The Clarion science fiction writers workshop has been going on every summer since the early Sixties. It lasts for six weeks.
After many years at Michigan State University, a school which gradually came to appreciate it less and less because it was not financially self-supporting, it has now, as of 2007, moved to UC San Diego.
Students live on campus (except a very few students -- two the year I was there -- who actually came to Clarion from East Lansing itself) and spend the six weeks writing and critiquing each other's stories. Monday through Friday, class meets from nine in the morning until noon. The visiting writer does a little lecturing, and the rest of the time is spent critiquing the stories that were turned in for xeroxing the afternoon before.
There are six visiting writers during the six-week workshop. (This used to be not quite one a week, because until a few years ago Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm came together for the final two weeks.) The summer I was there (1981), the other writers besides Damon and Kate were Robin Scott Wilson (Clarion's founder), Joe Haldeman, Algis Budrys ("A.J."), and Elizabeth Lynn.
I wrote five stories during the six weeks, which I considered a pretty fair accomplishment for a guy with writers block, although one of these stories was more a cry of despair than a piece of fiction. (A few students wrote more than twenty -- very short ones, needless to say. A couple others only wrote one or two. I'd say that between five and eight was probably the norm.)
The story I submitted with my application was called "Teddy Bears Are no Picnic." It was what is technically called a "romp." It was a mystery parody written in a Raymond Chandler style, which along the way parodied the well known SF genre of "bar stories." Included were brief paradodies of Spider Robinson (Callahan's Cross-time Saloon), as well as L. Sprague Decamp and Fletcher Pratt (Gavagan's Bar).
Four of the stories I wrote while at Clarion were called "Suzi Stoneham Meets the Aliens," "Spell of Fidelity," "Spell of Futility," and "Vindication." In self-defense, the title of the fifth story is censored.
Emotionally, Clarion was very stressful for me. For me, at least, it was a very high pressure situation. The positive effect of that pressure was that I managed to get so much written. The downside, though, was that it brought up a lot of personal issues which were still unresolved from my adolescence. When I got back home after six weeks, I was an emotional wreck. And I was pretty deeply depressed for about two years afterwards.
In fact, the emotional aftereffects of Clarion were probably largely responsible for my deciding to do the NLP training two years after that summer, so in that respect they had an ultimately beneficial effect on my life.
The summer after Clarion I wrote a 7500 word story called "The Chekhovian Smile," a very powerful expression of loneliness which is without doubt (at least in my opinion) the best thing I've ever written. The following fall I wrote a very short story called "Armistice Talks" about Clarion itself, which some people have told me is very powerful. I submitted it to one of Damon Knight's Clarion anthologies, but he returned it, saying that the people in the story were too easily identifiable. Certainly there is a very real confidentiality issue, but on the other hand, almost anyone capable of identifying the individuals is likely to also already know the main secret which is revealed. (It was certainly no secret from anyone during the workshop.)
At the time I wrote the story, I felt it important that I be just as harsh on myself as I was on "Carla." Otherwise, it would have been simply a hatchet job. I finally was brave enough to submit the story to the graduate fiction workshop at UH sisteen years later, in the spring of 1997, to see what other people would think of it, and the reaction of my fellow students certainly seemed to prove that I had achieved that objective, at least. (In fact, I wanted to speak out and defend myself, saying something like "You don't understand what it was like.")
In any case, it's more than fifteen years later now. Certainly the quite unflattering picture the story paints of me no longer corresponds to what I believe is my present self, and I'm sure that the other people in the story have also totally changed by now.
In the ten years since "Armistice Talks" I worte almost no fiction. More recently, I've written a handful of stories, most of which can be found in the fiction section of this web site. None of them was, in my opinion, nearly as good as "The Chekhovian Smile" or "Armistice Talks."
Here's the one called "Life Begins at Midnight," written in the spring of 1994 when I was fortunate enough to be able to take the graduate fiction workshop here at UH when it was taught by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, who was a visiting writer that semester.
The Clarion Foundation is a non-profit organization devoted to raising funds for the continued existence of the Clarion summer workshop.