Saturday, May 7, 2016

Clarion UCSD


Unlike many other people, I didn't apply several times. I apply only for specific line-ups. 2012 was, as I recall, a "year of Asians" with Hiromi Goto teaching at Clarion West, and Ted Chiang and Marjorie Liu teaching at Clarion. Before that, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant were teaching Clarion West, and I highly respect Small Beer Press and wanted to learn from them about the founding process. In general, I've been quite confident in my own skill and learning ability in writing fiction that I can sell. Clarion and Clarion West are highly competitive, and to be sure, there are very many deserving writers who don't get in. Every rejection I received, I would get bummed, and someone would gently remind me, there are other ways of succeeding in the writing world, among them the slow and steady track I've been working on for myself. 

This year, I decided to try for Clarion because the instructor line-up (Kelly Link, Ted Chiang, Andy Duncan, Victor LaValle, Delia Sherman, and Ellen Kushner) was too much to resist. Also, I'm in my 4th year of my PhD, my dissertation is being written, and I intend to leave Southern California soon after. San Diego is just a scant bus ride away!

I also resolved that if I didn't get into Clarion this year, I would never try again, since I would no longer be in California, and hopefully not even in the country.


2015 was a year of highs and lows. I applied for a fellowship on racial diversity in science fiction, and was passed over, not just once but three times, despite my active involvement in the science fiction community and my praxis and commitment to racial diversity within it. It was heartbreaking, and if I carelessly thought about it I would burst into tears, usually while in my campus office. My dissertation was delayed because my brain would not cooperate, and my first chapter was a horrific mess (which my adviser confirmed for me, a little grumpily, a little into the new year). On the other hand, an anthology I co-edited was crowdfunded within two weeks and received a Starred Review from Publisher's Weekly, and I made my first professional short fiction sale. (It could have been a worst year, basically.)

I applied to Clarion because I didn't see very much else to lose, and was resigned to not going. So I was very, very surprised to receive the acceptance email. I immediately forwarded it to my father and asked for permission to attend (since it would be with his financial support) (he initially misread it to mean I would be teaching it, ha! I wish) and wrote back the next day to confirm my attendance. I've been sitting on it waiting for an official announcement, and told a select few (mostly friends who happened to be online when I found out--I may have made inhuman noises while in a Google Hangout with Marianne Kirby because I had just received the email).

There is now an official announcement! So now I'm going to tell EVERYBODY:

I will be part of Clarion UCSD Class of 2016!

The lineup of instructors this year is just so great! I've met Ted a few times now, mostly at WisCon, and he has always been gracious to little ol' me! Delia and Ellen I've also seen at WisCon, but never had a chance to really sit down with until ICFA37 this past March (and, admittedly, it wasn't because they wanted to talk to me; it was my lovely co-editor Joyce Chng they were there to hang out with!). I also had the chance to talk to Andy at ICFA as well (while hanging with Clarion alums Isabel Yap and Alyssa Wong, and I got to witness firsthand his generosity of spirit and kind counsel). I'm also in an anthology with the incredibly, intimidatingly accomplished Victor LaValle, so I'm honoured to learn from him!


At ICFA, while by the pool with Delia, Ellen, and some Clarion and West alumni, including the inimitable E. Lily Yu, we got to talking about why some of us applied, when we had already achieved some success in publishing (especially Lily, who had been a finalist for, or even won, the Campbell when she attended Clarion). And I've been professionally-published within the last year, making me eligible for the Campbell. I've also been published fairly steadily since 2010, with at least one thing a year if my bibliography is to be believed. I've taken a creative writing minor, so I know how the workshop setting goes (and that minor hadn't been very useful to me, since I wasn't surrounded by people who understood my genre).

(And no, I didn't tell Delia or Ellen or Andy or Ted.

Ted figured it out because my friends Emily Jiang and Lisa Bolekaja had me, gopher extraordinaire, go fetch him from the other side of the pool so they could ask permission to visit Clarion during his week and Emily blurted "Since Jaymee--- oh well, never mind, ignore what I said, I'm just going to be in Southern California!" as Ted looked askance at me. Later on, about a month ago when he came to UC Riverside, he said to me, "so I guess I'll see you at WisCon!" "Yeah!" "And at Clarion!" "... Yeah!" "No live-tweeting while at Clarion!" "Okay!"

I don't think Delia or Ellen overheard Joyce asking me, during our chat with Lily, why I applied to Clarion.

And when I said goodbye to Andy, he very optimistically said, "maybe you'll come to ICFA again, or we'll see each other at some other convention" and it took a lot to not just hug him and say, "oh you dear man, I shall be seeing you at Clarion and I cannot wait.")

So why go to Clarion? 

I don't know if it will work out for me, really. I have never really been around that many people in such close quarters for such a long time before (I am grouchily protective of my space); there's no guarantee that the workshop will end up being useful for me; I might just end up more isolated than not because I have no filter and I'm pretty obnoxious, as far as small Asian women go. I'm sure I could produce several terrible drafts at such short notice; I've won NaNoWriMo some ten years in a row. But that's not really the point.

I wouldn't know, though, until I just do it. I've been curious about the workshop format. UCSD is also right by the ocean and I am kind of tired of being in the desert. I also want the opportunity to learn with such extraordinary people who also have tremendous reputations as wonderful teachers (and as a teaching assistant myself, with a potential career in academia, I want to learn how to teach, too), who are known for their craft.

Craft is what it comes down to for me here at the moment: to hone my skill and refine what's there. I know I'm good enough, but at some point good enough isn't enough: I want to be excellent. I want to get better at writing fiction. I also want to learn about the different ways of writing fiction, and figure out how I shall go about mine in a way that is consistent in terms of style and praxis.

This afternoon I had the pleasure of reading on a panel that gave tribute to Octavia E. Butler, who was herself a Clarion graduate. She wrote a manifesto, a declaration of how she would see her career as a novelist: to become a bestseller no matter what, and to pay that forward. "So be it! See to it!"

I have a goal, and I shall see to it! 

2 comments:

  1. Jamie,

    Hi! Kristy Eagar here, we met at ICFA! I LOVED your crocodile story and I want it to win a Hugo. When will it be eligible for us to buy and nominate? Next year?

    Best,

    Kristy

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    Replies
    1. Hi Kristy! I actually have no idea when it will be up! I shall ask, and will announce it here when I know. Thank you so much for liking it!!!

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