Pay in advance for speculative fiction

Build a foundation for the next wave of speculative fiction by supporting the Clarion West Write-a-thon. Find out what 200 writers are doing this summer to raise money for the Clarion West Writers Workshop.

woman reading a book with colors emerging

Summer is early in Seattle, and I’m getting a head start on my annual summer project.

No, not gardening! The Clarion West Write-a-thon. What’s that, you ask?

Clarion West, along with its sister program, Clarion in San Diego, is renowned as the world’s pre-eminent workshop for emerging writers of speculative fiction. (“Spec fic” covers everything from the magic realism that Junot Diaz writes for The New Yorker to George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones to classic science fiction novels like Starship Troopers and fantasy like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Quite a range.)

This year Clarion West accepted 18 students from across the world, most of them recent college graduates. They were chosen based on the quality of their writing. If they follow in the footsteps of previous Clarion West graduates, more than a third of the Class of 2015 will go on to publish professionally. Many of them will be nominated for — and win — major awards in the field of speculative fiction.

For the students, the six-week Clarion West residential workshop is a full-immersion, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Many of the students have left their jobs to attend, borrowed money from family and friends to pay for travel, and several of them are receiving support from Clarion West’s scholarship program.

How You Can Get Involved

If you are a speculative fiction reader, I encourage you to underwrite the next wave of speculative fiction by supporting Clarion West, its scholarships, and its operations (run by a part-time staff and a cadre of volunteers).

The Clarion West Write-a-thon seeks donations at all levels, from $5 to $1000. (Many donors divide their donations, giving $5 or $10 through each of a dozen or more writers’ pages.)

Meet the Writers

The Write-a-thon harnesses the power of some 200 writers, people at all stages of their careers, who form a “shadow workshop.” While the six-week workshop for the Class of 2015 is underway, the Write-a-thon participants work to meet their own goals. Each of these writers has created a Write-a-thon page where you can read an excerpt of their work and see the goals they’ve set for writing and for raising money for Clarion West.

Many of the writers are offering incentives to sponsors who donate through their pages. You can browse the writers, or search for your writer friends, here:

You’ll find folks including Aliette de Bodard, Helena Bell, Steve Miller, Henry Lien, Kelly Sandoval, Usman Malik, Eileen Gunn, J.M. Sidorova, Randy Henderson, E. Lily Yu, Pat Cadigan, Mark Teppo, Nisi Shawl, Paul Park, Neile Graham, Julie McGalliard, Caroline M. Yoachim, Helen Marshall, Curtis Chen, Rachel Swirsky, Kris Millering, and this year’s Worldcon Guest of Honor, Vonda N. McInytre. You’ll find Viable Paradise workshop graduates, include Beth Morris Tanner, Spencer German Ellsworth — and me.

TIP: Be sure to read Eileen Gunn’s writing sample, a flash-fiction piece about a time-traveling necktie collector.

Become a Sponsor — and My Muse

What am I’m doing for this year’s Write-a-thon? After spending the past six months submitting stories to magazines and anthologies (I’ve sold three stories, which will be published this fall), I’m going to spend the Write-a-thon focusing solely on new writing. I’ll be writing six stories for the Write-a-thon — and my plan includes opportunities for the people who sponsor me to act as “muses” for those works.

Please visit my Clarion West Write-a-thon page to find out more. And, of course, to donate!

What would you like to see happen?

“What would you like to see happen?”

thinking businessmanAsk yourself that question. Chances are you’ll look into the distance and, unless you are irredeemably cynical, a glimmer of something highly satisfactory will catch your eye.

Now try asking that question to someone else. The results can be magical, as I’ll explain.

A few years back, when I was doing PR in an old-school, corporate environment, I arrived at work early one morning to find that someone had left a bomb on my chair. It was a page ripped from our latest newsletter, with a paragraph circled in red ink, and the following message scribbled in the margin:

“WRONG. Call me immediately!”

It was signed with the initials of Madame X, our fearsome director of finance.

My heart sank and my blood pressure soared. I picked up my phone but had the sense to call not Madame X but the manager of our customer service department. I confided in her what was going on. (I remember that I was so nervous I was afraid to sit down in my chair.)

“Yep, that’s Madame X, all right,” the customer service director said with a sympathetic laugh. “Don’t panic. Here’s what you to do: When we hang up, call her. She’ll come storming over to your office, stand in your door way, and give you hell. Whatever you do, don’t interrupt her while she’s talking. Don’t argue, don’t apologize. Just listen. When she stops talking, look her in the eye and say. “OK. What do you want to see happen?”

“That’s it?”

“Yup,” the customer service manager said. “She’ll tell you, and then you just do it.”

I followed her directions. Madame X appeared in my doorway so fast I thought she’d been teleported into the building. She did, indeed, give me hell.

As she was talking, I had visions of her asking me to resign or demanding that the entire 16-page newsletter be reprinted, with a correction, and sent to our thousands of clients. I had to stop myself from offering up one of those solutions as she ranted along for 10 minutes.

But when she stopped, I looked her in the eye and said, “OK. What do you want to see happen?”

“Oh,” she said, looking surprised. “Well, actually, nothing. I just wanted you to know how I felt.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well. Thank you. It was helpful.”

Madame X left, looking a bit stunned, and I sank into my chair for the first time that morning. When I recovered, I ordered flowers for the manager of customer service.

Since then, I’ve used this technique dozens of times in really sticky situations. The results have been nothing short of miraculous. In many cases, what could have been a destructive argument transformed instantly into a problem solving session. In other cases, the person just wandered off like Madame X. (It’s worth noting that Madame X later became a friend of mine.)

I’ve been meaning to share this technique for quite a while. What motivated me to write about it today was that I tried it recently and it failed to resolve the situation. My conclusion from that failure was that this is a tactic that works better in person than it does in email. But a 99% success rate isn’t bad.

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