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Clarion West Write-A-Thon: Catching Up With Participant K. Tempest Bradford

Some of the biggest and most interesting names in science fiction and fantasy have come out of the Clarion workshops, including writers like Cory Doctorow, Bruce Sterling, Andy Duncan, and Justina Robson. I went to Clarion East in 1992, and it had a huge impact on my own career.

Currently, Clarion West (Seattle) is in the middle of its annual write-a-thon, during which volunteers take sponsorship donations in return for writing and revising their fiction from June 21 through July 31. Since Amazon has given Clarion West a matching grant of $25,000 for all donations through October 31, the write-a-thon is particularly potent this year. For a full list of participants, click here.

I'm sponsoring writer K. Tempest Bradford in the write-a-thon. Tempest attended Clarion West in 2003 and currently belongs to two New York City-based fiction writing groups: Altered Fluid and the Black Beans. Her fiction has appeared in Abyss & Apex, Farthing Magazine, Strange Horizons, Sybil's Garage, Electric Velocipede, Podcastle and the Federations (ed. John Joseph Adams) and Interfictions (eds. Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss) anthologies. She contributes blog posts, essays, columns and features to, Fantasy Magazine, the Carl Brandon Society blog, the FeministSF Blog, and The Angry Black Woman. I caught up with Tempest recently to see how the write-a-thon was going, discuss Clarion West, and talk to her about her work...

           Tempest-fan This isn't the first time you've participated in the write-a-thon. Is there a difference this time?

K. Tempest Bradford: Each Write-a-thon is different because I usually set different goals. Sometimes I set out to write a story a week, or to write a chapter a week, etc. This time I'm revising a story a week. Each year I also attract more sponsors, which is amazing and wonderful, but also puts more pressure on me. I'm sure some people would donate money regardless of whether I reach my goals, but the point is to motivate myself as well as raising money. This year I have over $1800 riding on my meeting my goals, so I can't even think of slacking off. What would you say are the major themes in your fiction?

K. Tempest Bradford: My early fiction tended to be about lonely, brilliant girls who were quietly special and had a chip on their shoulder. I wrote enough of those stories to divest myself of that particular theme (I hope). Many writers mine the past for those incidents that left deep scars on their psyches.  One of my big ones was my mother's death. I've been working though that in my writing since before I went to Clarion West. In fact, my sixth week story was about a daughter unable to let go of her dead mother. Then a couple of years later I wrote "Elan Vital" and was finally able to say everything I needed to say on that subject. I also used to write a lot of stories that were overtly based on my studies of mythology and history. As I write more I still have those elements in my writing, but they're more integrated with my other interests and inspirations. What writers have influenced you the most?

K. Tempest Bradford: As relates to my actual writing, it all depends on who I've been reading lately. I once read somewhere that one's writing can only be as good as the books or stories one has read in the last six months. I want to say Samuel Delany wrote that. Lately I've read a lot of fiction for the Tiptree jury, some of which really blew me away. When taking a break from that, I indulged in Jane Austen, Scott Westerfeld, China Mieville, and Catherynne Valente.

But if we go back to the writers that helped form my idea about what fiction could be, I would have to choose Octavia Butler, Nancy Kress, and Connie Willis. I read part of [Butler's] Kindred in high school and it affected me so much I could not finish it at the time. I'd never read a book that spoke so clearly to me and also scared me. I completely identified with Dana; thus, every bad thing that happened to her struck me hard. While that book was difficult, I was also wildly impressed with Butler's ability to do that to me. I never knew science fiction could be so gut-punching and real. Why is Clarion West important?

K. Tempest Bradford: So many reasons. And different for different writers. I think one of the main reasons is that a lot of people don't often have the chance to devote a significant chunk of their time to writing immersion. Where your main concern is writing, talking about writing, learning about writing. Some people find that in graduate writing programs, but many of them aren't very genre-friendly. At least two of the students in my class were also in MFA programs and still found value in the workshop.

Workshops and critique groups in general can be good for writers. I know some people disagree, and it's highly individual, but my experience is mostly positive. Before I went to Clarion West I belonged to the Online Writing Workshop (which used to be the Del Rey workshop) and was very involved in the community there. I grew as a writer because of the feedback I received. More importantly, it was my gateway into the wider SF writing community. I never would have attended WorldCon without knowing that OWW folks would be there. I would never have known about dozens of other conventions at all. And when my writing skill had plateaued (in my estimation), I went to Clarion West and got to the next level. For many people, Clarion West is their first workshop or community experience. That's just as important, I think, as the writing advice. How is the writing going so far for the challenge? What's the toughest part of it?

K. Tempest Bradford: Right now it's good, but it's also only the first week! I chose an easy story to work on for this one, just to warm myself up. Next week I'm going to tackle a story that needs an almost complete re-write. The toughest part is synthesizing the advice from my crit group with my own instincts--that's always toughest for me. You don't want to accept every bit of advice and file all the rough edges of the story or lose your own voice, but you do want to pay attention to what folks have said doesn't work. Luckily, I have a lot of practice at this. How do you think the SF/fantasy field will be different in a decade?

K. Tempest Bradford: I hope that there will be a lot more writers of color on the shelves. I would be great if the major publishing houses stepped it up a bit in this regard, but I suspect that the trend of de-centralization will make it so that this won't be a pre-condition...It's been said for many years that eBooks will replace paper books "any day now" and yet we've not had this amazing revolution. However, I do think we're really close...though I don't see paper books going away as fast as CDs seem to be. Though the major publishers and editors in the field may not be up to embracing this trend and the implications, SF readers are all too ready to do so. I would love to see authors taking cues from musicians in the way they get their work out there. Of course it won't ever work exactly the same way, but I'm hoping we'll be able to erase some of the old stigmas and prejudices attached to non-mainstream and currently accepted modes of publishing. Outside of the write-a-thon, what are you working on?

K. Tempest Bradford: I'm very, very behind on a children's book I'm writing for CatsCurious Press, so I'm also chipping away at that. I also have a few short stories patiently waiting for their turn in the queue. Plus, I have a YA novel that needs a complete rework which I've promised to send to interested parties. I absolutely have to finish that up by the end of summer, so as I complete my write-a-thon goals I spend some time working on it.


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