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Nostalgic memories of small ponds

You know, it's a case of nerves, I think.

For those of you who didn't know, I attended a very prestegious writing workshop back in 1995. Clarion West--and it's big brother Clarion--has produced some of the most influential voices in the Science Fiction and Fantasy field than any other single venue. Twenty students out of hundreds of applications (based solely on writing ability) are allowed to get together, write, critique, and learn the craft of writing over six weeks of intense, in-your-face style workshopping that leaves some writers lying in a pool of their own piss. Every week, another instructor comes sautering in to help you discover that writing is indeed hard. And of course, these aren't just any English teacher or creative writing mentor. No, these are people who've Hugos and Nebulas for balls. People like Harlan Ellison, Gardner Dozois, John Crowley--remember to ask me about the story of how I picked a fight, and won, against that particular World Fantasy Award winner--Lucius Sheppard, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum, ad inferiority . . .

It was earth shattering. It was confidence shaking. It was confidence building. And it all ended with Katherine Dunn, the author of "Geek Love," saying something that transformed me. It was the last night of Clarion, and the last party. Someone--I think it was somebody's wife--came up to me and asked, "So, are you one of the students here?" Katherine Dunn jumped in, cut her off, and said, "No. He's a writer."

My heart almost climbed out of my mouth. I've not been so happy for myself--as far as my writing goes (If I didn't write that, my wife would kill me)--ever again.

And it wasn't just the teachers that taught me something. Each of the students in this workshop has an incredible talent, or they wouldn't be there. Here's an example of a writing lesson you can't buy.

"You can't worry about offending someone when you write. If you do, it's like your trying to kill someone on the ground by pissing off the top of a ferris wheel. If you worry about offending, your just pissing at random, spraying about harmlessly while the crowd below wipes their brow and says, "Is it starting to sprinkle? Oh well," and they go about their business. It's always best to aim for the heart of that little kid eating cotton candy. Go straight after him, piss right through his heart and kill him on the spot. That way, the crowd below will run over to the fallen tot and say, "Hey look! Free cotton candy!"

Gawd, do I miss Clarion. But you know, writing is it's own reward.

I think I'm remembering fondly now because there was no risk there. No rejection slips. Sure, your story could get ripped apart, but it was a classroom environment. You were there to make the mistakes you can't afford to make out in the real world. Now, I'm dealing with nameless, faceless editors who don't care if I'm a really nice guy. (Yeah, right.)

But what the hell. As I said. Writing is its own reward. It keeps me sane.

Until next time,

Joseph Haines, signing off from the Edge of the Abyss

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