For those about to read, we salute you

Boise, Idaho, is located in the high desert, 2,700 feet above sea level. The trees (especially cottonwoods) follow the paths of the Boise River and whatever creek they can find. The high hills that surround the city support grass and sage, Basque wagons and sheep. In the summer, the air is blisteringly hot, but with so little moisture that you can smell a running garden hose a hundred yards away.

Spring arrives in Boise while it’s still solidly rainy in Seattle and Portland. The ground thaws and in the foothills where we walked our dogs when we lived there, there’s a season within a season: mud. The mud can suck your boots off your feet. Even if it doesn’t, by the time you return to your car, your boots resemble thick frisbees of mud. (Corgis are light enough to walk atop this quagmire.) By May, the land has turned to dust.

I mention this because this summer, writing in the Clarion West Write-a-thon was a lot like March in the foothills above Boise. I probably shouldn’t have done this, at a time when I’m trying to handle family illnesses, insane old people, and slow-moving bureaucracies. Trying to get the latter to do anything is like playing fetch with an arthritic dog. And then there’s the blogging I promised to do. And the dieting. And the family visits. And our annual safari on Mt. Rainier.

The quiet life is not for me.

I am hopeful

Everyone who participated in the write-a-thon has spent this weekend reading what they wrote. As for what I wrote, it wasn’t the word count I had dreamed of, but I like it. My novel is moving again, and faster than the Veterans Administration, too. I don’t regret signing up for this trip.

I reintroduced myself at the gym this afternoon. I’m ready to return to normal life, whatever normal may be, and to keep writing.

Way back in the first week of the write-a-thon (by the way, I fixed all the dates on my posts – I was about a week off), I mentioned that I wanted to master the art of writing a shitty first draft and moving on. I didn’t master it.

But does everyone have to write a shitty first draft? Not Dean R. Koontz, a man with more than 100 novels to his credit. Koontz is so prolific that Elvis Costello wrote a song about him: “Everyday I Write a Book.”* The man works about 10 hours a day, yet produces surprisingly few pages. This is because he rewrites each page 20 or 30 times.

“I began this ceaseless polishing out of self-doubt, as a way of preventing self-doubt from turning into writer’s block,” he once said. “By doing something with the unsatisfactory page, I wasn’t just sitting around brooding about it.”

Yes, I revised new pages before writing newer pages. It works for me and Dean.

Koontz also said, “Writing a novel is like making love, but it’s also like having a tooth pulled. [And] sometimes it’s like making love while having a tooth pulled.” I don’t agree – writing for me is a refuge – but I know people who would.

Awake and sing

My novel is back and so is my writing blog. I’ll keep working on both. I’ll try to be interesting in both. Thank you for reading along and thank you forever to my Clarion West Write-a-thon sponsors, Karen G. Anderson, Kate Schaefer, and Jerry Kaufman. Your thank-you notes will go into the mail the day after the next meeting of the local typewriter club. So long as those nerds own typewriters, I don’t have to.

* One of my favorite Elvis Costello lyrics:

All your compliments and your cutting remarks
Are captured here in my quotation marks

Day 41: What you get from your writing is what you put into it

Clarion West almost didn’t happen. My Clarion West – 1986. And when it did happen, we were sparsely populated. We were the Wyoming of writing workshops.

The original Clarion West ran from 1971 to 1973 in Seattle. It was relaunched in 1984, still in Seattle. Clarion West was an offshoot of the original Clarion, founded in 1968 in Milford, Pennsylvania, and now held in San Diego.

(Seattle and San Diego. Nothing says “catchy internet copy” more than Clarion West North and Clarion West South.)

Not long before the 1986 Clarion West, the relaunchers stepped back, and the workshop almost lost molecular cohesion. I know two of the people who saved it: queenpins Linda Jordan and Donna Davis, to whom I will always be in debt.

Unfortunately, this ninth-inning change in administration and the lack of time before opening day caused a problem in promotion and recruiting. There wasn’t much of either. My Clarion began with eight students. This was the only Clarion West class with fewer than 17.

Bonding was difficult. Everyone was either in their 20s or their 50s. There were only four or five people rattling around in the dorm. Group lunches were awkward. What little progress we made at unification was disrupted when two new people joined us for weeks five and six. (The workshop needed the money.)

This being 1986, we were all Caucasians of European descent. And this being 1986, I never noticed.

Enough complaining.

Linda, Donna, and their assistants (actually, I’m not sure they had any) were stellar, the readings were good, the parties were fun, and one of my teachers, Susie McKee Charnas, changed my life. Not only was she the first writer I’d ever met who wrote the way I wrote (growing stories forward and backward from the original idea), when she challenged me to write something beyond my reach, what came out was not science fiction. I was not a science fiction writer, despite what I had believed since I was 12. This knowledge was worth every penny I’d borrowed from my girlfriend to go to the workshop.

My Clarion had its faults (some of my colleagues probably held a dim view of me), but I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

I’ve been thinking of the current class. Today was their last day. I wish them luck and a not-too-bumpy transition back to civilian society.


One of my sponsors is supporting me in memory of Vonda N. McIntyre. Vonda attended the Milford Clarion in 1970 and started Clarion West in 1971. I am also in debt to Vonda. Sleep well, Starfarer.