A good day. Suzy…

A good day. Suzy Charnas was wonderful last week, in a very sane, remind us of the realities kind of way. But I find Nicola Griffith (in addition to being really cute and having a wonderful British accent) truly inspiring. She asked us to pick our two favorite books for class today, and think about them, and think about why we liked them. Not books we admired or thought were great, necessarily -- just our favorites, the ones we read over and over and over again. Mine were the Fionavar Tapestry by Kay and Hamlet, although Diane Duane's Star Trek books almost beat Hamlet out. The most often chosen was The Lord of the Rings, which would definitely be in my top ten. It was a great exercise because it reminded us why we love fiction, why we love to write, what we're *doing* in this job. As she said, the pay sucks, you get no respect, the hours are shitty, and there's no one giving you medical benefits. There are lots of reasons for doing this (the appreciation and understanding of your readers being one of the top reasons), but if you don't absolutely love fiction, love writing, then you might as well not be doing this.

Clarion really does change you. You come here, and you expect to learn, you expect your writing to change and improve, you expect to maybe network a little, meet some famous people, meet some childhood heroes. That all happens. But what also happens is that who YOU are changes. I don't know whether it's baring your soul to 17 strangers, or the hothouse pressure-cooker boot camp atmosphere, or the increase of your critical faculty as applied to your own work, or something else entirely, or some combination of the above. I don't know. But you do change. Some of the dross gets burned away. Nicola described it yesterday as 17 individual crucibles, taking in information and skills and lots of stuff, and then turning the heat up high. Burning away lots and seeing what you have left. Sleep deprivation is undoubtedly part of it. Emotional stability goes out the window for a few weeks, as you burn to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can -- hopefully without breaking. There are people who come to Clarion excited, talented, hopeful -- people who then leave and never write again. I hope that doesn't happen to anyone here. It had damn well better not happen to me. I expect you guys not to let that happen to me. Feel free to yell, if necessary.

It really is a once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing experience. If you're thinking of doing it, first make sure you're in the right place and time for it (lots of people do it too early, and that can kill your writing), then be sure you can leave you job, your family, your life for six weeks, then scrape up the money (they do offer some small scholarship money -- and if you love science fiction/fantasy, the Clarion workshops are a great place to donate money to) -- then go.

I probably should have saved that great big speech for after Clarion, but I'm all excited now, and I plan to be exhausted later. :-)

Tomorrow night at 5 p.m. I read at Elliot Bay Books. Come if you can. It would be great to see some of you there. I'll be having dinner there afterwards, and attending Nicola's reading at 7:30.

Hello, munchkins! I’m…

Hello, munchkins!

I'm in a very good mood right now, having just finished a 3900 word story in approx. 5 hrs. Pleased with it. If you're curious, drop me a note saying you'd like to read "Deep with Sea". Keep in mind that it is currently very much a first draft.

I'm doing a bit of cleaning up and updating of the website currently -- nothing major. Had a nice lunch with Alex at the Rosebud cafe (they're a dyke hangout with great brunches -- I recommend the baked egg thingies if you're ever in Seattle). Going to mostly putter the rest of the day, I suspect. I've got an erotic mystery due for Puritan hanging over my head -- that should get done in the next day, so if I'm good, I'll start on that. It's pretty much plotted out (very weird plotting a mystery, let me tell you!) now. Oh, I should remember to put a copy of Interplanet Janet up on the stories page. That issue of Puritan's been out long enough. If you don't see it in a couple of weeks, feel free to remind me.

I had a lovely birthday -- pizza and cake and ice cream for dinner, with various Clarionites. Lucius came and gave me a huge gilt toad, on Bob's recommendation. It's a little hard to explain why, but it's connected to a Asian restaurant named Ballet (good, cheap, fast). That's probably all you need to know.

Generally feeling pretty happy. Going to finish up this puttering and ask Alex to read my very rough story. Let him hack it up some before class. :-)

My little sister…

My little sister informed me this morning that this is my golden birthday, as I have turned 26 on the 26th. :-)

It is just about lunchtime, and an excellent birthday so far. Conversations with family, Roshani, David -- I've spent more time on the telephone this morning than I probably have in two weeks at Clarion. :-) All the Clarion people are being very sweet to me, hooray. And a story idea that I've been sort of twisting around in my head started coming into sharp focus, which is really nice.

It's an odd sensation when it does that. You start with an idea, right? A rather vague one. It bounces around in your head, while you try to figure out who's the one talking in the story, and what person do you want to use, and how old are they, and at what point in the story should you start talking....all these decisions you have to make before you put down word one. (Of course you don't have to. You can go back and rewrite it. You may anyway. But it's nice to know where you're starting from). For me, there usually comes a point where I'm considering another possibility for all of these -- and it just clicks. The idea stands up and shouts and says 'yes! tell my story THIS way'. It's a big relief, let me tell you. For the story I'm working on, that happened this morning. There are still a bunch of unclear areas that will probably come into focus before I actually start writing, but I'm at a much more comfortable place to be in the story now. (Oh, this one is gonna be sad. This one will hopefully wring your heart out...)

So now off to lunch with whomever I can drag...then pick up some stuff for the party tonight (ice cream, balloons, etc...) and maybe a present or two for myself. Fun. :-) Then probably come back and try to get some more work done.

Life is good. 25 was a good age to be -- I had a great year in most respects. I am lucky. I am blessed. I'm glad I know that...

A birthday poem by Charles Bukowski, for your reading pleasure:

Poem For My 43rd Birthday

To end up alone
in a tomb of a room
without cigarettes
or wine--
just a lightbulb
and a potbelly,
grayhaired,
and glad to have
the room.

...in the morning
they're out there
making money:
judges, carpenters,
plumbers, doctors,
newsboys, policemen,
barbers, carwashers,
dentists, florists,
waitresses, cooks,
cabdrivers...

and you turn over
to your left side
to get the sun
on your back
and out
of your eyes.

And a little long to include here, I recommend stopping by to read Dylan Thomas's Poem on His Birthday.

Almost a week, I know. …

Almost a week, I know. I was so stressed by the e-mail/file mess here at Mills that the very thought of logging on made me nauseous and teary. Finally talked to Kevin about it yesterday and he convinced me I was being dopey. So logged back on, to find that e-mail is mostly fixed at Mills -- it's now (I think) safe to e-mail me again there. maryanne@mamohanraj.com. Most of my other files are still missing, but I got a nice e-mail from the sysadmin in response to my panicked note saying they thought they would be able to get back anything from before July 1st, thank the goddess. We're crossing our fingers and hoping.

I'm exhausted. That seems to be the general trend here at Clarion, though Ceej has managed to do a much better job of keeping up with her journals than I have this week. See her for details on what has occurred. My story (very short) for this week went actually pretty well. It was actually a little mainstream piece (my first), and the class seemed to like it. Even got two stories out of it, 'cause I wrote it again from another character's point of view. If you're curious, ask -- they're "Mint in Your Throat" and "Sorpresa". The first was also an experiment in 2nd person present, which I think worked fairly well (it's the voice they tell you never to use...)

Another first -- I missed class yesterday. Skipped out with Alex; played hooky. It was his birthday; we were both exhausted, overworked and bummed for our own separate reasons. We worked together at Cafe Paradiso for some hours and cheered each other up a little. Then we walked down to Borders (12 blocks?) in the sunlight. That helped. Then I sat and read the third Books of Magic compilation (I adore Books of Magic. If you love Sandman, try them. If you haven't read Sandman, you are in for an amazing treat. Go look for it. It's in graphic novel format) while Alex looked at CD's. That cheered me up quite a bit. Then we went and got lunch -- grilled chicken rustica sandwiches (I forget the name for that kind of Italian sandwich) at a little open air place called Sisters down at the Pike Street Market (well worth visiting if you're in Seattle, although Alex did note that it was a little sad that one of the biggest tourist attractions in Seattle was a mall (arrogant Brit :-)). Sitting in the sun, flowers nearby, good food in our tummies -- we were both pretty cheered up by the end of it. And the long walk uphill in the sun was pretty damn good too. Worked some in the afternoon; I cooked curry for the group for dinner, and then we rented Mars Attacks to cap off Alex's birthday -- he wanted to laugh. Good day.

My birthday is tomorrow. :-) That alone is enough to make it a little easier to get through today. Cards (and gifts :-) welcome -- I'm at:

Mary Anne Mohanraj
Campion Tower, #246
914 E. Jefferson
Seattle, WA 98122

...until August 2nd. Then I go home, and you can e-mail me for that address if you need it.

Going to go veg out for a while now -- I'm reading Giant Bones by Peter Beagle (the one who did The Last Unicorn, which was made into a truly lovely animated movie -- Molly is an amazingly wonderful character) -- it's a collection of short stories. Neat. I gave Kevin a copy of his A Fine and Private Place last Christmas. It's one of the sweetest love stories I've read.

I'll try to write tomorrow. Take care, everyone.

Oops. Just realized that I forgot to explain why you can't read my stories. They were in the Mills files that got deleted. Fear not -- there is a backup. However, I can't figure out how to uncompress the darn thing -- I'm getting error messages when I try. I have sent frantic e-mail to Kevin, who will hopefully be the wonder mathematician and fix it. Also, the nice Mills people may get my lost files back. Don't worry -- one way or another, the stories will come back.

Another thing I meant to note -- while the waterfall near Twin Peaks was painfully commercial, Bob (native of Seattle) took Rick and Alex and me to a secret place he knew (he worked for the forestry people for a couple of years -- cool Bob!). Hiked uphill for about a sweaty hour -- sat by a gorgeous lake for a while, then hike downhill again. Got soaked in sweat and sunshine. Recited poetry coming down. Talked to Bob about my family (sometimes hard to explain :-). Felt happier in my body than I have in a while. It was very good to be exercising it. I recommend hiking. A lot. (I've noticed that I use probably too many superlatives in this journal, but I gotta say that that day was wonderful, fantastic, marvelous, etc. Partly 'cause of what we did, partly 'cause I spent it with three of my favorite people here. If I could pick a second dad, Rick would be it. And if he didn't have a daughter my own age, I'd be tempted to marry him. :-) Bob and Alex are pretty darn cool too. :-) Heck, they're all cool. Clarion is worth doing if only for the friends you make here -- the incredible people you meet.

Mills account still…

Mills account still totally screwed. I'm not going to freak out. I'm just not.

In other news, yesterday was a very stressful day for the class -- a bunch of minor explosions occurred. It's all calming down now, but it was the first real crack in our cohesion. Hopefully, we can recover the solidity, but some people were really hurt.

We did go to an awesome party last night at an administrator's house. I think pretty much everyone had a great time, and we all relaxed a lot more than we usually do at these (probably in response to the stress of the day). Today an expedition is planned to go see woods and waterfalls and mountains, which will definitely be a good thing. We've been spending way too much time staring at computers.

Much as I'd like to keep chatting, I'm definitely avoiding the story I need to write by sitting here. Will let y'all know when and where I think it's safe to send mail. If by some odd chance you must reach me desperately, send mail to sherman@cyborganic.net -- that's Sherman, and he has my phone number. Emergencies only, please.

Well, mail is finally…

Well, mail is finally back up, but this is the message I received:

Mail RECEIVED between Friday, July 11 and Monday July 14 at 4pm that you did not delete has been lost and can not be restored.

Dammit. Not much to be done. If you think you sent me mail during that period, please resend. Anything sent since Monday will probably come through okay.

There appear to be all sorts of other problems with the site -- many many missing files, for example (damn good thing I've gotten paranoid -- most of my stories/poems are either on disk or on this site). Not sure what else is missing. Pine also appears to be down. I'm not going to panic until they finish trying to fix it and I know what the final status is.

Didn't need to deal with this now.

3:30. Argh. Don't send me mail. Just don't. I tried looking at what they've retrieved -- it's a huge mess, and I have no real idea how to cope with it. It looks like all the old saved messages can be accessed with 'mail', while all the new stuff is in one huge file called Mailbox. I have no idea how I'm supposed to deal with all this. Maybe they'll fix it soon and pine will come back. Maybe I'll log in tomorrow and it'll all be better. Meanwhile, I still have no idea how to stop forwarding on this account, and it turns out that they're changing machines at the Chicago account, so I can't access that one either. Argh. Argh!!!

Mail still down. This…

Mail still down. This is getting worrisome, but I don't know that I can do anything about it from here. :(

In other news, today was pretty stressful. I had a story up for critique, but that wasn't actually the problem -- that went fairly well, in fact. Easy fixes.

The problem was that we got the bulk of the novel proposal critiques today, and it was just painful. Critiquing these forces us to be a lot harsher than we normally would be, and it's really hard saying these things that you know hurt -- or even worse, watching basically negative critiques go around the room. I wish sometimes that I could turn off the empathy.

On the plus side, I read Suzy McKee Charnas's The Vampire Tapestry yesterday afternoon and really enjoyed it -- the monster stayed a monster, yet managed to make me empathize with it. And after that I got to go see Carol Queen's show, which was great. I ended up writing a column about it last night -- that'll be on the Intersmut site in a week or two, and on here as soon as I get around to it (may be a little while).

Another note -- I told you to send urgent mail to maryanne@mamohanraj.com? Well, I forgot to turn off mail forwarding from there yesterday. Duh. So if you sent anything there, it got forwarded to the silent Mills account. Will go turn it off now. Sorry 'bout that.

Correction -- tried to turn off forwarding but couldn't find the damn .forward file. Let me apologize again and redirect incoming mail to moh2@rainbow.uchicago.edu -- I hardly ever check that account, but I'll start checking it now. Argh.

Think that's it for now -- I have to go research the tv ratings thing for the Town Meeting show tonight. I'm going to be on tv -- wish me luck! :-)

Mail still down. Argh. …

Mail still down. Argh. If you must reach me, send mail to maryanne@mamohanraj.com.

In other news, I'm feeling much better today. After the encouraging conference with Beth and Tappan, I had a good working session with Leah and Alex - very satisfying. Woke up with some ideas on how to fix plot holes in the novel. Good class today. Generally the world is a brighter place. :-)

Tomorrow and Friday are going to be long classes, as more novel proposals come in. I am preparing to be somewhat grouchy and tired those days.

Tonight is Carol Queen's performance at Beyond the Edge ($6, 7:30 p.m.) should be fun. Tomorrow is the tv thing, which has incidentally changed a fair bit from an internet focus to a tv focus. This means that they may 'play me from the audience', whatever that means, instead of putting me on the panel -- not quite what I was hoping for, but such is life. It's still an important issue, so I'm glad to be participating.

Friday I'm hoping to go see the movie Contact -- I've heard really really good things about it. I'll let y'all know. And Saturday, Leah's SO Mike (Clarion '94) is in town, and some of us are driving up to the Twin Peaks setting to enjoy the woods for a day. Should be very nice and a good break from the city.

Off to read and crit -- talk to y'all later...

My Mills server appears…

My Mills server appears to be down, so if I'm not answering your mail, that's why. Hopefully it'll be up again soon.

I just received a check in the mail. I *think* it may be from one of my roommates paying me rent I'd forgotten he owed me. If that's not it, then it's a really really nice gift from a stranger. In either case, it's most definitely appreciated, and comes at a really useful time.

It's a good thing I got *some* good news today, 'cause in other ways, today was utterly horrific. No, I'm not exaggerating.

Guys, let me tell you about my novel. It's a beautiful novel, I sincerely believe. My protagonist is a strong woman, who's had a tough time of it (which is about to get tougher). She deals with moral issues, cultural issues, gender issues. The novel examines all sorts of philosophical areas through the lens of her vision and experience. It's lushly written, rich in specifics, and a little weak on plot.

Yesterday I handed in what was supposed to a proposal for the novel. It wasn't. It didn't get any of that across. Instead, I handed in a plot synopsis (you note above that plot is my weakest area). Beth and Tappan trashed it. Moderately gently, but trashed all the same. Ditto the class. Thankfully, some of the class had read the first chapters of the novel, and prefaced their critique with comments to the effect that the novel was beautiful and what I'd handed in had nothing to do with it. That's about all that saved me from utter despair.

As it was, I got progressively more stressed as we went around the room. By the time Beth and Tappan talked I was physically shaking and my hands were ice cold. By the time I responded, I was working damn hard to keep the quaver out of my voice so I could present a professional demeanor to these two editors who might at some point be very important to my future. I think I managed that at least.

I learned a lot from that failed proposal. I learned what not to do, and got some indications on what to do. I learned to concentrate on my strengths. I learned that I do need to replot the last third of my novel. I learned that my novel may not be marketable without a real magic element. Since I was the first to volunteer for this, it made sense that I did everything wrong. I learned that my fellow classmates appreciated that. :-)

In a few hours, I get to conference with Beth and Tappan and talk more about what to do right. I'm nervous, but feeling somewhat calmer after eating lunch and getting lots of sympathy and encouragement. In the interim, they will read the first few chapters of my novel -- I hope they get a better impression of what it will be like. I desperately hope they like what they read. I'm trying hard not to be too panicked about all this. *deep breath*

Hopefully, this whole hellish experience will help me write a damn good novel proposal. That's what this is all about. I'm here to learn -- so every time I make a mistake, I learn something, right? This is only somewhat convincing.

What a day. I think I'm going to go back to my room and weep now.

5:35 - Hope I didn't freak anyone out with that last line. My emotions have been seesawing like mad, but really, I'm fine now. Better than fine, actually -- pretty damn happy. See, I met with Tappan and Beth, and they had had time to read http://www.honeytraveler.com/buy-proscar/ some chapters of my novel and the earlier synopsis (which they liked much better) and "Amanda Means Love" and "Slow Illuminations" and "My Mother the Alien" -- and they were very encouraging. In rather an odd way, I must admit -- after half an hour of discussion, they basically told me I probably shouldn't be submitting novels to them....but that was because they thought I might be better off submitting to mainstream markets. In the discussion we all realized that yes indeed, I do appear to have literary pretensions.

It's an interesting question -- what to do with my life right now. They said that I was at a crux, and could choose to shoot for the fantasy market squarely (and risk getting stuck in it) (but probably make a decent living there), or aim for the wider 'real' market (and risk disappearing entirely). My momma always told me to aim high, and I got to admit that the idea of 'settling' for just the fantasy audience (much as I love them), when I could potentially have a much broader audience to preach at, sticks in my throat.

I described my novel to them as sort of a mix of Jane Yolen tale-telling, Guy Gavriel Kay scene-setting, and Amy Tan cultural/personal issues. They liked that. I liked that. I think it could be a damn good novel - lush and rich and deep. I don't know for sure that I have it in me right now to write that, but I think what I decided today is that I'm going to try. Do my plotting. Do my social/historical research. Brace for some more failed attempts. And brace for possible rejection -- or even worse, indifference. I must admit, I'd rather a glorious failure than a mediocre pass.

I'm feeling very talky today -- I hope you guys don't mind. It's been an exhausting day. I'm mostly taking the rest of it off (ordering pizza with Leah and Alex and helping them plot their novels). Let me leave you with two poems I wrote recently in class (the first was during a particularly boring lecture; the second series was in an attempt to maintain my composure during class today. I find haiku soothing.)

I believe I am taking refuge in formalism these days. I haven't attempted a sonnet in months.

A hooker shivers, lost on Fifth and Main,
with fourteen years behind and four to go.
She doesn't know. Mascara in the rain.
That thin black coat must last her through the snow

soon shivering down. A soldier sits alone
in sodden park. His eyes are fixed, his stare
leads to a girl in Vietnam. Her moan
caught in his throat; released to fractured air.

The same that breathes in sleeping child, in night-
time bumps and grinds, in muffled laughter screams.
Yet in the rain the cracked black lampposts make

a space for hope. Pools of wavering light
illuminating city's tortured dreams.
Rejoice or fear? Soon this place will wake.

***

And the other...

Fractured Haiku II

Curve of your long arm
dressed in pale skin. It would glow
if laid against mine.

Lying against me
are only empty sheets. I
know this cannot last.

This can't last, I know.
Home waits, yet in this small world
we've made, home is not.

Home is not spoken.
The syllables of the heart
echo in our tales.

In our tales we find
the truths we dare not speak. All
whispered in the dark.

Whispers in the dark
a would-be lover's promise --
my lips long for yours.

My lips against yours.
Can you taste my body's shape
curving in your arms?

***

That's all, folks. I'm not going to even attempt to explain those to you -- consider them products of Seattle rain, sleep deprivation, close quarters and UST.

Great news, guys! You…

Great news, guys! You can now read the on-line journal of one of my co-conspirators at Clarion West, C.J. Silverio, aka Ceej. She may not be a purveyor of smut like me, but she is intelligent, articulate, sexy as hell (though she doesn't know it) and a damn good writer. She tells you a hell of a lot more about the workshop than I've been doing. She's making me embarrassed. Maybe I'll write more. Highly recommended. And if you read science fiction, keep an eye out for her work.

Okay, I just read her July journal, half of Clarion so far. Her journal is far more gut-spilling than mine, her pages are prettier, and I think she may be more self-analytical. So if you go visit her pages, don't leave me forever, okay?

I'd praise her more, but Thida is visiting Seattle to see Walt, and I promised I'd be up there at 6, and it's now 6, so I need to get up there before she arrives if I can. I really want to read the June Clarion section of Ceej's journal. Damn damn damn.

7:45. I'm back, having read the rest of Ceej's Clarion journal. Interesting. Very very interesting. I'm going to give her permission to write about me if she feels like it, so you may grab odd tidbits about me over there.

Thida's sitting next to me, reading Ceej's journal. Thank goodness for friends as geeky as I am. :-)

I should update you on last week with Lucius -- it wasn't bad, but I feel almost as if I met a different person than the rest of the class did. On some fundamental level, Lucius and I didn't really connect at all. I wonder if this is perhaps because I didn't like anything of his I read -- maybe in the dank recesses of my brain I decided he didn't have anything I wanted? Probably totally false, if I did, but it is difficult to control the dank recesses. I still learned a lot from my fellow students that week, as usual, and Lucius's nudging at me on dialogue produced a neat little piece that I think I'm rather fond of.

Met Beth and Tappan last night. From what I saw then and this morning, they will be very very helpful in a practical sense. They're telling us all sorts of good stuff about the publishing side of things, and critiquing our stories in a very pragmatic, structural way. Earlier instructors concentrated far more on the sentence/paragraph level. I still need to learn more about plot. Alex has been profoundly helpful with that -- being an AI consultant must require an extremely analytical brain. He's being badgered quite a lot, actually, since the class has generally picked up on his logical nature. Good thing he's good-natured. Of course, everyone's pretty good-natured. This is really an excellent group. CJ gives little thumbnail descriptions on her page -- I'd tell you more about them, but I agree with her that privacy is probably an issue. Without their consent, it just doesn't seem fair.

I had quite a little crisis Sunday night. At the meeting, I asked Beth and Tappan whether they wanted a plot synopsis (which is what I had written) or something more. They definitely did not want a plot synopsis. They wanted a selling document, a work of art, a multi-level masterpiece, in 10 pages or less. Argh. I came back to the 7th floor (screaming in the elevator along with the rest), ran down the hall, bounced around my room for a while, spun with Alex in the hallway, and eventually sat down to revise the damn thing. Did so. Did so on disk, like an idiot, and when I took the disk out to print, it died. Almost broke down and cried on Alex's shoulder (he was very supportive and basically told me to 'buck up', which I did). Went back and rewrote the damn thing. Handed it in this morning. It will be critiqued tomorrow morning. We'll see.

Now I'm going to stop neglecting Thida. Talk to y'all tomorrow...