Les Semaines

July 6, 2008

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: old journal

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Second Week of Clarion West 2008

Mary Rosenblum was a terrific instructor to follow Paul Park. She's one of Clarion West's graduates, and has built a reputation for strong, humane hard science fiction, a mystery series, and for her award-winning short stories. She helped move the students into our usual Milford-style workshop critiquing. She's a smart critiquer, and very good at taking stories for what they aspire to be and helping point the way toward that goal. I really enjoyed hearing her critiques.

Her reading on Tuesday night was great--she read an alternate history mystery story from a new anthology of them. Hers was set in a Mexico where Europeans and disease hadn't wiped out the native population, and where as well the Chinese explorers had had a greater impact. It was a delightful story: clever, with fascinating details woven in throughout.

The week was capped by something horrible that brought out something wonderful: while the students were in class downstairs, someone broke into the third floor of the house where our students are living and stole four laptops and some personal effects. I feel terrible for the students--some lost work, some lost family photos, some have had to go online and change passwords, etc. It has been a harrowing experience for them--more than just annoying, because a laptop while you're at the workshop is almost as important as a hand. Not only do you write on it and use it to mail your story to Kinko's, but it's also your lifeline to home and your personal support network.

The students are all upset, of course, but trying hard not to let it ruin their time at the workshop. The wonderful part is how the community responded. One of the students (who wasn't involved) blogged about the event, and people picked it up and rallied around with offers of computer loaners and office supplies, and donations to start a replacement fund. There were lots of queries, so we posted on our website and other friends of Clarion West posted on theirs, and within 48 hours of the theft we had enough in donations to replace the laptops.

What an amazing, heartwarming conclusion. The students still have lost what they've lost, but the support, both emotional and financial, has been mind-blowing.

Thanks, everyone, for doing what you could, whether you helped spread the word, sent a message of support to the class, are watching ebay and craigslist and all to see if we can catch the perpetrators, offered a loaner, or made a donation to replace the computers. The way the community is rallied around really helped the students feel that they're not alone in this. The support means a lot: to them, and to Clarion West (and to me!)

One thing it has made me see is that people really understand how intense attending Clarion West is, and what the students were going through already when they had the additional stress of this invasion of their workshop home. The sympathy and support has been really affecting. This is such a generous, responsive community. I'm in awe.

As I type this, Leslie has the affected students with her to buy them new laptops. We're also going to make certain they have both the software and hardware to keep writing (and lock-down cables). It's possible that donations may exceed what we need to do this, and if so, we will be returning them proportionally to the donors.

All I can say is thank you. Wow.

In personal news: today is Jim's birthday. We had dinner and cake last night with Karen and Barry and will be having sushi then cake with the family and neighbours tonight. If you want to wish him a happy birthday, you can email him at jmg @ zipcon . com (remove the spaces).

last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing

Listening

I am still listening to and enjoying Portishead's Third. It's such a powerful collection. The percussion is amazing and of course all the Portishead strengths are still there (Beth Gibbons' mournful lyrics and vocals, the songwriting, etc. A great return-to-form/growth album after a long wait.

last week's listening § next week's listening

Reading

I've been checking in on Robert Rummel-Hudson's journal for years--I think since its first incarnation, and certainly since its second. His first book, Schuyler's Monster: A Father's Journey with His Wordless Daughter, is his memoir about his daughter, who has a rare brain disease that can cause multiple problems, one of which is that she is unable to speak. She hears and understands, but cannot form words to reply. It's alternately heartbreaking and heartwarming, and always a good read. He doesn't gloss over any of the pain or personal mistakes--nor does he unnecessarily dwell on them, and he (and Schuyler too) has a wicked sense of humour. A good and fascinating read of a ongoing real-life journey.

I wasn't sure when I started Gail Carson Levine's young adult novel Ever--it took a while to build some depth--but gradually I began to really enjoy the characters and story. Olus, the young god of the winds, has been watching Kezi, a young human weaver, for a while when suddenly she is doomed to die as a sacrifice to Kezi's people's god. Then, of course, they have to try to figure out how to avert that fate. I ended up finding this more and more involving, and in the end really liked it.

Cassandra Clare's young adult fantasy novel City of Ashes is the second in her The Mortal Instruments series. This is a strong follow-up to the first, though again a little more characterization (though through accretion I'm getting more of the main character, Clary) and a stronger sense of the arrow of the plot (so things seem a little less arbitrary, especially the frequent meetings) would help this. Still, it's easy to ignore those problems and get carried away by the action. I do enjoy this, and I think I liked this one even more than the first.

E. Lockhart, Sarah Mlynowski, and Lauren Myracle collaborated on How To Be Bad, a young adult novel about three girls who go on a road trip. It's the standard plot of a series of events causing teenagers to learn things about themselves and grow up a little, but it was well-done and fun.

Sarah Prineas's children's novel The Magic Thief is delightful. When a young street-smart pickpocket lifts a wizard's magic focus stone, it should have killed him. When it didn't the bemused wizard takes him on as an apprentice. The wizard had been banished from the city years before, but had been called back because the city's magic is ebbing, and he's the only one who understands enough about the nature of magic to help stop this. The apprentice of course gets swept up in these events, and learns how useful his talents--both the magic ones and those he has learned on the streets--can be. Great fun.

Tera Lynn Childs' young adult oh. my. gods. fantasy begins when cross-country runner Phoebe's widowed mother returns from a brief trip to her father's homeland, Greece, engaged to be married and planning to sweep Phoebe away with her. Reluctantly leaving her home and friends, Phoebe tries to make her way on a remote Greek island in an exclusive school where not only does she know no one but her superior new step-sister, but where all the students in the school are descendants of varying degrees of the Greek gods. A little too predictable and clumsily resolved, this still had fun moments, and the running details especially seemed very real.

last week's reading § next week's reading

Writing

Saturday was our writing retreat, and even in the midst of a flood of messages about the theft, I managed to draft a new poem about a feast bowl I saw in the Neah Bay Museum in May and to tinker with a couple of other projects.

Karen also gave me feedback on the new novel, and I was thrilled by how much she seemed to like it. She also gave me the tough love about the work I have to do, but you know, I was so thrilled to hear about the things that she thought worked, that I don't find the work I have to do all that daunting. I mean, it's not going to be easy, but what I thought worked did work for her, and there was only one thing I thought I had pulled off that wasn't clear enough. The rest are things I knew weren't quite there yet. It's so reassuring to hear that I'm getting to be a much better judge of my own work, at least for this project.

Earlier in the week I also managed to push around the salmon poem enough that I have a first draft. I know it needs more work but now I think that the basics are there.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: old journal

I think it's going to be a while yet before I have time to be retrospective again.

last week's old journal § next week's old journal

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