My science fiction education was entirely self-directed. Nobody else in my family read it. None of my friends read it. I spent a lot of time completely alone in worlds of what-if.
But I wasn’t completely alone, was I? I read books of essays. I picked up decades-old reviews written by other science fiction writers about their contemporaries’ works. I read old copies of Asimov’s and Analog and F&SF and Galaxy and Orbit and on and on and on.
And, very slowly, I built a picture in my mind of the science-fiction world. It was small. Close-knit. Everyone knew each other and it seemed like everyone was friends. And I thought about someday joining that world, bathing in camaraderie and acceptance and common interests, the way some people think about being rock stars or supermodels or actors or billionaires.
This was about when the internet was really taking off, but everything was dial-up and the search engines that existed were crap. It was conceivably possible to find SF fan sites, I just didn’t even know how to look – and, for a while, it didn’t even occur to me. I loved my genre from afar. Cleveland’s days of hosting huge SF cons were long over, though I did get my parents to take me to some kind of Star Trek meetup for a few hours once. (I spent my whole time in the dealer room, pawing through merchandise, too terrified to talk to anyone.) I never wrote a fan letter until college. I never even wrote a letter to the editor.
But I did write science fiction. (And a little fantasy. And a lot that blurred the line between them.) I wrote stories and poems and abortive novels because I was an isolated teenager, because I was bullied and stalked at school, because I was, somehow, already extremely precocious at it from an early age and it felt so good to be good at this one thing. And all that time, I thought often of how I was going to meet my idols someday as an equal. If I could just write enough. If I could just get good enough.
Success did come, in bits and pieces. College gave me a mentor in the form of awesomesauce writer Gregory Frost and validation in the form of the Dell Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing. In Florida I got to live the dream, shaking hands with so many of the people I’d read growing up. It seemed like everyone wanted to pat me on the back and encourage me to ever greater heights. I got to be that rock star I’d always imagined, if only for a weekend or two, even if I hadn’t published anything just quite yet.
But it fell apart again almost as soon as it started. I got sick. I stopped writing. I thought it was gone forever and I mourned it like a friend. I thought of the old me as dead, or unrecognizably transformed. I thought I had to just move on with the cards I was dealt and try not to grow too bitter.
I started again, eventually, answering some need that inconveniently refused to curl up and die. The stories that resulted were lifeless. I applied to Clarion once, last year, when I could finally afford the application fee, and was rightly rejected. But I said at the time that I wasn’t going to give up. This was something I knew I needed so badly I would do anything. Neglect home and hearth and boyfriend. Go off my pain meds. Burn precious energy I needed to properly perform my job.
This whole past year I’ve been winnowing. I no longer involve myself in other people’s business. Not enough energy. I’ve cut all my extracurriculars but the cat adoption fairs. My life is quiet and pale, work-sleep-work-sleep-work-cook. Read. Read read read read read. Write. It’s very depressing, if I think about it too hard, but it’s necessary when I’m so weak.
I got into Clarion this year with two stories I wrote in, I think, August and November of 2011. I’ve known for a little while but I wasn’t supposed to say anything until they announced it last night. I burned so much energy this past week just being happy about it that it’s hard to feel anything but exhaustion right now. There’s so much logistics to deal with – wedding, and honeymoon, and now a long leave of absence at the height of summer – and I’m so tired. Given the choice I would have spaced out all these major life events a little, if only for breathing room.
But I did it. I got in. The thing I’ve wanted for literally half my life – ever since, in my wide-ranging reading, I started picking up references to this mysterious workshop and the late great Damon Knight. I’m going this summer, sick and all, weak and all, and praying that I’ll be able to keep up just enough to not embarrass myself. I’m so worried that I’ll be socially awkward as always, anxious and strange and unapproachable. That I won’t bond with my fellow supplicants at the Altar of Nerd. That I will disappoint the instructors with my output, or that I’ll miss all sorts of awesome quintessential-Clarion activities because I’m too sick to crawl out of bed.
I’ve never been the fastest writer. I’ve never been the slickest. But I want to learn. I want so desperately to go in only myself and come out a better artist and a better person, someone with a plan, someone worthy of those childhood ambitions. Someone stronger.
I’ve finally been called, and I can only answer with what I have. Let’s hope that’s enough.