Friday, August 07, 2009

Weekend Assignment: #279: This Changes Everything!

Following on from last night's entry:

Weekend Assignment: #279: At one time or another, we've all had some kind of good news, expected or unexpected, that made a big difference in our lives, or at least gave us a sense that things were getting better. Tell us of such an incident.
Extra Credit: Who was the first person you told about your good news?
When I came up with this topic yesterday, it was going to be my excuse to tell you about Pepper not limping any more and the three job leads I had yesterday. But I wrote about all that last night, so I'm not going to do an extended rerun here. Suffice it to say that having three people call me on the same day to express interest in my resume is a major boost to my confidence, giving me real hope that I will soon be fully employed again.

With that rather obvious observation out of the way, let's go back a little over three decades, to two bits of related news that had a greater impact on my life than I ever expected at the time.

Karen at the Clarion SF Writer's Workshop, 1977Me at Clarion, July 1977.

When I was in high school, my major extracurricular interests were Star Trek and the writings of Harlan Ellison. I also read and enjoyed lots of other fantasy and sf, but Harlan in particular was a big deal to me. He wrote the original version of my favorite Star Trek episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever," but that wasn't the main reason for my interest. I was hooked on his collections of award-winning short stories and edgy, personal and often political essays.

I've written about my interactions with Harlan a few times over the years, but for the purpose of this entry, the thing to remember is this: he was my favorite writer, and a huge influence during my teens and early 20s. He was having a surge in popularity back then, fueled by several awards and a deal with Pyramid Books to republish many of his earlier works plus several new collections. Meanwhile, I was struggling to get a certain novel past page 2. (Yes, that novel, the one I'm still intermittently revising all these years later.)

One book I bought about the time I graduated from high school was titled Clarion 3. It was an anthology of sf short stories by people associated with the Clarion Writers' Workshop, interspersed with essays about writing. The editor was Robin Scott Wilson, founder of the workshop. The last piece in the book was the essay "When Dreams Become Nightmares: Some Cautionary Notes on the Clarion Experience" by, you guessed it, Harlan Ellison. Harlan had taught at several Clarions, but wasn't going to do it anymore. That was unfortunate, I thought as I finished reading the essay in our back yard in Manlius. At that moment, I really, really wanted to go to Clarion and be taught by Harlan Ellison. Apparently, I'd already missed my chance.

So: life-changing good news incident #1. My first two years at Syracuse University, I was majoring in Creative Writing and TV-Radio. (I switched to English Lit and Film my junior year.) My problem with Creative Writing was that I could never find the department head in his office, and consequently spent a lot of time hanging out at his closed office door. That's where I saw it: a little paper notice about the 1977 Clarion Writers' Workshop. Robin Scott Wilson would be teaching, as would Peter S. Beagle, writer of one of my favorite fantasy novels. These facts alone would have been enough for me to want to go, but there was more. Harlan was also teaching. I was stunned, almost shaking with excitement. It was like the Universe was saying to me, "Karen, the thing you wanted really badly but thought was impossible is possible after all. Now find a way to do it!"

Fortunately, both my parents agreed to let me try, as long as I was willing to work a summer job until the workshop began. So I sent Chapter One of The Tengrim Sword (as it was called then) off to Michigan State, along with a self-addressed, stamped manila envelope. Weeks passed, and then that envelope arrived back at my dad's apartment. When I saw it, my heart sank. It was too heavy and bulky to contain just an acceptance letter.

Then I opened it anyway - and a map of Michigan State fell out. Joy! Unbounded, whooping joy! And there you have it: life-changing good news incident #2! I was going to Clarion!

I assume that my dad was the first person I told of my good news.

a package from Harlan, 2005.I've written before about the Clarion workshop I attended, the people I met and worked with, the personal relationship stuff, and the not-entirely-positive effect the workshop had on my writing. (I put the novel away for years after that.) There were a lot of things about "the Clarion experience," as Harlan put it, that still influence me, all these years later, in my writing and in other ways. Harlan was part of that, but only a part.

The biggest impact, by far, came from an unforeseen consequence of my six weeks in an East Lansing dorm in the hot summer of 1977. I started hanging out with one of my fellow Clarionites, this guy named John. Last name Blocher. 22 months later, I married him.

How's that for a bit of good news that changes everything?

So how about you? What bit of good news made all the difference for you? Please tell us about it in your blog, and include a link back here. Then leave a link to your entry in the comments below, so that next week I can direct people to your blog, thus:

For Weekend Assignment: #278: Time to Blog, I asked you about your blogging habits, particularly your blogging schedule and frequency. Here are excerpts from the responses:

Julie wrote...
What it boils down to is the more I have to do, the less time I have to blog. That may be a good thing. Or not, depending on what I have to do. This is one of my busier times of the year, and some days I sit down at the computer, and the next thing I know, it's 3:30. Where has the day gone?

Florinda wrote...
"How often I blog" and "how often I post" are two different things, usually. I try to post here at least five times a week, and most of the time I have something up on one of the weekend days as well. But most of my posts are written ahead of time, and then I schedule them out daily; posting time is 5 AM Pacific time weekdays, and 6 AM on weekends.

Mike wrote....
Well, for me, there isn't a straight up answer. I certainly don't have a schedule. I pretty much blog when I can, or when I have something I want to say. I participate in Karen's Weekend Assignments, but I don't have a certain day that I do them. That's why I'm writing this at 10pm when I should be going to bed. That's dedication for you, people.

Your turn! If you've ever considered participating in the Weekend Assignment (or used to participate but dropped out), please help us out with your thoughts on this topic, or else the next one. You've got until Thursday night to post your entry, and in a pinch I'll even take a late one. And if you haven't considered participating, why the heck not?

Also please, if you have an idea for a future Weekend Assignment, email me at mavarin2 (at) Thanks!

My Round Robin entry will follow in a few hours.


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