Dec 062016


How do you learn to write Science Fiction & Fantasy? In some ways you don’t. You let the experience of SF&F embrace you with its breadth of imagination, and in rare, precious instances reach inside you to touch your soul. Then again, you do have to learn to keep pounding away at your keyboard, no matter how far past midnight it is nor how burnt the coffee, until something comes out of your mind and through your fingers that you think you won’t throw away – and you hope someone else wants to read.

The Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop is all of that and more, and the application period for the 2017 workshop is now open until March 1. The workshop runs for six weeks in summer at the University of California, San Diego. The oldest writer’s workshop of its kind, Clarion began  in 1968 at Clarion State College in Pennsylvania. After four years, it moved to Michigan State University, where I attended the workshop in the ‘80s. I admit, I was sorry to see it leave the banks of the Red Cedar in 2007 when it continued its western migration to UCSD. Being located, however, on the Pacific shoreline and operating under the auspices of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination give it much greater panache.

Clarion is an intensive experience of writing your own work and critiquing the writing of others. While the sessions are led by professional authors and editors brought in as instructors, one a week, ending with a pair of instructors at workshop’s end, you can expect nearly as much of your time will be spent reading and commenting on the works of fellow students as you spend on your own writing. And the critiques can be tough.

Kate Wilhelm, who with her late husband Damon Knight were a driving force in getting Clarion started, described during the year I attended, and probably many other years as well, her early experience in having her work critiqued at a workshop she enrolled in. The toughness of the criticism angered and discouraged her, so much so that she went along a shoreline and hurled rocks into the water, as if those rocks would shatter some of the harsh words she received.

An instructor who uttered some of those words saw Kate and went up to her to ask what was the problem. She told him about the anger and frustration she felt. He simply asked her in return “Don’t you understand? We treated you as a professional.”

How would you like to be treated as a professional for six weeks by top writers and editors in science fiction and fantasy, and by your fellow students at Clarion? It can be tough. It will be rewarding.

One more thing you will do if you are accepted for Clarion 2017. You will talk, you will listen, you will be engulfed in the worlds and cosmos of SF&F from late night discussions with new friends to one-on-one interaction with instructors. You will share ideas, trade personal stories, laugh, commiserate and more. Clarion will be an experience from which you draw well after you leave San Diego.

Scholarships, with a nod from K’zoo

The Clarion Foundation board of directors, for which I’m now the new treasurer, offers scholarships of varied amounts to students to help defray the costs of attending the workshop. You can read more about the scholarships available at the Clarion website and when you submit your application.

But if you’re from the Kalamazoo, MI, area, I’m going to be a bit of a homer, here, to write about a new scholarship Clarion is offering. The scholarship is not limited to a geographic area, but it is named after the late Dr. Phillip Kaldon, a Western Michigan University professor of physics who attended Clarion in 2004, and who died earlier this year. The scholarship will “provide up to half of the full workshop fee for attending the Clarion Writers’ Workshop to a student selected for the current class who also meets the following qualification: The recipient must be a student or teacher in a STEM discipline (Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) whose writing typically contains some element grounded in science.”

The Kaldon scholarship expands on the physics professor’s interest in writing about what lies ahead for us with stories that are grounded in science but are not bound by the gravity of our planet or our politics.

The Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop is accepting applications for the 2017 summer workshop from Dec. 1 to March 1. More information about  the workshop, 2017 instructors, costs, scholarships and online applications are available at the Clarion website.


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