In 1986 I spent six glorious summer weeks at the Clarion West Writers Workshop. I went to class Monday through Friday to study with six science fiction and fantasy writers and editors: Ed Bryant, Suzy McKee Charnas, Particia McKillip, Joan Vinge, Norman Spinrad, and David Hartwell. (I had to quit my job to go.) From this experience I learned that I had little future as a science fiction and fantasy writer, so I fell back on Plan B, which was to grow up to become John Updike.

That didn’t work either, but I still treasure my Clarion experience. (Loyal Reader Linda was one of the logistical wizards who ran Clarion that year, so let me thank you again, Loyal Reader Linda, for your most excellent work.) Clarion runs a Write-a-thon along the lines of National Novel Writing Month to help raise money for the workshop. This event is also a good way to force yourself to write faster, dammit.

I just signed up for this year’s Write-a-thon, which runs from June 23 to August 2 (concurrently with the workshop). Here’s my Write-a-thon site. Contribute if you feel like supporting literature, or just follow along. I’ll report my progress in this blog.

No, I am not writing a science fiction or fantasy novel. It’s not something Updike would’ve written, either, as I’ve replaced all the sex with trains. Just kidding. All the sex is on a train. With aliens. Which reminds of a class I took two years ago in how to write erotica. The instructor, a woman, wrote supernatural/science fiction erotica. She told me that the number-one question she received after reading a story in public (usually at a sex shop) was, “Did that really happen to you?” She had to restrain herself from saying something like, “Why yes, my boyfriend is a centaur.”

Write on!

Random Pick of the Week
The Charlottes, Things Come Apart (1991)
Includes their cover of “Venus.” You may remember from the original by Shocking Blue (who were Dutch) and the dynamite interpretation by Bananarama (English) that this is a voice-driven song. The Shocking Blue’s singer, Mariska Veres, had enough sex appeal to swamp Britney Spears, plus she was singing in a foreign language, plus she sounds like a man. Bananarama, of course, had those three pure-pop-voiced women.

Mariska Veres
Mariska Veres circa 1970

Bananarama circa 1986. In 1980 they sang back-up in concert for The Nipple Erectors.

The Charlottes (another English band) don’t even let their unnamed singer into the song for the first 50 seconds, and when she does join in she’s an island of calm. Or she’s lost at sea. You pick. They turn “Venus” into a guitar rally that stops cold around the 4-minute mark, then rises from the dead and moseys along for another 2 minutes. This song should be cut in half or doubled! The strangest thing of all is that I find myself air-drumming along rather than air-guitaring. The rest of these songs sound like outtakes from “Venus,” except for “Beautify,” which shows some restraint, and “By My Side,” which takes up almost 10 minutes of this odd album.

Random Pan of the Week
Various artists, Cinnamon Girl: Women Artists Cover Neil Young for Charity (2008)
The Neil Young presented here is frozen in the 1970s, with a heavy concentration on Harvest and After the Gold Rush. There’s not much you can do with marathons like “Cowgirl in the Sand” and “Down By the River” (basically the same song), though a couple of women try, one on the banjo. Nobody takes on “Cortez the Killer,” which I suppose was disqualified for its title.

Kate York’s “Comes a Time” and Louise Post’s “Sugar Mountain” stand out. (Post co-founded female alt-pioneers Veruca Salt.) The rest of these interpretations sound alike or are way too country for me, everyone strumming away and treating Mr. Young with reverence. As if he’d encourage that – this is the guy who was delighted when Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote “Sweet Home Alabama” in response to “Southern Man.” For collectors only.

  1. dovalonso says:

    Nice post Steve.


  2. I’ll be in the mix with you for the Write-a-thon! My hope, if I can live long enough, is to save enough money and get accepted for the actual Clarion West Workshop.

    Wow…Bananarama! That brings back a lot of MTV memories. Thanx!

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Good luck, Jeffrey, and I hope you get to Clarion someday. It’s a worthwhile experience at any age, though my guess is that the older you are, the more you’ll value it.

      I want my MTV!

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