How to Fake Clarion

So this happened this morning.

For many of us, Clarion isn't in the cards. Maybe you can't leave your job for six weeks without losing the job and your home. Maybe you're the parent of a small child, or take care of an elderly or disabled relative. Maybe you have a chronic health condition yourself, or an anxiety disorder that means you wouldn't be able to travel or participate. Maybe you're saving up for a house or paying off medical debt.

Maybe you'd rather go on a proper vacation if you happen to come into a few thousand dollars in disposable income.

None of these things mean you can't be a professional writer. But the good news is, there's more than one path to being a writer, pro or otherwise.

Clarion Isn't the Only Game in Town

First off, Clarion is a six-week endeavor. There are other writer's workshops that require only one week out of your life, and are also highly regarded. Viable Paradise, for example -- and I wish I could make the time for that one. Taos Toolbox is also reportedly an excellent workshop and worth your time and money, if you have them to spare.

Even better, these retreat-style workshops aren't the only way to improve your craft. There might be a genre writer's workshop in your own town that meets once a week, or once a month. And there are critique circles online ranging from Critters to Absolute Write -- I'm sure commenters will chime in with more. If you want a workshop-style venue to have your work read, and to critically read the work of other writers in turn, there are plenty of options.

And the truth is, workshops are helpful... but they're not necessary. Far from it.

Faking a Workshop

What a workshop does for you is hone your critical eye. Simply by being exposed to excellent critical thinking, you develop the capacity to critique your own work. But you can develop a critical eye on your own, if other means don't suit you.

Read. Read widely. But don't just take in the story. As you go, consciously reflect on what you're thinking and feeling. Are you expecting the story to go in a particular direction? What exact sentence or passage led you to that belief? What made you feel excited, or sad, or tense? How are the scenes structured? How are description, dialogue, and action blended together? How long are the sentences? A story is a machine, and every part should be doing a specific job. You need to become a mechanic, able to look at each piece of the story to identify what work is being done.

Read reviews. But not of your own work -- of the stuff you're already analyzing. When you've finished a book or a story, go looking for the reactions of other people to calibrate your own antennae. In preference, read longer, analytic reviews that talk about both what a work has done and how it fits into the overall landscape of genre publishing. Deep critical analysis like you'll find on NPR Books or Tor.com are perfect, but you'll even find insightful critique on Goodreads and Amazon. 

Read bad work. This is, I strongly believe, an important part of a writer's development. Read stuff you know is going to be bad. And then -- this is the important part -- analyze the hell out of it. Why is it bad? Does it fail on a sentence level, on consistency, does it fail in terms of pacing or plausibility? Sometimes we learn from mistakes better than we learn from success. You can't watch Meryl Streep and learn how to be an amazing performer, but you can watch a fifth grade play and learn that maybe you shouldn't leave your hands hanging by your sides the whole show, and maybe you should speak up a little more.

Revise. This is where you apply what you've learned. The temptation to write and immediately submit is strong, but while you're trying to actively develop your craft, resist the urge. Come back to a story after a few days, weeks, months if you can spare them, and try to read as if you'd never seen the story before. Think about everything you're learning, and apply those lessons to your own work. 

Repeat. Clarion (and other workshops) are an intensive course in this kind of thinking, but even when Clarion is over, you'll need to keep doing these things forever. At least, you do if you want to keep growing as a writer. And why on earth would you ever want to stop getting better?

Clarion's Secret Sauce

Here's the real reason Clarion is a big deal: the alumni association, as it were, is a powerful and widespread network in genre publishing. Human nature being what it is, we like people who have the same experiences and affiliations as we do. And we like to help the people we like. So if you go to Clarion, some doors of opportunity are a little more open to you than they were before.

We like to tell ourselves that publishing is a meritocracy, and that's only sort of true. People do emerge from the slush pile, naked and alone. You really don't have to know someone to be published.

But at the same time, it's a bit easier to break in if you've become a familiar face -- not just because people are more willing to go to bat for a friend, but because you'll begin to understand the kinds of work different editors and markets are interested in, you'll learn from the successes and mistakes of your peers, you'll become a part of the cultural conversation that SF/F fundamentally is.

So how do you fake the network? Duh, networking! Build your own. Go to cons, if you can. Make friends. Invite people to coffee or a drink. If that's not possible for you, work social media. Follow authors, editors, agents on Twitter. 

And don't be all networky and utilitarian about it, because people can tell and generally super hate that. You need to approach everything as an exercise in meeting interesting people and making friends. Promote the work you admire. Ask questions. Introduce people to each other when you can; do favors when you can. Give to the community. Give. Give. You can worry about taking later, or maybe never. 

Because Clarion is, at the end of the day, just one neighborhood in the SF/F community. But there are others, and you'll find professional writers in all of them.

***

REVISION is a fast-paced, snarky science fiction thriller about a wiki where your edits come true, bad relationships, and burning that mofo to the ground.

Paperback ($14.99) | Kindle | Nook | iTunes | Kobo ($6.99)

“Tremendously enjoyable, Revision is a fluid, flexible, wonderfully dextrous debut, and I can’t wait to see what Phillips does next.” NPR Books

“Phillips poses hard questions about love, loyalty, personal identity, and truth, and her answers range from fascinating to horrifying.” “Her fresh voice will be very welcome in the SF world.” Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

Fast News Day

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I said that I had a bunch of unannounced work in the pipeline? Well, announcement season has begun! Yesterday two pieces of news dropped about what I'm doing in 2016, and both of them are basically fantastic in every way.

First: Bookburners! 

I'm a big fan of the idea of short-form serial ebooks; in fact that's exactly what Lucy Smokeheart was. But at Phoenix Comicon I met Julian Yap, who is co-founder of a company called Serial Box along with Molly Barton, formerly Penguin's global digital director. And their vision one-ups mine with an important improvement: working with teams.

I am beyond tickled to say I've joined on to help write the second season of Bookburners, their flagship serial, along with a bunch of writers I'd been dying to work with already: Max Gladstone, Mur Lafferty, Margaret Dunlap, Brian Slattery, and now Amal El-Mohtar is also joining us!

And just wait until you see what the story is about. OMG.

Magic is real, and hungry—trapped in ancient texts and artifacts, only a few who discover it survive to fight back. Detective Sal Brooks is a survivor. Freshly awake to just what dangers are lurking, she joins a Vatican-backed black-ops anti-magic squad: Team Three of the Societas Librorum Occultorum. Together they stand between humanity and magical apocalypse. Some call them the Bookburners. They don’t like the label.

I can't wait until May to share Season 2 with you. But there's no reason you have to wait -- Season 1 is complete now, so feel free to go pick it up on Amazon or in the Serial Box app. Or if you hold your horses just a little while more, an omnibus edition for Season 1 should be available real soon. (I think?)

Strange Horizons

But if you want to do a little reading right now, have I got news for you! A piece on fitness games and New Year's resolutions went up on Strange Horizons yesterday -- and better yet, it's just the first in a column called Metagames that will be a critical look at the intersections between video games, culture, and genre fiction. 

This is an idea that followed from my piece about desire demons in Dragon Age a while back, and when they asked if I'd like to write about games more often, I jumped at the chance. This is going to be so great, you guys. So great!

So 2016 is still looking pretty sunny from a professional perspective. No complaints on the front! Now if only I could get my domestic sphere under control, too...

***

REVISION is a fast-paced, snarky science fiction thriller about a wiki where your edits come true, bad relationships, and burning that mofo to the ground.

Paperback ($14.99) | Kindle | Nook | iTunes | Kobo ($6.99)

“Tremendously enjoyable, Revision is a fluid, flexible, wonderfully dextrous debut, and I can’t wait to see what Phillips does next.” NPR Books

“Phillips poses hard questions about love, loyalty, personal identity, and truth, and her answers range from fascinating to horrifying.” “Her fresh voice will be very welcome in the SF world.” Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

Confusion 2016: Here I Come!

Confusion 2016 is coming! And it is a conference! In Detroit! (Actually in Novi, Michigan, so named because it was stop number six on the rail line. ...Wait for it...)

Best of all I am going to Confusion! And also I am on programming! And here is my schedule! I mean if you like that kind of thing.

Saturday 11am Crossing the Streams
Where are the lines in genre conventions and what happens when we cross them? What needs to happen to make something a crossover vs. a fusion? Do transmedia projects and genre fluidity benefit the genre? How does crossover in media experiences and production impact the kinds of stories we see on the screen?

Saturday 12pm There's an App For That?!
Is the ability to interact with online applications a determining factor of human productivity?  What are the benefits and pitfalls of app-based interactions with the world around you?

Saturday 2pm Any Similarity to Real People is Completely Coincidental
It's easy to pretend that made up worlds shrug off the bias and stereotypes of our reality. Orcs and Elves, Drow and Ogres, and dozens of other constructs grounded in bigoted world views say different. What can we learn from these mistakes? How do we keep these stereotypes from bleeding through into our made up worlds.

Saturday 3pm Something Something Self-Driving Cars
Listen I don't have the official description but I am on this panel and it is the one thing I session I super wanted to be on because I lurrrrrrve to talk about self-driving cars so come on by and see me get excited about not ever having to drive again!

Saturday 5pm Autograph Session 2
OMG I could sign things! Like books! Or postcards! Heck, I'll even sign someone else's books if you like!

Saturday 7pm The Aftermath of Canon
Star Wars recently relegated all of its Expanded Universe fiction to non-canon, which was tantamount to betrayal for many fans. Aftermath, a novel in the new canon, was met with many reviews that could not come to grips with a Star Wars that included gay characters. How well did Disney handle their canon situation? And is there a place for fiction that services its readers' bias?

Sunday 10am Singularity for the Rest of Us
Is post-humanism really as straight, white, and Western as it often seems? How can science fiction talk about post-body identities without diminishing or dismissing embodied identity and experience? This panel will discuss the stories out there that complicate the uploaded experience.

As you can see, Saturday is jam-packed, so if you want to say hi, maybe track me down Thursday or Friday? I'm just saying your odds of a quality schmooze will be way higher. And on that note: see you there!

***

REVISION is a fast-paced, snarky science fiction thriller about a wiki where your edits come true, bad relationships, and burning that mofo to the ground.

Paperback ($14.99) | Kindle | Nook | iTunes | Kobo ($6.99)

“Tremendously enjoyable, Revision is a fluid, flexible, wonderfully dextrous debut, and I can’t wait to see what Phillips does next.” NPR Books

“Phillips poses hard questions about love, loyalty, personal identity, and truth, and her answers range from fascinating to horrifying.” “Her fresh voice will be very welcome in the SF world.” Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

2015: So That Happened

Right. 2015! Dang. Just DANG, you guys.

While writing this post, I couldn't get over how much I've fit into twelve measly months. Things that happened in September already feel like they were a year ago, and last January might as well have happened in 2010. Or maybe 1999.

This has been an eventful year, to say the least. A year of spinning plates (and breaking some.) A year of oh-god-make-it-stop, please let me have two boring weeks in a row. Isn't that a thing? Don't people soemtimes have whole weeks where nothing very surprising happens? Months, even? I could swear I remember a time when life was like that.

Basically 2014 was a corker, and then 2015 decided that had looked like fun, so it kept up the pace. 

Work's Been Great

Let's start with the easy stuff: I'm not sure I've ever had a better year, professionally. Not even in the award-winning years. 

The big, big thing: I made my novel debut with Revision, which has been received better than I could possible have imagined. I got a few short stories and such published. And Lothian Airsoft, my ongoing client project, continues to sail along.

I also finished Lucy Smokeheart's Daring Adventures, at long last. And I polished off The Daring Mermaid Expedition, too -- a Lucy-world game/interactive novel that will be out in a matter of weeks. (OMG!)

I got a new agent! I sold A Creator's Guide to Taiwan! I went to World Fantasy Con and Phoenix Comicon! I taught a transmedia workshop in Austria, and briefly visited Vienna and Russia!

And perhaps best of all, I wrote a whole new book -- The Luck Eaters, née Felicity, which will be going on the market in a few weeks. And I also wrote a couple of novellas, which you'll be hearing more about before too much longer.

I knew it was going to be a red-letter year, but I didn't realize just how bright a red.


Personal Stuff Is More Complicated

But as lovely as the year has been professionally, my personal life has been characterized by... disruption, to put it kindly.

I came into January recovering from pneumonia, a process which was slow and not fully complete until this summer when I got some amaaaaaayyyyyzing new asthma drugs. (So amazing, in fact, that I now have an amount of energy I last saw in my late twenties.)

Then we figured out I have a kidney stone which is just going to sit there aching me for... probably ever. So I have that going for me.

We've pretty well concluded that my younger kid does not, in fact, have glaucoma, but my older kid has suffered bouts of mysterious and undiagnosed abdominal pain since April, which has been stressful for all of us. I'm spending easily a dozen hours a week dealing with phone calls and appointments for my sick child lately, because American healthcare freaking sucks.

We bat mitzvahed our daughter the same month Revision came out, which was wonderful and touching and we are simultaneously bursting with pride and so, so glad it's done. 

We got a new washer and dryer! Which was great except for the part where our new washing machine then broke for two full months before we could get it replaced, much less repaired. Along the way it leaked and damaged my laundry room walls and floors, and repairs are a work in progress. *looks at calendar* No seriously, the contractor says he might come by tomorrow. Or the next day.

But I didn't have skin cancer, not even one time! So that's nice?

Onward to 2016

The thing I've learned from 2015 is that too much going on in your life is hard, even if it's all great stuff. So my hope is for 2016 to be much more boring.

I need to finish up edits on The Luck Eaters in the next few weeks. And then The Daring Mermaid Expedition will be out -- and Circus of Mirrors, too. We'll be talking about those novellas! Maybe even Lothian Airsoft! I'm going to go on a cruise, which I've never done before! And maybe snorkeling, which I've also never done before! I might even sell The Luck Eaters to a publisher, and I hope to write at least one more book in 2016 -- and two is better. 

So 2016 looks pretty packed out of the gate, and my chances of a boring year aren't that great. But maybe I can get a boring month? Let's call if for March, OK? March, you're on notice. You'd better not let anything happen at all. Because jeez do I really, really need a break.

***

REVISION is a fast-paced, snarky science fiction thriller about a wiki where your edits come true, bad relationships, and burning that mofo to the ground.

Paperback ($14.99) | Kindle | Nook | iTunes | Kobo ($6.99)

“Tremendously enjoyable, Revision is a fluid, flexible, wonderfully dextrous debut, and I can’t wait to see what Phillips does next.” NPR Books

“Phillips poses hard questions about love, loyalty, personal identity, and truth, and her answers range from fascinating to horrifying.” “Her fresh voice will be very welcome in the SF world.” Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

Van Halen, M&Ms, and Accessibility Policies

Van Halen famously had a rider on their touring contract that stipulated there must be a bowl of M&Ms backstage -- with all the brown ones picked out. But despite appearances, this wasn't ego run amuck. That contract rider also had complex technical specifications for electrical systems, clearance, even how much weight the girders must be able to support.

Once Van Halen arrived to set up a show, any brown M&M was a quick red flag that the venue hadn't read the contract carefully, and so probably wasn't complying with those detailed technical requirements, either. And while a brown M&M might not be poison, those technical requirements were literal showstoppers. Electrical fires are not rock 'n roll.

This brings me to accessibility policies, and more specifically to Mary Robinette Kowal's pledge not to go to a convention that lacks such a policy. Seriously, stay with me.

Some years ago, John Scalzi made a similar pledge regarding harassment policies. At the time, I worried that participating would be damaging to my career -- when you're a tiny fish in a wide blue ocean, you have to take all the publicity you can get your grubby mitts on.

I've been to a lot more conventions since then, and here's what I've learned: the sort of convention that can't be bothered with a harassment policy is likely going to have serious organizational problems, weird politics, dull programming, or some combination thereof. It's true I'm very early in my career as an author, and I can't afford to miss out on promotional opportunities. 

But the flip side of that is that as an early-career author, I pay my own way to conventions. I have only so much time and money to give, and there are so many, many conventions. So I need to budget carefully to make sure I get the most bang for my promotional buck. I really can't afford to go to a lousy convention.

Which means harassment and accessibility policies are increasingly important to me -- not just because they're morally right, not just because of my leftist SJW politics. Even if you're not worried about harassment yourself, even if you're not worried about accessibility yourself, if those policies are missing, that should be your brown M&M. The sign that what you're dealing with is very likely to be a shitty convention. 

Sign the pledge.

***

REVISION is a fast-paced, snarky science fiction thriller about a wiki where your edits come true, bad relationships, and burning that mofo to the ground.

Paperback ($14.99) | Kindle | Nook | iTunes | Kobo ($6.99)

“Tremendously enjoyable, Revision is a fluid, flexible, wonderfully dextrous debut, and I can’t wait to see what Phillips does next.” NPR Books

“Phillips poses hard questions about love, loyalty, personal identity, and truth, and her answers range from fascinating to horrifying.” “Her fresh voice will be very welcome in the SF world.” Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)