You must not be afraid to go there.
This declaration tops my framed poster of Erik Nelson’s documentary of the life and wonders of Harlan Ellison, DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH. The poster was signed by Harlan Ellison, and gifted to me by a good friend, and is one of the inspirations I am taking with me to Clarion West in less than two weeks as I write this.
Afraid to go where? says you.
Let me tell you a story, says I.
In my mortal guise, I am a happily married, 42-year old mother of two teen-aged sons with special needs, an avid reader, and a rabid chocoholic (we all have our crosses to bear; mine is bittersweet). As a child, I wanted to tell stories. While other children nurtured dreams of becoming doctors, housewives, or astronauts, I wanted to tell stories. Not that I had a word for my dream at that age, or even knew what a writer was beyond the name beneath the title of the stories the teachers read out loud in class, but I knew I had too many “what ifs?” and “then whats?” not to share. Encouraged by teachers and family too busy to sit and listen, I found a pencil and notebook and have been scribbling ever since.
In the four years I have been writing in earnest as an adult, the various Clarion seminars were my Holy Grail: desired; honored; forever out of reach. You see, I knew for a fact without knowing anything at all that only the finest writers were chosen to attend the Clarion seminars, and I was nothing more than a wife and mother hoping to someday share my dreams with others. I didn’t have a chance of scaling that peak, and was content to settle for the Krummholz formations of the literary tree line until two years ago when I attended a Clarion West panel at Norwescon. Hands on symbolic hips, my dreams faced down my fears of inadequacy and said, “Are you a writer or not? Take a chance.” And much like a certain fellow entertaining dwarves and a bearded wizard in a hole that meant comfort, so began my adventure.
I mailed my application packet to Clarion West, fretted, worried, and drove both myself and my husband to testy distraction until the rejection letter came in the mail three months later. I would not be attending Clarion West in 2009.
I was disappointed, crushed might be a better word for it, but I didn’t let the weight of it keep me from writing. Read, write, and write more, there was nothing else to it. In the year that followed, I challenged myself to play with new styles, dare uncomfortable subjects, and take that next step into the lands of “How?”, “What?”, and “Why?” I measured progress a sale at a time, once even to a professional market, and in the quality of the rejection notices that assured me my stories were well written but didn’t meet the market’s needs at this time, thank you, best wishes, keep writing.
With the opening of the submission period for the Clarion West class of 2010, I had to decide which held more sway over my life, my dreams or my fears? With my husband’s love and a promise not to get testy, I chose to dream rather than cower and submitted what I felt were my best works to date. A month’s worth of nail biting later, I got the call – I’d made the cut and would be joining 17 other hearty souls for a summer of dreams, sweat, and cheers. I was going to Clarion West.
Since hanging up from that fateful call, the clock ticks months into weeks, into days, hours, minutes. Soon I’ll pack six weeks of my life into the back of the family van and head to Seattle for a last lingering kiss from my husband, yet. . .
I see you glancing at the first line. S’okay. . .
I’m not afraid to go there. This time fear works for me, not against me. My dreams and fears now stand arm in arm behind me, urging me to take that next step and the one after, to take chances, fail and pick myself up again, to explore the burnished recesses where focus and dedication forge talent into, well, who knows? Dreams. Fears. Fancies. I have six weeks to figure it out.
I prefer to be comfortable with my writing, but loathe to be comfortable in my writing. Clarion West promises to be the toughest six weeks I’ll ever love. It won’t be easy; I don’t want easy. Nothing worth having ever is. I want to go there, to the lands of “How?”, “What?”, and “Why?”, and Clarion West is another piece of the map. Will I make it? I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. My greatest wish for each of you reading this far is that you have a similar goal in your life that stirs such passions. Don’t be afraid to go there.