June 23rd, 2009


Clarion West Irregular Report

I thought I'd write this down today as I'm trying to parse through everything that we've been learning in these two days. I feel like I've already learned a lot and have written a lot more than I normally write, and I really, really need to think things through so I can get them into my fiction. A part of me is still getting used to this idea that I now own my time and can write as much as I want, when I want to.

I think it's important for husbands to realize that writing moms really need their writing time. I'm really thankful to my husband for giving me this gift of time to just focus and write.


Yesterday, we talked about plot and how that works and it was very interesting to hear as I will now confess in open that I have always had this vague idea of what plot is like, but for most of my life, I've been a seat of the pants writer. John Kessel is a really good teacher. He is able to bring his point across in a way that's easy to understand and which makes me feel like going back and looking through all my stories with certain questions in mind.

The pieces read yesterday were rather heavy on zombies and vampires which was a real pity because after a while everything just sort of blended into one another. The stories by themselves were quite good, but after a while, I couldn't remember whose stories had been about what.

After that, John Kessel banned zombies and vampires. And I didn't even get the chance to write my zombie cockroach story. That chance has now passed, but someday that story will get written.

I also had my meeting with John Kessel yesterday. I realized that the disadvantage of meeting your instructor on the first day of a workshop like this lies in not really knowing what to ask. I've never been to a creative writing class, and while I've been to the Villa Diodati workshop, I've never been in a workshop like this with formal sitdown lectures and exercises. I guess, it was pretty odd for John Kessel to have a student who doesn't really know what questions to ask.

So, we sat and talked a bit about common friends like Ben Rosenbaum. Jeff Spock was one of his students and apparently made quite an impression as he said: I'm glad you know people like Ben Rosenbaum and Jeff Spock who was one of my students (did I hear a heavy emphasis on the Jeff Spock right there?) Were you writing about naked mermaids back in the day? (just kidding) Why do I never think of brilliant comments like that when I am in session with someone? I just get all nervous and get these intense heart palpitations.

I asked him to sign my copy of The Baum Plan for Independence, and he wrote something really lovely in it and that book will go into the treasured part of my library. The part that will never, ever be donated or given away.


Today's exercise was to write a story about character in a reality that has three things different and three things the same as today. It was an interesting exercise and for this, I decided to mine the background of my wip and use that for the story. It turned out to be quite an interesting exercise for me. I realize that when I am writing seriously, my interest in culture and heritage do reveal themselves. While the story excerpt is set in a far future world, it is still very much Ifugao. I am thinking of expanding this into a longer story than the one that I now have. It will be interesting to discover where the story goes and how my character responds to the situation presented. Also, I do want to discover more about this world. The interesting thing is, I've been writing about Balaycon's colonies and have had little chance to really explore them. So, I do want to use this Clarion West time to do some of that.

It's brought home to me that a lot of my classmates are very well-oriented in terms of science fiction. In a way, I do feel at a loss as a lot of books and shows that have been seen or read by them are books and films that I haven't seen or read. There are entire blocks of science fictional reading that I've missed through my growing up years. I guess I really have a lot of catching up to do.


Tonight, John will be reading at the Washington University Bookshop. I think that will be a great opportunity to stack up on books I've missed. Before I go home, a trip to the post office will definitely be in order.

I'm off to work on tomorrow's assignment and I still have a story to finish before Thursday.

More thinking about Filipino SF



Thinking about the gap in my science fictional reading, I realize that a lot of it has to do with the place where I grew up and what was available right there. While we had a lot of other books, science fiction ones were few and far between.


The Philippines by itself doesn’t yet have a strong tradition of science fiction literature. I’d really like to see this addressed as it seems to me Filipinos are just as capable and just as equal to the task of creating science fictional worlds and science fictional literature that would be as interesting as their western counterparts.

I’m not discounting Western SF here. I enjoy reading a lot of SF writers and a lot of them are white, but honestly, there is no SF novel or no one distinctive SF story written yet by a Filipino writer that's been published outside of the Philippines.  

I think that we have to go beyond the usual tropes of SF, to extend ourselves beyond the patterns and the themes used by our western counterparts in order to produce SF with an original and authentic Filipino voice.

How do we do this then?

In large, I would say that it’s essential for us to mine realism and use that as a launching point towards writing our SF. Looking at good SF stories, a lot of them are based on a solid reality of place. Culture plays a great part in good SF stories as well as Character. It’s not just technicalities and techno-babble, it’s not just knowing the language of SF, but it’s owning it and making it part of the culture. In a sense, subordinating that SF language to the culture of the story.

I’m just thinking off of the top of my head here, so if anyone has their own points or thoughts on this, feel free to chime in.

**editted because I hate absolutes**


first draft

I have first draft for my first Clarion West story. Last night, there was a reading by John Kessel and I was a bit late as the time had gotten away from me. I'd set my alarm for seven o'clock, quite forgetting that I would, of course, have to walk and find my way to the Bookshop. I think that the anxiety that comes from knowing you're late is a good thing, because while I was sitting there, listening to John Kessel read, I had a moment of clarity where I finally realized how I would write my first story and how to do it.

I find it funny how epiphanies tend to come at the most awkward moments. I did have pen and paper in my bag, but I could hardly take them out and start scribbling. Something told me the words inside my head would wait. 

After the reading I met Nisi Shawl. She is one of the most beautiful and inspiring women I've ever met. I find myself so inspired by these women of SF, by these strong, vibrant, beautiful women who give back to community and who write with an awareness of history and culture and the way society works (all those dynamics. You know what I mean). Yes, I fell in love again. Now a part of me wants to move to Seattle.

I admire the work Leslie and Neile do for Clarion West, it takes so much intense preparation to bring the workshop to this point where all the participants are here, the lecturers booked, and our lodging contracted. There's a lot more work involved than that. Administrating and organizing a workshop is a lot of stress. I admire the vision and the love these women have, their desire not only to write fiction but to change the world in some way. I think of the sacrifice on their part, as this means time spent away from their own writing as well as the intensity of having to combine dayjob and Clarion West.

I was happy to meet Nancy Kress after the reading. And now I can reveal that Nancy Kress was the secret person who greeted me after I arrived from The Netherlands. She is so kind and gracious and again another one of those beautiful women whose work inspires others to think and look at the world differently.

It is these meetings that challenge me to look at my own writing in terms other than craft. Craft is important, that's true, but I believe that at the core of a powerful story is a vision that drives the artist or the author to create. Realizing this seems to have helped free up the mojo. It's 6 am in the morning, I've just completed first draft, I am still in the zone. Clarion West irregular report continues later...