Monday, March 24, 1997

what is 'good enough' for Clarion West?

I just finished reading Slow River and was more drawn into it than by any science fiction book I've read in a long time. I was amazed at how much you know about sewage science. I am applying for Clarion West 1997, and know that you are going to be one of the instructors there. Did you attend Clarion West? I'm a beginning writer and was frankly astounded by your work, and am thinking that maybe I'm not good enough to go to Clarion. What is "good enough" for Clarion?

On your page it said that this is anonymous - I sure hope that's true. Thanks for your answer and thanks for your beautiful books.

I'm not one of the committee that decides who gets to attend Clarion West and who doesn't, so I couldn't tell you what criteria are used for selection. I will say this, though: let the selection committee decide if you're good enough, don't self-select yourself out of the running. Submit your story, and see.

Now, I've already said that I have no say in picking who gets in and who doesn't, but if I *was* in charge, here's what I'd say:

  • Pick your best work. Hopefully it would also be your most recent.
  • Choose a story that says something. I'm always more interested in fiction that explores people and how they feel and why than some whizz-bang gizmo. Oh, I *like* whizz-bang gizmos, but I like them to effect a change.
  • The whole point of a story is movement. I'm not talking about characters running around, but characters or groups learning and changing and growing. They can succeed marvellously or come to a terrible end, or just feel sad that they couldn't do what they had wanted to do--but they must *realize* something.
  • I'm a big fan of sensory detail. You can tell the reader so much about the internal state of a character simply by describing, say, the weather, or the kind of furniture s/he prefers. Be particular, not vague.

I could go on and on--but then I'd end up trying to condense my week of teaching at Clarion to a one-page email. So, send in your story and cross your fingers. However, as this Ask Nicola really *is* anonymous, if you do get accepted you'll have to come up and introduce yourself. Best of luck.

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