I’ve decided to apply for the Clarion workshop for sci-fi and fantasy writers. This means a lot of things. First, that there’s a good chance I’m insane. But second, and more importantly, that I need to submit two short stories as the bulk of my application. They have to be under 6,000 words each, which at the moment seems to be the hardest part for me, as two of my favorite short stories are significantly longer than this. I’m going to work with all of the stories I have on hand that even remotely fulfill the sff genre requirement.
This is the part where I ask for your help. Because first I have to pick the two stories that I’m going to focus on, and then I have to work with them, and in both of those stages I could really use a few (more than a few!) readers to provide me with feedback. I can’t underemphasize how important this is—how big an opportunity the Clarion workshop is. This is very close to being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
So how can you help? What I’d like for you to do, if you think you have the time to help me, is this. I know a lot of you have had my stories foisted upon you at one point or another. In a comment, tell me if you’ve read any of the following stories, and if there are any you’d particularly like to read. I’ll e-mail you stories you’re interested in, and you can read them and get them back to me as soon as possible—the deadline to submit an application is March 1. Also, if you have recommendations for which two I should focus on, that would be great.
Here’s a list of the stories that are under consideration for this, with synopses and a few of my own personal thoughts about what their strengths or weaknesses in relation to this application might be.
Staring Into Space
Synopsis: A young girl, Mikra, loves science fiction and longs for the stars but lives in a world where spaceflight has been given up as a waste of time and money. When Mikra finds herself in a first contact situation, however, she is presented with a unique opportunity to remind more than one species of the role that science fiction plays in encouraging scientific discovery.
Strengths: It’s a good sociological science fiction story that, I feel, has a lot to say about what I think about sf and what it can accomplish.
Weaknesses: It’s the first short story I ever wrote, and as such it feels a little immature to me. I’ve since revised it, but it’s still got a bit of that youthful naïveté to it. Whether this is a bad thing to anyone other than myself, I don’t know. Also, as a personal pet peeve, it changes POV two-thirds of the way through. I still haven’t found a way to tell the story effectively without the POV shift, but that’s physical evidence of what I’d call the immaturity of this story.
The Free Way
Synopsis: Steph is a normal high school girl who hates the torment she endures daily in her PE class. Seemingly by chance during one of her classes, she discovers an entrance into an odd alternate world that she initially finds accommodating, but whose restrictions become more apparent over time. Eventually she realizes that she wants to leave this mock-world behind, but it’s a harder job than she’s bargained for.
Strengths: I think this story has a lot to say for the way I think about fantasy as a genre. It’s a lot closer to magical realism than true fantasy, and I like that about it. It involves normal people who end up in the middle of something approximating an adventure, which is my favorite aspect of fantasy.
Weaknesses: It needs a complete rewrite. It was the second short story I ever wrote, and it’s almost completely the opposite of “Staring Into Space”: it’s long-winded and expansive with its descriptions where it probably doesn’t need to be. Also, it’s about 9,000 words long and would be a bitch to condense.
Cold War, Cold World
Synopsis: A discovery of militarily valuable material in Antarctica results in several scientists being held hostage. A crack military intelligence team is developed in order to retrieve the hostages, using the newfound material to aid them. This is all part of an ongoing war between a unified American bloc and an Asian bloc jockeying for power over control of polar resources. Told from the POV of Jorge Álvarez, a private with a knack for making things work who gets recruited to the intel team for his mechanical knowledge.
Strengths: It’s a more mainstream sci-fi piece than “Staring Into Space,” and a little more mature and complex as far as its plot goes.
Weaknesses: I just never really fell in love with it. It’s alright, but I don’t feel like there’s anything spectacular about it. Also, it’s not based on very strong science, and I feel like there’s a reason that my first attempt at hard sf didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. (Also, as a personal pet peeve, I don’t like the title.)
Fire and Ice
Synopsis: Told from the first-person POV of Aleska, a young woman in an isolated arctic society, this is a story of religious fanaticism taken too far. The settlement is governed by the Keepers of the Sacred Flame which the people worship, but the Keepers have been abusing their power to destroy any evidence of outsiders, including the isolation of anyone who questions their teachings (such as Aleska’s older brother).
Strengths: I finished “Cold War, Cold World” and then began on this immediately. To tell the truth, I fell in love with this story while I should have been ramping up the romance with “Cold War, Cold World.” And I think it shows. It’s complex, it shows rich worldbuilding abilities, and it’s really rather enthralling, if I do say so myself. My first major story about religious indoctrination and intolerance.
Weaknesses: It’s not quite science fiction or fantasy. In my head it’s sf because there’s a larger story behind the events of the plot as they’re understood by the main character and her society, but this doesn’t get revealed to the reader within the context of the short story. Also, it clocks in at around 7,500 words, and while it would be easier to slim this down than “The Free Way,” I feel like I’d have to lose more.
Synopsis: Set in ancient Alexandria, it’s the story of a small group of elektromancers, people who can control electricity. Leading this group is Hypatia, who must alternately train new talent in the form of a young and foolhardy man named Lysander, and keep their shared powers a secret from the city’s growing Christian community that sees elektromancers as heretics. When Hypatia exposes her abilities in order to save a life, the repercussions are further-reaching than she expects.
Strengths: I’m more in love with this than I thought I would be. There are parts of it that I honestly enjoy, most specifically the characters and the concept of elektromancy. I think it’s a strong and unique fantasy story that would give a good sense that I’m capable of breaking out of the swords-and-sorcery box that so many young fantasy writers find themselves stuck within.
Weaknesses: The prose style seems pretty minimalist—get the job done and get out. There’s no beautiful language, no turns of phrase that still ring through my head, not even a single scene that I find immensely stirring or compelling. It doesn’t have low points as a story, but I’m not sure it has high points, either.
Just so we’re clear, when I say I’ll love you forever if you help me with this, I mean it. People like Neil Gaiman are going to be teachers at this thing! Eighteen students are accepted, and I really think that I can be one of them, but it’ll mean a lot of work, and the more people I can get to help me with this, the better.
Well, now I’m off to dig up old contact lists of everyone I ever knew to ask them to help me with this!