a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Humor: Clarion West Writers' Workshop TShirt

Friday, June 12, 2020

Humor: Clarion West Writers' Workshop TShirt

SUMMARY: Humor: Clarion Tshirt list unraveled
Backfill: Talking about July/August 1998.

[ ... I'm imagining creating a series of "TShirt stories" about how I got each one, what it means, background...   along with all of my other grandiose projects that I never complete. But it's a thought...]

T-shirt front. Disclaimer: I made the shirts using clip-art and a limited number of fonts, delivered to a local tshirt shop for overnight printing.

In 1998, I and 16 other curated nonprofessional fiction writers assembled in Seattle for Clarion West's annual six-week 24/7  (well--mostly unstructured time with assignments) intensive writing workshop (primarily science fiction/fantasy). We wrote stories. We critiqued each others' stories. At the end, we collaborated on a class t-shirt displaying words and phrases from our critiques, stories, and experience to enjoy for the future.

Background for the t-shirt content, if you want to read it
(Otherwise, skip to  the funny part, "Things that I think anyone might find amusing")

Our lives at Clarion West—

Partial afternoons, evenings, weekends:

  • Writing new stories (not editing previously existing ones). You were encouraged to write one new story a week; some did many more. I wrote 10 in 6 weeks, some did only one or two. Some wrote extensively (Eric was the champion at longer, complex ones, amazed me), some wrote tiny ones.
  • Printing 18 copies of your story if you want it critiqued.
  • Reading others’ manuscripts handed out in that morning’s class, marking the manuscripts and/or typing your comments.  To be ready by the next morning. We critiqued perhaps 4 or 5 stories a day on average?

Weekday mornings in “class”, with a different successful writer or editor(6) as the instructor/guide each week, doing the following:
  • learning new things from instructor, 
  • receiving story copies from others for you to review that night, 
  • going around the table to speak the critiques that you wrote the previous night for yesterday’s handed-out stories.
I loved the critiques--of my stories and of others'-- so helpful, sometimes exceptionally deep or thoughtful, sometimes quite entertaining. The rule: focus on the story, not on the writer, to avoid thoughtless, hurtful comments. I think we did reasonably well.

All during the six weeks, we collected lines from peoples' stories or from critiques or from conversations outside class to put onto a T-shirt at the end (a Clarion and Clarion West tradition). We added dozens. In retrospect, we probably should have cut the list in half at least—many other classes used only a line or two. But-- we didn't. So here’s what we added.

Because the t-shirt is hard to read, I have grouped the content to make better sense to outside readers and easier to enjoy. I hope.

With footnotes.

I wanted it to look like typewriter typing, because that's essentially the font we all used for our stories.
 In retrospect, a different one would make it easier to read. Another learning experience!

Things that I think anyone might find amusing

From comments/critiques – suggestions

  • The story is too long because it has too many sentences
  • Add more sucking and clacking noises
  • Kill somebody with something really violent and gross, but in a humorous way
  • It doesn’t hold together as a certain kind of story because it isn’t that kind of story
  • You’ve got to take your clothes off if you want to kill aliens
  • You should make the cow a llama
  • We need more smell of urine
  • It has a heart and a soul, now give it a skeleton
  • Souls can be kept in jars; I have several
  • I think the story would work if you took out the main premise

From comments/critiques – things that aren’t clear or don’t work

  • I thought it was about menstruation
  • I didn’t understand that, because I’m a human
  • What did he do without a head for six months?
  • Doctors can’t drink human blood, can they?
  • We have no problem with quantum-wormhole-digging, fruit-craving dogs, but we do have a problem with a writer getting $800 for a recipe
  • Even the soulless have memories--and a house in the country
  • Where are the cops’ uniforms? Are they naked in the zeitgeist?
  • Why should our primal unconscious force throw blue sparks?
  • You hung some smelly garbage on the wall, but it didn’t stop anyone from going to college (1)

From comments/Critiques – praise

  • They’re all about sex, and I like that

From comments/Critiques – damned by faint praise

  • Congratulations for taking the risk (2)
  • I’m sorry I can’t be more negative
  • I’d like to offer a kinder, gentler ditto (3)
  • It’s shit, but you can fix it
  • Maybe your dictionary’s bigger than mine
  • In the Picking of Nits Department...
  • Who can tell me what happened in this story?

Responses to comments/critiques

  • I feel crucified, but in a good way

From comments/critiques – story issues that inspired smart alecks

  • We have come from the stars--and we can make ice!
  • Nice weather we’ve been having--for the past 1,000 years
  • I’ll be surly, he’ll be tired, and you can be oblivious
  • If Jesus, Freud, and Marx got on an elevator...
  • A metaphor for the Clarion experience (4)
  • A baby knocking around in zero g is a dangerous thing
  • I pictured you writing this sitting at your computer in a black negligee
  • Militant fish-eating lesbian nuns

Things that would mean something only to us probably

Maybe other Clarion Westers:
  • Paul Park would understand this
  • Hug the toad
  • Ditto, or the toad gets it! (3)
Clarion West 1998 only:
  • Überzeitgeist
  • Golden warbitch
  • Calzone
  • A cheery squat
  • Raise the textual sension
  • He would periodically become wedged against a brick
  • Never kill the dog
  • Strike a pose of--
  • Pornbot!
  • Braising the steaks
  • Vike! Vike!
  • Fly and be free, little technology!
  • Our Gigotte Mind


(1)   From the oft-cited rule about describing a story’s environment: If you hang a gun on the wall, you’d better use it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chekhov%27s_gun
(2)   Because it’s a workshop, we’re encouraged to try things that we haven’t tried and to be daring in our creativity, in other words, take a risk.  If all you can say about a story or part of a story is that the writer indeed took a risk, it’s a hint that maybe it didn’t work. This comment occurred more than once. Sometimes with great hilarity.
(3)   Rule is, don’t repeat what others have already said, but if you must say that you agree with something, just say “ditto”.
(4)   Became more amusing over time as it was repeated for many stories and discussions during the 6 weeks.
(5)   It was far, far from boring, but this was a speculation that, because our ages tended older rather than a more usual younger group, and because we did what we needed to do for class so didn’t spend a lot of evenings in hard partying, and because there were no traumatic human dramas occurring, and we always showed up for class, we must therefore be boring.
(6) Our instructors: Connie Willis, Gardner Dozois, Paul Park, George R.R.Martin, Lucy Sussex, and Carol Emshwiller. Wow wow wow!
Photo Credit: RS Blum
  • Clarion West 1998 with Gardner Dozois (far right), like a god to me! Best Editor award winner for many years for his Best Of anthologies and for Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, which itself (and many stories published there) collectively won dozens upon dozens of awards  under his editorship.
  • (Me right behind him. With camera neck strap. After this workshop, I did dog agility.)
Some classmates who published after the workshop--several of whom have been  nominated for or won major awards:
  • In red shirt, Daniel Abraham, author of many novels and stories and coauthor of The Expanse books and TV series.
  • Back row left, Diana Rowland, author of White Trash Zombie books and paranormal detective books.
  • In front of her, Tamela Viglione, published novels and stories as well.
  • Center, blue/white stripes, Ruth Nestvold, writes in German and English, published in academia and fiction and does translations, 2-volume reworking of the Tristan/Iseulde story with rich characters.
  • Front row, 2nd from left (tan shirt), Eric Witchey, extremely prolific fiction writer (mostly short stories) and popular fiction workshop instructor.
  • Far left, Susan Fry. Edited a speculative fiction magazine for a while. Published a few stories.
  • Others: All amazing, fascinating people, some also with publications or awards as well since then (and some before then, too). Others with super accomplishments outside the world of fiction. .

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