an apartment my junior and senior years. It's not too bad -- I have a sink in the room, so the only things I need to go down the hall for are the toilet and the shower (and all I lug to the shower is shampoo and towel -- not the huge baskets of conditioner, shaving stuff, loofah, etc. that some folks have).

Still, all in all it seems a pretty uncivilized way to live. I'm glad the floor is half empty; I'd hate to be sharing 3 showers, 2 toilets and 1 urinal with 30+ other guys! And that's assuming half the occupants of the floor are women; there are 33 double rooms on the floor. Dorm life has other difficulties, too. I was awoken at 6:30 this morning by Kameron's radio, and I'm still pretty groggy even after a nap. I hope I can convince her to make it quieter or later.

We had our first formal class session this morning. John and Paul read several of the 500-word stories out loud (not including mine) and we discussed their successes and failures as a group. That took most of the morning, then we had a brief lecture by John on "peripeteia" (the "reversal" that occurs when the characters, and the reader, realize that they have been thinking about everything all wrong) and Northrop Frye's "The Secular Scriptures" (those archetypal plots that occur over and over). Our next assignment is to write a story that uses peripeteiea; mine is due 9AM Wednesday. I also have my one-on-one meeting with John tomorrow afternoon.

In the afternoon I ran a few errands, checked out the Seattle U. gym (it's OK, but our discounted rate is $5 a day -- ouch!), called the Community College about their gym ($90 for two months -- ouch ouch!), put a bunch of Clarion photos on my web page, and took a nap. I should really have been working on my peripeteia story. In fact, I should be doing that now, but I've decided I should write in my diary whenever I can and there's just a few minutes before we go to dinner. Time to go.

6/20/00 - Tuesday

Woke at 6:30 again, this time for no reason, after staying up until midnight finishing the first draft of "Tears Do Not Fall in Zero Gee." Hope I can get to bed earlier tonight. I have dark circles under my eyes and tics in my hands, my eyelids, my abdomen. I'm switching to decaf.

I've decided to post this diary, suitably edited, on the web. This is not at all what I'd planned. I find I'm becoming a different person, with different priorities. I notice myself not listening to the news, not caring that I haven't seen a newspaper in days, not wanting to know how the stock market's doing, not blow-drying my hair. I'm in a little bubble here, outside of my regular life, and if I don't behave as I thought I would that's just part of the package.

But I'm still going to go to the gym. Maybe even today, since I have already written my story due Wednesday (although it does need editing).

[later:] Had my one-on-one with John Crowley. At first I thought he was damning my work with faint praise, saying "you have a smooth prose style" and "it's obvious you can put a sentence together", but I think he really did like my work. He certainly didn't have any negative comments about my plotting or characterization. We spent most of the time talking about the problems in "Gojo", problems that I already knew about (e.g. Gojo can't know what's going on, but Gojo is the only one who can tell the reader what's happening) which can be resolved by a change in viewpoint character. He suggested alternating viewpoints, to show Gojo's reactions and bring in outside information at the same time; that's a good suggestion. He also said that many beginning writers select first person present tense because it seems easy, but it's really very hard -- it cuts off so many tools that are otherwise available to impart information, control timing, etc. Hmm, most of my stories are first person present tense...

"Tears Do Not Fall in Zero Gee" is one of those, although I'm not going to rewrite it just now. It's interesting, looking back on it, to see how many of my life experiences are in there: the loss of Ellen, the meditation I've done, the prescription drugs I've taken, and even my experiences at Clarion so far. The story has a couple places where I don't know if I've given enough information or too much; I'm going to have to wait to see what the readers think of it. I'm also beginning to wonder if my peripetiea is too subtle. Well, we'll find out on Thursday.

In the evening we had our first reading at Elliot Bay Books. Jane, Marci, and Tami were there; Tami gave me a copy of her TurboAPA zine, with a description of the time the wall fell on her. John and Paul read stories that were about what you'd expect of them: long, literary, gently fantastic -- not really my cup of tea. But there's still a lot we can learn from them.

I didn't get to the gym today. Tomorrow for sure.

I wanted to go to bed early. Well, it's 11:30, that's a half hour earlier than yesterday, anyway...

6/21/00 - Wednesday

Interesting lecture today by John on "fabula" (story) vs. "sjuzet" (treatment) -- "fabula" is what could happen in the real world, "sjuzet" is the way the story is expressed in fiction. In the real world, all characters (people) have equal (potential) importance and equal validity as viewpoints, and time always passes in one direction, one hour per hour. In fiction, characters have greater or lesser importance, viewpoints shift (some are more valid than others), and time is much more flexible. Paul then talked about the difference between "flat" and "round" characters -- both types are needed, no picture is all foreground -- and the techniques that are used to create character: physical description, how they talk, what they do and say (and don't do and say), authorial comments, past history. The same techniques are used for both character types, though "round" characters have "gaps" or contradictions between different descriptive elements, making them appear as complex as real people.

Finally read out and critiqued my story "Equations;" it was the last one read. Most folks liked it, and got what I was trying to do, although there are several things I need to clarify. Turned in "Tears". Next assignment: a story based on the emotions associated with a major personal crisis (good or bad) -- not the event itself, just the emotions. Mine is due Monday.

In the afternoon, went to the gym (huzzah!) and took a nap. Dinner was an expedition to Jamba Juice all the way up in Queen Anne (it was Patrick's idea). After dinner I had 7 mss. to critique. It took a lot longer than I expected. The scary thing is that the later mss. seem much vaguer and less comprehensible than the first ones I critiqued. I'm afraid this may say more about me than it does about them. It is now 12:56 AM (6/22) and I just finished the last one. Good night.

6/22/00 - Thursday

Spent the whole class period today critiquing the first group of peripeteia stories. Really only one of them, Kameron's, had a true peripeteia (a revelation for the character as well as the reader). My story "Tears Do Not Fall in Zero Gee" came close in terms of its emotional impact on the reader, but wasn't a peripeteia because the character already knew the real situation. My attempt for him to hide it from himself with pills just didn't work. This story tries to do the exact same things as "Gojo" (protagonist trying to hide the big secret from himself) and has the exact same failings for the exact same reasons (1st person present tense). On the other hand, most folks thought that, even though it wasn't a peripeteia, it was a bitchin' twist ending.

I gave out Intel puzzle balls to everyone before class: "This is a bribe. I want a good critique. Not a kind critique, a good critique." I guess bribery works, because I did get a very good critique. Most folks thought that Chris had pushed Julia out the airlock -- not what I'd intended, but I see how they thought it and it's actually more powerful than what I had in mind (he'd just lost her in "the accident"). I will change the story to play up that false impression, which makes the twist (Chris actually sacrificed himself for Julia) much stronger. I also need to explain the accident, clarify Chris and Julia's relationship, and reduce the technobabble. I haven't looked at the written comments yet.

After class most of us went to IHOP for lunch, then Miriam and I did laundry and started reviewing today's 8 (!) stories while it tumbled. After the laundry was done we both indended to take a nap, but we got attracted to the sounds of conversation coming from Jen's room and wound up in there for the next 3 hours. It was a cross between a really good room party and a really good dorm conversation. I finally pried myself out of there about 5:30, intending to take a nap (no, this time for sure!) but I found a phone message from Kate and called her back for about 20 minutes. Then I did take a nap, for about 15 minutes. After that, I heard a bunch of people heading out, but it wasn't for dinner -- they're going to a toy shop. I decided to let them go, stay in my room, and review manuscripts. Maybe I can get to bed before midnight tonight.

[later:] Dinner was a rather chaotic affair; I made pasta and sauce, while Patrick made something that was supposed to be a broccoli and peppers omelet but turned into sauteed broccoli and peppers with some egg in it. There was enough food for all who wanted some, though, and we all had fun watching Whose Line Is It Anyway on the TV while we ate. After that we retired to our rooms for more manuscript review and it got very quiet. When I finished my last ms. at 10:00 I came out to gloat and found only Patrick's door open. But before I could get there, he came out of his room and went out to talk to Andy (first time we've bearded him in his lair). The three of us talked for a while about ergonomics, then Miriam came by to return a book to Patrick, then Jen heard the voices and came out, and pretty soon there were 10 of us there in the hallway. We talked until 11:00 and then I decided to go to bed early (well, it's as early as I've managed yet!)

6/24/00 - Saturday

Yesterday we spent the class period critiquing the second and final group of peripeteia stories. One story, about a saint's foot, was brilliant, and I suspect foot jokes will be one of the running gags of this Clarion. Another story, about a loss of faith in an alien religion, was also good, although I got a little lost at the ending, and it was so sad! We managed to puzzle out the sequence of events in the "psychic shapeshifting alien cockroaches" story, but only Alec actually understood the correct sequence of the last two scenes. Wonderful rich imagery, but needs to be much clearer and less elliptical.

One of the things I'm learning here is that it's hard to be too obvious. Over and over, reviewers mention that they couldn't follow something or couldn't tell what happened at the end of the story (good endings are very hard to write), and the author explains that they had originally written something explaining exactly what happened, but took it out because it was too obvious. Paul says that if you look at the careers of famous writers, their writing often becomes simpler and clearer as their career goes on. It's so easy for the author to assume that something they know is obvious, and wind up being too coy, vague, or obscure; on the other hand, readers (although they may be very intelligent) can miss details and come to wrong conclusions. It's the writer's job to clearly direct the reader in the desired direction.

After class we had our class photo with John and Paul. Memo to future Clarionites: do not dress down on Fridays! After that most of us went to Chang's Mongolian Grill for lunch, then back to the dorm for a quiet afternoon. Many took naps; many critiqued this latest batch of manuscripts. Andy was soliciting thank-you notes for John and Paul, which he collected into a couple of nice cards for them. Miriam and some others went downtown to Magic Mouse and bought a couple of incredibly cute plush hedgehogs, which we named "Peteia I" and "Peteia II" (a pair'o'peteia, get it?) to present to John and Paul as thank-you gifts. This led to a comparison of stuffed animals (just about everyone has one or more). I took a nap, read a couple of comic books, and wrote a six-paragraph outline for my next story. It reads a lot like a novel outline... I'm afraid this may be a long one.

After a rather chaotic and fend-for-yourselfish dinner, we gathered in the lounge to go to the Friday Clarion Party at John Hedtke's place. While we waited for everyone to show up, we watched Star Trek, which happened to be on the TV just then. It turned out to be the ST:TNG first season episode "Wesley Gets the Death Sentence on the Planet of the Underdressed Aerobics Instructors", which we gave the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 treatment. Patrick makes a great Crow.

We turned off the TV at 7:45 so we could pretend Wesley died. That was when we realized there were 13 of us ready to go to the party and only 2 cars (my Toyota Corolla and Paulette's VW Golf, which can each hold 5 people max). Albert and Andy both have cars, but neither was anywhere to be found. We stared at each other for a while, wondering what to do, and finally Inez begged off with a headache, Patrick decided he'd rather stay home anyway, and Kameron needed her sleep. The rest of us trooped down to the garage all quiet and sad. This wasn't the way it was supposed to be!

Once we got to the party, Jennifer hit the phone trying to find Andy and Albert. Eventually she got Andy at the dorm. She gave him strict instructions to bring the others, but only Kameron could be talked into it; Inez's headache had turned into a migraine, and Patrick had gotten totally into a "I'm staying in the dorm" mood and could not be budged. Albert also showed up eventually, with his partner Eric who was in town for a couple days. As you might expect, the Clarionites bunched together in one room and had only limited interaction with the rest of the party. Vonda was surprised we were doing "the amoeba thing" after just one week, but the e-mail list we set up beforehand helped us bond very quickly. I did talk with John Hedtke and Michael Scanlon and Marci and Anita's friend Jack and Amy and Ed and A.P. McQuiddy. Everyone asked how I was doing, of course. My summary: "It's amazing how much of a sleep deficit you can rack up in one week; it feels like we've been here forever; it also feels like the week has gone by like that." Everyone who had been to Clarion said "yup, that's what it's like."

We presented the cards and peteias to John and Paul, had a nice group chat with Vonda McIntyre and with Patrick & Honna Swenson of Talebones, and left about 10:00. Paulette, who lives in Redmond and had Bainbridge Island resident David Silas as navigator, took a very strange route back to the dorm, and I followed her the whole way (after the first couple of turns I had to, I would have been totally lost otherwise) despite the fact she didn't know at first that I was following. In the back seat, Amy and Jennifer compared waitress stories.

Back at the dorm, we sat around in Amy's room for a while, then Paulette showed up with her Wallace and Gromit videos and we watched A Grand Day Out in the lounge (some of us had never seen it before). I got to sleep around 1:00, and woke up at 7:00 (sigh). I figured I'd better write this down right away before I forgot it, so I'm typing this naked at 8AM. Hah!

[later:] Checked my mailbox; found a postcard from Kate, a letter from Kate, and a package slip! Yay! But they couldn't find the package! Waah! Came surprisingly close to tears. Went to the gym and worked out, came back... they'd found the package! In fact, two packages! One was from my mother: The Penis Book. (!?!) The other was from Leslie What: a "Clarion Survival Kit" containing:

Clearly Leslie understands the Clarion Experience.

This afternoon we're going to see Chicken Run. Tomorrow is Pride. I have 4 mss. to critique and a story (feels like 5000-7000 words) to finish by Monday at 9AM. Why am I writing here?

Forward to Week 2

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