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Report from Clarion San Diego: Great Writing, Purple Dye, Water Gun Battles, and Book Recs

Clarion--class shot 
(From L to R, front row: Dustin Monk, Jennifer Hsyu, Jennifer Hilt, Karin Tidbeck, Tamsyn Muir, Tom Underberg. Second row: Erin Gonzales, Adam Israel, Leah Thomas, LaTisha Redding, Dallas Taylor, Nick Farrar, Donald Wesling [director], Kai Ashante Wilson, Stacie Brown. Back row: John Chu, Greg Bossert, Laura Praytor, and Kali Wallace.)
 
Every year at the University of California, San Diego, the venerable Clarion Writers Workshop hosts 18  students interested in writing science fiction and fantasy. Clarion, along with Clarion West and Clarion South, is the most famous of all of the SF/fantasy writing workshops. For six weeks these 18 lucky souls get an intensive boot camp in writing. Every year, too, six instructors teach, one per week, with the last two weeks taught by a team. This year, my Hugo Award-winning wife Ann, editor of Weird Tales, and I were the week five and six teachers. The instructors the four prior weeks were Delia Sherman, George R.R. Martin, Dale Bailey, and Samuel Delany.

Six weeks is a long time to be together with seventeen strangers, but we found a group that seemed determined to not only grit out those last two weeks but do it in style, while having a bit of fun along the way. In addition to being perhaps one of the most talented Clarions, this was also one of the most diverse and included participants from as far away as Sweden and New Zealand.

"The group worked hard and played hard," Ann says. "We all learned from each other. The students showed remarkable spirit and I was impressed and inspired by the stories they wrote."

A big component of the Clarion tradition is the water gun fight, which not only is fun but also great stress relief. This year was no exception, and the results, as always, feature photos that look like outtakes from the Beastie Boys’ video for “Sabotage”.

Clarion--sabotage2 
(Clarion dorms, or outtake from "Sabotage"?)

In a new twist, though, there was also purple hair this year, with students Adam Israel and Leah Thomas taking the lead there, and then convincing Tamsyn Muir…which led to the infamous evening before the last day of the workshop when I somehow agreed to have my own hair dyed…

Me purple Clarion--tamsyn 
 (Me, purple-fied, and poor Tamsyn Muir with dyed hands.)
 
But the main focus of Clarion is, of course, writing and books. Not only did we read some great stories from writers who are the future of science fiction and fantasy, we also got some great reading recommendations. Here are a few of those recs, along with some additional photos.



Clarion--waterpistol shot 
(Survivors of the water gun battle...) 

Nick Farrar: “This isn't a sci-fi book, but The Good Soldiers by David Finkel is absolutely soul crushing. The best work of wartime journalism I've ever read--it's about a company of soldiers in Iraq during the surge.”

Jennifer Hsyu: “I’d like to recommend Brasyl by Ian McDonald, The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Etched City by KJ Bishop, and The Kingdom Beyond the Waves by Stephen Hunt.”

Dallas Taylor: “If I had to pick two, I'd have to say Roberto Bolano's 2666, and Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, which I'm about halfway through and absolutely loving.”

Clarion--John Chu 
(Some, like John Chu, disdained the use of water pistols, opting for water balloons instead.)


Karin Tidbeck: “Looking back at books I read the past year, I have two favorites: Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand, and The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan.”

Tom Underberg: “My two recommendations from the last year are (1)The Good Soldiers by David Finkel. Non-fiction. The story of a year with the 2-16 Infantry Battalion in Iraq during the Surge, told with the clarity and empathy it deserves. (2) Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. Fiction. Everything my father ever revealed about his tour in Vietnam brought into hallucinatory and microscopic focus. Marlantes served in Vietnam with the marines.”

Clarion--higher ground 
(Others, like Leah Thomas, sought out the high ground, but neglected some primary principles of camouflage.) 

Kai Ashante Wilson (the Octavia Butler Scholarship recipient): “Shantaram. Gregory David Roberts. Australian convict escapes into the Bombay underworld. Dude book. Long as hell, utterly thrilling adventures, back drop, characters. Five stars. Black Ships. Jo Graham. Retelling of the Aeneid. Completely human, completely readable, indelibly impressive. The prose is limpid and unforced. Images, the characters and their plights, are haunting; they just linger. Four stars.”

(Next up: Clarion’s trip to Stone Brewing Co., well-known to readers of this blog, and what transpired there.)

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