Getting More Writers of Color to Workshops: A Modest Proposal

Getting More Writers of Color to Workshops: A Modest Proposal

Taking a break from talking about the Hugos and Jonathan Ross for actual important stuff.

A few days ago I tweeted:

Writers of Color, raise hands if you want to attend writing workshops but can’t afford one financially.

And I got many responses. One of the reasons I asked is because I wanted to point out again why the Writing Excuses Carl Brandon Scholarship was important and encourage people to apply[1]. Then a couple of responses made me realize I needed to do something else as well.

@cafenowhere That’s me. With added complication of being main care giver to a child & living in the Midwest.

@LonAitewalker *raises hand* compound that with being disabled as well – double whammy.

Lack of funds isn’t the only barrier. There’s the inability to miss work for a week or weeks at a time, or not having anyone to leave a child with for that time, or other obligations that make going away to a workshop not possible.

As other responses point out, going to a workshop can be a life-changing experience. Not only do you gain valuable writing instruction, you also get valuable networking done and face time with authors who are generous with their advice and influence. Workshopping is an important element in developing a career. It’s not necessary, it’s just very helpful.

So how can we make workshops more widely available to writers who are more likely to miss out on these opportunities? A few good ideas I’ve seen lately:

One Day Workshops: Clarion West does these occasionally (and lately doing more of them). They usually involve tackling a particular subject, like how to research or how to create more immersive fiction, take place on a weekend day, and cost a fraction of what the 6 week workshop costs. The downside is that they only take place in Seattle for now. I hear that there are discussions to expand into…

Online Classes via Google Hangout: I’ve heard of several writers doing this, but the only class I’m at all familiar with is Mary Robinette Kowal’s. She does two types, a weekend intensive (Friday night to Sunday) and an 8-week course that meets one day a week. Since they take place online you don’t have to travel and it may be easier to structure your time even if you have caregiving obligations. Click here to see explanations for her workshops, which will give you a good idea of how most are run.

Neither of these solutions is absolutely perfect and will work for everyone. They go a long way toward helping, though. More one day workshops in other cities and towns mean more people can attend. Doing things online through Google Hangouts open it up even more–you don’t even need a webcam, just a mic[2]. Then we’re back to cost.

These workshops are far less expensive than the long 6-week ones like Clarion or even retreat-type workshops like Out Of Excuses. That doesn’t mean they’re that much more affordable since the cost is still in the hundreds for many. Scholarships are needed here as well.

I have a request for pro authors giving workshops and organizations coordinating workshops. Would you be willing to set aside one registration per workshop for a writer who cannot afford it but would greatly benefit from attending? Could you perhaps work with an organization willing to help coordinate some of the particulars, like matching writers who want to attend with appropriate workshops?

People involved in organizations and community groups that raise awareness around diversity in the genre, would you help out by doing some of that coordinating? Or even setting up scholarship funds so that the workshop runners still get paid?

This could end up being a major project for some non-profit, but major projects take time to build. As that happens, if that happens, I’d still like to see some smaller efforts to help build momentum. Such as workshops deciding to set aside that one registration. Or writers helping each other raise money individually. A larger project like Con or Bust would be great in the long term. I just don’t want people to think we have to wait for that to come together in order to get started.

So let’s discuss this! Here in the comments, on social media, at cons, wherever. This is just the spark of an idea. Help me grow it.

Oh, and apply for the Writing Excuses Carl Brandon Scholarship! Applications must be in by 3/15. If you can afford the time but can’t afford registration, hotel, and travel, the scholarship covers those things.

Footnotes

  1. BTW – People, apply! Deadline Is 3/15[]
  2. You do need a reliable high-speed connection, and not everyone has that, I know.[]

Writer Fears About Writing The Other: Here’s How To Get Over It

Writer Fears About Writing The Other: Here's How To Get Over It

Here’s one of the great circular conundrums of our time:

We need more characters of color/LGBT characters/characters with disabilities/characters that aren’t the default white, able-bodied cis male in speculative literature.

I, a speculative fiction author, am afraid of writing characters of color/ LGBT characters/characters with disabilities/characters that aren’t like me or from my cultural and social understanding because I might get it wrong, and if I get it wrong people will be angry at me and yell and also ruin my career.

I’ve seen and heard writers (mostly white) express some version of that at least a hundred times since RaceFail 09. They point to that discussion or any number of other public Fails since then and go: SEE?! You see? That’s what happens when we try!

There are a few things about this that need addressing. First, large, public Fails actually happen when authors don’t try. Second, the problem is rarely that the author tried and didn’t get it exactly, 100% right. It’s that they failed and then acted like an ass when someone pointed it out to them. Third, avoiding author Fail isn’t as hard as some people make it out to be.

Most importantly, the consequence of being ruled by that fear is that you aren’t helping with the first problem. And if I may be so bold, I think the issue of representation is far, far more important than individual fears of getting it wrong. I also know that it’s hard to tackle that first issue without also addressing the second. Luckily, I have the solution.

Next summer I’m teaching at the Writing the Other workshop/retreat alongside Nisi Shawl, Cynthia Ward, David Anthony Durham, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Tomorrow, registration for this workshop opens up. If you are the type of author who has been held back from addressing the issue of representation in SF by fear that you’ll get it wrong, this workshop will give you tools to help you get it right. There’s no guarantee that you will always, 100% get it right if you attend this workshop. I am confident that at the end of it you won’t be 100% ruled by fear.

Registration opens tomorrow, October 13th, at 12pm Eastern. The workshop fee is $500 and includes meals but does not include accommodations. Click over to the Eventbrite page to see all the details.

How many of you will I see there?

Write-a-thon Week 3 Brings Amazing News

Write-a-thon Week 3 Brings Amazing News

Week 3 starts today and I have two bits of good news to report.  First, according to the CW workshop admins, people donated enough money in a little over 48 hours to cover the cost of purchasing new laptops for the students who lost theirs to theft.  You know how earlier today I said there were times I just wanted to walk away from this community?  Well, this is one of the reasons I don’t.  We are a community and we take care of each other in times of need.  People’s generosity always amazes me, even though I see it time and again.  Thanks to everyone who donated or spread the word.  I’m sure the students and admins and teachers appreciate everything and will always do so.

Speaking of generosity, I just got a note from a write-a-thon coordinator letting me know what sponsorships have come in so far.  A few people went ahead and donated their money (Linda Addison did so with the warning that she knew where to find me if I didn’t write — eek!) and some of them weren’t on the list I was keeping to see if I’d reached my goal yet.  Well lo, with the addition of these fine folks, I found out that I met my goal of having $1000 pledged!  In fact, the total is actually $1010 if I meet all of my writing goals.  And I have a ton of motivation to do so.  Thank you, everyone.  This really made my day.

So!  This week I’m thinking of doing chapter 2, since I have a vague idea of how it will go and I’m interested to see where my girls will take me next.  This is probably going to be a longer one, so I’m back to grinding out 1K a day or so.  Should be interesting as I’m going to be upstate for most of the week.  At least it’s a nice place and quiet in the evenings :)

Write-A-Thon 2008

Write-A-Thon 2008

I’m participating in the Clarion West Write-A-Thon again this year, raising money for the workshop and for the Butler Scholarship. I’m in the process of finding sponsors to help me reach my goal of raising $1000 total.

For those of you who don’t know, a write-a-thon is a lot like a marathon. Instead of sponsoring me per mile, you sponsor me per week. If I reach my writing goal for the week, you pledge to send a certain amount of money. There are six weeks of write-a-thoning to mirror the six weeks of workshopping at Clarion West.

Also for those who don’t know, Clarion West is a writing workshop in Seattle where 17 students have the opportunity to spend a week with 6 or 7 professional writers and editors to improve their craft. This year’s instructors are:

Paul Park
Mary Rosenblum
Cory Doctorow
Connie Willis
Sheree R. Thomas
Chuck Palahniuk

And finally, the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund was set up by the Carl Brandon Society to give financial aid to writers of color attending Clarion and Clarion West. Octavia got her start at Clarion and she gave her support to Clarion West as a teacher, volunteer, and speaker. She was keenly aware of the need for more voices of color in the genre. I can think of no better way to honor her memory than by giving students this opportunity.

When I went to Clarion West a very kind individual donated my full tuition to the workshop anonymously (knowing that I actually did not have the money to go and was planning to take out a loan if it came to that). It was an incredibly generous gift and I’ve always felt that I can never fully repay it — my time at the workshop meant so much. But I try, every year, to do my part in giving that gift to other students.

As I said, I’m hoping to raise $1000 total, which is a high goal but not impossible to reach. It breaks down to about $170/week. If 17 people pledge $10/week, I’ll make my goal. If 8 people pledge $20/week, I’ll make my goal. You can also do a flat amount. $60 only if I reach all of my six week goals. Or $100. If 10 people pledge $100… you get the idea.

I’m looking for 8 – 17 people who can do $10 – $20/week or $60 – $100 overall. Of course, I can’t reach my goal unless I write!

I’m currently writing a novel of 12 interlinked stories, so my goal is to write one chapter/story per week for the six weeks. If you sponsor me for $30/week or more, I will send you the (very, very!) rough drafts each week as I complete them.

If you would like to sponsor me (yay, thank you!), please send an email this gmail address: SponsorKT. Tell me your name, your pledge amount, and if you’d like to pay (in the end) via PayPal, credit/debit card, or by mailing a check to Clarion West. I don’t handle any of the monetary transactions, by the way. It all goes through CW. Soon there will be a webpage with a payment link, which I’ll send you as soon as it’s set up. Also let me know if you’d like me to put your name on the sidebar of my blog as one of my sponsors and if you’d like weekly updates.

Who will be the first to sponsor me?

ETA: My sponsor page on the Clarion West site is now live (Thanks, Kate!). That’s where you can go to send your money via PayPal once the Write-a-thon is over. If you do that, please still drop me a line at the gmail address above to let me know how much you’ve pledged. I’m keeping track of how much more I need to reach my goal. Thanks!

Clarion Bound

Looks like Clarion and Clarion West are starting to send acceptances (or phone them). Congrats to everyone who gets in, it’s going to be awesome (and tiring, and maddening… but mostly awesome). I thought this would be a good time to link to my Clarion Journal, as it is still online. Back then I was calling myself Finley Larkin–ah, the old days.

No clue how helpful this will be for folks, but it’s all I have in the way of advice and usefulness on this topic.

Apply to the Launchpad Workshop

Some of you may recall that last summer I sang the praises of the Launchpad Workshop, a week-long immersion in science and astronomy sponsored by NASA. I had a really wonderful time, learned a lot, and came back with several cool ideas for stories that I’m still working on.

They’re doing the workshop again this year and, if you haven’t applied already, I suggest you do. The deadline is March 31st.

Last year several people (who were completely jealous–in a good way–that I got to go) said that they didn’t bother applying because they thought that only major pros would be able to get in. Such is not the case. It does help if you have some publishing track record, and being a Clarion alum probably doesn’t hurt, either. But our group was a nice mixture of neo-pros and not-so-neo-pros and it worked out just fine. Writers all along the spectrum can benefit from learning more about these concepts, and the admins know that.

Another thing I like about the workshop is that they are very interested in getting women and minorities to apply, and they’re not just going for tokenism. Our group was diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity.

If you have any interest at all in astronomy and learning correct scientific principles to enhance your already amazing science fiction (or even fantasy… trust me on this), apply, apply, apply. It’s free to do so, the workshop itself is free (you’ll have to cover your own meals, possibly your transportation, but they have funds for those in need on that front, too), it’s a good time, you’ll learn a lot, Wyoming is beautiful, if incredibly empty.

Write-a-thon Week 5 & the LaunchPad Workshop

It’s the end of week 5 and I am exhausted! I had a terrific week but the plane ride back home took a lot out of me. Perhaps because I did not rest but finished off Harry Potter 7, instead.

As far as my Write-a-thon goals go, I was able to finish my edit of Elan Vital! It will go through one more round of critique before I send it out somewhere. Asimov’s, possibly.

I mostly worked in the morning since I was able to easily get up two hours before class time. Plus, the group had a writing night which I really enjoyed.

Pelican Nebula, taken at WIROSo, the LaunchPad Workshop! For those who don’t know, this is a workshop administered by Mike Brotherton, an astronomy professor at the University of Wyoming. The purpose of the workshop is to “provide a ‘crash course’ for [science fiction writers in] modern astronomy science through workshops, guest lectures, and observation through the University of Wyoming’s two large telescopes.” We essentially had a semester of Astronomy 101 in a week. And it was wonderful.

We covered several subjects, from really basic stuff like what causes the seasons and the phases of the moon to what happens when galaxies collide and how astronomers know what elements make up distant stars and nebulas. The best part, for me, was the ability to ask fiction writer specific questions. In college, it was always sort of frustrating not to be able to ask “But if I wanted to do this in a story, how could I in light of X?” This workshop was specifically about asking those kinds of questions. So awesome.

My fellow attendees were also awesome. A few I know from conventions and other SF gatherings. Some I’ve known online for a while. It was a real treat to spend time with writers I greatly admire, like Vonda McIntyre and Eugie Foster (just to name two). We had a lot of fun in the classroom and at dinner and at the evening outings.

One of my favorite things was getting to look through telescopes of various sizes. It’s amazing what you can see with greater and greater powers of magnification. But also amazing what you can see with the naked eye on a clear night, or a pair of binoculars. On Friday night we went to WIRO, where the telescope was so huge that they didn’t even bother having an eyepiece hooked up to it, just a camera. The students there recorded an image for us and Jeremy Tolbert put it together (see above).

That was another thing we learned – how those beautiful images of deep space are actually put together. If you look through a telescope, or a camera attached to one, you don’t see the full-color beauty of the finished product. Through the compilation of images taken with filters or taken with different kinds of scopes (radio, infrared, etc.) you can cobble together an image that makes sense to us color-viewing people.

This was the first year of the workshop and things went extremely well. All down to Mike and Jim and their assistants. Next year it should be even better.

There were 13 attendees. Of them, 8 were female and 3 were people of color. (We would have had four, but one person had to drop out at the last minute.) On the application, the administrators specifically stressed their desire to bring in women and writers of color. It’s definitely something they are paying attention to and I cannot but agree.

They’ll probably be accepting applications for next year in January or February, so keep an eye on the website. Even if you’re just a writer starting out and only have a few pub credits under your belt, it’s worth it to apply. They’re looking for writers with a commitment to educating through fiction that reflects accurate scientific knowledge.

So, once I’ve slept and recouped I’ll start on my, very short, week 6 story. And then the Write-a-thon will be over! I hope the Clarion West kids are having fun. This upcoming week will be tough.