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Thanks so much to Alex Wells for paying off her pledge, and to my good friend Kay Ediger for making a gift to Clarion. That’s 2 donations, so I’ve posted about 600 words (two 300-word excerpts) of my story “When I Get Everything I Want.” We’re down to the last 3 days of the Write-a-Thon, and once again, here’s my deal: For every donation made in my name to Clarion, I’ll post a 300-word excerpt of the story. Be generous, and prove that an unknown really can get your attention. These donations are for a good cause. Cheers!

By the way, to see the bits of story I just posted, go to my Write-a-Thon page, scroll down and click on Show/Hide Excerpts. There doesn’t appear to be a way for me to link directly to the excerpts.

I’m making one more push to raise money for Clarion, and I’m testing to see if an unknown writer (that’s me) can catch people’s attention. Here’s what I want to do:

I completed a short story during the Write-a-Thon that I think is rather interesting. I’ll be happy to post the entire thing, but I first I need your support. Make a gift through my Write-a-Thon page of any size — small or large — and I’ll post 300 words of the story. If one person makes a gift, I’ll post 300 words. If three people give, I’ll post 900 words on my Write-a-Thon page. I’ll post them in order, and I’ll even start  right now by posting the first four sentences of the story. The piece is called “When I Get Everything I Want.” Here’s the opening:

Anger didn’t drive me downstairs at a run, even though it had often enough these last few months. The house across the street was burning, and I feared our house would be next. It was just after dawn. A few minutes earlier, the trumpeting of elephants had woken me up, but of course, there are no elephants in New Town.

If you’re interested in seeing more, make a gift through my Write-a-Thon page. The size of the gift doesn’t matter. Please give to support a workshop that changes lives and transforms literature every single year. Many thanks!

 

 

My Clarion class made two t-shirts to celebrate our time at the workshop. One sported a drawing of a blue bunny in honor of the stuffed, blue rabbit each of us clutched for comfort as our manuscripts were critiqued. The other listed several rather important rules of writing we had learned at Clarion. If I’m remembering  this right (and I don’t want to dig through my drawers to verify my memory), one of the rules was: “Use Other Words; In a Different Order, Too.”

I always thought that was rather brilliant because, after all, who can argue with such a rule? Today, I found myself using “other words” as I revised a short story I completed during the Write-a-Thon.

My first Write-a-Thon goal was to write 1,000 words a day, five days a week. When I started this thing in June I wasn’t at all certain I could do that. The goal may not have sounded hard for some folks, but for me it amounted to more fiction than I’ve written in the last five years. Much to my delight I discovered that I excelled at writing 1,000 words a day. I piled up the words so quickly that I have exceeded my goal of writing 30,000 words, and I did it a week before the end of the Write-a-Thon. Having nothing more than a word limit as my daily goal freed me from  the fears and the second-guessing that have  hobbled my writing for years.

But then I finished a first draft of a story, and immediately started through a second and then a third draft because the thing wasn’t quite right. That’s when I discovered that the daily word count had turned into its own kind of trap. To write what I want to write I have to pause, think, ponder, try one thing and delete it and try another. Sometimes I need to delete entire sections of my wonderful, deathless prose. These pursuits do not lend themselves to piling up wordage.

So, it was with great relief that I fulfilled my obligation to write 30,000 words a few days ago. Today I sat down and concentrated on character and narrative. I found myself using “other words” and I did so “in a different order, too.” I think I deleted more than I added, but I’ve got a better story now.

The Write-a-Thon has been an eye-opening joy for me. I’ve learned that I can write the way I want to write, and I’ve discovered that writing is indeed a dance. You have to be willing to let go of your inhibitions and leap as high into the air as you can, but you also have to be willing to discipline your steps.

Thanks so much to my sponsors and to the organizers of the Write-a-Thon. What an amazing gift it has been to participate in this event!

Best Laid Plans

One thing that is a constant in my career, at least, is that plans go awry.  Sometimes this is great.  One of the reasons I don’t outline anymore is that I am hoping to stumble upon a secret cave or a lost castle on my way to the other end of my story.  Or it may be that story pushes itself to the front of the writing queue for one reason or another, forcing other projects to step back.  And then there are the not-so-great detours, as when I have attempted to do too much in not enough time, or when that inconvenient thing called life intervenes with playtime with my imaginary friends.

You find me, at the moment, well on my way down one of those detours, partly as a result of my usual inept time management and partly as a result an idea that has caught fire.   So I have not been able to work on two projects at the same time, as I thought earlier this month, and the project that has my full attention at the moment is not the novel but a story about a group of citizens of virtuality declaring their independence from reality.  Liking this a lot at the moment.  Not sure it’s been done before — and if it has, DON”T TELL ME!

In the olden days, I would probably have beaten myself up some about this abrupt change of plans, but these days I just shrug when things like this happen.  This is my process.  It’s worked more or less for me and, besides, I’m pretty much stuck with it.  The real problem is that I am being observed, which changes the equation.  Actually it’s not the observation so much as it is the pledges which have gone to a project that I am (temporarily) putting on hold.  Trust that the novel will get written as soon as I finish this bit.  meanwhile, I am going to start counting wordcount in the story as progress toward my Write-A-Thon goals.  Hope you don’t mind.

Tomorrow, I’ll be speaking at Singularity University on a panel about the role of science fiction writers in inventing, forecasting, and making the future interesting.

I plan to avoid any discussion of the power of science fiction to forecast the future.  Frankly, I don’t think SF is particularly good at predicting how technology will evolve. (I’m still waiting for my jet pack, thank you very much.) Instead, I plan to focus on how science fiction writers can and do make the future more interesting.

First, science fiction writers are good at imagining the unexpected. I can tell you that’s not a common skill. Over the course of 20 years of working with optical illusions at the Exploratorium, I learned people are very good at seeing what they expect to see – and very bad at seeing what they don’t expect.

My favorite example of this is a three-dimensional illusion called the Ames room or the distorted room. You may have seen this room in a science museum near you: the floor slants at a steep angle, the wall on one side is half the height of the wall on the other side; the back wall slants relative to the front wall. But when you look into this drastically distorted room from a particular vantage point, the room looks like an ordinary rectangular room. The walls are positioned so that they make a rectangular shape on the retina of your eye—and so you assume that the room is rectangular.

If you are peering into the distorted room when someone walks across the floor, things get very strange. As the person walks across the room, she seems to shrink. When she is near one side, she looks like a giant; when she is near the other, she looks like a dwarf. To make the person fit the distorted room—which your eye and brain insist on seeing as rectangular—you see her shrink and grow.

This is how your perceptual systems work. To make sense of the world, you often take perceptual shortcuts. Ames room and other optical illusions are extreme examples of a very human tendency to see what you expect to see, and distort other evidence to fit your expectations.

But science fiction writers delight in twisting, stretching, and thwarting expectations. They spend their time imagining something new. And that’s a good thing. By stretching people’s expectations, science fiction can change what people expect to see.  That, I think, is the very first step in changing the world.

The second step in changing the world is convincing people to believe that the world can be different. That’s another thing science fiction writers can be quite good at.

When you give yourself over to a good book, you come to believe in the author’s world, the author’s way of thinking about the way the world works.  If a book is compelling, you believe in it on some very deep level.  The world portrayed in the book seeps into your unconscious and becomes part of your experience of the world. Basically, skillful fiction writers have the power to control your mind.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that science fiction is often regarded as goofy, escapist reading, not to be taken seriously. So it flies under the radar, sneakily infiltrating people’s minds and filling them with bizarre ideas.  Isn’t that great?

Finally, science fiction writers often focus on the unexpected consequences of technology. Proponents of technology focus on its positive attributes – but science fiction writers prefer to consider all the things that can go ever so wrong. It might be lovely to go for an uneventful drive in the country, but for dramatic tension it’s far better to focus on road rage and traffic jams.

As I think about science fiction and its ability to explore future possibilities, one story comes to mind as an example of how good science fiction can imagine the unexpected, fly under the radar, and present unexpected consequences in a rollicking good story. If you haven’t read R.A. Lafferty’s Slow Tuesday Night (available online through the wayback machine), do it now. I re-read this story every year or so just to remind myself of what can be done with a few words, an expansive imagination, and the right amount of weirdness.

Life is always a damned balance, innit?  Most days I write on the train to work (or if I’m really groggy–not a morning person, you see) on the train home from work.  I must write 3 pages; anything more than that is gravy.  It’s an odd system but it works.  Unless.  On those rare occasions when I drive to work, then I write in the evening; the same other rules apply.

And then there’s today, when I have a doctor’s appointment, which means I’ll be driving down and thus: no train writing.  And then this evening I’m meeting my family to see a remastered-big-screen-oh boy!-screening of “Singin’ in the Rain.”  It’s one of those films that is a touchstone in my family–my husband studied it in his History of FIlm class; my older daughter wanted to be the Debbie Reynolds character when she was small (the character, not Debbie Reynolds; there’s a difference); she went so far as to have her picture taken at the corner of Sunset and Camden in LA (if you’ve seen the film you know the reference).  We’re a family that tends to sling quotes around, and “Singing in the Rain” is full of them.  Nothing punctures the pretensions of a teenager like murmuring “I am a shimmering, shining star in the cinema firmament. It says so. Right here.”

Someone in the greater SF writers community (I think it was James D. Macdonald, but I’ve been wrong before) used to say that, if science fiction explored the impact of technology on human life, “Singin’ in the Rain” is a perfect example.  It’s about film stars in the 20s dealing with the advent of sound technology.  As more recent films like “The Artist” have reminded us, that impact was life changing for many of the old silent actors.

So I won’t be writing today because I’m going to see a science fiction movie in the evening.

Tomorrow I head off to teach at the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA Program’s Summer Residency.   It isn’t Clarion, the chief difference being that we don;t write … or at least, if we do, we don’t workshop what we write at the residency.  All the stories for critique are submitted weeks in advance.  In years past I have given flash fiction assignments to my workshops and done the assignment myself as well.  On the last workshop day we did fast and dirty crits of all the assignment stories.  But that has been the exception, not the rule.  

But in every other way, a Stonecoast residency feels to me like a Clarion week.  There are the intense conversations with people you just met, the contact high you get from other writers who get what you’re trying to do, the sense that you are making friends that you will keep for a long, long time and most of all the thrill (and terror) of having very intelligent readers react to your work.   Community is an overused word, but it’s the word that fits when it comes to describing what happens at a Stonecoast residency and at a Clarion.

And best of all, Stonecoast and Clarion don’t end when everybody goes home.  As evidence, look no further than the Write-A-Thon.  We can’t go back to Clarion, but we can keep Clarion with us as long as we need it.

  All of this is by way of saying my posts here might be a little more sporadic while I’m at Stonecoast,  If I think about the Write-A-Thon it will mostly be to get on my own case to write my 250 words while I’m pulling late nighters at Stonecoast.